The Dogs of Mars #7

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12

At first, we thought it was a missile.

We were in hai’la after all, at the time of your coming, and in this state we do not wage war. So, from the beginning, it was obvious it must have come from you. The fact that it was not a missile does not really matter now. It was still a weapon of some sort, wouldn’t you say? But in hai’la we do not wage war and so we had no way to defend ourselves. We could only wait. Continue reading

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Une histoire de Joe #3

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Enlanne était différente, peut-être. Ou peut-être était ce simplement son imagination. Peut-etre voulait-il qu’elle le soit. Ce n’est pas si évident après tout. Vous-même, sans doute vous flattez vous d’être differents, vous aussi. Et face à Joe, vous dites vous, vous ne vous seriez pas comportés de cette façon. Vous avez sans doute tort. N’ayez pas honte pourtant. Joe n’est pas une perle rare qu’il faut dégager de sa gangue. Il n’a pas besoin de gentillesse ou de compréhension. Joe est un étron comme les autres. Continue reading

The Dogs of Mars #6

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11

Sains looked around slowly. This time, he was in no hurry. The Dog, obviously, would want to run, to rush, but it had a whole new planet on which to play, and it shouldn’t bother him for a while. Even at a Dog’s speed, a planet is a big place.

Sains loved the Dog, but sometimes its perpetual bounciness, its eagerness was too much for him.

No, he was going to take his time, he had a good record and wasn’t about to screw up now. Screwing up is dangerous and, while Dogs are pretty much immortal, human beings are altogether more fragile. He turned and looked again at the members of the welcoming committee who, at that very moment, strode up the hill toward him. He shuddered briefly before his training took over: their elongated, seesawing legs and carefully erect stance reminded him too much of the ancient Martian’s. Thankfully, the similarities ended there: for all their limbs, the Huylee were distinctly larval in appearance – fat worms atop a scaffold was usually the most popular and accurate description – while this lot were properly insectile. Slim and elegant, with their heads nearly reaching his shoulders, they looked for all the world like giant praying mantes

This did not scare him. He and the dog were alone, after all. Alone against a planet. Once you get used to these odds, the individual characteristics of your opponents do not matter that much anymore.

“ – Greetings,” he said, and raised his right hand, palm outward, in a typically Terran salute. He was aware that the sound of his voice was probably meaningless to them, little more than random noise, and that the gesture could be interpreted in many ways, all different from the lie it was supposed to convey: on this planet, it could be a sign denoting aggression, perhaps, or maybe the most abject surrender, or even sexual arousal for all he knew. He didn’t really care, no more than did his masters: he was here as an emissary of Earth, of Earth’s Empire and of Man’s arrogance. From now on, against such pride, their customs, their usages and languages didn’t mean anything anymore. And it was time they got used to it.

The Dogs of Mars 5

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10

This is what happened: at some point in the distant past, when the ancestors of the Martian Huylee were still only grub-like creatures scurrying in the shadows of the sporangiae forests, the real masters of Mars were the viruses. For them the red planet was then an ideal environment : slime molds were covering nearly the entire surface of this still-wet world, trying desperately to trap as much water as possible against the deadly rays of the Sun.
The molds provided the shelter the viruses needed, the humidity and, in the slow way of their microbian metabolism, the relative warmth. They were food also, the herbivores of this world on which the viruses fed : organised masses of independent cells, they were not a true organism, they had no specialised defence, no immune system. For a long, long while the viruses prospered, more parasites than predators after all, and, as always when life thrives, it looks for new territories to conquer.
And up there, in the unprotected air above the slime mat, there existed these small creatures, running around and grazing on the nutrient rich substrate.
Now, these were properly organised beings in their own right, not a loosely assembled collection of cells; they had an outside and an inside, and they defended the latter against the intrusions of the former. But the quick-lived viruses had time on their side; they accumulated generations i the blink of an eye after all. Sooner or later, changing, evolving, trying blindly a myriad of new combinations, it was always clear they would find a way.
And when they did, it was with deadly consequences.
Remember: Evolution does not care about you. It only cares about your genes, and that only inasmuch as they are able to transmit themselves to the next generation. Like a giddy socialite, Evolution is pretty much a creature of the here and now. It does not toll to create the perfect being, it does not think of a century hence; it tries little to improve your well -being. It doesn’t care if you suffer.

The Dogs of Mars #4

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And, if it cared, it wouldn’t make that many blunders.

In all populations, even the ones that seems most stable, even the so-called “living fossils”, changes to the genome occur all the time. Because the environment changes continually: new competitors appear or are being introduced from afar; new threats and new opportunities surface and the next generations must slowly adapt to the changed situation.

And sometimes they become too good at what they do: they dominate the landscape for eons and suppress all opposition in its infancy. Let’s be clear here: we are not saying they are perfect now, that now other life form would fare best in this particular ecosystem, only that such is their dominance that no other alternative can develop. An oak tree can be better than a fir, but what good is that if a young sapling cannot grow in the dark of a pine forest?

This is why you need a catastrophe sometimes, a meteor say, a giant ball of fire sent from the heavens, to slam into the ground and make the earth shudder, to awaken the deep rumble of the volcanoes. To create a tabular Rasa, a world scoured anew by smoke and fire and on which a new diversity can rise. To get rid of the dinosaurs.

But on N’rett, the merciful asteroids never came.

 

9

Imagine the larva of some alien species of giant butterfly; a butterfly which discovered the advantages of neoteny early in its evolutionary history.

A giant caterpillar, then, bent in the middle and with its two extremities poised high above the ground like the twin heads of a weird cobra. And which managed somehow to graft to himself the eight limbs of a wolf-spider.

More of the same limbs, slim and mean and sharp, adorn its head, a crown of thorn around its mouth. On the side of that head, two eyes glitter, their pupils dark horseshoes lost on a turf of purple grass. They are situated at the end of two rows of light sensitive patches of skin which extend back and down to the neck.

This creature, up to four meters long, is a Martian at the third stage of its development. After that, it will change little in appearance, only becoming slowly larger and of shorter temper.

But appearances mean little, as your mother should have taught you, and it is the inside of this creature that you should truly dread.

The Dogs of Mars #3

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

He kills them all. Something in me thinks it wrong but I do not know which. The dog or me? It does not matter. It is far, far too late now to do anything about it.

When I wake up, I am back on Mars. I am lying on my back on the hard ground that I cannot feel. There is a dog nearby. My dog, now. I am alive and it is my turn to be happy. Continue reading

The Dogs of Mars #2

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4

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. Continue reading

Metapost : Les enfants perdus/Les sales gosses

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Voici la version complète des Enfants perdus . La version complète mais, j’en ai peur, pas définitive. Il y a beaucoup de choses a revoir, je pense, d’un point de vue stylistique, notamment pour donner a Hélène Rensherr une voix un peu plus cohérente. Mais bon, voila qui est fini pour l’instant. Cette nouvelle version est aussi plus longue de presque 50%.

Pour ce qui est des prochains postes:

En français nous retourneront au Navire (Ta-daa!) et a l’Épopée de Joe bientôt.

In English, we carry on with The Dogs of Mars for the moment, with a new instalment of the Variations on the Theme of Hell in the pipeline. Actually there are two ideas I want to work on, so the next VOTTOH could be called either The Lake of Fire or They have no Zhoas!  depending on which one first reaches maturity.

Les Sales Gosses

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(Extraits du journal d’Hélène Rensherr)

 

15 Septembre 20XX.

Ils ont pris ma voiture hier, pendant la nuit. Ils ont forcé la porte d’entrée avec un pied-de-biche et ont pris les clefs que j’avais laissées sur la commode. Ce matin, je pouvais encore voir le pied-de-biche sur le trottoir. Je ne l’ai pas ramassé, bien sur.

C’est une voiture puissante, un modèle de sport, et je pense qu’ils l’ont pris pour s’amuser.

C’est ridicule, je le sais, mais je me sens coupable. Je n’aurais rien pu faire pour les en empêcher et il était bien sûr bien trop tard pour neutraliser la voiture. Retirer les roues ou le démarreur n’y aurait rien changé. Pas pour eux. Néanmoins je ne peux m’empêcher de penser que s’il leur arrive quelque chose, ce sera de ma faute. Continue reading