“What about you other men?” asked Spender carefully.
Nobody answered; their silence was talk enough. Catch as catch can, finder’s keepers, if the other fellow turns his cheek slap it hard, etc …
“Well,” said Spender, “I’ve found a Martian.”
The men squinted at him.
“Up in a dead town. I didn’t think I’d find him. I didn’t intend looking him up. I don’t know what he was doing there. I’ve been living in a little valley town for about a week, learning how to read the ancient books and looking at their old art forms. And one day I saw this Martian. He stood there for a moment and then he was gone. He didn’t come back for another day. I sat around, learning how to read the old writing, and the Martian came back, each time a little nearer, until on the day I learned how to decipher the Martian language—it’s amazingly simple and there are picturegraphs to help you—the Martian appeared before me and said, ‘Give me your boots.’ And I gave him my boots and he said, ‘Give me your uniform and all the rest of your apparel.’ And I gave him all of that, and then he said, ‘Give me your gun,’ and I gave him my gun. Then he said, ‘Now come along and watch what happens.’ And the Martian walked down into camp and he’s here now.”
“I don’t see any Martian,” said Cheroke.
Spender took out his gun. It hummed softly. The first bullet got the man on the left; the second and third bullets took the men on the right and the center of the table. Cookie turned in horror from the fire to receive the fourth bullet. He fell back into the fire and lay there while his clothes caught fire.
The rocket lay in the sun. Three men sat at breakfast, their hands on the table, not moving, their food getting cold in front of them. Cheroke, untouched, sat alone, staring in numb disbelief at Spender.
“You can come with me,” said Spender.
Cheroke said nothing.
“You can be with me on this.” Spender waited.
Finally Cheroke was able to speak. “You killed them,” he said, daring to look at the men around him.
“They deserved it.”
“Maybe I am. But you can come with me.”
“Come with you, for what?” cried Cheroke, the color gone from his face, his eyes watering. “Go on, get out!”
Spender’s face hardened. “Of all of them, I thought you would understand.”
“Get out!” Cheroke reached for his gun.
Spender fired one last time. Cheroke stopped moving.
Now Spender swayed. He put his hand to his sweating face. He glanced at the rocket and suddenly began to shake all over. He almost fell, the physical reaction was so overwhelming. His face held an expression of one awakening from hypnosis, from a dream. He sat down for a moment and told the shaking to go away.
“Stop it, stop it!” he commanded of his body. Every fiber of him was quivering and shaking. “Stop it!” He crushed his body with his mind until all the shaking was squeezed out of it. His hands lay calmly now upon his silent knees.
He arose and strapped a portable storage locker on his back with quiet efficiency. His hand began to tremble again, just for a breath of an instant, but he said, “No!” very firmly, and the trembling passed. Then, walking stiffly, he moved out between the hot red hills of the land, alone.
The sun burned farther up the sky. An hour later the captain climbed down out of the rocket to get some ham and eggs. He was just saying hello to the four men sitting there when he stopped and noticed a faint smell of gun fumes on the air. He saw the cook lying on the ground, with the campfire under him. The four men sat before food that was now cold.
A moment later Parkhill and two others climbed down. The captain stood in their way, fascinated by the silent men and the way they sat at their breakfast.
“Call the men, all of them,” said the captain.