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"What happened?" asked Remo.
"I can't see, you idjit!"
"Before that."
"The damn alien did it," Bulla wailed. "He burned out my eyes."
"I'm looking at your eyes. They're still in your head."
"But I can't see."
"Settle down," said Remo, pressing on Bulla's other instep until the bones
crackled. "What did you see?"
"It looked like a Martian," Bulla gasped. "Had its back to me. I walked up to
it, and it spun around real sudden-like. It had a rod in its hand. Damn thing
flashed at me. Felt like hot needles jabbing my eyeballs." Bulla's voice
cracked. "Now I can't see my fingers before my poor face."
Remo and planetary geologist Tom Pulse exchanged glances while Bulla waved his
hands in front of his blinking bloodshot eyes. There was so much red in the
whites, the blue of his eyes looked purple by contrast.
Pulse shrugged helplessly. "I can't vouch for him. We only met today."
Remo looked into Bulla's sightless eyes and said, "Try closing them."
"They are closed!" Bulla insisted, all evidence to the contrary.
"Then open and close them."
Bulla did. They got wider and, if possible, redder.
"Any difference?"
"No. I can't see, open or closed."
"Keep them closed. Just relax. We'll figure this out."
Bulla began walking around in aimless circles, moaning and blubbering.
Remo sat him down and knelt beside him. "You said Martian?" he asked calmly.
"Yeah. It was a Martian."
"How do you know it was a Martian?"
"It looked like a Martian," Bulla said.
"You know what a Martian looks like?"
"No. 'Course not. But he was man shaped. Wore a quilted space suit with a
square black glass porthole in front of his face. Had gloves and boots on and
was looking around the way the old Apollo astronauts used to poke around the
moon. You know, careful and clumsy-like at the same time."
"That doesn't make him a Martian," Remo declared.
"He sure wasn't press!" Bulla said bitterly.
Remo stood up and faced the Master of Sinanju. "Little Father, let's look
around some more."
"We will discover who committed this foul deed," Chiun squeaked.
Remo called back to Tom Pulse, "Keep an eye on him."
"Sure thing."
Starting off, Remo undertoned to the old Korean, "He could be making this
story up."
"Why?"
"To get the heat off the project."
The Master of Sinanju looked back at the rim of the BioBubble shimmering up
heat waves under the broiling Arizona sun.
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"If so, he is far too late."
"Not that kind of heat. You saw the way the press was acting when we pulled
up."
"Yes. It was good that we remained away from their noise and insanity.
Otherwise, they would have committed some barbaric indiscretion, such as
interviewing you instead of a more worthy person."
"I don't believe in men from Mars," said Remo, walking with such care that his
Italian loafers left no impression on the rust-colored Arizona sands. Chiun
likewise disturbed nothing with his sandaled tread.
"Is Mars not a world like this one?"
"Yeah. But there's no air up there. It can't support life. It's a big red
desert, kinda like this one."
"If no man of Earth has ever been there, how can you know this?" asked Chiun.
"We sent probes. They sent back video."
"Television probes?"
"Yeah."
Chiun scrunched up his chin. His wispy beard stuck out from under his lower
lip like a fluttering tendril of smoke.
"And if there were men dwelling on the Fire Planet as there are Earth men,
would they not have have seen these probes coming and showed them deceitful
pictures of arid deserts and desolation to confound suspecting Earth men into
thinking no one lived there?"
"I don't think so," said Remo, frowning.
They came to a set of footprints that trampled the sandstone ground with no
discernible purpose or direction. The prints were humanlike, but heelless and
corrugated for extra traction like a pair of running shoes.
Chiun indicated this confusion of prints with the curved jade nail protector
that protected his right index finger.
"Behold, Remo. Proof!"
"Of what?"
"That a man of Mars stood on this very spot."
"All I see are boot prints."
"Examine the markings more closely. Do the heels not consist of the Greek
letter Mu?"
Remo looked closer.
"Yeah, now that you point it out, the tread is a stack of M's. So what?"
"Mu's. Men from Mars. Clearly the Martians are wearing Martian-made boots."
"Come off it. If there were Martians, they wouldn't advertise their existence
with brand-name boots. Besides that, the Martians don't use the English
alphabet."
"So you admit Martians do exist?" said Chiun loftily.
"No, I don't."
"Even with the proof etched in the red dust at your feet?"
"Look, let's collar this guy and find out if he's a Martian or not."
"I will agree to this. Let the Martian decide this argument."
"Fine. Let's go."
The footprints led through eroded red rock and sand until, without warning,
they just stopped.
"Where'd they go?" Remo said, looking around.
Chiun frowned. "They stop."
"I can see that. How is that possible?"
"It is simple. The Martian entered his space chariot at this spot and was
whisked back to his home desert."
"No sale. It don't see landing-gear marks."
"Further proof!" Chiun crowed.
"Of what?"
"That Martians truly exist."
"How?"
"You would not look for the marks of their space chariots if you did not
secretly accept their existence," Chiun sniffed.
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Remo started to throw up his hands, decided against it and knelt instead.
"Something's wrong here," he muttered.
"That is obvious," Chiun sniffed.
"No. This patch of ground. Feel it with your sandals."
Chiun scratched at the red sand experimentally.
"It does not shift like loose sand," he said, papery lips thinning.
"Yeah. It's fixed. Like the sand grains are cemented down."
Exploring with his hands, Remo found that the sand in a sizable rectangle had
the feel and texture of coarse-grained sandpaper, and beyond a well-defined
area, it became loose and granular again.
"This isn't natural," said Remo.
Then his questing fingers found the ring under a flat rock. It was literally a
brass ring, except it was hand, not finger, sized.
Stepping back, Remo lifted the ring up-and up came a long, rectangular
trapdoor. The trap fell back, exposing a cavity that was lined with concrete.
Remo looked down.
"Looks like a secret tunnel. So much for Martians."
"I accept nothing until it is proved or disproved," Chiun said aridly.
"Let's go," Remo said, dropping into the hole.
It was a tunnel. The beaming sunlight illuminated it for a dozen yards, and
then it became as dark as the jungle tunnels Remo used to infiltrate during
his Vietnam days.
They advanced through the zone of light into shadow, the visual purple in
their eyes compensating until they could see shadows and shapes. Ultimately
the details of the tunnel resolved as clearly as if they were in gray
twilight.
Odors began drifting to their sensitive nostrils.
"I smell stuff," said Remo.
"Food," said Chiun.
"Yeah. That, too. But a chemical smell, too."
"Skulking Martians," suggested Chiun.
"Not having the faintest clue what a Martian smells like, I take a pass on the
argument."
"Therefore, I win," said Chiun.
The tunnel right-angled once and then again. It was taking them unerringly in
the direction of the collapsed BioBubble.
After the second turn, the space opened up, and the smell of potatoes and
lettuce and other familiar foodstuffs filled their noses. The familiar humming
of ordinary refrigerators made the still air vibrate.
The vast, shadowy area was crammed with familiar appliances.
Remo stopped, blurting, "Looks like a restaurant kitchen."
They moved among the stoves and refrigerators and meat lockers, opening them.
They found prime rib in plastic, frozen TV dinners and assorted bottled
beverages, including thirty gallons of whole milk under refrigeration.
"Still in code," said Remo, replacing a gallon and slamming the refrigerator [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]