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Presents
Volume 5113

A Gentleman of Mars
John Carter: Under the Moons of MarsJohn Carter
Mars Art by Paul Privitera
Part I: Chapters 1-4
Part II: Chapters 5-7 concluded in 5114
By John “Bridge” Martin
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Chapter 1 -- "I Didn't Ask For This"

  Have you ever kept doing something that made absolutely no sense, but it was the only thing you could think of to do and so you did it anyway?

  That's how I felt as I stood on the surface of the planet Mars with my hands raised in supplication toward the Earth.

  I had read the John Carter books and how he had stood on the banks of the Little Hudson with his hands raised imploringly to the god of his vocation, hoping that Mars, or Ares, as he is known to some, would see fit to draw him back through space to the Red Planet once again.

  Carter, who was no fool, surely knew there was no such being as Mars, so his actions may have been born more out of desperation and hope than any thought that his prayers would actually do any good. But it was the only thing he could think of to do, and so he did it.

  What cosmic force was it that drew John Carter through space and to the planet Mars? Even he was never able to define or describe it, although later on he did somehow master it, the same way we learn how to master some things that we do automatically, without really thinking about what we're doing, such as shuffling a deck of cards.

  But here I was on Mars, or Barsoom, as the natives call it. I, too, had been drawn through space by some kind of cosmic glitch, and now all I could do was hope that the same astral anomaly would work again, and it would suck me through the great void and land me back on Earth, rather than on some airless asteroid.

  I knew I was on Barsoom because I was familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stories and I had paid careful attention to his descriptions of the landscape. And, too, the lesser gravity allowed me to leap about the same distances as John Carter described doing in A Princess of Mars and other volumes.

  Thirdly, I was something of an amateur astronomer and knew, from my own study of the movements of the planets with my $129.95 telescope from the veranda of my southern mansion, that I was about in the position where the Earth would look the way it did if I were, indeed, to be standing on the planet Mars.

  So there I stood, feeling a bit like an idiot but glad there were no Martians around to see me, hoping earnestly that some quirk -- not the god Mars or Gaia the Earth goddess -- would transport me back to my home planet.

  And then I heard a voice behind me.

  I didn't recognize what the voice was saying because I hadn't yet learned Barsoomian, but the voice did sound somewhat "human," even though I knew the word "human" might not be technically correct as applied to Martians.

  I turned and looked, and then looked up in order to see the face of tall, spindly creature that had made the voice-like noise. I immediately recognized it, from Burroughs' description, as well as the hundreds of pieces of interpretive artwork I had seen on Earth, as a Thark -- a green Martian. He was leveling a long sword at me and, though it was somewhat difficult to read his alien expression, it appeared that he intended to shove it about eight inches past my bellybutton.

  There was only one thing I could think of to do. I took off my sunglasses and Carolina Panthers ball cap and raised both my arms in what I hoped would be a gesture of peace and surrender, and said the only two words I knew that I thought he might understand: "John Carter."

  He hesitated and I thought I saw what could be an expression of puzzlement on his features and there seemed to be an element of recognition in it as well, though there was no reason I could think of why he should recognize me as anyone in particular, unless he was simply concluding, from my white skin, that I might be a denizen of Earth. He began addressing me in his alien tongue but all I could do was repeat "John Carter." Then I remembered some other words. I said "Kaor," and then I tried "Tars Tarkas" and "Dejah Thoris," hoping I was pronouncing the words correctly.

  He spoke to me several more times, seemingly mystified at my inability to put together an actual sentence. Then, he shrugged and motioned with his sword, persuading me to mount the huge beast which stood just beside him. I assumed it to be a thoat. Putting one foot in the stirrups and swinging a leg over the top of my head, he planted himself in the primitive saddle in front of me and we began a swift journey across the sward.

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Chapter 2 -- Thark You Very Much

  Riding on a thoat behind a Thark is a unique experience, but not one which I recommend. 

  As a southern gentleman, I am accustomed to being around people who wash regularly, wear clean clothes, and maintain good habits as well as show respect for others. But I quickly discovered that Tharks have terrific body odor, enhanced by another bodily function which is evidence that the creatures have no Martian equivalent of Beano.

  I tried keeping my head turned to the side, or even backward as far as it would go, but that was not much help.

  When we finally got to the crumbling city which served as the Thark encampment, I thought we were riding into a nest of giant praying mantises, as a lot of the Tharks were lined up, watching as we rode in, their top set of hands touching as if in an attitude of prayer. Later, I figured out that this was a traditional Tharkian greeting for their returning Jeddak, whose name I eventually learned was none other than Tars Tarkas -- the man, er, Thark, himself.. 

  This type of greeting was adopted by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a spiritual teacher from India who had reached a state of interplanetary levitation that had brought him to Mars for a brief visit in 1972. After returning to the Earth and gaining enough followers to take over the Eastern Oregon town of Antelope, he began requiring the gesture of his predominantly college-educated followers.   They obediently folded their hands as if in prayer and bowed whenever he drove past them in one of the Rolls-Royces that had been purchased for him with their willing donations.

  But that's another story.

  I didn't possess Rajneesh's mystical powers, nor the ability of John Carter to figure out his method of travel back and forth from Mars, so I was pretty well stuck.

  Tars Tarkas unceremoniously pushed me off the thoat, and I didn't land gracefully. In fact, I only landed temporarily since the lesser Martian gravity did not capture me when I hit the deck, but rather allowed me to bounce several feet into the air. I did a few more bounces and, despite the circumstances, it was amusing to see all those loyal Tharks move their praying hands from in front of them up to their mouths, just as an earthman might make a similar gesture to stifle a gasp.

  The good part was that I saw a light go on in Tarkas's head as he spoke to me in what seemed a tone of voice that showed he had a lot more interest in me.   Let's see... I'd said the name of John Carter, I was a white man, and now he could see that I could jump higher than any Martian. He might be concluding that not only was I from Earth but that perhaps I was a friend of John Carter instead of just something like a white Martian Thern. True, I had never actually met Carter but, from reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' books, I certainly was familiar with the former Confederate captain's comings and goings to the red planet.

  It did not appear that I was a prisoner, as I began moving freely about the Thark compound and the Tharks were treating me with curiosity and courtesy, although there were a few male Tharks who looked as if they'd like to try to cleave me from head to crotch with their long swords.

  One Thark with softer features came to me and beckoned me to follow. I assumed she was female, not only because of her slightly more pleasant looks, but also because she was wearing what looked like a primitive lipstick. She brought me to a shelter in which an array of odd-looking victuals was spread on a table and motioned for me to indulge. I was a little hesitant, because who knew what kinds of bacteria lurked in that food. The Tharks probably had iron constitutions compared to me and what might be fit fare for them might easily lay me low. I remembered the great caution our NASA took with simple rocks our astronauts brought back from the Moon so as to prevent any potential lunar infections from bringing pestilence to the Earth.

  But at the same time, I was hungry. I knew I had to eat or die. Even though appearance was really no clue at all, I took a couple of bites of something that looked like bread as it appeared to be the most like Earth food, and I knew at least it had been through the oven so I reasoned that any microscopic life harmful to me might have been killed by the heat necessary to bake it.

  As I came out I saw Tars Tarkas talking to someone on what looked like a cell phone and then, for the first time, I noticed in the distance what appeared to be a cell tower. It figured, I thought. Carter had brought back some cell phone technology on one of his trips to Earth.

  As Tarkas talked, he was looking at me so I thought that I might be the subject of his call.

  But who on Mars he could be talking to, I had no clue.

.

3 -- You Want Me To Do What?

  I was beginning to get frustrated because I had no one with whom I could carry on a decent conversation. I had managed to pick up a few Barsoomian words here and there but the Tharks had not seen fit to give me a tutor. I was hoping that the "Voice of Barsoom" drink in the movie John Carter was not something dreamed up by Hollywood. However, I was offered no such concoction so I can't testify either for or against the existence of such an amazing libation.

  Something big was about to happen, though. I could see that the Tharks were busy sprucing up the compound and there was conversation that seemed to me to have a flavor of excitement.

  At last I saw everyone looking toward the south and as I looked, too, I saw a blinding light in the sky. Within moments, I realized it was the reflection of the sun off the metal on a Barsoomian airship, and soon I could make out a small fleet of airships -- the first I had seen since my arrival on the planet -- approaching in a stately manner. As they came closer, I could see they were flying blue flags and banners and I remembered those were the colors of Helium.

  Great Scott! Could it be?

  The ships moved in close and hovered over the city, about 30 feet above the highest building. Several ropes were dropped over the sides and men began descending. They were relaxed and without armor of any kind so this did not appear to be an invasion, and the Tharks were relaxed as well. One man did not avail himself of the ropes but rather leaped from the ship to the roof of the building below and then, with another leap, landed on the ground near Tars Tarkas. He walked up to the Jeddak and I heard the words "Kaor, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of the Tharks" and the electrifying response, "Kaor, John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom."

  But that was not the only stunning thing. I stared in near disbelief at he about whose adventures I had read and admired all of my life. He looked exactly as I had always pictured him, and the reason for that was that I had always pictured myself as the deathless Virginian. Son of a gun! He looked like me -- not a full-fledged twin, but close enough!

  No wonder Tars Tarkas had looked at me with puzzlement blended with recognition. I did resemble John Carter in many ways, but there were differences, too, that the Thark's sharp eyes must have picked out.

  The two conversed a few minutes more, in Barsoomian. Then, John Carter turned and walked toward me, all the while looking me up and down. He came within a couple of feet of me and stopped. It was almost like looking into a mirror except, of course, for the fact that he was decked out in his Barsoomian fighting harness and I was wearing earth clothes that were beginning to deteriorate into rags.

  "Welcome to Barsoom," he said in English. "Is your name really John Carter?"

  "You don't know how glad I am to see you, Captain Carter, Mr. Warlord, sir," I said, feeling rather stupid with the string of flattery falling from my lips as I fumbled with just what the correct form of address might be. "But no. I just said your name to them in hopes they would think I was friendly. My name is Fred Hornquist, from South Carolina."

  "Well, at least you're a southern gentleman," Carter said. "And the accent will be just perfect."

  "Accent?" I said. "Just perfect for what, sir?"

  "Oh, nothing much," he said. "I just want you to take my place."

.

4 -- In the Footsteps of John Carter

  "Ta--take your place?" I stuttered.

  The Warlord of Mars, John Carter, the most powerful man on Barsoom, had just asked me to pretend to be him. True, I was a close approximation to him in looks, and, true, I had a southern accent like him. But take his place?

  "Wh--What do you mean?" I managed.

  "Oh, nothing permanent. Don't worry about that," he smiled again. "I just need you to take my place for a little while. Then, I'll be free to help you get back to Earth... if that's what you want."

  "Oh, that's what I want all right," I said. "I mean, it's nice meeting you and all, but I--"

  Carter held up a hand. "I understand," he said.

  "But I don't," I replied. "Why do you want me to take your place?"

  "Did you ever read Superman comic books on Earth," Carter asked.

  "Well, yes, every chance I got."

  "He was based on me, you know," said Carter, admiring his fingernails.

  "Well, yeah, I've heard that. Super powers in lesser gravity and all that."

  "Well," said Carter, "You remember how Superman was always having to trick Lois Lane into believing that he and Clark were not one and the same?"

  "You mean..." I muttered. "You mean you want me to help you trick the incomparable Dejah Thoris?""

  "Nothing like that," said Carter, "and, by the way, don't get any ideas about her.   But I would never even think of trying to trick Dejah and, besides, she's untrickable. She isn't called 'incomparable' for nothing.

  "Here's the situation," said Carter. "I thought I had stamped out the practice of assassination on Mars, but some new gangs are starting it up again in Zodanga and I'm going to have to go there in disguise and stab a few assassins in the heart and carve X's on their bodies.

  "Some people have heard about my earlier effort. I don't want anyone thinking about vengeance while I'm away and try to move in on Dejah Thoris and kidnap or kill her. With you making a few public appearances with her while I'm gone, people won't realize it's actually me in Zodanga. So, with your help, the assassins will thinking I’m still back in Helium, just as Superman often tricked Lois.”

  "So," I said, "you're protecting your identity but, at the same time, you're really protecting your princess."

  "Exactly," said John Carter. " You see, a warlord like me has a lot of responsibilities. When I was first acclaimed as such, there weren't many duties since it was a newly created position. Mostly, I just led Martians into battle. But over the years, the job has evolved, with additional things I've assigned myself to do. If you've read the books, then you know that I've also spent some time inventing improvements to flyers, for instance."

  I nodded.

  "With all these things I have to do," he said, "I don't want to have to take time to go looking for Dejah every time somebody gets the idea to abduct her. Don't get me wrong. I'd spend any amount of time -- and travel any distance necessary -- to rescue her. But, if I can keep her safe in the first place, then I can cross that off my list of things I have to do."

  "Well as for Zodanga," I offered, "why can't you just assign some of your men to go after the assassins. After all, you're the Warlord."

  "Because I am the Warlord, I lead by example," said Carter. "I will eventually turn loose my elite cadre of swordsmen to finish the job, but I wouldn't ask my men to do anything I wouldn't. So first I need to go in and make a few kills myself. You know, show 'em how it's done and give them a class act to follow."

  "Well of course I'll do what you ask," I said. "Anything to get out of this Thark encampment and back to earth. And, of course, I'd like to see more of Mars before I go back -- Greater and Lesser Helium, and the incomparable Dejah Thoris."

  "Remember," said Carter. "Just don't get any ideas about Dejah. She would never go for an imitation, even if he were a southern gentleman!"

  "Hey, no problem. No problem," I said.

Concluded in
PART II

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