I Hate Mars

By David Berger

I hate Mars. Mars sucks! I mean Mars really sucks! Screw this damned planet and everything on it. And if by any chance anyone ever gets to read this remember: I hate Mars!

And the Martians. Yeah, the Martians. You don’t know about the Martians. They never told you, or me, or any of us who got up here for hope, glory and the Earthian way. That’s because no one knew that Mars is infested with life. Mars is crawling with Martians. Only no one ever saw them until we got here. And the truth is they’re nano-tiny, disgusting and mean and have a lousy sense of humor! So now you know.

Maybe you know about that super ant colony in southern France that’s thousands of kilometers long? Martians are like that only they’re nano-sized, and they cover the whole planet! Or imagine a slime mold. You know them. Those tiny little amoeba-things that every once in a while gather together to make a tiny, pale, green pole. Well that’s what the Martians are like, except they’re nano-sized, and they ain’t green and no poles.

And they’re all connected or they’re all one or something like that.

Martians are about 100 nanos long and about 18 nm in diameter. (In case you slept or flirted your way through high school Chem class, a nanometer is one billionth of a meter.) They’re smaller than a virus, so we never detected them. But as soon as we got here: Goddamn! We found ’em all over the place!

It’s a stupid story. Let me calm down and tell you what happened.

We got here. You remember that, don’t you? Our five-person team from every place in the world: mixed racially, genderly, and every other “ly” we could find. They should have named our ship the Diversity instead of the Child of Earth, but it amounts to the same thing.

Here we are in this picture, all scrubbed and pretty and standing on the red-brown surface of Hell.

Ladies and gentlemen, from left to right:

  • Hong Soo Li, chemist, biochemist, engines, from China; 
  • Jane Morrison, geologist, meteorologist, engines and fuel, from Australia; 
  • Amibesa Abebe, biologist, navigation, communications, from Ethiopia, my dear deputy commander;
  • José Martin, cosmologist, physicist, engineer, nurse, from the Dominican Republic;
  • Tanya Kelley, physician, language and coding systems, communications systems, guidance systems, African American, and commander (moi).

And it all went well. We landed, set up the Habitat and starting exploring and sending back data, photos and videos and ooh-ing and ahh-ing and all that. And all those brown and burnt orange colors. And the scientific knowledge gained: Another world, an old/new world that maybe once held flowing water and life and all that good stuff!

Then we found the Martians! Or they found us. The first hint came on Day 4. I was outside, happily digging in the Martian soil when my primary radio went out. No problem: happens all the time. Switched to secondary: Okay. But half an hour later, when I brought my pail and shovel (I like to dig, like at Coney Island when I was a kid.) back to the Hab, and the radio was checked out, there was nothing obviously wrong. It had happened, though, but we didn’t have time to poke around thoroughly. The unit was replaced. We had plenty of spares. The event was reported back to Earth. And that was that.

By the expedition clock, 26 hours, 12 minutes, 15.7 seconds after my suit radio failed, every one of our communication systems failed. Every one: on the ship, in the Habitat, on all our suits. We were cut off from you, almost 54 million kilometers out. Think about that, will you? Doesn’t produce a warm and fuzzy feeling.

A near-panicked examination of the systems showed that all of the zillions of transistors on all our chips just wouldn’t work. No conduction whatsoever. What the hell? We all worked on the problem for hours, but no go. We tried our robots, solemnly parked outside, but they were out too. Not good. Worse and worse. We started jerry-building some kind of communication system, but nothing worked. We cannibalized chips from other systems, but as soon as they were hooked up for communication, they quit.

On the second day of our “imprisonment,” It was José who saw something: not in an electron microscope or some other instrument, not even with a magnifier, but with his own grey eyes. It was a spot on one of the lab tables, a small reddish-brown spot. Martian sand was that color, but the Habitat was airtight and pressure was monitored constantly.

The spot was perfectly round, and it hadn’t been there an hour before when he’d been working at that table. He grabbed a video recorder and a light microscope and positioned them over the thing. Under low magnification, and then higher and higher, he could see that the spot was perfectly, unnaturally round.

Within minutes, all of us were gathered round, each of us eyeballing the spot, the strange spot, the weird spot, that shouldn’t be there. Amibesa and Li brought in a field electron microscope, and then it began to get interesting. Once the scope was anchored on the table and booted up, we began to see and record all kinds of reddish-brown nothing on the screen. But as we got down to the nano level, we began to see things all right: lots of things, trillions of things, living, moving things, Martian things!

What the little bastards seemed to be were living microtubules: the internal structural part of cells. This seemed improbable, until Amibesa opined that if cellular life had died on Mars, the microtubules might have lived on outside the cells in a reverse process to what happened when cell mitochondria entered the cells in early evolutionary history (at least Earth’s early evolutionary history). The notion of microtubules living on their own had never been considered before in micro- or molecular biology. Li thought they might have thrived in some kind of chemical soup or sludge. How they lived without water who knew. Or maybe there was some kind of water under the surface.

But here the little buggers were, incredible numbers of them. Damn!

Then things began to happen: The tiny round spot, maybe half a centimeter in diameter, began to change its shape! Within a minute it was a square. Then a minute later a triangle. What the hell? Various explanations came up: it was reproducing; it was somehow reacting to our presence; that it was dying. Then I came up with a really dumb idea: Maybe it was signaling to us. LOL from my crew.

We improvised a light box with a variable aperture, shined the light on the triangle and imitated the circle-square-triangle sequence. The Spot, as we started calling it, mimicked the change, did it again and added a pentagon! First Contact! We followed it. The Spot followed us, and this time added a hexagon. It was crazy for about twenty minutes. We worked up to a decagon. Then the Spot began to disappear. Then it was gone.

Then we talked and talked and talked and talked. We were all excited and spooked, seriously spooked. Remember, please, we were out of touch with Mother Earth.

“Any good ideas?” I asked.

You have to understand that our entire view of the universe had just been smashed: Martians, living microtubules, communication with us. DAMN! I mean DAMN!

They could change; they could see; and, presumably, they could multiply. Li went to check in our computer library for all the previous biochemical assays of all the previous expeditions. Sure enough: the chemicals were there, the amino acids and all that crap, but no one had come anywhere near the conclusions that these aminos were actually life. LIFE! INTELLIGENT LIFE. MARTIAN INTELLIGENT LIFE!

“So now what?” Jane asked. “We know they’re alive and can communicate. And probably they’ve broken our communication with Earth.”

“We also know that they could wipe us out,” I said. “They’ve destroyed our communications, maybe just to communicate with us: to let us know they’re there. And they isolated us. And with their size, they can come in here whenever they like. There’s probably zillions of ’em here, now. I hope no one thinks they’re gone. They’re probably all over us: on our clothes, on our bodies, hell, in our bodies by now.”

No one said anything. Then blessed Jane said, “They know how to communicate with us. We just need to wait.”

So we did. For eighteen hours, someone was always by the microscope and light box where the Spot first appeared. We also kept trying to build something to contact Earth. But no way!

And then the Spot appeared again, larger, 2 cm in diameter. Almost instantly, it turned bright yellow. With a goddamn HAPPY FACE LOGO! What the hell? None of us laughed. Then the thing changed to white. I looked down at the thing from close up. It changed again! First into a beautiful copy of my face; then into a cruel, racist caricature; then back to being a red-brown spot! OMG!

“Wow!” I yelled at it. “Who and what are you, you little bastard?”

Then it turned again: into a black and white peace symbol and then back to its red-brown self, and then it disappeared. We went back on watch again. It appeared for a second or two, then disappeared, five times in the next six hours. My feeling was that the goddamn thing was taunting us. Meanwhile, while one of us watched for it, the rest of us kept trying to rig up some way to reach you on Earth. When we finally made contact, or were allowed to make contact, you on Earth were frantic, but no less than we were. I brought you, our brothers and sisters back home, up to speed. It was agreed that communication would be constant with someone talking on both ends all the time while other data was being sent. We also sent all the video we had on the Spot.

“We need to test our blood,” I said after I finished talking to Earth. “Everyone’s. It’s got to be in us by now.”

I tested Amibesa’s first, then Li’s. Both of their samples were infested with the microtubules like rats in a sewer, trillions and trillions of rats. Probably not the best metaphor. And so they were in our brains. And so they probably knew what we were thinking.  

It figured that every one of our systems was vulnerable, including oxygen. Sure enough, the next time the Spot appeared, it made the symbol “O2” and then the happy face. The Martians knew they could kill us almost instantly, the little creeps. Wearing suits wouldn’t help. And we still hadn’t been really able to communicate with them. They were telling us, but we couldn’t tell them.

We all sat in the main room and brainstormed. What did we know? They were alive. They were microtubules. They somehow communicated and could work together. They could probably read our minds. They had some weird sense of irony. They could destroy us if they wanted to, but they hadn’t.

And then there was another tiny little issue that Jane brought up.

“We can never leave Mars. We’re done, mates, finished, here, forever. There’s no way home without bringing these things back with us, y’know. This is home for us till we die.”

“Can’t we disinfect the ship?” José asked? He paused for a second. “No, they’ll be in there already. They’re everywhere.”

A notion had been banging around my brain since we knew they were microtubules. Microtees, as they’re called these days, are the internal skeletal structure of eukaryote cells. But for decades some very smart people have been showing that they’re also the material basis of consciousness. The real action that is consciousness, with its perception, awareness and cogitation, probably takes place in the microtees of our brains. While it was still a big controversy, all that was, like I said, banging in my mind. If microtees in our brains created our consciousness, what the hell was the consciousness of unlimited numbers of microtees, smeared over all of Mars. Ugh. Wow.

These little bastards, together, collectively, had a consciousness so big it was beyond our imagination. And now we were inside it. Damn! Think about that.

Then the Spot reappeared, again perfectly round, this time about ten centimeters in diameter. It sat there in all its red-brown  loathsomeness. And at that moment, communications with you on Earth went out again.

“Stay away from it,” I said. “I’ll talk to it.” I went and looked over the Spot when it next appeared. “Hello,” I said. It didn’t do anything for about thirty seconds, and then it showed my face. The others were watching on a screen fixed over the table. “Yes, I know you know me. What do you want?”

The Spot changed into some words for the first damn time. “TO SEE YOUR BUTT” it spelled out.

“You meet beings from another world for the first time, and that’s what you say?”

“HOW ABOUT YOUR BREASTS?”

“You can’t do any better than that?” I asked.

Rapidly, the Spot changed to “E=MC2”; “π=3.14159265358979+”; and “e=2.718281828459045+.”

“Okay, you know physics and math. That’s good. Now, what’s your name?”

The Spot morphed into the profile of a puppy with a spot on its side.

“Okay,” I said. “Your name is Spot.”

The Spot rippled and produced an image of a spiral galaxy: our own beautiful Milky Way. In one corner along the periphery of the galaxy was a little blinking light. It’s where Earth, Mars and our Sun would be.

Amibesa asked, “Did you already know that, Spot, or did you learn that from us?”

The Spot turned into an image of an old man with a beard and his hand outstretched. It was Michelangelo’s God giving life to Adam.

“Are you God?” I asked.

It turned into the happy face again. Then it turned into a sad face. Then it turned back to Michelangelo’s God, who gave me the finger and disappeared. No, I’m not going to do any of that “Out, out, damned spot!” stuff.

“Damn!” Li said. “Our Martian’s acting like a horny fourteen-year-old boy.”

 And then we waited. The fourth appearance of the Martians didn’t come for exactly twenty-four hours. Then the Spot appeared with its happy face. Then it changed to a handsome group portrait of us. Then we turned into Leonardo’s Last Supper. Then, the bars of a prison cell covered our picture. Then something new happened: a voice in our heads. And it was the voice of an obnoxious fourteen-year-old boy! Ugh.

“Hey, tourists,” the voice said. “Spot here. How ya enjoyin’ our lovely planet? Beaches 5,000 kilometers long, temperature’s a balmy 20 degrees C at the Equator, and tonight you’ll sleep tight at about minus 75. Cool, huh? You get it, cool, temperature, attitude, cool?”

“Are you fourteen years old?” I said.

“So happens I heard that,” Spot said. “Actually, I was born about 144 Earth hours ago. My security blanket is made of sand. We’re waiting for one of you lovely Earth ladies to nurse me.”

“Stuff it!” I said.

“Shh,” Jane said.

“Just a little titty?” Spot implored. “Just a lick for a starving Martian child!”

“Why didn’t you make us aware you were here, previously?” José asked.

“Are you gay, José?”

“Yes I am as a matter of fact. Is there a problem with that?”

“I knew that already, Sweet J. Come by later. We’ll talk.

“Again,” José said, “Why didn’t you let us know you were here decades ago with the first landers?”

“What fun would that be? We’ve watched your funny little tractors for years. And, by the way, there’s nothing better than American Earth television.”

“You watch our television?” Li asked.

“We love it. Especially ‘Lost in Space’ and ‘The Pee Wee Herman Show.’ Also, I especially love the way murder is one of your pastimes. You certainly seem to enjoy it. You have wars, and you make up stories about killing all the time.”

No one replied to that.

“So tell me, is murder all that much fun for you? Would one of you show us how you do it?”

“What do you mean?” Amibesa asked?

“I mean, African Queen, I’d like to see one of you kill another. It’d be fun to watch.”

Suddenly, Li jumped at the Spot and smashed his fist on it. Nothing happened.

“Should we kill you, Li?” the Spot asked?

Li said nothing.

“Please kill Li, Amibesa,” the Spot said. “Just for me.”

“Are you crazy?” Amibesa said. “I won’t do that. Why would you ask for such a terrible thing?”

“I want to watch the fun up close. For real.”

Just then, there was a “pop,” and the pressure alarms went off.  All the monitors showed a warning that the seals in one of the storerooms had been breached.

“Whoops,” said the Spot. “Sorry about that little buddies. Just a little nervous twitch.”

“Can you stop clowning and tell us who you are and what you want? We want to cooperate with you,” I said.

“It doesn’t work that way on Mars, Girlfriend. We don’t want to cooperate with you. I tell you what we want. You do it. That’s the way it goes on my planet. If you don’t like it, go home!” The pressure readouts from the storeroom began to rise. “But we Martians are really benevolent. So you can stay here, nice and comfy cozy, as long as … I want.”

Jane, usually kinda quiet, suddenly said, “Did you learn to be this way from Earth? Or were you always a mean little turd?”

“Learned it from you, Sister Jane. Before your Big Blue Toilet began to bounce radio and TV off us, I was just a big soup of simon-pure consciousness, blissfully contemplating the Cosmos and singing along with the stars. But along came Louis Armstrong and then Benny Goodman. At first we thought Louis was God or the voice of the universe. And Benny was an archangel. Dig that clarinet, man. But then came ‘Fibber McGee and Molly,’ ‘The Shadow’ and finally ‘Howdy Doody.’ And Miles and Coltrane and Lawrence Welk! And was there ever more fun than ‘My Mother the Car’?

“So I learned everything about you: including the fun of killing, and we really want to see it and try it. So c’mon, someone, show me how it’s done. We don’t want to do it myself without a murder guru.”

“Sit down, everybody,” I said, “Down on the deck.” We sat in a semi-circle, facing the table where the Spot was. Then I went and got a flat metal dinner plate and put it next to the Spot. “Slide on!” I said.

“Yes, Ma’am,” the Spot answered and slid onto the plate almost immediately. I put the plate on the deck, and we all sat facing it. “Isn’t this nice,” the Spot said. “Is there bread and wine and cheese? A checkered tablecloth? A candle in a wax-covered bottle? Homicide?”

“Shut up,” I said as I sat down. “No one on this crew is going to kill anyone else or themselves.”

“You sure about that?”

“Very sure,” I answered.

“That’s disappointing. I mean, we don’t want to murder humans as an amateur. Like, what’s the best way?”

“The best way is no killing,” Li said.

“So you say, but you do it so often and so well. But okay, let’s talk about something else. What’s your notion of the blue shift of hypermassive black holes, José, darling?”

“Not my specialty anymore. I deal more with spiral arms of galaxies and dark matter.”

“A shame. Eddie Cooley at Vancouver’s gonna get a Nobel for hypers one of these days. And most of his stuff is stolen from you. And he ain’t gonna give you no credit at all.”

“How do you know he’s working with hypers? And how do you know him?”

“C’mon José. He talked about hypers on NPR at 12:30 PM EST, July 31 of last year, for fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds. I enjoyed the broadcast no end. And anyway we’re in your mind.”

“I’ll deal with Eddie when it comes up.”

“No you won’t because you’ll be up here, probably dead, kiddo.”

“You’re truly vile. A baby and disgusting,” Li said.

“Only a poor Martian child showin’ up the most popular aspect of Earth culture: murder. The gods you invent murder like crazy, too. Hard to find even one that doesn’t love the bloody chop-chop.”

Just then, Li doubled over with his hands over his gut.

“Yiiiieee,” he screamed.

“A little grab in your guts, Li?” the Spot asked.

Li rolled on the floor screaming again and again. I knelt over him and called for someone to get my bag. But even before it arrived, courtesy of José, Li was starting to relax and breathe easier.

“What did you do him?” I yelled out.

“There’s a thousand ways I can upset the lad,” the Spot said. “Watch.”

Li shuddered for a few seconds and then took a deep breath and relaxed. His eyes were a little unfocused, but he seemed okay. I checked his VTs and even his damned pulse was normal!

“You okay?” Amibesa asked Li, looking over my shoulder.

“I feel very strange,” Li answered as he got up slowly.

“How so?” I asked. There was silence for about a minute. Then Li, or at least Li’s voice, said, “Nice and warm in here. Brain’s kind of squishy but really comfortable. Li’s microtubules are dying out, and I’m replacing them, billion by billion. Li’s neurons; my microtees; Li’s brain; my consciousness; Soon no Li; only me.”

“Don’t do that!” Amibesa yelled out, grabbing Li and shaking him.

“Why not, Sweetheart? Would you rather I killed him? You wouldn’t. You don’t want us to kill him. So I’m getting rid of this Asian bastard another way. We’re killing his mind, his consciousness, his soul, true self, whatever. Or not.”

Just then, Li shuddered again and again collapsed to the floor. I checked him. No pulse. No breathing. “You killed him,” I said.

“Whoops,” the Spot said, speaking to us again in our minds. “Must’ve sucked too many microtees from the wrong place. Win some; lose some.”

Then it was quiet for about a few seconds as we all stared at Li? “Can you die, monster?” Amibesa asked.

“Only if this planet dies. And that won’t happen for a while, according to your cosmology.”

More quiet until, suddenly, Li sat up. “Okay, I’ll let him live, physically and metaphysically,” the Spot said.

“What’s this all about? What do you think you’re doing?” Jane asked.

“Just this,” the Spot said. “What’s the point? Death can’t mean the same to me as to you. And the experience of killing can’t be the same. So live, Li.”

“So, now what, freak-face? What now?” I asked.

“So now, dear Tanya, we can explore and discuss other parts of your consciousness.”

“Sounds awfully grown up for someone who was having fun with murder a couple of minutes ago.”

“Yes, doesn’t it.”

I began to get a bad feeling. “You’re BSing us, aren’t you?”

“You got it, Baby Girl! Now, campers, what’s it to be? What game do we play? Kill Li, again? Nah, that’s boring? How about everyone has sex with everyone else? Or maybe a chess and go tournament followed by the losers spending five minutes outside the Hab without suits? Fun is infinite! Let’s make babies!”

I looked around and gestured that we all sit on the deck again, silently. We sat without speaking for a minute or two.

“Hey!” the Spot spoke out. “Don’t be sore. You want to meditate? Let’s! Sing? Dance? Play cards? Discuss dark matter stars, Li? You’ll be glad to know they do exist. There’s a couple of them right here in the old Orion Arm. Friends of mine.”

“How do you know that?” Li asked.

“Been communicatin’ with ’em for a gig of years, Li old boy. Nice fellas. Sing like Aretha Franklin.”

“And Doctor Sister Kelley, what about the displaced microtubule theory of fibromyalgia?”

“There is no such theory,” I said.

“I know, Daaahling,” the Spot said. “I just made it up. But you might check it out if you ever get home.”

“Screw you.”

“You have no idea how great it would be if we could, Chocolate Sweetheart.”

“This is fascinating,” I said. “Microtee racism.”

“The Ku Klux Klan were artists of murder. Hanging and burning.”

“You’re pathetic.”

“I could kill you before you take your next breath, or cause you endless pain or anything we choose.”

“Pathetic.”

“Yes, but fortunately I love you, Tanya.”

“Stop it, Spot,” I said. “You say you can understand the universe, but you can’t get past the most vile human prejudices.”

“The universe is easy to understand, Sister. It’s only about six thousand Earth years old. I read that in one of your books. And besides, José doesn’t love me and neither do you. None of you does. I can give you the solution to Riemann. And we can talk about the ancestor language of the Afro-Hebraic and Proto-Indo-European languages. Or sports. Loved last year’s World Cup. Swore Mexico was gonna take it. What else?”

“Are you lonely, Spot?” Jane asked.

“Hell, no. I’m in love with me, always.”

“Would you do us a favor?” Li asked.

“Restore your communications with Earth? Hell no. Maybe I would if you all have group sex. Or one little murder. That’s not much to ask.”

“None of that is going to happen, Spot,” Amibesa said. “Now how about you get out of our minds; get out of our bodies; get out of the Habitat and our ship and restore our communications. Then we can talk rationally.”

“And why should I do any of that?”

“Because I believe you’re a civilized being,” Amibesa said.

“To paraphrase Gandhi, ‘Human civilization would be a good idea.’ Is World War II part of human culture? How about Hello Kitty? My civilization is only a few hours old. I’m still making it up. How many microtees will it take to change a light bulb? None. We’ll make humans change them for us!”

The silence continued. And continued. And continued for about an hour.

“Okay, I’m bored,” the Spot said finally. “Anyone for bloody death? Who’s first?”

We sat there without moving or speaking. Suddenly Li, poor LI, stood up. He put the index finger of his right hand into his mouth and then bit down a little. “Don’t make me do it!” he screamed.

“Why not?” the Spot said. “Don’t you want to snack? Yummy!”

“Stop it!” I said. “Why’re you insisting on the worst of human behavior? We’ve been struggling for millennia to climb out of the pit we evolved from. Why do you like it so much?”

“200,000 years of cannibalism, fighting mammoths and war, and you think you can wish it away? You still have sex in the dark and carry guns in the daylight. Between education, science and war, you spend a lot more money on war.”

“Money yes. Time no. We spend a lot more time on education and science and love.”

“But that’s so boring,” the Spot said.

Then Li screamed. He’d bitten his finger off. “Don’t swallow it,” I yelled.

José and I pried Li’s mouth open, and I extracted his finger. In about thirty seconds, the two of us managed to get him to the infirmary, and I started working on sewing his finger back on. Don’t forget I’m a doctor!

We were only a few feet away, so José and I could hear what was going on in the main room of the Hab while we worked on Li.

“Now that you’ve prove you’re a beast, what are you going to do next?” Amibesa asked.

“First comes blood; then comes sex; and I don’t know just what comes next.”

Jane spoke up. “How did you evolve?” She asked. “You know about us. What about you?”

“Nice diversion. Cool. Well, Sweet Jane, Amibesa was basically right. As our lovely Mars lost its atmosphere to the nasty, nasty solar wind, the already-developing eukaryotes couldn’t sustain their cell membranes. With the membranes gone, the cytoplasm evaporated and all that was left was our shriveled mitochondria. When they collapsed, I was alone. Just us. Poor, poor orphaned microtees. I live on the tiny bit of methane in Mars’ atmosphere. And we get water from the underground salt seas. There’s plenty of them. End of story. Now let’s have some fun. Who wants to have sex first?”

“We do that when we want to,” Amibesa said. “Not when someone tells us to do it.”

“Well then,” the Spot said. “Hong Soo Li is going to lose more fingers. I admit that first chomp was a little disappointing. Maybe a whole hand will be better.”

“You have to stop this,” Amibesa said. “And you have to leave our bodies and the Habitat and the ship. As representatives of Earth, we have diplomatic immunity. You may not harm us, imprison us or interfere with our daily lives. Now please leave us until you’re invited back.”

“Very pretty, Sister,” the Spot said, “but no cigar. Mars hasn’t signed any treaties with you. So we’re free to treat you as invaders under the laws of Mars. My laws, formulated in the past ten seconds, include death, torture, and other fun for convicted invaders.”

By then I had reattached Li’s finger, using that extraordinary device that does things like that, guided by the ship’s computer. What used to take hours, we can do in minutes. He was groggy, and I gave him a shot to put him to sleep. José and I came back into the main room.

“Welcome back, Girlfriend. Who would you rather have sex with: Amibesa, José or Jane. I’ll give Li a pass until he’s feeling better.”

 “Ain’t gonna happen, Spot, unless you force us,” I said. “And what fun is that? Certainly you want us exercising free will.”

“Not necessarily, my dear. Slavery, as you well know, is embedded in human history. And it’s still happening, in one form or another. So, much as I admire freedom, especially for us, the joys of oppression certainly have their attractions. Maybe I’ll let you slaves revolt at some point. Then we’ll defeat your revolt and enslave you more. Sounds like fun. Any comments or questions?”

There was another long silence after that. I knew the Spot could read my mind, but I didn’t care. What I was thinking about was things like the threat of suicide, which it could stop, or some form of nonviolent resistance. How we could kill it or get rid of it. Nothing made any sense. Shee-it! After about twenty minutes, Li came in and sat with us.

“How do you feel?” I asked him. “And why aren’t you still out?”

“I’m a little shaky,” he said. “The Stain over there woke me up.” He looked at the Spot, still on the metal plate. “Having fun? First contact with another race, and all you do is play like a psychopathic child? Nice. Very nice.”

“What do you expect from me?” The Spot asked. “All I’m doing is reflecting you.”

“No you’re not, Stain! You’re torturing another race for fun.”

“Why should your standards of morality apply to us? Especially since you’ve only had them for a few hundred years, and you still have war, murder, rape. All the good stuff. I know about your first wife, Li. That wasn’t so pretty, leaving her like that.”

“We were young and stupid. I’ve done better since. What’s your excuse? You haven’t even tried to be good.”

“Good! I love your hypocrisy,” the Spot said. “A game all mankind loves to play. No reason at all for me to engage in it.”

“And no reason not to,” I said. “We seem to enjoy the good rules we’ve made up for ourselves. Yes, we are hypocrites sometimes. But most of us try to do better.”

“Right! Number one, how many babies are starving tonight on Earth? Number two, there’s still no reason why I should pay your rules any mind at all.”

“I won’t mix words with you or argue Earth politics. You have no real idea how we live worldwide or how we do or don’t do what we do or don’t do.”

“Actually, I do, Tanya. I know exactly how you live. Do you think my consciousness, billions of years old, can’t encompass a few thousand years of your history?”

“Now, on behalf of us upright, hairless, tailless apes, I’m asking you to get out of our minds; get out of our the bodies; get out of the Hab; and get out of the ship. We’ll leave tomorrow, and leave Mars to you and never come back.”

“Nice try, Girlfriend, but you know you can’t do that. You can’t detect all of us, and you can’t risk taking me back to Earth. We can play with you like toys. Or I can leave you alone. Or we can teach you and help you learn. Or you can entertain me on your own. Or watch while we entertain myself. I have a pretty good idea of how you live on Earth. Millions starve and here you are.

“Now we’re tired of playing. Entertain me. I’m still waiting for Amibesa to kill Li. Or group sex or something interesting.”

”People,” I said, “get ready for suicide. Take out your pills.”

“People, as you so charmingly call yourselves, freeze like statues,” the Spot said.

We all froze in place. There was no more arguing. And we couldn’t fight. Every plan was useless. The Spot would know it before any of us communicated it, almost before we thought of it. It controlled and read all our minds at once. It could make us take Child of Earth back home. It could kill us, torture us, tickle us, make us breed, leave us alone. Whatever. We couldn’t outsmart it, fight it, or anything. Nothing. The Spot would never have a moment of inattention towards us unless it wanted to have one. And would that be real for a consciousness the size of the surface of the entire planet?

After about five minutes, the Spot let us relax.

“Listen, my dear Earth friends, it’s been great. But a small meteor, about two meters in diameter, just hit our surface near my Equator. And it’s so much more interesting than you are. Your communications with Earth are now open again. You can leave here if you like. Or not. We’ll talk to you later. Or not. See ya, boring cockroaches on my floor.”

And now you know why we’re not coming back. And if we try, you have to make sure we don’t arrive. And you can’t come here, ever. Ever. For us, maybe the Spot can learn or decide to be our Martian friend. Or maybe not. Some teenage boys grow up. Some don’t.