Amazing Saturday story … A Martian Odyssey
(That’s the real Mars above – photo snapped by NASA’s Curiosity rover)
There has been one science fiction short story that I go back to in my head – A Martian Odyssey – over and over again when I think of Mars. It is as interesting a tale about exploration today as it was 80 years ago.
Back in 1934, when Hitler was still building the Nazi War Machine, America was blighted with a Great Depression of about 30 percent unemployment and air travel was still a novelty for the wealthy, Stanley G. Weinbaum penned Martian Odyssey about a crew going to Mars that would set the stage for a slew of other SciFi worlds including The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Forbidden Planet and Star Trek.
The tale concerns Dick Jarvis and his newfound “Martian?” buddy named Tweel … well just read it, included here (it is in the public domain so no salivating copyright lawsuits – about this – are going to land in my well formed lap). I have pasted “A Martian Odyssey” and the sequel “Valley of Dreams” for anybody’s enjoyment, but mostly so I will have a copy online for my own reasons.
A Martian Odyssey
Stanley G. Weinbaum
Jarvis stretched himself as luxuriously as he could in the cramped general quarters of the Ares.
“Air you can breathe!” he exulted. “It feels as thick as soup after the thin stuff out there!” He nodded at the Martian landscape stretching flat and desolate in the light of the nearer moon, beyond the glass of the port.
The other three stared at him sympathetically—Putz, the engineer, Leroy, the biologist, and Harrison, the astronomer and captain of the expedition. Dick Jarvis was chemist of the famous crew, the Ares expedition, first human beings to set foot on the mysterious neighbor of the earth, the planet Mars. This, of course, was in the old days, less than twenty years after the mad American Doheny perfected the atomic blast at the cost of his life, and only a decade after the equally mad Cardoza rode on it to the moon. They were true pioneers, these four of the Ares. Except for a half-dozen moon expeditions and the ill-fated de Lancey flight aimed at the seductive orb of Venus, they were the first men to feel other gravity than earth’s, and certainly the first successful crew to leave the earth-moon system. And they deserved that success when one considers the difficulties and discomforts—the months spent in acclimatization chambers back on earth, learning to breathe the air as tenuous as that of Mars, the challenging of the void in the tiny rocket driven by the cranky reaction motors of the twenty-first century, and mostly the facing of an absolutely unknown world.
Jarvis stretched and fingered the raw and peeling tip of his frostbitten nose. He sighed again contentedly.
“Well,” exploded Harrison abruptly, “are we going to hear what happened? You set out all shipshape in an auxiliary rocket, we don’t get a peep for ten days, and finally Putz here picks you out of a lunatic ant-heap with a freak ostrich as your pal! Spill it, man!”
“Speel?” queried Leroy perplexedly. “Speel what?”
“He means ‘spiel’,” explained Putz soberly. “It iss to tell.”
Jarvis met Harrison’s amused glance without the shadow of a smile. “That’s right, Karl,” he said in grave agreement with Putz. “Ich spiel es!” He grunted comfortably and began.
“According to orders,” he said, “I watched Karl here take off toward the North, and then I got into my flying sweat-box and headed south. You’ll remember, Cap—we had orders not to land, but just scout about for points of interest. I set the two cameras clicking and buzzed along, riding pretty high—about two thousand feet—for a couple of reasons. First, it gave the cameras a greater field, and second, the under-jets travel so far in this half-vacuum they call air here that they stir up dust if you move low.”
“We know all that from Putz,” grunted Harrison. “I wish you’d saved the films, though. They’d have paid the cost of this junket; remember how the public mobbed the first moon pictures?”
“The films are safe,” retorted Jarvis. “Well,” he resumed, “as I said, I buzzed along at a pretty good clip; just as we figured, the wings haven’t much lift in this air at less than a hundred miles per hour, and even then I had to use the under-jets.
“So, with the speed and the altitude and the blurring caused by the under-jets, the seeing wasn’t any too good. I could see enough, though, to distinguish that what I sailed over was just more of this gray plain that we’d been examining the whole week since our landing—same blobby growths and the same eternal carpet of crawling little plant-animals, or biopods, as Leroy calls them. So I sailed along, calling back my position every hour as instructed, and not knowing whether you heard me.”
“I did!” snapped Harrison.
“A hundred and fifty miles south,” continued Jarvis imperturbably, “the surface changed to a sort of low plateau, nothing but desert and orange-tinted sand. I figured that we were right in our guess, then, and this gray plain we dropped on was really the Mare Cimmerium which would make my orange desert the region called Xanthus. If I were right, I ought to hit another gray plain, the Mare Chronium in another couple of hundred miles, and then another orange desert, Thyle I or II. And so I did.”
“Putz verified our position a week and a half ago!” grumbled the captain. “Let’s get to the point.”
“Coming!” remarked Jarvis. “Twenty miles into Thyle—believe it or not—I crossed a canal!”
“Putz photographed a hundred! Let’s hear something new!”
“And did he also see a city?”
“Twenty of ’em, if you call those heaps of mud cities!”
“Well,” observed Jarvis, “from here on I’ll be telling a few things Putz didn’t see!” He rubbed his tingling nose, and continued. “I knew that I had sixteen hours of daylight at this season, so eight hours—eight hundred miles—from here, I decided to turn back. I was still over Thyle, whether I or II I’m not sure, not more than twenty-five miles into it. And right there, Putz’s pet motor quit!”
“Quit? How?” Putz was solicitous.
“The atomic blast got weak. I started losing altitude right away, and suddenly there I was with a thump right in the middle of Thyle! Smashed my nose on the window, too!” He rubbed the injured member ruefully.
“Did you maybe try vashing der combustion chamber mit acid sulphuric?” inquired Putz. “Sometimes der lead giffs a secondary radiation—”
“Naw!” said Jarvis disgustedly. “I wouldn’t try that, of course—not more than ten times! Besides, the bump flattened the landing gear and busted off the under-jets. Suppose I got the thing working—what then? Ten miles with the blast coming right out of the bottom and I’d have melted the floor from under me!” He rubbed his nose again. “Lucky for me a pound only weighs seven ounces here, or I’d have been mashed flat!”
“I could have fixed!” ejaculated the engineer. “I bet it vas not serious.”
“Probably not,” agreed Jarvis sarcastically. “Only it wouldn’t fly. Nothing serious, but I had the choice of waiting to be picked up or trying to walk back—eight hundred miles, and perhaps twenty days before we had to leave! Forty miles a day! Well,” he concluded, “I chose to walk. Just as much chance of being picked up, and it kept me busy.”
“We’d have found you,” said Harrison.
“No doubt. Anyway, I rigged up a harness from some seat straps, and put the water tank on my back, took a cartridge belt and revolver, and some iron rations, and started out.”
“Water tank!” exclaimed the little biologist, Leroy. “She weigh one-quarter ton!”
“Wasn’t full. Weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds earth-weight, which is eighty-five here. Then, besides, my own personal two hundred and ten pounds is only seventy on Mars, so, tank and all, I grossed a hundred and fifty-five, or fifty-five pounds less than my everyday earth-weight. I figured on that when I undertook the forty-mile daily stroll. Oh—of course I took a thermo-skin sleeping bag for these wintry Martian nights.
“Off I went, bouncing along pretty quickly. Eight hours of daylight meant twenty miles or more. It got tiresome, of course—plugging along over a soft sand desert with nothing to see, not even Leroy’s crawling biopods. But an hour or so brought me to the canal—just a dry ditch about four hundred feet wide, and straight as a railroad on its own company map.
“There’d been water in it sometime, though. The ditch was covered with what looked like a nice green lawn. Only, as I approached, the lawn moved out of my way!”
“Eh?” said Leroy.
“Yeah, it was a relative of your biopods. I caught one, a little grass-like blade about as long as my finger, with two thin, stemmy legs.”
“He is where?” Leroy was eager.
“He is let go! I had to move, so I plowed along with the walking grass opening in front and closing behind. And then I was out on the orange desert of Thyle again.
“I plugged steadily along, cussing the sand that made going so tiresome, and, incidentally, cussing that cranky motor of yours, Karl. It was just before twilight that I reached the edge of Thyle, and looked down over the gray Mare Chronium. And I knew there was seventy-five miles of that to be walked over, and then a couple of hundred miles of that Xanthus desert, and about as much more Mare Cimmerium. Was I pleased? I started cussing you fellows for not picking me up!”
“We were trying, you sap!” said Harrison.
“That didn’t help. Well, I figured I might as well use what was left of daylight in getting down the cliff that bounded Thyle. I found an easy place, and down I went. Mare Chronium was just the same sort of place as this—crazy leafless plants and a bunch of crawlers; I gave it a glance and hauled out my sleeping bag. Up to that time, you know, I hadn’t seen anything worth worrying about on this half-dead world—nothing dangerous, that is.”
“Did you?” queried Harrison.
“Did I! You’ll hear about it when I come to it. Well, I was just about to turn in when suddenly I heard the wildest sort of shenanigans!”
“Vot iss shenanigans?” inquired Putz.
“He says, ‘Je ne sais quoi,'” explained Leroy. “It is to say, ‘I don’t know what.'”
“That’s right,” agreed Jarvis. “I didn’t know what, so I sneaked over to find out. There was a racket like a flock of crows eating a bunch of canaries—whistles, cackles, caws, trills, and what have you. I rounded a clump of stumps, and there was Tweel!”
“Tweel?” said Harrison, and “Tveel?” said Leroy and Putz.
“That freak ostrich,” explained the narrator. “At least, Tweel is as near as I can pronounce it without sputtering. He called it something like ‘Trrrweerrll!’.”
“What was he doing?” asked the Captain.
“He was being eaten! And squealing, of course, as any one would.”
“Eaten! By what?”
“I found out later. All I could see then was a bunch of black ropy arms tangled around what looked like, as Putz described it to you, an ostrich. I wasn’t going to interfere, naturally; if both creatures were dangerous, I’d have one less to worry about.
“But the bird-like thing was putting up a good battle, dealing vicious blows with an eighteen-inch beak, between screeches. And besides, I caught a glimpse or two of what was on the end of those arms!” Jarvis shuddered. “But the clincher was when I noticed a little black bag or case hung about the neck of the bird-thing! It was intelligent. That or tame, I assumed. Anyway, it clinched my decision. I pulled out my automatic and fired into what I could see of its antagonist.
“There was a flurry of tentacles and a spurt of black corruption, and then the thing, with a disgusting sucking noise, pulled itself and its arms into a hole in the ground. The other let out a series of clacks, staggered around on legs about as thick as golf sticks, and turned suddenly to face me. I held my weapon ready, and the two of us stared at each other.
“The Martian wasn’t a bird, really. It wasn’t even bird-like, except just at first glance. It had a beak all right, and a few feathery appendages, but the beak wasn’t really a beak. It was somewhat flexible; I could see the tip bend slowly from side to side; it was almost like a cross between a beak and a trunk. It had four-toed feet, and four-fingered things—hands, you’d have to call them, and a little roundish body, and a long neck ending in a tiny head—and that beak. It stood an inch or so taller than I, and—well, Putz saw it!”
The engineer nodded. “Ja! I saw!”
Jarvis continued. “So—we stared at each other. Finally the creature went into a series of clackings and twitterings and held out its hands toward me, empty. I took that as a gesture of friendship.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Harrison, “it looked at that nose of yours and thought you were its brother!”
“Huh! You can be funny without talking! Anyway, I put up my gun and said ‘Aw, don’t mention it,’ or something of the sort, and the thing came over and we were pals.
“By that time, the sun was pretty low and I knew that I’d better build a fire or get into my thermo-skin. I decided on the fire. I picked a spot at the base of the Thyle cliff where the rock could reflect a little heat on my back. I started breaking off chunks of this desiccated Martian vegetation, and my companion caught the idea and brought in an armful. I reached for a match, but the Martian fished into his pouch and brought out something that looked like a glowing coal; one touch of it, and the fire was blazing—and you all know what a job we have starting a fire in this atmosphere!
“And that bag of his!” continued the narrator. “That was a manufactured article, my friends; press an end and she popped open—press the middle and she sealed so perfectly you couldn’t see the line. Better than zippers.
“Well, we stared at the fire for a while and I decided to attempt some sort of communication with the Martian. I pointed at myself and said ‘Dick’; he caught the drift immediately, stretched a bony claw at me and repeated ‘Tick.’ Then I pointed at him, and he gave that whistle I called Tweel; I can’t imitate his accent. Things were going smoothly; to emphasize the names, I repeated ‘Dick,’ and then, pointing at him, ‘Tweel.’
“There we stuck! He gave some clacks that sounded negative, and said something like ‘P-p-p-root.’ And that was just the beginning; I was always ‘Tick,’ but as for him—part of the time he was ‘Tweel,’ and part of the time he was ‘P-p-p-proot,’ and part of the time he was sixteen other noises!
“We just couldn’t connect. I tried ‘rock,’ and I tried ‘star,’ and ‘tree,’ and ‘fire.’ and Lord knows what else, and try as I would, I couldn’t get a single word! Nothing was the same for two successive minutes, and if that’s a language, I’m an alchemist. Finally I gave it up and called him Tweel, and that seemed to do.
“But Tweel hung on to some of my words. He remembered a couple of them, which I suppose is a great achievement if you’re used to a language you have to make up as you go along. But I couldn’t get the hang of his talk; either I missed some subtle point or we just didn’t think alike—and I rather believe the latter view.
“I’ve other reasons for believing that. After a while I gave up the language business, and tried mathematics. I scratched two plus two equals four on the ground, and demonstrated it with pebbles. Again Tweel caught the idea, and informed me that three plus three equals six. Once more we seemed to be getting somewhere.
“So, knowing that Tweel had at least a grammar school education, I drew a circle for the sun, pointing first at it, and then at the last glow of the sun. Then I sketched in Mercury, and Venus, and Mother Earth, and Mars, and finally, pointing to Mars, I swept my hand around in a sort of inclusive gesture to indicate that Mars was our current environment. I was working up to putting over the idea that my home was on the earth.
“Tweel understood my diagram all right. He poked his beak at it, and with a great deal of trilling and clucking, he added Deimos and Phobos to Mars, and then sketched in the earth’s moon!
“Do you see what that proves? It proves that Tweel’s race uses telescopes—that they’re civilized!”
“Does not!” snapped Harrison. “The moon is visible from here as a fifth magnitude star. They could see its revolution with the naked eye.”
“The moon, yes!” said Jarvis. “You’ve missed my point. Mercury isn’t visible! And Tweel knew of Mercury because he placed the Moon at the third planet, not the second. If he didn’t know Mercury, he’d put the earth second, and Mars third, instead of fourth! See?”
“Humph!” said Harrison.
“Anyway,” proceeded Jarvis, “I went on with my lesson. Things were going smoothly, and it looked as if I could put the idea over. I pointed at the earth on my diagram, and then at myself, and then, to clinch it, I pointed to myself and then to the earth itself shining bright green almost at the zenith.
“Tweel set up such an excited clacking that I was certain he understood. He jumped up and down, and suddenly he pointed at himself and then at the sky, and then at himself and at the sky again. He pointed at his middle and then at Arcturus, at his head and then at Spica, at his feet and then at half a dozen stars, while I just gaped at him. Then, all of a sudden, he gave a tremendous leap. Man, what a hop! He shot straight up into the starlight, seventy-five feet if an inch! I saw him silhouetted against the sky, saw him turn and come down at me head first, and land smack on his beak like a javelin! There he stuck square in the center of my sun-circle in the sand—a bull’s eye!”
“Nuts!” observed the captain. “Plain nuts!”
“That’s what I thought, too! I just stared at him openmouthed while he pulled his head out of the sand and stood up. Then I figured he’d missed my point, and I went through the whole blamed rigmarole again, and it ended the same way, with Tweel on his nose in the middle of my picture!”
“Maybe it’s a religious rite,” suggested Harrison.
“Maybe,” said Jarvis dubiously. “Well, there we were. We could exchange ideas up to a certain point, and then—blooey! Something in us was different, unrelated; I don’t doubt that Tweel thought me just as screwy as I thought him. Our minds simply looked at the world from different viewpoints, and perhaps his viewpoint is as true as ours. But—we couldn’t get together, that’s all. Yet, in spite of all difficulties, I liked Tweel, and I have a queer certainty that he liked me.”
“Nuts!” repeated the captain. “Just daffy!”
“Yeah? Wait and see. A couple of times I’ve thought that perhaps we—” He paused, and then resumed his narrative. “Anyway, I finally gave it up, and got into my thermo-skin to sleep. The fire hadn’t kept me any too warm, but that damned sleeping bag did. Got stuffy five minutes after I closed myself in. I opened it a little and bingo! Some eighty-below-zero air hit my nose, and that’s when I got this pleasant little frostbite to add to the bump I acquired during the crash of my rocket.
“I don’t know what Tweel made of my sleeping. He sat around, but when I woke up, he was gone. I’d just crawled out of my bag, though, when I heard some twittering, and there he came, sailing down from that three-story Thyle cliff to alight on his beak beside me. I pointed to myself and toward the north, and he pointed at himself and toward the south, and when I loaded up and started away, he came along.
“Man, how he traveled! A hundred and fifty feet at a jump, sailing through the air stretched out like a spear, and landing on his beak. He seemed surprised at my plodding, but after a few moments he fell in beside me, only every few minutes he’d go into one of his leaps, and stick his nose into the sand a block ahead of me. Then he’d come shooting back at me; it made me nervous at first to see that beak of his coming at me like a spear, but he always ended in the sand at my side.
“So the two of us plugged along across the Mare Chronium. Same sort of place as this—same crazy plants and same little green biopods growing in the sand, or crawling out of your way. We talked—not that we understood each other, you know, but just for company. I sang songs, and I suspected Tweel did too; at least, some of his trillings and twitterings had a subtle sort of rhythm.
“Then, for variety, Tweel would display his smattering of English words. He’d point to an outcropping and say ‘rock,’ and point to a pebble and say it again; or he’d touch my arm and say ‘Tick,’ and then repeat it. He seemed terrifically amused that the same word meant the same thing twice in succession, or that the same word could apply to two different objects. It set me wondering if perhaps his language wasn’t like the primitive speech of some earth people—you know, Captain, like the Negritoes, for instance, who haven’t any generic words. No word for food or water or man—words for good food and bad food, or rainwater and seawater, or strong man and weak man—but no names for general classes. They’re too primitive to understand that rain water and sea water are just different aspects of the same thing. But that wasn’t the case with Tweel; it was just that we were somehow mysteriously different—our minds were alien to each other. And yet—we liked each other!”
“Looney, that’s all,” remarked Harrison. “That’s why you two were so fond of each other.”
“Well, I like you!” countered Jarvis wickedly. “Anyway,” he resumed, “don’t get the idea that there was anything screwy about Tweel. In fact, I’m not so sure but that he couldn’t teach our highly praised human intelligence a trick or two. Oh, he wasn’t an intellectual superman, I guess; but don’t overlook the point that he managed to understand a little of my mental workings, and I never even got a glimmering of his.”
“Because he didn’t have any!” suggested the captain, while Putz and Leroy blinked attentively.
“You can judge of that when I’m through,” said Jarvis. “Well, we plugged along across the Mare Chronium all that day, and all the next. Mare Chronium—Sea of Time! Say, I was willing to agree with Schiaparelli’s name by the end of that march! Just that gray, endless plain of weird plants, and never a sign of any other life. It was so monotonous that I was even glad to see the desert of Xanthus toward the evening of the second day.
“I was fair worn out, but Tweel seemed as fresh as ever, for all I never saw him drink or eat. I think he could have crossed the Mare Chronium in a couple of hours with those block-long nose dives of his, but he stuck along with me. I offered him some water once or twice; he took the cup from me and sucked the liquid into his beak, and then carefully squirted it all back into the cup and gravely returned it.
“Just as we sighted Xanthus, or the cliffs that bounded it, one of those nasty sand clouds blew along, not as bad as the one we had here, but mean to travel against. I pulled the transparent flap of my thermo-skin bag across my face and managed pretty well, and I noticed that Tweel used some feathery appendages growing like a mustache at the base of his beak to cover his nostrils, and some similar fuzz to shield his eyes.”
“He is a desert creature!” ejaculated the little biologist, Leroy.
“He drink no water—he is adapt’ for sand storm—”
“Proves nothing! There’s not enough water to waste anywhere on this desiccated pill called Mars. We’d call all of it desert on earth, you know.” He paused. “Anyway, after the sand storm blew over, a little wind kept blowing in our faces, not strong enough to stir the sand. But suddenly things came drifting along from the Xanthus cliffs—small, transparent spheres, for all the world like glass tennis balls! But light—they were almost light enough to float even in this thin air—empty, too; at least, I cracked open a couple and nothing came out but a bad smell. I asked Tweel about them, but all he said was ‘No, no, no,’ which I took to mean that he knew nothing about them. So they went bouncing by like tumbleweeds, or like soap bubbles, and we plugged on toward Xanthus. Tweel pointed at one of the crystal balls once and said ‘rock,’ but I was too tired to argue with him. Later I discovered what he meant.
“We came to the bottom of the Xanthus cliffs finally, when there wasn’t much daylight left. I decided to sleep on the plateau if possible; anything dangerous, I reasoned, would be more likely to prowl through the vegetation of the Mare Chronium than the sand of Xanthus. Not that I’d seen a single sign of menace, except the rope-armed black thing that had trapped Tweel, and apparently that didn’t prowl at all, but lured its victims within reach. It couldn’t lure me while I slept, especially as Tweel didn’t seem to sleep at all, but simply sat patiently around all night. I wondered how the creature had managed to trap Tweel, but there wasn’t any way of asking him. I found that out too, later; it’s devilish!
“However, we were ambling around the base of the Xanthus barrier looking for an easy spot to climb. At least, I was. Tweel could have leaped it easily, for the cliffs were lower than Thyle—perhaps sixty feet. I found a place and started up, swearing at the water tank strapped to my back—it didn’t bother me except when climbing—and suddenly I heard a sound that I thought I recognized!
“You know how deceptive sounds are in this thin air. A shot sounds like the pop of a cork. But this sound was the drone of a rocket, and sure enough, there went our second auxiliary about ten miles to westward, between me and the sunset!”
“Vas me!” said Putz. “I hunt for you.”
“Yeah; I knew that, but what good did it do me? I hung on to the cliff and yelled and waved with one hand. Tweel saw it too, and set up a trilling and twittering, leaping to the top of the barrier and then high into the air. And while I watched, the machine droned on into the shadows to the south.
“I scrambled to the top of the cliff. Tweel was still pointing and trilling excitedly, shooting up toward the sky and coming down head-on to stick upside down on his back in the sand. I pointed toward the south, and at myself, and he said, ‘Yes—Yes—Yes’; but somehow I gathered that he thought the flying thing was a relative of mine, probably a parent. Perhaps I did his intellect an injustice; I think now that I did.
“I was bitterly disappointed by the failure to attract attention. I pulled out my thermo-skin and crawled into it, as the night chill was already apparent. Tweel stuck his beak into the sand and drew up his legs and arms and looked for all the world like one of those leafless shrubs out there. I think he stayed that way all night.”
“Protective mimicry!” ejaculated Leroy. “See? He is desert creature!”
“In the morning,” resumed Jarvis, “we started off again. We hadn’t gone a hundred yards into Xanthus when I saw something queer! This is one thing Putz didn’t photograph, I’ll wager!
“There was a line of little pyramids—tiny ones, not more than six inches high, stretching across Xanthus as far as I could see! Little buildings made of pygmy bricks, they were, hollow inside and truncated, or at least broken at the top and empty. I pointed at them and said ‘What?’ to Tweel, but he gave some negative twitters to indicate, I suppose, that he didn’t know. So off we went, following the row of pyramids because they ran north, and I was going north.
“Man, we trailed that line for hours! After a while, I noticed another queer thing: they were getting larger. Same number of bricks in each one, but the bricks were larger.
“By noon they were shoulder high. I looked into a couple—all just the same, broken at the top and empty. I examined a brick or two as well; they were silica, and old as creation itself!”
“How do you know?” asked Leroy.
“They were weathered—edges rounded. Silica doesn’t weather easily even on earth, and in this climate—!”
“How old you think?”
“Fifty thousand—a hundred thousand years. How can I tell? The little ones we saw in the morning were older—perhaps ten times as old. Crumbling. How old would that make them? Half a million years? Who knows?” Jarvis paused a moment. “Well,” he resumed, “we followed the line. Tweel pointed at them and said ‘rock’ once or twice, but he’d done that many times before. Besides, he was more or less right about these.
“I tried questioning him. I pointed at a pyramid and asked ‘People?’ and indicated the two of us. He set up a negative sort of clucking and said, ‘No, no, no. No one—one—two. No two—two—four,’ meanwhile rubbing his stomach. I just stared at him and he went through the business again. ‘No one—one—two. No two—two—four.’ I just gaped at him.”
“That proves it!” exclaimed Harrison. “Nuts!”
“You think so?” queried Jarvis sardonically. “Well, I figured it out different! ‘No one—one—two!’ You don’t get it, of course, do you?”
“Nope—nor do you!”
“I think I do! Tweel was using the few English words he knew to put over a very complex idea. What, let me ask, does mathematics make you think of?”
“Why—of astronomy. Or—or logic!”
“That’s it! ‘No one—one—two!’ Tweel was telling me that the builders of the pyramids weren’t people—or that they weren’t intelligent, that they weren’t reasoning creatures! Get it?”
“Huh! I’ll be damned!”
“You probably will.”
“Why,” put in Leroy, “he rub his belly?”
“Why? Because, my dear biologist, that’s where his brains are! Not in his tiny head—in his middle!”
“Not on Mars, it isn’t! This flora and fauna aren’t earthly; your biopods prove that!” Jarvis grinned and took up his narrative. “Anyway, we plugged along across Xanthus and in about the middle of the afternoon, something else queer happened. The pyramids ended.”
“Yeah; the queer part was that the last one—and now they were ten-footers—was capped! See? Whatever built it was still inside; we’d trailed ’em from their half-million-year-old origin to the present.
“Tweel and I noticed it about the same time. I yanked out my automatic (I had a clip of Boland explosive bullets in it) and Tweel, quick as a sleight-of-hand trick, snapped a queer little glass revolver out of his bag. It was much like our weapons, except that the grip was larger to accommodate his four-taloned hand. And we held our weapons ready while we sneaked up along the lines of empty pyramids.
“Tweel saw the movement first. The top tiers of bricks were heaving, shaking, and suddenly slid down the sides with a thin crash. And then—something—something was coming out!
“A long, silvery-gray arm appeared, dragging after it an armored body. Armored, I mean, with scales, silver-gray and dull-shining. The arm heaved the body out of the hole; the beast crashed to the sand.
“It was a nondescript creature—body like a big gray cask, arm and a sort of mouth-hole at one end; stiff, pointed tail at the other—and that’s all. No other limbs, no eyes, ears, nose—nothing! The thing dragged itself a few yards, inserted its pointed tail in the sand, pushed itself upright, and just sat.
“Tweel and I watched it for ten minutes before it moved. Then, with a creaking and rustling like—oh, like crumpling stiff paper—its arm moved to the mouth-hole and out came a brick! The arm placed the brick carefully on the ground, and the thing was still again.
“Another ten minutes—another brick. Just one of Nature’s bricklayers. I was about to slip away and move on when Tweel pointed at the thing and said ‘rock’! I went ‘huh?’ and he said it again. Then, to the accompaniment of some of his trilling, he said, ‘No—no—’ and gave two or three whistling breaths.
“Well, I got his meaning, for a wonder! I said, ‘No breathe!’ and demonstrated the word. Tweel was ecstatic; he said, ‘Yes, yes, yes! No, no, no breet!’ Then he gave a leap and sailed out to land on his nose about one pace from the monster!
“I was startled, you can imagine! The arm was going up for a brick, and I expected to see Tweel caught and mangled, but—nothing happened! Tweel pounded on the creature, and the arm took the brick and placed it neatly beside the first. Tweel rapped on its body again, and said ‘rock,’ and I got up nerve enough to take a look myself.
“Tweel was right again. The creature was rock, and it didn’t breathe!”
“How you know?” snapped Leroy, his black eyes blazing interest.
“Because I’m a chemist. The beast was made of silica! There must have been pure silicon in the sand, and it lived on that. Get it? We, and Tweel, and those plants out there, and even the biopods are carbon life; this thing lived by a different set of chemical reactions. It was silicon life!”
“La vie silicieuse!” shouted Leroy. “I have suspect, and now it is proof! I must go see! Il faut que je—“
“All right! All right!” said Jarvis. “You can go see. Anyhow, there the thing was, alive and yet not alive, moving every ten minutes, and then only to remove a brick. Those bricks were its waste matter. See, Frenchy? We’re carbon, and our waste is carbon dioxide, and this thing is silicon and its waste is silicon dioxide—silica. But silica is a solid, hence the bricks. And it builds itself in, and when it is covered, it moves over to a fresh place to start over. No wonder it creaked! A living creature a half a million years old!”
“How you know how old?” Leroy was frantic.
“We trailed its pyramids from the beginning, didn’t we? If this weren’t the original pyramid builder, the series would have ended somewhere before we found him, wouldn’t it?—ended and started over with the small ones. That’s simple enough, isn’t it?
“But he reproduces, or tries to. Before the third brick came out, there was a little rustle and out popped a whole stream of those little crystal balls. They’re his spores, or seeds—call ’em what you want. They went bouncing by across Xanthus just as they’d bounced by us back in the Mare Chronium. I’ve a hunch how they work, too—this is for your information, Leroy. I think the crystal shell of silica is no more than protective covering, like an eggshell, and that the active principle is the smell inside. It’s some sort of gas that attacks silicon, and if the shell is broken near a supply of that element, some reaction starts that ultimately develops into a beast like that one.”
“You should try!” exclaimed the little Frenchman. “We must break one to see!”
“Yeah? Well, I did. I smashed a couple against the sand. Would you like to come back in about ten thousand years to see if I planted some pyramid monsters? You’d most likely be able to tell by that time!” Jarvis paused and drew a deep breath. “Lord! That queer creature Do you picture it? Blind, deaf, nerveless, brainless—just a mechanism, and yet—immortal! Bound to go on making bricks, building pyramids, as long as silicon and oxygen exist, and even afterwards it’ll just stop. It won’t be dead. If the accidents of a million years bring it its food again, there it’ll be, ready to run again, while brains and civilizations are part of the past. A queer beast—yet I met a stranger one!”
“If you did, it must have been in your dreams!” growled Harrison.
“You’re right!” said Jarvis soberly. “In a way, you’re right. The dream-beast! That’s the best name for it—and it’s the most fiendish, terrifying creation one could imagine! More dangerous than a lion, more insidious than a snake!”
“Tell me!” begged Leroy. “I must go see!”
“Not this devil!” He paused again. “Well,” he resumed, “Tweel and I left the pyramid creature and plowed along through Xanthus. I was tired and a little disheartened by Putz’s failure to pick me up, and Tweel’s trilling got on my nerves, as did his flying nosedives. So I just strode along without a word, hour after hour across that monotonous desert.
“Toward mid-afternoon we came in sight of a low dark line on the horizon. I knew what it was. It was a canal; I’d crossed it in the rocket and it meant that we were just one-third of the way across Xanthus. Pleasant thought, wasn’t it? And still, I was keeping up to schedule.
“We approached the canal slowly; I remembered that this one was bordered by a wide fringe of vegetation and that Mudheap City was on it.
“I was tired, as I said. I kept thinking of a good hot meal, and then from that I jumped to reflections of how nice and home-like even Borneo would seem after this crazy planet, and from that, to thoughts of little old New York, and then to thinking about a girl I know there, Fancy Long. Know her?”
“Vision entertainer,” said Harrison. “I’ve tuned her in. Nice blonde—dances and sings on the Yerba Mate hour.”
“That’s her,” said Jarvis ungrammatically. “I know her pretty well—just friends, get me?—though she came down to see us off in the Ares. Well, I was thinking about her, feeling pretty lonesome, and all the time we were approaching that line of rubbery plants.
“And then—I said, ‘What ‘n Hell!’ and stared. And there she was—Fancy Long, standing plain as day under one of those crack-brained trees, and smiling and waving just the way I remembered her when we left!”
“Now you’re nuts, too!” observed the captain.
“Boy, I almost agreed with you! I stared and pinched myself and closed my eyes and then stared again—and every time, there was Fancy Long smiling and waving! Tweel saw something, too; he was trilling and clucking away, but I scarcely heard him. I was bounding toward her over the sand, too amazed even to ask myself questions.
“I wasn’t twenty feet from her when Tweel caught me with one of his flying leaps. He grabbed my arm, yelling, ‘No—no—no!’ in his squeaky voice. I tried to shake him off—he was as light as if he were built of bamboo—but he dug his claws in and yelled. And finally some sort of sanity returned to me and I stopped less than ten feet from her. There she stood, looking as solid as Putz’s head!”
“Vot?” said the engineer.
“She smiled and waved, and waved and smiled, and I stood there dumb as Leroy, while Tweel squeaked and chattered. I knew it couldn’t be real, yet—there she was!
“Finally I said, ‘Fancy! Fancy Long!’ She just kept on smiling and waving, but looking as real as if I hadn’t left her thirty-seven million miles away.
“Tweel had his glass pistol out, pointing it at her. I grabbed his arm, but he tried to push me away. He pointed at her and said, ‘No breet! No breet!’ and I understood that he meant that the Fancy Long thing wasn’t alive.
“Man, my head was whirling!
“Still, it gave me the jitters to see him pointing his weapon at her. I don’t know why I stood there watching him take careful aim, but I did. Then he squeezed the handle of his weapon; there was a little puff of steam, and Fancy Long was gone! And in her place was one of those writhing, black rope-armed horrors like the one I’d saved Tweel from!
“The dream-beast! I stood there dizzy, watching it die while Tweel trilled and whistled. Finally he touched my arm, pointed at the twisting thing, and said, ‘You one—one—two, he one—one—two.’ After he’d repeated it eight or ten times, I got it. Do any of you?”
“Oui,” shrilled Leroy. “Moi—je le comprends! He mean you think of something, the beast he know, and you see it! Un chien— a hungry dog, he would see the big bone with meat! Or smell it—not?”
“Right!” said Jarvis. “The dream-beast uses its victim’s longings and desires to trap its prey. The bird at nesting season would see its mate, the fox, prowling for its own prey, would see a helpless rabbit!”
“How he do?” queried Leroy.
“How do I know? How does a snake back on earth charm a bird into its very jaws? And aren’t there deep-sea fish that lure their victims into their mouths? Lord!” Jarvis shuddered. “Do you see how insidious the monster is? We’re warned now—but henceforth we can’t trust even our eyes. You might see me—I might see one of you—and back of it may be nothing but another of those black horrors!”
“How’d your friend know?” asked the captain abruptly.
“Tweel? I wonder! Perhaps he was thinking of something that couldn’t possibly have interested me, and when I started to run, he realized that I saw something different and was warned. Or perhaps the dream-beast can only project a single vision, and Tweel saw what I saw—or nothing. I couldn’t ask him. But it’s just another proof that his intelligence is equal to ours or greater.”
“He’s daffy, I tell you!” said Harrison. “What makes you think his intellect ranks with the human?”
“Plenty of things! First the pyramid-beast. He hadn’t seen one before; he said as much. Yet he recognized it as a dead-alive automaton of silicon.”
“He could have heard of it,” objected Harrison. “He lives around here, you know.”
“Well how about the language? I couldn’t pick up a single idea of his and he learned six or seven words of mine. And do you realize what complex ideas he put over with no more than those six or seven words? The pyramid monster—the dream-beast! In a single phrase he told me that one was a harmless automaton and the other a deadly hypnotist. What about that?”
“Huh!” said the captain.
“Huh if you wish! Could you have done it knowing only six words of English? Could you go even further, as Tweel did, and tell me that another creature was of a sort of intelligence so different from ours that understanding was impossible—even more impossible than that between Tweel and me?”
“Eh? What was that?”
“Later. The point I’m making is that Tweel and his race are worthy of our friendship. Somewhere on Mars—and you’ll find I’m right—is a civilization and culture equal to ours, and maybe more than equal. And communication is possible between them and us; Tweel proves that. It may take years of patient trial, for their minds are alien, but less alien than the next minds we encountered—if they are minds.”
“The next ones? What next ones?”
“The people of the mud cities along the canals.” Jarvis frowned, then resumed his narrative. “I thought the dream-beast and the silicon-monster were the strangest beings conceivable, but I was wrong. These creatures are still more alien, less understandable than either and far less comprehensible than Tweel, with whom friendship is possible, and even, by patience and concentration, the exchange of ideas.
“Well,” he continued, “we left the dream-beast dying, dragging itself back into its hole, and we moved toward the canal. There was a carpet of that queer walking-grass scampering out of our way, and when we reached the bank, there was a yellow trickle of water flowing. The mound city I’d noticed from the rocket was a mile or so to the right and I was curious enough to want to take a look at it.
“It had seemed deserted from my previous glimpse of its and if any creatures were lurking in it—well, Tweel and I were both armed. And by the way, that crystal weapon of Tweel’s was an interesting device; I took a look at it after the dream-beast episode. It fired a little glass splinter, poisoned, I suppose, and I guess it held at least a hundred of ’em to a load. The propellant was steam—just plain steam!”
“Shteam!” echoed Putz. “From vot come, shteam?”
“From water, of course! You could see the water through the transparent handle and about a gill of another liquid, thick and yellowish. When Tweel squeezed the handle—there was no trigger—a drop of water and a drop of the yellow stuff squirted into the firing chamber, and the water vaporized—pop!—like that. It’s not so difficult; I think we could develop the same principle. Concentrated sulfuric acid will heat water almost to boiling, and so will quicklime, and there’s potassium and sodium—
“Of course, his weapon hadn’t the range of mine, but it wasn’t so bad in this thin air, and it did hold as many shots as a cowboy’s gun in a Western movie. It was effective, too, at least against Martian life; I tried it out, aiming at one of the crazy plants, and darned if the plant didn’t wither up and fall apart! That’s why I think the glass splinters were poisoned.
“Anyway, we trudged along toward the mud-heap city and I began to wonder whether the city builders dug the canals. I pointed to the city and then at the canal, and Tweel said ‘No—no—no!’ and gestured toward the south. I took it to mean that some other race had created the canal system, perhaps Tweel’s people. I don’t know; maybe there’s still another intelligent race on the planet, or a dozen others. Mars is a queer little world.
“A hundred yards from the city we crossed a sort of road—just a hard-packed mud trail, and then, all of a sudden, along came one of the mound builders!
“Man, talk about fantastic beings! It looked rather like a barrel trotting along on four legs with four other arms or tentacles. It had no head, just body and members and a row of eyes completely around it. The top end of the barrel-body was a diaphragm stretched as tight as a drumhead, and that was all. It was pushing a little coppery cart and tore right past us like the proverbial bat out of Hell. It didn’t even notice us, although I thought the eyes on my side shifted a little as it passed.
“A moment later another came along, pushing another empty cart. Same thing—it just scooted past us. Well, I wasn’t going to be ignored by a bunch of barrels playing train, so when the third one approached, I planted myself in the way—ready to jump, of course, if the thing didn’t stop.
“But it did. It stopped and set up a sort of drumming from the diaphragm on top. And I held out both hands and said, ‘We are friends!’ And what do you suppose the thing did?”
“Said, ‘Pleased to meet you,’ I’ll bet!” suggested Harrison.
“I couldn’t have been more surprised if it had! It drummed on its diaphragm, and then suddenly boomed out, ‘We are v-r-r-riends’ and gave its pushcart a vicious poke at me! I jumped aside, and away it went while I stared dumbly after it.
“A minute later another one came hurrying along. This one didn’t pause, but simply drummed out, ‘We are v-r-r-riends!’ and scurried by. How did it learn the phrase? Were all of the creatures in some sort of communication with each other? Were they all parts of some central organism? I don’t know, though I think Tweel does.
“Anyway, the creatures went sailing past us, every one greeting us with the same statement. It got to be funny; I never thought to find so many friends on this God-forsaken ball! Finally I made a puzzled gesture to Tweel; I guess he understood, for he said, ‘One-one-two—yes!—Two-two-four—no!’ Get it?”
“Sure,” said Harrison. “It’s a Martian nursery rhyme.”
“Yeah! Well, I was getting used to Tweel’s symbolism, and I figured it out this way. ‘One-one-two—yes!’ The creatures were intelligent. ‘Two-two-four—no!’ Their intelligence was not of our order, but something different and beyond the logic of two and two is four. Maybe I missed his meaning. Perhaps he meant that their minds were of low degree, able to figure out the simple things—’One-one-two—yes!—but not more difficult things—Two-two-four—no!’ But I think from what we saw later that he meant the other.
“After a few moments, the creatures came rushing back—first one, then another. Their pushcarts were full of stones, sand, chunks of rubbery plants, and such rubbish as that. They droned out their friendly greeting, which didn’t really sound so friendly, and dashed on. The third one I assumed to be my first acquaintance and I decided to have another chat with him. I stepped into his path again and waited.
“Up he came, booming out his ‘We are v-r-r-riends’ and stopped. I looked at him; four or five of his eyes looked at me. He tried his password again and gave a shove on his cart, but I stood firm. And then the—the dashed creature reached out one of his arms, and two finger-like nippers tweaked my nose!”
“Haw!” roared Harrison. “Maybe the things have a sense of beauty!”
“Laugh!” grumbled Jarvis. “I’d already had a nasty bump and a mean frostbite on that nose. Anyway, I yelled ‘Ouch!’ and jumped aside and the creature dashed away; but from then on, their greeting was ‘We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!’ Queer beasts!
“Tweel and I followed the road squarely up to the nearest mound. The creatures were coming and going, paying us not the slightest attention, fetching their loads of rubbish. The road simply dived into an opening, and slanted down like an old mine, and in and out darted the barrel-people, greeting us with their eternal phrase.
“I looked in; there was a light somewhere below, and I was curious to see it. It didn’t look like a flame or torch, you understand, but more like a civilized light, and I thought that I might get some clue as to the creatures’ development. So in I went and Tweel tagged along, not without a few trills and twitters, however.
“The light was curious; it sputtered and flared like an old arc light, but came from a single black rod set in the wall of the corridor. It was electric, beyond doubt. The creatures were fairly civilized, apparently.
“Then I saw another light shining on something that glittered and I went on to look at that, but it was only a heap of shiny sand. I turned toward the entrance to leave, and the Devil take me if it wasn’t gone!
“I supposed the corridor had curved, or I’d stepped into a side passage. Anyway, I walked back in that direction I thought we’d come, and all I saw was more dimlit corridor. The place was a labyrinth! There was nothing but twisting passages running every way, lit by occasional lights, and now and then a creature running by, sometimes with a pushcart, sometimes without.
“Well, I wasn’t much worried at first. Tweel and I had only come a few steps from the entrance. But every move we made after that seemed to get us in deeper. Finally I tried following one of the creatures with an empty cart, thinking that he’d be going out for his rubbish, but he ran around aimlessly, into one passage and out another. When he started dashing around a pillar like one of these Japanese waltzing mice, I gave up, dumped my water tank on the floor, and sat down.
“Tweel was as lost as I. I pointed up and he said ‘No—no—no!’ in a sort of helpless trill. And we couldn’t get any help from the natives. They paid no attention at all, except to assure us they were friends—ouch!
“Lord! I don’t know how many hours or days we wandered around there! I slept twice from sheer exhaustion; Tweel never seemed to need sleep. We tried following only the upward corridors, but they’d run uphill a ways and then curve downwards. The temperature in that damned ant hill was constant; you couldn’t tell night from day and after my first sleep I didn’t know whether I’d slept one hour or thirteen, so I couldn’t tell from my watch whether it was midnight or noon.
“We saw plenty of strange things. There were machines running in some of the corridors, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything—just wheels turning. And several times I saw two barrel-beasts with a little one growing between them, joined to both.”
“Parthenogenesis!” exulted Leroy. “Parthenogenesis by budding like les tulipes!“
“If you say so, Frenchy,” agreed Jarvis. “The things never noticed us at all, except, as I say, to greet us with ‘We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!’ They seemed to have no home-life of any sort, but just scurried around with their pushcarts, bringing in rubbish. And finally I discovered what they did with it.
“We’d had a little luck with a corridor, one that slanted upwards for a great distance. I was feeling that we ought to be close to the surface when suddenly the passage debouched into a domed chamber, the only one we’d seen. And man!—I felt like dancing when I saw what looked like daylight through a crevice in the roof.
“There was a—a sort of machine in the chamber, just an enormous wheel that turned slowly, and one of the creatures was in the act of dumping his rubbish below it. The wheel ground it with a crunch—sand, stones, plants, all into powder that sifted away somewhere. While we watched, others filed in, repeating the process, and that seemed to be all. No rhyme nor reason to the whole thing—but that’s characteristic of this crazy planet. And there was another fact that’s almost too bizarre to believe.
“One of the creatures, having dumped his load, pushed his cart aside with a crash and calmly shoved himself under the wheel! I watched him being crushed, too stupefied to make a sound, and a moment later, another followed him! They were perfectly methodical about it, too; one of the cartless creatures took the abandoned pushcart.
“Tweel didn’t seem surprised; I pointed out the next suicide to him, and he just gave the most human-like shrug imaginable, as much as to say, ‘What can I do about it?’ He must have known more or less about these creatures.
“Then I saw something else. There was something beyond the wheel, something shining on a sort of low pedestal. I walked over; there was a little crystal, about the size of an egg, fluorescing to beat Tophet. The light from it stung my hands and face, almost like a static discharge, and then I noticed another funny thing. Remember that wart I had on my left thumb? Look!” Jarvis extended his hand. “It dried up and fell off—just like that! And my abused nose—say, the pain went out of it like magic! The thing had the property of hard ex-rays or gamma radiations, only more so; it destroyed diseased tissue and left healthy tissue unharmed!
“I was thinking what a present that’d be to take back to Mother Earth when a lot of racket interrupted. We dashed back to the other side of the wheel in time to see one of the pushcarts ground up. Some suicide had been careless, it seems.
“Then suddenly the creatures were booming and drumming all around us and their noise was decidedly menacing. A crowd of them advanced toward us; we backed out of what I thought was the passage we’d entered by, and they came rumbling after us, some pushing carts and some not. Crazy brutes! There was a whole chorus of ‘We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!’ I didn’t like the ‘ouch’; it was rather suggestive.
“Tweel had his glass gun out and I dumped my water tank for greater freedom and got mine. We backed up the corridor with the barrel-beasts following—about twenty of them. Queer thing—the ones coming in with loaded carts moved past us inches away without a sign.
“Tweel must have noticed that. Suddenly, he snatched out that glowing coal cigar-lighter of his and touched a cartload of plant limbs. Puff! The whole load was burning—and the crazy beast pushing it went right along without a change of pace. It created some disturbance among our ‘v-v-r-riends,’ however—and then I noticed the smoke eddying and swirling past us, and sure enough, there was the entrance!
“I grabbed Tweel and out we dashed and after us our twenty pursuers. The daylight felt like Heaven, though I saw at first glance that the sun was all but set, and that was bad, since I couldn’t live outside my thermo-skin bag in a Martian night—at least, without a fire.
“And things got worse in a hurry. They cornered us in an angle between two mounds, and there we stood. I hadn’t fired nor had Tweel; there wasn’t any use in irritating the brutes. They stopped a little distance away and began their booming about friendship and ouches.
“Then things got still worse! A barrel-brute came out with a pushcart and they all grabbed into it and came out with handfuls of foot-long copper darts—sharp-looking ones—and all of a sudden one sailed past my ear—zing! And it was shoot or die then.
“We were doing pretty well for a while. We picked off the ones next to the pushcart and managed to keep the darts at a minimum, but suddenly there was a thunderous booming of ‘v-v-r-riends’ and ‘ouches,’ and a whole army of ’em came out of their hole.
“Man! We were through and I knew it! Then I realized that Tweel wasn’t. He could have leaped the mound behind us as easily as not. He was staying for me!
“Say, I could have cried if there’d been time! I’d liked Tweel from the first, but whether I’d have had gratitude to do what he was doing—suppose I had saved him from the first dream-beast—he’d done as much for me, hadn’t he? I grabbed his arm, and said ‘Tweel,’ and pointed up, and he understood. He said, ‘No—no—no, Tick!’ and popped away with his glass pistol.
“What could I do? I’d be a goner anyway when the sun set, but I couldn’t explain that to him. I said, ‘Thanks, Tweel. You’re a man!’ and felt that I wasn’t paying him any compliment at all. A man! There are mighty few men who’d do that.
“So I went ‘bang’ with my gun and Tweel went ‘puff’ with his, and the barrels were throwing darts and getting ready to rush us, and booming about being friends. I had given up hope. Then suddenly an angel dropped right down from Heaven in the shape of Putz, with his underjets blasting the barrels into very small pieces!
“Wow! I let out a yell and dashed for the rocket; Putz opened the door and in I went, laughing and crying and shouting! It was a moment or so before I remembered Tweel; I looked around in time to see him rising in one of his nosedives over the mound and away.
“I had a devil of a job arguing Putz into following! By the time we got the rocket aloft, darkness was down; you know how it comes here—like turning off a light. We sailed out over the desert and put down once or twice. I yelled ‘Tweel!’ and yelled it a hundred times, I guess. We couldn’t find him; he could travel like the wind and all I got—or else I imagined it—was a faint trilling and twittering drifting out of the south. He’d gone, and damn it! I wish—I wish he hadn’t!”
The four men of the Ares were silent—even the sardonic Harrison. At last little Leroy broke the stillness.
“I should like to see,” he murmured.
“Yeah,” said Harrison. “And the wart-cure. Too bad you missed that; it might be the cancer cure they’ve been hunting for a century and a half.”
“Oh, that!” muttered Jarvis gloomily. “That’s what started the fight!” He drew a glistening object from his pocket.
“Here it is.”
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VALLEY OF DREAMS
Captain Harrison of the Ares expedition turned away from the little telescope in the bow of the rocket. “Two weeks more, at the most,” he remarked. “Mars only retrogrades for seventy days in all, relative to the earth, and we’ve got to be homeward bound during that period, or wait a year and a half for old Mother Earth to go around the sun and catch up with us again. How’d you like to spend a winter here?”
Dick Jarvis, chemist of the party, shivered as he looked up from his notebook. “I’d just as soon spend it in a liquid air tank!” he averred. “These eighty-below zero summer nights are plenty for me.”
“Well,” mused the captain, “the first successful Martian expedition ought to be home long before then.”
“Successful if we get home,” corrected Jarvis. “I don’t trust these cranky rockets—not since the auxiliary dumped me in the middle of Thyle last week. Walking back from a rocket ride is a new sensation to me.”
“Which reminds me,” returned Harrison, “that we’ve got to recover your films. They’re important if we’re to pull this trip out of the red. Remember how the public mobbed the first moon pictures? Our shots ought to pack ’em to the doors. And the broadcast rights, too; we might show a profit for the Academy.”
“What interests me,” countered Jarvis, “is a personal profit. A book, for instance; exploration books are always popular. Martian Deserts—how’s that for a title?”
“Lousy!” grunted the captain. “Sounds like a cook-book for desserts. You’d have to call it ‘Love Life of a Martian,’ or something like that.”
Jarvis chuckled. “Anyway,” he said, “if we once get back home, I’m going to grab what profit there is, and never, never, get any farther from the earth than a good stratosphere plane’ll take me. I’ve learned to appreciate the planet after plowing over this dried-up pill we’re on now.”
“I’ll lay you odds you’ll be back here year after next,” grinned the Captain. “You’ll want to visit your pal—that trick ostrich.”
“Tweel?” The other’s tone sobered. “I wish I hadn’t lost him, at that. He was a good scout. I’d never have survived the dream-beast but for him. And that battle with the push-cart things—I never even had a chance to thank him.”
“A pair of lunatics, you two,” observed Harrison. He squinted through the port at the gray gloom of the Mare Cimmerium. “There comes the sun.” He paused. “Listen, Dick—you and Leroy take the other auxiliary rocket and go out and salvage those films.”
Jarvis stared. “Me and Leroy?” he echoed ungrammatically. “Why not me and Putz? An engineer would have some chance of getting us there and back if the rocket goes bad on us.”
The captain nodded toward the stern, whence issued at that moment a medley of blows and guttural expletives. “Putz is going over the insides of the Ares,” he announced. “He’ll have his hands full until we leave, because I want every bolt inspected. It’s too late for repairs once we cast off.”
“And if Leroy and I crack up? That’s our last auxiliary.”
“Pick up another ostrich and walk back,” suggested Harrison gruffly. Then he smiled. “If you have trouble, we’ll hunt you out in the Ares,” he finished. “Those films are important.” He turned. “Leroy!”
The dapper little biologist appeared, his face questioning.
“You and Jarvis are off to salvage the auxiliary,” the Captain said. “Everything’s ready and you’d better start now. Call back at half-hour intervals; I’ll be listening.”
Leroy’s eyes glistened. “Perhaps we land for specimens—no?” he queried.
“Land if you want to. This golf ball seems safe enough.”
“Except for the dream-beast,” muttered Jarvis with a faint shudder. He frowned suddenly. “Say, as long as we’re going that way, suppose I have a look for Tweel’s home! He must live off there somewhere, and he’s the most important thing we’ve seen on Mars.”
Harrison hesitated. “If I thought you could keep out of trouble,” he muttered. “All right,” he decided. “Have a look. There’s food and water aboard the auxiliary; you can take a couple of days. But keep in touch with me, you saps!”
Jarvis and Leroy went through the airlock out to the grey plain. The thin air, still scarcely warmed by the rising sun, bit flesh and lung like needles, and they gasped with a sense of suffocation. They dropped to a sitting posture, waiting for their bodies, trained by months in acclimatization chambers back on earth, to accommodate themselves to the tenuous air. Leroy’s face, as always, turned a smothered blue, and Jarvis heard his own breath rasping and rattling in his throat. But in five minutes, the discomfort passed; they rose and entered the little auxiliary rocket that rested beside the black hull of the Ares.
The under-jets roared out their fiery atomic blast; dirt and bits of shattered biopods spun away in a cloud as the rocket rose. Harrison watched the projectile trail its flaming way into the south, then turned back to his work.
It was four days before he saw the rocket again. Just at evening, as the sun dropped behind the horizon with the suddenness of a candle falling into the sea, the auxiliary flashed out of the southern heavens, easing gently down on the flaming wings of the under-jets. Jarvis and Leroy emerged, passed through the swiftly gathering dusk, and faced him in the light of the Ares. He surveyed the two; Jarvis was tattered and scratched, but apparently in better condition than Leroy, whose dapperness was completely lost. The little biologist was pale as the nearer moon that glowed outside; one arm was bandaged in thermo-skin and his clothes hung in veritable rags. But it was his eyes that struck Harrison most strangely; to one who lived these many weary days with the diminutive Frenchman, there was something queer about them. They were frightened, plainly enough, and that was odd, since Leroy was no coward or he’d[Pg 31] never have been one of the four chosen by the Academy for the first Martian expedition. But the fear in his eyes was more understandable than that other expression, that queer fixity of gaze like one in a trance, or like a person in an ecstasy. “Like a chap who’s seen Heaven and Hell together,” Harrison expressed it to himself. He was yet to discover how right he was.
He assumed a gruffness as the weary pair sat down. “You’re a fine looking couple!” he growled. “I should’ve known better than to let you wander off alone.” He paused. “Is your arm all right, Leroy? Need any treatment?”
Jarvis answered. “It’s all right—just gashed. No danger of infection here, I guess; Leroy says there aren’t any microbes on Mars.”
“Well,” exploded the Captain, “Let’s hear it, then! Your radio reports sounded screwy. ‘Escaped from Paradise!’ Huh!”
“I didn’t want to give details on the radio,” said Jarvis soberly. “You’d have thought we’d gone loony.”
“I think so, anyway.”
“Moi aussi!” muttered Leroy. “I too!”
“Shall I begin at the beginning?” queried the chemist. “Our early reports were pretty nearly complete.” He stared at Putz, who had come in silently, his face and hands blackened with carbon, and seated himself beside Harrison.
“At the beginning,” the Captain decided.
“Well,” began Jarvis, “we got started all right, and flew due south along the meridian of the Ares, same course I’d followed last week. I was getting used to this narrow horizon, so I didn’t feel so much like being cooped under a big bowl, but one does keep overestimating distances. Something four miles away looks eight when you’re used to terrestrial curvature, and that makes you guess its size just four times too large. A little hill looks like a mountain until you’re almost over it.”
“I know that,” grunted Harrison.
“Yes, but Leroy didn’t, and I spent our first couple of hours trying to explain it to him. By the time he understood (if he does yet) we were past Cimmerium and over that Xanthus desert, and then we crossed the canal with the mud city and the barrel-shaped citizens and the place where Tweel had shot the dream-[Pg 32]beast. And nothing would do for Pierre here but that we put down so he could practice his biology on the remains. So we did.
“The thing was still there. No sign of decay; couldn’t be, of course, without bacterial forms of life, and Leroy says that Mars is as sterile as an operating table.”
“Comme le coeur d’une fileuse,” corrected the little biologist, who was beginning to regain a trace of his usual energy. “Like an old maid’s heart!”
“However,” resumed Jarvis, “about a hundred of the little grey-green biopods had fastened onto the thing and were growing and branching. Leroy found a stick and knocked ’em off, and each branch broke away and became a biopod crawling around with the others. So he poked around at the creature, while I looked away from it; even dead, that rope-armed devil gave me the creeps. And then came the surprise; the thing was part plant!”
“C’est vrai!” confirmed the biologist. “It’s true!”
“It was a big cousin of the biopods,” continued Jarvis. “Leroy was quite excited; he figures that all Martian life is of that sort—neither plant nor animal. Life here never differentiated, he says; everything has both natures in it, even the barrel-creatures—even Tweel! I think he’s right, especially when I recall how Tweel rested, sticking his beak in the ground and staying that way all night. I never saw him eat or drink, either; perhaps his beak was more in the nature of a root, and he got his nourishment that way.”
“Sounds nutty to me,” observed Harrison.
“Well,” continued Jarvis, “we broke up a few of the other growths and they acted the same way—the pieces crawled around, only much slower than the biopods, and then stuck themselves in the ground. Then Leroy had to catch a sample of the walking grass, and we were ready to leave when a parade of the barrel-creatures rushed by with their push-carts. They hadn’t forgotten me, either; they all drummed out, ‘We are v-r-r-iends—ouch!’ just as they had before. Leroy wanted to shoot one and cut it up, but I remembered the battle Tweel and I had had with them, and vetoed the idea. But he did[Pg 33] hit on a possible explanation as to what they did with all the rubbish they gathered.”
“Made mud-pies, I guess,” grunted the captain.
“More or less,” agreed Jarvis. “They use it for food, Leroy thinks. If they’re part vegetable, you see, that’s what they’d want—soil with organic remains in it to make it fertile. That’s why they ground up sand and biopods and other growths all together. See?”
“Dimly,” countered Harrison. “How about the suicides?”
“Leroy had a hunch there, too. The suicides jump into the grinder when the mixture has too much sand and gravel; they throw themselves in to adjust the proportions.”
“Rats!” said Harrison disgustedly. “Why couldn’t they bring in some extra branches from outside?”
“Because suicide is easier. You’ve got to remember that these creatures can’t be judged by earthly standards; they probably don’t feel pain, and they haven’t got what we’d call individuality. Any intelligence they have is the property of the whole community—like an ant-heap. That’s it! Ants are willing to die for their ant-hill; so are these creatures.”
“So are men,” observed the captain, “if it comes to that.”
“Yes, but men aren’t exactly eager. It takes some emotion like patriotism to work ’em to the point of dying for their country; these things do it all in the day’s work.” He paused.
“Well, we took some pictures of the dream-beast and the barrel-creatures, and then we started along. We sailed over Xanthus, keeping as close to the meridian of the Ares as we could, and pretty soon we crossed the trail of the pyramid-builder. So we circled back to let Leroy take a look at it, and when we found it, we landed. The thing had completed just two rows of bricks since Tweel and I left it, and there it was, breathing in silicon and breathing out bricks as if it had eternity to do it in—which it has. Leroy wanted to dissect it with a Boland explosive bullet, but I thought that anything that had lived for ten million years was entitled to the respect due old age, so I talked him out of it. He peeped into the hole on top of it and nearly got beaned by the arm coming up with a brick, and then he chipped off a few pieces of it, which didn’t disturb the crea[Pg 34]ture a bit. He found the place I’d chipped, tried to see if there was any sign of healing, and decided he could tell better in two or three thousand years. So we took a few shots of it and sailed on.
“Mid afternoon we located the wreck of my rocket. Not a thing disturbed; we picked up my films and tried to decide what next. I wanted to find Tweel if possible; I figured from the fact of his pointing south that he lived somewhere near Thyle. We plotted our route and judged that the desert we were in now was Thyle II; Thyle I should be east of us. So, on a hunch, we decided to have a look at Thyle I, and away we buzzed.”
“Der motors?” queried Putz, breaking his long silence.
“For a wonder, we had no trouble, Karl. Your blast worked perfectly. So we hummed along, pretty high to get a wider view, I’d say about fifty thousand feet. Thyle II spread out like an orange carpet, and after a while we came to the grey branch of the Mare Chronium that bounded it. That was narrow; we crossed it in half an hour, and there was Thyle I—same orange-hued desert as its mate. We veered south, toward the Mare Australe, and followed the edge of the desert. And toward sunset we spotted it.”
“Shpotted?” echoed Putz. “Vot vas shpotted?”
“The desert was spotted—with buildings! Not one of the mud cities of the canals, although a canal went through it. From the map we figured the canal was a continuation of the one Schiaparelli called Ascanius.
“We were probably too high to be visible to any inhabitants of the city, but also too high for a good look at it, even with the glasses. However, it was nearly sunset, anyway, so we didn’t plan on dropping in. We circled the place; the canal went out into the Mare Australe, and there, glittering in the south, was the melting polar ice-cap! The canal drained it; we could distinguish the sparkle of water in it. Off to the southeast, just at the edge of the Mare Australe, was a valley—the first irregularity I’d seen on Mars except the cliffs that bounded Xanthus and Thyle II. We flew over the valley—” Jarvis paused suddenly and shuddered; Leroy, whose color had begun[Pg 35] to return, seemed to pale. The chemist resumed, “Well, the valley looked all right—then! Just a gray waste, probably full of crawlers like the others.
“We circled back over the city; say, I want to tell you that place was—well, gigantic! It was colossal; at first I thought the size was due to that illusion I spoke of—you know, the nearness of the horizon—but it wasn’t that. We sailed right over it, and you’ve never seen anything like it!
“But the sun dropped out of sight right then. I knew we were pretty far south—latitude 60—but I didn’t know just how much night we’d have.”
Harrison glanced at a Schiaparelli chart. “About 60—eh?” he said. “Close to what corresponds to the Antarctic circle. You’d have about four hours of night at this season. Three months from now you’d have none at all.”
“Three months!” echoed Jarvis, surprised. Then he grinned. “Right! I forget the seasons here are twice as long as ours. Well, we sailed out into the desert about twenty miles, which put the city below the horizon in case we overslept, and there we spent the night.
“You’re right about the length of it. We had about four hours of darkness which left us fairly rested. We ate breakfast, called our location to you, and started over to have a look at the city.
“We sailed toward it from the east and it loomed up ahead of us like a range of mountains. Lord, what a city! Not that New York mightn’t have higher buildings, or Chicago cover more ground, but for sheer mass, those structures were in a class by themselves. Gargantuan!
“There was a queer look about the place, though. You know how a terrestrial city sprawls out, a nimbus of suburbs, a ring of residential sections, factory districts, parks, highways. There was none of that here; the city rose out of the desert as abruptly as a cliff. Only a few little sand mounds marked the division, and then the walls of those gigantic structures.
“The architecture was strange, too. There were lots of devices that are impossible back home, such as set-backs in reverse, so that a building with a small base could spread out as it rose.[Pg 36]That would be a valuable trick in New York, where land is almost priceless, but to do it, you’d have to transfer Martian gravitation there!
“Well, since you can’t very well land a rocket in a city street, we put down right next to the canal side of the city, took our small cameras and revolvers, and started for a gap in the wall of masonry. We weren’t ten feet from the rocket when we both saw the explanation for a lot of the queerness.
“The city was in ruin! Abandoned, deserted, dead as Babylon! Or at least, so it looked to us then, with its empty streets which, if they had been paved, were now deep under sand.”
“A ruin, eh?” commented Harrison. “How old?”
“How could we tell?” countered Jarvis. “The next expedition to this golf ball ought to carry an archeologist—and a philologist, too, as we found out later. But it’s a devil of a job to estimate the age of anything here; things weather so slowly that most of the buildings might have been put up yesterday. No rainfall, no earthquakes, no vegetation is here to spread cracks with its roots—nothing. The only aging factors here are the erosion of the wind—and that’s negligible in this atmosphere—and the cracks caused by changing temperature. And one other agent—meteorites. They must crash down occasionally on the city, judging from the thinness of the air, and the fact that we’ve seen four strike ground right here near the Ares.”
“Seven,” corrected the captain. “Three dropped while you were gone.”
“Well, damage by meteorites must be slow, anyway. Big ones would be as rare here as on earth, because big ones get through in spite of the atmosphere, and those buildings could sustain a lot of little ones. My guess at the city’s age—and it may be wrong by a big percentage—would be fifteen thousand years. Even that’s thousands of years older than any human civilization; fifteen thousand years ago was the Late Stone Age in the history of mankind.
“So Leroy and I crept up to those tremendous buildings feeling like pygmies, sort of awe-struck, and talking in whispers. I tell you, it was ghostly walking down that dead and deserted street, and every time we passed through a shadow, we shivered,[Pg 37] and not just because shadows are cold on Mars. We felt like intruders, as if the great race that had built the place might resent our presence even across a hundred and fifty centuries. The place was as quiet as a grave, but we kept imagining things and peeping down the dark lanes between buildings and looking over our shoulders. Most of the structures were windowless, but when we did see an opening in those vast walls, we couldn’t look away, expecting to see some horror peering out of it.
“Then we passed an edifice with an open arch; the doors were there, but blocked open by sand. I got up nerve enough to take a look inside, and then, of course, we discovered we’d forgotten to take our flashes. But we eased a few feet into the darkness and the passage debouched into a colossal hall. Far above us a little crack let in a pallid ray of daylight, not nearly enough to light the place; I couldn’t even see if the hall rose clear to the distant roof. But I know the place was enormous; I said something to Leroy and a million thin echoes came slipping back to us out of the darkness. And after that, we began to hear other sounds—slithering rustling noises, and whispers, and sounds like suppressed breathing—and something black and silent passed between us and that far-away crevice of light.
“Then we saw three little greenish spots of luminosity in the dusk to our left. We stood staring at them, and suddenly they all shifted at once. Leroy yelled ‘Ce sont des yeux!‘ and they were! They were eyes!
“Well, we stood frozen for a moment, while Leroy’s yell reverberated back and forth between the distant walls, and the echoes repeated the words in queer, thin voices. There were mumblings and mutterings and whisperings and sounds like strange soft laughter, and then the three-eyed thing moved again. Then we broke for the door!
“We felt better out in the sunlight; we looked at each other sheepishly, but neither of us suggested another look at the buildings inside—though we did see the place later, and that was queer, too—but you’ll hear about it when I come to it. We just loosened our revolvers and crept on along that ghostly street.
“The street curved and twisted and subdivided. I kept careful note of our directions, since we couldn’t risk getting lost[Pg 38] in that gigantic maze. Without our thermo-skin bags, night would finish us, even if what lurked in the ruins didn’t. By and by, I noticed that we were veering back toward the canal, the buildings ended and there were only a few dozen ragged stone huts which looked as though they might have been built of debris from the city. I was just beginning to feel a bit disappointed at finding no trace of Tweel’s people here when we rounded a corner and there he was!
“I yelled ‘Tweel!’ but he just stared, and then I realized that he wasn’t Tweel, but another Martian of his sort. Tweel’s feathery appendages were more orange hued and he stood several inches taller than this one. Leroy was sputtering in excitement, and the Martian kept his vicious beak directed at us, so I stepped forward as peace-maker. I said ‘Tweel?’ very questioningly, but there was no result. I tried it a dozen times, and we finally had to give it up; we couldn’t connect.
“Leroy and I walked toward the huts, and the Martian followed us. Twice he was joined by others, and each time I tried yelling ‘Tweel’ at them but they just stared at us. So we ambled on with the three trailing us, and then it suddenly occurred to me that my Martian accent might be at fault. I faced the group and tried trilling it out the way Tweel himself did: ‘T-r-r-rwee-r-rl!’ Like that.
“And that worked! One of them spun his head around a full ninety degrees, and screeched ‘T-r-r-rweee-r-rl!’ and a moment later, like an arrow from a bow, Tweel came sailing over the nearer huts to land on his beak in front of me!
“Man, we were glad to see each other! Tweel set up a twittering and chirping like a farm in summer and went sailing up and coming down on his beak, and I would have grabbed his hands, only he wouldn’t keep still long enough.
“The other Martians and Leroy just stared, and after a while, Tweel stopped bouncing, and there we were. We couldn’t talk to each other any more than we could before, so after I’d said ‘Tweel’ a couple of times and he’d said ‘Tick,’ we were more or less helpless. However, it was only mid-morning, and it seemed important to learn all we could about Tweel and the city, so I suggested that he guide us around the place if he[Pg 39] weren’t busy. I put over the idea by pointing back at the buildings and then at him and us.
“Well, apparently he wasn’t too busy, for he set off with us, leading the way with one of his hundred and fifty-foot nosedives that set Leroy gasping. When we caught up, he said something like ‘one, one, two—two, two, four—no, no—yes, yes—rock—no breet!’ That didn’t seem to mean anything; perhaps he was just letting Leroy know that he could speak English, or perhaps he was merely running over his vocabulary to refresh his memory.
“Anyway, he showed us around. He had a light of sorts in his black pouch, good enough for small rooms, but simply lost in some of the colossal caverns we went through. Nine out of ten buildings meant absolutely nothing to us—just vast empty chambers, full of shadows and rustlings and echoes. I couldn’t imagine their use; they didn’t seem suitable for living quarters, or even for commercial purposes—trade and so forth; they might have been all right as power-houses, but what could have been the purpose of a whole city full? And where were the remains of the machinery?
“The place was a mystery. Sometimes Tweel would show us through a hall that would have housed an ocean-liner, and he’d seem to swell with pride—and we couldn’t make a damn thing of it! As a display of architectural power, the city was colossal; as anything else it was just nutty!
“But we did see one thing that registered. We came to that same building Leroy and I had entered earlier—the one with the three eyes in it. Well, we were a little shaky about going in there, but Tweel twittered and trilled and kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ so we followed him, staring nervously about for the thing that had watched us. However, that hall was just like the others, full of murmurs and slithering noises and shadowy things slipping away into corners. If the three-eyed creature were still there, it must have slunk away with the others.
“Tweel led us along the wall; his light showed a series of little alcoves, and in the first of these we ran into a puzzling thing—a very weird thing. As the light flashed into the alcove, I saw first just an empty space, and then, squatting on the[Pg 40] floor, I saw—it! A little creature about as big as a large rat, it was, gray and huddled and evidently startled by our appearance. It had the queerest, most devilish little face!—pointed ears or horns and satanic eyes that seemed to sparkle with a sort of fiendish intelligence.
“Tweel saw it, too, and let out a screech of anger, and the creature rose on two pencil-thin legs and scuttled off with a half-terrified, half defiant squeak. It darted past us into the darkness too quickly even for Tweel, and as it ran, something waved on its body like the fluttering of a cape. Tweel screeched angrily at it and set up a shrill hullabaloo that sounded like genuine rage.
“But the thing was gone, and then I noticed the weirdest of imaginable details. Where it had squatted on the floor was—a book! It had been hunched over a book!
“I took a step forward; sure enough, there was some sort of inscription on the pages—wavy white lines like a seismograph record on black sheets like the material of Tweel’s pouch. Tweel fumed and whistled in wrath, picked up the volume and slammed it into place on a shelf full of others. Leroy and I stared dumbfounded at each other.
“Had the little thing with the fiendish face been reading? Or was it simply eating the pages, getting physical nourishment rather than mental? Or had the whole thing been accidental?
“If the creature were some rat-like pest that destroyed books, Tweel’s rage was understandable, but why should he try to prevent an intelligent being, even though of an alien race, fromreading—if it was reading? I don’t know; I did notice that the book was entirely undamaged, nor did I see a damaged book among any that we handled. But I have an odd hunch that if we knew the secret of the little cape-clothed imp, we’d know the mystery of the vast abandoned city and of the decay of Martian culture.
“Well, Tweel quieted down after a while and led us completely around that tremendous hall. It had been a library, I think; at least, there were thousands upon thousands of those queer black-paged volumes printed in wavy lines of white. There were pictures, too, in some; and some of these showed Tweel’s[Pg 41] people. That’s a point, of course; it indicated that his race built the city and printed the books. I don’t think the greatest philologist on earth will ever translate one line of those records; they were made by minds too different from ours.
“Tweel could read them, naturally. He twittered off a few lines, and then I took a few of the books, with his permission; he said ‘no, no!’ to some and ‘yes, yes!’ to others. Perhaps he kept back the ones his people needed, or perhaps he let me take the ones he thought we’d understand most easily. I don’t know; the books are outside there in the rocket.
“Then he held that dim torch of his toward the walls, and they were pictured. Lord, what pictures! They stretched up and up into the blackness of the roof, mysterious and gigantic. I couldn’t make much of the first wall; it seemed to be a portrayal of a great assembly of Tweel’s people. Perhaps it was meant to symbolize Society or Government. But the next wall was more obvious; it showed creatures at work on a colossal machine of some sort, and that would be Industry or Science. The back wall had corroded away in part, from what we could see, I suspected the scene was meant to portray Art, but it was on the fourth wall that we got a shock that nearly dazed us.
“I think the symbol was Exploration or Discovery. This wall was a little plainer, because the moving beam of daylight from that crack lit up the higher surface and Tweel’s torch illuminated the lower. We made out a giant seated figure, one of the beaked Martians like Tweel, but with every limb suggesting heaviness, weariness. The arms dropped inertly on the chair, the thin neck bent and the beak rested on the body, as if the creature could scarcely bear its own weight. And before it was a queer kneeling figure, and at sight of it, Leroy and I almost reeled against each other. It was, apparently, a man!”
“A man!” bellowed Harrison. “A man you say?”
“I said apparently,” retorted Jarvis. “The artist had exaggerated the nose almost to the length of Tweel’s beak, but the figure had black shoulder-length hair, and instead of the Martian four, there were five fingers on its outstretched hand! It was kneeling as if in worship of the Martian, and on the ground was what looked like a pottery bowl full of some food as an offering. Well![Pg 42]Leroy and I thought we’d gone screwy!”
“And Putz and I think so, too!” roared the captain.
“Maybe we all have,” replied Jarvis, with a faint grin at the pale face of the little Frenchman, who returned it in silence. “Anyway,” he continued, “Tweel was squeaking and pointing at the figure, and saying ‘Tick! Tick!’ so he recognized the resemblance—and never mind any cracks about my nose!” he warned the captain. “It was Leroy who made the important comment; he looked at the Martian and said ‘Thoth! The god Thoth!'”
“Oui!” confirmed the biologist. “Comme l’Egypte!“
“Yeah,” said Jarvis. “Like the Egyptian ibis-headed god—the one with the beak. Well, no sooner did Tweel hear the name Thoth than he set up a clamor of twittering and squeaking. He pointed at himself and said ‘Thoth! Thoth!’ and then waved his arm all around and repeated it. Of course he often did queer things, but we both thought we understood what he meant. He was trying to tell us that his race called themselves Thoth. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“I see, all right,” said Harrison. “You think the Martians paid a visit to the earth, and the Egyptians remembered it in their mythology. Well, you’re off, then; there wasn’t any Egyptian civilization fifteen thousand years ago.”
“Wrong!” grinned Jarvis. “It’s too bad we haven’t an archeologist with us, but Leroy tells me that there was a stone-age culture in Egypt then, the pre-dynastic civilization.”
“Well, even so, what of it?”
“Plenty! Everything in that picture proves my point. The attitude of the Martian, heavy and weary—that’s the unnatural strain of terrestrial gravitation. The name Thoth; Leroy tells me Thoth was the Egyptian god of philosophy and the inventor of writing! Get that? They must have picked up the idea from watching the Martian take notes. It’s too much for coincidence that Thoth should be beaked and ibis-headed, and that the beaked Martians call themselves Thoth.”
“Well, I’ll be hanged! But what about the nose on the Egyptian? Do you mean to tell me that stone-age Egyptians had longer noses than ordinary men?”[Pg 43]
“Of course not! It’s just that the Martians very naturally cast their paintings in Martianized form. Don’t human beings tend to relate everything to themselves? That’s why dugongs and manatees started the mermaid myths—sailors thought they saw human features on the beasts. So the Martian artist, drawing either from descriptions or imperfect photographs, naturally exaggerated the size of the human nose to a degree that looked normal to him. Or anyway, that’s my theory.”
“Well, it’ll do as a theory,” grunted Harrison. “What I want to hear is why you two got back here looking like a couple of year-before-last bird’s nests.”
Jarvis shuddered again, and cast another glance at Leroy. The little biologist was recovering some of his accustomed poise, but he returned the glance with an echo of the chemist’s shudder.
“We’ll get to that,” resumed the latter. “Meanwhile I’ll stick to Tweel and his people. We spent the better part of three days with them, as you know. I can’t give every detail, but I’ll summarize the important facts and give our conclusions, which may not be worth an inflated franc. It’s hard to judge this dried-up world by earthly standards.
“We took pictures of everything possible; I even tried to photograph that gigantic mural in the library, but unless Tweel’s lamp was unusually rich in actinic rays, I don’t suppose it’ll show. And that’s a pity, since it’s undoubtedly the most interesting object we’ve found on Mars, at least from a human viewpoint.
“Tweel was a very courteous host. He took us to all the points of interest—even the new water-works.”
Putz’s eyes brightened at the word. “Vater-vorks?” he echoed. “For vot?”
“For the canal, naturally. They have to build up a head of water to drive it through; that’s obvious.” He looked at the captain. “You told me yourself that to drive water from the polar caps of Mars to the equator was equivalent to forcing it up a twenty-mile hill, because Mars is flattened at the poles and bulges at the equator just like the earth.”
“That’s true,” agreed Harrison.
“Well,” resumed Jarvis, “this city was one of the relay[Pg 44] stations to boost the flow. Their power plant was the only one of the giant buildings that seemed to serve any useful purpose, and that was worth seeing. I wish you’d seen it, Karl; you’ll have to make what you can from our pictures. It’s a sun-power plant!”
Harrison and Putz stared. “Sun-power!” grunted the captain. “That’s primitive!” And the engineer added an emphatic “Ja!” of agreement.
“Not as primitive as all that,” corrected Jarvis. “The sunlight focused on a queer cylinder in the center of a big concave mirror, and they drew an electric current from it. The juice worked the pumps.”
“A t’ermocouple!” ejaculated Putz.
“That sounds reasonable; you can judge by the pictures. But the power-plant had some queer things about it. The queerest was that the machinery was tended, not by Tweel’s people, but by some of the barrel-shaped creatures like the ones in Xanthus!” He gazed around at the faces of his auditors; there was no comment.
“Get it?” he resumed. At their silence, he proceeded, “I see you don’t. Leroy figured it out, but whether rightly or wrongly, I don’t know. He thinks that the barrels and Tweel’s race have a reciprocal arrangement like—well, like bees and flowers on earth. The flowers give honey for the bees; the bees carry the pollen for the flowers. See? The barrels tend the works and Tweel’s people build the canal system. The Xanthus city must have been a boosting station; that explains the mysterious machines I saw. And Leroy believes further that it isn’t an intelligent arrangement—not on the part of the barrels, at least—but that it’s been done for so many thousands of generations that it’s become instinctive—a tropism—just like the actions of ants and bees. The creatures have been bred to it!”
“Nuts!” observed Harrison. “Let’s hear you explain the reason for that big empty city, then.”
“Sure. Tweel’s civilization is decadent, that’s the reason. It’s a dying race, and out of all the millions that must once have lived there, Tweel’s couple of hundred companions are the[Pg 45] remnant. They’re an outpost, left to tend the source of the water at the polar cap; probably there are still a few respectable cities left somewhere on the canal system, most likely near the tropics. It’s the last gasp of a race—and a race that reached a higher peak of culture than Man!”
“Huh?” said Harrison. “Then why are they dying? Lack of water?”
“I don’t think so,” responded the chemist. “If my guess at the city’s age is right, fifteen thousand years wouldn’t make enough difference in the water supply—nor a hundred thousand, for that matter. It’s something else, though the water’s doubtless a factor.”
“Das wasser,” cut in Putz. “Vere goes dot?”
“Even a chemist knows that!” scoffed Jarvis. “At least on earth. Here I’m not so sure, but on earth, every time there’s a lightning flash, it electrolyzes some water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen, and then the hydrogen escapes into space, because terrestrial gravitation won’t hold it permanently. And every time there’s an earthquake, some water is lost to the interior. Slow—but damned certain.” He turned to Harrison. “Right, Cap?”
“Right,” conceded the captain. “But here, of course—no earthquakes, no thunderstorms—the loss must be very slow. Then why is the race dying?”
“The sun-power plant answers that,” countered Jarvis. “Lack of fuel! Lack of power! No oil left, no coal left—if Mars ever had a Carboniferous Age—and no water-power—just the driblets of energy they can get from the sun. That’s why they’re dying.”
“With the limitless energy of the atom?” exploded Harrison.
“They don’t know about atomic energy. Probably never did. Must have used some other principle in their space-ship.”
“Then,” snapped the captain, “what makes you rate their intelligence above the human? We’ve finally cracked open the atom!”
“Sure we have. We had a clue, didn’t we? Radium and uranium. Do you think we’d ever have learned how without those elements? We’d never even have suspected that atomic[Pg 46] energy existed!”
“Well? Haven’t they—?”
“No, they haven’t. You’ve told me yourself that Mars has only 73 percent of the earth’s density. Even a chemist can see that that means a lack of heavy metals—no osmium, no uranium, no radium. They didn’t have the clue.”
“Even so, that doesn’t prove they’re more advanced than we are. If they were more advanced, they’d have discovered it anyway.”
“Maybe,” conceded Jarvis. “I’m not claiming that we don’t surpass them in some ways. But in others, they’re far ahead of us.”
“In what, for instance?”
“Well—socially, for one thing.”
“Huh? How do you mean?”
Jarvis glanced in turn at each of the three that faced him. He hesitated. “I wonder how you chaps will take this,” he muttered. “Naturally, everybody likes his own system best.” He frowned. “Look here—on the earth we have three types of society, haven’t we? And there’s a member of each type right here. Putz lives under a dictatorship—an autocracy. Leroy’s a citizen of the Sixth Commune in France. Harrison and I are Americans, members of a democracy. There you are—autocracy, democracy, communism—the three types of terrestrial societies. Tweel’s people have a different system from any of us.”
“Different? What is it?”
“The one no earthly nation has tried. Anarchy!”
“Anarchy!” the captain and Putz burst out together.
“But—” Harrison was sputtering. “What do you mean—they’re ahead of us? Anarchy! Bah!”
“All right—bah!” retorted Jarvis. “I’m not saying it would work for us, or for any race of men. But it works for them.”
“But—anarchy!” The captain was indignant.
“Well, when you come right down to it,” argued Jarvis defensively, “anarchy is the ideal form of government, if it works. Emerson said that the best government was that which governs least, and so did Wendell Phillips, and I think George Wash[Pg 47]ington. And you can’t have any form of government which governs less than anarchy, which is no government at all!”
The captain was sputtering. “But—it’s unnatural! Even savage tribes have their chiefs! Even a pack of wolves has its leader!”
“Well,” retorted Jarvis defiantly, “that only proves that government is a primitive device, doesn’t it? With a perfect race you wouldn’t need it at all; government is a confession of weakness, isn’t it? It’s a confession that part of the people won’t cooperate with the rest and that you need laws to restrain those individuals which a psychologist calls anti-social. If there were no anti-social persons—criminals and such—you wouldn’t need laws or police, would you?”
“But government! You’d need government! How about public works—wars—taxes?”
“No wars on Mars, in spite of being named after the War God. No point in wars here; the population is too thin and too scattered, and besides, it takes the help of every single community to keep the canal system functioning. No taxes because, apparently, all individuals cooperate in building public works. No competition to cause trouble, because anybody can help himself to anything. As I said, with a perfect race government is entirely unnecessary.”
“And do you consider the Martians a perfect race?” asked the captain grimly.
“Not at all! But they’ve existed so much longer than man that they’re evolved, socially at least, to the point where they don’t need government. They work together, that’s all.” Jarvis paused. “Queer, isn’t it—as if Mother Nature were carrying on two experiments, one at home and one on Mars. On earth it’s trial of an emotional, highly competitive race in a world of plenty; here it’s the trial of a quiet, friendly race on a desert, unproductive, and inhospitable world. Everything here makes for cooperation. Why, there isn’t even the factor that causes so much trouble at home—sex!”
“Yeah: Tweel’s people reproduce just like the barrels in the mud cities; two individuals grow a third one between them.[Pg 48] Another proof of Leroy’s theory that Martian life is neither animal nor vegetable. Besides, Tweel was a good enough host to let him poke down his beak and twiddle his feathers, and the examination convinced Leroy.”
“Oui,” confirmed the biologist. “It is true.”
“But anarchy!” grumbled Harrison disgustedly. “It would show up on a dizzy, half-dead pill like Mars!”
“It’ll be a good many centuries before you’ll have to worry about it on earth,” grinned Jarvis. He resumed his narrative.
“Well, we wandered through that sepulchral city, taking pictures of everything. And then—” Jarvis paused and shuddered—”then I took a notion to have a look at that valley we’d spotted from the rocket. I don’t know why. But when we tried to steer Tweel in that direction, he set up such a squawking and screeching that I thought he’d gone batty.”
“If possible!” jeered Harrison.
“So we started over there without him; he kept wailing and screaming, ‘No—no—no! Tick!’ but that made us the more curious. He sailed over our heads and stuck on his beak, and went through a dozen other antics, but we ploughed on, and finally he gave up and trudged disconsolately along with us.
“The valley wasn’t more than a mile southeast of the city. Tweel could have covered the distance in twenty jumps, but he lagged and loitered and kept pointing back at the city and wailing ‘No—no—no!’ Then he’d sail up into the air and zip down on his beak directly in front of us, and we’d have to walk around him. I’d seen him do lots of crazy things before, of course; I was used to them, but it was as plain as print that he didn’t want us to see that valley.”
“Why?” queried Harrison.
“You asked why we came back like tramps,” said Jarvis with a faint shudder. “You’ll learn. We plugged along up a low rocky hill that bounded it, and as we neared the top, Tweel said, ‘No breet’, Tick! No breet’!’ Well, those were the words he used to describe the silicon monster; they were also the words he had used to tell me that the image of Fancy Long, the one that had almost lured me to the dream-beast, wasn’t real. I remembered that, but it meant nothing to me—then![Pg 49]
“Right after that, Tweel said, ‘You one-one-two, he one-one-two,’ and then I began to see. That was the phrase he had used to explain the dream-beast to tell me that what I thought, the creature thought—to tell me how the thing lured its victims by their own desires. So I warned Leroy; it seemed to me that even the dream-beast couldn’t be dangerous if we were warned and expecting it. Well, I was wrong!
“As we reached the crest, Tweel spun his head completely around, so his feet were forward but his eyes looked backward, as if he feared to gaze into the valley. Leroy and I stared out over it, just a gray waste like this around us, with the gleam of the south polar cap far beyond its southern rim. That’s what it was one second; the next it was—Paradise!”
“What?” exclaimed the captain.
Jarvis turned to Leroy. “Can you describe it?” he asked.
The biologist waved helpless hands, “C’est impossible!” he whispered. “Il me rend muet!“
“It strikes me dumb, too,” muttered Jarvis. “I don’t know how to tell it; I’m a chemist, not a poet. Paradise is as good a word as I can think of, and that’s not at all right. It was Paradise and Hell in one!”
“Will you talk sense?” growled Harrison.
“As much of it as makes sense. I tell you, one moment we were looking at a grey valley covered with blobby plants, and the next—Lord! You can’t imagine that next moment! How would you like to see all your dreams made real? Every desire you’d ever had gratified? Everything you’d ever wanted there for the taking?”
“I’d like it fine!” said the captain.
“You’re welcome, then!—not only your noble desires, remember! Every good impulse, yes—but also every nasty little wish, every vicious thought, everything you’d ever desired, good or bad! The dream-beasts are marvelous salesmen, but they lack the moral sense!”
“Yes. It was a valley of them. Hundreds, I suppose, maybe thousands. Enough, at any rate, to spread out a complete picture of your desires, even all the forgotten ones that must[Pg 50] have been drawn out of the subconscious. A Paradise—of sorts! I saw a dozen Fancy Longs, in every costume I’d ever admired on her, and some I must have imagined. I saw every beautiful woman I’ve ever known, and all of them pleading for my attention. I saw every lovely place I’d ever wanted to be, all packed queerly into that little valley. And I saw—other things.” He shook his head soberly. “It wasn’t all exactly pretty. Lord! How much of the beast is left in us! I suppose if every man alive could have one look at that weird valley, and could see just once what nastiness is hidden in him—well, the world might gain by it. I thanked heaven afterwards that Leroy—and even Tweel—saw their own pictures and not mine!”
Jarvis paused again, then resumed, “I turned dizzy with a sort of ecstasy. I closed my eyes—and with eyes closed, I still saw the whole thing! That beautiful, evil, devilish panorama was in my mind, not my eyes. That’s how those fiends work—through the mind. I knew it was the dream-beasts; I didn’t need Tweel’s wail of ‘No breet’! No breet’!’ But—I couldn’t keep away! I knew it was death beckoning, but it was worth it for one moment with the vision.”
“Which particular vision?” asked Harrison dryly.
Jarvis flushed. “No matter,” he said. “But beside me I heard Leroy’s cry of ‘Yvonne! Yvonne!’ and I knew he was trapped like myself. I fought for sanity; I kept telling myself to stop, and all the time I was rushing headlong into the snare!
“Then something tripped me. Tweel! He had come leaping from behind; as I crashed down I saw him flash over me straight toward—toward what I’d been running to, with his vicious beak pointed right at her heart!”
“Oh!” nodded the captain. “Her heart!”
“Never mind that. When I scrambled up, that particular image was gone, and Tweel was in a twist of black ropey arms, just as when I first saw him. He’d missed a vital point in the beast’s anatomy, but was jabbing away desperately with his beak.
“Somehow, the spell had lifted, or partially lifted. I wasn’t five feet from Tweel, and it took a terrific struggle, but I managed to raise my revolver and put a Boland shell into the beast.[Pg 51] Out came a spurt of horrible black corruption, drenching Tweel and me—and I guess the sickening smell of it helped to destroy the illusion of that valley of beauty. Anyway, we managed to get Leroy away from the devil that had him, and the three of us staggered to the ridge and over. I had presence of mind enough to raise my camera over the crest and take a shot of the valley, but I’ll bet it shows nothing but gray waste and writhing horrors. What we saw was with our minds, not our eyes.”
Jarvis paused and shuddered. “The brute half poisoned Leroy,” he continued. “We dragged ourselves back to the auxiliary, called you, and did what we could to treat ourselves. Leroy took a long dose of the cognac that we had with us; we didn’t dare try anything of Tweel’s because his metabolism is so different from ours that what cured him might kill us. But the cognac seemed to work, and so, after I’d done one other thing I wanted to do, we came back here—and that’s all.”
“All, is it?” queried Harrison. “So you’ve solved all the mysteries of Mars, eh?”
“Not by a damned sight!” retorted Jarvis. “Plenty of unanswered questions are left.”
“Ja!” snapped Putz. “Der evaporation—dot iss shtopped how?”
“In the canals? I wondered about that, too; in those thousands of miles, and against this low air-pressure, you’d think they’d lose a lot. But the answer’s simple; they float a skin of oil on the water.”
Putz nodded, but Harrison cut in. “Here’s a puzzler. With only coal and oil—just combustion or electric power—where’d they get the energy to build a planet-wide canal system, thousands and thousands of miles of ’em? Think of the job we had cutting the Panama Canal to sea level, and then answer that!”
“Easy!” grinned Jarvis. “Martian gravity and Martian air—that’s the answer. Figure it out: First, the dirt they dug only weighed a third its earth-weight. Second, a steam engine here expands against ten pounds per square inch less air pressure than on earth. Third, they could build the engine three times[Pg 52] as large here with no greater internal weight. And fourth, the whole planet’s nearly level. Right, Putz?”
The engineer nodded. “Ja! Der shteam—engine—it iss sieben-und zwanzig—twenty-seven times so effective here.”
“Well, there does go the last mystery then,” mused Harrison.
“Yeah?” queried Jarvis sardonically. “You answer these, then. What was the nature of that vast empty city? Why do the Martians need canals, since we never saw them eat or drink? Did they really visit the earth before the dawn of history, and, if not atomic energy, what powered their ship? Since Tweel’s race seems to need little or no water, are they merely operating the canals for some higher creature that does? Are there other intelligences on Mars? If not, what was the demon-faced imp we saw with the book? There are a few mysteries for you!”
“I know one or two more!” growled Harrison, glaring suddenly at little Leroy. “You and your visions! ‘Yvonne!’ eh? Your wife’s name is Marie, isn’t it?”
The little biologist turned crimson. “Oui,” he admitted unhappily. He turned pleading eyes on the captain. “Please,” he said. “In Paris tout le monde—everybody he think differently of those things—no?” He twisted uncomfortably. “Please, you will not tell Marie, n’est-ce pas?”
Harrison chuckled. “None of my business,” he said. “One more question, Jarvis. What was the one other thing you did before returning here?”
Jarvis looked diffident. “Oh—that.” He hesitated. “Well I sort of felt we owed Tweel a lot, so after some trouble, we coaxed him into the rocket and sailed him out to the wreck of the first one, over on Thyle II. Then,” he finished apologetically, “I showed him the atomic blast, got it working—and gave it to him!”
“You what?” roared the Captain. “You turned something as powerful as that over to an alien race—maybe some day as an enemy race?”
“Yes, I did,” said Jarvis. “Look here,” he argued defensively. “This lousy, dried-up pill of a desert called Mars’ll never support much human population. The Sahara desert is just as good a field for imperialism, and a lot closer to home. So we’ll[Pg 53] never find Tweel’s race enemies. The only value we’ll find here is commercial trade with the Martians. Then why shouldn’t I give Tweel a chance for survival? With atomic energy, they can run their canal system a hundred per cent instead of only one out of five, as Putz’s observations showed. They can repopulate those ghostly cities; they can resume their arts and industries; they can trade with the nations of the earth—and I’ll bet they can teach us a few things,” he paused, “if they can figure out the atomic blast, and I’ll lay odds they can. They’re no fools, Tweel and his ostrich-faced Martians!”
End of Project Gutenberg's Valley of Dreams, by Stanley Grauman Weinbaum
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