Excerpt from Mars as the Abode of Life, by Tranquility Adams, as presented by H. E. Bergeron
Art by Luke Spooner
It is not, in my opinion, at all hyperbolic to say that mankind would never have reached Mars, or, at the very least, that mankind would not have reached Mars in this century, without the vision and leadership of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. On Earth, the titanic conflicts between warring technophiles often eclipse the achievements of humans without an Affinity for technology, but all records indicate that Tsiolkovsky was not a madboy, just a man determined to escape the incessant conflicts plaguing humanity’s home planet–a man who dreamed of the stars.
Tsiolkovsky’s original rocket designs were based on objective physics, which would not have been sufficient to reach space in his lifetime. However, he published several papers through the University Network, and his work caught the attention of technophiles Hermann Oberth and Robert Goddard.
Oberth, an underling in the German empire, was obsessed with the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence. He claimed that he had discovered an alien “space ship,” and that his designs were derived from reverse-engineering the alien technology. Opinions remain divided on the truth of this claim, but most historians agree that it was an expression of the madness that affects most technophiles to a greater or lesser degree. There are no firsthand accounts of anyone besides Oberth seeing this so-called “space ship.”
Goddard was a Union scientist who spent many years working on weapons in the ongoing Union-Confederacy conflict. It was for this purpose that he developed the liquid propulsion systems that would become an integral part of the rocket design.
The final member of the original team was the Baroness Emmy von Quistorp, noblewoman protector of the barony of Wyrzysk. Although her Affinity, if she had one, ran to strategy, planning, and organization rather than technology, she was an amateur astronomer, and Tsiolkovsky’s ideas enchanted her. She provided a safe haven in which to work and funding for the venture.
The first large-scale experiment was the launching of a rocket to the moon. The rocket was filled with large quantities of flash powder, which would ignite upon hitting the moon’s surface, creating a light bright enough to be observed from Earth through a good telescope. It was a success.
Across the Earth, other astronomers observed the flash. Although Tsiolkovsky and his disciples published a paper on the experiment, it did little to diffuse suspicions by other major powers that the German Empire was establishing a moon base; some historians consider this event one of the major factors leading to the first World War.
In the east, the madgirl Song Wei, who had been one of the masterminds behind the Floating City of Japan, took note of the experiment from her mountain observatory. She determined from the ballistics and her brief glimpse of the rocket that it had been launched from Wyrzysk and traveled there, in an ornithopter of her own construction, to join the project. Wei would serve as the aeronautics expert, and it is generally agreed that without her designs for softening takeoff and landing, rockets carrying human cargo would not have been possible.
Wei soon realized that the calculations to pilot the craft during these key periods were too rapid and complex for an ordinary human, or even most technophiles, to calculate on the fly. She was hesitant about relying on a person to serve as the calculator, since that would render the rocket useless if anything happened to the polymath they would hypothetically employ, and so she began experimenting with the analytical engine, a technology invented by Charles Babbage and made famous by its devastating use in the Street Music Wars.
Ultimately, it was the computer algebra algorithms of Grete Hermann–better known for her Quantum Actualizer and her guerilla attacks against the Nazi Warmachine in the second World War—that formed the basis for the difference engine program that would fly the ship. Hermann herself shared a lengthy correspondence with Song Wei and Robert Goddard to help them write the program, but she was not interested in leaving Earth herself, asserting “there are too many problems that need to be fixed here.”
Meanwhile, Duchess von Quistorp had been stirring up popular support for the project. Around the world, people began to join her Verein fur Raumschiffahrt, or Society for Space Travel. This work ground to a halt during the first World War, during which the barony was only narrowly spared from destruction (a probably apocryphal story asserts that a squadron of soldiers in war clanks came through Wyrzysk, salting and burning until they reached the central city; there their commander, who proved to be a member of VfR, recognized Emmy von Quistorp’s name, publicly apologized for the destruction he had caused, and not only withdrew his own men but disobeyed orders to engage an enemy battalion too early so that they would not enter the region).
The real coup for the VfR was when Charles Lindbergh, ace pilot, joined and publicly endorsed the group. With the German Empire dissolved and the country largely returned to scattered duchies and baronies lead by individual technophiles, Tsiolkovsky and his people could not rely on their home for funding and resources; although the barony of Wyrzysk remained behind them, the war left Baroness von Quistorp’s people with little food and fewer resources. She feared that if the project did not succeed, Wyrzysk would be swallowed up by one of the neighbouring technocracies and her people used, depending on which neighbour attacked first, as slave labour in defence-shield factories or as biological roughage for a revenant army.
Luckily, with Union funds, the ships were ready to launch by early 1920. Mars was chosen as the initial destination, as the astronomical work by Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell had confirmed that there was water and evidence of a breathable atmosphere. After several unmanned tests successfully landed probes on the surface, Lindbergh and a hand-picked crew flew the first manned vessel to Mars.
Lindbergh’s ship touched down near the double canals that early maps drawn on Earth from astronomical data called Atlantis I and Atlantis II. The crew soon confirmed that the planet had a breathable atmosphere, only slightly thinner than the Earth’s at sea level, which disagreed with calculations made from Earth based on the planet’s mass, distance from the sun, etc. The unexpectedly oxygen-rich atmosphere of Mars remains something of a scientific mystery to this day. Furthermore, what problems the atmospheric differences might have caused were more than compensated for by the lower gravity. Elsa Schiaparelli, who would become the foremost cartographer of the Red Planet, wrote in her personal journal, “We can leap a hundred feet, run for miles, and perform impossible gymnastics … we have left Earth, transcended the human experience, and truly become superhuman in doing so.”
Lindbergh’s crew were also the first to encounter the High Martians, although at the time, they were not aware of the other race’s sentience. They focused their attention on the area within about thirty miles of their landing site. A few tentative exploratory missions did venture farther out; one of these, headed by Helene Dutrieu, observed the first of the High Martian cities. Although they initially assumed the cliff-side dwellings were natural formations, their investigations of the interior confirmed that they had definitely been deliberately shaped. Since the dwelling was abandoned, however, they concluded it was a ruin, and that it was evidence of an ancient sentient race, not of contemporary Martian inhabitants.
At the end of 1920, the rest of the fleet launched, containing members of the VfR from all over the world, as well as most of what remained of the population of Wyrzysk–according to the manifests, 5,351 people spread out over four ships. These passengers became the core population of New Wyrzysk, the territory claimed by humanity along the banks of the Atlantis I Canal.
The first year was spent primarily in building the infrastructure of the capital city, Tsiolkovsky’s Landing. Early in 1921, at the beginning of the Martian spring, a large flock of “winged humanoids” were observed flying over the newborn city in the direction of the alleged ruins. The residents of Tsiolkovsky’s Landing didn’t think much of it beyond noting a new species, but two weeks later, the city was approached by a smaller group of the strange creatures. They were assumed to be animals (albeit bizarrely humanoid animals), possibly lured in by the scattered outdoor gardens, until one began counting prime numbers on its fingers.
The first embassy of the High Martians, once a linguistics team had managed to decipher enough of their language, wanted merely to ascertain the humans didn’t intend to encroach upon their city. Once this was established, Duchess von Quistorp initiated negotiations for what would become the Treaty of the Cliffs, which set territorial boundaries and the basis for several later trade agreements. The Duchess was remarkable in immediately treating the High Martians as equals, and none of the terms of the treaty were reneged on in her lifetime.
Until 1936, the people of Tsiolkovsky’s Landing were able to deal gracefully with the challenges of living on Mars. They had a stock of medicines and supplies from Earth meant to keep them on their feet until they had found Martian replacements, and Martian flora proved good to eat. Although there was an annual swelling of the canals, the rise of the water seemed predictable. However, in the spring of 1926, the water level rose nearly three times as high as the civil engineers anticipated. The resulting swamping of the city caused significant structural damage to dwellings in the region of the canal, and the pools of stagnant water that remained for nearly two weeks after the flooding receded hatched huge numbers of morsis (scientific name Triala sanguimorsi), bloodsucking insects that had previously been only a minor annoyance. The insects themselves didn’t directly cause any deaths, although some people in particularly heavily affected areas did suffer from severe anaemia. Their real destructive power was in transporting disease. When a virulent illness beset the residents of Tsiolkovsky’s Landing, many doctors initially assumed that it was a Martian bug. Ultimately, it proved to be a mutation of the flu brought with the travelers from Earth, but it still devastated the settlement.
Perhaps worst of all, in the long run, the Morsi Flu (named for the vectors that spread it) was the death of the Duchess Emmy von Quistorp. She was succeeded by her son, Sigismund von Quistorp, but he lacked her rigorous dedication to organization and planning, her foresight, and her strength of character. He began to expand into territory it had been agreed belonged to the High Martians–slowly at first, but it soon became egregious enough that the Martians sent another embassy to the city to demand an end. Duke von Quistorp treated the embassy with what one of his cabinet members described as “the patriarchal tones of a father addressing upstart children.” This blatant mishandling of the situation can be directly blamed for the War of Feathers in 1939.
There were two things that saved humanity from total extinction, and both are cultural quirks of the High Martians. First, the High Martians only congregate once a year, for a period equivalent to two or three Earth months, to exchange information, breed, and raise the children of last year’s breeding. At any other time of the year, they are fiercely solitary and resent face-to-face contact with their kind (with a few exceptions–see “Fauna and Flora of Mars,” page 32, for a more in-depth discussion of the lifestyle of the High Martians). Second, the High Martians have a less expansionist outlook than humans. Once they have claimed an area as their territory, they will guard it vehemently, but they have little desire to claim more. Thus it was that the War of Feathers ended in 1940, when the High Martians had driven humankind out of the areas decreed theirs by the original treaty.
It is unlikely, had the High Martians had a more human outlook, that the people of New Wyrzysk would have won the war. During the Congregation Season, the High Martians could have summoned in allies from surrounding territories so as to far outnumber humanity. Furthermore, they revealed themselves to have ranged weapons comparable to human guns, aircraft that allowed them to propel themselves along much more rapidly than their wings or even human airships, and some means of defending themselves even against the rocket-missiles designed by Goddard, which were launched against their nearest city in the early stages of the war. Exactly what they used to destroy the missiles is unknown, but most suspect it was a group or groups of Martian sortes, the startlingly powerful psychics that seem to arise naturally amongst native Martian species.
Since the War of Feathers, trade between humankind and the High Martians has been uncommon, although not unheard of. A few High Martian merchants and scientists remain in contact with an equally small number of humans in Tsiolkovsky’s Landing, either in person or through the ingenious radios they use to speak to their own kind during the Dispersive Season.
In 1944, humanity first made contact with the Deep Martians. During this period, caution regarding the High Martian territories prompted human explorers to turn their sights to the valleys and cave networks that riddle the Martian interior. The Deep Martians are a reclusive species, but were friendly enough when humankind stumbled upon them; they live in small tribal societies and lack the High Martian’s sophistication, so they have been of little interest except to xenobiologists and xenoanthropologists.
Tranquility Adams holds a doctorate in Applied Engineering from the University of Regalia. Although best known for her work on reverse-engineering the Maroth War Kings and her research into the nature of technological affinity in humans, she has published several historical works, including Mars as an Abode of Life and Messenger Birds to Clockwork Horses: The Evolution of Automated Fauna.
H. E. Bergeron, in addition to writing, is partial to calligraphy pens, dragons, and tabletop roleplaying, but has found some time in between all that to create prose, other examples of which can be found in the anthology Once & Now and the magazine Vitality. @HEBergeron also exists on Twitter, but mostly posts opinions on books and pictures of tea.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“A Brief History of the Human Colonization of Mars” is © 2017 H. E. Bergeron
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Luke Spooner