by John M. Burt
Dr. Barry Allen’s fist slammed down on the tabletop, hard enough that, in lunar gravity, he was lifted slightly from his seat. “Damn it! Is that all you have to offer us? Did you come all this way just to pay your respects and then leave us to our goddamn ‘historical’ fate?”
He fell back in his chair, running a hand over his silvery crewcut. “Sorry. But… why did you come, in that case?”
Cyclone glared at Joy Daye. “I’m afraid my friend has an overdeveloped sense of the dramatic. What history records is that the Hitlerites detonated a bomb above this site. It does not record that any human remains were ever found here.”
“A very dramatic statement,” Midnight observed dryly. “But if you’re planning to carry us away with you into the future, I should warn you that there are three-hundred and eleven of us here, and it doesn’t look to me that your craft could carry more than a dozen, unless your engines are the size of a cigar box.”
“The Comet‘s engines take up about half its bulk,” Blaze Barton said softly, “but I’ll admit we do things a little differently in the year 50,069.”
He reached into his shoulder bag and laid an object about the size of a cigar box on the table. “This is a spindler. It generates a spherical force-field, and whatever is within it vibrates slightly out of phase with the rest of the universe. The field can be moved, effectively making the space within the field a spacecraft in its own right.”
Midnight bent over the object, not touching it. “Will the field be big enough to enclose the Command Center building? We could all fit in here, I suppose…”
“We developed it originally to protect cities from solar flares,” said Barton. “This one is powerful enough to lift your entire settlement and carry it across interplanetary distances.”
Dr. Reed Richards’ jaw dropped, seemingly to his chin. Dr. Allen’s eyes narrowed. “We can just… fly away,” said Dr. Richards. “Aboard the U.S.S. Truman.”
Midnight smiled. “No. This is the end for Camp Truman. History says so. As a spacecraft, let’s call it… the Eagle.”
“The eagle has flown,” Daye said softly, eyes wide.
“History records…” She swallowed and started again. “History records that the last transmission from Camp Truman, just before the bomb hit, was ‘The eagle has flown.’ People have argued for centuries about what it meant. ‘The Eagle has flown’…”
“That settles it,” said Dr. Richards. “Eagle it is. Now, then, where shall we take her?”
“Mars,” Dave Clark said firmly. “The Moon was always intended to be a way station on the road to Mars, in the hope that we could settle there in large numbers, maybe even make it turn green so we could walk unprotected on the surface.”
All three time travellers bowed their heads slowly.
“History unfolds,” Daye said softly.
Dr. Richards chuckled. “I suppose history records that we landed on Mars successfully?”
“Oh, no,” Dr. Allen said, his voice dripping with scorn, “history records a great big, goddamn crater that formed on Mars sometime in 1969, right?”
Joy Daye winced, looked away. “I’m sorry.”
Midnight sighed. “It’s your history, but it’s our lives, all right? Don’t go telling us how it worked out; we know we just have to take our chances.”
Clark adjourned the meeting, and the members of the Lunar Council spread out rapidly to begin preparations for the trip to Mars. Members of the colony who were engaged in mining or defensive patrols far from the settlement had to be called in, delicate equipment secured, last looks taken at the gibbous Earth in the sky. Even though the entire camp would be lifted, complete with the regolith beneath their feet, it was not going to be a completely free ride.
Blaze Barton showed Dr. Richards how to operate the spindler. Its operations were primarily preprogrammed, but he would have to select the landing site and steer the camp in manually.
Within three hours of the tall red spacecraft landing at their camp, the last free humans in the universe were ready to leave the Moon. Dave Clark stood nearby in the Lunar Council room, gazing out the large view window that had kept Earth in sight for so many years, while nearby Dr. Richards activated the spindler. As they rose silently, inertialessly from the surface, he scanned the sky for the moving glint of the approaching bomb. He didn’t see it.
“Everything all right?” came over the intercom, with an odd echoing sound to it.
“The Eagle has flown,” Midnight said without thinking, then realized that the echoing quality was the result of the intercom’s signal being patched through, probably by accident, to the big main transmitter they’d used to communicate with Earth.
Feeling humble, proud, but vaguely irritated, Clark left the Council room and began a long inspection tour of his new “ship.” He walked through the corridors linking the various structures, occasionally passing a window and getting a glimpse of the fast-moving sky, even more rarely a look at Earth, and Luna vanishing into the distance. He didn’t see the flash of the bomb going off, but someone did, and the word was passed in a sort of quiet hubbub.
They were no longer on the Moon. They were now on Mars.
Midnight found Joy Daye in the schoolhouse, leading the children in songs. Some of the kids, not always the smallest, were curled up, trembling and weeping. Other children were cradling them.
The song they were working through sounded familiar, though not all of the words were.
“Digging frost, crushing stone, gonna make this world our own;
Fertilize it with our bones, put our life into the land.
Mirrors shine, comets fall, Mars awakens at our call;
Lots of work, but worth it all, for a planet made by hand.”
As the kids started into the chorus, Daye left them to practice their new song and went to Midnight.
“Lovely,” he said. “Did you just make that up?”
“Oh, goodness, no! It’s an old standard… um, will be.”
“Maybe you just started it.”
Daye gasped. “Would you believe that hadn’t occurred to me? It was just the first thing that popped into my head. “Look, Director Clark, I haven’t been at my best today. This is harder for me than for the others, because I’m a Martian myself. These… you people are almost certainly my ancestors.”
“Ohhh… so we do make it, after all?”
“I deserve that. Look, the first documented trip to Mars was in the middle of the twenty-first century, but the so-called Solar Legion expedition found a thriving human civilization there. Historians have argued for centuries over who those people were and when and how they got to Mars. It never quite added up, how so many people could be living there at such an early date. I guess now we know.”
Midnight nodded. “Colonel Daye, you have just given us exactly the right amount of information. You don’t need to tell us anything more. We won’t even ask what language this ‘Solar Legion’ speaks, or who they take orders from.”
“I’m going to tell you one thing more, an old saying that dates back to the twenty-first century,” said Daye. “The stars belong to the free.”
Midnight said nothing, merely watched as Joy Daye returned to the children, who were fixing up their ragged performance on their new song.
“Awful dry, awful cold, and the soil is awful old;
Superoxides won’t unfold ’til you talk to them just right.
But we endure, we persist, old Mars just can’t resist;
Life works like an alchemist, with water, air and light.
“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow;
Work the soil and the snow ’til we’ve made it fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row, God bless these seeds I sow;
Mars warm them from below ’til the rain comes tumblin’ down.
Dave Clark was in one of the new transparent domes they’d thrown up in the weeks they’d been on Mars. The Comet had placed solar mirrors in orbit before departing back to the thirty-first century, concentrating sunlight on the land around Eagle City, but they were still going to need more greenhouse space to produce enough food and keep the air oxygenated. Especially since, with their new freedom from the Nazi threat on Earth, the members of the colony were planning on quite a few more children.
Midnight stood, watching the pink sky of Mars fade quickly to black as the sun set. The stars began to come out, and as usual Earth, the evening star, was the first.
Dr. Reed Richards joined him. He was holding some notes, but he was in no hurry; he stood and watched the stars coming out.
Finally, Clark spoke. “The spindler still isn’t working?”
“It’s not going to,” said Dr. Richards. “We’re as hopeless with their five-hundred-and-first-century technology as Hero of Alexandria would be with a transistor radio with dead batteries. But there’s something else…”
“I’ve been doing some astronomical observations. Originally, I was trying to determine our exact longitude and latitude, but…”
He trailed off, and finally spoke again. “I’ve checked the positions of the planets. The date is… wrong.”
“What’s wrong about it?”
“Within a day or two, it’s October 30th, 1898.”
Clark stared at the old scientist.
“I think that we’ve been displaced in time, as well as space, by the spindler,” concluded Dr. Richards.
Midnight shook his head. “Some kind of malfunction?”
“Or maybe our friends wanted to give us a little extra time to become that ‘thriving civilization’ they’re expecting us to produce,” suggested Dr. Richards.
Midnight sighed. “I’m just as glad the spindler is dead. This time-travel business gave me the creeps, anyway. It always has. Did I ever tell you about my trip to ancient Rome, back when I was still a mystery-man?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Midnight, Smash Comics #52 (April, 1944).]
Dr. Richards shook his head no and said, “Well, Earth is behind us. I don’t suppose we even need to tell the others about the date.”
“It’s Mars Year One,” insisted Dave Clark. “That’s what the date is. From now on, we make our own history.”