In the year 2038, the United Kingdom launched a military-based organisation designed to protect/assist its national defence forces against foreign interests. Although the 'Spectrum' project was supported by the United Nations, most of the funding came from the UK and several Western European countries (all of which fell under Spectrum's jurisdiction).
Thanks to the success of the project, the organisation soon began efforts to colonise the moon that would later result in the Lunarville projects. By 2060, ore mining and mineral processing had become the Moon's largest export to Earth, supplying mass quantities of fuel and construction materials to Spectrum and several other military organisations.
It was a further five years before any attempt was made to send a manned expedition to Mars. At the time, it was publicised that the greatest danger of travelling through space was lethal radiation from solar flares. However, Spectrum officials had secretly become aware of several disturbing 'anomalies' concerning the planet Mars, particularly concentrated around the Cydonia Mensae region. Unmanned probes sent to the planet in the past had been inexplicably lost, while observations from the planet continued to suggest a technological presence of some kind.
It was decided that NASA should have nothing to do with the first manned mission to Mars, and a heavily fortified Spectrum spacecraft was designed to carry a crew of four. After a fierce and very thorough screening process, Captain Black was accepted to lead the mission to investigate the anomalies. Construction of the spacecraft was completed by the spring of 2065. The journey to Mars was estimated to take six to eight months.
The Spectrum team arrived on the outskirts of Cydonia Mensae just after midday on 12th December 2065 GMT.
Dust often blew thick across the Martian plains. It was natural to the planet's behaviour. Global dust storms could cloak the entire planet for months on end, as Russian scientists had discovered to their dismay in the autumn of 1971 when the probes Mars 2 and Mars 3 arrived in orbit above the red planet. Following a pre-programmed set of instructions that were irreversible, the probes deployed one lander each into the midst of 140-kilometre-per-second winds that smashed them to pieces against the barren landscape. In the meantime, their respective orbiting probes took picture upon picture of a planet enveloped in dust. Dust that shielded the entire planetary surface from any prying eyes in a colossal storm that would continue to last long beyond the lifespan of the probes' cameras.
"It's damn peculiar," Captain Mauve stated from the navigation chair of Spectrum's Mars Exploration Vehicle. "Too many coincidences, too many failed missions. And not all the fault of one organisation either. Both America and Russia sent probes of their own design to Mars using different methods. And they still both suffered from failure."
Sitting in front of Captain Mauve, in the pilot and co-pilot's chairs, sat Captain Yellow and Captain Black. They had left Captain Mint at the landing module over two hours ago and had been travelling towards the site of the anomalous readings. Black was busy monitoring the buggy's progress across the Martian surface at 20 kilometres per hour. It was Yellow who replied to Mauve's statement.
"Those were early days. Both scientists and engineers were still in a sharp learning curve regarding space travel. Most of the probes that failed were lost because of technical inaccuracies, not external interference."
Mauve, seated in the back, was undeterred. "Allegedly, maybe. But look at the facts... The Russian probe Mars 1 - lost within 195,000 kilometres of the planet in 1963. Or NASA's Mariner 3, also lost en-route to Mars in 1964."
"Ah, but the Mariner 3 was only a technical fault," Yellow interrupted. "Its protective fibre glass shroud was supposed to detach after leaving Earth's orbit."
"That's only the official explanation."
Yellow sighed exasperatedly. "Urgh! We're here to investigate the strange readings discovered by past probes, Captain, not theorise on why the probes were lost."
"I'm just saying that it's damn peculiar."
"Thank you for that profound statement."
"Remember the Russian Zond 2 probe?" Mauve went on. "Also lost in 1965 travelling from Earth to Mars."
"Thank you Captain Mauve."
"And the Phobos probes... Phobos 1 disappeared en-route."
"THANK you, Captain Mauve."
Mauve ceased talking, and Yellow consulted his computer display.
"Phobos 2 made it to Martian orbit before losing all contact..." Mauve quietly said.
Yellow buried his head in his hands and sighed again. "Don't you ever give up?"
"These are all facts, Captain."
Yellow turned in his co-pilot's seat to look back at him. "You want success stories? How about NASA's Mariner 4? It closed to within 10,000 kilometres of Mars and took 21 photographs in 1964. Mariner 9 took over 7000 pictures of the Martian surface by the end of 1972. Mars Global Surveyor began mapping the planet from orbit in 1998. Mars Pathfinder landed a rover probe on the surface to analyse ground samples by the turn of the millennium..." He paused to take note of the defeated look on Mauve's face. "Shall I go on?"
Mauve hissed through his teeth. "NASA worshipper..." he mumbled.
"What was that?"
"That's enough," said Captain Black, who until recently had allowed the two of them to talk it out. "We're approaching the site. Turn on the cameras and warm up the sensor mappers."
Yellow cast a discreet look at Mauve before responding. "Aye aye, Sir." He activated the relevant machinery. "Cameras on."
"Mappers booting up," Yellow reported. "We'll be ready to record in a couple of minutes."
The buggy trundled over the crushed rock and fine sediment that covered the ground before them. Black slowed the vehicle to ten kilometres an hour as they began a shallow ascent up an incline. Each of them felt their safety belts press into their chests - the uneven landscape protesting against the buggy's suspension. A few minutes later they eventually reached the summit, and Black ordered Captain Mauve to activate the sensor mappers.
"So what are we expecting to see out here?" Yellow said quietly, directing the question to Mauve.
"I'm an expert on probes, not fortune telling."
"All that knowledge and not even a theory?"
"I thought I told you two to pack it in," Black said firmly. "This isn't a training simulation, let's pull it together. You're supposed to be professionals."
The buggy suddenly chugged to a halt as Black stopped the vehicle without warning. A deathly hush filled the interior cabin as the three of them looked out at the ghostly space ahead of them.
"What the hell...?" said Mauve.
Yellow shook his head. "Is that...?"
In the crater below them stood an arrangement of structures resembling skyscrapers. 'Towers', for lack of a better word, were placed in formation around smaller buildings. The whole complex was shimmering with an unearthly glow.
"Are the cameras recording?" asked Captain Black.
Yellow made a quick check. "Yes, Sir. The lander module should be getting all of this within a few seconds."
"What do the sensor mappers tell us?"
"Just a minute," said Mauve from behind the two of them.
Black looked back out at the alien 'city'. He couldn't make out any roads from this far away, nor could he spot any movement.
"What do you make of it, Captain Yellow?" he asked.
"I... I don't know, Sir. I'm not sure we should risk taking the buggy in any closer. We might startle whoever's down there."
"IF anyone is down there." Black double-checked the stinger missiles placed in the side-carriage compartments of the buggy. Standard procedure that was outlined in their mission briefing. "Captain Mauve, how's it coming with the sensor mappers?"
"Data is coming in now, Sir. But..." He paused, squinting at the readout on his computer display.
"It's scrambled. For some reason the computer is feeding out the information in it's raw state. We'll need to take the recorded information back to the lander module to decode any of it."
"Keep recording. Get as much data as you can."
"Sir!" Yellow exclaimed. "Out there, by the far right tower."
Both Captain Black and Captain Mauve looked out to the area he was indicating. Another structure was rising from beneath the surface, long and metallic in shape. A second similar pole rose from the opposing side of the 'city'. Each pole carried a rectangular instrument at their tip, strongly resembling a cannon or a similar class of weapon.
"They've spotted us," said Mauve.
"We don't know that," replied Yellow. "This could be a normal procedure for them."
"Agreed," said Captain Black. "Arm the stinger missiles, but don't fire unless I give the order."
Yellow ran through a quick routine of computer commands. "Stinger missiles armed."
The three Spectrum officers continued to watch the two poles as they slid out of their recesses, extending far beyond the peak of the highest building in the strange 'city'.
"Sir," said Yellow. "I don't like the look of those devices on top of the poles."
"Nor do I, Captain," replied Black. "What do you make of them?"
"Some kind of weapon?"
"It looks that way," said Mauve. "We're in trouble if they're hostile."
Black's growing anxiety forced him to look down at the weapons display to double-check the stinger missiles were armed. He had hoped he wouldn't encounter a situation like this.
The two poles finally stopped moving, and remained dormant for a while. Captain Black decided to take the initiative.
"All right, let's show them that we come in peace. Activate the radio and broadcast on all frequencies."
"Microphone on," Mauve reported.
"This is Captain Black from the Spectrum vehicle located on the ridge of the crater. We mean you no harm. Please respond."
He nodded to Mauve to turn off the radio and the three of them remained silent, looking out at their new discovery. It was a few moments before anyone spoke.
"Nothing..." said Yellow, shaking his head.
Mauve's voice was almost a whisper. "Maybe they don't take kindly to visitors."
"Wait, look!" exclaimed Yellow. "Out there."
The instruments atop each pole swivelled on their axis towards them, and came to a stop. Their cross hairs were lined up precisely on the buggy.
"They're hostile!" said Mauve.
"Fire the stingers," Captain Black ordered.
Twin missile carriages popped out from the side of the buggy and launched two surface-to-surface warheads towards each of the pole-like structures. Twin explosions blossomed heavenwards. The poles' bases collapsed with remarkable ease, as if they hadn't been designed to take very much punishment.
None of the crew aboard the Spectrum Buggy had time to consider such constructional errors, however, as they stared in horror at the overkill they had caused. They had only aimed at the poles that had turned on them, but the collapsing structures instead toppled onto the rest of the buildings. Like the poles themselves, the buildings collapsed with surprising delicacy, spreading debris and dust across the entire crater. It was devastation on an appalling scale.
Captain Black closed his eyes. Neither of his colleagues spoke a word - there was no need to. It was some time before Black opened his eyes and faced what he had done. The crater lay in smoke and ruins, rubble littering the area where the shimmering structures had stood but moments ago.
Captain Black finally found his voice, though it was weighted with the burden of massacre. "Send a message back to Captain Mint at the lander module. Tell him what has happened here."
Mauve nodded, and jerkily got to work. Black was saddened by the fact he was still frightened by the alien 'city', rather than feeling remorse. He looked over at Yellow to see what his reaction was. Yellow, however, seemed decidedly neutral. Probably for the best, he thought.
"Message sent," Mauve eventually reported. "Captain Mint will be able to report back to Spectrum Headquarters on Earth as soon he receives it."
Black nodded heavily. "Very well."
"Wait," Yellow said quietly. "I... I think something's moving down there..."
"Where?" replied Black, and peered down into the smoke.
"There," said Yellow. "That hatch just-"
He broke off as the three officers watched two more poles slide out from beneath ground. Again, each on opposing sides of the alien 'city'.
"They're still attacking," said Mauve.
"Arm two more stinger missiles," Black said quickly.
Despite his remorse, his aggressive action had declared hostility to whoever was living in the 'city'. Fighting back was the only option he had left. All others had abandoned him when he'd given the first order to fire.
"Missiles armed," reported Yellow.
Again, two white streaks crossed paths from the buggy and struck the base of the rising poles, blossoming dust and sediment upwards in twin mushroom clouds. However, this time the poles withstood the blast. Black watched helplessly as the metallic objects continued to rise above the 'city', undeterred by the stinger missiles.
"Did we miss the targets?" he asked.
"No, Sir," replied Yellow. "They were both direct hits. They just withstood our impact this time."
"We're getting out of here," decided Black, pushing the buggy's gears into reverse. "Captain Mauve, plot us a clear course away from this crater."
The exploration vehicle kicked up a trail of dust as it began to back away from the destroyed alien edifice. The controls whined against Captain Black's almost-desperate urging to reverse at full speed from their imminent destruction. But even as Black and Mauve tried their best to get the buggy to safety, Yellow shook his head.
"It's too late," he told the others. "They're going to fire at any second now."
And so they did. The instruments on top of each pole simultaneously unleashed an eerie ray of light. But it was not directed at the Spectrum buggy, it was directed at the wrecked alien buildings.
Black released the protesting vehicle controls and looked on at the bizarre events. Both poles were spreading light across the crater. "What's that?" he asked.
"I haven't a clue..." said Yellow. His voice was almost a whisper.
Black's heart sank into his stomach as the unearthly process began to take shape. As the immense light began to fade away, the buildings they had destroyed were once again standing in their original positions. Towers that had collapsed were standing tall and proud as if nothing had happened, and the entire city was suddenly there once again. As if nothing had happened.
Black wasn't sure if he should be grateful or terrified. Different emotions fought for dominance in his mind. Fear, incomprehension, awe, relief... None of the extensive mission training he'd undertaken had prepared him for something like this.
The city remained standing in its original, undamaged state, while the two poles that had reconstructed it slid back down into their recesses.
"Does..." Yellow began. His voice was croaky, and he cleared his throat before continuing. "Does that mean the first two poles we saw... They weren't weapons?"
"We're about to find out..." said Mauve. "They're rising up again."
No. Black suddenly knew what had happened. It was so clear to him now, so clear that he wanted to kick himself. Whoever was down there... They hadn't meant to attack the buggy, they weren't being hostile...
"Wrong," Black quietly mumbled to himself, almost catatonically.
Both Yellow and Mauve looked at him. "Sir?" they quizzed.
"Let me be wrong..." Black replied.
Yellow cast a discreet glance back at Mauve, but received only a shrug in response. "Sir, what are your orders?" he asked.
"They were... trying to communicate," said Black. "They weren't trying to fire at us, they were... Trying to communicate." He closed his eyes. "Oh please let me be wrong..."
But even as Black feared he might be right, his fears were confirmed. The poles they had assumed to be weapons turned on them. But instead of unleashing a weapon, it unleashed a message. A message so burning its implication that Black could barely bring himself to listen.
He had fired on a race that had wanted to talk, not fight. He had made a mistake that would remain with him for the rest of his life.
"Incoming message," Yellow said in a baffled voice. "It's in English."
"Play it," he said.
Yellow activated the audio speaker, and the three officers heard a terrible voice relay a message. A message that would be relayed to the whole of Earth, and that would strike fear into the hearts of the innocents. A message that began with seven words.
Seven words that would continue to be feared long after the events of today.
"This is the voice of the Mysterons..."
DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this story are the sole right of Gerry Anderson.
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site.