The Gods of Mars
They walked cautiously through the thick ground cover, even though Xaero had been careful to not include carnivorous plants in the seed mixes she'd used so far. She judged the trees to be only fifty or so years old, so the dome must have held up for most of the century's abandonment.
Time had destroyed the metal door hardware, but left the plastic and glass intact. They had to force the door open, and use their machetes to hack a path through. Once past the first few strides the underbrush died out and the tree limbs lifted in the competition for light. Tall vances, their lower trucks devoid of leaves, stood straight among the more gnarled and branching blue trees. Xaero frowned. "I don't remember some of these."
"Stray seeds from Blue?" Trev asked.
"Must be." Xaero agreed. Something crunched underfoot, and she stooped and picked up a seed nearly as large as her palm. "How I managed to over look these, I haven't a clue. Trev, mind the pet—It's gotten a bit large."
"It's only a couple of strides high. You used all dwarf varieties, didn't you?"
"Yes, I didn't want anything too dangerous, just at first." She touched the rough bark of the magnificent tall spreading broadleaf. Even now she watched for a reaction, but like all Blue plants it ignored her. "Well, however it got here, it's beautiful, and I'm quite happy to share a new home with it. Shall we go check out the rest of the town? The colonists will start arriving in five days."
Chapter The Gods of Mars
"So." Rex bounced on his toes. "We're going to start by finding out what happened to the Martians. We'll jump back thirty-five million years and see what's going on there . . . "
"Why thirty-five million?" Hondo interrupted.
"Give of take twenty thousand years range of uncertainty." Chanel muttered under her breath. Not that anyone heard her, as Rex kept right on talking.
"Half the time gap between now and when we found the Martians in the cretaceous. I wanted to do twice, but OtherRex won the coin toss. Man is he ever pissed that he doesn't get to go. So . . . The new Starshine, the world's first purpose built interstellar ship will . . . "
Lex of Clan Vat, Family Arm was trying to broker a peace treaty between the Hakatap and the Lard tribes when the miracle occurred.
It was a very strange miracle, a ball of fire far up in the heavens that became a black shape falling from the sky. It grew larger, nearer and struck the grounds of the salt plains. And grew larger, nearer, rapidly.
All the visitors to the peace rock scattered as the miracle skidded and slid and slewed to a halt on the rise to the rock, one point of its triangular shape overhanging the rock.
Old Motu, Clan La, Family Heid, cleared his throat. “Either we chose the Peace rock poorly, or you Hakatap are trying to kill us."
His Hakatap rival straightened indignantly, tail snapping in irritation. “This is a sign from the Elder Gods."
Young Moty, who ought to have kept silent, as it was just here to run errands for the older Wisdoms, couldn’t stop its mouth. “What, those salt statues with their half melted off faces?"
“The statues are representative, not the Elder Gods themselves, not that you would understand." The other errand runner heard from. Some child from the Kay Clan. Hecky or some such.
Any momentum toward actual blows was lost as the right edge of the triangle hissed and dropped, forming a slanted ramp up into an interior space. The miracle was hollow.
Movement, random rather than ordered, but they gave ground carefully, none-the-less.
The staggering figure – or was it dancing – reeled down the skewed ramp and collapsed on the rocky slope. It had a mask over its lower face, but pulled it off to reveal a hideous sight. No muzzle at all, below the small eyes. Very short, very fine spines on its head. No tail at all.
Just like the salt statues. The statues didn’t dissolve randomly, they became the images of the Gods!
Lex knelt. “The Elder Gods have come."
Rex hit the rear ramp switch and staggered out to the Martian surface. He collapsed on the red soil and pulled his mask off. “Okay, landing in atmosphere this thin is not easy, I need to think of something before we do that again."
He swallowed, decided he wasn’t going to upchuck and stuck his mask back on his face. Took a deep breath of oxygen, and as the darkness encroaching on his vision faded back to normal, he took his first look around.
Red sand. Red and Black rocks. Multi-colored Martians staring at him.
“Oh." Rex cleared his throat, and took the mask off. “Hi. We come in peace for all mankind." He eyed the array of clubs and knives hanging at scaly bipedal lizard waists. Only one fellow had his hand on one, and hadn’t drawn it.
“Rex, what’s going on?"
“We, umm, won’t have to search very far to find the cute little Martian dinosaurs." Rex smiled. Scaly hands moved toward weapons. He shut his lips abruptly. “Sorry, that was a smile, not a threat gesture. Umm, gee. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of your language when we met your explorers on Earth, uh, thirty-five million years ago. Wow. Do you know, I haven’t a clue how to find out how far off our time jump was." Everything was going dark, again, and he clamped the mask on, took a couple of deep breaths. And a couple more.
“Even an Elder God can’t find breath any more. I wonder where they spend the cold season?" Lex was fascinated, watching the creature on the ground. “Has he captured more air in that mask?"
Old Motu edged closer. “Perhaps we could steal the magic."
“Steal!" Wisdom Goru, Clan Hard, family Rel, stalked forward. “If the God brings gifts we will accept them. Steal? Never!"
Young Moty rushed forward in support of its grandfather.
Hecky stalked forward. The dozen lizards on each side were forming up, eyeing each other.
Lex whistled to regain their attention. “This is a peace conference. And the Sun is getting low. We need to return to our caves, and start again in the morning as the mist thickens the air. Now, perhaps I should take the God with me . . ."
Then the Hakataps all looked beyond the Lards. The Lards turned to look.
There were more Gods.
“Plenty for everyone." Old Motu grinned.
Lex had a sinking feeling in his gizzard. This isn’t going to end well.
Rex, Hondo, Russ and Billy Ray end up with Hakataps, they teach written English, as speech just isn’t going to work. They suggest exploring for even deeper caverns. Russ is impressed by their little geyser fed steam engines for pumping air, and assists in improvements, and then the building of bigger pumps when the big cavern is discovered. (Billy Ray has some basic seismic equipment.) Hondo’s knowledge of the shapes of propellers helps the pump project. Rex has the start up enthusiasm, and is the main teacher of English.
Chanel and Mark (photog) with the Lards, Chanel is adamant that they give no tech boost to the Martians: “What sort of threat could they be in thirty-five million years, if they don’t go extinct. You lot keep babbling about dinosaurs and these guys being high tech time travelers. Maybe they dropped that asteroid on the dinosaurs, and maybe they’ll do the same for humans."
“Thirty-five million years is a long time. Even modern civilizations don’t last that long."
“You hope. Just keep taking pictures, and don’t show them any tricks!"
He turned away, muttering something about " . . . ball-buster."
Damn straight. But visual communications . . . she got out her note book and assembled a simple written English vocabulary and started teaching the more sensible lizards their meanings.
They got through colors and numbers, demonstrated the verbs, body parts, clothing, rocks, sand, caves, wind and water. The lizards picked it up quickly, and scratched their own writing below hers. And to her bemusement, they quickly produced ceramic tiles with the words in both language, easy to shuffle around for the formation of sentences.
Finally, for lack of anything better to try and communicate, she found herself explaining why most humans had three names, even though rarely more than two were needed. And as their written English vocabulary expanded, the importance of written laws that even the most powerful had to obey. They actually approved of that, but with a few sly glances toward the big chief, who was ignoring them.
Vera and Steve with Lex and other small Clans, giving lessons in cooking, flower arranging, feng shui and martial arts.
“So, what do you do, when you’re not being Hondo’s co-pilot?"
Steve glanced over his shoulder at her. “Well, I teach Yoga, meditation and martial arts, part time."
“And the rest of the time?"
“I help people understand the feng shui of their homes, and how to improve the energy flow."
“Keep you very busy?"
“No. That’s why I work for the florist."
“Flower arranging?" Vera scowled. “Are you gay?"
“Yes. Is that a problem?"
“I’m stranded on an alien planet thirty-five million years in the past, and the handsome man stranded with me is gay? Yeah, I’d call that a problem."
Steve sniffed, cleared his throat, looked away. Snorted. Lost control and started laughing. Howling. Sat down on the floor and laughed until he cried. He finally got his breath back. “In college I majored in interpretive dance."
Vera looked up at the rock roof. Closed her eyes. “Just kill me now. There’s no point in dragging this out."
Steve started using his interpretive dance to demonstrate the feng shui. Vera was presented with new spices, and tried for something vaguely chinese. And she used a combination of starchy powder and sweet powder to make fortune cookies. The dinos were thrilled with the little fortunes she wrote on scraps of paper. Of course, she was probably wrong with the Martian writing she did, and they couldn't read the English on the other side. Perhaps she could inadvertently insult the chief or whatever they called the Leader, and get herself thrown out and taken back to the Space plane. It would work as a book plot, but unfortunately not in real life, on Mars.
The Martian boys, examining the spaceship, recognize only books, and cutlery. The Hakatap nabs “Famous Quotes" “Yogi Berra’s Greatest" and “Government and the Law". The Lard grabs all the knives in the kitchen.
One long gut wrenching moment, and they were floating. Looking up at a beautiful blue-and-white globe.
Chanel sat back with a sigh of relief. “Can you pick up any radio stations? We need a date and time, so we don’t overlap with ourselves. Or change history or something. Again."
Billy Ray pointed out the window. “There’s the International Space Station, so we’re right, give or take a couple of years."
Rex waved. “I got the Weather Chanel. Hey, we’ve only been gone five days. Should we equalize elapsed time? I mean, we were gone, what, close to three months? But I hate missing the fall weather. Best time of the year, in Texas. "
They all swapped shrugs. Vera fiddled with the radio and double checked the date. Hondo contacted the Johnson Space Center. Chanel calculated their velocity relative to the ground, and found it slow enough for a single jump to a very high altitude. They reentered fast enough to burn off all biological matter. Barely.
Hondo turned for home, and their previously agreed upon four weeks of isolation.
Johnson Space Center came back on the radio as the interference from the burn off faded. The speaker sounded indignant.
"It's not our fault you didn't believe us. We publicized the first flight of the Starship Mutt up one side and down the other. Now. We'll be landing at the La Grange airport and isolate ourselves. You can send anyone you want to talk to us, but once inside the hanger, he'll have to stay for the full four weeks."
Nothing from anyone else, but jet fighters closed in on them. They all waved from the ports as the pilots closed in to check them out in detail.
"Bet words are flying, where we can't hear them!" Rex chuckled and bounced from side to side of the cabin.
Chanel stretched and rubbed her eyes. “You know, I never even touched my luggage. Didn’t crack the book I brought to read." Yep, there was the case, undisturbed, except for the book. A new look at law and government in the US.
She frowned around the cabin. “Anyone seen my book?"
Heads shook. Rex leaned back and pointed. “Is it up on the shelf with . . . hey! Where’d my books go?"
Steve popped his case open. "My Haiku book is gone."
Chanel rubbed her arms. "Doubtful they could ever translate them . . . What are you missing, Rex?"
" 'Yogi Berra’s Greatest' and 'Famous Quotes Through the Ages.' It’s not as funny as Yogi, but . . ." He stooped and looked under the cabinets. "Huh. Probably being used as fire starters, thirty-five million years ago."
Chanel nodded. “Otherwise we could corrupt the whole future of the Martian Dinosaurs." Should not have taught them how to read English . . . but it was only a few hundred words, at the most. What harm can it do?
The four books were laid reverently on polished hides and illuminated by ranks of candles. Vases of flowers and greenery stood at either end, brilliant mixtures that somehow blended to please the eye.
The Priests finished the translation and turned in a graceful sweep to the quiet mass of lizards waiting in the warm cathedral.
“When you come to a fork in the road, it is important to take it."
A deep sigh ran around the vast cavernous room. “We will meditate on it."