Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter VI. Ras Thavas, Master Mind of Mars

As they conducted us down the corridor toward the main entrance to the building my mind was occupied in reviewing the incredible occurrences of the day. These few hours had encompassed a lifetime. I had passed through such adventures as in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined. I had become an officer in the hideous army of a city the very existence of which I had not dreamed of a few hours ago. I had met a strange girl from far Amhor; and, for the first time in my life, I had fallen in love; and almost within the hour I had lost her. Love is a strange thing. Why it had come to me as it had, how it had come, were quite beyond me to explain. I only knew that I loved Janai, that I should always love her. I should never see her again. I should never know if I might have won her love in return. I should never be able to tell her that I loved her. My whole life hereafter would be colored and saddened by the thought of my love, by my remembrance of her; yet I would not have relinquished my love for her could I have done so. Yes, love is a strange thing.

At the intersection of the main corridor with another, John Carter and I were led to the right. Pandar and Gan Had continued on toward the main entrance. We called goodbye to one another and were gone. It is remarkable how quickly friendships are formed in the midst of a common jeopardy. These men were from strange cities commonly enemies of Helium, yet because we had endured danger together I felt a definite friendly attachment toward them; and I did not doubt but that they were inclined similarly toward John Carter and me. I wondered if we should ever meet again.

They led us down this new corridor and across a great courtyard into another building, above the entrance to which were hieroglyphics strange to me. No two nations of Barsoom have the same written language, although there is a common scientific language understood by the savants of all nations; yet there is but one spoken language upon Barsoorn, which all peoples use and understand, even the savage green men of the dead sea bottom. But John Carter is very learned and reads many languages. He told me that the hieroglyphics read Laboratory Building.

We were taken into a medium size audience chamber where an officer told us to wait and that he would fetch Ras Thavas, that we might meet the man we were to help guard and watch. He also told us that Ras Thavas was to be treated with respect and consideration as long as he made no effort to escape. He had the freedom of the laboratory and was, in a sense, all powerful there. If he called on us to help him in his work, we were to do so. It was evident that the Council of the Seven Jeds looked with awe upon him although he was their prisoner, and that they had sense enough to make life as easy for him as possible. I was very anxious to see Ras Thavas, of whom I had heard. He was called The Master Mind of Mars, and although he had often turned his remarkable talents to nefarious schemes, he was nevertheless admired because of his great learning and skill. He was known to be over a thousand years old; and because of this fact alone I would have been curious to see him, as the span of life upon Barsoom is seldom so great. A thousand years is supposed to be the limit, but because of our warlike natures and the prevalency of assassination few attain it. He must, indeed, have been a withered little mummy of a man, I thought; and I wondered that he had the strength to carry on the enormous work in which he was engaged.

We had waited but a short time when the officer returned accompanied by an extremely handsome young man who looked at us with a haughty and supercilious air, as though we had been the dregs of humanity and he a god.

“Two more spies to watch me,” he sneered.

“Two more fighting men to protect you, Ras Thavas,” corrected the officer who had brought us here from the other building.

So this was Ras Thavas! I could not believe my eyes. This was a young man, unquestionably; for while it is true that we Martians show few traces of advancing years until almost the end of our allotted span, at which time decay is rapid, yet there are certain indications of youth that are obvious.

Ras Thavas continued to scrutinize us. I saw his brows contract in thought as his eyes held steadily on John Carter as though he were trying to recall a half remembered face. Yet I knew that these two men had never met. What was in the mind of Ras Thavas?

“How do I know,” he suddenly snapped, “that they have not wormed their way into Morbus to assassinate me? How do I know that they are not from Toonol or Phundahl?”

“They are from Helium,” replied the officer. I saw Ras Thavas’s brow clear as though he had suddenly arrived at the solution of a problem. “They are two panthans whom we found on their way to Phundahl seeking service,” concluded the officer.

Ras Thavas nodded. “I shall use them to assist me in the laboratory,” he said.

The officer looked surprised. “Had they not better serve in the guard for a while?” he suggested, “That will give you time to have them watched and to determine if it would be safe to have them possibly alone with you in the laboratory.”

“I know what I am doing,” snapped Ras Thavas. “I don’t need the assistance of any fifth-rate brain to decide what is best for me. But perhaps I honor you.”

The officer flushed. “My orders were simply to turn these men over to you. How you use them is none of my concern. I merely wished to safeguard you.”

“Then carry out your orders and mind your own business. I can take care of myself.” His tone was as disagreeable as his words. I had a premonition that he was not going to be a very pleasant person with whom to work.

The officer shrugged, gave a command to the hormad warriors that had accompanied us, and marched them from the audience chamber. Ras Thavas nodded to us. “Come with me,” he said. He led us to a small room, the walls of which were entirely lined with shelves packed with books and manuscripts. There was a desk littered with papers and books, at which he seated himself, at the same time motioning us to be seated at a bench nearby.

“By what names do you call yourselves?” he asked.

“I am Dotar Sojat,” replied John Carter, “and this is Vor Daj.”

“You know Vor Daj well and have implicit confidence in him?” demanded Ras Thavas. It seemed a strange question, since Ras Thavas knew neither of us.

“I have known Vor Daj for years,” replied The Warlord. “I would trust to his loyalty and intelligence in any matter and to his skill and courage as a warrior.”

“Very well,” said Ras Thavas; “then I can trust you both.”

“But how do you know you can trust me?” inquired John Carter quizzically.

Ras Thavas smiled. “The integrity of John Carter, Prince of Helium, Warlord of Barsoorn, is a matter of worldwide knowledge,” he said.

We looked at him in surprise. “What makes you think I am John Carter?” asked The Warlord. “You have never seen him.”

“In the audience chamber I was struck by the fact that you did not appear truly a red Martian. I examined you more closely and discovered that the pigment with which you had stained your skin had worn thin in spots. There are but two inhabitants of Jasoom on Mars. One of them is Vad Varo, whose Earth name was Paxton. I know him well, as he served as my assistant in my laboratories in Toonol. In fact it was he whom I trained to such a degree of skill that he was able to transfer my old brain to this young body. So I knew that you were not Vad Varo. The other Jasoomian being John Carter, the deduction was simple.”

“Your suspicions were well founded and your reasoning faultless,” said The Warlord. “I am John Carter. I should soon have told you so myself, for I was on my way to Phundahl in search of you when we were captured by the hormads.”

“And for what reason did The Warlord of Barsoom search for Ras Thavas?” demanded the great surgeon.

“My princess, Dejah Thoris, was badly injured in a collision between two fliers. She has lain unconscious for many days. The greatest surgeons of Helium are powerless to aid her. I sought Ras Thavas to implore his aid in restoring her to health.”

“And now you find me a prisoner on a remote island in the Great Toonolian Marshes—a fellow prisoner with you.”

“But I have found you.”

“And what good will it do you or your princess?” demanded The Master Mind of Mars.

“You would come with me and help her if you could?” asked John Carter.

“Certainly. I promised Vad Varo and Dar Tarus, Jeddak of Phundahl, that I would dedicate my skill and knowledge to the amelioration of suffering and the betterment of mankind.”

“Then we shall find a way,” said John Carter.

Ras Thavas shook his head. “It is easy to say, but impossible to accomplish. There can be no escape from Morbus.”

“Still we must find a way,” replied The Warlord. “I foresee that the difficulties of escaping from the island may not be insuperable. It is travelling the Great Toonolian Marshes that gives me the greatest concern.”

Ras Thavas shook his head. “We can never get off the island. It is too well patrolled, for one thing; and there are too many spies and informers. Many of the officers who appear to be red Martians are, in reality, hormads whose brains I have been forced to transfer to the bodies of normal men. Not even I know who these are, as the operations were performed only in the presence of the Council of the Seven Jeds; and the faces of the red men were kept masked. They have cunning minds, some of these seven jeds. They wanted those they could trust to spy upon me, and if I had seen the faces of the red Martians to whom I gave hormad brains their plan would have been ineffective. Now I do not know which of the officers surrounding me are hormads and which are normal men—except two. I am sure of John Carter because I would have known had I performed a brain transfer on a man with the white skin of a Jasoomian; and I have John Carter’s word as to you, Vor Daj. Beyond us three there is none we may trust; so be careful with whom you become friendly and what you say in the hearing of others. You will—”

Here he was interrupted by a veritable pandemonium that suddenly broke out in another part of the building. It seemed a horrific medley of screams and bellowings and groans and grunts, as though a horde of wild beasts had suddenly gone berserk.

“Come,” said Ras Thavas, “to the spawning of the monsters. We may be needed.”