Martian Mission


Would't it be dreadful if some day . . . men started going wild inside . . . and still looked like men, so that you'd never know which were which?

-Lucy, in Prince Caspian by CS Lewis

Left. Right. Left. Right. Slowly, Joe walked across the spacedock. His feet stepped on the smooth, red Martian concrete. Left. Right. It was much like gaining an obscene amount of weight overnight, going from space to a planet. Left. They had set up tents off in a corner, and all of their gear was locked up in a storage shelter. Only Joe’s father had the key. This was to be their residence. Right. The far end of the pad was dominated by ships that gathered dust, for few braved the expensive flight into space. The middle, through which he walked, was populated by the six one-man scout ships the police used to scan the surrounding countryside. Left. Mr. Underhill was off at the local school trying to find himself a job. Dr. McGillicutty, due his prestige, had previously secured a job at Universitas Martis teaching biology. Right. Juan Santos was soon beside him.

"You move like a tortoise," noted Santos.

"Oh, and are you the pinnacle of physical perfection?" asked Joe.

"No," replied Santos.

"I’m getting used to the gravity. Weaker than Earth, but immeasurably greater than Space, you know?"

"I know. I’m just bugging you. Nice to see you up before noon, boy," Santos smiled and continued away from Joe.

Left. Right. Joe missed Earth, but he was thankful to be back on solid ground again. Back on something palpable, touchable. Man was not supposed to live in a vacuum. It’s unnatural, Joe figured, not just for the body but for the soul as well. Left. Right. Left. Right. He stopped and sat. The ceiling was many metres above his head. It had one large seam down the middle so it could retract. He wondered what was to happen next on this red world populated by colonists from a world away-literally.

* * *

"I," declared Rodrigo, "do not like the idea of attempts at proselytism in our peaceful colony. Look at all the wars caused by these attempts! I also believe no one should force his or her beliefs on another."

"Don’t worry," Vanderladen said icily, "no one shall force his or her beliefs on anyone else. That is impossible. You can force mouths to utter words, but you can never force a heart to believe. And I do not think that these missionaries are going to cause war of all things in our peaceful colony. Yet I do not like them being here at all."

"They symbolize the very things we have fought against in the Religion," Jawarhalal said. "Separating ourselves from the UN was our first step to building this place into a true ashram. They seek to destroy the very constitutions we are in the process of forging between the three biodomes to make this colony a place where true peace can reign. These missionaries come not to bring peace but a sword, I tell you. They can put father against son, wife against husband, daughter against mother, neighbour against neighbour. I do not think they shall destroy our political or legal order, but they will certainly cause social strife."

"Yet," noted Vanderladen, "as members of the Religion, we must affirm the validity of their truth. We also must welcome them. Our colony must be seen as a place for anyone who wishes to come here."

"But nothing in the Universal Book says that we cannot make life difficult for them," replied Rodrigo. The other two smiled in agreement. "Therefore, let us do so. First of all, we must get McGillicutty out of the University…"

"Or buy his soul with money," countered Vanderladen. "Give him tenure and a rich salary. And make sure he falls in with the philosophy crowd. It will do him some good, I wager. I think it would be rather more difficult for the team if they actually lost a member than if he were to lose his job. If he loses his job, that may strengthen the religious resolve of the others. Remember, we may as well try to save souls from the error of intolerance as they try to save us from their imagined eternal damnation."

"Good idea, Ruth," Jawarhalal said. "But keep their teacher out of our schools. University biology students are less likely to hear and be influenced by their poison than innocent school children. Keep Mr. Underhill in the spacedock as long as possible."

"That can be arranged," Vanderladen assured Jawarhalal.

A knock came at the door. At Vanderladen’s command it slid open. Escorted by a page was a UN messenger who seemed to have come in much haste from somewhere. The robot was speckled with red dust. Clearly it had come from outside.

"What is it?" asked Vanderladen.

"May I speak with you alone, Ms. Vanderladen?" asked the messenger.

"Fine," she replied. The other two Martian politicians left with the page. The door slid shut behind them. "You may proceed."

"I come from UNATME. We have been sabotaged and a scientist has gone missing. There is no written message, and after I have delivered it, I shall have no recollection of it." There was a pause, and then the robot spoke, this time in Dutch with the voice of a man, heavily accented by Greek. Menelaus Apangello. "Greetings, Ms. Vanderladen. This is Menelaus Apangello, Director of all Things Pertinent to the United Nations Terraforming Operations. In Station One, we have had the unfortunate experience of sabotage in a power tube in the bowels of the Edifice. Furthermore, one of our scientists has gone missing. The sabotage was done by beings with skinny, printless fingers. Given your lineage, I assume you will understand the significance of this fact. Beware Them, for They are dangerous. Apangello out." The robot stood silent for a moment.

Again it spoke, "Good day, Ms. Vanderladen. I come to give you news that UNATME is experiencing some technical difficulties with regards to its energy facilities and may be out of communication for several days. We trust that you will keep this in consideration."

"Tell Director Apangello that I thank him for this information and will duly consider it. Good day."

The robot left. Vanderladen sunk into her chair in the circle of the Council Chamber. She knew only too well who They were. She had hoped They had all died. She sighed. There were bigger things to worry about than missionaries who might disrupt Jawarhalal’s ashram now.

* * *

Taka sat in his cell. He drew in the red sand with a finger. It was a picture of the typical "alien" that everyone had drawn since the 20th century. Not that these beings that had taken him hostage fit that description. They were much like men, but enough different to be eerie. They had pale yellow skin and large eyes. The only hair on their heads was very short, down the middle of the skull like a Mohawk. Their mouths were very small, their noses very large. Their heads were too large for their bodies. He drew an outline of one of these things next to the "alien." Then he drew himself, locked up in chains. He drew a gun in the hand of the being, pointed at him. These were his fears.

Taka scribbled out the pictures as the door opened slowly. The two creatures that had escorted him there came in to grab him. Taka had decided he wasn’t going without a fight. He went for the eyes, because that is the most obviously vulnerable part of any animal he knew. As he clawed at the eyes of one, he elbowed the other in its large nose. It stumbled back, clutching the protrusion. He turned left, away from where he’d originally come and ran. He heard the light footsteps of the beings behind him. He ducked right into one passage then left into the next. Taka had no idea where he was going. He just kept running. He soon knew that he had clearly lost his pursuers. He stopped, panting hard in the thin air of the Martian caverns. He had no idea where he would go from there, for the atmosphere of Mars was hostile, and he would be unable to go anywhere in it. The creatures had got him to their abode through underground tunnels before taking him into what was apparently a series of tunnels and caves in a mountain. He decided to walk on.

Taka walked on. On either side of him, smooth red walls went up to a ferivusium ceiling. He felt glaringly vulnerable in the light. Soon, the ceiling sloped down until he had to stoop. Only one of the creatures could have walked upright in the passage. After going several more feet, the passage began to slope down. Elated, Taka felt that he was going to the tunnels. Then he heard voices ahead. He came to an intersection. Peering around the corner, he saw some of the beings in a large room at the end of a hallway. To the right, another hall extended. He gingerly crossed the intersection and ran. He ran until he was again out of breath. The tunnel turned left. He followed it. It stopped. There was a small passage he could crawl up into and go in on all fours. Out of necessity, Taka took this. He ended up high above the chamber they’d first taken him to.

The steps that led up to where he’d stood on the raised end were to his left. The cleared floor was adorned by a relief carving of a dragon, its eyes glowing ferivusium. Standing at the base of the stairs were the two non-humans that had addressed the crowd before. They were talking animatedly with his guards. The two guards left. Then one of them went up the stairs. Taka’s eyes followed him. At the back of the enormous cavern he pulled out of a panel in the floor a gong. He grabbed what looked like a cow bone and banged it on the gong three times. The sound carried through the chamber and into Taka’s tunnel powerfully. He wondered if the acoustics would carry it all over the complex.

Prudently, Taka chose to await the next assembly before trying to escape again. His stomach rumbled in protest. He fell asleep.

* * *

While Taka was sleeping up above, the assembly assembled. Hyperichius stood to speak first. His unblinking eyes stared out over the crowd. He raised a hand and waited for total quiet.

"We have in our possession a Creator," he said. There was a rumbling of assent. "In the assembly earlier today, I spoke in favour of adjourning to have time to think of what to do with the Creator. The emergency gong has been signalled by Antiochus because the Creator is loose. It blinded one guard and beat the nose of the other. Somewhere in the City it is able to wreak its havoc. We must find it and then execute its sentence."

"What sentence shall that be?" asked a voice from the mob.

Hyperichius looked out at the people. "This is what we are to decide," he said. "To speak first on the matter shall be Antiochus."

Antiochus approached the Speaker’s Station, his mauve skin pale under the shimmering light from above. "Some say that we cannot kill a Creator, that the Creators are gods," he stated. The statement was greeted by murmurings. "If the Creators are gods, they are malevolent and deserve no mercy from us. They have come to our land from the sky, so some say they are gods. Yet what god comes to its creation to destroy it? Their actions in the Dome from which we took this Creator are destroying our home, changing the air and making it unbreathable. We must stop this action. The Creators are here for our destruction. If they are from the gods, then they are our nemeses. I do not know why we would deserve such retribution, but we must not die without putting up a fight.

"I say that this Creator be left dead in the Dome as an example to the others!"

This was met with cries of, "Kill it! Kill it!"

Hyperichius approached the Speaker’s Station. He had his work cut out for him. Again he raised a hand for silence. "The Creators do not believe we exist!" he declared. "They do not know they are killing us. They think that if anything dies it shall be nothing but lichen and fungus. Yes, let us prove them wrong. But by killing an innocent creature, what will we achieve? To it, we are nothing but weird-looking aliens. I think we must give it the benefit of the doubt. Let it live. Hold it hostage once captured. This make the Creators cautious, trust me."

"NO!" yelled one of the People. "It must die! It is the weird-looking alien. The Creators care nothing for us; they will send warriors to reclaim this thing. We should care nothing for them! Kill it! Kill it!"

"SILENCE!" Hyperichius held up both hands. He saw that Antiochus was smiling his slit-mouth. "This is improper conduct! Silence!"

"The assembly has spoken, Hyperichius," replied Antiochus.

Hyperichius rounded on Antiochus and punched him in his large nose. "You rule the mob with emotion. One day, they will rule themselves with reason." Hyperichius stormed out of the Assembly chamber.

* * *

Taka awoke to cries of, "Neca it! Neca it!" from below. He looked down. The mauve non-human was addressing the other, which summarily punched him in the nose and left. He slowly wedged his way backwards out of the tunnel. It was definitely time to make his escape. Whatever, "Neca it," meant, it probably did not bode well for Taka’s safety. He made his way out of the small tunnel into the wider hallway he’d come from. And Taka walked cautiously. He turned. He twisted. He found tunnels going down. Sometimes they turned into tunnels going up. After what seemed like an eternity, he found a narrow slit in the wall. Hearing the first set of approaching steps, he slipped into the crack. He peered from the crack into the passage. The creature that had assaulted the mauve one drew nigh. He got ready to grab it.

It came nearer.



It was almost beside him now. He poised to reach out.

It was beside him.

It passed Taka. He watched it go. Something in him couldn’t do it. He had done far too much sneaking that day. And the attacking of the guards was almost more than he could bear. He was a scientist, not a warrior. He sought to preserve and observe life, not destroy it. He also wasn’t an adventurer. He was Dr. Taka Nkumo, a scientist on Mars, not John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

He turned his head and peered into the crack. It was very dark. He really didn’t feel like going in further. But he feared the swarm of little non-humans out there. Somehow this darkness was almost preferable to the bright, revealing light. If he couldn’t see anything in the dark, hopefully nothing could see him. Slowly he edged his way into the darkness of the crack, hoping for the best.

* * *

Joe stood up. He turned around and looked across the spacedock. He saw Elizabeth waving to him at the tent they had erected. It was time to go back. Left. Right. Left. Right. It seemed that very little would transpire on Mars that day. It was dinner time, and then they would probably do Evening Prayer and relax. Left. If anything besides eating and praying was going to happen, it would happen tomorrow, Joe supposed. Right. He would get to spend more time with Elizabeth. Left. And his father would make him do more Latin. Right. Maybe he and Elizabeth could escape somewhere to avoid the dead language. And actually have fun. Left. Maybe. He wondered if Mr. Underhill were back yet. Right. That could potentially change any ideas he had. Left. Right. He wondered how in the Cosmos a trip to Mars could actually be boring. Left. Right. Left. Right.

Copyright 2004, Matthew Hoskin