David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2012
Copyright © 2012
My husband is an old man, how old even he cannot remember since his brain was transplanted into the youthful body he has worn for the last 600 years, four centuries of which I have been his wife, but of that time there are only thirty years that I knew and embraced him-as a woman. He was a tender and complete lover, he was… Not about me!
My husband is in trouble and…
This last exploration into the wilds of Barsoom started as any of our others: seeking new in the old, travel for the joy of it, learning what might be known of an ancient and dying planet, studies that might keep the population alive to—
He has gone crazy. I don't know how to help him as I am locked in the body of a calot for something stupid I did back when I was young and uneducated in LIFE regardless of all the scientific knowledge dear Ras Thavas had showered upon me.
What I did as his wife was abominable, and under the laws of Barsoom he should have killed me with full sanction in our society, but he did not. Instead of death my brilliant husband transplanted my brain into the body of the most successful predator of Barsoom, thus allowing me the best engine of revenge, and… and my own belated realization of full caution that should I do so I could never regain my human form.
And over the years of our travels together, exploring this dying and desiccated world, seeking ancient mysteries and new discoveries, I came to understand. His love for me was so great he could not take his justice for my flout upon our vows, yet he could not allow me to continue that path—
And, I came to love him even more. For I truly love Ras Thavas, the man who found me as new from the egg, in a swamp of the Toonolian Marsh, reared me, had affection, and had to be seduced by me when I was of the age to have the guile of women. Oh! Those first years were amazing!
How his heart soared!
And all those other realities:
Ras Thavas had been evil in his last five hundred years before the new body. He had a consuming great need to rule the planet. His evil was immense in arcane experiments which his extraordinary brain could conceive. He, alone of all others-except for a Jasoomian he had trained at the old Thavas Island—knew the secrets of brain transplants. A century of experiments with human-to-human, human-to-animal, animal half-to-human half, and an under the table business of procuring vibrant, healthy bodies for aged or diseased clients made his first wealth. A wealth that near undid him in his eleventh hundred years. Not the wealth, but the aging of his own body, a decay of the mental process, a diminishing…
Then came Vad Varo, a Jasoomian. A neuter to Barsoom society and politics, one my husband thought he might use to his purposes. He gave instruction to this man from another planet, trained him, drilled him-made Ulysses Paxton letter perfect in all things medical, then induced that man to transfer his brain into a perfect body. A body Ras Thavas had specifically selected for himself, a strong, incredibly masculine youth with fine proportions which he, via his retainers, captured, sedated, removed his brain, secured the body in potions of his devising in suspension, then destroyed that brain.
He murdered the man whose body he wore.
Vad Varo, for reasons of his own: a desire to right a wrong done to a princess of Duhor, performed the surgery as taught, and as well as the master. Ras Thavas had his new body, had another 1,000 years of life, had…
Vad Varo, with the knowledge obtained fulfilled his secret desire, escaped Ras Thavas, restored the princess to her body, and became a prince of Duhor.
All this was centuries before my birth, but the histories are clear. Ras Thavas embarked upon a dangerous and, I now know, outrageous plan to create an army comprised of artificial beings, grown in a vat. That he failed, though coming near to the destruction of our world, is yet other history. Best forgot, yet we should never forget! Hubris is … hubris.
Yet, that renewed Ras Thavas was as near a child, meaning that the new body and vigor, that strong breath of air into the lungs, was intoxicating beyond…
I am guessing.
The Ras Thavas I know, the one I love, is a retiring, thoughtful man, though well skilled in arms and fully capable of action with sword or firearm, or bare hands. He is a banth in sorak clothing, yet; a gentle man, a man who expends all effort to do GOOD.
It was that which drew me to him when I reached my majority. Though he found me, called me protégé, raised me… I never called him father. He never called me daughter. Then one day I called him… and he responded.
Those halcyon days are gone. That is my fault. That generous retiring man who created a New City in the muck of the Toonolian Marsh, the last dregs of the Five Oceans of Barsoom, gave hope to thousands for a better future, if they were but willing to work for that future. He educated me, gave me every benefit of his 1300 years of knowledge, showered upon me his best wishes and solid science. And I came to love him. I did-I do!-love him. I took him as husband. Glorious!
What is it with happiness? Why cannot we be happy with happiness?
I changed. I did wrong. I went where he had been before with such disaster, thinking I could do better… but I could not, though I thought I had. My artificial life experiments were so much better than Ras Thavas'! The first from the vat was so handsome, so… thrilling! So…
My constructed lover did not live long. Ras Thavas is not called the Master Mind for no reason. He broke the most intricate locks to my laboratory. Slew my artificial lover. Dragged me to the bowels of First Tower of New City of Thavas. And even with all his rage he wept…
When I awoke I was a calot.
Over and over again I re-live that scene, the result, with shame… and these years after with some joy! Five hundred years we have traveled the planet from one discovery or one scrape after another. My life has never been more fulfilled, though it took ME some two hundred years to realize it… and when I did, when Ras Thavas offered to restore my brain to my human form which he had kept in suspension, I destroyed it.
I did not want to be his woman. I wanted to be his friend, companion, equal to our travels. I—
—don't know what to do.
Ras Thavas sits inside the cave. His knife in hand intently pricking his left arm and leg, here and there, never deep, just enough to make the blood run and… and muttering to himself. I cannot contact him through the one thing his mastery of medicine and science gave me: an ability to communicate telepathically to him, and him alone. His is the only voice I have heard for centuries… not quite true, there was that hormad brain in a human body, a surgical result of Ras Thavas' earlier experiments, and who was a friend in an adventure… Gantum Gur…
The cave smells. Beast part of me blows hard to clear the nares, but does no good. Husband! I call yet again.
"This to tuc," he said, cutting himself, never deep, yet blood flowed. "This to snak," another nick. His eyes were intently focused on the course of blood oozing from the cuts.
How to distract him?
I looked about the cave, which was odious by any standard, filled with an odd slime-like growth with a pallid luminescence which I did not recognize, even though I knew, or thought I knew, every organism on Barsoom—Ras Thavas had taught me well.
I saw nothing.
"Then here," he said, speaking aloud… his mental link was not broadcasting, and he cut himself more deeply this time.
I whirled about, tail flailing in that movement, and was startled by a spark when a few rocks hit each other and from that spark I saw a bit of that slime smolder.
Short of latching on to his arm, with a jaw full of frightful teeth designed by nature to rend flesh from bone, I could see no way to remove my husband from this queer cave.
My lungs heaved again, my snout itched horribly. These sensations growing by the second. My animal body, perhaps, had some resistance to whatever had overtaken the man I loved. But even I could not stand it for long, I surmised.
What to do?
I jerked about again, looking for something I might use.
More rocks sparked. A little more slime smoldered, glowing this time.
Ras Thavas held the knife before his eyes, staring at the blade. "So pretty," he said to no one… He did not know I was there. "So use it," he smiled vacuously.
With horror I saw the next movement would not be a nick. Scrambling forward on all ten legs, loose rocks flying everywhere, I snatched the knife from his hand, breaking a tooth in the process, and rolled past him, sliding into the slimy muck, raising an odd cloud of spore-like particles.
That effort, however, had a side effect.
My near violent effort had sparked not a spark, it had spawned a fire!
Ras Thavas sat there, grinning. "Pretty! Look at the Pretty!"
Ras Thavas! Out of the cave! I cried. He could not hear me.
Then I saw a way.
A man and a calot weigh about the same. We are about the same size in length. But calots are near ten times as strong in muscle than humans.
I managed to slip my lower jaw beneath the zitidar leather strap of his harness at his lower back and dragged him out of the cave which was going up in flames. I kept dragging, though my jaw complained, until well away from the conflagration.
Ras Thavas rolled over, then onto his bottom and sat up, staring at the fire and oily black smoke rising along the cliff face. "Pretty!"
I felt odd, queer. Calots can't cough, but I felt my body do as close to that as might be. My limbs felt weak. I had an odd desire to bite my foreleg. Me, too? I thought, but the urge passed, though I was exhausted.
"Pretty!" Ras Thavas said again.
As long as he did not move, or reach for one of his other blades, the short sword or the long sword, I let him be and watched the fire, which was not pretty. Then again, calots see spectrums which human eyes can't see. That might have been a reason why I chose to retain this body, but I doubt it. Then I did doubt it. Then I was angry with the man I had saved for …
I turned and ran away. I ran and ran and ran and…
Had a seizure of sorts with pitched me headlong. I rolled three times then lay flat. Panting wildly, I…
Thasa Ras? Where are you?
Here! I shouted, bursting with joy. I mean, I'm here and will be there soon!
A moment later I felt well enough to get my feet. A moment later I moved better. By the time I returned, having killed a darseen sunning itself, I felt better as I carried my prey to my husband.
Dinner, I said.
I'm hungry, he smiled, gripping my mane.
He reached for his belt knife to gut the lizard and frowned when his hand came up empty. "Damn!" he said. Lost my knife. How the hell did I do that?
You don't remember?
Look at yourself, dear one.
He did. The frown intensified as he examined the small wounds. Out loud he said: "The moss…"
Slime, husband, not moss. Nothing like we've ever seen. With properties…
Yes, he said, I seem to remember, like a dream. What did we discover this time, wife?
I didn't know.
I feared what we recently experienced was extremely important, but as long as my husband was back, I did not care… all that much. I do love him. I love that he has kept me close when I betrayed him, I … I just love him. My only regret is that I never gave him sons or daughters…
Ras Thavas did not reenter the burned out cave for his knife. I'm glad he didn't because I would not have let him. For all my science knowledge, there was something like superstition which filled me.
I nudged his knee and we walked away from that cave. For a haad I led Ras Thavas away from the cliff into the dead sea bottom until I located a slight depression in the ochre moss which would keep us out of the wind as night came on and the temperatures dropped.
Here, Ras Thavas. I'm weary. Let us rest.
He did not laugh as he usually would. Calots know no fatigue, able to run 250 haads a day and still take their prey, which could not run that far…
I thought I lost you, he said, finding a suitable couch in the moss. He reached up and gripped my mane. I lay beside him, sharing body warmth as he draped his cloak over himself. We had been on too many expeditions for him to make the mistake of covering me, too. I was his eyes and ears as he slept and this body I wore was the product of eons to survive the climate.
Lose me? Not likely! You chose me when I asked, and it has never been better when you said yes.
I love you, Thasa Ras, he said, drifting to sleep.
I love you, I did not say back, for fear he'd awake, because if he did he would look at me and I would look away and he would ask why and I would not speak of my fear that something terrible had just happened!
I did not know what that was, but I knew it had happened and that our lives were changed forever.
Ras Thavas rolled in his sleep. His strong arm fell across my neck and instinctively drew me towards him. I relished that grip!
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