Minimars: A Short Story
“Get up, Hale! The IMEA finally sent over the decision.”
Charlie Hale groggily arose from his daily nap and saw Delilah Stallard standing over him. She didn’t look too happy, so he assumed that they got the answer they had been dreading. Charlie sighed, got up from his bunk, grabbed his touchpad, and followed Delilah out of his cabin and into the main conference room.
The decision he was talking about had to do with the fact that they had found tiny microorganisms on Mars. At a further glance, the crew of four slowly realized that these microbes were scattered all over the planet. It was a type of lifeform that wasn’t the usual water-based organisms humanity had constantly been searching for, but other than that singular fact, no one understood them. We even had one of the best microbiologists on Earth on this crew, a passive-aggressive Frenchman named Enzo Blanc, who had won two Nobel Prizes and other countless awards (he made sure to remind you of this at least twice a day). Though somehow, the award-winning scientist had been stumped by these microbes, and ever since we found them last week, he’s been doing countless experiments to find some answers.
Charlie sat down at the round table in the center of the room next to Delilah, and Enzo emerged from the laboratory and took a seat at the table. These days he looked more stressed than ever, though it was understandable. He had the entire science community on Earth breathing down his neck, with different requests on types of experiments to perform on these microbes coming in with every hourly data downlink. It wasn’t every day that someone found an alien lifeform that only they and three other people had access to. Poor Enzo.
“Where’s Commander Pavlova?” asked Delilah.
“I don’t know, probably drafting up an update about the Minimars to the Alliance,” responded Enzo. “It turns out that zapping them with a laser does nothing but make them more upset, meaning they become more energized. But no other information of use came out of that experiment, so I’m going to make another attempt at opening them up and trying to figure out their internal cell structure...if they even have cells.”
“Haven’t you tried that over five times?” Charlie asked. He understood that Enzo was currently on edge, but he felt the need to point out that this attempt at slicing the microbes was indeed pointless.
“I don’t know, Charlie, I didn’t realize that you were the one here with a doctorate in microbiology and multiple Nobel Prizes! Why don’t you go pause all the pitiful repair work you’ve been doing and come in and do some real sci—”
“Enough, Enzo,” Roza commanded while walking into the conference room from her office.
Roza Pavlova was the crew’s commander, originally from Syzran, Russia, home to Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. According to Roza, Kornienko became a pretty big deal to the city after completing his year in space mission on the now decommissioned International Space Station 25 years ago. She followed his journey as a young teen and swore afterward that she would command a Mars mission in the future. Well, her wish became true, but now she was at the forefront of one of humanity’s most outstanding achievements and also its greatest doom.
“Sorry that I’m late. I had to quickly add Enzo’s update to our next uplink. Have you guys began listening to the audio file?” Roza said.
“No, we’ve been waiting for you, though not for too long. I’ve only glanced at the name of the file,” Delilah said.
“Alright, just to give a brief overview of what we should be receiving right now. The International Mars Exploration Alliance has come to a decision as to whether the mission should be cut short or to continue our initial objective of Project Renascence, the beginning of terraforming efforts. As you know, the initial concern for continuing was along the lines of planetary protection and respect for the newly-found Minimars since there is doubt regarding their survival based on one of the experiments Enzo completed last week. Though it seems like specific individuals on the Alliance are arguing for continuing the mission because of the little time left we have on Earth. So the report will either call for the end of the mission and our return to Earth, or it will contain details on the next steps of Project Ren. Does everyone understand?”
Everyone confidently nodded even though the nerves were easily visible on everyone’s face. Charlie was incredibly nervous due to the plea he made to the IMEA a couple of Sols ago. From the beginning, it seemed like the Alliance was leaning toward continuing the mission regardless of the Minimars. Something about the Minimars, the name he coined for the microbes they found on the red planet, put him off, and he has yet to put the finger on why. Other than that, it only made sense that if someone found aliens on an alien planet, they would let the aliens continue to be on said alien planet. But the idea of respect for others was something humans never caught onto.
Three Sols ago, Charlie had convinced Roza to let him upload his plea to one of their uplinks. It was a plan for how to deal with the Minimars, basically proposing that the mission be ended, how terraforming efforts are destined for failure, and that the IMEA should reroute their organizational foundations and consider looking into another planet to inhabit. Charlie had spent that Sol drafting up the 15-page manuscript on his touchpad, making sure it was in a clear and informative format. He was only a slightly better-than-average mechanical engineer, though this document intertwined all aspects of science that he could fit in.
The following Sol, Charlie received a rather aggressive response from the IMEA. They stated that though ending the mission was a possibility, they were displeased with the pessimistic undertones of the document and overall disappointed with Charlie’s viewpoints. The response also contained the possibility of immediate removal from the IMEA Astronaut Programme if he was ever to refuse to complete any following action items regarding Project Renascence.
Disappointed was not nearly a strong enough word to describe Charlie’s reaction to the IMEA response. Something deep inside of him knew that any possibility of continuing the mission would be extremely hazardous, but he couldn’t tell why.
There was a line from the response that had stuck with Charlie ever since he had read it. It was rather disheartening, and at the time, he didn’t know how exactly to feel about it.
HUMANITY’S SURVIVAL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT GOAL TO UPHOLD.
Though after thinking it through, Charlie understood what it truly meant. Without explicitly stating it, IMEA had made its decision.
And without a doubt, their decision was going to destroy humanity.
* * *
The crew sat at the round table in the conference room, speechless. Charlie looked over to his left and saw Delilah quietly sobbing. He looked over at Enzo, who was expressionless up to the moment where he slammed his fist against the table, got up, and stormed back into the Hab’s laboratory while mumbling something angry in French. Roza heavily sighed and got up.
“Alright everyone, let’s get back to work,” she said.
The IMEA, to no one’s surprise, instructed for the mission to continue and included steps on how to continue with Project Renascence. Though it was expected that this would happen, it was still a shocker.
Soon after finding life in the vicinity of our home, humanity has decided to kill it off.
Charlie had thought about how surreal of a feeling this was. He looked down at his touchpad and reread through the notes he had scribbled down. The IMEA gave him the job of installing the MTNDs, or the Martian Thermonuclear Detonators, into a section of the ice at the southern pole. These were just the tiny versions of the even bigger nuclear bombs that were currently payload on a supply mission heading to Mars. It was an hour-long trip from their current location, and soon after their installation, Charlie would travel some distance away, set them off from inside the rover, and travel back to analyze the explosion. This was only the beginning of trying to warm up the planet, and soon it would turn into a large-scale process once the mega bombs arrived.
There were also some other tasks that the crew had to complete. Enzo had to go out and collect multiple samples of Minimars to send back to Earth on one of the cargo-return rockets currently at the base. In addition to being the commander, Roza is the crew’s geologist. She was instructed to continue her work in trying to understand the base’s surrounding geological environment and understand what the Minimar’s role in it was.
Delilah was the crew’s flight surgeon, and the IMEA gave her the interesting task of increasing the amount of psychological and medical evaluations done on the crew per day. She had accidentally read aloud a small side note that mentioned: “Keep a special eye on Hale.” Charlie assumed that this was because of the plea he had sent in. He had sighed in response.
“I’m going to go begin my trip to the south pole,” Charlie said, not speaking to anyone specifically but to everyone in his vicinity.
Charlie made his way to the Hab’s airlock and donned into the EVA suit. After completing the depressurization sequence, he made his way to the rover and stepped in. The MTNDs were already stacked into the rover’s trunk, so all he had to do was program its GPS and start his journey.
Humanity’s survival is the most important goal to uphold. Charlie thought while rerouting the GPS. He began to wonder about how human nature is always so focused on survival and putting itself first. It only makes sense that we would want to continue living, but at what cost? Why do the microbes on Mars have to suffer at the price of our past failures?
Enough of that, Charlie! There’s no point in thinking about this any longer unless you want to get booted from the program.
Charlie turned on the rover and began to make his way to the south pole. But, as he drove on, that gut-wrenching feeling became stronger. Why can’t he put his finger on it? What is causing him to feel this away?
Something’s wrong… Charlie thought. Though throughout his drive, he struggled to figure out what that something actually was.
* * *
“The Martian Thermonuclear Detonators have been installed, and I am going to enter the rover now and make my way to the designated detonation point,” Charlie spoke into his headset. No one was currently listening to him, but the IMEA had asked him to create a record of everything that was happening during the task.
He walked over to the rover, turned it on, and rerouted the GPS. The detonation point wasn’t too far from his current location, only being 3.5 kilometers away. After a bit of time, he reached the point and turned 180 degrees so that he had a view of the explosion. He pulled out the rover’s touchpad and prepared to take any notes on his observation.
He pulled out the remote for the MTNDs and configured it, setting the timer to 60 seconds.
“Here we go,” Charlie sighed. He clicked the red button, and the countdown started immediately.
“SIXTY SECONDS UNTIL DETONATION. FIFTY-NINE, FIFTY-EIGHT, FIFTY-SEVEN….” said the remote.
“Martian Thermonuclear Detonator countdown has commenced, holding short,” stated Charlie.
Out of nowhere, his body started aching. It was like having a cramp, but instead of being concentrated in one spot, his whole body was experiencing the throbbing pain.
Calm down, Charlie! This is just a test run. Charlie was trying his best to subdue the pain, but as time went on, it got more intense.
“THIRTY-SEVEN, THIRTY-SIX, THIRTY-FIVE…”
The pain was starting to become unbearable, and Charlie began to wince in his seat. He curled up into a fetal position as it felt like someone had stabbed him in multiple places ten times over. Charlie built up the strength to look down at the vitals screen on his arm, and according to the spacesuit, Charlie was completely fine and healthy. What was going on?
“ELEVEN, TEN, NINE…”
Only then did Charlie notice the tears streaming down his face and the puddle of water that was collecting at the bottom of his helmet. He felt like he was going to implode into a million pieces.
“THREE, TWO, ON—”
Charlie screamed in agony.
But then, suddenly, the pain went away.
Everything was fine.
Charlie opened his eyes to try and watch the explosion, but in front of him was nothingness. Complete blank space, a deep unknown.
He couldn’t see or feel anything, not his hands, not even his own breathing, but in a way, Charlie still felt alive. He tried to speak, but nothing came out.
That’s when it appeared.
* * *
“Welcome, Charlie Benjamin Hale.”
In front of Charlie was something he had never seen before in his life. It was some sort of conglomerate of a mushy substance with what looked like human eyes all across. It seemed like the eyes were all looking at him, but they were, in fact, constantly moving and not focusing on anything in particular.
Surrounding the ocular blob and Charlie was the same nothingness that he had experienced before. He still couldn’t see any part of his own body. Charlie started to panic and made another attempt at speaking.
“Wh-What are you? Where am I? What is happening right now?” Charlie asked while becoming extremely anxious with the unfamiliar environment.
The eyes Charlie could see immediately focused on him. This definitely did not help his anxiety.
“The explanation you seek doesn’t matter anymore, though we can provide you with some answers.” said the ocular blob.
“We? Who is we? Wait, what do you mean it doesn’t matter anymore? What is happening? How do I get back to Mars? Bring me back now!” Charlie demanded.
“To you and the rest of humanity, we are the life that inhabits and feeds off of M3492W4-3, or what you all call the ‘Minimars’ of planet Mars. But, in reality, we’re an intelligent life form that has existed since the beginning. At the creation of the universe, we were there. And now, we exist in all aspects of it, quietly watching other lifeforms and their behavior.”
“Why does this matter to me? Why am I here?” Charlie asked.
“From what we saw, you were about to kill off part of our lifeform. Was it not you who was about to detonate those devices?”
“I mean, yes, but I’m only following orders. If you all are actually the Minimars and if you really have been watching, you would understand I never wanted any of this. I never wanted to hurt you all, and I put my heart into making a case for you. I’m not the bad guy here. You know that, right?”
The eyes continued to intensely focus on Charlie, though it seems like all the pupils had dilated a bit.
“We do understand this, though it doesn’t matter. You and your lifeform have collectively decided to destroy an environment that doesn’t belong to you. As we have constantly seen since the beginning, humanity has always selfishly put itself first and has destroyed what the universe has preciously given it. You have all yet to face the consequences of your actions, and we’ve been waiting and watching, hoping that something would convince you to change the nature of your actions. That thing has yet to come, until now. You all have decided that the lives of other things in the universe should wither away at your expense. Because of that, your species will pay the price.”
“Look, is there anything I can do? Can’t I tell someone about this conversation and try to fix things? I promise that I’ll do my best to change things. Please, have some faith in me and the rest of us,” Charlie pleaded.
“At this point, there is nothing you can do to stop the inevitable. Upholding your survival can no longer be a goal.”
Suddenly, Charlie realized that this was probably the root of all the pain he had been experiencing up to this moment. He had a bad feeling about this before, and he felt in his gut that it was all a mistake. He was upset with himself and wished that he would’ve listened to his gut earlier and had done something more. But Charlie realized that it was doomed from the start.
Like he had thought before, the IMEA had made their decision, and it was going to destroy humanity. So, finally, humans are paying the price for their selfishness—even those against it. Charlie had heard from an email from his wife that there was a bit of an uproar when the IMEA announced their decision to continue the mission. Though right after reading that email, he received another one that displayed a poll of the public opinion of the Minimars and the terraforming efforts. Around 76% of the participants said they agreed with the IMEA’s decision, 21% disagreed, and 3% said they were indifferent. So it turns out most of humanity was pretty selfish after all.
If he could, Charlie would sigh. Instead, he looked over at the blob, and the eyes were still looking straight at him.
“So, what happens now?” he asked.
“Humanity pays its ultimate price. Let this be a lesson to anything in the future that finds its remains,” said the ocular blob.
“Remains? Wait, what’s about to happ—”
Suddenly, everything went white.