Part 9: My Favorite Martian
My Favorite Martian
Here comes a -heavy update. I'm a bit sick right now, so mindlessly transcribing a bunch of text seemed prudent, plus this is all necessary plot crap anyway. So let's do this thing!
So anyway, the power is on all over Mars, and with that fully restored we can finally use the transport tubes to save ourselves time and headaches.
We're heading into the NW tube, which goes to Elysium. The Dream Machines supposedly drove the team that settled there crazy, so we may as well investigate.
For the most part, Elysium resembles Olympus, with human settlers meandering about doing their thing.
But these people aren't human. Or at least, they don't seem to think that they are.
You see a scruffy-looking blond man with a sly look about him.
"Welcome to the Grove of Elysium, my friends. How may we be of service?"
"Uhhhhh, who are you?"
"I am Bikchiz, Ambassador to the Grove of Elysium. Some of your kind insist on calling me Wells, whatever that means."
"Sure thing. What's your job?"
"As noted, my function is to handle all of the Grove's dealings with outsiders, as well as Elysium's relations with other cities, such as Argyre. I am also the official historian for the grove. It is a job with a great amount of responsibility." He puffs up rather like a great toad, obviously impressed with his own importance.
"A historian. Like... a Martian historian?"
"She speaks to them as if they aren't crazy at all!"
"There are many possible reasons for that, but I'm not willing to place my bets on any of them quite yet."
"I know much of the history of our grove. Our most recent history, of course, is rather closely tied to that of Argyre. Not through any choice of our own, I assure you."
"What do you mean?"
"Argyre is the home of the tyrant, Raxachk, whose desire was to be Agrarian for the whole of Mars. He sought to dominate the planet through control of various resources, including water and soil. When he failed, he resorted to blackmail. Raxachk forced his gatherers and cultivators to manufacture a disease which would attack young seedlings, killing them before they could mature." He shudders delicately. "The monster then threatened to release it if the other cities and groves failed to comply. When we refused to cooperate, he followed through, releasing an airborne version of the plague. It swiftly destroyed all of the seedlings on the planet."
"So it killed a bunch of plants?"
"In a sense. Those of our own kind, as well as many of the wild beasts, grow from seedlings. The effect on the ecology was devastating. The plague, alas for us, lingered for several years, killing all new seedlings before they could develop. Our population dropped rapidly, and many species of wild beasts were greatly affected as well. The Mars of today is but a shadow of its former beauty and fertility." He looks dramatically off into the distance, a tear glistening visibly in one eye. "During the onslaught of the plague, most groves exhausted themselves struggling to raise viable seedlings. They died out completely in that losing battle. A few far-thinking groves, like my own, fled to the Dream World to wait. We waited many years for an opportunity to rebuild our superior culture. And now... that opportunity has arrived!"
"Through taking over the bodies of humans, you mean."
"We believe that now, centuries later, the plague is gone from our atmosphere. That is why we have borrowed your grovemates' bodies, to enable us to develop new pod forms and rebuild our world."
"So this is temporary, then. But still..."
You see a grim, long-haired man with a straggly beard.
"Cursed worms. You are everywhere! What do you want from me?!"
"And who do you think you... be?"
"I am Pashesh, not that it is any of your business. Your kind call me Lenin. I am assistant to Bikchiz, Great High Ambassador to the Grove of Elysium. I know all about the most important plantals and places. I have also learned some of the knowledge of your kind." He looks pained. "I even learned something of your primitive navigation tools to better communicate with worms."
"Bikchiz was a lot nicer than you."
"He is a great plant. He is the only one with a true sense of the relations between the groves." He sighs, as though his patience is being sorely tried. "I occasionally forget exactly how culturally handicapped you worms really are." He speaks slowly and loudly, as though to a small child. "A grove is the basic unit of society here on Mars. Plantals such as myself gather in groups to form groves. The grove of Elysium is the most socially progressive grove. We are culturally more advanced than the others, and therefore, better. The plantals here are the most sophisticated of our race. We are an elite grove."
"And yet you don't shower or shave. I guess you're not used to being made of meat."
You see a dishevelled black man.
"You are a true worm! What do you want from me?"
"You're not looking too good yourself."
"I am Cheshef to my plantals, though your folk insist on calling me Carver. I am Cultivator to Elysium. It is my grove responsibility to nurture the Martian pods that will be our last chance for survival. In truth, I am an assistant Cultivator. I advanced myself after the death of the Cultivator of Elysium, shortly before our flight to the Dream World. I am all that Elysium has at this time, though my qualifications are sadly lacking."
"What manner of qualifications does a Cultivator require?"
"I know the basics of plant growth. One must have soil, water, and proper fertilizer. Unfortunately, I know no more than that. It is a shame you worms have not proven intelligent enough to assist us with our problem." He looks at you with contempt, yet you detect a glimmer of questioning hope.
"You don't have any water? The place does look a little, uh, dry."
"Our scout, Xichak, has been searching for water. You should ask him what he has found. As to fertilizer, three ingredients are required. I do not know what they are. I wish there were some record of the process, but my predecessor did not keep written records. Unfortunately, treatment with the wrong chemicals could harm a fragile seed. We must not take the chance. Fazek used to trade for some of our chemicals from the Hellas grove. He might remember!"
"Do you actually have seeds available?"
"To grow new pods, one would need healthy seeds. Alas, ours are contaminated from the plague. One would need to retrieve seeds from Hellas or Argyre to grow pods here. And they have secured their seeds well."
You see a dark, scruffy-looking man with uncombed hair.
"Another intelligent worm! Will wonders never cease?"
"I'm Steve, nice to meet you too."
"I am known to my plantals as Fazek, though worms call me Melies. I am the Gatherer for the Grove of Elysium. I am responsible for gathering the materials to prepare the soil for raising the grove's seedlings. The education of our youth is an important responsibility. I also traded soil and chemicals with the other groves, most notably Hellas, to insure the highest quality mixture. Water, of course, was plentiful in the past. Now, you might have to go break a chunk from the icecaps, as we did during the worst droughts."
"Why is soil and fertilizer so important?"
"The organic products of the grove, including cast-off leaves, dead grove members, etc., are composted to enrich fertile soil. This is the way we pass on information to future generations, through our soil and by trading with the other groves for a more healthy mixture. I understand that worm young are born with no knowledge and must be trained later. How inefficient."
"So what about your seedlings?"
"Those are the responsibility of the Cultivator, Cheshef. She will tell you more about them if she wishes to."
"She knows she's in the body of a black man, right?"
"Perhaps, but we must endure for now. Our chemicals mostly came from a grove to the south of us, Hellas. Their Gatherer Pukchep and I did the actual trading. Their Cultivator, Plashef, had quite an impressive laboratory. He was also in charge of their seeds."
"Where was this lab?"
"If you have a sun-angle device you can find it at coordinates 25S 75E."
It was the tradition of the Moonsspeakers to always cut the pod from the plant before opening it, and to open the pod with a single stroke from stem to tip. As our old tradition was to leave the pod on the plant and to use the Wormsword to open it (which was of course anathema to the Moonsspeakers, the only serious problem with their choice of ourselves to merge with) our compromise tradition is to use the normal ritual pod-knife but to leave the pod on the plant.
That's a Martian perspective. Let's see what Carver had observed about the Martian environment before some Martian chick took over his body.
Plants occasionally devoured other plants, and worms almost always were predators.
Apparently, for ritual or biological reasons, the Martians held the soil where a Martian grew to be at least as important in determining its capabilities as its genetic heritage. The gentlemen of the expedition who are more gifted than myself in interpreting the artifacts for social structures are in fact convinced that genetic heritage was operative only in determining physical capacities, while mental and spiritual development came almost purely from the soil.
I have reconstructed the techniques the Martians used to cultivate themselves. Their reproduction was by alternation of generation, with a sessile, nonsentient generation and a motile, sentient generation. It is my hope that some seeds somewhere survived whatever disaster befell the race. I believe that a newly-planted seed was watered and then fertilized with a nitrogen compound, a phosphorous solution, and a potash mixture. Not surprisingly, the areas where young Martians were growing were kept safe and visited only by specialists, but there appears also to have been a belief that community leaders should come to visit the growing pods every few days.
Useful information. Carver was a brilliant botanist and agricultural scientist, after all. The reason why the Martians aren't aware of this, I suspect, is because they can't read his journal.
Oh and there's more Martians around here.
You see an older man, dirty and dishevelled.
"Ah, worm. I have heard of you. What do you seek here?"
"And you are?"
"Chaktsaf is how I am called by plantals. Yours refer to me as Tiffany. I am the Arborist here in Elysium's grove."
"What does that mean?"
"I tend to the health of the mature Martians in the colony. I am also responsible for contacting the Gatherer for proper distribution of compost. Always busy, always busy! I will also be assisting with the transference process to the new seedlings."
"So you're kind of like a doctor."
"Most of us were fairly healthy before the plague. Most deaths were either due to old age or improper early growth patterns. The plague was an invention of that demented plant, Raxachk. It makes me ill to imagine what kind of a mind would conceive such purposeful destruction of their entire race. He is evidently a planticidal maniac. He is so power-hungry that he never really considered the consequences. Do you know that he destroyed all of our seedlings? All of them!"
"So I had heard."
"They were our only hope for the survival of our race. He knew that. Their deaths were horrible. And without them, our race is doomed. We may be the end of our race. You see, without new seedlings to survive us when we compost, there is no passing on the knowledge of our race. That knowledge has been grown into our descendents for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Without seedlings, our physical and mental heritage are gone. We are the last."
"So the plague has made it impossible to grow new, uh, kids?"
"The newest ones we tried to create were mutated, so twisted in their growth patterns that they were unable to survive. The older ones were poisoned, they withered..."
"So how do you plan to fix that?"
"Once Cheshef has raised a young Martian, we will be able to transfer the consciousness of one of my grovemates into it. There must, of course, be a willing plant sitting in the Dream Machine in the Dream World. When the machine is activated with a plant in that machine, and a seedling in our machine here, the consciousness will be transferred. There will be a known and loved grovemate in the body of a plant once again."
"And if we could do that, the humans could be returned to their own bodies as well."
Finally, we find Mr. Lowell. Or a Martian who seems to think he's not Mr. Lowell.
You see a dark-bearded man, very unkempt.
"You are not of my grove. What is your business in this place? I am Tekapesh, though your species believe I am called Lowell."
"Well, you used to be. What kooky Martian are you this time?"
"I have the honor to be the Agrarian of the grove of Elysium. An Agrarian, such as myself, is the guiding force of a grove. My grove includes my kinsmen and the soil in which we sink our roots. We are the last hope of the Martian race. Pashesh, the assistant ambassador, knows more about each individual in the grove than I do. You should speak to him about any specific plantals."
"I'm more interested in you and your plans for... whatever it is you people are doing."
"We are dedicated to the resurrection of the true Martian form. We must cast off these fleshy, disgusting shells and live as civilized plants once more. We still have hope that we will be able to grow new plantal bodies for our consciousness. We believe in action. Those fools in Hellas are content to wait forever for a miracle. They do not understand our methods. We have broken official communication with Hellas for the time being."
"How do you plan to resurrect Mars?"
"Centuries ago, a dread plague covered the surface of Mars, contaminating our environment. Several of my race fled into the Dream World, cormbroken at the prospect of leaving behind our elegant plantal forms. Now that the plague has dispersed with the passage of time, we have emerged from that stasis to rebuild our race. We do wish, eventually, to transfer our superior intellects from these wormlike bodies to more suitable forms using the Dream Machines. We must, after all, have something with the ability to transfer knowledge and memories from generation to generation. Your bodies begin blank and must relearn everything. So tragic. That is why we are more advanced. The key to our plan is the cultivation of new, healthy Martian pods for my grovemates."
"And then you intend to return the humans to their own bodies, yes?"
"We will abandon these shells when there is a more suitable form for us. Not before."
"I'm not sure I'm scared of anything I can kill with a pesticide mister."
"I doubt that one of your limited animal intelligence can comprehend the glorious advancements of civilization as developed by our plantal race. We are, of course, the most advanced form of intellect in the system."
"Not as long as Warren Spector is in this era, buddy."
Just a couple more Martians to go in Elysium. This one looks a bit familiar...
You see a man with a full moustache and a glorious mane of white hair.
"Welcome, worm. What do you need from us?"
"I wish you people'd stop calling me that."
"I bear the designation Sisik. Your worms call me Clemens or Twain. They seem to be confused about that. I help Fazek, my supervisor. I am the assistant Gatherer. He does most of the actual collecting, though."
"What does a Gatherer do?"
"He collects soil with the leaves and bodies of our grovemates composted into it. We trade it to other groves for their soil and prepare it for our seedlings. Or we did," He looks confused. "Things are all so different now. I, meanwhile, take the gathered materials and follow instructions to create the proper soil environment for each individual seedling. The soil contains the accumulated knowledge of the individuals which were preserved in that particular batch of compost. Now, of course, all of the planet's soil is barren."
"You can actually pass on knowledge like that?"
"Everything a plant has learned and all of its memories are stored in the compost to pass on to its descendents. We use both the dropped leaves and remnants and the bodies of our mates who are deceased. The new seedlings are grown in the compost and learn from it. When a Martian is released from its pod, it is already what you worms would call a young adult. That, you see, is the tragedy of your race. You cannot pass on knowledge after your death. That is why we do not wish to retain your bodies permanently. That, and the fact that it would be wrong of us to leave your grovemates locked in the Dream World."
"How altruistic of you."
"Goodbye, then. May the sands be still, may the sun be bright, and may your leaves always be green." He smiles gently. "Or something like that, eh?"
He wasn't so bad. It seems there's a bit of a divide between the Martians. Some of them seem to want our help, while others consider us uncultured worms. But what's with this "worm" thing anyway?
One last Martian to give us that info.
You see a tan, weathered man.
"Well met, worm. You know, I am constantly amazed by the standard of intelligence evidenced by you humans. Talking animals. Hmph."
"What does that mean, anyway? Nobody's really explained this."
"On Mars, true intelligence has developed only among plants. Humans are a much more developed species of worm than we are used to seeing here. There are two branches of life on Mars: vegetation, of which the Martian race is, of course, the msot highly evolved example, and subterranean shelled worms. The worms live underground, where they do not have to compete with the more adaptive and viable plants. They are exemplified by rockworms, ammonoids, and canal worms. The rockworms are large worms with armored shells that are found in close proximity to radium deposits. I'm not enough of a scientist to know exactly what they do with the radium, but I do know that if you search their empty shells, you'll often find unusual amounts of radium stored there. Ammonites are multi-tentacled worms with chambered shells. Their bite is dangerous, and their shells are very difficult to penetrate. Canal worms are the largest worms on the planet. They have shed their shells and they live under water. They pose a great threat to barge travel."
"Not without water. They're probably all long dead. What makes you so knowledgable about the worms, anyway?"
"I am the naturalist for the Elysium grove. I have explored and observed much of the Martian wilderness. My travels have taken me from one pole to the other. I have encountered many strange and wonderful creatures. At this time, most of my exploration is in search of a source of water. It seems that the best answer for now would be to go to the icecaps. Of course, you would need to put the ice in a bucket to bring it back, otherwise it would melt and you would bring back nothing."
"Thanks, I guess. I didn't catch your name."
"It is Xichak. Worms seem to prefer the name Earp for this body."
Elysium's Dream Machine is under lock and key, and I doubt the Martians are going to let me in to muck around, so it's off to Hellas, where one of the Elysium members fled to live as a hermit for some reason. At least we know what's going on around here. More or less.