“Sure, Sam,” said his wife.
“Boy, what a change for me. If the boys from the Fourth Expedition could see me now. Am I glad to be in business myself while all the rest of them guys’re off soldiering around still. We’ll make thousands, Elma, thousands.”
His wife looked at him for a long time, not speaking. “Whatever happened to Captain Wilder?” she asked finally. “That captain that killed that guy who thought he was going to kill off every other Earth Man, what was his name?”
“Spender, that nut. He was too damn particular. Oh, Captain Wilder? He’s off on a rocket to Jupiter, I hear. They kicked him upstairs. I think he was a little batty about Mars too. Touchy, you know. He’ll be back down from Jupiter and Pluto in about twenty years if he’s lucky. That’s what he gets for shooting off his mouth. And while he’s freezing to death, look at me, look at this place!”
This was a crossroads where two dead highways came and went in darkness. Here Sam Parkhill had flung up this riveted aluminum structure, garish with white light, trembling with jukebox melody.
He stooped to fix a border of broken glass he had placed on the footpath. He had broken the glass from some old Martian buildings in the hills. “Best hot dogs on two worlds! First man on Mars with a hot-dog stand! The best onions and chili and mustard! You can’t say I’m not alert. Here’s the main highways, over there is the dead city and the mineral deposits. Those trucks from Earth Settlement 101 will have to pass here twenty-four hours a day! Do I know my locations, or don’t I?”
His wife looked at her fingernails.
“You think those ten thousand new-type work rockets will come through to Mars?” she said at last.
“In a month,” he said loudly. “Why you look so funny?”
“I don’t trust those Earth people,” she said. “I’ll believe it when I see them ten thousand rockets arrive with the one hundred thousand Mexicans and Chinese on them.”
“Customers.” He lingered on the word. “One hundred thousand hungry people.”
“If,” said his wife slowly, watching the sky, “there’s no atomic war. I don’t trust no atom bombs. There’s so many of them on Earth now, you never can tell.”
“Ah,” said Sam, and went on sweeping.
From the corners of his eyes he caught a blue flicker. Something floated in the air gently behind him. He heard his wife say, “Sam. A friend of yours to see you.”
Sam whirled to see the mask seemingly floating in the wind.
“So you’re back again!” And Sam held his broom like a weapon.
The mask nodded. It was cut from pale blue glass and was fitted above a thin neck; under which were blowing loose robes of thin yellow silk. From the silk two mesh silver bands appeared. The mask mouth was a slot from which musical sounds issued now as the robes, the mask, the hands increased to a height, decreased.
“Mr. Parkhill, I’ve come back to speak to you again,” the voice said from behind the mask.
“I thought I told you I don’t want you near here!” cried Sam. “Go on, I’ll give you the Disease!”
“I’ve already had the Disease,” said the voice. “I was one of the few survivors. I was sick a long time.”
“Go on and hide in the hills, that’s where you belong, that’s where you’ve been. Why you come on down and bother me? Now, all of a sudden. Twice in one day.”
“We mean you no harm.”
“But I mean you harm!” said Sam, backing up. “I don’t like strangers. I don’t like Martians. I never seen one before. It ain’t natural. All these years you guys hide, and all of a sudden you pick on me. Leave me alone.”
“We come for an important reason,” said the blue mask.
“If it’s about this land, it’s mine. I built this hot-dog stand with my own hands.”
“In a way it is about the land.”
“Look here,” said Sam. “I’m from New York City. Where I come from there’s ten million others just like me. You Martians are a couple dozen left, got no cities, you wander around in the hills, no leaders, no laws, and now you come tell me about this land. Well, the old got to give way to the new. That’s the law of give and take. I got a gun here. After you left this morning I got it out and loaded it.”