Copyright © 2005
Once again Rick Johnson gives us an utterly new and unique look at the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In this tale Johnson's stalwart and resourceful Irish adventurer Obrien returns, and returns, and returns (read on to find out why!).
WARNING: SPY contains mature themes.
A trilogy. SPY is complete in this offering.
The Traveler of Worlds
I was wandering around London wondering what I should do with my life. My current life that is. My old life was dead and gone, as dead as the ruins of Ancient Greece. Three years ago, subjective, I was a simple Irishman living in the Arizona Desert reading tales of Barsoom and Amtor and Pellucidar, dreaming of the adventures of John Carter, David Innes and Lord Greystoke. Wishing that I could do those things that I read in the books… and I did. For I had discovered the secret… Edgar Rice Burroughs was not just a writer with a strong imagination, he was exactly what his forwards said he was, a chronicler of other’s men’s adventures. Barsoom existed! Maybe not in our specific universe but in some parallel existence that could be traversed under the proper conditions of time, space and imagination. The Demons called them Stargates! Warpings in the fabric of existence that would take you to many places and times.
I found Opar quite by accident. While hiding from bullies in the library, I found the key to the location of Opar (or Ophir as it's recorded in Egyptian and Jewish history) in a book by a German ologist who recounted the plans of a Nazi scientist to flood Africa and that gave me the key! And I found it. (Mental note: Never try to smuggle African Gold into America. US Customs has no sense of humor!) So I eventually discovered the key to wealth. Swiss Bank accounts! They asked no questions and gladly deposited my gold bars and then transferred a portion of my deposit to my Irish and American banks where I could access the money.
Then, after exploring Ophir and secretly the Valley of the Palace of Diamonds, I was relaxing, walking along a stream when a large reptile reared up and attacked me. I drew the 18" Einfield bayonet that I habitually carried in the desert and proceed to defend myself against this horror… and lost.
The creature was a Demon, a race that had abducted humans before and after convincing them that I was useful (the alternative was leaving the ship via airlock some millions of miles from Earth), I worked for and served the Demons for three years. I fought in the Kris Wars, explored worlds I never knew existed, loved an alien woman (she was of human descent so the parts matched) and was engineered by Demon medicine into what they called Weir, a race they were creating from humans like me to operate their starships.
Then it was over! The ship landed on Earth (England to be exact), I was thrown out and they left. No explanation, no goodbyes, just a landing and a boot through the airlock. So here I was, back on Earth but by a peculiar aspect of relativity, I had been returned to Earth 150 years or so after I left (no one here knew exactly what year it was). The world had almost been destroyed by wars, disease, ecological disruption and those who now lived were the descendents of the 1% of humanity that survived what happened shortly after I left. I guess I was lucky.
So here I am, wearing human skin to disguise what the Demons made me into (the stuff itches horribly and I feel like I am wearing mittens, sun-glasses, earplugs and weights) and trying to find a job and eat. Desiree, a Senator from Montmeet (what used to be California before half of it slid into the Pacific) had given me a letter of introduction to the British Government and so here I was, a former IRA terrorist about to beg the enemy for a job. Does this not this prove that the Gods have a perverse sense of humor? Fortunately, the war between Irish and Brit ended a century and a half ago and to these people, the IRA is but a footnote in history that not even the new Irish nation remembers. I guess we won our freedom after all.
London was smaller than in my time. Most of the city had been destroyed in the cataclysm that they called the Rapture. The Moslems called that day the Hammer of Allah, the Odinists called it Ragnarok, the Buddhists… well, my only experiences with this time was in Iraq as a Galley Slave, Arabia as a Pirate and Africa as a Mercenary, all as a teen age high-school drop-out. But with a total population of less than a million, the Brits had tried to learn their lessons and worked hard to make everyone happy and well fed.
I sighed and entered the building that housed Military Intelligence. I have no idea of what it used to be in my century but now it was a series of offices that sought to recover the knowledge of the past.
I walked down the hall looking at the window signs. Here was the department dedicated to trying to recover computer technology, there Jet aircraft, here nuclear power and so on. Life the first few decades after the Rapture was so hard that technology simply rotted away. Gasoline turned to shellac in the engines, wire insulation rotted in the machines, battery acid ate through the casings. By the time society had reached the point where they could shift from survival to the more pleasant aspects of life, something as simple as a pocket calculator had vanished from history. Even the books had been burned in an attempt to survive the long mini-ice age that followed.
Here it was, Military Intelligence. In my time we called that an oxymoron. But I entered anyway and told the receptionist that my name was Obrien and I had an appointment letter. She showed me into the office of Sir Harold Thimes. No security clearance, no armed guards, just this man in his office reading reports on hemp paper.
I waited there, a skill I learned living with Demons who lived their lives without regard to human custom, until he looked up and bade me sit. I did so after handing him my letter from Desiree and waited some more as he read the sealed message. Then he leaned back and said, “Miss Whitewater speaks well of you. She thinks that you would be an asset in whatever you do. I'm certain that our historians would love to talk to you as you have first hand experience with history so why here and not the university?"
"Sir," I replied. "I'm tired of answering questions all day long. They ask the same things and don't understand that I wasn't old enough to know how things worked when I left. I never built a jet aircraft or read a computer manual or even understood how to make stainless steel. All my studies were in history and what fiction I read or TV I watched… and no, before you ask, I have no idea of how a TV works."
He leaned back, looked at me and laughed. "Sometimes it is hard to understand that. I suppose that if I were taken to an isolated island in the ocean, could I rebuild civilization as it is now? Probably not. So what ARE your skills and how can you be of use to us?"
I thought for awhile than answered carefully, "I was a soldier with the Demons during the Kris Wars. Most of that was infantry as I never could understand Demon technology. But I do have some considerable experience in surviving on foreign worlds and dealing with alien sentients." This was almost verbatim what Desiree had told me to say.
Sir Harold looked at my letter again, then at me then looked out his window for a moment. "Have you ever heard of the planet Barsoom?"
"I've heard of it. Back in the early 1970's I met some people who claimed to have been there. And, of course, I've read the life and adventures of Captain John Carter as chronicled by Burroughs so I have some literary familiarity of the place, but I've never been there in person."
"Would you like to go?" he asked without any emotion whatsoever.
This took me somewhat aback. In the 20th century, anyone seeking to work for any intelligence agency would face months of background security checks then years of minor jobs until they were trusted with something important and here was someone offering me a job on another world based on a two minute interview and a letter of recommendation. Life on Earth had definitely changed while I was away. So I relaxed and replied, "Sure, why not? What do you want me to do?"
He opened a file drawer and removed some photos and slid them to me. "Barsoom is an interesting world. We have had intermittent communication with them for some 200 years via Gridley wave but when the Earth was decimated, they were too busy fighting a war with Jupiter to help us recover. A few years ago, we managed to get enough information from the Martians to learn that there were a couple places on Earth where it was possible to transport from here the there and back again. Our scientists call them 'wormholes' but don't understand them. We think it is some form of astral projection. We know one is in America, your former Arizona in fact, but it's in an area that is still highly radioactive and inhabited by preditor cockroaches and mutant trolls. The other is in France near the Verdunn region. John Carter transferred through the Arizona wormhole in the 19th century and Ulysses Paxton in the 20th century but then no one else crossed over, that we know of, until about ten years ago.
"At that time, the Verdunn wormhole opened and someone crossed here, naked and unarmed, the man collapsed and died of heart failure within hours of appearing. We believe that it was because his body had evolved to Martian gravity and couldn't survive Earth's greater forces. So it appears that any travel between Earth and Mars must be one-way.
"To make certain that the radio broadcasts were true, we eventually sent a team of three well-trained agents to spy out Mars and determine if the world was safe for human contact. For all we know, the Martians were using friendship to prepare for an invasion.
"Unfortunately, we quickly lost contact with our people and honestly, we don't know if they died of natural causes or were captured or murdered by the Martians. I need someone to go through the Verdunn wormhole and find out. Ms Whitewater feels that your experiences with aliens may be useful here. Are you interested?"
Hmmm, obviously their 'wormholes' were the Demon Stargates of which there appeared to be many on Earth. The Demons didn't like people to know about them as they considered humans to be too dangerous to be allowed to leave their planet. After all, the Kris war was mainly human abductees making war on the Demons and their human allies. The question was, did the Demons kill the British spies to keep humans isolated or were there other facets at work here? After three years on a Demon ship, I felt that I was safe from Demon attacks but the Barsoomians were another matter. On the other hand, I first met Brian only a few years before I was taken by the Demons and even then I wished that I had gone to Barsoom with him. "I'm your man" I stated.
And so, just like that, I was a spy for British Intelligence. My mother would disown me for this were she not insane and dead long ago. My training was very simple. I was taught to operate a Gridley Wave radio even though MI said that the Martian version was probably different. They told me everything that they knew about Barsoom which was less than I remembered from reading Burrough's rewriting of the journals of Carter and Paxton. They tried to teach me martial arts, which I loved and picked up very quickly, both the unarmed and sword styles (I particularly liked Kendo though I was decent in Fencing but Chinese styles baffled me). And they tried to impress on me the absolute need to seek the truth about the Martian attitudes towards Earth. Even when I left, Earth hadn't the technology to stop an alien invasion and this century, with 99% of the people still trying to just survive, any military force from Barsoom would face limited opposition. In short, the Brits were scared.
When the time came. They outfitted me with more gear than I could carry. I had crossed Africa as a teen-aged Merc with a rifle, scimitar and canteen so most of this junk was going into the moss as soon as I arrived. But the Brits were trying to think of every situation and plan for it. I hadn't the heart to tell them that I had been kicked out of the cub scouts so never learned that saying about always be prepared.
The nights would be cold so they gave me thermals and heavy clothes and wool blankets (ignoring that I am allergic to wool). A compass in case there was a magnetic field to use. A sextant to find my way back to wherever I arrived. Food and Water. Medical supplies. An old assault rifle carefully restored from an old armory with 500 rounds of rebuilt ammunition. A rapier and saber (depending on what style would be best used) and other things that I liked or hated. Hat & sunglasses, yes! Box of gifts for the local king, no! Water purification tablets, yes! Animal butchering kit, no! Microscope, no! Binoculars, yes! And so on and so on. When I asked for a mule to carry all this gear, I was told that the wormhole was too small for that, it would barely allow me through and we needed to hurry in case it closed.
Closed!?! I could be trapped there? Well, it wasn't like I'd be on a really bad planet. The fact that Paxton and Carter were able to survive meant that Barsoom was habitable. And I'd been on worse planets.
Finally it was done and we left for France. In my time the English and French were arguing over the possibility of a tunnel under the channel but the Rapture would have destroyed it had they built one and their aircraft technology wasn't even up to WW-II standards so we took a boat. I spent the time watching the water, remembering my summers aboard my grandmother's fishing fleet pulling Cod out of the North Atlantic. I hated fishing but loved the sea. Even as an Iraqi galley slave and Arab Pirate, I enjoyed the rocking of the Baghla, the Zarook, the Boom and so on. With the Demons I saw alien oceans, some were living beings but on Barsoom, the oceans had dried up long before humans walked the Earth.
We needed a wagon to carry our gear across France. I could see the damage caused by the First World War when French, British, American and German artillery had torn to ground up so badly that even now, two centuries later, the evidence of destruction remained. When we reached the wormhole/Stargate all my gear was packed into a back-pack and hip-pack and loaded onto my body. "This stuff weighs a bloody ton! I can't carry it all!" I insisted.
"You only have to get through the wormhole. Once on the other side, it'll be a third as heavy and easier to carry." They responded.
Obviously, they had never been in zero-grav where a hundred pounds of weight still takes the same effort to move even if it is technically weightless. A big rock may have no weight but when it hits you at 50 mph, it will still crush you like a bug. So regardless of it being only 30 pounds on Barsoom, it will still have 100 pounds of inertia to overcome every time I set it down and tried to pick it up. Now I was convinced that I'd strip the pack on the other side. I'd even bury the radio and return for it later when I learned about my predecessors.
They had three big men help me carry the pack to the wormhole, then as I stood there trying to stand up, someone simply gave me a push from behind and I fell onto my face with all that weight crushing me as I hit the ground and my pack tried to pass through my body to the sweet embrace of gravity.
I don't know how long I was unconscious but I woke up having flashbacks. The last time I was unconscious the Demons grafted a tail to my arse! They said it would help me get around in zero-gravity. The time before that, they turned my little fingers into extra thumbs and the time before that my big toe into a tarsial thumb. You never knew what those lizard-things would do next so I took to falling asleep with furniture piled up against my room door.
I do recall that as I awoke I was cold and wet and when I moved, things crawled off me so I jumped up in panic and slammed my head against a branch twenty feet overhead.
I awoke again when it was dark, rolled over and immediately upchucked. My eyes wouldn't focus and even in my confused state I understood that I had given myself a concussion. So I dragged myself to a nearby tree, leaned against it and passed out again.
This time when I awoke I could see the sun shining through the leaves(?) of the tree. How long I lay there I couldn't say. But I did feel better save for a desperate need for water. I looked around and saw that I was naked. Even the fake skin I wore to conceal what the Demons had done to me was gone but I couldn't tell if I had been stripped while unconscious or if my gear, weapons and skin had simply not transferred across the Stargate. Some are like that. Some Stargates are one-way, some two-way. Some allow only living matter and some only inanimate matter to cross. You never know until you actually step through. At least nothing had eaten me while I was incapacitated which was a big plus.
On the other hand, Earth biology was left-hand molecules and if Barsoom used right-hand molecules, I would be inedible and possibly poisonous to the locals. Of course, if that were true, then the local proteins would be inedible and poisonous to me too. But water was water and left-hand water was identical to right-hand water so I could get a drink at least. Hopefully my alien biology would be ignored by the local bacteria and parasites too.
I stood up carefully and noted that although I felt lighter, I wasn't as light as I should be so my engineered Weir anatomy had probably adjusted my body to the lower gravity. No jumping around like a rubber ball to impress the Tharken Hoards though I did feel lighter and stronger than on Earth.
I approached the water carefully and looked around for preditors just in case and seeing none, knelt to the water. It was clear, mostly, and there were small things that I took to be fish so that meant that I'd be eating whatever was lower than they on the food chain but I was so thirsty, I didn't care and cupping my hands to catch some of the water, sipped the liquid slowly to allow my stomach acid to, hopefully, kill whatever I was ingesting.
Once I had slaked my thirst, I looked around to see where I was and decided that I was in a swamp of sorts. Ok, if this were really Barsoom, I was probably in the Toonolian Swamp near where Paxton arrived. Interesting that he had arrived naked too so this was probably an animate-only Stargate. Of course he left Earth legless from an artillery shell and arrived intact. Could this be the well-known situation where if you suffer damage, your aura retains the pattern of your healthy self? Then the Stargate feeds you adequate energy for your aura to reconstruct you as your aura believes you to be? It would explain why Carter and Paxton arrived healthy and intact but with old scars intact. Any old injury would eventually force the aura to accept that scar as normal and so the transition would not affect that. But Paxton's injury that cost him his legs happened moments before he transited so his aura wouldn't have had time to adjust.
Then that means that my aura had already adjusted to what the Demons did to me so accepted this body as normal. Sometimes I think too much.
I decided to climb the tree(?) and look around which was a simple thing as the changes the Demons made to me to allow me to work in space operated as well in an arboreal environment. There really isn't much difference between climbing around the struts of a starship and the branches of a tree. Though I did miss the beamer and shield I had hidden in my bracelet when I returned to Earth.
At the top I could see mostly vegetation, reds and greens and even blue. The sky in the "west" had a pink tinge but the "east" was blue so I assumed that the pink color was due to dust as are the Arizona sunsets that are famous for their reds and pinks. I did see a structure towards the direction I believed to be west and it wasn't too far away so I climbed down and started off, my tail swinging in time to my genitals which were hanging, unsupported. This was going to be embarrassing. I was prudish enough when still human but my Weir adaptions made me doubly embarrassed. I hated to look at myself in a mirror seeing a face that I recognized but with pointed ears, cat-eyes and antennae staring back.
Whenever I approached a water hazard, I climbed a tree and used the branches to pass overhead. Traditionally, stepping into water was more dangerous than climbing a tree. At least I could see what was about to bite me up here. And the birds(?) were beautiful. They had four wings and arms and legs and were of every color you can imagine. Small creatures with eight legs were on the branches and ground and everything seemed to be interested in eating everything else. I saw something that looked like a cross between a centipede and a salamander crawl past on dozens of legs but it was smaller than I was and ignored me.
And on another occasion something like a snake but with ten legs leapt from the water after me and I barely managed to avoid it's lunge. I leapt into a tree and climbed up but the thing followed until I could go no further then as it reached out to me, I kicked it as hard as I could, heard bones crunch and the thing fell down thrashing as it did so. Now, I decided, was the time to make weapons. The problem was I had no tools to cut wood and the swamp offered no rocks of any sort. I tried to make a rope from the grass but it wouldn't weave as Earthly grass does.
I was thus occupied when something hit me from behind and before I could react, a mouthful of teeth surrounded my head as a heavy weight held me down. I started to react and push up when a growl made me freeze. I'd heard junk-yard dogs in Arizona make that sound and it meant "move and I'll bite your head off" so I was very careful to not move.
The thing's breath was horrible. Hot, humid and I could see three rows of teeth holding my head in place. Then a moment later I heard a man say something and the thing let me go. I slowly looked up and saw three men on what could pass for an eight-legged horse assuming that horses were green with sharp teeth. Each had a rifle pointed at me and the beast that had jumped me was watching nearby. It had ten legs so I knew that I was on Barsoom and my attacker was a calot and the Red Men were riding thoats. I also knew that the rifles they carried had a range in miles and shot explosive rounds so I was very careful to not make any moves that they would misinterpret.
I tried to smile, showing no teeth for Demons had two smiles, toothless which was friendly and toothed (similar to human smiles) that meant that they were about to eat your face. I also held my arms over my genitals until a barked order made me reconsider and hold them up.
One of the men dismounted and approached to looked me over. I considered jumping him and using him as a shield but he never came close enough so I had to wait. Finally one tossed some manacles to my observer who snapped something at me and so I held my hands out for him to cuff. I wasn't happy about the situation but the three were professionals and I knew that they were waiting for me to do something stupid so they could shoot me down. Dead, I was less of a problem than alive so I cooperated. So long as I was alive and intact, I could eventually escape.
He looked my tail over and the three talked for a moment and I was afraid that they'd solve the delima by amputation but they eventually decided that I was more valuable intact and so tossed me a collar attached to a chain and indicated that I'd better wear the damn thing. I was tempted to take my chances because the last time I was collared I was a galley slave, starved, beaten and gang-raped by the Iraqis who captured me in Africa but as I tensed, three rifles pointed exactly at my chest so I had to give in. I collared myself and recalled that I had escaped from Baghdad by making a set of nunchucks that they thought were a musical instrument. If necessary, I'd escape her the same way, by killing anyone between me and freedom.
So with one holding my chain in the lead and the other two following, we set off to wherever they wished. The route was meandering to avoid as much water as possible and I soon noticed that unlike every other slaver I had met, these were not intentionally cruel. When I stumbled, the one holding my chain would stop and wait for me to stand and then continue on. So I decided to try an experiment. I called out that I was thirsty and motioned drinking. One of my guards then rode up, not too close and tossed a water bag to my feet. They then waited until I had drunk my fill and slung the bag over my shoulder, then we continued on. Burroughs stressed that honor was common among the Red Men and so I was fortunate that he was truthful.
Along the way I began to learn their language. Now I am not a linguist. I spoke Gaelic and English because of my parents and I learned Japanese from when I lived there as a child but my school studies of German, French and Spanish always ended in barely passing grades. I learned Farsi as a galley slave only because I was flogged at the mast if I didn't (my back still carries those stripes) and Arabic because Pirates had their own way to ensure rapid learning but it took me three years to learn enough Demon to get along. Of course, the Demon language has 37 different "S" sounds and my tongue couldn't handle a tenth of these. If Chrysiese hadn't been there as the ships telepath, they probably would have slit my tongue to get me speaking their language. So I settled down to a long period of incomprehension as I asked words, asked the same again and again until I could understand one word in a thousand. Some words I knew from my readings: Jed, Jeddak, calot, thoat a few others but I hadn't really read the works of Burroughs since I first left Earth some years ago and my memory was foggy on the specifics of the journals.
Eventually we reached a small walled city in the swamps and upon approaching, I was examined by the gate guards who had me taken to a small room and cleaned off. I was scrubbed by naked male slaves until the grime and mud and filth of the swamp was gone then my hair was washed and combed and clean, but still naked I was taken along a main street to a large building that I took to be the palace.
All along the way I was the subject of appraisal for I gather that they had never seen a white man with a tail before. But although many questions were asked of my captors, no harm was done nor any indignity committed.
Finally we reached the palace and after questioning by these gate guards, we entered and waited in a large room until another man entered, spoke to my captors and we entered the main room where a richly costumed man sat on a throne and bade us approach. We came to within a few dozen feet and stopped at which time my captors bowed to the man on the throne who I took to be their king or Jed so I followed their example. Politeness was expected and refusal would just get me a beating so why not render unto Caesar what is Caesars?
When the Jed spoke, my captors spoke at length describing, I would imagine, my capture then the Jed turned to me and asked me questions I could not understand. So I replied in English that I was lost in his country and asked for his assistance in finding my companions. When he clearly didn't understand my words, I repeated it in Gaelic, then Japanese, then Demon which amazed the court. I recalled that there was only one spoken language on Barsoom so the fact that I was ignorant of their speech proved that I was not one of them. The Jed gave an order and I was taken to a room where my chains, but not my collar, were removed and a harness, sans weapons, was given to me so I spent some time adjusting the meager leather to accommodate my tail and add additional covering to my genital region. As I was thus occupied, a naked female slave entered with a tray of meats and vegetables and set it before me. She was quite the most beautiful woman I had seen after Desiree who had been a professional model. However, I also saw that she had little pubic hair and her breasts were very small which implied to me that she was still a child, possibly born to slavery.
She ignored my nudity and my efforts to hold some silk from the bed over my crotch and she then held each object, said a word a couple of times then looked at me. Obviously I was being given language lessons so I motioned writing and pointed to her then motioned writing again asking in English and Gaelic for a pen and book. She quickly understood and ran from the chamber to return a few minutes later with a pen and blank book. By then I had dressed to the best of my ability and was feeling far more secure in myself with the dangly bits no longer dangling. It is interesting what effect clothing makes in a man.
Now as she said a word, I listened carefully, repeated it often until she was satisfied with my pronounciation then I wrote the word, it's meaning and a little explanation in my journal. Thus did I spend my first conscious evening on Barsoom. It was clear that I was a prisoner but not completely a slave for although I wore a collar, I also wore clothing but little different from the men I had seen.
When the sun set, and the sunset was even more beautiful than the ones I had seen on Earth, it turned dark almost instantly. One moment the sun was partially above the horizon and I could see, the next it was set and dark almost as if someone had turned a light out. Within minutes, I was also freezing and I wrapped the furs from my bed around me.
The girl followed with other furs and together we watched the lights go on in the city. Looking around I was confident that I could climb the outside of the walls for even before being taken and changed by the Demons, I had some skill at climbing cliffs without ropes or pitons. However, I wasn't being mistreated and without an understanding of the language, escape, although possible, was inadvisable.
The girl turned the lights on inside my small room and continued with our lessons until it occurred to me that I had no idea of her name. So I touched myself and said, "Jason Obrien!" then I pointed to her and asked her name. She couldn't understand my words but she did the meaning and replied, "Florina." So the girl's name was Florina which was a remarkably Earthlike name for an alien. And so we continued with our lessons until I grew tired and yawning, pointed to the bed. She turned redder than before and dropped her eyes but did nothing else so finally, I opened the door and shoo'd her out so I could get some sleep.
All night I tossed and turned because under the furs I was sweating but without them I was freezing and by the time I was able to find a decent combination that kept me warm and comfortable, it was almost dawn.
I was woken up by someone pulling at me so I got out of bed and Florina screamed and ran off. I had forgotten that I was naked (I usually sleep in pajamas) and my usual morning erection was obvious. I also had to pee badly. I looked around my chamber for a toilet or pot but couldn't find anything that would work and I had used chamber pots in Arabia, bushes in Africa and something aboard Demon ships you don't want to know about.
A moment later an armed guard entered obviously agitated so I pantomined peeing but he just looked at me in horror. Damn! I knew how to say "drapes" and "window" and "I'm hungry" but we never covered bodily excretions and neither did Carter in his journals. Finally I took a cup and started to pee in it which caused the guard to break out laughing. He stopped me and took me down the hall to a room that had a bench around the wall with holes at regular spaces and no privacy. There were two men sitting there with their harness aside so I adjusted mine, moved my tail aside (the Demons gave me a universal joint where the first caudal vertebrae meets the lumbar spine) and sat to do my business. Aboard a dhow the head is located amidships next to the galley so if the wind changed, you sprayed the cook and dinner. But everyone there knew what you were like so I was willing to let these Red men watch me pee and shit. It's not like I had a choice.
The watched me carefully, more out of curiosity than anything else and I saw my guard look behind to see how I kept my tail clear. Finally I was done and looked around until one of them handed me some papers that were very soft and cleaned me much better than any Earthly toilet paper. The other men stared and laughed when they realized that I didn't understand their words but sometimes it's better to be thought of as an idiot than a danger so I laughed back.
When my guard returned me to my room, he carefully explained to my slave-teacher what I meant and then he, himself taught me the words for toilet and urinate. Then he left me in her hands and my lessons continued. There was one difference though in that she refused to look at me the entire morning.
And so I passed my first few days on Barsoom. I was locked in a room with a view and taught the language by a young slave who got embarassed at anything I did. Now I admit I am a prude. I lost my virginity at 16 to a bunch of Iraqi sailors who tied me up first. Most of whom suffered unfortunate bouts of bad luck such as falling overboard with an anchor line wrapped around their legs or being crushed as we ware'd the boom or such. My first experience with a woman was an alien girl to whom I was simply something to do at night. And my only other experience was Desiree who was easily twice my age and with whom I fell in love. So now I was on another alien planet and still a horny young man of maybe 24 or 25 (it's hard to tell time on a Demon ship) whose only opportunity was a girl far too young to touch. In short, I was miserable.
A few days later a guard arrived and he and Florina taught me a short speech and made certain that I was fluent in it along with gestures that made no sense to me. When they were certain that I could speak clearly and easily, they took me back to the throne room where we were presented to the Jed and I gave my speech. The Jed approached, accompanied by his guards with hands on weapons until he was within inches of me. He spoke to me but all I could do was to point to objects and say their names. He then retorted angrily as if to say, "I know that is a window and those are drapes and this is a floor but what I don't know is what you are!"
Then he calmed down and examined me in detail. He touched my ears to see if the points were real, stared at my eye slits which were partially closed in the brightness then tried to touch my antennae which retraced before he could feel them. Frankly I was glad the Demons had given me that reflex as my antennae were designed to pick up EM fields and were more sensitive than my eyes.
He then held his hand and compared it to mine, noting that instead of a little finger I had a second thumb. I noted that his hand looked completely human save no hairs and the palm lines were different. I wondered if he had finger prints. He then handed me a cylinder and noted how both my thumbs curled around it opposite from my three fingers. He then looked at my feet and took me to a pole and bade me climb it. Halfway up he made me stop and examined my feet with their tarsial thumbs around the pole and saw how I used my tail to assist though in reality my tail was designed as a third hand and so wasn't strong enough to support my weight. He then handed me a long sword and had me face off against a guard so I went into a fencing stance and immediately was disarmed by the guard whose skill was beyond mine. At that time he spoke to my guards and to Florina, who never looked up from her crouch on the floor, then dismissed us.
Now in addition to my language lessons I was given fencing lessons which I enjoyed greatly. I've always had skills at martial arts and enjoyed this part very much and I like to think I was an apt student. Regardless, because of the intensity of my lessons and the simplicity of the Barsoomian language, within a week or so I could communicate with the Red Men to an extent.
"Where am I?" I asked Florina. "And what is my status here?"
"Are you from the nearer moon as some think?" replied Florina. "That you are so different from us, speak not our language and do not recognize Ardane, second city of Toonol? As for your status, Gan Kanar, Jed, has decreed that you be kept here until he decides your fate. It is only the fear that you come from Thuria that keeps you alive. More I cannot tell you."
She refused to say anything else and having been a slave before, I understood her fears of being beaten for disobeying orders so didn't push the situation but practiced the language as much as I could. I asked questions about Barsoom which she answered in general terms but that was mostly listening so she asked me questions and corrected me every sentence so even simple conversations took forever. But finally she brought a guard in who talked to me and decreed that I was ready to talk to the Jed.
The next day I was washed, given clean harness and sandals that had been adjusted to my unique anatomy and I was brought in before the king of the city. I bowed, knelt and made the same speech as before only this time I understood what I was saying, "Hail,Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane, Lord of the Northern Toonoolian Marshes, Protector of the Empire, Master of the air and Lord of all he sees." Well, it was nothing when compared to an Arab Sultan whose introduction took days to recite.
"Rise. Can you understand me now?" the Jed asked.
I readily responded, "Yes I can, O noble Jed! Thanks to thy wisdom in selecting for your humble servant teachers of such skill, I am now able to speak and respond to your inquiries." One thing I learned as a galley slave is manners. Being overly flattering rarely got you flogged at the mast.
He stepped down to approach but was accompanied by his guards who were alert as always. Although I was certain that I was stronger and faster than they, I was also unarmed and lacking the technology I had taken from the Demons, I really doubted that I could fight my way through them all.
"My questions are simple: Who are you? Where are you from? And Why are you here?" Then he stood waiting.
"Noble Jed," I started. My name is Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, and I am from Ireland, a nation upon the face of Jasoom, the nearer planet. I am here seeking others from Jasoom who may have visited your nation last year. Other than that, I have no designs at all other than to learn what I can of your race and encourage relations between our two worlds."
"You Lie!" screamed the Jed. "No Jasoomian looks like you! You are a spy from another world seeking our destruction. Tell me the truth before I have you killed on the spot." And immediately I was surrounded by steel.
I took a deep breath, centered my self and began, "My Lord, Once, but a few years ago I was as are all Jasoomians. But I was taken by a race who travelled the stars. They wanted to see if Jasoomians could be useful to them in peace for they had discovered our abilities in war. So they .. changed me into what you see here. They changed my eyes to see better, my ears to hear better, my hands to grasp better and my feet to hold onto their ships. They then gave me a tail that I could have another limb to assist in repairs to their ships. Sometimes I think that they saw in me a potential servant, and other times I think they simply played upon me a joke I couldn't understand. I do wish that they had listened to me and made the changes I asked over the ones they wanted for they did make mistakes.
"Then after three years fighting their wars, serving on their ships, they released me back upon Jasoom with no word or explanation. So I sought employment for my nation was no longer as I remembered it and my title was useless there. My ancestral enemy against whom I had fought for years to free my people offered me a position to seek out others that had come to Barsoom and here I am."
"You came here naked and unarmed?" he sat upon his throne and his guards stepped back but kept their swords at the ready. "That seems very stupid for a spy and diplomat."
"Noble Jed," I explained, "I was given clothing and weapons and tools for the journey but they became lost or destroyed in the process and so, like John Carter and Ulysses Paxton before me, I arrived naked. I was seeking your city when I was found by your noble warriors."
"Turn around," he commanded then commented, "Your back bears the marks of an overly-harsh slave-master. How do you explain this, Oh Jed of Innis?" His sarcasm wasn't lost on me.
"My Lord, My ancestor was the Great Brian Boru, Ard Ri or Jeddak of Erie but then so is he ancestor to half my nation for Obrien means 'son of Brian Boru' and millions have that name. By the time my family was born, all that we possessed was a ruined castle, some land, a lowly title of nobility and a very large tax bill. So I sought wealth in another nation and was captured by slavers who decorated my back as you see until I was able to escape and recover my families wealth. Our titles, however, were now honorary for Eire no longer has Royalty or Nobility and they allow us our title as they do our clothes, but give no honor to either. Thus I am Noble in name only. And without peasants to support us with their taxes and tithes, I must seek employment where I can. Even if it is with former enemies against whom I once fought but with whom we are now at peace."
I hoped that they would respect the title and accept that I was not dangerous. Both would be to my advantage.
As he thought about this, one of his warriors, whose harness was encrusted with gold and silver, commented, "Sometimes when the airships are tossed about, I wish I had a tail and hands at the end of my legs." To which others laughed. I began to notice that there were designs to their harness that seemed to match their swords. All carried the same basic weapons, Long Sword, short sword, revolver and so on but the man who had recently spoken carried a revolver with a longer barrel than others and his long sword was smaller than the others and more curved. The guards, however, had longer swords that were slightly curved or straight with ornate knuckle guards and their revolvers had shorter barrels. In my days as a pirate in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, we carried long barreled handguns to shoot across the water to another ship and shorter scimitars that could be used easily on a crowded deck so this man must be an admiral of the navy. The infantry would then use longer swords and shorter handguns for there was more room in the field. The man with a deeper curved and longer sword must be cavalry to allow for a running slash as their thoats passed at high speeds.
My observations were interrupted by the king saying, "I seems that you are an impoverished noble turned panthan. Are you willing to take service with me?"
Well, that was an interesting turn of events. "My Lord, I would be honored to serve such an illustrous Jed as yourself, but I must first finish my mission and locate those who preceeded me and to report to my employers on the possibility of peace between the two nations." I deliberately didn't say "our" nations for although it appeared that Ireland and England had been at peace for 150 years and Ulster was now free, I had been raised to hate the British and old habits die hard.
The king thought for a moment, listened to his advisors then spoke again. "I praise your loyalty to your nation though you obviously dislike your task and so will assist you that we may learn about each other. Remove his collar, give him arms and seek the answers to his questions. Perhaps when he has finished his task, he will consider service with a nation that has never warred upon his own people." And with that I was dismissed.
I was taken to the armory where my collar was removed and I was offered a choice of swords and such, but no revolvers. Aparantly they didn't trust me that much. So I tested a few swords and chose a curved blade with a longer handle with which I could try kendo techniques. For a short sword I chose one with an 18" straight blade and the others I took whatever I saw for I had no opinions there. My harness was still plain with no embellishments but that was acceptable to me. Then when I returned to my room, alone this time, Florina was there to congradulate me, though now she prostrated herself before me.
"I apologize, my Lord," she bagan, "for rejecting your advances and for my familiarity to your noble personage. Please forgive this lowly slave." I could see she was scared and I could see that were I such as some Arab and European nobles I knew, she would expect a good beating and rape if she were lucky. However, despite the title I so freely tossed around here, I was raised as a commoner and worked side by side with farmers and fishermen so had none of that false ego that is the hallmark of those born and raised to position.
I tried to soothe her fears. I was only 16 when I was a galley slave and I still remembered the starvation, hard work, beatings and rapes that accompanied that situation and I wasn't going to see this young girl who I guessed to be about 15 suffer the same. So I knelt to her, raised her chin so I could look into her eyes and said, "I know I look strange and my customs are as strange as my appearance, but please know this, by my life's blood I shall never harm you and shall do everything in my power to protect you." And then I took my dagger and made a cut across the palm of my hand to seal the vow. My ancestors sealed their vows by swearing on their genitals but I suspected that this action would be taken wrong so I settled for a more modern version.
Regardless, she understood and smiled and thanked me. "Thank you for this courtesy to a lowly slave. I was given to you to serve you in any way you need or desire. Command and I will obey, before from need, now by desire."
First things first. I wasn't a virgin, being forced by the slavers then willingly to Chrysiese and Desiree but I was a prude and needed to cover her up a bit. She reminded me too much of Chrysiese who was an adult with the body of a child, so much had her Fairy race adapted to the S'tyr world over the last thousand years. But Desiree who was more than twice my age had taught me about women and I found that I preferred my women to be adult, built like a woman and willing. "Florina, is there a way for you to clothe yourself? Among my people nudity isn't common and I'd prefer you to cover up a bit?"
"Some slaves are allowed a simple harness and if my master orders, I can find some to wear for him."
"It's not an order, just a request," I said. "Please go and find this harness while I figure out what to do next.
Over the last few years, I had been on a dozen worlds and every time I found a race that looked human, I discovered that they were human. Most had been taken by the Demons and planted here and there and then allowed to change as they adapted to their new worlds but any race that wasn't derived from Earth, didn't look anything humanoid at all. Even the aliens on the old Star Trek TV shows must have all been derived from human ancestry so I would imagine that these Barsoomians were the same. After all, they could easily pass for human and John Carter proved that they were, despite their egg-laying system of reproduction, interfertile with humans so they MUST be human derived. I vaguely remembered that they believed that they were evolved from a tree that lived some millions of years ago but then, there were people on Earth who believed that women were cloned from a man's rib so people had strange beliefs. The Green Men would be the original inhabitants of this world with the humans being planted later. I'd have to talk to their scientists to find out more.
From then on I practiced my sword skills in ernest. There is something noble about three feet of steel in your hand, the jar when it strikes bone, the shine of the steel that made me fall in love with the thing. When I fought in the Kris Wars and in Belfast, we rarely saw our enemy, killing them at a distance so this facing the man who intends to kill you was a new experience. But despite my adapting to the Barsoomian gravity (how long would I take to re-adapt to Earth's gravity?) I was still far stronger than my opponant and could beat their blades aside with sheer strength alone. Also I began to notice that sometimes I could receive a flash of emotion or intention or sometimes even a picture. The Barsoomians were partially telepathic so I must be benefiting from this.
Then, as an excuse to expand my language skills, I would take Florina around the city and ask questions about everything. Now that I as a free man, she readily answered all that I asked but insisted on walking a couple steps behind me so I often had to turn to speak to her.
The city was interesting. Demons have no cities at all despite their technology and I was never able to figure out how they managed that but the Mon, descended from English just after the Norman invasion, did and many of these had buildings that rose a mile high. Ardane had buildings never more than a half-dozen stories but this was because of the swamp which provided no bedrock to support anything heavier. The city was also like Venice in that there were many canals, as many as streets and boats were as common as fliers or ground cars. I was told that there were screens at the walls to prevent dangerous animals or people from entering but there were many fish in the city canals.
Once I borrowed a canoe of sorts, though this was made of some metal that was white and very light and thin, and I insisted on paddling as in Ireland I had paddled curroughs and in Arizona my father insisted on me learning to row though he had forgotten to teach me how to swim. This made Florina nervous as she wanted to paddle but I insisted and neither of us was comfortable though I loved the sights from below.
Finally after a couple weeks Florina commented that I looked sick and took me to a doctor. I hadn't paid much attention as I was hot during the day, cold at night and none of the food tasted right so I attributed my weight loss to my body loosing bone-calcium and muscle-mass in the lighter gravity. The doctor looked me over, examined every part of me, took samples of blood, saliva, lymph fluid and even urine then bade me return in a day or so. Doctors made me nervous. I could never be certain that one would decide to graft wings on my back or dermal plates to my skin or vivisect me to see what I looked like inside.
When we returned he reported that my liver as inflamed due to poisoning and I was suffering a nutritional deficincey. Apparantly I wasn't doing well with the local foods and he gave me a strict diet that was little more than plant milk and potatoes with a lot of vitamin pills. Then he shoved a needle into my liver to drain the poisons off which hurt a lot. Unfortunately, since Florina was present at all times, I couldn't show pain and gritted my teeth and suffered.
In Arabia and Africa I had dysentary which helped me loose that extra hundred pounds I carried and could never loose in our sugar-infested society though my arse was raw daily. Here I was the opposite, constipated and malnurished. This is why human colonists always terra-formed their worlds.
One night I was sitting on my balcony looking at the city, wrapped in my furs when Florina approached and crawled in next to me. I could feel her body heat and as she wrapped my arm around her shoulder my hand rested on her bare breast which made me very nervous. I tried to move but she held it firm so I thought of everything I could to avoid the inevitable reaction to the situation.
"Where did you come from, child? Were you born to slavery?" I asked.
"No, My Lord," she responded for since learning of my lineage she ceased to call me "master" and used the more honorable title. "I was captured by a raiding party twenty years ago when my husband and I sought to travel from my native Amhor to Jahar. He was killed defending me and I was sold to the palace and have been here since."
I was shocked! This girl who looked 16 was married and then a slave for 20 years? I knew Barsoomians matured late but…. "How old are you Florina?" I asked dreading the answer.
"One hundred and thirty years."
I forgot about her breast under my hand and tried to do some calculations… 1.89 Earth years = 1 Martian year so 20 years of slavery equals …37.8 years. She'd been a slave for longer than I've been alive. Then 130 Martian years times 1.89 equals…. 245.7 Earth years. She was hatched about halfway between the Salem Witch trials and the American Revolution or just before the Irish famine of 1739. She was definitely NOT a teen-aged girl. Of course the Barsoomians, being egg layers wouldn't need breasts so what they had would be sexual attractions and not for nursing. And the Barsoomians, being relatively hairless, wouldn't have much pubic hair. This changed things. At least Chrysiese had really thick pubic hair despite her very small breasts and horse-tail.
"What of you, My Lord? I know of your being taken by another race and changed from Jasoomian to what you are now but what of your life?"
"I was born in Ireland about… 80 years ago. My country was owned by another and I fought to free it but lost. So I searched for treasure to rebuild my family fortune and succeeded there but was taken into slavery until I escaped by killing anyone who stood between me and freedom. Then I became a pirate because the alternative was death and when I killed my captain over a girl, I became a panthan in Africa until I could return home. Shortly after that, I was captured by the Demons who did this to me and I'm still getting used to what changes they made. It seemed like every time I fell asleep, I awoke with another change to my body. Then I was returned to Jasoom and had to find a way to survive and my former enemies offered me a chance to come here and seek others of their race who they sent to Barsoom to establish contact. Unfortunately, the first team was lost and I was sent to find them. When I do, I report back so they can try to make friends again with your people."
"And, My Lord," she continued, "What of your own life? Have you a princess at home?"
Princess? That means lover, wife, betrothed? "Florina, I am about 13 of your years old. I've never had a chance to settle down but I've had two lovers in my life, one left me and the other is still a friend but no longer a lover. I don't think I am ready to marry for my people, the Irish men, marry late in life. And I won't marry until I have lands and wealth to support a family."
"Thirteen?" she laughed but held my hand closer, "We are not fully adults until we are forty. To me you are still a child. I must keep that in mind."
I laughed at the thought, "And among my people I am an adult but will die of old age around 40 to 50 of your years and you look like one of our children. It's very hard for me to think of you as an adult who is a widow and three times as old as our oldest possible person."
"Forgive me for being forward but you are kinder than any Barsoomian I know." She said. "We are a chivalrous race and protect our women but as a slave I have been shown not much kindness. I am sorry for being frightened by you in the early days. It was your right to use me and when you sent me away, I was glad. Then the next morning when I saw how you were, I was afraid that you'd take me and instead of submitting as I should have, I ran. Now I know that you would never force me or demand from me anything that I chose to not give."
Drat! For a moment I thought I would get lucky. Now she has to talk about protection and honor. Again I tried to move my hand and again she pressed it closer. "My Lord?" she asked and as I looked down to her she kissed me then snuggled closer under my arm. I never dated either in Ireland or America, being too fat and busy in school, then when I could, I was abducted and the only women I had been intimate with both chased me. I had no idea of what to do here. Was I supposed to kiss her back or treat her like a sister or what. Once again I wished that my father had been around to give me the birds-and-bees talk. So I just sat there, holding her and thinking. I liked her but didn't love her and didn't Barsoomian women prize their honor and chastity? Didn't calling a woman "princess" equal a proposal? If I tried for sex, would that imply rape or marriage? The S'tyr are very casual about sex and I was just something for Chrysiese to do at night. Desiree was passionate and was with me because she liked me and in both cases, they made the moves onto me.
Eventually I yawned and Florina stood up and said, "My Lord, you are tired, you should get some sleep." And she stood there in a harness that hid her pubic region but revealed her breasts. She looked like a woman now, maybe it was the harness hiding her childish pubic area, maybe it was knowing how old she really was but now she looked different. As small as they were, I found her breasts inviting and wished I could touch them again but dared not. So I bade her good night and waited for her to leave. Then I undressed and crawled under my furs where I spent a restless night.
The next day I was called before the king again who said, "I have sent patrols into the swamp to search for your lost people. I am told that Vad Varo (the Barsoomian name for Ulysses Paxton) appeared in Ras Thavis' tower and as you appeared only a few haads away, we focused our search in that area. Here is what we found!"
He pointed to a nearby table that held two human skulls or what I took to be human but could have been Barsoomian for all I knew.
"These are not the skulls of a Red Man and they are very similar to yours so we believe that here are two of your three Jasoomians. They appear to have been killed by silians. I don't know about the third but naked and unarmed as you were and suffering from our food as you do, I believe that the last is dead. Unless he was captured by someone who cared enough to save them, and be aware that I took care of you only because you interested me, had the third man arrived here, he'd be in chains and dead of food poisoning, he is dead.
"Now, Lord Jason Obrien, you must pay for your life, your room and board and your weapons as well as for the service I did for you. You have no friends here and all would kill you or enslave you if they had a chance. I am the closest you have to freedom so loyalty to me is your best chance for life.
"It is your climbing ability that interests me. You can climb where we cannot and so I wish you to visit Toonol and spy on a certain man for me. I believe that he has an interest in my lands. You can climb the outside of his walls as we cannot and so your path will be unguarded. Then if he is planning any action against me, bring me that proof that I may confront him before the Jeddak. Can I trust you to do this thing for me?"
"Yes my Lord, you can," I responded, "Provided you give me one boon. My slave Florina, I wish her freed and returned to her home of Amhor. Promise me this and I will gladly serve you in this matter."
The king laughed then said, "You could have asked for wealth and the power of a real title and yet you care for a slave. How wondrous are you Jasoomians. Very well, upon your return, she will be freed and allowed to return to Amhor. You will leave just before sunset that you arrive in Toonol as the sun sets."
And with that I was dismissed. I returned to my room to find Florina there and told her of my deal but somehow she wasn't as thrilled as I thought she would be. "Aren't you happy to return to your home after all these years?" I asked.
"Very much, My Lord," she replied, "Though I will miss you and your kindness."
"Are you afraid that your family will disown you for your slavery?" I questioned. I recalled that when Cornwall had been given control over Ireland he sold one of five Irish into slavery in the New World. Even today the Obregon's of Mexico are relatives of mine that had once been slaves.
She laughed and answered, "There is a difference between slavery and freedom. What a slave must do when ordered is acceptable. If she were to do the same thing free, she would be disgraced. Sometimes slaves have more freedom than a free woman.
"My Lord, I think I should go with you. You are still ignorant of our customs and may make a mistake that would get you killed in a duel."
"It's too dangerous. I'll attract too much attention as it is and if I do something stupid, I can easier escape if I don't worry about your life."
She argued with me and eventually I agreed for we Irish are used to listening to our women. What my American father saw as weakness, I saw as good sense for a cast-iron frying pan is a great equalizer of strength, especially when the man is asleep. So I sent a message to the king and promised to return without the advantage of the hostage he wished to possess and he did agree. Curious this Barsoomian honor. I gave my word and he accepted it. There was no argument or negotiating a new price.
So that afternoon we climbed aboard a flier and left for the east. Unfortunately I very quickly began to suffocate and collapsed from lack of oxygen. The Martian air was so thin I needed to stay close to the ground to breathe. The flyer dropped to a lower altitude and I soon recovered though Florina cried over me the rest of the trip. I hoped that this man I was to spy upon lived close to the ground or I'd pass out again long before I reached his room.
We reached Toonol at sunset and when stopped by the patrols, we gave our identity papers and they gave us a cursory look then waved us on. Florina mentioned that they never even looked at me and never noticed that I was an alien.
Keeping my problem in mind, the flyer landed on the roof of a low building for all hangers are on the roofs of their buildings to save space in a walled city. Then we dropped in a magnetic elevator to find a room to rent and were separated with Florina sent to the female slave quarters and I and my Red companions to a hall that housed a couple dozen people. Of course, I immediately attracted attention. Part of it was my white skin and light brown hair which implied that I was an Orovar or one of the original races, the rest was because of my feet, tail, ears, hand and eyes. The men and women asked countless questions and I answered them truthfully. I was from Jasoom. I had been taken by Demons who changed me. I was a panthan in the service of Gan Kanar. I never visited Toonol before. Their city was beautiful. I've never heard of that poet. I wasn't staying long. And so on.
Finally I placed my extra gear on my cot and left it alone for theft was unknown on Barsoom. Demons never stole either but that was because they owned nothing, being socialists, so I had no problem walking away with my entire wealth sitting on a bed in a dormitory for all to see. Florina was waiting for us in the hall and the three of us took a walk through the city where both the pilot and Florina explained about Toonol for me.
There were no temples because Toonolians were athiests though Florina followed the Issus religion that had been discredited by John Carter a century ago. It had re-formed but this time it had adapted to modern conditions and so was not exactly the same as the original so strongly did man need the comfort of faith. As Florina was explaining her beliefs, the pilot was countering them as would any good athiest.
Being Irish, half my family and half my grandmother's money went to the church but I had been kicked out as a child for asking too many questions like "why was my mother excommunicated and damned to hell for divorcing an abusive husband but he was not for killing my brother?" So frankly, I was on the athiest side of things.
They showed me how the houses rose on poles at night to avoid assassins but the larger buildings could not be so they used armed guards that I'd have to avoid until I could climb the walls. Martians, being poor climbers, wouldn't look up once I got above their heads unless I was noisy.
Finally my pilot took us into a tavern where we had a meal and wine with Florina serving us both. Then we left and separated with the pilot to draw attention away from us and I took Florina into some bushes until the crowd left. Holding her close to hide better, I was drunk enough to ask why I had a private room in smaller Ardane but stayed in a dorm in much larger Toonol?
"Because, My Lord," she said as she pressed herself close to me to hide better. I wrapped my cloak around us to add concealment though her pressing against me was distracting. "You have status in Ardane and so are guaranteed a private room. I sleep with a half hundred slaves in Ardane. But here you have no position so must sleep with the men as I sleep with the slaves. In Ardane, you have privacy to do as you wish"
She was whispering into my ear to prevent noise and I found her breath and occasional touch of her lips upon my earlobes to be very sensual. That plus her rubbing against me in the confines of the bushes was exciting me and it took all my strength to push her away before I raped her as we stood. Time to focus. I whispered into her ear that the road was clear and I needed to do my task so she took my cloak and long sword and I climbed a tree(?) to clear the wall then ran to the building before the guards could see me. Once there I hid in another bush and when the yard was clear, I began to climb the wall. Barsoomians decorate their walls and as the Red Men have little climbing ability, they see no reason to change this pattern. Thus I had an easy time climbing. Frankly, anyone on Earth skilled in scaling could easily do this, my feet and tail simply made it easier.
Once at the tenth floor, I moved around to the chosen window and listened for awhile. I heard nothing suspicious so hung there for a couple hours until the lights went out and all left the room. Then I entered and looked around, my enhanced vision allowing me to see in the semi-darkness as if it were twilight. Finally I found some papers that showed a map of Ardane and the surrounding area so being ignorant of the written language, I took photographs of the papers with a camera that I had been given and searched for anything with the name "ardane" or "gan kanar." Finding little else (it would have helped had they taught me to read too) I left as I had entered and returned to the wall where I found Florina still waiting. She hugged me and kissed me in happiness and wouldn't let me go until I had kissed her in return. I do confess that her lips were very soft.
We then returned to the building where we stayed and I would have gotten lost had Florina not been there to guide me. So we had a late meal and she asked me to take her to the roof where we hid the camera in our flyer and relaxed. I don't recall us saying much though, it was cold and she huddled next to me under our furs as we sat in the flyer. But eventually some other people arrived and she said something that I recognized as an obscenity, though I had no idea of why, and we returned to our rooms.
The next morning we left for Ardane and upon giving the camera to the king, I was released and told that I could free Florina at any time and a flyer would take her home.
When I told her that she was free she simply said, "My Lord, I refuse to be freed."
"Why not?" I asked. "Is not that your dream to return home?"
"My Lord, you are very stupid to not see what any blind man would see in an instant. Were I free, I must return home immediately and avoid dishonor. But as your slave and with a private room, you can command," and then she dropped her harness to stand there naked "And I must obey. None would think ill of me to do as you order while I wear your collar. Please, My Lord, order me."
Ok, I'm a fool but not that much of one. She didn't have a frying pan or a 2x4 but I finally understood. I took Florina in my arms and gave her the order I had wanted to give for a very long time.
In the Marsh
We were sitting in the garden watching insects(?) flitter around the flowers(?). The colors were strange but then everything was strange since the Demons changed me. People on Earth used to complain about those little bald runty aliens abducting then, shoving a camera up their backsides and then dumping them back home a few hours later. HAH! Try being abducted by reptilian Demons from a planet ten thousand light years away. Then let them experiment on you for three years, grafting a tail onto your rear, changing your eyes and ears so nothing looked or sounded or felt the same. And then be returned more than a century after they took you. THEN they can complain.
I looked at my hand and saw three fingers and two thumbs, one on either side of my hand. I knew it was flesh colored but it didn’t completely look like that now. Oh, it was basically flesh-tone but now I saw a dozen colors I hadn’t noticed before, I saw blood pumping through the veins and the veins pulsed a heat glow with every heart-beat. When I moved my fingers, I--I needed another word, something to describe how my antennae picked up the e-m fields generated by my nerves. The Demons had a word for it but speaking Demon made my throat and tongue hurt. The Race had more than thirty-six different "S-sounds."
And here I am now, on Mars. Well, technically I was on Barsoom. I didn’t even know if Barsoom and Mars were the same place even though I had looked through their telescopes and seen Earth. Earth was the third planet sunward and Barsoom the fourth and it was red so I should be on Mars. Through their telescopes I had seen the nuclear wasteland that was my home. Seen the trolls that used to be human prowl the countryside seeking prey, seen the terminator robots hunting the survivors who were dying from the plagues. Seen the ruins of Los Angeles under a hundred feet of water forty miles from shore. Seen central Africa under water. And seen the remenants of Humanity trying to pick up the pieces of their existance. The Barsoomian telescopes were that powerful.
And I didn’t even now what year it was. I had been abducted around 1970. The survivors on earth were so busy trying to just survive that they forgot to count the years but I figured that it was around 2150. I had been gone three years, I think, and a century and a half had passed while I was gone. Maybe Einstein was right after all.
Something passed nearby so I picked it up with my feet. The Demons had turned my big toe into a tarsial thumb and said it would help me hold onto things in zero-gravity. I tried to foot(?) it to my hands but I wasn’t that flexible. Good thing I didn’t mention that or they’d probably have turned my legs into octopus arms. So I reached out and curled my tail around the thing and held it close to see.
"I'll never get used to how you do that," Florina said. She had been given to me as a slave some six months ago when I first arrived here and I had tried to free her but she refused. "A slave is free to do things a free woman cannot" she had told me. And so we became lovers. Had she been free, we couldn't touch so she chose this as the solution for her feelings. I didn't have enough experience with women to understand. Come to think of it, my experience with women was restricted to exactly three, and two were aliens. There should be a word for that too. Bestiality wasn't it for Florina and Chrysiese weren't animals, they simply weren't human. Exterality! That's it! Extra-Terrestrial sexuality! Physical congress with a non-human sentient being. I don't know what the Red Men thought of her being with me. Probably nothing for she was a slave and my property so I could do to her whatever I wished. Had she been free, they might have stoned her to death for exterality because I wasn't a Red man and I certainly wasn't human any more. Or her family would kill me for disgracing a free Red Woman.
"What do you call this?" I asked.
"It's a *****," she said. I had her repeat it a dozen times until I could pronounce it. Six months later and I was still learning the language.
"It's pretty how those insects(?) are pollinating the flowers(?)," I said.
"Pollinating?" she asked. "What is pollinating?"
I explained to her how earth insects would be attracted to a flower which would feed it in return for moving sperm/pollen from one plant to another so they could breed. She burst out laughing. "Flowers(*) using insects(*) to reproduce. What a strange world. No, look closely at that one."
I did and when the insect(?) entered to collect or leave what I thought was pollen, the flower(?) closed. From the e-m fields generated, I now saw the flower(?) had a nervous system. Heat was building up and I asked, "Is it eating the bug?"
"Of course it is. The flower(*) grows something for the insect(*) to eat. And every few insects are themselves eaten. Plants(*) don't need help to reproduce, they do that on their own. But they need food so they create these eating places to lure prey."
"Why don't they eat every insect(?)?" I asked.
"Because is they did, the insects(*) would stop visiting them."
Well, I guess it made sense. People here laid eggs, flowers ate bugs. Animals were intelligent. What else? The thing I was holding started to scratch my tail so I set it on the moss and it crawled away on a hundred legs.
It was dark now and the atmosphere was so thin that when the sun set, it was like turning off a light switch. And it was also like the air conditioning went on high at sunset. I wrapped my cloak around me and Florina's around her. She never got used to me being kind to her but I had been a galley slave on Earth and learned the lesson of the lash and had no wish to use such an instrument on her.
"My Lord, men approach." She said. Her telepathy was superior to mine, despite the Demon's work and she always knew when someone was nearby.
It was dark and so my eye slits had opened so I could see in the dark but I still needed light and in this dark, everything was black-and-white, only as if I were seeing it through sunglasses. I could see better at night than before but even Demon-enhanced night vision was monochromatic and required some light. Then I saw the torch. Cold light from a radium cell, but those carrying it were glowing with body heat and they stood out as if they were carrying firebrands. There were three of them and with the Barsoomian concept of clothing, or lack of clothing, they glowed all over except where their cloaks blanketed them.
"Lord Innis," one called. "Gan Kanar wishes to speak to you. Come with us please."
I shrugged and caressed Florina's cheek with my tail as I turned to leave. She kissed the tip and I suppose she watched me leave before returning to our quarters. When the king calls, you obey and Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane of the Empire of Toonol had been very gracious to me. He had decreed that my Irish title be accepted on Barsoom and so I was again minor nobility. He had allowed me a certain freedom and paid me well for my services. All things considering, I was well-off serving the man. And all I had to do was pretty much anything he told me to.
When we reached the throne room I stopped, bowed and said, "Kaor, Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane and the northern Toonolian marshes. I come at your bidding."
He told me to rise and started up for it wasn't his way to waste time. "Jason Obrien (he never used the title he insisted others call me), I have need of your service once again. Look here."
I approached and saw a large map of the marshland. It looked like every other map I saw of the Marshes. Mostly green and blue as if someone had tossed two pigments that wouldn't mix and tried to stir them together. There was almost no brown. In the East was a city labeled Toonol, in the west another city marked Phundahl and a number of smaller cities scattered here and there across the Marsh with Ardane prominantly marked in the north near Toonol. This map, however, had a small device that I recognized as from the harness of a Phundahl soldier.
"Some weeks ago we discovered a number of flyers from Phundahl flying towards and away from this point. The border between the empires of Toonol and Phundahl are unmarked and determined more by military presence than negotiation. I believe that Phundahl is trying to build a base here to establish claim to our part of the marshes. I want you to go there and spy upon them and learn what you can. Then report back to me immediately."
I looked at the map and said, "My Lord, Wouldn't it be easier to simply send a flyer?"
He looked a the map and said, "If we do, then they will know that we know that they are there. I wish you to be subtle. Sneak in, spy and sneak out without them learning of your presence. With the information you bring, we will decide what to do and if we choose to attack, then they will not be forewarned. You leave tomorrow before dawn." And with that I was dismissed.
It was clear why he wanted me. Most nations around the Marshes had heard of Gan Kanar's alien Panthan so if I were caught, they'd instantly now that he was aware of them. But I had talents that were useful here. Those modifications that the Demons created in me to work their starships worked equally well in a jungle or forest or swamp. I could climb from tree to tree and avoid being sucked into the ooze. I could climb any wall they built and hide in the rafters of their buildings for like Earthlings, Red Martians never looked up.
Florina wasn't happy, "He uses you as if you were his slave. He sends you alone on dangerous missions. We should leave here."
"And if I went elsewhere, what would be my reception? Death? Imprisonment in the pits? Slavery? Gan Kanar was right, I serve him because he has never harmed me and any other place would. If we went to your home of Amhor, what would happen? If you arrived a slave, I'd be killed by your family. If you arrived a free woman, we would never be together for they wouldn't allow you to associate with an alien panthan. Have you any other ideas?" I demanded.
She knelt, "No my Lord. I think every day, but to no avail." Florina was very distressed.
I sat and pulled her to my lap. "I'm not happy either but I've learned to accept things until I can find a way to change them. If I told Gan Kanar I wished to leave his service he would reward me and let me go. But where would we go?"
I sighed at what I would say next. "I've been on Barsoom half a year now and have risen from prisoner to minor noble. From penniless to secure. From alone to having a King to serve and you by my side. I've dome very well for myself so far. I may never go further but at least I am here. Yet, John Carter had become Prince of Helium by this time. Vad Varo became Prince of whatever city he married a princess of by this time. I almost feel as if I had let my planet down by NOT doing those things."
"My Lord, I am sorry I am not the princess you deserve. Even when free, I was a commoner of no position or wealth. You should send me away and seek a woman of position." She pressed her face into my chest.
"And why would I do that? Princesses are always kissing frogs looking for a prince to marry and complaining about peas under their beds or getting locked into towers that are guarded by dragons, or kidnapped by villains. No, I know when I am well off. You may not have the title and position of a princess but at least I know that I care for you and you care for me. What could be better?" I laughed. "I'm much happier with you."
"Then, My Lord, let me make you happy before you leave." She smiled that way that proved that she was a woman. But I said, "First I need supplies. I doubt that I can live off the marsh as John Carter does off the desert. So please collect for me the foods and medicines I will need. I go to the armory and collect ammunition." And so kissing her again, we left to accomplish our tasks.
It was only within the last month that Gan Kanar had allowed me to carry firearms. He had called me in after a sucessful mission and said, "Jason Obrien, of all my retainers yours is the only mind I cannot read. From what I hear this is peculiar to Jasoomians so I must trust my feelings and not your thoughts. If you harbor ill will against me or have ambitions, I do not know it. So when faced with the unknowable, one must do what they feel is the best path. Here is a revolver. Take ammunition from the armory and learn to use it."
The weapon was a marvel. Not as effective as a Demon beamer but far more so than any Earthly weapon. It was a very small caliber, maybe half that of a .22. But the cylinder carried a hundred rounds, each carrying a small nuclear charge that could blow a hole in a flier's metal hull the size of a fist, and left very little of a man's body upon detonation. The rifles were larger and more powerful but the revolver was a comforting weight on my right hip.
Returning to my quarters, Florina helped packed my gear and double checked to ensure I had everything. Then she said goodbye in the manner that fighting men have always been sent off.
My escort to the flier had to pound my shoulder very hard to wake me up in the morning. I huddled in the flier, wrapped in my furs to stay warm as the small airship left the city. The pilot flew low to allow me to breathe and to avoid detection by the enemy. And soon enough, it landed, and as I leapt over the side, the pilot called, "Signal and I will return," then he was gone and I had to find my way across miles of marshland to seek my goal.
Once off the flier, I removed my long-sword and clipped it across my back. The less I had banging against my legs and tail, the easier my travels would be. Having my sword there made it impossible to draw so I would have to avoid trouble if I could.
Crossing the marsh was miserable. Between the mud and water and reeds, I spend half my time knee to waist deep in muck. It was worse than an Irish bog during the rains. I tried to take to the trees(?) and that usually worked as many of the branches were close enough together for me to step or jump from one to the other. However, I was standing on one branch looking for my next step when I felt something wrap around my leg. Looking down, I expected a serpant but was, instead a vine. I stepped but it tightened so I drew my short sword and cut it in twain. Big mistake for the tree(?) reacted and suddenly I was the target of a dozen vines. Hacking about me I jumped away, not careing where I landed and was fortunate to reach solid ground. The tree(?) whipped its vines around, seeking me or any prey. I wondered if I were as to this carnivorous foliage as the insect(?) was to the flowers(?) in Ardane.
OK, reality check. Barsoom was a dying planet and so evolution was going all out to survive a loosing battle. Everything on this world was intelligent to an extent. Everything on this planet possessed some telepathic ability. And everything on this planet survived by killing and eating something else and thinking that I was on the top of the food chain would get me killed real fast. My main advantages were that I was stronger and faster than any Red Man and I tasted bad to the local insect(?) life; and the Barsoomians couldn't read my thoughts unless I made a real effort on my part. I was otherwise an empty void in their mental perception.
I kept on, remembering my directions. Since Barsoom lacked a strong magnetic field, I had to note direction by the position of the sun and moons, their directions and the time of day. Travel on Earth was a lot easier.
I had no real schedule so I stopped and ate when I was hungry and usually while sitting in a tree(?) because although the local wildlife may not like biting me, they seemed to enjoy what I was eating. I got to the point where I'd sit in a tree(?) holding on with feet and tail, use one hand to eat and the other to sweep bugs and vermin away. This is where my engineered body was a benefit. When I was crossing Africa, back when I was still human, George and I sat in a tree for a day and a half waiting for a pride of lions to leave. Because we had to use both hands to hold on to the branches, we were unable to use any weapons or swat flies. Now I could grasp a branch with my feet, wrap my tail around another for stability and have both hands free.
I was finishing my latest meal when I saw the flier approach. It was a little to the north so had I not seen it, I might have missed the Phundahl base completely. I noted the airship's position as it descended and figured it was about three miles away--no that would be eight or nine Haads away in Martian measurement. At least the locals used a base-10 so I could count on my fingers when I converted. Demons used base-12, adding two more numbers which I called tic and tac between nine and ten.
I cleaned up, the Demon-run starships were fanatical about cleanliness. I had been painfully taught well. Descending from the tree(?), I headed for my target. After six haads I saw the first sentry. I had been going slow and carefully through the trees when I noticed him walking his rounds. He wasn't making any effort at concealment so I settled in and started to look for hidden snipers. Maybe the sentry was a diversion?
No heat sources or e-m fields were noticable, which didn't mean a lot as a thick blanket of mud and grass could hide those. Usually though, when a sentry knows he is bait he keeps glancing to his hidden protector to make certain that he is still safe. This one did nothing of the sort and kept scanning the marshes. I noted a clear overhead path and bypassed him easily. I could say a lot about Gan Kanar but the man did know his business and I was learning a lot from him. Sometimes I think he would drop some saying like ‘why hire advisors that you won't listen to' becaue he was thinking out loud and it was these gems of wisdom I memorized.
I was easily able to get into the Phundahl camp via the trees which they hadn't bothered to cut down. Perhaps they liked the vegetation, perhaps it was good cover but they never thought that someone like me existed so they would suffer for their ignorance.
I traveled around the camp slowly, waiting in the dense foliage until the coast was clear enough to leap to another tree(?) or drop to the ground and run to my next hiding place. Each time I took a great amount of time to ensure my new position would be safe before I moved, thus moving even a Haad took an hour. At every opportunity I took pictures with my camera. Unlike Earthly cameras, this one didn't use film but recorded the images in three dimensions somehow. I could point it at a person and not only have a 3-d image but it also could determine his range and size and the time and date I took the picture. Whenever I saw the moons in the sky near each other, I'd take their pictures too so the tactitians in Ardane could use their positions and view at that time to more easily locate the camp. In short I was still happily spying on the enemy when the sun set. I settled down, wrapped in my furs that had been dyed to match the vegetation, and waited for the soldiers to settle down and sleep before I made my next move.
The Phundahl soldiers eventually slept with their radium lights dimmed. Somehow the Barsoomian lights recycled their energy. John carter said that the light they emitted returned to the lamps which was impossible for if that could happen how did we see without scattered light? No, they had some way of ensuring that the light was short range only so if you were a Haad away, the light was gone. This was impossible as energy continues forever, dimming only because it spreads over a large area so there was something else going on to cause the light to diffuse so quickly. They obviously did this not to save energy but to prevent approaching aircraft from seeing the illumination from miles away. Regardless how they did it, and what I saw the demons do was always impossible by earthly science, it worked and if I was a Haad away from a lamp, I was in darkness even though anyone under that lamp was visible. Then another Haad and the light from that lamp faded away. Tactically, it was good and bad, good because you could illuminate your entire camp but be invisible a half mile away. Bad because once I was inside, I could move about totally invisible.
The stars were brilliant due to lack of atmosphere to absorb their light, and I saw thousands of them. More than you could see on earth, so many that the constellations were drowned in the confusion. But unless one of the moons was passing overhead, it was too dark for even my enhanced night vision to see well.
I kept close enough to the lamps to enable me to see but far enough away to prevent me being seen. I was able to get very close to the buildings that were being built. Construction was simple and consisted of little more than an internal frame and canvas covering a wooden floor. The place looked more like a temporary camp than a real military base. I snuck into one unguarded building and found a number of small fliers moored to the ground. These ranged from small one-man scout fliers that resembled a surfboard with a windshield at the front and a small motor and propellor at the rear, to larger ones that seemed to be mostly cargo area. On the scouts, the pilot would lay on the flat deck, clip his harness to the deck rings and hang on as the wind whipped overhead. I climbed aboard one, grabbed a couple rings with my feet and tail and pretended I was surfing the California beaches with cute beach babes watching. I took pictures, noted the designs for future reference then left as I had come, silently and carefully.
Another building was the office and had one officer working late. But my telepathic invisibility allowed me to sneak past him undetected. I rifled through the papers I found but although Phundahl spoke the same language as did Toonol and all of Barsoom, their written language was different. My long months of learning to be literate in Ardane were useless here. I took photos of whatever I found and wondered how many more I could take before my camera was filled.
Another canvas cloaked building was the barracks. I glanced through a window to find half the men asleep, the other half playing at Jetan which is a 100 square chess game that required a different way of thought as Chess deals with lines of attack but Jetan is concerned with areas of defence. Others were playing Yano which is like like golf or croquette or horseshoes or.. well, they toss a small ball into a hole. You have to play it to understand it but the gambling was fierce. None of these looked like a crack regiment of soldiers. Normal grunts relaxing on their off-duty time.
It was the last and second largest building that told me what was happening. The place was deserted by men but was filled with cages and terreriums. One side had dozens of all sizes stacked, all empty, the other side was stacked as high, each cage holding some animal of the marsh. Clear vessels filled with water contained fish or other aquatic creatures, smaller cages lined with a fine netting kept bugs captive, but most of the cages were constructed of simple wire mesh, each holding an animal. Here a silian, there a bird(?), another held a swamp calot with overly broad feet. The largest secured a white ape though why one of these great brutes would be in the marsh is beyond wonder as these monsters haunt the ancient dry seabeds and the many dead cities. Last, there were cases with almost every plant or plant-animal in the marsh.
This wasn't an invasion, but a zoo! These people were simply collecting biological specimens for some reason. I now had the information Gan Kanar needed so I took more pictures and snuck out, climbed a tree and began to make my way past the sentries and to freedom. Once past these, I settled down and waited for daylight for only a fool crosses the Marshes in the dark. If these were zoo hunters, they'd need to start going out in the dark beause more than half the things in the Marsh slept during the day and only came out at night. So, wrapping my furs around me and grasping limbs with tail and feet, I fell asleep.
The morning sun awoke me so I rolled my furs up. After packing them away I had a cold breakfast from my pouch and relieved myself from a high branch. I entertained myself watering an arbok that was seeking prey thirty feet below. My stream followed the predator as he ran to and fro. Then, with bladder empty, I left the enraged, but confused arbok seeking something to bite. I took off across the trees towards my pick-up point.
I was crossing an open area when a flier passed overhead. I froze then ducked into the reeds but they turned. Drat! They saw me. So I ran. In the lighter gravity I could outrun any of them but with this soft ground and their air mobility they soon had my position and dropped soldiers around me. I had no choice but to shift my long-sword to my hip, easily done as I simply wrapped my tail around the sheath and held it from falling as I unbuckled both top and bottom at once. Then I swung it around and buckled it to my hip and drew.
"Surrender, we are five to your one." Their Padwar said.
"How do you know I am not bait and you should surrender?" I countered. A few of his men looked around but the Padwar didn't.
"Again, surrender. What are you? White skin like a Thern but a tail and-- You're Gan Kanar's pet moorouk aren't you?" A moorouk was a six legged tree-dwelling animal with a prehensile tail. It was the closest he could come to calling me a monkey.
"I am a noble in his service, if you mean to be polite," I suggested. I wasn't worried about being stabbed in the back for what an Earthling saw as a good idea, the Red Man saw as dishonor. They'd all attack, but to my face and probably only one or two at a time. Still, I could feel my tail twitching in the grass from nervousness.
One said, "He'd look good in the zoo. We should put him in a cage." Another offered, "Tur never made anyone like that so it must be an animal." Tur was their god for the Phundahlians were as religious as the Toonolians were athiests. Me, I grew up in a family where half my relatives were priests and nuns and that tends to pound religion out of your head real fast.
"Settle down," their leader commanded. "What are you doing so far from Ardane? Are you spying on us?"
"Good Grief," I swore. "Can't a guy even go for a walk to admire nature without someone accusing him of criminal activity? Do you think I want to spend my life in one small city in a swamp? There is an entire world out there that I can't see because I am stuck in Ardane. What opportunities are out there that I havn't seen yet? I don't suppose that you are hiring Panthans?"
I was hoping to talk my way out of this mess.
One of them, obviously more religious than the rest insisted, "We don't hire beasts, we put them in cages."
I looked at him sternly, then asked the Padwar: "How do you manage to do anything with idiots like this?"
His friends laughed at this so he turned redder than before and jumped me. I barely avoided his attack but instead of helping their friend or pulling him off, they stepped back and watched. The man was good but frankly, I had been playing with a sword for less than six months. He may have been using one in war for six centuries. I was outmatched and only my enhanced Earthly strength and speed kept me alive. Within a minute I was bleeding from a number of wounds which indicated he was playing with me so I got desperate and rushed him. He couldn't back off fast enough but blocked my thrust until it was too late and he felt my tail wrap around his ankle and pull.
"Foul!" cried one of his friends as I sent my foe upon his back and knocked bis blade aside. I put my sword to his throat.
"Enough!" the Padwar exclaimed. "It is enough you have humiliated him, moorouk. Let him live and you may pass in freedom."
"My name is Jason Obrien, Lord Innis--not moorouk." I insisted without removing my blade.
"Fair enough. Then I repeat, Jason Obrien, if you let him live, there will be peace between us. Kill him and you face me and your trick won't work a second time."
I removed my blade and saluted him, "You are a noble man, Padwar. If you have no other pressing business, it seems that I would not do well seeking service with Phundahl--so farewell."
As I turned to leave, he called, "You may be right but we are not all like Gheeyat here."
I tried very hard to not shake as I walked away. The Kris Wars were nothing like this. If you faced a man there, you did it through a view screen a thousand kilometers away. You touched a button that destroyed his entire ship. Or they vaporized you before you knew you were dead. War was clean out there. You could pretend that you were playing a game. This facing your enemy, and having to look into his eyes as you killed him--or he killed you--, was terrifying. But I was alive and that was the important thing.
I wasted no time returning to my pick-up point, relieved that the Phundahlian Padwar was as good as his word. I waited until dark. Shortly after sunset I saw a flier heat-glowing in the darkness (infra-red vision is useful) and flashed my pick-up code. The flier saw my light and settled nearby, I climbed aboard and the little ship returned to Ardane.
Once there I immediately reported to my Jed. "My Lord, they are simply collecting animals for their zoos. I don't believe that they intend to invade at all. Here the photographic proof of what I discovered. I will write my report later."
He took the camera and nodded, "You did well as usual. I shall consider my next move. Now I think we both will benefit from your bath." And with that I was dismissed.
I returned to my quarters to find Florina waiting. The dear girl almost flung herself into my arms but stopped, "My Lord, you stink! First a bath, then your reward for your success. You can tell me all about it as I scrub your back."
I'm glad they expected slaves to wash their owners, it make unintended exile on an alien planet that much nicer.
Who watches the spies?
Florina was watching me pump iron. I hated to exercise, but after more than a Martian year on Barsoom the lighter Martian gravity was robbing my bones of calcium at an alarming rate despite the calcium pills I took daily. If I didn't overstress myself regularly I'd end up as weak and frail as any Red Man. On Barsoom, that wouldn't be much of a problem but it would mean that I'd most certainly be stuck here forever, never to return to Earth for fear the increased gravity would kill me instantly.
When I was wee tot, a fat kid, my father tried to make a man of me by forcing me to pump iron but that had been a fruitless endeavor in his eyes. Yet again he was disappointed in his only son. For an Arizona cowboy who had joined the Marines at fifteen during World War II and had also fought in Korea and Vietnam, I can see why my father had thought so little of me. Now, ten years later, I am a soldier-spy on another planet. And no longer completely human. I had fought in wars that made the worst Earth conflict look like a tea party. Unfortunately I could never say, "Dad, I'm a man and a soldier now. Can't you be proud of me finally?" Father had died a century and a half ago. Doesn't life just kick you in the teeth sometimes?
"My Lord, you push yourself too much. You should be kinder to yourself." My little slave always worried about me. Unlike most more traditional master-slave relationships I thought of Florina as a friend and lover, not property.
In truth, I hated owning Florina. I recall talking to one drop-dead gorgeous woman from Texas once. She was 'Daughters of the Confederacy', 'Daughters of Texas', 'Daughters of the American Revolution' and her family had been in America long before there had been an America. I was just an Irish immigrant desperate for even her smile until she told me that black people had been better off as slaves. I told her that when Henry got tired of we Irish fighting British rule, he turned the country over to Cromwell who solved the 'Irish problem' by sending wagons through the streets and grabbing any Irish they could, tossing them into a cage then putting that cage onto a boat to sell the Irish to America as slaves. Mothers and children simply vanished to leave their families starving because they had been taken and sold as slaves to her ancestors. She didn't believe me because to her only black people were slaves but to us, more than 20% of Ireland ended up sold in chains to America. And now, on Barsoom, I had become one of those hated owners of humanity.
"It's the only way we can be together," Florian said for the hundredth time. "We are a country ruled by custom. Were I free, my family would forbid us to marry and they would destroy any egg I laid for fear the hatchling would have a--" she trailed off so I finished it for her.
"A tail. Florina, I know this is the best decision we can make, but I can't help but think what my uncle said: 'The path to damnation begins with a single step.' I wonder if owning you is that step."
She pulled me up and held me, "My Loving Master, on your world any Barsoomian Red Woman would be stoned and imprisoned for wearing what we see as modest attire. Our ways are different and as you said once, 'When in Rome do as the Romans do' so here, try to be as a Red Man. Own me and love me and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow."
"My dear," I sighed, "I'm not a Red man."
"Neither are you any longer a Jasoomian! You wear the harness of a Red Man and live in a Red Man's city. You serve a Red Jed--so is it too impossible to love me as might a Red Man?" She kissed me then and as always, the argument ended for neither of us had been able to solve this problem. How could I, an altered human from Earth be with a free Red Woman? I went back to my pumping iron. So long as my bones ached, I needed to do this.
I had grasped the bar with my tarsial feet and was doing leg lifts when I was summoned to my king.
Entering, I approached the throne, bowed and greeted him as usual, "Hail Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane, Master of the Northern Toonolian Marshes." I didn't even think of the words anymore, I had said them so often.
Normally he bade me to rise and approach quickly, but this time he kept me there longer and that began to worry me. Finally he said 'rise' and when I approached he simply stared. He had seen me a hundred times over the past year and aside from the first when he examined me in detail, he had ignored my anatomical additions. This time I could see him staring at my pointed ears, my eye slits and antennae then down to my feet and tail and hands. The Barsoomian harness leaves little to the imagination being little more than a g-string with a lot of belts to hold my weapons and gear so I had a lot of skin showing.
Finally, "Know you of Ras Thavas, the Surgeon?"
"Yes, Majesty. He lives in a fortress near Toonol doing his medical practice." The rumors were that Ras Thavas was more like a mad scientist than a surgeon.
"Recently, Ras Thavas has been subjected to a number of thefts. Papers, experiments, and occasionally a slave. Nothing of any military use but irritating anyway. He has been unable to find the criminal and sent word to the Jeddak for help. My Jeddak has heard of you and has directed me to send you to the Tower of Ras Thavas to find this thief and see why he steals. You may be gone for some time so take your belongings and slave and leave immediately." He then turned away and ignored me.
Upon returning to Florina, I said, "Pack everything, we are moving to the Tower of Ras Thavas for awhile."
"Ras Thavas! The man is insane. He does things that even those Demons who changed you wouldn't do. We should run away this time My Lord."
Ras Thavas was a medical genius but also a bit unhinged. He was well over a thousand years old and had long ago perfected Brain transplants though his efforts at cloning people was a disaster. He was obsessed with experimentation and would have been at home in an old B-movie with lightning on a dark stormy night and hordes of rampaging peasants bearing torches. I suspected that Ras Thavas could probably create his own hunch-backed assistant. Given my altered physiology I would have to sleep with a barred door around him. "I'll consider your advice after we depart Ardane," I told my little slave as we packed.
At my instruction Florian fetched a number of male slaves to carry my gear to the roof where my new flier was stored. The airship was a reward from my Jed for successfully concluding a recent delicate mission. I had no ill will against Gan Kanar who had treated me very well. Compared to my former owners in Iraq or the Demons, Gan Kanar was a model employer, giving me title, comfortable apartments, weapons, an aircraft, Florina, and a decent pay for my services. The fact that he habitually sent me into danger with no back-up or support was nothing that he didn't do to any of his other warriors. So I didn't like the idea of deserting the man. I'd look this situation over and if Ras Thavas had designs on me, I'd deal with that later.
My flier was small but had a cabin which was barely large enough for a bunk and some supplies. Fortunately, I didn't own much and Florina wasn't allowed to own anything (she kept my gifts to her in a box under my bed) so what I had was stored on the deck of the cabin. I just hoped I wouldn't have to sleep outside. I had made a few air tanks and a pump which I had mounted to the flier for when I needed to fly high (Florina could breathe comfortably on the top of Mount Everest) but I needed help breathing if we topped a tall building. But still I preferred to fly low. It scared Florina to see the trees passing beneath at our speed but I felt better breathing. Though she fear I risked a collision, I actually flew much higher than it looked.
It would take a couple of hours to reach Toonol, time enough to join the Mile-High club, though I dared not seek that altitude else suffocate. So we sat and talked instead. Haad after haad swiftly passed beneath the keel of my swift flier. Nearing Toonol I adjusted our course to bypass the city on the compass direction that would bring us to the Tower of Thavas. Running southeast of Toonol over the jungle covered islands of the great marsh, it was not long before I sighted the scientist's Tower, about which a small town surrounded the actual fortress.
I immediately slowed, for any aircraft approaching a city on Barsoom would have artillery trained on it. Then a small flier approached and hailed us, "What is your business in Thavas City?" the padwar called.
"I am Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, sent by Gan Kanar, Jed of Ardane to help Ras Thavas find his thief." I replied. They came close enough for the fliers to almost touch then he recognized my features and skin color and directed me to the tower. Unlike all other cities, hangers for fliers here were on the ground for though Ras Thavas had many enemies, there were but few who would stage a military invasion this close to Toonol. He had no need for high walls and could build outward.
I circled then landed in an open space as directed. I exited the flier with Florina close behind as a guard approached. He looked over my papers and orders then signaled a pair of sturdy male slaves to carry my belongings. The officer led our entourage to an apartment which was not very different from my quarters in Ardane. The slaves placed my belongings on a low table, saluted, then left. The officer looked a little impatient. "Ras Thavas will see you now."
I had heard that Ras Thavas treated nobles like commoners and commoners like slaves. He got away with that attitude only because his skills were so valued he could do almost anything he wished. He certainly appeared to have no courtesy for folks just arrived from a long and weary journey.
"Settle my things, Florina. I go to meet Ras Thavas." To the officer I said, "I am ready."
Ras Thavas was said to be over a thousand years old, some said he was deathless. He was said to have nothing but contempt for all ranks and refused to bow to even the Jeddak, treating all with disdain. A man like that had power and wasn't afraid to use it so what I saw was not what I expected. Somehow I expected to see a wizend old man on a throne surrounded by young beauties. Instead I was taken to a study cluttered with books, papers and jars containing various preserved small animals and others which appeared to hold human organs. The Mastermind, himself, was sitting with his back to me making notes. He never looked up as I was introduced.
I waited for a moment to be noticed for we were now alone. After a time politely cleared my throat then I spoke, "Ras Thavis, I am Jason Obrien. I have come in answer to your request to the Jed of Toonol and by order of my Jed Gan Kanar. Is there anything you can relate that would help?"
"Yamdor will tell you what you need to know," the Mastermind's voice contained a hint of anger. "I had asked for Gan Kanar's alien spy and I am sent a--" Turning about, the displeasure on Ras Thavas' face instantly evaporated to one of incredulity. "By Issis, you aren't a Red Man after all! So well do you speak our language! Come closer! Let me see you!"
I had a bad feeling as I approached. The man facing me was no ancient but a magnificently majestic warrior with a perfect body. Ras Thavas looked to be about my age of 25 or so, but with Red Men who do not show signs of age until shortly before they die, the Mastermind could be 25 or 800. I had heard whispered stories that as Ras Thavas aged or was injured he would transplant his brain into a new body. It appeared the stories might be true.
He muttered as he examined me, poking and prodding. "Basically human, internal organs are mostly Jasoomian but with interesting variations." He suddenly commanded, "Come with me!" and left the room at a fast pace. Yamdor, his assistant joined us on a journey that embraced several different levels in the tower and many twists and turns through the corridors. Eventually we entered a laboratory where Ras Thavas bade me sit. He then examined my hand in detail, then my tail, ears, eyes and antennae, all the while muttering as Yamdor took notes.
"You are definitely Jasoomian. Your internal organs are the same as John Carter and Vad Varo and the other Jasoomians I have examined. But someone changed you, made you better. Their techniques are amazing. I see no scar tissue at all. It is as if you were hatched this way. I'd love to--"
I jumped from the table with hand on revolver and said, "Ras Thavas, I am here to seek your thief, not be vivisected in the name of science."
"Thief, bah! A few trinkets when compared to what I can learn from you." He approached with an eager smile which faded with irritation as I moved in such a manner to place a wall at my back and my deadly radium pistol pointed at both Red Men.
I spoke swiftly, but very deliberately. "Ask what you will but the hand that touches me will be instantly attached to a dead man." I now wished I had listened to Florina. Images of every mad-scientist movie I ever saw began to have real meaning. I had laughed then at how stupid were heroes to enter the demented intellectual's castle and I had done exactly the same thing!
Ras Thavas snapped erect with a frown, then motioned for Yamdor to withdraw a little. With a smile of apology, the Mastermind continued. "I have become so accustomed to having my way that I sometimes forget my manners. Please, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis, let us sit and converse like gentlemen."
When Ras Thavas himself did as suggested, taking a seat at a table and having Yamdor do the same, I began to feel a little foolish standing in aggressive pose with a lethal weapon in my fist. I holstered the pistol and took a chair opposite the Red Men. Ras Thavas waited until I was comfortable then asked:
"How did you become as you are?"
"About four years ago a Demon star-ship landed on Jasoom and I was taken captive. The Demons perform medical experiments on their victims, in part to make them useful slaves and workers. They decided I should perform maintainance on their ships, thus modified my feet to grasp projections and added a tail as a third hand--for use in zero-gravity conditions. The hull areas are low light, so enhanced my vision to see infared, added sensitivity to electromagnetic fields and so on. For a time whenever I awoke from a sleep period, some part of my anatomy had been changed., so you can understand that I am somewhat leery of you, considering your reputation."
Ras Thavas was not the least bit offended. "I promised John Carter that I'd work for the good of people. You will be unharmed by me. I just ask that you tell me more about yourself and these Demons."
I had been fooled by clever wordings in the past. I had gained some caution along the road of life. I decided nothing would be lost to nail the promise more securely. "And this promise of safety binds all your people as well? I have no desire to be opened up by anyone at anytime"
He laughed, "You are a cautious one. And more than a bit paranoid. But yes, I agree. You may remain here in safety and leave safely whenever you wish. Now about these Demons. Where may I find them?"
"You don't want to. You may think you do but they come when they wish and leave the same way. To a Demon the Swarm is the only thing that matters and they gladly sacrifice individuals to save the Swarm. They see us the same way, as individuals to be sacrificed to help the Swarm."
Ras Thavas thought and said, "A fascinating race with many good qualities. I should like to meet with them someday." Well, Ras Thavas never went to sleep normal then woke up with a tail stuck onto his ass. It took me weeks to learn how to sit with the thing. I could see him thinking and planning so I excused myself. Yamdor walked with me through the warren of corridors until we stood outside of my apartment.
"I will meet with you after the evening meal to discuss your mission, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis."
As soon as I was in my room, I locked the door. And checked the locks. "My Lord?" Florina showed real concern.
"I'm having flashbacks, Florina. Ras Thavas has a great interest in the way your master is put together. What a twist, usually the mad scientist wants the beautiful woman for his experiments. But he promised us safety so we may be able to trust him for awhile. What did you learn from the other slaves?"
"They say Ras Thavas is quite insane. He promised John Carter that he'd work for the betterment of mankind but then defines 'betterment' in his own way. This city is a medical school but he keeps his greatest secrets to himself. He also allows anyone to live here without question and because of that they are loyal to him alone."
"And the missing items?"
"They have been noticed for weeks. Mostly papers and records then medical specimens and now people."
"Is there any pattern to all this?"
"I don't know, My Lord. Slaves are willing to talk to other slaves but they cannot say what they do not know."
I removed my weapons belts and hung them on the wall then sat on my bed and patted my lap. Florina fell into it and wrapped her arms around me so I could kiss her. "My dear, you make my job so much easier. We do as usual. You question the slaves and draw them out for no free man notices a slave or cares what they see. I will do the same to the rest and we compare observations." She was nuzzling my neck by this time and whispered into my ear as she bit my lobes, "Have you any theories?"
"None yet." Then I lost track of what I was about to say.
A meal was served in our room by other slaves. Florina would not let me eat until she had tried every dish, to be certain no malevolent potions had been introduced. Much later I buckled my weapons to my hips when Yamdor arrived. "We'll talk in my office," he said, leading the way.
The way was not a convoluted as my first trip through the corridors of the Tower of Thavas. Yamdor's office was a mix of management and medical experimentation, and was on the same level as my apartment. I sat in the chair opposite Yamdor's desk.
"How long have these crimes been happening?" I asked.
"I don't know. Ras Thavas is always putting things down and moving onto another project. We assumed that he simply misplaced them, but then other items not under his direct control began disappearing."
"Is there a pattern? Such as where things were stolen, what time of the day or night, what specific objects or value?"
"We never notice anything is missing until we need it. I made a list and noticed that there was a large number of cloning notes missing. Ras Thavas tried to create artificial life about a hundred years ago but that was a disaster. The navy of Helium had to burn the city of Morbius and a lot of marsh to stop the experiment run amok. He then tried to clone Malagors as a cheap means to carry his clones into battle. That was more successful as he worked on their eggs to produce multiple hatchings but the young are so small and weak they required special care to survive. Recently he has returned to that idea and I noticed that much of his research notes and specimens are missing. Plus, two of the people he tried to clone are missing too. At first I thought they had run away but now I wonder if they were stolen."
I noticed Yamdor watched me carefully. I asked the obvious. "Yamdor, did Ras Thavas tell you to spy on me?"
"Yes. After meeting you Ras Thavas is again thinking about improving the Red Man body. He tried grafting animal and human parts in the past but found these experiments largely unsuccessful. He is intrigued by modifications such as your Demons did to you."
I was getting nervous again. "I remind you that by his own words, I am safe until I leave."
"So long as you speak to him daily," Yamdor replied.
Well, I was forewarned, at any rate. Returning to business I asked: "Please show me where the items and people were before they turned up missing."
For the next zode or so Yamdor showed me around the tower. If I were a thief I would have been hard pressed to steal from some of these locations. How could someone steal a vat the size of a bucket in broad daylight from a busy laboratory in broad daylight and smuggle it outside unseen? An inside job? But the people at every crime were different and none had vanished afterwards. They needed a detective here, not a spy.
Near midnight, after Yamdor and I parted, I visited the communal dining area. My continuing failure to thrive on Barsoomian food meant I relied heavily, and frequently, upon a mix of vitamins and mineral suppliments. At times even the most bland of Barsoomian foods didn't agree with me at all. I used that time to look over my notes and saw no real pattern other than Yamdor's guess the thefts in general were related to experiments in human cloning.
I was haunted by stories told by other human slaves on the Demon ships. The Demons had early started cloning when the first humans were abducted from Jasoom shortly after the Norman conquest. The original abductees were too few in number, so the Demons flushed egg and sperm and created hundreds of babies with scrambled DNA to be raised by their captive humans. It prevented extinction in a race that was too limited in genetic material. The Kris had refused this as 'unholy' so by the time the Kris wars had ended, the Kris were already almost extinct from inbreeding.
But Demons knew more about anything than any Earthly or Barsoomian scientist. They had fifty million years to play around so they'd not care about Ras Thavas' work which they'd see as primitive and clumsy. Considering that when they grafted my tail on, or grew it while I was asleep, it worked perfectly. I could feel it and move it and it even had a fingerprint on the tip. I only had to get used to the thing. Also Demons wouldn't steal anything. If they wanted it, they'd simply scoop the entire tower up, take what they wanted and dump the Red Men on some planet to live or die. That's why the only living things on Hell are cockroaches. The Kris nuked the planet for three days and turned the surface into radioactive dust a half mile thick and somehow the roaches that hitchhiked with the original English managed to survive.
No, I didn't think it was an inside job and it wasn't any extra-terrestrial race I knew of so it must be local. But who would be interested in cloning?
Back in my apartment I settled in for the night, watching the marsh with Florina under my furs as we discussed what we knew. There was no clue that I could think of. Maybe had I read some of my mother's detective novels I'd be better prepared for this.
Finally we went to bed and as I fell sleep holding her, it occurred to me that Ras Thavas promised me safety, not Florina. He could hold her to force me to submit if he wished. And with such an unpleasant thought I fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning with breakfast by the bed. As usual, she had woken up first and fetched me breakfast so I could eat while she picked up and readied my harness and gear for the day. I remembered coming to an important realization before I feel asleep but couldn't remember what it was. Well, doubtless I'd remember when the time came. So when I finished eating and cleaned up, I kissed her goodbye and went to work again.
I was in conversation with Ras Thavas, me seeking answers to the crimes and he seeking clues to my modifications when my antennae picked up a strong magnetic field nearby. Now this was remarkable as Barsoom has such a weak magnetic field that most Earthly compasses wouldn't work there. Ras Thavas had nothing in his laboratory that would generate such a field. It wasn't there--then it was. I looked around and saw the door open which was unusual but not unknown for the Mastermind would often forget to close it unless he wanted privacy. Then I felt the field in a corner near a bookshelf that possessed no significant mass of steel. When I looked away I thought I saw something there but when I looked back, nothing.
As I talked about my hands in detail, I walked over to the door and closed it and secretly slipped the lock, then returned, "I'm sorry Ras Thavas, some of your questions are personal and I'd like as few people as possible to know about them." I acted nervous as he examined the bones in my hands, noting that the right and left sides were almost mirrored, as if the middle finger to the wrist were a center-line and they simply flipped the skeleton over. In truth, my outer thumb was a bit smaller than my original one. As he was poking and prodding my hands, feeling muscles and tendons and such, I acted nervous and scanned the area and noticed that there was an area where I felt the magnetic field that glowed a bit warmer that the surrounding area. I also seemed to sense a slight difference in the air temperature. For a moment I wished the lights lowered that I might try my infared vision, for I was now convinced that SOMETHING was in the room with us.
Deciding to experiment, I stared directly at that place and after a moment, it moved to the side. As if someone had been concealed there but wished to move to a new position. As the heat source moved, the books shimmered as if I were looking through disturbed air. Someone was there and cloaked. And compared to Demon Cloaks, this was effective but primitive for it took a second for light to settle in when he moved. Also I noticed that the curvature wasn't perfect. Now that I knew what to look for, I could see the books behind the man were distorted as if through poorly glazed window.
I jumped from the table and slammed our secret observer against the wall as hard as I could. Then I grappled with him and felt a fist strike my stomach. I whipped my tail around until I felt legs, wrapped and pulled as I pushed and we went down with me on top. Then, figuring that Ras Thavas could bring the man back, I pulled my dagger and drove it into the center of what was beneath me.
Ras Thavas wasn't stupid and knew instantly that I was grappling with an invisible enemy and called for assistance. By the time Yamdor had arrived with two guards, it was over. He knelt beside me and we felt our enemy as if it were totally dark. "Some sort of suit that covers his entire body, even his head." He commented.
I felt around, using my antennae more than my fingers and found a switch which caused the body to become partially visible. A punch shook it and it shimmered into view. He was wearing what appeared to be a space-suit of unknown design. Ras Thavas had never seen one but I'd worn many so I immediately recognized the air tanks, helmet, gloves and all. What I didn't recognize was that the suit was covered with wiring that was attached to a power source that when I returned the switch to its on position, caused the entire suit to become magnetically charged. A moment later, he faded from view as a number of small canisters opened and sprayed something which clung to it's surface. I turned the suit off and rubbed the suit to discover:
"The suit is covered with dust or fine sand. See how where I wipe, he becomes visible. The sand must be light refractive and contain a great deal of iron. He magnetizes the suit and sprays this dust which clings to the suit as iron filings to a magnet. Then when the suit looses power, the dust falls or is blown off. Ras Thavas, have you heard anything like this?"
He replied, "Yes, During the Morgor Wars, the Morgors of Sassoom used such a device to render their ships invisible. But a suit like this is unknown."
"Well," I added. "Now we know how your items were stolen. Let us remove the helmet and see who is doing this." It turned easily with no locks and when I pulled it off, we saw not a Morgor but a Red man. This was interesting. "Perhaps he stole this suit during the war?" I suggested.
Ras Thavas commanded his men to strip the body and take it to his medical laboratory, "Once I repair the damage you caused, we'll have our answers."
He attached tubes to the jugglar veins of the body then started a machine that pumped preserving fluid into the body and blood out. Within a minute, the wound had turned the consistency of soft gelatin and after stripping to his waist and scrubbing his upper body, the Mastermind began his surgery. The external wound was a simple penetration but body inside was a mess--as the red man had struggled blade had moved around and done considerable damage to lung and arteries, though his heart was untouched.
I quickly got bored with the procedure and turned to the suit. It looked functional and aside from the invisibility device, was completely normal, though obviously of foreign make. It wouldn't take much to repair the dagger hole though adjusting it for my hands, feet and tail would take some hard work.
I also found a pouch that contained nothing visible. But when I reached in I felt metallic cloth. It was strange holding an invisible blanket and I could see through it as if I were holding nothing. I passed my tail behind, touched it and still all was well, until I wrapped it around my hand. Then with all parts covered on both sides, I faded away. This could be useful so I rolled it up and placed it back into the pouch, intending to take it later. This did answer the question of how he got the stolen items from their locations. He simply wrapped them in the cloak and carried them out.
Finally Ras Thavas replaced the preserving fluid with the man's blood and woke him up. "You cannot move because I severed the nerves from your brain that control your arms and legs. I may repair that damage too if you answer my questions fully." He said to the man who simply lay there in silence.
I held up the helmet and asked, "Where did you get this? Who do you work for? Why steal information on cloning?" but each question elicited naught but a hostile glare.
"Let me, you are too gentle," Ras Thavas said. "Guards, in the pits is a sith, bring it here at once. I think we will start with replacing his arms and legs with the limbs of an insect. I presume you will want to be awake and observe your transformation. Yamdor, take careful notes for science." Then with still nothing said, he began to prepare his surgical instruments.
The two guards brought in a wasp the size of a bull and even in the low Martian gravity, I couldn't see how it flew, but fly it did. Entire sections of it's exo-skeleton had been removed and lay over the openings for Ras Thavas had been busy with the thing. The Mastermind had removed one of the things many legs and lay it next to the table upon which his victim lay and even had made the first incision when the man screamed, "STOP! In the name of Issus stop! I'll tell you everything!" His eyes rolled in his head, the horrible thought of having his body modified into a terrible monstrosity was evidently all consuming. Me, the man with opposable thumbs and a massive tail felt some sympathy for the red man's anguish.
I kept it simple. "You have one xat to tell us everything. Everything!"
The man looked at the insect and began, "I am Kanton, a poor panthan from Zor. I was out searching for work when a number of Morgors came from nowhere. I was captured and brought into their invisible ship where another Red man awaited. He told me that I was now a slave of the Morgors. If I served them well, they'd pay me well but if I betrayed them, they'd make me suffer." I noted that the doors were locked and scanned the area with every sense the Demons had enhanced and given but so far as I could tell, we were alone.
The man continued with no prompting for he knew that Ras Thavas was more than willing to carry out his threat. "I wasn't taught their language but my unnamed contact gave me this suit and told me what to steal from this place. I took what I was told and gave it to the Morgors. Please let me go, I'll go away and vanish forever."
"The man is a fool and a coward, his only use is to science. Yamdor, hold his arm for me," The Surgeon directed.
"Hold please," I asked. "Kanton, where is this Morgor ship, how many are they, why do they want cloning materials? You know what unasked questions to answer, I suggest that you begin quickly."
"I take the items nightly to a place nearby and wait. They have a device that can detect my suit and I enter the ship, give them what I took and the suit and they pay me for my services and leave me in Toonol. Later they call for me and I repeat the process." He was near hysterical for Yamdor had not bothered to release his arm nor had the Surgeon released his instruments.
"Where is this place?" I asked. He told me of a shallow mud flat covered with long marsh grass on the west side of the island upon which lay the Tower of Thavas. "Do you signal them in anyway? Do you, perhaps, activate some device on the suit?" Kanton replied negative to both questions. I had one last question to ask. "Why do they release you in Toonol and then come for you again?" I asked. I did not like that part of his story. Slaves are rarely left to their own devices for long periods of time.
At that point Kanton openly wept. "They have my wife and mother as hostages. I do not know where they are being held. I," he sobbed, "do not even know if they are unharmed or alive!"
These answers, and those to a few more questions, gave me enough details to formulate a plan. I turned to Ras Thavas and said, "The man may still be useful to us. Let him be, for now."
Ras Thavas shrugged his broad shoulders and put down his surgical instruments. "As you say, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis. Come, Yamdor. You, take the sith back to the dungeon."
Ras Thavas touched the intricate pump's button to return the man to a state of suspension. "The experiment would have been interesting," he said with unfeigned regret.
"Ras Thavas," I asked as the others prepared to carry off the sith, "can these men be trusted?"
"Quite," he replied with a glare that transfixed the sith's handlers, "for they know that if I even think they are talking, they will wish they had thrown themselves headfirst to a banth for fear of what I would do to them."
I waved a hand, "Dismiss them, sir, for we must plan." The man on the table was oblivious to all, and when Ras Thavas, Yamdor, and I were alone I presented my blueprint for dealing with this Morgor backed intrusion. "I will need your best swordsman and best snipers. Please tell me about the Morgors for I am not a long time resident of Barsoom and know only the name of these villains and no details."
"The Morgors are a race of human-like beings from the next planet out. We call it Sassoom, they call it Garobus (I called it Jupiter). Their skin is transparent as are their organs so if they stand before a light, they appear to be but skeletons with faint organs floating in place. They had long ago conquered their own world and enslaved their neighbors so turned their eyes upon the face of Barsoom. One hundred years ago they invaded us. We fought back valiently for ten years but were slowly losing. Then, over a period of mere months the stream of Morgor replacements ceased. Without continued support we were able to destroy the Morgors on Barsoom. We captured their ships and built some of our own to take the fight to their homeworld, where we learned how close we had come to extinction and the agency of our salvation.
"The Savator slaves of the Morgors took the opportunity of the Morgor attention to their invasion of Barsoom to commence a massive revolt. Undermanned prisons were overrun. The Savators armed themselves and then began a campaign of revenge upon their one time masters. It was this revolt that prevented the Morgors from supporting their war on Barsoom. And our astronomers saw a huge fleet of Morgor ships leave Sassoom for deep space. Why they chose to leave the system rather than use that fleet to conquer us is a mystery for the fleet had at least a half-million vessels and probably ten times that number in crew. But leave they did. No one has heard aught from them for the last century until today."
I pondered this. Interplanetary war was usually a fleet in orbit dropping nukes onto the enemy world until they were too battered to fight, then moving on to return to conquer the survivors later. Battles in space were fought at distances of hundreds of thousands of miles using missiles teleported to a range where they couldn't be stopped. This using space ships as nothing more than troop barges was new to me. It smacked of a pirate attitude, not a military one.
Ras Thavas explained away my concerns, "The Morgors are a military people and glory in war and killing. This warfare you describe is a horror. The Morgors like to see who they are killing because to them, fighting is more important than conquest. They have more than enough people to waste and care not how many die so long as they can fight."
"I'll keep that in mind when we execute our plan tomorrow night."
Florina was an emotional wreck when I entered our chambers. No matter how sweetly she pleaded, I told her nothing of the day's events. "Go to sleep. I have an early day tomorrow." But I did hold her tenderly until she went to sleep. Me, I stared at the ceiling for sometime.
The next morning we visited the pick-up area. I used a compass of my manufacture to detect the magnetic fields of the Morgor ship. If the needle moved, there was a ship nearby. It was simple and very effective. Once I was certain the area was clear, Ras Thavas caused many of the little devices made and scattered about the city while we dug pits into the heart of the mud flat, lined the holes to keep them from flooding, and wove mats to conceal the warriors. We settled in and waited.
When the needles signaled a ship, Ras Thavas' greatest swordsman walked out wearing the invisibility suit and waited. Soon a door opened in the air and a Red Man called for Kanton. He approached slowly to give us time to move underground to the ship's location and then as he stepped into the Morgor ship, he pulled his contact out and leapt inside with drawn sword and revolver. We followed and managed to get myself and a few others inside before the ship left the surface. Once inside it was a brutal fight. At the beginning of the fight the Morgors could easily have destroyed us in the hatchway with pistol fire, but insisted on attacking with swords and with swords we met them. Two of my men cut a path into which I leapt. I desired to reach the flight deck as quickly as possible. A half dozen Morgors stood between, and behind my men were hard pressed. I wasn't an excellent swordsman but a year of lessons had turned me into one of sorts. But I had advantages in this environment that were only enhanced by my Jasoomian strength.
I almost laughed at the Morgors charging me were the situation not so serious. With shrieks of impending victory on their lips, the Morgors fell to utter silence as I jumped up and grabbed rigging that was only useful in freefall, well above their heads. Two feet, a tail, one hand--I scuttled along the ceiling like a giant spider of unusal conformation. And in passing used the other hand filled with a length of keen-edged Barsoomian steel to crush the skull of one and shatter the collar bone of another. Then I was inside the flight deck where a lone pilot was bent over the controls. When I was through his bent was permanent. I turned the ship around. Moments later it was grounded on the mud flat. In moments the ship was ours and the steel echoed with cries of vitory.
Ras Thavas, chest heaving from his recent combat, grinned hugely. "Well done, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis!"
"Are the men inside? If so, I'll move the ship to the Tower of Thavas."
Our success had been planned for, there was a hanger prepared to accept the invisible ship. Had we failed it would have made no difference, we wouldn't have minded. As it was, the ship was stored. I disengaged all magnetic fields so my little detectors would again be functional, just in case there were other Morgor vessels around. Meanwhile, Ras Thavas ordered the bodies of the Morgors transported to one of his secure laboratories for dissection and examination.
I was left alone inside the Morgor ship. Even though constructed by the ship builders of Sasoom, many of the devices were patently obvious to me in function and design. Though I had no desire to see Demons again, a part of me felt a sense of homecoming to be on a space vessel. And then I had my idea.
Much would depend on Ras Thavas, but I felt that the service I had rendered would make the Mastermind ameniable to my request. Then there was the matter of Gan Kanar. Though I owned him a certain allegience, I was not tied by blood to the Jed of Andara. I believed there was an understanding between us that our acquaitance would last only as long as mutually beneficial. Should I leave, I would at least depart having accomplished his last charge for his alien spy. There was another matter, but that one I would address after speaking to Ras Thavas.
I found the Mastermind already at work one of the Morgor corpses. In a stout cage, with a ring side seat to view all that the great surgeon did was three living Morgors. They did not appear happy. Ras Thavas looked up as I entered.
"Kaor, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis! What brings you hence? I thought you lacked any enthusiasim for the medical arts."
"'Tis true, Ras Thavas. I have seen enough of surgeons to last a lifetime. I come to ask a boon."
"Indeed!" he instantly agreed, turning away from the opened chest cavity of the Morgor on his table. "Whatever you ask will be granted. However," he rinsed his hands with a strong solution, dried them, then took me by the arm to a side office and close the door, "I have news for you. By wireless I asked Jed Gan Kanar to lend your service to me for awhile longer. He agreed. Having dealt with the Morgors first hand, and with your special knowledge and skills, you would be invaluable should the Morgors return. After dinner we will question the Morgors at our leisure. Then we will examine the ship and see what it might tell us."
"It is the ship which brings me to you. I want it as payment for my services. That and nothing more.
The Mastermind frowned slightly, but insane mad scientist or not, he did have a sense of compassion. "Tell me why I should grant, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis."
At which point I told Ras Thavas how I came to Barsoom as a British spy through a stargate that had either collapsed or had changed to a one-way transit. I informed him that I had yet to complete that mission: my report to my Jasoomian superiors. I did not mention Gridley Wave, as I was not really anxious to know such apparatus was still on Barsoom. I had a different solution in mind.
"My magnometer compass will detect any Morgor ships, so accurately that artillery fire will be sufficient to deal with any that appear. But I cannot remain on Barsoom much longer. Unlike John Carter or Vad Varo, what the Demons did to me prevents me from processing food...I am slowly dying."
For a moment Ras Thavas rubbed his handsome chin then made an expansive gesture. "I have no interest in mechanical things. It is yours. Whatever you need to prepare for the trip to Jasoom, if Thavas can provide do not hesitate to ask. Please come say goodbye before you leave. Now you must excuse me, our mutual friend awaits."
A good mad scientist never lets a cadavar spoil.
Florina saw some blood spatter on my harness and panicked until I assured her it was not mine. Once she was settled on that score I gripped her shoulders with excitement. "We're going to Jasoom! There's the matter of supplies and so forth, but we can leave in a few days! I want to show you my world!"
A veil of fear descended on her pretty face. "My Lord, why do you want such a thing?" Florina asked.
I looked at her and holding her hands, said, "I am dying here. You know it, Ras Thavas knows it. He can do much but your gravity is weakening my bones and muscles, your thin cold air is making me sick with pneumonia. Your foods are poisoning me. I must return home if I am to live. We both knew this time would come so…" I couldn't finish so we stood there holding each other.
Daily we examined the ship and questioned the Morgors and their Red Man servants. Ras Thavas had Kanton's apartments emptied and brought here as well as the other Red Men who served the Morgors. We learned that Kanton's wife and mother were dead and by a strange act of kindness, Ras Thavas decided to let Kanton continue his sleep that was not sleep to spare the thief of Thavas the pain of grief.
Although I disagreed with his methods of interrogation, even the Morgors broke under the questioning of the Mastermind. None knew where the fleet had gone or even if it would return. They were part of a lesser contingent of Morgors who but recently escaped the genocidal Savators who had virtually exterminated their race. They had hoped to create armies of artifical hormads as did Ras Thavas once, to re-conquer Sassoom. Or, failing that, use cloning to increase their numbers, for Morgor women had always been few in number and most had died in the Savator rebellions. On cold, nearly sterile asteriods did the Morgors now dwell, and the ones under our control were likely all who might come to Barsoom.
Meanwhile. I had a Morgor suit modified to my anatomy. I fully inspected the smallest atmosphere suit for my slave's use, though the ship itself was fully pressurized and the suits would be necessary only in emeregencies. I had the vessel's air tanks purged a dozen times until the stink of ammonia-methane was gone for despite the fact that the Morgors breathed oxygen, they did add a generous amount of ammonia and methane to their air. I also figured out how to adjust the gravity to Earth-normal for I would have to do that slowly on the trip to Earth to give my bones and muscles a chance to re-adapt to what I felt was normal. Plus, increasing air pressure and temperature and changing the lighting from the red that the Morgors found normal to that of the sun was important. In short I had to adjust every facet of the ship to slowly increase over the three weeks Ras Thavas felt it would take for me to return to Jasoom.
Making these adjustments took a month easily but that time also included collecting supplies, flushing toxins from the Barsoomian food so I could eat them easily, spending time with Florina and so on.
One day, Ras Thavas took me aside and said, "You have kept your part of our bargain and worked hard to keep us safe from this threat. So I will tell you this. You cannot take Florina with you."
"Why not?" I asked dreading the answer for that is exactly what I was determined to do.
"Your body was created for Jasoom, which planet's air and gravity and temperature are to your body as Barsoom's is to Florina's. However for you, a Jasoomian on Barsoom, the danger is doable and I have no doubt that all the declines you have experienced will quickly reverse under the influence of your native planet. But the reverse it not true. For Florina it would be impossible. She simply cannot grow strong enough to survive your world. There is a good chance her lungs might collapse under the pressure of your atmosphere, and the high oxygen content might cause irrepairable damage to her cardio-vascular system. I say this only because I have noted that you have a very special relationship with your slave and that because of that relationship you would never place her in danger." And for the first time I heard real concern in the Mastermind's voice.
I was thinking fast and irrationally here, "Then, can you take a tissue sample from me, clone her a body and transplant her brain?"
"I thought of that myself and have been working to that goal but I am years away from success. I may be able to clone you and can easily place her brain within but there is a better than fifty percent chance the neural nodes will not match. While we have many outward similarities, our brains are different. I'd have to locate every one of at least a thousand nerves, do my best guess that the connections are correct for motor function and hope the rest will retrain or find new pathways. The only way I could know more in advance would be to dissect you, and I don't believe that is an option. Is it?" His laugh was that of a friend, not a request to be an object of scientific research. He did not wait for a reply, contining with earnest tones. "Then there is the problem of a clone. I cannot know if the clone would be fully Jasoomian or might exhibit this Weir design as you are now. I might be able to make it female but it wouldn't look like her. This is all moot, Jason Obrien, Lord Innis. I expect little success for any of the above for more than a few years." He placed his hand on my shoulder, looking very sad. "I'm sorry."
I went down to the ship. I looked at it. I felt the Irish rage rising. Would nothing ever go right for me? I let the bad temper consume me, I needed it gone when I returned to our room. Florina wept when I told her the bad news. But all in all she took it better than I expected. "I always knew this happen. I had hoped I could go with you." Then she came into my arms and clung to me. With a whisper that tore my heart, she raised her lips to mine. "Give me my night before you return me to Amhor and say goodbye forever."
I didn't tell her that when I returned to Jasoom looking as a Weir instead of a human, I couldn't be certain my own reception among the people of my world would be friendly. She had pain enough than to carry that concern after I was gone. So I gave Florina what she asked, and more. I scrubbed her back, rubbed her feet, did all that I could to make her feel loved so she would know how much I truly cared for her. Later, in the still darkess of our chamber in the Tower of Thavas, I heard her crying in a corner. I simply rolled over and cried myself. My father would have been disgusted with that but I didn't care.
It was time. Ras Thavas drew me to one side after I seated Florina on the Morgor ship. "You'll have the ship. You can come back. Perhaps by then I will have solved the chemistry imbalances which make it impossible for you to stay on Barsoom. I will do that work, if you ask it."
I was touched by the offer. "No. I'm going to free Florina. I can't ask her to wait for what may never happen. Goodbye, Ras Thavas."
I immediately lifted off in my lovely new spaceship. My companion said nothing as we flew north to Amhor. She refused to remove her collar on the flight. I granted her that dignity until we arrived at her city. Then, she asked me to remove her collar and when I did so, she left the flight deck as I talked to the Amhor navy, explaining that I was in the service of Toonol and returning one of their women to her family. They led me to a hanger and there I was surrounded by armed soldiers as I opened the hatch to allow them to enter.
I didn't recognize Florina as she came forward dressed as a Free Red Woman, so much had her harness and walk changed. She held her hand to me and I knelt and kissed it as she said, "Lord Innis, thank you for all the respect and courtesy you have shown me and for returning me to my city. Know that you will always be welcome in my home. Please have a safe and pleasant journey to your own home." Then she turned and with two soldiers carrying her belongings, the gifts I had given her. In a pouch she carried all the Barsoomian money I had ever earned, which was a considerable sum that should give Florina a chance for a good new start. But, and I knew why, she left without a backward glance.
I watched her through the viewport, suddenly glad as she turned and waved. I could only kiss my fingers and touch them to the port. I lifted ship and, once clear of the airways above Amhor, threw the throttle forward. It would be a long and lonely trip home and I missed her so much already.