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THE MARTIAN FACTOR


THE MARTIAN FACTOR

They were dropping him after dark on planet Earth! That would mean embarking in less than an hour! Already he had decided his new name, ‘Don’, and the expertly forged identity papers provided for him should be a foolproof part of his new identity. With a tall and lean build topped by short, dark hair above a tanned face he could pass for a healthy, educated Terran, or Earthman, if you prefer. His actual age was sixteen terrestrial years, though due to his maturity he appeared older.

An exciting look at extra terrestrial life, The Martian Factor is told through the eyes of Don, a young Martian. Charged with secretly investigating the way in which UFO experiences are impacting on the Australian public, he is accidentally dropped in the path of one of the Canberra bushfires on his arrival. Living amongst Australians, and learning from them Don learns in turn, about himself. Thrilling and based in fact, The Martian Factor will delight readers of science fiction of all ages.

In Store Price: $22.00 
Online Price:   $21.00

ISBN:1-9210-0588-2
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 144
Genre: Science Fiction


Author: Keith Flitcroft 
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2005
Language: English

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FOREWORD

For an idea of what an extraterrestrial may look like, people everywhere are only too likely to be influenced by the image of spindly figures with bulging heads, huge eyes and four fingers so often presented to the public. Their lack of an opposing thumb alone should warn us all that these small beings known to crew some UFOs could not possibly have constructed them, that they are only bionic robots created by human beings.

Again, the belief among certain researchers that the extraterrestrial craft dematerialise and rematerialise in order to make their lightning-like jumps is unfounded. UFOs do not contradict the laws of physics as we know them and it is these claims that render them vague and less believable in the eyes of the public.

It is to be hoped that the information hereafter will dispel the above beliefs and so give way to the more rational idea of flesh and blood human beings in material craft. The sighting reports herein by impartial witnesses have been chosen not only for their interest and drama but also to present as faithfully as possible typical characteristics of the visiting craft. 

 

CHAPTER ONE (part sample)

 A DRAMATIC ARRIVAL 

 

They were dropping him after dark - on planet Earth! That would mean embarking in less than an hour! Already he had decided his new name, ‘Don’, and the expertly forged identity papers provided for him should be a foolproof part of his new identity. With a tall and lean build topped by short, dark hair above a tanned face he could pass for a healthy, educated Terran, or Earthman, if you prefer. His actual age was sixteen terrestrial years, though due to his maturity he appeared older.

There was, however, he knew a chance of something going wrong. Since the Security agencies and police were currently alert for terrorist activities; watching for any false identities and with Australia seemingly on the edge of war, it was a more than usually difficult time. Knowledge of the risk merely added zest to the venture. That was the adventurous part though, he realised, and not the critically personal side of the mission which promised to try him to the full.

As a citizen of one of the advanced planets, Don feared little in life; confidence was naturally his by birth. In regard to this characteristic, he mused, he must posses it to a greater degree than usual since he ‘courted danger’; at least that was the popular opinion.  But is flying a sail-plane in the rising currents from mountain slopes considered risky, or skiing down snow clad slopes generally shunned mean one is overconfident, or is it simply a sure trust in one’s own ability and judgement?  In regard to Earth, however, there was a considerable need for caution. There were things he did not yet know about the culture he was entering.  Ignorance is not necessarily bliss; it could rather mean danger.

A slight tingling on his wrist warned him to raise the watch there to his ear. Indistinguishable from a terrestrial timepiece it incorporated a two-way radio and other aids. The warning came through clearly, “Embarkation time is advanced. Proceed to the hangar deck.” As he headed for a lift Don wondered. The only hitch could surely be the forest fires menacing the national capital below. He had once seen a forest fire on his adopted planet but it had been no big deal. No matter, he would stop at Deck Five to get the latest on the landing zone on the way up to the hangar deck to embark, since the shuttle craft were hangared there near the airlock on top where they re-entered.

On his way to the lift his mind reverted to his personal characteristics, or shortcomings, he amended ruefully. Though he was seen as overconfident on one hand, he had difficulty in mixing, in becoming comfortable in his world’s society. It was not that he was timid or shy but rather that an early experience had left him with no parents and a mental blockage. While in Australia a half terrestrial year back Don had fitted in well enough and had carried out his fact-finding mission on the reaction of its citizens to encountering visiting spacecraft they referred to as ‘UFOs’. His mental hang-up - Terrans used some descriptive terms - had not mattered much to citizens there in view of the fact that the majority were burdened with this largely unconscious hindrance to some extent regarding certain blockages they could not easily break through. On his adopted planet where everyone was telepathically aware of another’s attitude, his hang-up made him feel wary and therefore reclusive.

The elders feared his difficulties could bring on troubles for him eventually and hence his earlier several months on Earth. He had brought back excellent information, though had gained few deeper insights. Now they strongly urged a return to Earth and that on the usual conditions for such sojourns. He had thought it the best course to agree, strict though the conditions were.

The lift door ahead slid open breaking his train of thought. Entering the scanner disc control room he saw that activity there was in full swing. A group of women with their nimble fingers flickering over the keyboards before them were launching more of these remotely controlled registering devices. Some of the craft were already sending back information from the darkened surface below. A metre and a half in diameter - he had trained himself now to think in terrestrial measure - these intricate devices registered not only atmospheric and other conditions but also the thoughts of nearby inhabitants. Their cameras were also recording their surroundings, the images displayed on screens to which his eyes had been immediately drawn. No real inkling had prepared him for the impact of what he saw; to reduce the feeling of awe inspired by the forest fires depicted there. He could not remotely have imagined the invincible force of nature at its most ferocious. The leaves of trees were catching fire as though tinder, the roaring flames leaping through the tree tops to spread a deadly shower of sparks ahead. This was a big deal.

His adopted world had few forest fires. Vegetation there grew much less profusely, and again, proper urban planning had left a free area around all communities. It was amazing that the State authorities had failed in this respect - though they would certainly take stricter measures from now on he thought.

One of the young women controllers, realising his presence, flashed him a smile.  They had been briefly friendly; a rare event only and he knew that he was regarded generally as reclusive and making few friends. Well, no matter; he might be stuck on planet Earth a long time before making good!

     He was soon back in the lift rising to the eight level of this cigar-shaped vessel well over a kilometre long and hovering presently over Canberra. His planet had extensive iron ore deposits and constructed ships for a number of worlds. This carrier ship, however, did not rate as a big vessel.

The scientists aboard were busy monitoring the political situation involving the Federal Government while also watching the unexpected fires. Soon the ship would move on to monitor new building development, crop levels, the ozone layer and scores of other things. Its presence here suited him well as he had two important contacts to revisit.

It was only on exiting the lift that the red glare of flames, which seemed to have burnt itself into his retinas, began to fade. A certain realisation had also burnt itself into his mind; he would necessarily be dropped secretly in forestland away from nearby houses and it was forestland that the fires were devastating.  Don fervently hoped the wind would not change.

     He headed for the shuttle disc waiting at the head of the line. Well! He was committing himself now he told himself.

     Occupying the bucket seats at the control console were two men, one of whom he knew as Zeehan. The ten metre wide craft would be piloted by Zeehan, turning now to nod him a welcome. Good that the elders on this ship had selected a familiar face; the daunting ferocity of the fires below was still with him. As he took his seat in the centre of the cabin behind the control console his eyes flashed to the screen on the curving cabin wall ahead; though so far of course nothing to see. It had been only an automatic action.

The sudden familiar sensation in his stomach meant they were sliding down the twin rails towards the exit airlock below. Now they were dropping free and all feeling of movement ceased as they headed down. He could have readily interpreted the changing pattern of tell-tale coloured symbols flickering on the pilot’s visual display panel ahead, but retired rather into his thoughts, hardly conscious of the muted hum of the propulsion system or even lighting coming equally from all surfaces. Perhaps it was the uncertainty of the future that sent his mind back to the incident. While on an intersystem voyage as a baby with his parents their ship had suffered disaster. Accidents in space are often spectacular, quick, and usually fatal. His parents had died instantly but someone had got him on a packed shuttlecraft somehow, to land on the nearest world, Mars.

He became a Martian citizen with full rights, though for what mental quirk he could not fathom, had never felt properly assimilated there. He tended to remain aloof, an aloofness the Elders were watching. He was far from a malcontent, of course, an individual whose arrogance made him a nuisance. These individuals were quickly dropped on planet Earth to undergo the ‘commando course’; a term adopted from the Terrans. If a planet existed where even the hard-headed might learn then it was Earth. Not a hand was laid on them; that was not permitted. The power of thousands of minds saw to their compliance, and the authorities would not let them back until they had reformed.

He could hardly blame them. Mars had once been devastated by war with super-weapons, so now the authorities paid close attention to the attitude of all citizens, while in any event it was for his own good. So that brought him up to the present; his agreement with the Council that he would not be returned permanently to Mars until he had solved his mental hang-up. He had to make good!

     Though he knew that they were right it failed to dispel the tinge of regret that he was leaving so much behind; flying gliders and skiing on the snow clad mountains, not to mention the excellent food and accommodation plus a fantastic news service from many planets; all of the familiar things of life on the red and green world.

With sudden awareness he realised that they had stopped to hover while Zeehan conferred with his companion. The pilot was now indicating the vision screen ahead filled with streamers of smoke lit by the red glare of fires. “We have to pick another landing place; the strengthening wind has already brought the fire closer to the suburbs than we had planned for.”

Don returned to his thoughts. There were some plusses for his enforced exile in the ‘land down under’.  Strangely enough, he felt more at home with the Australians, with their rough ironic humour and easy camaraderie. Thanks to the high level of telepathy possessed by all those on the more advanced planets, it was easy to adapt to any citizen’s attitude, and again few could read his thoughts. Further, he had begun to like his food well seasoned, to enjoy a glass of white wine. Hot condiments or strong alcoholic drinks were not available on Mars where people who expected to live two and a half terrestrial centuries had no wish to live long in an ailing body. The Riesling, nonetheless, he remembered, had been especially enjoyable.

Zeehan was addressing him again. “The wind has changed more to the south and seems to be stable. We shall take the opportunity to drop you on the windward side. It means a longer walk but you should be safe if you move quickly - you’re here.”  His finger stabbed a spot on an illuminated layout of Canberra. The shuttle disc then dropped like a stone, drawing a fiery trail. Any citizen watching would happily take it for a meteor due to their lack of knowledge regarding the behaviour of these chunks of cosmic rock.  Meteors don’t act like that, Don knew.

     They slowed in an impossible split second at tree top height to descend closely to the ground: time to move quickly! With his attaché case clutched tightly but forgotten all this time, Don sprang to the sliding door in the hull and went down the ladder. Zeehan was operating to standard procedure. In the event of being shot at, an unfortunate tendency on the part of some Terrans, he could take off swiftly without the lower positive focal point of energy spearing into the ground and causing a crater. As Don emerged he felt his breath catch on a lungful of smoke and heated air. On stumbling clear, the disc rose slowly only to gain speed and rise like a fiery arrow.

     He was on his own; on a planet marked on all navigational charts as dangerous to land! But it was imperative to forget that and quit this patch of forest sprinkled with occasional residences; to take the nearby east-west road shown on the projected city layout he had studied before embarking.

It was narrow and lined with eucalyptus trees, everything dry as tinder after the long, hot spell, but it would get him to a main route leading to the city centre. He started along it eastward at a fast walk, only too conscious of the threat from the nearby fires, smoky heated air making breathing difficult. As time passed the wind seemed to be coming more from behind, and Don became certain with a feeling of distinct unease that it was changing back to the west. That meant it would be sweeping the fire directly towards him. His pace quickened as he strode along until his ears caught a low, distant sound.  It grew in volume to a muted roar; the roar of raging flames fanned by a hot, dry wind.

    Horrified, he broke into a fast run and kept at it. The roar was ever louder now, the smoke thicker and hotter. A turn of his head revealed the red glow of flames racing through the treetops, a dreaded crown fire. They abruptly jumped across to the trees on the other side of the road. How long Don ran with the flames jumping from the canopy of one tree to the next as they flared like oil-soaked torches - which is what they really were with their leaves full of eucalyptus oil - he could not have said. His lungs seemed to be bursting while his knees felt like rubber. There was no way out with a wall of fire on either side.  First of all his hair would burst into flames when the fire caught up and then the super-heated air would scorch his lungs - that would be it!

    The sudden sound of a klaxon behind him sent him lurching off the bitumen as a large tanker lorry drew abreast. The near door swung open.  “Quick!” An urgent voice pierced his exhausted mind. With renewed energy, Don sprang for the doorway and as he hoisted himself up a hand grasped his arm and pulled him in. Enough presence of mind remained for him to slam the door and the truck fairly took off to deposit him in the seat behind just vacated by the owner of the hand.

    Air in the roomy cabin was mainly free from smoke and the new arrival to Earth realised that the two other occupants wore orange jackets and safety helmets; evidently fire fighters. “Lucky we came along mate,” remarked the stocky man next to him. Don could barely nod and his rescuers realising that he was completely winded, lapsed into silence as the truck roared along outdistancing the inferno. After a time Don recovered his breath partially - “Are you going near the city centre?”  Even as he asked, he realised his lips were dry and covered with hardened foam of saliva and probably blackened. His head was developing a throbbing ache while the stink of stale smoke filled his nostrils.

“We can drop you there alright and you can get a taxi,” they replied. He had told them that his car had broken down and left him a fugitive from the flames. Remembering David Fielding, his first intended contact, Don added, “I need to get to a public phone.”

     “What’s wrong with this?” A mobile phone was thrust into Don’s hand. The Martian had used them on his previous visit and had David’s home number imprinted in his retentive memory. As the brr-brr sounded it was quickly followed by a welcome hello in a familiar male voice. “Good to hear you, David,” and it really was.

 

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