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A Brief Summary of Stories Written in the Sediment of Mars

Kurt Pankau is a computer wrangler from St. Louis who writes mostly silly stories about robots. His work has appeared in various and sundry places around the web, including Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots, and Nature Magazine. He is the author of a space western called HIGH NOON ON PHOBOS. He tweets at @kurtpankau and blogs at kurtpankau.com. Notes: I was given this title as a writing prompt. I like odd framing devices in flash fiction, and something about the tone of the title struck me as dryly humorous, so I decided to lean into both of those things. I wanted something ridiculous to call back to at the end of each section and went with funnel cake because it had the right mouth-feel and because they are quite ridiculous when you think about it. For non-American readers who might not be familiar with this confection, it's like a plate of spaghetti only instead of noodles it's one long string of deep-fried cake batter, and anyone who's been to a state fair or amusement park in North America in the last decade has surely got chunks of one still bouncing around their arteries.

EXPLORATORY PROBE PRELIMINARY REPORT:
0.5 - 0.9 MYA
You don't have to dig very deep to discover that Mars once had not only oceans but its own civilization and culture, complete with art, language, technology, and religion. Fragments of it can be found throughout the layer, but the material bulk of it rests near the upper end, crushed into the thick gray layer that represents the boundary between this era and the modern one, in which Mars is uninhabited. Whatever event happened here seems to have boiled the oceans and left the planet a barren, lifeless ball of red dust.
Oh, and funnel cakes. They found lots of those in this layer.
0.9 - 1.4 MYA
The fossils from this era are substantially smaller than the ones found above, but it appears that there was a complex agrarian society here. Mars would have been almost entirely covered with water at this point, so the agriculture was all sub-marine. You can even find good representations of what these Martians would have looked like, due to the artistic representations found in this layer. Small figurines depict humble Martians making offerings of food--mostly funnel cakes--to a gargantuan being that appeared to be some kind of an all-powerful religious figure.
Given that the entire society lived underwater, their funnel cakes made good use of three-dimensional space!
1.4 - 2.2 MYA
Obviously, the "funnel cakes" of Mars are not exactly the same as the humans enjoy on Earth, but they're surprisingly similar.
Where was I....
In this layer, there are substantially larger fossils whose structure is similar to, believe it or not, the enormous creatures believed to be of religious significance in the layer above. Many of these fossils are all gathered in a single location as well, right at the 1.4 mya boundary. One might speculate that a great battle occurred here, and the tremendous beasts scarred the planet's face in their great and terrible wrath, until only one remained, and She alone would accept the offerings of funnel cakes from Her pliant Martian servants in exchange for favorable currents and bountiful harvests. This She did in Her great mercy, until She began Her 500,000 year slumber.
2.3 MYA AND BELOW
Deciphering fossils in this layer is tricky, as it appears the more advanced Martian civilizations had dug into it themselves in order to exploit the mineral resources in this layer. But the chief feature of note appears to be a cavity where an immense, living creature had dwelt undisturbed for roughly half a million years. This is speculation, but it appears that the divine creature had been slumbering there, pouring Her good will and bounty into the planet in a state of semi-corporeal bliss, at once one with and apart from the planet and its denizens. Only to be rudely awakened by a drill.
And when they woke Her, did they have an offering prepared for Her? To thank Her for all she had done for them?
No. They did not.
Agan, this is speculation, but was She perhaps a bit hasty in her outpouring of malice and wanton destruction? Perhaps. Can we blame this on a communication barrier, as the language and culture of Mars had changed quite a bit over the millenia? Who can say, honestly? But could the demise of the Martians' civilization have been avoided if they had approached Her with just the barest touch of humility? Almost certainly.
And is She now trapped in her chamber--having spent all of her energy exacting her righteous vengeance--lonely, bored, and craving the sweet delectable offerings that were made to Her at Her full strength, and only barely able to communicate with others by manipulating the datastores of the exploratory probes sent by the humans from Earth?
Well, let's leave that for the intellectuals to decide.
IN CONCLUSION
It appears there is a wealth of academic knowledge on Mars, a veritable intellectual treasure trove hiding just below the regolith. Any human grad student of interplanetary archaeology would jump at the chance to study here. Sign up today!
And, you know, bring funnel cakes. Just in case.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 30th, 2022


Author Comments

Kurt Pankau is a computer wrangler from St. Louis who writes mostly silly stories about robots. His work has appeared in various and sundry places around the web, including Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots, and Nature Magazine. He is the author of a space western called HIGH NOON ON PHOBOS. He tweets at @kurtpankau and blogs at kurtpankau.com. Notes: I was given this title as a writing prompt. I like odd framing devices in flash fiction, and something about the tone of the title struck me as dryly humorous, so I decided to lean into both of those things. I wanted something ridiculous to call back to at the end of each section and went with funnel cake because it had the right mouth-feel and because they are quite ridiculous when you think about it. For non-American readers who might not be familiar with this confection, it's like a plate of spaghetti only instead of noodles it's one long string of deep-fried cake batter, and anyone who's been to a state fair or amusement park in North America in the last decade has surely got chunks of one still bouncing around their arteries.

- Kurt Pankau
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