Mike jumped out with Robert. They helped Mom.

“Be careful of your sister,” said Dad, and nobody knew what he meant until later.

They hurried into the great pink-stoned city, whispering among themselves, because dead cities have a way of making you want to whisper, to watch the sun go down.

“In about five days,” said Dad quietly, “I’ll go back down to where our rocket was and collect the food hidden in the ruins there and bring it here; and I’ll hunt for Bert Edwards and his wife and daughters there.”

“Daughters?” asked Timothy. “How many?”


“I can see that’ll cause trouble later.” Mom nodded slowly.

“Girls.” Michael made a face like an ancient Martian stone image. “Girls.”

“Are they coming in a rocket too?”

“Yes. If they make it. Family rockets are made for travel to the Moon, not Mars. We were lucky we got through.”

“Where did you get the rocket?” whispered Timothy, for the other boys were running ahead.

“I saved it. I saved it for twenty years, Tim. I had it hidden away, hoping I’d never have to use it. I suppose I should have given it to the government for the war, but I kept thinking about Mars …”

“And a picnic!”

“Right. This is between you and me. When I saw everything was finishing on Earth, after I’d waited until the last moment, I packed us up. Bert Edwards had a ship hidden, too, but we decided it would be safer to take off separately, in case anyone tried to shoot us down.”

“Why’d you blow up the rocket, Dad?”

“So we can’t go back, ever. And so if any of those evil men ever come to Mars they won’t know we’re here.”

“Is that why you look up all the time?”

“Yes, it’s silly. They won’t follow us, ever. They haven’t anything to follow with. I’m being too careful, is all.”

Michael came running back. “Is this really our city, Dad?”

“The whole darn planet belongs to us, kids. The whole darn planet.”

They stood there, King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, Ruler of All They Surveyed, Unimpeachable Monarchs and Presidents, trying to understand what it meant to own a world and how big a world really was.

Night came quickly in the thin atmosphere, and Dad left them in the square by the pulsing fountain, went down to the boat, and came walking back carrying a stack of paper in his big hands.

He laid the papers in a clutter in an old courtyard and set them afire. To keep warm, they crouched around the blaze and laughed, and Timothy saw the little letters leap like frightened animals when the flames touched and engulfed them. The papers crinkled like an old man’s skin, and the cremation surrounded innumerable words:

“GOVERNMENT BONDS; Business Graph, 1999; Religious Prejudice: An Essay; The Science of Logistics; Problems of the Pan-American Unity; Stock Report for July 3, 1998; The War Digest … ”

Dad had insisted on bringing these papers for this purpose. He sat there and fed them into the fire, one by one, with satisfaction, and told his children what it all meant.

“It’s time I told you a few things. I don’t suppose it was fair, keeping so much from you. I don’t know if you’ll understand, but I have to talk, even if only part of it gets over to you.”

He dropped a leaf in the fire.

“I’m burning a way of life, just like that way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now. Forgive me if I talk like a politician. I am, after all, a former state governor, and I was honest and they hated me for it. Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth. That’s what the silent radio means. That’s what we ran away from.

“We were lucky. There aren’t any more rockets left. It’s time you knew this isn’t a fishing trip at all. I put off telling you. Earth is gone. Interplanetary travel won’t be back for centuries, maybe never. But that way of life proved itself wrong and strangled itself with its own hands. You’re young. I’ll tell you this again every day until it sinks in.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray