"I don't think so," responded the chemist. "If my guess at the city's age is right, fifteen thousand years wouldn't make enough difference in the water supply--nor a hundred thousand, for that matter. It's something else, though the water's doubtless a factor."
"Das wasser," cut in Putz. "Vere goes dot?"
"Even a chemist knows that!" scoffed Jarvis. "At least on earth. Here I'm not so sure, but on earth, every time there's a lightning flash, it electrolyzes some water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen, and then the hydrogen escapes into space, because terrestrial gravitation won't hold it permanently. And every time there's an earthquake, some water is lost to the interior. Slow--but damned certain." He turned to Harrison. "Right, Cap?"
"Right," conceded the captain. "But here, of course--no earthquakes, no thunderstorms--the loss must be very slow. Then why is the race dying?"
"The sun-power plant answers that," countered Jarvis. "Lack of fuel! Lack of power! No oil left, no coal left--if Mars ever had a Carboniferous Age--and no water-power--just the driblets of energy they can get from the sun. That's why they're dying."
"With the limitless energy of the atom?" exploded Harrison.
"They don't know about atomic energy. Probably never did. Must have used some other principle in their space-ship."
"Then," snapped the captain, "what makes you rate their intelligence above the human? We've finally cracked open the atom!"
"Sure we have. We had a clue, didn't we? Radium and uranium. Do you think we'd ever have learned how without those elements? We'd never even have suspected that atomic energy existed!"
"Well? Haven't they--?"
"No, they haven't. You've told me yourself that Mars has only 73 percent of the earth's density. Even a chemist can see that that means a lack of heavy metals--no osmium, no uranium, no radium. They didn't have the clue."
"Even so, that doesn't prove they're more advanced than we are. If they were more advanced, they'd have discovered it anyway."
"Maybe," conceded Jarvis. "I'm not claiming that we don't surpass them in some ways. But in others, they're far ahead of us."
"In what, for instance?"
"Well--socially, for one thing."
"Huh? How do you mean?"
Jarvis glanced in turn at each of the three that faced him. He hesitated. "I wonder how you chaps will take this," he muttered. "Naturally, everybody likes his own system best." He frowned. "Look here--on the earth we have three types of society, haven't we? And there's a member of each type right here. Putz lives under a dictatorship--an autocracy. Leroy's a citizen of the Sixth Commune in France. Harrison and I are Americans, members of a democracy. There you are--autocracy, democracy, communism--the three types of terrestrial societies. Tweel's people have a different system from any of us."
"Different? What is it?"
"The one no earthly nation has tried. Anarchy!"
"Anarchy!" the captain and Putz burst out together.
"But--" Harrison was sputtering. "What do you mean--they're ahead of us? Anarchy! Bah!"
"All right--bah!" retorted Jarvis. "I'm not saying it would work for us, or for any race of men. But it works for them."
"But--anarchy!" The captain was indignant.
"Well, when you come right down to it," argued Jarvis defensively, "anarchy is the ideal form of government, if it works. Emerson said that the best government was that which governs least, and so did Wendell Phillips, and I think George Washington. And you can't have any form of government which governs less than anarchy, which is no government at all!"
The captain was sputtering. "But--it's unnatural! Even savage tribes have their chiefs! Even a pack of wolves has its leader!"
"Well," retorted Jarvis defiantly, "that only proves that government is a primitive device, doesn't it? With a perfect race you wouldn't need it at all; government is a confession of weakness, isn't it? It's a confession that part of the people won't cooperate with the rest and that you need laws to restrain those individuals which a psychologist calls anti-social. If there were no anti-social persons--criminals and such--you wouldn't need laws or police, would you?"
"But government! You'd need government! How about public works--wars--taxes?"
"No wars on Mars, in spite of being named after the War God. No point in wars here; the population is too thin and too scattered, and besides, it takes the help of every single community to keep the canal system functioning. No taxes because, apparently, all individuals cooperate in building public works. No competition to cause trouble, because anybody can help himself to anything. As I said, with a perfect race government is entirely unnecessary."
"And do you consider the Martians a perfect race?" asked the captain grimly.
"Not at all! But they've existed so much longer than man that they're evolved, socially at least, to the point where they don't need government. They work together, that's all." Jarvis paused. "Queer, isn't it--as if Mother Nature were carrying on two experiments, one at home and one on Mars. On earth it's trial of an emotional, highly competitive race in a world of plenty; here it's the trial of a quiet, friendly race on a desert, unproductive, and inhospitable world. Everything here makes for cooperation. Why, there isn't even the factor that causes so much trouble at home--sex!"
"Yeah: Tweel's people reproduce just like the barrels in the mud cities; two individuals grow a third one between them. Another proof of Leroy's theory that Martian life is neither animal nor vegetable. Besides, Tweel was a good enough host to let him poke down his beak and twiddle his feathers, and the examination convinced Leroy."
"Oui," confirmed the biologist. "It is true."
"But anarchy!" grumbled Harrison disgustedly. "It would show up on a dizzy, half-dead pill like Mars!"
"It'll be a good many centuries before you'll have to worry about it on earth," grinned Jarvis. He resumed his narrative.
"Well, we wandered through that sepulchral city, taking pictures of everything. And then--" Jarvis paused and shuddered--"then I took a notion to have a look at that valley we'd spotted from the rocket. I don't know why. But when we tried to steer Tweel in that direction, he set up such a squawking and screeching that I thought he'd gone batty."
"If possible!" jeered Harrison.
"So we started over there without him; he kept wailing and screaming, 'No-no-no! Tick!' but that made us the more curious. He sailed over our heads and stuck on his beak, and went through a dozen other antics, but we ploughed on, and finally he gave up and trudged disconsolately along with us.
"The valley wasn't more than a mile southeast of the city. Tweel could have covered the distance in twenty jumps, but he lagged and loitered and kept pointing back at the city and wailing 'No--no--no!' Then he'd sail up into the air and zip down on his beak directly in front of us, and we'd have to walk around him. I'd seen him do lots of crazy things before, of course; I was used to them, but it was as plain as print that he didn't want us to see that valley."
"Why?" queried Harrison.
"You asked why we came back like tramps," said Jarvis with a faint shudder. "You'll learn. We plugged along up a low rocky hill that bounded it, and as we neared the top, Tweel said, 'No breet', Tick! No breet'!' Well, those were the words he used to describe the silicon monster; they were also the words he had used to tell me that the image of Fancy Long, the one that had almost lured me to the dream-beast, wasn't real. I remembered that, but it meant nothing to me--then!
"Right after that, Tweel said, 'You one-one-two, he one-one-two,' and then I began to see. That was the phrase he had used to explain the dream-beast to tell me that what I thought, the creature thought--to tell me how the thing lured its victims by their own desires. So I warned Leroy; it seemed to me that even the dream-beast couldn't be dangerous if we were warned and expecting it. Well, I was wrong!
"As we reached the crest, Tweel spun his head completely around, so his feet were forward but his eyes looked backward, as if he feared to gaze into the valley. Leroy and I stared out over it, just a gray waste like this around us, with the gleam of the south polar cap far beyond its southern rim. That's what it was one second; the next it was--Paradise!"
"What?" exclaimed the captain.
Jarvis turned to Leroy. "Can you describe it?" he asked.
The biologist waved helpless hands, "C'est impossible!" he whispered. "Il me rend muet!"
"It strikes me dumb, too," muttered Jarvis. "I don't know how to tell it; I'm a chemist, not a poet. Paradise is as good a word as I can think of, and that's not at all right. It was Paradise and Hell in one!"
"Will you talk sense?" growled Harrison.
"As much of it as makes sense. I tell you, one moment we were looking at a grey valley covered with blobby plants, and the next--Lord! You can't imagine that next moment! How would you like to see all your dreams made real? Every desire you'd ever had gratified? Everything you'd ever wanted there for the taking?"
"I'd like it fine!" said the captain.
"You're welcome, then!--not only your noble desires, remember! Every good impulse, yes--but also every nasty little wish, every vicious thought, everything you'd ever desired, good or bad! The dream-beasts are marvelous salesmen, but they lack the moral sense!"
"Yes. It was a valley of them. Hundreds, I suppose, maybe thousands. Enough, at any rate, to spread out a complete picture of your desires, even all the forgotten ones that must have been drawn out of the subconscious. A Paradise--of sorts! I saw a dozen Fancy Longs, in every costume I'd ever admired on her, and some I must have imagined. I saw every beautiful woman I've ever known, and all of them pleading for my attention. I saw every lovely place I'd ever wanted to be, all packed queerly into that little valley. And I saw--other things." He shook his head soberly. "It wasn't all exactly pretty. Lord! How much of the beast is left in us! I suppose if every man alive could have one look at that weird valley, and could see just once what nastiness is hidden in him--well, the world might gain by it. I thanked heaven afterwards that Leroy--and even Tweel--saw their own pictures and not mine!"
Jarvis paused again, then resumed, "I turned dizzy with a sort of ecstasy. I closed my eyes--and with eyes closed, I still saw the whole thing! That beautiful, evil, devilish panorama was in my mind, not my eyes. That's how those fiends work--through the mind. I knew it was the dream-beasts; I didn't need Tweel's wail of 'No breet'! No breet'!' But--I couldn't keep away! I knew it was death beckoning, but it was worth it for one moment with the vision."
"Which particular vision?" asked Harrison dryly.
Jarvis flushed. "No matter," he said. "But beside me I heard Leroy's cry of 'Yvonne! Yvonne!' and I knew he was trapped like myself. I fought for sanity; I kept telling myself to stop, and all the time I was rushing headlong into the snare!
"Then something tripped me. Tweel! He had come leaping from behind; as I crashed down I saw him flash over me straight toward--toward what I'd been running to, with his vicious beak pointed right at her heart!"
"Oh!" nodded the captain. "Her heart!"
"Never mind that. When I scrambled up, that particular image was gone, and Tweel was in a twist of black ropey arms, just as when I first saw him. He'd missed a vital point in the beast's anatomy, but was jabbing away desperately with his beak.
"Somehow, the spell had lifted, or partially lifted. I wasn't five feet from Tweel, and it took a terrific struggle, but I managed to raise my revolver and put a Boland shell into the beast. Out came a spurt of horrible black corruption, drenching Tweel and me--and I guess the sickening smell of it helped to destroy the illusion of that valley of beauty. Anyway, we managed to get Leroy away from the devil that had him, and the three of us staggered to the ridge and over. I had presence of mind enough to raise my camera over the crest and take a shot of the valley, but I'll bet it shows nothing but gray waste and writhing horrors. What we saw was with our minds, not our eyes."
Jarvis paused and shuddered. "The brute half poisoned Leroy," he continued. "We dragged ourselves back to the auxiliary, called you, and did what we could to treat ourselves. Leroy took a long dose of the cognac that we had with us; we didn't dare try anything of Tweel's because his metabolism is so different from ours that what cured him might kill us. But the cognac seemed to work, and so, after I'd done one other thing I wanted to do, we came back here--and that's all."
"All, is it?" queried Harrison. "So you've solved all the mysteries of Mars, eh?"
"Not by a damned sight!" retorted Jarvis. "Plenty of unanswered questions are left."
"Ja!" snapped Putz. "Der evaporation--dot iss shtopped how?"
"In the canals? I wondered about that, too; in those thousands of miles, and against this low air-pressure, you'd think they'd lose a lot. But the answer's simple; they float a skin of oil on the water."
Putz nodded, but Harrison cut in. "Here's a puzzler. With only coal and oil--just combustion or electric power--where'd they get the energy to build a planet-wide canal system, thousands and thousands of miles of 'em? Think of the job we had cutting the Panama Canal to sea level, and then answer that!"
"Easy!" grinned Jarvis. "Martian gravity and Martian air--that's the answer. Figure it out: First, the dirt they dug only weighed a third its earth-weight. Second, a steam engine here expands against ten pounds per square inch less air pressure than on earth. Third, they could build the engine three times as large here with no greater internal weight. And fourth, the whole planet's nearly level. Right, Putz?"
The engineer nodded. "Ja! Der shteam--engine--it iss sieben-und zwanzig--twenty-seven times so effective here."
"Well, there does go the last mystery then," mused Harrison.
"Yeah?" queried Jarvis sardonically. "You answer these, then. What was the nature of that vast empty city? Why do the Martians need canals, since we never saw them eat or drink? Did they really visit the earth before the dawn of history, and, if not atomic energy, what powered their ship? Since Tweel's race seems to need little or no water, are they merely operating the canals for some higher creature that does? Are there other intelligences on Mars? If not, what was the demon-faced imp we saw with the book? There are a few mysteries for you!"
"I know one or two more!" growled Harrison, glaring suddenly at little Leroy. "You and your visions! 'Yvonne!' eh? Your wife's name is Marie, isn't it?"
The little biologist turned crimson. "Oui," he admitted unhappily. He turned pleading eyes on the captain. "Please," he said. "In Paris tout le monde--everybody he think differently of those things--no?" He twisted uncomfortably. "Please, you will not tell Marie, n'est-ce pas?"
Harrison chuckled. "None of my business," he said. "One more question, Jarvis. What was the one other thing you did before returning here?"
Jarvis looked diffident. "Oh--that." He hesitated. "Well I sort of felt we owed Tweel a lot, so after some trouble, we coaxed him into the rocket and sailed him out to the wreck of the first one, over on Thyle II. Then," he finished apologetically, "I showed him the atomic blast, got it working--and gave it to him!"
"You what?" roared the Captain. "You turned something as powerful as that over to an alien race--maybe some day as an enemy race?"
"Yes, I did," said Jarvis. "Look here," he argued defensively. "This lousy, dried-up pill of a desert called Mars'll never support much human population. The Sahara desert is just as good a field for imperialism, and a lot closer to home. So we'll never find Tweel's race enemies. The only value we'll find here is commercial trade with the Martians. Then why shouldn't I give Tweel a chance for survival? With atomic energy, they can run their canal system a hundred per cent instead of only one out of five, as Putz's observations showed. They can repopulate those ghostly cities; they can resume their arts and industries; they can trade with the nations of the earth--and I'll bet they can teach us a few things," he paused, "if they can figure out the atomic blast, and I'll lay odds they can. They're no fools, Tweel and his ostrich-faced Martians!"
PRIESTESS OF THE FLAME.
By Sewell Peaslee Wright I have been rather amused by the protests which have come to me regarding the "disparaging" comments I have made, in previous tales of the Special Patrol Service, regarding women. The rather surprising thing about it is that the larger proportion of these have come from men. Young men, of course.
Now, as a matter of fact, a careful search has failed to reveal to me any very uncomplimentary remarks. I have suggested, I believe, that women have, in my experience, shown a sad lack of ability to understand mechanical contrivances. Perhaps I have pictured some few of them as frivolous and shallow. If I have been unfair, I wish now to make humble apology.
I am not, as some of my correspondents have indicated, a bitter old man, who cannot remember his youth. I remember it very well indeed, else these tales would not be forthcoming. And women have their great and proper place, even in a man's universe.
Some day, perhaps, the mood will seize me to write of my own love affair. That surprises you? You smile to think that old John Hanson, lately a commander of the Special Patrol Service, now retired, should have had a love affair? Well, 'twas many years ago, before these eyes lost their fire, and before these brown, skinny hands wearied as quickly as they weary now....
But I have known many women--good women and bad; great women and women of small souls; kindly women, and women fierce as wild bears are fierce. Divinity has dealt lavishly with women; has given them an emotional range far greater than man's. They can sink to depths unknown to masculinity; they can rise to heights of love and sacrifice before which man can only stand with reverently bowed head and marvel.
This is a story of a woman--one of those no man could know and not remember. I make no apologies for her; I pay her no homage. I record only a not inaccurate account of an adventure of my youth, in which she played a part; I leave to you the task of judging her.
We were some three days out from Base, as I recall it, on a mission which promised a welcome interlude in a monotonous sequence of routine patrols. I was commander then of the Ertak, one of the crack ships of the Service, and assisted by the finest group of officers, I believe, that any man ever had under him.
I was standing a watch in the navigating room with Hendricks, my junior officer, when Correy brought us the amazing news.
Correy was my first officer, a square-jawed fighting man if one ever breathed, a man of action, such as these effete times do not produce. His eyes were fairly blazing as he came into the room, and his generous mouth was narrowed into a grim line.
"What's up, Mr. Correy?" I asked apprehensively. "Trouble aboard?"
"Plenty of it, sir!" he snapped. "A stowaway!"
"A stowaway?" I repeated wonderingly. A new experience, but hardly cause for Correy's obvious anger. "Well, send him below, and tell Miro to put him to work--the hardest work he can find. We'll make him--"
"Him?" blurted Correy. "If it were a him it wouldn't be so bad, sir. But it's a she!"
To understand the full effect of the statement, you'd have to be steeped in the traditions of the Service. Women are seldom permitted on board a ship of the Service; despite their many admirable qualities, women play the very devil with discipline. And here were we, three days out from Base on a tour of duty which promised more than a little excitement, with a female stowaway on board!
I felt my own mouth set grimly.
"Where is she, Mr. Correy?" I asked quietly.
"In my quarters, under guard. It was my watch below, as you know, sir. I entered my stateroom, figuring on catching forty winks, and there she was, seated in my big chair, smiling at me.