Tales From the Red Planet

SYRTIS MAJOR, MAY 2088--The sun hung just above the cloudless western horizon, surrounded by a bright rosy glow. Two figures trailing long shadows were trudging toward a large, boxy vehicle with six soft, oversize wheels. One of the figures stopped and stared at the rapidly sinking sun. "What a spectacular sunset," she exclaimed. "Come on," her companion said, "we really need to get back before it gets too dark. We still have to do a checkout of the water production unit before we shut things down for the night. Besides, summer's over and tonight's low will be -140 F." The encroaching darkness began to reveal a dazzling panoply of stars overhead. One brilliant point of light above the fading glow outshone all the others. The young woman gazed at it for what seemed like an eternity to her companion. "Now what are you staring at?" he asked. "It's so blue, so beautiful, I can never get over it," she sighed, "someday I would really like to go there. ... All right, I'm coming."

The ride, as usual, was rough. Rocks, large and small, were strewn over the arid landscape from horizon to horizon, so their vehicle could not move very fast. After a brief silence, the young woman spoke, "Scott, I just couldn't help gazing at Earth in the twilight sky. You know that I was born here, the first of the native Martians, and that I've spent all of my 15 Mars years here--that's more than 28 Earth years! Sure, I've seen the holo-videos and done the virtual reality visits, but I really crave to be there in person. I want to actually feel the ocean breezes and smell the forests, I want to walk around outdoors, barefoot and without this clumsy space suit and helmet. I've got to go there someday. Do you think they'll ever let me off this rusty, dried-up excuse for a planet?"

The vehicle lurched over a large boulder. "Liz, you know I was the last temp sent from Earth three Mars years ago, just before the Great Economic Collapse. I'm still here; so are many other temps. Nobody is going anywhere and you know it. Nearly a third of the people on Earth are starving; the last thing they need back there is to have to deal with us."

"I know, I know," Liz sighed, "at least we're OK here, I guess. Our three bases have plenty of renewable air, food, and water, we have lots of energy thanks to the fusion breakthrough, and everyone is healthy. I suppose if things continue to go well for us here, some day our colony will transform all of Mars into a second Earth." As she spoke they neared one of the dozens of large, metallic, igloo-shaped, interconnected structures that formed Base Syrtis 1. The vehicle deftly maneuvered itself into perfect alignment and mated its airlock to the structure's docking port with a click and a hiss.

"Mommy, Mommy, I'm so glad you're back!," shrieked the little girl as she ran toward Liz and gave her a big hug. "I love you, Mommy! Can I go with you tomorrow to see your big crater, please, please?" Liz held her daughter tightly, "Oh, Jenny, I really want to show you my crater, but it's still too dangerous for you to visit. Where's Dad?" "Daddy's in the virtual holo-room. He's watching the Huskies beating Stanford in the Final Four! Wanna watch too?"--Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Adam Bruckner

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