Into the Face of Mars
Scott Langley

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     "Warning.  You are approaching a preservation boundary marker.  Proceeding beyond this point
may result in prosecution."  The friendly, pleasant, automated warning rang hollow over the speakers built
into the helmet of the e-suit.
     He looked over the rocky landscape. He spotted the warning marker far off in the distance. 
"Magnify 4X."  The heads up display in the face plate of the e-suit focused in on the marker and increased
the image view by four times.  The marker stuck up out of the red ground several hundred meters away.
     They had moved it since his last visit.  It was farther out now, increasing the range of the Cydonian
preserve by as much as two kilometers.  It had been awhile, but he had been here many times before,
standing on this hill over looking the Cydonian face and pyramids, always with his father by his side.  And,
he had to admit, from here, it did indeed look very much like nothing more than mountains worn to red rolling
foot hills by countless years of relentless wind and water.
     Here for the first time without his father, it was like looking over the preserve with new eyes.  Maybe
his father was wrong after all.  Maybe all of his opinions had been his fathers and it took these years of
separation to see things for himself, to see the entire universe with his own eyes.
     One of many such revelations was that his father was considered a crank by many circles.  His
father was an exo-archaeologist of some renown.  Most of that renown came from his vocal adherence to
views considered too extreme for the more conservative tenured set.
     His father is a believer, convinced that the face was an ancestor to the Solkar and the pyramids an
ancient city left behind when Mars' environment became too hostile or simply abandoned when that ancient
species took to the stars. And, his father was always right, just ask him.
     His father's entire adult life was spent appealing to the Science Council for the permits necessary to
study the monuments of Mars, ruining an otherwise promising career.  Every request was denied.
     Decades earlier, the Science Council had ruled the pyramids and face of Mars as natural
formations, mountains worn down by millions of years of erosion.  The face and structured pyramids were
nothing more than shadows, a trick of the light as seen from high orbit.  They declared the sight a natural
preserve and off-limits to prevent collateral erosion from gawking off-world tourists.
     A very nearly areostationary satellite watched from far overhead, warning ships away from that orbit. 
Flight paths were diverted for hundreds of kilometers around the edifice so that no one could pass
overhead.  There were even rumors that the satellite was a Mjollinor class missile platform, ready to destroy
anything that came too close.  His own flight plan took him many kilometers around Cydonia from his
northern approach so that he could land to the south without passing overhead.
     With the image intensifier still set at four times magnification, the landscape zoomed by as he took
in one last look.  Four years of study would come to an end in four days with the graduation assignment and
his first posting to a Union Fleet star vessel.
     The Union Fleet officers' training academy was just a few hundred kilometers from the Cydonian
region of Mars; the Solkar had insisted.  It was one of the few demands made by the normally quiet and
unprepossessing species.  It was made on the insistence that if four years of education were required for an
officer's commission (a requirement never disputed by the Solkar, although the quick-witted Tellu'shia
thought it unnecessary), then it should be spent in a compromise of the comfortably low gravity of Mars.
     Something moved by the pyramids.  From the corner of the face plate it was just a distorted blur. 
He turned his head back to the pyramid with such speed that he almost and lost his balance.  "Magnify
10X."  The maximum magnification that the photronic view screen over the face of the helmet could attain. 
It was a low grade suit, he was after all just a middie.  He cursed himself for forgetting the bi-optic scanner in
the shuttle.
     Shadows scurried at the base of the pyramids.  They were humanoid, but that was all he could
ascertain from this distance.  Whoever they were, they were violating the preservation boundaries as surely
as he would.
     In great leaps and bounds impossible in Earth's gravity, he ran down the hill toward the pyramid,
traversing several kilometers in just a few minutes and with barely any exertion.  The sweetly pleasant voice
reminding him that he was in violation of Union law and may be prosecuted continued to ring in his ears.  He
stopped behind a low ridge where he had a better view.
     The beings scurrying around the base of the pyramid looked for all the world like Solkar.  Their
hairless bodies were covered with a roughly textured grey skin, their heads were large, most of the surface
taken by large, almond shaped, black-on-black eyes.  Their flat features bore a typically Solkaran expression
of constant puzzlement.  He could even see clearly that they had no primary or secondary sex organs or
characteristics, again, typical of the Solkar.
     What was not typical were their size and structure.  They were taller than any Solkar he had ever
seen and their frames were thin to the point of skeletal.  Any Solkar he had ever known was extremely
gaunt, extreme by human standards.  The bodies of these Solkar were too thin to carry conventional internal
     And, strangest of all, none of them wore e-suits.  There were several Solkar in his class at the
Academy, they all went through EVA training with e-suits.  He had never heard any rumors or stories about
Solkar walking around Mars without e-suits.  As far as he knew, they should be dead, just as surely as any
human so exposed. 
     Something grabbed at him from behind.  Remembering his martial arts training, he twisted free
easily.  It was one of the skeletal Solkar.  It loomed over him, easily two and a half meters tall.  Instinctively,
he pushed out at it.  It toppled over without resistance.  Another loped over from behind the first.  He
punched at it with the same results, it fell away.
     The Solkar scrambled to their feet and rushed at him again.  Again they tumbled backwards with
only the slightest of efforts.  "External speakers.  Who are you?"  His voice carried poorly in the thin Martian
     They ignored his question and continued their attack.  Off in the distance, the Solkar skeletons at
the base of the pyramid stopped whatever they were doing and turned to the comical struggle.  Human in
thick awkward e-suit pushing the gangling Solkar, sending arms and legs tossing and tumbling in every
     With dozens more Solkar on the way, he decided it was time to leave and leapt back toward the
shuttle.  With long, flexible limbs and a coordinated grace of movement perfectly designed for this
environment, the skeletal Solkar easily overtook him.  Through shear force of numbers, he was
overwhelmed and pulled, pushed, and dragged back to the pyramids.
     At the base of the smallest pyramid, the skeletal Solkar eased away from him.  Bruised and sore, he
pulled himself to his feet using a small boulder for support.  Like any well-trained spacer, his first thought
was for his equipment.  No matter what else was going on, if his equipment failed, he was dead.  He
glanced at status display on the HUD.  All green, the Solkar assault did no damage.
     Closer to the pyramids than ever in his life, it was obvious that the stone was cut, carved into
symmetrical blocks.  The blocks were stacked atop each other, fitted together with irregularly cut joints.  And
it was old, it was old before man walked upright.  At least one entire layer of cut stone was worn through,
leaving just centimeters of stone in some places, meters in others, and crumbling completely to reveal fresh
inner layers some of which had been exposed for a long time themselves.  Wind and water must have
eroded these monuments for millions of years before the atmosphere was blasted off into space and the
planet froze.  For as long as man has walked the Earth, the only weathering on these stones is the
occasional sand storm whipped ineffectually through the thin atmosphere.
     He stood before an opening.  It may have been a proper archway, weathered down to a ragged
crack between massive blocks of stone.  The skeletal Solkar left him, going about their business.  From the
point of view of a young man who had grown up on archeological digs on a dozen alien worlds, it looked like
the Solkar were conducting an excavation.  
     While he was here, what could it hurt to go inside, to collect the evidence that would prove his
father right, to justify a lifetime's work.  Then, from within the pyramid, something gripped his mind.  Fear and
resistance fled and something more overpowering than his own curiosity compelled him into the pyramid. 
He wandered into the pitch black corridors.
     The maze of corridors was complete darkness.  The only light was the instrumentation display in his
helmet.   He could see only a few centimeters in front of his face.  Something guided him through so that he
took each step without hesitation, with complete confidence. 
     The darkness gave way to a pale, sick, green glow.  He walked to the light.  The light opened up
into a small chamber.  The walls were covered in writing of which Egyptian hieroglyphics seemed a pale
imitation.  The green light came from the glow of a bioluminescent paste smeared over the walls in between
the columns of hieroglyphics.
     Small bulbs on the ground shot jets of steam at the paste.  If the paste was organic, the steam
would be providing the heat, gases, and any nutrients needed to live and luminesce.
     The chamber also contained a pair of Solkar.  He was almost relieved to see that they both wore e-
suits.  He came to a stop, standing completely entranced before one of the Solkar.  It looked like a normal
Solkar except for the large, pulsing lobes on the sides of its head.  The helmet of its e-suit was specially
enlarged to accommodate the pulsing lobes.
     With a jerk of control caused by excitement and relief, he looked past the lobed Solkar to the other
Solkar standing behind and to the right.  This Solkar also wore an e-suit and was, in all respects, normal for
a Solkar.  They were classmates.
     He could not remember the name of his classmate.  They had taken a class together, an exo-
sociology class, a class had taught them to tilt their heads to an Idorian in polite conversation and very little
about the society of the Solkar.
     He looked to his classmate, wanting to ask what was going on, why was this happening, but he
could not work his mouth.  Through the face plate of his classmate's e-suit, there was only the same
continual blank stare of abject puzzlement that one found on the face of all Solkar, even the large lobed
Solkar that continued to grip his mind.
     Something new entered his thoughts.  Forced into his mind  by the large lobed one were the racial
memories of the entire Solkar species.  His mind was absolutely inundated beyond all physiological capacity. 
Along with the memories was an apology.  From what, from whom, he was in no rational mind to
     Unable to comprehend and accept, he ran from the chamber and was again guided through the
maze of pitch black corridors.  He stormed out upon the Martian surface and just kept running.  He ran past
the warning marker.  The continual warning ceased buzzing in his ear although at this point he could not tell
the difference.  He ran all the way back to his shuttle.
     Instead of reaching for the control to the shuttle's hatch, he sank to his knees, stirring a cloud of red
Martian dust.  He pulled at the seals of his helmet, fumbling at them through the thick gloves until he at last
pulled them free with a hiss of escaping air.  He grabbed both sides of the helmet and lifted it over his head. 
His ears popped and air was forced out of his lungs in one long sickening gasp.
     The memories of the Solkar race settled as his mind expanded to encompass their meaning.  The
memories converged and collated until he could make sense of them, more than sense, understanding.  In a
matter of seconds, he gained the type of hard won understanding that provides the foundation of knowledge
and experience.
     The Theory, and it was only a theory, was that life, all sentient life, began on Mars.  That life grew,
evolved and eventually became interesting, interesting by Solkar standards, meaning that it developed
sentience, intelligence, and took to the stars.
     To its great dismay, it was alone, alone in all the star systems of the galaxy.  But, not alone in the
universe.  They found signs of life outside of our galaxy, but did not have the technology to communicate
with it.  With one highly evolved intelligence, it was decided their only hope to end their awful racial
loneliness was to steer their own evolution into something they conceptualized as transcendence, but he
could still not understand.  Evolution required change and competition.  They had no competition.  The work
was a substitute for competition.  And, in the work, they assured that their descendants would never know
the awful racial loneliness.
     Discontinuity, loss, confusion.  Life finds its own paths.  It breaks from its origins and evolves on its
own.  The first ones seeded the galaxy.  The first ones' history, art, knowledge, all lost in time and
transcendence.  They were known only as the concept of Seeders.
     The Preservers were left behind to continue the Seeders' work.  But the Seeders did not tell them
why.  On their own, the Preservers searched for their own origins, questions to be answered by the
Seeders.  One place they searched was a small, lifeless rock orbiting a small, yellow star.  They found its
neighbor harboring the potential for life.  The Preservers seeded the neighbor, explored then abandoned the
lifeless rock.
     The Preservers create servants to aid their cultivation of lesser sentience as the Seeders created
them.  They engineered servants using the same techniques left by the Seeders.  They engineered worlds
for their children and their servants.  The servants are sent on the never ending quest of origins and to
continue the work while the Preservers follow the Seeders on the path of transcendence.
     With the passage of time, the knowledge of the Preservers has been lost.  The influence once
exerted by the Preservers is fading.  It is a time of chaos, the servants left to themselves.  It is time to again
look for answers on the lifeless rock and its neighbor.  The servants do not know if the pyramids and face
are Seeder or Preserver or neither.  They do not know and they do not care.  Their mission is only to gather
     Cultivating the seeds of life, creating competition for evolutionary progress, is the path to
transcendence.  Transcendence is the whisper in a dying man's mind.  He fell face down in the Martian soil
and died.

copyright 1998 by Scott Langley

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