For here you were, a meshless, cogless automaton, a body upon which officials had performed clinical autopsy and left all of you that counted back upon the empty seas and strewn over the darkened hills. Here you were, bottle-empty, fireless, chill, with only your hands to give death to Earthmen. A pair of hands is all you are now, he thought in cold remoteness.
Here you lie in the tremendous web. Others are about you, but they are whole—whole hearts and bodies. But all of you that lives is back there walking the desolate seas in evening winds. This thing here, this cold clay thing, is already dead.
“Attack stations, attack stations, attack!”
“Ready, ready, ready!”
“Out of the webs, quick!”
Ettil moved. Somewhere before him his two cold hands moved.
How swift it has all been, he thought. A year ago one Earth rocket reached Mars. Our scientists, with their incredible telepathic ability, copied it; our workers, with their incredible plants, reproduced it a hundredfold. No other Earth ship has reached Mars since then, and yet we know their language perfectly, all of us. We know their culture, their logic. And we shall pay the price of our brilliance.
“Guns on the ready!”
“Reading by miles?”
A humming silence. A silence of insects throbbing in the walls of the rocket. The insect singing of tiny bobbins and levers and whirls of wheels. Silence of waiting men. Silence of glands emitting the slow steady pulse of sweat under arm, on brow, under staring pale eyes!
Ettil hung onto his sanity with his fingernails, hung hard and long.
Silence, silence, silence. Waiting.
“Cut them in!”
“They’re trying to reach us, call us. Cut them in!”
“Here they are! Listen!”
“Calling Martian invasion fleet!”
The listening silence, the insect hum pulling back to let the sharp Earth voice crack in upon the rooms of waiting men.
“This is Earth calling. This is William Sommers, president of the Association of United American Producers!”
Ettil held tight to his station, bent forward, eyes shut.
“Welcome to Earth.”
“What?” the men in the rocket roared. “What did he say?”
“Yes, welcome to Earth.”
“It’s a trick!”
Ettil shivered, opened his eyes to stare in bewilderment at the unseen voice from the ceiling source.
“Welcome! Welcome to green, industrial Earth!” declared the friendly voice. “With open arms we welcome you, to turn a bloody invasion into a time of friendships that will last through all of Time.”
“Many years ago we of Earth renounced war, destroyed our atom bombs. Now, unprepared as we are, there is nothing for us but to welcome you. The planet is yours. We ask only mercy from you good and merciful invaders.”
“It can’t be true!” a voice whispered.
“It must be a trick!”
“Land and be welcomed, all of you,” said Mr. William Sommers of Earth. “Land anywhere. Earth is yours; we are all brothers!”
Ettil began to laugh. Everyone in the room turned to see him. The other Martians blinked. “He’s gone mad!”
He did not stop laughing until they hit him.
The tiny fat man in the center of the hot rocket tarmac at Green Town, California, jerked out a clean white handkerchief and touched it to his wet brow. He squinted blindly from the fresh plank platform at the fifty thousand people restrained behind a fence of policemen, arm to arm. Everybody looked at the sky.
“There they are!”
“No, just sea gulls!”
A disappointed grumble.
“I’m beginning to think it would have been better to have declared war on them,” whispered the mayor. “Then we could all go home.”
“Sh-h!”said his wife.
“There!” The crowd roared.
Out of the sun came the Martian rockets.
“Everybody ready?” The mayor glanced nervously about.
“Yes, sir,” said Miss California 1965.
“Yes,” said Miss America 1940, who had come rushing up at the last minute as a substitute for Miss America 1966, who was ill at home.
“Yes siree,” said Mr. Biggest Grapefruit in San Fernando Valley 1956, eagerly.
The band poised its brass like so many guns.