Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XIII. John Carter Disappears

After leaving Janai I went at once to the laboratory building to find John Carter and learn what he knew of the disappearance of Ras Thavas. Janai and I had decided that she should remain where she was for a few days so that Ay-mad’s suspicions would not be aroused by my finding her too easily. I had determined to institute a search during which she should be found by someone else, though I would be close at hand to prevent any miscarriage of our plans.

One of the first persons I met on entering the laboratory building was Tun Gan.

At sight of me he flew into a rage. “I thought I told you to keep out of my sight,” he blustered. “Do you want to go to the incinerator?”

I pointed to my badge of office, which he evidently had not noticed. “You wouldn’t send one of the jeddak’s odwars to the incinerator, would you?” I inquired.

He was dumfounded. “You an odwar?” he demanded.

“Why not?” I asked.

“But you are only a hormad.”

“Perhaps, but I am also an odwar. I could have you sent to the incinerator or the vats, but I don’t intend to. I have your body; so we should be friends. What do you say?”

“All right,” he agreed. What else could he do? “But I don’t understand how you got to be an odwar with that awful looking face and your deformed body.”

“Don’t forget that they were your face and body once,” I reminded him. “And also don’t forget that you couldn’t get anywhere with them. It takes more than a face or body to get places—it takes a brain that is good for something beside thinking of food.”

“I still can’t understand why you should be made an odwar when there are such fine looking men as I to choose from.”

“Well, never mind. That isn’t what I came here to discuss. I have been placed in full charge of the laboratory building. I have come to talk with John Carter. Do you know where he is?”

“No. Neither does any one else. He disappeared at the same time Ras Thavas did.”

That was a new blow. John Carter gone! But on second thought the fact gave me renewed hope. If they were both gone and nobody knew what had become of them, it seemed to me quite possible that they had found the means to escape together. I was certain John Carter would never desert me. If he were gone of his own free will, he would return. He’d never leave me housed in this awful carcass.

“Has no one any idea of what became of them?” I asked.

“They may have been sliced up and thrown into one of the vats,” said Tun Gan.

“Some of the older hormads have been getting out of hand, and Ras Thavas had threatened them with the incinerator. They might have done it to save themselves or just to be revenged upon him.”

“I’m going to Ras Thavas’s study,” I said. “Come with me.”

I found the study in about the same condition I had last seen it. There was nothing to indicate that a struggle of any kind had taken place, not a clue that pointed to any solution of the mystery. I was completely baffled.

“When were they last seen?”

“About three days ago. One of the hormads said he saw them coming up from the pits. I don’t know why they were there. No one goes there any more since they stopped storing bodies, and no prisoners are kept there. They use the pits beneath some of the other buildings for them.”

“Were the pits searched?”

“Yes, but no trace of them was found.”

“Wait here a minute,” I said. I wanted to go into the small laboratory and have a look at my body. I wanted to be sure it was safe, but I didn’t wish Tun Gan to see it. I had an idea that he would suspect something if he saw my body. He wasn’t very brilliant, but it wouldn’t have taken much intelligence to guess what had become of the brain of Vor Daj.

Tun Gan waited for me in the study. I knew where the key to the small laboratory was hidden, because Ras Thavas had shown me; and I was soon turning it in the lock. A moment later I stepped into the room, and then I got another shock -my body had disappeared!

My knees became so weak that I collapsed onto a bench, and there I sat with my head in my hands. My body gone! With it had gone my last hope of winning Janai.

It was unthinkable that I could win her with this awful face and grotesque body.

I wouldn’t have wanted to win her like that. I couldn’t have had any respect for her or for any other woman who could have chosen such an abominable creature as I.

Presently I gathered myself together and walked over to the table where I had last seen my body. Everything seemed to be in order, except that the container that had held my blood was missing. Could it be possible that Ras Thavas had transferred another brain to my body? He couldn’t have done it without John Carter’s approval, and if John Carter had approved there must have been a good reason for it. One occurred to me. They might have found an opportunity to escape from the island that had to be taken advantage of on the instant or not at all. In that case, it might have seemed wiser to John Carter to have another brain transferred to my skull and take my body along with him, rather than leave it here in danger of destruction, Of course he would only have done this had he been assured that they could return later and rescue me. But of course this was all idle conjecture. The truth of the matter was that there was no explanation.

As I sat there thinking about the matter, I recalled the case history that Ras Thavas had written and hung at the foot of the table where my body lay. I thought I would take a look at it and see if any further entries had been made, but when I walked to the foot of the table I saw that the history was not there.

In its place hung a single sheet on which were written two numbers – “3-17.”

What did they signify? Nothing, as far as I was concerned.

I returned to the study and directed Tun Gan to accompany me while I made an inspection of the laboratories, for if I were to be in charge I’d have to make some semblance of a gesture in line with my newly acquired authority.

“How have things been going since Ras Thavas disappeared?” I asked Tun Gan.

“Not so well,” he replied. “In fact things seem to go all wrong without him,” and when I reached the first vat room I realized that that was a crass understatement of fact. Things couldn’t well have been much worse. The floor was covered with the remains of hideous monstrosities that the officers had had to have destroyed. The parts still lived. Legs were trying to walk, hands were clutching at whatever came within reach, heads were lying about screaming and moaning. I called the officer in charge to me.

“What is the meaning of this?” I demanded. “Why hasn’t something been done with these things?”

“Who are you to question me, hormad?” he demanded.

I touched the insignia of my rank, and his attitude changed sharply. “I am in charge here now,” I said. “Answer my questions.”

“No one but Ras Thavas knew exactly how to slice them up for the vats, he said, “nor which vats to put them in.”

“Have them taken to the incinerator,” I said. “Until Ras Thavas returns burn all that are useless.”

“Something has gone wrong in No. 4 vat room,” he said. “Perhaps you had better have a look in there.”

When I reached No. 4 the sight that met my eyes was one of the most horrible I have ever looked upon. Something had evidently gone wrong with the culture medium, and instead of individual hormads being formed, there was a single huge mass of animal tissue emerging from the vat and rolling out over the floor.

Various internal and external human parts and organs grew out of it without any relation to other parts, a leg here, a hand there, a head somewhere else; and the heads were mouthing and screaming, which only added to the horror of the scene.

“We tried to do something about it,” said the officer, “but when we tried to kill the mess, the hands clutched us and the heads bit us. Even our hormads were afraid to go near it, and if anything is too horrible for them you can’t expect human beings to stomach it.”

I quite agreed with him. Frankly, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get near the vat to drain off the culture medium and stop the growth; and with the hormads afraid to approach it, it would be impossible to destroy it.

“Shut the doors and windows,” I said. “Eventually it will smother itself or starve to death,” but as I was leaving the room I saw one of the heads take a large bite from an adjacent piece of the tissue. At least it wouldn’t starve to death.

The scene haunted me for a long time afterward, and I couldn’t rid my mind of speculation upon what was transpiring in that chamber of horrors, behind those closed doors and windows.

I spent several days trying to get things straightened out in the laboratory building; and succeeded, largely due to the fact that no one knew just how to prepare the tissue for the culture vats as they were emptied by the development of their horrid spawn. The result was a rapidly decreasing output of hormads, for which I was, of course, thankful. Soon there would be no more of them, and I could have wished that Ras Thavas might never return to renew his obscene labors had it not been for the fact that only through him might I hope to reclaim my own body.

During this time I did not visit Janai, lest her hiding place be discovered and Ay-mad suspicious that he had been tricked; but at last I determined that it would be safe to “find” her; and so I went to Ay-mad, told him that I had been unsuccessful in locating her, and that I was about to institute a thorough search of the palace.

“If you find her,” he said, “you will find only a corpse. She could not have left the palace. I think you will agree with me there, for no woman could leave this palace without being seen by a member of the guard or one of our spies.”

“But what makes you think her dead?” I asked.

“People cannot live without food or drink, and I have had you and everyone else who might have taken food to her watched. No food has been taken to her. Go on with your search, Tor-dur-bar. Your reward, if there is reward at all, will be the body of a dead woman.”

There was something in his expression when he said this that gave me pause. That half smile of his—cunning and self-satisfied. What did it denote? Had he found Janai and had her destroyed? Immediately I began to worry. I conjured all sorts of horrible pictures, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I restrained myself from going at once to Janai’s hiding place that I might learn the truth.

But my better judgment prevailed; and, instead, I immediately organized a searching party. I put trustworthy officers in charge; and directed each to search a given part of the palace, looking in every room, closet, cubby hole. I accompanied one of the parties. This one was commanded by Sytor, whom I trusted, and included Teeaytan-ov, who often bragged loudly about his friendship for me.

The part of the palace it was to search included the room in which Janai was hiding.

I did not direct the search particularly to that apartment, and I became extremely nervous while they searched everywhere but where she was. At last they came to the storeroom. I followed Sytor into it.

“She is not here,” I said.

“But there is another door, over there,” he replied, and walked over to it.

“Probably just another storeroom,” I said, trying to appear indifferent, though my heart was pounding with excitement.

“It’s locked,” he said—”locked on the other side. This looks suspicious.”

I stepped to his side and called, “Janai!” There was no reply. My heart sank.

“Janai! Janai!” I repeated.

“She is not there,” said Sytor, “but I suppose we’ll have to break the door down to make sure.”

“Yes, break it down.”

He sent for tools, and when they were brought his hormads set to work upon the door. As the panels commenced to splinter, Janai’s voice came from the interior of the other room. “I will open,” she said. We heard the bolt being withdrawn, and then the door swung open. My heart leaped as I saw her there safe and well.

“What do you want of me?” she demanded.

“I am to take you to Ay-mad, the Jeddak,” said Sytor.

“I am ready,” said Janai. She did not even look at me. I wondered if she had decided at last that it might not be so bad to be a jeddara. She had had many days to think the matter over, during which I had not visited her. Perhaps she had changed her mind. I could understand that the temptation might be great, for what had Vor Daj to offer her? Certainly not security, which is what a woman wants above all things.

Down to the private audience chamber of Ay-mad, Jeddak of Morbus, my heart trailed Sytor and Janai with its tail between its legs.