“It sounds as if the Martians were quite naive.”
“Only when it paid to be naive. They quit trying too hard to destroy everything, to humble everything. They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful. It’s all simply a matter of degree. An Earth Man thinks: ‘In that picture, color does not exist, really. A scientist can prove that color is only the way the cells are placed in a certain material to reflect light. Therefore, color is not really an actual part of things I happen to see.’ A Martian, far cleverer, would say: “This is a fine picture. It came from the hand and the mind of a man inspired. Its idea and its color are from life. This thing is good.’”
There was a pause. Sitting in the afternoon sun, the captain looked curiously around at the little silent cool town.
“I’d like to live here,” he said.
“You may if you want.”
“You ask me that?”
“Will any of those men under you ever really understand all this? They’re professional cynics, and it’s too late for them. Why do you want to go back with them? So you can keep up with the Joneses? To buy a gyro just like Smith has? To listen to music with your pocketbook instead of your glands? There’s a little patio down here with a reel of Martian music in it at least fifty thousand years old. It still plays. Music you’ll never hear in your life. You could hear it. There are books. I’ve gotten on well in reading them already. You could sit and read.”
“It all sounds quite wonderful, Spender.”
“But you won’t stay?”
“No. Thanks, anyway.”
“And you certainly won’t let me stay without trouble. I’ll have to kill you all.”
“I have something to fight for and live for; that makes me a better killer. I’ve got what amounts to a religion, now. It’s learning how to breathe all over again. And how to lie in the sun getting a tan, letting the sun work into you. And how to hear music and how to read a book. What does your civilization offer?”
The captain shifted his feet. He shook his head. “I’m sorry this is happening. I’m sorry about it all.”
“I am too. I guess I’d better take you back now so you can start the attack.”
“I guess so.”
“Captain, I won’t kill you. When it’s all over, you’ll still be alive.”
“I decided when I started that you’d be untouched.”
“Well … ”
“I’ll save you out from the rest. When they’re dead, perhaps you’ll change your mind.”
“No,” said the captain. “There’s too much Earth blood in me. I’ll have to keep after you.”
“Even when you have a chance to stay here?”
“It’s funny, but yes, even with that. I don’t know why. I’ve never asked myself. Well, here we are.” They had returned to their meeting place now. “Will you come quietly, Spender? This is my last offer.”
“Thanks, no.” Spender put out his hand. “One last thing. If you win, do me a favor. See what can be done to restrict tearing this planet apart, at least for fifty years, until the archaeologists have had a decent chance, will you?”
“And last—if it helps any, just think of me as a very crazy fellow who went berserk one summer day and never was right again. It’ll be a little easier on you that way.”
“I’ll think it over. So long, Spender. Good luck.”
“You’re an odd one,” said Spender as the captain walked back down the trail in the warm-blowing wind.
The captain returned like something lost to his dusty men. He kept squinting at the sun and breathing bard.
“Is there a drink?” he said. He felt a bottle put cool into his hand. “Thanks.” He drank. He wiped his mouth.
“All right,” he said. “Be careful. We have all the time we want. I don’t want any more lost. You’ll have to kill him. He won’t come down. Make it a clean shot if you can. Don’t mess him. Get it over with.”