Brothers Beyond the Void by Paul W. Fairman
Story originally published in Fantastic Adventures in 1952, and later adapted into the Twilight Zone episode 'People Are Alike All Over.'
IT WAS a matter of great satisfaction to Marcusson that he could be with Sam Conrad upon the eve of his great adventure. Marcusson’s day had been full; the final briefing during the morning hours at the Foundation headquarters; the many handshakes and well-wishes—these carried over into the afternoon cocktail party given in his honor.
The party had been a boring affair because Marcusson did not care for liquor, the fevered enthusiasm which always went with it, nor the brittle garden variety of compliment:
“Oh Mr. Marcusson! You’ve no idea how thrilled I am to shake your hand!”
“You’ll make it, boy—make it and come back again. A little thing like space won’t stop you!”
“Would you just give me one little old autograph, Mr. Marcusson? Here on my scarf. I’d be so thrilled.”
So Marcusson had left at the earliest opportunity and hastened away to spend his last evening on earth—for a time at least—with Sam Conrad. They sat on Conrad’s vine-covered porch and there was lemonade in a pitcher filled with tinkling cubes of ice; that, the fragrant night, and the quiet restful aura of a true friend.
Marcusson lay back in his chair and closed his eyes. “I’ll remember this,” he said.
Sam Conrad puffed on his pipe. “I’m honored. The world’s most currently famous man comes to visit me.”
“Cut it out. My head’s crammed full with that kind of rot. It’s also full of exact science and cold mathematical calculations. Facts and figures haunt my dreams. I want some good steadying conjecture—some of your tobacco-stained philosophy to wet down the indigestible mass.”
“Are you afraid, Charles?”
“No—no, I don’t think so.” Marcusson leaned suddenly forward in his chair. “Sam—what do you think I’ll find?”
Conrad shrugged. “Your men at the Foundation would know more about that than I. Mars is really beyond the abstract and restful philosophies—”
“Let’s not kid ourselves. They know nothing at all—I know nothing.”
“Nor do I. But let’s project a bit from what solid ground we have. We’ll look at it this way: you are a lone Earthman hoping to set your feet on the planet Mars. Therefore, your instinctive interest is in your own safety. What sort of people will you find there—if any? Will they haul. you from your ship and kick the life out of you? Will they find pleasure in tearing you to pieces?”
“What do you think, Sam?”
* * * * *
THE OLDER man poured two leisurely glasses of lemonade. “We can project with a fair chance of being right. Mars is an old planet. There will certainly be no newly evolved life-forms there. So, if you find living creatures, they will certainly have every right to be called people.”
“I’ll go along with that.”
“And people, Charles, are the same everywhere.”
“I don’t know—”
“There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be. In constructing humankind, Nature invented a fixed formula—a pattern of behavior built upon basic instincts to meet certain physical needs and spiritual conditions. Those conditions, so far as a humanoid is concerned, are the same here on Earth as they would be in the furthest reaches of space. Physical characteristics, of course, are changeable to meet changed geographical and geological conditions. But such things are only trappings; outer garments, so to speak. The spiritual and emotional care of the humanoid is as fixed as the stars.”
“Then you believe people are the same everywhere?”
“People—wherever they are able to exist—are all the same.”
Marcusson left an hour later. He shook hands with Conrad at the gate and pointed to a certain spot in the heavens. “Tomorrow night about this time, look just—there. You may not see me, but don’t forget to look.”
“I certainly shall. Good luck.”
As Marcusson drove home, he thought again of Conrad’s words and found a comfort in them. Not that he was afraid, he assured himself.
Then he refuted that assertion and admitted the truth. Of course he was afraid. Any man in his position would know fear whether he admitted it or not. So the words of his friend were a comfort.
People—wherever they are able to exist—are all the same. And as he went to sleep, the thought was still there: People are all the same.
* * * * *
EVERYTHING went off as scheduled—as smoothly and efficiently as Foundation know-how and money could make it. And Marcusson was struck—later—by how swiftly it all slithered into the past and found a storage-niche in his memory. He thought of this when he was far out in space and there was time to think.
He also thought of Sam Conrad.
But the schedule ran true, and before too long there were other things to think about. A planet, rearing up out of the void to seemingly snatch at his little craft and bring it into strange port.
Here, the mathematics failed to some extent. Marcusson was supposed to have set down in daylight, but as he arced in out of his orbit, the moons of Mars were racing through the sky. This was a bit disappointing, but he set down safely, so the mathematics could not really be charged with failure. He left the ship, cautiously removed his oxygen mask, and found he could breathe. Also, that he was exhausted to a point of physical weakness. He sat down on the cool ground for a moment’s rest. He slept.
He awakened. Daylight was blazing down. He blinked.
And saw the Martians.
* * * * *
THERE WERE two of them—males, Marcusson decided. One was about three inches shorter than the other and the taller stood roughly four feet five inches. They wore clothing of a loose, comfortable sort. The garments were dyed in the brightest hues imaginable and, while they hung to body contour, they seemed to be starched or impregnated with some similar substance.
The Martians were not ugly nor especially beautiful from the standpoint of an Earthman’s eye. Nor was the land striking in any manner whatsoever. There was a gray spired city off to the left, but the only Martians in sight were the two males who stood at a safe distance regarding him.
One of them was obviously armed. He carried a small stick with a butt set into it at right angles. He gripped the butt tightly in his small fist but made no motion to use the weapon.
But Marcusson paid scant attention to all this. These were merely the outer trappings—the superficial structurework in which these people existed.
He was interested basically and tensely in—the Martians.
He got slowly to his feet, careful to make no sudden movements. They were alert, wary, but not afraid. They had eyes of a particularly clear seagreen, and behind these eyes was intelligence. They paid no attention to the ship, having evidently inspected it to their satisfaction while he slept. They watched Marcusson and discussed him between themselves in a musical language—a pleasant, bird-like warble that gave off most ably the nuances of mood, thought, and inflection for which anyone unfamiliar with a language always listens.
Marcusson tentatively extended a hand, thinking, with elation, that all was well. People were the same everywhere. These could be two Earthmen inspecting an interplanetary arrival on Terra. Their reactions, their natural caution, their instincts, were of the same pattern exactly.
One of them was eyeing the gun on Marcusson’s hip. Quite obviously, the Martian knew what it was. Marcusson made no motion toward it. Rather, he smiled and raised his hand, palm outward.
“I am Charles Marcusson. I come from Earth. I come in peace and with a spirit of brotherhood.” He didn’t expect them to understand, but he had invented that speech during the long hours in void and wanted to get it off his chest.
The Martians glanced at each other with bright interest. They did not speak to Marcusson but discussed something between themselves, glancing now and again at the spires of the city beyond the rolling hills.
* * * * *
IT WAS obvious to Marcusson that they were attempting to arrive at some decision. A moment later he knew this had been accomplished because they nodded in agreement and turned their attention to the Earthman.
But cautiously and with ever-present alertness. The one with the weapon motioned—a beckoning motion—after which he pointed across the hills toward a spot somewhat to the right of the city.
Then, both Martians invited Marcusson to walk in that direction by doing so themselves. They stopped, glanced back expectantly, and both of them smiled.
Marcusson chuckled inwardly at these hospitable and kindly gestures. Without hesitation, he moved in the indicated direction. The Martians registered, between themselves, a marked satisfaction. An almost childlike elation, Marcusson thought, at getting their simple ideas across to him. They did not come close, but moved to a point on either side of him and well out of harm’s way if he made a quick movement. The armed one kept his weapon ever at ready, but his smile mirrored the friendliness in his mind.
Marcusson estimated, they had traveled about four miles when they moved over a low hill and came to the house. Obviously it was a house, but it was like nothing Marcusson had ever seen in the way of a dwelling:
It was a perfect square, and no attempt had been made to achieve beauty. Each side ran about twenty feet, and beside it was a smaller square, identical in every respect except size. Grayish windowless walls about ten feet high. Marcusson got the impression of a stockade with a roof, and a tool shed hard by.
The door was merely a section of the wall that pushed inward. Marcusson would have had trouble locating it. One of the Martians opened the door and then both of them stepped back, a careful distance away, and indicated. Marcusson was being invited to precede them.
This he did and was struck immediately by the lighting system inside; or rather, by the apparent absence of a lighting system. He could not discover from whence came the illumination; yet, through some indirect means, there was shadowless light throughout the single room of the house.
Swiftly he took the place in, and marveled at the entirely different manner in which another race on another planet could arrive at the same objective as the inhabitants of Earth. While the contents of the great room bore no similarity to the furnishings of a Terran home, yet there was no doubt that people could live here comfortably and adequately.
They’ll be surprised, he thought, when I tell them about this back in New York.
The Martians entered behind him, closed the door and looked at each other in complete understanding.
* * * * *
NEVER IN his life had Marcusson had such a feeling of contentment, well-being, and achievement. At times he thought to marvel at how smoothly everything had gone. Time slipped by and he felt no sense of urgency, because each day brought accomplishment in increased knowledge of these people.
He did not see any Martians other than the two in whose house he lived. And he got the idea he was being jealously guarded by these two; sort of an honored guest they didn’t care to share with their world.
This amused him and he made no protest because he felt all that could be taken care of in due time. Besides, he was learning a great deal about the Martians. He discovered they were far ahead of Earthlings in many facets of science. The lighting, for instance. He was never able to discover from whence it came. Yet he knew that it was artificial.
The small shed next to the house seemed to contain a great many things they needed. He was never invited to enter it and did not press the point, but he felt sure the lighting, the refrigeration, the water supply and all the Martian’s conveniences of living originated in that small building.
He was somewhat surprised that, while the two Martians were unfailingly attentive and courteous, they continued to mistrust him. They never came close to him in a pair. Always one stood back on the alert, ready to use the small weapon if necessary.
He discarded his own weapon the first night, as a gesture of friendship. He was disappointed, but not discouraged, when they did not reciprocate.
Yet he had no complaint. It was a little like having two excellent servants to do his bidding night and day.
And he was puzzled at the continual air of anticipation between them. They had long discussions in the soft liquid language and, though he couldn’t understand it, he felt it was all of a tenor, always relative to the same subject.
* * * * *
THEN CAME the day he’d hoped for—the day they definitely became more intimate with him. The taller of the two took the initiative in the missionary work, and after a little time Marcusson found out what he was driving at. He wanted to know about the place Marcusson had come from.
Their intercourse took on varied forms. Marcusson printed the word Earth on a metal writing plate and the Martian swiftly understood. He put down some spidery hieroglyphics of his own and Marcusson picked up a smattering of the language. But not much. It was very difficult.
Most of the communications were by way of drawings. When Marcusson indicated the Martian domicile with a wave of his arm and then sketched a Terran cottage, the. Martian was highly elated and went into conference with his partner.
The Martian evinced a tremendous interest in the sketch and Marcusson elaborated upon it greatly, sketching out the rooms, the furnishings, and several outside angles until the Martian appeared satisfied.
On the day following the final sketching of a Terran dwelling place, Marcusson awoke to find what he rated as almost a miracle. The Martians alertly invited him outside and over the brow of the nearest hill. Marcusson gasped.
They had built him a house. They watched him closely for his reaction, and were pleased when it was favorable. Marcusson moved forward in a daze, entered the cottage and felt himself to be back on Earth. Every detail of his sketches had been carried out with amazing accuracy. The furniture, the floor-coverings, the wall-paper—even the light fixtures were in place. And when Marcusson snapped a wall switch, the bulbs gave forth the yellow radiance he had known on Terra.
He was astounded. They are far ahead of us, he thought. Beside them, we are children. Here advance science is commonplace. Science of which we have not even dreamed.
But Conrad was right, he thought warmly. They are people. Basically they are no different from us.
Marcusson moved into his new home that night, much to the delight of the Martians. He ate his dinner at a table which could have come from any Terran furniture store. He lay down in a bed any Terran would have been proud to own.
The Martians did not dine with him. Instead they stood by, conversing in their soothing musical language, happiness mirrored in every syllable.
When darkness fell, they left him alone in his house.
Marcusson filled the early evening hours studying the written Martian language. He had made quite a little progress with the words and could now pick out phrases and whole sentences from the long, narrow books the two Martians had given him. It was about time, he decided, to widen his areas of research. Tomorrow he would insist upon visiting the gray city across the hills.
* * * * *
BUT THE people of the city came to visit him. He arose the next morning and found breakfast awaiting him. But as he sat down to the table, something caught his eye through the window. He arose and went outside.
The Martians were there—hundreds of them—and more coming over the hills from the spired city.
A chill such as he had never known swept through Marcusson. He saw the bars in which he was imprisoned—the cage erected around his house—the sign in Martian lettering he interpreted into his own language and read with horror:
EARTH CREATURE—IN ITS NATURAL HABITAT
He saw the staring eyes of the Martians and realized the full, ghastly truth of Conrad’s words: People are the same everywhere.
He gripped the cage bars in his fists.