A Gentleman of Mars
By John "Bridge" Martin
Copyright © 2014
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.
Chapter 1—"I Didn't Ask For This"
John Carter, human, explorer, chronicled by Edgar Rice Burroughs starting in 1911. Master of the sword, ex-Confederate Captain who journeyed from Earth and, through Burroughs, provided a number of reports regarding the geology, ecology, and inhabitants of that distant planet, fourth in orbit of the Sun.
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 never was 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 was I 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 very 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 through 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, of course, 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 a 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.
Thoats, Green Martian and a Princess, too.
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.
Astral Translation has been known by humankind since the Cro-Magnon era, some 40,000 years ago. However, successful translations between planets or dimensions is exceedingly rare. The many failures, however, did result in the on-going myths of changlings, halflings, faery and elfin folk.
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. Of course, 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 curiousty 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 or even kill me. 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 causing pestilence on 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 Earth-like food. 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 I might be the subject of his call.
But who on Mars could he be talking to? I had no clue.
3—You Want Me To Do What?
Disney's John Carter of Mars took many liberties. Their lead star, an underwear model, tiptoed through Mars' landscape. A "plot point" was learning language via slug excrement. That never happens in real life.
I was beginning to get frustrated. 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! I soon made out a small fleet of airships—the first I had seen since my arrival on the planet—approaching in a stately manner. As they neared I could see they flew blue flags and banners—I remembered those were the colors of Helium!
Great Scott! Could it be?
The ships soon hovered over the city, about 30 feet above the highest building. Stout 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. 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. 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, enough 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 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 addess might be. "But no. I just said your name 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.
From "Conclusion and Embarkation" written by J. D. Bozarth. Art: Tangor, with apologies to Bob Abbett.
Ye Olde Editor is an ardent supporter of Recycling Pixels when possible.
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," continued Carter. "I thought I had stamped out the practice of assassination on Mars, but some new gangs are starting up again in Zodanga and I have to go there and stab a few assassins in the heart and carve X's on their bodies. It would be easier if I was in disguise for this ugly business.
"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 believe I'm actually in Zodanga."
"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. I've assigned myself a few additional things to do. If you've read the books then you know I've also spent some time inventing improvements to flyers—for instance."
"With all these things I have to do 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," he paused, "if I can keep her safe in the first place, then I can cross that off my list of things 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 will never ask my men to do anything I wouldn't. So—I need to go in first and make a few kills to show 'em how it's done. Give them a class act to follow..."
I took a deep breath, the import was immense. "Well, of course, I'll do what you ask," I said. As an aside I added:
"Anything to get out of this Thark encampment and back to earth." I locked eyes with the warlord. "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.
5—Crash Course on Warlordology
One Man Flyer
The next several days were spent in Helium. We took a day for Kantos Kan to give me an aerial tour in a flyer. John Carter himself could not be seen with me in public, and the Tharks had sworn to keep their traps shut about him having a lookalike.
I went through several days of intensive training on how to act like a Warlord. I was scheduled to make a limited number of public appearances with Dejah, waving to the crowd, that sort of thing, and because of that requirement I needed to know a lot more about Warlord protocol in case any unexpected events came up.
Finally, it was time for John Carter to coat his body with red Martian dye and make a few other subtle changes to his appearance and take off in a one-man flyer for Zodanga. With his departure my act began in earnest.
Mostly, I stayed in my own apartments, where I had a great view of the city and every luxury a man could want. Food was brought three times daily by an exotic Barsoomian serving girl, Hanna Fulla. I was told she would cater to my every need. She would, they said, do anything for me.
"Anything?" I had unthinkingly replied, realizing as I said the word how it might be interpreted. As a gentleman, I was rather embarrassed by what some might think I was thinking.
Well, I didn't require a whole lot. The food was great. Hanna always showed up, bringing breakfast just as I was waking. She insisted that I stay in my sleeping silks and knelt beside the sleeping platorm while I ate.
"Is this the Barsoomian way?" I asked, rather startled to have the girl assisting my meal. She nodded. I complied, then, as in all respects I must behave as John Carter.
The tablefare was mostly good, nutritious Martian fruit, some of it with the looks and consistency of grapes. These, she carefully peeled with her long, sharp fingernails and then placed them into my mouth.
"The peeling is necessary," she explained, "to get rid of the skins which might contain airborne bacteria."
Having slowly but surely tried various dishes among the Tharks, and now dining on the more carefully prepared fare from the Helium galleys, I was more confident of not getting ill from Barsoomian food. Besides, my digestive system was apparently slowly acclimating to the difference in such sustenance.
Hanna also let me know that she gave great massages. I had several a day, interrupted by Barsoomian language lessons given by a master Barsoomian linguist. In the evenings Hanna sat beside me and recited great, heroic stories of Barsoom. Later she would bring out her lute-like instrument and sing me to sleep where I dreamed of her sparkling eyes, the hint of freckles on a perfectly formed face, and her beguiling smile topped by a head full of flouncy jet black hair. Each night I drifted into the most pleasant sleeps I had ever had.
A fellow could get used to this!
A couple of times each day, Dejah would come by and we would go for a walk through the gardens, a gentleman and his lady, along the parapets of the Helium palace. At times we dared the busy marketplace outside the palace itself. Unlike the United States, it was not considered necessary to spend huge amounts of money for security. No guards accompanied us. We were considered safe in Helium, where the people loved and adored John Carter and Dejah Thoris. Besides, what protection did the capable John Carter need from enemies?
One of Carter's spare swords was always in evidence, hanging from my left side. Dejah was always on my right, so potential enemies could see at a glance that my sword was within easy reach—and I had space to swing it like a scythe.
I was also given a course in basic swordsmanship. I spent part of each day continuing my lessons with a fencing master—I was actually getting pretty good at the thing!
Of the progress of John Carter in Zodanga, we at first heard nothing. Carter thought it would be wisest to leave his cell phone at home and, in fact, I carried it as part of the ruse. The ringer was on mute—Kantos Kan carried the extension cell phone and dealt with state matters. As the days passed, however, we did recieve news of killings in Zodanga. John was making some progress! The unhappy thought was that if Carter were killed in action we might not learn of it for some time.
Meanwhile, in Helium, things were great. What could possibly go wrong?
6—Spit and Polish Off
Hanna was ever in my thoughts. Even when asleep I dreamed Hanna was giving me another massage as I lay upon her massage table, enjoying the feel of her educated palms and knuckles as they kneaded my receptive flesh.
But suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest! There was a piece of broken glass on the skimpy mattress and...
Then I awoke with a start. I was not on my stomach. I was on my back. The pain was real—only it wasn't made by a piece of broken glass. It was caused by the tip of a Martian long sword which had pricked my chest cavity just enough to rouse me.
"Good, you're awake," came the voice from the ugly face at the other end of the sword. "I want you to be conscious when I kill you, John Carter. I want you to know exactly what is happening to you."
My thoughts went like lightning.
Here, obviously, was an assassin about to do me in! He had me at a disadvantage. Since I looked so much like John Carter, Warlord of Mars, he thought that was who I was.
Although some might have tried to plead for their lives by claiming a case of mistaken identity, I knew instantly that I did not have that luxury. Even if I were to die, I could not betray the real John Carter and his secret plan to have me pose as him in Helium while he was exacting vengeance on members of the Assassins Guild in Zodanga.
I was too much of a gentleman to do that, and I needed to think of some other way to get out of this one.
"Greatest swordsman of two worlds, huh," sneered the assassin. "Well, meet a greater one."
"Actually, you're mistaken," I replied.
"Huh?" said the assassin.
"I'm now the greatest swordsman of three worlds," I replied matter of factly. "I beat the best they had on Sasoom as well."
"Why you..." said the assassin. "Even as you face your own mortality, you dare to be impertinent."
I tried my best to put an unconcerned expression on my face. "If you don't mind," I said, "I always like to know the names of my enemies before I kill them."
"Ho ho," said the assassin. "You...kill me?" (but he started to look a bit worried. Perhaps he was thinking that I knew something he didn't).
"But I'll humor you," he added. Like a lot of villains, he was making the mistake of talking too much instead of just dispatching me and being done with it. "My name is Bul Durm," he said.
"On Jasoom we have a brand of chewing tobacco with that name," I said.
"Jasoom? Tabaca? What in the name of Issus's shredded body are you talking about?"
"Oh, just the pleasure one gets from a good plug of snoose," I replied. "Would you like some?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about," said Bul, "and no, I wouldn't like none. Everything in your apartments is mine after I run this sword through your putrid heart anyway."
"No, you're mistaken again," I said. "It was Gar Nal who had the putrid heart, and Ur Jan already ran a sword through it."
"So he's the one who killed Gar Nal," said Bul, wrinkling up his forehead and gazing up at the ceiling as if some long-sought answer was written there. It wasn't much of a distraction but it would have to do. He had also eased the pressure ever so slightly on the sword and I knew it was now or never. I swung my left arm across my body, batting the sword away and getting a neat cut in my arm in the process. Then, I heaved my body to the right and rolled twice more before coming to my feet. It had all taken only seconds and Bul, stunned for a millisecond at first, was now turning toward me in rage and starting to bring the sword around in a slice that would have separted my intestines into so many loose ends that it would have looked like a bowl of king-size elbow macaroni.
But I, too, was not standing still. I was already pivoting to the wall-mounted sword rack and had my four-foot long sword in my hand before he could even get any real momentum into his deadly swing.
"Die, you sneaky coward," I snarled, running the point straight toward his enormous gut.
The sword went true and for good measure I gave it extra oomph so that it protruded out of his back.
Just at that moment, the curtain behind him was flung back and none other than Hanna stepped into the room, her pitifully inadequate jeweled dagger clutched in her hand. Did I say inadequate? Bless that gal. She eschewed the easy target of his broad back and instead planted the blade of the knife into the nape of his neck, severing his spinal cord. He dropped to the floor like a sack of thoat dung.
Art: David Burton, from "The Sword" by D. B. Bozarth. Another recycled group of pixels.
Hanna cut a piece of material from his loin cloth and wiped off her dagger, then grabbed the bell rope and jerked on it twice. Within moments two male servants rushed into the room.
"Get this garbage out of here," she ordered. Each grabbed a foot and headed for the door, leaving a wide swatch of blood on the tiles as Bul Durm's body was removed.
Hanna tossed the blood-stained cloth onto the hulk's frame before it disappeared through the door.
"You're pretty good," I smiled.
"So are you," she smiled back, taking a step closer and lifting her head to me.
"Great news, you two!" exclaimed Dejah Thoris, bursting into the room.
"John Carter's flyer was just spotted landing on the rooftop of Warlord headquarters and...Oh," she said, looking from one of us to the other. "Did I interrupt something?"
"No," said Hanna quickly. "Fred was just telling me he needed a flint stone to sharpen his sword." She scurried from the room.
Dejah watched Hanna go, then turned and smiled at me, winked, and headed back to her quarters.
It was time to leave Mars.
John Carter—the real John Carter—returned from his secret mission to Zodanga. Seventeen Zodangan assassins now lay on the bosom of the River Iss (figuratively speaking). Carter turned the mop-up job over to a squad of his most elite warriors. Later, at a private dinner after a bath and uniform change, Carter extended his hand.
"I want to thank you for standing in for me," the warlord said as Dejah clung to his arm. He looked at her and smiled. "Dejah tells me you've been a perfect gentleman."
"I'm a southerner," I replied. "How could I be anything else?"
Amused, the deathless Virginian said, "Well, do you want to stick around for a few days, see some more sights, soak up some rays, or do you need to get back?"
I looked at my watch. It was one of those fancy ones that shows the date as well as the time.
"I should take care of my vast estate and make sure the servants have kept things in top shape. Uncle Charlie's horse," I winked, "is wondering why I haven't been there with a cube of sugar every day."
"I understand," John Carter laughed.
* * * * * * * * *
We flew to a high plateau with a clear view of the heavens. In the sky above was a blue-green orb, the colors of which were clearly visible across millions of miles. The thin atmosphere of Mars did not obscure the view as would the thicker atmosphere of Earth.
"We are at nearest conjuction ... about 48 million miles..."
I blinked! Then in sotto voce he shared the secret of interplanetary travel. The way he explained it full understanding was immediate.
"Keep it to yourself, Fred. We don't need a bunch of rifraff popping up on the Red Planet!"
Dejah gave me a hug.
I saluted John Carter. I faced Earth—and did exactly what he told me.
There was a moment of extreme cold and utter darkness.
* * * * * * * * *
I stood once again on the Earth. I instantly felt the pull of the stronger gravity. I had only been on Mars a few weeks, but I had gotten used to the freedom of movement there. Now, it felt as if I were walking around with a bunch of body weights strapped to my frame. It would probably take a few days to get used to it.
I was knocked flat onto my stomach! It felt like someone had rammed me with both feet. What kind of a welcome was that?
I rolled over and grabbed my assailant, only to feel soft, human tissue interrupted here and there by what I knew to be a Martian harness.
More recycled pixels. This from Tangor's Ras Thavas and the Calot: Panthan
It was Hanna!
"What the heck?" I exclaimed. "You? Here?"
"Surprised?" Hanna kissed me. "After you left for Earth, John Carter brought me out of the flyer compartment I was hiding in. He told me the secret. 'You and he are meant for each other', he said. 'Go to him!'"
''Well why didn't you just say so?" I asked, but I was smiling as I said it.
Hanna blushed, lowering her eyes. "Silly customs, I guess. I needed you to fight for me before I could call you 'My Chieftan'."
A flood of Barsoom customs numerated by Edgar Rice Burroughs suddenly filled my brain. "Well, yeah, Hanna, I guess. To tell the truth I fought off Bul Durm to save my own life."
The dear girl slapped my shoulder. "And me, too!" she exclaimed. "He would have claimed me as slave had you not stopped him!"
Bricks did not need to fall as I embraced her. "Well, why didn't you call me your Chieftan?"
"I wanted to," Hanna lay close, "but John Carter warned me that you were too much of a gentleman to commit yourself if you knew you would be heading to Jasoom. He also said that you would fret about the gravity effect on me—were I to accompany you."
"But... here you are!" I said, kissing her cheek. "Does Earth make you feel heavier?"
"I feel like I weigh about 400 pounds," she said. "But your oxygen-rich air gives me energy! John Carter told me you have things called gyms where I can go and build up some more strength."
"There's a couple of fitness centers in town," I said. "Well, I'm happy to be your chieftain, but we're on Earth. We'll have to do things the Earth way. Marriage license and a proper ceremony—I'll explain that later."
"I am pleased, My Chieftan," Hanna responded. "Do we go on a Honeymoon? John Carter told me of such things."
"Certainly," I said. "But first we'll need to stop by Wal-Mart to pick up some DVDs."
Hanna frowned. That she knew what DVD meant astonished me. Apparently Barsoomian surveillance of our planet was more complete than I realized. "We're going to watch movies on our honeymoon?" she asked, frowning slightly.
"Well, not all of the time," I said in a reassuring voice. "Even Earth people sometimes go out to a movie, or dinner, or something like a carnival on their honeymoons."
For a long moment we lay on the grass, gazing up at the stars while in tight embrace. Hanna nuzzled my throat, then raised her head to look into my eyes.
"What movies?" she asked.
"Only one," I grinned. "The Disney John Carter. Hilarious! But some things they got right."
"Oh, goodie!" Hanna giggled. "I think I'll enjoy a romantic comedy."
I added: "I'll need to get a couple of science films."
"Science? About what?" she asked.
"Well, about proper egg incubation," I said, "and do-it-yourself obstetrics. I don't think Earth doctors will know what to do with an oviparous Martian lady, once you become pregnant..."
Hanna threw her arms about my neck and passionately kissed me, indicating a willing participation. "Do we ..."
I shut her up with a return kiss. "I'll be darned if I take you to see a veterinarian. I'm too much of a gentleman to do that."
Never fear, Dear Readers! The pulse-pounding adventure continues!
Leaving off where ... but then again you just read the above and there's no need for a recap! Dive right in, immerse yourself in the awe and wonder of an alien world as Fred Hornquist—and what became of his noble acts—is told in the sequel below.
Chapter 1 — The Americanization of Hanna
It had been nine months since I had returned, via some mysterious space portal, to Earth from Barsoom, followed by the lovely Hanna Fulla, who had become my bride.
I'll never forget my incredible Martian trip, and the strange adventure that befell me there, when I actually had the opportunity to take the place of John Carter, the Warlord of Mars for a few weeks, to allow him time to start a campaign of destruction against the revived Barsoomian guild of assassins, based in Zodanga.
It was there, while in the palace of the Warlord, that I met the stunningly beautiful Hanna, who attended me and saw to my every need. Then, having gained the secret of interplanetary travel from John Carter himself, she had followed me when I returned to Earth to become my lifemate.
Art: Tangor, from RTC:Murderess, another recycled image.
This was no easy mission for the brave Hanna, because the gravitational difference between Earth and Mars made her feel as if she weighed close to 400 pounds. Her figure remained almost as slim and svelte as ever, but beneath her silken beauty rippled some finely tuned muscles she had developed at the fitness center down the road to help her deal with the heavier pull of Planet Earth.
Then, shortly after we exchanged wedding vows, she had become pregnant, and the time was nearing when we knew she would give birth—not to an infant in the traditional Earth sense—but to a large egg, which we would need to keep in an incubator for ten years (the equivalent of five Martian years). It was just the way that Martian biology worked and we had no reason to believe it would be any different just because she was now on Earth.
Meanwhile, Hanna had been taking English lessons and was doing quite well in learning to write and speak the language, and I had also been doing my best to acquaint her with the different customs, traditions and laws that we have here on the Earth—laws such as how to have proper respect for and how to behave like a lady or a gentleman in the presence of police officers.
We had not really encountered the minions of the law during Hanna's nine months but inevitably there came that day when I glanced into my rearview mirror and saw the flashing blue and red lights coming up behind me.
It was the prowl car of a county deputy sheriff.
Chapter 2 — Please Don't Trouble Yourself, Officer!
Fred Hornquist offers some sound advice when stopped by law enforcement for any reason. Let them know up front that there are weapons of any kind in your possession, and commonsense action is to allow those to be removed, or to properly respond to divest yourself of same.
"Oh, for crying out loud," I said. "What the heck does he want?"
"Is there a problem, Fred?" Hanna asked, reaching for the jewel-encrusted dagger that was fastened to her short shorts by her belt.
"No. No!" I replied. "And don't touch that knife. This is a man whose job it is to enforce the laws of Earth, and if you go for the knife he might think you're planning to attack him!"
"Oh, all right, Fred," Hanna said. "But I am ready to go into action at a moment's notice if you say the word."
I had pulled over and the officer was approaching the driver's side window.
"Good afternoon," he said.
"Good afternoon, officer," I replied. "I do need to let you know that my wife has a fixed-blade knife."
The officer took a step back and drew his gun. "Both of you put your hands where I can see them," he ordered. Gentleman that I am, I already had my hands on the steering wheel so I looked at Hanna and motioned with my head and she raised her hands and placed them on the dash.
"Okay now," said the police officer. "Ma'am, with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand, I want you to just barely grab the hilt of the knife and then reach over and drop it out the window."
"What does he mean, Fred?" Hanna said.
"Uh, officer, she's just in the process of learning English and doesn't understand every word you said. May I reach over and get the knife?"
"Okay," said the policeman. "But take it easy."
I smiled at Hanna to reassure her and reached over and plucked the knife from her belt, then stretched over further to drop it out the window.
About that time another deputy pulled up. The new arrival slipped on his gloves and then picked up the knife and took it back and laid it on the hood of his cruiser.
The officers ordered us from the vehicle, one at a time, and placed us in handcuffs and then patted us down. Next, they searched the car for more weapons. Finally, they finished and came back and removed our handcuffs.
"Sorry for the inconvenience," said the first deputy. "But we had to do it that way for our safety. I appreciate you telling me about the knife."
"I understand, officer," I said. "But my wife is a little nervous. This is her first encounter with something like this as she's new in the country."
"Oh yeah," said the cop. "Where's she from?"
"Barsoom," I said, without thinking. Then, "Uh...did I say Barsoom? Sorry, officer. I meant Khartoum. I'm a little tongue-tied and nervous, too, since my wife is pregnant and she's due at any time."
"Well, congratulations," said the officer. "Look, I just pulled you over because your license plate has a lot of dust on it and I couldn't read the expiration date of your tabs. But now I see it's legal so I'll just need to check your registration and license and then you'll be on your way."
"Oh... oh... no!" yelled Hanna in a shrill, pain-racked voice. "It's coming. It's coming."
"Oboy!" said the deputy. "I've been on road patrols for a dozen years and this has never happened to me before. I've always wanted to deliver a baby in a car. Stand back."
"Oh that's okay officer," I blurted. "We're just a short distance from home. We'll be okay. Honest."
"Can it," said the officer. "You're in good hands. Besides, state law won't let me leave now. If I did, and your wife or the baby died, I would be in hot water.
"Now don't you worry none, sweetie pie," he told Hanna. "You just sit there on the back seat, lie back, and Deputy Dawson will take care of everything."
Chapter 3 — Hanna the Mule?
There were tears streaming down Hanna's face. I made a shrugging motion, hoping she would understand that there was nothing else we could do.
The deputy got into position and told Hanna to start bearing down. Actually, she could not help but do that since the egg was definitely on its way. My mind raced for what I could say when the deputy would finally figure out what was coming down the birth canal.
"I can see its head," he hollered at me, "so it's in the right position. Bald as a cue ball!"
The egg pushed out further.
"Boy, this baby has some high forehead!" the deputy observed.
Then, with a pop like a released champagne cork, the rest of the egg shot out into the deputy's hands.
He turned with a look of horror on his face. "Good grits and gravy!" he groaned. "His head come clean off! Wait a minute. He ain't got no eyes, or mouth. And this head is as hard as a rock." He looked at me quizzically. "What the devil's going on here?"
"Oh... uh... we don't know," was all I could manage. "But give it to me and we'll take it home and care for it."
A look of suspicion crossed his face.
"Wait a minute," he said. "I've heard of people smuggling drugs this way. Stuffing all kinds of things up their private body cavities. We call 'em mules. Disgusting. What you got in this container here, son? Heroin? Cocaine?"
"No, no," I said. "there's nothing like that. Just give it to us. It's ours. We need to get home."
The deputy smiled a sinister smile. The other deputy put his hand on his gun and kept me under his steady eye.
"Ain't no use you trying to talk your way outa this one son," he said. "We'll take this container back to the station and when Sheriff Peabody comes in Monday we'll get a warrant and then we'll all have a nice little look at what's inside."
"As for you and the missus, you're under arrest on suspicion of smuggling drugs," he said. "Hopkins, cuff 'em."
Chapter 4 — Eggnappers
I was sick to my stomach. Without proper heat, our baby inside that egg would die. Even if I told them the truth, they wouldn't believe me. I was going to somehow have to get that egg away from them and see that it had proper incubation before it was too late.
During the booking process, I could see that the egg was placed into a walk-in safe, the door shut and the dial spun. I took note of where it was. Hanna was watching, too, through her tear-streaked eyes.
They led us to separate cells, slammed the doors, and turned the keys.
I was alone. Hanna was somewhere else. What could I do now?
I thought about it a little while. John Carter had told me the secret of interplanetary travel. I could easily leave this cell and go back to Mars. But what good would that do me?
I wondered. Was it possible to travel shorter distances by this method? Could I simply travel to Hanna's cell and then, since she knew the secret as well, could we both travel to the inside of the safe, where our egg lay, retrieve it, and then vanish completely out of the jail?
It was our child's only hope.
I had no idea which direction Hanna had been taken so I could not face that way with arms extended, but instead I let her face swim before me in my imagination and I concentrated and started to do the things that John Carter said I must in order to accomplish astral travel.
But just as I started, I saw Hanna standing before me. And she was holding the egg.
"Since they dropped you off at your cell first," she said, "I knew which way to face. I picked up the egg on the way. Let's get out of here."
"Yes," I said. "But where shall we go. Our home is the first place they'll search."
"Sometimes I wish I was just back on Mars, Fred," Hanna said.
Tangor art decoration from A Barsoom Glossary.
Of course. Why not return to the Red Planet? There, Hanna would be among familiar surroundings and no longer have the constant ordeal of her Martian-bred muscles forced to carry around a heavier burden of weight on earth. And I would have greater powers than I have on Earth and could more easily protect her. I should have thought of this myself long ago. But...I'm a guy.
"Yes, Barsoom," I said. "We'll go. Right now. And we'll stay there forever, dear."
"Oh Fred," Hanna said. "You are so wonderful."
We turned and I took her hand in mine and looked to the heavens in the direction where we knew Mars would lie.
We mumbled to ourselves the incantation, hoping that we would end up together in the same spot on Barsoom. There was a moment of extreme cold and utter darkness.
* * * * * * * *
I gazed upon a landscape that was obviously Martian in nature. I felt as if my body were 150 pounds lighter. I squeezed my right hand to reassure my wife and then turned and looked at her.
I was holding the hand of a white ape and gazing into its murderous eyes!
Chapter 5 — Gorilla My Nightmares
When you find yourself unexpectedly holding the hand of a white ape, it's hard to find things for which you can be thankful. But I was, at least, happy that true Martian apes are not nearly the same size as the ones depicted in the Disney movie, "John Carter."
And even though I stood there hand in hand with an ape several feet taller than me, and obviously one that was about to tear me into tiny pieces, I was thankful for something else. Since I had been a gentleman and taken Hanna by the hand before we made our attempt to go back to Barsoom, it was now the ape's hand that was in mine, so it was a simple matter for me to let go.
And, thirdly, I was thankful that I was clearly back on Barsoom, and in the sphere of the lesser gravitational pull, so I quickly leaped as far away as I could and then kept leaping and leaping to put more and more distance between me and the angry, pursuing ape.
The creature seemed to have plenty of energy but I knew there was a limit to mine. Even though it was easier for me to leap, and to leap far, I knew I would soon get winded, so I had to look for a more permanent source of succor.
The chase continued for most of the day until finally, in the distance, I could see what appeared to be the wall and spires of a city and it was in that direction I went. As I got closer I could see people on the walls pointing in my direction and beyond me at my pursuer. The iron gate was raised, presumably to offer me entry, but I took the easy way and simply leaped over the wall.
The ape, however, was glad of the open gate and dived for it. But, a quick-thinking red man ordered the gate dropped and it crushed the rib cage of the ungainly ape, sending it into agonizing death throes.
The gate was quickly raised again and soldiers began hitching thoats to the carcass to drag it far onto the dead sea bottoms, where the stench of the soon-to-be rotting corpse would not be able to reach the city and to where its bloated body would serve as food for the various scavengers of Mars. They were loathsome, disgusting creatures but the delicate Barsoomian ecology did depend on them, to some extent.
I wondered what kind of reception I would have in this city but it wasn't long before I found out. A contingent from the city's red Martian army was double-timing my direction and, as they approached, the officer stopped, pointed at me and ordered his men: "Seize him."
Chapter 6 — The Gift of the Goddess
I was led into the palace and through a hallway that looked as if it was made of an ivory-like substance, encrusted with gold. My guards were firm but treated me with a degree of respect, no doubt due to the prowess I had shown in staying ahead of the great ape and leaping their wall.
At last we reached the throne room, where a princely man—obviously the city's Jeddak—sat on a throne. I did a doubletake when I saw who was sitting there next to him. It was my Hanna. And between them, in an ornate incubator, was our egg!
"Hanna" I cried. "How'd you get here so fast?"
"Quiet, Thern," roared the Jeddak. "How dare you even speak to, let alone look, in the direction of our Jeddara?"
"Whaddya mean, Jeddara?" I protested. "She's my wife!"
Some kind of junior officer stepped up to me, sword drawn. "He speaks blasphemies, my Jeddak. Shall I slay him now?"
"Maybe later," said the Jeddak. "I want to question him first. What do you mean that she's your wife, stranger?" the Jeddak asked. "She is our gift from the Goddess."
"The Goddess?" I said. "You mean Issus? Don't you know she was exposed as a fraud?"
"Well, yeah, we know that," said the Jeddak. "But we thought maybe there was someone who took her place, like maybe even this lady here. She just popped onto the throneroom floor a few hours ago and she brought us this fresh egg."
"I see you didn't waste any time getting it into an incubator," I said. "For that, I thank you. I'm the father of the child that's in that egg."
The Jeddak guffawed. "You expect us to believe that?"
"Think about it," I said. "She—and by the way, her name is Hanna—just appeared here magically, right? And how did I get here? By doing something no Barsoom-born man can do, leaping higher, farther and faster than anyone on your planet."
"You're forgetting about John Carter," sneered the Jeddak.
"You're forgetting that John Carter is from Earth, like me," I retorted.
"Aha, so you're from that other planet. Then you're not really a god."
"You ever been to Earth?" I asked. "We have a planet full of gods. Ever hear of Zeus, Hera, and a bunch of others? And we have some movie starlets whom the press refers to as goddesses. We have people all over the place in Washington, D.C., who think they're gods and goddesses."
"Hmmmmmm," said the Jeddak. "I guess I'd better bone up a little on Earth. But then again, you might be lying. If you're a god, you'll know that we have to be careful of impostors and take precautions. We'll lock you in a cell. But don't worry. Since you say you're a god, it'll be a padded cell."
Hanna spoke up for the first time. "My Jeddak," she interrupted. "He speaks the truth. I tell you, as your goddess, that he is indeed a true god from the planet Earth and you risk great misfortune if you so treat him as a common pretender."
"All right, all right," said the Jeddak. "I guess we'll have to treat him a bit nicer. All right, Mr. god—and by the way, what's your name?"
"Fred Hornquist," I replied.
The Jeddak was taken aback. "There is no such name on Barsoom," he said to Hanna. "He may speak the truth. Only a god could have a name that sounds that exotic."
Chapter 7 — A Speedy Eggs-It
"Fred Hornquist" is a common-enough sounding name on the planet Earth, but it is not typical at all of Barsoomian names. So, when I told the Jeddak that was my name he was astonished that there could be such a name and, as a result, believed that I was some kind of a "god."
Whatever the case, it worked in my favor. He looked at me with a bit of awe and said, "You have the freedom to move about in our great city of Pah-loo-qah. But be warned: If you are not really a god, we have plenty of panthans who can run you through in a moment's notice if you step out of line."
I straightened up and gave the Jeddak a steady, serious gaze. Then, keeping my eyes on him, I made a series of hand movements and gestures that were completely meaningless and nonsensical. And no, I didn't include any of Earth's off-color finger gestures because, after all, I am a gentleman. I thought that my mannerisms would mystify him, and I was right. In fact, I could see that he was a little concerned. "What means these gestures?" he demanded.
"These are blessings," I replied. "I have conferred upon you the most holy order of the Spidey and the Green Goblin."
The Jeddak brightened. "Why thank you," he said. "... I think."
"Now, if you don't mind, the goddess and I need to perform a brief ritual with the egg."
"Okay, go ahead," said the Jeddak. "But we'll be watching, so don't try anything funny."
I took Hanna by the hand and together we opened the incubator and removed the egg. Since we had somehow become separated when we went through space, I didn't know for sure what was going to happen this time. But we had to get out of there. I could see that Hanna understood. We uttered the incantation while facing north. Since we didn't know where we were in relation to Helium, one direction was as good as another.
There was a moment of bright light and the smell of moss. Then, we were standing on a dead sea bottom, still holding our egg. There were no cities in sight, no advancing hordes of green men, and—most important—no white apes ready to tear us limb from limb.
"With this mode of travel," I smiled at Hanna. "You and I can be quite a pair on Barsoom and—hey! What are you doing?"
"I'm calling John Carter," said Hanna, holding a cell phone up to her ear.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked.
"I've had it all the time," she said. "All John Carter's friends carry them, as you should know from your earlier visit here. You just never saw me using it. I had it in my ditty bag when I came to Earth and since then I've kept it in the baby alligator purse I got on our trip to Florida. Since the phone didn't work on Earth, there was never any reason to mention it to you. I got my purse out of the jail's evidence locker when I got the egg."
"You are quite a girl," I said. She held up her hand to silence me. "My Warlord?" she said into the phone. "It's Hanna and Fred. We're back on Barsoom and we need a ride to Helium... Okay... See you soon."
She flipped the phone shut and stuck it back in her purse. "He said he'd need to check the Mars Positioning System that Ras Thavas invented to get our location and then he'd be here shortly," she said.
"In the meantime, we need to keep this egg warm."
She placed the egg between us, put her arms around me, and began a long, long kiss.
That egg was warm as toast by the time John Carter and Dejah Thoris arrived in a four-seat flier.