M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Bringer of Light, Chapter 11: Ceres (Part One)

January 16, 2021
MThomas

(While the Artemis was sending asteroid fragments via quantum teleportation, Weng was on his way to Ceres seeking new water supplies for the increasingly crowded Mars colonies.)

Getting water supplies from the Ceres processing plant turned out to be more difficult than Weng had expected.

For starters, he had thought he’d be dealing with a group of stubborn asteroid miners like Sergey. Independent-minded people whose sense of rebellion and anti-authority sympathies he could appeal to. He hadn’t expected to be dealing with a facility represented by robots.

He also had expected to go alone. He certainly hadn’t anticipated an assistant. The young man had been assigned to him by the Martian Council, ostensibly to help him navigate the politics of the situation. More likely Gen was there to keep tabs on him for the Martian Overseer, Weng guessed. After all, that’s what he would have done.

The face with a perpetual Mona Lisa smile on the shuttle’s vidscreen stared at him like he was a strange lab specimen. It reminded Weng of the Mars Central lobby receptionist. He repressed a shudder and did his best to return the half-smile.

“Ah, I, that is, we, represent the—”

“Who are you?”

The robot was smirking. No, it couldn’t, Weng told himself. Concentrate on the task.

He cleared his throat.

“We represent the United Mars Colonies, on a mission of urgency.”

The impassive face was motionless for a moment, then the artificial lips opened. “We have no record of that organization in our database.”

At Weng’s right, his personal assistant Gen squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.

“We are just beginning the process of establishing ourselves as a political entity,” Weng said smoothly. He’d rehearsed this part. “We are a loosely affiliated—”

“State your urgent message, please.”

Weng stopped. He hadn’t expected to be interrupted by an automaton. Weren’t they programmed to listen to all incoming requests in full?

“We, uh, we desperately need additional water supplies due to a sudden increase in refugees from Earth. Our water facilities are not yet operating at peak capacity.”

There was a pause from the other side. Then, “Please hold while I confer with my superior.”

The monitor went black.

Weng stared at the screen. What now?

“Sir, if I may venture a suggestion?”

He turned to his assistant and cocked an eyebrow. “Go ahead.”

“Sir, I understand that you are on terms with Captain Bardish.”

Weng felt his jaw dropping but controlled himself. Obviously he had underestimated how fast rumors spread in the Colonies.

“I—I suppose that’s true,” he replied evasively. “To a certain extent.”

“In that case,” the assistant continued, “why not mention your relationship with the Captain? The miners on Ceres respect him.”

Weng pursed his lips and crossed his arms, frowning.

“Revere wouldn’t be too strong a phrase, either,” Gen added.

Weng sighed. He owed the old man too much already, but the Martian had a point.

“All right, it’s worth a try,” he said, chagrined. “Let’s see what the androids say first.”

After another few moments of silence, the monitor flicked on again. This time, a human face appeared. The “superior,” Wang surmised. The person certainly looked like an asteroid miner. She still wore her anti-grav harness and hard helmet, albeit with the radiation visor up.

“This is Ceres Mining Council Sub-chief Talbot. What can I do for you?”

Straight forward. Wang relaxed.

“Mr. Talbot, pleased to make your acquaintance. I—”

“Cut to the point. What do you want?”

Wang felt himself reddening. He breathed in, exhaled quickly and smiled.

“Water,” he said as plainly as he could. “There are too many refugees for the Mars Colonies to handle right now.”

“How much?”

Wang pondered. “Several thousand tons. Eight or nine, at the very least.”

Talbot sighed and took a glove off. “You know, I thought I might actually make it through a normal 16-hour work day with no complications for once.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes.

Weng waited.

After a moment that seemed to drag on forever, Talbot lowered her hand and opened her eyes.

“We can’t accommodate you,” she said in a matter of fact voice. “I’m sorry.”

Weng frowned, but before he could speak, Gen suddenly cut in.

“Chief Talbot,” he started.

“Sub-chief,” she interrupted. With a note of irritation? Weng wondered.

“Sub-chief,” Gen amended. “I hesitate to interrupt—”

“You already have,” Weng pointed out.

“—but you may not be aware that Weng-shi has been appointed directly by Captain Sergey Bardish to the Martian Council as head of the water commission.”

This was of course not entirely true, but Weng decided to play along. He resisted the impulse to glare at Gen for his insubordination and trained an even gaze on Talbot instead.

She returned the gaze and pursed her lips. Evidently the name of Bardish did carry some weight, Weng thought. Perhaps he should have not been reluctant to bring it up before.

“The Captain does not choose his candidates lightly,” Talbot said slowly.

“I have known the Captain for some time,” Weng admitted. “Sergey and I are…close friends.”

Talbot paused. She seemed to be internally debating something. 

“Sub-chief Talbot,” Weng added, “we would not have come unless the situation were very, very urgent. At least allow us to land and discuss the matter. In person.”

Talbot nodded finally. “Very well. But our daily mining schedule has been disrupted enough as it is. Come down and state your case plainly.”

The screen went blank.

“Sir,” Gen said looking down at the panel in front of him, “we now have the proper landing authorization code.”

“Code?”

“For unlocking the landing bay. And for undergoing the microbe decontamination process.”

Weng grimaced. Nothing was going according to plan. He had half a mind to severely tongue-lash Gen, but he had no idea what kind of secret report the assistant might send to the Overseer. The prudent course would be to talk less and listen more.

He needed water. And more political experience. He was determined to get both, no matter the cost.


Weng tugged at the worksuit collar. The drab grey clothing might protect his skin from whatever chemicals were being used to help the miners process asteroid ore, but it was uncomfortable as all hell. The decontamination procedure had already irritated his skin enough. First baked by microwaves, then slow cooked in nanofibers. He felt like an overcooked pork dumpling.

He glanced at Gen, standing impassively next to him in the control room. The younger man didn’t seem overly irritated by the material. Maybe he, too, was a robot, Weng mused. The assistant seemed to have no emotions whatsoever.

He looked around the control room. Pre-war. Cut into the rock surface, no windows or doors. Little more than a side culvert from the main mining operating chamber. The only object in the room was a large metal desk with what looked like an old-fashioned computer terminal and keyboard pad. He could hear the hum of a cooling fan from inside the desk. A computer heatsink?

He nearly sneered, then caught himself. Of course, their operation would be primitive. He should have expected no less. He wondered what else…

A voice called out from behind him.

Jiǔyăng, Weng-xiānshēng. Welcome to Ceres.”

He stopped tugging at the collar and turned around. Talbot entered, accompanied by a slightly shorter person with an eerily smiling face. Both wore the same dull grey suit. Talbot carried her gloves and hardhat under one arm. The other walked stiffly, moving with a shuffling gait. As if its feet were permanently attached to the ground. A robot, then.

“Very nice to make your acquaintance, as well,” Weng replied smoothly. “Compliments on your accent.”

Talbot shrugged. “Thank you, but I know it’s rusty. We don’t get much opportunity to talk with UN diplomats.”

Weng shook his head. “I’m not UN. As I said, I represent the interests of—”

“The United Mars Colonies?” Talbot finished.

She walked around them to the desk, touching the computer terminal. Weng stayed silent as she scanned something on the screen. She looked up at him.

“There is no such organization,” she stated bluntly. “Who are you, really?”

The robot had taken up a position directly behind them, Weng noted. It still smiled at them. Weng smiled back, disarmingly, he hoped. He folded his hands in front of him.

“Sub-chief Talbot,” he began.

“Just Talbot,” she said.

“Talbot, then.” Weng continued. “The Joint Martian Colonies were founded by the UN under direct control of the Martian Council some twenty years ago. From last year, Martin Velasquez began his tenure as Overseer.”

“Yes, yes,” Talbot snapped. “For this you came all the way here to demand water?”

Weng shook his head. “No, of course not. I came here because the UN has failed its duties on Earth. We have received many more—many hundreds more—new settlers during the past two months than we have had throughout the entire twenty years of the Martian Colonies existence.”

Talbot stared at him.

“Hundreds?” she said. “That, I’m not sure I can believe that.”

“It’s true, Ma’am,” Gen interrupted, speaking for the first time.

He withdrew a mini-tablet from a small suits pocket and handed it to her. “Here, you can see for yourself. We prepared an updated list of colonists and their needs.”

Weng hid his surprise. He supposed he should have anticipated this. Martin had obviously trained Gen to do all the hard data work, while Weng’s connection to Captain Bardish got them the desired access. Well, let them think he was their pawn, he thought. I’ve always been good at games.

Talbot accepted the tablet, holding it in both hands as if a precious, rare object. She looked back and forth from Weng to Gen, then slowly, unsteadily, swiped down the tablet. 

“As you can see,” Weng said, glancing at Gen, “we really have little choice. The situation is desperate.”

The miner suddenly stopped and looked up in alarm.

“Do, do you know what this means?” she asked, shaking the device.

“Yes?” Weng answered mildly.

“According to this, the Colonies won’t need any water from the Ceres processing facilities, thanks to a new supply of subterranean ice just found on Mars!”

Weng looked at Gen. “Ah, yes, well, as you can see, there are still insufficient numbers of workers—”

“You expect me to give you water for a workforce that will put us out of business?” Talbot demanded, slamming the tablet onto the desk. The robot took a step forward.

“Sub-Chief Talbot,” Gen appealed, raising his hands. “The ice flow is not under our control. The UA claims close to 90% of the supply.”

Talbot stared at him. “The UA?” she repeated. “Not the UN?”

“The United Americas,” Gen confirmed. “They claim that the water is too irradiated and too difficult to convert for civilian use. They propose to use it all for hydrogen cell purposes.”

The same had been done for Luna, Weng realized. Before terraforming nixed the idea. He wondered how much longer terraforming would take for Mars.

“Talbot,” Weng said aloud. “How much would this information be worth to you?”

He felt the robot stop a hairs-breadth behind him. The short stature of the humanlike animatron didn’t fool him. Once held, he wouldn’t be able to wrest free of its grip without breaking a bone or two.

“What do you mean?” Talbot said slowly.

Weng glanced over at Gen. “Well,” he started, then caught himself. “Gen, would you tell Talbot what we had in mind?”

Gen nodded.

“If we return empty handed, without the water supply we promised the new settlers, we will be forced to step up production and attempt conversion of the underground ice flow into drinkable water for civilian use.”

“And?”

“Subsequently, the Martian Council will notify the UA that their reduced hydrogen cell replenishment is due entirely to the Ceres processing facilities refusal to abide by the UN Inner Planetary Colonial Law, which specifies that Ceres supply water and other construction materials to any UN entity that requests them.”

Talbot shrugged. “We’ll just find a new buyer. The Chinese. The Indians, perhaps.”

Ah, Weng thought. I know why I’m here.

“I see,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yes, I’m sure the Republic would be happy to take Ceres.”

Talbot looked at him. “What?”

“The Allied Forces won’t need to protect Ceres from outside threats, once the ice on Mars is ready to fuel their supply and military vehicles from Earthside to Luna and Mars,” he said.

“Yes,” Gen added, “and the Greater Indian Empire has never shown interest in Ceres. They still insist the ISS is all they want. But as for China, I’m positive that they would be happy to come in and find a use for the facilities.”

Talbot raised a hand to pinch her nose bridge. The other hand waved the robot away. It stepped back.

Weng reached past the sub-chief and picked up the tablet from the desk. He brushed it off and gently swiped the screen. It was undamaged, thankfully.

He gestured with the device. “As you saw, the workforce is still insufficient to retrieve enough ice to supply water for the colonists. Given the UA’s need for hydrogen. This means the Ceres Mining Council has leverage.”

“Leverage,” Talbot said slowly. “You mean blackmail.”

Now it was Weng’s turn to shrug. “Think of it as a negotiating tactic,” he suggested. “Trade secrets. Desperate times and all that.”

“I still don’t see how this can possibly benefit miners and asteroid hunters,” Talbot said, shaking her head.

“Easy,” Weng said. “Simply tell the UN that Ceres can no longer supply the required ditrium and other rare metallics for continued terraforming and settlement of Mars.”

“But that’s not true!” Talbot said.

“What difference does that make?” Weng replied, raising his eyebrows. “You have something they want. They have something you wish them not to use. Correct?”

“Yes, but—”

“So you use this information as a bargaining chip. Remind the UN and the UA that they are obliged by the law to purchase all supplies from Ceres.”

Talbot’s eyes widened. “We can’t fight off the UA!”

“You won’t have to,” Gen interposed. “The UA doesn’t have very many interstellar craft.”

“But the asteroid hunters do,” Weng said aloud. It all fit together now. At least, he thought so. “Just like Sergey told me.”

“This was Captain Bardish’s idea?” Talbot asked incredulously.

Weng shook his head. “No, of course not. Sergey is not interested in politics. Only in saving his beloved homeland. And his daughter.”

Talbot said nothing for a moment. Then, “He’s not the only one with an interest in Clarissa Kragen.”

Weng narrowed his eyes. He had regretted bringing up the old man in the first place. Now, the last thing he wanted was to be reminded of Riss. And of how absent he felt without her.

“So…” he said, expectedly, crossing his arms.

Talbot looked at him calmly. “All right,” she breathed out. “We’ll give you your water. Leave the infopad with me.”

Weng looked at Gen, who motioned his approval. The tablet was handed back to Talbot, who this time gently pocketed the device.

“Right,” she said, gesturing to the robot, who had been standing without a word through the entire exchange. “Take us to the water processor.”

“Yes, Talbot.” The robot left the room. 

“You’re in luck, actually,” Talbot said as they followed the android. The three walked slowly to match its ungainly gait through the narrow rock corridor. “We just got a couple rock frags a day or so ago. We’re pulverizing them right now.”

“Oh?” Weng replied. “Where from?”

“The outer ring, Trans-neptunal,” she said.

Weng’s heart skipped a beat. “Riss?”

“Yes,” Talbot replied.

She stopped mid-stride. “How did you guess that?”

“I, ah…”

She looked at him intently, as if she could read his thoughts. She nodded.

“I see. And here I thought you were just bluffing.”

“Bluffing? About what?”

“About knowing Sergey,” she said.

They resumed following the robot. The corridor widened as they reached a metal door to the main processing chamber. The robot stood in front of the door, which emitted a soft blue light from a pinhole in the middle of the door. ID verified, the robot placed its palm on a wall panel. The door slid open.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 11: Ceres (Part Two) – January 23, 2021

Bringer of Light, Chapter 9 (Part 2): Mars Colonies

December 27, 2020
MThomas

(In part 1, Weng found himself suddenly promoted and about to be thrust into the spotlight…)

He toggled the console, and the row of monitors sprang to life. Weng found himself addressing no less than half a dozen delegates, all of whom wanted to speak simultaneously.

In fact, they appeared to have already begun discussing among themselves.

“—told you that the Indian government would never—”

“—not what we ordered! And where are the supplies we requested last—”

“Hasn’t the Martian Secretariat been in—”

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Martin began, holding his hands up in surrender.

Women,” someone interrupted.

“Men and women,” Martin corrected. “We have been made aware of your food supply issues and—”

“What are you going to do about it? We’ve been waiting four days now!”

“Mr. Mbutu, believe me, the needs of the CAA settlers are well known to us—”

“The EEC has priority over African settlers! We arrived first, we have—”

The delegates raised their voices and general argument prevented Weng from understanding much. Martin smiled and raised his hands again.

“Gentlemen and women! Delegates! Please, please! I have—”

The discussion continued for another minute or two. Martin turned to Weng and nodded.

Weng coughed into a fist before speaking.

“Excuse me,” he tried. Too soft. The delegates continued.

“—Persian Empire will make you regret any theft of property from—”

“Excuse me!” Weng fairly shouted at the screens.

The voices died down. The delegates looked at him.

Weng cleared his throat.

“Gentlemen, ladies. I have spoken to many of you these past few days, about your heat, your electricity—”

“Yes, yes,” huffed one delegate. “For all the good it did.”

Weng nodded in agreement.

“I’m afraid you are correct, Ms. Pehrat. However, that has not prevented us from developing an amicable and mutually beneficial relationship, has it not?”

Silence greeted this response. Martin pinched his arm from behind. Evidently, an encouraging gesture.

“Look,” Weng went on. “I know that we are asking much of you and your constituencies. But we must ask you all to realize that our situation is quite dire at the moment.”

“Dire?” Mbutu asked. “How dire, exactly?”

Weng cleared his throat again.

“I am given to understand that, er, due to the rapid increase in the need for electricity to power new settlement districts we will need to begin water rationing.”

“Begin?” Pehrat cried. “We’re already rationing!”

Several delegates jumped in.

“Intolerable!”

“Outrageous!”

“Please! Please!” Martin tried to interrupt again.

The delegates shouted him down in a cacophonous paroxysm.

“Water,” Weng mused as the din rattled around him. “Water…wait!”

He grabbed the sides of the desk and shouted at the screens.

“Wait! Wait! There may be a way.”

“The electrician speaks!” Mbutu laughed. But the other voices died down.

Martin interrupted. “Dr. Weng,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘doctor’, “Dr. Weng is the head of the Martian Colony Water Reclamation Project Team.”

“Ah,” Mbutu exclaimed.

“Thank you, Overseer,” Weng said. He straightened and opened his hands. “Water is needed for producing electricity due to a lack of other energy sources.”

“Yes, yes, we know,” Mbutu commented. “And?”

“What if…” Weng began.

He paused. He raised a hand, stretched out his fingers as if to gesture, and paused again, thinking.

“I have two proposals,” he suddenly announced. “First.”

He stopped. He glanced at Martin. The Overseer maintained his politician’s smile.

“First,” Weng repeated, “We do have the capability to release more water into the water reclamation system. However, we do not presently have enough workers to dig up the regolith required for the process.”

The delegates were silent for a moment.

“What you are suggesting,” Pehrat offered, “would require many, many rounds of negotiations among our nations.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Weng said. “I don’t know the delicate nature of politics but I do know the technical possibilities and necessities of our current situation.”

Pehrat was silent, seemingly considering the truth of his statement.

“I do know,” Weng continued, “that we all need each other. To cooperate, for mutual benefit.”

He stopped and held up two fingers.

“Second.”

Martin briefly dropped his smile but recovered.

“Second,” Weng said heavily. “It seems likely that we may still not get the water reclamation process started in time to suit our immediate needs. I estimate two to three months before processing will be adequate.”

Martin smoothly interposed. “In that case, what do you propose? Won’t rationing be enough?”

“I’m afraid not,” Weng said. “I propose that the United Mars Colonies—”

“The what?” Mbutu blurted.

“Dr. Weng, there’s no such—” Martin began.

Weng continued, “—that the United Mars Colonies send an envoy or envoys to Ceres for the purpose of procuring an emergency supply of water strictly for the drinking supply. Not to be used for electrical generation.”

Martin grabbed his arm, hissing, “We must talk.”

Turning to the screens and smiling, he said, “Pardon us for a moment. Please hold.”

He stabbed at a button on the desk, then turned back to Weng, furious.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Weng regarded the Overseer calmly. “We’re not ‘on Earth’.”

“For the love of—you know what I mean!”

The Overseer began to pace, waving his arms. “The Moon Treaty of 1979, the Outer Space Exploration Treaty of 1991, and the Mars Mining Treaty of 2031 all forbid any one nation to act on behalf of citizens of other sovereign nations working or living off-world!”

Weng blinked. “Meaning?”

Martin stopped.

“Meaning,” he said heavily, “each group of settlers is bound by the laws of their countries, and we cannot speak for them as a group!”

“But,” Weng said, “most of these recent settlers are obviously refugees, and their governments have either not contacted us or have been evasive and vague in our communications.”

“True, all true,” Martin retorted, agitated. “But I work for the UN. Not ‘the United Mars Colonies,’ whatever the hell that is.”

He stopped pacing and frenetically ran his fingers through his hair.

“Martin,” Weng said.

The politician looked over him, and clasped his hands in front like a prayer.

“Weng, I have already had to agree to give each and every country its own territory, in stark contrast to existing UN directives. Separated each group by a minimum of 1.4 kilometers. Forbidden settlers from other nation-states to enter their territory without permission.”

“And has that prevented settlers from communicating with each other?”

“Ah…”

“Or sharing their supplies, which they got from us?”

“Um. Not in so many words, no.”

“And yet,” Weng continued, “the UN has obliged us, as a central authority, to supply housing, food, water, power, communication facilities. All despite the fact these settler factions are supposed to be operating independently. Correct?”

“Yes, yes,” Martin replied quickly.

Weng approached the near-panicked politician. He held out his hands to calm him down.

“Look, we need water, yes?”

Martin nodded, rubbing his palms together.

“And we need water from the asteroid reclamation plants on Ceres, because we can’t get ours to produce enough water fast enough and we can’t convince the UA to give us any of theirs. Again, correct?”

“Yes, that is essentially the situation.”

“And we only have three months before we run out of drinking water?”

Martin swallowed and nodded again. “I believe those are the current estimates.”

Weng smiled. Actually, he had no idea what the current estimates were. Nor how long it would take to produce more if the settler factions agreed to donate workers. Probably he was close to accurate. But that hardly mattered, to get what he wanted.

“Now,” he continued, “if we were to ask Ceres for water, as per UN regulations, we would have to go through each country’s delegation, then wait for an answer from their respective countries, then wait for the answer to, ah, filter back through the delegates.”

Again, Martin nodded, this time with more certainty.

“So,” Weng concluded. “If we approach Ceres not as the UN, beholden to separate, divided, bickering nations, but as a sort of united group of fellow outer space residents, wouldn’t the mining community on Ceres treat us as a single entity? with slightly more respect?”

Martin looked dubious. “I’m not as confident as you on that issue,” he said slowly. “However—”

“Good,” said Weng. He strode back to the ugly yellow desk. “I’ll convince the delegates that a temporary alliance and a united front will get us more water.”

“Wait!” Martin called out. “Let me, let me stand next to you. You talk, I’ll support.”

Weng shrugged. “Support” sounded like “use you,” but he supposed they, too, needed to show a united front.

In the end, he would get what he wanted, he thought, inwardly grinning. And it would only cost him an extra trip to Ceres to see Riss.


Next: Chapter 10 (Part 1) The Artemis (Coming January 2nd)

Bringer of Light, Chapter 9 (Part 1): Mars Colonies

December 19, 2020
MThomas

(While the crew of the Artemis is enduring the long return home, on Mars, Weng is about to run into a problem that is partly of his own making…)

“But, Martin, the designs I sent you were already approved by the new settler delegation from…”

“Sorry, Sam. I know this is important to you, but with the heightened tensions Earthside right now, the priority is foodstuffs.”

“Yes, but—”

“The existing domes will have to suffice for the moment. Why don’t you come down here when you have a chance. We’ll have a chat over ruibos tea.”

Weng stared at the blank space above his console where the 3D holograph had once been. The Overseer had simply cut the transmission without a proper ending salutation.

Dammit it all! He picked up his coffee cup with a trembling hand, but resisted the impulse to throw it.

Taking a sip, Weng stared at the empty space again, as if the image of his superior still remained, smiling at him. 

Nothing had changed. Inwardly he raged, as his face strived for control.

What a fool he had been! To think that anything would be different on Mars. Bureaucracies were all the same, he thought. Only interested in perpetuating themselves. Efficiency? Effectiveness? Not necessary, as long as the status quo was maintained.

Artistry?

He scoffed at his own conceit.

Delusional thinking. Who had time for art with all the work foisted upon him? It had been nearly three weeks since his arrival, and in that time nearly a dozen ships had arrived from multiple countries Earthside. Just over a hundred settlers from the Eastern European Union. A hundred sixty from the Greater Indian Empire. Eighty-three and then ninety-four from the Central African Alliance. More and more each day, it seemed.

The problem was, the UN directives they were forced to operate the Colonies under were confusing, at best. No single country was allowed to lay claim to any particular region of Mars, or of space in general. But now with multiple factions all vying for breathing room, preventing ethnic groups from staking claim to their own territory had proven nearly impossible.

The Iranians didn’t want to be near the Chinese. The Ukranians didn’t want to be next to the Slavic Federation. The Central African Alliance demanded separate territories for each member nation. Only the United Americas hadn’t laid a claim, and that was only because no new settlers from them had arrived. Weng supposed they would prefer to go to Lunar Base, which the UA controlled. Politically, anyway.

He sighed and swirled his cold soy coffee around the cup. Things were no better here on Mars than they had been back on the Moon. If anything, they were worse. Weng had never seen so many different nationalities trapped in such a small confined space before.

He paused, set the cup down in front of the antiquated console, and pondered.

The timing seemed odd. Transition from Earth to Mars normally took at least a full year, nearly three years at their farthest distance apart. Of course, the docking at ISS would allow for reduced payload and less cost. But still, these ships would have taken off from their respective countries long before the current tensions started.

Unless they had somehow known ahead of time, of course, that something was about to happen. That didn’t bode well.

Weng lifted his info pad from its wireless charging port and shut the desk power off to save electricity.

If he had to play the role of the transparent pen-pusher, then for the time being he’d simply have to play along. As the Sage wrote, long ago, “Do not worry that your talents are unappreciated. Make yourself worthy of being appreciated in the future.”

He left his tiny office and entered the narrow underground corridor leading to the central hub. He stepped on the pedwalk and jotted a few random, unnecessary notes on his pad. Keeping the Sage’s words in his mind, Weng made additional mental notes of the lighting, the ceiling, the wall and doorway fixtures. Coarse behind belief. Functional, naturally. The need to protect civilians from radiation meant that every domicile had to be covered in several feet of Martian soil. Still, technology had advanced since the early days of Martian settlement, Weng thought. Why hadn’t someone planned better?

The automated 3D printers had been working nonstop; as soon as one dwelling was assembled, it filled and another had to be prepared. The robotic diggers struggled to connect all the adobes, and their haste showed. Here in the central habitats, where the original settlement had been transformed into a series of UN-Mars colony liaison offices, atmospheric control allowed them to use the automated walkway without wearing any exosuits. Each living unit came equipped with high-speed wifi and personalized access ID for connectivity to the Mars Colony Net.

But the corridors between the new adobes had no fresh air and virtually no heat. Just getting them all hooked up to the electrical grid was proving a struggle, let alone set up wifi and walking strips. It was all they could do to keep the hydrocarbon-driven generators running to prevent the new settlers from freezing and starving.

Weng curled his lip in disgust at the thought of wearing an exosuit to get to work. Drinking his own recycled sweat and urine to reduce the strain on their water supply.

No mobile access to vids.

He shuddered.

A notification from his ID badge told him the pedwalk was reaching the end of the corridor. He staggered as the automated strip abruptly halted. Still several meters from the end. Righting himself quickly, he immediately jotted down on his pad, Maint. crew fix pedwalk Sector 1A-2. Stat.

Inexcusable. The Mars Colony simply could not take on any new settlers at this point. It couldn’t even maintain structures for existing residents.

He clamped the pad shut and strode off the pedwalk into the building before him. The Central Offices. The original building had been adobe like all the new facilities, he had been told. Now it was a complicated reinforced plexiglas and native concrete structure, complete with UV and solar radiation protection shield.

What would happen if the new settlers weren’t sufficiently shielded? he wondered.

Weng shrugged, dismissing the thought. His job at the moment was to make sure they had enough water to go around. And since much of the electricity in the Mars Colony was produced from water, this was more easily said than done.

Entering the Central Office lobby, he waved his ID at the receptist. The cyborg nodded and gestured at the next door.

“Go ahead, Mr. Weng. The Overseer is waiting.”

“Thanks.”

Weng was sure the simulacrum was smirking. Not possible, he knew. The cyborg was programmed to respond to a tens of thousands of combinations of external stimuli, but despite the human-like torso, arms, and face, it was still just a machine. A creepy machine, but a machine.

That smile did look like a smirk, though. He shook his head and paused at the closed door. From the other side, he heard a raised voice. Martin seemed to be arguing with someone.

He touched a hand-size panel in the door, and a faint buzzing noise came from within the room.

There was a pause. Then, “Come!”

The door opened. Facing the door several meters away was a large off-white plastic desk, with Martin seated behind it. The desk had seen better days. Early Colony, Weng guessed, realizing with a start that his own desk looked much newer and likely had a much more recent computer set up as well. He felt slightly embarrassed.

“Ah, Sam, good to see you,” the Overseer said, beaming. He gave no indication of just having finished a conversation.

“Over—Martin, I wanted to see you about—” Weng began.

“Of course, of course,” Martin responded, jumping to his feet. “Tea?”

Before Weng could respond, Martin had already placed the order. A series of buttons lined the left side of the desk. That further dated it. Buttons! Just like the water reclamation plant room.

“Martin,” Weng started again, “have you given any thought to my proposal?”

Martin nodded, then shook his head. “Yes, yes, I have.”

Weng opened his mouth but the Overseer forged on.

“And I have a counter proposal for you.”

A buzzer sounded.

“Ah, that would be the tea. Come!”

They waited as a drone-server wheeled into the room, deposited two plain aluminum cups on the desk, and then wheeled backwards into the lobby area.

The door closed.

“How would you like to be the head of the water reclamation committee instead of just a member?”

Weng nearly dropped the cup, but managed to bring it to his mouth. He took a careful sip.

Not bad. Upper management had its perks.

“Head?” he stammered. “Martin, you know that I’m more interested in—”

“Architectural redesigns of the settler units, yes, of course.”

Martin raised his own cup and drained it without a glance.

“But,” the Overseer continued, “before we can consider expenditures on superficial concerns—however noble and proper they may be, mind you!—there are more immediate, ah, considerations.”

“Such as foodstuffs?” Weng cut in.

He bit a lip. That sounded too indignant.

Martin cocked an eyebrow.

“Water, Sam. Water.”

“Martin, these people have no heat. No access to the Net. Their electrical grid set up is archaic. A good architectural redesign would alleviate—”

“Yes, I know. And you’re absolutely correct. 100%.” Martin paused. “But they need water. And we haven’t got any.”

Weng paused. “No water?”

“No water,” Martin repeated. “Well, not literally no water, but we must start to ration or we’ll run out within a few weeks. Well, not to exaggerate. A few months, perhaps.”

Weng slowly lowered the tea cup to the plastic desk. The tea felt stale in his mouth now. How much water had they wasted making it just now?

“Electricity,” he said. He looked up at the Overseer. “We’re using too much on the generators.”

Martin nodded somberly. “Yes, exactly so. And that’s what you need to tell the head of the settler delegations.”

Weng laughed. “Me?”

“Yes, you.”

Weng stared. The Overseer wasn’t joking.

“Martin…you must…are you…me?”

Martin draped an arm across his shoulders. “Look. It’s all very simple. You know these people already. You’ve been meeting with them, working with them. You’ve shared your concerns with them about their situation.”

Weng winced at the Overseer’s touch, but allowed himself to be led behind the yellowing desk. An array of ancient computer monitors stared up at him.

The architect resisted the urge to curl a lip. First generation networking like this belonged in a museum, not the Office of the Martian Secretariat.

“Here,” Martin gestured. “I’ve already got a meeting set up with several colonist delegates.”

“But—”

“Just follow my lead,” Martin said urgently. He eased into a smile. “They trust you. Let’s play.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 9 (Part 2): Mar Colonies (Coming 12/26)

In which Weng finds himself at the center of a fight and makes a proposal that will change everything…

A sneak peek at the inside of the Red Planet

December 18, 2020
MThomas

Despite the lack of large marsquakes, the researchers were able to estimate how thick Mars’ crust is. They predict it has three layers—but possibly two—that are between 12.4 and 23 miles thick, reports Nature. Mars’ crust is considerably thinner than that of Earth, which can be up to 25 miles thick—and that’s surprising, reports Science.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/robotic-explorer-mars-offers-sneak-peek-mars-inner-layers-180976568/

Lots of small “Marsquakes,” but nothing big. Max M4.5.

A techtonically silent world. Might explain the weak magnetic field which allowed solar winds to rip off its atmosphere long ago.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 8: Enoch

December 12, 2020
MThomas

(Riss is the leader of the Artemis Crew, Brady is the scientist, and Sanvi the pilot…but Enoch is the one who knows the way to go. He hopes.)

Kapow! Another German plane on fire, spiraling down from the sky, destroyed by a hail of bullets from his trusty Hellcat.

“Fuck you, Focke-Wulf!” Enoch chortled. His gloved hands danced in the air, finger tips wiggling as his 3D-goggled head bobbed back and forth.

He had no idea how long he’d been flying. What an addictive game! he couldn’t help thinking, as he shot down a Zero.

It made no sense, of course, but the game scenario creator allowed him to populate the battle with planes from any country, any time. He could have included a Sopwith Camel from the first world war, or a Mars Warplane from the shortly-lived Mars Colonies War if he felt like it.

But his favorite was World War II planes. Especially the Zero. How many times had he imagined himself saving the Pearl City from the Japanese invaders? Enoch, the hero, the half-Jewish, half-Irish Hawai’ian…

A stray memory entered his head as his Camel swooped over Diamond Head, strafing the dastardly Zero trying to attack hapless Waikiki swimmers as they sunned on Kahanamoku beach. He tried to push the thought away; once, twice, his fingers twitched, sending burst after burst of virtual machine gun fire into the Zero’s side. The enemy shuddered, smoke spurted from its canopy, and began its descent into the pounding surf.

He pulled back on the throttle and veered right, soaring over Nu’uanu Pali, aloft on the wind that warriors of old would challenge. Jumping contests of bravery, daring the wind to push them back over the cliff, or failing in the eyes of the gods and falling to their deaths on the rocks below.

He let go of the controls. The plane sailed straight through the valley. 

The hill of Kaipu-o-Lono on one side, Napili on the other. 

Enoch’s grandfather often told him the stories of the piko stones, Hapu’u and Kalae-hau-ola, twin goddesses guarding and protecting the children whose parents made the appropriate sacrifice and performed the ritual of blessing.

“The stones are gone now,” Grandfather told him, when Enoch was a boy. “Destroyed by the haule who took our kingdom away from us. But the stones will return in time. And their spirit still guards us, even now.”

But Enoch was not pure Hawai’ian. He was not even hapa haule. Not for the last time, he wished that his father had not been Irish-Hawai’ian, his mother not Jewish.

“Shit,” he exclaimed, tearing the headset off and flinging it at the floor of his sleeping cabin. He yanked the controller glove off and clenched it in one fist. But he stopped himself, released the glove. It hung mid-air, fingers gently bobbing up and down like the disembodied hands in the Evil Dead movies.

He sat up in the bunk.

Who the fuck ever heard of an Irish-Jewish Hawai’ian?

From the Moon, no less.

A sudden banging noise came from the other side of the wall. Sanvi.

“Knock it off, Karate Kid!” Enoch shouted, knowing full well she wouldn’t hear him clearly. Who cared. She hit the wall about once every two days. What the hell was her problem, anyway?

He massaged the back of his neck, resisting the urge to stand up and stretch. Being born off-Earth had its advantages. Enoch’s height gave him the reach others lacked, but it sucked to be in a cramped cabin on a ship built for four Earthers.

Loonie. Yeah, he was a Hawaiian Loonie. Who had never been to Hawaii, and never would. Not without a special pressure suit, complete with robotic supports so that he could walk in normal Earth-g. And who needed electronic implants to see, because the Moon’s low gravity had permanently effed up the fluid inside his eyeballs. 

At least he could zoom-in. Definitely a targeting advantage.

He folded his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. The vidgame headset floated upward opposite his bunk, gently rebounding against the door.

Another loud noise from the wall. Sanvi must have hit it twice.

Enoch shrugged. He thought she was cute, on first joining the Artemis crew. Hell of a fighter. With his Loonie-bones he stood no chance against her in a scrape. But the mysticism she got so hung up on was a major turnoff.

“Aren’t you interested in Kabbalah?” she asked him once, in the mess room. “You know, being Jewish and all?”

“I’m Hawai’ian, not Jewish,” he replied.

“But it’s fascinating!” she persisted. “Elements are similar to Zen…”

He had to let her babble on while he focused on his freeze-dried beans and faux-spam. He still wouldn’t touch real pork — who knew what was in it? Especially in deep space rations — but he just wasn’t interested in religion. Any of it.

He pushed the memory away. Another came to mind; Grandfather, taking him out for a swim in the Sea of Showers.

“When I was your age,” Grandfather was saying, “there wasn’t any water on the Moon. Not above ground, anyway.”

Enoch splashed his grandfather and laughed. “Bet it was colder, too,” he joked. “Bet you froze your tuckus off!”

“Language!” Grandfather said sharply. But the old man smiled.

Enoch looked out across the sea. “I can’t see the other side,” he complained. “It curves too much. Nothing to see.”

“That never stopped your ancestors,” Grandfather said. “The great navigators of the Sea, they had only the stars, the currents, the wind to guide them. Read the stars, Enoch. Let the universe be your guide.”

Enoch frowned at the memory. The stars, he thought bitterly. The gravity wells and planetary magnetic fields. He had learned. Those who controlled his life had not.

Like those morons at Zedra. What did they know that he didn’t? He didn’t need their help plotting trajectories for the thrower. He didn’t need their stupid pings about “optimal course projections” for returning to the happy hunting grounds, either. Artemis was his ship.

Well, Riss’s ship, technically. 

He grinned. He’d do anything for that woman. 

Sometimes in the command center, when she was lost deep in thought, staring out the window like she usually did, Enoch would try to sneak glances back at her. A little older than him, true. But still. He had a pretty active imagination. Too bad she had a boyfriend.

He shook his head. Fiancé, he heard. Some other Loonie. Nah, had to be an Earther sent to Luna for the government. Somebody connected to Bardish. Like Riss.

Dammit!

He grabbed the vidset and control glove again. No point in feeling sorry for himself. His time would come. Meanwhile, there was always the Hellcat.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 9 (Part 1): Mars Colonies (Coming 12/19)

Bringer of Light, Chapter Four (Part 2)

November 14, 2020
MThomas

In Part 1, “Sam” Weng traveled to Mars, posing as a water plant engineer, hoping to promote his architectural designs. But the Martian Overseer had other designs…

Um,” he said, touching the computer workstation nearest him. “These figures seem…acceptable. So…”

Velasquez put his thumbs into his jacket front pockets and smiled.

Weng glanced at the cart, then at the shovel. He had it.

“Workers,” he said. “There aren’t enough workers to get the quantities of dirt necessary to operate the water reclamation system properly.”

“Yes,” Velaquez said, beaming. He waggled a finger at Weng. “I knew you were a man of intellect. You’re exactly correct. In order to support a larger colony population, we need several crews to excavate literally tons of Martian regolith. Our earth-moving equipment is useless without workers.”

“But what about the ice cap?” Weng asked. “I thought there was enough water locked up there for centuries of colonists.”

“Locked up, yes,” Velasquez agreed. “Locked up by the United Americas Armed Forces stationed at the only operating ice factory on Mars. The UA insists that all reclaimed ice water be used for fuel creation.

He put his hands back in his pockets. “But we can’t drink that water, anyway. The ice cap water has too much irradiation for our purposes.”

He took a step closer to Weng and continued, “Of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you that. As a hydroengineer, you should know already.”

Weng caught the meaning immediately. He stood still, furiously thinking of what to say.

“You’re not an engineer,” Velasquez said softly. He kept his smile. “Even the Lunar Base uses a water reclamation and filtration system such as this. It’s been well-known for decades now.

“Of course,” he said, gesturing to the water tanks, “most of our reclaimed water wouldn’t be in these tanks for long. The system is designed to use the natural bedrock to filter our impurities. These tanks are to disinfect and treat recycled sewage water, mixed in with water reclaimed from the regolith. We dare not use open-face tanks until the terraforming is well under way and the atmosphere forms properly to prevent sublimation.”

Weng felt his hands forming into fists. When would the other shoe drop?

“Mart—Overseer, I—”

Velasquez shook his head. “It’s of no matter,” he said. “We do not need more hydroengineers.”

“No?”

“I know that you are an architect, Mr. Weng. A very good one, but one with a certain, shall we say, ambition. Grandiose ideas. Is that not true?”

Weng nodded curtly. “I regret the subterfuge, Overseer. I meant no disrespect.”

Velasquez smiled more broadly. “On the contrary,” he said, “I am pleased that you went to such trouble simply to find a position here in the Mars Colonies. Why give up an important job on Luna for this?”

He shook his head again.

“No, Mr. Weng. Sam. We have need of skilled individuals such as yourself. I will agree to give you a place on our water reclamation plant team so that you may remain on Mars.”

Weng relaxed and finally breathed out.

“Under one condition,” Velasquez added.

Weng started. “Condition?”

“Yes,” the politician answered. He darted glances about the room before motioning Weng closer.

“We have two or three groups of incoming settlers in a few days,” he said in a softer voice, as if not wanting the technicians to overhear. “Some are from the UA. Some are Indian. Some European.”

“That sounds potentially volatile,” Weng responded. “Even as a non-politician, I can understand that much.”

“Yes,” Velasquez said. “But we need these people. Mars needs water, and Mars also needs workers. Thanks to the UA lockout on the ice factories here, we’ve been obliged to get all our water from the plants on Ceres. It’s costing the UN an arm and a leg. If we could process our own potable water, right here…”

He smiled.

“I think I get the picture, Overseer,” said Weng dully. This didn’t sound like architectural work to him. Nor engineering work.

“Martin,” the Overseer said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I can’t talk to the settlers. I need a neutral, third party. Somebody who speaks for one of the Allied Forces.”

“Me?” Weng said, smiling. “I’m no Allied Forces representative. You’re the United Nations appointed Overseer of the Joint Martian Colonies. Why can’t you speak with new settlers?”

“Sam. When you look at me, what do you see?”

Weng looked. He held his tongue.

Velasquez persisted. “What do you see? What kind of person?”

“Ah.”

“My ancestry is Japanese,” Velasquez said. He clipped the word, as if reluctant to say it. “My family moved to Peru when I was young.”

“I see,” Weng said slowly. Why was this person telling him this? Private information was not meant to be shared so openly among strangers.

“You are Chinese,” Velasquez continued. “But like the rest of my relatives, you and your people stayed in the alliance.”

He stopped and seemed on the verge of losing his composure. Weng thought he saw the briefest glimpse of anger cross the Overseer’s face.

“I cannot speak to settlers from the United Americas, China, or Japan,” Velasquez said bitterly. “I cannot risk anyone recognizing my name.”

Weng tilted his head and frowned.

“Velasquez does not sound too terribly—”

“My wife’s name,” the politician said. He fell silent.

Weng pondered. A name that was too dangerous to mention aloud, too recognizable to say even to settlers, who likely would not be anywhere near a position of power or authority. He wondered if the Overseer suffered from sort of of paranoia.

Well, he thought, perhaps he could use this to his advantage. Chai mao qui cui, one should never blow the hair and search for ticks.

“All right,” he conceded, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. “I will talk with them.”

The Overseer immediately brightened. He clasped Weng’s right hand with both his hands and shook it vigorously.

“Excellent, excellent. I believe this is the start of a beautiful friendship!”

Weng inwardly groaned, but outwardly smiled.

“Thank you, Overseer,” he said, as sincerely as possible. “I look forward to working together with you, and with the water plant team.”

“I’ll have the papers drawn up by the end of the day,” Velasquez said. He motioned back to the entrance. “Now, let’s see if we can find you some accommodations. Not as grand as Luna conapts, I’m afraid, but I think you’ll find it pleasant enough.”

“Papers?” Weng repeated, as they returned to the corridor. He began to think that he’d never get used to the labyrinthian underground maze of walkways.

Velasquez gestured with both hands and shrugged. “Not to worry, just a formality. A contract is necessary, you understand. That’s the way we do things here on Mars.”

A contract. Ah, well, politics and business were never too far apart. Perhaps he could somehow squeeze in a reference to future architectural work on his part.

The Overseer continued to lecture him on the history of the Mars Colonies, the various factions already living in separate but equal domed sections, the disputes he might expect from newcomers. But all Weng could think about was how he would explain this to Riss.

His new position entailed supporting a process that sought to eliminate the need for water from asteroids.

His next vid message would need…tact.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter Five: Riss

Bringer of Light, Chapter 4 (Part 1)

November 7, 2020
MThomas

(Like the previous Chapter, this one is over 3,000 words. So I’m posting it in two parts.)

“Well, I’ll say one thing,” Weng muttered, stepping out of the vertical transport capsule into the Mars Colonies Receiving Station. “Mars smells much worse than I imagined.”

“You’ll get used to it,” said an approaching voice. “It’s just recycled feces. A small prize to pay for settling the universe.”

Weng looked up to see the owner of the voice; a slender East Asian man, wearing a business suit and a shoulder to waist white sash that marked him as a career politician.

“Martin Velasquez, Martian Colonies Overseer,” the man said with a practiced smile.

They shook hands. Weng almost did a double-take, but caught himself. The name didn’t seem to match his partner’s appearance.

“Weng Wei,” Weng said slowly. “But most people call me Sam.”

Velasquez laughed. “Sam. Originally from China?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Weng replied carefully. “But my allegiance is to the United Nations, not a single nation.”

Velasquez laughed again. “Not to worry, Mr Weng. We’re all friends here on Mars. No room for disagreements.”

“No room, huh.” Weng said, surveying the building surrounding them. He self-consciously touched his left wrist with his right hand. No watch. No way of using it on Mars, where the infrastructure wasn’t set in place yet. He sighed.

The geodesics were primitive by Lunar standards. The Mars Colonies primarily consisted of tall, egg-shaped semi-transparent structures connected by underground passages. All constructed by robotic drones and remote-controlled 3D printers the previous decade before the UN settlers landed. Compared to the spacious residences of the Moon, the living arrangements seemed horribly cramped.

Not to mention even less aesthetically pleasing, Weng thought. If that were actually possible. But he kept that thought to himself.

He let his hand drop awkwardly by his side. “So, uh, I gather you have a position open on your water reclamation team?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Velasquez said, smiling. “You came highly recommended.”

He gestured. “Shall we?”

They walked past the Receiving Station operator, who sat reading the latest sports news on his pad. He looked up briefly and touched a panel at the console in front of him. The transport capsule lifted and disappeared into the tube, headed back to the transit station in geostationary orbit above them.

“Mars Landers win today?” Velasquez called.

The operator waved his free hand. “Nah. Red Rocks beat ‘em. 15-7.”

Velasquez shook his head.

“Mars Baseball League,” he explained to Weng.

Weng shrugged. “I don’t know much about baseball,” he admitted.

“Well,” laughed Velasquez, “You’d better learn quickly. The colonists are crazy about it.”

He waited until they were out of earshot of the transport operator before adding, “Actually, without Marsball, many colonists probably would go crazy. It’s awfully isolating, being stuck in domes all day. The wireless network is barely adequate to support vid streaming, and even then only on UN-sanctioned pads.”

They left the Receiving Station and walked down a flight of metal stairs into a long winding corridor. The stench seemed to grow with each passing step, but Weng said nothing.

Instead, he focused his attention on the Martian Overseer, who prattled on about various problems the Colonies were experiencing.

“You know,” the Overseer was saying, “It’s so nice to finally meet a man of obvious intellect, such as yourself. I mean, a member of a terraforming design team! And a friend of the great Captain Bardish!”

Weng tried to humble himself as best he could. “Thank you for your kind words, Overseer. I’m just a company man.”

“No, no, not at all,” Velasquez retorted, waving away perceived concerns with a hand. “The Mars Colonies are desperately in need of more brain power. We’ve been applying for a qualified engineer up here for months, but with all these factional disputes Earthside…well, you know how it is.”

The Overseer paused. They stopped and he peered at Weng.

“You are a scientist, are you not?” he queried.

Weng didn’t like the suspicious tone in the voice. “Yes, yes,” he stammered, “Of course, I am. I’m eager to examine your water plant facilities.”

“Which ones?” Velasquez asked. “Desalination? Sewage? Recycling and filtration?”

“Filtration,” Weng said automatically. He’d rehearsed this bit. “I have some design ideas that may increase the regulatory capacity.”

“Ah,” said Velasquez. “But perhaps I should see if you can get some living quarters before—”

“Later,” Weng interrupted. Seeing the expression on the politician’s face, he hurried on. “I mean, I would very much like to go directly to my new workplace. Meet my new teammates. Find out what I can do.”

“Well,” said Velasquez dubiously, laying a finger aside his nose. “If it would set your mind at ease, I suppose the grand tour could wait. Still, hydroponics has some projects that might interest you. But I’ll take you directly to the reclamation plant, if you wish.”

He gestured. “This way. There’s a bit of more walking involved, I’m afraid. The underground pedestrian belt isn’t functioning at the moment.”

Weng refrained from sighing again. He had to play his cards close to his chest with this man. Bardish may have got him to Mars, but now he was on his own. Somehow he had to convince the Martian Overseer that he could be a valuable member of this fledgling Martian society.

And from there, become a valuable aide in the politician’s inner circle. This was his chance.

They resumed walking. Here and there along either side of the pathway various corridors branched off. Weng wondered how expensive it was to maintain lighting. The underground architecture reminded him of his trip to the Sudan, in the days before China and the United Americas became allies. Another waste of his talents, that trip. But at least it had taught him how to address local officials with tact.

“Overseer,” he began.

“Martin,” said Velasquez.

“Ah, Martin,” amended Weng. “I have to admit that I am not familiar with the current problems on Mars.”

Velasquez nodded in understanding. “Yes, with the tensions Earthside, and the close-minded-ness of the Lunar Council, it doesn’t surprise me. Some things don’t make NetStream News, you see.”

Weng cocked his head, feigning ignorance. “Some things?” he repeated.

The politician allowed himself a brief smirk, but returned to his empty smile. “Come now, Mr. Weng.”

“Sam.”

“Sam. We are men of intelligence. Any fool can see that if the Greater Indian Empire does not accede to the UN demands, violence is all but inevitable.”

Weng frowned in abeyance. The Overseer was an astute observer. The UN was even more ineffective than before at preventing conflicts among member nations. China and India frequently rattled sabres in the past, but things had quickly escalated with the creation of the Lunar Base. India felt slighted at not being asked to join the settlement project; China felt slighted at not being more involved in the Mars Colonies administration; the United Americas and the Slavic Confederacy still had horns locked over the ultimate fate of the Ukrainian Union.

And now the UN was demanding that India give up its claims to the old ISS, which had been earmarked for dismantlement long ago. The creation of Ceres as a way station for asteroid hunters made ISS irrelevant, the UN argued. India disagreed; their use of nuclear fissile materials rejuvenated the station, turning it into an armed outpost. They hinted the ISS harbored ship-to-ship nuclear warheads and MIRVs. Other nation-states suspected a ruse, but remained concerned that Indian warships could threaten their space interests and that the ISS, itself, represented a huge biological hazard should its systems fail.

At any rate, the ISS was a dangerous sword of Damocles. But what did it matter? Weng thought. His future lay here, on Mars. With Riss.

“Overse…Martin,” he said apologetically, “I’m not sure what use I can be politically, but I am here to help as much as I am able.”

“Of course, of course,” Velasquez chuckled, as he adjusted his sash. “But you see, politics is what makes Mars live and breathe. Refugees. Prisoners. Exiles. Or should I say, Martian settlers.”

They ascended a staircase into another domed structure. This one was much larger than others they had passed along the way. In the center of the room was an enormous computer workstation. Behind the workstation stretched several three-meter high water tanks, mounted with valve readers. Stacks of tubes in square metal racks lined the back wall, with tubes of varying sizes connecting everything in a complicated, convoluted weave across the floor. Three or four technicians in white hard hats and gray worker outfits wandered among the equipment, occasionally inputting information on touch pads. At the back of the room was a closed door, in front of which stood a cart filled what appeared to be dirt. A dull gray aluminum shovel leaned against it.

As they entered, one of the workers noticed and waved.

Velasquez returned the wave.

“Our new water reclamation system,” he explained to Weng. “Still in need of a few engineers. That’s why it’s not up to 100 percent just yet.”

Weng was about to respond when he noticed a large open slot in the wall next to the entrance doorway they had walked through. It looked almost like a cafeteria tray return window. From the slot curious glass rectangular panels ran along the walls in a strip all the way around the room.

“And this?” Weng asked, pointing at the slot.

“Ah.” Velasquez beamed. “Our pride and joy. Let me show you how it works.”

He walked over to the cart. Picking up the shovel, he scooped out a fair amount of material.

“This,” he said, while walking the shovelful to the slot, “is how we make water on Mars.”

He unceremoniously dumped the dirt into the slot. He put the shovel down, pulled a silk handkerchief out of a jacket inner pocket and carefully wiped his hands.

“Push that green button over there,” he said with a big grin.

Set into the wall above the slot was a panel, containing two thumb-size plastic buttons. One green, one red. How quaint, Weng thought, pushing the green button. Inside the slot, a whirring sound echoed. The noise of a metallic conveyor belt starting up. The dirt disappeared to the right. After a few minutes, another noise came from behind the first two glass panels in the wall.

Weng bent over and looked through the glass.

“Looks like a microwave oven,” he commented.

“It is a microwave oven, basically,” Velasquez replied. “At least, to the best of my knowledge. First, we need to cook the dirt and get the ice out of it.”

Water vapor began to cloud the panel, but the vapor quickly dissipated.

“Of course,” Velasquez continued, “with just a single shovelful of dirt, we won’t get nearly enough water vapor to bother with.”

He pushed the red button, and the noises stopped. The politician folded his handkerchief carefully and replaced it inside his jacket. Pausing to ruffle his lapels, he looked over at the technicians.

“They seem capable enough,” Weng said without thinking.

Velasquez looked back at him. “Oh, they are. That’s not the problem.”

He waited. With a start, Weng realized he was being tested. Would he know what the problem was?


Team SEArch+/Apis Cor of New York is the fourth-place winner in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, Phase 3: Level 1 competition.

Next: Chapter 4, Part Two (Landing at 7:00 p.m. EST on 11/14/20)

Get your telescopes out, the solar system’s largest volcano is here!

October 9, 2020
MThomas

The volcano is about the size of Arizona with a volume 100 times larger than that of Mauna Loa’s, Earth’s largest volcano, NASA says. “In fact, the entire chain of Hawaiian islands (from Kauai to Hawaii) would fit inside Olympus Mons!”

Brighter than Jupiter this October! And the closest Mars will be until 2035.

(The photo is from Forbes, but the information was better on The Telegraph.)

Children of Pella — to post or not to post?

September 14, 2020
MThomas

OK, so I admit it — I’m way behind in finishing my SF novel, Bringer of Light (you can read the prologue here).

I had hoped to get the draft done by January, then work on edits in the spring and publish it in summer.

But a little COVID happened to the world, and believe it or not I got a little sidetracked by, uh, life. And a family history project about a love triangle (kind of).

(During our two-month quasi-lockdown-not-sure-what-this-is-stuck-home-with-two-kids thing, I did get pretty good at the Mars terraforming game. Highly recommended.)

So now I’m thinking, to kickstart my writing life back into action, why not post the chapters I have so far? There are about 35 of them, tend to be short, and since I’ve been struggling with the ending, might help generate some ideas for getting to the expected final scene.

Sound like a good weekly post?

Blog at WordPress.com.
Virtual Marionette

Your eyes, my lines.

tinytotspoetry

Aspiring to be the best at writing. Poetry lover, haiku and free verse to be precise, I hope to one day master

Writing about...Writing

Some coffee, a keyboard and my soul! My first true friends!

COLORFUL SISTERS

Traveling Fashion Designers 🌼

Lady Jabberwocky

Write with Heart

New York Mets History

Everything you want to know about the Amazing Mets

My music territory

Music for life

G-FX.NET

Digital Multimedia and Search Engine Optimization

EDM7

EDM 7 Music Blog Directory : sharing Documentaries, Interviews, Original Music, Music App, Drum Machine videos to spread knowledge among electronic dance music lovers from all around the world (Techno, House music, Drum and Bass, Disco...)

%d bloggers like this: