Entry 4 - The Hunted
"General Xog is here to see you, sir."
Governor Qan looked up from his desk toward the secretary who had addressed him, blinking in mild incomprehension.
"General Xog, sir…", the secretary repeated hesitantly, motioning toward the antechamber.
Governor Qan's dark, almond shaped eyes narrowed momentarily, "Yes, yes, thank you," he answered quietly, "please show him in."
General Xog was still an imposing figure, even at his advanced age. At a shade over four feet tall he had towered over most of the other Zayaxians in his youth, although he now walked with stoop that had gotten more pronounced in their many years on Mars. His skin had lost its former lustrous green and was now more of a mottled, tan color, but the almond shaped eyes still shone a deep, fathomless black. None of cloudiness of age in them.
Qan motioned for him have a seat, but Xog ignored the gesture and announced, "The Beagle 2 has successfully deployed from the Mars Express. I request your permission to have it destroyed."
True to form, Qan mused to himself. Xog's 'requests' always carried with them the implication that they would be heeded as a matter of course. Or at the very least that they ought to be heeded.
Not one to be bullied, Qan countered, "Destroy it? Don't you think it would be more prudent to wait and see if it lands successfully?"
Xog flashed him a look of disgust, "You know as well as I do that we haven't had enough time to successfully eradicate all signs of our activity at Isidis Planitia. The danger of our mission being discovered is far too great to allow the Beagle 2 to proceed to its landing site. The Earthling craft must be destroyed now!"
Qan knew, of course, that Xog was right. Their chance of being discovered was too great, and it was getting greater all the time. The Mars Global Surveyor and the 2001 Mars Odyssey were both still orbiting the planet. And now there was the Mars Express. Long ago they had been forced to relocate what few operations they had on the surface into the caves of Mars. Removing all traces of their surface activity would take more time, though. The Mars Pathfinder rover had landed in a non-sensitive area and had been allowed to conclude its brief mission, but their intelligence revealed that there were two more rovers and even more orbiters on the way. Qan had lost count of how many they had destroyed or sabotaged over the years. The first one, the Mars 1M No. 1, had been sabotaged at the launch site at Baikonur in the Earth year of 1960. A host of others had been similarly sabotaged or destroyed en route since then. But there were more orbiters, landers and rovers all the time. They couldn't destroy them all without the risk of giving their presence on Mars away. The least compromising ones had to be let through. How fast these Earthlings were progressing, Qan thought. Their mission seemed to be completely pointless to him now.
"It would seem, General Xog, that the hunters have become the hunted." Qan could see that his observations were wasted on the likes of Xog. "Fifty Earth years ago it was our vessels that were regularly visiting Earth, conducting research, collecting samples and," Qan added pointedly, "abducting human specimens for analysis. You were far too cavalier in the conduct of your probes back then, general. The Roswell incident nearly gave our presence away."
The Roswell incident again. Xog bristled at the way Qan never missed an opportunity to throw that back in his face. "Since we all thought our mission was nearing completion," Xog countered, "elaborate security measures seemed to be a waste of time. At any rate, we've tightened things up considerably since then. The Earthlings remain as stupid and complacent as ever. There's no reason to believe that our mission has been compromised in any significant way."
"Our mission?" Qan shot back incredulously. "To establish a forward staging area for the conquest of Earth?" Qan allowed himself a brief, bitter laugh, "It's been a decade since we had to scrap our last vessel capable of visiting Earth. With no supplies and no communication from the home planet, our operational capabilities have degraded to almost nothing. It takes all of our energy just to keep ourselves alive in this subterranean, ramshackle, dung-heap of a base. Since it seems that we've been abandoned here, do you really think our 'mission' has any continued purpose whatsoever?"
Xog was undeterred by defeatists like Qan. "Our orders are to establish a forward base to assist in the conquest and colonization of Earth. The absence of any further orders from the home planet does not grant us leave to infer any change in that mission. We must proceed with the assumption that our orders are still in effect and that the planned conquest of Earth is still operational."
It wearied Qan to keep having this same conversation with Xog all the time. He continued in a more somber tone, "I know it's not in your nature to question anything, General Xog, but do you realize it's been 26 Earth years since our last communication with the high command on Zayax? Why do you suppose that is?"
"SETI", Xog answered confidently. "The risk of having our communications intercepted by the Earthlings became too great."
"Perhaps," Qan conceded. "But why, then, have we received no resupply vessels in that period? If the invasion plan was still in force, you'd think they'd want to keep this base in a higher state of preparedness. I think something far more troubling than SETI is behind our isolation."
Now it was Xog's turn to tire of the direction the conversation was taking. "Your conspiracy theories become tiresome, Governor Qan. The notion that the great Zayaxian civilization has somehow destroyed itself is less than credible."
"Don't you remember how bad things had gotten on Zayax by the time we left? Devastating weather patterns, crop failures, dwindling resources, civil unrest…"
Xog's interest perked up at the last item. "Traitors", he interjected. "I would have had more than a few of them shot if I had had my way."
"Fortunately," warned Qan, "you don't have things your own way." He paused for a few moments while Xog glared at him before continuing. "The fact is that our assigned mission is a failure. Our model of civilization has also failed in all likelihood. And we can observe the same pattern of development on Earth." He paused again and then continued, almost to himself, "We ought to establish contact with Earth to warn them. Our mission could at least serve that purpose."
"Warn them?" Xog exclaimed. "Do you really think they'd believe us? If your theories have any truth to them, then I, for one, will take great pleasure in watching these Earthlings destroy themselves. But that will take time. The only thing that concerns me at this moment is destroying the Beagle 2. I once again ask your permission to do so."
It seemed their conversation was at an end. There was no way around it. It almost seemed to Qan as though their ends had been preordained. The internal logic of developmental patterns followed a fixed path throughout the universe and any attempt by him, or anyone else, to alter those paths was doomed to failure. For any species which gained ascendency on their planet was driven to expand to the limits of that planet's capacity. The introduction of ever greater levels of technology meant an exponentially rising level of resource consumption. The only way to continue was to colonize other planets for additional living space and resources. The catch, though, was that the enormous amount of resources consumed by any civilization technologically advanced enough to seriously contemplate an interstellar space program was more than one planet could possibly provide. Such civilizations, therefore, necessarily destroyed themselves, either before reaching the capacity for interstellar travel, or shortly thereafter, which is what he presumed had happened to the Zayaxians. It was as though the universe had imposed an upper limit on the advancement of planetary civilizations, and that limit, once reached, could not be surpassed. Such civilizations either destroyed themselves completely, or collapsed back into more primitive models. The universe, he thought, was probably teeming with planetary civilizations going through cycles of growth and collapse, most of which were eternally oblivious to the presence of each other. Qan couldn't help wondering what the Earthlings had in store for their own planet, for he had to admit that he's grown more than a little fond of observing their foibles over the decades.
Xog brought him back out of his reverie. "Do I have your permission to proceed with the destruction of the Beagle 2, or not? Our window of opportunity grows short."
My permission, thought Qan. As though what he permitted, or did not permit, had the slightest impact on the eventual outcome of history. He could have said 'no', he supposed, but it was probable that Xog would simply ignore him and do as he wished. So Qan merely looked back at his desk and said, "Proceed as you see fit."
A short while later Governor Qan was informed by his secretary that the Beagle 2 had been successfully destroyed. Intelligence indicated that, as usual, the Earthlings remained oblivious to General Xog's ongoing role in the curiously high failure rate of their Mars missions. But it was only a matter of time before that changed. Long ago events had been set in motion across the universe. Events which proceeded according to their own seemingly deterministic logic. Events which neither he, the Zayaxians, the Earthlings, nor anyone else had the power to alter. He wondered if anyone was still alive on Zayax.