Mars is a cold, dry world with a thin atmosphere. A “hot” day on Mars is a chilly four degrees Celsius, and the atmospheric pressure at Martian “sea level” is comparable to the upper slopes of Mount Everest. Space suits are not required on Mars, but newcomers may need to carry oxygen masks until they become acclimated to the thin air and insulated parkas are a must for even brief excursions. Martian plants and animals have adapted to these harsh conditions in unique ways. Martian “water pig” plants resemble giant barrel cactus with dark chlorophyll to allow them to use the weak sunlight for photosynthesis. Martian animals have heavily insulated hides, "anti-freeze" blood, huge lungs, and are able to hibernate during the long Martian winter.
So far, only one Martian animal has proven to be a threat to human colonists: the terrifying “blood beast”. This is a vaguely humanoid creature approximately seven feet tall with razor sharp teeth, long talons, great strength, a tough “bullet-proof” hide and a decentralized nervous system that makes it very difficult to kill. Small caliber weapons are virtually useless against the creature, but multiple hits from high-powered rifles firing explosive bullets will stop it. The solitary creature feeds upon other animals (apparently including its own kind) and it is believed to have been responsible for the demise of the crew of the first Martian expedition. The fearsome beast has demonstrated evidence of rudimentary intelligence, including the ability to open unlocked hatches and recognize weapons. Anthropologists speculate that the creature may be descended from higher, intelligent life that lived on the planet tens of thousands of years ago.
Evidence of former intelligent life abounds on Mars. Besides the famous canals and the great stone face and pyramids in the Cydonia region, numerous ruins and artifacts have been discovered around the planet. Archaeological research indicates that a highly advanced Martian civilization apparently flourished around 300,000 years ago when the planet was warmer and much wetter. Based on fragments of statues and murals and a few mummified remains recovered from the ruins, the ancient Martians may have been similar to humans. This has lead to speculation that Earth and Venus were both settled in prehistoric times by colonists from Mars and that the ancient Martians were in fact our distant ancestors.
Despite the bitter cold and numerous dangers, more settlers are journeying to Mars each year. Many are prospectors seeking rare and valuable trans-Uranic elements, while others are relic hunters hoping to find precious artifacts in the crumbling Martian ruins. Still others have come with the dream of eventually "Terraforming" the Red Planet into a warm, green world of their own.