Mars Martis, the Roman God of war had been defeated. His red fires quenched, with alien waters and his paltry soil profaned by the undiscriminating terraforming process. Where microbes once squirmed, the new generation of pioneers staked their false claim.
The children believed that from the top of the hill, that if you looked hard enough just past Phobos you could see the Earth. Marco boasted that he had been able to see its moon with his father's telescope as the group of gangly children squinted their eager eyes towards their true homeland. And today a man from Earth was going to visit.
Marco's father placed his arm tentatively over the boy's shoulder. "It's time to go," he sighed softly, having resigned himself to a life of science, shutting off dreams about far-off lands. His wistful voice seemed to rise, echo, and join the wispy white atmosphere pinned against the stark, starry beyond but he took no notice. The large crowd forming at the base of the hill offered a greater concern. Alain was the head of the science centre for the Western province and the last thing he could be doing with were restless civilians disturbing the centre's grounds.
The hill was a natural meeting place: a vantage point from which one could see the cosmos through the thin layer of breathable air or simply gaze over the red-hewn plains leading to the Western sea. The early settlers had erected a small monument there 300 years ago at the beginning of time where it had watched a society blossom and forget it, naively unaware of it's true lineage.
"I could see the Earth father. I wonder what it's like." Alain remained aloof, not answering his son. In fact, he himself had taken to gazing at the sky as a child, looking beyond the ominous potato-shaped moon. But today he was content to survey the crowd gathered at the science centre.
Alain kissed Marco's forehead and said, "You can stay here with your friends if you want, but I have to go now." The gathering was unsettled and it was time to get the visitor.
* * *
"He's waking up. Somebody speak."
"How are we going to tell him?"
The doctors spoke in whispers, some of fear and some of excitement.
"I can't believe that this has finally worked!" added a junior medic.
"Keep quiet!" snapped Alain, "He's going to open his eyes." Alain was all too aware of the potential risks at this stage of the defrosting procedure. Earlier attempts had led to messy failures.
He opened his eyes. "How do you feel?" inquired Alain.
"Cold." He replied blandly, picking the most obvious adjective from the void. He began to rise from his sleeping position, swathed in a nondescript white tunic. He was surrounded by a curious yet familiar array of doctors and his head spun. "I had another heart attack, didn't I?" Concerned glances were shared. "One of these days it's going to be fatal!" he joked.
The doctors were silent and ominous. He surveyed them noting how tall and lithe they seemed in comparison to him. And muscular also. One man bent over him, his face benevolent.
"John-Robert-Thompson, my name is Alain. Welcome to the Western province of Mars. You died of myocardial dysfunction many years ago and have been awakened from cryogenic suspension in accordance with your wishes."
John's eyes squinted as the steely rhetoroic began to skin in. Memories flooded back to John- of his wife, his work, the First Millennial Foundation, the violent heart attack...
And the planned cryogenic suspension.
Could it be that he had been awakened with his fellow directors to reap the rewards of his years of hard graft? "So the Martian project was a success?" asked John coyly.
"Absolutely. Thanks to the work of the First Millennial Foundation's founding members like you we are now living in Nirvana. The Foundation continues to spread life throughout the galaxy."
John sighed. In the weeks before his heart attack he had questioned the morality of the Martian project. He had confronted his fellow directors - was the rape of a fellow planet necessary for the needs of the human race? Microscopic life forms had been discovered on Mars that - given time and good luck - could found the beginnings of a unique eco-system. But apparently ideology and arrogance had overruled his concerns after all and the plan had proceeded. Mars would terraformed to support human life at the expense of the primitive inhabitants and a new society would have created. If his memory served him correctly, the Martian colony was to test a new theory of social order and development - all colonists knew nothing of their race, nationality, religion and other things that had divided humanity in the past. Moreover, they knew nothing of society on Earth.
"And what of my colleagues?" questioned John.
Alain hesitated. "Remember that you were frozen 300 years ago. There were complications in the preservation process." His face contorted theatrically. John didn't like him one bit.
"Some of the earlier members just had their heads frozen. I don't know what they expected us to do with them!" piped a tactless medic.
John stood up, steadied himself and his presumption that the doctors were taller than him was confirmed. The smallest man must have been at least six feet tall. "Come with me," said Alain, "a great many people are here to see you."
* * *
The crowd was indeed large and comprised of people of every colour and race imaginable. United. Alain had earlier explained that there was no conflict amongst the people - "war" was an unknown word to him. When questioned by John, Alain explained that the Martians' stature was due to the reduced level of gravity which was also providing a strange experience for John. Each step was torturous, fighting for balance and control while taking an immense amount of effort. John freely admitted how unfit he was, but the queasy sensations quite overcame him.
The gathering continued to stare at John on the podium - he refused to give a speech on matter of principle. Some children were singing a welcoming song as John absorbed the manufactured landscape. The science centre was situated at the bottom of a large hill with a strange monument at the top. Nearby lay the Western Sea, which to him seemed simply a pool of water filling a crater since it lacked any waves or blue tinge. He concluded that this was due to the lack of sky of any recognisable tate which, nevertheless, presented a breathtaking view of the cosmos. The water was just H2O - no life at all. In the distance there were lush forests and green grasslands, all suppressing the fiery soil. Looming above was Deimos, the attendant of the God of war, waiting patiently for the time to crash into the surface of Mars in vengance for the violation of his master.
The children finished their song leaving a gaping silence filled with neither creatures nor winds. Alain had begun to disperse the crowd when John felt a sudden jolt of pain in the centre of his chest. He was winded and fell to his knees in agony. The crowd gasped as the pain coursed in punishing waves through his left arm. He was having a heart attack. He could hear voices and confusion as he slipped into unconsciousness, knowing that death was imminent.
* * *
"John-Robert-Thompson. Welcome back. You died of myocardial dysfunction and have been reanimated in accordance with your wishes."
John lay, breathing deeply. The horrific feeling of deja vu was potent. "What have you done to me?" he asked tartly. Alain was shocked. "I thought you wanted this! Surely you would rather not still be dead. We can bring you back from seeming death, but we can't rid you of this curious heart dysfunction you have!"
Another colleague backed up Alain with more relish. "We assumed that you would wish to continue to enjoy life with us in the event of a relapse."
"It's not enough for you people to destroy this planet is it? Do you have to violate my body too? I'm just a freak to you!"
Alain retreated as John stood up and advanced towards him.
"Your people are naive, bland, dead. I'm ashamed to have been a part of this mess. Do you realise that this place means nothing to me? Nirvana you call it?" John's face was reddening, his heart pounding. "I wish I had stayed dead. I'm in hell now and I can't escape."
Alain looked John in the eye and with new-found confidence said "You created this!" gesturing beyond the glass panel to the solitary monument on the top of the rock-mound.
And John knew that the monument testified that every word was true.