The Mating of the Moons
by Kenneth O'Hara
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Orbit volume 1 number 2, 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
SHE CAME TO MARS IN SEARCH OF SOMETHING, SHE KNEW NOT WHAT, TO GIVE HER LIFE MEANING. SHE FOUND IT ... IN A WAY....
The sun glared, fiercely detached. The thin air suddenly seemed friendless, empty, a vast lake of poison and glassy water. All at once, the stretching plains of sand began to waver with a terrible insubstantiality before Madeleine's eyes.
Even the Ruins of Taovahr were false. And for Madeleine, even if they were not false, there was no sign of the outer garments of dream with which, on a thousand lonely nights back home on the Earth, she had clothed those dusty scattered skeletons of crumbled stone.
Don, one of the brightest and most handsomely uniformed of all the bright young guide-hosts at Martian Haven, droned on to the finish of his machine-tooled lecture about the Ruins of Taovahr. He, of course, was the biggest chunk of falseness on Mars.
"And so folks, this is all that's left of a once great civilization. A few columns and worn pieces of stone. And we can never know now how they lived and loved and died—for no trace whatsoever of an ancient people remain. The dim, dark seas of time have swept their age-old secrets into the backwash of eternity—"
"Oh God," whispered Madeleine.
"Shhhh!" said her father. And her mother blinked at her with a resigned tolerance.
"But he's a living cliche," she said, trying to control the faintness, the dizziness, the dullness coming back as the last illusion drained away. "Even if the ruins were real, he'd make them seem trite."
"Madeleine!" her mother gasped, but in a subdued way.
"But there ought to be something special about a Martian ruin, Mother."
Don had heard her. His smile was uneasy, though politely tolerant, as all good hosts were to rich tourists. "You're hard to please, Miss Ericson. Maybe too hard." His lingering glance stopped just short of crudity. But the look made it clear that if she wanted the romance all women were assumed to expect at Martian Haven, he could provide it, as he did everything else—discreetly, efficiently and most memorably.
Mrs. Ericson giggled. She had long since abandoned any hope of Madeleine being, even by stretching the norm, a well-adjusted girl. But much faith had been placed in a Martian vacation, and hope that it would provide Madeleine with some sort of emotional preoccupation, even an affair, if need be—something, anything, that would at least make her seem faintly capable of a normal relationship with a male. Even this fellow Don. For Madeleine was past thirty-five—how far past no one discussed any more—and was becoming more tightly withdrawn every day.
Don shouted. "All right, folks! Now we wend our way back to Martian Haven, over a trail that's the oldest in the Solar System, a trail that was once a mighty highway stretching from the inland city to the great ocean that once rolled where now there is only thousands of miles of wind-blown sands!"
The long line of exclaiming and sickeningly gullible tourists, either too young and wide-eyed to know better, or too old and desperate to admit the phoniness, ooohhhed and ahhhhed, and the rickshaws and camels, plus a few hardy adventurers on foot, turned with him as Don twisted his own beast toward Martian Haven.
Even the Ruins, she thought—they were like imported props lying in the sand, like old abandoned bits of a set for a TV production.
"Madeleine," her father said, still trying to be a big brother after years of