Parkhill hurried off down the canal rim.
The captain touched Cheroke. Cheroke twisted quietly and fell from his chair. Sunlight burned in his bristled short hair and on his high cheekbones.
The men came in.
“It’s still Spender, sir. We found Biggs floating in the canal.”
The captain saw the hills rising in the daylight, The sun showed his teeth in a grimace. “Damn him,” he said tiredly. “Why didn’t he come and talk to me?”
“He should’ve talked to me,” cried Parkhill, eyes blazing. “I’d have shot his bloody brains out, that’s what I’d have done, by God!”
Captain Wilder nodded at two of his men. “Get shovels,” he said.
It was hot digging the graves. A warm wind came from over the vacant sea and blew the dust into their faces as the captain turned the Bible pages. When the captain closed the book someone began shoveling slow streams of sand down upon the wrapped figures.
They walked back to the rocket, clicked the mechanisms of their rifles, put thick grenade packets on their backs, and checked the free play of pistols in their holsters. They were each assigned part of the hills. The captain directed them without raising his voice or moving his hands where they hung at his sides.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Spender saw the thin dust rising in several places in the valley and he knew the pursuit was organized and ready. He put down the thin silver book that he had been reading as he sat easily on a flat boulder. The book’s pages were tissue-thin, pure silver, hand-painted in black and gold. It was a book of philosophy at least ten thousand years old he had found in one of the villas of a Martian valley town. He was reluctant to lay it aside.
For a time he had thought, What’s the use? I’ll sit here reading until they come along and shoot me.
The first reaction to his killing the six men this morning had caused a period of stunned blankness, then sickness, and now, a strange peace. But the peace was passing, too, for he saw the dust billowing from the trails of the hunting men, and he experienced the return of resentment.
He took a drink of cool water from his hip canteen. Then he stood up, stretched, yawned, and listened to the peaceful wonder of the valley around him. How very fine if he and a few others he knew on Earth could be here, live out their lives here, without a sound or a worry.
He carried the book with him in one hand, the pistol ready in his other. There was a little swift-running stream filled with white pebbles and rocks where he undressed and waded in for a brief washing. He took all the time he wanted before dressing and picking up his gun again.
The firing began about three in the afternoon. By then Spender was high in the hills. They followed him through three small Martian hill towns. Above the towns, scattered like pebbles, were single villas where ancient families had found a brook, a green spot, and laid out a tile pool, a library, and a court with a pulsing fountain. Spender took half an hour, swimming in one of the pools which was filled with the seasonal rain, waiting for the pursuers to catch up with him.
Shots rang out as he was leaving the little villa. Tile chipped up some twenty feet behind him, exploded. He broke into a trot, moved behind a series of small bluffs, turned, and with his first shot dropped one of the men dead in his tracks.
They would form a net, a circle; Spender knew that. They would go around and close in and they would get him. It was a strange thing that the grenades were not used. Captain Wilder could easily order the grenades tossed.
But I’m much too nice to be blown to bits, thought Spender. That’s what the captain thinks. He wants me with only one hole in me. Isn’t that odd? He wants my death to be clean. Nothing messy. Why? Because he understands me. And because he understands, he’s willing to risk good men to give me a clean shot in the head. Isn’t that it?