-- 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
"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,"
"Well, yes, every chance I got."
"He was based on me, you know," said Carter, admiring
"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."
"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
"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
"Hey, no problem. No problem," I said.