Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The Planet of Peril

Surface of Mars. Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Surface of Mars. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

It would have been an exaggeration to describe the planet Mars as “calm”. Scientists on Earth would have said that because the grid hid the events that were taking place on this desert planet from their prying eyes. Life had changed a lot since the climate catastrophe. Mars had previously been made up of large deserts, but it had gotten worse since the atmosphere was no longer renewed. The Martians had withdrawn to domed cities. The domed cities of Mars had always been epicentres for social unrest. And whenever the unrest increased, there was some high-ranking military member who willingly supported a politician. Then propaganda was carried out so that one could emigrate to other planets, one only had to conquer them. However, any attempt to conquer has so far failed. Not even the radical cult that followed the “Eternal” was successful. And in a world like Mars, that meant something.

The domed city Aresium was the capital of the planet. You could say that this was the most civilized place. But that was not an award. “Civilized” was a very relative description on Mars. The dome of Aresium spanned a large crater in the northern hemisphere of the planet. There was the city of Aresium itself with its tall buildings, several parks that were important for the preservation of the air and even a body of water. The water was also important for the ecological balance under the dome. The city had a whole authority that only dealt with the issues of balance.

Jarmo Dorak turned around. He stood close to a building under some sort of sun shield. He wore the black uniform shirt of STAR COMMAND, together with the trousers in khaki colours so everybody near him could recognize him as an officer of the space fleet. But he would have been recognized anyway.

Jarmo Dorak. Picture by ASTROCOHORS.com
Jarmo Dorak. Picture by ASTROCOHORS.com

Jarmo was still fascinated. He had seen inhabitants of other planets in the solar system many times before, but never had so many different ones in one place. They all looked like human beings from Earth, but what made them different was skin color. Of course, they looked like people from Earth, the ACELS had made them from Earth humans and adjusted their DNA. Martians, for example, were characterized by their extremely red skin tone.
“I shouldn’t be staring at her,” Jarmo said to himself. Perhaps the Martians felt that as an insult. And when they were offended, the Martians could get very unpleasant.

The dome’s waters sprang from various sources that were carefully monitored. And pretty much in the middle of the crater they ran into a large lake. The lake was the basis of life for many residents of Aresium. There were fishermen here, but also transport boats. Many goods were transported from one side of the lake to the other. Here, where Jarmo was, was the city’s residential and business district. There were large industrial plants on the other side of the lake. There was, of course, its own weather under the dome and, as so often on Mars, it was warm. The sun did not have the same power as on Earth, but there were fewer clouds. If any.

Jarmo sauntered down a sprawling promenade and reached a large structure that seemed to be made of something similar to wood. A pier, a large jetty that led from the promenade across the beach below into the water. The pier ended at a large platform. Here were small houses or stalls, to be exact. And a…
Was that a crane?

Although Jarmo had noticed the steel scaffolding and also that a lot of Martians were there, but now he realized why they were there. The crane had a winch, from which a rope was led over the boom, which hung down into the water. Jarmo had not seen it at first, but there was a person hanging from the rope! Not the way someone hanged someone to strangle him. No, the rope of the crane was wrapped around the person’s ankles, so that she hung with her head down in the water.
And that was why Jarmo had not noticed the person at first: she had been under water. Now he heard the crowd of Martians next to the crane yelling and screaming. Someone operated the crane and that was cheered on by the crowd.

Jarmo could only guess what the reason for this cruel spectacle was. But it was a very good guess. Because the person who was hanging on the rope was a Terran. And she had a dark skin, probably African roots, even if she did not even come directly from this continent.
Now Jarmo noticed a second group of people who stood aloof, but behaved completely differently. They were crowded together, talking softly. You could see that they did not like the spectacle, but they did not have the courage to intervene. That was no wonder, because all these people belonged to minorities. Green-skinned Venusians, blue-skinned Neptunians, people from Saturn and so forth. And Martian “Un-Pures”.

Jarmo had already heard about it: Amongst the Martians, a kind of “culture of purity” had developed. The pigments in the skin of an average Martians had to be red, then he was “pure”. But in the course of history many peoples had immigrated to the territory of the Solar System. Children from mixed relationships could be recognized immediately by a different skin tone or darker spots. It was simply a whim of nature, nature loved diversity, not monotony. The spots sometimes formed interesting patterns, may have different shades. But it led to exclusion. The darker and larger the spots were, the more the “pure” Martians looked down on others.

And now there had come a Terran whose skin was completely dark. An abomination for the “pure”! Such things were extremely rare among the Martians. Apparently that was reason enough for the mob to go crazy. Now you could even understand, what the crowd was yelling: “Mag’a! Mag’a! Mag’a!” It was a Martian word meaning “Eternal”. At least some of them supposedly were radical cultist. The rest were just followers.

“Please sir!” Jarmo Dorak turner around. He had been so focused on the crowd that he had not noticed how a man approached him. A Martian with a green pattern on the skin.
“Please, sir!” The man repeated. “I see you are also appalled by this. Please do something, we can not do anything without exposing ourself to the wrath of the crowd! She comes from your world, right?”
The Terran nodded. The young woman was about his age, about the end of her twenties. She had curly dark hair and wore nothing but a bikini. Apparently her clothes had been ripped off her.
She has just been pulled up again. You could hear her all over the pier gasping for air. The Martian operating the crane shouted: “Down again, yes?”
The crowd yelled. Maybe something like “Yes!” It was not understandable and it did not really matter. A button was pressed. The winch released the rope. The young Terran fell like a stone into the water. With a slpashing sound she disappeared between the waves.
“Get them up again!” Shouted the man who operated the winch. “Then she’s allowed to breathe again, and then let’s see how long she can stand underwater! They say Terrans are good athletes, let’s find out!”
Jarmo now knew he had to act quickly. But he too had no chance against the crowd. He had to do something different.
He winked at the Martian who was standing next to him. Then he ran from the pier down to the beach, under the construction.
He took off his clothes. He left his underpants on and hoped that the water would not be too cold. Above, the crowd screamed. He took his multifunction tool from a trouser pocket and went a few steps into the water. Not too cold, he noted. He went into the water and started to swim, always making sure to stay under the pier. The crowd up there should not see him.

Then it happened!

With a splash, the woman fell into the water and sank immediately. Jarmo did not understand that. Yes, her feet were tied up, but why did she sink in the water? Jarmo took a deep breath and went under.

The water was fortunately clear enough so that he could see. He saw the woman sinking to the bottom. Desperately, she moved her arms. Jarmo realized that the rope tied around her feet held a weight that pulled her down. And either she was not a good swimmer or just too exhausted, so she could not make it back to the surface.
Jarmo swam up to her. He realized that she was startled when he touched her feet. He took his tool and cut into the rope. It was tiring, but he managed to cut right through the rope.

He noticed that a large part of the rope lay loosely on the ground. The guy on the winch had given a lot of rope. He obviously wanted to make sure that the woman was really on the ground of the lake. He grabbed the woman and pulled her away under water until both were under the pier. Then they showed up. The woman gasped loudly. Jarmo hoped the waves were louder. He hoped the Martians on the pier wouldn’t hear them.
“Can you hold on here?” Asked Jarmo.
The woman was still breathing frantically, but she nodded her head.
“Why?” She wanted to know.
“I have to do something else.”
Then he dived again.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Underwater Jarmo grabbed the lose end of the rope and swam toward one of the pillars that held the platform of the pier. He put the rope around the pillar and knotted it. Then he swam back to the woman and surfaced.
“I’ll take you to the beach,” he said to the woman. Then he took her under her arms and dragged her to the beach in the cover of the pier.
Arrived in the shallow water, she simply remained face down. She was completely out of breath. Jarmo saw that her face was not in the water and let her breathe first. For now, they would be safe here. Then he saw how the rope tensed. The crowd wanted to see the woman pulled up again. But as the rope was now tied to the pillar, nothing moved. Then he heard the engine of the winch howl. The guy upstairs had given more energy. And then it happened: Since the rope did not come loose, the crane was torn from its mount. He fell forward and smashed into the pier. People screamed and ran off in panic while the front of the pier slowly collapsed.

“That’ll be a lesson to them,” Jarmo muttered.
“I do not think so.” The young woman had said that. She slowly raised her head and looked at Jarmo. “Thanks for getting me out of there.”
“Never mind,” Jarmo replied, holding out his hand. “I am Jarmo Dorak.”
The woman took his hand. “Aisha McClure,” she said. She straightened her and looked down at herself. “Where did these barbarians put my clothes and my glasses?”
Jarmo also got up. “I do not know,” he answered. “I came only when you were already on the rope.”
“I can not walk this way!” She said indignantly.
“Up there were some people who had nothing to do with the mob, I’ll ask them, maybe they saw something.”
He wanted to leave, but Aisha grabbed him by the shoulder. “Hey!” She said. “Although that’s a nice sight, but you can not walk the streets like that either!”
“Damn, I did not think about that anymore!” He walked over to the spot where he had taken off his clothes. At that moment, the Martian came running, with whom Jarmo had previously spoken. He had big towels with them.
“Fast, fast,” said he. “The evil ones are gone, but they’ll be back, and then they’ll want to know what happened.”
Aisha and Jarmo wrapped themselves in the towels.
“We bring you to our homes,” said the Martian. “You can warm up there.”
“Did you happen to find my clothes?” Aisha asked.
“Yes, we did, and your glasses are safe too, we saved everything.”
Jarmo smiled at Aisha and she smiled back.
“Hurry now!” Demanded the Martian.
“What an adventure,” thought Jarmo. “I only came here because of the library.”

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