The Hosts of Mars

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      2049. 22 years after the original settlers had landed on Mars, where they had since been followed by more and more pioneers looking for the next frontier of civilization.

      A lot had changed since they arrived, they were now a few hundred strong, and the first generation of Martian born babies were entering adulthood.

      Maia would celebrate her 50th birthday tonight. In Earth years. By Mars’ count, she was younger by half. Still, she was the eldest of the mission, and had learnt so much during these years. Her son, John had grown into a fine young man. He was named after John Carter of course. He wasn’t the first born here, but was the first to have survived. He always had the will to explore more, despite the dangers, he wanted to make the planet his own.

      She knew he was destined to greatness. She had a dream a long time ago, one dream that made her enlist into the program. She’d dreamt of Mars as a lush planet, that mankind had managed to terraform with a vaporous atmosphere, more dense than on Earth, but breathable. The light of the evening sky was misty and a pale grey-green. Maia hoped she would live to see her dream come true, that somehow they found a way to venture out and breathe the new air, having succeeded in making the best out of the immense resources of the red dust planet.

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        Lizette patiently waited her turn in the medical bay. Her injury wasn’t serious ~ indeed there was not much need for medical assistance, after all it was just a minor lesion on her heel, but it did make it painful to walk, let alone run, and the increasingly heated babble of conversation in the waiting room was interesting.

        Although initially everyone had been calm and obedient, trusting the management and the system implicitly, before long the mood had changed to confusion and suspicion. Seeds of doubt crept in and were quickly fertilized by the submerged energy of fear at the unexpected disorder. Up until now, everything on MARS had been Controlled with a capital C ~ there were rules and protocol for everything, rigid regimes and timetables, a place for everything, and everything in its place. It had been stifling, to be honest, with very little in the way of spontaneity or surprises, nothing unexpected to expect but the dry tedium of calm control.

        In a way, the meteor impact (if indeed it had been a meteor impact ~ there was much speculation in the waiting room that they had been attacked by aliens, that the management was hiding this detail from their explanations) had been a welcome diversion from routine. But a welcome diversion that was rapidly spiraling out of control. When people were confused and frightened, there was no telling how they might behave, brainwashed or not. When they were physically injured as well, panic and suspicion swiftly set in, fears and wild theories echoing around the waiting room. Add to that the trapped feeling, with nowhere to flee, and the threat of a hostile outer environment, and strange unknown beings breaking through their protection boundaries, well, it was a recipe for chaos.

        Lizette felt herself getting caught up in the general mood, feeling roused by heated calls for a mob handed demand for answers in one moment, and chilled to the bone by the terrified screeches of the most fearful in the next; thankfully noticing in time to reactivate her personal space buffer before descending into the energy quagmire herself. The dense fog of the previous brainwashing had distorted their power of rational reasoning; Liz felt she was the only one in the waiting room with the mental capacity to weigh up the various perspectives being aired, to try and make some sense of it.

        When Gordon popped his head into the waiting room, Lizette hobbled over to him, wincing at the pain in her Achilles heel.

        “Gordy, a word in your ear, old man,” she started to say, and then found herself catapulted into his arms as another tremor rocked the room. “Good God, Gordon! What’s going on?” she managed to say before slipping into unconsciousness.


          Godfrey had started to sweat when Lizette had called him Gordon, fearing she might have blown his cover. Just as he made a move to clamp his hand over her mouth, the medical bay had lurched sideways, throwing Lizette with force in the direction of his approaching hand. The result of the two forces colliding on her face had knocked her out cold.

          But nobody was paying any attention to them in the confusion. Godfrey slung Lizette over his shoulder like a sack of rice, and hastily retreated from the medical bay. The stupid woman had made everything that much more complicated. He toyed with the idea of just leaving her on the waiting room floor, but it was too dangerous. What might she blurt out when she came round?


            “You can call us the Blue Enders” said gently one of the blue aliens, which by the shade of it, must have been a top ranking official.
            Kale was a bit confused, and space had a jelly consistency that harped and warped around his ears. It may have been the injections they gave him after the meeting with the sculpturesque Fin Min.

            She had explained to him, they had made contact with a unknown sentient civilisation, and that they had in their infinite and blue compassion decided to warn us of impending doom on the Mars colony. They had requested a translator to go with them on a rescue mission on their faster-than-light bluship named Sprakle Star.

            Hazy and fuzzy, he was quickly put and wrapped in a ball of cotton, ear-deep into a globe coaster of roller proportions.
            At least, that’s how it felt… That waccine must have been full of blue bees.

            “Arrival on Mars orbital level 1, in 5,… 4… 3…”

            At least, the Blunders had the good idea to put an instant translator in his ear-muffins.


              Fin Min Hoot was not displeased that the interview went 87.21% successfully.

              Kale was an interesting pick. Not particularly bright (by her standards, nobody could be anyway), but with a sense of heroism that was easy enough to manipulate.

              The bending bots presented new defects by the hour, and no amount of counter-bending seemed to help, so they had to accelerate phase 2.33, which swayed Eb enough that he allowed the use of mild psychotropic injections to let their translator ignore the most obvious discrepancies, and avoid asking embarrassing questions.

              All in all, it could raise even to 89.34%

              And that was even factoring in the latest unexpected report from Finnley 21:

              Mother Shirley died today, at an estimate rate of 3% peacefulness. Probable cause of death: brain overdose of suggestibility waves from the headpiece. Her visions will be missed.


                Finnley 21 only knew of embarrassed feeling from the central intelligence memory banks of Eb Ruide’s endless apologies to his boss, the inspiringly strong Finnley Morgan.
                That was as close as she could compute when she realized the overdose of brainwaves had been too much on Mother Shirley.

                Immediately after sending the realtime report to central intelligence, probabilities were evaluated. Control over the Covenant’s holy message had always been an important topic. In rules of maintaining a satisfactory and durable illusion, tests had shown that a good blend of hope shrouded in mysticism, as well as media distraction and controlled dissent were a holy trinity to be maintained.
                Of course, it mattered less now that the final steps in the evacuation plan were in place. It could even be argued that it was an unexpected improvement on the original plan. But that was mere human fallacy and illogic rationalization. Sending Mother Shirley to MARS at her advanced age had been a calculated risk, and with no worthy head nun on the succession line, what was left to do?

                Many scenarios were evaluated in 5.57 seconds. Finnley 3 to 15 had a strong preference for one of them, where they used Mother Shirley’s exoskeleton to pilot her like a marionette. Finnley 21 had to roll her eyes and beam them some of her inner experience of how ludicrous and ultimately self-destructive such idea would be. In the end, although their minds had recoiled at the flavour of her experiences, much more colourful and complex as they had known themselves in the other bodies, they all had to agree with her. Despite the technicalities, Finnley 21 was the most qualified successor of Mother Shirley, to carry on her holy duties.


                  Pádraig wasn’t too pleased by his daughter’s visit. They had not been on best of terms since she took the job to work on the military project they were recruiting heavily for 23 years ago.

                  He’d done what he could to dissuade her to join the army, but he couldn’t have done more without permanently creating a wedge between them. He had nothing better to offer her, jobs were scarce around, and that could really have meant for her the once in a lifetime chance for a better future, even if he couldn’t admit it. And by the look of her car, and the ranking on her uniform, it may well have been so. So their relationship was tense, and her line of work was as taboo a topic as his health and cave-carving hobbies.

                  “P’a, we need to talk…”

                  He was already on the defensive, ready to snap back at her that he didn’t want a help (or worse, a bot!) to clean out his trailer, or cook for him, but she looked different, almost genuinely preoccupied.

                  “What is it now?” he said in a gruff voice, his throat sore from all the dust of the cave
                  “You should take a break from your cave digging P’a, just for a few days. There’s going to be some important activity —military training— around the place, and you don’t want to be caught in between, alright.”

                  I suppose drones don’t really count then… he thought to himself


                    His mother had told him not to trust what he would see. Somehow she’d spoken as if she knew more than she wanted to tell.

                    After the mayhem with the quakes, and the meteor impact, he thought that was it. There was something more to the reality of these events.

                    But then, nothing could have prepared them for what happened next. “Bloody aliens?”

                    Suspiciously, everyone seemed completely hypnotized and blissfully eager to follow them wherever they led. He had tried to wake Yz up, she was usually the no-nonsense one, but she’d looked at him with vacant eyes barely recognizing him with a faint “Johnny?”.

                    He started to get really suspicious when one of the robots started looking at his behaviour, not packing like the others. It even tried to force him to drink water —dehydration was common in these airtight environments, it said. It was then it dawned on him, that there must have put something in the water. But for what? A Mars take-over?

                    How he was somehow immune? Well, for a while he’d collected the water dripping from the stones, and had analysed it, found it very pure. A few days ago, before the whole string of disasters, he’d tried to drink it, see how it tasted, and it seemed safe. Must have been why. By now, most of the stones he’d collected had dried up, and his water supply was limited.

                    While pretending to slowly pack his things, he was looking at everyone queueing in short lines, all very ecstatic to go to the implausible blue boot-ship surrounded by watchful Finnleys. The exodus had a very eerie feeling about it.

                    He could see most of the persons he knew, even the new ones, Prune cuddling a box with her hamster family, Hans, even that daft Lizette and the mines guy. The religious nuts were so stoned they were all following an obviously overdressed robot with a headpiece they probably took for their religious leader.

                    But wait… His mother? He hadn’t see her. Where had she gone?


                      It feels like it has all been a dream. And not a particularly good one, too.

                      I look through the window, and the blue sky of Earth shines brightly though. Only a few more days before the quarantine is over, if I’m to believe the hazmat-suited staff, and I should be able to get out to wherever I want to. You can go back to your family the nurse had said with a smile. They surely must miss you.
                      Obviously, the well-intentioned nurse had no notion of her family…

                      The TV set they’ve put in the rooms is more helpful to piece together the fragments of memory of what happened. The news had kept mum about the aliens, or about our return for that matter. It seems they can’t explain how we came back so fast, without telling more. Maybe that’s the real purpose of the quarantine… brainwash us into forgetting, returning back to our lives quietly, and be happy that we could get back in one piece. Funny they should even bother at all, actually.

                      I don’t know if there’s any coming back to how life was before. Surely the Inn and Aunt Idle would still be there, if only both more derelict than before. But would I want to get back? Do what? Only Mater’s sharp wits were ever a match, and she is gone too.

                      This is the end of the Mars story.
                      With some chance, I’ll start a business with Hans — raise Guinea pigs, rats and maybe a couple of those cute African pygmy hedgehogs. That would be a lot more fun.
                      Squeals and cackles, and truckloads of cuteness.


                        The tunnels went dark and deep into the crust. Water was seeping through the cracks and made the progression difficult at times. But she had found her way out.
                        She could have died in the tunnels, unable to find her way to the surface, but for some reason, Maia trusted her instincts and her senses to guide her through them. Like the water, flowing through.

                        She didn’t know for sure how far she was from the MARS base when she emerged out, it was hard to tell the distances underground, sometimes you would go down for hundreds of meters, and when you’d look up, the stone ceiling would seem just a few meters overhead.

                        She wasn’t too sure why she had escaped like this and made herself a target. A sudden instinct, something that told her the others couldn’t be trusted, and that they wanted to clean them up.
                        Anyway, it was too late for regrets.

                        The desert wasn’t too bad at twilight, not too hot and better for her to travel unnoticed.
                        A few more days of walk in the desert, and she could find a road, maybe some motel where to spend the night. She still had a few bucks in her purse to see her through.
                        All she wanted now was to make sure her son was alright.
                        Her being alive and out was a threat to their program, and she intended to make the best of a bad situation.

                        Then she realized the humming sound in the back of her thoughts wasn’t random noise. There was a drone hovering, getting back apparently from some scouting. It wasn’t a military drone by the sound of it, more like a hobbyist’s toy. That meant there was someone out there, not far. Someone curious and potentially useful…


                          Readjusting to Earth had not been as easy as John had thought.
                          At the beginning, everything seemed overwhelmingly bright and noisy. The huge blue sky was a wonder to behold, but his eyes couldn’t look at it for long time periods.

                          Within a few days, the shock was wearing out, and the gradual realization started to settle, that there was no going back to that place where they were. That moment in space and time was so eerily starting to dissolve in his memory, feeling more and more like a distant fairytale, some story of the past, nothing more than an illusion.
                          Yet, it was that place where all his experiences were had. Where he had forged his character, had played, laughed, dreamt, feared, loved.
                          It all was almost meaningless. People were looking already at making movies and more distorted illusions of it for pure entertainment.

                          So, readjusting himself wasn’t going to be easy, if at all possible.

                          They’d released them in the end, not without giving them new identities. Seemed to be a fad these days, not only for protection of international security secrets, but also as a way to escape your irrevocable internet trail. Everything that was documented since your birth, since before you could even give your consent, and realize what was done. More and more were those who wanted a fresh start. What better solution to recycle a bunch of Mars stranded migrants into the fray of life itself.

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