I love Mars, I truly do. The austere and rationed life appeals to the ascetic in me. It keeps my hands busy and it keeps my mind occupied. It keeps me on my knees, and my mind and heart on God. I had tried for ten years to give my heart without reservation to God on Earth, but it was Mars that finally did it for me. It was Mars that gave me nothing but God and work to occupy my mind. Mars has purified my soul. Unless called to by God, I will never leave. I will never return to Earth. Because I have found God on this big red rock, and there is not a bead or bauble on the face of Earth that can match the glory of God.
The only thing I can compare living on Mars to is prison—or perhaps a convent, although I will say I’ve been in the former but not the latter. Our quarters are small and spare and the shared areas aren’t much larger. There is a small black market in various goods and services, but there are no stores. The food is exclusively soy, vitamin paste, and hydroponic vegetables and fruits; we don’t keep livestock and we don’t culture meat. There is very little alcohol or drugs on Mars, and what there is costs dearly. There are limited supplies of tobacco and marijuana—both of which some enterprising workers are growing along with squash and tomatoes in one of the hydroponic cells—and we get cigarettes and cigars now and again.
But those are the exceptions that prove the rule. Life on Mars is the life of the farm. We get up early, we work all day, and we go to bed tired. If we can’t produce it ourselves, we aren’t going to have it. Circle K is not just around the corner. There are no grocery stores, no hardware stores, no computer stores. For me, Mars is life distilled down to its very essence: you work, you worship, you sleep.
There are 1257 of us in the Life on Mars, Inc. colony right now. Less than sixty of us are Christians. There is a sparse chapel where any group can schedule worship (or whatever it is they call what they do) but only one actual official Reverend among us, and he’s a Unitarian. So taking service on Sunday and Wednesday is not quite what I would have hoped. But, like all things on Mars, you take what you can get. I lead a Bible study group of twenty-two now—not all the of them Christians, but anyone interested in the Word of God is welcome to study with us. It’s a good and thoughtful group, and many of the most devout share my love of Mars. They, too, appreciate the hard but uncluttered life that frees them from material temptations. From the distraction of Earthly pleasures. I have been there; I grew up surrounded by material wealth and constant distraction. Yet I have never been as happy or content in my life as I am now, with a small room and a cot, four company issue jumpsuits, my journal, and the Word of God.
There is entertainment here, though I mostly avoid it. There are no direct connections to Earth’s network— the technology exists, but the company would never allow it. We have our own isolated miniature version, though. Mostly, our ‘Net consists of sites run by company personnel and databases of technical information relating to the Mars project, and there are also large databases of movies and television shows. There is also some news, though all of it old, and you have to know where to go to get it. The company frowns on employee access to news. They don’t want us to know what they are saying about us on Earth. Or about Life on Mars, Inc.
They don’t want us talking too much to Earth, either. Most of us don’t have much in the way of roots, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. But some do correspond with a few friends or family back home. They were warned when they signed their contracts that all correspondence would be read and, if necessary, redacted without indication by the company. I’ve gotten one or two emails from past acquaintances that start and end: “I hear you’re on Mars, now.” And that’s it. The company has extremely rigorous information management policies.
I’m sure part of it is that there is much new about what we are doing and much proprietary about the technologies we’re using. I also suspect, from talking to the most recent arrivals, that the company is painting a picture of progress to the media, stockholders and new recruits that’s just not true. We’re five years from starting the process of terra-forming Mars, if we’re a day. Which is about five years behind the published timeline I saw before I came to Mars. There is international debate about the American Mars colony, some of it quite vitriolic from what has been relayed to me, and the company doesn’t want such issues distracting us from our work.
In the long run, I think it’s going to backfire on them. Such policies usually do.
I can see some of their policies backfiring already. Though part of our contract is mandatory sterilization and forbidding of marriage—they don’t want employees distracted by family issues—there have been employees who have declared themselves married “by the common law of Mars” and have managed to get their sterilization reversed, and start families. While a lot of workers frown on that—everyone did read and sign the contracts, after all—most of us are sympathetic, and do what we can to help out. Since there is no daycare and no schools, no store-bought formula or disposable diapers, the new parents need all the help they can get. I help out as many as I can—I run the warehouses, I coordinate all of receiving, and I am in the best position to know what comes in that’s not on the company docket. I’m also in an awfully good position to suggest things for next time. It strikes me as funny: I’ve traveled in space, I’m living on another planet, and we are all engaged in the most ambitious project humankind has ever undertaken—the complete environmental transformation of a planet, the creation of an original ecosystem. And there I am at the back of a warehouse negotiating for diaper pins and baby bottles.
I am popular with the parents on Mars, and they are patient with my price: they let me witness to them. While, so far, none have accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, I think the Robersons are close. Most of the others are nowhere near to it, but they are more interested in getting toddler clothes or a bassinet than arguing theology.
We get what we need. We have plenty of promissory credits to draw on, and shippers who are patient can make out like bandits. While all of us here are, for all practical purposes, indentured to Life on Mars, Inc. for the term of our contracts, there is one way in which we are very different from the indentured servants of old: our pay packages are huge. Most of those who leave Mars will do so multimillionaires. Though I wouldn’t trust the company any further than I could throw it, the final paycheck is not in doubt; the funds are set up in fixed-interest bearing tax-deferred trusts, which we are free to draw upon at will upon the maturation of our contract. While that gives us no live credits until our ten, fifteen, or twenty year terms are up, we trade in promissory notes, each dated, signed, and legally binding, so that when our contracts expire those that we’ve traded with can redeem their notes. The company wanted to prevent the distractions of profligate spending and the purchasing of contraband while indentured to the corporation, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. For many, the promise of future cash, and a lot of it, is sufficient, rendering the current inaccessibility of our credits irrelevant.
Others shippers are not so patient, and sex is one of the few immediate things we can offer in trade. I’m not comfortable with that, but I knew there were women signing on as prostitutes when I signed up. While I don’t condone it, I know it goes on and I’m not going to stop it. There are things we need here that the company will not supply directly. So we all do what we can to get it.
It’s another company policy in the process of backfiring. The prostitutes were meant to discourage (and, let’s be honest, even sabotage) the forming of romantic relationships between male and female employees. That’s why they’re here. The practical results have been a little different. Men and women are still linking up, drawn to each other by more than the promise of sexual gratification. Two of the prostitutes have fallen in love with some of their first clients, and declared themselves married under the common law of Mars, and the others have stepped in to cover up their non-participation in the sex services division. Which, like so many of the corporate policies, ends up obligating the employees to band together and conspire against the will of the company. We all end up covering for the marrieds and helping out the parents, and there’s nothing the company can do. If they terminated the contracts of every employee participating in the protection of fellow employees from discovery of company policy violations, ninety percent of us would be gone. And the Mars terraform project would be over, and Life on Mars, Inc. would go bankrupt.
The prostitutes perform service for trade when shippers come in, in exchange for exactly the kind of contraband Life on Mars, Inc. was trying to keep out of our colony. Just one more way their corporate strategy of defeating human nature for the ultimate achievement of their own goals is in the process of backfiring.
But this is nothing. Nothing so far. Nothing compared to how it will backfire. Life on Mars, Inc. is going to lose everything. They are going to lose every last dollar they’ve spent on Mars. Not this year, not next year, but it will happen. The planet is never going to be terraformed. It won’t be necessary. We are already near self-sufficiency; and the process of terraforming will offer no immediate advantage to the colonists. There will come a time when the interests of the company—and the interests of Earth—will have no bearing on what we do here.
It’s happening already.
“I have something for you,” Vlachko said in his thick, Slavic-coated English. “A present.”
Vlachko Chernigov is one of my favorite shippers. He brings supplies to the Russian colonists at Little Moscow—all seven of them–and us. Russia officially objects to the terraforming project and continues, along with France and Germany and most of the Middle East, to author resolutions in the UN condemning the unilateral American terraforming of Mars. The Russian colonists are really just a handful of state researchers establishing a prestige presence on Mars, as far as I’ve heard. We have very little contact with them, or the Japanese colony. Fraternizing with “competing” colonists is against company policy, though both colonies are sponsored entirely by their respective governments and aren’t attempting anything like terraforming. Normally, I wouldn’t let such an ass-backwards company policy stop us, but our long-range radio equipment is dead and, despite having entered the requisition for it a year ago, the company has still not replaced it. What little news I get about the other colonies, or what’s happening on Earth, comes from Vlachko. For the most part, he is my only real contact with the world outside our little colony.
So, I am always happy to see Vlachko. Though enthusiasm for the Little Moscow project waned as the Russian economy crumbled–at least this is what I understand from Vlachko–his shipping company, Russospac, still has a number of contracts with Life on Mars, Inc. Much of the raw material needed comes from Russia and the Ukraine, and it makes much more financial sense to ship directly from there than to freight it over the oceans just to pay twice as much to ship it from North America. It’s funny, really: while the Russians continue to object vociferously to the American Mars terraforming project, we’re still getting over half our supplies from Russia and the Ukraine.
I raised my eyebrows. I admit, I was a little dubious. “A present, you say?”
He pulled an old, leather bound Bible out of his rucksack. It looked well-worn, and was embossed with Greek characters. “It’s Septuagint. In the original Greek. I thought a back-to-basics man like you would appreciate the value of such an item.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I don’t know the first thing about the Greek language,” I said.
He clapped me on the back. “Well, then, it’s time you learned!”
Jori smiled at me. “Jack,” she said brightly, “How’s it going?” I liked Jori. She was nice. And young. And flirting. Although the company provided regular employees with drab, gender-neutral clothing, those that wanted to found a way around it. Jori was wearing the gray pants, but the thick, curve-obscuring jacket that went with them was tied around her waist. The corporation had cleverly requisitioned uniforms that zipped up on the side (to avoid cleavage-revealing unzipped fronts), but you just don’t stop human nature. People who wanted to advertise their lack of gender neutrality simply didn’t wear them. Jori was wearing a thin white tank top that was meant to be underwear, and she had cut it so her midriff was exposed. It was cold in the cafeteria, and her nipples were hard and dark under the thin, white fabric. Her skin was all gooseflesh, and in the midst of the smile her teeth chattered.
“I’m not too bad,” I said. I threw her a bone. “You are extraordinarily beautiful. Did you know?”
She blushed, and looked down, but was smiling, obviously pleased by the attention. “I am not,” she said. “You don’t think that.”
“Yes, I do,” I said. And she was. Why she was after me, I had no idea. She knew I was taking libido suppressants–that was one thing the company made sure the dispensary had plenty of–so that it was unlikely her youthful sexuality would draw me into any sort of dalliance. Jori is a good woman, and she is beautiful, but I take the apostle Paul’s admonition that it is best not to be married, but to devote your life to God, most seriously. Women complicate and cloud the relationship of a man to God. It happened to me before, long ago, and I would not let it happen again.
Yet, even on the maximum dosage of libido suppressant, there wasn’t much I could do about genuinely liking Jori. Of enjoying the time I spent with her. At times like this one, alone with Jori–who was good as naked from the waist up in her thin white tank top, her tan skin covered with goosebumps–that I took great comfort in the knowledge that we had over a thousand cases of libido suppressants in the warehouse.
“It’s movie night,” she said after a long pause. “Are you going to come? They’re showing Mars Needs Women. It’s a funny movie.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I usually don’t go to the movies. They’re just a distraction. And I’ve spent enough of my life being distracted.”
She smiled at me. She has a beautiful smile. “Sometimes being distracted is a good thing.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “We’ll see. Look. I–Jori, you know I’ve devoted my life to God. You know I’ve taken libido suppressants since before I came to Mars–”
“But you like me,” she said. “Even so.”
“I do,” I said. “But God has to come first in my life–”
“And maybe He’s brought me to you. Have you ever thought of that?” She was leaning closer to me. She normally just smelled sweaty and dirty, like everybody else on the colony. Right then, she smelled like the cinnamon biscuits my mother used to bake on Saturday mornings, so long ago. I shook my head the minute the idea went through my mind: had I really just thought that? What was wrong with me?
“I thought you were a Wiccan,” I said.
“I am,” she said. “But I’m open-minded. Maybe I just need someone to show me. You know. The love. Of God.”
I decided to be as plain as I could. “I’m never going to be in another romantic relationship, Jori. It’s not happening. As wonderful as you are, and–”
She laughed, and shook her head, her sandy brown hair cascading across her bare shoulders. She was also in violation of the company’s gender neutral hair policy. “I’m not asking you to marry me, Jack. I just wanted to go to the movie with you. Maybe we can share some popcorn.”
I looked at her suspiciously. “You’ve got popcorn?” The hydroponic corn crops weren’t mature yet, and (as I understand it, anyway) wouldn’t make very good popping corn.
She raised her eyebrows up and down, and leaned up against me. “Three bags,” she whispered conspiratorially. “We’ll just sit in the back. Maybe nobody will notice.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, but it’s been a long day, and I really need to spend my night in the Word of God–”
“You could read to me out of your Bible,” Jori said. “After the movie. You could save my soul.” She touched my shoulder. “Aren’t you supposed to do that?”
I winced. Shit. I couldn’t pass that up. My first obligation as Christian, after the praise and worship of God, was to lead others to Christ. Goddamnit. She had me.
“All right, it’s a date,” I said. “A platonic date,” I added quickly.
“There, that wasn’t so hard,” she said. She finished her carrots and wheatgrass salad, drank the rest of her water ration, and then headed for the door. On the way out, she looked back over her shoulder at me, and slapped her hands against her bottom. The voluptuous curve of her hip was evident, even under the loose, drab company pants. “Dr. Rogers says I’ve got hips made for making babies. What do you think?”
I had to grin. “I think you’re a bad girl. It’s against company policy to want babies. Get back to work.”
“See ya,” she said, and disappeared through the door.
I nibbled on my broccoli-and-cucumber salad. I have to confess, she’s my kind of woman. If I was in the market for that sort of thing. Which I’m not.
And if I was in the market for that kind of thing, it would take a whole hell of a lot to convince me that Mars is any kind of place for having babies. Or raising a family.
It wasn’t. It isn’t. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Margaret does all the accounting I don’t do, which, these days, is most of it. She reviews manifests and keeps track of what we’ve received and what’s in the warehouse, which is not a small job. The warehouse goes on for a square mile, and is eight stories high. There’s enough in the warehouse to build most of a small city, though critical things are missing. Most everything we’ll need for each stage of the terraforming that I don’t believe is ever going to happen is carefully boxed and coded and put away. Then we send the processing manifests back down to corporate in Florida.
Sometimes we’ve needed things for trade, and sometimes we’ve used things for purposes not officially sanctioned by the company. So we’d just pull them. The occasionally missing inventory item is an inevitable occurrence in any warehouse. When it was just one or two things, I didn’t worry, but when it got to be a lot of things, and we were also storing non-sanctioned shipments—cases of diapers and baby formula and toddler clothes, may God bless Vlachko–in the warehouse, I began to be concerned. The day I finally broached the issue of keeping a separate set of books to send the corporate boys–this was several months ago—Margaret surprised me.
“I’ve been keeping a separate set of books for a year, Jack,” she said. “We need to know where a gross of diapers are, if we get ‘em. They don’t.”
Margaret also handled most of the day-to-day correspondence between colony and company. She was the one who, many days and much more significant book-cooking later, informed me that Geoffrey Lincoln was coming. Margaret was unperturbed when word came down that corporate was sending up a new VP to get our schedule back on track.
“I’ve worked with those guys,” Margaret said. “They made me do a year in the Florida office before they’d send me out to the colony. They’re idiots, Jack. If they hadn’t gotten the government grants and the hundred billion from the Gates Foundation, this wouldn’t be happening. There’d be seven lonely Russians on one side and a dozen Japanese on the other and we wouldn’t be here at all.”
“I’m a little concerned,” I said. “We haven’t had a full time corporate guy here since the colony started. Since the first shipment, we’ve only had inspections. Corporate has always kept their distance.”
She laughed. “Jack, you can tape up big red arrows pointing to every violation of company policy and Geoff Lincoln is going to tell you the signs are the wrong shade of red and we need different arrows and, anyway, he has some great ideas about how to organize the freezer in the cafeteria.”
“I’m more concerned about the books. The warehouse space—the parts we’re using that aren’t in the books going back to the company. That concerns me. The families—“
She nodded. “They know there are families up here. They haven’t done anything yet.”
“But they’ve got somebody coming to get us back on schedule—“
“Yuh-huh. You know, I was reading Roberto’s website last night, and he had the white paper for the terraformers—the one written by the engineers who developed the process Life on Mars is using.”
I nodded. “I know. I’ve read it.”
“They had a time frame of fifty-five years. At best. Not fifteen. I don’t see how the company can promise–”
I laughed. “Fifty-five years was the time after the terraforming process was initiated. We haven’t actually started it, yet.”
“Insanity,” she said, then sipped her coffee. There’s no shortage of freeze dried coffee here, either. “Don’t you worry about the books. You watch out for the parents.”
I sighed. “Tell Roberto to take that stuff off his site. Everybody has to clean up their sites before Geoff Lincoln shows up. Anything negative about the terraforming—including actual information on the process—needs to come down, for now. And everybody has to watch what they say when he’s here. I don’t know what to do about new shipments—he’s going to want to look at stuff when it arrives. He’s going to make bartering a whole hell of a lot harder.”
“You worry too much,” Margaret said. “If you can’t take care of him, leave it to me and the girls in Section 5. We know how to keep busy-bodies occupied. He’ll be swamped with paper, tied up with red tape, and hammered with constant phone calls. Questions, memos, reports, and pleas for wisdom from management.”
“Frank Martin has a thing for me, too,” she said, turning around and facing her terminal screen. Frank Martin handled most of plumbing and water system maintenance for the colony. “I can make sure Mr. Lincoln’s head keeps backing up. He’ll be too busy trying not to take a shit to bother us.”
I nodded. “I’ll leave the toilet sabotage in your capable hands.” I clapped her gently on the back, and turned to leave.
“No worries,” she said. “We Martians have to stick together.”
“Maybe I should convert,” Jori said. “What do I have to do? Do I get baptized?”
I had just finished reading from John’s gospel, going through the beatitudes, and Jori still showed no signs of relenting. “I don’t think there’s a baptismal on Mars. And I don’t think Reverend Ned is going to perform a baptism. He’s really not that kind of Reverend.”
“Then you baptize me.”
“I’m not–that should be a consecrated minister or a pastor. But you aren’t serious, Jori. Not really. Giving your life to Christ is a lot more than saying, ‘baptize me’. It’s a daily devotion to the will of God, in everything you say and do. In everything you think and feel.”
“I can do that,” she said. “How did it happen to you? Were you always a Christian?”
I shook my head. “No. I–it’s a long story. It took a long time. Even now, I struggle. It’s better here than it has ever been; I know God led me to this place. So that I could be closer to Him. But it’s still a struggle. It can be a hard life, if you’re serious.” I looked at her pointedly. “It’s not a life that’s about what you want. It’s not a life about this life at all. It’s about living for Christ. And that can mean poverty. Pain. Celibacy. Isolation.”
“I’m not afraid of a hard life,” Jori said, sticking her chin out at me. “Look where I live. I moved here. This was my choice.”
I nodded. She had a point. Life on Mars wasn’t easy for anybody.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can work with you and nurture your faith, but I don’t think I can baptize you.”
“That’s okay. Keep reading.”
I nodded, and returned to reading the Gospels. When I got to Matthew 19:10, Jori interrupted.
“Ah-hah!” she said. “So the disciples thought getting married was a drag. That’s why you don’t like women.”
She was goading me, but I continued: “’Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”
She smiled broadly. She has freckles on her cheeks and nose, and I couldn’t help but notice them then. She gets these wonderful little dimples at the corners of her mouth, when she smiles like that. “What if someone can’t accept it?” she asked.
“Then they aren’t spending enough time earnestly seeking the will of God.”
I knew, at the bottom of it, Jori was looking for a relationship. I think, even more, she was looking for a mate. Why she had settled on me, I don’t know. There were many younger men who were much more obviously available. If it was my unavailability she found alluring, Yu Po is an orthodox Buddhist monk, and even more unavailable than I. I have to admit, I was mystified, and not a little concerned. But I was and am called by Christ to bear witness to His grace, and Jori was begging me to do it. Even if I knew what her fundamental motivation was, what else could I do?
She sat quietly and listened as I read the entire book of Matthew.
“I’m sick of it,” Park Randall said. He was a receiver at the warehouse, and a good man. And I agreed with him. A small group of us were together in the mess hall, discussing the latest food shipment from Florida. And nobody was happy about it.
“The ship was half empty,” Park continued. “Nothing but rice and soy and fucking vitamin paste. That’s bullshit. No more medicine, no meat, no canned foods, no fucking sugar–”
“Language,” I said. “There are ladies present.”
“Ladies?” Laila asked, and slapped Jori and Margaret on the back. “I don’t see no fuckin’ ladies here. Do you see any fuckin’ ladies here?”
Jori giggled. “Not fucking ladies, no.”
“This is payback. They’re trying to make us pay. They won’t terminate our contracts, they won’t do anything that might slow down productivity. Won’t do anything that those bureaucrats think would slow down productivity—“
“They could’ve put something on there,” Laila said. “We need more pillows and blankets. We’re running very low on tampons. You boys may not care about that but if we run out completely, I guarantee you, you will. I am down to two pairs of socks. My official company underwear has got holes in it. They know we need this stuff.”
“They could have put some cows or some pigs on there,” Margaret said. “It’d be easier to enclose an acre and turn it into pasture than wait for them to ship us some milk. Or some butter. Hell, give me some hens and chicken wire and one extra heater and I’ll get a chicken coop going in the warehouse.”
“Good luck,” Park said. “They don’t want us being self-sufficient. They don’t want us able to survive without their shipments. They want to keep us under their thumbs. They don’t even want us doing the hydroponics yet—that’s supposed to be for when the ‘real colonists’ show up. Not us dumb bastards terraforming the planet, but the tourists. Those will be the ‘real colonists’. ‘Memo: do not be spending time on the hydroponic cells yet. Not critical.’ ‘Memo: There is no need to be bringing hydroponic cells online at this time. Please explain.‘” He grunted loudly. “Explain! Please explain why we want to eat some—“ He glanced over at Jori, Margaret and Laila. “—some effing food. Jeeze!”
“We’d be starving without the hydroponics,” Laila said. “Let them try to live on nothing but tofu and vitamin paste. I’m all for seeing if the Ruskis can get us some hens up here.”
“You need to be quiet,” I said. “You need to break that habit. If we’ve got baby food and diaper pins, you don’t know where they came from. It’s manna from Heaven. Unless you want the Russia shipments to start looking like the Florida shipments.”
“Okay, okay,” Laila said. “I’ll keep my mouth shut. But we used to keep chickens, when I was a little girl. Had them in the garage. We had more eggs than we could eat. I’m all for getting some hens in—“
I sighed. “Look, people. It’s going to take more than hens to be self-sufficient. We need food. Pharmaceuticals. Backup recyclers. We have to have oxygen. We have to have fresh water. And it doesn’t rain on Mars.”
Park glowered at the table, not looking at anyone. “It’s supposed to be raining, now. The video at the Life on Mars recruitment center—it showed it raining. Snow. Swimming pools. They had pictures of nice apartments and people jumping into swimming pools. “ He looked around dramatically. “Where are the nice apartments? Where are the swimming pools? Where’s the rain?”
I shook my head. “It’s never going to rain on Mars.”
“How can you be so sure?” Jori asked. We were sitting at the bar at Club Boreum—a pun, based on the name of the northern polar icecap the terraform was starting with, the Planum Boreum, and the fact that the “club” was a rec room with a bar, some high bar chairs, an antique karaoke jukebox and a portable refrigerator that we might sometimes keep Kool-Aid or soda pop in, if we got any. Right then, it was all water. About as boring as you could get, I guess. If you were the kind of person used to recreation on Earth.
“About the terraforming. You’re positive it’s not going to happen. Aren’t you?”
I sighed. “Not any time soon. Even if all the power plants come online and we start melting the ice caps and we get all the extractors and oxygen plants running full tilt, that’s not going to be enough to even start to terraform the planet. The ice caps will give us a slight increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor, but it won’t make any difference to the temperature of the planet. We might get a hundred gallons of water a day out of the extractors, in addition to the water ice of Planum Boreum—but that’s not enough to create any kind of serious weather. It sure as hell isn’t going to be an ocean. Even if we were going to deploy 10,000 oxygen farms instead of a 1000, we could maybe get a breathable atmosphere—but that’s not going to terraform the planet. That’s not going to start weather. If we could kick start a planetary weather system by melting the ice caps and extracting moisture from the permafrost, there’d already be a weather system here. That’s not going to make it possible to grow vegetation outside—“
Jori perked up. “They’ve got genetically modified pine trees that will survive in temperatures below –30° Fahrenheit. With fertilization and irrigation—“
“When they get them where they can survive –90°, then you have something. It barely stays that warm during the winter at the equator. Even then, irrigation, fertilization, speed of growth—it’s going to be hard to keep the momentum up, when, after a century of colonization there still isn’t a breathable atmosphere, no oceans, no forests—when there still is no weather.“ I looked out the window, into the black Martian night. It was stark and inhospitable—the black of the sky blacker than any I had ever seen on Earth—but it was also very beautiful. It was clear. It was cloudless. The way it was going to stay for a long, long time. “Jori, when and if the process gets going and the ice caps melt and the moisture extractors start, when, after all that, all that ends up happening is a large vapor emission and a negligible increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide—when all that results is Lake Michigan, not the Pacific Ocean, and all the water is still frozen—I think that will be the end of terraforming Mars. If it gets to that point. But I don’t think that it will.”
“Most of the techs say we’re not more than two years from going online. I don’t see why—“
“Because if the colony declares itself as an independent and sovereign body, if we sever ourselves from Life on Mars, Inc., we won’t be worried about terraforming. We’ll be worried about surviving.” And there. I had said it. Not that some didn’t talk openly of the idea already. Not that anyone would be surprised to hear the words. Not that just this sort of thing hadn’t been speculated about for years before man had even set foot on Mars. But I had never really said it, not out loud to anybody—Margaret and I had danced around the issue often enough, but I hadn’t ever said it directly like that, even to her. But I had just made the point explicitly to Jori.
“Oh,” Jori said. “That.”
“Yes, that. I think the company sending up Geoffrey Lincoln is going to speed up the process rather than prevent it. Although I don’t think they have any idea that there’s anything to prevent.”
Jori exhaled slowly. “How soon, do you think?”
I shrugged. “If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said it would be years. Now, I think it may be months. Too many families. Too many babies. Too many bad company policies that end up making the corporation into the enemy. Shorting the shipments—Park’s right, they’re doing it to send a message. And that message is that we eat and breathe at their leisure. They’re making themselves into an enemy a lot faster than I thought they would. And when it comes down to it, we’re too far from Earth. We’re not a part of Earth. We’re our own world. And there’s not too many people here that don’t feel that way.”
Jori nodded. “That’s me,” she said. “I never felt like I fit right anywhere. Before Mars.”
“After God, my loyalty is to you and Margaret and Park and Yu Po and Laila and all the other men and women in this colony. The company can go fuck itself, as far as I’m concerned.” There. Now I had said that, too. It felt good.
Jori giggled. “What are you going to about your libido suppressants?”
“There’s enough here to last me thirty years. When the new recruits arrive, they should show up with a dozen cases of ‘em. The company discourages fraternization.”
“And so do you,” she said. “You big dumb butt.”
“Just for me, personally,” I corrected. “It’s human nature to want to find somebody. To start a family. The corporate drone that came up with the idea that they were going to stop men and women from falling in love by providing libido suppressants and prostitutes was an idiot. But there are lots of idiots in the corporate world.”
“We’ve got one coming tomorrow,” Jori said. “I’ve heard rumors. I’ve heard he’s a smoker. That he’s coming with ten gross of Marlboros.”
I shook my head. Typical. “That’s a good start. Come up immediately flouting the company ban on cigarettes. Holds himself above the worker bees.”
“Heard he’s married. Has a wife and kids at home.”
I nodded. “I’ve heard that, too. But that doesn’t mean anything to how he’s going to deal with us.”
She was quiet for a while, and I could tell there was something else she wanted to ask. “What is it?” I said finally. “You want to ask me something.”
“You said you were married,” she said. “What was the problem? Was she a total bitch? Was she, like, the devil? That’s why you hate women?”
I chuckled a little. Then, I thought, maybe I should just tell her. Go ahead and spell it out, and just nip this nonsense in the bud. “I don’t hate women. No, my wife wasn’t a ‘total bitch’. It was just—I got involved in a legal dispute with some old friends of ours, and she took their side on the issue and—and there was some history of that sort of thing. And so I got angry. And I put her in the hospital. Broken nose, fractured jaw, broken arm, concussion, internal bleeding. I also broke two of her fingers. And she was—after that night, she suffered from partial deafness. Eventually corrected, but—but it was an indicator of how hard I hit her. How violent I was. It wasn’t the first time I had hit her, but it was the first time I had ever done anything like that.”
“Damn,” Jori said. “That’s harsh. Not very Christian of you.”
“No, it wasn’t. But I wasn’t a Christian then.”
“So she kicked you out and you found Jesus?”
I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. “She divorced me, yes, but only after she pressed charges and put me in prison. Which was exactly what she should have done. My sentence was for five years, with time off for good behavior. I—it was difficult. I had the shit kicked out of me a lot. And all I could think about was getting out and finding my ex-wife and killing her. They had her fixed up in a week like nothing had ever happened, but I was going to jail for five years. I hated her. I thought she was responsible for everything wrong in my life, and when I got out, I was going to kill her.”
Jori nodded. “I can see that. But you didn’t do it, did you?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I had, would I? No, I decided the best way to get out early was to claim conversion. To volunteer to assist the chaplain and put in all the appearances of being a good Christian and ask for his help so I could stay out of the way of the people who kept kicking the shit out of me, and getting me in trouble, and also so I could ask him for a recommendation when it came time for my parole hearing.”
“And then you really converted.”
“I found God. Or God found me. Prison stripped me to the bone. When I started attending service and working with the chaplain, we’d read a passage together and it would just speak to me. The chaplain would give me books, and they would seem to be written about my situation exactly—God just kept talking to me. God had always been talking to me, it was just that before I hadn’t listened. In prison, it was hard, but there wasn’t so much to get it in the way. So God kept working on me, and I finally asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior. It was a difficult process for me. It broke me. It humbled me. It chastened me—“
“Chastened!” Jori exclaimed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard somebody actually say that word.”
“But it did. I tried to make amends with my ex, when I got out—not to go back to her, I didn’t expect that, but to apologize. To do something in service to her. But she didn’t trust my new found religion, and there was a restraining order against me, so I was—I was limited in what I could. I decided to leave Australia—“
“Australia? You lived in Australia?”
“I was born in Australia. I went back and forth all my life, from Australia to America. We moved three times when I was a kid, and I ended up doing the same thing after I left home. Where job opportunities took me.”
“Did you beat up any more women?” she asked.
I looked at her seriously. “Not yet.”
“You don’t scare me,” she said. “You know anything fancy? Karate? “
“No, but I’m a big guy. I can do some damage.”
She stood up and stuck out her hand. “I’m a black belt in Aikido and Shotokan. “
“Jori, everybody’s file has gone across my desk, I know you’ve got a lot of martial arts experience—“
“Enough to kick your ass.”
“That’s not the point,” I said, and she grabbed my arm, pulling me forward while kicking me in the shin, and my legs seemed to almost magically fly out from under me. And I was down on the floor and she had the heel of her boot on my throat. “Did you know the term ‘Martial Arts’ comes from Mars?” she asked. “‘Martial’ is ‘of Mars’—as in ‘the art of Mars’, Mars being the Roman god of War. Pretty cool, huh?”
I coughed. “Yeah. Pretty cool.” I said.
“And that’s nothing. You left the family jewels wide open for, like, ten seconds there. I could’ve turned you into a soprano.”
“Okay, okay, I get the point. You’re no lilting flower.”
I sat up. “The point is, I still have a lot of work to do. A lot of time to spend with my heart and my mind on God. That’s why I’m on Mars. To have a worldly life as free of distraction from my spiritual life as possible. I mean, it’s not about you, Jori. You are wonderful. I just can’t let anything come between me and God. And I can’t—I can’t—I mean, it’s hard to understand, if you haven’t been there, but I’m here—I’m here to deny myself.” I looked down, and then looked up again uncomfortably. I knew that I was saying too much, that this was not the way I should make this point, but I couldn’t seem to stop it. I wanted her to know that she was my kind of woman, if I had been in the market for that kind of thing. Even though I wasn’t, I did want her to know. “To deny myself the things that I want. That I would want for myself. I’m on Mars so that I can live my life free of—of any kind of worldly pleasure. So that life is just me and God. Because my relationship with God is—it’s the most important thing in my life. And it’s His grace—and His merciful forgiveness—that gives my life any value at all. Even though—even though you are everything any man with a brain would ever want, in a woman. I—you know, I just can’t. God has called me. And I have to answer.”
Jori sat down on the floor beside me. She shrugged. “Okay,” she said. “But, you know, maybe God is calling me, too.” She looked at me seriously. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I didn’t think she was joking. “God is calling me, and you’re the telephone.”
I opened my mouth to respond—I don’t know what I was going to say—and she held up her finger to quiet me. “And I have to answer, too.”
I didn’t have a response to this. I couldn’t easily explain Jori’s pursuit of me at this point in my life, except by divine intervention. Maybe she had something.
“Then come on,” I said, after we had sat together in silence for a while. “Let’s go back to my room. We can finish reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians together.”
“Hi, I’m Geoffrey Lincoln,” Geoff Lincoln told me, leaning forward as he stepped off the transport. “I’d like everybody to call me Geoff. I don’t like Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln was my father. I want everybody here to call me Geoff. You must be—John Chapman, right?”
I smiled politely. “Jack Chapman. I’m not a John.”
He nodded. “But your name is Jonathan. Jack is short for, or a common nickname of, Jonathan.”
“Usually,” I said. “But my parents named me Jack. So that’s my name.”
Geoff shook his head. “No, they probably named you Jonathan, but always called you Jack.”
“No, Mr. Lincoln,” I said pointedly. “They named me Jack. I’ve seen my birth certificate. Several times.”
“No ‘Mr. Lincoln,’” Geoff said, wagging his finger at me as if I were three years old. Or a bad dog. “I want everyone to call me Geoff. I’m another employee of the company, just like you.”
“I’ve got you. Geoff.”
“So, anyway—can you get somebody to help me get my stuff off the ship? I’ve got a lot of stuff with me.” He took out his PDA, and started flipping through a calendar screen. “Tell you what. Give me an hour-and-a-half to get settled, and then I want to meet with you, and I want to schedule meetings with all the other management staff here at our Mars Base—hmm, shouldn’t there be some signs here? Something that says ‘Life on Mars: Mars Base 1’ or something like that?”
It was an effort not to roll my eyes. “They haven’t sent up any signs from Florida. If they do, we’ll be happy to hang them.”
He nodded thoughtfully, tapping in his PDA. “Mmmhmmm. Tell me, do you always wait until you get the word from Florida before you take initiative on something?”
“No, but I do wait for word from Florida before I do something stupid that would be a pointless waste of time. We don’t have any sugar. We are short on paper and pens. We’ve got five printers. We’ve got 1257 people here and we’ve got ten conference rooms and four whiteboards.”
“You’ve only got four digital whiteboards?”
I laughed. “Why do you say ‘digital’? I mean whiteboards. With dry erase markers. We don’t have any ‘digital whiteboards’ at all.”
“Huh,” Geoff said, nodding with concern while tapping his stylus on his PDA. “Now, you said putting signs up would be a waste of time—shouldn’t people know where they are, when they get here? Shouldn’t they be able to expect a standardized system of navigation, by which they could expect to get around, right out of the box?”
“Uh—well, there’s only one American Mars base here, and everybody here knows where they are. Why would we put a sign up? There’s a million other things to do. You have to know we’re a year behind the company schedule on the terraforming—“
He nodded in a way that seemed intended to convey that indeed he knew, and was deeply concerned. “That’s what I’m here to fix,” He said after a moment.
I couldn’t help myself. We had been on Mars too long without direct corporate supervision. “And you’re going to fix it by suggesting we should be spending time on signage to tell everybody where they are despite the fact everybody already knows—“
“Well, now,” he said. “I’m not saying anybody should be wasting time, of course, but the effort spent familiarizing people with the new environment—that consumes time.”
I sighed. “The halls are marked, the rec rooms and conference rooms are marked, we’ve got directional signs where they actually make some sense.”
“Okay. Well, you say that. But then, I get off the ship, and, first thing, I’m confused. Hey, where am I?” He looked around, affecting an air of confusion, putting his hands out, palms up. Like people could end up at the only American Mars colony by accident. “Am I at the right place? Is this the warehouse? Is this the nuclear plant? Am I at the sleeping quarters? Where do I go from here? I just don’t know.“
“Well, there’s a pretty big sign right over there—“
“Well,” he said, not looking up and not following my finger, which was pointed at the large and easy to read multi-lingual directional signs mounted beside each hallway entrance. “We’ll address this issue later. In the meantime, we’ve got a few programs we’re going to start, and I want to introduce myself to the front line workers—the warehouse personnel and the construction workers and the maintenance people. There’s going to be some big changes going on here, and soon.”
I nodded. “No doubt about that.”
If there was any irony in my tone, he didn’t notice it. “Of course, not that we’re going to get anybody in trouble, or that anybody is going to get their contract terminated—nothing like that. But, we are going to make some changes so we can get this project on schedule. And we’re going to start today.”
So I took Geoff Lincoln to his room. He was clearly underwhelmed, but didn’t complain. He was most worried about how long before his dozen cases of cigarettes arrived. Pacing impatiently as Giorgio made his way from the platform back to Mr. Lincoln’s apartment, he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. “So, where do we smoke?” he asked.
“’We’ don’t smoke anywhere. If you smoke anywhere, you’ll be in violation of company policy. “
“Huh,” he said. “I thought there were smoking areas. Club areas—that sort of thing.”
“There are,” I nodded. “Company policy forbids smoking. Of anything. Anywhere. Rec rooms and clubs included. We’re in a closed environment and there are more than a few flammable things around.”
“But the air recyclers would process the smoke—“
“It’s the company policy. What can I tell you? If you violate it, and I catch you, I have to write you up and send it back to corporate, just like I would anyone else.” This wasn’t entirely true—I wasn’t in the habit of writing up violations of company policy, even though they occurred frequently. I guess he knew that, but I wasn’t going to get led into suggesting that he do anything inappropriate. He could come to that decision by himself. “But if you do it, I sure suggest you don’t let anybody else see you doing it. Not good for morale.”
“Hmm. Now, I thought for sure there were smoking areas at the Mars Base—“
“There are people here who thought we had luxury apartments and swimming pools and gymnasiums, before they got here. The Mars in the brochure and the real, live Mars you’re stuck with aren’t the same thing.”
“Well. Maybe we can do something about that policy.”
I smiled. The peons are behind, and the big corporate guy shows up to make everything better. First order of business: when and where can he smoke?
“Well, okay,” he said, tapping on his pack of Marlboros. “So, give me a little time to get settled, and then we’ll do the tour of the facility and then maybe you can set up a meeting at the end of the day for all the main warehouse and construction staff. Put a feed in so everyone can catch my presentation—and maybe send out the word that everybody here needs to be watching me, because I’ve got some important news. Can you do that?”
“I can do that,” I said.
“Great. Okay, well, I’ll see you then. Great to meet you, John.”
“Jack,” I said.
“John, Jack,” he said dismissively. “Good to meet you, that’s the point. Okay, later, then.”
“All right then,” I said, backing out of the door, and before I finished sliding the door shut I saw him pulling a cigarette out of the pack.
I shook my head. He wasn’t going to last long. If he did, he wasn’t going to have a good time of it.
We had most of our key construction workers and warehouse supervisors and all the plant engineers up front in the warehouse, because it was the only place where there was room. About two-hundred people were there, total. There were plans for an auditorium, and I remember when all the seats and the curtains for the stage came in, but those were all packed away in the warehouse. As was the next item of contention.
Geoff looked behind him at the back of the warehouse, shaking his head. “Where is the stadium display?” he asked. “So everybody can see me—didn’t we send one up here?”
“It’s in the warehouse,” I said. “The stadium is a third tier project, scheduled after all the plants are online and all the seven and eight block apartments are built—“
“We’re in the warehouse,” he said. “Why didn’t you set this up so we’d be where the screen is?”
“Because the screen is in three pieces in three different boxes half-a-mile down and six stories up, in the same section as all the other construction materials for the stadium, which we had direct orders not to start the installation of—“
Geoff shook his head. “That’s just unacceptable. I can’t believe you haven’t been communicating with your frontline staff all this time. I—well, you and I are going to need to have a talk later.” He sighed dramatically. “Anyway—“
“Excuse me, but I have been in communication with everybody here. I don’t need a Jumbotron to talk to my people—“
He shook his head decisively. “It’s an effective method of communication that you should be utilizing. From now on, we will be. Have somebody start setting it up immediately after this meeting.” He took out his PDA and then pulled a data cartridge out of it. “Damn. I have an entire PowerPoint set up for this—how am I going to show it? Never mind, never mind. Where’s the microphone?”
“In your throat,” I said. “Speak loudly, and everyone will hear you.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Give me that phone.” He walked over to the closest one and grabbed it. “How do I dial up the warehouse intercom?”
I showed him how to call the warehouse intercom. For the next thirty minutes, with constant audio feedback squeals, Geoff introduced his new programs. More-Better-Faster was his first initiative, which was going to improve everything and make it all happen better and faster but seemed to consist mostly of some signs he was going to be posting and a fabulous new suggestion box for the cafeteria. Then, he presented the unfortunately titled You’d Better Wait, It’s Getting Late, which was a program designed to discourage people from falling in love, getting married, or wanting to start a family. It included a series of videoposters—thin film disposable nanodisplays with running videos—warning against what a harsh environment Mars was for employees to raise a family, and how that slowed down things for everybody. It also included similar videoposters promoting our well-stocked supplies of libido suppressants and information on the company prostitutes. “And, you’ll be glad to know, we’ll be getting in fifteen new prostitutes when the next wave comes,” he told everybody excitedly. “Six of them male, and that’s including a bisexual and two homosexual prostitutes—I know the company has underserved our homosexual community up here, and we’re trying to make things right. Of course, as always, most of the girls will do guys or girls—just ask, if you’re interested, ladies! Wow! Is this a great company to work for or what?”
At the end, he marched around at the front of the warehouse, singing a song about waiting to have kids and working harder and faster for no perceivable additional benefit to the tune of some old pop song from thirty years ago. By the time it was all over, I had lost count of the eyes rolled and looks exchanged. During the debut of his video posters, Margaret came up to me and mentioned—loud enough so that I think everybody around us heard it—that all our terminal displays were twenty-year old gas plasma behemoths. “They can invest the money in goddamned videoposters but they can’t buy us any nanodisplays for the actual work? I’m too old for this bullshit. I’m leaving.”
“Stay,” I said. “I know. Just let it go, for right now.”
“Hmmph,” she said. But she stayed.
“Wow,” Geoff said, rubbing his hands together enthusiastically. We were meeting in my office. “I think that went great! I really got the feeling that everybody was on board with this. Things will be changing around here.” He inhaled deeply. “Now, about your lack of communication with the front line—“
“I don’t lack communication with the front line,” I said. “Ask the front line, if you want to see what they think.”
“No, I’m talking to you,” he said sternly. Like he was reprimanding a child. I was beginning to look forward to maybe locking him in one of the freezers when the shit hit the fan. Viva la revolucion!
“Okay, then I’m telling you,” I said. “We communicate. You may do it different, and that’s fine, but just because I haven’t unpacked company equipment designated for another project so everybody can see my head two stories tall, that doesn’t mean I’m not communicating with my people.”
He nodded, tapping his PDA studiously. “I think I’m beginning to see why things are so behind here.”
“You’re hostile to change. I don’t mean you personally, but I think it’s part of the culture here. You–all of you–are afraid of change. Look, John—“
“Jack,” I said. Before locking him the freezer, maybe Jori could kick his ass, too.
“There’s better ways to be doing things, but you’re not doing them. Because you’re afraid of change.”
I sighed. Mr. Lincoln was getting old quick. “With all due respect, sir, that doesn’t make any sense. I moved to another planet. I’m not afraid of change. Everybody here has left their lives on Earth and have moved to Mars. Some for five years, most for at least ten. Some for fifteen. I’m here for twenty. Some may never end up leaving—”
“Which is fear of change,” Geoff said. “Look, we’ll talk about this some more later.” He tapped on his PDA. “How about 14:30 tomorrow?”
“All right. Tomorrow.” I stood up to open the door for him.
“And take care of that screen today. You need to start communicating with your people effectively.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, nodding. We both left my office. I wasn’t going to do anything about the screen right now, I just wanted to get the hell away from him. He started heading towards his quarters, almost sprinting. Ah, I thought. It had been awhile since his last cigarette.
I headed the other way. Because it wasn’t the way that he was going.
“You wanna come see the movie with me tonight?” Jori asked. We were sitting next to each other in the cafeteria, eating breakfast: rice pudding and blackberries and strawberries from the hydroponic block. They also had soymeal, but I can’t stomach the stuff. Jori was drinking wheatgrass juice, but that was a little much for me in the morning, so I was drinking water.
“It’s Red Planet,” she said. “It’s kind of stupid. But it’s kind of funny, too.” She smiled. Her lips are tan, like her skin, and make the most perfect longbow shape when she smiles. Her cheeks dimple. Her eyes are gray. Maybe a little blue. Her hair is a sandy brown, the color of raw honey. She usually smells sweaty—water is rationed, since we only run two recyclers and replenishment takes forever, so none of us get to bathe as much as we would like—but it’s a good kind of sweaty. A definitely female musk. And hers is better than most.
She was fully suited up in company-drab pants, jacket and boots—she wasn’t trying to show anything off, because I think she had finally figured out that the libido suppressants work. But something about her was working on me, too. I felt better, just hearing her voice. She has a high, perky voice, with just the slightest hint of a southern drawl—she was originally from Virginia—and when she laughs, it’s like magic. Even when she’s not around, I find myself thinking about her voice and her eyes and how I can see her small little ears when she puts her hair up in a bob. I know I’m becoming attached, probably more attached than I should be, but what do I do? I have no urge for any kind of sexual dalliance—the libido suppressors do their job—but I can’t seem to get rid of the desire to talk to her. To spend time with her. I think it was when she flipped me down and had a boot on my neck in two seconds flat, then regaled me with the etymology of “martial arts” that really got to me. I can’t get the idea of her out of my head. And I don’t know what to do about it.
I had never planned to date again. I had certainly never planned to marry. But, sometimes, in those dim moments before I fell asleep at I night, I could see us declaring ourselves married by the common law of Mars. Jack and Jori. But I couldn’t tell—was it a call from God? Or a temptation that I should resist?
“Yoo-hoo,” she said. “Mars to Jack, come in Jack. Movie tonight. Got popcorn. Then we can go back to your place and you can get all Biblical on me. S’alright?”
“Yeah, that’s—that’ll be great. It’s a date.” Then, without meaning to, without thinking about it, I leaned forward and kissed her cheek.
She looked up at me, and—to my amazement—she blushed. She put her hand over her cheek and looked away. At that moment, she looked as if she would have been more at home two centuries ago than now. “Wow,” she said. “You kissed me.” She grinned up at me, then, showing all her teeth. “Does this mean we’re going steady?”
I smiled back at her. “It means I’d like to hold your hand at the movie.”
She punched me in the shoulder. “Holding my hand,” she said, her tone jocular and clearly pleased. “You sly dog, you.”
“Bah,” Laila said, sitting down beside us. “He’s old enough to be your father.”
Jori shrugged. “You’re old enough to be my mother. You can hold my hand too, if you want.”
Laila dumped her berries into her soymeal and started stirring, but didn’t look up. “You know what I mean. And Jack—you ought to know better.”
I nodded. “Yes, I should. And so should she. But she just won’t let me be.”
“I’m twenty-two years old,” Jori said. “I’m old enough to make my own decisions, thank you, Mama Laila. Besides, Jack is the perfect gentleman.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. They all are. Until . . .”
I was a little uncomfortable with the discussion of age. I am forty-one years old, nineteen years older than Jori. That’s a big gap. I couldn’t imagine that this was the kind of relationship God would truly call me to at this point in time. Given how long, and how profoundly, I had sinned in my life, I found it difficult to accept that God would reward a man like me with a companion like Jori, ever. Test, perhaps, my fidelity and devotion to Him—but to join us together as one flesh? I didn’t see how it could be right. But the sense of being drawn to her would not go away.
“You are right, Laila,” I said. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her. I was trying, but she’s winning me over.”
Jori winked at me. “Told ya,” she said.
I found Yu Po out in the warehouse. He was up near the top of the eight-story scaffolding, pointing at boxes. After a moment I realized he was getting down the components for the stadium screen that Geoff Lincoln had felt was so important to internal communications. I had just released the order—several days late, but I did finally get to it—and Yu Po was already on the job. He was quick.
I took a lift up to the eighth story, and waited for Yu to get done instructing the man and woman he was talking to. Once he was finished, they straddled the minilifts and started moving pieces out of the way, looking for the stadium screen. Yu walked over to me. “Mr. Chapman,” he said, and bowed slightly. “You are looking for me?”
“Yes, yes, I was,” I said, watching as the two others moved the pieces out and then over to the edge of the shelf location so the hydraulic lift could take them down from there. “How do the—you—I mean, the women here—I’ve seen you down at the dispensary. You take the libido suppressants too, don’t you?”
Yu smiled politely and shook his head. “That would interfere with my discipline,” he said. “I have brought requisitioned items to the dispensary. I do not take any drugs.”
My eyes widened. Yu was probably thirty five, and in good shape. I would think it would be almost impossible for a thirty-five year old male to resist the call of free flesh and/or potential relationships, especially given the paucity of other distractions on Mars. But if he said he didn’t take them, then he didn’t. “Well, I was going to ask you how they worked for you, but I guess not.”
“If suppressors work for you, then that is fine,” he said, smiling. “We each have our own path. For me, I must release, not suppress. It would do me no good to put my desires under a sheet and hope that they stay hidden. No matter how opaque the sheet may be, my passions would dwell there still. For me to purify myself, I must let go of desire—I must transcend it. Only through meditation, discipline, and a devotion to my duties, can I transcend my desires and purify my spirit. There is no pill that can do that for me.”
“Huh,” I said. “Hum. Well, I’ve got to say, I respect that. I don’t think I could do it—that I could resist the temptation, some days. Without the pills.”
Yu nodded slightly at me, his expression inscrutable. “Then perhaps that is not truly your path, Mr. Chapman.”
Towards the end of the day, I found myself outside with Geoff Lincoln. He didn’t understand why the moisture extraction process wasn’t producing. Geoff “didn’t understand” quite a bit, I was finding.
“I think the problem here is user error,” he said. We were outside, wearing our thinsulate excursion suits—one of those few areas where the company had actually provided us with adequate equipment—looking down at #2 of our two moisture extractors. Invisible to the human eye, thousands of carbon nanotubes spread out into the ground, going down only centimeters but covering a three meter area, conducting fuel-cell generated heat down into the ground to thaw the frozen moisture and then drawing it back up to inject the vapor into the air. At set intervals—currently three days—the unit extracted itself and rolled forward five meters, then resumed the process. Fuel cells had to be replaced every two weeks. We had been running the test units—and babying them, and calibrating them—for over nine months now. And Geoff was suggesting that “user error” was the reason we weren’t producing water from ground where there was just no water to be found.
“It has to be. All of our spectrographic maps show plentiful frozen water just centimeters below the crust,” he said.
“No,” I corrected. “They show plentiful hydrogen atoms. The company embraced analysis that assumed that it had to mean water. But I think it clearly isn’t—“
“Well, then, it’s—well, it can’t just be ‘free hydrogen’—it would have to be water—“
“It could be other hydrides, like ammonia or methane, which has been present in soil samples as often as water. I could be deposits of platinum or palladium, which can absorb hydrogen—“
“Across the entire planet?” he asked incredulously. I admit, it was a far-fetched explanation, but his tone irritated me.
“Well, do you see water? Do you see how much we’re getting? You could put one of these things down in the middle of Death Valley and do nothing but turn it on, and you’d get more moisture.”
He looked at me seriously, the front of his visor misting up each time he breathed. All I could see was his left eye twitching—I had been with him inspecting the outside for a while now, and knew it had been hours since his last cigarette. I started thinking about what else he really “needed” to see, before we could go back.
“What sort of training seminars did you run for the employees deploying these units?”
I sighed. “They read the manuals. You set them down and turn them on. Then you adjust and you adjust and you adjust, and we’ve had techs trained on moisture extractors working on them, and we haven’t got results any better when we first set them down and turned them on—“
“But you didn’t have any training seminars?” he asked again.
“No. No training seminars.”
“Did you at least write some documentation for them?”
“No, I didn’t write any documentation. The equipment came with complete documentation. Why would I write anything?”
“Because you are responsible for how the equipment is to be deployed,” he said, shaking his head. “I think I can see why we’re so far behind on moisture extraction.”
“So can I,” I said. “Because there’s no water.”
He shook his head sadly. “Let me take a look at this,” he said, and started randomly pressing buttons on the extractor’s control panel, at first shutting it off and then ejecting its fuel cells.
“That’s good,” I said. He picked up the fuel cells and started trying to cram them back in. “Ahem. The—uh—the ‘documentation’ says that you aren’t supposed to remove the fuel cells until spent, because you—ah—you can’t put them back in. Without ruining the extractor.” While he stood there, looking stupidly and the wasted fuel cell, less than a week old, I turned the status switch on our rover to the cold storage setting, so it wouldn’t start when we got back in. It was not a Christian thought, and I shouldn’t have done it, but I was going to keep him out there until we were almost out of air.
“I don’t understand, it was working fine when we came out here,” Geoff said, almost whining, when he finally insisted we get back in the rover and head back to base. “Do you maintain the equipment properly? Do you do anything constructive around here?”
I smiled pleasantly. “I think there may have been a EMP disruption when you ejected the fuel cells from the extractor.” I was just talking out of my ass, but I was pretty sure Geoff Lincoln, if he listened, wouldn’t have any idea as to whether I was right or wrong. “Give it a few minutes and I’ll probably be able to get the rover back on line.”
“I’m going to want to do a maintenance review when we get back,” Geoff said. “I can see why we’re so far behind.”
I got out of the rover and pretended to check the connections to the battery pack. “We’re so far behind because we’re short on equipment, supplies, construction materials, personnel, and our time-table is not based in reality.”
Geoff was tapping his foot nervously, looking back the hundred or so yards to the base, and then back to the oxygen gauge on his suit. “The engineers who designed the project came up with the timetable and it was certified by NASA—“
“The engineers who designed this project would take one look at the timetable you came up with and say you were smoking crack,” I said. In fact, one of them had said exactly that, on Fox News Sunday, according to several of the newer recruits who had been on Earth at the time to see it. “And show me where a timetable of five years for set-up and fifteen years for terraforming the entire planet of Mars was ‘certified by NASA’. I’d like to see that. Not that it would matter, even if they had. Being certified by NASA is not going to put water in the soil out here. Being certified by NASA isn’t going to make up for a thousand miles of coax we didn’t get, for a hundred tons of aluminum we’re missing, for the suits and rovers and extractors that are ‘on requisition but haven’t shown up’, for—“
“We’ll talk about this later,” Geoff interrupted, which generally meant he had no intention of ever talking about it again. Unless it was to start the conversation from scratch, pretending everything that had been said before never happened. “We need to conserve our oxygen. We may have to walk back.”
I smiled. It was not a Christian thought, and I confess it was a sin, but I couldn’t help myself. “We may,” I said. “Why don’t you start back and I’ll keep working on the rover. If I can get it working before my oxygen levels go critical, I’ll pick you up on the way. It’s not that long a walk.” This last part was technically not a lie, because it wouldn’t have been a long walk, if we had been on Earth.
“Can’t we radio back to the base?” he asked.
I tapped on the radio panel in the rover, but nothing came on. Nothing on the rover worked when it was in cold storage mode. “Sorry, doesn’t work. Look, you start walking—it’s not that far, and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get back.” I exhaled slowly, then inhaled slowly, like a man take a long, satisfying drag of a cigarette. “Yeah, okay. Yeah.” He jumped out of the rover and started back towards the base, moving too fast and breathing too hard, and then the sound of his rapid breathing and muttering to himself fuzzed and faded in the short-range headset in the suit. Which, if ejecting a battery pack from the extractor could have truly created an EMP disruption, wouldn’t have been working, either. After a few minutes, I flipped the status switch and powered the rover back up. Then I headed back towards base at a leisurely clip.
When I got in range of Geoff’s headset, I could hear his labored, rapid breathing. He was getting scared. Not just desperate for a cigarette, but frightened. I had to chuckle. We had hours of oxygen left, but I don’t believe Mr. Lincoln actually knew how to read the gauge.
“Got it working,” I said cheerfully. “Get on in.”
When we finally did get back, he practically sprinted back to his office.
“The power of addiction,” I murmured, and went directly back to work in the warehouse.
The next night, Jori was with me in my quarters. I had already read to her from the book of Acts, and we were now both reading in silence together. I had managed to negotiate a study Bible out of Reverend Ned’s stockpile, and had given it to Jori, so she could read along with me or on her own. I still couldn’t tell if she was serious, or just humoring me, but she did seem to come at it with an open mind.
I kept coming back to the same passage in Matthew 19, where Jesus gave his clear, unambiguous, and historically unpopular command regarding divorce:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
While you have to be married to get divorced, I felt a hand on me that I had not felt since the day I knew I would be going to Mars. I felt that God had brought Jori into my life and I into hers, and we were going to be joined. That against all hope or even desire, that I was going to get a second chance at having a family.
In what was going to be a very hard and lonely frontier.
“What’s this?” she asked after a while. I had been lost in thought, and I was a little startled to look up and see her thumbing through the dusty old Septuagint Bible that Vlachko had given me a few weeks back.
“It’s call a Septuagint Bible. Though that’s in Greek—I can’t read a word of it. Vlachko Chernigov brought it up to me with his last shipment. I think he was ribbing me, in his way—I might have sermonized him a little too heavily about life on Mars a year or so back.”
“Huh,” Jori murmured, flipping pages. “What’s a Sepjewishtint?”
“A Septuagint. It’s a direct Greek translation of the original Hebrew scriptures, plus variant material. It’s supposed to be the Bible as it was in the early Christian Church. I think it’s still canon, in the Eastern Orthodox church. It’s mainly interesting for its proximity to the original Hebrew, supposed to be a purer translation than the later sixth century translation of the Hebrew that was the basis for latter-day Bibles, such as the Guttenberg and then the King James. And for the variant material.”
“Variant material like this?” she asked. She pulled several loose pages out of the Septuagint and handed them to me. They were the same size and format as the other the pages, printed on the same sort of thin rice paper, although they did look newer. And they clearly had not been bound. “This isn’t Greek. This is Russian.”
“That’s interesting.” I looked at the pages. At first glance, they could have easily been mistaken for any other part of the Septuagint. But, sure enough, she was right: these were Cyrillic characters, not Greek. Beyond that, I couldn’t say what it was—I could read enough Russian to find the right bathroom, and that was it.
“Huh. I need find Yakovlev. Maybe he can tell us—“
“’This would be the question,’” Jori read. “’Where are the kings and soldiers now? And the answer would be: Under the white lilies on their graves. This would be the question: How tall are the trees in forest deep? And the answer would be: To the heavens and higher, over mountains and seas.’”
I think I must have been staring at her, mouth agape. I remembered reviewing her personnel file before I had any idea who she was, but I didn’t remember her being bilingual. I blinked at her. Then blinked again. She was just a treasure chest of wonders.
She looked up and me and shrugged. “I had two years of Russian in high school. I’m not bad with Japanese, either.”
“I don’t remember that being in your personnel file,” I said.
“I didn’t put it on my application,” she replied. “I hated all the Foreign language credits I had to take for an International Business major. They’ve got software to do that kind of crap. I wasn’t coming to Mars to be a translator. But I can tell you this doesn’t read like Bible passages—these are queries and pass phrases.”
I nodded. “That’s what I thought. Vlachko, Vlachko, Vlachko. What did you bring me?”
Jori laid back on my bed and looked up at the ceiling. “Think they have something to do with Little Moscow? “
I nodded again. What other relevance could they have, except to the Russian base? I exhaled slowly. What, exactly, did Vlachko have in mind? Was he trying to make sure he was on our side, when the “revolution” came? Or encourage it? The Russians had supplies, I knew that, and their base was nearly deserted now. But how much they had of what, there was no way of knowing. They had to have building materials—before their abrupt pull out, there had been ships coming in almost daily bringing construction materials , and the “Russian Capital of Mars” had been highly touted as the first true city on Mars. They would have oxygen and equipment. Also, it occurred to me that they weren’t run by the company, and might well have something we could sorely use—a direct connection to Earth’s network. Vlachko had implied to me in the past that he didn’t think the Russians would have any trouble with us just showing up and taking things—and, if there was no more than seven Russians left in Little Moscow, they really couldn’t stop us, I supposed. And they had been stocking up to build a functioning city. If they had been serious, they probably had a lot of equipment to assist them in being self-sufficient that would greatly improve our chances of survival. When the day came.
I laid down next to Jori, and she took my hand. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
“About how we’re going to get over to the Russian colony without Geoff Lincoln finding out.”
“Why did you pull three of the construction details off the power plants?” Geoff Lincoln asked me. We were meeting in his office, one his frequent impromptu meetings where, no matter what I was doing, he’d tap me on the shoulder and tilt his head in the general direction of his office. “We’re already behind on getting the plants online, and then you pull them off? That’s going to put us another month behind, even we put them all back on to the plants today—“
“I had to have some of them working on Block Seven and Eight. We’ve got 280 more recruits coming up next week. We have eighteen open apartments. We’re going to set up cots in the warehouse for them until we can get the Seven and Eight Blocks done—“
Geoff cocked his head, giving me a look that managed to be at once like a confused dog hearing a sound he didn’t recognize, and an arrogant, condescending prick. Sorry about that last bit, but it’s the most accurate description I could think of.
“You’re supposed to have fifteen residential blocks done by now. You’ve had two years.”
“And they added four nuclear plants to the construction schedule after ‘Black Ice’ didn’t work.” “Black Ice” was the solar collecting nanoblanket that, after two years of delays, had finally been spread over the Planum Boreum ice cap. The idea had been to thaw it, naturally, but as the engineers on the project had warned the company fifteen years earlier, it didn’t work. Despite the flood of optimistic memos. It did raise the mean temperature of the polar ice by 17° Fahrenheit, but that left us far short of where we needed to be for significant thawing. Even if it had worked, and when the power plants were all on and we finally forced the issue, all it was going to do was increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. And release some water vapor. All of which would refreeze. The hope was that with moisture extractors and “oxygen farms”—a thousand tiny greenhouses with oxygen respiring bacteria converting carbon dioxide into oxygen—we would begin to approach a breathable atmosphere while increasing planetary temperatures and creating an active weather system. We had two moisture extractors running now, near the residential block, just to see how well the process would work, and our extraction rates were below even the most pessimistic projections. We were extracting under a gallon of water a day, at an energy cost that would make shipping fresh water from Earth more cost effective. It wasn’t going to make a lake, much less an ocean. It wasn’t going to make it rain.
“And they’re not going to get done on schedule, if you’re taking construction teams off them.”
“No, but it wasn’t my idea to bring up another 280 people we don’t need up here right now. Just like I said six years ago that ‘Black Ice’ wasn’t going to do it, and we should start planning for forcing the issue, and that we needed more power for the terraforming and the residential blocks—“
“Well, we need to get those plants online, on time. Why don’t you talk with your people, and have them split the time between the nuclear plants and the residential construction, so both get done as soon as possible?”
“No, because we have to have the residential space unless you’re going to tell the company they have to delay the new recruits.”
“You said you were setting up cots in the warehouse,” Geoff said. “Management is very concerned about the plants coming online in a timely manner.”
“Then they shouldn’t been sending up 280 people we don’t have housing for right now. While the warehouse is very big, there is a logistical problem with having 280 people using it as living quarters. That will slow down the warehouse, which would slow down construction—“
“Look, you know what you have to do. Get the new residential blocks done like they were supposed to have been done a year ago, and get the nuclear plants online, on time.”
What do you say to people divorced from reality? “Okay, will do,” I said.
“Also, I couldn’t take a shower this morning. It said I had used up my ration for the next three days. Is that supposed to mean that I can’t take another shower for three days?”
I nodded. “That’s what it means.”
“I don’t understand. Is there something wrong with my apartment monitoring system or something? Why would the water be rationed that severely? We recycle it, so there should be plenty, right?”
“We have two recyclers,” I said. “That’s enough to adequately service a community of about two hundred. We have 1258 people here, now that you’ve come. We’ve got two-hundred and eighty more people coming. But no additional reservoirs and no extra recyclers.”
He shook his head, tapped on his PDA, and then fixed his best corporate tough-loving manager gaze on me. “You know, Jack, I can’t believe I’m hearing this. The management here—it’s just non-existent. It’s incredibly irresponsible for you to have let the colony go on this long without requisitioning more recyclers and water storage—it would take us months to get anything now—“
I hit his desk with my fist, very hard. Everything on it jumped.
“Shit!” he said. “What the hell was that about?”
“I submitted the first request for additional water recyclers three years ago,” I told him. “And reservoirs. I have re-submitted the request and asked for updates on the processing about seventy times over the last three years. Check with corporate to see my requisition line. I’ve got requisitions in for terminal monitors, for additional storage space—we’re running out of memory for the warehouse databases. I’ve asked for water recyclers, and backup air recyclers, because we don’t have any and what happens when one goes out? There’s no shortage of libido suppressants but there are a lot of pharmaceuticals we don’t have, and I’ve put in a request for a pharmacist and a pharmasynth system, but the request has been ignored. So we get people who are sick who could be working but aren’t because we can’t get the drugs. We need simple things—we need more printers, we need sheets and pillows, we need chairs. We need more fresh water. We’ve got almost six hundred women up here and our supply of tampons is down to a few thousand, and the first requisition for more was a year ago.”
Geoff was shaking his head emphatically. “The women should all be sterilized—they shouldn’t be having their period.”
I barked a laugh, which made him flinch, and his eyes darted around. Sometimes he reminded me of a bug. “Thank you, Dr. Lincoln. It doesn’t work that way. Not only does sterilization not stop monthly cycles for every woman, it makes a lot of them bleed more or have more frequent periods. Some of the women can’t do the surgical procedure and are on Nonovulin, which makes periods quarterly for most women but still doesn’t stop menstruation—“
Again, he shook his head. “Well, I don’t think you’re right about that, and I’ve heard—well, let’s just say I’ve heard things about sterilizations being reversed, which is against company policy—“
“Feel free the check the women yourself. Even the initial requisition from corporate in Florida recognized that you can’t just turn off menstrual cycles with a memo from management.”
“Well, I—look, anyway, you’re just muddying the issues here. If there are important things you’re missing, you need to be in management’s face every day until you get them. That’s your responsibility.”
“Fine,” I said. “I’m in your face. We need water recyclers. We need more air recyclers. We need a real pharmacist and a pharmasynth. We could also use some tampons for the ladies. Now, I’m going to go follow up on the residential block construction. Okay?”
“Look, I’ll give you whatever help I can. But it’s your job to be getting in Florida’s face and telling them—“
“Florida is a hundred-fucking-million miles away!” I shouted. “I’m as in their face as I can be from a hundred-million miles away!” The distance of Earth to Mars varies from between a minimum of about 35 million miles, when most of our shipments come, and a maximum of about 163 million miles, but a hundred million seemed like a good round number. “Life on Mars is always going to ‘see what they can do’, which is always nothing. I can’t hop on a ship and go back to Earth and grab some recyclers for myself.” We could have spent our own credits, in the form of promissory notes, and gone through our own channels to get some of these things—and soon, I thought, we might, for water recyclers and backup air recyclers. Ditto for tampons. But for digital whiteboards and chairs and pillows and tools? Hell, no. I had discussed getting a pharmsynth with Vlachko, and he was dubious about the possibilities. But if and when I managed to get additional recyclers or a pharmsynth, those things, like the baby formula and diapers, would be strictly off the books.
“Well, if you’re actually keeping them informed about your needs, I don’t understand why they haven’t sent anything up,” Geoff said. “Are you sure they know? There’s hundred-of-millions of dollars worth of supplies and equipment coming up in every materials shipment—“
“Yes, there is—the stuff that they want up here or they decide we need. Rarely, if ever, are the things we ask for on those shipments. We’ve got million dollar pieces of equipment earmarked for projects that won’t be starting for fifteen years or maybe fifty years that we’re keeping in storage, and I can’t get them to send us a fifty-thousand dollar water recycler or, hell, a few thousand dollars worth of bed linens.“
“Well, I will talk to upper-management. I’m sure some wires must be crossed somewhere.”
I shrugged. No wires were crossed. They wanted to keep us on the edge of survival, they wanted keep habitation inhospitable, they wanted to keep us as far from self-sufficiency as they could—just functional enough so we could do the work, and no more. “Maybe so. If you can get them uncrossed, that would be great.”
“I’ll put in a call,” he promised. “On the way out, could you tell Margaret I’d like to talk with her? I have some questions about the books.”
“I will,” I said, expressionless. I didn’t like the idea of Geoff going over the books, but it was an emotional reaction. My intellect told me that Geoff would be no match for Margaret.
On the way back to my room, I stopped by Geoff’s apartment. I let myself in with my passkey and grabbed twelve cartons of Marlboros. I don’t smoke, but I suspected I might be meeting some people who did. For them, Geoff had conveniently brought me something worth more than gold.
We took the long-range suborbital to Little Moscow. Located at the edge of the Korolev Crater, the Russian base was a little under 2500 miles from the Life on Mars colony. The long-range was the only way to get there. We had three short-ranges, but they were underpowered, and a dozen Martian rovers that were almost indistinguishable from the Moon rovers of a hundred-and-fifty years ago—just with better tires. But those weren’t sufficient to make it to the power plant construction sites without backup power, and had a top speed of forty miles an hour. If we were going to get to Little Moscow, it was the long-range or nothing.
Although using the long-range suborbital was supposed to require a sign-off from Florida before it was taken out, everyone cooperated. There wasn’t a single peep of protest, even though they all knew there was no official authorization to release it. But that’s how it is on Mars; how it has been, almost since day one. We watch out for each other. We’re a family.
I tapped Yu Po to pilot the suborbital—explaining that we would be doing this without company approval, but that he had logged the most flight hours, and I wanted the best man taking us out. “It is of no concern to me,” Yu had said. “If it is your wish, I have all the approval I need.”
Jori came with us—at first I was resistant, but she was insistent, and I cannot seem to win an argument with her. I also brought Park. Margaret, wonderful woman that she is, had already started Geoff’s day before we left with a backup of sewage—and not just his—into his apartment. She then released a torrent of “late” company transmissions—missives she had actually been holding for this occasion—ordering him to go in a dozen different directions at once. Then she had posted a bogus “potential gas leak alert”—which everybody who had logged any time on the colony knew was bullshit, but they all treated with the utmost gravity. Geoff was ordered not to smoke until the issue was resolved. All I can say is: God bless women, in all their dark wonder. I would not want to be on Margaret’s bad side.
Jori, like most of the people at the colony, had never been on the suborbital, or traveled any distance on Mars. Employees in the Life on Mars colony went between the base, apartment construction, and the power plants. Several of the engineers had run expeditions out far onto the Planum Boreum ice cap, and the Planum Australe team had been all the way across the planet, to the South Pole, working on project “Black Ice” up there. But most did not travel much. Even for me, this was only my third trip on the long-range.
“Jesus,” she said. “Whoops. Sorry. But it’s so big. It goes on forever.”
“It is a little more than half the size of Earth,” Yu Po said. “But the landscape is much more consistent. It gives one a sense of vastness.”
She shook her head. “What the hell are we doing here?” she asked. “How are we going to terraform this thing? We can’t even get soap that doesn’t smell like spoiled fruit.”
“We will not,” Yu Po said, very matter-of-fact. “We are premature. I expect future technology would make such a thing possible, but it will be a century before such an effort could reasonably be expected to meet with success. This is my estimation, at any rate.”
“Then what did we come here for?” She threw her hands out in front of her, pointing in the general direction of the Martian landscape as it flew by. “Why’d we give up ten years of our life to—to do nothing?”
“I am not doing ‘nothing’,” Yu Po replied. “I am piloting this suborbital across the surface of another planet. I am not prideful, but it is not without some meaning to me that I am the first and only orthodox Buddhist monk to do such things. That among humans to do such things, I am of a elite group of only a few thousand.”
“Is that why you came to Mars?” Jori asked. “To be the first guy to go joy riding across a big red desert?”
“Not at all,” Yu replied. “I came here to live on Mars. This is what I am doing, so I am quite pleased with the results.”
I put my hand on Jori’s back. “It’s why I came here, too,” I said. “To live on Mars. I didn’t realize how unlikely it was that the project would succeed, at the time. But in the end, it doesn’t worry me that much. I’m here because this is where I want to be. Because this was where I am supposed to be.”
Jori just shook her head.
“With you,” I added.
At this, she turned around to face me, eyebrows raised. “With me?” she said. “You’re on Mars because you’re supposed to be with me?”
I nodded. “I’m beginning to think so.”
Yu smiled and nodded. “You can throw a sheet over your desires, but they are there, all the same.”
“Nobody asked you,” I said. And I sat with Jori the rest of the way, her head on my shoulder and my hand on her knee, until we had to buckle in for landing.
Little Moscow was larger than I had thought, and aesthetically pleasing, even outside, with rounded corners, soft slopes, archways, cantilevered platforms and towers. I was amazed to see that they had an outside “park” area and two courtyards bordering the main structure—rock gardens with carboncrete walks and cast mosaics, circlets with what looked like fountains in the middle—though, of course, there was nothing in them—and outside sculpture. By comparison, the Life on Mars colony looked like a few dozen oversized rust-colored boxes stuck in the sand. The Russian’s goal had been to construct a livable, self-sustaining city on Mars, as much for prestige as anything, not to terraform the entire planet, and the emphasis on the prestige-factor showed. Life on Mars, Inc., was not into prestige.
Already suited up, we put on our helmets and exited the suborbital. Jori had the passcodes and was preparing to key them into the keypad at the main entrance—the door was engraved with Russian motif decoration, and Russian flags were mounted on poles on either side—when the door opened. I was a little worried, but hoped that the few Russians left were acutely aware of their abandonment and would welcome visitors, and fellow Martians. I wished we had been able to contact them beforehand, but our malfunctioning long-range radio equipment had yet to be replaced, though the requisition was entered over a year ago. We had gotten what I believed to be the Russian’s carrier signal on the suboribital’s short-range, but had not gotten an answer when we hailed them.
After proceeding through the air lock, we entered the main hall—which was wide and clean and decorated with artwork and antique furniture. The floor was carpeted. Carpeted! I felt unaccountably self-conscious, in my drab company fatigues, as if I had just walked into the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria without shoes or shirt.
The man who greeted us was similarly dressed, however, in navy blue fatigues. He was carrying an Kalashnikov AK-370 rifle looped over his shoulder, casually pointed at us—I assume loaded with soft-tips, which are bullets that can do pretty good damage to people but aren’t likely to break through the metal walls or the thick acrylic “glass” used in typical Martian construction. He said something in Russian, and Jori promptly made a stilted attempt at a reply.
The man laughed, and lowered the gun. “I am honored that you have come to ‘lick my goat’,” he said, his accent much thicker than Vlachko’s. “Unfortunately, I have no goats at this place.”
He shook his head, and walked up to us. “The lady, she is very funny, thank you,” he said. “I am sorry for guns and questions, but that is the protocol, so. I must say I am pleased to see the Americans come—there has been none from your base in eight years, my friends. I know there is great distance, but eight years? I was working on the buildings of our houses then, and saw no one. Why did you not radio that you would come? But never mind. I am so glad to meet you. My name is Vasilii Ivanovich. Although I may think I do know, tell me what brings you here now? I hope it is not some terrible thing. But I keep talking and should let you speak. I’m sorry, we do not meet the new people here often, and I must say I was pleased to watch your approach. Yes, and, I apologize for this also, but I need to search you and examine your bags, please.”
“Not to worry,” I said. “A gift for you.” I handed him the courier case I was carrying. He opened it without concern—I think he intuitively understood that we were all Martians, and we meant him no ill will. “I am Jack Chapman. These are my associates, Yu Po, Park Randall, and Jori Eades.
He gasped. “Is this—these are—you cannot be serious. You have brought for us these? I—you cannot have.” He took out two cartons, holding one in each hand, and pressed them against his cheeks. “I can smell the delicious tobacco that is inside. Sweet American cigarettes. You have brought us the nectar of the Gods. We smoked our last package of the Belamorkanals almost two years ago, and have not had another shipment—I am in your debt. We all will be. Whatever can I do for you?”
“Since you ask, you have a direct connection to Earth’s network, correct?”
He laughed. “Of course, as direct as you may get, as do you, I am sure.”
I shook my head. “No, actually. We do not. The company doesn’t allow it.”
He raised his thick eyebrows in surprise. “Unbelievable,” he said, cursorily patting me down. I do have one gun—a contract-terminating offense—but I left it at the base. I had felt that cigarettes would do us better than bullets, although I admit if I had known the comparative opulence the Russian’s enjoyed, I would not have guessed they were short on anything. “I would have thought that your ambitious projects were in all ways superior to our own.”
He briefly searched Park and Yu Po, and then Jori, taking easily twice as long, handling both her chest and buttocks in a manner that he hadn’t any of the three men. But Jori took it in stride, and it did give me another thought as to how to build a stronger relationship with the Russians.
He sighed heavily as he released Jori, and she walked back over to me and took my hand pointedly. “I cannot tell you how lonely it is out here,” he said. “When we had the evacuation, all the women went. All of them.”
I nodded. “There are only seven of you now, right?”
“Seven?” he asked back. “There are only four. There have only been four of us since January. But, please, come, we can go to my office right down here, and use my terminal.”
“Look at this place,” Jori murmured. “It’s like a hotel. A nice hotel.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Mr. Ivanovich, your colony is amazing. The construction, the furnishings—we live in boxes with card tables, by comparison. We are short on almost everything—“
He waved a carton of cigarettes at us. “Not these!” he said. “I would say your priorities are in order.”
“A fluke. Normally, we don’t have them, either. All resources are devoted to the terraforming projects.”
Vasilii nodded as he waved his passkey in front of a door and it slid open. I shook my head. Our office and residential doors all slide open, as well, but are not motorized. Ours are human-powered. “Yes, the terraforming. How does that go?”
“I doubt it will,” I said. “I’m afraid the optimism of management and the reality of Mars have come into conflict.”
“That is too bad to hear. But we too have experienced this. We would not dare try such a thing, ourselves, but we believed you could meet with every success. The first year of construction for Little Moscow was foundational—we built on variable hydraulic supports that are submerged thirty meters into the ground. We even have pumps and drainage for the Korolev Crater—for when the rain began to fall.”
“Precautions that will probably prove to be unnecessary,” I said. I decided not to tell him that our own construction was not nearly so considered, and that significant liquid precipitation would have caused erosion that would have washed our camp away. “In the near term, at any rate. It may rain on Mars one day. But it won’t be because of anything we’re doing now.”
“Sit down, sit down,” he said, guiding to me to his desk. The desk was polished aluminum and cast resin made to look like white marble. A curving thin film nanoscreen wrapped around the desktop, from left to right, encompassing a full 180°.
“Damn,” I said.
“It will do?” Vasilii he asked. He was taking a pack of Marlboros out of the carton and unwrapping the cellophane.
“Yes, it’s great, perfect,” I said. Everything on the screen was Russian, but I typed in the URL for my preferred news search engine in the URL field, and it came up, all in English.
“Do you mind if I smoke? And I need to notify my compatriots of my status, if all is well with you for the moment?”
“Go ahead, we’re fine,” I said. He was holding a cigarette out to me. “No, no, none of us smoke, but thank you.”
Vasilii rolled his eyes and then rummaged through his desk drawer, finally pulling out a small welding torch, and then lit the cigarette with that. Then he took the phone from its deskpad and pressed a few numbers.
I did a search for Life on Mars, Inc., and it was interesting to see the contrast between what was happening on Earth and the stories the company was telling us. They were under investigation by the justice department. They were being sued by several different people and environmental groups. The UN had drafted another resolution—the twentieth one—censuring Life on Mars, Inc., and was insisting the US Government shut them down.
“Wow,” Park said, reading over my shoulder. “They’re falling apart.”
“I think that’s a understatement,” I replied.
“And their solution is to send up a corporate guy to discourage baby-making, put up signs telling us to work faster, and making us put the goddamned stadium screen up in the warehouse. So his head can be real big when he talks to us.”
“In the business world, it’s what you call ‘death throes’,” I said. “That’s what I call it, at least. They just keep doing more and more stupid things. Like someone struggling in quicksand, they keep kicking and fighting and just get sucked under faster.”
“Can we print these out?” Jori asked. We could—printers and paper were plentiful—and Vasilii, puffing away on his cigarette, told us to print a trillion pages if we liked.
“Wow,” Park said, shaking his head. “Where were these stories before I signed up? How are they getting 280 new morons to come up now? ‘Experts Predict Mars Terraforming Project is Doomed’,” he read. “’Mismanagement and Junk Science Earns Life on Mars a Federal Probe’. Wow.”
We kept on. Life on Mars was accused of wasting huge sums of money, some of the top management was being accused of tax fraud and diverting funds. And the Gates Foundation had just recently cut them off, due to poor results and recent revelations about “exaggerated science”, so the final twenty billion from the Gates Foundation wasn’t ever going to come. In addition, the Foundation was considering legal action against Life on Mars, Inc.
Finally, I found one of the things I had been most hoping to find. We had had about a dozen contract terminations since I had started, and I wanted to know for sure what ended up happening to the money, especially if there were promissory notes drafted against the trust funds. Man Challenges Life on Mars, Inc. Trust Fund Refund Language in Termination Suit, the article read. The end result was that the man was liable to repay funds from the trust, prorated for time spent on Mars, but that the fund itself was first the property of those who had promissory notes drafted against it. So Life on Mars, Inc. could attempt to collect from the ex-employee, but they couldn’t put their hands directly on the money in the fund.
The three other Russians showed up, and talked with Park, Yu, and Jori while I continued conducting searches. It wasn’t long before the office was enveloped in a gray haze of cigarette smoke. Park Randall start coughing and asked to go out into the hall, but the rest of us weathered it pretty well. I’ve certainly dealt with much worse.
“Did you get what you wanted?” Vasilii asked after I was done.
“More than I hoped for,” I said. “I certainly understand why the company has kept us cut off from the Earth network.”
“Mmm,” he replied, noncommittal. “Is there anything else we may do for you? Would you like to stay for a while? We have many open apartments. Even many executive suites are available still. They have Jacuzzi bathtubs in them. ”
“Jacuzzis,” Jori repeated. “We get tepid, three-minute showers every three days and they have Jacuzzis.”
I touched her hand lightly. “I’m afraid we can’t, but—I don’t suppose you have a network antenna and broadcast array? Something that we could set up? It would be very useful to have a direct Earth connection.”
“Alas, no. We have our own—we have a back up connection, but it is installed, as well, and cannot be moved. You have nothing with which to communicate to Earth?”
I shook my head. “One satellite feed that goes directly to and from the home office, but that’s it. We’ve been able to get around it for a few things, but it’s nothing like having a direct connection.”
“Hmm,” He said. “Well, this I will tell you. We do have a number of extra laser relays. You must plant each in a line of site with the next, which may take some time, but once you do you should be able to connect to our router and—how do you say it?—ride the back of a pig upon our network. Also, I believe we have extra radio transponders, should you wish to talk with us directly in the future. “
“That would be wonderful,” I said. “The other thing is, we are sorely in need of a pharmsynth and some water recyclers, and some air recyclers—“
“Well, we certainly have water recyclers and air recyclers to spare, but we only have two pharmsynths, and they are most costly—I would expect if we ship anything else back down to Earth, it would be the pharmsynths. And some of the—“
“You know,” Jori piped up. “We have a large number of prostitutes in our colony.”
The Russians all stopped talking. Then, an animated discussion entirely in Russian ensued.
“You are welcome to take one of our pharmsynths back with you, as a gesture of our good will to our American friends,” Vasilii said at last. “We include a generous supply of raw ingredients and binding agent.”
A brief discussion took place between Park, myself, and Jori. Finally, I gave them a return offer. “And at the soonest opportunity, we will send a—a delegation of—of goodwill ambassadors to—to express our goodwill towards our Russian allies.”
“To stay for a week or two,” Jori said. “We can’ take the suborbital out every day—“
“We insist on two weeks! My colleagues and I have a great deal of goodwill which we wish to share with your ambassadors.”
I clapped Jori on the back. While unable to support such a trade on a moral basis, the sexual immorality of a few irreligious prostitutes was of a lesser concern than easy access to medicine for the men, women and children of our colony. She had made the right move. The Russians, who had much we needed but lacked much they wanted would be our fast friends from this point forward.
Jori had pocketed the list of passcodes when the airlock had opened, and we had not mentioned them to the Russians. They might still be of future use to us.
Vasilii and his colleagues gave us a complete tour of their facility, which was in almost every way superior to ours. Everything looked new and supplies were plentiful. Equipment was state-of-the-art, and everything from the offices to the residence quarters were larger and better furnished. They had digital whiteboards. They also had several gross of feminine napkins, tampons, and douche, which they gave to us freely. “There are no women here now, what good will they do us?” Vasilii asked when Jori, God bless her, remembered our shortage and asked about them.
Although I treasure the Spartan life of our colony, I lavished praise on Vasilii and his comrades for the quality of everything around us, and freely confessed my belief that they had done everything the right way, from the planning to implementation—plans for a practical, livable colony instead of pie-in-the-sky dreams about planetary terraforming. “You are too kind,” he told me. “But you have cigarettes and whores, and we do not, so I still bow to the order of your colony’s priorities.”
We loaded up the suborbital and then bid goodbye to our hosts.
“I wish you had done this before,” Vasilii said. “We have long wanted to meet some of the others, especially after so many left—but we were without long range transport, and could not hail you by the radio.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It is strictly against company policy. They forbid fraternization with the other colonies. And they refused to replace our long-range radio equipment.”
“I see,” he said. “I am pleased that you came to visit with us, in any case, and look forward to seeing you again.”
We did a loop around Korolev Crater on our way out, and it looked to me as if the interior of the crater was lined with warehouses and storage tanks—probably their oxygen and water, maybe natural gas or ammonia. Russian PR about Little Moscow had always painted in broad strokes, and had rarely addressed the particulars of what they were doing in great detail.
“We didn’t need the passcodes after all,” Jori said. “I wish that we had been able to work with them before. Or come meet them. They seem like good people.”
“We couldn’t,” Park said. “Because the company didn’t want us to. Because they don’t want the colony to know what a mess they’re in.”
“Or the relative sophistication of the operations of others,” suggested Yu Po. “I would guess that even the Japanese have adequate water recycling and medical supplies.”
We hadn’t needed the passcodes; all we had needed were Marlboros. And the promise of prostitutes. But I don’t know that we would have gone at all, if Vlachko hadn’t given them to me. And if Jori hadn’t found them. Which she never would have, if she hadn’t, without discernible reason, developed inexplicable romantic interest in a 41 year old ex-convict doing life on Mars. Odd, how things work, sometimes.
“We haven’t needed them yet, but we may,” I said. “We’ll keep them in a safe place.“
When we got back, I had Yu coordinate the unloading of the suborb and getting all of our new supplies, including the pharmasynth, into brown boxes and packed away in the warehouse. I put Jori on the task of interviewing prostitutes for “goodwill” detail at the Russian colony, trusting her to inform them of the dangers, and pick women suited to the task. I returned to the job of reviewing the construction of the new residences, which was ahead for the week.
And a good thing it was, too. The new recruits were arrived a week ahead of schedule, and the boat from Florida was in dock and unloading before we had even pulled the cots out of inventory so they’d have somewhere to sleep for the next month. As I knew from long experience, many of the folks shown the videos and given the brochures full of smiling folks hanging out in spacious apartments and jumping into Olympic-sized swimming pools were going to be in for a rude awakening. It was going to be even worse than normal, given these folks were probably going to spend a month trying to sleep in a warehouse that operated 24-7.
I let the orientation folks handle getting the new recruits off the ship and into processing. I didn’t want to deal with it, and I suspected—and was correct—that Geoff would also studiously avoid debarkation, for much the same reasons. I did expect that he would probably show up for unloading the cargo, to share his wisdom on every process and provide his critique of every last little thing we did wrong. But he wasn’t there, either, and at first I was grateful. And then I got irritated. 280 new people, but nothing for them in the cargo. No new bed linens. No soap. No reservoirs or water recyclers or oxygen scrubbers. The shipment included nothing that I had told them we needed, point blank, through official channels and even by notarized letter—Margaret is also a notary public—I had sent back to earth six shipments ago. I had told them we had to have these things, or there was no point in sending up the new recruits. Yet the recruits were here but there were no water recyclers or air processors, no bed linens and—this was brilliant—not even any jumpsuits. The recruits essentially had the travel suit they wore up, and no other clothes. There also weren’t any more thinsulate excursion suits, so most of the folks coming up to work construction detail weren’t going to be able to get started until another shipment showed up. Assuming that shipment had some of the things I had requisitioned.
I walked around the cargo hold with Margaret and Park for a little while, all of us shaking our heads, until I looked at my watch. It was past three, Eastern Time—that is, Florida-time, which was the schedule the Mars colony ran on—and there was no sign of Geoff Lincoln, who normally had to have his nose into everything. And I was getting pissed off.
“Where the Hell is Lincoln?” I asked.
“I saw him down in the cafeteria this morning,” Park said. “He was inspecting the microwaves and the hydrators. And asking where the posters were.”
“He said he had some important report work to do,” Margaret informed me. “And that he was not to be disturbed.”
“Margaret,” I said. “Go get my hardcopies of my requisitions. And that hardcopy folder of my emails to headquarters on our supply problems. It’s the blue folder on the top of my desk.”
She nodded. “I know the one, boss.”
“Park, you go call Len Peyton. Tell him to get a few men, locate Geoff Lincoln, and get him down here pronto. Reviewing this shipment is the most important thing he has to do today. And I want him here now.”
Park grinned. “My pleasure, sir.”
I had my requisition form for this shipment with me, and went through and checked off everything that hadn’t shown up—and except for a case of 25 area heaters, some acrylic repair patch, and three cases of tube socks—at least the new recruits would have fresh socks, if not underwear or jumpsuits—and two sonicwash clothes processors, not a single critical thing I had asked for was there.
Margaret got back first, with my papers, and I glanced at them briefly, and then Park returned, announcing with barely-concealed glee that Geoff Lincoln had been located chatting up one of the company prostitutes in one of the unfinished conference rooms. I’m pretty sure he had been trying to avoid the whole issue of the incoming recruits and the cargo shortage, but security tracked him down by checking where the last place was that he had used his pass key.
Len Peyton showed up Geoff a few minutes later, and our boy was clearly not happy. “What’s the meaning of this? I’m in the middle of process review, I, frankly, I don’t have time for any more of your time-wasting shenanigans, John—“
“My name is Jack,” I said. “Jack, Jack, Jack. If you can’t remember that, then you call me Mr. Chapman.”
Geoff pursed his lips. “Mmm. Very well. Jack, then. Jack, I am very busy—“
“You weren’t too busy to tell us how we were doing everything wrong. You weren’t too busy to complain about the water rationing. You weren’t too busy to complain about the speed at which we’re getting the residences up. You weren’t too busy to tell me the reason we’re not getting the things we requisition from the home office is our fault, so you’re not too busy for this. Take a look, Geoff. Look around. What’s missing.”
Geoff looked to the left and right, not really looking at anything. “There’s not much here,” he sniffed. “You’ve obviously already unloaded most of the cargo—“
“We haven’t unloaded anything,” I snapped. I admit it, I was getting in his face, but I had run out of patience with Mr. Lincoln’s management style. “And to save you time, I’ll tell you what’s missing. Jumpsuits and underclothes for the 280 recruits you just sent up here. Soymeal—Geoff, that would be food—for the 280 recruits you just sent up here. Any medicine, at all. No bandages. No asprin. No water recyclers, no reservoirs—and they were on my requisition, Geoff.” I shook my sheaf of papers and email printouts at him. “They’ve been on the last eighteen requisitions, at the top, high-priority, we’re-going-to-miss-the-deadline-if-we-don’t-get-these, underlined in red! With 280 new people, showers have to be rationed back another day. So the people wearing plastic suits doing heavy construction all day will get to shower once every four days instead of every three. Because otherwise, we’ll run out of water to drink! And if the sewage reservoirs fill up before we they can be recycled, we’ll have to start dumping the sewage on the outside—meaning we’ll be losing water. Shit, Geoff, we really ought to send these people back to earth. It’s not just that there aren’t any swimming pools or tennis courts, we won’t even be able to give these folks—or mine, now—a full ration of food or water a day. But I’ve got almost a million metric tons of laminated drywall. Heck, twenty-gross of sheet metal screws came up with these folks and I’ve already got ten-thousand gross of sheet metal screws. I’ve got over a hundred thousand miles of cat10 network cable and another hundred thousand miles of carbon conductors that takes up eight stories and dozens of bin locations for projects that won’t be starting for years, if ever, but I can’t give my folks food, water or underwear.”
Geoff was looking sideways, not meeting my gaze. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead. “I don’t—there’s no need to raise your voice. I don’t see what this has to do with me, this—this is a warehouse management problem. Your requisitions—“
“Were fine,” I said, but slowly, and my tone had changed. I think you could say it was “appraising”. Because, as ashamed as I am to admit it, this was the first time that it had occurred to me that our inventory problems weren’t just corporate mismanagement, micromanagement, or attempts to flex their muscles and beat us down. It had just dawned on me that Geoff, in fact, might know more about all the requisitions that weren’t getting fulfilled than I had originally thought.
Turns out, Geoff Lincoln knew a lot more about what had, and had not, been showing up in our shipments from Florida and the Ukraine than he had originally led us to believe. And it wouldn’t be long until we found out just how much.
It took Geoff three days to learn about our trip out in the long-range suborbital. I’ll be honest: he seemed so dim—or, perhaps, so distracted—at times, that I half-believed he’d never figure it out.
He was livid about the transgression, and, while I did not tell him everything that had transpired, I was candid in my replies. He got me out of bed, flanked by three of the colony’s security personnel. They all looked at me sheepishly and shrugged as they entered my quarters.
“This is a direct violation of company policy—it’s an offense they can terminate your contract for. A huge waste of valuable fuel. To go have tea with a half-dozen Russians?” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, dramatically, so that I could see how difficult I was making things for him. “This is not acceptable. I can see why progress is so far behind, with someone who is supposed to be in charge indulging in such grievous transgressions of company policy.”
“Perhaps it would calm you down, to have a cigarette,” I suggested.
Geoff, if he got the implication, ignored it. “What were you doing over there?” he sneered. “Bartering? Trading company materials for—“ he couldn’t think of anything right away, and waved his hands around aimlessly. “—vodka?” he finished triumphantly. “Russian vodka?”
Actually, I hadn’t thought about that, and was sorry I hadn’t. I didn’t know if they had any, probably not, but it would have been a good thing to ask about.
“They have a direct connection to Earth’s network,” I said. “I was looking for some information on Life on Mars. I was curious about how the stock was doing.”
Geoff blanched at that, but recovered gracefully. “Well, first, you could have asked me. Second, I’m sure you saw that it’s in the toilet.”
“I did see that,” I said. “I also saw that there’s a Federal inquiry into whether or not Life on Mars has been diverting funds—“
“It’s bullshit,” Geoff said. “Completely groundless. That sort of nonsense is exactly why you guys don’t need a direct connection. And how has this helped keep you on schedule? Not at all. Your contract doesn’t say anything about joyriding or wasting a day flying 2500 miles to look up innuendo and rumor that has no bearing on reality—“
“Maybe, but there is a growing sentiment on the front line that the company is not being honest with us, or responding to our feedback, or moving forward coherently—“
“And I think you know that there were twelve cartons of cigarettes missing from my apartment on the day you went on your little errand.”
“I do know,” I said. “I took them. I traded them to the Russians for network access.”
He shook his head. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. Stealing, violating company policy a dozen times, and not the slightest bit of shame. No remorse.” His face was red. He was angry. He would have been even more pissed off, I suspect, if he had known that Park, Yu Po, and three of our “entertainment service workers” were in the suborb at that moment, on a goodwill mission to Little Moscow.
“I’m—I’m afraid that’s it,” he said, finally. “I’m relieving you of duty. Permanently. I’m going to have your contract terminated. You are confined to your quarters until the next ship comes—and I’m sending you down on that one.”
I smiled at him. “I’m sure the big bosses will love that you send the person in the best position to testify as to how the colony is actually run straight down into US Federal jurisdiction.”
He looked at me, squinting his eyes. It looked like he had cramps, though I think he was actually just trying to appear menacing. “You’ll find I’m not someone to trifle with, Mr. Chapman. Your threats don’t scare me. You’re going to regret your poor behavior.”
He stuck out his chest and looked to the security detail. “Men, Mr. Chapman is confined to his quarters. You will guard it at all times. Do not let him out under any circumstances. No one—and I repeat, no one—is to visit him. All right, then. Go ahead. Confine him.”
All three looked at me for an indication of what I wanted them to do. I nodded slightly, and they shrugged, and walked over to me. “Yes, sir,” they each said.
“I’ll check on his status later today,” Geoff said. “That is all.” He turned on his heel and left, and the first guard—Len Peyton–pulled the door shut. They all started snickering. Then Len said, “I think he needs to have his head confined to his ass,” which wasn’t that funny but everybody started laughing loudly.
“You guys can go,” I told them. “But you might want to be ready to confine Mr. Lincoln. I think the time is coming soon.” They all nodded assent, and filed out. I took my shower, my second in as many days but Margaret had gotten Frank Martin to “accidentally” allocate Geoff Lincoln’s water ration to me. Then I went up to my office.
“And I thought you were confined to your quarters and relieved of duty,” Margaret said. “That man is just begging for a serious ass kicking.”
“Nobody is going to kick anybody’s ass. It’s just about time for him to go home, is all.”
“I just got word that a transport is coming in today,” Margaret said.
“Already? We just got 280 people we can’t deal with—“
“It’s empty. Or pretty much. I think it’s the one he’s planning on sending you down on.”
I shook my head. “I don’t care what Geoff Lincoln thinks or what he’s told the boys in Florida, but they aren’t blowing two million dollars just to come pick me up. I know that.”
“I don’t think they are,” Margaret said. “I’ve intercepted some stuff.”
I raised my eyebrows expectantly. “Yes? And?”
“There was a list that came up from Florida to Geoff. A list of all but two of the parents, and all but three of the couples that have decided they are married by common law. Even Kayla and Ralph, and they’re just, like, dating—“
“List to evacuate?”
She nodded. “List to evacuate.”
“Okay, then, “ I said and sighed. “I guess this is it, isn’t it?” I put my hand on her shoulder. “Are you ready for this?”
She smiled up at me. “Darlin’,” she said with a mock drawl. “Ah was born ready.”
When the transport came, it wasn’t empty. There were eight armed escorts on board to serve the families notices of their contract termination, and to escort them back down to Earth. They came armed with guns and power prods, which was just stupid. Not that we would have relented under any circumstances, but the way the company chose to go about it was just idiotic. The kind of people who can make life work on Mars don’t take kindly to being pushed around, and we don’t respond well to threats.
As the word spread through the colony about what was happening, warehouse personnel returned to the residences and third shift construction detail came back from outside, and soon the escorts were left with a choice of giving it up, or shooting. One, unfortunately, chose to shoot, and five of our construction guys moved in and had him down, breaking both his arms and cracking a few ribs in the process, and probably would have killed him if somebody hadn’t yelled that it was all right, he was firing rubber bullets. Death throes or just pure corporate irresponsibility, it was just stupid, stupid, stupid.
In more ways than one. Martians are smart folk. We tend to be industrious and practical. Some of the younger men and women understood that the bigger and stronger folks—and those with combat training—were in the best position to subdue the escorts. So they busied themselves taking video of Life on Mars, Inc.’s private security people jabbing a power prod in a pregnant woman’s back, power prodding a man with his six week old baby in his arms, opening fire on a crowd of unarmed employees, and knocking a woman and two toddlers down to the floor, among other things. When I got down to the residences, most of the escorts had already been subdued, relieved of their weapons and power prods and hands bound behind their backs with the plasticuffs they had brought to use on us. Except for one, they all looked they had just started shaving. I just shook my head. The sooner we were done with Life on Mars, Inc., the better.
“Well, shit,” I said.
“They didn’t leave us much choice, Jack,” Park Randall said. “One guy opened fire. Rubber bullets, but still. They wanted to evacuate all the parents.”
“I know what they were here for. Get them back to the transport,” I said. “They’re going home.”
“What about Geoff?” Park asked. “He’s not going to like it.”
“No, he’s not,” I said. “Because he’s going with them.”
“You’re doing what?” Geoff asked, incredulous. “Are you insane?”
“I’m not the one signing off on having college kids come up here and spray a hall full of men, women and children with rubber bullets and burning a pregnant woman with power prods—“
“Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it?” Geoff asked. He was sweating, and his left eye was twitching. He kept looking to one side and the other, but wasn’t looking directly at me. “There aren’t supposed to be any children up here, there aren’t supposed to be any pregnant women up here, and if you have been doing your job and policing the corporate population—“
“We will police ourselves, the way we see fit. Company policy is no longer an issue here.” I point to the printout I had placed in front of him. “We declare our severance from the company. This is our city. This is our planet. You’re not welcome. So you’re going to leave.”
“You know,” he said, and he started pacing back and forth. “I told them it was a mistake to wait this long to send somebody responsible up here. I told them a year ago that there should have been more direct and constant corporate supervision from the outset—and my reward for being clearly right is that they assign me to this godawful planet—“
I’m sure my smile didn’t look very amused. “Well, then I guess this is your lucky day. Because you’re leaving.”
His sweating had increased, and the loop he was making with his frenetic pacing was getting longer. I’ve spent enough time with corporate flaks and convicts to know when a man is moving for a weapon. I didn’t know what he had, but it was obviously back in his closet with his precious cigarettes. Park, Jori, and Giorgio were right outside the door, ready to back me up, but I hadn’t really thought about the possibility that Geoff might have brought a gun with him.
“But, no,” he continued. “They don’t think Mars is an appropriate environment for management, for anybody from the company, so they think the job should go to some freak who actually wants to live on this goddamned frozen desert—“
“Okay, I think that’s enough,” I said. “Your flight is departing shortly.”
“—so they bring in some psychotic wife-beater who should be in a mental institution and put him in charge, and no wonder everything is such a mess—“
“It’s not working,” I said. “Stop pacing. Stay away from the closet door—“
Geoff Lincoln lunged clumsily for his closet, toppling over cases of cigarette cartons and empty luggage. I moved in, but Geoff hopped up quickly, shaking his dirty laundry off his head and shoulders, holding a hefty Sig Sauer RG-620 pointed in my general direction. The buttressed barrel and handle, plus the fat fuel cell casing, made the thing almost comical—like an oversized joke pistol. Except that, as I heard the whine of the pulse capacitor charging, I knew it wasn’t a joke. This dumb bastard had a loaded railgun.
I could guess why—Geoff had a penchant for too-expensive, overdone pens, watches, PDAs and so on, so why should have his weapon of choice been any more practical? And the Sig Sauer handhelds were about as much power as you could pack into a small space, and the “buckshot” could be nothing more than quarter-inch steel ball bearings, making it both easier to get ammunition and the presence of ammunition—boxes of ball bearings—more innocuous.
He held out the gun in front of him, his hand shaking, obviously struggling to keep the weight of the railgun in the air. He either hadn’t trained on it, or had forgotten, because you can’t aim and you don’t fire a railgun like that. But there was also another issue that I’m not sure he considered: there are no rubber bullets for railguns. There are no hull-safe bullets for railguns. The Sig Sauer RG-620 would fire a molten ball of steel at twice the speed of traditional bullet through wall and stone and glass and steel. If he shot me, or anybody, the shot would go right through me, then through the wall, then through the next wall, and probably through the hull, and we’d start to depressurize.
“I told you that I was not to be trifled with,” he said. He was smiling and squinting, the veins in his temples standing out clearly, his face shiny-slick with sweat. The corners of his mouth were twitching. I knew it was a matter of time before he pulled the trigger, and wanted to get close enough to him so that, when he did, it fired in the only safe direction I could think of—toward the ground. Even that wasn’t great—there were rooms below and pipes in the foundation—but it was better than a hull breach.
“Geoff,” I said, as calmly as I could manage. “Geoff, you don’t want to fire that thing. It’s not going to solve anything, and the ball will go right through the wall and the next wall and out through the hull, and there will be a breach—“
“You’re not sending me back down there,” Geoff said, and fired—and, stupid me, now I knew that there was more to Geoff than just a self-involved, obtuse, incompetent middle-aged corporate executive. That the reason he was on Mars might have more to do with what he had been doing on Earth—and the ongoing investigations into Life on Mars, Inc.—than any real change he was supposed to, or had been planning, to effect up here.
It felt a little pressure, though no pain. I heard the pulse capacitor release and the light click of the trigger, but there was no other sight or sound to it. But there was blood, and a near perfect hole, roughly a half-inch in diameter, about a half-inch under my left collar bone, right in the middle. I couldn’t see it, but I knew there was an almost identical hole in my back. And in the wall behind me.
I dropped like a sack of potatoes, and Geoff fired again, and though I was fading fast I do know the shot wasn’t but a foot from my head, and it, too, went through the wall, through the thigh of Park Randall who had been waiting outside, then the next wall, then the next. Then the door opened, and Geoff fired again, and again, but could not control his weapon.
There is no doubt in my mind that it is only through the grace of God that, even though I was bleeding both inside and out and felt like I was drowning, that I could see my dear, sweet Jori breaking Geoff’s arm with a power prod. He got off one more shot—I wasn’t sure where he had hit her, then, but it turned out to be her knee—but the gun dropped and the woman didn’t miss a beat. She fell and grabbed his legs and pulled him down, rolled over on him, and started driving her elbow into his nose. Then his neck. The alarm started sounding then, and I heard the warning system announcing the hull breach. After that, I blacked out, but as I did I thanked God, because I knew He had sent this woman into my life. Because the way I felt about her—the way I loved her—defied any other explanation. And because He had sent her, I knew I would live. That we all would.
Geoffrey Lincoln had not been entirely candid with us. He had lobbied vigorously for the Mars position—he hadn’t been drafted, forced to come up and fix things because of our ineptitude. He hadn’t come up with the intent of getting us online faster, either—at least, not for the benefit of the Life on Mars project. He had been sent up—as far as corporate was concerned—to quietly shut us down, start evacuating, and either leave a skeleton crew—ala Little Moscow—or abandon the site, and the hundred of billions of dollars in investment it represented, entirely. Only Geoff had never intended to come back down. Given a choice between prison on Earth and prison on Mars, he had picked Mars.
The evacuations had been to start with the families—I’m not sure why, maybe he thought that would be easiest, or the families would be the most cooperative, or that they’d represent the least difficulty to the company initially from a legal standpoint, given the clear violation of company policy. Or maybe he thought they’d represent the greatest danger to him, when he decided to take things over. But he hadn’t meant to stop there. Going through his papers afterwards, it had been clear that he had meant to get everybody out. Including the 280 new recruits, who had only ended up on Mars because the management of Life on Mars, Inc. didn’t think they could stop it without attracting unwanted attention. From everything I’ve seen, it appears that the company had still been planning to keep the project moving forward until less than a week before Geoff Lincoln showed up. The day we got the message he was coming was the day that Life on Mars, Inc. had decided to close up shop. Everything from the new programs to the Jumbotron in the warehouse to the inspections and reviews was busy work and bullshit to keep us busy and distracted. From Life on Mars, Inc’s real agenda, but also from Geoff Lincoln’s real agenda.
Not that he hadn’t really been worried about the power plants and the moisture extractors and the water recyclers. I think he had probably wanted to make sure that he had a livable environment, and water, and power, when the axe came down and he become the Mars colony skeleton crew. He knew the US government would not pursue him to Mars.
Once the probes had started, he had apparently seen the writing on the wall, and had “volunteered” to oversee the shutdown. What his long term plans were, I don’t know. What, if anything, he had planned for the wife and kids he had left on Earth, I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. When he returned to Earth, he was indicted for embezzling over a hundred million dollars from Life on Mars, Inc., tax evasion, and a dozen or so counts of fraud. As the story came out—and all of us on the colony followed it with great interest, thanks to our laser-relay connection to the Earth network through Little Moscow—it became clear that Geoff was one of three top executives who had been looting the company, funding their own opulent lifestyles with the grants and funding from both the Gates Foundation and the US Government.
It was all about the money, of course. It turned out that our requisitions hadn’t been ignored. Every requisition from pharmsynths and water recyclers to blankets and toilet paper had been received and budgeted for, sometimes lavishly—it was just that the items never got here, acquired by the company and then sold on the black market or on eBay. Other requisitions were authorized and converted into cash allocations, and we never got any crates of money, so I can guess where that went.
Although, to be fair, it wasn’t all Geoffrey Lincoln. Going through Geoff’s PDA and laptop, it became clear that he hadn’t known at the time—even when deciding to make a break for Mars—that he had had so much company in his embezzlement. His own desperate speculation as to what had happened to the water recyclers and oxygen scrubbers and soymeal and other critical supplies he had signed off on while on earth, yet somehow still hadn’t made it up to the colony, was proof enough of that. He had been looting the shipments, yes, but so had at least one other executive and, taking their cue from management, a dozen of the frontline warehouse and procurement people.
Life on Mars, Inc, had been rotten to the core.
Data on their grant applications had been forged, and a number of reports had been altered. Research scientists with copies of their original reports to Life on Mars, Inc., had their work subpoenaed, and it became clear that the company had altered the data and redacted criticisms of the program when filing the same reports with the government and the Gates Foundation. All the top people got indicted, and Life on Mars declared bankruptcy. Geoff along with three other top executives, are serving 5 year prison sentences that will probably be commuted. I pray for Geoff. Prison life is hard, I know. But it is often only when a person is broken and humbled that they are truly ready to receive the grace of God in their life. It was true for me, at any rate.
I’ve only been shot one time in my life, and that was by Geoff with his railgun. You’d think the superheated molten steel would cauterize the wound but, unfortunately—at least at close range—the bullet goes through so fast that there just isn’t time. There was a lot of internal and external bleeding, just from that one hole. They finally stopped the blood loss, but I went into a coma, and if they hadn’t gotten me on the suborbital and over to Little Moscow, I would have died. If Jori hadn’t had the presence of mind, even with a quarter-sized hole blown through her knee, to make sure they brought Dr. Rogers with us, I might have died as well, as none of the four Russians were physicians.
The hull breaches were minor, and were repaired. Jori, Park and I were treated for our wounds, and recovered completely. It was decided—and I certainly concurred, though after the fact—that Geoff could wait until he got back to Earth to receive his medical attention.
The “Declaration of Severance”—our little Martian Declaration of Independence—was met with a yawn. Most of the people on Earth didn’t care. Even though we had been careful to word it so that it was extremely friendly to the US and the rest of Earth, the Federal government did not acknowledge our independence or even our existence—one politician characterized our declaration of severance as akin to the workers on an oil platform declaring themselves a sovereign island nation. The opportunity was seized on by Russia and Japan, however, who both chose to recognize our tiny colony as an “Independent Martian Nation” within twenty-four hours of each other. Germany and France soon followed suit, and when the UN voted to recognize the Martian colony as a sovereign nation, only the US, Australia and the UK abstained.
Not everyone wanted to stay, of course. Many of the new recruits and some of the old-timers had no interest in taking up permanent residence on the Martian frontier. More than half the new recruits went back down in the ship they came on, with Geoff Lincoln in tow. The rest of the new and old that decided a permanent life on Mars was not for them were evacuated on the last ship the company ever sent up—once the one-hundred and fifty armed guards aboard failed to subdue us. There was some bloodshed and five deaths—two on our side, three on theirs—but we managed to get the situation under control. After that, NASA stopped authorizing flights from Life on Mars, Inc., and its affiliates and subsidiaries, grounding them permanently. The videos we shot of their Gestapo tactics and sent back to the news media on Earth helped in that decision, I think. After it was all said and done, the colony population came in at 987—with five more already cookin’ in the oven, as they say.
Our relations with the Russian colony are excellent. We are in discussions with the Russian government to trade the time and effort of our constructions crews for needed supplies. The cost of shipping materials back to Earth isn’t worth it for them, and there is a growing interest from Russia in seeing New Moscow completed–if for no other reason than to put America to shame. Our construction crews are here—permanently—and up to the task, and I expect that work will start within the next few months. Great goodwill continues between our two colonies, and we have recently managed regular contact with the Japanese colony. Soon, I hope to meet them in person.
“Vlachko!” I said. “How are you, you old dog?”
There was a time lag as the phone signal bounced through the satellite connection. I didn’t mind. It was nice just to be able to talk to people not in the colony, any time I wanted.
“I am well,” he said. “I applaud your nationhood. With very little blood shed, except, perhaps, for yours. Most admirable.”
“Yes. I’ve been meaning to thank you for your gift. The Bible. It was very thoughtful.”
“I was not sure if you could use it or not. But I am glad that it could be of service to you. You should keep it close at hand—for the future. You never know.”
“No, you never do,” I said. “I will miss our talks. And your shipments. I never did get my power cable—“
“You will, you will,” he assured me. “The Nation of Japan has kindly signed a new contract with Russospac. We will be making our first shipment next month. I believe there will be sufficient fuel to stop by your base, as well—indeed, it was insisted upon. I think you will be surprised by the donations and gifts pouring in on your behalf. There are many people who greatly desire your success.”
“That’s good news. It will be good to see you again.”
“And I, you. Speaking of good news, is what I have heard true? You are getting married?”
“Next week,” I said. “I don’t believe it, either.”
“Robbing the cradle, too,” he said respectfully. “You are a man after my own heart. But I thought women distracted you from God. The buttocks and the bosoms and the long slender limbs. Their full, wet lips like succulent fruit—“
“I get the point,” I said. “Yes, women are distracting. I don’t deny it.”
“So what happened?”
“God sent me a woman,” I said. “Or sent me to her. Either way, what am I going to do?”
“If you do not know what to do with a woman by now, there is nothing I can tell you that will help,” he said, and laughed.
I laughed, too. “Don’t worry. I think I can manage this by myself.”
“By the power vested in me by the New American Commonwealth of Mars,” said Reverend Ned, “I pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride.”
I did. Jori was radiant, in her makeshift wedding dress that some of the girls from section 5 had sewed for her, using bolts of fabric graciously supplied by our Russian friends. I was wearing a suit that was decades out of date, and didn’t fit well besides, which had also come from Little Moscow. But I looked like a groom, and Jori was a radiant bride, and that was what was important.
I had kissed her before—stealing kisses, really—but it had never been this sweet. Because now we were joined by God, in the eyes of God, and what God had joined no man would separate. This was for life.
Jori had already had her sterility reversed, and so had I. I had also stopped taking the libido suppressants two weeks before, and it felt like they had finally worn off completely. We were going to honeymoon in Little Moscow, in a room with king-sized bed and clean satin sheets and a Jacuzzi tub. It had been nearly eight years since I had been with a woman, but I wasn’t too worried. I felt God had sanctified this relationship in a way he had sanctified nothing else in my life. There would be trials and tribulations, struggles and hardship, I knew. But our love, forged in the furnace of life by the flame of God’s power, would outlast them all.
Reverend Ned, per our request, invoked both God and Jesus in the ceremony, and did it without wincing. He approved heartily of our selection of 1 Corinthians 13 to close the ceremony, and read it with a resonance and conviction he rarely seemed to manage during his church services.
“’If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,’” he read. “’And if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“’Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’
“God bless you both, and Amen.”
“Always Perseveres” became the official motto of the colony. We’re down to 41 Christians now, including Jori and myself, but the entire room erupted with applause at the end, and a few weeks later when I suggested the motto, it got unanimous approval. Some things just transcend theological boundaries.
After the ceremony, we celebrated in the warehouse, because it was the only place that had enough room to accommodate everyone who had wanted to come. The stadium screen hanging across the back wall was re-running the video of the wedding ceremony, and Jori and I danced to music that we couldn’t hear over the white noise of the crowd.
“Gotcha,” Jori said. “Told you I would.”
I just had to nod my head in agreement. “Yes. Yes, you did.”
After I while, Yu Po cut in to dance with Jori, and Laila swooped in to fill in the gap with me. “Cradle robber,” she said. “She could be your daughter.”
I shrugged. “She’s not.”
“You are hopeless,” she said with a smile. “Hopeless and worthless.” She stopped moving to the music and then stepped on my foot. “Hurt her in any way, and you’ll be eating your meals through a tube in your throat for the rest of your life. Understood?”
I inhaled sharply. She was bearing down hard. “Normally, you’re just supposed to wish the newlyweds congratulations.”
“Congratulations on still getting to eat solid food. So far,” she said, and, with a wink, walked off.
Jori and I were getting ready to head down to the hangar to depart for our honeymoon in Little Moscow, when the call came. The crowd had been dissipating for some time, and Margaret had already gone back up to the main office. So she was the first to get the news.
“We’ve got a call,” Margaret said. “I think I’m seeing it, but I don’t believe it.”
“What? Is something wrong?”
“Not as such. Switch the video feed over to the phone—I think you need to see this.”
I motioned to Giorgio, who was manning playback of the wedding videos on the Jumbotron, to switch the feed over to the phone. With a blip, Margaret’s head, two stories tall, abruptly filled the screen.
“Yikes,” I said, laughing. “You’ve got a big head.”
“There you are,” she said, and leaned forward. “Take a look at this.”
The screen went black, and then there was static. Then a picture came in. At first, there was too much snow and fuzz to see it clearly, but after a moment I could make out three people jumping around excitedly. I could hear a heavy, staccato clacking and popping, like firecrackers going off. And I heard excited conversation and exclamations that I couldn’t understand, but I thought it was in Japanese.
“It’s the Japanese colony,” Jori said. “What’s wrong? Is there a problem?”
Yu Po walked over slowly, eyes fixed on the screen, his head cocked. “No, there is no problem,” he said. “They are quite pleased with themselves.”
“What is it?” I asked. “What’s the noise? That’s not static.”
“No,” Yu said. “They are saying—let me see—‘We did it, we did it, it is done. It is raining, it is rain, we make the rain’. Or, ‘we have made rain’, I should say.”
On the screen, one of the figures—I think it was Susumi Kuwabara– approached, his head ballooning into a blurry, excited mass on the Jumbotron. “Hello, Americans!” he said. “It is raining on Mars! We have done it! Done it!”
“What the hell are you guys talking about?” I shouted. “What ‘rain’?”
He grabbed the phone camera and pointed it towards one of their windows, where white blots and gray dots danced crazily, some sticking, some disappearing immediately. There were even some trails that looked like rain water dripping down the glass. The cracking noise grew louder.
“We have been very busy,” Susumi said. “Modify our extractors—we drill down—you see the frozen rain and hail—injecting heated moisture into air as vapor, it condenses, falls back down on us—that is the noise you hear. It freezes quickly, but it works—it works! Much water this way. Can do much, much more!” He laughed, turning the phone camera back to its original position, and went back to the group. He then proceeded to pour what looked to be a bottle of plain water on their heads.
“Holy shit,” Jori said. “Oops. Sorry. But still. Damn.”
“I didn’t even think they were working on that,” Park said. “I thought that was just a lab. Industrial stuff. Why do they care about terraforming?”
I shrugged. Who knew? What I did know was that the day I got married, the one thing I had been absolutely sure I would never do again, the thing I had been sure would never happen was—albeit on a very small scale—actually happening. It was raining on Mars. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? He can sure as Hell prove a man wrong.
“So what now, boss?” Margaret asked, her voice drowning out the exultations of the Japanese colony. “What are we going to do?”
I looked at Jori, and she gave me a big, toothy grin. “What are we going to do, boss?” she asked, cocking her head. “Now that there’s rain on Mars?”
I kissed her forehead. “It ain’t raining where we’re going.”
Jori waved at the Jumbotron. “There ya go! I hear a king-sized bed and a Jacuzzi calling me. See you suckers in a week.”
“Send them our congratulations,” I said as we headed for the door. “Offer them any help they need. And say, ‘Goodbye, Jack, I really loved your wedding, and I hope you enjoy your honeymoon that your leaving for right now.’”
The feed from the Japanese colony disappeared, and Margaret’s giant head returned. “Goodbye, Jack,” she said sheepishly. “I really did like the ceremony. It was really good. Have a great honeymoon. I love both you guys.”
And with that, my new wife and I left for Little Moscow.