The watch ticked on his wrist, The captain watched it tick. The men were running. Spender did not move. The watch ticked for a long time, very loudly in the captain’s ears. “Go on, Spender, go on, get away!”
The thirty seconds were up.
The gun was sighted. The captain drew a deep breath. “Spender,” he said, exhaling.
He pulled the trigger.
All that happened was that a faint powdering of rock went up in the sunlight. The echoes of the report faded.
The captain arose and called to his men: “He’s dead.”
The other men did not believe it. Their angles had prevented their seeing that particular. fissure in the rocks. They saw their captain run up the hill, alone, and thought him either very brave or insane.
The men came after him a few minutes later.
They gathered around the body and someone said, “In the chest?”
The captain looked down. “In the chest,” he said, He saw how the rocks had changed color under Spender. “I wonder why he waited. I wonder why he didn’t escape as he planned. I wonder why he stayed on and got himself killed.”
“Who knows?” someone said.
Spender lay there, his hands clasped, one around the gun, the other around the silver book that glittered in the sun.
Was it because of me? thought the captain. Was it because I refused to give in myself? Did Spender hate the idea of killing me? Am I any different from these others here? Is that what did it? Did he figure he could trust me? What other answer is there?
None. He squatted by the silent body.
I’ve got to live up to this, he thought. I can’t let him down now. If he figured there was something in me that was like himself and couldn’t kill me because of it, then what a job I have ahead of me! That’s it, yes, that’s it. I’m Spender all over again, but I think before I shoot. I don’t shoot at all, I don’t kill. I do things with people. And he couldn’t kill me because I was himself under a slightly different condition.
The captain felt the sunlight on the back of his neck. He heard himself talking: “If only he had come to me and talked it over before he shot anybody, we could have worked it out somehow.”
“Worked what out?” said Parkhill. “What could we have worked out with his likes?”
There was a singing of heat in the land, off the rocks and off the blue sky. “I guess you’re right,” said the captain. “We could never have got together. Spender and myself, perhaps. But Spender and you and the others, no, never, He’s better off now. Let me have a drink from that canteen.”
It was the captain who suggested the empty sarcophagus for Spender. They had found an ancient Martian tomb yard. They put Spender into a silver case with waxes and wines which were ten thousand years old, his hands folded on his chest. The last they saw of him was his peaceful face.
They stood for a moment in the ancient vault. “I think it would be a good idea for you to think of Spender from time to time,” said the captain.
They walked from the vault and shut the marble door.
The next afternoon Parkhill did some target practice in one of the dead cities, shooting out the crystal windows and blowing the tops off the fragile towers. The captain caught Parkhill and knocked his teeth out.
August 2001: THE SETTLERS
The men of Earth came to Mars.
They came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims. There was a reason for each man. They were leaving bad wives or bad jobs or bad towns; they were coming to find something or leave something or get something, to dig up something or bury something or leave something alone. They were coming with small dreams or large dreams or none at all. But a government finger pointed from four-color posters in many towns: THERE’S WORK FOR YOU IN THE SKY: SEE MARS! and the men shuffled forward, only a few at first, a double-score, for most men felt the great illness in them even before the rocket fired into space. And this disease was called The Loneliness, because when you saw your home town dwindle the size of your fist and then lemon-size and then pin-size and vanish in the fire-wake, you felt you had never been born, there was no town, you were nowhere, with space all around, nothing familiar, only other strange men. And when the state of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, or Montana vanished into cloud seas, and, doubly, when the United States shrank to a misted island and the entire planet Earth became a muddy baseball tossed away, then you were alone, wandering in the meadows of space, on your way to a place you couldn’t imagine.