Archive for June, 2012

17th June
written by amber

The Canal

A man walked along the bank of a canal. The canal had been dry for many years. Indeed, there was some debate about whether it had ever held water.

On either side of the canal, fields stretched as far as the man could see. The crops grew beneath a special mesh designed to hold in the oxygen and heat they were generating, these things being as important to the nearby villagers as the fruits and root vegetables were. The man was in charge of the crops, and he was worried. The water for the crops was carried by pipes beneath the ground, and in the storage tanks he had just enough water to last four more days, no longer.

He’d been outbid in the water auction by the first golf course to be built on Mars.

This situation had not sprung upon him unexpectedly. He’d known for years that it was coming.

Earth’s domination over Mars had ended 15 years ago, when the colonists seized their own government, and the new leaders were all entrepreneurs who felt that Martian businesses should compete in a ‘fair market,’ without the imposed restrictions Earth had legislated to make it possible for the planet to be developed in an equal manner, not solely by rich individuals and corporations. But now the water subsidy for agriculture and the unaffiliated villages was over, and life was about to get very difficult indeed.

However, the man was not without his own resources. He was an expert at crop development, having designed the generations of plants which had sustained the village with protein, carbohydrates and essential nutrients as well as air and heat for so many years. His latest project, a style of chokeweed devastating to any short grass crop was just months away from fruition.

But that wouldn’t be soon enough. He’d hoped that his attack on the golf course could be anonymous. The chokeweed, being of similar genetics to grass, wouldn’t be traceable to him, but the crude weapon he had for now would leave no doubt as to its village origins.

The first protein plant he’d made, the chickendendron, had been a notable failure, the laughing-stock of two planets, except for the unfortunate villagers who had to live near the things when they uprooted themselves and crawled together to rot in fetid heaps.

Looking around to see if anyone was watching, the man slid into the canal and ducked under the fence onto the golf course, his bag of seeds in hand.

16th June
written by amber

Dear Readers – I’m reposting some of the Bradbury inspired stories from last year.


Sam Parkhill

Sam Parkhill motioned with the broom, sweeping away the blue Martian sand. He opened the door of his general goods store and guided the sand out the door, then he followed it and swept it off the sidewalk.

“Come on in,” he said to the tourists. “I know you’d like to hear what it was like when Mars was young.”

They shuffled in, nine of them, and he found them chairs around the pot belly stove in the middle of the store. They gaped at the cans on the shelves and the bins of pickles and crackers in front of the counter, at the racks of shovels and rakes along the back wall.

“Frontier wasn’t much of a town back then, but we got by with hard work and pure stubbornness. And not only were we struggling just to survive against the elements, but there was kind of a range war going on too. Because the countries back on Earth were in too much disarray to keep order on Mars, all sorts of different groups were colonising and exploiting and disputing. Just over that hill there–” Sam pointed out the front window and the tourists obediently looked that way.

“That’s where the New Randists were mining copper, putting all kinds of deadly dusts into the wind that blew our way. And on the other side, the great philanthropist, Thadeus Payne, was installing his first Air Enhancer, which was later blown up by the Natural Mars Society.”

A distinguished older man put up a hand. Sam nodded at him and the man asked, “With a whole planet to chose from, why did the early settlers decide to put themselves into such close proximity to each other?”

“Good question, sir. This rift valley was determined to be the easiest to dome over. That’s how we expected to make the planet fit for humankind – by doming and using Air Enhancers. We didn’t predict that lungs could be grown that would allow people like yourselves to walk around and do just fine in the Martian atmosphere. Now, if there aren’t any more questions, please feel free to poke around the store and look at everything. There’s peppermint sticks for the kids in the jar next to the cash register. Then you can mosey on down to the saloon or the blacksmiths or the newspaper office. But don’t forget that you’re all expected back at the Ranch house for a barbecue lunch followed by a barn dance. Plus we have a rare treat for you folks. Frontier was built for more than tourists – we always hoped that a Martian film industry would develop eventually, and now, 300 years after Frontier was established, the first Martian western is being shot and you’ll have the opportunity to dress up in period costumes and be part of the film.”

The tourists stood. Some moved to thank Sam and slip him a tip, others wandered deeper into the store. A small boy, his forehead wrinkled with puzzlement, whispered to his mother, “If Sam’s been here since Mars was young, is he 300 years old?”

“Oh honey, no one lived on Mars back then except robots like him.”

10th June
written by amber

Martian Invasion

Off in the hills where the ancient highway curved, there was a motion, a dim light and then a murmur. The second Martian invasion had begun.

The first time men came, there was nothing to conquer but the planet – its hostile climate, its lack of air, its lack of anything to sustain human life. But conquer we did, backed by the only entities on Earth able to finance such an undertaking – corporations. MarOpp and Solar Explorations divvied up the planet and extracted mineral wealth as quickly as they could, aware that planet-loving ideologues were sure to rise up here as they had back on Earth, hampering their wanton ways.

For decades, the only settlers allowed were employees of the corporations. At first they lived in metal hives, then they dug into the mined out shafts and created underground cities. In the past 30 years, they’ve domed some valleys and created sunlit resorts for the very wealthy.

Me – I came to be a waiter in the Adirondack Lodge. No Martian miner would stoop to holding such a menial job, however well-paid by Earth standards. I intended to go home after my five year stint, but my family died in the Water Wars, so now Mars is my home.

But Mars has always been water-poor, relying on ice asteroids and comets for its supply. And lately we’ve had to take aggressive action to defend our supply. The Water Wars have come to us.

We stand at the window of the Lodge, staff and customers and refugees from all over the planet, every one of us clutching our masks, just in case. The invaders’ tank crawls along Highway One, the first resource road built on Mars. Our fighters scream by overhead, their bombs not able to make any impression on the tank.

It’s time to head into the tunnels, although I know that will only delay the inevitable.

7th June
written by amber

This is the second story that I wrote last year inspired by the writing of Ray Bradbury. This story was inspired by one of the short stories in  The Martian Chronicles, and the first line adapted from one of his.


When the wind came through the sky, he and his small family sat in the stone hut and warmed their hands over a wood fire. Actually it was the idea of a wood fire, a little holographic trick, the warmth created in their hands and bodies by an algae spray which had been developed on Mars. But the trick made them feel warmer, as the cold wind seeped through the cracks in the building.

They’d taken so much from the planet, and given so much to it as well, but they’d never been able to control the wind.

They’d been camping and exploring and digging for a week, their sturdy tent a good shelter until the wind came, driving them into the stone hut with its empty air tanks and appliances whose function they could only guess at. The hut was old, dating back to the earliest years of human occupation. The wind had scoured its outer walls over the long decades, had patiently gritted between the metal door and the stone frame to leave drifts of dust inside.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if a Martian walked through the door right now?” his son asked.

The door creaked and his daughter squealed, then whined, “Dad, tell him to stop scaring me!”

136 years mankind had been on Mars and they had only recently discovered the Martians, their huge bones buried deep in the planet’s strata, departed from the land a million years before.

6th June
written 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.