/ Language: English / Genre:sf_space / Series: Mars

Green Mars

Kim Robinson

Green Mars

by Kim Stanley Robinson



The point is not to make another Earth. Not another Alaska or Tibet, not a Vermont nor a Venice, not even an Antarctica. The point is to make something new and strange, something Martian.

In a sense our intentions don’t even matter. Even if we try to make another Siberia or Sahara, it won’t work. Evolution won’t allow it, and at its heart this is an evolutionary process, an endeavor driven at a level below intention, as when life made its first miracle leap out of matter, or when it crawled out of sea onto land.

Again we struggle in the matrix of a new world, this time truly alien. Despite the great long glaciers left by the giant floods of 2061, it is a very arid world; despite the beginnings of atmosphere creation, the air is still very thin; despite all the applications of heat, the average temperature is still well below freezing. All these conditions makesurvival for living things difficult in the extreme. But life is tough and adaptable, it is the green force viriditas, pushing into the universe. In the decade following the catastrophes of 2061, people struggled in the cracked domes and torn tents, patching things up and getting by; and in our hidden refuges, the work of building a new society went on. And out on the cold surface new plants spread over the flanks of the glaciers, and down into the warm low basins, in a slow inexorable surge.

Of course all the genetic templates for our new biota are Terran; the minds designing them are Terran; but the terrain is Martian. And terrain is a powerful genetic engineer, determining what flourishes and what doesn’t, pushing along progressive differentiation, and thus the evolution of new species. And as the generations pass, all the members of a biosphere evolve together, adapting to their terrain in a complex communal response, a creative self-designing ability. This process, no matter how much we intervene in it, is essentially out of our control. Genes mutate, creatures evolve: a new biosphere emerges, and with it a new noosphere. And eventually the designers’ minds, along with everything else, have been forever changed.

This is the process of areoformation.

One day the sky fell. Plates of ice crashed into the lake, and then started thumping on the beach. The children scattered like frightened sandpipers. Nirgal ran over the dunes to the village and burst into the greenhouse, shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” Peter sprinted out the doors and across the dunes faster than Nirgal could follow.

Back on the beach great panes of ice stabbed the sand, and some chunks of dry ice fizzed in the water of the lake. When the children were all clumped around him Peter stood with his head craned back, staring at the dome so far above. “Back to the village,” he said in his no-nonsense tone. On the way there he laughed. “The sky is falling!” he squeaked, tousling Nirgal’s hair. Nirgal blushed and Dao and Jackie laughed, their frosted breath shooting out in quick white plumes.

Peter was one of those who climbed the side of the dome to repair it. He and Kasei and Michel spidered over the village in sight of all, over the beach and then the lake until they were smaller than children, hanging in slings from ropes attached to icehooks. They sprayed the flaw in the dome with water until it froze into a new clear layer, coating the white dry ice. When they came down they talked of the warming world outside. Hiroko had emerged from her little bamboo stand by the lake to watch, and Nirgal said to her, “Will we have to leave?”

“We will always have to leave,” Hiroko said. “Nothing on Mars will last.”

But Nirgal liked it under the dome. In the morning he woke in his own round bamboo room, high in Creche Crescent, and ran down to the frosty dunes with Jackie and Rachel and Frantz and the other early risers. He saw Hiroko on the far shore, walking the beach like a dancer, floating over her own wet reflection. He wanted to go to her but it was time for school.

They went back to the village and crowded into the schoolhouse coatroom, hanging up their down jackets and standing with their blue hands stretched over the heating grate, waiting for the day’s teacher. It could be Dr. Robot and they would be bored senseless, counting his blinks like the seconds on the clock. It could be the Good Witch, old and ugly, and then they would be back outside building all day, exuberant with the joy of tools. Or it could be the Bad Witch, old and beautiful; and they would be stuck before their lecterns all morning trying to think in Russian, in danger of a rap on the hand if they giggled or fell asleep. The Bad Witch had silver hair and a fierce glare and a hooked nose, like the ospreys that lived in the pines by the lake. Nirgal was afraid of her.

So like the others he concealed his dismay as the school door opened and the Bad Witch walked in. But on this day she seemed tired, and let them out on time even though they had done poorly at arithmetic. Nirgal followed Jackie and Dao out of the schoolhouse and around the corner, into the alley between Creche Crescent and the back of the kitchen. Dao peed against the wall and Jackie pulled down her pants to show she could too, and just then the Bad Witch came around the comer. She pulled them all out of the alley by the arm, Nirgal and Jackie clutched together in one of her talons, and right out in the plaza she spanked Jackie while shouting furiously at the boys. “You two stay away from her! She’s your sister!” Jackie, crying and twisting to pull up her pants, saw Nirgal looking at her, and she tried to hit him and Maya with the same furious swing, and fell over bare-bottomed and howled.

* * *

It wasn’t true that Jackie was their sister. There were twelve sansei or third-generation children in Zygote, and they knew each other like brothers and sisters and many of them were, but not all. It was confusing and seldom discussed. Jackie and Dao were the oldest, Nirgal a season younger, the rest bunched a season after that: Rachel, Emily, Reull, Steve, Simud, Nanedi, Tiu, Frantz, and Huo Hsing. Hiroko was mother to everyone in Zygote, but not really — only to Nirgal and Dao and six other of the sansei, and several of the nisei grownups as well. Children of the mother goddess.

But Jackie was Esther’s daughter. Esther had moved away after a fight with Kasei, who was Jackie’s father. Not many of them knew who their fathers were. Once Nirgal had been crawling over a dune after a crab when Esther and Kasei had loomed overhead, Esther crying and Kasei shouting, “If you’re going to leave me then leave!” He had been crying too. He had a pink stone eyetooth. He too was a child of Hiroko’s; so Jackie was Hiroko’s granddaughter. That was how it worked. Jackie had long black hair and was the fastest runner in Zygote, except for Peter. Nirgal could run the longest, and sometimes ran around the lake three or four times in a row, just to do it, but Jackie was faster in the sprints. She laughed all the time. If Nirgal ever argued with her she would say, “All right Uncle Nirgie,” and laugh at him. She was his niece, although a season older. But not his sister.

The school door crashed open and there was Coyote, teacher for the day. Coyote traveled all over the world, and spent very little time in Zygote. It was a big day when he taught them. He led them around the village finding odd things to do, but all the time he made one of them read aloud, from books impossible to understand, written by philosophers, who were dead people. Bakunin, Nietzsche, Mao, Bookchin — these people’s comprehensible thoughts lay like unexpected pebbles on a long beach of gibberish. The stories Coyote had them read from the Odyssey or the Bible were easier to understand, though unsettling, as the people in them killed each other a lot and Hiroko said it was wrong. Coyote laughed at Hiroko and he often howled for no obvious reason as they read these gruesome tales, and asked them hard questions about what they had heard, and argued with them as if they knew what they were talking about, which was disconcerting. “What would you do? Why would you do that?” All the while teaching them how the Rickover’s fuel recycler worked, or making them check- the plunger hydraulics on the lake’s wave machine, until their hands went from blue to white, and their teeth chattered so much they couldn’t talk clearly. “You kids sure get cold easy,” he said. “All but Nirgal.”

Nirgal was good with cold. He knew intimately all its many stages, and he did not dislike the feel of it. People who disliked cold did not understand that one could adjust to it, that its bad effects could all be dealt with by a sufficient push from within. Nirgal was very familiar with heat as well. If you pushed heat out hard enough, then cold only became a sort of vivid shocking envelope in which you moved. And so cold’s ultimate effect was as a stimulant, making you want to run.

“Hey Nirgal, what’s the air temperature?”

“Two seventy-one.”

Coyote’s laugh was scary, an animal cackle that included all the noises anything could make. Different every time too. “Here, let’s stop the wave machine and see what the lake looks like flat.”

The water of the lake was always liquid, while the water ice coating the underside of the dome had to stay frozen. This explained most of their mesocosmic weather, as Sax put it, giving them their mists and sudden winds, their rain and fog and occasional snow. On this day the weather machine was almost silent, the big hemisphere of space under the dome nearly windless. With the wave machine turned off, the lake soon settled down to a round flat plate. The surface of the water became the same white color as the dome, but the lake bottom, covered by green algae, was still visible through the white sheen. So the lake was simultaneously pure white and dark green. On the far shore the dunes and scrub pines were reflected upside down in this two-toned water, as perfectly as in any mirror. Nirgal stared at the sight, entranced, everything falling away, nothing there but this pulsing green/white vision. He saw: there were two worlds, not one — two worlds in the same space, both visible, separate and different but collapsed together, so that they were visible as two only at certain angles. Push at vision’s envelope, push like one pushed against the envelope of cold: push.’ Such colors!..

“Mars to Nirgal, Mars to Nirgal!”

They laughed at him. He was always doing that, they told him. Going off. His friends were fond of him, he saw that in their faces.

Coyote broke chips of flat ice from the strand, then skipped them across the lake. All of them did the same, until the intersecting white-green ripples made the upside-down world shiver and dance. “Look at that!” Coyote shouted. Between throws he chanted, in his bouncing English that was like a perpetual song: “You kids are living the best lives in history, most people just fluid in the great world machine, and here you’re in on the birth of a world! Unbelievable! But it’s pure luck you know, no credit to you, not until you do something with it, you could have been bom in a mansion, a jail, a shantytown in Port of Spain, but here you are in Zygote, the secret heart of Mars! ‘Course just now you’re down here like moles in a hole, with vultures above all ready to eat you, but the day is coming when you walk this planet free of every bond. You remember what I’m telling you, it’s prophecy my children! And meanwhile look how fine it is, this little ice paradise.”

He threw a chip straight ‘at the dome, and they all chanted Ice Paradise! Ice Paradise! Ice Paradise! until diey were helpless with laughter.

But that night Coyote spoke to Hiroko, when he thought no one was listening. “Roko you got to take those kids outside and show them the world. Even if it’s only under the fog hood. They’re like moles in a hole down here, for Christ’s sake.” Then he was gone again, who knew where, off on one of his mysterious journeys into that other world folded over them.

Some days Hiroko came into the village to teach them. These to Nirgal were the best days of all. She always took them down to the beach; and going to the beach with Hiroko was like being touched by a god. It was her world — the green world inside the white — and she knew everything about it, and when she was there the subtle pearly colors of sand and dome pulsed with both worlds’ colors at once, pulsed as if trying to break free of what held them. They sat on the dunes, watching the shore birds skitter and peep as they charged together up and down the strand. Gulls wheeled overhead and Hiroko asked them questions, her black eyes twinkling merrily. She lived by the lake with a small group of her intimates, Iwao, Rya, Gene, Evgenia, all in a little bamboo stand in the dunes. And she spent a lot of time visiting other hidden sanctuaries around the South Pole. So she always needed catching up on the village news. She was a slender woman, tall for one of the issei, as neat as the shore birds in her dress and her movement. She was old, of course, impossibly ancient like all the issei, but with something in her manner which made her seem younger than even Peter or Kasei — just a little bit older than the kids, in fact, with everything in the world new before her, pushing to break into all its colors.

“Look at the pattern this seashell makes. The dappled whorl, curving inward to infinity. That’s the shape of the universe itself. There’s a constant pressure, pushing toward pattern. A tendency in matter to evolve into ever more complex forms. It’s a kind of pattern gravity, a holy greening power we call viriditas, and it is the driving force in the cosmos. Life, you see. Like these sand fleas and limpets and krill — although these krill in particular are dead, and helping the fleas. Like all of us,” waving a hand like a dancer. “And because we are alive, the universe must be said to be alive. We are its consciousness as well as our own. We rise out of the cosmos and we see its mesh of patterns, and it strikes us as beautiful. And that feeling is the most important thing in all the universe — its culmination, like the color of the flower at first bloom on a wet morning. It’s a holy feeling, and our task in this world is to do everything we can to foster it. And one way to do that is to spread life everywhere. To aid it into existence where it was not before, as here on Mars.”

This to her was the supreme act of love, and when she talked about it, even if they didn’t fully understand, they felt the love. Another push, another kind of warmth in the envelope of cold. She touched them as she talked, and they dug for shells as they listened. “Mud clam! Antarctic limpet. Glass sponge, watch out, it can cut you.” It made Nirgal happy just to look at her.

And one morning, as they stood from their dig to do more beachcombing, she returned his gaze, and he recognized her expression — it was precisely the expression on his face when he looked at her, he could feel it in his muscles. So he made her happy too! Which was intoxicating.

He held her hand as they walked the beach. “It’s a simple ecology in some ways,” she said as they knelt to inspect another clam shell. “Not many species, and the food chains are short. But so rich. So beautiful.” She tested the temperature of the lake with her hand. “See the mist? The water must be warm today.”

By this time she and Nirgal were alone, the other kids running around the dunes or up and down the strand. Nirgal bent down to touch a wave as it stalled out next to their feet, leaving behind a white lace of foam. “It’s two seventy-five and a little over.”

“You’re so sure.”

“I can always tell.”

“Here,” she said, “do I have a fever?”

He reached up and held her neck. “No, you’re cool.”

“That’s right. I’m always about half a degree low. Vlad and Ursula can’t figure out why.”

“It’s because you’re happy.”

Hiroko laughed, looking just like Jackie, suffused with joy. “I love you, Nirgal.”

Inside he warmed as if a heating grate were in there. Half a degree at least. “And I love you.”

And they walked down the beach hand in hand, silently following the sandpipers.

Coyote returned, and Hiroko said to him, “Okay. Let’s take them outside.” .

And so the next morning when they met for school, Hiroko and Coyote and Peter led them through the locks and down the long white tunnel that connected the dome to the outside world. At its far end were located the hangar and the cliff gallery above it. They had run the gallery with Peter in the past, looking out the little polarized windows at the icy sand and the pink sky, trying to see the great wall of dry ice that they stood in — the south polar cap, the bottom of the world, which they lived in to escape the notice of people who would put them in jail.

Because of that they had always stayed inside the gallery. But on this day they went into the hangar locks and put on tight elastic jumpers, rolling up sleeves and legs; then heavy boots, and tight gloves, and finally helmets, with bubble windows on their front side. Getting more excited every moment, until the excitement became something very like fright, especially when Simud started crying and insisting she didn’t want to go. Hiroko calmed her with a long touch. “Come on. I’ll be there with you.”

They huddled together speechlessly as the adults herded them into the lock. There was a hissing noise, and then the outer door opened. Clutching the adults, they walked cautiously outside, bumping together as they moved.

It was too bright to see. They were in a swirling white mist. The ground was dotted with intricate ice flowers, all aglint in the bath of light. Nirgal was holding Hiroko and Coyote by the hand, and they propelled him forward and let go of his hands. He staggered in the onslaught of white glare. “This is the fog hood,” Hiroko’s voice said over an intercom in his ear. “It lasts through the winter. But now it’s Ls 205, springtime, when the green force pushes hardest through the world, fueled by the sun’s light. See it!”

He could see nothing but it: a white coalescing fireball. Sudden sunlight pierced this ball, transforming it into a spray of color, turning the frosty sand to shaved magnesium, the ice flowers to incandescent jewels. The wind pushed at his side and rent the fog; gaps in it appeared, and the land gaped off into the distance, making him reel. So big! So big — everything was so big — he went to one knee on the sand, put his hands on his other leg to keep his balance. The rocks and ice flowers around his boots glowed as if under a microscope. The rocks were dotted with round scales of black and green lichen.

Out on the horizon was a low flat-topped hill. A crater. There in the gravel was a rover track, nearly filled with frost, as if it had been there a million years. Pattern pulsing in the chaos of light and rock, green lichen pushing into the white…

Everyone was talking at once. The other children were beginning to race around giddily, shrieking with delight as the fog opened up and gave them a glimpse of the dark pink sky. Coyote was laughing hard. “They’re like winter calves let out of the bam in spring, look at them tripping, oh you poor dear things, ah ha ha, Roko this no way to make them live,” cackling as he lifted kids off the sand and set them on their feet again.

Nirgal stood, bounced experimentally. He felt he might float away, he was glad the boots were so heavy. There was a long mound, shoulder high, snaking away from the ice cliff. Jackie was walking its crest and he ran to join her, staggering at the incline, at the jumbled rock on the ground. He got onto the ridge and got into his running rhythm, and it felt as if he were flying, as if he could run forever.

He stood by her side. They looked back at the ice cliff, and shouted with a fearful joy; it rose up forever into the fog. A shaft of morning light poured over them like molten water. They turned away, unable to face it. Blinking away floods of tears, Nirgal saw his shadow cast against the fog scraping over the rocks below them. The shadow was surrounded by a bright circular band of rainbow light. He shouted loudly and Coyote raced up to them, his voice in Nirgal’s ear crying, “What’s wrong! What is it?”

He stopped when he saw the shadow. “Hey, it’s a glory! That’s called a glory. It’s like the Spectre of the Brocken. Wave your arms up and down! Look at the colors! Christ almighty, aren’t you the lucky ones.”

On an impulse Nirgal moved to Jackie’s side, and their glories merged, becoming a single nimbus of glowing rainbow colors, surrounding their blue double shadow. Jackie laughed with delight and’ went off to try it with Peter.

About a year laterNirgal and the other children began to figure out how to deal with the days when they were taught by Sax. He would start at the blackboard, sounding like a particularly characterless Al, and behind his back they would roll their eyes and make faces as he droned on about partial pressures or infrared rays. Then one of them would see an opening and begin the game. He was helpless before it. He would say something like, “In nonshiv-ering thermogenesis the body produces heat using futile cycles,” and one of them would raise a hand and say, “But why, Sax?” and everyone would stare hard at their lectern and not look at each other, while Sax would frown as if this had never happened before, and say, “Well, it creates heat without using as much energy as shivering does. The muscle proteins contract, but instead of grabbing they just slide over each other, and that creates the heat.” Jackie, so sincerely the whole class nearly lost it: “But how?” He was blinking now, so fast they almost exploded watching him. “Well, the amino acids in the proteins have broken covalent bonds, and the breaks release what is called bond dissociation energy.”

“But why?”

Blinking ever harder: “Well, that’s just a matter of physics.” He diagrammed vigorously on the blackboard: “Covalent bonds are formed when two atomic orbitals merge to form a single bond orbital, occupied by electrons from both atoms. Breaking the bond releases thirty to a hundred kcals of stored energy.”

Several of them asked, in chorus, “But why?”

This got him into subatomic physics, where the chain of whys and becauses could go on for a half hour without him ever once saying something they could understand. Finally they would sense they were near the end game. “But why?”

“Well,” going cross-eyed as he tried to backtrack, “atoms want to get to their stable number of electrons, and they’ll share electrons when they have to.”

“But why?”

Now he was looking trapped. “That’s just the way atoms bond. One of the ways.”

“But WHY?”

A shrug. “That’s how the atomic force works. That’s how things came out—”

And they all would shout, “in the Big Bang.”

They would howl with glee, and Sax’s forehead would knot up as he realized that they had done it to him again. He would sigh, and go back to where he had been when the game began. But every time they started it again, he never seemed to remember, as long as the initial why was plausible enough. And even when he did recognize what was happening, he seemed helpless to stop it. His only defense was to say, with a little frown, “Why what?” That slowed the game for a while; but then Nirgal and Jackie got clever at guessing what in any statement most deserved a why, and as long as they could do that, Sax seemed to feel it was his job to continue answering, right on up the chains of because to the Big Bang, or, every once in a while, to a muttered “We don’t know.”

“We don’t know!” the class would exclaim in mock dismay. “Why not?”

“It’s not explained,” he would say, frowning. “Not yet.”

And so the good mornings with Sax would pass; and both he and the kids seemed to agree that these were better than the bad mornings, when he would drone on uninterrupted, and protest “This is really a very important matter” as he turned from the blackboard and saw a crop of heads laid out snoring on the desktops.

* * *

One morning, thinking about Sax’s frown, Nirgal stayed behind in the school until he and Sax were the only ones left, and then he said, “Why don’t you like it when you can’t say why?”

The frown returned. After a long silence Sax said slowly, “I try to understand. I pay attention to things, you see, very closely. As closely as I can. Concentrating on the specificity of every moment. And I want to understand why it happens the way it does. I’m curious. And I think that everything happens for a reason. Everything. So, we should be able to tease these reasons out. When we can’t… well. I don’t like it. It vexes me. Sometimes I call it” — he glanced at Nirgal shyly, and Nirgal saw that he had never told this to anyone before— “I call it the Great Unexplainable.”

It was the white world, Nirgal saw suddenly. The white world inside the green, the opposite of Hiroko’s green world inside the white. And they had opposite feelings about them. Looking from the green side, when Hiroko confronted something mysterious, she loved it and it made her happy — it was viriditas, a holy power. Looking from the white side, when Sax confronted something mysterious, it was the Great Unexplainable, dangerous and awful. He was interested in the true, while Hiroko was interested in the real. Or perhaps it was the other way around — those words were tricky. Better to say she loved the green world, he the white.

“But yes!” Michel said when Nirgal mentioned this observation to him. “Very good, Nirgal. Your sight has such insight. In archetypal terminologies we might call green and white the Mystic and the Scientist. Both extremely powerful figures, as you see. But what we need, if you ask me, is a combination of the two, which we call the Alchemist.”

The green and the white.

Afternoons the children were free to do what they wanted, and sometimes they stayed with the day’s teacher, but more often they ran on the beach or played in the village, which lay nestled in its cluster of low hills, halfway between the lake and the tunnel entrance. They climbed the spiraling staircases of the big bamboo treehouses, and played hide and seek among the stacked rooms and the daughter shoots and the hanging bridges connecting them.

The bamboo dorms made a crescent which held most of the rest of the village inside it; each of the big shoots was five or seven segments high, each segment a room, getting smaller as they got higher. The children each had a room of their own in the top segments of the shoots — windowed vertical cylinders that were four or five steps across, like the towers of the castles in their stories. Below them in the middle segments the adults had their rooms, mostly alone but sometimes in couples; and the bottom segments were living rooms. From the windows of their top rooms they looked down on the village rooftops, clustered in the circle of hills and bamboo and greenhouses like mussels in the lake shallows.

On the beach they hunted shells or played German dodgeball, or shot arrows across the dunes into blocks of foam. Usually Jackie and Dao chose the games, and led the teams if there were teams. Nirgal and the younger ones followed them, cycling through their various friendships and hierarchies, which were honed endlessly in the daily play. As little Frantz once crudely explained it to Nadia, “Dao hits Nirgal; Nirgal hits me; I hit the girls.” Often Nirgal got tired of that game, which Dao always won, and for better fun he would take off running around the lake, slowly and steadily, falling into a rhythm which seemed to encompass everything in the world. He could circle the lake for as long as the day lasted when he got in that rhythm. It was a joy, an exhilaration, just to run and run and run and run…

Under the dome it was always cold, but the light was perpetually changing. In summer the dome glowed bluish white all the time, and pencils of lit air stood under the skylight shafts. In winter it was dark, and the dome flared with reflected lamplight, like the inside of a mussel shell. In spring and fall the light would dim in the afternoon to a gray and ghostly dusk, the colors only suggested by the many shades of gray, the bamboo leaves and pine needles all ink strokes against the faint white of the dome. In those hours the greenhouses were like big fairy lamps on the hills, and the kids would wander home crisscrossing like gulls, and head for the bathhouse. There in the long building beside the kitchen they would pull off their clothes and run into the steamy clangor of the big main bath, sliding around on the bottom tiles feeling heat buzz back into their hands and feet and faces, as they splashed friskily around the soaking ancients with their turtle faces and their wrinkled hairy bodies.

After that warm wet hour they dressed, and trooped into the kitchen, damp and pink-skinned, queueing up and filling their plates, sitting at the long tables scattered among the adults. There were, 124 permanent residents, but usually about 200 people there at any given time. When everyone was seated they took up the water pitchers and poured each other’s water, and then they tore into the hot food with gusto, downing potatoes, tortillas, pasta, tabouli, bread, a hundred kinds of vegetables, occasionally fish or chicken. After the meal the adults would talk about crops or their Rickover, an old integral fast reactor they were very fond of, or about Earth — while the kids cleaned up and then played music for an hour and then games, as everyone began the slow process of falling asleep.

One day before dinner a group of twenty-two people arrived from around the polar cap. Their little dome had lost its ecosystem to what Hiroko called spiraling complex disequilibrium, and their reserves had run out. They needed sanctuary.

Hiroko put them in three of the newly mature treehouses. They climbed the staircases spiraling up the outsides of the fat round shoots, exclaiming at the cylindrical segments with their doors and windows cut into them. Hiroko put them to work finishing construction on new rooms, and building a new greenhouse at the edge of the village. It was obvious to all that Zygote was not growing as much food as they now needed. The kids ate as modestly as they could, imitating the adults. “Should have called the place Gamete,” Coyote said to Hiroko on his next time through, laughing harshly.

She only waved him away. But perhaps worry accounted for Hiroko’s more distant air. She spent all her days in the greenhouses at work, and seldom taught the children anymore. When she did they only followed her around and worked for her, harvesting or turning compost or weeding. “She doesn’t care about us,” Dao said angrily one afternoon as they walked down the beach. He directed his complaint at Nirgal. “She isn’t really our mother anyway.” He led them all to the labs by the tunnel hill greenhouse, chivvying them along as he could so well.

Inside he pointed to a row of fat magnesium tanks, something like refrigerators. “Those are our mothers. That’s what we were grown inside. Kasei told me, and I asked Hiroko and it’s true. We’re ectogenes. We weren’t bom, we were decanted.” He glared triumphantly at his frightened, fascinated little band; then he struck Nir-gal full on the chest with his fist, knocking Nirgal clear across the lab, and left with a curse. “We don’t have parents.”

Extra visitors were a burden now, but still when they came there was a lot of excitement, and many people stayed up most of the first night of a visit, talking, getting all the news they could of the other sanctuaries. There was a whole network of these in the south polar region; Nirgal had a map in his lectern, with red dots to show all thirty-four. And Nadia and Hiroko guessed that there were more, in other networks to the north, or in complete isolation. But as they all kept radio silence, there was no way to be sure. So news was at a premium — it was usually the most precious thing that visitors had, even if they came laden with gifts, which they usually did, giving out whatever they had managed to make or obtain that their hosts would find useful.

During these visits Nirgal would listen hard to the nights’ long animated conversations, sitting on the floor or wandering and re-’ filling people’s teacups. He felt acutely that he did not understand the rules of the world; it was inexplicable to him why people acted as they did. Of course he did understand the basic fact of the situation — that there were two sides, locked in a contest for control of Mars — that Zygote was the leader for the side that was right — and that eventually the areophany would triumph. It was a tremendous feeling to be involved in that struggle, to be a crucial part of the story, and it often left him sleepless when he dragged off to bed, his mind dancing through to dawn with visions of all he would contribute to this great drama, amazing Jackie and everyone else in Zygote.

Sometimes, in his desire to learn more, he even eavesdropped. He did it by lying on a couch in the comer and staring at a lectern, doodling or pretending to read. Quite often people elsewhere in the room didn’t realize he was listening, and sometimes they would even talk about the children of Zygote — mostly when he was actually skulking out in the hall.

“Have you noticed most of them are left-handed?”

“Hiroko tweaked their genes, I swear.”

“She says not.”

“They’re already almost as tall as I am.”

“That’s just the gravity. I mean look at Peter and the rest of the nisei. They’re natural-born, and they’re mostly tall. But the left-handedness, that’s got to be genetic.”

“Once she told me there was a simple transgenic insertion that would increase the size of the corpus callosum. Maybe she fooled with that and got the left-handedness as a side effect.”

“I thought left-handedness was caused by brain damage.”

“No one knows. I think even Hiroko is mystified by it.”

“I can’t believe she would mess with the chromosomes for brain development.”

“Ectogenes, remember — better access.”

“Their bone density is poor, I hear.”

“That’s right. They’d be in trouble on Earth. They’re on supplements to help.”

“That’s the g again. It’s trouble for all of us, really.”

“Tell me about it. I broke my forearm swinging a tennis racket.”

“Left-handed giant bird-people, that’s what we’re growing down here. It’s bizarre, if you ask me. You see them running across the dunes and expect them to just take off and fly.”

That night Nirgal had the usual trouble sleeping. Ectogenes, transgenic… it made him feel odd. White and green in their double helix… For hours he tossed, wondering what the uneasiness twisting through him meant, wondering what he should feel.

Finally, exhausted, he fell asleep. And in his sleep he had a dream. All his dreams before that night had been about Zygote, but now he dreamed that he flew in the air, over the surface of Mars. Vast red canyons cut the land, and volcanoes reared nearly to his unimaginable height. But something was after him, something much bigger and faster than him, with wings that flapped loudly as the creature dropped out of the sun, with huge talons that extended toward him. He pointed at this flying creature and bolts of lightning shot out of his fingertips, causing it to bank away. It was soaring up for another attack when he struggled awake, his fingers pulsing and his heart thumping like the wave machine, ka-thunk, ka-thunfe, ka-thunfe.

The very next afternoon the wave machine was waving too well, as Jackie put it. They were playing on the beach, and thought they had the big breakers gauged, but then a really big one surged over the ice filigree and knocked Nirgal to his knees, and pulled him back down the strand with an irresistible sucking. He struggled, gasping for air as he tumbled in the shockingly icy water, but he couldn’t escape and was pulled under, then rolled hard in the rush of the next incoming wave.

Jackie grabbed him by the arm and hair, pulled him back up the strand with her. Dao helped them to their feet, crying “Are you okay are you okay?” If they got wet the rule was to run for the village as fast as they could, so Nirgal and Jackie struggled to their feet and raced over the dunes and up the village path, the rest of the children trailing far behind. The wind cut to the bone. They ran straight to the bathhouse and burst through the doors and stripped off their stiff garments with shaking hands, helped by Nadia and Sax and Michel and Rya, who had been in there bathing.

As they were being hustled into the shallows of the big communal bath, Nirgal remembered his dream. He said, “Wait, wait.”

The others stopped, confused. He closed his eyes, held his breath. He clutched Jackie’s cold upper arm. He saw himself back into the dream, felt himself swimming through the sky. Heat from the fingertips. The white world in the green.

He searched for the spot in his middle that was always warm, even now when he was so cold. As long as he was alive it would be there. He found it, and with every breath he pushed it outward through his flesh. It was hard but he could feel it working, the warmth traveling out into his ribs like a fire, down his arms, down his legs, into his hands and feet. It was his left hand holding on to Jackie, and he glanced at her bare body with its white goose-pimpled skin, and concentrated on sending the heat into her. He was shivering slightly now, but not from the cold.

“You’re warm,” Jackie exclaimed.

“Feel it,” he said to her, and for a few moments she leaned into his grip. Then with an alarmed look she pulled free, and stepped down into the bath. Nirgal stood on the edge until his shivering stopped.

“Wow,” Nadia said. “That’s some kind of metabolic burn. I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never seen it.”

“Do you know how you do it?” Sax asked him. He and Nadia and Michel and Rya were staring at Nirgal with a curious expression, which he did not want to meet.

Nirgal shook his head. He sat down on the concrete coping of the bath, suddenly exhausted. He stuck his feet in the water, which felt like liquid flame. Fish in water, sloshing free, out in the air, the fire within, white in the green, alchemy, soaring with eagles… thunderbolts from his fingertips!

People looked at him. Even the Zygotes gave him sidelong looks, when he laughed or said something unusual, when they thought he wouldn’t see. It was easiest just to pretend he didn’t notice. But that was hard with the occasional visitors, who were more direct. “Oh, you’re Nirgal,” one short red-haired woman said. “I’ve heard you’re bright.” Nirgal, who was constantly crashing against the limits of his understanding, blushed and shook his head while the woman calmly surveyed him. She made her judgment and smiled and shook his hand. “I’m glad to meet you.”

One day when they were five Jackie brought an old lectern to school with her, on a day when Maya was teaching. Ignoring Maya’s glare, she showed it to the others. “This is my grandfather’s AI. It has a lot of what he said in it. Kasei gave it to me.” Kasei was leaving Zygote to move to one of the other sanctuaries. But not the one where Esther lived.

Jackie turned the lectern on. “Pauline, play back something my grandfather said.”

“Well, here we are,” said a man’s voice.

“No, something different. Play back something he said about the hidden colony.”

The man’s voice said, “The hidden colony must still have contacts with surface settlements. There’s too many things they can’t manufacture while hiding. Nuclear fuel rods for one, I should think. Those are controlled pretty well, and it could be that records would show where they’ve been disappearing.”

The voice stopped. Maya told Jackie to put the lectern away, and she started another history lesson, the nineteenth century told in’ Russian sentences so short and harsh that her voice shook. And then more algebra. Maya was very insistent that they learn their math well. “You’re getting a horrible education,” she would say, shaking her head darkly. “But if you learn your math you can catch up later.” And she would glare at them and demand the next answer.

Nirgal stared at her, remembering when she had been their Bad Witch. It would be strange to be her, so fierce sometimes and so cheerful others. With most of the people in Zygote, he could look at them and feel what it would be like to be them. He could see it in their faces, just as he could see the second color inside the first; it was that kind of gift, something like his hyperacute sense of temperature. But he didn’t understand Maya.

In the winter they made forays onto the surface, to the nearby crater where Nadia was building a shelter, and the dark ice-spangled dunes beyond. But when the fog hood lifted they had to stay under the dome, or at most go out to the window gallery. They weren’t to be seen from above. No one was sure if the police were still watching from space or not, but it was best to be safe. Or so the issei said. Peter was often away, and his travels had led him to believe that the hunt for hidden colonies must be over. And that the hunt was hopeless in any case. “There are resistance settlements that aren’t hiding at all. And there’s so much noise now thermally and visually, and even over the radio,” he said. “They could never check all the signals they’re getting.”

But Sax only said, “Algorithmic search programs are very effective,” and Maya insisted on keeping out of sight, and hardening their electronics, and sending all their excess heat deep into the heart of the polar cap. Hiroko agreed with Maya on this, and so they all complied. “It’s different for us,” Maya said to Peter, looking haunted.

There was a mohole, Sax told them one morning at school, about two hundred kilometers to the northwest. The cloud they sometimes saw in that direction was its plume — big and still on some days, on others whipping off east in thin tatters. The next time Coyote came through they asked him at dinner if he had visited it, and he told them that he had, and that the great shaft of the mohole penetrated to very near the center of Mars, and that its bottom was nothing but bubbling molten fiery lava.

“That’s not true,” Maya said dismissively. “They only go down ten or fifteen kilometers. Their floors are hard rock.”

“But hot rock,” Hiroko said. “And twenty kilometers now, I hear.”

“And so they do our work for us,” Maya complained to Hiroko. “Don’t you think we are parasites on the surface settlements? Your viriditas wouldn’t get far without their engineering.”

“It will prove to be a symbiosis,” Hiroko said calmly. She stared at Maya until Maya got up and walked away. Hiroko was the only one in Zygote who could stare Maya down.

Hiroko, Nirgal thought as he regarded his mother after this exchange, was very strange. She talked to him and to everyone else as an equal, and clearly to her everyone was an equal; but no one was special. He remembered very keenly when it had been different, when the two of them had been like two parts of a whole. But now she only took the same interest in him that she took in everyone else, her concern impersonal and distant. She would be the same no matter what happened to him, he thought. Nadia, or even Maya, cared for him more. And yet Hiroko was mother to them all. And Nirgal, like most of the rest of the regulars in Zygote, still went down to her little stand of bamboo when he was in need of something he couldn’t find from ordinary people — some solace, or advice…

But as often as not, when he did that he would find her and her little inner group “being silent,” and if he wanted to stay he would have to stop talking. Sometimes this lasted for days at a time, until he stopped dropping by. Then again he might arrive during the areophany, and be swept up in the ecstatic chanting of the names of Mars, becoming an integral part of that tight little band, right in the heart of the world, with Hiroko herself at his side, her arm around him, squeezing hard.

That was love of a sort, and he cherished it; but it was not as it had been in the old days, when they had walked the beach together.

*     *       *

One morning he went into the school and came on Jackie and Dao in the coatroom. They jumped as he entered, and by the time he had gotten his coat off and gone into the schoolroom he knew they had been kissing.

After school he circled the lake in the blue-white glow of a summer afternoon, watching the wave machine rise and pulse down, like the clamping sensations in his chest. Pain curved through him like the swells moving over the water. He couldn’t help it, even though it was ridiculous and he knew it. There was a lot of kissing going on among them these days in the bathhouse, as they splashed and tugged and pushed and tickled. The girls kissed each other and said it was “practice kissing” that didn’t count, and sometimes they turned this practice on the boys; Nirgal had been kissed by Rachel many times, and also by Emily and Tiu and Nanedi, and once the latter two had held him and kissed his ears in an attempt to embarrass him in the public bath with an erection; and once Jackie had pulled them away from him and knocked him into the deep end, and bit his shoulder as they wrestled; and these were just the most memorable of the hundreds of slippery wet warm naked contacts which were making the baths such a high point of the day.

But outside the bathhouse, as if to try to contain such volatile forces, they had become extremely formal with each other, with the boys and girls bunched in gangs that played separately more often than not. So kissing in the coatroom represented something new, and serious — and the look Nirgal had seen on Jackie and Dao’s faces was so superior, as if they knew something he didn’t — which was true. And it was that which hurt, that exclusion, that knowledge. Especially since he wasn’t that ignorant; he was sure they were lying together, making each other come. They were lovers, their look said it. His laughing beautiful Jackie was no longer his. And in fact never had been.

He slept poorly in the following nights. Jackie’s room was in the shoot beside his, and Dao’s was two in the opposite direction, and every creak of the hanging bridges sounded like footsteps; and sometimes her curved window glowed with flickering orange lamplight. Instead of remaining in his room to be tortured he began to stay up late every night in the common rooms, reading and eavesdropping on the adults.

So he was there when they started talking about Simon’s illness. Simon was Peter’s father, a quiet man who was usually away, on expeditions with Peter’s mother, Ann. Now it appeared that he had something they called resistant leukemia. Vlad and Ursula noticed Nirgal listening, and they tried to reassure him, but Nirgal could see that they weren’t telling him everything. In fact they were regarding him with a strange speculative look. Later he climbed to his high room and got in bed and turned on his lectern, and looked up “Leukemia,” and read the abstract at the start of the entry. A potentially fatal disease, now usually amenable to treatment. Potentially fatal disease — a shocking concept. He tossed uneasily that night, plagued by dreams through the gray bird-chirp dawn. Plants died, animals died, but not people. But they were animals.

The next night he stayed up with the adults again, feeling exhausted and strange. Vlad and Ursula sat down on the floor beside him. They told him that Simon would be helped by a bone marrow transplant, and that he and Nirgal shared a rare type of blood. Neither Ann nor Peter had it, nor any of Nirgal’s brothers or sisters or halves. He had gotten it through his father, but even his father didn’t have it, not exactly. Just him and Simon, in all the sanctuaries. There were only five thousand people in all of the sanctuaries together, and Simon and Nirgal’s blood type was one in a million. Would he donate some of his bone marrow, they asked.

Hiroko was there in the commons, watching him. She rarely spent evenings in the village, and he didn’t need to look at her to know what she was thinking. They were made to give, she had always said, and this would be the ultimate gift. An act of pure viriditas. “Of course,” he said, happy at the opportunity.

The hospital was next to the bathhouse and the school. It was smaller than the school, and had five beds. They laid Simon on one, and Nirgal on another.

The old man smiled at him. He didn’t look sick, only old. Just like all the rest of the ancients, in fact. He had seldom said much, and now he said only, “Thanks, Nirgal.”

Nirgal nodded. Then to his surprise Simon went on: “I appreciate you doing this. The extraction will hurt afterward for a week or two, right down in the bone. That’s quite a thing to do for someone else.”

“But not if they really need it,” Nirgal said.

“Well, it’s a gift that I’ll try to repay, of course.”

Vlad and Ursula anesthetized Nirgal’s arm with a shot. “It isn’t really necessary to do both operations now, but it’s a good idea to have you two together for it. It will help the healing if you are friends.”

So they became friends. After school Nirgal would go by the hospital, and Simon would step slowly out the door, and they would walk the path over the dunes to the beach. There they watched the waves ripple across the white surface and rise and crumple on the strand. Simon was a lot less talkative than anyone Nirgal had ever spent time with; it was like being silent with Hiroko’s group, only it never ended. At first it made him uncomfortable. But after a while he found it left time to really look at things: the gulls wheeling under the dome, the sandcrab bubbles in the sand, the circles in the sand surrounding each tuft of dune grass. Peter was back in Zygote a lot now, and many days he would come with them. Occasionally even Ann would interrupt her perpetual traveling, and visit Zygote and join them. Peter and Nirgal would race around playing tag, or hide and seek, while Ann and Simon strolled the beach arm in arm.

But Simon was still weak, and he got weaker. It was hard not to see this as some kind of moral failing; Nirgal had never been sick, and he found the concept disgusting. It could only happen to the old ones. And even they were supposed to have been saved by their aging treatment, which everyone got when they were old, and so never died. Only plants and animals died. But people were animals. But they had invented the treatment. At night, worrying about these discrepancies, Nirgal read his lectern’s whole entry on leukemia, even though it was as long as a book. Cancer of the blood. White cells proliferated out of the bone marrow and flooded the system, attacking healthy systems. They were giving Simon chemicals and irradiation and pseudoviruses to kill the white blood cells, and trying to replace the sick marrow in him with new marrow from Nirgal. They had also given him the aging treatment three times now. Nirgal read about this too. It was a matter of genomic mismatch scanning, which found broken chromosomes and repaired them so that cell division error did not occur. But it was hard to penetrate bone with the array of introduced auto repair cells, and apparently in Simon’s case little pockets of cancerous marrow had remained behind every time. Children had a better chance of recovery than adults, as the leukemia entry made clear. But with the aging treatments and the marrow transfusions he was sure to get well. It was just a matter of time and of giving. The treatments cured everything in the end.

“We need a bioreactor,” Ursula said to Vlad. They were working on converting one of the ectogene tanks into one, packing it with spongy animal collagen and inoculating it with cells from Nirgal’s marrow, hoping to generate an array of lymphocytes, macrophages, and granulocytes. But they didn’t have the circulatory system working right, or perhaps it was the matrix, they weren’t sure. Nirgal remained their living bioreactor.

Sax was teaching them soil chemistry during the mornings when he was teacher, and he even took them out of the schoolroom occasionally to work in the soil labs, introducing biomass to the sand and then wheelbarrowing it to the greenhouses or the beach. It was fun work, but it tended to pass through Nirgal as if he were asleep. He would catch sight of Simon outside, stubbornly taking a walk, and he would forget whatever they were doing.

Despite the treatments Simon’s steps were slow and stiff. He walked bowlegged, in fact, his legs swinging forward with very little bend to them. Once Nirgal caught up to him and stood beside him on the last dune before the beach. Sandpipers were charging up and down the wet strand, chased by white tapestries of foaming water. Simon pointed at the herd of black sheep, cropping grass between dunes. His arm rose like a bamboo crossbar. The sheep’s frosted breath poured onto the grass.

Simon said something that Nirgal didn’t catch; his lips were stiff now, and some words he was finding hard to pronounce. Perhaps it was this that was making him quieter than ever. Now he tried again, and then again, but no matter how hard he tried, Nirgal couldn’t guess what he was saying. Finally Simon gave up trying and shrugged, and they were left looking at each other, mute and helpless.

When Nirgal played with the other kids, they both took him in and kept their distance, so that he moved in a kind of circle. Sax admonished him mildly for his absentmindedness in class. “Concentrate on the moment,” he would say, forcing Nirgal to recite the loops of the nitrogen cycle, or to shove his hands deep into the wet black soil they were working on, instructing him to knead it, to break up the long strings of diatom blooms, and the fungi and lichen and algae and all the invisible microbacteria they had grown, to distribute them through the rusty clods of grit. “Get it distributed as regularly as possible. Pay attention, that’s it. Nothing but this. Thisness is a very important quality. Look at the structures on the microscope screen. That clear one like a rice grain is a chemolith-otroph, Thiobacillus denitrificans. And there’s a chunk of sulphides. Now what will result when the former eats the latter?”

“It oxidizes the sulphur.”


“And denitrifies.”

“Which is?”

“Nitrates into nitrogen. From the ground into the air.”

“Very good. A very useful microbe, that.”

So Sax forced him to pay attention to the moment, but the price was high. He found himself exhausted at midday when school was over, it was hard to do things in the afternoon. Then they asked him to give more marrow for Simon, who lay in the hospital mute and embarrassed, his eyes apologizing to Nirgal, who steeled himself to smile, to put his fingers around Simon’s bamboo forearm. “It’s all right,” he said cheerily, and lay down. Although surely Simon was doing something wrong, was weak or lazy or somehow wanted to be sick. There was no other way to explain it. They stuck the needle in Nirgal’s arm and it went numb. Stuck the IV needle in the back of his hand and after a while it too went numb. He lay back, part of the fabric of the hospital, trying to go as numb as he could. Part of him could feel the big marrow needle, pushing against his upper arm bone. No pain, no feeling in his flesh at all, just a pressure on the bone. Then it let up, and he knew the needle had penetrated to the soft inside of his bone.

This time the process did not help at all. Simon was useless, he stayed in the hospital continually. Nirgal visited him there from time to time, and they played a weather game on Simon’s screen, tapping buttons for dice rolls, and exclaiming when the roll of one or twelve cast them abruptly onto another quadrant of Mars, one with a whole new climate. Simon’s laugh, never more than a chuckle, had diminished now to just a little smile.

Nirgal’s arm hurt, and he slept poorly, tossing through the nights and waking hot and sweaty, and frightened for no reason.

Then one night Hiroko woke him from the depths of slumber, and led him down the winding staircase and over to the hospital. He leaned groggily against her, unable to wake fully. She was as impassive as ever, but had her arm around his shoulders, holding him with surprising strength. When they passed Ann sitting in the hospital’s outer room something in the slope of Ann’s shoulders caused Nirgal to wonder why Hiroko was here in the village at night, and he struggled to wake fv.lly, touched by dread.

The hospital’s bedroom was overlit, sharp-edged, pulsing as if glories were trying to burst out of everything. Simon lay with his head on a white pillow. His skin was pale and waxy. He looked a thousand years old.

He turned his head and saw Nirgal. His dark eyes searched Nirgal’s face with a hungry look, as if he were trying to find a way into Nirgal — a way to jump across into him. Nirgal shivered and held the dark intense gaze, thinking, Okay, come into me. Do it if you want. Do it.

But there was no way across. They both saw that. They both relaxed. A little smile passed over Simon’s face, and he reached over with an effort and held Nirgal’s hand. Now his eyes darted back and forth, searching Nirgal’s face with a completely different expression, as if he were trying to find words that would help Nirgal in the years to come, that would pass across whatever it was that Simon had learned.

But that too was impossible. Again they both saw it. Simon would have to give Nirgal to his fate, whatever it was. There was no way to help. “Be good,” he whispered finally, and Hiroko led Nirgal out of the room. She took him through the dark back up to his room, and he fell into a deep sleep. Simon died sometime during the night.

It was the first funeral in Zygote, and the first for all the children. But the adults knew what to do. They met in one of the greenhouses, among the workbenches, and they sat in a circle around the long box holding Simon’s body. They passed around a flask of rice liquor, and everyone filled their neighbor’s cup. They drank the fiery stuff down, and the old ones walked around the box holding hands, and then they sat in a knot around Ann and Peter. . Maya and Nadia sat by Ann with their arms around her shoulders. Ann appeared stunned, Peter disconsolate. Jurgen and Maya told stories about Simon’s legendary taciturnity. “One time,” Maya said, “we were in a rover and an oxygen canister blew out and knocked a hole in the cabin roof, and we were all running around screaming and Simon had been outside and he picked up a rock just the right size and jumped up and dropped it in the hole, and plugged it. And afterward we were all talking like crazy people, and working to make a real plug, and suddenly we realized Simon still hadn’t said anything, and we all stopped working and looked at him, and he said, That was close.’ “

They laughed. Vlad said, “Or remember the time we gave out mock awards in Underhill, and Simon got one for best video, and he went up to accept the award and said, Thank you,’ and started to return to his seat, and then he stopped and went back up to the podium, as if something had occurred to him to say, you know, which got our attention naturally, and he cleared his throat and said, Thank you very much.’ “

Ann almost laughed at that, and stood, and led them out into the frigid air. The old ones carried the box down to the beach, and everyone else followed. It was snowing through mist when they took his body out and buried it deep in the sand, just above the wave’s high-water mark. They slid the board out of the top of the long box and burned Simon’s name onto it with Nadia’s soldering iron, and stuck the board in the first dune. Now Simon would be part of the carbon cycle, food for bacteria and crabs and then sandpipers and gulls, thus slowly melting into the biomass under the dome. This was how one was buried. And sure, part of it was comforting; to spread out into one’s world, to disperse into it. But to end as a self, to go away…

They all were walking under the dim dome, having buried Simon in sand, trying to behave as if reality had not suddenly ripped apart and snatched one of them away. Nirgal couldn’t believe it. They straggled back into the village blowing on their hands, talking in subdued voices. Nirgal drew near Vlad and Ursula, longing for reassurance of some kind. Ursula was sad, and Vlad was trying to cheer her up. “He lived more than a hundred years, we can’t go around thinking his death was premature, or it makes a mockery of all those poor people who died at fifty, or twenty, or one.”

“But it was still premature,” Ursula said stubbornly. “With the treatments, who knows? He might have lived a thousand years.”

“I’m not so sure. It looks to me like the treatments are not in fact penetrating to every part of our bodies, And with all the radiation we’ve taken on, we may have more troubles than we thought at first.”

“Maybe. But if we had been at Acheron, with the whole crew, and a bioreactor, and all our facilities, I bet we would have saved him. And then you can’t say how many more years he might have had. I call that premature.”

She went off to be by herself.

That night Nirgal could not sleep at all. He kept feeling the transfusions,, seeing every moment of them and imagining that there had been some kind of backwash in the system, so that he had been infected with the disease. Or contaminated by touch a’sne, why not? Or just by that last look in Simon’s eye! So that he had caught the disease they could not stop, and would die. Stiffen up, go mute, stop and go away. That was death. His heart pounJed and a sweat broke through his skin, and he cried with the fear of it. There was no avoiding it; and it was horrible. Horrible no matter when it happened. Horrible that the cycle itself should work the way it did — that it should go around and around and around, while they lived only once and then died forever. Why live at all? It was too strange, too horrible. And so he shivered through the long night, his mind gone cyclonic with the fear of death.

After thathe found it extremely hard to concentrate. He felt as if he was always at a remove from things, as if he had slipped into the white world and could not quite touch the green one.

Hiroko noticed this problem, and suggested he go with Coyote on one of his trips out. Nirgal was shocked by the idea, having never been more than a walk away from Zygote. But Hiroko insisted. He was seven years old, she said, and about to become a man. Time he saw a bit of the surface world.

A few weeks later Coyote dropped by, and when he left again Nirgal was with him, seated in the copilot’s seat of his boulder car, and goggling out the low windshield at the purple arch of evening sky. Coyote turned the car around to give him a view of the great glowing pink wall of the polar cap, which arced across the horizon like an enormous rising moon.

“It’s hard to believe something that big could ever melt,” Nirgal said.

“It will take a while.”

They drove north at a sedate pace. The boulder car was stealthed, covered by a hollowed-out rock shell that was thermally regulated to stay the same temperature as its surroundings, and it had a no-track device on the front axle to read the terrain and pass the information to the back axle, where scraper-shapers plowed their wheel tracks, returning the sand and rock to whatever shape they had had before their passing. So they could not race along.

For a long time they traveled in silence, though Coyote’s silence was not the same as Simon’s had been. He hummed, he muttered, he talked in a low singsong voice to his AI, in a language that sounded like English but was not comprehensible. Nirgal tried to concentrate on the limited view out the window, feeling awkward and shy. The region around the south polar cap was a series of broad flat terraces, and they descended from one to the next by routes that seemed programmed into the car, down terrace after terrace until it seemed the polar cap must be sitting on a kind of huge pedestal. Nirgal stared into the dark, impressed by the size of things, but happy too that it was not absolutely overwhelming, as his first walk out had been. That had happened a long time ago, but he could still remember the staggering astonishment of it perfectly.

This was not like that. “It doesn’t seem as big as I thought it would,” he said. “I guess it’s the curvature of the land, it being such a small planet and all.” As the lectern said. “The horizon isn’t any farther away than one side of Zygote to the other!”

“Uh huh,” Coyote said, giving him a look. “You better not let Big Man hear you say such a thing, he kick your ass for that.” Then ”Who’s your father, boy?”

“I don’t know. Hiroko is my mother.”

Coyote snorted. “Hiroko takes the matriarchy too far, if you ask me.”

“Have you told her that?”

“You bet I have, but Hiroko only listens to me when I say things she wants to hear.” He cackled. “Same as with everyone, right?”

Nirgal nodded, a grin splitting his attempt to be impassive.

“You want to find out who your father is?”

“Sure.” Actually he was not sure. The concept of father meant little to him; and he was afraid it would turn out to be Simon. Peter was like an older brother to him, after all.

“They’ve got the equipment in Vishniac. We can try there if you want.” Coyote shook his head. “Hiroko is so strange. When I met her you would never have guessed it would come to this. Of course we were young then — almost as young as you are, though you will find that hard to credit.”

Which was true.

“When I met her she was just a young eco-engineering student, smart as a whip and sexy as a cat. None of this mother goddess of the world stuff. But by and by she started to read books that were not her technical manuals, and it went on and on and by the time she got to Mars she was crazy. Before, actually. Which is lucky for me as that is why I’m here. But Hiroko, oh my. She was convinced that all human history had gone wrong at the start. At the dawn of civilization, she would say to me very seriously, there was Crete and Sumeria, and Crete had a peaceful trading culture, run by women and filled with art and beauty — a Utopia in fact, where the men were acrobats who jumped bulls all day, and women all night, and got the women pregnant and worshipped them, and everyone was happy. It sounds good except for the bulls. While Sumeria on the other hand was ruled by men, who invented war and conquered everything in sight and started all the slave empires that have come since. And no one knew, Hiroko said, what might have happened if these two civilizations had had a chance to contest the rule of the world, because a volcano blew Crete to kingdom come, . and the world passed into Sumeria’s hands and has never left it to this day. If only that volcano had been in Sumeria, she used to tell me, everything would be different. And maybe it’s true. Because history could hardly get any blacker than it has been.”

Nirgal was surprised at this characterization. “But now,” he ventured, “we’re starting again.”

“That’s right, boy! We are the primitives of an unknown civilization. Living in our own little techno-Minoan matriarchy. Ha! I like it fine, myself. Seems to me the power that our women have taken on was never that interesting to begin with. Power is one half of the yoke, don’t you remember that from the stuff I made you kids read? Master and slave wear the yoke together. Anarchy is the only true freedom. So, well, whatever women do it seems to go against them. If they’re men’s cows, then they work till they drop. But if they’re our queens and goddesses then they only work the harder, because they still have to do the cow work and then the paperwork too! No way. Just be thankful you’re a man, and as free as the sky.”

It was a peculiar way to think of things, Nirgal thought. But clearly it was one way to deal with the fact of Jackie’s beauty, of her immense power over his mind. And so Nirgal ducked low in his seat and stared out the window at the white stars in the black, thinking Free as the sky! Free as the sky!

It was Ls 4, 2 March the 22nd, M-year 32, and the southern days were getting shorter. Coyote drove their car hard every night, over intricate and invisible paths, through terrain that got more and more rugged the farther they got from the polar cap. They stopped to rest during the daylight, and drove the rest of the time. Nirgal tried to stay awake, but inevitably slept through part of every drive, and through part of every day’s stop as well, until he became thoroughly confused in both time and space.

But when he was awake he was almost always looking out the window, at the ever-changing surface of Mars. He couldn’t get enough of it. In the layered terrain there was an infinite array of patterns, the stratified stacks of sand fluted by the wind until each dune was cut like a bird’s wing. When the layered terrain finally ran out onto exposed bedrock, the laminate dunes became individual sand islands, scattered over a jumbled plain of outcroppings and clusters of rock. It was redrock everywhere he looked, rock sized from gravel to immense boulders that sat like buildings on the land. The sand islands were tucked into every dip and hollow in this rockscape, and they also clustered around the feet of big knots of boulders, and on the lee sides of low scarps, and in the interiors of craters.

And there were craters everywhere. They first appeared as two bumps rolling over the skysill, which quickly proved to be the connected outer points of a low ridge. They passed scores of these flat-topped hills, some steep and sharp, others low and nearly buried, still others with their rims broken by smaller later impacts, so that one could see right in to the sand drifts filling them.

One night just before dawn Coyote stopped the car.

“Something wrong?”

“No. We’ve reached Ray’s Lookout, and I want you to see it. Sun’11 be up in an hour.”

So they sat in the pilots’ seats and watched the dawn.

“How old are you, boy?”


“What’s that, thirteen Earth years? Fourteen?”

“I guess.”

“Wow. You’re already taller than me.”

“Uh huh.” Nirgal refrained from pointing out that this did not imply any great height. “How old are you?”

“One hundred and nine. Ah ha ha! You best shut your eyes or they’ll pop out of your head. Don’t you look at me like that. I was old the day I was born and I’ll be young the day I die.”

They drowsed as the sky on the eastern skyline turned a deep purply blue. Coyote hummed a little tune to himself, sounding as if he had eaten a tab of omegendorph, as he often did in the evenings at Zygote. Gradually it became clear that the skysill was very far away, and also very high; Nirgal had never seen land so far away, and it seemed to curve around them as well, a black curving wall that lay an immense distance off, over a black rocky plain. “Hey, Coyote!” he exclaimed. “What is this?”

“Ha!” Coyote said, sounding deeply satisfied.

The sky lightened and the sun suddenly cracked the upper edge of the distant wall, blasting Nirgal’s vision for a while. But as the sun rose the shadows on the huge semicircular cliff gave way in wedges of light that revealed sharp ragged embayments, scalloping the larger curve of the wall, which was so big that Nirgal simply gasped, his nose pressed right against the windshield — it was almost frightening, it was so big! “Coyote, what is it?”

Coyote let out one of his alarming laughs, the animal cackle filling the car. “So you see it isn’t such a small world after all, eh, boy? This is the floor of Promethei Basin. It’s an impact basin, one of the biggest on Mars, almost as big as Argyre, but it hit down here near the South Pole, so about half of its rim has since been buried under the polar cap and the layered terrain. The other half is this curved escarpment here.” He waved a hand expansively. “Kind of like a super-big caldera, but only half there, so you can drive right into it. This little rise is the best place I know for seeing it.” He called up a map of the region, and pointed. “We’re on the apron of this little crater here, Vt, and looking northwest. The cliff is Promethei Rupes, there. It’s about a kilometer high. Of course the Echus cliff is three kilometers high, and the Olympus Mons cliff is six kilometers high, do you hear that Mister Small Planet? But this baby will have to do for this morning.”

The sun rose higher, illuminating the great curve of the cliff from above. It was deeply cut by ravines and smaller craters. “Prometheus Sanctuary is in the side of that big indentation there,”. Coyote said, and pointed to the left side of the curve. “Crater Wj.”

As they waited through the long day Nirgal looked at the gigantic cliff almost continuously, and each time it looked different, as the shadows shortened and shifted, revealing new features and obscuring others. It would have taken years of looking to see it all, and he found he could not overcome the feeling that the wall was unnaturally or even impossibly huge. Coyote was right- — the tight horizons had fooled him — he had not imagined the world could be so big.

That night they drove into Crater Wj, one of the biggest embayments in the giant wall. And then they reached the curving cliff of Promethei Rupes. The cliff towered over them like the vertical side of the universe itself; the polar cap was nothing compared to this rock mass. Which meant that the Olympus Mons cliff that Coyote had mentioned would have to be… He didn’t know how to think it.

Down at the foot of the cliff, at a spot where unbroken rock dropped almost vertically into flat sand, there was a recessed lock door. Inside was the sanctuary called Prometheus, a collection of wide chambers stacked like the rooms of a bamboo house, with incurving filtered windows overlooking Crater Wj and the larger basin beyond. The inhabitants of the sanctuary spoke French, and so did Coyote when talking to them. They were not as old as Coyote or the other issei, but they were pretty old, and of Terran height, which meant they mostly looked up to Nirgal, while speaking very hospitably to him, in fluent but accented English. “So you are Nirgal! Enchante! We have heard of you, we are happy to meet you!”

A group of them showed him around while Coyote did other things. Their sanctuary was very unlike Zygote; it was, to put it plainly, nothing but rooms. There were several large ones stacked by the wall, with smaller ones at the back of these. Three of the window rooms were greenhouses, and all the rooms throughout the refuge were kept very warm, and filled with plants and wall hangings and statuary and fountains; to Nirgal it seemed confining, and much too hot, and utterly fascinating.

But they only stayed a day, and then they drove Coyote’s car into a big elevator, and sat in it for an hour. When Coyote drove out the opposite door they were on top of the rugged plateau that lay behind Promethei Rupes. And here Nirgal was once again shocked. When they had been down at Ray’s Lookout, the great cliff had formed a limit to what they could see, and he had been able to comprehend it. But on top of the cliff, looking back down, the distances were so great that Nirgal could not grasp what he saw. It was nothing but a blurry vertiginous mass of blobs and patches of color — white, purple, brown, tan, rust, white; it made him queasy. “Storm coming in,” Coyote said, and suddenly Nirgal saw that the colors above them were a fleet of tall solid clouds, sailing through a violet sky with the sun well to the west — the clouds whitish above and infinitely lobed, but dark gray on their bottoms. These cloud bottoms were closer to their heads than the ground of the basin, and they were level, as if rolling over a transparent floor. The world below was nothing so even, mottled tan and chocolate — ah, those were the shadows of the clouds, visibly moving. And that white crescent out in the middle of things was the polar cap! They could see all the way home! Recognizing the ice gave him the final bit of perspective needed to make sense of things, and the blobs of color stabilized into a bumpy uneven ringed landscape, mottled by moving cloud shadows.

This dizzying act of cognition had only taken Nirgal a few seconds, but when he finished he saw that Coyote was watching him with a big grin.

“Just how far can we see, Coyote? How many kilometers?”

Coyote only cackled. “Ask Big Man, boy. Or figure it out for yourself! What, three hundred k? Something like that. A hop and a jump for the big one. A thousand empires for the little ones.”

“I want to run it.”

“I’m sure you do. Oh, look, look! There — from the clouds over the ice cap. Lightning, see it? Those little flickers are lightning.”

And there they were, bright threads of light, appearing and disappearing soundlessly, one or two every few seconds, connecting black clouds with white ground. He was seeing lightning at last, with his own eyes. The white world sparking into the green, jolting it. “There’s nothing like a big storm,” Coyote was saying. “Nothing like it. Oh to be out in the wind! We made that storm, boy. Although I think I could make an even bigger one.”

But a bigger one was beyond Nirgal’s ability to imagine; what lay below them was cosmically vast — electric, shot with color, windy with spaciousness. He was actually a bit relieved when Coyote turned their car around and drove off, and the blurry view disappeared, the edge of the cliff becoming a new skysill behind them.

“Just what is lightning again?”

“Well, lightning… shit. I must confess that lightning is one of the phenomena in this world that I cannot hold the explanation for in my head. People have told me, but it always slips away. Electricity, of course, something about electrons or ions, positive and negative, charges building up in thunderheads, discharging to the ground, or both up and down at once, I seem to recall. Who knows. Ka boom! That’s lightning, eh?”

The white world and the green, rubbing together, snapping with the friction. Of course.

*     *       *

There were several sanctuaries on the plateau north of Pro-methei Rupes, some hidden in escarpment walls and crater rims, like Nadia’s tunneling project outside Zygote; but others simply sitting in craters under clear tent domes, there for any sky police to see. The first time Coyote drove up to the rim of one of these and they looked down through the clear tent dome onto a village under the stars, Nirgal had been once again amazed, though it was amazement of a lesser order than that engendered by the landscape. Buildings like the school, and the bathhouse and the kitchen, trees, greenhouses — it was all basically familiar, but how could they get away with it, out in the open like this? It was disconcerting.

And so full of people, of strangers. Nirgal had known in theory that there were a lot of people in the southern sanctuaries, five thousand as they said, all defeated rebels of the 2061 war — but it was something else again to meet so many of them so fast, and see that it was really true. And staying in the unhidden settlements made him extremely nervous. “How can they do it?” he asked Coyote. “Why aren’t they arrested and taken away?”

“You got me, boy. It’s possible they could be. But they haven’t been yet, and so they don’t think it’s worth the trouble to hide. You know it takes a tremendous effort to hide — you got to do all that thermal disposal engineering, and electronic hardening, and you got to keep out of sight all the time — it’s a pain in the ass. And some people down here just don’t want to do it. They call themselves the demimonde. They have plans for if they’re ever investigated or invaded — most of them have escape tunnels like ours, and some even have some weapons stashed away. But they figure that if they’re out on the surface, there’s no reason to be checked out in the first place. The folks in Christianopolis just told the UN straight out that they came down here to get out of the net. But… I agree with Hiroko on this one. That some of us have to be a little more careful than that. The UN is out to get the First Hundred, if you ask me. And its family too, unfortunately for you kids. Anyway, now the resistance includes the underground and the demimonde, and having the open towns is a big help to the hidden sanctuaries, so I’m glad they’re here. At this point we depend on them.”

Coyote was welcomed effusively in this town as he was everywhere, whether the settlement was hidden or exposed. He settled into a corner of a big garage on the crater rim, and conducted a continuous brisk exchange of goods, including seed stocks, software, light bulbs, spare parts, and small machines. These he gave out after long consultations with their hosts, in bargaining sessions that Nirgal couldn’t understand. And then, after a brief tour of the crater floor, where the village looked surprisingly like Zygote under a brilliant purple dome, they were off again.

On the drives between sanctuaries Coyote did not explain his bargaining sessions very effectively. “I’m saving these people from their own ridiculous notion of economics, that’s what I’m doing! A gift economy is all very well, but it isn’t organized enough for our situation. There are critical items that everyone has to have, so people have to give, which is a contradiction, right? So I am trying to work out a rational system. Actually Vlad and Marina are working it out, and I am trying to implement it, which means I get all the grief.” ‘

“And this system…”

“Well, it’s a sort of two-track thing, where they can still give all they want, but the necessities are given values and distributed properly. And good God you wouldn’t believe some of the arguments I get in. People can be such fools. I try to make sure it all adds up to a stable ecology, like one of Hiroko’s systems, with every sanctuary filling its niche and providing its specialty, and what do I get for it? Abuse, that’s what I get! Radical abuse. I try to stop potlatching and they call me a robber baron, I try to stop hoarding and they call me a fascist. The fools! What are they going to do, when none of them are self-sufficient, and half of them are crazy paranoid?” He sighed theatrically. “So, anyway. We’re making progress. Christianopolis makes light bulbs, and Mauss Hyde grows new kinds of plants, as you saw, and Bogdanov Vishniac makes everything big and difficult, like reactor rods and stealth vehicles and most of the big robots, and your Zygote makes scientific instrumentation, and so on. And I spread them around.”

“Are you the only one doing that?”

“Almost. They’re mostly self-sufficient, actually, except for these few criticalities. They all got programs and seeds, that’s the basic necessities. And besides, it’s important that not too many people know where all the hidden sanctuaries are.”

Nirgal digested the implications of this as they drove through the night. Coyote went on about the hydrogen peroxide standard and the nitrogen standard, a new system of Vlad and Marina’s, and Nirgal did his best to follow but found it hard going, either because the concepts were difficult or else because Coyote spent most of his explanations fulminating over the difficulties he encountered in certain sanctuaries. Nirgal decided to ask Sax or Nadia about it when he got home, and stopped listening.

The land they were crossing now was dominated by crater rings, the newer ones overlapping and even burying older ones. “This is called saturation cratering. Very ancient ground.” A lot of the craters had no raised rims at all, but were simply shallow flat-bottomed round holes in the ground. “What happened to the rims?”

“Worn away.”

“By what?”

“Ann says ice, and wind. She says as much as a kilometer was stripped off the southern highlands over time.”

“That would take away everything!”

“But then more came back. This is old land.”

In between craters the land was covered with loose rock, and it was unbelievably uneven; there were dips, rises, hollows, knolls, trenches, grabens, uplifts, hills and dales; never even a moment’s flatness, except on crater rims and occasional low ridges, both of which Coyote used as roads when he could. But the track he followed over this lumpy landscape was still tortuous, and Nirgal could not believe it was memorized. He said as much, and Coyote laughed. “What do you mean memorized? We’re lost!”

But not really, or not for long. A mohole plume appeared over the horizon, and Coyote drove for it.

“Knew it all along,” he muttered. “This is Vishniac mohole. It’s a vertical shaft a kilometer across, dug straight down into the bedrock. There were four moholes started around the seventy-five-degree latitude line, and two of them are no longer occupied, even by robots. Vishniac is one of the two, and it’s been taken over by a bunch of Bogdanovists who live down inside it.” He laughed. “It’s a wonderful idea, because they can dig into the side wall along the road to the bottom, and down there they can put out as much heat as they want and no one can tell that it’s not just more mohole outgassing. So they can build anything they like, even process uranium for reactor fuel rods. It’s an entire little industrial city now. Also one of my favorite places, very big on partying.”

He drove them into one of the many small trenches cutting the land, then braked and tapped at his screen, and a big rock swung out from the side of the trench, revealing a black tunnel. Coyote drove into the tunnel and the rock door closed behind them. Nirgal had thought he was beyond surprise at this point, but he watched round-eyed as they drove down the tunnel, its rough rock walls just outside the edges of the boulder car. It seemed to go on forever. “They’ve dug a number of approach tunnels, so that the mohole itself can look completely unvisited. We have about twenty kilometers to go.”

Eventually Coyote turned off the headlights. Their car rolled out into the dim eggplant black of night; they were on a steep~road, apparently spiraling down the wall of the mohole. Their instrument-panel lights were like tiny lanterns, and looking through his reflected image Nirgal could see that the road was four or five times as wide as the car. The full extent of the mohole itself was impossible to see, but by the curve of the road he could tell that it was immense. “Are you sure we’re turning at the right speed?” he said anxiously.

“I am trusting the automatic pilot,” Coyote said, irritated. “It’s bad luck to discuss it.”

The car rolled down the road. After more than an hour’s descent there was a beep from the instrument panel, and the car turned into the curving wall of rock to their left. And there was a garage tube, clanking against their outer lock door.

Inside the garage a group of twenty or so people greeted them, and took them past a line of tall rooms to a cavernlike chamber. The rooms that the Bogdanovists had excavated into the side of the mohole were big, much bigger than those at Prometheus. The back rooms were ten meters high as a rule, and in some cases two hundred meters deep; and the main cavern rivaled Zygote itself, with big windows facing out onto the hole. Looking sideways through the window, Nirgal saw that the glass seen from the outside looked like the rock face; the filtered coatings must have been clever indeed, because as the morning arrived, its light poured in very brightly. The windows’ view was limited to the far wall of the mohole, and a gibbous patch of sky above — but they gave the rooms a wonderful sense of spaciousness and light, a feeling of being under the sky that Zygote could not match.

Through that first day Nirgal was taken in hand by a small dark-skinned man named Hilali, who led him through rooms and interrupted people at their work to introduce him. People were friendly — “You must be one of Hiroko’s kids, eh? Oh, you’re Nirgal! Very nice to meet you! Hey John, Coyote’s here, party tonight!” — and they showed him what they were doing, leading him back into smaller rooms behind the ones fronting the mohole, where there were farms under bright light, and manufactories that seemed to extend back into the rock forever; and all of it very warm, as in a bathhouse, so that Nirgal was constantly sweating. “Where did you put all the excavated rock?” he asked Hilali, for one of the convenient things about cutting a dome under the polar cap, Hiroko had said, was that the excavated dry ice had simply been gassed off.

“It’s lining the road near the bottom of the mohole,” Hilali told him, pleased at the question. He seemed pleased with all Nirgal’s questions, as did everyone else; people in Vishniac seemed happy in general, a rowdy crowd who always partied to celebrate Coyote’s arrival — one excuse among many, Nirgal gathered.

Hilali took a call on the wrist from Coyote, and led Nirgal into a lab, where they took a bit of skin from his finger. Then they made their way slowly back to the big cavern, and joined the crowd lining up by the kitchen windows at the back.

After eating a big spicy meal of beans and potatoes, they began to party in the cavern room. A huge undisciplined steel-drum band with a fluctuating membership played rhythmic staccato melodies, and people danced to them for hours, pausing from time to time to drink an atrocious liquor called kavajava, or join a variety of games on one side of the room. After trying the kavajava, and swallowing a tab of an omegendorph given to him by Coyote, Nirgal ran in place while playing a bass drum with the band, then sat on top of a small grassy mound in the center of the chamber, feeling too drunk to stand. Coyote had been drinking steadily but had no such problem; he was dancing wildly, hopping high off his toes and laughing. “You’ll never know the joy of your own g, boy!” he shouted at Nirgal. “You’ll never know!”

People came by and introduced themselves, sometimes asking Nirgal to exhibit his warming touch — a group of girls his age put his hands to their cheeks, which they had chilled with their drinks, and when he warmed them up they laughed round-eyed, and invited him to warm other parts of them; he got up and danced with them instead, feeling loose and dizzy, running in little circles to discharge some of the energy in him. When he returned to the knoll, buzzing, Coyote came weaving over and sat heavily beside him. “So fine to dance in this g, I never get over it.” He regarded Nirgal with a cross-eyed glare, his gray dreadlocks falling all over his head, and Nirgal noticed again that his face seemed to have cracked somehow, perhaps been broken at the jaw, so that one side was broader than the other. Something like that. Nirgal gulped at the sight.

Coyote took him by the shoulder and shook him hard. “It seems that I am your father, boy!” he exclaimed.

“You’re kidding!” An electric flush ran down Nirgal’s spine and out his face as the two of them stared at each other, and he marveled at how the white world could shock the green one so thoroughly, like lightning pulsing through flesh. They clutched each other.

“I am not kidding!” Coyote said.

They stared at each other. “No wonder you’re so smart,” Coyote said, and laughed hilariously. “Ah ha ha ha! Ka wow! I hope it’s okay with you!”

“Sure,” Nirgal said, grinning but uncomfortable. He didn’t know Coyote well, and the concept of father was even vaguer to him than that of mother, so he wasn’t really sure what he felt. Genetic inheritance, sure, but what was that? They all got their genes somewhere, and the genes of ectogenes were transgenic anyway, or so they said.

But Coyote, though he cursed Hiroko in a hundred different ‘ways, seemed to be pleased. “That vixen, that tyrant! Matriarchy my ass — she’s crazy! It amazes me the things she does! Although this has a certain justice to it. Yes it does, because Hiroko and I were an item back in the dawn of time, when we were young in England. That’s the reason I’m here on Mars at all. A stowaway in her closet, my whole fucking life long.” He laughed and clapped Nirgal on the shoulder again. “Well, boy, you will know better how you like the idea later on.”

He went back out to dance, leaving Nirgal to think it over. Watching Coyote’s gyrations, Nirgal could only shake his head; he didn’t know what to think, and at the moment thinking anything at all was remarkably difficult. Better to dance, or seek out the baths.

But they had no public baths. He ran around in circles on the dance floor, making his running a kind of dance, and later he returned to the same mound, and a group of the locals gathered around him and Coyote. “Like being the father of the Dalai Lama, eh? Don’t you get a name for that?”

“To hell with you, man! Like I was saying, Ann says they stopped digging these seventy-five-degree moholes because the lithosphere is thinner down here.” Coyote nodded portentously. “I want to go to one of the decommissioned moholes and start up its robots again, and see if they dig down far enough to start a volcano.”

Everyone laughed. But one woman shook her head. “If you do that they’ll come down here to check it out. If you’re going to do it, you should go north and hit one of the sixty-degree moholes. They’re decommissioned too.”

“But the lithosphere up there is thicker, Ann says.”

“Sure, but the moholes are deeper too.”

“Hmm,” Coyote said.

And the conversation moved on to more serious matters, mostly the inevitable topics of shortages, and developments in the north. But at the end of that week, when they left Vishniac, by way of a different and longer tunnel, they headed north, and all Coyote’s previous plans had been thrown out the window. “That’s the story of my life, boy.”

On the fifth night of driving over the jumbled highlands of the south, Coyote slowed the rover, and circled the edge of a big old crater, subdued almost to the level of the surrounding plain. From a defile in the ancient rim one could see that the sandy crater floor was marred by a giant round black hole. This, apparently, was what a mohole looked like from the surface. A plume of thin frost stood in the air a few hundred meters over the hole, appearing from nothing like a magician’s trick. The edge of the mohole was beveled so that there was a band of concrete funneling down at about a forty-five-degree angle; it was hard to say how big this coping band was, because the mohole made it seem like no more than a strip. There was a high wire fence at its outer edge. “Hmm,” Coyote said, staring out the windshield. He backed up in the defile and parked, then slipped into a walker. “Back soon,” he said, and hopped into the lock.

It was a long, anxious night for Nirgal. He barely slept, and was in an intensifying agony of worry the next morning when he saw Coyote appear outside the boulder car lock, just before seven A.M. when the sun was about to rise. He was ready to complain about the length of this disappearance, but when Coyote got inside and got his helmet off it was obvious he was in a foul temper. While they sat out the day he tapped away at his AI in an absorbed conference , cursing vilely, oblivious to his hungry young charge. Nirgal went ahead and heated meals for them both, and then napped uneasily, and woke when the rover jerked forward. “I’m going to try going in through the gate,” Coyote said. “That’s quite the security they have on that hole. One more night should see it either way.” He circled the crater and parked on the far rim, and at dusk once again left on foot.

Again he was gone all night, and again Nirgal found it very difficult to sleep. He wondered what he was supposed to do if Coyote didn’t return.

And indeed he was not back by dawn. The day that followed was the longest of Nirgal’s life without a question, and at the end of it he had no idea what he was going to do. Try to rescue Coyote; try to drive back to Zygote, or Vishniac; go down to the mohole, and give himself up to whatever mysterious security system had eaten up Coyote: all seemed impossible.

But an hour after sunset Coyote tapped the car with his tik-tik-tik, and then he was inside, his face a furious mask. He drank a liter of water and then most of another, and blew out his lips in disgust. “Let us get the fuck out of here,” he said.

After a couple of hours of silent driving Nirgal thought to change the subject, or at least enlarge it, and he said, “Coyote, how long do you think we will have to stay hidden?”

“Don’t call me Coyote! I’m not Coyote. Coyote is out there in the back of the hills, breathing the air already and doing what he wants, the bastard. Me my name is Desmond, you call me Desmond, understand?”

“Okay,” Nirgal said, afraid.

“As for how long we will have to stay hiding, I think it will be forever.”

They drove back south to Rayleigh mohole, where Coyote (he didn’t seem to be a Desmond) had thought to go in the first place. This mohole was truly abandoned, an unlit hole in the highlands, its thermal plume standing over it like the ghost of a monument. They could drive right into the empty sand-covered parking lot and garage at its rim, between a small fleet of robot vehicles shrouded by tarpaulins and sand drifts. “This is more like it,” Coyote muttered. “Here, we’ve got to take a look down inside it. Come on, get into your walker.”

It was strange to be out in the wind, standing on the rim of such an enormous gap in things. They looked over a chest-high wall and saw the beveled concrete band that rimmed the hole, dropping at an angle for about two hundred meters. In order to see down the shaft proper, they had to walk about a kilometer down a curving road cut into the concrete band. There they could stop at last, and look over the road’s edge, down into blackness. Coyote stood right on the edge, which made Nirgal nervous. He got on his hands and knees to look over. No sign of a bottom; they might as well have been looking into the center of the planet. “Twenty kilometers,” Coyote said over the intercom. He held a hand out over the edge, and Nirgal did too. He could.feel the updraft. “Okay, let’s see if we can get the robots going.” And they hiked back up the road.

Coyote had spent many of their daytime hours studying old programs on his AI, and now, with the hydrogen peroxide from their trailer pumped into two of the robot behemoths in the parking lot, he plugged into their control panels and went at it. When he was done he was satisfied they would perform as required at the bottom of the mohole, and they watched the two, with wheels four times as tall as Coyote’s car, roll off down the curving road.

“All right,” Coyote said, cheering up again. “They’ll use their solar-panel power to process their own peroxide explosives, and their own fuel as well, and go at it slow and steady until maybe they hit something hot. We just may have started a volcano!”

“Is that good?”

Coyote laughed wildly. “I don’t know! But no one’s ever done it before, so it has that at least to recommend it.”

They returned to their scheduled travel, among sanctuaries both hidden and open, and Coyote went around saying, “We started up Rayleigh mohole last week, have you seen a volcano yet?”

No one had seen it. Rayleigh seemed to be behaving much as before, its thermal plume undisturbed. “Well, maybe it didn’t work,” Coyote would say. “Maybe it will take some time. On the other hand if that mohole was now floored with molten lava, how would you be able to tell?”

“We could tell,” people said. And some added: “Why would you do something as stupid as that? You might as well call up the Transitional Authority and tell them to come down here to look for us.”

So Coyote stopped bringing it up. They rolled on from sanctuary to sanctuary: Mauss Hyde, Gramsci, Overhangs, Christianopolis… At each stop Nirgal was made welcome, and often people knew of him in advance, by reputation. Nirgal was very surprised by the variety and number of sanctuaries, forming together their strange world, half secret and half exposed. And if this world was only a small part of Martian civilization as a whole, what must the surface cities of the north be like? It was beyond his grasp — although it did seem to him that as the marvels of the journey continued, one after the next, his grasp was getting a bit larger. You couldn’t just explode from amazement, after all.

“Well,” Coyote would say as they drove (he had taught Nirgal how), “we may have started a volcano and we may not have. But it was a new idea in any case. That’s one of the greatest things about this, boy, this whole Martian project. It’s all new.”

They headed south again, until the ghostly wall of the polar cap loomed over the horizon. Soon they would be home again.

Nirgal thought of all the sanctuaries they had visited. “Do you really think we’ll have to hide forever, Desmond?”

“Desmond? Desmond? Who’s this Desmond?” Coyote blew out his lips. “Oh, boy, I don’t know..No one can know for sure. The people hiding out here were shoved out at a strange time, when their way of life was threatened, and I’m not so sure it’s that way anymore in the surface cities they’re building in the north. The bosses on Earth learned their lesson, maybe, and people up there are more comfortable. Or maybe it’s just that the elevator hasn’t been replaced yet.”

“So there might not be another revolution?”

“I don’t know.”

“Or not until there’s another space elevator?”

“I don’t know! But the elevator’s coming, and they’re building some big new mirrors out there, you can see them shining at night sometimes, or right around the sun.”So anything might happen, I guess. But revolution is a rare thing. And a lot of them are reactionary anyway. Peasants have their tradition, you see, the values and habits that allow them to get by. But they live so close to the edge that rapid change can push them over it, and in those times it’s not politics, but survival. I saw that myself when I was your age. Now the people sent here were not poor, but they did have their own tradition, and like the poor they were powerless. And when the influx of the 2050s hit, their tradition was wiped out. So they fought for what they had. And the truth is, they lost. You can’t fight the powers that be anymore, especially here, because the weapons are too strong and our shelters are too fragile. We’d have to arm ourselves pretty good, or something. So, you know. We’re hiding, and they’re flooding Mars with a new kind of crowd, people who were used to really tough conditions on Earth, so that things here don’t strike them so bad. They get the treatment and they’re happy. We’re not seeing so many people trying to get out into the sanctuaries, like we did in the years before sixty-one. There’s some, but not many. As long as people have their entertainments, their own little tradition, you know, they aren’t going to lift a finger.”

“But…” Nirgal said, and faltered.

Coyote saw the expression on his face and laughed. “Hey, who knows? Pretty soon now they’ll have another elevator in place up on Pavonis Mons, and then very likely they’ll start to screw things up all over again, those greedy bastards. And you young folks, maybe you won’t want Earth calling the shots here. We’ll see when the time comes. Meanwhile we’re having fun, right? We’re keeping the flame.”

That night Coyote stopped the car, and told Nirgal to suit up. They went out and stood on the sand, and Coyote turned him around so that he was facing north. “Look at the sky.”

Nirgal stood and watched; and saw a new star burst into existence, there over the northern horizon, growing in a matter of seconds to a long white-tailed comet, flying west to east. When it was about halfway across the sky the blazing head of the comet burst apart, and bright framents scattered in every direction, white into black.

“One of the ice asteroids!” Nirgal exclaimed.

Coyote snorted. “There’s no surprising you, is there boy! Well, I’ll tell you something you didn’t know; that was ice asteroid 2089 C, and did you see how it blew up there at the end? That was a first. They did that on purpose. Blowing them up when they enter the atmosphere allows them to use bigger asteroids without endangering the surface. And that was my idea! I told them to do that myself, I put an anonymous suggestion in the AI at Greg’s Place when I was in there messing with their comm system, and they jumped on it. They’re going to do them that way all the time now. There’ll be one or two every season like that, they’re thickening the atmosphere pretty fast. Look at how the stars are trembling. They used to do that all the nights of Earth. Ah, boy… It’ll happen here all the time too, someday. Air you can breathe like a bird in the sky. Maybe that will help us to change the order of things on this world. You can never tell about things like that.”

Nirgal closed his eyes, and saw red afterimages of the ice meteor score his eyelids. Meteors like white fireworks, holes boring straight into the mantle, volcanoes… He turned and saw the Coyote hopping over the plain, small and thin, his helmet strangely large on him as if he were a mutant or a shaman wearing a sacred animal head, doing a changeling dance over the sand. This was the Coyote, no doubt about it. His father!

Then they had circumnavigated the world, albeit high in the southern hemisphere. The polar cap rose over the horizon and grew, until they were under the overhang of ice, which did not seem as tall as it had at the start of the journey. They circled the ice to home, and drove into the hangar, and got out of the little boulder car that had become so well known to Nirgal in the previous two weeks, and walked stiffly through the locks and back down the long tunnel into the dome, and suddenly they were among all the familiar faces, being hugged and cosseted and questioned. Nirgal shrank shyly from the attention, but there was no need, Coyote told all their stories for him, and he only had to laugh, and deny responsibility for what they had done. Glancing past his kin, he saw how small his little world really was; the dome was less than 5 kilometers across, and 250 meters high out over the lake. A small world.

When the homecoming was over he walked out in the early-morning glow, feeling the happy nip of the air and looking closely at the buildings and bamboo stands of the village, in its nest of hills and trees. It all looked so strange and small. Then he was out on the dunes and walking out to Hiroko’s place, with the gulls wheeling overhead, and he stopped frequently just to see things. He breathed in the chill kelp-and-salt scent of the beach; the intense familiarity of the scent triggered a million memories at once, and he knew he was home.

But home had changed. Or he had. Between the attempt to save Simon and the trip with Coyote, he had become a youth apart from the rest; the distinguishing adventures that he had so longed for had come, and their only result was to exile him from his friends. Jackie and Dao hung together more tightly than ever, and acted like a shield between him and all the younger sansei. Quickly Nirgal realized that he hadn’t really wanted to be different after all. He only wanted to melt back into the closeness of his little pack, and be one with his siblings.

But when he came among them they went silent, and Dao would lead them off, after the most awkward encounters imaginable. And he was left to return to the adults, who began to keep him with them in the afternoons, as a matter of course. Perhaps they meant to spare him some of his pack’s hard treatment, but it only had the effect of marking him even more. There was no cure for it. One day, walking the beach unhappily in the gray and pewter twilight of a fall afternoon, it occurred to him that his childhood was gone. That was what this feeling was; he was something else now, neither adult nor child, a solitary being, a foreigner in his own country. The melancholy realization had a peculiar pleasure to it.

One day after lunch Jackie stayed behind with him and Hiroko, who had come in for the day to teach, and demanded to be included in her afternoon lesson. “Why should you teach him and not me?”

“No reason,” Hiroko said impassively. “Stay if you want. Get out your lectern and call up Thermal Engineering, page one oh five oh. We’ll model Zygote Dome for example. Tell me what is the warmest point under the dome?”

Nirgal and Jackie attacked the problem, competing and yet side by side. He was so happy she was there that he could hardly remember the problem, and Jackie raised a finger before he had even organized his thinking about it. And she laughed at him, a bit scornful but also pleased. Through all these enormous changes in them both there remained in Jackie that capacity for infectious joy, that laughter from which it was so painful to be exiled…

“Here is a question for next time,” Hiroko said to them. “All the names for Mars in the areophany are names given to it by Terrans. About half of them mean fire star in the languages they come from, but that is still a name from the outside. The question is, what is Mars’s own name for itself?”

Several weeks later Coyote came through again, which made Nirgal both happy and nervous. Coyote took a morning teaching the children, but fortunately he treated Nirgal the same as all the rest. “Earth is in very bad shape,” he told them as they worked on vacuum pumps from the liquid-sodium tanks in the Rickover, “and it will only get worse. That makes their control over Mars all the more dangerous to us. We’ll have to hide until we can cut ourselves free of them entirely, and then stand safe to the side while they descend into madness and chaos. You remember my words here, this is a prophecy as true as truth.”

“That isn’t what John Boone said,” Jackie declared. She spent many of her evening hours exploring John Boone’s AI, and now she pulled out the box from her thigh pocket, and with only the briefest search for a passage, the friendly voice from the box was saying, “Mars will never be truly safe until Earth is too.”

Coyote laughed raucously. “Yes, well, John Boone was like that, wasn’t he. But you note he is dead, while I’m still here.”

“Anyone can hide,” Jackie said sharply. “But John Boone got out there and led. That’s why I’m a Boonean.”

“You’re a Boone and a Boonean!” Coyote exclaimed, teasing her. “And Boonean algebra never did add up. But look here, girl, you have to understand your grandfather better than that if you want to call yourself a Boonean. You can’t make John Boone into any kind of dogma and be true to what he was. I see other so-called Booneans out there doing just that, and it makes me laugh when it doesn’t make me foam at the mouth. Why, if John Boone were to meet you and talk to you for even just an hour, then at the end of that time he would be a Jackie-ist. And if he met Dao and talked to him, then he would become a Daoist, maybe even a Maoist. That’s just the way he was. And that was good, you see, because what it did was put the responsibility for thinking back onto us. It forced us to make a contribution, because without that Boone couldn’t operate. His point was not just that everyone can do it, but that everyone should do it.”

“Including all the people on Earth,” Jackie replied.

“Not another quick one!” Coyote cried. “Oh you girl, why don’t you leave these boys of yours and marry me now, I got a kiss like this vacuum pump, here, come on,” and he waved the pump at her and Jackie knocked it aside and shoved him back and ran, just for the fun of the chase. She was now the fastest runner in Zygote bar none, even Nirgal with all his endurance could not sprint the way she did, and the kids laughed at Coyote as he skipped after her; he was pretty swift himself for an ancient, and he turned and jinked and went after them all, growling and ending up at the bottom of a pile-on, crying “Oh my leg, oh I’m going to get you for that, you boys are just jealous of me because I’m going to steal your girl away, oh! Stop! Oh!”

This kind of teasing made Nirgal uncomfortable, and Hiroko didn’t like it either. She told Coyote to stop, but he just laughed at her. “You’re the one that’s gone and made yourself a little incest camp,” he said. “What are you going to do, neuter them?” He laughed at Hiroko’s dark expression. “You’re going to have to farm them out soon, that’s what you’re going to have to do. And I might as well get some of them.”

Hiroko dismissed him, and soon after that he was off on a trip again. And the next time Hiroko taught, she took all the kids to the bathhouse and they got in the bath after her and sat on the slick tiles in the shallow end, soaking in the hot steamy water while Hiroko spoke. Nirgal sat next to Jackie’s long-limbed naked body which he knew so well, including all its dramatic changes of the past year, and he found that he was unable to look at her.

His ancient naked mother said, “You know how genetics works, I’ve taught you that myself. And you know that many of you are half brothers and sisters, uncles and nieces and cousins and so forth. I am mother or grandmother to many of you, and so you should not mate and have children together. It’s as simple as that, a very simple genetic law.” She held up a palm, as if to say, This is our shared body.

“But all living things are filled with viriditas,” she went on, “the green force, patterning outward. And so it is normal that you will love each other, especially now that your bodies are blooming. There is nothing wrong with that, no matter what Coyote says. He is only joking in any case. And in one thing he is right; you will soon be meeting many other people your age, and they will eventually become mates and partners and coparents with you, closer to you even than your tribe kin, whom you know too well to ever love as an other. We here are all pieces of your self; and true love is always for the other.”

Nirgal kept his eyes on his mother’s, his gaze blank. Still he knew exactly when Jackie had brought her legs together, he had felt the minute change in temperature in the water swirling between them. And it seemed to him that his mother was wrong in some of what she had said. Although he knew Jackie’s body so well, she was still in most ways as distant as any fiery star, bright and imperious in the sky. She was the queen of their little band, and could crush him with a glance if she cared to, and did fairly often even though he had been studying her moods all his life. That was as much otherness as he cared to handle. And he loved her, he knew he did. But she didn’t love him back, not in the same way. Nor did she love Dao in that way, he thought, at least not anymore; which was a small comfort. It was Peter she watched in the way that he watched her. But Peter was away most of the time. So she loved no one in Zygote the way Nirgal loved her. Perhaps for her it was already as Hiroko had said, and Dao and Nirgal and the rest were simply too well known. Her brothers and sisters, no matter the genes involved.

* * *

Then one day the sky fell in earnest. The whole highest part of the water ice sheet cracked away from the CO2, collapsing through the mesh and into the lake and all over the beach and the surrounding dunes. Luckily it happened in the early morning when no one was down there, but in the village the first booms and cracks were explosively loud, and everyone rushed to their windows and saw most of the fall: the giant white sections of ice dropping like bombs or spinning down like skipped plates, and then the whole surface of the lake exploding and spilling out over the dunes. People came charging out of their rooms, and in the noise and panic Hiroko and Maya herded the kids into the school, which had a discrete air-system. When a few minutes had passed and it appeared that the dome itself was going to hold, Peter and Michel and Nadia ran off through the debris, dodging and jumping over the shattered white plates, around the lake to the Rickover to make sure it was all right. If it wasn’t it would be a deadly mission for the three of them, and mortal danger to everyone else. From the school window Nirgal could see the far shore of the lake, which was cluttered with icebergs. The air was aswirl with screaming gulls. The three figures twisted along the narrow high path just under the edge of the dome, and disappeared into the Rickover. Jackie chewed her knuckles in fear. Soon they phoned back a report: all was well. The ice over the reactor was supported by a particularly close-meshed framework, and it had held.

So they were safe, for the moment. But over the next couple of days, spent in the village in an unhappy state of tension, an investigation into the cause of the fall revealed that the the whole mass of dry ice over them had sagged ever so slightly, cracking the layer of water ice and sending it down through the mesh. Sublimation on the surface of the cap was apparently speeding up to a remarkable degree, as the atmosphere thickened and the world warmed.

During the next week the icebergs in the lake slowly melted, but the plates scattered over the dunes were still there, melting ever so slowly. The youngsters weren’t allowed on the beach anymore; it wasn’t clear how stable the remainder of the ice layer was.

The tenth night after the collapse they had a village meeting in the dining hall, all two hundred of them. Nirgal looked around at them, at his little tribe; the sansei looked frightened, the nisei defiant, the issei stunned. The old ones had lived in Zygote for fourteen Martian years, and no doubt it was hard for them to remember any other life; impossible for the children, who had never known anything else.

It did not need saying that they would not surrender themselves to the surface world. And yet the dome was becoming untenable, and they were too large a group to impose themselves on any of the other hidden sanctuaries. Splitting up would solve that problem, but it wasn’t a happy solution.

It took an hour’s talk to lay all this out. “We could try Vishniac,” Michel said. “It’s big, and they’d welcome us.”

But it was the Bogdanovists’ home, not theirs. This was the message on the faces of the old ones. Suddenly it seemed to Nirgal that they were the most frightened of all.

He said, “You could move back farther under the ice.”

Everyone stared at him.

“Melt a new dome, you mean,” Hiroko said.

Nirgal shrugged. Having said it, he realized he disliked the idea.

But Nadia said, “The cap is thicker back there. It will be a long time before it sublimes enough to trouble us. By that time everything will have changed.”

There was a silence, and then Hiroko said, “It’s a good idea. We can hold on here while a new dome is being melted, and move things over as space becomes available. It should only take a few months.”

“Shikata ga nai,” Maya said sardonically. There is no other choice. Of course there were other choices. But she looked pleased at the prospect of a big new project, and so did Nadia. And the rest of them looked relieved that they had an option that kept them together, and hidden. The issei, Nirgal saw suddenly, were very frightened of exposure. He sat back, wondering at that, thinking of the open cities he had visited with Coyote.

They used steam hoses powered by the Rickover to melt another tunnel to the hangar, and then a long tunnel under the cap, until the ice above was three hundred meters deep. Back there they began subliming a new round domed cavern, and digging a shallow lakebed for a new lake. Most of the CO2 gas was captured, refrigerated to the outside temperature, and released; the rest was broken down into oxygen and carbon, and stored for use.

While the excavation went on they dug up the shallow runner roots of the big snow bamboos, and cantilevered them out of the ground and hauled them on their largest truck down the tunnel to the new cave, scraping leaves all the way. They disassembled the village’s buildings, and relocated them. The robot bulldozer and trucks ran all hours of the day and night, scooping up the battered sand of the old dunes and carting it back down into the new cave; there was too much biomass in it (including Simon) to leave behind. In essence they were taking everything inside the shell of Zygote dome along with them. When they were done, the old cave was nothing but an empty bubble at the bottom of the polar cap, sandy ice above, icy sand below, the air in it nothing but the ambient Martian atmosphere, 170 millibars of mostly CO2 gas, at 240° Kelvin. Thin poison.

One day Nirgal went back with Peter to take a look at the old place. It was shocking to see the only home he had ever had reduced to such a shell — the ice all cracked above, the sand all torn up, the raw root holes of the village gaping like horrible wounds, the lakebed scraped clear even of its algae. It looked small and ramshackle, some desperate animal’s den. Moles in a hole, Coyote had said. Hiding from vultures. “Let’s get out of here,” Peter said sadly, and they walked together down the long bare poorly lit tunnel to the new dome, stepping along the concrete road Nadia had built, now all ratcheted with treadmarks.

They laid out the new dome in a new pattern, with the village away from the tunnel lock, near an escape tunnel that ran far under the ice, to an exit in upper Chasma Australe. The greenhouses were set nearer the perimeter lights, and the dune crests were higher than before, and the weather equipment was set right next to the Rickover. There were any number of small improvements of that sort, which kept it from being a replica of their old home. And every day they were so busy with the work of constructing it that there was no time to think much about the change; morning classes in the schoolhouse had been canceled since the fall, and now the kids were merely a rotating work crew, assigned to whoever needed help the most on that particular day. Sometimes the adult overseeing them would try to make their work into a lesson — Hiroko and Nadia were especially good at this — but they had little time to spare, and only added an explanatory sentence to instructions that were too simple to need explanation in any case: tightening wall modules with Alien wrenches, carrying around planters and algae jars in the greenhouses, and so on. It was just work — they were part of the workforce, which was too small for the task even so, despite the versatile robots that looked like rovers stripped of their exteriors. And running around, doing the work, Nirgal was for the most part happy.

But once as he left the schoolhouse and saw the dining hall, rather than the big shoots of Creche Crescent, the sight brought him up short. His old familiar world was gone, gone forever. That was how time worked. It sent a pang through him that brought tears to his eyes, and he spent the rest of that day somewhat stunned and distant, as if always a step or two behind himself, watching everything that happened drained of emotion, detached as he had been after Simon’s death, exiled to the white world one step outside the green. There was nothing to indicate that he would ever come out of such a melancholy state, and how could he know if he ever would? All those days of his childhood were gone, along with Zygote itself, and they would never come back, and this day too would pass and disappear, this dome too slowly sublime away and crash in on itself. Nothing would last. So what was the point? For hours at a time this question plagued him, taking the taste and color out of everything, and when Hiroko noticed how subdued he was, and inquired what was wrong, he simply asked her outright. There was that advantage to Hiroko; you could ask her anything, including the fundamental questions. “Why do we do all this, Hiroko? When it all goes white no matter what?”

She stared at him, birdlike, her head cocked to one side. He thought he could see her affection for him in that cock of the head, but he wasn’t sure; as he got older he felt he understood her (along with everyone else) less and less.

She said, “It is sad the old dome is gone, isn’t it. But we must focus on what is coming. This too is viriditas. To concentrate not on what we have created, but what we will create. The dome was like a flower which wilts and falls, but contains the seed of a new plant, which grows and then there are new flowers and new seeds. The past is gone. Thinking about it will only make you melancholy. Why, I was a girl in Japan once, on Hokkaido Island! Yes, as young as you! And I can’t tell you how far gone that is. But here we are now, you and me, surrounded by these plants and these people, and if you pay attention to them, and how you can make them increase and prosper, then the life comes back into things. You feel the kami inside all things, and that is all you need. This moment itself is all we ever live in.”

“And the old days?”

She laughed at that. “You’re growing up. Well, you must remember the old days from time to time. They were good ones, weren’t they? You had a happy childhood; that is a blessing. But so will these days be good. Take this moment right here, and ask yourself, What now is lacking? Hmmm? … Coyote says that he wants you and Peter to go along with him on another trip. Maybe you should go and get out under the sky again, what do you say?”

So preparations for another trip with Coyote were made, and they continued to work on the new Zygote, informally rechristened Gamete. At night in the relocated dining hall the adults talked for a long time about their situation. Sax and Vlad and Ursula, among others, wanted back into the surface world. They couldn’t do their real work properly in the hidden sanctuaries; they wanted back into the full flood of medical science, terraforming, construction. “We’ll never be able to disguise ourselves,” Hiroko said. “No one can change their genomes.”

“It’s not our genomes we should change, but the records,” Sax said. “That’s what Spencer has done. He’s gotten his physical characteristics into a new record identity.”

“And we did cosmetic surgery on his face,” Vlad said.

“Yes, but it was minimal because of our age, right? We none of us look the same. Anyway, if you do something like what he did, we could take on new identities.”

Maya said, “Did Spencer really get into all the records?”

Sax shrugged. “He was left behind in Cairo, and had the chance to get into some of the ones being used now for security purposes. That has been enough. I’d like to try something similar. Let’s see what Coyote says about it. He’s not in any records at all, so he must know how he did it.”

“He’s been hidden from the beginning,” Hiroko said. “That’s different.”

“Yes, but he might have some ideas.”

“We could just move into the demimonde,” Nadia pointed out, “and stay off the records entirely. I think I’d like to try that.”

Night after night they talked these matters over. “Well, a little change of appearance might be in order. You know Phyllis is back, we have to remember that.”

“I still can’t believe they survived. She must have nine lives.”

“In any case we were on too many news shows. We have to take care.”

By day Gamete was slowly completed. But it never seemed right to Nirgal, no matter how much he tried to focus on the making of it. It wasn’t his place.

News came from another traveler that Coyote would be by soon. Nirgal felt his pulse quicken; to get back under the starry sky again, wandering by night in Coyote’s boulder car, from sanctuary to sanctuary…

Jackie stared at him attentively as he talked about it to her. And that afternoon, after they were dismissed from the day’s work, she led him down to the tall new dunes and kissed him. When he recovered his wits he kissed back, and then they were kissing passionately, hugging each other hard and steaming all over each other’s faces. They knelt in the trough between two high dunes, under a pale thin fog, and then lay together in a cocoon made of their down coats, and kissed and touched each other, peeling down each other’s pants and creating a little envelope of their own warmth, huffing out steam and crackling the frost on the sand underneath their coats. All this without a word, merging in one great hot electric circuit, in defiance of Hiroko and all the world. So this is what it feels like, Nirgal thought. Under the strands of Jackie’s black hair grains of sand gleamed like jewels, as if minute ice flowers were contained within them. Glories inside everything.

When they were done they crawled up to glance over the dune crest, to make sure no one was coming their way, and then returned to their nest and pulled their clothes over them, for the warmth. They huddled together, kissing voluptuously and without haste. And Jackie prodded him in the chest with a finger and said, “Now we belong to each other.”

Nirgal could only nod happily and kiss the long expanse of her throat, his face buried in her black hair. “Now you belong to me,” she said.

He sincerely hoped it was true. It was how he had wanted it, for as long as he could remember.

*     *       *

But that evening in the bathhouse Jackie sloshed across the pool, and caught up Dao and gave him a hug, body to body. She pulled back and stared at Nirgal with a blank expression, her dark eyes like holes in her face. Nirgal sat frozen in the shallows, feeling his torso stiffen as if preparing for a blow. His balls were still sore from coming in her; and there she stood draped against Dao, as she hadn’t been in months, staring at him with a basilisk stare.

The strangest sensation swept over him — he understood that this was a moment he would remember all his life, a pivotal moment, right there in the steamy comfortable bath, under the osprey eye of the statuesque Maya, whom Jackie hated with a fine hate, who was now watching the three of them closely, suspecting something. So this was how it was. Jackie and Nirgal might belong to each other, and he certainly belonged to her — but her idea of belonging was not his. The shock of this knocked his breath out, it was a kind of collapse of the roof of his understanding of things. He looked at her, stunned, hurt, becoming angry — she hugged Dao all the more — and he understood. She had collected both of them. Yes, it made sense, it was certain; and Reull and Steve and Frantz were all equally devoted to her — perhaps that was just a holdover from her rule over the little band, but perhaps not. Perhaps she had collected all of them. And clearly, now that Nirgal was a kind of foreigner to them, she was more comfortable with Dao. So he was an exile in his own home, and in his own love’s heart. If she had a heart!

He didn’t know if any of these impressions were true, didn’t know how to find out. He wasn’t sure he wanted to find out. He got out of the bath and retreated into the men’s room, feeling Jackie’s gaze boring into his back, and Maya’s too.

In the men’s room he caught sight of an unfamiliar face in one of the mirrors. He stopped short and recognized it as his own face, twisted with distress.

He approached the mirror slowly, feeling the strange sensation of momentousness sweep through him again. He stared at the face in the mirror, stared and stared; it came to him that he was not the center of the universe, or its only consciousness, but a person like all the rest, seen from the outside by others, the way he saw others when he looked at them. And this strange Nirgal-in-the-mirror was an arresting black-haired brown-eyed boy, intense and compelling, a near twin to Jackie, with thick black eyebrows and a… a look. He didn’t want to know any of this. But he felt the power burning at his fingertips, and recalled how people looked at him, and understood that for Jackie he might represent the same sort of dangerous power that she did .for him — which would explain her consorting with Dao, as an attempt to hold him off, to hold a balance, to assert her power. To show they were a matched pair — and a match. And all of a sudden the tension left his torso, and he shuddered, and then grinned, lopsidedly. They did indeed belong to each other. But he was still himself.

So when Coyote showed up and came by to ask Nirgal to join him on another trip, he agreed instantly, very thankful for the opportunity. The flash of anger on Jackie’s face when she heard the news was painful to see; but another part of him exulted at his otherness, at his ability to escape her, or at least to get some distance. Match or not, he needed it.

A few evenings later he and Coyote and Peter and Michel drove away from the huge mass of the polar cap, into the broken land, black under its blanket of stars.

Nirgal looked back at the luminous white cliff with a tumultuous mix of feelings; but chief among them was relief. Back there they would burrow ever deeper under the ice, it seemed, until they lived in a dome under the South Pole — while the red world spun through the cosmos, wild among the stars. Suddenly he understood that he would never again live under the dome, never return to it except for short visits; this was not a matter of choice, but simply the way it was going to happen. His fate, or destiny. He could feel it like a red rock in his hand. Henceforth he would be homeless, unless the whole planet someday became his home, every crater and canyon known to him, every plant, every rock, every person — everything, in the green world and the white. But that (remembering the storm seen from the edge of Promethei Rupes) was a task to occupy many lives. He would have to start learning.


The Ambassador

Asteroids with elliptical orbits that cross inside the orbit of Mars are called Amor asteroids, (if they cross inside the orbit of Earth they are called Trojans.) In 2088 the Amor asteroid known as 2034 B crossed the path of Mars some eighteen million kilometers behind the planet, and a clutch of robotic landing vehicles originating from Luna docked with it shortly thereafter. 2034 B was a rough ball about five kilometers in diameter, with a mass of about fifteen billion tons. As the rockets touched down, the asteroid became New Clarke.

Quickly the change became obvious. Some landers sank to the dusty surface of the asteroid and began drilling, excavating, stamping, sorting, conveying. A nuclear reactor power plant switched on, and fuel rods moved into position. Elsewhere ovens fired, and robot stokers prepared to shovel. On other landers payload bays opened, and robot mechanisms spidered out onto the surface and anchored themselves to the irregular planes of rock. Tunnelers bored in. Dust flew off into the space around the asteroid, and fell back down or escaped forever. Landers extended pipes and tubes into each other. The asteroid’s rock was carbonaceous chrondrite, with a good percentage of water ice shot through it in veins and bubbles. Soon the linked collection of factories in the landers began to produce a variety of carbon-based materials, and some composites.

Heavy water, one part in every 6,000 of the water ice in the asteroid, was separated out. Deuterium was made from the heavy water. Parts were made from the carbon composites, and other parts, brought along in another payload, were brought together with the new ones in factories. New robots appeared, made mostly of Clarke itself. And so the number of machines grew, as computers on the landers directed the creation of an entire industrial complex.

After that the process was quite simple, for many years. The principal factory on New Clarke made a cable of carbon nanotube filaments. The nanotubes were made of carbon atoms linked in chains so that the bonds holding them together were as strong as any that humans could manufacture. The filaments were only a few score meters long, but were bundled in clusters with their ends overlapping, and then the bundles were bundled, until the cable was nine meters in diameter. The factories could create the filaments and bundle them at speeds that allowed them to extrude the cable at a rate of about four hundred meters an hour, ten kilometers a day, for hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

While this thin strand of bundled carbon spun out into space, robots on another facet of the asteroid were constructing a mass driver, an engine that would use the deuterium from the indigenous water to fire crushed rock away from the asteroid at speeds of 200 kilometers a second. Around the asteroid smaller engines and conventional rockets were also being constnicted and stocked with fuels, waiting/or the time when they would fire, and perform the work of attitude jets. Other factories constructed long wheeled vehicles capable of running back and forth on the growing cable, and as the cable continued to appear out of the planet, small rocket jets and other machinery were attached to it.

The mass driver fired. The asteroid began to move into a new orbit.

Years passed. The asteroid’s new orbit intersected the orbit of Mars such that the asteroid came within ten thousand kilometers of Mars, and the collection of rockets on the asteroid fired in a way that allowed the gravity of Mars to capture it, in an orbit at first highly elliptical. The jets continued to fire off and on, regularizing the orbit. The cable continued to extrude. More years passed.

A little over a decade after the landers had first touched down, the cable was approximately thirty thousand kilometers long. The asteroid’s mass was about eight billion tons, the cable’s mass was about seven billion. The asteroid was in an elliptical orbit with a periapsis of around fifty thousand kilometers. But now all the rockets and mass drivers on both New Clarke and the cable itself began to fire, some continuously but most in spurts. One of the most powerful computers ever made sat in one of the payload bays, coordinating the data from sensors and determining what rockets should fire when. The cable, at this time pointing away from Mars, began to swing around toward it, as in the pivoting of some delicate part of a timepiece. The asteroid’s orbit became smaller and more regular.

More rockets landed on New Clarkefor the first time since that first touchdown, and robots in them began the construction of a spaceport. The tip of the cable began to descend toward Mars. Here the calculus employed by the computer soared off into an almost metaphysical complexity, and the gravitational dance of asteroid and cable with the planet became ever more precise, moving to a music that was in a permanent ritard, so that as the great cable grew closer to its proper position, its movements became slower and slower. If anyone had been able to see the full extent of this spectacle, it might have seemed like some spectacular physical demonstration of Zeno’s paradox, in which the racer gets closer to the finish line by halving distances … But no one ever saw the full spectacle, for no witnesses had the senses necessary. Proportionally the cable was far thinner than a human hair — if it had been reduced to a hair’s diameter, it would still have been hundreds of kilometers long — and so it was only visible for short portions of its entire length. Perhaps one might say that the computer guiding it in had the fullest sensation of it. For observers down on the surface of Mars, in the town of Sheffield, on the volcano Pavonis Mons (Peacock Mountain), the cable made its first appearance as a very small rocket, descending with a very thin leader line attached to it; something like a bright lure and a thin fishing line, being trolled by some gods in the next universe up. From this ocean-bottom perspective the cable itself followed its leader line down into the massive concrete bunker east of Sheffield with an aching slowness, until most humans simply stopped paying attention to the vertical black stroke in the upper atmosphere.

But the day came when the bottom of the cable, firing jets to hold its position in the gusty winds, dropped down into the hole in the roof of the concrete bunker, and settled into its collar. Now the cable below the areosynchronous point was being pulled down by Mars’s gravity; the part above the areosynchronous point was trying to follow New Clarke in centrifugal flight away from the planet; and the carbon filaments of the cable held the tension, and the whole apparatus rotated at the same speed as the planet, standing above Pavonis Mons in an oscillating vibration that allowed it to dodge Deimos; all of it controlled still by the computer on New Clarke, and the long battery of rockets deployed on the carbon strand.

The elevator was back. Cars were lifted up one side of the cable from Pavonis, and other cars were let down from New Clarke, providing a counterweight so that the energy needed for both operations was greatly lessened. Spaceships made their approach to the New Clarke spaceport, and when they left they were given a slingshot departure. Mars’s gravity well was therefore substantially mitigated, and all its human intercourse with Earth and the rest of the solar system made less expensive. It was as if an umbilical cord had been retied.

He was in the middleof a perfectly ordinary life when they drafted him and sent him to Mars.

The summons came in the form of a fax that appeared out of his phone, in the apartment Art Randolph had rented just the month before, after he and his wife had decided on a trial separation. The fax was brief: Dear Arthur Randolph: William Fort invites you’to attend a private seminar. A plane will leave San Francisco airport at 9 A.M., February 22nd 2101.

Art stared at the paper in amazement. William Fort was the founder of Praxis, the transnational that had acquired Art’s company some years before. Fort was very old, and now his position in the transnat was said to be some kind of semiretired emeritus thing. But he still held private seminars, which were notorious although there was very little hard information about them. It was . said that he invited people from all subsidiaries of the transnat; that they gathered in San Francisco, and were flown away by private jet to someplace secret. No one knew what went on there. People who attended were usually transferred afterward, and if not, they kept their mouths shut in a way that gave one pause. So it was a mystery.

Art was surprised to be invited, apprehensive but basically pleased. Before its acquisition he had been the cofounder and technical director of a small company called Dumpmines, which was in the business” of digging up and processing old landfills, recovering the valuable materials that had been thrown away in a more wasteful age. It had been a surprise when Praxis had acquired them, a very pleasant surprise, as everyone in Dumpmines went from employment in a small firm to apprentice membership in one of the richest organizations in the world — paid in its shares, voting on its policy, free to use all its resources. It was like being knighted.

Art certainly had been pleased, and so had his wife, although she had been elegiac as well. She herself had been hired by Mitsubishi’s synthesis management, and the big transnationals, she said, were like separate worlds. With the two of them working for different ones they were inevitably going to drift apart, even more than they already had. Neither of them needed the other anymore to obtain longevity treatments, which transnats provided much more reliably than the government. And so they were like people on different ships, she said, sailing out of San Francisco Bay in different directions. Like ships, in fact, passing in the night.

It had seemed to Art that they might have been able to commute between ships, if his wife had not been so interested in one of the other passengers on hers, a vice-chairman of Mitsubishi in charge of East Pacific development. But Art had been quickly caught up in Praxis’s arbitration program, traveling frequently to take classes or arbitrate in disputes between various small Praxis subsidiaries involved in resource recovery, and when he was in San Francisco, Sharon was very seldom at home. Their ships were moving out of hailing distance, she had said, and he had become too demoralized to contest the point, and had moved out soon afterward, on her suggestion. Kicked out, one could have said.

Now he rubbed a swarthy unshaven jaw, rereading the fax for the fourth time. He was a big man, powerfully built but with a tendency to slouch — “uncouth,” his wife had called him, although his secretary at Dumpmines used the term “bearlike,” which he preferred. Indeed he had the somewhat clumsy and shambling appearance of a bear, also its surprising quickness and power. He had been a fullback at the University of Washington, a fullback slow of foot but decisive in direction, and very difficult to bring down Bear Man, they had called him. Tackle him at your peril.

He had studied engineering, and afterward worked in the oil fields of Iran and Georgia, devising a number of innovations for extracting oil from extremely marginal shale. He had gotten a master’s degree from Tehran University while doing this work, and then had moved to California and joined a friend who was forming a company that made deep-sea diving equipment used in offshore oil drilling, an enterprise that was moving out into ever-deeper water as more accessible supplies were exhausted. Once again Art had invented a number of improvements in both diving gear and underwater drills, but a couple of years spent in compression chambers and on the continental shelf had been enough for him, and he had sold his shares to his partner and moved on again. In quick succession he had started a cold-environments habitat construction company, worked for a solar panel firm, and built rocket gantries. Each job had been fine, but as time passed he had found that what really interested him, was not the technical problems but the human, ones. He became more and more involved with project management, and then got into arbitration; he liked jumping into arguments and solving them to everyone’s satisfaction. It was engineering of a different kind, more engrossing and fulfilling than the mechanical stuff, and more difficult. Several of the companies he worked for in those years were part of transnationals, and he got embroiled in interface arbitration not only between his companies and others in the transnats, but also in more distant disputes requiring some kind of third-party arbitration. Social engineering, he called it, and found it fascinating.

So when starting Dumpmines he had taken the technical directorship, and had done some good work on their SuperRathjes, the giant robot vehicles that did the extraction and sorting at the landfills; but more than ever before he involved himself in labor disputes and the like. This trend in his career had accelerated after the acquisition by Praxis. And on the days when work like that went well, he always went home knowing that he should have been a judge, or a diplomat. Yes — at heart he was a diplomat.

Which made it embarrassing that he had not been able to negotiate a successful outcome to his own marriage. And no doubt the breakup was well known to Fort, or whoever had invited him to this seminar. It was even possible that they had bugged his old apartment, and heard the unhappy mess of his and Sharon’s final months together, which wouldn’t have been flattering to either of them. He cringed at the thought, still rubbing his rough jaw, and drifted toward the bathroom and turned on the portable water heater. The face in the mirror looked mildly stunned. Unshaven, fifty, separated, misemployed for most of his life, just beginning at his true calling — he was not the kind of person he imagined got faxes from William Fort.

His wife or ex-wife-to-be called, and she was likewise incredulous. “It must be a mistake,” she said when Art told her about it. She had called about one of her camera lenses, now missing; she suspected that Art had taken it when he moved out. “I’ll look for it,” Art said. He went over to the closet to look in his two suitcases, still packed. He knew the lens was not in them, but he rooted loudly through them both anyway. Sharon would know if he tried to fake it. While he searched she continued to talk over the phone, her voice echoing tinnily through the empty apartment. “It just shows how weird that Fort is. You’ll go to some Shangri-La and he’ll be using Kleenex boxes for shoes and talking Japanese, and you’ll be sorting his trash and learning to levitate and I’ll never see you again. Did you find it?”

“No. It’s not here.” When they had separated they had divided their joint possessions: Sharon had taken their apartment, the entertainment center, the desktop array, the lectern, the cameras, the plants, the bed, and all the rest of the furniture; Art had taken the Teflon frying pan. Not one of his best arbitrations. But it meant he now had very few places to search for the lens.

Sharon could make a single sigh into a comprehensive accusation. “They’ll teach you Japanese, and we’ll never see you again. What could William Fort want with you?” “Marriage counseling?” Art said.

Many of the rumors about Fort’s seminars turned out to be true, which Art found amazing. At San Francisco International he got on a big powerful private jet with six other men and women, and after takeoff the jet’s windows, apparently double-polarized, went black, and the door to the cockpit was closed. Two of Art’s fellow passengers played at orienteering, and after the jet made several gentle banks left and right, they agreed that they were headed in some direction between southwest and north. The seven of them shared information: they were all technical managers or arbitrators from the vast network of Praxis companies. They had flown in to San Francisco from all over the world. Some seemed excited to be invited to meet the transnational’s reclusive founder; others were apprehensive.

Their flight lasted six hours, and the orienteers spent the descent plotting the outermost limit of their location, a circle that encompassed Juneau, Hawaii, Mexico City, and Detroit, although it could have been larger, as Art pointed out, if they were in one of the new air-to-space jets; perhaps half the Earth or more. When the jet landed and stopped, they were led through a miniature jetway into a big van with blackened windows, and a windowless barrier between them and the driver’s seat. Their doors were locked from the outside.

They were driven for half an hour. Then the van stopped and they were let out by their driver, an elderly man wearing shorts and a T-shirt advertising Bali.

They blinked in the sunlight. They were not in Bali. They were in a small asphalt parking lot surrounded by eucalyptus trees, at the bottom of a narrow coastal valley. An ocean or very big lake lay to the west about a mile, just a small wedge of it in sight. A creek drained the valley, and ran into a lagoon behind a beach. The valley’s side walls were covered with dry grass on the south side, cactus on the north; the ridges above were dry brown rock. “Baja?” one of the orienteers guessed. “Ecuador? Australia?”

“San Luis Obispo?” Art said.

Their driver led them on foot down a narrow road to a small compound, composed of seven two-story wooden buildings, nestled among seacoast pines at the bottom of the valley. Two buildings by the creek were residences, and after they dropped their bags in assigned rooms in these buildings, the driver led them to a dining room in another building, where half a dozen kitchen workers, all quite elderly, fed them a simple meal of salad and stew. After that they were taken back to the residences, and left on their own.

They gathered in a central chamber around a wood-burning stove. It was warm outside, and there was no fire in the stove.

“Fort is a hundred and twelve,” the orienteer named Sam said. “And the treatments haven’t worked on his brain.”

“They never do,” said Max, the other orienteer.

They discussed Fort for a while. All of them had heard things, for William Fort was one of the great success stories in the history of medicine, their century’s Pasteur: the man who beat cancer, as the tabloids inaccurately put it. The man who beat the common cold. He had founded Praxis at age twenty-four, to market several breakthrough innovations in antivirals, and he had been a multi-billionaire by the time he was twenty-seven. After that he had occupied his time by expanding Praxis into one of the world’s biggest transnational. Eighty continuous years of metastasizing, as Sam put it. While mutating personally into a kind of ultra-Howard Hughes, or so it was said, growing more and more powerful, until like a black hole he had disappeared completely inside the event horizon of his own power. “I just hope it doesn’t get too weird,” Max said.

The others attendants — Sally, Amy, Elizabeth, and George — were more optimistic. But all of them were apprehensive at their peculiar welcome, or lack of one, and when no one came to visit them through the rest of that evening, they retired to their rooms looking concerned.

Art slept well as always, and at dawn he woke to the low hoot of an owl. The creek burbled below his window. It was a gray dawn, the air filled with the fog that nourished the sea pines. A locking sound came from somewhere in the compound.

He dressed and went out. Everything was soaking wet. Down on narrow flat terraces below the buildings were rows of lettuce, and rows of apple trees so pruned and tied to frameworks that they were no more than fan-shaped bushes.

Colors were seeping into things when Art came to the bottom of the little farm, over the lagoon. There a lawn lay spread like a carpet under a big old oak tree. Art walked over to the tree, feeling drawn to it. He touched its rough, fissured bark. Then he heard voices; coming up a path by the lagoon were a line of people, wearing black wetsuits and carrying surfboards, or long folded birdsuits. As they passed he recognized the faces of the previous night’s kitchen crew, and also their driver. The driver waved and continued up the path. Art walked down it to the lagoon. The low sound of waves mumbled through the salty air, and birds swam in the reeds.

After a while Art went back up the trail, and in the compound’s dining room he found the elderly workers back in the kitchen, flipping pancakes. After Art and the rest of the guests had eaten, yesterday’s driver led them upstairs to a large meeting room. They sat on couches arranged in a square. Big picture windows in all four walls let in a lot of the morning’s gray light. The driver sat on a chair between two couches. “I’m William Fort,” he said. “I’m glad you’re all here.”

He was, on closer inspection, a strange-looking old man; his face was lined as if by a hundred years of anxiety, but the expression it currently displayed was serene and detached. A chimp, Art thought, with a past in lab experimentation, now studying Zen. Or simply a very old surfer or hang-glider, weathered, bald, round-faced, snub-nosed. Now taking them in one by one. Sam and Max, who had ignored him as driver and cook, were looking uncomfortable, but he didn’t seem to notice. “One index,” he said, “for measuring how full the world is of humans and their activities, is the percent appropriation of the net product of land-based photosynthesis.”

Sam and Max nodded as if this were the usual way to start a meeting.

“Can I take notes?” Art asked.

“Please,” Fort said. He gestured at the coffee table in the middle of the square of couches, which was covered with papers and lecterns. “I want to play some games later, so there’s lecterns and workpads, whatever you like.”

Most of them had brought their own lecterns, and there was a short silent scramble as they got them out and running. While they were at it Fort stood up and began walking in a circle behind their couches, making a revolution every few sentences.

“We now use about eighty percent of the net primary product of land-based photosynthesis,” he said. “One hundred percent is probably impossible to reach, and our long-range carrying capacity has been estimated to be thirty percent, so we are massively overshot, as they say. We have been liquidating our natural capital as if it were disposable income, and are nearing depletion of certain capital stocks, like oil, wood, soil, metals, fresh water, fish, and animals. This makes continued economic expansion difficult.”

Difficult! Art wrote. Continued?

“We have to continue,” Fort said, with a piercing glance at Art, who unobtrusively sheltered his lectern with his arm. “Continuous expansion is a fundamental tenet of economics. Therefore one of the fundamentals of the universe itself. Because everything is economics. Physics is cosmic economics, biology is cellular economics, the humanities are social economics, psychology is mental economics, and so on.”

His listeners nodded unhappily.

“So everything is expanding. But it can’t happen in contradiction to the law of conservation of matter-energy. No matter how efficient your throughput is, you can’t get an output larger than the input.”

Art wrote on his note page, Output larger than input — everything economics — natural capital — Massively Overshot.

“In response to this situation, a group here in Praxis has been working on what we call full-world economics.”

“Shouldn’t that be overfull-world?” Art asked.

Fort didn’t appear to hear him. “Now as Daly said, man-made capital and natural capital are not substitutable. This is obvious, but since most economists still say they are substitutable, it has to be insisted on. Put simply, you can’t substitute more sawmills for fewer forests. If you’re building a house you can juggle the number of power saws and carpenters, which means they’re substitutable, but you can’t build it with half the amount of lumber, no matter how many saws or carpenters you have. Try it and you have a house of air. And that’s where we live now.”

Art shook his head and looked down at his lectern page, which he had filled again. Resources and capital nonsubstitutable — power saws/carpenters — house of air.

“Excuse me?” Sam said. “-Did you say natural capital?”

Fort jerked, turned around to look at Sam. “Yes?”

“I thought capital was by definition man-made. The produced means of production, we were taught to define it.”

“Yes. But in a capitalist world, the word capital has taken on more and more uses. People talk about human capital, for instance, which is what labor accumulates through education and work experience. Human capital differs from the classic kind in that you can’t inherit it, and it can only be rented, not bought or sold.”

“Unless you count slavery,” Art said.

Fort’s forehead wrinkled. “This concept of natural capital actually resembles the traditional definition more than human capital. It can be owned and bequeathed, and divided into renewable and nonrenewable, marketed and nonmarketed.”

“But if everything is capital of one sort or another,” Amy said, “you can see why people would think that one kind was substi-tutable for another kind. If you improve your man-made capital to use less natural capital, isn’t that a substitution?”

Fort shook his head. “That’s efficiency. .Capital is a quantity of input, and efficiency is a ratio of output to input. No matter how efficient capital is, it can’t make something out of nothing.”

“New energy sources …” Max suggested.

“But we can’t make soil out of electricity. Fusion power and self-replicating machinery have given us enormous amounts of power, but we have to have basic stocks to apply that power to. And that’s where we run into a limit for which there are no substitutions possible.”

Fort stared at them all, still displaying that primate calm that Art had noted at the beginning. Art glanced at his lectern screen. Natural capital — human capital — traditional capital — energy vs. matter — electric soil — no substitutes please — He grimaced and clicked to a new page.

Fort said, “Unfortunately, most economists are still working within the empty world model of economics.”

“The full-world model seems obvious,” Sally said. “It’s just common sense. Why would any economist ignore it?”

Fort shrugged, made another silent circumnavigation of the room. Art’s neck was getting tired.

“We understand the world through paradigms. The change from empty-world economics to full-world economics is a major paradigm shift. Max Planck once said that a new paradigm takes over not when it convinces its opponents, but when its opponents eventually die.”

“And now they aren’t dying,” Art said.

Fort nodded. “The treatments are keeping people around. And a lot of them have tenure.”

Sally looked disgusted. “Then they’ll have to learn to change their minds, won’t they.”

Fort stared at her. “We’ll try that right now. In theory at least. I want you to invent full-world economic strategies. It’s a game I play. If you plug your lecterns into the table, I can give you the starting data.”

They all leaned forward and plugged into the table.

*     *       *

The first game Fort wanted to play involved estimating maximum sustainable human populations. “Doesn’t that depend on assumptions about lifestyle?” Sam asked.

“We’ll make a whole range of assumptions.”

He wasn’t kidding. They went from scenarios in which Earth’s every acre of arable land was farmed with maximum efficiency, to scenarios involving a return to hunting and gathering; from universal conspicuous consumption, to universal subsistence diets. Their lecterns set the initial conditions and then they tapped away, looking bored or nervous or impatient or absorbed, using formulas provided by the table, or else supplying some of their own.

It occupied them until lunch, and then all afternoon. Art enjoyed games, and he and Amy always finished well ahead of the others. Their results for a maximum sustainable population ranged from a hundred million (the “immortal tiger” model, as Fort called it) to thirty billion (the “ant farm” model).

“That’s a big range,” Sam noted.

Fort nodded, and eyed them patiently.

“But if you look only at models with the most realistic conditions,” Art said, “you usually get between three and eight billion.”

“And the current population is about twelve billion,” Fort said. “So, say we’re overshot. Now what do we do about that? We’ve got companies to run, after all. Business isn’t going to stop because there’s too many people. Full-wo rid economics isn’t the end of economics, it’s just the end of business as usual. I want Praxis to be ahead of the curve on this. So. It’s low tide, and I’m going back out. You’re welcome to join me. Tomorrow we’ll play a game called Overfull.”

With that he left the room, and they were on their own. They went back to their rooms, and then, as it was close to dinnertime, to the dining hall. Fort was not there, but several of his elderly associates from the night before were; and joining them tonight was a crowd of young men and women, all of them lean, bright-faced, healthy-looking. They looked like a track club or a swim team, and more than half were women. Sam’s and Max’s eyebrows shot up and down in a simple Morse code, spelling “Ah ha! Ah ha!” The young men and women ignored that and served them dinner, then returned to the kitchen. Art ate quickly, wondering if Sam and Max were correct in their suppositions. Then he took his plate into the kitchen and started to help at the dishwasher, and said to one of the young women, “What brings you here?”

“It’s a kind of scholarship program,” she said. Her name was Joyce. “We’re all apprentices who joined Praxis last year, and we were selected to come here for classes.”

“Were you by chance working on full-world economics today?”

“No, volleyball.”

Art went back outside, wishing he had gotten selected to their program rather than his. He wondered if there was some big hot-tub facility, down there overlooking the ocean. It did not seem impossible; the ocean here was cool, and if everything was economics, it could be seen as an investment. Maintaining the human infrastructure, so to speak.

Back in the residence, his fellow guests were talking the day over. “I hate this kind of stuff,” said Sam.

“We’re stuck with it,” Max said gloomily. “It’s join a cult or lose your job.”

The others were not so pessimistic. “Maybe he’s just lonely,” Amy suggested.

Sam and Max rolled their eyes and glanced toward the kitchen.

“Maybe he always wanted to be a teacher,” Sally said.

“Maybe he wants to keep Praxis growing ten percent per year,” George said, “full world or not.”

Sam and Max nodded at this, and Elizabeth looked annoyed. “Maybe he wants to save the world!” she said.

“Right,” Sam said, and Max and George snickered.

“Maybe he’s got this room bugged,” Art said, which cut short the conversation like a guillotine.

The days that followed were much like the first one. They sat in the conference room, and Fort circled them and talked through the mornings, sometimes coherently, sometimes not. One morning he spent three hours talking about feudalism — how it was the clearest political expression of primate dominance dynamics, how it had never really gone away, how transnational capitalism was feudalism writ large, how the aristocracy of the world had to figure out how to subsume capitalist growth within the steady-state stability of the feudal model. Another morning he talked about a caloric theory of value called eco-economics, apparently first worked out by early settlers on Mars; Sam and Max rolled their eyes at that news, while Fort droned on about Taneev and Tokareva equations, scribbling illegibly on a drawing board in the corner.

But this pattern didn’t last, because a few days after their arrival a big swell came in from the south, and Fort canceled their meetings and spent all his time surfing or skimming over the, waves in a birdsuit, which was a light broad-winged bodysuit, a flexible fly-by-wire hang glider that translated the flyer’s muscle movements into the proper semi-rigid configurations for successful flight. Most of the young scholarship winners joined him in the air, swooping around like Icaruses, and then dropping in and planing swiftly over the cushions of air pushed up by every breaking wave, air surfing just like the pelicans that had invented the sport.

Art went out and thrashed around on a body board, enjoying the water, which was chill, but not so much as to absolutely require a wetsuit. He hung out near the break that Joyce surfed, and chatted with her between sets, and found out that the other ancient kitchen workers were good friends of Fort’s, veterans of the first years of Praxis’s rise to prominence. The young scholars referred to them as the Eighteen Immortals. Some of the Eighteen were based at the camp, while others dropped by for a kind of ongoing reunion, conferring about problems, advising the current Praxis leadership on policy, running seminars and classes, and playing in the waves. Those who didn’t care for the water worked in the gardens.

Art inspected the gardeners closely as he hiked back up to the compound. They worked in something resembling slow motion, talking to each other all the while. Currently the main task appeared to be harvesting the tortured apple bushes.

The south swell subsided, and Fort reconvened Art’s group. One day the topic was Full-World Business Opportunities, and Art began to see why he and his six fellows might have been chosen to attend: Amy and George worked in contraception, Sam and Max in industrial design, Sally and Elizabeth in agricultural technology, and he himself in resource recovery. They all worked in full-world businesses already, and in the afternoon’s games they proved fairly good at designing new ones.

Another day Fort proposed a game in which they solved the full-world problem by returning to an empty world. They were to suppose the release of a plague vector that would kill- everyone in the world who had not had the gerontological treatment. What would the pros and cons of such an action be?

The group stared at their lecterns, nonplussed. Elizabeth declared that she wouldn’t play a game based on such a monstrous idea.

“It is a monstrous idea,” Fort agreed. “But that doesn’t make it impossible. I hear things, you see. Conversations at certain levels. Among the leadership of the big transnationals, for instance, there are discussions. Arguments. You hear all kinds of ideas put out quite seriously, including some like this one. Everyone deplores them, and the subject changes. But no one claims that they are technically impossible. And some seem to think that they would solve certain problems that otherwise are unsolvable.”

The group considered this thought unhappily. Art suggested that agricultural workers would be in short supply.

Fort was looking out at the ocean. “That’s the fundamental problem with a collapse,” he said thoughtfully. “Once you start one, it’s hard to pick a point at which one can confidently say it will stop. Let’s go on.”

And they did, rather subdued. They played Population Reduction, and given the alternative they had just contemplated, went at it with a certain intensity. Each of them took a turn being Emperor of the World, as Fort put it, and outlined his or her plan in some detail.

When it was Art’s turn, he said, “I would give everyone alive a birthright which entitled them to parent three-quarters of a child.”

Everyone laughed, including Fort. But Art persevered. He explained that every pair of parents would thus have the right to bear a child and a half; after having one, they could either sell the right to the other half, or arrange to buy a half from some other couple and go on to have a second child. Prices for half children would fluctuate in classic supply/demand fashion. Social consequences would be positive; people who wanted extra children would have to sacrifice for them, and those who didn’t would have a source of income to help support the one they had. When populations dropped far enough, the World Emperor might consider changing the birthright to one child per person, which would be close to a demographic steady state; but given the longevity treatment, the three-quarters limit might have to be in effect for a long time.

When Art was done outlining the proposal he looked up from the notes on his lectern. Everyone was staring at him.

“Three quarters of a child,” Fort repeated with a grin, and everyone laughed again. “I like that.” The laughter stopped. “It would finally establish a monetary value for a human life, on the open market. So far the work done in that area has been sloppy at best. Lifetime incomes and expenditures and the like.” He sighed and shook his head. “The truth is, economists cook most of the numbers in the back room. Value isn’t really an economic calculation. No, I like this. Let’s see if we can estimate how much the price of a half child would be. I’m sure there would be speculation, middlemen, a whole market apparatus.”

So they played the three-quarters game for the rest of the afternoon, getting right down to the commodities market and the plots for soap operas. When they finished, Fort invited them to a barbecue on the beach.

They went back to their rooms and put on windbreakers, and hiked down the valley path into the glare of the sunset. On the beach under a dune was a big bonfire, being tended by some of the young scholars. As they approached and sat on blankets around the fire, a dozen or so of the Eighteen Immortals landed out of the air, running across the sand and bringing their wings slowly down, then unzipping from their suits, and pulling wet hair out of their eyes, and talking among themselves about the wind. They helped each other out of the long wings, and stood in their bathing suits goose-pimpled and shivering: centenarian flyers with wiry arms outstretched to the fire, the women just as muscular as the men, their faces just as lined by a million years of squinting into the sun and laughing around the fire. Art watched the way Fort joked with his old friends, the easy way they toweled each other down. Secret lives of the rich and famous! They ate hot dogs and drank beer. The flyers went behind a dune and returned dressed in pants and sweatshirts, happy to stand by the fire a bit longer, combing out each other’s wet hair. It was a dusky twilight, and the evening onshore breeze was salty and cold. The big mass of orange flame danced in the wind, and light and shadow flickered over Fort’s simian visage. As Sam had said earlier, he didn’t look a day over eighty.

Now he sat among his seven guests, who were sticking together, and stared into the coals and started talking again. The people on the other side of the fire continued in their conversations, but Fort’s guests leaned closer to hear him over the wind and waves and crackling wood, looking a bit lost without their lecterns in their laps.

“You can’t make people do things,” Fort said. “It’s a matter of changing ourselves. Then people can see, and choose. In ecology they have what they call the founder principle. An island population is started by a small number of settlers, so it has only a small fraction of the genes of the parent population. That’s the first step toward speciation. Now I think we need a new species, economically speaking of course. And Praxis itself is the island. The way we structure it is a kind of engineering of the genes we came to it with. We have no obligation to abide by the rules as they stand now. We can make a new species. Not feudal. We’ve got the collective ownership and decision-making, the policy of constructive action. We’re working toward a corporate state similar to the civic state they’ve made in Bologna. That’s a kind of democratic communist island, outperforming the capitalism around it, and constructing a better way to live. Do you think that kind of democracy is possible? We’ll have to try playing at that one of these afternoons.”

“Whatever you say,” Sam remarked, which got him a sharp glance from Fort.

The following morning it was sunny and warm, and Fort decided the weather was too good to stay indoors. So they returned to the beach and set up under a big awning near the firepit, among coolers and hammocks strung between the awning poles. The ocean was a deep bright blue, the waves small but crisp, and often occupied by wetsuited surfers. Fort sat in one of the hammocks and lectured on selfishness and altruism, taking his examples from economics, sociobiology, and bioethics. He concluded that strictly speaking, there was no such thing as altruism. It was only selfishness taking the long view, acknowledging the real costs of behavior and making sure to pay them in order not to run up any long-term debts. A very sound economic practice, in fact, if properly directed and applied. As he tried to prove by means of the selfish-altruism games they then played, like Prisoner’s Dilemma, or Tragedy of the Commons.

The next day they met in the surf camp again, and after a meandering talk on voluntary simplicity, they played a game Fort called Marcus Aurelius. Art enjoyed this game as he did all the others, and he played it well. But each day his lectern notes were getting shorter; for this day they read, in their entirety, Consumption — appetite — artificial needs — real needs — real costs — straw beds! Env. Impact = population X appetite X efficiency — in tropics refrigerators not a luxury — community refrigerators — coldhouses — Sir Thomas More.

That evening the conferees ate alone, and their discussion over dinner was tired. “I suppose this place is a kind of voluntary simplicity,” Art remarked.

“Would that include the young scholars?” Max asked. “I don’t see the Immortals doing very much with them.” “They just like to look,” Sam said. “When you’re that old …” “I wonder how long he plans to keep us here,” Max said. “We’ve only been here a week and it’s already boring.” “I kind of like it,” Elizabeth said. “It’s relaxing.” Art found that he agreed with her. He was getting up early; one of the scholars marked every dawn by striking a wooden block with a big wooden mallet, in a descending interval that drew Art out of sleep every time: tock…… tock…… tock… tock… tock.. tock. tock tock toc toc toc-toc-to-to-to-t-t-ttttttt. After that Art went out into gray wet mornings, full of birdcalls. The sound of the waves was always there, as if invisible shells were held to his ears. When he walked the trail through the farm he always found some of the Eighteen Immortals around, chatting as they worked with hoes or pruning shears, or sat under the big oak tree looking out at the ocean. Fort was often among them. Art could hike through the hour before breakfast with the knowledge that he would spend the rest of the day in a warm room or on a warm beach, talking and playing games. Was that simple? He wasn’t sure. It was definitely relaxing; he had never spent time like it.

But of course there was more to it than that. It was, as Sam and Max kept reminding them, a kind of test. They were being judged. The old man was watching them, and maybe the Eighteen Immortals as well, and the young scholars too, the “apprentices” who began to look to Art like serious powers, young hotshots who ran a lot of the day-to-day operations of the compound, and perhaps of Praxis too, even at its highest levels — in consultation with the Eighteen, or perhaps not. After listening to Fort ramble, he could see how one might be inclined to bypass him when it came to practical matters. And the conversations around the dishwasher sometimes had the tone of siblings squabbling over how to deal with incapacitated parents…

Anyway, a test: one night Art went over to the kitchen to get a glass of milk before bed, and passed a small room off the dining hall, where a number of people, old and young, were watching a videotape of the morning’s session with Fort. Art went back to his room, deep in thought.

The next morning in the conference room Fort circled the room in his usual way. “The new opportunities for growth are no longer in growth.”

Sam and Max glanced at each other ever so briefly.

“That’s what all this full-world thinking comes down to. So we’ve got to identify the new nongrowth growth markets, and get into them. Now recall that natural capital can be divided into marketable and nonmarketable. Nonmarketable natural capital is the substrate from which all marketable capital arises. Given its scarcity and the benefits that it provides, it would make sense according to standard supply/demand theory to set its price as infinite. I’m interested in anything that has a theoretically infinite price. It’s an obvious investment. Essentially it’s infrastructure investment, but at the most basic biophysical level. Infra-infrastructure, so to speak, or bioinfrastructure. And that’s what I want Praxis to start doing. We obtain and rebuild whatever bioinfrastructure has been depleted by liquidation. It’s long-term investment, but the yields will be fantastic.”

“Isn’t most bioinfrastructure publicly owned?” Art asked.

“Yes. Which means close cooperation with the governments involved. Praxis’s gross annual product is much larger than most countries’. What we need to do is find countries with small GNPs and bad CFIs.”

“CFI?” Art said.

“Country Future Index. It’s an alternative to the GNP measurement, taking into account debt, political stability, environmental health and the like. A useful cross-check on the GNP, and it helps tag countries that could use our help. We identify those, go to them and offer them a massive capital investment, plus political advice, security, whatever they need. In return we take custody of their bioinfrastructure. We also have access to their labor. It’s an obvious partnership. I think it will be the coming thing.”

“How do we fit in?” Sam asked, gesturing at the group.

Fort looked at them one by one. “I’m going to give each of you a different assignment. I’ll want you to keep them confidential. You’ll be leaving here separately in any case, and going different places. You’ll all be doing diplomatic work as a Praxis liaison, as well as specific jobs involved with bioinfrastructure investment. I’ll give you the details in private. Now let’s take an early lunch, and afterward I’ll meet with you one at a time.” Diplomatic work! Art wrote in his lectern.

He spent the afternoon wandering around the gardens, looking at the espaliered apple bushes. Apparently he was not early in the list of personal appointments with Fort. He shrugged at that. It was a cloudy day, and the flowers in the garden were wet and vibrant. It would be tough to move back to his studio under the freeway in San Jose. He wondered what Sharon was doing, whether she ever thought of him. Sailing with her vice-chairman, no doubt.

It was nearly sunset, and he was about to go back to his room and get ready for dinner when Fort appeared on the central path. “Ah, there you are,” he said. “Let’s go down to the oak.”

They sat by the big tree’s trunk. The sun was cutting under the low clouds, and everything was turning the color of the roses. “You live in a beautiful place,” Art said.

Fort didn’t appear to hear him. He was looking up at the un-derlit clouds billowing overhead.

After a few minutes of this contemplation he said, “We want you to acquire Mars.”

“Acquire Mars,” Art repeated.

“Yes. In the sense that I spoke about this morning. These national-transnational partnerships are the coming thing, there’s no doubt about it. The old flag-of-convenience relationships were suggestive, but they need to be taken further, so that we have more control over our investment. We did that with Sri Lanka, and we’ve had so much success in our deal there that the other big transnats are all imitating us, actively recruiting countries in trouble.”

“But Mars isn’t a country.”

“No. But it is in trouble. When the first elevator crashed, its economy was shattered. Now the new elevator is in place, and things are ready to happen. I want Praxis to be ahead of the curve. Of course the other big investors are all still there too, jockeying for position, and that will only intensify now that the new elevator is up.”

“Who runs the elevator?”

“A consortium led by Subarashii.”

“Isn’t that a problem?”

“Well, it gives them an edge. But they don’t understand Mars. They think it’s just a new source of metals. They don’t see the possibilities.”

“The possibilities for…”

“For development! Mars isn’t just an empty world, Randolph — in economic terms, it’s nearly a nonexistent world. Its bioinfras-tructure has to be constructed, you see. I mean one could just extract the metals and move on, which is what Subarashii and the others seem to have in mind. But that’s treating it like nothing more than a big asteroid. Which is stupid, because its value as a base of operations, as a planet so to speak, far surpasses the value of its metals. All its metals together total about twenty trillion dollars, but the value of a terraformed Mars is more in the neighborhood of two hundred trillion dollars. That’s about one third of the current Gross World Value, and even that doesn’t make proper assessment of its scarcity value, if you ask me. No, Mars is bioinfrastructure investment, just like I was talking about. Exactly the kind of thing Praxis is looking for.”

“But acquisition …” Art said. “I mean, what are we talking about?”

“Not what. Who.”


“The underground.”

“The underground!”

Fort gave him time to think it over. Television, the tabloids, and the nets were full of tales of,the survivors of 2061, living in underground shelters in the wild southern hemisphere, led by John Boone and Hiroko Ai, tunneling everywhere, in contact with aliens, and dead celebrities, and current world leaders… Art stared at Fort, a bona fide current world leader, shocked by the sudden notion that these Pellucidarian fantasies might have some truth to them. “Does it really exist?”

Fort nodded. “It does. I’m not in full contact with it, you understand, and I don’t know how extensive it is. But I’m sure that some of the First Hundred are still alive. You know the Taneev-Tokareva theories I talked about when you first arrived? Well, those two, and Ursula Kohl, and that whole biomedical team, they all lived in the Acheron Fin, north of Olympus Mons. During the war the facility was destroyed. But there were no bodies at the site. So about six years ago I had a Praxis team go in and rebuild the facility. When it was done we named it the Acheron Institute, and we left it empty. Everything is on-line and ready to go, but nothing is happening there, except for a small annual conference on their eco-economics. And last year, when the conference was over, one of the cleanup crew found a few pages in a fax tray. Comments on one of the papers presented. No signature, no source. But there was some work there that I’m positive was written by Taneev or Tokareva, or someone very familiar with their work. And I think it was a little hello.”

A very little hello, Art thought. But Fort seemed to read his mind: “I’ve just gotten an even bigger hello. I don’t know who it is. They’re being very cautious. But they’re out there.”

Art swallowed. It was big news, if true. “And so you want me to …”

“I want you to go to Mars. We have a project there that will be your cover story, salvaging a section of the fallen elevator cable. But while you’re doing that, I’ll be making arrangements to get you together with this person who has contacted me. You won’t have to initiate anything. They’ll make the move, and take you in: But look. In the beginning, I don’t want you to let them know exactly what you’re trying to do. I want you to go to work on them. Find out who they are, and how extensive their operation is, and what they want. And how we might deal with them.”

“So I’ll be a kind of—”

“A kind of diplomat.”

“A kind of spy, I was going to say.”

Fort shrugged. “It depends on who you’-re with. This project has to remain a secret. I deal with a lot of the other transnat leaders, and they’re scared people. Perceived threats to the current order often get attacked quite brutally. And some of them already think Praxis is a threat. So for the time being there is a hidden arm to Praxis, and this Mars investigation has to be part of that. So if you join, you join the hidden Praxis. Think you can do it?”

“I don’t know.”

Fort laughed. “That’s why I chose you for this mission, Randolph. You seem simple.”

I am simple, Art almost said, and bit his tongue. Instead he said, “Why me?”

Fort regarded him. “When we acquire a new company, we review its personnel. I read your record. I thought you might have the makings of a diplomat.”

“Or a spy.”

“They are often different aspects of the same job.”

Art frowned. “Did you bug my apartment? My old apartment?”

“No.” Fort laughed again. “We don’t do that. People’s records are enough.”

Art recalled the late-night viewing of one of their sessions.

“That and a session down here,” Fort added. “To get to know you.”

Art considered it. None of the Eighteen wanted this job. Nor the scholars, perhaps. Of course it was off to Mars, and then into some invisible world no one knew anything about, maybe for good. Some people might not find it attractive. But for someone at loose ends, maybe looking for new employment, maybe with a potential for diplomacy…

So all this had indeed proved to be a kind of interview process. For a job he hadn’t even known existed. Mars Acquirer. Mars Acquisition Chief. Mars Mole. A Spy in the House of Ares. Ambassador to the Mars Underground. Ambassador to Mars. My oh my, he thought.

“So what do you say?”

“I’ll do it,” Art said.

William Fort didn’t fool around. The moment Art agreed to take the Mars assignment, his life speeded up like a video on fast forward. That night he was back in the sealed van, and then in the sealed jet, all alone this time, and when he staggered up the jetway it was dawn in San Francisco.

He went to the Dumpmines office, and made the round of friends and acquaintances there. Yes, he said again and again, I’ve taken a job on Mars. Salvaging a bit of the old elevator cable. Only temporary. The pay is good. I’ll be back.

That afternoon he went home and packed. It took ten minutes. Then he stood groggily in the empty apartment. There on the stove-top was the frying pan, the only sign of his former life. He took the frying pan over to his suitcases, thinking he could fit it in and take it with him. He stopped over the cases, full and shut. He went back and sat down on the single chair, the frypan hanging from his hand.

After a while he called Sharon, hoping partly to get her answering machine, but she was home. “I’m going to Mars,” he croaked. She wouldn’t believe it. When she believed it she got angry. It was desertion pure and simple, he was running out on her. But you already threw me out, Art tried to say, but she had hung up. He left the frying pan on the table, lugged his suitcases down to the sidewalk. Across the street a public hospital that did the longevity treatment was surrounded by its usual crowd, people whose turn at the treatment was supposedly near, camping out in the parking lot to make sure nothing went awry. The treatments were guaranteed to all U.S. citizens by law, but the waiting lists for the public facilities were so long that it was a question whether one would survive to reach one’s turn. Art shook his head at the sight, and flagged down a pedicab.

He spent his last week on Earth in a motel in Cape Canaveral. It was a lugubrious farewell, as Canaveral was restricted territory, occupied chiefly by military police, and service personnel who had extremely bad attitudes toward the “late lamented,” as they called those waiting for departure. The daily extravaganza of takeoff only left everyone either apprehensive or resentful, and in all cases rather deaf. People went around in the afternoons with ears ringing, repeating, What? What? What? To counteract the problem most of the locals had earplugs; they would be dropping plates on one’s restaurant table while talking to people in the kitchen, and suddenly they’d glance at the clock and take earplugs out of their pocket and stuff them in their ears, and boom, off would go another Novy Energia booster with two shuttles strapped to it, causing the whole world to quake like jelly. The late lamented would rush out into the streets with hands over their ears to get another preview of their fate, staring up stricken at the biblical pillar of smoke and the pinpoint of fire arching over the Atlantic. The locals would stand in place chewing gum, waiting for the time-out to be over. The only time they showed any interest was one morning when the tides were high and news came that a group of party-crashers had swum up to the fence surrounding the town and cut their way inside, where security had chased them to the area of the day’s launch; it was said some of them had been incinerated by takeoff, and this was enough to get some of the locals out to watch, as if the pillar of smoke and fire would look somehow different.

Then one Sunday morning it was Art’s turn. He woke and dressed in the ill-fitting jumper provided, feeling as if he were dreaming. He got in the van with another man looking just as stunned as he felt, and they were driven to the launching compound and identified by retina, fingerprint, voice, and visual appearance; and then, without ever really having managed to think about what it all meant, he was led into an elevator and down a short tunnel into a tiny room where there were eight chairs somewhat like dentist’s chairs, all of them occupied by round-eyed people, and then he was seated and strapped in and the door was shut and there was a vibrant roar under him and he was squished, and then he weighed nothing at all. He was in orbit.

After a while the pilot unbuckled and the passengers did too, and they went to the two little windows to look out. Black space, blue world, just like the pictures, but with the startling high resolution of reality. Art stared down at West Africa and a great wave of nausea rolled through every cell of him.

He was only just getting the slightest touch of appetite back, after a timeless interval of space sickness that apparently in the real world had clocked in at three days, when one of the continuous shuttles came bombing by, after swinging around Venus and aero-braking into an Earth-Luna orbit just slow enough to allow the little ferries to catch up to it. Sometime during his space sickness Art and the other passengers had transferred into one of these ferries, and when the time was right it blasted off in pursuit of the continuous shuttle. Its acceleration was even harder than the take-off from Canaveral, and when it ended Art was reeling, dizzy, and nauseated again. More weightlessness would have killed him; he groaned at the very thought; but happily there was a ring in the continuous shuttle that rotated at a speed that gave some rooms what they called Martian gravity. Art was given a bed in the health center occupying one of these rooms, and there he stayed. He could not walk well in the peculiar lightness of Martian g; he hopped and staggered about, and he still felt bruised internally, and dizzy. But he stayed on just the right side of nausea, which he was thankful for even though it was not a very pleasant feeling in itself.

The continuous shuttle was strange. Because of its frequent aerobraking in the atmospheres of Earth, Venus, and Mars, it had somewhat the shape of a hammerhead shark. The ring of rotating rooms was located near the rear of the ship, just ahead of the propulsion center and the ferry docks. The ring spun, and one walked with head toward the centerline of the ship, feet pointing down at the stars under the floor.

About a week into their voyage Art decided to give weightlessness one more try, as the rotating ring was without windows. He went to one of the transfer chambers for getting from the rotating ring to the nonrotating parts of the ship; the chambers were on a narrow ring that moved with the g ring, but could slow.down to match the rest of the ship. The chambers looked just like freight elevator cars, with doors on both sides; when you got in one and pushed the right button, it decelerated through a few rotations to a stop, and the far door opened on the rest of the ship.

So Art tried that. As the car slowed, he began to lose weight, and his gorge began to rise in an exact correspondence. By the time the far door opened he was sweating and had somehow launched himself at the ceiling, where he hurt his wrist catching himself before hitting his head. Pain battled nausea, and the nausea was winning; it took him a couple of caroms to get to the control panel and hit the button to get him moving again, and back into the gravity ring. When the far door closed he settled gently back to the floor, and in a minute Martian gravity returned, and the door he had come in through reopened. He bounced gratefully out, suffering no more than the pain of a sprained wrist. Nausea was far more unpleasant than pain, he reflected — at least certain levels of pain. He would have to get his outside view over the TVs.

He would not be lonely. Most of the passengers and all of the crew spent the majority of their time in the gravity ring, which was therefore fairly crowded, like a full hotel in which most of the guests spent most of their time in the restaurant and bar. Art had seen and read accounts of the continuous shuttles that made them seem like flying Monte Carlos, with permanent residents made up of the rich and bored; a popular vid series had had just such a setting. Art’s ship, the Ganesh, was not like that. It was clear that it had been hurtling around the inner solar system for a good long time now, and always at full capacity; its interiors were getting shabby, and when restricted to the ring it seemed very small, much smaller than the impression one had of these kinds of ships from watching history shows about the Ares. But the First Hundred had lived in about five times as much space as the Ganesh’s g ring, and the Ganesh carried five hundred passengers.

Flight time, however, was only three months. So Art settled down and watched TV, concentrating on documentaries about Mars. He ate in the dining room, which was decorated to look like one of the great ocean liners of the 1920s, and he gambled a bit in the casino, which was decorated to look like one of the Las Vegas casinos of the 1970s. But mostly he slept and watched TV, the two activities melting into each other so that he dreamed very lucidly about Mars, while the documentaries took on a very surreal logic. He saw the famous videotapes of the Russell-Clayborne debate, and that night dreamed he was unsuccessfully arguing with Ann Clay-borne, who, just as in the vids, looked like the farmer’s wife in American Gothic only more gaunt and severe. Another film, taken by a flying drone, also affected him deeply; the drone had dropped off the side of one of the big Marineris cliffs, and fallen for nearly a minute before pulling out and swooping low over the jumbled rock and ice on the canyon floor. Repeatedly in the following weeks Art dreamed of making that fall himself, and woke up just before impact. It appeared that parts of his unconscious mind felt that the decision to go had been a mistake. He shrugged at this, ate his meals, and practiced his walking. He was biding his time. Mistake or not, he was committed.

Fort had given him an encryption system, and instructions to report back on a regular basis, but in transit he found there was very little to say. Dutifully he sent off a monthly report, each one the same: We’re on our way. All seems well. There was never any reply.

And then Mars swelled up like an orange thrown at the TV screens, and soon after that they were there, crushed into their g couches by an extremely violent aerobraking, and then crushed again in their ferry’s chairs; but Art came through these flattening decelerations like a veteran, and after a week in orbit, still rotating, they docked with New Clarke. New Clarke had only a very small gravity, which barely held people to the floor, and made Mars appear to be overhead. Art’s space sickness returned. And he had a two-day wait before his reservation for an elevator ride.

The elevator cars proved to be like slender tall hotels, and they ran their tightly packed human cargo down toward the planet over a period of five days, with no gravity to speak of until the last couple of days, when it got stronger and stronger, until the elevator car slowed and descended gently into the receiving facility called the Socket, just west of Sheffield on Pavonis Mons, and the g came to something like the g in the Ganesh’s g ring. But a week of space sickness had left Art completely devastated, and as the elevator car opened, and they were guided out into something very like an airport terminal, he found himself scarcely able to walk, and amazed at how much nausea decreased one’s desire to live. It was four months to the day since he had gotten the fax from William Fort.

The trip from the Socket into Sheffield proper was by subway, but Art would have been too miserable to notice a view even if there had been one. Wasted and unsteady, he tiptoed bouncily down a tall hallway after someone from Praxis, and collapsed thankfully on a bed in a small room. Martian g felt blessedly solid when he was lying down, and after a while he fell asleep.

When he woke he could not remember where he was. He looked around the little room, completely disoriented, wondering where Sharon had gone and why their bedroom had gotten so small. Then it came back. He was on Mars.

He groaned and sat up. He felt hot and yet detached from his body, and everything was pulsing slightly, though the room lights appeared to be functioning normally. There were drapes covering the wall opposite the door, and he stood and walked over, and opened them with a single pull.

“Hey!” he cried, leaping back. He woke up a second time, or so it felt.

It was like the view out an airplane window. Endless open space, a bruise-colored sky, the sun like a blob of lava; and there far below stretched a flat rocky plain — flat and round, as it lay at the bottom of an enormous circular cliff — extremely circular, remarkably circular, in fact, for a natural feature. It was difficult to estimate how distant the far side of the cliff was. Features of the cliff were perfectly clear, but structures on the opposite rim were teensy; what looked like an observatory could have fit on a pin-head.

This, he concluded, was the caldera of Pavonis Mons. They had landed at Sheffield, so really there could be no doubt about it. Therefore it was some sixty kilometers across the circle to that observatory, as Art recalled from his video documentaries, and five kilometers to the floor. And all of it completely empty, rocky, untouched, primordial — the volcanic rock as bare as if cooled the week before — nothing at all of humanity in it — no sign of terra-forming. It must have looked exactly like this to John Boone, a half century before. And so … alien. And frig. Art had looked into the calderas of Etna and Vesuvius, while on vacation from Tehran, and those two craters were big by Terran standards, but you could have lost a thousand of them in this, this thing, this hole…

He closed the drapes and got slowly dressed, his mouth imitating the shape of the unearthly caldera.

A friendly Praxis guide named Adrienne, tall enough to be a Martian native but possessing a strong Australian accent, collected him and took him and half a dozen other new arrivals on a tour of the town. Their rooms turned out to be on the city’s lowest level, though it wouldn’t be lowest for long; Sheffield was in the process of burrowing downward these days, to give as many rooms as possible the view onto the caldera that had so disconcerted Art.

An elevator took them up nearly fifty stories, and let them out in the lobby of a shiny new office building. They walked out its big revolving doors and emerged on a wide grassy boulevard, and walked down it past squat buildings faced with polished stone and big windows, separated by narrow grassy side streets, and a great number of construction sites, as many buildings were still in various stages of completion. It was going to be a handsome town, the buildings mostly three and four stories tall, getting taller as they moved south, away from the caldera rim. The green streets were crowded with people, and the occasional small tram running on narrow tracks set in the grass; there was a general air of bustle and excitement, caused no doubt by the arrival of the new elevator. A boom town.

The first place Adrienne took them was across a boulevard to the caldera rim. She led the seven newcomers out into a thin curving park, to the nearly invisible tenting that encased the town. The transparent fabrics were held in place by equally transparent geodesic struts, anchored in a chest-high perimeter wall. “The tenting has to be stronger than usual up here on Pavonis,” Adrienne told them, “because the atmosphere outside is still extremely thin. It’ll always be thinner than the lowlands, by a factor of ten.”

She led them out into a viewing blister in the tent wall and, looking down between their feet, they could see through the blister’s transparent deck, straight down onto the caldera floor some five kilometers below them. People exclaimed in delicious fright, and Art bounced on the clear floor uneasily. The width of the caldera was coming into perspective for him; the north rim was just about as far away as Mount Tamalpais and the Napa hills when one descended into the San Jose airport. That was no extraordinary distance. But the depth below, the depth; over five kilometers, or about twenty thousand feet. “Quite a hole!” Adrienne said.

Mounted telescopes and display plaques with map drawings enabled them to spot the previous version of Sheffield, now lying on the caldera floor. Art had been wrong about the caldera’s untouched primeval nature; an insignificant pile of cliff-bottom talus, with some shiny dots in it, was in fact the ruins of the original city.

Adrienne described with great gusto the destruction of the town in 2061. The falling elevator cable had, of course, crushed the suburbs east of its socket in the very first moments of the fall. But then the cable had wrapped all the way around the planet, delivering a massive second blow to the south side of town, a blow which had caused an undiscovered fault in the basalt rim to give way. About a third of the town had been on the wrong side of this fault, and had fallen the five kilometers to the caldera floor. The remaining two-thirds of the town had been knocked flat. Luckily the occupants had mostly evacuated in the four hours between the detachment of Clarke and the second coming of the cable, so loss of life had been minimized. But Sheffield had been utterly destroyed.

For many years after that, Adrienne told them, the site had lain abandoned, a wreck like so many other towns after the unrest of ‘61. Most of those other towns had been left in ruins, but Sheffield’s location remained the ideal place for tethering a space elevator, and when Subarashii began organizing the in-space construction of a new one in the late 2080s, construction on the ground had rapidly followed. A detailed areological investigation had found no other faults in the southern rim, which had justified rebuilding right on the edge, on the same site as before. Demolition vehicles had cleared the wreckage of the old town, shoving most of it over the rim, and leaving only the easternmost section of town, around the old socket, as a kind of monument to the disaster — also as the central element of a little tourist industry, which had clearly been an important part of the town’s income in the fallow years before an elevator had been reinstalled.

Adrienne’s next point on the tour led them out to see this preserved bit of history. They took a tram to a gate in the east wall of the tent, and then walked through a clear tube into a smaller tent, which covered the blasted ruins, the concrete mass of the old cable facility, and the lower end of the fallen cable. They walked a roped path that had been cleared of wreckage, staring curiously at the foundations and twisted pipes. It looked like the results of saturation bombing.

They came to a halt under the butt end of the cable, and Art observed it with professional interest. The big cylinder of black carbon filaments looked nearly undamaged by the fall, although admittedly this was the part that had hit Mars with the least force. The end had jammed down into the Socket’s big concrete bunker, Adrienne said, then been dragged a couple of kilometers as the cable had fallen down the eastern slope of Pavonis. That wasn’t that much of a beating for material designed to withstand the pull of an asteroid swinging beyond the areosynchronous point.

And so it lay there, as if waiting to be straightened up and put back in place: cylindrical, two stories high, its black bulk encrusted by steel tracks and collars and the like. The tent only covered.a hundred meters or so of it; after that it ran on uncovered, east along the wide rounded plateau of the rim, until it disappeared over the rim’s outer edge, which formed their horizon — they could see nothing of the planet below. But out away from the town they could see better than ever that Pavonis Mons was huge — its rim alone was an impressive expanse, a doughnut of flat land perhaps thirty kilometers wide, from the abrupt inner edge of the caldera to the more gradual drop-off down the volcano’s flanks. Nothing of the rest of Mars could be seen from their vantage point, so it seemed they stood on a high circular ring world, under a dark lavender sky.

Just to the south of them, the new Socket was like a titanic concrete bunker, the new elevator cable rising out of it like an elevator cable, standing alone as if in some version of the Indian rope trick, thin and black and straight as a plumb line dropping down from heaven — visible for only a few tall skyscrapers’ worth of height, at most — and, given the wreckage they stood in, and the immensity of the volcano’s bare rocky peak, as fragile-looking as if it were a single carbon nanotube filament, rather than a bundle of billions of them, and the strongest structure ever made. “This is weird,” Art said, feeling hollow and unsettled.

After their tour of the ruins, Adrienne took them back to a plaza cafe in the middle of the new town, where they had lunch. Here they could have been in the heart of a fashionable district in any town anywhere — it could have been Houston or Tbilisi or Ottawa, in some neighborhood where a lot of noisy construction marked a fresh prosperity. When they went back to their rooms, the subway system was likewise familiar to the eye — and when they got out, the halls of the Praxis floors were those of a fine hotel. All utterly familiar — so much so that it was again a shock to walk into his room and look out the window and see the awesome sight of the caldera — the bare fact of Mars, immense and stony, seeming to exert a kind of vacuum pull on him through the window. And in fact if the windowpane were to break the pressure blowout would certainly suck him immediately into that space; an unlikely eventuality, but the image still gave him an unpleasant thrill. He closed the drapes.

And after that he kept the drapes closed, and tended to stay on the side of his room away from the window. In the mornings he dressed and left the room quickly, and attended orientation meetings run by Adrienne, which were joined by a score or so of new arrivals. After lunching with some of them, he spent his afternoons touring the town, working earnestly on his walking skills. One night he thought to send a coded report off to Fort: On Mars, going through orientation. Sheffield is a nice town. My room has a view. There was no reply.

Adrienne’s orientation took them to a number of Praxis buildings, both in Sheffield and up the east rim, to meet people in the transnational’s Martian operations. Praxis had much more of a presence on Mars than it did in America. During Art’s afternoon walks he tried to gauge the relative strengths of the transnationals, just by the little plates on the sides of the buildings. All the biggest transnats were there — Armscor, Subarashii, Oroco, Mitsubishi, The 7 Swedes, Shellalco, Gentine, and so on — each occupying a complex of buildings, or even entire neighborhoods of the town. Clearly they were all there because of the new elevator, which had made Sheffield once again the most important city on the planet. They were pouring money into the town, building submartian subdivisions, and even entire tent suburbs. The sheer wealth of the transnats was obvious in all the construction — and also, Art thought, in the way people moved: there were a lot of people bouncing around the streets just as clumsily as he was, newcomer businessmen or mining engineers or the like, concentrating with furrowed brow on the act of walking. It was no great trick to pick out the tall young natives, with their catlike coordination; but they were in a distinct minority in Sheffield, and Art wondered if that was true everywhere on Mars.

As for architecture, space under the tent was at a premium, and so the completed buildings were bulky, often cubical, occupying their lots right out to the street and right up to the tent. When all the construction was finished there would only be a network of ten triangular plazas, and the wide boulevards, and the curving park along the rim, to keep the town from being a continuous mass of squat skycrapers, faced with polished stone of various shades of red. It was a city built for business.

And it looked to Art like Praxis was going to get a good share of that business. Subarashii was the general contractor for the elevator, but Praxis was supplying the software as they had for the first elevator, and also some of the cars, and part of the security system. All these allocations, he learned, had been made by a committee called the United Nations Transitional Authority, supposedly part of the UN, but controlled by the transnats; and Praxis had been as aggressive on this committee as any of the others. William Fort might have been interested in bioinfrastructure, but the ordinary kind was obviously not outside Praxis’s field of operations; there were Praxis divisions building water supply systems, train pistes, canyon towns, wind-power generators, and areother-mal plants. The latter two were widely regarded as marginal endeavors, as the new orbiting solar collectors and a fusion plant in Xanthe were turning out so well, not to mention the older generation of integral fast reactors. But local energy sources were the specialty of the Praxis subsidiary Power From Below, and so that was what they did, working hard in the outback.

Praxis’s local salvage subsidiary, the Martian equivalent of Dumpmines, was called Ouroborous, and like Power From Below it was also fairly small. In truth, as the Ouroborous people were quick to tell Art when they met one morning, there was not a large garbage output on Mars; almost everything was recycled or put to use in creating agricultural soil, so each settlement’s dump was really more of a holding facility for miscellaneous materials, awaiting their particular reuse. Ouroborous therefore got its business by finding and collecting the garbage or sewage that was somehow recalcitrant — toxic, or orphaned, or simply inconvenient — and then finding ways to turn it to use.

The Ouroborous team in Sheffield occupied one floor of Praxis’s downtown skyscraper. The company had gotten its start excavating the the old town, before the ruins had been so unceremoniously shoved over the side. A man named Zafir headed the fallen cable salvage project, and he and Adrienne accompanied Art to the train station, where they got on a local train and took a short ride around to the east rim, to a line of suburb tents. One of the tents was the Ouroborous storage facility, and just outside it, among many other vehicles, was a truly gigantic mobile processing factory, called the Beast. The Beast made a SuperRathje look like a compact car — it was a building rather than a vehicle, and almost entirely robotic. Another Beast was already out processing the cable in west Tharsis, and Art was slated to go out and make an on-site inspection of it. So Zafir and a couple of technicians showed him around the inside of the training vehicle, ending up in a wide compartment on the top floor, where there were living quarters for any humans who might be visiting.

Zafir was enthusiastic about what the Beast out on west Tharsis had found. “Of course just recovering the carbon filament and the diamond gel helixes gives us a basic income stream,” he said. “And we are doing well with some brecciated exotics metamorphosed in the final hemisphere of the fall. But what you’ll be interested in are the buckyballs.” Zafir was an expert in these little carbon geodesic spheres called buckminsterfullerenes, and he waxed enthusiastic: “Temperatures and pressures in the west Tharsis zone of the fall turned out to be similar to those used in the arc-reactor-synthesis method of making fullerenes, and so there’s a hundred-kilometer stretch out there where the carbon on the bottom side of the cable consists almost entirely of buckyballs. Mostly sixties, but also some thirties, and a variety of superbuckies.” And some of the super-buckies had formed with atoms of other elements trapped inside their carbon cages. These “full fullerenes” were useful in composite manufacturing, but very expensive to make in the lab because of the high amounts of energy required. So they were a nice find. “It’s sorting out the various superbuckies where your ion chromatog-raphy will come in.”

“So I understand,” Art said. He had done work with ion chro-matography during analyses in Georgia, and this was his ostensible reason for being sent into the outback. So over the next few days Zafir and some Beast technicians trained Art in dealing with the Beast, and after these sessions they had dinner together at a small restaurant in the suburb tent on the east rim. After sunset they had a great view of Sheffield, some thirty kilometers around the curve of the rim, glowing in the twilight like a lamp perched on the black abyss.

As they ate and drank, the conversation seldom turned to the matter of Art’s project, and, considering it, Art decided that this was probably a deliberate courtesy on his colleagues’ part. The Beast was fully self-operating, and though there were some problems to be solved in sorting out the recently discovered full fullerenes, there must have been local ion chromatographers who could have done the job. So there was no obvious reason why Praxis should have sent Art up from Earth to do it, and there had to be something more to his story. And so the group avoided the topic, saving Art the embarrassment of lies, or awkward shrugs, or an explicit appeal to confidentiality.

Art would have been uncomfortable with any of these dodges, so he appreciated their tact. But it put a certain distance in their conversations. And he seldom saw the other Praxis newcomers, outside of orientation meetings; and he didn’t know anyone else in town, or elsewhere on the planet. So he was a little lonely, and the days passed in an increasing sense of uneasiness, even oppression. He kept the drapes closed on his window view, and ate in restaurants away from the rim. It began to feel a bit too much like the weeks on the Ganesh, which he now understood to have been a miserable time. Sometimes he had to fend off the feeling that it had been a mistake to come.

And so after their last orientation lecture, at a reception luncheon in the Praxis building, he drank more than was his custom, and took a few inhalations from a tall canister of nitrous oxide. Inhalation of recreational drags was a local custom, fairly big among Martian construction workers, he had been told, and there were even little canisters of various gases for sale from dispensers in some public men’s rooms. Certainly the nitrous added a certain extra bubbly quality to the champagne; it was a nice combination, like peanuts and beer, or ice cream and apple pie.

Afterward he walked down the streets of Sheffield bouncing erratically, feeling the nitrous champagne as a kind of antigravita-tional effect, which, added to the Martian baseline, made him feel altogether too light. Technically he weighed about forty kilos, but as he walked along it felt more like five. Very strange, even unpleasant. Like walking on buttered glass.

He nearly ran into a young man, slightly taller than him — a black-haired youth, as slender as a bird and as graceful, who quickly veered away from him and then steadied him with a hand to his shoulder, all in one smooth flow of movement.

The youth looked him in the eye. “Are you Arthur Randolph?”

“Yes,” Art said, surprised. “I am. And who are you?”

“I’m the one who contacted William Fort,” the young man said.

Art stopped abruptly, swaying to get back over his feet. The young man held him upright with a gentle pressure, his hand hot on Art’s upper arm. He regarded Art with a direct look, a friendly smile. Perhaps twenty-five, Art judged, perhaps younger — a handsome youth with brown skin and thick black eyebrows, and eyes that were slightly Asian, set wide over prominent cheekbones. An intelligent look, full of curiosity and a kind of magnetic quality, hard to pin down.

Art took to him instantly, for no reason he could tell. It was just a feeling. “Call me Art,” he said.

“And I am Nirgal,” the youth said. “Let’s go down to Overlook Park.”

So Art walked with him down the grassy boulevard to,the park on the rim. There they strolled the path next to the coping wall, Nirgal helping Art with his drunken turns by frankly seizing his upper arm and steering him. His grasp had an electric penetrating quality to it, and was really very warm, as if the youth had a fever, though there was no sign of it in his dark eyes.

“Why are you here?” Nirgal asked — and his voice, and the look on his face, made the question into something other than a superficial inquiry. Art checked his response, thought about it.

“To help,” he said.

“So you will join us?”

Again the youth somehow made it clear that he meant something different, something fundamental.

And Art said, “Yes. Anytime you like.”

Nirgal smiled, a quick delighted grin that he only partly overmastered before he said, “Good. Very good. But look, I’m doing this on my own. Do you understand? There are people who wouldn’t approve. So I want to slip you in among us, as if it were an accident. That’s okay with you?”

“That’s fine.” Art shook his head, confused. “That’s how I was planning on doing it anyway.”

Nirgal stopped by the observation bubble, took Art’s hand and held it. His gaze, so open and unflinching, was contact of another kind. “Good. Thanks. Just keep doing what you’re doing, then. Go out on your salvage project, and you’ll be picked up out there. We’ll meet again after that.”

And he was off, walking across the park in the direction of the trr.m station, moving with the long graceful lope that all the young natives seemed to have. Art stared after him, trying to remember everything about the encounter, trying to put his finger on what had made it so charged. Simply the look on the youth’s face, he decided — not just the unself-conscious intensity one sometimes saw on the faces of the young, but more — some humorous power. Art remembered the sudden grin unleashed when Art had said (had promised) that he would join them. Art grinned himself.

When he got back to his room, he walked right to the window and opened the drapes. He went over to the table by his bed, and sat and turned on his lectern, and looked up Nirgal. No person listed by that name. There was a Nirgal Vallis, between Argyre Basin and Valles Marineris. One of the best examples of a water-carved channel on the planet, the entry said, long and sinuous. The word was the Babylonian name for Mars.

Art went back to the window and pressed his nose against the glass. He looked right down the throat of the thing, into the rocky heart of the monster itself. Horizontal banding of the curved walls, the broad round plain so far below, the sharp edge where it met the circular wall — the infinite shadings of maroon, rust, black, tan, orange, yellow, red — everywhere red, all the variations of red… He drank it in, for the first time unafraid. And as he looked down this enormous coring into the planet, a new feeling leaped into him to replace the fear, and he shivered and hopped in place, in a little dance. He could handle the view. He could handle the gravity. He had met a Martian, a member of the underground, a youth with a strange charisma, and he would be seeing more of him, more of all of them… He was on Mars.

And a few days later he was on the west slope of Pavonis Mons, driving a small rover down a narrow road that paralleled a band of disturbed volcanic rubble, with what looked like a cog railway track running right down it. He had sent a final coded message to Fort, telling him that he was taking off, and had gotten the only reply of his journey so far: Have a nice trip.

The first hour of his drive held what everyone had told him would be its most spectacular sight: going over the western rim of the caldera, and starting down the outer slope of the vast volcano. This occurred about sixty kilometers west of Sheffield. He drove over the southwest edge of the vast rim plateau, and started downhill, and a horizon appeared very far below, and very far away — a slightly curved hazy white bar, like the view of Earth as seen from a space plane’s window — which made sense, as the peak of Pavonis was about eighty-five thousand feet above Amazonis Planitia. So it was a huge view, the most forcible reminder possible of the stupendous height of the Tharsis volcanoes. And he had a great view of Arsia Mons at that moment, in fact, the southernmost of the three volcanoes lined up on Tharsis, bulking over the horizon to his left like a neighboring world. And what looked like a black cloud, over the far horizon to the northwest, could very possibly be Olympus Mons itself!

So the first day’s drive was all downhill, but Art’s spirits remained high. “Toto, there is no chance we are in Kansas anymore. We’re …offto see the wizard! The wonderful wizard of Mars!”

The road paralleled the fall line of the cable. The cable had hit the west side of Tharsis with a tremendous impact, not as great as during the final wrap, of course, but enough to create the interesting superbuckies Art had been sent out to investigate. The Beast he was going down to meet had already salvaged the cable in this vicinity, however, and the cable was almost entirely gone; the only thing left of it was a set of old-fashioned-looking train tracks, with a third cog rail running down the middle. The Beast had made these tracks out of carbon from the cable, and then used other parts of the cable, and magnesium from the soil, to make little self-powered cog rail mining cars, which then carried salvage cargo back up the side of Pavonis to the Ouroborous facilities in Sheffield. Very neat, Art thought as he watched a little robot car roll past him in the opposite direction, up the tracks toward the city. The little train car was black, squat, powered by a simple motor engaging the cog track, filled with a cargo that was no doubt mostly carbon nanotube filaments, and capped on top by a big rectangular block of diamond. Art had heard about this in Sheffield, and so was not surprised to see it. The diamond had been salvaged from the double helixes strengthening the cable, and the blocks were actually much less valuable than the carbon filament stored underneath them — basically a kind of fancy hatch door. But they did look nice.

On the second day of his drive, Art got off the immense cone of Pavonis, and onto the Tharsis bulge proper. Here the ground was much more littered than the volcano’s side had been with loose rock, and meteor craters. And down here, everything was blanketed with a drift of snow and sand, in a mix that looked like equal shares of both. This was the firn slope of west Tharsis, an area where storms coming in from the west frequently dumped loads of snow, which never melted but instead built up year by year, packing down the snow on the bottom. So far the pack consisted only of crushed snow, called firn, but after more years of compaction the lowest layers would be ice, and the slopes glaciers.

Now the slopes were still punctuated by big rocks sticking out of the firn, and small crater rings, the craters mostly less than a kilometer across, and looking as fresh as if they had been blasted the day before, except for the sandy snow now filling them.

When he was still many kilometers away, Art caught sight of the Beast salvaging the cable. The top of it appeared over the western horizon, and over the next hour the rest of it reared into view. Out on the vast empty slope it seemed somewhat smaller than its twin up in East Sheffield, at least until he drove under its flank, when once again it became clear that it was as big as a city block. There was even a square hole in the bottom of one side which looked for all the world like the entrance to a parking garage. Art drove his rover right at this hole — the Beast was moving at three kilometers a day, so it was no trick to hit it — and once inside, he drove up a curving ramp, following a short tunnel into .a lock. There he spoke by radio to the Beast’s AI, and doors behind his rover slid shut, and in a minute he could simply get out of his car, and go over to an elevator door, and take an elevator up to the observation deck.

It did not take long to realize that life inside the Beast was not the essence of excitement, and after checking in with the Sheffield office, and taking a look at the ion chromatograph down in the lab, Art went back out in the rover to have a more extensive look around. This was the way things went when working the Beast, Zafir assured him; the rovers were like pilot fishes swimming around a great whale, and though the view from the observation deck was nice and high, most people ended up spending a good part of their days out driving around.

So Art did that. The fallen cable out in front of the Beast showed clearly how much harder it had been coming down here than it had back at the start of its fall. Here it was buried to perhaps a third of its diameter, and the cylinder was flattened, and marked by long cracks running along its sides, revealing its structure, which consisted of bundles of bundles of carbon nanotube filament, still one of the strongest substances known to materials science, though apparently the current elevator’s cable material was stronger yet.

The Beast straddled this wreckage, about four times as tall as the cable; the charred black semicylinder disappeared into a hole at the front end of the Beast, from which came a grumbling, low, nearly subsonic vibration. And then, every day at about two in the afternoon, a door at the back of the Beast slid open over the tracks always being excreted from the back end of the Beast, and one of the diamond-capped train cars would roll out, winking in the sunlight, and glide off toward Pavonis. The trains disappeared over the high eastern horizon into the apparent “depression” now between him and Pavonis about ten minutes after emerging from their maker.

After viewing the daily departure, Art would take a drive in the pilot-fish rover, investigating craters and big isolated boulders, and, frankly, looking for Nirgal, or rather waiting for him. After a few days of this, he added the habit of suiting up and taking a walk outside for a few hours every afternoon, strolling beside the cable or the pilot fish, or hiking out into the surrounding countryside.

It was odd-looking terrain, not only because of the even distribution of millions of black rocks, but because the hard blanket of firn had been sculpted into fantastic shapes by the sandblaster winds: ridges, boles, hollows, tear-shaped tailings behind every exposed rock, etc. — sastrugi, these shapes were called. It was fun to walk around among these extravagant aerodynamic extrusions of reddish snow.

Day after day he did this. The Beast ground slowly westward. He found that the windswept bare tops of the rocks were often colored by tiny flakes that were scales of fast lichen, a kind that grew quickly, or at least quickly for lichen. Art picked up a couple of sample rocks, and took them back into the Beast, and read about the lichen curiously. These apparently were engineered cryptoen-dolithic lichens, meaning they lived in rock, and at this altitude they were living right at the edge of the possible — the article on them said that over ninety-eight percent of their energy was used simply to stay alive, with less than two percent going toward reproduction. And this was a big improvement over the Terran species they had been based on.

More days passed, then weeks; but what could he do? He kept on collecting lichen. One of the cryptoendoliths he found was the first species to survive on the Martian surface, the lectern said, and it had been designed by members of the fabled First Hundred. He broke apart some rocks to have a better look, and found bands of the lichen growing in the rocks’ outer centimeter: first a yellow stripe right at the surface, then a blue stripe under that, then a green one. After that discovery he often stopped on his walks to kneel and put his faceplate to colored rocks sticking up out of the firn, marveling at the crusty scales and their intense pale colors — yellows, olives, khaki greens, forest greens, blacks, grays.

One afternoon he drove the pilot fish far to the north of the Beast, and got out to hike around and collect samples. When he returned, he found that the lock door in the side of the pilot fish would not open. “What the hell?” he said aloud.

It had been so long that he had forgotten that something was supposed to happen. The happening had taken the form of some kind of electronic failure, apparently. Assuming that this was the happening, and not … something else. He called in over the intercom, and tried every code he knew on the keypad by the lock door, but nothing had any effect. And since he couldn’t get back in, he couldn’t turn on the emergency systems. And his helmet’s intercom had a very limited range — the horizon, in effect — which down here off Pavonis had shrunk to a Martian closeness, only a few kilometers away in all directions. The Beast was well over the horizon, and though he could probably walk to it, there would be a section of the hike where both Beast and pilot fish would be over the horizon, and himself alone in a suit, with a limited air supply…

Suddenly the landscape with its dirty sastrugi took on an alien, ominous cast, dark even in the bright sunshine. “Well, hell,” Art said, thinking hard. He was out here, after all, to get picked up by the underground. Nirgal had said it was going to look like an accident. Of course this was not necessarily that accident, but whether it was or it wasn’t, panic was not going to help. Best to make the working assumption that it was a real problem, and go from there. He could try walking back to the Beast, or he could try getting into the pilot-fish rover.

He was still thinking things over, and typing at the keypad of the lock door like a champion speed-typist, when he was tapped hard on the shoulder. “Aaa!” he shouted, leaping around.

There were two of them, in walkers and scratched old helmets. Through their faceplates he could see them: a woman with a face like a hawk’s, who looked like she would be happy to bite him; and a short thin-faced black man, with gray dreadlocks crowding the border of his faceplate, like the rope picture frames one sometimes sees in nautical restaurants.

It was the man who had tapped Art on the shoulder. Now he lifted three fingers, pointing at his wrist console. The intercom band they were using, no doubt. Art switched it on. “Hey!” he cried, feeling more relieved than he ought to, considering that this was probably Nirgal’s setup, so that he had never been in danger. “Hey, I seem to be locked out of my car? Could you give me a lift?”

They stared at him.

The man’s laugh was scary. “Welcome to Mars,” he said.


Long Runout

Ann Clayborne was driving down the Geneva Spur, stopping every few switchbacks to get out and take samples from the roadcuts. The Trans-marineris Highway had been abandoned after ‘61, as it now disappeared under the dirty river of ice and boulders covering the floor of Co-prates Chasma. The road was an archaeological relic, a dead end.

But Ann was studying the Geneva Spur. The Spur was the final extension of a much longer lava dike, most of which was buried in the plateau to the south. The dike was one of several — the nearby Melas Dorsa, the Felis Dorsa farther east, the Solis Dorsa farther west — all of them perpendicular to the Marineris canyons, and all mysterious in their origin. But as the southern wall of Melas Chasma had receded, by collapse and wind erosion, the hard rock of one dike had been exposed, and this was the Geneva Spur, which had provided the Swiss with a perfect ramp to get their road down the canyon wall, and was now providing Ann with a nicely exposed dike base. It was possible that it and all its companion dikes had been formed by concentric fissuring resulting from the rise of Tharsis; but they could also be much older, remnants of a basin-and-range type spread in the earliest Noachian, when the planet was still expanding from its own internal heat. Dating the basalt at the foot of the dike would help answer the question one way or the other.

So she drove a little boulder car slowly down the frost-covered road. The car’s movement would be quite visible from space, but she didn’t care. She had driven all over the southern hemisphere in the previous year, taking no precautions except when approaching one of Coyote’s hidden refuges to resupply. Nothing had happened.

She reached the bottom of the Spur, only a short distance from the river of ice and rock that now choked the canyon floor. She got out of the car and tapped away with a geologist’s hammer at the bottom of the last roadcut. She kept her back to the immense glacier, and did not think of it. She was focused on the basalt. The dike rose before her into the sun, a perfect ramp to the clifftop, some three kilometers above her and fifty kilometers to the south. On both sides of the Spur the immense southern cliff of Melas Chasma curved back in huge embayments, then out again to lesser prominences — a slight point on the distant horizon to the left, and a massive headland some sixty kilometers to the right, which Ann called Cape Solis.

Long ago Ann had predicted that greatly accelerated erosion would follow any hydration of the atmosphere, and on both sides of the Spur the cliff gave indications that she had been right. The embayment between the Geneva Spur and Cape Solis had always been a deep one, but now several fresh landslides showed that it was getting deeper fast. Even the freshest scars, however, as well as all the rest of the fluting and stratification of the cliff, were dusted with frost. The great wall had the coloration o/Zton or Bryce after a snowfall — stacked reds, streaked with white.

There was a very low black ridge on the canyon floor a kilometer or two west of the Geneva Spur, paralleling it. Curious, Ann hiked out to it. On closer inspection the low ridge, no more than chest high, did indeed appear to be made of the same basalt as the Spur. She took out her hammer, and knocked off a sample.

A motion caught her eye and she jerked up to look. Cape Solis was missing its nose. A red cloud was billowing out from its foot.

Landslide! Instantly she started the timer on her wristpad, then knocked the binocular hood down over her faceplate, and fiddled with the focus until the distant headland stood clear in her field of vision. The new rock exposed by the break was blackish, and looked nearly vertical; a coolingfault in the dike, perhaps — if it too was a dike. It did look like basalt. And it looked as if the break had extended the entire height of the cliff, all four kilometers of it.

The cliff face disappeared in the rising cloud of dust, which billowed up and out as if a giant bomb had gone off. A distinct boom was followed by a faint roaring, like distant thunder. She checked her wrist; a little under four minutes. Speed of sound on Mars was 252 meters per second, so the distance of sixty kilometers was confirmed. She had seen almost the very first moment of the fall.

Deep in the embayment a smaller piece of cliff gave way as well, no doubt triggered by shock waves. But it looked like the merest rockfall compared to the collapsed headland, which had to be millions of cubic meters of rock. Fantastic to actually see one of the big landslides — most areologists and geologists had to rely on explosions, or computer simulations. A few weeks spent in Valles Marineris would solve that problem for them.

And here it came, rolling over the ground by the edge of the glacier, a low dark mass topped by a rolling cloud of dust, like time-lapse film of an approaching thunderhead, sound effects and all. It was really quite a long way out from the cape. She realized with a start that she was witnessing a long runout landslide. They were a strange phenomenon, one of the unsolved puzzles of geology. The great majority of landslides move horizontally less than twice the distance they fall; but a few very large slides appear to defy the laws of friction, running horizontally ten times their vertical drop, and sometimes even twenty or thirty. These were called long runout slides, and no one knew why they happened. Cape Solis, now, had fallen four kilometers, and so should have run out no more than eight; but there it was, well across the floor of Melas, running downcanyon directly at Ann. If it ran only fifteen times its vertical drop, it would roll right over her, and slam into the Geneva Spur.

She adjusted the focus of her binoculars for the front edge of the slide, just visible as a dark churning mass under the tumbling dustcloud. She could feel her hand trembling against her helmet, but other than that she felt nothing. No fear, no regret — nothing, in fact, but a sense of release. All over at last, and not her fault. No one could blame her for it. She had always said that the terraforming would kill her. She laughed briefly, and then squinted, trying to get a better focus on the front edge of the slide. The earliest standard hypothesis to explain long runouts had been that the rock was riding over a layer of air trapped under the fall; but then old long runouts discovered on Mars and Luna had cast doubts on that notion, and Ann agreed with those who argued that any air trapped under the rock would quickly diffuse upward. There had to be some form of lubricant, however, and other forms proposed had included a layer of molten rock caused by the slide’s friction, acoustic waves caused by the slide’s noise, or merely the extremely energetic bouncing of the particles caught on the slide’s bottom. But none of these were very satisfactory suggestions, and no one knew for sure. She was being approached by a phenomenological mystery.

Nothing about the mass approaching her under the dustcloud indicated one theory over another. Certainly it wasn’t glowing like molten lava, and though it was loud, there was no way of judging whether it was loud enough to be riding on its own sonic boom. On it came in any case, no matter what the mechanism. It looked as though she was going to get a chance to investigate in person, her last act a contribution to geology, lost in the moment of discovery.

She checked her wrist, and was surprised to see that twenty minutes had passed already. Long runouts were known to be fast; the Blackhawk slide in the Mojave was estimated to have traveled at 120 kilometers per hour, going down a slope of only a couple of degrees. Melas was in general a bit steeper than that. And indeed the front edge of the slide was closing fast. The noise was getting louder, like rolling thunder directly overhead. The dustcloud reared up, blocking out the afternoon sun.

Ann turned and looked out at the great Marineris glacier. She had almost been killed by it more than once, when it was an aquifer outbreak flooding down the great canyons. And Frank Chalmers had been killed by it, and was entombed somewhere in its ice, far downstream. His death had been caused by her mistake, and the remorse had never left her. It had been a moment of inattention only, but a mistake nevertheless; and some mistakes you never can make good.

And then Simon had died too, engulfed in an avalanche of his own white blood cells. Now it was her turn. The relief was so acute it was painful.

She faced the avalanche. The rock visible at the bottom was bouncing, it seemed, but not rolling over itself like a broken wave. Apparently it was indeed riding over some kind of lubricating layer. Geologists had found nearly intact meadows on top of landslides that had moved many kilometers, so this was confirmation of something known, but it certainly did look peculiar, even unreal a low rampart advancing across the land without a rollover, like a magic trick. The ground under her feet was vibrating, and she found that her hands were clenched into fists. She thought of Simon, fighting death in his last hours, and hissed; it seemed wrong to stand there welcoming the end so happily, she knew he would not approve. As a gesture to his spirit she stepped off the low lava dike and went down onto one knee behind it. The coarse grain of its basalt was dull in the brown light. She felt the vibrations, looked up at the sky. She had done what she could, no one could fault her. Anyway it was foolish to. think that way; no one would ever know what she did here, not even Simon. He was gone. And the Simon inside her would never stop harassing her, no matter what she did. So it was time to rest, and be thankful. The dustdoud rolled over the low dike, there was a wind — Boom! She was thrown flat by the impact of the noise, picked up and dragged over the canyon floor, thrown and pummeled by rock. She was in a dark cloud, on her hands and knees, dust all around her, the roar of gnashing rock filling everything, the ground tossing underfoot like a wild thing….

The jostling subsided. She was still on her hands and knees, feeling the cold rock through her gloves and kneepads. Gusts of wind slowly cleared the air. She was covered with dust, and small fragments of stone.

Shakily she stood. Her palms and knees hurt, and one kneecap was numb with cold. Her left wrist felt the stab of a sprain. She walked up to the low dike, looked over it. The landslide had stopped about thirty meters short of the dike. The ground in between was littered with rubble, but the edge of the slide proper was a black wall of pulverized basalt, sloping back at about a forty-five-degree angle, and twenty or twenty-five meters tall. If she had stayed standing on the low dike, the impact of the air would have thrown her down and killed her. “Goddamn you,” she said to Simon.

The northern border of the slide had run out onto the Melas glacier, melting the ice and mixing with it in a steaming trough of boulders and mud. The dustdoud made it hard to see much of that. Ann crossed the dike, walked up to the foot of the slide. The rocks at the bottom of it were still hot. They seemed no more fractured than the rock higher in the slide. Ann stared at the new black wall, her ears ringing. Not fair, she thought. Not fair.

She walked back to the Geneva Spur, feeling sick and dazed. The boulder car was still on the dead-end road, dusty but apparently unharmed. For the longest time she could not bear to touch it. She stared back over the long smoking mass of the slide — a black glacier, next to a white one. Finally she opened the lock door and ducked inside. There was no other choice.

Ann drove a little every day, then got out and walked over the planet, doing her work doggedly, like an automaton.

To each side of the Tharsis bulge there was a depression. On the west side was Amazonis Planitia, a low plain reaching deep into the southern highlands. On the east was the Chryse Trough, a depression that ran from the Argyre Basin through the Margaritifer Sinus and Chryse Planitia, the deepest point in the trough. The trough was an average of two kilometers lower than its surroundings, and all the chaotic terrain on Mars, and most of the ancient outbreak channels, were located in it.

Ann drove east along the southern rim of Marineris, until she was between Nirgal Vallis and the Aureum Chaos. She stopped to resupply at the refuge called Dolmen Tor, which was where Michel and Kasei had taken them at the end of their retreat down Marineris, in 2061. Seeing the little refuge again did not affect her; she scarcely remembered it. All her memories were going away, which she found comforting. She worked at it, in fact, concentrating on the moment with such intensity that even the moment itself went away, each instant a burst of light in a fog, like things breaking in her head.

Certainly the trough predated the chaos and the outbreak channels, which were no doubt located there because of the trough. The Tharsis bulge had been a tremendous source of outgassing from the hot center of the planet, all the radial and concentric fractures around it leaking volatiles out of the hot center of the planet. Water in the regolith had run downhill, into the depressions on each side of the bulge. It could be that the depressions were the direct result of the bulge, simply a matter of the lithosphere bent down on the outskirts of where it had been pushed up. Or it could be that the mantle had sunk underneath the depressions, as it had plumed under the bulge. Standard convection models would support such an idea — the upwelling of the plume had to go back down somewhere, after all, rolling at its sides and pulling the lithosphere down after it.

And then, up in the regolith, water had run downhill in its usual way, pooling in the troughs, until the aquifers burst open, and the surface over them collapsed: thus tfie outbreak channels, and the chaos. It was a good working model, plausible and powerful, explaining a lot of features.

So every day Ann drove and then walked, seeking confirmation of the mantle convection explanation for the Chryse trough, wandering over the surface of the planet, checking old seismographs and picking away at rocks. It was hard now to make one’s way north in the trough; the aquifer outbreaks of 2061 nearly blocked the way, leaving only a narrow slot between the eastern end of the great Marineris glacier and the western side of a smaller glacier that filled the whole length of Ares Vallis. This slot was the first chance east of Noctis Labyrinthus to cross the equator without going over ice, and Noctis was six thousand kilometers away. So a piste and a road had been built in the slot, and a fairly large tent town established on the rim of Galilaei Crater. South of Galilaei the narrowest part of the’ slot was only forty kilometers wide, a zone of navigable plain located between the eastern arm of the Hydaspis Chaos and the western part of Aram Chaos. It was hard to drive through this zone and keep the piste and road under the horizons, and Ann drove right on the edge of Aram Chaos, looking down onto the shattered terrain.

North of Galilaei it was easier. And then she was out of the slot, and onto Chryse Planitia. This was the heart of the trough, with a gravitational potential of -0.65; the lightest place on the planet, lighter even than Hellas and Isidis.

But one day she drove onto the top of a lone hill, and saw that there was an ice sea out in the middle of Chryse. A long glacier had run down from Simud Vallis and pooled in the Chryse low point, spreading until it became an ice sea, covering the land over the horizons to north, northeast, northwest. She drove slowly around its western shore, then its northern shore. It was some two hundred kilometers across.

Near the end of one day she stopped her car on a ghost crater rim, and stared out across the expanse of broken ice. There had been so many outbreaks in ‘61. It was clear that there had been some good areologists working for the rebels in those days, finding aquifers and setting off explosions or reactor meltdowns precisely where the hydrostatic pressures were the greatest. Using a lot of her own findings, it seemed.

But that was the past, banished now. All that was gone. Here and now, there was only this ice sea. The old seismographs she had picked up all had records disturbed by recent temblors from the north, where there should have been very little activity. Perhaps the melting of the northern polar cap was causing the lithosphere there to rebound upward, setting off lots of small marsquakes. But the temblors recorded by the seismographs were discrete short-period shocks, like explosions rather than marsquakes.-She had studied her car’s AI screen through many a long evening, mystified.

Every day she drove, then walked. She left the ice sea, and continued north onto Acidalia.

The great plains of the northern hemisphere were generally referred to as level, and they certainly were compared to the chaoses, or to the southern highlands. But still, they were not level like a playing field or a table top — not even close. There were undulations everywhere, a continuous up-and-downing of hummocks and hollows, ridges of cracking bedrock, hollows of fine drifts, great rumpled boulder fields, isolated tors and little sinkholes … It was unearthly. On Earth, soil would have filled the hollows, and wind and water and plant life would have worn down the bare hilltops, and then the whole thing would have been submerged or subducted or worn flat by ice sheets, or uplifted by tectonic action, everything torn away and rebuilt scores of times as the eons passed, and always flattened by weather and biota. But these ancient corrugated plains, their hollows banged out by meteor impact, had not changed for a billion years. And they were among the youngest surfaces on Mars.

It was a hard thing to drive across such lumpy terrain, and very easy to get lost when out walking, particularly if one’s car looked just like all the other boulders scattered about; particularly if one was distracted. More than once Ann had to find the car by radio signal rather than visual sighting, and sometimes she walked right up to it before recognizing it — and then would wake up, or come to, hands shaking in the aftershock of some forgotten reverie.

The best driving routes were along the low ridges and dikes of exposed bedrock. If these high basalt roads had connected one to the next, it would have been easy. But they commonly were broken by transverse faults, at first no more than line cracks, which then got deeper and wider as one progressed, in sequences like loaves of sliced bread tipping open, until the faults gaped and were filled with rubble and fines, and the dike became nothing but part of a boulder field again.

She continued north, onto Vastitas Borealis. Acidalia, Borealis: the old names were so strange. She was doing her best never to think, but during the long hours in the car it was sometimes impossible not to. At those times it was less dangerous to read than it was to try staying blank. So she would read randomly in her AI’s library. Often she ended up staring at areological maps, and one evening at sunset after such a session, she looked into this matter of Mars’s names.

It turned out most of them came from Giovanni Schiaparelli. On his telescope maps he had named over a hundred albedo features, most of which were just as illusory as his canali. But when the astronomers of the 1950s had regularized a map of the albedo features everyone could agree on — features that could be photographed — many of Schiaparelli’s names had been retained. It was a tribute to a certain power he had had, a power evocative if not consistent; he had been a classical scholar, and a student of biblical astronomy, and among his names there were Latin, Greek, biblical, and Homeric references, all mixed together. But he had had a good ear, somehow. One proof of his talent was the contrast between his maps and the competing Martian maps of the nineteenth century. A map by an Englishman named Proctor, for instance, had relied on the sketches of a Reverend William Dawes; and so on Proctor’s Mars, which had no recognizable relations even to the standard albedo features, there was a Dawes Continent, a Dawes Ocean, a Dawes Strait, a Dawes Sea, and a Dawes Forked Bay. Also an Airy Sea, a DeLaRue Ocean, and a Beer Sea. Admittedly this last was a tribute to a German named Beer, who had drawn a Mars map even worse than Proctor’s. Still, compared to them Schiaparelli had been a genius.

But not consistent. And there was something wrong in this melange of references, something dangerous. Mercury’s features were all named after great artists, Venus’s were named after famous women; they would drive or fly over those landscapes one day, and feel that they lived in coherent worlds. Only on Mars did they walk about in a horrendous mishmash of the dreams of the past, causing who knew what disastrous misapprehensions of the real terrain: the Lake of the Sun, the Plain of Gold, the Red Sea, Peacock Mountain, the Lake of the Phoenix, Cimmeria, Arcadia, the Gulf of Pearls, the Gordian Knot, Styx, Hades, Utopia…

On the dark dunes of Vastitas Borealis she began to run low on supplies. Her seismographs showed daily temblors to the east, and she drove toward them. On her walks outside she studied the garnet sand dunes, and their layering, which revealed the old climates like tree rings. But snow and high winds were tearing off the crests of the dunes. The westerlies could be extremely strong, enough to pick up sheets of large-grained sand and hurl them against her car. -The sand would always settle in dune formations, as a simple matter of physics, but the dunes would be picking up the pace of their slow march around the world, and the record they had made of earlier ages would be destroyed.

She forced that thought from her mind, and studied the phenomenon as if there were no new artificial forces disturbing it. She focused on her work as if clenching her geologist’s hammer, as if breaking apart rocks. The past was spalled away piece by piece. Leave it behind. She refused to think of it. But more than once she jerked out of sleep with the image of the long runout coming at her. And then she was awake for good, sweating and trembling, faced with the incandescent dawn, the sun blazing like a chunk of burning sulphur.

Coyote had given her a map of his caches in the north, and now she came to one buried in a cluster of house-sized boulders. She restocked, leaving a brief thank-you note. The last itinerary Coyote had given her said he was going to be dropping by this area sometime soon, but there was no sign of him, and no use waiting. She drove on.

She drove, she walked. But she couldn’t help it; the memory of the landslide haunted her. What bothered her was not that she had had a brush with death, which no doubt had happened many times before, mostly in ways she had not noticed. It was simply how arbitrary it had been. It had nothing to do with value or fitness; it was pure contingency. Punctuated equilibrium, without the equilibrium. Effects did not follow from causes, and one did not get one’s just desserts. She was the one who had spent too much time outdoors, after all, taking on far too much radiation; but it was Simon who had died. And she was the one who had fallen asleep at the wheel; but it was Frank who had died. It was simply a matter of chance, of accidental survival or erasure.

It was hard to believe natural selection had made any way in such a universe. There under her feet, in the troughs between the dunes, archaebacteria were growing on sand grains; but the atmosphere was gaining oxygen fast, and all the archaebacteria would die out except those that were by accident underground, away from the oxygen they themselves had respired, the oxygen that was poisonous to them. Natural selection or accident? You stood, breathing gases, while death rushed toward you — and were covered by boulders, and died, or covered by dust, and lived. And nothing you did mattered in that great either-or. Nothing you did mattered. One aftemo.on, reading randomly in the AI to distract herself between her return to the car and her dinner hour, she learned that the Czarist police had taken Dostoyevsky out to be executed, and only brought him back in after several hours of waiting for his turn. Ann finished reading about this incident and sat in the driver’s seat of her car, feet on the dash, staring at the screen blindly. Another garish sunset poured through the window over her, the sun weirdly large and bright in the thickening atmosphere. Dostoyevsky had been changed for life, the writer declared in the easy omniscience of biography. An epileptic, prone to violence, prone to despair. He hadn’t been able to integrate the experience. Perpetually angry. Fearful. Possessed.

Ann shook her head and laughed, angry at the idiot writer, who simply didn’t understand. Of course you didn’t integrate the experience. It was meaninglessness. The experience that couldn’t be integrated.

The next day a tower poked over the horizon. She stopped the car, stared at it through the car’s telescope. There was a lot of ground mist behind it.-The temblors registering on her seismograph were very strong now, and appeared to be coming from a bit to the north. She even felt one of them herself, which, given the car’s shock absorbers, meant they were strong indeed. It seemed likely there was a connection with the tower.

She got out of her car. It was almost sunset, the sky a great arch of violent colors, the sun low in the hazy west. The light would be behind heir, making her very hard to see. She wound between dunes, then carefully made her way to the crest of one, and crawled the final meters of the way, and looked over the crest at the tower, now only a kilometer to the east. When she saw how close its base was she kept her chin right on the ground, among ejecta the size of her helmet.

It was some kind of mobile drilling operation, a big one. The massive base was flanked by giant caterpillar tracks, like those used to move the largest rockets around a spaceport. The drill tower rose out of this behemoth more than sixty meters, and the base and lower part of the tower clearly contained the technicians’ housing and equipment and supplies.

Beyond this thing, a short distance down a gentle slope to the north, was a sea of ice. Immediately north of the drill, the crests of the great barchan dunes still stuck out of the ice — first as a bumpy beach, then as hundreds of crescent islands. But a couple of kilometers out the dune crests disappeared, and it was ice only.

The ice was pure, clean — translucent purple under the sunset sky — clearer than any ice she had ever seen on the Martian surface, and smooth, not broken like all the glaciers. It was steaming faintly, the frost steam whipping east on the wind. And out on it, looking like ants, people in walkers and helmets were ice-skating.

It came clear the moment she saw the ice. Long ago she herself had confirmed the big impact hypothesis, which accounted for the dichotomy between the hemispheres: the low smooth northern hemisphere was simply a superhuge impact basin, the result of a scarcely imaginable collision in the Noachian, between Mars and a planetesimal nearly as big as it. The rock of the impact body that had not vaporized had become part of Mars itself, and there were arguments in the literature that the irregular movements in the mantle that had caused the Tharsis bulge were late developments resulting from perturbations originating with the impact. To Ann that wasn’t likely, but what was clear was that the great crash had happened, wiping out the surface of the entire northern hemisphere, and lowering it by an average of four kilometers relative to the south. An astonishing hit, but that was the Noachian. An impact of similar magnitude had in all probability caused the birth of Luna out of Earth. In fact there were some anti-impact holdouts arguing that if Mars had been hit as hard, it should have had a moon as big.

But now, as she lay flat looking at. the giant drilling rig, the point was that the northern hemisphere was even lower than it first appeared, for its floor of bedrock was amazingly deep, as much as five kilometers beneath the surface of the dunes. The impact had blown that deep, and then the depression had mostly refilled, with a mixture of ejecta from the big impact, windblown sand and fines, later impact material, erosional material sliding down the slope of the Great Escarpment, and water. Yes, water, finding the lowest point as it always did; the water in the annual frost hood, and the ancient aquifer outbreaks, and the outgassing from the blistered bedrock, and the lensing from the polar cap, had all eventually migrated to this deep zone, and combined to form a truly enormous underground reservoir, an ice and liquid pool that extended in a band all the way around the planet, underlying almost everything north of 60° north latitude, except, ironically, for a bedrock island on which the polar cap itself stood.

Ann herself had discovered this underground sea many years before, and by her estimates between sixty and seventy percent of all the water on Mars was down there. It was, in fact, the Oceanus Borealis that some terraformers talked about — but buried, deeply buried, and mostly frozen, and mixed with regolith and dense fines; a permafrost ocean, with some liquid down on the deepest bedrock. All locked down there for good, or so she had thought, because no matter how much heat the terraformers applied to the planet’s surface, the permafrost ocean would not thaw much faster than a meter per millennium — and even when it did melt it would remain underground, simply as a matter of gravity.

Thus the drilling rig before her. They were mining the water. Mining the liquid aquifers directly, and also melting the permafrost with explosives, probably nuclear explosives, and then collecting the melt and pumping it onto the surface. The weight of the overlying regolith would help push the water up through pipes. The weight of water on the surface would help push up more. If there were very many drilling rigs like this one, they could put a tremendous amount on the surface. Eventually they would have a shallow sea. It would re-freeze and become an ice sea again for a while, but between atmospheric warming, sunlight, bacterial action, increasing winds — it would melt again, eventually. And then there would be an Oceanus Borealis. And the old Vastitas Borealis, with its world-wrapping black garnet dunes, would be sea bottom. Drowned.

She walked back to her car in the twilight, moving clumsily. It was difficult to operate the locks, to get her helmet off. Inside she sat before the microwave without moving for more than an hour, images flitting through her mind. Ants burning under a magnifying glass, an anthill drowned behind a mud dam… She had thought that nothing could reach her anymore in this pre-posthumous existence she was living — but her hands trembled, and she could not face the rice and salmon cooling in the microwave. Red Mars was gone. Her stomach was a small stone in her body. In the random flux of universal contingency, nothing mattered; and yet, and yet…

She drove away. She couldn’t think of anything else to do. She returned south, driving up the low slopes, past Chryse and its little ice sea. It would be a bay of the larger ocean, eventually. She focused on her work, or tried. She fought to see nothing but rock, to think like a stone.

One day she drove over a plain of small black boulders. The plain was smoother than usual, the horizon its usual five kilometers away, familiar from Underhill and all the rest of the lowlands. A little world, and completely filled with small black boulders, like fossil balls from various sports, only all black, and all faceted to one extent or another. They were ventifacts.

She got out of the car to walk around and look. The rocks drew her on. She walked a long way west.

A front of low clouds rolled over the horizon, and she could feel the wind pushing at her in gusts. In the premature dark of the suddenly stormy afternoon, the boulder field took on a weird beauty; she stood in a slab of dim air, rushing between two planes of lumpy blackness.

The boulders were basalt rocks, which had been scoured by the winds on one exposed surface, until that surface had been scraped flat. Perhaps a million years for that first scraping. And then the underlying clays had been blown away, or a rare marsquake had shaken the region, and the rock had shifted to a new position, exposing a different surface. And the process had begun again. A new facet would be slowly scraped flat by the ceaseless brushing of micron-sized abrasives, until once again the rock’s equilibrium changed, or another rock bumped it, or something else shifted it from its position. And then it would start again. Every boulder in that field, shifting every million years or so, and then lying still under the wind for day after day, year after year. So that there were einkanters with single facets, and dreikanters with three facets — fierkanters, funfkanters — all the way up to nearly perfect hexahedrons, octahedrons, dodecahedrons. Ventifacts. Ann hefted one after another of them, thinking about how many years their planed sides represented, wondering whether her mind might not reveal similar scourings, big sections worn flat by time.

It began to snow. First swirling flakes, then big soft blobs, pouring down on the wind. It was relatively warm out, and the snow was slushy, then sleety, then an ugly mix of hail and wet snow, all flailing down in a hard wind. As the storm progessed, the snow became very dirty; apparently it had been pushed up and down in the atmosphere for a long time, collecting fines and dust and smoke particulates, and crystallizing more moisture and then flying up on another updraft in the thunderhead to do it again, until what came down was nearly black. Black snow. And then it was a kind of frozen mud that was falling, filling in the holes and gaps between the ventifacts, coating their tops, then dropping off their sides, as the keening wind caused a million little avalanches. Ann staggered aimlessly, pointlessly, until she twisted an ankle and stopped, her breath racking in and out of her, a rock clutched in each cold gloved hand. She understood that the long runout was running still. And mud snow pelted down out of the black air, burying the plain.

But nothing lasts, not even stone, not even despair.

Ann got back to her car, she didn’t know how or why. She drove a little every day, and without consciously intending to, came back to Coyote’s cache. She stayed there for a week, walking over the dunes and mumbling her food.

Then one day: “Ann, di da do?”

She only understood the word Ann. Shocked at the return of her glossolalia, she put both hands to the radio speaker, and tried to talk. Nothing came out but a choking sound.

“Ann, di da do?”

It was a question.

“Ann,” she said, as if vomiting.

Ten minutes later he was in her car, reaching up to give her a hug. “How long have you been here?”

“Not… not long.”

They sat. She collected herself. It was like thinking, it was thinking out loud. Surely she still thought in words.

Coyote talked on, perhaps a bit slower than usual, eyeing her closely.

She asked him about the ice-drilling rig.

“Ah. I wondered if you would run across one of those.”

“How many are there?”


Coyote saw her expression, and nodded briefly. He was eating voraciously, and it occurred to her that he had arrived at the cache empty. “They’re putting a lot of money into these big projects. The new elevator, these water rigs, nitrogen from Titan … a big mirror out there between us and the sun, to put more light on us. Have you heard of that?”

She tried to collect herself. Fifty. Ah, God…

It made her mad. She had been angry at the planet, for not giving her her release. For frightening her, but not backing it up with action. But this was different, a different kind of anger. And now as she sat watching Coyote eat, thinking about the inundation of Vastitas Borealis, she could feel that anger contracting inside her, like a prestellar dustcloud, contracting until it collapsed and ignited. Hot fury — it was painful to feel it. And yet it was the same old thing, anger at the terraforming. That old burnt emotion that had gone nova in the early years, now coalescing and going off again; she didn’t want it, she really didn’t. But dammit, the planet was melting under her feet. Disintegrating. Reduced to mush in some Terran cartel’s mining venture.

Something ought to be done.

And really she had to do something, if only just to fill the hours that she had to fill before some accident had mercy on her. Something to occupy the preposthumous hours. Zombie vengeance — well, why not? Prone to violence, prone to despair…

“Who’s building them?” she asked.

“Mostly Consolidated. There’s factories building them at Mar-eotis and Bradbury Point.” Coyote wolfed down food for a while more, then eyed her. “You don’t like it.”


“Would you like to stop it?”

She didn’t reply.

Coyote seemed to understand. “I don’t mean stop the whole terraforming effort. But there are things that can be done. Blow up the factories.”

“They’ll just rebuild them.”

“You never can tell. It would slow them down. It might buy enough time for something to happen on a more global scale.”

“Reds, you mean.”

“Yes. I think people would call them Reds.”

Ann shook her head. “They don’t need me.”

“No. But maybe you need them, eh? And you’re a hero to them, you know. You would mean more to them than just another body.”

Ann’s mind had gone blank again. Reds — she had never believed in them, never believed that mode of resistance would work. But now — well, even if it wouldn’t work, it might be better than doing nothing. Poke them in the eye with a stick!

And if it did work…

“Let me think about it.”

They talked about other things. Suddenly Ann was hit by a wall of fatigue, which was strange as she had spent so much time doing nothing. But there it was. Talking was exhausting work, she wasn’t used to it. And Coyote was a hard man to talk to.

“You should go to bed,” he said, breaking off his monologue. “You look tired. Your hands— ” He helped her up. She lay down on a bed, in her clothes. Coyote pulled a blanket over her. “You’re tired. I wonder if it isn’t time for another longevity treatment for you, old girl.”

“I’m not going to take them anymore.”

“No! Well, you surprise me. But sleep, now. Sleep.”

She caravaned with Coyote back south, and in the evenings they ate together, and he told her about the Reds. It was a loose grouping, rather than any rigidly organized movement. Like the underground itself. She knew several of the founders: Ivana, and Gene and Raul from the farm team, who had ended up disagreeing with Hiroko’s areophany and its insistence on viriditas; Kasei and Dao and several of the Zygote ectogenes; a lot of Arkady’s followers, who had come down from Phobos and then clashed with Arkady over the value of terraforming to the revolution. A good many Bogdanovists, including Steve and Marian, had become Reds in the years since 2061, as had followers of the biologist Schnelling, and some radical Japanese nisei and sansei from Sabishii, and Arabs who wanted Mars to stay Arabian forever, and escaped prisoners from Korolyov, and so on. A bunch of radicals. Not really her type, Ann thought, feeling a residual sensation that her objection to terraforming was a rational scientific thing. Or at least a defensible ethical or aesthetic position. But then the anger burned through her again in a flash, and she shook her head, disgusted at herself.

Who was she to judge the ethics of the Reds? At least they had expressed their anger, they had lashed out. Probably they felt better, even if they hadn’t accomplished anything. And maybe they had accomplished something, at least in years past, before the ter-raforming had entered this new phase of transnat gigantism.

Coyote maintained that the Reds had considerably slowed ter-raforming. Some of them had even kept records to try to quantify the difference they had made. There was also, he said, a growing movement among some of the Reds to acknowledge reality and admit that terraforming was going to happen, but to work up policy papers advocating various kinds of least-impact terraforming. “There are some very detailed proposals for a largely carbon dioxide atmosphere, warm but water-poor, which would support plant life, and people with facemasks, but not wrench the world into a Terran model. It’s very interesting. There are also several proposals for what they call ecopoesis, or areobiospheres. Worlds in which the low altitudes are arctic, and just barely livable for us, while the higher altitudes remain above the bulk of the atmosphere, and thus in a natural state, or close to it. The calderas of the four big volcanoes would stay especially pure in such a world, or so they say.”

Ann doubted most of these proposals were achievable, or would have the effects predicted. But Coyote’s accounts intrigued her nevertheless. He was a strong supporter of all Red efforts, apparently, and he had been a big help to them from the start, giving them aid from the underground refuges, connecting them up with each other, and helping them to build their own refuges, which were chiefly in the mesas and fretted terrain of the Great Escarpment, where they remained close to the terraforming action, and could therefore interfere with it more easily. Yes — Coyote was a Red, or at least a sympathizer. “Really I’m nothing. An old anarchist. I suppose you could call me a Boonean, now, in that I believe in incorporating anything and everything that will help make a free Mars. Sometimes I think the argument that a human-viable surface helps the revolution is a good one. Other times not. Anyway the Reds are such a great guerrilla pool. And I take their point that we’re not here to, you know, reproduce Canada, for God’s sake! So I help. I’m good at hiding, and I like it.”

Ann nodded.

“So do you want to join them? Or at least meet them?”

“I’ll think about it.”

*     *       *

Her focus on rock was shattered. Now she could not help noticing how many signs of life there were on the land. In the southern tens and twenties, ice from the outbreak glaciers was melting during summer afternoons, and the cold water was flowing downhill, cutting the land in new primitive watersheds, and turning talus slopes into what ecologists called fellfields, those rocky patches that were the first living communities after ice receded, their living component made of algae and lichens and moss. Sandy regolith, infected by the water and microbacteria flowing through it, became fellfield with shocking speed, she found, and the fragile landforms were quickly destroyed. Much of the regolith on Mars had been superarid, so arid that when water touched it there were powerful chemical reactions — lots of hydrogen peroxide release, and salt crystallizations — in essence the ground disintegrated, flowing away in sandy muds that only set downstream, in loose terraces called solifluction rims, and in frosty new proto-fellfields. Features were disappearing. The land was melting. After one long day’s drive through terrain altered like this, Ann said to Coyote, “Maybe I will talk to them.”

But first they returned to Zygote, or Gamete, where Coyote had some business. Ann stayed in Peter’s room, as he was gone, and the room she had shared with Simon had been put to other uses. She wouldn’t have stayed in it anyway. Peter’s room was under Harmakhis’s, a round bamboo segment containing a desk, a chair, a crescent mattress on the floor, and a window looking out at the lake. Everything was the same but different in Gamete, and despite the years she had spent visiting Zygote regularly, she felt no connection with any of it. It was hard, in fact, to remember what Zygote had been like. She didn’t want to remember, she practiced forgetting assiduously; any-time some image from the past came to her, she would jump up and do something that required concentration, studying rock samples or seismograph readouts, or cooking complex meals, or going out to play with the kids — until the image had faded, and the past was banished. With practice one could dodge the past almost entirely.

One evening Coyote stuck his head in the door of Peter’s room. “Did you know Peter is a Red too?”


“He is. But he works on his own, in space mostly. I think that his ride down from the elevator gave him a taste for it.”

“My God,” she said, disgusted. That was another random accident; by all rights Peter should have died when the elevator fell. What were the chances of a spaceship floating by and spotting him, alone in areosynchronous orbit? No, it was ridiculous. Nothing existed but contingency.

But still she was angry.

She went to sleep upset by these thoughts, and once in her uneasy slumber she had a dream in which she and Simon were walking through the most spectacular part of Candor Chasma, on that first trip they had taken together, when everything was immaculate, and nothing had changed for a billion years — the first humans to walk in that vast gorge of layered terrain and immense walls. Simon had loved it just as much as she had, and he was so silent, so absorbed in the reality of rock and sky — there was no better companion for such glorious contemplation. Then in the dream one of the giant canyon walls started to collapse, and Simon said, “Long runout,” and she woke up instantly, sweating.

She dressed and left Peter’s rooms and went out into the little mesocosm under the dome, with its white lake and the krummholz on the low dunes. Hiroko was such a strange genius, to conceive such a place and then convince so many others to join her in it. To conceive so many children, without the fathers’ permission, without controls over the genetic manipulations. It was a form of insanity, really, divine or not.

There along the icy strand of their little lake came a group of Hiroko’s brood. They couldn’t be called kids anymore, the youngest were fifteen or sixteen Terran years old, the oldest — well, the oldest were out scattered over the world; Kasei was probably fifty by now, and his daughter Jackie nearly twenty-five, a graduate of the new university in Sabishii, active in demimonde politics. That group of ectogenes were back in Gamete on a visit, like Ann herself. There they were, coming along the beach. Jackie was leading the group, a tall graceful black-haired young woman, quite beautiful and imperious, the leader of her generation no doubt. Unless it might be the cheery Nirgal, or the brooding Dao. But Jackie led them — Dao followed her with doggy loyalty, and even Nirgal kept an eye on her. Simon had loved Nirgal, and Peter did too, and Ann could see why; he was the only one among Hiroko’s gang of ectogenes who did not put her off. The rest cavorted in their self-absorption, kings and queens of their little world, but Nirgal had left Zygote soon after Simon’s death, and had hardly ever come back. He had studied in Sabishii, which was what had given Jackie the idea, and now he spent most of his time in Sabishii, or out with Coyote or Peter, or visiting the cities of the north. So was he too a Red? Impossible to say. But he was interested in everything, aware of everything, running around everywhere, a kind of young male Hiroko if such a creature was possible, but less strange than Hiroko, more engaged with other people; more human. Ann had never in her life managed to have a normal conversation with Hiroko, who seemed an alien consciousness, with entirely different meanings for all the words in thelanguage, and, despite her brilliance at ecosystem design, not really a scientist at all, but rather some kind of prophet. Nirgal on the other hand seemed intuitively to strike right to the heart of whatever was most important to the person he was talking to — and he focused on that, and asked question after question, curious, assimilative, sympathetic. As Ann watched him trailing Jackie down the strand, running here and there, she recalled how slowly and carefully he had walked at Simon’s side. How he had looked so frightened that last night, when Hiroko in her peculiar way had brought him in to say good-bye. All that business had been a cruel thing to subject a boy to, but Ann hadn’t objected at the time; she had been desperate, ready to try anything. Another mistake she could never repair.

She stared at the blond sand underfoot, upset, until the ectogenes had passed. It was a shame Nirgal was so hooked by Jackie, who cared so little for him. Jackie was a remarkable woman in her way, but much too much like Maya — moody and manipulative, fixated on no man, except, perhaps, for Peter — who luckily (although it had not seemed so at the time) had had an affair with Jackie’s mother, and was not the least bit interested in Jackie herself. A messy business that, and Peter and Kasei were still estranged by it, and Esther had never been back. Not Peter’s finest hour. And its effects on Jackie… Oh yes, there would be effects (there, watch out — some black blank, there in her own deep past) yes, on and on and on it went, all their sordid little lives, repeating themselves in their meaningless rounds…

She tried to concentrate on the composition of the sand grains.

Blond was not really a usual color for sand on Mars. A very rare granitic stuff. She wondered if Hiroko had hunted for it, or else gotten lucky.

The ectogenes were gone, down by the other side of the lake. She was alone on the beach. Simon somewhere underneath her. It was hard to keep from connecting with any of that.

A man came walking over the dunes toward her. He was short, and at first she thought it was Sax, then Coyote, but he wasn’t either of these. He hesitated when he saw her, and by that motion she saw that it was indeed Sax. But a Sax greatly altered in appearance. Vlad and Ursula had been doing some cosmetic surgery on his face, enough so that he didn’t look like the old Sax. He was going to move to Burroughs, and join a biotech company there, using a Swiss passport and one of Coyote’s viral identities. Getting back into the terraforming effort. She looked out at the water. He came over and tried to talk to her, strangely un-Saxlike, nicer-looking now, a handsome old coot; but it was still the old Sax, and her anger filled her up so much that she could hardly think, hardly remember what they were talking about from one second to the next. “You really do look different,” was all she could recall. Inanities like that. Looking at him she thought, He will never change. But there was something frightening about the stricken look on his new face, something deadly that it would evoke, if she did not stop it… and so she argued with him until he grimaced one last time, and went away.

She sat there for a long time, getting colder and more distraught. Finally she put her head on her knees, and fell into a kind of sleep.

She had a dream. All the First Hundred were standing around her, the living and the dead, Sax at their center with his old face, and that dangerous new look of distress. He said, “Net gain in complexity.”

Vlad and Ursula said, “Net gain in health.”

Hiroko said, “Net gain in beauty.”

Nadia said, “Net gain in goodness.”

Maya said, “Net gain in emotional intensity,” and behind her John and Frank rolled their eyes.

Arkady said, “Net gain in freedom.”

Michel said, “Net gain in understanding.”

From the back Frank said, “Net gain in power,” and John elbowed him and cried, “Net gain in happiness!”

And then they all stared at Ann. And she stood up, quivering with rage and fear, understanding that she alone among them did not believe in the possibility of the net gain of anything at all, that she was some kind of crazy reactionary; and all she could do was point a shaking finger at them and say, “Mars. Mars. Mars.”

That night after supper, and the evening in the big meeting room, Ann got Coyote alone and said, “When do you go out again?”

“In a few days.”

“Are you still willing to introduce me to those people you talked about?”

“Yeah, sure.” He looked at her with his head cocked. “It’s where you belong.”

She only nodded. She looked around the common room, thinking, Good-bye, good-bye. Good riddance.

A week later she was flying with Coyote in an ultralight plane. They flew north through the nights, into the equatorial region, then onward to the Great Escarpment, to the Deuteronilus Mensae north of Xanthe — wild fretted terrain, the mensae like an archipelago of stack islands, dotting a sand sea. They would become a real archipelago, Ann thought as Coyote descended between two of the stacks, if the pumping to the north continued.

Coyote landed on a short stretch of dusty sand, and taxied into a hangar cut into the side of one of the mesas. Out of the plane they were greeted by Steve and Ivana and a few others, and taken up in an elevator to a floor just under the top of the mesa. The northern end of this particular mesa came to a sharp rocky point, and high in this point a large triangular meeting room had been excavated. On entering it Ann stopped in surprise; it was jammed with people, several hundred of them at least, all seated at long tables about to start a meal, leaning over the tables to pour each other’s water. The people at one table saw her, and stopped what they were doing, and the people at the next table noticed that and looked around, and saw her and likewise stopped — and so the -effect rippled out through the room, until they had all gone still. Then one stood, and another, and in a ragged motion they all rose to their feet. For a moment everything was as if frozen. Then they began to applaud, their hands flailing wildly, their faces gleaming; and then they cheered.


The Scientist

Hold it between thumb and middle finger. Feel the rounded edge, observe the smooth curves of glass. A magnifying lens: it has the simplicity, elegance, and heft of a paleolithic tool. Sit with it on a sunny day, hold it over a pile of dry twigs. Move it up and down, until you see a spot in the twigs turn bright. Remember that light? It was as if the twigs caged a little sun.

The Amor asteroid that was spun out into the elevator cable was made up mostly of carbonaceous chondrites and water. The two Amor asteroids intercepted by groups of robot landers in the year 2091 were mostly silicates and water.

The material of New Clarke was spun out into a single long strand of carbon. The material of the two silicate asteroids was transformed by their robot crews into sheets of solar sail material. Silica vapor was solidified between rollers ten kilometers long, and pulled out in sheets coated with a thin layer of aluminum, and these vast mirror sheets were unfurled by spacecraft with human crews, into circular arrays which held their shape using spin and sunlight.

From one asteroid, pushed into a Martian polar orbit and called Birch, they teased the mirror sheets out into a ring a hundred thousand kilometers in diameter. This annular mirror spun around Mars in a polar orbit, the mirror ring facing the sun, angled in so that the light reflected from it met at a point inside Mars’s orbit, near its Lagrange One point.

The second silicate asteroid, called Solettaville, had been pushed near this Lagrange point. There the solar sailmakers spun the mirror sheets out into a complex web of slatted rings, all connected and set at angles, so that they looked like a lens made of circular Venetian blinds, spinning around a hub that was a silver cone, with the cone’s open end facing Mars. This huge delicate object, ten thousand kilometers in diameter, bright and stately as it wheeled along between Mars and the sun, was called the soletta.

Sunlight striking the soletta directly bounced through its blinds, hitting the sun side of one, then the Mars side of the next one out, and onward to Mars. Sunlight striking the annular ring in its polar orbit was reflected back and in to the inner cone of the soletta, and then was reflected again, also on to Mars. Thus light struck both sides of the soletta, and these countervailing pressures kept it moving in its position, about a hundred thousand kilometers out from Mars — closer at perihelion, farther away at aphelion. The angles of the slats were constantly adjusted by the soletta’s Al, to keep its orbit and its focus.

Through the decade when these two great pinwheels were being constructed out of their asteroids, like silicate webs out of rock spiders, observers on Mars saw almost nothing of them. Occasionally someone would see an arcing white line in the sky, or random glints by day or by night, as if the brilliance of a much vaster universe were shining through loose seams in the fabric of our sphere.

Then, when the two mirrors were completed, the annular mirror’s reflected light was aimed at the cone of the soletta. The soletta’s circular slats were adjusted, and it moved into a slightly different orbit.

And one day people living on the Tharsis side of Mars looked up, for the sky had darkened. They looked up, and saw an eclipse of the sun such as Mars had never seen: the sun bit into, as if there were some Luna-sized moon up there to block its rays. The eclipse then proceeded as they do on Earth, the crescent of darkness biting deeper into the round blaze as the soletta floated into its position between Mars and sun, with its mirrors not yet positioned to pass the light through: the sky going a dark violet, the darkness taking over the majority of the disk, leaving only a crescent of blaze until that too disappeared, and the sun was a dark circle in the sky, edged by the whisper of a corona — then entirely gone. Total eclipse of the sun….

A very faint moire pattern of light appeared in the dark disk, unlike anything ever seen in any natural eclipse. Everyone on the daylight side of Mars gasped, squinted as they looked up. And then, as when one tugs open Venetian blinds, the sun came back all at once.

Blinding light!

And now more blinding than ever, as the sun was noticeably brighter than it had been before the strange eclipse had begun. Now they walked under an augmented sun, the disk appearing about the same size as it did from Earth, the light some twenty percent greater than before — noticeably brighter, warmer on the back on the neck — the red expanse of the plains more brilliantly lit. As if floodlights had suddenly been turned on, and all of them were now walking a great stage.

A few months after that a third mirror, much smaller than the so-letta, spun down into the highest reaches of the Martian atmosphere. It was another lens made of circular slats, and looked like a silver UFO. It caught some of the light pouring down from the soletta, and focused it still further, into points on the surface of the planet that were less than a kilometer across. And it flew like a glider over the world, holding that concentrated beam of light in focus, until little suns seemed to bloom right there on the land, and the rock itself melted, turning from solid to liquid. And then to fire.

The underground wasn’t big enoughfor Sax Russell. He wanted to get back to work. He could have moved into the demimonde, perhaps taken a teaching position at the new university in Sabishii, which ran outside the net and covered many of his old colleagues, and provided an education for many of the children of the underground. But on reflection he decided he didn’t want to teach, or remain on the periphery — he wanted to return to terra-forming, to the heart of the project if possible, or as close as he could get to it. And that meant the surface world. Recently the Transitional Authority had formed a committee to coordinate all the work on terraforming, and a Subarashii-led team had gotten the old synthesis job that Sax had once held. This was unfortunate, as Sax didn’t speak Japanese. But the lead in the biological part of the effort had been given to the Swiss, and was being run by a Swiss collective of biotech companies called Biotique, with main offices in Geneva and Burroughs, and close ties with the transnational Praxis.

So the first task was to insinuate himself into Biotique under a false name, and get himself assigned to Burroughs. Desmond took charge of this operation, writing a computer persona for Sax similar to the one he had given to Spencer years before, when Spencer had moved to Echus Overlook. Spencer’s persona, and some extensive cosmetic surgery, had enabled him to work successfully in the materials labs in Echus Overlook, and then later in Kasei Vallis, the very heart of transnat security. So Sax had faith in Desmond’s system. The new persona listed Sax’s physical ID data — genome, retina, voice, and finger prints — all slightly altered, so that they still almost fit Sax himself, while escaping notice in any comparative matching searches in the nets. These data were given a new name with a full Terran background, credit rating, and immigration record, and a viral subtext to attempt to overwhelm any competing ID for the physical data, and the whole package was sent off to the Swiss passport office, which had been issuing passports to these arrivals without comment. And in the balkanized world of the transnat nets, that seemed to be doing the job. “Oh yeah, that part works no problem,” Desmond said. “But you First Hundred are all movie stars. You need a new face too.”

Sax was agreeable. He saw the need, and his face had never meant anything to him. And these days the face in the mirror didn’t much resemble what he thought he looked like anyway. So he got Vlad to do the work on him, emphasizing the potential usefulness of his presence in Burroughs. Vlad had become one of the leading theoreticians of the resistance to the Transitional Authority, and he was quick to see Sax’s point. “Most of us should just live in the demimonde,” he said, “but a few people hidden in Burroughs would be a good thing. So I might as well practice my cosmetic surgery on a no-lose situation like yours.”

“A no-lose situation!” Sax said. “And verbal contracts are binding. I expect to come out handsomer.”

And for a wonder he did, although it was impossible to tell until the spectacular bruising went away. They capped his teeth, puffed his thin lower lip, and gave his button nose a prominent bridge, and a little bit of a bend. They thinned his cheeks and gave him more of a chin. They even cut some muscles in his eyelids so that he didn’t blink so often. When the bruises went away he looked like a real movie star, as Desmond said. Like an ex-jockey, Nadia said. Or an ex-dance instructor, said Maya, who had faithfully attended Alcoholics Anonymous for many years. Sax, who had never liked the effects of alcohol, waved her off.

Desmond took photos of him and put them in the new persona, then inserted this construct successfully into the Biotique files, along with a transfer order from San Francisco to Burroughs. The persona appeared in the Swiss passport listings a week later, and Desmond chuckled when he saw it. “Look at that,” he said, pointing at Sax’s new name. “Stephen Lindholm, Swiss citizen! Those folks are covering for us, there’s no doubt about it. I’ll bet you anything they put a stopper on the persona, and checked your genome with old print records, and even with my alterations I bet they figured out who you really are.”

“Are you sure?”

“No. They aren’t saying, are they? But I’m pretty sure.”

“Is it a good thing?”

“In theory, no. But in practice, if someone is on to you, it’s nice to see them behaving as a friend. And the Swiss are good friends to have. This is the fifth time they’ve issued a passport to one of my personas. I even have one myself, and I doubt they were able to find out who I really am, because I was never ID’d like you folks in the First Hundred. Interesting, don’t you think?”


“They are interesting people. They have their own plans, and I don’t know what they are, but I like the look of them. I think they’ve made a decision to cover for us. Maybe they just want to know where we are. We’ll never know for sure, because the Swiss dearly love their secrets. But it doesn’t matter why when you’ve got the how.”

Sax winced at the sentiment, but was happy to think that he would be safe under Swiss patronage. They were his kind of people — rational, cautious, methodical.

A few days before he was going to fly with Peter north to Burroughs, he took a walk around Gamete’s lake, something he had rarely done in his years there. The lake was certainly a neat bit of work. Hiroko was a fine systems designer. When she and her team had disappeared from Underhill so long ago, Sax had been quite mystified; he hadn’t seen the point, and had worried that they would begin to fight the terraforming somehow. When he had managed to coax a response out of Hiroko on the net, he had been partly reassured; she seemed sympathetic to the basic goal of terraforming, and indeed her own concept of viriditas seemed just another version of the same idea. But Hiroko appeared to enjoy being cryptic, which was very unscientific of her; and during her years of hiding she had indulged herself to the point of information damage. Even in person she was none too easy to understandj and it was only after some years of coexistence that Sax had become confident that she too desired a Martian biosphere that would support humans. That was all the agreement he asked for. And he could not think of a better single ally to have in that particular project, unless it was the chairperson of this new Transitional Authority committee. And probably the chair was an ally too. There were not too many opposed, in fact.

But there on the beach sat one, as gaunt as a heron. Ann Clay-borne. Sax hesitated, but she had already seen him. And so he walked on, until he stood by her side. She glanced up at him, and then stared out again at the white lake. “You really look different,” she said.

“Yes.” He could still feel the sore spots in his face and mouth, though the bruises had cleared up. It felt a bit like wearing a mask, and suddenly that made him uncomfortable. “Same me,” he added.

“Of course.” She did not look up at him. “So you’re off to the overwork!?”


“To get back to your work?”


She looked up at him. “What do you think science is for?”

Sax shrugged. It was their old argument, again and always, no matter what kind of beginning it had. To terraform or not to ter-raform, that is the question… He had answered the question long ago, and so had she, and he wished they could just agree to disagree, and get on with it. But Ann was indefatigable.

“To figure things out,” he said.

“But terraforming is not figuring things out.”

“Terraforming isn’t science. I never said it was. It’s what people do with science. Applied science, or technology. What have you. The choice of what to do with what you learn from science. Whatever you call that.”

“So it’s a matter of values.”

“I suppose so.” Sax thought about it, trying to marshal his thoughts concerning this murky topic. “I suppose our … our disagreement is another facet of what people call the fact-value problem. Science concerns itself with facts, and with theories that turn facts into examples. Values are another kind of system, a human construct.”

“Science is also a human construct.”

“Yes. But the connection between the two systems isn’t clear. Beginning from the same facts, we can arrive at different values.”

“But science itself is full of values,” Ann insisted. “We talk about theories with power and elegance, we talk about clean results, or a beautiful experiment. And the desire for knowledge is itself a kind of value, saying that knowledge is better than ignorance, or mystery. Right?”

“I suppose,” Sax said, thinking it over.

“Your science is a set of values,” Ann said. “The goal of your kind of science is the establishment of laws, of regularities, of exactness and certainty. You want things explained. You want to answer the whys, all the way back to the big bang. You’re a reductionist. Parsimony and elegance and economy are values for you, and if you can make things simpler that’s a real achievement, right?”

“But that’s the scientific method itself,” Sax objected. “It’s not just me, it’s how nature itself works. Physics. You do it yourself.”

“There are human values imbedded in physics.”

“I’m not so sure.” He held out a hand to stop her for a second. “I’m not saying there are no values in science. But matter and energy do what they do. If you want to talk about values, better just to talk about them. They arise out of facts somehow, sure. But that’s a different issue, some kind of sociobiology, or bioethics. Perhaps it would be better just to talk about values directly. The greatest good for the greatest number, something like that.”

“There are ecologists who would say that’s a scientific description of a healthy ecosystem. Another way of saying climax ecosystem.”

“That’s a value judgment, I think. Some kind of bioethics. Interesting, but…” Sax squinted at her curiously, decided to change tack. “Why not try for a climax ecosystem here, Ann? You can’t speak of ecosystems without living things. What was here on Mars before us wasn’t an ecology. It was geology only. You could even say there was a start at an ecology here, long ago, that somehow went wrong and froze out, and now we’re starting it up again.”

She growled at that, and he stopped. He knew she believed in some kind of intrinsic worth for the mineral reality of Mars; it was a version of what people called the land ethic, but without the land’s biota. The rock ethic, one might say. Ecology without life. An intrinsic worth indeed!

He sighed. “Perhaps that’s just a value speaking. Favoring living systems over nonliving systems. I suppose we can’t escape values, like you say. It’s strange … I mostly feel like I just want to figure things out. Why they work the way they do. But if you ask me why I want that — or what I would want to have happen, what I work toward…” He shrugged, struggling to understand himself. “It’s hard to express. Something like a net gain in information. A net gain in order.” For Sax this was a good functional description of life itself, of its holding action against entropy. He held out a hand to Ann, hoping to get her to understand that, to agree at least to the paradigm of their debate, to a definition of science’s ultimate goal. They were both scientists after all, it was their shared enterprise…

But she only said, “So you destroy the face of an entire planet. A planet with a clear record nearly four billion years old. It’s not science. It’s making a theme park.”

“It’s using science for a particular value. One I believe in.” , “As do the transnationals.”

“I guess.”

“It certainly helps them.”

“It helps everything alive.”

“Unless it kills them. The terrain is destabilized; there are landslides every day.”


“And they kill. Plants, people. It’s happened already.”

Sax waggled a hand, and Ann jerked her head up to glare at -him.

“What’s this, the necessary murder? What kind of value is that?”

“No, no. They’re accidents, Ann. People need to stay on bedrock, out of the slide zones, that kind of thing. For a while.”

“But vast regions will turn to mud, or be drowned entirely. We’re talking about half the planet.”

“The water will drain downhill. Create watersheds.”

“Drowned land, you mean. And a completely different planet. Oh, that’s a value all right! And the people who hold the value of Mars as it is … we will fight you, every step of the way.”

He sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t. At this point a biosphere would help us more than the transnationals. The transnats can operate from the tent cities, and mine the surface robotically, while we hide and concentrate most of our efforts on concealment and survival. If we could live everywhere on the surface, it would be a lot easier for all kinds of resistance.”

“All but Red resistance.”

“Yes, but what’s the point of that, now?”

“Mars. Just Mars. The place you’ve never known.”

Sax looked up at the white dome over them, feeling distress like a sudden attack of arthritis. It was useless to argue with her.

But something in him made him keep trying. “Look, Ann, I’m an advocate of what people call the minimum viable model. It’s a model that calls for a breathable atmosphere only up to about the two- or three-kilometer contour. Above that the air would be kept too thin for humans, and there wouldn’t be much life of any kind — some high-altitude plants, and above that nothing, or nothing visible. The vertical relief on Mars is so extreme that there can be vast regions that will remain above the bulk of the atmosphere. It’s a plan that makes sense to me. It expresses a comprehensible set of values.”

She did not reply. It was distressing, it really was. Once, in an attempt to understand Ann, to be able to talk to her, he had done research in the philosophy of science. He had read a fair amount of material, concentrating particularly on the land ethic, and the fact-value interface. Alas, it had never proved to be of much help; in conversation with her, he had never seemed able to apply what he had learned in any useful manner. Now, looking down at her, feeling the ache in his joints, he recalled something that Kuhn had written about Priestley — that a scientist who continued to resist after his whole profession had been converted to a new paradigm might be perfectly logical and reasonable, but had ipso facto ceased to be a scientist. It seemed that something like this had happened to Ann, but what then was she now? A counterrevolutionary? A prophet?

She certainly looked like a prophet — harsh, gaunt, angry, unforgiving. She would never change, and she would never forgive him. And all that he would have liked to say to her, about Mars, about Gamete, about Peter — about Simon’s death, which seemed . to haunt Ursula more than her … all that was impossible. This was why he had more than once resolved to give up talking to Ann: it was so frustrating never to get anywhere, to be faced with the dislike of someone he had known for over sixty years. He won every argument but never got anywhere. Some people were like that; but that didn’t make it any less distressing. In fact it was quite remarkable how much physiological discomfort could be generated by a merely emotional response.

Ann left with Desmond the next day. Soon after that Sax got a ride north with Peter, in one of the small stealthed planes that Peter used to fly all over Mars.

Peter’s route to Burroughs led them over the Hellespontus Monies, and Sax gazed down into the big basin of Hellas curiously. They caught a glimpse of the edge of the icefield that had covered Low Point, a white mass on the dark night surface, but Low Point itself stayed over the horizon. That was too bad, as Sax was curious to see what had happened over the Low Point mohole. It had been thirteen kilometers deep when the flood had filled it, and that deep it was likely that the water had remained liquid at the bottom, and probably warm enough to rise quite a distance; it was possible that the icefield was in that region an ice-covered sea, with telltale differences at the surface.

But Peter would not change his route to get a better view. “You can look into it when you’re Stephen Lindholm,” he said with a grin. “You can make it part of your work for Biotique.”

And so they flew on. And the next night they landed in the broken hills south of Isidis, still on the high side of the Great Escarpment. Sax then walked to a tunnel entrance, and went down into the tunnel and followed it into the back of a closet in the service basement of Libya Station, which was a little train station complex at the intersection of the Burroughs-Hellas piste and the newly rerouted Burroughs-Elysium piste. When the next train to Burroughs came in, Sax emerged from a service door and joined the crowd getting on the train. He rode into Burroughs’ main station, where he was met by a man from Biotique. And then he was Stephen Lindholm, newcomer to Burroughs and to Mars.

The man from Biotique, a personnel secretary, complimented him on his skillful walking, and took him to a studio apartment high in Hunt Mesa, near the center of the old town. The labs and offices of Biotique were also in Hunt, just under the mesa’s plateau, with window walls looking down on the canal park. A high-rent district, as only befitted the company leading the terraforming project’s bioengineering efforts.

Out the Biotique office’s windows he could see most of the old city, looking about the same as he remembered it, except that the mesa walls were even more extensively lined by glass windows, colorful horizontal bands of copper or gold or metallic green or blue, as if the mesas were stratified by some truly wonderful mineral layers. Also the tents that had topped the mesas were gone, their buildings now standing free under the much larger tent that now covered all nine mesas, and everything in between and around them. Tenting technology had reached the point where they could enclose vast mesocosms, and Sax had heard that one of the trans-nats was going to cover Hebes Chasma, a project that Ann had once suggested as an alternative to terraforming — a suggestion that Sax himself had scoffed at. And now they were doing it. One should never underestimate the potential of materials science, that was clear.

Burroughs’ old canal park, and the broad grass boulevards that climbed away from the park and between the mesas, were now strips of green, cutting through orange tile rooftops. The old double row of salt columns still stood beside the blue canal. There had    i been a lot of building, to be sure; but the configuration of the city was still the same. It was only on the outskirts that one could see clearly how much things had changed, and how much larger the city really was; the city wall lay well beyond the nine mesas, so that quite a bit of surrounding land was sheltered, and much of it built upon already.

The personnel secretary gave Sax a quick tour of Biotique, making introductions to more people than he could remember. Then Sax was asked to report to his lab the next morning, and given the rest of the day to get settled in.

As Stephen Lindholm he planned to exhibit signs of intellectual energy, sociability, curiosity, and high spirits; and so he very plausibly spent that afternoon exploring Burroughs, wandering from neighborhood to neighborhood. He strolled up and down the wide swards of streetgrass, considering as he did the mysterious phenomenon of the growth of cities. It was a cultural process with no very good physical or biological analogy. He could see no obvious reason why this low end of Isidis Planitia should have become home to the largest city on Mars. None of the original reasons for siting the city here were at all adequate to explain it; so far as he knew, it had begun as an ordinary way station on the piste route from Elysium to Tharsis. Perhaps it was precisely because of its lack of strategic location that it had prospered, for it had been the only major city not damaged or destroyed in 2061, and thus perhaps it simply had had a head start on growth in the postwar years. By analogy to the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution, one might say that this particular species had accidentally survived an impact that had devastated most other species, giving it an open ecosphere to expand in.

And no doubt the bowllike shape of the region, with its archipelago of small mesas, gave it an impressive look as well. When he walked around on the wide grassy boulevards, the nine mesas appeared evenly distributed, and each mesa had a slightly different look, its rugged rock walls distinguished by characteristic knobs, buttresses, smooth walls, overhangs, cracks — and now the horizontal bands of colorful mirror windows, and the buildings and parks on the flat plateaus crowning each mesa. From any point on the streets one could always see several of the mesas, scattered like magnificent neighborhood cathedrals, and this no doubt gave a certain pleasure to the eye. And then if one took an elevator up to one of the mesa’s plateau tops, all about a hundred meters higher than the city floor, then one had a view over the rooftops of several different districts, and a different perspective on the other mesas, and then, beyond those, the land surrounding the city for many kilometers, distances larger than were usual on Mars, because they were at the bottom of a bowl-shaped depression: over the flat plain of Isidis to the north, up the dark rise to Syrtis in the west, and to the south one could see the distant rise of the Great Escarpment itself, standing on the horizon like a Himalaya.

Of course whether a handsome prospect mattered to city formation was an open question, but there were historians who asserted that many ancient Greek cities were sited principally for their view, in the face of other inconveniences, so it was at least a possible factor. And in any case Burroughs was now a bustling little metropolis of some 150,000 people, the biggest city on Mars. And it was still growing. Near the end of his afternoon’s sightseeing, Sax rode one of the big exterior elevators up the side of Branch Mesa, centrally located north of Canal Park, and from its plateau he could see that the northern outskirts of town were studded with construction sites all the way to the tent wall. There was even work going on around some of the distant mesas outside the tent. Clearly critical mass had been reached in some kind of group psychology — some herding instinct, which had made this place the capital, the social magnet, the heart of the action. Group dynamics were complex at best, even (he grimaced) unexplainable.

Which was unfortunate, as always, because Biotique Burroughs was a very dynamic group indeed, and in the days that followed Sax found that determining his place in the crowd of scientists working on the project was no easy thing. He had lost the skill of finding his way in a new group, assuming he had ever had it. The formula governing the number of possible relationships in a group was n(n — 1)/2, where n is the number of individuals in the group; so that, for the 1,000 people at Biotique Burroughs, there were 499,500 possible relationships. This seemed to Sax well beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend — even the 4,950 possible relationships in a group of 100, the hypothesized “design limit” of human group size, seemed unwieldy. Certainly it had been at Underbill, when they had had a chance to test it.

So it was important to find a smaller group at Biotique, and Sax set about doing so. It certainly made sense to concentrate at first on his lab. He had joined them as a biophysicist, which was risky, but put him where he wanted to be in the company; and he hoped he could hold his own. If not, then he could claim to have come to biophysics from physics, which was true. His boss was a Japanese woman named Claire, middle-aged in appearance, a very congenial woman who was good at running their lab. On his arrival she put him to work with the team designing second- and third-generation plants for the glaciated regions of the northern hemisphere. These newly hydrated environments represented tremendous new possibilities for botanical design, as the designers no longer had to base all species on desert xerophytes. Sax had seen this coming from the very first moment he had spotted the flood roaring down lus Chasma into Melas, in 2061. And now forty years later he could actually do something about it.

So he very happily joined in the work. First he had to bring himself up to date on what had already been put out there in the glacial regions. He read voraciously in his usual manner, and viewed videotapes, and learned that with the atmosphere still so thin and cold, all the new ice released on the surface was subliming until its exposed surfaces were fretted to a minute lacework. This meant there were billions of pockets large and small for life to grow in, directly on the ice; and so one of the first forms to have been widely distributed were varieties of snow and ice algae. These algae had been augmented with phreatophytic traits, because even when the ice started pure it became salt-encrusted by way of the ubiquitous windblown fines. The genetically engineered salt-tolerant algaes had done very well, growing in the pitted surfaces of the glaciers, and sometimes right into the ice. And because they were darker than the ice, pink or red or black or green, the ice under them had a tendency to melt, especially during summer days, when temperatures were well above freezing. So small diurnal streams had begun to run off the glaciers, and along their edges. These wet morainelike regions were similar to some Terran polar and mountain environments. Bacteria and larger plants from these Terran environments, genetically altered to help them survive the pervasive saltiness, had first been seeded by teams from Biotique several M-years before, and for the most part these plants were prospering as the algae had.

Now the design teams were trying to build on these early successes and introduce a wider array of larger plants, and some insects bred to tolerate the high CO2 levels in the air. Biotique had an extensive inventory of template plants to take chromosome sequences from, and 17 M-years of field experimental records, so Sax had a lot of catching up to do. In his first weeks at the lab, and in the company arboretum on Hunt plateau, he focused on the new plant species to the exclusion of everything else, content to work his way up to the bigger picture in due time.

Meanwhile, when he was not at his desk reading, or looking through the microscopes or into the various Mars jars in the labs, or up in the arboretum, there was the daily work of being Stephen Lindholm to keep him busy as well. In the lab it was not all that different from being Sax Russell. But at the end of the workdays he would often make a conscious effort and join the group that went upstairs to one of the plateau cafes, to have a drink and talk about the day’s work, and then everything else.

Even there he found it surprisingly easy to “be” Lindholm, who, he discovered, asked a lot of questions, and laughed frequently; whose mouth somehow made laughter easier. Questions from the others — usually from Claire, and an English immigrant named Jessica, and a Kenyan man named Berkina — very rarely had anything to do with Lindholm’s Terran past. When they did, Sax found it was easy to give a minimal response — Desmond had given Lindholm a past in Sax’s own home town of Boulder, Colorado, a sensible move — and then he could turn things around on the questioner, in a technique he had often observed Michel using. People were so happy to talk. And Sax himself had never been a particularly quiet one, like Simon. He had always pitched in his conversational ante, and if he had contributed infrequently thereafter, it was because he was only interested when the stakes reached a certain minimum level. Small talk was usually a waste of time. But it did in fact pass that time, which otherwise might be irritat-ingly blank. It also seemed to ameliorate feelings of solitude. And his new colleagues usually engaged in pretty interesting shop talk, anyway. And so he did his part, and told them about his walks around Burroughs, and asked them many questions about what he had seen, and about their past, and Biotique, and the Martian situation, and so on. It made as much sense for Lindholrn as for Sax.

In these conversations his colleagues, especially Claire and Ber-kina, confirmed what was obvious in his walks — that Burroughs was in some sense becoming the de facto capital of Mars, in that the headquarters for all of the biggest transnationals were located there. The transnationals were at this point the effective rulers of Mars. They had enabled the Group of Eleven and the other wealthy industrial nations to win or at least survive the war of 2061, and now they were all intertwined in a single power structure, so that it wasn’t clear who on Earth was calling the shots, the countries or the supracorporations. On Mars, however, it was obvious. UNOMA had been shattered in 2061 like one of the domed cities, and the agency that had taken its place, the United Nations Transitional Authority, was an administrative group staffed by transnat executives, its decrees enforced by transnat security forces. “The UN has nothing to do with it, really,” Berkina said. “The UN is just as dead on Earth as UNOMA is here. So the name is just a cover.”

Claire said, “Everyone calls it just the Transitional Authority anyway.”

“They can see who is who,” Berkina said. And indeed, uniformed transnational security police were to be seen frequently in Burroughs. They wore rust-colored construction jumpers, with armbands of different colors. Nothing very ominous, but there they were.

“But why?” Sax asked. “Who are they afraid of?”

“They’re worried about Bogdanovists coming out of the hills,” Claire said, and laughed. “It’s ridiculous.”

Sax raised his eyebrows, let it pass. He was curious, but it was a dangerous topic. Better just to listen when it came up on its own. Still, after that when he walked around Burroughs he watched the crowds more, checking the security police wandering around for their armband identification. Consolidated, Amexx, Oroco … he found it curious that they had not formed a single force. Possibly the transnationals were still rivals as well as partners, and competing security systems would naturally result. This perhaps would also explain the proliferation of identification systems, which created the gaps that made it possible for Desmond to insert his per-sonas into one system, and have them creep elsewhere. Switzerland was obviously willing to cover for some people coming into its system from nowhere, as Sax’s own experience showed; and no doubt other countries and transnationals were doing the same kind of thing.

So in the current political situation, information technology was creating not totalization but balkanization. Arkady had predicted such a development, but Sax had considered it too irrational to be a likely eventuality. Now he had to admit that it had come to pass. The computer nets could not keep track of things because they were in competition with each other; and so there were police in the streets, keeping an eye out for people like Sax.

But he was Stephen Lindholm. He had Lindholm’s rooms in the Hunt Mesa, he had Lindholm’s work, and his routines, and his habits, and his past. His little studio apartment looked very unlike what Sax himself would have lived in: the clothes were in the closet, there were no experiments in the refrigerator or on the bed, there were even prints on the walls, Eschers and Hundertwassers and some unsigned sketches by Spencer, an indiscretion that was certainly undetectable. He was secure in his new identity. And really, even if he was found out, he doubted the results would be all that traumatic. He might even be able to return to something like his previous power. He had always been apolitical, interested only in terraforming, and he had disappeared during the madness of ‘61 because it looked as if it might be fatal not to do so. No doubt several of the current transnationals would see it that way and try to hire him.

But all that was hypothetical. In reality he could settle into the life of Lindholm. ‘

As he did, he discovered that he enjoyed his new work very much. In the old days, as head of the entire terraforming project, it had been impossible not to get bogged down in administration^ or diffused across the whole range of topics, trying to do enough of everything to be able to make informed policy decisions. Naturally this had led to a lack of depth in any one discipline, with a resulting loss of understanding. Now, however, his whole attention was focused on creating new plants to add to the simple ecosystem that had been propagated in the glacial regions. For several weeks he worked on a new lichen, designed to extend the borders of the new bioregions, based on a chasmdendolith from the Wright Valleys in Antarctica. The base lichen had lived in the cracks in the Antarctic rock, and here Sax wanted it to do the same, but he was trying to replace the algal part of the lichen with a faster algae, so that the resulting new symbiote would grow more quickly than its template organism, which was notoriously slow. At the same time he was trying to introduce into the lichen’s fungus some phreato-phytic genes from salt-tolerant plants like tamarisk and pickleweed. These could live in salt levels three times as salty as sea water, and the mechanisms, which had to do with the permeability of cell walls, were somewhat transferable. If he managed it, then the result would be a very hardy and fast-growing new salt lichen. Very encouraging, to see the progress that had been made in this area since their first crude attempts to make an organism that would survive on the surface, back in Underbill. Of course the surface had been more difficult then. But their knowledge of genetics and their range of methods were also greatly advanced.

One problem that was proving very obdurate was adjusting the plants to the paucity of nitrogen on Mars. Most large concentrations of nitrites were being mined upon discovery and released as nitrogen into the atmosphere, a process Sax had initiated in the 2040s and thoroughly approved of, as the atmosphere was desperately in need of nitrogen. But so was the soil, and with so much of it being put into the air, the plant life was coming up short. This was a problem that no Terran plant had ever faced, at least not to this degree, so there were no obvious adaptive traits to clip into the genes of their areoflora.

The nitrogen problem was a recurrent topic of conversation in their after-work sessions at the Cafe Lowen, up on the mesa plateau’s edge. “Nitrogen is so valuable that it’s the medium of exchange among the members of the underground,” Berkina told Sax, who nodded uncomfortably at this misinformation.

Their cafe group made its own homage to the importance of nitrogen by inhaling N2O from little canisters, passed from person to person around the table. It was claimed, with marginal accuracy but very high spirits, that their exhalation of this gas would help the terraforming effort. When the canister came around to Sax for the first time, he regarded it dubiously. He had noticed that one could purchase the canisters in restrooms — there was an entire pharmacology inside every men’s room now, wall units that dispensed canisters of nitrous oxide, omegendorph, pandorph, and other drug-laced gases. Apparently respiration was the current method of choice for drug ingestion. It was not something that interested him, but now he took the canister from Jessica, who was leaning against his shoulder. This was an area in which Stephen’s and Sax’s behaviors diverged, apparently. So he breathed out and then put the little facemask over his mouth and nose, feeling Stephen’s slim face under the plastic.

He breathed in a cold rush of the gas, held it briefly, exhaled, and felt all the weight go out of him — that was the subjective impression. It was fairly humorous to see how responsive mood was to chemical manipulation, despite what it implied about the precarious balance of one’s emotional equanimity, even sanity itself. Not on the face of it a pleasant realization. But at the moment, not a problem. In fact it made him grin. He looked over the rail at the rooftops of Burroughs, and noticed for the first time that the new neighborhoods to the west and north we’re shifting to blue tile roofs and white walls, so that they were taking on a Greek look, while the old parts of town were more Spanish. Jessica was definitely making an effort to keep their upper arms in contact. It was possible her balance was impaired by mirth.

“But it’s time to get beyond the alpine zone!” Claire was saying. “I’m sick of lichen, and I’m sick of mosses and grasses. Our equatorial fellfields are becoming meadows, we’ve even got krummholz, and they’re all getting lots of sunlight year-round, and the atmospheric pressure at the foot of the escarpment is as high as in the Himalayas.”

“Top of the Himalayas,” Sax pointed out, then checked himself mentally; that had been a Saxlike qualification, he could feel it. As Lindholm he said, “But there are high Himalayan forests.”

“Exactly. Stephen, you’ve done wonders since you arrived on that lichen, why don’t you and Berkina and Jessica and C.J. start working on subalpine plants. See if we can’t make some little forests.”

They toasted the idea with another hit of nitrous oxide, and the idea of the briny frozen borders of the aquifer outbreaks becoming meadows and forests suddenly struck them all as extremely funny. “We need moles,” Sax said, trying to wipe the grin from his face. “Moles and voles are crucial in changing fellfields to meadow, I wonder if we can make some kind of CO2-tolerant arctic moles.”

His companions thought this was hilarious, but he was lost in thought for a while, and didn’t notice.

“Listen, Claire, do you think we could go out and have a look at one of the glaciers? Do some of the work on-site?”

Claire stopped giggling and nodded. “Sure. In fact that reminds me. We’ve got a permanent experimental station out at Arena Glacier, with a good lab. And we’ve been contacted by a biotech group from Armscor, one with a lot of clout with the Transitional Authority. They want to be taken out to see the station and the ice. I guess they’re planning to build a similar station in Marineris. We can go out with that group and show them around, and do some fieldwork, and kill two birds with one stone.”

Plans to make this trip actually made it from the Lowen into the lab, and then the front office. Approval came swiftly, as was usual in Biotique. So Sax worked hard for a couple of weeks, preparing for the fieldwork, and at the end of that intensive period he packed his bag, and one morning took the subway out to West Gate. There in the Swiss garage he spotted some people from the office, gathered with several strangers. Introductions were still being made. Sax approached, and Claire saw him and drew him into the crowd, looking excited. “Here, Stephen, I want to introduce you to our guest for the trip.” A woman wearing some kind of prisming fabric turned around, and Claire said, “Stephen, I’d like you to meet Phyllis Boyle. Phyllis, this is Stephen Lindholm.”

“How do you do?” Phyllis said, extending a hand.

Sax took her hand and shook. “I do fine,” he said.

Vlad had nicked his vocal cords to give him a different vocal print if he was ever tested, but everyone in Gamete had agreed that he sounded just the same. And now Phyllis cocked her head curiously at him, alerted by something. “I’m looking forward to the trip,” he said, and glanced at Claire. “I hope I haven’t held you up?”

“No no, we’re still waiting for the drivers.”

“Ah.” Sax backed away. “Good to meet you,” he said to Phyllis politely. She nodded, and with a final curious glance turned back to the people she had been talking to. Sax tried to concentrate on what Claire was saying about the drivers. Apparently driving a rover across open terrain was a specialized occupation now.

That was fairly cool, he thought. Of course coolness was a Sax-trait. Probably he ought to have gushed all over her, said he knew her from the old vids and had admired her for years, etc. Although how someone could admire Phyllis he had no idea. Surely she had come out of the war fairly compromised; on the winning side, but the only one of the First Hundred to have chosen it. A quisling, did they call that? Something like that. Well, she hadn’t been the only one of the First Hundred; Vasili had stayed in Burroughs throughout, and George and Edvard had been on Clarke with Phyl-lis when it detached from the cable and catapulted out of the plane of the ecliptic. A neat bit of work to survive that, actually. He wouldn’t have thought it possible — but there she was, chattering with her host of admirers. Luckily he had heard of her survival a few years before; otherwise it would have been a shock to see her.

She still looked about sixty years old, although she had been born the same year as Sax, and so was now 115. Silver-haired, blue-eyed, her jewelry made of gold and bloodstone, her blouse made of a material that shone through all the colors of the spectrum — right now her back was a vibrant blue, but as she turned tr glance over her shoulder at him it went emerald green. He pretended not to notice the look.

Then the drivers came, and they were into the rovers and off, and fcr a blessing Phyllis was in one of the other cars. The rovers were big hydrazine-powered things, and they followed a concrete road north, so that Sax could not see the necessity for specialist drivers, unless it was to handle .the rovers’ speed; they were rolling along at about a hundred and sixty kilometers an hour, and to Sax, who was used to rover speeds about a quarter that, it felt fast and smooth. The other passengers complained at how bumpy and slow the ride was — apparently express trains now floated over the pistes at about six hundred kilometers per hour.

The Arena Glacier was some eight hundred kilometers northwest of Burroughs, spilling from the highlands of Syrtis Major north onto Utopia Planitia. It ran in one of the Arena Fossae for a distance of some three hundred fifty kilometers. Claire and Berkina and the others in the car told Sax the glacier’s history, and he did his best to indicate absorbed interest; indeed it was interesting, for they were aware that Nadia had rerouted the outbreak of the Arena aquifer. Some of the people who had been with Nadia when she did it had ended up in South Fossa after the war, and the story had been told there, and had spread into the public domain.

In fact these people seemed to think they knew a lot about Nadia. “She was against the war,” Claire told him confidently, “and she did everything she could to stop it and then to repair the damage, even while it was happening. People who saw her on Elysium say she never slept at all, just took stimulants to keep going. They say she saved ten thousand lives in the week she was active around South Fossa.”

“What happened to her?” Sax asked.

“No one knows. She dis?.ppeared from South Fossa.”

“She was headed for Low Point,” Berkina said. “If she got there in time for that flood, she was probably killed.”

“Ah.” Sax nodded solemnly. “That was a bad time.”

“Very bad,” Claire said vehemently. “So destructive. It set the terraforming back decades, I’m sure.”

“Although the aquifer outbreaks have been useful,” Sax murmured.

“Yes, but those could have been done anyway, in a controlled manner.”

“True.” Sax shrugged and let the conversation go on without him. After the encounter with Phyllis it was a bit much to get into a discussion of ‘61.

He still couldn’t quite believe she hadn’t recognized him. The passenger compartment they were in had shiny magnesium panels over the windows, and there, among the faces of his new colleagues, was the little face of Stephen Lindholm. A bald old man with a slightly hooked nose, which made the eyes somewhat hawkish rather than just birdlike. Visible lips, strong jaw, a chin — no, it didn’t look like him at all. No reason why she should have recognized him.

But looks weren’t everything.

He tried not to think about that as they hummed north over the road. He concentrated on the view. The passenger compartment had a domed skylight, as. well as windows on all four sides, so he could see a lot. They were driving up the slope of west Isidis, a section of the Great Escarpment that was like a great shaved berm. The jagged dark hills of Syrtis Major rose over the northwest horizon, sharp as the edge of a saw. The air was clearer than it had been in the old days, even though it was fifteen times thicker. But there was less dust in it, as snowstorms were knocking the fines down and then fixing them on the surface in a crust. Of course this crust was often broken by strong winds, and the trapped fines rein-troduced to the air. But these breaks were localized, and the sky-cleaning storms were slowly getting the upper hand.

And so the sky was changing color. Overhead it was a rich violet, and above the western hills it was whitish, shading up into lavender, and some color between lavender and violet that Sax didn’t have a name for. The eye could distinguish differences in light frequency of only a few wavelengths, so the few names for the colors between red and blue were totally inadequate to describe the phenomena. But whatever you called them, or didn’t, they were sky colors very unlike the tans and pinks of the early years. Of course a dust storm would always temporarily return the sky to that primeval ochre tone; but when the atmosphere washed out, its color would be a function of its thickness and chemical composition. Curious as to what they could expect to see in the future, Sax took his lectern from his pocket to try some calculations.

He stared at the little box, suddenly realizing that it was Sax Russell’s lectern — that if checked, it would give him away. It was like-carrying around a genuine passport.

He dismissed the thought, as there was nothing to be done about it now. He concentrated on the color of the sky. In clean air, sky color was caused by preferential light scattering in the air molecules themselves. Thus the thickness of the atmosphere was critical. Air pressure when they had arrived had been about 10 millibars, and now it averaged about 160. But since air pressure was created by the weight of the air, creating 160 millibars on Mars had taken about three times as much air over any given spot than would have created such a pressure on Earth. So the 160 millibars here ought to scatter light about as much as 480 millibars on Earth; meaning the sky overhead ought to have something like the dark blue color seen in photos taken in mountains about 4,000 meters high.

But the actual color filling the windows and skylight of their rover was much more reddish than that, and even on clear mornings after heavy storms, Sax had never seen it look anywhere near as blue as a Terran sky. He thought about it more. Another effect of Mars’s light gravity was that the air column lofted taller than Earth’s. It was possible that the smallest fines were effectively in suspension, and had been blown above the altitude of most clouds, where they escaped being scrubbed out by storms. He recalled that haze layers had been photographed that were as much as fifty kilometers high, well above the clouds. Another factor might be the composition of the atmosphere; carbon dioxide molecules were more efficient light scatterers than oxygen and nitrogen, and Mars, despite Sax’s best efforts, still had much more CO2 in its atmosphere than Earth did. The effects of that difference would be calculable. He typed up the equation for Rayleigh’s law of scattering, which states that the light energy scattered per unit volume of air is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the wavelength of the illuminating radiation. Then he scribbled away on his lectern screen, altering the variables, checking handbooks, or filling in quantities by memory, or guesswork.

He concluded that if the atmosphere was thickened to one bar, then the sky would probably turn milk white. He also confirmed that in theory the present-day Martian sky ought to be a lot bluer than it was, with its scattered blue light about sixteen times the intensity of the red. This suggested that fines very high in the atmosphere were probably reddening the sky. If that was the correct explanation, one could infer that the color and opacity of the Martian sky would for many years be subject to very wide variation, depending on weather and other influences on the cleanness of the air…

And so he worked on, trying to incorporate into the calculation skylight radiance intensities, Chandrasekhar’s radiative transfer equation, chromaticity scales, aerosol chemical compositions, Le-gendre polynomials to evaluate the angular scattering intensities, Riccati-Bessel functions to evaluate the scattering cross sections, and so on — occupying the better part of the drive to Arena Glacier, concentrating hard and steadfastly ignoring the world around him and the situation in which he now found himself.

Early that afternoon they came to a small town called Bradbury, which under its Nicosia-class tent looked like something out of Illinois: treelined blacktop streets, screened-in porches fronting two-story brick houses with shingle roofs, a main street with shops and parking meters, a central park with a white gazebo under giant maples…

They headed west on a smaller road, across the top of Syrtis Major. The road was made of black sand that had been cleared of rocks and sprayed with a fixative. This whole region was very dark — Syrtis Major had been the first Martian surface feature spotted through Earth telescopes, by Christiaan Huygens on November 28, 1659, and it was this dark rock that had allowed him to see it. The ground was almost black, sometimes a kind of eggplant purple; the hills and grabens and escarpments that the road twisted through were black; the fretted mesas were black, the thulleya or little ribs were black, ridge after ridge after ridge of them; the giant ejecta erratics, on the other hand, were often rust-colored, reminding them forcibly of the color from which they had temporarily escaped.

Then they drove over a black bedrock rib and the glacier lay before them, crossing the world from left to right like a lightning bolt inlaid into the landscape. A bedrock rib on the far side of the glacier paralleled the one they were on, and the two ribs together looked like old lateral moraines, although really they were just parallel ridges that had channelized the outbreak flood.

The glacier was about two kilometers across. It appeared to be no more than five or six meters thick, but apparently it had run down a canyon, so there were hidden depths.

Parts of its surface were like ordinary regolith, just as rocky and dusty, with a kind of gravel surface that revealed no sign of the ice below. Other parts looked like chaotic terrain, except clearly made of ice, with knots of white seracs sticking up out of what looked like boulders. Some of the seracs were broken plates, bunched like the back of a stegosaurus, translucent yellow with the setting sun behind them.

All was motionless, to every horizon — not a movement to be seen anywhere. Of course not; Arena Glacier had been here for forty years. But Sax could not help remembering the last time he had seen such a sight, and he glanced involuntarily to the south, as if a new flood might burst out at any moment.

The Biotique station was located a few kilometers upstream, on the rim and apron of a small crater, so that it had an excellent view over the glacier. In the last part of sunset, as some of the regulars got the station activated, Sax went with Claire and the visitors from Armscor, including Phyllis, up to a big observation room on the top floor of the station, to look at the broken mass of ice in the waning moments of the day.

Even on a relatively clear afternoon like this one, the horizontal rays of the sun turned the air a burnished dark red, and the surface of the glacier sparked in a thousand places, the recently broken ice reflecting the light like mirrors. The majority of these scarlet gleams lay in a rough line between them and the sun, but there were a few elsewhere on the ice, where the reflecting surfaces stood at odd angles. Phyllis pointed out how much larger the sun looked, now that the soletta was in position. “Isn’t it wonderful? You can almost see the mirrors, can’t you?”

“It looks like blood.”

“It looks positively Jurassic.”

To Sax it looked like a G-type star about one astronomical unit away. Of course this was significant, as they were 1.5 astronomical units away. As for the talk of rubies, or dinosaur’s eyes …

The sun slipped over the horizon and all the points of red light disappeared at once. A great fan of crepuscular rays stretched across the sky, the pinkish beams cutting a dark purple sky. Phyllis exclaimed over the colors, which were indeed very clear and pure. She said, “I wonder what makes those magnificent rays,” and automatically Sax opened his mouth to explain about the shadows of hills or clouds over the horizon, when it occurred to him that a, it was a rhetorical question (perhaps), and b, to give a technical answer would be a very Sax Russell thing to do. So he shut his mouth, and considered what Stephen Lindholm would say in such a situation. This kind of self-consciousness was new to him, and distinctly uncomfortable, but he was going to have to say things, at least some of the time, because long silences were also fairly Sax Russellish, and not at all like Lindholm as he had been playing him so far. So he tried his best.

“Just think how close those photons came to hitting Mars,” he said, “and now they’re going to run all the way across the universe instead.”

People squinted at this odd observation. But it drew him into the group nonetheless, and so served its purpose.

After a while they went down to the dining room, to eat pasta and tomato sauce, and bread just out of the ovens. Sax stayed at the main table, and ate and talked as much as the rest, striving for the norm, doing his best to follow the elusive rules of conversation and of social discourse. These he had never understood well, and less so the more he thought about them. He knew that he had always been considered eccentric; he had heard the story of the hundred transgenic lab rats taking over his brain.  — A strange moment, that, standing outside the lab door in the dark, hearing the tale being promulgated with much hilarity from one generation of postdocs to the next, experiencing the rare discomfort of seeing himself as if he were someone else, someone strikingly peculiar.

But Lindholm, now: he was a congenial fellow. He knew how to get along. Someone who could partake of a bottle of Utopian zinfandel, someone who could do his part to make a dinner party festive. Someone who understood intuitively the hidden algorithms of good fellowship, so that he would be able to operate the system without even thinking about it.

So Sax ran a forefinger up and down the bridge of his new nose, and drank the wine which did indeed suppress his parasympathetic nervous system to the point of making him less inhibited and more voluble, and he chattered away very successfully, he thought, although several times he was alarmed by the way he was drawn into conversation by Phyllis, sitting across the table from him — and by the way she looked at him — and by the way he looked back! There were protocols for this kind of thing too, but he had never understood them in the slightest. Now he recalled the way Jessica had leaned on him at the Lowen, and drank another half glass and smiled, and nodded, thinking uneasily about sexual attraction and its causes.

Someone asked Phyllis the inevitable question about the escape from Clarke, and as she launched into the tale she glanced frequently at Sax, seeming to assure him that she was telling the story principally to him. He attended politely, resisting a certain tendency to go cross-eyed, which might indicate his dismay.

“There was no warning of any kind,” Phyllis said to the questioner. “One minute we were orbiting Mars at the top of the elevator, just sick at what was happening down on the surface, and doing our best to figure out some way to stop the unrest, and then the next minute there was a jerk like an earthquake, and we were on our way out of the solar system.” She smiled and paused for the laugh that followed, and Sax saw that she had told the story many times before in just this way.

“You must have been terrified!” someone said.

“Well,” Phyllis said, “it’s strange how in an emergency there isn’t really time for any of that. As soon as we understood what had happened, we knew that every second we stayed on Clarke diminished our chances of surviving by hundreds of kilometers. So we convened in the command center and counted heads and talked it over and took stock of what we had available. It was hectic but not panicked, if you see what I mean. Anyway, there turned out to be about the usual number of Earth-to-Mars freighters in the hangars, and the AI calculations indicated we would need the thrust of almost all of them to get ourselves back down into the plane of the ecliptic in time to intersect the Jovian system. We were on our way out as well as up, and in the general direction of Jupiter, which was a blessing. Anyway, that was when it got crazy. We had to get all the freighters outside the hangars and flying beside Clarke, and then link them together and stock them with everything they could hold of Clarke’s air and fuel and so on. And we were off in that jury-rigged lifeboat only thirty hours after launching, which now that I look back on it, is almost unbelievable. Those thirty hours …”

She shook her head, and Sax thought he saw a real memory suddenly invade her tale, shaking her slightly. Thirty hours was a remarkably fast evacuation, and no doubt the time had flashed by in a dreamlike rush of action, in a state of mind so different from ordinary time that it might pass for transcendence.

“After that it was just a matter of cramming into a couple of crew quarters — two hundred and eighty-six of us, there were — and going out on EVAs to cut away inessential parts of the freighters. And hoping there would be enough fuel to get us on course down to Jupiter. It was more than two months before we could be positive we would intercept the Jovian system, and ten weeks before we actually did. We used Jupiter itself as a gravity handle, and swung around toward Earth, which at that time was closer than Mars. And we swung so hard around Jupiter that we needed Earth’s atmosphere and Luna’s gravity to slow us down, because we were almost out of fuel at the very same time that we were the fastest humans in history, by a factor of two. Eighty thousand kilometers an hour, I think it was when we hit the stratosphere the first time. A useful speed, really, because we were running out of food and air. We got really hungry near the end. But we made it. And we saw Jupiter from about this close,” holding thumb and forefinger apart a couple of centimeters.

People laughed, and the gleam of triumph in Phyllis’s eye had nothing to do with Jupiter. But there was a tightening at the comer of her mouth; something at the end of her tale had darkened the triumph, somehow.

“And you were the leader, right?” someone asked.

Phyllis held up a hand, to say she could not deny it though she wanted to. “It was a cooperative effort,” she said. “But sometimes someone has to decide when there’s an impasse, or simply a need for speed. And I had been head of Clarke before the catastrophe.”

She flashed her big smile, confident that they had enjoyed the account. Sax smiled with the rest, and nodded when she looked his way. She was an attractive woman, but not, he thought, very bright. Or maybe it was just that he did not like her very much. For certainly she was very intelligent in some ways, a good biologist when she had done biology, and certain to score high on an IQ test.-But there were different types of intelligence, and not all of them were subject to analytic testing. Sax had noticed this fact in his student years: that there were people who would score high on any intelligence test, and were very good at their work, but who at the same time could walk into a room of people and within an hour have many of the occupants of that room laughing at them, or even despising them. Which was not very smart. Indeed the most giddy of high school cheerleaders, say, managing to be friendly with everyone and therefore universally popular, seemed to Sax to be exercising an intelligence at least as powerful as any awkward brilliant mathematician’s — the calculus of human interaction being so much more subtle and variable than any physics, somewhat like the emerging field of math called cascading recom-binant chaos, only less simple. So that there were at least two kinds of intelligence, and probably many more: spatial, aesthetic, moral or ethical, interactional, analytic, synthetic, and so forth. And it was those people who were intelligent in a number of different ways who were truly exceptional, who stood out as something special.

Phyllis, however, basking in the attention of her listeners, most of them much younger than her and, at least on the surface, in awe of her historicity — Phyllis was not one of those polymaths. On the contrary, she seemed rather dim when it came to judging what people thought of her. Sax, who knew he shared the deficiency, watched her with the best Lindholm smile he could muster. But it seemed to him a fairly obviously vain performance on her part, even a bit arrogant. And arrogance was always stupid. Or else a “ mask for some kind of insecurity. Hard to guess what that insecurity might be, in such a successful and attractive person. And she certainly was attractive.

After supper they went back up to the observation room on the top floor, and there under a glittering bowl of stars the crowd from Biotique turned on some music. It was the kind called nuevo calypso, the current rage in Burroughs, and several members of the group brought out instruments and played along, while others moved to the middle of the room and began to dance. The music was paced at about a hundred beats a minute, Sax calculated, perfect physiological riming for stimulating the heart just a bit; the secret to most dance music, he supposed.

And then Phyllis was there by his side, grabbing for his hand and pulling him out among the dancers. Sax only just restrained-himself from jerking his hand away from her, and he was sure that his response to her smiling invitation was sickly at best. He had never danced in his life; as far as he could recall. But that was Sax Russell’s life. Surely Stephen Lindholm had danced a lot. So Sax began to hop gently up and down in time with the bass steel drum, wiggling his arms uncertainly at his sides, smiling at Phyllis in a desperate simulation of debonair pleasure.

Later that evening the younger Biotique crew were still dancing, and Sax took the elevator down to bring some tubs of ice milk back up from the kitchens. When he got back into the elevator Phyllis was already inside, coming back up from the dorm floor. “Here, let me help with those,” she said, and took two of the four plastic bags hanging from his fingers. Then when she had them she leaned down (she was a few centimeters taller than him) and kissed him full on the mouth. He kissed back, but it was such a shock that he didn’t really start to feel it until she pulled away; then the memory of her tongue between his lips was like another kiss. He tried to look less than befuddled, but by the way she laughed he knew he had failed. “I see you’re not as much of a lady-killer as you look,” she said, which given the situation only made him more alarmed. In point of fact, no one had ever done that to him before. He tried to rally, but the elevator slowed and the doors hissed open.

Through dessert and the rest of the party Phyllis did not approach him again. But when the timeslip began he went to the elevators to go back to his room, and as the doors began to close Phyllis slipped through them and in, and as soon as the elevator began to drop she was kissing him again. He put his arms around her and kissed back, trying to figure out what Lindholm would do in this situation, and if there was any way out of it that wouldn’t lead to trouble. When the elevator slowed, Phyllis leaned back with a dreamy unfocused gaze and said, “Come walk me to my room.” Reeling a bit, Sax held her upper arm like a bit of delicate lab equipment, and was led to her room, a tiny chamber like all the rest of the bedrooms. Standing in the doorway they kissed again, despite Sax’s strong feeling that this was his last chance to escape, gracefully or not; but he was kissing her back pretty passionately, he noticed, and when she pulled back to murmur, “You might as well come inside,” he followed without protest; indeed his penis was snagged halfway up in its blind grope toward the stars, all his chromosomes humming loudly, the silly fools, at this chance at immortality. It had been a long time since he had made love to anyone except Hiroko, and those encounters, though friendly and pleasant, were not passionate, more an extension of their bathing; whereas Phyllis, fumbling at their clothes as they fell onto her bed kissing, was clearly excited, and this excitement was transferring to Sax by a kind of immediate conduction. His erection sprang free eagerly from his pants as Phyllis got the pants down his legs, as if in illustration of the selfish gene theory, and he could only laugh and tug at the long ventral zipper of her jumpsuit. Lindholm, free of any worries, would certainly be aroused by the encounter. That was clear. And so he had to be too. And besides, although he did not especially like Phyllis, he did know her; there was that old First Hundred bond, the memories of those years together in Underbill — there was something provocative in the notion of making love to a woman he had known so long. And every one else in the First Hundred had been polygamous, it seemed, everyone but Phyllis and him. So now they were making up for it. And she was very attractive. And it was something, actually, just to be wanted.

All these rationalizations were easy in the moment itself, and indeed forgotten entirely in the rush of sexual sensation. But immediately upon completion of the act Sax began to worry again. Should he go back to his room, should he stay? Phyllis had fallen asleep with her hand on his flank, as if to assure herself that he would stay. In sleep everyone looked like a child. He surveyed the length of her body, shocked slightly once again by the various manifestations of sexual dimorphism. Breathing so calmly. Just to be wanted … her fingers, still tensed across his ribs. And so he stayed; but he did not sleep much.

Sax threw himself into the work on the glacier and the surrounding terrain. Phyllis went out in the field sometimes, but she was always discreet in her behavior with him; Sax doubted if Claire (or Jessica!) or anyone else realized what had happened — or realized that every few days, it was happening again. This was another complication; how would Lindholm react to Phyllis’s apparent desire for secrecy? But in the end it was not an issue. Lindholm was more or less forced, as a matter of chivalry or compliance or something like that, to act as Sax would have. And so they kept their affair to themselves, much as they would have in Underbill, or on the Ares, or in Antarctica. Old habits die hard.

And with the distraction of the glacier, it was easy enough to keep the affair secret. The ice and the ribbed land around it were fascinating environments, and there was a lot to study and try to understand out there.

The surface of the glacier proved to be extremely broken, as the literature had suggested — mixed with regolith during the flooding, and shot through with trapped carbonation bubbles. Rocks and boulders caught on the surface had melted the ice underneath them, and then it had refrozen around them, in a daily cycle that had left them all about two-thirds submerged. All the seracs, standing above the jumbled surface of the glacier like titanic dolmens, were on close inspection found to be deeply pitted. The ice was brittle because of the extreme cold, and slow to flow downhill because of the reduced gravity; nevertheless it was moving downstream, like a river in slow motion, and because its source was emptied, the whole mass would eventually end up on Vastitas Bo-’realis. And signs of this movement could be found in the newly broken ice seen every day — new crevasses, fallen seracs, cracked bergs. These fresh surfaces were quickly covered by crystalline ice flowers, whose saltiness only added to the speed of crystallization.

Fascinated by this environment, Sax got in the habit of going out by himself every day at dawn, following flagged trails the station crew had set out. In the first hour of the day all the ice glowed in vibrant pink and rose tones, reflecting tints of the sky. As direct sunlight struck the glacier’s smashed surfaces, steam would begin to rise out of the cracks and iced-over pools, and the ice flowers glittered like gaudy jewelry. On windless mornings a small inversion layer trapped the mist some twenty meters overhead, forming a thin orange cloud. Clearly the glacier’s water was diffusing fairly quickly out into the world.

As he hiked through the frigid air he spotted many different species of snow algae and lichen. The glacier-facing slopes of the two lateral ridges were especially well populated, flecked by small patches of green, gold, olive, black, rust, and many other colors — perhaps thirty or forty all told. Sax strolled over these pseudo-moraines carefully, as unwilling to step on the plant life as he would be to step on any experiment in the lab. Although truthfully it looked as though most of the lichens would not notice. They were tough; bare rock and water were all they required, plus light — though not much of that appeared necessary — they grew under ice, inside ice, and even inside porous chunks of translucent rock. In something as hospitable as a crack in the moraine, they positively flourished. Every crack Sax looked in sported knobs of Iceland lichen, yellow and bronze, which under the glass revealed tiny forking stalks, fringed by spines. On flat rocks he found the crustose lichens: button lichen, stud lichen, shield lichen, candel-laria, apple-green map lichen, and the red-orange jewel lichen that indicated a concentration of sodium nitrate in the regolith. Clumped under the ice flowers were growths of pale gray-green snow lichen, which under magnification proved to have stalks like the Iceland lichen, great masses of them looking delicate as lace. Worm lichen was dark gray, and under magnification revealed weathered antlers that appeared extremely delicate. And yet if pieces broke off, the algal cells enclosed in their fungal threads would simply keep growing, and develop into more lichen, attaching wherever they came to rest. Reproduction by fragmentation; useful indeed in such an environment.

So the lichen were prospering, and along with the species that Sax could identify, with the help of photos on his wristpad’s little display screen, were many more that seemed not to correspond to any listed species. He was curious enough about these nondescripts to pluck a few samples, to take back and show to Claire and Jessica.

But lichen was only the beginning. On Earth, regions of broken rock newly exposed by retreating ice, or by the growth of young mountains, were called boulder fields, or talus. On Mars the equivalent zone was the regolith — thus effectively the greater part of the surface of the planet. Talus world. On Earth these regions were first colonized by microbacteria and lichen, which, along with chemical weathering, began to break the rock down into a thin immature soil, slowly filling the cracks between rocks. In time there was enough organic material in this matrix to support other kinds of flora, and areas at this stage were called fellfields,/el! being Gaelic for stone. It was an accurate name, for stone fields they were, the ground surface studded with rocks, the soil between and under them less than three centimeters thick, supporting a community of small ground-hugging plants.

And now there were fellfields on Mars. Claire and Jessica suggested to Sax that he cross the glacier, and hike downstream along the lateral moraine, and so one morning (slipping away from Phyl-lis) he did so, and after half an hour’s hiking, stopped on a knee-high boulder. Below him, sloping into the rocky trough next to the glacier, was a wet patch of flat ground, twinkling in the late-morning light. Clearly meltwater ran over it most days — already in the utter stillness of the morning he could hear the drips of little streams under the glacier’s edge, sounding like a choir of tiny wooden chimes. And on this miniature watershed, among the threads of running water, were spots of color, everywhere, leaping out at the eye — flowers. A patch of fellfield, then, with its characteristic millefleur effect, the gray waste peppered with dots of red, blue, yellow, pink, white…

The flowers were mounted on little mossy cushions or florettes, or tucked among hairy leaves. All the plants hugged the dark ground, which would be markedly warmer than the air above it; nothing but grass blades stuck higher than a few centimeters off the soil, tie tiptoed carefully from rock to rock, unwilling to step on even a single plant. He knelt on the gravel to inspect some of the little growths, the magnifying lenses on his faceplate at their highest power. Glowing vividly in the morning light were the classic fellfield organisms: moss campion, with its rings of tiny pink flowers on dark green pads; a phlox cushion; five-centimeter sprigs of bluegrass, like glass in the light, using the phlox taproot to anchor its own delicate roots … there was a magenta alpine primrose, with its yellow eye and its deep green leaves, which formed narrow troughs to channel water down into the rosette. Many of the leaves of these plants were hairy. There was an intensely blue forget-me-not, the petals so suffused with warming anthocyanins that they were nearly purple — the color that the Martian sky would achieve at around 230 millibars, according to Sax’s’calculations on the drive to Arena. It was surprising there was no name for that color, it was so distinctive. Perhaps that was cyanic blue.

The morning passed as he moved very slowly from plant to plant, using his wristpad’s field guide to identify sandwort, buckwheat, pussypaws, dwarf lupines, dwarf clovers, and his namesake, saxifrage. Rock breaker. He had never seen one in the wild before, and he spent a long time looking at the first one he found: arctic saxifrage, Saxifraga hirculus, tiny branches covered with long leaves, ending in small pale blue flowers.

As with the lichens, there were many plants that he couldn’t identify; they exhibited features from different species, even gen-uses, or else they were completely nondescript, their features an odd melange of features from exotic biospheres, some looking like underwater growths, or new kinds of cacti. Engineered species, presumably, although it was surprising these weren’t listed in the guide. Mutants, perhaps. Ah but there, where a wide crack had collected a deeper layer of humus and a tiny rivulet, was a clump of kobresia. Kobresia and the other sedges grew where it was wet, and their extremely absorbent turf chemically altered the soil under it quite rapidly, performing important work in the slow transition from fellfield to alpine meadow. Now that he had spotted it he could see minuscule watercourses marked by their population of sedges, running down through the rocks. Kneeling on a thinsulate pad, Sax clicked off his magnifying glasses and looked around, and as low as he was, he could suddenly see a whole series of little fellfields, scattered on the slope of the moraine like patches of Persian carpet, shredded by the passing ice.

Back at the station Sax spent a lot of time sequestered in the labs, looking at plant specimens through microscopes, running a variety of tests, and talking about the results to Berkina and Claire and Jessica.

“They’re mostly polyploids?” Sax asked.

“Yes,” Berkina said.

Polyploidy was fairly .frequent at high altitudes on Earth, so it was not surprising. It was an odd phenomenon — a doubling or tripling or even quadrupling of the original chromosome number in a plant. Diploid plants, with ten chromosomes, would be succeeded by polyploids with twenty or thirty or even forty chromosomes. Hybridizers had used the phenomenon for years to develop fancy garden plants, because polyploids were usually larger — larger leaves, flowers, fruits, cell sizes — and they often had a wider range than their parents. That kind of adaptability made them better at occupying new areas, like the spaces in and under a glacier. There were islands in the Terran Arctic where eighty percent of the plants were polyploid. Sax supposed that it was a strategy to avoid the destructive effects of excessive mutation rates, which would explain why it occurred in high-UV areas. Intense UV irradiation would break a number of genes, but if they were replicated in the other sets of chromosomes, then there was likely to be no genotypic damage, and no impediment to reproduction.

“We find that even when we haven’t started with polyploids, which we usually do, they change within a few generations.”

“Have you identified the triggering mechanism that causes it?”


Another mystery. Sax stared into the microscope, vexed by this rather astonishing gap in the bizarrely rent fabric of biological science. But there was nothing to be done about it; he had looked into the matter himself in his Echus Overlook labs in the 2050s, and it had appeared that polyploidy was indeed stimulated by more UV radiation than the organism was used to, but how cells read this difference, and then actually doubled or tripled or quadrupled their chromosome count…

“I must say, I’m surprised at how much everything is flourishing.”

Claire smiled happily. “I was afraid that after Earth you might think this was pretty barren.”

“Well, no.” He cleared his throat. “I guess I expected nothing. Or just algae and lichen. But those fellfields seem to be thriving. I thought it would take longer.”

“It would on Earth. But you have to remember, we’re not just throwing seeds out there and waiting to see what happens. Every single species has been augmented to increase hardiness and speed of growth.”

“And we’ve been reseeding every spring,” Berkina said, “and fertilizing with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.”

“I thought it was denitrifying bacteria that were all the rage.”

“Those are distributed specifically in thick deposits of sodium nitrate, to transpire the nitrogen into the atmosphere. But where we’re gardening we need more nitrogen in the soil, so we spread nitrogen-fixers.”

“It still seems to be going very fast to me. And all of this must have happened before the soletta.”

“The thing is,” Jessica said from her desk across the room, “there isn’t any competition at this point. Conditions are harsh, but these are very hardy plants, and when we put them out there, there isn’t any competition to slow them down.”

“It’s an empty niche,” Claire said.

“And conditions here are better than most.places on Mars,” Berkina added. “In the south you’ve got the aphelion winter, and the high altitude. The stations down there report that the winterkill is just devastating. But here the perihelion winter is a lot milder, and we’re only a kilometer high. It’s pretty benign, really. Better than Antarctica in many ways.”

“Especially in the CO2 level,” Berkina said. “I wonder if that doesn’t account for some of that speed you’re talking about. It’s like the plants are being supercharged.”

“Ah,” Sax said, nodding.

So the fellfields were gardens. Aided growth rather than natural growth. He had known that, of course — it was a given everywhere on Mars — but the fellfields, so rocky and diffuse, had looked spontaneous and wild enough to momentarily confuse him. And even remembering they were gardens, he was still surprised that they were so vigorous.

“Well, and now with this soletta pouring sunlight onto the surface!” Jessica exclaimed. She shook her head, as if disapproving. “Natural insolation averaged forty-five percent of Earth’s, and with the soletta it’s supposed to be up to fifty-four.”

“Tell me more about the soletta,” Sax said carefully.

They told him in a kind of round. A group of transnationals, led by Subarashii, had built a circular slatted array of solar sail mirrors, placed between the sun and Mars and aligned to focus inward sunlight that would have just missed the planet. An annular support mirror, rotating in a polar orbit, reflected light back to the soletta to counterbalance the pressure of the sunlight, and that light was bounced back onto Mars as well. Both these mirror systems were truly huge compared to the early freighter sails Sax had enlisted to reflect light onto the surface, and the reflected light they were adding to the system was really significant. “It must have cost a fortune to build them,” Sax murmured.

“Oh, it did. The big transnats are investing like you can’t believe.”

“And they’re not done yet,” Berkina said. “They’re planning to fly an aerial lens just a few hundred kilometers above the surface, and this lens will focus some of the incoming light from the soletta, until it heats the surface up to fantastic temperatures, like five thousand degrees—”

“Five thousand!”

“Yes, I think that’s what I heard. They plan to melt the sand and the regolith underneath, which will release all the volatiles into the atmosphere.”

“But what about the surface?”

“They plan to do it in remote areas.”

“In lines,” Claire said. “So that they end up with ditches?”

“Canals,” Sax said.

“Yes, that’s right.” They laughed.

“Glass-sided canals,” Sax said, troubled by the thought of all those volatiles. Carbon dioxide would be prominent among them, perhaps chief among them.

But he did not want to show too much interest in the larger terraforming issues. He let it go, and soon enough the talk returned to their work. “Well,” Sax said, “I guess some of the fellfields will turn into alpine meadows pretty soon.”

“Oh, they’re already there,” Claire said.


“Yes, well, they’re small. But hike down the western edge about three kilometers, have you done that yet? You’ll see. Alpine meadows and krummholz too. It hasn’t been that difficult. We planted trees without even altering them very much, because a lot of spruce and pine species turned out to have temperature tolerances much lower than they needed in their Terran habitats.”

“That’s peculiar.”

“A holdover from the Ice Ages, I guess. But now it’s coming in handy.”

“Interesting,” Sax said.

And he spent the rest of that day staring into the microscopes without seeing a thing, lost in thought. Life is so much spirit, Hi-roko used to say. It was a very strange business, the vigor of living things, their tendency to proliferate, what Hiroko called their green surge, their viriditas. A striving toward pattern: it made him so.

When dawn arrived the next day he woke up in Phyllis’s bed, with Phyllis tangled in the sheets beside him. After dinner the whole group had retired to the observation room, as was becoming habitual, and Sax had continued the conversation with Claire and Jessica and Berkina, and Jessica had been very friendly to him, as was her wont, and Phyllis had seen this, and had followed him to the bathrooms by the elevator, and pounced on him with that shocking seductive embrace of hers, and they had ended up going down to the dorm floor, and to her room. And although Sax had felt uncomfortable about disappearing without saying good-night to the others, he had made love to her passionately enough.

Now, looking at her, he remembered their precipitate departure with distaste. It did not take any more than the most simple-minded sociobiology to explain such behavior: competition for mates, a very basic animal activity. Of course Sax had never been the subject of such competition before, but there was nothing to pride oneself on in this sudden manifestation; clearly it was happening because of Vlad’s cosmetic surgery, which through some chance had rearranged his face into a configuration appealing to women. Although why one arrangement of facial features should be more attractive than another was a total mystery to him. He had heard sociobiological explanations of sexual attractiveness before, and he could see that some of them might have some validity: a man would look for a mate with wide hips to be able safely to give birth to his children, with significant breasts in order to feed his children, etc.; a woman would look for a strong man to feed her children and to father strong children, etc., etc. That made a kind of sense; but none of it had anything to do with facial features. For them, sociobiological explanations got pretty tenuous: wide-set eyes for good eyesight, good teeth to aid health, a significant nose to avoid getting colds — no. It just wasn’t as sensible as that. It was a matter of chance configurations, somehow appealing to the eye. An aesthetic judgment in which tiny nonfunctional features could make a great difference, which indicated that practical concerns were not a factor. A case in point was a pair of twin sisters with whom Sax had gone to high school — they had been identical twins, and had looked very much alike, and yet somehow one had been plain while the other had been beautiful. No, it was a matter of millimeters of flesh and bone and cartilage, accidentally falling into patterns that pleased or did not. So Vlad had made some alterations to his face, and now women were competing for his attentions, though he was the same person he had always been. A person Phyllis had never shown the slightest interest in before, when he had looked the way nature had made him. It was hard not to be somewhat cynical about it. To be wanted, yes; but wanted for trivialities…

He got out of bed and suited up in one of the latest lightweight suits, so much more comfortable than the old stretch-fabric walkers; one had to insulate against the subfreezing temperatures, and wear a helmet and airtank of course, but there was no longer any need to provide pressure to avoid bruising of the skin. Even 160 millibars was enough for that, and so now it was only a matter of warm clothing and boots, and the helmet. So it only took a few minutes to dress, and then he was out to the glacier again.

He crunched over the hoarfrost on the main flagged trail across the river of ice, and then wound downstream on the western bank, passing the little millejleur fellfields, coated with frost that was already beginning to melt in the light. He came to a place where the glacier dropped down a small escarpment, in a short crazed icefall; it also took a few degrees’ turn to the left, following its bordering ribs. Suddenly a loud creak filled the air, followed by a low-frequency boom that vibrated in his stomach. The ice was moving. He stopped, listening. He heard the distant bell-sound of an under-ice stream. He hiked on, feeling lighter and happier with every step. The morning light was very clear, the steam on the ice like white smoke.

And then, in the shelter of some huge boulders, he came upon an amphitheater of fellfield, dotted with flowers like flecks of paint; and at the bottom of the field was a little alpine meadow, south-facing and shockingly green, the mats of grass and sedge all cut with ice-coated watercourses. And around the edges of the amphitheater, sheltered in cracks and under rocks, hunched a number of dwarf trees.

It was krummholz, then, which in the evolution of mountain landscapes was the next stage after alpine meadows. The dwarf trees he had spotted were actually members of ordinary species, mostly white spruce, Picea glauca, which in these harsh conditions miniaturized on their own, contouring into the protected spaces they sprouted in. Or had been planted in, more likely. Sax saw some lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta, joining the more numerous white spruce. These were the most cold-tolerant trees on Earth, and apparently the Biotique team had added salt tolerance from trees like the tamarisks. All kinds of engineering had been done to aid them, and yet still the extreme conditions stunted their growth, until trees that might have grown thirty meters high crouched in little knee-high pockets of protection, sheered off by winds and winter snowpacks as if by hedge clippers. Thus the name ferummho!z, German for “crooked wood” or perhaps “elfin wood” — the zone where trees first managed to take advantage of the soil-building work of fellfields and alpine meadows. Treelimit.

Sax wandered slowly around the amphitheater, stepping on rocks, inspecting the mosses, the sedges, the grasses, and every single individual tree. The gnarly little things were twisted as if cultivated by deranged bonsai gardeners. “Oh how nice,” he said out loud more than once, inspecting a branch or a trunk, or a pattern of laminate bark, peeling away like phyllo dough. “Oh how nice. Oh for some moles. Some moles and voles, and marmots and minxes and foxes.”

But the CO2 in the atmosphere was still nearly thirty percent of the air, perhaps fifty millibars all by itself. All mammals would die very quickly in such air. This was why he had always resisted the two-stage terraforming model, which called for a massive CO2 buildup to precede anything else. As if warming the planet were the only goal! But warming was not the goal. Animals on the surface was the goal. This was not only a good in itself, but good also for the plants, many of which needed animals. Most of these fellfield plants propagated on their own, of course, and there were some altered insects that Biotique had released, out there bumbling around in stubborn insect survivalist mode, half alive and only just managing their work of pollination. But there were many other symbiotic ecological functions that needed animals, like the soil aeration accomplished by moles and voles, or the spread of seeds by birds, and without them plants could not thrive, and some would not live at all. No, they needed to reduce the CO2 in the air, probably right back to the ten millibars it had been when they arrived, when it had been the only air there was. Which was why the plan his colleagues had mentioned, to melt the regolith with an aerial lens, was so troubling. It would only increase their problem.

Meanwhile, this unexpected beauty. Hours passed as he inspected specimens one by one, admiring in particular the spiraling trunk and branches, the flaking bark and sprays of needles, of one little lodgepole pine — like a piece of flamboyant sculpture, really. And he was down on his knees, with his face in a sedge and his butt in the air, when Phyllis and Claire and a whole group came trooping down into the meadow, laughing at him and trampling carelessly on the living grass.

Phyllis stayed with him that afternoon, as she had one or two times before, and they walked back together, Sax trying at first to play the role of native guide, pointing out plants he had just learned the previous week. But Phyllis asked no questions about them, and did not appear even to listen when he spoke. It seemed she only wanted him to be an audience to her, a witness to her life. So he gave up on the plants and asked questions, and listened and then asked more. It was a good opportunity to learn more about the current Martian power structure, after all. Even if she exaggerated her,own role in it, it was still informative. “I was amazed how fast Subarashii got the new elevator built and into position,” she said.


“They were the principal contractor.”

“Who awarded the contract, UNOMA?”

“Oh no. UNOMA has been replaced by the UN Transitional Authority.”

“So when you were president of the Transitional Authority, you were in effect president of Mars.”

“Well, the presidency just rotates among the members, it doesn’t confer much more power than any other members have. It’s just for media consumption, and to run the meetings. Scut work.”


“Oh, I know.” She laughed. “It’s a position a lot of my old colleagues wanted but never got. Chalmers, Bogdanov, Boone, Toitovna — I wonder what they would have thought if they had seen it. But they backed the wrong horse.”

Sax looked away from her. “So why did Subarashii get the new elevator?”

“The steering committee of the TA voted that way. Praxis had made a bid for it, and no one likes Praxis.”

“Now that the elevator is back, do you think things will change again?”

“Oh certainly! Certainly! A lot of things have been on hold since the unrest. Emigration, building, terraforming, commerce — they’ve all been slowed down. We’ve barely managed to rebuild some of the damaged towns. It’s been a kind of martial law, necessary of course, given what happened.”

“Of course.”

“But now! All the stockpiled metals from the last forty years are ready to enter the Terran market, and that’s going to stimulate the entire two-world economy unbelievably. We’ll see more production out of Earth now, and more investment here, more emigration too. We’re finally ready to get on with things.”

“Like the soletta?”

“Exactly! That’s a perfect example of what I mean. There’s all kinds of plans for major investment here.”

“Glass-sided canals,” Sax said. It would make the moholes look trivial.

Phyllis was saying something about how bright things looked for Earth, and he shook his head to clear it of joules per square centimeter. He said, “But I thought Earth had some serious difficulties.”

“Oh, Earth always has serious difficulties. We’re going to have to get used to that. No, I’m very optimistic. I mean this recession has hit them hard down there, especially the little tigers and the baby tigers, and of course the less developed countries. But the influx of industrial metals from here will stimulate the economy for everyone, including the environment-control industries. And, unfortunately, it looks like the diebacks will solve a lot of their other problems for them.”

Sax focused on the section of moraine they were climbing. Here solifluction, the daily melting of ground ice on a tilt, had caused the loose regolith to slide down in a series of dips and rims, and although it all looked gray and lifeless, a faint pattern like minuscule tiling revealed that it was actually covered with blue-gray flake lichen. In the dips there were clumps of what looked like gray ash, and Sax stooped to pluck a’small sample. “Look,” he said brusquely to Phyllis, “snow liverwort.”

“It looks like dirt.”

“That’s a parasitic fungus that grows on it. The plant is actually green, see those little leaves? That’s new growth that the fungus hasn’t covered yet.” Under magnification the new leaves looked like green glass.

But Phyllis didn’t bother to look. “Who designed that one?” she asked, her tone of voice implying that the designer had poor taste.

“I don’t know. Could be no one. Quite a few of the new species out here weren’t designed.”

“Can evolution be working so fast?” ‘ “Well, you know^is polyploidy evolution?”


Phyllis moved on, not much interested in the gray little specimen. Snow liverwort. Probably very lightly engineered, or even undesigned. Test specimens, cast out here among the rest to see how they would do. And thus very interesting, in Sax’s opinion.

But somewhere along the way Phyllis had lost interest. She had been a first-rate biologist once, and Sax found it hard to imagine losing the curiosity which lay at the core of science, that urge to figure things out. But they were getting old. In the course of their now unnatural lives it was likely they would all change, perhaps profoundly. Sax didn’t like the idea, but there it was. Like all the rest of the new centenarians, he was having more and more trouble remembering specifics from his past, especially the middle years, things that had happened between the ages of around twenty-five to ninety. Thus the years before ‘61, and most of his years on Earth, were getting dim. And without fully functioning memories, they were certain to change.

So when they returned to the station he went to the lab, disturbed. Perhaps, he thought, they had gone polyploidal, not as individuals but culturally — an international array, arriving here and effectively quadrupling the meme strands, providing the adaptability to survive in this alien terrain despite all the stress-induced mutations…

But no. That was analogy rather than homology. What in the humanities they would call a heroic simile, if he understood the term, or a metaphor, or some other kind of literary analogy. And analogies were mostly meaningless — a matter of phenotype rather than genotype (to use another analogy). Most, of poetry and literature, really all the humanities, not to mention the social sciences, were phenotypic as far as Sax could tell. They added up to a huge compendium of meaningless analogies, which did not help to explain things, but only distorted perception of them. A kind of continuous conceptual drunkenness, one might say. Sax himself much preferred exactitude and explanatory power, and why not? If it was 200 Kelvin outside why not say so, rather than talk about witches’ tits and the like, hauling the whole great baggage of the ignorant past along to obscure every encounter with sensory reality? It was absurd.

So, okay, there was no such thing as cultural polyploidy. There was just a determinate historical situation, the consequence of all that had come before — the decisions made, the results spreading out over the planet in complete disarray, evolving, or one should say developing, without a plan. Planless. In that regard there was a similarity between history and evolution, both of them being matters of contingency and accident, as well as patterns of development. But the differences, particularly in time scales, were so gross as to make that similarity nothing more than analogy again.

No, better to concentrate on homologies, those structural similarities that indicated actual physical relationships, that really explained something. This of course took one back into science. But after an encounter with Phyllis, that was just what he wanted.

So he dove back into studying plants. Many of the fellfield organisms he was finding had hairy leaves, and very thick leaf surfaces; which helped protect the plants from the harsh UV blast of Martian sunlight. These adaptations could very well be examples of homologies, in which species with the same ancestors had all kept family traits. Or they could be examples ‘of convergence, in which species from separate phyla had come to the same forms through functional necessity. And these days they could also be simply the result of bioengineering, the breeders adding the same traits to different plants in order to provide the same advantages.

Finding out which it was required identifying the plant, and then checking the records to see if it had been designed by one of the terraforming teams. There was a Biotique lab in Elysium, led by a Harry Whitebook, designing many of the most successful surface plants, especially the sedges and grasses, and a check in the Whitebook catalog often showed that his hand had been at work, in which case the similarities were often a matter of artificial convergence, Whitebook inserting traits like hairy leaves into almost every leaved plant he bred.

An interesting case of history imitating evolution. And certainly, since they wanted to create a biosphere on Mars in a short time, perhaps 107 times quicker than it had taken on Earth, they would have to intervene continuously in the act of evolution itself. So the Martian biosphere would not be a case of phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny, a discredited notion in any case, but of history recapitulating evolution. Or rather imitating it, to the extent possible given the Martian environment. Or even directing it. History directing evolution. It was a daunting thought.

Whitebook was going about the task with a lot of flair; he had bred phreatophytic lichen reefs, for instance, which built the salts they incorporated into a kind of millepore coral structure, so that the resulting plants were olive or dark green masses of semicrys-tailine blocks. Walking through a patch of them was like walking through a Lilliputian garden maze which had been crushed, abandoned, and half covered with sand. The individual blocks of the plant were fractured or fissured in a crackle pattern, and they were so lumpish they looked diseased, with a disease that appeared to petrify plants while they were still living, leaving them struggling to exist inside broken sheaths of malachite and jade. Strange-looking, but very successful; Sax found quite a few of these lichen reefs growing on the crest of the western moraine rib, and in the more arid regolith beyond.

He spent a few mornings studying them there, and one morning crossing the ridge he looked back over the glacier, and saw a sandy whirlwind spinning over the ice, a sparkling rust-colored little tornado that rushed downstream. Immediately afterward he was struck by a high wind, with gusts of at least a hundred kilometers an hour, and then a hundred and fifty; he ended up crouching behind a lichen reef, lifting a hand to try to estimate the wind speed. It was hard to make an accurate guess, because the thickening atmosphere had increased the force of winds, making them seem faster than they really were. All estimates based on the instincts from the Underbill days were now badly off. The gusts striking him now might have been as slow as eighty kilometers an hour. But full of sand, ticking against his faceplate and reducing visibility to a hundred meters or so. After an hour of waiting for the sandstorm to decrease he gave up and returned to the station, crossing the glacier by moving very carefully from flag to flag, careful not to lose the trail they made — important, if one wanted to stay out of dangerous crevasse zones.

Once across the ice Sax made his way back to the station quickly, pondering the little tornado that had announced the arrival of the wind. Weather was strange. Inside he called up the meteorology channel, and ran through all its information on the day’s weather, and then stared at a satellite photo of their region. A cyclonic cell was bearing down on them from Tharsis. With the air thickening, the winds coming off Tharsis were powerful indeed. The bulge would forever remain an anchoring point in Martian climatology, Sax suspected. Most of the time the northern hemisphere jet stream would circle up and around its northern end, like Terra’s northern jet stream did around the Rockies. But every once in a while, air masses would shove over the Tharsis crest between volcanoes, dropping their moisture on west Tharsis as they rose. Then these dehydrated air masses would roar down the eastern slope, Big Man’s mistral or sirocco or foehn, with winds so fast and forceful that as the atmosphere thickened they were getting to be a problem; some tent towns on the open surface were endangered to the point where it looked like they might have to retreat into craters or canyons, or at least greatly strengthen their tenting.

As Sax considered it the whole issue of weather became so exciting that he wanted to drop his botanical studies, and go after it full-time. In the old days he would have done that, and dived into climatology for a month or a year until his curiosity was satisfied, and he had managed to think of some contribution to policy regarding any problems that were arising.

But that had been a rather undisciplined approach, as he now saw, leading to a kind of scattershot method, even to a certain dilettantism. Now, as Stephen Lindholm, working for Claire and Biotique, he had to abandon climatology with a longing glance at the satellite photos and their suggestively swirling new cloud systems, and merely tell the others about the whirlwind, and talk about weather in a recreational way in the lab or over dinner — while his main effort returned to their little ecosystem and its plants, and how to help them along. And as he was just beginning to feel he was learning the particularities of Arena, these restrictions imposed by his new identity were not a bad thing. They meant he was forced to concentrate on a single discipline in a way he hadn’t since his postdoc work. And the rewards of concentration were becoming more and more evident to him. They could make him a better scientist.

The next day, for instance, with the winds merely brisk, he went back out and located the coral lichen patch he had been investigating when the sandstorm had hit. All the structure’s fissures were filled with sand, which must have been true most of the time. So he brushed one of the fissures clean, and looked inside through the 20x magnifiers on his faceplate. The walls of the fissures were coated with very fine cilia, somewhat like the tiny versions of the hairs on exposed leaves of alpine cinquefoil. Clearly there was no need for protection of these already well-hidden surfaces. Perhaps they were there to release excess oxygen from the tissues of the semicrystalline outside mass. Spontaneous or planned? He read through descriptions on his wrist, and added a new one of this specimen, which because of the cilia appeared to be nondescript. He took out a little camera from his thigh pocket and took a picture, put a sample of the cilia in a bag, and put both camera and bag in his thigh pocket, and moved on.

He went down to look at the glacier, stepping onto it at one of the many junctures where its side came down and met smoothly the rising slope of the moraine rib. It was bright on the glacier at midday, as if bits of broken mirror were reflecting sunlight everywhere on it. Chunks of ice crunched underfoot. Little watersheds gathered to deep-channeled streams, which abruptly disappeared down holes in the ice. These holes, like the crevasses, were various shades of blue. The moraine ribs gleamed like gold, and seemed to bounce in the rising heat. Something in the sight reminded Sax of the soletta plan, and he whistled through his teeth.

He straightened up and stretched his lower back, feeling very alive and curious, absolutely in his element. The scientist at work. He was learning to like the ever-fresh primary effort of “natural history,” its close observation of things in nature; description, categorization, taxonomy — the primal attempt to explain, or rather its first step, simply to describe. How happy the natural historians had always seemed to him in their writings, Linnaeus and his wild Latin, Lyell and his rocks, Wallace and Darwin and their great step from category to theory, from observation to paradigm. Sax could feel it, right there on Arena Glacier in the year 2101, with all these new species, this flourishing process of speciation that was half human and half Martian — a process that would need its own theories eventually, some kind of evohistory, or historico-evolution, or ecopoesis, or simply areology. Or Hiroko’s viriditas, perhaps. Theories of the terraforming project — not only in what it intended, but how it was actually working. A natural history, precisely. Very little of what was happening could be studied with experimental lab science, so natural history was going to return to its proper place among the sciences, as one among equals. Here on Mars all kinds of hierarchies were destined to fall, and that was no meaningless analogy, but simply a precise observation of what all could see.

What all could see. Would he have understood, before his time out here? Would Ann understand? Looking down the wild cracked surface of the glacier, he found himself thinking of her. Every little berg and crevasse stood out as if he still had the 20x magnification on in his faceplate, but with an infinite depth of field — every tint of ivory and pink in the pocked surfaces, every mirror gleam of meltwater, the bumpy hillocks of the far horizon — everything was, for the moment, surgically clear and focused. And it occurred to him that this vision was not a matter of accident (the lensing of tears over his cornea, for instance) but the result of a new and growing conceptual understanding of the landscape. It was a kind of cognitive vision, and he could not help but remember Ann saying angrily to him, Mars is the place you have never seen.

He had taken it as a figure of speech. But now he recalled Kuhn, asserting that scientists who used different paradigms existed in literally different worlds, epistemology being such an integral component of reality. Thus Aristoteleans simply did not see the Galilean pendulum, which to them was a body falling with some difficulty; and in general, scientists debating the relative merits of competing paradigms simply talked right through each other, using the same words to discuss different realities.

He had considered that too to be a figure of speech. But thinking of it now, absorbing the hallucinatory clarity of the ice, he had to admit that it certainly described what his conversations with Ann had always felt like. It had been a frustration to both of them, and when Ann had cried’ out that he had never seen Mars, a statement that was obviously false on some levels, she had perhaps meant only to say that he hadn’t seen her Mars, the Mars created by her paradigm. And that was no doubt true.

Now, however, he was seeing a Mars he had never seen before. But the transformation had come by focusing for a matter of weeks on just those parts of the Martian landscape that Ann despised, the new life-forms. So he doubted that the Mars he was seeing, with its snow algae and ice lichen, and the enchanting little patches of Persian carpet fringing the glacier, was Ann’s Mars. Nor was it the Mars of his colleagues in terraforming. It was a function of what he believed, and what he wanted — it was his Mars, evolving right before his very eyes, always in the process of becoming something new. Like a stab to the heart he felt the wish that he could seize Ann at that very moment, and pull her by the arm down the western moraine crying, See? See? See?

Instead he had Phyllis, perhaps the least philosophical person he had ever known. He avoided her when he could do it without appearing to, and passed his days on the ice, in the wind under the vast northern sky, or on the moraines, crawling around studying plants. Back in the station he talked over dinner with Claire and Berkina and the rest about what they were finding out there, and what it meant. After dinner they retired to the observation room and talked some more, dancing on some nights, especially Fridays and Saturdays. The music they played was always nuevo calypso, guitars and steel drums in fast simultaneous melodies, creating complex rhythms that Sax had great difficulty analyzing. There were often measures of 5/4 time alternating or even coexisting with 4/4, a pattern seemingly designed to throw him out of step. Luckily the current dance style was a kind of free-form movement that had little relation to the beat anyway, so when he failed in his attempts to stay in rhythm, he was pretty sure he was the only one who noticed. In fact it made a pretty good entertainment just trying to keep time, off on his own, hopping around with a little jig added to the 5/4 measures. When he returned to the tables and Jessica said to him, “You’re really a good dancer, Stephen,” he burst out laughing, pleased even though he knew all it revealed was Jessica’s incompetence to judge dance, or her attempt to please him. Although perhaps the daily boulder-walking in the field was improving his balance and timing. Any physical action, properly studied and practiced, could no doubt be accomplished with a reasonable amount of skill, if not flair.

He and Phyllis talked or danced together only as much as they did with everyone else; and only in the secrecy of their rooms did they embrace, kiss, make love. It was the old pattern of the hidden affair, and one morning around four A.M., returning to his room from hers, a flash of fear shook him; it seemed to him suddenly that his immediate undiscussed complicity in this behavior must tag him to Phyllis as suspiciously like one of the First Hundred. Who else would fall into such a bizarre pattern so readily, as if it were the natural thing to do?

But on consideration it did not seem that Phyllis was attentive to nuances of that kind. Sax had almost given up trying to understand her thinking and her motivations, as the data were contradictory and, despite the fact that they were spending nights together on a fairly regular basis, rather sparse. She seemed interested mostly in the intertransnational maneuvering that was going on in Sheffield, and back on Earth — shifts in executive personnel and subsidiaries and stock prices that were clearly ephemeral and meaningless, but to her utterly absorbing. As Stephen he remained brightly interested in all this, and asked her questions about it to show his interest when she brought it up, but when he asked about what the daily changes meant in any larger strategic sense, she was either unable or unwilling to give him good answers. Apparently it was interesting to her more for the personal fortunes of those she knew than for the system that their careers revealed. An ex-Consolidated executive now with Subarashii had been made head of elevator operations, a Praxis executive had disappeared in the outback, Armscor was going to explode scores of hydrogen bombs in the megaregolith under the north polar cap, to stimulate growth and warming of the northern sea; and this last fact was no more interesting to her than the two previous ones.

And perhaps it made sense to pay attention to the individual careers of the people running the biggest transnational, and the micropolitics of the jockeying for power among them. These were the current rulers of the world, after all. So Sax lay next to Phyllis, listening to her and making Stephen’s comments, trying to sort out all the names, wondering if the founder of Praxis really was a senile surfer, wondering if Shellalco would be taken over by Amexx, wondering why the transnat executive teams were so fiercely competitive, given that they already ruled the world, and had everything they could conceivably want in their personal lives. Perhaps socio-biology indeed had the answer, and it was all primate dominance dynamics, a matter of increasing one’s reproductive success in the corporate realm — which might not be a mere analogy, if one considered one’s company as one’s kin. And then again, in a world where one might live indefinitely, it could be simple self-protection. “Survival of the fittest,” which Sax had always considered a useless tautology. But if social Darwinists were taking over, then maybe the concept gained importance, as a religious dogma of the ruling order…

And then Phyllis would roll over onto him and kiss him, and he would enter the realm of sex, where different rules seemed to obtain. For instance, though he liked Phyllis less and less as he got to know her better, his attraction to her did not correlate to this, but fluctuated according to mysterious principles of its own, no doubt pheromone-driven and hormonally based; so that sometimes he had to steel himself to accept her touches, while other times he felt alive with a lust that seemed all the stronger because it was so unmixed with affection. Or more senseless still, a lust actually heightened by dislike. This last reaction was rare, however, and as the stay at Arena went on, and the novelty of their affair wore off, Sax more and more frequently found himself distanced from their lovemaking, and inclined to fantasize during it, and fall very deeply into Stephen Lindholm, who appeared to be thinking about caressing women Sax did not know or had scarcely heard of, like Ingrid Bergman or Marilyn Monroe.

One dawn, after a disturbing night of that sort, Sax got up to go out on the ice, and Phyllis stirred and woke, and decided to come along.

They suited up and went out into a pure purple dawn, and hiked in silence down the near moraine to the side of the glacier, ascending it by a trail of steps cut into the ice. Sax took the southernmost flagged trail across the glacier, intending to climb the west lateral moraine as far upstream as he could go in a morning.

They made their way between knee-high crenellations of ice, all holed like Swiss cheese, and stained pink with snow algae. Phyllis was charmed as always by the fantastic jumble, and commented on the more unusual seracs, comparing those they passed this morning to a giraffe, the Eiffel Tower, the surface of Europa, etc. Sax stopped often to inspect chunks of jade ice that were shot through with an ice bacteria. In one or two places the jade ice sat exposed in suncups turned pink with snow algae; the effect was strange, like a vast field of pistachio ice cream.

So their progress was slow, and they were still on the glacier when a sequence of small tight whirlwinds popped into existence one after the next, like something out of a magic trick: brown dust devils, glittering with ice particulates, in a rough line that bore down the glacier toward them. Then the whirlwinds collapsed in some fluctuation, and with a clattery bang a gust struck them hard, whistling downslope with a surge so powerful they had to crouch into it to keep their balance. “What a gale!” Phyllis exclaimed in his ear.

“Katabatic wind,” Sax said, watching a knot of seracs disappear in the dust. “Falling off Tharsis.” Visibility was dropping. “We should try to get back to the station.”

So they set off back along the flagged trail, moving from one emerald dot to the next. But visibility continued to decrease, until they couldn’t see from one marker to the next. Phyllis said, “Here, . let’s get into the shelter of those icebergs.”

She struck off toward the dim shape of an ice prominence, and Sax hurried after her, saying, “Be careful, a lot of seracs have crevasses at their base,” and reaching forward to take her hand, when she dropped as if falling through a trap door. He caught an upflung wrist and was jerked down hard, hitting his knees painfully on the ice. Phyllis was still falling, sliding down a chute at the end of a shallow crevasse; he should have let go of her but instinctively held on, and was dragged over the edge head first. Both of them slid down into the packed snow at the bottom of the crevasse, and the snow gave under them so that they dropped again, crashing onto frosty sand after a brief but terrifying free-fall.

Sax, having landed mostly on Phyllis, sat up unhurt. Alarming sucking sounds came over the intercom from Phyllis, but it soon became clear that she had only had the wind knocked out of her. When she controlled her gasping she tested her limbs gingerly, and declared she was okay. Sax admired her toughness.

There was a rip in the fabric over his right knee; but otherwise he was fine. He took some suit tape from his thigh pocket and taped the rip; theT^knee still bent without pain, so he forgot about it and stood.

The hole that they had punched through the snow above them was about two meters over his outstretched hand. They were in an elongated bubble, the lower half of a crevasse that had a kind of hourglass shape. The downstream wall of their little bubble was ice, the upstream wall ice-coated rock. The rough circle of visible sky overhead was an opaque peach color, and the bluish ice wall of the crevasse gleamed with reflections of the dusty sunlight, so that the net effect was somewhat opalescent, and quite picturesque. But they were stuck.

“Our beeper signal will be cut off, and then they’ll come looking,” Sax said to Phyllis as she stood up beside him.

“Yes,” Phyllis said. “But will they find us?”

Sax shrugged. “The beeper leaves a directional record.”

“But the wind! Visibility may go right down to nothing!”

“We’ll have to hope they can deal with it.”

The crevasse extended to the east like a narrow low hallway. Sax ducked under a low point, and shone his headlamp down the space between ice and rock; it extended for as far as he could see, in the direction of the east side of the glacier. It seemed possible that it might reach all the way to one of the many small caves on the glacier’s lateral edge, so after sharing the thought with Phyllis he set off to explore the crevasse, leaving her in position to be sure that any searchers who found the hole would also find someone at the bottom of it.

Outside the glary cone of his headlamp’s beam, the ice was an intense cobalt blue, an effect caused by the same Rayleigh scattering that blued the color of the sky. There was a fair amount of light even with his headlamp off, which suggested that the ice overhead was not very thick. Probably the same approximate thickness as the height of their fall, now that he thought of it.

Phyllis’s voice in his ear asked if he was all right.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I think this space might have been caused by the glacier running over a transverse escarpment. So it very well might run all the way out.”

But it didn’t. A hundred meters farther on, the ice on the left closed in and met the ice over the rockface to the right, and that was it: dead end.

On the way back he walked more slowly, stopping to inspect cracks in the ice, and bits of rock underfoot that had perhaps been plucked from the escarpment. In one fissure the cobalt of the ice turned blue-green, and reaching into it with a gloved finger, he pulled out a long dark green mass, frozen on the surface but soft underneath. It was a long dentritic mass of blue-green algae.

“Wow,” he said, and plucked a few frozen strands away, then shoved the rest back into their home crack. He had read that algae were burrowing down into the rock and ice of the planet, and bacteria were going even deeper; but actually to find some buried down here, so far from the sun, was enough to make one marvel. He turned off his headlamp again, and the luminous cobalt blue of the glacial light glowed around him, dim and rich. So dark, so cold, how did any living thing do it?


“I’m coming. Look,” he said to Phyllis when he returned to her side, “it’s blue-green algae, all the way down here.”

He held it out for her to look at, but she only gave it the briefest glance. He sat down and got out a sample bag from his thigh pocket, and put a small strand of algae inside, then stared at it through his 20x magnifying lenses. The lenses were not powerful enough to show him all he wanted to see, but they did reveal the long strands of dentritic green, looking slimy as they thawed out. His lectern had catalogs with photos at similar magnifications, but he couldn’t find the species that resembled this one in every detail. “It could be nondescript,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be something. It really makes you wonder if the mutation rate out here is higher than the standard rates. We should work up experiments to determine that.”

Phyllis did not reply.

Sax kept his thoughts to himself as he continued to search through the catalogs. He was still at it when they heard scratchy squeals and hisses over their radio, and Phyllis began calling out over the common band. Soon they could hear voices on the intercom, and not long after that, a round helmet filled the hole overhead. “We’re here!” Phyllis cried.

“Wait a second,” Berkina said, “we’ve got a rope ladder for you.”

And after an awkward swinging climb they were back on the surface of the glacier, blinking in the dusty fluctuating daylight, and crouching over to meet the gusts of wind, which were still powerful. Phyllis was laughing, explaining what had happened in her usual manner — “We were holding hands so we didn’t lose each other, and boom, down we went!” — and their rescuers were describing the brute force of the strongest gusts. All seemed back to normal; but when they got inside the station, and took off their helmets, Phyllis gave him a brief searching glance, a very curious look indeed, as if he had revealed something to her out there which had made her wary — as if he had somehow reminded her of something, down in that crevasse. As if he had behaved down there in a manner which gave him away, without hope of contradiction, as her old comrade Saxifrage Russell.

Through the Northern fall they worked around the glacier, and saw the days grow shorter, and the winds colder. Big intricate ice flowers grew on the glacier every night, and only melted at the edges briefly in the midafternoons, after which they hardened and served as the base for even more complex petals that appeared the next morning, the small sharp crystalline flakes bursting away in every direction from the larger fins and tines beneath. They could not help crushing entire fractal worlds with every step as they crunch-crunched over the ice, looking for the plants now covered in frost, to see how they were coping with the coming cold. Looking across the bumpy white waste, feeling the wind cut through one of the thicker insulated walkers, it seemed to Sax that a very severe winterkill was inevitable. ‘

But looks were deceptive. Oh there would be winterkill, of course; but the plants were hardening, as the overwintering gardeners called it, acclimatizing to the onset of winter. It was a three-stage process, Sax learned, digging in the thin hard-packed snow to find the signs. First, phytochrome clocks in the leaves sensed the shorter days-and now they were getting shorter fast, with dark fronts coming through every week or so, dumping dirtywhite snow out of black low-bellied cumulonimbus clouds. In the second stage, growth ceased, carbohydrates translocated to the roots, and amounts of abscisic acid grew in some leaves until they fell off. Sax found lots of these leaves, yellowed or brown and still hanging from their stems, hugging the ground and providing the yet living plant with some more insulation. During this stage water was moving out of cells into intercellular ice crystals, and the cell membranes were toughening, while sugar molecules replaced water molecules in some proteins. Then in the third and coldest stage, a smooth ice formed around the cells without rupturing them, in a process called vitrification.

At this point the plants could tolerate temperatures down to 220°K, which had been approximately the average temperature of Mars before their arrival, but was now about as cold as it got. And the snow which fell in the ever more frequent storms actually served as insulation for the plants, keeping the ground that it covered warmer than the windy surface. As he dug around in the snow with numbed fingers, the subnivean environment looked to Sax to be a fascinating place, especially the adaptations to the spectrally selected blue light that was transmitted through as much as three meters of snow-^-another example of Rayleigh scattering. He would have liked to study this winter world in person for the entire six months of the season; he found he liked it out under the low dark waves of cloud, on the white surface of the snowy glacier, leaning into the wind and stomping through drifts. But Claire wanted him to return to Burroughs, to work with the labs there on a tundra tamarisk they were close to succeeding with in the Mars jars. And Phyllis and the rest of the crew from Armscor and the Transitional Authority were going back as well. So one day they left the station to a little crew of researcher-gardeners, and got in a caravan of cars, and drove back south together.

Sax had groaned when he heard that Phyllis and her group would be going back with them. He had hoped that mere physical separation would end the relationship with Phyllis, and get him away from that probing eye. But as they were going back together, it looked like some sort of action would have to be taken. He would have to break it off if he wanted it to end, which he did. The whole idea of getting involved with her had been a bad one to begin with; talk about the surge of the unexplainable! But the surge was over,

and he was left in the company of a person who was at best irritating, and at worst dangerous. And of course it was no comfort to think that he had been acting in bad faith the entire time. No step along the way had seemed more than a little thing; but altogether it came to something rather monstrous.

So their first night back in Burroughs, when his wrist beeped and Phyllis appeared to ask him out to dinner, he agreed and ended the call, and muttered to himself uneasily. It was going to be awkward.

They went out to a patio restaurant that Phyllis knew of on Ellis Butte, west of Hunt Mesa. Because of Phyllis they were seated at a corner table, with a view over the high district between Ellis and Table Mountain, where the woods of Princess Park were ringed by new mansions. Across the park Table Mountain was so glass-walled that it looked like a giant hotel, and the more distant mesas were not much less gaudy.

Waiters and waitresses brought by a carafe of wine, and then dinner, interrupting Phyllis’s chatter, which was mostly about the new construction on Tharsis. But she seemed very willing to talk with the waiters and waitresses, signing napkins for them, and asking where they were from, how long they had been on Mars, and so forth. Sax ate steadily and watched Phyllis, and Burroughs, waiting for the meal to come to an end. It seemed to go on for hours.

But finally they were done, and taking the elevator ride to the valley floor. The elevator brought back memories of their first night together, which made Sax acutely uncomfortable. Perhaps Phyllis felt the same way, for she moved to the other side of the car, and the long descent passed in silence.

And then on the streetgrass of the boulevard she pecked him on the cheek with a swift hard hug, and said, “It’s been a lovely evening, Stephen, and a lovely time out at Arena as well, I’ll never forget our little adventure under the glacier. But now I have to get back up to Sheffield and deal with everything that’s been piling up, you know. I hope you’ll come visit me if you’re ever up there.”

Sax struggled to control his face, trying to figure out how Stephen would feel and what he would say. Phyllis was a vain woman, and it was possible she would forget the entire affair faster if she was avoiding thought about the hurt she had caused someone by dropping him, rather than brooding over why he had seemed so relieved. So he tried to locate the minority voice inside him that was offended to be treated in such a manner. He tightened the corners of his mouth, and looked down to the side. “Ah,” he said.

Phyllis laughed like a girl, and caught him up in an affectionate hug. “Come on,” she admonished him. “It’s been fun, hasn’t it? And we’ll see each other again when I visit Burroughs, or if you ever come up to Sheffield. Meanwhile, what else can we do? Don’t be sad.”

Sax shrugged. This made such sense that it was hard to imagine any but the most lovelorn suitor objecting, and he had never pretended to be that. They were both over a hundred, after all. “I know,” he said, and gave her a nervous, rueful smile. “I’m just sorry the time has come.”

“I know.” She kissed him again. “Me too. But we’ll meet again, and then we’ll see.”

He nodded, looking down again, feeling a new appreciation for the difficulties actors faced. What to do?

But with a brisk good-bye she was off. Sax said his own goodbye to a look over the shoulder, a quick wave.

He walked across Great Escarpment Boulevard, toward Hunt Mesa. So that was that. Easier than he had thought it would be, certainly. In fact, extremely convenient. But a part of him was still irritated. He looked at his reflection in the shop windows he passed on the lower floors of Hunt. A raffish old geezer; handsome? Well, whatever that meant. Handsome for some women, sometimes. Picked up by one and used as a bed partner for a few weeks, then tossed aside when it was time to move on. Presumably it had happened to many another through the years, more often to women than to men, no doubt, given the inequalities of culture and reproduction. But now, with reproduction out of the picture, and the culture in pieces… She really was rather awful. But then again he had no right to complain; he had agreed to it without conditions, and had lied to her from the very start, not only about who he was, but about how he felt toward her. And now he was free of it, and all that it implied. And all that it threatened.

Feeling a kind of nitrous oxide lift, he walked up Hunt’s huge atrium staircase to his floor, and down the hall to his little apartment.

* * *

Late that winter, for a couple of weeks in 2 February, the annual conference on the terraforming project took place in Burroughs. It was the tenth such conference, titled by the organizers “M-38: New Results and New Directions,” and it would be attended by scientists from all over Mars, nearly three thousand of them all told. The meetings were held in the big conference center in Table Mountain,, while the visiting scientists stayed in hotels all over the city.

Everyone at Biotique Burroughs went over to attend the meetings, hurrying back to Hunt Mesa if they had experiments running that they wanted to check in on. Sax was intensely interested in every aspect of the conference, naturally enough, and on its first morning he went down early to Canal Park and grabbed a coffee and pastry, and walked up to the conference center and was nearly the first in line at the check-in table. He took his packet of program information, pinned his name tag to his coat, and wandered through the halls outside the meeting rooms, sipping his coffee, reading the program for the morning, and glancing at the poster displays set in designated parts of the halls.

Here, and for the first time in more years than he could remember, Sax felt supremely in his element. Scientific conferences were all the same, at all times and in all places, even down to the way people dressed: the men in conservative, slightly shabby professorial jackets, all tans and browns and dark rust colors; the women, perhaps thirty percent of the total population, in unusually drab and severe business dress; many people still wearing spectacles, even though it was a rare vision problem that was not correctable by surgery; most of them carrying around their program packets; everyone with their name tag on their left lapel. Inside the darkened meeting rooms Sax passed talks that were beginning, and there too all was the same as ever: speakers standing before video screens that displayed their graphs and tables and molecular structures and so on, talking in stilted cadences timed to the rhythm of their images, using a pointer to indicate the parts of overcrowded diagrams that were relevant… The audiences, composed of the thirty or forty colleagues most interested in the work being described, sat in rows of chairs next to their friends, listening closely and readying questions that they would ask at the end of the presentation.

For those fond of this world, it was a very pleasant sight. Sax poked his head into several of the rooms, but none of the talks intrigued him enough to draw him in, and soon he found himself in a hall full of poster displays, so he kept on browsing.

“Solubilization of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Mono-meric and Micellar Surfactant Solutions.” “Post-Pumping Subsidence in Southern Vastitas Borealis.” “Epithelial Resistance to Third-Stage Gerontological Treatment.” “Incidence of Radial Fracture Aquifers in Impact Basin Rims.” “Low-voltage Electroporation of Long Vector Plasmids.” “Katabatic Winds in Echus Chasma.” “Base Genome for a New Cactus Genera.” “Resurfacing of the Martian Highlands in the Amenthes and Tyrrhena Region.” “Deposition of the Nilosyrtis Sodium Nitrate Strata.” “A Method for Assessing Occupational Exposure to Chlorophenates Through Analysis of Contaminated Work Clothing.”

As always, the posters were a deliciously mixed bag. They were posters rather than talks for a variety of reasons-often the work of graduate students at the university in Sabishii, or concerned with topics peripheral to the conference-but anything might be there, and it was always very interesting to browse. And at this conference there had been no strong attempt to organize the posters into hallways by subject matter, so that “Distribution of Rhizocarpon geo-graphicum in the East Charitum Monies,” detailing the high-altitude fortunes of a crustose lichen that could live up to four thousand years, was facing “Origins of Graupel Snow in Saline Particulates Found in Cirrus, Altostratus and Altocumulus Clouds in Cyclonic Vortexes in North Tharsis,” a meteorological study of some importance.

Sax was interested in everything, but the posters that held him the longest were those that described aspects of the terraforming that he had initiated, or once had a hand in. One of these, “Estimate of the Cumulative Heat Released by the Underhill Windmills,” stopped him in his tracks. He read it through twice, feeling a slight dampening of spirits as he did.

The mean temperature of the Martian surface before their arrival had been around 220°K, and one of the universally agreed-upon goals of terraforming was to raise that mean temperature to something above the freezing point of water, which was 273°K. Raising the average surface temperature of an entire planet by more than 53°K was a very intimidating challenge, requiring, Sax had figured, the application over time of no less than 3.5 X 10” joules to every square centimeter of the Martian surface. Sax in his own modeling had always aimed to reach a mean of about 274°K, figuring that with this as the average, the planet would be warm enough for much of the year to create an active hydrosphere, and thus a biosphere. Many people advocated even more warming than that, but Sax did not see the need.

In any case, all methods for adding heat to the system were judged by how much they had raised the global mean temperature; and this poster examining the effect of Sax’s little windmill heaters estimated that over seven decades they had added no more than 0.05°K. And he could find nothing wrong with the various assumptions and calculations in the model outlined in the poster. Of course heating was not the only reason he had distributed the windmills; he had also wanted to provide warmth and shelter for an early engineered cryptoendolith he had wanted to test on the surface. But all those organisms had in fact died immediately upon exposure, or shortly thereafter. So on the whole the project could not be said to be one of his better efforts.

He moved on. “Application of Process-Level Chemical Data in Hydrochemical Modeling: Dao Vallis Watershed, Hellas.” “Increasing CO2 Tolerance in Bees.” “Epilimnetic Scavenging of Compton Fallout Radionuclides in the Marineris Glacial Lakes.” “Clearing Fines from Piste Reaction Rails.” “Global Warming As a Result of Released Halocarbons.”

This last one stopped him again. The poster was the work of the atmospheric chemist S. Simmon and some of his students, and reading it made Sax feel considerably better. When Sax had been made head of the terraforming project in 2042, he had immediately initiated the construction of factories to produce and release into the atmosphere a special greenhouse gas mix, composed mostly of carbon tetrafluoride, hexafluoroethane, and sulphur hexafluoride, along with some methane and nitrous oxide. The poster referred to this mix as the “Russell Cocktail,” which was what his Echus Overlook team had called it in the old days. The halocarbons in the cocktail were powerful greenhouse gases, and the best thing about them was that they absorbed outgoing planetary radiation at the 8-to 12-micron wavelength, the so-called “window” where neither water vapor nor CO2 had much absorptive ability. This window, when open, had allowed fantastic amounts of heat to escape back into space, and Sax had decided early on to attempt to close it, by releasing enough of the cocktail so that it would form ten or twenty parts per million of the atmosphere, following the classic early modeling on the subject by McKay et al. So from 2042 on, a major effort had been put into building automated factories, scattered all over the planet, to process the gases from local sources of carbon and sulphur and fluorite, and then release them into the atmosphere. Every year the amounts pumped out had increased, even after the twenty parts per million level had been reached, because they wanted to retain that proportion in an ever-thickening atmosphere, and also because they had to compensate for the continual high-altitude destruction of the halocarbons by UV radiation.

And as the tables in the Simmon poster made clear, the factories had continued to operate through 2061 and the decades since, keeping the levels at about twenty-six parts per million; and the poster’s conclusion was that these gases had warmed the surface by around 12°K.

Sax moved on, a little smile fixed on his face. Twelve degrees! Now that was something!-over twenty percent of all the warming they needed, and all by the early and continuous deployment of a nicely designed gas cocktail. It was elegant, it truly was. There was something so comforting about simple physics…

By now it was ten A.M., and a keynote talk was beginning by H. X. Borazjani, one of the best atmospheric chemists on Mars, concerning just this matter of global warming. Borazjani was apparently going to give his calculations of the contributions of all the attempts at wanning that had been made up until 2100, the year before the soletta had come into operation. After estimating individual contributions, he was going to try to judge whether there were any synergistic effects taking place. This talk was therefore one of the crucial talks of the conference, as so many other people’s work was going to be mentioned and evaluated in it.

It took place in one of the biggest meeting rooms, and the chamber was packed for the occasion, a couple of thousand people in there at least. Sax slipped in right at starting time, and stood at the back behind the last row of chairs.

Borazjani was a small dark-skinned white-haired man, speaking with a pointer before a large screen, which was now showing video images of the various heating methods that had been tried: black dust and lichen on the poles, the orbiting mirrors that had sailed out from Luna, the moholes, the greenhouse gas factories, the ice asteroids burning up in the atmosphere, the denitrifying bacteria, and then all the rest of the biota.

Sax had initiated every single one of these processes in the 2040s and ‘50s, and he watched the video even more intently than the rest of the audience. The only obvious warming strategy that he had avoided in the early years was the massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Those supporting this strategy had wanted to start a runaway greenhouse effect and create a CO2 atmosphere of up to 2 bar, arguing that this would warm the planet tremendously, and stop UV radiation, and encourage rampant plant growth. All true, no doubt; but for humans and other animals it would be poisonous, and though advocates of the plan spoke of a second phase that would scrub the CO2 from the atmosphere and replace it with a breathable one, their methods were vague, as were their time scales, which varied from 100 to 20,000 years. And the sky milk white however long it lasted.

Sax didn’t find this an elegant solution to the problem. He much preferred his single-phase model, striking directly toward the eventual goal. It meant they had always been a bit short on heat, but Sax judged that disadvantage worth it. And he had done his best to find replacements for the heat that CO2 would have added, as for instance the moholes. Unfortunately Borazjani’s estimate of the heat released by the moholes was fairly low; altogether they had added perhaps 5°K to the mean temperature. Well, there was no getting around it, Sax thought as he tapped notes into his lectern- the only good source of heat was the sun. Thus his aggressive introduction of the orbiting mirrors, which had been growing yearly as sunsailers came out from Luna, where a very efficient production process made them from lunar aluminum. These fleets, Borazjani said, had grown large enough to have added some 5°K to the mean temperature.

The reduced albedo, an effort which had never been very vigorously pursued, had added some 2 degrees. The two hundred or so nuclear reactors scattered around the planet had added another 1.5 degrees.

Then Borazjani came to the cocktail of greenhouse gases; but instead of using the 12°K figure from Simmon’s poster, he estimated it was 14°K, and cited a twenty-year-old paper by J. Watkins to support his assertion. Sax had spotted Berkina sitting in the back row near him, and now he sidled over and leaned down until his mouth was by Berkina’s ear, and whispered, “Why isn’t he using Simmon’s work?”

Berkina grinned and whispered back, “A few years ago Simmon published a paper in which he had taken a very complex figure of the UV-halocarbon interaction from Borazjani. He modified it slightly, and that first time he attributed it to Borazjani, but after that when he used it he only cited his own earlier paper. It’s made Borazjani furious, and he thinks Simmon’s papers on this subject are derivative of Watkins anyway, so whenever he talks about warming he goes back to the Watkins work, and pretends Simmon’s stuff doesn’t exist.”

“Ah,” Sax said. He straightened up, smiling despite himself at Borazjani’s subtle but telling little payback. And in fact Simmon was there across the room, frowning heavily.

By now Borazjani had moved on to the warming effects of the water vapor and CO2 that had been released into the atmosphere, which he estimated together as adding another 10°K. “Some of this might be called a synergistic effect,” he said, “as the desorption of CO2 is mainly a result of other warming. But other than that I don’t think we can say that synergy has been much of a factor. The sum of the warming created by all the individual methods matches pretty closely the temperatures reported by weather reports from around the planet.”

The video screen displayed his final table, and Sax made a simplified copy of it into his lectern:

From Borazjani 2 February 14, 2102:

Halocarbons: 14

H2O and CO2: 10

Moholes: 5

Pre-Soletta Mirrors: 5

Reduced Albedo: 2

Nuclear Reactors: 1.5

Borazjani had not even included the windmill heaters, so on his lectern Sax did. Altogether it came to 37.55°K, a very respectable step, Sax thought, toward their goal of ’53°+. They had only been going at it for sixty years, and already most summer days were reaching temperatures above freezing, allowing arctic and alpine plant life to flourish, as he had seen in the Arena Glacier area. And all this before the introduction of the soletta, which was raising insolation by twenty percent.

The question period had begun, and someone brought up the soletta, asking Borazjani if he thought it was necessary, given the progress being made with the other methods.

Borazjani shrugged in just the way Sax would have. “What does necessary mean?” he replied. “It depends how warm you want it. According to the standard model as initiated by Russell at Echus Overlook, it is important to keep CO2 levels as low as possible. If we do this, then other warming methods are going to have to be applied to compensate for the loss of the heat that CO2 would have contributed. The soletta might be thought of as compensating for the eventual reduction of CO2 to breathable levels.”

Sax was nodding despite himself.

Someone else rose and said, “Don’t you think the standard model is inadequate, given the amount of nitrogen we now know we have?”

“Not if all the nitrogen is put into the atmosphere.”

But this was an unlikely achievement, as the questioner was quick to point out. A fair percentage of the total would remain in the ground, and in fact was needed there for plants. So they were short on nitrogen, as Sax had always known. And if they kept the amount of CO2 in the air to the lowest levels possible, that left the percentage of oxygen in the air at a dangerously high level, because of its flammability. Another person rose to state that it was-possible that the lack of nitrogen could be compensated for by the release of other inert gases, chiefly argon. Sax pursed his lips; he had been introducing argon into the atmosphere since 2042, as he had seen this problem coming, and there were significant amounts of argon in the regolith. But they were not easy to free, as his engineers had found, and as other people were now pointing out. No, the balance of gases in the atmosphere was turning out to be a real problem.

A woman rose to note that a consortium of transnats coordinated by Armscor was building a continuous shuttle system to harvest nitrogen from the almost pure nitrogen atmosphere of Titan, liquefying it and flying it back to Mars and dumping it in the upper atmosphere. Sax squinted at this, and did some quick calculations on his lectern. His eyebrows shot up when he saw the result. It would take a very great number of shuttle trips to accomplish anything that way, that or else extremely large shuttles. It was remarkable that anyone had thought it worth the investment.

Now they were discussing the soletta again. It certainly had the capability of compensating for the 5 or 8°K that would be lost if they scrubbed the current amount of CO2 from the air, and probably it would add even more heat than that; theoretically, Sax calculated on his lectern, it could add as much as 22°K. The scrubbing itself would not be easy, someone pointed out. A man standing near Sax, from a Subarashii lab, rose to announce that a demonstration talk on the soletta and the aerial lens would occur later in the conference, when some of these issues would be greatly clarified. He added before sitting down that serious flaws in the single-phase model made the creation of a two-phase model nearly mandatory.

People rolled their eyes at this, and Borazjani declared that the next meeting in the room needed to begin. No one had commented on his skillful modeling, which had sorted out so plausibly all the contributions of the various warming methods. But in a way this was a sign of respect-no one had challenged the model either, Borazjani’s preeminence in this area being taken for granted. Now people stood, and some went up to talk with him; a thousand conversations broke out as the rest filed out of the room and into the halls.

Sax went to lunch with Berkina, in a cafe just outside the foot of Branch Mesa. Around them scientists from all over Mars ate and talked about the events of the morning. “We think it’s parts per billion.” “No, sulfates behave conservatively.” It sounded like the people at the table next to theirs were assuming there was going to be a shift to a two-phase model. One woman said something about raising the mean temperature to 295°K, seven degrees higher than Terra’s average.

Sax squinted at all these expressions of haste, of greed for heat. He saw no need to be dissatisfied with the progress that had been made so far. The ultimate goal of the project was not purely heat, after all, but a viable surface. The results so far certainly seemed to give no reason for complaint. The present atmosphere was averaging 160 millibars at the datum, and it was composed about equally of CO2, oxygen, and nitrogen, with trace amounts of argon and other gases. This was not the mixture Sax wanted to see in the end, but it was the best they had been able to do given the inventory of volatiles they had to begin with. It represented a substantial step on the way to the final mix Sax had in mind. His recipe for this mix, following the early Fogg formulation, was as follows:

300 millibars nitrogen

160 millibars oxygen

30 millibars argon, helium, etc.

10 millibars CO2 =

Total pressure at datum, 500 millibars

All these amounts had been fixed by physical requirements and limits of various kinds. The total pressure had to be high enough to drive oxygen into the blood, and 500 millibars was what was obtained on Earth at about the 4,000-meter elevation, near the upper limit of what people could live at permanently. Given that it was near the upper limit, it would be best if such a thin atmosphere had more than the Terran percentage of oxygen in it, but it could not be too much more or else fires might be hard to extinguish. Meanwhile CO2 had to be kept below 10 millibars, or else it would be poisonous. As for nitrogen, the more the better, in fact 780 millibars would be ideal, but the total nitrogen inventory on Mars was now estimated at less than 400 millibars, so 300 millibars was as much as one could reasonably ask to put into the air, and perhaps more. Lack of nitrogen was in fact one of the biggest problems the terraforming effort faced; they needed more than they had, both in the air and in their soil.

Sax stared down at his plate and ate in silence, thinking hard about all these factors. The morning’s discussions had given him cause to wonder whether he had made the right decisions back in 2042-whether the volatile inventory could justify his attempt to go straight for a human-viable surface in a single stage. Not that there was much that could be done about it now. And all things considered, he still thought they were the right decisions; shikata ga nai, really, if they wanted to walk freely on the surface of Mars in their own lifetimes. Even if their lifetimes were going to be considerably extended.

But there were people who seemed more concerned with high temperatures than breathability. Apparently they were confident that they could balloon the CO2 level, heat things tremendously, and then reduce the CO2 without problems. Sax was dubious about that; any two-phase operation was going to be messy, so messy that Sax couldn’t help wondering if they would get stuck with the 20,000-year time scales predicted in the earliest two-phase models.

It made him blink to think of it. He couldn’t see the need. Were people really willing to risk such a long-term problem? Could they be so impressed by the new gigantic technologies that were becoming available that they believed anything was possible?

“How was the pastrami?” Berkina asked.

“The what?”

“The pastrami. That’s the kind of sandwich you just ate, Stephen.”

“Oh! Fine, fine. It must have been fine.”

The afternoon’s sessions were mostly devoted to problems caused by the successes of the global warming campaign. As surface temperatures rose, and the underground biota began to penetrate deeper into the regolith, the permafrost down there was melting, just as hoped. But this was proving disastrous in certain permafrost-rich regions. One of these, unfortunately, was Isidis Planitia itself. A well-attended talk by an areologist from a Praxis lab in Burroughs described the situation; Isidis was one of the big old impact basins, about the size of Argyre, with its northern side completely erased, and its southern rim now part of the Great Escarpment. Underground ice had been creeping off the Escarpment and pooling in the basin for billions of years. Now the ice near the surface was melting, and in the winters freezing again. This thaw-freeze cycle was causing frost heaving on an unprecedented scale; it was pretty near the usual two-magnitude enlargement compared to similar phenomena on Earth, and karsts and pingos a hundred times the size of their Terran analogues were big holes, and big mounds. All over Isidis these giant new holes and hummocks were blistering the landscape, and after her talk and a sequence of mind-boggling slides, the areologist led a large group of interested scientists to the south end of Burroughs, past Moeris Lacus Mesa to the tent wall, where the neighborhood looked like it had been devastated by earthquake, the ground having heaved up to reveal a rising mass of ice like a bald round hill.

“This is a fine specimen of a pingo,” the areologist said with a proprietary air. “The ice masses are relatively pure compared to the permafrost matrix, and they act in the matrix the same way rocks do-when the permafrost refreezes at night or in winter, it expands, and anything hard stuck in this expansion gets pushed upward toward the surface. There’s a lot of pingos in Terran tundra, but none as big as this one.” She led the group up the shattered concrete of what had been a flat street, and they stared out from an earthen crater rim, onto a mound of dirty white ice. “We’ve lanced it like a boil, and are melting it and piping it into the canals.”

“Out in the country one of these coming up would be like an oasis,” Sax remarked to Jessica. “It would melt in the summer, and hydrate the ground around it. We ought to develop a community of seeds and spores and rhizomes that we could scatter on any sites like this out in the country.”

“True,” Jessica said. “Although, to be realistic, the permafrost country is mostly going to end up under the Vastitas sea anyway.”


The truth was Sax had temporarily forgotten the drilling and mining in Vastitas. When they had returned to the conference center, he deliberately looked for a talk describing an aspect of that work. There was one at four: “Recent Advances in North Polar Lens Permafrost Pumping Procedures.”

He watched the speaker’s video show impassively. The lens of ice that extended underground from the northern polar cap was like the submerged part of an iceberg, containing some ten times as much water as the visible cap. The Vastitas permafrost contained even more. But getting that water to the surface … like the retrieval of nitrogen from Titan’s atmosphere, it was a project so massive that Sax had never even considered it in the early years; it simply hadn’t been possible then. All these big projects-the so-letta, the nitrogen from Titan, the northern ocean drilling, the frequent arrival of ice asteroids-were on a scale that Sax found he was having trouble adjusting to. They were thinking big these days, the transnational. Certainly the new abilities in design and in materials science, and the emergence of fully self-replicating factories, were what made the projects technically feasible; but the initial financial investments were still huge.

As for the technical capabilities involved, he found himself adjusting to the idea of them fairly rapidly. It was an extension of what they had done in the old days: solve some initial problems in materials, design, and homeostatic control, and one’s powers grew very considerable indeed. One might say that their reach no longer exceeded their grasp. Which, given the directions their reach sometimes took, was a frightening thought.

In any case, some fifty drilling platforms were now located in the northern Sixties, boring wells and inserting permafrost melting devices at their bottoms that ranged from heated collection galleries to nuclear explosives. The new meltwater was then being pumped up and distributed over the dunes of Vastitas Borealis, where it froze again. Eventually this ice sheet would melt, partly under its own weight, and they would have an ocean in the shape of a ring around the northern Sixties and Seventies, no doubt a very good thermal sink, as all oceans were, although while it remained an ice sea the increase in albedo would probably make it a net heat loss to the global system. Yet another example of their operations cutting against each other. As was the location of Burroughs itself, relative to this new sea; the city was well below the sea level most often mentioned, the datum itself. People talked of a dike, or a smaller sea, but no one knew for sure. It was all very interesting.

So Sax attended the conference every day, all day, living in the hushed rooms and halls of the conference center, chatting with colleagues, and the authors of posters, and his neighbors in audiences. More than once he had to pretend not to know old associates, and it made him nervous enough that he avoided them when he could. But people did not seem to feel that he reminded them of someone they knew, and for the most part he was able to concentrate on the science. He did that with gusto. People gave talks, asked questions, debated details of fact, discussed implications, all under the uniform fluorescent glow of the conference rooms, in the low hum of ventilators and video machines-as if they were in a world outside of time and space, in the imaginary space of pure science, surely one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit-a kind of Utopian community, cozy and bright and protected. For Sax, a scientific conference was Utopia.

The sessions at this conference, however, had a new tone, a kind of nervous edge that Sax had never witnessed before, and did not like. The questions after the presentations were more aggressive, the answers more quickly defensive. The pure play of scientific discourse which he so enjoyed (and which admittedly was never quite pure) was now more and more diluted by sheer argument, by obvious power struggles, motivated by something more than the usual egotism. It wasn’t like Simmon’s unconscionable lift from Borazjani, and Borazjani’s exquisite riposte; it was more a matter of direct assault. As at the end of a presentation on deep moholes and the possibility of reaching the mantle, when a short bald Terran stood and said, “I don’t think the basic model of the lithosphere here is valid,” and then walked out of the room.

Sax witnessed this in complete disbelief. “What is his problem?” he whispered to Claire.

She shook her head. “He works for Subarashii on the aerial lens, and they don’t like any potential competition for their regolith melting program.”

“My Lord.”

The question-and-answer session staggered on, shaken by this display of rudeness, but Sax slipped out of the room and stared down the hall curiously after the Subarashii scientist. What could he be thinking?

But this miscreant wasn’t the only one acting strange. People were stressed, nerves were on edge. Of course the stakes were high; as the pingo below Moeris Lacus showed in a small-scale way, there were going to be some bad side effects to the procedures being studied and advocated at the conference, side effects which would cost money, time, lives. And then there were financial motivations…

And now that they were entering its final days, the programming was shifting from very specific issues to more general presentations and workshops, including some presentations in the main room on the big new projects, what people were calling the “monster projects.” These were going to have such major impacts that they affected almost everyone else’s programs. So when they discussed them, they were arguing policy, in effect, talking about what to do next rather than about what had already happened. That always made things more of a wrangle-but never more so than now, as people began to try to plug the information from the earlier presentations into advocacy for their own causes, whatever they might be. They were entering that unfortunate zone where science began to drift into politics, where papers became grant proposals; and it was dismaying to see that degraded dark zone invade the heretofore neutral terrain of a conference.

Part of this, Sax reflected over a solitary lunch, was no doubt caused by the big-science nature of the monster projects. They were all so expensive and difficult that they had been contracted out to different transnational. This was a plausible strategy on the face of it, an obvious efficiency move, but unfortunately it meant that the different angles of attack on the terraforming problem now had interested parties defending them as the “best” methods, twisting data in order to defend their own ideas.

Praxis, for instance, was the leader along with Switzerland in the very extensive bioengineering effort, and so its representative theoreticians defended what they called the ecopoesis model, which claimed that no further influx of heat or volatiles was necessary at this point, and that biological processes alone, aided by a minimum of ecological engineering, would be sufficient to terraform the planet to the levels envisioned in the early Russell model. Sax thought they were probably correct in this judgment, given the arrival of the soletta, though he deemed their time scales optimistic. And he worked for Biotique, so possibly his judgment was skewed.

The scientists from Amscor, however, were adamant that the low nitrogen inventory would cripple any ecopoetic hopes. They insisted that continued industrial intervention was necessary; and of course it was Armscor that was building the Titan nitrogen transfer shuttles. People from Consolidated, in charge of the drilling in Vastitas, emphasized the vital importance of an active hydrosphere. And people from Subarashii, in charge of the new mirrors, touted the great power of the soletta and the aerial lens to pump heat and gases into the system, allowing everything else to accelerate. It was always quite obvious why people were advocating one program over another; you could look at people’s name tags and see their institutional affiliation, and predict what they were going to support or attack. To see science twisted so blatantly pained Sax a great deal, and it seemed to him that it distressed everyone there, even the ones doing it, which added to the general irritability and defensiveness. Everyone knew what was going on, and no one liked it, and yet no one would admit it.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the last morning’s panel discussion of the CO2 question. This quickly became a defense of the soletta and the aerial lens, made very vehemently by the two Subarashii scientists on the panel. Sax sat at the back of the room and listened to their enthusiastic description of the big mirrors, feeling more and more tense and unhappy as they went on. He liked the soletta itself, which was no more than the logical extension of the mirrors he had been putting into orbit from the very beginning. But the low-flying aerial lens was clearly an extremely powerful instrument, and if wielded on the surface to anywhere near its full capacity, it would volatilize hundreds of millibars of gases into the atmosphere, much of it CO2, which according to Sax’s single-phase model they did not want, and which in any sensible course of action would stay bonded in the regolith. No, there were several hard questions that needed to be asked about the effects of this aerial lens, and the Subarashii people ought to be harshly censured for beginning the melting of the regolith without consulting anyone outside their UNTA rubberstamp committee about it. But Sax did not want to draw attention to himself, and so he could only sit there by Claire and Berkina with his lectern out, squirming in his seat and hoping that someone else would ask the hard questions for him.

And as they were obvious questions as well as hard, they did get asked; a scientist from Mitsubishi, which was in a perpetual hometown feud with Subarashii, stood and inquired very politely about the runaway greenhouse effect that might result from too much CO2. Sax nodded emphatically. But the Subarashii scientists replied that this was exactly what they were hoping for, that there could not be too much heat, and that an eventual atmospheric pressure of seven or eight hundred millibars would be preferabk to five hundred anyway. “But not if it’s CO2!” Sax muttered to Claire, who nodded.

H. X. Borazjani stood to say the same. He was followed by others; many in the room were still using Sax’s original model as their template for action, and they insisted in many different ways on the difficulty of scrubbing any great excess of CO2 from the air. But there were also a good many scientists, from Armscor and Consolidated as well as Subarashii, who either claimed that scrubbing CO2 would not be difficult, or else that a CO2-heavy atmosphere would not be so bad. An ecosystem of mostly plants, with CO2-tolerant insects and perhaps some genetically engineered animals, would flourish in the warm thick air, and people could walk around in their shirtsleeves with nothing more cumbersome than a facemask.

This set Sax’s teeth on edge, and happily he was not the only one, so he could stay in his seat while others rose to their feet to challenge this fundamental shift in the goal of terraforming. The argument quickly became heated, even rancorous.

“It’s not a jungle planet we’re after here!”

“You’re making a hidden assumption that people can be genetically engineered to tolerate higher CO2 levels, but it’s ridiculous!”

Very soon it became clear that they were accomplishing nothing.

No one was really listening, and everyone had their opinions, which were tightly aligned to their employers’ interests. It was unseemly, really. A mutual distaste for the tone of the debate caused all but the immediate participants to withdraw-around Sax people were folding programs, turning off lecterns, whispering to their companions, all while people were still standing and speaking … bad form, no doubt about it. But it only took a moment’s thought to realize that they were now arguing over policy decisions that were not going to be made at the level of working scientists anyway. No one liked that, and people actually began to get up and leave the room, right in the middle of the discussion. The overwhelmed panel moderator, an overpolite Japanese woman who was looking miserable, spoke over the rising voices, and suggested that they close the session. People trooped into the halls in little knots, some still talking heatedly to their allies, making their cases decisively now that they were only complaining to their friends.

Sax followed Claire and Jessica and the other Biotique people across the canal and into Hunt Mesa. They took the elevator up to the mesa plateau, and had lunch at Antonio’s.

“They’re going to flood us with CO2,” Sax said, unable to hold his tongue any longer. “I don’t think they understand what a fundamental blow that will be to the standard model.”

“It’s a different model entirely,” Jessica said. “A two-phase, heavy-industrial model.”

“But it will keep people and animals in tents more or less indefinitely,” Sax said.

“Maybe the transnat executives don’t mind that,” Jessica said.

“Maybe they like it,” Berkina said.

Sax made a face.

Claire said, “It could just be that they’ve got this soletta and lens, and they want to use them. Like playing with toys. It’s so much like the magnifying glass you use to start fires with when you’re ten. But this one is so powerful. They can’t stand not to use it. And then calling the burn zones canals, you know…”

“That is so stupid,” Sax said sharply, and when the others stared at him in some surprise, he tried to lighten his tone: “Well, it’s just so silly, you know. It’s such a kind of fuzzy romanticism. They won’t be canals in the sense of usefully connecting one body of

water with another, and even if they tried to use them, the banks would be slag.”

“Glass, they’re claiming,” Claire said. “And it’s just the idea of canals, anyway.”

“But it’s not a game we’re playing here,” Sax said. It was extremely hard to keep Stephen’s sense of humor about it; for some reason it was really irritating to him, really distressing. Here they had started so well, sixty years of solid achievement-and now different people were hacking about with different ideas and different toys, arguing and working against each other, bringing ever more powerful and expensive methods to bear, but with ever less coordination. They were going to ruin his plan!

The afternoon’s closing sessions were perfunctory, and did nothing to restore his faith in the conference as disinterested science. That evening, back in his room, he watched the environmental news on vid more closely than ever, searching for answers to questions he hadn’t quite formulated. Cliffs were falling. Rocks of all sizes were being shoved out of the permafrost by the thaw-freeze cycle, the rocks arranging themselves into characteristic polygonal patterns. Rock glaciers were forming in ravines and chutes, the rocks pried free by ice and then sliding down gorges in masses that behaved much like ice glaciers. Pingos were blistering the northern lowlands, except of course where the frozen seas were pouring out of the drilling platforms, inundating the land.

It was change on a massive scale, becoming apparent everywhere now, and accelerating every year as the summers got warmer, and the submartian biota grew deeper-while everything still froze solid every winter, and froze a little bit almost every summer night. Such an intense freeze-thaw cycle would tear any landscape apart, and the Martian landscape was particularly susceptible to it, having been stalled in a cold arid stasis for millions of years. Mass wasting was causing many landslides a day, and fatalities and unexplained disappearances were not at all uncommon. Cross-country travel was dangerous. Canyons and fresh craters were no longer safe places to locate a town, or even to spend a night.

Sax stood and walked to the window of his room, looked down at the lights of the city. All of this was as Ann had predicted to him, long ago. No doubt she was noting reports of all the changes with disgust, she and all the rest of the Reds. For them every collapse was a sign that things were going wrong rather than right. In the past Sax would have shrugged them off; mass wasting exposed frozen soil to the sun, warming it and revealing potential nitrate sources and the like. Now, with the conference fresh in his mind, he was not so sure.

On the vid no one seemed to be worrying about it. There were no Reds on vid. The collapse of landforms were considered no more than an opportunity, not only for terraforming, which seemed to be considered the exclusive business of the transnats, but for mining. Sax watched a news account of a freshly revealed vein of gold ore with a sinking feeling. It was strange how many people seemed to feel the lure of prospecting. That was Mars as the twenty-second century began; with the elevator returned they were back to the old gold rush mentality, it seemed, as if it really were a manifest destiny, out on the frontier with great tools wielded left and right: cosmic engineers, mining and building. And the terraforming that had been his work, the sole focus of his life, in fact, for sixty years and more, seemed to be turning into something else…

Insomnia began to plague Sax. He had never suffered the phenomenon before, and found it quite uncomfortable. He would wake, roll over, gears in his mind would catch, and everthing would start whirring. When it was clear he was not going to fall back asleep he would get up, and turn on the AI screen and watch video programs, even the news, which he had never watched before. He saw symptoms of some kind of sociological dysfunction on Earth. It did not appear, for instance, that they had even attempted to adjust their societies to the impact of the population rise caused by the gerontological treatments. That should have been elementary-birth control, quotas, sterilization, the lot-but most countries hadn’t done any of that. Indeed it appeared that a permanent underclass of the untreated was developing, especially in the highly populated poor countries. Statistics were hard to come by now that the UN was moribund, but one World Court study claimed that seventy percent of the population of the developed nations had gotten the treatment, while only twenty percent had in the poor countries. If that trend held for long, Sax thought, it would lead to a kind of physicalization of class-a late emergence or retroactive unveiling of Marx’s bleak vision-only more extreme than Marx, because now class distinctions would be exhibited as an actual physiological difference caused by a bimodal distribution, something almost akin to speciation…

This divergence between rich and poor was obviously dangerous, but it seemed to be taken on Earth as something of a given, as if it were part of nature. Why couldn’t they see the danger?

He no longer understood Earth, if he ever had. He sat there shivering through the dregs of his insomniac nights, too tired to read or to work; he could only call up one Terran news program after another, trying to understand better what was happening down there. He would have to if he wanted to understand Mars, for the transnational’ Martian behavior was being driven by Terran ultimate causes. He needed to understand. But the news vids seemed beyond rational comprehension. Down there, even more dramatically than on Mars, there was no plan.

He needed a science of history, but unfortunately there was no such thing. History is Lamarckian, Arkady used to say, a notion that was ominously suggestive given the pseudospeciation caused by the unequal distribution of the gerontological treatments; but it was no real help. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, they were all suspect. The scientific method could not be applied to human beings in any way that yielded useful Information. It was the fact-value problem stated in a different way; human reality could only be explained in terms of values. And values were very resistant to scientific analysis: Isolation of factors for study, falsifiable hypotheses, repeatable experiments-the entire apparatus as practiced in lab physics simply could not be brought to bear. Values drove history, which was whole, nonrepeatable, and contingent. It might be characterized as Lamarckian, or as a chaotic system, but even those were guesses, because what factors were they talking about, what aspects might be acquired by learning and passed on, or cycling in some nonrepetitive but patterned way?

No one could say.

He began to think again about the discipline of natural history which had so captivated him on Arena Glacier. It used scientific methods to study the natural world’s history, and in many ways that history was just as problematic a methodological problem.as human history, being likewise nonrepeatable and resistant to experiment. And with human consciousness out of the picture, natural history was often fairly successful, even if it was based mostly on observation and hypothesis that could be tested only by further observation. It was a real science; it had discovered, there among the contingency and disorder, some valid general principles of evolution-development, adaptation, complexification, and many more specific pri’nciples as well, confirmed by the various subdis-ciplines.

What he needed were similar principles influencing human history. The little reading he did in historiography was not encouraging; it was either a sad imitation of the scientific method, or art pure and simple. About every decade a new historical explanation revised all that had come before, but clearly revisionism held pleasures that had nothing to do with the actual justice of the case being made. Sociobiology and bioethics were more promising, but they tended to explain things best when working on evolutionary time scales, and he wanted something for the past hundred years, and the next hundred. Or even the past fifty and the next five.

Night after night he woke, failed to fall back asleep, got up, sat at the screen and puzzled over these matters, too tired to think well. And as these night watches kept happening, he found himself returning more and more to shows about 2061. There were any number of video compilations on the events of that year, and some of them were not shy about naming it: World War Three! was the title of the longest series, some sixty hours’ worth of video from that year, poorly edited and sequenced.

One only had to watch the series for a while to realize that the title was not entirely sensationalist. Wars had raged all over Terra in that fateful year, and the analysts reluctant to call it the Third World War seemed to think that it simply hadn’t gone on long enough to qualify. Or that it hadn’t been the contest of two great global alliances, but was much more confused and complex: different sources would claim it was north against south, or young against old, or UN against nations, or nations against transnationals, or transnationals against flags of convenience, or armies against police, or police against citizens-so that it began to seem every kind of conflict at once. For a matter of six or eight months the world had descended into chaos. In the course of his wanderings through “political science” Sax had stumbled across a pseudo-scientific chart by a Herman Kahn, called an “Escalation Ladder,” which attempted to categorize conflicts according to their nature and severity. There were forty-four steps in Kahn’s ladder, going from the first, Ostensible Crisis, up gradually through categories like Political and Diplomatic Gestures, Solemn and Formal Declarations, and Significant Mobilization, then more steeply through steps like Show of Force, Harassing Acts of Violence, Dramatic Military Confrontations, Large Conventional War, and then off into the unexplored zones of Barely Nuclear War, Exemplary Attacks Against Property, Civilian Devastation Attack, and right on up to number forty-four, Spasm or Insensate War. It was certainly an interesting attempt at taxonomy and logical sequence, and although there were obviously elements of fetishization in the excessive detail, Sax could see that the categories had been abstracted from many wars of the past. And by the definitions of the table, 2061 had shot right up the ladder to number forty-four.

In that maelstrom, Mars had been no more than one spectacular war among fifty. Very few general programs about ‘61 devoted more than a few minutes to it, and these merely collected clips Sax had seen at the time: the frozen guards at Korolyov, the broken domes, the fall of the elevator, and then that of Phobos. Attempts at analysis of the Martian situation were shallow at best; Mars had been an exotic sideshow, with some good vid, but nothing else to distinguish it from the general morass. No. One sleepless dawn it came to him; if he wanted to understand 2061, he was going to have to piece it together himself, from the primary sources of the videotapes, from all the bouncing shots of enraged crowds torching cities, and the occasional press conferences with desperate, frustrated leaders.

Even getting these in chronological order was no easy task. And indeed this became (in his Echus style) his only interest for a few weeks, as slotting events into a chronology was the first step in piecing together what had happened-which had to precede figuring out why.

Over the weeks he began to get a sense of it. Certainly the common wisdom was correct; the emergence of the transnationals in the 2040s had set the stage, and was the ultimate cause of the war. In that decade, while Sax had been devoting every bit of his attention to terraforming Mars, a new Terran order had come into being, shaped as the thousands of multinational corporations began to coalesce into the scores of colossal transnationals. Something like planetary formation, he thought one night, planetesimals becoming planets.

It was not entirely a new order, however. The multinationals had mostly originated in the wealthy industrial nations, and so in certain senses the transnationals were expressions of these nations-extensions of their power into the rest of the world, in a way that reminded Sax of what little he knew of the imperial and colonial systems that had preceded them. Frank had said something like that: colonialism had never died, he used to declare, it just changed names and hired local cops. We’re all colonies of the transnats.

This was Frank’s cynicism, Sax decided (wishing that he had that hard bitter mind on hand to instruct him), because all colonies were not equal. It was true that transnats were so powerful that they had rendered national governments little more than toothless servants. And no transnat had shown any particular loyalty to any given government, or the UN. But they were children of the West- children who no longer cared for their parents, yet still supported them. For the record showed that the industrial nations had prospered under the transnats, while the developing nations had had no recourse but to fight each other for flag-of-convenience status. And thus in 2060 when the transnats had come under fire from desperate poor countries, it had been the Group of Seven and its military might that had come to their defense.

But the proximate cause? Night after night he sifted through vid of the 2040s and ‘50s, looking for traces of patterns. Eventually he decided that it was the longevity treatment which had pushed things over the edge. Through the 2050s the treatment had spread through the rich countries, illustrating the gross economic inequality in the world like a color stain in a microscope sample. And as the treatment spread, the situation had gotten increasingly tense, rising steadily up the steps of Kahn’s ladder of crises.

The immediate cause of the explosion of ‘61, strangely enough, appeared to be a squabble concerning the Martian space elevator. The elevator had been operated by Praxis, but after it had started operations, in February of 2061 to be precise, it had been taken over by Subarashii, in a clearly hostile takeover. Subarashii at that time was a conglomeration of most of the Japanese corporations that had not folded into Mitsubishi, and it was a rising power, very aggressive and ambitious. Upon acquisition of the elevator-a takeover approved by UNOMA-Subarashii had immediately increased the emigration quotas, causing the situation on Mars to go critical. At the same time on Earth, Subarashii’s competitors had objected to what was effectively an economic conquest of Mars, and though Praxis had confined its objections to legal action at the hapless UN, one of Subarashii’s flags of convenience, Malaysia, had been attacked by Singapore, which was a base for Shellalco. By April of 2061 much of south Asia was at war. Most of the fights were long-standing conflicts, such as Cambodia versus Vietnam, or Pakistan versus India; but some were attacks on Subarashii flags, as in Burma and Bangladesh. Events in the region had shot up the escalation ladder with deadly speed as old enmities joined the new transnat conflicts, and by June wars had spread all over Terra, and then to Mars. By October fifty million people had died, and another fifty million were to die in the aftermath, as many basic services had been interrupted or destroyed, and a newly released malaria v ctor remained without an effective prevention or cure.

That seemed enough to qualify it as a world war to Sax, brevity nonwithstanding. It had been, he concluded, a deadly synergistic combination of fights among the transnats, and revolutions by a wide array of disenfranchised groups against the transnat order. But the chaotic violence had convinced the transnats to resolve their disputes, or at least table them, and all the revolutions had failed, especially after the militaries of the Group of Seven intervened to rescue the transnats from dismemberment in their flags of convenience. All the giant military-industrial nations had ended up on the same side, which had helped to make it a very short world war compared to the first two. Short, but terrible-about as many people had died in 2061. as in the first two world wars together.

Mars had been a minor campaign in this Third World War, a campaign in which certain of the transnats had overreacted to a flamboyant but disorganized revolt. When it was over, Mars had been seized firmly in the grip of the major transnationals, with the blessing of the Group of Seven and the transnats’ other clients. And Terra had staggered on, a hundred million people fewer.

But nothing else had changed. None of its problems had been addressed. So it all might happen again. It was perfectly possible. One might even say that it was likely.

Sax continued to sleep poorly. And though he spent his days in the ordinary routines of work and habit, it seemed that he saw things differently than he had before the conference. Another proof, he supposed glumly, of the notion of vision as a paradigm construct. But now it was so obvious the transnationals were everywhere. In terms of authority, there was hardly anything else. Burroughs was a transnat town, and from what Phyllis had said, Sheffield was too. There were none of the national scientific teams that had proliferated in the years before the treaty conference; and with the First Hundred dead or in hiding, the whole tradition of Mars as a research station was extinct. What science there was was devoted to the terraforming project, and he had seen what kind of science that was becoming. No, the research was applied only, these days.

And there were very few other signs of the old nation-states, now that he looked. The news gave the impression that they were mostly bankrupt, even the Group of Seven; and the transnats were holding the debts, if anybody was. Some reports made Sax think that in a sense the transnats were even taking on smaller countries as a kind of capital asset, in a new business/government arrangement that went far beyond the old flag-of-convenience contracts.

An example of this new arrangement in a slightly different form was Mars itself, which seemed effectively in the possession of the big transnats. And now that the elevator was back, the export of metals and the import of people and goods had vastly accelerated. Terran stock markets were ballooning hysterically to mark the action, with no end in sight, despite the fact that Mars could only provide Terra with certain metals in certain quantities. So the stock market rise was probably some kind of bubble phenomenon, and if it burst it might very well be enough to bring everything down again. Or perhaps not; economics was a bizarre field, and there were senses in which the whole stock market was simply too unreal to have impacts beyond itself. But who knew till it happened? Sax, wandering the streets of Burroughs looking at the stock market displays in the office windows, certainly didn’t claim to. People were not rational systems.

This profound truth was reinforced when Desmond showed up one evening at his door. The famous Coyote himself, the stowaway, Big Man’s little bro, standing there small and slight in a brightly colored construction worker’s jumper, diagonal slashes of aquamarine and royal blue leading the eye down to lime-green walker boots. Many construction workers in Burroughs (and there were a lot of them) wore the new light and flexible walker boots all the time as a kind of fashion statement, and all were brightly colored, but very few achieved the stunning quality of Desmond’s fluorescent greens.

He grinned his cracked grin as Sax stared at them. “Yes, so beautiful aren’t they? And very distracting.”

Which was just as well, as his dreadlocks were stuffed into a voluminous red, yellow, and green beret, an unusual sight,anywhere on Mars. “Come on, let’s go out for a drink.”

He led Sax down to a cheap canalside bar, built into the side of a massive emptied pingo. The construction crowd here was tightly packed around long tables, and sounded mostly Australian. At the canalside itself a particularly rowdy group were throwing ice shot-puts the size of cannonballs out into the canal, and very occasionally thumping one down on the grass of the far bank, which caused cheers and often a round of nitrous oxide for the house. Strollers on the far bank were giving that part of the canalside a wide berth.

Desmond got them four shots of tequila and one nitrous inhaler. “Pretty soon we’ll have agave cactus growing on the surface, eh?”

“I think you could do it now.”

They sat at the end of one table, with their elbows bumping and Desmond talking into Sax’s ear as they drank. He had a whole wish list of things he wanted Sax to steal from Biotique. Seed stocks, spores, rhizomes, certain growth media, certain hard-to-synthesize chemicals… “Hiroko says to tell you she really needs all of it, but especially the seeds.”

“Can’t she breed those herself? I don’t like taking things.”

“Life is a dangerous game,” Desmond said, toasting the thought with a big whiff of nitrous, followed by a shot of tequila. “Ahhhhhhhhh,” he said.

“It’s not the danger,” Sax said. “I just don’t like doing it. I work with those people.”

Desmond shrugged and did not answer. It occurred to Sax that these scruples might strike Desmond, who had spent most of the twenty-first century living by theft, as a bit overfine.

“You won’t be taking it from those people,” Desmond said at last. “You’ll be taking it from the transnat that owns Biotique.”

“But that’s a Swiss collective, and Praxis,” Sax said. “And Praxis doesn’t look so bad. It’s a very loose egalitarian system, it reminds me of Hiroko’s, actually.”

“Except that they’re part of a global system that has a fairly small oligarchy running the world. You have to remember the context.”

“Oh believe me, I do,” Sax, said, remembering his sleepless nights. “But you have to make distinctions as well.”

“Yes, yes. And one distinction is that Hiroko needs these materials and cannot make them, given the necessity to hide from the police hired by your wonderful transnational.”

Sax blinked disgruntledly.

“Besides, theft of materials is one of the few resistance actions left to us these days. Hiroko has agreed with Maya that obvious sabotage is simply an announcement of the underground’s existence, and an invitation for reprisal and a shutdown of the demimonde. Better simply to disappear for a while, she says, and make them think that we never existed in any great numbers.”

“It’s a good idea,” Sax said. “But I’m surprised you’re doing what Hiroko says.”

“Very funny,” Desmond said with a grimace. “Anyway, I think it’s a good idea too.”

“You do?”

“No. But she talked me into it. It may be for the best. Anyway there’s still a lot of materials to be obtained.”

“Won’t theft itself tip off the police that we’re still out there?”

“No way. It’s so widespread that what we do can’t be noticed against the background levels. There’s a whole lot of inside jobs.”

“Like me.”

“Yes, but you’re not doing it for money, are you.”

“I still don’t like it.”

Desmond laughed, revealing his stone eyetooth, and the odd asymmetricality of his jaw and his whole lower face. “It’s hostage syndrome. You work with them and you get to know them, and have a sympathy for them. You have to remember what they’re doing here. Come on, finish that cactus and I’ll show you some things you haven’t seen, right here in Burroughs.”

There was a commotion, as an ice shot had hit the other bank and rolled up the grass and bowled over an old man. People were cheering and lifting the woman who had made the throw onto their shoulders, but the group with the old man was charging down to the nearest bridge. “This place is getting too noisy,” Desmond said. “Come on, drink that and let’s go.”

Sax knocked back the liquor while Desmond popped the last of the inhaler. Then they left quickly to avoid the developing brouhaha, walking up the canalside path. A half hour’s walk took them past the rows of Bareiss columns and up into Princess Park, where they turned right and walked up the steep wide grassy incline of Thoth Boulevard. Beyond Table Mountain they turned left down a narrower swath of streetgrass, and came to the westernmost part of the tent wall, extending in a big arc around Black Syrtis Mesa. “Look, they’re getting back to the old coffin quarters for workers again,” Desmond pointed out. “That’s Subarashii’s standard housing now, but see how these units are set into the mesa. Black Syrtis contained a plutonium processing plant in the early days of Burroughs, when it was well out of town. But now Subarashii has built workers’ quarters right next to it, and their jobs are to oversee the processing and the removal of the waste, north to Nili Fossae, where some integral fast reactors will use it. The cleanup operation used to be almost completely robotic, but the robots are hard to keep on-line. They’ve found it’s cheaper to use people for a lot of the jobs.”

“But the radiation,” Sax said, blinking.

“Yes,” Desmond said with his savage grin. “They take on forty rem a year.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I am not kidding. They tell the workers this, and give them hardship pay, and after three years they get a bonus, which is the treatment.”

“Is it withheld from them otherwise?”

“It’s expensive, Sax. And there are waiting lists. This is a way to skip up the list, and cover the costs.”

“But forty rems! There’s no way to be sure the treatment will repair the damage that could do!”

“We know that,” Desmond said with a scowl. There was no need to refer to Simon. “But they don’t.”

“And Subarashii is doing this just to cut costs?”

“That’s important in such a large capital investment, Sax. All kinds of cost-cutting measures are showing up. The sewage systems in Black Syrtis are all the same system, for instance-the med clinic and the coffins and the plants in the mesa.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I am not kidding. My jokes are funnier than that.”

Sax waved him off.

“Look,” Desmond said, “there are no regulatory agencies anymore. No building codes or whatever. That is what the transnational success in sixty-one really means-they make their own rules now. And you know what their one rule is.”

“But this is simply stupid.”

“Well, you know, this particular division of Subarashii is run by Georgians, and they’re in the grip of a big Stalin revival there. It’s a patriotic gesture to run their country as stupidly as possible. That means business too. And of course the top managers of Subarashii are still Japanese, and they believe Japan became great by being tough. They say they won in sixty-one what they lost in World War Two. They’re the most brutal transnat up here, but all the rest are imitating them to compete successfully. Praxis is an anomaly in that sense, you must remember that.”

“So we reward them by stealing from them.”

“You’re the one who went to work for Biotique. Maybe you should change jobs.”


“Do you think you can get these materials from one of Subarashii’s firms?”


“But you could from Biotique.”

“Probably. Security is pretty tight.”

“But you could do it.”

“Probably.” Sax thought about it. “I want something in return.”


“Will you fly me out to have a look at this soletta burn zone?”

“Certainly! I would like to see it again myself.”

So the next afternoon they left Burroughs and trained south up the Great Escarpment, getting off at Libya Station, some seventy kilometers from Burroughs. There they slipped into the basement and their closet door, down their tunnel and out into the rocky countryside. Down in a shallow graben they found one of Desmond’s cars, and when night came they drove east along the Escarpment to a small Red hideout in the rim of Du Martheray Crater, next to a stretch of flat bedrock the Reds used as an airstrip. Desmond did not identify Sax to their hosts. They were led into a little cliffside hangar, where they got into one of Spencer’s old stealth planes and taxied out to the bedrock, then took off in an undulant acceleration down the runway. Once in the air they flew east slowly through the night.

They flew in silence for a while. Sax saw lights on the dark surface of the planet only three times: once a station in Escalante Crater, once the tiny moving line of lights of a round-the-world train, and the last an unidentified blink in the rough land behind the Great Escarpment. “Who do you think that is?” Sax asked.

“No idea.”

After a few minutes more Sax said, “I ran into Phyllis.”

“Really! Did she recognize you?”


Desmond laughed. “That’s Phyllis for you.”

“A lot of old acquaintances haven’t recognized me.”

“Yeah, but Phyllis … Is she still president of the Transitional Authority?”

“No. She didn’t seem to think it was a powerful post, anyway.”

Desmond laughed again. “A silly woman. But she did get that group on Clarke back to civilization, I’ll give her that. I thought they were goners, myself.”

“Do you know much about that?”

“I talked with two of the people who were on it, yeah. One night in Burroughs at the Pingo Bar, in fact. You couldn’t get them to shut up about it.”

“Did anything happen near the end of their flight?”

“The end? Well, yeah-someone died. I guess some woman got a hand crushed when they were evacuating Clarke, and Phyllis was the closest thing they had to a doctor, so Phyllis took care of her through the whole trip, and thought she was going to make it, but I guess they ran out of something, the two telling me the story weren’t too clear on it, and she took a turn for the worse. Phyllis called a prayer meeting for her and prayed for her, but she died anyway, a couple of days before they came into the Terran system.”

“Ah,” Sax said. Then: “Phyllis doesn’t seem all that … religious anymore.”

Desmond snorted. “She was never religious, if you ask me. Hers was the religion of business. You visit real Christians like the folks down in Christianopolis, or Bingen, and you don’t find them talking profits at breakfast, and lording it over you with that horrible unctuous righteousness they have. Righteousness, good Lord-it is      I a most unpleasant quality in a person. You know it has to be a house built on sand, eh? But the demimonde Christians are not      i like that. They’re gnostics, Quakers, Baptists, Baha’i Rastafarians, whatever-the most agreeable people in the underground if you ask me, and I’ve traded with everybody. So helpful. And no airs about being best friends with Jesus. They’re tight with Hiroko, and the Sufis as well. Some kind of mystic networking going on down there.” He cackled. “But Phyllis, now, and all those business fundamentalists-using religion to cover extortion, I hate that. Actually I never heard Phyllis speak in a religious manner after we landed. “

“Did you have much opportunity to hear Phyllis speak after we landed?”

Another laugh. “More than you might think! I saw more than you did in those years, Mister Lab Man! I had my little hidey-holes everywhere.”

Sax made a skeptical noise, and Desmond shouted a laugh and slapped him on the shoulder. “Who else could tell you that you and Hiroko were an item in the Underbill years, eh?”


“Oh yes, I saw a lot. Of course you could make that particular observation about practically any man in Underbill and be right. That vixen was keeping us all as a harem.”


“Two-timing, goddammit! Or twenty-timing.”


Desmond laughed at him.

Just after dawn they caught sight of a white column of smoke, obscuring the stars over a whole quadrant of the sky. For a while this dense cloud was the only anomaly they could see in the landscape. Then, as they flew on and the terminator of the planet rolled under them, a broad swath of bright ground appeared on the east-em horizon ahead-an orange strip, or trough, running roughly northeast to southwest across the land, obscured by smoke that poured out of one section of it. The trough under the smoke was white and turbulent, as if a small volcanic eruption were confined to that one spot. Above it stood a beam of light-a beam of illuminated smoke, rather, so tight and solid that it was like a physical pillar, extending straight up and becoming less distinct as the cloud smoke thinned, and disappearing where the smoke reached its maximum height of around ten thousand meters.

At first there was no sign of the origin of this beam in the sky- the aerial lens was some four hundred kilometers overhead, after all. Then Sax thought he saw something like the ghost of a cloud, soaring very far above. Maybe that was it, maybe it wasn’t. Desmond wasn’t sure.

At the foot of the pillar of light, however, there was no question of visibility-the pillar of light had a kind of biblical presence, and the melted rock under it was truly incandescent, a very brilliant white. That was what 5000°K looked like, exposed to the open air. “We have to be careful,” Desmond said. “We fly into that beam and it would be like a moth in a flame.”

“I’m sure the smoke is very turbulent as well.”

“Yes. I plan to stay windward of it.”

Down where the pillar of lit smoke met the orange channel, new smoke was spewing out in violent billows, weirdly lit from underneath. To the north of the white spot, where the rock had had a chance to cool, the melted channel reminded Sax of film of the eruptions of the Hawaiian volcanoes. Bright yellow-orange waves surged north in the channel of fluid rock, occasionally meeting resistances and splashing up onto the dark banks of the molten channel. The channel was about two kilometers wide, and ran over the horizon in both directions; they could see perhaps two hundred kilometers of it. South of the pillar of light, the channel bed was almost covered with cooling black rock, webbed by dark orange cracks. The straightness of the channel, and the pillar of light itself, were the only obvious signs that it was not some kind of natural lava channel; but these signs were more than enough. Besides, there hadn’t been any volcanic activity on the surface of Mars for many thousands of years.

Desmond closed on the sight, then banked their plane sharply and headed north. “The beam from the aerial lens is moving south, so up the line we should be able to fly closer.”

For many kilometers the channel of melted rock ran northeast without changing. Then as they got farther away from the current burn zone, the orange of the lava darkened and began to cake over from the sides with a black surface, broken by more orange cracks. Beyond that the channel surface was black, as were the banks on each side of it; a straight swath of pure black, running over the rust-colored highlands of Hesperia.

Desmond banked and turned south again, and flew closer to the channel. He was a rough pilot, shoving the light plane around ruthlessly. When the orange cracks reappeared, a thermal updraft bucked the plane hard, and he slid to the west a little. The light of the molten rock itself illuminated the banks of the channel, which appeared to be smoking lines of hills, very black. “I thought they were supposed to be glass,” Sax said.

“Obsidian. Actually I’ve seen some different colors. Swirls of various minerals in the glass.”

“How far does this bum extend?”

“They’re cutting from Cerberus to Hellas, running just west of Tyrrhena and Hadriaca volcanoes.”

Sax whistled.

“They say it will be a canal between the Hellas Sea and the northern ocean.”

“Yes, yes. But they’re volatilizing carbonates much too fast.”

“Thickens the atmosphere, right?”

“Yes, but with CO2! They’re wrecking the plan! -We won’t be able to breathe the atmosphere for years! We’ll be stuck in the cities.”

“Maybe they think they’ll be able to scrub the CO2 out when things are warmed up.” Desmond glanced at him. “Have you seen enough?”

“More than enough.”

Desmond laughed his unsettling laugh, and banked the plane sharply. They began to chase the terminator to the west, flying low over the long shadows of the dawn terrain.

“Think about it, Sax. For a while people are forced to stay in the cities, which is convenient if you want to keep control of things. You burn cuts with this flying magnifying glass, and fairly quickly you have your one-bar atmosphere, and your warm wet planet. Then you have some method for scrubbing the air of carbon dioxide-they must have something in mind, industrial or biological or both. Something they can sell, no doubt. And presto, you have another Earth, and very quickly. It might be expensive-”

“It’s definitely expensive! All these big projects must be setting the transnationals back by huge amounts, and they’re doing it even though we’re a good step on the way to two-seventy-three K. I don’t get it.”

“Maybe they feel two-seventy-three is too modest. An average of freezing is a bit chilly, after all. Kind of a Sax Russell vision of terraforming, you might call that. Practical, but…” He cackled. “Or maybe they’re feeling rushed. Earth is in a mess, Sax.”

“I know that,” Sax said sharply. “I’ve been studying it.”

“Good for you! No, really. So you kntiw that the people who haven’t got the treatment are getting desperate-they’re getting older, and their chances of ever getting it seem to be getting worse. And the people who have gotten the treatment, especially the ones at the top, are looking around trying to figure out what to do. Sixty-one taught them what can happen if things get out of control. So they’re buying up countries like bad mangoes at the end of market day. But it doesn’t seem to be helping. And here right next door they see a fresh empty planet, not quite ready for occupation, but close. Full of potential. It could be a new world. Beyond the reach of the untreated billions.”

Sax thought it over. “A kind of bolt-hole, you mean. To escape to if there’s trouble.”

“Exactly. I think there are people in these transnationals who want Mars terraformed just as quickly as possible, by any means necessary.”

“Ah,” Sax said. And was silent all the way back.

Desmond accompanied him back into Burroughs, and as they walked from South Station to Hunt Mesa, they could see across the treetops of Canal Park, through the slot between Branch Mesa and Table Mountain to Black Syrtis. “Are they really doing things as stupid as that all over Mars?” Sax said.

Desmond nodded. “I will bring you a list next time.”

“Do that.” Sax shook his head as he pondered it. “It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t take into account the long run.”

“They are short-run thinkers.”

“But they’re going to live a long time! Presumably they’ll still be in charge when these policies collapse on them!”

“They may not see it that way. They change jobs a lot up at the top. They try to establish a reputation by building a company very quickly, then get hired upward somewhere else, then try to do it again. It’s musical chairs up there.”

“It won’t matter what chair they’re in, it’s the whole room that’s going to come down! They aren’t paying attention to the laws of physics!”

“Of course not! Haven’t you noticed that before, Sax?”

“… I guess not.”

Of course he had seen that human affairs were irrational and unexplainable. This no one could miss. But he realized now that he had been making the assumption that the people who involved themselves in governance were making a good-faith effort to run things in a rational manner, with a view to the long-term well-being of humanity and its biophysical support system. Desmond laughed at him as he tried to express this, and irritably he exclaimed, “But why else take on such compromised work, if not to that end?”

“Power,” Desmond said. “Power and gain.”


Sax had always been so uninterested in those things that it was hard for him to understand why anyone else would be. What was personal gain but the freedom to do what you wanted to do? And what was power but the freedom to do what you wanted to do? And once you had that freedom, any more wealth or power actually began to restrict one’s options, and reduce one’s freedom. One became a servant of one’s wealth or power, constrained to spend all one’s time protecting it. So that properly seen, the freedom of a scientist with a lab at his command was the highest freedom possible. Any more wealth and power only interfered with that.

Desmond was shaking his head as Sax described this philosophy. “Some people like to tell others what to do. They like that more than freedom. Hierarchy, you know. And their place in the hierarchy. As long as it’s high enough. Everyone bound into their places. It’s safer than freedom. And a lot of people are cowards.”

Sax shook his head. “I think it’s simply an inability to understand the concept of diminishing returns. As if there can never be too much of a good thing. It’s very unrealistic. I mean, there is no process in nature that is a constant irrespective of quantity!”

“Speed of light.”

“Bah., Irrelevant. Physical reality is clearly not a factor in these calculations.”

“Well put.”

Sax shook his head, frustrated. “Religion again. Or ideology. What was it Frank used to say? An imaginary relationship to a real situation?” . “There was a man who loved power.”


“But he was very imaginative.”

They stopped at Sax’s apartment and changed clothes, then-went up to the top of the mesa, to get breakfast at Antonio’s. Sax was still thinking about their discussion. “The problem is that people with a hypertrophied regard for wealth and power achieve positions that give them these gifts in excess, and then they find that they’re as much slaves to them as masters. And then they become dissatisfied and bitter.”

“Like Frank, you mean.”

“Yes. So the powerful almost always seem to have a dysfunctional aspect to them. Everything from cynicism to full-blown de-structiveness. They’re not happy.”

“But they are powerful.”

“Yes. And thus our problem. Human affairs”-Sax paused to eat one of the rolls just brought to their table; he was famished- “you know, they ought to be run according to principles of systems ecology.”

Desmond laughed out loud, hastily grabbing up a napkin to clean off his chin. He laughed so hard that people at other tables looked over at them, worrying Sax somewhat. “What a concept!” he cried, and started to laugh again. “Ah ha ha! Oh, my Saxifrage! Scientific management, eh?”

“Well, why not?” Sax said mulishly. “I mean, the principles governing the behavior of the dominant species in a stable ecosystem are fairly straightforward, as I recall. I’ll bet a council of ecol-ogists could construct a program that would result in a stable benign society!”

“If only you ran the world!” Desmond cried, and started laughing again. He put his face right down on the table and howled.

“Not just me.”

“No, I am joking.” He composed himself. “You know Vlad and Marina have been working on their eco-economics for years now. They have even had me using it in the trade between the underground colonies.”

“I didn’t know that,” Sax said, surprised.

Desmond shook his head. “You have to pay more attention, Sax. In the south we have lived by eco-economics for years now.”

“I’ll have to look into that.”

“Yes.” Desmond grinned widely, on the verge of cracking up yet again. “You have a lot to learn.”

Their orders arrived, with a carafe of orange juice, and Desmond poured their glasses full. He clinked his glass against Sax’s, offered a toast: “Welcome to the revolution!”

Desmond left for the South, having extracted a promise that Sax would pilfer what he could from Biotique for Hiroko. “I’ve got to go meet Nirgal.” He gave Sax a hug and was gone.

A month or so passed, during which Sax thought about all he had learned from Desmond and the videos, sifting through it slowly, getting more and more disturbed as he did. His sleep was still broken nearly every night by hours of wakefulness.

Then one morning after one of these restless, fruitless bouts of insomnia, Sax got a call on his wristpad. It was Phyllis, in town for meetings, and she wanted to get together for dinner.

Sax agreed, with his surprise and Stephen’s enthusiasm. He met her that evening, at Antonio’s. They kissed in the European style, and were led to one of the corner tables, overlooking the city. There they ate a meal that Sax scarcely noticed, talking inconsequentially about the latest events in Sheffield and Biotique.

After cheesecake they lingered over brandies. Sax was in no hurry to leave, as he was not sure what Phyllis had in mind for afterward. She had given no clear sign, and she seemed in no hurry either.

Now she leaned back in her chair, and regarded him cheerfully. “It really is you, isn’t it.”

Sax tilted his head to indicate his incomprehension.

Phyllis laughed. “It’s hard to believe, really. You were never like this in the old days, Sax Russell. I wouldn’t have guessed in a hundred years that you would be such a lover.”

Sax squinted uncomfortably and looked around. “I would hope that says more about you than me,” he said with Stephen’s insouciance. The nearby tables were all empty, and the waiters were leaving them alone. The restaurant would close in a half hour or so.

Phyllis laughed again, but her eyes had a hard look to them, and suddenly Sax saw that she was angry. Embarrassed, no doubt, at being fooled by a man she had known for some eighty years. And angry that he had decided to fool her. And why not? It showed a very fundamental lack of trust, after all, especially from someone who was sleeping with you. The bad faith of his behavior at Arena was coming back to him with a vengeance, making him quite queasy. But what to do about it?

He recalled that moment in the elevator when she had kissed him, when he had been similarly nonplussed. Taken aback first by her nonrecognition, and now by her recognition. It had a certain symmetry. And both times he had gone along with it.

“Don’t you have anything more to say?” Phyllis demanded.

He spread his hands. “What makes you think this?”

Again she laughed angrily, then regarded him with lips tight. “It’s so easy to see it now,” she said. “They just gave you a nose and a chin, I suppose. But the eyes are the same, and the head shape. It’s funny what you remember and what you forget.”

“That’s true.”

Actually it was not a matter of forgetting, but of being unable to recollect. Sax suspected the memories were still there, in storage.

“I can’t really remember your old face,” Phyllis said. “To me you were always in a lab with your nose pressing a screen. You might as well have worn a white lab coat, that’s the way I see you in my memories. A kind of giant lab rat.” Now her eyes were glittering. “But somewhere along the line you managed to learn to imitate ! human behavior pretty well, didn’t you? Well enough to fool an old friend who liked the way you looked.”

“We are not old friends.”

“No,” she snapped. “I guess we’re not. You and your old tried to kill me. And they did kill thousands of other people, and destroyed most of this planet. And obviously they’re still out there, or else you wouldn’t be here, would you. In fact they must be pretty widespread, because when I ran a DNA check on your sperm, the official TA records had you as Stephen Lindholm. That put me off the trail for a while. But there was something about you that made me wonder. When we fell in that crevasse. That did it — it reminded me of something that happened when we were in Antarctica. You and Tatiana Durova and I were up on Nussbaum Riegel when Ta-tiana tripped and sprained her ankle, and it got windy and late and they had to helicopter us back down to the base, and while we were waiting, you found some kind of rock lichen …”

Sax shook his head, truly surprised. “I don’t remember that.” And he didn’t. The year of training and evaluation in Antarctica’s dry valleys had been intense, but now the entire year was a dim blur to him, and that incident would not come back at all; it was hard to believe it had happened. He couldn’t even remember what poor Tatiana Durova had looked like.

Absorbed in his thoughts, and in a concerted push for his memories of that year, he missed a bit of what Phyllis was saying, but then he caught “… checked again with one of my old copies of my AFs memory, and there you were.”

“Your AI’s memory units may be degrading,” he said absently. “They’re finding that the circuitry tends to get scrambled by cosmic radiation if it isn’t reinforced from time to time.”

She ignored that weak sally. “The point is, people who can change Transitional Authority records like that are still worth watching out for. I’m afraid I can’t just let this pass. Even if I wanted to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. It depends what you do. You could just tell me where you were hiding, and who with, and what’s going on. You just showed up at Biotique a year ago, after all. Where were you before that?”

“On Earth.”

Her smile had a bad twist to it. “If that’s the course you take, I’ll be forced to ask for help from some of my associates. There are security people in Kasei Vallis who will be able to refresh your memory.”

“Come on.”

“I don’t mean that metaphorically. They won’t beat the information out of you or anything like that. It’s more a matter of extraction. They put you under, stimulate the hippocampus and the amygdala, and ask questions. People simply answer.”

Sax considered this. The mechanisms of memory were still very poorly understood, but no doubt something crude could be applied to the areas they knew were involved. Fast MRI, point-specific ultrasound, who knew what. It would surely be dangerous, however…

“Well?” Phyllis said.

He stared at her smile, so angry and triumphant. A sneer. Random thoughts nickered through his mind, images without words: Desmond, Hiroko, the kids in Zygote shouting Why, Sax, why? He had to hold his face steady to keep it from revealing his dislike for her, suddenly pouring through him in a wave. Perhaps this.sort of distaste was what people called hatred.

After a time he cleared his throat. “I suppose I’d rather just tell you.”

She nodded firmly, as if this was the decision she would have made herself. She looked around: the whole restaurant was empty now, the waiters sitting at one table, nursing glasses of grappa. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go to my offices.”

Sax nodded and rose stiffly. His right leg had gone asleep. He limped after her. They said good-night to the mobilizing waiters and left.

They got into the elevator, and Phyllis punched the button for the subway level. The door closed and they dropped. In an elevator again; Sax took a deep breath, then jerked his head down as if to look at something unusual on the control panel. Phyllis followed his gaze and with a jerky motion he slugged her on the side of the jaw. She crashed into the side of the elevator and collapsed in a heap, dazed and breathing in gasps. The two middle knuckles of his right hand hurt horribly. He hit the button for the floor two above the subway, which had a long passageway through Hunt Mesa, lined with shops that would be closed at this hour. He grabbed Phyllis by the armpits and hauled her up; she was taller than him, loose and heavy, and when the elevator door opened, he prepared himself to shout for help. But no one stood outside the door, and he pulled one of her arms over his neck and dragged her over to one of the little carts that sat by the elevator for the convenience of people who wanted to cross the mesa quickly, or with a load. He dumped her onto the backseat and she groaned, sounding as if she was coming to. He sat down ahead of her in the driver’s seat and stomped the accelerator pedal to the floor, and the little vehicle hummed down the hallway. He found he was breathing hard, and sweating.

He passed a pair of rest rooms, and stopped the cart. Phyllis rolled helplessly off the seat and onto the floor, moaning louder than ever. Soon she would regain consciousness, if she hadn’t already. He got out and ran over to see if the men’s room was unlocked. It was, so he ran to the cart and pulled Phyllis up by the shoulders, up and over his back. He staggered under her weight until he reached the men’s room door, then flopped her down; her head cracked against the concrete floor, and her moaning stopped. He opened the door and pulled her through it, then closed and locked it.

He sat on the bathroom floor beside her, gasping. She was still breathing, and her pulse was shallow but steady. She seemed okay, but knocked out even more definitively than when he had hit her. Her skin was pale and damp, and her mouth hung open. He felt sorry for her, until he remembered her threat to give him to security technicians, to tear his secrets out of him. Their methods were advanced, but still it was torture. And if they had succeeded they would know about the refuges in the south, and all the rest. Once they had a general idea of what he knew, they could coax the specifics out of him; it wouldn’t be possible to resist their combinations of drugs and behavior modification.

And even now Phyllis knew too much. The fact that he had such a good false ID implied a whole infrastructure that up until now had been hidden. Once they knew of its existence, they could probably ferret it out. Hiroko, Desmond, Spencer who was deep in the system in Kasei Vallis, all exposed … Nirgal and Jackie, Peter, Ann … all of them. Because he had not been clever enough to avoid a stupid awful woman like Phyllis.

He looked around the men’s room. It was the size of two toilet stalls, one stall with a toilet, the other with a sink, a mirror, and the usual wall of dispensers: sterility pills, recreational gases. He stared at these, catching his breath and thinking things over. As plans tumbled in his mind he whispered instructions to the AI in his wristpad. Desmond had given him some very destructive viral programs, and he plugged his wristpad into Phyllis’s, and waited for the transfers to take place. With luck he could crash her entire system: personal security measures were nothing against Desmond’s military-based viruses, or so Desmond claimed.

But there was still Phyllis. The recreational gases in the wall dispenser were mostly nitrous oxide, in individual inhalers containing about two or three cubic meters of gas. The room was, he judged, about thirty-five or forty cubic meters. The ventilation grill was next to the ceiling, and could be blocked with a strip of the towel, on its roll by the sink.

He stuck money cards in the dispenser and bought all the recreational gases in it: twenty little pocket-sized bottles, with nose-and-mouth masks. And nitrous oxide would be slightly heavier than Burroughs air.

He took the little scissors out of the key compartment on his wristpad, and cut a sheet out of the continuous roll of towel. He climbed onto the toilet tank and covered the ventilation grill, stuffing the sheet into the slits. There were still gaps, but they were small. He climbed back down and went over to the door. There was a gap at the bottom of the door, almost a centimeter tall. He cut some more strips from the towel. Phyllis was snoring. He went to the door, opened it, kicked the gas bottles out and stepped out after them. He took one last look at Phyllis, prone on the floor, and then closed the door. He stuffed the towel strips under the door, leaving only a small opening at one comer. Then, after glancing up and down the hall, he sat down and took a bottle and shaped the flexible mask to the hole he had left, and shot the contents of the bottle into the men’s room. He did that twenty times, stuffing the empty bottles in his pockets until they were full, and then making a little satchel for the remainder out of the last strip of towel. He got up and clanked over to the cart and sat down in the driver’s seat. He stepped on the accelerator and the cart jerked forward, in a movement the opposite of the sudden stop that had thrown Phyllis off the back-seat and onto the floor. That would have hurt.

He stopped the cart. He got out and ran back to the men’s room, clinking and clanking. He jerked open the door, walked in holding his breath, and grabbed Phyllis’s ankles and hauled her out into the air. She was still breathing, and had a little smile on her face. Sax resisted the impulse to kick her, and ran back to the cart.

He drove to the other side of Hunt Mesa at full speed, and then took the elevator there down to the subway level. He got on the next subway train, and waited out the trip across town to South Station. He observed that his hands were trembling, and the two big knuckles on his right hand were swollen and turning blue. They hurt a good deal.

At the station he bought a ticket south, but when he gave the ticket and his ID to the ticket-taker at the track entrance, the man’s eyes went round and he and his associates actually pulled their pistols to make the arrest, calling out nervously for help from people in another room. Apparently Phyllis had come to faster than his calculations had led him to expect.



Biogenesis is in the first place psychogenesis. This truth was never more manifest than on Mars, where noosphere preceded biosphere — the layer of thought first enwrapping the silent planet from afar, inhabiting it with stones and plans and dreams, until the moment when John stepped out and said Here we are — from which point of ignition the green force spread like wildfire, until the whole planet was pulsing with viriditas. It was as if the planet itself had felt something missing, and at the tap of mind against rock, noosphere against lithosphere, the absent biosphere had sprung into the gap with the startling suddenness of a magician’s paper flower.

Or so it seemed to Michel Duval, who was passionately devoted to every sign of life in the rust waste; who had seized Hiroko’s areophany with the fervor of a drowning man thrown a buoy. It had given him a new way of seeing. To practice this sight he had taken on Ann’s habit of walking outside in the hour before sunset, and in the long-shadowed landscapes he found every patch of grass a piercing delight. In each little tangle of sedge and lichen he saw a miniature Provence.

This was his task, as he now conceived it: the hard work of reconciling the centrifugal antinomy of Provence and Mars. He felt that in this project he was part of a long tradition, for recently in his studies he had noticed that the history of French thought was dominated by attempts to resolve extreme antinomies. For Descartes it had been mind and body, for Sartre, Freudianism and Marxism, for Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and evolution — the list could be extended, and it seemed to him that the particular quality of French philosophy, its heroic tension and its tendency to be a long march of magnificent failures, came from this repeated attempt to yoke together impossible opposites. Perhaps they were all, including his, attacks on the same problem, the struggle to knit together spirit and matter. And perhaps this was why French thought had so often welcomed complex rhetorical apparatuses such as the semantic rectangle, structures which might bind these centrifugal oppositions in nets strong enough to hold them.

So now it was Michel’s work patiently to knit green spirit and rust matter, to discover the Provence in Mars. Crustose lichen, for instance, made parts of the red plain look as if they were being plated with apple jade. And now, in the lucid indigo evenings (the old pink skies had made grass look brown), the sky’s color allowed every blade of grass to radiate such pure greens that the little meadow lawns seemed to vibrate. The intense pressure of color on the retina … such delight.

And it was awesome as well, to see how fast this primitive biosphere had taken root, and flowered, and spread. There was an inherent surge toward life, a green electric snap between the poles of rock and mind. An incredible power, which here had reached in and touched the genetic chains, inserted sequences, created new hybrids, helped them to spread, changed their environments to help them grow. The natural enthusiasm of life for life was everywhere clear, how it struggled and so often prevailed; but now there were guiding hands as well, a noosphere bathing all from the start. The green force, bolting into the landscape with every touch of their fingertips.

So that human beings were miraculous indeed — conscious creators, walking this new world like fresh young gods, wielding immense alchemical powers. So that anyone Michel met on Mars he regarded curiously, wondering as he looked at their often innocuous exteriors what kind of new Paracelsus or Isaac of Holland stood before him, and whether they would turn lead to gold, or cause rocks to blossom.

The American rescued by Coyote and Maya was no more or less remarkable on first acquaintance than any other person Michel had met on Mars; more inquisitive perhaps, more ingenuous it seemed; a bulky shambling man with a swarthy face and a quizzical expression. But Michel was used to looking past that kind of surface to the transformative spirit within, and quickly he concluded that they had a mysterious man on their hands.

His name was Art Randolph, he said, and he had been salvaging useful materials from the fallen elevator. “Carbon?” Maya had asked. But he had missed or ignored her sarcastic tone and replied, “Yes, but also—” and he had rattled off a whole list of exotic brec-ciated minerals. Maya had only glared at him, but he had not appeared to notice. He only had questions. Who were they? What were they doing out there? Where were they taking him? What kind of cars were these? Were they really invisible from space? How did they get rid of their thermal signals? Why did they need to be invisible from space? Could they be part of the legendary lost colony? Were they part of the Mars underground? Who were they, anyway?

No one was quick to answer these questions, and it was Michel

who finally said to him, “We are Martians. We live out here on our own.”

“The underground. Incredible. I would have said you guys were a myth, to tell you the truth. This is great.”

Maya only rolled her eyes, and when their guest asked to be dropped off at Echus Overlook, she laughed nastily and said, “Get serious.”

“What do you mean?”

Michel explained to him that as they could not release him without revealing their presence, they might not be able to release him at all.

“Oh, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Maya laughed again.

Michel said, “It’s a matter that is too important for us to trust a stranger. And you might not be able to keep it a secret. You would have to explain.how you had gotten so far from your vehicle.”

“You could take me back to it.”

“We don’t like to spend time around things like that. We wouldn’t have come close to it if we hadn’t noticed you were in trouble.”

“Well, I appreciate it, but I must say this isn’t much of a rescue.”

“Better than the alternative,” Maya told him sharply,

“Very true. And I do appreciate it, really. But I promise I won’t tell anyone. And you know it isn’t as if people don’t know you’re out here. TV back home has shows about you all the time.”

Even Maya was silenced by that. They drove on, Maya got on their intercom and had a brief rapid exchange with Coyote, who was traveling in the rover ahead of them, with Kasei and Nirgal. Coyote was adamant; as they had saved the man’s life, they could certainly rearrange it for a time to keep themselves out of danger. Michel reported the gist of the exchange to their prisoner.

Randolph frowned briefly, then shrugged. Michel had never seen a faster adjustment to the rerouting of a life; the man’s sangfroid was impressive. Michel regarded him attentively, while also keeping one eye on the front camera screen. Randolph was already asking questions again, about the rover’s controls. He only made one more reference to his situation, after looking at the radio and intercom controls. “I hope you’ll let me send some kind of message to my company, so they’ll know I’m safe. I worked for Dumpmines, a part of Praxis. You and Praxis have a lot in common, really. They can be very secretive too. You ought to contact them just for your own sake, I swear. You must have some coded bands that you use, right?”

No response from Maya or Michel. And later, when Randolph had gone into the rover’s little toilet chamber, Maya hissed, “He’s obviously a spy. He was out there deliberately so we would pick him up.”

That was Maya. Michel did not try to argue with her, but only shrugged. “We’re certainly treating him like one.”

And then he was back out among them, and asking more questions. Where did they live? What was it like hiding all the time? Michel began to be amused at what seemed more and more like a performance, or even a test; Randolph appeared perfectly open, ingenuous, friendly, his swarthy face almost that of a moon-calf simpleton — and yet his eyes watched them very carefully, and with every unanswered question he looked more interested and more pleased, as if their answers were coming to him by telepathy. Every human was a great power, every human on Mars an alchemist; and though Michel had given up psychiatry a long time ago, he could still recognize the touch of a master at work. He almost laughed at the growing urge he felt in himself, to confess everything to this hulking quizzical man, still clumsy in the Martian g.

Then their radio beeped, and a compresed message lasting no more than two seconds buzzed over the speakers. “See,” Randolph said helpfully, “you could get a message out to Praxis just like that.”

But when the AI finished running the message through the decryption sequence, there was no more joking. Sax had been arrested in Burroughs.

At dawn they drew up with Coyote’s car, and spent the day conferring about what to do. They sat in a cramped circle in the living compartment, their faces all lined and etched with worry — all except their prisoner, who sat between Nirgal and Maya. Nirgal had shaken hands with him and nodded as if they were old friends, although neither had said a word. But the language of friendship was not in words.

The news about Sax had come from Spencer, by way of Nadia. Spencer was working in Kasei Vallis, which was a kind of new Korolyov, a security town, very sophisticated and at the same time very low-profile. Sax had been taken to one of the compounds

there, and Spencer had found out about it and made the call out to Nadia.

“We have to get him out,” Maya said, “and fast. They’ve only had him a couple days.”

“The Sax Russell?” Randolph was saying. “Wow. I can’t believe it. Who are you all, anyway? Hey, are you Maya Toitovna?”

Maya cursed him in livid Russian. Coyote ignored them all; he hadn’t said anything since the message had arrived, and was busy at his AI screen, looking at what appeared to be weather satellite photos.

“You might as well let me go,” Randolph said into the silence. “I couldn’t tell them anything they won’t get out of Russell.”

“He won’t tell them anything!” Kasei said hotly.

Randolph waggled a hand. “Scare him, maybe hurt him a little, put him under, plug him in, dope him up and zap his brain in the right places — they’ll get answers to whatever they ask. They’ve got it down to a science, as I understand it.” He was staring at Kasei. “You look familiar too. Never mind! Anyway, if they can’t tweak it out, they can usually do it more crudely.”

“How do you know all this?” Maya demanded.

“Common knowledge,” Randolph said. “So maybe it’s all wrong, but…”

“I want to go get him,” Coyote said.

“But they’ll know we’re out here,” Kasei said.

“They know that anyway. What they don’t know is where we are.”

“Besides,” Michel said, “it’s our Sax.”

Coyote said, “Hiroko won’t object.”

“If she does, tell her to fuck off!” Maya exclaimed. “Tell her shikata ga nai!”

“It would be my pleasure,” Coyote said.

The western and northern slopes of the Tharsis bulge were unpopulated relative to the eastern drop to Noctis Labyrinthus; there were a few areothermal stations and aquifer wells, but much of the region was covered in a year-round blanket of snow and fim and young glaciers. Winds out of the south collided with the strong northwest winds coming around Olympus Mons, and the blizzards could be fierce. The protoglacial zone extended up from the six-or seven-kilometer contour nearly to the base of the great volcanoes; it was not a good place to build, nor was it a good place for stealth cars to hide. They drove hard over the sastrugi and along ropy lava mounds that served as roads, north past the bulk of Tharsis Tholus, a volcano that was about the size of Mauna Loa, though under the rise of Ascraeus it looked like a cinder cone. The next night they made it off the snow and northeast across Echus Chasma, and hid for the day under the stupendous eastern wall of Echus, just a few kilometers north of Sax’s old headquarters at the top of the cliff.

The east wall of Echus Chasma was the Great Escarpment at its absolute greatest — a cliff three kilometers tall, running in a straight line north and south for a thousand kilometers. The areologists were still arguing over its origin, as no ordinary force of landscape formation seemed adequate to have created it. It was simply a break in the fabric of things, separating the floor of Echus Chasma from the high plateau of Lunae Planum. Michel had visited Yosemite Valley in his youth, and he still recalled those towering granite cliffs; but this wall standing before them was as long as the whole state of California, and three kilometers high for most of that length: a vertical world, its massive planes of redrock staring out blankly to the west, glowing in each empty sunset like the side of a continent.

At its northern end this incredible cliff finally became less tall, and less steep, and just above 20° North it was cut by a deep broad channel, which ran east through Lunae plateau, down onto the Chryse basin. This big canyon was Kasei Vallis, one of the clearest manifestations of ancient flooding anywhere on Mars. A single glance at a satellite photo and it was obvious that a very large flood had run down Echus Chasma once upon a time, until it reached a break in its great eastern wall, perhaps a graben. The water had turned right down this valley and smashed through it with fantastic force, eroding the entrance until it was a smooth curve, slopping over the outside bank of the turn and ripping at joints in the rock until they were a complex gridwork of narrow canyons. A central ridge in the main valley had been shaped into a long lemniscate or tear-shaped island, the shape as hydrodynamic as a fishback. The inner bank of the fossil watercourse was incised by two canyons that had been mostly untouched by water, ordinary fossae that showed what the main channel had probably looked like before the flood. Two late meteor strikes on the highest part of the inner bank had completed the shaping of the terrain, leaving fresh steep craters.

From the ground, driving slowly onto the rise of the outer bank, it was a rounded elbow of a valley, with the lemniscate ridge, and the round ramparts of the craters on the rise of the inner bank, the most prominent features. It was an attractive landscape, reminiscent of the Burroughs region in its spatial majesty, the great sweep of the main channel just begging to be filled with running water, which no doubt would be a shallow braided stream, coursing over pebbles and cutting new beds and islands every week…

But now it was the site for the transnationals’ security compound. The two craters on the inner bank had been tented, as had big sections of the gridwork terrain on the outer bank, and part of the main channel on both sides of the lemniscate island; but none of this work was ever shown on the video, or mentioned in the news. It was not even on the maps.

Spencer had been there since the beginning of construction, however, and his infrequent reports out had told them what the new town was for. These days almost all the people found guilty of crimes on Mars were sent out to the asteroid belt, to work off their sentences in mining ships. But there were people in the Transitional Authority who wanted a jail on Mars itself, and Kasei Vallis was it.

Outside the valley entrance they hid their boulder cars in a knot of boulders, and Coyote studied weather reports. Maya fumed at the delay, but Coyote shrugged her off. “This isn’t going to be easy,” he told her sternly, “and it isn’t possible at all except in certain circumstances. We need to wait for some reinforcements to arrive, and we need to wait on the weather. This is something Spencer and Sax himself helped me to set up, and it is very clever, but the initial conditions have to be right.”

He returned to his screens, ignoring them all, talking to himself or to the screens, his dark thin face flickering in their light. Alchemist indeed, Michel thought, muttering as if over alembic or crucible, working his transmutations on the planet… a great power. And now focused on the weather. Apparently he had discovered some prevailing patterns in the jet stream, tied to certain anchoring points in the landscape. “It’s a question of the vertical scale,” he said brusquely to Maya, who with all her questions was beginning to sound like Art Randolph. “This planet has a thirty-k span top to bottom. Thirty thousand meters! So there are strong winds.”

“Like the mistral,” Michel offered.

“Yes. Katabatic winds. And one of the strongest of them drops off the Great Escarpment here.”

The prevailing winds in the region, however, were westerlies. When these hit the Echus cliff, towering updrafts resulted, and flyers living in Echus Overlook took advantage of them for sport, flying all day in gliders or birdsuits. But fairly frequently cyclonic systems came by, bringing winds from the east, and when that happened cold air ran over the snow-covered Lunae plateau, scouring snow and becoming denser and colder, until the entire drainage area was funneled out through notches in the great cliffs edge, and the winds then fell like an avalanche.

Coyote had studied these katabatic winds for some time, and his calculations had led him to believe that when conditions were right — sharp temperature contrasts, a developed storm track east to west across the plateau — then very slight interventions in certain places would cause the downdrafts to turn into vertical typhoons, smashing down into Echus Chasma and blasting north and south with immense power. When Spencer had identified for them the nature and purpose of the new settlement in Kasei Vallis, Coyote had immediately decided to try to create the means to effect these interventions.

“Those idiots built their prison in a wind tunnel,” he muttered at one point, in answer to Maya’s inquisition. “So we built a fan. Or rather a switch to turn the fan on. We dug in some silver nitrate dispensers at the top of the cliff. Big monster jet hoses. Then some lasers to burn the air just over the flow zone. That creates an unfavorable pressure gradient, damming up the normal outflow so that it’s stronger when it finally breaks through. And explosives installed all down the cliff face, to push dust into the wind and make it heavier. See, wind heats up as it falls, and that would slow it down some if it weren’t so full of snow and dust. I climbed down that cliff five times to set it all up, you should have seen it. Set some fans as well. Of course the power of the whole apparatus is negligible compared to the total wind force, but sensitive dependence is the whole key to weather, you see, and our computer modeling located the spots to push the initial conditions the way we want. Or so we hope.”

“You haven’t tried it?” Maya asked.

Coyote stared at her. “We tried it in the computer. It works fine. If we get initial conditions of hundred-and-fifty kilometer cyclonic winds over Lunae, you’ll see.”

“They must know about these katabatic winds in Kasei,” Randolph pointed out.

“They do. But what they calculated as once-a-millennium winds, we think we can create any time the initial conditions are there on top.”

“Guerrilla climatology,” Randolph said, eyes bugged out. “What do you call that, climatage? Attack meteorology?”

Coyote pretended to ignore him, although Michel saw a brief grin through the dreadlocks.

But his system would only work with the proper initial conditions. There was nothing to do but sit and wait, and hope they developed.

During these long hours it seemed to Michel that Coyote was trying to project himself through his screen, out into the sky. “Come on,” the wiry little man urged under his breath, nose against glass. “Push, push, push. Come over that hill, you bastard wind. Tuck and turn, spiral tight. Come on!”

He wandered the darkened car when the rest of them were trying to sleep, muttering, “Look, yes, look,” and pointing at features of satellite photos that none of the rest of them could see. He sat brooding over scrolling meteorological data, chewing on bread and cursing, whistling like a wind. Michel lay on his narrow cot, head propped on his hand, watching in fascination as the wild man prowled through the dimness of the car, a small, shadowy, secretive, shamanesque figure. And the bearish lump of their prisoner, one eye agleam, was likewise awake to witness this nocturnal scene, rubbing his scruffy jaw with an audible rasping, glancing at Michel as the whispering continued. “Come on, damn you, come on. Shoooooooooo … Blow like an October hurricane …”

Finally, at sunset on their second day of waiting, Coyote stood and stretched like a cat. “The winds have come.”

During the long wait some Reds had driven from Mareotis to aid in the rescue, and Coyote had worked out a plan of attack with them, based on information Spencer had sent out. They were going to split up, and come on the town from several angles. Michel and Maya were to drive one car onto the cracked terrain of the outer bank, where they could hide at the foot of a small mesa within sight of the outer-bank tents. One of these tents contained a medical clinic where Sax was being taken some of the time, a fairly low-security place according to Spencer, at least compared to the holding compound on the inner bank, where Sax was being kept between sessions in the clinic. His schedule was staggered, and Spencer could not be sure which location he would be in at any given time. So when the wind hit, Michel and Maya were going to enter the outer-bank tent and meet Spencer, who would be there ready to guide them to the clinic. The bigger car, with Coyote, Kasei, Nirgal, and Art Randolph, was going to converge, with some of the Reds from Mareotis, on the inner bank. Other Red cars would be doing their best to make the raid look like a full-scale attack from all directions, particularly the east. “We will make the rescue,” Coyote said, frowning at his screens. “The wind will make the attack.”

So the next morning Maya and Michel sat in their car, waiting for the winds to arrive. They had a view down the slope of the outer bank to the big lemniscate ridge. Through the day they could see into the green bubble worlds under the tents on the outer bank and the ridge — little terrariums, overlooking the red sandy sweep of the valley, connected by clear transit tubes and one or two arching bridge tubes. It looked like Burroughs some forty years before, patches of a city growing to fill a big desert arroyo.

Michel and Maya slept; ate; sat; watched. Maya paced the car. She had been getting more nervous every day, and now she padded about like a caged tigress that has smelled the blood of a meal. Static electricity jumped off her fingertips as she caressed Michel’s neck, making her touch painful. It was impossible to calm her down; Michel stood behind her when she sat in the pilot’s chair, massaging her neck and shoulders as she had his, but it was like trying to knead blocks of wood, and he could feel his arms getting tense from the contact.

Their talk was disconnected and desultory, wandering in random jumps of free association. In the afternoon they found themselves talking for an hour about the days in Underhill — about Sax, and Hiroko, and even Frank and John.

“Do you remember when one of the vaulted chambers collapsed?”

“No,” she said irritably. “I don’t. Do you remember the time Ann and Sax had that big argument about the terraforming?”

“No,” Michel said with a sigh, “I can’t say I do.” They could go back and forth like that for a long time, until it seemed they had lived in completely different Underhills. When they both remembered an event, it was cause for cheer. All the First Hundred’s memories were growing spotty, Michel had noticed, and it seemed to him that most of them recalled their childhoods on Earth better than they did their first years on Mars. Oh, they remembered their own biggest events, and the general shape of the story; but the little incidents that somehow stuck in mind were different for everyone. Memory retention and recollection were getting to be big clinical and theoretical problems in psychology, exacerbated by the unprecedented longevities now being achieved. Michel had read some of the literature on it from time to time, and though he had long ago given up the clinical practice of therapy, he still asked questions of his old comrades in a kind of informal experiment, as he did now with Maya: Do you remember this, do you remember that? No, no, no. What do you remember?

The way Nadia bossed us around, Maya said, which made him smile. The way the bamboo floors felt underfoot. And do you remember the time she screamed at the alchemists? Why no! he said. On and on it went, until it seemed that the private Underhills they inhabited were separate universes, Riemannian spaces that intersected each other only at the plane at infinity, each of them meanwhile wandering in the long reach of his or her own idiocosmos. “I hardly remember any of it,” Maya said at last, darkly. “I can still barely stand to think of John. And Frank too. I try not to: And then something will trigger something, and I’ll be lost to everything else while I remember it. Those kinds of memories are as intense as if what you remember only happened an hour before! Or as if it were happening again.” She shuddered under his hands. “I hate them. Do you know what I mean?”

“Of course. Memoire involuntaire. But I remember also that the very same thing happened to me when we were living in Underhill. So it isn’t just getting old.”

“No. It’s life. What we can’t forget. Still, I can .hardly look at Kasei …”

“I know. Those children are strange. Hiroko is strange.” “She is. But were you happy, then? After you left with her?” “Yes.” Michel thought back on it, working hard to recall. Recollection was certainly the weak link in the chain… “I was, certainly. It was a matter of admitting things I had tried to suppress in Underbill. That we are animals. That we are sexual creatures.” He kneaded her shoulders harder than ever, and she rolled them under his hands.

“I didn’t need reminding of that,” she said with a short laugh. “And did Hiroko give that back to you?”

“Yes. But not just Hiroko. Evgenia, Rya — all of them, really. Not directly, you know. Well, sometimes directly. But just in admitting that we had bodies, that we were bodies. Working together, seeing and touching each other. I needed that. I was really having trouble. And they managed to connect it to Mars as well. You never seemed to have trouble with that part either, but I did, I really did. I was sick. Hiroko saved me. For her it was a sensuous matter to make our home and food out of Mars. A kind of making love to it, or impregnating it, or midwifing it — in any case, a sensuous act. It was this that saved me.”

“This and their bodies, Hiroko’s and Evgenia’s and Rya’s.” She looked over her shoulder at him with a wicked grin, and he laughed. “That you remember well enough, I bet.”

“Well enough.”

It was midday, but to the south, up the long throat of Echus Chasma, the sky was darkening. “Maybe the wind is coming at last,” Michel said.

Clouds topped the Great Escarpment, a tall mass of highly turbulent cumulonimbus clouds, their black bottoms flickering with lightning, striking the top of the cliff. The air in the chasm was hazy, and the tents of Kasei Vallis were defined sharply under this haze, little blisters of clear air standing over the buildings and curiously still trees, like glass paperweights dropped on the windy desert. It was only just past noon. They would have to wait until dark even if the winds did come. Maya stood and paced again, radiating energy, muttering to herself in Russian, ducking down to take looks out of their low windows. Gusts were picking up and striking the car, whistling and keening over the broken rock at the foot of the little mesa behind them.

Maya’s impatience made Michel nervous. It really was like being trapped with a wild beast. He slumped down in one of the drivers’ seats, looking up at the clouds rolling off the Escarpment. Martian gravity allowed thunderheads to tower tremendous heights into the sky, and these immense white anvil-topped masses, along with the stupendous cliff face under them, made the world seem surrealistically big. They were ants in such a landscape, they were the little red people themselves.

Certainly they would make the rescue attempt that night; they had had to wait too long as it was. On one of her restless turns Maya stopped behind him again, and took the muscles between his shoulders and neck and squeezed them. The squeezes sent great shocks of sensation down his back and flanks, and then along the insides of his thighs. He flexed in her clutches, and turned in the rotating seat so that he could put his arms around her waist, and his ear against her sternum. She continued to work his shoulders, and he felt his pulse pumping in him, and his breath grow short. She leaned over and kissed the top of his head. They worked their way against each other until they were tightly wrapped together, Maya kneading his shoulders all the while. For a long time they stayed like that.

Then they moved back into the living compartment of the car, and made love. Tight with apprehension as they both were, they fell into it with intensity. No doubt the talk of Underhill had started this; Michel recalled vividly his illicit lusts for Maya in those years, and buried his face in her silvery hair, and tried his best to merge with her, to climb right into her. Such a big feline animal she was, pushing back in an equally wild attempt to take him in, which effort carried him completely away. It was good to be by themselves, to be free to disappear into surprised ravishment, nothing but a series of moans and yelps and electric rushes of sensation.

Afterward he lay on her, still inside her, and she held his face and stared at him. “In Underhill I loved you,” he said.

“In Underhill,” she said slowly, “I loved you too. Truly. I never did anything about it because I would have felt foolish, what with John and Frank. But I loved you. That was why I was so angry at you when you left. You were my only friend. You were the only one I could talk with honestly. You were the only one who really listened to me.”

Michel shook his head, remembering. “I didn’t do a very good job of that.”

“Maybe not. But you cared about me, didn’t you? It wasn’t just your job?”

“Oh no! I loved you, yes. It is never just a job with you, Maya. Not for anyone or anything.”

“Flatterer,” she said, pushing him. “You always did that. You tried to put the best interpretation on all the horrible things I did.” She laughed shortly.

“Yes. But they weren’t so horrible.”

“They were.” She pursed her mouth. “But then you disappeared!” She slapped his face lightly. “You left me!”

“I left, anyway. I had to.”

Her mouth tightened unhappily, and she looked past him, into the deep chasm of all their years. Sliding back down the sine curve of her moods, into something darker and deeper. Michel watched it happen with a sweet resignation. He had been happy for a very long time; and just in that expression on her face, he could see that he would, if he stayed with this, be trading his happiness — at least that particular happiness — for her. His “optimism by policy” was going to become more of an effort, and he would now have another antinomy to reconcile in his life, as centrifugal as Provence and Mars — which was simply Maya and Maya.

They lay side by side, each in his or her own thoughts, looking outside and feeling the rover bounce on its shock absorbers. The wind was still rising, the dust now pouring down Echus Chasma and then Kasei Vallis, in a ghostly mimicry of the great outflow that had first carved the channel. Michel pushed up to check the screens. “Up to two hundred kilometers per hour.” Maya grunted. Winds had been far faster in the old days, but with the atmosphere so much thicker, these slower speeds were deceptive; present-day gales were much more forceful than the old insubstantial screamers.

Clearly they would go in tonight, it was only a matter of getting Coyote’s bursted signal. So they lay back down together and waited, tense and relaxed at the same time, giving each other thorough massages to pass the time and relieve the tension, Michel marveling throughout at the catlike grace of Maya’s long muscular body, ancient by the dates, but in most respects the same as ever. As beautiful as ever.

Then finally sunset stained the hazy air, and the monumental clouds to the east, clouds which now covered the cliff face. They got up and sponged down, and ate a meal, and dressed and sat in the drivers’ seats, getting nervous again as the quartz sun disappeared and the stormy twilight fell away.

In file dark the wind was sheer noise, and an irregular trembling of the rover on its stiff shock absorbers. Gusts buffeted the car so hard.that it was sometimes held down against the full crush of the shocks for seconds at a time, the car struggling to rise on the springs and failing, like an animal fighting to free itself from the bottom of a stream. Then the gust would let off and the car would jerk up wildly. “Are we going to be able to walk in this?” Maya asked.

“Hmm.” Michel had been out in some hard blows before, but in the dark one couldn’t be sure if this was worse than those or not. It certainly seemed like it, and the rover anemometer was now registering gusts of 230 kilometers per hour, but in the lee of their little mesa it was unclear whether these represented true maxi-mums or not.

He checked the fines gauge, and was not surprised to find it was now a full-blown dust storm as well. “Let’s drive down closer,” Maya said. “It will get us there quicker, and make it easier to relocate the car as well.”

“Good idea.”

They sat in the drivers’ seats and took off. Out of the shelter of the mesa, the wind was ferocious. At one point the bouncing grew so severe it felt as if they might be flipped over, and if they had been side-on to the wind, they might have been; as it was, with the wind behind them, they rolled on at fifteen kilometers per hour when they should have been going ten, and the motor hummed unhappily as it braked the car from going even faster. “This is too much wind, isn’t it?” Maya asked.

“ I don’t think Coyote has much control over it.”

“Guerrilla climatology,” Maya said with a snort. “That man is a spy, I’m sure of it.”

“I don’t think so.”

The cameras showed nothing but a starless black rush. The car’s AI was guiding them by dead reckoning, and on the screen’s map they were shown within two kilometers from the outer bank’s southernmost tent. “We’d better walk from here,” Michel said.

“How will we find the car again?”

“We’ll have to get out the Ariadne thread.”

They suited up and got in the. lock. When the outer door slid open the air sucked out instantly, pulling them hard. The wind keened across the doorway.

They stepped out of the lock and were slammed by great blows to the back. One knocked Michel to his hands and knees, and he could just see through the dust to Maya, in the same position beside him. He reached back into the lock and took the thread reel in one hand, Maya’s hand in the other. He clipped the reel to his forearm.

By careful experiment they found they could stand if they stayed crouched forward, helmets at waist level and hands up and ready to catch themselves if they were knocked down. They stumbled ahead slowly, crashing down when strong gusts made it impossible to stand. The ground under them was just barely visible, and a knee striking a rock was all too possible. Coyote’s wind had indeed come down too strong. But there was nothing to be done about it. And clearly the inhabitants of the Kasei tents were not going to be out wandering around.

A gust knocked them down again, and Michel let the wind pour over him. It was hard to keep from being rolled. His wristpad was connected to Maya’s by a phone cord, and he said, “Maya, are you all right?”

“Yes. And you?”

“I’m okay.”

Though there seemed to be a small tear in his glove, over the ball of his thumb. He bunched his fist, felt the cold seeping up his wrist. Well, it wouldn’t be instant frostbite the way it used to be, nor pressure bruising. He took a suit patch from his wristpad compartment, stuck it on. “I think we’d better stay down like this.”

“We can’t crawl two kilometers!”

“We can if we have to.”

“But I don’t think we do. Just stay low, and be ready to go down.”


They stood again, bent double, and shuffled cautiously forward. Black dust flew past them with amazing rapidity. Michel’s navigation display lit his faceplate, down in front of his mouth: the first bubble tent was still a kilometer away, and to his astonishment the green numbers of the clock showed 11:15:16 — they had been out an hour. The howl of the wind made it hard to hear Maya, even with his intercom right against his ear. Over on the inner bank Coyote and the others, and the Red groups as well, were presumably making their raid on the living quarters — but there was no way of telling. They had to take it on faith that the shocking wind had not halted that part of the action, or slowed it down too much.

It was hard work to shuffle forward doubled over, connected by the telephone cord. On and on it went, until Michel’s thighs burned and his lower back hurt. Finally his navigation display indicated they were very close to the southernmost tent. They could see nothing of it. The wind became stronger than ever, and they crawled the final few hundred meters, over painfully hard bedrock. The clock numerals froze at 12:00:00. Sometime soon thereafter they banged into the concrete coping of the tent’s foundation. “Swiss timing,” Michel whispered. Spencer was expecting them in the timeslip, and they had thought they would have to wait at the wall until it came. He reached up and put a hand gently on the tent’s outermost layer. It was very taut, pulsing in time with the onslaught of air. “Ready?”

“Yes,” Maya said, her voice tight.

Michel took a small air gun from his thigh pocket. He could feel Maya doing the same. The guns were used with a variety of attachments, for everything from driving nails to giving inoculations; now they hoped to use them to break the tough and elastic fabrics of the tent.

They disconnected the phone cord between them, and put their two guns against the taut vibrating invisible wall. With a tap of the elbows they shot together.

Nothing happened. Maya plugged the phone cord back into her wrist. “Maybe we’ll have to slash it.”

“Maybe. Let’s put the two guns together, and try again. This material is strong, but still, with the wind …”

They disconnected, got set, tried it again — their arms were jerked over the coping, and they slammed into the concrete wall. A loud boom was followed by a lesser one, then a cascading roar, and a series of explosions. All four layers of the tent were peeling away, between two of the buttresses and maybe all across the south side, which would surely explode the whole thing. Dust was flying among the dimly lit buildings ahead of them. Windows were going dark as buildings lost lights; some appeared to be losing their windows to the sudden depressurization, although this was nowhere near as severe as it once would have been.

“You okay?” Michel said over the intercom. He could heard Maya’s breath sucking through her teeth. “Hurt my arm,” she said. Over the roar of the wind they could hear the high ringing of alarms. “Let’s find Spencer,” she said harshly. She pushed up and was blown violently over the coping, and Michel quickly followed, falling hard inside and rolling into her. “Come on,” she said. They stumbled into the prison city of Mars.

Inside the tent it was chaos. Dust made the air into a kind of black gel, pouring through the street in a fantastically fast torrent, shrieking so that Michel and Maya could just barely hear each other, even when they reconnected their phone line. Decompression had blown out some windows and even a wall, so that the streets were littered with shards of glass and chunks of concrete. They moved side by side, kicking ahead cautiously with every step, hands often touching to confirm positions. “Try your 1R heads-up display,” Maya recommended. .

Michel turned his on. The infrared display was nightmarish, the blown buildings glowing like green fires.

They came to the large central building that Spencer had said would contain Sax, and found it too was bright green all along one wall. Hopefully there were bulkheads protecting the underground clinic where Spencer had said Sax was being taken; if not their rescue attempt might already have killed their friend. All too possible, Michel judged; the surface floors of the building were wrecked.

And getting down onto the lower floors was going to be a problem. There was presumably a stairwell that functioned as an emergency lock, but it wasn’t going to be easy to locate it. Michel switched to the common band, and eavesdropped on a frantic discussion of trouble across the valley; the tent over the smaller of the two craters on the inner bank had blown away, and there were calls for help. Over the phone Maya said, “Let’s hide and see if someone comes out.”

They lay down behind a wall and waited, protected somewhat from the wind. Then before them a door banged open, and suited figures rushed down the street and disappeared. When they were gone Maya and Michel went to the door, and entered.

It was a hallway, still depressurized; but its lights were on, and a panel in one wall was lit up with red lights. It was an emergency lock, and quickly they closed the outer door and got the little space repressurized. They stood before the inner door, looking at each other through dusty faceplates. Michel wiped his clear with a glove and shrugged. Back in the rover they had discussed this moment, the crux of the operation; but there hadn’t been all that much they could foresee or plan, and now the moment was here, and the blood was flying in Michel’s veins as if impelled by the wind outside.

They disconnected the phone cord between them, took laser pistols that Coyote had given them from their thigh pockets. Michel hit the door pad, and it opened with a hiss. They were met by three men in suits but without helmets, looking scared. MicheJ and Maya shot them and they went down, twitching. Thunderbolts from the fingertips indeed.

They dragged the three men into a side room, and shut them in. Michel wondered if they had shot them too many times; cardiac arrhythmias were common when that happened. His body seemed to have expanded until it was constricted by his walker, and he was very hot, and breathing hard, and ferociously jumpy. Maya apparently felt the same, and she led the way down a hall, almost running. The hallway suddenly went dark. Maya turned on her headlamp, and they followed its dusty cone of light to the third door on the right, where Spencer had said Sax would be. It was locked.

Maya took a small explosive charge from her thigh pocket and placed it over the handle and lock, and they went back down the hall several meters. When she blew the charge the door slammed outward, propelled by air bursting out from inside. They ran in and found two men struggling to latch helmets onto their suits; when they saw Michel and Maya one reached for a waist holster while the other went for a desk console, but hampered by the necessity of getting their helmets secured, they accomplished neither of these tasks before the two intruders shot them. The men went down.

Maya went back and closed the door they had come through. They walked down another hall, the final one. They came to the door of another room, and Michel pointed. Maya held out her pistol in both hands, nodded her readiness. Michel kicked the door in and Maya rushed through with Michel close after her. There was a figure in suit and helmet standing by what looked like a surgical gurney, working over the head of a recumbent body. Maya shot the standing figure several times and it crashed down as if struck by fists, then rolled over the floor, contorted by muscular spasms.

They rushed to the man on the gurney. It was Sax, although Michel recognized him by his body rather than his face, which was a deathmask apparition, with two blackened eyes, and a mashed nose between them. He appeared unconscious at best. They worked to detach him from body restraints. There were electrodes stuck to several places on his shaved head, and Michel winced as Maya simply tore them all away. Michel pulled a thin emergency suit from his thigh pocket, and set about pulling it up over Sax’s inert legs and torso, manhandling him in his haste; but Sax didn’t even groan. Maya came back and took an emergency fabric headpiece and small tank out of Michel’s backpack, and they hooked them to Sax’s suit, and turned the suit on.

Maya’s hand was clutching Michel’s wrist so hard that he feared the bones would crack. She plugged her phone line back into his wrist. “Is he alive?”

“I think so. Let’s get him out of here, we can find out later.”

“Look what they’ve done to his face, those fascist murderers.”

The person on the floor, a woman, was stirring, and Maya stalked over and kicked her hard in the gut. She leaned over and looked in the faceplate, cursed in a surprised voice. “It’s Phyllis.”

Michel pulled Sax out of the room and down the hall. Maya caught up with them. Someone appeared before them and Maya aimed her gun, but Michel knocked her hand aside — it was Spencer Jackson, he recognized him by the eyes. Spencer spoke, but with their helmets’ on they couldn’t hear him. He saw that, and shouted: “Thank God you came! They were done with him — they were going to kill him!”

Maya said something in Russian and ran back to the room and threw something inside, then ran back toward them. An explosion shot smoke and debris out of the room, peppering the wall opposite the door.

“No!” Spencer cried. “That was Phyllis!”

“I know,” Maya shouted viciously; but Spencer couldn’t hear her.

“Come on,” Michel insisted, picking up Sax in his arms. He gestured at Spencer to get helmeted. “Let’s go while we can.” No one seemed to hear him, but Spencer got on a helmet, and then helped Michel carry Sax along the hall and up the stairs to the ground floor.

Outside it was louder than ever, and just as black. Objects were rolling along the ground, even flying through the air. Michel took a shot to the faceplate that knocked him down.

After that he was two steps behind everything that happened. Maya plugged a phone jack into Spencer’s wristpad and hissed orders at both of them, her voice hard and precise. They hauled Sax bodily to the tent wall and over it, and crawled back and forth until they found the iron spool anchoring their Ariadne thread.

It was immediately clear that they could not walk into the wind. They had to crawl on hands and knees, the middle person with Sax draped over his or her back, the other two supporting on each side. They crawled on, following the thread; without it they wouldn’t have had a hope of relocating the rover. With it they could crawl on, straight toward their goal, their hands and knees going numb with the cold. Michel stared down at a black flow of dust and sand under his faceplate. At some point he realized that the faceplate was badly scarred.

They stopped to rest when shifting Sax to the next carrier. When his turn was done Michel knelt, panting and resting his faceplate right on the ground, so that the dust flew over him. He could taste red grit on his tongue, bitter and salty and sulphuric — the taste of Martian fear, of Martian death — or just of his own blood; he couldn’t say. It was too loud to think, his neck hurt, there was a ringing in his ears, and red worms in his eyes, the little red people finally coming out of his peripheral vision to dance right in front of him. He felt he was on the verge of blacking out. Once he thought he was going to vomit, which was dangerous in a helmet, and his whole body clenched in the effort to hold it down, a sweaty gross pain in every muscle, every cell of him. After a long struggle the urge passed.

They crawled on. An hour of violent and wordless exertion passed, and then another. Michel’s knees were losing their numbness to sharp stabbing pains, going raw. Sometimes they just lay on the ground, waiting for a particularly maniacal gust to pass. It was striking how even at hurricane speeds the wind came in individual buffets; the wind was not a steady pressure, but a series of shocking blows. They had to lie prone for so long waiting out these hammerstrokes that there was time to get bored, to have one’s mind wander, to doze. It seemed they might be caught out by dawn. But then he saw the shattered numerals of his faceplate clock — it was actually only 3:30 A.M. They crawled on.

And then the thread lifted, and they nosed right into the lock door of the rover, where the Ariadne thread was tied. They cut it free and blindly hauled Sax into the lock, then climbed in wearily after him. They got the outer door closed, and pumped the chamber. The floor of the lock was deep in sand, and fines swirled away from the pump ventilator, staining the overbright air. Blinking, Michel stared into the small faceplate of Sax’s emergency headpiece; it was like looking into a diving mask, and he saw no sign of life.

When the inner door opened, they stripped off helmets and boots and suits, and limped into the rover and closed the door quickly on the dust. Michel’s face was wet, and when he wiped it he discovered it was blood, bright red in the overlit compartment. He had had a bloody nose. Though the lights were bright it was dim in his peripheral vision, and the room was strangely still and silent. Maya had a bad cut across one thigh, and the skin around it was white with frostnip. Spencer seemed exhausted, unhurt but obviously very shaken. He pulled off Sax’s headpiece, gabbling at them as he did. “You can’t just yank people out of those probes, you’re very likely to damage them! You should have waited until I got there, you didn’t know what you were doing!”

“We didn’t know whether you would come,” Maya said. “You were late.”

“Not by much! You didn’t have to panic like that!”

 “We didn’t panic!”

“Then why did you just tear him out of there? And why did you kill Phyllis?”

“She was a torturer, a murderer!”

Spencer shook his head violently. “She was just as much a prisoner as Sax.”

“She was not!”

“You don’t know. You killed her just because of how it looked! You’re no better than they are.”

“Fuck that! They’re the ones torturing us! You didn’t stop them and so we had to!”

Cursing in Russian, Maya stalked to one of the drivers’ seats and started the rover. “Send the message to Coyote,” she snapped at Michel.

Michel struggled to recall how to operate the radio. His hand tapped out the release for the bursted message that they had Sax. Then he went back to Sax, who was lying on the couch breathing shallowly. In shock. Patches of his scalp had been shaved. He too had had a bloody nose. Spencer gently wiped it, shaking his head. “They use MRI, and focused ultrasound,” he said dully. “Taking him out like that could have …” He shook his head.

Sax’s pulse was weak and irregular. Michel went to work getting the suit off him, watching his own hands move like floating starfish; they were disconnected from his own volition, it was as if he were trying to work a damaged teleoperator. I’ve been stunned, he thought. I’m concussed. He felt nauseated. Spencer and Maya were shouting at each other angrily, really getting furious, and he couldn’t follow why.

“She was a bitch!”

“If people were killed for being bitches you never would have made it off the Ares!”

“Stop it,” he said to them weakly “Both of you.” He did not quite understand what they were saying, but it was clearly a fight, and he knew had to mediate. Maya was incandescent with rage and pain, crying and shouting. Spencer was shouting back, his whole body trembling. Sax was still comatose. I’m going to have to start doing psychotherapy again, Michel thought, and giggled. He navigated his way to a driver’s seat and tried to comprehend the driver’s controls, which pulsed blurrily under the flying black dust outside the windshield. “Drive,” he said desperately to Maya. She was in the seat next to him weeping furiously, both handsclenching the steering wheel. Michel put a hand to her shoulder and she knocked it aside; it flew away as if on a string rather than the end of his arm, and he almost fell out of his chair. “Talk later,” he said. “What’s done is done. Now we have to get home.” “We have no home,” Maya snarled.



Big Man came from a big planet. He was just as much a visitor to Mars as Paul Bunyan, only passing “by when he spotted it and stopped to look around, and he was still there when Paul Bunyan dropped in, and that’s why they had the fight. Big Man won that fight, as you know. But after Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox Babe were dead, there was no one else around to talk to, and Mars for Big Man was like trying to live on a basketball. So he wandered around for a while tearing things apart, trying to make them fit, and then he gave up and left.

After that, all the bacteria inside Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe left their bodies, and circulated in the warm water lying on the bedrock, deep underground. They ate methane and hydrogen sulfide, and withstood the weight of billions of tons of rock, as if they were living on some neutron planet. Their chromosomes began to break, mutation after mutation, and at the reproduction rate of ten generations per day, it didn’t take long for good old survival of the fittest to make its natural selections. And billions of years passed. And before long there was an entire sub-martian evolutionary history, moving up through the cracks in the reg-olith and the spaces between sand grains, right up into the cold desert sunshine. All kinds of creatures, the whole spread — but everything was tiny. That’s all there was room for underground, see, and by the time they hit the surface certain patterns were set. And there wasn’t much to encourage growth up there anyway. So a whole chasmoendolithic biosphere’ developed, in which everything was small. Their whales were the size of first-day tadpoles, their sequoias were like antler lichen, and so on down the line. It was as if the two-magnitude ratio, which always has things on Mars a hundred times bigger than their counterparts on Earth, had finally gone the other way, and piled it on.

And so their evolution produced the little red people. They’re like us — or they look kind of like us when we see them. But that’s because we only ever see them out of the comer of our eyes. If you get a clear look at one you will see that it looks like a very tiny standing salamander, dark red, although the skin apparently does have some chameleon abilities, and they are usually the same color as the rocks they are standing among. If you see one really clearly you’ll notice that its skin resembles plate lichen mixed with sand grains, and its eyes are rubies. It’s fascinating, but don’t get too excited because the truth is you’re not ever going to see one of them that clearly. It’s just too hard. When they hold still we flat can’t see them. We would never see them at all, except that some of them when they get in a mood are so confident that they can freeze and disappear that they will jump around when they’re in your peripheral vision, just to blow your mind. So you see that, but then they stop moving when you turn your eye to look, and you never can spot them again.

They live everywhere, including all our rooms. Usually there’s a few in every pile of dust in the comers. And how many can say their rooms don’t have some dust in their corners? I thought not. It makes a good abrasive when you get around to swiping down, doesn’t it. Yes, on those days the little red people all have to run like hell. Disasters for them. They figure we’re crazy huge idiots that every once in a while have fits and go on a rampage.

Yes, it is true that the first human to see the little red people was John Boone. What else would you expect? He saw them within hours of his landing. Later he learned to see them even when they were still, and then he began talking to the ones he spotted in his rooms, until they finally cracked and talked back. John and them taught each other their languages, and you can still hear the little red people use all kinds of John Booneisms in their English. Eventually a whole crowd of them traveled with Boone wherever he went. They liked it, and John wasn’t a very neat person, so they had their spots. Yes, there were several hundred of them in Nicosia the night he was killed. That’s what actually got those Arabs who died later that night — a whole gang of the little ones went after them. Gruesome.

Anyway, they were John Boone’s friends, and they were just as sad as the rest of us when he was hilled. There’s no human since who has learned their language, or gotten to know them anywhere near as close. Yes, John was also the first to tell stories about them. A lot of what we know about them comes from him, because of that special relationship. Yes, it is said that excessive use of omegendorph causes faint red crawling dots in the abuser’s peripheral vision. But why do you ask?

Anyway, since John’s death the little red people have been living with us and laying low, watching us with their ruby eyes and trying to find out what we’re like, and why we do what we do. And how they can deal with us, and get what they want — which is people they can talk to and befriends with, who won’t sweep them out every few months or wreck the planet either. So they’re watching us. Whole caravan cities are carrying the little red people around with us. And they’re getting ready to talk to us again. They’re figuring out who they should talk to. They’re asking themselves, which of these giant idiots knows about Ka?

That’s their name for Mars, yes. They call it Ka. The Arabs love that fact because the Arabic for Mars is Qahira, and the Japanese like it too because their name for it is Kasei. But actually a whole lot of Earth names for Mars have the sound ka in them somewhere — and some little red dialects have it as m’kah, which adds a sound that’s in a lot of other Terran names for it too. It’s possible that the little red people had a space program in earlier times, and came to Earth and were our fairies, elves and little people generally, and at that time told some humans where they came from, and gave us the name. On the other hand it may be that the planet itself suggests the sound in some hypnotic way that affects all conscious observers, whether standing right on it or seeing it as a red star in the sky. I don’t know,, maybe it’s the color that does it. Ka.

And so the ka watch us and they ask, who knows Ka? Who spends time with Ka, and learns Ka, and likes to touch Ka, and walks around on Ka, and lets Ka seep into them, and leaves the dust in their rooms alone? Those are the humans we’re going to talk to. Pretty soon we’re going to introduce ourselves, they say, to just as many of you as we can find who seem like Ka. And when we do, you’d better be ready. We’re going to have a plan. It’ll be time to drop everything and walk right out on the streets into a new world. It’ll be time to free Ka.

They drove South in Silence, the car hobbling under the wind’s onslaughts. Hour followed hour, and there was no word from Michel and Maya; they had arranged for bursted radio signals that sounded very similar to the static caused by lightning, one for success and one for failure. But the radio only hissed, barely audible over the roaring wind. Nirgal got more and more frightened the longer they waited; it seemed that some kind of disaster had overtaken their companions on the outer bank, and given how extreme their own night had been — the desperate crawling through the howling blackness, the hurtling debris, the wild firing by some of the people inside the broken tents — the possibilities were grim. The whole plan now looked crazy, and Nirgal wondered at Coyote’s judgment, Coyote who was studying his AI screen muttering to himself and rocking over his hurt shins … of course the others had agreed to the plan, as had Nirgal, and Maya and Spencer had helped to formulate it, along with the Mareotis Reds. And no one had expected the katabatic hurricane to become this severe. But Coyote had been the leader, no doubt about it. And now he was looking as distraught as Nirgal had ever seen him, angry, worried, frightened.

Then the radio crackled just as if a pair of lightning bolts had struck nearby, and the decryption of the message followed immediately. Success. Success. They had found Sax on the outer bank, and got him out.

The mood in the car went from gloom to elation as if launched from a slingshot. They shouted incoherently, they laughed, they embraced each other; Nirgal and Kasei wiped tears of joy and relief from their eyes, and Art, who had stayed in the car during the raid, and then taken it on himself to drive around picking them up out of the black wind, gave them slaps on the back that knocked them all over the compartment, shouting, “Good job! Good job!”

Coyote, dosed thoroughly with painkillers, laughed his crazed laugh. Nirgal felt physically light, as if the gravity in his chest had lessened. Such extremes of exertion, fear, anxiety — now joy — giddily he understood that these were the moments that etched themselves on one’s mind forever, when one was struck by the shocking reality of reality, so seldom felt, now igniting in him like a fuse. And he could see the same stark glory lighting all his companions’ faces, wild animals glowing with spirit.

The Reds took off north for their refuge in Mareotis. Coyote drove south hard, to the rendezvous with Maya-and Michel. They met in a dim chocolate dawn, far up Echus Chasma. The group from the inner-bank car hurried over into Michel and Maya’s car, ready to renew the celebration. Nirgal tumbled through the lock and shook hands with Spencer, a short round-faced drawn-looking man, whose hands were trembling. Nevertheless he inspected Nirgal closely. “Good to meet you,” he said. “I’ve heard about you.”

“It went really well,” Coyote was saying, to a chorus of shouted protest from Kasei and Art and Nirgal. In fact they had barely escaped with their lives, crawling around on the inner bank trying to survive the typhoon and the panicked police inside the tent, trying to find the car while Art tried to find them…

Maya’s glare cut short their merriment. In fact with the initial joy of the rendezvous over, it was becoming clear that things were not right in her car. Sax had been saved, but a bit too late. He had been tortured, Maya told them curtly. It was not clear how much damage had been done to him, as he was unconscious.

Nirgal went to the back of the compartment to see him. He lay on the couch senselessly, his smashed face a shocking sight. Michel came back and sat down, woozy from a blow to the head. And Maya and Spencer appeared to be having some kind of disagreement, they weren’t explaining but they did not look at each other, or speak to each other. Maya was clearly in a foul mood, Nirgal recognized the look from childhood, although this one was worse, her face hard and her mouth set in a downturned sickle.

“I killed Phyllis,” she told Coyote.

There was silence. Nirgal’s hands went cold. Suddenly, looking around at the others, he saw that they all felt awkward. It was the sole woman among them who was the killer, and for a second there was something strange in that which they all felt, including Maya — who drew herself up, scornful of their cowardice. None of this was rational or even conscious in them, Nirgal saw as he read their faces, but rather something primal, instinctive, biological. And so Maya only stared them down the more, contemptuous of their horror, glaring at them with an eagle’s alien hostility.

Coyote stepped to her side and went on his toes to peck her on the cheek with a kiss, meeting her glare foursquare. “You did good,” he said, putting a hand to her arm. “You saved Sax.”

Maya shrugged him off and said, “We blew up the machine they had Sax hooked into. I don’t know if we managed to wreck any records. Probably not. And they know they had him, and that someone took him back. So there’s no reason to celebrate. They’ll come after us now with everything they’ve got.”

“I don’t think they’re that well organized,” Art offered.

“You shut up,” Maya told him.

“Well, okay, but look, now that they know about you, you won’t have to hide so much, right?”

“Back in business,” Coyote muttered.

They drove south together through that day, as the dust torn up by the katabatic storm was enough to hide them from satellite cameras. Tension remained high; Maya was in a black fury, and could not be spoken to. Michel handled her like an unexploded bomb, trying always to get her focused on the practical matters of the moment, so that she might forget their terrible night out. But with Sax lying on a couch in the living compartment of their car, unconscious and looking like a racoon with all his bruises, this was no easy thing to forget. Nirgal sat beside Sax for hours on end, a hand placed flat on his ribs, or the top of his head. Other than that there was nothing to be done. Even without the black eyes he wouldn’t have looked much like the Sax Russell whom Nirgal had known as a child. It was a visceral shock to see the signs of physical abuse on him, proof positive that they had deadly enemies in the world. This was something Nirgal had been wondering about in recent years, so that the sight of Sax was an ugly, sickening thing — not just that they had enemies, but that there were people who would do this kind of thing, had always been doing it all through history, just as the unbelievable accounts had it. They were real after all. And Sax only one of millions of victims.

As Sax slept, his head rolled from side to side. “I’m going to give him a shot of pandorph,” Michel said. “Him and then me.”

“There’s something wrong with his lungs,” Nirgal said.

“Is there?” Michel put his ear to Sax’s chest, listened for a time, hissed. “Some fluid in there, you’re right.”

“What were they doing to him?” Nirgal asked Spencer.

“They were talking to him while they had him under. You know, they have located several memory centers in the hippocampus very precisely, and with drugs and a very minute ultrasound stimulation, and fast MRI to track what they’re doing … well, people just answer whatever questions they are asked, often at great length. They were doing that to Sax when the wind hit and they lost power. The emergency generator kicked in right away, but—” He gestured at Sax. “Then, or when we took him out of the apparatus …”

This was why Maya had killed Phyllis Boyle, then. The end of the collaborator. Murder among the First Hundred…

Well, Kasei muttered under his breath in the other car, it wouldn’t be the first time. There were people who suspected Maya of arranging the assassination of John Boone, and Nirgal had heard of people who suspected that Frank Chalmers’s disappearance might also have been her doing. The Black Widow, they called her. Nirgal had discounted these stories as malicious gossip, spread by people who obviously hated Maya, like Jackie. But certainly Maya now looked poisonously dangerous, sitting in her car glaring at the radio, as if considering breaking their silence to send word to the south: white-haired, hawk-nosed, mouth like a wound … it made Nirgal nervous just to get in the same car with her, though he fought against the sensation. She was one of his most important teachers after all, he had spent hours and hours absorbing her impatient instruction in math and history and Russian, learning her more than any of the subject material; and he knew very well that she did not want to be a murderer, that under her moods both bold and bleak (both manic and depressive) there writhed a lonely soul, proud and hungry. So that in yet another way this affair had become a disaster, despite their ostensible success.

Maya was adamant that they should all get down immediately into the southern polar region, to tell the underground what had happened.

“It is not so easy,” Coyote said. “They know we were in Kasei Vallis, and since they had time to get Sax to talk, they probably know we’ll be trying to get back south. They can look at a map as well as we can, and see that the equator is basically blocked, from west Tharsis all the way to the east of the chaoses.”

“There’s the gap between Pavonis and Noctis,” Maya said.

“Yes, but there’s several pistes and pipelines crossing that, and two wraps of the elevator. I’ve got tunnels built under all those, but if they’re looking they might find some of them, or see our cars.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I think we have to go around, north of Tharsis and Olympus Mons, and then down Amazonis, and cross the equator there.”

Maya shook her head. “We need to get south fast, to let them know they’ve been found out.”

Coyote thought about it. “We can split up,” he said. “I’ve got a little ultralight plane stashed in a hideout near the foot of Echus Overlook. Kasei can lead you and Michel to it, and fly you back south. We’ll follow by way of Amazonis.”

“What about Sax?”

“We’ll take him straight to Tharsis Tholus, there’s a Bogdanovist med clinic there. That’s only two nights away.”

Maya talked it over with Michel and Kasei, never even glancing at Spencer. Michel and Kasei were agreeable, and finally she nodded. “All right. We’re off south. Come down as quickly as you

They drove by night and slept by day, in their old pattern, and in two nights made their way across Echus Chasma to Tharsis Tholus, a volcanic cone on the northern edge of the Tharsis bulge.

There a Nicosia-class tent town called Tharsis Tholus was located on the black flank of its namesake. The town was part of the demimonde: most of its citizens were living ordinary lives in the surface net, but many of them were Bogdanovists, who helped support Bogdanovist refuges in the area, as well as Red sanctuaries in Mareotis and on the Great Escarpment; and they helped other people in the town who had left the net, or been off it since birth. The biggest med clinic in town was Bogdanovist, and served many of the underground.

So they drove right up to the tent, and plugged into its garage, and got out. And soon a little ambulance car came and rushed Sax to the clinic, near the center of town. The rest of them walked down the grassy main street after him, feeling the roominess after all those days in the cars. Art goggled at their open behavior, and Nirgal briefly explained the demimonde to him as they walked to a cafe with some safe rooms upstairs, across from the clinic.

At the clinic itself they were already at work on Sax. A few hours after their arrival, Nirgal was allowed to clean up and change into sterile clothes, and then to go in to sit with him.

They had him on a ventilator, which was circulating a liquid through his lungs. One could see it in the clear tubes and the mask covering his face, looking like clouded water. It was an awful thing to see, as if they were drowning him. But the liquid was a perfluo-rocarbon-based mixture, and it transferred to Sax three times as much oxygen as air would have, and flushed out the gunk that had been accumulating in his lungs, and reinflated collapsed airways, and was spiked with a variety of drugs and medicines. The med tech working on Sax explained all this to Nirgal as she worked. “He had a bit of edema, so it’s kind of a paradoxical treatment, but it works.”

And so Nirgal sat, his hand on Sax’s arm, watching the fluid inside the mask that was taped to Sax’s lower face, swirling in and out of him. “It’s like he’s back in an ectogene tank,” Nirgal said.

“Or,” the med tech said, looking at him curiously, “in the womb.”

“Yes. Being reborn. He doesn’t even look the same.”

“Keep that hand on him,” the tech advised, and went away. Nirgal sat and tried to feel how Sax was doing, tried to feel that vitality struggling in its own processes, swimming back up into the world. Sax’s temperature fluctuated in alarming little swoops and dives. Other medical people came in and held instruments against Sax’s head and face, talking among themselves in low voices. “Some damage. Anterior, left side. We’ll see.”

The same tech came in a few nights later when Nirgal was there, and said, “Hold his head, Nirgal. Left side, around the ear. Just above it, yeah. Hold it there and … yeah, like that. Now do what you do.”


“You know. Send heat into him.” And she left hastily, as if embarrassed to have made such a suggestion, or frightened.

Nirgal sat and collected himself. He located the fire within, and tried running some of it into his hand, and across into Sax. Heat, heat, a tentative jolt of whiteness, sent into the injured green … then feeling again, trying to read the heat of Sax’s head.

Days passed, and Nirgal spent most of them at the clinic. One night he was coming back from the kitchens when the young tech came running down the hall to him, grabbing him by the arm and saying, “Come on, come on,” and the next thing he knew he was down in the room, holding Sax’s head, his breath short and all his muscles like wires. There were three doctors in there and some more techs. One doctor put out an arm toward Nirgal, and the young tech stepped in between them.

He felt something inside Sax stir, as if going away, or coming back — some passage. He poured into Sax every bit of viriditas he could muster, suddenly terrified, stricken with memories of the clinic in Zygote, of sitting with Simon. That look on Simon’s face, the night he died. The perfluorocarbon liquid swirled in and out of Sax, a quick shallow tide. Nirgal watched it, thinking about Simon. His hand lost its heat, and he couldn’t bring it back. Sax would know who it was with hands so warm. If it mattered. But as it was all he could do … he exerted himself, pushed as if the world were freezing, as if he could pull back not only Sax but also Simon, if he pushed hard enough. “Why, Sax?” he said softly into the ear by his hand. “But why? Why, Sax? But why? Why, Sax? But why? Why, Sax? But why?”

The perfluorocarbon swirled. The overlit room hummed. The doctors worked at the machines and over Sax’s body, glancing at each other, at Nirgal. The word why became nothing but a sound, a kind of prayer. An hour passed and then more hours, slow and anxious, until they fell into a kind of timeless state, and Nirgal couldn’t have said whether it was day or night. Payment for our bodies, he thought. We pay.

*     *       *

One evening, about a week after their arrival, they pumped Sax’s lungs clear, and took the ventilator off. Sax gasped loudly, then breathed. He was an air-breather again, a mammal. They had repaired his nose, although it was now a different shape, almost as flat as it had been before his cosmetic surgery. His bruises were still spectacular.

About an hour after they took the ventilator off, he regained consciousness. He blinked and blinked. He looked around the room, then looked very closely at Nirgal, clutching his hand hard. But he did not speak. And soon he was asleep.

Nirgal went out into the green streets of the small town, dominated by the cone of Tharsis Tholus, rising in black and rust majesty to the north, like a squat Fuji. He ran in his rhythmic way, around and around the tent wall as he burned off some of his excess energy. Sax and his great unexplainable …

In rooms over the cafe across the street, he found Coyote hobbling restlessly from window to window, muttering and singing wordless calypso tunes. “What’s wrong?” Nirgal said.

Coyote waggled both hands. “Now that Sax is stabilized, we should get out of here. You and Spencer can tend to Sax in the car, while we drive west around Olympus.”

“Okay,” Nirgal said. “When they say Sax is ready.”

Coyote stared at him. “They say you saved him. That you brought him back from the dead.”

Nirgal shook his head, frightened at the very thought. “He never died.”

“I figured. But that’s what they’re saying.” Coyote regarded him thoughtfully. “You’ll have to be careful.

They drove all night, contouring around the slope of north Tharsis, Sax propped on the couch in the compartment behind the drivers. Within hours of their departure Coyote said, “I want to hit one of the mining camps run by Subarashii in Ceraunius.” He looked at Sax. “It’s okay with you?”

Sax nodded. His raccoon bruises were now green and purple.

“Why can’t you talk?” Art asked him.

Sax shrugged, croaked once or twice.

They rolled on.

From the bottom of the northern side of the Tharsis bulge there extends an array of parallel canyons called the Ceraunius Fossae. There are as many as forty of these fractures, depending on how you count them, as some of the indentations are canyons, while others are only isolated ridges, or deep cracks, or simply corrugations in the plain — all running north and south, and all cutting into a metallogenic province of great richness, a basalt mass rifted with all kinds of ore intrusions’ from below. So there were a lot of mining settlements and mobile rigs in these canyons, and now, as he contemplated them on his maps, Coyote rubbed his hands together. “Your capture set me free, Sax. Since they know we’re out here anyway, there’s no reason we shouldn’t put some of them out of business, and grab some uranium while we’re at it.”

So he stopped one night at the southern end of Tractus Catena, the longest and deepest of the canyons. Its beginning was a strange sight — the relatively smooth plain was disrupted by what looked like a ramp that cut into the ground, making a trench about three kilometers wide, and eventually about three hundred meters deep, running right over the horizon to the north in a perfectly straight line.

They slept through the morning, and then spent the afternoon sitting in the living compartment nervously, looking at satellite photos and listening to Coyote’s instructions.

“Is there a chance we’ll kill these miners?” Art asked, pulling at his big whiskery jaw.

Coyote shrugged. “It might happen.”

Sax shook his head back and forth vehemently.

“Not so rough with your head,” Nirgal said to him.

“I agree with Sax,” Art said quickly. “I mean, even setting aside moral considerations, which I don’t, it’s still stupid just as a practical matter. It’s stupid because it makes the assumption that your enemies are weaker than you, and will do what you want if you murder a few of them. But people aren’t like that. I mean, think about how it will fall out. You go down that canyon and kill a bunch of people doing their jobs, and later other people come along and find the bodies. They’ll hate you forever. Even if you do take over Mars someday they’ll still hate you, and do anything they can to screw things up. And that’s all you will have accomplished, because they’ll replace those miners quick as that.”

Art glanced at Sax, who was sitting up on the couch, watching him closely. “On the other hand, say you go down there and do something that causes those miners to run into their emergency shelter and then you lock them in the shelter and wreck their machines. They call for help, they hang out there, and in a day or two somebody comes to rescue them. They’re mad but also they’re thinking we could be dead, those Reds wrecked our stuff and were gone in a flash, we never even saw them. They could have killed us but they didn’t. And the people who rescued them will be thinking the same. And then later on, when you’ve taken over Mars or when you’re trying to, they remember and they all dive off into hostage syndrome and start rooting for you. Or working with you.”

Sax was nodding. Spencer was looking at Nirgal. And then they all were, all but Coyote, who was looking down at the palms of his hands, as if reading them. And then he looked up, and he too was looking at Nirgal.

For Nirgal it was simple, and he regarded Coyote with some concern. “Art’s right. Hiroko will never forgive us if we start killing people for no reason.”

Coyote’s face twisted, as if in disgust for their softness. “We just killed a bunch of people in Kasei Vallis,” he said.

“But that was different!” Nirgal said.

“How so?”

Nirgal hesitated, unsure, and Art said quickly, “Those were a bunch of police torturers who had your buddy and were micro-waving his brain. They got what was coming to them. But these guys down this canyon are just digging up rocks.”

Sax nodded. He was staring at them all with the utmost intensity, and it seemed certain that he understood everything, and was deeply engaged in it; but mute as he was, it was hard to be sure.

Coyote stared hard at Art. “Is this a Praxis mine?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care, either.”

“Hmm. Well— ” Coyote looked at Sax; then at Spencer; then at Nirgal, who could feel his cheeks burning. “All right then. We’ll try it your way.”

And so at the end of the day Nirgal climbed out of the rover with Coyote and Art. The sky above was dark and starry, the western quadrant still purple, casting a florid light in which everything was quite visible but at the same time unfamiliar. Coyote led the way, and Art and Nirgal followed him closely. Through his faceplate Nirgal could see that Art’s eyes were pressing glass.

The floor of Tractus Catena was broken at one point by a transverse fault system called Tractus Traction, and the trellis fracturing in this zone had formed a system of crevasses impenetrable to vehicles. The Tractus miners reached their camp from the canyon wall above it, descending in elevators. But Coyote said it was possible to walk through Tractus Traction, following a path of connecting crevasses he had marked for himself. Many of his resistance actions involved crossing “impassable” terrain like this, making possible some of his more legendary impossible visitations, and sending him through badlands no one else had ever even approached. And with Nirgal to run some of the raids, they had performed some truly miraculous-seeming ventures — -just by getting out and traveling on foot.

So they jogged down the canyon floor, in the steady Martian lope that Nirgal had perfected, and had tried with partial success to teach to Coyote. Art was not graceful — his stride was too short, and he stumbled frequently — but he kept up. Nirgal began to feel the loose joy of running, the boulder ballet of it, the rapid crossing of long stretches of land under his own power. Also the rhythmic breathing, the bounce of his air tank on his back, the trancelike state that he had learned over the years, with help from the issei Nanao, who had been taught lung-gom on Earth by a Tibetan adept. Nanao claimed that some of the old lung-gom-pas had had to carry weights to keep from flying away, and on Mars it seemed entirely possible. The way he could fly over rocks was exhilarating, a kind of rapture.

He had to restrain himself. Neither Coyote nor Art knew lung-gom, and they couldn’t keep up, though they were both pretty good, Coyote for his age, Art for his recent arrival on Mars. Coyote knew the land, and ran in short mincing dance steps, efficient and clean. Art bombed over the landscape like a badly programmed robot, staggering often as he hit wrong in the starlight, but keeping up a pretty good head of steam nevertheless. Nirgal ranged in front of them like a dog. Twice Art went down in a cloud of dust and Nirgal ran over to check on him, but both times Art got up jogging, and in their intercom silence he only waved to Nirgal and ran on.

After half an hour’s run down the canyon, which was so straight that it seemed cut by design, cracks appeared on the ground, and quickly deepened and connected up with one another, until progress over the canyon floor proper would have been impossible, as it was now the plateau tops of a collection of islands. The deep slots separating these islands were in places only two or three meters wide, but thirty or forty meters deep.

Walking through these generally flat-floored alleys was a strange business, but Coyote led the way through the maze without delaying at any of the many forks, following a path only he knew, turning left and right a score of times. One slot was so narrow they could touch both walls at once, and they had to scrape through a turn.

When they came out the northern side of the crevasse maze, emerging from a draw in the riven steep escarpment which was the end of the plateau islands, a small tent stood before them against the western canyon wall. Its arc of fabric glowed like the bulb of a dusty lamp. Within the tent were mobile trailers, rovers, drills, earthmovers, and other mining equipment. It was a uranium mine, called Pitchblende Alley, because this lower section of the canyon was floored with a pegmatite extremely rich in uraninite. It was a very productive mine, and Coyote had heard that the processed uranium stockpiled at it during the years between elevators had not yet been shipped out.

Now Coyote ran over the canyon floor toward the tent, and Nirgal and Art followed. There was no one visible inside the tent; the only illumination was provided by a few night lights, and the lit windows of a big trailer set near the center of things.

Coyote walked right up to the tent’s nearest lock gate, and the other two followed him. He plugged his wristpad jack into the keyhole by the lock gate, and began to tap on his wristpad. The outer lock door opened. No alarms seemed to go off; no figures appeared out of the door of the trailer. They got in the lock, closed the outer door, waited for the lock to suck and pump, then opened the inner door. Coyote ran toward the settlement’s little physical plant, beside the trailer; Nirgal went for the living quarters, hopping up the steps to the trailer’s door. He held one of Coyote’s “locking bars” under the door handle, turned the dial that released the fixative, and pushed the bar against the door and wall of the trailer. The trailer was made of a magnesium-based alloy, and the polymer fixative would make what was in effect a ceramic bond between the locking bar and the trailer, so that the door would be stuck. He ran around the trailer and did the same to the other door, then dashed back toward the gate, feeling his blood fly through him as if it were pure adrenaline. It was so much like a prank that he had to consciously remember the explosive charges that Coyote and Art were distributing through the settlement, in warehouses, against the tent fabric, and in the parking lot for the mining behemoths. Nirgal joined them in running from vehicle to vehicle, climbing the stairs on their sides, opening doors manually or electronically, tossing small boxes Coyote had provided into the cabs or cabins.

But there were also hundreds of tons of processed uranium that Coyote wanted to haul away. This was impossible, unfortunately. They did run over to a warehouse, however, where they filled a number of the mine’s own robot trucks with loads, and programmed them with instructions to head off into the canyonlands to the north, burying loads in regions where the apatite concentrations might be high enough to disguise the boxed uranium’s radioactivity, and make the loads hard to relocate. Spencer had doubted this strategy would work, but Coyote said it beat leaving the uranium at the mine, and all of them were happy to help in any plan that would keep him from putting tons of uranium in the storage hold of their boulder car, radproof containers or not.

When that was done they ran back to the gate, and got back outside, and ran hard. Halfway to the escarpment they heard a series of pops and booms from the tent, and Nirgal glanced over his shoulder, but saw nothing different — the tent was still mostly d ^.rk, the trailer windows lit.

He turned and ran on, feeling as if he were flying, and was astonished to see Art racing over the canyon floor ahead of him, every stride a huge wild leap, bounding like some cheetah-bear all the way to the escarpment, where he had to wait for Coyote to catch up and lead them back through the crevasse maze. Once out of it he took off again, so fast that Nirgal decided to try to catch him, just to feel how fast it was. He got into the rhythm of the sprint, pressing harder and harder, and as he passed Art he saw that his own springbok strides were almost twice as long as Art’s even in sprint mode, where both their legs were pumping as fast as possible.

They got to the boulder car long before Coyote, and waited for him in the lock, catching their breath, grinning through their faceplates at each other. A few minutes later Coyote was there and in with them, and Spencer had the rover moving, with the timeslip just past, and six more hours of night to drive in.

Inside they laughed hard at Art’s mad run, but he only grinned and waved them off. “I wasn’t scared, it’s this Martian gravity I tell you, I was just running the way I usually would but my legs were leaping along like a tiger! Amazing.”

They rested through the day, and after dark they were off again. They passed the mouth of a long canyon that ran from Ceraunius to Jovis Tholus; it was an oddity in that it was neither straight nor sinuous, and was called Crooked Canyon. When the sun rose they were hidden on the apron of Crater Qr, just north of Jovis Tholus. Jovis Tholus was a bigger volcano than Tharsis Tholus, bigger in fact than any volcano on Earth, but it was located on the high saddle between Ascraeus Mons and Olympus Mons, and both were visible on skysills to east and west, bulking like vast plateau continents, and making Jovis seem compact, friendly, comprehensible — a hill you could walk up if you wanted to.

That day Sax sat and stared silently at his screen, tapping at it tentatively and getting a random assortment of texts, maps, diagrams, pictures, equations. He tilted his head at each, with no sign of recognition. Nirgal sat down beside him. “Sax, can you hear what I’m saying?”

Sax looked at him.

“Can you understand my words? Nod if you understand.”

Sax tilted his head to the side. Nirgal sighed, held by that inquisitive look. Sax nodded, hesitantly.

That night Coyote drove west again, toward Olympus, and near dawn he directed the rover right up to a wall of pocked and riven black basalt. This was the edge of a tableland cut by innumerable narrow twisting ravines, like Tractus Traction only on a much larger scale, creating a badlands like an immense expansion of the Traction’s maze. The tableland was a fan of broken ancient lava, the remnant of one of the earliest flows from Olympus Mons, capping softer tuff and ash from even earlier eruptions. Where the wind-cut ravines had worn deep enough, their bottoms broke through into the layer of softer tuff, so that some ravines were narrow slots with tunnels at their bottoms, rounded by eons of wind. “Like upside-down keyholes,” Coyote said, though Nirgal had never seen a keyhole remotely like these shapes.

Coyote drove the rover right into one of the black-and-gray tunnel ravines. Several kilometers up the tunnel he stopped the car, beside a wall of tenting that cut off a kind of embolism in the tunnel, a widened outer curve.

This was the first hidden sanctuary that Art had ever seen, and he looked suitably startled. The tent was perhaps twenty meters tall, containing a section of the curve a hundred meters long; Art exclaimed over the size of it until Nirgal had to laugh. “Someone else is already here using it,” Coyote said, “so be quiet for a second.”

Art nodded quickly, and leaned over Coyote’s shoulder to hear what he was saying over the intercom. Parked before the tent lock was another car, just as lumpish and rocky as their own. “Ah,” said Coyote, pushing Art back. “It’s Vijjika. They’ll have oranges, and maybe some kava. We’ll have a party this morning for sure.”

They rolled up to the tent lock, and a coupler tube reached out and clamped around their exterior door. When all the lock doors were opened they made their way into the tent, bending and shuffling to carry Sax through the tube with them.

They were met inside by eight tall, dark-skinned people, five women and three men — a loud group, happy to have company. Coyote introduced them all, although Nirgal knew Vijjika from the university in Sabishii, and gave her a big hug. She was pleased to see him again, and led them all back to the smooth curve of the cliff wall, into a clearing between trailers, under a skylight provided by a vertical crack in the old lava. Under this shaft of diffuse daylight, and the even more diffuse light from the deep ravine outside the tent, the visitors sat on broad flat pillows around low tables, while several of their hosts went to work at a clutch of round-bellied samovars. Coyote was talking with acquaintances, catching up on the news. Sax looked around, blinking, and Spencer, beside him, did not look much less confused; he had been living in the surface world since ‘61, and his knowledge of the sanctuaries must have been almost entirely secondhand. Forty years of a double life; it was no wonder he looked stunned.

Coyote went to the samovars, and began handing out tiny cups from a freestanding cabinet. Nirgal sat next to Vijjika, an arm around her waist, soaking in her warmth and buzzing with the long contact of her leg against his. Art sat down on her other side, his broad face thrust into the conversation like a dog’s. Vijjika introduced herself to him, and shook his hand; he clasped her long delicate fingers in his big paw as if he wanted to kiss them. “These are Bogdanovists,” Nirgal explained to Art, laughing at. his expression and handing him one of the little ceramic cups from Coyote. “Their parents were prisoners in Korolyov before the war.”

“Ah,” Art said. “We’re a long way from there, right?”

Vijjika said, “Yes, well, our parents took the Transmarineris Highway north, just before it was flooded, and eventually they came here. Here, take that tray from Coyote and go pass out cups, and introduce yourself to everyone.”

So Art made the rounds, and Nirgal caught up on news with Vijjika. “You won’t believe what we’ve found in one of these tuff tunnels,” she told him. “We’ve become most fantastically rich.” Everyone had their cup, so they all paused for a moment and took their first sips together, then after some whoops and a general smacking of the lips they went back to their conversations. Art returned to Nirgal’s side.

“Here, have some yourself,” Nirgal told him. “Everyone needs to join the toast, that’s the way they do it.”

Art took a sip from his cup, looking dubious at the liquid, which was blacker than coffee, and foul-smelling. He shuddered. “It’s like coffee with licorice mixed into it. Poisoned licorice.”

Vijjika laughed. “It’s kavajava,” she said, “a mixture of kava and coffee. Very strong, and it tastes like hell. And hard to come by. But don’t give up on it. If you can get a cup down you’ll find it’s worth it.”

“If you say so.” Manfully he downed another swallow, shuddering again. “Horrible!”

“Yes. But we like it. Some people just extract the kavain from the kava, but I don’t think that’s right. Rituals should have some unpleasantness, or you don’t appreciate them properly.”

“Hmm,” Art said. Nirgal and Vijjika watched him. “I’m in a refuge of the Martian underground,” he said after a while, “Getting high on some weird awful drug, in the company of some of the most famous lost members of the First Hundred. As well as young natives never known to Earth.”

“It’s working,” Vijjika observed.

Coyote was talking to a woman, who, though sitting in the lotus position on one of the pillows, was just below his eye level as he stood before her. “Sure I’d like to have romaine lettuce seeds,” the woman said. “But you have to take fair for something so valuable.”

“They’re not that valuable,” Coyote said in his plausible style. “You’re already giving us more nitrogen than we can burn.”

“Sure, but you have to get nitrogen before you can give it.”

“I know that.”

“Get before you give, and give before you burn. And here we’ve found this enormous vein of sodium nitrate, it’s pure caliche blanco, and these badlands are stuffed with it. It looks like there’s a band of it between the tuff and the lava, about three meters thick and extending, well, we don’t even know how far yet. It’s a huge amount of nitrogen, and we’ve got to get rid of it.”

“Fine, fine,” Coyote said, “but that’s no reason to start potlatch-ing on us.”

“We’re not potlatching. You’re going to bum eighty percent of what we give you—”


“Oh yeah, seventy, and then we’ll have these seeds, and we’ll finally be able to eat decent salads with our meals.”

“If you can get them to grow. Lettuce is delicate.”

“We’ll have all the fertilizer we need.”

Coyote laughed. “I guess so. But it’s still out of whack. Tell you what, we’ll give you the coordinates for one of those trucks of uranium we sent off into Ceraunius.”

“Talk about potlatching!”

“No no, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to recover the stuff. But you’ll know where it is, and if you do recover it, then you can just burn another picobar of nitrogen, and we’ll be even. How about that?”

“It still seems like too much to me.”

“You’re going to be feeling like that all the time with this caliche blanco you’ve found. There’s really that much of it?”

“Tons of it. Millions of tons of it. These badlands are layered through and through with it.”

“All right, maybe we can get some hydrogen peroxide from you too. We’re going to need the fuel for the trip south.” ~~~Art leaned toward them as if pulled by a magnet. “What’s caliche blancol”

“It’s nearly pure sodium nitrate,” the woman said. She described the areology of the region. Rhyolitic tuff — the light-colored rock surrounding them — had been overlaid by the dark andesite lava that roofed the tableland. Erosion had carved the tuff wherever bracks in the andesite exposed it, forming the tunnel-bottomed ravines, and also revealing great seams of caliche, trapped between the two layers. “The caliche is loose rock and dust, cemented together with salts and the sodium nitrates.”

“Microorganisms must have laid that layer down,” a man beyond the woman said, but she instantly disagreed:

“It could have been areothermal, or lightning attracted ,by the quartz in the tuff.”

They argued in the way people do when they are repeating a debate for the thousandth time. Art interrupted to ask again about the caliche blanco. The woman explained that blanco was a very pure caliche, up to eighty percent pure sodium nitrate, and thus, on this nitrogen-poor world, extremely valuable. A block of it sat on the table, and she passed it over to Art and went back to arguing with her friend, while Coyote bartered on with another man, talking about teeter-totters and pots, kilograms and calories, equivalence and overburden, cubic meters per second and picobars, haggling expertly and getting a lot of laughs from the people listening.

At one point the woman interrupted Coyote with a cry: “Look, we can’t just take an unknown pot of uranium that we can’t be sure we’ll get or not! That’s either gross potlatching or else ripping us off, depending on whether we can find the truck or not! What kind of a deal is that, I mean it’s a lousy deal either way!”

Coyote wagged his head mischievously. “I had to bring it in, or else otherwise you were going to bury me in caliche blanco, weren’t you. We’re out here on the road, we’ve got some seeds but not much else — certainly not millions of tons of new caliche deposits! And we actually need the hydrogen peroxide and the pasta too, it’s not just a luxury like lettuce seeds. Tell you what, if you find the truck you can burn its equivalent, and you’ll still have given us fair. If you don’t find it, then you’ll owe us one, I admit it, but in that case you can burn a gift, and then we’ll have given you fair!”

“It’ll take us a week’s work and a bunch of fuel to recover the truck.”

“All right, we’ll take another ten picobars, and burn six of it.”

“Done.” The woman shook her head, baffled. “You’re a hard bastard.”

Coyote nodded and got up to go refill their cups.

Art swung his head around and stared at Nirgal, his mouth hanging open. “Explain to me what just went on there.”

“Well,” said Nirgal, feeling the benevolence of the kava flowing through him, “they were trading. We need food and fuel, so we were at a disadvantage, but Coyote did pretty well.”

Art hefted the white block. “But what’s this get nitrogen, and give nitrogen, and burn nitrogen? What, do you torch your money when you get it?”

“Well, some of it, yeah.”

“So both of them were trying to lose?”

“To lose?”

“To come out short in the deal?”


“To give more than they got?”

“Well, sure. Of course.”

“Oh, of course!” Art rolled his eyes. “But you … you can’t give too much more than you get, did I understand that?”

“Right. That would be potlatching.”

Nirgal watched his new friend mull this over.

“But if you always give more than you get, how do you get anything to give, if you see what I mean?”

Nirgal shrugged, glanced at Vijjika, hugged her waist suggestively. “You have to find it, I guess. Or make it.”


“It’s the gift economy,” Vijjika told him.

“The gift economy?”

“It’s part of how we run things out here. There’s a money economy for the old buy-and-pay system, using units of hydrogen peroxide as the money. But most people try to do as much as they can by the nitrogen standard, which is the gift economy. The Sufis started that, and the people in Nirgal’s home.”

“And Coyote,” Nirgal added. Although, as he glanced over at his father, he could see that Art might find it hard to envision Coyote as any sort of economic theorist. At the moment Coyote was tapping madly at a keyboard beside another man, and when he lost the game they were playing he shoved the man off his pillow, explaining to everyone that his hand had slipped. “I’ll arm wrestle you double or nothing,” he said, and he and the man plonked their elbows on the table and tensed their forearms, and went at it.

“Arm wrestling!” Art said. “Now that’s something I can understand.”

Coyote lost in seconds, and Art sat down to challenge the winner. He won in seconds, and it quickly became obvious that no one could resist him; the Bogdanovists even clustered across from him, and got three and then four hands clasping his hand and wrist, but he smacked every combination of them down onto the table. “Okay I win,” he said at last, and flopped back on his pillow. “How much do I owe you?”

To avoid the aureoles of shattered terrain clustered north of Olympus Mons, they had to circle far to the north. They drove by night, and slept by day.

Art and Nirgal spent many hours of these nights driving the car and talking. Art asked questions by the hundred, and Nirgal asked just as many back, as fascinated by Earth as Art was by Mars. They were a matched pair, each very interested in the other, which as always made a fertile ground for friendship.

Nirgal had been frightened by the idea of contacting Terrans on his own, when it first occurred to him in his student years. It was clearly a dangerous notion, which had come to him one night in Sabishii and never let go. He had spent many hours over many months thinking about the idea, and doing research to figure out who he should contact, if he decided to act on the thought. The more he learned, the stronger grew his sense that it was a good idea, that having an alliance with a Terran power was critical to their hopes. And yet he was sure that all the members of the First Hundred he knew would not want to risk contact. If he did it, he would have to do it on his own. The risk, the stakes…

He tried Praxis because of what he had read about it. It was a shot in the dark, as most critical acts are. An instinctive act: the trip to Burroughs, the walk into the Praxis offices in Hunt Mesa, the repeated requests for a line to William Fort.

He got the line, although that in itself meant nothing. But later, in the first moment he had approached Art on the street in Sheffield, he knew that he had done well. That Praxis had done well. There had been, just in the look of the big man, some quality that Nirgal had found instantly reassuring — some openness, an easy, friendly ability. To use his childhood vocabulary, a balance of the two worlds. A man he trusted.

One sign of a good action is that in retrospect it appears inevitable. Now, as the long rolling nights of their journey passed in the light of the IR imagers, the two men spoke to each other as if they too saw each other in the infrared. Their dialogue went on and on and on, and they got to know each other — to become friends. Nirgal’s impulsive reach to Earth was going to work out, he could see it right there in front of him hour after hour, just in the look on Art’s face, the curiosity, the interest.

They talked about everything, in the way people will. Their pasts, their opinions, their hopes. Nirgal spent most of his time trying to explain Zygote, and Sabishii. “I spent some years in Sabishii. The issei there run an open university. There’s no records kept. You just attend the classes you want, and deal with your teacher and no one else. A lot of Sabishii operates off the record. It’s the capital of the demimonde, like Tharsis Tholus only much bigger. A great city. I met a lot of people there, from all over Mars.”

The romance of Sabishii poured through his mind, memories flooding speech in all their profusion of incident, of feeling — all the individual emotions of that time, contradictory and incompatible though they were, experienced again simultaneously,’in. a dense polyphonic chord.

“That must have been quite an experience,” Art remarked, “after growing up in a place like Zygote.”

“Oh it was. It was wonderful.”

“Tell me about it.”

Nirgal crouched forward in his chair, shivering a bit, and tried to convey some of what it had been like.

At first it had been so strange. The issei had done incredible things; while the First Hundred had squabbled, fought, fissioned all over the planet, started a war, and were now dead or in hiding, the first group of Japanese settlers, the 240 who had founded Sa-bishii just seven years after the First Hundred had arrived, had stayed right next to their landing site, and built a city. They had absorbed all the changes that had followed, including the location of a mohole right next to their town; they had simply taken over the dig, and used the tailings for construction materials. When the thickening atmsophere made it possible they had gardened the surrounding terrain, which was rocky and high, not at all easy land, until they lived in the midst of a diffuse dwarfish forest, a bonsai krummholz, with alpine basins in the highlands above it. In the catastrophes of 206I they had never moved, and, considered neutral, had been left alone by the transnats. In that solitude they had taken the excavated rock from their mohole and built it into long snaking mounds, all shot through with tunnels and rooms, ready to hide people from the south.

Thus they had invented the demimonde, the most sophisticated and complex society on Mars, full of people who passed each other on the street like strangers but met at night in rooms, to talk, and make music, and make love. And even the people not part of the underworld were interesting, because the issei had started a university, the University of Mars, where many of the students, perhaps a third of the total, were young and Martian-born. And whether these young natives were surface-world or underground in origin, they recognized each other without the slightest difficulty, as people at home in a million subtle ways, in ways no Terran-born ever could be. And so they talked, and made music, and made love, and naturally quite a few of the surface natives were thus initiated into knowledge of the underground, until it began to seem as if all the natives knew all, and were natural allies.

The professors included many of the Sabishiian issei and nisei, as well as distinguished visitors from all over Mars, and even from Terra. The students came from everywhere as well. There in the large handsome town they lived and studied and played, in streets and gardens and open pavilions, by ponds and in cafes, and on broad streetgrass boulevards, in a kind of Martian Kyoto.

Nirgal had first seen the city on a brief visit with Coyote. He had found it too big, too crowded, too many strangers. But months later, tired of wandering the south with Coyote, so solitary for so much of the time, he had recalled the place as if it were the only destination possible. Sabishii!

He had gone there and moved into a room under a roof, smaller than his bamboo room in Zygote, barely bigger than his bed. He joined classes, runs, calypso bands, cafe groups. He learned just how much his lectern held. He found out just how incredibly provincial and ignorant he was. Coyote gave him blocks of hydrogen peroxide, which he sold to the issei for what money he needed. Every day was an adventure, almost entirely unscheduled, just a tumble of encounters from hour to hour, on and on until he dropped, often wherever he was. During the days he studied areology and ecological engineering, giving these disciplines he had begun to learn in Zygote a mathematical underpinning, and finding in the tutorials with Etsu, and in the work itself, that he had inherited some of his mother’s gift for seeing clearly the interplay of all the components of a system. The days were devoted to this extraordinarily fascinating work. So many human lives, given over to the gaining of this body of knowledge! So varied, the powers this knowledge gave them in the world!

Then at night he might crash on the floor at a friend’s, after talking to a 140-year-old Bedouin about the Transcaucasus War, and the next night be playing bass steel drum or marimbas till dawn with twenty other kavajavaed Latin Americans and Polynesians, the next after that be in bed with one of the dusky beauties from the band, women as cheerful as Jackie at her best, and much less complicated. The following night he might go with friends to a performance of Shakespeare’s King John, and observe the great X that the play’s structure made, with John’s fortunes starting high and ending low, and the bastard’s starting low and ending high — and sit shaking as he watched the critical scene at the crossing of the X, in which John orders the death of young Arthur. And afterward walk with his friends all through the night city, talking about the play and what it said about the fortunes of certain of the issei, or about the various forces on Mars, or the Mars-Earth situation itself. And then the night after that, after some of them had spent the day out fell running, exploring high basins in his quest to see as much of the land as he could, they might stay out to sleep in a little survival tent, camping in one of the high cirques east of the city, heating a meal in the dusk as stars popped out everywhere in the purple sky, and the alpine flowers faded away into the basin of rock that held them all, as if in the palm of a giant hand.

Day after day of this ceaseless interaction with strangers taught him at least as much as he learned in the classes. Not that Zygote had left him completely ignorant; its inhabitants had included such a great variety of human behavior as to have left few surprises for Nirgal on that score. In fact, as he began to understand, he had been raised in something like an asylum of eccentrics, people bent hard by those first overpressured years on Mars.

But there still were some surprises, nevertheless. The natives from the northern cities, for instance — and not only them, but almost everyone not from Zygote — were much less physical with each other than Nirgal was used to being. They did not touch or hug or caress each other as much, or shove or strike — nor did they bathe together, although some learned to in Sabishii’s public baths. So Nirgal was always surprising people by his touch. He said odd things; he liked to run all day; whatever the reasons, as the months passed and he got involved in endlessly connected groups, bands, cells, and gangs, he was aware that he stuck out somehow, that he was the focal point of some groups — that a party was following him from cafe to cafe, from day to day. That there was such a thing as “Nirgal’s crowd.” Quickly he learned to deflect this attention if he didn’t want it. But sometimes he found he did.

Often it was when Jackie was there.

“Jackie again!” Art observed. It was not the first time she had come up, or the tenth.

Nirgal nodded, feeling his pulse jump.

Jackie too had moved to Sabishii, soon after Nirgal. She had taken rooms nearby, and attended some of the same classes. And in the fluctuating group of their peers, they sometimes showed off to each other — especially in the very common situation in which one or the other of them was involved in seducing someone or in being seduced.

But they soon learned that they could not indulge themselves in that, if they did not want to drive away other partners. Which neither did. So they left each other alone, except if one actively disliked the other’s choice of partner. So that in a way they were judging each other’s partners, and’ acquiescing to each other’s influence. And all this without a word, with this rare behavior the only visible sign of their power over each other. They were both fooling around with a lot of other people, making new relationships, friendships, having affairs. Sometimes they didn’t see each other for weeks. And yet at some deeper level (Nirgal shook his head unhappily as he tried to express this to Art) they “belonged to each other.”

If one of them ever needed to confirm that bond, the other responded to the seduction in a blaze of excitement, and off they went. That had only happened three times in the three years they were in Sabishii, and yet Nirgal knew by those meetings that the two of them were linked — by their shared childhood and all that had happened in it, certainly, but also by something more. Everything they did together was different than when they did it with other people, more intense.

With the rest of his acquaintances, there was nothing so fraught with significance, or danger. He had friends — a score, a hundred, five hundred. He always said yes. He asked questions and listened, and rarely slept. He went to the meetings of fifty different political organizations, and agreed with them all, and spent many a night talking, deciding the fate of Mars, and then of the human race. Some people he hit it off with better than others. He might talk to a native from the north and feel an immediate empathy, starting a friendship that would endure forever. Much of the time it happened that way. But then once in a while he would be utterly surprised by some action totally foreign to his understanding, and be reminded yet again what a cloistered, even claustrophobic upbringing he had had in Zygote — leaving him as innocent, in some ways, as a fairy brought up under an abalone shell.

“No, it’s not Zygote that made me,” he said to Art, looking behind them to make sure that Coyote was really sleeping. “You can’t choose your childhood, it’s just what happens to you. But after that you choose. I chose Sabishii. And that’s really what made me.”

“Maybe,” Art said, rubbing his jaw. “But childhood isn’t just those years. It’s also the opinions you form about them afterward. That’s why our childhoods are so long.”

One dawn the deep plum color of the sky illuminated the spectacular fin ridge of Acheron to the north, looming like a Manhattan of solid rock, as yet uncut into individual skyscrapers. The can-yonland underneath the fin was particolored, giving the fractured land a painted look. “That’s a lot of lichen,” Coyote said. Sax climbed into the seat beside him and leaned almost nose to windshield, showing as much animation as he had since the rescue.

Under the very top of the Acheron fin, there was a line of mirror windows like a diamond necklace, and on top of the ridge itself, a long tuft of green, under the ephemeral glint of tenting. Coyote exclaimed, “It looks like it’s been reoccupied!”

Sax nodded.

Spencer, looking over their shoulders, said, “I wonder who’s in there.”

“No one is,” Art said. They stared at him, and he went on: “I heard about it in my orientation in Sheffield. It’s a Praxis project. They rebuilt it, and got everything ready. And now they’re just waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“For Sax Russell, basically. For Taneev, Kohl, Tokareva, Russell …” He looked at Sax, shrugging almost apologetically.

Sax croaked something wordlike.

“Hey!” Coyote said.

Sax cleared his throat hard, tried again. His mouth pursed to a little O, and a horrible noise started deep in his throat: “W-w-w-w-w-” He looked over at Nirgal, gestured as if Nirgal would know.

“Why?” Nirgal said.

Sax nodded.

Nirgal felt his cheeks burn as an electric flush of acute relief ran through his skin, and he leaped up and gave the little man a hard hug. “You do understand!”

“Well,” Art was saying, “they did it as a kind of gesture. It was Fort’s idea, the guy who founded Praxis. ‘Maybe they’ll come back,’ he supposedly said to the Praxis people in Sheffield. I don’t know if he thought out the practicalities or not.”

“This Fort is strange,” Coyote said, and Sax nodded again.

“True,” Art said. “But I wish you could meet him. He reminds me of the stories you tell about Hiroko.”

“Does he know we’re out here?” Spencer asked.

Nirgal’s pulse leapt, but Art showed no sign of discomfort. “I don’t know. He suspects. He wants you to be out here.”

“Where does he live?” Nirgal asked.

“I don’t know.” Art described his visit to Fort. “So I don’t know exactly where he is. Somewhere on the Pacific. But if I could get word to him …”

No one responded.

“Well, maybe later,” Art said.

Sax was looking out the rover’s low windshield at the distant rock fin, at the tiny line of lit windows marking the labs behind them, empty and silent. Coyote reached out and squeezed his neck. “You want it back, don’t you.” Sax croaked something.

On the empty plain of Amazonis there were few settlements of any kind. This was the back country, and they rolled rapidly south through it, night after night, and slept in the darkened cabin of the car through the days. Their biggest problem was finding adequate hiding places. On flat open plains the boulder car stood out like a glacial erratic, and Amazonis was almost nothing but flat open plain. They usually tucked into the apron of ejecta around one of the few craters they passed. After the dawn meals Sax sometimes exercised his voice, croaking incomprehensible words, trying to communicate with them and failing. This upset Nirgal even more than it seemed to bother Sax himself, who, though clearly frustrated, did not seem pained. But then he had not tried to talk to Simon in those last weeks…

Coyote and Spencer were pleased with even this much progress, and they spent hours asking Sax questions, and running him through tests they got out of the AI lectern, trying to figure out just what the problem was. “Aphasia, obviously,” Spencer said. “I’m afraid his interrogation caused a stroke. And some strokes cause what they call nonfluent aphasia.”

“There’s such a thing as fluent aphasia?” Coyote said.

“Apparently. Nonfluent is where the subject can’t read or write, and has difficulty speaking or finding the right words, and is very aware of the problem.”

Sax nodded, as if to confirm the description.

“In fluent aphasia the subjects talk at great length, but are unaware that what they’re saying makes no sense.”

Art said, “I know a lot of people with that problem.”

Spencer ignored him. “We’ve got to get Sax down to Vlad and Ursula and Michel.”

“That’s what we’re doing.” Coyote gave Sax a squeeze on the arm before retiring to his mat.

On the fifth night after leaving the Bogdanovists, they approached the equator, and the double barrier of the fallen elevator cable. Coyote had passed the barrier in this region before, using a glacier formed by one of the aquifer outbursts of 2061, in Mangala Vallis. During the unrest water and ice had poured down the old arroyo for a hundred and fifty kilometers, and the glacier left behind when the flood froze had buried both passes of the fallen cable, at 152° longitude. Coyote had located a route over an unusually smooth stretch of this glacier, which had taken him across the two passes of the cable.

Unfortunately, when they approached Mangala Glacier — a long tumbled mass of gravel-covered brown ice, filling the bottom of a narrow valley — they found that it had changed since Coyote had last been there. “Where’s that rampway?” he kept demanding. “It was right here.”

Sax croaked, then made kneading motions with his hands, staring all the while through the windshield at the glacier.

Nirgal had a difficult time comprehending the glacier’s surface; it was a kind of visual static, all patches of dirty white and gray and black and tan, tumbled together until it was hard to distinguish size, shape, or distance. “Maybe it isn’t the same place,” he suggested.

“I can tell,” Coyote said.

“Are you sure?”

“I left markers. See, there’s one there. That trail duck on the lateral moraine. But beyond it should be a rampway up onto smooth ice, and it’s nothing but a wall of icebergs. Shit. I’ve been using this trail for ten years.”

“You’re lucky you had it that long,” Spencer said. “They’re slower than Terran glaciers, but they still flow downhill.”

Coyote only grunted. Sax croaked, then tapped at the inner lock door. He wanted to go outside.

“Might as well,” Coyote muttered, looking at a map on the screen. “We’ll have to spend the day here anyway.”

So in the predawn light Sax wandered the rubble plowed up by the glacier’s passage: a little upright creature with a light shining out of his helmet, like some deep-sea fish poking about for food. Something in the sight made Nirgal’s throat tighten, and he suited up and went outside to keep the old man company.

He wandered through the lovely chill gray morning, stepping from rock to rock, following Sax in his winding course through the moraine. Illuminated one by one in the cone of Sax’s headlamp were eldritch little worlds, the dunes and boulders interspersed with spiky low plants, filling cracks and hollows under rocks. Everything was gray, but the grays of the plants were shaded olive or khaki or brown, with occasional light spots, which were flowers — no doubt colorful in the sun, but now light luminous grays, glowing among thick furry leaves. Over his intercom Nirgal could hear Sax clearing his throat, and the little figure pointed at a rock. Nirgal crouched to inspect it. In cracks on the rock were growths like dried mushrooms, with black dots all over their shriveled cups, and sprinkled with what looked like a layer of salt. Sax croaked as Nirgal touched one, but he could not say what he wanted. “R-r-r …”

They stared at each other. “It’s okay,” Nirgal said, stricken again by the memory of Simon.

They moved to another patch of foliage. The areas that supported plants appeared like little outdoor rooms, separated by zones of dry rock and sand. Sax spent about fifteen minutes in each frosty fellfield, stumbling around awkwardly. There were a lot of different kinds of plants, and only after they had visited several glens did Nirgal begin to see some that appeared again and again. None of them resembled the plants he had grown up with in Zy-gote, nor were they like anything in the arboretums of Sabishii. Only the first-generation plants, the lichens, mosses, and grasses, looked at all familiar, like the ground cover in the high basins above Sabishii.

Sax didn’t try to speak again, but his headlamp was like a pointed finger, and Nirgal often trained his headlamp on the same area, doubling the illumination. The sky turned rosy, and it began to feel like they were in the planet’s shadow, with sunlight just overhead.

Then Sax said, “Dr — !” and aimed his headlamp at a steep slope of gravel, over which a network of woody branches grew, like a mesh put there to hold the rubble in place. “Dr — /”

“Dryad,” Nirgal said, recognizing it.

Sax nodded emphatically. The rocks under their feet were covered with light green patches of lichen, and he pointed at a patch, and said, “Ap-ple. Red. Map. Moss.”

“Hey,” Nirgal said. “You said that really well.”

The sun rose, throwing their shadows over the gravel slope. Suddenly the dryad’s little flowers were picked out by the light, the ivory petals cupping gold stamens. “Dry-ad,” Sax croaked. Their headlamp beams were now invisible, and the flowers blazed with daylight color. Nirgal heard a sound over the intercom and looked into Sax’s helmet, and saw that the old man was crying, the tears streaming down his cheeks.

Nirgal pored over mapsand photos of the region. “I have an idea,” he said to Coyote. And that night they drove to Nicholson Crater, four hundred kilometers to the west. The falling cable had to have landed across this large crater, at least on its first pass, and it seemed to Nirgal that there might be some kind of break or gap near the rim.

Sure enough, when they rolled up the low flat-topped hill that was the crater’s north apron, they came to the eroded rim and saw the weird vision of a black line, crossing the middle of the crater some forty kilometers away, looking like an artifact of some long-forgotten race of giants. “Big Man’s …” Coyote began.

“Hair strand,” Spencer suggested.

“Or black dental floss,” Art said.

The inner wall of the crater was much steeper than the outer apron, but there were a number of rim passes to choose from, and they drove without trouble down the stabilized slope of an ancient landslide, then crossed the crater floor, following the curve of the western inner wall. As they approached the cable, they saw that it emerged from a depression it had crushed in the rim, and drooped gracefully to the crater floor, like the suspension cable of a buried bridge.

They drove slowly under it. Where it left the rim, it was nearly seventy meters off the crater floor, and it didn’t touch down until it was over a kilometer out. They pointed the boulder car’s cameras up, and watched the view on the screen curiously; but the black cylinder was featureless against the stars, and they could only speculate about what the burn of the descent had done to the carbon.

“That’s nifty,” Coyote remarked as they drove up a smooth slope of eolian deposit, over another rim pass and out of the crater. “Now let’s hope there’s a way over the next pass.”

From the southern flank of Nicholson they could see south for many kilometers, and midway to the horizon was the black line of the cable’s second time around. This section had impacted many times harder than the first pass, and two swaths of ejecta paralleled the cable like henge mounds. It appeared that the cable just barely stuck out of the trench it had smashed into the plain.

As they got closer to it, weaving between ejecta boulders, they could see that the cable was a shattered mass of black rubble, a mound of carbon three to five meters higher than the plain, and steep on its sides, so that it did not look like it would be possible to drive over it in the boulder car.

Off to the east, however, was a dip in the mound of wreckage, and when they drove down the line to investigate, they found that a meteor impact subsequent to the cable’s fall had landed on the wreckage itself, smashing the cable and the ejecta swaths on both sides, and creating a new low crater that was all flecked and studded with black cable fragments, and occasional chunks of the diamond matrix that had spiraled inside the cable. It was a disordered mess of a crater, with no well-defined rim to block their way; and it looked like it would be possible to find a route through.

“Incredible,” said Coyote.

Sax shook his head vigorously. “Dei— Dei— ”

“Phobos,” Nirgal said, and Sax nodded.

“Do you think so?” Spencer exclaimed.

Sax shrugged, but Spencer and Coyote discussed the possibility enthusiastically. The crater appeared oval, a so-called bathtub crater, which would support the idea of a low-angle impact. And while a random meteor hitting the cable in the forty years since its fall would be quite a coincidence, the fragments of Phobos had fallen entirely in the equatorial zone, and so a piece of it hitting the cable was much less surprising. “Very useful,” Coyote noted after he had negotiated their way over the little crater, and gotten the car south of the ejecta zone.

They parked next to one of the last big chunks of ejecta, and suited up and went back to have a look at the site.

There were brecciated chunks of rock everywhere, so that it was not obvious which were pieces of the meteor and which ejecta excavated by the cable’s fall. But Spencer was pretty good at rock ID, and he collected several samples that he said were exotic carbonaceous chondrite, very likely to be pieces of the impact rock. It would take a chemical analysis to be sure, but back in the car he looked at them under magnification, and declared himself confident that these were pieces of Phobos. “Arkady showed me a piece just like it, the first time he came down.” They passed around a heavy burned-looking black chunk. “Impact brecciation has metamorphosed it,” Spencer said, inspecting the stone when it came back to him. “I suppose it has to be called phobosite.”

“Not the rarest rock on Mars, either,” Coyote said.

To the southeast of Nicholson Crater, the two big parallel canyons of the Medusae Fossae ran for over three hundred kilometers, into the fteart of the southern highlands. Coyote decided to drive up East Medusa, the bigger of the two fractures. “I like to go through canyons when I can, see if the walls have any overhangs or caves. That’s how I’ve found most of my cache sites.”

“What if you run into a transverse scarp that crosses the whole canyon?” Nirgal asked.

“I backtrack. I’ve done an inhuman lot of backtracking, no doubt about that.”

So they drove up the canyon, which proved mostly flat-floored, for the rest of the night. The following night, as they continued south, the floor of the canyon began to rise, in steps that they were always able to negotiate. Then they reached a new and higher level of flat floor, and Nirgal, who was driving, braked the car. “There’s buildings up there!”

They all crowded around to look through the windshield. On the horizon, under the eastern wall of the canyon, a cluster of small white stone buildings stood silently.

After a half hour’s examination .with the car’s various imagers and scopes, Coyote shrugged. “No obvious electricity or warmth. Doesn’t look like anyone’s home. Let’s go have a look.”

So they drove toward the structures, and stopped beside a massive chunk of the cliff wall, which had rolled well out on the floor. From this distance they could see that the buildings were freestanding, with no tent around them; they appeared to be solid blocks of whitish rock, like the caliche blanco in the badlands north of Olympus. Small white figures stood motionlessly between these buildings, on white plazas ringed by white trees. It was all made of stone.

“A statue,” Spencer said. “A town of stone!”

“Mud,” Sax croaked, then pounded the dashboard angrily, giving it four sharp slams that startled them all. “Muh! — du! — sa!”

Spencer and Art and Coyote laughed. They clapped Sax on the shoulders as if they were trying to pile-drive him into the floor. Then they all suited up again, and went out to have a closer look.

The white walls of the buildings glowed eerily in the starlight, like giant soap carvings. There were some twenty buildings, and many trees, and a couple of hundred people — and also a few score lions, mixed freely among the people. All carved from white stone, which Spencer identified as alabaster. The central plaza seemed to have been petrified during an active morning; there was a crowded farmers’ market, and a group clustered around two men playing chess, with waist-high pieces on a large board. The black chess pieces and the black squares of the chessboard stood out dramatically in their surroundings — onyx, in an alabaster world.

Another group of statues watched a juggler, who looked up at invisible balls. Several of the lions were watching this exhibition closely, as if ready to bat something out of the air if the juggler came too close. All the faces of the statues, human or feline, were rounded and almost featureless, but every one of them somehow expressed an attitude.

“Look at the circular arrangement of the buildings,” Spencer said over the intercom. “It’s Bogdanovist architecture, or something like.”

“No Bogdanovist ever mentioned this to me,” Coyote said. “I don’t think any of them have ever been in this region. I don’t know anyone who has. This is pretty remote.” He looked around, a grin showing through his faceplate. “Someone spent a bit of time at this!”

“It’s strange what people will do,” Spencer said.

Nirgal wandered around the edges of the construct, ignoring the talk on the intercom, looking into one blurred face after another, looking into white stone doorways and white stone windows, his blood stirring. It was as if the sculptor had made the place in order to speak to him, to strike him with his own vision. The white world of his childhood, thrusting right out into the green — or, out here, into the red…

And there was something in the peace of the place. Not just the stillness, but the marvelous relaxation in all the figures, the flowing calm of their stances. Mars could be this way. No more hiding, no more strife, the children racing around the market, the lions walking among them like cats…

After an extended tour of the alabaster town, they returned to the car and drove on. About fifteen minutes later Nirgal spotted another statue, a white bas-relief face only, emerging from the cliff face opposite the town. “The Medusa herself,” Spencer said, pausing in his nightly drink. The basilisk glare of the Gorgon was directed back at the town, and the stone snakes of her hair twisted away from her head and back into the cliffside, as if the rock had only just seized her by a serpentine ponytail, preventing her from emerging completely from the planet.

“Beautiful,” Coyote said. “Remember that face — if that’s not a self-portrait of the sculptor, I’m much mistaken.” He drove on without stopping, and Nirgal stared at the stone face curiously. It seemed to be Asian, although perhaps that was only the effect of having the snake hair pulled back. He tried to memorize the features, feeling it was someone he already knew.

They came out of the Medusa’s canyon before dawn, and stopped to hide through the day, and chart their next move. Beyond Burton Crater, which lay before them, the Memnonia Fossae cut the land east to west for hundreds of kilometers, blocking their way south. They had to go west, toward Williams and Ejriksson craters, then south again toward Columbus Crater, and after that weave through a narrow gap in the Sirenum Fossae farther south — and so on. Doing a continuous dance around craters, cracks, escarpments, and hollows. The southern highlands were extremely rough compared to the smooth long vistas of the north — Art commented on the difference, and Coyote said irritably, “It’s a planet, man. There’s all kind of land.”

Every day they woke to an alarm set for an hour before sunset, and spent the last light of day eating a spare breakfast, and watching the garish alpenglow colors spread with the shadows over the rugged landscape. Then every night they drove, without ever being able to use the autopilot, navigating the broken terrain kilometer by kilometer. Nirgal and Art took the graveyard shift together on most nights, and continued their long conversations. Then as the stars faded, and dawn’s pure violet light stained the eastern sky, they found places where the boulder car would be inconspicuous — in this latitude the work of a moment, almost just a matter of stopping, as Art said — and ate a leisurely supper, watching the sharp blast of sunrise and its sudden creation of great fields of shadow. A couple of hours later, after a planning session, and occasional trips out, they would darken the windshield, and sleep through the day.

At the end of another long night’s conversation about their respective childhoods, Nirgal said, “I suppose it wasn’t until Sabishii that I realized that Zygote was …”

“Unusual?” Coyote said from his sleeping mat behind them. “Unique? Bizarre? Hirokolike?”

Nirgal was not surprised to discover that Coyote was awake; the old man slept poorly, and often muttered a dreamy commentary to Nirgal and Art’s narrative, which they generally ignored, as he was mostly asleep. But now Nirgal said, “Zygote reflects Hiroko, I think. She’s very inward.”

“Ha,” Coyote said. “She didn’t use to be.”

“When was that?” Art pounced, swiveling in his chair to include Coyote in their little circle of talk.

“Oh, back before the beginning,” Coyote said. “In prehistoric times, back on Earth.”