Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Contained Alien

Let’s just suppose that humans make the journey to Mars. There is lots of controversy about this venture, all of them well intended and worth reflection, but, for the sake of this story, the trip happens. And, let’s just suppose that Martians are about a thousandth the size of ant legs. After all, Martians don’t know they’re supposed to be large as Earthlings. Or larger. But, in fact they could be smaller. It takes a lot a Martians to screw in a light bulb. A lot! Would they know what a light bulb is?

And let’s also remember that because of the astronauts' needs required them to empty the onboard waste system because they still have to go the bathroom (wonder why it's not called a latrine or head?) and, because they were well trained and the planners knew how to handle this problem, the periodic emptying of trash and waste in space went well (how else would you describe it: "as planned"). But the crew had arrived at Mars, on time, where treating the universe as just a vast open collection refuge had to stop. (Of course, it began well outside the limits of Earth's gravity. Talk about public relations nightmare? All that space and your trash ends up bombarding Earth's atmosphere!)

Also, an early decision fixed the crew as all male. Better for privacy, said one side. Not fair for everyone else, said the other side. Why one side actually won, given they both changed positions several times over the years the plans were being made, is not in itself important. It was, it would be, an all-male crew.

The plan was for three of the crew to remain in orbit and three of the crew to land. The large crew of six was picked to ensure not-to-worn out bodies and brains when they arrived at Mars.

But, as with all space voyages, weight (food and water, six 180 pound persons, something to read, toilet paper, clothes, soap, and all the rest of the stuff you would pack into an RV for a six month journey, fuel to lift more fuel) requires fuel and when food (weight) was changed to waste (just lesser weight) something had to go--if you’ll pardon the pun. But the plan wasn’t so crude or crass as to just dump waste on Martian soil. There had been speculation that once upon a time space travelers had done just that, leaving germs to populate molds and bacterial growth on Earth, but the favor was not going to be repaid. If humans were to attempt population in the universe they would go at it with a plan and a purpose. Garbage disposal was both.

Six months to Mars. Six men. Six tons of water and food. Three tons of waste. Much of the waste was burned to generate heat. In fact, by the time the astronauts edged into Mars orbit, the trash load (waste, packageing, "stuff") was measured in less than one thousand pounds. But, half a ton to carry all the way back to earth, a six-months journey--or not bring back hundreds of pounds of Mars soil samples-- was not an option. To avoid leaving behind a biological mess, planners had determined the need to collect all the trash in one heavy duty container. But the container would have double duty on the trip out. It would have to have utility, be strong enough to with stand the Mars weather for just about forever on the surface of Mars, yet be light enough to make the trip.

The plan set out that astronauts would visit the surface of Mars and their return ship would be just a small capsule with enough lifting capacity to bring back plenty of Mars soil samples and three crewmen. The capsule would be jettisoned back to the surface with a load of trash in it. That was the plan.

The first problem was bulk. There had been not much idea of how bulky trash would be and how it would be confined to a space designed for spacemen and not for spacemans' trash. The astronauts --trained scientists, pilots, engineers-- spent the better part of a morning ripping and stomping all kinds of packaging, broken parts (someone noticed there were more “broken parts” than anticipated), odds and ends, bags of garbage and human wastes, into some compact heap in the capsule. There was little concern for what got banged up inside the lander as soft trash was wedged into corners and no-longer-need tools just tossed in. Time spend getting ready was time not spent on returning, and they fully expected the capsule to crash heavily onto the Martian surface. The lander would record the impact and relay information about the geologic structure of Mars. No one bothered to weigh anything.

The plan went well. Went well enough, as waste, garbage, "stuff", was crammed, bent, tortured, beaten into the capsule filling it nearly to the hatchway. That was more than anticipated. How they had so much junk to leave behind was not ever questioned. And then the capsule was jettisoned, as planned. And crashed, as planned. And, then forgotten.

For years.

And years.

The crew made it back to the moon and then to earth. Then another crew was readied but canceled and soon the first crew grew old and became history. And nothing changed much on the surface of Mars. Except this dark object the size of a mountain, from the point of view of the Martians, filled a former void in the landscape.

The sun rose and set countless times. Martians lived and died and buried and re-arose and loved and hated and warred and peace-d beyond too many times to count. Floods came and went. Drought came followed by too much water. Martians rampantly procreated enough to cover more of the planet but they didn’t grow in size. No one on Earth noticed. No one on Earth cared anymore about Mars. They had been there. It cost a lot. Time to change challenges like changing cell phone covers. They'd gone elsewhere.

Because all this was a mere blink of time for the universe.

All the while, roving the universe were countless rocks. Call them meteors. Call them comets. Call them fast. Slow. Large. Small. Tiny. Ugly. Mostly call them patient. And it wasn’t that these rocks struck Mars. They struck everywhere. From afar, Earthlings were intrigued on an intellectual level about geology and fading hopes of returning to Mars. That several rocks impacted in the area of either the lander or the crashed capsule only fueled the intellectual exercise. When the sensitive, earth-bound instruments detected a large boulder (the consensus was in the 50-foot diameter size) struck Mars “close” to the crashed capsule, it didn’t even make the evening news.

But for the Martians, it was the end. A new disease had been released from the half-buried monolith. The thing had been discovered eons before and no one knew when, their collective intelligence could only go back so far, and since it did nothing, the Martians did nothing about it. What had been “close” on earth had been deadly on-target on Mars. The capsule was smashed into millions of pieces. Flattened. Exploded. Buried. Blasted across the landscape. The earthlings thought something had happened and there was speculation but talk lasted only as long as the news segued to the newest survey results about nothing. The contained alien, the forgotten but not destroyed wastes, the leftovers, the left behinds, the left arounds, invaded the germ-innocent Martian world.

And destroyed it all. From afar nothing was ever there and from afar nothing is still there.

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