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The Martian Race
Gregory Benford
excerpt courtesy of Time Warner Trade Publishing
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Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Centre series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994). A recent work is Cosm.

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Non-Fiction: Mars in Our Time
SF Site Review: Deep Time
SF Site Review: Against Infinity
SF Site Review: Artifact
SF Site Review: Cosm
SF Site Review: Foundation's Fear


January 11, 2018


She always opened these public broadcasts in the same way. Firm, friendly, positive.

"Viktor and I are here near the northern rim of Gusev Crater, doing some final surveying work."

Actually, we had to get out of the hab one last time. Take a last look around, have some time together before we're all crammed into that tiny Earth Return Vehicle, the size of a New York apartment.

"I expect most of you know the view pretty well by now."

I hope you're not already bored and out getting a sandwich.

"Still, those high ramparts to the east catching the afternoon sun, they're beautiful. A kilometer high, too."

Hope they don't recall that I covered nearly this same territory over a year ago. Completing a search grid isn't exciting, but maybe we shouldn't coddle the audience so much. And then, Axelrod's media types would just cut this part out anyway.

"The theme here is looking for unusual volcanic activity, whether fossil evidence or even current emissions. And biological clues, too—after all, I'm still hopeful. We have to keep a sharp eye out. Mars covers a lot of its secrets in dust! Nothing so far, but some of you may remember that over there—Viktor, pan across to the east, will you?—we located some lava tubes so big that we could walk into them. That was exciting! Marc later worked out from his radioactive dating equipment that the lava had flowed in them nearly a billion years ago."

Yeah, and not a sign of any activity since. I'll bet Axelrod's media managers cut this whole segment.

Not that I give a damn. I must've made over three hundred of these bright-eyed little talks by now. At least on this one there's something to look at. Going home, it'll be worse than those loooong six months getting here. Nothing to report but scientific details. No big cliff-hanger suspense about the landing, or about what we'd find, like on the way out. Maybe some about the dangers of aerobraking, but that's minor. I'll bet Las Vegas doesn't even give odds on us making it.

"So we'll just keep pushing. One more night out here, then back to base for the prelaunch trials. Should be exciting!"

This smile must be frozen on by now . . .

"So good-bye for now. Julia, from Mars to you."


She stuck out her tongue. "Auggghh! Doing this for two years and still I can never think of anything to say."

Viktor lowered the camera. "Spontaneous. Is better that way."

"God, if this wasn't in the contract—"

"Would not have made even a dozen, I know. You said maybe one thousand times now."

"Marc is so much better at this."

"Marc is not here. Want to make quick squirt for your parents?" This brightened her.

"Sure, roll 'em."

Julia struck a pose a little less heroic and shifted her feet. She was in her pressure suit, which bulked impressively but also, when Viktor went to a wide shot, showed its scrapes and blotchy color. It had started out a pretty royal blue, the best color choice of the four, but the UV and peroxides here had hammered it pretty hard. Now Viktor's yellow stood out better.

Viktor waved, and she said, "Hi, Mums and Dad. Here I am, back on survey. Had a good time on Kangaroo Island? Hard to keep the old eagle eyes peeled when I know we're headed back in just a few weeks. Man, am I getting worn down! Viktor's taking a break with me, the getaway special for the newlyweds."

Ooops, I'm blundering into that again . . . let's just change the subject.

"It's been kinda dicey with Marc and Raoul. Nothing basic, just prickly, irritable. They are, I mean. I'm the soul of warm sympathy, just like always."

She grinned, paused and looked around, wondering what they would appreciate about the landscape. Viktor panned with her gaze; he was really good at that by now.

"See that outcrop over there? I figure it was thrown out by the meteor that made Thyra Crater. Signature splash effect, radially outward. So I was looking around, sniffing for signs of how much water there was here, maybe break open a few rocks and look at the mineralization. The usual, in other words. Nobody'll be able to say that at the tail end, I slowed up on the job!"

She sighed, feeling the old sensation of an emotional logjam: she could not switch from bright-eyed to real, not right away. She should have put some of the Thyra stuff in the public footage. Try again, then.

"I really miss you guys, as usual. Hope your viro treatments went easy, Dads. You looked great, last squirt I got. We had some trouble with the high-bandwidth signal, maybe lost your latest two days ago. Hope there's one waiting when I get back to base. I had a dream about taking a bath last night. Just that, nothing but the bath. Shows you what sensory delights I miss, huh? A long scrub in a big tub, the one we had in the old place, remember? Well, love to the rest of the family!"

Short, but she couldn't do any more without starting to go stilted on them. Maybe she had already. The first few months, she had replayed her squirts, both public and private, and edited them before the high-gain antenna sent them Earthside. Now she just let it go. History was history—over. If she scratched on camera, so be it.

"Was good," Viktor said, smartly shutting off the camera.

"Let's move."

She started toward the rover, its sulfurous yellow standing out violently against the pink sands and rocks. At midday Mars was a bit less red, because the light coming nearly straight down wasn't scattered as much by the perpetual fine dust that hung in the air.

In the distance a dust devil snaked lazily across the barren plain. They'd seen hundreds, nearly one a day. Kilometers high, they unceasingly threw the rusty fines of the surface into the thin atmosphere.

She had long ago given up yearning for green hills or ocean swells. Now Mars held for her a subtle but varied palette, its tans and rosy shades fraught with meaning. The mind adapted. Even so, iron oxides were a limited medium for nature's work. She kept the flatscreen in her personal room set permanently on a green Irish hill sloping down to a pounding sea. When she got back, she was going to find that exact spot and live there a while. Maybe forever. And hang on the wall a real-time flatscreen of Gusev Crater.


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Copyright © 1999 by Gregory Benford

All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author. This excerpt has been provided by Time Warner and printed with their permission.

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