Monday, June 28, 2010


I left for Mars

I left for Mars that night while I washing dishes, listening to a mix someone had made for me at another of those farewell parties. So many people had said goodbye to be I was pretty sure I was dying; I was already halfway gone already at those parties, I barely knew what to say. I was going to Mars. I already knew I wasn't coming back, that was the feeling.

But I didn't actually go until that one night I was washing dishes in my Mom's kitchen. Then I floated right off the floor and out the window. Or so it felt: I already felt the reduced gravity, the heat of the Martian day through my faceplate, clearer than any of the million dollar hundred hour sims I had already done.

That was it. That was my trip to Mars. I still listen to that song when I want to remind myself what it's like. Because being here on Mars isn't like that at all. Mars isn't real. Nothing here is real. It can kill you all the same. Something doesn't have to be anything to kill you. That's what we've learned.

The Expression “Mars Mission”

Today, the expression, “mars mission” or “mission to mars” is synonymous with disaster, debacle and futility, painful, costly and ultimately fruitless enigmas, scientific, technological and cultural catastrophe. I can't really blame any of the people on the ground: they really were the best and the brightest, outside of those we sent here to die and lose their minds. Every possible contingency was prepared for. What could not be prepared for was the possibility that Mars played by no rules at all; it was like playing chess with a three year old: it killed you how and whenever it wanted to; you could not win.

I believe that is why the Third Mission blew up the Valley of the Peaceful Faces. Mars had been killing them slowly and arbitrarily. They struck back, however futilely. A lot of people blame everything that has happened since on this single, desperate act of violence. Humanity showed its dark side; this was our original sin on Mars, proof of our genetic imperialism. Others believe that it's a combination of things: a matrix of environmental factors on Mars that make it a psychological uninhabitable place; unknown physical or biological factors that make Mars appear unintelligible; some blame printer failure. Most of these critics don't believe what we actually have learned. They don't believe in Martians. They want to go back to where we were at the middle of the Twenty-First Century: confident, knowing, impressed with our latest technologies, ready to step out into the solar system. They want to live in the universe as described by Einstein, rather than Kant.

I would make that choice, too. I knew a lot of good people that did and died or worse. I am not a little ashamed to be still here alive. But I pray with the Martians now, and their prayers convey one thought: what's done is done; the world is all that is the case.


We lined up in the corridor pretty well, though it was pretty crowded so I ended up just around the corner. I could still hear everything Commander Williams had to say and say at length to the barricade. It was all very reasonable. If I had been Harris, I would have surely come out promptly, chagrined at not having invited the commander in at first knock. Then Major Goddard would have clobbered me. Kristen hadn’t even lit the torch and Mark was already all choked up on the shovel he’d sharpened. I’m pretty sure sharpening it was his idea and I’m pretty sure the commander had stressed using the flat part and that the major indeed intended to, applying it only against the relatively flat part of Harris’ head where his eyes and mouth were.

Williams continued in a firm and noble voice that put him way over the league of any of his fellow toastmasters on Earth. He began by calling on Harris in a familiar tone, but not in such a way that made you think you were going to be fired, or a group of thirst-crazed astronauts were going to bust into your improvised crib with a the pointy bits from the geology kit. No, as always, Williams was genuine. The commander then made clear the nature of the situation, of how the condensers had failed, the water supply evaporated and how we were now all dying of thirst and hunger in that order. The commander made clear that in terms of a social contract and a purely humanitarian level how we all had now to make entry and how Harris shouldn’t view this as a hostile act, but a necessary one, one with even several advantages to Harris himself.

The commander then laid out clearly what was to happen next and the exact order it was going to happen. Finally, in firm and unmistakably authoritative tone, he appealed to Harris not to make any violence necessary. He then nodded and Lockhart and Kristen put their shoulders to it, I remembered to pick up the heavy thing they had given me to hit Harris on the head with (a fac strut), the barricade moved and Goddard slipped in quicker than sublimating LOX.

It was dark and musty. Goddard swept the room quickly with his torch. He gestured to Lockhart and Kristen to cover him with drill bit and pole they had as he swiftly turned the corners of the nursery shelves. Harris was nowhere. Goddard swiftly knocked over some planters with a wushu kick. Harris was not under them. The Major swept the rippling torn dome of the ceiling with his light. He tensed. He indicated to the commander that he could be outside. Holding his breath, presumably. The commander appraised yet another situation that made no sense and would be hard to write up. Lockhart and Kristen had followed close on the major’s initial search, as he had drilled them to, but became increasingly distracted. There was a sound and smell in the air. Water was dripping. We could smell it. One of the dome struts shone as though just painted.

Dr. Cartwright started licking the pole. Dr. Lockhart followed with aplomb. Dr. Kristen yelled something and pulled them off. Dr. Cartwright was back on his feet and about to go again when Dr. Kristen yelled and pointed his torch in the corner.

The alfalfa planter was a complete wreck. Yet there was a weird dark shape slumped in it. It extended some ways up the dome wall as well. At first, it looked like a raincoat somebody had left. It was made out of lots of tiny nubbles. At first, one thought they were mushrooms glistening with moisture. Then they looked absurdly like oysters or barnacles. When they moved, you thought they were slugs or snails. Then the surfaces rotated and a red circle seemed to form like a rash, then puckered and opened into some sort of ciliated orifice that turned to face us. Weirdly, they reminded me of oreo cookies.


I haven't been out of this hotel room in about a month, I estimate. I paid in advance, enough to make them wave or discount the cleaning fee when they find one’s body or send in the HBT team. I am sure the Hyatt has dealt with it all before.

I am going on a journey to a deep interior, an intra-psychic point of inaccessibility. I have to be alone for this. I don't need provisions so much as a lack of provisions. Scarcity will feed and guide me. The complimentary cable package also, sometimes. But mainly the high speed connection.

I’ll follow the links. That’s how I’ll find it. That’s how I’ll remember.

I need it to be quiet.

Sometimes the living room doesn’t seem safe enough, or I can’t get there. Those times I stay in bed, or next to the bed, in a little hollow between the drawers and wall. The closet sometimes. It’s not much smaller than the space I had in the ACRV.

I don’t spend a lot of time in those positions. Usually it’s not that bad. The bed is comfortable. I’m not even that sleepy. It’s just feels good when you first put your head down, when the sun is shining, even if your ear hurts a little from putting your head down, it feels good, relaxing.

It’s just like being aboard MCS-Recovery One: Great Savings America.

I get a lot from the History Channel. The Second World War Never Ended. The Nazis are continually on the march with their superior technology. It’s a futuristic war between mechanized states, with robot planes and the ultimate weapon in the last act.

There's also a lot of cable mission creep: the puppy channel has reality shows about vampires & vampire hunters itself drifting with numerous branded challenges including a shift at Chili's.

I go to a party...

A man steps off the printer and puts a gun in his mouth. Guests scream.

A few minutes later the same man appears on the printer. He also chokes down on the SIG. He also makes a great big mess.

The same thing happens again. The host curses. He gets a special cloth, climbs up on the printer to try and reset its preferences and clear the cache. A few minutes later the same man appears and does it all over again.

It’s a DOS attack, the host explains. Bad breakup.

I wasn’t paying attention. I was playing wet worked video games based on the most painful episodes of my life. The idea was therapeutic: you played the game over and over again until you passed the level, the event that you could not overcome.

In the game I’m in a wooden room. There is a crack, a gunshot, and I fall down dead.

But if I am dead, then this is hell. And I can't have died, because there is no death on Mars. The Martians taught me that.

Printer Failure

-It's not really printer failure. Obviously, the fac-bots are 100% operational.

-You call this 100% operational? What about that rogue self-paving road we've got wandering all over Vallis Minotaurus?

Some of the computers seem to recognize what has actually been constructed, others disagree, others are in simulation mode and still others act on the results of that simulation as though it were real.

Which explains why one team plows a field and the other puts a golf course across it.

-Yeah, the highway system has gone totally rogue. It’s supposed to rebuild itself depending on the weather and conditions, but it’s basically wandering all over the place now. It keeps going into the valley. It’s not supposed to do that.

-Where's the magnetic heat pumps, the transmission array? And what they fuck are these things?

-They're fuck swings.
Thousands and thousands of really well-made fuck swings.

-Why are they making things like acres of fuck swings and rococo bowling alleys? I don't remember MCS Control uploading the plans for Circus, Circus up here.

-I think they're trying to communicate.


-I don't know, but they're fac-bots. Their language is things.


"But the point is, we did land on Mars. And that’s why I want to thank you all for coming to this Grand Opening of the Zabriske Point Mall."

"Here at the Zabriske Point Mall, some the same high technologies developed for Project Poseidon are here on Earth, at down to earth prices, here on earth, at earth prices at the Zabriske Point Mall? Some of the same technology that lifted us into space and sent us over 50 million miles to the shores of another world, that fed us, clothed us, kept us comfortable and ultimately failed us, is at work in the next generation of printer and printer appliances, personal connectivity and businessface applications."

"Take for example, this Nike Shoe One. Your peak performance is just prologue. This is the only running shoe whose difference you feel when you take off the shoe, the only shoe that guarantees you’ll never have sore feet again, no matter how much you run.

The secret, of course lies in adaptive “dope” suit technologies that we used on Mars. The shoe constantly monitors your feet's performance and it’s own. When your muscles begin to build up the lactic acid that causes soreness, Nike Shoe One detects this and begins a series of micro-injections that prevent the muscles from becoming sore, as well as boosting their performance. No matter how long you run or stand on your feet, you will never feel it, thanks to Nike Shoe One’s nerve block system, the same system I used to cut off my own legs and drag myself across the barren Martian soil. And the same nano capillary action that prevented me from bleeding to death will make sure your feet never swell up."


"Where's my suit?" Goddard had asked.

It was running on the surface, at a good steady clip, well balanced and light without the major in it, headed to the H-O plant.

The suit had a buzz-saw in it. It also had a lot of "hidden" military apps. I knew this because the other suits besides the major's were clearly prototypes of his, and a little backcaching let you see all the apps on a pull down menu they never wiped.

Every one suited up as per SOP. The major needed my suit because of the aforesaid apps.

That left me without a suit.

The core's pretty well shielded Billy, you'll be safe in there.

This was a smart suggestion, though somewhat blithe about what the shielding was for. I asked if I could just go to my room and work on the problem there.


I look out the window and see a beautiful meadow. In the distance a white sail appears. It is a young woman in a summer dress. Even though I have seen her appear many, many times, I watch over the course of an hour as she gets closer and closer. I wait for a glimpse of her face, because she is beautiful, seemingly shy of my glances as of the sun, her face artfully hidden by her summer hat. Finally, she pauses in the near middle distance and looks up at me. She is holding half of a perfectly sliced English Muffin. She looks at me and takes a bite of it. Words appear in the skies. The sun seems to drip butter.

We had such LCD windows on the Mars base. They are common now in high density housing and prisons.


I think these Missions were deliberately designed to fail. Look out this window. What do you see? A bright, beautiful prairie on a summer's day. It looks just like a shot from Little House on the Prairie. Did you ever watch that show? Do you know what happens on that show? What I'm saying is: they are trying to kill us. If they wanted us to stay alive, it would be wall-to-wall porn.

Transit Diary:

I've been masturbating a lot lately. The thing that is worrisome is not the frequency. It's been getting really abstract. Last time I jerked off it was for half and hour to cheerleaders and prime numbers. It was a concession to the Christian Coalition that no women were allowed on the mission. Someone left an autocad of a rather sophisticated dutch wife on the 4-D printer. It was basically an anus surrounded by eyes. I wish it was a sick joke, but months into this mission, I know it's not a joke.


Mark’s suit wasn’t having any of it. It brought down some heavy DU just as they were poking the dish over the crest of the connecting tunnel. The dish shredded into hot flakes. Kristen and Cartwright flattened themselves. The suit then fired under them, ripping apart corridor 12-6A. Flocks of tangled fuck swings blew out the corridor like a cloud of tangled rubber bands. The corridor sagged and collapsed, dropping Kristen and Cartwright with a respectable bounce. Kristen and Cartwright needed no additional encouragement to flee, keeping what was left of the concourse between themselves and the suit. The display showed a decent cardio for Kristen and Cartwright’s sprint, good respiration and that the Major Waste Accommodation Complexes in the groin and ass were cycling away. The major’s suit remained high and dry.


I'm shaking in the big black soft leather womb of the narcolounger, another spinoff of our dope armor. The slogan says it knows you better than you know yourself because it reads every muscle, your pulse and your brain waves. I think it also smells you. What they don't say is that it's basically like a blow job for your whole body. I am lying here naked like Fay Wray in the big black leather palm of this chair. It's shaking me something fierce, reminding me of the lander's entry descent to Mars, which I suppose makes me more tense and so here we are caught in a negative feedback loop between bad memories, who we are and the machines that try and help us, just like on Mars

The Major Came Straight At It

It wouldn’t have surprised me if Goddard’s new suit transformed into a jet fighter.

I looked at Goddard like he was basically the coolest guy ever. He was a real space marine. The suit locked on him but did not fire. Goddard knew what he was doing, because it was basic mechanics. He body checked the empty suit and it went flying. That is, before righting itself with a gyro-stabilized somersault. It then came back at the major with what looked like an inhumanly fast capoeria move and the Major ended up on a little ride that took him out by the solar panels.

The Major had fulfilled his tactical goal, however. A blazing cloud of fireballs lit up the launch pad and the CRV shot up –not at maximum v, out of range of the suit, but instead canted toward it, dropping on the suit with its thrusters, flashing it into a cascade of hot melty bits in a second like a blow torch on a candle.

Author's Post Script

The lights of the casino shine in the canal, but there's no sound. The eyes of the swan boat I've crashed into the bank look to me with destiny. I am mad King Ludwig trapped in Master Wagner's opera. This canal is a channel of stars, and I, after all am an astronaut. I right the swan boat return vehicle. The stars are my destiny, the drinks are free and the slots are the loosest for a hundred million miles

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