[I particularly like the telling-off scene in this story. Venusians and Martians don't always see eye to eye, but they can agree about the Terrans...]
Althea awoke to the sound of birdsong. Breathing deeply, she let herself enjoy the sound for a few minutes, before stretching and rising slowly. Her body felt sore but strong, as she examined the bruises on her long, green limbs. She had returned from teaching hand-to-hand combat in the Southern region the day before, and her aches and bruises made her proud of her capable students. Althea decided she didn’t care for clothes today. The hot and humid climate of the central region agreed with little to no clothing, and her second skin would heal faster if it was exposed to direct sunlight.
The small cabin Althea called home was set apart from the others in her village, and coveted the shade of an enormous tree, several hundred metres high. It was set upon a buttress, overlooking a waterfall with a cold pool at the bottom, perfect for swimming. Althea had surrounded the space around her house with gardens, growing a chaotic collection of fruits, vegetables and beautiful flowers.
As she descended the steep path down to the pool, she picked a handful of fruits and berries, eating as she walked. Nearing the bottom of the path, she heard the sound of laughter over the thundering water.
“Althea! Good morning,” shouted her sister, Briana. She was splashing in the water with another. “Valencia wanted to wake you, but I convinced her to take a dip instead.”
“I’m sure she didn’t need much convincing.” said Althea, grinning as she tossed her last plum to Valencia, who was still dripping as she climbed the grassed bank to greet her.
Valencia lived in a city in the northern district, but she and Briana had been a couple for many years. Althea viewed Briana as a younger sister. She often travelled for training, but always looked forward to Briana’s infectious enthusiasm when she returned.
Valencia caught the plum in one hand, and grasped Althea’s forearm in the other, in a formal, but friendly greeting. Despite her swim, she looked more serious than usual.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so soon after you’ve returned, Althea”
“Not at all. It’s always good to see you.” She returned her gentle squeeze of the forearm.
“I’ve been asked to summon you and Briana to the Northern Intel Office. The Martians have requested a meeting.”
Althea was excited by the prospect of seeing a real-life Martian, and let a small amount of surprise show on her face. She was familiar with their biology, their culture, their weapons – she had even read articles on what they would smell like. But no Venusian had seen a man face-to-face in a thousand years.
“When do we go?”
As Althea boarded Valencia’s Jumper with Briana, she stowed her bags and wondered why the Martians had decided to make contact, now.
Mars and Venus were both colonised around three thousand years ago, shortly before the destruction of their home planet, Mater. For unknown reasons, a decision had been made to make Venus a female-only colony and Mars, male-only. Genetically engineered babies were sent out on great starships, manned by androids and equipped with everything needed to colonise a new planet. The teams of androids safely raised the children and established regional colonies. Both Martians and Venusians had full access to the history and culture of Mater, and were aware of each other’s colonies.
Human embryos were grown as required on each planet. Mater had long ago mastered genetic engineering, and for centuries before their destruction, many people had preferred customised “test-tube babies” over sexual reproduction. A redundancy had been made that meant attempts at creating embryos of the opposite sex were non-viable on each colony. So, despite their attempts, Venus remained female-only, and Mars, male-only.
Briana took her seat and fastened her harness. “What do you think they want?” she queried.
“I’m not sure,” replied Althea. “But it’s been a long time since the attack, and I don’t think they’d try it again.”
Althea was referring to an incident, 2000 years after colonisation. At this time, both colonies had ignored the advice of their androids to develop space programs, and had established contact with each other. After meeting, the Men had proposed a merging of the two colonies and the Women had agreed to a trial. But it had been a trap. With their superior weaponry, the Martians attempted a hostile takeover.
Unbeknownst to the Martians, most Venusians had developed phasic abilities, and by altering the level of their vibrations, could effectively render themselves and their weapons invisible. The Martians couldn’t fight what they couldn’t see, and were quickly defeated.
The Venusians’ cloaking ability was a side-effect of a symbiotic relationship with a type of endemic plant life on Venus. At first, they had treated the condition as an infection, killing off the plant cells that caused a blotchy, green rash. However, after further study, they found that the plant would eventually grow to form a type of second skin on their bodies. Living with this plant tissue as a second skin increased the oxygen saturation in their blood, reduced the amount of moisture lost to sweating, provided some protection against cuts and bruises and increased the Venusians life span from 150 years to 200 years. In return, the plant received protection from the myriad of insects and herbivores which would normally consume it as it piggy-backed on other vegetation.
After their defeat, the Martians had apologised and claimed the attack had been carried out by a military dictator who did not represent the wishes of most Men. The Venusians had refused contact ever since, but both planets had continued surveillance of the other, and had maintained compulsory combat training and well organised defence forces.
From the helm, Valencia closed the Jumper doors and the vessel began to ascend vertically.
“We’ve noticed they’ve increased the number of their long-distance star ships,” she said as they banked North. “There’s a few theories, but personally, I don’t think it bodes well for Earth.”
Not long after their failed attack, the Martians were observed sending small recon ships to Earth. It was then that the Venusians discovered a thriving, if somewhat more primitive civilisation. The Venusians and Martians had access to a wealth of information from the androids. Unbelievable amounts of data generated from the thriving civilisation of Mater, on a vast array of subjects. However, despite this breadth of knowledge, there was no information on human life on Earth. Until the Martian invasion, the Venusians had no idea they even existed. Fearing that Mars would attempt to attack Earth, Venus set up permanent outposts, and Men’s visits to the surface stopped.
“What’s the status of their space-tech now?” said Althea. “Could they defend themselves if Mars Attacked?”
“Maybe. They’ve advanced quite rapidly in the last hundred years. Their weaponry is quite impressive and their space program grows by the day. As you know, we deployed phasic cloaking on our outposts years ago, and there’s no evidence that they even realise our two colonies exist. So, any interplanetary attack would definitely catch them off-guard. Their population is becoming increasingly segregated, but it means that each region is pretty well defended.”
“I think the Earth colony is fascinating,” said Briana. “All those different languages, cultures and religions, and Women and Men living together!”
“I’m not sure all those languages and religions are doing them any favours though,” replied Althea. “They’re constantly fighting among each other. And Women and Men do live together, but not as equals.”
Valencia flicked on the control for auto-pilot and spun her chair around to face the others. “We’ll reach the Northern Intel Office in 30 minutes.”
As they continued North, the lush jungles of the Central region gave way to vast plains, wetlands and eventually open ocean. Speeding high above the water, Althea caught a glimpse of one of the great sailing ships, manned by the sea-faring sect. These ocean-going Women chose to spend most of their life on the water in their large, wooden vessels, and were responsible for ocean monitoring, fishing, sea transportation and naval training.
The Northern region was actually an archipelago of large, floating islands, with the Intelligence Office located on the main island-city of Mahdra. As they approached the city, Valencia took back control of the Jumper, to initiate landing. Althea marvelled at the cluster of tall buildings and the number of Jumpers and larger transport carriers buzzing through the skies above town. She always loved visiting the city, but never liked to stay too long.
The cruiser was set down in front of a large building made from reflective, green-coloured glass. As they walked towards the entrance, Althea revelled in the salty smell of the ocean. Once inside, they were ushered to a room where they greeted representatives from each region, and several women from the Intelligence Office.
The Venusians had no formal government or official leaders. Information was spread freely, and decisions made via district or regional representatives. Even in teacher/student relationships, all sisters were equals. Conflict among the Women was rare, and any disagreements resolved amicably with an attitude of cooperation, and equal contribution.
Every woman on Venus was a lifelong student, who, after mastering a skill, also became a teacher. There was no official army on Venus, but compulsory basic combat training commenced at an early age. All girls were required to achieve competence in an assortment of close combat, weapons, cavalry, naval and aeronautical skills. They were also taught the Sciences, history and arts. Once a foundation of skills had been established, women were free to choose to focus in a particular area, like sea-faring, farming, genetics or intelligence gathering. Women were free to work and train in a mixture of fields according to skill or preference.
As they sat down at a large, round table, Althea looked at the faces of the women around her and saw a combination of worry, nervousness and excitement. She wasn’t surprised by this, as she felt mixture of all three, herself! Briana was the usual representative for their region, and Althea presumed her own presence here might have been requested due to her combat and tactical experience.
A woman Althea recognised as Rainey waited for silence and began to speak.
“Thank you all for coming. As you have been told, the Martians have requested a meeting. Yesterday, a single, small ship approached our planet and, transmitted a message requesting that we meet with the Leader of Men to discuss a matter of great importance. If we agree to this meeting, they have asked that we do not bring along any androids.
“The information we have gathered from Mars shows that they have increased production of long-range starships, along with exploratory missions, but we’ve seen no change to their weapons systems or combat forces.
“We feel that the timing of this request may be related to the technical advancement seen on Earth. You will find a folder in front of each of you, with a summary of our data on both the Mars and Earth colonies.
“It is our hope that this meeting of representatives will decide our next move.”
As the meeting progressed, the Women discussed the pros and cons of meeting with Men, whether Venus would likely win if Mars attacked, and if Earth should be defended or approached. The intelligence they had gathered suggested that Venus and Mars had comparable defence forces and that any attack would be well-matched. Rainey had warned it was likely that in the past thousand years, Martians had figured out a way to counter their phasic technology and might now be able to “see” cloaked vessels. However, even without their phasic technology, an attack from Mars would likely be rebuffed.
The Women agreed that they should initiate contact with Earth, sooner rather than later. If Mars appeared to be a threat, then Earth deserved to know – or at least to make their own decision. There was a chance Earth could side with Mars if they decided to attack, but there was an equal chance that they could become a powerful ally.
At the end of the meeting, the Venusians decided they would send a contingent of six Women to meet the Martians. A representative from each of the four main regions, a tactical combat specialist and an intelligence specialist. Althea, Briana and Valencia would make up three of the final six.
Later that night, the six Women boarded the Cruiser that would take them out of orbit and host the Martian, Leader of Men. The Cruiser was an older surveillance vessel, much larger than the Jumpers, which could accommodate up thirty people quite comfortably. The vessel was not equipped with any weapons, but cloaked gunships would surround them and the Martian vessel during the meeting.
With no form of hierarchy or chain of command, the Venusians had no use for uniforms. However, since the Martian meeting was an important occasion, the six Women decided to wear matching brown tunics and utility belts. Althea would usually have two blasters clipped into her utility belt, but after discussion with the others, decided to go unarmed.
The representative of the Eastern region, Gesa, was also the Venusians best aeronautical trainer. Like Althea, she spent much of her time travelling to train others in different regions. She had agreed to pilot the Cruiser to the arranged coordinates, outside Venus’s orbit. As tactical and combat specialist, Althea would act as co-pilot.
Once the women were strapped-in, Gesa initiated take-off. As they accelerated, the large engines roared, and the g-forces pushed them down into their chairs. As they rose through the atmosphere, clouds blocked any chance at a last look back. Rising, they left the planet’s gravitational pull, and felt themselves become weightless. Whilst it was a pleasant sensation, it was one that Althea never got used to.
Reaching over to press one of the many buttons on a console awash with lights, Gesa announced: “Switching to artificial gravity.”
Althea felt herself lowered back into her seat and was relieved. She looked back at her planet and smiled. It looked like a giant ball of fluff, floating in the universe. She looked past the fluffball, to the constellations and galaxies beyond, and sighed. She never tired of looking at the stars. The near-constant cloud cover hid the beauty of Venus from space, but also hid the beauty of space from Venus.
There was nothing to do now, but wait.
After some time, the sensors on ship beeped a warning of an approaching vessel.
“Here they come.” said Althea. She remained in her seat in the cockpit to monitor their arrival. Valencia was standing by the hatch controls at the entrance to the containment room, with the other four Women standing behind her, ready to greet the Men.
The Martian’s ship was of similar size to their own, and had no visible weaponry. Althea saw the glimmer of the cloaked Venusian ships surrounding their two craft, and hoped that to the Men, they were invisible.
A deep voice came over their comm speakers. “Martian ship 219 requesting permission to dock.”
Startled by the unfamiliarity of the deep voice, Althea regained herself and replied, “Permission granted. Extending docking arm in 3. 2. 1…”
A loud, thudding sound of metal on metal accompanied a tremble felt throughout the ship.
Valencia pulled a lever and the outer hatch whirred. An automated voice sounded through the speakers:
<Outer hatch unlocked>
The Women waited. After a lengthy few seconds, that felt much longer, the outer hatch hissed as it decompressed and swung open. Six men entered the containment room and the hatch was re-sealed.
<Outer hatch sealed>
As the room was re-pressurised, the Martians removed their exposure suits and were sprayed with a decontamination gas.
<Inner hatch open>
Althea left the cockpit and joined her sisters as the Martians entered the room. She stood beside Briana and had to stop herself from gasping. They were not what she was expecting. They were so hairy they barely looked human! They were also larger than she’d expected. The faces of the Men, peering out from under their hair, looked as equally shocked as they gazed up at the tall, green Women, looming over them. The six large, hairy Men stood facing the six tall, green Women and all were silent as they looked each other over.
Valencia was the first to recover. “Welcome” she said.
“Thank you,” replied one of the Men, stepping forward. “We’re very pleased you agreed to meet with us.”
His face was red, and sweat had started to bead on his face. He looked uncomfortable and shot a desperate glance at the Men behind him, who were also starting to sweat. Althea didn’t like this. Why were they so nervous? What were they planning? She felt the absence of her blasters like a physical pain.
“Please,” continued the first Man. “Would you mind if we removed our coats? I’m afraid we failed to recall the preferred temperature of Venusians.”
He gave Valencia a lop-sided smile and the Men waited for her reply of “Of course”, before hurriedly stripping off their enormous outer layer. As their fur coats were removed, the Men lost their appearance of hairy beasts, and about half their apparent size. They were wearing khaki-coloured uniforms underneath.
Althea felt herself relax, just a little. The Martians were much broader than the long-limbed Venusians, but the Women were all taller. She could smell them now. Their sweat smelled musky and different, but at the same time, reminded her of something.
Valencia introduced herself and then looked to the rest of the Women to follow suit. The Men went next, including their position after their name. The Man who had asked permission to remove their coats was Etan, Leader of Men. Althea recalled reading about how a Martian’s identity was very much tied to his position and rank. They were assigned positions from a young age, based on aptitude or physical ability, and did not have the freedom that the Venusians had in choice of work or learning new skills.
Gesturing to a large, rectangular table, Briana smiled and said “Please take a seat.”
The Women sat on the far side of the table, facing the containment room with a good view of the console screens. The Men sat across from them.
“Once again,” Etan began “we’re grateful you accepted our invitation to meet. We hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new era of trust between our two planets.” He smiled and continued.
“Life on Mars is prosperous. We’re proud of the civilisation we’ve created, and of the terraforming work we’ve done to transform a relatively barren environment with low oxygen and few life forms, into a thriving system with enough air and water to support an environment a Mater native would be pleased to call home.
“We have learnt as we’ve grown, and I’m the first to admit that not all the moments in our history books fill me with pride. We’ve made mistakes. But none were greater than when our forefathers allowed a dictator to use Martian forces for his own agenda, and to ruin any chance of peaceful cooperation with those who should be our closest ally. So, I am here to extend the olive branch, on behalf of all Men. To ask for your forgiveness, but also your cooperation.
“Life on Mars is good, but the minds of Men are not content. We have many questions, and feel that to answer them, we must have your help. In regards to the foundation of our colony, much of what we have been told makes little sense. I think that since you share our origins, Women may also share these questions and concerns.”
Etan looked at each Woman, but their faces showed no reaction. His brow crinkled with frustration and he raised his voice.
“Surely you wonder why were we not told about Earth? I’m sure you know as well as we do, that their population dates back thousands of years before ours. Do they know about Mater? Why were they kept secret? Is that why our founders didn’t want us to have space travel?”
He began to speak faster, gesturing wildly with his hands. Some of his men shifted uncomfortably in the seats, seemingly embarrassed by his show of emotion.
“Why were we taught about your colony on Venus, only to have those bloody androids continuously tell us not to have contact with you? Why were we split? Was it some kind of experiment? We are two sides of the same coin! It doesn’t make any sense.”
With his final comment he slapped both hands on the table and hung his head, breathing deeply. The rest of the Men and Women looked at each other.
“Do you think we have the answers to these questions?” asked Althea.
As he raised his head, Etan replied “I do not. But I hope you will help us answer them.”
As the meeting progressed, Etan and his Men outlined that in the process of testing new surveillance equipment, they had stumbled across regular transmissions from Earth.
“At first,” explained Commander Barrett, “we thought that these messages may have been coming from a Venusian operative sending information back to Venus.” He looked sheepishly at the Women. “However, after tracing the data, we found it was being delivered to a point outside the solar system. The coordinates we have, don’t match any known planet. Our androids also claimed to have no data on those coordinates, but-”
“BUT!” interrupted Etan, visibly excited. “When we thought to trace the transmissions being sent from our own androids, they were sending to the same location! We’ve always known that the androids on Mars and Venus communicate, and that they used to send reports back to Mater, but these coordinates are nowhere near anything that could be the remains of Mater.”
“Could it be the location of a relay station?” asked Valencia.
“It’s on the wrong side of the solar system.”
“So, what do you think it is?” asked Briana. Her eyes were sparkling with the possibility of the unknown.
Etan shrugged. “It could be another human colony.”
“That’s not what she asked,” said Althea. Etan’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“It could be anything. But what do you think it is?”
Smiling at their perceptiveness, he replied “I think it’s our Fathers.”
Etan looked across at the surprised faces. “Oh, and of course our Mothers,” he added, concedingly.
“But Mater was destroyed.” said Gesa. “If there were survivors, don’t you think they would’ve contacted us by now?”
Shrugging, he replied “Why would they? And where is the evidence that Mater ever existed in the first place?”
Gesa scoffed, “We have reams of data on Mater. Everything from population statistics, climate patterns, tectonic plate structure, down to the chemical makeup of individual water systems. You said yourself, that Mars has used the DNA sequences from life on Mater to clone a number of plant and animal species.”
Still smiling, Etan replied: “It’s true, all that data had to have come from somewhere. But I’m not convinced we’ve been told the full story about Mater. We’ve been able to collect a small amount of data using new long-range sensors, and whilst we’ve detected asteroid fields around the location of our supposed founding planet, their placement doesn’t coincide with an event such as planetary destruction. So…If Mater never existed, where did we come from? And why are we here?”
The Venusians had long discussed the circumstances of their origin. Whoever orchestrated the design of the Venus and Mars colonies had gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that they remained single-sex. When queried, the androids would simply repeat that the colonies were created to continue the line of Mater. Considering that Women and Men had lived together on Mater, this didn’t really make sense to the Venusians. Finding the Earth colony, where Women and Men also lived together, only further complicated things.
The Women had also deliberated on any sense of duty felt to their founders, and whether they should follow advice from the androids to avoid space travel and contact with the Mars colony. They were happy and grateful for all that Venus provided, and as time went by, considered themselves less a colony of Mater, and more as proud Venusians. They argued that if a native of Mater was to meet a Venusian, they would likely think them a different species. The benefits of their second-skin, accompanied by their diet of native fruit and vegetables meant that the Women were over a foot taller than their founders and with their iridescent green skin, they didn’t even look like Mater Women anymore.
Despite this feeling of separatism, Althea and the rest of the women were curious.
Valencia spoke up. “My sisters and I would be interested in seeing any data you’ve gathered – if, of course, you’re willing to share?”
Ethan nodded in acquiescence.
“You’re correct in guessing we’ve wrestled with many of the same questions you’ve mentioned here today,” said Althea. “And earlier you asked for our help, so I presume you have a plan?”
“I do. I would like to travel to the coordinates the androids are transmitting to.”
“And why do you need our help to do this?”
“I don’t want the androids to know, and transmit the details of our plan. They have the ability to trace our star ships, and I don’t want whoever or whatever is at those coordinates to know that we’re coming. But, if I’m correct, they can’t detect your cloaked ships. We need your phasic technology.”
“You know that this would require Venusians to travel on your ships?” enquired Valencia.
“We presumed as much.”
“How long would the voyage take?”
“We’ve increased the speed of our latest long-range Liners, but we still estimate a period of approximately three months to reach the coordinates.”
The Women exchanged thoughtful glances. Althea thought it was possible that the Martian’s intentions were true, and that they wanted to make peace and unravel the mystery of their founding fathers. But she still didn’t trust them. It could be a trap. Or part of a plan to distract the Venusians, while Men attacked Earth.
Althea turned back to the Men. “We have a proposal of our own. If we’re going to go on a mission to find our origins, Earthlings should have the opportunity to come as well. If they’re willing, of course.”
Etan looked surprised.
“I’m sure Mars has noticed that Earth’s space tech is improving each day. It’s likely only a matter of time before they become aware of our own colonies. We think a planned introduction might be better to pave the way for smoother relations, rather than an accidental meeting.”
Etan maintained eye contact with Althea, but sat stony-faced, as his Men exchanged censured glances. Silence descended as the room suddenly felt thick with tension.
Booming with laughter, he replied “They do seem to have itchy trigger fingers. At least with each other.”
His Men relaxed.
Althea let out a breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding. “We will transmit a message to Earth. If they agree to a meeting, will you join us in our ship and meet with them on their surface?”
Etan nodded. “Of course.” Looking out of the portholes around the ship, with a wry smile, he added, “Perhaps it would be prudent to take a small fleet of cloaked gunships as security, in case the Earthlings choose to make to an example of us?”
Althea smiled and wondered if he could actually see the ships surrounding them, or just guessed at their tactics.
“Of course,” she replied. “And if they choose, Earth may join our exploration mission and send a contingent to travel with us on your ship?”
From there, the meeting was quickly wrapped up, with the Martians donning their giant coats and returning to their vessel, and the Venusians returning to the Intelligence Office on the surface.
Back at the large, round table on Mahdra, the six Women relayed the details of the Martian meeting to the rest of the representatives. Some seemed surprised at the Men’s doubts concerning Mater. Others were not. There was general agreement and acceptance of the proposed arrangement. The six Women who met with the Martians were asked to be the delegates to Earth, and to help choose the others that would be needed for the following voyage. A carefully-worded message was written, and then transmitted to Earth.
Two days later they received a response. The Earthlings would welcome them.
Althea once again found herself in the cockpit of the Cruiser, waiting on the arrival of the Martians. Along with her sisters, she had travelled from Venus and they were sitting a little way out from Earth’s orbit to rendezvous with the Men, before heading to the surface.
Gazing down at Earth, Althea reflected on how beautiful it looked. Although similarly sized, it looked nothing like her fluffball, Venus. With brilliant blues and radiant greens, it looked like a jewel, glowing with life. White caps of ice sat neatly on both ends, and fat clouds wrapped around the planet, as though wrapping it in a shawl.
She hoped the meeting would go well. The six women had once again worn matching brown tunics and utility belts. However, this time Althea had insisted that they be armed, and each Woman had her cloaked weapon of choice attached their belt. The Martians had hinted at their last meeting that they now had the ability to see cloaked items, so perhaps their reaction today would confirm this. The Men had also been the ones to request a cloaked fleet observe their meeting with the Earthlings, so maybe they would appreciate the added security.
As the Men arrived and boarded the Venusian Cruiser, they were greeted warmly by the Women.
“No coats this time?” queried Briana, with a smile on her face.
“Alas, no,” replied Etan. “Although, I admit we may still be over-dressed for your climate control settings.”
The Men were wearing matching navy blue uniforms with red details on the collar, and bars on their lapels, indicating rank. None one made mention of the cloaked weapons, but Althea did notice one of the Men staring at her hips. Gesa and Althea returned to the cockpit as the others strapped themselves in, and they began their approach to Earth.
Gesa landed the Liner on a small island, surrounded by vast ocean. The leaders of Earth had not yet told their people about contact with Venus and Mars, and, for now, wanted to keep the meeting a secret, lest it spark panic. The remote location also served as neutral territory for Earths leaders who did not always see eye to eye. The small piece of land was surrounded by multiple naval ships, and a variety of flying vessels were clustered at one end of a short airstrip. There were two modest buildings, and a large aircraft hangar where the meeting would be conducted.
A red carpet extended from their landing area to the hangar. There were many banners flapping in the wind, and men in an assortment of uniforms carried weapons. However, as the Venusians and Martians entered the hangar, the mood was not one of hostility, but nervous trepidation. A group of ten Men from Earth were standing at the table to greet them. Althea noticed that there were no Women leaders. The past thousand years had seen improvements in equality on Earth, and she hoped that contact with Venusians might help them speed the process up.
Martians and Venusians stood in a double line, with Etan and Valencia at the front. An old man in a grey suit and black tie approached them.
“My name is Malcolm Donaldson, and I am President of the United States of America. It’s nice to meet you.” He shook hands with Etan and then, pausing, shook hands with Valencia as well, looking up at her with a mixture of fear and wonder.
He gestured to the table. “Please, let us all sit.”
The meeting began amicably enough. The Earthlings asked many questions, and in turn, confirmed that they had no knowledge of the colonies on Mars and Venus, and had never heard of Mater. Most of the conversation was carried out amongst the Men. The Martian Men looked exactly like Men from Earth, if not a tad shorter, and broader in the chest. The Earthlings didn’t direct a single question to the Venusians.
When conversation turned to the coming mission to explore humanity’s origins, a religious debate was quickly created. Two of Earth’s leaders were of a mind that to go searching the galaxy for answers was blasphemous. The debate quickly devolved into quarrel, with the Earthling Men yelling over each other. The Martians looked bemused.
Etan shared a strained look with Althea, sighed and then raised his hands for silence. Four of the Earthling Men sat quietly, but the others took no notice, and continued yelling.
“QUIET!” bellowed Etan. “How dare you waste our time! You lot sit here snivelling over the same damn argument you’ve been having for generations, and where has it got you?! You find increasingly petty reasons to separate and divide yourselves from each other, and to what end? And don’t get me started on how you treat your Women. I cannot fathom that a delegation of your entire planet would not contain a single female to represent those that make up half of your population.
“You do not deserve our help. We offer you an opportunity to answer a question that your puny minds cannot even comprehend. The Men of Mars did not think you were ready. The only reason we are here is because the Women of Venus wanted to give you a chance. And how have you repaid that kindness? You’ve all but ignored them throughout this entire meeting.
“We need the Venusians to complete this mission. But we do not need you.”
Etan and his fellow Martians stood up and faced the Women.
“Althea, Valencia. If we journey to find our founders, I do not want it to be in the company of these poor excuses for Men. If we indeed share a heritage with these people, I feel their apple has fallen far from the tree. Earth will have nothing to fear from Mars, but they are not ready to join us.”
With that, Etan and his men turned and strode back to the ship.
The Earthling Men were visibly shocked. Some sat with their mouths agape. They looked between the retreating Men and the Women in front of them.
“What gives them the right to address us that way?” said the grey-suited Malcolm, pointing angrily at the backs of the Martians.
“We are not here to set the standard to which you are judged,” replied Althea. “But I fear our friends may be correct. You are not ready.”
“Ha!” So what now, do you expect us to be at your mercy?”
“We will leave you now to your own devices. We have watched over and protected your planet for the last thousand years, and will continue to do so.” Althea rose out of her chair.
“Who do you think you are!?” cried the old man.
The rest of the Women rose next her, and as they simultaneously phased out, appearing to vanish in thin air, they replied:
“We are Venusian.”
The three months onboard the Martian long-distance Liners had passed quickly. A total of three ships made up their little fleet, with six Women aboard each vessel. The Women had free run of the ship. Initially, they had felt at loose ends, with no role on board, other than maintaining the ship’s cloak. The Men were also hesitant, at first, to divulge too much information about themselves or their ship’s technology.
The Venusians shared sleeping quarters, separate from the Men. They had also brought along their own food supplies and converted a room on each ship as a greenhouse to grow fresh fruit and vegetables.
On Mars, men consumed a large amount of meat, mainly sourced from a large, carnivorous beast called a drahkas. The drahkas was a wide-ranging creature endemic to Mars, and were sustainably culled to maintain their populations. Their thick, furry hides were also used to make the large coats, ubiquitously worn by the Martians to protect against their chilling temperatures.
Temperature control onboard the Liners had been negotiated and both Men and Women had compromised. The men had shed their favoured coats, and the Women took to wearing thick trousers or flowing gowns to combat the chilly common areas on the ship.
Mutual surveillance of their planets had provided only so much information about Men and Women, and living together quickly revealed the nuances of each other’s cultures. Evening meals became grand affairs, where regional delicacies were prepared and sampled, musical instruments were played, singing and dancing commonplace and stories exchanged. Althea noticed some of the Women growing closer to certain members of the Martian crew, and for most on board, the three months passed far too quickly.
As the three Martian ships neared their destination, the Venusians deactivated their cloaks and went on high alert. Their scanners had detected a single, small structure at the final coordinates. On the bridge of the lead ship, Althea, Valencia and Briana gathered with Etan and his command crew. A small space station came into view. It looked old, but still operational. They circled the structure and found no starship or other vessel docked.
“Why are there no windows?” asked Briana, to no one in particular.
Etan took hold of a communication mic. “This is Martian ship 411, transmitting to space station. Do you read me?”
“Repeat. This is Martian vessel 411, requesting permission to dock. If anyone reads this, please respond.”
The comm speakers remained silent.
“Well,” said Etan, turning to face the bridge. “We’ve come all this way, let’s see what’s inside.”
A small boarding party was formed, including Etan, his commander, Barrett, and Lieutenant Stanos. The Women were represented by Althea, Valencia and Briana. Donning their exposure suits, the Women attached blasters, and quickly cloaked them. Their vessel docked smoothly with the space station, and the lock of the outer hatch turned freely. They entered a large containment room, and waited for pressurisation. Unsure of the environment inside the station, they would be keeping their exposure suits and oxygen tanks on.
Althea stepped out into a large room, dimly lit and filled with screens from floor to ceiling. On the far side of the room she saw the silhouette of a single person, standing in front of a long console.
“Hello there,” she ventured. Her hand was instinctively wavering above her cloaked blaster.
There was no response, and the person made no movement.
“We mean you no harm,” added Etan, as the two of them slowly approached the lone figure.
Still no response.
Althea reached out a hand and gently placed it on the stranger’s shoulder. It was cold. Peering around to see their face, Althea could see the person was actually a kind of android. Its appearance was very different to the androids on Venus, and care had been taken to give it a life-like, human appearance. It was deceiving from a distance, but up close, the skin and eyes didn’t look right. Behind the left eye of the android, a red light blinked steadily.
“It’s an android,” she announced, “but it seems to be in some kind of stand-by mode.”
The rest of the party spread out and explored the station. Althea was examining the many screens above the console. Some were blank, but most showed a series of single images or short clips of video recordings with a six-digit code on the bottom right-hand side of each screen.
“I think everyone needs to see this,” said Valencia, staring at a large screen set into the console.
The screen showed a local cluster map, titled “Utopia Project”. Many of the planets were marked with a green triangle and a six-digit number. Venus, Mars and Earth had all been marked in green.
“Are all these green planets, human colonies?” asked Etan.
“I think so,” replied Althea, walking back to the wall of screens. “Valencia, what’s the six-digit code for Venus?”
Althea scanned the screens on one wall, and then the next until she found the screen with that code.
“It’s Mahdra…” she said quietly, looking at an image of the green-glass building where the Intelligence Office was located.
“And the number for Mars?” she queried.
The screen below matched that code and showed a workshop where Men appeared to be constructing a starship.
Etan came up beside her. “That’s our main assembly yard at Varkas.”
“There’s more,” said Valencia, selecting Venus on the interactive screen. The map disappeared and was replaced with details outlining their colony. There was a page of multiple headings, including Rank, Date of Foundation, Population, Life span, Environment, Endemic species…
“What’s under Parameters?” said Althea.
Valencia expanded the headings and read aloud,
Colony will be female-only. Subjects will be told of matching male-only colony (000322).
Default Mater protocol. Moderate education available. Ability to clone default level organisms.
No space technology to be given, retention of basic android units to allow maturation of colony.”
The Women were silent.
“What’s under Rank?” quipped Barrett.
“Current overall rank: 5”, replied Valencia. “There’s individual rankings for things like Happiness, Health, Generosity, Trust, Freedom, Support…”
“What about all these other planets?” said Etan. “There’s hundreds of them!”
They continued looking through the data on the console. Each planet had different parameters and had an overall rank. Some colonies were like their own and had been established with an existing culture and basic education and technology. Others, like Earth, had been allowed to evolve their own. Some of the parameters included things like shortened lifespans, slavery and forced physical labour. There was also an assortment of different religions established across the colonies.
“So we’re all just some big experiment?!” cried Briana.
“Like rats in a cage,” replied Barret, shaking his head.
Valencia turned to face them. “What do we do now?”
“We have two choices,” said Althea. “We can go back to our planets and live in peace. If it wasn’t obvious before, seeing some of these other colonies show us that our lives on Venus and Mars are actually quite wonderful. We can live well and be happy.”
“Or,” replied Etan, “we can go and find whoever is running these experiments.”
“Who’s with me?”