If you are just joining Page of Pulp, it may seem daunting to pick up a serialized story already in progress. Never fear! While I’m sure you would enjoy taking the time to read from the beginning, this summary is here to fill you in on the big story points so far. If at any point you have a question about a story element or character, don’t be shy—leave a comment on this or any other PoP entry and I or another reader will be only too happy to clear it up.
That being said, nearly everything beyond this point can be considered a spoiler, some of them quite major. Read at your own risk! -ETT
The Story so Far:
We begin in late December of 1997, on the planet Mars, with a newspaperman who traveled from Earth some months ago in pursuit of a story. But this is not the 1997, nor the Mars, nor the Earth with which we are familiar. The fate of this Earth was radically altered in 1949 when a cataclysmic disaster of mysterious origins—known as the Epiphany event—suddenly brought the ongoing World War to a meaningless end when the planet was rendered all but uninhabitable. Under perpetually darkened skies, the remnants of humanity put aside most of its differences, advancing scientific progress at a remarkable pace in a desperate bid for survival. At the forefront of these efforts was a previously little-known R&D firm called Schultzcorp. Out of the rubble, company founder Abraham Schultz led the efforts to rehabilitate Earth, beginning with the foundation of a new city; a city called Tomorrow.
Nearly a half-century later, Newspaperman Lamont Townsend is on assignment from the Atlantic Free Press in London. Townsend has a troubled past. Having spent some time as a prisoner of the Scientific Society in the East, he became a minor celebrity after escaping and writing a best-selling memoir of his experience: Behind the Curtain. He had trouble reacclimating to normal life, becoming increasingly estranged from his wife, Elizabeth. Then Harry Rowan, editor of the Atlantic Free Press, presented him with an investigative journalism opportunity that would once again put him on the move, away from the uncomfortable tensions of home.
The assignment revolved around a collection of documents that had been smuggled from the secretive archives of Schultzcorp and its prominent subsidiary, United Space. Containing many intriguing clues to mysterious projects and initiatives, the collection contained a single bombshell that stood out from the rest: A photograph of the famous American astronaut Francis Carter during his second expedition to Mars. In the photograph, he is holding a bundle that has the proportions of a swaddled infant.
During Carter’s first expedition in 1959—only a decade after the Epiphany event—he found the Red Planet to be a hollow world, excavated and engineered by an unbelievably advanced species that had called Mars home for many millions of years after its atmosphere had been ripped away. But the Martians were long gone, having reached their peak some 50 million years ago in a period of exploration and discovery before quietly retreating back into their technological womb and, eventually, fading into extinction. At least, that was the story. The photograph suggested another possibility: That there is still at least one living Martian, and that United Space was aware of this during its 1969 expedition to begin colonizing the supposedly dead world.
If it showed what it seemed to show, this photograph from the company archives was solid proof what had previously only been tabloid speculation: That part of the reason for United Space’s tremendous advancements over the past decades were facilitated not only by the reverse-engineering of Martian technology, but by collusion with an actual, living Martian. But the Atlantic Free Press is no tabloid; it needed corroborative evidence, and Lamont needed an excuse to flee his domestic troubles.
Ten months later, we find Lamont on Mars, with his investigation floundering. Leads are drying up, contacts are going silent. But that isn’t his only trouble. Lamont is becoming increasingly convinced that he is under observation himself, and the clues are pointing not to Schultzcorp, but to the Scientific Society, from whose clutches he narrowly escaped five years ago. While attempting to confirm these suspicions, he has an unexpected encounter that changes everything: He discovers Francis Carter, whose whereabouts have long been unknown, staying on Mars! He is now face-to-face with the one man who, without a doubt, could confirm or disprove the Martian question once and for all.
But Lamont’s troubles quickly catch up with him. He is approached by men in plainclothes who claim to be agents investigating the disappearance of his wife, Elizabeth. Lamont, however, is convinced that they are agents of the Scientific Society, attempting to capture him. He flees, and is nearly captured except for a last-minute rescue by none other than Francis Carter. Lamont knows that his life is in eminent peril, so he pulls a gambit: In a feverish monologue, he drops most of the tenuous threads and connections he has gathered from the United Space archives, making it sound as if he knows more about their operations than he actually does by mentioning the names of mysterious projects like Escherspace, Westward and NOD. The ploy works; apparently convinced that Townsend knows too much to be released back into the general public, Carter instead takes Lamont to meet Benjamin Schultz, grandson of Abraham and heir to the Schultzcorp empire.
A year later, Lamont has found that the evidence pointed to more than he could have imagined. There is a Martian; his name is Phobos, and having been raised on Earth after Carter’s return from the second Martian expedition, he helped to develop Escherspace, a fantastic technology that expands mankind’s horizons beyond the Solar System, into the limitless expanse of the stars. Lamont has convinced Benjamin Schultz to bring him into the first extrasolar expedition as an independent observer—someone who can, ostensibly, help to assure the masses back home that United Space’s secretive development of advanced technologies is in mankind’s best interest.
Aboard the United Space Ship Westward, the first vessel to employ Escherspace technology, Lamont has joined Captain Francis Carter, the inscrutable Phobos, and crew that includes 100 United Space employees and 50 prospective extrasolar colonists. As the 50th anniversary of the Epiphany event approaches, Westward attains orbit of its first destination, a planet roughly 500 light years from earth. It has been identified as a potentially colonizable planet, according to the 50 million year-old survey charts recorded by Mars.
Rather than the lushly forested habitat they were expecting, the crew of Westward observes a cold, relatively barren world that is marked by unpredictable storms and dangerously high levels of radiation. Amila Santana, Westward’s Chief of Operations, concludes that the planet is not worth more than a brief stay for orbital observations, but Captain Carter disagrees. Sensitive to the approaching anniversary, he sees an opportunity to mark an historic transition for mankind, turning eyes away from the painful memory of Epiphany and toward its bright future among the stars. And, Lamont cynically suspects, Carter sees a chance to put a final feather in his cap as Earth’s greatest astronaut, having not only planted the first footprint on multiple planets within the Solar system, but on the first planet visited beyond it as well.
Whatever his motivations, Carter overrules his COO’s decision and orders the hasty planning of an expedition immediately following Epiphany Day. When the geologist selected for the expedition bows out, the captain makes another fateful decision: He allows Rex O’Neil, an enthusiastic young pilot toward whom Carter has an amiable disposition, to take the geologist’s place on the trip.
The expedition arrives on the planet with little fanfare, but things soon take a turn for the unfortunate. A frantic radio call from Rex reveals that Rosemary Wells, the young medic whom he has partnered for exploration, has impulsively made her way into a system of caves in a search for microbial life. As Rex is on the radio, he seemingly comes into contact with another form of life altogether—and then is suddenly silenced.
Captain Carter sends the rest of the expedition back to the space elevator on which they arrived, reluctantly accepting Lamont’s company as he traces Rex’s signal to the strange mountain range from which it originated. The two men find their way into the cave system and quickly locate Rex. He is dead, apparently poisoned by a crude metal dart that, while tiny, is highly radioactive. There are indications that Rosemary tended to his wounds, but the medic is nowhere to be found. She has, however, left a clue: A breadcrumb trail of penicillin pills, which leads Francis and Lamont into a subterranean tunnel that appears to be at least partially artificial in construction.
Following the tunnel downward, Lamont discover a civilization of weird, non-humanoid creatures that apparently exist without sight. Among them is Rosemary Wells, who is recovering from a head wound. She explains that this was not caused by the creatures, who in fact helped her out of danger, but rather by the primitive, human-like pygmies who attacked her and Rex at the mouth of the cave.
The alien creatures lead the three explorers to a chamber, deeper underground, where they are surprised to find an epochs-old piece of Martian technology that the aliens use to communicate with them. The aliens’ request is clear: They want the humans to leave their world.
The three return to the surface, guided by one of the aliens. Upon returning to the cave where they originally entered, Rosemary sees one of the human-like pygmies standing over Rex’s body, and flies into a rage. Before he can stop her, Rosemary pulls Carter’s automatic pistol out of his coat and shoots the native. Just as suddenly, she realizes what she has done and rushes to help him, but the contents of her medical bag have already been looted by the natives. Lamont pulls an assortment of trinkets from the pygmy’s clothes so that Rosemary can use them as bandages, but it is too little, too late. The native dies in Rosemary’s arms.
Upon seeing the death of their kinsman, the other pygmies begin a weird chant, seemingly directed at the inhuman creature still lingering nearby. With apparent reluctance, the creature produces a number of thin tendrils from its centipidal body, wrapping some around Rosemary’s arm and others over the wound in the dead pygmy’s side. The tendrils seem to draw energy of some kind out of Rosemary’s body, lending it to the native. Miraculously, the wound heals; the pygmy gets up and joins his fellows in worshiping the subterranean creature.
Seeing what has happened, Captain Carter seizes upon the creature and implores her to use his life energy to restore Rex. The creature manages to use its communication organs to repeat her companions’ simple request: “ALL GO.” Carter agrees, and the creature acquiesces, but the results are nightmarish: Rex briefly revives, ghoulishly animated, just long enough to express confusion and dismay at having been resurrected. Clutching Francis close, the pilot whispers something in his ear and then falls dead—again. The experience leaves Carter deeply shaken and physically wounded.
Lamont realizes what Carter and Rosemary seem to have known all along—that the creatures want all the humans on the planet to leave, not just the visitors from Westward. Knowing that this is impossible, at least at present, the captain made a bargain that couldn’t be kept for a life that couldn’t be saved.
During the sober return to Westward, Lamont makes an astonishing discovery. Fishing through his pockets, he examines the collection of trinkets that he acquired from the native’s clothes. Among them is a token depicting a symbol he recognizes: An icon he has seen among his collection of pre-Epiphany documents related to Schultzcorp. The icon appears in relation to a mysterious initiative that he knows almost nothing about, but the name of which he had dropped in his desperate gambit with Francis Carter a year prior: A project called NOD.