FROM PHOBOS TO MARS
Earth is in trouble, but after a daring escape to a remote outpost on Mars, Dr. Lirren Lamar finds herself facing more than her appointed role to help feed a small colony. Aided by her boyfriend Xanders, and her prodigy son, it's not easy to survive on Mars or explain the stolen genetic mutant crop seeds that she brought with her - much less handle the politics.
With an international campaign to safeguard the Colonial site from acute overpopulation, it becomes clear that the U.S. Martian Colony is ruled with an iron fist by the military, wrestling between peace and prosperity, secrecy and power.
Together they play a defining role for human survival, but Lirren's idealism and rebellious regard to authority has unexpected consequences giving her a quick introduction to the rules there. It's not long before a cunning intelligence officer decides he wants her for himself, and Xanders must fight for her.
Complete with a daring E.V.A. rescue in outer space, a space elevator, drones, and an unpredictable Russian space tycoon, Logan may hold the secrets people are willing to kill for. But as human life hangs in the balance between the two planets, Lirren, Xanders, and Logan will have to use all of their strength to prevail in this astonishing adventure.
The labor shortage that will exist on Mars will function in much the same way as the labor shortage did in nineteenth-century America; driving not only technological but social innovation, increasing pay and public education, and in every way setting a new standard for a higher form of humanist civilization. Martian settlers, building new cities, defining new laws and customs, and ultimately transforming their planet will know sensuously, and prove to all outside observers, that human beings are the makers of their world, and not merely its inhabitants. By doing so they will reaffirm in the most powerful way possible the humanist notion of the dignity and value of mankind.
– Robert Zubrin, “Mars beckons,” The Case For Colonizing Mars
U.S. Mars Outpost 1
FIRST DAY ON MARS
Wednesday, November 18, 2205
“The bosses asked, ‘Do you think you and your guys are ready?’” Armstrong recalled. “I said it’d be nice to have another month, but we’re in a race here and we had to take the opportunity when we had it. I had to say we are ready, we are ready to go.”
– Neil Armstrong, May 25, 2012
Inside a standard Ship-to-Surface aircraft named Aries, Lirren Lamaar, a thirty-six-year-old agricultural engineer and her boyfriend Xanders Pierson, the chief technology officer for the commercial space-flight company XWing, headed to the U.S. Mars Outpost. Strategically placed in the warmest area possible, the equator, at 23.1° South and 10.2° West in the Margaritifer Sinus quadrangle, the U.S. Colony was situated deliberately in a low-lying, flat area between Parana Valles and Loire Vallis, where it drew an unlimited water supply from a once-frozen spring.
Though Mars was still far from hospitable, the one-hundred-year terraforming process had increased the atmospheric pressure and temperature to levels high enough for survival outside the city, as long as someone wore a component based terrestrial suit, or Coat, a lighter weight version of a full pressure suit.
The ship’s sleek, dark cabin held thirty-two seats, which were grouped in fours and had facing pairs on each side, each pair centered by a narrow aisle. The newly acquired passengers had boarded the small shuttle from a larger transport, named the Demetrius, which was still orbiting around Mars before returning to Earth.
Covered in an advanced metallic heat shield, the passenger shuttle turned toward the full majesty of Mars. The planet filled a view window, looking like a giant red marble. Lirren sat by the proximity of the planet in awe and noticed the closest moon, Phobos, circling nearby against a sea of stars. It was incredible, she thought as they flew past the moon, that her son Logan was safely tucked away on a base there.
“Fear and panic,” Xanders muttered from his seat next to her.
“I’m okay, thanks.” She glanced his way. She knew it was clear she was not enjoying the ride. Just then the ship hit another stomach-churning bump.
“No, I meant the names of the moons—Phobos and Diemos—mean fear and panic.”
Lirren narrowed her eyes at Xanders. “Thanks for the information.”
Xanders caught her glare but held her hand tightly for support. Half-closing his eyes, he yawned. As he rested his head firmly against the back of his seat, Lirren realized there was no mistaking how easily he was adjusting to this new environment, already, like the most contented snail in his shell. Apparently, he found the ship’s vibrations soothing, and he was completely at home.
The remaining passengers, including Lirren, seemed to feel a fraction less content—the interior of the small shuttle made very little concessions for passenger comfort. It was bleak, icy, and cramped; they sat strapped down uncomfortably in their seats, the expressions on their faces accurately depicting their apprehension. Xanders looked relaxed as he began to read a lit book, which hovered in a projection before him at a comfortable reading distance. Although he’d never been a passenger himself, for over five years as Chief Technology Officer of XWing, he’d been personally responsible for their space transportation programs. XWing was currently the largest commercial space-flight company on Earth and played a pivotal role in bringing cargo and supplies to Mars. Xanders’ specialty was high-payoff technologies.
Not long ago, Lirren’s magnetosphere inventions had become a source of interest to Xanders in terms of how they could be used on Mars; or, to be more exact, she had become a source of interest to him. To think it had led them here was hard for her to believe sometimes, but Logan had come too, abandoning a dying Earth.
Two men jostled in the seats directly across from them, stirring her from her thoughts. Lirren turned her attention away from Xanders and glanced at the two men in front of her. Huddled in those two seats, Lirren reflected, were probably the most miserable men she’d ever seen. Like she had done earlier, they had their eyes clamped shut and their hands tightly wrapped around the armrests. She knew they were innovative architects who had chosen to come to Mars to supervise construction of the personal living spaces called Habitats. The younger of the two men, named Quenton, had described Habs to Lirren as simple, small, and comfortable structures created from printers, with the extra comforts of home. Certain materials, however had been carried here one shipment at a time. Lirren had listened carefully as he had explained how these living spaces also protected Colonists from dust storms and peaks in radiation. She was also acutely aware of the fact that the architects’ presence on Mars would perhaps be just as important as the Hab designs themselves. It was satisfying to think that someone, or something, was bringing an amazing amount of diversity to Mars now. Not just scientists like herself, but artists—the right-brainers, the creative thinkers—were coming too. Besides the small group of rowdy air force officers seated in the back of the shuttle, she counted several other scientists, two doctors, three journalists, two architects, and four engineers aboard.
Xanders, was in a class of his own. He had told her that before coming to XWing he had been a DS agent for the U.S. State Department. Initially, Lirren had understood his role had been to protect diplomats, but she soon discovered, she had only scratched the surface. Considered a member of the Foreign Service, in his former unique position, Xanders could also have been involved in a nexus of other dangerous responsibilities, including counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and counterespionage, to name a few.
Understandably, Xanders was tight-lipped and seldom brought up details about his past assignments with the government to Lirren or anyone else. Curious, she had openly asked about his past before XWing, but there were many details of his past assignments he couldn’t share with her. Not because he was being secretive, but because most of the information was still tied to national security and protecting sources. He was more than happy to tell her, though, that he had stopped enjoying the overseas lifestyle required of DS agents and had thought about settling down before changing careers with XWing.
However, after they had started their journey to Mars, Xanders had a heart-to-heart with Lirren, revealing he had originally quit his job as a DS agent after being hired to investigate XWing’s secretive operations hidden from normal government oversight—an investigation in which he uncovered more than he bargained for. When he finally understood Mars was a necessity, and not just a good concept, he realized he could help. Discovering just how many rich and powerful people were practically begging XWing for a pass to Mars must have been a shock to him. Looking into the drastic measures XWing and other space flight companies made to accommodate the growing list, it must have been impossible to ignore the link between his investigation and the alarming data he uncovered about the cataclysmic climate shifts taking place on Earth. He knew it was more than just a coincidence. That part was loud and clear between the two of them now.
As for the rest, his sudden leap of interest in Mars and XWing had had to do with a keen interest in space flight. With his own escape in mind, Xanders had spent five years carefully leveraging his position inside XWing by managing key programs in advanced technologies. Meeting Lirren hadn’t been part of the plan, but they were bound to meet head-on when XWing and the USDA made arrangements to take Lirren’s magnetosphere technology to Mars. Just a few months later after their friendship began, they fell into a romantic relationship, tangled in a web of secrecy over the Top Secret project. Understanding the lengths that Lirren and other scientists experienced to save the Earth’s food supply must have been the last push Xanders needed to finalize his plans—his own mission exit, revised to include her and her son. She could only imagine the inner turmoil going through his head before he told her about everything. It had all come to a head one day, at the last minute before the XWing getaway shuttle had left Vandenberg.
As the ship began to lurch its way through the stratosphere, her train of thought ended. The ship’s mild acceleration had been barely noticeable for the first half of the trip, but now as they reached Mars’ thin atmosphere it was getting rougher and potentially dangerous. The captain came over the intercom to make a short announcement about the turbulence: “Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your seatbelts fastened as we do a belly flop through the atmosphere.”
Lirren felt a jolt of fear rip through her body as the reality of the moment kick in—this was now the point of no return. Her jaw muscles clenched tightly and her knuckles turned white as she gripped her seat’s armrests. The other passengers all fell silent as the ship jarred her way through the atmosphere. The ship lurched down again so fast it left Lirren’s stomach behind.
“I’m gonna be sick,” someone spoke into his com-set.
Lirren turned her head, looking in the direction of the voice. It was coming from the heavy-set journalist named McLean, who was anything but lean. Seated on the left side of the airship, he was facing the cockpit, along with two female colleagues.
The other passengers looked on anxiously as McLean began grabbing for a sick bag.
“Sick,” he repeated.
Xanders was staring, but Lirren quickly pulled her hand up to block her peripheral vision. “Great Space, don’t look,” she said.
Xanders ignored her and continued to stare blatantly for a few more seconds.
“Guess who’s gonna lose his dinner,” one of the privates chimed in, speaking in a low voice through his com-set.
“Yeah, and we’re all going to be wearing it when gravity kicks in,” another voice added sarcastically.
“Knock it off.” The unit leader cut them off, annoyed.
Uneasily, Lirren and Xanders looked over at the journalist, who had jammed the bag to his mouth. So far, he was just breathing into it.
“We’ll be out of the worst soon,” Xanders said assuredly to Lirren. He understood space travel was both new and terrifying to most of the passengers. He closed his eyes, surely thinking about the next few busy days of life on Mars, but Lirren and the others fought fear and nausea.
Lirren shut her eyes tightly and then opened them again, this time studying every detail of her surroundings to keep her mind off the landing. She looked down at the thick, X-shaped seatbelt that was clamped over her chest and holding her fast to the seat. The extremely tight suits she and the other passengers wore were a thick, dark-gray color. The Coats provided air flow and a protective layer of tightly woven fabric around their wearers’ bodies. For now, the suits also served as back-up in case they lost cabin pressure, an event she hoped would never happen. Arrays of gray lines weaved their way across her suit, giving it an almost quilted look; however, she knew the quilting was not made up of threads, but included small lines through which air pressure was maintained. Her matching, lightweight boots with dark black trim and rubber soles reached comfortably to her knees. Bright-yellow trim ran down the sides of her neck to the back and under her forearms. Two thin lines also ran up the sides of her legs. On the left side of her left shoulder was the yellow and silver-gray XWing emblem.
“Xanders, I’m having déjà vu,” she exclaimed, looking at the suit and her surroundings.
“Was I in it too?” one of the young privates behind her asked.
“That would be a nightmare,” she retorted, smiling. A few of the privates began snickering again in their com-sets, but tiny brightly lit hologram videos flickered on in front of each passenger, rescuing her from further insidious banter. She and the other passengers watched the moving graphics while a smooth female voice explained the ship’s unusual landing protocol, and necessary precautions they needed to take before stepping out of the ship.
After the video ended, Lirren wondered again how her son Logan was doing on Phobos, the nearest moon. Several younger passengers, including Logan and Lirren’s close friend Dirk, had reluctantly agreed to stay on Phobos for a short time. Although Mars was expecting a handful of temporary specialists, and three permanent arrivals, Dirk had been an unexpected guest in the equation. Mars needed more time to complete additional living spaces. Because of his age and a dilemma over radiation levels, Logan would remain on Phobos, from four to six months. The gamma levels on Mars were a risk for everyone since they easily max out the limited lifetime rule of thumb if one wasn’t careful; in the worst-case scenario, exposure could cause genetic defects in the Colony’s descendants. Therefore, the Martian government had begun a quarantine for any new arrivals on the planet aged twenty or younger, or anyone considering pregnancy, remain on Phobos temporarily, until Mars’s maximum doses, known as mSvs, had reached a reduced and acceptable level. Lirren had been forced to keep in mind that it wasn’t just the risks they imposed upon themselves, but also the risks potentially imposed on her son and other young arrivals, and the severity of the consequences. Mars simply did not have the resources to treat pregnancy complications on base, and Phobos had far less risk of impact from the dangerous cosmic rays. Understanding the staged process had been difficult but she understood it was best for his protection. Logan would be sequestered away from the sun’s light on Phobos with its hidden base tucked deep inside.
Having just turned thirty-six, and Xanders at forty, the two easily made the cutoff, but saying good-bye to Logan on the XWing ship Demetrius, had been heartbreaking. Lirren and Xanders had boarded the shuttle to Mars, while Logan and Dirk took a different direction to station Phobos. Saying their goodbyes inside the Dem’s inner docking portals was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, and it had been the last time she saw her son. Logan had stood there, bravely looking back at her quietly in his own proud yet tender way. Something had hit her then, seeing him leave. Hiding her feelings, she had stood there and heard herself say, it was for the best and she’d see him soon. It was all she could manage without bursting into tears. Logan and Dirk had disappeared from view into the docking bay to Phobos.
One more bump hit the ship, jostling Lirren into the present. Another passenger’s tight, nervous voice cracked a joke that echoed from his quad seat, which was located somewhere behind Lirren and Xanders, as the spacecraft tumbled through the worst of the atmospheric entry.
“Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight,” a voice mocked back, coming through everyone’s headgear microphones.
“What are you doing?” Lirren heard another voice say.
“Praying for you, man,” another voice chimed in.
The men finally settled and said nothing more.
Eventually, the ship’s course smoothed out and Lirren could actually see the Colonies—the beacon of mankind, surrounded by the Colonists’ lights, just a few thousand feet below. She was expecting a thought-provoking announcement, but the captain made a small, rather anticlimactic comment about their pressure suits, and that was it.
“There it is!” Her comment sliced through the quiet cabin.
Xanders nodded in agreement and turned his head, craning his neck as best he could over her shoulder.
Following the captain’s instructions, Lirren, Xanders, and the other passengers prepared themselves by activating their suits’ protective pressure capabilities. Lirren pressed a lit button on her left outer cuff, which then glowed as it transitioned from red to green. She felt her elbows and knees stiffen as the suit tightened, just like a glove over her entire body. It suddenly struck her that, besides the suit, all she had with her was a small duffel bag that contained some undergarments, one sharp-looking interior lab garment, make-up, a hairbrush, and some personal hygiene supplies, all marked with XWing’s logo. Each passenger had a similar duffel bag.
When the ship finally touched ground, the crew members occupied themselves with disembarking procedures, giving the passengers a moment to unbuckle and prepare themselves for their first steps on the red planet. Soon after, someone behind them began speaking. “Thanks for choosing XWing. We have landed at Mars Colony 1, and the temperature outside is cold as hell. Please enjoy your visit.” The voice was full of sarcasm.
They were all standing by now, lined up to leave, and a few passengers chuckled nervously. Then the hatch opened, and they exited, one by one, down the ship’s small ramp onto the surface of the planet. The landing had kicked up clouds of sand, and a light, gusty wind whipped at their feet. Lirren gazed around, looking at the red sand hills everywhere. Security guards rushed forward toward them, directing them to the hanger.
She felt light, and she jumped to see what happened. Her legs and her steps felt effortless. She stopped and strained her eyes through her clear, protective shield to get a good look at her surroundings, peering back at her footprints in the red powdery sand. She shivered with a sheer sense of awe, not wanting to forget the moment she landed on Mars. It didn’t take her more than a few seconds to slide her visor back and test out the air. The cold hit her, and her chest heaved trying to inhale the strange thin air. She noticed Xanders had also done exactly the same thing while he walked down the ramp—apparently, he was just as curious about the geo-engineered atmosphere as she was. He walked in front of her and then stopped, looking back with a grin on his face. Lirren walked over and paused next to him, returning his smile. Simultaneously, they looked down at their footprints.
“Can you believe it?” he said, trying to catch his breath.
“No,” she said, gasping. It felt surreal. “I can’t... I can’t believe it.” The ordeal to get here was long. Against all probability, against all odds, they had come to survive on Mars.
“We shouldn’t do this long, it’s dangerous,” Xanders coughed feeling like his lungs were burning. He swiftly tapped their suit’s controls, and their shields glided back over their faces, snapping into place. She jerked her head back as oxygen shot though her suit again, but then breathed in the mixture appreciatively.
“How long can you breathe it?” she asked.
“A few minutes,” he warned. “Not enough oxygen, and still too much CO2.”
“Okay,” she said, already feeling her heart pound.
Xanders grabbed her gloved hand tightly and pulled her closer. The passengers walked forward, as they lagged behind. It was difficult to make out much beyond a few lights in the distance now. Another small security team appeared a few yards from the ship, waiting to lead them into an entranceway. It looked like there were two main landing pads: the one they had landed on and another a few hundred meters to the west.
“The landing pads are made of packed concrete—Mars concrete.” Xanders remarked with growing excitement.
He turned his head to Lirren from inside his shield for a moment, speaking in a lower voice.
“I meant to tell you there are a little more than a thousand people living at the U.S. Outpost. It’s almost thirty miles long and ten miles wide, and most of it is under your feet.”
“How many people are here then?” she asked sounding surprised. She looked ahead as they trailed behind the line of newcomers.
“About thirty-five hundred—five hundred or so are Independents.” He kept talking. “The other three colonies are nearby, about fifty miles apart from one another.”
“Independents?” she asked.
Xanders took a quick intake of his O2 and then spoke again “People who get here on their own—like our Russian friend, Zalesskii.”
Lirren nodded, soaking in the information. She was too beleaguered from the trip now to question the information bomb he had just dropped on her.
Shortly they stopped reaching the entrance. They saw multiple ships docked in the hangar and took in the quasi-military presence everywhere. Their group moved through the vast arena and went deeper inside the complex. They headed for a series of inner doorways, which led them through a low-ceilinged hallway.
Once inside, the small group waited for instructions as they entered the hall. “There’s air pressure here, but keep your pants on,” one of the guards joked a few seconds after the fact. They all stood patiently until a pressure door sliced shut behind them and another one in front of them opened so they could move forward into a fully pressured area. “We’re good now for air, follow me to the elevator, we’re going down,” the same man reported, hitting the suit control on his wrist. The rest of the group followed, releasing the tightened helmets from around their heads, pressing the suits tight pressure off again.
The suits relaxed, and Lirren breathed in deeply. She tucked her helmet under one arm and pulled her hair out from behind her neck feeling more comfortable.
Xanders did the same and continued speaking to her in soft undertones. “Some of these people are here to process Deuterium. XWing also brings them here.”
“Deuterium?” she asked.
Crowded in with them on a large elevator, a tall, dark-haired engineer who had been on their flight eagerly joined in the conversation. “It’s a heavy isotope of hydrogen. A milliliter of liquid Deuterium is as much energy as 20 tons of coal,” he explained. “We isolate it here using a chemical process to power the fusion reactors. Mars has five times as much as Earth so it makes sense to create it here.”
“Interesting,” Lirren smiled back at the engineer.
The engineer smiled back flirtatiously at the beautiful woman.
Xanders frowned, and Lirren smiled again, somewhat childishly enjoying the attention.
The lighting remained dim until their elevator stopped and they found themselves walking through a hallway with gleaming lit floors, each complete with a giant Air Force emblem. A metal entryway sliced open, allowing them to enter a spacious meet-and-greet room that had a tall twenty-foot ceiling. Along one wall, directly facing them, was a floor-to-ceiling projection of a large U.S. flag waving in the wind. In the center of the room, a dozen people looked prepared to process their arrival. One side of the room had long tables stacked with various supplies, clothing, and equipment, which Lirren supposed would be handed out to the new arrivals.
As her group came further into the room, Lirren overheard two men chatting with the shuttle captain. The captain was nodding. He had a concerned look on his face and his arms were crossed. While she was just in earshot, Lirren overheard him mention the recent fiasco between XWing and the Kosmos, but the captain looked up, saw her, and quickly changed the subject.
Lirren and her group continued forward into the room, where mixed voices were conversing in hushed sounds. Lirren overheard that the Colony’s core group of sixty trained policemen was not nearly enough to be effective.
Suddenly, a voice called out. “Xanders!”
Xanders dropped his duffel bag on the ground and turned around to a man Lirren didn’t know. The two men hugged, slapping each other on the back.
“We made it.” Xanders smiled, with relief in his voice.
“Yes. And this must be Lirren?” The stranger looked at the attractive, dark-haired woman standing beside Xanders.
“Yes. Lirren, this is one of XWing’s pilots, Captain Ladd. Kelvin, this is Lirren.”
Lirren looked up at Kelvin, a tall, thin man who hovered nearly two inches over Xanders. He was thirty years old, maybe, with a thick mop of white-blond hair and intense, light-blue eyes.
“Pleased to meet you, Kelvin,” Lirren responded.
Kelvin smiled back to her, courteously.
“When did you get in?” Xanders asked him.
“Just now, on the Danos. I’m still on reserve, so they have me commuting all the time when they need me. I crash here on base most of the time now,” Kelvin explained. “I’m glad I wasn’t flying the Demetrius with you two on it,” he half-joked, winking at Lirren. “I heard about your run-in with the X5.”
“I’m sure Freeburg will fill you in,” Xanders said cautiously. “He told me he’s scheduled for a debriefing about what happened, but he’s stationed here for a few weeks to get some R & R before flying back to Earth.”
Kelvin nodded his head in understanding. “Well, good luck tomorrow. I hope we’ll run into each other soon.” He smiled again at Lirren, and slipped away to join some of the other pilots, who were grouped together.
Dressed in uniform, an officer stepped forward and made an announcement. “Welcome to Mars, everyone. I’m Major Hanno. I know you’re all tired, so I’ll make this as short as possible. Tonight you’ll be checking in to our transient guest quarters on base. You’ll be divided between two lodging facilities, either Dragon Hill or Falcon Halls for the evening. All of our guest quarters have comfortable beds, and private baths, with Com, but they are not equipped for food. Enlisted members at the rank of E-6 and below will check into Dragon Hill. Senior enlisted members at E-7 and above, officers, and civilians will all check in at Falcon Hall. Dragon Hill accommodates three or four persons to a room. Falcon Hall is two to a room.”
Xanders shot her a smile after the comment. He was obviously pleased the two-person Falcon Hall would be for them.
“Don’t get any ideas,” whispered Lirren. She turned her dark-brown eyes away from his green and brown eyed stare. He continued smiling, but Lirren ignored him.
“For your benefit,” Major Hanno continued, “we are providing an iD for each of you that contains your identification, your travel orders, and a Colony map. Your iD also has other important information regarding personal and social activities, housing and transportation, and problems related to adjustment and orientation.”
A few men began mumbling.
“What about food?” a voice called out.
“There’s a snack exchange at Phoenix Hall, which is situated between the two barracks. You can get anything you need there as soon as you get settled in. We have plenty—but keep in mind, food is somewhat rationed here. Take all you want, but eat all you take,” he added firmly.
“What about tomorrow?” someone called out.
“Your permanent living spaces, called Habs, are fully furnished and equipped with com, plumbing, power, food, and hot water.” Major Hanno paused and made eye contact with the enlisted men, who looked like hungry wolves. “As you exit, to your right, each of you will be handed a few basic provisions you’ll need to take with you to the Habs. Tomorrow, you’ll wear the Coats you have on, but once you arrive, you’ll find two more suits for each of you. One is called a Breather for outdoor excursions, and the other is a Heavy, to weigh you down at all times underground. Coats are adaptable and work with both. You’ll also find some specialized undergarments that weigh you down and keep you warm once inside. You’ll be briefed and given more information about daily exercise and suit protection soon.”
He paused again, looking around at the group. “All enlisted will stay and work inside the command center here. Those of you who are VIPs will be moved into different sectors, according to your specialties. Sectors One through Six are government liaison, communications, engineering, power/terraforming, surveying, and mining. Most of you will go to Sectors Seven, Eight, or Nine. Seven is our agriculture department; Sector Eight is planning and control, which includes art and architecture; and Nine is our medical complex and hospital. Ten is commerce and banking. We also have one church.”
A few men, whom Lirren assumed were miners, began asking questions, but the major interrupted them. “Anyone with Goldwater Mining should have been notified that you’ll be moving thirty klicks west of this base to the outer Valles region. Your iD’s have that information stored in them as well.
“Now if you’ll excuse me.” Major Hanno saluted the enlisted men, quietly walked away from the group, and began busying himself with a small military security crew, the members of which had been waiting patiently to speak with him.
Another man stepped forward into the major’s place, urging them to grab their supplies at the table. As they began moving, a woman approached Lirren and passed an iD into her hand. The woman moved down the line of new Colonists and passengers, quickly handing everyone a state-of-the-art interface device.
Xanders examined his tiny, white hand-held computer that contained everything from communication to identity. “Looks like we’re really here to stay now.” He raised his iD to show Lirren its clock, which was glowing with two sets of numbers, one in blue and one in red. “The blue must be Earth time, and the red must be Mars time.” The red numerals read 24:22:31. “That’s solar time, Lirren. Mars has an extra thirty-nine minutes a day.”
“We’re in the extra minutes now,” Xanders whispered back. Their eyes locked for a moment on the red numbers and then they looked back at each other. They both stood there, mystified by the change in time, but the luxury of the moment was cut short. Some colonists divided into small groups, separating them from the enlisted men and the other passengers they didn’t know, to line up at the tables. Lirren and Xanders wearily grabbed their new duffel bags, which were filled with more clothing and supplies, and followed their group over to Falcon Hall.
As soon they got to their quarters, they threw their four bags down and peeled off their suits.
“Two small beds. It figures,” Xanders grumbled. His mood picked up, though, when he found a hot shower with real water instead of the hot steam to which they’d grown accustomed.
In turns, they both showered and changed into some fresh, soft undergarment greys.
“I’m starved,” Lirren said.
Xanders nodded, donning part of a heavy-looking vest and boots. “I’ll find something and bring it back,” he said.
As he pressed the door’s button to exit, Lirren sat down contently on one of the small beds with her newly discovered Dry-comb.
“Does that thing cut and color?” He eyed it curiously as she gently pulled it through her hair.
“Yes, I think so.” She pressed a small button on the device and a small twist of her long hair turned a deep, dark, shiny purple.
“Like it?” she asked.
“No.” He smiled. “Don’t cut your hair either, I hate that.”
Lirren cast a warning glance at Xanders as he slipped out the door, but did what he asked and kept her hair long, leaving only the small purple highlight. While she waited for his return, she scanned some of the Mars policies on her iD. She scrolled through the lit, three-dimensional files that could be projected on any flat surface, even on a hand, if needed. She quickly scanned page after page of information, but slowed down when she saw a section about formal planet exit policies and procedures. It seemed the Colony had a “return migration” process for anyone wishing to go back to Earth. Lirren sucked in a heavy breath, feeling a chill. She was definitely getting a more unpleasant impression of the colony already and some of the more unpromising rules about living here. It seemed certain transportation companies involved with the station offered returns openly, but it was strongly discouraged unless it was for a medical emergency. Depending on your reasons and who you were, Lirren thought, round trip tickets were going to be hard to come by.
Xanders returned shortly with two hot coffees and assorted shapes and sizes of silvery, vitamin-packaged meals.
“Those look familiar.” She smiled.
“Yeah, I bet,” he said, as the door slid shut behind him. As he knew, she had helped develop the vitamin-charged meals for the USDA after the food-supply shortage on Earth had begun over ten years earlier. Two of the food Paks he offered her were decent-tasting, soy-based meals.
Lirren and Xanders ripped open the sleek, silvery paks hungrily and ate everything using the built-in utensils. They also began heeding certain motions that could send a fork or cup flying off their dining table. Everything felt odd and their bodies behaved somewhat differently in the lighter-than-normal gravity. Lirren wrapped her hands around her warm cup and gulped the hot coffee down thankfully.
“I saw a number of people confiscating extra sweet Paks,” Xanders said. “Take all you want, but eat all you take,” he repeated, smiling at Lirren.
“Uh huh,” she said as she continued eating.
“What does the information say?” he asked, while they continued chewing.
“Says in big letters, Welcome to Mars Colony One. After that it’s mostly safety and policies.” She took a delicate bite of food thoughtfully. “There’s a section about how to use our new iDs to call each other here, even Phobos, but we can’t call people on Earth. If we want to contact friends or family on Earth, we have to make a call that’s monitored through a communications center.” She paused. “There’s so many rules and regulations here it makes me feel trapped, like a prisoner.”
Xanders listened, saying nothing at first. “What do you mean Lirren? You’re overreacting to a few rules. Of course we’re not prisoners, but I can’t see a very good reason to go back. Ever. Are you having doubts already?”
“No.” She shook her head. “After nearly dying in those earthquakes with the rest of California’s citizens, I know we made the right choice.”
“I know it was risky, but I wouldn’t have brought you and Logan here if I didn’t really think it had become safer than Earth.”
“I know, Xanders. It just feels like,” she paused, “we abandoned everyone there, like we jumped ship or something.”
He lay on his bed, stretched his head against his outstretched arms, and thought for a minute.
“We did what we had to in order to survive. Don’t feel bad about it.” He looked over at her while she thought about his answer.
They finished eating, and Xanders began muttering something about a lack of romance in their small room.
“A lifeship,” he heard her mumble as she lay down.
“Lights off” he commanded.
Their heads hit the inflated pillows, and they fell asleep.
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