Mars, together — finally. Weng should have thought. But things are not what they seem, and nothing stays the same. Apologies, dear readers, for the endless delays in posting their story.
Recently, in Bringer of Light…
And what of Sergey?
Martin held his breath and looked around the room. It seemed even smaller and more confining with all the faction heads physically present.
And of course all the noisier, as well. The din was deafening, with each faction head clamoring to have questions answered.
Well, he thought with chagrin. More like shouting what they thought rather than asking questions.
He glanced at Captain Kragen. So this was the famous “Riss,” he thought. Medium height, dark hair that he could swear flickered Martian red. Powerful jaw and impassive face, like a block of marble…he shook his head. Martin could easily see what attracted his erstwhile water plant team chief to her.
Uranus is weird. It has rings. It has 13 moons, some of which may harbor life beneath their icy surfaces.
It has a funny name.
I get it. But learning more about how its formation affects planet formation is just not that important.
“Pure” researchers probably are interested, but frankly, if NASA wastes its time doing this, they will miss the opportunity to settle the Moon and Mars, mine asteroids for valuable resources, and explore other moons like Titan and Europa.
China will get there first.
Pure research is all fine and dandy, but it’s also incredibly expensive — taxpayer dollars should be spent on projects with more tangible benefits.
It’s been over two months since we last saw (Ret.) Captain Sergey struck down and partially paralyzed while fleeing the Lunar Base coup with the clone Elodie Gagnon, who sought to protect him from United Americas forces. Meanwhile, Clarissa Kragen has reunited with Sam Weng (or has she?) at Ceres and are bound for Mars. Where Martin Velasquez, currently the head administrator of the newly-proclaimed United Mars Colonies is in for a short, sharp shock…
Alarms had erupted throughout the Mars Colonies. Incoming ships had been detected, but no contact had yet been made.
They were in for it now, Martin thought, stepping into his excursion suit. The UA and Greater Indian Empire at open hostility. All ships banned from the ISS. Contact between Indian settlers and UA settlers forbidden. Lunar Base experiencing an uprising of some sort. All contact with Ceres cut off. UA Allied Forces already on the way to secure their ice factories.
Martin Velasquez called up his rickety console and examined the data feed. Somebody was approaching. Rapidly. Very rapidly.
Weng? Not possible. Surely…
The comm beeped. Grabbing the helmet from a closet, he toggled the comm system on his desk for what seemed like the hundredth time during the past two days.
“Overseer, two ships have suddenly entered orbit. They are nearing the geostationary transit station and will reach normal communication range in five minutes.”
“Yes, yes, I can see that. UA forces?”
Who else could be? Central African Alliance was normally fastidious in their relays. The Chinese wouldn’t dare, not after the UN debacle. Slavic Confederacy? European? Who?
Well, he thought wryly, at least by the time the refugees arrived, they would have nobody to contest their arrival. Even two ships filled with marines might be enough. Depending on how many of the MCSF were still compos mentis.
He checked the UV shield and comm system command strip on his right wrist. Old, but functional. He hoped he wouldn’t need the shield. He was no fighter.
In short, the algae will use sunlight to transform CO2 into sugars that are then enhanced by bio-engineered E.coli into 2,3-butanediol. Interestingly, 2,3-BDO is not entirely conceptual as it currently exists and is mainly used to produce rubber components. It has just never been thought of as fuel before.
“The laser, a 10-meter wide array on Earth, would heat hydrogen plasma in a chamber behind the spacecraft, producing thrust from hydrogen gas and sending it to Mars in only 45 days. There, it would aerobrake in Mars’ atmosphere, shuttling supplies to human colonists or, someday perhaps, even humans themselves.”
The only problem is that there’s no way to slow the thing down right now…”aerobraking” using current technology would cause gees of 8 or above for several minutes and temperatures hot enough to cook whatever’s in the ship to a nice toasty crisp.
But what if robots could design a receiving station with lasers to “catch” the ship and slow it down…?
Hmmm. Sounds like a science fiction work in progress…
SuperCam showed that the coatings are enriched in hydrogen and sometimes magnesium. In addition, images from Mastcam-Z suggest that they also contain iron oxides. Both the hydrogen and iron oxides point to past water being involved in the formation of the coatings. That shouldn’t be too surprising, perhaps, since this area in Jezero Crater used to be a lake a few billion years ago.
The rocks resemble so-called desert varnish, which protect microbes from the sun’s radiation. It’d be interesting to find out whether cyanobacteria that once existed on Mars did this…but the four billion year old question is, how did those bacteria get there in the first place?
The sudden appearance of Riss on his monitor shouldn’t have come as a shock to Weng.
But it did.
He swallowed a nervous greeting, waved a hand over his face. There she was.
“Sam,” she said, with a little smile. “I always knew you would come to the rescue.”
“Rescue?” he repeated dubiously. It was his turn to smile. “I hardly think you needed rescuing, my princess.”
She laughed. “And you’re no shining knight. But it’s still good to see you. And we do need your help.”
Weng nodded. He had received the message from Gen moments earlier. He still had no idea how the clone had managed it, but he was sure Riss was involved somehow. Gen had also managed to contact Mars in the meantime. How, he wasn’t sure. A cypher? Things looked bad.
“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “Of course.”
“As you know, ditrium can be volatile,” she said.
“Yes. I gather you have quite a lot of it?”
“Enough to speed up the terraforming process. By speed up, I mean, drastically speed up.”
“I…see.” Weng pursed his lips. There was something she was holding back from him. She had found something during her transneptunian trip. But it hadn’t been the ditrium rocks currently in the Artemis’s cargo hold.
Unaware of events on Ceres or Lunar Base, Martin Velasquez is finding out that the “united” Mars colonies aren’t so united at the moment…
Things on Mars had gone from bad to worse. Riots had broken out all over the Colonies. The water supply was dangerously low. The hydroponic farms were about to give out at any moment. The UA forces were still on their way from Earth, and Martin still hadn’t figured out how to hack into the UA ice factory’s electronic lock systems.
And now the settler factions wanted a conference.
With the sounds of fighting in the background of nearly every speaker, Martin found it nearly impossible to hear what the leaders were saying.
“—can’t control your own people, let alone—”
“—five dead already, our children starving and running around half-mad. What are—”
“—anything at all. The situation is insane!”
“YES!” Martin shouted at them. “It is insane! I completely agree!”
“Then do something, Overseer!” the speaker from the Central African Alliance bellowed.
He looked at her. “I’m sorry, who are you? Where is Mr. Mbutu?”
“He is…otherwise occupied. As are most of my staff!”
“Mine, too!” the speaker from the Greater Indian Empire interrupted.
“Yes, here, as well.” The European Consortium.
They began to squabble again. The noise rose to a deafening pitch.
A button glowed under Martin’s left hand. He muted the conference and answered.
“Overseer, an incoming message has been attempted. It has been blocked as ordered.”
“Incoming? From where?”
“Three ships on a trajectory to intercept Mars Colonies orbit. ETA three months.”
“Thre—Where are they from?”
“The message claims they come from the United Americas.”
He calculated. No, it couldn’t be troops. The UA forces would reach them much sooner, which is why he had taken the precaution of guarding the ice factories in the first place.
“I’ll take it in just a minute. Remove the communications block temporarily and tell them to hold until I finish the conference call.”
He hesitated, covered an ear, and depressed the mute button. The deafening noise burst back into the speakers.
“Gentlemen,” he tried. They continued unabated. Some gesticulated at his direction, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“Gentlemen,” he tried again. No change. Louder, if that were possible.
“WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.
That seemed to have got their attention. For a moment.
“Overseer! How dare—”
“The UA is coming.” Martin said slowly, loudly, enunciating as clearly as possible.
He let the words hang there for a minute, letting the implication set in.
“I do not know what they want, but there are three ships,” he said in a more normal tone of voice, trying desperately not to let a note of panic in.
“What,” the Brazilian leader began. “What does the UA want with us?”
The Islamic Nations representative laughed nervously. “Perhaps they come with water we can actually drink without losing our minds.”
Martin glowered. “I don’t know why they are here. I don’t know how to stop the riots. I suggest you increase your own security, obey the water restrictions and food rationing. We are at a critical juncture. The UN appears to have failed. I will contact you again after I have found out what the UA ships want.”
He closed the session to somber, blank faces.
Martin rubbed knuckles into strained eyes. No water for washing. No water for tea. He dare not drink the contaminated water supply. Even using it for electricity seemed to have nearly drained what was left.
What chance had they got? Weng and Gen had not contacted him yet, so he had no idea when they might arrive with the supplies from Luna.
He sighed. Nothing else to lose, at any rate.
He clicked on the comm. “Patch through the UA ships. Visual if possible.”
A haggard white, bearded face topped with unruly dirty blond hair appeared on the aging console. The man appeared to be wearing the uniform of the UA from about two decades prior. An old Earthside airline pilot, Martin guessed.
“This is Dirk Prosser,” the man said in an exhausted, strained tone. He seemed on the verge of a breakdown. “Former Captain in the United Americas Airforce, now representing four hundred refugee families, requesting permission to dock at United Nations Mars Colonies orbiting station.”
“Refugees?” Martin asked quizzically. Not military?
“Yes, sir. Fleeing war zones in northeast UA, New York, Boston, Montreal, Halifax. Everything’s on fire.”
On the one hand, Martin felt he could relax. But on the other, this was the last thing they needed. More people. At least they weren’t invading marines.
But he had no choice.
“Go back,” Martin said curtly. “Or go to Luna. Our water and food supplies are critically depleted, and there is a medical quarantine in place throughout most of the settlements here.”
“Sir,” Prosser said, his voice quivering. “We have taken several months already. Several families are experiencing space sickness and we have virtually no medical supplies to treat them. Lunar Base is in chaos. We have nowhere else to go.”
“Go back,” Martin repeated in a calmer voice. He tried to remain emotionless, but an ugly thought entered his memories. Something from his family’s past. Something passed down to him.
“You don’t know what it’s like back there!” the representative pleaded. Martin could see the terror written on the man’s face. “Are you so heartless? We have children, infants, even. Starving! Being beaten, murdered!”
“Go back,” Martin repeated, his voice raising. “They will starve here, too. Didn’t you hear? Even if by some miracle we get new supplies, we do not have the electricity to operate enough gravity generators. The low gravity of Mars will deform the children. What kind of parents would make their children suffer so?”
“Don’t you think we thought about that?” The man seemed on the verge of hysteria. “Do you think we had any alternative?”
Something in Martin snapped.
“You should have thought of that when you denied entry to my country’s people,” Martin suddenly spat out.
“I, I don’t—”
“When the UA denied entry to refugees fleeing war and hunger. Arresting parents and returning them, separating them from their children and selling them off to the highest bidder. Leaving infants to die of thirst and hunger on the desert border. How dare you come to Mars now and ask for the same!”
“Sir! I was only a child myself at the time. How can you—?”
“How can I!” Martin shouted, slamming his hands on the console. “How can I?!”
Another beep on the console. He abruptly cut the connection to the UA ship and swore. “Dammit! What now?”
“Overseer, a message from the shuttle.”
“Gen and Mr. Weng, sir. They say they will arrive in two days.”
“What?” Martin cycled through the incoming records and known trajectories. “I don’t see any sign of incoming ships aside from the UA refugee ships.”
“They say they will arrive in two days, sir,” the Martin Colony Council receptionist robot repeated tonelessly. “They say to let all in. Everything is under control.”
Martin sat down, stunned.
He couldn’t handle this any more. With a barely suppressed giggle, he toggled the comm. The inside of the refugee ship appeared. Children crying in the background. The captain’s hand first appeared, then his bedraggled face as the man dragged himself back into view. “Yes? Yes?!”
“Mr. Prosser,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Continue on your course to Mars. I’ll see the docking station is open to you.”
“Thank you! Oh, thank you, sir!”
“Don’t thank me, Mr. Prosser,” Martin replied. He cracked his knuckles and shoved his chair away from the console and spun himself around slowly. “Enjoy your final few days in space. We may all very well die together!”
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 33: Ceres – Weng. Star-crossed lovers begin their final journey on February 5th…
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