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by Igor Teper





The Ice King of Mars looked with alarm at a moving point gliding towards his floating palace. As it came closer, the point resolved itself into three small skimmers, which landed in the palace's courtyard, the flames of their exhaust searing its icy perfection. The skimmers' doors lifted open, and a lumbering, metallic shape emerged from each.

"Robotrons," mouthed the Ice King, turning pale.

Sudden motion drew the Ice King's gaze to the figure of a man running across the courtyard toward him, seemingly oblivious to the Robotrons' presence, and the look of worry in the Ice King's face was replaced with one of annoyed incomprehension.

"What the-" the Ice King started saying—

--and was interrupted by a loud "Cut!" from the director.

The Robotrons froze in place, and all eyes turned to the running figure, a thin, disheveled man clutching a sheaf of papers in his hand.

"Who are you and what the hell are you doing on my set?" yelled the producer, a bald, round-headed, red-faced man, as the runner approached.

The man slowed, stopped and bent over, panting, hands on his knees.

"John Linden, Space Propulsion Labs," he said between labored breaths, looking up at the producer.

"And?" the producer demanded, his globular head growing redder and redder.

Linden held up his hand, took two more breaths, and straightened up.

"This movie of yours, 'Conquest of the Red Planet,' has a budget of over four hundred million dollars," he said.


"Well, using the latest technology, we can send a manned expedition to Mars for under two hundred million," said Linden, holding out the papers; they were covered with charts and calculations.

"I don't see what one has to do with the other."

"Don't you?" challenged Linden. "Isn't there something just a little wrong with spending all this money making a movie about going to Mars when we can actually go there for less than half the price?"

The producer furrowed his brow for a moment before answering, the wrinkles across his forehead becoming canals filled with sweat.

"Tell me this, Mr. Linden -- which Mars do you think people would rather see, the real one, or this one" -- he waved his hand at the surrounding set -- "a lifeless piece of rock, or a mystical, wondrous ice-planet, filled with the greatest special effects marvels money can buy?"

"But one is real and the other isn't!"

"That's where you're wrong, Mr. Linden. In the minds of the public, my Mars will be more real than yours ever was."

"You don't understand!" shouted Linden. "I'm talking about a great achievement for all mankind, and you're talking about a meaningless spectacle!"

Just then a studio security guard closed in and grabbed him from behind. Linden continued shouting as he was dragged away, but no one was listening.

"Some people just have no sense of reality," the producer muttered under his breath, wiped the sweat off the top of his head, and turned his attention back to the Ice King of Mars.

© Igor Teper, 2005
All Rights Reserved



BIO: Igor Teper does unspeakable things to perfectly innocent atoms at temperatures near absolute zero. He has been fighting a losing battle with reading addiction since he was seven, and easy access to a university library has only made things worse. His fiction has previously appeared in Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and Quantum Muse, among others.