The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Last Martian

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Title: The Last Martian

Author: Ray Van Houten

Illustrator: Leo Morey

Release date: May 11, 2020 [eBook #62097]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




The great pumps of Mars were slowly
stopping. Unless the strange being
from far-off Gamtl could renew their
life-giving flow, a once-mighty
planet would die.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1942.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Peetn drew his cloak more firmly about his furry shoulders as the sun began to sink through the Martian sky and the wind throbbed a deeper note in the gathering darkness. He stood gazing silently as the fading light painted the sky in somber colors, preparing to disappear for another night of screaming wind and penetrating sub-zero cold.

He watched until the twilight deepened to purple and then stalked laboriously into the wind, up the gentle slope toward the little hollow where he went each night.

His tall, articulated form strode across the dusty plain. By the time he had reached the foot of the bank the sky was totally blank, except for the stars, and he could barely propel himself forward against the raging world-wide currents of atmosphere. The last few yards he crawled on his bellyplates. He tumbled into the central hollow and lay exhausted, his lungs sucking in and out—

The cry of a Martian odlat would not be audible to human ears, but the screech which emanated within an inch of Peetn's ear-cupulas sent paralyzing waves of terror washing to the tip of his spiny tail. He skirled in agony as inch-long teeth crunched savagely into his shoulder, and the odlat, startled, let go. Peetn's tentacles shot beneath the flapping folds of his cloak and the night-dark was shattered in a hissing blaze of light. The headless corpse of the odlat thudded to the ground. Black reaction smote Peetn a blow somewhere inside, and the Martian lost consciousness.

It was after midnight that he awoke to the agonizing throb of his poisoned shoulder. His faculties returned somewhat, and he crawled painfully over to a little niche in the rocks, where he kept his scant stores. Extracting a few pieces of twisted root which had a slight medicinal quality, he plugged the holes left by the odlat's fangs. Soon, under the soporific influence of the whining wind, he dropped off into a feverish, agitated sleep.

The Martian awoke just before noon of the next day and found that the crude poultices he had applied to his wounds had been more effective than he had expected. The shoulder still hurt, but with the gentle ache of healing tissues rather than the savage bite of newly-torn nerves. The effect of the odlat poison had worn off, and outside of a slight weakness and dizziness, Peetn felt nothing amiss in his interior. He slowly unwound from where he lay and stretched to his full height.

The body of the odlat lay where it had fallen the night before, headless and beginning to stiffen. The dominant race of Mars could use little of this altogether useless and dangerous beast, namely the ears and eyeballs, and if the animal were not too old, the tail. This fierce old reprobate was entirely worthless therefore, and Peetn dragged it out into the desert and threw it into a pit. It could not be left lying near his hollow to draw other odlats to the spot.

He returned from his errand and prepared for another day at his appointed duties.

The routine of caring for a Martian water-station is neither complicated nor arduous, being hardly more than a daily inspection tour. No Martian alive understood the methods or mechanisms which drew and pumped water from the massive ice-cap into the pool of the colony; no one could alter the flow of liquid through the pipes, or shut it off, for the valves had long ago corroded into their seats. Even the inspection was a mere gesture.

Peetn always started his rounds in the underground pump room, partly because most of the machinery was there, but mostly because of a subconscious certainty that there something was wrong. Somehow the conglomeration of squeaks, hisses, and shudders suggested things that shouldn't be. Day after day he had gone over the maze of pipes and cylinders, looking for a dreaded break, but always he found everything the way he had left it the night before. He couldn't know of oilless bearings burning slowly out during the centuries. The Martian artificers had built for incredible durability in that long-gone age of Martian glory, but they had not anticipated the mining of the last drop of oil or the last flake of graphite, which had occurred millennium before Peetn's time.

Once again he began to go over the machinery which he didn't vaguely understand. In the center of the floor squatted a huge, inscrutable mass of metal from which plumed the beginning of all the pipes. Peetn traced with his sight organs the spidery lengths of hard, grey tubing to where they disappeared into the housings of the chugging pumps. It was the pumps which emitted the disturbing noises most of all. Peetn stuck his head close and listened to the discords in their tune. It sounded like rasping, like two raw bones being rubbed together under the flesh. He shook his bald head sadly and let his tentacle-tips flicker lightly over the smooth metal. As long as they didn't stop—

He watched the four bulky pipes crawl along the floor and up the wall, where they pushed through the ceiling into the valve-house above. He glanced over the gauges, meaningless to him, but still faithfully recording the surge of water passing through the pipes. It had lessened by about four-fifths since this station had been in operation, but nobody noticed the difference. Those that had seen the greater flow were less than dust these ages past.

He trudged back up the stairs counting them mechanically, and was in the outer air again. The change from semi-darkness to light brought his multiple eyelids winking shut, screening his sight. He squinted toward the southern horizon, seeing nothing but wastes.

What was that?

From the tail of his eye he thought he saw a flash of light far out toward the west, but although he gazed at the spot for several minutes, it did not repeat. Dismissing it as a result of the glare, he stopped and entered the valve-house, which stood in the shadow of the towering reservoir.

He finished his useless routine, touching gently the same things and looking in the same places as every day, and came outside.

This time it was unmistakable. Something flashed in the sunlight out in the desert to the west, a piece of polished metal or glass. Or a weapon. Somebody was on the desert!

He was immediately prompted to run atop the knoll, whistle and wave his tentacles so that they would not miss him, but some primal caution held him back until reason took hold of his chaotic mind.

Out there was either a friend or an enemy. If it were a friend, it could only be his relief, and he wasn't due for another three years. Besides, he would be coming from the south. Therefore it was an enemy, some members of another colony coming to raid the water station!

Bending low, he raced up the hill and threw himself into the central hollow, facing west. He drew from its holster the flash gun, which had killed the odlat, and cradled it beside him. His eyes strained on their stalks across the western wastes, ready for the first hint of suspicious movement.

Intra-mural war had again broken out on Mars! It disturbed Peetn to have the first responsibility fall on him, but recollecting the tales that the oldsters used to tell him, he was a little proud too. The little band of water-station defenders had been heroes in those days of the past, not useless, forgotten automatons. There had been a real and vital reason for their bitter existence in the north. Peetn's presence, up till now, had been a formality.

For a long time he lay sweeping the desert before him, waiting for another glimpse of his attackers, until suddenly he realized that another night was near. The sky had already begun to edge toward the dark end of the spectrum, and the light was lessening visibly. Peetn grew uneasy as the shadow of the box-like reservoir left its source and began a sinister march to the horizon behind him. The rising nightwind send cold odlat-tongues up and down his spindly back, and although he knew that no living thing could stand on the open desert during a Martian night, the coming of darkness brought fear rather than a sense of security.

The dusky sun touched the western plains and the wind howled higher in anticipation of the darkness. Abruptly, from out of the dull glare in the west, a figure, small from distance, moved. Peetn's limbs and tentacles tensed as he watched, and amazement riveted his gaze.

That small, chunky, ballooning figure was no Martian!

Carried onward by the wind, staggering weakly on its thick legs, the figure came on, weaving from side to side, blundering over the bare rock and hard-packed sand.

Peetn made no move to lift the projector as the thing came within range. Possibly the sight of this apparition had driven all thought of it from his mind; or possibly his analytical subconscious had reasoned that all the menace of the unknown attacker had vanished, since this was obviously no raiding Martians from another colony.

Whatever it was, it seemed in no way belligerent. In fact, Peetn guessed that the creature was in trouble, possibly dying. It made no effort to hold back against the driving wind, as he would have done, and the erratic course which it followed bespoke numbed faculties.

The strange figure passed Peetn's hillcrest hollow a few rods to the north and brought up with a thud against the sheer side of the reservoir, where it toppled limply over and lay still on the ground. Banks of sand began to accumulate against the windward sides of the bloated legs and body.

Peetn hesitated only long enough to jam the flash pistol back into its holster, where it would be safe from the blasting sand, before he scuttled, bent double, toward the mysterious intruder's prone body. The thought that it was a corpse flashed through the Martian's mind, but the chance that a living being lay in travail decided him in favor of the risk.

He was down on his tentacles and knees when he reached the reservoir wall, and he burrowed down behind the inert form for a moment before attempting the more arduous trip back with the dead weight dragging behind. He found to his surprise that it was covered by a case of metal!

Inch by inch, minute by minute, he conquered the two-score feet back to the small safety of his hilltop. Keeping the limp form between himself and the wind, he strained against the uphill drag until finally he topped the crest and slid down into the familiar haven. Dizzy from exertion and gulping air and sand indiscriminately, he relaxed on the fringes of oblivion while the Martian wind bawled in Jovian defeat.

Returning vigor brought renewed interest in his prize of war, and he raised himself on his bony knees, peering breathlessly into the transparent faceplate of the metal suit. Nausea, fear, and amazement flooded his brain at the sight of the alien face which returned his stare with sightless, open eyes. It was the face of a Martian nightmare; square, with jutting chin-bone; straight long nose, pierced under the lobes by wide slits; hideous blue eyes with single skin-like lids; and a mouth—a long, gaping crack rimmed with soft red flesh and filled with gleaming teeth, like a carnivorous beast's!

And that mouth breathed! It was not dead!

Peetn's tentacles fumbled with the unfamiliar drawcatch of the creature's locked faceplate, until with a grating of sand crystals between metal, it slid out, and he lifted the glass off. A puff of evil-smelling vapor flew into the Martian's face, and he recoiled.

The awful face beneath writhed, and a low groan from the pulpy lips made Peetn's eye-sacs pale in terror. He watched fascinated as the returning light of consciousness slowly dissolved the glaze over the bluish eyes. One metal-clad hand raised feebly to the open faceplate and then dropped like lead as if the owner had used the last bit of energy in his storm-beaten body for the effort. The monstrosity lay panting for breath and making murmuring sounds. Peetn bent closer to listen, submerging his revulsion with curiosity.

"Water! Water!" it was saying over and over.

A wave of deep compassion engulfed Peetn's twin hearts as he looked into that twisted face beneath its mat of stiff bristly black fur. He realized instantly that this thing was suffering, probably from lack of the things which kept it alive. He closed the faceplate again to keep out the whirling sand and rummaged out the last of his merrl root and a small quantity of water, on the chance that his food might be suitable to the alien tastes of this being.

An avid light sparkled in the cloudy eyes as Peetn held the food and water close, and in a spasmodic burst of energy it grasped the metal container and splashed the precious fluid into its sucking mouth. Peetn averted his eye-stalks from the horrible, yet pitiful sight. The merrl root was snatched from his tentacle and crammed between the red lips with revolting smacking sounds and gasps of pleasure.

Strength seemed to flow back into the stranger, and he assayed to sit up. He slumped into Peetn's supporting tentacles with a weak grin and closed his eyes, dropping immediately into a deep sleep.

Peetn lay the inert figure back on the ground and gazed fascinated at the face, now relaxed in repose. From whence had this stranger come? Mars could never have spawned such a creature! This was a being from another world, maybe from Gamtl itself! Peetn thrilled at the thought as he lay himself down to a food-and-water-less bed.

Long, long ago the savants had predicted the death of Mars, the gradual wasting away of its ability to support life, until finally the last Martian would die alone. They pointed with eagerness and envy in their telescopes at the soft green sphere of the third planet, picturing it as the Martian Eden, teeming with life-giving food and water.

Space ships were built. There was not nearly enough room for the entire population of Mars aboard, so it was agreed that they should act as ferries, shuttling back and forth until Mars was evacuated.

The first contingent departed one day on the long trek to another world, and the people left behind waited with renewed hope for their turn to go. Hope turned to uneasiness as a second fleet of ships rocketed toward Paradise, many years after the first ones should have returned. A third and fourth fleet followed at ever-lengthening intervals, and with ever-lessening numbers, but all vanished into obscurity with the same finality.

Weakening civilization soon could no longer strain the necessary resources from the perishing planet to send another fleet; Gamtl, the lush, life-choked pleasure-laden Paradise, became a myth of the past, and then even the myth became dim and half-remembered.

Life was a sodden series of hungry days and frigid nights. The energies of each individual were strictly circumscribed to activities designed to give his colony one more day, one more hour of life. Birth, when it was allowed at all, was limited to the replacement of necessary personnel to carry on the food gathering of the community. All contact, outside of occasional meetings between scouts searching for new patches of merrl bushes, was lost between the colonies, which had settled on the dust-covered sites of the ancient cities because of the trickle of water which still issued from the massive pipes. Even the sporadic raids made on the water stations were abandoned, and as the danger of attack lessened, small and smaller numbers of guards were spared from the duties of procuring merrl from the desert wastes, until finally only one made the food-and water-less trip into the northern steppes of the polar region. Every fifth year another was sent to relieve him, but the oldest man in the colony could not remember when one had returned. What privation, what utter loneliness these martyrs endured would never be known. What acts of heroism they might perform would go forever unsung.

Peetn had been very young when he had set out for the far north and five years of Martian hell at the water station, but the two years that had passed so far had left him a dead-hearted, middle-aged Martian. Wrinkles had appeared on his eye-sacs, and his fur had become sparse and gray. His mind, too, had turned gray, had withered from watching too many sunsets. He came to feel inside that he would never see his colony again, just like the others.

In spite of his activity the day before, Peetn was up and about early the next morning and went into the desert for merrl. Before he left, however, he placed the metal container half-full of water beside the still-sleeping figure in the metal suit. An intermittent buzzing sound issuing from its mouth startled him, and he opened the faceplate. The sonorous sound stopped abruptly with a snort, and the stranger mumbled a few words and squirmed in his sleep. Peetn hastily but softly closed the lid and ambled off into the sea of rock and sand.

When he returned, his visitor was standing shakily on his feet, watching him stilt across the plain toward him. Peetn emptied his pockets of the succulent merrl he had gathered and faced the stranger with a whistle of greeting, extending a friendly tentacle. It was grasped by the prehensile tip of the creature's queer tentacle and gently oscillated up and down. Peetn interpreted the gesture as meaning friendship and enthusiastically entered into the spirit of it, pumping the thick arm up and down until the being cried out. The Martian, noticing that his companion's eyes were fastened on the merrl root which he had brought, snatched up one of the tubers and offered it to him.

They broke their fast in genial camaraderie, this decadent Martian and his un-Martian visitant, so utterly divergent in form, so different in many ways. But such is the yearning of loneliness and bewilderment that all this was forgotten.

Peetn was about to leave on his daily inspection when a gentle hand restrained him. The stranger was making sounds at him, meaningless and unfamiliar, but it was apparent that he wanted Peetn to stay and listen. So the Martian stayed and listened solemnly, strange thoughts milling through his head.

"I know you're not going to understand a word of this," his companion was saying, "But I'm going to tell it to you, anyway—just for luck. My name is Harrison Clark, late of San Francisco, U.S.A., Earth. I cracked up, like a damn fool, in the first rocket to reach Mars about two hundred miles out there in the desert. My food and water gave out, and the air inside my ship was getting bad, so I crawled into my can and started out, looking for God knows what! I was about done when you must have found me, for I don't remember anything for a long time back. You saved my life, and now I want to do something for you. Got any lawns you want mowed, or houses I can haunt? I'll bet I'm quite a fright in these parts!" He grinned broadly.

Peetn listened gravely to this address, and when it was over, he extended a tentacle and shook hands.

"I get it, pal!" laughed Harry Clark. "We're friends no matter what I look like. You'd be a sixteen cylinder haunt back on Earth yourself!"

Peetn disengaged his tentacle-tip and strode off down the slope to the subterranean entrance of the pump room. Clark hesitated a moment and then followed, more slowly because of his wasted strength, Peetn turned and waited for him at the head of the steps, and they entered the cavern together.

Clark could not see for a few minutes in the gloom, and he stood still, while Peetn, with his more adaptable sight organs, moved about with ease in the familiar surroundings. The multiple noises which rebounded in the enclosed space beat through the Earthman's open faceplate, betraying the secret of the darkly looming masses.

"Machinery," he said softly.

Peetn went through his customary routine, conscious of the stranger's eyes watching his every move, and conscious also of a pitying wonder in them. They quit the underground room, Peetn gently tugging Clark away from the four gauges which measured the water-flow through the monster pipes, and entered the valve-house.

Peetn's tentacles caressed the valve-wheels and giant housings reverently—and uselessly—while the stranger once again watched with interest. Peetn was suddenly startled by a gusty, explosive sound from the alien.

"What a hell of a mechanic you are!" laughed the Earthman. "I don't believe you know the first thing about all this, and yet you're obviously the caretaker around here. The pumps down there are in a bad way. Why don't you oil them?"

Peetn stuck out his tentacle and they shook hands.

"Yeah, we're pals, but I still think you're a bust. Look," he walked over to one of the valve wheels and grasped it by the rim, "there's hardly a trickle going through the pipes. Why don't you open her up, like this—" The valve creaked protestingly and moved a fraction of an inch under the Earthman's effort. Gauges on the wall quivered slightly and advanced an imperceptible amount along their calibrated scales.

Peetn went suddenly berserk. He lashed out with his tentacles and caught Harrison Clark's straining figure about the waist, flinging him across the narrow room with a metallic clangor. He stood over the cowering figure, his tentacles poised threateningly. This creature was meddling with the machinery!

"Hey, wait a minute!" shouted the shaken Earthman, raising himself on an elbow and looking up into the inscrutable face of the Martian. "I'm not trying to hurt anything! Sorry if I've done anything wrong. Here, shake hands!"

He extended his hand and reluctantly the Martian took it.

They went back to the little hollow, Clark limping a bit from his fall. Peetn enclosed himself in a shell of reticence after the episode in the valve-house, and it was only by dint of hard labor that the Earthman was able to coax him out of it.

The days went by, and sandwiched between them were the Martian nights with their savage fury. Slowly the two mis-matched companions evolved a crude method of making themselves understood to each other, and a dawning comprehension of the incredible state of Martian life came to Harry Clark. He spent much time in wandering about the water station, and slowly he pieced together the puzzle. He knew that it was water which was contained in the pipes almost the first day he had been there. The intake pipes burrowed under the ground toward the north direction of the ice cap, while the outlets stretched away to the south to an unknown destination. This, then, must be some kind of intermediary, where the ice of the polar cap was transformed into water and then pumped south to some place where it was needed. Examination of the huge machine in the center of the pump cavern convinced him that this must be where the ice was turned into water. How the ice was transported over the five hundred miles from the polar cap he could not discover. Water came out, however, so ice must go in.

The pumps carried the water up into the high-sided reservoir, from where it started its journey south after passing through the main valves.

But something was missing. Where did the trickle of water go? Why was it so small? Why had the Martian gone off the deep end when he had tried to increase the volume of water flowing through the pipes? He made up his mind to worm the answers out of Peetn at the first opportunity.

Peetn's mind was in a turmoil as he grubbed in the desert sands at the base of the stubby, tree-like plant. He mechanically pulled up the bulbous roots, tearing them loose, but always leaving enough of a stem so that a new one would grow back on, but his thoughts were upon what the stranger had made known to him by the diagram he had drawn in the sand. This being was from Gamtl! Gamtl, the mythical Eden, the planet to which legend told all good Martians would go some day. Some day, it was said, the ghostly ships of space would return, and all Mars would be happy again. This monstrosity claimed to have come from there. Could this be the time of resurrection which Mars was promised by the old myth? How could this thick-tentacled, hideous-faced being bring Mars back to its old lost glory?

Such were Peetn's thoughts as he approached the water station with his pockets half full of merrl. The now familiar figure of the being from Gamtl stood atop the knoll beckoning to him.

They shook hands solemnly after Peetn had dumped his load of food, and the stranger drew Peetn over to a patch of cleared sand. Bending down, he drew with his finger a crude diagram of the water-station, pointing to it, and then to the reservoir, pump-cavern, and the valve-house, indicating each in the sand in turn. He then drew a line from the pump-cavern northward, and connected it to a large scrawl which Peetn decided was supposed to represent the ice-cap. He nodded his head in a gesture which he had learned from the Earthman, indicating that he understood, and that the diagram was right.

Clark then drew a line from the valve-house south. By means of much pointing and insistent signs, the Martian finally discovered that he wished to know where it led, and what was at the end.

Peetn jack-knifed his gangly legs and sank to his knees. The tip of his tentacles traced a picture in the sand. It looked like a series of small circles interlinked by little curved lines. Peetn pointed to himself, then at the circles. Then he made eighty-two little dashes in the sand.

The Earthman understood immediately. So that was it! This water-station supplied a colony of eighty-two Martians with drinking water, vital to their existence! They must live very far south near the equator, in the warmest zone of the planet, where food and heat were more abundant. Of course! And Beany was shipped up here as watchman. Clark looked with new respect at the Martian, thinking of the soul-deadening loneliness he must have known. He certainly wasn't much good as a mechanic; why, he couldn't even have known that the flow of water could be increased by opening those valves wider! Naturally, he had thought that Clark had tried to sabotage the plant when he had laid hands on the machinery. Those pumps—it was a wonder that they hadn't frozen stiff long before this.

Harrison Clark made up his mind.

Next morning when Peetn arose, the man from Gamtl was gone. So was a three-day supply of merrl and water.

It was eight days later when the Martian emerged from the valve-house and saw the tiny figure come trudging out of the west. It was the alien, and behind him dragged a curious object, a black, cylinder-like affair trundling along on four wheels and pulled by a rope in the stranger's hands. Peetn stalked out to meet him and after they had shaken hands, he curled a few tentacles about the rope and together they pulled the mysterious object into the water-station. Peetn watched with his curiosity aroused as Clark heaved and grunted the thing down the thirty-one steps into the underground pump room, talking all the while.

"You know what this is, Beany, old boy?" he said. "It's oil—for the pumps. It'll take the squeaks out of 'em for a while anyway. It won't last forever, but before it's gone, maybe you and I can figure out something else. Lucky I had this barrel left on the ship. There!" He stood up and dusted off his hands. "If we can get those pumps to stop chattering, we can open up the valves and let a real head of water through to your pals. Be afraid to do it with the things in this condition."

He unscrewed the cap and peered in, sniffing. He turned to the Martian with a broad grin.

"About three-quarters full," he announced, marking the level on the outside of the drum with his hand.

Peetn, deciding that the mystery had progressed just about far enough for his Martian tastes, stilted over and inserted his tube-like proboscis into the hole left by the screw cap, and inhaled. He straightened up abruptly and whistled, tears dropping from his yellow, sac-like eyes.

Clark laughed excitedly. "That's oil, you Beanpole! We're going to rebuild Mars with that drum! You poor guys must have had a hell of a time living in this hole," he continued, becoming serious and pensive and indicating the desert with a wave of his hand. "It would take one of you a life-time to find food enough to live that long. Your civilization has sunk right down to rock bottom, but I think we're going to change all that." He shook his head doubtfully. "It's according to how long we can make this oil last. Those machines which your ancestors made are the real McCoy, all right, but God knows how long they've been pounding away dry as a bone. The oil might pour out of every crack as fast as we pour it in. Well," he finished, shrugging his shoulders, "there's only one way of finding out!"

Carefully, lest he spill a drop of the priceless fluid, he filled a water container with the lubricant.

"Keep your tentacles crossed!" he shot at Peetn, who looked down upon him from his superior height as the Earthman slowly poured the contents of his container into the oil-cup on the main bearing of No. 1 pump. He allowed the dregs to drain into the capacious pocket and then bent with hands on knees, looking for signs of a leak below.

Peetn followed his every move tensely, wondering whether or not to force a halt to this tampering with the vital machines, but somehow he trusted this monster from Gamtl. He seemed to know what he was about, and there was a chance that after he was through the disturbing noises in the machines would be gone. So he watched and waited, always on the alert to prevent any outright damage. He couldn't see, anyway, how pouring some of that evil-smelling stuff into those little cups would change anything.

And then suddenly, the song of the pumps changed! The thumping and creaking lessened to an almost imperceptible amount as a tiny ring of oil appeared around the periphery of the bearing. The pump rose to a new level of activity, the parts whirling and plunging at a greater speed. Peetn thrilled in surprise.

His interest increased ten-fold as Clark filled the cups on the other three pumps in turn. Each one's voice dropped from a shout to a whisper, and all chugged with more vigor under the relaxing influence of the lubricating oil. Peetn trembled all over as he noted that the protesting groans which had worried him so were gone. This was unbelievable! This stranger from Gamtl was indeed a friend!

"Our work isn't done, Beany," said Clark, as he dumped what was left of the oil back into the drum and wiped his hands in the sand. "The really important part is yet to come. This is just preparing; now we've got to knock those rusty valves loose from their eye-teeth!"

He screwed the barrel-cap back into place and, followed by Peetn whose animation was visibly increased over his usual lethargic, fatalistic state, he trod the stairs into the open air.

The Earthman gave a preliminary tug or two at the valve-wheels, and then muttered under his breath. Peetn scowled inwardly. It was not good, tampering with the machines. Then the Martian went all weak and fluttery inside as the stranger picked up a short metal bar which had been lying in a dusty corner and began banging on the tops of the machines! He was upon Clark like a flash, and the tendons in the Earthman's arms cracked agonizingly as the Martian giant wrested the bar away from him in mid-blow. Clark relaxed as the tense tableau threatened to continue for a protracted length of time.

"Look, Beany," he said pleadingly. "I'm only trying to jar the rust loose inside. Gimme back that thing and let me alone. I know what I'm doing."

The Martian, of course, didn't understand a word, and he stood toying with the length of metal rod, his yellow eyes blank and inscrutable. Then with a sudden gesture, he handed it back to Clark and extended a tentacle.

"He trusts me!" gasped the Earthman as he pumped the furry limb up and down enthusiastically.

Using the bar as a lever, he twisted the spoked wheel around several turns, watching the meters on the wall as the valve grated wider and wider. The indicator crept up and up, revealing the increased flow to Clark's anxious eyes. The noise from the pumps below drifting through the open archway thundered with new energy to catch up with the added drain on their powers. Trembling with triumph, he disentangled the bar from the spokes and turned the handle on the petcock from which Peetn drained their drinking water every morning. A stout stream as thick as his thumb spattered to the ground with a heavenly gurgling sound. Peetn's knees must have given way at the sight, for he folded up and sat down on the floor ungently, his eyes glued to that stream of life which issued from the pipette.

Several weeks later, Harry Clark stood by with an amused grin on his face as Peetn tweedled excitedly to the three Martians who had come stilting out of the south the evening before. The whistling of the Martians was less than gibberish to him, but he got the idea from the various tentacle-wavings and yellow-eyed stares in his direction that Peetn was giving them the dirt about himself.

And that was exactly what Peetn was doing.

"The monster is from Gamtl, the Paradise of the old legend," he was whistling. "Many days ago the wind blew him into the water-station, sick and dying from lack of life essentials. He was clad in the strange metal suit which you still see upon him. He is a very strange and alien being. It seems inexplicable, but I believe that he understands more about them than we for whom they exist. Well, one day in the valve-house, he laid tentacles on one of the machines, and I had to pull him bodily away from it. His interest did not carry him quite so far as that in succeeding days, but about a week later I arose in the morning to find him gone!

"His return, which I didn't expect, was the queerest sight I ever saw. He came across the desert at about midday, from the direction he first came, dragging behind him a cylindrical object which I later found to be hollow and filled with a very amazing liquid. He took this container down into the cavern of the chugging machines and unscrewed a small circular section in the top. I smelled its contents; it smelled like the juice of the merrl plant when it was crushed, a very unpleasant odor, I assure you. It also had the same consistency and texture, as I discovered surreptitiously afterwards.

"Well, he poured some of it into the chugging machines, and the noises which they had been making—stopped! It was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. He seemed to wield some un-Martian control over them!

"Then he did a thing which makes me shudder to recount! He picked up a bar of metal half as long as my tentacle and began belaboring the machines from which I had pulled him a few weeks before! Quickly I stopped him, but something, perhaps the memory of how he had quieted the chugging machines, told me that this being could be trusted, and that he knew what he was doing. I—I took an awful chance. I squirm inside when I think of what might have happened if my trust in this Gamtlian had been misplaced. I gave him back the bar and allowed him to continue!

"He stopped banging before he broke anything, and then he did a peculiar thing. He turned the outer edge of the round machines in there," Peetn indicated the valve-house, "so that the whole top moved around itself. Then the miracle happened."

"Yes, go on," twittered the other one excitedly. "What did he do?"

Peetn paused for a moment to gather weight, and then proceeded solemnly. "He opened the little machine from which I draw my drinking water, and a stream shot forth as thick as my tentacle and spattered all about the room!" He allowed himself to exaggerate. "An unbelievable quantity of water poured out in the short space of time that I watched it."

The newcomers seemed slightly disappointed at the tale Peetn told, expecting to hear about gigantic super-Martian operations by the stranger from Gamtl, the Martian spirit-world.

"Why that's just about what happened down at the colony, about the water, I mean," said one of them. "All of a sudden a flood came gushing out of the supply pipe and overflowed the pool and spreading out over the surrounding desert. A funny thing, too, was the way that the merrl plants grew where the water had spread. When we left, our colony had a full fifteen days' stock, and all of it was gathered within a five-minute walk of the caves!"

Peetn had a faraway look in his usually inexpressive, yellow eyes. A quiver was noticeable in his whistle as he replied.

"Can this be the fulfilment of the old legend of Gamtl?" he asked. "Already we owe this alien much; our lives have been made easier to live. Who knows, with the awful burden of food-gathering and water-conserving lifted from our colony, we may be able to gain back some of the lost glory of our ancestors; may again be able to build water-stations and flash-guns! Yes, my friends, the day that stranger staggered into this water-station was the first day of the rebirth of Mars!"

Harrison Clark, for the first time since he had crashed on the Martian desert in the rocket, did not dream so longingly of Earth as he lay in the little hollow he had come to know as home. He had work to do here. A feeling of mingled exultation and determination had possessed him when Peetn had shown him the liquid which resulted from crushing merrl. It was a very heavy and durable vegetable oil, quite capable of continuing the job of lubricating the machinery after his petroleum was gone. Mars could be re-awakened with it; the task was his.

Then, too, some day another rocket might arrive from Earth, one that wouldn't crash. The American Rocket Society wouldn't give up because their first rocket failed to return. In examining the pumps a day or so ago, he thought he found what made them go. A small, ridiculously small box, no larger than his two fists fastened to the eccentric. Obviously atomic power, or something as efficient and ever-lasting. Earth could use something like that.

A sense of warmth and friendship suffused him, in spite of the frigid wind which blew all around, as he thought of the Martian monsters which lay sleeping beside him. They were his people now! For when Peetn had stopped whistling to them, one by one they had filed past, and every damn one had shaken his hand!