Mars – 2375 A.C.E.
It was usually in the late evenings when through the thick glass of the ceiling he looked out on the landscape above that he realized just how beautiful the sun was from this distance. He’d only been on the planet for six months, 2 days, yet it felt like an eternity. Of course the trip to get there was grueling, and took several months. Living in the cramped quarters of the ship made an already long trip even longer. There were days when he thought he’d lose his mind if he weren’t able to stand at his full height, feel the sun on his face, the wind in his thinning hair, and just absorb the radiation. Now, off the ship, he was in a cramped, metal box that was his home, office, chapel, and future.
His great grandparents had been infants when the first explorers had landed on the red planet. That first trip was a disaster as the interplanetary explorers had been unable to get off the surface and return to their craft orbiting the planet. They had all died terrible deaths of suffocation as their oxygen supplies ran out over the course of a few, very long days. That first mission though, proved to the people of Earth that getting to the surface of Mars was not only possible, but had been achieved. Getting back to Earth would prove more problematic.
The first Mars missions had started late in 2025, and had become routine “flybys” by astronauts from several nations space agencies by 2075. Those trips, save one had all been successful. One exploration group remained in orbit around the red planet nearly a year, and in that time mapped the surface, surveyed the weather, and declared that it would not only be possible, but easy in fact to land on Mars, set up a small temporary base, and get back off Mars.
Sadly that prediction wasn’t accurate, and the first men and women who stepped on the red planet remained there forever. There was a memorial set up back on Earth, and here on Mars City One (the colony was called Mercy by all who lived there) a small plaque graced a common area known as the Park. The Park, when first conceived was to be garden, a place that reflected the light of the sun so as to warm the minds, hearts, bodies of Mercy’s inhabitants, much like a small earth garden. Sadly the trees planted in the garden had died almost as soon as they touched the red soil mixed with Earth topsoil. Now it collected unused shipping containers from earth and had become a rather large, unsightly storage area. The dead who were honored there may not be so pleased to know that there memories were blocked by large steel crates.
Humanity was desperate to colonize Mars, after all the moon had been colonized early on by the Chinese, and humanity had been living there for many decades. The moon proved to some a disappointment, and quickly became a large world park once mining operations ceased. Conservationists quickly managed to get laws passed that would prohibit the increase and continuance of mining operations, and those who lived there could only do so for short periods of time. Finally, after nearly 50 years of man living on the moon, it became a tourist destination. Those who had thought the moon would be a source of minerals, ore, diamonds even, were left to explore several large asteroids, but had always had their sights set on Mars.
The early robots who had very thoroughly explored the Red Planet discovered that this planet held so many minerals and elements, most of which were rare on earth or gone due to over mining. Their reports had immediately turned the tide for funding, even following the Third World War. Governments had largely stopped funding space exploration, but the private sector, lead mostly by mining companies, continued to drive the exploration of space, and thus the Red Planet was settled. The first colonists were robots actually, remotely controlled from space by orbiting men and women. These robots worked in the Martian soil, rock, wind, and sand, and dug, dug, dug. They created a large labyrinth of underground tunnels, chambers, and space so that when man finally stopped on the surface for more than a few days, he would survive the barrage of radiation from space and wicked thin atmosphere.
The idea to “terra form” Mars was kicked around, but really humanity didn’t have the patience. The powers that lead the exploration and settlement of the planet were much more interested in what lay beneath the soil than staying on top of it. A few early attempts at localizing “terra domes” failed when Mars showed just how incredibly powerful its storms could truly be. Living on the surface was just not a possibility. But ah, living underground, it was easier to accomplish. Mars proved to have a relatively stable crust, little to no geothermal activity, and seismic activity hadn’t yet been recorded. The mountains, rock, and ground were easily moved by the ultrasonic miners, and the robots who worked to build rather amazing places to live, work, play, and exist.
A thumping at the door brought him out of his thoughts. The sun was disappearing below the wall of the habitat anyway.
“What’s it?” he called out.
“Hey Don, time to round up the expatriates.”
Don, it wasn’t his name actually, but then it didn’t matter, not on Mars. Lots of people who had come here created new identities. It was so remote from everywhere else, even the small bases on the asteroids in the asteroid belt. He had been a Samuel at one time, but lost that name because it sounded too old fashioned, though hell, who is named Donald anymore.
“All right I’m coming.” Damn he thought, he’d have to put on the uniform shirt. It was laying, tossed carelessly over the back of a chair jammed up against the eat sink. He picked up the uniform, not needing to brush it off, the fabric was self-cleaning due to the nanites built into it. The color had faded a bit, the harsh habit lights constantly shining had that effect on everything. He felt the fabric, which was synthetically soft – a remembered the first time he had put it on. He slung it over his head and shoulders and realized it was a little larger than it was the first time he had put it on. Muscle definition had been lost living on the Red Planet. He pulled on his belt, attached there to it was his gun, communicator, and ID.
He faced a blank wall, “Computer – mirror.” The glass wall light up briefly for a moment, then slowly the wall became reflective. He looked at himself and smoothed the material of the uniform unnecessarily. It was baggy on him; he tucked the shirt into his belt and grabbed his goggles and hat. His thinning hair needed some touching up, but why bother. If he became self-conscious of it, he’d put on his cap.
The door was a huge thing, designed to seal should the airlock be broken outside of this chamber, or should the glass ceiling above him suffer a similar fate. “Computer, open door.” The red lights that surrounded the edge of the door blinked once, turned green, and a sucking sound indicated the door was open. Don pulled his goggles on, covering his eyes, and slid his cap into his belt.
A man standing outside of the door saluted him, “Don, you ready.” The man was older than Don, though looked younger, genetic enhancements no doubt.
“Let’s go Wayne.” Don walked past him without returning the salute. On Mars, some men still clung to the trappings of the Earth regime, but on Mars, well, it really depended on the day and how much a guy had to drink whether he’d salute or not. Of course not saluting, that is to greet another Earthling in the tradition of Earth was a finable offense, but since Don was a top ranking Earth Council member, he didn’t think that Wayne would report him.
He glanced back at Wayne who was securing Don’s door. Naw, Wayne was trying to hard these days to make friends with Don, he wouldn’t report him, not yet. Wayne glanced up with a grin while sealing the door, “All done, shall we?” Don nodded and they proceeded down the corridor. The lights came on as they went, energy conservation was a fact of life, and the sensors in the floors knew when they walked past. It was still dusk, so the light from the glass ceiling panels still trickled it, but it would be dark soon, and cold. Don knew that the feeling of cold was psychosomatic but it didn’t matter. Of course his clothing automatically adjusted his body temperature too with a few adjustments of the humidity levels against his skin, but Mars seemed cold, colder than space even.
Don glanced at Wayne as they walked, “So have you seen this group roster yet?”
Wayne didn’t say anything, glancing up at the ceiling windows; he cleared his throat, “yes, and a different group than our usual.” He seemed uncomfortable.
Don signed inwardly. Expatriates, these were groups of people coming to live on Mars. They had only just started to arrive the year previously; originally residents of Mars were mostly miners, engineers, technicians, astronauts, the usual space settlers. Back on Earth though, new edicts were issued, and Mars would be expanded to other settlers, children, teachers, doctors, service folks, even a new hotel was opening later in the month. Mars was a new frontier, and lots of folks wanted off Earth. Don at first was one of those wanting off Earth – before arriving at Mars he had forgotten though that he liked to go outside. Coming to Mars meant an end to that. Sure there were underground “park simulators”. They were mostly painted cave walls with fake grass, trees, piped in music, and a huge lamp that did look a lot like the sun. But it wasn’t real – no matter how gentle the air movers pushed the air, it wasn’t a wind, it was always a fan. No matter how subtly the light dimmed, there were never clouds. No matter how many robins were allowed to fly in the habit, they never found worms, and most didn’t live very long.
He checked Wayne’s face and wasn’t pleased. “Different how?”
Wayne looked quickly at Don, then face forward as they walked. “They tow the line.” He looked at Don again, “They’ll want you to salute.”
Don sighed outwardly this time, “I’ll salute and offer the blessing.” Damn he thought, though he knew these types expatriates would come, he was hoping they would have been later, coming as a minority after the other expatriates, non-traditional, had made the majority. That didn’t look like that was going to happen. “I presume they are the faithful expatriates?”
Wayne didn’t answer, but he adjusted his goggles and smoothed the sleeves of his uniform shirt. “Did you hear that on the South Pole they think they found something?”
Don was surprised that Wayne mentioned this. “I heard very early reports though.” Found something, hell they’d found something all right, and it wasn’t what any one of these faithful expatriates would want to hear about.
With the dawn of space exploration, landing on the moons of Jupiter, in depth exploration of Mars, Saturn’s moons, and advanced imagery of other stars and their planets millions of light years away, they hadn’t found a single notion of life. So far, Earth was the only planet that anyone had ever discovered with life. No extra-terrestrials had come to Earth; no life had been found anywhere, not even a microbe. It appeared life was limited to Earth.
The last war on earth had been tough, and was still being fought in some places. The thermal nuclear devices used had wreaked havoc on the weather patterns, and Earth was a colder place. People felt lost, and they looked to old faith. Christianity was still the dominate religion, but of course Islam was a close second. Most non mono-theocratic faith was frowned upon, the victors of the war, if they could be called victors, had suppressed most other faiths. Strangely, the dominate world religion again became the Catholic Church. Many believe it was because it was the Pope, Pope Thaddeus John who had hammered out a peace agreement. In the agreement, he managed to increase the political power and wealth of the old Roman Church. Following the war, the Church flexed its new found muscles, passed laws, started to help “police” the peace, and slowly, it became a world leader. The always fragile governments of Italy were replaced by the Pope, who became the head of Italian Parliament, and eventually was its president. Finally, in the last 20 years, the Pope was its king.
The war of course was fought for pseudo-religious/theo-political reasons. The Earth’s population surpassed twelve billon, and the real reason the war was fought was over energy, water, and food claims. The United Government of Europe waged a war at first against the United People’s Front of the Middle East, but the war quickly spread to Russia, Asia, and China, who all joining with the Pacific powers, threw in their hat with the Middle East. Finally the United States of America and Mexico joined the war, followed shortly thereafter by the super power Brazil. At wars end one could not claim to be a victor, as the might of thermo-nuclear weapons was unleashed in a half dozen cities around the world, resulting in a dramatic reduction in populations, and the dramatic destruction of necessary and rare essentials, power grids, transportation hubs. Finally the world, not because there was a victor, but because it was exhausted, ceased most hostilities, leaving a burning, much changed world in its wake.
The world governments fell asleep, or perhaps were unable to lift their collective heads, and while the church gained wealth, power, influence, the rest of the world became torn by infighting, inefficient leaders, greed, corruption, and finally, it became a member of the Pope’s parliament. The world’s leaders had been left weak an ineffectual following the end of the last great war. Then, only after the world was broken, the Pope took control, with his bishops, priests, and police. The world war, which was fought over mineral rights and water, had been over, but not won until the Pope assumed control. People needed faith in something, and this leader, charismatic, charming, and powerful offered hope, universally, across faith boundaries, promised change, had solutions to water shortages and food crisis, he had the answers.
Don was himself a “priest.” This title had changed meaning in the last century, he was really closer to an old fashioned cop than a priest, he wore a pistol, wielded judgmental power, could arrest, and even imprison “those lost to the light.” He was really a law enforcer – laws based on a broken world looking to an ancient collection of theology and laws to lead it from nuclear radiation, to a bright and clean future. On Mars, Don was the lead priest, head of a group of over 100 such priests. They served under the rule of one bishop, a small, middle aged man called Bishop West, who was almost never seen in Mercy, and was certainly not going to be introduced to the expatriates.
Again Don shook his head, the revere he found himself in, was typical every time a group of expatriates arrived. Wayne didn’t seem phased by all this, and just keep walking down the long corridor. The Mercy Colony was set up much like the wheel of a bicycle. Several long corridors shot off from the central command center, where Don, Wayne, and the other priests lived. The center of the colonies social life was also head there, food, shopping, recreation, the gravity centers for exercise. Shooting off the center hub, were spokes, each one leading to another habit building at its end. Each habit was keep self-sufficient from the others in the event of a critical event, such as an air pressure loss, fire, collapse, or some other catastrophic event. These events were rare, but only a month ago, at habit colony alpha c, the building housing a school, day care, and several other children’s centers exploded. The cause of the explosion was classified as an oxygen event, which is too much rich oxygen entered the habit and when a spark ignited the habit was destroyed. Don though knew the investigation was centered on something else, the habit was home to several mine operators children, and they all happened to be in school the day the habit was destroyed.
The outer habit units were connected by a series of tunnels intersecting the spokes at every quarter kilometer up their length from the central habit. These intersecting tunnels shortened distances and created various access points to the different habits. Don and Wayne could have taken the above ground Electrotrak, and while this option was much quicker, walking was always safer. The Electrotrak regularly froze in the extreme temperatures of Mars atmosphere, and while it ran completely with magnetized rails and no friction, the build-up of dust on the magnetic rails could happen in seconds, and the trains were often stuck for hours exposed to the harsh Martian sky. Don had been stuck on the Electrotrak the week prior for 14 hours. The small cramped transportation trains very quickly became uncomfortable. Plus each train held enough atmosphere for only 24 hours. His rescue came in time, with no problem but his opinion of taking Electrotrak was well known, and he wouldn’t take it unless the need to travel quickly was urgent.
They passed several people on their way to the central habit. This evening an entertainment group was performing at the central coliseum, and it was reported to be a spectacle. Robots were going to re-enact a great battle fought in the city of Rio De Janeiro. People were still shocked by the children’s habit’s destruction, and many wore mourning colors of black. Some women wore black veils to conceal their faces as was considered proper during such a time of mourning. However, even though some of the “faithful” had called for an end to any festivities, Don knew that people needed a distraction from the horrible nature of the accident a week earlier. He would not attend the event, the robots, while impressive, never could impart to his sensibilities the emotional impact of the battles they re-enacted.
Wayne’s communication device beeped three times. Don looked at him, “Who is it?”
Wayne frowned and pulled out the device. “It’s the receiving habitat, the expats are arrived.”
“Damn,” Don swore softly under his breath, “Let’s get a move on.”
Wayne grabbed his arm, “Don, we’re only a half meter from the electrotrak access point to the receiving habitat. We need to grab it.” He looked into Don’s eyes.
Don sighed, shrugged off Wayne’s hand, “All right, but if this damn thing gets stuck I’m taking a month of your pay.”
Wayne grinned, “I personally over saw the maintenance last week after you were, um, stuck.”
Don’s piercing glanced melted Wayne’s smile. “I’m taking two months’ wages.” They broke into a quick jog, and found the door leading to electrotrak entrance. A guard was standing just behind it. Don flashed his id, and the guard nodded, and unlocked the door.
“Fathers, the next train arrives in two minutes.” The guard pushed a few buttons, and the short hallway leading up to the track was filling with pressurized air. “They’ve been running perfectly the last week. The dust storms have been limited to the eastern wing of the external habitat rings.” The door behind him made a hissing sound, “Area pressured sirs. To which habitat are you headed?”
Don ran his fingers through his hair, and then pulled his cap out of his belt and snuggly slipped it on his head. “We’re headed to the receiving habitat.”
The guard nodded, “Right, new pates coming in today.” He released the latch on the door, “Go ahead sirs. I’ll monitor the track, if there’s any issue I’ll personally make sure you get immediate help.” Don gave a withering glance, “Thanks son.”
Don and Wayne entered the corridor leading up to the Electrotrak. As they began their assent, the walls transitioned from stone to the re-enforced tempered glass. This gave them both the view of the area surrounding the habitat. It was nearly pitch black outside, save the glow of the habitat corridors siting just below ground, their ceiling windows indicating the lives beneath the soil. The corridors from this view appeared to be blinking off and on, but Don knew this was just the passing of people along their lengths, as the intelligent electric grid operated only in the presence of people. They heard the Electrotrak arrive above them, and they ran the last few feet. The small train stopped against the upper external hallway. As it did so, a small docking mechanism extended from the Electrotrak and attached to the upper habitat hallway door. The glass shook slightly as the upper door was applied with pressure. Slowly the door opened and the very cold Martian air rushed around their feet. They both held their breath and stepped into the train. The door, and then the docking door, closed behind them. The computerized female voice announced their departure and the train took off.
The g-force was balanced along the length the train, but Don still lost his footing and stumbled. Wayne grabbed his arm and held him upright, “You alright.” Don nodded and sank into a seat. There were several miners on the train. Don raised an eyebrow and jabbed Wayne in the leg with foot. Wayne glanced around the train, noticed the men and sat next to Don.
He leaned near Don’s ear, “I’m guessing they’re going to meet the expats too…..strange, I didn’t realize this group arriving already had family here.”
Don looked at the men seated near them. Their faces were marked with the pallor that every miner developed not having exposure to the solar lamps in the central habitat. They all sported beards, clothes that looked worn, and all had hard, dark eyes. Don nodded at one closest. “Evening, are you greeting the expatriates tonight?”
The man sat forward on the edge of his seat, “I am.” He appeared that he might rise up out of his seat, but then crossed his arms and sat back. Staring at Don without so much as a blink. Don reached across his waist with his right arm to make sure his weapon was still attached to his waist. He hoped his move was subtle.
“Do you know this group of exs?” Wayne asked the man, perhaps not noticing the seething hatred burning behind his pale skin, dark eyes.
The man slid his eyes off of Don’s face like a knife sliding across a sharpening stone. He looked at Wayne like he hadn’t noticed him on the train at all. “I know of them. I would think that you,” he swallowed like he was about to be sick, “priests would know of this group.” His eyes went back to Don.
Wayne again not noticing the man’s dangerous eyes probed again, “I’m sorry, I don’t know them,” he looked over at Don, “Do you?”
Don wished that Wayne would just be silent. “I know this group is a special group, from the leadership group assigned to Rome?” Don was shooting blindly, but he remembered Wayne mentioning that this was a group with whom he’d need to tow the line.
The man across from his nodded, or so Don thought. “Yes, they are faithful. Something few on Mars would know about.”
Wayne seemed to take exception, “Sir watch yourself, we are priests of Bishop West.”
The man didn’t look at Wayne, “I know who you are, you wear your uniforms like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Wayne stood up, “Sir, identify yourself!”
Don reached up from his seat, “Wayne,” he pulled Wayne back into his seat. “I’m sure this gentlemen meant no disrespect.” Don noticed the other miners sitting forward, a couple reaching into pockets. “Isn’t that right sir.”
The man glanced at Wayne, back to Don, and smiled, “Sirs, no disrespect.” His companions didn’t relax.
The Electrotrak slowed suddenly and then stopped. They all looked at door and saw they had arrived. The external compartment had already attached to the habitat building. The red lights above the door switched to green, and the doors pushed open with a great sigh. The miners on the train, like a single organism, stood at once and went to the door. All save the man staring at Don.
One of the standing miners called out, “Let’s go Ben, I don’t want to miss her!” the man called Ben never taking his eyes off Don stood, almost bowed, “I’m sure you’ll meet me again priest.” Then Ben stood quickly and exited.
Wayne sat for a minute in silence, then burst out, “Don, what the hell?”
Don slid his hand off his gun. “We were outnumbered, and I think those men would have liked nothing better than to have a go with a couple of priests.” Don stood, looking at his hands and noticed he was shaking. “Come on Wayne, let’s go greet these expatriates, it seems I should have read the roster before coming down here.” They stood and exited off the train.