Afterward, Talie cornered Gina for an interview.
“Do you think these experiments had any redeeming value?” Talie asked.
“I don’t know,” Gina said, still seething, “and I don’t care. Nothing justifies what happened here.”
“Not even the pursuit of science?” Talie said.
Gina glared at Talie. “No. Not even that.”
Snu gasped. He couldn’t believe anyone would say such a thing, but after witnessing the suffering of those test subjects and seeing the deplorable conditions they’d lived in, Snu could almost agree with Gina. Those experiments were an abomination.
A gentle knock came at the door. “Master,” Hogtosh said, “you have a visitor.”
* * *
Snu checked himself in the mirror. He hadn’t slept. He’d spent the whole night watching the Tomorrow News Network, replaying each of Talie’s reports after the broadcast had ended. Though his face was haggard and pale, Snu’s brain looked as impressive as ever, slightly moist but not drenched in its own fluids. Snu quickly rubbed a smudge off his cranial dome then came out to greet his guest.
Dr. Kikron stood in the entranceway of Snu’s house. The two scientists frowned at each other.
“I understand you retrieved materials from your laboratory before the rioters got there,” Kikron said.
“That’s correct,” Snu replied.
“That was wise,” Kikron said. “Perhaps you and I might pool our resources. Between the two of us, we may find the cause of our impending demise.”
“Dr. Kikron,” Snu said, “let us be honest with each other. You despise me. You have never acknowledged that someone of my breeding could contribute anything meaningful to science. Why should I believe your opinion has changed?”
“My opinion remains the same,” Kikron answered. “That is why I am offering you my help. Without me, you cannot solve this problem.”
Snu chuckled. “Oh, I see. I have the data, you have the intelligence. Which of us gets credit for the discovery?”
“We can share the credit, Dr. Sajnook. Such things have happened before. Remember the collaboration between the Great Isoculon and Gorgorgog the Wretch.”
Snu laughed. “In this analogy, I assume you are Isoculon and I am poor Gorgorgog.”
“No thank you,” Snu said. “I have already developed a theory, and I somehow managed to do it all by myself. I am preparing a lecture to explain my findings to the Council. I do not require your help, and I certainly don’t wish to share credit with you.
“Hogtosh, please show this gentleman out.”
But before Kikron could go, Fay burst forth from her chambers, running down the hall toward Snu.
“My husband!” she said, a glorious smile emblazoned across her face. “I gave thought to your question: how does the Tomorrow News Network know which viewlinks should show the news and which should not? Perhaps they do not know. Perhaps it is the viewer who is unable to see.
“You taught me once that some things are impossible. It is impossible to travel faster than light. It is impossible to measure the exact position and momentum of a single atom. It is impossible to divide any quantity by zero. Perhaps for anyone with the ability to change the future, watching the Tomorrow News Network is like trying to divide by zero!
“My husband, you must tell me if I am right! Am I even close to being right?”
Kikron snickered. “Dr. Sajnook, do you make a habit of pursuing scientific inquiries with your wife?”
Snu grimaced. “I have found it to be… amusing,” he said. “It is only a game my wife and I play.”
“But am I right?” Fay demanded, her eager smile undiminished. “Please tell me. I cannot bare the suspense!”
“To be honest, my wife, I do not know,” Snu said. “It is a question Dr. Kikron and I were puzzling over just yesterday.
Fay laughed. “When you find the answer, please tell me how close I was to the truth. It is cruel to tease me with questions even you do not know the answers to, dear husband.”
Fay danced back to her chambers, and Kikron departed, laughing over Snu’s folly. No doubt this story would spread throughout the academic class, but at least Kikron hadn’t learned of Hogtosh’s education. That could only double Snu’s humiliation.
But Snu still had his theory. He’d found all the clues he needed in Talie Tappler’s reports.
* * *
Every single member of the Scientific Council–all eight hundred and twelve of them–attended Snu’s lecture. Snu had never seen the Council Chamber so crowded before, nor had he heard it so silent as he entered.
Snu took his place in the center of the room and pressed a button. A holographic image of Mars appeared, covered in purple oceans and jungles of phosphorescent trees. It looked nothing like the planet the Earthlings would one day colonize. Snu pressed another button, and Mars’s magnetic field appeared, sketched in thin, white lines.
“This,” Snu said, “is our planet as it was 500 years ago. Observe the strength of the electromagnetic field. Observe how far it extends into space.”
The image changed. The magnetic field retracted slightly, and the steady, phosphorescent glow dimmed. In some places, it turned dark.
“This is 400 years ago,” Snu said, “shortly after the first geothermal energy pumps were constructed.”
The image changed again. The magnetic field shrank, and the jungles dimmed further. Patches of naked desert emerged in the Northern Hemisphere.
“300 years ago,” Snu said.
Snu’s demonstration continued, the magnetic field slowly collapsing and the phosphorescent light fading with it. When the hologram reached the present day, it showed vast wastelands in both the North and the South. Where the jungles remained, they flickered in lackluster yellow rather than bright green or white. One could easily extrapolate that within a few centuries Mars would become the lifeless planet everyone had seen on the Tomorrow News Network.
“We are accustomed to treating each branch of science as a separate entity,” Snu said, “but this looming crisis requires us to combine our knowledge of biology, ecology, geology, and astronomy. We know from astronomy that the sun spews enormous quantities of radiation into space. We know from biology how radiation affects living organisms, and we know from ecology that the total number of organisms on Mars is declining. From geology, my own area of expertise, we know that beneath the surface of this world exists an ocean of molten rock, mostly iron, nickel, and magnesium. Convection currents keep all this liquid metal in motion, and that motion generates our planet’s magnetic field.
“I theorize that this magnetic field repels harmful radiation from space, protecting the life-force of Mars. I further theorize that our geothermal pumps and magma mining operations have weakened the magnetic field by removing metallic substances from the planet’s mantel and disrupting the natural flow of the mantel’s convection currents.”
The Council Chamber remained as silent as ever. Eight hundred and twelve academics pondered what Snu had said. Beneath their cranial domes, their brains palpitated with increased cognitive activity.
Snu reached for the control panel in front of him, ready to bring up the next hologram, the schematics of a subterranean magma mine. But before he could press the button, someone asked a question.
“Forgive me, Dr. Sajnook,” an elderly academic said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, “what do mean by ‘life-force’?”
“Sounds like religious mumbo-jumbo,” someone else commented.
“‘We must hold Mother Mars sacred,’” Dr. Kikron recited. “‘She breathes life into the plants and animals. We Martians are her special children, chosen above all others to protect and preserve the life-force she created and to never spoil it by the artifice of our own hands.’
“Such thinking held our species back for thousands of years. Preserving and protecting the environment, though worthy goals, must be secondary to the needs of progress. Mother Mars worshipers once forbade us from making metal tools, or from conducting scientific experiments. To harm a single leaf of rugoweed was a grave sin. To eat a vegetable required prayers of repentance and purification.
“I never expected to hear a member of the academic class speak of ‘life-force,’ though perhaps such language seems more appropriate to the son of a builder.”
Kikron chuckled as though he’d made a joke.
“I meant nothing religious,” Snu said. “I use the term life-force only to mean our planet’s ability to sustain life.”
“So what do you suggest we do to protect this life-force?” Kikron asked. “Should we abandon the magma mines? Abandon the construction of our machines? Abandon all forms of technological advancement as the Mother Mars cultists would have us do?”
“No,” Snu said. “With further research, we may develop new technologies that reduce our dependence on metallic substances. Or perhaps we could find artificial means to boost the magnetic field!”
Kikron smiled. “Dr. Sajnook, I wish you had accepted my assistance when I offered it. I could have told you that cloud cover and the ozone layer protect us from stellar radiation. Not the magnetic field.”
“But the Tomorrow News Network…” Snu began.
“Must we be fools?” Kikron said. “Must we blindly trust the media and everything it says? Who is Talie Tappler, after all? An Earthling. Should we be surprised by her pro-Earth agenda? Of course not.”