Chapter 5: Building
When they reached John Carter's palatial towers, Bridge
was ushered into a large elegant chamber ideal for hosting large events.
A system of interlocking marble ramps descended from the far wall. Elaborate
and intricate designs decorated the walls with excellent taste. Bridge
guessed that the building was hundreds of years old-- that it was here
long before even Carter had arrived. The two warriors escorted him to a
central spot, then exited the way they came, back through massive double
doors. As he waited Bridge noticed against the right-hand wall a massive
throne-like chair. Bridge didn't need to be told whose Lazy-Boy that was!
He had the urge to go position himself in it anyway, but he hesitated.
Just then a stately door in the centre of the left wall
opened, and Bridge turned to look. In the portal stood a tall athletic
man with dark hair and a striking countenance. It could only be one man.
He was wearing a leather harness colored all silver, and the two epaulets
pointed out making his shoulders look quite broad. On his head was
some kind of leather helmet, also silver, with a crest not unlike those
of ancient Greece and Rome. The whole effect was surprising, because
it reminded Bridge more of Buster Crabb as Buck Rogers than any painting
by Frazetta or even St John.
"Well, about time we met," he smiled, offering Bridge
his thick hand in greeting. "Bridge, the Postmaster of Greater Helium?"
"One and same," said Bridge, quite intimidated by meeting
his old hero, but holding his chest out. "Actually my name is John, so
we share the same name."
"Is that right! What do you know," Carter took Bridge's
shoulder with his right arm and led him to the portal. "Walk with me, John."
The two men strolled out of the vast chamber and onto
a broad veranda overlooking the city. It had all manner of garden plants
and fountains, and stretched the length of the building, disappearing around
the corner at the end.
"So, another Earthman?" Carter's face seemed huge, like
a lion's, so close beside him.
"Yes, that's right," replied Bridge, "I got here and have
never figured out how or why, or how to return!"
"Yes, it's tricky," grinned the Warlord. "I have something
for you." He stopped and pulled out a small box from his pouch. "Here."
He handed it to the other American.
"Well thank you!" said Bridge. "I can't imagine what this
might be." He flipped it open to reveal a quite beautiful, heavy ring with
a fat red jewel. "My, that's gorgeous! I don't deserve this."
"That is not just from me. You see, we travelers from
America have formed a little club. It began with Paxton and myself, and
we have added a few more since. All you have to do to be in our club is
be from America and be on Barsoom. So these rings are our secret sign among
us. Take it with my compliments, and I know you will make us proud you
are one of us."
"I can't tell you how thrilling this is!" exclaimed Bridge.
"To be part of such an exciting world is something I didn't expect out
of life at my age."
"Well, believe me, you are just a tender whippersnapper
compared to the rest of us," Carter laughed, "the baby of the bunch!"
"That's the way that Lady Luleetia always kids me," Bridge
"Oh, a friend of Luleetia's?" Carter exclaimed. "Now there
is a very wonderful lady. She has contributed so much to the society of
Greater Helium. I am glad you got to know her."
"I imagine she will be excited to hear about this meeting,"
Bridge said. "Is it all right if I tell her?"
"Well, let's talk about that." Carter's face suddenly
became more serious. "It is a very notable phenomenon, this newspaper idea
of yours. You have become a household name in this town."
"Yes, it played out better than I could have hoped," Bridge
admitted. "I tell you, they eat it up! We can't print enough copies. May
have to go twice a week with it."
"Well, let's think about it," Carter continued. "I was
a little concerned, though, when some of the members of the High Council
came to me about this little book you wrote. What was the name of it again?"
"Oh, you must mean Plain Talk and Common Sense," Bridge
answered. "It is my first bestselling book.'
"Yes, that's great... that's great, John," replied Carter,
patting Bridge on the shoulder lightly. "I think it will take some time
for some of the Council to catch up with you on some of your ideas," he
"Well, maybe so," Bridge confessed. "I had not thought
about it, or maybe I should say, I haven't worried about it. Until now
"Yes," Carter chuckled again. "So I told them I would
ask you about it, since you are a fellow earthman, I sure did not want
you to get involved in any kind of problem without me stepping in first
to clear it up if I can."
"I thank you for that," Bridge gulped.
The two men arrived at the corner overlook. They gazed
down upon an endless vista from one of the highest towers in the city.
It was breathtaking, and Bridge almost got vertigo from the depth perception.
"You see, we have a pretty complicated system of government,
both in this city and in the empire as a whole," Carter explained. "This
idea of yours to elect a president like the President of the United States
would require a great deal of care and time to even begin to move in that
kind of direction. We still have a noble class here and it is part of the
culture of the Barsoomians. I mean, it is a noble idea, of course-- as
a former American I can understand completely. But Mars is a very different
world from Earth, John."
"Well, so what are you driving at? Do you think the ideas
in my book are a bad idea?"
"No, not a bad idea-- it works on Earth, it worked for
America. But Barsoom is very different from earth. It is like you say in
your paper-- Barsoom is a "different dispensation" from Earth. It is like
the fact that stairs work on earth but the Red Martians use ramps.
You know, we even have scientists study that and conclude that ramps are
better for your body and your posture, and they require less effort and
are more efficient than other concepts such as steps. So in a lot of ways,
they just see things differently here."
Carter paused for a moment then continued. "The Council
is very concerned that your ideas will cause more harm than good to our
society and culture here. It is fascinating reading your accounts of American
history, but then you are going to have to have a lot of patience if you
expect such notions to take hold here, if ever. Do you see what I am saying,
"Yeah-- sounds like you are saying we can't have a Presidential
election," Bridge retorted in dismay.
"That is about the size of it, I am afraid," Carter said
"How can you of all people say that?" Asked Bridge. "What
would our founding fathers say? Didn't Jefferson write "all men are created
equal" in the Declaration of Independence?"
"Actually, I have never been that sentimental about America,"
replied Carter. "You may recall I was an officer in the Confederacy. That
is not too sentimental!" His lips compressed into a tight, restrained smile.
"Yes, that's true," Bridge conceded, "but both Washington
and Jefferson were from Virginia, your own state, man! Do you really think
that when Jefferson made the claim that all men are created equal, he was
just talking about men living at that time in the English colonies??"
Carter smiled and gazed out over the city for a
long time before he spoke again.
"Well, I guess it is not impossible we could have a popular
election," Carter consoled. "But I have to explain that some kind of election
like that could only be for a symbolic position-- you simply cannot hold
an election here and take over the government as it stands. That is not
going to happen-- not for a long time I would imagine."
Bridge frowned and scratched his forehead. "You mean,
if I got elected, I could only hold a smaller position like the town mayor,
instead of an actual commander in chief?"
"Uh... yes, but smaller than that. To be the Administrator
of a Martian City State is a complex task reserved for those with vast
skills. Our bureaucracy is complex and intricate," Carter told him. "Try
this idea-- what about something along the lines of an American high school
class president? A chance for the common citizens of the realm to get a
little practice and experience with how government works, and you would
get some exposure and involvement on the highest levels of politics. Try
that out, see how it goes, and go from there to who knows where. That is
about the best I can do for you at this point, John."
Bridge thought it over for a moment. The alarm he felt
at the problem raised by the Council was offset by his personal excitement
at standing next to the Warlord of Mars.
"Okay, sure, sure. It's a start," he replied finally,
and the two men shook hands on it.