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´╗┐Title: Martian V.F.W.
Author: Vandenburg, G.L.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Martian V.F.W." ***

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MARTIAN V. F. W.

By G. L. VANDENBURG



              _There's nothing like a parade, I always
                  say. Of course, I'm a Martian._


Mr. Cruthers was a busy man. Coordinating the biggest parade in New
York's history is not easy. He was maneuvering his two hundred pounds
around Washington Square with the agility of a quarterback. He had his
hands full organizing marchers, locating floats, placing the many brass
bands in their proper order and barking commands to assistants. But Mr.
Cruthers approached the job with all the zeal of an evangelist at a
revival meeting.

As he approached the south-west corner of the square he saw something
that jarred his already frayed nerves. He stopped abruptly. The mass of
clipboards and papers he was carrying fell to the street. There before
him were one hundred and fifty ants, each of them at least six feet
tall. His first impulse was to turn and run for the nearest doctor. He
was certain that the strain of his job was proving too much for him. But
one of the ants approached him. It seemed friendly enough, so Mr.
Cruthers stood his ground.

"My group is waiting for their assignment." The ant's voice seemed to be
coming from the very core of its thorax which was a violent red.

"Good Lord!" Mr. Cruthers' mouth opened up as wide as an oven door.

"Mr. Cruthers, I believe the parade is about to start and my group--"

Mr. Cruthers managed to blurt out. "What the devil _are_ you anyway!"

"This _is_ the parade marking the International Geophysical Year, is it
not?" The ant had a pleasant, friendly voice.

"Well, yes, but--"

"And you are Mr. Cruthers, the manager of the parade, is that not
correct?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Cruthers rubbed his eyes and took another look at the strange
creature. Its head was a brilliant yellow. It had two large goggle eyes
which rolled like itinerant marbles when it spoke. The low slung abdomen
was a burnt brown. It was bad enough, Cruthers thought, that these ants
were six feet tall, but it was nightmarish to see them in three colors.

"Mr. Cruthers," the ant continued, "haven't you been instructed by the
National Academy of Sciences that the Martian V.F.W. is to participate
in this parade?"

"The Martian--!!" Mr. Cruthers' mouth was open again. Then he realized
that when the ant spoke its mouth didn't move. He picked up his
clipboard and papers from the street. His voice was hostile now. "What
the hell is this, some kind of a gag! What are you trying to do, scare a
man half to death!"

"Oh, we're not joking, Mr. Cruthers. The National Academy--"

"They didn't say anything to me about a bunch of clowns dressed up like
ants!" Mr. Cruthers' indignation became intensified. He was loathe to
admit that he'd been taken in by such obviously animated costumes. "Now
look here, I'm a very busy man."

"The arrangements _have_ been made, Mr. Cruthers. If my group is refused
a place in this parade we shall file suit immediately. As manager you'll
be named co-defendant." The ant was gentle but firm.

The thought of being sued softened Mr. Cruthers' attitude. "Well, I'm
very sorry, pal, but every contingent in this parade is listed on my
clipboard and you're not. I know this list by heart. What did you say
the name of your group was?"

"The Martian V.F.W."

Mr. Cruthers was amused. "Those sure are the craziest outfits I've ever
seen," he chuckled. "Where'd you get them? Walt Disney make them for
you?" He followed his own little joke with a long throaty laugh.

The ant was impatient. "About the parade, Mr. Cruthers, there isn't much
time."

"Oh, yes, the parade. Well, let me see," he thumbed through the
clipboard, "I guess there's always room for a few laughs. How many in
your group?"

"One hundred and fifty. And we also have a float with us. Not a very
large one. It measures twenty by twenty."

"Tell you what. You move your group to the corner of Thompson Street and
Third Street. Get behind the Tiffany float and follow them, okay?"

The ant paused a moment to record the instructions in his mind. Then he
turned to leave.

"Oh, wait a minute," Mr. Cruthers cried before the ant could rejoin his
group. "Just who did you speak to at the National Academy of Sciences?"

"I believe it was a Mr. Canfield."

Mr. Cruthers' face lit up. "Well, why didn't you say so in the first
place! I'd have placed you right away."

"That's perfectly all right, Mr. Cruthers."

"Listen, I don't know what you guys do but those costumes should
certainly bring the house down. There's going to be four million people
watching this parade. I bet that's the biggest audience you've ever
seen."

"It certainly is." With that the ant strode away.

"Good luck!" Mr. Cruthers shouted after him.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Daddy! Daddy, look! Look at the big rocket!" The little boy jumped up
and down gleefully. "It must be a whole mile long, Daddy! What kind is
it?"

"That's the Vanguard, son."

An autumn breeze from the East River chilled their vantage point at
Sixty-First Street and Fifth Avenue.

"The Vanguard?" The name meant nothing to the boy. "Gee, I'll bet it can
fly all the way to the stars!"

"It's the rocket that carried the first artificial satellite into
space."

The parade, now three hours old, continued past the reviewing stand.

"I wanna get a better look at the Vanguard!" the boy shouted.

The father lifted the boy onto his shoulders. The little fellow laughed
and whooped it up, firing several shots from his Captain Video Ray gun
at the passing missile.

The rocket moved on and the noise of the crowd diminished slightly.

A one-hundred piece brass band was passing in front of them. They were
playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever." They were followed by the Sak's
Fifth Avenue display; nine small floats, each depicting life on another
planet. The National Academy of Sciences had a success on its hands.

"Wow! Daddy, I wanna ride on it! I wanna ride on that float and visit
all those planets! Can I, Daddy!" The boy became all limbs trying to
squirm down from his father's shoulders.

"You stay right where you are, young man," the father struggled to hold
his balance.

"But I wanna go to the stars. I can watch the rest of the parade from
Venus or Mercury! Please, Daddy!"

The father grinned. "Not just yet, son, but it won't be long before man
will go to the stars."

"Who lives up there, Daddy?"

"Oh, there isn't any life up there yet."

"If no one's living up there why does anyone want to go there?"

"Well, maybe there'll be too many people on earth someday and then we'll
have to find other planets with more room."

Another monstrous brass band was going by. The boy became restless. He
began to toy with his ray gun, half interested in seeing if there were
any sparks left in it. "Why can't there be something besides so many
bands in a parade? I wanna see another float."

The father tried to interest the boy by pointing out all the famous
people who were also there: a variety of statesmen the world's leading
scientists and religious and cultural leaders, the president of the
United States.

       *       *       *       *       *

The boy was interested but not in what his elder was saying to him. He
was looking downtown, his eyes squinting, trying to make out figures as
far away as Fifty-sixth Street. Then his mouth opened, not uttering a
sound yet, just waiting to burst with joy at what was coming toward
them.

His father looked up at him. "I wish you'd tell me what you are looking
at. I'm all the way down here on street level, remember?"

"Daddy, they look like ants!"

"What?"

"Ants, Daddy, ants! A whole army of them. Ain't it exciting?"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"They're doing somersaults and back flips and everything! They're coming
right this way! Gee, there's hundreds of them. And they got a float
behind them, Daddy! A great big float with something burning on it."

The child sitting on his shoulders made mobility impossible for the
father. And he couldn't see around the spectators. He resigned himself
to stand and wait for this new spectacle to overtake them. The reaction
to this new sight had already begun to work its way uptown. In the
distance, but getting closer every second, he could hear unrestrained
laughter and rejoicing.

"Hey, take it easy!" The boy was beginning to ride the shoulders like a
bronco buster. "By the time they get here I won't have any shoulders
left. Where are they now?"

"They're almost here, Daddy! And they aren't ants at all. They're just a
bunch of clowns dressed up like it." He began to giggle hysterically.
"Golly, they're funny. Can you see them yet, Daddy?"

Before the father could produce an answer the ants were in view. They
were a sight that couldn't fail to stimulate the funny bone. By
comparison with real ants everything about them had been grossly
exaggerated to achieve the proper effect. They walked on their two back
legs but the four front apertures were far from idle. Some of them
turned somersaults, others did complicated flips consisting of two or
three spins in mid-air. Still others, doing a kind of animated cakewalk,
carried toy ray guns which they fired at random into the crowd. The
guns were something like the little boy's Captain Video ray gun, only
larger. They emitted little streaks of blue sparks which shone brightly
but disappeared when contact was made with air.

They were easily the hit of the parade, a three ring circus all by
themselves, as they pranced and clowned their way up Fifth Avenue giving
the spectators a whale of a show that was completely new.

The guests on the reviewing stand refrained from any hilarity until they
saw the float that four of the ants were pulling behind them. It was in
keeping with the rest of the nonsense they were perpetrating. The float
boasted eight larger ray guns, three on either side and two in the rear,
that fired the same fascinating blue sparks. Behind each gun an ant
stood on its head, wildly waving six legs in the breeze, begging to be
noticed and laughed at. Above the guns, emblazoned in fiery orange
letters, were the words: "MARTIAN V.F.W." This was interpreted by one
and all as a punch line and was treated accordingly.

It was heartwarming to be able to see the president and so many other
dignitaries abandon composure in favor of a good old fashioned belly
laugh.

"Daddy, I can't laugh any more," the boy had to pause between every
other word. "My stomach hurts. Aren't they the funniest things you ever
saw?"

The father was too convulsed to be able to answer him.

"Daddy, one of them is coming this way! He's firing his Captain Video
ray gun at us!" They boy squeezed his father and held on tight.

The father took a deep breath in order to be able to speak. "Take your
gun and fire back at him, son. Fire away! Go on, he's just being
playful!" He broke forth with another gust of laughter. "I won't see
anything as funny as this again if I live to be a hundred!"

The ant pranced over to where they were standing, firing its gun in
every direction. The boy fired back. The ant took one look at the lad's
gun and let out a long cackling sound which built to a crescendo and
then stopped as though it had been turned off. The ant rejoined the
group and they continued on their merry way.

       *       *       *       *       *

The boy fired several shots into the float as it passed. He wanted to
see if he could knock out those blazing orange letters: MARTIAN V.F.W.
The letters continued to burn, but in the boy's mind he was certain he
had made several direct hits.

The boy and his father watched the float until it was out of sight. They
knew there wouldn't be another attraction like those ants. They must
have been real professionals, the father thought. Such teamwork! Such
precision! Each one of them having a specific job to do and each doing
it to perfection. After them everything was bound to be anticlimactic.

More marchers, more bands, a few more floats. The boy was beginning to
tire. It had been a long day. Now everything was dull. "Daddy, I don't
want to see any more. Let's go home."

"We'll stay another five minutes."

       *       *       *       *       *

The parade somehow seemed to be slowing down. The father yawned and let
his son down from his shoulders. He looked across the street at the
president and the other dignitaries on the reviewing stand. All were
slowly raising their hands in salute as another color guard drowsily
made its way by.

Soon the last group in the parade was passing the reviewing stand.
Another brass band. They were moving with the speed of a glacier. A full
five seconds elapsed between each note of music. Everything was
happening in slow motion. On the reviewing stand the dignified hands
went up, agonizingly slow, to a final salute and they stayed there. The
greatest minds in the world stood motionless, unalterably still. Just as
each wave of pandemonium had unfurled itself up Fifth Avenue during the
parade, so now did silence take command.

The little boy tugged at his father's coat. "Daddy! Daddy," he
pleaded, "why has the parade stopped? I wan-na-go-home--" His
words came more slowly with each passing second, like a high
speed phonograph playing at thirty-three and a third r.p.m.
"Dad-dy--why--don't--you--an--swer--me--Da--ddy--why--don't--" His
father never heard him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fifty miles above the Atlantic the fleet of spaceships hung suspended
like lanterns. In the lead ship the ant in charge of communications
reported to the commander.

"We've just received the first communique from the advance guard, sir."

"Read it to me."

The communications chief read from a large perforated paper.
"Time--0600--mission accomplished. Manhattan island cut down the
middle--immediate result of super-isonic rays; four million dead--rays
spreading east and west--estimated time of rays' full effect;
0800--island will then be neutralized--awaiting further orders." The ant
folded the paper and looked up at the commander. "Shall I relay further
orders, sir?"

"No." The commander of the ants paused and stroked his chin. "We're
moving in."


THE END



Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from _Amazing Science Fiction Stories_ May 1959.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors
have been corrected without note.





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