Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XVII. Escape Us Never

I now found myself faced by a problem for which there seemed no solution. Had I been in possession of my own body I could have escaped with Janai through the tunnel to the island where John Carter and Ras Thavas had hidden and waited there for their return, but I couldn’t abandon my body and chance having to go out into the world a hormad. I also felt that it was my duty as a red man to remain and attempt in some way to thwart Ay-mad’s plan of world conquest. As I made my way to Janai’s quarters to tell her what had befallen us my spirits had reached nadir; they could fall no lower.

As I was passing along a corridor in the laboratory building I was met by Tun Gan who seemed very much perturbed. “The mass from No. 4 vat room has crossed the roof in one place and is overflowing down the side of the building into the avenue,” he said. “The growth seems suddenly to have accelerated; and, if it be not stopped, it is only a question of time before it envelops the entire city.”

“And the island as well,” I said, “but I can do nothing about it; Ay-mad has relieved me of my duties in the laboratory. The responsibility now belongs to my successor.”

“But what can we do to save ourselves?” demanded Tun Gan. “We shall all be lost if the growth be not stopped. It has already seized and devoured several of the warriors who were sent to try to destroy it. The hands reach out and seize them, and the heads devour them. Eventually it will eat us all.”

Yes, what could we do to save ourselves? For the moment ourselves included only Janai and my two selves in my thoughts, but presently I thought of others—of Pandar and Gan Had and Sytor, yes, even of Tun Gan, the assassin of Amhor, with the brain of a hormad. These men were as near to being friends as any I had in Morbus, and there was poor Teeaytan-ov, too. He had been my friend. I must save them all.

“Tun Gan,” I said, “you would like to escape?”

“Of course.”

“Will you swear to serve me loyally if I help you to get away from Morbus, forgetting that you are a hormad?”

“I am no hormad now,” he said. “I am a red man, and I will serve you loyally if you will help me to escape from the clutches of the horror that is spewing out into the city.”

“Very well. Go at once to Pandar and Gan Had and Sytor and Teeaytan-ov and tell them to come to the quarters of Janai. Caution them to secrecy. Let no one overhear what you say to them. And hurry, Tun Gan!”

I went at once to the quarters of Janai, who seemed glad to see me; and told her of Ay-mad’s orders that we move to quarters in the palace. The two servants whom I suspected overheard, as I intended they should; and I immediately gave them orders to gather up their mistress’s belongings, which gave me an opportunity to talk with Janai privately. I told her what Ay- mad’s order portended and that I had a plan which offered some slight hope of escape.

“I will take any risk,” she said, “rather than remain in Ay-mad’s palace after you are sent away. You are the only person in Morbus that I can trust, my only friend; though why you befriend me, I do not know.”

“Because Vor Daj is my friend and Vor Daj loves you,” I said. I felt like a coward, adopting this way of avowing a love I might not have had the courage to tell her had I been in possession of my own identity; and now that I had done it I immediately wished that I hadn’t. What if she scorned Vor Daj’s love? He would not be here in person to press his suit, and certainly a hideous hormad could not do it for him. I held my breath as I waited for her reply.

She was silent for a moment, and then she asked. “What makes you think that Vor Daj loves me?”

“I think it was perfectly obvious. He could not have been so concerned over the fate of any woman if he had not loved her.”

“You are probably mistaken. Vor Daj would have been concerned over the fate of any red woman who might have been a prisoner in Morbus. How could there be love between us? We scarcely know one another; we have spoken only a few words together.”

I was about to argue the point when Pandar, Gan Had, and Sytor arrived, putting an end to the conversation and leaving me in as much doubt as to the feelings of Janai toward Vor Daj as I had been before. As these three had been employed in the laboratory building, Tun Gan had found them quickly. I sent them to my study to wait for me, as I did not wish to talk to them where we might be overheard by one of Ay-mad’s spies.

A few minutes later Tun Gan returned with Teeaytan-ov, and the roster of those whom I hoped would aid me loyally was completed. By this time the servants had gathered Janai’s belongings, which I ordered them to take to the palace to our new quarters; and in this way I got rid of them.

As soon as they had gone, I hurried to my study with Janai, Tun Gan, and Teeaytan-ov, where we found the other members of my party awaiting us. We were all together now, and I explained that I planned to escape from Morbus and asked each one if he were willing to accompany me. Each assured me that he did; but Sytor voiced a doubt, which I suppose each of them harbored, that escape would be possible.

“What is your plan?” he asked.

“I have discovered an underground corridor that leads to an island off the shore of Morbus,” I said. “It was to this island that Dotar Sojat and Ras Thavas went when they disappeared from the city. They are on their way to Helium now, and you may rest assured that Dotar Sojat will return with a fleet of warships and a sufficient force of warriors to rescue me from Morbus.”

Teeaytan-ov appeared skeptical. “Why,” he asked, “should Dotar Sojat wish to rescue a hormad from Morbus?”

“And how,” inquired Sytor, “can Dotar Sojat, a poor panthan, hope to persuade the jeddak of Helium to send a fleet of warships to the Toonolian Marshes for a hormad?”

“I admit,” I replied, “that the idea appears fantastic; but that is because you do not know all the facts, and there are reasons why I do not wish to divulge them all at this time. Upon one point, however, I may set your minds at rest. That is the ability of Dotar Sojat to bring a fleet of warships from Helium. Dotar Sojat is, in reality, John Carter, Warlord of Mars.”

This statement rather astounded them; but after I had explained why John Carter had come to Morbus, they believed me. Teeaytan-ov was still at a loss, however, to understand why the great Warlord should be so interested in a hormad as to bring a great fleet all the way from far Helium to rescue him.

I saw that I had made a mistake in speaking as I had, but it was sometimes difficult for me to disassociate my dual personalities. To me, I was always Vor Daj, a noble of the empire of Helium. To others, I was Tor-dur-bar, a hormad of Morbus.

“Perhaps,” I said, seeking to explain, “I overemphasized my own importance when I said that he would return to rescue me. It is for Vor Daj that he will return; but for me, too, as both he and Vor Daj are my friends.”

“What makes you think that he will rescue any of the rest of us?” asked Pandar of Phundahl.

“He will rescue anyone that Vor Daj asks him too; and that means anyone I suggest, for Vor Daj is my friend.”

“But Vor Daj has disappeared,” said Gan Had of Toonol. “No one knows what has become of him. It is thought that he is dead.”

“You had not told me that, Tor-dur-bar,” exclaimed Janai. She turned to Sytor.

“Perhaps this is a trick the hormad is playing on us to get us in his power for some reason.”

“But I did tell you that he had disappeared, Janai,” I said.

“You did not tell me that everyone thought him dead. You say you do not know where he is in the same breath that you say John Carter will return for him. What am I to believe?”

“If you hope to live and escape you will have to believe me,” I snapped. “In a few minutes you will see Vor Daj, and then you will understand why he could not come to you.” I was commencing to lose my patience with them all, interposing suspicions at a moment when the greatest haste was necessary if we were to escape before the suspicions of Ay-mad were aroused.

“What am I to believe?” demanded Janai. “You do not know where Vor Daj is, yet you say that we shall see him in a few minutes.”

“There was a time that I did not know where he was. When I found him it seemed kinder to you, who were depending on him, not to tell you the truth. Vor Daj is helpless to aid you. Only I can help you. Unfortunately, in order to carry out my plan of escape, you will have to learn what has happened to Vor Daj. Now, we have wasted enough time uselessly. I am going, and you are coming with me. I owe it to Vor Daj to help you. The others may do as they see fit.”

“I will go with you,” said Pandar. “We could not be worse off elsewhere than here.”

They all decided to accompany me, Sytor reluctantly. He went and stood near Janai and whispered something to her.

Taking Teeaytan-ov with me, I went into the small laboratory and collected all the instruments necessary to the retransfer of my brain to its own body. These I handed over to Teeaytan-ov; then I disconnected the motor and all its connections, for without the motor my blood could not be pumped back into my veins and arteries. All of this took time, but at last we were ready to depart.

I was quite sure that we could avoid neither notice nor suspicion. The best I could hope for was that we might reach 3-17 before pursuit overtook us. The spectacle of two hormads, four red men, and Janai, together with the burdens Teeaytan-ov and I were carrying, attracted immediate attention; and from no less a figure, among others, than the new governor of the Laboratory Building.

“Where are you going?” he demanded. “What are you going to do with that equipment?”

“I’m going to put it in the pits where it will be safe,” I said. “If Ras Thavas returns he will need it.”

“It will be safe enough where it was,” he replied. “I’m in charge here now, and if I want it moved I’ll attend to it myself. Take it back to where you got it.”

“Since when did a dwar give orders to an odwar?” I asked. “Stand aside!” Then I moved on again with my companions toward the ramp leading to the pits.

“Wait!” he snapped. “You’re going nowhere with that equipment and the girl without an order from Ay-mad. You have your orders to take the girl to the palace, not to the pits; and I have my orders direct from Ay-mad to see that you obey yours.” Then he raised his voice and shouted for help. I knew that we would soon be beset by warriors; so I directed my companions to hurry on toward the pits.

We fairly ran down the long winding incline with the Governor of the Laboratory Building at our heels keeping up a continuous bellowing for help; and behind us, presently, we heard the answering shouts of pursuing warriors.