Martian Mission


First, a confession of sorts.* The "Interlude" is a concept I borrowed from T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral. In the middle, Thomas Becket preaches his Christmas sermon prior to being later murdered.

*Confession (aka Reconciliation) is one of the Seven Sacraments . . . .

Martian Missionary Team


The more we learn about this universe, the more mysterious and awesome it becomes. God is still here.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Red sand had piled up all around the dull dome. The dome itself was blue, filtering the sun’s rays in various ways through various panels. Within, it was green, vibrant with life. No green of life extended outside the dome’s domain. They ran on Earth days in the dome. Mars days were much shorter, but everyone who lived within the dome was a native to Earth, so they ran on the twenty-four-hour clock. It also made communications with Earth easier. Not that anything about interplanetary communication was easy. Somehow things still tended to go wrong, with a century and a half of practice. One could say, of course, that it was a century and a half of practice at doing things wrong. But then one would be facetious and a little too close to the truth to boot. It was the "night shift" and Taka was bored out of his skull. He tapped a drum rhythm on his desk with his fingers. Not a spot of red sand was visible to him within the biodome. Simulated moonlight filtered its way through the trees, casting a light on his desk. His desk lamp glowed on the papers before him. Not much happened on the night shift.

Not much that could be reported anyway. Sometimes he heard the taps and thunks near the base of the dome. Once he was certain he saw a pair of eyes peering at him through the transparent aluminum.* Yet no one ever spoke of Them. They did not exist. They were figments of the men’s imaginations, just as mermaids and the Loch Ness Monster were to those who wished them to be there. The staff psychologist called it "Martian Syndrome"-they only believe they see Martians because of all the Martian talk. He always reminded them that no probe had ever found any sign of life-intelligent or otherwise. Taka always felt something was out there. He got up and walked around the plants. He examined the meters that told him how much moisture was in the soil and other such things. Everything was set properly. That pleased him. He crossed the bridge over the bubbling brook. Halfway across he paused and checked the readings for the water. Everything was in balance. They had created the perfect ecosystem in their dome. They had also built laboratories beneath the ecosystem, metres beneath the surface of the planet. Aboveground they had their sleeping quarters: state-of-the-art tents.

Taka looked at his watch. It was 02h00. He just wanted to collapse and sleep. At 3h00 the Martian Missionary Team was going to land on the planet from the station. Taka’s brother was a pastor in the Apostolic Church. Taka had once been part of an Apostolic home group. That was all he really ever had to do with either church. Some days he wondered about Morathi’s religious experience that turned him to " the Eternal, Risen Christ." What if Taka ate a bad burrito and it gave him nightmares? Did that count as a sufficiently religious experience? What if Jesus came to someone in a drug-induced hallucination? Was that a meeting of the immortal, invisible God only wise?O Taka sighed. Not that the arrival of the missionaries affected the terraforming station. The UNSA station and UNMC would be affected. Taka was almost on the other side of the world. Therefore, nothing exciting would happen for another five hours when he went to bed. Plants were not as exciting as sleep.

Then Taka heard a sound.

He jumped. It was a frog. He saw it splash into the brook and swim across. He recorded it in his log when he returned to his desk. Frog movement was out of the ordinary at this hour.

At 3h00 Taka was writing in the dust of the path with a stick:

If a = b

and b = c

then a = c

example: all fish are creatures that live in water

trout are fish

therefore trout are creatures that live in water

"Wait . . . no, that’s not right. That would be ‘a equals b, a equals c, so b equals c. Or something," Taka sighed. "Haven’t touched this stuff since first-year philosophy."

While mumbling to himself, Taka thought he heard something. He paused. All was still. Then he heard what could have been a footstep on the bridge. He stood up on his syllogism, dropping the stick. Dr. Ho was approaching. She looked very tired.

"Hello, Dr. Nkumo," said Dr. Ho.

"Hello, Dr. Ho. Can’t sleep?" asked Taka.

"Nope. Keep hearing . . . things. I realise that’s part of the vibrancy of the ecosystem, but I grew up in the city. I’ve only been ‘roughing it’ for the past few months here on Mars. How do you manage?"

"I live in a light of artificial moon and sleep below during the hours of artificial sun. I also live in an artificial forest in an artificial dome. I manage by being used to it. I enjoy solitude and I don’t dwell on home an especial amount."

"Oh, okay. Capital. Know why I came to Mars?" asked Dr. Ho.

"To be on the cutting edge of terraformation science? To learn ways to reforest Brazil and Africa? To stop desertification? To see new worlds? To get away from it all? Adventure? There are lots of reasons. I’ve heard most. Most of sit about talking about home, when at home all we could talk about was planets, Mars, space, the final frontier. You certainly don’t go to Mars for the great parties, though. I, myself, came because I’ve been interested in ecosystems all my life. I helped start re-establishing the great plains of the Serengeti when I was 20-it seems endless. You haven’t lived until you've seen a herd of wildebeest thundering across the grasslands. They are truly an awesome sight. When I learned we could perfect our techniques without possibly damaging an already severely damaged planet more than it is, I came. You?"

"Uh . . ." replied Ho. "Never mind."

Dr. Ho crossed the bridge and returned to her tent. Taka sighed and looked at the black, starless roof of the dome. Sky was highly preferable. He stepped off his syllogism and examined it.

At 4h00, the path declared:

If all cows eat grass

and small children sometimes eat grass,

then small children are sometimes cows.

"What fallacy is this?" mumbled Taka. He resumed writing.

If chimpanzees use sticks as tools,

and tired scientists use sticks as tools,

are tired scientists chimpanzees?

"Yes," concluded Taka, writing the word over the invalid argument with his stick.

There was a rustle in the trees. He stood up as his desk light went out. He crept around the desk and onto the soft undergrowth. A branch rustled ahead; Taka followed. He had to record all movements in case anything out of the ordinary was happening. He ended up in a small glade. A green sphere glowed ten feet above his head, gathering information about the area. Across the glade something crouched. Then the globe fell crashing to the ground. It was one metre tall when, smoking, it landed before Taka. On top was a creature.

The creature scrambled down the broken sphere and stood, looking at Taka. It was not human. In fact, it seemed like a grotesque mockery of humanity. In the first fraction of a second in seeing the thing, Taka felt he suddenly knew what a human was much more clearly by seeing clearly what a human was not. The mediaeval artists had used this technique to show God by revealing his antithesis in Gothic menageries of monsters. The fraction of a second ended, and Taka backed up. The thing grabbed his arm with five strong, leathery, long fingers. It opened the slit of its mouth.

"Does zither in the wombat?"~ it said, or something much like it. The other creature across the glade laughed. Something had gone seriously wrong in the terraforming station, Taka feared.


Elizabeth Underhill stepped into the biodome. A strange green filtering of the sun’s light illuminated it. The MMT strode onto a wide avenue. She looked up and down each side of the colony of Netherlanders. It was all synthetic, with some vegetation. Trees lined the avenue between her and the buildings. She wasn’t entirely sure what all the buildings were. Ahead, she saw a main square with a clock tower in the middle. It was a tall pillar in the Graeco-Roman style a holographic globe hovering above it telling the time (05h00-they’d been on Mars for two hours) in various directions. Around its base were statues. No fountains, for water was a precious commodity. On the far side of the square was the main administrative building that was also built in the ancient style. To its left was the law court, to its right the main policing station. They walked in and past the large timepiece. At the base of the steps to the administration building they met a commission of suited people sent to greet them.

"Good day," said a woman wearing a glistening red suit. Her accent was Dutch. "I am Ruth Vanderladen, the Chief Administrator of the affairs of the Martian Colonies. You must be the Martian Missionary Team. We’ve been expecting you. I trust your arrival went well?"

"Indeed, yes," replied Rev. Darnell. "Your hospitality has been admirable. Thank you," and Rev. Darnell bowed slightly in the custom of the colonies. His bow was returned stiffly.

Elizabeth became suddenly aware of the Green Guard flanking the main square. What sort of society had developed on Mars? This was the question they were going to have to answer. While the leaders exchanged formal greetings and introduction, Elizabeth slipped her hand into Joe’s and they looked at the statues surrounding the Romanesque timepiece. They whispered with each other. The pillar itself, confided Joe (reciting "useless, stupid, tedious" information he’d learned in his father’s attempts to give him a classical education) was Corinthian, from the baroque and leaning away from the simple beauty of the classical towards a more complex art. The Furies rose from the ground at its base, their snaking hair seeming to move. Each wore a great robe, her claw-like fingernails exposed. Their wings touched as they glared upon the world, as though everyone was the perpetrator of a crime. Alecto they passed first, a torch in her hand, endless anger in her scowling face and furrowed brow. Next was Tisiphone, a sickle in her hand with which to avenge murder. Finally was jealous Megaera, a scourge in her hand. The Furies were life-sized, carved from a substance resembling black marble. The statues in front of them were greater.

Before the Furies were other deities, although the two teenagers could not identify them all. A blue Bacchus, god of madness, wine, revelry, and fertility, was there to jovially greet the newcomer. He was drinking wine with nymphs, caught in Megaera’s gaze. On the right, while facing the administration building, was Helios, the sun god, shining golden like the morning sun on Earth. On the left was Diana the Huntress, pale silver like moonlight. Facing the administration building was Mars, carved from the red Martian stone itself. He was garbed in the attire of a Roman legate, his gaze fixed on the pillars of the massive building before him. He was one they recognised. Every statue was carved in intricate detail, with lines around the eyes and mouths of the statues, every fold of every piece of cloth highlighted for the viewer. Diana’s bowstring looked woven from strands of silver rope.

Iustitia and Veritas stood on either side of the Romanesque law court. As they wandered towards those admirable women, Mrs. Underhill came and collected Joe and Elizabeth back into the group. Elizabeth looked at the Administration building, adorned only with Jupiter in the space between the columns and the roof. As they entered that building, she glanced to the right. Beyond the pillars into the police station, Achilles slew Hector with deadly accuracy.

In all of the statues, there was no sign of Minerva.

*Three words: Star Trek IV

Oin light inaccessible hid from our eyes . . .

United Nations Space Administration; United Nations Martian Colonies

~"20 Incoherent Questions" - thank you Carlton Cards (Party Games for the Age-Challenged or something like that) and Cheryl . . .

Copyright 2004, Matthew Hoskin