Monday 24 September 2007

Welcome to Mars! - Part Three

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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Shadowphone said...

Huh... that was odd.

So "snog" is a colloquialism in Canada too?

Cute name for the dog.

Mark said...

Interesting. So the Shah is behind it? Hmm... Whatever it is.

Abrams seemed awfully quick to acquiesce and go in guns blazing. Still, I hope he doesn't suffocate or freeze to death.

I think the Martians will save him.

Simon said...

That *was* sort of odd, but fun. I'm glad that I was at least able to predict Abrams' defection. I guessed that at the end of the last chapter and the feeling only grew stronger as this third instalment progressed.

Like Mark though, I really didn't buy the doctor shooting the dog. The whole relationship between Nelly and Abrams seemed to have grown an element of amused disdain from the doctor towards the Major. And that whole thing was blown apart with that little bit of what was nearly blind obedience. Not a major quibble, but it stood out way more than anything else.

What helped this chapter really work for me, too, was the reduced cast. The brief mention of the snoggers at the beginning, and then the rest of the action dedicated to the doc and Nelly. More new questions than resolutions again, but that's to be expected. Still, nice to find out about the Shah.

And Peter, "snog" isn't nearly as common here in Canada as in, say, the UK. Is that where you hail from? I like to think that in scenarios like this, CBB throws in a few incongruous colloquialisms in order to promote the idea of blending cultures in our future. Besides, it's just a fun verb!

Tolomea said...

Yes, the Shah who "takes...a long view", that seems like a solid hint that Lallo missed at least one.

That aside, I liked this story, it was fun, although I do get a little frustrated with the hanging endings, I hope we get to find out further down the line what happened to Adams.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Peter,

"Snog" is uncommon here, but nothing beats it when it's called for. It has a compact, verby punch that just can't be satisfied by terms like "making out" or "kissing."

Dear Mark,

Yes, clearly I was too brisk with Abrams' decision there. I was trying to convey that principles can crumble quickly when the business end of a lethal weapon is pointed at you, but obviously I gave the passage too short shift.

I can safely reveal that the Martians will indeed save him. In fact, I'm pretty sure we'll be seeing the good doctor again in the future.

Dear Simon,

I kind of wished I could've included Balour in here, too, but when I boiled this story down to the bones to make it fit in the format I wanted it to, it became extraneous to include anyone except Nelly, Abrams and the customs officer.

(The customs officer was originally a party of three, but that's another element that was pared down for economy's sake.)

This was definitely a bit of a shaky telling, but I'm less displeased with the final product than I feared I might've been. I'm still trying to get a hang of this whole split attention thing, giving half my writing brain to another project as we go.

I'll find my feet.

Dear Tolomea,

Well, perhaps rest assured with regard to hanging endings that you can't come across too many of them before I'm bound to cough up a resolution story. Hanging endings mean I'm setting something up, after all.

(In this universe, there really aren't filler episodes so much as dangling clues.)

And yes, it really does seem like the Shah is long, doesn't it? We shall have to investigate that situation more closely, I should think.

Dear all,

I'm not sure what's coming up next. A Reasonable Expectation, mentioned earlier, isn't quite ripe yet so I may have to go another route next week.

Stories currently churning my brain for the coming weeks:

* A story of delinquency and cruelty (A Reasonable Expectation)
* The fate of war-time Mike Zhang Cuthbertson (working title And Bananas For All!).
* A brief Mr. Mississauga diversion (working title The Taste of Blue).

Stories currently in pre-churning:

* How Dr. Zoran discovered the Secret Mathematic (working title The Secret Mathematic).
* The genesis of the Human Executives (Robot Camp).

And, as usual, I'm interested in hearing from you out there about what stories you'd like to read.

Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

The Martians story would be nice, you know the one where they save Abrams and we get to find out just what sort of a setup they have and who of our other friends from that time period have also emigrated, oh and how they got there.

Mark said...

Here's a vote for And Bananas for All!

Holst's The Planets is one of my all-time favorites, by the way. I've had the CD for about 20 years now, and it's still going strong. I had "Mars: Bringer of War" in my head while reading. Such a foreboding song added a nice touch. And, of course, I love the whistling.

Simon said...


Since Mike *did* start this blog adventure for us, he has a bit of a soft spot in my heart. And not knowing exactly what happened to him has been a source of some consternation these intervening months. That's my first choice.

And Robot Camp seems like it'd be a lot of fun, having both executives and, maybe, Dr. Zoran. Or do they not actually become executives until some time after the good doctor's demise?

Will be sure to enjoy whatever else is doled out.

gl. said...

i had a hard time with abrams abrupt decision to shoot the dog, too. and it makes less sense for nelly to threaten him when almost immediately afterwards he wants to keep abrams from committing "suicide."

i have a big soft spot for mike, but i'm a little nervous to focus on dr. zoran. it's like he should remain a mythical figure. but robot camp sounds fun.

Teddy said...

Kindergarten taught me to share, so I say And Bananas For All! The last we heard of our Mike was, if I recall correctly, a rumor of his demise (perhaps exaggerated?) in The Reaper's Coleslaw.

I don't think he's really dead, and he must have something to do with this all, but I don't quite know what. Of all the loose ends making up this towel of a yarn, he's the shortest but only out of lack of information.

al said...

Personaly I would like to hear more Long Man stories :-)

Bridget said...

Any and all of your currently churning stories sound wonderful. Of course, I have a soft spot for Mr. Miss. But don't tell him, OK?

Recently, whenever I hear Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War," I picture the scene from The Venture Brothers episode ("Hate Floats") where the two monarch henchmen, #21 and #24, are singing along to it together during the pre-title dramatic moment buildup. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Whoo, all of those stories sound great. Simon, I think they became "executives" when they took over human government (during Tim's time), though their official title may not have come until later.

I can't wait to see what role Mr. Miss plays with his special brand of synesthesia (and don't think the pun of his shortened last name is lost on us).

This was a bit clipped, but considering that our hero protagonist and our author were both under considerable duress, it came out quite well.

Of course CBB wants us to think that the Shah is long, with a sly comment like that... but what if it's actually Bahram? After all, the son of the Shah would eventually become the Shah, correct? Kind of like the Dread Pirate Roberts, but different :)

Anonymous said...

I'll vote for 'And Bananas For All'. I miss the Mike.

Anonymous said...

"Wan Nah-nah" As my son would put it :) Its been too long since we've seen Mike.

Anonymous said...

I'm casting my vote for 'And Bananas For All,' both for the revelation of Mike's whereabouts, and the possibility of more information about the war.

To be quite frank, I'm glad that this encampment turned out to be a ruse, because the prospect of Martians breeding fast enough to create millions of citizens in mere decades was hurting my brain.

Also: "I'm fully cocked, Doc." Truer words have never been spoken.