Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

Ultimately it depended upon the character of the girl. If she were level headed, they might conceivably get through without serious trouble: if not … And now, ten days out (in the Earth reckoning), he still could not make up his mind about her. To all of them, as far as he knew, she was still that unknown quantity which had emerged from the locker. She had still given no reason for her presence, and yet, in some way, he was aware from her attitude, and as much of her character as she chose to show, that it had been no light whim nor search for notoriety which had driven her into this foolhardy adventure. But if it was not that, what could it be? What else was strong enough to drive an undeniably attractive girl to such a course? She did not seem to have the sustaining force of a specialized interest such as that which had enabled the doctor to face the trip. Her general education was good and her knowledge of astronomy unusual; her comprehension of physics, too, was above the general standard, but it was not an absorbing passion urging her to overcome almost insuperable difficulties. But there must be a reason of some kind . . .

But in spite of her retention of confidence he was admitting that they might have been far more unlucky in their supercargo. As Froud had pointed out, they might as easily have been saddled with a fluffy blonde with cinema ambitions. Joan was at least quietly inconspicuous and ready to perform any task suggested to her. He wondered how long that attitude would last.

She was standing close to one of the windows, looking out into space. Most of her time was spent in this way, though after the first novelty had worn off, she did not seem to study the far off suns; rather, it was a part of her aloofness from the rest of them; as though the unchanging, starry blackness before her eyes set her mind free to roam in its private imaginings. Of the course of these thoughts no sign appeared; there was no play of expression across the sunburned, serious face, no frown as though she sought a solution of problems, no hint of impatience, only sometimes did it appear that her eyes were deeper and her thoughts more remote than at others. Generally the talk of the rest passed her by, unheard, but infrequently a remark chanced to catch her attention, and she would turn to look at the speaker. Rarely, one had the impression that secretly and privately she might be smiling.

A question of Froud’s brought her round now. He was sitting at the table sitting by force of habit, since neither sitting nor lying was more restful than standing in the weightless state. He was asking Dale:

‘I’ve meant to ask you before, but it’s kept on slipping my mind: why did you choose to try for Mars? I should have thought Venus was the natural target for the first trip. She’s nearer. One would use less fuel. It was the place Drivers was aiming at, wasn’t it?’

Dale looked up from his book, and nodded.

‘Yes, Drivers was trying to reach Venus. As a matter of fact, it was my first idea to go for Venus, but I changed my mind.’

‘That’s a pity. It’s always Mars in the stories. Either we go to Mars or Mars comes to us. What with Wells and Burroughs and a dozen or so of others, I feel that I know the place already. Venus would have been a change.’

Dugan laughed. ‘If we find Mars anything like the Burroughs conception, we’re in for an exciting time. Why did you give up the Venus idea, Dale?’

‘Oh, several reasons. For one thing, we know a bit more about Mars. For all we can tell, Venus under those clouds may be nothing more than a huge ball of water. We do know that Mars is at least dry land, and that we shall have a chance of setting the Gloria Mundi up on end for the return journey. If we came down in a sea, it would mean finish. Then again, the pull of gravity is much less on Mars, and this ship is going to take some handling even there. I don’t know why Drivers chose Venus probably he didn’t want to wait for Mars’ opposition or something of the kind. But you were wrong about it needing less fuel. Actually it would use more.’

‘But Venus comes about ten million miles closer,’ Froud objected, looking puzzled.

‘But she’s a much bigger planet than Mars. It would take much more power to get clear of her for the return journey. This falling through space uses no fuel. It’s the stopping and starting that count, and obviously the bigger the planet, the greater its pull that is, the more it costs to get free.’

‘I see. You mean that as we are now clear of the Earth’s pull we could go to Neptune or to Pluto, even, with no more cost of power than to Mars?’

‘Sure. In fact, we could go out of this system into the next if you didn’t mind spending a few centuries on the journey.’

‘Oh,’ said Froud, ‘ and relapsed into a thoughtful silence.

‘I wonder,’ the doctor put in generally, ‘why we do these things? It’s quite silly really when we could all stay comfortably and safely at home. Is it going to make anyone any happier or better to know that man can cross space if he wishes to? Yet here we arc doing it.’

,Joan’s voice came from the window, surprising them.

‘It is going to make us wiser. Don’t you remember Cavor saying to Bedford in Wells’ First Men in the Moon, “Think of the new knowledge!”?’

‘Knowledge ,’ said the doctor. ‘Yes, I suppose that is it. For ever and for ever seeking knowledge. And we don’t even know why we seek it. It’s an instinct, like self preservation; and about as comprehensible. Why, I wonder, do I keep on living. I know I’ve got to die sooner or later, yet I take the best care I can that it shall be later instead of finishing the thing off in a reasonable manner. After all, I’ve done my bit propagated my species, and yet for some inscrutable reason I want to go on living and learning. Just an instinct. Some kink in the evolutionary process caused this passion for knowledge, and the result is man an odd little creature, scuttling around and piling up mountains of this curious commodity.’

‘And finding that quite a lot of it goes bad on him,’ put in Froud. The doctor nodded.

‘You’re right. It’s far from imperishable. I suppose there is some purpose. What do you suppose will happen when one day a man sits back in his chair and says: “Knowledge is complete”? You see, it just sounds silly.

We’re so used to collecting it, that we can’t imagine a world where it is all collected and finished.’

He looked up, catching Dugan’s eye, and smiled.

‘You needn’t look at me like that, Dugan. I’m not going off my rocker. Have a shot at it yourself. Why do you think we are out here in the middle of nothing?’

Dugan hesitated ‘I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it, but I’ve a sort of feeling that people grow out of well, out of their conditions just as they grow out of their clothes. They have to expand.’

Joan’s voice surprised them again as she asked Dugan:

‘Did you ever read J. J. Astor’s Journey to Other Worlds?’

‘Never heard of him. Why?’ Dugan asked.

‘Only that he seemed to feel rather the same about it, right back in 1894, too. As far as I remember he said:

“Just as Greece became too small for the civilization of the Greeks, so it seems to me that the future glory of the human race lies in the exploration of at least the Solar System.” Almost the same idea, you see.’

The doctor looked curiously at the girl.

‘And is that your own view, too?’

‘My own view? I don’t know. I can’t say that I have considered the underlying reasons for my being here; my immediate reasons are enough.’

‘I’m sorry you won’t confide them. I think you would find us interested.’

The girl did not reply. She had turned back to the window and was staring out into the blackness as though she had not heard. The doctor watched her thoughtfully for some moments before returning to the rest. Like Dale he was now quite certain that no mere whim had led her to board the Gloria Mundi, and he was equally at a loss to ascribe any satisfactory reason for her presence. His attention was recalled by Froud saying:

‘Surely the cause of our being here really lies in our expectations of what we shall find on Mars. The doc is primarily a biologist, and his reason is easy to understand. I, as a journalist, am after news for its own sake.’ ‘Superficially that is true,’ the doctor agreed, ‘but I was wondering at the fundamental urge the source of that curiosity which has sent generation after generation doing things like this without seeming to know why. I suppose we all have our own ideas of what we shall find, but I don’t mind betting that not one of those expectations, even if it is fulfilled, is a good enough cause, rationally speaking, for our risking our lives. I know mine isn’t. I expect to find new kinds of flora. If I do, I shall be delighted, but and this is the point whether it proves useful or quite useless I shall be equally delighted at finding it. Which makes me ask again, why am I willing to risk my life to find it?’

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