“We’ll bury him down in the yard where the other four crosses are. I think he would like that.”
She put her hand on his wrist, lightly. “I’m sure he would.”
Orders were given. The family followed the little procession down the hill. Two men carried Hathaway on a covered stretcher. They passed the stone hut and the storage shed where Hathaway, many years before, had begun his work. Wilder paused within the workshop door.
How would it be, he wondered, to live on a planet with a wife and three children and have them die, leaving you alone with the wind and silence? What would a person do? Bury them with crosses in the graveyard and then come back up to the workshop and, with all the power of mind and memory and accuracy of finger and genius, put together, bit by bit, all those things that were wife, son, daughter. With an entire American city below from which to draw needed supplies, a brilliant man might do anything.
The sound of their footsteps was muffled in the sand. At the graveyard, as they turned in, two men were already spading out the earth.
They returned to the rocket in the late afternoon.
Williamson nodded at the stone hut. “What are we going to do about them?”
“I don’t know,” said the captain.
“Are you going to turn them off?”
“Off?” The captain looked faintly surprised. “It never entered my mind.”
“You’re not taking them back with us?”
“No, it would be useless.”
“You mean you’re going to leave them here, like that, as they are!”
The captain handed Williamson a gun. “If you can do anything about this, you’re a better man than I.”
Five minutes later Williamson returned from the hut, sweating. “Here, take your gun. I understand what you mean now. I went in the hut with the gun. One of the daughters smiled at me. So did the others, The wife offered me a cup of tea. Lord, it’d be murder!”
Wilder nodded. “There’ll never be anything as fine as them again. They’re built to last; ten, fifty, two hundred years. Yes, they’ve as much right to—to life as you or I or any of us.” He knocked out his pipe. “Well, get aboard. We’re taking off. This city’s done for, we’ll not be using it.”
It was late in the day. A cold wind was rising. The men were aboard. The captain hesitated. Williamson said, “Don’t tell me you’re going back to say—good-by—to them?”
The captain looked at Williamson coldly. “None of your business.”
Wilder strode up toward the hut through the darkening wind. The men in the rocket saw his shadow lingering in the stone-hut doorway. They saw a woman’s shadow. They saw the captain shake her hand.
Moments later he came running back to the rocket.
On nights when the wind comes over the dead sea bottoms and through the hexagonal graveyard, over four old crosses and one new one, there is a light burning in the low stone hut, and in that hut, as the wind roars by and the dust whirls and the cold stars burn, are four figures, a woman, two daughters, a son, tending a low fire for no reason and talking and laughing.
Night after night for every year and every year, for no reason at all, the woman comes out and looks at the sky, her hands up, for a long moment, looking at the green burning of Earth, not knowing why she looks, and then she goes back and throws a stick on the fire, and the wind comes up and the dead sea goes on being dead.
August 2026: THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS
In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o’clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!
In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.