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Be warned: the following sequence will only last seventeen and a half (17.5) seconds. “Only” is a slight misnomer, though. Seventeen and a half seconds is the longest time anybody ever spent on the surface of Mars.

Most missions end after 3 to 4 seconds and bring back very little data. No, scratch this. Here goes: most mission end in instantaneous death. Gory, messy death. It’s only the successful missions which mostly end after 3 to 4 seconds.

Honestly, I am not doing my best to confuse you. This is genuinely complicated.

So, since we don’t have much time, there are a lot of things which cannot yet be explained. Why is it so important to run? Why is the Dog so happy never to grow up? Why cannot it feel the grass under its feet?

We’ll have to come back to that later.

In the meantime, here is Richard E. Sains. On Mars. A long time ago.


I arrive on the surface of Mars and the first thing I do is look around! Damn! They told me not to do that! Don’t look around. You’ll have plenty of time for that later. Run!

There is nothing to see anyway. The landscape is flat, covered in grass with a few palm trees here and there. I don’t know where to go.

So I run. My training take over and this word – run – is after all the true motto of Mars. There are few problems on this planet that cannot be solved by a good run. Plus, it keeps the dog happy. They can go so fast! A mere two seconds and I am already near the sound barrier. Granted, this is Mars where the cold air vibrates more slowly. No matter,  I can go faster still, and soon I see towers and spires rise on the horizon. A city. It’s 4.3 seconds.

It is one of those strange Martian dwellings, which always seemed to hide from the landscape as much as in it. Its buildings look made of the rock itself, but also wary of it, fortified as much down below as they are above. But then little is known of the wars of the ancient Martians, save that they were frequent and bloody.

But quick! I enter the city’s main arteries as my internal clock passes the six seconds mark. I have to slow down, now: this part of the town is already known of our computers: a green light flashes somewhere at the edge of my vision. To go and find more promising places, I’ll need all of the dog’s agility. Quick, take a right in this alley! Carry on! Right again, and left! The light disappears; good, I am again in unexplored territories.

I use my nose now, as much as my sight. Left, right, left, right. Every door and tunnel entrance. They all have the same smell of happiness: there are dogs everywhere, guarding. I cannot enter these places.

Nine seconds now! This is good! How many have lasted that long?

Here! Stay now! An open door, a strange smell of blood. Is that a whine? But not a dog’s whine. There is nothing here to stop me coming in.

I do. The floor is both sticky and slippery, but I am slow now. And careful. In the dim light, I can make out a movement. A great Martian is there, among the blood and gore which covers everything. He’s at least a fourth; big and dangerous, yes, but not for me. He barely looks at me, knowing I will not intervene. I sit down and look: I do not know how long I will be able to stay and this look interesting.

This is a family murder. We know about them already but there is always something new. Look: he has sent the house dog away so as not to be disturbed. This is wise. The dogs protect the houses and their inhabitants from outside threats, but internal violence confuse them. But not me, I come from outside: these people are nothing to me.

The great male seems calm and composed as he dispatches the few survivors, but I suspect this is only superficial. One of his 8 palps, on the right side is broken, ready to fall off. He must have been careless with some of the oldest children. Stupid: until the stage three, they will always chose to run and go to die in the wilderness if you give them the choice. He must have stood between them and the door.

It doesn’t matter, the limb will grow back and obviously he doesn’t feel the pain. He has people to do that.