On the floor, holding his wounded arm, the mayor looked up. “Put down your gun. You’re hurting yourself. You’ve never believed, and now that you think you believe, you hurt people because of it.”
“I don’t need you,” said Hart, standing over him. “If I missed him by one day here, I’ll go on to another world. And another and another. I’ll miss him by half a day on the next planet, maybe, and a quarter of a day on the third planet, and two hours on the next, and an hour on the next, and half an hour on the next, and a minute on the next. But after that, one day I’ll catch up with him! Do you hear that?” He was shouting now, leaning wearily over the man on the floor. He staggered with exhaustion. “Come along, Martin.” He let the gun hang in his hand.
“No,” said Martin. “I’m staying here.”
“You’re a fool. Stay if you like. But I’m going on, with the others, as far as I can go.”
The mayor looked up at Martin. “I’ll be all right. Leave me. Others will tend my wounds.”
“I’ll be back,” said Martin. “I’ll walk as far as the rocket.” They walked with vicious speed through the city. One could see with what effort the captain struggled to show all the old iron, to keep himself going. When he reached the rocket he slapped the side of it with a trembling hand. He holstered his gun. He looked at Martin.
Martin looked at him. “Well, Captain?”
The captain’s eyes were on the sky. “Sure you won’t—come with—with me, eh?”
“It’ll be a great adventure, by God. I know I’ll find him.”
“You are set on it now, aren’t you, sir?” asked Martin.
The captain’s face quivered and his eyes closed. “Yes.”
“There’s one thing I’d like to know.”
“Sir, when you find him—ifyou find him,” asked Martin, “what will you ask of him?”
“Why—” The captain faltered, opening his eyes. His hands clenched and unclenched. He puzzled a moment and then broke into a strange smile. “Why, I’ll ask him for a little—peace and quiet.” He touched the rocket. “It’s been a long time, a long, long time since—since I relaxed.”
“Did you ever just try, Captain?”
“I don’t understand,” said Hart.
“Never mind. So long, Captain.”
“Good-by, Mr. Martin.”
The crew stood by the port. Out of their number only three were going on with Hart. Seven others were remaining behind, they said, with Martin.
Captain Hart surveyed them and uttered his verdict: “Fools!” He, last of all, climbed into the airlock, gave a brisk salute, laughed sharply. The door slammed.
The rocket lifted into the sky on a pillar of fire.
Martin watched it go far away and vanish.
At the meadow’s edge the mayor, supported by several men, beckoned.
“He’s gone,” said Martin, walking up.
“Yes, poor man, he’s gone,” said the mayor. “And he’ll go on, planet after planet, seeking and seeking, and always and always he will be an hour late, or a half hour late, or ten minutes late, or a minute late. And finally he will miss out by only a few seconds. And when he has visited three hundred worlds and is seventy or eighty years old he will miss out by only a fraction of a second, and then a smaller fraction of a second. And he will go on and on, thinking to find that very thing which he left behind here, on this planet, in this city—”
Martin looked steadily at the mayor.
The mayor put out his hand. “Was there ever any doubt of it?” He beckoned to the others and turned. “Come along now. We mustn’t keep him waiting.”
They walked into the city.
* * *
The Long Rain
THE rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.