A Mars’ Day’s Night

 

“Git along, giant bug thing,” said Robert to his steed, “git along.”

The steed in question was gitting along quite quickly, given the fact that it was basically a horse-sized trilobite. At first, Space Team One had been cautious about the trilobites, but they had so far proved to be pleasant and hard-working prehistoric bugs.

Each of them had a high, round shell, with a dozen or so clicking legs underneath, and more closely resembled giant slaters.

“I don’t think they’re actually trilobites, though,” said Martin. “They’re not from Earth, for a start.”

“Well, Venus had hummingbirds,” said Robert.[1]

“Oh, Earth has hummingbirds as well?” asked Space Dan, who was currently trying to disentangle his cape from between two armour plates of his trilobite’s back. “We have them on Uranus. I guess our planets aren’t so different after all. We’ve both got hummingbirds, and England, and all our swimming pools are full of fish.”

“Ssh!” said Haizea. “Silent Planet, my Arsia Mons.”

“What?” asked Robert.

“Oh,” said Haizea. “We Martians can’t hear anything from your planet Earth, so we call it the Silent Planet.”

“Can you hear the other planets?” asked Aleya.

“…in retrospect, no,” admitted Haizea.

“They’re really more like isopoda,” said Martin, patting his trilobyte fondly. “I will call you…Rocky Pillow-Cow!”

Space Team One continued across the desert sands, the sun beating down on them. During the hottest part of the day, they wrapped cloths around their heads; Haizea simply flipping up her hood, and Safety Ninja slightly loosening his cowl to lower the risk of heatstroke to acceptable workplace levels.

“It’s so hot!” moaned Space Dan.

“Well,” said Aleya, turning around, “maybe you should-”

Space Dan’s brow was sweating profusely under his ceremonial spacesuit’s helmet, which was shaped like a glass lion roaring.

“…never mind,” said Aleya.

“I thought the suit’s air would be cooler,” Space Dan protested.

“It doesn’t have oxygen tanks!”

“Oh, right,” said Space Dan, as his cape got caught up in the trilobite plating for the seventeenth time that day.

At last, they came to the edge of a long, wide plain, which probably would have been used to test how fast cars could go if it was on Earth.

“The Salt Flats,” said Haizea. “We have two options, and the safest is to curve around them. We’ll pass by a few towns, stock up on beans and whiskey, and reach the Path in a few days.”

“Too slow,” said Aleya.

Safety Ninja scribbled something and handed it to Martin to read.

 

Aleya is right

Tannoy Clong is a menace

Swiftness is ideal.

 

“What are those?” asked Martin, pointing to a few very large rocks, which led the way into a bright red valley off to the side.

“That’s the Valley of the Singing Rocks,” said Haizea.

Space Team One listened thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Robert, “I think I can hear them.”

“They do actually have a really nice vibe,” said Aleya. “I can see why you’d call them Singing Rocks.”

“…no, they sing actual songs sometimes,” said Haizea. “Not right now.”

Aleya and Robert both started to vigorously check that their trilobites’ plates were clean.

Space Dan leaned down to scoop up some salt for analysis, and in case they came across chips.

“They’ll start singing when something exciting happens,” Haizea said.

“So, what’s so dangerous about the salt flats?” asked Robert. “Do the rocks occasionally break into post-modern jazz?”

“Sometimes at three in the morning,” said Haizea, “but that’s not why.”

“It’s because salt is delicious,” said Martin, “but if you keep licking the ground as you walk, you’ll eventually end up lost and dehydrated.”

“Ooh, ooh, I know!” said Space Dan. “It’s because the salt combines with bio-magnetic fields produced by the trilobites to make tiny batteries, and since off-brand batteries haven’t been checked by the Council of Battery Standards, people shouldn’t go in the salt flats!”

Safety Ninja smiled, as he appreciated Space Dan’s concern, even though it made literally no sense.

“It’s the heat waves,” said Haizea. “Oni are, of course, invisible.”

“Of course,” said Robert.

“But they can cause distortion in the air,” said Haizea, “just little ripples, you can barely see. And they can be found by listening, just on the edge of hearing. But in the heat of the day, and with the wind…”

The wind wove and whispered across the salt flats, which shimmered with heat off into the distance.

“I’ll take those odds,” said Aleya.

Space Team One and Haizea nudged their trilobites through the salt flats, far from the cool shadows of the Singing Rocks, who remained reticent as ever.

“So, what are all of your stories?” Haizea asked Space Team One.

“Robert’s a rich namby-pamby who is slowly improving,” said Aleya.

“Aleya is angry,” said Martin.

“Safety Ninja comes from a secret ninja school, where he learned to be safe, and also not talk” said Space Dan.[2] “He’s in equal first place with two other people for being My Best Friend.”

Safety Ninja handed Robert a poem.

Man from Uranus

Overly sharpens pencils

And saves whole planet.” Robert read out. “Martin came from Baby Village, bought a bicycle, and accidentally summoned those two amstods you met earlier. And also some other ones, but we haven’t seem them for a while.”

“One of them makes cakes,” said Aleya.

“I did suspect Truffulus,” said Martin.

“No, it’s Astatheriax,” said Robert.

“And one of them keeps trying to kill me!” said Space Dan proudly. “Just the other day, she travelled through time to visit me in prison and pretended like she didn’t even know that she tried to kill me before!”

“Ooh, flirty,” said Aleya sarcastically.

“…maybe she didn’t?” asked Robert.

“What?” said Space Dan. “You mean…I told her how to kill me, by accident?”

“It’s okay, Space Dan,” said Martin. “You obviously did a really bad job at it!”

“Really?” asked Space Dan, smiling in cheerful relief. “Aw, thank you Martin! And look!”

He pointed down at their steeds.

“Now we really are bug-buddies!”

The two grown adults laughed happily, and smacked at each other’s hands from across their trilobites.

“Most of my life doesn’t make sense either,” said Martin, settling back down. “Even from my birth! For when I was found on my parents’ doorstep as a baby, I was holding a mysterious amulet.”

“It was a piece of paper that said your name, date of birth and blood type,” said Robert.

“But that’s not all!” said Martin dramatically. “For as I grew, I discovered that the elders of Baby Village, who were capable of crawling and putting different-shaped blocks into the right shaped holes, had a prophecy.”

“What was it?” asked Space Dan.

“Ooh goo, mmmbbr goo, ga ga.” Martin recited.

Space Dan gasped.

“Shut up!” said Aleya.

“But it’s true!” said Martin.

“No,” said Aleya, holding out her hand, “shut up!”

Space Team One came to an abrupt, nervous stop. They were halfway through the sand flats. The wind whistled around them, and Haizea glanced in all directions.

The wind died down, and for a moment, there was silence.

Then, from somewhere behind them on the empty flats, came the very faint sound of rustling leaves.

“Oni,” breathed Haizea.

Robert began to reach for his machete handle.

“Can you get a lock, Safety Ninja?” he asked.

Safety Ninja shrugged, because as long as the oni had enough water and eye protection, it was beyond his ability to sense.

“Could we kick up a bunch of dust, then watch for it disrupting that?” suggested Aleya.

“That hasn’t worked before,” said Haizea. “They’re truly invisible…masters of their craft.”

“Wh-what is their craft?” asked Space Dan.

“Killing,” said Haizea.

“What do we do?” asked Robert.

Haizea pulled out a long, narrow laser revolver from under her cloak.

“Just be still,” she whispered, “and silent.”

For the first time in Martin’s life, he was inclined to actually follow this kind of request.

They watched closely for any movement in the air. Space Dan thought he heard leaves, and almost fell of his trilobite in surprise, but it had just been his own cape in the wind.

Haizea leveled her laser revolver at a spot off in the distance, and closed one eye, bracing herself against her trilobite.

“It’s getting closer,” she hissed. “If it comes for us, pull out your weapons and form a circle.”

As the oni got closer, little clouds of dust from its meaty invisible footsteps puffed up in the air, and Haizea switched the safety off on her revolver.

The footsteps intensified as the oni ran faster, closing the distance between them, until suddenly-

WHANG. There was a noise like someone running into a metal pole, and the invisible feet slipped over and fell silent.

“Can…can your gun fire invisible bricks?” asked Space Dan. “Cool!”

“No,” said Haizea, for invisible bricks were really expensive.

“Maybe,” said Robert, “oni are allergic to something we have, and that stopped it.”

“Like werewolves and silver,” said Space Dan. “Or the colour puce and hummingbirds.”

“What’s a werewolf?” asked Haizea.

“It’s a man and/or woman that is cursed to turn into a wolf whenever the moon is full,” said Space Dan. “Except sometimes they can also turn into a wolf whenever they feel like it.”

“Mars’ moons don’t get full enough for that,” said Haizea. “Seraion and Serailoth are too small for wolf-rays to bounce off of them.”

She put away her laser-revolver, and took the reins of her trilobite.

“Strange,” she said, of the self-defeating oni. “But let’s not wait until it gets back up again.”

After another hour on the salt flat, they came to another series of dunes, amidst the rise of Serailoth. They all felt safer, with their trilobites back on the shifting sands.

They slowly made progress towards the black spike on the horizon, as evening gradually set in.

Martin opened a water-flask, and put a drop on his finger for Agamemnon, who waddled down his arm and drank from it.

“What is that thing?” asked Haizea, looking over.

“Oh! That’s right!” said Martin. “This is Agamemnon. He’s my best friend in the world tied with Robert and Space Dan and maybe Safety Ninja. I made him in the Foodcombinator!”

Space Dan wrinked up his nose at Agamemnon’s little buzzing noises, and leaned further away on his trilobite.

“You can create life?” asked Haizea.

“I can,” said Martin, “but I may not. So, what’s this Filenailer we’re after, and why does Tannoy Clong want it so badly? Does he have a really bad ingrown toenail or something?”

“Firesabre,” corrected Haizea. “And, I don’t know. I’ve wandered through more towns than spongy gum syndrome, and I still don’t know where it is.”

“Uh…how do you avoid catching spongy gum syndrome?” asked Space Dan. “I’m, um…I’m asking for a friend.”

“Don’t share whisky bottles with Heyurr Stone,” said Haizea. “That’s pretty much it. Look, we’re here!”

An enormous spire of jagged rock stretched its peak up towards the sky over the next dune. As Space Team One crossed the dune and started down the other side, they could see a large, flat outcrop of rock at the spire’s base, with a tall stone door into the ground beneath, guarded by a fierce-looking muscular scorpion man.

As they rode down towards the base, they passed by ancient corpses in strange armour.

“Agh!” shrieked Space Dan. “Are those…Magellans?!”

“No,” said Robert. “Those are Roman soldiers. And look, some Napoleonic-era French. And an…army of clowns?”

The skeletons of the long-dead clowns lay twisted on the sand, their banana cream pies having long-since been eaten away by time, and also by ants.

“Halt!” bellowed the Scorpion Man, shaking his tail. “Who dares approach the Path of the Sun?!”

“It is I, Haizea Ninguno,” said Haizea, “and also…uh…”

“Space Team One,” said Space Dan.

“Why the clowns?” asked Aleya.

“They and the others came to Mars one day,” said the Scorpion Man. “They didn’t question how it happened, and neither should you!”

“How do we get inside the Path of the Sun?” asked Robert. “Riddles? Trial by combat?”

“Bah!” shouted the Scorpion Man. “I care not for such things! You must give me…your visas!”

Martin looked around worriedly for any Sydney Opera House snowglobes he might accidentally upset.

“Uh…we don’t need to have visas,” said Space Dan, “because according to…International Space Law, members of a diplomatic envoy get to go through the Path of the Sun right away. And as the Captain of the SPOOPU craft Falstaff as well as its Level Six Food Preparation Officer, I believe that you’ll find that my papers don’t need to be in order!”

The Scorpion Man, eager to avoid the paperwork that red tape invariably resulted in, considered this.

“…I could repeat myself in the scorpion language,” said Space Dan. “I think I picked some up on a time moon once.”

“Hey!” said the Scorpion Man. “Do you think that all scorpions speak the same language everywhere?!”

“Uh…I hadn’t considered that, to be honest,” said Space Dan.

“Oh, just go through,” said the Scorpion Man. “As long as you’re not carrying any fruit or explosives.”

Space Dan looked conspicuously casually over at the saddlebags on either side of his trilobite, for he had an entire bunch of Uranian bananas stowed in one.

“We haven’t got anything like that,” said Aleya, despite having a wallet full of explosion patches.

Her face remained believable, however, being used to such interactions.

“Well, you’ll have to get checked by our dogs,” glowered the Scorpion Man.

Said dogs wandered out, and spent the next twenty minutes playing with Martin.

“How, uh…how do you train those?” asked Robert.

He and the others had been collecting their equipment from the trilobites, as the door into the rock was too narrow to keep riding.

“I think they’re weird looking!” said Space Dan. “What are they called again? Dods? They’re all sniffy!”

One of the dogs came over and looked up at him.

“Errrgh!”

Space Dan squeamed away from the dog, only to find himself face-to-face with Agamemnon.

“Let’s just go down into the path now!” he said nervously.

The sun set on Mars as Space Team One approached the stone door. The huge spire of rock seemed to split the sun itself in two as it set behind it, like an experiment performed by an enormous cosmic Thomas Young.

“The Path of the Sun,” said the Scorpion Man, “where the sun enters Mars, to sleep in the realm of eternal night, before bringing the dawn when it completes its passage.”

“But if the sun enters the realm of night, wouldn’t it become daytime?” asked Martin. “And how can the sun sleep if it’s still walking along a path? And-”

Robert took Martin by the shoulders and steered him towards the stone doors.

As the last rays of the sun burst over the base of the spire, Aleya and Haizea pushed the two towering doors open, and the rest of Space Team One walked through into the dark, rocky tunnel beyond.

The two women slipped inside and let go of the doors. With a great shudder and a gentle roar of stone scraping stone, the doors went forward and back, swinging like a colossal saloon door.

 

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[1] Unbeknownst to either of them, the trilobites originally were from Earth, having been transported to Mars the same way as Edgar the Groundskeeper. Since the Martian gravity was less than Earth’s, the trilobites grew large in their new environment, and were favoured by the natives of the planet because the Martian Horse is very small, extremely nervous, and has large spikes all over it.

[2] Both things which Space Dan failed to learn in any form of his schooling.