“Something different?” said the Martian, eying him and the coffee, referring to them both, perhaps.
“May I offer you a drink?” said Tomás.
The Martian slid down from his machine.
A second cup was produced and filled, steaming. Tomás held it out.
Their hands met and—like mist—fell through each other.
“Jesus Christ!” cried Tomás, and dropped the cup.
“Name of the gods!” said the Martian in his own tongue.
“Did you see what happened?” they both whispered.
They were very cold and terrified.
The Martian bent to touch the cup but could not touch it.
“Jesus!” said Tomás.
“Indeed.” The Martian tried again and again to get hold of the cup, but could not. He stood up and thought for a moment, then took a knife from his belt. “Hey!” cried Tomás. “You misunderstand, catch!” said the Martian, and tossed it. Tomás cupped his hands. The knife fell through his flesh. It hit the ground. Tomás bent to pick it up but could not touch it, and he recoiled, shivering.
Now he looked at the Martian against the sky.
“The stars!” he said.
“The stars!” said the Martian, looking, in turn, at Tomás.
The stars were white and sharp beyond the flesh of the Martian, and they were sewn into his flesh like scintillas swallowed into the thin, phosphorescent membrane of a gelatinous sea fish. You could see stars flickering like violet eyes in the Martian’s stomach and chest, and through his wrists, like jewelry.
“I can see through you!” said Tomás.
“And I through you!” said the Martian, stepping back.
Tomás felt of his own body and, feeling the warmth, was reassured. I am real, he thought
The Martian touched his own nose and lips. “_I_ have flesh,” he said, half aloud. “_I_ am alive.”
Tomás stared at the stranger. “And if I am real, then you must be dead.”
They pointed at each other, with starlight burning in their limbs like daggers and icicles and fireflies, and then fell to judging their limbs again, each finding himself intact, hot, excited, stunned, awed, and the other, ah yes, that other over there, unreal, a ghostly prism flashing the accumulated light of distant worlds.
I’m drunk, thought Tomás. I won’t tell anyone of this tomorrow, no, no.
They stood there on the ancient highway, neither of them moving.
“Where are you from?” asked the Martian at last.
“What is that?”
“There.” Tomás nodded to the sky.
“We landed over a year ago, remember?”
“And all of you were dead, all but a few. You’re rare, don’t you know that?”
“That’s not true.”
“Yes, dead. I saw the bodies. Black, in the rooms, in the houses, dead. Thousands of them.”
“That’s ridiculous. We’re alive!”
“Mister, you’re invaded, only you don’t know it. You must have escaped.”
“I haven’t escaped; there was nothing to escape. What do you mean? I’m on my way to a festival now at the canal, near the Eniall Mountains. I was there last night. Don’t you see the city there?” The Martian pointed.
Tomás looked and saw the ruins. “Why, that city’s been dead thousands of years.”
The Martian laughed. “Dead. I slept there yesterday!”
“And I was in it a week ago and the week before that, and I just drove through it now, and it’s a heap. See the broken pillars?”
“Broken? Why, I see them perfectly. The moonlight helps. And the pillars are upright.”
“There’s dust in the streets,” said Tomás.
“The streets are clean!”
“The canals are empty right there.”
“The canals are full of lavender wine!”
“It’s alive!” protested the Martian, laughing more now. “Oh, you’re quite wrong. See all the carnival lights? There are beautiful boats as slim as women, beautiful women as slim as boats, women the color of sand, women with fire flowers in their hands. I can see them, small, running in the streets there. That’s where I’m going now, to the festival; we’ll float on the waters all night long; we’ll sing, we’ll drink, we’ll make love, Can’t you see it?”
“Mister, that city is dead as a dried lizard. Ask any of our party. Me, I’m on my way to Green City tonight; that’s the new colony we just raised over near Illinois Highway. You’re mixed up. We brought in a million board feet of Oregon lumber and a couple dozen tons of good steel nails and hammered together two of the nicest little villages you ever saw. Tonight we’re warming one of them. A couple rockets are coming in from Earth, bringing our wives and girl friends. There’ll be barn dances and whisky—“