“We’ll try to make it, thanks. There’s so much to be done. My men are waiting for me back at the rocket and—“
He stopped. He looked toward the door, startled.
Far away in the sunlight there was a sound of voices, a shouting and a great hello.
“What’s that?” asked Hinkston,
“We’ll soon find out.” And Captain John Black was out the front door abruptly, running across the green lawn into the street of the Martian town.
He stood looking at the rocket. The ports were open and his crew was streaming out, waving their hands. A crowd of people had gathered, and in and through and among these people the members of the crew were hurrying, talking, laughing, shaking hands. People did little dances. People swarmed. The rocket lay empty and abandoned.
A brass band exploded in the sunlight, flinging off a gay tune from upraised tubas and trumpets. There was a bang of drums and a shrill of fifes. Little girls with golden hair jumped up and down. Little boys shouted, “Hooray!” Fat men passed around ten-cent cigars. The town mayor made a speech. Then each member of the crew, with a mother on one arm, a father or sister on the other, was spirited off down the street into little cottages or big mansions.
“Stop!” cried Captain Black.
The doors slammed shut.
The heat rose in the clear spring sky, and all was silent. The brass band banged off around a corner, leaving the rocket to shine and dazzle alone in the sunlight
“Abandoned!” said the captain. “They abandoned the ship, they did! I’ll have their skins, by God! They had orders!”
“Sir,” said Lustig, “don’t be too hard on them. Those were all old relatives and friends.”
“That’s no excuse!”
“Think how they felt, Captain, seeing familiar faces outside the ship!”
“They had their orders, damn it!”
“But how would you have felt, Captain?”
“I would have obeyed orders—“ The captain’s mouth remained open.
Striding along the sidewalk under the Martian sun, tall, smiling, eyes amazingly clear and blue, came a young man of some twenty-six years. “John!” the man called out, and broke into a trot.
“What?” Captain John Black swayed.
“John, you old son of a bitch!”
The man ran up and gripped his hand and slapped him on the back.
“It’s you,” said Captain Black.
“Of course, who’d you think it was?”
“Edward!” The captain appealed now to Lustig and Hinkston, holding the stranger’s hand. “This is my brother Edward. Ed, meet my men, Lustig, Hinkston! My brother!”
They tugged at each other’s hands and arms and then finally embraced.
“John, you bum, you!”
“You’re looking fine, Ed, but, Ed, what is this? You haven’t changed over the years. You died, I remember, when you were twenty-six and I was nineteen. Good God, so many years ago, and here you are and, Lord, what goes on?”
“Mom’s waiting,” said Edward Black, grinning.
“And Dad too.”
“Dad?” The captain almost fell as if he had been hit by a mighty weapon. He walked stiffly and without coordination. “Mom and Dad alive? Where?”
“At the old house on Oak Knoll Avenue.”
“The old house.” The captain stared in delighted amaze. “Did you hear that, Lustig, Hinkston?”
Hinkston was gone. He had seen his own house down the street and was running for it. Lustig was laughing. “You see, Captain, what happened to everyone on the rocket? They couldn’t help themselves.”
“Yes. Yes.” The captain shut his eyes. “When I open my eyes you’ll be gone.” He blinked. “You’re still there. God, Ed, but you look fine!”
“Come on, lunch’s waiting. I told Mom.”
Lustig said, “Sir, I’ll be with my grandfolks if you need me.”
“What? Oh, fine, Lustig. Later, then.”
Edward seized his arm and marched him. “There’s the house. Remember it?”
“Hell! Bet I can beat you to the front porch!”
They ran. The trees roared over Captain Black’s head; the earth roared under his feet. He saw the golden figure of Edward Black pull ahead of him in the amazing dream of reality. He saw the house rush forward, the screen door swing wide. “Beat you!” cried Edward. “I’m an old man,” panted the captain, “and you’re still young. But then, you always beat me, I remember!”