-- 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
"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
"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'
"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 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.