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Finches of Mars Brian Aldiss Mars is in crisis. Ten years after its formation the Earth colony on the red planet has yet to produce a healthy child. Every baby has been deformed and stillborn. With Earth overpopulated and at war, the success of the Mars experiment is crucial to the survival of the human race. Something must be done to ensure its future.In Finches of Mars, Brian Aldiss has produced a fascinating and thought-provoking novel that considers the practicalities of man’s exploration of space. It is shot through with the trademark wit and visionary philosophy which have been ever present across the seven decades of his writing career. BRIAN ALDISS Finches of Mars For my grandsons in the future Laurence and Thomas (Thomas who was the first person to read this discourse) And to Jason and Max and Ben and of course Archie with my love. He who can read Sir Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognise as having produced a revolution in natural science, and yet does not admit how vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume. – Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life Table of Contents Title Page (#u1c499a91-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Dedication (#u1c499a91-3FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Epigraph (#u1c499a91-4FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) 1. An Oceanless World 2. A Freedom 3. Mangalian’s Remark 4. Final Journey 5. The Shape of the UU 6. Mangalian Among the Ladybirds 7. The Care of a Child 8. The Death of a Hero 9. Life Elsewhere? 10. The Inevitable Happens 11. A Belated Announcement 12. Mulling Over Required 13. Some False Dispositions 14. The Mad Horse & Ooma’s Sad Poem 15. An Hour’s Friendship 16. Shap’s Lecture 17. Interlude: A Farewell To Families 18. Interlude Part II: A Long Journey and A Short Walk 19. The Vexed Question of Umwelts 20. A Troubled Exwo 21. Images of the Past 22. Phipp has Problems to Share 23. The Four Birds 24. Consolations of Knowledge and Sex 25. Meeting an Astronomer 26. Life on Mars! The Capture of Things 27. Hitting the Trail 28. Some Problem for Mangalian 29. Questions of Evolution 30. Precious Discoveries 31. Visitors 32. Descendants from the Present 33. Reception in the China Tower 34. A Great Resource Footnotes Appendix By the same author from The Friday Project Copyright About the Publisher Your idea regarding the effect of gravity on foetal development is absolutely fascinating, and is of much interest to me … There is a great deal of knowledge in the field of foetal development about the importance of physical distorting forces on inducing foetal growth, making your idea of “lighter gravity” affecting foetal life entirely feasible (and to the best of my knowledge absolutely original to boot). Further, the effect of changes of gravity on heart action and blood flow is also fascinating, especially since the foetus is not as well equipped as is its mother. So, malformed foetuses being at risk of dying in utero or at birth is a plausible conjecture. Professor Frank Manning Division of Maternal Foetal Medicine New York Medical College New York All those who prefer to whatever degree the hypothetical over what is called reality, finding the real so deplorable that they seek out what may never be, will find here elements for enjoyment. Those optimists who grieve over the shortcomings of existence may like to imagine that better prospects will be created in the future, not least amid the airless deserts of Mars depicted here. 1 (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) An Oceanless World (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) The word ‘scenery’ was not in use on Mars. One might talk instead of ‘the prospect’. The prospect was modestly dramatic. Volcanoes on this section of Tharsis were small and scattered. The settlement site on the Tharsis Shield had been chosen for its underground water supply and its comparative smoothness. A path had been worn leading eastwards a short way. A man and woman were walking side-by-side along the path, treading with the high-kneed gait the lower gravity of Mars encouraged. The pair were thickly dressed and wore face masks, since they were beyond the atmospheric confine of the project settlement. This constitutional exercise, though remarkable enough, had come about by events and arrangements of some complexity, inspired in large part by the findings of the NASA experimental vehicle, Curiosity, in 2012AD – when both of these new Martians were not even conceived. Rooy and Aymee were taking their daily exercise. They had discovered in the austerities of this derelict planet something they had sought without success in their previous lives. No air: perfect vision – clarity of sight and mind. Martian orange-grey sterility. Aymee, dark of skin and outspoken, always declared that Mars served as a physical manifestation of the support system of the subconscious. The great spread of an oceanless world surrounded them. Such water as there was flowed hidden underground. As usual, the couple had walked until the brow of Olympus Mons showed like consciousness above the horizon They were walking now between two volcanoes, believed to be extinct, Pavonis Mons and, to the south, Arsia Mons, passing quite close to the rumpled base of the former. In one of these small fissures they had found a little clump of cyanobacteria which added to the interest of their walk. They believed it to be a mark of an ancient underground waterway. Their progress was slow; Rooy had his left leg encased in plaster, setting a broken bone. Little Phobos, having risen in the west, was at present speeding above the Shield. Sight of it was obscured by a wind that carried fine dust. The dust and the distant star, Sol, low on the landscape, gave a dull golden aspect to everything. ‘I was wondering about our contentment,’ Aymee said. ‘If we weren’t under some odd compulsion to come here? Or if we’re not here and are experiencing some form of delusion? Reality can be rather tenuous up here.’ ‘And not only here,’ said Rooy, chuckling. Back on Earth, one of the screamers had run an opinion poll about the six towers in the Martian settlement. The towers were graded as follows: CHINESE: MOST ELABORATE WEST: MOST LEARNED RUSS-EAST: MOST ARTISTIC SINGA-THAI: MOST EXCLUSIVE SCAND: MOST SPARTAN SUD-AM: MOST EXOTIC ‘Maybe there’s something to be said for making it up as you go along,’ said Aymee. ‘How do “they” know what it feels like to be here?’ ‘It’s nice to know we’re still in the news, however conjectural.’ ‘Conjectural? More like a sideshow.’ ‘I wake up every morning to marvel,’ said Rooy. ‘And sleep every evening to snore.’ ‘Was it the twentieth century author, someone Burgess, who said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you snore alone.”?’ ‘Anthony, I believe. Anyhow, you’ve told me that one before.’ They fell silent. Something in the ambience of the prospect, engendered silence. Some found this ambience alarming, some a delight – if a delight of an uncertain kind. It was Rooy who spoke next. ‘You know what I miss most?’ he said. ‘Rajasthan.’ ‘Rajasthan!’ Aymee exclaimed. She had been born there of a high caste Hindu family. ‘Parts of Tharsis remind me of parts of Rajasthan.’ She thought only of the sandy reaches, where the odd goat might be found, and not of the fecund regions where deer ran and rutted among acacia trees. The West tower loomed ahead of them. It did not stand alone. All told, the six towers had been built within sight of each other: not close enough to form an illusion of ‘togetherness’, yet still near enough to each other to make, as it might be, a statement of intent – that humanity had arrived at last, and was trying to form something more than a mere voice crying in the wilderness. And those voices … The UU had created linguistic rather than political bases for each site. A number of pipes led in from the wilds into the basement of the West’s building; the water they carried had been charted by Operation Horizon over a year previously. Methane plumes escaping from under the planetary crust were trapped to serve heating and cooking requirements. This development, as with the towers themselves, and the whole Mars enterprise, was funded by the UU. The settlement thus remained ever dependent on terrestrial liberality. Liberality. Something else absorbed into the unceasing terrestrial power struggle: a tap easily turned off. Confronting the grey tower, Rooy said, ‘Back to the subterranean life …’ He was a machinist and spent much of his life underground. Once Aymee and Rooy were inside the confinement zone they could remove their masks and breathe shallowly. In a year or two – or maybe three – the modest area of contained atmosphere would have approached normal limits. The six towers stood in this zone under a large friction-stir welding dome; from this leaked an atmosphere consisting mainly of nitrogen, mixed with 21.15% oxygen. The circular zone guard retained most of the gas. Still, few people cared to stay unmasked outside the towers for long. As Aymee punched in their code, she said, ‘Another new word needed there. “Subterranean” can’t be right.’ The gate was opened by the door guardian, a man called Phipp, who hustled the pair in. Guardianship was considered to be an important post. Blood, pulse and eyesight readings had to be taken by automatic machines within the martial confinement of the gatehouse before anyone from outside was allowed to move freely inside. This entailed a delay of only 55 seconds, unless the automatics detected reasons for stoppage and possible treatment; nevertheless this precautionary delay was widely resented. Resented, although Mars imposed its own delay on the passage of time. Aymee and Rooy waited at the tower gate, hand in hand. 2 (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) A Freedom (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) ‘Sub specie aeternitatis – that’s us,’ said Noel, who had been elected more or less as Director of the West tower. ‘We have “aeternitatis” all round us in trumps. Our function is to occupy – what? – emptiness. And to discuss those abstract and vital questions that have vexed humanity since … well, since the first human-like babe fell out of a vague quaternary tree. Who would like to kick off?’ The woman to whom a terrestrial computer had allotted the name Sheea said, ‘Are we the elite or the rejects, Noel?’ Noel raised a delicate eyebrow. ‘I prefer to think of us as the elite.’ ‘Here we are on Tharsis Shield, parked in six towers – we were so proud of being chosen for this extraordinary exile – is this indeed the honour we imagine it to be? Or do you think we have been dumped here so as not to interfere with the villainies brewing on Earth?’ ‘Not a question you can usefully ask,’ said Noel. She spoke lightly, knowing Sheea faced the challenges of pregnancy. The possibilities of a wise and peaceful terrestrial future had been destroyed by vicissitudes of fortune and the accidents of history. Only occasionally on the planet Earth do we find a nation at peace with itself and its neighbours. The quest for happiness – in itself not a particularly noble occupation – has in general been overcome by a lust for riot and slaughter. Violent and vengeful nations have arisen, seething with illiterates enslaved by ancient writings. The more peevish the nation, the more primitive its preaching. Occasionally one finds states where all seems quiet and without disturbance; these in the main prove to be police states, where disagreement is ruthlessly suppressed, and only the most powerful have freedom of movement to a limited degree. On the planet Mars it is different. But of course Mars is not over-populated. The human settlement on Mars has its share of human woes. But here for once sagacity prevails, perhaps because the occupants of the various towers are so few, and have been so carefully selected. Noel in her bed at night thinks always of the great Mangalian. These chosen persons living on the Shield must succeed or die. They have signed a contract making it impossible for them to return to the planet from which, in either the name of advancement or adventure, they have voluntarily exiled themselves. Many small restrictions apply here. Nothing may be wasted, not even human dung. No pets at all may be kept in the towers. Recreational drugs are not available, and may not be used if found. The scarcity of oxygen and the increased distance from a volatile sun may contribute to the stability of the Martian venture. The mentality of these exiles, as we shall see, has been liberated by their freedom from belief in the dictates of an inscrutable god. 3 (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Mangalian’s Remark (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) To be on Mars … This almost evolutionary step owes its existence to a small group of learned and wise men and women. Working at the end of the previous century, and spurred on to begin with by the provocation of the great Herbert Amin Saud Mangalian, the universities of the cultivated world linked themselves together under a charter which in essence represented a great company of the wise, the UU (for United Universities). The despatch of the two hydrologists to our nearby planet was the first UU move. Mangalian spent a profligate youth on San Salvador, the island in the Bahamas, fathering several children with several women. The edict ‘Go forth and multiply’ was his inspiration. Only when he met and married Beth Gul – both taking delight in this antiquated ceremony – did he reform, encouraged by her loving but disputatious nature. For a while he and Beth severed their connections with others. They read and studied; they led a rapt hermit’s life. Together, the two of them wrote a book from which great consequences sprang. It was entitled The Unsteady State or, Starting Again from Scratch. As was the fashion, this volume contained moving video and screamer shots married into the text. It argued that humanity on Earth was doomed, and that the only solution was to send our best away, where they could strive – on Mars and beyond – to achieve true civilization. It was sensationalist, but persuasive. The declaration alarmed many in the West and infuriated many more in the Middle-East, as is generally the way when truth is plainly stated. It brought Mangalian to public attention. He was an attractive young fellow, tall, sinewy, with a mop of jet black hair – and a certain gift of the gab. It was only after his remark, ‘Countless lungs, countless penises, all working away! We shall run out of oxygen before we run out of semen!’ that Mangalian’s name became much more widely known, and his book more attentively read. ‘Semen is always trendy,’ he told an interviewer, by way of explanation. ‘A handsome fellow,’ was how many people expressed in their various languages admiration and envy of Mangalian. Using his book as both inspiration and guide, several intellectuals made tentative efforts to link universities as the first step towards civilization elsewhere. There was no doubt that Mangalian was a vital advocate for a new association – the UU. While there were many who enthused over the idea of the UU, almost as many – in the main those living in slums, tents and sink estates – raged against its exclusivity. So Mangalian, a youth with no university degree, became head, figurehead, of the newly formed UU. He was aware that any sunshine of global attention had its rapid sunset. Invited to England, he attracted representatives from the three leading universities, to shower them with challenges to unite. ‘All know you to be a footballing nation, but Q.P.R. and Q.E.D. should not be adversarial. A ball in the net is great – so is the netting of new facts.’ He was being facile, but his argument scored a goal. The first three universities raised the purple and blue flag of the UU. But a left wing politician remarked, ‘So, the words come from Oxford, but the cash comes from China …’ It was certainly true, although not widely admitted, that NASA projects were nowadays kept afloat on Beijing currency – it was unlikely to be little different with the UU. Under the goading of the young impresario Mangalian, many universities agreed to join the first three, to create a nation-like body of new learning, a corpus aloof from the weltering struggles of an underfed, under-educated and unreasoning range of random elements: the sick, the insane, the suicide-bombers and their like. Mangalian disliked this division. It was then he spoke for the colonisation of Mars. MARS, he said, stood for ‘MANKIND ACHIEVING (a) RENEWED SOCIETY.’ Some laughed, some jeered. But the movers at last moved. Even before all the various universities had finished signing on their various dotted United lines, an exploration duo was sent out to inspect Martian terrain. The terrain had been photographed previously, but trodden by a human’s boot – never. Operation Horizon consisted of two men and a robotruck. Modest though this expedition was, the future of an entire enterprise depended on it. If no watercourses were detected, then the great UU initiative was sunk as surely as the Titanic; if water was detected, and in sufficient quantities, then the project would proceed. Everything depended on two skilled hydrologists and a new-fangled robotruck, designed especially for the task. The truck could be spoken to by screamer from a kilometre’s distance. It was loaded with equipment. It also gave two men shelter in the chill sleep hours, and enabled them to refill their oxygen tanks. While electronics experts and eager young engineers worked on the truck, various hydrology experts were being interviewed. One of the men given the okay was the experienced Robert Prestwick, fifty-six years of age, and the other Henry Simpson, sixty-one years old, famous for his design of the dome over Luna. He wasn’t just a skilled hydrologist. Prestwick was a heavily built, blue jowled man. Simpson was of slighter build, and a head shorter than his friend. The robotruck was new, as stated. The hydrologists had known each other on and off for roughly thirty years, having first met at Paranal Observatory in Chile, which had been temporarily beset by flood problems. Now they joked, ‘So they send us to a planet believed to be without water …’ It seemed to be that way at first. The two men had begun by surveying the great central feature of the Martian globe, the Valles Marinaris, a gash in the planet a mile deep, stretching for almost two thousand miles. Howling winds blowing along the rift from east to west carried dust storms with them. The gales blew along its uninviting length, persuading the men to choose a more promising area to the north. The robotruck took them to the Tharsis Shield – at the north of which stood the grand old extinct volcano, Olympus Mons, once believed to be the home of gods. If their exploration was successful, no one believing in God was to be allowed on Mars. Henry Simpson grumbled at the dimness of the light. ‘It’s like 4.30 on a December afternoon back home. Midnight, in other words.’ ‘Don’t complain,’ said Prestwick, with a chuckle. ‘At least God has given us this spare planet for gainful employment … We’re sniffing water!’ He pointed to the screen, his mood changed entirely. The robotruck was moving slowly; a flickering vein of green showed on its screen. They halted, getting a depth check. ‘Nine point four feet below surface.’ Prestwick wondered to himself what it would be like to have to live here. He’d been to some bleak places back home. Here, there was nothing but bleakness, water or no water … Simpson came and stared over his comrade’s shoulder at the screen. ‘Okay! Good! We need something nearer surface, but without being frozen solid.’ On the sweep again, they watched green delta-like traces close into a single strip. It then become faint and vanished. Simpson scratched his head. ‘We’ve struck an area.’ He spoke surprisingly calmly. Stopping the machine, Prestwick asked, ‘Retrace?’ ‘Hang on. There’s still something …’ Simpson had what they called a dedeaf to his forehead. Faintly came an intermittent boom and a faint low plop, such as a leaky tap might make, dripping into a puddle. The noises faded away and then returned, the tap noise slightly louder now. ‘Something’s going on. Can only be water.’ Simpson shivered. The sound was not a friendly one. ‘Couldn’t be horse piss,’ he added. Prestwick by now had a dedeaf to his forehead too. He pulled a face at his partner. Both were well aware they were isolated on an unfriendly planet and this discovery would extend their stay. It was a disappointment – another week finding nothing and they would have been on the way back home. In time for Christmas. However, it was a well-paid stretch of employment. ‘Go on a bit,’ Simpson told the truck. ‘Slowly, okay?’ They growled onwards, watching the screen. Suddenly the green strip was back on screen. It fattened. A thin green vein ran off from it, disappearing at the side of the screen. The sound too had changed; the dedeafs brought a noise as of someone humming tunelessly in a deep voice. The strip widened, becoming marrow-shaped. ‘Depth down to surface?’ Simpson asked. ‘Nineteen point nine to surface,’ reported the truck. He sighed. ‘And to bottom?’ ‘Twenty-eight … correction … twenty-nine to bottom.’ The two men exchanged glances. ‘Small reservoir? Not bad.’ ‘Better mark it. We can map the extent later.’ They climbed out and stood there on the lee side of the truck until the truck extruded a coloured peg containing internal figures which could be read by any other truck, should such a thing ever come this way. It was a melancholy thought. The expedition was no more than that. Nothing might ever come this way again. Simpson shuddered inside his uniform. The hydrologists laid a track. When a map was drawn up, a spider-like effect was apparent, with small streams leading off a reservoir of considerable size. The men were neither pleased nor displeased. Instead, they decided to take a rest. ‘We’re not as young as we were – even you,’ said Prestwick. ‘You’re kidding,’ said Simpson. It was a struggle to climb into the small bunk beds. They slept in their clothes – breathing masks, boots and all. Simpson went outside, peering over the roof of the truck. Mars was like an old black-and-white illustration, such as one saw in the bygone newspapers of the early Twentieth Century. A few shapes, mysterious and malign, stood here and there – emblems of a cosmic disorder. Some distance ahead of Simpson stood his wife, Katie, motionless. Simpson called to her, but sound did not carry. As he moved towards her, his boots grew heavier. He thought some white thing drifted above him, but could not raise his head to look. ‘My God, it’s lovely here!’ – he had meant to say ‘lonely’ rather than ‘lovely’. ‘It’s the graveddy,’ he told himself. ‘Makes the lippers frabby.’ Olympus Mons lay somewhere ahead of him. Like a tit. Katie’s tit. ‘Katie!’ he called. Defying the laws of perspective, she became smaller as he approached. Her head was pointed. She had no face. She wore a trailing frock. He broke into a run. ‘Wait! Wait!’ She did not move. She dripped. Katie was simply an icy pinnacle. A rocky spike adorned with a garment of multiple frosts. A thing to be hated rather than loved. ‘Oh, don’t do this,’ Simpson begged. He looked round in despair. The world was empty. High above, a tiny distant spark moved. ‘You must be Swift … Named by Jonathan Deimos.’ He spoke in a whisper. He had enlisted for this venture to escape his loneliness after his wife’s death. But here it was echoing with loneliness: a whole planet full of it … He found himself looking about, eyes half closed, dreading to see something, nothing. His wife would never visit Mars. This was a place of which God had never heard. So it had remained vacant and unwanted. Up For Sale. He fell to his knees. It was impossible to say how greatly his way of life had changed since Kate had died. He lay in a kind of paralysis. Absurd to say he did not care about Kate; absurd not to say how much more … interesting … life had become. Suppose it had been Katie just now and he who was dying. Dying in the snow … Prestwick was leaning over him. He asked, ‘You all right, mate?’ Simpson returned to consciousness as if from the depths of an ocean. ‘What a dream! What a hellish place Mars is! Why should anyone want to come and live here? It’s like a fucking cemetery.’ Prestwick remarked on the noise Simpson had been making, and advised him to take another sleeping pill, before changing the subject. ‘Do you remember when astronomers thought there was a major planet out beyond Pluto? Then they said it didn’t exist, but instead there was a planet they called Eris. They’ll be trying to get to Eris next. It’s beyond the Kuiper Belt.’ Simpson made nothing of this, his mind being still filled with the sludge of his dream. ‘Jesus, I could do with a drink. The bastards might have granted us a bottle of rum.’ ‘Ah, but rum costs. The bastards didn’t send us here to drink.’ ‘Sodding teetotallers, that’s what …’ Silence fell between them until Prestwick pressed a button on the robotruck. ‘Get us two coffees, will you?’ ‘Coming up.’ When Prestwick spoke again, he sounded rather tentative. ‘They are certainly paying us well enough for this job. I’m still paying off putting my two boys through college. But there have always been aspects of this job I hate. ‘For instance, if this UU project goes through, religion on the planet will be banned. Anyone getting here will have to be atheists.’ ‘They can give the place to the devil for all I care.’ Prestwick hunched himself up in his bunk. ‘No, look, I want to talk seriously. We’ve got on okay. Now I’m a bit older, I start to try to think more deeply. Needs, regrets, desires … The way the impression section of your brain works. As a youngster, I was always too busy getting laid. Remember when we first met in Chile? I picked up – or I was picked up by – a woman who called herself Carmen. It was intended to be a one-night stand, but somehow we got a liking for each other. It was odd. Suddenly from impersonal to personal. She had a nice laugh.’ He was thinking, No one as yet has ever laughed on Mars … ‘Carmen! I’d do anything for a laugh in those days. I caught a rickety old coach out to her place. She held my hand with her rough hand. My hand so smooth – two worlds meeting – I felt a bit ashamed. Anything foreign excited me. I always had a hard on. ‘Carmen lived in a little village outside Santiago. She’d come into the city pro tem because she heard there were foreigners visiting and she thought that a bit of whoring could raise some necessary cash. So it did. But her place … She was dog poor, poor darling. She lived in one room and next door was a sort of lean to – a stall with a corrugated iron roof where she kept a little cart and a donkey on a tether.’ ‘You and your memories!’ Simpson scoffed. ‘At least it’s better than you moaning about the constipation, and your sodding painful testicles!’ ‘I can’t tell you how excited I was to be there with her. This was the real world – even to the extent that I got a mild dose of the clap off her. We slept on cushions. She had had a bloke, but he had left her directly the baby was born. Her ma looked after the kiddie when Carmen was away. And she fed the donkey. Her old mum knew what bastards men could be. ‘Carmen took it all in her stride. Massive good nature. Heavy but neat little tits with stretch marks. She expected men to be shits who would leave their women to make out and bring up the kids. She worked hard as a carrier with her little donkey cart … Oh, sorry, Henry, I’ve got carried away, going on like this. It was just such a – oh, a rich experience.’ ‘I wonder what percentage of women live more or less as Carmen did. There are plenty worse places than Santiago,’ said Simpson. ‘The way she looked at you when you woke in the morning. Eyes like a lioness … Christ, I should stop this. I’m going on for sixty – not a kid any more. But some women you never forget.’ ‘Go ahead,’ said Simpson, yawning. ‘I had rather a posh hotel tart when we were in Santiago. Delicious in bed, but she meant nothing to me. Warm enough inside but cold outside.’ The coffee arrived in two small sealed plastic cups. ‘The point I’m getting at,’ said Prestwick, as he sipped the flavourless liquid, ‘is that Carmen knew nothing. She knew nothing of all this vast heap of cleverness we know all too well. The whole urban thing. Yet she knew so much we don’t know. When there would be an hour’s electricity, where the river water ran pure, how the old donkey was feeling today, how you mended an axle, how to shit and piss without giving offence, how to have a little fire without burning the fucking place down, how to bake … oh, a thousand things. All to do with survival. How to keep in with the priest. A priest whom I met, by the way. Priests are always ill-spoken of, but this priest was a real holy man. He’d help if Carmen had a spot of trouble with the donkey’s hooves, for instance. ‘If Carmen or her ma complained, he’d say, “Never mind, Jesus got himself crucified for less …” ‘I had a chance to talk with this priest. His name was Festa, or so I seem to remember. You see, I still recall it after all these years. He said that men were fools. They did not respect women, the givers of life. He said there were some women who had special qualities. He named Carmen as an example. He said, there was a comfort – that was his word – a comfort when you thought about her. Not sexual attraction, because as a priest he should not experience sexual attraction. But even when she was away, still that feeling of comfort. ‘Comfort. We were drinking the local wine. He said, this priest said, without thinking, that sometimes he woke in the night and burned with desire for Carmen. I was sleeping with her. I knew well what the poor fellow meant …’ Prestwick paused. ‘But after all, so many women …’ He let the sentence trail away into the godless night. ‘I felt we’d got it wrong – the West. I mean, got it wrong.’ He lapsed into silence. ‘I make it sound as if I lived in that village for years. I was only there for two days. I didn’t like the rats. We’ve gotten so squeamish. But somehow Carmen – really the whole place, I guess – it started working on my mind.’ Simpson said, simply, ‘I envy you.’ ‘Carmen …’ Silence fell between them, except for the sipping noises. ‘I see what you mean,’ said Simpson eventually. ‘Yes. The place sounds like a film set. The Simple Life. But what if you get ill? Or your kids? And her ex – miserable slob. Did she get the clap attended to?’ ‘I couldn’t live there. Nor could you, I imagine. I got my dose cleared up back home.’ Simpson was reluctant to enter into further conversation. ‘Let’s switch the recorder off, shall we?’ he suggested, but hesitated as Prestwick continued, undeterred. ‘I couldn’t – we couldn’t live in Chile. Ghastly place, ghastly politics, to be honest. We owe a whole heap to the Magna Carta. But just think of the world we do live in. We’re inculcated, if that’s the word I want. Inculpated? Our minds – well, look, as far as we know our brains were jerry-built over the ages from brains of – crikey! – brains of sea monsters – sea monsters and then, later, a form of ape. And for all endeavours–’ Simpson groaned. ‘Stop it right there, Bob. I’m sick of being told we’ve all come down from the trees. We are no longer apes and there’s the difference. Did you ever meet an ape who was a hydrologist? A president of a bank, okay, but not a hydrologist.’ ‘No, no, I wasn’t off on that tack, mate. I was going to say that, thanks to Charles Darwin and others, we have been released from the Old Testament. I rejoice in that. We came from simple villagers, believing Earth was the centre of the universe. The prospects of evolution are far more thrilling than almost any other theory ever dreamed up … ‘But … we seem still to need faith. A faith. Any faith. And I suspect our brains – urh! the brains of modern man – are stacked full of an erroneous faith. Office bumf … Faith in information. Information about everything, anything. Its birthday may have been the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, way back when. ‘Since about then, we have craved to know … quantum theory, mass, energy, time, space, neurons, protons, DNA, cosmology, geology, the credit card, the simple screamer. All bits of information sprawling about our desks. These constitute our faith. God the Father, God the Son, etc., have been banished in favour of – what, exactly? Well, the Economy, the godless, thankless Economy … ‘And like the faithful anywhere, any time, we don’t realise how much it all costs to the human spirit. ‘Carmen – a Catholic, she was paying with the clap. So are we, mental clap, exile on Mars …’ ‘You’re ranting,’ Simpson wanted to say, but refrained. Henry Simpson was unaccustomed to discussions of this kind. It was true that after the death of his wife he had gone less frequently to the golf club and more often to an art club, where all kinds of matters were discussed, but he was still reluctant to enter into argument with Prestwick. He said, in a way that seemed feeble even to himself, ‘But we have so many advantages. I was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s, but it was cured. We’ve put the past behind us for present advantages, surely …’ ‘You don’t like talking about the past, just as you don’t like the thought of being descended from apes?’ Simpson was beginning to feel strained. He spoke with some anger. ‘I read novels of the present day. I doubt if I’d read a novel of the Tenth Century, even if there was such a thing.’ Prestwick produced a paperback of an old-fashioned kind and pressed his light to burn brighter. ‘Henry, would you mind if I read you a bit of something? It’s a life of a woman of the Twelfth Century, written later, after her death. I brought it with me although I’ve read it a coupla times before. It fascinates me because the lives it depicts are so different from ours of today, and yet both different and similar. It’s the life of a woman who became known as Christina of Markyate.’ ‘I may fall asleep,’ Simpson warned. ‘Don’t worry. I shall kick you if you do. This young lady who became known as Christina lived her life as a virgin. Different from today, different from my Carmen. Anyhow, that’s what she did, what she was determined to do. She became a “Bride of Christ”. Not that he ever seemed to take a blind bit of notice of her. ‘She was a bright girl, her parents were as difficult as could be, in quite a modern way. So this modest and deeply religious girl became betrothed to one Beorhtred. She had been tricked and openly swore she would not be defiled by Beorhtred’s carnal embraces. Not likely today! ‘Her father drags her before the Prior, who asks, “Why should you bring this dishonour to your parents?”’ Simpson looked out into the Martian darkness, where stars burned, and kept silent. ‘Christina’s answers are splendid; she says to the Prior, “You who are supposed to excel in the knowledge of scripture, must judge how wicked a thing this would be, should my parents enter me into a marriage I never wanted, and make me unfaithful to Christ, He who knows of the vow I had made in my childhood.”’ Stifling a yawn, Simpson said, ‘She may speak well, as you say, but those were lives lived on false premises. All very well for the Twelfth Century, not now.’ ‘What I’m trying to argue is that, yes, the premises were false, but no less false are the premises of today. Shall I continue?’ Prestwick tweaked a page. ‘Her parents, as the book says, “did not know how to see beyond worldly possessions”. That has a contemporary ring about it, wouldn’t you say? But at every instant, despite the cruelty of her parents, she remained, as she always said a “Bride of Christ”. A virgin, in fact.’ ‘Nowadays, she would have treatment for frigidity,’ said Simpson, with a grin. ‘Jesus, it’s uncomfortable here. You can’t even scratch your arse on this bunk.’ ‘Yes, and these days her parents would be judged guilty of violence against their daughter. But the daughter would nevertheless be harmed. We read of such cases in the screamers every day.’ ‘Well, cut it short. What happened then?’ ‘Bad bishops have never been a novelty. With the assistance of one of them, Beorhtred gained power over her. He jeered at Christina in his hour of triumph. She asked him a question. “Tell me, Beorhtred, and may God have mercy on you, if another were to come and take me away from you and marry me, what would you do?” To which he replied in brutish fashion, “I wouldn’t put up with it for a moment as long as I lived. I would kill him with my own hands if there were no other way of keeping you.” ‘So she replies – I love this – she replies, “Beware then of wanting to take to yourself a Bride of Christ, lest in His anger He slay you.”’ Simpson gave a laugh. ‘She was quick-witted at least. But “Bride of Christ” …? Who’d believe that today?’ Prestwick answered sadly, ‘No one would. Today most teenage girls in the West have lost their virginity by the age of fifteen and think well of themselves for having done so.’ ‘So I suppose your Christina went to live in a nunnery …’ ‘Where else would she have gone for safety in those days? Or now?’ Silence fell between the two men. Then Simpson said. ‘At least we treat women better now.’ He felt he had scored a point there. Operation Horizon delivered a positive report to the executive council of the United Universities. Subterranean channels had been charted, and a reservoir containing plentiful H O of unknown quality. A map of the area on the Tharsis Shield accompanied their report, with waterways depicted like blue veins. It was the verdict of the two hydrologists making the report that this area would be a suitable site for the settlement to be established, at least as far as water supply was concerned. This report provided the necessary impetus for the development of this great and unprecedented enterprise – the colonisation of Mars. A surveyor by name Moses Barrin was immediately hired to draw up sites for proposed Martian settlements known as towers. His instructions were to demarcate a site where six small habitations could be established. He used maps created from data from both Operation Horizon and even the now ancient NASA vehicle Curiosity. Barrin was to be among the first humans sent to colonize Mars. The Message, newspaper of the Vatican, warned of the moral dangers of venturing onto a planet where Jesus Christ had never trod. Several screamers showed cartoons of Jesus wandering alone, asking, ‘Where’s someone to save?’ 4 (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Final Journey (#u1c499a91-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) The report of Martian water running underground did much to excite public interest in the project, and to stir the involvement of the universities. There was less talk of trips to Mars being ‘madness’. In Chinese cities new factories were manufacturing ‘space planes’. The United Universities, from the original three, had expanded to thirty-one signatories, consisting mainly of universities or departments of universities situated in the United States of America, Britain, Europe and China. Other universities were drawn in as by a magnet, tempted in the main by the two hydrologists’ positive report on Tharsis. Soon there existed a world-wide body of growing strength and ubiquity which stood in defiance of what the British Foreign Minister had described as ‘the New Dark Ages of Technofrolic’. After renewed Beijing scrutiny, the charter was revised with fresh restrictions: In addition to the ban on any proposed traveller to Mars with a known religious background, there were to be no travellers above forty-five years old (with certain rare exceptions). Signing members guaranteed to supply regular six-monthly contributions to a central fund. In exchange, signatories were entitled to receive directly any fresh scientific discoveries from Mars. The news of the hydrologists’ discovery had travelled faster than their ship. The names of Simpson and Prestwick were already forgotten by the media by the time the automatic call sign on their tiny returning ship sounded at Luna Lookout. Luna signalled the vessel to come in. No reply was received. An emergency ship was sent up. This space plane had been manufactured in nine days in the city of Chenggong, an urban development of forty-nine million people. The Aquabatic, with its freight of the two hydrologists, was gaining speed, heading towards the Sun. The rescuers locked on to its hull, sending a sequence of calls to those within. They went unanswered. A request for instruction was sent to Lookout. Lookout signalled Chicago-Emergency. Chicago advised immediate entry of ship by men in emergency equipment. A hole was cut in the Aquabatic’s hull and a man by the name of Will Donovan, suitably masked, forced his way in. There he found the bodies of the two hydrologists lying in the cramped living quarters, Prestwick on his bunk, Simpson sprawled face-down on the floor. Both men had been dead for several weeks. A discolouring heliotrope showed on their skins and faces. An argument was conducted between ship and ground station; the bodies ought to be left where they were, to make their final journey into the Sun undisturbed – the public must not be alarmed by these unanticipated deaths. Alternatively, the bodies should be encapsulated and brought to Hospital Luna under conditions of secrecy, for research purposes. This was the view that won the day. The corpses were transferred to the rescue ship. Remaining behind to be forever lost were recordings of their vellicative memories. The Aquabatic was left to drift on its course towards the Sun. The mystery illness that had stricken the hydrologists served as a warning that it was not simply from the void that dangers could strike. Humanity carried with it many metabolic organisms that eluded interrogation. At least the disaster led to more cautious preparation for large vessels attempting the gulfs of space. Any person going aboard was subjected to rigorous medical examination which included a period of quarantine. A rocket named Zubrin was the second piece of UU hardware to cross the approximately 50 million miles to Mars. All launches, including this one, were scheduled to take advantage of the best possible mutual orbits. More advanced than the hydrologists’ ship, it carried on board no living thing, only an android robot of some size and strength. The android survived both the flight and the landing, whereupon it proceeded to unload building materials, emergency food rations, and some tanks of oxygen, in preparation for future settlers. ‘For my next trick …’ as the android would have said, had it the wit, Zubrin turned itself into a drill and began to drill down through the regolith in the expectation of hitting subterranean water. All this in preparation for the arrival of human beings, poor frail biological constructs who would need water – and much else besides. Later, later … Politics thrives on delays. First of all, the UU, still developing and having now signed up Moscow University, pursued the programme known as D&D (standing for Distance and Danger). The distance problem was regarded as a ten-month ordeal, sometimes less. It had to be endured between Earth and Mars. New faster space planes were cutting journey times. Humans back in the Paleolithic age had accustomed themselves to dealing with distances, when hunter-gathering enforced ceaseless movement of groups and tribes. The challenge of distances in space was met by the development of a plasma drive, instead of a chemical drive, which made journeys faster and a good deal safer. There still remained among the dangers exposure to radiation during the journey. Three forms of radiation were known, protons emanating from the Sun, heavy ions from cosmic rays, and the newly discovered normon, radiating from the Oort Cloud. (At this time, the normon was regarded as benevolent, indeed as a helpful propagator of microscopic life on early Earth.) If shielding were added to the space vehicle it would slow its progress, prolonging time of exposure. Cataracts and cancers would still occur. For at least another century, the visit to Mars was generally regarded as a one-way trip. Only Barrin was to make it both ways. Still, there were those, and not the most foolhardy either, who spoke out to say it was necessary to leave Earth, an Earth by now riddled, like death watch beetles in old timber, with threats including random procreation (now recognised as another contribution to global warming), new super-bugs, missile systems, and hostile and distraught dictatorial states. Supposing the pioneers were to die on Mars: they were already on what Hamlet had termed ‘a place from whose bourn no traveller returns!’ Corpses would be wrapped in polythene and left to mummify by an outer wall. The first arrivals, sponsored and supported by UU, found themselves suffering from many lesser maladies which light Martian gravity did little to heal. Brave hearts had had less reason to pump strongly in the weightlessness of the journey. Bones and muscles had been weakened, despite rigorous exercise-routines compulsory on the trip. Broken bones were frequent – but lo! The miracle! There one stood on the planet Mars – even if only with a crutch! Space anaemics, deficient in red blood cells, vied with the crippled for beds in temporary Martian hospital wards. Even injured, they set machines to building permanent bases, the towers – all under the watchful eye of Barrin. Six towers now stood on the Tharsis bulge. Some towers were taller than others, some more substantial, depending on UU contributions. There were connections between all of these outposts of humanity and also, inevitably, some mistrust, the dregs of old hostilities. In the settlement, West and Chinese were closest and in friendly communication. For stay-at-homes, photographs of the half-dozen buildings standing in defiance on the Tharsis Shield were as popular as studies of Earth seen from Moon had once been, or kittens wearing ribbons still were. 5 (#) The Shape of the UU (#) Mangalian had had a say in the positioning of this, the settlement, and even the universal sale of its photographs. Under his guidance, the UU’s Mars enterprise progressed rapidly. He showed undoubted flair. NASA/Beijing had a stable organisation with a patient professional ability to plan projects which would not come to fruition until years later. The UU formed a union with NASA, and benefitted from this planning. The UU/NASA union instigated a raft of interviews and examinations, dedicated to continuous selection of those of either sex prepared to prove themselves good citizens of a distant planet. Only the educated and adventurous need apply. ‘The wise and the wild,’ as news shriekers had it. The Union issued non-return certificates to those whose credentials had been accepted. Many had already taken up their situations in the Tharsis region, in the towers, accepting that there was no return to planet Earth. Potential colonists continued to join. Only four years later, a dedicated worker from Mangalian’s main office, Rosemary Cavendish, went to Mars herself. She adopted the humbler name of Noel. A new department in UU/NASA had suggested that terrestrial names should be replaced by computerised names for use on Mars. It symbolised a new beginning, and a marginal amount of finance would be saved. For a while this system was used, eventually to be abandoned in the face of the confusion it caused. Too many people were rejecting their new name from the start. Rosemary/Noel had an important role in Mangalian’s grand theatre. She was made Director of the West tower immediately after her arrival there. So the colonisation process continued towards its remarkable outcome. A few years passed. Bernard Tibbett and his partness Lulan entered the scene. Lulan was a retired President of Harvard University and Bernard Head of Harvard Business School. Tibbett was voted official banker and President of World UU. A short sharp man, he became known for his energies as the Terrier. His partness – a woman intolerant of weakness – was the Grey Wolf. People – ‘the great un-castrated’ in the Grey Wolf’s words – should not mourn at funerals but celebrate – one more over-populator, one more consumer, less. This forbidding couple had more than money and status invested in the distant Martian Towers. The Terrier had a younger sister, once called Dolores, but now on Mars and renamed Sheea. Sheea, the Terrier learnt, was now pregnant, despite only having been on the planet a few months. Curiously, no name of the inseminator had been given. Good care was being taken of her. Sheea had been moved to stay the West tower gestation ward and was on a special diet. Everyone was hoping for a successful birth. Tibbett was making a speech when the news that his distant sister was going into labour came through. The Terrier was immediately anxious for his sister’s well-being, but had to attend to the meeting. The delegates were at a regular committee. On this occasion the honoured guest, Barrin, was attending. Barrin appeared in a wheelchair. He had been on Mars and returned to Earth. The King of England had given him a medal especially coined for the occasion. Barrin vowed to go back to his colleagues on Mars, but his legs were unlikely to permit it. More significant, he was having problems with breathing. His lungs had already been equipped with a chemical pump. ‘We of UU,’ said Tibbett, stroking his chin and frowning, ‘constantly worry about the expense of sustaining the Mars operation. Rightly so. We need better vehicles, more space planes, to carry larger cargoes. We might then be able to drastically reduce the present number of trips, thus keeping to a minimum the number of expensive rockets lying unused on Tharsis. If even a half of the investment spent on military matters – now that the morally unjustified, short-sighted invasion of Kazakhstan and the bombing of Alma Ata is over – was invested in the construction of better space vehicles with more effective propellant systems … Well, as you know, experiments are taking place in Chenggong. A prospectus to this effect is already being drawn up. ‘We must noise it in the press and the squealers and shriekers, otherwise the news will be suppressed. We are already at the planning stage.’ After a brief coffee break, the Principal of the University of South Africa rose to protest that volunteers for visits to Mars were forced to stay as they would not be allowed to return to Earth. ‘This is a punitive feature of the deal. We would have many more volunteers if they could return after, say, a six month stay.’ The delegate from Oxford University responded. ‘Those who make the decision to go to Mars must leave Earth as exiles. It would prove impossible to finance such comings and goings as proposed; the expense would defeat our objectives. Besides which, this restriction on movement simply excludes the faint-hearted. We need only the brave and wise to begin habitation. Soon, children, we hope, will be born on Tharsis. They will be the guarantors of our serious intentions.’ A murmur of agreement went round the chamber. Of course – children! Without children, no future, no permanence … But therein lay a tragic history, so far suppressed. Other matters brought other disputes. Tibbett summed up one of them. ‘We applaud the strong measures being taken by our colleagues in South China’s universities for their new decision to curb population growth. I know that when Miss Ban Mu Kai takes over my position as president in October, she will support and amplify our recent report on Sub-Saharan Africa, still the region with the most profligate birth rates and lowest average life-spans.’ A woman from the University of Hawaii rose to her feet and protested that much more and not much less should be done to educate the women of Africa. Tibbett was unmoved. ‘Colonial incursions into Africa in the Nineteenth Century only made a bad situation worse. ‘It is up to this region to solve its own problems. In the past, millions have been squandered on aid, almost always to zero effect. Throwing money at corruption is worse than useless. Intervention, interference, of any kind, whether criminal or benevolent, should be proscribed, subject to legal penalties.’ At this point there was another word from the floor. Barrin himself raised his hand. ‘Sir, I am here from Mars to attend this and other world meetings. My name is Barrin. If I interpret your statement correctly, you encourage the UU to leave Africa to its ills unaided. Against such ruthlessness, it would appear that we of the Mars project also have much to fear in the way of withdrawal of necessary funding.’ ‘You are welcome here, sir,’ said the Terrier, addressing Barrin. ‘But your fears are – and I intend no pun – groundless. When the UU established themselves as a group with an identity, the Mars project – suggested by Mangalian and supported by NASA/Beijing – was the very first item on the agenda, and has remained so. And will remain so. ‘The success of the UU Mars project is absolutely vital for this troubled planet too. ‘I will remind you and everyone here that we were prompted into our existing unification by the continuing increase in population figures. The global population has been increasing since as far back as 1350, but it has only been in the last century, with better medical care and longer fertility, that it has become frightening – truly unbearable. We are living crushed together, stacked on top of each other. Existence has become miserable. As our colleague, Lee Kuan Shi, remarked – an oft-quoted saying – “We gotta get outta here!”’ A ripple of pleasure passed through the audience on hearing this old refrain. During the days when the pressure to establish the Mars base was at its most fervent, ‘We gotta get outta here!’ became a slogan that helped win the day. Addressing Barrin directly, Tibbett said, ‘We will schedule your preliminary report for the afternoon session. You will be able to speak at 4 p.m.’ He then continued with his main summary. ‘Problems are mounting up. The USA’s UU Bureau of Statistics reports an increase in the incursions of super-bugs, widespread food shortages and lack of drinkable water. And, as we know, bee populations are nearly wiped out, and attempts to artificially replicate their ecological role have failed. Life expectancy continues its upward climb in the West, with declining tolerance for anyone over the age of ninety-five. We must make our decisions on this issue, and– Excuse me!’ His squealer was ringing. Lifting it to his ear, he said that he had given instructions he was not to be disturbed. A message was quietly delivered. Tibbett sat staring down at his desk. Then, seeming to pull himself together, he beckoned Barrin closer to the podium. He spoke to him behind a sheltering hand. ‘You should inform the audience,’ Tibbett said. ‘It’s my sister but it’s your province. This is good news. Let’s use it to balance the bad news.’ Barrin protested. The Terrier insisted. Swivelling the wheelchair, Barrin turned to face the audience. He spoke, with a tremor in his voice. ‘I know this family on Tharsis. The partness’ name is Sheea. He’s Phipp. Sheea has borne a living child. A living child! We rejoice at this news.’ The response of the audience was mixed. Many were simply pleased. A few, better informed, remained sceptical. Barrin continued. ‘Some of you academics may know this but thousands of ordinary people have been kept in ignorance. But I must now state plainly that until this child of Sheea’s arrived alive, no woman on Tharsis has ever borne a living child. Baby bodies were born broken, distorted, dead …’ He paused to choke back tears. ‘Yes, broken, dead, some with no legs, some with eggshell skulls, one of them with no brain at all … ‘The President has said I should tell you this. So far, only eighty-five babies have been born in the West tower. And all were stillborn.’ There were some aghast cries from the audience at his words. ‘Yes, still-born. Eighty-five. Malformed, as I’ve said. The grief of it … impossible to describe.’ A woman in the audience shouted, ‘How did this happen? How could it happen?’ Barrin could not go on. Tibbett took over, to continue in a slightly steadier voice. ‘The number of these miscarriages has tailed off, these last two years – simply because Tharsis women refuse to become pregnant, knowing, fearing, what the outcome will almost inevitably be. ‘Sheea is – we all believe – incredibly fortunate. Her child lives. ‘He was born only a couple of hours back. Sadly, he is deformed and is not well. We will keep this information from the public. ‘But the great thing is we have a living Martian child at last!’ Most of the audience rose and clapped. Then the questions began. Eighty-five stillbirths! How could it be? 6 (#) Mangalian Among the Ladybirds (#) A small courtyard behind one of the buildings of the Sorbonne in Paris contained an oak bench and table. The news of the birth had not yet reached Paris. Mangalian, unaware of the momentous news, was sitting relaxing on a bench. He had been guest lecturing to the Earth Sciences students on the colonisation so far, and the merits of going to live in what he had described as ‘the new old world’ of Mars. After lunch, a debate had been held with Mangalian and Adrien Amboise on one side – for the necessity of the Martian venture – and a group of German and Chinese scientists on the other. Sunshine bathed the courtyard with mellow light and warmth. In the cracks between the flagstones with which the courtyard was paved, small weeds had sprung up. In one of the cracks near Mangalian grew a little yellow flower with tiny spiked petals and a fuzzy rich heart the size of a baby’s fingernail. Mangalian was idly watching a ladybird. It crawled over the leaves of the weed to the flagstone, where it made haste to walk to the distant stalk of another weed. On reaching the stalk, the insect climbed it, opened its wing case, and flew away. He wondered what impulse governed it. Could it feel contentment or discontent? On what did it feed? How would it die? He had not studied such matters, although he imagined the insects went from eggs to larvae to the adult form he had been watching. What could it feel like to undergo such a transformation? Would humanity undergo as dramatic a transformation on Mars? What might happen to Rosemary? – Rosemary who had taken flight just like the ladybird. He realised at that point – as a man was approaching from the nearby building – that his ladybird had no spots on its wing-case. He had assumed that all ladybirds had spots. Possibly this was a new evolutionary variety, adapting to the environs of Paris. The man approaching stood before Mangalian, smiling. This was Adrien Amboise, Professor of Medical Studies at the Sorbonne. Amboise was about forty-five, trim and sporting a small moustache. He wore a gown. His father had worked at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, where he had fallen in love with and married in old-fashioned style the elegant German woman whose researches led to the later discovery of the normon. Mangalian admired both Adrien’s father and his intellectually formidable mother. And, normally, would delight in conversation with Adrien. However, at the moment, he wanted only an hour’s peace, but he rose and the men shook hands. ‘I apologise for interrupting your reverie.’ ‘Don’t worry. I was only thinking about ladybirds.’ Amboise looked confused. After a slight pause, he said, ‘I too am an admirer of the ladies.’ ‘What can I do for you? Do you wish to apply to me for a life on Mars?’ Mangalian was speaking jokingly, after relaxing in the sun and not feeling avid for conversation. He had been thinking of Rosemary Cavendish, regretting that he had been so chaste where she was concerned. But there had been a kind of hauteur in her manner. Well, all that was but a dream … Already, it was five years since Rosemary had left Earth for her Tharsis occupation. ‘Sadly, monsieur, the idea of living on Mars is a bad dream, so I have come to believe.’ Adrien Amboise endeavoured to show regret. He stood there poised and graceful, in a suit, in the sun, smiling politely as he gazed at Mangalian, who had showed no inclination to get up from his chair. ‘I would support you in a debate, but that is not for me. Here on Earth, continual disturbance, distraction, disaster … but on Mars – what? Continual boredom … And the unresolved stillbirth problem …’ ‘Yet to be on that silent planet, Adrien … Isn’t that a wonderful success? Applied science … It’s a dream that has been pondered for some centuries and is now more than just a dream – a waking dream which–’ ‘Oh, of course for over two centuries there have been stories – as there have been ghost stories – what you may call the science fiction – but they are made for superficial adventure, as the often uninspired writing indicates–’ ‘Ah, so you are not only a medico but a critic of literature!’ Mangalian, with a curl of his lip, stared into the distance as he spoke. ‘No, no, no, but such tales had no true deliberation, only conveying thrills of conquest or doom. A shallow fiction …’ Mangalian would not let such a sweeping generalisation pass. ‘Well, sir, as a mere boy on San Salvador, I happened on a story by a Mr Wells. Later in life, I heard he was celebrated and respected, although he wrote of things that did not exist in reality. This particular book that caught my fancy was called The War of the Worlds, although I found it was rather “The War against Woking”, of which I had never heard until then. That story denigrates mankind. It is a chastisement, a real fiction, an analogy. There is no hero – or if there is a hero, then it is a bacillus.’ Amboise stared up at the sky, as if in the hope that his impatience might steam off to the troposphere. ‘But H.G. Wells was an exception. A chastisement, as you put it. It does not prove the rule. Immediately after Mr Wells’s book appeared, an American journalist wrote a sequel in which a fleet of ships led by a Professor Edison went to Mars and knocked – what is your phrase? – yes, knocked hell from them … You see, no morality, just violence. The irony of Wells is lost amid all the aggression.’ Mangalian did not answer, merely sighing. Silence fell. Amboise feared he had offended the visitor. ‘I do not object to fantasy, please understand me. Indeed, in my boyhood I read a story called The Sword of Rhiannon, set on an imaginary Mars. It was a romance pure and simple, aiming only at a pretty tale. In my memory the simple prose held no subordinate clauses, not one. I am no snob. I loved that story.’ Mangalian became stony-faced. ‘Have you another subject in mind to discuss?’ 7 (#) The Care of a Child (#) ‘Excuse me,’ said Amboise. He thrust his hands into his trouser pockets, indicating that he was only partially regretful for his remarks. ‘I wished to make the point that any idea of mankind – including the ladies of whom you and I are so fond – actually living on this Planet Rouge is meretricious. Not only will humanity there slowly die out, but there is a more serious aspect.’ ‘Such as?’ ‘I may phrase it briefly,’ said Amboise. ‘You UU people, if I may so call you, m’sieu, have a selection procedure whereby intelligent and balanced personalities are accepted to fly away and be lost to this world – which badly requires them. We need precisely such people here, m’sieu. There is a shortage of the grave and the good.’ A tabby cat jumped off the nearby wall. It sat upright, front paws together, watching the two men as if sitting in judgement upon them. ‘I see your point,’ said Mangalian, ‘but the universities of Bordeaux and Toulouse evidently do not, since they have already joined the UU.’ Amboise swept away both Bordeaux and Toulouse with a gesture of his hand. ‘We require those fine personalities here because we need hope in the world. Such personalities represent a saner future. No more missile systems but systems of civilised living. Such is my hope.’ ‘Hope? But it is hope that overcomes all difficulties and takes us to Mars. The colony has now been working for – what? Almost ten years. No living child born as yet, malheureusement, but … You are hoping against hope because you can see this world of ours, this worn old world, is still without sanity or balance, despite all the wise and well-intentioned personalities there have ever been, of both sexes, over the centuries.’ Amboise sighed. ‘Yes, and also those millions who live quiet lives. Who perform minor good works for the unfortunate – the feeding of the infirm, let’s say, the reading of stories to illiterates – in their squares and streets and possibly homes. But perhaps they did not disturb themselves with hope and had to live for the day.’ ‘That’s a waste of resources, sir. A vegetable existence. It’s better to be pessimistic, to worry about the world, to reach out for a new thing, a new chance, to be never satisfied.’ Mangalian paused, remembering. So he had let Rosemary go; she was now but a name. ‘I grew up among brothers and sisters. We were happy but mischievous. We regretted we lived confined to such a small island as San Salvador. Excellent swimmers, yes, but poor thinkers. Perhaps that may be what prompts me as an adult to regret we live on such a small planet.’ ‘… and Mars is even smaller,’ said Amboise, smiling falsely. ‘You’ll find that its land area is the equal in extent to Earth’s.’ With his hands in his pockets, Amboise strolled about in a circle, thinking, his shadow forming a confused pattern at his feet. The cat moved cautiously away from him. ‘We are not getting far, Mr Mangalian. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” My hope is also for tomorrow, that you can retain your useful scheme of UU, but you do not send into exile people who are our “hope for tomorrow”.’ Impatiently, Mangalian said, ‘There is a conflict of hope. You do not, I believe, hope at all. You fear. If I agree with that quote from what’s-his-name, I do truly hope for tomorrow, hope for, strive for, a new and better existence on our neighbouring world.’ Amboise gave a strained laugh. ‘As a keen horseman, I have no wish to be ever on Mars. I understand that the planet suffers from permanent grass shortage.’ Mangalian shrugged. ‘Maybe, in time, our descendants will discover existences far beyond the modest world of Mars. Human beings will always struggle for greater understanding. We know conditions will be harsh initially, but we shall triumph.’ ‘Conditions will not be harsh. They will be impossible.’ ‘You see, you have no hope! In any case, I cannot halt what already has momentum beyond my control. You should voice your fears elsewhere. Come to a UU meeting. I must go. I have another appointment.’ He nodded curtly to the Professor of Medical Studies, rose, and walked out of the courtyard. The cat followed him as far as the gate. An armed guard, Yat, awaited him outside the premises. He cared for Mangalian as if he were his child. And Mangalian, when he was a small boy, long before he was big enough to think of chasing women, had certainly loved his father. San Salvador was not a large island. It grew sugar cane. Mangalian’s father had been a sharecropper – cast off by his employers without pension as was the custom at the age of sixty. He walked with the aid of a staff taller than himself, painted white. He walked slowly, so that his son could easily keep up with him. His father liked to stroll by the sea. They would walk along the front, past the row of thatched-roof shops until they came to the last shop, a small café. There they sat, under a large sun umbrella. Father would order Coke. Sometimes they would talk. Father liked to spout old country sayings. ‘Just because you’re an idiot don’t mean to say you’re sillier than me.’ ‘You can be ready for anything, but that don’t say you ain’t good for nothin’.’ Father kept a hold of his staff as they listened to the screeching of the gulls and watched the waves break on the shore. Mangalian went barefoot into the little saloon to buy a second bottle of Coke. A radio perched on a shelf behind the bar was giving out news in a tinny voice. ‘Capitalist astronomers in Tampa, Florida, just now claimed that we’ve got company. We are in what they call a binary system, with a dwarf star out beyond the Oort Cloud. Meanwhile, “Baby-Face” Morte was captured by police last night, about to set off for Cuba. Charged with the murder of the dancer, Francesca Pagnesa– Clutching the Coke bottle, Mangalian went out to his father. ‘Pop, what’s a binary system?’ ‘Son, that just means there’s two of whatever. Fact is, the more you learn, the more you find you don’t know.’ The gulls still sailed and screeched overhead, as if in mockery. His son looked down at the sand between his bare toes. Later, as an adult, Mangalian liked to say that this was the moment when he decided he must get off the island, put on shoes, and start learning about astronomy and many other things with which the capitalist world seemed stocked. So he liked to say. He could even recall the taste of the Coke. But memory was uncertain – although the anecdote made a good tale when, much later, he was being interviewed at one grand meeting or another. BABY BOOM ON RED PLANET NO WATER – BUT CHRISTENING NOW DUE ‘A MIRACLE’ SAYS MARVELLING MOTHER IT’S A BOY! EVEN BETTER: IT’S ALIVE Such were some of the headlines in squealers and squeakers all round the world, driving out the exciting news that nine hundred intending immigrants from Africa had been shot dead within Italian waters, off the coast of Catanzaro. Other news began to re-emerge, but Mars still appeared in some headlines. KUWAIT ON FIRE – SEGREGATION RIOTS TO BLAME ITALIAN PRESIDENT’S PARTNESS POISONED TWENTY UN TROOPS KILLED IN KALMYTSKAYA THARSIS CELEBRATES NEW BABY In fact there was little celebration in the Tharsis settlement, as the Terrier found when he spoke on the shrieker. A small Chinese delegation came to offer felicitations to the Western tower. Phipp officiated at the gate in a suppressed rage. Local people, aware that Sheea had taken another lover and wishing to tease, or not knowing he’d quarrelled with Sheea, kept congratulating him. But the amazing baby had been sired by someone unknown. Sheea still would not give the name of her lover, and was in a weakened state, needing nursing. Her baby lay by her side. It was of a yellowy colour and malformed. Oxygen was being fed to it through a Perspex mask. ‘But how is Dolores herself?’ the Terrier asked. Twenty minutes was consumed in getting word to Mars, with another twenty minutes for a response. ‘She is in a somewhat depressed state, but being brave. The child is still alive. But unconscious.’ Such was the response from a nurse who then severed communication. Tibbett found he needed a strong drink. Daze and Piggy, two of Sheea’s three Earth-born children, sat anxiously near their mother’s bed, speaking – when they spoke – in whispers. Squirrel, Sheea’s senior child, was nowhere to be seen. As Phipp grudgingly let in the Chinese delegation, one of the men stared curiously at him. Ill-tempered as he was, Phipp challenged the man. ‘What are you staring at me for?’ ‘No, I don’t stare,’ was the reply. ‘You are to be congratulated to have a living child born here. Why you are not pleased?’ For answer, Phipp seized the man by the throat and shook him. Uproar broke out. Guards burst in. The Chinese punched Phipp. Phipp was dragged away, kicking savagely. The guards pushed him into a side chamber. ‘What the hell are you thinking about, you fool? You have disgraced us. The Chinese are – or were – our friends.’ ‘Look, some bastick got up my partness. Why not that guy – giving me that gloating stare?’ ‘You’re psychotic. Why should some Chinese guy sneak into her bed? And you don’t own Sheea. We don’t do such things here. It’s psychoanalysis for you. And you’ve lost your job.’ The news of this incident circulated fast. No one was happier to hear that Phipp would be confined than was his son Squirrel. Still, Squirrel could not bring himself to face his mother. Just a half hour of dear wicked pleasure and he was disgraced for ever – yes, disgraced, even if his act had produced the first living Martian baby … He could never tell anyone about that. 8 (#) The Death of a Hero (#) Barnard and Lulan escorted Barrin by ambulance to St Thomas’s Hospital in the heart of London. He had collapsed just as the session ended. The hospital buildings were surrounded by solid concrete blocks, one storey high. Armed men looked out from the rooftops. Suicide-bombers had attacked the hospital almost from the moment Barrin had arrived, indifferent to any other casualties. These attackers, the faithful, acted in accord with a passage from the Koran which says, ‘Neither on earth nor in heaven shall you escape His reach: nor have you any besides God to protect or help you. Those that disbelieve God’s revelations and deny that they will ever meet Him shall despair of My mercy. A woeful punishment awaits them.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/brian-aldiss/finches-of-mars/?lfrom=390579938) на ЛитРес. 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