tHE SURFACE OF MARS had been stirred to a violent fury, the virulent winds rousing the sands in blinding wrath, blotting out the sun and making mad the riot with red. The thrashing tumult made cruel play of a chain-link fence, threatening to uproot its poles from their deep moorings of cement. Clinging to the rungs in rebellion against the assault a tin sign rattled in metallic staccato. In descending order down its sandblasted and scarred face, six languages warranted the myriad, towering smoke stacks beyond streaked with rust and spewing acrid plumes that flattened against the wind. Arabic tiered the order, followed by Farsi, then Hindi in Devanagari script, the distinct symbols of Chinese, then Russian. Lastly, the faded letters of English:
TERRAFORMING STATION NO. 344
The brutal winds reshaped the dunes in their harsh play, revealing long dead plants buried beneath the ocean swells of sand. The various species of seedlings, imported long ago from across space, were harsh reminder of man’s failed attempts to green the great elsewhere of Mars. The ceaseless winds pounded the brittle forests with a tireless ebb and flow of burials and exhumations.
Today, the winds were mischievously uncovering something else hidden in the sand. Entwined within the decaying undergrowth the fingers of a human hand, frozen in rigor mortis, reached statuesquely skyward, the ashen skin drawn taught against the bones in a diaphanous glove.
The mad play of the winds had subsided. They had taken their folly elsewhere. The calm of the new Martian day, just begun, had awakened to perfectly groomed dunes of sand-muted quiet, as still as the bottom of a deep and waterless ocean. It was but an ephemeral gift, existing only briefly in the lull between tumults.
Out of the immaculately brushed sand, barely discernible among the small forest of dead branches, rose the alabaster hand, the delicate fingers frozen in grotesquely elegant posture against the dawn. The winds had further exposed the forearm, which was wrapped with a length of oxidized chain that anchored it in puzzling malice to the thick roots.
Leaving cascading trails in the sand, a group of scientists descended the slope from where their rover was parked, fanning out into the ancient riverbed in private paths of study. They came once a week, dressed in their white jumpsuits and wide-brimmed sunhats in anticipation of the water that was slowly coursing its way down from the Martian pole to wake this riverbed from one million years of sleep. Advancing in her work, one of the researchers was unwittingly headed to imminent discovery of the mystery the Martian winds, in their childish play, had ruefully uncovered; a mystery that would inevitably beg answering.