“Perhaps, sir. Certainly we’re looking for something.”
Captain Hart cleared his throat and tightened back into sharpness. “Well, right now we’re looking for the mayor of that city there. Run in, tell them who we are, the first rocket expedition to Planet Forty-three in Star System Three. Captain Hart sends his salutations and desires to meet the mayor. On the double!”
“Yes, sir.” Martin walked slowly across the meadow.
“Hurry!” snapped the captain.
“Yes, sir!” Martin trotted away. Then he walked again, smiling to himself.
The captain had smoked two cigars before Martin returned. Martin stopped and looked up into the door of the rocket, swaying, seemingly unable to focus his eyes or think.
“Well?” snapped Hart. “What happened? Are they coming to welcome us?”
“No.” Martin had to lean dizzily against the ship.
“It’s not important,” said Martin. “Give me a cigarette, please, Captain.” His fingers groped blindly at the rising pack, for he was looking at the golden city and blinking. He lighted one and smoked quietly for a long time.
“Say something!” cried the captain. “Aren’t they interested in our rocket?”
Martin said, “What? Oh. The rocket?” He inspected his cigarette. “No, they’re not interested. Seems we came at an inopportune time.”
Martin was patient. “Captain, listen. Something big happened yesterday in that city. It’s so big, so important that we’re second-rate—second fiddle. I’ve got to sit down.” He lost his balance and sat heavily, gasping for air.
The captain chewed his cigar angrily. “What happened?” Martin lifted his head, smoke from the burning cigarette in his fingers, blowing in the wind. “Sir, yesterday, in that city, a remarkable man appeared—good, intelligent, compassionate, and infinitely wise!”
The captain glared at his lieutenant. “What’s that to do with us?”
“It’s hard to explain. But he was a man for whom they’d waited a long time—a million years maybe. And yesterday he walked into their city. That’s why today, sir, our rocket landing means nothing.”
The captain sat down violently. “Who was it? Not Ashley? He didn’t arrive in his rocket before us and steal my glory, did he?” He seized Martin’s arm. His face was pale and dismayed.
“Not Ashley, sir.”
“Then it was Burton! I knew it. Burton stole in ahead of us and ruined my landing! You can’t trust anyone any more.”
“Not Burton, either, sir,” said Martin quietly.
The captain was incredulous. “There were only three rockets. We were in the lead. This man who got here ahead of us? What was his name!”
“He didn’t have a name. He doesn’t need one. It would be different on every planet, sir.”
The captain stared at his lieutenant with hard, cynical eyes. “Well, what did he do that was so wonderful that nobody even looks at our ship?”
“For one thing,” said Martin steadily, “he healed the sick and comforted the poor. He fought hypocrisy and dirty politics and sat among the people, talking, through the day.”
“Is that so wonderful?”
“I don’t get this.” The captain confronted Martin, peered into his face and eyes. “You been drinking, eh?” He was suspicious. He backed away. “I don’t understand.”
Martin looked at the city. “Captain, if you don’t understand, there’s no way of telling you.”
The captain followed his gaze. The city was quiet and beautiful and a great peace lay over it. The captain stepped forward, taking his cigar from his lips. He squinted first at Martin, then at the golden spires of the buildings.
“You don’t mean—youcan’t mean— That man you’re talking about couldn’t be——”
Martin nodded. “That’s what I mean, sir.
The captain stood silently, not moving. He drew himself up.
“I don’t believe it,” he said at last.
At high noon Captain Hart walked briskly into the city, accompanied by Lieutenant Martin and an assistant who was carrying some electrical equipment. Every once in a while the captain laughed loudly, put his hands on his hips and shook his head.
The mayor of the town confronted him. Martin set up a tripod, screwed a box onto it, and switched on the batteries.
“Are you the mayor?” The captain jabbed a finger out.
“I am,” said the mayor.
The delicate apparatus stood between them, controlled and adjusted by Martin and the assistant. Instantaneous translations from any language were made by the box. The words sounded crisply on the mild air of the city.