“I’ll blow his damned brains out,” said Sam Parkhill.

“No, through the chest,” said the captain. He could see Spender’s strong, clearly determined face.

“His bloody brains,” said Parkhill.

The captain handed him the bottle jerkingly. “You heard what I said. Through the chest.”

Parkhill muttered to himself.

“Now,” said the captain.

They spread again, walking and then running, and then walking on the hot hillside places where there would be sudden cool grottoes that smelled of moss, and sudden open blasting places that smelled of sun on stone.

I hate being clever, thought the captain, when you don’t really feel clever and don’t want to be clever. To sneak around and make plans and feel big about making them. I hate this feeling of thinking I’m doing right when I’m not really certain I am. Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? The majority is always holy, is it not? Always, always; just never wrong for one little insignificant tiny moment, is it? Never ever wrong in ten million years? He thought: What is this majority and who are in it? And what do they think and how did they get that way and will they ever change and how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? I don’t feel comfortable. Is it claustrophobia, fear of crowds, or common sense? Can one man be right, while all the world thinks they are right? Let’s not think about it. Let’s crawl around and act exciting and pull the trigger. There, and there!

The men ran and ducked and ran and squatted in shadows and showed their teeth, gasping, for the air was thin, not meant for running; the air was thin and they had to sit for five minutes at a time, wheezing and seeing black lights in their eyes, eating at the thin air and wanting more, tightening their eyes, and at last getting up, lifting their guns to tear holes in that thin summer air, holes of sound and heat.

Spender remained where he was, firing only on occasion.

“Damned brains all over!” Parkhill yelled, running uphill.

The captain aimed his gun at Sam Parkhill. He put it down and stared at it in horror. “What were you doing?” he asked of his limp hand and the gun.

He had almost shot Parkhill in the back.

“God help me.”

He saw Parkhill still running, then falling to lie safe.

Spender was being gathered in by a loose, running net of men. At the hilltop, behind two rocks, Spender lay, grinning with exhaustion from the thin atmosphere, great islands of sweat under each arm. The captain saw the two rocks. There was an interval between them of some four inches, giving free access to Spender’s chest.

“Hey, you!” cried Parkhill. “Here’s a slug for your head!”

Captain Wilder waited. Go on, Spender, he thought. Get out, like you said you would. You’ve only a few minutes to escape. Get out and come back later. Go on. You said you would. Go down in the tunnels you said you found, and lie there and live for months and years, reading your fine books and bathing in your temple pools. Go on, now, man, before it’s too late.

Spender did not move from his position.

“What’s wrong with him?” the captain asked himself.

The captain picked up his gun. He watched the running, hiding men. He looked at the towers of the little clean Martian village, like sharply carved chess pieces lying in the afternoon. He saw the rocks and the interval between where Spender’s chest was revealed.

Parkhill was charging up, screaming in fury.

“No, Parkhill,” said the captain. “I can’t let you do it. Nor the others. No, none of you. Only me.” He raised the gun and sighted it.

Will I be clean after this? he thought. Is it right that it’s me who does it? Yes, it is. I know what I’m doing for what reason and it’s right, because I think I’m the right person. I hope and pray I can live up to this.

He nodded his head at Spender. “Go on,” he called in a loud whisper which no one heard. “I’ll give you thirty seconds more to get away. Thirty seconds!”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray