Caught Flat-footed

by Erik Cotton


I had just called in sick to work a few minutes ago. I didn’t feel all that bad, I was just sick of work. You know the deal, too much work, too little pay. Besides, it was a nice day and I wanted to go driving.

But first, I wanted to check out the news on the ’Net. I fired up my Toshiba laptop and waited for NT to load. Nice OS, NT. Doesn’t crash, doesn’t give me problems. But I digress.

The news from around the world was the usual drivel. Renewed fighting there, instability here, famine, plague, and pestilence everywhere. Even here in Melbourne we had serious problems. In other words, typical news day. The wonderful thing about the ’Net, of course, is the plethora of alternative news sites within reach. You have “news for nerds, stuff that matters,” “all the news that fits, we print,” tinfoil hat wearing news; you name it, it’s out there.

In any case, a foreign news service, located in a newly republic land, had claimed to have new pictures of a city on Mars. I figured they were a little late with the face on Mars bit, but I didn’t recognize the images.

I scanned the article, translated by someone who might have heard English once or twice in their life. The details were light (of course) but the images were, I have to admit, intriguing. High resolution, full colour (or perhaps slightly colour-enhanced) pictures of… something anyway. Could have been a city. Could also have been anywhere in Nevada or our own outback as well. A few hyperlinks to other resources brought me to an exposition from some “renowned astronomer” on the newly discovered “city.” Light angles, artificial lines, blah blah blah de blah blah. Lots of pseudo-scientific BS, but it killed an hour anyway.

In any case, I disconnected from the world at large and headed upstairs to take a shower. While in the shower, I let my mind wander over the article and the pictures. We’ve sent plenty of craft to our red neighbor, some of them even landed intact. But never have we found signs of life, or fossils, or traces of anything other than red dirt.

Which led me to the question: If there was once life on Mars, where is it now?

The obvious answer is: Not there. The air is too thin, the atmosphere too cold, and the conditions too harsh. Sure, Mars is much older than Earth so I suppose it’s possible that life once existed there.

I don’t know if it was the hot water or my sunny disposition that helped, but suddenly it was perfectly clear.

Look at it this way: Mars is much older than Earth, as I’ve said. It’s smaller and further from the sun, it could have been developing life while we were still cooling off on the cookie sheet. If there was life on Mars it too must be much older than Humanity. Older usually (though not always) means more advanced. From the studies we’ve done on Mars, there doesn’t appear to be any signs of catastrophic change. Mars died slowly. Slowly enough, I’m sure, for the Martians to have seen it coming. If they saw it coming, they could do something about it. Like migrate.

Migration would be easy, a one-way ticket to a better place. Not further away from their planet, but closer to the Sun, someplace warm, with water and food and a good atmosphere. Earth would be a natural option.

Just one catch, it’s already inhabited; by creatures that are bigger, meaner, and probably faster too: the dinosaurs and their sea-going brethren. Hard to immigrate when your neighbor wants to eat you.

Okay, as I’ve said, the Martians have got to be more advanced, at least at the time of their mass migration. So they want to move to Earth, but the neighbors aren’t friendly. What do they do? It’s simple. Mars doesn’t really have moons, they’ve got two big asteroids that were captured by the planet’s gravity.

What if there had been a third? It would be child’s play for them to hurl that rock elsewhere. Like towards Earth. One little rock, about two miles in diameter, hurtling at terminal velocity would solve the neighbor equation. And cool things down a bit, perhaps to a more Mars-like temperature.

So they chuck their third moon at Earth, wait for the hit and the following Big Chill, give it fifty years or so, and start the move. Once here, they can set up shop again and take over where they left off on Mars.


Illustration by J. Andrew World

But something must have gone wrong. We, humans that is, are clearly not the Martians. Too much fossil evidence to the contrary. Plus the lack of an advanced civilization means we’re not it. So what happened?

The Martians, for all their intellect and planning, must have miscalculated somewhere. Either the changing atmosphere was too much for them, or, more likely, Earth’s inhabitants were more resilient then they figured. Sure, all the big carnivores died out, but animals like the Sabertooth Cat liked the new weather just fine. And the herds of Woolly Mammoths stampeding hell-bent for leather must have put a serious crimp in their plans as well.

So where are they? The fossil record, though incomplete, has shown nothing that would scream “extra-terrestrial” or even “odd.” Did they leave? Unlikely, there’s nowhere else in this solar system to go. It’s possible they died out, but again, unlikely, some kind of trace should have been left behind, cities, technology… something.

No, waitaminute. Of course! They arrive here, with as much of their technology and people as they can bring, and Earth is not to their liking. So there’s a schism. A feud. One side wants to leave, the other side to stay and tough it out. The rebel faction wins, and takes the ships and the tech, and leaves. Leaving the others to their fate here on this inhospitable world. But those left behind are not quitters. They’ve come all this way, they’re not going to simply roll over and die. Not without a fight.

So, where does that leave our Martian friends? Unlikely that they are dead, but perhaps the daily struggle for survival was too much for them to allow much in the way of advancement. In other words, they couldn’t put their Martian society back together again, all their time was occupied with survival.

Okay, so that means they had to have been small. Not insect size, but dog-sized. Small enough to be prey to many other animals, but big enough to not disappear entirely. And then good ol’ Mother Nature kicks in! Of course! It’s all so clear to me now! The Martians can’t survive the way they are, so they have got to change, adapt to the new conditions on Earth. Darwin wins again.

Which means, the Martians are still among us. But which species? They’re not native to here, so the adaptation can’t be fully complete, there’s still some Martian in them. Every animal on this planet has adapted to fit their surroundings, to conform. Even species like panda bears have adapted to eating foods they were not meant to eat, just to survive the changing environment.

Every animal but one. What has been called “God’s last joke on Mankind?”

What animal simply defies logic?

Cogito ergo sum: The platypus.

Listen, it’s perfect.

Fact: The platypus is a mammal, yet it lays eggs.

Fact: It’s venomous, but the venom isn’t used as a digestive aid.

Fact: It’s carnivorous, but has no teeth.

Fact: Its main food comes from the water, but when in water, it’s blind.

Fact: It’s got webbed feet, yet spends most of its time on dry land.

Fact: It’s covered in fur, but its body temperature is lower than that of the surroundings.

It all fits, it makes perfect sense. The lowly platypus, constrained to the far eastern part of Australia, and nowhere else, are the remnants of the Martians.

I could see it clearly. Here they are, small enough to be a mere snack to the ferocious dinosaurs, and virtually everything else on Earth. So they wipe out the inhabitants and render Earth safe. But they miscalculate the tenacity of Earth’s creatures. Others arise to take the place of the dinosaurs. But by then it’s too late, the platypuses are on their way to Earth, and it’s a one-way ticket. They land and it’s too cold for them and lots of other animals want to eat them.

The civil war ensues and the winners take the food, and the starships, and the weapons and leave. The rest, stranded, manage to survive, but barely. Survival is so tenuous in fact, that they can’t do anything else, like rebuild their civilization. Soon knowledge becomes lost, their skills atrophy under the constant battle for survival.

But they survive, and slowly, ever so slowly, adapt. But not perfectly, their Martian past is still too ingrained to disappear entirely. Hence the fact that the platypus is an anomaly. They don’t fit because they can’t, they’re not native.

The idea was going to re-write the history books. They would study the platypus like never before, and realize what I already know. We Are Not Alone. I was going to be famous…

Just then, I heard a knocking on the front door. I jumped out of my still hot shower and quickly wrapped a towel around myself.

Downstairs I heard the knock again. I took the stairs three at a time, flushed with the energy of a world-changing discovery. I yanked open the door… There was no one there. Suddenly I felt a sharp stab in my ankle. I looked down…

…At three platypuses, one with his back to me and his hind leg up so I could clearly see the spine that had just pricked me with deadly venom.

I’d overlooked one critical detail in my epiphany. Communication. The platypuses were obviously advanced, yet never vocalized. They didn’t need to, they were telepathic.

And all this time had been scanning Earth’s inhabitants, looking for signs that we knew.

And I knew, and they knew I knew, and therefore I had to go.

I tumbled to the floor and the world went black.

platypi attack

Illustration by J. Andrew World


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