“Shock, it looks like.”
“What kind of shock?” I say, and my name is Sessions and my lips move crisply, and I am the captain of these men. I stand among them and I am looking down at a body which lies cooling on the sands. I clap both hands to my head.
“It’s nothing,” I say, crying out. “Just a headache. I’ll be all right. There. There,” I whisper. “It’s all right now.”
“We’d better get out of the sun, sir.”
“Yes,” I say, looking down at Jones. “We should never have come. Mars doesn’t want us.”
We carry the body back to the rocket with us, and a new voice is calling deep in me to be let out.
Help, help. Far down in the moist earthen-works of the body. Help, help! in red fathoms, echoing and pleading.
The trembling starts much sooner this time. The control is less steady.
“Captain, you’d better get in out of the sun, you don’t look too well, sir.”
“Yes,” I say. “Help,” I say.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You said ‘Help,’ sir.”
“Did I, Matthews, did I?”
The body is laid out in the shadow of the rocket and the voice screams in the deep underwater catacombs of bone and crimson tide. My hands jerk. My mouth splits and is parched. My nostrils fasten wide. My eyes roll. Help, help, oh help, don’t, don’t, let me out, don’t, don’t.
“Don’t,” I say.
“Never mind,” I say. “I’ve got to get free,” I say. I clap my hand to my mouth.
“How’s that, sir?” cries Matthews.
“Get inside, all of you, go back to Earth!” I shout.
A gun is in my hand. I lift it.
An explosion. Shadows run. The screaming is cut off. There is a whistling sound of falling through space.
After ten thousand years, how good to die. How good to feel the sudden coolness, the relaxation. How good to be like a hand within a glove that stretches out and grows wonderfully cold in the hot sand. Oh, the quiet and the loveliness of gathering, darkening death. But one cannot linger on.
A crack, a snap.
“Good God, he’s killed himself!” I cry, and open my eyes and there is the captain lying against the rocket, his skull split by a bullet, his eyes wide, his tongue protruding between his white teeth. Blood runs from his head. I bend to him and touch him. “The fool,” I say. “Why did he do that?”
The men are horrified. They stand over the two dead men and turn their heads to see the Martian sands and the distant well where Regent lies lolling in deep waters. A croaking comes out of their dry lips, a whimpering, a childish protest against this awful dream.
The men turn to me.
After a long while, one of them says, “That makes you captain, Matthews.”
“I know,” I say slowly.
“Only six of us left.”
“Good God, it happened so quick!”
“I don’t want to stay here, let’s get out!”
The men clamor. I go to them and touch them now, with a confidence which almost sings in me. “Listen,” I say, and touch their elbows or their arms or their hands.
We all fall silent.
We are one.
No, no, no, no, no, no! Inner voices crying, deep down and gone into prisons beneath exteriors.
We are looking at each other. We are Samuel Matthews and Raymond Moses and William Spaulding and Charles Evans and Forrest Cole and John Summers, and we say nothing but look upon each other and our white faces and shaking hands.
We turn, as one, and look at the well.
“Now,” we say.
No, no, six voices scream, hidden and layered down and stored forever.
Our feet walk in the sand and it is as if a great hand with twelve fingers were moving across the hot sea bottom.
We bend to the well, looking down. From the cool depths six faces peer back up at us.
One by one we bend until our balance is gone, and one by one drop into the mouth and down through cool darkness into the cold waters.
The sun sets. The stars wheel upon the night sky. Far out, there is a wink of light. Another rocket coming, leaving red marks on space.
I live in a well. I live like smoke in a well. Like vapor in a stone throat. Overhead I see the cold stars of night and morning, and I see the sun. And sometimes I sing old songs of this world when it was young. How can I tell you what I am when even I don’t know? I cannot.
I am simply waiting.
Tyrannosaurus Rex (#ulink_a50d1e8d-9f2c-556c-90ec-5a0b2f187047)
He opened a door on darkness. A voice cried, “Shut it!” It was like a blow in the face. He jumped through. The door banged. He cursed himself quietly. The voice, with dreadful patience, intoned, “Jesus. You Terwilliger?”