It was years ago we ventured to travel to planet Mars for a look.
We didn’t expect to find anything. No life. No little green men. Not vegetation. We were wrong.
We had been parked a hundred miles above the planet in a stationary position studying the ground contours, wind speeds, in the way tourists look at a strange landscape. In other words we had no idea what we were seeing. We decided to land, somewhere, and began to orbit looking for a safe place. That is when we heard it. A plaintive recorded monotone over and over again.
“Help. Please help if you can. This is Mars colony from earth. We are all still alive at the moment, but we’re running out of fresh water and our water pump is broken and we can’t fix it. God help us. Please help us.”
I asked the ship to find the signal in case it was real. The ship began to maneuver and soon it found the signal source by triangulation. We stopped two thousand feet above it.
It’s a man made facility. I was on the flight deck. I had my wife, captain, the lad and pilot spread out looking at the screen now. We studied it. This was in the days before we met the Chef, the old woman or the trooper. Ship check for life, and check for life types please. Fourteen humans, all alive. It reported.
Put them on the screen. It was a facility we had discovered early.
On the screen appeared the inside of the largest dome structure. Count I told the others. Fourteen. Fourteen we all agreed. Six males and six females, plus two small children. Try hailing them Captain suggested. Hello Mars colony. Can you hear me? There was flurry of activity, people were woken the others ran to the sound of my voice. There’s a turn up for the books I thought.
Hello, we can here you loud and clear. It was what looked like an old man in a long beard, as all the men had, and very shabby clothes. What is your situation exactly? I asked him. frowning. I glanced at the others, but their eyes were fixed on him. Our water pump is broken, and our plants are all dead. We are out of food. Almost he added. Except for a few root vegetables we have stored in pits, but we’ll be out of water in less than a month. I’m going down I said to my wife. Take the ship up to two miles above them and continue to monitor. Just in case. Be ready to rescue me. Are you sure? My wife asked. I’ll come with you the lad said. No I need you to target them and fire if required. One of his jobs was the extensive weapons system. I’ll go. My wife said. Not yet. Not until we know what we are dealing with. Ship put me down near what looks like the main door of the largest dome. And stay invisible until further ordered. Take your instructions from her if anything happens to me continue to do so. I said. The ship put me down and went.
Hello. Hello. The man was becoming a little frantic as he tried to keep in touch. I could still hear him, and could have answered him easily enough. Instead I walked into the main door, unnoticed, and closed it behind me. The stone in the entrance hall was intricately carved with the most beautiful images. Taken from memory I suspected. The normal pastime of travellers in a far off place with little to do in the evenings. I was thinking they were works of art. The man continued. When I entered the room no one noticed me. They were huddled round him listening intently. Oh please. Oh please. He was saying. I could see they were all crying, and I was behind them. I walked up to them and the bench their transmitter was on.
I tapped him on the shoulder. Hello I said. He thought I was speaking to him on the radio system. I tapped him again. Hello I repeated. Not now please he snapped, and turned to rebuke whoever he found tapping him. I swear the look on his face was a picture to behold. So much so, they all turned and looked at me. They were all equally impressed. I stepped back, and searched their faces for aggression. There was none.
I said. Can you tell me, please, in detail, what the problem is, and how exactly you come to be here on Mars?
It was an incredible story. If I had not been sitting there with them I would never have believed them.
We sat on well made stone furniture in an extraordinary vaulted room. Stone was all there was, apart from the tapestries and floor mats. All made from dried plant material.
The fellow who had been on the radio told the story. Was he their leader? I was not about to interrupt to find out right then. The others enthusiastically filled in small details. I just listened. Rather obviously paying attention I suspect.
They told me of their lives on earth, and how they were pretty much loners in their respective communities. They were twelve in number. Six couples who were not couples when they left earth, but were one male and one female from six different countries. Two Italians, two French, two Germans, two Spaniards, two Danes and two from the Netherlands. Just six men, and six women. Approached by men and women who offered them a new life on Mars, with all the support they would ever need. They were given no training. Though they were chosen for their skills. Medicine. Electronics. Water management and irrigation. Horticulture. Structure design and building.
We were sent on three space ships, which became the basis of our original dwelling spaces, and are in fact still visible if you look carefully their main spokesman said. Though not in this dome structure.
I’d like to look around if you’d care to show me.
Of course, of course. They all stood up. Two young women picked up the children. Are they yours I asked? Yes one said timidly. Born here on Mars? Yes. Real live Martians I laughed. Yes. One boy and one girl, although you’d never have guessed under all that dirt. I had to ask.
We had looked around the inside of the dome, and they showed me the corridors and rooms leading off it. We were about to walk outside, when my family joined us. I could not blame them. They’d been listening and it was obvious they were as enthralled as I was.
Do you mind if we take some pictures? I asked. The lad said we’ve got on the ship, but I wanted more close up details if I could get them.
No of course not take as many as you like.
Girls. Go and fetch a still camera, and a 360º video camera I said. The Lad went as well. Good idea, we’ll get two video cameras.
They were back before we got outside, as my wife and I were shown the carvings in the entrance hall. Who did them? she asked.
We all had a go I think. A young man said, but it was her who did the finer work. He nodded at a young woman with raven black hair who murmured in Italian that I was not meant to understand I thought, that it was a joint effort. I doubted that. On the other hand the other works I’d seen maybe proved me wrong in that assumption. Get close ups of the interior, and get lots of detail I told the camera crew, as they now were. They even had a sound recorder and boom mike, from the lad’s private possessions. I knew I could trust them to get it right. Catch us up as soon as you can I said. There is much more outside here to record. The ship would be recording as well. The rest of us strolled out.
We were shown the water supply, which now had no water pump. How did you find the water? I was fascinated, because I’d always assumed there wasn’t any on Mars.
We drilled for it. The German said. We got lucky, because if we hadn’t found any first time we would have died of thirst. Of course our drill no longer works. He shrugged. Another piece of equipment that could not be repaired then I thought.
I notice you all speak in English I said. Is there a reason for this?
They explained that the people who sent them here spoke only English and it was a given reason for being chosen. They could all speak English.
How much support did you receive from back on earth then? My wife asked.
None. Unless you are it? It was the man from the radio calling again. I shook my head. No we found you by accident. Over three years and three months it took us to get here and find a suitable place to settle, and we expected support to follow us. It never happened. How long did you take to reach here? He asked.
I ignored him.
Are these your green houses for growing food? My wife asked. She was striding towards the rows of stone walls with what looked like beds for plants between them. We followed her. As we got closer it became obvious the stone walls were part of some type of irrigation system that must have worked well when there was plenty of water.
The plants are all dead. My wife shook her head sadly as she scanned the vast area of drought generated destruction. So sad.
We were shown the outbuildings, built around the three ships they came in. Everything was utilised. Who is the electronics expert? I asked. It was the Italian man. I am impressed. I told him. The fact is I was impressed by everything they had achieved here. Not only had they created wind powered electricity for their cooking oven and lights, but they’d harnessed the sun’s rays for backup. This explained why their radio worked. A thought crossed my mind. Why don’t you use electricity to pump water? I asked.
It’s the pump that’s broken. The German said. And we haven’t been able to fix it. The water is too deep for anything less than the large pump to be capable of lifting it. We have rigged a smaller one that just about gives us enough to drink, but without the plants it is hopeless.
I was beginning to understand the problems they had been facing more clearly now. What about seeds? If you have any, how long before you could secure your food supply again if we could fix your pump?
About eighteen months. The answer was obviously based on their experience.
You three finish up your filming here, and we’ll wait for you in the ship. I want film and notes off the plates on the side of the water pump. Manufacturer. Serial number. Every letter and mark you can find on it. Don’t miss anything. It’s going to be important. Can I trust you to miss nothing? I knew they wouldn’t.
Where is your ship? Have you plenty water? Food? Will it take off again? Could we all return to earth on it? How long would it take? Questions came thick and fast. My wife and I could see the ship, because we wanted to today. Very often we didn’t want to see it, and didn’t see it.
Telepathy is a wonderful thing.
Ship make yourself visible. I half expected it to ask my wife for permission, because she’d been in charge of it, but no, it allowed me control again without argument.
It was less than three metres in front of us. This is our ship I said, and whatever you do don’t call it a balloon. It doesn’t like being called that. They gaped at it. It was huge, and floating about ten metres above the ground. They stood back the better to see it. Entirely the colour of beech wood, it was beautiful in this majestic setting. Completely smooth, and with no apparent openings.
How do you get in? They had looked at it from both sides and both ends now. Where are the entrances?
Wherever we want them to be. I said. Watch. Ship. I said out loud. A door and a ramp for pedestrian entry, please? My wife quipped that I was getting very polite suddenly. For demonstration purposes only, I said.
Yes usually we just say, Ship, let us in. She told them.
The door appeared and the ramp came down. It had believed one of us anyway.
We will show you around only after you are all showered, or bathed, and are wearing our regulation coveralls.
Pure white, to size, and with blue collars and cuffs for the men, and pink for the women. We insisted all rescued people wear them until their own clothes were laundered, but we rarely gave them their clothes back until just before they were ready to leave us.
They are very comfortable and we’ve never had complaints about them.
New underwear as well. I said.
Which you are welcome to keep. My wife added. And they will fit, but you can’t keep the coveralls. They get laundered and foil wrapped again for reusing.
We keep every size there is, because of the numbers of people we rescue, and having them in standard dress like a uniform made our lives just so much easier. They relaxed better as well in the communal induced mood.
You’re all getting a medical as well. Pilot, who had caught us up, said. We’ll get these pictures on computer and check them over.
Yes ensure they’re clear, and go back and take them again if necessary. I said. So important.
Captain. Will you give your mum a hand with the scrubbing and with the medicals and the scanning. I turned to the group and said. I don’t want to see you again until you’re all cleaned up. One hour max. Not long out of your entire lives. They shot up the ramp after Captain and my wife. Worried I think that any dissent might have us desert them. I shouted after them. Which of you is the medic? The Italian artist turned and said, I’m the doctor. I was surprised. I thought it would be the man on the radio. Okay, I said, but trust those two meantime, they are both doctors as well.
Today I was going to be the cook. I had an hour.