This was to be the day, but of course Professor Pettibone had no way of knowing it. He arose, as he had been doing for the previous twenty years, donned the tattered remnants of his space suit, and went out into the open. He stood erect, bronzed, magnificent, faced distant Earth, and recited:
"Good morning, bright sunshine, we're glad you are here. You make the world happy, and bring us good cheer."
It was something he had heard as a child and, isolated here on Mars, he had remembered it and used it to keep from losing his power of speech.
The ritual finished, he walked to the edge of the nearest canal, and gathered a bushel or so of dried Martian moss. He returned and began polishing the shiny exterior of the wrecked space ship. It had to really glitter if it was to be an effective beacon in guiding the rescue ship.
Professor Pettibone knew—had known for years—that a ship would come. It was just a matter of time, and as the years slipped by, his faith diminished not a whit.
With his task half completed, he glanced up at the sun and quickened the polishing. It was a long walk to the place the berry bushes grew, and if he arrived too late, the sun would have dried out the night's crop of fragile berries and he would wait until the morrow for nourishment.
But on this day, he was fated to arrive at the bush area not at all, because an alien sound from above again drew the Professor's eyes from his work, and he knew that the day had arrived.
The ship was three times as large as any he had ever visualized, and its futuristic design told him, sharply, how far he had fallen behind in his dreaming. He smiled and said, quite calmly, "I daresay I am about to be rescued."
And he experienced a thrill as the great ship set down and two men emerged therefrom. A thrill tinged with a guilt-sense, because emotional experiences were rare in an isolated life and seemed somehow indecent.
The two men held weapons. They advanced upon Professor Pettibone, looked up into his face, reflected a certain wary hostility. That the hostility was tinged with instinctive respect, even awe, made it no less potent.
One of them asked, "Fella—man came in ship—sky boat—long time ago. Him dead? Where?" Appropriate gestures accompanied the words.
Professor Pettibone smiled down at the little men and bowed. "You are of course referring to me. I came in the ship. I am Professor Pettibone. It was nice of you to hunt me up."
The eyes of the two Terran spacemen met and locked in startled inquiry. One of them voiced the reaction of both when he said, "What the hell—"
"You no doubt are curious as to the fate of the other members of the expedition. They were killed, all save Fletcher, who lasted a week." Professor Pettibone waved a hand. "There—in the graveyard."
But their eyes remained on the only survivor of that ill-fated first expedition. It was hard to accept him as the man they sought, but, faced with undeniable similarity between what they expected and what they had found, the two spacemen had no alternative.
"I hope your food supply is ample—and varied," Professor Pettibone said.
This seemed to bring them out of their bemusement. "Of course, Professor. Would you care to come aboard?"
The other made a try at congenial levity. "You must be pretty hungry after twenty years."
"Really—has it been that long? I tried to keep track at first . . ."
"We can blast off anytime you say. You're probably pretty anxious to get back."
"Indeed, I am. The changes, in twenty years—must be breathtaking. I wonder if they'll remember me?"
A short time later, the Professor said, "It's amazing. A ship of this size handled by only two men." Then he sat down to a repast laid out by one of the awed spacemen.
But, after nibbling a bit of this, a forkful of that, he found that satisfaction lay in the anticipation more so than in the eating.
"We'll look around and see what we can find in the way of clothing for you, Professor," one of the spacemen said. Then the man's bemusement returned. His eyes traveled over the magnificent physique before him. The perfect giant of a man; the great, Apollo-like head with the calm, clear eyes; the expression of complete contentment and serenity.
The spaceman said, "Professor—to what do you attribute the changes in your body. What is there about this planet—?"
"I really don't know." Professor Pettibone looked down his torso with an impersonal eye. "I think the greenish skin pigmentation is a result of mineral-heavy vapors that occur during certain seasons. The growth. As to my body—I really don't know."
But the two spacemen, though they didn't refer to it—were not concerned with the body so much as the aura of completeness, the radiation of contentment which came from somewhere within.
And it was passing strange that nothing more was said about the Professor returning to Earth. No great revelation, suddenly arrived at, that he would not go. Rather, they discussed various things, that three gentlemen, meeting casually, would discuss.
Then Professor Pettibone arose from his chair and said, "It was kind of you to drop off and see me."
And one of the spacemen replied, "A pleasure, sir. A real pleasure indeed."
Then the Professor left the ship and watched it lift up on a tail of red fire and go away. He raised an arm and waved. "Say 'hello' for me," he called. Then he turned away and, from force of habit, he began again to polish the hull, knowing that he would keep it shining, and be proud of it, for many years to come.
Almost beyond reach of the planet, one of the spacemen flipped a switch and put certain sensitive communication mechanisms to work. So sensitive, they could pick up etheric vibrations far away and make them audible.
But only faintly, came the pleasant voice of a contented man:
"Good morning, bright sunshine, we're glad you are here. You make the world . . ."
I had always said there was an easier way. And I think, when we invade, I'll be proved right. But you know how things get started, and how powerful tradition can be and how old-line thinking can keep people, even a whole planet, in a rut.
The big cargo saucers were getting bigger and bigger each year, what with the growing popularity of the jag-whiff places, and the jag-whiff places themselves were growing in number with more and more people going "on the jag" because—well, partly because—of troubles in the sky, like strange balls whirling around and unexplainable objects going beep and wuff and wuff wuff. We of the saucers had slipped past these first baby objects O.K. and knew they were just little old harmless ping-pongs that chattered a little now and then like a greeting going past. But tell the people that! They'd throw a big glass on one of the whirlers and see spikes sticking out and maybe a big pair of eyes inside and a nose and a long red tongue hanging down. "The Earthits!" they'd scream like they'd just fallen into one of the hot canals, and they'd race off to a jag-whiff jag like Judgment-Day-of-Sins itself was after them. And the funny part of it is, I guess the people were right being scared like that, the way things turned out.
But is it any wonder we were having to increase the size of the saucers to space-haul all that jag-whiff up through the rattleballs? And a big reason makes me think it could have been done more efficiently, we were having to take so much junk stuff, extra accessories I guess you'd call it, to get the jag-whiff. Our Earthit contacts were always giving us the old breeze about cost of labor, cost of materials, improvement in design and next year's inventories. Apparently the dealers didn't understand at all what the play was with us because they'd give us so much blab-blab that didn't apply, all about futuristic design and about how one jag-whiffer machine had it all over another jag-whiffer machine, which to us didn't mean a thing. And we didn't talk, because we'd heard already how some Earthits feared the saucers, and how some Earthits said they didn't exist at all, and how some other Earthits were on the fence, saying maybe they did maybe they didn't so what? and how there was wide fear and great unrest among the Earthits in general. And when it's like that, and you're a possible source of the wide fear and unrest, a whole planet full of people can easily decide they don't want any part of contributing to your pleasure.
And that's what the jag-whiff was to us actually, pleasure. Back home when our troubles had us down, or maybe we just felt like raising a little dust, we'd go to a jag-whiff place. We'd plunk down our pay-pictures, and the whiff-tender would wheel out one of those black rings, which they have to keep under special pressures in our climate. Then he'd screw on the tube with the face piece and we'd take our whiff and something out of the black ring—just seemed like real thick chest filler to me—would spread all through to the farthest reaches of our breath bags and go into our blood and suddenly all five of our eye sticks would start whirling and focusing and zeroing-in for dames and our arms and legs would start a kick and a slap dance, enough to shake the planet down. And when our face spines and head tubes would go into that special sharp buzz of contentment, we'd know we were on our jag, full and warm and happy with as much pleasure as any Martian is ever supposed to know. But we never revealed the play to our Earthit contacts, just slipped in at night in our noiseless saucers with all lights dimmed, cleared our cargo tubes of the tons of pay-picture we'd brought (green copy of the Earthits' currency) and took on as many of the gleaming jag-whiffer machines as our cargo tubes would hold.
But it is ten years now since a jag-whiffer captain has steered his saucer through the whirling balls. It got so the satellites would drum on the saucer from a long way out. Deafening! Dreadful! We saw what was coming and we tried to beat it. We saucered around the clock for a while trying to stockpile enough jag-whiff to last us. But of course we couldn't. We are about out of it now, and our land is strewn with the glittery shells that were once attached to the black tubes of the jag-whiff.
And it could all have been done so different. I'm sure it could. That stuff wasn't just in the tubes of the jag-whiffer machines down there, I'm convinced of that. That stuff may have been all around us down there. I believe it was. But our government would insist we get into these suits, about so far out, you see, about the time we'd start contacting the rattle balls. And they threatened us with removal of the contacts if we broke the rules about the suits. In addition to that, they said we'd die anyway. So you see how life can be—grim and fuzzy and unsafe most of the time. And to make things even more uncertain, just because they couldn't duplicate the product we were hauling, our scientists got uppity and ignored the whole problem. Except to run off to the jag-whiff places of course to ease their frustrations, which they did plenty often when they thought they wouldn't be seen.
But when we invade down through there, which we plan to do soon now, with our special equipment to catch and explode the whirlyballs, I think we're going to find out plenty. Among other things, I think we're going to find out that the stuff we cargoed up here at such great cost, that was so inefficiently packaged, is all around us down there. I think when we take over down there, with the right filtering equipment, jag-whiffing may become as common and economical as breathing. And another thing, I think we're going to find out we were taken for quite a ride by the Earthits with their silly way of packaging jag-whiff. Imagine having to buy all that chrome and steel, guaranteed to go over one hundred miles per hour, just to get four little black rings of whiff. And for all the Earthits talked about it, the rings with the white sidewalls didn't whiff one bit better than the others!
Editor's Note: You may remember that this story was made into an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1959.
For a long time, Henry Bemis had had an ambition. To read a book. Not just the title or the preface, or a page somewhere in the middle. He wanted to read the whole thing, all the way through from beginning to end. A simple ambition perhaps, but in the cluttered life of Henry Bemis, an impossibility.
Henry had no time of his own. There was his wife, Agnes, who owned that part of it that his employer, Mr. Carsville, did not buy. Henry was allowed enough to get to and from work—that in itself being quite a concession on Agnes' part.
Also, nature had conspired against Henry by handing him with a pair of hopelessly myopic eyes. Poor Henry literally couldn't see his hand in front of his face. For a while, when he was very young, his parents had thought him an idiot. When they realized it was his eyes, they got glasses for him. He was never quite able to catch up. There was never enough time. It looked as though Henry's ambition would never be realized. Then something happened which changed all that.
Henry was down in the vault of the Eastside Bank & Trust when it happened. He had stolen a few moments from the duties of his teller's cage to try to read a few pages of the magazine he had bought that morning. He'd made an excuse to Mr. Carsville about needing bills in large denominations for a certain customer, and then, safe inside the dim recesses of the vault he had pulled from inside his coat the pocket-size magazine.
He had just started a picture article cheerfully entitled "The New Weapons and What They'll Do To YOU", when all the noise in the world crashed in upon his eardrums. It seemed to be inside of him and outside of him all at once. Then the concrete floor was rising up at him and the ceiling came slanting down toward him, and for a fleeting second Henry thought of a story he had started to read once called "The Pit and The Pendulum". He regretted in that insane moment that he had never had time to finish that story to see how it came out. Then all was darkness and quiet and unconsciousness.
When Henry came to, he knew that something was desperately wrong with the Eastside Bank & Trust. The heavy steel door of the vault was buckled and twisted and the floor tilted up at a dizzy angle, while the ceiling dipped crazily toward it. Henry gingerly got to his feet, moving arms and legs experimentally. Assured that nothing was broken, he tenderly raised a hand to his eyes. His precious glasses were intact, thank God! He would never have been able to find his way out of the shattered vault without them.
He made a mental note to write Dr. Torrance to have a spare pair made and mailed to him. Blasted nuisance not having his prescription on file locally, but Henry trusted no-one but Dr. Torrance to grind those thick lenses into his own complicated prescription. Henry removed the heavy glasses from his face. Instantly the room dissolved into a neutral blur. Henry saw a pink splash that he knew was his hand, and a white blob come up to meet the pink as he withdrew his pocket handkerchief and carefully dusted the lenses. As he replaced the glasses, they slipped down on the bridge of his nose a little. He had been meaning to have them tightened for some time.
He suddenly realized, without the realization actually entering his conscious thoughts, that something momentous had happened, something worse than the boiler blowing up, something worse than a gas main exploding, something worse than anything that had ever happened before. He felt that way because it was so quiet. There was no whine of sirens, no shouting, no running, just an ominous and all-pervading silence.
Henry walked across the slanting floor. Slipping and stumbling on the uneven surface, he made his way to the elevator. The car lay crumpled at the foot of the shaft like a discarded accordion. There was something inside of it that Henry could not look at, something that had once been a person, or perhaps several people, it was impossible to tell now.
Feeling sick, Henry staggered toward the stairway. The steps were still there, but so jumbled and piled back upon one another that it was more like climbing the side of a mountain than mounting a stairway. It was quiet in the huge chamber that had been the lobby of the bank. It looked strangely cheerful with the sunlight shining through the girders where the ceiling had fallen. The dappled sunlight glinted across the silent lobby, and everywhere there were huddled lumps of unpleasantness that made Henry sick as he tried not to look at them.
"Mr. Carsville," he called. It was very quiet. Something had to be done, of course. This was terrible, right in the middle of a Monday, too. Mr. Carsville would know what to do. He called again, more loudly, and his voice cracked hoarsely, "Mr. Carrrrsville!" And then he saw an arm and shoulder extending out from under a huge fallen block of marble ceiling. In the buttonhole was the white carnation Mr. Carsville had worn to work that morning, and on the third finger of that hand was a massive signet ring, also belonging to Mr. Carsville. Numbly, Henry realized that the rest of Mr. Carsville was under that block of marble.
Henry felt a pang of real sorrow. Mr. Carsville was gone, and so was the rest of the staff—Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Emory and Mr. Prithard, and the same with Pete and Ralph and Jenkins and Hunter and Pat the guard and Willie the doorman. There was no one to say what was to be done about the Eastside Bank & Trust except Henry Bemis, and Henry wasn't worried about the bank, there was something he wanted to do.
He climbed carefully over piles of fallen masonry. Once he stepped down into something that crunched and squashed beneath his feet and he set his teeth on edge to keep from retching. The street was not much different from the inside, bright sunlight and so much concrete to crawl over, but the unpleasantness was much, much worse. Everywhere there were strange, motionless lumps that Henry could not look at.
Suddenly, he remembered Agnes. He should be trying to get to Agnes, shouldn't he? He remembered a poster he had seen that said, "In event of emergency do not use the telephone, your loved ones are as safe as you." He wondered about Agnes. He looked at the smashed automobiles, some with their four wheels pointing skyward like the stiffened legs of dead animals. He couldn't get to Agnes now anyway, if she was safe, then, she was safe, otherwise ... of course, Henry knew Agnes wasn't safe. He had a feeling that there wasn't anyone safe for a long, long way, maybe not in the whole state or the whole country, or the whole world. No, that was a thought Henry didn't want to think, he forced it from his mind and turned his thoughts back to Agnes.
She had been a pretty good wife, now that it was all said and done. It wasn't exactly her fault if people didn't have time to read nowadays. It was just that there was the house, and the bank, and the yard. There were the Jones' for bridge and the Graysons' for canasta and charades with the Bryants. And the television, the television Agnes loved to watch, but would never watch alone. He never had time to read even a newspaper. He started thinking about last night, that business about the newspaper.
Henry had settled into his chair, quietly, afraid that a creaking spring might call to Agnes' attention the fact that he was momentarily unoccupied. He had unfolded the newspaper slowly and carefully, the sharp crackle of the paper would have been a clarion call to Agnes. He had glanced at the headlines of the first page. "Collapse Of Conference Imminent." He didn't have time to read the article. He turned to the second page. "Solon Predicts War Only Days Away." He flipped through the pages faster, reading brief snatches here and there, afraid to spend too much time on any one item. On a back page was a brief article entitled, "Prehistoric Artifacts Unearthed In Yucatan". Henry smiled to himself and carefully folded the sheet of paper into fourths. That would be interesting, he would read all of it. Then it came, Agnes' voice. "Henrrreee!" And then she was upon him. She lightly flicked the paper out of his hands and into the fireplace. He saw the flames lick up and curl possessively around the unread article. Agnes continued, "Henry, tonight is the Jones' bridge night. They'll be here in thirty minutes and I'm not dressed yet, and here you are ... reading." She had emphasized the last word as though it were an unclean act. "Hurry and shave, you know how smooth Jasper Jones' chin always looks, and then straighten up this room." She glanced regretfully toward the fireplace. "Oh dear, that paper, the television schedule ... oh well, after the Jones leave there won't be time for anything but the late-late movie and.... Don't just sit there, Henry, hurrreeee!"
Henry was hurrying now, but hurrying too much. He cut his leg on a twisted piece of metal that had once been an automobile fender. He thought about things like lockjaw and gangrene and his hand trembled as he tied his pocket-handkerchief around the wound. In his mind, he saw the fire again, licking across the face of last night's newspaper. He thought that now he would have time to read all the newspapers he wanted to, only now there wouldn't be any more. That heap of rubble across the street had been the Gazette Building. It was terrible to think there would never be another up to date newspaper. Agnes would have been very upset, no television schedule. But then, of course, no television. He wanted to laugh but he didn't. That wouldn't have been fitting, not at all.
He could see the building he was looking for now, but the silhouette was strangely changed. The great circular dome was now a ragged semi-circle, half of it gone, and one of the great wings of the building had fallen in upon itself. A sudden panic gripped Henry Bemis. What if they were all ruined, destroyed, every one of them? What if there wasn't a single one left? Tears of helplessness welled in his eyes as he painfully fought his way over and through the twisted fragments of the city.
He thought of the building when it had been whole. He remembered the many nights he had paused outside its wide and welcoming doors. He thought of the warm nights when the doors had been thrown open and he could see the people inside, see them sitting at the plain wooden tables with the stacks of books beside them. He used to think then, what a wonderful thing a public library was, a place where anybody, anybody at all could go in and read.
He had been tempted to enter many times. He had watched the people through the open doors, the man in greasy work clothes who sat near the door, night after night, laboriously studying, a technical journal perhaps, difficult for him, but promising a brighter future. There had been an aged, scholarly gentleman who sat on the other side of the door, leisurely paging, moving his lips a little as he did so, a man having little time left, but rich in time because he could do with it as he chose.
Henry had never gone in. He had started up the steps once, got almost to the door, but then he remembered Agnes, her questions and shouting, and he had turned away.
He was going in now though, almost crawling, his breath coming in stabbing gasps, his hands torn and bleeding. His trouser leg was sticky red where the wound in his leg had soaked through the handkerchief. It was throbbing badly but Henry didn't care. He had reached his destination.
Part of the inscription was still there, over the now doorless entrance. P-U-B—C L-I-B-R—-. The rest had been torn away. The place was in shambles. The shelves were overturned, broken, smashed, tilted, their precious contents spilled in disorder upon the floor. A lot of the books, Henry noted gleefully, were still intact, still whole, still readable. He was literally knee deep in them, he wallowed in books. He picked one up. The title was "Collected Works of William Shakespeare." Yes, he must read that, sometime. He laid it aside carefully. He picked up another. Spinoza. He tossed it away, seized another, and another, and still another. Which to read first ... there were so many.
He had been conducting himself a little like a starving man in a delicatessen—grabbing a little of this and a little of that in a frenzy of enjoyment.
But now he steadied away. From the pile about him, he selected one volume, sat comfortably down on an overturned shelf, and opened the book.
Henry Bemis smiled.
There was the rumble of complaining stone. Minute in comparison with the epic complaints following the fall of the bomb. This one occurred under one corner of the shelf upon which Henry sat. The shelf moved; threw him off balance. The glasses slipped from his nose and fell with a tinkle.
He bent down, clawing blindly and found, finally, their smashed remains. A minor, indirect destruction stemming from the sudden, wholesale smashing of a city. But the only one that greatly interested Henry Bemis.
He stared down at the blurred page before him.
He began to cry.
The first terrestrial expedition to Mars didn't find any Martians. Neither did the second. Since there are so few Martians left, those facts are less surprising than that the third did.
For many years before space flight was accomplished, there had been discussions and theories about how to communicate with Martians, if any existed. But, of course, nobody was ready when the time came.
They fell back on that antiquated gimmick.
Von Frisch, Riley and Smith watched the half dozen Martians approach, and their watching was not without some trepidation. Except that they were about twenty miles away from their G-boat—the planetary landing craft—they probably would have fled. Except that they had their orders, they probably would have shot first and asked questions later.
"Sir, this is Von Frisch," said the engineer into the microphone of his helmet. He was a little breathless about it. "We're being approached by Martians!"
"How do they act?" asked Captains Powers back at the G-boat, immediately.
"They don't act hostile, sir."
"Stand by, then, but don't take any chances. What do they look like?"
"They're quite a bit taller than we are, but their bodies are round and not much bigger than a child's. They've got real long legs and arms, and big heads with big eyes and ears."
"Are they intelligent? Are they civilized? How do they breathe?"
"Wait a minute, Captain," protested Von Frisch. "You're going a little too fast, sir. They've just come up to us. I don't know whether that's fur on them or whether they're wearing clothes."
"Well, try to communicate with them, man!" exclaimed Powers excitedly.
Von Frisch did his best. The Martians appeared friendly enough, and interested. Von Frisch tried to communicate in the only method he had heard about.
While his companions watched curiously, he shut his ears to the running fire of questions from Powers, squatted and drew a right-angled triangle in the red desert sand. By one of the sides he drew three marks, by another four.
Then he stepped back and looked questioningly at the Martians.
One of the Martians squatted in a tangle of pipestem arms and legs, and with a long finger drew five lines beside the triangle's hypotenuse.
"They understand the Pythagorean theorem, sir!" exclaimed Von Frisch.
"Good! They undoubtedly know some astronomy, then. Go on."
Von Frisch hesitated a moment, then erased the triangle. He drew a small circle with rays from it, for the sun. He drew four larger concentric circles around it, with small circles for planets on the rim of each one.
He pointed to the third planet, then at himself, then at his companions, one by one. Then he pointed at the fourth planet and at the Martians, one by one. To complete the matter, he pointed at the sky.
"We are Earthmen," he said. "You are Martians."
The trouble was that the Earthmen didn't realize the things the Martians had were weapons until they used them. They didn't realize it then, as a matter of fact, because the Earthmen were dead, all three of them.
The Martian hunting party came back from the desert with word of the strange creatures who came, apparently, from another world.
"Whether they have weapons, we do not know," said the leader of the hunting party. "But they wished to harm our people, so we killed them all."
"That is desperate action," said the patriarch of the village. "In what way were they dangerous to us?"
"Foolishly they disclosed their intention to us," replied the leader of the hunting party. "They informed us they planned to take over our world and to drive our people farther from the sun, to the great planet Jupiter."
"Then you did right," said the patriarch, blinking his big eyes.
Biggs and Golden were working near the G-boat. Their helmet radios were set to a different channel from that used by the exploring party, so they were unable to hear Captain Powers shouting frantically into his microphone and getting no answer. It was just after sunset, and Biggs was looking into the west.
"We ought to see it now, but it ain't there," commented Biggs.
"What ain't there?" demanded Golden.
"Mercury," said Biggs, who prided himself on being an amateur astronomer. "I reckon you can't see it from Mars without a telescope. Too close to the sun."
"If there are any Martians," he added, "I reckon they think they live on the third planet. That's funny, ain't it?"
When the Travelers from Outer Space dug into the pile of moldering rock, they found the metal capsule their senses had told them was there. Battered and corroded though it was, the shadow vibrations showed that it had once been smooth and shiny. As smooth, shiny and impervious to wear as Twentieth Century Earth technology could make it.
At the time the Mayor of Chicago had ceremoniously tossed a handful of lake sand into the hole, had his picture taken smiling against the skyline, and had moved away to let the workmen fill the hole with cement and place the marker, the Time Capsule had been bright with the hopes of civilization sending its proud present into the uncertain future.
The tiny radio transmitter in the capsule began throwing out its wide signal at the exact instant planned for it many centuries before. No one heard. Eventually, the tiny powerful batteries gave out. The signal died.
When the Travelers from Outer Space took the capsule back to their ship and opened it, they found the contents in perfect order. Even the reel of magnetic tape had not succumbed to the centuries.
In due course, the Travelers examined the tape, divined its purpose, and constructed a machine that would play back the recording.
Out of a million evolutionary possibilities in a Universe of planets, the chances of two intelligent races being even roughly similar are astronomically remote.
A being develops sense organs for no other reason than to make it aware of its environment. The simplest primitive being's awareness of its environment centers around food, its means of survival. It develops organs and appendages that will enable it to ferret out, obtain and ingest its food. As the food differs, so, then, does the eater.
The Travelers had no ears or eyes, as such. They had other organs for other purposes, but the net result was that they "saw" and "heard" quite as well—even better—than Earthmen.
Perhaps that explains why the Travelers gleaned so much more from the tape recording in the Twentieth Century capsule than its originators had planned or intended.
Not just any radio show could be placed in the Time Capsule. What picture of contemporary 1960 mankind would the men of the future derive from a soap opera? A news analysis? Or top comedy show? Certainly not a flattering one, and so, reasoned the brass in charge of the project, not a true one.
No, the only answer was to produce a special documentary program, painting on a broad canvas the glories that were the common man's birthright in an enlightened democracy. As July 4th was only a month away, the idea was a natural. The program would be carried simultaneously on four networks, then placed in the Time Capsule so that historians of the future would have something solid on which to base their conclusions.
A famous poet-radio writer was hired to write the script. Hollywood's greatest young male star donated his services (with much attendant publicity) as narrator. A self-acknowledged genius who directed radio shows for a living condescended to lend his talents to the production. Numerous other actors, musicians, technicians and assistants were hired ... none well-known, but all quite competent.
July 4th, the big day, arrived. The cast went into rehearsal early in the morning. By the second complete run-through, just before the break for lunch, the show was hanging together nicely. After four hours of polishing in the afternoon, it was ready to go on the air. Everyone's nerves were raw, but the show sounded great.
Naturally, when a room full of creative people have been rubbing against one another for a full day, a lot of emotions are generated. The listening audience never knew about it, but it took the actors, directors, musicians and technicians several days to get the session out of their systems. During rehearsals, the young Hollywood star developed a consuming lust for one of the minor actresses. One of the minor actors developed a consuming lust for the young Hollywood star. Everyone immediately hated the director, and he, lofty and all-wise, contemptuously hated them in return. By eight o'clock that night, show time, the splendid documentary on the splendid American people was not the only thing that was at peak pitch.
It was the only thing, however, that the radio audience heard. It was magnificent. Future students hearing the tape could not but conclude that here was the Golden Age. Man, at least American man, circa 1960, noble, humble and sincere, was carrying in his bosom the seeds of greatness. Difficulties still existed, of course, but they were not insurmountable. A few deluded people seemed to be working against the common good, but the program left no doubt that this would be cleaned up in short order. The millennium was at hand!
When the Travelers from Outer Space, who were a team of historians doing research on the history of life throughout the Universe, listened to the tape recording, their "ears" heard none of the program as it had been originally broadcast. They were no less fascinated, however, for what they heard was the thought patterns of the people who had been connected with the program. These thoughts, in the form of electrical impulses, were also recorded on the magnetic surface of the tape, and were the only sounds audible to the Travelers.
What a pity these future historians didn't get mankind's version of the life of mankind in 1960, after the producers had gone to so much trouble to tie it up in a package for them. Their conception of Earth culture was based on the thought impulses they "heard", and their History of Earth was written accordingly. The last paragraph is worth noting:
"In the main, it is quite fortunate for life in the Universe that these primitive people destroyed themselves before they learned how to leave their planet. Lustful, murderous and guilt-ridden, they are perhaps the worst examples of intelligent life that we have ever discovered. And yet, paradox supreme, they had one quality that we ourselves would do well to emulate. That quality we can only surmise, for nothing on the recording spoke of it, yet it is obvious, for if they hadn't had this quality, there would have been no recording left for us at all.
"How strange that these tortured people should practice an unparalleled example of Life's highest achievement ... complete honesty with themselves and others."
Hampered as she was by the child in her arms, the woman was running less fleetly now. A wave of exultation swept over Guldran, drowning out the uneasy feeling of guilt at disobeying orders.
The instructions were mandatory and concise: "No capture must be attempted individually. In the event of sighting any form of human life, the ship MUST be notified immediately. All small craft must be back at the landing space not later than one hour before take-off. Anyone not so reporting will be presumed lost."
Guldran thought uneasily of the great seas of snow and ice sweeping inexorably toward each other since the Earth had reversed on its axis in the great catastrophe a millennium ago. Now, summer and winter alike brought paralyzing gales and blizzards, heralded by the sleety snow in which the woman's skin-clad feet had left the tracks which led to discovery.
His trained anthropologist's mind speculated avidly over the little they had gotten from the younger of the two men found nearly a week before, nearly frozen and half-starved. The older man had succumbed almost at once; the other, in the most primitive sign language, had indicated that, of several humans living in caves to the west, only he and the other had survived to flee some mysterious terror. Guldran felt a throb of pity for the woman and her child, left behind by the men, no doubt, as a hindrance.
But what a stroke of fortune that there should be left a male and female of the race to carry the seed of Terra to another planet. And what a triumph if he, Guldran, should be the one to return at the eleventh hour with the prize. No need of calling for help. This was no armed war-party, but the most defenseless being in the Universe—a mother burdened with a child.
Guldran put on another burst of speed. His previous shouts had served only to spur the woman to greater efforts. Surely there was some magic word that had survived even the centuries of illiteracy. Something equivalent to the "bread and salt" of all illiterate peoples. Cupping his hands to his mouth, he shouted, "Food! food!"
Ahead of him the woman turned her head, leaped lightly in mid-stride, and went on; slowing a little but still running doggedly.
Guldran's pulse leaped. He yelled again, "Food!"
The instant that his foot touched the yielding surface of the trap, he knew that he had met defeat. As his body crashed down on the fire-sharpened stakes, he knew too the terror from which the last men of the human race had fled.
Above him the woman looked down, her teeth gleaming wolfishly. She pointed down into the pit; spoke exultantly to the child.
"Food!" said the last woman on earth.