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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Can take every form and texture


Outside

the city, at a distance protecting it from any unpleasant vapours, which besides were carried up metallic tubes of enormous height, were several factories of great extent, some chemical, some textile, others reducing from their ores, purifying, forging, and producing in bulk and forms convenient for their various uses, the numerous metals employed in Mars. The most important of these--_zorinta_--is obtained from a tenacious soil much resembling our own clay. [12] It is far lighter than tin, has the colour and lustre of silver, and never tarnishes, the only rust produced by oxidation of its surface being a white loose powder, which can be brushed or shaken off without difficulty. Of this nearly all Martial utensils and furniture are constructed; and its susceptibility to the electric current renders it especially useful for mechanical purposes, electricity supplying the chief if not the sole motive-power employed in Martial industry. The largest factories, however, employ but a few hands, the machinery being so perfect as to perform, with very little interposition from human hands, the whole work, from the first purification to the final arrangement. I saw a mass of ore as dug out from the ground put into one end of a long series of machines, which came out, without the slightest manual assistance, at the close of a course of operations so directed as to bring it back to our feet, in the form of a thin sheet of lustrous metal. In another factory a mass of dry vegetable fibre was
similarly transformed by machinery alone into a bale of wonderfully light woven drapery resembling satin in lustre, muslin or gauze in texture.

The streets were what, even in the finest and latest-built American cities, would be thought magnificent in size and admirable in construction. The roadway was formed of that concrete, harder than granite, which is the sole material employed in Martial building, and which, as I have shown, can take every form and texture, from that of jewels or of the finest marble to that of plain polished slate. Along each side ran avenues of magnificent trees, whose branches met at a height of thirty feet over the centre. Between these and the houses was a space reserved for the passage of light carriages exclusively. The houses, unlike those in the country, were from two to four stories in height.

All private dwellings, however, were built, as in the country, around a square interior garden, and the windows, except those of the front rooms employed for business purposes, looked out upon this. The space occupied, however, was of course much smaller than where ground was less precious, few dwellings having four chambers on the same floor and front. The footway ran on the level of what we call the first story, over a part of the roof of the ground floor; and the business apartments were always the front chambers of the former, while the stores of the merchants were collected in a single warehouse occupying the whole of the ground front. No attempt was made to exhibit them as on Earth. I entered with my host a number of what we should call shops. In every case he named exactly the article he wanted, and it was either produced at once or he was told that it was not to be had there, a thing which, however, seldom happened. The traders are few in number. One or two firms engaged in a single branch of commerce do the whole business of an extensive province. For instance, all the textile fabrics on sale in the province were to be seen in one or other of two warehouses; all metals in sheets, blocks, and wires in another; in a third all finished metal-work, except writing materials; all writing, phonographic, and telegraphic conveniences in a fourth; all furs, feathers, and fabrics made from these in a fifth. The tradesman sells on commission, as we say, receiving the goods from the manufacturer, the farmer, or the State, and paying only for what are sold at the end of each year, reserving to himself one-twenty-fourth of the price. Prices, however, do not vary from year to year, save when, on rare occasions, an adverse season or a special accident affects the supply and consequently the price of any natural product--choice fruit, skins, silver, for instance--obtained only from some peculiarly favoured locality.


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