“Guess I showed them, by God!” cried Sam. “I’ll report to the Rocket Corporation. They’ll give me protection! I’m pretty quick.”
“They could have stopped you if they wanted,” Elma said tiredly. “They just didn’t bother.”
He laughed. “Come off it. Why should they let me get off? No, they weren’t quick enough, is all.”
“Weren’t they?” Elma nodded behind him.
He did not turn. He felt a cold wind blowing. He was afraid to turn. He felt something in the seat behind him, something as frail as your breath on a cold morning something as blue as hickory-wood smoke at twilight, something like old white lace, something like a snowfall, something like the icy rime of winter on the brittle sedge.
There was a sound as of a thin plate of glass broken—laughter. Then silence. He turned.
The young woman sat at the tiller bench quietly. Her wrists were thin as icicles, her eyes as clear as the moons and as large, steady and white. The wind blew at her and, like an image on cold water, she rippled, silk standing out from her frail body in tatters of blue rain.
“Go back,” she said.
“No.” Sam was quivering, the fine, delicate fear-quivering of a hornet suspended in the air, undecided between fear and hate. “Get off my ship!”
“This isn’t your ship,” said the vision. “It’s old as our world. It sailed the sand seas ten thousand years ago when the seas were whispered away and the docks were empty, and you came and took it, stole it. Now turn it around, go back to the crossroad place. We have need to talk with you. Something important has happened.”
“Get off my ship!” said Sam. He took a gun from his holster with a creak of leather. He pointed it carefully. “Jump off before I count three or—“
“Don’t!” cried the girl. “I won’t hurt you. Neither will the others. We came in peace!”
“One,” said Sam.
“Sam!” said Elma.
“Listen to me,” said the girl.
“Two,” said Sam firmly, cocking the gun trigger.
“Sam!” cried Elma.
“Three,” said Sam.
“We only—“ said the girl.
The gun went off.
In the sunlight, snow melts, crystals evaporate into a steam, into nothing. In the firelight, vapors dance and vanish. In the core of a volcano, fragile things burst and disappear. The girl, in the gunfire, in the heat, in the concussion, folded like a soft scarf, melted like a crystal figurine. What was left of her, ice, snowflake, smoke, blew away in the wind. The tiller seat was empty.
Sam holstered his gun and did not look at his wife.
“Sam,” she said after a minute more of traveling, whispering over the moon-colored sea of sand, “stop the ship.”
He looked at her and his face was pale. “No, you don’t. Not after all this time, you’re not pulling out on me.”
She looked at his hand on his gun. “I believe you would,” she said. “You actually would.”
He jerked his head from side to side, hand tight on the tiller bar. “Elma, this is crazy. We’ll be in town in a minute, we’ll be okay!”
“Yes,” said his wife, lying back cold in the ship.
“Elma, listen to me.”
“There’s nothing to hear, Sam.”
They were passing a little white chess city, and in his frustration, in his rage, he sent six bullets crashing among the crystal towers. The city dissolved in a shower of ancient glass and splintered quartz. It fell away like carved soap, shattered. It was no more. He laughed and fired again, and one last tower, one last chess piece, took fire, ignited, and in blue flinders went up to the stars.
“I’ll show them! I’ll show everybody!”
“Go ahead, show us, Sam.” She lay in the shadows.
“Here comes another city!” Sam reloaded his gun. “Watch me fix it!”
The blue phantom ships loomed up behind them, drawing steadily apace. He did not see them at first. He was only aware of a whistling and a high windy screaming, as of steel on sand, and it was the sound of the sharp razor prows of the sand ships preening the sea bottoms, their red pennants, blue pennants unfurled. In the blue light ships were blue dark images, masked men, men with silvery faces, men with blue stars for eyes, men with carved golden ears, men with tinfoil cheeks and ruby-studded lips, men with arms folded, men following him, Martian men.