Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBLIST FEATURES FAQs, Articles, Reviews, Persona Directory, Hall of Memory SUMMARY PROJECT Summarizing ERB's works one chapter at a time FAN FICTION Shorts, Novels, Poetry, Plays, Pulps ERBmania! Articles, Contributors: Tangor Responds, Edgardemain, ERB: In Focus, Nkima Speaks, Beyond 30W, Tantor Trumpets, Dime Lectures, Korak in Pal-ul-don, Public Domain novels of ERB GLOSSARIES Worlds of: Barsoom, Pellucidar, Moon, Amtor, Caspak, Pal-u-don
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2008
Copyright © 2008
Ras Thavas sat, his chin cupped by a strong, long-fingered hand suspended by a well-muscled forearm attached to a flexible elbow firmly planted on the polished surface of the skeel wood desk. A puckered frown creased his high brow. Dark eyes narrowed as the First Citizen of New City of Thavas looked out the windows of his office on the tenth floor of First Tower. In the far distance was the seemingly slim one hundred floor Marsh Tower, rising needle-like high above the second oldest section of New City of Thavasa walled enclave on Island Two where instructors and students lived because of that area's proximity to the Tower of Learning, which tower was the third built. The Tower of Learning cast a dark shadow in the afternoon sunlight, being fifty floors tall and having a diameter of nearly a quarter haad. It was that shadow that held the master mind's attention.
"It's getting late!"
Ras Thavas scowled...again. "I know, darling. I'm busy."
His wife's voice pleaded. "You promised!"
The master mind sighed. "I know. Sorry." He sat back and picked up the sheet containing mathematical equations and glared at it. "I have to finish this. Jusaj can go with you..."
"He went yesterday...and the day before and..." Thasa Ras controlled her pique and impatience. Rising from the pool of sunlight on the balcony where she had been sunning herself, the wife of Ras Thavas came into the office on ten short limbs, her ugly head with a massive jaw filled with triple rows of teeth hung low and her tail was stiffly erect, the only sign of her anger. "I'm bored! It is no fun hunting without you!"
Ras Thavas throttled a bit of his own pique. He looked at the great calot that came to sit beside his chair. He never saw the beast body which contained his wife's brainyears had passed since she had betrayed their marriage and he had chosen to exact justice by transferring her brain into the body of his favorite hunting calot instead of having her executed for adultry. Never far from his thoughts was the question of that wisdom, for he truly did love Thasa Ras...and he truly did miss holding his beautiful wife in his arms.
"I have work to do!" he pleaded softly.
Through that mental link that only they two shared among all the millions of sentient beings on Barsoom, Thasa Ras sighed. "I know. Had I been less stupid in my youth I might be helping you now."
The calot lay her head across his lap and closed her eyes as Ras Thavas scratched the sensitive spot between her eyes. A pleased sigh shook her body. "You may do that for a quarter zode," she said, "then you must stop, or I'll have to call my husband."
Ras Thavas laughed. He threw his arms around the calot's neck and hugged fiercely. "You are incorrigible! Go! Leave me to my misery! Du Tak will expect me to have the answer to his problem by–"
A knock on the door was followed by Jusaj, the master mind's majordomo. "You have a visitor."
"I asked to not be disturbed..." Ras Thavas began, then was startled as the calot animatedly jumped away with a whuffling snort and raced out of the office, nearly toppling Jusaj in the process.
Ras Thavas rose to his feet, listening to the sounds of the calot and a man's deep, booming laugh in the outer office. "Who?"
The door was flung wide as Thasa Ras came back, a tall white-skinned man following. "John Carter!" she cried happily.
Ras Thavas, though smiling, was less enthusiastic. "Warlord," he said, extending his hand in greeting. "This is unexpected. How is Dejah Thoris?"
"Fine. She's healthy and fine, and pregnant, thanks to you. And you, old friend?" Carter glanced at the desk and the stacks of reports. "Working too hard, as usual?"
"As usual. Jusaj, get us something...wine?"
Jusaj took the Warlord's nod as a signal and departed. Ras Thavas waited until the door closed before continuing with a cordial smile. "I take credit for 'healthy and fine', but had nothing to do with 'pregnant.' Have a seat, John Carter."
"Will you never call me 'John'?" the prince of Helium asked, following the gesture of the First Citizen to join him on the balcony at a table shaded and scented by a gorgeous potted pimilia.
"No. As I will never allow you to call me 'Thavas'. Excuse me for being blunt, but why are you here? My last reports are the Project is on track..."
"It is. Kantos Kan is working closely with the Hastor shipyards and Barsoom II is shaping up nicely. We'll be ready for your engineers to install the gravitonic generators next monthright on schedule. Barsoom II will test interstellar flight next year."
For a moment both men fell silent as they contemplated the adventure to come: five hundred men and womenin a vessel equipped with all that Barsoomian science could providewould make the first attempt to reach the stars, a dream long in coming. Their planet was dyingwas all but dead. Jasoom, while beautiful and filled with all the resources long vanished on Barsoom, was facing over-population, nor was Amtor any betterand Sasoom was out of the question.
Ras Thavas took a breath then questioned: "More trouble with the Morgors?"
John Carter laughed. "Nothing like that! While we do not recognize each other at the moment, we do have regular contacts via unofficial ambassadors. You wound me, Ras Thavas! Are all my visits to New City of Thavas based on dire events?"
The master mind settled into the opposite chair and scowled. "Usuallynot to imply that I'm unhappy to see you!"
John Carter looked up as Jusaj came onto the balcony with a tray, bearing a decanter of wine, two cups, a tray of nuts, and a tart sompas fruit cut into eighths. The warlord accepted the Dusarian wine with a smile and asked the majordomo:
"How is Rojina?"
"Doing very well, your highness. I will tell her you asked. Is there anything else, master?" Jusaj gazed toward Ras Thavas.
The First Citizen shook his head. "Thank you. John Carter, should Jusaj take notes?"
The cup paused at the prince of Helium's lips for a long moment before he replied. "I prefer not."
Ras Thavas nodded and waved Jusaj away. There was something in the warlord's eyes that worried him. However, there was another present who would witness what next occurred, though there was no way she could share that knowledge with anyone. Thasa Ras' earlier enthusiasm had subsided. She now lay in the sun nearby, her large eyes watching both men at the table.
Ras Thavas stated the obvious. "As onerous as my duties are, yours are much greater. John Carter does not drop in to visit old friends without a reason. Why are you here?"
"I do come to see an old friend," John Carter replied, leaning forward.
Ras Thavas waited.
John Carter chewed his lower lip. "I come to ask a favor."
Ras Thavas waited.
John Carter drew a deep breath, released it, picked up his cup and drained it. As he refilled the goblet he said, "You know I travel between Jasoom and Barsoom at will."
"I have long suspected that. Helium produces some amazing technology from time to time, which appears to be Jasoomian in originif reports from the astronomy school are to be believed. I am certainly intrigued by the improbabilities and the possibilities of such personal travel. In my bad old days I might have dissected you to find out how you do it."
The warlord cradled his cup between competent hands. "I'm not sure how I do it. Perhaps it is a bent of mind that I can 'wish' myself between Earth and MarsJasoom and Barsoom. Vad Varo did it...once. He came here and..."
Ras Thavas remembered in a flash that other Jasoomian who had become his apprentice, to whom he had taught the secrets of transferring brains between bodies and had assisted him, under duress, to transfer his brain from an eleven hundred year old withered and failing body into the fine, perfect shell he now wore. He also thought of the man he had murdered to obtain this bodyof the life destroyed that he, a mad scientist in the worst terms, might have another lifeand the nightmares that yet still visited him for having done that horrible thing. Ras Thavas also thought of all the years since that he had done everything possible to atone that madness by doing right. New City of Thavas, the schools, the haven for the disenfranchised of Barsoom, all were living proof of his determination. Ras Thavas mentally shook off those thoughts and peered directly at John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom.
"It is not a common event, but is not unknown. You, Vad Varo, Junie Watts; however," Ras Thavas observed, "you seem to have extraordinary abilities."
"Yes," John Carter sipped his wine. "Given such history the extraordinary is not what its cracked up to be, is it?"
The look between the two men made the calot whine. Ras Thavas reached down to stroke the beast's stiff mane.
"Cut to the chase, John Carter. Why are you here?"
"I've been to Jasoom recently."
"It is good to return home, from time to time."
"Earth is a cesspool, my friend. Wars abound the way they do on Barsoom...only there are billions on my home world, which means that many more perish in any given conflict."
"War is a state of human existence," Ras Thavas replied. "Those who have not want, and those who have want more. It is what makes us human, among other attributes."
"Art, romance, science...the cleverness of humans seems always to return most frequently to the most base of instincts: combat. How to kill the other fellow more efficiently. Or in greater numbers."
Ras Thavas sensed John Carter was not finished. He waited, stroking the attentive calot's mane.
"I come to you, Ras Thavas, because you have learned how to destroy worlds in the eye blink, and have the uncommon sense to not share that knowledge. The little navy of New City of Thavas has proved interplanetary travel is possible with voyages to the planets. You have turned your immense intellect toward good, the finest surgeons, musicians, and artists come from your schools."
"And you," Ras Thavas surmised, with a thin, unamused smile, "want me to do bad in the name of good. What is it you require of me, John Carter?"
The warlord, so named by the thirty-one most powerful jeddaks of Barsoom, placed his elbows on the edge of the table and leaned forward. "I need your help to tell me if I must kill a man."
Ras Thavas leaned back, the motion of his hand in the calot's mane ceased. "You will do this murder, if necessary?"
"Personally." A simple reply delivered with level gaze and without equivocation.
The master mind held his expression motionless as he considered the words of John Carter, a man he admired not only for what the Jasoomian had done for Barsoom, but for his understanding of Ras Thavas' past madness which had resulted in this second life in the body of another, and for allowing the master mind to embark on the centuries long atonement.
"I do not deal in death these days, John Carter."
"I know," the warlord replied. "I also know you have long bent all your efforts to alleviate disease and conflict since our pact so many years ago. You have saved my wife's life on two different occasions, for which I am eternally grateful."
John Carter drained his wine and carefully placed the cup on the table as he considered his next words. "New City of Thavas means everything to you, the well-being of the people who now live here. This occupies your daily thoughts and it is because of this, and more, that I beg your assistance. I may have to kill a man to preserve all this" John Carter's hand gestured expansively to the city below, the Tower of Learning, the shadow that gathered more blacks as the sun neared the horizon, but such gesture seemed to encompass moreto encompass all of Barsoom. With grave tones he ended:
"I need to know if this deed must be done."
Ras Thavas sensed something greater was at stake. "What has this man doneor is about to do?"
"I have returned to Jasoom a half-dozen times to visit my nephew. During one of those visits I witnessed the birth of a new age of destruction on Jasoom."
The narrow gaze of John Carter's gray eyes suggested a possibility to Ras Thavas:
"The atomic waryes?"
"Yes, though the people of Jasoom call it World War Two. Two entire cities were individually destroyed by single bombs delivered by single airships. Tens of thousands died immediately. Over the ensuing generations hundreds of thousands have suffered the after effects."
"I have studied some of the reports our anthropologists have made by telescope. Earth does have a violent past, but its people seem to make peace much easier than any Barsoomian ever has. These atomic bombs were only used during that one tragic event. Correct?"
"True...but the results of that discovery, and its use, led to decades of developing even more horrific weapons of mass-destruction. I will do anything to prevent the same from happening here."
"I know of no one working in atomic theory," Ras Thavas replied. "The material your people call 'uranium' is not common, or easily obtained, from the dead sea bottoms."
"But it is not non-existent," John Carter replied.
"Correct, yet the quantities are relatively small, and would have to be enriched at exorbitant cost to be of any use in power production or," he paused, "weapons."
"This I hope!" The warlord leaned back to gaze over the balcony railing to the dark waters of the Toonolian Marshand the dozens of verdantly clad islands nearby. "It is peaceful here."
"Very." The master mind waited. After a moment John Carter sighed and idly cracked a nut he did not particularly desire.
"The intelligence service of Helium is world wide. Forewarning provides for better diplomacy. Helium, of course, does not interfere with border disputes between nations, unless one of the parties is Helium; however, Helium does prefer peace, particularly among the nations of the Thirty One Jeddaks. Where there is peace, there is prosperity, and so on."
A cool tone entered the master mind's voice. "I am familiar with the general principals of geopolitics, John Carter!"
The master mind jumped a bit as the calot's teeth took a nip out of his ankle, just above the hide of the zitidar skin sandals. The warlord chuckled.
"Woola does that from time to time, when he's feeling neglected. Though our calots are generally friendly, they can be fractious. I have reports that such might be occurring in the nation of Ragla."
Ras Thavas arched a brow, leaning forward with a touch of interest. "That's one of the few nations Thasa Ras and I have not visited during our explorations of Barsoomone of the ancient red cities founded in the middle age of the dessication of the great oceans. It is located above a series of tremendous interconnected caverns, mostly flooded, the water of which provides for their agriculture and quality of life."
John Carter folded his arms across his chest, listening with interest to the master mind's remarks. "Please continue," he asked.
Ras Thavas complied. "After the Valley Dor Waras we call it though in Helium it is remembered as the Rescue of Dejah Thorisa half-million Therns exited the south pole and migrated to Ragla rather than submit to the force-of-arms peace and division of land and resources as hammered out by Dator Xodar, Holy Hekkador Luval Dhu, and you. In Ragla the Therns further splintered, some remaining faithful to the religion of Issus; a significant number began to embrace one of the lost religions of the Orovars, and the remainder chose to have no religious beliefs at all. The inhabitants of Ragla welcomed the Therns into their territory, enjoying the new labor force and influx of wealth brought by the immigrants as payment for land and services. Over the last three hundred years intermarriage has merged the latter group of Therns with the Raglans and their off-spring has the, I've been told, best characteristics of both races."
The warlord's face smoothed into an amused grin. "It appears your information services are as good as mine, perhaps better!"
Ras Thavas shrugged. "We have some students from Ragla, John Carter. I try to meet all the new students each year."
"New City of Thavas is an amazing example of how Barsoom should be!" John Carter offered a genuine, sincere compliment. He then asked: "And, sir, can you tell me what you thought of those students?"
This time the frown expression crossed the master mind's face. Ras Thavas had thought of the trio, two young men and a woman, quite often over the last few months. They were exceptionally bright, eager, and...gifted with a telepathic strength not usually found so young. "Quite intriguing," he replied.
"I can imagine," John Carter's smile lost some of its hilarity. "Only my most capable telepaths are able to enter Ragla without being discovered, not that the country does not accept visitors from all over Barsoom with equal grace and hospitality. It is just that keeping secrets from the Raglans is very difficult, while it is nearly impossible to learn any of theirs!"
Ras Thavas' frown increased. "Then there is a secretone you have reason to fear."
"Yes." John Carter lowered his eyes for an instant, pursing his lips. With steel-eyed sincerity he gazed at the master mind of Barsoom. "I wish to confirm, or disqualify, suspicions which have accumulated over the last ten years that nuclear research is occurring, and whether the beneficence of the Raglans may or may not be a front for more sinister ambitions."
John Carter crossed his leg over a knee and inspected the top of his thoat hide boot. "Because you are, I believe, the most accomplished telepath on Barsoom. You have a millennia of experience; a keen scientific intellectand a very strong desire that if we cannot have complete peace on the planet that we do not wish to have another world wide conflagration!"
Ras Thavas chewed his lower lip, his eyes narrowed as he exchanged looks with the Warlord of Barsoom. A decision was made. To the calot he said: "Fetch Jusaj, Thasa Ras. Get Jusaj."
In an instant the calot leaped into the office, her whine at the closed door caused the majordomo to enter...and he entered with a pad, stylus, and ready attitude to carry out his master's wishes.
Thasa Ras pushed her snout through the railing of the modest flier that carried them high above the dead sea bottoms west of Manataj. Her husband occupied the helm, seated in comfort behind the clear glass screen that turned the airstream away from the open cockpit behind the roomy cabin forward. Ras Thavas smiled as his wife's tail quivered with excitement...she could not always control the natural instincts of the body she wore.
"To be on the dead sea bottoms again!" Thasa Ras sighed. "As much as I love our home and the juicy silians in the marsh, it is good to get away!"
"I fear Du Tak was not pleased with the sudden announcement of our departure."
"Du Tak is a brilliant man, husband. You should make him do his own work," Thasa Ras replied with a huffy snort. "Besides, Jusaj can help."
"And Rojina will be certain to chew on me for a time equal to the late hours her husband will keep while we are away!" Ras Thavas laughed. He, too, looked forward with eagerness as the little ship entered a part of Barsoom neither had seen before.
To the north lay a low mountain range with no peak higher than one thousand ads. That dark smudge of eroded basalt was partly shrouded in the lingering dust of a wind storm which passed across their path within the last zode. On the ancient sea bed, covered with large patches of a resilient ocher moss, herds of wild thoats were rising from the lee of wind-bent mantalia groves, shaking dust from their slate-gray hides. To the south was the ruins of a small village, perhaps thirty buildings in all, the walls of which had crumbled and were eroded to their foundations of nearly indestructible concrete.
Thasa Ras uttered a low growl, capturing her husband's immediate attention. Then, via their private telepathic link, she laughed. "Banth. Six degrees off the port bow. See him?"
Ras Thavas looked. "The human eye is not as capable as yours, darling."
Thasa Ras padded to her husband's side. "We could camp here tonight and make Ragla by midmorning."
"We could, or we could continue and arrive there by midnight."
He did not see the calot's ugly face. He saw the sweet pout Thasa Ras had used with such good effect when she was young and they were first married. "All right!" he laughed. "A hunt for you and a good night's sleep for this old man!" Ras Thavas throttled back and began a slow descent. "Where do you want me to let you off?"
Thasa Ras lick-kissed the master mind's handsome face. "That grove just northeast. See that jumble of rock about ten haads further? That's where you'll anchor. And you will stay at least fifty sofads at tether. Promise? I don't want to worry about you."
The man ruffled the calot's short mane then patted the well-used radium pistol at his side. "I'm armed, and my swords are in the cabin."
Ras Thavas brought the keel of the little ship within three sofads of the dry sea bottom. Thasa Ras leapt over the side and eagerly rolled in the moss, rising with a snort that cleared her nostrils.
"Darling," the First Citizen of New City of Thavas scowled, "you be careful. No banths for dinner! Promise?" He was not worried so much for Thasa Ras...her hide bore the scars of combat with dozens of banths, white apes, and giant siths...all gained after her brain was placed in the calot's body. She could take care of herself.
"Yes, dear," Thasa Ras managed to stick out her large tongue in girlish fashion. "We will not decimate the necessary predators unless attacked. Me for a fat thoat calf!"
As Thasa Ras raced across the moss at a speed that could cover as much as two hundred haads in a day, she acknowledged her husband's "Wake me just before dawn!" by elevating her tail.
Ragla was a curious combination of old and new. The interior of the city was ancientperhaps more ancient than half of the "ancient" cities of Barsoom by more than five-hundred thousand years. The city was located in the shadow of a thousand sofad high cliff riddled with cave entrances, some large enough to take the bulk of a 10,000 man battleship. An immense central area was both park and farm, bisected by wide avenues filled with bustling foot traffic or small wagons drawn by thoats. Surrounding that old section was new construction which embraced various building materials. Great wooden structures, apparently used to house animals, were set in large level pastures fenced by high stone walls, near which and sometimes attached towere three and five story residences. The residences had rooftop gardens in common, growing every kind of flowering or edible plant usually found only at Valley Dor, as well as a number of local forms of vegetation.
Unlike most cities, Ragla was not designed to accommodate air trafficthe houses lacked mooring masts or reinforced anchor points, nor was any building equipped with entrances large enough to accept fliers, even one as modest as that piloted by Ras Thavas. However, to the south of the city proper, a landing field had been established and, though no hangers existed there were walled fields which served a similar purpose: shielding the buoyant aircraft from buffeting ground winds. There were sufficient hardened mooring rings embedded in short concrete pillars to secure dozens of ships.
Thasa Ras remained quiet, watching with interest as her husband approached the airdrome at cautious speed. Four small freighters were at one end of the area. A handful of craft like theirs were grounded at various other parts of the field. Near each ship was a building, which appeared to be residences because from each poured men, women, and children.
As they neared the ground cries came to the little airship:
"We fill water tanks for free!"
Ras Thavas arched a brow, glancing at his wife. "Chose one."
"The house with the pimilias. Such gorgeous blooms!"
That rooftop garden was, indeed, quite beautiful. Ras Thavas reduced speed until his air screws were barely turning, drifting toward a tall young man racing forward to catch the bow line Ras Thavas tossed. Competent hands took the rope, tugged hard to bring the ship to a halt. A chopping motion across his throat caused the master mind to kill the ship's motors. A moment later two younger versions of the man ran to take up the line which trailed behind as the ship was towed to a mooring pylon. The fact the children had no part in the actual towing, or that any help had been required was not important, it seemed, for as soon as the ship was secured, the young man tossed each a copper teepi, grabbed up with glee.
"Welcome to Raglan!" the man's voice boomed in greeting. "My name is Talar andKaor!" That greeting held a tone of astonishment.
Ras Thavas had jumped over the side. Thasa Ras landed next to him, to stand still as the master mind's hand gripped her mane.
"I'm Ras Thavas," he said. "This is my calot, Thasa Ras. That was very well done, Talar." He glanced toward the mooring pylon.
"Thank you, sir!" the man's startled expression eased by the moment. A practiced speech followed: "Five tanpi a day. Fresh water and provisions included. For two tanpi extra we can have a thoat haunch fetched for the calot."
Ras Thavas reached into one of his belt pouches and produced a small bag. It jingled convincingly when he tossed it to Talar. "We'll be here at least a week. Let me know when that is used up."
"It", the young man discovered after looking within, was fifty tanpi. Talar smiled as he raised his eyes, then was instantly stern and apologetic at the same time. The boys were crawling all over the massive calot, which sat patiently, tongue lolling from one side of her cavernous maw.
"Bantan! Segmar! Leave the gentleman's pet alone! I'm sorry, sir! I"
Ras Thavas chuckled, roughing the hair of one of the boys as they sped toward the house. "No bother. Thasa Ras is very well behaved around children. Your sons?"
"I am ashamed to say they arenew hatched last winter!" Talar laughed. "Have you journeyed far? Come...come to the house! We have wine and thoat stew. Mina made bread this morning...it's still warm."
"That is an offer I will not refuse!"
The meal was very good, seasoned with local spices unfamiliar to the master mind's palate. As he ate and conversed with the young man and his wife, he observed.
Talar was of obvious Thern stock, his skin was very light in color, though bronzed by the sun. Unlike pure blood Therns, he had a faint fringe of hair above his ears that circled his nape, though his pate was bald. He had faint eyebrows, yet conversely, had thick eye lashes. Talar was tall and well built, more muscular than Ras Thavas. His hands were large, square, and calloused, as to be expected from hauling mooring lines.
His wife was a dainty red woman, slim and attractive, with nervous mannerisms which made her attractive instead of merely skittish. Her hair was black as the night sky, her eyes bright as the moons Thuria and Cluros on a clear evening. She smiled much, spoke seldom, but when she did Ras Thavas was reminded of his wife's human voice, a soft melody of womanhood.
Thasa Ras lay near the doorway, daintily gnawing at a generous chunk of raw thoat Mina had placed on a large ceramic platter. Mina dared to stroke the calot's mane and laughed sweetly when the great beast closed her eyes and sighed. "Look, Talar!"
Mina's husband started to admonish, then fell silent, grinning as his wife stroked the calot's stiff mane. He winked at his guest and shrugged his shoulders. "Women are..."
Ras Thavas finished, "...why we love."
For a moment neither spoke, gazing at the tiny woman and the great calot. Then Mina remembered something cooking and jumped up to tend the stove. Thasa Ras licked the empty platter twice, then rolled onto her side, five short legs sticking up, her nail-less pads drooping.
Ras Thavas cleaned his plate. He had been hungry, now he was not. Leaning back, he asked Talar, "Where might I find the laboratory of Wehn Khar?"
The amiable Talar replied, "North quadrant, sir. I am going that way shortly. I'd be happy to take you."
"Fine. Is there an inn nearby? The ship is comfortable enough but I..."
"We have rooms upstairs, if you don't mind the noise."
The noise was the laughter of two boys at some devilment outside. Ras Thavas grinned. "They do sleep, some time, eh?"
"I need to get a few things from my ship. Call me when you're ready to leave." Ras Thavas walked to the doorway and looked down at Thasa Ras. "Coming?" He nudged her with his boot. Thasa Ras opened an eye, snorted, and closed her eye. "Up!" he chided softly.
Talar, also heading outside, stopped to say, "She's no bother, sir. Just the biggest calot I've ever seen. Do you mind, Mina?"
"Gives me someone to talk to," Mina replied, busy with her cooking.
Talar led the way out, Ras Thavas followed. They separated a few paces beyond the doorway. Talar headed to the side of the house and what appeared to be a work shed. Ras Thavas went to the ship and entered the cabin, packing a few texts and other items into a bag. He then stretched out on one of four bunks and closed his eyes.
"Of course you are! What do you think of our hosts?"
"I like them! Then again, I'm quirky, and devious, and want to rule the world!
"Two out of three I'll grant," the master mind laughed. "Do you feel it?"
"The itch? Yes. It's all around. Much louder than even Helium and its teeming millions. Talar and Mina have such strong 'voices'. Their mental energy is quite surprising."
"I noticed the same thing. You, dear, they cannot hear..."
"Yes, you fixed that..."
Ras Thavas scowled, not wishing to have that memory or why it had been necessaryhis wife had learned sufficient science from him over a fifty year period that made her absolutely dangerous... had she the use of hands and a voice. Before he could reply, she said:
"Another day we'll argue that again. Meanwhile, are you shielded? I want you to look smart when you talk to Wehn Khar, but not reveal just how smart. You can, of course, reveal how roguishly handsome you are."
Ras Thavas left Thasa Ras at the airfield when he accompanied Talar into the heart of the old city. There existed a connection between him and the calot, though they had never before attempted to find out over how great a distance that communication would remain intact. Yet, in this city of heightened telepaths, both had decided that even this private link might be dangerous, thus Ras Thavas closed his mind to thoughts, or links, to his wife.
Talar was a pleasant fellow. He was naturally garrulous and delighted in acting the tour guide to the newcomer to Ragla. There was pride in the city and the productive fields; the well-conceived traffic patterns; and the people.
"I have traveled a little, Ras Thavas," Talar said. "I've been to Manator and Manataj, and even to far Gathol where I saw Jed Gahan and his lovely wife Tara in a parade for the annual Dance of Barsoom, but no place is as lovely as Ragla. I suppose the rest of the world feels the same about their homes."
"Probably," Ras Thavas agreed, "yet I can say with all honesty that few cities are as charming as Ragla."
Talar paused at an intersection. "My way goes there," he gestured to the right. "Wehn Khar is that way. At the second crossing turn left, then right at the next. You'll be at his door. Can you find your way back? I'll be happy to"
Ras Thavas smiled. "I'll be fine. Thank you, Talar."
The master mind strode down the avenue indicated. He was a tall, wide-shouldered man, larger than the average Raglan carrying baskets of produce or other goods, but not so large as to be remarkable. There were domesticated calots to be seen, but none were as large as Thasa Ras. At the thought of his wife, Ras Thavas refocused his thoughts again, concentrating only on achieving his destination.
The laboratory of Wehn Khar was an edifice similar in shape and form as the rest of the residences Ras Thavas had passed, only larger in width and breadth. At the entrance, a massive skeel wood door, stood two servants...armed servants.
"I would see Wehn Khar. I am Ras Thavas, a visitor from the Toonolian Marsh."
"Welcome to the house of Wehn Khar," said one. "Please wait in comfort on the bench. I will speak to my master."
Ras Thavas seated himself. He did not wait long. The man returned, saying:
"Wehn Khar is pleased to receive you immediately. This way, sir."
The interior was dark and cool. Ras Thavas followed the servant, to be escorted to a doorway several rooms deep inside the building. Ushered within, Ras Thavas gazed upon the sole occupant, bent over a table laden with a variety of apparatus. The man looked up.
"Ras Thavas? The master mind of Toonol?"
"New City of Thavas," Ras Thavas corrected. "I see my fame has preceded me."
"All who embrace the sciences know of Ras Thavas. I am Wehn Khar. Why are you here?" The greeting was cool, tempered; yet was welcoming after a fashion. Ras Thavas replied truthfully.
"Boredom. I heard another, besides me, was involved in atomic research. I have come to obtain all your secrets...and share very few of mine in the process."
Wehn Khar, a man of medium height, though broad and blocky, endowed with rippling muscles, suddenly laughed. "An honest man! Come, let me show you a few of my secrets...and I'll see what I can steal from you!"
The Raglan was true to his offer. For the remainder of the morning Wehn Khar displayed a series of experiments, each involved with the utilization of uranium as a power source. The Raglan was enthusiastic, extolling the future benefits of atomic power.
As the noonday meal approached Ras Thavas asked: "To what benefit? The Nine Rays of Barsoom provide all our power needs. This atomic source only addresses three of the Rays and is, apparently, quite costly to produce!"
"True," Wehn Khar replied, "yet atomic power addresses specifically the Third State of the Fifth Ray. Will you have lunch with me?"
"Of course. Will you hire me?"
"I am not sure." Wehn Khar touched Ras Thavas' elbow and directed the master mind from the laboratory. "I am intrigued by your mental control."
"As I am of yours. I hear only what you wish to share."
"From you I detect the same. My research delves into the telepathic abilities."
Ras Thavas was armed. The servants had not required he leave his weapons at the door. Wehn Khar was a null...he could detect nothing to the man's emotions. The Raglan's mind shield was near perfectall he could hear were consciously directed words. He chose to respond in kind.
"You seek to amplify the telepathic process by artificial means."
To the master mind's surprise Wehn Khar replied: "Yes. Ah, Dola has prepared the table. Braised darseen, boiled usa, and a sompas salad! Sit! Dola... wine!"
Dola, a very beautiful young woman, ran to the sideboard and returned with a carafe containing an amber liquid. Wehn Khar smiled as glasses were filled. "My daughter. Dola, this is Ras Thavas."
"The Master Mind?" the girl breathed with awe.
"The very same," her father replied. "I think he has come to discover if I am a danger, perhaps to kill me." The girl spilled a bit of wine at her father's words. "No!" he barked a swift laugh. "Ras Thavas is no assassin."
Ras Thavas looked into the girl's startled eyes. "I mean no harm to your father," he said. Then he looked toward Wehn Khar. "She's lovely." Lowering his voice he added, "Send her away."
The superior smile on Wehn Khar's face faded slightly. To his daughter he said: "Leave us alone." He waited until Dola departed, her silks swirling. Narrowing his eyes, he asked his table guest, "Do I have a concern?"
Ras Thavas had observed the work of Wehn Khar. He compared what he had learned with the apprehensions of John Carter. "No. But I have questions."
Wehn Khar lifted his glass in salute. "Which I will answer." The Raglan gestured to the plate before Ras Thavas. "Please, the darseen is excellent!"
The master mind glanced down. The dish did look inviting. After a taste of the braised meat, he nodded with appreciation. "Delicious!"
Both consumed their meals without further conversation. When Dola returned to carry away the dishes, Ras Thavas leaned back with a sigh. "That was very good," he said to the girl.
"Thank you," Dola replied. "More wine?" she asked, her voice small and trembling.
"No thank you."
Wehn Khar smiled at his daughter. "We'll be in the laboratory, Dola."
Ras Thavas rose with his host. Assuring the daughter with his best smile, he followed Wehn Khar out of the dining room into the hallway leading to the Raglan scientist's laboratory.
Many of Wehn Khar's assistants had left for the day. The two who remained at their tasks were shooed out by the scientist. "Tomorrow is another day," he said. "See you in the morning."
Wehn Khar remained silent until the workers departed, then turned to face the master mind. "Ask your questions."
"What is the purpose of your research?"
"As you determined: the amplification of telepathic thought."
"That is the process, what is the purpose?" Ras Thavas narrowed his eyes, demanding an answer.
The Raglan scientist frowned, firmed his lips in swiftly controlled anger, then sighed. "A better world for my people."
Ras Thavas frowned in return. "It seems to me, and I have traveled to many places upon the face of Barsoom, that Ragla is a near utopia. There is no want. The people are cheerful, industrious, and healthy. What more could one wish?"
Wehn Khar beckoned with a crooked forefinger. "Follow me."
The master mind did as bid, entering deeper into the laboratory. Passing through several doors and crossing rooms filled with magnetic concentrators and Fifth ray generators, they came at last to what appeared to be a cubical device constructed completely of forandus, the most dense and fabulously inert of all Barsoomian metals. The sight of that square machine, slightly taller than Ras Thavas and approximately that measure in all dimensions, was astonishing.
"Where is the army guarding this incredible display of wealth?"
Wehn Khar chuckled slightly. "If it is unknown, why guard it?"
"Indeed," Ras Thavas agreed. "But why show it to me?"
"Not as a display of wealth, but for what it does as a machine..."
The Raglan led his guest to a different face of the cube. A standard tele-visor screen was mounted in the wall, above a dozen dials and switches. At the base several heavy electrical conduits were attached. Wehn Khar reached out and began activating switches.
Ras Thavas sensed the machines in the out rooms coming to life. The air itself seemed to crackle with gathering power from the concentrators and generators. A trio of lights began to glow next to the visi-screen and, when they burst into full incandescence, the flat panel flashed into breathtaking, vibrant life.
Ras Thavas bent forward, utterly fascinated by the scene. It took a moment to understand the familiarity of the unfamiliar: this image was Ragla, but when?
An expanse of blue water rolled through a gorgeous harbor where a hundred or more ships of various size lay anchored or underway. The city was festooned with a near jungle of verdant foliage and entire carpets of flowering grasses. Thousands of people moved through streets which looked new or labored on the pristine quays.
Wehn Khar, too, gazed upon the tele-visor, but his expression was filled with a near fanatical eagerness. "Ragla," he said, "one million years ago."
The master mind struggled with a dozen competing thoughts all at once. The impossibility of viewing another time, the power required to accomplish it, but more importantly, beyond the desire to know about one's ancestor, to what purpose?
He asked that question.
Wehn Khar looked disappointed. "Why, to take my people there, Ras Thavas. This world is fine, as you said, but it will die. My people do not know that our water is near gone...a quake a dozen years back opened many seams in the caverns. We may have perhaps a dozen more years before that life-giving fluid has leaked into the arid crust beneath us. I do not wish my people to die, or worse, be dispersed upon the face of this savage planet! Now, do you understand?"
The First Citizen of New City of Thavas did understand. "Completely. You must come to my home to see how well I understand. But," he turned away from the wondrous vision of Barsoom past, "this is no solution."
"Why do you say that?" Wehn Khar became animated. He jabbed a finger at the tele-visor. "Look, Ras Thavas! A world of plenty! Think what we might do with that!"
Ras Thavas did think. He was not happy. He prepared himself for what must be donehad to be done!
"Wehn Khar, you have wrought powerful science. This machine is extraordinary. Historians would give anything to answer the most mysterious questions regarding the birth of the human race and why the oceans disappeared. It is an amazing thing."
"Yes," the Raglan replied, sensing the master mind was honestly impressed with his work. "But it is only a way to see into the past. This machine will allow transport to"
At that moment Wehn Khar turned to show another machine, one hidden in the far shadows of the room. "This machine"
"Yes?" Ras Thavas staggered slightly, then stepped forward to amicably link arms with his fellow scientist. "What is it, Wehn Khar?"
The Raglan frowned in furious thought, then laughed. "An avenue of experiment that bore no fruit. You see, I thought that by increasing the power to thethe Where was I?"
With a hint of deep remorse in his eyes, which Wehn Khar failed to observe, Ras Thavas said:
"You were about to tell me of your plans to use First Born submarines to penetrate the flooded caverns to seal the leaks. You must come to New City of Thavas and see how well your people learn at our schools and trade centerswhere we teach water conservation, among other things."
"Yes, yesof course!" Wehn Khar smiled. Whatever had troubled the Raglan scientist a moment earlier had vanished.
John Carter sat on the balcony of the master mind's office. The time of day was near that of his last visit. He watched, as did Ras Thavas, two large calots romping and racing through the courtyard below.
For a third time the Warlord of Barsoom turned eyes upon the First Citizen of New City of Thavas. "I have nothing to worry about?"
Ras Thavas allowed a slight smile of irritation to touch his lips. "None. Dead end research. I will be contacting Xodar about that submarine project. Wehn Khar of Ragla and the Dator of the First Born have many common interests as regards the preservation of civilization."
The warlord relaxed. "In a way, my friend, I am relieved. I am a soldier and will protect with deadly force, but I care not to take life if it can be avoided."
"Nor do I," Ras Thavas replied. "Death is not always the answer to problems or dreams. Dreaming something else may be a better way."
"I had fun with Woola while you two grumpy men talked." Thasa Ras licked a small nick on her hindquarters, picked up during the scramble in the courtyard. "What did you talk about? You never told me what happened at Ragla."
"What do you dream about, darling?" Ras Thavas asked.
The apartment was silent. The lights were out. The master mind lay upon his fur-covered bed, the great calot stretched out beside him.
The ugly head of his wife turned from licking her hide. The large eyes, which could see as clearly in the dark as during the day, fixed upon the pensive face of her husband.
"I have several, of course. My body. Power." More softly, "You. I have you, dear husband. And power, so to speak. Woola could not catch me. I could have killed that idiot beast any time."
Thasa Ras wondered why her husband's mood changed, but she welcomed the smile and the playful wrestle that followed. Later, as he lay quiet, drifting toward sleep, she lay awake wondering at his final words.
"Your dreams are yours, dear wife. Let no one change them."
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