* * *
Scrap Paper Review
Issue #27
February, 1998

1998 A.D. Sullivan
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Heroes Without Space Suits
The Bump With the Proof
The Mysterious Designer of Reagan's Star Wars
This Old Farm Boy

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Heroes Without Space Suits

They catch you on the ground
and work your heart,
pumping out the blood
like well sludge

They tell you you cannot love
love is beyond you,
you're grounded, ground town,
the pump handle's worn smooth,
spitting hair, not water

When they let you go
you think you're free
floating like you used to float,
though with just a tug of weight
pulling at your bones
crinkling your skin,
telling you it isn't the same.

Besides which, you have this
pneumatic tube in your veins now,
bubbles of nitrogen
which bend and shape you
you breathe, but breath won't do you,
you need blood.

And they tell you you are free
when they recharge you,
not blood, but more fluid
shoving their needles deep in your arm,
"Don't worry," they say,
"You'll be all right."
Only you know, you won't.

Table of Contents* * *

The Bump With the Proof
by Garland

I am the bump with the proof, and this is the warning I bring from out of the depths of deepest space. People are leaving. They are not being found when looked for. Beware these people. Do not get in their way.

I am the bump with the proof, and I know that the N.Y. Times claims that it was just two days after Huxley's cerebral reducing valve was discovered in the dust bin in Suffern, New Jersey, that people started disappearing. Is it the insect or the Dinosaur which speaks to the mind's web? They both look to the air.

I am the bump with the proof, and I say to you that there are insect parts in candy bars. There are no (to my knowledge) dinosaur parts. I warn you that all is guaranteed to some degree and automatically replenished. The other ways are illegal. They are the ways of beagles, bangles, beacons and bees. As in hive mentality. Which came first-- the Triangle or the Egg?

A sense of balance must be sought. The inner ear is not enough.

I am the bump with the proof!


Table of Contents* * *

The Mysterious Designer of Reagan's Star Wars

In 1943, Nikola Tesla died. Alone. Broke. Disillusioned. Mad. All this despite some of the greatest achievements in electrical science. He had been born nearly a century earlier in a region of what later became Yugoslavia. He is sometimes called the "Wizard of Smiljan" by over five decades of cult followers that rose after his death.

Among his friends and followers before his death were Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and a continuum of science writers for the now defunct New York Herald--one of whom actually wrote the first of the two current Tesla biographies.

It is from this company of Einstein, Twain, and briefly Edison that Tesla's genius is judged-- though the science establishment has done its best over the last fifty years to ignore him. His inventions are often contributed to other people or trivialized. For instance, Tesla invented radar and created the power coil upon which television is based. And he did these things years before they came into popular use. Radar was not of significant use until World War Two, but Tesla invented before the turn of the century-- along with radar guided boats and torpedoes.

Strangely enough, Tesla has been preserved in a somewhat unrelated industry. During the early years of the motion picture industry, he contributed to the art of Gothic horror films by providing props for such film as "Metropolis" and "Frankenstein." Unknown to most viewers, however, these devises, which set the scene for the laboratories of mad scientists, actually worked. The lightning bolts that shattered the darkness from the tops of coiled machinery were taken directly from Tesla's own lab and served a purpose uniquely their own. Few practitioners of these movies understood that Tesla himself was the model for the mad scientists they portrayed.

Tesla built his first laboratory in Greenwich Village-- though had some equipment in a midtown building as well. He was minor celebrity and very well known among the police who often responded to complaints from neighbors and tourists about the strange lights and terrible lightning bolts originating from the top of his building. It terrified child and adult alike (this about fifty years before Orsen Wells and his great Halloween scare--and ten years before the novel War of the Worlds was written).

Einstein and Twain and various other notables of that period were often seen entering and leaving that peculiar apartment. They liked to watch Tesla work, watching the man play games with electricity which still haven't been duplicated by more modern science. One trick involved what witnesses had called "balls of fire." These were electrical balls that Tesla tossed around the room, they rolled under and over things with a will of their own, and often produced slapstick amusement for the master, as if these for him were nothing but children's toys. Since his time, those children's toys have been the focus of much inquiry, especially as possible clues to what the American Press dubbed "Star Wars" weapons system.

The forgotten Tesla, was recently rediscovered. In the New York Times (a paper that didn't particularly like Tesla when he was alive) reported on honors finally being given to this great genius.

"The world of science," the article read, "is belatedly recognizing the genius of one of the most important, eccentric and enigmatic inventors... a century after he arrived on the docks of New York City. Tesla is credited for brilliant achievements previously given to Edison and Marconi. More than 40 years after this recluse died in a Manhattan hotel room, he is at last being elevated to the pantheon of the world's greatest inventors."

Telsa died in the company of pigeons, his favorite companions, broke and broken, and more than a little mad. And perhaps this finally madness is the thing that kept him from being honored sooner, people seeing only the end of the man and not the brilliant beginning.

It was Nicola Tesla, not Marconi, who invented the first radio. It was Tesla, not Edison, who devised the system of electrical power distribution we now use throughout the United States. It was Tesla, not Ronald Reagan, who first proposed an orbital system of beamed weapons as an umbrella defense.

Working in small laboratories in midtown Manhattan and Greenwich Village, Telsa invented the polyphase electric motor, the bladless steam turbine, the radio-guided torpedo and more.

The question is why Telsa was never honored in the way others of his time were? Why wasn't his accomplishment lauded in the same fashion of Edison, Marconi and his two best friends, Einstein and Twain?

There are several answers-- none of them pleasant. For Tesla's dreams disagreed fundamentally with the emerging world order: Capitalism. No, Telsa was not a communists, though Central Intelligence Agency studies in the 1950s treated him as a radical. Nor did he contemporaries care if he competed with them to make money and steal ideas the way Edison had. Westinghouse loved Tesla. Westinghouse made its fortune on Tesla's ideas. But Tesla himself wanted no part of the money-making machine and despised Edison as a whore who'd sell his soul for a dollar. This was alien in a time of financial giants and great discoveries. And this is the thing that drove Telsa into the ground.

Tesla's association with Westinghouse was in direct competition with Edison, backed by JP Morgan. And for a while during the late part of the 19th century, the two men and companies struggled with the future of American electricity. Telsa disapproved of Edison's sloppy design for a direct-current system of supplying power to American homes. He believed such a system would not only waste most of the electricity it tried to transmit, but would create an unsightly mess of cities were various electrical devices would have to be hung. Telsa saw a better way and called it "Alternating Current."

But he also had a vision of greater electrical distribution, which would provide homes with their electrical needs without wires-- much in the way many homes received TV and radio signals. More importantly, Telsa wanted the same unrestricted flow of electricity, free power for anyone who needed or wanted it. This flew straight in the face of Edison and J.P.Morgan who had envisioned a system of their own, a junkie-like addiction to power by the public for which the public would pay dearly. Any proposal to distribute power freely had to be stopped. And over time, they managed to destroy him.

In theory, in Tesla's system, people could tune-in power like television or radio, without wires or plugs. Roadways would be free of the messy cables that decorate many telephone poles or those burrowed into city streets. The working models of these devises are still on display-- not in the Smithsonian, or any other science-dedicated museum, but in the museum of Hollywood props. Worse still in the eyes of power Mongols, these devices still work, though Tesla lacked financing to make their full-scale versions.

This is the central tragedy of the Tesla story. In his fight with Edison, Telsa gave up all patent rights for his inventions to Westinghouse. This was a trade-off in dreams. Westinghouse was battling for the rights to wire the nation into electricity, and do to intense competition with Edison and Morgan, could not afford to pay Tesla all the royalties to which he was entitled.

For Tesla it was a choice between giving up the patents or letting J.P.Morgan push Edison's inferior electrical system onto the public. Had Tesla chosen to keep his patents-- many of which are still registered in his name, he would have been one of the richest men in the world by the end of his life. But America would have been a wasteland of wires and a flawed electrical system. Tesla could not live with this option.

He could not have foreseen the financial troubles the future would bring when he needed them to make his greater dreams work. Among these dreams was an early vision of what Ronald Reagan's critics would later label "Star Wars." It was this lack of money that prevented him from converting working models of his power transmitters into full sized units on Long Island.

He tried to build them with limited funds, but they never went on-line and eventually, the skeleton of the towers rusted away, never used.

This failure as well as a fire in his Manhattan lab sent the now-clearly mad scientist to Colorado and seclusion. Rumors circulated about him and his later discoveries. Tesla himself claimed to have invented an early prototype for a ray-weapon in the sky. Later, after his death in 1943, all hell broke loose in the US intelligence community, as the CIA and others rushed here, there and everywhere to uncover the good doctor's notes. The mere mention of Tesla's name had one spy or another knocking at people's doors. The years since have still yet to provide any substantial evidence that he actually produced such devices--and none have ever been reproduced.

Few of the of Tesla's devices, however, were duplicated--even those he demonstrated to work as advertised. He often made outrageous claims. When they were challenged, he invented the device to prove his theory. He once claimed he could crack open the earth with less energy than is needed to operate a modern-day transistor radio. Then, in proving it, he managed to create an earthquake under Manhattan.

Reports claim he never intended an earthquake. The event occurred while he was working in his Greenwich Village lab. Many of his experiments required a lightning rod that went from the top of his building down into the bedrock of the island. One day a vibration started, sending the island into tremors. Calls by the hundreds came into the local station complaining of rattling dishes and broken glass. The police were skeptical. None had ever experienced an earthquake or heard tale of any happening in New York. And they were even more bemused when news came saying it had been caused by a single individual.

But some say it was not an accident. Tesla was later seen down on the street carrying a black box no larger than a can of Campbell's soup. He attached it to the metal girder of a skyscraper then under construction. All fifty stories of the building began to shake. Witnesses saw him detach the box and slide it into his pocket, before walking away. No one saw the device again.

But the CIA hunted for it years later, as part of a laundry list of devices Tesla reportedly had invented. Telsa claimed the process of cracking the earth had to do with sympathetic vibrations-- similar to the vibrations sounds reach when shattering glass. It isn't so much as power that's needed, but pitch. Finding the right vibration could do more damage than any H-bomb.

Table of Contents* * *

This Old Farm Boy


"So whose fault is it?" The indignant Jorge asked, his flat face deeply cut with lines of age, at forty five, space had made him an old man. But his eyes were bright and sharp and gray and glared across the ground bug like two sharp shards of glass.

"Not mine!" said Ted, unbuckling the containment strap which was pressing too tightly into his bulging middle, his own face round and soft and inappropriate for the Martian dessert through which they bobbed, up one ridge, down the other.

"Not mine! Not mine!" Jorge said, "That's all I hear from you these days."

"If you didn't blame me for everything, you wouldn't have to hear it!" Ted countered, fingers fumbling at the plastic pouch hanging from under the dash.

"Don't tell me you're going to start eating again."

"I'm hungry. All this tension is working on my nerves."

"That's probably why we're in this predicament. You took one too many snacks and had a nap instead of fixing the transponder."

"I fixed the transponder."

"So you say. I think you dreamed it and we set off from the ship without checking. That part was my mistake: trusting you with anything so important."

"It was fixed," Ted said, his thick lips forming an angry line across his face. "It must have pooped out again. Those parts you ordered must have been faulty."

"So now it's my fault?"

"You are a bit of a skin-flint when it comes to replacement parts. I've told you over and over again not to buy those cheap generic parts. But you go ahead and do it and this is what happens."

They were both silent for a time, staring out, the Martian night glowing with stars and two nearly full moons. The headlights of their vehicle picked through the gorges, Jorge steering clear of rougher ground.

"How much juice have we got?" Ted asked.

"Not enough to keep this up," Jorge said without looking down at the gauge. The indicator had long ago fallen below a dangerous charge level.

"Which leaves us two choices," Ted mumbled, munching on something dry from the pack, crunching it with the words.

"Oh?" Jorge said. "And what might those be, my dear Watson?"

"We can keep on searching out these silly gorges, or go over to the city and..."

"Need I remind you where we are and what we're doing here?" Jorge asked.

"Oh don't be so snide. I know it's risky."

"Risky? It's suicide. One step into one of their cities and we'll be snapped up by their secret police, dragged down into their underground dungeons and executed in the morning as spies."

"You exaggerate as usual," Ted said. "It's simply a matter of stealing a charge or hooking into their satellite systems to find our ship."

"We disguised the ship, remember? We deliberately landed in an isolated place so those very systems wouldn't notice us."

"But we would know what to look for?"

"That hasn't helped us so far with our search for off-world vehicles."

"This is different and you know it. They're hiding their vehicles from us. We're hiding our ship from them. We should be able to find what we hid."

"Should! Should!" Jorge howled, throwing up both hands from the wheel. "You say that an awful lot, too. And will you please stop eating. That food might have to last us a long time."

"Not if we find the ship," Ted noted.

Jorge sighed. "Just pop down the map and find us a town, will you?"

Ted complied by pressing a button which released a second of the dash, the view screen folded out and up, with a command mouse. Ted flipped through a series of images and came up with a detailed map of the region.

"There are two towns," Ted said.

"Pick the closest."

"They're the same distance."

"Well, then pick any of them."

"And have you blame me for it when things go wrong? You pick the town."

Jorge jabbed a finger at one of the orange glowing circles on the screen. "That one," He said.

"Fine. Then bear north."

Jorge turned the wheel. His gaze shifting from side to side as the planet shifted and dawn suddenly broke upon them unannounced, its thin atmosphere giving little warning the way it might have on Earth. His gaze shifted towards the sand and stone.

It wasn't really sand either, but a baked red clay of sorts, over which the giant wheels of their bug moved unimpeded. And yet, the land had a strange beauty to it, that maps and pictures could not relate. Nor did the horror stories and mud-slinging politicians back on Earth relate the majesty of Earth's nearest neighbors, speaking only of the missiles waiting upon its surface waiting to bring devastation down upon the mother planet.

"I think maybe the town will be a logical place to dump Baby," Jorge said, hooking his thumb back towards the cargo hold which held the monitoring device.

"I suppose so," Ted said, his voice muffled by rations stuffed into his face. "Since that's what we came here for in the first place."

The silence following this was longer and more profound. Jorge stared out at the sand, his eyes watering slightly from the fan above his head and the moistened (but not quite humid) air pressing down from the vent.

"Tell me something, Ted. Did you ever think these people might have gotten the better part of the deal?"

Ted stopped munching. "Huh?"

"Oh, I know! I know! We sent them here as war criminals, a new-era penal colony. The masters of wisdom on earth figuring to kill two birds with one stone, killing the threat of a possible repeat of war and getting a colony, too. But sometimes, I think we gave them too much."

"Too much? You're crazy? They came here with nothing, they still have nothing," Ted said.

"Then what are we here for?"

"To check on them. To make sure they aren't building off-world capable vehicles. This is their prison, we wouldn't want them escaping would we?"

"I don't know," Jorge said, staring, "If I lived here, I'm not sure I'd want to escape."

Ted's expression shifted. "You mean you like it here on this hung of stone?"

"Yes."

Ted's expression shifted towards disgust. "You're space happy, Pal."

"And we're out of juice," Jorge said as the fan began to slow and lights dim and the machine's anti-magnetic coils faded under them. "Turn off all the extraneous power drains. We'll see how far we can coast."

They came to ground a kilometer from the domes of the town. The green-topped bubbles shimmering in the daylight like foam from the center of the planet, like those horrible dreams of previous century earthmen, looking to the surface for monsters of invasion. There monsters were here, but they had been planted here by Earth itself, and the green bubbles the result of those seeds, sprouting up, giving the landscape a new kind of beauty for which it seemed to have been designed.

"So how do we get the charge from there to here?" He asked, as both men zipped up their suits and made ready for travel.

Ted shrugged. "We'll find a way."

"You know, Ted, that's what I hate most about you. That perpetual optimism. We've spent a great deal of time together, on the moon, at various junk stations, and never once has that optimism of yours paid off."

"It will this time, Jorge," The other man said, climbing up through the push-away section of roof above his seat. Jorge followed suit and slid down the side of the bulky bug to the hard Martian soil.

"Don't you think this looks a little obvious here?" He asked.

"It does with the monitoring device in the back," Ted admitted, "Maybe we should plant that somewhere before we go."

"A good idea!" Jorge said, "But then again, it may the last idea either of us have. Come on. Give me a hand."

They detached the device and between the two of them, carried it off to the side, to a section of relatively flat soil. The whole device was about half their height, like a large spark plug from a previous century automobile. Jorge activated it and both men stepped back as it screwed itself into the ground. Only a same antenna stayed above, a roving little spy-eye from earth.

"Very well, we've done our job," Jorge said, "Let's go."

"You're upset," Ted said, his hefty form disguised by the bulkiness of their suits.

"About what? Grounding the bug? Na! We would have been spotted in it anyway, and stopped by the town defenses. Which I suspect, will catch up with us shortly, once we walk into their security net."

"How long will that be?" Ted asked.

"What are you already tired of walking?"

"I'm not used to it Jorge. We've been out of gravity for too long."

"Yeah, but you don't hear me complaining. But don't you worry. If everything they say back on earth is true, we'll have a dose of it soon. I think I was a fool for doing any of this, thinking we could just drive up and ask for a charge, or steal one, or think that people with this military mind set would allow people like us to walk right up to their town."

"But I don't see any defenses, Jorge."

"Oh, they're there. These people are clever."

But even half way to the bubbles, no defenses showed, not even the revealing caved-in soil segments that indicated some underground deposit.

"I don't think there are defenses, Jorge," Ted mumbled.

"And I'm telling you there has to be. Haven't you been paying attention to the films?"

"Na! I mostly slept through them," Ted said, his voice stained as if huffing. Even the glass of helmet was steamed slightly, despite the air-conditioning fan on either side of the visor. "They all said the same thing."

Yet the bubbles seemed unduly vulnerable, children toys left out in the raw elements, with sky, moons and stars to pound their light upon them.

"Look" Ted said, pointing towards the north end. "An airfield."

"Yes, our briefing said they had some version of air ship. Let's go look. What we need will most likely be found there."

There were a number of planes resting on the ground, hauntingly Earth-like, save for the backdrop of reddish sky which said this was Mars not Earth, and double and triple length of wings that made such craft feasible at all, huge but delicately woven wings in which to catch the thin, thin atmosphere of the terrible red planet.

"Think you could fly one of those?" Ted asked.

Jorge looked over the machines. They did not seem a great deal different from similar earth machines he'd flown. "I figure it out in a short time. Why?"

"Because it would be easier stealing one of those and looking for our ship with that, then trying to find a charge?"

Jorge looked surprised. "That's two good ideas in one hour. I swear, Ted, this planet agrees with you."

"From your angle, it may," Ted moaned, "But I swear it gives me indigestion."

Jorge unhooked tools from his belt. The actual process of breaking into one of the machines was nothing, a snap of a simple lock. No alarms. Not even the crime-intensive versions common on earth. It was as if there was nothing like that to fear here-- here among the notorious criminals.

Perhaps, there was something he missed, some sign of defense which had not been so obvious after all. But the minute they climbed into the seats of the craft, something sparked inside the domes. A hatch of sorts opened in the side. A vehicle with a turning light on top came rushing across the sand.

"Don't look now," Ted said, "But I think they're on to us."

"Well, then, do your stuff," He said, "You're the whiz at this sort of thing."

"But the gloves, they're so bulky," Ted said, folded over the steering column. "I can't get them to keep the wires straight."

"Or anything else straight either," Jorge said, "But whatever you do, hurry up, because that damn bug of theirs is getting closer."

"All right, all right. I'll do my best, but I can't guarantee anything." Ted bent again, his hands working over the complicated boards that made life beyond the atmosphere of earth possible.

Jorge looked at the advancing vehicle, and at the blue glow of the warming beam gun situated in the hood, a blue-glass finger pointing towards the air craft in which they were sitting. Even in full sunlight, the glow seemed bright, growing more and more bright as it came to a ready-to-fire condition.

"Hurry," Jorge mumbled. "They have beam guns here."

Ted looked up, his eyes growing wide behind the steamy visor. "So they are violating the treaty?"

"A small violation at best," Jorge said, "But small things lead to large things, I suppose."

The systems went up inside the flying craft. Jorge leaped behind the controls. Ted huffed his way into the copilot seat.

"You can take the helmet off, if you like," Jorge told him. "We have atmosphere in here."

"I'll wait till we're up," Ted shot back. "One slice of that beam of theirs and we won't have anything."

Jorge nodded and started the vehicle rolling. There were blocks under the wheels, but he pushed the craft over them with a surge of power, then raced the engine-- it was a pulse device of some sort-- although much more powerful than the variety on Earth. It charged ahead towards the take off strips. These were longer and larger, too, with more space needed to get proper lift.

"Good! Good!" Ted yelled. "We're losing them. Those bugs aren't meant for this kind of speed!"

But none too soon. For the beam fired, a blue streak striking the ground behind them, splattering bits of melted stone against the side of the craft. Small holes appeared in the wings, tiny hot little dots of lava that cooled quickly as the craft began to rise.

Other bugs were there, too. Circling around from the other side of the bubbled city.

"Damn!" Ted said, as more blue beams rose from them, like silver swords swinging the sunlight at their bottom.

"I don't think they're a coincidence," Jorge said, as the usual wings wavered, but the basics of air flight were the same, even here, a balancing act of power and wing span and-- maybe magic, silly foolish ideas of magic that danced inside man's head since he first saw birds in the air.

"I think they knew we were there. They might even have seen our bug coming, and maybe they even know where are ship is. Which is one hell of a lot more than we know."

"Jorge?" Ted said, his voice strangely strangled. "Look at this. What is it?" He pointing down at the pattern in the land below.

Jorge blinked, the bright sunlight spearing off the glass of the craft, blinding him, or were the tears of something he remembered, a familiar pattern of youth, dragged up from his so-called country life. There was no country left on Earth, just boxes and machines, manufacturing food the way city machines manufactured plastic, pushing it in and out of molds, giving it shapes of things that had long stopped exiting in their natural form.

But the pattern of what should have been remained, marked perhaps on the surface of his genes. "Farms," Jorge said, "Cultivated land."

The ribs of it went on and on, planes of endless fields which might have looked like sand from space, but took on texture only in a flying craft closer to the planet's surface.

"Here?" Ted said, "Without air?"

"There's air," Jorge said, "Thin and full of carbon dioxide. But it's there."

"But not enough for farms."

"Maybe not the kind on earth. But the studies of soil here showed oxygen. Perhaps they've developed some way of plants surviving through the roots." But Jorge frowned. "Or maybe they're transforming things, making a new earth here. Enough plant life spewing out oxygen and they might get a thicker atmosphere. People talked about such things before this became a prison colony."

"Behind us, Jorge," Ted said, "Planes."

Indeed, the low red sky was suddenly filled with tiny dots.

"I don't think we were supposed to see these farms," Jorge said, "And we wouldn't have either. The official inspectors would come and go by space craft, would study the surface with detectors looking for weapons-- not this."

"So what are we going to do?" Ted asked, twisting back.

"Find our ship and get out of here."

"And then what?"

"We'll figure that out later."

He banked. The shapes grew into plane forms and from them blue streaks came, searing across the sky like a huge criss cross web. Jorge made his own craft dance, bending it, shifting it, playing the way he hadn't played since a boy on earth, as if each streak was a challenge, not a death.

But there were too many beams, and one, two, three struck the wings, slicing off sections of the tip. The craft wobbled in the thin atmosphere.

"We're not going to make it," Jorge announced. "Button up, pal. We're going down."

And down they went, spiraling down towards the pattern of fields, one wing shorter than the other. The landing was hardly perfect, but the craft remained in one piece and the two suited figures stumbled out, running through the just budding fields, oddly dressed monsters from space stumbling through what might have been an Indiana farm. Only with Red sky. And blue deadly beams streaking down, cutting to pieces the craft behind them.

The farms ended abruptly. There was sand again, and a ridge hanging over the end of the fields like a wave of water frozen in mid crest. They climbed it, and beyond was the flat, ordinary plain of mars, and the track of their own vehicle in the sand, two single lines pointing towards a low silvery object nudged into a ravine.

"Our ship!" Ted said, his visor so thick with steam that it was surprising that he could see out of it at all.

"We were never very far from it, I think," Jorge said. "Look up there. More planes. They're circling which means they know where it is, too. I think they might have wanted to see what we were up to, letting us wander at will. Our getting lost must have confused the hell of them."

"So what do we do?" asked Ted.

Jorge sighed. The sky was full of their flying machines, but none seemed to have noted them, circling instead around the fallen machine. There was two hundred yards of open space between them and the ravine.

"We're going to have to run for it," Jorge said.

"But the beams...?"

"They're not very accurate. They're not meant for shooting things as small as us. The danger is in their number. They will eventually criss cross the sand."

"Or shoot the ship."

"It has shields, remember? Once inside, it would take a bigger beam than those things have to get at us. Just start running, Ted, they might not even see us until we're half way there."

"Maybe we should talk to them?" Ted said, steamed visor looking up at the craft overhead.

"With whom? Beams? When we get to the ship, we can negotiate. Not now."

Then, Jorge was running, his legs pounding over the sand. The muscles were poor, made flabby by space and each step was a jab of pain. He'd pulled something somewhere in the calf, but did not stop. Ted huffed behind him, no quicker, rolling along rather than running, stumbling and catching himself as they emerged out of the shadow and into the pounding light of the sun.

Jorge was wrong. The weaving craft noted them sooner than half way, though manipulating the wide wings was more difficult than on earth, they traveled farther and turned more slowly, many moving off to avoid crashing into each other. But they came just the same, as the silver sided ship grew. Blue beams wiggled along the ground to one side, then the other, as a wave of the flying machines made their pass.

Jorge grinned and waved Ted on. "We're going to make it. They're not used to fighting with those things," He said, "I don't even think they shoot them often. Probably have them as some sort of defense against us."

"Us?" Ted snorted.

"I mean Earth. They probably think we're making ready to invade them."

"Why would we do that?" Ted asked, both men still running, coming closer and closer to the oblong craft. The crack for the door was visible in the side.

"Because of those farms, and the prospects of this becoming truly inhabitable. It's all right if they live here, mining stupid metals to pay for water and food. But have them grow their own, to have them create a whole new earth without our permission. No, no, that wouldn't do at all. And remember, we're so worried about them having space flight, we have whole spy network around our planet, waiting for them-- and they don't have it. But what about them? They know we can show up any time, with our guns blazing?"

The planes came again, this time from two directions, the blue beams crossing the sand like pointers, but wavering and moving off, as the criss-crossing planes shifted to avoid each other.

"Hurry!" Jorge shouted as he reached the alcove, where the earth seemed to divide, two segments of stone reaching over the place where they are parked the ship. Ted had fallen behind, running,

but not moving faster than an average space. While Jorge was in the shadow, Ted was in the sunlight.

Dark-clad figures suddenly appeared on either side, closing across the opening like a gate. They were carrying weapons, too. Jorge sighed, the code device for unlocking the door in his hand, waiting to be used.

"Come on! Come on!" Jorge shouted as the mars men closed behind the wobbling figure of Ted.

"Go on in without me," Ted said, his visor totally covered now, as he blindly groped at the red world, stumbling, falling, as lesser beams flicked around him from the hand held weapons of the approaching men.

"Damn you, Ted!" Jorge said, rushing back to the fallen figure, "It's always the same, you trying to get me killed. Come on, come on." He helped up the wobbling man. More fire. More flicks. These soldiers of mars were no more accurate with their weapons than their counter parts above. So these were the horrible creatures that would so day come to Earth.

They were farmers with buckshot-loaded shot guns, shooting at wolves in their fields. Jorge laughed and activated the door, shoving his partner in as more flicks came, bounding off the ship shields.

He closed the door behind him then slumped next to his friend.

"Remind me to yell at you later," Jorge said. "Right now, I just want to kiss the metal under my feet."

"Shouldn't we get out of here?" Ted asked, snapping open the visor as bottle ship air flooded over his face.

"Yeah, I suppose so. If they have any heavy weapons, we're likely to get buried under rock when they hit the hill instead of us."

He lifted himself up, and then his partner-- both men dragging through the narrow corridors to the control room seats. They fell into these. Jorge activated the forward screen. Red mars leaped out in front of them, dotted with foolish farmers and their crop dusting planes.

Jorge began the process of take-off, activating computers, warming up the engines that would propel them back into the safe-black texture of space, back to the moons and the stars and their waiting prison called Earth.

With minutes, they were riding the thin atmosphere, the ball of red clay and sand and new formed farms falling behind them like a stone.

"Well that's that," Jorge said, slapping the final command into the computer for program home.

"Yeah, which means what?" Ted asked, pulling open his snack box on the right arm of the chair.

"Mission complete."

"I don't understand?"

"We were paid to find out if they have space flight right?"

"Yeah?"

"They don't."

"But what about the beam weapons and the farms and the plans to..."

"We didn't get paid to tell them that," Jorge said, shifting the view on the screen for a magnified version of the great red planet. "And besides, this old farm boy, might just want to go back there someday, and see how those people make out."

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Copyright 1998 A.D. Sullivan
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