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Dreamed 1994/3/10 by Chris Wayan

Most of our Old Martian families are extended clans, living in square walled villas; daily life usually centers in the large atrium. In our town, the two most prominent families live side by side. I suppose you could say we're rivals; we certainly tease each other, and don't mingle. Still, kids on each side peer over the wall, curious about the mysteries of the other compound. Theirs has a hoard of jewels reputed to have strange powers--and a Dragon to guard them. Ours has a maze of lakes with a vast creature living in them. No one knows quite what it is. Dream: walking on the back of a Martian whale in a pond in the center of our family compound.

One day I go walking by the lakes, and get a good look at the mystery creature. It's a whale! And not a prisoner, not a pet; a family elder! From the days when Mars had seas? The whale is enormous, over 30 meters, maybe even bigger than the ones that evolved on Earth in later days.

An old lady with a big floppy hat, watching a small child, invites me to walk ON the whale. Apparently it doesn't mind; whales like a back massage. So we walk and talk, strolling on whaleback under the purple sky. Traction is easy, for the old whale is wrinkled; folds of skin like cloth, as if the whale is wearing a pale gray raincoat.

Meanwhile, a young warrior tracks someone beyond the fence, by sound alone. The loiterer has a distinctive tread: he's titled "warrior" or perhaps we'd translate it "guardian." He's an heir of the House, already famed as a brilliant scholar or wizard. But he's physically fragile, tiring easily; his steps patter on and stop, on and off. I identify with him, see hope in his being given Guardian status: shows these people are outgrowing warrior-skills as the only measure of a person.

The warrior amuses himself, stalking the scholar. He's not out to hurt anyone. None of them are, really, but the warriors on both sides play games over the wall, invading the other's turf, snooping around.

And the games get rougher, over time, until there's a tradition of teasing and feuding between the younger folks of the Houses.

In the next generation, it becomes sabotage and theft: to become a full warrior, you must have penetrated the other compound and brought a treasure back. For a while even this becomes custom, contained and tolerated. The decay has been so slow no one really sees how much worse their lives are.

One day a young candidate for Guardianship steals a jewel from the Dragon. It warns the fleeing warrior "be careful!" but thinking it's a trick to slow him the youth leaps the fence and... the shock of landing shatters the gem.

And Mars quakes. In seconds the tremors swell beyond what the Houses can stand, and the ponds slosh into the living quarters and the walls give way and the roofs collapse and the compounds flatten, killing most of the people instantly; but the ground swells get even worse and the rocks churn and swallow all the houses in town, and all the fields, as huge cracks radiate from the site and the chunks begin to bang loose and the planet seems like it's about to break up. Martian dragon collects pieces of crystal from the rubble after Mars shatters. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.

And then it does. Mars splits in two like an orange, and even the slices crumble.

Mars devolves into churning mass of red rock and iron and dust, veined with chasms that open and crash shut and clash as the pieces half-orbit, half-collide.

No doubt in a million years most of the mass will have settled down into a quiet red dustball again, riddled with chasms, and the rest will be a belt of wreckage slowly drifting out toward Jupiter... but for now, it's a red grinding boulder-storm, and every living thing in the world is dead.

A few ships in high orbit may have survived; are there other worlds the Old Martians have colonized? Anywhere they can flee to? Perhaps; but without motherworld trade, the stations will die. Total extinction.

The dragon and the whale, being Ancestors, drift in the dust and the lost mountains and the bodies of their grandchildren, impervious to the end of an age. And not the first they've seen.

"It was only a minor crystal, too" the dragon sighs inside. Now it has to find all the major ones again, then the minor ones, round them up from herds of gnashing rocks and whole Saturn-rings of asteroids covered with freeze-dried crops and houses and people.

And guard them again.

As long as it can.

Till more idiots evolve.


LISTS AND LINKS: other worlds - Mars - families - warrior codes - violence - whales & dolphins - dragons - treasure - stone - crystals - oops! - apocalyptic dreams

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