I'LL MISS THOSE MARTIAN SUNSETS
|by Craig Urquhart|
been to the moon. No one's been to the moon, you say. And
I won't contradict what you believe, because you're right. I just
want you to know that I have been there, and even if I'm the only one who
knows it, it's still true.
I've also been to Mars. You're naturally curious, so I'll tell you. It really is red. Red sand stretching to a bleak, red horizon under a red sky, with black rocks for colored landmarks. And there are no Martians. Or at least, alien Martians. There is, or was -- or would have been -- a human colony there. Utopia had twenty million miners, scientists, artists, the whole menagerie. It was transplanted to Mars long before I was born. Yes, that's right. Long before I was born.
Ah, you say, then you're from the future, like in stories. Well, that's partially true, for I think I know that one day, there will be a colony on Mars. I know something of what the future will be. So in a sense I bring messages from the future. But the Mars colony won't be the one I remember. Now, even the slimiest bars in New Saskatoon have sentimental value for me. Tam would laugh at my self-indulgence.
Your Utopia will probably be called New Ixtapan or Guasili or something. You've never heard of old Saskatoon, or Toronto, or Havana. To you, Vancouver is a London park and Los Angeles never existed.
* * *
I digress. As I was saying, I was a pilot. I flew a Runner-class freighter, a charter on the routines between colonies. I was even a belter for a while. I made occasional stopovers on Earth, where my family lived. My husband left me four years ago. Well, I shouldn't complain because we were together for over nine years and that's a long time in the business. My two children died in a civil war in a country that's never existed, and never will. It's hard to relate to, now.
So I eventually decided to join one of the deep-space probes and dropped into freeze for two hundred years. We went to Alpha Centauri.
Astronomers and biologists always said that there's probably extrasolarian life. We talk about it, but you never really think you'll come across it. Even pilots don't consider it, and we live in space. Well, we found aliens.
And we killed them.
But we didn't know that at first.
What do you do when you meet aliens? We pulled out the Contact Manual the Admin gave us. I'm not sure if they thought we'd need it, but they always think (or thought -- would think?) of everything.
We tried to open communications with their ship. Eventually our System told us the alien spaceship was only operating on its own System, on automatic, or something to that effect. At first we thought everyone was in freeze or hiding or just as surprised as us. We didn't want our first contact with aliens to be a disaster, so we waited there, above Alpha Centauri's largest planet, for two weeks.
Well, to spare you the details, we boarded the ship and found our galactic neighbors dead. Little pools of slime covered the floor, and it took a while for the System to work out that they were dead aliens. We ended up sloshing through several. Their ship's atmosphere was very acidic, so we couldn't spend a lot of time investigating.
When we realized that we'd killed them all -- almost thirty thousand -- we didn't know what to do. We thought of sending a message to their homeworld, but seeing as we didn't know where that was, or even how to send a message, it was a problem. Their communication system wouldn't respond to us and we were running out of replacement spacesuit parts. Their ship eventually shut down, so it couldn't help us either.
The System's analysis confirmed what we suspected by then. Our deceleration ejector fried the aliens.
We were responsible for their deaths, so we felt it necessary to do something with the remains. By this time they weren't much more than degenerating puddles of polychlorinated muck. We put them in the alien ship's morgue. It could, I later realized, have been their larder. Unfortunate.
So we took whatever portable bits of their ship we could find and left.
I assumed that Tam and I would just continue on our mission, but he became obsessed with the aliens. They had a very different technology, but what was fascinating were the similarities, given their radically different biology and mental mechanics. We realized that they had an energy science well beyond ours. He wanted to harness their power source, to get us back to Earth with the news. Tam was a genius, but even I doubted he could do it. I played along until he tried to link one of the alien objects he'd been studying into the power core.
I tried to stop him. I could have done more, but he was so insistent, and we were both a little stretched, two centuries from home and depressed to boot. He seemed to know what he was doing. I couldn't tell. And another two hundred years in freeze didn't appeal to him.
He spliced the alien device into the drive, keyed himself into the System's matrix, and then he disappeared.
* * *
I was in shock for a long time. I had no idea what happened. I looked at his work. I spent seven months studying it. I'm no physicist, but I finally realized what he'd done. Non-linear displacement. He'd managed to do what he planned. He came back to Earth. But I found out later that he got the timing wrong. He wanted to arrive in Havana just after we boarded the lifter, but he missed a tiny mistake in his data.
You see, I checked. He got it wrong by five thousand years.
There I was in an empty ship floating around Alpha Centauri, next to a strange spaceship filled with dead aliens we'd murdered, and I had nothing to do. I couldn't continue the mission, that was obvious, especially not after the year's excitement. After a while I got bored and followed Tam back to Earth.
I corrected his calculations. The System was very obliging. I set it on Auto and ordered it to return to Earth, the long way. I wonder if it ever arrived. But it never left in the first place, then, did it?
The place I appeared in -- you may remember a brief story on the third page of the Kareeb News five years ago -- was not the Cuba I'd left. In the Cuba I remember they spoke Spanish, not Kariba or Tsarogi.
I was in shock for a long time. The best guess I can make now is that Tam, who had had everything as a child, gave the Americas the best defense they could have had. They got the whole range of Eurasiafrican diseases, thousands of years before would-be invaders arrived. Christopher Columbus took Martian Flu back to Europe and it devastated Eurasiafrica. You won't see the irony of this, naturally. And, of course, you don't call it Martian Flu.
It's strange that he didn't survive in myths or stories, but I think this sort of thing must happen a lot. I know it happened at least one other time.
* * *
That's the reason I'm writing this. I met someone the other day. He was a tall sort, vaguely oriental-looking, and he told me that he came from Japan (part of Korea), on an Earth ruled by Germans. He says they were doing some kind of experiment. He was drugged and put in a chamber. He ended up here. He was told he was being sent a hundred years into the future, which was, in fact, true. But it turned out that it wasn't his world's future.
So there may be more of you out there. Drop me a line if you get the chance. We should form a support group or something, to keep us from getting homesick. And who knows; we may have something in common.
Oh, and we have to keep the telescopes pointed at Alpha Centauri for the next few centuries. Tam was sure the aliens were coming in this general direction. Hopefully they can answer a few questions, or we can work together. We might be able to invent the Trans-Static Field by then, with a little help from an old pilot, and maybe we'll meet them halfway. Without ejection screens, this time. We'll have to work on decelerating.
My new friend and I are leaving for Kayokiyah. I've always liked the plains; lots of wide open spaces. Look for us there. We're going to start a family.
It'll really confuse the genealogists. *
copyright ©1998 by Craig Urquhart <email@example.com>
Illustration copyright ©1994-1998 by Romeo Esparrago <firstname.lastname@example.org>