The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury

“People on Earth have talked about this man for twenty centuries after he walked through the old world. We’ve all wanted to see him and hear him, and never had the chance. And now, today, we just missed seeing him by a few hours.”

Captain Hart looked at Martin’s cheeks. “You’re crying like a baby. Stop it.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, I do. In front of these natives we’re to keep up a front. You’re overwrought. As I said, I forgive you.”

“I don’t want your forgiveness.”

“You idiot. Can’t you see this is one of Burton’s tricks, to fool these people, to bilk them, to establish his oil and mineral concerns under a religious guise! You fool, Martin. You absolute fool! You should know Earthmen by now. They’ll do anything—blaspheme, lie, cheat, steal, kill, to get their ends. Anything is fine if it works; the true pragmatist, that’s Burton. You know him!”

The captain scoffed heavily. “Come off it, Martin, admit it; this is the sort of scaly thing Burton might carry off, polish up these citizens and pluck them when they’re ripe.”

“No,” said Martin, thinking of it.

The captain put his hand up. “That’s Burton. That’s him. That’s his dirt, that’s his criminal way. I have to admire the old dragon. Flaming in here in a blaze and a halo and a soft word and a loving touch, with a medicated salve here and a healing ray there. That’s Burton all right!”

“No.” Martin’s voice was dazed. He covered his eyes. “No, I won’t believe it.”

“You don’t want to believe.” Captain Hart kept at it. “Admit it now. Admit it! It’s just the thing Burton would do. Stop daydreaming, Martin. Wake up! It’s morning. This is a real world and we’re real, dirty people—Burton the dirtiest of us all!”

Martin turned away.

“There, there, Martin,” said Hart, mechanically patting the man’s back. “I understand. Quite a shock for you. I know. A rotten shame, and all that. That Burton is a rascal. You go take it easy. Let me handle this.”

Martin walked off slowly toward the rocket.

Captain Hart watched him go. Then, taking a deep breath, he turned to the woman he had been questioning. “Well. Tell me some more about this man. As you were saying, madam?”

Later the officers of the rocket ship ate supper on card tables outside. The captain correlated his data to a silent Martin who sat red-eyed and brooding over his meal.

“Interviewed three dozen people, all of them full of the same milk and hogwash,” said the captain. “It’s Burton’s work all right, I’m positive. He’ll be spilling back in here tomorrow or next week to consolidate his miracles and beat us out in our contracts. I think I’ll stick on and spoil it for him.”

Martin glanced up sullenly. “I’ll kill him,” he said.

“Now, now, Martin! There, there, boy.”

“I’ll kill him—so help me, I will.”

‘We’ll put an anchor on his wagon. You have to admit he’s clever. Unethical but clever.”

“He’s dirty.”

“You must promise not to do anything violent.” Captain Hart checked his figures. “According to this, there were thirty miracles of healing performed, a blind man restored to vision, a leper cured. Oh, Burton’s efficient, give him that.”

A gong sounded. A moment later a man ran up. “Captain, sir. A report! Burton’s ship is coming down. Also the Ashley ship, sir!”

“See!” Captain Hart beat the table. “Here come the jackals to the harvest! They can’t wait to feed. Wait till I confront them. I’ll make them cut me in on this feast—I will!”

Martin looked sick. He stared at the captain.

“Business, my dear boy, business,” said the captain.

Everybody looked up. Two rockets swung down out of the sky.

When the rockets landed they almost crashed.

“What’s wrong with those fools?” cried the captain, jumping up. The men ran across the meadowlands to the steaming ships.

The captain arrived. The airlock door popped open on Burton’s ship.

A man fell out into their arms.

“What’s wrong?” cried Captain Hart.

The man lay on the ground. They bent over him and he was burned, badly burned. His body was covered with wounds and scars and tissue that was inflamed and smoking. He looked up out of puffed eyes and his thick tongue moved in his split lips.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray