They eventually got Chuck to talk. He wouldn’t have been able to keep the secret for the whole eight months of the journey home.

And the story he told was a strange one.

People in Congress thought some intelligent beings had carved the Mars Face on purpose to look like a face. Which got them asking: who carved the Face? When? How? And why? They wanted NASA to go to Mars to answer those questions.

But people in NASA said they were silly questions, and it was a waste of time because silly questions deserved silly answers. The Mars Face was simply pareidolia.

“Para-what?” said Dyspepsia.

“Is that another word for baloney?” said Spookie.

“No,” said Chuck. “It’s like a Face in the Clouds. The Man in the Moon. A random pattern. Just an accident it looks like a face. That’s the meaning of pareidolia.”

Chuck went on to say “NASA reckoned that sending a man to Mars to find silly answers to silly questions would use up all their money. They wanted to spend it doing serious science with robots, like Curiosity rover. When they heard you were going to Mars, they said. ‘let’s send a guy to blow up the Face. Then there won’t be a Face to puzzle over, and Congress will have to shut up.’”

Dyspepsia said “And you said Yes?”

Chuck gave a sniffle. “I couldn’t say No. They didn’t give me any choice.”

Spookie reached across to pat his hand. And she even kept her claws in.

Dyspepsia said “I hope none of the little green men got blown up.”

“Oh no,” said Chuck. “I gave them the rest of my salsa dip and told them to stay right away from the place. They promised me they would.”

“That’s alright then…” said Dyspepsia, “I think!” She said it with a frown.

They got back to Earth, and Chuck went home to a hero’s welcome. He was the first man on Mars. Dyspepsia didn’t count because she wasn’t a man, she was a girl. And Spookie didn’t count either because she was a cat—and an undead quantum cat at that. They both thought this was slightly unfair. But they hadn’t wanted the publicity anyway. They had only gone for the holiday.

Nobody said anything about little green men, or blowing up the Mars Face. In fact nobody’s even thought to check it’s still there.

Did I say “nobody”?

The other day Spookie and Dyspepsia were looking at Mars through a big telescope they’d rented time on, trying to remember the places they’d been and the things that they’d seen. Imagine their astonishment when they saw that the Mars Face had been rebuilt!

The Martians now knew for certain there was intelligent life on Earth, and they wanted to say hello again.

But the Face was no longer the face of a man. It was the face of a cat.

I wonder what cat they could possibly have had in mind?


If you have enjoyed this story, get the audiobook for a young relative from here: