From Earth to Mars and Beyond: Ten Science Fiction Short Stories
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Our hair stirred in the electrical uproar. About forty feet to our left, a small rabbity creature poked its head from behind a rock and stared at us in utter horror. The creature darted from behind its rock and, looking at us over its shoulder, employed six legs to make small but very fast tracks. We turned our attention again to the desert. Janus hefted his gun nervously.
It was still crackling faintly from the discharge. Allenby sighed. After a moment he sighed again. On a plane surface that catches the Sun. A lousy damned round little impossible hole. Janus, holding out for his belief that the whole thing was of religious origin, kept looking around for Martians as if he expected them to pour screaming from the hills.
In a battle, the whole joint should be cut up. Sort of an ace in the hole. I resisted the temptation to mutiny. You know it would. Two seconds of silence. If whatever made them is still in operation….
Imagining humans on Mars
We got the ship into the air, out of line with the holes to what we fervently hoped was safety, and then we realized we were admitting our fear that the mysterious hole-maker might still be lurking around. Or bird? Eats rocks and everything? Burton set us down feather-light at the very edge of the sprawling flat expanse of vegetation, commenting that the scene reminded him of his native Texas pear-flats. We wandered in the chilly air, each of us except Burton pursuing his specialty. Randolph relentlessly stalked another of the rabbity creatures.
Gonzales was carefully digging up plants and stowing them in jars.
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Janus was busy with his cameras, recording every aspect of Mars transferable to film. Allenby walked around, helping anybody who needed it. I grubbed for rocks. I walked toward a long rise a half-mile or so away, beyond which rose an enticing array of house-sized boulders. It started right where the ground began to rise—a thin, shallow, curve-bottomed groove in the dirt at my feet, about half an inch across, running off straight toward higher ground.
With my eyes glued to it, I walked. The ground slowly rose. The groove deepened, widened—now it was about three inches across, about one and a half deep. The ground rose some more. Four and three-eighths inches wide. Now, as the ground rose, the edges of the groove began to curve inward over the groove.
They touched. No more groove. A few paces farther on, I thumped the ground with my heel where the hole ought to be. The dirt crumbled, and there was the little dark tunnel, running straight in both directions. I walked on, the ground falling away gradually again. The entire process was repeated in reverse. A hairline appeared in the dirt—widened—became lips that drew slowly apart to reveal the neat straight four-inch groove—which shrank as slowly to a shallow line of the ground—and vanished. I looked ahead of me.
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There was one low ridge of ground between me and the enormous boulders. A neat four-inch semicircle was bitten out of the very top of the ridge. In the house-sized boulder directly beyond was a four-inch hole.
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He turned to me. And then another, and another—right through the nest in a line. About thirty holes in all. Randolph, clear on the other side of the jumbled nest, eye to hole, saw it. The ground sloped away on the far side of the nest—no holes were visible in that direction—just miles of desert. And for perfect circles, too.
Science Fiction Stories
Janus walked a few steps, frowning. The softer parts would abrade faster in the soft stone. Because such holes as Janus describes are often pretty damned round. It was the damnedest thing to bend down and look straight through all that curling, twisting growth … a round tunnel from either end. We followed the holes for about a mile, to the rim of an enormous saucerlike valley that sank gradually before us until, miles away, it was thousands of feet deep.
We stared out across it, wondering about the other side. Back to the ship, men! At an altitude of fifty feet, Burton lined the nose of the ship on the most recent line of holes and we flew out over the valley. On the other side was a range of hefty hills. The holes went through them.
Straight through. We would approach one hill—Burton would manipulate the front viewscreen until we spotted the hole—we would pass over the hill and spot the other end of the hole in the rear screen. Randolph was sitting by a side port, chin on one hand, his eyes unbelieving. Burton had suddenly slapped at the control board, and the ship braked and sank like a plugged duck.
At the last second, Burton propped up the nose with a short burst, the ten-foot wheels hit desert sand and in five hundred yards we had jounced to a stop. Allenby got up from the floor. About two miles away, the Martian village looked like a handful of yellow marbles flung on the desert. We checked our guns. We put on our oxygen-masks.
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We checked our guns again. We got out of the ship and made damned sure the airlock was locked.
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An hour later, we crawled inch by painstaking inch up a high sand dune and poked our heads over the top. The Martians were runts—the tallest of them less than five feet tall—and skinny as a pencil.