“If it hadn’t been for the sixty-days sandstorm that kept us inside and nearly drove us all to murdering one another, Jason Phiefer would never have been so lucky and found the damn tablets. He was the last to get his suit on and go outside of the Duomo, and he took a few wrong turns, because the sand dunes of Mars were all shifted. That’s how come he found the cave,” Radner said to the reporter on screen from America, or some country like that. Jason was in using the bathroom when the reporter called and Radner used Jason’s absence to rat on him, as his namesake implied.
“What are you even talking to those jerks for?” Sonia whispered loudly, as if under her breath. Then she looked at me. “My dad knows the head of news in New Beijing. I can call him and get some real publicity.”
“We still need a translator. None of my programs work on these things,” I said.
“I already told youse ,” she added, just as mad. “Send ’em a pic and they’ll translate it!”
“Yeah, and then how will we ever know what it says? They’ll tell us it’s a friggin’ shopping list,” Pilot yelled from the other end of the Duomo. He was still trying to get info out of Martian sand. Pilot had gone nuts, I figured, from the sixty-days storm.
Jason came back into the dome and quickly figured out what Radner was doing. He inserted himself in front of the screen and introduced himself. He insisted to the reporter, “We need a translating software here! We’ve all decided not to have it translated elsewhere. Just here,” Could you spread the word that we need some really old translator program that could handle pictographic erncryption? It’s written in some kind of Martian!”
The reporter asked him for a pic of it. Jason said okay. He walked over to the clay tablets, gave her a quick shot of each one of the three clay tablets, and then went back to the screen and loaded them. She looked at them.
“Jesus, these are incredible! This is amazing! This is so amazing!”
“I get it, yeah. Can you find some kind of de-encryption-ware so we can find out what it says? Seriously, we don’t want to take it to the authorities until we know for ourselves. That’s why we’re asking you guys. Keep this quiet, okay?”
“This is Earth-shaking news! This could put the American Times back on the map. This is breaking, breaking news!”
“I’ll wait for your help, okay? Okay?” Jason was losing what crumb of patience he had left.
“Yeah, sure, this is so amazing,” was all she could say before Jason ended the call.
“This is so amazing!!” Jason said, making fun of the woman after the line went dead.
Sonia hissed at him like a snake. Then she added, “You’re so cool now! Rad’s right! If you hadn’t gotten lost you wouldn’t have found these things.”
Jason pretended not to hear her.
I needed to get away from everyone. The storm had pushed everyone way past their envelopes. I put on my suit and grabbed a camera to record the new terrain to start remapping the area. We had to learn the geography all over again and try to piece together what used to be where. Two Earth-months in a plastic dome that was being sandblasted day and night meant that our nerves had no cushion. It was as if we were being sandblasted down to the screaming bone ourselves. The idea that I could walk out of Duomo and just keep walking was wildly exciting to me.
“Where you going?” Sonia asked.
“Out!” I said, as if she was my mother and I was fifteen. I locked my helmet on and went through the air lock and out into the sand.
Outside, I shut my intercom so no one could tell me to do their work while I was out there. The sound of my own breathing gave me great comfort. I loved the silence of Mars. I took pics as I walked and stayed in a perfectly straight line heading away from the Dome.
When I was over the first dune and halfway down the other side, I dropped to my butt and slid down the fresh sand dune as if it were snow. It actually made me happy to be sliding down the steep hillside. When I stopped sliding, I lay back and stared up at the sky. Closing my eyes, I meditated for a while and then fell asleep.
I must have slept for an hour, and the climb back up the dune was difficult. I knew that if I tried to go around it I’d be lost in the new land shift. At the top of the dune I caught my breath and looked down at Duomo, as we had nicknamed it. Sonia was from Italy. It was dark enough for the lights to have switched on, and it almost looked beautiful in the twilight, all golden yellow-orange light in a quiet burnt sienna setting. I took a pic of it, to send back home. For a moment I felt happy to be here, as if I were home. That’s how I had felt on the first day I arrived, fourteen months ago. The honeymoon had ended for sure with the storm. But, for a split second, it felt good to be here.
I made a video of the land, turning in a slow circle, so I could map it later, and then went down the dune and back into the Dome.
When I took off my suit I realized that something had changed. Everyone was silent. You could feel a kind of sadness in the air, like someone had just died. It was a sick, sinking feeling, and it was making even my heart heavy.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
No one wanted to answer me.
“What is going on?” I demanded an answer now.
I stared at the clay tablets that Jason had found in the cave. Sonia moved her head to point to the printout of the translation we had received. It looked as though Sonia had been crying.They had apparently de-encrypted the tablets from the pics Jason had sent to them.
I walked over and picked up the foil and read it.
It said, “Good-bye to anyone who finds this or remains here. We have made every mistake humanly possible. For this we are unspeakably sorry. Life can no longer be sustained on what was such a lush and beautiful world as this. Moving to the third planet, called Earth, is a chance to start again, and hopefully, we will learn there, how to live side by side.”
Language used: Sanskrit
Cover Painting and Short Story by Ross G. Drago
Paint Rag Magazine
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