The Lost Canal
by Michael Moorcock
The canals were deep and wide once, designed to get the most from dwindling water supplies. The meteors leveled them. But this Ia canal? It was underground?
« My clan’s ancestors planned to build this great underground canal, protected from all foreseeable danger, completely encircling the planet, with branches serving other local systems. The canal was named for an ancient water goddess, Ia. Ia would connect to a series of hubs serving other canal systems. Its creators thought that it would, through the trade it would stimulate, bring peace to the entire planet. Ia would circle Mars from pole to pole, where the melting ice caps would continuously refill it. The project was abandoned long before my time.”
« Abandoned? What happened? » In spite of his circumstances, Stone found the story engaging. « It sounds a grea idea ».
« During construction at the Pataphal cross-waterway intersection, after hundreds of miles of the Ia system had already been built, a terrible disaster struck. A whole section of the great Nokedu Cavern floor, which had been tested and found solid, fell away. Hundreds were killed. More of the cavern kept falling, until it formed a massive chasm, miles deep and far too wide to bridge. Black, unfathomable, the Nokedu Falls dropped deep into the planet’s heart.
The entire project was abandonded. No more would have been said had not an extraordinary phenomenon occurred maybe a month after the project was closed for good. A guard reported seeing the canal slowly filling with water.
Some freak of natural condensation created a system that had the effect of filling the Ia canal with enough water to float a good-size barge. But of course, at Nokedu the water again rushed into the great chasm. Damming didn’t work. It became pretty clear that the water had to circulate. Several expeditions had been made into the Nokedu Deep to find the cause of the phenomenon. The expeditions were lost or returned without success. The water supply remained continuous…
He moved his head to his right. In the helmet’s crisp illumination, he saw black water rippling, making its rapid way toward the falls, which had to be miles away and yet were already distinct. A distant roar. At a discreet sound from the helmet, Stone turned right, keeping the water on his left as the walkway widened, revealing the dark bulk of buildings, low houses, all abandoned.
This had been a busy, thriving port.
People had traded down here and been entertained, had families and lived complex lives. Mac wished that he had time to explore the town. Unlike the canal itself, the settlements along the bank were on a human scale and in different styles. This was where the last humanoid Martians had lived. The place had a bleak atmosphere. Mac saw no evidence for the legends he’d grown up hearing in the Low-Canal of enduring pockets of Martians still living down here.
They were not the last native Martians. Those were the raïfs. Never wholly visible, the flitted around the Low-Canal settlements – the so-called mourning Martians, whose songs sometimes drifted in from the depths of the dead sea-bottoms and whose pink-veined outlines were almost invisible by noon. They drifted like translucent rays, feeding on light. Their songs could be heartbreaking. Storytellers insisted that they were not a new race at all but the spirits of the last humanoid Martians forever doomed to haunt the Low-Canal.
Stone had never felt quite so alone. The buildings were thinning out as he walked, and his helmet showed him an increasing number of great natural arches, of stalagmites and stalactites forming a massive stone forest beside the whispering water of the Ia canal. Some had been carved by ancient artists into representations of long-since-extinct creatures. Every so often, he was startled by a triangular face with eldritch, almost Terran, features. Mac, used to so much strangeness, felt almost in awe of those petrified faces, which stared back at him with sardonic intelligence.
Nothing lived here, not even the savage crocs. Nothing flew or scampered or wriggled over the smooth marble, among the stone trunks of stone trees whose stone boughs bent back to the ground. The only noise came from the rushing water, and even that was muted.
Destroying the Future. Painting by Megan Jorgensen