They arrived as a group of two dozen adventurers to find a barren and desolate plain, and there was no turning back now. Within a few years of sweat and toil, they turned the soil into a burgeoning landscape, and ultimately, it became a fully functioning ecosystem. This group of like-minded pioneers had much to be proud of, not the least of which was the creation of a new community, a garden of prosperity.
Marvin Stafford perched on his favourite boulder, a pinkish-red block just outside his door. He stared across the still, rough landscape outside the compound, reminiscing over the past fifty years. He’d been here from the beginning, an unlikely leader who became the driving force behind the village’s success.
Unlikely, not because he was a black man, for that kind of thinking had long since passed. It was because among the group he arrived with, the twelve couples who embarked on this journey, he was the one member who possessed the least formal education.
Even Marvin’s wife Jayna, who once held several medical science degrees from world-class colleges, knew that her husband was a natural-born leader. Upon meeting for the first time, the other group members from diverse backgrounds, instantly agreed that Marv was their man.
What set him apart as a great leader, was that Marv was a good listener. He always had time for new ideas and constituents’ concerns. Now after half a century of realizing their collective dream, Marvin’s skills were about to be tested again.
He watched with suspicious eyes now as four figures appeared on the landscape, approaching by way of a dune buggy. As they drew close and exited their vehicle, Marvin couldn’t help but notice how uncomfortable each of them looked in their stiff attire.
Stafford was gracious nevertheless. “Welcome gentlemen to our little piece of heaven.” He led them indoors and instructed, “you can just hang your coats on those hooks”, he said, pointing to a bank of several large attachments on the sidewall.
The leader of the small entourage introduced himself, “Dick Trenton”, he announced without introducing the others. Trenton was the obvious leader. “We got a good look at this place as we landed. Impressive, I must admit.”
“Thank you, Mr. Trenton”, Marvin replied. “Allow me to give you the ground view tour.” He waited until each man had settled himself before adding, “I hope you’re not in a hurry gentlemen. These old bones don’t move so quickly as they once did.”
Trenton let out a belly laugh. “That’s just fine. Marvin, isn’t it?” Stafford nodded in the affirmative. “We’re happy to take it all in at your speed.”
Marvin opened the inner door, and the five men were greeted by Neetu Rishi, a senior member of the village council. Still, in her mid-fifties and every bit as striking as she was as a young woman, Rishi was a second-generation citizen. Her parents, from the original group of twenty-four, had both passed over the last couple of years.
“Hello. I am Neetu, the Minister of Justice and Peace. Welcome gentlemen.”
“Interesting title”, remarked Trenton. “I’ll have to learn more about that.”
“Indeed”, Rishi said plainly, and then, “Shall we begin the tour?”
As the group moved from pod to pod, Marvin Stafford spoke of the rationale behind what the men had seen from the sky. His years-long vision was a source of obvious pride to this man, now well into his eighties. “Each pod is connected to the next through this corridor”, he explained. “As you saw, the corridors are circular, so that the link pods surround the centre, which is the heart of our ecosystem.”
Trenton’s three henchmen were visibly impressed as they gawked in wonder, heads turning quickly at every new site. “What happens when the circle is filled?”, the leader asked.
“Quite simple really”, Marv answered. “We begin a new circle on the outside. Ultimately what we achieve is a series of larger rings, each serving the growing need for space, as well as protection for the inner circles.”
The four visitors were rendered speechless, so Marvin went on, “You are currently standing in the outer ring of three. Once completed, we will start on the fourth.”
“What’s on the inside?”, one of the other men asked.
Neetu spoke up. “Our central nervous system, if you will sir. Every development for the survival of this community began at the hub, and now it feeds its wealth into the expanding system.”
“Brilliant!”, exclaimed Dick Trenton. “Pure genius. Mr. Stafford, I’m prepared to make you and Ms. Rishi very happy, and your leadership group, of course.”
Marvin seemed neither surprised nor taken back by this notion. He remained calm and collected as he responded, “Happy, Mr. Trenton? We are all already very happy, I assure you.” Neetu nodded in agreement.
Trenton began to laugh, and his minions joined in on the joke. “Ha-ha, okay Marv. Whatever you say. We’ll talk about that later, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
Without reacting to Trenton’s insult, Stafford suggested that they break up in the name of expedience. He called on two other senior members, Billingsley and Chen, and each took one of the members on a private tour. Marvin stayed with Trenton and directed him toward the inner circles.
The two men walked together down the last corridor that led to the inner circle. Even in the stooped posture of his advanced age, Marvin Stafford was a head taller than Dick Trenton. Marvin opened the door to the giant bubble, and Trenton was immediately hit with the blast of humid air. The amount of living vegetation was staggering to the eye of Marvin’s uninvited guest.
When they reached the centre of the massive greenhouse about half a kilometre in, Trenton stood silently, his head whirling around in amazement by what he was seeing. “Fantastic”, was all he said.
Stafford waited a few minutes to let the younger stranger take it all in. Finally, Marvin said, “As you can see Mr. Trenton, we have everything we could ask for, and we can replicate this system all over the land.”
“Where did you find all this material?”
“Grown and manufactured by our own people. I was lucky to be present among twenty-three of the brightest minds of our generation.”
Trenton gathered himself and replied with a chuckle, “Ok, I get it, Marv. But, what about wealth? I came here to make your people, and myself very rich.”
“We have no need for the kind of wealth you speak of, Dick.”
“You say that because you’re an old man. Let’s ask your townspeople then. Everybody has their price.”
Marvin sighed heavily in dismay and shook his head. “Very well, Mr. Trenton. You will have your answer from the others. I promise you that.” With an outstretched hand, he gestured toward the far end of the greenhouse, and the visitor fell in step.
They reached a door at the far side and after opening it, Stafford allowed his guest to go first. The room they entered was the size of a large concert hall, spacious enough to comfortably seat the entire population of the community, about five thousand strong.
Trenton’s three lieutenants were seated at a long table on the stage, facing the audience. They did not look happy and on closer observance, Trenton could see that their hands were bound behind their backs.
Trenton immediately flew into a rage and demanded to know the meaning of this treatment of his men. “We came to you with an offer of riches, Stafford. Is this how you treat guests?”
Marvin said nothing as he took his seat in the middle of the council dais at the back of the stage. Motioning to a subordinate off to the side, he instructed the large younger man to escort Dick Trenton to join his men. Only after Trenton was seated, but not bound, did Marvin reply.
“Let me first remind you, sir, that you were not invited here.” He paused for a moment to choose his next words carefully. “Be that as it may”, he went on, “I will allow you to make your proposal now to the community.” Marvin sat back in his high-backed chair, flanked on each side by his senior Ministers, including Neetu Rishi. They waited for the interloper to make his pitch.
Dick Trenton stood and faced the audience. Every adult in the village was in attendance, waiting to hear this magnanimous offer. Trenton went immediately into full sales mode like he was a paid guest speaker at a marketing conference. After several long minutes, he concluded his lecture by saying, “Now, I can’t make it plainer than that folks. Who would like to reap the rewards you so richly deserve from this venture? There’s a lot of hay to be made here.”
No one in the crowd reacted. Marvin stood up then to prod a response. “Let’s have a show of hands, shall we?” Marvin scanned the faces of his constituents before continuing. “We are all free people here. Democracy is still the rule of law. In a show of hands, how many are in favour of Mr. Trenton’s proposal?”
The two adversaries panned the room at the same time. To his utter amazement, Dick Trenton found no hands raised. “What’s wrong with you people?”, he asked, incredulous. “Don’t you know how the world works? This is an offer of a lifetime.”
Neetu now felt compelled to interject. “Mr. Trenton”, she said loudly enough to give him pause, “This world you speak of is one that my parents and her colleagues left behind half a century ago.” She made a grand gesture of waving her arms across the throng of people as she spoke. “Every one of these people is descended from those pioneers. We owe our happiness and contentment to their efforts, facing the most extreme conditions. Why would any of us wish to follow you?”
Trenton forced himself not to explode into another rage. Did these people have any idea who he was, he thought? Then, he turned again to the audience and said, “You have no idea, do you? You have been sheltered and kept from the realities of the way things work. If I could show you…”
Marvin interrupted, “They know exactly how ‘things’ are in your world, Mr. Trenton. We hide nothing from these people. Everyone has full access to knowledge devices. They choose to live this way.”
Exasperated, Trenton resigned himself to the fate of his pitch. But, that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to take what he wanted. “Fine”, he replied finally. “I came here with generosity in my heart, but if you won’t play ball, I’ll just have to use other means.”
“And, what do you mean by that, sir?”, Neetu asked on behalf of her council members.
“Simple, lady. I’ll come back here with a force that will take whatever we want. Then, all of you will answer to us.”
May Chen, who had been silent throughout the proceedings, finally spoke up. “That will take you a very long time, Mr. Trenton. When you return, we will be prepared for you.”
“Prepared?”, spat Trenton, “How? You have no defence system. You’re no match for our power.”
“Bring your weapons then, by all means”, Mrs. Chen replied. “They will do you no good here.”
“I’m not buying that crock!”, the antagonist retorted. “We will crush you like ants.”
“Yes, I’m sure your mighty arsenal could do just that”, said Albert Billingsley, another of the original settlers. As a lead botanist, it was the Englishman’s work with Stafford’s team of engineers that created the marvel they enjoyed living in now. “Mr. Trenton”, he continued, “You haven’t been told everything about our little, creation. A single bullet, a lone blast from a flamethrower would be sufficient to destroy this entire complex. If you used a force of that kind, there would be nothing left to win. Everything would disintegrate, instantly. ”
Albert could see that his nemesis was having trouble comprehending such an absurd statement. “Let me explain”, he went on. “This is why every pod, every corridor is interconnected. If one is compromised, the others fall with it. In this way, every citizen is not only taught to be responsible for themselves but also the community as a whole. We are all, happily dependent on one another.”
Billingsley took a breath to let this sink in, and finally, he said, “Kill us if you must Mr. Trenton, but you shall not have what you seek.”
With that, the crowd broke into thunderous applause. Trenton slumped into his chair, defeated.
Marvin stood again and used his hands in a downward motion to quiet the audience. After everyone was still, he turned to the four men a the table. “Gentlemen, it is my duty to inform you now, you have been tried and convicted of one of our society’s highest crimes.”
“Trial! What trial? Now, look here Stafford…”
Again, Marvin stopped the man in mid-sentence. “Dick Trenton, we find you and your men guilty of Greed, in the first degree.”
A solemn air took over the room as Marvin Stafford began to hand down his sentence. “We left your society behind so many years ago for this very reason. As we have no provision here for imprisonment or administration of a death penalty, we have no other choice than to banish you from this place, permanently.”
Stafford waited a moment for reflection, and then he added, “Any attempt from you or your constituents to return here will be met with full fury. I promise you that, though it pains me to say so. You will not find us so accommodating if you choose to return.”
The four men were then escorted back to the vessel from which they came, and sent on their way.
Marvin sat on his favourite boulder again, pondering the events of the previous day. The great dome of the greenhouse glowed behind him. A deep sense of foreboding enveloped the old pioneer.
Rishi, Chen, and Billingsley came outside to join their friend. “My friends”, Marv began as he stared across the open plain. “I am grown far too old for this. In the last two hundred years, humans have learned little about changing their world.” He thought for a second, and then, “We’re in the middle of the 24th century on Earth and still, nothing has changed.”
“Makes you glad we found this place all the more, doesn’t it?” asked Chen. Marvin stood up and his three compatriots joined him as he walked across the deep red, dusty plain. They came to a halt together at the crest of a small mound and looked out over the horizon.
The blue marble in the distance, the planet Earth, was illuminated in the night sky. They affixed their gaze on the orb, each lost in his or her own thoughts. Marvin turned slowly toward his friends, encumbered by the restrictions of his heavy spacesuit. “Did you plant the message on the ship’s computer?”, he asked. Looking at Chen.
May nodded and said, “Yes. Whoever watches it will have a clear understanding of what went on here. We kept their land rover too. It'll be useful.”
“Good. Small payment for the threat imposed. Mars must never be allowed to become like that place out there”, he said. “I fear though my friends, my family, we have just opened the box of more strife.”
“We’ll be ready for them when they return”, Neetu assured him. “You need to rest now. We’ve done all we can for now.”
The four walked together back across the gravelly surface of the red planet, and entered back into their sanctuary, closing the door behind them.
As always, thanks for taking the time. Appreciation goes to Dr Mehmet Yildiz for creating this wonderful new publication. You may also like;
My other fiction work can be found here: