“Impossible!” cried Mr. Benjamin Driscoll.
But the valley and the morning were green.
And the air!
All about, like a moving current, a mountain river, came the new air, the oxygen blowing from the green trees. You could see it shimmer high in crystal billows. Oxygen, fresh, pure, green, cold oxygen turning the valley into a river delta. In a moment the town doors would flip wide, people would run out through the new miracle of oxygen, sniffing, gusting in lungfuls of it, cheeks pinking with it, noses frozen with it, lungs revivified, hearts leaping, and worn bodies lifted into a dance.
Mr. Benjamin Driscoll took one long deep drink of green water air and fainted.
Before he woke again five thousand new trees had climbed up into the yellow sun.
February 2002: THE LOCUSTS
The rockets set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmitted water to steam, made sand and silica into green glass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about. The rockets came like drums, beating in the night. The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke. And from the rockets ran men with hammers in their hands to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye, to bludgeon away all the strangeness, their mouths fringed with nails so they resembled steel-toothed carnivores, spitting them into their swift hands as they hammered up frame cottages and scuttled over roofs with shingles to blot out the eerie stars, and fit green shades to pull against the night. And when the carpenters had hurried on, the women came in with flowerpots and chintz and pans and set up a kitchen clamor to cover the silence that Mars made waiting outside the door and the shaded window.
In six months a dozen small towns had been laid down upon the naked planet, filled with sizzling neon tubes and yellow electric bulbs. In all, some ninety thousand people came to Mars, and more, on Earth, were packing their grips …
August 2002: NIGHT MEETING
Before going up into the blue hills, Tomás Gomez stopped for gasoline at the lonely station.
“Kind of alone out here, aren’t you, Pop?” said Tomás.
The old man wiped off the windshield of the small truck. “Not bad.”
“How do you like Mars, Pop?”
“Fine. Always something new. I made up my mind when I came here last year I wouldn’t expect nothing, nor ask nothing, nor be surprised at nothing. We’ve got to forget Earth and how things were. We’ve got to look at what we’re in here, and how different it is. I get a hell of a lot of fun out of just the weather here. It’s Martian weather. Hot as hell daytimes, cold as hell nights. I get a big kick out of the different flowers and different rain. I came to Mars to retire and I wanted to retire in a place where everything is different. An old man needs to have things different. Young people don’t want to talk to him, other old people bore hell out of him. So I thought the best thing for me is a place so different that all you got to do is open your eyes and you’re entertained. I got this gas station. If business picks up too much, I’ll move on back to some other old highway that’s not so busy, where I can earn just enough to live on and still have time to feel the different things here.”
“You got the right idea, Pop,” said Tomás, his brown hands idly on the wheel. He was feeling good. He had been working in one of the new colonies for ten days straight and now he had two days off and was on his way to a party.
“I’m not surprised at anything any more,” said the old man. “I’m just looking. I’m just experiencing. If you can’t take Mars for what she is, you might as well go back to Earth. Everything’s crazy up here, the soil, the air, the canals, the natives (I never saw any yet, but I hear they’re around), the clocks. Even my clock acts funny. Even time is crazy up here. Sometimes I feel I’m here all by myself, no one else on the whole damn planet. I’d take bets on it. Sometimes I feel about eight years old, my body squeezed up and everything else tall. Jesus, it’s just the place for an old man. Keeps me alert and keeps me happy. You know what Mars is? It’s like a thing I got for Christmas seventy years ago—don’t know if you ever had one—they called them kaleidoscopes, bits of crystal and cloth and beads and pretty junk. You held it up to the sunlight and looked in through at it, and it took your breath away. All the patterns! Well, that’s Mars. Enjoy it. Don’t ask it to be nothing else but what it is. Jesus, you know that highway right there, built by the Martians, is over sixteen centuries old and still in good condition? That’s one dollar and fifty cents, thanks and good night.”