Picture Courtesy NASA
The spacecraft touched down slowly on Mars. A hatch opened, and an astronaut looked out. He then stepped down slowly onto the red Martian soil. The first man had landed on Mars.
The astronaut took his first step on Mars. Then he sneezed. He cursed silently. Neil Armstrong had said those unforgettable words when he landed on the Moon. Here he was, the first Man on Mars, the first Man to set foot on another planet, and all he could do was sneeze.
He planted the flag of the country that had sent the spacecraft. He took soil samples, took pictures and carried out everything else he had been trained to do. But through it all, he seemed to never stop sneezing. He even wished for a moment that he was back inside the spacecraft. His symptoms seemed to get worse on the ground. Perhaps it was the exertion of walking after months of space travel, or perhaps the cold air rushing into his nose from the oxygen tank.
The astronaut was quite miserable. He was also quite angry with himself. Here was the moment which he had spent decades waiting for, his whole career really. He had spent the whole of last year in training for this mission, and the last few months traveling in a tiny spacecraft. He had endured all that for this moment, and now all he could do was sneeze.
His colleague now joined him on the ground, and together they carried out a few more experiments. Not that she was in any better shape than him, he thought, she seemed to match him sneeze for sneeze. Somehow, they carried out all their tasks over the next few hours and soon, it was time to leave. They returned to their spacecraft. Their craft would orbit Mars for a few days at a low orbit, and then they would head back to Earth.
The cold virus had escaped into the thin Martian air, through microscopic holes in the astronauts’ spacesuits. Other viruses had long ago settled on the flag, when the astronauts had touched it and sneezed on it in the spacecraft. The germs waited for a living cell to enter into, so they could multiply. They were prepared to wait for thousands of years until they found another living creature.
The Martians were watching the surface from their cities underground. They watched the astronauts enter the spacecraft and take off. They watched the spacecraft orbit their planet, and finally set off towards Earth.
Hours after the spacecraft had started towards Earth, a few Martian scientists came up to the surface. By the light of their twin moons, they studied the place where the astronauts had landed. They examined the colorful flag, and checked to see if the Earthmen had left behind any robot or tracking device. There seemed to be none. Satisfied, the Martians went back to their underground cities.
The Earthmen discovered the ancient texts, thousands of years later. By then, they had colonized Mars and discovered the lost underground cities.
The ancient texts spoke of how The Force had come down to Mars on a shining steed along with His Mate. He had planted His Wand on Mars, as a sign of His protection for the people of Mars. But Martians had disrespected The Force by picking up His Wand and throwing it down. The Force had become angry at this act of disrespect and cursed all Martians.
One by one, the Martians started dying from a deadly disease that was unlike anything the Martians had ever seen before. The ancient texts spoke about how the people of Mars had tried everything to stop the scourge. Their best scientists had spent years studying the disease. The people of the cities had tried sacrifices, prayer and every known cure. They had fled from the cursed cities into the sub-terranean oceans.
But none of this had helped. The final chapter in the last text spoke about the end of the great civilization. This chapter had been written by the last surviving Martian, who implored the Force to return to Mars and bring back the Martians to life. His bones were found beside the texts. Within two hundred years from the arrival of The Force, the entire Martian race had been wiped out.
Author’s Note: I read two articles recently, one described how microbes can hitch a ride on the outside of a spacecraft and the other talked about how long periods of weightlessness and space travel can weaken astronauts’ immune systems, while microbes on the other hand, flourish in the same conditions. The second article also mentions that during the Apollo program, all three members of one crew got colds at the same time. Reading those articles gave me the idea for writing this story.