Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XIV. When The Monster Grows

Love possesses a morbid imagination which conjures the most appalling pictures.

It cannot await the development of eventualities, but must anticipate the worst.

Quite often it is clairvoyant. That was what I feared now as Sytor, Janai, and I stood before Ay-mad. Sytor, with his handsome face and fine body; Ay-mad in the trappings of a jeddak; Janai, perfect and beautiful! These I compared with my hideous face and monstrous, malformed body; and my heart sank. How could Janai choose me in preference to any normal man? And if that man were a jeddak, what chance would I have? I insisted on confusing myself with the real Vor Daj, and you must admit that it might be confusing to have one brain and two bodies.

Ay-mad’s eyes devoured Janai, and my heart quailed; but if she chose me, and Ay-mad failed to live up to his bargain, I swore to myself that I should kill him. He dismissed Sytor; then he faced Janai.

“This hormad,” he said, indicating me, “has been of service to me. To reward him, I told him that I would grant him a favor. He has asked for you. We have decided that we shall abide by your choice. If Ras Thavas is found, the hormad hopes to acquire a new body. If Ras Thavas is not found, he will remain always as he is. If you choose me, you will become jeddara of Morbus. Whom do you choose?”

I could not but feel that Ay-mad had stated the case quite fairly, but I guess he felt that every argument was on his side anyway; so why add embellishments?

In weighing the matter, there didn’t seem much doubt as to what Janai’s answer must be. Ay-mad was offering her marriage and position. Vor Daj had nothing to offer, and there was no more reason to suspect that her heart could be inclined more to one than to the other she scarcely knew either.

Ay-mad became impatient. “Well,” he demanded, “what is your answer?”

“I shall go with Tor-dur-bar,” she said.

Ay-mad bit his lip, but he took it rather decently. “Very well,” he said, “but I think you are making a mistake. If you change your mind, let me know.” Then he dismissed us.

On the way back to the laboratory building I was walking on air. Janai had made her choice, and I should have her with me now and under my protection. She seemed rather happy, too.

“Shall I see Vor Daj right away?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not,” I replied.

“Why?” she demanded, and she seemed suddenly depressed.

“It may take a little time,” I explained. “In the mean time you will be with me and perfectly safe.”

“But I thought that I was going to see Vor Daj. You haven’t tricked me into this, have you, hormad?”

“If you think that, you had better go back to Ay-mad”‘ I snapped, prompted by probably the strangest complexity of emotions that any human being had ever been assailed with—I was jealous of myself!

Janai became contrite. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I am terribly upset. Please forgive me. I have been through enough to drive one mad.”

I had already selected and arranged quarters for Janai in the laboratory building. They were next to mine and some little distance from the horror of the vat rooms. I had selected several of the more intelligent hormads as her servants and guards, and she seemed quite pleased with the arrangements. When I had seen her safely established, I told her that if she needed me or wished to see me about anything to send for me and I would come; then I left her and went to Ras Thavas’s study.

I had accomplished all of my design that required my hideous disguise; but now I could not rid myself of it; and it stood in the way of my aiding Janai to escape from Morbus, for I could not go out into the world in my present monstrous form.

Only in Morbus could I hope for any safety.

To occupy my mind I had been looking through Ras Thavas’s papers and notes, most of which were utterly meaningless to me; and now I continued idly going through his desk, though my mind was not on anything that I saw. I was thinking of Janai. I was wondering what had become of John Carter and Ras Thavas and what fate had overtaken my poor body. The future could not have looked darker.

Presently I came upon what was evidently the plans of a building, and as I examined them casually I saw that they were the plans of the laboratory building, for I easily recognized the two floors with which I was most familiar.

At the bottom of the sheets was a floor plan of the pits beneath the building.

It was laid out in corridors and cells. There were three long corridors running the length of the pits and five transverse corridors, and they were numbered from 1 to 8. The cells along each corridor were also numbered, even numbers upon one side of each corridor and odd numbers upon the other. It was all very uninteresting, and I rolled the plans up to replace them in the desk. Just then Tun Gan was announced by the guard in the outer room. He was quite excited when he came in.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, for I could see by his manner that there was something wrong.

“Come here,” he said, “and I’ll show you.”

He led me out into the main corridor and then into a side room that overlooked a large courtyard that gave light and ventilation to several of the inside rooms of the laboratory, among them No. 4 vat room, the windows of which were directly across from the room in which we were. The sight that met my eyes as I looked out into the courtyard was absolutely appalling. The mass of living tissue had grown so rapidly in the forcing culture medium discovered by Ras Thavas that it had completely filled the room, exerting such pressure in all directions that finally a window had given way; and the horrid mass was billowing out into the courtyard.

“There!” said Tun Gan. “What are you going to do about that?”

“There is nothing I can do about it,” I said. “There is nothing that anybody can do about it. I doubt that Ras Thavas could do anything. He has created a force that he probably couldn’t control himself, once it got away from him.”

“What will be the end of it?” asked Tun Gan.

“If it doesn’t stop growing it will crowd every other living thing out of Morbus. It grows and grows and feeds upon itself. It might even envelop the whole world. What is there to stop it?”

Tun Gan shook his head. He didn’t know. “Maybe Ay-mad could stop it,” he suggested. “He is jeddak.”

“Send for him,” I said. “Tell him that something has happened here in the laboratory building that I wish him to see for himself.” For once in my life I was anxious to shift responsibility to another’s shoulders, for I was helpless in the face of such an emergency as had never before confronted any human being since the creation of the world.

Well, in due time Ay-mad came; and when he had looked out of the window and listened to my explanation of the phenomenon he just tossed the whole responsibility back into my lap.

“You wanted to have full charge of the laboratory,” he said, “and I put you in charge. This is your problem, not mine.” With that he turned away and went back to the palace. By this time the entire floor of the courtyard was covered with the wriggling, jibbering mass; and more was oozing down from the broken window above.

Well, I thought, it will take a long time to fill this courtyard. In the meantime I may think of something to do, and with that I returned to my quarters and sat looking despondently out of the window across the walls of Morbus at the dismal Toonolian Marsh that spread in all directions as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of the spreading mass in the courtyard beneath No. 4 vat room; so I closed my eyes to shut out the sight.

For some reason, the plans of the building, that I had found in Ras Thavas’s desk, came to my mind; then I recalled the trip from Helium with The Warlord.

That reminded me of my own body, for I could see it now, trapped in the harness of The Warlord’s Guards. Where was it? I had last seen it on the ersite slab in the small laboratory of Ras Thavas. That slab was empty now, and at its foot hung a single sheet with the cryptic numbers 3-17 written on it. 3-17! What in the world could that signify?

Suddenly my mind was galvanized into action. Those numbers might have definite significance! I leaped to my feet and hurried to Ras Thavas’s little study. Here I dragged out the plans of the building and spread them out, turning back the pages to the floor plan of the pits. I ran my finger quickly down corridor 3 to 17. Could that be the answer? I examined the plans more carefully. In one corner of cell 17 was a tiny circle. There were no circles in any of the other cells.

What did that circle mean? Did it mean anything? Did the “3-17” written on the sheet at the foot of the table on which my body had lain have any connection with a corridor and cell number? There was but one way to answer these questions. I rose hurriedly from the desk and went out into the corridor.

Passing hormads and officers, I made my way to the ramp that led to the lower floor and the pits. I carried the map of the pits indelibly imprinted upon my memory. I could have found 3-17 with my eyes shut.

The corridors and the cells were plainly numbered; so that I had no difficulty in finding cell 17 in corridor 3. I tried the door. It was locked! How stupid of me. I might have known that it would be locked if it hid the thing for which I sought. I knew where Ras Thavas kept the keys to the various locks in the laboratory building; so now I retraced my steps, but this time I saw several officers look at me in what I imagined was a suspicious manner. Spies, I thought; some of Ay-mad’s spies. I should have to be careful. That would mean further delay.

Now I moved listlessly. I pretended to inspect one of the vat rooms. I sent one of the officers I had long suspicioned on an errand. I went to a window and looked out. Eventually I made my leisurely way to the study; and here I had no difficulty in finding the key I sought, as Ras Thavas was meticulously methodical in all he did; and each key had been numbered and marked.

Now I must return to the pits without arousing suspicion. Once again I sauntered out through the corridors and rooms, and finally made my way to the ramp.

Unobserved, I descended. At last I stood again before the door to 3-17. I fitted the key, took a last look up and down the corridor to assure myself that I was alone, and then pushed the door open. Like the corridors, the cell was lighted by means of the everlasting radium bulbs commonly used on Barsoom.

Directly before me, on a table, lay my body. I entered the cell and closed the door behind me. Yes, there was my body; and there the vessel containing my blood. We were all together again, my body, my blood, and my brains; but we were still as far apart as the poles. Only Ras Thavas could bring us together as an entity, and Ras Thavas was gone.