Wednesday 22 September 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


No one would have believed in the first years of the twenty-first century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's. That as men busied themselves about their various concerns - alphabetising their DVD collections, or arguing the merits of the Blackberry against the HTC Hero - they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs – listening to Radio Four on iPlayer and awaiting the next Fallout expansion pack - serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the stuff under the microscope does the same.

No one gave a thought to other worlds as sources of danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible. Most people fancied there may be life on Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise...much as the British view every other country anyway.

Yet across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

The planet Mars, as you all know, spins about the sun at about schnufty-fufty million billion miles. Any light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that received by us. This is why it’s referred to, by most anthropologists, as “Fail”.

Mars is older than our world; and is scarcely one seventh of the volume of Earth. It’s crap. It has no air, no water and none of the elements that are necessary for life to exist. It’s a shithole. No one in their right mind would go there, ever.

The cooling of the planet that will one day happen here has already gone far ahead on Mars. Even on the equator, the midday temperature barely approaches that of the coldest substance known to man (Megan Fox’s smile).

Yet, still, they come.

Looking across space with instruments and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance of only schnufty-fufty million billion miles, a morning star of hope: our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas. And Radio Four on iPlayer.

The Marsians seem to have calculated their descent with amazing subtlety and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nigh perfect unanimity. Men watched the red planet - it is odd, by-the-bye, that for countless centuries Mars has been the star of war - but failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well. Wankers. All that time the Marsians must have been getting ready.

During the opposition of 1994, a great light was seen on the surface of Mars from the Salt Lick Observatory. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the first sign of failure from the Marsians, in the vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak during the next two oppositions. My hypothesis is that this was supposed to be their initial attack, which then kersploded and carved a massive scar into their planet, roughly the size of Devon.

As you’ll recall, this all kicked off six years ago now. As Mars approached, astronomers noticed huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet. After no less that twenty-eight fart-based jokes from the office “comedian”, astronomers theorised it was a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity towards this earth. Darren Jones, the famous astronomer, compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, "as flaming gases rushed out of a gun". D-Bag Jones, the office “comedian”, made a farting noise with his armpits, and quoted three sit-coms, including Family Guy.

The next day there was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the Daily Telegraph (underneath the four column article about Jade Goody. Again), and the world went in ignorance of one of the gravest dangers that ever threatened the human race. Even I, the humble Professor Rutger Awesomeness von Boltthrower, might not have heard of the eruption at all had I not met Humid William, keen amateur astronomer, outside Bjorn’s Burger Van. Humid William was immensely excited at the news, and invited me up to take a look with him that night in a scrutiny of the red planet.

In spite of all that has happened since, I will never, ever forget sitting in a cramped Nissan Micra with Humid William, his Fisher-Price binoculars, and a family size bag of cheesy wotsits. Humid William moved about, invisible but audible. Looking through the binoculars, one saw a circle of deep blue and the little round planet just off to the side, but a bit wonky. It seemed such a little thing, so bright and small and still.

As I watched, Mars seemed to grow larger and smaller, to advance and recede, but that
was simply that my eye was becoming irritated by Humid William and his cheesy corn snacks. Schnufty-fufty million billion miles it was from us - more than schnufty-fufty million billion miles of void.

That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the distant planet. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest projection of the outline; and at that I told Humid William and he snatched the binoculars from me. The night was very warm and I was thirsty, so I got out of the car and left William to it, exclaiming at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.

That night another invisible missile started on its way towards Earth, just under twenty-four hours after the first one.

The following day, outside Bjorn’s Burger Van, Humid William was full of speculation about the condition of Mars, although he laughed at the my idea of its having inhabitants who were signalling us. I made a point of actively telephoning someone else in front of him, but this didn’t actually seem to stop him from talking to me. His idea was that meteorites might be falling in a heavy shower upon the planet, or that a huge volcanic explosion was in progress. He was confident in how unlikely it was that organic evolution had taken the same direction in the two adjacent planets.

"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one", he said.

“You said that about the Maple Leafs winning the Stan...your face.” I muttered.

Hundreds of observers saw the flame the previous night and the night after about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one on Earth has attempted to explain.

Except me: They ran out of ammo.

Even the shitty papers woke up to the disturbances at last, and they finally started covering the volcanoes on Mars. The “hilarious” Punch, I remember, made a happy use of it in the political cartoon. D-Bag Jones cut it out and pinned it behind his desk for all to see.

And those missiles the Marsians had fired at us drew earthward, rushing now at a pace of miles a second through the empty gulf of space. It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. For my own part, I was much occupied in learning to ride the unicycle, and busy upon the manufacture of a Deathwing Assault Cannon, and a Thunderhawk gunship.

Not models.

One night (the first missile then could scarcely have been a million miles away) I went for a walk with my wife, Enid. It was a warm night. Coming home, a party of chavs passed us singing and playing music from their mobile phones. There were lights in the upper windows of the houses as the people went to bed. From the railway station in the distance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance. It seemed so safe and tranquill. And really, really boring.

Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells


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