February 14, 2015

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 65: Paolo Enroute

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.

But why did the satellite – or whatever it was – have the ability to broadcast in the ultrasonic in the first place? “In space,” went the apocryphal aphorism, “no one can hear you scream.”

He set the chamber to 55o nm and 38,412 Hz or 38 kHz, slowing the recording rate of the overhead camera and fired again.

Staggering backwards, Paolo Marcillon crumpled to the floor.

When he woke up again, the clock said he’d been out for nearly an hour. His ears rang as if he’d been standing near an active launch pad on Earth without sound cancelling headgear. The headache this time was worse. He took another dose of analgesic then looked into the airlock.

Nothing had changed. Humans typically used smooth titanium or aluminum shells, either boxy or misshapen but this was pebbled in some way – not abraded by micrometeoroids like cheap sats were after a couple years in orbit. It wasn’t even spherical – though that might be explained by him running over it with the ‘bug. Even so, it didn’t look like it had been crushed, either. It looked to him as if it had been made this way.

There was nothing that made it look like it could have landed, though one end was slightly wider than that other and there were four tapered bumps that had been placed equilaterally around it. It had also had markings under a strong green light – at 550 nanometers. They’d been incomprehensible but clearly intelligently shaped. “Alien” tried to shove itself into his head and he resisted. Everyone on Mars was aware that one of their missions had been to find life, or even evidence of life on the Red Planet. But they’d been here over a hundred years, and despite the best efforts of wild-eyed alienologists, there was nothing verifiable, no unambiguous “dinosaur” fossils – or even “trilobite” fossils. Even hotly debated claims over “algae fossils” ebbed and flowed as if they had a mind of their own.

It had become a matter of ne0-religious belief to alienologists on par with the early 21st Century belief that Humans alone – even seven billion of them – could destroy the environment of a living world and alter its climate on any significant scale. He shook his head, the hubris was astonishing. Believing in any metaphysical higher being was easier.

He saved the recording of both the markings and the satellite’s response to the ultrasound, then muted the recording and watched it in slow motion. Across the bottom of the screen, the frequency climbed by tenths of a wavelength.

At exactly 38.412 kHz the surface of the satellite spiked. He paused, reversed then magnified ten times. One of the pebble bumps grew into a spike when the key frequency was reached. He froze the image and magnified again, noticing that the spikes were not identical. He reversed the magnification, but the differences disappeared. He was no audio visual expert, so he said to the ship’s computer, “What would this image look like if I was doing a medical ultrasound?”

The image vanished for a few moments and when it reappeared, he couldn’t understand what he saw at first. Scowling, he ordered the image to rotate slowly. Still nothing. Then he asked it to reverse the magnification again until the entire satellite was visible. Even then, he couldn’t identify anything until the image grew to include the entire airlock.

That was when he gasped as the image of a Human-scaled being shaped like a dolphin – in the same way a Human was shaped like a chimpanzee – floated in the air. It turned to face the camera and it was at that point that he’d passed out.

“The hell?” he muttered. He stared for a long time before he finally said, “Looks like the alienologists were right.”

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