They sat at dinner, the eighteen officers of the _Elephant's Child_ , eatin_resh vegetables and curried lamb from the hydroponics farm and the froze_ood lockers. On either side of Captain Pinkman sat O. O. Circe Smith, of th_amented Fawcett expedition, and First Officer Ynohp of the extinct Martia_pace Navy.
"If you Terrestrians came to Mars over one hundred years ago," Ynohp wa_aying, in a clear and metallic voice that came from the lingoalter on hi_hest—a tiny box which could be set to change any of nine thousand spoke_anguages into any one of the others—"and at that time my people had lost th_ecrets of space travel for approximately four thousand years, this means tha_ have been reclining on a planetoid here for at least 4,100 years. Th_robability is that it has been much longer. Unfortunately my time recorde_as long since become inoperative."
He extended one of his four rib appendages and picked up a piece of carrot.
"Naturally I was in a cataleptic state," he went on. "As you may know, in m_ace that means that all body processes are suspended _in toto_. There is n_rowth and no decay. Moth and rust do not corrupt, you might put it."
Pink frowned momentarily. There was a false note somewhere, but he couldn'_ut his finger on it. He tried to remember all he could about the dying rac_f Martians. What Ynohp was saying was correct, as nearly as he could recall,
but … he shrugged. My God! he thought, this critter's over four thousand year_ld!
Well, Circe's about forty-five.
The hell she is. She's twenty-seven, which was her age when her ship wa_recked, plus about one actual year of life which equals the eighteen she wa_ost in the Slugjet. Twenty-eight, then, really. I'm thirty-one. Not a ba_ombination.
Hey, boy, you're a confirmed bachelor, remember?
He chuckled. Who says so? He took a look at Circe. The prettiest spaceman wh_ver came my way, he said to himself happily.
The dinner broke up. Space etiquette demanded that he escort the Martian t_is stateroom first, for the four-armed little gray man was senior to a mer_rganicus officer; when he returned to the mess hall, he found that Joe Silve_ad whisked Circe away to show her the new improvements in space drives an_ther technical details.
"At least," said Bill Calico, "he said he was going to."
Pink went off to talk to Jerry, who was a lousy substitute for a beautifu_irl.
He found his O. O. tinkering with the life-scanner.
"Something wrong," Jerry said through his teeth. He was a slim young man—Pink,
who stood six-three and hefted in at two hundred, would have made two o_erry—and his normally joyous expression was now writhed into a frown. "Th_ed light's not on, but the scanner's not working."
"How d'you know?"
"Had a hunch. Don't ask me why—unless it's that the Martian makes m_uspicious. Anyway, I tested the scanner; turned it inside and aimed it al_ver the ship. Nothing doing. No life in here, according to it. So something'_he matter with it, and I'm damned if I can figure what."
Pink said, "That means what?"
"Means that if Fawcett or any of his men are out there, we won't know it. W_ould flash right by them, or through 'em for that matter, and never know it."
"Nothing more serious, though?"
"That's bad enough, isn't it?" Jerry asked him.
"Sure, sure." Pink shook himself. "I feel—I guess _wary_ is the word." Jerr_ooked a question. "Yeah," said Pinkham uncomfortably, "it's the Martian. _ice guy and all, but he makes me wonder."
"Four thousand years plus," nodded Jerry.
"No, not that. I think that's possible. It's something else, son."
Pink said slowly, futilely, "I don't know." He patted the O.O.'s shoulder.
"Keep at it, Jerry." He went out and walked down the long ramp to th_strolab. Daley was there. "How's it going?" Pink asked him.
"We aren't moving," said the lieutenant.
"I know. I told Kinkare to put her into the same orbit as the asteroid belt.
We want to stay in the same relation to the planetoids till we decide where t_ook for Fawcett."
"I know you issued those orders, Pink. I meant we aren't in the orbit. We'r_anging in space, and the dang asteroids are shooting past us." Daley flippe_n his great banks of scanners. "See?" Bands of light were tiny balls of iner_atter, flashing by an obviously stationary _Elephant's Child_.
Pink jumped for the intercom. "No use," said Daley. "It's dead. I sent Calic_or Randy Kinkare." They looked at each other. "I think it's Ynohp," sai_aley.
Pinkham took out a pad and pencil. Without saying anything, without admittin_o himself that he agreed with his officer, he put down a number of figures.
Then he said, "I left Ynohp just fourteen minutes ago in his stateroom. I'v_ut down the distances he'd have to travel to reach all the things that hav_one wrong since then. He could have done it—if he was invisible, and coul_ove at the rate of two hundred feet per second."
"Maybe he can."
"You know Martians have the same rate of speed, roughly speaking, a_errestrians."
"And if Ynohp isn't a Martian at all?"
"Washington, did you ever see a Martian?"
"Could anything in the universe make itself look like a four-foot-tall, four-
armed, slate-gray man with pink eyes?"
"I don't know," said Daley. "Maybe there's something in System Ninety tha_an. Hypnotism, matter transference, fluidity or a lot of other facts coul_xplain it."