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The Terrible Answer   By:

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They came to Mars inquiring after the stuff of Empire. They got


By Arthur G. Hill

They came down to Mars ahead of the rest because Larkin had bought an unfair advantage a copy of the Primary Report. There were seven of them, all varying in appearance, but with one thing in common; in the eyes of each glowed the greed for Empire. They came down in a flash of orange tail fire and they looked first at the Martians.

"Green," marveled Evans. "What a queer shade of green!"

"Not important," Cleve, the psychologist, replied. "Merely a matter of pigmentation. White, yellow, black, green. It proves only that God loves variety."

"And lord how they grin!"

Cleve peered learnedly. "Doesn't indicate a thing. They were born with those grins. They'll die with them."

Of the seven strong men, Larkin exuded the most power. Thus, his role of leader was a natural one. No man would ever stand in front of Larkin. He said, "To hell with color or the shape of their mouths. What we're after lies inside. Come on. Let's set up a camp."

"For the time being," Cleve cautioned, "we must ignore them. Later we know what to do. I'll give the nod."

They brought what they needed out of the ship. They brought the plastic tents, broke the small, attached cylinders, and watched the tents bulge up into living quarters. They set up the vapor condenser and it began filling the water tank from the air about them. They plugged a line into the ship and attached it to the tent line. Immediately the gasses in the plastic tents began to glow and give off both light and heat.

They did many things while the Martians stood silently by with their arms hanging, their splay feet flat on the ground, their slash mouths grinning.

The seven sat down to their first meal under the Martian stars and while they ate the rich, delicate foods, they listened to the words of Larkin. "A new empire waiting to be built. A whole planet virgin new."

"Not new," Dane, the archeologist, said. "It's older than Earth. It's been worked before."

Larkin waved an impatient hand. "But hardly scratched. It can have risen and fallen a thousand times for all we care. The important thing is the vital ingredient of empire. Is it here? Can it be harnessed? Are we or are we not, on the threshold of wealth, splendor, and progress so great as to take away the breath?"

And as Larkin spoke, all seven men looked at the Martians; looked covertly while appearing to study the rolling plain and the purple ridges far away; the texture of the soil; the color of the sky; the food on their plates; the steaming fragrance of their coffee. They looked at all these things but they studied the Martians.

"Stupid looking animals," Evans muttered. "Odd though. So like us yet so different."

At first there had been only a handful of Martians to grin at the landing of the ship. Now they numbered over a hundred, their ranks augmented by stragglers who came to stare with their fellows in happy silence.

"The prospects are excellent," Cleve said. Then he jerked his attention back to Larkin from whom it had momentarily wandered. When Larkin spoke, one listened.

Larkin had been directing his words toward a young man named Smith. Smith had inherited a great deal of money which was fine. But Larkin wasn't too sure of his qualifications otherwise. " the pyramids," Larkin was saying. "Would they have ever been built if the men up above the men with vision had had to worry about a payroll?"

Smith regarded the Martians with not quite the impersonal stare of the other six Earthlings. Once or twice he grinned back at them. "I'll grant the truth of what you say," he told Larkin, "but what good were the pyramids? They're something I could never figure."

Smith had a sardonic twist of mouth that annoyed Larkin. "Let's not quibble, man. I merely used the pyramids as an example... Continue reading book >>

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