Mankind’s first contact with alien intelligence was the Martian canal-builder nicknamed Tweel. It’s hard to imagine a more fortuitous beginning; no other species encountered to date on any world shares the canal-builders’ combination of intelligence, friendliness and approachability, though there will always be communications difficulties. Humans can work with them towards common goals and be reasonably sure that they will not be eaten, robbed or abandoned.
</div>Canal-builder science is known to include astronomy, mathematics, and engineering, including solar power, complex pumps and other machinery, chemical-fuelled steam guns, and printing. Their main limitation was formerly a lack of power sources, which led to the slow decay of their cities, but the Ares expedition controversially gave Tweel the atomic blast from the auxiliary rocket1 crashed by Jarvis and it is hoped that this is helping to reverse the trend and revive their culture.
There is evidence that Martians visited Earth and the other worlds of the Solar System several thousand years ago, probably using chemical rockets. It’s a staggering achievement; flights must have taken years, and can only have been possible if the Martians slowed their plant-like metabolisms and took root for the duration of a low-energy Hohmann-type orbital flight.
The Other Martians
While we generally think of the canal–building race as “the Martians” several other Martian species show signs of intelligence.
The so-called dream beasts use illusions to lure victims into striking range. While the mechanics of this process are far from clear, there is every reason to believe that it requires some intelligence, although the ‘dream beasts’ (which like the Martians appear to have plant-like as well as animal characteristics) dissection has found no brains as such. It’s likely that neural matter is distributed throughout the body, as in the hydrozoa these creatures resemble.
National Gallery, London
The colonial ‘mound builders’ are tool-makers and again seem to demonstrate telepathy, in the form of a communal hive mind, but their large head diaphragms suggest that they can hear noises well outside the range audible to humans. It’s possible that this ability is actually continuous communication at frequencies humans cannot hear; more work is needed. They appear to be unable to communicate with other species, but are excellent mimics and cooperate with the canal-builders to keep the canals operating, although it may be that they do so by instinct.
Finally, the three-eyed rat-like species found in the ruined Martian cities1 shows disturbing signs of a degree of malevolent intelligence. It’s notable that these creatures resemble the ‘Slinkers’ of Io2 and it’s possible that they are in fact related, their distant ancestors spread from one world to another by the early Martian explorers.
2 The Mad Moon
Remember that this is just an introductory sidebar - there will be much more on all of them in the main text later in the book.