I didn't know. I hadn't seen them, nor the jeep, on my trip back. So we followed the wheel tracks for a while, and they veered off from my trail and followed another, very much like the one that had been paralleling mine when Jones and Lloyd had taken a shot at the scaly thing.
"We'd better get them on the radio," said Jones, turning back toward the ship.
There wasn't anything on the radio but static.
Pat and Kroger haven't come back yet, either.
June 21, 1961 We're not alone here. More of the scaly things have come toward the camp, but a few rifle shots send them away. They hop like kangaroos when they're startled. Their attitudes aren't menacing, but their appearance is. And Jones says, "Who knows what's 'menacing' in an alien?"
We're going to look for Kroger and Pat today. Jones says we'd better before another windstorm blows away the jeep tracks. Fortunately, the jeep has a leaky oil pan, so we always have the smears to follow, unless they get covered up, too. We're taking extra oxygen, shells, and rifles. Food, too, of course. And we're locking up the ship.
It's later, now. We found the jeep, but no Kroger or Pat. Lots of those big tracks nearby. We're taking the jeep to follow the aliens' tracks. There's some moss around here, on reddish brown rocks that stick up through the sand, just on the shady side, though. Kroger must be happy to have found his lichen.
The trail ended at the brink of a deep crevice in the ground. Seems to be an earthquake-type split in solid rock, with the sand sifting over this and the far edge like pink silk cataracts. The bottom is in the shade and can't be seen. The crack seems to extend to our left and right as far as we can look.
There looks like a trail down the inside of the crevice, but the Sun's setting, so we're waiting till tomorrow to go down.
Going down was Jones' idea, not mine.
June 22, 1961 Well, we're at the bottom, and there's water here, a shallow stream about thirty feet wide that runs along the center of the canal (we've decided we're in a canal). No sign of Pat or Kroger yet, but the sand here is hard-packed and damp, and there are normal-size footprints mingled with the alien ones, sharp and clear. The aliens seem to have six or seven toes. It varies from print to print. And they're barefoot, too, or else they have the damnedest-looking shoes in creation.
The constant shower of sand near the cliff walls is annoying, but it's sandless (shower-wise) near the stream, so we're following the footprints along the bank. Also, the air's better down here. Still thin, but not so bad as on the surface. We're going without masks to save oxygen for the return trip (Jones assures me there'll be a return trip), and the air's only a little bit sandy, but handkerchiefs over nose and mouth solve this.
We look like desperadoes, what with the rifles and covered faces. I said as much to Lloyd and he told me to shut up. Moss all over the cliff walls. Swell luck for Kroger.
We've found Kroger and Pat, with the help of the aliens. Or maybe I should call them the Martians. Either way, it's better than what Jones calls them.
They took away our rifles and brought us right to Kroger and Pat, without our even asking. Jones is mad at the way they got the rifles so easily. When we came upon them (a group of maybe ten, huddling behind a boulder in ambush), he fired, but the shots either bounced off their scales or stuck in their thick hides. Anyway, they took the rifles away and threw them into the stream, and picked us all up and took us into a hole in the cliff wall. The hole went on practically forever, but it didn't get dark. Kroger tells me that there are phosphorescent bacteria living in the mold on the walls. The air has a fresh-dug-grave smell, but it's richer in oxygen than even at the stream.
We're in a small cave that is just off a bigger cave where lots of tunnels come together. I can't remember which one we came in through, and neither can anyone else. Jones asked me what the hell I kept writing in the diary for, did I want to make it a gift to Martian archeologists? But I said where there's life there's hope, and now he won't talk to me. I congratulated Kroger on the lichen I'd seen, but he just said a short and unscientific word and went to sleep.
There's a Martian guarding the entrance to our cave. I don't know what they intend to do with us. Feed us, I hope. So far, they've just left us here, and we're out of rations.
Kroger tried talking to the guard once, but he (or it) made a whistling kind of sound and flashed a mouthful of teeth. Kroger says the teeth are in multiple rows, like a tiger shark's. I'd rather he hadn't told me.
June 23, 1961, I think We're either in a docket or a zoo. I can't tell which. There's a rather square platform surrounded on all four sides by running water, maybe twenty feet across, and we're on it. Martians keep coming to the far edge of the water and looking at us and whistling at each other. A little Martian came near the edge of the water and a larger Martian whistled like crazy and dragged it away.
"Water must be dangerous to them," said Kroger.
"We shoulda brought water pistols," Jones muttered.
Pat said maybe we can swim to safety. Kroger told Pat he was crazy, that the little island we're on here underground is bordered by a fast river that goes into the planet. We'd end up drowned in some grotto in the heart of the planet, says Kroger.
"What the hell," says Pat, "it's better than starving."
It is not.
June 24, 1961, probably I'm hungry. So is everybody else. Right now I could eat a dinner raw, in a centrifuge, and keep it down. A Martian threw a stone at Jones today, and Jones threw one back at him and broke off a couple of scales. The Martian whistled furiously and went away. When the crowd thinned out, same as it did yesterday (must be some sort of sleeping cycle here), Kroger talked Lloyd into swimming across the river and getting the red scales. Lloyd started at the upstream part of the current, and was about a hundred yards below this underground island before he made the far side. Sure is a swift current.
But he got the scales, walked very far upstream of us, and swam back with them. The stream sides are steep, like in a fjord, and we had to lift him out of the swirling cold water, with the scales gripped in his fist. Or what was left of the scales. They had melted down in the water and left his hand all sticky.
Kroger took the gummy things, studied them in the uncertain light, then tasted them and grinned.
The Martians are made of sugar.
Later, same day. Kroger said that the Martian metabolism must be like Terran (Earth-type) metabolism, only with no pancreas to make insulin. They store their energy on the outside of their bodies, in the form of scales. He's watched them more closely and seen that they have long rubbery tubes for tongues, and that they now and then suck up water from the stream while they're watching us, being careful not to get their lips (all sugar, of course) wet. He guesses that their "blood" must be almost pure water, and that it washes away (from the inside, of course) the sugar they need for energy.
I asked him where the sugar came from, and he said probably their bodies isolated carbon from something (he thought it might be the moss) and combined it with the hydrogen and oxygen in the water (even I knew the formula for water) to make sugar, a common carbohydrate.
Like plants, on Earth, he said. Except, instead of using special cells on leaves to form carbohydrates with the help of sunpower, as Earth plants do in photosynthesis (Kroger spelled that word for me), they used the shape of the scales like prisms, to isolate the spectra (another Kroger word) necessary to form the sugar.
"I don't get it," I said politely, when he'd finished his spiel.
"Simple," he said, as though he were addressing me by name. "They have a twofold reason to fear water. One: by complete solvency in that medium, they lose all energy and die. Two: even partial sprinkling alters the shape of the scales, and they are unable to use sunpower to form more sugar, and still die, if a bit slower."
"Oh," I said, taking it down verbatim. "So now what do we do?"
"We remove our boots," said Kroger, sitting on the ground and doing so, "and then we cross this stream, fill the boots with water, and spray our way to freedom."
"Which tunnel do we take?" asked Pat, his eyes aglow at the thought of escape.
Kroger shrugged. "We'll have to chance taking any that seem to slope upward. In any event, we can always follow it back and start again."
"I dunno," said Jones. "Remember those teeth of theirs. They must be for biting something more substantial than moss, Kroger."
"We'll risk it," said Pat. "It's better to go down fighting than to die of starvation."
The hell it is.
June 24, 1961, for sure The Martians have coal mines. That's what they use those teeth for. We passed through one and surprised a lot of them chewing gritty hunks of anthracite out of the walls. They came running at us, whistling with those tubelike tongues, and drooling dry coal dust, but Pat swung one of his boots in an arc that splashed all over the ground in front of them, and they turned tail (literally) and clattered off down another tunnel, sounding like a locomotive whistle gone berserk.
We made the surface in another hour, back in the canal, and were lucky enough to find our own trail to follow toward the place above which the jeep still waited.
Jones got the rifles out of the stream (the Martians had probably thought they were beyond recovery there) and we found the jeep. It was nearly buried in sand, but we got it cleaned off and running, and got back to the ship quickly. First thing we did on arriving was to break out the stores and have a celebration feast just outside the door of the ship.
It was pork again, and I got sick.
June 25, 1961 We're going back. Pat says that a week is all we were allowed to stay and that it's urgent to return and tell what we've learned about Mars (we know there are Martians, and they're made of sugar).
"Why," I said, "can't we just tell it on the radio?"
"Because," said Pat, "if we tell them now, by the time we get back we'll be yesterday's news. This way we may be lucky and get a parade."
"Maybe even money," said Kroger, whose mind wasn't always on science.
"But they'll ask why we didn't radio the info, sir," said Jones uneasily.
"The radio," said Pat, nodding to Lloyd, "was unfortunately broken shortly after landing."
Lloyd blinked, then nodded back and walked around the rocket. I heard a crunching sound and the shattering of glass, not unlike the noise made when one drives a rifle butt through a radio.
Well, it's time for takeoff.
This time it wasn't so bad. I thought I was getting my space-legs, but Pat says there's less gravity on Mars, so escape velocity didn't have to be so fast, hence a smoother (relatively) trip on our shock-absorbing bunks.
Lloyd wants to play chess again. I'll be careful not to win this time. However, if I don't win, maybe this time I'll be the one to quit.
Kroger is busy in his cramped lab space trying to classify the little moss he was able to gather, and Jones and Pat are up front watching the white specks revolve on that black velvet again.
Guess I'll take a nap.
June 26, 1961 Hell's bells. Kroger says there are two baby Martians loose on board ship. Pat told him he was nuts, but there are certain signs he's right. Like the missing charcoal in the air-filtration-and-reclaiming (AFAR) system. And the water gauges are going down. But the clincher is those two sugar crystals Lloyd had grabbed up when we were in that zoo. They're gone.
Pat has declared a state of emergency. Quick thinking, that's Pat. Lloyd, before he remembered and turned scarlet, suggested we radio Earth for instructions. We can't.
Here we are, somewhere in a void headed for Earth, with enough air and water left for maybe three days--if the Martians don't take any more.
Kroger is thrilled that he is learning something, maybe, about Martian reproductive processes. When he told Pat, Pat put it to a vote whether or not to jettison Kroger through the airlock. However, it was decided that responsibility was pretty well divided. Lloyd had gotten the crystals, Kroger had only studied them, and Jones had brought them aboard.
So Kroger stays, but meanwhile the air is getting worse. Pat suggested Kroger put us all into a state of suspended animation till landing time, eight months away. Kroger said, "How?"
June 27, 1961 Air is foul and I'm very thirsty. Kroger says that at least--when the Martians get bigger--they'll have to show themselves. Pat says what do we do then? We can't afford the water we need to melt them down. Besides, the melted crystals might all turn into little Martians.
Jones says he'll go down spitting.
Pat says why not dismantle interior of rocket to find out where they're holing up? Fine idea.
How do you dismantle riveted metal plates?
June 28, 1961 The AFAR system is no more and the water gauges are still dropping. Kroger suggests baking bread, then slicing it, then toasting it till it turns to carbon, and we can use the carbon in the AFAR system.
We'll have to try it, I guess.
The Martians ate the bread. Jones came forward to tell us the loaves were cooling, and when he got back they were gone. However, he did find a few of the red crystals on the galley deck (floor). They're good-sized crystals, too. Which means so are the Martians.
Kroger says the Martians must be intelligent, otherwise they couldn't have guessed at the carbohydrates present in the bread after a lifelong diet of anthracite. Pat says let's jettison Kroger.
This time the vote went against Kroger, but he got a last-minute reprieve by suggesting the crystals be pulverized and mixed with sulphuric acid. He says this'll produce carbon.
I certainly hope so.
So does Kroger.
Brief reprieve for us. The acid-sugar combination not only produces carbon but water vapor, and the gauge has gone up a notch. That means that we have a quart of water in the tanks for drinking. However, the air's a bit better, and we voted to let Kroger stay inside the rocket.
Meantime, we have to catch those Martians.
June 29, 1961 Worse and worse. Lloyd caught one of the Martians in the firing chamber. We had to flood the chamber with acid to subdue the creature, which carbonized nicely. So now we have plenty of air and water again, but besides having another Martian still on the loose, we now don't have enough acid left in the fuel tanks to make a landing.
Pat says at least our vector will carry us to Earth and we can die on our home planet, which is better than perishing in space.
The hell it is.
March 3, 1962 Earth in sight. The other Martian is still with us. He's where we can't get at him without blow-torches, but he can't get at the carbon in the AFAR system, either, which is a help. However, his tail is prehensile, and now and then it snakes out through an air duct and yanks food right off the table from under our noses.
Kroger says watch out. We are made of carbohydrates, too. I'd rather not have known.
March 4, 1962 Earth fills the screen in the control room. Pat says if we're lucky, he might be able to use the bit of fuel we have left to set us in a descending spiral into one of the oceans. The rocket is tighter than a submarine, he insists, and it will float till we're rescued, if the plates don't crack under the impact.
We all agreed to try it. Not that we thought it had a good chance of working, but none of us had a better idea.