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.”
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