The Martian
A tribute to Ray Bradbury
By Relena Peacecraft

The rocket landed in a puff of grey smoke, the only thing to break the red
landscape. The hatch opened with a hiss of pneumatic slides, and the first Human
team to Mars stepped out onto the red sands.

The dry air was dusty and hard on my lungs, but I would get used to it before
long.

I looked around, taking in the surroundings. My team and I hadn't seen land in
three years. We had been in chryo-sleep pods for the first part of the journey
from Earth, but the need to conserve extra power had forced us to leave our icy
coffins. It had been a very long three years. Now, these wide open spaces almost
unnerved me. The rocket had been so small.

Somehow, as we stood in silence, looking out at the red landscape, the notion
that we were on Mars, so far away from our homes, didn't exactly sink in. It looked
almost like any other desert. Almost.

We quickly took our assignments and separated, each of us carrying whatever
supplies and equipment we needed for the next month. I knew there was no danger in
being alone here. Earth scientists had found no life left on Mars, and the lower
gravity made the risk of falls considerably less. We were all capable of fending for
ourselves.

I was the team's sole archaeologist, so I chose to investigate the old ruins of
the Martian city. I wondered many times as I worked under the hot desert sun,
what had happened to them and where they could have gone. Had their death been
long and gradual, a slow stagnation and decline, or had they all just dissapeared?
The relative perfection of the old ruins suggested a rather hasty departure. A
plague, maybe?

I didn't know.

I quickly fell into a regular work schedule, starting my excavations before
the sun had risen and continuing long past nightfall.

The more I worked, classifying and cataloging the odd Martian artifacts, the
more I became fascinated by the vanished race. The things I dug up were strangely
compelling, as if they were imbued by the spirits of the long-dead Martians.

It was Wednesday of my second week, or I thought it was Wednesday. One
tended to lose track in the isolation. The noonday sun was high overhead, shining
down on my excavation area. I had taken my midday break and was resting in the
shadow of one of the smaller ruins. As I bandaged the small cuts that I had gotten
digging that day, I noticed how bronzed I was becoming. It was surprising, because
such a golden color was completely uncharacteristic of me. I thought nothing of it
as the day went on, assuming that the Alien light and environment had strangely
effected my melanin.

I went back to work quickly, not wanting to waste another moment. I had
already spent a week and a half digging, and there was still so much to uncover. I
began scraping and brushing again, and that's when I noticedHim, out of the corner
of my eye. He was sitting at the base of a crumbling pillar, dressed in some kind of
loose desert attire, the sun reflecting off of his gold skin and shining in his yellow
eyes. I stood slowly, not wanting to startle him. Disjointedly I wondered if I had
been spending too much time out in the heat; my eyes were telling me I was seeing a
Martian.

But they were all dead...weren't they?

He got to his feet and took a step forward, his yellow cat's eyes fixed on me.

"Hello..." I began, then stopped, realizing how silly it was of me to expect him
to understand.

He made no sign of even having heard me, but continued to move forward. He
stopped a foot from where I stood, his shadow blocking out the sun. He was much
taller than he had appeared to be. He reached out and touched my hair, running his
hand through the faded red strands. I held totally still. This was the strangest
thing that had ever happened to me. Suddenly, he turned on his heel and disappeared
into the ruins. I stood for a moment, stunned, before I shook myself out of my
reverie and went after him, but he had vanished.

How very odd. I must be sure to drink more water, I thought.

I worked for another week without another visit from my mysterious Martian.
When he finally returned, it was night and I had allowed myself to light a fire. The
Martian nights tended to get very cold.

He suddenly appeared in the circle of light. I jumped. He had made no noise
on his approach. He stood for a moment, regarding me with those strange eyes.
Then he sat down across the fire, still holding me with his gaze. I felt myself
flinch under those eyes, but forced myself to meet them. Suddenly, it was as if
some barriar had broken. I felt no discomfort under his scrutiny, and I
almost...welcomed it. It seemed almost as if I had known him before...

Suddenly, I looked down at my hands. I noticed with a start that they were
the same color as his. Instantly unnerved, I flipped some of my hair down into my
face to see what color it was. My fiery red hair had gone the color of scorched
sands. I looked across the fire to my companion, but I found him, not across from
me, but beside me. I looked up into his face, saw the reflection of my own in his
mirror-like eyes...and saw the same eyes staring back at me from my own face. For
some reason, I felt no alarm. It was as if some natural cycle were being fulfilled.

Over the next week I stayed at the abandoned city less often, spending most
of my time in the dead sea bottem, or in the blue mountains whos foothills ran right
up to the edge of the dry sea. The reason why I had been in the dead city in the
first place slowly escaped me. It no longer seemed important, somehow. As my body
grew taller and thinner, more supple and golden, I felt finally at home in the
environment. It was Home, and the only one I had ever known.

Wasn't it?

Captain Felk came looking for Dr. Andrews three days after the agreed
rendezvous time.

This is not like her, he thought as he picked his way among the ruins he was
sure she had been working in. As he came to the center of the old Martian city he
saw something lying on the ground. As he approached, he saw it was Dr. Andrews'
archaeological tools. He frowned, knowinghow attatched she was to the instruments.
He turned them over thoughtfully in his hands. She never would have left her tools
like this...if she were alive.

A search party turned up nothing. Not even the faintest trail of what had
happened to her remained in the bleak Martian dust. At last, the crew was forced to
take off, leaving behind only a marker bearing Dr. Andrews' name.

Many years later, a beautiful golden woman sat thoughtfully in front of the
marker, carefully studying the inscription. She could make nothing of it, though the
strange carved shapes seemed oddly familiar to her.
She couldn't figure out why.