I live in a well. I live like smoke in the well. Like vapour in a stone throat. I don’t move. I don’t do anything but wait. Overhead I see the cold stars of night and morning, and I see the sun. And sometimes I sing old songs of this world when it was young. How can I tell you what I am when I don’t know? I cannot. I am simply waiting. I am mist and moonlight and memory. I am sad and I am old. Sometimes I fall like rain into the well. Spider webs are startled into forming where my rain falls fast, on the water surface. I wait in cool silence and there will be a day when I no longer wait.
Now it is morning. I hear a great thunder. I smell fire from a distance. I hear a metal crashing. I wait. I listen.
Voices. Far away.
One voice. An alien voice. An alien tongue I cannot know. No word is familiar. I listen.
“Send the men out!”
A crunching in crystal sands.
“Mars! So this is it!”
“Where’s the flag?”
The sun is high in the blue sky and its golden rays fill the well and I hang like a flower pollen, invisible and misting in the warm light.
“In the name of the Government of Earth, I proclaim this to be the Martian Territory, to be equally divided among the member nations.”
What are they saying? I turn in the sun, like a wheel, invisible and lazy, golden and tireless.
“What’s over here?”
“Come on. Yes!”
The approach of warmth. Three objects bend over the well mouth, and my coolness rises to the objects.
“Think it’s good water?”
“Someone get a lab test bottle and a dropline.”
A sound of running. The return.
“Here we are.”
“Let it down. Easy.”
Glass shines, above, coming down on a slow line.
The water ripples softly as the glass touches and fills. I rise in the warm air toward the well mouth.
“Here we are. You want to test this water. Regent?”
“Let’s have it.”
“What a beautiful well. Look at that construction. How old you think it is?”
“God knows. When we landed in that other town yesterday Smith said there hasn’t been life on Mars in ten thousand years.”
“How is it, Regent? The water.”
“Pure as silver. Have a glass.”
The sound of water in the hot sunlight. Now I hover like a dust, a cinnamon, upon the soft wind.
“What’s the matter, Jones?”
“I don’t know. Got a terrible headache. All of a sudden.”
“Did you drink the water yet?”
“No, I haven’t. It’s not that. I was just bending over the well and all of a sudden my head split. I feel better now.”
Now I know who I am.
My name is Stephen Leonard Jones and I am twenty-five years old and I have just come in a rocket from a planet called Earth and I am standing with my good friends Regent and Shaw by an old well on the planet Mars.
I look down at my golden fingers, tan and strong. I look at my long legs and at my silver uniform and at my friends.
“What’s wrong, Jones?” they say.
“Nothing,” I say, looking at them. “Nothing at all.”
The food is good. It has been ten thousand years since food. It touches the tongue in a fine way and the wine with the food is warming. I listen to the sound of voices. I make words that I do not understand but somehow understand. I test the air.
“What’s the matter, Jones?”
I tilt this head of mine and rest my hands holding the silver utensils of eating. I feel everything.
“What do you mean?” this voice, this new thing of mine, says.
“You keep breathing funny. Coughing,” says the other man.
I pronounce exactly. “Maybe a little cold coming on.”
“Check with the doc later.”