Mother Mars, Page 2

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Snu snatched the object from Hogtosh’s grasp.  It was a glass idol, cunningly disguised as a data crystal.  It showed the face and crossed arms of the ancient goddess.  Snu hurled it to the ground, and it shattered into dust.

“I have taught you better than this,” Snu said.  “Do not speak of that superstition.  Mars is a planet.  It is made of rocks.  It has water and the chemical elements necessary for life, but that does not make it a mystical, magical entity.”

“Forgive me, master,” Hogtosh said, falling to his knees.

Snu pulled Hogtosh back to his feet.

“Do not kneel before me,” Snu said.  “I am not worthy of your worship any more than Mother Mars.  Hogtosh, I know you are frightened.  I am frightened too, but you must banish superstitious thoughts from your mind.  If you must place your faith in something, place it in science.  Science will save us from this crisis.”

“Yes, master,” Hogtosh mumbled.

“Good,” Snu said.  “Now help me unload the vehicle.  I have work to do.”

Long ago, while traveling through the Eastern Jungles, Snu had met a family from the ignoramus class.  The husband and wife threw themselves at Snu’s feet, begging him to take Hogtosh, their son, into his service.  They knew Hogtosh would enjoy a better life indentured to an academic than they could ever provide in their impoverished village, but they’d also hoped that, as Snu had risen from one class to another, their son might learn how to do the same.

The other academics traveling with Snu laughed, but Snu took the boy, promising to teach him to read and write, if he could learn, and even arithmetic, if he proved capable.

In the years that followed, the ignoramus child absorbed more knowledge than even Snu had expected.  Hogtosh still struggled with punctuation and long-form division, and he still lapsed into superstitious beliefs from time to time, but Snu was proud of the boy’s progress.

“Master,” Hogtosh said, lifting a heavy crate from the vehicle’s storage compartment.  “What is in these boxes?”

“Rocks and soil specimens,” Snu said.  “I gathered as much as I could from my laboratory before the fires destroyed it.  The contents of these crates come from all over Mars.  They are a sampling of the geology of the entire planet.

“You saw the Tomorrow News Network broadcast.  You saw how red Mars will be.  Martian soil is not naturally that color, so why did it change?  If I can find the answer, perhaps I can determine what will cause the downfall of our race.”

Between the two of them, Snu and Hogtosh managed to lug the crates inside, depositing them in Snu’s office.  Snu then dismissed Hogtosh and set to work.  In addition to the rocks and soil samples, he’d also rescued a stack of journals and mineralogical charts.  Snu laid these out on his desk and began examining the data.

Grid one of some western province showed an unusually large deposit of beryllium.  Grid two showed a vein of uranium, and the corresponding journal gave a recommendation for the site to be mined.  Snu read details of recent lava flows in the Southern Hemisphere and about the effects of permafrost in the Polar Regions.

Snu reached for another chart, a precise mapping of a region abundant in charcoal.  After a moment, he set it down.  He’d been so eager to get to his office, to lock himself away with his research, but now that he was ready to start, he didn’t know where to begin.

Snu felt like a fool.  He glanced up and saw himself in the mirror, his robes muddy, his face speckled with dirt.  Snu could see his brain hard at work, expanding and contracting, the purple veins pulsing with fresh blood; but for all his brain’s efforts, he couldn’t think of anything useful.

Snu reached for yet another chart, but his hand stopped over the desk’s control panel.  He touched a button, and the viewlink on the far side of the office clicked on.

* * *

In Snu’s era, Mars was united under the rule of the Scientific Council, but it would not be so under the humans.  Among the many things they transported from Earth, they brought their archaic national rivalries.  Two of the largest colonies, Tharsis and Utopia Planitia, were founded by two different “nationalities”–the Chinese and the Americans.  When the Chinese and Americans went to war back on Earth, so too did their colonies.

Snu did not understand how the humans could be so wasteful as to wage war, yet when the war ended they didn’t seem to suffer much for it.  The colonies rebuilt and expanded, becoming still more powerful and prosperous.  Another war came and went, and the colonies continued to grow.

Snu muttered curses at the Earthlings.  Twelve thousand years into the future, the ugly primates thrived despite their own stupidity while the noble Martian race lay extinct, its great wisdom having failed to save it.

A human with a bashful smile appeared on the viewlink.  He stood at a podium flanked on one side by the blue flag of Earth and on the other by the red flag of Mars.

“My fellow humans,” he said, “two centuries ago, your ancestors came to this planet to start a new civilization.  In our shortsightedness, we, the people of Earth, neglected you.  We became consumed by our economic troubles and failed to provide the support you deserved.  Today that changes.

“I pray you can forgive our misdeeds.  We all made errors–that is human nature–but the citizens of Earth and the citizens of Mars belong to one family, and family must stick together.”

As the crowds cheered, Snu nodded with approval.  “Finally,” he said, “a human with some sense.”

But then this man, the first President of a unified Earth, was shot dead by his own sister.  It seemed the President–the same man who spoke so eloquently of unity and peace–had committed horrific atrocities to achieve his lofty goals.

Snu turned and saw his wife standing in the doorway, her slender form draped in silk.

“These Earthlings disturb me,” she said.  “They are too violent.”

“Fay, my wife,” Snu said, “do not let it trouble you.  I will turn the viewlink off.”

“Please, my husband, do not,” Fay replied.  “Continue your research.  Hogtosh told me what you are trying to do.  I came only to see if you required anything.  Nutrition, perhaps?”

“No.  I require nothing, though I could benefit from your company.”

Fay blushed, but she obeyed her husband and came to sit beside him.

The interactions between human males and females surprised Snu.  According to Martian science, the inferiority of the female mind was a proven fact, demonstrated by multiple experiments.  It was not only that women were overly concerned with beauty or prone to copious emotional outbursts; biologists claimed the female brain never fully matured.  Through dissections, they found that the circulatory system provided insufficient blood to the frontal lobe, that several glands in the hippocampus never developed, and that the total mass of the female brain was 20 to 30% less than that of a male.  In Martian society, women served only one function: to pass on the genetic material of their fathers.

On this subject, Snu remained skeptical, despite all the scientific data.  If nothing else, he knew how smart his own wife was.  Snu and Fay had debated the matter once.  Fay firmly denied her own intelligence while Snu firmly asserted it, citing the logic of her own arguments as evidence.

But among Earthlings, it seemed the equality of men and women was widely accepted.  Both genders served in the military, worked on major construction projects, and held political offices.  Women could be teachers, lawyers, or journalists.  Some even became scientists.

As for Gina Zaphiro, the woman who killed Earth’s President, the colonists called her a hero, whereas if a Martian female committed murder, regardless of the circumstances, she faced a mandatory sentence of sterilization.

Snu wondered what Mars would be like if Martian women had to same opportunities as their human counterparts.

“Fay,” Snu said, “may I ask you a question.”

Fay grimaced.  “If you must.”

“The Tomorrow News Network censors its broadcasts so that anyone who could change the future sees only static, but how do they know who can or cannot change the future?  The future could change in so many different ways.  How do they know which viewlinks should show the news and which should not?”

“This is too difficult a question for my feeble mind!” Fay objected.

“Your mind is not as feeble as you believe,” Snu said.

“My husband, it is wrong to mock me with questions you know I cannot answer,” Fay said, getting up to leave.

Snu let her go.  He stared at the viewlink, where the humans sang songs about their love of Mars.

“What confuses me most,” Snu said, “is why the Tomorrow News Network allows us to see this at all.  Why don’t they censor any of it?  The entire Scientific Council is watching.  If there is a way to change the future, surely we will find it.”

Fay lingered by the door, her eyes downcast.

“Perhaps…” she said.  “My husband, I would not be so presumptuous as to believe I could think of something you have not, but perhaps there is no way to change the future we’re seeing.”

“I refuse to believe that,” Snu said.

“Forgive me,” Fay said, breathing a sigh of relief.  “It was not my place to say such a thing.  The Council will find a solution.”

Fay hurried out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind her.

* * *

Humans did not cut open their heads to show off the glory of their brains.  From what Snu had learned of human culture, he guessed they’d consider such a thing barbaric.  Yet Gina had a special ability.  She could see inside the heads of others.  More than that, she could read people’s minds and manipulate their thoughts.  Snu wondered how humans had evolved this telepathic ability and how many of them had it.  He got the impression telepaths were extremely rare.

Several years after she assassinated the President, Gina uncovered a secret experiment in the Utopia Planitia colony.  Scientists had deliberately infected human test subjects with native Martian bacteria to study the effects.  Gina went into a rage, breaking into the research facility, destroying all the data, and using her telepathic power to make the lead scientists commit suicide.

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