Welcome to Mars! is a story told in three episodes, posted serially by me, your farcical framer of fictitious facts, Cheeseburger Brown.
Related reading: The Long Man, Plight of the Transformer
Our story of interplanetary conquest concludes:
The world gasped.
Horns honked, and stadiums full of people surged to their feet to cheer or bellow. Journalists sighed with relief, knowing they had an explosive lead for the nightly news as clergy on every continent set frothing to their keyboards, having seized upon the inescapable theme of their next sermon.
At Mission Control in Houston the Managing Director of Commercial Relations sprinted with a fresh print-out in her hand, waving it over her head triumphantly. "The Nielsens are through the roof!" she cried, and the engineers at their consoles pumped their fists in the air, hooting and grinning, shaking hands and squeezing one another's shoulders in mutual congratulation.
It was, as they say, a media frenzy.
Framed by the stars, Captain Yolande Grimaux the celebrated Swiss lesbian and Lieutenant Franklin Fisher the world's first self-proclaimed extra-terrestrial homosexual, had kissed. Mars was instantly redubbed "the planet of love."
"I didn't mean to," whispered Fisher hoarsely, smelling her hair.
"It's okay, Frank," Grimaux whispered back, stroking his cheek.
They held hands and drifted in the micro-gravity, saying nothing further, eyes squinched shut. The last thing either of them wanted to see was the unblinking eye of the cameras; the last thing either of them wanted to think about was how they were now the most famous romantic couple alive, the object of the collective gossip and gawk of billions of human beings.
Fisher was in heaven: he had shown the world that his sexual orientation was at the very least ambiguous enough to include snogging hot lesbians. Grimaux was in hell: she had shown herself just how low she would sink, accepting promises of riches in exchange for agreeing to commit the largest distraction in history.
She ached, imagining how her partner in Geneva must be reeling.
On the surface of the red planet, on the rocky edge of Dao Vallis, Major Keith Nelly was faring comparably poorly. He felt as if he might throw up. His eyes snapped open as the customs officer spoke again, his gravelly, lilting voice crisp through his helmet's speakers. He said, "Why don't you gents come inside for a spell, warm yourselves up?"
"Inside where?" demanded Nelly sharply.
The silver-suited interloper gestured over his shoulder. "There's a lock just back there, at the base of the cliffs. What say we head over, take a load off and chat some?"
Abrams looked up from the clipboard. "That's very hospitable of you." He shoved the clipboard under his arm and extended a gloved hand. "I'm Abrams. Lawrence Abrams."
"Pleasure," said Dwayne. "You from Boston?"
"Originally. I live in Tel Aviv now."
Dwayne nodded. "I'm originally from Earth, too. Born in Maine, but I spent a lot of years over the border in New Brunswick on account of Vietnam. The name's Dwayne Edgar Rogers."
Abrams bowed his head politely. "This is Major Keith Nelly, our mission commander."
"Pleasure," said Dwayne again.
Nelly said nothing.
"Well, we'd best get a move on," decided Dwayne with a farmer-like appraisal of the rosy sky. He turned around and walked out of the shadow of the lemonade machine, heading for the nearby base of the cliffs. "Come on, Heinlein," he called. The dog bounded at his heels, tail wagging eagerly.
"Come on, Keith," cajoled Abrams on the private circuit as he started after the pair. "We've got nothing to lose."
"This is damn peculiar," growled Nelly, following reluctantly.
Beyond the next looming boulder a space had been cut into the cliff face, with two sets of riveted windows framing a large, round aperture marked DAO LOCK 17. Dwayne touched a control beside it and the aperture ground open. The three men and the amicable dog stepped inside and the door closed behind them.
A loud hissing sounded as the chamber was pressurized with warm oxygen and nitrogen. Their helmets fogged up.
The inner door clicked and drew aside. Dwayne gestured to proceed, and the two astronauts in their bulky white environment suits walked cautiously past him and into a spacious lobby with a black and white tiled floor, the lines blurred by their misted faceplates. Abrams looked over the infographic display in his helmet and nodded at Nelly. "It's clean," he reported, reaching for his collar.
Nelly grabbed his arm. "Don't," he said. He looked over his shoulder. "Wait for him."
Dwayne sauntered up beside them as he cracked the seal on his collar and lifted the silver helmet off his head. He was an old man -- at least seventy but maybe eighty -- his look robust and tough. He ran a wide, liver-spotted hand through his crew-cut white hair. His face was square and weathered, his eyes a liquid blue. He knelt down beside Heinlein the dog and popped off his helmet, too. Heinlein scampered across the lobby to a plastic water dish and lapped at its contents.
Abrams took off his own helmet. After a brief hesitation Nelly followed suit. The air was clear and refreshing, smelling slightly of mint.
The men looked around.
The lobby was furnished two simple benches, one before each bank of windows, a small steel cart with steam rising from its top at the far end. Beside the cart was a chair with a newspaper on it; the banner said THE MARTIAN HERALD and the headline story was TERRANS TO ATTEMPT LANDING illustrated with a smiling photograph of Major Nelly. Beyond the chair was a row of kiosks with shuttered windows fronted by a series of pole and velvet chain barriers to organize a queue. Above the kiosks was a multilingual sign: CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION...
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