“A rocket ship. We came in it. Over there!”
“Not the first time Ttt’s been unreasonable, you know.”
“All the way from Earth.”
“Why, for half a mind, I’d call him up and tell him off.”
“Just the four of us; myself and these three men, my crew.”
“I’ll call him up, yes, that’s what I’ll do!”
“Earth. Rocket. Men. Trip. Space.”
“Call him and give him a good lashing!” cried Mr. Aaa. He vanished like a puppet from a stage. For a minute there were angry voices back and forth over some weird mechanism or other. Below, the captain and his crew glanced longingly back at their pretty rocket ship lying on the hillside, so sweet and lovely and fine.
Mr. Aaa jerked up in the window, wildly triumphant “Challenged him to a duel, by the gods! A duel!”
“Mr. Aaa—“ the captain started all over again, quietly.
“I’ll shoot him dead, do you hear!”
“Mr. Aaa, I’d like to tell you. We came sixty million miles.”
Mr. Aaa regarded the captain for the first time. “Where’d you say you were from?”
The captain flashed a white smile. Aside to his men he whispered, “_Now_ we’re getting someplace!” To Mr. Aaa he called, “We traveled sixty million miles. From Earth!”
Mr. Aaa yawned. “That’s only fifty million miles this time of year.” He picked up a frightful-looking weapon. “Well, I have to go now. Just take that silly note, though I don’t know what good it’ll do you, and go over that hill into the little town of Iopr and tell Mr. Iii all about it. He’s the man you want to see. Not Mr. Ttt, he’s an idiot; I’m going to kill him. Not me, because you’re not in my line of work.”
“Line of work, line of work!” bleated the captain. “Do you have to be in a certain line of work to welcome Earth men!”
“Don’t be silly, everyone knows that!” Mr. Aaa rushed downstairs. “Good-by!” And down the causeway he raced, like a pair of wild calipers.
The four travelers stood shocked. Finally the captain said, “We’ll find someone yet who’ll listen to us.”
“Maybe we could go out and come in again,” said one of the men in a dreary voice. “Maybe we should take off and land again. Give them time to organize a party.”
“That might be a good idea,” murmured the tired captain.
The little town was full of people drifting in and out of doors, saying hello to one another, wearing golden masks and blue masks and crimson masks for pleasant variety, masks with silver lips and bronze eyebrows, masks that smiled or masks that frowned, according to the owners’ dispositions.
The four men, wet from their long walk, paused and asked a little girl where Mr. Iii’s house was.
“There.” The child nodded her head.
The captain got eagerly, carefully down on one knee, looking into her sweet young face. “Little girl, I want to talk to you.”
He seated her on his knee and folded her small brown hands neatly in his own big ones, as if ready for a bed-time story which he was shaping in his mind slowly and with a great patient happiness in details.
“Well, here’s how it is, little girl. Six months ago another rocket came to Mars. There was a man named York in it, and his assistant. Whatever happened to them, we don’t know. Maybe they crashed. They came in a rocket. So did we. You should see it! A big rocket! So we’re the Second Expedition, following up the First! And we came all the way from Earth …”
The little girl disengaged one hand without thinking about it, and clapped an expressionless golden mask over her face, Then she pulled forth a golden spider toy and dropped it to the ground while the captain talked on. The toy spider climbed back up to her knee obediently, while she speculated upon it coolly through the slits of her emotionless mask and the captain shook her gently and urged his story upon her.
“We’re Earth Men,” he said. “Do you believe me?”
“Yes.” The little girl peeped at the way she was wiggling her toes in the dust.