His brother’s voice was quite cold. “I said, where do you think you’re going?”
“For a drink of water.”
“But you’re not thirsty.”
“Yes, yes, I am.”
“No, you’re not.”
Captain John Black broke and ran across the room. He screamed. He screamed twice.
He never reached the door.
In the morning the brass band played a mournful dirge. From every house in the street came little solemn processions bearing long boxes, and along the sun-filled street, weeping, came the grandmas and mothers and sisters and brothers and uncles and fathers, walking to the churchyard, where there were new holes freshly dug and new tombstones installed. Sixteen holes in all, and sixteen tombstones.
The mayor made a little sad speech, his face sometimes looking like the mayor, sometimes looking like something else.
Mother and Father Black were there, with Brother Edward, and they cried, their faces melting now from a familiar face into something else.
Grandpa and Grandma Lustig were there, weeping, their faces shifting like wax, shimmering as all things shimmer on a hot day.
The coffins were lowered. Someone murmured about “the unexpected and sudden deaths of sixteen fine men during the night—“
Earth pounded down on the coffin lids.
The brass band, playing “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” marched and slammed back into town, and everyone took the day off.
June 2001: –AND THE MOON BE STILL AS BRIGHT
It was so cold when they first came from the rocket into the night that Spender began to gather the dry Martian wood and build a small fire. He didn’t say anything about a celebration; he merely gathered the wood, set fire to it, and watched it burn.
In the flare that lighted the thin air of this dried-up sea of Mars he looked over his shoulder and saw the rocket that had brought them all, Captain Wilder and Cheroke and Hathaway and Sam Parkhill and himself, across a silent black space of stars to land upon a dead, dreaming world.
Jeff Spender waited for the noise. He watched the other men and waited for them to jump around and shout. It would happen as soon as the numbness of being the “first” men to Mars wore off. None of them said anything, but many of them were hoping, perhaps, that the other expeditions had failed and that this, the Fourth, would be the one. They meant nothing evil by it. But they stood thinking it, nevertheless, thinking of the honor and fame, while their lungs became accustomed to the thinness of the atmosphere, which almost made you drunk if you moved too quickly.
Gibbs walked over to the freshly ignited fire and said, “Why don’t we use the ship chemical fire instead of that wood?”
“Never mind,” said Spender, not looking up.
It wouldn’t be right, the first night on Mars, to make a loud noise, to introduce a strange, silly bright thing like a stove. It would be a kind of imported blasphemy. There’d be time for that later; time to throw condensed-milk cans in the proud Martian canals; time for copies of the New York Times to blow and caper and rustle across the lone gray Martian sea bottoms; time for banana peels and picnic papers in the fluted, delicate ruins of the old Martian valley towns. Plenty of time for that. And he gave a small inward shiver at the thought.
He fed the fire by hand, and it was like an offering to a dead giant, They had landed on an immense tomb. Here a civilization had died. It was only simple courtesy that the first night be spent quietly.
“This isn’t my idea of a celebration.” Gibbs turned to Captain Wilder. “Sir, I thought we might break out rations of gin and meat and whoop it up a bit.”
Captain Wilder looked off toward a dead city a mile away. “We’re all tired,” he said remotely, as if his whole attention was on the city and his men forgotten. “Tomorrow night, perhaps. Tonight we should be glad we got across all that space without getting a meteor in our bulkhead or having one man of us die.”
The men shifted around. There were twenty of them, holding to each other’s shoulders or adjusting their belts. Spender watched them. They were not satisfied. They had risked their lives to do a big thing. Now they wanted to be shouting drunk, firing off guns to show how wonderful they were to have kicked a hole in space and ridden a rocket all the way to Mars.