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This one you can blame on Norman Spinrad. Norm is one of the best writers in the science-fiction field, and a man who combines deep intelligence with a droll sense of humor.

In 1992, Norm invited me to contribute to an anthology he was putting together, Down in Flames. In his own words, the basic idea of the anthology was to “satirize, destroy, take the piss out of, overturn the basic premises of . . . your own universe.” In other words, Norm wanted a story that would be the antithesis of my usual carefully researched, scientifically accurate fiction.

Well, I have a sense of humor, too. I immediately recalled “Conspiracy Theory” and decided to do another story in the same vein. Only this one would explain just about everything from UFOs to—well, read it and see.

I LEANED BACK in my desk chair and just plain stared at the triangular screen.

“What do you call this thing?” I asked the Martian.

“It is an interociter,” he said. He was half in the tank, as usual.

“Looks like a television set,” I said.

“Its principles are akin to your television, but you will note that its picture is in full color, and you can scan events that were recorded in the past.”

“We should be watching the president’s speech,” said Professor Schmidt.

“Why? We know what he’s going to say. He’s going to tell Congress that he wants to send a man to the Moon before 1970.”

The Martian shuddered. His name was a collection of hisses and sputters that came out to something pretty close to Jazzbow. Anyhow that’s what I called him. He didn’t seem to mind. Like me, he was a baseball fan.

We were sitting in my Culver City office, watching Ted Williams’ last ball game from last year. Now there was a baseball player. Best damned hitter since Ruth. And as independent as Harry Truman. Told the rest of the world to go to hell whenever he felt like it. I admired him for that. I had missed almost the whole season last year; the Martians had taken me on safari with them. They were always doing little favors like that for me; this interociter device was just the latest one.

“I still think we should be watching President Kennedy,” Schmidt insisted.

“We can view it afterward, if you like,” said Jazzbow, diplomatically. As I said, he had turned into quite a baseball fan, and we both wanted to see the Splendid Splinter’s final home run.

Jazzbow was a typical Martian. Some of the scientists still can’t tell one from another, they look so much alike, but I guess that’s because they’re all cloned rather than conceived sexually. Mars is pretty damned dull that way, you know. Of course, most of the scientists aren’t all that smart outside of their own fields of specialization. Take Einstein, for example. Terrific thinker. He believes if we all scrapped our atomic bombs, the world would be at peace. Yah. Sure.

Anyway, Jazzbow is about four-foot-nine with dark leathery skin, kind of like a football that’s been left out in the sun too long. The water from the tank made him look even darker, of course. Powerful barrel chest, but otherwise a real spidery build, arms and legs like pipe stems. Webbed feet, evolved for walking on loose sand. Their hands have five fingers with opposable thumbs, just like ours, but the fingers have so many little bones in them that they’re as flexible as an octopus’s tentacles.

Martians would look really scary, I guess, if it weren’t for their goofy faces. They’ve got big sorrowful limpid eyes with long feminine eyelashes like a camel; their noses are splayed from one cheek to the other; and they’ve got these wide lipless mouths stretched into a permanent silly-looking grin, like a dolphin. No teeth at all. They eat nothing but liquids. Got long tongues, like some insects, which might be great for sex if they had any, but they don’t, and, anyway they usually keep their tongues rolled up inside a special pouch in their cheeks so they don’t startle any of us earthlings. How they talk with their tongues rolled up is beyond me.

Anyway, Jazzbow was half in the tank, as I said. He needed the water’s buoyancy to make himself comfortable in earthly gravity. Otherwise, he’d have to wear his exoskeleton suit, and I couldn’t see putting him through that just so we could have a face-to-face with Professor Schmidt.

The professor was fidgeting unhappily in his chair. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about baseball, but at least he could tell Jazzbow from the other Martians. I guess it’s because he was one of the special few who’d known the Martians ever since they had first crash-landed in New Mexico back in ’46.

Well, Williams socked his home run and the Fenway Park fans stood up and cheered for what seemed like an hour and he never did come out of the dugout to tip his cap for them. Good for him! I thought. His own man to the very end. That was his last time on a ball field as a player. I found I had tears in my eyes.

“Now can we see the president?” Schmidt asked, exasperated. Normally he looked like a young Santa Claus, round and red-cheeked, with a pale blond beard. He usually was a pretty jolly guy, but just now his responsibilities were starting to get the better of him.

Jazzbow snaked one long, limber arm out of the water and fiddled with the controls beneath the inverted triangle of the interociter’s screen. JFK came on the screen in full color, in the middle of his speech to the joint session of Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. I believe we should go to the Moon.”

Jazzbow sank down in his water tank until only his big eyes showed, and he started noisily blowing bubbles, his way of showing that he was upset.

Schmidt turned to me. “You’re going to have to talk him out of it,” he said flatly.

I had not voted for John Kennedy. I had instructed all of my employees to vote against him, although I imagine some of them disobeyed me out of some twisted sense of independence. Now that he was president, though, I felt sorry for the kid. Eisenhower had let things slide pretty badly. The Commies were infiltrating the Middle East and of course they had put up the first artificial satellite and just a couple weeks ago had put the first man into space: Yuri something-or-other. Meanwhile young Jack Kennedy had let that wacky plan for the reconquest of Cuba go through. I had told the CIA guys that they’d need strong air cover, but they went right ahead and hit the Bay of Pigs without even a Piper Cub over them. Fiasco.

So the new president was trying to get everybody’s mind off all this crap by shooting for the Moon. Which would absolutely destroy everything we’d worked so hard to achieve since that first desperate Martian flight here some fifteen years earlier.

I knew that somebody had to talk the president out of this Moon business. And of all the handful of people who were in on the Martian secret, I guess that the only one who could really deal with the White House on an eye-to-eye level was me.

“Okay,” I said to Schmidt. “But he’s going to have to come out here. I’m not going to Washington.”

It wasn’t that easy. The president of the United States doesn’t come traipsing across the country to see an industrial magnate no matter how many services the magnate has performed for his country. And my biggest service, of course, he didn’t know anything about.

To make matters worse, while my people were talking to his people, I found out that the girl I was grooming for stardom turned out to be a snoop from the goddamned Internal Revenue Service. I had had my share of run-ins with the Feds, but using a beautiful starlet like Jean was a low blow even for them. A real crotch shot.

It was Jazzbow who found her out, of course. Jean and I had been getting along very nicely indeed. She was tall and dark-haired and really lovely, with a sweet disposition and the kind of wide-eyed innocence that makes life worthwhile for a nasty old S.O.B. like me. And she loved it, couldn’t get enough of whatever I wanted to give her. One of my hobbies was making movies; it was a great way to meet girls. Believe it or not, I’m really very shy. I’m more at home alone in a plane at twenty thousand feet than at some Hollywood cocktail party. But if you own a studio, the girls come flocking.

Okay, so Jean and I are getting along swell. Except that during the period when my staff was dickering with the White House staff, one morning I wake up and she’s sitting at the writing desk in my bedroom, going through my drawers. The desk drawers, that is.

I cracked one eye open. There she is, naked as a Greek goddess and just as gorgeous, rummaging through the papers in my drawers. There’s nothing in there, of course. I keep all my business papers in a germtight fireproof safe back at the office.

But she had found something that fascinated her. She was holding it in front of her, where I couldn’t see what was in her hand, her head bent over it for what seemed like ten minutes, her dark hair cascading to her bare shoulders like a river of polished onyx.

Then she glanced up at the mirror and spotted me watching her.

“Do you always search your boyfriends’ desks?” I asked. I was pretty pissed off, you know.

“What is this?” She turned and I saw she was holding one of my safari photos between her forefinger and thumb, like she didn’t want to get fingerprints on it.

Damn! I thought. I should’ve stashed those away with my stag movies.

Jean got up and walked over to the bed. Nice as pie she sat on the edge and stuck the photo in front of my bleary eyes.

“What is this?” she asked again.

It was a photo of a Martian named Crunchy, the physicist George Gamow, James Dean, and me in the dripping dark jungle in front of a brontosaurus I had shot. The Venusian version of a brontosaurus, that is. It looked like a small mountain of mottled leather. I was holding the stun rifle Crunchy had lent me for the safari.

I thought fast. “Oh, this. It’s a still from a sci-fi film we started a few years ago. Never finished it, though. The special effects cost too much.”

“That’s James Dean, isn’t it?”

I peered at the photo as if I was trying to remember something that wasn’t terribly important. “Yeah, I think so. The kid wanted more money than I wanted to spend on the project. That’s what killed it.”

“He’s been dead for five or six years.”

“Has it been that long?” James Dean was alive and having the time of his life working with the Martians on Venus. He had left his acting career and his life on Earth far behind him to do better work than the president’s Peace Corps could even dream about.

“I didn’t know he did a picture for you,” she said, her voice dreamy, ethereal. Like every other woman her age she had a crush on James Dean. That’s what drove the poor kid to Venus.

“He didn’t,” I snapped. “We couldn’t agree on terms. Come on back to bed.”

She did, but in the middle of it my damned private phone rang. Only five people on earth knew that number, and one of them wasn’t human.

I groped for the phone. “This better be important,” I said.

“The female you are with,” said Jazzbow’s hissing voice, “is a government agent.”

Oh yeah, the Martians are long-distance telepaths, too.

So I took Jean for a drive out to the desert in my Bentley convertible. She loved the scenery, thought it was romantic. Or so she said. Me, I looked at that miserable dry Mohave scrubland and thought of what it could become: blossoming farms, spacious tracts of housing where people cooped up in the cities could raise their kids, glamorous shopping malls. But about all it was good for now was an Air Force base where guys like Chuck Yeager and Scott Crossfield flew the X-planes and the Martians landed their saucers every now and then. After dark, of course.

“Just look at that sunset,” Jean said, almost breathless with excitement, maybe real, maybe pretended. She was an actress, after all.

I had to admit the sunset was pretty. Red and purple glowing brighter than Technicolor.

“Where are we going?” she kept on asking, a little more nervous each time.

“It’s a surprise.” I had to keep on going until it was good and dark. We had enough UFO sightings as it was, no sense taking a chance on somebody getting a really good look. Or even worse, a photograph.

The stars came out, big and bright and looking close enough to touch. I kept looking for one in particular to detach itself from the sky and land on the road beside us. All that stuff about saucers shining green rays on cars or planes and sucking them up inside themselves is sheer hooey. The Martians don’t have anything like that. Wish they did.

Pretty soon I saw it.

“Look!” says Jean. “A falling star!”

I didn’t say anything, but a couple of minutes later the headlights picked up the saucer sitting there by the side of the road, still glowing a little from the heat of its reentry from orbit.

“Don’t tell me you’ve driven me all the way out here to see another movie set,” Jean said, sounding disappointed. “This isn’t your big surprise is it?”

“Not quite,” I said, pulling up beside the saucer’s spindly little ladder.

She was pretty pissed off. Even when two of the Martians came slithering down the ladder, she still thought it was some kind of a movie stunt. They had to move pretty slowly and awkwardly because of the gravity; made me think of the monster movies we made. Jean was definitely not impressed.

“Honestly, Howard, I don’t see why—” Then one of the Martians put its snake-fingered hands on her and she gave a yelp and did what any well-trained movie starlet would do. She fainted.

Jazzbow wasn’t in the ship, of course. The Martians wouldn’t risk a landing in Culver City to pick him up, not even at night. Nobody but Professor Schmidt and I knew he was in my office suite there. And the other Martians, of course.

So I got Jazzbow on the ship’s interociter while his fellow Martians draped the unconscious Jean on one of their couches. Her skirt rucked up nicely, showing off her legs to good advantage.

“They’re not going to hurt her any, are they?” I asked Jazzbow.

“Of course not,” his image answered from the inverted triangular screen. “I thought you knew us better than that.”

“Yeah, I know. You can’t hurt a fly. But still, she’s just a kid . . .”

“They’re merely probing her mind to see how much she actually knows. It will only take a few minutes.”

I won’t go into all the details. The Martians are extremely sensitive about their dealings with other living creatures. Not hurt a fly? Hell, they’d make the Dalai Lama look like a blood-thirsty maniac.

Very gently, like a mother caressing her sleeping baby, three of them touched her face and forehead with those tentacle-like fingers. Probing her mind. Some writer got wind of the technique second- or third-hand and used it on television a few years later. Called it a Velcro mind-melt or something like that.

“We have for you,” the ship’s science officer told me, “good news and bad news.”

His name sounded kind of like Snitch. Properly speaking, every Martian is an “it,” not a “him” or a “her.” But I always thought of them as males.

“The good news,” Snitch said to me, “is that this female knew nothing of our existence. She hadn’t the faintest suspicion that Martians exist or that you are dealing with them.”

“Well, she does now,” I grumbled.

“The bad news,” he went on, with that silly grin spread across his puss, “is that she is acting as an undercover agent for your Internal Revenue Service—while she’s between acting jobs.”

Aw hell.

I talked it over with Jazzbow. Then he talked in Martian with Snitch. Then all three of us talked together. We had evolved a Standard Operating Procedure for situations like this, when somebody stumbled onto our secret. I didn’t much like the idea of using it on Jean, but there wasn’t much else we could do.

So, reluctantly, I agreed. “Just be damned careful with her,” I insisted. “She’s not some hick cop who’s been startled out of his snooze by one of your cockamamie malfunctioning saucers.”

Their saucers were actually pretty reliable, but every once in a while the atmospheric turbulence at low altitude would get them into trouble. Most of the sightings happened when the damned things wobbled too close to the ground.

Jazzbow and Snitch promised they’d be extraspecial careful.

Very gently, the Martians selectively erased Jean’s memory so that all she remembered the next morning, when she woke up a half a mile from a Mohave gas station, was that she had been abducted by aliens from another world and taken aboard a flying saucer.

The authorities wanted to put her in a nuthouse, of course. But I sent a squad of lawyers to spring her, since she was under contract to my movie studio. The studio assumed responsibility for her, and my lawyers assured the authorities that she was about to star in a major motion picture. The yokels figured it had all been a publicity stunt and turned her loose. I actually did put her into a couple of starring roles, which ended her career with the IRS, although I figured that not even the Feds would have had anything to do with Jean after the tabloids headlined her story about being abducted by flying-saucer aliens. I took good care of her, though. I even married her, eventually. That’s what comes from hanging around with Martians.

See, the Martians have a very high ethical standard of conduct. They cannot willingly hurt anybody or anything. Wouldn’t step on an ant. It’s led to some pretty near scrapes for us, though. Every now and then somebody stumbles onto them and the whole secret’s in jeopardy. They could wipe the person’s brain clean, but that would turn the poor sucker into a zombie. So they selectively erase only the smallest possible part of the sucker’s memory. And they always leave the memory of being taken into a flying saucer. They tell me they have to. That’s part of their moral code, too. They’re constantly testing us—the whole human race, that is—to see if we’re ready to receive alien visitors from another world. And to date, the human race as a whole has consistently flunked every test.

Sure, a handful of very special people know about them. I’m pretty damned proud to be among that handful, let me tell you. But the rest of the human race, the man in the street, the news reporters and preachers and even the average university professor—they either ridicule the very idea that there could be any kind of life at all on another world or they get scared to death of the possibility. Take a look at the movies we make!

“Your people are sadly xenophobic,” Jazzbow  told me more than once, his big liquid eyes looking melancholy despite that dumbbell clown’s grin splitting his face.

I remembered Orson Welles’ broadcast of The War of the Worlds back in ’38. People got hysterical when they thought Martians had landed in New Jersey, although why anybody would want to invade New Jersey is beyond me. Here I had real Martians zipping all over the place, and they were gentle as butterflies. But no one would believe that; the average guy would blast away with his twelve-gauge first and ask where they came from afterward.

So I had to convince the president that if he sent astronauts to the moon, it would have catastrophic results.

Well, my people and Kennedy’s people finally got the details ironed out and we agreed to meet at Edwards Air Force Base, out in the Mohave. Totally secret meeting. JFK was giving a speech in LA that evening at the Beverly Wilshire. I sent a company helicopter to pick him up there and fly him over to Edwards. Just him and two of his aides. Not even his Secret Service bodyguards; he didn’t care much for having those guys lurking around him, anyway. Cut down on his love life too much.

We met in Hangar Nine, the place where the first Martian crew was stashed back in ’46, pretty battered from their crash landing. That’s when I first found out about them. I was asked by Professor Schmidt, who looked like a very agitated young Santa Claus back then, to truck in as many refrigeration units as my company could lay its hands on. Schmidt wanted to keep the Martians comfortable, and since their planet is so cold, he figured they needed mucho refrigeration. That was before he found out that the Martians spend about half their energy budget at home just trying to stay reasonably warm. They loved Southern California! Especially the swimming pools.

Anyway, there I am waiting for the president in good old Hangar Nine, which had been so Top Secret since ’46 that not even the base commander’d been allowed inside. We’d partitioned it and decked it out with nice furniture and all the modern conveniences.

I noticed that Jazzbow had recently had an interociter installed. Inside the main living area we had put up a big water tank for Jazzbow and his fellow Martians, of course. The place kind of resembled a movie set: nice modern furnishings, but if you looked past the ten-foot-high partitions that served as walls you saw the bare metal support beams crisscrossing up in the shadows of the ceiling.

Jazzbow came in from Culver City in the same limo that brought Professor Schmidt. As soon as he got into the hangar he unhooked his exoskeleton and dived into the water tank. Schmidt started pacing nervously back and forth on the Persian carpeting I had put in. He was really wound up tight: letting the president in on this secret was an enormous risk. Not for us, so much as for the Martians.

It was just about midnight when we heard the throbbing-motor sound of a helicopter in the distance. I walked out into the open and saw the stars glittering like diamonds all across the desert sky. How many of them are inhabited? I wondered. How many critters out there are looking at our Sun and wondering if there’s any intelligent life there?

Is there any intelligent life in the White House? That was the big question far as I was concerned.

Jack Kennedy looked tired. No, worse than that, he looked troubled. Beaten down. Like a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Which he did. Elected by a paper-thin majority, he was having hell’s own time getting Congress to vote for his programs. Tax relief, increased defense spending, civil rights—they were all dead in the water, stymied by a Congress that wouldn’t do spit for him. And now I was going to pile another ton and a half on top of all that.

“Mr. President,” I said as he walked through the chilly desert night from the helicopter toward the hangar door. I sort of stood at attention: for the office, not the man, you understand. Remember, I voted for Nixon.

He nodded at me and made a weary smile and stuck out his hand the way every politician does. I let him shake my hand, making a mental note to excuse myself and go to the washroom as soon as decently possible.

As we had agreed, he left his two aides at the hangar door and accompanied me inside all by himself. He kind of shuddered.

“It’s cold out there, isn’t it?” he said.

He was wearing a summer-weight suit. I had an old windbreaker over my shirt and slacks.

“We’ve got the heat going inside,” I said, gesturing him through the door in the first partition. I led him into the living area and to the big carpeted central room where the water tank was. Schmidt followed behind us so close I could almost feel his breath on my neck. It gave me that crawly feeling I  get when I realize how many millions of germs are floating through the air all the time.

“Odd place for a swimming tank,” the president said as soon as we entered the central room.

“It’s not as odd as you think,” I said. Jazzbow had ducked low, out of sight for the time being.

My people had arranged two big sofas and a scattering of comfortable armchairs around a coffee table on which they had set up a fair-sized bar. Bottles of every description, even champagne in its own ice bucket.

“What’ll you have?” I asked. We had decided that, with just the three of us humans present, I would be the bartender.

Both the president and Schmidt asked for scotch. I made the drinks big, knowing they would both need them.

“Now what’s this all about?” Kennedy asked after his first sip of the booze. “Why all this secrecy and urgency?”

I turned to Schmidt, but he seemed to be petrified. So absolutely frozen that he couldn’t even open his mouth or pick up his drink. He just stared at the president, overwhelmed by the enormity of what we had to do.

So I said, “Mr. President, you have to stop this Moon program.”

He blinked his baggy eyes. Then he grinned. “Do I?”



“Because it will hurt the Martians.”

“The Martians, you said?”

“That’s right. The Martians,” I repeated.

Kennedy took another sip of scotch, then put his glass down on the coffee table. “Mr. Hughes, I had heard that you’d gone off the deep end, that you’ve become a recluse and something of a mental case—”

Schmidt snapped out of his funk. “Mr. President, he’s telling you the truth. There are Martians.”

Kennedy gave him a “who are you trying to kid” look. “Professor Schmidt, I know you’re a highly respected astronomer, but if you expect me to believe there are living creatures on Mars you’re going to have to show me some evidence.”

On that cue, Jazzbow came slithering out of the water tank. The president’s eyes goggled as old Jazzie made his painful way, dripping on the rug, to one of the armchairs and half collapsed into it.

“Mr. President,” I said, “may I introduce Jazzbow of Mars. Jazzbow, President Kennedy.”

The president just kept on staring. Jazzbow extended his right hand, that perpetual clown’s grin smeared across his face. With his jaw hanging open, Kennedy took it in his hand. And flinched.

“I assure you,” Jazzbow said, not letting go of the president’s hand, “that I am truly from Mars.”

Kennedy nodded. He believed it. He had to. Martians can make you see the truth of things. Goes with their telepathic abilities, I guess.

Schmidt explained the situation. How the Martians had built their canals once they realized that their world was dying. How they tried to bring water from the polar ice caps to their cities and farmlands. It worked, for a few centuries, but eventually even that wasn’t enough to save the Martians from slow but certain extinction.  

They were great engineers, great thinkers. Their technology was roughly a century or so ahead of ours. They had invented the electric lightbulb, for example, during the time of our French and Indian War.

By the time they realized that Mars was going to dry up and wither away despite all their efforts, they had developed a rudimentary form of spaceflight. Desperate, they thought that maybe they could bring natural resources from other worlds in the solar system to revive their dying planet. They knew that Venus was, beneath its clouds, a teeming Mesozoic jungle. Plenty of water there, if they could cart it back to Mars.

They couldn’t. Their first attempts at spaceflight ended in disasters. Of the first five saucers they sent toward Venus, three of them blew up on takeoff, one veered off course and was never heard from again, and the fifth crash-landed in New Mexico—which is a helluva long way from Venus.

Fortunately, their saucer crash-landed near a small astronomical station in the desert. A young graduate student—who eventually became Professor Schmidt—was the first to find them. The Martians inside the saucer were pretty banged up, but three of them were still alive. Even more fortunately, we had something that the Martians desperately needed: the raw materials and manufacturing capabilities to mass-produce flying saucers for them. That’s where I had come in, as a tycoon of the aviation industry.

President Kennedy found his voice. “Do you mean to tell me that the existence of Martians—living, breathing, intelligent Martians—has been kept a secret since 1946? More than fifteen years?”

“It’s been touch-and-go on several occasions,” said Schmidt. “But, yes, we’ve managed to keep the secret pretty well.”

“Pretty well?” Kennedy seemed disturbed, agitated. “The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t know anything about this, for Christ’s sake!” Then he caught himself, and added, “Or, if they do, they haven’t told me about it.”

“We have tried very hard to keep this a secret from all the politicians of every stripe,” Schmidt said.

“I can see not telling Eisenhower,” said the president. “Probably would’ve given Ike a fatal heart attack.” He grinned. “I wonder what Harry Truman would’ve done with the information.”

“We were tempted to tell President Truman, but—”

“That’s all water over the dam,” I said, trying to get them back onto the subject. “We’re here to get you to call off this Project Apollo business.”

“But why?” asked the president. “We could use Martian spacecraft and plant the American flag on the Moon tomorrow morning!”

“No,” whispered Jazzbow. Schmidt and I knew that when a Martian whispers, it’s a sign that he’s scared shitless.

“Why not?” Kennedy snapped.

“Because you’ll destroy the Martians,” said Schmidt, with real iron in his voice.

“I don’t understand.”

Jazzbow turned those big luminous eyes on the president. “May I explain it to you . . . the Martian way?”

I’ll say this for Jack Kennedy. The boy had guts. It was obvious that the basic human xenophobia was strong inside him. When Jazzbow had first touched his hand Kennedy had almost jumped out of his skin. But he met the Martian’s gaze and, not knowing what would come next, solemnly nodded his acceptance.

Jazzbow reached out his snaky arm toward Kennedy’s face. I saw beads of sweat break out on the president’s brow, but he sat still and let the Martian’s tentacle-like fingers touch his forehead and temple.

It was like jumping a car battery. Thoughts flowed from Jazzbow’s brain into Kennedy’s. I knew what those thoughts were.

It had to do with the Martians’ moral sense. The average Martian has an ethical quotient about equal to St. Francis of Assisi. That’s the average Martian. While they’re only a century or so ahead of us technologically, they’re lightyears ahead of us morally, socially, ethically. There hasn’t been a war on Mars in more than a thousand years. There hasn’t even been a case of petty theft in centuries. You can walk the avenues of their beautiful, gleaming cities at any time of the day or night in complete safety. And since their planet is so desperately near absolute depletion, they just about worship the smallest blade of grass.

If our brawling, battling human nations discovered the fragile, gentle Martian culture, there would be a catastrophe. The Martians would be swarmed under, shattered, dissolved by a tide of politicians, industrialists, real-estate developers, evangelists wanting to save their souls, drifters, grifters, conmen, thieves petty and grand. To say nothing of military officers driven by xenophobia. It would make the Spanish Conquest of the Americas look like a Boy Scout Jamboree.

I could see from the look in Kennedy’s eyes that he was getting the message. “We would destroy your culture?” he asked.

Jazzbow had learned the human way of nodding. “You would not merely destroy our culture, Mr. President. You would kill us. We would die, all of us, very quickly.”

“But you have the superior technology . . .”

“We could never use it against you,” said Jazzbow. “We would lie down and die rather than deliberately take the life of a paramecium.”

Schmidt spoke up. “So you see, Mr. President, why this Moon project has got to be called off. We can’t allow the human race en masse to learn of the Martians’ existence.”

“I understand,” he murmured.

Schmidt breathed out a heavy sigh of relief. Too soon.

“But I can’t stop the Apollo project.”

“Can’t?” Schmidt gasped.

“Why not?” I asked.

Looking utterly miserable, Kennedy told us, “It would mean the end of my administration. For all practical purposes at least.”

“I don’t see—”

“I haven’t been able to get a thing through Congress except the Moon project. They’re stiffing me on everything else: my economics package, my defense buildup, civil rights, everything except the Moon program has been stopped dead in Congress. If I give up on the Moon I might as well resign the presidency.”

“You are not happy in your work,” said Jazzbow.

“No, I’m not,” Kennedy admitted, in a low voice. “I never wanted to go into politics. It was my father’s idea. Especially after my older brother got killed in the war.”

A dismal, gloomy silence descended on us.

“It’s all been a sham,” the president muttered. “My marriage is a mess, my presidency is a farce, I’m in love with a woman who’s married to another man—I wish I could just disappear from the face of the earth.”

Which, of course, is exactly what we arranged for him.

It was tricky, believe me. We had to get his blonde inamorata to disappear, which wasn’t easy, since she was in the public eye just about as much as the president. Then we had to fake his own assassination, so we could get him safely out of the way. At first he was pretty reluctant about it all, but then the Berlin Wall went up and the media blamed him for it and he agreed that he wanted out—permanently. We were all set to pull it off but the Cuban Missile Crisis hit the fan and we had to put everything on hold for more than a month. By the time we had calmed that mess down he was more than ready to leave this earth. So we arranged the thing for Dallas.

We didn’t dare tell Lyndon Johnson about the Martians, of course. He would’ve wanted to go to Mars and annex the whole damned planet. To Texas, most likely. And we didn’t have to tell Nixon; he was happy to kill the Apollo program—after taking as much credit for the first lunar landing as the media would give him.

The toughest part was hoodwinking the astronomers and planetary scientists and the engineers who built planetary spacecraft probes. It took all of Schmidt’s ingenuity and the Martians’ technical skills to get the various Mariner and Pioneer probes jiggered so that they would show a barren dry Venus devastated by a runaway greenhouse effect instead of the lush Mesozoic jungle that really exists beneath those clouds. I had to pull every string I knew, behind the scenes, to get the geniuses at JPL to send their two Viking landers to the Martian equivalents of Death Valley and the Atacama Desert in Chile. They missed the cities and the canals completely.

Schmidt used his international connections, too. I didn’t much like working with Commies, but I’ve got to admit the two Russian scientists I met were okay guys.

And it worked. Sightings of the canals on Mars went down to zero once our faked Mariner 6 pictures were published. Astronomy students looking at Mars for the first time through a telescope thought they were victims of eyestrain! They knew there were no canals there, so they didn’t dare claim they saw any.

So that’s how we got to the Moon and then stopped going. We set up the Apollo program so that a small number of Americans could plant the flag and their footprints on the Moon and then forget about it. The Martians studiously avoided the whole area during the four years that we were sending missions up there. It all worked out very well, if I say so myself.

I worked harder than I ever had before in my life to get the media to downplay the space program make it a dull, no-news affair. The man in the street, the average xenophobic Joe Six-Pack, forgot about the glories of space exploration soon enough. It tore at my guts to do it, but that’s what had to be done.

So now we’re using the resources of the planet Venus to replenish Mars. Schmidt has a tiny group of astronomers who’ve been hiding the facts of the solar system from the rest of the profession since the late forties. With the Martians’ help they’re continuing to fake the pictures and data sent from NASA’s space probes.

The rest of the world thinks that Mars is a barren lifeless desert and Venus is a bone-dry hothouse beneath its perpetual cloud cover and space in general is pretty much of a bore. Meanwhile, with the help of Jazzbow and a few other Martians, we’ve started an environmental movement on Earth. Maybe if we can get human beings to see their own planet as a living entity, to think of the other animals and plants on our own planet as fellow residents of this Spaceship Earth rather than resources to be killed or exploited—maybe then we can start to reduce the basic xenophobia in the human psyche.

I won’t live long enough to see the human race embrace the Martians as brothers. It will take gene rations, centuries, before we grow to their level of morality. But maybe we’re on the right track now. I hope so.

I keep thinking of what Jack Kennedy said when he finally agreed to rig Project Apollo the way we did, and to arrange his own and his girlfriend’s demises.

“It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done,” he quoted.

Thinking of him and Marilyn shacked up in a honeymoon suite on Mars, I realized that the remainder of the quote would have been totally inappropriate: “It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

But what the hell, who am I to talk? I’ve fallen in love for the first time. Yeah, I know. I’ve been married several times, but this time it’s real and I’m going to spend the rest of my life on a tropical island with her, just the two of us alone, far from the madding crowd.

Well, maybe not the whole rest of my life. The Martians know a lot more about medicine than we do. Maybe we’ll leave this Pacific island where the Martians found her and go off to Mars and live a couple of centuries or so. I think Amelia would like that.

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