In years to come, pilgrims from every
Crowded corner of Sol’s system will journey
To this pale and dusty place.
From the rain-soaked fields of Earth
And Titan’s poisonous frozen plains;
From Europa’s cross-hatched canyons,
Mercury’s melting mountains
And Luna’s ash-grey mare they’ll come,
Their hands and faces stained
With the dirt of a dozen different worlds,
To stand at “Bradbury Landing”.
Here, where a rover – a century before
It was displayed in the Great Museum Of Mars –
Turned its mighty oil drum wheels for the first time,
Leaving behind tracks in the fines
That the wind swiftly blew away,
They’ll stand in silence, listening to the hissing
Of their helmet-heated air, staring in disbelief
At the summit of Mt Sharp, drenched in molten gold
Aeolian Glow by the rays of the setting Sun,
And whisper “Thank you” to the man
Who took Mankind to Mars.
At first, a simple ceremony:
Standing on the paprika and cinnamon sands,
As Martian tradition demands
Each will hold in his or her shaking hands
A copy of a book, The Book, His book,
Each one a gift from one of Terra’s sister worlds.
Not to lay on the ground in tribute,
Not to offer as space age Gold, Frankincense or Myrhh,
But to exchange with fellow travellers,
Each handover continuing the journey Bradbury began
When he first sat down and started to write his
In the following years, the Landing will no
Doubt grow busier, attracting more and more
Skin-suited history and sci-fi junkies from far and wide,
Each standing there, wide-eyed, in front
Of the upturned goldfish bowl dome
That protects the rover’s chevron tracks.
Not the originals, of course – those will be long gone –
But faithful reproductions, lovingly sculpted
Out of the rocks and dirt and stone
By Mars Heritage volunteers desperate to honour both
Man and machine, recreating
The path of that first historic drive,
That martian Kitty Hawk first flight
When Curiosity began to rove and the New World
Opened up before us.
Later still, when snow-globe oases of green
And blue are starting to bloom on Mars,
Bradbury’s followers will climb Aeolis Mons
To stand on its star-scratching summit to see
The Book brought vividly to life.
Some will take the easy route: Walk 1,
The one that follows Curiosity’s own path
Towards and then across the moat of dunes,
Up to and through the foothills, twin moons
Shining down on them as they wend their way
Between the crumbling, rock-tumbling mesas
And buttes before heading up to where
“Light Toned Unit” finally surrenders a view
Of the Real Peak. Others will seek
A bolder route. Walk 2; an ankle-twisting trek
Up older canyons, clambering over striped ochre outcrops
Until finally the peak rears up ahead.
Then all will slog their way up to the top,
To stand on the summit of Mt Sharp and gaze
Down at Gale, stretched out before them like
A pioneer’s quilt wonderland of ancient, epic stone.
And standing there they’ll see the most moving scenes
Of The Book brought vividly to life.
Plugged into MarsNet’s virtual reality
They’ll gaze up into the butterscotch sky and find
It full of Fifties-styled sleek-ringed rockets,
Silver locusts dropping to the ground for miles
And miles around, each one bringing another crowd
Of settlers from the next world in.
Over there – an American mid-West town,
Perfect in every way, white picket fences shining
Like bones, manicured lawns and parks glowing
Emerald green in the sunlight, impossible, but there –
– and over there, shivering, cold in the shadow
Of Mt Sharp, the remains of a martian city.
Once elegant, with temples, halls and homes so starkly
Beautiful they made the dark martians weep with pride, its ruins
Would now make them hide their golden eyes behind their hands.
Time has left nothing standing taller than a tree.
The stumps of snow-white pillars jut from the ground
Like broken teeth; the canal that curled its way
Through the city’s jewelled heart, carrying cool, clear water
From the pole is bone dry now, an artery clogged with dust –
– and over there, on the amber-hued plain that laps up against
The crater’s southern wall, a dozen martian sandships in a line,
Cobweb-fine sails billowing in the whispering wind,
Shining a hundred shades of sapphire, silver and gold
As they flow across the sands like wine,
Before vanishing like ghosts…
Back on the gritty floor of Gale,
One more thing to see, one last thing
For a Pilgrim to do before they can return home
To their outback hab or pressurised dome.
Out there, halfway between the crater’s
Arrakeen Shield Wall and the rock falls
At the once Bayer-camouflaged base of the Promised Land –
A narrow strip of shouldn’t-be-there blue,
A slashed sapphire wound in the rust-hued landscape
That, once glimpsed, pulls you relentlessly towards it
Like a siren; an event horizon of beauty
From which there can be no escape…
Bounding to it brings a reality-lurching surprise.
Suddenly you’re standing on the side of a canal,
An honest to God martian canal
Cut out of the ground, filled, impossibly,
With water, that slops and slaps sleepily against the sides.
A simple, hand-written sign stands beside it
Bearing the words: “Look in to see a martian…”
And as you do, leaning carefully over the edge,
You already know what you will see –
Your own reflection staring back at you.
© Stuart Atkinson 2012