Martian Mission


There are no rationalists. We all believe fairy-tales, and live in them.

-G. K. Chesterton, Heretics

Andy Dandy looked out the window of the administrative building of the UNMC-1.* It looked out the back, where the Graeco-Roman exterior continued, only with modern windows of offices. The window looked out onto a courtyard surrounded on the other three sides by more of the extensive building. The lower level had a peristyle, and he looked onto its tiled shingles below and at the Doric pillars across. He smiled to himself, seeing shade in a land of simulated sunlight. He turned around, back to the desk behind which sat Ms. Vanderladen, back the wholly modern office with a marble statue of a naked man in one corner, a contrast to the bright, synthetic material of the walls and floor. The missionary was praying wildly in his mind. "O God. Help." Followed shortly by, "Let your will be done in this place and in this land."

"We have all the food, clothing, and supplies we need. Do not worry an iota about those. All we lack is a place to live. This is a problem because the Paul is leaving soon, since it’s property of UNSA.** We are, quite unfortunately, out of money." Rev. Darnell paused. The Christ had sent his disciples out without even a walking stick. St. Francis had begged for the blackest bread. He prayed again, and he prayed hard, knowing God heard, hoping the angels in the room would somehow help him. "I do not ask for a place to be given freely to us. We have little property and require little. If we own anything, that would require us to defend it. I also understand that you are not the richest governing body. Therefore, I would not ask for what you cannot afford to give. Yet, I do humbly ask you for a place for the Martian Missionary Team to dwell free of charge for the first while. We sadly lost a lot of funds through the sabotaging business back on earth." The "sabotaging business" involving the murder of one of the missionaries, the suicide of a UN military officer, and the cessation of power to the whole city of Edmonton. The "sabotaging business" that meant they had lost all the money they'd intended for rent. Andy Dandy had banged his head against a wall when the e-mail from their proposed landlord told them they'd have to pay immediately. The "sabotaging business" of which Vanderladen was wholly aware.

"Sabotaging which was spearheaded by your bishops," Vanderladen was quick to point out. She looked at Rev. Darnell. Her gaze seemed kin to a Fury. Andy would have preferred blind Iustitia. "Unfortunately for you and the Martian Missionary Team, we have no available buildings or land that we can allow you to use free of charge. It seems, then, Rev. Darnell, that you and your comrades are stranded in a state of limbo between planets. You cannot afford to stay here, yet you cannot afford to go home. This is quite the problem. I wonder if you could not have fixed it before reaching Mars."

"This is indeed a grave problem, which is why I hoped upon your beneficence, Ms. Vanderladen. Yet I understand that you have no available space for thirteen weary travellers and their cargo. I seek sanctuary for the weary traveller, as can be granted in the spaceports between earth and the new Jupiter Station. We shall live in the spacedock until other accommodations can be found. I assure you there is room enough for us."

Vanderladen looked at Darnell. "You will live there?"

"I have no other choice. Even if I had the money, I could not turn back. To do so would be to abandon the call of Almighty God."

"Your faith in your God is enormous, Rev. Darnell. For your sake, let’s see how it does for you. Sanctuary is granted. Enjoy the spacedock."

"Thank you, your grace," Andy bowed fifteen degrees, tapping his nose and his forehead before leaving. Mars had made itself a strange society. Good thing Christ had made his own strange to the senses of every society ever made. It would make adjustment easier. As he walked from the room to his companions, who seemed to have been waiting with bated breath,*** he found it hard to trust in the verse, "all things work together for those who love the Lord."

"Well . . . ?" asked Felicity.

Andy Dandy looked at their hopeful faces, and shook his head. He looked back at the sleek green door that had just slid shut behind him.

Andy Dandy quoted, "Es vilior et levior…"****


A non-person uttered something in its gibbering language and gave what was quite possibly a rude glance at Taka. Taka was frightened out of his mind. He was in a large cavern dug out of the red Martian rock. The largest pieces of ferivusium^ he’d ever seen illuminated the cave. The creatures filled the whole place. He sat at the top of stairs, his hands bound by a rough length of cord. At the back of the cave was a rectangular door. Beside him stood a tall non-man, its skin shimmering a mauve colour in the light of the shining rocks on the walls. It pointed at him as it spoke. The other ones all faced one direction, their huge eyes staring at him.

"Neca it! Neca it!" cried one. Some took up the chant.

A creature to Taka’s left emerged from the crowed. It turned to face them. The being gave a brief speech in jibber-jabber. Its finger pointed at Taka.

"Ya!" shouted a voice from the back.

"Ita it is!" came another.

Taka sat up straight suddenly. He had definitely heard "it is", which was unequivocally English. Then again, if one heard Zulu without listening or understanding, occasionally English words could be perceived. It was probably such a situation here. The scientist wondered what on Mars he could possibly do in this situation.

One of the beings uttered a harsh oath.

"Ya! Ya! Ya!" shouted others. A chant developed. "Imprison! Imprison! Imprison!" Taka understood that, he was fairly certain.

The one who’d spoken first spoke two syllables. They all fell silent. It gave them a brief tirade, then pointed at two that stood and came to grab him.

Taka was escorted through the rectangular door. The creatures parted as he passed through the cave. He noticed that carved on the floor was a dragon. He wondered what that represented. His two escorts led him through dimly-lit passageways. At one point they passed by what must have counted as a window. He looked outside to the red, rocky desert of Mars. Phobos^^ was visible in the sky. But his eyes were drawn to the deep, wide valley below. A cracked dome, of the sort the UN teams built, resided there. He looked at the unpeople beside him. What were they?

Soon they deposited him in a cell. The large metal door closed, trapping him within; its bolt slammed in place beyond His escorts stood outside, talking in their strange language.


Menelaus ApangelloE stood impatiently beside Alejandra as she worked at the controls in the deepest foundation of the UNATME.E He was Director of All Things Pertinent, and their loss of power was most assuredly pertinent. He held a flashlight on the panel as Alejandra worked. The room was pitch dark except for the sapphire of his light which cast a blue circle around Alejandra and made pieces of equipment glow. People had been working for seven hours to get the power back on, but no one had been successful. The dome's cover had been manually removed so they could have light in the buildings aboveground. But in the H-shaped submartian depths, no natural light penetrated. And neither did any emergency lights.

Menelaus had one fear-that it was the work of Them. If They were behind this massive sabotage, then he would have much explaining to do. Furthermore, all could be lost if it were Them. He hoped that it wasn't Them and was just some failure.

"Aha!" declared Alejandra. "I've found it, sir. It's in Tube 9238- C. That one's way in the depths. We'll have to send in robots, sir. None of the automatic fixes will work, of course. We wouldn't be having this trouble if that were so. I wonder how this could have happened? That's a very secure Tube-no chance of malfunction. I wonder if it's a more essential problem, such as a programming error. What do you say, sir?"

"I believe that the problem here certainly has to do with essentials. Something is essentially wrong, and it is our job to fix it. How likely is a computer error?"

"At this stage in the game? Slim to none, sir. But sabotage is the only other possibility, and that's utterly impossible."

Menelaus blanched. "Send the robots in," he ordered.

For the next two hours he sat huddled with Alejandra over her personal computer. Next to them, a minor worker was controlling the BMD-342, nicknamed "the Motherbot." He watched the progress carefully. The robots reached the Tube safely, and far more quickly than humans would have. They pried open and cut through doors locked shut. Relieved people greeted the robots with joy. Within fifteen minutes of departure, the robots had reached the Tube. A floating fluorescer then turned on full brightness. And there was the circular entrance to Tube 9238-C. Nothing was out of the ordinary. It's sequence of green, blue, and purple lights still lit regularly. Menelaus hoped Alejandra had been right. A codebot scuttled to the controls to open the Tube. Menelaus punched in a code on Alejandra's computer. A specific plug slipped into an outlet beside the circular hatched. It whirred for a few seconds.

When the Tube door opened, all they saw was gaping black. The squad of machines went in, the fluorescer leading the way with a cambot. They lit up the vertical cylindrical shaft. Still nothing looked wrong. The cambot floated up and down the whole thing. Every screen looked right with its proper readings. Every cord was plugged into the right place. They finally scoured the entire Tube for half an hour. As far as the cambot could tell, nothing was wrong. Then a work-bot found something of use. A footprint was distinctly seen on a control-panel.

The robots quickly detached the cover. Beneath, every cord was cut. The big coverplate was slipped inside the storebot. Clearly, the display screen had been lying. For ten minutes a hacker plugged itself into the computer's mechanisms until it cracked the code and brought up the ERROR screen. An electrician robot reconnected several wires in a certain arrangement, and a small door to the right of the damaged panel open. Within was a smashed jar with a blude liquid lying amidst the pieces of broken glass. The pseudaqua was designed for cleansing the other liquids involved in the energy-creation process. The mess was meticulously cleaned.

Fingermarks were everywhere. None of them had fingerprints. Alejandra said that whoever did this must have had some very good gloves or a great genetic engineer for a best friend. Menelaus groaned inwardly. Panel after panel was removed, and display screen after display screen was hacked into. The place had been sabotaged and put back together very carefully. Every screen flashed ERROR now. Various operations were disabled. At the end of hour two, a workbot opened the final panel and all of Tube 9238-C exploded. It set off a chain reaction that consumed half of the floor above. At that moment, Menelaus Apangello also received disastrous news involving Dr. Nkumo's disappearance while on the night-shift monitoring the biodome above.

It was most assuredly Them. He banged his head against the metal wall and moaned.

*United Nations Martian Colony One

**United Nations Space Administration

***Blue faces were involved.

****Catullus, poem 72: You are cheaper and crummier [than I thought you were]. (Translation courtesy of Michelle Lovric & Nikiforos Doxiadis Mardas, How to Insult, Abuse & Insinuate in Classical Latin)

^On March 23, 2207, some surveyors discovered that beneath Mars’ surface there were small deposits of a shining rock that was able to produce short bursts of electrical current in lab tests. They named it ferivusium from the Latin for "glowing".

^^The lower of Mars’ moons.

EMenelaoV Apaggellw (But only if we're speaking Attic...)

EUN Attempt to Terraform Mars Edifice (OOO-NAT-ME)

Copyright 2004, Matthew Hoskin