by Denis Winston Brum
Victor took a long sip of coffee and leaned back at the comfortable
embrace of the armchair. Checked the processor. There were two
remaining tablets of the concentrate. Luckily the team would arrive in
three weeks. The supply would barely stand this time, he ate up nearly
one tablet a week. He was drinking too much coffee, he knew that even
without checking the medical ward. But in recent days, he had felt cold
slowly increasing and coffee helped combating it. Victor smiled. If the
Agency knew that, it would send him immediately to psychiatric therapy.
There was no way to feel more heat or cold here. The temperature inside
the "Spider" was rigidly controlled. Comfort guaranteed. He even named
the work platform as Spider, due to its circular shape and its
extensions like long legs, buried in the Martian surface. The platform
was formed by four overlapping circles progressively smaller. At the
first one, they kept the generators and the landing area. In the second
one, bedroom, nursery, gym and cafeteria. In the third one,
laboratories and in the last one, the control room where Victor was.
From there he commanded the work of the “beetles”, as he named the
robot vehicles that move opening the way for the future construction of
the base. Beetles came from the Spider as bizarre puppies and, each
day, they left it at the center of a larger circle. Victor oversaw its
performance, changing the programming tasks as needed. Through the
monitors, or just leaning out the window picture that circulated
throughout the control room, Victor followed the activities flowing
And was not it always like this? That was the most monotonous task he
had received since joining as a foreman on Space Colonization Agency.
From the moment the team had left him laying there, he had become
annoyed in every possible way.
He had gotten tired of entertainment, sports and science holoes. He
could not use the communication network of the Earth in real time, not
only because of the distance, but because an ionized cloud along its
route delayed and distorted the signal. His communications with the
base, consisting of a rare weekly report, were zipped and sent through
a laser beam of high intensity. The even rarer replies arrived with
laconic technical comments.
Victor was practically isolated. Fortunately, soon he would be
replaced. Now he had to keep routine and counting the days. He ended
the day at work drinking coffee and witnessing the scarlet twilight
coloring the barren Martian landscape of melancholy.
He collected the beetles. Took a shower. Took a nap. He prepared a meal
unhappily. Soy protein and a mock orange juice. He pushed his plate. He
patted his stomach heavy. Should or should not visit a holocabaret? He
went to his locker to take the corn whiskey smuggled from Earth. That
medicine had kept his sanity during the endless digging of the new
lunar base Armstrong II. He leaned back in bed. He watched the amber
liquid. Took a sip. He closed his eyes. The strong and slightly sweet
flavor erasing his bland dinner. He felt hotter. Alcohol was strictly
forbidden in work platforms, but the supervisors always tolerated it
when it came to a lonely place like that. After all, they were
pressured to decrease at all costs the number of labor lawsuits filed
by psychological damage caused by prolonged lack of human contact.
Victor did not intend to move any lawsuit. The removal of other human
beings it was not painful at that time. After his divorce, he had
learned to appreciate silence and solitude. The casual relationships he
had experienced so far had been cold disappointments. Friends he had
seen again seemed to be different. It was the price of the periods of
isolation. He was distancing himself from people, becoming a modern
hermit. Unconsciously, he had begun to fear the return, contact with
other people. Flooded the gloomy thoughts with whiskey. The system of
setting should be faulty, there really seemed to have cooled with the
nightfall. Sheltered in the warmth of the drink. Relaxed and fell
He woke up invaded by an unexpected euphoria. Lightweight. He moved and
the feeling was accentuated. And then there was the shock of seeing her.
She floated in the center of the room. Her long crimson hair moved
gracefully driven by an inexplicable breeze. The pale body emits light,
hovering three feet off the ground. The eyes were large and expressive
crimson spheres. The delicate form suggested a female. A gesture of her
long fingers gently called him. The fear shared space with curiosity.
Victor drifted. His feet barely touched the ground as he covered the
short distance. She was different, but beautiful, her body was pulsing
to a bright pale golden. She floated a little in his direction, leaving
them nearly the same height. Victor wanted to see her face closely and,
barely realizing what he did, floated to come face to face with it.
It was humanoid, no doubt, but the body appeared to have decreased in
size, except the eyes, larger and more expressive than any other he had
ever seen. The nose and mouth were just aesthetic memories. An alien
beauty, quiet and innocent.
“Hi ..”, Victor startled. She did not move her lips. The voice was in
his mind. It sounded like a musical instrument. A harp, he thought, her
voice resembles a harp.
“Thanks. This tool looks very nice ...”. The answer caused him new
wonder. Telepathy, for sure. She communicated telepathically.
“Exactly. I can send and receive thoughts.” This time, Victor accepted
the communication naturally.
“Who are you?”, he thought, getting a little closer.
“X'la.”, she answered. He sensed a smile that seemed in his mouth.
“I know. It’s been a long time I know you. I'm curious. I wanted to
communicate with you.” The music of her words echoed in his mind.
Curiosity had overcome the fear. Victor wanted to know everything about
“I do not understand.”
“I live here ... I follow your work ...” - She made a vague gesture. -
I can feel your presence ...I needed to meet you.”
“How can you live here? I've never seen ...”, Victor looked at her
puzzled. Now he was sure she was smiling while another golden flash
illuminated her body.
“You never tried to see me. I've always been here.”
“This makes no sense. I have noticed, that sensor would show your
She seemed amused by the confusion of it.
“Your race believes too much on what you see and too little what you
feel”, X'la said.
“Even though, I would have noticed it before …”, Victor replied.
“Do you see me now, right? Isn’t it enough to prove you I exist?”, X'la
was definitely smiling now.
“I'm confused”, Victor floated imperceptibly downward.
“I am what you call conscience ...”. Disturbed, Victor touched the
"I do not understand ...”
He returned to darkness.
He woke in the middle of the room. He should have walked during the
strange dream. Couldn’t recall any similar experience in his life.
Sleepwalking was something lost in childhood. He was really in need to
go back to see people. He returned to bed. It took a long time for
Victor to sleep.
He occupied his mind with enough work the next day. He struggled to
drink less coffee. An accident complicated his afternoon. A beetle had
been blocked when trying to remove a rock from the Martian subsurface.
Victor needed to use the jeep to reach the beetle. He entered the
decontamination chamber. He stuck himself in the uncomfortable garb of
environmental protection. He checked the costume. Isolated and
operational. Activated decontamination. After a combined application of
high and low temperatures, the green light finally appeared. Powered
the right wrist commands that controlled the same costume and began the
process of pressurization. He waited impatiently. He left the cabin and
got to the landing area of the platform. Dramatic yellow warning lights
signaled the pits of the beetles. Up in the jeep. Activated the
transparent dome. He smiled, recalling one day with absolutely nothing
to do in that he had used the vehicle to jump on the dunes of Mars, a
procedure that would surely bring trouble if discovered by the Agency.
The jeep ran smoothly. Led him gently back. Signaled to the door of the
landing area. The door slowly rose, revealing the barren Martian
landscape. Victor went on.
The beetle was reached in few minutes. Parked beside the vehicle.
Signaled to unlock it. Got off. He walked carefully on uneven ground
towards the beetle. The vehicle was low and equipped with little room
for a human operator, rarely needed.
Victor sat down there the best he could. Changed the system to manual
control. A control lever appeared. He pulled it back. The vehicle moved
a little, but stopped. Victor moved the lever forward and the right and
then back and left. The beetle has moved and found more space. Victor
pulled the lever back and gave more power to the motor. The beetle
fought. The wheels and caterpillars were releasing clouds of reddish
dust. Victor moved the lever back and forth. The vehicle finally freed
itself. Victor decreased strength and movement ceased. He used the
claws of the beetle to dig and find the rock. Located it. Victor
examined the rock on the screen of the sensors. A long and a little
rough section, buried vertically in the sand. He held the grip on the
rock and fired the aft movement, bringing it to the surface. The rock
was emerging slowly, almost like a plate of stone. Victor laid it
aside, cut a sample with the laser and brought it to the beetle
warehouse. Steered the vehicle and parked next to the jeep. Returned
the system to automatic. He came down and watched the landscape around
him. It was beautiful and harrowing to look at Mars's surface, without
the Spider’s correction filters. The infinite horizon amplified
loneliness. The abandoned immensity made breathing more difficult. It
was useless to fret over those thoughts. Guided back to Spider as fast
as he could. Already housed within the platform, brought the Beetle
back by remote control and moved the rock to the decontamination
process and analysis.
After a long bath, Victor came down to the Laboratory. He made the
multi analyzer project a rock holography. It seemed only one of many
which, from time to time, obstructed his path. It turned the image
while to watch it carefully. The other side was curiously little rough,
almost smooth. Noticed an unusual stain on the edge of the rock. Zoomed
“It cannot be..”, he murmured perplexed. The stain was a symbol.
Impossible! Mars was inhabited and, as far as anyone knew, it had
always been. However the rock almost smooth, rugged perhaps only by the
erosion of time, suggested an artificial design. The stain could be an
icon, a form of communication. How could it be possible in a planet
where life had never existed?
He studied the findings of the analysis. Recognized all the elements
common to Martian geology. But the stain was still there. A form of
language or a simple trick of nature? Victor did not know, but that
intrigued him enough to send an extra report to the base.
“Now I just need to say I've been feeling cold here for them to intern
me. Life on Mars, I can already hear the laughter.” His derision echoed
in the empty station. Victor rubbed his arms.
After dinner he decided to visit Eros, his preferred holocabaret. He
dressed the sensor costume to stimulate his senses and went into the
magnetized circle, where the belt would extend the sensation of
movement by changing speed, direction and tilt as needed. Within
seconds, he was crossing the long Doric columns of the temple.
An hour later he felt more relaxed. He dismissed the whiskey. He laid
down. Slept. Dreamed.
He opened his eyes in the middle of the night, as he wished, X'la was
“You're back ...”, he grumbled.
“I wanted to see you again.”, she floated towards him.
“I found something today.”
“I can see it in your mind, Victor. A fragment of our city.”
“A city? Here?”
“Yes, long ago. If I'm not mistaken, for you it would be thousands ...
... Or millions of years ... ... We had physical bodies.”
“Similar. We needed material things ... ... Places to rest, to produce
machines ... As your people ... But increasingly, our intellect evolved
“And you proceeded to use telepathy as a form of communication?”
“It was the first sign, exactly. Then we began to project our minds,
our consciousness, beyond the limits of our bodies ... First for short
periods, then space-time growing ...Until it becomes a natural ability.”
“And in time your physical bodies have lost their usefulness.”
“That is it, Victor. We could spend more time out of our bodies,
existing as a living conscience, free and independent to do whatever we
“And your bodies?”
“Were being abandoned.”
“But you did not have food? Did not you die without it?”
“The bodies did, but "consciousness" does not ..."
“How is it possible?”
“Food is necessary to maintain biological machine, not an independent
state of mind ...”
“And the conscience, continued to exist even without their physical
“The great majority, yes ... Some really could not stand the sight of
their bodies perished and collapsed ...”
“But how could they continue to exist?”
“In your mind ... ... As well as in our ... Thoughts are electrical
impulses running through a circuit. As we began to think, to ration all
the time, it worked to keep us alive ... This constant operation in the
“Like an old car battery?”
“I see the image ... ... And the function ... Well, I think we are more
sophisticated, but in a rudimentary form, the concept is similar.”
“Why did you stay on Mars?”
“It was our home. But we undertake travel to other worlds. As our minds
were free to move and were not subject to any physical law, we have
been to several places.”
“Have you ever been on Earth?”
“Many times. We traveled in groups. I met its pre-history, Rome and the
“And you never tried to communicate?”
“Yes, but we never managed to establish a consistent line of
communication. We were confused with other things. Our telepathy was
interpreted as madness by the ones who received the messages. Our
ability to occupy their bodies has also been misunderstood. Many people
believed that we were their ancestors who were killed because we
provided answers based on the images we found in their memoirs. Many
referred to us as spirits.”
Victor floated down suddenly became heavy. “Spirits?”, he said.
“Yes. Others gave us strange mythological names, saints, demons,
Even more confused, Victor touched the ground. “It cannot be...”, he
sank into unconsciousness.
Victor woke up disturbed. What kind of dream was that? Despite the
fantastic facts that he witnessed, followed a logical sequence, without
conflicting dreamlike abstractions. Never dreamed that. And, much less,
he had remembered so many details. He seemed to have just left a
dramatic spectacle, and may mentally review each scene he had
witnessed. He rose disturbed. The embrace of loneliness choked him. He
wished the replacement team would come soon.
The communication received from the base did not help to reassure him.
There was an excessive cold and unconcerned comment about the rock sent
holosample. They suggested that the "spot" could be many things besides
an artificially created icon. They advised him to keep the piece until
further tests were processed by the new team. And, what really angered
him, the ion cloud which stood between Earth and Mars would cause a
delay in its replacement. The increased activity of the anomaly could
affect navigation instruments. The mission would be postponed until the
ionic activity had been reduced to an acceptable level. They could not
predict how long would such a delay be.
The first part of the message, which discredited his discovery could be
translated into a single sentence: "Control yourself, you freak!" The
distanced tone intended to make him lose interest in the "Martians."
Victor could not be a scientist graduated in alien research, but he
knew enough about manipulating analysis instruments of the Spider to
see what was or was not a sign of alien presence. He was not exactly
sure, but he knew that his discovery was more than mere hallucination.
Maybe they wanted him out of the path. Perhaps scientists were
surprised with the sample and reasoned that the discovery of Martian
civilization could not be credited to a single buttons-presser-worker.
They would arrive later with their sophisticated equipment and say "A
fool accidentally stumbled on something too grand for his limited
understanding..." and have their names printed in History.
Victor shook himself into a laugh. It was just what was needed to
complete the diagnosis of insanity: paranoia. First hallucination, then
a conspiracy where evil scientists robbed him the glory of having
proved the existence of life on Mars... Wondered what would happen if,
added to this, he informed about X'la and growing cold he felt.
Embittered, more than ever, Victor wanted to leave. Get drunk at some
disqualified den embraced in a pair of prostitutes whose flesh, even
flaccid, it was real. That was what he needed: reality.
Victor kept his routine like a robot. Nothing new happened. The night
wore a jacket hotter than usual. Looked for something to watch. The
cold persisted. Decided that the next morning, after dispatching the
beetles for their duties would thoroughly review the climate control
system platform. Opted for the "New Comedies of Charlie Chaplin”.
Disabled the option of interactivity. Would rather just watch. Forget
The next two hours he could not laugh much, but relieved his mind a
little. He managed to not take a sip of whiskey. Lay down.
“Tomorrow I will do a basic psychometric testing...”. Fatigue closed
“You seem to be unhappy...”, X'la floated very close to it. The darker
pulse and swings in her body indicated concern.
Victor felt a sudden disturbance.
“Go away. Leave me alone. You do not exist...”
X'la floated away, opaque and transparent. “You are upset. The messages
you received made you bitter...”, she said.
“Yes .. On my planet ... people think I've gone crazy ... ... Maybe
“No, Victor. They are wrong. Do not let that prejudice prevents them
from realizing the importance of your discovery. Believe”, she tried to
cheer him up.
“Just my belief will not be enough”, bittered Victor.
“Maybe it is. Your consciousness is expanding rapidly, it is in touch
with your feelings as it has never been before. It perceives things
that were previously invisible to you. It disturbs and confuses you...
But it is part of your evolution.”, visible and luminous, X'la
“And what if I am going crazy? Imagining you? And if the stain on the
rock is no more than a shock caused by a fragment of a meteorite?”,
said Victor unhappily.
“No. That symbol is F'mal, my hometown. It was made with... ...With a
light pen... The closest I can relate in your mind would be
lasergraphy.”, she explained to him, fun.
“Not quite there. The erosion and the time transported it... I was
born, grew up and worked in F'mal... ...Was kind of an astronomer,
studied and researched the cosmos. I've always been curious about
planets and alien races.”
Tortured by doubt, Victor reached over and touched her. The cold
dissipated. He felt lighter. X'la immediately became reddish. She
wrapped his hand and made him float.
“If I could prove... ...Sure!”, he seemed feverish.
Those hypnotic and beautiful eyes were close to him as never before.
“A little bit beyond where he found the rock... ...Few miles... There
is what you are looking for...” Victor blinked heavily his eyelids. She
led him softly to his bed.
He jumped out of bed, excited about the new perspective. Needed to find
out! Washed his face. He devoured his meal. His quick gestures would
cause surprise, if there was someone there to be surprised. Scheduled
tasks for the beetles, except for one. The vehicle that had found the
rock. Dressed in his suit of environmental protection. It was a journey
too important to be done by remote control.
Victor ignored the discomfort of the beetle cabin. In manual control.
Beetle in movement. He watched the desert almost in awe. When he had
been appointed to be there, he thought of Mars as a useless Sahara in
space. Just a quick scale in the voyages of galaxy exploration. But
now, he felt that this could be different. If he was right, if X'la
existed and the information was correct, he could make a historic
discovery, proving the existence of Martian civilization. Reached the
point where he had found the rock. With sensors at maximum range, he
began a slow advance, looking every inch. In the first mile nothing
changed. Proceeded without any abnormal signal above or below the
A couple of miles more. Nothing on sensors. He was getting impatient.
The vehicle stopped for a moment. Looked at his back. The Spider seemed
deceptively smaller because of the distance. Besides the low hum of
Beetle, nothing was heard. The desert right in front, challenged him. A
desolate world inhabited by a solemn sadness. A large cemetery. That
“There is nothing there. I'm crazy... Completely crazy!”, he punched
the panel, unintentionally triggering the jaws of the beetle. “No! It
is here and I'll find it...”.
It was there. The proof was waiting just ahead. He was sure. He drank a
little water through a straw in the costume while he retracted the
claws of the vehicle. He continued.
The Martian day reached the half. Victor progressed by rugged
topography, breathing the distress of that dreary landscape. Eyes fixed
on the monitors. The route unchanged. That's when the red circle
appeared on the central monitor. Mineral unidentified. The beetle
started to dig.
It took an hour of gentle activity. An almost perfect semicircle
appeared on the surface. Vibrated. Only the most incredulous and
unimaginative scientists would deny that there was an artificial
construction. There were no marks or symbols on the rock surface, but
the plan relief and the near perfection of the curve, where some spots
had disintegrated by erosion, indicated that had been artificially
carved. It would be like finding a stone ax and deny human evolution.
He put the sample in the Beetle warehouse. The heart soared.
Unquestionable evidence. Or another trick of the great hallucination,
said a bitter inner voice.
“It is not. It is complex, logical and detailed enough for a
hallucination”, he justified, anxious and excited.
A few miles later a new sign. The excavation was slow. The object was
buried. But when Victor made it emerge, he felt the thrill of an
archaeologist uncovering the story itself. An alloy of an unknown
metal, perforated by small and perfect circles. The piece was about one
feet, but it certainly was not natural. It could have been used in a
building or perhaps on a machine.
“They will not be able to deny it!” Victor shouted at the abandoned
planet. He continued. The sensor then fired again. Something
unbelievable buried in two feet of red soil. A crystal, roughly the
size of a cup, emerged. Victor had to touch it. He left the Beetle. He
wiped the translucent cylinder as best he could. Despite the untold
time he had spent buried, it was still very beautiful. Victor raised
his glass to the light to observe it better. A female face that
reminded X'la but less ethereal and more organic, haunted him. The
image was projected about two feet in front. Victor moved again the
crystal and a new face emerged, this time male. He was stunned. The
crystal was a sort of photo album. A prism that filtered the light
projecting images that, somehow, it brought stored.
Victor laughed, threatening the planet solitude with his happiness.
“I got it!”
The voices of Mick Jagger and Victor were confused. He danced with the
bottle in his hand while the Spider rumbled to the tune of "It's Only
Rock'n'Roll”. Whiskey enhance their joy and threatened his equilibrium.
The holosamples protruded in front of him. He was tired. Brought the
Beetle back quickly, but still reached the Spider just at dusk, since
the vehicle was designed for heavy duty and not as a mean of transport.
He had let the instruments suing their findings. Plunged into a
restorative shower. Now, intoxicated by success, the music and whiskey,
watched the conclusions of the analysis. Unknown substances. Evidence
from intelligence and alien technology. Irrefutable evidences. As X'la
said. It was all true. Hit in the chest, “I discovered life on Mars! I
He collapsed in his bed. Drunk and happy. A weight removed from the
soul. The Rolling Stones had ended their concert. The Spider rested
quietly. Victor dreamed about a triumphal arrival on Earth. He is not
surprised to find X'la, pulsating orange to gold, at his bedside.
“Thanks”, he said.
“You found what you looked for.”
Victor fluctuated naturally. Almost touched.
“You said the truth”, he gushed.
“You should know, Victor. You needed to believe.”
“I'm fine, X'la. The anxiety is gone.”
“Yes, you have found your light.”
They touched one another, multiplied their warmth and energy.
“You are lightweight, Victor. You are happy”, X'la smiled.
“It's because I believe.”
“I believe. I want to be with you.”
“Come on. There is much to be discovered.”
“We can travel anywhere?”
“The entire universe. It's beautiful, Victor.”
The ambience was flooded with brilliant light.
Captain Torres was driving the jeep slowly. It was his first ride on
Mars. Even though the landscape fascinated him, the enigma that he and
his team had found haunted him. Lack of communication, empty
workstation, a disappeared vehicle. What happened there? The bottle of
whiskey on the multi analyzer was a very bad sign. The digger was
abandoned with the manual system locked, in a nuisance. And this was
his only clue. Even if the sensors would ensure the safety of the ride,
he would rather proceed carefully. That mission was already getting bad
enough. He recalled the terrified look of the new foreman to find an
empty station. He could not blame it. The place looked like a haunted
house. Nonsense. It was the unknown bringing back our primitive side.
As the first Australopithecus who had seen lightning.
The sensor showed the presence of burrowing just ahead. A few hundred
yards. All missions on the Moon had been easy, replicas of training
simulations. Torres has never faced anything like that. Slowly went up
and down a dune. Found the vehicle. The excavator, slightly inclined,
began a curve that it would never complete. Torres stopped. The dome of
the vehicle was suspended. Carefully, Torres stepped on Mars. Only then
realized the real vastness of that world. The hypnotic desolation of
his horizon devoured his gaze. He went to the router. The empty cabin
disturbed. He leaned into the interior. Passed the system to automatic.
Torres rose. The chill almost toppled him. There he was. Just a little
further. He was sitting, his head up to the red sky.
“My God...”, he did not prevent the comment. What happened to the poor
devil? Torres walked the longest walk of his life. His heart pounded.
Circulated him slowly. “My God”!
The helmet visor was lifted. It was unbearable to contemplate that
inexplicable smile of happiness. The right arm outstretched, palm up,
left him forever hand in hand with nothing. That image would visit
Torres in his nightmares for weeks.
The dusk fell on Mars. The opaque eyes of Victor were bathed in scarlet
© 2020 Denis Winston Brum
Bio: Denis Winston Brum developed his writing skills working in
the advertising business. He published the children’s book “As Férias
das Fadas”, the Young-Adult book “As Quatro Linhas” and the adult book
“Redemoinhos”, all in paperback. Denis Winston Brum also released the
adult e-Book “Adiós Pampa Mía”.
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