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Why Mars Gives A Red Light






Part of: Other World Life
From: Pharaoh's Broker

Our telescope was now pointed exactly at Mars, and we were observing
every feature as we approached him. Compared with the illuminated
crescent of the Earth, which we had studied when we were observing the
Andes, our present view was infinitely vaster and more comprehensive. We
were approaching the illuminated side of a planet, whereas we had then
been rapidly receding from the dark side of one partly lighted at its
edge. In our new vista there were remarkably few clouds. There were a
few pale mists here and there over the seas, but no such heavy, black
masses as had frequently obscured the Earth.

On Mars there were fewer large bodies of water, and a very much greater
proportion of land. In fact, about the Equator, whither we were
steering, there seemed to be a broad, uninterrupted zone of land, with
occasional bays or inlets cutting into it, but never crossing it. An
open sea of considerable proportions surrounded the great ice-cap at
each pole, and it was apparently thus possible to travel entirely
around the globe, either by sea or by land, as one might choose.

"Behold again the infinite wisdom of the Creator!" cried the doctor.
"Although Mars is a much smaller planet than our own, it is fitted for
almost as large a population. The land is nearly all grouped about the
Equator, where it is warm enough to live comfortably. On the contrary,
on Earth there is no important civilization under the Equator, and most
of the land is favourably located in the north temperate zone. On Earth
the intervention of great oceans between the continents kept the
population restricted to Asia and Egypt for centuries, and to the Old
World for a still longer time. But here, this band of continuous land
has made it easy and natural to explore the whole globe, and its
inhabitants have had ample time and opportunity to distribute
themselves."

But by far the most wonderful thing that we had been observing for a
long time, and which became more remarkable as we approached, was that
the entire planet, seas and continents alike, gave off a reddish light.
This tinge of red had been visible ever since we had left the Earth.
Much further back we had observed that it seemed to extend a little
beyond the outline of Mars, and we now saw that even the white light
from the snow-caps had a faint tinge of red.

"For centuries the ruddy light of this planet has been remarked," said
the doctor. "His very name was given him because of his gory, warlike
appearance. Scientists have attempted to explain it by supposing that
his vegetation is uniformly red, instead of green like ours. Still
others, objecting that his vegetation could not possibly be rank or
plentiful, or continue the same colour through all seasons, have
supposed that his soil or primaeval rock is of a deep red colour. But
neither of these suppositions explain why his seas should give off a
reddish light mixed with their green, or why the pure white of polar
snows should be tinged with crimson."

We must have been still two hundred miles above the surface when the
barometer began to rise feebly, indicating that we were already entering
the Martian atmosphere; and, as we proceeded, the reddish glow spread
all around us, and was even dimly visible behind as well as in front. We
were still travelling too rapidly to plunge into the denser atmosphere
or attempt a landing. Besides, we wished to explore the planet, and find
life and civilization before choosing a landing place. And as we drew
nearer, in a constantly narrowing circle, that red haze was all about us
everywhere.

"There can be but one explanation of it," said the doctor at last. "This
red is a colour in the Martian atmosphere. It seems very strange and
almost impossible to us; but we must prepare ourselves for extremely
unusual and even apparently impossible things."

But this seemed to disturb the doctor greatly, as also did the fact that
we could no longer breathe with comfort the rare air which we had not
found objectionable far back in space. Our returning weight made
physical effort again necessary, and we were able to exert ourselves but
little without panting and gasping. The rarest air we had used had shown
a pressure of fourteen, and we were now compelled to increase this to
eighteen in order to be comfortable.

"This Martian air is sure to give us trouble," the doctor said to me
after considerable reflection. "In the first place, its red colour makes
me fear it is not composed of the same gases that our air is. If it
should turn out to be a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, like ours, there
is the possibility that this red matter which gives it colour will be
poisonous to us. And even if it is not harmful, I do not think the air
will have a pressure above ten or eleven, and we seem to need eighteen
or twenty for comfort. I shall be very sorry if we have to return at
once; but our supply of air is limited, you know."

"You keep a close watch through your telescope for those flying men you
promised to show me," I answered. "If they can live in this air, I think
we can manage it somehow. I will not go back while there is a breath
left in me."

But as we drew nearer and nearer to the surface we did not discover the
slightest sign of habitation. As far as we could see there was a great
desert, barren of all vegetation, and apparently unwatered since
creation. Our telescope did not detect the existence even of animals or
creeping things.

"The wisdom of the Creator is probably quite as profound, but certainly
not as apparent just here as it was somewhat farther back," I ventured.

"We must search over the whole surface of the globe until we find smoke
rising," said the doctor. "That is the sure sign of intelligent life on
Earth. There has hardly been a tribe of the lowest savages there which
did not know how to light a fire, and this knowledge would be far more
essential on a cold planet like this. Wherever we find smoke we shall
find those intellectual creatures, corresponding to men on our planet."

Presently, far ahead of us, we discerned a small black cloud rapidly
crossing our path. As we approached we examined it through the
telescope, and soon saw that it was nothing less than an enormous flock
of swiftly-flying small grey birds. This was our first acquaintance with
what we afterwards found to be the predominating form of animal life on
the planet. But the swift-winged cloud bore away from us, as if fleeing
from the desert, and was soon lost to view.

It was not long after this that we perceived a broad stripe of
brilliant green extending down into the dull expanse of the desert. In
the middle of this verdant zone there was a weaving silver ribbon, which
could be nothing else than a great river, along whose banks we could
discern hundreds of hovering or wading birds, hopping lugubriously, or
spreading their broad wings in a low flight.

As we now lowered rapidly to examine the soil more closely, we saw that
we were approaching some great geometrical masses of hewn rock, whose
regularity of design indicated that they were buildings of some sort. We
at once decided to land and investigate these, even if we had to take up
our search for intelligent life later.

We remarked that none of these enormous structures were square, or with
right-angled corners, such as we were used to. They all seemed to be a
combination or multiplication of a single design, which was nothing more
than a massive triangular wall, with its right angle on the ground and
its acute angle at the top. Sometimes two were built together, with
their perpendicular surfaces joining; again, four were joined in the
same manner, and one very large one was composed of twelve of these,
radiating from a common centre, which, if they had quite joined each
other, would have formed a gigantic cone.

I took another look at the tall, slender birds down the river, and
remarked to the doctor,--

"These great structures are no birds' nests! You can't make me believe
winged men would build with stone. These look more like giants'
playthings than anything else."

"They appear to me like the gnomons of enormous sundials," remarked the
doctor; "and, indeed, their uses must certainly be astronomical. With
these one can not only tell the time, but the ascension and meridian of
the sun and stars, and therefore the months and seasons."

We lowered and circled about above the largest one, which had twelve of
the triangular walls built in circular form, with their common
perpendicular line in the centre and their acute angles at the
circumference. On closer observation, the twelve slanting sides, which
radiated from the common peak, had a tubular appearance, and we were
soon able to look down through almost a hundred great cylindrical
chambers, which ran from a common opening at the top, slanting at every
different angle down to the surface.

"These are nothing more than great, immovable masonry telescopes, for
watching the stars in their courses!" cried the doctor. "Look, there is
one perpendicular cylinder for observing just when a star or planet
comes directly overhead, and these scores of other cylinders, at
different angles, successively afford a view of a given constellation as
it rises and then declines."

"Then they have built a separate masonry telescope, pointing in almost
every conceivable direction, instead of having one movable telescope to
take any direction," said I.

The wonderful size and massive construction of these was very striking,
rivalling the pyramids of Egypt in their ponderous and enduring
character. They were located on a raised plateau, whence the view in all
directions was quite unobstructed. We came gently to land in the midst
of them. To the rear, whence we had come, I could see the desolate waste
of the desert. From the forward window we observed that the peaceful
river kept a straight course from the cataract where it plunged over the
plateau, through the green valley, between level banks, as far as we
could see; and just at the foot of our plateau restfully nestled a city,
whose massive and towering structures reached almost to our level. With
the aid of the telescope we saw beings moving slowly about. Their form
was upright and unwinged, but more than this we could not see. The
deliberation and stately dignity of their movements comported perfectly
with the majestic city wherein they dwelt.

"At last we have arrived at the boundaries of Martian civilization,"
exclaimed the doctor. "We will rest here and test the atmosphere; and if
it permits us, we will then venture forth to measure our skill and
knowledge against this race of builders. I hazard a guess that we will
excel them in many things, for they are apparently only at the
perfection of their Stone Age, while we finished that long ago, and have
since passed through the Ages of Iron and of Steam, and are now at the
dawn of the Era of Magnetism and Gravitation. Our minds are more fertile
and elastic, for with this little movable telescope we probably obtain
better results than they have done with their years of toiling
calculation and patient building."

"You will be sadly disappointed if they so far excel us that they eat us
up at two mouthfuls," said I. "As they move about yonder, they impress
me as being full of power."

"They are as sluggish as elephants," he replied. "We are certainly more
rapid in thought and action, and it is highly probable that we shall
excel them in physical strength, as we have been built for three times
as heavy muscular tasks as they."

"Still, if we cannot make them understand that we come peaceably as
friends, they may attempt to kill us as the quickest solution of the
question. And they are a whole race against two of us," said I, just
beginning to realize all the difficulties that were yet ahead of us.

"Unless they are a very intelligent and magnanimous race, they will
probably attempt to take us prisoners," he answered. "It is the mark of
an enlightened nation to welcome strangers whose powers are unknown. A
primitive race fears everything it does not understand, and force is
its only argument against a superior intelligence."

Thereupon I immediately began a thorough overhauling of all the arms and
ammunition, while the doctor prepared to test the air. There was a tone
of confident exultation in his voice when he spoke again.

"This redness of the air will not trouble us a whit. Look! you can see
no tinge of red between here and that huge wall yonder, nor anywhere
along the ground as far as you can see. It is so slight a colouring that
it is only noticeable in vast reaches of atmosphere, like the blue
colour in our own air. See here, where a small cloud obscures the sky
there is no ruddy tinge. There is no more colouring-matter in this than
there is indigo in our own air. The amount of it is so infinitely small
that it will never trouble us. Now, if it only contains oxygen enough,
we are sure of life in it."

"Yes, if they will leave us alive to breathe it," I added, counting out
seventeen cartridges for each rifle.

"The air outside shows a pressure of only eleven, while we have eighteen
inside," he said. "I will bring in the discharging cylinder full of the
outer air, and by keeping it upside down the lighter air will remain in
it. Then, if a candle flame will burn steadily in it, the oxygen we need
is there."

Suiting the action to the word, he carefully drew in the inverted
cylinder, and cautiously brought a lighted candle into it. To our great
delight the flame burned for a moment with a brighter, stronger light
than it did in the air of the compartment.

"Hurrah!" cried the doctor, as happily as if he had just earned the
right to live. "It seems to have more oxygen than our own air, which
will make up for the lesser density."

Then he put the lighted candle in the cylinder, and quickly discharged
it outside upon the ground where we could see it. The flame had almost
twice the brilliancy that it had had inside.

"Our scientists who have sneered at the possibility of life on Mars,
because of its rare atmosphere, have overlooked the simplicity of the
problem. They delight in propounding posers for Omnipotence. If a
Creator dilutes oxygen with three parts of nitrogen on one planet where
conditions make a dense atmosphere, why should He not dilute oxygen with
an equal part of nitrogen on a planet where the air is rare? Air is not
a chemical compound, but a simple mixture. When a stronger, more
life-giving atmosphere is needed, let there be less of the diluting gas.
The nitrogen is of no known use, except to weaken the oxygen."

"Let me out into it, if you say it is all right," I cried. "I am tired
of this bird-cage."

"Put on the diver's suit and helmet, and I will weaken the pressure of
the air gradually, to prevent bleeding at the nose and ears which a
sudden change might cause. When you are used to the low pressure, you
can throw off the helmet and try the Martian double-oxygenated air."

I hurriedly donned the queer, baggy suit and the enormous helmet with
the bulging glass eyes, and then connected the two long rubber tubes
which sprang from the top with the air pipes which led to the doctor's
compartment. He put in the bulkhead, and I went to the port-hole to
unseal it. As I glanced out the little window, I thought I saw a light
very near the mica. Was it our candle flame that something had lifted?
The thick glass of the helmet blinded me a little, and I approached the
window and peered out, coming face to face with a Martian, whose nose
was pressed against the mica! What a rounded, smooth, and expressionless
face! But what large, deep, luminous eyes!

I sprang back from the window in surprise, but not more quickly than he
did. Just then the projectile rolled over slightly with a crunching
noise, and I hear the thud of a heavy muffled blow on the doctor's end.
Suddenly he pulled away the bulkhead and whispered to me excitedly:--

"They are all about us outside--dozens of them! They are examining the
projectile and trying to break it open. If they strike the windows, it
will be too easy."

The projectile tottered a little again. There was a heaving noise, and
one end rose a little from the ground.

"They are trying to carry us off, Doctor," I cried. "You must turn in
the currents and fly away from them."

The projectile was just then lifted awkwardly, and wavered a little and
pitched, as if it were being carried by a throng struggling clumsily all
about it. The doctor sprang to his apparatus and turned in four
batteries at once. We shot up swiftly in a long curve, and from my
window I could see the circle of amazed Martians, standing dumbly with
their hands still held up in front of them, as they had been when the
projectile left them, while they gazed open-mouthed into the sky at us.





Next: The Terror Birds

Previous: The Mystery Of A Minus Weight



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