David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2003
Copyright © 2003
The master mind of Barsoom, First Citizen of New City of Thavas, cursed. It was not much of a curse, a mere splinter in his index finger, but the calot at his side quivered.
"What is it, darling?" Thasa Ras asked. She was a very unusual calot: a human brain resided in the cranium of the dying world's most successful predator. Centuries earlier she had betrayed their marriage and instead of death for her transgressions, her scientifically brilliant husband had transplanted her brain into the skull of his favorite hunting calot.
Thasa Ras wrapped her supple ten-legged body close. Her snout, armed with powerful jaws containing triple rows of flesh-rending fangs, nudged the forearm of her husband. "Some poison? Some strange..."
"No!" Ras Thavas quickly replied. He gripped the short mane about the hard-muscled neck of his wife. He sucked the injured forefinger and continued to speak through the telepathic link that only they shared. "Just stupid. Working too fast and got a splinter for my efforts. It's nothing."
Thasa Ras licked her husband's cheek and went back to the spot of sunlight warming a small clearing inside the dense mantalia grove. "You should be more careful," she sighed, stretching out to bask in the heat.
"I will," the master mind replied. A moment later he was silent, once again intent on solving the riddle of the artifact they had discovered on a distant island in the Toonolian Marsh.
The buzz of iridescent multi-winged insects filled the silence. The verdant foliage cast shadows as the sun moved across the sky. Occasionally a small creature skittered through the rank mold covering the low-lying island's surface. The heat, exacerbated by the lack of a breeze, approached unbearable.
After attempting yet one more combination over the surface of the ancient man-made object, Ras Thavas leaned back, frustrated. Sitting cross-legged before the stubborn cast-metal box-like container he shook his fist and cursed again.
"I can't be that dumb!"
Thasa Ras, half-asleep, blew a gust through her nostrils, raising a bit of dust. "You are not dumb, dear heart. You simply have not yet tried everything. Need some help?"
"Do you have hands?" the master mind growled.
Thasa Ras opened her eyes, no longer basking in the sun. She rolled in the sand from her side to her belly, turning her great head toward the erect, painfully erect, body of her husband.
"There's nothing wrong with my eyes or my brain. Perhaps I can see something you've overlooked."
The tone was reasonable, as were the words. Ras Thavas felt an instant flush run through his body. He lowered his head briefly, relaxed, then turned to face the waiting calot.
"I apologize. That was uncalled for."
Thasa Ras lifted her head. Her jaw dropped slightly as she panted in the heat. Yet, there seemed a smile on the creature's face. "You have been out of sorts recently. You have been keeping something from me."
"No, I have not. All is right with the world these days. There is peace in New City. The new Jeddak of Toonol has backed off since our last skirmish. Rojina and Jusaj have a new child. John Carter is not off fighting another campaign which might embroil nations. This is a good time. This island is beautiful. And we have an excellent archeological artifact to decipher. What secrets might it contain? Yes, it is a good time. I am not keeping anything from you."
Thasa Ras rose on ten legs and approached her husband. She gently head-butted his broad well-muscled chest and said:
Ras Thavas gazed into the calot's large eyes and frowned. Aloud, he added with soft voice:
"My problem. Not yours. Sorry to be so short."
For a long moment the two stared at each other. Then, in a flurry of motion, Thasa Ras leaped forward, gently biting the man's upper arm, bowling him over until they ended up in a playful wrestling match. Later, both winded, Ras Thavas leaned against the sturdy bole of an immense skeel tree. Thasa Ras lay her head across his lap, eyes half-closed as he stroked her short mane.
Ras Thavas looked down upon the ugly beauty of the fierce calot, which was not a calot, but was his wife. A wife who had refused to be returned to her own body.
A year earlier Ras Thavas had revised his opinion and fears that his wife, who he had raised from the egg and later taught the majority of his science and medical skills, would do harm with that knowledge. Their adventures across the planet and been instructive to both of them... the world's most brilliant scientist and his equally brilliant young wife, who had not the benefit of his 1,000 years experience coupled with that obtained after his brain had been transplanted into the body of a handsome young man, the murder of whom continued to haunt the darker corners of the master mind's brain. She had embarked on dangerous scientific pursuits, creating lifemaking the same mistakes he had. She once burned with a desire to rule Barsoom. At one time the master mind had held those same desireswith unhappy results for him and world about him. He had learned from those mistakes. The master mind could never forget that the health he enjoyed now came from the death of an innocent. Thasa Ras, too, had learned, though it took those centuries encased in the calot's body and the explorations and events they had jointly experienced, to give Thasa Ras the same wisdom.
Thus, a year ago, in a hidden basement room of First Tower at New City of Thavas, Ras Thavas attempted to restore the brain of Thasa Ras to her beautiful young body, preserved those many years by the marvelous fluids he had invented. He wanted his wife, the mature woman of experience, and he wanted that other... the intimacy of...
Ras Thavas wept.
Thasa Ras opened her eyes as her husband's arms slowly went about her neck. He leaned over, pressing his face into her mane. She felt his tears dripping upon her supple skin.
She knew better than to speak.
He was a powerfully-built man, and his embrace was firm, but he did not hurt her. He clung to her with something not quite desperation, nor quite anguish, but that he was deeply disturbed was obvious. His body shook as he controlled his sobs. That was like him, she thought, the man who had learned in his second life that having emotions was acceptable...but still had difficulty displaying them after a thousand years of having none.
Eventually Ras Thavas sighed. He leaned against the skeel tree and wiped his eyes. "Sorry."
Thasa Ras raised her head and backed away just a bit so she could curl up, snout over hindquarters, to look at her husband. "You are upset. What have I done wrong?"
Ras Thavas offered a weak smile. "Not you, darling. You are all that a man could desire. At one time we might have been in different camps, but not now."
"I hear the 'but' It is me and I would appreciate it if you would tell me what I did wrong."
"Nothing!" Ras Thavas angrily pushed up from the ground. He stood over the unusual metal container they had found on the island with arms akimbo. "We came to research silian populations and found this curious thing. Time to solve the riddle of its mystery. Come, darling, tell me what you see that I have missed."
Thasa Ras did as asked. She silently padded across the rotting debris under the mantalia trees and examined the container. It was not large, no bigger than a brief or hand bag. It was not heavy, as a nudge from her snout attested. But it was old, very old.
"Forandus," she said, remarking on the metal used in the construction. "Virtually indestructible."
"And very expensive to manufacture and process," Ras Thavas agreed. "I wonder as to its purpose."
"If we can open it perhaps that will give a clue. I see the same seam you observed. I see what appears to be a hinge. I see what appears to be a latch. It is opening the latch that... Oh! I see!"
"See what?" Ras Thavas knelt beside the quivering body of his excited wife. "What did I miss?"
"It would have come to you," Thasa Ras said, "if you had not made such a mystery out of..." she whacked her snout sideways across the latch, with a little flip up. "There! It's open!"
The master mind threw back the lid and tipped the container to roll the contents upon the jungle mold. Two pairs of scientifically trained eyes looked upon that which lay before them with interest, then astonishment.
Ras Thavas grunted with surprise. Then he laughed. The laughter grew because Thasa Ras, too, had chuckled. Both vocal and telepathic was that laughter because calots do not vocalize well.
Then that laughter took a turn as Ras Thavas sobbed violently and collapsed to his knees. He banged his forehead into the grass and mold. His strong hands tore great swaths of short-growth vegetation from the island's damp soil. From his throat came a painful cry as he wept uncontrollably.
Thasa Ras did not know what to do. She could not hold him, she had no arms. She could not kiss him, she had no lips. She frantically leaped aboutthe calot responses ingrained into the blood and sinew of the great carnivore giving physicality to the distress which consumed her mind. Thasa Ras made a great effort to still that animal instinct. She crept forward, head low. She tongue-kissed the face of Ras Thavas and pleaded:
"What?" she begged.
He rolled away from her. She leapt over his body and nuzzled his face, determined she would not be ignored. "What?"
"Why?" he started, then lowered his head, covering it with his trembling arms. He said nothing more.
This silence, this drawing away, was unacceptable to Thasa Ras, who truly loved her husband and was regretful every dayafter she learned to regretto having betrayed their marriage, his knowledge, or allowing her stupid desires to...
"Ras Thavas!" There was both command and plea in that. "Blubbering like a fool... What? What? What? Tell me right now!" More gently: "You are beginning to embarrass me! I married a giant among men and"
"Enough," Ras Thavas softly pleaded. He sat up. "Damn stupid of me."
As he was about to rub his eyes he noted the dirt and debris on his hands. He walked to the water's edge and rinsed. Then splashed his face and rose, adjusting his harness, jerking it tight, once again in control of himself.
He looked down at the upturned concerned face of the calot. "Nothing to do with you, though you did it," he said. "Feeling sorry for me, and you, too. Why did you do it? I know what you told me, but why did you tear your body apart when I wanted to return your brain? I miss you! I miss holding you in my arms! I"
Thasa Ras moved like an electrical discharge and nipped the master mind's thigh. A trickle of red oozed in response. She had intended to draw blood. Equally as swift the wife of the master mind lay down, her ten legs close to her body. Her head was held high, defiant.
"Don't you understand that we are connected not by sex but by what we do and experience? We are meant to be together in thought and purpose and, oh damn!, I don't know how else to explain it! I haven't gone anywhere! I'm here! I love you!"
Ras Thavas contemplated those words as he took a short length of cloth and bound his leg. Jerking the ends of the rude bandage tight, he looked down upon the contumacious creature containing the brain of his best friend, his companion, his wife.
"I love you, too, dear girl! For many years I hoped you would grow into the woman you have become. My treasure of the heart. Through it all I had a dream... Silly I guess. That's why I wept. I've been angry this last year that you..."
"Do I have to bite you again?"
"No!" Ras Thavas laughed. A light, natural laugh. "A return to sanity has occurred. Thank you. But do you mind if I hang on to those dreams when you came to my bed and..."
"Stop!" the calot whined. "You'll have me weeping in a moment!"
Ras Thavas knelt down. He captured the calot by the jaws and wrestled gently, then leaned forward to kiss her between the eyes. When he released her Thasa Ras sighed. The world seemed right again. Then Ras Thavas said something.
"I'm not looking, mind you, but I now believe your statement that should a woman capture my attention you won't savage her with that beautiful bite. What we have is special. We are forever, it seems. And I am so very, very, very glad of that!"
The calot's jaw dropped slightly, then shut. She had said that, and what he said was equally true. Before Thasa Ras could spend more thought on that epiphany her husband had returned to the container, to look down upon the near fossilized objects which had rolled out.
A package of nuts, two withered sompas fruits, a desiccated darseen lizard, a moldy roll.
Ras Thavas chuckled, easily this time. "We have discovered the mystery of the ages! The mystery is not the contents, but who could afford a lunch box of this extraordinary value!"
Thasa Ras put it into perspective. "Solve it another day, beloved, but this does remind me. We have not yet had lunch!"
"To the boat!"
A joyfully gyrating calot ran to the water's edge as the tall, smiling man bellowed a happy laugh.
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