“Jones, get your gun out. Don’t be a fool!”
“The city’s dead; why worry?”
“You can’t tell.”
Now, at the barking talk, the Ears awoke. After centuries of listening to winds that blew small and faint, of hearing leaves strip from trees and grass grow softly in the time of melting snows, now the Ears oiled themselves in a self-lubrication, drew taut, great drums upon which the heartbeat of the invaders might pummel and thud delicately as the tremor of a gnat’s wing. The Ears listened and the Nose siphoned up great chambers of odor.
The perspiration of frightened men arose. There were islands of sweat under their arms, and sweat in their hands as they held their guns.
The Nose sifted and worried this air, like a connoisseur busy with an ancient vintage.
Information rotated down on parallel check tapes. Perspiration; chlorides such and such per cent; sulphates so-and-so; urea nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen,thus: creatinine, sugar, lactic acid,there!
Bells rang. Small totals jumped up.
The Nose whispered, expelling the tested air. The great Ears listened:
“I think we should go back to the rocket, Captain.”
“I give the orders, Mr. Smith!”
“You, up there! Patrol! See anything?”
“Nothing, sir. Looks like it’s been dead a long time!”
“You see, Smith? Nothing to fear.”
“I don’t like it. I don’t know why. You ever feel you’ve seen a place before? Well, this city’s too familiar.”
“Nonsense. This planetary system’s billions of miles from Earth; we couldn’t possibly’ve been here ever before. Ours is the only light-year rocket in existence.”
“That’s how I feel, anyway, sir. I think we should get out.” The footsteps faltered. There was only the sound of the intruder’s breath on the still air.
The Ear heard and quickened. Rotors glided, liquids glittered in small creeks through valves and blowers. A formula and a concoction—one followed another. Moments later, responding to the summons of the Ear and Nose, through giant holes in the city walls a fresh vapor blew out over the invaders.
“Smellthat, Smith? Ahh. Green grass. Ever smell anything better? By God, I just like to stand here and smell it.”
Invisible chlorophyll blew among the standing men.
The footsteps continued.
“Nothing wrong withthat, eh, Smith? Come on!”
The Ear and Nose relaxed a billionth of a fraction. The countermove had succeeded. The pawns were proceeding forward.
Now the cloudy Eyes of the city moved out of fog and mist.
“Captain, the windows!”
“Those house windows, there! I saw them move!”
“Ididn’t see it.”
“They shifted. They changed color. From dark to light.”
“Look like ordinary square windows to me.”
Blurred objects focused. In the mechanical ravines of the city oiled shafts plunged, balance wheels dipped over into green oil pools. The window frames flexed. The windows gleamed.
Below, in the street, walked two men, a patrol, followed, at a safe interval, by seven more. Their uniforms were white, their faces as pink as if they had been slapped; their eyes were blue. They walked upright, upon hind legs, carrying metal weapons. Their feet were booted. They were males, with eyes, ears, mouths, noses.
The windows trembled. The windows thinned. They dilated imperceptibly, like the irises of numberless eyes.
“I tell you, Captain, it’s the windows!”
“I’m going back, sir.”
“I’m going back to the rocket.”
“I’m not falling into any trap!”
“Afraid of an empty city?”
The others laughed, uneasily.
“Go on, laugh!”
The street was stone-cobbled, each stone three inches wide, six inches long. With a move unrecognizable as such, the street settled. It weighed the invaders.
In a machine cellar a red wand touched a numeral: 178 pounds . . . 210, 154, 201, 198—each man weighed, registered and the record spooled down into a correlative darkness.
Now the city was fully awake!
Now the vents sucked and blew air, the tobacco odor from the invaders’ mouths, the green soap scent from their hands. Even their eyeballs had a delicate odor. The city detected it, and this information formed totals which scurried down to total other totals. The crystal windows glittered, the Ear tautened and skinned the drum of its hearing tight, tighter—all of the senses of the city swarming like a fall of unseen snow, counting the respiration and the dim hidden heartbeats of the men, listening, watching, tasting.