Lizards on Mars [Short Story]

Lizards on Mars

1

The blaring of the siren blasted through the hallways and woke everyone in proximity. It was still night shift, which means most of them were still asleep in their rooms. The red heat lamps turned on and made the first of them get slowly in motion. A hissing went through the corridors as the first doors opened, and the ocean of scales crawled to their departments.

“Who fucked it up this time?”

Exo was already on his position and observed his monitors.

“I bet it was the orange guy again.”

Exo had been in coordination for many years and has just recently been promoted. He was now one rank below the head of the department.

“Skip? What are you doing up so early? Getting an extra shift in trying to impress the boss?”

Exo smiled, and hundreds of his teeth started to shimmer. His skin, sprinkled in red-green scales, looked majestic while he was standing on his large desk. Skip was quickly running to his post on all four legs. This was his first high alert since he worked here. He had finished training a few weeks ago and barely passed the physical. He was a small lizard, which made the requirements way harder, as they were not scaled to size or weight. Skip’s scales were completely green, and he almost looked like one of their distant small cousins, who stopped evolving and was hunting for insects in sub-tropical regions.

The large room was built as a half-circle around Exo’s desk, while in the background, several boards and large monitors were covering the walls. A large emergency alert notice was blinking up all over them.

“Do we have a report yet?”

Only Exo and Skip were on their post. The rest of the lizard team was still asleep or on their way.

“Nothing,” answered Skip.

“Give me a direct line to observation. They better know what the fuck is going on and why we have an alert.”

Skip did as he was told and pointed at Exo’s phone. Exo picked up.

“Do you guys know who and why this A3 was triggered?”

A female lizard was hissing through the phone.

“The China Deal got busted. The US had a backdoor and exported illegally. It got leaked a few hours ago. Now the US president declared war with China. We have our Chinese team on a de-escalation course, and they seem to handle it well, but the US team can’t control the chimps in the white house. They are too far off-script. It looks like it will escalate further. The report will go out at any moment.”

Their monitors pinged as they received the report. It was only two pages long and had tying errors. Skip quickly read through it and confirmed what the lady in observation had said. They were in deep trouble.

“Don’t worry, Skip, we had way worse situations over the decades. We barely made those idiots not blow themselves up several times during the cold war. You wouldn’t believe the stories. These chimps believe they are the crown of existence, yet they can’t stop fighting over pieces of the ground. Now give me someone in the US team. They have not reported yet.”

While Exo was on the line with someone in the US team, several colleagues sneaked on their positions while being eagerly starred at by Exo. They knew they were late, and he knew as well.

“Fuck.”

Exo hung up the phone and looked at his now complete team.

“Everyone caught up on the news?”

A few said yes; the rest nodded.

“Good, because that was the good news. Here is the bad news; The president is flying to an undisclosed location with the nuclear codes on him. You know what that means? He is getting into shelter and wants to rain down some bombs.

Get access to the shelters. Check his flight route and arrival time. We need personal inside: moles and military. We can’t risk nuclear war or just a single bomb on China. Get the Chinese VIPs to safety. They still need to run a de-escalation course. Let them make some public statements to renegotiate the deal. No aggression from their side; we can’t risk it. We need them to slow down this orange monkey.”

“Exo!” Skip was interrupting him.

“There has been a shooting in the white house. Our team and the secretary are dead.”

“Show it on the screen.”

One of the monitors updated with a list of the staff inside the white house. They were all sorted by rank and hierarchy, and a small portrait photo was next to their name. A third of them were marked as green as their insiders. The screen updated and now greyed out everyone dead. It was nearly half of all VIPs. Only two of their insiders were still alive.

“Jesus. Can you get me any info on what happened? Where are the last two?”

The lizard next to Skip had already found out.

“Both are being held in captivity. One is injured.”

“Update the other departments. Do we have intel on the shelter yet?”

“Only two shelters are in close proximity.”

“Get personal to both. We need full feed and make sure that we can take over the place if we need to, or blow it up for that matter.”

Skip was getting nervous. This was not just a high alert; this was the worst possible start for intervention. He found the videos and logs about the shooting with help from IT and presented them on the main screen. The president and VIPs were meeting in a small conference room. There was no voice feed, but at some point, the president got angry and stood up. He was about to leave as one minister pointed a gun at him. This did not look like de-escalation. The president went pale for a moment. Then another minister pulled a gun. All the minsters ended up on the floor while the president escaped with a bullet in his shoulder. How did they manage to kill everyone except the president? The feed followed the president. He ordered to kill several of his other executives. The hallways of the white house filled with blood as he took the launch codes and got onto a helicopter. None of this was on official news yet.

“Skip, get me a report from behavior how much of this we should leak. We currently have no one who can intervene, but maybe it can rattle those monkeys up a bit. Give us some time.”

It took a few minutes till they got an answer from behavior. With coordination from the other teams, including China, they concluded that everything should be leaked as soon as possible. China will stay de-escalation, and no one else was going to escalate. Even with a nuclear strike, none of the factions would return fire. Only if there would be multiple hits, a doomsday scenario could emerge.

“Ok, everyone. Leak all of it over the usual channels. Make sure the news gets the raw footage ASAP. And global news, not just the US. And get me access to all the US launch sites, prepare them for an interception. I don’t want any nukes to launch on my watch.”

Exo was visibly concerned. He even had stopped joking; things were serious. All lizards around him were typing furiously on their keyboard and called other departments. Several of them started to run. A map of US launch sites showed up on the large screen. A few minutes later, the first ones changed from a red symbol, as active and controlled by the chimps, to a green symbol of being controlled and intercepted.

Building and maintaining control over most of the governments took a lot of time and constant fine-tuning. If some of the chimps would get replaced, the new ones had to play inline and follow their lead. Most of the lizard’s resources and teams were responsible for ensuring all the chimps were playing along. They handled everything from corporate espionage to blackmailing to executions. But as the governments’ people were just chimps after all, they would inevitably go off-script at some point. It was in their nature.

Controlling them proved to be a lot harder than initially expected. When the lizards started to become a rivaling species on Earth, they quickly realized their dilemma. Humankind did not want to share or coexist. They wanted to control and destroy. Some of them were friendly and remained a helpful ally, but they were such a small number, it’s not even worth talking about. The best option was to move underground and take control of the chimps from the inside. Maybe one day, the humans would be ready to accept another species next to their own, or the lizards could go someplace else. Perhaps another planet and leave the war-raging monkeys behind.

The TV channels popped up on the monitors. The first few interrupted their program. In the US, China, Russia, Europe. They were switching to emergency mode. The responsible teams for the regions only had a few minutes to prepare before the leaks were shown live on the air. They reported positive results. At least no one other would escalate it further for now.

President has just landed. We know the location. We have one team inbound, and one team is already getting access.”

Skip brought some good news. It was time to take back control over this disaster.

“Establish a feed and go for intercept. The launch sites are not fully in control yet. Make sure they can pull the trigger at any moment.”

After 20 minutes, half of the launch sites were in control. The activation of so many sleeper cells was a huge risk in itself and would get noticed in the aftermath. Luckily, most of the cells were human. Only a few low-risk locations were staffed by lizards. They had developed simple cloaking technology, but everyone within a few meters of them would start to see the hundreds of teeth, scales, and massive eyes staring at them.

It was a delicate procedure to keep the governments in place over all these centuries. You had to strike the right balance between controlling people and letting them control. If the lizard society started to control too much of the government, people would begin to notice—especially the ones who were not in their control. And having large numbers of lizards and evidence out there would inevitably lead to somebody making it public before they could intervene. But if they would give too much control to the chimps, they would do what they do best. They would first destroy their government before they would burn down their whole planet. The lizards had to establish the right amount of control in the right places. People high up in governments and corporations. People with lots of connections and influence.

What Exo had learned first-hand over all these years, Skip had only known from books and lectures. Getting selected for this work required full commitment from both of them. Luckily, Lizards did not have strong family bonds that tied them up. The only strong connections were friends and potential mates, and even those could swap frequently. But for both of them, a more holistic view of their society was prevalent. They saw themselves as a part of something bigger. They played their role in preserving the peace on this planet, even if it would be a lot easier without the apes around.

The percentage of launch sites in control passed 80%. Soon this would be over. They would get rid of the president and establish an emergency cabinet. They already had a team working on it. Skip could go back to bed and pretend that this only had been a bad dream.

On the news channels, the videos of the shooting were still shown on loop. But just as they passed 92% control, the program was interrupted again. An emergency broadcast, officially from the US government.

“Anyone knows what this is about?”

Exo was on the phone while he was watching the large monitors.

“It’s the emergency video for nuclear strikes.”

Skip had spotted the small number on the bottom left of the video. He remembered the descriptor.

“There was nothing launched yet. Why is this being broadcasted? Check the launch sites.”

Indeed, none of the launch sites showed any activity. It took Skip a few moments to understand what was going on. Most sites had external connections to either the government or the internet that they could check and control, but a few were isolated and offline. They required manual verification. He checked the feed for all the remaining isolated sites. 12 out of 54 sites were not intercepted yet. He checked the coordinates with satellite imagery. They had launched—all of them.

“Jesus Christ. Get the board together for emergency sit-rep. Give me a direct line.”

“We just got visual on the president. Further actions?”

“Bag him up alive. We’ll put him in a cage where he belongs.”

“We’ve always expected it to turn sour at some point. There is no need to be angry or worried. We all sat in this room many times and went through this scenario.”

The old female lizard with white scales was standing relaxed in the small conference room. Surrounded by the other lizards, she was speaking from wisdom and authority.

“We’ve all been briefed on the current events. First, the US launched, then China, Russia, UK, India. Who knows who else will? We are expecting impacts in the next few minutes all over the world. It won’t be the same after that. If only half of the nukes hit, a billion will be dead in the next hour. If all of them hit, it will be over two billion. Our data suggest half of the human population dead within the next month regardless. We need to vote; Decide for the future of our species and the future of this planet.”

 

2

“I did not expect you to climb the ranks that quickly, Skip. It’s nice to see you again. It’s been a while.”

“I’ve only been in the right place at the right time. They only let me up here because you were on my resume.”

They both smiled like children and exchanged what they had been up to while waiting for the general director to welcome them. A few more lizards were standing with them, some from behavior, some from IT. After a few minutes, the large door opened, and the general director waved them in. There were a few more VIPs from the government with her, sitting around a large oval table. Skip and Exo stood in the middle of the room. Everyone nodded to each other.

The general director, with her white scales, stopped her chit-chatter.

“Skip and Exo. You both did incredible work over the past two years. We have to thank you deeply. We expected nothing less from you, Exo, but you, Skip, flew under our radar. We have decided to move both of you to a new division that requires our best lizards.”

Exo already knew what she was talking about. A week after the 114 bombs had killed more than half of mankind, the lizards had taken over. It took them only a few days to establish supply chains and automated distribution. If the humans wanted to live, they had to obey their new ruler or move into exile. The ones trying to fight were killed. It wasn’t a nice first impression, but it was a small price to pay compared to billions already dead. At first, the people were scared to see the human-sized lizards patrolling the streets with automatic rifles on cars and foot, but after they understood that the lizards had already established complete order, they obeyed.

Skip and Exo both had continued to work together, planning and working on the required infrastructure needed to sustain the 30 million lizards and three billion humans. Everything from food distribution to electricity and water supplies and the highly required governance required to get set in place. They both had to switch departments after about 18 months and had not seen each other since.

The new division was very similar to their previous department. They were responsible for monitoring and developing lizard-human relations. It was a mixed bag of politics, social monitoring, and law enforcement. Perfect for both of them; they were excited.

After getting a few medals from the Secretary-General, which would bolster up their resume, they immediately were brought to the new division. The other lizards waiting outside the room briefed them on their way there.

They took a few elevators up to the surface. The sun was blinding both of them. They were still not used to the light after living underground their whole lives. They got out of a small building, which only purpose was the few elevators leading underground. A large sign above the entrance showed a symbol of a lizard taking an elevator. Another sign next to it showed that humans were not allowed. A patrol picked them up from the secured elevator, and they walked across the empty streets together. All cars had been banned from city centers. Only public transportation and delivery trucks were allowed to drive inside. All other vehicles were either retrofitted for those purposes or had become shared vehicles for long-distance travel. The result was quieter and cleaner streets with more bicycles and pedestrians. But due to the drop in population, the once packed three-way-lanes were now empty, and even sidewalks were rarely occupied.

They walked for a few minutes along large office buildings and apartments, then entered a tall government building. The outside was made of thick glass; the structures enforcing the structure white and blue. A large symbol of the lizard society was hanging in the middle of the building. The emblem was showing a lizard head surrounded by stars. There had been several resolutions to add the image of a human. While everyone liked the idea, it was still too early. They had only recently allowed humans back into the government and system structural jobs of higher importance. The lizards at the entrance greeted them, and the few humans inside followed them curiously with their eyes.

They exited the elevator halfway up the building, which gave them a nice view of the city. If you looked closely into the distance, you could see the invisible city ring, where occupied buildings swapped with vacant and broken ones. The lizards had established themselves in major cities that were not hit by the nuclear fallout and could run the necessary infrastructure. Thanks to vertical farming, laboratory meat, and fusion energy, the rural farm areas of most countries were no longer needed. Only the exiled and angry chimps continued to live there. There were not many, and they were getting less by the day. Large numbers of them were starving, and millions of refugees were coming to the lizard-controlled cities. Exo and Skip both worked on managing the refugee influx from different positions over the past months. Exo was planning and executing the plans in the field, establishing food distribution, emergency housing, etc., while Skip was managing it on a national and international level.

From the once 10 billion humans, only slightly over two billion were left. Six died from the nuclear bombs and the radiation subsequent to it, the other two from diseases and famine. Not even the lizards had expected it to turn that bad. Now slightly over 1 billion were living in lizard-controlled cities. Another 500 million were refugees in emergency housing surrounding the cities. Even with the combined effort of lizards and humans, it was a huge task to rebuild and establish proper housing in all the previously vacant apartments. The apartments had to get checked and repaired before anyone could move in. New residents were screened and needed new furniture—lots of work that required lots of qualified human volunteers, which there was never enough of.

The rest of about 500 to 700 million humans lived in smaller cities or rural lands. The smaller towns had human governance with lizard oversight. They would get supplies and policies from the main cities and followed their orders, mostly without seeing any lizards. They were more rebellious and had more of an ego than the humans in the cities, but everyone managed. Most humans in rural lands were worse. Angry and frustrated, they would try to start a rebellion against lizards and every human who had “bowed” to them. They were only a few million and spread throughout the countries, but when they managed to arm themselves, they turned into a problem that had to be dealt with.

There were many options for the angry chimps: they could move into a town with lizard oversight but no lizards present, or they could settle down and start their own village. They would even get supplies, as long as they did not resort to or promote violence. Most of the time, enough people were persuaded and moved into the cities, but often enough, a fight would still occur. These monkeys did not want to coexist; they wanted to fight. It had gotten less frequent over the past months, but there was still bloodshed, with thousands ending up dead every month. Humans killing humans over land and ideology, as if nothing had changed. Compared to famine and diseases, it was still on the lower end of the death numbers, but nonetheless, it had to be dealt with. With satellite imagery and drone surveillance, possible conflicts were analyzed, just as the region’s refugee patterns and movements. Conflicts were isolated, and troublemakers executed.

Exo and Skip opened the doors to their new office. A large space with glass windows all around. Their office was at the round end of the building, which warped the space into an oval shape. A young female human was standing in front of them, smiling brightly.

“Hi, Skip. Hi Exo. I’m Felia.”

When they had told them they would have a third team leader, they had not expected a human. She seemed to be of the welcoming kind. She had short blonde hair with bright blue stripes and was as tall as Skip. Pretty short for a human. She wore a modern but casual tuxedo and black jeans.

“I’ve been in human-lizard relations for the past year. Before that, I’ve been active in several NGOs and was managing the refugee influx. I’ve been told that you guys needed a briefing because you were not familiar with the department and the current things we are working on.”

They sat down in the conference room, and Felia gave both a tablet with a presentation of the briefing. The lizards that had escorted them left them alone.

“First of all, we have direct executive power by the Secretary-General and, therefore, a lot of freedom within and outside the government. If we need something, we get it. We can enact and propose policies and have the freedom to work as we please. We will get a few more personal in this office, probably around 10 for now; another 20 always on standby. We need to go through the current issues now before the rest of the team arrives. We are supposed to start right away. Everything good?”

Both nodded.

“Our biggest issue from scale is still the refugee migrations. The patterns and predictions of the migrations show us the decline in migrants over the next six months, until a drop of under 1000 per day at the end of the year. Now the refugees themselves and the emergency shelters and supplies are not a problem. We can produce more than enough in the cities. Even hygiene and medical supplies are cared for. The issue is the slow progress on rehousing. And we can see this in all 83 cities. The different building designs and low volunteer number means we will have only half of the refugees rehoused within the next three years. This also means the current emergency shelters would turn into slums by that time, which comes with way bigger problems. We currently have no alternative that would speed up the process. We have online courses on rehousing from experts for the volunteers, but the progress is slow even with qualified personal.”

Exo interrupted her. He had already looked through all 11 pages on the issue.

“What about off-site construction? Building new houses off-site and bringing them into the city. No refurbishing needed. Less maintenance and fewer volunteers as well.”

“We already tried it, but we would need to establish a completely new production process. The one from humans is not sustainable in the long run. The houses from their production would only last up to 10 years before they would start to fall apart. And we would need to demolish all the old buildings as well. I already talked with construction about it. It would speed up the process by only a few months. So instead of three years of rehousing half the refugees, we would be at two and a half at best.”

Skip had listened to both carefully. An idea had developed in his mind while both were talking, and his eyes widened.

“3D Printing.”

Both looked at him.

“But do we have any printers of that scale and for those materials? I thought the tech is not that far yet.”

Skip started to smile.

“All the shelters in this city were 3D printed. You never wondered why they look 100% identical? With a friend of mine, we worked on the newest generation of printers over the past years. Our work is now being used for tests in construction. The printer is adjustable and can print over 20 meters length by width. Printing new apartments up to 30 meters in height should also be no problem. We can even reuse the old materials from the previous houses. It’s all being currently tested in construction. We are reheating and separating the old materials and putting them right back into the printer. The whole apparatus is pretty large, but it is efficient and works.”

“What about electricity and water lines? They are running underground into the buildings. How can we reconnect them? And isolation? Does that get printed as well?”

“The connections for both are printed. The only thing we would have to do is get pipes and cables set up in the buildings, which takes just a few minutes, then drill holes towards the old lines and reconnect them. Both would only require two or three people and would be done within two hours. Isolation is also printed on-site, but the materials need to get brought in.”

“How long does the printing take? Does it have to cool down after printing?”

“With some designs that are close to what we need, we are looking at about 15 hours of printing. Another five to cool it down and then the finishing touches, setting up water and electricity. All in all, after 24 hours, the building should be ready. Then they’d only need some furniture.”

“How many apartments are in that design?”

“16 apartment, 50m² per apartment.”

“How many of these printers can we get?”

“We currently have 2 in testing, but they are easy to build. We can get another 20 within the next month.”

Felia was writing everything down on her tablet; then did some calculations.

“Ok. We need to start testing as soon as possible. It won’t be a problem to tear down all the old buildings, but we need to have some city planners on board. If we can build that many printers and distribute them worldwide, we are looking at a full rehousing within the next three years. Maybe even less. We need to coordinate this once the rest of the team is here. This is gold, Skip. You are a genius. I can’t believe this was flying under my radar.”

“Only a handful of people know about it, and a proper announcement was not planned for many weeks. There was no way for you to know.”

Exo smiled. “You are full of surprises, my friend. What else is on our list?”

“We need to get control over the human on human crime that has been picking up inside the cities. I mean, our main problem is not the crime itself but the core problem. No work, no opportunities. Stagnant life, no purpose. This is probably the most crucial issue thinking long-term.

Besides that, we still have the obvious environmental problems. Radiation hotspots, high but dropping pollution levels, and the vast amount of trash piling up everywhere. We have some teams specified for these tasks. They are already working on implementing sustainable recycling cycles. So those are not our primary issues. We just have to support the other teams as best we can.”

The trash had become an enormous issue over the past months. It was piling up just outside the cities, close to the emergency shelters. Most cities had no recycling centers, which meant the trash from rehousing and from the refugee shelters quickly overloaded local capacities.

They had reached the end of the presentation with a large image of a female lizard in an astronaut suit, giving them a thumbs up. In two weeks, several lizards would come aboard the space station—a historical event. Exo quickly jumped back to the beginning of the presentation.

“Number one and two are our primary issues at the moment? Then I would suggest we take care of Skip’s printers right away. When is our team arriving? We have to plan the construction and develop a detailed plan for the other cities to follow.”

“I will take a few of them and go to the test site right away. If we are lucky, we can start a test print later today. I need to make a few calls.”

Skip stood up and got out his phone. His friend was aware of Skip’s swap to the new department. They exchanged the model data for the new buildings to print. His friend stopped the current tests and briefed his team, so they could start testing as soon as possible.

Exo looked at Felia. She was visibly excited about how fast both of them were adjusting to the new tasks.

“I need some social scientists and data from the human population. We need to find out what they want the most and what is the easiest to implement. The actual content can be very diverse, but the general structure does not change. Humans want friends, community, responsibility, respect, and accomplishment. With some sprinkles of self-actualization. That should be our main focus for now. We just need to brainstorm the best approaches.”

“Sounds reasonable. I will coordinate our resources and inform you two about the progress.”

Skip got off his phone and walked back over to them.

“We can start testing in a few hours.”

Felia finished writing down several keynotes. She then made some calls of her own. A few minutes later, the rest of the team arrived and got briefed. They visited the printing test site in the evening. They ordered new printers in bulk, and by the end of the next day, a proper digital 3D model of the apartment building was completed. The city planners started working on a layout while the first bulldozers began to tear down the old houses at the edge of the city.

 

3

Sarah had never liked her uncle. He always seemed a bit off; weird remarks, openly offensive jokes, lousy hygiene. She never spent a lot of time with him when he was visiting. He was barely older than her dad but in top shape. His short beard and half bald hair made him look like a lunatic, though.

She was with him when it happened. Her parents were getting groceries for dinner. He was watching TV downstairs while she was in her room, chatting with her friends. Before she knew what had happened, he had kicked down the door and pulled her out of her room. He had his shotgun in his hand and ordered her to show him the basement. She was crying while he shoved her downstairs. He did not tell her what was going on, so she thought he was about to rape and kill her. He collected their supplies of cans and ammunition and left shortly after. Her parents found her lying in the basement.

Her parents just arrived at the store as they heard the news. They loaded up their van with canned food, household items, and water. They left just as the first panic shoppers arrived. They managed to tank their van, then drove into their garage and started to barricade. Then the first gunshots, the first looters, the first desperate souls trying to survive. Her father had a backup generator in the garage and a solar module on the roof. They were able to recharge their essentials and check TV and internet. They had rationed their supplies for three months but decided to leave the city after a bit over two. By then, the streets were empty, and the lizards had established control. They took most of their supplies and left for the nearest city who was accepting human refugees. It was over 1000 kilometers away. Their car was only getting them about 800 with a full tank, but with the rest of the fuel from the generator and a slow pace, they could make it.

While the streets were mostly clear, they did not expect the humans they encountered. Most of them were refugees, walking along the highway. Some waved, most ignored them. The first group of armed resistance they faced was trying to stop them. There was a roadblock of cars they had to crash through. Luckily, their car was only slightly damaged, and they could drive on. On their last stretch to the city, another group managed to stop them. They had guns and shot out the tires of the car, then forced them out. The men started to beat up her dad, looted the vehicle, and then left them tied up next to it.

A few hours later, a familiar face greeted them. Sarah’s uncle was leading the resistance in this area. He sarcastically thanked them for the supplies and brought them to their hideout: a small town close to the highway. Maybe 50 people lived here and followed his commands. Everyone carried guns; they were armed and dangerous. They believed the lizards to be the enemy that had invaded their land. They were out to kill the lizards and anyone associating with them.

After Sarah’s dad tried to explain what had happened in the lizard-controlled cities, he was beaten to a pulp. The lizards did not only accept refugees; they also gave out supplies, food, and water. The refugees had shelter outside the cities and were integrated again. It might not be the brightest future, but it was remarkable how much more humane the lizards were than the actual humans. Because her family had access to internet and TV, they had seen what the lizards did over the past months. They indeed had replaced humans as the dominant species on Earth, but instead of eradicating them, they wanted to coexist and build a future on this planet together.

The following months Sarah and her parents had to follow her uncle’s lead. They moved from small town to small town, looting houses and stores. If they found other humans, they would recruit them, but if they had some connection to the lizards or did not conform to her uncle’s ideas, they were beaten up and left chained on trees or directly executed. Her dad refused to hurt anyone, so they hurt him instead. After a while, they moved on to her mother. She had bruises all over her body and was visibly shaking each time they had interrogated her. She was unsure if her dad had noticed, but they had done more than what was visible. Sarah was only 16, which for them was a reason to leave her alone. Maybe watching the pain of her parents was enough for them.

They had slowly moved into the direction of one of the lizard-controlled cities. Sarah checked their path daily on her phone. She had managed to hide her phone from the others, and none of them knew that her black jacket had a solar-battery module built into it. It would charge a small battery that she used to charge her phone with. While her GPS was still working, her SIM and the emergency numbers had stopped long ago, making it impossible to call for help.

Twenty kilometers away from the city, they noticed the first signs. Short information about the status of the city and that they were accepting refugees. A checkpoint was a few kilometers ahead. They were running low on supplies, so her uncle planned to fight through the checkpoint and get some.

The checkpoint was operated by armed humans who gave out supplies to the incoming refugees. They had enough for everyone, and their concern was their wellbeing, not to convert or enslave anyone. Sarah and her parents were relieved. After months of hearing her uncle’s stories, it turned out that none of it was true. But her uncle was not as happy about it as they were. He planned an attack on the checkpoint at night. Sarah and her parents planned to flee into the city at the same time. It was risky, but their only chance. Shortly after her uncle was making a move on the checkpoint, they snuck away from the group. They did a circle around them and arrived before them. Her uncle noticed them when they started to run out of the woods. Just as Sarah reached the barricade of the checkpoint, they began to fire.

The checkpoint was well prepared and had anticipated such a move; it wasn’t their first fight. Sarah and her parents were commanded to lay on the ground, with their hands behind their backs. The soldiers were not taking any risks. Her uncle’s group stormed the barricade shortly after. The bullets were flying over their heads, but they were too high to hit any of them. Her uncle was getting closer and closer to the barricade. The soldiers were barely shooting back. She was getting nervous. If her uncle could get to them, a bullet to the head seemed like the most humane outcome.

After the group was up 20 meters to the barricade, a command was yelled from the soldiers. A loud metal clang was going through the air as two small metal covers dropped from the barricade. Behind them were two large mounted MGs with a glass cover. They started firing. Simultaneously, several large spotlights were turned on and pointed at the attackers, blinding them. The MGs sounded more like artillery than a machine gun. The group of attackers had no time to react. They were out in the open with little cover and could not retreat nor push forwards. The ones that managed to hide behind cars and concrete were stuck. The large bullets of the MGs were blasting through bodies. The group got decimated to a pulp of meat. The scene resembled more of a butcher shop than an armed fight. The few attackers stuck behind cover were flanked by a group of soldiers that rotated around the sides. The soldiers were taking them out one by one. None of the attackers survived. No soldier died.

While the soldiers were carrying the bodies away from the street, Sarah was asked several questions. Who they are, where they lived, what they did the past months? All while lying on their stomachs with their hands behind their back. After the questioning, the soldier left them lying on the ground. He came back a few minutes later, after he confirmed their identities. They were now officially refugees.

Two more soldiers came up to them with warm tea and blankets in their hands. Sarah only now noticed that her dad had not responded to any of the questions nor moved since the attack. They had to use a flashlight to confirm the inevitable. A stray bullet had pierced his head. He was dead long before the fight had been over.

 

4

Sarah came back with two bowls of soup. She was walking over the wooden planks that were laid out over the muddy ground. It had rained the past few days, and the whole camp was dirty, except the white tents and containers in which everyone lived. They were stretching over kilometers towards the horizon and the skyscrapers of the city. Sarah got out of her boots and walked inside the small container that she and her mother shared with two other families. An Indian mother with two little kids, 6 and 8 years old. If they were not running around or playing in the mud, they were sleeping, as they were right now. Their mother writing beside them. The other family was a young mother, barely older than Sarah. She had given birth a few weeks ago and still looked exhausted. She did not talk to anyone about her past. She had become pregnant many months after the bombs, which meant everyone was assuming the worst.

Her mother was lying on her small stretcher bed. She woke up from the smell of the soup. She had been getting worse over the past months. Her menstruation was getting bloodier each month, until she was continually bleeding. The cramps and pain in her stomach kept getting worse as well. They both knew the reason, but they did not talk about it.

“Thank you, Sarah.”

Her voice was screeching, and she looked pale. She had to eat to stay as healthy as she could. The food itself was surprisingly good for a refugee camp. Often it was even better than what Sarah remembered from home. On her second day in the camp, a female, old chubby lizard was filling her plate. It was the first lizards she had seen in person, and she was smiling at Sarah.

“Enjoy your meal, my dear.”

For a moment, she thought she was speaking to her granny reincarnated. Besides the chubby granny, she had barely seen any lizards in the camp. The only ones she had seen seemed to be military. It seemed like the lizards were managing the planning and logistics while humans were executing the work.

Her mother coughed while eating the soup. Last month a nurse had checked on her. It seemed like the only shortage the lizards had, besides housing, was qualified personal. Doctors were busy with the severely wounded. Her mother needed several operations and special care, barely possible with the number of more extreme cases in the camp. She had to wait like everyone else. Sarah had checked the official numbers of the city. The lizards were extremely transparent with their work and shared almost all the data on refugees, capacities, injuries, etc.

Their city had 4 million inhabitants, 1 million refugees, 189 thousand sick and injured refugees, 49 thousand in severe conditions. 8 thousand doctors in the refugee camps, 43 thousand nurses. The other cities reported similar numbers. While the numbers of doctors and nurses were steadily rising, the number of refugees grew even faster. The rehousing statistic looked rather dire. Eighty-two thousand people had received housing inside the city, less than 20 thousand every month. Even if they could speed up the process, it would take many years until the camps would get empty.

They had excellent infrastructure, though: running hot and cold water in the containers, electricity, free WIFI, and three meals a day, which actually tasted good. She had no idea how this was all managed, but none of the refugee camps ever run by humans came even close to these standards.

After she had brought back the dishes, she stayed inside the canteen and checked her phone. She still had not received any messages from her friends. One after another, they had stopped responding and disappeared over the months. Maybe they had lost their phone, or they had no access to electricity? Perhaps something worse had happened, but she did not want to think about it. She had to care for her mother. That was the least she could do at the moment. She was also taking online courses that were provided by the government. They were made explicitly for refugees and how they could help out with whatever knowledge they had. It felt good to work at least on something while she was here. Who knows how long she had to stay?

The old chubby lizard was suddenly sitting down in front of her. She had her tray of food on the table and took a long and deep sniff.

“Eating together is so much more fun. Here, have some, my dear. You need to stay strong.”

The woman had two bowls of soup on her tray. Sarah could not resist the smell and started to eat.

“Thank you.”

“Oh, no problem. I remembered you when you came here months ago. Pale and skinny. Your long blonde hair was all curly and messy. Now look at you. You look like a different person.”

Sarah smiled and the nervous feeling of talking to the old lizard slowly faded.

“You are the only lizard I’ve seen working here. Where are all the other? Why are only you here?”

“I’m pretty old for a lizard, you know. The only thing I am still useful for is cooking. I was working with food all my life, managing everything, from deliveries to cooking myself. But you know how it is; you don’t stay young forever. But seeing different faces every day and making good food is enough for me.”

Sarah was surprised. The lizard was a humble old granny. Maybe she could adopt her?

“There are not many lizards in this city. Maybe 10 thousand, probably less. We are better used for planning everything than actually executing it. That’s what humans are good at. We give them a simple task, and they do it. We are working hand in hand though. But you also won’t see many of us in the camps in general. You don’t want to scare or spook people. They need to get used to the idea of having us around. Now eat. Your soup is getting cold.”

 

5

Another four weeks had passed when her mother died. She was losing more blood than she could produce. Several nurses tried their best to help, but there was no possibility to fix all the wounds in her uterus. They were ripping open again and again without proper surgery. A doctor visited them a few days before she died. The doctor examined her but could only repeat what the nurses had said. They had to prioritize other operations and were already working around the clock. Every single life mattered, but the main goal was to help as many people as possible. The only good news was that her mother was up high on the waiting list. But they could not say when she would get operated. Maybe in two weeks, maybe two months.

But even if they could operate right away, her mother had gotten very weak. The operation itself might already be too much for her.

“Sarah Melicic? I’m Felia Scorn. I’m working for rehousing.”

The young woman with short blonde hair was standing at the entrance of the container. She wore the yellow vest that made her stood out from the rest of the people. She took off her shoes and made her way over to Sarah. Sarah pulled out her hand, but Felia gave her a big long hug instead.

“I’m sorry about your parents. We are all doing our best, but that means that sometimes we can’t do enough. Don’t blame yourself for what happened. Nobody could predict any of this.”

Sarah had not shed a tear since her father had died. It was like she had gotten numb. Her mother had been sleeping all day for the last weeks of her life, and in the bright moments, they would only talk for a few minutes. Sarah had not even begun to understand her trauma. These sudden emotions from a stranger made her soft. She started to quietly cry on Felia’s shoulder.

Still being legally a child, Sarah was upfront in the queue. She was being rehoused with other children who also had lost their families. A couple in their 30s were taking care of her and five other children—a new life among lizards.

 

6

“Ok, everyone. This is the mission report, as I will present it in front of Congress tomorrow. It will all be streamed live, so you can see more of it if you want to. I will keep it short here because we all still have work to do.”

Felia was standing at the end of the small conference room. The light had been dimmed, and only the monitor on the wall and the tablets in front of them were lighting the room. The team put on their semi-transparent glasses, which made them see the videos and graphs displayed during the presentation.

“It has been almost three years since this department opened, almost five years since the bombs. Our priority was the rehousing of the refugees. We looked for several options in terms of city planning and started the first prints within one week. We exported hundreds of printers, and within one year, all cities had at least one printer available. Thanks to Skip and his team, we were not only able to build more printers, but we could also reuse most of the building materials on site, which saved incredible amounts of resources and, most of all, time.”

They all saw the construction of the printers and a time-lapse of printing entire buildings and neighborhoods. The video showed cities around the world slowly expanding. At the same time, they saw the refugee camps getting smaller and smaller, till they almost disappeared from the landscape.

“We made sure that city planning included public places like playgrounds, stores, parks, etc. They were also adjusted to the local needs and gave the teams enough flexibility and experimentation.

The numbers of refugees have been going down steadily since the start of our rehousing project, and as of today, 58 out of 83 cities have less than 1000 refugees in total.”

Somebody started to clap. Someone else joined until the whole room was filled with celebratory shouting and noise. It had been an enormous task, but they had managed to pull it off. It was a much-needed moment after all this time. The department downstairs had to pause their meeting for a moment from all the noise above. After a few minutes of laughing and releasing tensions, Felia continued.

“Now we do have all these printers standing around—25 just in this city. But Skip’s team has continued to tweak them. The new updates come with several improvements that allow us to print many more objects from a lot more materials. It makes them extremely versatile and turns them into a mobile printing base that all our departments can benefit from.”

After a short run-down of the newest printer updates, the presentation switched to the next topic.

“Because most of the work on the rehousing was finished about a year ago, we shifted our focus on our second issue. Giving purpose to all the people living in the cities. The people who are unemployed but cared for.”

Some of the polls that had been conducted at the start of the rehousing project were displayed. While most people were grateful and happy having a home, shelter, and food, they were getting resentful over the next months. They had nothing to do, and the volunteers were desperately needed, required a certain level of qualification.

There were already online courses for volunteers before they had opened the department, but Exo made sure to expand them immensely. Every kind of job they needed in rehousing, the camps, or in the local administration was turned into an online course. Exo and his team created an online platform. They developed a quiz to find out what the person was interested in or good at. At first, they used it only to get some data on the volunteers; then they started to redirect people with prior professions or experience to the fields that were needed.

The passivity rate was 90% during the first months after the bombs. Almost all production was automated, so there were no jobs to be filled. Even distribution was handled by AI. They had stopped using the word unemployment rate because employment was not a factor of wellbeing anymore. There were no jobs left in the classical sense, and there was nothing to pay people with, as they were all receiving money and shelter from the government. People did not long for employment; they wanted to make use of their skills and knowledge, make a difference in this world.

With the new courses, they increased the volunteer numbers dramatically all over the cities. The passivity rate dropped from 90% to 40%. But with the lower refugee numbers, the priorities were shifting again. People were eager to bring the world forward. Science, engineering, development, arts. New courses, new ideas, new problems, new solutions. Exo had laid the groundwork with the platform, but now other people were taking over. He had done his job.

“Why did you not tell them?”

Skip, Exo and Felia were standing on the building’s small roof and were looking over the city. They were surrounded by a large green space of plants, flowers, and a garden. It was a great spot to relax and recharge. In the distance, the white printed houses were smiling at them. From here, they could see the few buildings that had already been repainted. There were art contests throughout the city, and several rows of houses resembled a rainbow with their different colors.

“Why didn’t you tell them? You did the presentation.”

They were looking into the distance, paper cups of cheap coffee in their hands. They were in charge of the department for almost three years now. The total number of colleagues had grown to nearly 300. But now it was time to say goodbye. All three of them had received the letter: they were being moved. They did not know where to, except Exo, Exo was moving into parliament as Minister of Education. With the background of the past years, it made sense to use him in the best way possible, but he was still thinking about refusing. After three years, he was tired. He would listen to what exactly they had planned for him, then decide.

Skip had worked immensely on the printers over the past years. Half of his team was working exclusively on it. Maybe he would get his own department? Felia wanted to go back to her previous job, caring for the refugees. Nostalgia filled the rooftop. They had to say goodbye soon, not forever, but for long.

“You know, I always held much of the work ethic and leadership of lizards, but you two exceeded my expectations. None of the humans I’ve worked with were as disciplined and focused as you two, not even the ones from the military.”

Exo looked over and into her eyes.

“I did not expect much when I knew that I would work with a human colleague, but you were surprisingly flexible and humorous. I’ve always seen you more as a child than an adult.”

His mouth formed a sarcastic smile, and the lizards laughed. Felia punched him on the shoulder.

“As a lizard child, not a human child.”, he added.

“How is your son, Skip?”

Felia had noticed Skip drifting off. He was watching the horizon, which the sun was slowly moving towards.

“He’s good. We video chat when I can’t leave the job, which is sadly way too often. He is growing so fast. He will already be an adult in two years. It’s incredible to see him outgrow all the human children around him. They both start the same size when born, but it takes only a quarter of years for lizards to be fully grown. It’s weird explaining to him that every birthday makes him four years older till he hits 24. He is starting university next year. Above ground, mixed with humans. We will see how that goes.”

He faintly smiled.

“It’s weird.”, he continued.

“Lizards never have deep connections with their family, but I feel deeply connected to him. Maybe I’ve been living among humans for too long.”

He laughed. Felia, standing between both of them, swung her arms around them. They stayed up on the roof a bit longer, till the sun was entirely gone behind the horizon. They had a few more stories to tell before they would say goodbye.

The evening news was starting while they were still on the roof. Most of their team had already gone home; only a few were left. They sat together and had a snack when one of them turned up the news.

“You guys see what I see.”, the young female red-scaled lizards proclaimed happily.

The first lizard crew had landed on the base on Mars. It was a huge event, but for them, something else was way more important. In the video’s background, they could see the large printer that was being lifted out of the capsule. It was the newest generation of Skip’s printers. The remaining team of lizards and humans in the office made a toast. The next news was about the new ministers going into office. For the first time, human ministers were occupying seats. Out of the 512 seats in the world parliament, 34 were now human.

 

7

He had finished his presentation, and the people in the auditorium were looking at him in wonder. It must be the first time they had seen a lizard in person, and the first time they had listened to a subfield of evolutionary biology. The only ones who were only impressed in an academic sense were the human and lizard professors in the first few rows. After they had finished their round of questioning, they congratulated him on his work.

He had carefully looked through the rows before he left the stage. He could not find her. Maybe she was watching him online? He left the stage and walked across the campus to his room. It was the late afternoon; lots of students had finished their classes and were strolling around. He received the usual looks. Humans were still not used to lizards among them, or maybe, it was just his unusual camouflage—green scales walking over green grass.

He arrived in his room and started to clean his desk. He had left it in a hurry, and notes and papers were laying all over it. He was halfway done when someone knocked at his door: a woman dressed in military clothing. She was holding a letter in her hand. Behind her, two large bags were standing in the hallway.

“Congratulations. You’ve been selected.”

He read through the letter. He was officially part of the program. Training would start in three days on the other side of the planet. His flight was tonight. He had to tell her.

“I’ll help you bag your stuff, and then we leave. We have about one hour. If you need to say goodbye to anyone, do it now.”

They bagged his stuff in a hurry. It was a small room, and they were done within a few minutes.

“I’ll wait for you at the entrance in the white van. Don’t make me wait.”

Was she still on campus? He headed over to her room, but she wasn’t there. Her flatmates were not helpful either and instead asked him why they spend their time together.

She did not answer her phone or reply to his messages, which was not unusual, but started to irritate him. He checked her classes, but they had already finished. Where would she go afterward? It rattled in his mind; then he ran towards the entrance. He could already see her long hair on one of the benches. She was observing people while drawing in her notebook. He smiled.

8

He dropped on his bed. He was exhausted. Today they had passed the last test. Four days left till take-off. They were the last group that had to go through rigorous testing and training. Everyone else going to Mars after them only had to pass a simple physical. Three days of testing instead of three months. But the next trip was scheduled more than six months later. He’d rather do all the tests than wait another month. Two other lizards and one human occupied the small white container shaped room with bunkbeds. They were all female and experts in their fields: a great addition to the existing team on Mars. The room was built exactly how it was on Mars so that they could get used to it. They had lived in it for over a month by now.

There were 44 people on Mars at the moment, 24 lizards, 12 humans, and eight robots. The four ships scheduled in 6 months would bring another 58 of each. The expansion was happening rather quickly. With the new printer, they could print and make an entire work- or crew-container usable within days. Besides his work as a biochemist, experimenting and analyzing soil and minerals, his responsibility was taking care of the rapid expansion done with the printers. He knew the printers inside out. His dad had been obsessively working on them his entire life.

The three women discussed the mining sites currently being built on the moon suddenly looked over to him. He was lying in his bed, looking at pictures on his phone.

“Hey, green boy. You haven’t told us what will happen to your girlfriend. Is she going to come within the next cycles? Have you two made any plans yet?”

All three curiously looked at him while he slowly turned around.

“She has applied for it but did not get a response yet. We have to wait and see.”

“I’m sure she will make it. You two did the study on extra-elastic materials together, right? If that does not qualify her, then I don’t know what else will. And they are planning on upping the numbers anyway.”

“She is still very young compared to all the other Marians. The average age for a woman on Mars is 31. She is 22.”

“So it’s about time they let some young blood on the planet.”

The woman smiled wholesomely and brightened his gloomy mood.

“Are you two having any plans for the next days? We have free time till take-off.”

“Her plane will land tomorrow afternoon. Then we spend the last two days together, and she will stay here till I leave.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Do you have a picture of her? You never showed us.”

He swiped a few times on his phone, then showed the young girl with long blonde hair and hazelnut eyes to his roommates.

“Wow. What? She is human? You never told us! That is amazing.”

“But how does that work? I mean, how does that work down there?”

She was pointing at her crouch. He laughed out and made a smirky smile.

 

9

The table was dimly lit as the two lizards walked towards it. They both wore sleek attire. Nobody noticed their faces. The few businessmen at the bar quietly exchanged stories and broke out in laughter every once in a while. Slow blues was playing in the background.

“You are always picking the weirdest places. This makes me feel like I am in a movie from the 60s, and were about to plan a heist.”

The green lizard looked up and smiled at the woman. She got older and had some wrinkles on her face, but she had not lost her humor. It was the third time the three had met after their parting, and each time she had selected weird and atmospheric places. Almost ten years had passed, and the world had become a different place. The issues they once worked on were things of the past. They were disappearing in the vastness of the net among all the small details that once were relevant.

“I’m glad you two are still in shape. You even managed to dress up for the occasion.”

Exo put on his sarcastic smile.

“You are looking older.”

“Thanks, you two don’t look that young anymore either. Soon you guys need some face-lifting so you can keep up with the young ones who will take your jobs.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll just send them to Mars before they can get close.”

“Ain’t your kid on Mars Skip? How is he doing?”

They had ordered drinks through the tablet on the table. A fruity and strong odor filled their noses as they arrived.

“He’s been there for quite some time now. We are still in contact regularly. His girlfriend is with him now, so he is the happiest he can be. He loves what he does and loves the people he is around with. From the looks of it, our colony on Mars had a great start.”

Indeed, the once small colony had developed rapidly over the years. What once was a research outpost had grown into a small, self-sufficient town. One thousand four hundred people lived and worked there, and every few months more arrived. Lizards and humans working together as if it had never been different.

“Are you still leading the printing project? Or did they send you somewhere else again?”

“I’m still in it, but as an advisor. I know all the details, but I don’t work on the frontlines anymore. I’ve been doing some research with a small team on organic materials over the past years, and we are getting better and better. We are currently printing out organs and body parts. We still have some kinks to polish, but it is already ready for use. What about you? There are no refugees to integrate left, so what are you up to these days?”

Felia had already finished her drink and was ordering the next one that sounded interesting. Her purple top was glittering, even in the dim light.

“Have you not read anything I’ve sent you in the emails? I haven’t been doing that for years now. I managed the camps, then the rehousing and integration into the local communities. They had nowhere to put me afterward, and I did not mind a break. I traveled around the world for a few years. I did some photography and wrote articles. It is astonishing how different yet similar all the cities and people were. Have you not read any of it?”

Skip started to feel ashamed. He remembered the euphoric emails he had gotten every few months, but he never clicked on the links or took a look at her articles and pictures.

“Here.”

Felia folded her phone open and started to show them the pictures.

“Don’t look at me like I haven’t seen them. Believe it or not, but I read all your stuff.”

Felia looked at Exo, slightly confused.

“As a minister, you would have gotten a free card from me. I did not know that you had so little to do that you could read all my stuff.”

Exo smiled.

“I’m the guy without any family or friends. If anyone should have time to kill, it should be me.”

Felia focused back on the photos and told Skip everything about them. As Exo noticed the number of pictures in the folder, he swapped seats with her so Skip could get a better look. He listened to them while he was relaxing with his cold drink.

His life as a minister had passed without much happening. Sometimes he had felt useless. The most action and excitement he had gotten in his job was when his plane had to redirect and land 200 kilometers away from his destination. No one picked him up, so he rented an electric sportscar and raced to the meeting. Halfway there, he called the local authorities to get an escort through the city streets. Racing with two police cars, he arrived on time and could still get lunch.

In the evening, his racing tour was the headline in the news. There were videos of him racing over the highway and drifting around the city. While he was getting a raised eyebrow from his colleagues the next day, the internet loved him. A picture of his tensed-up face while holding the steering wheel at 300 km/h went viral and stayed a popular meme for years. People appreciated how serious he was taking his job, although somewhat recklessly.

His other days were mostly going from meeting to meeting. Reading about and discussing current issues. He was traveling around the world every once in a while. Checking out facilities, the newest generation of AI robots that were harvesting crops and working in warehouses, and some small cities that were still not fully integrated into society. They were run with lizard oversight but developed a lot slower. The people there were several years behind current trends. Connecting them to the local community proved challenging. Many residents moved to nearby cities, while others wanted to keep a distance. It was their choice, but he tried to help them out the best he could.

After several years in office, he had a ski accident on a day off. He broke his leg and several ribs. He felt fine, but the doctors took the advantage to update his body to current health standards. He was getting several implants that monitored his body functions and several shots of different drugs. The first one reconnected and strengthened his bones; the next refreshed his body cells. It was the newest deal in anti-aging, and it paid off. He was looking a bit younger again, and his cells were working at their best. After he received the treatments, he made sure it would become widely available as soon as possible.

Thanks to the many transparency laws in the government, no representative or ministers were allowed to be involved in the companies producing the drugs, or in any companies for that matter. It rooted out the corruption problems quickly, although some adapted to a more advanced strategy. Exo had managed the anti-corruption unit for several years, and they implemented even more transparency as a result. If you were a representative, all your information about your past, your bank transaction, your purchases, your portfolio, your frequently contacted people had to be visible online for everyone to see.

Exo had enjoyed the job, but he noticed that it was turning stale. The post-bomb years had made everyone alert and cautious, which was slowly fading. He had made a public talk about it a while back, and enough people seemed to understand. After the war is before the war, they had to use the peaceful time to prepare for whatever would come next. Pandemic, meteor strike, whatever it would be. The better prepared they were, the less damage the next black-swan event would cause.

He planned to get out of the government in the next election cycle. The world was slowing down, but it was slowing down too much for him. He needed something new.

“And this was New Delhi two months ago. And here is a comparison. Hardly to identify, right? Even during the first years with all the refugees. Then it bloomed; the whole city.”

She continued to show pictures of New Delhi. The large megacity had developed rapidly over the past decade. White Skyscrapers, large apartment complexes, and the size of the city itself had rapidly expanded. There were more pictures of the changed localities. You could see solar roofs almost everywhere. The streets were now clean and mostly used by pedestrians and small scooters. The air quality had improved immensely, and the living standard was virtually on par with many other cities around the world.

The same was visible with the other cities she had visited. While they all stayed true to their local identity, they had transformed and changed into something majestic and beautiful.

Skip had seen some of those pictures before. They were in newspapers and magazines, but he had no idea that they were hers. The last images were dedicated to the base on Mars. She drew the comparison from all the advancements in the cities to the improvements on Mars. And while she did not notice it, Skip was barely listening to her at that point. His son and her girlfriend were stuck in his head. They had sent him a picture of themselves while cultivating crops with Martian soil. They were smiling on the image, holding each other, and a small pot of plants.

 

10

The drill carefully made its way into the hard crust of the surface. It pushed out the red soil on its sides, which was being sucked up by a vacuum attached to the drill. The soil was collected in bags, then analyzed. But that was not why they were drilling here.

“Halfway there. Slow it down a bit.”

The woman in the white suit slowed the drill. Her suit had gotten a slight red tone from the soil, but the red stripes on the helmet and shoulders were still visible. She was holding the small drill in her hands; the lizard behind her was making sure everything was going to plan. This was her third drilling, so he had to make sure she would do everything correctly.

The small monitor on the drill showed the marked area they were interested in. A scan on the previous day had shown an unusual formation they had not seen before.

“Ok, that’s enough.”

They pulled out the drill and put it back on the small two-seated rover. She had drilled a circle around the object; now they only needed to get it out. They were over an hour away from the base and made sure to check the weather conditions every few minutes. There was a sandstorm coming that would block access for the next few days. A three-hour window was all they had. Barely enough time. They had to work quickly and efficiently. The time was already halfway up.

The drill’s tip was replaced with a more elastic version, which was drilling horizontally through the ground while covering the loose soil above with a net. They first pulled out the drill on the other side of the hole, then the patch of dirt covered in the net. They stored it in a container, cleaned the drill, and used it again for the marked formation. It was a small layer, so it took not much time to get it out.

They sealed the small rock in a special container that would ensure its survival, then packed the rest of their stuff into the rover. The lizard pulled out a small stick and held it over the drilling site. He pressed the little red button and the stick enlarged. It dug itself into the bottom of the soil and expanded about a meter above the ground. A red flag popped out at the top, and the transponder was activated.

“Done. Let’s get back to base.”

They raced over the small dunes and rocky hills back to base. They were halfway there, but the weather was getting worse. They received a message. The people at base were worried but not mad yet, which was good.

They quickly stopped on a large hill they had spent at least 10 minutes to drive up to. They were on a large red rock formation, an enormous valley stretching in front of them. The view was magnificent. From left to right, the sky was slowly turning from a dark blue into a mushy red sandstorm. The valley was glittering from the sun shining on the small rocks and the sand particles in the air. They had to hurry. Once the storm would get them, it was only a matter of minutes until the rover would get clogged up with sand and stop working.

They raced down into the valley. The small entry to the base became visible with its large white doors on the ground.

“We’re there. Open up.”

“Jeez. You guys are nuts to go out with this weather. As if Mars was not hostile enough.”

The white doors slowly opened, and they jumped into the hole. They hit the brakes and slowed down just in time to not hit the other parking rovers.

The black and green-scaled lizard behind the decontamination window looked at them. His expression was a mix of annoyance and acceptance. He had seen them do this several times already.

“Alright, let’s get you cleaned up. Don’t get it messy in here.”

They drove the rover into the big chamber and unloaded all the tools and bags. They put the bags with soil and rocks into a container for incoming materials, then walked into the smaller chamber designed for humans and lizards.

They got into their casual indoor clothes and picked up the bags of decontaminated materials from the other side of the chamber, then made their way through the small corridors into the base.

“Enjoy your stay.”

The base was built into the ground next to a solid rock formation. The first base on Mars was made with containers on the surface, but it had been dismantled and abandoned years ago. The sandstorms had damaged it beyond repair, but it was never meant to be used for the long term. Living underground avoided the frequent storms, the radiation, and was a long-term solution. This base was one of 13. They were all within several kilometers from each other and connected through tunnels. This one was one of the larger ones. It had 18 levels, totaling 1591 residents. The total population on Mars to date was 21 thousand, but it was expected to increase once the two mega bases were completed. Fifty-one levels with space for almost 30 thousand residents each. And those were only the ones in construction. There were plans for many more, but people needed to get here first.

The lizard and the woman walked side by side through the corridors. They passed the smaller research labs until they reached their own. They put down the bags of soil at the corner of the room. They would later pour it into the machines and let them analyze it. They got out the sealed container and moved it into the sterile box. They opened it and placed the rock into the scanner.

It would take a while, so they both went to get lunch. The canteen was nearly empty. It was late afternoon, and most of the busy bees had already eaten, except the busiest of bees who wouldn’t stay at the canteen or visit at very absurd times. There were three lizards and one human sleeping on a table in the corner. It was probably more comfortable in their beds, but they were most likely filled with papers and documents.

They took their food back to their lab and waited for the results. They had perfected the timing over the past months. There was enough time to get food and finish it before the results would be ready, and work could be resumed. But this time, the results were already done way ahead of schedule. They were not even halfway done with their food.

“Sarah, look at this.”

She looked on the monitor, then through the magnifying glasses. She repeated it a few times till she looked at him, confused.

“This came from our sample?”

They cleaned the sample and the scanner, then repeated the testing and received the same results. They sat in their chairs, looking at each other baffled.

“This means…”

“Yes, this would confirm the theory, or at least give it strong evidence.”

“What should we do?”

“We double test it with the other labs, make a report and attach the raw sample data. Let’s get this out before Europe wakes up.”

11

In an old, run-down house on the outskirts of Paris, a phone started to ring. It was an old phone—a landline. The chubby old lady of the house ran downstairs. She was already up and had just made coffee.

“Eddie, it’s for you!”

The white-scaled lizard made his way downstairs on his cone.

“Thanks, honey.”

The lizard listened carefully and seemed to get more awake with every word he heard. He then walked over to the kitchen and took a sip of coffee his wife had prepared. On a piece of paper, he started to write down notes. His wife looked at him while wiggling her tail.

“Exciting news, honey. I have to call them.”

“Call who?”

“Everyone.”

A few hours later, still in the early morning, the group of elderly and middle-aged scientists was meeting in a large conference room in the center of Paris. A lot more were following the conference online. Before they had met, more data came in from Mars. Some of them were still reading through it. The sample had run through several labs and was analyzed by several people. There could not be a mistake. The sample came from an asteroid from outer space. Calls were made, and a few hours later, it was the headline of the day.

Fossil on Mars confirms; We are Aliens!

Two scientists made an astonishing breakthrough on Mars; In a fossil sample they found not only the exact strain of bacteria that is believed to be the origin of life on Earth, they also found the exact soil composition associated with materials in the maria trench, where it is suggested that life on Earth had started. The fragment of soil was surrounded by a shell of materials that have only been observed in asteroids coming from outer space. This provides strong evidence to the theory that life came from outer space on asteroids and then developed on Earth.

 

12

“You think he forgot about it?”

“Forgot about it? You must have forgotten to read your emails. He left for Mars a few months ago.”

“Oh, no. And I even send him the details of the meeting. I feel pretty dumb now.”

They both were standing outside the small restaurant. It was raining. They had no umbrella and had waited for quite a while now. The street lamps had started to light up the street and the surrounding buildings.

“Why did you not tell me? We could be already eating inside.”

“Well, he could have showed up suddenly, who knows.”

He started to put on his smirky smile.

“But it was even funnier watching you wait. Made the reveal even more impactful.”

“You asshole.”

She smiled. They both laughed and walked inside.

“Check your emails; he had attached several images of the whole family. His son has been on Mars for over a decade now. I think his girlfriend as well.”

“About time they reunite. Communicating with emails and videos for years must be tiresome.”

He indeed had attached several pictures. Some on him outside in his suit and several of him, his son and his girlfriend. It was remarkable how much alike Skip and his son looked. Both were not tall, Skip even smaller than his son, and both had the same green scales. There were several pictures of Skip inspecting the printers and lab equipment. They taught him how science on Mars worked. They looked happy.

“So, what are you up? It is only us two left now.”

“I’ve had some time off. Being a minister on Earth had become rather boring. I was assisting several projects after I left office, but I’ve been having some quiet time the past year. Catching up on books and movies. I’ve also been painting a bit.”

She looked at him like he had just insulted her.

“Bullshit. That does not sound like you at all. I can’t believe you would enjoy that.”

“I didn’t. I mean, it was something different, and I can see the fun in it, but it’s not for me long-term.”

“So, what is up next? Don’t tell me you have some kind of midlife crisis.”

“Well, I am going on an adventure.”

“Are you moving into a retirement home?”

“Jesus, Felia.”

She had made him laugh this time. Maybe a bit too loud, as many of the guests in the restaurant turned towards them. He turned quiet but continued laughing.

“They would kick me out or kill me in my sleep. No, I’m going to Mars.”

“Really? I mean, I would not have expected that, but it kinda makes sense.”

“I’m leaving next month for good. They have all the tech we have on Earth, if not even better. And they need my expertise more than anyone on Earth.”

“Wait a minute. Are you going to be the first minister of Mars?”

He smiled.

“You guessed it.”

“That’s great for you and Mars. But you are going to leave me all by myself. You know that I never married and all my family died with the bombs. I have some friends sure, but I’ll miss both of you.”

His smile grew bigger.

“Hey! What is up with you? Are you happy that you won’t have to see me again?”

“You know, it is hard to manage an entire colony by myself. A minister needs an assistant to know what is going on and what he needs to focus on. Surprisingly, I haven’t found anyone worthy of the job yet.”

“You are such a slimy bastard.”

 

13

The phone rang. This time it was Eddie who managed to pick up. Every call on the landline in the past 18 years had been for him, but this one was different. It confused him for a moment.

“Honey, this is for you.”

His wife was sitting in the living room with hot chocolate and read a book by a famous minister. The cover featured him drifting in a red sports car with his mouth wide open. Next to him, two police cars were struggling to keep up.

“I haven’t heard from you in forever! How are you doing? How did you get this number? Yes, I remember the girl. She had lost her father and mother; what a sad story. Do you know what happened to her? Ok. Eddie, turn on the TV!”

They both wobbled into the living room and turned on the large TV. They switched it to the news channel and selected the news from noon from the archive. It took her a while to recognize the young girl she once knew. She was way older now, but the long blonde hair was as beautiful as she remembered.

The news showed a picture of her with her boyfriend, a green lizard, barely taller than her. Then it showed them both together, holding a baby.

Eddie dropped the remote.

“Oh my god. That I am still alive to witness this.”

The baby was the first of its kind. A young girl: half-human, half-lizard. She looked bizarre and yet beautiful with her many teeth and short tail.

The news showed the girl walking around her apartment and carried on her dad’s shoulders—a few more videos, then a group photo. In the middle, the small girl with her proud parents. A green but older lizard laid his arm around the father’s shoulders and smiled brightly. She remembered him. He must have been involved in the rehousing project in some way. On the other side of the picture, the green-red lizard, which book she was currently reading. He looked determined and was one head taller than all of them. Leaning onto him, a short-haired human woman, who had crossed her arms and appeared incredibly confident for her age, only missing a pair of sunglasses. They looked like a weird bunch, but at the same time, like they’ve known each other for a long time.

“You want to go to Mars, Eddie?”

“You bet.”