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6th June
posted by amber

Sad news today that Ray Bradbury passed away. The Martian Chronicles was one of my early literary influences and I’ve always loved the gentle oddness of his stories. For Story 365, I wrote several tales inspired by Bradbury, and I’ll be posting them again as a tribute to that great man.


Across the saffron desert we travelled in our transport pod. Running out of water was a very real possibility – the last settlement had been a ruin and we weren’t optimistic about the next.

We travelled in silence for many hours, Bobby scanning distant rock outcroppings with his binoculars, searching for the glint of solar arrays, indications of settlements or mining operations not on the map.

I was manoeuvring the pod through yet another dry canal when he shouted, “There’s something!”

I took the binoculars and looked in the direction he indicated, at the base of a rearing red escarpment, then swung our wheels toward that promising twinkle.

After twenty minutes of rough travel, we arrived at a town beneath a dome. We could make out details through the sand-blasted plastic – clapboard houses surrounding a main street with false front stores and wooden sidewalks. Crops in raised beds filled the bulk of the space. There even was a tree bearing red fruit. Obviously they had water. But would they share?

We were met at the gate by a man in coveralls, big grin on his face. A shaggy dog trotted at his side. “Welcome to Greenville,” he said. “We don’t get many visitors here. I’m Frank, the mayor.”

“You’re not on the map.”

“Yes, over the years folks seem to have forgotten about us. Our pod broke down 97 years ago so we haven’t been able to go out and reacquaint with our neighbours.”

“Omandaz is gone.” I named the ruined settlement.

“That’s sad. They traded with us for nearly 300 years.”

“Do you trade with anyone now?”

“No, we dry the produce, store it in caves. We can trade with you, fresh or dried.”

“We’d appreciate that, but mostly we need water.”

Frank indicated a bubbling fountain in the town square. “We have plenty of that.”

“What do you want in exchange?”

“We don’t need much. Come along and I’ll show you.”

He turned and limped toward the centre of town. “Do you need something for yourself?” Bobby asked.

“Just a little oil. We still have some, but we reserve it for the agricultural workers.”

“We can give you four cans.”

On the porch of the largest building, a brick and timber town hall, a group of maybe 30 stood waiting for us, probably the entire population.

“Step forward, Bommie,” Frank said. Bommie was thin, with wispy straw-coloured hair and wire-rimmed glasses. “Bommie’s our book-keeper, but in recent years he’s been making some errors. You wouldn’t have a spare math module, would you?”

“The pod has one, you can have it. What record-keeping we do isn’t that extensive.” I wondered why Greenville, off the map and forgotten by everyone, needed to keep records, but I forbore asking.

“Oil for everyone!” Frank announced. They all smiled at us.

“But Tintin,” one of them muttered to Frank. “He needs more than oil.”

“I know. We’ve got him in a shed,” he told us. “At least you can take a look.”

Tintin was large and shiny and entirely inert. “He’s our best harvester. Maybe he’s old technology, but we’re fond of him. His circulating pump is shot. You don’t have one of those kicking around your pod, do you?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, but maybe I can finesse something out of spare parts.”

I reassured Frank, “Bobby’s a ray of hope for broke-down machines. What else do you need?”

“Just one more thing.” Frank whistled and the shaggy dog bounded to his side. “Noel’s our guard dog, but his aggression trigger’s busted. He can still read intentions, otherwise we’d never have opened the gate to you. But if you’re going to put us back on the map, we need protection.”

Bobby took two hours to fix Tintin. He looked at Noel but the part was fused beyond repair. “We can bring one next time we come by,” I told Frank, “but it could be a hundred years or more.”

“That’s fine. We can wait.”

They helped us load the food and water, then stood at the gate and watched us as we drove back into the saffron desert.

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