I didn’t mean to swallow a Martian. I didn’t even know it was there, for Pete’s sake. But there’s no question I swallowed it. I haven’t been the same since.
Dr. Okito told me to record what happened, so people who come to Mars in the future will all be able to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. My story’s not going to make anyone happy, but maybe you’ll be more likely to heed the old warning they always gave to tourists on Earth—don’t drink the water until you know what’s in it.
My name is Dave Esposito, a Navy grunt from the Service Compound. I work the machines that do the hard labor of making Mars more habitable.
All I was doing that day was getting some exercise. I wanted to swim in the new pool we’d finally opened at Mars Base Alpha. My team had worked hard with the new drilling array, going down deep to where the permafrost layer was, and installing the heaters and pipes to bring water up to the surface.
For the first time, we who lived on this damn desert of a planet had lots of water. So the engineering team thought it would be a hoot to build a pool and let people go swimming after all the years we had to save and re-filter every drop of Earth water.
Of course, it was martian water in the pool, but we thought the high-falutin’ purification process the tech guys put in would take out anything that could harm us. But it turned out the Martians’ biochemistry was just different enough that it didn’t trip any alarms. They had tested the filters with a big range of microorganisms from Earth, but no one found any martian microbes until I ate one.
Just my luck that I had my day off, on that Thursday the Lowell Pool opened. I woke up too early after a bad night’s sleep thinking about my ex-wife. I thought, what the hell, I worked hard to dig up the ice, let me go enjoy the water. So I was one of the first people swimming. Soon others were in the pool too, the base kids splashing and kicking up water. Trying to do a few laps, I swallowed a big mouthful of pool water when one of the kids cut me off.
That’s how the Martian got into my system. Once it was in, it found itself in a place with warmth, water, and raw materials, and it woke up. And then it did what the docs say it’s really good at—it started reproducing. Kind of makes sense; if you’re evolving on a planet that’s getting colder and losing its air, you have a lot to gain by making copies of yourself the minute the environment seems favorable.
So this martian microbe, waking up inside me, must have thought it had died and gone to heaven. It was in a warm place where it could feast on my atoms and molecules. I’m no scientist, but here’s the way they explained it to me. Its biochemistry is all different from ours, but it has ways of breaking down some of our complicated molecules and grabbing specific pieces it can use. And then it just goes and makes as many of its kind as it can.
At first, I didn’t feel anything except a bit queasy in my stomach. I sometimes get that feeling from the cooking in the Compound kitchen, so I didn’t think much of it. But then, as the Martians in me multiplied and multiplied, they began filling whatever tubes in my body were open to them. Not just my digestive system, but the blood, the nerves, you name it. I was a damn all-you-can-eat banquet to them, and they took advantage. Soon I was feeling so bad, I asked a buddy to call the Base Ambulance.
By the time I was in the medical machine in the hospital, it was too late to do anything except try flushing whatever systems they could. But soon enough, I was a lost cause, except as an example to others about drinking the water.
They won’t tell me whether anyone else got sick from swallowing a Martian from that pool, or if I’m the only one. In another day or so, the docs say, I won’t care, because I won’t be conscious anymore. They must have put something to reduce anxiety into the feeding tube, because I’m remarkably calm about the whole thing. I did tell ‘em right away not to use the water from down below for anything else, but they’d already thought of that, of course.
Back when I was young, I read an old book that made a big impression on me. It was a science fiction novel, called War of the Worlds. I can’t remember the author, but it was a great story about Martians coming to Earth and wanting our water because their planet was dry. Now it’s our wanting martian water that’s killing me. Damned if I’m not the first casualty in this modern war of the worlds, and the Martians got me without firing a shot.