Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter IX. Man Into Hormad

When I regained consciousness, the first sight that met my eyes was that of my own body lying on an ersite slab a few inches from me. It was rather a ghastly experience, looking at one’s own corpse; but when I sat up and looked down at my new body, it was even worse. I hadn’t anticipated just how horrible it would be to be a hormad with a hideous face and malformed body. I almost loathed to touch myself with my new hands. Suppose something should happen to Ras Thavas! I broke out in a cold sweat at the thought. John Carter and the great surgeon stood looking at me.

“What is the matter?” demanded the latter. “You look ill.”

I told him of the fear that had suddenly assailed me. He shrugged. “It would be just too bad for you,” he said. “There is another man in the world, probably the only other man in the entire universe, who could restore your brain to your body were anything to happen to me; but you could never get him to Morbus as long as the hormads rule here.”

“Who is he?” I asked.

“Vad Varo, a prince of Duhor now. He was Ulysses Paxton of Jasoom, and he was my assistant in my laboratory at Toonol. It was he who transferred my old brain to this new body. But don’t worry. I have lived over a thousand years. The hormads need me. There is no reason why I should not live another thousand years. Before that I shall have trained another assistant, so that he can transfer my brain to a new body. You see, I should live forever.”

“I hope you do,” I said. Just then I discovered the body of the assassin of Amhor lying on the floor. “What’s the matter with Tor-dur-bar?” I asked.

“Shouldn’t he have regained consciousness before I did?”

“I saw to it that he didn’t,” said Ras Thavas. “John Carter and I decided that it might be well if none other than he and I knew that your brain had been transferred to the body of a hormad.”

“You were right. Let them think that I am all hormad.”

“Carry Tor-dur-bar into my study. Let him come to there, but before he does you must be out of sight. Go out into the laboratory and help with the emergence of the new hormads. Tell the officer there that I sent you.”

“But won’t Tor-dur-bar recognize me when he sees me later?”

“I think not. He never saw his own face often enough to become familiar with it. There are few mirrors in Morbus, and his new body was such a recent acquisition that there is little likelihood that he will recognize it. If he does, we’ll have to tell him.”

The next several days were extremely unpleasant. I was a hormad. I had to consort with hormads and eat raw animal tissue. Ras Thavas armed me, and I had to destroy the terrible travesties on humanity that wriggled out of his abominable tanks so malformed that they were useless even as hormads. One day I met Teeaytan-ov, with whom I had flown to Morbus on the back of a malagor. He recognized me, or at least he thought he did.

“Kaor, Tor-dur-bar!” he greeted me. “So you have a new body. What has become of my friend, Vor Daj?”

“I do not know,” I said. “Perhaps he went into the vats. He spoke of you often before I lost track of him. He was very anxious that you and I be friends.”

“Why not?” asked Teeaytan-ov.

“I think it an excellent idea,” I said, for I wanted all the friends I could get. “What are you doing now?”

“I am a member of the Third Jed’s bodyguard. I live in the palace.”

“That is fine,” I said, “and I suppose you see everything that goes on there.”

“I see a great deal. It makes me want to be a jed. I should like a new body such as they have.”

“I wonder what became of the girl who was brought to the palace at the same time Vor Daj was,” I ventured.

“What girl?” he asked.

“She was called Janai.”

“Oh, Janai. She is still there. Two of the jeds want her, and the others won’t let either have her. At least not so far. They are going to take a vote on it soon. I think every one of them wants her. She is the best looking woman they have captured for a long time.”

“She is safe for the time being, then?” I asked.

“What do you mean, safe?” he demanded. “She will be very lucky if one of the jeds acquires her. She will have the best of everything and won’t have to go to the vats of Ras Thavas. But why are you so interested in her? Perhaps you want her for yourself,” and he burst into laughter. He would have been surprised indeed had he known that he had scored a bull’s-eye.

“How do you like being a member of a jed’s bodyguard?” I asked.

“It is very fine. I am treated well, have plenty to eat and a nice place to sleep, and I do not have to work hard. Also, I have a great deal of freedom. I can go wherever I please on the island of Morbus except into the private quarters of the jeds. You cannot leave this laboratory.” He touched a medal hanging from a chain about his neck. “It is this,” he said, “that gives me so much freedom. It shows that I am in the service of the Third Jed. No one dares interfere with me. I am a very important person, Tor-dur-bar. I feel quite sorry for you who are only a piece of animal tissue that can walk around and talk.”

“It is nice to have such an important friend as you,” I said, “especially one who will help me, if he can.”

“Help you in what way?” he asked.

“The jeds are constantly calling for new warriors to replace those that are killed. I would make a good warrior for the bodyguard of a jed, and it would be nice if you and I could be together; so, if I am chosen to appear before them for examination, you can put in a good word for me when they ask who knows me.”

He thought this over for a minute in his slow-witted way, but finally he said, “Why not? You look very strong; and sometimes, when the members of the guard get to quarrelling among themselves, it is well to have a strong friend. Yes, I’ll help you, if I can. Sometimes they ask us if we know a good strong warrior who is intelligent, and then they send for him and examine him. Of course you are not very intelligent, but you might be able to pass because you are so strong. Just how strong are you?”

As a matter of fact, I didn’t know, myself. I knew I was quite strong, because I lifted bodies so easily; so I said, “I really don’t know.”

“Could you lift me?” he asked. “I am a very heavy person.”

“I can try,” I said. I picked him up very easily. He didn’t seem to weigh anything; so I thought I would see if I could toss him up over my head. I succeeded quite beyond my expectations, or his either. I tossed him almost to the ceiling of the room, and caught him as he came down. As I set him on his feet, he looked at me in astonishment.

“You are the strongest person in Morbus,” he said. “There never was any one as strong as you. I shall tell the Third Jed about you.”

He went away then, leaving me quite hopeful. At best, I had anticipated that Ras Thavas might some day include me with an assignment of hormads to be examined by the jeds; but as the ranks of the bodyguards were often filled by drafts on the villages outside the city, there was no telling how long I should have to wait for such an opportunity.

Ras Thavas had detailed me as the personal servant of John Carter, so we were not separated; and as he worked constantly with Ras Thavas, the three of us were often together. In the presence of others, they treated me as they would have treated any other hormad—like a dumb and ignorant servant, but when we were alone they accepted me once more as an equal. They both marvelled at my enormous strength, which was merely one of the accidents of the growth of Tor-dur-bar’s new body; and I was sure that Ras Thavas would have liked to slice me up and return me to the vats in the hope of producing a new strain of super-powerful hormads.

John Carter is one of the most human persons I have ever known. He is in every sense of the word a great man, a statesman, a soldier, perhaps the greatest swordsman that ever lived, grim and terrible in combat; but with it all he is modest and approachable, and he has never lost his sense of humor. When we were alone he would joke with me about my newly acquired “pulchritude,” laughing in his quiet way until his sides shook; and I was, indeed, a sight to inspire both laughter and horror. My great torso on its short legs, my right arm reaching below my knees, my left but slightly below my waist line, I was all out of proportion.

“Your face is really your greatest asset,” he said, after looking at me for a long time. “I should like to take you back to Helium as you are and present you at the jeddak’s next levee. You know, of course, that you were considered one of the handsomest men in Helium. I should say, ‘Here is the noble Vor Daj, a padwar of The Warlord’s Guard,’ and how the women would cluster around you!”

My face really was something to arrest attention. Not a single feature was placed where it should have been, and all were out of proportion, some being too large and some too small. My right eye was way up on my forehead, just below the hair line, and was twice as large as my left eye which was about half an inch in front of my left ear. My mouth started at the bottom of my chin and ran upward at an angle of about 45 degrees to a point slightly below my huge right eye. My nose was scarcely more than a bud and occupied the place that my little left eye should have had. One ear was close set and tiny, the other a pendulous mass that hung almost to my shoulder. It inclined me to believe that the symmetry of normal humans might not be wholly a matter of accident, as Ras Thavas believed.

Tor-dur-bar, with his new body, had wanted a name instead of a number; so John Carter and Ras Thavas had christened him Tun-gan, a transposition of the syllables of Gantun Gur’s first name. When I told them of my conversation with Teeaytan-ov they agreed with me that I should keep the name Tor-dur-bar. Ras Thavas said he would tell Tun-gan that he had grafted a new hormad brain into his old body, and this he did at the first opportunity.

Shortly thereafter I met Tun-gan in one of the laboratory corridors. He looked at me searchingly for a moment, and then stopped me. “What is your name?” he demanded.

“Tor-dur-bar,” I replied.

He shuddered visibly. “Are you really as hideous as you appear?” he asked; and then, without waiting for me to reply, “Keep out of my sight if you don’t want to go to the incinerator or the vats.”

When I told John Carter and Ras Thavas about it, they had a good laugh. It was good to have a laugh occasionally, for there was little here that was amusing. I was worried about Janai as well as the possibility that I might never regain my former body; Ras Thavas was dejected because of the failure of his plan to regain his former laboratory in Toonol and avenge himself on Vobis Kan, the jeddak; and John Carter grieved constantly, I knew, over the fate of his princess.

While we were talking there in Ras Thavas’s private study an officer from the palace was announced; and without waiting to be invited, he entered the room. “I have come to fetch the hormad called Tor-dur-bar,” he said. “Send for him without delay.”

“This is an order from the Council of the Seven Jeds,” said the officer. He was a sullen, arrogant fellow; doubtless one of the red captives into whose skull the brain of a hormad had been grafted.

Ras Thavas shrugged and pointed at me. “This is Tor-dur-bar,” he said.