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Science Fiction & Fantasy






Martian Blood

The most dangerous man on Mars was Omar al-Baz, and the first time I saw him, he was throwing up at the Rio Zephyria spaceport.

This happens more frequently than you might think. People coming here for the first time often don’t realize just how thin the air really is. The cold surprises them, too, but I’m told the atmospheric pressure is about the same as you’d find in the Himalayas. So they come trooping down the ramp of the shuttle that transported them from Deimos Station, and if the ride down didn’t make them puke, then the shortness of breath, headaches, and nausea that comes with altitude sickness will.

I didn’t know for sure that the middle-aged gent who’d doubled over and vomited was Dr. al-Baz, but I suspected that he was; I hadn’t seen any other Middle Eastern men on his flight. There was nothing I could do for him, though, so I waited patiently on the other side of the chain-link security fence while one of the flight attendants came down the ramp to help him. Dr. al-Baz waved her away; he didn’t need any assistance, thank you. He straightened up, pulled a handkerchief from his overcoat pocket, and wiped his mouth, then picked up the handle of the rolling bag he’d dropped when his stomach revolted. Nice to know that he wasn’t entirely helpless.

He was one of the last passengers to step through the gate. He paused on the other side of the fence, looked around, and spotted the cardboard sign I was holding. A brief smile of relief, then he walked over to me.

“I’m Omar al-Baz,” he said, holding out his hand. “You must be Mr. Ramsey.”

“Yes, I’m your guide. Call me Jim.” Not wanting to shake a hand that just wiped a mouth which had just spilled yuck all over nice clean concrete, I reached forward to relieve him of his bag.

“I can carry this myself, thank you,” he said, not letting me take his bag from him. “But if you could help me with the rest of my luggage, I’d appreciate it.”

“Sure. No problem.” He hadn’t hired me to be his porter, and if he’d been the jerk variety of tourist some of my former clients had been, I would’ve made him carry his own stuff. But I was already beginning to like the guy: early 50’s, skinny but with the beginnings of a pot belly, coarse black hair going gray at the temples. He wore round spectacles and had a bushy mustache beneath a hooked aquiline nose, and looked a little like an Arab Groucho Marx. Omar al-Baz couldn’t have been anything but what he was, an Egyptian-American professor from the University of Arizona.

I led him toward the terminal, stepping around the tourists and business travelers who had also disembarked from the 3pm shuttle. “Are you by yourself, or did someone come with you?”

“Unfortunately, I come alone. The university provided grant money sufficient for only one fare, even though I requested that I bring a grad student as an assistant.” He frowned. “This may hinder my work, but I hope that what I intend to do will be simple enough that I may accomplish it on my own.”

I had only the vaguest idea of why he’d hired me to be his guide, but the noise and bustle of the terminal was too much for a conversation. Passenger bags were beginning to come down the conveyer belt, but Dr. al-Baz didn’t join the crowd waiting to pick up suitcases and duffel bags. Instead, he went straight to the PanMars cargo window, where he presented a handful of receipts to the clerk. I began to regret my offer to help carry his bags when a cart was pushed through a side door. Stacked upon it were a half-dozen aluminum cases; even in Martian gravity, none small enough to be carried two at a time.

“You gotta be kidding,” I murmured.

“My apologies, but for the work I need to do, I had to bring specialized equipment.” He signed a form, then turned to me again. “Now . . . do you have a means of taking all this to my hotel, or will I have to get a cab?”

I looked over the stack of cases and decided that there weren’t so many that I couldn’t fit them all in the back of my jeep. So we pushed the cart out to where I’d parked beside the front entrance, and managed to get everything tied down with elastic cords I carried with me. Dr. al-Baz climbed into the passenger seat and put his suitcase on the floor between his feet.

“Hotel first?” I asked as I took my place behind the wheel.

“Yes, please . . . and then I wouldn’t mind getting a drink.” He caught the questioning look in my eye and gave me a knowing smile. “No, I am not a devout follower of the Prophet.”

“Glad to hear it.” I was liking him better all the time; I don’t trust people who won’t have a beer with me. I started up the jeep and pulled away from the curb. “So . . . you said in your email you’d like to visit an aboriginal settlement. Is that still what you want to do?”

“Yes, I do.” He hesitated. “But now that we’ve met, I think it’s only fair to tell you that this is not all that I mean to do. The trip here involves more than just meeting the natives.”

“How so? What else do you want?”

He peered at me over the top of his glasses. “The blood of a Martian.”

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was The War of the Worlds—the 1953 version, made about twelve years before the first probes went to Mars. Even back then, people knew that Mars had an Earthlike environment; spectroscopes had revealed the presence of an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, and strong telescopes made visible the seas and canals. But no one knew for sure whether the planet was inhabited until Ares I landed there in 1977, so George Pal had a lot of latitude when he and his film crew tried to imagine what a Martian would look like.

Anyway, there’s a scene in the movie where Gene Barry and Ann Robinson have made their way to LA after escaping the collapsed farmhouse where they’d been pinned down by the alien invaders. Barry meets with his fellow scientists at Pacific Tech and presents them with a ruined camera-eye he managed to grab while fighting off the attackers. The camera-eye is wrapped in Ann Robinson’s scarf, which was splattered with gore when Gene clobbered a little green monster with a broken pipe.

“And this—” he says melodramatically, showing the scarf to the other scientists “—blood of a Martian!”

I’ve always loved that part. So when Dr. al-Baz said much the same thing, I wondered if he was being clever, copping a line from a classic movie that he figured most colonists might have seen. But there was no wink, no ironic smile. So far as I could tell, he was as serious as he could be.

I decided to let it wait until we had that drink together, so I held my tongue as I drove him into Rio Zephyria. The professor’s reservation was at the John Carter Casino Resort, located on the strip near the Mare Cimmerium beach. No surprise there: it’s the most famous hotel in Rio, so most tourists try to book rooms there. Edgar Rice Burroughs was having a literary renaissance around the time it was built, so someone decided that A Princess of Mars and its sequels would be a great theme for a casino. Since then it’s become the place most people think of when they daydream about taking a vacation trip to Mars.

Good for them, but I want to throw a rock through its gold-tinted windows every time I drive by. It’s a 10-story monument to every stupid thing humans have done since coming here. And if I feel that way, as someone who was born and raised on Mars, then you can well imagine what the shatan think of it . . . when they come close enough to see it, that is.

It was hard to gauge Dr. al-Baz’s reaction when we pulled up in front of the hotel lobby. I was beginning to learn that his normal expression was stoical. But as a bellhop was unloading his stuff and putting it on a cart, the professor spotted the casino entrance. The doorman was dark-skinned and a little more than two meters in height; he wore the burnoose robes of an aborigine, with a saber in the scabbard on his belt.

Dr. al-Baz stared at him. “That’s not a Martian, is he?”

“Not unless he used to play center for the Blue Devils.” Dr. al-Baz raised an eyebrow and I smiled “That’s Tito Jones, star of the Duke basketball team . . . or at least until he came here.” I shook my head. “Poor guy. He didn’t know why the casino hired him to be their celebrity greeter until they put him in that outfit.”

Dr. al-Baz had already lost interest. “I was hoping he might be a Martian,” he said softly. “It would have made things easier.”

“They wouldn’t be caught dead here . . . or anywhere near the colonies, for that matter.” I turned to follow the bellhop through the revolving door. “And by the way . . . we don’t call them ‘Martians.’ ‘Aborigines’ is the preferred term.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. And what do the Mar . . . the aborigines call themselves?”

“They call themselves shatan . . . which means ‘people’ in their language.” Before he could ask the obvious next question, I added, “Their word for us is nashatan, or ‘not-people,’ but that’s only when they’re being polite. They call us a lot of things, most of them pretty nasty.”

The professor nodded and was quiet for a little while.

The University of Arizona might not have sprung for a grad student’s marsliner ticket, but they made up for it by reserving a two-room suite. After the bellhop unloaded his cart and left, Dr. al-Baz explained that he’d need the main room, a large parlor complete with a bar, for the temporary lab he intended to set up. He didn’t unpack right away, though; he was ready for that drink I’d promised him. So we left everything in the room and caught the elevator back downstairs.

The hotel bar is located in the casino, but I didn’t want to drink in a place where the bartender is decked out like a Barsoomian warlord and the waitresses are dolled up as princesses of Helium. The John Carter is the only place on Mars where anyone looks like that; no one in their right mind would wear so few clothes outside, not even in the middle of summer. So we returned to the jeep and I got away from the strip, heading into the old part of town that the tourists seldom visit.

There’s a good watering hole about three blocks from my apartment. It was still late afternoon, so the place wasn’t crowded yet. The bar was quiet and dark, perfect for conversation. The owner knew me; he brought over a pitcher of ale as soon as the professor and I sat down at a table in the back.

“Take it easy with this,” I told Dr. al-Baz as I poured beer into a tallneck and pushed it across the table to him. “Until you get acclimated, it might hit you pretty hard.”

“I’ll take your advice.” The professor took a tentative sip and smiled. “Good. Better than I was expecting, in fact. Local?”

“Hellas City Amber. You think we’d have beer shipped all the way from Earth?” There were more important things we needed to discuss, so I changed the subject. “What’s this about wanting blood? When you got in touch with me, all you said was that you wanted me to take you to an aboriginal settlement.”

Dr. al-Baz didn’t say anything for a moment or so. He toyed with the stem of his glass, rolling it back and forth between his fingers. “If I’d told you the entire truth,” he finally admitted, “I was afraid you might not agree to take me. And you come very highly recommended. As I understand, you’re not only native-born, but your parents were among the first settlers.”

“I’m surprised you know that. You must have talked to a former client.”

“Do you remember Ian Horner? Anthropologist from Cambridge University?” I did indeed, although not kindly; Dr. Horner had hired me to be his guide, but if you’d believed everything he said, he knew more about Mars than I did. I nodded, keeping my opinion to myself. “He’s a friend of mine,” Dr. al-Baz continued, “or at least someone with whom I’ve been in contact on a professional basis.”

“So you’re another anthropologist.”

“No.” He sipped his beer. “Research biologist . . . astrobiology, to be exact. The study of extraterrestrial forms of life. Until now, most of my work has involved studying Venus, so this is the first time I’ve been to Mars. Of course, Venus is different. Its global ocean is quite interesting, but . . .”

“Professor, I don’t want to be rude, but do you want to get down to it and tell me why you want the blood of a—” damn, he almost got me to say it! “—an aborigine?”

Sitting back in his chair, Dr. al-Baz folded his hands together on the tabletop. “Mr. Ramsey . . . ”


“Jim, are you familiar with the panspermia hypothesis? The idea that life on Earth may have extraterrestrial origins, that it may have come from somewhere in outer space?”

“No, I’ve never heard that . . . but I guess that when you say ‘somewhere,’ you mean here.”

“That is correct. I mean Mars.” He tapped a finger firmly against the table. “Have you ever wondered why there’s such a close resemblance between humans and Martian aborigines? Why the two races look so much alike, even though they’re from worlds over 70 million kilometers apart?”

“Parallel evolution.”

“Yes, I expect that’s what you’ve learned in school. The conventional explanation is that, because both planets have similar environments, evolution took approximately the same course on both worlds, the differences being that Martians . . . aborigines, sorry . . . are taller because of lower surface gravity, have higher metabolisms because of colder temperature, have significantly darker skin because of the thinner ozone layer, so forth and so on. This has been the prevalent theory because it’s the only one that seems to fit the facts.”

“That’s what I’ve heard, yeah.”

“Well, my friend, everything you’ve known is wrong.” He immediately shook his head, as if embarrassed by his momentary burst of arrogance. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound overbearing. However, several of my colleagues and I believe that the similarities between homo sapiens and homo aresian cannot be attributed to evolution alone. We think there may be a genetic link between the two races, that life on Earth . . . human life in particular . . . may have originated on Mars.”

Dr. al-Baz paused, allowing a moment to let his words sink in. They did, all right; I was beginning to wonder if he was a kook. “Okay,” I said, trying not to smile, “I’ll bite. What leads you to think that?”

The professor raised a finger. “First, the geological composition of quite a few meteorites found on Earth is identical to those of rock samples brought from Mars. So there’s a theory that, sometime in the distant past, there was a cataclysmic explosion on the Martian surface . . . possibly the eruption of Mt. Daedalia or one of the other volcanoes in the Albus range . . . which ejected debris into space. This debris traveled as meteors to Earth, which was also in its infancy. Those meteors may have contained organic molecules which seeded Earth with life where it hadn’t previously existed.”

He held up another finger. “Second . . . when the human genome was sequenced, one of the most surprising finds was the existence of DNA strands which have no apparent purpose. They’re like parts of a machine that don’t have any function. There’s no reason for them to be there, yet nonetheless they are. Therefore, is it possible that these phantom strands may be genetic biomarkers left behind by organic material brought to Earth from Mars?”

“So that’s why you want a blood sample? To see if there’s a link?”

He nodded. “I have brought equipment that will enable me to sequence, at least partially, the genetic code of an aborigine blood sample and compare it to that of a human. If the native genome has non-functional archaic strands that match the ones found in the human genome, then we’ll have evidence that the hypothesis is correct . . . life on Earth originated on Mars, and the two races are genetically linked.”

I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Dr. al-Baz didn’t sound quite as crazy as he had a couple of minutes earlier. As far-fetched as it may seem, what he said made sense. And if the hypothesis were true, then the implications were staggering: the shatan were close cousins to the inhabitants of Earth, not simply a primitive race that we’d happened to find when we came to Mars.

Not that I was ready to believe it. I’d met too many shatan to ever be willing to accept the idea that they had anything in common with my people. Or at least so I thought . . .

“Okay, I get what you’re doing.” I picked up my glass and took a long drink. “But let me tell you, getting that blood sample won’t be easy.”

“I know. I understand the aborigines are rather reclusive . . . ”

“Now that’s an understatement.” I put down my glass again. “They’ve never wanted much to do with us. The Ares 1 expedition had been here for almost three weeks before anyone caught sight of them, and another month before there was any significant contact. It took years for us to even learn their language, and things only got worse when we started establishing colonies. Wherever we’ve gone, the shatan have moved out, packing up everything they owned, even burning their villages so that we couldn’t explore their dwellings. They’ve become nomads since then. No trade, and not much in the way of cultural exchange . . . ”

“So no one has ever managed to get anything from them on which they may have left organic material? No hair samples, no saliva, no skin?”

“No. They’ve never allowed us to collect any artifacts from them, and they’re reluctant to even let us touch them. That outfit you saw Tito Jones wearing? It’s not the real thing . . . just a costume based on some pictures someone took of them.”

“But we’ve learned their language.”

“Just a little of one of their dialects . . . pidgin shatan, you might call it.” I absently ran a finger around the rim of my glass. “If you’re counting on me to be your native interpreter . . . well, don’t expect much. I know enough to get by and that’s about it. I may be able to keep them from chucking a spear at us, but that’s all.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Are they dangerous?”

“Not so long as you mind your manners. They can be . . . well, kinda aggressive . . . if you cross the line with them.” I didn’t want to tell him some of the worst stories—I’d scared off other clients that way—so I tried to reassure him. “I’ve met some of the local tribesmen, so they know me well enough to let me visit their lands. But I’m not sure how much they trust me.” I hesitated. “Dr. Horner didn’t get very far with them. I’m sure he’s told you that they wouldn’t let him into their village.”

“Yes, he has. To tell the truth, though, Ian has always been something of an ass—” I laughed out loud when he said this, and he gave me a quick smile in return “—so I imagine that, so long as I approach them with a measure of humility, I may have more success than he did.”

“You might.” Ian Horner had come to Mars with the attitude of a British army officer visiting colonial India, a condescending air of superiority that the shatan picked up almost immediately. He learned little as a result, and had come away referring to the “abos” as “cheeky bahstahds.” No doubt the aborigines felt much the same way about him . . . but at least they’d let him live.

“So you’ll take me out there? To one of their villages, I mean?”

“That’s why you hired me, so . . . yeah, sure.” I picked up my beer again. “The nearest village is about a hundred and fifty kilometers southeast of here, in a desert oasis near the Laestrygon canal. It’ll take a couple of days to get there. I hope you brought warm clothes and hiking boots.”

“I brought a parka and boots, yes. But you have your jeep, don’t you? Then why are we going to need to walk?”

“We’ll drive only until we get near the village. Then we’ll have to get out and walk the rest of the way. The shatan don’t like motorized vehicles. The equatorial desert is pretty rough, so you better prepare for it.”

He smiled. “I ask you . . . do I look like someone who’s never been in a desert?”

“No . . . but Mars isn’t Earth.”

I spent the next day preparing for the trip: collecting camping equipment from my rented storage shed, buying food, and filling water bottles, putting fresh fuel cells in the jeep and making sure the tires had enough pressure. I made sure that Dr. al-Baz had the right clothing for several days in the outback and gave him the address of a local outfitter if he didn’t, but I need not have worried; he clearly wasn’t one of those tourists foolish enough to go out into the desert wearing Bermuda shorts and sandals.

When I came to pick him up at the hotel, I was amazed to find that the professor had turned his suite into a laboratory. Two flat-screen computers were set up on the bar, a microscope and a test-tube rack stood on the coffee table, and the TV had been pushed aside to make room for a small centrifuge. More equipment rested on bureaus and side tables; I didn’t know what any of it was, but I spotted a radiation symbol on one and a Warning - Laser sticker on another. He’d covered the carpet with plastic sheets, and there was even a lab coat hanging in the closet. Dr. al-Baz made no mention of any of this; he simply picked up his backpack and camera, put on a slouch cap, and followed me out the door, pausing to slip the Do Not Disturb sign over the knob.

Tourists stared at us as he flung his pack into the back of my jeep; it always seemed to surprise some people that anyone would come to Mars to do something besides drink and lose money at the gaming tables. I started up the jeep and we roared away from the John Carter, and in fifteen minutes we were on the outskirts of town, driving through the irrigated farmlands surrounding Rio Zephyria. The scarlet pines that line the shores of Mare Cimmerium gradually thinned out as we followed dirt roads usually traveled by farm vehicles and logging trucks, and even those disappeared as we left the colony behind and headed into the trackless desert.

I’ve been told that the Martian drylands look a lot like the American southwest, except that everything is red. I’ve never been to Earth, so I wouldn’t know, but if anyone in New Mexico happens to spot a six-legged creature that looks sort of like a shaggy cow or a raptor that resembles a pterodactyl and sounds like a hyena, please drop me a line. And stay away from those pits that look a little like golf course sand-traps; there’s something lurking within them that would eat you alive, one limb at a time.

As the jeep weaved its way through the desert, dodging boulders and bouncing over small rocks, Dr. al-Baz clung to the roll bars, fascinated by the wilderness opening before us. This was one of the things that made my job worthwhile, seeing familiar places through the eyes of someone who’d never been there before. I pointed out a Martian hare as it loped away from us, and stopped for a second to let him take pictures of a flock of stakhas as they wheeled high above us, shrieking their dismay at our intrusion.

About seventy kilometers southeast of Rio, we came upon the Laestrygon canal, running almost due south from the sea. When Percival Lowell first spotted the Martian canals through his observatory telescope, he thought they were excavated waterways. He was half-right; the shatan had rerouted existing rivers, diverting them so that they’d go where the aborigines wanted. The fact that they’d done this with the simple, muscle-driven machines never failed to amaze anyone who saw them, but Earth people tend to underestimate the shatan. They’re primitive, but not stupid.

We followed the canal, keeping far away from it so that we couldn’t be easily spotted from the decks of any shatan boats that might be this far north. I didn’t want any aborigines to see us before we reached the village; they might pass the word that humans were coming, and give their chieftain a chance to order his people to pack up and move out. We saw no one, though; the only sign of habitation was a skinny wooden suspension bridge than spanned the channel like an enormous bow, and even that didn’t appear to be frequently used.

By late afternoon, we’d entered hill country. Flat-topped mesas rose around us, with massive stone pinnacles jutting upward between them; the jagged peaks of distant mountains lay just beyond the horizon. I drove until it was nearly dusk, then pulled up behind a hoodoo and stopped for the night.

Dr. al-Baz pitched a tent while I collected dead scrub brush. Once I had a fire going, I suspended a cookpot above the embers, then emptied a can of stew into it. The professor had thought to buy a couple of bottles of red wine before we left town; we opened one for dinner and worked our way through it after we ate.

“So tell me something,” Dr. al-Baz said once we’d scrubbed down the pot, plates, and spoons. “Why did you become a guide?”

“You mean, other than getting a job as a blackjack dealer?” I propped the cookware up against a boulder. A stiff breeze was coming out of the west; the sand it carried would scour away the remaining grub. “Never really thought about it, to be honest. My folks are first-generation settlers, so I was born and raised here. I started prowling the desert as soon as I was old enough to go out alone, so . . . ”

“That’s just it.” The professor moved a little closer to the fire, holding out his hands to warm them. Now that the sun was down, a cold night was ahead; we could already see our breath by the firelight. “Most of the colonists I’ve met seem content to stay in the city. When I told them that I was planning a trip into the desert, they all looked at me like I was mad. Someone even suggested that I buy a gun and take out extra life insurance.”

“Whoever told you to buy a gun doesn’t know a thing about the shatan. They never attack unless provoked, and the surest way to upset them is to approach one of their villages with a gun.” I patted the utility knife on my belt. “This is the closest I come to carrying a weapon when there’s even a possibility that I might run into aborigines. One reason why I’m on good terms with them . . . I mind my manners.”

“Most people here haven’t even seen an aborigine, I think.”

“You’re right, they haven’t. Rio Zephyria is the biggest colony because of tourism, but most permanent residents prefer to live where there’s flush toilets and cable TV.” I sat down on the other side of the fire. “They can have it. The only reason I live there is because that’s where the tourists are. If it wasn’t for that, I’d have a place out in the boonies and hit town only when I need to stock up on supplies.”

“I see.” Dr. al-Baz picked up his tin cup and mine and poured some wine into each. “Forgive me if I’m wrong,” he said as he handed my cup to me, “but it doesn’t sound as if you very much approve of your fellow colonists.”

“I don’t.” I took a sip and put the cup down beside me; I didn’t want to get a headful of wine the night before I was going to have to deal with shatan tribesmen. “My folks came out here to explore a new world, but everyone who’s come after those original settlers . . . well, you saw Rio. You know what it’s like. We’re building hotels and casinos and shopping centers, and introducing invasive species into our farms and dumping our sewage into the channels, and every few weeks during conjunction another ship brings in more people who think Mars is like Las Vegas only without as many hookers . . . not that we don’t have plenty of those, too.”

As I spoke, I craned my neck to look up the night sky. The major constellations gleamed brightly: Ursa Major, Draco, Cygnus, with Denes as the north star. You can’t see the Milky Way very well in the city; you have to go out into the desert to get a decent view of the Martian night sky. “So who can blame the shatan for not wanting to have anything to do with us? They knew the score as soon as we showed up.” Recalling a thought I’d had the day before, I chuckled to myself. “The old movies got it wrong. Mars didn’t invade Earth . . . Earth invaded Mars.”

“I didn’t realize there was so much resentment on your part.”

He sounded like his feelings were wounded. That was no way to treat a paying customer.

“No, no . . . it’s not you,” I quickly added. “I don’t think you’d be caught dead at a poker table.”

He laughed out loud. “No, I don’t think the university would look very kindly upon me if my expense report included poker chips.”

“Glad to hear it.” I hesitated, then went on. “Just do me a favor, will you? If you find something here that might . . . I dunno . . . make things worse, would you consider keeping it to yourself? Humans have done enough stupid things here already. We don’t need to do anything more.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Dr. al-Baz said.

The next day, we found the shatan. Or rather, they found us.

We broke camp and continued following the Laestrygon as it flowed south through the desert hills. I’d been watching the jeep’s odometer the entire trip, and when we were about fifty kilometers from where I remembered the aborigine settlement being, I began driving along the canal banks. I told Dr. al-Baz to keep a sharp eye out for any signs of habitation—trails, or perhaps abandoned camps left behind by hunting parties—but what we found was a lot more obvious: another suspension bridge, and passing beneath it, a shatan boat.

The canal boat was a slender catamaran about ten meters long, with broad white sails catching the desert wind and a small cabin at its stern. The figures moving along its decks didn’t notice us until one of them spotted the jeep. He let out a warbling cry—“wallawallawalla!”—and the others stopped what they were doing to gaze in the direction he was pointing. Then another shatan standing atop the cabin yelled something and everyone turned to dash into the cabin, with their captain disappearing through a hatch in its ceiling. Within seconds, the catamaran became a ghost ship.

“Wow.” Dr. al-Baz was both astounded and disappointed. “They really don’t want to see us, do they?”

“Actually, they don’t want us to see them.” He looked at me askance, not understanding the difference. “They believe that, if they can’t be seen, then they’ve disappeared from the world. This way, they’re hoping that, so far as we’re concerned, they’ve ceased to exist.” I shrugged. “Kind of logical, if you think about it.”

There was no point in trying to persuade the crew to emerge from hiding, so we left the boat behind and continued our drive down the canal bank. But the catamaran had barely disappeared from sight when we heard a hollow roar from behind us, like a bullhorn being blown. The sound echoed off the nearby mesas; two more prolonged blasts, then the horn went silent.

“If there are any more shatan around, they’ll hear that and know we’re coming,” I said. “They’ll repeat the same signal with their own horns, and so on, until the signal reaches the village.”

“So they know we’re here,” Dr. al-Baz said. “Will they hide like the others?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” I shrugged. “It’s up to them.”

For a long time, we didn’t spot anyone or anything. We were about eight kilometers from the village when we came upon another bridge. This time, we saw two figures standing near the foot of the bridge. They appeared unusually tall even for aborigines, but it wasn’t until we got closer that we saw why: each of them rode a hattas, enormous buffalo-like creatures with six legs and elongated necks that the natives tamed as pack animals. It wasn’t what they were riding that caught my attention, though, so much as the long spears they carried, or the heavy animal-hide outfits they wore.

“Uh-oh,” I said quietly. “That’s not good.”

“What’s not good?”

“I was hoping we’d run into hunters . . . but these guys are warriors. They can be a little . . . um, intense. Keep your hands in sight and never look away from them.”

I halted the jeep about twenty feet from them. We climbed out and slowly walked toward them, hands at our sides. As we got closer, the warriors dismounted from their animals; they didn’t approach us, though, but instead waited in silence.

When the owners of the John Carter hired a basketball star to masquerade as a shatan, they were trying to find someone who might pass as a Martian aborigine. Tito Jones was the best they could get, but he wasn’t quite right. The shatan standing before us were taller; their skin was as dark as the sky at midnight, their long, silky hair the color of rust, yet their faces had fine-boned features reminiscent of someone of northern European descent. They were swathed in dusty, off-white robes that made them look vaguely Bedouin, and the hands that gripped their spears were larger than a human’s, with long-nailed fingers and tendons which stood out from wrists.

Unblinking golden eyes studied us as we approached. When we’d come close enough, both warriors firmly planted their spears on the ground before us. I told Dr. al-Baz to stop, but I didn’t have to remind him not to look away from them. He stared at the shatan with awestruck curiosity, a scientist observing his subject up close for the first time.

I raised both hands before me, palm out, and said, “Issah tas sobbata shatan” (Greetings, honored shatan warriors). “Seyta nasahtan habbalah sa shatan heysa” (Please allow us human travelers to enter your land).

The warrior on the left replied, “Katas nashatan Hamsey. Sakey shatan habbalah fah?” (We know you, human Ramsey. Why have you returned to our land?)

I wasn’t surprised to have been recognized. Only a handful of humans spoke their language—albeit not very well; I probably sounded like a child to them—or knew the way to their village. I may not have met these particular warriors before, but they’d doubtless heard of me. And I tried not to smile at the mispronunciation of my name; the shatan have trouble rolling the “r” sound off their tongues.

“(I’ve brought a guest who wishes to learn more about your people),” I replied, still speaking the local dialect. I extended a hand toward the professor. “(Allow me to introduce you to Omar al-Baz. He is a wise man in search of knowledge.)” I avoided calling him “doctor”; that word has a specific meaning in their language, as someone who practices medicine.

“(Humans don’t want to know anything about us. All they want to do is take what doesn’t belong to them and ruin it.)”

I shook my head; oddly, that particular gesture means the same thing for both shatan and nashatan. “(This is not true. Many of my people do, yes, but not all. On his own world, al-Baz is a teacher. Whatever he learns from you, he will tell us students, and therefore increase their knowledge of your people.)”

“What are you saying?” Dr. al-Baz whispered. “I recognize my name, but . . . ”

“Hush. Let me finish.” I continued speaking the native tongue. “(Will you please escort us to your village? My companion wishes to beg a favor of your chieftain.)”

The other warrior stepped forward, walking toward the professor until he stood directly before him. The shatan towered above Dr. al-Baz; everything about him was menacing, yet the professor held his ground, saying nothing but continuing to look straight in the eye. The warrior silently regarded him for several long moments, then looked at me.

“(What does he want from our chieftain? Tell us, and we will decide whether we will allow you to enter our village.)”

I hesitated, then shook my head again. “(No. His question is for the chieftain alone.)”

I was taking a gamble. Refusing a demand from a shatan warrior guarding his homeland was not a great way to make friends. But it was entirely possible that the warriors would misunderstand me if I told them that Dr. al-Baz wanted to take some of their blood; they might think his intent was hostile. The best thing to do was have the professor ask the chieftain directly for permission to take a blood sample from one of his people.

The shatans stared at us for a moment without saying anything, then turned away and walked off a few feet to quietly confer with each other. “What’s going on?” the professor asked, keeping his voice low. “What did you tell them?”

I gave him the gist of the conversation, including the risky thing I’d just said. “I figure it can go one of three ways. One, they kick the matter upstairs to the chieftain, which means that you get your wish if you play your cards right. Two, they tell us to get lost. If that happens, we turn around and go home, and that’s that.”

“Unacceptable. I’ve come too far to go away empty-handed. What’s the third option.”

“They impale with their spears, wait for us to die, then chop up our bodies and scatter our remains for the animals to find.” I let that sink in. “Except our heads,” I added. “Someone will carry those back to the city in the middle of the night, where they’ll dump them on the doorstep of the nearest available house.”

“Please tell me you’re joking.”

I didn’t. The professor was scared enough already, and he didn’t need any stories about what had happened to explorers who’d crossed the line with the shatan, or the occasional fool stupid enough to venture onto aboriginal territory without someone like me escorting them. I hadn’t exaggerated anything, though, and he seemed to realize that, for he simply nodded and looked away.

The shatan finished their discussion. Not looking at us, they walked back to their hattases and climbed atop them again. For a moment, I thought that they were taking the second option, but then they guided their mounts toward Dr. al-Baz and me.

Hessah,” one of them said (Come with us).

I let out my breath. We were going to meet the village chieftain.

The village was different from the last time I’d seen it. Since the shatan became nomads, their settlements are usually tent cities which can be taken down, packed up, and relocated when necessary. This one had been there for quite a while, though; apparently the inhabitants had decided that they’d stay at the oasis for some time to come. Low, flat-roofed adobe buildings had taken the place of many of the tents, and scaffolds surrounded a stone wall being built to enclose them. But if the place had a name, I wasn’t aware of it.

Dr. al-Baz and I were footsore and tired by the time we reached the village. As expected, the warriors had insisted that we leave the jeep behind, although they allowed us to retrieve our packs. They’d slowly ridden abreast of us all the way, only reluctantly letting us stop now and then to rest. Neither of them had spoken a word since we’d left the bridge, but when we were within sight of the settlement, one of them raised a whorled shell that looked like a giant ammonite. A long, loud blast from his horn was answered a few seconds later by a similar call from the village. The professor and I exchanged a wary glance. Too late to turn around now; the inhabitants knew we were coming.

The village seemed empty as we entered through a half-built gate and walked down packed-dirt streets. No one to be seen, and the only thing that moved were hattases tied up to hitching posts. The tent flaps were closed, though, and the narrow windows of the adobe houses were shuttered. No, the place wasn’t deserted; it was just that the people who lived there had gone into hiding. The silence was eerie, and even more unsettling than the spears our escorts pointed at our backs.

The village center was a courtyard surrounding an artesian well, with a large adobe building dominating one side of the square. The only shatan we’d seen since our arrival peered down at us from a wooden tower atop the building. He waited until we’d reached the building, then raised an ammonite horn of his own and blew a short blast. The warriors halted their hattases, dismounted, and silently beckoned for us to follow them. One of them pushed aside the woven blanket which served as the building’s only door, and the other warrior led us inside.

The room was dim, its sole illumination a shaft of sunlight slanting down through a hole in the ceiling. The air was thick with musky incense that drifted in hazy layers through the light and made my eyes water. Robed shatan stood around the room, their faces hidden by hoods they’d pulled up around their heads; I knew none of them were female, because their women were always kept out of sight when visitors arrived. The only sound was the slow, constant drip of a waterclock, with each drop announcing the passage of two more seconds.

The chieftain sat in the middle of the room. Long-fingered hands rested upon the armrests of his sandstone throne; golden eyes regarded us between strands of hair turned white with age. He wore nothing to indicate his position as the tribal leader save an implacable air of authority, and he let us know that he was the boss by silently raising both hands, then slowly lowering them once we’d halted and saying nothing for a full minute.

At last he spoke. “Essha shakay Hamsey?” (Why are you here, Ramsey?)

I didn’t think I’d ever met him before, but obviously he recognized me. Good. That would make things a little easier. I responded in his own language. “(I bring someone who wants to learn more about your people. He is a wise man from Earth, a teacher of others who wish to become wise themselves. He desires to ask a favor from you.)”

The chieftain turned his gaze from me to Dr. al-Baz. “(What do you want?)”

I looked at the professor. “Okay, you’re on. He wants to know what you want. I’ll translate for you. Just be careful . . . they’re easily offended.”

“So it seems.” Dr. al-Baz was nervous, but he was hiding it well. He licked his lips and thought about it a moment, then went on. “Tell him . . . tell him that I would like to collect a small sample of blood from one of his people. A few drops will do. I wish to have this because I want to know . . . I mean, because I’d like to find out . . . whether his people and mine have common ancestors.”

That seemed to be a respectful way of stating what he wanted, so I turned to the chief and reiterated what he’d said. The only problem was that I didn’t know the aboriginal word for “blood.” It had simply never come up in any previous conversations I’d had with the shatan. So I had to generalize a bit, calling it “the liquid that runs within our bodies” while pantomiming a vein running down the inside of my right arm, and hoped that he’d understand what I meant.

He did, all right. He regarded me with cold disbelief, golden eyes flashing, thin lips writhing upon an otherwise stoical face. Around us, I heard the other shatan murmuring to one another. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but it didn’t sound like they were very happy either.

We were in trouble.

“(Who dares say that shatan and nashatan have the same ancestors?)” he snapped, hands curling into fists as he leaned forward from his throne. “(Who dares believe that your people and mine are alike in any way?)”

I repeated what he’d said to Dr. al-Baz. The professor hesitated, then looked straight at the chieftain. “Tell him that no one believes these things,” he said, his tone calm and deliberate. “It is only a hypothesis . . . an educated guess . . . that I want to either prove or disprove. That’s why I need a blood sample, to discover the truth.”

I took a deep breath, hoped that I was going to get out of there alive, then translated the professor’s explanation. The chieftain continued to glare at us as I spoke, but he seemed to calm down a little. For several long seconds, he said nothing. And then he reached a decision.

Reaching into his robes, he withdrew a bone dagger from a sheath on his belt. My heart skipped a beat as the light fell upon its sharp white blade, and when he stood up and walked toward us, I thought my life had come to an end. But then he stopped in front of Dr. al-Baz and, still staring straight at him, raised his left hand, placed the knife against his palm, and ran its blade down his skin.

“(Take my blood),” he said, holding out his hand.

I didn’t need to translate what he’d said. Dr. al-Baz quickly dropped his backpack from his shoulders and opened it. He withdrew a syringe, thought better of it, and pulled out a plastic test tube instead. The chieftain clenched his fist and let the blood trickle between his fingers, and the professor caught it in his test tube. Once he’d collected the specimen, he pulled out a tiny vial and added a couple of drops of anticoagulant. Then he capped the tube and nodded to the chieftain.

“Tell him that I greatly appreciate his kindness,” he said, “and that I will return to tell him what I have found.”

“Like hell we will!”

“Tell him.” His eyes never left the chieftain’s. “One way or another, he deserves to know the truth.”

Promising the chieftain that we intended to return was the last thing I wanted to do, but I did it anyway. He didn’t respond for a moment, but simply dropped his hand, allowing his blood to trickle to the floor.

“(Yes),” he said at last. “(Come back and tell me what you’ve learned. I wish to know as well.)” And then he turned his back to us and walked back to his chair. “(Now leave.)”

“Okay,” I whispered, feeling my heart hammering against my chest. “You got what you came for. Now let’s get out of here while we still have our heads.”

Two days later, I was sitting in the casino bar at the John Carter, putting away tequila sunrises and occasionally dropping a coin into the video poker machine in front of me. I’d discovered that I didn’t mind the place so long as I kept my back turned to everything going on around me, and I could drink for free if I slipped a quarter into the slots every now and then. At least that’s what I told myself. The fact of the matter was that there was a certain sense of security in the casino’s tawdry surroundings. This Mars was a fantasy, to be sure, but just then it was preferable to the unsettling reality I’d visited a couple of days earlier.

Omar al-Baz was upstairs, using the equipment he’d brought with him to analyze the chieftain’s blood. We’d gone straight to the hotel upon returning to the city, but when it became obvious that it would take awhile for the professor to work his particular kind of magic, I decided to go downstairs and get a drink. Perhaps I should have gone home, but I was still keyed up from the long ride back, so I gave Dr. al-Baz my cell number and asked him to call me if and when he learned anything.

I was surprised that I stuck around. Usually when I return from a trip into the outback, all I really want to do is get out of the clothes I’d been wearing for days on end, open a beer, and take a nice, long soak in the bathtub. Instead, there I was, putting away one cocktail after another while demonstrating that I knew absolutely nothing about poker. The bartender was studying me and the waitresses were doing their best to stay upwind, but I could have cared less about what they thought. They were make-believe Martians, utterly harmless. The ones I’d met a little while ago would have killed me just for looking at them cross-eyed.

In all the years that I’d been going out in the wilderness, this was the first time I’d ever been really and truly scared. Not by the desert, but by those who lived there. No shatan had ever threatened me, not even in an implicit way, until the moment the chieftain pulled out a knife and creased the palm of his hand with its blade. Sure, he’d done so to give Dr. al-Baz a little of his blood, but there was another meaning to his actions.

It was a warning . . . and the shatan don’t give warnings lightly.

That was why I was doing my best to get drunk. The professor was too excited to think of anything except the specimen he’d just collected—all the way home, he’d babbled about nothing else—but I knew that we’d come within an inch of dying, and that ours would have been a really nasty death.

Yet the chieftain had given his blood of his own free will, and even asked that we return once the professor learned the truth. That puzzled me. Why would he be interested in the results, if the thought of being related to a human was so appalling?

I threw away another quarter, pushed the buttons and watched the machine tell me that I’d lost again, then looked around to see if I could flag down a princess and get her to fetch another sunrise. Dejah or Thuvia or Xaxa or whoever she was had apparently gone on break, though, because she was nowhere to be seen; I was about to try my luck again when something caught my eye. The TV above the bar was showing the evening news, and the weatherman was standing in front of his map. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he was pointing at an animated cloud system west of Rio Zephyria that was moving across the desert toward the Laestrygon canal.

It appeared that a sandstorm was brewing in Mesogaea, the drylands adjacent to the Zephyria region. This sort of weather isn’t uncommon in the summer; we call them haboobs, the Arabic name for sandstorms on Earth that somehow found its way to Mars. From the looks of things, it would reach the Zephyria outback sometime tomorrow afternoon. Good thing I’d come home; the last thing anyone would want is to be caught out in the desert during a bad storm.

A waitress strolled by, adjusting a strap of her costume bikini top. I raised my glass and silently jiggled it back and forth, and she feigned a smile as she nodded and headed for the bar. I was searching my pockets for another quarter so that she’d see that I was still pretending to be a gambler when my cell buzzed.

“Jim? Are you still here?”

“In the bar, professor. Come down and have a drink with me.”

“No! No time for that! Come upstairs right away! I need to see you!”

“What’s going on?”

“Just come up here! It’s better if I show you!”

Dr. al-Baz opened the door at the first knock. Spotting the cocktail glass in my hand, he snatched it from me and drained it in one gulp. “Good heavens,” he gasped, “I needed that!”

“Want me to get you another one?”

“No . . . but you can buy me a drink when I get to Stockholm.” I didn’t understand what he meant, but before I could ask he pulled me into the room. “Look!” he said, pointing to one of the computers set up on the bar. “This is incredible!”

I walked over to the bar, peered at the screen. Displayed upon it were rows of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s, arranged in a seemingly endless series of combinations, with smears that looked a little like dashes running in a vertical bar down the right side of the screen. A five-line cluster of combinations and smears was highlighted in yellow.

“Yeah, okay,” I said. “Professor, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to . . . ”

“You have no idea what you’re looking at, do you?” he asked, and I shook my head. “This is the human genome . . . the genetic code present in every human being. And these—” his hand trembled as he pointed to the highlighted cluster “—are strands that are identical to the partially-sequenced genome from the aborigine specimen.”

“They’re the same?”

“Exactly. There is no error . . . or at least none that the computers can detect.” Dr. al-Baz took a deep breath. “Do you see what I’m getting at? The hypothesis is correct! Human life may have originated on Mars!”

I stared at the screen. Until then, I hadn’t really believed anything that Dr. al-Baz had told me; it seemed too unlikely to be true. But now that the evidence was in front of me, I realized that I was looking at something that would shake the foundations of science. No, not just science . . . it would rattle history itself, forcing humankind to reconsider its origins.

“My god,” I whispered. “Have you told anyone yet? On Earth, I mean”

“No. I’m tempted to send a message, but . . . no, I need to confirm this.” The professor walked over to the window. “We have to go back,” he said, his voice quiet but firm as he gazed out at the city lights and, beyond them, the dark expanse of the desert. “I need to get another blood sample, this time from a different shatan. If the same sequence appears in the second sample, then we’ll know for sure.”

Something cold slithered down my spine. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The chieftain . . . ”

“The chieftain told us that he wanted to know what we discovered. So we’ll tell him, and explain that we need more blood . . . just a little . . . from one of his tribesmen to make sure that it’s the truth.” Dr. al-Baz glanced over his shoulder at me. “Not an unreasonable request, no?”

“I don’t think he’s going to be very happy about this, if that’s what you’re asking.”

He was quiet for a few moments, contemplating what I’d just said. “Well . . . that’s a risk we’ll just have to take,” he said at last. “I’ll pay you again for another trip, if that’s your concern . . . double your original fee, in fact. But I must go back as soon as possible.” He continued to gaze out the window. “Tomorrow morning. I want to leave tomorrow morning.”

My head was beginning to ache, dull blades pressing upon my temples. I shouldn’t have had so much to drink. What I should have done was turn him down right then and there. But his offer to double my fee for a return trip was too good to pass up; I needed the money, and that would pay my rent for a couple of months. Besides, I was too drunk to argue.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll head out first thing.”

I went back to my place, took some aspirin, stripped off my filthy clothes, and took a shower, then flopped into bed. But I didn’t fall asleep for quite a while. Instead, I stared at the ceiling as unwelcome thoughts ran an endless loop through my mind.

What would the chieftain do when Omar al-Baz informed him that shatan blood and nashatan blood were very much alike and that our two races might be related? He wouldn’t be pleased, that much was certain. The aborigines never wanted to have anything to do with the invaders from Earth; as soon as our ships had arrived, they had retreated into the wilderness. This was the reason why they’d become nomads . . .

But they weren’t anymore, were they? The significance of what I’d seen at the village suddenly became clear to me. Not only had this particular tribe built permanent houses, but they were also erecting a wall around them. That meant they were planning to remain where they were for some time to come, and were taking measures to defend themselves. They were tiring of running from us; now they were digging in.

Until now, the human colonists had been content to ignore the shatan, thinking of them as reclusive savages best left alone. This would change, though, if humans came to believe that homo sapiens and homo aresians were cousins. Suddenly, we’d want to know all about them. First would come more biologists like Dr. al-Baz, more anthropologists like Dr. Horner. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad . . . but right behind them would be everyone else. Historians and journalists, tour buses and camera safaris, entrepreneurs looking to make a buck, missionaries determined to convert godless souls, real estate tycoons seeking prime land on which to build condos with a nice view of those quaint aborigine villages . . .

The shatan wouldn’t tolerate this. And the chieftain would know that it was inevitable the moment Dr. al-Baz told him what he’d learned. First, he’d order his warriors to kill both him and me. And then . . .

In my mind’s eye, I saw the horrors to come. Wave upon wave of shatan warriors descending upon Rio Zephyria and the other colonies, hell-bent on driving the invaders from their world once and for all. Oh, we had superior weapons, this was true . . . but they had superior numbers, and it would only be a matter of time before they captured a few of our guns and learned how to use them. Ships from Earth would bring soldiers to defend the colonies, but history is unkind to would-be conquerors. Either we would be driven back, step by inexorable step, or we would commit genocide, exterminating entire tribes and driving the few survivors further into the wilderness.

Either way, the outcome was inevitable. War would come to a world named for a god of war. Red blood would fell upon red sand, human and Martian alike.

A storm was coming. Then I thought of a different storm, and knew what I had to do.

Two days later, I was found staggering out of the desert, caked with red sand from my hair to my boots save for raccoon-like patches around my eyes where my goggles had protected them. I was dehydrated and exhausted to the point of delirium.

I was also alone.

Ironically, the people who rescued me were another guide and the family from Minneapolis whom he’d escorted into the desert just outside Rio Zephyria. I remember little of what happened after I collapsed at their feet and had to be carried to the guide’s land rover. The only things I clearly recall were the sweet taste of water within my parched mouth, a teenage girl gazing down at me with angelic blue eyes as she cradled my head in her lap, the long, bouncing ride back into the city.

I was still in my hospital bed when the police came to see me. By then, I’d recovered enough to give them a clear and reasonably plausible account of what had happened. Like any successful lie, this one was firmly grounded in truth. The violent haboob that had suddenly come upon us in the desert hills. The crash that happened when, blinded by wind-driven sand, I’d collided with a boulder, causing my jeep to topple over. How Dr. al-Baz and I had escaped from the wreckage, only to lose track of each other. How only I had managed to find shelter in the leeside of a pinnacle. The professor becoming lost in the storm, never to be seen again.

All true, every word of it. All I had to do was leave out a few facts, such as how I’d deliberately driven into the desert even though I knew that a haboob was on its way, or that even after we saw the scarlet haze rising above the western horizon, I’d insisted upon continuing to drive south, telling Dr. al-Baz that we’d be able to outrun the storm. The cops never learned that I’d been careful to carry with me a pair of sand goggles and a scarf, but refrained from making sure that the professor took the same precautions. Nor did they need to know that I’d deliberately aimed for that boulder, even though I could have easily avoided it.

I broke down when I spoke about how I’d heard Omar al-Baz calling my name, desperately trying to find me even as the air was filled with stinging red sand and visibility was reduced to only arm’s length. That much, too, was true. What I didn’t say was that Dr. al-Baz had come within three meters of where I was huddled, my eyes covered by goggles and a scarf wrapped around the lower part of my face. And yet I remained silent as I watched his indistinct form lurch past me, arms blindly thrust out before him, slowly suffocating as sand filled his nose and throat.

My tears were honest. I liked the professor. But his knowledge made him too dangerous to live.

As an alibi, my story worked. When a search party went out into the desert, they located my overturned jeep. Omar al-Baz’s body was found about fifteen meters away, face-down and covered by several centimeters of sand. Our footprints had been erased by the wind, of course, so there was no way of telling how close the professor had been to me.

That settled any doubts the cops may have had. Dr. al-Baz’s death was an accident. I had no motive for killing him, nor was there any evidence of foul play. If I was guilty of anything, it was only reckless and foolish behavior. My professional reputation was tarnished, but that was about it. The investigation was officially concluded the day I was released from the hospital. By then, I’d realized two things. The first was that I would get away with murder. The second was that my crime was far from perfect.

Dr. al-Baz hadn’t taken the chieftain’s blood specimen with him when he’d left the hotel. It was still in his room, along with all his equipment. This included the computers he’d used to analyze the sample; the results were saved in their memories, along with any notes he might have written. In fact, the only thing the professor had brought with him was his room key . . . which I’d neglected to retrieve from his body.

I couldn’t return to his hotel room; any effort to get in would have aroused suspicion. All I could do was watch from the hotel lobby as, a couple of days later, the bellhops wheeled out a cart carrying the repacked equipment cases, bound for the spaceport and the shuttle which would ferry them to a marsliner docked at Deimos Station. In a few months, the professor’s stuff would be back in the hands of his fellow faculty members. They would open the digital files and inspect what their late colleague had learned, and examine the blood specimen he’d collected. And then . . .

Well. We’ll just have to see, won’t we?

So now I sit alone in my neighborhood bar, where I drink and wait for the storm to come. And I never go into the desert anymore.


Originally published in Old Mars, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin.

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ISSUE 134, November 2017


more human

Curses of Scale


Allen M. Steele

Allen Steele made his first sale to Asimov's Science Fiction magazine in 1988, soon following it up with a long string of other sales to Asimov's, as well as to markets such as Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Age. In 1990, he published his critically-acclaimed first novel, Orbital Decay, which subsequently won the Locus Poll as Best First Novel of the year. His other books include the novels Clarke County Space, Lunar Descent, Labyrinth of Night, The Weight, The Tranquility Alternative, A King of Infinite Space, Oceanspace, Chronospace, Coyote, Coyote Rising, Spindrift, Galaxy Blues, Coyote Horizon, Coyote Destiny. Hex, and V-S Day. His short work has been gathered in Rude Astronauts, Sex and Violence in Zero G, The Last Science Fiction Writer, and Sex and Violence in Zero-G: The Complete "Near Space" Stories: Expanded Edition. His most recent books are the novel Arkwright and the collection Tales of Time and Space.He has won three Hugo Awards, in 1996 for his novella "The Death of Captain Future," in 1998 for his novella "Where Angels Fear to Tread," and, most recently, in 2011 for his novelette "The Emperor of Mars." Born in Nashville, Tennessee, he lives in Whately, Massachusetts with his wife Linda.


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