The man swore luridly, as if she’d hit his hand with a hammer. “Tell him we’re from Earth and it’s never been done before!”
“What hasn’t?” She put her brown hand up. “Never mind. I’ll be back.”
The sound of her feet fluttered through the stone house.
Outside, the immense blue Martian sky was hot and still as a warm deep sea water. The Martian desert lay broiling like a prehistoric mud pot, waves of heat rising and shimmering. There was a small rocket ship reclining upon a hilltop nearby. Large footprints came from the rocket to the door of this stone house.
Now there was a sound of quarreling voices upstairs. The men within the door stared at one another, shifting on their boots, twiddling their fingers, and holding onto their hip belts. A man’s voice shouted upstairs. The woman’s voice replied. After fifteen minutes the Earth men began walking in and out the kitchen door, with nothing to do.
“Cigarette?” said one of the men.
Somebody got out a pack and they lit up. They puffed slow streams of pale white smoke. They adjusted their uniforms, fixed their collars. The voices upstairs continued to mutter and chant. The leader of the men looked at his watch.
“Twenty-five minutes,” he said. “I wonder what they’re up to up there.” He went to a window and looked out.
“Hot day,” said one of the men.
“Yeah,” said someone else in the slow warm time of early afternoon. The voices had faded to a murmur and were now silent. There was not a sound in the house. All the men could hear was their own breathing.
An hour of silence passed. “I hope we didn’t cause any trouble,” said the captain. He went and peered into the living room.
Mrs. Ttt was there, watering some flowers that grew in the center of the room.
“I knew I had forgotten something,” she said when she saw the captain. She walked out to the kitchen. “I’m sorry.” She handed him a slip of paper. “Mr. Ttt is much too busy.” She turned to her cooking. “Anyway, it’s not Mr. Ttt you want to see; it’s Mr. Aaa. Take that paper over to the next farm, by the blue canal, and Mr. Aaa’ll advise you about whatever it is you want to know.”
“We don’t want to know anything,” objected the captain, pouting out his thick lips. “We already know it.”
“You have the paper, what more do you want?” she asked him straight off. And she would say no more.
“Well,” said the captain, reluctant to go. He stood as if waiting for something. He looked like a child staring at an empty Christmas tree. “Well,” he said again. “Come on, men.”
The four men stepped out into the hot silent day.
Half an hour. later, Mr. Aaa, seated in his library sipping a bit of electric fire from a metal cup, heard the voices outside in the stone causeway. He leaned over the window sill and gazed at the four uniformed men who squinted up at him.
“Are you Mr. Aaa?” they called.
“Mr. Ttt sent us to see you!” shouted the captain.
“Why did he do that?” asked Mr. Aaa.
“He was busy!”
“Well, that’s a shame,” said Mr. Ass sarcastically. “Does he think I have nothing else to do but entertain people he’s too busy to bother with?”
“That’s not the important thing, sir,” shouted the captain.
“Well, it is to me. I have much reading to do. Mr. Ttt is inconsiderate. This is not the first time he has been this thoughtless of me. Stop waving your hands, sir, until I finish. And pay attention. People usually listen to me when I talk. And you’ll listen courteously or I won’t talk at all.”
Uneasily the four men in the court shifted and opened their mouths, and once the captain, the veins on his face bulging, showed a few little tears in his eyes.
“Now,” lectured Mr. Aaa, “do you think it fair of Mr. Ttt to be so ill-mannered?”
The four men gazed up through the heat. The captain said, “We’re from Earth!”
“I think it very ungentlemanly of him,” brooded Mr. Aaa.