Here’s another short story I wrote a couple of years ago that’s picked up a few rejections along the way.
It’s an actual, full-monty, sci-fi story in space. I like the anthropomorphising of planets in it.
The idea of life coming from distant planets and not evolving by itself here is something I’ve never forgotten from a Star Trek TNG
double episode where it explained why all alien races (Klingons, Humans, Ferengi, etc) have two legs, arms, one head, etc and basically look the same in the series ( can’t remember the name of the episodes edit: 21st April 2014, just watched it on Netflix, it’s called ‘The Chase‘ – although it was about an ancient alien race dumping DNA on various planets and left to evolve on it’s own).
Anyway, let me know what you think.
I am Mars, I am battle-scarred.
I am Mars, a reflection.
I am Mars, your spinster sister shuffling in circles, spinning in space. A more desolate body, empty of meaning, numb to feeling, you won’t find upon Heaven or Earth. The vacuum fills me, the darkness illuminates fear, the infinite void suffocates. Scratch my weathered, defaced surface and you’ll find an icy soul, cold to the core; no blood runs through these valleys of mine. These craters are scars I’ve received from the stars.
I am Mars and I am battle-scarred.
Commander Pierce sat on the broken wheel of his Mars rover, one foot on the ground, the other perched up on the rock he had inadvertently collided with. Frustration and annoyance had faded with the setting sun as he diverted his mind to studying the rock’s rugged detail in the sun’s rich evening light. The act of carefully deliberating something so simple and common, yet other-worldly enabled the Commander to forget his immediate situation and cocoon himself within his spacesuit; within an extra layer of calm.
Echoing in his ears were the constant reminders from the engineering team to ‘be careful’, ‘take it slow’ and ‘it’s not a race out there’. He could only imagine their responses as soon as he radioed back with his current predicament. If he had enough oxygen to walk the 80km back, sneak in a backdoor and plead ignorance about the abandoned rover the next morning, he would.
Commander Pierce’s years of fighter pilot bravado combined with his need to chase the next adrenaline rush meant the rover, and indeed Mars, never stood a chance. The sun was beginning to set beyond the huge Heimdall Crater and with an approach made for speeding the rover up the side of the crater towards it, Pierce put his foot down and hovered his finger over the rear brakes in an attempt to skid at the craters edge, sending a dust cloud into it and a message to Mars; Commander Pierce can fool around on any planet he so chooses.
Mars sent a message back in the form of a strong, sharp hole hidden in the unusual sunlight and foreign shadows.
Engineers knew that you never sent a test pilot on a simple, routine journey, they could always be relied upon to screw up somewhere along the way. Commander Pierce’s brief to confirm the presence of ice was one such accident waiting to happen. Fly at ten times the speed of sound, land on a moving ship at night without radar, put a new design into a tailspin? Yes. Go down the road for milk? No.
In the end, the basic mathematics of oxygen divided by rescue time meant he had to radio back now or be found dead, forever frozen in pedantic stubbornness. “Paeeon Base 1, Paeeon Base 1, come in, this is Rover 1.”
“Rover 1 this is Paeeon Base 1, you found any hot Martian chicks yet, Piercey?”
“Any little green, bug-eyed Martian chicks would still be out of your league Singher, so don’t get your hopes up. There’s a slight problem with the rover.”
“A slight problem or you’ve knackered it?”
“The front, left wheel has buckled, I’m not sure it was adequately fitted.”
“It appears you’re by the Heimdall Crater, that’s over 80km away, a dodgy wheel ain’t going to get you that far Piercy so stop trying to blame my guys and tell Uncle Singh the truth now otherwise you may have to spend the night there all alone.”
“The wheel is broken; just get a new one out here, Jesus!”
“And how can a perfectly good wheel suddenly break?”
“Holes will do that to a wheel, won’t they?!! Just get a replacement out here!”
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that Commander, there was interference.”
“I drove the bloody rover into a bloody hole; now get your bloody arse out here now!” Pierce looked at his communicator for a second, a slight echo reverbed back. There was now laughter coming back at him; Lieutenant Singh had rerouted his last reply through the base’s communication system so everyone could hear…and comment.
“Could someone give our Piercy a lift home as he seems to have had a little accident and hasn’t got enough money for a taxi home and his mummy’s getting worried. Thank you for your attention Paeeon Base 1.”
Commander Pierce glared at the device contemplating how he could best destroy it before letting commonsense takeover. Clipping the communicator back onto his belt Pierce walked away from the rover towards the craters edge rising up towards the setting sun to calm down and wait for assistance. Exploring the North Polar Basin of Mars for suitable sites to begin terra forming the planet meant viewing the planet through satellite thermal imaging maps and a handheld sonic depth detector, he hadn’t actually appreciated the planet’s unique beauty.
Ascending the crater’s side, Commander Pierce felt the slight breeze drifting over it grow ever so slightly the further up he went. The sun lay low in the sky, faint enough to look at, a purple dusty haze dressed it in evening wear, distant hills shadowed in burgundy providing a throne as the sunset points at Pierce with it’s bejewelled finger, sparkling with the blue glow of Earth and it’s glistening satellite. A breath of wind gently brushed past the Commander’s helmet as though the sunset was sighing at the improbability of seeing life on Mars look back in wonderment, the welcome return of an old friend.
The Heimdall Crater, so massive that it appeared to devour the Sun every evening, extending so far into the horizon that it could possibly lead all the way back to Piercey’s home on Earth. The Commander took a little step back, not because of the height but the ground did not feel as solid as he’d have liked.
Looking into the blackness the planet seemed to respond with a growl, a wind from the very depths rose up and spat sand into his face. This was not the pleasant sigh of an admiring star but a short, sharp tutting of a disapproving neighbour. Commander Pierce looked at the footprint he had left at the very edge of the crater and saw it slowly crumble into the vast bowl below him.
Pierce retreated a few steps more then returned back to the rover for an update from Paeeon Base 1 and to feel a sturdier, rocky surface beneath his feet, an unnerving need for a test pilot.
I am Mars, so near yet so far.
I am Mars, a rock and a hard place.
My days are spent gazing upon the beautiful blueness of my dearest sister. She moves and turns with such grace and poise, dancing in the spotlight with her angelic partner as they wax lyrical to the stars, a waning miracle from afar. So blessed am I, on the front row of this performance, I don’t want to miss a moment, I want to be permanently transfixed like her partner, unwilling to turn away. My nights are spent looking for my other sister scattered between the giants and me.
We’re not twins but triplets, triptychs of terra firma, tamed by tectonics, together but not tethered. I spin and I turn from one sister to another; one filled with purpose and one annihilated by fate. A million pieces that were once whole, from a planet to pebbles, a million voices divided all calling to each other in the darkness. Gravity holding them close, the vacuum keeping them apart.
She was very much like me, many moons ago; a little colder, a little older. In the beginning, the stars sent asteroids, comets and meteorites, terrorising us for millennia. The giants and the Sun would protect us from most but some got through until one day our eldest sister was smashed to smithereens; rocked to the core, stoned to death. We cursed the giants, those shallow balls of hot air, but now our sister wraps her arms around us, deflecting unwanted advances and continuing to protect us from harm.
Of course we’ve been hit around, abused by the stars, beaten by distant galaxies, scarred by foreign invaders. The most hurtful scar is not my deepest but it turned me into what I am today; a rock.
A small, insignificant asteroid, a stone thrown across the universe into the vastness, from where no-one knows, coasting in the waves and carried by the winds; with no purpose or direction, no will or inclination, it found it’s way to me. A stupid little rock, just like me.
Not delivering a message but passengers, millions of frozen bacteria smashing into the ice. Microbial stowaways thawing in the sunlight, hungry for sustenance and hungry for life.
And there they sat for millennia. My sister also attracted similar tourists and we spoke to each other about our visitors, how they grew, how they changed, how they changed us and we told our other fractured sister who wrapped herself around us with even more fortitude than before. Keen to incubate the gift bestowed upon us and fulfill the potential she always felt we had.
Time passed and our visitors grew stronger in number and in influence; they moved, they thought, they communicated, they named us, they began moulding their surroundings to better suit their increasingly complicated needs. It happened here much quicker than it did on ‘Earth’ and didn’t I let her know it. My three satellites may not have been as beautifully shaped or coloured as her one, but I was more conducive to life. I had purpose; I wasn’t just a rock, I was a home. I was Mars!
These passengers soon outstayed their welcome; they ransacked and pillaged, they took more than I could give and, like the all consuming bacteria they started off as, they went in search of their next host.
Of course, they didn’t have to search far, just across the way was Earth, just as blessed with life sustaining environments; plants, water, soil, oxygen, gravity. These animals were not just content with destroying me but also one of my satellites, Harmonia. They hijacked her and took her on a journey through our solar system, round the Sun, out past the giants before sending her on a collision course with Earth. The shimmering pride I felt in sustaining life fell along with Harmonia, I’ve been tinged with embarrassment that I should harm my sister and anger that I did nothing to prevent it ever since. Where there was once nothing between us, now an atmosphere separates us.
I saw a bright light briefly illuminate before my beloved sister coughed out a huge plume of smoke that covered her beauty for only a moment. The cannibals fled through the void between us and settled on Earth to start again, to learn from their errors, to rectify their mistakes, to live a better life. But not before terrorising most of the life already resident, manipulating their new home to better fit their own wretched lives.
Now they’re back. I can feel them irritate my surface.
I am Mars and I am a hard place.
Commander Pierce was sitting back in the driver’s seat, his heavy boots dropping remnants of the Martian landscape on the dashboard. He looked up from texting some friends back on Earth and saw a dust cloud slowly rise up before creeping forward over the horizon; the fading sunlight giving it a pink complexion like approaching candy floss.
The commander sat up, grabbed his binoculars and stood on the rover’s bonnet to confirm who exactly was going to be his ride home, crossing his fingers that it wasn’t going to be any of the engineers. After years of training and a few months on Mars it becomes easy to tell who lies behind the suit and helmet, Piercy breathed a sigh of relief and even thanked his good fortune, the driver was Dr. Rebecca Cowens. She was more attractive on the eye than the ear, but the journey back listening to the latest developments towards terra forming Mars would be considerably more preferable than hearing how his insignificant accident had exaggerated itself around the base, the nicknames he’d quickly accumulated and the jokes already doing the rounds.
Commander Pierce noticed that Dr. Cowens was driving especially fast for a scientist and getting dangerously close to the edge of the crater. She rapidly approached the Commander’s position, weaving from side to side, puffs of candy floss shooting out as the wheels dug into each swerve.
The commander leapt off his rover as the approaching vehicle recklessly sped towards him before being thrown into a final skid. When the dust had died down, Dr. Cowens was standing next to her rover, perfectly parked to the side of the other one, by luck or skill, Pierce wasn’t sure.
“Commander! Wooo! Man! Finally, out of that bloody base! Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m OK. What are you doing here?”
“I’m your lift home Commander. Your team were too busy making jokes and preparing for your return to make the actual trip, anyway, when I heard about your plight I saw the opportunity to get out of the lab and start exploring this planet. I owe Lieutenant Singh a drink or two from my rations when I get back, but what the hell, it’s beautiful out here!”
“You got a licence?”
Dr. Cowens looked at the Commander’s broken rover, “Do you have one Commander?! That’s what the alcoholic bribe to Lieutenant Singh was for, anyway, it would be pretty hard to have an accident out here…opps, sorry.”
“Are you here to take me back or rub it in?”
“I’ll take you back but I’ve got to have a little more of a look around. How far are we from the nearest ice?”
“You what? Look, the Sun’s nearly gone, we need to get back.”
“Commander Pierce, please! Are you scared of the dark or something? What’s going to happen, are Martians or the local wildlife going to get us? Come on, live a little. I didn’t travel all this way to stay in a lab examining computer models. I’m meant to be carrying out research into terra forming Mars and these green fingers haven’t even dug into the red planet yet. I want to touch the dirt, feel the coldness of the ice.”
Commander Pierce had never felt like a killjoy before, “Of course Dr. Cowens, sorry, I was just eager to get back but if all that awaits me is ridicule and humiliation then I would be a fool to refuse an evening out with you instead. There’s some ice a few centimetres from the surface, the tip of an iceberg about the size of Ireland, about an hour’s drive north.”
Dr. Cowens stepped away from the driver’s side to let Pierce take control, “Thank you Commander.”
Even though the temptation to drive fast in the dark and scare all known reason out of a scientist was overwhelming, Commander Pierce handled the second rover as carefully as his own damaged ego, with kid gloves. Through the Commander’s sat-nav and the electronic markers planted into the ground a few days previously, they found the nearest location of ice.
“Now what?” Pierce asked.
“Plant a few seeds, of course. I’m assuming gardening on Mars is going to be somewhat similar to Earth.”
“What? Just like that?”
“Why not? Computer models are all well and good but there’s no substitute for the real thing. We’ve developed some hybrid seeds back on the Moon which we think will have a good opportunity to take root here and I’ve modelled every conceivable scenario but none of it means anything compared with simply whacking a few seeds into the ground and seeing what happens.”
Pierce leaned against the rover, feigning interest, “You make it all sound so technical.”
“You want technical? There’s a spade in the back, how about you do the chivalrous thing?”
As Commander Pierce grabbed the spade affixed to the rear of the rover, Dr. Cowens carefully opened a sealed case and selected the group of seeds she felt would be most suited to the task of achieving deep roots in the scientific branch of extra-terrestrial horticulture.
“So which one are you going to go for?” Commander Pierce asked with the spade over his shoulder.
“Hmmm…I think this one, Auricomus Aeropos No.778. The computer models point to No.886 but just being here, that doesn’t feel right.” Dr. Cowens swivelled out of the rover with a small tube of seeds, a long solar powered probe and a small sign. “So where exactly is this ice?”
“Just where we stand.”
Dr. Cowens bent down and stuck the sign into the dirt.
Pierce walked round to read it, “’Grandma’s Patch’, surely you’re not a grandma?”
“No, it’s just a little promise I made my grandma before I left Earth. I said I’d make her the solar system’s most famous gardener after I’d become the most famous horticulturist. I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t taken me into her garden every weekend.” She stood up and took a step back, “OK, let’s get down to business shall we? You dig down until you hit the ice, I’ll stick this solar powered heating probe into the ice to enhance the melting, plant a few seeds and then fill the hole up with some specially synthesised soil. Sound good?”
“No problem boss.” Pierce lowered the shovel from his shoulders, grabbed it with both hands, raised it up and then took the first ever steps to terra forming the planet Mars for human settlement by plunging it deep into the red, dusty surface.
The ground shook beneath them, not violently, but unexpectedly. Commander Pierce looked at Dr. Cowens silently.
“What? Carry on…”
Another sudden thrust of the shovel cut into the Martian landscape. Again the ground shook, this time with a little more vigour, dust floated into the air slower than on Earth making the whole experience feel like it was happening in slow motion.
Commander Pierce held the spade aloft for another stab but was knocked of his balance by a screaming gust of wind. With balance restored, he forced another wound onto the pot-holed face of the Red Planet. This time the quaking ground continued, the hole slowly opening up; swallowing dust and then stones as it grew wider and longer, heading north towards the pole and then south towards them. First the spade left in the ground fell into the hole, then grandma’s sign; the crack growing in length, in breadth and in speed. The planet venting a scream from the depths, a scream loud enough to be heard across the worlds.
Commander Pierce grabbed Dr. Cowens by the arm, throwing her into the rover, “Quick we gotta get out of here!”
Dr. Cowens dropped the heating probe before throwing the rest of the seeds into the crevasse, maybe her last chance to finish what she had started. Pierce wheel spun the rover into a 180 degree turn and sped south towards the base. Dr. Cowens knelt on the passenger seat looking back at the natural disaster unfolding before her eyes; the cracking Martian terrain chasing them, smoke rising where the seeds had landed.
“Step on it Commander! It’s catching up with us!”
With a featureless, dusty plain ahead, Commander Pierce kept his eyes on the rear view mirror as the crack in the ground grew closer to devouring them, “We need to lose weight so we can go faster, throw out whatever you can!”
Dr. Cowens leaned forward into the rear of the rover and began chucking cases, equipment and tools off the back to be swallowed up by Mars. Commander Pierce switched his eyes from the rear view mirror to the speedometer but only saw it increase by 2 kilometres per hour, “It’s not working! Hold on, I’m going to head west and see if we can avoid it if we can’t outrun it!”
Dr. Cowens held on tight as she was thrown towards the middle of the rover by the Commanders turn of the wheel. She struggled up to see if their change of direction was working, it wasn’t. “It’s still heading straight for us!”
Pierce focused on the rear view mirror in disbelief, through the clouds of dust and sand kicked up by the rover, the jagged hole in the ground was still in hot pursuit, “Hold on again!” The Commander turned the rover in the opposite direction and saw the crack in the ground turn with them, tailing them.
Dr. Cowens bent down to speak to Pierce, “We can’t head back to the base and bring this with us; we’ve got to lead it away. We’re not going to make it!”
“We’re going to make it!”
I am Earth and I am world weary.
I am Earth, the host from whom you are stealing.
Leaving so soon? Already littered and over-populated the moon? Can’t crawl back into the deoxygenated, desalinised, desecrated seas? Can no longer do what you please?
You don’t pick up or tidy up, just mess up. What makes you think you can build a new life on Mars when you’ve already destroyed all life there? Dung beetles, fleas, rats riddled with disease give as much as they take, have a sense of balance and don’t gorge on greed.
I was doing just fine without you; we don’t have a symbiosis, you have a narcissistic psychosis. I’m not in trouble, I don’t need changing, I’m not the one who needs saving.
I am Earth and my welcome is receding.