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The Mount McCaber Space Science Institute

Sproot on Mars!

The Red Planet - The Terrible Truth of the Threat That Threatens Us!

 Ah, yes. Is this thing working? Aha, the light is flashing, which is undoubtedly a good sign. Well, unless it’s a timer on a bomb. No, no. I think we’re probably OK.

 Very well. To begin. Professor Hadrian Sproot here, using this Dictaphone gadget, as Dr Zeitgeist assures me a combination of digital recording and advanced voice-recognition software will automatically translate my words into properly-formatted reports automatically stored in an encrypted form on a secure server that might, possibly, be in the basemen, although, given what's in our basement here at Mt McCaber I truly do hope  that is not the case.

 But I digress.  Now, Dr Zeigeist is convinced that this will greatly facilitate the production of the endless reports that we are required to produce to justify Mt McCaber’s annual budget allocation. Frankly, I’m not  certain that this machine will help at all, since I cannot see any sort of cable connecting it to my faithful old Brother typewriter sitting here in my office. Still, Dr Zeitgeist is an enthusiastic young scientist, and I’m sure she understands this new-fangled micro-processor technology better than anyone here, including young Stinger, who is, allegedly, our IT professional. Whatever that is.

 Anyway, I’m currently dictating the report the Ministry has requested, on the significance to the work of the, ah, Mount McCaber Space Science Institute, that is, the more classified work of the Mount McCaber Space Science Institute, if you get my drift because even though Dr Zeitgeist absolutely assures me that this memorandum will be stored securely, I feel a certain discomfort at openly using the real name of our organisation since I have read the Official Secrets Act and know exactly what will happen to me if I let that sort of thing leak out to the general public, or even the Daily Mail.

 Er, where was I? Oh yes, the report on the significance to our special work of the recent discovery of liquid water on the surface of Mars (which, despite being rather small and boring has, somehow, never been regarded as anything other than a bona-fide, full-blown, proper planet, unlike some other, infinitely more fascinating worlds in our Solar System that I could mention).

 So, to the task at hand. Liquid water on Mars, and its implications for the defence of the United Kingdom from alien invasions. Are there any? By Odin’s Oracular Corvids, yes! Of course there are!

 Now, back in, oh, the nineteenth century or so, even sensible chaps in work-a-day tweeds used to be convinced that Mars was a dried up and dying world, whose hyper-intelligent inhabitants had covered its surface with a lace-work of canals, in a desperate attempt to suck the very last drops of water from the dwindling polar ice-caps. And it stood to reason, of course, that those Martians, doomed, but ingenious, would be conspiring to make their way to Earth, precisely because we have so much water. Especially here, in the Highlands.

 Ah, Mars versus Earth! The War of the Worlds! Yes.

 It was all nonsense, of course. By the middle of the twentieth century we believed that Mars was a dry but also a very dead world. There were no canals. There were no Martians. Or so we were told. But if that were true, then one might wonder why, in 2012, NASA sent a laser-armed robotic tank to the Red Planet? Mmm? Yes... What were our American cousins not telling us?

 Anyway, it is that very robotic tank, code-named ‘Curiosity’, that has now discovered evidence of liquid water flowing on the surface of Mars. Now, liquid water on earth is intimately associated with life, and there's no reason whatsoever to think that that would fail to be the case elsewhere in the Universe, which is basically the same thing as saying it is the case everywhere in the Universe. And, from that position, simple deductive logic tells us that, if a dried-up, water-deprived, dying Martian civilisation would have been hell-bent on invading Earth, then it is blindingly obvious that a hydrated, fully moisturised, thoroughly-invigorated one would be even more of a threat. You don’t need to pluck out your own eye, or hang on a tree for nine days, to work that one out. As Odin himself might observe. With his good eye.

 But, why, you may ask, why would they come here at all? Why would intelligent, well-watered beings go to all the trouble and expense of developing practical interplanetary travel, and crossing the cold, vast emptiness of the inner Solar System, just to invade Earth? Hmm?

 Baldur's bald-patch, that is an excellent question! Well done, that man, for asking it. Oh, wait, that was me, wasn’t it?

 Well, to answer this question, I took a quick poll of my valued colleagues here at Mt McCaber. First on my list, as ever, was Annabel Fox. I asked her what possible reason intelligent Martians might have for coming to Earth, and she said (and I quote) ‘I think you’re looking at it, Hadrian.’ When I asked her to elucidate, she said that Mars may have water, but it’s fiendishly cold, whereas what I was currently looking at was just about as hot as hot gets. I confess I’m still not absolutely sure I caught her drift, but young Stinger, who was there at the time, perhaps clarified things a little by saying ‘She’s right, Prof. Everyone knows that Mars Needs Women. I’ve seen the documentary.’ I have no idea what he meant but, more to the point, it seemed that, so far, fifty per cent of the Institute’s trained professional staff felt that water-refreshed Martians were indeed a threat to human existence.

 Next I tracked down Dr Zeitgeist, who was in the electronics workshop, soldering iron in hand, tinkering with what I instantly recognised as some sort of complex electrical thermal conversion device. When I asked her the same question – why would the water-replete residents of Mars come all the way across the barren reaches of space to Earth – she looked a little startled, and then, after thinking for a moment, a little wistful, as she said ‘I imagine because they’re lonely.’

 ‘What?’ I responded, rather abruptly I’m afraid, as this wasn’t turning out to be quite the consensus-building exercise that I had hoped.

 ‘I think,’ she repeated, ‘they’d be lonely – staring out at our tiny, blue dot across the black bleakness of the void, knowing that there was water here, and so, probably, life, and, just possibly, something with which they could communicate, somebody they could talk to.’ Then she got quiet and wistful again, and so I pointed out that her soldering iron was burning through the kettle cord, and beat a hasty retreat.

 Still, the trend so far was fifty per cent favouring Martian water as a threat, and twenty-five per cent possibly thinking it wasn’t, although I felt I might justifiably re-classify Dr Zeitgeist’s response as a ‘don’t know’, if only because I certainly ‘don’t know’ what she was on about.

 I suppose that, for completeness, I should then have elicited the opinion of Ron Preston, but, to be frank, by this stage I sensed an incipient headache and, not wanting to aggravate the situation, I excluded him from my survey.

 So that left just one opinion to be canvassed, and the most authoritative and pertinent one, the one based on a long lifetime’s irreplaceable experience. And that was the opinion of Professor Hadrian Sproot. That’s me, by the way. In case you forgot.

 Now, I am not by nature a cautious man, for it is only through risk that we reap the rewards of scientific progress, and, as must surely be obvious, the greater the risk, the greater the rewards. Although, to be entirely fair, the greater also are the consequences of failure, if that risk should not pay off. But I digress! I am also not by nature a fearful man, but – and I cannot stress this strongly enough – we live in a strange and hostile universe. I have seen things you people would not believe. Or, at least, things that the editorial committee of The Astrophysical Journal refused to believe; or so they claimed, when they declined to publish my original papers presenting evidence for the existence of the Sproot Force. Hah! Yes, well, who was proved right in the end? Eh? Or at least will be. Probably. One day.

At any rate, here is what I have learned in a long life of research and, dare I say it, adventure. If you have something, something precious, something you value – oh, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a lush, water-enriched planet teeming with life, or, say, a modest and, in the past, tightly ring-fenced budget that comes with minimal government oversight – then someone, or something, larger, darker, and more, I might even venture, evil, will come along and try to take it from you, just because they can. And it matters not whether that larger, darker evil be malevolent, tentacled monstrosities from the desolate plains of Mars, or – just by way of example – the Centre for Astrophysics at Cambridge University.

 Bastards. Like they need the money.

 Anyway, that is rather the point, I think. We have established that the universe is full of bullies, and also that, here at Mt McCaber the consensus of informed opinion shows that seventy-five per cent of our foremost national experts think NASA’s evidence for Martian water means that there is an increased risk of invasion from the Red Planet, whilst the remaining twenty-five per cent offer no concrete opinion, but will almost certainly have to replace that kettle from her own pocket.

 And therefore, we can definitively conclude that the correct response to NASA’s recent announcement would be to increase the SADO, er MMSSI, budget. Of course, we recognise that this is a time of national austerity, but money could, possibly, be made available by trimming the excessive funding allocated to certain over-hyped scientific research facilities in, for example, the south of England. But that would be a decision for Government to make, and so I will refrain from specifically mentioning anywhere like Cambridge by name.

 And that, I think, about covers everything. Martian water represents a threat, albeit an ill-defined and unquantifiable threat, and we desperately need more money to counter this threat. QED.

 Hmm… Yes. Works for global warming – don’t see it why it shouldn’t work for aliens.

 Sproot out.