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Amazing Stories

June 1938

A Summons from Mars

BY JOHN RUSSELL FEARN

In a weird message from Mars, Eric Sanders is
told that he has been betrothed to Yana. Torn
between his duty to science and tradition, and his
love for Sonia Benson, Sanders makes a momentous decision.

THE ocher sand of the Martian desert spouted towards the blue-black sky under the impact of the falling space machine. The vessel slithered a little distance and became still in the long trough it had gouged for itself.

For a long time nothing disturbed the desert's silence. A thin, icy breeze stirred mournfully across it; the small sun moved among the faint stars... until at last its pale light picked out a group of four radio driven robots moving methodically across the waste on smoothly jointed legs. Flawlessly made, rather hideous, equipped with various strange instruments, they finally gained the vessel, set to work with the pincer hands and tools upon the airlocks.

There were three airlocks in all. The guiding intelligence behind the robots saw to it that no trace of Mars' thin, deadly cold air entered the vessel— that none of the Earthly warmth and air pressure inside escaped....

With a care seeming incongruous for their heavy, metallic bodies the robots lifted the limp figure of an Earth man from the floor, laid him gently on a bunk near the control board. He was good looking after a fashion—still young, strong jawed, but with the fading light of approaching death in his eyes.

He talked thickly, listlessly, between long pauses of hard breathing. The robots' recording mechanisms implanted on mechanical recorders everything he said.

"I—I guess I didn't quite make it. This—this is the first space machine ever made.... I made it. but forty million miles was too much for the first hop.... I—I got into difficulties. Rockets wouldn't work..." He stopped for a long time, looked at the unhuman faces around him.

"I—I'm Gerald Sanders, the first Earth man to get here—maybe the last. I'm the only one who knows the fuel formula for these—these rockets. Hope nobody finds it again. Hellish business, space travel I Gets your mind and body... crushes it. If—if," he went on, with sudden frantic desperation, "you've got any method here that's— that's akin to radio, wireless to my wife on Earth and tell her I got here. Her— her name's Louise Sanders, of San Francisco. She—she couldn't come, thank God. There's a baby...."

He gasped over the completion of bis sentence, winced, then with a long, quivering sigh relaxed motionless. The robots stood in silence for a time, then very reverently picked up the dead body between them, bore it outside into the moaning wind.

With steady, unvarying strides they progressed away towards the north of the red planet.... Onwards, hour after hour.

CHAPTER I
On Earth, 22 Years Later

OLD Jonathan Dare sighed with heavy regret as he shuffled into the large rear room of the shack, bearing a laden tray in his gnarled hands. He picked his way amongst snaky wires, storage batteries, small turbogenerators driven by a mountain stream, together with fantastically patterned radio antennae and reception aerials.

He sighed even more heavily as he caught the accustomed sight of a black head bent rigidly over a complicated radio reception apparatus—a young figure in flannel shirt and slacks, slender hands hovering over the carefully graded controls.

Jonathan nibbed the back of his untidy gray head, muttered something about lunacy, then planked the tray down on the bench.

"Here y'are, Mister Eric—your supper."

The figure turned from the apparatus. Eric Sanders got up slowly, stroking a chin that was as square and purposeful as his dead father's had been. There was a half abstracted, half puzzled look in his gray eyes as he picked up the coffee percolator and began to pour out its contents.

Jonathan's rheumy eyes surveyed the wilderness of apparatus. "No luck, Mister Eric?" he ventured.

"Nope—nothing!" Eric sighed despondently; then he brightened a little. "Just the same, Jonathan, I still insist that I'll do it one day. Twenty-two years ago my dad went to Mars. He landed there, but was never heard of again. Never returned."

The old man shrugged. He knew that: he'd been Gerald Sanders' servant. Therefore he made the same observation he always made.

"Y' can't be too sure o' that, Mister Eric. Maybe he didn't land. Maybe a thousand things happened to him out there in space."

"No, Jonathan; he landed all right." Eric Sanders was quite sure of that. Coffee cup in hand he roamed to the window of the shack and stared from this lonely point of the Wahsatch Range of the Rockies down onto the arid, moonlit basin of Great Salt Lake.

"Yes, he landed," he repeated softly, half turning. "The new reflector at Mount Wilson followed his ship. Besides, his special short wave radio messages revealed that he'd gotten to within a million miles of Mars. After that, he couldn't help but fall on the planet The gravitational field alone would see to that."

"But twenty years!" Jonathan protested, stirring his coffee musingly. "Ever since you took me on here five years ago after your mother's death— Heaven rest her—you've been playing around with these newfangled radio gadgets, adding this and taking away that, sitting up at nights—What d'you hope to get out of it?"

"A communication from Mars. Some day."

"But suppose your father's dead? He might be, even if he did reach Mars."

Eric smiled a little, sat down thoughtfully. "Probably he is dead, but that wouldn't stop the Martians from discovering the short wave radio aboard his ship. I hardly think his machine could be so completely smashed up as to destroy every darned thing within it. Mars' pull is far less than Earth's, you know. And, if his radio could communicate to Earth when only a million miles from Mars, it could obviously do so from Mars itself."

"Might not," Jonathan said vaguely. "Atmosphere might stop it."

"Only the ionized upper layers and there aren't any on Mars. The planet's almost airless. Besides, those waves penetrated our ionized layer, so nothing could stop them penetrating Mars'. See?"

"Ay, I see that—but you can take it from me, Mister Eric, that since them Martian6 haven't done anything for twenty years they're not going to. You're just wasting your time. Perhaps there aren't any people on Mars anyway. What then?"

"Oh, but there is intelligent life," Eric protested quickly. "Every year there are evidences of changes on the disk and in the canali, distinctly visible through the new Mount Wilson telescope. There is intelligent life, all right —Yes, Jonathan, I'm sure that one day I'll get what I'm after. Each receiver I build has some new improvement for the reception of ultra short waves such as dad used. Unfortunately I haven't inherited his genius—or his formulae for short wave efficiency and space travel, so I just have to keep on picking my way. Mars is in my blood, Jonathan. It means something to me. I'd give anything to be able to go there."

"Ay; I know that." The old servant's tired eyes watched Eric as he got up and paced slowly round the instrument littered room.

"That new tube I've incorporated, for instance," he went on. "It passes electrons with more ease and latitude than any known tube in the world today. It amplifies even the faintest signal. With ten of those tubes in cascade and linked to the receiver it provides the groundwork of an interplanetary radio receiver."

"And you get?" Jonathan grunted.

"Nothing—yet," Eric growled. "Not even ordinary police or experimental broadcasts. My stuff's too sensitive to incorporate them. I get static by the ton, cracklings that are probably accounted for by the Earth's magnetic poles.... But Mars still doesn't bite."

He turned disgustedly away to the window and stared out again. Absently his eyes settled on two spots of light perhaps half a mile distant down the pass on which the lonely shack stood. He watched them with interest, began to frown as they went out and in again as something passed in front of them.

"I'd say it was a car," Jonathan murmured, gazing over Eric's shoulder. "Looks like headlights to me."

"But who on earth—?" Eric began in bewilderment.

"I dunno, Mister Eric, 'less it's somebody trying to get through to Denver. It is a short cut if you've nerve enough—and gas enough—to try it."

Eric wasted no further time talking. Slipping on his hat and coat he went out into the sharp night cold, picked his way along the broad mountain pass, aided by familiarity and moonlight. Half a mile brought him to a stranded, luxuriant La Salle convertible. The slim figure of half a girl was visible, peering at the car's insides.

"Anything I can do?" Eric inquired, as he came up.

The girl emerged at that and gazed at him in complete astonishment in the glare of headlamps. He looked back with interest, judged that save for a smudge of oil her oval shaped face was decidedly pretty. Her figure seemed remarkably slight, elfinlike.

"Where—where on earth did you come from?" she demanded. "It isn't that—that I'm not glad, of course, but—I thought I was alone here."

"Did you want to be?" Eric asked politely.

"Good heavens, not I was never so thankful to see anybody in my life.... I was heading for 'Frisco..." She broke off and laughed ruefully. "Guess I was a fool to take this way along the pass, only a friend of mine said it was O. K."

"It is," Eric murmured, "if you're familiar with it." He stared at the car. "What seems to be the trouble?"

The girl shrugged helplessly. "That's just it; I don't know."

Without speaking Eric tested the plugs, ignition and carburetor. Then, smiling a little, he glanced at the illumined dashboard.

"It's a good idea to watch your fuel gauge." he remarked dryly. "You're out of gas."

"Gas!" The girl started in dismay. "Oh, Lord, I never thought of that! Where can I get some?" she asked quickly.

"Nowhere tonight, I'm afraid." Eric looked at her keenly. "Where are you from, anyway?"

"Two miles out of Denver. Anything wrong with it?"

"Oh, no, but it seems kind of odd—a lone girl like you making a solo of a good five hundred miles to 'Frisco."

"There's a reason," she murmured demurely. "And, incidentally, it isn't usual to find anybody living up in this neck of the woods. If I seem queer, you're queerer!" She brought out a compact and nibbed her smudged face industriously.

"I'm a radio experimenter," Eric explained. "What I was going to say was, that in the morning I can fix you up. My servant's going into 'Frisco on business and can run you there in my own car. There'll be just enough room for it to get round this car of yours. You can call at the nearest garage and tell them to fill your car up and run it home for you."

"Umm.... You've no spare can of gas?"

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