The Speed of Reality

The beings arrived in the rusty planet’s orbit in a small metal can called a “Spaceship.” After a great deal of ceremony, they separated from this small metal can into a still smaller metal can. This smaller can, being less impressive than the spaceship and in need of additional dignity, had been given the glorified name of “Capsule.”

The capsule turned its bottom to the surface of the rusty planet and began a series of painstakingly careful explosions called “propulsive braking maneuvers.” From the surface, the capsule looked like a reluctant and uncertain slow-motion meteor, trying to figure out if it actually wanted to impact or not.

Until, finally, it did.

The capsule struck the surface with a thud. It threw up a dust cloud no bigger than that which might be generated from cleaning out an old room, or blowing on a box in an attic. A few kilometers away, the beings’ luggage landed in similar fashion, amidst other luggage that had been sent in advance. Luggage for a long and indefinite stay. The beings had consented to travel in metal cans for a short while, but they’d certainly had no plans of living in them indefinitely.

None of the beings in the capsule trembled in anticipation. None of them shook or cried in wonder, which in itself was something to wonder at. They had a job to do and there was enough awe and wonder in that to keep them occupied. They were the bravest of beings, selected from out of thousands of similar beings for the most heroic of attributes: the ability to do one’s job in an even-tempered fashion no matter what.

Computer screens were read. Systems were tested. Pressure suits were donned. And finally, all six beings entered the airlock.

These beings had no particular individual race. On their world, race was an important story, based on a nanometers thin slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, the excitation energies of three photosensitive proteins, and the particular biology of their brains and optic nerves. Nevertheless, it had caused a great deal of what politely be called “fuss” or impolitely called “absolute lunacy” and there was no time for fuss or lunacy in what they were doing. For the same reason, their genders were divided equally.

The beings exited the spacecraft and stood on a platform just large enough for all of them. A robotic rover with a camera detached from the capsule and drove a distance away from the six. The rover’s journey was not considered epic, as many other rovers had done this in the past. But there was something in the way the camera on its head turned back to face the travelers that made the heart flutter, if only for an instant. For it was as though ten billion beings turned their heads in unison with the rover.

The beings in the capsule spoke in unison as well, each in their assigned language. Their common language was something called English, but they also spoke Russian, Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic. The vibrations hit the microphones in their suits, beamed a radio signal to the rover, and the rover synced this with the images it was recording. The rover relayed this information back to the capsule which then relayed the information to an orbiting satellite and finally onward to the blue-green marble of the beings’ native a world some fifteen minutes away at the speed of reality.

The platform lowered onto even ground. Each of the six pressed their foot against a rotating bar. The six pushed. The bar descended toward the ground. Six boots touched the ground at the same moment. Any tiny unevenness in the ground was obscured at the last moment by the thickness of the bar and the angle of the camera.

If the travelers had any inkling of anyone touching the ground first they did not say and never said. For all intents and purposes, no one single being was the first to set foot on the alien world. Six of them did, simultaneously.

 

*****

 

Fifteen minutes later, on the cradle of Earth, a beam of information traveling at the speed of reality hit a satellite. This satellite relayed this information to several billion screens. Whereupon several billion human beings turned to watch six human beings stepping onto the planet Mars.

“Let there be Martians,” they heard.

 

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