The supercollider was called Magus, and it was - undeniably - mankind’s most significant scientific achievement.
Constructed in the asteroid belt 1.2 million kilometers from Mars, Magus remained far from population centers, closest to the resources needed for its function.
In continuous operation for more than four hundred Martian years, the Magus Complex was serviced by tens of thousands of autonomous robots that mined raw materials and fabricated components necessary to maintain the machine.
End-to-end, Magus’ structural truss ran a kilometer long. Housed within that assembly, hundreds of cargo containers were docked side-by-side and interconnected by tens of kilometers of cabling. Fifty containers were uranium-fueled nuclear reactors, six were part of its computer core, and the rest were batteries.
At the heart of Magus was a twenty-two-meter diameter icosahedron composed of twenty triangular electron magnets, surrounded by an array of 2,048 lasers.
Much of the machine’s function was to compute the complex coordinates for time travel.
Generating a future space-time coordinate (STC) wasn’t possible. A Schrodinger’s Cat problem, the desired STC only existed upon observation and was inherently disassociated from the rest of the unobserved universe, thus unreliable. Anything transmitted to the future was obliterated.
However, factoring cosmic entropy alongside the movement of known objects of a specific region of space and knowing their relative mass at scale - ranging from dust particles to satellites, asteroids, moons, planets, solar systems, dark matter, galaxies, and galaxy clusters - Magus could accurately produce an STC to a past location; for instance, it could calculate a previous STC orbiting the planet Earth in just seventeen minutes.
After arriving at an STC, Magus was designed to create a micro-singularity slightly larger than a golf ball - reflecting the totality of information that could be safely transmitted through it - without losing containment, an engineering failure that would result in a 50-kilometer-wide black hole.
And drifting inside the icosahedron, waiting for Magus to finish its computation cycle and held fast by its magnetic field, was an eight-centimeter-long, gold-plated scarab beetle.
* * *
“Approaching STC lock, thirty seconds,” Jaeme reported. She was a senior Magus Complex Engineer and served as a mission specialist.
Kray, mission commander, located hundreds of kilometers away in the State Biodome, tapped his subdermal com in his temple to acknowledge Jaeme verbally. “Thirty seconds.”
Kray nodded affirmatively to Prime Minister Hadiza, who, standing steadfast beside him, consumed a deluge of graphical and statistical information coalescing purely in her mind.
Kray and Jaeme alone were tasked with running Magus’ last mission, what would be its final service, the culmination of a four-hundred-year, multi-generational endeavor.
Under a transparent dome that shielded her people from harmful radiation and contained a life-sustaining atmosphere, Hadiza gazed across the red-soiled planitia. Dressed in a flowing gown of a nanotech fabric that rotated through a pallet of softly-colored hues, she witnessed a hazy, blood-orange Martian sunset for the last time.
All the while, across all of Mars’ biodomes, three hundred thousand watched Hadiza. They saw her proud and determined face via their own neuro-links, all staring breathlessly, blankly into nothingness before them.
Terrified, most of Mars’ citizens clung dearly to each other. Some had tears in their eyes; some had taken vast quantities of drugs to numb their senses; some had already snuffed out their own lives through orderly, sanctioned methods. And others opted for a more peaceful end, sitting among the green grasses of a park or wandering wheat fields with friends. Still, some took to lay alone on cold, steel floors, their eyes closed and their links off, waiting for an uncertain end.
None were humans of Earth. Rather, they collectively referred to themselves as Martians. All forms of obesity, physical deformity, and disease were genetically edited from their biological design. Compared to the humans of Earth, they were spindly and thin; most exceeded eight feet in height. Their limbs, torso, and necks were elongated, and their muscular structure was redesigned to become more slight and fit, perfected to the reduced gravity of Mars. Accommodating Mars’ gravity and dimness, their eyes were slit-shaped like those of a Terran cat, reengineered to absorb more light.
Jaeme’s voice echoed across their collective links. “Fifteen seconds. The cornerstone is queued.”
Kray, stone-faced and dressed in formal uniform, glared at Minister Hadiza, who - tight-lipped - firmly, resolutely, nodded.
“PM concurs,” Kray said, pressing his temple. “Start countdown at ten seconds.”
“Copy,” Jaeme confirmed, before saying, “Ten-”
In biodomes all across Mars, Martians started weeping. They held each other close and confessed their love.
Some parents picked up their children, their eyes matted with tears, smiled, and whispered lies into their ears.
A cold sweat raced down Hadiza’s body, and she felt dizzy, bracing herself against the dome's curvature. At first, she stared at her feet, then fixed her sight on the sunset at the edge of the horizon.
Revolutionaries in Cassini Biodome hurled Molotov cocktails at peacekeepers, setting officers on fire.
“Six,” Jaeme said, adding, “Magus is primed.”
“Copy,” Kray replied, clenching his jaw.
In the Persbo Biodome, a colony of a hundred red-clad monks prayed for the salvation of all mankind.
In the State Biodome found in the Elysium Planitia, all members of the government apparatus watched on, their expressions emotionless and flat as the countdown continued.
A chaotic mob rushed officers stationed in the Babakin Biodome transit bay, demanding a way out and a ship to take them from Mars.
Watching the space above her head, tears streaming down her cheeks, a Catholic priest gave a Sign of the Cross, kissed her Rosary, and prayed.
Delirious, a nude man exited a hatch from Heimdal Biodome to the Martian surface. As he screamed at God, his blood flash-froze, air crystalized in his lungs, and capillaries all over his body burst. He died instantly.
“Event Horizon Confirmed.”
Far away, on Magus, half of its lasers fired into a beamline - magnetic tunnels used to channel quickly-moving sub-atomic particles racing headlong into the icosahedron - while the other half of the array countered. Both volleys slammed highly-accelerated particles into the golden scarab beetle at a single precise nanosecond. Concurrently, when the singularity formed to envelop it, the magnets of the icosahedron compressed to create a magnetic bottle, trapping the event. The process worked as expected, forcing the singularity closed and leaving nothing but empty space at Magus’ core. It was all over in seven milliseconds.
And one thousand, three hundred years earlier, the golden cornerstone appeared in a 48.2-kilometer orbit around the planet Earth.
“Receiving entangled telemetry,” Jaeme advised, moving her hand through spaces before her to interact with symbolic data references perceived in her mind.
Until that moment, her computer systems were unaware of a device with that specific signature orbiting Earth.
However, when observed, Jaeme’s systems acknowledged it’d been there all along. Records of its existence predated her own birth.
“Cornerstone deployment successful,” Jaeme acknowledged, and she sat forward in her chair, tapped off her coms, and began to sob. Her hand trembling, Jaeme brought a blue pill from a glass table to her mouth, tilted her head back, and swallowed.
* * *
The 1,300-year-old scarab beetle cornerstone orbited high above the planet Earth, and, in the vacuum of space, it was still as smooth, golden, and pristine as the moment it arrived.
As its own computer was quantum-entangled with its Martian counterpart, they operated as one, regardless of the time or distance that separated them.
Below, the planet’s oceans were yellowish green, and its land was scorched, barren, and blackened.
There were no glaciers or ice caps at its poles; none of its mountains retained any snow at all; its once-great rivers were poisoned and toxic; what remained of its cities were long since ruined. Earth’s surface vegetation had been corroded - burned away - while chain lightning crawled across gray, churning clouds roiling in its upper atmosphere.
The cornerstone’s sensors registered Earth’s surface temperature near 42c; cyclones and hurricanes raged with 386kph winds; it rained sheets of scaring sulfuric acid; its atmosphere was 97% carbon dioxide and 2% methane.
More a sister to Venus, most of Earth’s life had been eradicated, but more than five hundred million Terrans lived below its surface in warring, nomadic tribes, surviving on manufactured oxygen and nitrogen captured in air-tight caves. Lost, they were primitives, entirely unaware of Mars or Martians, or any satellites like the cornerstone circling their planet.
* * *
All of Mars watched on.
Receiving Jaeme’s confirmation, Kray was the first to speak. “Cornerstone’s deployed.”
Her hand still resting against the surface of the dome to support her weight, Prime Minister Hadiza placed a shaking hand on her chest. She forced herself to swallow before speaking. “It is in position? We are receiving data, Commander?”
“Yes, madam,” Kray replied, then stepped forward, eager to complete his task. “At your-”
Recollecting herself, Hadiza proudly raised her gaze to meet his, for she needed only to glance at Kray to silence him.
“People … of Mars,” she began, turning her head from him. Hadiza’s voice was unflinching and steady; her attitude regal and above reproach. “More than a thousand years ago, we left Earth for a new home.”
To those who wished to see her, Hadiza appeared as a translucent image projected onto the back of their retinas. Most watched on, stunned, wondering what the Prime Minister might say in their final moments, while some cried, wailed, and panicked.
“We escaped death, an interplanetary diaspora surviving for hundreds of years on Earth’s moon, in the asteroid belt, and finally, here, on Mars.”
Gazing at her open palms, Hadiza continued. “Space was unkind. It ravaged our bodies, and in turn, we modified ourselves so we might adapt. We evolved so we might live. We sacrificed so we might survive.”
She recalled a high-resolution image of a sickly green and gray Earth and presented it to everyone’s consciousness. “Forced to trade one inhospitable waste for another, we fled, leaving our Earthbound brothers and sisters behind.”
The image evaporated to be replaced by Prime Minister Hadiza gazing into the setting sun along the Martian horizon.
“And it was here we rested. We found sanctuary in Mars’ craters, and we bore our fruit. We reconstructed our civilization, economy, and commerce, excelling in science and furthering our technology. Undaunted, Martians thrived.”
Capable of sharing their emotional states with others, tens of thousands of Martians voluntarily opened their neuro-links to transmit their collective feelings. Individuals were inundated with crushing waves of fright, horror, and terror, yet tempered by the soothing warmth of empathy, compassion, and love.
“Although divorced from Earth, we were unforgetting,” Hadiza recounted. “We always remembered our Mother, as She was, and gratefully recalled our time cradled - sheltered - in Her arms. Alive, on Mars, we shared our stories, music, and art.”
In space, ships orbiting Mars drifted derelict and aimless, their pilots knowing they had nowhere to escape.
“Alive, we sang our Mother’s songs, and read aloud the poems of our forefathers.”
Within the tunnels, below the surface, in the absolute darkness, workers huddled in their pressurized suits and placed comforting hands on their glassy, reflective helmets, touching what they could touch.
“Alive, we taught them all to our children, passing our treasured memories of Earth to each successive generation.”
Hadzia swallowed and held back her tears.
“Let it never be forgotten,” Hadiza breathed, “we … lived.”
Kray lowered his head to read intelligence feeds.
Pausing, she looked longingly into the hearts of her people, and all who saw her felt Hadiza’s pride - her welling courage - mixed with intense sorrow.
“But what we abandoned,” she said, “what we believed could never be reclaimed, might be ours once again. Humanity isn’t simply doomed to retreat. Humanity is destined to return.”
Kray pressed his temple and whispered, “Stand by.”
“Friends, Countrymen, Martians,” Prime Minister Hadiza roared, her emotion racing like a fierce wind across the minds of all.
Hadiza lifted her arms above her head, and shouted, “What we do now calls upon powers formerly reserved for the might of gods. Today, we square ourselves before the resentful eyes of history to forgive the past, and to gift life to all of mankind!”
Hadiza rested her eyes for the last time, exhaled in release, and nodded.
Kray commanded, “Execute.”
Then, instantly, everyone and everything - the Martians, their machines, their habitats, poems, stories, and songs - ceased to exist.
* * *
The cornerstone received its first and final command.
Quantum entangled, the notion of time was irrelevant. All instances of the device found in all STC’s throughout time received and processed the same command.
In response, the cornerstone, in orbit around the Earth in 2056 - having arrived only moments ago - adjusted its attitude and pitch to angle its flank to the sun and retract its protective golden shell. Its wings opened and blossomed into a shiny, mechanical, three-petaled mirror.
Afterward, it opened a radio communications channel with other devices in Earth’s orbit.
During its four centuries of operation, Magus had continuously teleported tens of millions of devices to Earth’s past, and, like the cornerstone device itself, they had only winked into existence seconds ago.
Receiving a software update from the cornerstone’s command carrier, they patched their systems, and they, too, followed command protocol to open their mirrored wings.
And like a blooming garden bending to greet the sun, millions of brilliant white flares of sunlight raced from one side of the planet to the other.
When fully deployed, the Earth was shielded by an intelligent, self-regulating, interactive mesh of mirrors.
Every moment of every day, the beetles reoriented themselves to ward off the greatest concentration of light, constantly sparing the planet from excess radiation.
On the Earth’s surface, unaided humans couldn’t visually see the minute mirrors so far off in space - the black side of the beetles constantly faced the Earth - and their lives, for the most part, proceeded as normal.
Meanwhile, nation-states secretly investigated the mesh to spare their populations from distress and panic.
It would take four decades for scientists to reveal their findings, concluding the mirror deflected more than 1.5 percent of the sun’s total light back into space - more than enough energy to permanently counteract the effects of climate change. And in speaking to their origin, scientists worldwide unequivocally agreed they were man-made but of a technology that far surpassed their own, and they speculated the beetles were possibly made by humans from a parallel universe.
Mankind, humbled, their understanding of the universe so stretched to finally comprehend the scope of their negligence, grew wiser and made better policy, vowing to each other to become better stewards of the planet.
As a result, the melting of the ice caps slowed; cooler temperatures kept deposits of methane frozen at the bottom of the ocean; less reflected light from the oceans became trapped in the atmosphere; plant and animal life were given a chance to adapt; and planetary greenhouse effects diminished.
The Earth was saved.
* * *
Sixty years later, a NASA astronaut serving a tour on Mars studied the regolith’s mineral content, chemical composition, and toxicity.
She identified traces of silicon, calcium, and aluminum found in the computer processing elements of the scarab beetles orbiting Earth matched her Martian samples.
It is with absolute certainty, she wrote, confirming her findings in a career-defining report, that the collective future of all mankind was sourced from, and born in, the sands of Mars. She is, at once, both our savior and imminent frontier. May we forever tread lightly, for we walk upon the bones of angels.