“Thank you, thank you for your help. Good-by,” said the young man.
“Good-by,” they all said in the rain, not seeing him.
He stood while the car engaged its gears and rattled off down, fading away, through the valley. Finally it was gone, with the young women in it, the last car, the newspapers held and fluttered over their heads.
Hernando did not move for a long time. The rain ran very cold down his cheeks and along his fingers and into the woven garment on his legs. He held his breath, waiting, tight and tensed.
He watched the highway, but it did not move again. He doubted that it would move much for a very long time.
The rain stopped. The sky broke through the clouds. In ten minutes the storm was gone, like a bad breath. A sweet wind blew the smell of the jungle up to him. He could hear the river moving gently and easily on its way. The jungle was very green; everything was fresh. He walked down through the field to his house and picked up his plow. With his hands on it he looked at the sky beginning to burn hot with the sun.
His wife called out from her work. “What happened, Hernando?”
“It is nothing,” he replied.
He set the plow in the furrow, he called sharply to his burro, “Burrrrrrr-o!” And they walked together through the rich field, under the clearing sky, on their tilled land by the deep river.
“What do they mean, ‘the world’?” he said.
* * *
CAPTAIN HART stood in the door of the rocket. “Why don’t they come?” he said.
“Who knows?” said Martin, his lieutenant. “Do I know, Captain?”
“What kind of a place is this, anyway?” The captain lighted a cigar. He tossed the match out into the glittering meadow. The grass started to burn.
Martin moved to stamp it out with his boot.
“No,” ordered Captain Hart, “let it burn. Maybe they’ll come see what’s happening then, the ignorant fools.”
Martin shrugged and withdrew his foot from the spreading fire.
Captain Hart examined his watch. “An hour ago we landed here, and does the welcoming committee rush out with a brass band to shake our hands? No indeed! Here we ride millions of miles through space and the fine citizens of some silly town on some unknown planet ignore us!” He snorted, tapping his watch. “Well, I’ll just give them five more minutes, and then——”
“And then what?” asked Martin, ever so politely, watching the captain’s jowls shake.
“We’ll fly over their damned city again and scare hell out of them.” His voice grew quieter. “Do you think, Martin, maybe they didn’t see us land?”
“They saw us. They looked up as we flew over.
“Then why aren’t they running across the field? Are they hiding? Are they yellow?”
Martin shook his head. “No. Take these binoculars, sir. See for yourself. Everybody’s walking around. They’re not frightened. They—well, they just don’t seem to care.
Captain Hart placed the binoculars to his tired eyes. Martin looked up and had time to observe the lines and the grooves of irritation, tiredness, nervousness there. Hart looked a million years old; he never slept, he ate little, and drove himself on, on. Now his mouth moved, aged and drear, but sharp, under the held binoculars.
“Really, Martin, I don’t know why we bother. We build rockets, we go to all the trouble of crossing space, searching for them, and this is what we get. Neglect. Look at those idiots wander about in there. Don’t they realize how big this is? The first space flight to touch their provincial land. How many times does that happen? Are they that blasé?”
Martin didn’t know.
Captain Hart gave him back the binoculars wearily. “Why do we do it, Martin? This space travel, I mean. Always on the go. Always searching. Our insides always tight, never any rest.”
“Maybe we’re looking for peace and quiet. Certainly there’s none on Earth,” said Martin.
“No, there’s not, is there?” Captain Hart was thoughtful, the fire damped down. “Not since Darwin, eh? Not since everything went by the board, everything we used to believe in, eh? Divine power and all that. And so you think maybe that’s why we’re going out to the stars, eh, Martin? Looking for our lost souls, is that it? Trying to get away from our evil planet to a good one?”