Part 13: The Avatar Conquers the Martians
The Avatar Conquers the Martians
"Though the Martian is sentient, it is possible that the mind of his species is entirely alien to our own way of thinking. It may well be that we cannot fully understand him."
"In other words, you're copping out."
"I'll still be around, I just don't plan to analyze their mother."
"Because their mother is a compost heap?"
You see a Martian.
"Greetings, soft one. How may we share our knowledge?"
"Well, at least you Hellas folks are alright. I'm Steve, the Avatar."
"I am called Pukchep." It sounds rather harsh. "Within our Grove, it is my task to act as the Gatherer. Ever since the Firstdeath, it has fallen to the Gatherers to be the keepers of knowledge of their grove."
"By... recycling them, right?"
"Mine is the task to collect the fallen leaves and roots of the old ones as they die. By mixing their remains with the soil for the new seedlings, the knowledge of the old is passed on within the grove. I used to trade soil and chemicals with Fazek of Elysium. Here in my dreams, though, none of my podfriends wither, so I gather little."
"Sounds like a cushy job."
I figured Old Mars would've been slightly prettier, but it's still better than the real one. There are also fun scrolls here.
When Mars was young and the Sun and the Blue-green Planet had given life to the First Grove, and the moons had failed to destroy the offspring of the gods by creating worms, they developed a new plan.
Since the sun had to stand his rounds travelling the heavens to tend other children, the evil moons waited until he was away to assault the planet.
While one moon distracted her with a masterful and intricate tale of strange creatures who wove webs between the stars, the other moon gathered great stones to hurl from the heavens at Mars.
The great Planet saw the impacts of those stones on her beloved Mars, and grew so angry she blew on the lesser moon with all her might. The lesser moon was sent spinning about Mars too fast for it to ever slow down again. But the force of her breath sent her far from Mars herself, and she could not return.
When the Sun returned, he came to take vengeance on the greater moon for the assault on his beloved's offspring and her estrangement from them. The greater moon fled before the Sun, faster and faster, with the blows of the Sun's mighty arms carving great chunks off of it at every stride.
Eventually it escaped the Sun's wrath, but only by running even faster than its sibling had been knocked spinning, and only after being reduced to smaller than its sibling.
"What do you make of it?"
"That's messed up."
You see a young martian with a hint of a regal air.
As you approach, she folds her arms over her chest and kneels. She calls out in a pleasant voice, "I, Chsheket of Hellas, greet you and welcome you to the Grove of Hellas. Please, explore and meet the citizens of the Enlightened Grove." She stands up and regards your reaction.
"Aren't there like five of you here?"
"I did say enlightened, not huge."
"Point, Chsheket. I'm Steve... from, um, Earth. Sometimes."
"I am the Ambassador of Hellas, messenger of Prektesh, Agrarian of the Grove. My duty is to represent Hellas before all other Groves. I communicate to the other Groves as my Agrarian directs. My travels have been limited to meetings in the Dream-World, speaking to the other Ambassadors. Recently, the Groves of Elysium and Argyre closed communications with us. I know little more than that each have plans that will release our race from the Dream-World."
"I've met with the Elysium crowd. They're kind of dicks."
"I know little of their plan, save that they are following an immoral path in their efforts to release us. Prektesh, the Agrarian, knows more."
"I haven't visited Argyre yet though. What's wrong with them?"
She sneers and says, "That is the Grove that spawned that shkcha, Raxachk. Prektesh may speak to you of him, but I will not. The city has been closed by Raxachk, and I know nothing more."
"I see. I guess I'll go track down Prektesh and try to hammer all this out."
"See that you do. He is the Agrarian, leader of our Grove. In the past, it was he who directed my travels to give messages to the other Agrarians. He would gladly speak to you."
The Blue-white Planet smiles upon you.
The sun, it warms you and gleams.
The two moons above
Give their blessings as well
And I drink to your Martian Dreams.
"That kind of sucks."
"I thought you were trying to analyze their culture."
"What do I look like, an anthropologist?"
You see a Martian engrossed in thought.
The Martian turns to your voice, and studies you closely. "Greetings. You are not formed of sun and soil, are you?"
"Nope, 100% meat miracle."
"Be joyful that you are not affected by the plague that causes our bodies to wither."
"Yeah, that sucks. Are you Prektesh?"
"No. I am known as Plashef, shell-less one."
"It's Steve the Avatar."
"I see, Steve. I am the Cultivator for the Grove of Hellas."
"And that makes you, what, again?"
"The Cultivators are responsible for the preparation and care of the seedlings from the time they are planted, through their growth, and finally their birth. Most of the seedlings died after becoming exposed to the plague that destroyed our race. Fortunately, I was warned by Xaktsesh in time, and I was able to place the last of our seedlings into a secure place."
"She is our Arborist. She knew the plague for what it was, and warned us soon enough to escape to the Dream-World. Others know more details of the plague. I remember only the horror, the senseless loss of life."
"You said you saved some of your seeds. I might need those."
"In our Grove that remains in the Real-World, there is a hidden preservation unit. You can find it in the building next to the greenhouse. I have worked long and hard to preserve our Grove. I could not allow the schemes of an insane being to destroy us."
"You mean Raxachk."
He shudders. "Ask Prektesh, the Agrarian, about the Grove of Argyre."
Just for reference here, the Martian jobs seem to break down like this:
Cultivator: Grows new bodies.
Gatherer: Gathers old bodies to use their compost to transfer memories between generations.
Arborist: Plant doctor.
Agrarian: The head of the Grove.
Dream Machine research developed from research into the Mind-Body problem, which for Martians was a problem in biology rather than philosophy. Martians acquired their purely-physical abilities from their genetic heritage: thus seeds from physically-adept Martians and Groves were prized by Agrarians and Cultivators. Memories, knowledge of Martian culture and their groves' history, and such items came from the ground the pod was grown in and the leaves, other sheddings, and dead bodies used as mulch. The questions raised were about the development of individuals' personalities and distinctive traits, and about why certain memories were stronger for some Martians than for grovemates raised in the same soil. In this early work, researchers discovered a psychic fluid, like phlogiston or the luminiferous ether or electricity, which carried mental abilities and thoughts. Certain plants and animals attracted or interacted with this fluid, especially the berries other researchers were investigating for the conference of psychic powers. The goal was to develop a machine which would allow extraction or transference of patterns in this "animistic ether" intact, from or between living Martians.
"Ewwwwww gross, I've been eating brain sap!"
"Is that really a problem?"
"I guess not. They are pretty good."
You see a wizened, aged Martian.
"The Martian looks up at you, its eyes revealing the weight of its burdens. "My leaves have never fallen on your fields before, worm of no shell."
"I don't claim to be an expert on Martians, but are you coming on to me?"
"I am Prektesh, Agrarian and Leader of the Grove of Hellas, once the finest of our planet. I welcome you, off-worlder, and all your kind to the shadow of Hellas. I extend the hospitality of our Grove to you." He looks about at the "city," then makes a rustling sound that could be a sigh. "Our city was once the finest of the Groves of Mars, but that is in our past. We have been forced to abandon our Grove, but the spirit of Hellas still thrives here in the Dream-World. This place has become our refuge."
"Refuge from the plague, you mean."
His features grow dark and he says, "Yes! We fled through the Dream Machines to escape the devastation wrought by the plague that struck down our race, killing the last of our seedlings. It was not a natural occurrence. What grieves me most was that our race was decimated by one of our own. The pestilence that destroyed us was the evil deed of Raxachk. He sought dominion over all of Mars, and for many years, he strove to control the supply of water and oxygen that all Martians require."
"And then he failed?"
"He was the Agrarian of the Grove of Argyre. But rather than seeking peace and prosperity for his citizens, he sought dominance over all Mars. When his attempts to use political and economic dealings to take control failed, he then chose to use force and terror to extort us into accepting his rule." Prektesh shudders at the memory. "He prepared biological weapons, containing a strain of bacteria to afflict our entire race. It was a most insidious weapon! It caused our bodies to grow sickly and rot away. Worse yet, it destroyed our offspring as they developed."
"I've heard. I know I come across as a massive jerk to, well, everybody I've ever met, but I am still kinda sorry about that, especially since I didn't cause it in any way."
You see a drop of what looks like sap well in his eye, and run down his cheek.
"Awww, don't cry Kermit the Frog!"
"That shkcha's disease made growing seedlings impossible, killing our race with his arrogance!" Regaining his composure, he continues, "We knew then that his plan meant doom for our race. We fled our Grove and entered the Dream-World to wait, forever if necessary, hoping that someday we would be rescued. We are trapped here indefinitely. Though the body remains in the Real-World, and ages normally, the essence of consciousness exists in the Dream-World, lasting eternally, even when the body has ceased to function. We existed on the faith that someone would come, even someone like yourself, a visitor from another world. Now that you have heard our plight, you must aid us to discover some means for us to return to our native soil and inhabit the Grove in the Real-World. You must act as our agents, using your bodies where we cannot exist."
"How am I supposed to do that? I mean, I am the Avatar, so I'll figure out a way, I'm just blanking on ideas right now."
"To return to our Grove, we must find bodies that we may inhabit and leave the Dream-World. The Martians of Elysium have been striving to grow new bodies such as those from preserved seeds, now that the plague has passed. There was another plan being examined as well. Speak to my Arborist and she can give you more information."
"That's fine and all, but what is it you want me to do? Grow you new bodies?"
"If you could access our seeds, and properly grow a body, we would be able to transfer our consciousness from the Dream-World to the Real-World. But that would be impossible without a great genius to manage the growing, and I worry you off-worlders will not know the way."
"I've got George Washington Carver on speed dial and Warren Spector is with me."
"...then we may yet have a chance. Prepare a body and we will see what can be done!"
Here's the barge dock, or the dream version of it. We've seen the real one before, and we'll need access to it later.
You see a Martian that seems almost effeminate. It kneels in greeting, then rises.
"Greetings, outsider. I am excited that you have come. Now, at last, I will know the fate of Kaxishek."
"My podmate, Kaxishek, was researching the creation of a new type of body that would be immune to the effects of the plague. He had a laboratory in the north polar regions to perform his studies. He hoped the cold would slow the spread of the plague until he had constructed a prototype. It has been a very long time since I was there, but I believe that it was located somewhere along the border of that northern icecap. I feel certain that his efforts were successful, for he never followed me into the Dream-World. Why he never came has always been a mystery to me."
"Isn't it equally likely that he failed and he couldn't visit you because he died?"
"Perhaps a bit more tact is required."
"Oh hey Pot, Kettle just called, he wants you to call him black."
"...you win this round, Frau Steve."
She looks about, then says, "This world, though safe from the plague, will never be the same as our Grove. My greatest hope is that one day we can return to our Grove in the Real-World."
"So if your... guy... actually did succeed, you'd have bodies that would be immune to the plague?"
"Yes. The plague, it was horrible, worse than any disaster imaginable. And I, the Arborist of the Grove of Hellas, was powerless to prevent the deaths of my podfriends. It certainly killed every living Martian on the planet." She is quiet and reflective for a moment.
"You're like a healer, aren't you?"
"I tend to the citizens of my grove, healing them if they become injured or ill. I have not used those skills in a long time. Here in the Dream-World, our bodies do not require treatment."
"Pack your parkas everyone, we're taking a trip to the south pole!"
Remember that building I said was rusted shut? Oiling it open reveals the last living Martian seeds. We'll need one to grow a new body.
Alllllllll the way down here is a bridge, which allows me to cross the southernmost canal to reach the south pole.
Once there, Warren chips a piece of ice out of the glacier.
And we stick it in a bucket. It'll melt by the time we get back to Hellas, but since we need it for water, that's kind of the idea.
Now we just need a good spot to grow us a Martian. The greenhouse seems to be the right spot, so we'll plant the seed and cover it with dirt.
First we water it. And by we I mean Warren Spector. Now we need some chemical compounds.
...and finally, per Carver's notes, potassium. Which we can get in potash.
And thus we wait three full days.
And come back to this.
Three more days...
Well, that's getting somewhere.
Three days again, and the pod is finally ripe. So with a ritual pod knife, we'll split it open and...
Ewww gross, there's a Martian inside. Looks good though, but a little heavy.
See if you can spot what Sherman discarded to make weight capacity.
Now it's off to the dream again to inform Tekapesh we have a body ready.
"News of your success has traveled quickly, Steve-worm. The Hellas Grove has chosen me to attempt the transfer." He smiles sadly. "It was difficult to convince my Ambassador, Chsheket, that this is the correct choice. I will prepare myself immediately, and will be ready when you place the newly grown sapling into the Dream Machine."
Alright then! Let's bring Tekapesh back to the real world, and not in a stolen body!
With some trepidation, you activate the device again.
Blinking, Prektesh awakes in "his" new body.
"He" then turns and engages you in conversation...
You see a young, newly-grown Martian.
The Martian looks itself over, marvelling at each limb and appendage. It takes a deep breath of air and slowly exhales.
"Like you did anything."
"I cut the pod! That's like 50/50 what you did!"
"I lugged him to the machine, that counts for something, right?"
"My friend! It worked! I cannot express my gratitude!" He pauses to contain himself, then continues, "This is wonderful! I feel weak, but I am sure it will pass. Now I can see to it that our race is saved from the Dream-World. It is our duty to grow all of the bodies necessary to allow our race to return ot the Real-World."
"Well then, our work here is done! And all without having to worry about that horrible plague!"
Prektesh makes a coughing sound, and his voice trembles with fear.
"Steve! Something is terribly wrong! I feel like... like I'm rotting away inside! Help me, I'm dying!"
"First you want me to grow you a body in a world ravaged by plague, now you want me to help you? What the hell man, make up your mind!"
"I feel that I am contracting the plague! That cannot be, for it has been too many years for the poison to remain in the air. Your bodies require air also, do they not? Why am I in pain when you are unaffected?"
"Maybe we're just awesome. I'm pretty sure me and Warren are."
"Steve, this is kind of serious."
"Your life-form is not plant-based is it, Steve? My poisoning must be because I am a plant. What, then, is the cause? Plants require air and sunlight, and..."
"I hope you don't die before you explain this."
"By the Two Moons, SOIL! The poison is in the soil! The plague has settled into the ground!" It pauses, lowering its head. "Chkaf! This means that my people are twice doomed. Any bodies that we grow will be born with the poison inside them, as I was. You must speak to my Arborist Xaktsesh. Her podmate was working on an alternate body that would be immune. Return to Hellas in the Dream-World, and seek her."
"You want us to just leave you here then?"
He doubles over, overcome by a horrible convulsion.
"So is that a yes?"
"You must win the trust of Tekapesh to accomplish anything more. There is only one way this can be done... You must take my body to him."
"That doesn't really seem to make sense."
"Look, just do it!"
"I am sorry that I will not be able to fulfill my duty to my people. Go to Tekapesh now, and win his confidence. You, Steve, must do what you can to save my race. You MUST!"
"Hold on, vine buddy, why MUST I?"
"Because, no matter how often you try to avoid it... you are... the Avatar." It bows, its energy spent.
"I guess he's got me there. SHERMAN!"
"Oh come on."
"Martians don't move themselves, buddy. Not when they're dead."