I-Sci-Fi 3

The following text is a short excerpt from "President Ventman's Wife is a Martian" by F. Webber Slingbrook, published in the March 1947 issue of Interesting Science Fiction.*

The man standing guard-- a Martian soldier, blue-skinned, almond-eyed-- gazed across the empty reception hall in the mountain-top castle located on Blynt's Peak in Mars' northern hemisphere. He was bored, but sharp and vigilant. There hadn't been an intruder this deep into the Martian kingdom for over 400 years but this was his job, and so thorough was his training that he was diligent in his duty even though the oppressive, silent monotony would crush the soul of most men of action.

This day, however, was to be different. Something happened. First, a noise -- a scraping noise -- coming from outside. And over there, across the hall, through one of the tall frosted windows he saw the silhouette of a man. Puzzled and amazed the guard walked across the room, closer to the window. So puzzled and so amazed was he that his training failed him. So peculiar was the occurrence, so far outside of what he thought could ever happen was this unforseen circumstance that his gun was left forgotten in its holster. It is impossible, he thought, that a man could be outside that window-- the building was high atop a mountain. And the building? It was tall and featureless on that side. Impossible!

But, despite history and despite reason, it seemed that the impossible was possible.

The window slowly opened inward, and there was a man there-- an Earth-man; short, stocky, a pale pink color, very ugly-- and he was standing on the sill. The Earth-man was plainly surprised to see the Martian. For a moment astonishing in its length, two men from two different worlds stared silently at one another, exchanging only meaningless blinks of their eyes. Finally, the Martian soldier exhaled. A slow wheeze of air escaped from him and nothing more. It did, however, end the lull and the human intruder was the first to seize the initiative.

"There you are!" He hopped down from the window and snarled at the guard. "You've really done it this time!"

The Martian took a step back. Confronted by an aggressor, his training began to take hold again. The man of Earth saw one of the Martian's blue hands fall dutifully toward his holster. Firmly and with a venomous tone the Earth-man said: "The Queen is so angry! And she mentioned you by name!" The idea of the Queen's anger bearing his name chilled the Martian. Did she even know his name? It did not matter. The instincts for his duties were buried beneath his fear of the Queen.

 "Me?! Wh-what did I do?" squeaked the blue fellow.

"What did you do?" shouted Dalton Trencher, astronaut, expert pugilist and adventurer from Earth. With a great flourish of hands and the strongly projected emotings of a practiced thespian, he sputtered angrily before squealing in a manner mocking the Martian's own quivering voice. "'Me?! Wh-wh-wh-whhat did I do?!' he asks! By God, you heartless devil! Put up your paws and show me what you're made of!"

The guard was baffled and nearly helpless, but the sight of the Earth-man, his fists clenched and held up in front of him-- a universally understood sign of an invitation to a fist fight-- offered some kind of hand-hold for his reeling senses and appealed to his warrior's heart. Here was an opportunity for a trained soldier-- a soldier lost in a fog of unexpected occurrences, with no clear course of action and no hope of receiving orders from central command-- to lash out and hit somebody.

The absurdity of the situation was weightless. It did not matter that he was on stale guard duty mere seconds ago, and now found himself squaring off against an alien intruder from another planet. To the Martian's panicked mind, here was a much smaller man standing ready to brawl, practically asking to be beaten, and tell me, what man-- man of Mars or man of Earth-- doesn't perk up to that? What could bring more pleasure than engaging in a quick sparring session with an opponent who, after a quick assessment of size and weight, was not likely to be much of a problem?

But Dalton Trencher had been a problem in the ring, as a sparring partner, for the great Joe Louis. "Mr. Louis," as Dalton told the story, "was caught off guard in our first session and I landed a few shots that I thought might have done him in. But Mr. Louis climbed back into the ring and I'm proud to say he gave me a beating he told me he HAD to give. Otherwise, said Mr. Louis, he felt would have to hand me his championship belt before I walked out of the gym that day."

The Martians had been listening to radio broadcasts from Earth for decades and the broadcasts of heavyweight bouts were even more popular on Mars than on the planet where they took place. It is not an exaggeration to say Joe Louis, in the cultural perception of Martian civilization, was the most terrible warrior and most admired person on that distant planet. Martian women coerced good behavior from their children by saying "If you don't eat your Vlarfrak, Joe Louis will get you with an uppercut." Martian men, in a culture where toughness is the highest virtue, would praise the greatest of their warriors by saying, "he's a real brown bomber!"

This Martian soldier had listened to many of Joe Louis' fights; he marveled at the descriptions and hoped one day to travel to Earth to see the great Joe Louis beat somebody in the ring. In spite of the Martian appetite for boxing and the pride his people took in the development of those skills, the thought of getting into the ring with Joe never crossed his mind-- it was practically unthinkable.

As the soldier eagerly readied himself to box the Earthling, he could not know the quality of fighter looking into his eyes from behind heavy fists. Had he known, he might have remembered his weapon.

Dalton threw two hard left jabs, and the blue man gasped in pain. He had not seen the first jab.
The second jab he saw but he could only shut his eyes as those knuckles cracked against his cheek.
The Martian's sense of perspective and duty returned as the pain of the second jab took effect. Slugged into submission by the inflicted agonies of the Earth-man's vicious punches, his confusion was gone and there was no doubt of what his course of action should be.

The Martian's survival instincts roared to life and tried to assert themselves. But the jabs had done their work on him and, instinctively, he knew a strong right hook was coming in over his dropped defenses. He tried to raise his shoulder a bit, hoping to deflect the finishing blow, but he also knew it was too late. He gave thought to a short Martian prayer and -- eyes shut, teeth clenched -- sleep came with a thudding suddenness. He settled to the floor and was still. A single tooth cartwheeled and clattered away from the unconscious soldier, roster-tailing a tiny path of spittle and blood.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Trencher took a deep breath and held it. Silence. Good. He glanced back to the window and saw the rope ladder dangling outside; his rocket ship hovered twenty feet above, waiting.

He ran across the large high-ceilinged room and grabbed the handles of an enormous pair of white doors. At his touch the doors slid sideways into the walls and Dalton found himself looking out onto a large and elegantly furnished balcony. The high peaks of the Martian landscape were seen beyond the railings, a heavy white fog swirled above, below and between the peaks. A red moon hung low in the purple sky.

There was a small table set with shining utensils and fine china. Fancy pastries were stacked on ornately decorated platters beside a silver tea-pot. Standing next to the table,wearing a robe of the finest silk, was President Ventman, elected leader of Planet Earth. A long hand-rolled cigarette rested on his lower lip and it wiggled as an expression of bewilderment when the President recognized the man before him.

"D-Dalton Trencher?" The President stammered. "How the--"

"Mr. President, sir." Dalton put his hand out and by reflex the President responded. Dalton grabbed and shook, and he was pleased at the firmness of the President's grip. Dalton felt great pride in his leader; despite his kidnapping, despite his abduction and imprisonment by the Martian scoundrels, it was bracing to find that the leader of the Earth was still able to take you firmly and confidently by the hand. Indeed, the President's well-practiced handshake was strong and smooth; so smooth that the equally strong handshaking motion of Dalton Trencher's grip didn't ripple the tea in the cup that the President held in his other hand.

"You've got the bastards serving you tea, sir?" Dalton laughed. "Absolutely ripping, sir! What a story to tell the boys back home, sir!"

"What?" said the President.

"That's all right, sir," Dalton tried to take the tea, but the President pulled it away. "You'll be safe in just a few minutes, Mr. President."

"I am safe, Trencher!"

"Thank you for your confidence, sir, but I don't think we'll truly be in the clear until we get aboard my ship."

"Your ship? What are you talking about?" The President grimaced angrily and took another sip from his cup. "I'm not getting on your ship!"

"Look out, sir!" shouted Trencher. He lunged and slapped the cup from the President's hand. It shattered on the marble floor and Dalton was relieved to see that the liquid didn't eat into the surface. "It could be poison, or worse!"

"Trencher, come here." Angrily, the President stomped over to the balcony's edge. "Look." President Ventman pointed to a nearby peak, similar in height to the one upon which they were now. It also had a Martian castle built on its top. Further down that mountain was a man-made cave, and out of that cave came a narrow road. Trencher saw that the road passed over a bridge, to another peak, and continued on an elevated ramp which eventually entered into another cave about fifty feet below where they were standing.

"Ah," sighed the President. "Here she comes." Out of the distant cave came a sight that put a cramp in Trencher's throat. An absurdly tall, regal, blue-skinned woman emerged wearing a pale, purple jumpsuit and a domed helmet of shiny metal. She came forth riding a peculiar vehicle -- part scooter and part war-bot -- standing on a wheeled platform towed by the menacing machine of destruction. The war-bot responded to buttons and levers arranged on handlebars held by the Martian woman. Her gloved fingers moved gently, expertly over the controls and her deadly transport rolled silently and swiftly along the roadway that ended in the cave below them.

"Holy smokes!" exclaimed Dalton. He knew who she was: Madame Essima Fondrey, Queen of Mars and sworn enemy of the men of Earth! Twice this cruel giantess had led attacks upon the Earth, the horrific results of which included the cleaving in twain of Earth's moon and the destruction most of the public buildings and bridges in the states of Tennessee and Kentucky.

"Quickly, sir, to my ship! She'll be here in moments." Trencher turned away from the approaching horror to see that the President had walked back to the table. He was calmly chewing a mouthful of pastry and he was dropping sugar cubes into the next cup of tea.

"I shall wait right here," the President said around a too-large bite of delicious pastry. He swallowed part of it and continued. "You, on the other hand should probably leave-- I might not be able to prevent her from setting the war-bot on you." He sipped, washing down the last of the bite, and added, with a pensive expression: "Although she would probably demand the satisfaction of demolishing you herself for intruding, uninvited, into her personal apartments."

"What is going on here, sir?" Trencher felt the urge to slap the President to his senses; it was not a thing to consider cavalierly, but if President Ventman didn't start behaving sensibly then he would have to! "What kind of evil power does that foul female Martian beast have over you?"

Here, the President stiffened. The scowl he cast upon Dalton Trencher was pure Presidential fury, and the strength of his gaze drew upon the incorruptible authority of the constitution and the power given to his office, and to him, by the people of the United States of Earth. Trencher had never been one to flinch before the anger of another man, but flinch he did. He flinched mightily and a sweat broke out upon his brow.

"Mr. Trencher," said President Ventman, with indignant scorn for the man who had come to rescue him. "That foul female Martian beast," he said, putting down his tea and resisting the impulse to pick up another pastry, "is my wife!"

The End

*It's fake. I made it all up.
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