Gina stood alone near a precipice, her hands in her pockets, her tattered coat flapping in the wind behind her. She wore the same clothes as always: grey fabric, battered and torn, embellished with stains, every mended seam and patched hole like a badge of honor. She greeted the soldiers with a placid smile, and Snu sensed her confidence and certainty as though he were standing there 12,000 years in the future wrapped in her telepathic aura.
Tharsus Colony had its Demon Regiment, Utopia Planitia had its God of War, but the protestors had Gina, a true warrior goddess, like wrathful Mother Mars born anew.
One by one, the soldiers dropped their weapons, and the tank crews climbed out of their vehicles. For a moment, no one moved; then in perfect unison, the whole army saluted Gina, turned around, and began the long walk home.
“After many wearisome years of turmoil,” Gina said in her interview with Talie, “I feel that I’ve found my purpose in life, that I didn’t just come to Mars because my brother chased me off Earth but because something called me here. Something called me to this place, to Valles Marineris.”
“For what reason?” Talie asked.
“To protect it,” Gina said.
Snu tried to picture Gina as a Martian woman with that same confident demeanor, that same righteous tone of voice. She would be glorious to behold. In fact, despite her primate’s nose and ears and brow, despite her hairy head and stumpy torso, Snu found Gina almost irresistible as a human. When she smiled, he might even call her sexy. Or perhaps he’d drunk too much citro-fragrant alcohol.
“The colonial governments are lying about what they found in those underground passages,” Gina said. “I went down there to see for myself.”
“What did you find?” Talie said.
Gina grinned, but before she spoke the viewlink cut to static.
Snu stared at the viewlink, watching the pattern of light and dark specks jostling against each other. Snu’s skin tingled as though touched by cold air. He turned and saw Talie standing by the window, an impish grin on her face. Another Earthling, one with cybernetic implants, stood by her side. His enhanced, mechanical eye rotated slowly, adjusting focus.
“It’s so interesting to see people like you at these crucial turning points in their lives,” Talie said. “Your so conflicted, so oblivious to the greatness you’ll achieve.”
“What greatness?” Snu snapped. “I am a man in disgrace, member of a species racing toward extinction!”
Talie smirked. “This may be hard for you to believe right now, Dr. Sajnook, but history will never forget you.”
* * *
Snu gazed into Talie’s eyes. On the viewlink, they’d looked pretty, the irises like purple gems, but now Snu saw them in reality, their lustrous, violet color unlike anything he’d seen before. Snu felt as though he could hide nothing from Talie’s view, as though all his failings–past, present, and future–were on display for her to see. If all humans had eyes like hers, what a beautiful and terrifying species they must be.
Talie’s cybernetic cameraman took a step closer to get a better shot. Even if the Martian race survived, Snu thought, how could it compete with these humans–a species that could produce telepaths, cyborgs, and time travelers. Humanity’s future seemed boundless.
“Dr. Sajnook,” Talie said, cocking her head to the side, “what do you think of Mars’s future residents?”
“What do you mean?” Snu asked.
“We humans are such violent creatures,” Talie said. “Nothing like you rational, peace-loving Martians. How do you feel about that?”
“We Martians can be violent too,” Snu answered. “The riots the other night prove that.”
“Most of the rioters belonged to the ignoramus class,” Talie said. “They hardly count as Martians, do they?”
“Some of my fellow academics might agree with you,” Snu said, “but sometimes I think if we opened the heads of the ignoramuses and gave them cranial domes, their brains would look no different than ours.”
Talie nodded. “What about human males and females living and working as equals. Don’t you find that repulsive?”
“No. I envy the humans.”
Snu wondered who was watching this interview. Did it air yesterday? Had all of Mars already seen it? Or would the Tomorrow News Network send it into the future for the humans to see? Either way, it did not matter what Snu said. For one audience, his reputation was already ruined; for the other, he was long dead.
“Imagine if men and women were equal in our society,” Snu said. “Imagine if there could be both male and female academics. We’d double the total brain power of our race.”
“But of course that’s impossible,” Talie said, smiling. “The women of Mars have an inferior intelligence. Your scientists proved that, didn’t they?
Snu shrugged. “Scientists make mistakes.”
“What about your theory?” Talie asked. “Was that a mistake?”
“No. The magnetic field of Mars is collapsing. That will cause our extinction.”
“What if I told you you’re wrong?” Talie said.
“I don’t understand.”
“The magnetic field of Mars was never half as strong as that of Earth. Your species is already adapted to a higher level of solar and cosmic radiation than the humans. The magnetic field alone does not account for the end of your civilization.”
“Then what does?”
“A combination of factors,” Talie said, folding her hands in her lap. “The magnetic field is part of it, but look at your chemical refineries, pumping waste products into your air. Ammonia, carbon dioxide, and perhaps worst of all, powdered iron. The oxygen in your atmosphere combines with that powder. It becomes trapped in the unbreathable form of iron oxide.
“That’s impossible,” Snu said.
“Why is it that scientists are so quick to say that even when shown evidence to the contrary? Iron oxide is rust. It’s a red color. In the future, there will be so much iron oxide on Mars your whole planet will be buried in it.
“Then there’s that vast network of canals. It drains your lakes and rivers. It empties your oceans.”
“Not true,” Snu said. “The canals replenish the water supply too.”
“With dirty water,” Talie replied. “Water laced with the byproducts of your industry.”
Talie shook her head. “You are destroying your planet in so many ways I cannot even count them, and the human historians–once they uncover the remnants of your cities–will not believe how quickly you did it.”
“Is there no hope?” Snu asked.
“No,” Talie answered. “You are a close-minded species, and you don’t have enough time to learn.”
Talie began to type on her datapad, her fingers moving with rapid precision across the keyboard.
“You’re a time traveler,” Snu said. “Why didn’t you warn us sooner?”
“Someone already tried to warn you five hundred years ago: the worshipers of Mother Mars. What happened to them?”
Snu remembered the story. The trials. The persecution. The extermination. For the sake of science, for the sake of evolution, the ancient superstitions had to be eradicated.
“So, Dr. Sajnook,” Talie said, her eyes softening ever so slightly, a tiny, sympathetic smile forming on her lips. “You are doomed. Your civilization will not last another century, and you are powerless to stop it. So what are you going to do next?”
* * *
A few days later, Snu got into his vehicle and began the long journey to Valles Marineris, or the Mouth of Mother Mars. He emptied all the crates in his office, dumping the rocks and soil samples into his garden, and refilled them with data crystals.
“Master,” Hogtosh said, sitting in the passenger seat, “what do you plan to do with all those crystals?”
“In twelve thousand years,” Snu said, “a human named Gina Zaphiro will find the underground tunnels in the great canyon. These data crystals are my gift to her and to the human race.”
Snu felt an odd sense of kinship with Gina. It was strange to feel kinship with an alien who would not be born for many millennia. It was also reassuring.
Snu had no idea if the data crystals would survive into the distant future or if the information they contained would still be useable. The Tomorrow News Network would only show him static now. But this was the best hope the Martian people had–not to survive–but to be remembered.
“What is on these crystals?” Hogtosh asked. “A collection of great scientific discoveries? Biographies of our prestigious scientists?”
“No,” Snu said as his estate disappeared behind the horizon. “The humans will make scientific discoveries of their own–far greater than anything our dying race can offer. I will give them something more important: the teachings of Mother Mars. I want to be sure the Earthlings will know to appreciate the planet that will one day become theirs.”