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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Boatman of Mars (A Tale of Earth 52.5)

Greenhouse complex 7B dominated the near horizon
Panes of locally made crystal glass angled just about right upon its roof to reflect a harsh glare into my eyes at this time of day
Causing the black jagged edges of the Hellas Montes range in the distance beyond it to stand out starkly

My eyes hurt now from gazing off into the light
So I dropped them to the water to follow the movement of my pole
As it pushed the small canal barge along in a steady rhythm powered mostly by yet another strange system left behind by the Martians when they disappeared long ago

The twelve foot pole which was made of a queer blonde colored semi-metallic material that was about fifty millimeters in diameter with micro ridges cast into the surface right where my hands naturally fell upon it

The pole fit perfectly into a system of holes spaced along the bottom of the three meter deep canal
Roughly conical in shape
They pulled upon the pole at first
Helping to guide it into the hole
Then when the pole was firm upon the bottom and at an approximate 30 degree angle
A force that humans were yet to explain acted upon the pole
Forcing it slowly up to a vertical position
And continuing to the opposite 30 degree angle before the hole released the pole
Both ejecting the pole end and guiding it to the next hole with invisible hands

It was an elegant, if slow, system of movement for a more civilized bygone age
Allowing boatmen like myself to use the force of the poles to push boats along the canals
By simply hanging onto the poles with our feet planted firmly to the decks
Usually braced by small blocks for leverage when loaded with cargo bound for the various villages and towns along the canal systems

If you needed something shipped on the cheap
I was your man
Though for speed, albeit with an accompanying proportional expense
There were self propelled boats of more recent manufacture to provide it

I didn't much approve of those newer boats
Or the other things we were doing with increasing frequency to change this stark alien landscape to better suit us
And to look more like what everyone thought of as home
Though 'home' was more Mars than Earth at this point for most of the people here now

With the first generation settlers growing fewer with each passing year
And the second and third generations taking over the day to day running of the colonies
This was where most of us were born and bred now

I felt we didn't need to be beholden to any notion of what it ought to look like
Unless we came up with it ourselves

Phobos broke the horizon to the West
Rising quickly under my watchful eyes
To the tune of the steady small water sounds of the pole
And the hull gently splooshing the water aside from the stubby prow

Eyes turned skyward again my  mind wandered with them
Out past captured asteroid moon Phobos
To about where I knew Deimos made its much slower way around the planet

Ever since the Houston-Shklovsky discovery of the 20th century
That the smaller moon was an artificial satellite of Mars
(and for a short time the same was suspected of Phobos)
Mankind just couldn't wait to get here to investigate it
Even more than the abandoned canals and cities
Deimos had captured our imagination the most
And it had provided the greatest rewards as well

First with robotic eyes
Then peered at through the helmets of pressure suits
The small moon that could really only be called a spaceship
Had revealed her secrets slowly
And advancing our knowledge of propulsion and design theory every step of the way

I'd visited there as a child
On school field trip
And looking back I can still feel the jaded boredom I'd felt at the time
Trapped inside my barely adolescent body I'd not appreciated what I was seeing
Because after all everyone knows where our current tech came from
It is ancient history now
Especially to a twelve year old boy who knew already that his lot in this life was to grip a boat pole on the canals

But now I yearn for those days
When there were more possibilities
When I actually cared to know where to find the Earth in the sky

At that thought I tried to seek it out again
Looking in the quadrant of sky I figured it to be in
Until I found it
Shining like a beacon ever so brightly

A little too brightly perhaps
With more of a pulse to the light than I remembered

Just then the comm box in the wheelhouse rattled what it thought was an alert
But was really just a hollow buzzing noise
Since I'd long ago removed the guts to the alert mechanism out of sheer annoyance

"Vid relay!"
I called out
And the head sized screen just inside the doorway swiveled to face me
Where upon its face a loop of text was doing a slow march across the screen

~Emergency Notice: Report to your town center for dissemination of information~

This was repeated over and over with no elaboration
Which meant one of two things I figured
Either it was nothing important and the local governments just wanted to puff out their chests to make people show up
Or it was something really big and they wanted us contained in the walled town centers before they told us

I'm half a day away from the nearest town
So whatever it is can wait I suppose

Sploosh - stir stir - Sploosh
The old canal boat made a steady speed upon the water
Bordered by the half meter short walls that lined every canal on the planet
Cut from black stone into blocks
The twin black lines disappeared into the horizon like old train tracks from the picture books
Just as they had before people had come here
Just like they would long after we were gone