Wernher von Braun, Novelist
Half a century ago, the rocket scientist tried his hand at fiction.
- By airspacemag.com
- Air & Space magazine, January 2007
(Page 4 of 6)
Tom Knight, whirling around Mars high overhead, had been kept closely in touch by radio with all that occurred. He had returned a description of the joy of the Mars-circlers at the successful landing on the 82nd parallel of latitude, and was fully aware of their course towards the mysterious building Holt had described. Shortly before, he reported that he was able to make out the three dark spots of the caterpillars on the blind snow through Bergmann’s great telescope, and that he had located the mysterious gray building during the half hour that his vessels were able to view the region where the landing party was making its slow progress.
The northward trek had continued for two hours at 12 mph when Holt saw the previously clear horizon become misty and blurred. This he took to be the effect of the melting zone and the haze which would naturally form above it. He turned to look astern. The tracks left by their caterpillars, which had theretofore been almost indistinguishable in the mixture of hoar frost and powder snow, were now clear and distinct, indicating that the snow must be growing stiff and sticky. Sure enough, the thermometer outside his glass dome showed 30° Fahrenheit: just under freezing.
As he meditated upon the rapid increase in temperature, a rounded silhouette rose out of the haze ahead. It could only be the mysterious building!
Quickly he called Jaguar and Leopard with orders to man the guns, again bracketing his binoculars on the projection above the monotonous expanse of snow. There was no movement, no sign of life. But with surprise, he beheld at each end of the strange structure two small turrets protruding from its smoothly rounded roof. Had there been smoke, he would have taken them for chimneys. The heavy machines clattered towards the mystery and stopped 200 yards away at Holt’s radioed command.
The lenses of his glasses revealed nothing. There was no path nor road leading to the building. Around it, crevices in the now melting snow showed green vegetation, apparently thick and mossy. There were no windows nor other apertures in the great, gray block 300 by 100 yards square. The rounded roof met the ground hemispherically at either end. Nor did the two turrets help to uncover the mystery. Their twelve feet of height and nine or ten of diameter were topped off by hemispherical, smooth caps. They could not be chimneys.
No snow was on the rounded roof, but the light northerly wind bringing the haze towards them might have blown it away. That was quite possible… Could there be heat inside?
Staring through the glasses, Holt’s eyes burned with curiosity and concern. Now they seemed to tell him that the upper portion was more lightly shaded than the gray of the lower. Sure enough, he detected a marked line of separation running horizontally around the roof at mid-height. Where the building ended hemispherically, the line ran upward and across the rotund gable. The central portion of the roof was unmistakably of a different material and seemed to have been let into the main structure.
Holt ordered the caterpillars to disperse, one at each end of the weird building, while he with the Panther took position fifty yards from the long, curved southern wall. Useless as they seemed, the tiny gun barrels swung around toward the giant mass.
Calling to Billingsley in the compartment behind him, Holt suggested a little sally to the placid Briton.
“Quite so.. Might be rather fun, you know,” came back the imperturbable voice.