Alexander Gilliatt

On the first day of my expedition, I saw the stones.

I wandered off my drab little landing craft with an audible thunk, accompanied by my two companions, Ms. Gessen and Mr. Clark. To this day I don’t remember if Clark was his first name or his last; I just went along with it out of an irrational embarrassment to ask him. As we trundled off the little staircase in our obnoxiously large, sterile, white suits, we found ourselves in front of a forest entirely alien to us. The leaves were green and the bark was brown, but the entirety of the woodland seemed to be filled with thin stripes and small spots of vibrant color, as if the trees were nervous to admit they had anything interesting to see. Mr. Clark cut a patch out of the trunk of the nearest tree and found its flesh to be startlingly orange; Ms. Gessen lifted a jumble of vines to reveal a path of bizarre footprints to a bush that looked, for the life of me, like a blueberry bush, though the berries resembled something colored by a machine and the limbs themselves were rigid and angular, as if drawn with the assistance of a ruler.

Among this most bizarre and fascinating life, I obviously took to the most drab, boring, and literally lifeless object to be seen: the stones. They were staggeringly dull—surprisingly so—to the point that while my compatriots sped ahead with their recording devices and photography equipment, I was left sitting on the ground poking at them, unable to leave them. They were unvaried in color, misshapen in form, and seemed to rise from the Earth on their own. Each stone was one color, without fail; they had none of the patterns of sea-stones or the variation of granite; it was one gray throughout, without exception.

Eventually I was coaxed into movement by an intriguing zig-zag of lines on the horizon, though the encroaching back-pain involved in sitting on rocks for half an hour might’ve had a part to play in it too. With a dose of curiosity mixed with a healthy amount of poor planning that came to characterize my younger years, I made my way to these unnatural lines, and within the hour I was upon them and found their purpose. In either direction stretched banks of unchanging stone and tumbling water, the artificial turns and jagged edges of the most complex system of water transport and filtration known to the star-bound human.

Fifty-five million kilometers and thirty-nine days of travel put me on the edge of the canals of Mars.