The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

Martian Reception

by S. Fowler Wright

        Only a carbon copy of the first 9 pages remain available. The original was sent to Forest Ackerman. Who is understood to have lost it in his archives.

Chapter 1.

        The Martians were amused: their suckers whistled and waved.

        The two men whom they were examining, with (to them) such comic results - Captain Edwards, and Dick the Cook - were aware of interrogations to which their thoughts made different, though equally truthful, replies.

        The questions were not asked in the English tongue. They were in no language at all, except that of thought, but, the human brains into which they entered translated thought into English words in their accustomed manner. And the Martians were aware of the answering thoughts, though the English words into which they were put might mean nothing to them.

        It was a one-sided contact, for the inferior human brains could learn nothing of their captors' thoughts, except those which were deliberately used to enter and search their minds, and obtain the information which was desired.

        Captain Edwards knew that he excited the merriment of his captors, at which he fumed, for he saw no occasion for such hilarity, and he was aware of his own importance, both in relation to his fellowmen, and the Deity he revered. But these creatures he had encountered, who showed no fear of him, but were so rudely amused, were no more than insects grotesquely enlarged. Reptiles came to his mind, but was absurd, for they did not crawl. Actually, they had three legs to his two. But vermin they certainly were. Or say scum.

        But, however evident this might be, he had enough sense to see that, placed as he was, he must endure them with outward patience, and that an understanding of mutual tolerance was essential, if he were to remain alive in a place which he could not leave. So he controlled himself to submit to investigation, and even strove to conceal contempt.

        Dick the Cook was also aware that he was a comic butt,, though he was not worried by that, for he was one who had seldom been regarded seriously by his fellows.

        What they did not guess was that it was their absurdity that had saved their lives.

        For three million years, the Martians had visited Earth in their secret way, and levied a tribute which men had lacked intelligence even to fear, though there would be a list of missing persons in every civilised land, implying a world total of not less than fifty thousand adults (the absence of missing children being a significant indication of the selection the Martians made). These victims, being intended only for food, had been slaughtered upon arrival, with consideration of what they weighed, rather than what they otherwise were. But these two had delivered themselves at a spot where neither slaughter-house nor transport were near at hand. And the Blue Tails' burrow had been less than a mile away.

        It was an opportunity of learning the nature of these nutritious beasts such as even a dense-brained biped of Earth would have been unlikely to leave unused, and the Blue Tails were among the elite of a higher world.

        They had gathered around their captives, each leaning back comfortably on his hind leg, and commenced an interrogation which had at first been intended only to occupy the time till the butchers should arrive with the trolley which the occasion required. But it was having a different result.

        They had asked many questions:

        Why they wore clothes?

        How they supposed that the Universe had begun?

        Were their noses of any use?

        How far from a bed could they safely go without danger of accident should they fall asleep before it could be reached?

        Were they really unable to grow a third leg, or have one grafted on, to avert the constant danger of toppling over?

        Were they not acutely conscious of the inconvenience - indeed, the peril - of only having two eyes, and both of them on the same side?

        The answers given to these, and many other more or less similar questions, would have been droll enough had there been only one earthly Biped to make reply. But the two different versions of human thought and belief raised the comedy to a level which gave the Blue Tails an idea of the First Grade.

        They had not taken the two men who had survived the wreck of the Seeking Star seriously at first. Not even as a very serious joke.

        It was funny, of course, that men should have come to Mars with so much effort and peril on the assumption that it would be theirs to occupy and possess. There was a vanity, a simplicity here which might rouse much merry whistling around the cauldrons of winter days.

        But that was no more than one good joke among many that each day was expected to bring on a planet where occasions for mirth were sought as eagerly as men would seek occasion to move about.

        The extreme merriment came when their minds were probed, and their quaint beliefs and customs exposed.

        Was there not here a gift to placate El-we? -One which might even incline that moody potentate to defer, if not reverse, the hard judgement by which the whole tribe of the Double Tails would be decimated in three years' time? It would be triumph indeed if he should reduce the new breeds of Clitos, whom he so strangely preferred... It might be well for the butchers to be sent back with an empty lorry.

        Previously, it had been necessary to fetch men and women from earth, that the pots might steam. It had been the special duty of the Double Tails to overlook that, and to send a selection of the best resulting joints to the Royal Burrows, that El-we, and all those who ministered to his royal state, including his seven sons, might have change of diet, such as was essential for those who had lived mainly, for three million years, by picking parasites from each other's backs.

        But now they had begun to deliver themselves! And the curiosity of the Blue Tails had been sufficiently aroused to regard the invaders otherwise than as a roast which E1-we would be glad to have.

        The Blue Tails were the aristocracy of the Martian world. Their Council of Five ruled the Double-Tail Dominion, from pole to pole, only El-we and his seven sons could be counted higher than they. It was honour for Captain Edwards and Dick that they had fallen into such lordly hands, as it was their good fortune that the ethics of their captors were higher than those of men. Men would have made friends with a beast, and then, with a change of mood, used knife or poison to end its life. But the Martians, having had their sport, would not kill those who had made pleasure for them. Let the beasts live! It was incidental that this might bring them a larger gain than a joint would be, if El-we should approve their gift.

        The Blue Tails ended their interrogations with the decision that the captives should be sent to their distant lord, who would have had no previous acquaintance with such as they, except as that which his teeth could chew.

        It was a hard resolve, and not without opposition from the Council itself, two of whom would have found excuse to at least delay the surrender of those from whom so much pleasure could be derived.

        Sum-te had a lively thought that the men might be perched on a narrow plank, fifty feet from the ground, with a promise that, when one should fall the other should be restored to a safer place. It would be a good jest to watch them sway in the air as the hours would pass, and each would hope to keep awake for the longer time. There could not be much better fun than that. And whoever would might wager a currency wife on which of them would be first to fall. That would be enjoyment for them, and the wives would have the pleasure of being handed about.

        But this was put aside, even after Hi-te's objection that one might be maimed or killed had been met by the assurance that that had not been meant, and that there should be softness to meet his fall.

        "What we should seek to do," Hi-te went on, "is to send them to our lord in good condition of life and limb, which cannot be unless we contrive that they be suitably fed."

        No-te answered: "There may be trouble for that at last, but not now. There is store of such things as are meat to them in the wrecked vessel by which they came. And if others should wish to see and probe through the distant days it must be contrived that some food be found, such as they can digest with the funny organs they have."

        The question of food might be put aside, but it was harder to see how such creatures could be housed for the coming night.

        The sun was already low, and each moment the cold was more intense. The two men, standing idly amidst the little group of their hateful captors, shivered visibly, though they were warmly clad.

        The Martians were not distressed in the same way, being adapted to the temperature of the planet on which they lived. They were not cumbered with clothes, but their skins could contract or swell, giving them an inner padding of air, which their blood warmed, But even they would rarely stay above ground till a much later hour than it now was, for the change was rapid, and the night cold would be far below that which is familiar to men of Earth.

        Now they looked at the shivering two with more bewilderment than they were accustomed to feel.

        There was no time to provide them with sensible skins, even though the skill of the Body-Changers should have been sufficient for that, of which they were less than sure. Nor could suckers be grafted in half an hour, even if they would have availed.

        The Martians lay in circles during the night, sucking a central cauldron, which was as essential to them as is sleep to men. But would men's lips suffice, or that which they imbibed be useful for human lungs? The improbabilities were extreme.

        But their Martian intellects were not easily foiled. They thought of all the possibilities which there were, and their minds moved by the same route to the same result.

        When No-Te said: "Then it must be ice," four double tails quivered ascent.

        They closed round their captives, who moved readily, for they had no wish to stand longer shivering there.

        They took them down their own burrow. They led them by a long passage, which had a luminous roof, breathing oxygen which was pumped along it to please their lungs. They came at last to a covered tank, the lid of which slid open, revealing a depth of water below.

(end of M.S. page.9)