Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/124

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her told of terrible wars and pestilences, such as we are now having upon earth. Also, her water supply was beginning to give out, due to the fact that she was obliged to use much of it in the manufacture of atmosphere. Suddenly, about fifty years ago, all messages from her ceased; and upon signalling her, we received no answer."

Mortimer covered the transmitter with his hand. "That," he said to me, "can mean only that intelligent life upon Mars had become extinct. The earth, then, can have but a few thousand years yet to go."

For nearly an hour longer he quizzed Williams upon conditions of the year 46,812. All the answers showed that while scientific knowledge had reached an almost incredulous stage of advancement, the race of mankind was in its twilight. Wars had killed off thousands of people, while strange, new diseases found hosts of victims daily in a race whose members were no longer physically constituted to withstand them. Worst of all, the birth rate was rapidly diminishing.

"Listen to me." Mortimer raised his voice as if to impress his invisible subject with what he was about to say. "You are now living in the second day. Tell me what you see."

There was a moment or so of silence; then the voice, keyed even higher than before, spoke again.

"I see humanity in its death-throes," it said. "Only a few scattered tribes remain to roam over the deserted continents. The cattle have begun to sicken and die; and it is unsafe to use them for food. Four thousand years ago, we took to the manufacture of artificial air, as did the Martians before us. But it is hardly worth while, for children are no longer born. We shall be the last of our race."

"Have you received no recent word from Mars?" asked Mortimer.

"None. Two years ago, at her proper season, Mars failed to appear in the heavens. As to what has become of her, we can only conjecture."

There was a horrible suggestiveness about this statement. I shuddered, and noticed that Mortimer did, also.

"The Polar Ice Cap has begun to retreat," resumed the voice. "Now it is winters that are short. Tropical plants have begun to appear in the temperate zones. The lower forms of animal life are becoming more numerous, and have begun to pursue man as man once pursued them. The days of the human race are definitely numbered. We are a band of strangers upon our own world."

"Listen to me," said Mortimer again. "It is now the third day. Describe it."

Followed the usual short interval of silence; then came the voice, fairly brittle with freezing terror.

"Why," it screamed, "do you keep me here: the last living man upon a dying planet? The world is festering with dead things. Let me be dead with them."