Nine, ten shots broke out in a rattle. Rocks around him jumped up. Spender fired steadily, sometimes while glancing at the silver book he carried in his hand.
The captain ran in the hot sunlight with a rifle in his hands. Spender followed him in his pistol sights but did not fire. Instead he shifted and blew the top off a rock where Whitie lay, and heard an angry shout.
Suddenly the captain stood up. He had a white handkerchief in his hands. He said something to his men and came walking up the mountain after putting aside his rifle. Spender lay there, then got to his feet, his pistol ready.
The captain came up and sat down on a warm boulder, not looking at Spender for a moment.
The captain reached into his blouse pocket. Spender’s fingers tightened on the pistol.
The captain said, “Cigarette?”
“Thanks.” Spender took one.
“Got my own.”
They took one or two puffs in silence.
“Warm,” said the captain.
“You comfortable up here?”
“How long do you think you can hold out?”
“About twelve men’s worth.”
“Why didn’t you kill all of us this morning when you had the chance? You could have, you know.”
“I know. I got sick. When you want to do a thing badly enough you lie to yourself. You say the other people are all wrong. Well, soon after I started killing people I realized they were just fools and I shouldn’t be killing them. But it was too late. I couldn’t go on with it then, so I came up here where I could lie to myself some more and get angry, to build it all up again.
“Is it built up?”
“Not very high. Enough.”
The captain considered his cigarette. “Why did you do it?”
Spender quietly laid his pistol at his feet. “Because I’ve seen that what these Martians had was just as good as anything we’ll ever hope to have. They stopped where we should have stopped a hundred years ago. I’ve walked in their cities and I know these people and I’d be glad to call them my ancestors.”
“They have a beautiful city there.” The captain nodded at one of several places.
“It’s not that alone. Yes, their cities are good. They knew how to blend art into their living. It’s always been a thing apart for Americans. Art was something you kept in the crazy son’s room upstairs. Art was something you took in Sunday doses, mixed with religion, perhaps. Well, these Martians have art and religion and everything.”
“You think they knew what it was all about, do you?”
“For my money.”
“And for that reason you started shooting people.”
“When I was a kid my folks took me to visit Mexico City. I’ll always remember the way my father acted—loud and big. And my mother didn’t like the people because they were dark and didn’t wash enough. And my sister wouldn’t talk to most of them. I was the only one really liked it. And I can see my mother and father coming to Mars and acting the same way here.
“Anything that’s strange is no good to the average American. If it doesn’t have Chicago plumbing, it’s nonsense. The thought of that! Oh God, the thought of that! And then—the war. You heard the congressional speeches before we left. If things work out they hope to establish three atomic research and atom bomb depots on Mars. That means Mars is finished; all this wonderful stuff gone. How would you feel if a Martian vomited stale liquor on the White House floor?”
The captain said nothing but listened.
Spender continued: “And then the other power interests coming up. The mineral men and the travel men. Do you remember what happened to Mexico when Cortez and his very fine good friends arrived from Spain? A whole civilization destroyed by greedy, righteous bigots. History will never forgive Cortez.”
“You haven’t acted ethically yourself today,” observed the captain.
“What could I do? Argue with you? It’s simply me against the whole crooked grinding greedy setup on Earth. They’ll be flopping their filthy atoms bombs up here, fighting for bases to have wars. Isn’t it enough they’ve ruined one planet, without ruining another; do they have to foul someone else’s manger? The simple-minded windbags. When I got up here I felt I was not only free of their so-called culture, I felt I was free of their ethics and their customs. I’m out of their frame of reference, I thought. All I have to do is kill you all off and live my own life.”