Through our sleeping girl, the Tall Ones had told us a story of years in the millions, of civilizations lost, and the seeding of worlds. And, they had asked a question, the answer to which would change our lives and those remaining of humankind.
Immediately upon our return to base that night, we were informed that a communication from Earth had come. The supply ship that was on its way had been lost. Sergei Bratya and his fellow officer were dead. The three ships remaining on Earth were still in a state of flux with their construction and projected launch dates. It could conceivably be years until they reached us. Mueller was informed that an important discovery had been made, and that we would present it to him after consulting with our own people.
On the second day after our return, a meeting was held, at the request of Oceaxe. At her bedside, she was surrounded by her parents and we who had shared in the journey to the plateau. She then began her story.
The Tall Ones were a truly ancient race. Some of their ancestors had lived on what we know as the Earth, up until the great disaster at the end of the Cretaceous period. Most had died off, but some had escaped. To Mars and further out of our system. The ones that came here had found a world with good soil, free flowing water, and vegetation. Its atmosphere was livable to them, and they had made a decision to stay and settle. They had stayed for many millennia, when the atmosphere began to deteriorate. The lost magnetic field of the planet had made way for deep penetrations by solar winds, gradually stripping the chemical essentials from the air. Along with this, meteors, unimpeded by a thick atmosphere, were bombarding Mars with greater frequency. Abandoning the planet was no longer an option for them. During their mass exodus, accomplished over hundreds of Martian years, some of their ships were lost or disabled. One such vessel had crashed in the Valles Marineris. Two of the crew had survived for a time, and had taken the bodies of their shipmates into the caves for interment. Knowing that their own fate was at hand, they enclosed the bodies in cases taken from the crashed ship, carved some crude funereal glyphs in the chamber, and left some signatory artifacts in the chests with the bodies. They then made their way into the wild, and were presumed to have died of exposure.
The people that we had met with, and their ship (for such it was) were part of a return mission to Mars to collect their dead and search for any surviving descendants. They had detected the downed ship, and had extracted it from its rocky cradle. Upon searching the connecting tunnels, they had found nothing further but the empty chests.
Here, Oceaxe paused. The exchanges that she had had with the aliens had exhausted her, and much more information had passed between them than we had guessed. They now knew that our colony of some four hundred souls was in danger of extinction. She had disclosed to them the events on Earth and the uncertainty surrounding future missions from there.
With unmistakable warmth, they had offered succor to us. They would take us with them to their home world, beyond our solar system. We had but to say the word.
At this point, she began to cry and looked to her parents. They were embracing one another, but were silent. The meeting was called to an end. Mark, Sasha, and I stayed back. We would have to break the news to the colony, and wanted to know the intentions of Oceaxe and her family. They asked for time and privacy.
At last, we had our general meeting. There was much uncertainty and emotion, of course. To some, it may seem like an easy decision. Life versus an uncertain future, isolated on a hostile planet, producing the basics to survive, and waiting for news from a disintegrating home world. But, those who would leave were heading into an unknown future as well. Not pioneers, but hangers-on in a sense, but at least assured of survival.
Oceaxe had cried because she knew that if anyone went, it would have to be her. Her parents would go as well. So would Sasha and I. Mark, Alexei, and about one hundred of our people would stay, carrying on with what hope there was. Mueller no longer had any control over our decisions.
Within a few days, the split would be made. There was no help for it. The one hundred that would stay were the real pioneers, secure in their confidence they would make it.
They could not help our old world in its distress, and Earth’s story remained unknown.
We two hundred were headed for the Universe.