Table of Contents
Part One - HIS MACULATE ORIGIN
Part Two - HIS PREPOSTEROUS HERITAGE
Part Three - HIS ECCENTRIC EDUCATION
Part Four - HIS SCANDALOUS CAREER
Part Five - HIS HAPPY DESTINY
Captain van Tromp decided that it was time to throw a tantrum. “This man Smith—This ‘man!’ Can’t you see that he is not? ”
“Smith . . . is . . . not . . . a . . . man.”
“Huh? Explain yourself, Captain.”
“Smith is an intelligent creature with the ancestry of a man, but he is more Martian than man. Until we came along he had never laid eyes on a man. He thinks like a Martian, feels like a Martian. He’s been brought up by a race which has nothing in common with us—they don’t even have sex. He’s a man by ancestry, a Martian by environment . . .”
Books by Robert A. Heinlein
ASSIGNMENT IN ETERNITY
THE BEST OF ROBERT HEINLEIN
THE CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS
CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY
THE DOOR INTO SUMMER
EXPANDED UNIVERSE: MORE WORLDS OF ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
FARMER IN THE SKY
THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH
HAVE SPACE SUIT—WILL TRAVEL
I WILL FEAR NO EVIL
JOB: A COMEDY OF JUSTICE
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON
THE MENACE FROM EARTH
THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG
THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST
ORPHANS OF THE SKY
THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW: “FUTURE HISTORY” STORIES
PODKAYNE OF MARS
THE PUPPET MASTERS
REVOLT IN 2100
ROCKET SHIP GALILEO
THE ROLLING STONES
THE STAR BEAST
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
THREE BY HEINLEIN
TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE
TIME FOR THE STARS
TOMORROW THE STARS (Ed.)
TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET
TUNNEL IN THE SKY
THE UNPLEASANT PROFESSION OF JONATHAN HOAG
WALDO & MAGIC, INC.
THE WORLDS OF ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
All men, gods, and planets in this story are imaginary.
Any coincidence of names is regretted.
—R. A. H.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
G. P. Putnam’s Sons edition published 1961
Berkley edition / March 1968
Ace edition / April 1987
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1961 by Robert Heinlein.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-20896-0
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Phillip José Farmer
HIS MACULATE ORIGIN
ONCE UPON a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.
The first human expedition to Mars was selected on the theory that the greatest danger to man was man himself. At that time, eight Terran years after the founding of the first human colony on Luna, an interplanetary trip made by humans had to be made in free-fall orbits—from Terra to Mars, two hundred-fifty-eight Terran days, the same for return, plus four hundred fifty-five days waiting at Mars while the planets crawled back into positions for the return orbit.
Only by refueling at a space station could the Envoy make the trip. Once at Mars she might return—if she did not crash, if water could be found to fill her reaction tanks, if a thousand things did not go wrong.
Eight humans, crowded together for almost three Terran years, had better get along much better than humans usually did. An all-male crew was vetoed as unhealthy and unstable. Four married couples was considered optimum, if necessary specialties could be found in such combination.
The University of Edinburgh, prime contractor, sub-contracted crew selection to the Institute for Social Studies. After discarding volunteers useless through age, health, mentality, training, or temperament, the Institute had nine thousand likely candidates. The skills needed were astrogator, medical doctor, cook, machinist, ship’s commander, semantician, chemical engineer, electronics engineer, physicist, geologist, biochemist, biologist, atomics engineer, photographer, hydroponicist, rocketry engineer. There were hundreds of combinations of eight volunteers possessing these skills; there turned up three such combinations of married couples—but in all three cases the psycho-dynamicists who evaluated factors for compatibility threw up their hands in horror. The prime contractor suggested lowering the compatibility figure-of-merit; the Institute offered to return its one dollar fee.
The machines continued to review data changing through deaths, withdrawals, new volunteers. Captain Michael Brant, M.S., Cmdr. D. F. Reserve, pilot and veteran at thirty of the Moon run, had an inside track at the Institute, someone who looked up for him names of single female volunteers who might (with him) complete a crew, then paired his name with these to run problems through the machines to determine whether a combination would be acceptable. This resulted in his jetting to Australia and proposing marriage to Doctor Winifred Coburn, a spinster nine years his senior.
Lights blinked, cards popped out, a crew had been found:
Captain Michael Brant, commanding—pilot, astrogator, relief cook, relief photographer, rocketry engineer;
Dr. Winifred Coburn Brant, forty-one, semantician, practical nurse, stores officer, historian;
Mr. Francis X. Seeney, twenty-eight, executive officer, second pilot, astrogator, astrophysicist, photographer;
Dr. Olga Kovalic Seeney, twenty-nine, cook, biochemist, hydroponicist;
Dr. Ward Smith, forty-five, physician and surgeon, biologist;
Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith, twenty-six, atomics engineer, electronics and power technician;
Mr. Sergei Rimsky, thirty-five, electronics engineer, chemical engineer, practical machinist and instrumentation man, cryologist;
Mrs. Eleanora Alvarez Rimsky, thirty-two, geologist and selenologist, hydroponicist.
The crew had all needed skills, some having been acquired by intensive coaching during the weeks before blast-off. More important, they were mutually compatible.
The Envoy departed. During the first weeks her reports were picked up by private listeners. As signals became fainter, they were relayed by Earth’s radio satellites. The crew seemed healthy and happy. Ringworm was the worst that Dr. Smith had to cope with—the crew adapted to free fall, and anti-nausea drugs were not needed after the first week. If Captain Brant had disciplinary problems, he did not report them.
The Envoy achieved a parking orbit inside the orbit of Phobos and spent two weeks in photographic survey. Then Captain Brant radioed: “We will land at 1200 tomorrow GST just south of Lacus Soli.”
No further message was received.
A QUARTER of an Earth century passed before Mars was again visited by humans. Six years after the Envoy went silent, the drone probe Zombie, sponsored by La Société Astronautique Internationale, bridged the void and took up an orbit for the waiting period, then returned. Photographs by the robot vehicle showed a land unattractive by human standards; her instruments confirmed the thinness and unsuitability of Arean atmosphere to human life.
But the Zombie’s pictures showed that the “canals” were engineering works and other details were interpreted as ruins of cities. A manned expedition would have been mounted had not World War III intervened.
But war and delay resulted in a stronger expedition than that of the lost Envoy. Federation Ship Champion, with an all-male crew of eighteen spacemen and carrying twenty-three male pioneers, made the crossing under Lyle Drive in nineteen days. The Champion landed south of Lacus Soli, as Captain van Tromp intended to search for the Envoy. The second expedition reported daily; three despatches were of special interest. The first was:
“Rocket Ship Envoy located. No survivors.”
The second was: “Mars is inhabited.”
The third: “Correction to despatch 23-105: One survivor of Envoy located.”
CAPTAIN WILLEM VAN TROMP was a man of humanity. He radioed ahead: “My passenger must not be subjected to a public reception. Provide low-gee shuttle, stretcher and ambulance, and armed guard.”
He sent his ship’s surgeon to make sure that Valentine Michael Smith was installed in a suite in Bethesda Medical Center, transferred into a hydraulic bed, and protected from outside contact. Van Tromp went to an extraordinary session of the Federation High Council.
As Smith was being lifted into bed, the High Minister for Science was saying testily, “Granted, Captain, that your authority as commander of what was nevertheless a scientific expedition gives you the right to order medical service to protect a person temporarily in your charge, I do not see why you now presume to interfere with my department. Why, Smith is a treasure trove of scientific information!”
“I suppose he is, sir.”
“Then why—” The science minister turned to the High Minister for Peace and Security. “David? Will you issue instructions to your people? After all, one can’t keep Professor Tiergarten and Doctor Okajima, to mention just two, cooling their heels.”
The peace minister glanced at Captain van Tromp. The captain shook his head.
“Why?” demanded the science minister. “You admit that he isn’t sick.”
“Give the Captain a chance, Pierre,” the peace minister advised. “Well, Captain?”
“Smith isn’t sick, sir,” Captain van Tromp said, “but he isn’t well. He has never before been in a one-gravity field. He weighs two and a half times what he is used to and his muscles aren’t up to it. He’s not used to Earth-normal pressure. He’s not used to anything and the strain is too much. Hell’s bells, gentleman, I’m dog-tired myself—and I was born on this planet.”
The science minister looked contemptuous. “If acceleration fatigue is worrying you, let me assure you, my dear Captain, that we anticipated that. After all, I’ve been out myself. I know how it feels. This man Smith must—”
Captain van Tromp decided that it was time to throw a tantrum. He could excuse it by his own very real fatigue, he felt as if he had just landed on Jupiter. So he interrupted. “Hnh! ‘This man Smith—’ This ‘man!’ Can’t you see that he is not?”
“Smith . . . is . . . not . . . a . . . man.”
“Huh? Explain yourself, Captain.”
“Smith is an intelligent creature with the ancestry of a man, but he is more Martian than man. Until we came along he had never laid eyes on a man. He thinks like a Martian, feels like a Martian. He’s been brought up by a race which has nothing in common with us—they don’t even have sex. He’s a man by ancestry, a Martian by environment. If you want to drive him crazy and waste that ‘treasure trove,’ call in your fat-headed professors. Don’t give him a chance to get used to this madhouse planet. It’s no skin off me; I’ve done my job!”
The silence was broken by Secretary General Douglas. “And a good job, Captain. If this man, or man-Martian, needs a few days to get adjusted, I’m sure science can wait—so take it easy, Pete. Captain van Tromp is tired.”
“One thing won’t wait,” said the Minister for Public Information.
“If we don’t show the Man from Mars in the stereo tanks pretty shortly, you’ll have riots, Mr. Secretary.”
“Hmm—You exaggerate, Jock. Mars stuff in the news, of course. Me decorating the Captain and his crew—tomorrow, I think. Captain van Tromp telling his experiences—after a night’s rest, Captain.”
The minister shook his head.
“No good, Jock?”
“The public expected them to bring back a real live Martian. Since they didn’t, we need Smith and need him badly.”
“Live Martians?” Secretary General Douglas turned to Captain van Tromp. “You have movies of Martians?”
“Thousands of feet.”
“There’s your answer, Jock. When the live stuff gets thin, trot on the movies. Now, Captain, about extraterritoriality: you say the Martians were not opposed?”
“Well, no, sir—but they were not for it, either.”
“I don’t follow you.”
Captain van Tromp chewed his lip. “Sir, talking with a Martian is like talking with an echo. You don’t get argument but you don’t get results.”
“Perhaps you should have brought what’s-his-name, your semantician. Or is he waiting outside?”
“Mahmoud, sir. Doctor Mahmoud is not well. A—A slight nervous breakdown, sir.” Van Tromp reflected that dead drunk was the moral equivalent.
“A little, perhaps.” These damned groundhogs!
“Well, fetch him around when he’s feeling himself. I imagine this young man Smith will be of help, too.”
“Perhaps,” van Tromp said doubtfully.
This young man Smith was busy staying alive. His body, unbearably compressed and weakened by the strange shape of space in this unbelievable place, was at last relieved by the softness of the nest in which these others placed him. He dropped the effort of sustaining it, and turned his third level to his respiration and heart beat.
He saw that he was about to consume himself. His lungs were beating as hard as they did at home, his heart was racing to distribute the influx, all in an attempt to cope with the squeezing of space—and this while smothered by a poisonously rich and dangerously hot atmosphere. He took steps.
When his heart rate was twenty per minute and respiration almost imperceptible, he watched long enough to be sure that he would not discorporate while his attention was elsewhere. When he was satisfied he set a portion of his second level on guard and withdrew the rest of himself. It was necessary to review the configurations of these many new events in order to fit them to himself, then cherish and praise them—lest they swallow him.
Where should he start? When he left home, enfolding these others who were now his nestlings? Or at his arrival in this crushed space? He was suddenly assaulted by lights and sounds of that arrival, feeling it with mind-shaking pain. No, he was not ready to embrace that configuration—back! back! back beyond his first sight of these others who were now his own. Back even before the healing which had followed first grokking that he was not as his nestling brothers . . . back to the nest itself.
None of his thinkings were in Earth symbols. Simple English he had freshly learned to speak, less easily than a Hindu used it to trade with a Turk. Smith used English as one might use a code book, with tedious and imperfect translation. Now his thoughts, abstractions from half a million years of wildly alien culture, traveled so far from human experience as to be untranslatable.
In the adjoining room Dr. Thaddeus was playing cribbage with Tom Meechum, Smith’s special nurse. Thaddeus had one eye on his dials and meters. When a flickering light changed from ninety-two pulsations per minute to less than twenty, he hurried into Smith’s room with Meechum at his heels.
The patient floated in the flexible skin of the hydraulic bed. He appeared to be dead. Thaddeus snapped, “Get Doctor Noel-son!”
Meechum said, “Yessir!” and added, “How about shock gear, Doc?”
“Get Doctor Nelson!”
The nurse rushed out. The interne examined the patient, did not touch him. An older doctor came in, walking with labored awkwardness of a man long in space and not readjusted to high gravity. “Well, Doctor?”
“Patient’s respiration, temperature, and pulse dropped suddenly about two minutes ago, sir.”
“What have you done?”
“Nothing, sir. Your instructions—”
“Good.” Nelson looked Smith over, studied instruments back of the bed, twins of those in the watch room. “Let me know if there is any change.” He started to leave.
Thaddeus looked startled. “But, Doctor—”
Nelson said, “Yes, Doctor? What is your diagnosis?”
“Uh, I don’t wish to sound off about your patient, sir.”
“I asked for your diagnosis.”
“Very well, sir. Shock—atypical, perhaps,” he hedged, “but shock, leading to termination.”
Nelson nodded. “Reasonable. But this isn’t a reasonable case. I’ve seen this patient in this condition a dozen times. Watch.” Nelson lifted the patient’s arm, let it go. It stayed where he left it.
“Catalepsy?” asked Thaddeus.
“Call it that if you like. Just keep him from being bothered and call me if there is any change.” He replaced Smith’s arm.
Nelson left. Thaddeus looked at the patient, shook his head and returned to the watch room. Meechum picked up his cards. “Crib?”
Meechum added, “Doc, if you ask me, that one is a case for the basket before morning.”
“No one asked you. Go have a cigarette with the guards. I want to think.”
Meechum shrugged and joined the guards in the corridor; they straightened up, then saw who it was and relaxed. The taller marine said, “What was the excitement?”
“The patient had quintuplets and we were arguing about what to name them. Which one of you monkeys has a butt? And a light?”
The other marine dug out a pack of cigarettes. “How’re you fixed for suction?”
“Just middlin’.” Meechum stuck the cigarette in his face. “Honest to God, gentlemen, I don’t know anything about this patient.”
“What’s the idea of these orders about ‘Absolutely No Women’? Is he a sex maniac?”
“All I know is they brought him in from the Champion and said he was to have absolute quiet.”
“ ‘The Champion!’ ” the first marine said. “That accounts for it.”
“Accounts for what?”
“It stands to reason. He ain’t had any, he ain’t seen any, he ain’t touched any—for months. And he’s sick, see? If he was to lay hands on any, they’re afraid he’d kill hisself.” He blinked. “I’ll bet I would.”
Smith had been aware of the doctors but had grokked that their intentions were benign; it was not necessary for the major part of him to be jerked back.
At the morning hour when human nurses slap patients’ faces with cold, wet cloths Smith returned. He speeded up his heart, increased his respiration, and took note of his surroundings, viewing them with serenity. He looked the room over, noting with praise all details. He was seeing it for the first time, as he had been incapable of enfolding it when he had been brought there. This room was not commonplace to him; there was nothing like it on all Mars, nor did it resemble the wedge-shaped, metal compartments of the Champion. Having relived the events linking his nest to this place, he was now prepared to accept it, commend it, and in some degree to cherish it.
He became aware of another living creature. A granddaddy longlegs was making a journey down from the ceiling, spinning as it went. Smith watched with delight and wondered if it were a nestling man.
Doctor Archer Frame, the interne who had relieved Thaddeus, walked in at that moment. “Good morning,” he said. “How do you feel?”
Smith examined the question. The first phrase he recognized as a formal sound, requiring no answer. The second was listed in his mind with several translations. If Doctor Nelson used it, it meant one thing; if Captain van Tromp used it, it was a formal sound.
He felt that dismay which so often overtook him in trying to communicate with these creatures. But he forced his body to remain calm and risked an answer. “Feel good.”
“Good!” the creature echoed. “Doctor Nelson will be along in a minute. Feel like breakfast?”
All symbols were in Smith’s vocabulary but he had trouble believing that he had heard rightly. He knew that he was food, but he did not “feel like” food. Nor had he any warning that he might be selected for such honor. He had not known that the food supply was such that it was necessary to reduce the corporate group. He was filled with mild regret, since there was still so much to grok of new events, but no reluctance.
But he was excused from the effort of translating an answer by the entrance of Dr. Nelson. The ship’s doctor inspected Smith and the array of dials, then turned to Smith. “Bowels move?”
Smith understood this; Nelson always asked it. “No.”
“We’ll take care of that. But first you eat. Orderly, fetch that tray.”
Nelson fed him three bites, then required him to hold the spoon and feed himself. It was tiring but gave him a feeling of gay triumph for it was his first unassisted action since reaching this oddly distorted space. He cleaned the bowl and remembered to ask, “Who is this?” so that he could praise his benefactor.
“What is this, you mean,” Nelson answered. “It’s a synthetic food jelly—and now you know as much as you did before. Finished? All right, climb out of that bed.”
“Beg pardon?” It was an attention symbol which was useful when communication failed.
“I said get out of there. Stand up. Walk around. Sure, you’re weak as a kitten but you’ll never put on muscle floating in that bed.” Nelson opened a valve, water drained out. Smith restrained a feeling of insecurity, knowing that Nelson cherished him. Shortly he lay on the floor of the bed with the watertight cover wrinkled around him. Nelson added, “Doctor Frame, take his other elbow.”
With Nelson to encourage and both to help Smith stumbled over the rim of the bed. “Steady. Now stand up,” Nelson directed. “Don’t be afraid. We’ll catch you if necessary.”
He made the effort and stood alone—a slender young man with underdeveloped muscles and overdeveloped chest. His hair had been cut in the Champion and his whiskers removed and inhibited. His most marked feature was his bland, babyish face—set with eyes which would have seemed at home in a man of ninety.
He stood alone, trembling slightly, then tried to walk. He managed three shuffling steps and broke into a sunny, childlike smile. “Good boy!” Nelson applauded.
He tried another step, began to tremble and suddenly collapsed. They barely managed to break his fall. “Damn!” Nelson fumed. “He’s gone into another one. Here, help me lift him into bed. No—fill it first.”
Frame cut off the flow when the skin floated six inches from the top. They lugged him into it, awkwardly because he had frozen into foetal position. “Get a collar pillow under his neck,” instructed Nelson, “and call me if you need me. We’ll walk him again this afternoon. In three months he’ll be swinging through the trees like a monkey. There’s nothing really wrong with him.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Frame answered doubtfully.
“Oh, yes, when he comes out of it, teach him to use the bathroom. Have the nurse help you; I don’t want him to fall.”
“Yes, sir. Uh, any particular method—I mean, how—”
“Eh? Show him! He won’t understand much that you say, but he’s bright as a whip.”
Smith ate lunch without help. Presently an orderly came in to remove his tray. The man leaned over. “Listen,” he said in a low voice, “I’ve got a fat proposition for you.”
“A deal, a way for you to make money fast and easy.”
“‘Money?’ What is ‘money’?”
“Never mind the philosophy; everybody needs money. I’ll talk fast because I can’t stay long—it’s taken a lot of fixing to get me here. I represent Peerless Features. We’ll pay sixty thousand for your story and it won’t be a bit of trouble to you—we’ve got the best ghost writers in the business. You just answer questions; they put it together.” He whipped out a paper. “Just sign this.”
Smith accepted the paper, stared at it, upside down. The man muffled an exclamation. “Lordy! Don’t you read English?”
Smith understood this enough to answer. “No.”
“Well—Here, I’ll read it, then you put your thumb print in the square and I’ll witness it. ‘I, the undersigned, Valentine Michael Smith, sometimes known as the Man from Mars, do grant and assign to Peerless Features, Limited, all and exclusive rights in my true-fact story to be titled I was a Prisoner on Mars in exchange for—”
Dr. Frame was in the door; the paper disappeared into the man’s clothes. “Coming, sir. I was getting this tray.”
“What were you reading?”
“I saw you. This patient is not to be disturbed.” They left; Dr. Frame closed the door behind them. Smith lay motionless for an hour, but try as he might he could not grok it at all.
GILLIAN BOARDMAN was a competent nurse and her hobby was men. She went on duty that day as supervisor of the floor where Smith was. When the grapevine said that the patient in suite K-12 had never seen a woman in his life, she did not believe it. She went to pay a call on the strange patient.
She knew of the “No Female Visitors” rule and, while she did not consider herself to be a visitor, she sailed past without attempting to use the guarded door—marines had a stuffy habit of construing orders literally. Instead she went into the adjacent watch room.
Dr. Thaddeus looked up. “Well, if it ain’t ‘Dimples!’ Hi, honey, what brings you here?”
“This is part of my rounds. What about your patient?”
“Don’t worry your head, honey chile; he’s not your responsibility. See your order book.”
“I read it. I want to look at him.”
“In one word—no.”
“Oh, Tad, don’t go regulation.”
He gazed at his nails. “If I let you put your foot inside that door, I’d wind up in Antarctica. I wouldn’t want Dr. Nelson even to catch you in this watch room.”
She stood up. “Is Doctor Nelson likely to pop in?”
“Not unless I send for him. He’s sleeping off low-gee fatigue.”
“Then what’s the idea of being so duty struck?”
“That’s all, Nurse.”
“Very well, Doctor!” She added, “Stinker.”
“A stuffed shirt, too.”
He sighed. “Still okay for Saturday night?”
She shrugged. “I suppose. A girl can’t be fussy these days.” She went back to her station, picked up the pass key. She was balked but not beaten, as suite K-12 had a door joining it to the room beyond, a room used as a sitting room when the suite was occupied by a high official. The room was not then in use. She let herself into it. The guards paid no attention, unaware that they had been flanked.
She hesitated at the door between the two rooms, feeling the excitement she used to feel when sneaking out of student nurses’ quarters. She unlocked it and looked in.
The patient was in bed, he looked at her as the door opened. Her first impression was that here was a patient too far gone to care. His lack of expression seemed to show the apathy of the desperately ill. Then she saw that his eyes were alive with interest; she wondered if his face was paralyzed?
She assumed her professional manner. “Well, how are we today? Feeling better?”
Smith translated the questions. The inclusion of both of them in the query was confusing; he decided that it might symbolize a wish to cherish and grow close. The second part matched Nelson’s speech forms. “Yes,” he answered.
“Good!” Aside from his odd lack of expression she saw nothing strange about him—and if women were unknown to him, he was managing to conceal it. “Is there anything I can do?” She noted that there was no glass on the bedside shelf. “May I get you water?”
Smith spotted at once that this creature was different from the others. He compared what he was seeing with pictures Nelson had shown him on the trip from home to his place—pictures intended to explain a puzzling configuration of this people group. This, then, was “woman.”
He felt both oddly excited and disappointed. He suppressed both in order that he might grok deeply, with such success that Dr. Thaddeus noticed no change in the dials next door.
But when he translated the last query he felt such surge of emotion that he almost let his heartbeat increase. He caught it and chided himself for an undisciplined nestling. Then he checked his translation.
No, he was not mistaken. This woman creature had offered him water. It wished to grow closer.
With great effort, scrambling for adequate meanings, he attempted to answer with due ceremoniousness. “I thank you for water. May you always drink deep.”
Nurse Boardman looked startled. “Why, how sweet!” She found a glass, filled it, and handed it to him.
He said, “You drink.”
Wonder if he thinks I’m trying to poison him? she asked herself—but there was a compelling quality to his request. She took a sip, whereupon he took one also, after which he seemed content to sink back, as if he had accomplished something important.
Jill told herself that, as an adventure, this was a fizzle. She said, “Well, if you don’t need anything, I must get on with my work.”
She started for the door. He called out, “No!”
She stopped. “Eh?”
“Don’t go away.”
“Well . . . I’ll have to go, pretty quickly.” She came back. “Is there anything you want?”
He looked her up and down. “You are . . . ‘woman’?”
The question startled Jill Boardman. Her impulse was to answer flippantly. But Smith’s grave face and oddly disturbing eyes checked her. She became aware emotionally that the impossible fact about this patient was true; he did not know what a woman was. She answered carefully, “Yes, I am a woman.”
Smith continued to stare. Jill began to be embarrassed. To be looked at by a male she expected, but this was like being examined under a microscope. She stirred. “Well? I look like a woman, don’t I?”
“I do not know,” Smith answered slowly. “How does woman look? What makes you woman?”
“Well, for pity’s sake!” This conversation was further out of hand than any she had had with a male since her twelfth birthday. “You don’t expect me to take off my clothes and show you!”
Smith took time to examine these symbols and try to translate them. The first group he could not grok at all. It might be one of those formal sounds these people used . . . yet it had been spoken with force, as if it might be a last communication before withdrawal. Perhaps he had so deeply mistaken right conduct in dealing with a woman creature that it might be ready to discorporate.
He did not want the woman to die at that moment, even though it was its right and possibly its obligation. The abrupt change from rapport of water ritual to a situation in which a newly won water brother might be considering withdrawal or discorporation would have thrown him into panic had he not been consciously suppressing such disturbance. But he decided that if it died now he must die at once also—he could not grok it any other wise, not after giving of water.
The second half contained symbols he had encountered before. He grokked imperfectly the intention but there seemed to be a way to avoid this crisis—by acceding to the suggested wish. Perhaps if the woman took its clothes off neither of them need discorporate. He smiled happily. “Please.”
Jill opened her mouth, closed it. She opened it again. “Well, I’ll be darned!”
Smith could grok emotional violence and knew that he had offered a wrong reply. He began to compose his mind for discorporation, savoring and cherishing all that he had been and seen, with especial attention to this woman creature. Then he became aware that the woman was bending over him and he knew somehow that it was not about to die. It looked into his face. “Correct me if I am wrong,” it said, “but were you asking me to take my clothes off?”
The inversions and abstractions required careful translation but Smith managed it. “Yes,” he answered, hoping that it would not stir up a new crisis.
“That’s what I thought you said. Brother, you aren’t ill.”
The word “brother” he considered first—the woman was reminding him that they had been joined in water. He asked the help of his nestlings that he might measure up to whatever this new brother wanted. “I am not ill,” he agreed.
“Though I’m darned if I know what is wrong with you. I won’t peel down. And I’ve got to leave.” It straightened up and turned toward the side door—then stopped and looked back with a quizzical smile. “You might ask me again, real prettily, under other circumstances. I’m curious to see what I might do.”
The woman was gone. Smith relaxed and let the room fade away. He felt sober triumph that he had somehow comported himself so that it was not necessary for them to die . . . but there was much to grok. The woman’s last speech had contained symbols new to him and those which were not new had been arranged in fashions not easily understood. But he was happy that the flavor had been suitable for communication between water brothers—although touched with something disturbing and terrifyingly pleasant. He thought about his new brother, the woman creature, and felt odd tingles. The feeling reminded him of the first time he had been allowed to be present at a discorporation and he felt happy without knowing why.
He wished that his brother Doctor Mahmoud were here. There was so much to grok, so little to grok from.
Jill spent the rest of her watch in a daze. The face of the Man from Mars stayed in her mind and she mulled over the crazy things he had said. No, not “crazy”—she had done her stint in psychiatric wards and felt certain that his remarks had not been psychotic. She decided that “innocent” was the term—then decided that the word was not adequate. His expression was innocent, his eyes were not. What sort of creature had a face like that?
She had once worked in a Catholic hospital; she suddenly saw the face of the Man from Mars surrounded by the headdress of a nursing sister, a nun. The idea disturbed her; there was nothing female about Smith’s face.
She was changing into street clothes when another nurse stuck her head into the locker room. “Phone, Jill.” Jill accepted the call, sound without vision, while she dressed.
“Is this Florence Nightingale?” a baritone voice asked.
“Speaking. That you, Ben?”
“The stalwart upholder of the freedom of the press in person. Little one, are you busy?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I have in mind buying you a steak, plying you with liquor, and asking you a question.”
“The answer is still ‘No.’ ”
“Not that question.”
“Oh, you know another one? Tell me.”
“Later. I want you softened up first.”
“Real steak? Not syntho?”
“Guaranteed. Stick a fork in it and it will moo.”
“You must be on an expense account, Ben.”
“That’s irrelevant and ignoble. How about it?”
“You’ve talked me into it.”
“Roof on the medical center. Ten minutes.”
She put the suit she had changed into back into her locker and put on a dress kept there for emergencies. It was demure, barely translucent, with bustle and bust pads so subdued that they merely re-created the effect she would have produced wearing nothing. Jill looked at herself with satisfaction and took the bounce tube up to the roof.
She was looking for Ben Caxton when the roof orderly touched her arm. “There’s a car paging you, Miss Boardman—that Talbot saloon.”
“Thanks, Jack.” She saw the taxi spotted for take-off, with its door open. She climbed in, and was about to hand Ben a back-handed compliment when she saw that he was not inside. The taxi was on automatic; its door closed and it took to the air, swung out of the circle and sliced across the Potomac. It stopped on a landing flat over Alexandria and Caxton got in; it took off again. Jill looked him over. “My, aren’t we important! Since when do you send a robot to pick up your women?”
He patted her knee and said gently, “Reasons, little one. I can’t be seen picking you up—”
“—and you can’t afford to be seen with me. So simmer down, it was necessary.”
“Hmm . . . which one of us has leprosy?”
“Both of us. Jill, I’m a newspaperman.”
“I was beginning to think you were something else.”
“And you are a nurse at the hospital where they are holding the Man from Mars.”
“Does that make me unfit to meet your mother?”
“Do you need a map, Jill? There are more than a thousand reporters in this area, plus press agents, ax grinders, winchells, lippmanns, and the stampede that arrived when the Champion landed. Every one of them has been trying to interview the Man from Mars—and none has succeeded. Do you think it would be smart for us to be seen leaving the hospital together?”
“I don’t see that it matters. I’m not the Man from Mars.”
He looked her over. “You certainly aren’t. But you are going to help me see him—which is why I didn’t pick you up.”
“Huh? Ben, you’ve been out in the sun without your hat. They’ve got a marine guard around him.”
“So they have. So We talk it over.”
“I don’t see what there is to talk about.”
“Later. Let’s eat.”
“Now you sound rational. Would your expense account run to the New Mayflower? You are on an expense account, aren’t you?”
Caxton frowned. “Jill, I wouldn’t risk a restaurant closer than Louisville. It would take this hack two hours to get that far. How about dinner in my apartment?”
“‘—Said the Spider to the Fly.’ Ben, I’m too tired to wrestle.”
“Nobody asked you to. King’s X, cross my heart and hope to die.”
“I don’t like that much better. If I’m safe with you, I must be slipping. Well, all right, King’s X.”
Caxton punched buttons; the taxi, which had been circling under a “hold” instruction, woke up and headed for the apartment hotel where Ben lived. He punched a phone number and said to Jill, “How much time do you want to get liquored up, sugar foot? I’ll tell the kitchen to have the steaks ready.”
Jill considered it. “Ben, your mousetrap has a private kitchen.”
“Of sorts. I can grill a steak.”
“I’ll grill the steak. Hand me the phone.” She gave orders, stopping to make sure that Ben liked endive.
The taxi dropped them on the roof and they went down to his flat. It was old-fashioned, its one luxury a live grass lawn in the living room. Jill stopped, slipped off her shoes, stepped barefooted into the living room and wiggled her toes among the cool green blades. She sighed. “My, that feels good. My feet have hurt ever since I entered training.”
“No, I want my feet to remember this tomorrow.”
“Suit yourself.” He went into his pantry and mixed drinks.
Presently she followed and became domestic. Steak was in the package lift; with it were pre-baked potatoes. She tossed the salad, handed it to the refrigerator, set up a combination to grill the steak and heat the potatoes, but did not start the cycle. “Ben, doesn’t this stove have remote control?”
He studied the setup, flipped a switch. “Jill, what would you do if you had to cook over an open fire?”
“I’d do darn well. I was a Girl Scout. How about you, smarty?”
They went to the living room; Jill sat at his feet and they applied themselves to martinis. Opposite his chair was a stereovision tank disguised as an aquarium; he switched it on, guppies and tetras gave way to the face of the well-known winchell Augustus Greaves.
“—it can be stated authoritatively,” the image was saying, “that the Man from Mars is being kept under drugs to keep him from disclosing these facts. The administration would find it extremely—”
Caxton flipped it off. “Gus old boy,” he said pleasantly, “you don’t know a durn thing more than I do.” He frowned. “Though you might be right about the government keeping him under drugs.”
“No, they aren’t,” Jill said suddenly.
“Eh? How’s that, little one?”
“The Man from Mars isn’t under hypnotics.” Having blurted more than she had meant to, she added, “He’s got a doctor on continuous watch, but there aren’t any orders for sedation.”
“Are you sure? You aren’t one of his nurses?”
“No. Uh . . . matter of fact, there’s an order to keep women away from him and some tough marines to make sure of it.”
Caxton nodded. “So I heard. Fact is, you don’t know whether they are drugging him or not.”
Jill bit her lip. She would have to tell on herself to back up what she had said. “Ben? You wouldn’t give me away?”
“Any way at all.”
“Hmm . . . that covers a lot, but I’ll go along.”
“All right. Pour me another.” He did so, Jill went on. “I know they don’t have the Man from Mars hopped up—because I talked with him.”
Caxton whistled. “I knew it. When I got up this morning I said to myself, ‘Go see Jill. She’s the ace up my sleeve.’ Honey lamb, have another drink. Have six. Here, take the pitcher.”
“Not so fast!”
“Whatever you like. May I rub your poor tired feet? Lady, you are about to be interviewed. How—”
“No, Ben! You promised. You quote me and I’ll lose my job.”
“Mmm . . . How about ‘from a usually reliable source’?”
“I’d be scared.”
“Well? Are you going to let me die of frustration and eat that steak by yourself?”
“Oh, I’ll talk. But you can’t use it.” Ben kept quiet; Jill described how she had out-flanked the guards.
He interrupted. “Say! Could you do that again?”
“Huh? I suppose so, but I won’t. It’s risky.”
“Well, could you slip me in that way? Look, I’ll dress like an electrician—coveralls, union badge, tool kit. You slip me the key and—”
“Huh? Look, baby girl, be reasonable. This is the greatest human-interest story since Colombo conned Isabella into hocking her jewels. The only thing that worries me is that I may find another electrician—”
“The only thing that worries me is me,” Jill interrupted. “To you it’s a story; to me it’s my career. They’d take away my cap, my pin, and ride me out of town on a rail.”
“Mmm . . . there’s that.”
“There sure is that.”
“Lady, you are about to be offered a bribe.”
“How big? It’ll take quite a chunk to keep me in style the rest of my life in Rio.”
“Well . . . you can’t expect me to outbid Associated Press, or Reuters. How about a hundred?”
“What do you think I am?”
“We settled that, we’re dickering over the price. A hundred and fifty?”
“Look up the number of Associated Press, that’s a lamb.”
“Capitol 10-9000. Jill, will you marry me? That’s as high as I can go.”
She looked startled. “What did you say?”
“Will you marry me? Then, when they ride you out of town on a rail, I’ll be waiting at the city line and take you away from your sordid existence. You’ll come back here and cool your toes in my grass—our grass—and forget your ignominy. But you’ve durn well got to sneak me into that room first.”
“Ben, you almost sound serious. If I phone for a Fair Witness, will you repeat that?”
Caxton sighed. “Send for a Witness.”
She stood up. “Ben,” she said softly, “I won’t hold you to it.” She kissed him. “Don’t joke about marriage to a spinster.”
“I wasn’t joking.”
“I wonder. Wipe off the lipstick and I’ll tell everything I know, then we’ll consider how you can use it without getting me ridden on that rail. Fair enough?”
She gave him a detailed account. “I’m sure he wasn’t drugged. I’m equally sure that he was rational—although he talked in the oddest fashion and asked the darnedest questions.”
“It would be odder still if he hadn’t talked oddly.”
“Jill, we don’t know much about Mars but we do know that Martians are not human. Suppose you were popped into a tribe so far back in the jungle that they had never seen shoes. Would you know the small talk that comes from a lifetime in a culture? That’s a mild analogy; the truth is at least forty million miles stranger.”
Jill nodded. “I figured that out. that’s why I discounted his odd remarks. I’m not dumb.”
“No, you’re real bright, for a female.”
“Would you like this martini in your hair?”
“I apologize. Women are smarter than men; that is proved by our whole setup. Gimme, I’ll fill it.”
She accepted peace offerings and went on, “Ben, that order about not letting him see women, it’s silly. He’s no sex fiend.”
“No doubt they don’t want to hand him too many shocks at once.”
“He wasn’t shocked. He was just . . . interested. It wasn’t like having a man look at me.”
“If you had granted that request for a viewing, you might have had your hands full.”
“I don’t think so. I suppose they’ve told him about male and female; he just wanted to see how women are different.”
“ ‘Vive la difference!’ ” Caxton answered enthusiastically.
“Don’t be vulgar.”
“Me? I was being reverent. I was giving thanks that I was born human and not Martian.”
“I was never more serious.”
“Then be quiet. He wouldn’t have given me any trouble. You didn’t see his face—I did.”
“What about his face?”
Jill looked puzzled. “Ben, have you ever seen an angel?”
“You, cherub. Otherwise not.”
“Well, neither have I—but that is how he looked. He had old, wise eyes in a completely placid face, a face of unearthly innocence.” She shivered.
“ ‘Unearthly’ is the word,” Ben answered slowly. “I’d like to see him.”
“Ben, why are they keeping him shut up? He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Caxton fitted his fingertips together. “Well, they want to protect him. He grew up in Mars gravity; he’s probably weak as a cat.”
“But muscular weakness isn’t dangerous; myasthenia gravis is much worse and we manage all right with that.”
“They want to keep him from catching things, too. He’s like those experimental animals at Notre Dame; he’s never been exposed.”
“Sure, sure—no antibodies. But from what I hear around the mess hall, Doctor Nelson—the surgeon in the Champion—took care of that on the trip back. Mutual transfusions until he had replaced about half his blood tissue.”
“Can I use that, Jill? That’s news.”
“Just don’t quote me. They gave him shots for everything but housemaid’s knee, too. But, Ben, to protect him from infection doesn’t take armed guards.”
“Mmmm. . . . Jill, I’ve picked up a few tidbits you may not know. I can’t use them because I’ve got to protect my sources. But I’ll tell you—just don’t talk.”
“It’s a long story. Want a refill?”
“No, let’s start the steak. Where’s the button?”
“Well, push it.”
“Me? You offered to cook dinner.”
“Ben Caxton, I will lie here and starve before I will get up to push a button six inches from your finger.”
“As you wish.” He pressed the button. “But don’t forget who cooked dinner. Now about Valentine Michael Smith. There is grave doubt as to his right to the name ‘Smith.’ ”
“Honey, your pal is the first interplanetary bastard of record.”
“The hell you say!”
“Please be ladylike. You remember anything about the Envoy? Four married couples. Two couples were Captain and Mrs. Brant, Doctor and Mrs. Smith. Your friend with the face of an angel is the son of Mrs. Smith by Captain Brant.”
“How do they know? And who cares? It’s pretty snivelin’ to dig up scandal after all this time. They’re dead—let ’em alone!”
“As to how they know, there probably never were eight people more thoroughly measured and typed. Blood typing, Rh factor, hair and eye color, all those genetic things—you know more about them than I do. It is certain that Mary Jane Lyle Smith was his mother and Michael Brant his father. It gives Smith a fine heredity; his father had an I.Q. of 163, his mother 170, and both were tops in their fields.
“As to who cares,” Ben went on, “a lot of people care—and more will, once this shapes up. Ever heard of the Lyle Drive?”
“Of course. That’s what the Champion used.”
“And every space ship, these days. Who invented it?”
“I don’t—Wait a minute! You mean she—”
“Hand the lady a cigar! Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith. She had it worked out before she left even though development remained to be done. So she applied for basic patents and placed it in trust—not a non-profit corporation, mind you—then assigned control and interim income to the Science Foundation. So eventually the government got control—but your friend owns it. It’s worth millions, maybe hundreds of millions; I couldn’t guess.”
They brought in dinner. Caxton used ceiling tables to protect his lawn; he lowered one to his chair and another to Japanese height so that Jill could sit on the grass. “Tender?” he asked.
“Ongerful!” she answered.
“Thanks. Remember, I cooked.”
“Ben,” she said after swallowing, “how about Smith being a—I mean, illegitimate? Can he inherit?”
“He’s not illegitimate. Doctor Mary Jane was at Berkeley; California laws deny the concept of bastardy. Same for Captain Brant, as New Zealand has civilized laws. While in the home state of Doctor Ward Smith, Mary Jane’s husband, a child born in wedlock is legitimate, come hell or high water. We have here, Jill, a man who is the legitimate child of three parents.”
“Huh? Now wait, Ben; he can’t be. I’m not a lawyer but—”
“You sure ain’t. Such fictions don’t bother a lawyer. Smith is legitimate different ways in different jurisdictions—even though a bastard in fact. So he inherits. Besides that, while his mother was wealthy, his fathers were well to do. Brant ploughed most of his scandalous salary as a pilot on the Moon run into Lunar Enterprises. You know how that stuff boomed—they just declared another stock dividend. Brant had one vice, gambling—but the bloke won regularly and invested that, too. Ward Smith had family money. Smith is heir to both.”
“That ain’t half, honey. Smith is heir to the entire crew.”
“All eight signed a ‘Gentlemen Adventurers’ contract, making them mutually heirs to each other—all of them and their issue. They did it with care, using as models contracts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that had stood up against every effort to break them. These were highpowered people; among them they had quite a lot. Happened to include considerable Lunar Enterprises stock, too, besides what Brant held. Smith might own a controlling interest, or at least a key bloc.”
Jill thought about the childlike creature who had made such a touching ceremony of a drink of water and felt sorry for him. Caxton went on: “I wish I could sneak a look at the Envoy’s log. They recovered it—but I doubt if they’ll release it.”
“Why not, Ben?”
“It’s a nasty story. I got that much before my informant sobered up. Dr. Ward Smith delivered his wife by Caesarean section—and she died on the table. What he did next shows that he knew the score; with the same scalpel he cut Captain Brant’s throat—then his own. Sorry, hon.”
Jill shivered. “I’m a nurse. I’m immune to such things.”
“You’re a liar and I love you for it. I was on police beat three years, Jill; I never got hardened to it.”
“What happened to the others?”
“If we don’t break the bureaucrats loose from that log, we’ll never know—and I am a starry-eyed newsboy who thinks we should. Secrecy begets tyranny.”
“Ben, he might be better off if they gypped him out of his inheritance. He’s very . . . uh, unworldly.”
“The exact word, I’m sure. Nor does he need money; the Man from Mars will never miss a meal. Any government and a thousand-odd universities and institutions would be delighted to have him as a permanent guest.”
“He’d better sign it over and forget it.”
“It’s not that easy. Jill, you know the famous case of General Atomics versus Larkin, et al.?”
“Uh, you mean the Larkin Decision. I had it in school, same as everybody. What’s it got to do with Smith?”
“Think back. The Russians sent the first ship to the Moon, it crashed. The United States and Canada combine to send one; it gets back but leaves nobody on the Moon. So while the United States and the Commonwealth are getting set to send a colonizing one under the sponsorship of the Federation and Russia is mounting the same deal on their own, General Atomics steals a march by boosting one from an island leased from Ecuador—and their men are there, sitting pretty and looking smug when the Federation vessel shows up—followed by the Russian one.
“So General Atomics, a Swiss corporation American controlled, claimed the Moon. The Federation couldn’t brush them off and grab it; the Russians wouldn’t have held still. So the High Court ruled that a corporate person, a mere legal fiction, could not own a planet; the real owners were the men who maintained occupation—Larkin and associates. So they recognized them as a sovereign nation and took them into the Federation—with melon slicing for those on the inside and concessions to General Atomics and its daughter corporation, Lunar Enterprises. This did not please anybody and the Federation High Court was not all-powerful then—but it was a compromise everybody could swallow. It resulted in rules for colonizing planets, all based on the Larkin Decision and intended to avoid bloodshed. Worked, too—World War Three did not result from conflict over space travel and such. So the Larkin Decision is law and applies to Smith.”
Jill shook her head. “I don’t see the connection.”
“Think, Jill. By our laws, Smith is a sovereign nation—and sole owner of the planet Mars.”
JILL LOOKED round-eyed. “Too many martinis, Ben. I would swear you said that patient owns Mars.”
“He does. He occupied it the required period. Smith is the planet Mars—King, President, sole civic body, what you will. If the Champion had not left colonists, Smith’s claim might have lapsed. But it did and that continues occupation even though Smith came to Earth. But Smith doesn’t have to split with them; they are mere immigrants until he grants them citizenship.”
“But legal. Honey, you see why people are interested in Smith? And why the administration is keeping him under a rug? What they are doing isn’t legal. Smith is also a citizen of the United States and of the Federation; it’s illegal to hold a citizen, even a convicted criminal, incommunicado anywhere in the Federation. Also, it has been an unfriendly act all through history to lock up a visiting monarch—which he is—and not to let him see people, especially the press, meaning me. You still won’t sneak me?”
“Huh? You’ve got me scared silly. Ben, if they had caught me, what would they have done?”
“Mmm . . . nothing rough. Locked you in a padded cell, with a certificate signed by three doctors, and allowed you mail on alternate leap years. I’m wondering what they are going to do to him.”
“What can they do?”
“Well, he might die—from gee-fatigue, say.”
“You mean murder him?”
“Tut, tut! Don’t use nasty words. I don’t think they will. In the first place he is a mine of information. In the second place, he is a bridge between us and the only other civilized race we have encountered. How are you on the classics? Ever read H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds?”
“A long time ago, in school.”
“Suppose the Martians turn out nasty. They might and we have no way of guessing how big a club they swing. Smith might be the go-between who could make the First Interplanetary War unnecessary. Even if this is unlikely, the administration can’t ignore it. The discovery of life on Mars is something that, politically, they haven’t figured out yet.”
“Then you think he is safe?”
“For the time being. The Secretary General has to guess right. As you know, his administration is shaky.”
“I don’t pay attention to politics.”
“You should. It’s barely less important than your own heart beat.”
“I don’t pay attention to that, either.”
“Don’t talk when I’m orating. The patchwork majority headed by Douglas could slip apart overnight—Pakistan would bolt at a nervous cough. There would be a vote of no confidence and Mr. Secretary General Douglas would go back to being a cheap lawyer. The Man from Mars can make or break him. Are you going to sneak me in?”
“I’m going to enter a nunnery. Is there more coffee?”
They stood up. Jill stretched and said, “Oh, my ancient bones! Never mind coffee, Ben; I’ve got a hard day tomorrow. Run me home, will you? Or send me home, that’s safer.”
“Okay, though the evening is young.” He went into his bedroom, came out carrying an object the size of a small cigarette lighter. “You won’t sneak me in?”
“Gee, Ben, I want to, but—”
“Never mind. It is dangerous—and not just to your career.” He showed her the object. “Will you put a bug on him?”
“Huh? What is it?”
“The greatest boon to spies since the Mickey Finn. A microminiaturized recorder. The wire is spring driven so it can’t be spotted by a snooper circuit. The insides are packed in plastic—you could drop it out of a cab. The power is about as much radioactivity as in a watch dial, but shielded. The wire runs twenty-four hours. Then you slide out a spool and stick in another—the spring is part of the spool.”
“Will it explode?” she asked nervously.
“You could bake it in a cake.”
“Ben, you’ve got me scared to go into his room.”
“You can go into the room next door, can’t you?”
“I suppose so.”
“This thing has donkey’s ears. Fasten the concave side against a wall—tape will do—and it picks up everything in the room beyond.”
“I’m bound to be noticed if I duck in and out of that room. Ben, his room has a wall in common with a room on another corridor. Will that do?”
“Perfect. You’ll do it?”
“Umm . . . give it to me. I’ll think it over.”
Caxton polished it with his handkerchief. “Put on your gloves.”
“Possession is good for a vacation behind bars. Use gloves and don’t get caught with it.”
“You think of the nicest things!”
“Want to back out?”
Jill let out a long breath. “No.”
“Good girl!” A light blinked, he glanced up. “That must be your cab. I rang for it when I went to get this.”
“Oh. Find my shoes, will you? Don’t come to the roof. The less I’m seen with you the better.”
“As you wish.”
As he straightened up from putting her shoes on, she took his head in both hands and kissed him. “Dear Ben! No good can come of this and I hadn’t realized you were a criminal—but you’re a good cook as long as I set the combination . . . I might marry you if I can trap you into proposing again.”
“The offer remains open.”
“Do gangsters marry their molls? Or is it ‘frails’?” She left hurriedly.
Jill placed the bug easily. The patient in the room in the next corridor was bedfast; Jill often stopped to gossip. She stuck it against the wall over a closet shelf while chattering about how the maids just never dusted the shelves.
Changing spools the next day was easy; the patient was asleep. She woke while Jill was perched on a chair; Jill diverted her with a spicy ward rumor.
Jill sent the exposed wire by mail, as the postal system seemed safer than a cloak and dagger ruse. But her attempt to insert a third spool she muffed. She waited for the patient to be asleep but had just mounted the chair when the patient woke. “Oh! Hello, Miss Boardman.”
Jill froze. “Hello, Mrs. Fritschlie,” she managed to answer. “Have a nice nap?”
“Fair,” the woman answered peevishly. “My back aches.”
“I’ll rub it.”
“Doesn’t help. Why are you always fiddling in my closet? Is something wrong?”
Jill tried to reswallow her stomach. “Mice,” she answered.
“ ‘Mice’? Oh I’ll have to have another room!”
Jill tore the instrument loose and stuffed it into her pocket, jumped down. “Now, now, Mrs. Fritschlie—I was just looking to see if there were mouse holes. There aren’t.”
“Quite sure. Now let’s rub the back. Easy over.”
Jill decided to risk the empty room which was part of K-12, the suite of the Man from Mars. She got the pass key.
Only to find the room unlocked and holding two more marines; the guard had been doubled. One looked around as she opened the door. “Looking for someone?”
“No. Don’t sit on the bed, boys,” she said crisply. “If you need chairs, we’ll send for them.” The guard got reluctantly up; she left, trying to conceal her trembling.
The bug was still in her pocket when she went off duty; she decided to return it to Caxton. Once in the air and headed toward Ben’s apartment she breathed easier. She phoned him in flight.
“Jill, Ben. I want to see you.”
He answered slowly, “I don’t think it’s smart.”
“Ben, I’ve got to. I’m on my way.”
“Well, okay, if that’s how it’s got to be.”
“Now look, hon, it isn’t that I—”
“ ’Bye!” She switched off, calmed down and decided not to take it out on Ben—they were playing out of their league. At least she was—she should have left politics alone.
She felt better when she snuggled into his arms. Ben was such a dear—maybe she should marry him. When she tried to speak he put a hand over her mouth, whispered, “Don’t talk. I may be wired.”
She nodded, got out the recorder, handed it to him. His eyebrows went up but he made no comment. Instead he handed her a copy of the afternoon Post.
“Seen the paper?” he said in a natural voice. “You might glance at it while I wash up.”
“Thanks.” As she took it he pointed to a column, then left, taking with him the recorder. The column was Ben’s own:
THE CROW’S NEST
by Ben Caxton
Everyone knows that jails and hospitals have one thing in common: they can be very hard to get out of. In some ways a prisoner is less cut off than a patient; a prisoner can send for his lawyer, demand a Fair Witness, invoke habeas corpus and require the jailor to show cause in open court.
But it takes only a NO VISITORS sign, ordered by one of the medicine men of our peculiar tribe, to consign a hospital patient to oblivion more thoroughly than ever was the Man in the Iron Mask.
To be sure, the patient’s next of kin cannot be kept out—but the Man from Mars seems to have no next of kin. The crew of the ill-fated Envoy had few ties on Earth; if the Man in the Iron Mask—pardon me; I mean the “Man from Mars”—has any relative guarding his interests, a few thousand reporters have been unable to verify it.
Who speaks for the Man from Mars? Who ordered an armed guard placed around him? What is his dread disease that no one may glimpse him, nor ask him a question? I address you, Mr. Secretary General; the explanation about “physical weakness” and “gee-fatigue” won’t wash; if that were the answer, a ninety-pound nurse would do as well as an armed guard.
Could this disease be financial in nature? Or (let’s say it softly) is it political?
There was more of the same; Jill could see that Ben was baiting the administration, trying to force them into the open. She felt that Caxton was taking serious risk in challenging the authorities, but she had no notion of the size of the danger, nor what form it might take.
She thumbed through the paper. It was loaded with stories on the Champion, pictures of Secretary General Douglas pinning medals, interviews with Captain van Tromp and his brave company, pictures of Martians and Martian cities. There was little about Smith, merely a bulletin that he was improving slowly from the effects of his trip.
Ben came out and dropped sheets of onionskin in her lap. “Here’s another newspaper.” He left again.
Jill saw that the “newspaper” was a transcription of what her first wire had picked up. It was marked “First Voice,” “Second Voice,” and so on, but Ben had written in names wherever he had been able to make attributions. He had written across the top: “All voices are masculine.”
Most items merely showed that Smith had been fed, washed, massaged and that he had exercised under supervision of a voice identified as “Doctor Nelson” and one marked “second doctor.”
One passage had nothing to do with care of the patient. Jill reread it:
Doctor Nelson: How are you feeling, boy? Strong enough to talk?
Doctor Nelson: A man wants to talk to you.
Smith: (pause) Who? (Caxton had written: All of Smith’s speeches are preceded by pauses.)
Nelson: This man is our great (untranscribable guttural word—Martian?). He is our oldest Old One. Will you talk with him?
Smith: (very long pause) I am great happy. The Old One will talk and I will listen and grow.
Nelson: No, no! He wants to ask you questions.
Smith: I cannot teach an Old One.
Nelson: The Old One wishes it. Will you let him ask you questions?
Nelson: This way, sir. I have Doctor Mahmoud standing by to translate.
Jill read “New Voice.” Caxton had scratched this out and written in: “Secretary General Douglas! ! !”
Secretary General: I won’t need him. You say Smith understands English.
Nelson: Well, yes and no, Your Excellency. He knows a number of words, but, as Mahmoud says, he doesn’t have any cultural context to hang them on. It can be confusing.
Secretary General: Oh, we’ll get along, I’m sure. When I was a youngster I hitchhiked all through Brazil, without a word of Portuguese when I started. Now, if you will introduce us—then leave us alone.
Nelson: Sir? I had better stay with my patient.
Secretary General: Really, Doctor? I’m afraid I must insist. Sorry.
Nelson: And I am afraid that I must insist. Sorry, sir. Medical ethics—
Secretary General: (interrupting) As a lawyer, I know something of medical jurisprudence—so don’t give me that “medical ethics” mumbo-jumbo. Did this patient select you?
Excerpted from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
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