A Martian Odyssey

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A Martian Odyssey Page 2

by Stanley Grauman Weinbaum

Well, I figured I might as well use what was left ofdaylight in getting down the cliff that bounded Thyle. I found an easyplace, and down I went. Mare Chronium was just the same sort of place asthis--crazy leafless plants and a bunch of crawlers; I gave it a glanceand hauled out my sleeping bag. Up to that time, you know, I hadn't seenanything worth worrying about on this half-dead world--nothingdangerous, that is."

  "Did you?" queried Harrison.

  "_Did I!_ You'll hear about it when I come to it. Well, I was just aboutto turn in when suddenly I heard the wildest sort of shenanigans!"

  "Vot iss shenanigans?" inquired Putz.

  "He says, 'Je ne sais quoi,'" explained Leroy. "It is to say, 'I don'tknow what.'"

  "That's right," agreed Jarvis. "I didn't know what, so I sneaked over tofind out. There was a racket like a flock of crows eating a bunch ofcanaries--whistles, cackles, caws, trills, and what have you. I roundeda clump of stumps, and there was Tweel!"

  "Tweel?" said Harrison, and "Tveel?" said Leroy and Putz.

  "That freak ostrich," explained the narrator. "At least, Tweel is asnear as I can pronounce it without sputtering. He called it somethinglike 'Trrrweerrlll.'"

  "What was he doing?" asked the Captain.

  "He was being eaten! And squealing, of course, as any one would."

  "Eaten! By what?"

  "I found out later. All I could see then was a bunch of black ropy armstangled around what looked like, as Putz described it to you, anostrich. I wasn't going to interfere, naturally; if both creatures weredangerous, I'd have one less to worry about.

  "But the bird-like thing was putting up a good battle, dealing viciousblows with an eighteen-inch beak, between screeches. And besides, Icaught a glimpse or two of what was on the end of those arms!" Jarvisshuddered. "But the clincher was when I noticed a little black bag orcase hung about the neck of the bird-thing! It was intelligent! That ortame, I assumed. Anyway, it clinched my decision. I pulled out myautomatic and fired into what I could see of its antagonist.

  "There was a flurry of tentacles and a spurt of black corruption, andthen the thing, with a disgusting sucking noise, pulled itself and itsarms into a hole in the ground. The other let out a series of clacks,staggered around on legs about as thick as golf sticks, and turnedsuddenly to face me. I held my weapon ready, and the two of us stared ateach other.

  "The Martian wasn't a bird, really. It wasn't even bird-like, exceptjust at first glance. It had a beak all right, and a few featheryappendages, but the beak wasn't really a beak. It was somewhat flexible;I could see the tip bend slowly from side to side; it was almost like across between a beak and a trunk. It had four-toed feet, and fourfingered things--hands, you'd have to call them, and a little roundishbody, and a long neck ending in a tiny head--and that beak. It stood aninch or so taller than I, and--well, Putz saw it!"

  The engineer nodded. "_Ja!_ I saw!"

  Jarvis continued. "So--we stared at each other. Finally the creaturewent into a series of clackings and twitterings and held out its handstoward me, empty. I took that as a gesture of friendship."

  "Perhaps," suggested Harrison, "it looked at that nose of yours andthought you were its brother!"

  "Huh! You can be funny without talking! Anyway, I put up my gun and said'Aw, don't mention it,' or something of the sort, and the thing cameover and we were pals.

  "By that time, the sun was pretty low and I knew that I'd better build afire or get into my thermo-skin. I decided on the fire. I picked a spotat the base of the Thyle cliff, where the rock could reflect a littleheat on my back. I started breaking off chunks of this desiccatedMartian vegetation, and my companion caught the idea and brought in anarmful. I reached for a match, but the Martian fished into his pouch andbrought out something that looked like a glowing coal; one touch of it,and the fire was blazing--and you all know what a job we have starting afire in this atmosphere!

  "And that bag of his!" continued the narrator. "That was a manufacturedarticle, my friends; press an end and she popped open--press the middleand she sealed so perfectly you couldn't see the line. Better thanzippers.

  "Well, we stared at the fire a while and I decided to attempt some sortof communication with the Martian. I pointed at myself and said 'Dick';he caught the drift immediately, stretched a bony claw at me andrepeated 'Tick.' Then I pointed at him, and he gave that whistle Icalled Tweel; I can't imitate his accent. Things were going smoothly; toemphasize the names, I repeated 'Dick,' and then, pointing at him,'Tweel.'

  "There we stuck! He gave some clacks that sounded negative, and saidsomething like 'P-p-p-proot.' And that was just the beginning; I wasalways 'Tick,' but as for him--part of the time he was 'Tweel,' and partof the time he was 'P-p-p-proot,' and part of the time he was sixteenother noises!

  "We just couldn't connect. I tried 'rock,' and I tried 'star,' and'tree,' and 'fire,' and Lord knows what else, and try as I would, Icouldn't get a single word! Nothing was the same for two successiveminutes, and if that's a language, I'm an alchemist! Finally I gave itup and called him Tweel, and that seemed to do.

  "But Tweel hung on to some of my words. He remembered a couple of them,which I suppose is a great achievement if you're used to a language youhave to make up as you go along. But I couldn't get the hang of histalk; either I missed some subtle point or we just didn't _think_alike--and I rather believe the latter view.

  "I've other reasons for believing that. After a while I gave up thelanguage business, and tried mathematics. I scratched two plus twoequals four on the ground, and demonstrated it with pebbles. Again Tweelcaught the idea, and informed me that three plus three equals six. Oncemore we seemed to be getting somewhere.

  "So, knowing that Tweel had at least a grammar school education, I drewa circle for the sun, pointing first at it, and then at the last glow ofthe sun. Then I sketched in Mercury, and Venus, and Mother Earth, andMars, and finally, pointing to Mars, I swept my hand around in a sort ofinclusive gesture to indicate that Mars was our current environment. Iwas working up to putting over the idea that my home was on the earth.

  "Tweel understood my diagram all right. He poked his beak at it, andwith a great deal of trilling and clucking, he added Deimos and Phobosto Mars, and then sketched in the earth's moon!

  "Do you see what that proves? It proves that Tweel's race usestelescopes--that they're civilized!"

  "Does not!" snapped Harrison. "The moon is visible from here as a fifthmagnitude star. They could see its revolution with the naked eye."

  "The moon, yes!" said Jarvis. "You've missed my point. Mercury isn'tvisible! And Tweel knew of Mercury because he placed the Moon at the_third_ planet, not the second. If he didn't know Mercury, he'd put theearth second, and Mars third, instead of fourth! See?"

  "Humph!" said Harrison.

  "Anyway," proceeded Jarvis, "I went on with my lesson. Things were goingsmoothly, and it looked as if I could put the idea over. I pointed atthe earth on my diagram, and then at myself, and then, to clinch it, Ipointed to myself and then to the earth itself shining bright greenalmost at the zenith.

  "Tweel set up such an excited clacking that I was certain he understood.He jumped up and down, and suddenly he pointed at himself and then atthe sky, and then at himself and at the sky again. He pointed at hismiddle and then at Arcturus, at his head and then at Spica, at his feetand then at half a dozen stars, while I just gaped at him. Then, all ofa sudden, he gave a tremendous leap. Man, what a hop! He shot straightup into the starlight, seventy-five feet if an inch! I saw himsilhouetted against the sky, saw him turn and come down at me headfirst, and land smack on his beak like a javelin! There he stuck squarein the center of my sun-circle in the sand--a bull's eye!"

  "Nuts!" observed the captain. "Plain nuts!"

  "That's what I thought, too! I just stared at him open-mouthed while hepulled his head out of the sand and stood up. Then I figured he'd missedmy point, and I went through the whole blamed rigamarole again, and itended the same way, with Tweel on his nose in the middle of my picture!"

sp; "Maybe it's a religious rite," suggested Harrison.

  "Maybe," said Jarvis dubiously. "Well, there we were. We could exchangeideas up to a certain point, and then--blooey! Something in us wasdifferent, unrelated; I don't doubt that Tweel thought me just as screwyas I thought him. Our minds simply looked at the world from differentviewpoints, and perhaps his viewpoint is as true as ours. But--wecouldn't get together, that's all. Yet,

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