Soon the planet Mars loomed in front of them like a big rusty ball, peppered with craters and gouged with a great valley ten times deeper than the Grand Canyon. They had to be careful where they landed. Just as they’d needed to squirt their jets backwards in order to get up to speed, so now they had to turn them round and squirt them the other way to slow down. Otherwise they’d have piled into the planet and made one more crater in the pock-marked landscape, and that would have been the end of that.

But they landed safely, without too much of a bump. With smoke and dust rising up around them, they crept out of their spacecraft to have a look round. The atmosphere was unbreathable, so they had to wear their spacesuits the whole time, which made it hard to skip around and enjoy the low gravity, for they only weighed a third of what they did on earth. Which meant they could jump three times as high and three times as far. But, light as they felt, they were careful not to jump into the valley, ten times deeper than the Grand Canyon, or they’d just have made a pile of strawberry jam at the bottom. Ugh!

Chuck wanted to go to Gale Crater to see how Curiosity rover was doing. They’d brought a motorbike with them (an electric one, because there was no oxygen to burn petrol with) plus a tent for Chuck and another one for Dyspepsia and Spookie. So hitching up the motorbike with the tents, plus plenty of smoothies and Doritos and salsa dip, they all set off for Gale Crater.

When they got there they found Curiosity rover peering with rapt attention at a little pyramid of rock. It didn’t pay them the slightest attention and they were careful not to show themselves in front of the cameras because they wanted to keep it a secret that they were there. So they pitched their tents behind the cameras where they couldn’t be seen.

During the night they were awoken by little scuffling noises. Peeping out of a crack in the tent, Spookie saw little green men running around the rover, over its big wheels and swinging on the camera arm. They were putting little pyramids of rock round the rover for it to find and examine in the morning. As they did so, they made funny little noises, which Spookie just knew were giggles. Then all of a sudden, just before the sun came up, they rushed off and disappeared into holes and cracks in the ground.

When the three of them had got up, they discussed what Spookie had seen. They still kept out of sight of the cameras, and were careful not to make a lot of noise crunching their Doritos.

Meanwhile Curiosity rover had found one of the little pyramids of rock put there by the Martians and was examining it with great interest, tapping it, turning it over and zapping holes in it with its powerful laser. Clearly it was going to cause great excitement down there on Earth.

Chuck tore a page out of his diary and pencilled on it: YOU ARE BEING SPOOFED. He was just about to place the paper where Curiosity rover’s cameras would see it, when Dyspepsia waved her finger and put it to her lips.

“Don’t spoil their fun,” she whispered, “or they might come along and spoil ours.”

That night, in the tent, Spookie woke up to find metal probes being pushed carefully into her ears and nostrils, plus other funny places. Lots of little green men were standing around looking at her very hard. They were being careful not to hurt her, though.

She tried to do a big yowl to scare them away and wake up Dyspepsia and Chuck, but she found she couldn’t move, and she was hardly able to breathe.

She was paralysed!

So she knew she’d just have to lie there and see what happened.

When Dyspepsia awoke in the morning, she shouted to Chuck, which woke him up with such a start he was pale and quivering when he looked inside the tent to see what was wrong.

Spookie was gone! She been abducted!

A trail of little footprints in the dust led from her empty sleeping bag to a deep dark crack in a rock several yards away. Dyspepsia went back for her torch, then she crept into the crack. Chuck followed close behind.

Soon they came to a wide cavern with a high ceiling. It was lit by a crowd of glowing green globes, which floated in the air like soap bubbles. They didn’t do anything much, but clustered round trying to get a good look at them. It was their irrepressible curiosity that made them so useful, because they always brought light to where it was needed. That’s why the Martians were happy to have them around.

Then Dyspepsia and Chuck saw Spookie.

She was sitting at a table in the middle of the cavern, playing Scrabble with the Martians. They were making a big effort to learn it, because they thought it was some sort of code to unlock the secrets of the universe. 

Spookie looked up as they came in, and waved them over. The Martians weren’t at all surprised to see them. Spookie said they’d been letting them lie in because there’d been no reason to get them up too early. But now they were up, could Dyspepsia please go and fetch the Doritos?

She did so, and the Martians passed them around with bleeps of delight. They loved the crunchy noise they made.

In exchange the Martians went and got them big slabs of pink pudding with glowing yellow seeds in it. It tasted funny but you soon got used to it. You were supposed to pick out the seeds and put them round the edge of your plate to make a circle of pretty stars. Since the food had been running a little short, Dyspepsia was glad to have some for the journey home.

…to be continued.