On the Cydonian region of Mars there are two faces staring into space. Both are two and a half kilometers long, a kilometer wide and about four hundred meters high, and since both are in exactly the same place, no observer can see more than one of them. Most see a battered butte with craters roughly in the right place such that, with considerable imagination, the image of a badly torn face can perhaps be seen. Some, however, see a refinement of the enhancement produced from the original low resolution Viking photographs, a truly alien monument, a deep message to humanity, a message covered up firstly by the Americans to keep knowledge of alien technology from other countries for military purposes, and secondly by the Federation Government for no good reason at all. As Grigori Timoshenko, Commissioner for Defence, Space and Science remarked, if only any arm of the Federation government was half as efficient as would be needed to pull off this coup, the planet would not be in anywhere near the mess it was in.
Not that this mattered tonight. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the civilian settlement of Mars a documentary was to be shown live across Mars and Earth: The Unnaturyl Hystery of Mars.
The program began with a clip from the very first edition of Mars News. The weather girl, a young Jacqui Gill, announced the three and a half billion-year drought was predicted to continue. A middle-aged Jacqui Gill was then produced to note that still it had not rained. So how come Mars was like this, and Earth was not? What did Mars mean for other planetary systems? Was there life out there? Had it been here? Was the Face of Cydonia really an alien monument? At the end of the programme, everyone could decide for himself or herself. In the meantime, Jacqui, with the aid of computer generated images, would take the audience through Martian natural history.
As Jacqui explained, and as images showed, an immense gas cloud collapsed to form a disk, and for something approaching a million years, gas poured through this disk, becoming hotter as it travelled, to form a star at the centre. Where the rocky planets formed, the dust became hot enough first to fuse some silicates then further in, iron, then all silicates were melted, then further in still, they gasified. While the gas poured in, the temperatures remained static, but eventually the supply of fresh gas stopped and the disk cooled and the planets formed. Once they grew large enough to exert gravitational forces, they began to sweep up all debris, which led to the evolution of the present solar system. After the planets formed, collisions with quite sizeable bodies continued, and for Mars some massive craters, including Hellas Planitia formed. One such body, Theia, collided with the side of Earth and most of the ejecta formed the Moon. Finally, the debris from non-accreted material and from collisions fell onto the planets, and these early planets were very unattractive places. At least these were the current thoughts, Jacqui said. She could not possibly confirm or deny these opinions as she was not around at the time.
The computer simulation then turned to a barren surface suddenly struck by an asteroid. The huge waves of molten rock were simulated in brilliant red, then the colour faded and darkened, and the simulation froze to show a real crater, in the present. Then followed a large number of quite spectacular shots of the great craters of Mars. These views and the far more lengthy sequences of images with holographic projections were well worth the purchase price of the later sale edition.
Eventually the debris was cleared out, but that was far from the end of things, even on Mars. Energy from the collisions, and from radioactive decays, heated the interiors of the planets. The molten iron sunk to form a core, while water from cement and gases made by reaction with water rose to the surface. How much water depended on where the planet formed. Venus was too hot, and so had less water than Earth, while the very limited cement available to initiate Mars could hold far less water. Nevertheless, Mars had incredibly large volcanoes. The wall showed scenes from the great volcanoes, with the tiny dot of an aircraft, then a model of such a volcano was put on to fill the screen, then a white object was placed in the corner - a scale model of Everest, which was about a third as high. Volcanoes meant gas emissions; gas emissions meant an atmosphere. But while Mars had immense volcanoes, the limited heat and water meant that Mars had never degassed more than about 3% compared with Earth, and the atmosphere had always been much thinner.
The early sun was much cooler than now, and despite the greenhouse gases of the early atmosphere, Mars had always been cold. However, ammonia dissolves in ice and the resultant ammonia/water solutions could flow at minus eighty degrees centigrade, so there had been rivers thousands of kilometers long. Ammonia was lost to the lower atmosphere, it absorbed water . . . images of fog beside a river were shown . . . and it leached more water from ice. But this could not last. Methane and carbon monoxide were photooxidized to give carbon dioxide. The ammonia began to form the precursors to life, the precursors to proteins and nucleic acids, but it also reacted with the various carbon gases and over a period of time was lost. The greenhouse effect diminished, the water froze out, and the planet settled to the equilibrium demanded of a planet where the Polar Regions dropped below minus one hundred and twenty degrees centigrade in the long dark winters. This left . . . and the images now turned to the dried river valleys and the crater floors where one could imagine small streams would have ended.
Sometimes the river ice had settled over late and slow gas emissions. Ammonia dissolved ice to form water while methane and carbon monoxide clathrated into the ice. This continued until the ice was saturated, then more ammonia dissolved ice, the gas of which was released to build up enormous pressures until a massive explosion sent ammonia/water and massive amounts of exploding ice hurtling down valleys. A small container was produced, and the effect was quite spectacular when the lid was electrically released. A model of water explosively releasing gas while tearing through softish material was shown, then the walls of the image morphed into the shape of the Harmakhis Vallis. The camera zoomed and in one corner something could be seen. More zooming, and the tiny objects were ore carrying trucks. The image zoomed back out again, and the rather smaller cross-section of the Grand Canyon was placed onto the image.
"The mining operation takes out about four million tonne of rock a year," Jacqui interrupted, and wrote 4, 000, 000 t on a board. The screen went blank, and a tiny white dot appeared. "This water excavated . . . " and she added a 0 at the end, and the dot on the screen presumably grew by a factor of ten. She added another zero, and the dot was now clearly bigger than a point. More zeros, until the screen went solid white. "That's a conservative guess," she said quietly.
"The next three billion years were uneventful. Just the endless dust storms." An image of a developing dust storm taken from space was shown, then the view, if a "red-out" could be termed a view, on the ground was shown. Nothing could be seen, not even the dome that Jacqui assured everyone was about twenty meters away. It would have been nice to have found life, but they had not. Or had they?
"That depends! Life got started, sort of . . ."
Thanks to the work of Martian scientists, we now had a good idea how life got started. Life started in water, but on Earth all such traces had long disappeared. On Mars the same chemistry should have happened, and so life got started in innumerable craters, however, the general freeze-out occurred before anything of significance could develop. Since the different craters on Mars were not connected, each crater developed on its own, and since nothing had happened since the freeze-out, each crater had left its record. By piecing together the data from a number of craters, the general trend could be established and it was only after the settlement of Mars and the subsequent scientific exploration that the road map became more understandable. Where it had stopped was important, for it showed how life developed, how much was accidental, how much was thermodynamically driven to a certain point. Points arrived at through thermodynamics would be universal and would occur on similar planets elsewhere in the Universe, lines taken accidentally would offer variation elsewhere.
However, the fact was that life had ceased. The only life that had walked on Mars was human. Or was it?
Early astronomers had thought Mars was a planet of desert, rock, waterless, hence unsuitable for human habitation. Well, we all know about early mistakes! Images of the Martian terrain showing an immense dried valley, bleak bluffs, mesas, an absolute lack of signs of life were shown on the screen.
It was then that Schiaparelli discovered the canali. Canali were intended to be channels (a clip of a flight up the Vallis Marineris was shown in the background) but they quickly became canals, at which point the flight soared over a hill, to find a canal, with small boats sailing, the sky at the same time mysteriously changing from butterscotch orange to light blue. On the side of what looked suspiciously like the Nile river, palm trees wafted, reeds grew . . . Mars was teeming with life!
H.G. Wells wrote the classic story of invasion from Mars (In the background, clips from a Hollywood film showed "Martians" blasting frantic Terrans.) It must have sold well on Mars because just before the Second World War, Mars invaded Earth. At least that was according to the radio news of the time.
Then came the Space Program! The end of dreams! (An image of a river flowing through a Terran desert was shown.) The water was gone (The image changed, the water suddenly seemed to be drying up, the sky oranged, until it somehow became one of the initial scenes, without the background rock having changed form.)
Nevertheless, the Viking programme found a strange rock in the Cydonia Mensae (an image of a not particularly noteworthy rock appeared) which on computer enhancement became a face, staring up into space (the image became enhanced to give the well-known "Face of Cydonia"). This face was clear proof that Mars had been in the grips of a religious fervour just as the water supply was running out. Presumably the face was praying for rain! Just as things were becoming fun, party-pooper Global Surveyor provided proof that this "Face" was just a rock. (The Global Surveyor image was presented.) End of story! The Unnaturyl Hystery of Mars was not very much more extensive than the natural one! Well, not quite.
Jacqui gave way to a sociologist from Hellas. He discussed how people could see faces where there were none, and how belief in a Face could be as important as the real thing. One of the first settlers, David Gill, inspired by the first silica carving on Mars, created an "alien artefact", and the resultant greed led to the only recorded battle on the planet named after the God of War. And here was the only living survivor of the Battle of Irongate Pass.
The camera focussed on a slightly embarrassed Jacqui Gill, who then recounted the battle as re-enactments were shown on the giant screen. Then the moment to show off what started this off, and which led to the secession of Theppot from the Hellas settlement. This was the silica carving that had started the Martian curio industry, and which had lain in a box for so long until it was found again during the cleanup following David Gill's unfortunate death. The box was brought to the table, opened, and the camera focussed on the object made in the image of the Viking computer enhancements.
"And this was the first ever silica carving?" the announcer asked.
"No," Jacqui answered, "but one of the first, and as far as we know, the earliest surviving one. Of course this was followed by the so-called alien map." With this she dived into a box, and produced the first ever three-dimensional silica map of Hellas Planitia.
"Now you may well all ask," the announcer said, "why anyone could really believe aliens were responsible for the map. Well, we have found this new clip from the archives. This brief interview was taken some time after the Battle of Irongate Pass."
A slightly scratchy looking clip began running. An interviewer with a rather amateurish technique was asking David Gill why anyone could believe the map was really alien.
"If you believe the Face on Cydonia is an alien built monument, it's hardly difficult to expect that there are further relics to be found."
"But we all know that's just an old rock?"
"Ah, but at least one person actually saw through that 'old rock' rubbish."
"And how did that happen?"
"Quite easily, actually," Gill said with a deadpan expression. "Especially when the person can't be bothered or knows better than to actually look at the real rock, and instead relies on . . . well . . . other material that contains the words, 'cover-up'."
"When you've been told this face is a message for us, you're too dome-bound to go look, you're too stupid to think for yourself, and you're greedy to boot, what's the problem?"
"I mean the message? What message?"
"It's rather obvious," Gill said, as if speaking to a three-year old. "It looks like us, so it's a message for us. It says, come into space. It's worth it."
"Nice story," the interviewer said, with an expression as if he thought Gill was the three-year old.
"The truth usually is," Gill said, maintaining the deadpan expression.
"You're not suggesting that this rock is a message?" he asked incredulously.
"Of course it is," Gill said in the tone of someone irritated by the stupidity of the questioner.
"But it's just an old rock!"
"It is now," Gill said, again addressing a three-year old.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You get a letter," he said in a tired tone. "You open it and read it. What do you do with the envelope?"
"I only get email," the interviewer said woodenly
"Try to use your imagination!" Gill sighed. "What would you do?"
"Screw it up and throw it away, I suppose. Why?"
"That's what the aliens did," Gill said, still in his deadpan voice. "Once they'd read on the old internet that humans had received the message, more or less, anyway, they screwed up their envelope. That's why it just looks like an old rock, now."
The clip faded with the expression of sheer incomprehension on the interviewer's face.
"And that was David Gill," the current announcer said, "in the interview which kept the Face alive and well, at least amongst the fringe. So much so that satellite viewing time could be sold to Terrans wishing to view the rock and form their own opinion. In fact, Rock Views were one of the first sources of income for Mars from Earth."
The satellites persistently showed the same old rock, but just as interest was finally dying, a satellite had picked up an unnatural heat emanation from the Face. This was enough to convince David Gill to take a Geiger counter over to the rock, in case there was uranium in the rock.
"Which was idiotic," a stuffy areologist from Hellas added, "since uranium lodes do not occur in the middle of buttes."
"Except this one!" Jacqui added cryptically.
It was believed that David Gill found no radioactivity significantly above natural background, nor did anyone else, not that very many others had bothered. It was, after all, just a rock. David Gill had found nothing else either, apart from . . . Yes, could it be another alien artefact? He said so, but then again he also said it disappeared, and he did like his little jokes. But some Martians questioned that, because there was a record of the Gills having visited this rock several times.
"Jacqui Gill, was anything found out there?"
"It's a nice rock," she remarked, in the tone of a connoisseur of fine rocks who was giving it the quiet tick of approval.
"A nice stopping-off point for salts prospecting in the Acidalia region?"
"As it happens, it's an excellent stopping-off point for visiting the Acidalia region," Jacqui acknowledged. "As it happens, we've also got a registered dome there."
For those Terrans not in the know, the announcer said, Mars is a little short of air, and Martian Law allows people to set up domes in the desert with robotic control, where plants can be grown, and fuel, oxygen, food and water stored, so that if you often go by a place, there are good supplies available. No Martian will go uninvited anywhere near another's registered dome, except in extreme crisis.
"So to put this into perspective," the announcer asked, "the fact you have a dome there has nothing whatsoever to do with the possibility of alien artefacts and everything to do with it being a good prospecting location?"
"I wouldn't exactly put it as a good location," she smiled. Every Martian knew that to be true. Martians never put domes close to good prospecting sites, at least until their claims were filed and granted. The only clue the location of a dome gave was which immediate vicinity not to look in.
For the benefit of Terrans, the Hellenes gave a quick explanation of the general uncooperativeness of prospectors and Theppotians towards the general good of Mars, during which Jacqui managed a tired expression of one who knew this had to come.
"Then," the announcer persisted, "a dome there is a stop-over point for you, without the need to visit Chryse?" Most Martians would smile to themselves. Of course it was! Who wants to announce to all and sundry exactly when and from where you are setting off prospecting?
"It is on a convenient route from Theppot to the expanses of the Acidalia," she confirmed, then added thoughtfully, "and, perhaps, to the Arabia Terra."
"Nothing like adding a red herring," the announcer smiled, then added in turn, "Of course, that could also refer to my comment."
"Quite so," Jacqui added enigmatically.
So the Gills had set up a dome near the Face, and nothing much else happened for some time, until the case of the disappearing crater. Some of the fringe element still believed that that Face was alien, hence it was under persistent surveillance from satellite. One individual produced three images at weekly intervals. All looked identical, until it was pointed out that one barely detectable crater was missing in the middle image. Various guesses were made as to how this could arise, until an explanation came from one of the scientists from Chryse.
"The Gills parked a transporter over it," he said, as if this was obvious, "and put a camouflage net over top of the transporter."
Another clip showed Jacqui Gill recorded as saying, "No comment," at which point that problem had been satisfactorily solved.
"And so," the announcer said, "as we wind up this programme let's give everybody a current live picture of the face, which is now in the mid afternoon. We have a satellite positioned, so we switch, and . . ."
The wall now showed an image of the Martian wastes, and there, slightly off-centre, was the battered butte that all Martians knew. There it remained, obviously a rock, and not a particularly attractive rock at that. Then, just as the program was about to cease, the rock morphed into the Face more or less as it looked in the Viking images. As a slight uproar broke out amongst the panellists, the left eye winked, imitating the silica carving they had previously seen.
The telecast stopped, although the images continued in the sale copies. The Hellenes were furious at Jacqui. How dare the Theppotians spoil their programme! Jacqui was furious. How dare the Hellenes use their controllers to insert false images! The Hellenes immediately responded that they could not, because they had no idea what the silica sculpture actually looked like. Until this evening, they were not even sure it existed. Only Jacqui Gill had it, so she must have somehow spoiled their programme. As Jacqui pointed out, only the Hellenes even knew which satellite they were going to use, so how could she have? By getting into their computer. In which case they could reswitch to the satellite, and . . . They did, the Viking image was still there, and it winked again.
It was this that caused the programme to be the sale of the century. The Terrans were amused; they thought this was a clever ending, but soon they too got drawn into the controversy. Since it had apparently not been scripted, who had done it, and how?
The puzzle deepened for the Space Corps. Since they wished to avoid the adverse publicity of a mechanical breakdown they had maintained two satellites for surveillance. The second satellite had sent continuous images to a recording device at Chryse. Recording of the rock had started at 1315 hrs, Chryse standard time, when it was in its usual form. The programme started at 1400 hrs Chryse standard time and switched to the rock at 1450 hrs. The image of the rock morphed to the Viking image at 1452 hrs, the transition taking 3.33 seconds, and the transition was carried out uniformly across the image. It had to be computer driven.
But from where? Had the Gills covered the face with a large screen and . . . Unlikely, as square kilometers would be required. Had someone broadcast images into both satellites? Unlikely, although as Sherlock Holmes had noted, with no other possibility, this must have been what happened. But from where? The satellite records showed conclusively that only one radio signal arrived during the period, and that was the legitimate command from Hellas to access what it was viewing, hence if something was transmitted, it had to be in the visual spectrum, effectively a replacement image.
Eventually, the interest died down, and after a few years the incident should have been forgotten, however it was in 2106 that a small team of Terrans revived the story. They spent three years on Mars but they seemed to make little progress. They found 'conclusive proof' that it was impossible for anyone at either Hellas or Chryse to have carried this out. There was a further round of interviews, in which the Theppotians strenuously denied involvement. Then a glimmer of an answer came from David Gill's grandson, Nathan, who was then nine years old.
"I know who was responsible," he said. The cameras switched to him, with the odd switch to a concerned Jacqui and puzzled parents. "Grandfather knows too," he added calmly, in a deadpan voice. It took quite a while for everybody to remember that Grandfather was dead.
"Who?" the young interviewer asked, too quickly.
"Aliens," the boy said with a totally serious expression. "They thought we needed reminding that there's more to the message."
The expressions on the adult's faces were later interpreted as relief that the secret had not been divulged. The matter gradually died, as everyone more or less knew who, if not how. Somehow the Theppotians had done it. Only a few recidivists on Earth did not agree. They analysed and analysed, the tales of the pyramids re-emerged, and they knew the answer. After all, the boy had told them, and that boy was too innocent to lie. The Theppotians knew who did it. After all, why else had they built a dome nearby? Prospecting in the Acidalia? What could be there, except the salts and other minerals left behind from an ancient sea? And they already controlled more than enough of them. No, there were aliens in that rock!
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