He took out a little gun. “Incurable, of course. You poor, wonderful man. You will be happier dead. Have you any last words?”
“Stop, for God’s sake! Don’t shoot!”
“You sad creature. I shall put you out of this misery which has driven you to imagine this rocket and these three men. It will be most engrossing to watch your friends and your rocket vanish once I have killed you. I will write a neat paper on the dissolvement of neurotic images from what I perceive here today.”
“I’m from Earth! My name is Jonathan Williams, and these—“
“Yes, I know,” soothed Mr. Xxx, and fired his gun.
The captain fell with a bullet in his heart. The other three men screamed.
Mr. Xxx stared at them. “You continue to exist? This is superb! Hallucinations with time and spatial persistence!” He pointed the gun at them. “Well, I’ll scare you into dissolving.”
“No!” cried the three men,
“An auditory appeal, even with the patient dead,” observed Mr. Xxx as he shot the three men down.
They lay on the sand, intact, not moving.
He kicked them. Then he rapped on the ship.
“_It_ persists! They persist!” He fired his gun again and again at the bodies. Then he stood back. The smiling mask dropped from his face.
Slowly the little psychologist’s face changed. His jaw sagged. The gun dropped from his fingers. His eyes were dull and vacant He put his hands up and turned in a blind circle. He fumbled at the bodies, saliva filling his mouth.
“Hallucinations,” he mumbled frantically. “Taste. Sight. Smell. Sound. Feeling.” He waved his hands. His eyes bulged. His mouth began to give off a faint froth.
“Go away!” he shouted at the bodies. “Go away!” he screamed at the ship. He examined his trembling hands. “Contaminated,” he whispered wildly. “Carried over into me. Telepathy. Hypnosis. Now I’m insane, Now I’m contaminated. Hallucinations in all their sensual forms.” He stopped and searched around with his numb hands for the gun. “Only one cure. Only one way to make them go away, vanish.”
A shot rang out, Mr. Xxx fell.
The four bodies lay in the sun. Mr. Xxx lay where he fell.
The rocket reclined on the little sunny hill and didn’t vanish.
When the town people found the rocket at sunset they wondered what it was. Nobody knew, so it was sold to a junkman and hauled off to be broken up for scrap metal.
That night it rained all night. The next day was fair and warm.
March 2000: THE TAXPAYER
He wanted to go to Mars on the rocket. He went down to the rocket field in the early morning and yelled in through the wire fence at the men in uniform that he wanted to go to Mars, He told them he was a taxpayer, his name was Pritchard, and he had a right to go to Mars. Wasn’t he born right here in Ohio? Wasn’t he a good citizen? Then why couldn’t he go to Mars? He shook his fists at them and told them that he wanted to get away from Earth; anybody with any sense wanted to get away from Earth. There was going to be a big atomic war on Earth in about two years, and he didn’t want to be here when it happened. He and thousands of others like him, if they had any sense, would go to Mars. See if they wouldn’t! To get away from wars and censorship and statism and conscription and government control of this and that, of art and science! You could have Earth! He was offering his good right hand, his heart, his head, for the opportunity to go to Mars! What did you have to do, what did you have to sign, whom did you have to know, to get on the rocket?
They laughed out through the wire screen at him. He didn’t want to go to Mars, they said. Didn’t he know that the First and Second Expeditions had failed, had vanished; the men were probably dead?
But they couldn’t prove it, they didn’t know for sure, he said, clinging to the wire fence. Maybe it was a land of milk and honey up there, and Captain York and Captain Williams had just never bothered to come back. Now were they going to open the gate and let him in to board the Third Expeditionary Rocket, or was he going to have to kick it down?