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Ray Bradbury

Dark They were, And Golden Eyed (The Naming of Names)

The rocket's metal cooled in the meadow winds. Its lid gave a bulging pop. From its clock interior stepped a man, a woman, and three children. The other passengers whispered away across the Martian meadow, leaving the man alone among his family.

The man felt his hair flutter and the tissues of his body draw tight as if he were standing at the centre of a vacuum. His wife, before him, trembled. The children, small seeds, might at any instant be sown to all the Martian climes. The children looked up at him. His face was cold. «What's wrong?» asked his wife. «Let's get back on the rocket.» «Go back to Earth?» «Yes! Listen!»

The wind blew, whining. At any moment the Martian air might draw his soul from him, as marrow comes from a white bone.

He looked at Martian hills that time had worn with a crushing pressure of years. He saw the old cities, lost and lying like children's delicate bones among the blowing lakes of grass.

«Chin up, Harry,» said his wife. «It's too late. We've come at least sixty-five million miles or more.»

The children with their yellow hair hollered at the deep dome of Martian sky. There was no answer but the racing hiss of wind through the stiff grass.

He picked up the luggage in his cold hands. «Here we go,» he said — a man standing on the edge of a sea, ready to wade in and be drowned.

They walked into town.

Their name was Bittering. Harry and his wife Cora; Tim, Laura, and David. They built a small white cottage and ate good breakfasts there, but the fear was never gone. It lay with Mr.Bittering and Mrs.Bittering, a third unbidden partner at every midnight talk, at every dawn awakening.

«I feel like a salt crystal,» he often said, «in a mountain stream, being washed away. We don't belong here. We're Earth people. This is Mars. It was meant for Martians. For heaven's sake, Cora, let's buy tickets for home!»

But she only shook her head. «One day the atom bomb will fix Earth. Then we'll be safe here.» «Safe and insane!»

Tick-took, seven o'clock sang the voice clock; time to get up. And they did.

Something made him check everything each morning — warm hearth, potted blood-geraniums — precisely as if he expected something to be amiss. The morning paper was toast-warm from the six a.m. Earth rocket. He broke its seal and tilted it at his breakfast plate. He forced himself to be convivial.

«Colonial days all over again,» he declared. «Why, in another year there'll be a million Earthmen on Mars. Big cities, everything! They said we'd fail. Said the Martians would resent our invasion. But did we find any Martians? Not a living soul! Oh, we found their empty cities, but no one in them. Right?»

A river of wind submerged the house. When the windows ceased rattling, Mr.Bittering swallowed and looked at the children.

«I don't know,» said David. «Maybe there're Martians around we don't see. Sometimes nights I think I hear 'em. I hear the wind. The sand hits my window. I get scared. And I see those towns way up in the mountains where the Martians lived a long ago. And I think I see things moving around those towns, Papa. And I wonder if those Martians mind us living here. I wonder if they won't do something to us for coming here.»

«Nonsense!» Mr.Bittering looked out of the windows. «We're clean, decent people.» He looked at his children. «All dead cities have some kind of ghosts in them. Memories, I mean.» He stared at the hills. «You see a staircase and you wonder what Martians looked like climbing it. You see Martian paintings and you wonder what the painter was like. You make a little ghost in your mind, a memory. It's quite natural. Imagination.» He stopped. «You haven't been prowling up in those ruins, have you?»

«No, Papa.» David looked at his shoes.

«See that you stay away from them. Pass the jam.»

«Just the same,» said little David, «I bet something happens.»

Something happened that afternoon.

Laura stumbled through the settlement, crying. She dashed blindly on to the porch.

«Mother, Father — the war, Earth!» she sobbed. «A radio flash just came. Atom bombs hit New York! All the space rockets blown up. No more rockets to Mars, ever!»

«Oh, Harry!» The mother held on to her husband and daughter.

«Are you sure, Laura?» asked the father quietly.

Laura wept. «We're stranded on Mars, for ever and ever!»

For a long time there was only the sound of the wind in the late afternoon.

Alone, thought Bittering. Only a thousand of us here. No way back. No way. No way. Sweat poured from his face and his hands and his body; he was drenched in the hot-ness of his fear. He wanted to strike Laura, cry, «No, you're lying! The rockets will come back!» Instead, he stroked Laura's head against him and said, «The rockets will get through, some day.»

«In five years maybe. It takes that long to build one. Father, Father, what will we do?»

«Go about our business, of course. Raise crops and children. Wait. Keep things going until the war ends and the rockets come again.»

The two boys stepped out on to the porch. «Children,» he said, sitting there, looking beyond them, «I've something to tell you.» «We know,» they said.

Bittering wandered into the garden to stand alone in his fear. As long as the rockets had spun a silver web across space, he had been able to accept Mars. For he had always told himself: 'Tomorrow, if I want, I can buy a ticket and go back to Earth.'

But now: the web gone, the rockets lying in jigsaw heaps of molten girder and unsnaked wire. Earth people left to the strangeness of Mars, the cinnamon dusts and wine airs, to be baked like gingerbread shapes in Martian summers, put into harvested storage by Martian winters. What would happen to him, the others? This was the moment Mars had waited for. Now it would eat them.

He got down on his knees in the flower bed, a spade in his nervous hands. Work, he thought, work and forget.

He glanced up from the garden to the Martian mountains. He thought of the proud old Martian names that had once been on those peaks. Earthmen, dropping from the sky, had gazed upon hills, rivers, Martian seas left nameless in spite of names. Once Martians had built cities, named cities; climbed mountains, named mountains; sailed seas, named seas. Mountains melted, seas drained, cities tumbled. In spite of this, the Earthmen had felt a silent guilt at putting new names to these ancient hills and valleys.

Nevertheless, man lives by symbol and label. The names were given.

Mr.Bittering felt very alone in his garden under the Martian sun, bent here, planting Earth flowers in a wild soil.

Think. Keep thinking. Different things. Keep your mind free of Earth, the atom war, the lost rockets.

He perspired. He glanced about. No one watching. He removed his tie. Pretty bold, he thought. First your coat off, now your tie. He hung it neatly on a peach tree he had imported as a sapling from Massachusetts.

He returned to his philosophy of names and mountains. The Earthmen had changed names. Now there were Hormel Valleys, Roosevelt Seas, Ford Hills, Vanderbilt Plateaus, Rockefeller Rivers, on Mars. It wasn't right. The American settlers had shown wisdom, using old Indian prairie names: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Ohio, Utah, Milwaukee, Waukegan, Osseo. The old names, the old meanings.

Staring at the mountains wildly he thought: «Are you up there? All the dead ones, you Martians? Well, here we are, alone, cut off! Come down, move us out! We're helpless!»

The wind blew a shower of peach blossoms.

He put out his sun-browned hand, gave a small cry. He touched the blossoms, picked them up. He turned them, be touched them again and again. Then he shouted for his wife.

«Cora!»

She appeared at a window. He ran to her.

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