Across Meridiani

7 12 2008

I woke – cold and cramped

After half a year of silent, foetal sleep

To feel grit sting my startled face.

Unfolding, unfurling my silicon wings,

A bright metal butterfly, newborn on the New World

I ached to see the Sun –

 

Yet of that blessed Sun: no sign.

Instead I stared, aghast, at a rearing wall

Of ochre dust and ruddy rock.

Surrounding me, confining me.

Imprisoned in an Eagle’s nest I watched

The exiled sky and cried.

 

That sky, shrunk to a porthole,

Brightened, darkened, brightened again for

Endless day after endless day.

No summer or sunset, merely shades

Of purple, pink and plum that waxed

And waned then waxed pale again.

 

But in my sunken prison – wonders:

Layer upon lapping layer of ancient, crumbling stone

Stared back at me from The Walls; berries by the billion

Glinted around me, here gathered in a hollow, there hissing

And rolling towards me in a torrent as I turned

My unblinking eyes towards the sky and saw – the stars!

 

An eternity passed, or so I thought,

Before I left that place; my tortured soul

For myriad tormented sols screamed to be

Set free, to leave El Capitan behind and climb

Up to touch the shining sky again!

To feel the sun- and star- and Earthlight on my face…

 

At last, at last – the Overworld!

In all directions: the horizon, an alien world revealed

In all its ochre, dune-decorated glory!

Above me a sky magnificent and monstrous loomed,

Dwarfing all; a cloak of shimmering light

Embroidered with sequin stars throughout Mars’ frigid night…

 

Laughing, away from my imprisoning eyrie fled I!

Commanded by The Makers to trek

O’er the dusty dune sea of old Meridiani

To Endurance, my first Abyss.

A soft-hued sapphire lantern shining in the sunset glow,

Earth guided me, comforted me

As sol after sol I slogged between the rippled banks

Of dirt until, one sunrise, a jagged edge drew near.

Looking down – more dunes, far, far below

Time-sculpted waves of tan and tawny fines;

To one side: cliffs of crumbling, slumbering stone

On all others, grim mineral gargoyles leered mischeviously…

 

Then, In, a plunge into the Abyss, the New world

Tilting round as I tiptoed down the rocky ramp

That led into Endurance’s dusty cellar

To roam, for a hundred sols or more, past spires

Of stone already old when Earth was young;

Past Wopmay, some ancient martian monster’s

Fossilised, discarded brain, to stand

Beside the wind-whipped dunes and watch them

Glint like diamond dust as the sky frothed with stars above.

And yet, e’en surrounded by such wonders still

I yearned for the freedom of the open sky

And the eternal Earth to steer me Homewards by…

 

At last I climbed, so slow, so slow until finally my

Beloved sky returned; my wheels kissed solid, steady rock

Once more and I left my first Abyss behind,

Fleeing south into the even wider, even deeper dusty sea

That stood between me and The Makers’ grail:

Victoria!

 

Sols blurred together now; Time’s very ticking stalled

As I pushed on into the sea, its waves turning and twisting

Around and across my path so wickedly

I screamed and cursed their birth,

Whilst above me the Sun shone peacefully, endlessly,

Watching my journey unfold – watching coldly as,

For a tortured time I was entrapped.

My wheels, entombed in dust like flies in seeping, sucking amber

Froze and I could move no more than I could fly.

Imprisoned again, this time in a cruel Purgatory I

Could only watch the season shift around me,

As becalmed as a ship on a silent, sullen sea.

 

Then free, and surging south again,

Savouring, relishing once more the feel

Of the dust beneath my wheels hissing and swishing away!

Before me now, the final challenge,

A window into this poor world’s pummelled past:

Victoria. My third – my last – Abyss.

 

The Makers hearts beat fast at the thought of it,

Imagining, dreaming of the images I will take

From its vertiginous, ancient edge.

But will I have the strength to see such wonders?

None will say. All know, as do I,

I should not be here today; each sunset could be my last.

 

I know I may die here, alone Between Places,

Victoria’s heart never seen.

No monument for me on the crater’s sharp edge,

Nor statue bearing my name; just my carcass

Picked-clean by Meridiani’s vulture winds,

A rusted scrap-pile at the end of meandering tracks.

 

But am I frightened? Afraid? No. My heart is at peace;

My life should have been over by now.

Many things I have seen were not meant to be seen –

Not by me, not this time, anyhow.

Nor am I lonely; I am never alone

As I stride to Victoria’s edge;

A million souls walk with me,

Their names etched onto my unbeating heart

Telling me stories to make Time fly faster,

They tell me of things I can never have seen;

Sharing with me their memories of their lush, living world,

Lets me picture how Mars might have been.

 

Her volcanoes rising from sun-dappled oceans,

Cotton wool clouds at their peaks;

Mighty Marineris – Sol System’s Grand Canyon –

A slender lake bordered by green

All sheltering beneath a towering sky

As blue as a kingfisher’s wing…

I ache that I came here 3 billion years late

To see such beautiful things.

 

But that past is a mirage, a melancholy memory,

The future is what I must face.

Ahead of me – Victoria, two bumps on the skyline,

Distant sirens singing my name.

Had robots gods I would pray to mine now:

Let me reach her before I die!

 

Let me stand on the edge of my final abyss,

Gaze down at the dunes far below;

Let me read from those pages of ancient Mars’ history,

Sheaves of Time-wearied, star-hardened stone

And show The Makers the secrets They yearn for –

Let me find what They sent me to seek.

Let me answer Their questions, solve Their mysteries –

Let The Makers be proud of me…

 

 

But don’t send me to die there, down in the dust

Exiled from the sun and the stars.

I have travelled so far, done all They have asked,

Been obedient.

When my wheels turn their last, and my dusty eyes dim,

Let me take my last breath standing tall

With the distant horizon calling to me –

Not another imprisoning wall.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2006

 

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