“I do not understand this time travel nonsense,” Snu Sajnook said. “How can a news organization report on events that have yet to occur? I know they censor their broadcasts so no one with the ability to alter the future can watch, but how do they know who can or cannot change the future? How do they know which viewlinks should show the news and which should not?”
“I’m sure many things confused you, Dr. Sajnook,” Dr. Kikron said. “Despite your title, your mind remains limited by the genetic inferiority of your ancestors.”
Snu glanced at the other academics gathered around the viewlink, awaiting the Tomorrow News Network’s special report on the future of their world. They seemed unamused by Kikron’s rudeness. The gentle palpitations of their brains, visible beneath their transparent cranial domes, hardly fluctuated. Whether it was because they’d grown tired of Kikron’s prejudices or secretly shared them, Snu could not determine.
At an early age, Snu proved his intelligence far exceeded that of his parents. He passed every test. He mastered difficult concepts. Geneticists evaluated Snu and classified him as a mutation. Though he was born in the slums to a builder-class family, the Scientific Council soon recognized Snu’s brilliant, disciplined mind.
Some, like Dr. Kikron, objected, arguing that Snu’s DNA contained impurities, that his presence would taint the Council, that at the very least he should not be permitted to breed with the daughters of genuine academics. For the sake of the continued evolution of the Martian species, they said, the academic class should not be contaminated by the likes of a builder’s son.
Yet the Council admitted Snu to its ranks. They let him undergo the operation, opening his skull, replacing it with a cranial dome to mark his new status. When they did, Snu’s parents wept with joy. Everyone marveled at the perfection of Snu’s cerebral cortex, at its swollen glands, its purple veins, its deep folds and crevices. Even Kikron had been reluctantly impressed, and the President of the Scientific Council gave his own daughter to be Snu’s wife.
“Dr. Kikron,” Snu said, sipping from a glass of citro-fragrant alcohol, “since your brain is so superior to my own, perhaps you can answer my questions. How does the Tomorrow News Network report on events before they occur?”
Kikron glared at Snu. The other scientists maintained their unamused expressions, though one or two had to stifle a laugh. The group continued to stare at the viewlink as the Tomorrow News Network logo flashed across the screen.
An android sat behind an oversized desk, its silver face glinting under the studio lights. An orange planet with angry, red bruises appeared over the android’s shoulder accompanied by the words “Tomorrow’s Mars” in bold text.
“That’s not Mars,” Snu said, frowning at the image.
“We now turn our attention to Mars, the fourth planet orbiting a star named Sol,” the android said. “Less than a year ago, Martian scientists discovered chronomagnetic energy and began receiving our broadcasts. We welcome the Martians to our family of viewers.”
Some of the academics cheered; others called for silence so they could hear what else the android anchorman had to say. Snu continued to study the small, dusty planet that could not be Mars, could not be the lush, verdant world where he lived.
“Today is the 500th anniversary of the Martian Scientific Revolution,” the anchorman said. It is a time to celebrate the past and look forward to the future. In that spirit, we now bring you this special series on the future of Mars. Tomorrow News Network journalist Talie Tappler joins us live from twelve thousand years from now. Talie?”
On the viewlink, a creature called Talie stood in the midst of a rust colored wasteland. She looked like an Earthling, though she seemed more evolved than the current species native to Earth. She was significantly less furry, with only a crown of curly, golden hair atop her head. She wore a midnight blue jacket and matching skirt, along with a thin, purple ribbon tied around her neck.
There was no denying Talie was a primate humanoid, as alien and ugly as any other Earthling, but when she smiled her grin conveyed a sense of arrogance that transcended the barriers between species. Snu guessed she would fit in with people like Kikron.
“Thank you, Anchorbot 5000,” Talie said, her voice bubbling with enthusiasm. “We here at the Tomorrow News Network usually report on the major news of tomorrow, but sometimes tomorrow is just another day, and sometimes the day after is no different. Tomorrows and tomorrows pile up on top of each other with little to distinguish them, but as time goes by, subtle changes accumulate, causing enormous effects.
“Just a few centuries worth of ordinary days transformed the Martian landscape into what you see behind me, but don’t worry: one day, Mars will have a second chance at supporting life.”
The video cut to a shot of the vastness of space, and the camera panned to that same orange and red planet.
“That is not Mars!” Snu snapped. “Where are the oceans? Where are the jungles? Where are the cities and orbital space stations?”
The camera zoomed in, revealing the planet’s blemished surface. Snu’s eyes fixated on a wide, jagged scar near the equator. “That cannot be Mars,” he said, but his voice cracked. He shrank into his chair, carefully setting down his drink. Snu recognized that scar. Even without the rivers running through it or the patches of green surrounding it, he knew that place well.
A fleet of spaceships approached the planet. As advanced as Martian science was, it had never produced ships like these monstrosities of technology. They’d dwarf anything the Martian space program had ever built.
The video cut to a shot inside one of the ships. Snu cringed, hearing the chatter of alien voices. Dozens of Earthlings–not the brutes of today but the refined species of tomorrow–crowded around a window. One of the Earthlings made a comment, and the others laughed. A few held each other. Several males playfully pushed each other around. And through the window, the camera caught glimpses of that lifeless planet with its distinctive scar. As the Earthlings gazed upon the Mars of their present with eagerness and anticipation, Snu stared at the Mars of his future with increasing dread.
Talie returned. She began interviewing the Earthlings. One called Mars a lifelong dream. Another wanted to tell her relatives back home that she loved them and missed them. A third said he was an exobiologist assigned to study Martian life. Snu gasped with hope, but the man knew of nothing more complex than bacterial life on Mars.
“Bacteria!” Kikron yelled. “Is that all that’s left of our civilization?”
The other academics echoed Kikron’s indignation. They shouted at the viewlink. Their brains swelled with rage. A few stormed off, unwilling to hear anything more, and Snu overheard a few derogatory comments about Homo sapiens females.
Meanwhile, the colonists landed on Mars. Talie’s chirpy voice grew more irritating as she described how the humans would construct a biodome and begin cultivating Martian soil to grow their own vile-looking fruits and vegetables. Though the humans faced many obstacles–the lack of liquid water, the lack of oxygen, the lack of a protective magnetic field–they remained confident not only in their survival but in their future happiness as well.
“The humans of this era have a saying about Mars,” Talie said. “They say that on Mars, the horizon is twice as close, and you can jump three times higher. This is literally true, of course, since Mars is approximately half the size of Earth with only one third the gravity, but it’s also a statement of the unbridled opportunities this once dead planet offers.
“Reporting from twelve thousand years in the future, I’m Talie Tappler.”
A scholarly attendant rushed in, his robes and headbands disheveled, his eyes wide with fear. “My lords!” he said. “We’ve received word of riots in the capital! The people believe the world is coming to an end!”
Most of the academics hurried off to attend to their duties. Only Snu stayed behind.
“This must not happen,” Snu said.
The viewlink once again showed the sphere of Mars, a monochrome world devoid of life. Snu turned away. That jagged scar in the planet’s crust–it was a canyon, the largest canyon on Mars or anywhere in the Solar System. According to the Tomorrow News Network, the humans would call it Valles Marineris, but the ancient Martians had another name for it, a name still in use despite its superstitious overtones. They called it the Mouth of Mother Mars.
“We can’t let this happen,” Snu said, finally rising to his feet.
* * *
By the time Snu returned home, night had fallen. The temperature dropped below freezing, and a layer of frost coated the gardens of Snu’s estate; yet in the distance, the capital city burned. The police had failed to contain the riots. Bonfires now raged out of control. Flames licked the great towers of science, and red smoke blotted out the stars.
As Snu stepped from his vehicle, his servant, Hogtosh, ran out to meet him.
“Master!” Hogtosh said, clutching something to his chest. “What has happened? The riots… the viewlink… I fear Mother Mars has abandoned us!”