Mother Mars, Page 4

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“Members of the Scientific Council,” the Council President said, “I propose that we forbid Martian citizens from watching Talie Tappler’s reports until the Tomorrow News Network agrees to present a more balanced point of view.”

“I second that proposal,” the director of theoretical physics said.  “We must protect the general public from ideas that needlessly upset them.”

“Can we block the Tomorrow News Network’s broadcasts?” someone asked.

“That could prove difficult,” the chief chronotheorist replied.

The President called for order, and Snu felt a sickness come over him as the vote was taken.  Only a handful of academics dissented.  Snu could barely muster the strength to mumble no when his turn to vote came.

“Dr. Kikron,” the President said, “perhaps you should write an official statement on behalf of the Council rebuking the Tomorrow News Network’s claims about this planet’s future.  Explain our side of the story.  That should be enough to assure the Martian people that the world isn’t coming to an end.”

Kikron nodded.  “I struggle to write for the less intelligent classes,” he said.  “There are so many ignoramuses.  Even artisans and builders struggle to understand what we academics find so simple.  But if the Council wishes to have me take up this task, I will humbly comply.”

Snu clasped and unclasped his hands.  The air tasted unusually dry in his throat.  Snu reached for the control panel.  He tapped the button, flipping through the rest of his presentation.  Hologram after hologram flashed by: the magma mines, the convection currents, lists of metallic elements needed to restore the magnetic field, plans to deliver those elements back to the planet’s core.

But listening to the Council, Snu realized he had little hope of salvaging his theory.  Snu pressed the button one last time, and the holograms disappeared.

“Now,” the President said, “we must address an unpleasant matter.  Only true academics belong on the Scientific Council, so what shall we do with Dr. Sajnook?”

* * *

Snu returned home late.

“My husband!” Fay said, rushing into the foyer, a pair of her handmaidens following at a respectful distance.  “I received word from my father.  He commands me to divorce you!  He writes that you lost your position on the Scientific Council and your title as an academic.  Is this true?”

“I will retain my title,” Snu said.  “I am still an academic, but I no longer have a place on the Council.  The Council feels I should perform other duties.”

“What other duties?” Fay asked.

Snu glowered at her and turned his back.  He began to strip out of his robes.

“I am to oversee the construction of a new canal in the northern wastelands.”

Fay gasped.  “That is not a task worthy of an academic!  That’s a builder’s work.”

“Yes,” Snu replied.

Fay approached timidly.  She touched Snu’s shoulder, but he shook her off.

“I am sorry,” Fay said.  “I love you, my husband, and I think I always will.  You have treated me with such patience and kindness, but I understand my father’s letter now.  Your DNA must be that of a lowly builder after all.  My father cannot allow his genetic material to mingle with such inferior stock.”

Snu nodded.

“My husband, I wish my father came from as lowly a rank as your own.  I wish I carried DNA that matched yours.  Then we could…”

“Be quiet,” Snu snapped.

“My husb…”

“Be quiet!” Snu shouted.  “Just go.”

Fay was a fool.  She was a fool not because society said all women were fools but because she believed it.

Snu struggled with the tangled knots of his under-sash, but he couldn’t get them undone.  He tore the sash loose, ripping the fabric, and threw it to the floor.  Fay and her handmaids watched in wide-eyed disbelief as Snu further sullied his noble vestments by stepping on them and kicking them into a corner.  Then he yanked off his medallion of scientific perfection, snapping the cord, and hurled it across the room.

“My husband, please…”

“I require silence,” Snu said, marching down the hall toward his office.  “Leave me alone.”

Several house servants who’d been peeking through open doors ducked into hiding or pretended to be extremely busy.

“Snu,” Fay said.

Snu didn’t respond.  When he reached his office, he slammed the door and locked it.

* * *

Hours later, Snu sat among the ruins of his former life.  Scattered papers surrounded his overturned desk, along with cracked data crystals and empty bottles of citro-fragrant alcohol.  The green shrouds that once covered the walls now lay as a heap of torn fabric in the corner.  Snu had smashed his computer.  He’d smashed his geological equipment.  All the gold and silver ornaments of his scientific career were now bent, twisted lumps of metal.  A few drops of Snu’s own blood sprinkled the floor from when he’d punched the mirror.

Only the viewlink had survived Snu’s rampage.  It hung on the wall slightly askew, the screen glowing in bright, crisp colors.

Somewhere in the future, the Earthling colonies continued to grow.  Tharsis and Utopia Planitia signed a peace treaty and decided to work together to terraform the planet.  Mars would have trees and oceans again, but not like the ones Snu knew.  These would be Earth trees, green and leafy, and Earth oceans full of salt.

The project would begin in Valles Marineris, that deep scar in the planet’s surface.  The humans wanted to make it a lake, and they’d imported DNA from Earth to clone some fish.

“But as with any world-changing idea,” Talie Tappler said, “the Valles Marineris project will spark controversy.”

The video cut to a shot of protestors chanting, “Save the Martians!  Save the Martians!”

Snu blinked.  He propped himself up to see the screen better.

The colonial governor of Tharsis stood at a podium.  He had less fur than other Earthlings, most of it sprouting from his chin rather than the top of his head.

“Yes, life once existed on Mars,” the governor said, “but only a few species of bacteria remain.  We have no evidence of an ancient Martian civilization.  According to our top experts, if such a civilization ever existed, it was wiped out millions or perhaps billions of years ago.”

“That’s not true!” Snu shouted, pointing at the viewlink.  “We were here!  We were here just twelve thousand years before your time!”

“Governor,” Talie said, “do you deny that Martian ruins were found in Valles Marineris?”

“Our survey team,” the governor answered, “found a series of underground tunnels.  Nothing more.”

Snu laughed.  A Martian labor force numbering in the thousands had dug those tunnels at Snu’s own orders.  They’d established a geological research facility, a facility Snu had designed.  They’d built a state-of-the-art magma mine to pull cobalt, nickel, and zinc directly from the molten heart of Mars.  Snu had visited Valles Marineris many times to inspect the underground construction sites.  He’d left his own footprints on their dusty floors.

Snu’s laughing fit quickly subsided.  He reached for the nearest alcohol bottle and raised it to his lips.  It was empty.  Snu tossed it away and reached for another.

Talie’s report continued.  The protestors, no better than an unwashed rabble, camped out at Valles Marineris.  They sabotaged the survey team’s efforts.  They screamed obscenities at the workers.  They uprooted freshly planted trees and clogged the aqueducts so no water could be pumped into the canyon.

“We don’t want Martian history to be washed away,” one of the protestors said.  “We want the Martian ruins preserved.  We want professional archeologists to study them, not some survey team paid for by the terraforming corporations.”

“Amen!” one of the other protestors shouted.

“Preach it, brother!” a third added.

As Snu watched, he realized he both despised and adored these rebellious protestors.  In action and manner, they reminded him of the ignoramuses of his own time, always getting in the way of progress, yet in this fight against authority the authority was wrong and the fools were right.  Not that it mattered.  Snu couldn’t imagine how the Scientific Council would crush such large-scale insubordination.  The Earthlings, being a more violent species, would no doubt use far greater force.  Thanks to the Tomorrow News Network, Snu had seen humanity’s weapons and wars.  He’d seen the infamous Demon Regiment of Tharsis Colony.  He’d seen the S.S. God of War of Utopia Planitia’s star fleet.  He’d seen the battlefields of Arcadia and Elysium and the dreadful space warfare between the armadas of Earth and Mars.  Now he expected to see yet another atrocity, once again narrated by Talie Tappler.

On the viewlink, the troops marched in, dressed in rust-colored camouflage, carrying assault rifles and laser guns of polished, black metal.  A convoy of hover tanks followed.  They broke formation and swept through the ramshackle camp, but the protestors were gone.  Only one woman remained.  She opened her eyes, and Snu recognized her: Gina Zaphiro.

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