Sirens Of Titan Part 12

Unk awoke, found himself on his back in a bunk in a s.p.a.ce ship. The cabin lights were dazzling. Unk started to yell, but a sick headache shushed him.

He struggled to his feet, clung drunkenly to the pipe supports of the bunk. He was all alone. Someone had put his uniform back on him.

He thought at first that he had been launched into s.p.a.ce eternal.

But then he saw that the airlock was open to the outside, and that outside was solid ground.

Unk lurched out through the airlock and threw up.

He raised his watering eyes, and saw that he was seemingly still on Mars, or on something a lot like Mars.

It was night time.

The iron plain was studded with ranks and files of s.p.a.ce ships.

As Unk watched, a file of ships five miles long arose from the formation, sailed melodiously off into s.p.a.ce.

A dog barked, barked with a voice like a great bronze gong.

And out of the night loped the dog- as big and terrible as a tiger.

"Kazak!" cried a man in the dark.

The dog stopped at the command, but he held Unk at bay, kept Unk flattened against the s.p.a.ce ship with the threat of his long, wet fangs.

The dog's master appeared, the beam of a flashlight dancing before him. When he got within a few yards of Unk, he placed the flashlight under his chin. The contrasting beam and shadows made his face look like the face of a demon.

"h.e.l.lo, Unk," he said. He turned the flashlight off, stepped to one side so that he was illuminated by the light spilling from the s.p.a.ce ship. He was big, vaguely soft, marvelously self-a.s.sured. He wore the blood-red uniform and square-toed boots of a Parachute Ski Marine. He was unarmed save for a black and gold swaggerstick one foot long.

"Long time no see," he said. He gave a very small, v-shaped smile. His voice was a glottal tenor, a yodel.

Unk had no recollection of the man, but the man obviously knew Unk well- knew him warmly.

"Who am I, Unk?" said the man gayly.

Unk gasped. This had to be Stony Stevenson, had to be Unk's fearless best friend. "Stony?" he whispered.

"Stony?" said the man. He laughed. "Oh, G.o.d- " he said, "many's the time I've wished I was Stony, and many's the time I'll wish it again."

The ground shook. There was a whirlwind rush in the air. Neighboring s.p.a.ce ships on all sides had leaped into the air, were gone.

Unk's ship now had its sector of the iron plain all to itself. The nearest ships on the ground were perhaps half a mile away.

"There goes your regiment, Unk," said the man, "and you not with them. Aren't you ashamed?"

"Who are you?" said Unk.

"What do names matter in wartime?" said the man. He put his big hand on Unk's shoulder. "Oh, Unk, Unk, Unk," he said, "what a time you've had."

"Who brought me here?" said Unk.

"The military police, bless them," said the man.

Unk shook his head. Tears ran down his cheeks. He was defeated. There was no reason for secrecy any more, even in the presence of someone who might have the power of life and death over him. As to life and death, poor Unk was indifferent. "I- I tried to bring my family together," he said. "That's all."

"Mars is a very bad place for love, a very bad place for a family man, Unk," said the man.

The man was, of course, Winston Niles Rumfoord. He was commander-in-chief of everything Martian. He was not actually a practicing Parachute Ski Marine. But he was free to wear any uniform that caught his fancy, regardless of how much h.e.l.l anybody else had to go through for the privilege.

"Unk," said Rumfoord, "the very saddest love story I ever hope to hear took place on Mars. Would you like to hear it?"

"Once upon a time," said Rumfoord, "there was a man being carried from Earth to Mars in a flying saucer. He had volunteered for the Army of Mars, and already wore the dashing uniform of a lieutenant-colonel in the a.s.sault Infantry of that service. He felt elegant, indeed, having been rather underprivileged spiritually on Earth, and a.s.sumed, as spiritually under-privileged persons will, that the uniform said lovely things about him.

"His memory hadn't been cleaned out yet, and his antenna had yet to be installed- but he was so patently aloyal Martian that he was given the run of the s.p.a.ce ship. The recruiters have a saying about a male recruit like that- that he has named his b.a.l.l.s Deimos and Phobus," said Rumfoord, "Deimos and Phobus being the two moons of Mars.

"This lieutenant-colonel, with no military training whatsoever, was having the experience known on Earth as finding himself finding himself. Ignorant as he was of the enterprise in which he was ensnarled, he was issuing orders to the other recruits, and having them obeyed."

Rumfoord held up a finger, and Unk was startled to see that it was quite translucent. "There was one locked stateroom that the man was not permitted to enter," said Rumfoord. "The crew carefully explained to him that the stateroom contained the most beautiful woman ever taken to Mars, and that any man who saw her was certain to fall in love with her. Love, they said, would destroy the value of any but the most professional soldier.

"The new lieutenant-colonel was offended by the suggestion that he was not a professional soldier, and he regaled the crew with stories of his amatory exploits with gorgeous women- all of which had left his heart absolutely untouched. The crew remained skeptical, pretending to the opinion that the lieutenant-colonel had never, for all his lascivious questing, exposed himself to an intelligent, haughty beauty such as the one in the locked stateroom.

"The crew's seeming respect for the lieutenant-colonel was now subtly withdrawn. The other recruits sensed this withdrawal, and withdrew their own. The lieutenant-colonel in his gaudy uniform was made to feel like whathe really was, after all- a strutting clown. The manner in which he could win back his dignity was never stated, but was obvious to one and all. He could win it back by making a conquest of the beauty locked in the stateroom. He was fully prepared to do this- was desperately prepared- "But the crew," said Rumfoord, "continued to protect him from supposed amatory failure and a broken heart. His ego fizzed, it sizzled, it snapped, it crackled, it popped.

"There was a drinking party in the officers' mess," said Rumfoord, "and the lieutenant-colonel became quite drunk and loud. He bragged again of his heartless lewdnesses on Earth. And then he saw that someone had placed in the bottom of his gla.s.s a stateroom key.

"The lieutenant-colonel sneaked away to the locked stateroom forthwith, let himself in, and closed the door behind him," said Rumfoord. "The stateroom was dark, but the inside of the lieutenant-colonel's head was illuminated by liquor and by the triumphant words of the announcement he would make at breakfast the next morning.

"He took the woman in the dark easily, for she was weak with terror and sedatives," said Rumfoord. "It was a joyless union, satisfactory to no one but Mother Nature at her most callous.

"The lieutenant-colonel did not feel marvelous. He felt wretched. Foolishly, he turned on the light, hoping to find in the woman's appearance some cause for pride in his brutishness," said Rumfoord sadly. "Huddled on the bunk was a rather plain woman past thirty. Her eyes were red and her face was puffy with weeping, despair.

"The lieutenant-colonel, moreover, knew her. She was a woman that a fortune teller had promised him would one day bear his child," said Rumfoord. "She had been so high and proud the last time he saw her, and was now so crushed, that even the heartless lieutenant-colonel was moved.

"The lieutenant-colonel realized for the first time what most people never realize about themselves- that he was not only a victim of outrageous fortune, but one of outrageous fortune's cruelest agents as well. The woman had regarded him as a pig when they met before. He had now proved beyond question that he was a pig.

"As the crew had predicted," said Rumfoord, "the lieutenant-colonel was spoiled forever as a soldier. He became hopelessly engrossed in the intricate tactics of causing less rather than more pain. Proof of his success would be his winning of the woman's forgiveness and understanding.

"When the s.p.a.ce ship reached Mars, he learned from loose talk in the Reception Center Hospital that he was about to have his memory taken away. He thereupon wrote himself the first of a series of letters that listed the things he did not want to forget. The first letter was all about the woman he had wronged.

"He looked for her after his amnesia treatment, and found that she had no recollection of him. Not only that, she was pregnant, carrying his child. His problem, thereupon, became to win her love, and through her, to win the love of her child.

"This he attempted to do, Unk," said Rumfoord, "not once, but many times. He was consistently defeated. But it remained the central problem of his life- probably because he himself had come from a shattered family.

"What defeated him, Unk," said Rumfoord, "was a congenital coldness on the part of the woman, and a system of psychiatry that took the ideals of Martian society as n.o.ble common sense. Each time the man wobbled his mate, utterly humorless psychiatry straightened her out- made her an efficient citizen again.

"Both the man and his mate were frequent visitors to the psychiatric wards of their respective hospitals. And it is perhaps food for thought," said Rumfoord, "that this supremely frustrated man was the only Martian to write a philosophy, and that this supremely self-frustrating woman was the only Martian to write a poem."

Boaz arrived at the company mother ship from the town of Phoebe, where he had gone to look for Unk. "G.o.d d.a.m.n-" he said to Rumfoord, "everybody go and leave without us?" He was on a bicycle.

He saw Unk. "G.o.d d.a.m.n, buddy," he said to Unk, "boy- you ever put your buddy through h.e.l.l. I mean! How you get here?"

"Military police," said Unk.

"The way everybody gets everywhere," said Rumfoord lightly.

"We got to catch up, buddy," said Boaz. "Them boys ain't going to attack, if they don't have a mother ship along. What they going to fight for?"

"For the privilege of being the first army that ever died in a good cause," said Rumfoord.

"How's that?" said Boaz.

"Never mind," said Rumfoord. "You boys just get on board, close the airlock, push the on on b.u.t.ton. You'll catch up before you know it. Everything's all fully automatic." b.u.t.ton. You'll catch up before you know it. Everything's all fully automatic."

Unk and Boaz got on board.

Rumfoord held open the outer door of the airlock. "Boaz- " he said, "that red b.u.t.ton on the center shaft there- that's the on on b.u.t.ton." b.u.t.ton."

"I know," said Boaz.

"Unk-" said Rumfoord.

"Yes?" said Unk emptily.

"That story I told you- the love story? I left out one thing."

"That so?" said Unk.

"The woman in the love story- the woman who had that man's baby?" said Rumfoord. "The woman who was the only poet on Mars?"

"What about her?" said Unk. He didn't care much about her. He hadn't caught on that the woman in Rumfoord's story was Bee, was his own mate.

"She'd been married for several years before she got to Mars," said Rumfoord. "But when the hot-shot lieutenant-colonel got to her there in the s.p.a.ce ship bound for Mars, she was still a virgin."

Winston Niles Rumfoord winked at Unk before shutting the outside door of the airlock. "Pretty good joke on her husband, eh, Unk?" he said.

Chapter 7.

Victory "There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Maffia."

- Winston Niles Rumfoord It has been said that Earthling civilization, so far, has created ten thousand wars, but only three intelligent commentaries on war- the commentaries of Thucydides, of Julius Caesar and of Winston Niles Rumfoord.

Winston Niles Rumfoord chose 75,000 words so well for his Pocket History of Mars Pocket History of Mars that nothing remains to be said, or to be said better, about the war between Earth and Mars. Anyone who finds himself obliged, in the course of a history, to describe the war between Earth and Mars is humbled by the realization that the tale has already been told to glorious perfection by Rumfoord. that nothing remains to be said, or to be said better, about the war between Earth and Mars. Anyone who finds himself obliged, in the course of a history, to describe the war between Earth and Mars is humbled by the realization that the tale has already been told to glorious perfection by Rumfoord.

The usual course for such a discomfited historian is to describe the war in the barest, flattest, most telegraphicterms, and to recommend that the reader go at once to Rumfoord's masterpiece.

Such a course is followed here.

The war between Mars and Earth lasted 67 Earthling days.

Every nation on Earth was attacked.

Earth's casualties were 461 killed, 223 wounded, none captured, and 216 missing.

Mars' casualties were 149,315 killed, 446 wounded, 11 captured, and 46,634 missing.

At the end of the war, every Martian had been killed, wounded, captured, or been found missing.

Not a soul was left on Mars. Not a building was left standing on Mars.

The last waves of Martians to attack Earth were, to the horror of the Earthlings who pot-shotted them, old men, women, and a few little children.

The Martians arrived in the most brilliantly-conceived s.p.a.ce vehicles ever known in the Solar System. And, as long as the Martian troops had their real commanders to radio-control them, they fought with a steadfastness, selflessness, and a will to close with the enemy that won the grudging admiration of everyone who fought them.

It was frequently the case, however, that the troops lost their real commanders, either in the air or on the ground. When that happened, the troops became sluggish at once.

Their biggest trouble, however, was that they were scarcely better armed than a big-city police department. They fought with firearms, grenades, knives, mortars, and small rocket-launchers. They had no nuclear weapons, no tanks, no medium or heavy artillery, no air cover, and no transport once they hit the ground.

The Martian troops, moreover, had no control over where their ships were to land. Their ships were controlled by fully automatic pilot-navigators, and these electronic devices were set by technicians on Mars so as to make the ships land at particular points on Earth, regardless of how awful the military situation might be down there.

The only controls available to those on board were two push-b.u.t.tons on the center post of the cabin- one labeled on on and one labeled and one labeled off off. The on on b.u.t.ton simply started a flight from Mars. The b.u.t.ton simply started a flight from Mars. The off off b.u.t.ton was connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off. b.u.t.ton was connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off.

The war between Earth and Mars began when 500 Martian Imperial Commandos took possession of the Earthling moon on April 23. They were unopposed. The only Earthlings on the moon at the time were 18 Americans in the Jefferson Observatory, 53 Russians in the Lenin Observatory, and four Danish geologists at large in the Mare Imbrium.

The Martians announced their presence by radio to Earth, demanded Earth's surrender. And they gave Earth what they described as "a taste of h.e.l.l."

This taste, to Earth's considerable amus.e.m.e.nt, turned out to be a very light shower of rockets carrying twelve pounds apiece of TNT.

After giving Earth this taste of h.e.l.l, the Martians told Earth that Earth's situation was hopeless.

Earth thought otherwise.

In the next twenty-four hours, Earth fired 617 thermo-nuclear devices at the Martian bridgehead on the moon. Of these 276 were hits. These hits not only vaporized the bridgehead- they rendered the moon unfit for human occupation for at least ten million years.

And, in a freak of war, one wild shot missed the moon and hit an incoming formation of s.p.a.ce ships that carried 15,671 Martian Imperial Commandos. That took care of all the Martian Imperial Commandos there were.

They wore knee spikes, and glossy black uniforms, and carried 14-inch, saw-toothed knives in their boots. Their insignia was a skull and crossbones.

Their motto was Per aspera ad astra, Per aspera ad astra, the same as the motto of Kansas, U.S.A., Earth, Solar System, Milky Way. the same as the motto of Kansas, U.S.A., Earth, Solar System, Milky Way.

There was then a lull of thirty-two days, the length of time it took for the main Martian striking force to cross the void between the two planets. This hammer blow consisted of 81,932 troops in 2,311 ships. Every military unit, save for the Martian Imperial Commandos, was represented. Earth was spared suspense as to when this terrible armada might arrive. The Martian broadcasters on the moon, before being vaporized, had promised the arrival of this irresistible force in thirty-two days.

In thirty-two days, four hours, and fifteen minutes, the Martian Armada flew into a radar-directed thermo-nuclear barrage. The official estimate of the number of thermo-nuclear anti-aircraft rockets fired at the Martian armada is 2,542,670. The actual number of rockets fired is of little interest when one can express the power of that barrage in another way, in a way that happens to be both poetry and truth. The barrage turned the skies of Earth from heavenly blue to a h.e.l.lish burnt orange. The skies remained burnt orange for a year and a half.

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»

Novel »
Next  »