“We don’t wear shoes.”
“What have I got here?” R.R. asked of the ceiling. “A planet full of Okies? Look, Joe, we’ll take care of that. We’ll shame everyone into wearing shoes. Then we sell them the polish!”
He slapped Ettil’s. arm. “Is it a deal? Will you be technical director on my film? You’ll get two hundred a week to start, a five-hundred top. What you say?”
“I’m sick,” said Ettil. He had drunk the manhattan and was now turning blue.
“Say, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would do that to you. Let’s get some fresh air.”
In the open air Ettil felt better. He swayed. “So that’s why Earth took us in?”
“Sure, son. Any time an Earthman can turn an honest dollar, watch him steam. The customer is always right. No hard feelings. Here’s my card. Be at the studio in Hollywood tomorrow morning at nine o’clock. They’ll show you your office. I’ll arrive at eleven and see you then. Be sure you get there at nine o’clock. It’s a strict rule.”
“Gallagher, you’re a queer oyster, but I love you. Good night. Happy invasion!”
The car drove off.
Ettil blinked after it, incredulous. Then, rubbing his brow with the palm of his hand, he walked slowly along the street toward the rocket port.
“Well, what are you going to do?” he asked himself, aloud. The rockets lay gleaming in the moonlight silent. From the city came the sounds of distant revelry. In the medical compound an extreme case of nervous breakdown was being tended to: a young Martian who, by his screams, had seen too much, drunk too much, heard too many songs on the little red-and-yellow boxes in the drinking places, and had been chased around innumerable tables by a large elephant-like woman. He kept murmuring:
“Can’t breathe . . . crushed, trapped.”
The sobbing faded. Ettil came out of the shadows and moved on across a wide avenue toward the ships. Far over, he could see the guards lying about drunkenly. He listened. From the vast city came the faint sounds of cars and music and sirens. And he imagined other sounds too: the insidious whir of malt machines stirring malts to fatten the warriors and make them lazy and forgetful, the narcotic voices of the cinema caverns lulling and lulling the Martians fast, fast into a slumber through which, all of their remaining lives, they would sleepwalk.
A year from now, how many Martians dead of cirrhosis of the liver, bad kidneys, high blood pressure, suicide?
He stood in the middle of the empty avenue. Two blocks away a car was rushing toward him.
He had a choice: stay here, take the studio job, report for work each morning as adviser on a picture, and, in time, come to agree with the producer that, yes indeed, there were massacres on Mars; yes, the women were tall and blond; yes, there were tribal dances and sacrifices; yes, yes, yes. Or he could walk over and get into a rocket ship and, alone, return to Mars.
“But what about next year?” he said.
The Blue Canal Night Club brought to Mars. The Ancient City Gambling Casino, Built Right Inside. Yes, Right Inside a Real Martian Ancient City! Neons, racing forms blowing in the old cities, picnic lunches in the ancestral graveyards—all of it, all of it.
But not quite yet. In a few days he could be home. Tylla would be waiting with their son, and then for the last few years of gentle life he might sit with his wife in the blowing weather on the edge of the canal reading his good, gentle books, sipping a rare and light wine, talking and living out their short time until the neon bewilderment fell from the sky.
And then perhaps he and Tylla might move into the blue mountains and hide for another year or two until the tourists came to snap their cameras and say how quaint things were.
He knew just what he would say to Tylla. “War is a bad thing, but peace can be a living horror.”
He stood in the middle of the wide avenue.
Turning, it was with no surprise that he saw a car bearing down upon him, a car full of screaming children. These boys and girls, none older than sixteen, were swerving and ricocheting their open-top car down the avenue. He saw them point at him and yell. He heard the motor roar louder. The car sped forward at sixty miles an hour.