The Project Gutenberg eBook of You'll Like It on Mars

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Title: You'll Like It on Mars

Author: Tom W. Harris

Illustrator: D. Bruce Berry

Release date: April 20, 2021 [eBook #65122]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


You'll Like It On Mars!

By Tom W. Harris

Nobody could figure out how Kettering had shot
his realistic scenes on Mars. His movie was
just too good to be true—and much too gruesome!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
August 1958
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

I remember it all so clearly. "Get the information and you can have anything you want," Myron Ferdinand told me. He stuffed his heavy pipe with five-dollar-an-ounce tobacco and blew a heavy cloud around his heavy face. "Fail to get it, and I'll wash you out of the whole industry."

Myron meant what he said. "I'll get it," I said with beautifully faked confidence.

"Renn Kettering will be glad to see you at his party tonight," Myron grinned. "I planted a rumor that you want to leave me and go to work for him. Maneuver a private talk, get him on the subject of how he made that damned movie. Maybe he'll let something slip."

"Great idea," I said. Movie magnates always have great ideas.

"Talk to his cast. And slip off alone if you can and look his house over. I don't care what you do, but come back here with the information. And don't get big ideas on selling out to Kettering. He'd hire you to get you away from Stupendous and then dust-bin you because he couldn't trust you. You understand that, of course."

"Of course," I said. Movie magnates are always right.

"One thing more, Manny. I want you to see those steals again."

"I've seen those scenes of his about seven thousand times, Myron."

"So have I—so has the whole country—and between you and me I don't think they're as hot as they're cracked up to be. I'd have done it different. But I want you to see them just before you go to Kettering's party, to have 'em fresh in your mind. Get it?"

"Terrif idea!" I bellowed. "I didn't think of that!"

"That's why I'm president of Stupendous," said Myron.

Modest guy, Myron Ferdinand. "Right," I said, sliding toward the door.

"Remember," said Myron. "Anything you want—or on the other hand, the end of you in Hollywood."

On the way to the preview room I mulled it over. Nice simple assignment. Find out how Renn Kettering of PGP Studios had shot those startling sequences Mars Hazard, an international hit. It was super realism—the critics were calling it "Art's answer to the newsreel" and stuff like that. The scenes had been shot on Mars. Renn had fabulous influence. In this case he must have paid off the government itself, because the crew of the third ship to touch the new planet had been mostly his own actors and technicians and Renn himself was along. These factors were known to every hipster. But how had he managed to shoot those....

I was at the view room. I signaled the joker in the projection booth and sat down as the first famous sequences came on the screen.

The space crew had left the ship and were in a little ravine when a bunch of tawnies came down on them. There were liver-freezing shots of the tawnies—close-ups—those could have been done with a telephoto lens. The space crew got behind some rocks, and Vance Hubbard, the film's heavy, stood up and cut loose with a blaster. The blue sparks burst and showered around the big tawny that was coming for Vance, and it howled but didn't stop. Vance hurled the gun at its big sticky mouth, and then the thing grabbed him with its front mandibles, or whatever you call them.

There was a closeup of Vance's face, scrambled with terror, about the best acting I have ever seen from Vance. And, the tawny got those yellow choppers going and minced him into little hunks.

It was all close to the camera, and about the most real thing I ever saw outside of a newsreel. Superb realism.

If I hadn't seen so many murder films and pirate films and space-monster films I suppose I couldn't have kept watching. But me and John Q. Public were just alike—calloused. Calloused or not, I still felt a cold chill or two. If the public wanted horror, this film delivered it.

There were some more hair-raising shots as the crew tried to beat off the tawnies. There was a guy who got in the way of a blaster. I wanted to think he was a rubber dummy or some kind of robot, but I couldn't convince myself. Anyway, the tawnies cleaned up. The only one who made it back to the ship was Arden Montgomery, and her legs were ripped and slashed like ragged cloth.

Then the clips were over. I sat and thought a moment. Maybe Myron had a point, watching the steals again. I had picked up an idea. It was crazy, but I needed any idea I could get hold of.

Maybe those scenes were just as real as they looked. Maybe Renn was using doubles here on Earth, and the real cast was scattered in hunks around the bleak sands of the red planet. Renn was unscrupulous enough for something like that. But could he patch up convincing doubles?

I was pretty sure doubles hadn't been used in the film, though. I knew Vance and Arden. It was them.

I kept worrying at it all the way to Renn's house party. I came up with one more idea—one I liked. Arden Montgomery was the only one in the film that escaped. If those scenes were real, she'd have scars on her legs the rest of her life. They'd be too severe to disguise completely. Arden and I had once been what they call "good friends," and tonight I would find a chance to give her legs a good, thorough lookover.

Renn met me at the door in person. On the front of his phony grin, and in the back of his mind was the possibility he might get me away from Myron. The grin didn't change the fact that Kettering has eyes like dry ice, and that the true lines of his face are about as jovial as a shock trooper's.

"Greetings, Gabe!" I chortled.

"Greetings, Gabe!"

I was about to shake hands when I yelled and jumped back about ten feet. Just behind Renn was a snarling tawny.

Renn laughed. "Little watchdog I brought back. He's a runt, you'll notice. Only about five feet high. Weighs about fifteen hundred pounds. He keeps prowlers off the grounds at night—so many people are curious these days. But don't worry, he can't get at you."

The runt was tied with steel cables about two inches thick. He was giving the cables a hard time.

"Come on in," laughed Kettering. "Those cables would hold an elephant."

"I don't see what that has to do with holding a tawny," I wheezed, "but if the rest of your guests got through, I guess I can make it."

Kettering took my arm and sort of guided me down the hall, and when we passed the tawny all those eyes or whatever they are, all over its body, glared through the fur and it leaped at me. The big choppers clacked a half inch from my ear and I felt a mandible graze my coat.

Renn guffawed. "I measured his exact reach," he said chummily. "Sorry if he scared you. A good watchdog—so many people curious these days."

That made the second time he'd said that.

I gulped a drink before I began to talk to anybody. Practically all the Important Crowd was present.... Dick Lutz, the critic; Sally Flours; Johnny Lambeck of Lambeck & Bowe, and what looked like the whole cast of "Mars Hazard." I was in luck—Arden Montgomery was there with them. I noticed she didn't have a drink, so I brought her one. "Greetings, Gabe," I smirked charmingly, and she gave me the big hello. So far, so good—she was glad to see me.

"What's new, Manny?"

"Nothing," I said, "Except I'm in love with you."

"Wonderful," she said. "I love having people in love with me."

I slid my eyes up her legs, which were exhibited considerably. No sign of scars.

"How was Mars? I hear it's dry and full of itchy green sand and the sky is a pink that'd turn your stomach. And—horrors—no bars!"

"I kinda liked the damned place. Wouldn't mind staying there."

A little voice in the back of my mind said "Hm! Something's fishy."

"I heard it was lousy," I told Arden. "Not to start an argument."

"We liked it. Can't you keep your eyeballs off my legs?"

Matter of fact, I hardly could. From looking for scars, I had passed to just looking. I tried higher up and only got absorbed again. There were some things about Arden, if you overlooked her acting, that were spectacular.

"Who's the girl lately?" she asked.

"Nobody important. Who's the boy?"

She shrugged, and her dress nearly slid off her shoulder. "Nobody important. My drink's gone. Let's go get another."

We wove around people and moved to Kettering's kitchen. It was nice to be with her again, and I could tell she thought so too. And I owed it to myself, my career, and to Myron to stay with her just a bit longer. The fact that I couldn't see any scars didn't prove there weren't any. I would try to get a chance for a more thorough check. The sense of touch versus the sense of sight.

"You people did a wonderful job in 'Mars Hazard,'" I said. "I suppose the party is kind of in your honor." Then I noticed something, and ran my eyes over the crowd to check. "It looks like Renn only invited the actors from the Mars part of the film!"

"It isn't really a party for the whole cast. Some of us happen to be staying out here." That sounded almost as fishy as the I-like-Mars-bit.

"Renn afraid somebody'll get some secrets?" I smiled.

"Could be," she said, with that hazardous shrug. "You weren't going to ask me for any, were you?"

"As a matter of fact I wasn't," I said with disarming frankness. "But I will now. Just how did he make those terrific shots?"

Arden just smiled. It wasn't an answer, but the smile was a nice one. "How about those drinks?"

We decided to go outside with our drinks, to look at the stars, and maybe she could show me the one she'd been to. But Mars wasn't out that night. At least we didn't see it. Maybe because we didn't look too hard. After awhile we went back into the living room, and I had learned something, at least. There weren't any scars on her.

I strolled us over to the group around Kettering. Little Dick Lutz, the critic, was peppering questions at him, and Kettering was loving it.

"I may never make another," he was saying. "Would you ask Shakespeare to write two Hamlets?"

"Then why so quiet about your technique? If you don't want to use it, let the rest of the boys in."

"That's my secret too," Renn Kettering answered smugly, sipping his drink.

"Look, R. K.," popped Lutz, who was getting nettled, "I hear the secret is out already. People talk."

Kettering laughed. "The secret isn't out—I know it isn't. Like to know how I know?"

"Okay, so how do you know?"

"That's my secret, too."

I thought that Lutz would choke to death. "You used Martians," he said with conviction. "Disguised."

Renn donned a look of pain. "That theory is shabby, shabby as the robot rumor. Do you really believe Martians could be disguised that well? And if they could, do you think they'd want to throw their lives away?"

"What do I know about Martians?" Lutz spluttered, but he was beat. It was a shame. There for a minute I thought he'd come up with something.

I was just about where I'd been when I'd arrived at the party—except perhaps with Arden, which wasn't exactly what Myron sent me for. I hung around near Kettering but he didn't say anything revealing, and finally it was time to go. Arden and I had been occupied in the kitchen, and I was the last guest.

Renn went with me to the door, slipping past the tawny which jumped at both of us.

"Goodnight, R.K.," I said. "It was real."

He put his hand on my shoulder, "You're a great boy, Manny. I've been hearing a lot of nice things about you."

It was coming.

"I do as well as I can," I said modestly.

"I know that," he said, pompous and serious as an old gibbon. "I keep an eye on people. I'd like you to have lunch with me sometime."

In a way, I wished I could work for him. He was heading Up, but def. Myron was right, though. Renn would hire me just to get me away from Stupendous, then pigeon-hole me because he wouldn't be able to trust me.

I let my mouth flop open for just a second. "Why—I'd be delighted. How about tomorrow?"

"Love it, but I'm leaving tomorrow. Let's make it in about a month."

I must have looked surprised, and he said, "We're going back to Mars, you know. Some of the cast liked it so much—may even want to live there. I'm traveling up with them. The government has another ship going—they've been most accommodating."

Him and his fancy wire-pulling.

"Oh," said I. "Well, whenever you say. It's been a delightful evening." The hell it had.

"Thank you," said Kettering. "Goodnight, now. Be careful going across the grounds, Manny. I let my little watchdog out in about ten minutes."

"Uh," I said expressively. "Well, goodnight."

His big gates opened ahead of the car and shut behind it, and I drove down the road a little and parked. Would Myron want to wait a month before I could even see Kettering again? I mulled awhile, picked up the dash phone, and rang up Myron. He was sore when he answered—apparently I'd interrupted something—and sore when I got through talking. When I hung up I had received an ultimatum—get the dope, get it now, or....

Well, I did look forward to keeping my job, which financed a blonde, a brunette, and two cars. I couldn't let all those dependents down.

I am much opposed to hard thinking, but I decided to do some. Finally I snuffed up an idea. Just to show you what hard thinking leads to, it was the idea that changed everything.

Renn was much too cool to show the secret. But the cast had to be in on it. And there was this liking this Mars business, and the trip back there, and all that jazz.

I would sneak back to the house and spy on the actors and actresses. Preferably the actresses. Only, of course, because they talk more.

I drove back with the lights out and parked by the big gate. I didn't see anything of the tawny. The gate was made of upright iron bars, sharp-pointed at the tips, and I climbed up. The bars were set loosely into holes in the cross-pieces, resting solid on the bottom crosspiece but not welded. I worked one out. A spear. Too heavy to throw at a tawny or anybody else, but I remembered a movie I saw as a kid, back when they had jungle movies. The jokers in this movie had done something I might do with the tawny.

I climbed down inside the grounds and started toward the house, where a couple of lights were on. The moon was low and very bright. I didn't crouch or skulk along. I figured the tawny would spot me sooner or later, and I'd rather it didn't happen when my back was turned and I was looking in a window.

I began to sweat a little.

I was about halfway to the house when I saw the tawny. It was coming toward me, from behind the house a quarter-mile away. I crouched and started a trot, and that seemed to attract it. It came in long, clumsy bounds, and I could hear it huffing.

It was time to try the stunt from the old movie. The flick showed some jungle joes hunting boar. This character was kneeling on the ground with a spear in his hands. The butt was braced against the ground and the point was toward the boar. The boar was charging. The idea seemed to be that it would spit itself.

The tawny was close and I ran. I wanted him coming at a nice clip when he hit my spear. I was between him and the moon, which I hoped would keep him from seeing what he was running into.

I glanced over my shoulder and he was almost on me, coming like a roller-coaster. I whirled, knelt, and raised the pointed rod.

The tawny took a terrific bound. I guess he thought he had me. He went right over me, right over the spear, hit the ground and started rolling.

I got my legs going, covering ground in the opposite direction. Glancing back, I saw the tawny getting up. His mouths were opening and closing, but he wasn't making any noise. Couldn't, I guess, because of some Earth difference, or his wind knocked out. It was obvious that he wanted to.

This time he came like two roller-coasters and probably a rocket. I jammed the butt of my spear down solid and shut my eyes. There was a big thud. I opened my eyes. He had run the bar right through him and was still coming, sliding right on down it. There was a hissing and rushing, and clouds of violet vapor spurting from the puncture in him.

I got the hell out of there. Finally I stopped running and looked back. He was staggering in ragged rings, his mouth gnashing at the bar, moving slower and slower like a machine running down. He stumbled into some little bushes, tangled, toppled, and there was a thrashing. The air stunk with the escaping vapor. The thrashing quieted.

I could go on to the house.

I picked the nearest window and it was the right one. Arden and the rest were in there, moving around, changing clothes, packing, and talking. They were talking about Mars, and how badly they wanted to go back there. They seemed a little sorry about the people they wouldn't be seeing any more, and Arden mentioned me.

But that was all I got to hear. There was a rustle in the bushes and I whirled to see the tawny coming at me, with the iron bar still sticking through it and the puncture sealed by something like scar tissue.

The tawny had its voice back and was howling like a ten-ton tea-kettle. I heard some yells inside the house. Then the beast was on me and I felt the choppers starting. I don't suppose many people these days are familiar with the sensation of being chopped up fine. It isn't pleasant. But it didn't last long. I passed out.

Now this is corny, but when I woke up I figured I had arrived wherever it is you arrive when you get through dying. But then I saw Renn Kettering. I didn't think he'd arrive at the same place I would; at least not the same suburb. Unless, of course, he was running the place. So maybe I hadn't died at that.

I saw I was in some kind of room, in bed, and Renn was standing on the bed. I pinched myself. I was real.

"Welcome to Mars," said Renn.

I sat up. I was in a hut made of little stones, reeds and holes. I glimpsed bits of a green sand desert, pink sky and yellow clouds.

"The tawny tore you up," said Renn, which was no news to me.

"Luckily, we got you up here in time," Renn continued. "You'll be wanting to stay, of course."

I remembered all I knew about the Mars scene. I leaped from bed, putting it between me and Renn.

"Like hell I will!"

"Oh, you'll stay, just like the others."

It was coming a little fast. "Slow down," I said. "I got torn up, and here I am, sound in wind and limb. That's what happened to the others? That's the secret of how you shot those realistic scenes?"

"Check," said Renn. "But I won't bore you with the whole long story."

"I love to hear you talk," I said, drooling at the thought of what Myron Ferdinand would do for me when I told him the story.

"Well," said Renn, "it's really because of the Martians. As you know, they aren't awfully advanced—or maybe they've retrogressed—but they do have some wonderful things in medicine. Their medicine, or whatever it is, works on body cells. You've heard about the lizards that grow a new tail when the old one is cut off? Or a lobster growing a new claw? Well, all living body cells, including human, have some of what they call regenerative power. With most animals it's faint; about all it does is produce scar tissue or replace a few cells like a bit of skin, for example. But the Martians can hype up this process so you can grow practically a whole new body. Arm, leg, liver or lights, rip 'em off and you can grow 'em back. But there's one catch in it."

"Yah," I said.

"Yah," he said. "Just like Hollywood. In this case the catch is this—when you grow back, you're a Martian. You're still you—but different. It began to show up in our cast in about ten days. Maybe the new cells are part Martian, or pick up something from the medicine or treatment or whatever it is. Anyway, you want to live on Mars. Pretty soon you have to live on Mars. You don't like it any place else anyway. But you like it here."

I lay back then and shut my eyes.

I still remember it all so clearly, how I felt as I lay on the bed, and all the rest of the story. But I don't feel now the way I did when Renn gave me the word. Not at all.

I make a very nice salary working for Renn up here—mostly newsreels and a few dramas, although even with the medicine nobody will volunteer to make a show where the tawnies tear them up. And there are some very nice things about being a Martian. Arden is even more interesting now that we both have three more senses. And Mars is wonderful. No lousy bars, and that dead, dry, marvelously itchy green sand.