The three highest ranking Psychiatrists at NASA met to discuss their findings. It didn’t help their moods to realize that all sixteen members of the First Mars Expedition were sedated- heavily sedated. Ever since their return from Mars the Sixteen (as they were called by the Press) had been getting more and more anxious, nervous, more vocal, even hysterical at times:
“We need to go back to Mars. Now!”
When the Sixteen tried to break into Launch Center in Lunar Orbit and commandeer the Mars Supply Vehicle…well, Security had no choice but to gas them. Then the Medical Staff sedated them to the point of being comatose. The Medical Staff had no choice…if any of the Sixteen could move, they would try and get to a vehicle to get back to Mars.
The lead Shrink said it best:
“It is beyond addiction. It is beyond wanting to go back. It is even beyond a Drive, like: sex, survival, or food. It isn’t like they would like to go back to Mars…it is more like they have to go back to Mars…or die. “
It wasn’t the Psychiatrists who figured it out. It was the Lead Psychiatrist who led them to the right answer with an off handed remark she made:
“I swear, it is like something has taken over their minds and is controlling their brain to get back to Mars.”
One of the Technicians overheard her remark. It tickled something in the Technicians Memory- something about “Zombie Ants.” The Tech told the Chief Medical Officer - it didn’t take long to figure things out. Zombie Ants get infected by a virus that takes over the Ant’s brain. Forcing the Ant (against its will) to climb up to the very top of a blade of grass.
Cows then eat the ants- allowing the virus to find its way to the Cow’s brain via the cows bloodstream. Ants do not crawl to the top of blades of grass - they know they can get eaten by the cows. The virus makes the ant do something contrary to its survival…and there is nothing the ant can do. It's brain has been hijacked by the virus. Hence the title: Zombie Ants.
The Sixteen had been “infected” by some kind of organism on Mars- an organism that was making them want to return to Mars. The organism had taken over their minds- giving them one goal: to return to Mars. It only took the Lab thirty six hours to isolate the organism. It took only a single brain scan to see that the organism had “hijacked” the Prefrontal Cortex of every member of the Sixteen.
A decision was reached.
“Wake them up. Send them back. Let’s find out why they need to go back to Mars.”
The Sixteen were anxious. Some were trembling. Some noted in some distant part of their brains that everyone else on the ship was in Full HazMat Level Five Isolation Gear…except the Sixteen. All the Sixteen could focus on was Mars. In less than a hour they would be on the Surface of Mars. While no longer sedated (Mission Control had awakened them more than two hours earlier) the Marines were keeping a close eye on the Sixteen.
It looked to the Marines like some of the Sixteen wanted to jump out of the ship and dive back onto Mars. They were probably right.
By the time the landing Check list was complete and the Airlock opened to join with the Tube that linked the ship to the Bubble Tents of the Colony - the Sixteen were visibly shaking. When the “all clear” was sounded, the tube cleared, and door opened, the Sixteen bounded, raced, tore out of the hold to get back on Mars.
Then…they stopped. Calm as Cows in a field.
Smiles were everywhere plastered on their Faces.
It was the spookiest sight the Medical Team had ever seen. The Medical Supervisor came up with the name that stuck for what the Sixteen were experiencing- in fact, it became the diagnosis: Contentment Fever.
From the moment the Sixteen got back on the surface of Mars…in every way, they returned to “Normal.” They were not. They were just content. Content to stay on Mars. It took the HazMat team’s return to Luna Center to figure out what was really going on. For even with their Hazmat Level Five Isolation gear on- when they got back to Luna Base, the organism was in their brains.
Just like the Sixteen, they went stark raving mad to get back to Mars. They were sent back …and just like the Sixteen- they were content. They did their assigned jobs with vigor, vitality, and passion. In every way normal and adapted. Except they couldn’t leave Mars.
For seven long years, no other Humans were sent to Mars…only supplies, survival equipment and electronic information. Mars was quarantined. That didn’t bother the ninety two souls living on Mars. They all had Contentment Fever. None of them wanted to leave Mars…ever. None of them would.
Seven years after the quarantine - a Molecular Biologist from Rice University, and an exobiologist from India, teamed up to find out what was going on. It turned out that the organism was harmless …on Mars. It just wanted water.
Humans were walking sacks of water…and they made water too. The organisms were harvesting that water to leach into catacombs below the surface. The organism was a hive mind…and finally found a way to communicate with Humans.
Mankind had finally found the Fountain of Youth. On Mars. The deal with the organism was simple…let it infect you; and as long as you remained on Mars you would never age, get sick, or suffer from disease. Contentment Fever was permanent. You would feel good about your job, your life, your future…as long as you remained on Mars.
It was cheap at that price was the consensus.
Within a Century Humans and the Organism became symbiotic- the new hybrid had a simple name: Water Babies.