A night on Mars


A night on Mars. The stars in her eyes as she peered deeply into the night sky. Home alone in her capsule. Home like when she was young. Wedged like a sphynx into a curvature that bore through the outside wall of the rectangular enclosure and held its lone window - a clear, circular lens capturing the brilliance of the constellations above Mars.

Wrapped and snug in a thick, wool hand-me-down she’d taken along with her as a reminder. Thinking occasionally about the woman in 4A and how the woman had turned and smiled softly at her while she was checking in. 4A, she’d overheard from where she stood in line behind her.

The starlight bathed the modular trappings behind her in cavendish hues of grey. Alternately dim and radiant in spots and revealing scattered luggage of the sort that could only be attributed to a life on the run. A soul without a permanent host and a host without a permanent place of residence.

The constellations outside her modest window teased epics of escape and of adventure and of travels more daring than she could ever imagine. She drew long breaths at times when the effects of her vivid imagination of life at warp speed crossed over from cruelty and mere frustration into self-inflicted torture.

A city thrived beneath the stars and competed for her attention. A cluster of riotous, sky-high dancefloors facilitating interstellar dalliances and quiet capsule-towers for travelers waiting on connecting flights within the ragged system. Towers much like the one she’d checked into. She wondered again about the woman in 4A.

Was she human or was she merely uncanny like her? She kept guarded her hopes for the truth about the nature of the woman’s circuitry. A smile that bright could never belong to machinery, she thought, aiming defiantly to shield herself from any heartbreak that would result from her getting her hopes up that the woman was the rare uncanny capable of inflicting damage on her circuit-boards enough to have her thinking about anyone so longingly.

The city on Mars glowed an oppressive maroon in the nighttime hours - deep and easily obscured in the shadows and reflections of the planet’s encounters with light from its sun and from the suns of distant systems. The more luxurious towers within the city - the ones patroned enough to never have to stack life capsules in all their dehumanizing splendor - pulled her gaze momentarily toward them.

Behind the windows to those rooms lay many like her who’d been pulled into professions as objects of gratification for the well-heeled and well-traveled among the humans within the system.

But she could only speculate based on her past as one. Very easily and very quickly she would become bored and lose interest in those torrid tales when the reflections on the luminous facades of those towers would capture warp-vessels gearing up for jumps taking them from Mars and plunging them deep into the recesses of known and observable space.

She often dreamed of life as an astronaut. As a pilgrim and as an adventurer. She’d be the first contact between the inhabitants of the system - ever set in their ways - and an alien species unable and uninterested in noting the difference between the humans and the uncannies.

Some of the towers within the city’s skyline glowed and flickered and littered the Martian sky with light - faded and crimson in color against the indiscriminate darkness of interstellar space.

Behind those sedate flickers of red, she observed dancing. Couplings of twos and threes and fours presented to her in silhouettes and fixed in motion running the gamut from garish to graceful. Details of their menageries bled into her peripheral like embers against the darkened monoliths comprising the towers on Mars.

A fleeting memory stirred within her. A vision of balmy Martian nights spent dancing in any one of those nightclubs and having so much fun as to forget her programming. To forget momentarily who she was. A trip down an elevator to her dance partner’s room and a sudden and unwelcome reminder that she was machinery and all that was to happen to her that night would not require her consent.

She shut her eyes briefly and hoped for the morning on Mars and the faint light from the sun that would fall on the towers and remind her of the mornings on the planet Earth. She’d squint slightly so the light was bright enough against the towers that she could pretend she was back home on the third-most planet from the system’s luminous core.

She’d pretend that she was a child again and that she hadn’t yet been made aware that she was uncanny. That she hadn’t yet begun to notice the other children jump at the sight of her. At the sight of her smile. She thought again about the woman in 4A and her smile and how it never seemed unsettling.

She knew already what it was like to be on the receiving end of an unsettling smile - an uncanny smile. She picked up her faint reflection of herself against the window to her capsule and memories of a tortured childhood she forever fought to keep hidden came rushing back.

In the morning she woke from where she’d fallen behind the window to the sound of someone knocking lightly against it. The woman in 4A. Dressed sharply and smiling again as she hung from the railing of a stairwell that ran all the way down the wall of the tower.

She steadied her wayward mind just enough so she could query her lip-reading protocol and make out what the woman was saying to her from outside her window.

“Let me in,” the woman was saying.

Against her better judgement, she pulled hard against the impossible latch to open the circular window to her capsule and the woman was promptly inside the enclosure. After standing and dusting herself off, the woman spoke again.

“I’m uncanny.”

“You’re-- you’re safe here,” she stammered, suddenly intrigued at how well the woman passed as human even now, smiling as she revealed her nature to her.

“So are you,” the woman replied finally. “I nearly missed it in your smile.”

She blushed.

A speck in the morning sky behind the window steadily expanded into a small warp-vessel and advanced swiftly toward the capsule, its airlock opening as it approached.

"We have to leave now,” the woman in 4A cautioned. “The humans won’t like that they can no longer tell us apart from themselves.”

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