/ Language: English / Genre:sf / Series: Mars Trilogy

Red Mars

Kim Robinson

In his most ambitious project to date, award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson utilizes years of research and cutting-edge science in the first of three novels that will chronicle the colonization of Mars. For eons, sandstorms have swept the barren desolate landscape of the red planet. For centuries, Mars has beckoned to mankind to come and conquer its hostile climate. Now, in the year 2026, a group of one hundred colonists is about to fulfill that destiny. John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers, and Arkady Bogdanov lead a mission whose ultimate goal is the terraforming of Mars. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage and madness; for others it offers and opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. And for the genetic "alchemists, " Mars presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life…and death. The colonists place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light to the planets surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels, kilometers in depth, will be drilled into the Martian mantle to create stupendous vents of hot gases. Against this backdrop of epic upheaval, rivalries, loves, and friendships will form and fall to pieces-for there are those who will fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed. Brilliantly imagined, breathtaking in scope and ingenuity, Red Mars is an epic scientific saga, chronicling the next step in human evolution and creating a world in its entirety. Red Mars shows us a future, with both glory and tarnish, that awes with complexity and inspires with vision.

Kim Stanley Robinson


for Lisa


Part 1. Festival Night

Mars was empty before we came. That’s not to say that nothing had ever happened. The planet had accreted, melted, roiled and cooled, leaving a surface scarred by enormous geological features: craters, canyons, volcanoes. But all of that happened in mineral unconsciousness, and unobserved. There were no witnesses— except for us, looking from the planet next door, and that only in the last moment of its long history. We are all the consciousness that Mars has ever had.

Now everybody knows the history of Mars in the human mind: how for all the generations of prehistory it was one of the chief lights in the sky, because of its redness and fluctuating intensity, and the way it stalled in its wandering course through the stars, and sometimes even reversed direction. It seemed to be saying something with all that. So perhaps it is not surprising that all the oldest names for Mars have a peculiar weight on the tongue— Nirgal, Mangala, Auqakuh, Harmakhis— they sound as if they were even older than the ancient languages we find them in, as if they were fossil words from the Ice Age or before. Yes, for thousands of years Mars was a sacred power in human affairs; and its color made it a dangerous power, representing blood, anger, war and the heart.

Then the first telescopes gave us a closer look, and we saw the little orange disk, with its white poles and dark patches spreading and shrinking as the long seasons passed. No improvement in the technology of the telescope ever gave us much more than that; but the best Earthbound images gave Lowell enough blurs to inspire a story, the story we all know, of a dying world and a heroic people, desperately building canals to hold off the final deadly encroachment of the desert.

It was a great story. But then Mariner and Viking sent back their photos, and everything changed. Our knowledge of Mars expanded by magnitudes, we literally knew millions of times more about this planet than we had before. And there before us flew a new world, a world unsuspected.

It seemed, however, to be a world without life. People searched for signs of past or present Martian life, anything from microbes to the doomed canal-builders, or even alien visitors. As you know, no evidence for any of these has ever been found. And so stories have naturally blossomed to fill the gap, just as in Lowell’s time, or in Homer’s, or in the caves or on the savannah— stories of microfossils wrecked by our bio-organisms, of ruins found in dust storms and then lost forever, of Big Man and all his adventures, of the elusive little red people, always glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. And all of these tales are told in an attempt to give Mars life, or to bring it to life. Because we are still those animals who survived the Ice Age, and looked up at the night sky in wonder, and told stories. And Mars has never ceased to be what it was to us from our very beginning— a great sign, a great symbol, a great power.

And so we came here. It had been a power; now it became a place.

“And so we came here. But what they didn’t realize was that by the time we got to Mars, we would be so changed by the voyage out that nothing we had been told to do mattered anymore. It wasn’t like submarining or settling the Wild West— it was an entirely new experience and as the flight of the Ares went on, the Earth finally became so distant that it was nothing but a blue star among all the others, its voices so delayed that they seemed to come from a previous century. We were on our own; and so we became fundamentally different beings.”

All lies, Frank Chalmers thought irritably. He was sitting in a row of dignitaries, watching his old friend John Boone give the usual Boone Inspirational Address. It made Chalmers weary. The truth was the trip to Mars had been the functional equivalent of a long train ride. Not only had they not become fundamentally different beings, they had actually become more like themselves than ever, stripped of habits until they were left with nothing but the naked raw material of their selves. But John stood up there waving a forefinger at the crowd, saying, “We came here to make something new, and when we arrived our earthly differences fell away, irrelevant in this new world!” Yes, he meant it all literally. His vision of Mars was a lens that distorted everything he saw, a kind of religion. He would spout the same nonsense in private conversation, no matter how you rolled your eyes.

Chalmers stopped listening and let his gaze wander over the new city. They were going to call it Nicosia. It was the first town of any size to be built freestanding on the Martian surface; all the buildings were set inside what was in effect an immense clear tent, supported by a nearly invisible frame, and placed on the rise of Tharsis, west of Noctis Labyrinthus. This location gave it a tremendous view, with a distant western horizon punctuated by the broad peak of Pavonis Mons. For the Mars veterans in the crowd it was giddy stuff: they were on the surface, they were out of the trenches and mesas and craters, they could see forever! Hurrah!

A laugh from the audience drew Frank’s attention back to his old friend. John Boone had a slightly hoarse voice and a friendly Midwestern accent, and he was by turns (and somehow even all at once) relaxed, intense, sincere, self-mocking, modest, confident, serious, and funny. In short, the perfect public speaker. And the audience was rapt; this was the First Man On Mars speaking to them, and judging by the looks on their faces they might as well have been watching Jesus produce their evening meal out of the loaves and fishes. And in fact John almost deserved their adoration for performing a similar miracle on another plane, transforming their tin-can existence into an astounding spiritual voyage. “On Mars we will come to care for each other more than ever before,” John said, which really meant, Chalmers thought, an alarming incidence of the kind of behavior seen in rat overpopulation experiments; “Mars is a sublime, exotic and dangerous place,” said John— meaning a frozen ball of oxidized rock on which they were exposed to about fifteen rem a year; “And with our work,” John continued, “we are carving out a new social order and the next step in the human story”— i.e., the latest variant in primate dominance dynamics.

John finished with this flourish, and there was, of course, a huge roar of applause. Maya Toitovna then went to the podium to introduce Chalmers. Frank gave her a private look which meant he was in no mood for any of her jokes; she saw it and said, “Our next speaker has been the fuel in our little rocket ship,” which somehow got a laugh. “His vision and energy are what got us to Mars in the first place, so save any complaints you may have for our next speaker, my old friend Frank Chalmers.”

At the podium he found himself surprised by how big the town appeared. It covered a long triangle, and they were gathered at its highest point, a park occupying the western apex. Seven paths rayed down through the park to become wide, tree-lined, grassy boulevards. Between the boulevards stood low trapezoidal buildings, each faced with polished stone of a different color. The size and architecture of the buildings gave things a faintly Parisian look, Paris as seen by a drunk Fauvist in spring, sidewalk cafés and all. Four or five kilometers downslope the end of the city was marked by three slender skyscrapers, beyond which lay the low greenery of the farm. The skyscrapers were part of the tent framework, which overhead was an arched network of sky-colored lines. The tent fabric itself was invisible, and so taken all in all, it appeared that they stood in the open air. That was gold, that was. Nicosia was going to be a popular city.

Chalmers said as much to the audience, and enthusiastically they agreed. Apparently he had the crowd, fickle souls that they were, about as securely as John. Chalmers was bulky and dark, and he knew he presented quite a contrast to John’s blond good looks; but he knew as well that he had his own rough charisma, and as he warmed up he drew on it, falling into a selection of his own stock phrases.

Then a shaft of sunlight lanced down between the clouds, striking the upturned faces of the crowd, and he felt an odd tightening in his stomach. So many people there, so many strangers! People in the mass were a frightening thing (as they were individually)— all those wet ceramic alien eyes encased in pink blobs, looking at him. . Usually when he spoke to an audience he picked out a few faces and the rest became visual filler, but with the sunlight coursing over his shoulder they all caught at his eye at once, and it was nearly too much. Five thousand people in a single Martian town! After all the years in Underhill it was hard to grasp.

Foolishly he tried to tell the audience something of this. “Looking,” he said. “Looking around. . the strangeness of our presence here is. . accentuated.”

He was losing the crowd. How to say it? How to say that they alone in all that rocky world were alive, their faces glowing like paper lanterns in the light? How to say that even if living creatures were no more than carriers for ruthless genes, this was still somehow better than the blank mineral nothingness of everything else?

Of course he could never say it. Not at any time, perhaps, and certainly not in a speech. So he collected himself. “In the Martian desolation,” he said, “the human presence is, well, a remarkable thing.” (They would care for each other more than ever before, a voice in his mind repeated sardonically.) “The planet, taken in itself, is a dead frozen nightmare” (therefore exotic and sublime) “and so thrown on our own, we of necessity are in the process of. . reorganizing a bit” (or forming a new social order)— so that yes, yes, yes, he found himself proclaiming exactly the same lies they had just heard from John!

Ridiculous. But lies were what people wanted; that was politics. Thus at the end of his speech he too got a big roar of applause. Irritated, he announced it was time to eat, depriving Maya of her chance for a final remark. Although probably she had known he would do that and so hadn’t bothered to think of any. Frank Chalmers liked to have the last word.

• • •

People crowded onto the temporary platform to mingle with the celebrities. It was rare to get this many of the first hundred in one spot anymore, and people crowded around John and Maya, Samantha Hoyle, Sax Russell and Chalmers.

Frank looked over the crowd at John and Maya. He didn’t recognize the group of Terrans surrounding them, which made him curious. He made his way across the platform, and as he approached he saw Maya and John give each other a look. “There’s no reason this place shouldn’t function under normal law,” one of the Terrans was saying.

Maya said to him, “Did Olympus Mons really remind you of Mauna Loa?”

“Sure,” the man said. “Shield volcanoes all look alike.”

Frank stared over this idiot’s head at Maya. She didn’t acknowledge the look. John was pretending not to have noticed Frank’s arrival. Samantha Hoyle was speaking to another man in an undertone, explaining something; he nodded, then glanced involuntarily at Frank. Samantha kept her back turned to him. But it was John who mattered, John and Maya. And both were pretending that nothing was out of the ordinary; but the topic of conversation, whatever it had been, had gone away.

• • •

Chalmers left the platform. People were still trooping down through the park, toward tables that had been set in the upper ends of the seven boulevards. Chalmers followed them, walking under young transplanted sycamores; their khaki leaves colored the afternoon light, making the park look like the bottom of an aquarium.

At the banquet tables construction workers were knocking back vodka, getting rowdy, obscurely aware that with the construction finished, the heroic age of Nicosia was ended. Perhaps that was true for all of Mars.

The air filled with overlapping conversations. Frank sank beneath the turbulence, wandered out to the northern perimeter. He stopped at a waist-high concrete coping: the city wall. Out of the metal stripping on its top rose four layers of clear plastic. A Swiss man was explaining things to a group of visitors, pointing happily.

“An outer membrane of piezoelectric plastic generates electricity from wind. Then two sheets hold a layer of airgel insulation. Then the inner layer is a radiation-capturing membrane, which turns purple and must be replaced. More clear than a window, isn’t it?”

The visitors agreed. Frank reached out and pushed at the inner membrane. It stretched until his fingers were buried to the knuckles. Slightly cool. There was faint white lettering printed on the plastic: isidis planitia polymers. Through the sycamores over his shoulder he could still see the platform at the apex. John and Maya and their cluster of Terran admirers were still there, talking animatedly. Conducting the business of the planet. Deciding the fate of Mars.

He stopped breathing. He felt the pressure of his molars squeezing together. He poked the tent wall so hard that he pushed out the outermost membrane, which meant that some of his anger would be captured and stored as electricity in the town’s grid. Polyvinylidene difluoride was a special polymer in that respect— carbon atoms were linked to hydrogen and fluorine atoms in such a way that the resulting substance was even more piezoelectric than quartz. Change one element of the three, however, and everything shifted; substitute chlorine for fluorine, for instance, and you had saran wrap.

Frank stared at his wrapped hand, then up again at the other two elements, still bonded to each other. But without him they were nothing!

Angrily he walked into the narrow streets of the city.

• • •

Clustered in a plaza like mussels on a rock were a group of Arabs, drinking coffee. Arabs had arrived on Mars only ten years before, but already they were a force to be reckoned with. They had a lot of money, and they had teamed up with the Swiss to build a number of towns, including this one. And they liked it on Mars. “It’s like a cold day in the Empty Quarter,” as the Saudis said. The similarity was such that Arabic words were slipping quickly into English, because Arabic had a larger vocabulary for this landscape: akaba for the steep final slopes around volcanoes, badia for the great world dunes, nefuds for deep sand, seyl for the billion-year-old dry riverbeds. . People were saying they might as well switch over to Arabic and have done with it.

Frank had spent a fair bit of time with Arabs, and the men in the plaza were pleased to see him. “Salaam aleyk!” they said to him, and he replied, “Marhabba!” White teeth flashed under black moustaches. Only men present, as usual. Some youths led him to a central table where the older men sat, including his friend Zeyk. Zeyk said, “We are going to call this square Hajr el-kra Meshab, ‘the red granite open place in town.’ ” He gestured at the rust-colored flagstones. Frank nodded and asked what kind of stone it was. He spoke Arabic for as long as he could, pushing the edges of his ability and getting some good laughs in response. Then he sat at the central table and relaxed, feeling like he could have been on a street in Damascus or Cairo, comfortable in the wash of Arabic and expensive cologne.

He studied the men’s faces as they talked. An alien culture, no doubt about it. They weren’t going to change just because they were on Mars, they put the lie to John’s vision. Their thinking clashed radically with Western thought; for instance the separation of church and state was wrong to them, making it impossible for them to agree with Westerners on the very basis of government. And they were so patriarchal that some of their women were said to be illiterate— illiterates, on Mars! That was a sign. And indeed these men had the dangerous look that Frank associated with machismo, the look of men who oppressed their women so cruelly that naturally the women struck back where they could, terrorizing sons who then terrorized wives who terrorized sons and so on and so on, in an endless death spiral of twisted love and sex hatred. So that in that sense they were all madmen.

Which was one reason Frank liked them. And certainly they would come in useful to him, acting as a new locus of power. Defend a weak new neighbor to weaken the old powerful ones, as Machiavelli had said. So he drank coffee, and gradually, politely, they shifted to English, and by shifting with them Frank not only conceded their superiority in languages, but also found it easier to control the conversation.

“How did you like the speeches?” he asked, looking into the black mud at the bottom of his demitasse.

“John Boone is the same as ever,” old Zeyk replied. The others laughed angrily. “When he says we will make an indigenous Martian culture, he only means some of the Terran cultures here will be promoted, and others attacked. Those perceived as regressive will be singled out for destruction. It is a form of Ataturkism.”

“He thinks everyone on Mars should become American,” said a man named Nejm.

“Why not?” Zeyk said, smiling. “It’s already happened on Earth.”

“No,” Frank said. “You shouldn’t misunderstand Boone. People say he’s self-absorbed, but—”

“He is self-absorbed!” Nejm cried. “He lives in a hall of mirrors! He thinks that we have come to Mars to establish a good old American superculture, and that everyone will agree to it because it is the John Boone plan.”

Zeyk said, “He doesn’t understand that other people have other opinions.”

“It’s not that,” Frank said. “It’s just that he knows they don’t make as much sense as his.”

They laughed at that, but the younger men’s hoots had a bitter edge. They all believed that before their arrival Boone had argued in secret against U.N. approval for Arab settlements. Frank encouraged this belief, which was almost true— John disliked any ideology that might get in his way. He wanted the slate as blank as possible in everybody who came up.

The Arabs, however, believed that John disliked them in particular. Young Selim el-Hayil opened his mouth to speak, and Frank gave him a swift warning glance. Selim froze, then pursed his mouth angrily. Frank said, “Well, he’s not as bad as all that. Although to tell the truth I’ve heard him say it would have been better if the Americans and Russians had been able to claim the planet when they arrived, like explorers in the old days.”

Their laughter was brief and grim. Selim’s shoulders hunched as if struck. Frank shrugged and smiled, spread his hands wide. “But it’s pointless! I mean, what can he do?”

Old Zeyk lifted his eyebrows. “Opinions vary on that.”

Opinions vary on that. Yes, a lot of people had underestimated John Boone— Chalmers had done it himself many times. An image came to him of John in the White House, pink with conviction, his disobedient blond hair flying wildly, the sun streaming in the Oval Office windows and illuminating him as he waved his hands and paced the room, talking away while the President nodded and his aides watched, pondering how best to co-opt that electrifying charisma. Oh, they had been hot in those days, Chalmers and Boone; Frank with the ideas and John the front man, with a momentum that was practically unstoppable. It would be more a matter of derailment, really.

• • •

Chalmers got up to move on, meeting for one instant Selim’s insistent gaze. Then he strode down a side street, one of the narrow lanes that connected the city’s seven main boulevards. Most were paved with cobblestones or streetgrass, but this one was rough blond concrete. He slowed by a recessed doorway, looked in the window of a closed boot manufactory. His faint reflection appeared in a pair of bulky walker boots.

Selim el-Hayil’s reflection appeared among the boots.

“Is it true?” he demanded.

“Is what true?” said Frank crossly.

“Is Boone anti-Arab?”

“What do you think?”

“Was he the one who blocked permission to build the mosque on Phobos?”

“He’s a powerful man.”

The young Saudi’s face twisted. “The most powerful man on Mars, and he only wants more! He wants to be king!” Selim made a fist and struck his other hand. He was slimmer than the other Arabs, weak-chinned, his moustache covering a small mouth. A bit of a rabbit, but with sharp teeth.

“The treaty comes up for renewal soon,” Frank said. “And Boone’s coalition is bypassing me.” He ground his teeth. “I don’t know what their plans are, but I’m going to find out tonight. You can imagine what they’ll be, anyway. Western biases, certainly. He may withhold his approval of a new treaty unless it contains guarantees that all settlements will be made only by the original treaty signatories.” Selim shivered, and Frank pressed; “It’s what he wants, and it’s very possible he could get it, because his new coalition makes him more powerful than ever. It could mean an end to settlement by nonsignatories. You’ll become guest scientists. Or get sent back.”

In the window the reflection of Selim’s face appeared a kind of mask, signifying rage. “Battal, battal,” he was muttering. Very bad, very bad. His hands twisted as if out of his control, and he muttered about the Koran or Camus, Persepolis or the Peacock Throne, references scattered nervously among non sequiturs. Babbling.

“Talk means nothing,” Chalmers said harshly. “When it comes down to it, nothing matters but action.”

That gave the young Arab pause. “I can’t be sure,” he said at last.

Frank poked him in the arm, watched a shock run through the man. “It’s your people we’re talking about. It’s this planet we’re talking about.”

Selim’s mouth disappeared under his moustache. After a time he said, “It’s true.”

Frank said nothing. They looked in the window together, as if judging boots.

Finally Frank raised a hand. “I’ll talk to Boone again,” he said quietly. “Tonight. He leaves tomorrow. I’ll try to talk to him, to reason with him. I doubt it will matter. It never has before. But I’ll try. Afterward. . we should meet.”


“In the park, then, the southernmost path. Around eleven.”

Selim nodded.

Chalmers transfixed him with a stare. “Talk means nothing,” he said brusquely, and walked away.

• • •

The next boulevard Chalmers came to was crowded with people clumped outside open-front bars, or kiosks selling couscous and bratwurst. Arab and Swiss. It seemed an odd combination, but they meshed well.

Tonight some of the Swiss were distributing face masks from the door of an apartment. Apparently they were celebrating this stadtfest as a kind of Mardi Gras, Fassnacht as they called it, with masks and music and every manner of social inversion, just as it was back home on those wild February nights in Basel and Zürich and Luzern. . On an impulse Frank joined the line. “Around every profound spirit a mask is always growing,” he said to two young women in front of him. They nodded politely and then resumed conversation in guttural Schwyzerdüütsch, a dialect never written down, a private code, incomprehensible even to Germans. It was another impenetrable culture, the Swiss, in some ways even more so than the Arabs. That was it, Frank thought; they worked well together because they were both so insular that they never made any real contact. He laughed out loud as he took a mask, a black face studded with red paste gems. He put it on.

A line of masked celebrants snaked down the boulevard, drunk, loose, at the edge of control. At an intersection the boulevard opened up into a small plaza, where a fountain shot sun-colored water into the air. Around the fountain a steel-drum band hammered out a calypso tune. People gathered around, dancing or hopping in time to the low bong of the bass drum. A hundred meters overhead a vent in the tent frame poured frigid air down onto the plaza, air so cold that little flakes of snow floated in it, glinting in the light like chips of mica. Then fireworks banged just under the tenting, and colored sparks fell down through the snowflakes.

• • •

It always seemed to him that sunset more than any other time of day made it clear that they stood on an alien planet; something in the slant and redness of the light was fundamentally wrong, upsetting expectations wired into the savannah brain over millions of years. This evening was providing a particularly garish and unsettling example of the phenomenon. Frank wandered in its light, making his way back to the city wall. The plain south of the city was littered with a truly Martian abundance of rocks, each one dogged by a long black shadow. Under the concrete arch of the city’s south gate he stopped. No one there. The gates were locked during festivals like these, to keep drunks from going out and getting hurt. But Frank had gotten the day’s emergency code out of the fire department AI that morning, and when he was sure no one was watching he tapped out the code and hurried into the lock. He put on a walker, boots, and helmet, and went through the middle and outer doors.

Outside it was intensely cold as always, and the diamond pattern of the walker’s heating element burned through his clothes. He crunched over concrete and then duricrust. Loose sand flowed east, pushed by the wind.

Grimly he looked around. Rocks everywhere. A planet sledgehammered billions of times. And meteors still falling. Someday one of the towns would take a hit. He turned and looked back. It looked like an aquarium glowing in the dusk. There would be no warning, but everything would suddenly fly apart, walls, vehicles, trees, bodies. The Aztecs had believed the world would end in one of four ways: earthquake, fire, flood, or jaguars falling from the sky. Here there would be no fire. Nor earthquake nor flood, now that he thought of it. Leaving only the jaguars.

The twilight sky was a dark pink over Pavonis Mons. To the east stretched Nicosia’s farm, a long low greenhouse running downslope from the city. From this angle one could see that the farm was larger than the town proper, and jammed with green crops. Frank clumped to one of its outer locks, and entered.

Inside the farm it was hot, a full sixty degrees warmer than outside, and fifteen degrees warmer than in the city. He had to keep his helmet on, as the farm air was tailored to the plants, heavy on CO2 and short on oxygen. He stopped at a work station and fingered through drawers of small tools and pesticide patches, gloves and bags. He selected three tiny patches and put them in a plastic bag, then slipped the bag gently into the walker’s pocket. The patches were clever pesticides, biosaboteurs designed to provide plants with systemic defenses; he had been reading about them, and knew of a combination that in animals would be deadly to the organism. .

He put a pair of shears in the walker’s other pocket. Narrow gravel paths led him up between long beds of barley and wheat, back toward the city proper. He went in the lock leading into town, unclipped his helmet, stripped off the walker and boots, transferred the contents of the walker pockets to his coat. Then he went back into the lower end of town.

Here the Arabs had built a medina, insisting that such a neighborhood was crucial to a city’s health; the boulevards narrowed, and between them lay warrens of twisted alleyways taken from the maps of Tunis or Algiers, or generated randomly. Nowhere could you see from one boulevard to the next, and the sky overhead was visible only in plum strips, between buildings that leaned together.

Most of the alleys were empty now, as the party was uptown. A pair of cats skulked between buildings, investigating their new home. Frank took the shears from his pocket and scratched into a few plastic windows, in Arabic lettering, Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew. He walked on, whistling through his teeth. Corner cafés were little caves of light. Bottles clinked like prospectors’ hammers. An Arab sat on a squat black speaker, playing an electric guitar.

He found the central boulevard, walked up it. Boys in the branches of the lindens and sycamores shouted songs to each other in Schwyzerdüütsch. One ditty was in English: “John Boone/Went to the moon/No fast cars/He went to Mars!” Small disorganized music bands barged through the thickening crowd. Some moustached men dressed as American cheerleaders flounced expertly through a complicated can-can routine. Kids banged little plastic drums. It was loud; the tenting absorbed sound, so there weren’t the echoes one heard under crater domes, but it was loud nevertheless.

Up there, where the boulevard opened into the sycamore park— that was John himself, surrounded by a small crowd. He saw Chalmers approaching and waved, recognizing him despite the mask. That was how the first hundred knew each other. .

“Hey, Frank,” he said. “You look like you’re having a good time.”

“I am,” Frank said through his mask. “I love cities like this, don’t you? A mixed-species flock. It shows you what a diverse collection of cultures Mars is.”

John’s smile was easy. His eyes shifted as he surveyed the boulevard below.

Sharply Frank said, “A place like this is a crimp in your plan, isn’t it?”

Boone’s gaze returned to him. The surrounding crowd slipped away, sensing the agonistic nature of the exchange. Boone said to Frank, “I don’t have a plan.”

“Oh come on! What about your speech?”

Boone shrugged. “Maya wrote it.”

A double lie: that Maya wrote it, that John didn’t believe it. Probably. Even after all these years it was almost like talking to a stranger. To a politician at work. “Come on, John,” Frank snapped. “You believe all that and you know it. But what are you going to do with all these different nationalities? All the ethnic hatreds, the religious manias? Your coalition can’t possibly keep a thumb on all this. You can’t keep Mars for yourselves, John, it’s not a scientific station anymore, and you’re not going to get a treaty that makes it one.”

“We’re not trying to.”

“Then why are you trying to cut me out of the talks!”

“I’m not!” John looked injured. “Relax, Frank. We’ll hammer it out together just like we always have. Relax.”

Frank stared at his old friend, nonplussed. What to believe? He had never known how to think of John— the way he had used Frank as a springboard, the way he was so friendly. . hadn’t they begun as allies, as friends?

It occurred to him that John was looking for Maya. “So where is she?”

“Around somewhere,” Boone said shortly.

It had been years since they had been able to talk about Maya. Now Boone gave him a sharp look, as if to say it was none of his business. As if everything of importance to Boone had become, over the years, none of Frank’s business.

Frank left him without a word.

• • •

The sky was now a deep violet, streaked by yellow cirrus clouds. Frank passed two figures wearing white ceramic dominoes, the old Comedy and Tragedy personas, handcuffed together. The city’s streets had gone dark and windows blazed, silhouettes partying in them. Big eyes darted in every blurry mask, looking to find the source of the tension in the air. Under the tidal sloshing of the crowd there was a low tearing sound.

He shouldn’t have been surprised, he shouldn’t. He knew John as well as one could know another person; but it had never been any of his business. Into the trees of the park, under the hand-sized leaves of the sycamores. When had it been any different! All that time together, those years of friendship; and none of it had mattered. Diplomacy by other means.

• • •

He looked at his watch. Nearly eleven. He had an appointment with Selim. Another appointment. A lifetime of days divided into quarter hours made him used to running from one appointment to the next, changing masks, dealing with crisis after crisis, managing, manipulating, doing business in a hectic rush that never ended; and here it was a celebration, Mardi Gras, Fassnacht! and he was still doing it. He couldn’t remember any other way.

He came on a construction site, skeletal magnesium framing surrounded by piles of bricks and sand and paving stones. Careless of them to leave such things around. He stuffed his coat pockets with fragments of brick just big enough to hold. Straightening up, he noticed someone watching him from the other side of the site— a little man with a thin face under spiky black dreadlocks, watching him intently. Something in the look was disconcerting, it was as if the stranger saw through all his masks and was observing him so closely because he was aware of his thoughts, his plans.

Spooked, Chalmers beat a quick retreat into the bottom fringe of the park. When he was sure he had lost the man, and that no one else was watching, he began throwing stones and bricks down into the lower town, hurling them as hard as he could. And one for that stranger too, right in the face! Overhead the tent framework was visible only as a faint pattern of occluded stars; it seemed they stood free, in a chill night wind. Air circulation was high tonight, of course. Broken glass, shouts. A scream. It really was loud, people were going crazy. One last paving stone, heaved at a big lit picture window across the grass. It missed. He slipped further into the trees.

Near the southern wall he saw someone under a sycamore— Selim, circling nervously. “Selim,” Frank called quietly, sweating. He reached into his jumper pocket, carefully felt in the bag and palmed the trio of stem patches. Synergy could be so powerful, for good or ill. He walked forward and roughly embraced the young Arab. The patches hit and penetrated Selim’s light cotton shirt. Frank pulled back.

Now Selim had about six hours. “Did you speak with Boone?” he asked.

“I tried,” Chalmers said. “He didn’t listen. He lied to me.” It was so easy to feign distress: “Twenty-five years of friendship, and he lied to me!” He struck a tree trunk with his palm, and the patches flew away in the dark. He controlled himself. “His coalition is going to recommend that all Martian settlements originate in the countries that signed the first treaty.” It was possible; and it was certainly plausible.

“He hates us!” Selim cried.

“He hates everything that gets in his way. And he can see that Islam is still a real force in people’s lives. It shapes the way people think, and he can’t stand that.”

Selim shuddered. In the gloom the whites of his eyes were bright. “He has to be stopped.”

Frank turned aside, leaned against a tree. “I. . don’t know.”

“You said it yourself. Talk means nothing.”

Frank circled the tree, feeling dizzy. You fool, he thought, talk means everything. We are nothing but information exchange, talk is all we have!

He came on Selim again and said, “How?”

“The planet. It is our way.”

“The city gates are locked tonight.”

That stopped him. His hands started to twist.

Frank said, “But the gate to the farm is still open.”

“But the farm’s outer gates will be locked.”

Frank shrugged, let him figure it out.

And quickly enough Selim blinked, and said “Ah.” Then he was gone.

• • •

Frank sat between trees, on the ground. It was a sandy damp brown dirt, product of a great deal of engineering. Nothing in the city was natural, nothing.

After a time he got to his feet. He walked through the park, looking at people. If I find one good city I will spare the man. But in an open area masked figures darted together to grapple and fight, surrounded by watchers who smelled blood. Frank went back to the construction site to get more bricks. He threw them and some people saw him, and he had to run. Into the trees again, into the little tented wilderness, escaping predators while high on adrenaline, the greatest drug of all. He laughed wildly.

Suddenly he caught sight of Maya, standing alone by the temporary platform up at the apex. She wore a white domino, but it was certainly her: the proportions of the figure, the hair, the stance itself, all unmistakable Maya Toitovna. The first hundred, the little band; they were the only ones truly alive to him anymore, the rest were ghosts. Frank hurried toward her, tripping over uneven ground. He squeezed a rock buried deep in one coat pocket, thinking Come on, you bitch. Say something to save him. Say something that will make me run the length of the city to save him!

She heard his approach and turned. She wore a phosphorescent white domino with metallic blue sequins. It was hard to see her eyes.

“Hello, Frank,” she said, as if he wore no mask. He almost turned and ran. Mere recognition was almost enough to do it.

But he stayed. He said, “Hello, Maya. Nice sunset, wasn’t it?”

“Spectacular. Nature has no taste. It’s just a city inauguration, but it looked like Judgment Day.”


They were under a streetlight, standing on their shadows. She said, “Have you enjoyed yourself?”

“Very much. And you?”

“It’s getting a little wild.”

“It’s understandable, don’t you think? We’re out of our holes, Maya, we’re on the surface at last! And what a surface! You only get these kind of long views on Tharsis.”

“It’s a good location,” she agreed.

“It will be a great city,” Frank predicted. “But where do you live these days, Maya?”

“In Underhill, Frank, just as always. You know that.”

“But you’re never there, are you? I haven’t seen you in a year or more.”

“Has it been that long? Well, I’ve been in Hellas. Surely you heard?”

“Who would tell me?”

She shook her head and blue sequins glittered. “Frank.” She turned aside, as if to walk away from the question’s implications.

Angrily Frank circled her, stood in her path. “That time on the Ares,” he said. His voice was tight, and he twisted his neck to loosen his throat, to make speech easier. “What happened, Maya? What happened?”

She shrugged and did not meet his gaze. For a long time she did not speak. Then she looked at him. “The spur of the moment,” she said.

• • •

And then it was ringing midnight, and they were in the Martian time slip, the thirty-nine-and-a-half-minute gap between 12:00:00 and 12:00:01, when all the clocks went blank or stopped moving. This was how the first hundred had decided to reconcile Mars’s slightly longer day with the twenty-four-hour clock, and the solution had proved oddly satisfactory. Every night to step for a while out of the flicking numbers, out of the remorseless sweep of the second hand. .

And tonight as the bells rang midnight, the whole city went mad. Almost forty minutes outside of time; it was bound to be the peak of the celebration, everyone knew that instinctively. Fireworks were going off, people were cheering; sirens tore through the sound, and the cheering redoubled. Frank and Maya watched the fireworks, listened to the noise.

Then there was a noise that was somehow different: desperate cries, serious screams. “What’s that?” Maya said.

“A fight,” Frank replied, cocking an ear. “Something done on the spur of the moment, perhaps.” She stared at him, and quickly he added, “Maybe we should go have a look.”

The cries intensified. Trouble somewhere. They started down through the park, their steps getting longer, until they were in the Martian lope. The park seemed bigger to Frank, and for a moment he was scared.

The central boulevard was covered with trash. People darted through the dark in predatory schools. A nerve-grating siren went off, the alarm that signaled a break in the tent. Windows were shattering up and down the boulevard. There on the streetgrass was a man flat on his back, the surrounding grass smeared with black streaks. Chalmers seized the arm of a woman crouched over him. “What happened?” he shouted.

She was weeping. “They fought! They are fighting!”

“Who? Swiss, Arab?”

“Strangers,” she said. “Ausländer.” She looked blindly at Frank. “Get help!”

Frank rejoined Maya, who was talking to a group next to another fallen figure. “What the hell’s going on?” he said to her as they took off toward the city’s hospital.

“It’s a riot,” she said. “I don’t know why.” Her mouth was a straight slash, in skin as white as the domino still covering her eyes.

Frank pulled off his mask and threw it away. There was broken glass all over the street. A man rushed at them. “Frank! Maya!”

It was Sax Russell; Frank had never seen the little man so agitated. “It’s John— he’s been attacked!”

“What?” they exclaimed together.

“He tried to stop a fight, and three or four men jumped him. They knocked him down and dragged him away!”

“You didn’t stop them?” Maya cried.

“We tried— a whole bunch of us chased them. But they lost us in the medina.”

Maya looked at Frank.

“What’s going on!” he cried. “Where would anyone take him?”

“The gates,” she said.

“But they’re locked tonight, aren’t they?”

“Maybe not to everyone.”

They followed her to the medina. Streetlights were broken, there was glass underfoot. They found a fire marshal and went to the Turkish Gate; he unlocked it and several of them hurried through, throwing on walkers at emergency speed. Then out into the night to look around, illuminated by the bathysphere glow of the city. Frank’s ankles hurt with the night cold, and he could feel the precise configuration of his lungs, as if two globes of ice had been inserted in his chest to cool the rapid beat of his heart.

Nothing out there. Back inside. Over to the northern wall and the Syrian Gate, and out again under the stars. Nothing.

It took them a long time to think of the farm. By then there were about thirty of them in walkers, and they ran down and through the lock and flooded down the farm’s aisles, spreading out, running between crops.

They found him among the radishes. His jacket was pulled over his face, in the standard emergency air pocket; he must have done it unconsciously, because when they rolled him carefully onto one side, they saw a lump behind his ear.

“Get him inside,” Maya said, her voice a bitter croak—”Hurry, get him inside.”

Four of them lifted him. Chalmers cradled John’s head, and his fingers were intertwined with Maya’s. They trotted back up the shallow steps. Through the farm gate they stumbled, back into the city. One of the Swiss led them to the nearest medical center, already crowded with desperate people. They got John onto an empty bench. His unconscious expression was pinched, determined. Frank tore off his helmet and went to work pulling rank, bulling into the emergency rooms and shouting at the doctors and nurses. They ignored him until one doctor said, “Shut up. I’m coming.” She went into the hallway and with a nurse’s help clipped John into a monitor, then checked him out with the abstracted, absent look doctors have while working: hands at neck and face and head and chest, stethoscope. .

Maya explained what they knew. The doctor took down an oxygen unit from the wall, looking at the monitor. Her mouth was bunched into a displeased little knot. Maya sat at the end of the bench, face suddenly distraught. Her domino had long since disappeared.

Frank crouched beside her.

“We can keep working on him,” the doctor said, “but I’m afraid he’s gone. Too long without oxygen, you know.”

“Keep working on him,” Maya said.

They did, of course. Eventually other medical people arrived, and they carted him off to an emergency room. Frank, Maya, Sax, Samantha, and a number of locals sat outside in the hall. Doctors came and went; their faces had the blank look they took on in the presence of death. Protective masks. One came out and shook his head. “He’s dead. Too long out there.”

Frank leaned his head back against the wall.

When Reinhold Messner returned from the first solo climb of Everest, he was severely dehydrated, and utterly exhausted; he fell down most of the last part of the descent, and collapsed on the Rongbuk glacier, and he was crawling over it on hands and knees when the woman who was his entire support team reached him; and he looked up at her out of a delirium, and said, “Where are all my friends?”

It was quiet. No sound but the low hum and whoosh that one never escaped on Mars.

Maya put a hand on Frank’s shoulder, and he almost flinched; his throat clamped down to nothing, it really hurt. “I’m sorry,” he managed to say.

She shrugged the remark aside, frowned. She had somewhat the air of the medical people. “Well,” she said, “you never liked him much anyway.”

“True,” he said, thinking it would be politic to seem honest with her at that moment. But then he shuddered and said bitterly, “What do you know about what I like or don’t like.”

He shrugged her hand aside, struggled to his feet. She didn’t know; none of them knew. He started to go into the emergency room, changed his mind. Time enough for that at the funeral. He felt hollow; and suddenly it seemed to him that everything good had gone away.

He left the medical center. Impossible not to feel sentimental at such moments. He walked through the strangely hushed darkness of the city, into the land of Nod. The streets glinted as if stars had fallen to the pavement. People stood in clumps, silent, stunned by the news. Frank Chalmers made his way through them, feeling their stares, moving without thought toward the platform at the top of town; and as he walked he said to himself, Now we’ll see what I can do with this planet.

Part 2. The Voyage Out

“Since they’re going to go crazy anyway, why not just send insane people in the first place, and save them the trouble?” said Michel Duval.

He was only half joking; his position throughout had been that the criteria for selection constituted a mind-boggling collection of double binds.

His fellow psychiatrists stared at him. “Can you suggest any specific changes?” asked the chairman, Charles York.

“Perhaps we should all go to Antarctica with them, and observe them in this first period of time together. It would teach us a lot.”

“But our presence would be inhibitory. I think just one of us will be enough.”

So they sent Michel Duval. He joined a hundred and fifty-odd finalists at McMurdo Station. The initial meeting resembled any other international scientific conference, familiar to them all from their various disciplines. But there was a difference: this was the continuation of a selection process that had lasted for years, and would last another. And those selected would go to Mars.

So they lived in Antarctica for over a year together, familiarizing themselves with the shelters and equipment that were already landing on Mars in robot vehicles; familiarizing themselves with a landscape that was almost as cold and harsh as Mars itself; familiarizing themselves with each other. They lived in a cluster of habitats located in Wright Valley, the largest of Antarctica’s Dry Valleys. They ran a biosphere farm, and then they settled into the habitats through a dark austral winter, and studied secondary or tertiary professions, or ran through simulations of the various tasks they would be performing on the spaceship Ares, or later on the red planet itself; and always, always aware that they were being watched, evaluated, judged.

They were by no means all astronauts or cosmonauts, although there were a dozen or so of each, with many more up north clamoring to be included. But the majority of the colonists would have to have their expertise in areas that would come into play after landfall: medical skills, computer skills, robotics, systems design, architecture, geology, biosphere design, genetic engineering, biology; also every sort of engineering, and construction expertise of several kinds. Those who had made it to Antarctica were an impressive group of experts in the relevant sciences and professions, and they spent a good bit of their time crosstraining to become impressive in secondary and tertiary fields as well.

And all their activity took place under the constant pressure of observation, evaluation, judgment. It was necessarily a stressful procedure; that was part of the test. Michel Duval felt that this was a mistake, as it tended to ingrain reticence and distrust in the colonists, preventing the very compatibility that the selection committee was supposedly seeking. One of the many double binds, in fact. The candidates themselves were quiet about that aspect of things, and he didn’t blame them; there wasn’t any better strategy to take, that was a double bind for you: it insured silence. They could not afford to offend anyone, or complain too much; they could not risk withdrawing too far; they could not make enemies.

So they went on being brilliant and accomplished enough to stand out, but normal enough to get along. They were old enough to have learned a great deal, but young enough to endure the physical rigors of the work. They were driven enough to excel, but relaxed enough to socialize. And they were crazy enough to want to leave Earth forever, but sane enough to disguise this fundamental madness, in fact defend it as pure rationality, scientific curiosity or something of the sort— which seemed to be the only acceptable reason for wanting to go, and so naturally they claimed to be the most scientifically curious people in history! But of course there had to be more to it than that. They had to be alienated somehow, alienated and solitary enough not to care about leaving everyone they had known behind forever— and yet still connected and social enough to get along with all their new acquaintances in Wright Valley, with every member of the tiny village that the colony would become. Oh, the double binds were endless! They were to be both extraordinary and extra ordinary, at one and the same time. An impossible task, and yet a task that was an obstacle to their heart’s greatest desire; making it the very stuff of anxiety, fear, resentment, rage. Conquering all those stresses. .

But that too was part of the test. Michel could not help but observe with great interest. Some failed, cracked in one way or another. An American thermal engineer became increasingly withdrawn, then destroyed several of their rovers and had to be forcibly restrained and removed. A Russian pair became lovers, and then had a falling out so violent that they couldn’t stand the sight of each other, and both had to be dropped. This melodrama illustrated the dangers of romance going awry, and made the rest of them very cautious in this regard. Relationships still developed, and by the time they left Antarctica they had had three marriages, and these lucky six could consider themselves in some sense “safe”; but most of them were so focused on getting to Mars that they put these parts of their lives on hold, and if anything conducted discreet friendships, in some cases hidden from almost everyone, in other cases merely kept out of the view of the selection committees.

And Michel knew he was seeing only the tip of the iceberg. He knew that critical things were happening in Antarctica, out of his sight. Relationships were having their beginnings; and sometimes the beginning of a relationship determines how the rest of it will go. In the brief hours of daylight, one of them might leave the camp and hike out to Lookout Point; and another follow; and what happened out there might leave its mark forever. But Michel would never know.

And then they left Antarctica, and the team was chosen. There were fifty men and fifty women: thirty-five Americans, thirty-five Russians, and thirty miscellaneous international affiliates, fifteen invited by each of the two big partners. Keeping such perfect symmetries had been difficult, but the selection committee had persevered.

The lucky ones flew to Cape Canaveral or Baikonur, to ascend to orbit. At this point they both knew each other very well and did not know each other at all. They were a team, Michel thought, with established friendships, and a number of group ceremonies, rituals, habits, and tendencies; and among those tendencies was an instinct to hide, to play a role and disguise their real selves. Perhaps this was simply the definition of village life, of social life. But it seemed to Michel that it was worse than that; no one ever before had had to compete so strenuously to join a village, and the resulting radical division between public life and private life was new, and strange. Ingrained in them now was a certain competitive undercurrent, a constant subtle feeling that they were each alone, and that in case of trouble they were liable to be abandoned by the rest, and yanked out of the group.

The selection committee had thus created some of the very problems it had hoped to prevent. Some of them were aware of this; and naturally they took care to include among the colonists the most qualified psychiatrist they could think of.

So they sent Michel Duval.

At first it felt like a shove in the chest. Then they were pushed back in their chairs, and for a second the pressure was deeply familiar: one g, the gravity they would never live in again. The Ares had been orbiting Earth at 28,000 kilometers per hour. For several minutes they accelerated, the rockets’ push so powerful that their vision blurred as corneas flattened, and it took an effort to inhale. At 40,000 kilometers per hour the burn ended. They were free of the Earth’s pull, in orbit to nothing but the sun.

The colonists sat in the delta V chairs blinking, their skin flushed, their hearts pounding. Maya Katarina Toitovna, the official leader of the Russian contingent, glanced around. People appeared stunned. When obsessives are given their object of desire, what do they feel? It was hard to say, really. In a sense their lives were ending; yet something else, some other life, had finally, finally begun. . Filled with so many emotions at once, it was impossible not to be confused; it was an interference pattern, some feelings cancelled, others reinforced. Unbuckling from her chair Maya felt a grin contorting her face, and she saw on the faces around her the same helpless grin— all but Sax Russell, who was as impassive as an owl, blinking as he looked over the readouts on the room’s computer screens.

They floated weightlessly around the room. December 21st, 2026: they were moving faster than anyone in history. They were on their way. It was the beginning of a nine-month voyage— or of a voyage that would last the rest of their lives. They were on their own.

• • •

Those responsible for piloting the Ares pulled themselves to the control consoles and gave the orders to fire lateral control rockets. The Ares began to spin, stabilizing at four rpm. The colonists sank to the floors, and stood in a pseudogravity of.38 g, very close to what they would feel on Mars. Many man-years of tests had indicated that it would be a fairly healthy g to live in, and so much healthier than weightlessness that rotating the ship had been deemed worth the trouble. And, Maya thought, it felt great. There was enough pull to make balance relatively easy, but hardly any feeling of pressure, of drag. It was the perfect equivalent of their mood; they staggered down the halls to the big dining hall in Torus D, giddy and exhilarated, walking on air.

In Torus D’s dining hall they mingled in a kind of cocktail party, celebrating the departure. Maya wandered about, sipping freely from a mug of champagne, feeling slightly unreal and extremely happy, a mix that reminded her of her wedding reception many years before. Hopefully this marriage would go better than that one had, she thought, because this one was going to last forever. The hall was loud with talk. “It’s a symmetry not so much sociological as mathematic. A kind of aesthetic balance.” “We’re hoping to get it into the parts per billion range, but it’s not going to be easy.” Maya turned down an offered refill, feeling giddy enough. Besides, this was work. She was co-mayor of this village, so to speak, responsible for group dynamics, which were bound to get complex. Antarctic habits kicked in even at this moment of triumph, and she listened and watched like an anthropologist, or a spy.

“The shrinks have their reasons. We’ll end up fifty happy couples.”

“And they already know the match-ups.”

She watched them laugh. Smart, healthy, supremely well-educated— was this the rational society at last, the scientifically designed community that had been the dream of the Enlightenment? But there was Arkady, Nadia, Vlad, Ivana. She knew the Russian contingent too well to have many illusions on that score. They were just as likely to end up resembling an undergraduate dorm at a technical university, occupied by bizarre pranks and lurid affairs. Except they looked a bit old for that kind of thing; several men were balding, and many of both sexes showed touches of gray in their hair. It had been a long haul; their average age was forty-six, with extremes ranging from thirty-three (Hiroko Ai, the Japanese prodigy of biosphere design) to fifty-eight (Vlad Taneev, winner of a Nobel Prize in medicine).

Now, however, the flush of youth was on all their faces. Arkady Bogdanov was a portrait in red: hair, beard, skin. In all that red his eyes were a wild electric blue, bugging out happily as he exclaimed, “Free at last! Free at last! All our children are free at last!” The video cameras had been turned off, after Janet Blyleven had recorded a series of interviews for the TV stations back home; they were out of contact with Earth, in the dining hall anyway, and Arkady was singing, and the group around him toasted the song. Maya stopped to join this group. Free at last; it was hard to believe, they were actually on their way to Mars! Knots of people talking, many of them world class in their fields; Ivana had won part of a Nobel Prize in chemistry, Vlad was one of the most famous medical biologists in the world, Sax was in the pantheon of great contributors to subatomic theory, Hiroko was unmatched in enclosed biological life-support systems design, and so on all around; a brilliant crowd!

And Maya was one of their leaders. It was a bit daunting. Her engineering and cosmonautic skills were modest enough, it was her diplomatic ability that had gotten her aboard, presumably. Chosen to head the disparate, fractious Russian team, with the several commonwealth members— well, that was okay. It was interesting work, and she was used to it. And her skills might very well turn out to be the most important ones aboard. They had to get along, after all. And that was a matter of guile, and cunning, and will. Willing other people to do your bidding! She looked at the crowd of glowing faces, and laughed. All aboard were good at their work, but some were gifted far beyond that. She had to identify those people, to seek them out, to cultivate them. Her ability to function as leader depended on it, for in the end, she thought, they would surely become a kind of loose scientific meritocracy. And in such a society as that, the extraordinarily talented constituted the real powers. When push came to shove, they would be the colony’s true leaders— they, or those who influenced them.

She looked around and located her opposite number, Frank Chalmers. In Antarctica she had not gotten to know him very well. A tall, big, swarthy man. He was talkative enough, and incredibly energetic, but hard to read. She found him attractive. Did he see things as she did? She had never been able to tell. He was talking to a group across the length of the room, listening in that sharp inscrutable way of his, head tilted to the side, ready to pounce with a witty remark. She was going to have to find out more about him. More than that, she was going to have to get along with him.

She crossed the room, stopped by his side, stood so their upper arms just barely touched. Leaned her head in toward his. A brief gesture at their comrades: “This is going to be fun, don’t you think?”

Chalmers glanced at her. “If it goes well,” he said.

• • •

After the celebration and dinner, unable to sleep, Maya wandered through the Ares. All of them had spent time in space before, but never in anything like the Ares, which was enormous. There was a kind of penthouse at the front end of the ship, a single tank like a bowsprit, which rotated in the opposite direction the ship did, so that it held steady. Solar watch instruments, radio antennas, and all the other equipment that worked best without rotation were located in this tank, and at the very tip of it was a bulbous room of transparent plastic, a chamber quickly named the bubble dome, which provided the crew with a weightless, nonrotating view of the stars, and a partial view of the great ship behind it.

Maya floated near the window wall of this bubble dome, looking back at the ship curiously. It had been constructed using space-shuttle external-fuel tanks; around the turn of the century NASA and Glavkosmos had begun attaching small booster rockets to the tanks and pushing them all the way into orbit. Scores of tanks had been launched this way, then tugged to work sites and put to use— with them they had built two big space stations, an L5 station, a lunar orbit station, the first manned Mars vehicle, and scores of unmanned freighters sent to Mars. So by the time the two agencies agreed to build the Ares, the use of the tanks had become routinized, with standard coupling units, interiors, propulsion systems and so forth; and construction of the big ship had taken less than two years.

It looked like something made from a children’s toy set, in which cylinders were attached at their ends to create more complex shapes— in this case, eight hexagons of connected cylinders, which they called toruses, lined up and speared down the middle by a central hub shaft, made of a cluster of five lines of cylinders. The toruses were connected to the hub shaft by thin crawl spokes, and the resulting object looked somewhat like a piece of agricultural machinery, say the arm of a harvester combine, or a mobile sprinkler unit. Or like eight knobby doughnuts, Maya thought, toothpicked to a stick. Just the sort of thing a child would appreciate.

The eight toruses had been made from American tanks, and the five bundled lengths of the central shaft were Russian. Both kinds of tanks were about fifty meters long and ten meters in diameter. Maya floated aimlessly down the tanks of the hub shaft; it took her a long time, but she was in no hurry. She dropped down into Torus G. There were rooms of all shapes and sizes, right up to the largest, which occupied entire tanks. The floor in one of these she passed through was set just below the halfway mark, so its interior resembled a long Quonset hut. But the majority of the tanks had been divided up into smaller rooms. She had heard there were over five hundred of them in all, making for a total interior space roughly the equivalent of a large city hotel.

But would it be enough?

• • •

Perhaps it would. After the Antarctic, life on the Ares seemed an expansive, labyrinthine, airy experience. Around six every morning the darkness in the residential toruses would lighten slowly to a gray dawn, and around six-thirty a sudden brightening marked “sunrise.” Maya woke to it as she had all her life. After visiting the lavatory she would make her way to Torus D’s kitchen, heat a meal, and take it into the big dining hall. There she sat at a table flanked by potted lime trees. Hummingbirds, finches, tanagers, sparrows and lories pecked underfoot and darted overhead, dodging the creeping vines that hung from the hall’s long barrel ceiling, which was painted a gray-blue that reminded her of St. Petersburg’s winter sky. She would eat slowly, watch the birds, relax in her chair, listen to the talk around her. A leisurely breakfast! After a lifetime of grinding work it felt rather uncomfortable at first, even alarming, like a stolen luxury. As if it were Sunday morning every day, as Nadia said. But Maya’s Sunday mornings had never been particularly relaxed. In her childhood that had been the time for cleaning the one-room apartment she had shared with her mother. Her mother had been a doctor and like most women of her generation had had to work ferociously to get by, obtaining food, bringing up a child, keeping an apartment, running a career; it had been too much for one person, and she had joined the many women angrily demanding a better deal than they had gotten in the Soviet years, which had given them half the money jobs while leaving them all the work at home. No more waiting, no more mute endurance; they had to take advantage while the instability lasted. “Everything is on the table,” Maya’s mother would exclaim while cooking their meager dinners, “everything but food!”

And perhaps they had taken advantage. In the Soviet era women had learned to help each other, a nearly self-contained world had come into being, of mothers, sisters, daughters, babushkas, women friends, colleagues, even strangers. In the commonwealth this world had consolidated its gains and thrust even further into the power structure, into the tight male oligarchies of Russian government.

One of the fields most affected had been the space program. Maya’s mother, slightly involved in space medical research, always swore that cosmonautics would need an influx of women, if only to provide female data for the medical experimentation. “They can’t hold Valentina Tereshkova against us forever!” her mother would cry. And apparently she had been right, because after studying aeronautic engineering at Moscow University, Maya had been accepted in a program at Baikonur, and had done well, and had gotten an assignment on Novy Mir. While up there she had redesigned the interiors for improved ergonomic efficiency, and later spent a year in command of the station, during which a couple of emergency repairs had bolstered her reputation. Administrative assignments in Baikonur and Moscow had followed, and over time she had managed to penetrate Glavkosmos’s little politburo, playing the men against each other in the subtlest of ways, marrying one of them, divorcing him, rising afterward in Glavkosmos a free agent, becoming one of the utmost inner circle, the double triumvirate.

And so here she was, having a leisurely breakfast. “So civilized,” Nadia would scoff. She was Maya’s best friend on the Ares, a short woman round as a stone, with a square face framed by cropped salt-and-pepper hair. Plain as could be. Maya, who knew she was good-looking, and knew that this had helped her many times, loved Nadia’s plainness, which somehow underlined her competence. Nadia was an engineer and very practical, an expert in cold-climate construction. They had met in Baikonur twenty years before, and once lived together on Novy Mir for several months; over the years they had become like sisters, in that they were not much alike, and did not often get along, and yet were intimate.

Now Nadia looked around and said, “Putting the Russian and American living quarters in different toruses was a horrible idea. We work with them during the day, but we spend most of our time here with the same old faces. It only reinforces the other divisions between us.”

“Maybe we should offer to exchange half the rooms.”

Arkady, wolfing down coffee rolls, leaned over from the next table. “It’s not enough,” he said, as if he had been part of their conversation all along. His red beard, growing wilder every day, was dusted with crumbs. “We should declare every other Sunday to be moving day, and have everyone shift quarters on a random basis. People would get to know more of the others, and there would be fewer cliques. And the notion of ownership of the rooms would be reduced.”

“But I like owning a room,” Nadia said.

Arkady downed another roll, grinned at her as he chewed. It was a miracle he had passed the selection committee.

But Maya brought up the subject with the Americans, and though no one liked Arkady’s plan, a single exchange of half the apartments struck them as a good idea. After some consulting and discussion, the move was arranged. They did it on a Sunday morning, and after that, breakfast was a little more cosmopolitan. Mornings in the D dining hall now included Frank Chalmers and John Boone, and also Sax Russell, Mary Dunkel, Janet Blyleven, Rya Jimenez, Michel Duval, and Ursula Kohl.

John Boone turned out to be an early riser, getting to the dining hall even before Maya. “This room is so spacious and airy, it really has an outdoor feel to it,” he said from his table one dawn when Maya came in. “A lot better than B’s hall.”

“The trick is to remove all chrome and white plastic,” Maya replied. Her English was fairly good, and getting better fast. “And then paint the ceiling like real sky.”

“Not just straight blue, you mean?”


He was, she thought, a typical American: simple, open, straightforward, relaxed. And yet this particular specimen was one of the most famous people in history. It was an unavoidable, heavy fact, but Boone seemed to slip out from under it, to leave it around his feet on the floor. Intent on the taste of a roll, or some news on the table screen, he never referred to his previous expedition, and if someone brought the subject up he spoke as if it were no different from any of the flights the rest of them had taken. But it wasn’t so, and only his ease made it seem that way: at the same table each morning, laughing at Nadia’s lame engineering jokes, making his portion of the talk. After a while it took an effort to see the aura around him.

Frank Chalmers was more interesting. He always came in late, and sat by himself, paying attention only to his coffee and the table screen. After a couple of cups he would talk to people nearby, in ugly but functional Russian. Most of the breakfast conversations in D hall had now shifted to English, to accommodate the Americans. The linguistic situation was a set of nesting dolls: English held all hundred of them, inside that was Russian, and inside that the languages of the commonwealth, and then the internationals. Eight people aboard were idiolinguists, a sad kind of orphaning in Maya’s opinion, and it seemed to her they were more Earth-oriented than the rest, and in frequent communication with people back home. It was a little strange to have their psychiatrist in that category; though bilingual, he was very focused on France.

Anyway English was the ship’s lingua franca, and at first Maya had thought that this gave the Americans an advantage. But then she noticed that when they spoke they were always on stage to everyone, while the rest of them had more private languages they could switch to if they wanted.

Frank Chalmers was the exception to all that, however. He spoke five languages, more than anyone else aboard. And he did not fear to use his Russian, even though it was very bad; he just hacked out questions and then listened to the answers, with a really piercing intensity, and a quick startling laugh. He was an unusual American in many ways, Maya thought. At first he seemed to have all the characteristics, he was big, loud, maniacally energetic, confident, restless; talkative and friendly enough, after that first coffee. It took a while to notice how he turned the friendliness on and off, and to notice how little his talk revealed. Maya never learned a thing about his past, for instance, despite deliberate efforts to chat him up. It made her curious. He had black hair, a swarthy face, light hazel eyes— handsome in a tough-guy way— his smile brief, his laugh sharp, like Maya’s mother’s. His gaze too was sharp, especially when looking at Maya; a matter of evaluating the other leader, she assumed. He acted toward her as if they had an understanding built on long acquaintance, a presumption which made her uneasy given how little they had spoken together in Antarctica. She was used to thinking of women as her allies, and of men as attractive but dangerous problems. So a man who presumed to be her ally was only the more problematic. And dangerous. And. . something else.

She recalled only one moment when she had seen further into him than the skin, and that had been back in Antarctica. After the thermal engineer had cracked and been sent north, news of his replacement had come down, and when it was announced everyone was quite surprised and excited to hear that it was going to be John Boone himself, even though he had certainly received more than the maximum radiation dosage on his previous expedition. While the evening room was still buzzing with the news Maya had seen Chalmers come in and be told of it, and he had jerked his head around to stare at his informant; and then for a fraction of a second she had seen a flash of fury, a flash so fast it was almost a subliminal event.

But it had made her attentive to him. And certainly he and John Boone had an odd relationship. It was difficult for Chalmers, of course; he was the Americans’ official leader, and even had the title “Captain”— but Boone, with his blond good looks and the strange presence of his accomplishment, certainly had more natural authority— he seemed the real American leader, and Frank Chalmers something like an overactive executive officer, doing Boone’s unspoken bidding. That could not be comfortable.

They were old friends, Maya had been told when she asked. But she saw few signs of it herself, even watching closely. They seldom talked to each other in public, and did not seem to visit in private. Thus when they were together she watched them more closely than ever, without ever consciously considering why— the natural logic of the situation just seemed to demand it. If they had been back at Glavkosmos, it would have made strategic sense to drive a wedge between them, but she didn’t think of it that way here. There was a lot that Maya didn’t think about consciously.

She watched, though. And one morning Janet Blyleven wore her video glasses into D hall for breakfast. She was a principal reporter for American television, and often she wove her way through the ship wearing her vidglasses, looking around and talking the commentary, collecting stories and transmitting them back home where they would be, as Arkady put it, “predigested and vomited back into that baby bird consensus.”

It was nothing new, of course. Media attention was a familiar part of every astronaut’s life, and during the selection process they had been scrutinized more than ever. Now, however, they were the raw material for programs magnitudes more popular than any space program had been before. Millions watched them as the ultimate soap opera, and this bothered some of them. So when Janet settled at the end of the table wearing those stylish spectacles with the optical fibers in the frame, there were a few groans. And at the other end of the table Ann Clayborne and Sax Russell were arguing, oblivious to any of them.

“It’ll take years to find out what we have there, Sax. Decades. There’s as much land on Mars as on Earth, with a unique geology and chemistry. The land has to be thoroughly studied before we can start changing it.”“Veni, vidi, vici.”

“We’ll change it just by landing.” Russell brushed aside Ann’s objections as if they were spiderwebs on his face. “Deciding to go to Mars is like the first phrase of a sentence, and the whole sentence says—”

Russell shrugged. “If you want to put it that way.”

“You’re the weenie, Sax,” Ann said, lip curled with irritation. She was a broad-shouldered woman with wild brown hair, a geologist with strong views, difficult in argument. “Look, Mars is its own place. You can play your climate-shifting games back on Earth if you want, they need the help. Or try it on Venus. But you can’t just wipe out a three-billion-year-old planetary surface.”

Russell rubbed away more spiderwebs. “It’s dead,” he said simply. “Besides, it’s not really our decision. It’ll be taken out of our hands.”

“None of these decisions will be taken out of our hands,” Arkady put in sharply.

Janet looked from speaker to speaker, taking it all in. Ann was getting agitated, raising her voice. Maya glanced around, and saw that Frank didn’t like the situation. But if he interrupted it he would give away to the millions the fact that he didn’t want the colonists arguing in front of them. Instead he looked across the table and caught Boone’s gaze. There was an exchange of expressions between the two so quick it made Maya blink.

Boone said, “When I was there before, I got the impression it was already Earthlike.”

“Except two hundred degrees Kelvin,” Russell said.

“Sure, but it looked like the Mojave, or the Dry Valleys. The first time I looked around on Mars I found myself keeping an eye out for one of those mummified seals we saw in the Dry Valleys.”

And so on. Janet turned to him, and Ann, looking disgusted, picked up her coffee and left.

Afterward Maya concentrated, trying to recall the looks Boone and Chalmers had exchanged. They had been like something from a code, or the private languages invented by identical twins.

• • •

The weeks passed, and the days each began with a leisurely breakfast. Mid-mornings were far busier. Everyone had a schedule, although some were fuller than others. Frank’s was packed, which was the way he liked it, a maniacal blur of activity. But the necessary work was not really all that great: they had to keep themselves alive and in shape, and keep the ship running, and keep preparing for Mars. Ship maintenance ranged from the intricacy of programming or repairs to the simplicity of moving supplies out of storage, or taking trash to the recyclers. The biosphere team spent the bulk of its time on the farm, which occupied large parts of toruses C, E, and F; and everyone aboard had farm chores. Most enjoyed this work, and some even returned in their free hours. Everyone was on doctors’ orders to spend three hours a day on treadmills, escalators, running wheels, or using weight machines. These hours were enjoyed or endured or despised, depending on temperament, but even those who claimed to despise them finished their exercises in noticeably (even measurably) better moods. “Beta endorphins are the best drug,” Michel Duval would say.

“Which is lucky, since we don’t have any others,” John Boone would reply.

“Oh, there’s caffeine. .”

“Puts me to sleep.”

“Alcohol. .”

“Gives me a headache.”

“Procaine, Darvon, morphine—”


“In the medical supplies. Not for general use.”

Arkady smiled. “Maybe I’d better get sick.”

The engineers, including Maya, spent many mornings in training simulations. These took place on the backup bridge in Torus B, which had the latest in image synthesizers; the simulations were so sophisticated that there was little visible difference between them and the act itself. This did not necessarily make them interesting: the standard orbital insertion approach, simulated weekly, was dubbed “The Mantra Run,” and became quite a bore to every conceivable flight crew.

But sometimes even boredom was preferable to the alternatives. Arkady was their training specialist, and he had a perverse talent for designing problem runs so hard that they often “killed” everybody. These runs were strangely unpleasant experiences, and did not make Arkady popular among his victims. He mixed problem runs with Mantra Runs randomly, but more and more often they were problem runs; they would “approach Mars” and red lights would flash, sometimes with sirens, and they were in trouble again. Once they struck a planetesimal weighing approximately fifteen grams, leaving a large flaw in the heat shield. Sax Russell had calculated that their chances of hitting anything larger than a gram were about one in every seven thousand years of travel, but nevertheless there they were, emergency!, adrenaline pouring through them even as they pooh-poohed the very idea of it, rushing up to the hub and into EVA suits, going out to fill the pothole before they hit the Martian atmosphere and burned to a crisp; and halfway there, Arkady’s voice came over their intercoms: “Not fast enough! All of us are dead.”

But that was a simple one. Others. . The ship, for instance, was guided by a fly-by-wire system, meaning that the pilots fed instructions to flight computers which translated them into the actual thrusts needed to achieve the desired result. This was how it had to be, because when approaching a gravitational mass like Mars at their speed, one simply could not feel or intuit what burns would achieve the desired effects. So none of them were flyers in the sense of a pilot flying a plane. Nevertheless, Arkady frequently blew the entire massively redundant system just as they were reaching a critical moment (which failure, Russell said, had about a one-in-ten-billion chance of happening) and they had to take over and command all the rockets mechanically, watching the monitors and an orange-on-black visual image of Mars bearing down on them, and they could either go long and skip off into deep space and die a lingering death, or go short and crash into the planet and die instantly, and if the latter, they got to watch it right down to the simulated 120 kilometer per second final smash.

Or it might be a mechanical failure: main rockets, stabilizing rockets, computer hardware or software, heatshield deployment; all of them had to work perfectly during the approach. And failures of these systems were the most likely of all— in the range, Sax said (though others contested his risk-assessment methods), of one in every ten thousand approaches. So they would do it again and red lights would flash, and they would groan, and beg for a Mantra Run even as they partly welcomed the new challenge. When they managed to survive a mechanical failure, they were tremendously pleased; it could be the high point of a week. Once John Boone successfully aerobraked by hand, with a single main rocket functioning, hitting the safe millisecond of arc at the only possible speed. No one could believe it. “Blind luck,” Boone said, grinning widely as the deed was talked about at dinner.

Most of Arkady’s problem runs ended in failure, however, meaning death for all. Simulated or not, it was hard not to be sobered by these experiences, and after that, irritated with Arkady for inventing them. One time they repaired every monitor in the bridge just in time to see the screens register a hit by a small asteroid, which sheared through the hub and killed them all. Another time Arkady, as part of the navigation team, made an “error” and instructed the computers to increase the ship’s spin rather than decrease it. “Pinned to the floor by six gs!” he cried in mock horror, and they had to crawl on the floor for half an hour, pretending to rectify the error while weighing half a ton each. When they succeeded, Arkady leaped off the floor and began pushing them away from the control monitor. “What the hell are you doing?” Maya yelled.

“He’s gone crazy,” Janet said.

“He’s simulated going crazy,” Nadia corrected her. “We have to figure out—” doing an end run around Arkady “— how to deal with someone on the bridge going insane!”

Which no doubt was true. But they could see the whites of Arkady’s eyes all the way around, and there wasn’t a trace of recognition in him as he silently assaulted them. It took all five of them to restrain him, and Janet and Phyllis Boyle were hurt by his sharp elbows.

“Well?” he said at dinner afterward, grinning lopsidedly, as he was growing a fat lip. “What if it happens? We’re under pressure up here, and the approach will be worst of all. What if someone cracks?” He turned to Russell and the grin grew wider. “What are the chances of that, eh?” And he began to sing a Jamaican song, in a Slavic Caribbean accent: “Pressure drop, oh pressure drop, oh-o, pressure going to drop on you-oo-oo!”

So they kept trying, handling the problem runs as seriously as they could, even the attack by Martian natives or the decoupling of Torus H caused by “explosive bolts installed by mistake when the ship was built,” or the last-minute veering of Phobos out of its orbit. Dealing with the more implausible scenarios sometimes took on a kind of surreal black humor, and Arkady replayed some of his videotapes as after-dinner entertainment, which sometimes got people launched into the air with laughter.

But the plausible problem runs. . They kept on coming, morning after morning. And despite the solutions, despite the protocols for finding solutions, there was that sight, time after time— the red planet rushing at them at an unimaginable 40,000 kilometers an hour, until it filled the screen and the screen went white, and small black letters appeared on it: Collision.

• • •

They were traveling to Mars in a Type II Hohmann Ellipse, a slow but efficient course, chosen from among other alternatives mainly because the two planets were in the correct position for it when the ship was finally ready, with Mars about forty-five degrees ahead of Earth in the plane of the ecliptic. During the voyage they would travel just over halfway around the sun, making their rendezvous with Mars some three hundred days later. Their womb time, as Hiroko called it.

The psychologists back home had judged it worthwhile to alter things from time to time, to suggest the passing of the seasons on the Ares. Length of days and nights, weather, and ambient colors were shifted to accomplish this. Some had maintained their landfall should be a harvest, others that it should be a new spring; after a short debate it had been decided by vote of the voyagers themselves to begin with early spring, so that they would travel through a summer rather than a winter; and as they approached their goal, the ship’s colors would turn to the autumn tones of Mars itself, rather than to the light greens and blossom pastels they had left so far behind.

So in those first months, as they finished their morning’s business, leaving the farm or the bridge, or staggering out of Arkady’s merrily sadistic simulations, they walked into springtime. Walls were hung with pale green panels, or mural-sized photos of azaleas, and jacarandas, and ornamental cherries. The barley and mustard in the big farm rooms glowed vivid yellow with new blooms, and the forest biome and the ship’s seven park rooms had been stocked with trees and shrubs in the spring of their cycles. Maya loved these colorful spring blossoms, and after her morning’s work she fulfilled part of her exercise regimen by taking a walk in the forest biome, which had a hilly floor, and was so thick with trees one could not see from one end of the chamber to the other. Here she often met Frank Chalmers, of all people, taking one of his short breaks. He said he liked the spring foliage, though he never seemed to look at it. They walked together, and talked or not as the case might be. If they did talk, it was never about anything important; Frank didn’t care to discuss their work as leaders of the expedition. Maya found this peculiar, though she didn’t say so. But they did not have exactly the same jobs, which might account for his reluctance. Maya’s position was fairly informal and nonhierarchical— cosmonauts among themselves had always been relatively egalitarian, this had been the tradition since the days of Korolyov. The American program had a more military tradition, indicated even in titles: while Maya was merely Russian Contingent Coordinator, Frank was Captain Chalmers, and supposedly in the strong sense of the old sailing navies.

Whether this authority made it more or less difficult for him, he didn’t say. Sometimes he discussed the biome, or small technical problems, or news from home; more often he just seemed to want to walk with her. So— silent walks, up and down on narrow trails, through dense thickets of pine and aspen and birch. And always that presumption of closeness, as if they were old friends, or as if he were, very shyly (or subtly), courting her.

Thinking about that one day, it occurred to Maya that starting the Ares in springtime might have created a problem. Here they were in their mesocosm, sailing through spring, and everything was fertile and blooming, profligate and green, the air perfumed with flowers and windy, the days getting longer and warmer, and everyone in shirts and shorts, a hundred healthy animals, in close quarters, eating, exercising, showering, sleeping. Of course there had to be sex.

Well, it was nothing new. Maya herself had had some fantastic sex in space, most significantly during her second stint on Novy Mir, when she and Georgi and Yeli and Irina had tried every weightless variant imaginable, which was a great many indeed. But now it was different. They were older, they were stuck with each other for good: “Everything is different in a closed system,” as Hiroko often said in other contexts. The idea that they should stay on a fraternal basis was big at NASA: out of the 1,348 pages of the tome NASA had compiled called Human Relations in Transit to Mars, only a single page was devoted to the subject of sex; and that page advised against it. They were, the tome suggested, something like a tribe, with a sensible taboo against intratribal mating. The Russians laughed hilariously at this. Americans were such prudes, really. “We are not a tribe,” Arkady said. “We are the world.”

And it was spring. And there were the married couples aboard, some of whom were pretty demonstrative; and there was the swimming pool in Torus E, and the sauna and whirlpool bath. Bathing suits were used in mixed company, this because of the Americans again, but bathing suits were nothing. Naturally it began to happen. She heard from Nadia and Ivana that the bubble dome was being used for assignations in the quiet hours of the night; many of the cosmonauts and astronauts turned out to be fond of weightlessness. And the many nooks in the parks and the forest biome were serving as hideaways for those with less weightless experience; the parks had been designed to give people the sense that they could get away. And every person had a private soundproofed room of their own. With all that, if a couple wanted to begin a relationship without becoming an item in the gossip mill, it was possible to be very discreet. Maya was sure there was more going on than any one person could know.Dé0#0;000;^She could feel it. No doubt others did as well. Quiet conversations between couples, changes in dining-room partners, quick glances, small smiles, hands touching shoulders or elbows in passing— oh yes, things were happening. It made for a kind of tension in the air, a tension that was only partly pleasant. Antarctic fears came back into play; and besides, there was only a small number of potential partners, which tended to give things a musical chairs kind of feeling.

And for Maya there were additional problems. She was even more wary than usual of Russian men, because in this case it would mean sleeping with the boss. She was suspicious of that, knowing how it had felt when she had done it herself. Besides, none of them. . well, she was attracted to Arkady, but she did not like him, and he seemed uninterested. Yeli she knew from before, he was just a friend; Dmitri she didn’t care for; Vlad was older, Yuri not her type, Alex a follower of Arkady’s. . on and on like that.

And as for the Americans, or the internationals— well, that was a different kind of problem. Cross cultures, who knew? So she kept to herself. But she thought about it. And occasionally, while waking up in the morning, or finishing a workout, she floated on a wave of desire that left her washed up on the shore of bed or shower, feeling alone.

• • •

Thus late one morning, after a particularly harrowing problem run, which they had almost solved and then failed to solve, she ran into Frank Chalmers in the forest biome and returned his hello, and they walked for about ten meters into the woods and stopped. She was in shorts and tank top, barefoot, sweaty and flushed from the crazed simulation. He was in shorts and a T-shirt, barefoot, sweaty and dusty from the farm. Suddenly he laughed his sharp laugh, and reached out to touch her upper arm with two fingertips. “You’re looking happy today.” With that darting smile.

The leaders of the two halves of the expedition. Equals. She lifted her hand to touch his, and that was all it took.

They left the trail and ducked into a tight thicket of pine. They stopped to kiss, and it had been long enough since the last time that it felt strange to her. Tripping over a root Frank laughed under his breath, that quick secretive laugh which gave Maya a shiver, almost of fear. They sat on pine needles, rolled together like students necking in the woods. She laughed; she had always liked the quick approach, the way she could just knock a man down when she wanted to.

And so they made love, and for a time passion took her away. When it was over she relaxed, enjoying the wash of afterglow. But then it got a bit awkward, somehow; she didn’t know what to say. There was something hidden still about him, as if he were hiding even when making love. And even worse, what she could sense behind his reserve was some kind of triumph, as if he had won something and she had lost. That Puritan streak in Americans, that sense that sex was wrong and something that men had to trick women into. She closed up a little herself, annoyed at that hidden smirk on his face. Win and lose, what children.

And yet they were co-mayors, so to speak. So if it were put on a zero sum basis…

They talked for a while in a jovial enough way, and even made love again before they left. But it wasn’t quite the same as the first time, she found herself distracted. So much in sex was beyond rational analysis. Maya always felt things about her partners that she could not analyze or even express; but she always either liked what she felt or didn’t, there was no doubt about that. And looking at Frank Chalmers’s face after the first time, she had been sure that something wasn’t right. It made her uneasy.

But she was amiable, affectionate. It would not do to be put off at such a moment, no one would forgive that. They got up and dressed and went back into Torus D, and ate dinner at the same table with some others, and that was when it made perfect sense to become more distant. But then in the days after their encounter, she was surprised and displeased to find herself putting him off a little bit, making excuses to avoid being alone with him. It was awkward, not what she had wanted at all. She would have preferred not to feel the way she did, and once or twice after that they went off alone again, and when he started things she made love with him again, wanting it to work, feeling that she must have made a mistake or been in a bad mood somehow. But it was always the same, there was always that little smirk of triumph, that I-got-you that she disliked so much, that moralistic Puritan double-standard dirtiness.

And so she avoided him even more, to keep from getting into the start situation; and quickly enough he caught the drift. One afternoon he asked her to go for a walk in the biome, and when she declined, claiming fatigue, a staccato look of surprise passed over his face, and then it had closed up like a mask. She felt badly, because she couldn’t even explain it to herself.

To try to make up for such an unreasonable withdrawal, she was friendly and forthright with him after that, as long as it was a safe situation. And once or twice she suggested, indirectly, that for her their encounters had been only a matter of sealing a friendship, something she had done with others as well. All this had to be conveyed between words, however, and it was possible he misunderstood. After that first jolt of comprehension, he only seemed puzzled. Once, when she left a group just before it broke up, she had seen him give her a sharp glance. After that, only distance and reserve. But he had never been really upset, and he never pressed the issue, or came to her to talk about it. But that was part of the problem, wasn’t it? He didn’t seem to want to talk to her about that kind of thing.

Well, perhaps he had affairs going with other women, with some of the Americans, it was hard to say. He really did keep to himself. But it was. . awkward.

Maya resolved to abolish the knockover seduction, no matter the thrill she got from it. Hiroko was right; everything was different in a closed system. It was too bad for Frank (if he did care), because he had served as her education in this regard. In the end she resolved to make it up to him, by being a good friend. She worked so hard at doing this that once, almost a month later, she miscalculated and went a little too far, to the point where he thought she was seducing him again. They had been part of a group, up late talking, and she had sat next to him, and afterward he had clearly gotten the wrong impression, and walked with her around Torus D to the bathrooms, talking in the charming and affable way he had at this stage of things. Maya was vexed with herself; she didn’t want to seem completely fickle, although at this point either way she went it would probably look that way. So she went along with him, just because it was easier, and because there was a part of her that wanted to make love. And so she did, upset with herself and resolved that this should be the last time, a sort of final gift that would hopefully make the whole incident a good memory for him. She found herself becoming more passionate than ever before, she really wanted to please him. And then, just before orgasm, she looked up at his face, and it was like looking in the windows of an empty house.

That was the last time.

• • •

v for velocity, delta for change. In space, this is the measure of the change in velocity required to get from one place to another— thus, a measure of the energy required to do it.

Everything is moving already. But to get something from the (moving) surface of the Earth into orbit around it, requires a minimum v of ten kilometers per second; to leave Earth’s orbit and fly to Mars requires a minimum v of 3.6 kilometers per second; and to orbit Mars and land on it requires a v of about one kilometer per second. The hardest part is leaving Earth behind, for that is by far the deepest gravity well involved. Climbing up that steep curve of spacetime takes tremendous force, shifting the direction of an enormous inertia.History too has an inertia. In the four dimensions of spacetime, particles (or events) have directionality; mathematicians, trying to show this, draw what they call “world lines” on graphs. In human affairs, individual world lines form a thick tangle, curling out of the darkness of prehistory and stretching through time: a cable the size of Earth itself, spiraling round the sun on a long curved course. That cable of tangled world lines is history. Seeing where it has been, it is clear where it is going— it is a matter of simple extrapolation. For what kind of v would it take to escape history, to escape an inertia that powerful, and carve a new course? The hardest part is leaving Earth behind.

The form of the Ares gave a structure to reality; the vacuum between Earth and Mars began to seem to Maya like a long series of cylinders, bent up at their joints at forty-five-degree angles. There was a runner’s course, a kind of steeplechase, around Torus C, and at each joint she slowed down in her run and tensed her legs for the increased pressure of the two 22.5-degree bends, and suddenly she could see up the length of the next cylinder. It was beginning to seem a rather narrow world.

Perhaps in compensation, the people inside began to get somehow larger. The process of shedding their Antarctic masks continued, and every time someone displayed some new and hitherto unknown characteristic, it made all who noticed it feel that much freer; and this feeling caused more hidden traits to be revealed. One Sunday morning the Christians aboard, numbering a dozen or so, celebrated Easter in the bubble dome. It was April back home, though the Ares‘ season was midsummer. After their service they came down to the D dining hall for brunch among them Yuri, Rya, Edvard and Mary. Maya, Frank, John, Arkady, and Sax were at a table, drinking cups of coffee and tea. The conversations among them and with other tables were densely interwoven, and at first only Maya and Frank heard what John was saying to Phyllis Boyle, the geologist who had conducted the Easter service.

“I understand the idea of the universe as a superbeing, and all its energy being the thoughts of this being. It’s a nice concept. But the Christ story. .” John shook his head.

“Do you really know the story?” Phyllis asked.

“I was brought up Lutheran in Minnesota,” John replied shortly. “I went to confirmation class, had the whole thing drilled into me.”

Which, Maya thought, was probably why he bothered to get into discussions like this. He had a displeased expression that Maya had never seen before, and she leaned forward a bit, suddenly concentrating. She glanced at Frank; he was gazing into his coffee cup as if in a reverie, but she was sure he was listening.

John said, “You must know that the gospels were written decades after the event, by people who never met Christ. And that there are other gospels which reveal a different Christ, gospels that were excluded from the Bible by a political process in the third century. So he’s a kind of literary figure really, a political construct. We don’t know anything about the man himself.”

Phyllis shook her head. “That’s not true.”

“But it is,” John objected. This caused Sax and Arkady to look up from the next table. “Look, there’s a history to all this stuff. Monotheism is a belief system that you see appearing in early herding societies. The greater their dependence on sheep herding, the more likely their belief in a shepherd god. It’s an exact correlation, you can chart it and see. And the god is always male, because those societies were patriarchal. There’s a kind of archeology, an anthropology— a sociology of religion, that makes all of this perfectly clear— how it came about, what needs it fulfilled.”

Phyllis regarded him with a small smile. “I don’t know what to say to that, John. It’s not a matter of history, after all. It’s a matter of faith.”

“Do you believe in Christ’s miracles?”

“The miracles aren’t what matter. It’s not the church or its dogma that matters. It’s Jesus himself that matters.”

“But he’s just a literary construct,” John repeated doggedly. “Something like Sherlock Holmes, or the Lone Ranger. And you didn’t answer my question about the miracles.”

Phyllis shrugged. “I consider the presence of the universe to be a miracle. The universe and everything in it. Can you deny it?”

“Sure,” John said. “The universe just is. I define a miracle as an action that clearly breaks known physical law.”

“Like traveling to other planets?”

“No. Like raising the dead.”

“Doctors do that every day.”

“Doctors have never done that.”

Phyllis looked nonplussed. “I don’t know what to say to you, John. I’m kind of surprised. We don’t know everything, to pretend we do is arrogance. The creation is mysterious. To give something a name like ‘the big bang,’ and then think you have an explanation— it’s bad logic, bad thinking. Outside your rational scientific thought is an enormous area of consciousness, an area more important than science. Faith in God is part of that. And I suppose you either have it or you don’t.” She stood. “I hope it comes to you.” She left the room.

After a silence, John sighed. “Sorry, folks. Sometimes it still gets to me.”

“Whenever scientists say they’re Christian,” Sax said, “I take it to be an aesthetic statement.”

“The church of the wouldn’t-it-be-pretty-to-think-so,” Frank said, still looking into his cup.

Sax said, “They feel we’re missing a spiritual dimension of life that earlier generations had, and they attempt to regain it using the same means.” He blinked in his owlish way, as if the problem were disposed of by being defined.

“But that brings in so many absurdities!” John exclaimed.

“You just don’t have faith,” Frank said, egging him on.

John ignored him. “People who in the lab are as hard-headed as can be— you should see Phyllis grilling the conclusions her colleagues draw from their data! And then suddenly they start using all kinds of debater’s tricks, evasions, qualifications, fuzzy thinking of every kind. As if they were an entirely different person.”

“You just don’t have faith!” Frank repeated.

“Well I hope I never get it! It’s like being hit by a hammer in the head!”

John stood and took his tray to the kitchen. The rest looked at each other in silence. It must have been, Maya thought, a really bad confirmation class. Clearly none of the others had known any more than her about this side of their easygoing hero. Who knew what they would learn next, about him or any of them?

News of the argument between John and Phyllis spread through the crew. Maya wasn’t sure who was telling the story— neither John nor Phyllis seemed inclined to speak of it. Then she saw Frank with Hiroko, laughing as he told her something. Walking by them she heard Hiroko say, “You’ve got to admit Phyllis is right about that part— we don’t understand the why of things at all.”

Frank, then. Sowing discord between Phyllis and John. And (not a trivial point) Christianity was still a major force in America, and elsewhere. If word got around back home that John Boone was anti-Christian, it could give him problems. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Frank. They were all getting media play on Earth, but if you watched some of the news and features, it became clear that some were getting more than others, and this made them seem more powerful, and so they became more powerful in fact, by association. Among this group were Vlad and Ursula (whom she suspected were more than friends, now), Frank, Sax— all people who had been well known before their selection— and none so much as John. So that any diminution in Earth’s regard for one of them might have a kind of corresponding effect on their status within the Ares. This at any rate seemed to be Frank’s operating principle.

• • •

It felt as if they were confined to the interior of a hotel with no exits, without even any balconies. The oppression of hotel life was growing; they had been inside now for four long months, but it was still less than half their trip. And none of their carefully designed physical surroundings or daily routines could hasten its end.

Then one morning the second flight team was dealing with another of Arkady’s problem runs, when all at once red lights burned on several screens.

“A solar flare has been detected by the solar-monitoring equipment,” Rya said.

Arkady stood quickly. “That’s not me!” he exclaimed, and leaned over to read the screen nearest him. He looked up, met his colleagues’ skeptical stares, grinned. “Sorry, friends. This is the real wolf.”

An emergency message from Houston confirmed him. He could have faked those as well, but he was headed for the nearest spoke, and there was nothing they could do; fake or not, they had to follow.

In fact, a big solar flare was an event they had simulated many times before. Everyone had tasks to perform, quite a few of them in a very short time, so they ran around the toruses, cursing their luck and trying not to get in each other’s way. There was a lot to do, as battening down was complicated, and not very automated. In the midst of dragging plant trays into the plant shelter Janet yelled, “Is this one of Arkady’s tests?”

“He says not!”


They had left Earth during the low point in the eleven-year sunspot cycle, specifically to reduce the chance of a flare like this occurring. And here it was anyway. They had about half an hour before the first radiation arrived, and no more than an hour after that the really hard stuff would follow.

Emergencies in space can be as obvious as an explosion or as intangible as an equation, but their obviousness has nothing to do with how dangerous they are. The crew’s senses would never perceive the subatomic wind approaching them, and yet it was one of the worst things that could have happened. And everyone knew it. They ran through the toruses to get their bit of battening done— plants had to be covered or moved to protected areas, the chickens and pigs and pygmy cows and the rest of the animals and birds had to be herded into their own little shelters, seeds and frozen embryos had to be collected and carried along, sensitive electrical components had to be boxed or likewise carried along. When they were done with these high-speed tasks they yanked themselves up the spokes to the central shaft as fast as they could, and then flew down the central shaft tube to the storm shelter, which was directly behind the tube’s aft end.

Hiroko and her biosphere team were the last ones in, banging through the hatch a full twenty-seven minutes after the initial alarm. They hurtled into the weightless space flushed and out of breath. “Has it started yet?”

“Not yet.”

They plucked personal dosimeters from a velcro rack of them, and pinned them to their clothing. The rest of the crew already floated in the semicylindrical chamber, breathing hard and nursing bruises and a few sprains. Maya ordered them to count off, and was relieved to hear the whole hundred run through without gaps.

The room seemed very crowded. They hadn’t gathered the whole hundred in one spot for many weeks, and even a max room didn’t seem large enough. This one occupied a tank in the middle strand of the hub shaft. The four tanks surrounding theirs were filled with water, and their tank was divided lengthwise between their room and another semicylinder that had been filled with heavy metals. This semicylinder’s flat side was their “floor,” and it was fitted inside the tank on circular tracks, and rotated to counteract the spin of the ship, keeping the tub between the crew and the sun.

So they floated in a nonrotating space, while the curved roof of the tank rotated over them at its usual four rpm. It was a peculiar sight, which along with the weightlessness made some people begin to look thoughtful in a preseasick kind of way. These unfortunates congregated down at the end of the shelter where the lavatories were located, and to help them out visually, everyone else oriented themselves to the floor. The radiation was therefore coming up through their feet, mostly gamma rays scattering out of the heavy metals. Maya felt an impulse to keep her knees together. People floated in place, or put on velcro slippers to walk over the floor. They talked in low voices, instinctively finding their next-door neighbors, their working partners, their friends. Conversations were subdued, as if a cocktail party had been told that the hors d’oeuvres had been tainted.

John Boone rip-ripped his way to the computer terminals at the fore end of the room, where Arkady and Alex were monitoring the ship. He punched in a command, and the exterior radiation data were suddenly displayed on the room’s biggest screen. “Let’s see how much is hitting the ship,” he said brightly.

Groans. “Must we?” exclaimed Ursula.

“We might as well know,” John said. “And I want to see how well this shelter works. The one on the Rust Eagle was about as strong as the bib you wear at the dentist’s.”

Maya smiled. It was a reminder, rare from John, that he had been exposed to much more radiation than any of the rest of them— about 160 rem over the course of his life, as he explained now in response to someone’s question. On Earth one caught a fifth of a roentgen equivalent man per year, and orbiting Earth, still inside the protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere, one took around thirty-five per year. So John had taken a lot of heat, and somehow that gave him the right, now, to screen the exterior data if he wanted to.

Those who were interested— about sixty people— clumped behind him to watch the screen. The rest relocated at the far end of the tank with the people worrying about motion sickness, a group that definitely didn’t want to know how much radiation they were taking. Just the thought was enough to send some of them into the heads.

Then the full force of the flare struck. The exterior radiation count shifted to well above the solar wind’s usual level, and then soared in a sudden rush. An indrawn hiss came from several observers at once, and there were some shocked exclamations.

“But look how much the shelter is stopping,” John said, checking the dosimeter pinned to his shirt. “I’m still at only point three rem!”

That was several lifetimes of dentists’ X-rays, to be sure, but the radiation outside the storm shelter was already 70 rem, well on its way to a lethal dose, so they were getting off lightly. Still, the amount flying through the rest of the ship! Billions of particles were penetrating the ship and colliding with the atoms of water and metal they were huddled behind; hundreds of millions were flying between these atoms and then through the atoms of their bodies, touching nothing, as if they were no more than ghosts. Still, thousands were striking atoms of flesh and bone. Most of those collisions were harmless— but in all those thousands, there were in all probability one or two (or three?) in which a chromosome strand was taking a hit, and kinking in the wrong way: and there it was. Tumor initiation, begun with just that typo in the book of the self. And years later, unless the victim’s DNA luckily repaired itself, the tumor promotion that was a more or less unavoidable part of living would have its effect, and there would appear a bloom of Something Else inside: cancer. Leukemia, most likely; and, most likely, death.

So it was hard not to regard the figures unhappily. 1.4658 rem, 1.7861, 1.9004. “Like an odometer,” Boone said calmly as he looked at his dosimeter. He was gripping a rail with both hands and pulling himself back and forth, as if doing isometric exercises. Frank saw it and said, “John, what the hell are you doing?”

“Dodging,” John said. He smiled at Frank’s frown. “You know— moving target!”

People laughed at him. With the extent of the danger precisely charted on screens and graphs, they were beginning to feel less helpless. This was illogical, but naming was the power that made every human a scientist of sorts. And these were scientists by profession, with many astronauts among them as well, trained to accept the possibility of such a storm. All those mental habits began channeling their thoughts, and the shock of the event receded a bit. They were coming to terms with it.

Arkady went to a terminal and called up Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, picking it up in the third movement, when the village dance is disrupted by storm. He turned up the volume, and they floated together in the long half-cylinder, listening to the intensity of Beethoven’s fierce tempest, which suddenly seemed to enunciate perfectly the lashings of the silent wind pouring through them. It would sound just like that! Strings and woodwinds shrieking in wild gusts, out of control and yet beautifully melodic at the same time— a shiver ran down Maya’s spine. She had never listened to the old warhorse this closely before, and she looked with admiration (and a bit of fear) at Arkady, who was beaming ecstatically at the effects of his inspired disk jockeying, and dancing like some red knot of fluff in the wind. When the symphony’s storm peaked, it was difficult to believe that the radiation count wasn’t rising; and when the musical storm abated, it seemed like theirs should be over too. Thunder muttered, the last gusts whistled through. The French horn sang its serene all-clear.

People began to talk about other things, discussing the various business of the day that had been so rudely interrupted, or taking the opportunity to talk about other things. After a half hour or more, one of those conversations got louder. Maya didn’t hear how it began, but suddenly Arkady said, very loudly and in English, “I don’t think we should pay any attention to plans made for us back on Earth!”

Other conversations went silent, and people turned to look at him. He had popped up and was floating under the rotating roof of the chamber, where he could survey them all and speak like some mad flying spirit.

“I think we should make new plans,” he said. “I think we should be making them now. Everything should be redesigned from the beginning, with our own thinking expressed. It should extend everywhere, even to the first shelters we build.”

“Why bother?” Maya asked, annoyed at his grandstanding. “They’re good designs.” It really was irritating; Arkady often took center stage, and people always looked at her as if she were somehow responsible for him, as if it were her job to keep him from pestering them.

“Buildings are the template of a society,” Arkady said.

“They’re rooms,” Sax Russell pointed out.

“But rooms imply the social organization inside them.” Arkady looked around, pulling people into the discussion with his gaze. “The arrangement of a building shows what the designer thinks should go on inside. We saw that at the beginning of the voyage, when Russians and Americans were segregated into Torus D and B. We were supposed to remain two entities, you see. It will be the same on Mars. Buildings express values, they have a sort of grammar, and rooms are the sentences. I don’t want people in Washington or Moscow saying how I should live my life, I’ve had enough of that.”

“What don’t you like about the design of the first shelters?” John asked, looking interested.

“They are rectangular,” Arkady said. This got a laugh, but he persevered: “Rectangular, the conventional shape! With work space separated from living quarters, as if work were not part of life. And the living quarters are taken up mostly by private rooms, with hierarchies expressed, in that leaders are assigned larger spaces.”

“Isn’t that just to facilitate their work?” Sax said.

“No. It isn’t really necessary. It’s a matter of prestige. A very conventional example of American business thinking, if I may say so.”

There was a groan, and Phyllis said, “Do we have to get political, Arkady?”

At the very mention of the word, the cloud of listeners ruptured. Mary Dunkel and a couple of others pushed out and headed for the other end of the room.

“Everything is political,” Arkady said at their backs. “Nothing more so than this voyage of ours. We are beginning a new society, how could it help but be political?”

“We’re a scientific station,” Sax said. “It doesn’t necessarily have much politics to it.”

“It certainly didn’t last time I was there,” John said, looking thoughtfully at Arkady.

“It did,” Arkady said, “but it was simpler. You were an all-American crew, there on a temporary mission, doing what your superiors told you to do. But now we are an international crew, establishing a permanent colony. It’s completely different.”

Slowly people were drifting through the air toward the conversation, to hear better what was being said. Rya Jimenez said, “I’m not interested in politics,” and Mary Dunkel agreed from the other end of the room: “That’s one of the things I’m here to get away from!”

Several Russians replied at once. “That itself is a political position!” and the like. Alex exclaimed, “You Americans would like to end politics and history, so you can stay in a world you dominate!”

A couple of Americans tried to protest, but Alex overrode them. “It’s true! The whole world has changed in the last thirty years, every country looking at its function, making enormous changes to solve problems— all but the United States. You have become the most reactionary country in the world.”

Sax said, “The countries that changed had to because they were rigid before, and almost broke. The United States already had flex in its system, and so it didn’t have to change as drastically. I say the American way is superior because it’s smoother. It’s better engineering.”

This analogy gave Alex pause, and while he was thinking about it John Boone, who had been watching Arkady with great interest, said, “Getting back to the shelters. How would you make them different?”

Arkady said, “I’m not quite sure— we need to see the sites we build on, walk around in them, talk it over. It’s a process I advocate, you see. But in general I think work space and living space should be mixed as much as is practical. Our work will be more than making wages— it will be our art, our whole life. We will give it to each other, we will not buy it. Also there should be no signs of hierarchy. I don’t even believe in the leader system we have now.” He nodded politely at Maya. “We are all equally responsible now, and our buildings should show it. A circle is best— difficult in construction terms, but it makes sense for heat conservation. A geodesic dome would be a good compromise— easy to construct, and indicating our equality. As for the inside, perhaps mostly open. Everyone should have their room, sure, but these should be small. Set in the rim, perhaps, and facing larger communal spaces—” He picked up a mouse at one terminal, began to sketch on the screen. “There. This is architectural grammar that would say ‘All equal.’ Yes?”

“There’s lots of prefab units already there,” John said. “I’m not sure they could be adapted.”

“They could if we wanted to do it.”

“But is it really necessary? I mean, it’s clear we’re already a team of equals.”

“Is it clear?” Arkady said sharply, looking around. “If Frank and Maya tell us to do something, are we free to ignore them? If Houston or Baikonur tell us to do something, are we free to ignore them?”

“I think so,” John replied mildly.

This statement got him a sharp look from Frank. The conversation was breaking up into several arguments, as a lot of people had things to say, but Arkady cut through them all again:

“We have been sent here by our governments, and all of our governments are flawed, most of them disastrously. It’s why history is such a bloody mess. Now we are on our own, and I for one have no intention of repeating all of Earth’s mistakes just because of conventional thinking. We are the first Martian colonists! We are scientists! It is our job to think things new, to make them new!”

The arguments broke out again, louder than ever. Maya turned away and cursed Arkady under her breath, dismayed at how angry people were getting. She saw that John Boone was grinning. He pushed off the floor toward Arkady, came to a stop by piling into him, and then shook Arkady’s hand, which swung them both around in the air, in an awkward kind of dance. This gesture of support immediately set people to thinking again, Maya could see it on their surprised faces; along with John’s fame he had a reputation for being moderate and low-keyed, and if he approved of Arkady’s ideas, then it was a different matter.

“Goddammit, Ark,” John said. “First those crazy problem runs, and now this— you’re a wild man, you really are! How in the hell did you get them to let you on board this ship, anyway?”

Exactly my question, thought Maya.

“I lied,” Arkady said.

Everyone laughed. Even Frank, looking surprised. “But of course I lied!” Arkady shouted, a big upside-down grin splitting his red beard. “How else could I get here? I want to go to Mars to do what I want, and the selection committee wanted people to go and do what they were told. You know that!” He pointed down at them and shouted, “You all lied, you know you did!”

Frank was laughing harder than ever. Sax wore his usual Buster Keaton, but he raised a finger and said, “The Revised Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory,” and a great jeer went up from them all. They had all been required to take this exam; it was the world’s most widely used psychological test, and well regarded by experts. Respondents agreed or disagreed to 556 statements, and a profile was formed from the replies; but the judgments concerning what the answers meant were based on the earlier responses of a sample group of 2,600 white, married, middle-class Minnesota farmers of the 1930s. Despite all subsequent revisions, the pervading bias created by the nature of that first test group was still deeply ingrained in the test— or at least some of them thought so. “Minnesota!” Arkady shouted, rolling his eyes. “Farmers! Farmers from Minnesota! I tell you this now, I lied in answer to every single question! I answered exactly opposite to what I really felt, and this is what allowed me to score as normal!”

Wild cheers greeted this announcement. “Hell,” John said, “I’m from Minnesota and I had to lie.”

More cheers. Frank, Maya noted, was crimson with hilarity, incapable of speech, hands clutching his stomach, nodding, giggling, helpless to stop himself. She had never seen him laugh like that.

Sax said, “The test made you lie.”

“What, not you?” Arkady demanded. “Didn’t you lie too?”

“Well, no,” Sax said, blinking as if the concept had never occurred to him before. “I told the truth to every question.”

They laughed harder than ever. Sax looked startled at their response, but that only made him look funnier.

Someone shouted, “What do you say, Michel? How do you account for yourself?”

Michel Duval spread his hands. “You may be underestimating the sophistication of the RMMPI. There are questions which test how honest you are being.”

This statement brought down a rain of questions on his head, a methodological inquisition. What were his controls? How did the testers make their theories falsifiable? How did they repeat them? How did they eliminate alternative explanations of the data? How could they claim to be scientific in any sense of the word whatsoever? Clearly a lot of them considered psychology a pseudoscience, and many had considerable resentment for the hoops they had been forced to jump through to get aboard. The years of competition had taken their toll. And the discovery of this shared feeling sparked a score of voluble conversations. The tension raised by Arkady’s political talk disappeared.

Perhaps, Maya thought, Arkady had defused the one with the other. If so it had been cleverly done, but Arkady was a clever man. She thought back. Actually it had been John Boone who had changed the subject. He had in effect flown to the ceiling and come to Arkady’s rescue, and Arkady had seized the chance. They were both clever men. And it seemed possible they were in some sort of collusion. Forming a kind of alternative leadership, perhaps, one American, one Russian. Something would have to be done about that.

She said to Michel, “Do you think it’s a bad sign we all consider ourselves such liars?”

Michel shrugged. “It’s been healthy to talk about it. Now we realize we’re more alike than we thought. No one has to feel they were unusually dishonest to get aboard.”

“And you?” Arkady asked. “Did you present yourself as a most rational and balanced psychologist, hiding the strange mind we have come to know and love?”

A small smile from Michel. “You’re the expert in strange minds, Arkady.”

Then the few still watching the screens called out. The radiation count had started to fall. After a while it slipped back to just a little above normal.

Someone returned the Pastoral to the moment of the horn call. The last movement of the symphony, “Glad and Grateful Feelings After the Storm,” poured from the speaker system, and as they left the shelter and fanned out through the ship like dandelion seeds on a breeze, the beautiful old folk melody was broadcast throughout the Ares, elaborating itself in all its Brucknerian richness. While it played, they found that the ship’s hardened systems had survived intact. The thicker walls of the farm and the forest biome had afforded the plants some protection, and although there would be some die-offs, the seed stocks were not harmed. The animals could not be eaten either, but presumably would give birth to a healthy next generation. The only casualties were some uncaptured songbirds from D’s dining hall; they found a scattering of them dead on the floor.

As for the crew, the shelter’s protection had shielded them from all but about six rem. That was bad for a mere three hours, but it could have been worse. The exterior of the ship had taken over 140 rem, a lethal dose.

• • •

Six months inside a hotel, with never a walk outside. Inside it was late summer, and the days were long. Green dominated the walls and ceilings, and people went barefoot. Quiet conversations were nearly inaudible in the hum of machinery, the whoosh of ventilators. The ship seemed empty somehow, whole sections of it abandoned as the crew settled down to wait. Small knots of people sat in the halls in toruses B and D, talking. Some stopped their conversations when Maya wandered by, which she naturally found disturbing. She was having trouble falling asleep, trouble waking up. Work made her restless; all the engineers were only waiting, after all, and the simulations had gotten nearly intolerable. She had trouble gauging the passage of time. She stumbled more than she used to. She had gone to see Vlad, and he had recommended overhydration, more running, more swimming.

Hiroko told her to spend more time on the farm. She gave it a try, spending hours weeding, harvesting, trimming, fertilizing, watering, talking, sitting on a bench, looking at leaves. Spacing out. The farm rooms were max chambers, their barrel roofs lined with bright sunstrips. The multi-leveled floors were crowded with crops, many new since the storm. There was not enough space to feed the crew entirely on farm food, but Hiroko disliked that fact and struggled against it, converting storage rooms as they emptied out. Dwarf strains of wheat, rice, soy, and barley grew in stacked trays; above the trays were hanging rows of hydroponic vegetables, and enormous clear jars of green and yellow algae, used to help regulate the gas exchange.

Some days Maya did nothing but watch the farm team work. Hiroko and her assistant Iwao were always tinkering at the endless project of maximizing the closure of their biological life-support system, and they had a crew of other regulars working on it: Raul, Rya, Gene, Evgenia, Andrea, Roger, Ellen, Bob, and Tasha. Success in the closure attempt was measured in K values, K representing closure itself. Thus for every substance they recycled,

K = I — e/E

where E was the rate of consumption in the system, e the rate of (incomplete) closure, and I a constant for which Hiroko, earlier in her career, had established a corrected value. The goal, K = I — 1, was unreachable, but asymptotically approaching it was the farm biologists’ favorite game, and more than that, critical to their eventual existence on Mars. So conversations about it could extend over days, spiraling off into complexities that no one really understood. In essence the farm team was already at their real work, which Maya envied. She was so sick of simulations!

Hiroko was an enigma to Maya. Aloof and serious, she always seemed absorbed in her work, and her team tended always to be around her, as if she was the queen of a realm that had nothing to do with the rest of the ship. Maya didn’t like that, but there was nothing she could do about it. And something in Hiroko’s attitude made it not so threatening; it was just a fact, the farm was a separate place, its crew a separate society. And it was possible that Maya could use them to counterbalance the influence of Arkady and John, somehow; so she did not worry about their separate realm. In fact she joined them more than ever before. Sometimes she went with them up to the hub at the end of a work session, to play a game they had invented called tunneljump. There was a jump tube down the central shaft, where all the joints between cylinders had been expanded to the same width as the cylinders themselves, making a single smooth tube. There were rails to facilitate quick movement back and forth along this tube, but in their game, jumpers stood on the storm-shelter hatch, and tried to leap up the tube to the bubble-dome hatch, a full 500 meters away, without bumping into the walls or railings. Coriolis forces made this effectively impossible, and flying even halfway would usually win a game. But one day Hiroko came by on her way to check an experimental crop in the bubble dome, and after greeting them she crouched on the shelter hatch and jumped, and slowly floated the full length of the tunnel, rotating as she flew, and stopping herself at the bubble-dome hatch with a single outstretched hand.

The players stared up the tunnel in stunned silence.

“Hey!” Rya called to Hiroko. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

They explained the game to her. She smiled, and Maya was suddenly certain she had already known the rules. “So how did you do it?” Rya repeated.

“You jump straight!” Hiroko explained, and disappeared into the bubble dome.

That night at dinner the story got around. Frank said to Hiroko, “Maybe you just got lucky.”

Hiroko smiled. “Maybe you and I should total twenty jumps and see who wins.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“What’ll we bet?”

“Money, of course.”

Hiroko shook her head. “Do you really think money matters anymore?”

• • •

A few days later Maya floated under the curve of the bubble dome with Frank and John, looking ahead at Mars, which was now a gibbous orb the size of a dime.

“A lot of arguments these days,” John remarked casually. “I hear Alex and Mary got into an actual fight. Michel says it’s to be expected, but still. .”

“Maybe we brought too many leaders,” Maya said.

“Maybe you should have been the only one,” Frank jibed.

“Too many chiefs?” said John.

Frank shook his head. “That’s not it.”

“No? There are a lot of stars on board.”

“The urge to excel and the urge to lead aren’t the same. Sometimes I think they may be opposites.”

“I leave the judgment to you, Captain.” John grinned at Frank’s scowl. He was, Maya thought, the only relaxed person left among them.

“The shrinks saw the problem,” Frank went on, “it was obvious enough even for them. They used the Harvard solution.”

“The Harvard solution,” John repeated, savoring the phrase.

“Long ago Harvard’s administrators noticed that if they accepted only straight-A high school students, and then gave out the whole range of grades to freshmen, a distressing number of them were getting unhappy at their Ds and Fs and messing up the Yard by blowing their brains out on it.”

“Couldn’t have that,” John said.

Maya rolled her eyes. “You two must have gone to trade schools, eh?”

“The trick to avoiding this unpleasantness, they found, was to accept a certain percentage of students who were used to getting mediocre grades, but had distinguished themselves in some other way—”

“Like having the nerve to apply to Harvard with mediocre grades—”

“— used to the bottom of the grade curve, and happy just to be at Harvard at all.”

“How did you hear of this?” Maya asked.

Frank smiled. “I was one of them.”

“We don’t have any mediocrities on this ship,” John said.

Frank looked dubious. “We do have a lot of smart scientists with no interest in running things. Many of them consider it boring. Administration, you know. They’re glad to hand it over to people like us.”

“Beta males,” John said, mocking Frank and his interest in sociobiology. “Brilliant sheep.” The way they mocked each other. .

“You’re wrong,” Maya said to Frank.

“Maybe so. Anyway, they’re the body politic. They have at least the power to follow.” He said this as if the idea depressed him.

John, due for a shift on the bridge, said good-bye and left.

Frank floated over to Maya’s side, and she shifted nervously. They had never discussed their brief affair, and it hadn’t come up, even indirectly, in quite a while. She had thought about what to say, if it ever did: she would say that she occasionally indulged herself with men she liked. That it had been something done on the spur of the moment.

But he only pointed to the red dot in the sky. “I wonder why we’re going.”

Maya shrugged. Probably he meant not we, but I. “Everyone has their reasons,” she said.

He glanced at her. “That’s so true.”

She ignored his tone of voice. “Maybe it’s our genes,” she said. “Maybe they felt things going wrong on Earth. Felt an increased speed of mutation, or something like that.”

“So they struck out for a clean start.”


“The selfish gene theory. Intelligence only a tool to aid successful reproduction.”

“I suppose.”

“But this trip endangers successful reproduction,” Frank said. “It isn’t safe out here.”

“But it isn’t safe on Earth either. Waste, radiation, other people. . ”

Frank shook his head. “No. I don’t think the selfishness is in the genes. I think it’s somewhere else.” He reached out with a forefinger and tapped her between the breasts— a solid tap on the sternum, causing him to drift back to the floor. Staring at her the whole while, he touched himself in the same place. “Good night, Maya.”

• • •

A week or two later Maya was in the farm harvesting cabbages, walking down an aisle between long stacked trays of them. She had the room to herself. The cabbages looked like rows of brains, pulsing with thought in the bright afternoon light.

Then she saw a movement and looked to the side. Across the room, through an algae bottle, she saw a face. The glass of the bottle warped it: a man’s face, brown-skinned. The man was looking to the side and didn’t see her. It appeared he was talking to someone she couldn’t see. He shifted, and the image of his face came clear, magnified in the middle of the bottle. She understood why she was watching so closely, why her stomach was clenched: she had never seen him before.

He turned and looked her way. Through two curves of glass their eyes met. He was a stranger, thin-faced and big-eyed.

He disappeared in a brown blur. For a second Maya hesitated, scared to pursue him; then she forced herself to run the length of the room and up the two bends of the joint, into the next cylinder. It was empty. She ran through three more cylinders before stopping. Then she stood there looking at tomato vines, her breath rasping hard in her throat. She was sweating yet felt chilled. A stranger. It was impossible. But she had seen him! She concentrated on the memory, tried to see the face again. Perhaps it had been. . but no. It had been none of the hundred, she knew that. Facial recognition was one of the mind’s strongest abilities, it was amazingly accurate. And he had run away at the sight of her.

A stowaway. But that too was impossible! Where would he hide, how would he live? What would he have done in the radiation storm?

Had she begun to hallucinate, then? Had it come to that?

She walked back to her room, sick to her stomach. The hallways of Torus D were somehow dark despite their bright illumination, and the back of her neck crawled. When the door appeared she dove into the refuge of her room. But her room was just a bed and a side table, a chair and a closet, some shelves of stuff. She sat there for an hour, then two. But there was nothing there for her to do, no answers, no distractions. No escape.

Maya found herself unable to mention her sighting to anyone, and in a way this was more frightening than the incident itself, as it emphasized to her its impossibility. People would think she had gone mad. What other conclusion was there? How would he eat, where would he hide? No. Too many people would have to know, it really wasn’t possible. But that face!

One night she saw it again in a dream, and woke up in a sweat. Hallucination was one of the symptoms of space breakdown, as she well knew. It happened fairly frequently during long stays in Earth orbit, a couple dozen incidences had been recorded. Usually people started by hearing voices in the ever-present background noise of ventilation and machinery, but a fairly common alternative was the sighting of a workmate who wasn’t there, or worse yet of a doppelgänger, as if empty space had begun to fill with mirrors. Shortage of sensory stimuli was believed to cause the phenomena, and the situation on the Ares, with its long voyage, and no Earth to look at, and a brilliant (and some might say driven) crew, had been judged a potential hazard. This was one of the main reasons the ship’s rooms had been given so much variety of color and texture, along with changing daily and seasonal weather. And still she had seen something that couldn’t be there.

And now when she walked through the ship, it seemed to her that the crew was breaking up into small and private groups, groups that rarely interacted. The farm team spent almost all its time in the farms, even eating meals there on the floors, and sleeping (together, rumor had it) among the rows of plants. The medical team had its own suite of rooms and offices and labs in Torus B, and they spent their time in there, absorbed with experiments and observations and consultations with Earth. The flight team was preparing for MOI, running several simulations a day. And the rest were. . scattered. Hard to find. As she walked around the toruses the rooms seemed emptier than ever before. The D dining hall was never full anymore. And then again in the separated clumps of diners that were there, she noticed arguments broke out fairly frequently, and were hushed with peculiar speed. Private spats, but about what?

Maya herself said less at table, and listened more. You could tell a lot about a society by what topics of conversation came up. In this crowd, the talk was almost always science. Shop talk: biology, engineering, geology, medicine, whatever. You could chat forever about that stuff.

But when the number of people in a conversation fell below four, she noticed, the topics of conversation tended to change. Shop talk was augmented (or replaced entirely) by gossip; and the gossip was always about those two great forms of the social dynamic, sex and politics. Voices lowered, heads leaned in, and word got around. Rumors about sexual relations were becoming more common and more quiet, more caustic and more complex. In a few cases, as in the unfortunate triangle of Janet Blyleven, Mary Dunkel and Alex Zhalin, it went very public and became the talk of the ship; in others it stayed so hidden that the talk was in whispers, accompanied by pointed, inquisitive glances. Janet Blyleven would walk into the dining hall with Roger Calkins, and Frank would remark to John, in an undertone meant to reach Maya’s ears, “Janet thinks we’re a panmixia.” Maya would ignore him, as she always did when he spoke in that sneery tone of voice, but later she looked up the word in a sociobiology lexicon, and found that a panmixia was a group where every male mated with every female.

The next day she looked at Janet curiously; she had had no idea. Janet was friendly, she leaned in at you as you talked, and really paid attention. And she had a quick smile. But. . well, the ship had been built to insure a lot of privacy. No doubt there was more happening than anyone could know.

And among these secret lives, might there not be another secret life, led in solitude, or in teamwork with some few among them, some small clique or cabal?

“Have you noticed anything funny lately?” she asked Nadia one day at the end of their regular breakfast chat.

Nadia shrugged. “People are bored. It’s about time to get there, I think.”

Maybe that was all it was.

Nadia said, “Did you hear about Hiroko and Arkady?”

Rumors were constantly swirling about Hiroko. Maya found it distasteful, disturbing. That the lone Asian woman among them should be the focus of that kind of thing— dragon lady, mysterious Orient. . Underneath the scientific rational surfaces of their minds, there were so many deep and powerful superstitions. Anything might happen, anything was possible.

Like a face seen through a glass.

And so she listened with a tight feeling in her stomach, as Sasha Yefremov leaned over from the next table and responded to Nadia’s question by wondering if Hiroko were developing a male harem. That was nonsense; although an alliance of some sort between Hiroko and Arkady had an unsettling sort of logic to Maya, she was not sure why. Arkady was very open in advocating independence from Mission Control, Hiroko never talked about it at all, but in her actions hadn’t she already led the whole farm team away, into a mental torus the others could never enter?

But then when Sasha claimed in a low voice that Hiroko had plans to fertilize several of her own ova with sperm from all the men on the Ares, and store them cryonically for later growth on Mars, Maya could only sweep up her tray and head for the dishwashers, feeling something like vertigo. They were becoming strange.

• • •

The red crescent grew to the size of a quarter, and the feeling of tension grew as well, as if it were the hour before a thunderstorm, and the air charged with dust and creosote and static electricity. As if the god of war were really up there on that blood dot, waiting for them. The green wall panels inside the Ares were now flecked with yellow and brown, and the afternoon light was thick with sodium vapor’s pale bronze.

People spent hours in the bubble dome, watching what none among them but John had seen before. The exercise machines were in constant use, the simulations performed with renewed enthusiasm. Janet took a swing through the toruses, sending back video images of all the changes in their little world. Then she threw her glasses on a table and resigned her post as reporter. “Look, I’m tired of being an outsider,” she said. “Every time I walk into a room everyone shuts up, or starts preparing their official line. It’s like I was a spy for an enemy!”

“You were,” Arkady said, and gave her a big hug.

At first no one volunteered to take over her job. Houston sent messages of concern, then reprimands, then veiled threats. Now that they were about to reach Mars, the expedition was getting a lot more TV time, and the situation was about to “go nova,” as Mission Control put it. They reminded the colonists that this burst of publicity would eventually reap the space program all kinds of benefits; the colonists had to film and broadcast what they were doing, to stimulate public support for the later Mars missions on which they were going to depend. It was their duty to transmit their stories!

Frank got on the screen and suggested that Mission Control could concoct their video reports out of footage from robot cameras. Hastings, head of Mission Control in Houston, was visibly infuriated by this response. But as Arkady said, with a grin that extended the realm of the question to everything: “What can they do?”

Maya shook her head. They were sending a bad signal, and revealing what the video reports had so far hidden, that the group was splintering into rival cliques. Which indicated Maya’s own lack of control over the Russian half of the expedition. She was about to ask Nadia to take over the reporting job as a favor to her when Phyllis and some of her friends in Torus B volunteered for the job. Maya, laughing at the expression on Arkady’s face, gave it to them. Arkady pretended not to care. Irritated, Maya said in Russian, “You know you’ve missed a chance! A chance to shape our reality, in effect!”

“Not our reality, Maya. Their reality. And I don’t care what they think.”

• • •

Maya and Frank began conferring about landfall assignments. To a certain extent these were predetermined by the crew members’ areas of expertise, but because of all the skill redundancies, there were still some choices to be made. And Arkady’s provocations had had this effect at least: Mission Control’s preflight plans were now generally regarded as provisional at best. In fact no one seemed all that inclined to acknowledge Maya or Frank’s authority either, which made things tense when it became known what they were working on.

Mission Control’s preflight plan called for the establishment of a base colony on the plains north of Ophir Chasma, the enormous northern arm of Valles Marineris. All the farm team was assigned to the base, and a majority of the engineers and medical people— altogether, around sixty of the hundred. The rest would be scattered on subsidiary missions, returning to the base camp from time to time. The largest subsidiary mission was to dock a part of the disassembled Ares on Phobos, and begin transforming that moon into a space station. Another smaller mission would leave the base camp and travel north to the polar cap, to build a mining system which would transport blocks of ice back to the base. A third mission was to make a series of geological surveys, traveling all over the planet— a glamour assignment for sure. All the smaller groups would become semi-autonomous for periods of up to a year, so selecting them was no trivial matter; they knew well, now, how long a year could be.

Arkady and a group of his friends— Alex, Roger, Samantha, Edvard, Janet, Tatiana, Elena— requested all the jobs on Phobos. When Phyllis and Mary heard about it, they came to Maya and Frank to protest. “They’re obviously trying to take over Phobos, and who knows what they’ll do with it!”

Maya nodded, and she could see Frank didn’t like it either. The problem was, no one else wanted to stay on Phobos. Even Phyllis and Mary weren’t clamoring to replace Arkady’s crew, so it wasn’t clear how to oppose him.

Louder arguments broke out when Ann Clayborne passed around her crew list for the geological survey. A lot of people wanted to join that one, and several of those left off her list said they were going on surveys whether Ann wanted them or not.

Arguments became frequent, and vehement. Almost everyone aboard declared themselves for one mission or another, positioning themselves for the final decisions. Maya felt that she was losing all control of the Russian contingent; she was getting furious at Arkady. In a general meeting she suggested sarcastically that they let the computer make the assignments. The idea was rejected with no regard for her authority. She threw up her hands. “Then what do we do?”

No one knew.

She and Frank conferred in private. “Let’s try giving them the illusion of making the decision,” he said to her with a brief smile; she realized that he was not displeased to have seen her fail in the general meeting. Their encounter was coming back to haunt her, and she cursed herself for a fool. Little politburos were dangerous. .

Frank polled everyone concerning their wishes, and then displayed the results on the bridge, listing everyone’s first, second and third choices. The geological surveys were popular, while staying on Phobos was not. Everyone already knew this, and the posted lists proved that there were fewer conflicts than it had seemed. “There are complaints about Arkady taking over Phobos,” Frank said at the next public meeting. “But no one but him and his friends want that job. Everyone else wants to get down to the surface.”

Arkady said, “In fact we should get hardship compensation.”

“It’s not like you to talk about compensation, Arkady,” Frank said smoothly.

Arkady grinned and sat back down.

Phyllis wasn’t amused. “Phobos will be a link between Earth and Mars, like the space stations in Earth orbit. You can’t get from one planet to the other without them, they’re what naval strategists call choke points.”

“I promise to keep my hands off your neck,” Arkady said to her.

Frank snapped, “We’re all going to be part of the same village! Anything we do affects all of us! And judging by the way you’re acting, dividing up from time to time will be good for us. I for one wouldn’t mind having Arkady out of my sight for a few months.”

Arkady bowed. “Phobos here we come!”

But Phyllis and Mary and their crowd still were not happy. They spent a lot of time conferring with Houston, and whenever Maya went into Torus B conversations seemed to cease, eyes followed her suspiciously— as if being Russian would automatically put her in Arkady’s camp! She damned them for fools, and damned Arkady even more. He had started all this.

But in the end it was hard to tell what was going on, with a hundred people scattered in what suddenly felt like such a large ship. Interest groups, micropolitics— they really were fragmenting. One hundred people only, and yet they were too large a community to cohere! And there was nothing she or Frank could do about it.

• • •

One night she dreamed again of the face in the farm. She woke shaken, and was unable to fall back asleep; and suddenly everything seemed out of control. They flew through the vacuum of space inside a small knot of linked cans, and she was supposed to be in charge of this mad argosy! It was absurd!

She left her room, climbed D’s spoke tunnel to the central shaft. She pulled herself to the bubble dome, forgetting the tunneljump game.

It was four a.m. The inside of the bubble dome was like a planetarium after the audience has gone: silent, empty, with thousands of stars packed into the black hemisphere of the dome. Mars hung directly overhead, gibbous and quite distinctly spherical, as if a stone orange had been tossed among the stars. The four great volcanoes were visible pockmarks, and it was possible to make out the long rifts of Marineris. She floated under it, spread-eagled and spinning very slightly, trying to comprehend it, trying to feel something specific in the dense interference pattern of her emotions. When she blinked, little spherical teardrops floated out and away among the stars.

The lock door opened. John Boone floated in, saw her, grabbed the door handle to stop himself. “Oh, sorry. Mind if I join you?”

“No.” Maya sniffed and rubbed her eyes. “What gets you up at this hour?”

“I’m often up early. And you?”

“Bad dreams.”

“Of what?”

“I can’t remember,” she said, seeing the face in her mind.

He pushed off, floated past her to the dome. “I can never remember my dreams.”


“Well, rarely. If something wakes me up in the middle of one, and I have time to think about it, then I might remember it, for a little while anyway.”

“That’s normal. But it’s a bad sign if you never remember your dreams at all.”

“Really? What’s it a symptom of?”

“Of extreme repression, I seem to recall.” She had drifted to the side of the dome; she pushed off through the air, stopped herself against the dome next to him. “But that may be Freudianism.”

“In other words something like the theory of phlogiston.”

She laughed. “Exactly.”

They looked out at Mars, pointed out features to each other. Talked. Maya glanced at him as he spoke. Such bland, happy good looks; he really was not her type. In fact she had taken his cheeriness for a kind of stupidity, back at the beginning. But over the course of the voyage she had seen that he was not stupid.

“What do you think of all the arguments about what we should do up there?” she asked, gesturing at the red stone ahead of them.

“I don’t know.”

“I think Phyllis makes a lot of good points.”

He shrugged. “I don’t think that matters.”

“What do you mean?”

“The only part of an argument that really matters is what we think of the people arguing. X claims a, Y claims b. They make arguments to support their claims, with any number of points. But when their listeners remember the discussion, what matters is simply that X believes a and Y believes b. People then form their judgment on what they think of X and Y.”

“But we’re scientists! We’re trained to weigh the evidence.”

John nodded. “True. In fact, since I like you, I concede the point.”

She laughed and pushed him, and they tumbled down the sides of the dome away from each other.

Maya, surprised at herself, arrested her motion against the floor. She turned and saw John coming to a halt across the dome, landing against the floor. He looked at her with a smile, caught a rail and launched himself into the air, across the domed space on a course aimed at her.

Instantly Maya understood, and forgetting completely her resolution to avoid this kind of thing, she pushed off to intercept him. They flew directly at each other, and to avoid a painful collision had to catch and twist in midair, as if dancing. They spun, hands clasped, spiraling up slowly toward the dome. It was a dance, with a clear and obvious end to it, there to reach whenever they liked: whew! Maya’s pulse raced, and her breath was ragged in her throat. As they spun they tensed their biceps and pulled together, as slowly as docking spacecraft, and kissed.

With a smile John pushed down from her, sending her flying to the dome, and him to the floor, where he caught and crawled to the chamber’s hatch. He locked it.

Maya let her hair loose and shook it out so it floated around her head, across her face. She shook it wildly and laughed. It was not as though she felt on the verge of any great or overmastering love; it was simply going to be fun, and that feeling of simplicity was. . She felt a wild surge of lust, and pushed off the dome toward John. She tucked into a slow somersault, unzipping her jumper as she spun, her heart pounding like a timpani, all her blood rushing to her skin, which tingled as if thawing as she undressed, banged into John, flew away from him after an overhasty tug at a sleeve; they bounced around the chamber as they got their clothes off, miscalculating angles and momentums until with a gentle thrust of the big toes they flew into each other and met in a spinning embrace, and floated kissing among their floating clothes.

• • •

In the days that followed they met again. They made no attempt to keep the relationship a secret, so very quickly they were a known item, a public couple. Many aboard seemed taken aback by the development, and one morning Maya walked into the dining hall and caught a swift glance from Frank, seated at a corner table, that chilled her; it reminded her of some other time, some incident, some look on his face that she couldn’t quite call to mind.

But most of those aboard seemed pleased. After all it was a kind of royal match, an alliance of the two powers behind the colony, signifying harmony. Indeed the union seemed to catalyze a number of others, which either came out of the closet or, in the newly supersaturated medium, sprang into being. Vlad and Ursula, Dmitri and Elena, Raul and Marina— newly evident couples were everywhere, to the point where the singletons among them began to make nervous jokes about it. But Maya thought she noticed less tension in voices, fewer arguments, more laughter.

One night, lying in bed thinking about it (thinking of wandering over to John’s room) she wondered if that was why they had gotten together: not from love, she still did not love him, she felt no more than friendship for him, charged by lust that was strong but impersonal— but because it was, in fact, a very useful match. Useful to her— but she swerved from that thought, concentrated on the match’s usefulness to the expedition as a whole. Yes, it was politic. Like feudal politics, or the ancient comedies of spring and regeneration. And it felt that way, she had to admit; as if she were acting in response to imperatives stronger than her own desires, acting out the desires of some larger force. Of, perhaps, Mars itself. It was not an unpleasant feeling.

As for the idea that she might have gained leverage over Arkady, or Frank, or Hiroko. . Well, she successfully avoided thinking about that. It was one of Maya’s talents.

• • •

Blooms of yellow and red and orange spread across the walls. Mars was now the size of the moon in Earth’s sky. It was time to harvest all their effort; only a week more, and they would be there.

There was still tension over the unsolved problems of landfall assignments. And now Maya found it less easy than ever to work with Frank; it was nothing obvious, but it occurred to her that he did not dislike their inability to control the situation, because the disruptions were being caused more by Arkady than anyone else, and so it looked like it was more her fault than his. More than once she left a meeting with Frank and went to John, hoping to get some kind of help. But John stayed out of the debates, and threw his support behind everything that Frank proposed. His advice to Maya in private was fairly acute, but the trouble was he liked Arkady, and disliked Phyllis; so often he recommended to her that she support Arkady, apparently unaware of the way this tended to undercut her authority among the other Russians. She never pointed this out to him, however. Lovers or not, there were still areas she didn’t wish to discuss with him, or with anyone else.

But one night in his room her nerves were jangling, and lying there, unable to sleep, worrying about first this and then that, she said, “Do you think it would be possible to hide a stowaway on the ship?”

“Well, I don’t know,” he said, surprised. “Why do you ask?”

Swallowing hard, she told him about the face through the algae bottle.

He sat up in bed, staring at her. “You’re sure it wasn’t. .”

“It wasn’t any of us.”

He rubbed his jaw. “Well. . I suppose if he were getting help from someone in the crew. .”

“Hiroko,” Maya suggested. “I mean, not just because she’s Hiroko, but because of the farm and all that. It would solve his food problem, and there’s a lot of places to hide there. And he could have taken shelter with the animals during the radiation storm.”

“They got a lot of rems!”

“But he could have gotten behind their water supply. A little one-man shelter wouldn’t be too hard to set up.”

John still hadn’t gotten over the idea of it. “Nine months in hiding!”

“It’s a big ship. It could be done, right?”

“Well, I suppose so. Yeah, it could, I guess. But why?”

Maya shrugged. “I have no idea. Someone who wanted on, who didn’t make the selection. Someone who had a friend, or friends. .”

“Still! I mean, a lot of us had friends who wanted to come. That doesn’t mean that—”

“I know, I know.”

They talked about it for most of an hour, discussing the possible reasons, the methods that could have been used to slip a passenger on board, to hide him, and so on. And then Maya suddenly noticed that she felt much better, that she was, in fact, in a wonderful mood. John believed her! He didn’t think she had gone crazy! She felt a wash of relief and happiness, and threw her arms around him. “It’s so good to be able to talk to you about this!”

He smiled. “We’re friends, Maya. You should have brought it up before.”


• • •

The bubble dome would have been a wonderful place to view their final approach to Mars, but they were going to be aerobraking to reduce speed, and the dome would be behind the heat shield that they now deployed. There would be no view.

Aerobraking saved them from the necessity of carrying the enormous amount of fuel it would have taken to slow down, but it was an extremely precise operation, and therefore dangerous. They had a leeway of less than a millisecond of arc, and so several days before MOI the navigation team began to tweak their course with small burns on an almost hourly basis, fine tuning the approach. Then as they got closer they stopped the ship’s rotation. The return to weightlessness, even in the toruses, was a shock. Suddenly it came home to Maya that it wasn’t just another simulation. She lofted through the windy air of the hallways, seeing everything from a strange new high perspective, and all of a sudden it felt real.

She slept in snatches, an hour here, three hours there. Every time she stirred, floating in her sleeping bag, she had a moment of disorientation, thinking she was in Novy Mir again. Then she would remember, and adrenaline would knock her awake. She would pull through the halls of the torus, pushing off the wall panels of brown and gold and bronze. On the bridge she would check with Mary or Raul or Marina, or someone else in navigation. Everything still on course. They were approaching Mars so quickly it seemed they could see it expanding on the screens.

They had to miss the planet by thirty kilometers, or about one ten-millionth of the distance they had traveled. No problem, Mary said, with a quick glance at Arkady. So far they were on the Mantra Run, and hopefully none of his mad problems would crop up.

The crew members not involved with navigation worked to batten down, preparing everything for the torque and bumps that two-and-a-half g’s were sure to bring. Some of them got to go out on EVAs, to deploy subsidiary heat shields and the like. There was a lot to do, and yet the days seemed long anyway.

• • •

It was going to happen in the middle of the night, and so that evening all the lights stayed on, and no one went to bed. Everyone had a station— some on duty, most of them only waiting it out. Maya sat in her chair on the bridge, watching the screens and the monitors, thinking that they looked just like they would if it were all a simulation in Baikonur. Could they really be going into orbit around Mars?

They could. The Ares hit Mars’s thin high atmosphere at 40,000 kilometers per hour, and instantly the ship was vibrating heavily, Maya’s chair shaking her fast and hard, and there was a faint low roar, as if they flew through a blast furnace— and it looked like that too, because the screens were bursting with an intense pink-orange glow. Compressed air was bouncing off the heat shields and blazing past all the exterior cameras, so that the whole bridge was tinged the color of Mars. Then gravity returned with a vengeance; Maya’s ribs were squeezed so hard that she had trouble breathing, and her vision was blurred. It hurt!

They were plowing through the thin air at a speed and height calculated to put them into what aerodynamicists call transitional flow, a state halfway between free molecular flow and continuum flow. Free molecular flow would have been the preferred mode of travel, with the air that struck the heat shield shoved to the sides, and the resulting vacuum refilled mostly by molecular diffusion; but they were moving too fast for that, and they could only just barely avoid the tremendous heat of continuum flow, in which air would have moved over shield and ship as part of a wave action. The best they could do was to take the highest possible course that would slow them enough, and this put them into transitional flow, which vacillated between free molecular and continuum flow, making for a bumpy ride. And there lay the danger. If they were to hit a high-pressure cell in the Martian atmosphere, where heat or vibration or g forces caused some sensitive mechanism to break, then they could be cast into one of Arkady’s nightmares at the very time they were crushed in their chairs, “weighing” 400 pounds apiece, which was something Arkady had never been able to simulate very well. In the real world, Maya thought grimly, at the moment when they were most vulnerable to danger, they were also most helpless to deal with it.

But as fate would have it, Martian stratospheric weather was stable, and they remained on the Mantra Run— which in actuality turned out to be a roaring, shuddering, breath-robbing eight minutes. No hour Maya could remember had lasted as long. Sensors showed that the main heat shield had risen to 600 degrees Kelvin—

And then the vibration stopped. The roar ended. They had skipped out of the atmosphere, after skidding around a quarter of the planet. They had decelerated by some 20,000 kilometers an hour, and the heat shield’s temperature had risen to 710 degrees Kelvin, very near its limit. But the method had worked. All was still. They floated, weightless again, held down by their chair straps. It felt as if they had stopped moving entirely, as if they were floating in pure silence.

Unsteadily they unstrapped themselves, floated like ghosts around the cool air of the rooms, an airy faint roaring sounding in their ears, emphasizing the silence. They were talking too loudly, shaking each other’s hands. Maya felt dazed, and she couldn’t understand what people were saying to her, not because she couldn’t hear them, but because she wasn’t paying attention.

• • •

Twelve weightless hours later their new course led them to a periapsis 35,000 kilometers from Mars. There they fired the main rockets for a brief thrust, increasing their speed by about a hundred kilometers an hour; after that they were pulled toward Mars again, carving an ellipse that would bring them back to within 500 kilometers of the surface. They were in Martian orbit.

Each elliptical orbit of the planet took around a day. Over the next two months, the computers would control burns that would gradually circularize their course just inside the orbit of Phobos. But the landing parties were going to descend to the surface well before that, while perigee was so close.

They moved the heat shields back to their storage positions, and went inside the bubble dome to have a look.

During perigee Mars filled most of the sky, as if they flew over it in a high jet. The depth of Valles Marineris was perceptible, the height of the four big volcanoes obvious: their broad peaks appeared over the horizon well before the surrounding countryside came into view. There were craters everywhere on the surface. Their round interiors were a vivid sandy orange, a slightly lighter color than the surrounding countryside. Dust, presumably. The short rugged curved mountain ranges were darker than the surrounding countryside, a rust color broken by black shadows. But both the light and dark colors were just a shade away from the omnipresent rusty-orangish-red, which was the color of every peak, crater, canyon, dune, and even the curved slice of the dust-filled atmosphere, visible high above the bright curve of the planet. Red Mars! It was transfixing, mesmerizing. Everyone felt it.

• • •

They spent long hours working, and at last it was real work. The ship had to be partially disassembled. The main body would be eventually parked in orbit near Phobos, and used as an emergency-return vehicle. But twenty tanks from the outer lengths of the hub shaft had only to be disconnected from the Ares and prepped to become planetary landing vehicles, which would take the colonists down in groups of five. The first lander was scheduled to descend as soon as it was decoupled and prepped, so they worked in round-the-clock shifts, spending a lot of time in EVA. They pulled in to the dining halls tired and ravenous, and conversations were loud; the ennui of the voyage seemed forgotten. One night Maya floated in the bathroom getting ready for bed, feeling stiffened muscles that she hadn’t heard from in months. Around her Nadia and Sasha and Yeli Zudov were chattering away, and in the warm wash of voluble Russian it suddenly occurred to her that everyone was happy— they were in the last moment of their anticipation, an anticipation that had lain in their hearts for half a lifetime, or ever since childhood— and now suddenly it had bloomed below them like a child’s crayon drawing of Mars, growing huge then small, huge then small, and as it yo-yoed back and forth it loomed before them in all its immense potential: tabula rasa, blank slate. A blank red slate. Anything was possible, anything could happen— in that sense they were, in just these last few days, perfectly free. Free of the past, free of the future, weightless in their own warm air, floating like spirits about to invest a material world…. In the mirror Maya caught sight of the toothbrush-distorted grin on her face, and grabbed a railing to hold her position. It occurred to her that they might never be so happy again. Beauty was the promise of happiness, not happiness itself; and the anticipated world was often more rich than anything real. But this time who could say? This time might be the golden one at last.

She released the railing and spit toothpaste into a wastewater bag, then floated backward into the hallway. Come what may, they had reached their goal. They had earned at least the chance to try.

• • •

Disassembling the Ares made a lot of them feel odd. It was, as John remarked, like dismantling a town and flinging the houses in different directions. And this was the only town they had. Under the giant eye of Mars, all their disagreements became taut; clearly it was critical now, there was little time left. People argued, in the open or under the surface. So many little groups now, keeping their own counsel… What had happened to that brief moment of happiness? Maya blamed it mostly on Arkady. He had opened Pandora’s box; if not for him and his talk, would the farm group have drawn so close around Hiroko? Would the medical team have kept such close counsel? She didn’t think so.

She and Frank worked hard to reconcile differences and forge a consensus, to give them the feeling they were still a single team. It involved long conferences with Phyllis and Arkady, Ann and Sax, Houston and Baikonur. In the process a relationship developed between the two leaders that was even more complex than their early encounters in the park, though that was part of it; Maya saw now, in Frank’s occasional flashes of sarcasm, of resentment, that he had been bothered by the incident more than she had thought at the time. But there was nothing to be done about it now.

In the end the Phobos mission was indeed given to Arkady and his friends, mainly because no one else wanted it. Everyone was promised a spot on a geological survey if they wanted one, and Phyllis and Mary and the rest of the “Houston crowd” were given assurances that the construction of base camp would go according to the plans made in Houston. They intended to work at the base to see that it happened that way. “Fine, fine,” Frank snarled at the end of one of these meetings. “We’re all going to be on Mars, do we really have to fight like this over what we’re going to do there?”

“That’s life,” Arkady said cheerfully. “On Mars or not, life goes on.”

Frank’s jaw was clenched. “I came here to get away from this kind of thing!”

Arkady shook his head. “You certainly did not! This is your life, Frank. What would you do without it?”

• • •

One night shortly before the descent, they gathered and had a formal dinner for the entire hundred. Most of the food was farm-grown: pasta, salad, and bread, with red wine from storage, saved for a special occasion.

Over a dessert of strawberries, Arkady floated up to propose a toast. “To the new world we now create!”

A chorus of groans and cheers; by now they all knew what he meant. Phyllis threw down a strawberry and said, “Look, Arkady, this settlement is a scientific station. Your ideas are irrelevant to it. Maybe in fifty or a hundred years. But for now, it’s going to be like the stations in Antarctica.”

“That’s true,” Arkady said. “But in fact Antarctic stations are very political. Most of them were built so that the countries that built them would have a say in the revision of the Antarctic treaty. And now the stations are governed by laws set by that treaty, which was made by a very political process! So you see, you cannot just stick your head in the sand crying ‘I am a scientist, I am a scientist!’

” He put a hand to his forehead, in the universal gesture mocking the prima donna. “No. When you say that, you are only saying, ‘I do not wish to think about complex systems!’ Which is not really worthy of true scientists, is it?”

“The Antarctic is governed by a treaty because no one lives there except in scientific stations,” Maya said irritably. To have their final dinner, their last moment of freedom, disrupted like this!

“True,” Arkady said. “But think of the result. In Antarctica, no one can own land. No one country or organization can exploit the continent’s natural resources without the consent of every other country. No one can claim to own those resources, or take them and sell them to other people, so that some profit from them while others pay for their use. Don’t you see how radically different that is from the way the rest of the world is run? And this is the last area on Earth to be organized, to be given a set of laws. It represents what all governments working together feel instinctively is fair, revealed on land free from claims of sovereignty, or really from any history at all. It is, to say it plainly, Earth’s best attempt to create just property laws! Do you see? This is the way the entire world should be run, if only we could free it from the straitjacket of history!”

Sax Russell, blinking mildly, said, “But Arkady, since Mars is going to be ruled by a treaty based on the old Antarctic one, what are you objecting to? The Outer Space Treaty states that no country can claim land on Mars, no military activities are allowed, and all bases are open to inspection by any country. Also no Martian resources can become the property of a single nation. The U.N. is supposed to establish an international regime to govern any mining or other exploitation. If anything is ever done along that line, which I doubt will happen, then it is to be shared among all the nations of the world.” He turned a palm upward. “Isn’t that what you’re agitating for, already achieved?”

“It’s a start,” Arkady said. “But there are aspects of that treaty you haven’t mentioned. Bases built on Mars will belong to the countries that build them, for instance. We will be building American and Russian bases, according to this provision of the law. And that puts us right back into the nightmare of Terran law and Terran history. American and Russian businesses will have the right to exploit Mars, as long as the profits are somehow shared by all the nations signing the treaty. This may only involve some sort of percentage paid to the U.N., in effect no more than a bribe. I don’t believe we should acknowledge these provisions for even a moment!”

Silence followed this remark.

Ann Clayborne said, “This treaty also says we have to take measures to prevent the disruption of planetary environments, I think is how they put it. It’s in Article Seven. That seems to me to expressly forbid the terraforming that so many of you are talking about.”

“I would say that we should ignore that provision as well,” Arkady said quickly. “Our own well-being depends on ignoring it.”

This view was more popular than his others, and several people said so.

“But if you’re willing to disregard one article,” Arkady pointed out, “you should be willing to disregard the rest. Right?”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“All these changes will happen inevitably,” Sax Russell said with a shrug. “Being on Mars will change us in an evolutionary way.”

Arkady shook his head vehemently, causing him to spin a little in the air over the table. “No, no, no, no! History is not evolution! It is a false analogy! Evolution is a matter of environment and chance, acting over millions of years. But history is a matter of environment and choice, acting within lifetimes, and sometimes within years, or months, or days! History is Lamarckian! So that if we choose to establish certain institutions on Mars, there they will be! And if we choose others, there they will be!” A wave of his hand encompassed them all, the people seated at the tables, the people floating among the vines: “I say we should make those choices ourselves, rather than having them made for us by people back on Earth. By people long dead, really.”

Phyllis said sharply, “You want some kind of communal utopia, and it’s not possible. I should think Russian history would have taught you something about that.”

“It has,” Arkady said. “Now I put to use what it has taught me.”

“Advocating an ill-defined revolution? Fomenting a crisis situation? Getting everyone upset and at odds with each other?”

A lot of people nodded at this, but Arkady waved them away. “I decline to accept blame for everyone’s problems at this point in the trip. I have only said what I think, which is my right. If I make some of you uncomfortable, that is your problem. It is because you don’t like the implications of what I say, but can’t find grounds to deny them.”

“Some of us can’t understand what you say,” Mary exclaimed.

“I say only this!” Arkady said, staring at her bug-eyed. “We have come to Mars for good. We are going to make not only our homes and our food, but also our water and the very air we breathe— all on a planet that has none of these things. We can do this because we have technology to manipulate matter right down to the molecular level. This is an extraordinary ability, think of it! And yet some of us here can accept transforming the entire physical reality of this planet, without doing a single thing to change our selves, or the way we live. To be twenty-first-century scientists on Mars, in fact, but at the same time living within nineteenth-century social systems, based on seventeenth-century ideologies. It’s absurd, it’s crazy, it’s— it’s—” he seized his head in his hands, tugged at his hair, roared “It’s unscientific! And so I say that among all the many things we transform on Mars, ourselves and our social reality should be among them. We must terraform not only Mars, but ourselves.”

• • •

No one ventured a rebuttal to that; Arkady at full throttle was pretty much unopposable, and a lot of them were genuinely provoked by what he had said, and needed time to think. Others were simply disgruntled, but unwilling to cause too much of a fuss at this particular dinner, which was supposed to be a celebration. It was easier to roll one’s eyes, and drink to the toast. “To Mars! To Mars!” But as they floated around after finishing dessert, Phyllis was disdainful. “First we have to survive,” she said. “With dissension like this, how good will our chances be?”

Michel Duval tried to reassure her. “A lot of these disagreements are symptoms of the flight. Once on Mars, we’ll pull together. And we have more than just what we brought on the Ares to help us— we’ll have what the unmanned landers have brought already, shipments of equipment and food all over the surface and the moons. All that’s there for us. The only limit will be our own stamina. And this voyage is part of that— it’s a kind of preparation, a test. If we fail this part, we won’t even get to try on Mars.”

“Exactly my point!” Phyllis said. “We are failing in this.”

Sax stood, looking bored, and pushed off toward the kitchen. The hall was filled with the seashell roar of many small discussions, some of them acrimonious in tone. A lot of people were angry at Arkady, clearly; and others were angry at them for getting upset.

Maya followed Sax into the kitchen. As he cleaned his tray he sighed. “People are so emotional. Sometimes it seems like I’m stuck in an endless performance of the play No Exit.”

“That’s the one where they can’t get out of a little room?”

He nodded. “Where hell is other people. I hope we don’t prove the hypothesis.”

• • •

A few days later the landers were ready. They would descend over a period of five days; only the Phobos team would stay in what was left of the Ares, guiding it to its near-docking with the little moon. Arkady, Alex, Dmitri, Roger, Samantha, Edvard, Janet, Raul, Marina, Tatiana, and Elena said their farewells, absorbed already in the task at hand, promising to descend as soon as the Phobos station was built.

The night before the descent Maya couldn’t sleep. Eventually she gave up trying, and pulled herself through the rooms and corridors, up to the hub. Every object was sharp-edged with sleeplessness and adrenaline, and every familiarity of the ship was countered or overwhelmed by some alteration, a lashed-down stack of boxes or a dead-end in a tube. It was as if they had already left the Ares. She looked around at it one last time, drained of emotion. Then she pulled herself through the tight locks, into the landing vehicle she had been assigned to. Might as well wait there. She climbed into her spacesuit, feeling, as she so often did when the real moment came, that she was only going through another simulation. She wondered if she would ever escape that feeling, if being on Mars would be enough to end it. It would be worth it just for that: to make her feel real for once! She settled into her chair.

A few sleepless hours later she was joined by Sax, Vlad, Nadia, and Ann. Her companions belted in, and they ran through the check-out together. Toggles were flipped, there was a countdown. Their rockets fired. The lander drifted away from the Ares. Its rockets fired again. They fell toward the planet. They hit the top of the atmosphere, and their single trapezoidal window became a blaze of Mars-colored air. Maya, vibrating with the craft, stared up at it. She felt tense and unhappy, focused backward rather than forward, thinking of everyone still on the Ares; and it seemed to her that they had failed, that the five of them in the lander were leaving behind a group in disarray. Their best chance for creating some kind of concord had passed, and they had not succeeded; the momentary flash of happiness she had felt while brushing her teeth had been just that, a flash. She had failed, then. They were going their separate ways, splintered by their beliefs, and even after two separate years of enforced togetherness they were, like any other human group, no more than a collection of strangers. The die was cast.

Part 3. The Crucible

It formed with the rest of the solar system, around five billion years ago. That’s fifteen million human generations. Rocks banging together in space, and then coming back and holding together, all because of the mysterious force we call gravity. That same mysterious warp in the weft of things caused the pile of rocks, when it was big enough, to crush in on its center, until the heat of the pressure melted the rock. Mars is small but heavy, with a nickel-iron core. It is small enough that the interior has cooled faster than Earth’s; the core no longer spins inside the crust at a different speed, and so Mars has practically no magnetic field. No dynamo left. But one of the last internal flows of the molten core and mantle was in the form of a huge anomalous lumping outward on one side, a shove against the crust wall that formed a continent-sized bulge eleven kilometers high, three times as high as the Tibetan plateau is above its surroundings. This bulge caused many other features to appear: a system of radial fractures covering an entire hemisphere, including the largest cracks of all, the Valles Marineris, a lace of canyons that would cover the United States coast to coast. The bulge also caused a number of volcanoes, including three straddling its spine, Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsia Mons; and off on its northwest edge, Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system, three times the height of Everest and one hundred times the mass of Mauna Loa, the Earth’s largest volcano.

So the Tharsis Bulge was the most important factor in shaping the surface of Mars. The other major factor was meteor fall. In the Noachian Age, three to four billion years ago, meteors were falling on Mars at a tremendous rate, millions of them, and thousands of them were planetesimals, rocks as big as Vega or Phobos. One of the impacts left behind Hellas Basin, 2,000 kilometers in diameter, the largest obvious crater in the solar system, although Daedalia Planum appears to be the remains of an impact basin 4,500 kilometers across. Those are big; but then there are areologists who believe that the entire northern hemisphere of Mars is an ancient impact basin.

These big impacts created explosions so cataclysmic that it is hard to imagine them; ejecta from them ended up on the Earth and the Moon, and as asteroids in Trojan orbits; some areologists think that the Tharsis Bulge started because of the Hellas impact; others believe that Phobos and Deimos are ejecta. And these were only the largest impacts. Smaller stones fell every day, so that the oldest surfaces on Mars are saturated with cratering, the landscape a palimpsest of newer rings obscuring older ones, with no patch of land untouched. And each of these impacts released explosions of heat that melted rock; elements were broken out of their matrix and fired away in the form of hot gases, liquids, new minerals. This and the outgassing from the core produced an atmosphere, and lots of water; there were clouds, storms, rain and snow, glaciers, streams, rivers, lakes, all scouring the land, all leaving unmistakable marks of their passage— flood channels, stream beds, shorelines, every kind of hydrologic hieroglyphic.

But all that went away. The planet was too small, too far from the sun. The atmosphere froze and fell to the ground. Carbon dioxide sublimed to form a thin new atmosphere, while oxygen bonded to rock and turned it red. The water froze, and over the ages seeped down through the kilometers of meteor-broken rock. Eventually this layer of regolith became permeated with ice, and the deepest parts were hot enough to melt the ice; so there were underground seas on Mars. Water always flows downhill, so these aquifers migrated down, slowly seeping, until they pooled behind some stoppage or another, a rib of high bedrock or a frozen soil barrier. Sometimes intense artesian pressures built against these dams; and sometimes a meteor would hit, or a volcano appear, and the dam would burst apart and a whole underground sea would spew over the landscape, in enormous floods, floods ten thousand times the flow of the Mississippi. Eventually, however, the water on the surface would freeze, and sublime away in the ceaseless dry winds, and fall on the poles in every winter’s fog hood. The polar caps therefore thickened, and their weight drove the ice underground, until the visible ice was only the tip of two world-topping lenses of underground permafrost, lenses ten and then a hundred times the visible caps’ volume. While back down toward the equator, new aquifers were being filled from below, by outgassing from the core. And some of the old aquifers were refilling.

And so this slowest of cycles approached its second round. But as the planet was cooling, all of it happened more and more slowly, in a long ritard like a clock winding down. The planet settled into the shape we see. But change never stops: the ceaseless winds carved the land, with dust that grew finer and finer; and the eccentricities of Mars’s orbit meant that the southern and northern hemispheres traded the cold and warm winters in a cycle of 51,000 years, so that the dry ice cap and the water ice cap reversed poles. Each swing of this pendulum laid down a new stratum of sand, and the troughs of new dunes cut through older layers at an angle, until the sand around the poles lay in a stippled cross-hatching, in geometrical patterns like Navajo sand paintings, banding the whole top of the world.

The colored sands in their patterns, the fluted and scalloped canyon walls, the volcanoes rising right through the sky, the rubbled rock of the chaotic terrain, the infinity of craters, ringed emblems of the planet’s beginning. . Beautiful, or harsher than that: spare, austere, stripped down, silent, stoic, rocky, changeless. Sublime. The visible language of nature’s mineral existence.

Mineral; not animal, nor vegetable, nor viral. It could have happened but it didn’t. There was never any spontaneous generation out of the clays or the sulphuric hot springs; no spore falling out of space, no touch of a god; whatever starts life (for we do not know), it did not happen on Mars. Mars rolled, proof of the otherness of the world, of its stony vitality.

And then, one day. .

She hit the ground with both feet solid, nothing tricky about it, the g familiar from nine months in the Ares; and with the suit’s weight, not that much different from walking on Earth, as far as she could remember. The sky was a pink shaded with sandy tans, a color richer and more subtle than any in the photos. “Look at the sky,” Ann was saying, “look at the sky.” Maya was chattering away, Sax and Vlad spun like rotating statues. Nadezhda Francine Cherneshevsky took a few more steps, felt her boots crunch the surface. It was salt-hardened sand a couple of centimeters thick, which cracked when you walked on it; the geologists called it duricrust or caliche. Her boot tracks were surrounded by small systems of radial fractures.

She was out away from the lander. The ground was a dark rusty orange, covered with an even litter of rocks the same color, although some of the rocks showed tints of red or black or yellow. To the east stood a number of rocket landing vehicles, each one a different shape and size, with the tops of more sticking over the eastern horizon. All of them were crusted the same red-orange as the ground: it was an odd, thrilling sight, as if they had stumbled upon a long-abandoned alien spaceport. Parts of Baikonur would look like this, in a million years.

She walked to one of the nearest landing vehicles, a freight container the size of a small house, set on a skeletal four-legged rocket assembly. It looked like it had been there for decades. The sun was overhead, too bright to look at even through her faceplate. It was hard to judge through the polarization and other filters, but it seemed to her that the daylight was much like that on Earth, as far as she could remember. A bright winter’s day.

She looked around again, trying to take it in. They stood on a gently bumpy plain, covered with small sharp-edged rocks, all half-buried in dust. Back to the west the horizon was marked by a small flat-topped hill. It might be a crater rim, it was hard to say. Ann was already halfway there, still quite a large figure; the horizon was closer than seemed right, and Nadia paused to take note of that, suspecting that she would soon become accustomed to it, and never notice. But it was not Earthlike, that strangely close horizon, she saw that clearly now. They stood on a smaller planet.

She made a concerted effort to recall Earth’s gravity, wondering that it should be so hard. Walking in the woods, over tundra, on the river ice in winter. . and now: step, step. The ground was flat, but one had to thread a course between the ubiquitous rocks; there was no place on Earth that she knew of where they were distributed so copiously and evenly. Take a jump! She did, and laughed; even with her suit on she could tell she was lighter. She was just as strong as ever, but weighed only thirty kilos! And the forty kilos of the suit. . well, it threw her off balance, that was true. It made her feel that she had gone hollow. That was it: her center of gravity was gone, her weight had been shifted out to her skin, to the outside of her muscles rather than the inside. That was the effect of the suit, of course. Inside the habitats it would be as it had been in the Ares. But out here in a suit, she was the hollow woman. With the aid of that image she could suddenly move more easily, hop over a boulder, come down and take a turn, dance! Simply pop in the air, dance, land on top of a flat rock — watch out—

She tumbled, landed on a knee and both hands. Her gloves broke through the duricrust. It felt like a layer of caked sand at the beach, only harder and more brittle. Like hardened mud. And cold! Their gloves weren’t heated the way their boot soles were, and there wasn’t enough insulation when actually touching the ground. It was like touching ice with the bare fingers, wow! Around 215 degrees Kelvin, she recalled, or minus 90 degrees Centigrade; colder than Antarctica, colder than Siberia at its worst. Her fingertips were numb. They would need better gloves to be able to work, gloves fitted with heating elements like their boot soles. That would make the gloves thicker and less flexible. She’d have to get her finger muscles back into shape.

She had been laughing. She stood and walked to another freight drop, humming “Royal Garden Blues.” She climbed the leg of the next drop and rubbed the crust of red dirt off an engraved manifest on the side of the big metal crate. One John Deere/Volvo Martian bulldozer, hydrazine-powered, thermally protected, semiautonomous, fully programmable. Prostheses and spare parts included.

She felt her face stretched in a big grin. Backhoes, front loaders, bulldozers, tractors, graders, dump trucks, construction supplies and materials of every kind; air miners to filter and collect chemicals from the atmosphere; little factories to render these chemicals into other chemicals; other factories to combine those chemicals; a whole commissary, everything they were going to need, all at hand in scores of crates scattered over the plain. She began to hop from one lander to the next, taking stock. Some of them had obviously hit hard, some had their spider legs collapsed, others their bodies cracked, one was even flattened into a pile of smashed boxes, half-buried in dust; but these were just another kind of opportunity, the salvage-and-repair game, one of her favorites! She laughed aloud, she was a bit giddy, she noticed the comm light on her wrist console blinking; she switched to the common band and was startled by Maya and Vlad and Sax all talking at once, “Where’s Ann, you women get back here, hey Nadia, come help us get this damned habitat online, we can’t even get the door open!”

She laughed.

• • •

The habitats were scattered like everything else, but they had landed near one that they knew was functional; it had been turned on from orbit some days before, and run through a complete check. Unfortunately the outer-lock door could not be included in the check, and it was stuck. Nadia went to work on it, grinning; it was odd to see what looked like a derelict trailer home sporting a space-station lock door. It only took a minute for her to get it open, by tapping out the emergency open code while pulling out on the door. Stuck with cold, differential shrinking perhaps. They were going to have a lot of little problems like that.

Then she and Vlad were into the lock, and then inside the habitat. It still looked like a trailer home, but with the latest in kitchen fixtures. All the lights were on. The air was warm, and circulating well. The control panel looked like a nuclear power plant’s.

While the others came inside, Nadia walked down a row of small rooms, through door after door, and the oddest feeling suddenly came over her: things seemed out of place. The lights were on, some of them blinking; and down at the far end of the hall, a door was swinging slightly back and forth on its hinges.

Obviously the ventilation. And the shock of the habitat’s landing probably had disarranged things slightly. She shook off the feeling, and went back to greet the others.

• • •

By the time everyone had landed and walked across the stony plain (stopping, stumbling, running, staring off at the horizon, spinning slowly, walking again), and had entered into the three functioning habitats, and gotten out of their EVA suits, and put them away, and checked out the habitats, and eaten a bit, talking it all over the whole while, night had fallen. They continued working on the habitats and talking through most of that night, too excited to fall asleep; then most of them slept in snatches until dawn, when they woke and suited up and went out again, looking around and checking manifests and running machines through checks. Eventually they noticed they were famished, and went back in to jam down a quick meal— and then it was night again!

And that was what it was like, for several days: a wild swirl of time passing. Nadia would wake to the bip of her wrist console, and eat a quick breakfast looking out the habitat’s little east window. Dawn stained the sky rich berry colors for a few minutes, before shifting rapidly through a series of rosy tones to the thick pink-orange of daytime. All over the floor of the habitat her companions slept, on mattresses that would fold up against the wall during the day. The walls were beige, tinted orange by the dawn. The kitchen and living room were tiny, the four toilet rooms no more than closets. Ann would stir as the room lightened, and go to one of the four toilets. John was already in the kitchen, moving around quietly. Conditions were so much more crowded and public than they had been on the Ares that some of them were having trouble adjusting; every night Maya complained she couldn’t sleep in such a crowd, but there she was, mouth open girlishly. She would be the last to rise, snoozing through the noise and bustle of the others’ morning routines.

Then the sun would crack the horizon, and Nadia would be done with her cereal and milk, the milk made of powder mixed with water mined from the atmosphere (it tasted just the same); and it was time to get into her walker, and out to work.

The walkers were designed for the Martian surface, and were not pressurized like spacesuits, but were rather made of an elastic mesh, which held in the body at about the same pressure that the Terran atmosphere would have. This prevented the severe expansion bruising that would result if skin were exposed to Mars’s minimal atmosphere, but it gave the wearer a lot more freedom of movement than a pressurized spacesuit would have. Walkers also had the very significant advantage of being fail-operational; only the hard helmet was airtight, so if you ripped a hole at knee or elbow you would have a badly bruised and frozen patch of skin, but would not suffocate and die within minutes.

Getting into a walker, however, was a workout in itself. Nadia wriggled the pants over her long underwear, then got in the jacket and zipped the two sections of the suit together. After that she jammed into big thermal boots, and locked their top rings to the suit’s ankle rings; pulled on gloves, and locked the wrist rings; put on a fairly standard hard helmet, and locked it to the suit’s neck ring; then shouldered into an airtank backpack, and linked its air tubes to her helmet. She breathed hard a few times, tasting the cool oxygen-nitrogen in her face. The walker’s wristpad indicated that all the seals were good, and she followed John and Samantha into the lock. They closed the inner door; the air was sucked back into containers, and John unlocked the outer door. The three of them stepped outside.

It was a thrill every morning to step out onto that rocky plain, with the early morning sun casting long black shadows to the west, and the various small knolls and hollows revealed clearly. There was usually a wind from the south, and loose fines moved in a sinuous flow over the ground, so that the rocks sometimes seemed to creep. Even the strongest of these winds could scarcely be felt against an outstretched hand, but they hadn’t yet experienced one of the storm winds; at 500 kilometers per hour they were pretty sure to feel something. At twenty, nearly nothing.

Nadia and Samantha walked over to one of the little rovers they had uncrated and climbed in. Nadia drove the rover across the plain to a tractor they had found the day before, about a kilometer to the west. The morning cold cut through her walker in a diamond pattern, as the result of the X-weave of the heating filaments in the suit material. A strange sensation, but she had been colder in Siberia many a time, and she had no complaints.

They came to the big lander and got out. Nadia picked up a drill with a Phillips screwdriver bit, and started dismantling the crate on top of the vehicle. The tractor inside the lander’s crate was a Mercedes-Benz. She poked the drill into the head of a screw, pulled the trigger and watched the screw spin out. She picked up the screw and moved to the next, grinning. Innumerable times in her youth she had gone out in cold like this, with numb white chopped-up hands, and fought titanic battles to unscrew frozen or stripped screws. . but here it was ziiip, another one out. And really with the walker it was warmer than it had been in Siberia, and freer than in space, the walker no more restrictive than a thin stiff wetsuit. Red rocks were scattered all around in their uncanny regularity; voices chattered on the common band: “Hey, I found those solar panels!” “You think that’s something, I just found the goddamn nuclear reactor.” Yes, it was a great morning on Mars.

The stacked crate walls made a ramp to drive the tractor off the lander. They didn’t look strong enough, but that was the gravity again. Nadia had turned on the tractor’s heating system as soon as she could reach it, and now she climbed into the cab and tapped a command into its autopilot, feeling that it would be best to let the thing descend the ramp on its own, with her and Samantha watching from the side, just in case the ramp was more brittle in the cold than expected, or otherwise unreliable. She still found it almost impossible to think in terms of Martian g, to trust the designs that took it into account. The ramp just looked too flimsy!

But the tractor rolled down without incident, and stopped on the ground: eight meters long, royal blue, with wire-mesh wheels taller than they were. They had to climb a short ladder into the cab. The crane prosthesis was already attached to the mount on the front end, and that made it easy to load the tractor with the winch, the sandbagger, the boxes of spare parts, and finally the crate walls. When they were done, the tractor looked as overloaded and topheavy as a steam calliope; but the g made it only a matter of balance. The tractor itself was a real pig, with 600 horsepower, a wide wheelbase, and wheels big as tracks. The hydrazine motor had pickup even worse than diesel, but it was like the ultimate first gear, completely inexorable. They took off and rolled slowly toward the trailer park— and there she was, Nadezhda Cherneshevsky, driving a Mercedes-Benz across Mars! She followed Samantha to the sorting lot, feeling like a queen.

And that was the morning. Back into the habitat, helmet and tank off, a quick bite in walker and boots. With all that running around they were famished.

After lunch they went back out in the Mercedes-Benz, and used it to haul a Boeing air miner to an area east of the habitats, where they were going to gather all the factories. The air miners were big metal cylinders, somewhat resembling 737 fuselages except that they had eight massive sets of landing gear, and rocket engines attached vertically to their sides, and two jet engines mounted above the fuselage fore and aft. Five of these miners had been dropped in the area some two years before. In the time since, their jet engines had been sucking in the thin air and ramming it through a sequence of separating mechanisms, to divide it into its component gases. The gases had been compressed and stored in big tanks, and were now available for use. So the Boeings each now held 5,000 liters of water ice, 3,000 liters of liquid oxygen, 3,000 liters of liquid nitrogen, 500 liters of argon, and 400 liters of carbon dioxide.

It was no easy task hauling these giants across the rubble to the big holding tanks near their habitats, but they needed to do it, because after they were drained into the holding tanks they could be turned on again. Just that afternoon another group had gotten one emptied out and turned back on, and the low hum of its jets could be heard everywhere, even in a helmet or a habitat.

Nadia and Samantha’s miner was more stubborn. In the whole afternoon they only managed to haul it a hundred meters, and they had to use the bulldozer attachment to scrape a rough road for it all the way. Just before sunset they returned through the lock into the habitat, their hands cold and aching with fatigue. They stripped down to their dust-caked underwear and went straight to the kitchen, ravenous once more; Vlad estimated they were each burning about 6,000 calories a day. They cooked and gulped down rehydrated pasta, nearly scalding their partially thawed fingers on their trays. Only when they had finished eating did they go to the women’s changing room and start trying to clean themselves up, sponging down with hot water, changing into clean jumpers. “It’s going to be hard to keep our clothes clean, that dust even gets through the wrist locks, and the waist zippers are like open holes.” “Well yeah, those fines are micron-sized! We’re going to have worse trouble from it than dirty clothes, I can tell you that. It’s going to be getting into everything, our lungs, our blood, our brains….”

“That’s life on Mars.” This was already a popular refrain, used whenever they encountered a problem, especially an intractable one.

On some days after dinner there were a couple hours of sunlight left, and Nadia, restless, would sometimes go back outside. Often she spent the time wandering around the crates that had been hauled to base that day, and over time she assembled a personal tool kit, feeling like a kid in a candy store. Years in the Siberian power industry had given her a reverence for good tools, she had suffered brutally from the lack of them. Everything in north Yakut had been built on permafrost, and the platforms sank unevenly in the summer, and were buried in ice in the winter, and parts for construction had come from all over the world, heavy machinery from Switzerland and Sweden, drills from America, reactors from the Ukraine, plus a lot of old scavenged Soviet stuff, some of it good, some indescribably shoddy, but all of it unmatched— some of it even built in inches— so that they had had to improvise constantly, building oil wells out of ice and string, knocking together nuclear reactors that made Chernobyl look like a Swiss watch. And every desperate day’s work accomplished with a collection of tools that would have made a tinker weep.

Now she could wander in the dim ruby light of sunset, her old jazz collection piped from the habitat stereo into her helmet headphones, as she rooted in supply boxes and picked out any tool she wanted. She would carry them back to a small room she had commandeered in one of the storage warehouses, whistling along with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, adding to a collection that included, among other items, an Allen wrench set, some pliers, a power drill, several clamps, some hacksaws, an impact-wrench set, a brace of cold-tolerant bungie cords, assorted files and rasps and planes, a crescent-wrench set, a crimper, five hammers, some hemostats, three hydraulic jacks, a bellows, several sets of screwdrivers, drills and bits, a portable compressed gas cylinder, a box of plastic explosives and shape charges, a tape measure, a giant Swiss Army knife, tin snips, tongs, tweezers, three vises, a wire stripper, X-acto knives, a pick, a bunch of mallets, a nut driver set, hose clamps, a set of end mills, a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a magnifying glass, all kinds of tape, a plumber’s bob and ream, a sewing kit, scissors, sieves, a lathe, levels of all sizes, long-nosed pliers, vise-grip pliers, a tap-and-die set, three shovels, a compressor, a generator, a welding-and-cutting set, a wheelbarrow—

and so on. And this was just the mechanical equipment, her carpenter’s tools. In other parts of the warehouse they were stockpiling research and lab equipment, geological tools, and any number of computers and radios and telescopes and videocameras; and the biosphere team had warehouses of equipment to set up the farm, the waste recyclers, the gas-exchange mechanism, in essence their whole infrastructure; and the medical team had more warehouses of supplies for the clinic, and their research labs, and the genetic-engineering facility. “You know what this is,” Nadia said to Sax Russell one evening looking around her warehouse, “It is an entire town, disassembled and lying in pieces.”

“And a very prosperous town at that.”

“Yes, a university town. With first-rate departments in several sciences.”

“But still in pieces.”

“Yes. But I kind of like it that way.”

Sunset was mandatory return-to-habitat time, and in the dusk she would stumble into the lock and inside, and eat another small cold meal sitting on her bed, listening to the talk around her which mostly concerned the day’s work, and the arrangement of the tasks for the next morning. Frank and Maya were supposed to be doing this, but in fact it was happening spontaneously, in a kind of ad hoc barter system. Hiroko was particularly good at it, which was a surprise given how withdrawn she had been on the voyage out; but now that she needed help from outside her team, she spent most of every evening moving from person to person, so single-minded and persuasive that she usually had a sizable crew working on the farm every morning. Nadia couldn’t really see this; they had five years of dehydrated and canned food on hand, fare that suited Nadia fine, she had eaten worse for most of her life and she paid little attention to food anymore, she might as well have been eating hay, or refueling like one of the tractors. But they did need the farm for growing bamboo, which Nadia planned to use as a construction material in the permanent habitat that she hoped to start building soon. It all interlocked; all their tasks linked together, were necessary to each other. So when Hiroko plopped down beside her, she said, “Yeah, yeah, be there at eight. But you can’t build the permanent farm until the base habitat itself is built. So really you ought to be helping me tomorrow, right?”

“No, no,” Hiroko said, laughing. “Day after, okay?”

Hiroko’s main competition for labor came from Sax Russell and his crowd, who were working to start all the factories. Vlad and Ursula and the biomed group were also hungry to get all their labs set up and running. These three teams seemed willing to live in the trailer park indefinitely, as long as their own projects were progressing, but luckily there were a lot of people who were not so obsessed by their work, people like Maya and John and the rest of the cosmonauts, who were interested in moving into larger and better-protected quarters as soon as possible. So Nadia’s project would get help from them.

When she was done eating, Nadia took her tray into the kitchen and cleaned it with a little swab, then went over to sit by Ann Clayborne and Simon Frazier and the rest of the geologists. Ann looked nearly asleep; she was spending her mornings taking long rover trips and hikes, and then working hard on the base all afternoon, trying to make up for her trips away. To Nadia she seemed strangely tense, less happy about being on Mars than one would have thought. She appeared unwilling to work on the factories, or for Hiroko; indeed she usually came to work for Nadia, who, since she was only trying to build housing, could be said to be impacting the planet less than the more ambitious teams. Maybe that was it, maybe not; Ann wasn’t saying. She was hard to know, moody— not in Maya’s extravagant Russian manner, but more subtly, and, Nadia thought, in a darker register. In Bessie Smith land.

All around them people cleaned up after dinner and talked, and looked over manifests and talked, and washed clothes and talked, until most were stretched out on their beds, talking in lower voices, until they passed out. “It’s like the first second of the universe,” Sax Russell observed, rubbing his face wearily. “All crammed together and no differentiation. Just a bunch of hot particles rushing about.”

And that was just one day; and that was what it was like every day, for day after day after day. No change in the weather to speak of, except occasionally a wisp of cloud, or an extra-windy afternoon. In the main, the days rolled by one like the next. Everything took longer than planned. Just getting into the walkers and out of the habitats was a chore, and then all the equipment had to be warmed; and even though it had been built to a uniform set of standards, the international nature of the equipment meant that there were inevitable mismatches of size and function; and the dust (“Don’t call it dust!” Ann would complain. “That’s like calling dust gravel! Call it fines, they’re fines!”) got into everything; and all the physical work in the penetrating cold was exhausting, so that they went slower than they thought they would, and began to collect a number of minor injuries. And, finally, there was just an amazing number of things to do, some of which had never even occurred to them. It took them about a month, for instance (they had budgeted ten days) just to open all the freight loads, check their contents, and move them into the appropriate stockpiles— to get to the point where they could really begin to work.

After that, they could begin to build in earnest. And here Nadia came into her own. She had had nothing to do on the Ares, it had been a kind of hibernation for her. But building things was her great talent, the nature of her genius, trained in the bitter school of Siberia. Very quickly she became the colony’s chief troubleshooter, the universal solvent as John called her. Almost every job they had benefited from her help, and as she ran around every day answering questions and giving advice, she blossomed into a kind of timeless work heaven. So much to do! So much to do! Every night in the planning sessions Hiroko worked her wiles, and the farm went up: three parallel rows of greenhouses, looking like commercial greenhouses back on Earth except smaller and very thick-walled, to keep them from exploding like party balloons. Even with interior pressures of only 300 millibars, which was barely farmable, the differential with the outside was drastic; a bad seal or a weak spot and they would go bang. But Nadia was good at cold-weather seals, and so Hiroko was calling her in a panic every other day.

Then the materials scientists needed help getting their factories operational, and the crew assembling the nuclear reactor wanted her supervision for every breath that they took, they were petrified with fright that they would do something wrong, and were not reassured by Arkady sending radio messages down from Phobos insisting they did not need such a dangerous technology, that they could get all the power they needed from wind generation. He and Phyllis had bitter arguments about this. It was Hiroko who cut Arkady off, with what she said was a Japanese commonplace: “Shikata ga nai,” meaning there is no other choice. Windmills might have generated enough power, as Arkady contended, but they didn’t have windmills, while they had been supplied with a Rickover nuclear reactor, built by the U.S. Navy and a beautiful piece of work; and no one wanted to try bootstrapping themselves into a wind-powered system, they were in too much of a hurry. Shikata ga nai. This too became one of their oft-repeated phrases.

And so every morning the construction crew for Chernobyl (Arkady’s name, of course) begged Nadia to come out with them and supervise. They had been exiled far to the east of the settlement, so that it made sense to go out for a full day with them. But then the medical team wanted her help building a clinic and some labs inside, from some discarded freight crates that they were converting into shelters. So instead of staying out at Chernobyl she would go back midday to eat, and then help the med team. Every night she passed out exhausted.

Some evenings before she did, she had long talks with Arkady, up on Phobos. His crew was having trouble with the moon’s microgravity, and he wanted her advice as well. “If only we could get into some g just to live, to sleep!” Arkady said.

“Build train tracks in a ring around the surface,” Nadia suggested out of a doze. “Make one of the tanks from the Ares into a train, and run it around the track. Get on board and run the train around fast enough to give you some g against the ceiling of the train.”

Static, then Arkady’s wild cackle. “Nadezhda Francine, I love you, I love you!”

“You love gravity.”

With all this advisory work, the construction of their permanent habitat went slowly indeed. It was only once a week or so that Nadia could climb into the open cab of a Mercedes and rumble over the torn ground to the end of the trench she had started. At this point it was ten meters wide, fifty long, and four deep, which was as deep as she wanted to go. The bottom of the trench was the same as the surface: clay, fines, rocks of all sizes. Regolith. While she worked with the bulldozer the geologists hopped in and out of the hole, taking samples and looking around, even Ann who did not like the way they were ripping up the area; but no geologist ever born could keep away from a land cut. Nadia listened to their conversation band as she worked. They figured the regolith was probably much the same all the way down to bedrock, which was too bad; regolith was not Nadia’s idea of good ground. At least its water content was low, less than a tenth of a percent, which meant they wouldn’t get much slumping under a foundation, one of the constant nightmares of Siberian construction.

When she got the regolith cut right, she was going to lay a foundation of Portland cement, the best concrete they could make with the materials at hand. It would crack unless they poured it two meters thick, but shikata ga nai. The thickness would provide some insulation. But she would have to box the mud and heat it to get it to cure; it wouldn’t below 13 degrees Centigrade, so that meant heating elements…. Slow, slow, everything was slow.

She drove the dozer forward to lengthen the trench, and it bit the ground and bucked. Then the weight of the thing told, and the scoop cut through the regolith and plowed forward. “What a pig,” Nadia said to the vehicle fondly.

“Nadia’s in love with a bulldozer,” Maya said over their band.

At least I know who I’m in love with, Nadia mouthed. She had spent too many of the evenings of the last week out in the toolshed with Maya, listening to her rattle away about her problems with John, about how she really got along in most ways better with Frank, about how she couldn’t decide what she felt, and was sure Frank hated her now, etc. etc. etc. Cleaning tools Nadia had said Da, da, da, trying to hide her lack of interest. The truth was she was tired of Maya’s problems, and would rather have discussed building materials, or almost anything else.

A call from the Chernobyl crew interrupted her bulldozing. “Nadia, how can we get cement this thick to set in the cold?”

“Heat it.”

“We are!”

“Heat it more.”

“Oh!” They were almost done out there, Nadia judged; the Rickover had been mostly preassembled, it was a matter of putting the forms together, fitting in the steel containment tank, filling the pipes with water (which dropped their supply to nearly nothing), wiring it all up, piling sandbags around it all, and pulling the control rods. After that they would have 300 kilowatts on hand, which would put an end to the nightly argument over who got the lion’s share of generator power the next day.

There was a call from Sax. One of the Sabatier processors had clogged, and they couldn’t get the housing off it. So Nadia left the bulldozing to John and Maya, and took a rover to the factory complex to have a look. “I’m off to see the alchemists,” she said.

“Have you ever noticed how much the machinery here reflects the character of the industry that built it?” Sax remarked to Nadia as she arrived and went to work on the Sabatier. “If it was built by car companies, it’s low-powered but reliable. If it was built by the aerospace industry, it’s outrageously high-powered but breaks down twice a day.”

“And partnership products are horribly designed,” Nadia said.


“And chemical equipment is finicky,” Spencer Jackson added.

“I’ll say. Especially in this dust.”

The Boeing air miners had been only the start of the factory complex; their gases were fed into big boxy trailers to be compressed and expanded and rendered and recombined, using chemical-engineering operations such as dehumidification, liquefaction, fractional distillation, electrolysis, electrosynthesis, the Sabatier process, the Raschig process, the Oswald process. . Slowly they worked up more and more complex chemicals, which flowed from one factory to the next, through a warren of structures that looked like mobile homes caught in a web of color-coded tanks and pipes and tubes and cables.

Spencer’s current favorite product was magnesium, which was plentiful; they were getting twenty-five kilos of it from every cubic meter of regolith, he said, and it was so light in Martian g that a big bar of it felt like a piece of plastic. “It’s too brittle when pure,” Spencer said, “but if we alloy it just a bit we’ll have an extremely light and strong metal.”

“Martian steel,” Nadia said.

“Better than that.”

So, alchemy; but with finicky machines. Nadia found the Sabatier’s problem, and went to work fixing a broken vacuum pump. It was amazing how much of the factory complex came down to pumps, sometimes it seemed nothing but a mad assemblage of them, and by their nature they kept clogging with fines and breaking down.

Two hours later the Sabatier was fixed. On the way back to the trailer park, Nadia glanced into the first greenhouse. Plants were already blooming, the new crops breaking out of their beds of new black soil. Green glowed intensely in the reds of this world, it was a pleasure to see it. The bamboo was growing several centimeters a day, she had been told, and the crop was already nearly five meters tall. It was easy to see they were going to need more soil. Back at the alchemists’ they were using nitrogen from the Boeings to synthesize ammonia fertilizers; Hiroko craved these because the regolith was an agricultural nightmare, intensely salty, explosive with peroxides, extremely arid, and completely without biomass. They were going to have to construct soil just like they had the magnesium bars.

Nadia went into her habitat in the trailer park for a standing lunch. Then she was out again, to the site of the permanent habitat. The floor of the trench had been almost leveled in her absence. She stood on the edge of the hole, looking down in it. They were going to build to a design that she liked tremendously, one she had worked on herself in Antarctica and on the Ares: a simple line of barrel-vaulted chambers, sharing adjacent walls. By setting them in the trench the chambers would be half-buried to begin with; then when completed they would be covered by ten meters of sandbagged regolith, to stop radiation and also, because they planned to pressurize to 450 millibars, to keep the buildings from exploding. Local materials were all they needed for the exteriors of these buildings: Portland cement and bricks were it, basically, with plastic liner in some places to insure the seal.

Unfortunately the brickmakers were having some trouble, and they gave Nadia a call. Nadia’s patience was running short, and she groaned. “We travel all the way to Mars and you can’t make bricks?”

“It’s not that we can’t make bricks,” said Gene. “It’s just that I don’t like them.” The brickmaking factory mixed clays and sulphur extracted from the regolith, and this preparation was poured into brick molds, and baked until the sulphur began to polymerize, and then as the bricks cooled they were compressed a bit in another part of the machine. The resulting blackish-red bricks had a tensile strength that was technically adequate for use in the barrel vaults, but Gene wasn’t happy. “We don’t want to be at minimum values for heavy roofs over our heads,” he said. “What if we pile one too many sandbag on top of it, or if we get a little marsquake? I don’t like it.”

After some thought Nadia said, “Add nylon.”


“Go out and find the parachutes from the freight drops, and shred them real fine, and add them to the clay. That’ll help their tensile strength.”

“Very true,” Gene said, after a pause. “Good idea! Think we can find the parachutes?”

“They must be east of here somewhere.”

So they had finally found a job for the geologists that actually helped the construction effort. Ann and Simon and Phyllis and Sasha and Igor drove long-distance rovers over the horizon to east of the base, searching and surveying far past Chernobyl, and in the next week they found almost forty parachutes, each one representing a few hundred kilos of useful nylon.

One day they came back excited, having reached Ganges Catena, a series of sinkholes in the plain a hundred kilometers to the southeast. “It was strange,” Igor said, “because you can’t see them until the last minute, and then they’re like huge funnels, about ten kilometers across and a couple deep, eight or nine in a row, each smaller and shallower. Fantastic. They’re probably thermokarsts, but they’re so big it’s hard to believe it.”

Sasha said, “It’s nice to see such a distance, after all this near horizon stuff.”

“They’re thermokarsts,” Ann said. But they had drilled and found no water. This was getting to be a concern; they hadn’t found any water to speak of in the ground, no matter how far down they drilled. It forced them to rely on the supplies from the air miners.

Nadia shrugged. The air miners were pretty tough. She wanted to think about her vaults. The new improved bricks were appearing, and she had started the robots building the walls and roofs. The brick factory filled little robot cars, which rolled like toy rovers across the plain to cranes at the site; the cranes pulled out bricks one by one, and placed them on cold mortar spread by another set of robots. The system worked so well that soon the bottleneck became brick production itself. Nadia would have been pleased, if she had had more faith in the robots. These seemed okay, but her experiences with robots in the years on Novy Mir had made her wary. They were great if everything went perfectly, but nothing ever went perfectly, and it was hard to program them with decision algorithms that didn’t either make them so cautious that they froze every minute, or so uncontrolled that they could commit unbelievable acts of stupidity, repeating an error a thousand times and magnifying a small glitch into a giant blunder, as in Maya’s emotional life. You got what you put into robots, but even the best were mindless idiots.

• • •

One evening Maya snagged her out in her tool room and asked her to switch to a private band. “Michel is useless,” she complained. “I’m really having a hard time, and he only looks at me like he wants to lick my skin. You’re the only one I trust, Nadia. Yesterday I told Frank that I thought John was trying to undercut his authority in Houston, but that he shouldn’t tell anyone I thought so, and the very next day John was asking me why I thought he was bothering Frank. There’s no one who will just listen and stay quiet!”

Nadia nodded, rolling her eyes. Finally she said, “Sorry, Maya, I have to go talk to Hiroko about a leak they can’t find.” She banged her faceplate lightly against Maya’s— symbol for a kiss on the cheek— and switched to the common band and took off. Enough was enough. It was infinitely more interesting to talk to Hiroko— real conversations, about real problems in the real world. Hiroko was asking Nadia for help almost every day, and Nadia liked that, because Hiroko was brilliant, and since landfall had obviously raised her estimate of Nadia’s abilities. Mutual professional respect, a great maker of friendships. And so nice to talk nothing but business. Hermetic seals, lock mechanisms, thermal engineering, glass polarization, farm/human interfaces (Hiroko’s talk was always a few steps ahead of the game). These topics were a great relief after all the emotional whispered conferences with Maya, endless sessions about who liked Maya and who didn’t like Maya, about how Maya felt about this and that, and who had hurt her feelings that day. . bah. Hiroko was never strange, except when she would say something Nadia didn’t know how to deal with, like, “Mars will tell us what it wants and then we’ll have to do it.” What could you say to something like that? But Hiroko would just smile her big smile, and laugh at Nadia’s shrug.

At night the talk still went everywhere, vehement, absorbed, unself-conscious. Dmitri and Samantha were sure that they could soon introduce genetically engineered microorganisms into the regolith that would survive, but they would have to get permission first from the U.N. Nadia herself found the idea alarming; it made the chemical engineering in the factories look relatively straightforward, more like brickmaking than the dangerous acts of creation Samantha was proposing. Although the alchemists were performing some pretty creative things themselves. Almost every day they came back to the trailer park with samples of new materials: sulphuric acid, sorel cements for the vault mortar, ammonium nitrate explosives, a calcium cyanamide rover fuel, polysulfide rubber, silicon-based hyperacids, emulsifying agents, a selection of test tubes holding trace elements extracted from the salts, and, most recently, clear glass. This last was a coup, as earlier attempts at glassmaking had produced only black glass. But stripping silicate feedstocks of their iron content had done the trick, and so one night they sat in the trailer passing around small wavy sheets of glass, the glass itself filled with bubbles and irregularities, like something out of the seventeenth century.

• • •

When they got the first chamber buried and pressurized, Nadia walked around inside it with her helmet off, sniffing the air. It was pressurized to 450 millibars, the same as the helmets and the trailer park, with an oxygen-nitrogen-argon mix, and warmed to about 15 degrees Centigrade. It felt great.

The chamber had been divided into two stories by a floor of bamboo trunks, set in a slot in the brick wall two-and-a-half meters overhead. The segmented cylinders made a sweet green ceiling, lit by neon tubes hung under them. Against one wall was a magnesium-and-bamboo staircase, leading through a hole to the upper story. She climbed up to have a look. Split bamboo over the trunks made a fairly flat green floor. The ceiling was brick, rounded and low. Up there they would locate the bedrooms and bathroom; the lower floor would be living room and kitchen. Maya and Simon had already put up wall hangings, made of nylon from the salvaged parachutes. There were no windows; lighting came only from the neon bulbs. Nadia disliked this fact, and in the larger habitat she was already planning, there would be windows in almost every room. But first things first. For the time being these windowless chambers were the best they could do. And a big improvement over the trailer park, after all.

As she went back down the stairs she ran her fingers over the bricks and mortar. They were rough, but warm to the touch, heated by elements placed behind them. There were heating elements under the floor as well. She took off her shoes and socks, luxuriating in the feel of the warm rough bricks underfoot. It was a wonderful room; and nice, too, to think that they had gone all the way to Mars, and there built homes out of brick and bamboo. She recalled vaulted ruins she had seen years ago on Crete, at a site called Aptera: underground Roman cisterns, barrel-vaulted and made of brick, buried in a hillside. They had been almost the same size as these chambers. Their exact purpose was unknown— storage for olive oil, some said, though it would have been an awful lot of oil. Those vaults were intact two thousand years after their construction, and in earthquake country. As Nadia put her boots back on she grinned to think of it. Two thousand years from now, their descendants might walk into this chamber, no doubt a museum by then, if it still existed— the first human dwelling built on Mars! And she had done it. Suddenly she felt the eyes of that future on her, and shivered. They were like Cro-Magnons in a cave, living a life that was certain to be pored over by the archaeologists of subsequent generations; people like her who would wonder, and wonder, and never quite understand.

• • •

More time passed, more work got done. It blurred for Nadia, she was always busy. The interior construction of the vaulted chambers was complicated, and the robots couldn’t help much with plumbing, heating, gas exchange, locks, and kitchens. Nadia’s team had all the fixtures and tools, and could work in pants and sweatshirts, but still it took an amazing amount of time. Work work work, day after day!

One evening, just before sunset, Nadia trudged across torn-up dirt to the trailer park, feeling hungry and beat and extremely relaxed, totally at ease, not that you didn’t have to be careful at the end of a day, she had torn a centimeter hole in the back of a glove the other evening being careless, and the cold hadn’t been so bad, about minus 50 degrees Centigrade, nothing compared to some Siberian winter days— but the low air pressure had sucked out a blood bruise instantly, and then that had started to freeze up, which made the bruise smaller no doubt, but slower to heal as well. Anyway, you had to be careful, but there was something so fluid about tired muscles at the end of a day’s construction work, the low rust sunlight slanting across the rocky plain, and all of a sudden she could feel that she was happy. Arkady called in from Phobos at just that moment, and she greeted him cheerily. “I feel just like a Louis Armstrong solo from 1947.”

“Why 1947?” he asked.

“Well, that was the year he sounded the most happy. Most of his life his tone has a sharp edge to it, really beautiful, but in 1947 it was even more beautiful because it has this relaxed fluid joy, you never hear it in him before or after.”

“A good year for him, I take it?”

“Oh yes! An amazing year! After twenty years of horrible big bands, you see, he got back to a little group like the Hot Five, that was the group he headed when he was young, and there it was, the old songs, even some of the old faces— and all of it better than the first time, you know, the recording technology, the money, the audiences, the band, his own power. . It must have felt like the fountain of youth, I tell you.”

“You’ll have to send up some recordings,” Arkady said. He tried to sing: “I can’t give you anything but love, baby!” Phobos was about over the horizon, he had just been calling to say hi. “So this is your 1947,” he said before he went.

Nadia put her tools away, singing the song correctly. And she understood that what Arkady had said was true; something had happened to her similar to what had happened to Armstrong in 1947— because despite the miserable conditions, her youthful years in Siberia had been the happiest of her life, they really had. And then she had endured twenty years of big-band cosmonautics, bureaucracy, simulations, an indoor life— all to get here. And now suddenly she was out in the open again, building things with her hands, operating heavy machinery, solving problems a hundred times a day, just like Siberia only better. It was just like Satchmo’s return!

Thus when Hiroko came up and said, “Nadia, this crescent wrench is absolutely frozen in this position,” Nadia sang to her, “That’s the only thing I’m thinking of— baby!” and took the crescent wrench and slammed it against a table like a hammer, and twiddled the dial to show Hiroko it was unstuck, and laughed at her expression. “The engineer’s solution,” she explained, and went humming into the lock, thinking how funny Hiroko was, a woman who held their whole ecosystem in her head, but couldn’t hammer a nail straight.

And that night she talked over the day’s work with Sax, and spoke to Spencer about glass, and in the middle of that conversation crashed on her bunk and snuggled her head into her pillow, feeling totally luxurious, the glorious final chorus of “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” chasing her off to sleep.

But things change as time passes; nothing lasts, not even stone, not even happiness. “Do you realize it’s ell ess one-seventy already?” Phyllis said one night. “Didn’t we land at ell ess seven?”

So they had been on Mars for half a Martian year. Phyllis was using the calendar devised by planetary scientists; among the colonists it was becoming more common than the Terran system. Mars’s year was 668.6 local days long, and to tell where they were in this long year it took the Ls calendar. This system declared the line between the sun and Mars at its northern spring equinox to be O°, and then the year was divided into 360 degrees, so that Ls = 0° — 90° was the northern spring, 9° -180° the northern summer, 18° — 270° the fall, and 27° — 360° (or 0° again) the winter.

This simple situation was complicated by the eccentricity of the Martian orbit, which is extreme by Terran standards, for at perihelion Mars is about forty-three million kilometers closer to the sun than it is at aphelion, and thus receiving about 45 percent more sunlight. This fluctuation makes the southern and northern seasons quite unequal. Perihelion arrives every year at Ls = 250°, late in the southern spring; so southern springs and summers are much hotter than northern springs and summers, with peak temperatures as much as thirty degrees higher. Southern autumns and winters are colder, however, occurring as they do near aphelion— so much colder that the southern polar cap is mostly carbon dioxide, while the northern one is mostly water ice.

So the south was the hemisphere of extremes, the north that of moderation. And the orbital eccentricity caused one other feature of note; planets move faster the closer they are to the sun, so the seasons near perihelion are shorter than those near aphelion; Mars’s northern autumn is 143 days long, for instance, while northern spring is 194. Spring fifty-one days longer than autumn! Some claimed this alone made it worth settling in the north.

• • •

In any case in the north they were, and summer had passed. The days got shorter by a little bit every day, and the work went on. The area around the base got more cluttered, more crisscrossed with tracks. They had laid a cement road to Chernobyl, and the base itself was now so big that from the trailer park it extended over the horizon in all directions: the alchemists’ quarter and the Chernobyl road to the east, the permanent habitat to the north, the storage area and the farm to the west, and the biomed center to the south.

Eventually everyone moved into the finished chambers of the permanent habitat. The nightly conferences there were shorter and more routinized than they had been in the trailer park, and days went by when Nadia got no calls for help. There were some people she saw only once in a while; the biomed crew in its labs, Phyllis’s prospecting unit, even Ann. One night Ann flopped on her bed next to Nadia’s, and invited her to go along on an exploration to Hebes Chasma, some 130 kilometers to the southwest. Obviously Ann wanted to show her something outside the base area, but Nadia declined. “I’ve got too much work to do, you know.” And seeing Ann’s disappointment: “Maybe next trip.”

And then it was back to work on the interiors of the chambers, and the exteriors of a new wing. Arkady had suggested making the line of chambers the first of four, arranged in a square, and Nadia was going to do it; as Arkady pointed out, it would then be possible to roof the area enclosed by the square. “That’s where those magnesium beams will come in handy,” Nadia said. “If only we could make stronger glass panes. . ”

They had finished two sides of the square, twelve chambers entirely done, when Ann and her team returned from Hebes. Everyone spent that evening looking at their videotapes. These showed the expedition’s rovers rolling over rocky plains; then ahead there appeared a break extending all the way across the screen, as if they were approaching the edge of the world. Strange little meter-high cliffs finally stopped the rovers, and the pictures bounced as one explorer got out and walked with helmet camera turned on.

Then abruptly the shot was from the rim, a one-eighty pan shot of a canyon that was so much bigger than the sinkholes of Ganges Catena that it was hard to grasp. The walls of the far side of the chasm were just visible on the distant horizon. In fact they could see walls all the way around, for Hebes was an almost-enclosed chasm, a sunken ellipse about two hundred kilometers long and a hundred across. Ann’s party had come to the north rim in late afternoon, and the eastern curve of the wall was clearly visible, flooded by sunset light; out to the west the wall was just a low dark mark. The floor of the chasm was generally flat, with a central dip. “If you could float a dome over the chasma,” Ann said, “you’d have a nice big enclosure.”

“You’re talking miracle domes, Ann,” Sax said. “That’s about ten thousand square kilometers.”

“Well, it would make a good big enclosure. And then you could leave the rest of the planet alone.”

“The weight of a dome would collapse the canyon walls.”

“That’s why I said you’d have to float it.”

Sax just shook his head.

“It’s no more exotic than this space elevator you talk about.”

“I want to live in a house located right where you took this video,” Nadia interrupted. “What a view!”

“Just wait till you get up on one of the Tharsis volcanoes,” Ann said, irritated. “Then you’ll get a view.”

There were little spats like that all the time now. It reminded Nadia unpleasantly of the last months on the Ares. Another example: Arkady and his crew sent down videos of Phobos, with his commentary. “The Stickney impact almost broke this rock in pieces, and it’s chondritic, almost twenty percent water, so a lot of the water outgassed on impact and filled the fracture system and froze in a whole system of ice veins.” Fascinating stuff, but all it did was cause an argument between Ann and Phyllis, their two top geologists, as to whether this was the real explanation for the ice. Phyllis even suggested shipping water down from Phobos, which was silly, even if their supplies were low and their demand increasing. Chernobyl took a lot of water, and the farmers were ready to start a little swamp in their biosphere, and Nadia wanted to install a swimming complex in one of the vaulted chambers, including a lap pool, three whirlpool baths, and a sauna. Each night people asked Nadia how it was coming along, because everyone was sick of washing with sponges and still being dusty, and of never really getting warm. They wanted a bath— in their old aquatic dolphin brains, down below the cerebrums, down where desires were primal and fierce, they wanted back into water.

So they needed more water, but the seismic scans were finding no evidence of ice aquifers underground, and Ann thought there weren’t any in the region. They had to continue to rely on the air miners, or scrape up regolith and load it into the soil-water distilleries. But Nadia didn’t like to overwork the distilleries, because they had been manufactured by a French-Hungarian-Chinese consortium, and were sure to wear out if used for bulk work.

But that was life on Mars; it was a dry place. Shikata ga nai.

“There are always choices,” Phyllis said to that. This was why she had suggested filling landing vehicles with Phobos ice, and bringing it on down. But Ann thought that was a ridiculous waste of energy, and they were off again.

• • •

It was especially irritating to Nadia because she herself was in such a good mood. She saw no reason to quarrel, and it disturbed her that the others didn’t feel the same. Why did the dynamics of a group fluctuate so? Here they were on Mars, where the seasons were twice as long as Earth’s, and every day was forty minutes longer: why couldn’t people relax? Nadia had a sense that there was time for things even though she was always busy, and the extra thirty-nine-and-a-half minutes per day was probably the most important component of this feeling; human circadian biorhythms had been set over millions of years of evolution, and now suddenly to have extra minutes of day and night, day after day, night after night— no doubt it had effects. Nadia was sure of it, because despite the hectic pace of every day’s work, and the way she passed out in sheer exhaustion every night, she always woke rested. That strange pause on the digital clocks, when at midnight the figures hit 12:00:00 and suddenly stopped, and the unmarked time passed, passed, passed, sometimes it seemed for a very long time indeed; and then snapped on to 12:00:01, and began its usual inexorable flicker— well, the Martian timeslip was something special. Often Nadia was asleep through it, as were most of the rest of them. But Hiroko had a chant that she chanted during it when she was up, and she and the farm team, and many of the rest of them, spent every Saturday night partying and chanting that chant through the timeslip— something in Japanese, Nadia never learned what, though she sometimes hummed along, sitting enjoying the vault and her friends.

But one Saturday night when she sat there, nearly comatose, Maya came over and sat against her shoulder for a talk. Maya with her beautiful face, always well-groomed, always the latest in chicarnost even in their everyday jumpsuits, looking distraught. “Nadia, you have to do me a favor, please, please.”


“I need you to tell something to Frank for me.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?”

“I can’t have John seeing us talk! I have to get a message to him, and please, Nadezhda Francine, you’re my only way.”“Please.”

Nadia made a disgusted noise.

It was suprising how much Nadia would have rather been talking to Ann, or Samantha, or Arkady. If only Arkady would come down from Phobos!

But Maya was her friend. And that desperate look on her face: Nadia couldn’t stand it. “What message?”

“Tell him that I’ll meet him tonight in the storage area,” Maya said imperiously. “At midnight. To talk.”

Nadia sighed. But later she went to Frank, and gave him the message. He nodded without meeting her eye, embarrassed, grim, unhappy.

Then a few days later Nadia and Maya were cleaning up the brick floor of the latest chamber to be pressurized, and Nadia’s curiosity got the best of her; she broke her customary silence on the topic, and asked Maya what was going on. “Well, it’s John and Frank,” Maya said querulously. “They’re very competitive. They’re like brothers, and there’s a lot of jealousy there. John got to Mars first, and then he got permission to come back again, and Frank doesn’t think it was fair. Frank did a lot of the work in Washington to get the colony funded, and he thinks John has always taken advantage of his work. And now, well. John and I are good together, I like him. It’s easy with him. Easy, but maybe a little. . I don’t know. Not boring. But not exciting. He likes to walk around, hang out with the farm crew. He doesn’t like to talk that much! Frank, now, we could talk forever. Argue forever, maybe, but at least we’re talking! And you know, we had a very brief affair on the Ares, back at the beginning, and it didn’t work out, but he still thinks it could.”

Why would he think that? Nadia mouthed.

“So he keeps trying to talk me into leaving John and being with him, and John suspects that’s what he’s doing, so there’s a lot of jealousy between them. I’m just trying to keep them from each other’s throats, that’s all.”

Nadia decided to stick to her resolve and not ask about it again. But now she was involved despite herself. Maya kept coming to her to talk, and to ask her to convey messages to Frank for her. “I’m not a go-between!” Nadia kept protesting, but she kept doing it, and once or twice when she did she got into long conversations with Frank, about Maya of course; who she was, what she was like, why she acted the way she did. “Look,” Nadia said to him, “I can’t speak for Maya. I don’t know why she does what she does, you have to ask her yourself. But I can tell you, she comes out of the old Moscow Soviet culture, university and CP for both her mother and her grandmother. And men were the enemies for Maya’s babushka, and for her mother too, it was a matrioshka. Maya’s mother used to say to her, ‘Women are the roots, men are just the leaves.’ There was a whole culture of mistrust, manipulation, fear. That’s where Maya comes from. And at the same time we have this tradition of amicochonstvo, a kind of intense friendship where you learn the very tiniest details of your friend’s life, you invade each other’s lives in a sense, and of course that’s impossible and it has to end, usually badly.”

Frank was nodding at this description, recognizing something in it. Nadia sighed and went on. “These are the friendships that lead to love, and then love has the same sort of trouble only magnified, especially with all that fear at the bottom of it.”

And Frank— tall, dark, and somehow handsome, bulky with power, spinning with his own internal dynamo, the American politician, now wrapped around the finger of a neurotic Russian beauty— Frank nodded humbly and thanked her, looking discouraged. As well he should.

• • •

Nadia did her best to ignore all that. But it seemed everything else had turned problematic as well. Vlad had never approved of how much time they were spending on the surface in the daytime, and now he said, “We ought to stay under the hill most of the time, and bury all the labs as well. Outdoors work should be restricted to an hour in the early mornings and another in the late afternoons, when the sun is low.”

“I’ll be damned if I stay indoors all day,” Ann said, and many agreed with her.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Frank pointed out.

“But most of it could be done by teleoperation,” Vlad said. “And it should be. What we are doing is the equivalent of standing ten kilometers from an atomic explosion—”

“So?” Ann said. “Soldiers did that—”

“— every six months,” Vlad finished, and stared at her. “Would you do that?”

Even Ann looked subdued. No ozone layer, no magnetic field to speak of; they were getting fried by radiation almost as badly as if they were in interplanetary space, to the tune of 10 rems per year.

And so Frank and Maya ordered them to ration their time outdoors. There was a lot of interior work to be done under the hill, getting the last row of chambers finished; and it was possible to dig some cellars below the vaults, giving them some more space protected from radiation. And many of the tractors were equipped to be teleoperated from indoor stations, their decision algorithms handling the details while the human operators watched screens below. So it could be done; but no one liked the life that resulted. Even Sax Russell, who was content to work indoors most of the time, looked a bit perplexed. In the evenings a number of people began to argue for immediate terraforming efforts, and they made the case with renewed intensity.

“That’s not our decision to make,” Frank told them sharply. “The U.N. decides that one. Besides it’s a longterm solution, on the scale of centuries at best. Don’t waste time talking about it!”

Ann said, “That’s all true, but I don’t want to waste my time down here in these caves, either. We should live our lives the way we want. We’re too old to worry about radiation.”

Arguments again, arguments that made Nadia feel as if she had floated off the good solid rock of her planet back into the tense weightless reality of the Ares. Carping, complaining, arguing— until people got bored, or tired, and went to sleep. Nadia started leaving the room whenever it began, looking for Hiroko and a chance to discuss something concrete. But it was hard to avoid these matters, to stop thinking about them.

Then one night Maya came to her crying. There was room in the permanent habitat for private talks, and Nadia went with her down to the northeast corner of the vaults, where they were still working on interiors, and sat by her arm to arm, shivering and listening to her, and occasionally putting an arm over her shoulder and giving her a hug. “Look,” Nadia said at one point, “why don’t you just decide? Why don’t you quit playing one off against the other?”

“But I have decided! It’s John I love, it’s always been John. But now he’s seen me with Frank and he thinks I’ve betrayed him. It’s really petty of him! They’re like brothers, they compete in everything, and this time it’s just a mistake!”

Nadia resisted learning the details, she didn’t want to hear it. She sat there listening anyway.

And then John was standing there before them. Nadia got up to leave, but he didn’t appear to notice. “Look,” he said to Maya. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. It’s over.”

“It’s not over,” Maya said, instantly composed. “I love you.”

John’s smile was rueful. “Yes. And I love you. But I want things simple.”

“It is simple!”

“No it isn’t. I mean, you can be in love with more than one person at the same time. Anyone can, that’s just the way it is. But you can only be loyal to one. And I want… I want to be loyal. To someone who is loyal to me. It’s simple, but. .”

He shook his head; he couldn’t find the phrase. He walked back into the eastern row of chambers, disappeared through a door.

“Americans,” Maya said viciously. “Fucking children!” Then she was up through the door after him.

But soon she came back. He had retreated to a group in one of the lounges, and wouldn’t leave. “I’m tired,” Nadia tried to say, but Maya wouldn’t hear it, she was getting more and more upset. For over an hour they discussed it, over and over. Eventually Nadia agreed to go to John and ask him to come to Maya and talk it over. Nadia walked grimly through the chambers, oblivious to the brick and the colorful nylon hangings. The go-between that nobody noticed. Couldn’t they get robots to do this? She found John, who apologized for ignoring her earlier. “I was upset, I’m sorry. I figured you’d hear it all eventually anyway.”

Nadia shrugged. “No problem. But look, you have to go talk to her. That’s the way it is with Maya. We talk, talk, talk; if you contract to be in a relationship, you have to talk your way all the way through it, and all the way out of it. If you don’t it will be worse for you in the long run, believe me.”

That got to him. Sobered, he went off to find Maya. Nadia went to bed.

• • •

The next day she was out working late on a trencher. It was the third job of the day, and the second had been trouble; Samantha had tried to carry a load on the earthmover blade while making a turn, and the thing had taken a nosedive and twisted the rods of the blade lifters out of their casings, spilling hydraulic fluid over the ground, where it had frozen before it even flattened out. They had had to set jacks under the airborne back end of the tractor, and then decouple the entire blade attachment and lower the vehicle on the jacks, and every step of the operation had been a pain.

Then as soon as that was finished, Nadia had been called over to help with a Sandvik Tubex boring machine, which they were using to drill cased holes through large boulders they ran into while laying a water line from the alchemists’ to the permanent habitat. The down-the-hole pneumatic hammer had apparently frozen at full extension, as stuck as an arrow shot most of the way through a tree. Nadia stood looking down at the hammer shaft. “Do you have any suggestions for freeing the hammer without breaking it?” Spencer asked.

“Break the boulder,” Nadia said wearily, and walked over and got in a tractor with a backhoe already attached. She drove it over, dug down to the top of the boulder, and then got out to attach a little Allied hydraulic impact hammer to the backhoe. She had just set it in position on the top of the boulder when the down-the-hole hammer suddenly jerked its drill back, pulling the boulder with it and catching the outside of her left hand against the underside of the Allied Hy-Ram.

Instinctively she pulled back, and pain lanced up her arm and into her chest. Fire filled that side of her body and her vision went white. There were shouts in her ears: “What’s wrong? What happened?” She must have screamed. “Help,” she grated. She was sitting, her crushed hand still pinned between rock and hammer. She pushed at the front wheel of the tractor with her foot, shoved with all her might and felt the hammer rasp her bones over rock. Then she was flopped on her back, the hand free. The pain was blinding, she felt sick to her stomach and thought she might faint. Pushing onto her knees with her good hand, she saw that the crushed hand was bleeding heavily, the glove ripped apart, the little finger apparently gone. She groaned and hunched over it, pressed it to her and then jammed it against the ground, ignoring the flash of pain. Even bleeding as it was, the hand would freeze in. . how long? “Freeze, damn you, freeze,” she cried. She shook tears out of her eyes and forced herself to look at it. Blood all over, steaming. She pushed the hand into the ground as hard as she could stand. Already it hurt less. Soon it would be numb, she would have to be careful not to freeze the whole hand! Frightened, she prepared to pull it back into her lap; then people were there, lifting her, and she fainted.

• • •

After that she was maimed. Nadia Nine Fingers, Arkady called her over the phone. He sent her lines by Yevtushenko, written to mourn the death of Louis Armstrong: “Do as you did in the past/And play.”

“How did you find that?” Nadia asked him. “I can’t imagine you reading Yevtushenko.”

“Of course I read him, it’s better than McGonagall! No, this was in a book on Armstrong. I’ve taken your advice and been listening to him while we work, and lately reading some books on him at night.”

“I wish you’d come down here,” Nadia said.

Vlad had done the surgery. He told her it would be all right. “It caught you clean. The ring finger is a bit impaired, and will act like the little finger used to, probably. But ring fingers never do much anyway. The two main fingers will be strong as ever.”

Everyone came by to visit. Nevertheless she spoke more with Arkady than anyone else, in the hours of the night when she was alone, in the four-and-a-half hours between Phobos’s rising in the west and its setting in the east. He called in almost every night, at first, and often thereafter.

Pretty soon she was up and around, hand in a cast that was suspiciously slender. She went out to troubleshoot or consult, hoping to keep her mind occupied. Michel Duval never came by at all, which she thought was strange. Wasn’t this what psychologists were for? She couldn’t help feeling depressed; she needed her hands for her work, she was a hand laborer. The cast got in the way and she cut off the part around the wrist, with shears from her tool kit. But she had to keep both hand and cast in a box when outside, and there wasn’t much she could do. It really was depressing.

Saturday night arrived, and she sat in the newly filled whirlpool bath, nursing a glass of bad wine and looking around at her companions, splashing and soaking in their bathing suits. She wasn’t the only one to have been injured, by any means; they were all a bit battered now, after so many months of physical work. Almost everyone had frostburn marks, patches of black skin that eventually peeled, leaving pink new skin, garish and ugly in the heat of the pools. And several others wore casts, on hands, wrists, arms, even legs; all for breaks or sprains. Actually they were lucky no one had gotten killed yet.

All these bodies, and none for her. They knew each other like family, she thought; they were each other’s physicians, they slept in the same rooms, dressed in the same locks, bathed together; an unremarkable group of human animals, eyecatching in the inert world they occupied, but more comforting than exciting, at least most of the time. Middle-aged bodies. Nadia herself was as round as a pumpkin, a plump tough muscular short woman, squarish and yet rounded. And single. Her closest friend these days was only a voice in her ear, a face on the screen. When he came down from Phobos. . well, hard to say. He had had a lot of girlfriends on the Ares, and Janet Blyleven had gone to Phobos to be with him….

People were arguing again, there in the shallows of the lap pool. Ann, tall and angular, leaning down to snap something at Sax Russell, short and soft. As usual, he didn’t appear to be listening. She would hit him one day if he didn’t watch out. It was strange how the group was changing again, how the feel of it was changing. She could never get a fix on it; the real nature of the group was a thing apart, with a life of its own, somehow distinct from the characters of the individuals that constituted it. It must make Michel’s job as their shrink almost impossible. Not that one could tell with Michel; he was the quietest and most unobtrusive psychiatrist she had ever met. No doubt an asset, in this crowd of shrink-atheists. But she still thought it was odd he hadn’t come by to see her after the accident.

• • •

One evening she left the dining chambers and walked down to the tunnel they were digging from the vaulted chambers to the farm complex, and there at the tunnel’s end were Maya and Frank, arguing in a vicious undertone that carried down the tunnel not their meaning but their feeling— Frank’s face was contorted with anger, and Maya as she turned from him was distraught, weeping; she turned back to shout at him, “It was never like that,” and then ran blindly toward Nadia, her mouth twisted into a snarl, Frank’s face a mask of pain. Maya saw Nadia standing there and ran right by her.

Shocked, Nadia turned and walked back to the living chambers. She went up magnesium stairs to the living room in chamber two, and turned on the TV to watch a twenty-four-hour news program from Earth, something she very rarely did. After a while she turned down the sound, and looked at the pattern of bricks in the barrel vault overhead. Maya came in and started to explain things to her: there was nothing between her and Frank, it was in Frank’s mind only, he just wouldn’t give up on it even though it had been nothing to begin with; she wanted only John, and it wasn’t her fault that John and Frank were on such bad terms now, it was because of Frank’s irrational desire, it wasn’t her fault, but she felt so guilty because the two men had once been such close friends, like brothers.

And Nadia listened with a careful show of patience, saying “Da, da,” and “I see,” and the like, until Maya was lying flat on her back on the floor, crying, and Nadia was sitting on the edge of a chair staring at her, wondering how much of it was true. And what the argument had really been about. And whether she was a bad friend to distrust her old companion’s story so completely. But somehow the whole thing felt like Maya covering her tracks, practicing another manipulation. It was just this: those two distraught faces she had seen down the tunnel had been the clearest evidence possible of a fight between intimates. So Maya’s explanation was almost certainly a lie. Nadia said something soothing to her and went off to bed, thinking, you already have taken too much of my time and energy and concentration with these games, you cost me a finger with them, you bitch!

• • •

It was a new year, getting toward the end of the long northern spring, and they still had no good supply of water, so Ann proposed to make an expedition to the cap and set up a robot distillery, along the way establishing a route that rovers could follow on automatic pilot. “Come with us,” she said to Nadia. “You haven’t seen anything of the planet yet, just the stretch between here and Chernobyl, and that’s nothing. You missed Hebes and Ganges, and you’re not doing anything new here. Really, Nadia, I can’t believe what a grub you’ve been. I mean why did you come to Mars, after all?”


“Yes, why? I mean there’s two kinds of activities here, there’s the exploration of Mars and then there’s the life support for that exploration. And here you’ve been completely immersed in the life support, without paying the slightest attention to the reason we came in the first place!”

“Well, it’s what I like to do,” Nadia said uneasily.

“Fine, but try to keep some perspective on it! What the hell, you could have stayed back on Earth and been a plumber! You didn’t have to come all this way to drive a goddamn bulldozer! Just how long are you going to go on grubbing away here, installing toilets, programming tractors?”

“All right, all right,” Nadia said, thinking of Maya and all the rest. The square of vaults was almost finished, anyway. “I could use a vacation.”

They took off in three big long-range rovers: Nadia and five of the geologists, Ann, Simon Frazier, George Berkovic, Phyllis Boyle, and Edvard Perrin. George and Edvard were friends of Phyllis’s from their NASA days, and they supported her in advocating “applied geological studies,” meaning prospecting for rare metals. Simon on the other hand was a quiet ally of Ann’s, committed to pure research and a hands-off attitude. Nadia knew all this even though she had spent very little time alone with any of these people, except for Ann. But talk was talk; she could have named all the allegiances of everyone at base if she had to.

The expedition rovers were each composed of two four-wheeled modules, coupled by a flexible frame; they looked a bit like giant ants. They had been built by Rolls-Royce and a multinational aerospace consortium, and had a beautiful sea-green finish. The forward modules contained the living quarters and had tinted windows on all four sides; the aft modules contained the fuel tanks, and sported a number of black rotating solar panels. The eight wire-mesh wheels were two-and-a-half meters high, and very broad.

As they headed north across Lunae Planum they marked their route with little green transponders, dropping one every few kilometers. They also cleared rocks from their path that might disable a robot-driven rover, using the snowplow attachment or the little crane at the front end of the first rover. So in effect they were building a road. But they seldom had to use the rock-moving equipment on Lunae; they drove northeast at nearly their full speed of thirty kilometers an hour, for several days straight. They were heading northeast to avoid the canyon systems of Tempe and Mareotis, and this route took them down Lunae to the long slope of Chryse Planitia. Both these regions looked much like the land around their base camp, bumpy and strewn with small rocks, but because they were heading downhill they often had much longer views than they were used to. It was a new pleasure to Nadia, to drive on and on and see new countryside continually pop over the horizon: hillocks, dips, enormous isolated boulders, the occasional low round mesa that was the outside of a crater.

When they had descended to the lowlands of the northern hemisphere, they turned and drove straight north across the immense Acidalia Planitia, and again ran straight for several days. Their wheel tracks stretched behind them like the first cut of a lawnmower through grass, and the transponders gleamed bright and incongruous among the rocks. Phyllis, Edvard and George talked about making a few side trips, to investigate some indications seen in satellite photos that there were unusual mineral outcroppings near Perepelkin Crater. Ann reminded them irritably of their mission. It made Nadia sad to see that Ann was nearly as distant and tense out here as she was back at base; whenever the rovers were stopped she was outside walking around alone, and she was withdrawn when they sat together in Rover One to eat dinner. Occasionally Nadia tried to draw her out: “Ann, how did all these rocks get scattered around like this?”


“But where are the craters?”

“Most are in the south.”

“But how did the rocks get here, then?”

“They flew. That’s why they’re so small. It’s only smaller rocks could be tossed so far.”

“But I thought you told me that these northern plains were relatively new, while the heavy cratering was relatively old.”

“That’s right. The rocks you see here come from late meteor action. The total accumulation of loose rock from meteor strikes is much greater than what we can see, that’s what gardened regolith is. And the regolith is a kilometer deep.”

“It’s hard to believe,” Nadia said. “I mean, that’s so many meteors.”

Ann nodded. “It’s billions of years. That’s the difference between here and Earth, the age of the land goes from millions of years to billions. It’s such a big difference it’s hard to imagine. But seeing stuff like this can help.”

Midway across Acidalia they began running into long, straight, steep-walled, flat-bottomed canyons. They looked, as George noted more than once, like the dry beds of the legendary canals. The geological name for them was fossae, and they came in clusters. Even the smallest of these canyons were impassable to rovers, and when they came on one they had to turn and run along its rim, until its floors rose or its walls drew together, and they could continue north over the flat plain again.

The horizon ahead was sometimes twenty kilometers off, sometimes three. Craters became rare, and the ones they passed were surrounded by low mounds that rayed out from the rims— splosh craters, where meteors had landed in permafrost that had turned to hot mud in the impact. Nadia’s companions spent a day wandering eagerly over the splayed hills around one of these craters. The rounded slopes, Phyllis said, indicated ancient water as clearly as the grain in petrified wood indicated the original tree. By the way she spoke Nadia understood that this was another of her disagreements with Ann; Phyllis believed in the long wet past model, Ann in the short wet past. Or something like that. Science was many things, Nadia thought, including a weapon with which to hit other scientists.

Farther north, around latitude 54°, they drove into the weird-looking land of thermokarsts, hummocky terrain spotted by a great number of steep-sided oval pits, called alases. These alases were a hundred times bigger than their Terran analogues, most of them two or three kilometers across, and about sixty meters deep. A sure sign of permafrost, the geologists all agreed; seasonal freezing and thawing of the soil caused it to slump in this pattern. Pits this big indicated that water content in the soil must have been high, Phyllis said. Unless it was yet another manifestation of Martian time scales, Ann replied. Slightly icy soil, slumping ever so slightly, for eons.

Irritably Phyllis suggested that they try collecting water from the ground, and irritably Ann agreed. They found a smooth slope between depressions, and stopped to install a permafrost water collector. Nadia took charge of the operation with a feeling of relief; the trip’s lack of work had begun to get to her. It was a good day’s job: she dug a ten-meter long trench with the lead rover’s little backhoe; laid the lateral collector gallery, a perforated stainless steel pipe filled with gravel; checked the electric heating elements running in strips along the pipe and filters; then filled in the trench with the clay and rocks they had dug out earlier.

Over the lower end of the gallery was a sump and pump, and an insulated transport line leading to a small holding tank. Batteries would power the heating elements, and solar panels charge the batteries. When the holding tank was full, if there was enough water to fill it, the pump would shut off and a solenoid valve would open, allowing the water in the transport line to drain back into the gallery, after which the heating elements would shut off as well.

“Almost done,” Nadia declared late in the day, as she started to bolt the transport pipe onto the last magnesium post. Her hands were dangerously cold, and her maimed hand throbbed. “Maybe someone could start dinner,” she said. “I’m almost done here.” The transport pipe had to be packed in a thick cylinder of white polyurethane foam, then fitted into a larger protective pipe. Amazing how insulation complicated a simple piece of plumbing.

Hex nut, washer, cotter pin, a firm tug on the wrench. Nadia walked along the line, checking the coupling bands at the joints. Everything firm. She lugged her tools over to Rover One, looked back at the result of the day’s work: a tank, a short pipe on posts, a box on the ground, a long low mound of disturbed soil running uphill, looking raw but otherwise not unusual in this land of lumps. “We’ll drink some fresh water on our way back,” she said.

• • •

They had driven north for over two thousand kilometers, and finally rolled down onto Vastitas Borealis, an ancient cratered lava plain that ringed the northern hemisphere between latitudes 60° and 70°. Ann and the other geologists spent a couple of hours every morning out on the bare dark rock of this plain, taking samples, after which they would drive north for the rest of the day, discussing what they had found. Ann seemed more absorbed in the work, happier. One evening Simon pointed out that Phobos was running just over the low hills to the south; the next day’s drive would put it under the horizon. It was a remarkable demonstration of just how low the little moon’s orbit was— they were only at latitude 69°! But Phobos was only some 5,000 kilometers above the planet’s equator. Nadia waved good-bye to it with a smile, knowing she would still be able to talk to Arkady using the newly arrived areosynchronous radio satellites.

Three days later the bare rock ended, running under waves of blackish sand. It was just like coming on the shore of a sea. They had reached the great northern dunes, which wrapped the world in a band between Vastitas and the polar cap; where they were going to cross, the band was about 800 kilometers wide. The sand was a charcoal color, tinged with purple and rose, a rich relief to the eye after all the red rubble of the south. The dunes trended north and south, in parallel crests that occasionally broke or merged. Driving over them was easy; the sand was hard-packed, and they only had to pick a big dune and run along its humpbacked western side.

After a few days of this, however, the dunes got bigger, and became what Ann called barchan dunes. These looked like huge frozen waves, with faces a hundred meters tall, and backs a kilometer wide, and the crescent that each wave made was several kilometers long. As with so many other Martian landscape features, they were a hundred times larger than their Terran analogues in the Sahara and Gobi. The expedition kept a level course over the backs of these great waves by contouring from one wave back to the next, their rovers like tiny boats, paddle-wheeling over a black sea that had frozen at the height of a titanic storm.

One day on this petrified sea, Rover Two stopped. A red light on the control panel indicated the problem was in the flexible frame between the modules; and in fact the rear module was tilted to the left, shoving the left side wheels into the sand. Nadia got into a suit and went back to have a look. She took the dust cover off the joint where the frame connected to the module chassis, and found that the bolts holding them together were all broken.

“This is going to take a while,” Nadia said. “You guys might as well have another look around.”

Soon the suited figures of Phyllis and George emerged, followed by Simon and Ann and Edvard. Phyllis and George took a transponder from Rover Three and set it out three meters to the right of their “road.” Nadia went to work on the broken frame, handling things as little as possible; it was a cold afternoon, perhaps seventy below, and she could feel the diamond chill right down to the bone.

The ends of the bolts wouldn’t come out of the side of the module, so she got out a drill and started drilling new holes. She began to hum “The Sheik of Araby.” Ann and Edvard and Simon were discussing sand. It was so nice, Nadia thought, to see ground that wasn’t red. To hear Ann absorbed in her work. To have some work to do herself.

They had almost reached the arctic circle, and it was Ls = 84, with the northern summer solstice only two weeks away; so the days were getting long. Nadia and George worked through the evening while Phyllis heated supper, and then after the meal Nadia went back out to finish the job. The sun was red in a brown haze, small and round even though it was near setting; there wasn’t enough atmosphere for oblation to enlarge and flatten it. Nadia finished, put her tools away, and had opened the outer lock door of Rover One, when Ann’s voice spoke in her ear. “Oh Nadia, are you going in already?”

Nadia looked up. Ann was on the ridge of the dune to the west, waving down at her, a black silhouette against a blood-colored sky.

“That was the idea,” Nadia said.

“Come on up here just a second. I want you to see this sunset, it’s going to be a good one. Come on, it’ll only take a minute, you’ll be glad you did it. There are clouds to the west.”

Nadia sighed and closed the outer lock door.

The east face of the dune was steep. Nadia carefully stepped in the prints Ann had made in her ascent. The sand there was packed and held firm most of the time. Near the crest it got steeper, and she leaned forward and dug in with her fingers. Then she was clambering onto the broad rounded crest, and could straighten up and have a look around.

Only the crests of the tallest dunes were still in sunlight; the world was a black surface, marred by short scimitar curves of steely gray. Horizon about five kilometers off. Ann was crouching, a scoop of sand in her palm.

“What’s it made of?” Nadia asked.

“Dark solid mineral particles.”

Nadia snorted. “I could have told you that.”

“Not before we got here you couldn’t. It might have been fines aggregated with salts. But it’s bits of rock instead.”

“Why so dark?”

“Volcanic. On Earth sand is mostly quartz, you see, because there’s a lot of granite there. But Mars doesn’t have much granite. These grains are probably volcanic silicates. Obsidian, flint, some garnet. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

She held out a handful of sand for Nadia’s inspection. Perfectly serious of course. Nadia peered through her faceplate at the black grit. “Beautiful,” she said.

They stood and watched the sun set. Their shadows went right out to the eastern horizon. The sky was a dark red, murky and opaque, only slightly lighter in the west over the sun. The clouds Ann had mentioned were bright yellow streaks, very high in the sky. Something in the sand caught at the light, and the dunes were distinctly purplish. The sun was a little gold button, and above it shone two evening stars: Venus, and the Earth.

“They’ve been getting closer every night lately,” Ann said softly. “The conjunction should be really brilliant.”

The sun touched the horizon, and the dune crests faded to shadow. The little button sun sank under the black line to the west. Now the sky was a maroon dome, the high clouds the pink of moss campion. Stars were popping out everywhere, and the maroon sky shifted to a vivid dark violet, an electric color that was picked up by the dune crests, so that it seemed crescents of liquid twilight lay across the black plain. Suddenly Nadia felt a breeze swirl through her nervous system, running up her spine and out into her skin; her cheeks tingled, and she could feel her spinal cord thrum. Beauty could make you shiver! It was a shock to feel such a physical response to beauty, a thrill like some kind of sex. And this beauty was so strange, so alien. Nadia had never seen it properly before, or never really felt it, she realized that now; she had been enjoying her life as if it were a Siberia made right, so that really she had been living in a huge analogy, understanding everything in terms of her past. But now she stood under a tall violet sky on the surface of a petrified black ocean, all new, all strange; it was absolutely impossible to compare it to anything she had seen before; and all of a sudden the past sheered away in her head and she turned in circles like a little girl trying to make herself dizzy, without a thought in her head. Weight seeped inward from her skin, and she didn’t feel hollow anymore; on the contrary she felt extremely solid, compact, balanced. A little thinking boulder, set spinning like a top.

• • •

They glissaded down the steep face of the dune on their boot heels. At the bottom Nadia gave Ann an impulsive hug: “Oh Ann, I don’t know how to thank you for that.” Even through the tinted faceplates she could see Ann grin. A rare sight.

• • •

After that things looked different to Nadia. Oh she knew it was in herself, that it was a matter of paying attention in a new way, of looking. But the landscape conspired in this sensation, feeding her new attentiveness; because the very next day they left the black dunes, and drove on to what her companions called layered or laminate terrain. This was the region of flat sand that in winter would lie under the CO2 skirt of the polar cap. Now in midsummer it lay revealed, a landscape made entirely of curvilinear patterns. They drove up broad flat washes of yellow sand that were bounded by long sinuous flat-topped plateaus; the sides of the plateaus were stepped and benched, laminated both finely and grossly, looking like wood that had been cut and polished to show a handsome grain. None of them had ever seen any land remotely like it, and they spent the mornings taking samples and borings, and hiking around in a loping Martian ballet, talking a blue streak, Nadia as excited as any of them. Ann explained to her that each winter’s frost caught a lamina on the surface. Then wind erosion had cut arroyos, and stripped away at their sides, and each stratum was stripped back farther than the one below it, so that the arroyo walls consisted of hundreds of narrow terraces. “It’s like the land is a contour map of itself,” Simon said.

They drove during the days, and went out every evening, in purply dusks that lasted until just before midnight. They drilled borings, and came up with cores that were gritty and icy, laminated for as far down as they could drill. One evening Nadia was climbing with Ann up a series of parallel terraces, half-listening to her explain about the precession of aphelion and perihelion, when she looked back across the arroyo and saw that it was glowing like lemons and apricots in the evening light, and that above the arroyo were pale green lenticular clouds, mimicking perfectly the terrain’s French curves. “Look!” she exclaimed.

Ann looked back and saw it, and was still. They watched the low banded clouds float overhead.

Finally a dinner call from the rovers brought them back. And walking down over the contoured terraces of sand, Nadia knew that she had changed— that, or else the planet was getting much more strange and beautiful as they traveled north. Or both.

• • •

They rolled over flat terraces of yellow sand, sand so fine and hard and clear of rocks that they could go at full speed, slowing down only to shift up or down from one bench to another. Occasionally the rounded slope between terraces gave them some trouble, and once or twice they even had to backtrack to find a way. But usually a route north could be found without difficulty.

On their fourth day in the laminate terrain, the plateau walls flanking their flat wash curved together, and they drove up the cleavage onto a higher plane; and there before them on the new horizon was a white hill, a great rounded thing, like a white Ayers Rock. A white hill— it was ice! A hill of ice, a hundred meters high and a kilometer wide— and when they drove around it, they saw that it continued over the horizon to the north. It was the tip of a glacier, perhaps a tongue of the polar cap itself. In the other cars they were shouting, and in the noise and confusion Nadia could only hear Phyllis, crying “Water! Water!”

Water indeed. Though they had known it was going to be there, it was still startling in the extreme to run into a whole great white hill of it, in fact the tallest hill they had seen in the entire 5,000 kilometers of their voyage. It took them all that first day to get used to it: they stopped the rovers, pointed, chattered, got out to have a look, took surface samples and borings, touched it, climbed up it a ways. Like the sand around it, the ice hill was horizontally laminated, with lines of dust about a centimeter apart. Between the lines the ice was pocked and granular; in this atmospheric pressure it sublimed at almost all temperatures, leaving pitted, rotten side walls to a depth of a few centimeters; under that it was solid, and hard.

“This is a lot of water,” they all said at one point or another. Water, on the surface of Mars….

The next day the glacier hill formed their right horizon, a wall that ran on beside them for the whole day’s drive. Then it really began to seem like a lot of water, especially as over the course of the day the wall got taller, rising to a height of about 300 meters. A kind of white mountain ridge, in fact, walling off their flat-bottomed valley on its east side. And then, over the horizon to the northwest, there appeared another white hill, the top of another ridge poking over the horizon, the base remaining beneath it. Another glacier hill, walling them in to the west, some thirty kilometers away.

So they were in Chasma Borealis, a wind-carved valley that cut north into the ice cap for some 500 kilometers, more than half the distance to the Pole. The chasm’s floor was flat sand, hard as concrete, and often crunchy with a layer of CO2 frost. The chasm’s ice walls were tall, but not vertical; they lay back at an angle less than forty-five degrees, and like the hillsides in the laminate terrain, they were terraced, the terraces ragged with wind erosion and sublimation, the two forces that over tens of thousands of years had cut the whole length of the chasm.

Rather than driving up to the head of the valley, the explorers crossed to the western wall, aiming toward a transponder that had been included in a drop of ice-mining equipment. The sand dunes mid-chasm were low and regular, and the rovers rolled over the corrugated land, up and down, up and down. Then as they crested a sand wave they spotted the drop, no more than two kilometers from the foot of the northwest ice wall: bulky lime-green containers on skeletal landing modules, a strange sight in this world of whites and tans and pinks. “What an eyesore!” Ann exclaimed, but Phyllis and George were cheering.

During the long afternoon, the shadowed western ice side took on a variety of pale colors: the purest water ice was clear and bluish, but most of the hillside was a translucent ivory, copiously tinted by pink and yellow dust. Irregular patches of CO2 ice were a bright pure white; the contrast between dry ice and water ice was vivid, and made it impossible to read the actual contours of the hillside. And foreshortening made it hard to tell how tall the hill really was; it seemed to go up forever, and was probably somewhere between three and five hundred meters above the floor of Borealis.

“This is a lot of water,” Nadia exclaimed.

“And there’s more underground,” Phyllis said. “Our borings show that the cap actually extends many degrees of latitude farther south than we see, buried under the layered terrain.”

“So we have more water than we’ll ever need!”

Ann pursed her mouth unhappily.

• • •

The drop of the mining equipment had determined the site of the ice mining camp: the west wall of Chasma Borealis, at longitude 41°, latitude 83° N. Deimos had just recently followed Phobos under the horizon; they wouldn’t see it again until they returned south of 82° N. The summer nights consisted of an hour’s purple twilight; the rest of the time the sun wheeled around, never more than twenty degrees above the horizon. The six of them spent long hours outside, moving the ice miner to the wall and then setting it up. The main component was a robotic tunnel borer, about the size of one of their rovers. The borer cut into the ice, and passed back cylindrical drums one-and-a-half meters in diameter. When they turned the borer on it made a loud, low buzz, which was louder still if they put their helmets to the ice, or even touched it with their hands. After a while white ice drums thumped into a hopper, and then a small robot forklift carried them to a distillery, which would melt the ice and separate out its considerable load of dust, then refreeze the water into one-meter cubes more suitable for packing in the holds of the rovers. Robot freight rovers would then be perfectly capable of driving to the site, loading up and returning to base on their own, and base would then have a regular water supply, larger than they could ever use. Around four or five million cubic kilometers in the visible polar cap, Edvard calculated, though there were a lot of guesses in the calculation.

They spent several days testing the miner, and deploying an array of solar panels to power it. In the long evenings after dinner Ann would climb the ice wall, ostensibly to take more borings, although Nadia knew she just wanted away from Phyllis and Edvard and George. And naturally she wanted to climb all the way to the top, to get on the polar cap and look around, and take borings of the most recent layers of ice. So one day when the miner had passed all the test routines, she and Nadia and Simon got up at dawn— just after two a.m. — and went out into the supercold morning air and climbed, their shadows like big spiders climbing before them. The slope of the ice was about thirty degrees, steepening and then letting off time after time as they ascended the rough benches in the hill’s layered side.

It was seven a.m. when the slope lay back and they walked onto the surface of the polar cap. To the north was a plain of ice that extended as far as they could see, to a high horizon some thirty kilometers away. Looking back to the south they could see a great distance over the geometric swirls of the layered terrain; it was the longest view Nadia had ever had on Mars.

The ice of the plateau was layered much like the laminated sand below them, with wide bands of dirty pink contouring across cleaner stuff. The other wall of Chasma Borealis lay off to the east, looking almost vertical from their point of view, long, tall, massive: “So much water!” Nadia said again. “It’s more than we’ll ever need.”

“That depends,” Ann said absently, screwing the frame of the little borer into the ice. Her darkened faceplate turned up at Nadia. “If the terraformers have their way, this will all go like dew on a hot morning. Into the air to make pretty clouds.”

“Would that be so bad?” Nadia asked.

Ann stared at her. Through the tinted faceplate her eyes looked like ball bearings.

That night at dinner she said, “We really ought to make a run up to the pole.”

Phyllis shook her head. “We don’t have the food or air.”

“Call for a drop.”

Edvard shook his head. “The polar cap is cut by valleys almost as deep as Borealis!”

“Not so,” Ann said. “You could drive straight to it. The swirl valleys look dramatic from space, but that’s because of the difference in albedo between the water and the CO2. The actual slopes are never more than six degrees off the horizontal. It’s just more layered terrain, really.”

George said, “But what about getting onto the cap in the first place?”

“We drive around to one of the tongues of ice that drop to the sand. They’re like ramps up to the central massif, and once there, we drive right to the pole!”

“There’s no reason to go,” Phyllis said. “It’ll just be more of what we see here. And it means more exposure to radiation.”

“And,” George added, “we could use what food and air we do have to check out some of the sites we passed on the way up here.”

So that was their point. Ann scowled. “I’m the head of the geological survey,” she said sharply. Which may have been true, but she was a horrible politician, especially compared to Phyllis, who had any number of friends in Houston and Washington.

“But there’s no geological reason to go to the pole,” Phyllis said now with a smile. “It’ll be the same ice as here. You just want to go.”

“Well?” Ann said. “Say I do! There are still scientific questions to be answered up there. Is the ice the same composition, how much dust— everywhere we go up here we collect valuable data.”

“But we’re up here to get water. We’re not up here to fool around.”

“It’s not fooling around!” Ann snapped. “We obtain water to allow us to explore, we don’t explore just to obtain water! You’ve got it backwards! I can’t believe how many people in this colony do that!”

Nadia said, “Let’s see what they say at base. They might want us to help with something there, or they might not be able to send a drop, you never know.”

Ann groaned. “We’ll end up asking permission from the U.N., I swear.”

She was right. Frank and Maya didn’t like the idea, John was interested but noncommittal. Arkady supported it when he heard of it, and declared he would send a supply drop from Phobos if necessary, which given its orbit was impractical at best. But at that point Maya called Mission Control in Houston and Baikonur, and the argument rippled outward. Hastings opposed the plan, but Baikonur, and a lot of the scientific community, liked it.

Finally Ann got on the phone, her voice very curt and arrogant, though she looked scared. “I’m the geological head here, and I say it needs to be done. There won’t be any better opportunity to get onsite data on the original condition of the polar cap. It’s a delicate system, and any change in the atmosphere is going to impact it heavily. And you’ve got plans to do that, right? Sax, are you still working on those windmill heaters?”

Sax had not been part of the discussion, and he had to be called to the phone. “Sure,” he said when the question was repeated. He and Hiroko had come up with the idea of manufacturing small windmills, to be dropped from dirigibles all over the planet. The constant westerlies would spin the windmills, and the spin would be converted to heat in coils in the base of the mills, and this heat would simply be released into the atmosphere. Sax had already designed a robotic factory to manufacture the windmills; he hoped to make them by the thousands. Vlad pointed out that the heat gained would come at the price of winds slowed down— you couldn’t get something for nothing. Sax immediately argued that that would be a side benefit, given the severity of the global dust storms the wind sometimes caused. “A little heat for a little wind is a great trade-off.”

“So, a million windmills,” Ann said now. “And that’s just the start. You talked about spreading black dust on the polar caps, didn’t you, Sax?”

“It would thicken the atmosphere faster than practically any other action we could take.”

“So if you get your way,” Ann said, “the caps are doomed. They’ll evaporate and then we’re going to say, ‘I wonder what they were like?’ And we won’t know.”

“Do you have enough supplies, enough time?” John asked.

“We’ll drop you supplies,” Arkady said again.

“There’s four more months of summer,” Ann said.

“You just want to go to the pole!” Frank said, echoing Phyllis.

“So?” Ann replied. “You may have come here to play office politics, but I plan to see a bit of this place.”

Nadia grimaced. That ended that line of conversation, and Frank would be angry. Which was never a good idea. Ann, Ann. .

The next day the Terran offices weighed in with the opinion that the polar cap ought to be sampled in its aboriginal condition. No objections from base, though Frank did not get back on the line. Simon and Nadia cheered: “North to the Pole!”

Phyllis just shook her head. “I don’t see the point. George and Edvard and I will stay down here as a back-up, and make sure the ice miner is working right.”

• • •

So Ann and Nadia and Simon took Rover Three and drove back down Chasma Borealis and around to the west, where one of the glaciers curling away from the cap thinned to a perfect rampway. The mesh of the rover’s big wheels caught like a snowmobile’s drivetrain, running well over all the various surfaces of the cap, over patches of exposed granular dust, low hills of hard ice, fields of blinding white CO2 frost, and the usual lace of sublimed water ice. Shallow valleys swirled outward in a clockwise pattern from the pole; some of these were very broad. Crossing these they would drive down a bumpy slope that curved away to right and left over both horizons, all of it covered by bright dry ice; this could last for twenty kilometers, until the whole visible world was bright white. Then before them a rising slope of the more familiar dirty red-water ice would appear, striated by contour lines. As they crossed the bottom of the trough the world would be divided in two, white behind, dirty pink ahead. Driving up the south-facing slopes, they found the water ice more rotten than elsewhere, but as Ann pointed out, every winter a meter of dry ice sat on the permanent cap to crush the previous summer’s rotten filigree, so the potholes were filled on an annual schedule; and the rover’s big wheels crunched cleanly along.

Beyond the swirl valleys they found themselves on a smooth white plain, extending to the horizon in every direction. Behind the polarized and tinted glass of the rover’s windows the whiteness was unmarred and pure. Once they passed a low ring hill, the mark of some relatively recent meteor impact, filled in by subsequent ice deposition. They stopped to take borings, of course. Nadia had to restrict Ann and Simon to four borings a day, to save time and keep the rover’s trunks from being overloaded. And it wasn’t just borings: often they would pass black isolated rocks, resting on the ice like Magritte sculptures— meteorites. They collected the smallest of these and took samples from the larger ones, and once passed one that was as big as the rover. They were nickel-iron for the most part, or stony chondrites. Chipping away at one of these, Ann said to Nadia, “You know they’ve found meteorites on Earth that came from Mars. The reverse happens too, although much less often. It takes a really big impact to jack rocks out of Earth’s gravitational field fast enough to get them out here— delta V of fifteen kilometers per second, at least. I’ve heard it said that about two percent of the material ejected out of Earth’s field would end up on Mars. But only from the biggest impacts, like the KT boundary impact. It would be strange to find a chunk of the Yucatan here, wouldn’t it?”

“But that was sixty million years ago,” Nadia said. “It would be buried under the ice.”

“True.” Later, walking back to the rover, she said, “Well, if they melt these caps then we’ll find some. We’ll have a whole museum of meteorites, sitting around on the sand.”

• • •

They crossed more swirl valleys, falling again into the up-and-down pattern of a boat over waves, this time the largest waves yet, forty kilometers from crest to crest. They used the clocks to keep on a schedule, and parked from ten p.m. to five a.m. on hillocks or buried crater rims, to give themselves a view during their stops; and they blacked the windows with double polarization to help them to get some sleep at night.

Then one morning as they crunched along, Ann turned on the radio and began to run GPS checks with the areosynchronous satellites. “It’s not easy to find the pole,” she said as she worked. “The early Terran explorers had a hell of a time in the north, they were always up there in summertime and couldn’t see the stars, and they had no satellite checks.”

“So how did they do it?” Nadia asked, suddenly curious.

Ann thought about it and smiled. “I don’t know. Not very well, I suspect. Probably dead reckoning.”

Nadia became intrigued by the problem, and started working on it on a sketchpad. Geometry had never been her strong point, but presumably at the north pole on midsummer’s day, the sun would inscribe a perfect circle around the horizon, never getting higher or lower. If you were near the Pole, then, and it was near midsummer’s day, you might be able to use a sextant to make timed checks on the sun’s height above the horizon. . Was that right?

“This is it,” Ann said.


They stopped the rover, looked around. The white plain undulated to the nearby horizon, featureless except for a couple of broad red contour lines. The lines did not form bull’s-eye circles around them, and it didn’t look like they were at the top of anything.

“Where, exactly?” Nadia asked.

“Well, somewhere just north of here.” Ann smiled again. “Within a kilometer or so. Maybe that way.” She pointed off to the right. “We’ll have to go over there a ways and check with the satellite again. A little bit of simple GPS and we should be able to hit it on the nose. Plus or minus a meter, anyway.”

“If we just took the time, we could make it plus or minus a centimeter!” Simon said enthusiastically. “Let’s pin it down!”

So they drove for a minute, consulted the radio, turned to right angles and drove again, made another consultation. Finally Ann declared they were there, or close enough. Simon instructed the computer to keep working on it, and they suited up and went out and wandered around a bit, to make sure they had stepped on it. Ann and Simon drilled a boring. Nadia kept walking, in a spiral that expanded away from the car. A reddish white plain, the horizon some four kilometers away; too close; it came to her in a rush, as during the black dune sunset, that this was alien— a sharp awareness of the tight horizon, the dreamy gravity, a world just so big and no bigger. . and now she was standing right on its north pole. It was L8 = 92, about as near midsummer as you could ask, so if she stood facing the sun, and didn’t move, the sun would stay level and circle around her for all the rest of the day, or the rest of the week for that matter! It was strange. She was spinning like a top. If she stood still long enough, would she feel it?

Her polarized faceplate reduced the sun’s glare on the ice to an arc of crystalline rainbow points. It wasn’t very cold. She could just feel a breeze against her upraised palm. A graceful red streak of depositional laminae ran over the horizon like a longitude line. She laughed at the thought. There was a very faint ice ring around the sun, big enough that its lower arc just touched the horizon. Ice was subliming off the polar cap and gleaming in the air above, providing the crystals in the ring. Grinning, she stomped her boot prints into the north pole of Mars.

• • •

That evening they aligned the polarizers so that a very dimmed-down image of the white desert stood around them in the module windows. Nadia sat back with an empty food tray in her lap, sipping a cup of coffee. The digital clock flicked from 11:59:59 to 0:00:00, and stopped. Its stillness accentuated the quietness in the car. Simon was asleep; Ann sat in the driver’s seat, staring out at the scene, her dinner half-eaten. No sound but the whoosh of the ventilator. “I’m glad you got us up here,” Nadia said. “It’s been great.”

“Someone should enjoy it,” Ann said. When she was angry or bitter her voice became flat and distant, almost as if she were being matter-of-fact. “It won’t be here long.”

“Are you sure, Ann? It’s five kilometers deep here, isn’t that what you said? Do you really think it will completely disappear just because of black dust on it?”

Ann shrugged. “It’s a question of how warm we make it. And of how much total water there is on the planet, and how much of the water in the regolith will surface when we heat the atmosphere. We won’t know any of those things until they happen. But I suspect that since this cap is the primary exposed body of water, it’ll be the most sensitive to change. It could sublime away almost entirely before any significant part of the permafrost has gotten within fifty degrees of melting.”


“Oh, some will be deposited every winter, sure. But there’s not that much water, when you put it in the global perspective. This is a dry world, the atmosphere is superarid, it makes Antarctica look like a jungle, and remember how that place used to suck us dry? So if temperatures go up high enough, the ice will sublime at a really rapid rate. This whole cap will shift into the atmosphere and blow south, where it’ll frost out at nights. So in effect it’ll be redistributed more or less evenly over the whole planet, as frost about a centimeter thick.” She grimaced. “Less than that, of course, because most of it will stay in the air.”

“But then if it gets hotter still, the frost will melt, and it will rain. Then we’ve got rivers and lakes, right?”

“If the atmospheric pressure is high enough. Liquid surface water depends on air pressure as well as temperature. If both rise, we could be walking around on sand here in a matter of decades.”

“It’d be quite a meteorite collection,” Nadia said, trying to lighten Ann’s mood.

It didn’t work. Ann pursed her lips, stared out the window, shook her head. Her face could be so bleak; it couldn’t be explained entirely by Mars, there had to be something more to it, something that explained that intense internal spin, that anger. Bessie Smith land. It was hard to watch. When Maya was unhappy it was like Ella Fitzgerald singing a blues, you knew it was a put-on, the exuberance just poured through it. But when Ann was unhappy, it hurt to watch it.

Now she picked up her dish of lasagna, leaned back to stick it in the microwave. Beyond her the white waste gleamed under a black sky, as if the world outside were a photo negative. The clockface suddenly read 0:00:01.

• • •

Four days later they were off the ice. As they retraced their route back to Phyllis and George and Edvard, the three travelers rolled over a rise and came to a halt. There was a structure on the horizon. Out on the flat sediment of the chasma floor there stood a classical Greek temple, six Dorian columns of white marble, capped by a round flat roof.

“What the hell?”

When they got closer they saw that the columns were made of ice drums from the miner, stacked on top of each other. The disk that served as roof was rough hewn.

“George’s idea,” Phyllis said over the radio.

“I noticed the ice cylinders were the same size as the marble drums the Greeks used for their pillars,” George said, still pleased with himself. “After that it was obvious. And the miner is running perfectly, so we had some time to kill.”

“It looks great,” Simon said. And it did: alien monument, dream visitation, it glowed like flesh in the long dusk, as if blood ran under its ice. “A temple to Ares.”

“To Neptune,” corrected George. “We don’t want to invoke Ares too often, I don’t think.”

“Especially given the crowd at base camp,” Ann said.

• • •

As they drove south their road of tracks and transponders ran ahead of them, as distinct as any highway of paved concrete. It did not take Ann to point out how much this changed the feel of their travel; they were no longer exploring untouched land, and the nature of the landscape itself was altered, split left and right by the parallel lines of crosshatched wheel tracks, and by the green canisters slightly dimmed by a rime of dust, all marking “the way.” It wasn’t wilderness anymore; that was the point of road-building, after all. They could leave the driving to Rover Three automatic pilot, and often did.

So they were trundling along at thirty kph, with nothing to do but look at the bisected view, or talk, which they did infrequently, except on the morning they got into a heated discussion about Frank Chalmers— Ann maintaining that he was a complete Machiavellian, Phyllis insisting that he was no worse than anyone else in power, and Nadia, remembering her talks with him about Maya, knowing it was more complex than either of those views. But it was Ann’s lack of discretion that appalled her, and as Phyllis went on about how Frank had held them together in the last months of the voyage out, Nadia glared at Ann, trying to convey to her by looks that she was talking in the wrong crowd. Phyllis would use her indiscretions against her later on, that was obvious. But Ann was bad at seeing looks.

Then suddenly the rover braked and slowed to a stop. No one had been watching, and they all jumped to the front window.

There before them was a flat white sheet, covering their road for nearly a hundred meters. “What is it?” George cried.

“Our permafrost pump,” Nadia said, pointing. “It must have broken.”

“Or worked too well!” Simon said. “That’s water ice!”

They switched the rover to manual, drove nearer. The spill covered the road like a wash of white lava. They struggled into their walkers and got out of the module, walked over to the edge of the spill.

“Our own ice rink,” Nadia said, and went to the pump. She unhooked the insulation pad and had a look inside. “Ah ha— a gap in the insulation— water froze right here, and jammed the stopcock in the open position. A good head of pressure, I’d say. Ran till it froze thick enough to stop it. A tap from a hammer might get us our own little geyser.”

She went to her tool cabinet in the underside of the module, took out a pick. “Watch out!” She struck a single blow at the white mass of ice, where the pump joined the tank feeder pipe. A thick bolt of water squirted a meter into the air. “Wow!” It splashed down onto the white sheet of ice, steaming even though it froze within seconds, making a white lobate leaf on top of the ice already there. “Look at that!” The hole too froze over, and the stream of water stopped, and the steam blew away.

“Look how fast it froze!”

“Looks just like those splosh craters,” Nadia remarked, grinning. It had been a beautiful sight, water spilling out and steaming like mad as it froze.

Nadia chipped away at the ice around the stopvalve while Ann and Phyllis argued about migration of permafrost and quantities of water at this latitude, etc. etc. One would think they’d get sick of it. But they really did dislike each other, and so they were helpless to stop. It would be the last trip they ever took together, no doubt about it. Nadia herself would be disinclined to travel with Phyllis and George and Edvard anymore, they were too complacent, too much a little in-group of their own. But Ann was alienated from quite a few other people as well; if she didn’t watch out, she’d be without anyone at all to accompany her on trips. Frank, for instance— that comment to him the other night, and then telling Phyllis of all people how horrible he was— incredible.

And if she alienated everyone but Simon, she would be hurting for conversation, for Simon Frazier was the quietest man in the whole hundred. He had hardly said twenty sentences the entire length of the trip, it was uncanny, like traveling with a deaf-mute. Except maybe he talked to Ann when they were alone, who knew?

Nadia worked the valve into its stop position, then shut the whole pump down. “We’ll have to use thicker insulation this far north,” she said to no one in particular as she took her tools back to the rover. She was tired of all the sniping, anxious to get back to base camp and her work. She wanted to talk with Arkady; he would make her laugh. And without trying, or even knowing exactly how, she would make him laugh too.

They put a few chunks of the ice spill in among the rest of the samples, and set out four transponders to guide robot pilots around the spill. “Although it may sublime away, right?” Nadia said.

Ann, lost in thought, didn’t hear the question. “There’s a lot of water up here,” she muttered to herself, sounding worried.

“You’re damned right there is,” Phyllis exclaimed. “Now why don’t we have a look at those deposits we’ve spotted at the north end of Mareotis?”

• • •

As they got closer to base Ann became more closemouthed and solitary, her face held tight as a mask. “What’s the matter?” Nadia asked one evening, when they were out together near sunset, fixing a defective transponder.

“I don’t want to go back,” Ann said. She was kneeling by an isolated rock, chipping at it. “I don’t want this trip to end. I’d like to keep traveling all the time, down into the canyons, up to the volcano rims, into the chaos and the mountains around Hellas. I don’t ever want to stop.”

She sighed. “But. . I’m part of the team. So I have to climb back into the hovel with everyone else.”

“Is it really that bad?” Nadia said, thinking of her beautiful barrel vaults, of the steaming whirlpool bath and a glass of icy vodka.

“You know it is! Twenty-four-and-a-half hours a day, underground in those little rooms, with Maya and Frank running their political schemes, and Arkady and Phyllis fighting over everything, which I understand now, believe me— and George complaining and John floating in a fog and Hiroko obsessed by her little empire— Vlad too, Sax too. . I mean, what a crowd!”

“They’re no worse than any other. No worse and no better. You have to get along. You couldn’t be here all by yourself.”

“No. But it feels like I’m not here anyway, when I’m at the base. Might as well be back on the ship!”

“No, no,” Nadia said. “You’re forgetting.” She kicked the rock Ann was working on, and Ann looked up in surprise. “You can kick rocks, see? We’re here, Ann. Here on Mars, standing on it. And every day you can go out and run around. And you’ll be taking as many trips as anyone, with your position.”

Ann looked away. “It just doesn’t seem like enough, sometimes.”

Nadia stared at her. “Well. Ann. It’s radiation keeping us underground more than anything. What you’re saying in effect is that you want the radiation to go away. Which means thickening the atmosphere, which means terraforming.”

“I know.” Her voice was tight, so tight that suddenly the careful matter-of-fact tone was lost and forgotten. “Don’t you think I know?” She stood and waved the hammer. “But it isn’t right! I mean I look at this land and, and I love it. I want to be out on it traveling over it always, to study it and live on it and learn it. But when I do that, I change it— I destroy what it is, what I love in it. This road we made, it hurts me to see it! And base camp is like an open pit mine, in the middle of a desert never touched since time began. So ugly, so… I don’t want to do that to all of Mars, Nadia, I don’t. I’d rather die. Let the planet be, leave it wilderness and let radiation do what it will. It’s only a statistical matter anyway, I mean if it raises my chance of cancer to one in ten, then nine times out of ten I’m all right!”

“Fine for you,” Nadia said. “Or for any individual. But for the group, for all the living things here— the genetic damage, you know. Over time it would cripple us. So, you know, you can’t just think of yourself.”

“Part of a team,” Ann said dully.

“Well, you are.”

“I know.” She sighed. “We’ll all say that. We’ll all go on and make the place safe. Roads, cities. New sky, new soil. Until it’s all some kind of Siberia or Northwest Territories, and Mars will be gone and we’ll be here, and we’ll wonder why we feel so empty. Why when we look at the land we can never see anything but our own faces.”

On the sixty-second day of their expedition they saw plumes of smoke over the southern horizon, strands of brown, gray, white and black rising and mixing, billowing into a flat-topped mushroom cloud that wisped off to the east. “Home again home again,” Phyllis said cheerily.

Their tracks from the trip out, half-filled by dust, led them back toward the smoke: through the freight-landing zone, across ground crisscrossed with treadmarks, across ground trampled to light red sand, past ditches and mounds, pits and piles, and finally to the great raw mound of the permanent habitat, a square earthen redoubt now topped by a silvery network of magnesium beams. That sight piqued Nadia’s interest, but as they rolled on in she could not help noticing the litter of frames, crates, tractors, cranes, spare-part dumps, garbage dumps, windmills, solar panels, water towers, concrete roads leading east, west and south, air miners, the low buildings of the alchemists’ quarter, their smokestacks emitting the plumes they had seen; the stacks of glass, the round cones of gray gravel, the big mounds of raw regolith next to the cement factory, the small mounds of regolith scattered everywhere else. It had the disordered, functional, ugly look of Chelyabinsk-65 or any of the rest of the other Stalinist heavy-industry cities in the Urals, or the oil camps of Yakut. They rolled through a good five kilometers of this devastation, and as they did Nadia did not dare to look at Ann, who sat silently beside her, emanating disgust and loathing. Nadia too was shocked, and surprised at the change in herself; this had all seemed perfectly normal before the trip, indeed had pleased her very much. Now she was slightly nauseated, and afraid Ann might do something violent, especially if Phyllis said anything more. But Phyllis kept her mouth shut, and they rolled into the tractor lot outside the northern garage and stopped. The expedition was over.

One by one they plugged the rovers into the wall of the garage and crawled through the doors. Familiar faces crowded around, Maya and Frank and Michel and Sax and John and Ursula and Spencer and Hiroko and all the rest, like brothers and sisters really, but so many of them that Nadia was overwhelmed, she shriveled like a touched anemone, and had trouble talking. She wanted to grasp something she could feel escaping her, she looked around for Ann and Simon, but they were trapped by another group and seemed stunned, Ann stoical, a mask of herself.

Phyllis told their story for them. “It was nice, really spectacular, the sun shone all the time, and the ice is really there, we’ve got access to a lot of water, it’s like the Arctic when you’re up on that polar cap. . ”

“Did you find any phosphorus?” Hiroko asked. Wonderful to see Hiroko’s face, worried about the shortage of phosphorus for her plants. Ann told her that she had found drifts of sulphates in the light material around the craters in Acidalia, so they went off together to look at the samples. Nadia followed the others down the concrete-walled underground passageway to the permanent habitat, thinking about a real shower and fresh vegetables, half-listening to Maya give her the latest news. She was home.

• • •

Back to work; and as before, it was unrelenting and many-faceted, an endless list of things to do, and never enough time, because even though some tasks took much less human time than Nadia had expected, being robot-adequate, everything else took much more. And none of it gave her the same joy as building the barrel-vault chambers had, even if it was interesting in the technical sense.

If they wanted the central square under the dome to be of any use, they had to lay a foundation that from bottom to top was composed of gravel, concrete, gravel, fiberglass, regolith, and finally treated soil. The dome itself would be made of double panes of thick treated glass, to hold the pressure and to cut down on UV rays, and a certain percentage of cosmic radiation. When all of it was done, they would have a central garden atrium of 10,000 square meters, really quite an elegant and satisfying plan. But as Nadia worked on the various aspects of the structure she found her mind wandering, her stomach tense. Maya and Frank were no longer speaking to one another in their official capacities, which indicated that their private relationship was going poorly indeed; and Frank did not seem to want to talk to John either, which was a shame. The broken affair between Sasha and Yeli had turned into a kind of civil war between their friends, and Hiroko’s band, Iwao and Paul and Ellen and Rya and Gene and Evgenia and the rest, perhaps in reaction to all this, spent every day out in the atrium or in the greenhouses, living together out there, more withdrawn than ever. Vlad and Ursula and the rest of the medical team were absorbed in research almost to the exclusion of clinical work with the colonists, which made Frank furious, and the genetic engineers spent all their time out in the converted trailer park, in the labs.

And yet Michel was behaving as if nothing were abnormal, as if he were not the psychological officer for the colony. He spent a lot of time watching French TV. When Nadia asked him about Frank and John, he only looked blankly at her.

They had been on Mars for 420 days, and the first seconds of their universe were past. They no longer gathered to plot the next days’ work, or discuss what they were doing. “Too busy,” people said to Nadia when she asked. “Well, it’s too involved to describe, you know, it’d put you to sleep. It does me.” And so on.

And then at odd moments she would see in her mind’s eye the black dunes, the white ice, the silhouetted figures against a sunset sky. She would shiver and come to with a sigh. Ann had already arranged another trip and was gone, this time south to the northernmost arms of great Valles Marineris, to see more unimaginable marvels. But Nadia was needed at base camp, whether she wanted to be out with Ann in the canyons or not. Maya complained about how much Ann was away. “It’s clear she and Simon have started something and are just out there having a honeymoon while we slave away in here.” That was Maya’s way of looking at things, that would be what it would take to make Maya as happy as Ann sounded in her calls. But Ann was in the canyons, and that was all that was needed to make her sound that way. If she and Simon had started something it would only be a natural extension of that, and Nadia hoped it was true, she knew that Simon loved Ann, and she had felt the presence of an immense solitude in Ann, something that needed a human contact. If only she could join them again!

But she had to work. So she worked, she bossed people around the construction sites, she stalked the building sites and snapped at her friends’ sloppy work. Her injured hand had regained some strength during the trip, so she was able to drive tractors and bulldozers again; she spent long days doing that, but it just wasn’t the same anymore.

• • •

At Ls = 208° Arkady came down to Mars for the first time. Nadia went out to the new spaceport and stood on the edge of the broad expanse of dusty cement to watch the arrival, hopping from foot to foot. The burnt sienna cement was already marked by the yellow and black stains of earlier landings. Arkady’s pod appeared in the pink sky, a white dot and then a yellow flame like an inverted gas burnoff stack. Eventually it resolved into a geodesic hemisphere with rockets and legs below, drifting down on a column of fire, and landing with unearthly delicacy right on the centerpoint dot. Arkady had been working on the descent program, apparently with good results.

He climbed out of the lander’s hatch about twenty minutes later, and stood upright on the top step, looking around. He descended the staircase confidently, and once on the ground bounced experimentally on the tips of his toes, took a few steps, then spun around, arms wide. Nadia had a sudden sharp memory of how it had felt, that hollow sensation. Then he fell over. She hurried over to him, and he saw her and stood and made straight for her and tripped again across the rough Portland cement. She helped pull him back to his feet, and they met in a hug and staggered, him in a big pressurized suit, her in a walker. His hairy face looked shockingly real through their faceplates; the video had made her forget the third dimension and all the rest that made reality so vivid, so real. He banged his faceplate lightly against hers, grinning his wild grin. She could feel the stretch of a similar smile on her face.

He pointed at his wrist console and switched to their private band, 4224, and she did the same.

“Welcome to Mars.”

Alex and Janet and Roger had come down with Arkady, and when they were all out of the lander they climbed into the open carriage of one of the Model Ts, and Nadia drove them back to base, over the wide paved road at first, and then shortcutting through the Alchemists’ Quarter. She told them about each building they passed, aware that they already recognized them all. Suddenly she was nervous, remembering what it had looked like to her after the trip to the pole. They stopped at the garage lock and she led them inside. There it was another family reunion.

Later that day Nadia led Arkady around the square of vaulted chambers, through door after door, room after furnished room, all twenty-four of them, and then out into the atrium. The sky was a ruby color through the glass panels, and the magnesium struts gleamed like tarnished silver.

“Well?” Nadia said at last, unable to stop herself: “What do you think?”

Arkady laughed and gave her a hug. He was still in his spacesuit, his head looking small in the open neck hole; he felt padded and bulky, and she wanted him out of it.

“Well, some of it is good and some of it is bad. But why is it so ugly? Why is it so sad?”

Nadia shrugged, irritated. “We’ve been busy.”

“So were we on Phobos, but you should see it! We’ve walled all the galleries in panels of nickel striped with platinum, and scored the panel surfaces with iterated patterns that the robots run at night, Escher reproductions, mirrors offset for infinite regress, scenes from Earth, you should see it! You can put a candle in some of the chambers and it looks like the stars in the sky, or a room on fire. Every room is a work of art, wait till you see it!”

“I look forward to it.” Nadia shook her head, smiling at him.

That evening they had a big communal dinner in the four connected chambers that formed the largest room in the complex. They ate chicken and soyburgers and large salads, and everyone talked at once, so that it was reminiscent of the best months on the Ares, or even of Antarctica. Arkady stood to tell them about the work on Phobos. “I am glad to be in Underhill at last.” They were nearly done doming Stickney, he told them, and under it long galleries had been drilled into the fractured and brecciated rock, following ice veins right through the moon. “If it weren’t for the lack of gravity, it would be a great place,” Arkady concluded. “But that’s one we can’t solve. We spent most of our free time on Nadia’s gravity train, but it’s cramped, and meanwhile all the work is in Stickney or below it. So we spent too much time weightless or exercising, and even so we lost strength. Even Martian g makes me tired now, I’m dizzy right now.”

“You’re always dizzy!”

“So we must rotate crews there, or run it by robot. We are thinking of all coming down for good. We’ve done our part up there, a functioning space station is now available for those who follow. Now we want our reward down here!” He raised his glass.

Frank and Maya frowned. No one would want to go up to Phobos, and yet Houston and Baikonur wanted it manned at all times. Maya had that look on her face familiar from the Ares, the one that said it was all Arkady’s fault; when Arkady saw it he burst out laughing.

The next day Nadia and several others took him on a more detailed tour of Underhill and the surrounding facilities, and he spent the whole time nodding his head with that pop-eyed look of his that made you want to nod back while he said, “Yes, but, yes, but,” and went into one detailed critique after another, until even Nadia began to get annoyed with him. Although it was hard to deny that the Underhill area was battered, thrashed to the horizon in every direction, so that it seemed as if it continued outward over the whole planet.

“It’s easy to color bricks,” Arkady said. “Add manganese oxide from the magnesium smelting and you have pure white bricks. Add carbon left over from the Bosch process for black. You can get any shade of red you want by altering the amount of ferric oxides, including some really stunning scarlets. Sulphur for yellows. And there must be something for greens and blues, I don’t know what but Spencer might, maybe some polymer based on the sulphur, I don’t know. But a bright green would look marvelous in such a red place. It will have a blackish shade to it from the sky, but it will still be green and the eye is pulled to it.

“And then with these colored bricks, you build walls that are all mosaics. It’s beautiful to do it. Everyone can have their own wall or building, whatever they want. All the factories in the Alchemists’ Quarter look like outhouses or discarded sardine tins. Brick around them would help insulate them, so there is a good scientific reason for it, but truthfully it’s just as important that they look good, that it looks like home here. I’ve already lived too long in a country that thought only of utility. We must show that we value more than that here, yes?”

“No matter what we do to the buildings,” Maya pointed out sharply, “the ground around them will still be all ripped up.”

“But not necessarily! Look, when construction is over, it would be very possible to grade the ground right back to its original configuration, and then cast loose rock over the surface in a way that would imitate the aboriginal plain. Dust storms would deposit the required fines soon enough, and then if people walked on pathways, and vehicles ran on roads or tracks, soon it would have the look of the original ground, occupied here and there by colorful mosaic buildings, and glass domes stuffed with greenery, and yellow brick roads or whatnot. Of course we must do it! It is a matter of spirit! And that’s not to say it could have been done earlier, the infrastructure had to be installed, that’s always messy, but now we are ready for the art of architecture, the spirit of it.”

He waved his hands around, stopped suddenly, popped his eyes at the dubious expressions framed in the faceplates around him. “Well, it’s an idea, yes?”

Yes, Nadia thought, looking around with interest, trying to visualize it. Perhaps that kind of process would bring back her pleasure in the work? Perhaps it would look different to Ann then?

“More ideas from Arkady,” as Maya put it in the pool that night, looking sour. “Just what we need.”

“But they’re good ideas,” Nadia said. She got out, showered, put on a jumper.

Later that night she met Arkady again, and took him to see the northwest corner chamber of Underhill, which she had left bare-walled so she could show him the structural detail.

“It’s very elegant,” he said, rubbing a hand over the bricks. “Really, Nadia, all of Underhill is magnificent. I can see your hand everywhere on it.”

Pleased, she went to a screen and called up the plans she had been working on for a larger habitat. Three rows of vaulted chambers stacked underground, in one wall of a very deep trench; mirrors on the opposite wall of the trench, to direct sunlight down into the rooms. . Arkady nodded and grinned and pointed at the screen, asking questions and making suggestions: “An arcade between the rooms and the wall of the trench for open space. And each story laid back a bit from the one below it, so each has a balcony overlooking the arcade. . ”

“Yes, that should be possible. . ” And they tapped at the computer screen, altering the architectural sketch as they spoke.

Later they walked in the domed atrium. They stood under tall clusters of black bamboo leaves, the plants still in pots while the ground was prepared. It was quiet and dark.

“We could perhaps lower this area one story,” Arkady said softly. “Cut windows and doors into your vaults, and lighten them up.”

Nadia nodded. “We thought of that, and we’re going to do it, but it’s slow getting so much dirt out through locks.” She looked at him. “But what about us, Arkady? So far you’ve only talked about the infrastructure. I should have thought that beautifying buildings would be pretty low down on your list of things to do.”

Arkady grinned. “Well, maybe all the things higher on the list are already done.”

“What? Did I hear Arkady Nikelyovich say that?”

“Well, you know— I don’t complain just to complain, Ms. Nine Fingers. And the way things have been going down here, it’s very close to what I was calling for during the voyage out. Close enough that it would be stupid to complain.”

“I must admit you surprise me.”

“Do I? But think about how you all have been working together here, this last year.”

“Half a year.”

He laughed. “Half a year. And for all that time we have had no leaders, really. Those nightly meetings when everyone has their say, and the group decides what needs doing most; that’s how it should be. And no one is wasting time buying or selling, because there is no market. Everything here belongs to all equally. And yet none of us can exploit anything that we own, for there’s no one outside us to sell it to. It’s been a very communal society, a democratic group. All for one and one for all.”

Nadia sighed. “Things have changed, Arkady. It’s not like that anymore. And it’s changing more all the time. So it won’t last.”

“Why do you say that?” he cried. “It will last if we decide that it will.”

She glanced at him skeptically. “You know it isn’t so simple.”

“Well, no. Not simple. But within our power!”

“Maybe.” She sighed, thinking of Maya and Frank, of Phyllis and Sax and Ann. “There’s an awful lot of fighting going on.”

“That’s all right, as long as we agree on certain basic things.”

She shook her head, rubbed her scar with the fingers of her other hand. Her absent finger was itching, and suddenly she felt depressed. Overhead the long bamboo leaves were defined by occluded stars; they looked like sprays of a giant bacillus. They walked along the path between crop trays. Arkady picked up her maimed hand and peered at the scar, until it made her uncomfortable and she tried to pull it back. He drew it up, gave the newly exposed knuckle at the base of the ring finger a kiss. “You’ve got strong hands, Ms. Nine Fingers.”

“I did before this,” she said, making a fist and holding it up.

“Someday Vlad will grow you a new finger,” he said, and took the fist and opened it, then held the hand as they continued to walk. “This reminds me of the arboretum in Sebastopol,” he said.

“Mmm,” Nadia said, not really listening, intent on the warm heft of his hand in hers, in the tight intermingling of their fingers. He had strong hands too. She was fifty-one years old, a round little Russian woman with gray hair, a construction worker with a missing finger. So nice to feel the warmth of another body; it had been too long, and her hand soaked up the feeling like a sponge, until the poor thing tingled, full and warm. It must feel odd to him, she thought, then gave up on it. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said.

• • •

Having Arkady at Underhill made it like the hour before a thunderstorm. He made people think about what they were doing; habits that they had fallen into without thought came under scrutiny, and under this new pressure some became defensive, others aggressive. All the standing arguments got a bit more intense. Naturally this included the terraforming debate.

Now this debate was in no sense a single event but was rather an ongoing process, a topic that kept coming up, a matter of casual exchanges between individuals, out working, eating meals, falling asleep. Any number of things could bring it up: the sight of the white frost plume over Chernobyl; the arrival of a robot-driven rover, laden with water ice from the polar station; clouds in the dawn sky. Seeing these or many other phenomena someone would say, “That’ll add some BTUs to the system,” or “Isn’t that hexafluoroethane a good greenhouse gas,” and perhaps a discussion of the technical aspects of the problem would follow. Sometimes the subject would come back up in the evenings back in Underhill, leading from the technical to the philosophical, and sometimes this led to long and heated arguments.

The debate was not, of course, confined to Mars. Position papers were being churned out by policy centers in Houston, Baikonur, Moscow, Washington, and the U.N. Office for Martian Affairs in New York, as well as in government bureaus, newspaper editorial offices, corporate board rooms, university campuses, and bars and homes all over the world. In the arguments on Earth, many people began to use the colonists’ names as a kind of shorthand for the various positions, so that watching the Terran news the colonists themselves would see people saying that they backed the Clayborne position, or were in favor of the Russell program. This reminder of their enormous fame on Earth, their existence as characters in an ongoing TV drama, was always peculiar and unsettling; after the flurry of TV specials and interviews following touchdown, they had tended to forget the ongoing video transmissions, absorbed in the daily reality of their lives. But the video cameras were still shooting tape to send back home; and there were a lot of people on Earth who were fans of the show.

So nearly everyone had an opinion. Polls showed that most supported the Russell program, an informal name for Sax’s plans to terraform the planet by all means possible, as fast as they could. But the minority who backed Ann’s hands-off attitude tended to be more vehement in their belief, insisting that it had immediate applications to the Antarctic policy, and indeed to all Terran environmental policy. Meanwhile different poll questions made it clear that many people were fascinated by Hiroko and the farming project, while others called themselves Bogdanovists; Arkady had been sending back lots of video from Phobos, and Phobos was good video, a real spectacle of architecture and engineering. New Terran hotels and commercial complexes were already imitating some of its features, there was an architectural movement called Bogdanovism, as well as other movements interested in him that were more concentrated on social and economic reforms in the world order.

But terraforming was near the center of all these debates, and the colonists’ disagreements about it were played out on the largest possible public stage. Some of them reacted by avoiding the cameras and requests for interviews; “It’s just what I came to get away from,” Hiroko’s assistant Iwao said, and quite a few agreed with him. Most of the rest didn’t care one way or the other; a few seemed actually to like it. Phyllis’s weekly program, for instance, was carried by both Christian cable stations and business-analysis programs all over the world. But no matter how they dealt with it, it was becoming clear that most people on Earth and on Mars assumed that terraforming would take place. It was not a question of whether but of when, and how much. Among the colonists themselves this was nearly the universal view. Very few sided with Ann: Simon of course; perhaps Ursula and Sasha; perhaps Hiroko; in his way John, and now in her way Nadia. There were more of these “reds” back on Earth, but they necessarily held the position as a theory, an aesthetic judgment. The strongest point to their arguments, and thus the one that Ann emphasized most often in her communiqués back to Earth, was the possibility of indigenous life. “If there is Martian life here,” Ann would say, “the radical alteration of the climate might kill it off. We cannot intrude on the situation while the status of life on Mars is unknown; it’s unscientific, and worse, it’s immoral.”

Many agreed with that, including a lot of the Terran scientific community, which influenced the UNOMA committee charged with overseeing the colony. But every time Sax heard the argument he blinked rapidly. “There’s no sign of life on the surface,” he would say mildly. “If it does exist it has to be underground, near volcanic vents I suppose. But even if there is life down there, we could search for ten thousand years and never find it, nor eliminate the possibility it isn’t down there somewhere else, somewhere we haven’t looked. So waiting until we know for sure that there is no life—” which was a fairly common position among moderates—”effectively means waiting forever. For a remote possibility which terraforming wouldn’t immediately endanger anyway.”

“Of course it would,” Ann would retort. “Maybe not immediately, but eventually the permafrost would melt, there would be movement through the hydrosphere, and contamination of all of it by warmer water and Terran lifeforms, bacteria, viruses, algae. It might take a while, but it would surely happen. And we can’t risk that.”

Sax would shrug. “First, it’s postulated life, very low probability. Second, it wouldn’t be endangered for centuries. We could presumably locate it and protect it in that time.”

“But we may not be able to find it.”

“So we stop for low-probability life we can never actually find?”

Ann shrugged. “We have to, unless you want to argue that it’s okay to destroy life on other planets, as long as we can’t find it. And don’t forget, indigenous life on Mars would be the biggest story of all time. It would have implications for the galactic frequency of life that are impossible to exaggerate. Looking for life is one of the main reasons we’re here!”

“Well,” Sax would say, “in the meantime, life that we are quite sure exists is being exposed to an extraordinarily high amount of radiation. If we don’t do something to lessen it, we may not be able to stay here. We need a thicker atmosphere to cut down on radiation.”

This was not a reply to Ann’s point but the substitution of another one, and it was an argument that was very influential. Millions on Earth wanted to come to Mars, to the “new frontier,” where life was an adventure again; waiting lists for emigration both real and fake were massively oversubscribed. But no one wanted to live in a bath of mutagenic radiation, and the practical desire to make the planet safe for humans was stronger in most people than the desire to preserve the lifeless landscape already there, or to protect a postulated indigenous life that many scientists assured them did not exist.

So it did seem, even among those urging caution, that terraforming was going to happen. A subcommittee of UNOMA had been convened to study the issue, and on Earth it was now in the nature of a given, an unavoidable part of progress, a natural part of the order of things. A manifest destiny.

On Mars, however, the issue was both more open and more pressing, not so much a matter of philosophy as of daily life, of frigid poisonous air and the radiation being taken; and among those in favor of terraforming, a significant group was clustering around Sax— a group that not only wanted to do it, but to do it as fast as possible. What this meant in practice no one was sure; estimates of the time it would take to get to a “human-viable surface” ranged from a century to 10,000 years, with extreme opinions on either end, from thirty years (Phyllis) to 100,000 years (Iwao). Phyllis would say, “God gave us this planet to make in our image, to create a new Eden.” Simon would say, “If the permafrost melts we’d be living on a collapsing landscape, and a lot of us would be killed.” Arguments wandered over a wide range of issues: salt levels, peroxide levels, radiation levels, the look of the land, possibly lethal mutations of genetically engineered microorganisms, and so on.

“We can try to model it,” Sax said, “but the truth is we’ll never be able to model it adequately. It’s too big, and there are too many factors, many of them unknown. But what we will learn from it will be useful in controlling Earth’s climate, in avoiding global warming or a future ice age. It’s an experiment, a big one, and it will always be an ongoing experiment, with nothing guaranteed or known for sure. But that’s what science is.”

People would nod at this.

Arkady as always was thinking of the political point of view. “We can never be self-sufficient unless we do terraforming,” he pointed out. “We need to terraform in order to make the planet ours, so that we will have the material basis for independence.”

People would roll their eyes at this. But it meant that Sax and Arkady were allies of a sort, and that was a powerful combination. And so the arguments would go around, again and again and again, endlessly.

And now Underhill was nearly complete, a functioning and in most ways a self-sufficient village. Now it was possible to act further; now they had to decide what to do next. And most of them wanted to terraform. Any number of projects had been proposed to begin the process, with advocates for each, usually those who would be responsible for doing it. This was an important part of terraforming’s attraction; every discipline could contribute to the enterprise in one way or another, so it had broad-based support. The alchemists talked about physical and mechanical means to add heat to the system; the climatologists debated influencing the weather; the biosphere team talked about ecological systems theories to be tested. The bioengineers were already working on new microorganisms: shifting, clipping and recombining genes from algae, methanogens, cyanobacteria, and lichens, trying to come up with organisms that would survive on the present Martian surface, or under it. One day they invited Arkady to take a look at what they were doing, and Nadia went along with him.

They had some of their prototype GEMs in Mars jars, the largest of which was one of the old habitats in the trailer park. They had opened it up, shoveled regolith onto the floor, and sealed it again. They worked inside it by teleoperation, and viewed the results from the next trailer over, where instrument gauges took readings, and video screens showed what the various dishes were producing. Arkady looked at every screen closely, but there wasn’t that much to see: their old quarters, covered with plastic cubicles filled with red dirt, robot arms extending from their bases against the walls. There were visible growths on part of the soil, a bluish furze.

“That’s our champion so far,” Vlad said. “But still only slightly areophylic.” They were selecting for a number of extreme characteristics, including resistance to cold and dehydration and UV radiation, tolerance for salts, little need for oxygen, a habitat of rock or soil. No single Terran organism had all these traits, and those that had them individually were usually very slow growers, but the engineers had started what Vlad called a mix-and-match program, and recently they had come up with a variant of the cyanophyte that was sometimes called bluegreen algae. “It is not precisely thriving, but it does not die so fast, let us put it that way.” They had named it areophyte primares, its common name becoming Underhill algae. They wanted to make a field trial with it, and had prepared a proposal to send down to UNOMA.

Arkady left the trailer park excited by the visit, Nadia could see, and that night he said to the dinner group, “We should make the decision on our own, and if we decide in favor, act.”

Maya and Frank were outraged by this, and clearly most of the rest were uncomfortable as well. Maya insisted on a change of subject, and awkwardly the dinner conversation shifted. The next morning Maya and Frank came to Nadia, to talk about Arkady. The two leaders had already tried to reason with him, late the night before. “He laughs in our face!” Maya exclaimed. “It’s useless to try to reason with him!”

“What he proposes could be very dangerous,” Frank said. “If we explicitly disregard a directive from the U.N., they could conceivably come here and round us up and ship us home, and replace us with people who will pay attention to the law. I mean, biological contamination of this environment is simply illegal at this point, and we don’t have the right to ignore that. It’s international treaty. It’s how humanity in general wants to treat this planet at this time.”

“Can’t you talk to him?” Maya asked.

“I can talk to him,” Nadia said. “But I can’t say that it will do any good.”

“Please, Nadia. Just try. We’ve got enough problems as it is.”

“I’ll try, sure.”

So that afternoon she talked to Arkady. They were out on Chernobyl Road, walking back toward Underhill. She brought it up, and suggested that patience was in order. “It will only be a matter of time before the U.N. comes around to your view anyway.”

He stopped and lifted her maimed hand. “How long do you think we have?” he said. He pointed at the setting sun. “How long do you suggest we wait? For our grandchildren? Our great-grandchildren? Our great-great-grandchildren, blind as cave fish?”

“Come on,” Nadia said, pulling her hand free. “Cave fish.”

Arkady laughed. “Still, it’s a serious question. We don’t have forever, and it would be nice to see things start to change.”

“Even so, why not wait a year?”

“A Terran year or a Martian year?”

“A Martian year. Get readings on all the seasons, give the U.N. time to come around.”

“We don’t need the readings, they’ve been taken now for years.”

“Have you talked to Ann about that?”

“No. Well, sort of. But she doesn’t agree.”

“A lot of people don’t agree. I mean maybe they will eventually, but you have to convince them. You can’t just run roughshod over opposing opinions, otherwise you’re just as bad as the people back home that you’re always criticizing.”

Arkady sighed. “Yeah yeah.”

“Well, aren’t you?”

“You damned liberals.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It means you’re too soft-hearted to ever actually do anything.”

But they were now within sight of the low mound of Underhill, looking like a fresh squarish crater, its ejecta scattered around it. Nadia pointed at it. “I did that. You damned radicals—” she jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow, hard—”you hate liberalism because it works.”

He snorted.

“It does! It works in increments, over time, after hard labor, without fireworks or easy dramatics or people getting hurt. Without your sexy revolutions and all the pain and hatred they bring. It only works.”

“Ah, Nadia.” He put his arm over her shoulders, and they started walking again toward base. “Earth is a perfectly liberal world. But half of it is starving, and always has been, and always will be. Very liberally.”

• • •

Still, Nadia seemed to have affected him. He quit calling for a unilateral decision to release the new GEMs onto the surface, and he confined the agitprop to his beautification program, spending much of his time in the Quarter, trying to make colored bricks and glass. Nadia joined him for a swim before breakfast on most days, and along with John and Maya they took over a lane in the shallow pool that filled all of one of the vaulted chambers, and swam a brisk workout of one or two thousand meters. John led the sprint sets, Maya led the distance sets, Nadia followed in everything, hampered by her bad hand, and they churned through the extra-splashy water like a line of dolphins, staring through their goggles down at the sky-blue concrete of the pool bottom. “The butterfly was made for this g,” John would say, grinning at the way they could practically fly out of the water. Breakfasts afterward were pleasant if brief, and the rest of the days were the usual round of work; Nadia seldom saw Arkady again till evenings at dinner, or afterward.

Then Sax and Spencer and Rya finished setting up the robot factory for making Sax’s windmill heaters, and they applied to UNOMA for permission to distribute a thousand of them around the equatorial regions, to test their warming effect. All of them together were only expected to add about twice the heat to the atmosphere that Chernobyl did, and there were even questions as to whether they would be able to distinguish the added heat from background seasonal fluctuations— but as Sax said, they wouldn’t know until they tried.

And so the terraforming argument flared again. And suddenly Ann flew into violent action, taping long messages that she sent to the members of UNOMA’s executive committee, and to the national offices for Martian affairs for all the countries that were currently on the committee, and finally to the U.N. General Assembly. These appearances were given enormous amounts of attention, from the most serious policy-making levels all the way down to the tabloid press and TV, media that regarded it as the newest episode of the red soap opera. Ann had taped and sent her messages in private, so the colonists learned of them when excerpts were shown on Terran TV. The reaction in the days that followed included debates in government, a rally in Washington that drew 20,000, endless amounts of editorial space, and commentary in the scientific nets. It was a bit shocking to see the strength of these responses, and some colonists felt that Ann had gone behind their backs. Phyllis for one was outraged.

“Besides, it doesn’t make sense,” Sax said, blinking rapidly. “Chernobyl is already releasing almost as much heat into the atmosphere as these windmills, and she never complained about that.”

“Yes she did,” Nadia said. “She just lost the vote.”

Hearings were held at UNOMA, and while they were going on a group of the materials scientists confronted Ann after dinner. A lot of the rest of them were there to witness this confrontation; Underhill’s main dining hall filled four chambers, whose dividing walls had been removed and replaced by load-bearing pillars; it was a big room, filled with chairs and potted plants and the descendants of the Ares‘ birds, and most recently lit by windows installed high across the northern wall, through which they saw the ground-level crops of the atrium. A big space; and at least half the colonists were in it eating when the meeting took place.

“Why didn’t you discuss this with us?” Spencer asked her.

Ann’s glare forced Spencer to look away. “Why should I discuss it with you?” she said, turning her gaze on Sax. “It’s clear what you all think about this, we’ve gone over it many times before, and nothing I’ve said makes any difference to you. Here you sit in your little holes running your little experiments, making things like kids with a chemistry set in a basement, while the whole time an entire world sits outside your door. A world where the landforms are a hundred times larger than their equivalents on Earth, and a thousand times older, with evidence concerning the beginning of the solar system scattered all over, as well as the whole history of a planet, scarcely changed in the last billion years. And you’re going to wreck it all. And without ever honestly admitting what you’re doing, either. Because we could live here and study the planet without changing it— we could do that with very little harm or even inconvenience to ourselves. All this talk of radiation is bullshit and you know it. There’s simply not a high enough level of it to justify this mass alteration of the environment. You want to do that because you think you can. You want to try it out and see— as if this were some big playground sandbox for you to build castles in. A big Mars jar! You find your justifications where you can, but it’s bad faith, and it’s not science.”

Her face had gone bright red during this tirade; Nadia had never seen her anywhere near as angry as this. The usual matter-of-fact facade that she placed over her bitter anger had shattered, and she was almost speechless with fury, she was shuddering. The whole room had gone deadly quiet. “It’s not science, I say! It’s just playing around. And for that game you’re going to wreck the historical record, destroy the polar caps, and the outflow channels, and the canyon bottoms— destroy a beautiful pure landscape, and for nothing at all.”

The room was as still as a tableau, they were like stone statues of themselves. The ventilators hummed. People began to eye one another warily. Simon took a step toward Ann, his hand outstretched; she stopped him dead with a glance, he might as well have stepped outside in his underwear and frozen stiff. His face reddened, and he cracked his posture and sat back down.

Sax Russell rose to his feet. He looked the same as ever, perhaps a bit more flushed than usual, but mild, small, blinking owlishly, his voice calm and dry, as if lecturing on some textbook point of thermodynamics, or enumerating the periodic table.

“The beauty of Mars exists in the human mind,” he said in that dry factual tone, and everyone stared at him amazed. “Without the human presence it is just a collection of atoms, no different than any other random speck of matter in the universe. It’s we who understand it, and we who give it meaning. All our centuries of looking up at the night sky and watching it wander through the stars. All those nights of watching it through the telescopes, looking at a tiny disk trying to see canals in the albedo changes. All those dumb sci-fi novels with their monsters and maidens and dying civilizations. And all the scientists who studied the data, or got us here. That’s what makes Mars beautiful. Not the basalt and the oxides.”

He paused to look around at them all. Nadia gulped; it was strange in the extreme to hear these words come out of the mouth of Sax Russell, in the same dry tone that he would use to analyze a graph. Too strange!

“Now that we are here,” he went on, “it isn’t enough to just hide under ten meters of soil and study the rock. That’s science, yes, and needed science too. But science is more than that. Science is part of a larger human enterprise, and that enterprise includes going to the stars, adapting to other planets, adapting them to us. Science is creation. The lack of life here, and the lack of any finding in fifty years of the SETI program, indicates that life is rare, and intelligent life even rarer. And yet the whole meaning of the universe, its beauty, is contained in the consciousness of intelligent life. We are the consciousness of the universe, and our job is to spread that around, to go look at things, to live everywhere we can. It’s too dangerous to keep the consciousness of the universe on only one planet, it could be wiped out. And so now we’re on two, three if you count the moon. And we can change this one to make it safer to live on. Changing it won’t destroy it. Reading its past might get harder, but the beauty of it won’t go away. If there are lakes, or forests, or glaciers, how does that diminish Mars’s beauty? I don’t think it does. I think it only enhances it. It adds life, the most beautiful system of all. But nothing life can do will bring Tharsis down, or fill Marineris. Mars will always remain Mars, different from Earth, colder and wilder. But it can be Mars and ours at the same time. And it will be. There is this about the human mind: if it can be done, it will be done. We can transform Mars and build it like you would build a cathedral, as a monument to humanity and the universe both. We can do it, so we will do it. So—” he held up a palm, as if satisfied that the analysis had been supported by the data in the graph— as if he had examined the periodic table, and found that it still held true—”we might as well start.”

He looked at Ann, and all eyes followed her. Ann’s mouth was tight, her shoulders slumped. She knew she was beaten.

She shrugged, as if she were shrugging a hooded cape back over her head and body, a heavy carapace that weighed her down, and covered her entirely from them. In the flat dead tone that she usually employed when she was upset, she said, “I think you value consciousness too high, and rock too little. We are not lords of the universe. We’re one small part of it. We may be its consciousness, but being the consciousness of the universe does not mean turning it all into a mirror image of us. It means rather fitting into it as it is, and worshiping it with our attention.” She met Sax’s mild gaze, and one final flare of her anger jetted out: “You’ve never even seen Mars.”

And she left the room.

• • •

Janet had had her camera specs on, and videotaped this exchange. Phyllis sent a copy back to Earth. A week later the UNOMA committee on environmental alterations approved the dissemination of the heater windmills.

• • •

The plan was to drop them from dirigibles. Arkady immediately claimed the right to pilot one, as a sort of reward for his work on Phobos. Maya and Frank were not unhappy at the thought of Arkady disappearing from Underhill for another month or two, so they immediately assigned him one of the craft. He would drift east in the prevailing winds, descending to place windmills in channel beds and on the outer flanks of craters, both places where winds tended to be strong. Nadia first heard of the expedition when Arkady skipped through the chambers to her and told her about it.

“Sounds nice,” she said.

“Want to come along?” he asked.

“Why yes,” she said. Her ghost finger was tingling.

Their dirigible was the biggest ever made, a planetary model built back in Germany by Friedrichshafen Noch Einmal, and shipped up in 2029, so that it had just recently arrived. It was called the Arrowhead, and it measured 120 meters across the wings, a hundred meters front to back, and forty meters tall. It had an internal ultralite frame, and turboprops at each wingtip and under the gondola; these were driven by small plastic engines whose batteries were powered by solar cells arrayed on the upper surface of the bag. The pencil-shaped gondola extended most of the length of the underside, but it was smaller inside than Nadia had expected, because much of it was temporarily filled with their cargo of windmills; at takeoff their clear space consisted of nothing more than the cockpit, two narrow beds, a tiny kitchen, an even smaller toilet, and the crawlspace necessary to move among these. It was pretty tight, but happily both sides of the gondola were walled with windows, and though somewhat blocked by windmills these still gave them a lot of light, and good visibility.

Takeoff was slow. Arkady released the lines extending from the three mooring masts with the flip of a cockpit toggle; the turboprops ran hard, but they were dealing with air that was only twelve millibars thick. The cockpit bounced up and down in slow motion, flexing with the internal frame: and every up bounce was a little higher off the ground. For someone used to rocket launches it was comical.

“Let’s take a three-sixty and see Underhill before we go,” Arkady said when they were fifty meters high. He banked the ship and they made a slow wide turn, looking out Nadia’s window. Tracks, pits, mounds of regolith, all dark red against the dusty orange surface of the plain— it looked as if a dragon had reached down with a great taloned claw, and drawn blood time after time. Underhill sat at the center of the wounds, and by itself was a pretty sight, a square dark red setting for a shiny glass-and-silver jewel, with green just visible under the dome. Extending away from it were the roads east to Chernobyl and north to the spacepads. And over there were the long bulbs of the greenhouses, and there was the trailer park—

“The Alchemists’ Quarter still looks like something out of the Urals,” Arkady said. “We really have to do something about that.” He brought the dirigible out of its turn and headed east, moving with the wind. “Should I run us over Chernobyl and catch the updraft?”

“Why don’t we see what this thing can do unassisted,” Nadia said. She felt light, as if the hydrogen in the ballonets had filled her as well. The view was stupendous, the hazy horizon perhaps a hundred kilometers away, the contours of the land all clearly visible— the subtle bumps and hollows of Lunae, the more prominent hills and canyons of the channeled terrain to the east. “Oh, this is going to be wonderful!”


It was remarkable, in fact, that they had not done anything like this before. But flying on Mars was no easy thing, because of the thin atmosphere. They were in the best solution: a dirigible as big and light as possible, filled with hydrogen, which in Martian air was not only not flammable, but also even lighter relative to its surroundings than it would have been on Earth. Hydrogen and the latest in superlight materials gave them the lift to carry a cargo like their windmills, but with such a cargo aboard they were ludicrously sluggish.

And so they drifted along. All that day they crossed the rolling plain of Lunae Planum, pushed southeast by the wind. For an hour or two they could see Juventa Chasm on the southern horizon, a gash of a canyon that looked like a giant pit mine. Farther east the land turned yellowish; there was less surface rubble, and the underlying bedrock was more rumpled. There were also many more craters, craters big and small, crisp-rimmed or nearly buried. This was Xanthe Terra, a high region that was topographically similar to the southern uplands, here sticking into the north between the low plains of Chryse and Isidis. They would be over Xanthe for some days, if the prevailing westerlies held true.

They were progressing at a leisurely ten kilometers per hour. Most of the time they flew at an altitude of about a hundred meters, which put the horizons about fifty kilometers away. They had time to look closely at anything they wanted to, although Xanthe was proving to be little more than a steady succession of craters.

Late that afternoon Nadia tilted the nose of the dirigible down and circled into the wind, dropping until they were within ten meters of the ground and then releasing their anchor. The ship rose, jerked on its line, and settled downwind of the anchor, tugging at it like a fat kite. Nadia and Arkady twisted down the length of the gondola, to what Arkady called the bomb bay. Nadia lifted a windmill onto the bay’s winch hook. The windmill was a little thing, a magnesium box with four vertical vanes on a rod projecting from its top. It weighed about five kilos. They closed the bay door on it, sucked out the air, and opened the bottom doors. Arkady operated the winch, looking through a low window to see what he was doing. The windmill dropped like a plumb and bumped onto hardened sand, on the southern flank of a small unnamed crater. He released the winch hook and reeled it back into the bay, and closed the bomb doors.

They returned to the cockpit, and looked down again to see if the windmill was working. There it stood, a small box on the outside slope of a crater, somewhat tilted, the four broad vertical blades spinning merrily. It looked like an anemometer from a kid’s meteorology kit. The heating element, an exposed metal coil that would radiate like a stovetop, was on one side of the base. In a good wind the element might get up to 200 degrees Centigrade, which wasn’t bad, especially in that ambient temperature. Still. .”It’s going to take a lot of those to make any difference,” Nadia remarked.

“Sure, but every little bit helps, and in a way it’s free heat. Not only the wind powering the heaters, but the sun powering the factories making the windmills. I think they’re a good idea.”

They stopped once more that afternoon to set out another one, then anchored for the night in the lee of a crisp young crater. They microwaved a meal in the tiny kitchen, and then retired to their narrow bunks. It felt odd to rock on the wind, like a boat at its mooring: tug and float, tug and float. But it was very relaxing when you got used to it, and soon Nadia was asleep.

The next morning they woke before dawn, cast off, and motored up into the sunlight. From a hundred meters’ height they could watch the shadowed landscape below turn to bronze as the terminator rolled by and clear daylight followed, illuminating a fantastic jumble of bright rocks and long shadows. The morning wind ran right to left across their bow, so they were pushed northeast toward Chryse, humming along with the props on full power. Then the land fell away below them, and they were over the first of the outflow channels they would pass, a sinuous unnamed valley west of Shalbatana Vallis. This little arroyo’s S shape was unmistakably water-cut. Later that day they lofted out over the deeper and much wider canyon of Shalbatana, and the signs were even more obvious: tear-shaped islands, curving channels, alluvial plains, scablands; there were signs everywhere of a massive flood, a flood that had created a canyon so huge that the Arrowhead suddenly looked like a butterfly.

The outflow canyons and the high land between them reminded Nadia of the landscape of American cowboy movies, with washes and mesas and isolated ship rocks, as in Monument Valley— except here it lasted for four days, as they passed in succession over the unnamed channel, Shalbatana, Simud, Tiu, and then Ares. And all of them had been caused by giant floods, which had burst onto the surface and flowed for months, at rates 10,000 times that of the Mississippi. Nadia and Arkady talked about that as they looked down into the canyons under them, but it was very hard to imagine floods so huge. Now the big empty canyons funneled nothing but wind. They did that quite well, however, so Arkady and Nadia descended into them a number of times per day, to drop more windmills.

Then east of Ares Vallis they floated back over the densely cratered terrain of Xanthe. Again the land was everywhere marred by craters: big craters, little craters, old craters, new craters, craters with rims marred by newer craters, craters with floors punctured by three or five smaller craters; craters as fresh as if they had been struck yesterday, craters that just barely showed, at dawn and dusk, as buried arcs in the old plateau. They passed over Schiaparelli, a giant old crater a hundred kilometers across. When they floated over its central uplift knob, its crater walls formed their horizon, a perfect ring of hills around the edge of the world.

After that winds blew from the south for several days. They caught a glimpse of Cassini, another great old crater, and passed over hundreds of smaller ones. They dropped several windmills per day, but the flight was giving them a stronger sense of the size of the planet, and the project began to seem like a joke, as if they flew over Antarctica and tried to melt the ice by setting down a number of camping stoves. “You’d have to drop millions to make any difference,” Nadia said as they climbed up from another drop.

“True,” Arkady said. “But Sax would like to drop millions. He’s got an automated assembly line that will just keep churning them out, it’s only distribution that is a problem. And besides, it’s just one part of the campaign he has in mind.” He gestured back toward the last arc of Cassini, inscribing the whole northwest. “Sax would like to bang out a few more holes like that one. Capture some icy moonlets from Saturn, or from the asteroid belt if he can find any, and push them back and smash them into Mars. Make hot craters, melt the permafrost— they’d be like oases.”

“Dry oases, wouldn’t they be? You’d lose most of the ice on entry, and have the rest disappear on contact.”

“Sure, but we can use more water vapor in the air.”

“But it wouldn’t just vaporize, it would break into its constituent atoms.”

“Some of it. But hydrogen and oxygen, we could use more of both.”

“So you’re bringing hydrogen and oxygen from Saturn? Come on, there’s lots of both here already! You could just break down some of the ice.”

“Well, it’s just one of his ideas.”

“I can’t wait to hear what Ann says to that.” She sighed, thought about it. “The thing to do, I suppose, would be to graze an ice asteroid through the atmosphere, as if trying to aerobrake it. That would burn it up without breaking the molecules apart. You’d get water vapor in the atmosphere, which would help, but you wouldn’t be bombing the surface with explosions as big as a hundred hydrogen bombs going off all at once.”

Arkady nodded. “Good idea! You should tell Sax.”

“You tell him.”

East of Cassini the terrain grew rougher than ever. This was some of the oldest surface on the planet, cratered to saturation in the earliest years of torrential bombardment. A hellish age, the Noachian, you could see that in the landscape. No Man’s Land from a titanic trench war, the sight of it induced a kind of numbness after a while, a cosmological shell shock.

They floated on, east, northeast, southeast, south, northeast, west, east, east. They finally came to the end of Xanthe, and began to descend the long slope of Syrtis Major Planitia. This was a lava plain, much less densely cratered than Xanthe. The land sloped down and down, until finally they drifted over a smooth-floored basin: Isidis Planitia, one of the lowest points on Mars. It was the essence of the northern hemisphere, and after the southern highlands it seemed especially smooth and flat and low. And it too was a very large region. There really was a lot of land on Mars.

Then one morning when they lofted up to cruising altitude, a trio of peaks rose over the eastern horizon. They had come to Elysium, the only other Tharsislike “bulge continent” that the planet had. Elysium was a much smaller bulge than Tharsis, but it was still big, a high continent, 1,000 kilometers long and ten kilometers taller than the surrounding terrain. As with Tharsis, it was ringed by patches of fractured land, crack systems caused by the uplift. They flew over the westernmost of these crack systems, Hephaestus Fossae, and found the area an unearthly sight: five long deep parallel canyons, like claw marks in the bedrock. Elysium loomed beyond, a saddleback in shape, Elysium Mons and Hecates Tholus rearing at each end of a long spine range, 5,000 meters higher than the bulge they punctuated: an awesome sight. Everything about Elysium was so much bigger than anything Nadia and Arkady had seen so far that as the dirigible floated toward the range, the two were speechless for minutes at a time. They sat in their seats, watching it all float slowly toward them. When they did speak, it was just thinking aloud: “Looks like the Karakoram,” Arkady said. “Desert Himalayas. Except these are so simple. Those volcanoes look like Fuji. Maybe people will hike up them someday in pilgrimages.”

Nadia said, “These are so big, it’s hard to imagine what the Tharsis volcanoes will look like. Aren’t the Tharsis volcanoes twice as big as these?”

“At least. It does look like Fuji, don’t you think?”

“No, it’s a lot less steep. Why, did you ever see Fuji?”


After a while: “Well, we’d better try to go around the whole damn thing,” Arkady said. “I’m not sure we have the loft to get over those mountains.”

So they turned the props and pushed south as hard as they could, and the winds naturally cooperated, as they were curving around the continent too. So the Arrowhead floated southeast into a rough mountainous region called Cerberus, and all of the next day they could mark their progress by the sight of Elysium, passing slowly to their left. Hours passed, the massif shifted in their side windows; the slowness of the shift made it plain just how big this world was. Mars has as much land surface as the Earth— everyone always said that, but it had been just a phrase. Their creep around Elysium was the proof of the senses.

• • •

The days passed: up in the frigid morning air, over the jumbled red land, down in the sunset, to bounce at an airy anchorage. One evening when the supply of windmills had dwindled they rearranged those that remained, and moved their beds together under the starboard windows. They did it without discussion, as if it had been the obvious thing to do when they had room; as if they had already agreed to do it long before. And as they moved around the cramped gondola rearranging things, they bumped into each other just as they had all trip long, but now intentionally, and with a sensuous rubbing which accentuated what they had been up to all along, accidents become foreplay; and finally Arkady burst out laughing and caught her up into a wild bear hug, and Nadia shouldered him back onto their new double bed and they kissed like teenagers, and made love through the night. And after that they slept together, and made love frequently in the ruddy glow of dawn and in the starry black nights, with the ship lightly bobbing at its moorings. And they lay together talking, and the sensation of floating as they embraced was palpable, more romantic than any train or ship. “We became friends first,” Arkady said once, “that’s what makes this different, don’t you think?” He prodded her with a finger. “I love you.” It was as if he were testing the words with his tongue. It was clear to Nadia that he hadn’t said them often; it was clear they meant a lot to him, a kind of commitment. Ideas meant so much to him! “And I love you,” she said.

And in the mornings Arkady would pad up and down the narrow gondola naked, his red hair bronzed like everything else by the horizontal morning light, and Nadia would watch from their bed feeling so serene and happy that she had to remind herself that the floating sensation was probably just Martian g. But it felt like joy.

• • •

One night as they were falling asleep Nadia said curiously, “Why me?”

“Huhn?” He had been almost asleep.

“I said, why me? I mean, Arkady Nikelyovich, you could have loved any of the women here, and they would have loved you back. You could have had Maya if you wanted.”

He snorted. “I could have had Maya! Oh my! I could have had the joy of Maya Katarina! Just like Frank and John!” He snorted, and they both laughed out loud. “How could I have passed on such joy! Silly me!” He giggled until she punched him.

“All right, all right. One of the others then, the beautiful ones, Janet or Ursula or Samantha.”

“Come on,” he said. He propped himself up on an elbow to look at her. “You really don’t know what beauty is, do you?”

“I certainly do,” Nadia said mulishly.

Arkady ignored her and said, “Beauty is power and elegance, right action, form fitting function, intelligence, and reasonability. And very often,” he grinned and pushed at her belly, “expressed in curves.”

“Curves I’ve got,” Nadia said, pushing his hand away.

He leaned forward and tried to bite her breast, but she dodged him.

“Beauty is what you are, Nadezhda Francine. By these criteria you are queen of Mars.”

“Princess of Mars,” she corrected absently, thinking it over.

“Yes that’s right. Nadezhda Francine Cherneshevsky, the nine-fingered Princess of Mars.”

“You’re not a conventional man.”

“No!” He hooted. “I never claimed to be! Except before certain selection committees of course. A conventional man! Ah, ha ha ha ha ha! — the conventional men get Maya. That is their reward.” And he laughed like a wild man.

• • •

One morning they crossed the last broken hills of Cerberus, and floated out over the flat dusty plain of Amazonis Planitia. Arkady brought the dirigible down, to set a windmill in a pass between two final hillocks of old Cerberus. Something went wrong with the clasp on the winch hook, however, and it snapped open when the windmill was only halfway to the ground. The windmill thumped down flat on its base. From the ship it looked okay, but when Nadia suited up and descended in the sling to check it out, she found that the hot plate had cracked away from the base.

And there, behind the plate, was a mass of something. A dull green something with a touch of blue to it, dark inside the box. She reached in with a screwdriver and poked at it carefully. “Shit,” she said.

“What?” Arkady said above.

She ignored him and scraped some of the substance into a bag she used for screws and nuts.

She got into the sling. “Pull me back up,” she ordered.

“What’s wrong?” Arkady asked.

“Just get me up there.”

He closed the bomb bay doors after her, and met her as she was getting out of the sling. “What’s up?”

She took off her helmet. “You know what’s up, you bastard!” She took a swing at him and he leaped back, banging into a wall of windmills. “Ow!” he cried; a vane had caught him in the back. “Hey! What’s the problem! Nadia!”

She took the bag from her walker pocket and waved it before him. “This is the problem! How could you do it? How could you lie to me? You bastard, do you have any idea what kind of trouble this is going to get us in? They’ll come up here and send us all back to Earth!”

Round-eyed, Arkady rubbed his jaw. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Nadia,” he said earnestly. “I don’t lie to my friends. Let me see that.”

She stared at him and he stared back, his arm stretched out for the bag, the whites of his eyes visible all the way round the irises. He shrugged, and she frowned.

“You really don’t know?” she demanded.

“Know what?”“What?”

She couldn’t believe he would fake ignorance; it just wasn’t his style. Which suddenly made things very strange. “At least some of our windmills are little algae farms.”

“The fucking windmills that we’ve been dropping everywhere,” she said. “They’re stuffed with Vlad’s new algae or lichen or whatever it is. Look.” She put the little bag on the tiny kitchen table, opened it, and used the screwdriver to spoon out a little bit of it. Little knobby chunks of bluish lichen. Like Martian life-forms out of an old pulp novel.

They stared at it.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Arkady said. He leaned over until his eyes were a centimeter from the stuff on the table.

“You swear you didn’t know?” Nadia demanded.

“I swear. I wouldn’t do that to you, Nadia. You know that.”

She heaved a big breath. “Well— our friends would do it to us, apparently.”

He straightened up and nodded. “That’s right.” He was distracted, thinking hard. He went to one of the windmill bases and hefted it away from the others. “Where was it?”

“Behind the heating pad.”

They went to work on it with Nadia’s tools, and got it open. Behind the plate was another colony of Underhill algae. Nadia poked around at the edges of the plate and discovered a pair of small hinges where the top of the plate met the inside of the container wall. “Look, it’s made to open.”

“But who opens it?” Arkady said.


“Well I’ll be damned.” Arkady stood, walked up and down the narrow corridor. “I mean. .”

“How many dirigible trips have been made so far, ten? Twenty? And all of them dropping these things?”

Arkady started to laugh. He tilted his head back, and his huge crazed grin split his red beard in two, and he laughed until he held his sides. “Ah, ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

Nadia, who didn’t think it was funny at all, nevertheless felt her face grinning at the sight of him. “It’s not funny!” she protested. “We’re in big trouble!”

“Maybe,” he said.

“Definitely! And it’s all your fault! Some of those fool biologists in the trailer park took your anarchist rant seriously!”

“Well,” he said, “that at least is a point in their favor, the bastards. I mean—” he went back to the kitchen table to stare at the clump of blue stuff—”who exactly do you think we’re talking about, anyway? How many of our friends are in on this? And why in the world didn’t they tell me?”

This really rankled, she could tell. In fact the more he thought about it, the less amused he was, because the algae meant there was a subculture in their group that was acting outside UNOMA supervision but had not let Arkady in on it, even though he had been the first and most vocal advocate of such subversion. What did that mean? Were there people who were on his side but didn’t trust him? Were there dissidents with a competing program?

They had no way of telling. Eventually they pulled anchor, and sailed on over Amazonis. They passed a medium-sized crater named Pettit, and Arkady remarked that it would make a good site for a windmill, but Nadia only snarled. They flew by, talking the situation over. Certainly several people in the bioengineering labs had to be in on it; probably most of them; maybe all. And then Sax, the designer of the windmills, certainly had to be a part of it. And Hiroko had been an advocate of the windmills, but they had neither been sure why— it was impossible to judge whether she would approve of something like this or not, as she was simply too close with her opinions. But it was possible.

As they talked it over, they took the broken windmill completely apart. The heating plate doubled as a gate for the compartment containing the algae; when the gate opened, the algae would be released into an area that would be a bit warmer because of the hot plate itself. Each windmill thus functioned as a micro-oasis, and if the algae managed to survive with its help, and then grow beyond the small area warmed by the hot plate, then good. If not it was not going to do very well on Mars anyway. The hot plate served to give it a good sendoff, nothing more. Or so its designers must have thought. “We’ve been made into Johnny Appleseed,” Arkady said.

“Johnny what?”

“American folktale.” He told her about it.

“Yeah, right. And now Paul Bunyan is going to come kick our ass.”

“Ha. Never. Big Man is much bigger than Paul Bunyan, believe me.”

“Big Man?”

“You know, all those names for landscape features. Big Man’s Footprints, Big Man’s Bathtub, Big Man’s Golf Course, whatever.”

“Ah yeah.”

“Anyway, I don’t see why we should get in trouble. We didn’t know anything about it.”

“Now who’s going to believe that?”

“. . Good point. Those bastards, they really got me with this one.”

Clearly this was what bothered Arkady most. Not that they had contaminated Mars with alien biota, but that he had been kept out of a secret. Men were such egomaniacs when it came down to it. And Arkady, he had his own group of friends, perhaps more than that: people who agreed with him, followers of a sort. The whole Phobos crew, a lot of the programmers in Underhill. And if some of his own people were keeping things from him, that was bad; but if another group had secret plans of its own, that was worse, apparently, because they were at least interference, and perhaps competition.

Or so he seemed to think. He wouldn’t say much of this explicitly, but it became obvious in his mutterings, and his sudden sharp curses, which were genuine even though they alternated with bursts of hilarity. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether he was pleased or angry, and Nadia finally believed that he was both at once. That was Arkady; he felt things freely and to the full, and wasn’t much worried about consistency. But she wasn’t too sure she liked his reasons this time, for either his anger or his amusement, and she told him so with considerable irritation.

“Well, but come on!” he cried. “Why should they keep it a secret from me, when it was my idea to begin with?”

“Because they knew I might come along with you. If they told you, you would have had to tell me. And if you told me, I would have stopped it!”

Arkady laughed outrageously at this. “So it was pretty considerate of them after all!”


The bioengineers, Sax, the people in the Quarter who had actually constructed the things. Someone in communications, probably. . there were quite a few who must have known.

“What about Hiroko?” Arkady asked.

They couldn’t decide. They didn’t know enough of her views to be able to guess what she might think. Nadia was pretty sure she was in on it, but couldn’t explain why. “I suppose,” she said, thinking about it, “I suppose I feel like there is this group around Hiroko, the whole farm team and a fair number of others, who respect her and. . follow her. Even Ann, in a way. Although Ann will hate this when she hears about it! Whew! Anyway, it just seems to me that Hiroko would know about anything secret going on. Especially something having to do with ecological systems. The bioengineering group works with her most of the time, after all, and for some of them she’s like a guru, they almost worship her. They probably got her advice when they were splicing this algae together!”

“Hmm. . ”

“So they probably got her agreement for the idea. Maybe I should even say her permission.”

Arkady nodded. “I see your point.”

On and on they talked, hashing over every point of it. The land they passed over, flat and immobile, looked different to Nadia now. It was seeded, fertilized; it was going to change, now, inevitably. They talked about the other parts of Sax’s terraforming plans, giant orbiting mirrors reflecting sunlight onto the dawn and dusk terminators, carbon distributed over the polar caps, areothermal heat, the ice asteroids. It was all really going to happen, it seemed. The debate had been bypassed; they were going to change the face of Mars.

• • •

The second evening after their momentous discovery, as they were cooking dinner in a crater’s lee anchorage, they got a call from Underhill, relayed off one of the comm satellites. “Hey you two!” John Boone said by way of greeting. “We’ve got a problem!”

You’ve got a problem,” Nadia replied.

“Why, something wrong out there?”

“No no.”

“Well good, because really it’s you guys who have the problem, and I wouldn’t want you to have more than one! A dust storm has started down in the Claritas Fossae region, and it’s growing, and coming north at a good rate. We think it’ll reach you in a day or so.”

“Isn’t it early for dust storms?” Arkady asked.

“Well no, we’re at Ls = 240, which is pretty much the usual season for it. Southern spring. Anyway, there it is, and it’s coming your way.”

He sent a satellite photo of the storm, and they studied their TV screen closely. The region south of Tharsis was now obscured by an amorphous yellow cloud.

“We’d better take off for home right now,” Nadia said after studying the photo.

“At night?”

“We can run the props on batteries tonight, and recharge the batteries tomorrow morning. After that we may not have much sunlight, unless we can get above the dust.”

After some discussion with John, and then with Ann, they cast off. The wind was pushing them east-northeast, and on this heading they would pass just to the south of Olympus Mons. After that their hope was to get around the north flank of Tharsis, which would protect them from the dust storm for at least a while.

It seemed louder flying at night. The wind’s rush over the fabric of the bag was a fluctuating moan, the sound of their engines a pitiful little hum. They sat in the cockpit, lit only by dim green instrument lights, and talked in low voices as they moved over the black land below. They had about 3,000 kilometers to go before reaching Underhill; that was about 300 hours of flying time. If they went round the clock, it would be twelve days or so. But the storm, if it grew in the usual pattern, would reach them long before then. After that. . it was hard to tell how it would go. Without sunlight the props would drain the batteries, and then—”Can we just float on the wind?” Nadia said. “Use the props for occasional directional nudges?”

“Maybe. But these things are designed with the props as part of the lift, you know.”

“Yeah.” She made coffee and brought mugs of it up to the cockpit. They sat and drank, and looked out at the black landscape, or the green sweep of the little radar screen. “We probably ought to drop everything we don’t need. Especially those damned windmills.”

“It’s all ballast, save it for when we need the lift.”

The hours of the night wore on. They traded shifts at the helm, and Nadia caught an uneasy hour’s sleep. When she returned to the cockpit, she saw that the black bulk of Tharsis had rolled over the horizon ahead of them: the two northernmost of the three prince volcanoes, Ascraeus Mons and Pavonis Mons, were visible as humps of occluded stars, out at the edge of the world. To their left Olympus Mons still bulked well above the horizon, and taken with the other two volcanoes, it looked as if they flew low in some truly gigantic canyon. The radar screen reproduced the view in miniature, in green lines on the screen’s gridwork.

Then, in the hour before dawn, it seemed as though another massive volcano were rising behind them. The whole southern horizon was lifting, low stars disappearing as they watched, Orion drowned in black. The storm was coming.

It caught them just at daybreak, choking off the red in the eastern sky, rolling over them, returning the world to rusty darkness. The wind picked up until it swept them along in a muted roar from the land below. The view out the windows was of a few meters of swirling yellow dust, like a close-up of the clouds of Jupiter. Eddies twisted the dirigible’s frame and the gondola trembled and bounced.

They were lucky north was the direction they wanted to go. At one point Arkady said, “The wind should hopefully wrap around the north shoulder of Tharsis.”

Nadia nodded silently. They hadn’t gotten the chance to recharge the batteries after the night’s flight, and without sunlight the motors wouldn’t run too much longer. “Hiroko told me sunlight on the ground during a storm is supposed to be about fifteen percent of normal,” she said. “Higher there should be more. So we’ll get some recharge, but it’ll be slow. Could be that over the course of the day we might get enough to use the props a bit tonight.” She flicked on a computer to do the calculations. Something in the expression on Arkady’s face— not fear, not even anxiety, but a curious little smile— made her aware of how much danger they were in. If they couldn’t use the props, they wouldn’t be able to direct their movement, and they might not even be able to stay aloft. They could descend, it was true, and try to anchor, but they had only a few weeks’ more food, and storms like these often persisted for two months, sometimes three.

“There’s Ascraeus Mons,” Arkady said, pointing at the radar screen. “Good image.” He laughed. “Best view of it we’re going to get this time around, I’m afraid. Too bad, I was really looking forward to seeing them! Remember Elysium?”

“Yeah yeah,” Nadia said, busy running simulations of the batteries’ efficiency. Daily sunlight was near its perihelion peak, which was why the storm had started in the first place; and the instruments said that about 20 percent of full daylight was penetrating to this level (it felt to her eye more like 30 or 40); therefore it might be possible to run the props half the time, which would help tremendously. Without them they were losing altitude although that might just be the ground rising under them. With the props they might be able to hold a steady altitude, and influence their course by a degree or two.

“How thick is this dust, do you think?”

“How thick?”

“You know, grams per cubic meter. Try to get Ann or Hiroko on the radio and find out, will you?”

She went back to see what they had on board that could be used to power the props. Hydrazine, for the bomb-bay vacuum pumps; the pump motors could be wired to the props, probably. Then there were spare solar panels, and the solar panels in the emergency kit. If she could get them outside she could run whatever extra insolation they caught into the prop batteries. Also, in a sandstorm like this there was light coming from all directions, so some should probably be pointed down. As she rooted through the equipment locker looking for wire and transformer sand tools she told Arkady the idea, and he laughed his madman laugh. “Good idea, Nadia! Great idea.”

“If it works.” She rummaged through the tool kit, sadly smaller than her usual supply. The light in the gondola was eerie, a dim yellow glow flickering with every gust. The view out the side windows shifted from pockets of complete clarity, with thick yellow clouds like thunderheads sailing north with them, to complete obscurity, all the window surfaces streaming with dust that wormed and spun like a particularly unpleasant screensaver. Even at twelve millibars the blast of the wind was tossing the dirigible about; up in the cockpit Arkady was cursing the autopilot’s insufficiency. “Reprogram it,” Nadia called forward, and then remembered all his sadistic simulations on the Ares, and laughed out loud: “Problem run! Problem run!” She laughed again at his shouted curses, and went back to work. Arkady yelled back information from Ann. The dust was extremely fine, average particle size about 2.5 microns; total column mass about 1–3 grams per cm-2, pretty evenly distributed from top to bottom of the column. That wasn’t so bad; drop it on the ground and it would be a really thin layer, which was consistent with what they had seen on the oldest freight drops at Underhill.

When she had prepped all the solar panels she banged down the passageway to the cockpit. “Ann says the winds will be slowest close to the ground,” Arkady said.

“Good. We need to land to get the panels outside.”

So that afternoon they descended blind, and let the anchor drag until it hooked and held. The wind here was slower, but even so Nadia’s descent in the sling was harrowing. Down and down into rushing clouds of yellow dust, swinging back and forth. . and there it was right under her boots, the ground! She hit and dragged to a halt. Once out of the sling she found herself leaning into the wind; thin as it was it still struck like blows, and her old feeling of hollowness was extreme. Visibility billowed back and forth in waves, and the dust flew past so fast it was disorienting— on Earth a wind that fast would simply pick you up and throw you, like a broom-straw in a tornado.

But here you could hold your ground, if only just. Arkady had been slowly winching the dirigible down on the anchor line, and now it bulked over her like a green roof. It was weirdly dark underneath it. She unreeled the wires out to the wingtip turboprops, taped them to the dirigible and crimped them to the contacts inside, working fast to try to reduce their exposure to dust, and to get out from under the Arrowhead, which was bouncing on the wind. With difficulty she drilled holes in the bottom of the gondola fuselage, and attached ten solar panels with screws. As she was taping the wiring from these to the plastic fuselage, the whole dirigible dropped so fast that she had to collapse onto her face, her whole body spread-eagled on the cold ground, the drill a hard lump under her stomach. “Shit!” she shouted. “What’s wrong?” Arkady cried over the intercom. “Nothing,” she said, jumping up and taping faster than ever. “Fucking thing— it’s like working on a trampoline—” Then as she was finishing the wind picked up strength yet again, and she had to crawl back down to the bomb bay, her breath rasping in and out of her.

“The damn thing almost crushed me!” she shouted forward to Arkady when she had her helmet off. While he worked to unhook the anchor she staggered around the interior of the gondola, picking up things that they wouldn’t need and taking them into the bomb bay: a lamp, one of the mattresses, most of the cooking utensils and dinnerware, some books, all the rock samples. In they went, and she jettisoned them happily. If some traveler ever came upon the resulting pile of stuff, she thought, they would really wonder what the hell had happened.

They had to run both props full out to get the anchor unhooked, and when they succeeded they were off and flying like a leaf in November. They kept the props on full, to gain altitude as fast as possible; there were some small volcanoes between Olympus and Tharsis, and Arkady wanted to pass several hundred meters over them. The radar screen showed Ascraeus Mons falling steadily behind. When they were well north of it they could turn east, and try to chart a course around the northern flank of Tharsis, and then down to Underhill.

But as the long hours passed they found that the wind was rushing down the north slope of Tharsis, across their bow, so that even when running full power toward the southeast, they were still only moving northeast at best. In their attempts to fly across the wind the poor Arrowhead was bouncing like a hang glider, yanking them up and down, up and down, up and down, as if the gondola were indeed attached to the underside of a trampoline. But despite all that, they still weren’t going in the direction they wanted to go.

Darkness fell again. They were carried farther northeast. On this heading, they were going to miss Underhill by several hundred kilometers. After that, nothing; no settlements at all, no refuge. They would be blown over Acidalia, up onto Vastitas Borealis, up to the empty petrified sea of black dunes. And they did not have enough food and water to circumnavigate the planet again and give it another try.

Feeling dust in her mouth and eyes, Nadia went back to the kitchen and heated them a meal. Already she was exhausted, and, she realized as the smell of food filled the air, extremely hungry. Thirsty, too, and the water recycler ran on hydrazine.

Thinking about water, an image came to her mind, from the trip to the north pole: that broken permafrost gallery, with its white spill of water ice. Now how was that relevant?

She worked her way back up to the cockpit, holding onto a wall with every step. She ate a dusty meal with Arkady, trying to figure it out. Arkady watched their radar screen, saying nothing, but he was looking concerned.

Ah. “Look,” she said, “if we could pick up the signals from the transponders on our road to Chasma Borealis, we could come down and land by it. Then one of the robot rovers could be sent up to get us. The storm won’t matter to the robot rovers, they don’t go by sight anyway. We could leave the Arrowhead tethered, and drive back home.”

Arkady looked at her, finished swallowing. “Good idea,” he said.

• • •

But only if they could actually pick up the road’s transponder signals. Arkady flicked on the radio and called Underhill. The connection crackled in a storm of static almost as dense as the dust, but they could still make themselves understood. All through that night they conferred with the crowd back home, discussing frequencies, bandwidths, the power of the dust to mask the transponder’s fairly weak signals, and so on. Because the transponders were designed only to signal rovers that were nearby and on the ground, it was going to be a problem hearing them. Underhill might be able to pinpoint their location well enough to tell them when to descend, and their own radar map would give them a general fix on the road’s location as well; but neither of these methods would be very exact, and it would be almost impossible to find the road in the storm if they didn’t land right on it. Ten kilometers either way and it would be over the horizon, and they would be out of luck. It would be a lot more certain if they could just latch onto one of the transponder signals, and follow it down.

In any case, Underhill dispatched a robot rover on the road north. It would arrive in the area of the road they were expected to cross in about five days; at their current speed they would cross the road themselves in about four days.

When the arrangements were finished, they traded watches through the rest of the night. Nadia slept uneasily on her off watches, and spent much of the time lying on the bed feeling the wind bounce her. The windows were as dark as if curtains had been drawn. The roar of the wind was like a gas stove, and then occasionally like banshees; once she dreamed they were inside a great furnace full of flame demons, and woke sweating, and went forward to relieve Arkady. The whole gondola smelled of sweat and dust and burnt hydrazine. Despite all the gaskets’ micron seals, there was a visible whitish film on all the surfaces inside the gondola. She wiped her fingers across a pale blue plastic bulkhead, and stared at her fingers’ mark. Incredible.

They bounded along through the gloom of the days, through the starless black of the nights. The radar showed what they thought was Fesenkov Crater, running under them; they were being carried northeast still, and there was absolutely no chance they would be able to buck the storm and get south to Underhill. The polar road was their only hope. Nadia occupied her off watches by looking for things to throw overboard, and cutting away at parts of the gondola frame she judged inessential, until the engineers in Friedrichshafen would have shuddered. But Germans always overengineered things, and no one on Earth could ever really believe in Martian g anyway. So she sawed and hammered until everything inside the gondola was latticed nearly to nothing. Every use of the bay brought in another small cloud of dust, but she figured it was worth it; they needed the loft, her solar panel arrangement was not getting sufficient power to the batteries, and she had tossed everything not attached to the hull long before. Even if she had had them, she would not have gone back under the dirigible to install them; the memory of the incident still gave her the shivers. Instead she kept cutting further and further. She would have tossed out pieces of the dirigible frame too, if she could have gotten into the ballonets.

While she did this Arkady padded around the gondola cheering her on, naked and dust-caked, the red man incarnate, singing songs and watching the radar screen, jamming down quick meals, planning their course such as it was. It was impossible not to catch a bit of his exhilaration, to marvel with him at the strongest buffets of the wind, to feel the dust flying wild in her blood.

And so three long intense days passed, in the grip of the dark orange wind. And on the fourth day, a bit after noon, they turned the radio receiver up to full volume, and listened to the crackly roar of static at the transponders’ frequency. Concentrating on the white noise made Nadia drowsy, for they had had very little sleep; she was almost unconscious when Arkady said something, and she jerked up in her seat.

“Hear it?” he asked again. She listened, and shook her head. “There, it’s a kind of ping.”

She heard a little bip. “Is that it?”

“I think so. I’m going to get us down as fast as I can, I’ll have to empty some of the ballonets.”

He tapped away at the control keyboard, and the dirigible tilted forward and they began to drop at emergency speed. The altimeter’s numbers flickered down. The radar screen showed the ground below to be basically flat. The ping got louder and louder— without a directional receiver, that was going to be their only way to tell if they were still approaching it or moving away. Ping… ping… ping… In her exhaustion it was hard to tell whether it was getting louder or softer, and it seemed every beep was a different volume, depending on the attention she could bring to bear.

“It’s getting softer,” Arkady said suddenly. “Don’t you think?”

“I can’t tell.”

“It is.” He switched on the props, and with the whir of the motors the signal definitely seemed quieter. He turned into the wind, and the dirigible bounced wildly; he fought to steady its downward movement, but there was a delay between every shift of the flaps and the dirigible’s bucking, and in reality they were in little more than a controlled crash. The ping was perhaps getting softer at a slower rate.

When the altimeter indicated they were low enough to drop the anchor they did so, and after an anxious bit of drifting it caught, and held. They dropped all the anchors they had, and pulled the Arrowhead down on the lines. Then Nadia suited up and climbed into the sling and winched down, and once on the surface she began walking around in a chocolate dawn, leaning hard into the irregular torrent of wind. She found she was more physically exhausted than she could ever remember being, it was really hard to make headway upwind, she had to tack. Over her intercom the transponder signal pinged, and the ground seemed to bounce under her feet; it was hard to keep her balance. The ping was quite distinct. “We should have been listening on our helmet intercoms all along,” she said to Arkady. “You can hear better.”

A gust knocked her over. She got up and shuffled slowly along, letting out a nylon line behind her, adjusting her course as she followed the volume of the pings. The ground flowed underfoot, when she could see it; visibility was actually down to a meter or less, at least in the thickest gusts. Then it would clear a touch and brown jets of dust would flash by, sheet after sheet, moving at an awesome speed. The wind buffeted her as hard as anything she had ever felt on Earth, or harder; it was painful work to keep her balance, a constant physical effort.

While inside a thick, blinding cloud, she nearly shuffled right into one of the transponders, standing there like a fat fence post. “Hey!” she shouted.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing! I scared myself running into the roadmark.”

“You found it!”

“Yeah.” She felt her exhaustion run down into her hands and feet. She sat on the ground for a minute, then stood again; it was too cold to sit. Her ghost finger hurt.

She took up the nylon line and returned blindly to the dirigible, feeling she had wandered into the ancient myth, and was following the only thread out of the labyrinth.

• • •

During their rover trip south, blind in the flying dust, word came crackling over the radio that UNOMA had just approved and funded the establishment of three follow-up colonies. Each would consist of 500 people, all to be from countries not represented in the first hundred.

And the subcommittee on terraforming had recommended, and the General Assembly approved, a whole package of terraforming efforts, among them the distribution on the surface of genetically engineered microorganisms constructed from parent stock such as algaes, bacteria, or lichens.

Arkady laughed for a good thirty seconds. “Those bastards, those lucky bastards! They’re going to get away with it.”

Part 4. Homesick

One winter morning the sun shines down on Valles Marineris, illuminating the north walls of all the canyons in that great concatenation of canyons. And in that bright light one can see that here and there a ledge or outcropping is touched by a warty speck of black lichen.

Life adapts, you see. It has only a few needs, some fuel, some energy; and it is fantastically ingenious at extracting these needs from a wide range of Terran environments. Some organisms live always below the freezing point of water, others above the boiling point; some live in high radiation zones, others in intensely salty regions, or within solid rock, or in pitch black, or in extreme dehydration, or without oxygen. All kinds of environments are accommodated, by adaptive measures so strange and marvelous they are beyond our capacity to imagine; and so from the bedrock to high in the atmosphere, life has permeated the Earth with the full weave of one great biosphere.

All these adaptive abilities are coded and passed along in genes. If the genes mutate, the organisms change. If the genes are altered, the organisms change. Bioengineers use both these forms of change, not only recombinant gene splicing, but also the much older art of selective breeding. Microorganisms are plated, and the fastest growers (or those that exhibit most the trait you want) can be culled and plated again; mutagens can be added to increase the mutation rate; and in the quick succession of microbial generations (say ten per day), you can repeat this process until you get something like what you want. Selective breeding is one of the most powerful bioengineering techniques we have.

But the newer techniques tend to get the attention. Genetically engineered microorganisms, or GEMs, had been on the scene only about half a century when the first hundred arrived on Mars. But half a century in modern science is a long time. Plasmid conjugates had become very sophisticated tools in those years. The array of restriction enzymes for cutting, and ligase enzymes for pasting, was big and versatile; the ability to line out long DNA strings precisely was there; the accumulated knowledge of genomes was immense, and growing exponentially; and used all together, this new biotechnology was allowing all kinds of trait mobilization, promotion, replication, triggered suicide (to stop excess success), and so forth. It was possible to find the DNA sequences from an organism that carried the desired characteristic, and then synthesize these DNA messages and cut and paste them into plasmid rings; after that cells were washed and suspended in a glycerol with the new plasmids, and the glycerol was suspended between two electrodes and given a short sharp shock of about 2,000 volts, and the plasmids in the gycerol shot into the cells, and voilá! There, zapped to life like Frankenstein’s monster, was a new organism. With new abilities.

And so: fast-growing lichens. Radiation-resistant algae, Extreme-cold fungi. Halophylic Archaea, eating salt and excreting oxygen. Surarctic mosses. An entire taxonomy of new kinds of life, all partially adapted to the surface of Mars, all out there having a try at it. Some species went extinct: natural selection. Some prospered: survival of the fittest. Some prospered wildly, at the expense of other organisms, and then chemicals in their excretions activated their suicide genes, and they died back until the levels of those chemicals dropped again.

So life adapts to conditions. And at the same time, conditions are changed by life. That is one of the definitions of life: organism and environment change together in a reciprocal arrangement, as they are two manifestations of an ecology, two parts of a whole.

And so: more oxygen and nitrogen in the air. Black fuzz on the polar ice. Black fuzz on the ragged surfaces of bubbled rock. Pale green patches on the ground. Bigger grains of frost in the air. Animalcules shoving through the depths of the regolith, like trillions of tiny moles, turning nitrites into nitrogen, oxides into oxygen.

At first it was nearly invisible, and very slow. With a cold snap or a solar storm there would be massive die-offs, whole species extinct in a night. But the remains of the dead fed other creatures; conditions were thus easier for them, and the process picked up momentum. Bacteria reproduce quickly, doubling their mass many times a day if conditions are right; the mathematical possibilities for the speed of their growth are staggering, and although environmental constraints— especially on Mars— keep all actual growth far from the mathematical limits, still, the new organisms, the areophytes, quickly reproduced, sometimes mutated, always died, and the new life fed on the compost of their ancestors, and reproduced again. Lived and died; and the soil and air left behind were different than they were before these millions of brief generations.

And so one morning the sun rises, shooting long rays through the ragged cloud cover, up the length of Valles Marineris. On the north walls are tiny traces of black and yellow and olive and gray and green. Specks of lichen dot the vertical faces of stone, which stand as they always have, stony, and cracked, and red; but now speckled, as if with mold.

Michel Duval dreamed of home. He was swimming in the surf off the point at Villefranche-sur-Mer, the warm August water lifting him up and down. It was windy and near sunset and the water was a sloppy white bronze, the sunlight bouncing all over it. The waves were big for the Mediterranean, swift breakers that rose up all riven with wind chop to crash in quick uneven lines, allowing him to ride them for a moment. Then it was under in a tumble of bubbles and sand, and back up into a burst of gold light and the taste of salt in everything, his eyes stinging voluptuously. Big black pelicans rode air cushions just over the swells, soared into steep clumsy turns, stalled, dropped into the water around him. They half-folded their wings when they dove, making adjustments with them until the actual moment of the awkward crash into the water. Often they came up gulping small fish. Just meters from him one splashed in, silhouetted against the sun like a Stuka or a pterodactyl. Cool and warm, immersed in salt, he bobbed on the swell and blinked, blinded by salt light. A breaking wave looked like diamonds smashed to cream.

His phone rang.

His phone rang. It was Ursula and Phyllis, calling to tell him that Maya was having another fit and was inconsolable. He got up, put on unders and went to the bathroom. Waves leaped over a line of backwash. Maya, depressed again. Last time he had seen her she had been in high spirits, almost euphoric, and that was what, a week ago? But that was Maya. Maya was crazy. Crazy in a Russian way, however, which meant she was a power to be reckoned with. Mother Russia! The church and the communists both had tried to eradicate the matriarchy that had preceded them, and all they had achieved was a flood of bitter emasculating scorn, a whole nation full of contemptuous russalkas and baba yagas and twenty-hour-a-day superwomen, living in a nearly parthenogenic culture of mothers, daughters, babushkas, granddaughters. Yet still necessarily absorbed in their relationships with men, desperately trying to find the lost father, the perfect mate. Or just a man who would pull his share of the load. Finding that great love, and then more often than not destroying it. Crazy!

Well, it was dangerous to generalize. But Maya was a classic case. Moody, angry, flirtatious, brilliant, charming, manipulative, intense— and now filling his office like a huge slab of dejection, her eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot, her mouth haggard. Ursula and Phyllis nodded and whispered thanks to Michel for getting up so early, and left. He went to the venetian blinds and opened them, and the light from the central dome poured in. He saw again that Maya was a beautiful woman, with wild lustrous hair and a dark charismatic gaze, immediate and direct. It was dismaying to see her this upset, he never got used to it, it contrasted too sharply with her usual vivaciousness, the way she would put a finger to your arm as she rattled on in a confiding tone about one fascinating thing or other. .

All strangely mimicked by this desperate creature, who leaned forward onto his desk and began to tell him in a ragged hoarse voice about the latest scene in the unfolding drama of her and John, and then, again, Frank. Apparently she had gotten angry at John for refusing to help her in a plan she had to get some of the Russian-based multinationals to underwrite the development of settlements in Hellas Basin, which being the deepest point on Mars was going to be first to benefit from the atmospheric changes they were beginning to see. The air pressure at Low Point, four kilometers below the datum, was always going to be ten times thicker than that on top of the great volcanoes, and three times thicker than at the datum. It was going to be the first human-viable place, perfect for development.

But apparently John preferred to work through UNOMA and governments. And this was just one of the many basic political disagreements which were beginning to infect their personal life, to the point that they were fighting pretty frequently about other things, things that didn’t matter, things about which they had never fought before.

Watching her Michel almost said, John wants you irritated with him. He wasn’t sure what John would say to that. Maya rubbed her eyes, leaned her forehead on his desk, revealing the back of her neck and her broad rangy shoulders. She would never look this distraught in front of most of Underhill; it was an intimacy between them, something she only did with him. It was as if she had taken off her clothes. People didn’t understand that true intimacy did not consist of sexual intercourse, which could be done with strangers and in a state of total alienation; intimacy consisted of talking for hours about what was most important in one’s life. Although it was true she would be beautiful naked, she had perfect proportions. He recalled the way she looked swimming in the pool, doing the backstroke in a blue bathing suit cut high over the hipbones. A Mediterranean image: he was floating in the water at Villefranche, everything flooded with sunset’s amber light, and he was looking in at the beach where men and women were walking, naked except for the neon triangles of cache-sexe bathing suits— brown-skinned bare-breasted women, walking in pairs like dancers in the sunlight— then dolphins sliced out of the water between him and the beach, their sleek black bodies rounded like the women’s—

But now Maya was talking about Frank. Frank, who had a sixth sense for trouble between John and Maya (six would not be necessary), and who came running to Maya every time he felt the signs, to walk with her and talk about his vision of Mars, which was progressive, exciting, ambitious, everything that John’s was not. “Frank is so much more dynamic than John these days, I don’t know why.”

“Because he agrees with you,” Michel said.

Maya shrugged. “Perhaps that’s all I mean. But we have a chance to build a whole civilization here, we do. But John is so. .”

Big sigh. “And yet I love him, I really do. But. .”

She talked for a while about their past, how their courtship had saved the voyage out from anarchy (or at least ennui), how John’s easygoing stability had been so good for her. How you could count on him. How impressed she had been by his fame, how she had felt that the liaison made her part of world history forever. But now she understood that she herself was going to be part of world history anyway; all of them in the first hundred were. Her voice rose, became faster and more vehement: “I don’t need John for that now, I only need him for how I feel about him, but now we don’t agree on anything and we’re not very much alike, and Frank who has been so careful to hold back no matter what, we agree about almost everything and I’ve been so enthusiastic about that part that I’ve given him the wrong signal again, so he did it again, yesterday in the pool he— he held me, you know, took my arms in his hands—” she crossed her arms and clasped her biceps in her hands—”and asked me to leave John for him, which I would never do, and he was shaking, and I said I couldn’t but I was shaking too.” So later she had been on edge, and had started a fight with John, started it so flagrantly that he had gotten truly angry and had left and taken a rover out to Nadia’s arcade, and spent the night there with the construction team; and Frank had come to talk to her again, and when she had (just barely) put him off, Frank had declared he was going to live with the European settlement on the other side of the planet, he who was the colony’s driving force! “And he’ll really do it, he’s not one to threaten. He’s been learning German the way he does, languages are nothing to Frank.”

Michel tried to concentrate on what she was saying. It was difficult, because he knew full well that in a week everything would be different, all the dynamics in that little trio altered beyond recognition. So it was hard to care. What about his troubles? They went much, much deeper; but no one ever listened to him. He walked back and forth in front of the window, reassuring her with the usual questions and comments. The greenery in the atrium was refreshing, it could have been a courtyard in Arles or Villefranche; or suddenly it reminded him of Avignon’s narrow plane tree-shaded plaza near the Pope’s palace, the plaza and its café tables which in the summer just after sunset had just the color of Mars. Taste of olive and red wine. .

“Let’s go for a walk,” he said. Standard part of therapy hour. They crossed the atrium and went to the kitchens, so Michel could eat a breakfast which he forgot even as he swallowed; we should call eating forgetting, he thought as they walked around the hall to the locks. They put on suits— Maya entering a change room to get her unders on— then checked them and went in the lock and depressurized it and then opened the big outer door and stepped outside.

The diamond chill. For a while they stayed on the sidewalks circling Underhill, taking a tour of the dump and its great salt pyramids. “Do you think they’ll ever find a use for all this salt?” he said.

“Sax is still working on it.”

From time to time Maya went on talking about John and Frank. Michel asked the questions that a shrink program would have asked, Maya answered in the way a Maya program would have answered. Their voices right in each other’s ears, the intimacy of the intercom.

They came to the lichen farm, and Michel stopped to gaze over the trays, to soak in their intense living color. Black snow algae, and then thick mats of too lichen, in which the algae symbiote was a blue-green strain that Vlad had just gotten to grow alone; red lichen, which seemed not to be doing well. Superfluous in any case. Yellow lichen, olive lichen, a lichen that looked exactly like battleship paint. Flaky white and lime-green lichen— living green! It pulsed in the eye, a rich and improbable desert flower. He had heard Hiroko, looking down at such a growth, say “This is viriditas,” which was Latin for “greening power.” The word had been coined by a Christian mystic of the Middle Ages, a woman named Hildegard. Viriditas, now adapting to conditions here, and spreading slowly over the lowlands of the northern hemisphere. In the southern summers it did even better; one day it had reached 285 degrees Kelvin, a record high by twelve degrees. The world was changing, Maya remarked as they walked by the flats. “Yes,” Michel said, and could not help adding, “Only three hundred years before we reach livable temperatures.”

Maya laughed. She was feeling better. Soon she would be back on level, or at least crossing through that zone on the way to euphoria. Maya was labile. Stability-lability was the most recent characteristic Michel had been studying in the first hundred; Maya represented the labile extreme.

“Let’s drive out and see the arcade,” she said. Michel agreed, wondering what might happen if they ran into John. They went to the parking lot and checked out a roadrunner. Michel drove the little jeep and listened to Maya talk. Did conversation change when voices were divorced from bodies, planted right in the ears of the listeners by helmet mikes? It was as if one were always on the phone, even when sitting next to the person you were talking to. Or— was this better or worse? — as if you were engaged in telepathy.

The cement road was smooth, and he drove at the roadrunner’s top speed of sixty kph. He could just feel the rush of thin air against his faceplate. All that CO2 that Sax so wanted to scrub from the atmosphere. Sax would need powerful scrubbers, even more powerful than the lichens; he needed forests, enormous multilayered halophilic rain forests, trapping enormous loads of carbon in wood, leaves, mulch, peat. He needed peat bogs a hundred meters deep, rain forests a hundred meters tall. He had said as much. It marked Ann’s face just to hear the sound of his voice.

Fifteen minutes’ drive and they came to Nadia’s arcade. The site was still under construction and looked raw and messy, like Underhill in the beginning but on a larger scale. A long mound of burgundy rubble had been excavated from the trench, which ran east and west like Big Man’s grave.

They stood at one end of the great trench. Thirty meters deep, thirty wide, a kilometer long. The south side of the trench was now a wall of glass, and the north side of the trench was covered with arrays of filtering mirrors, alternating with wall-mesocosms, Mars jars or terrariums, all of them together a colorful mix, like a tapestry of past and future. Most of the terrariums were filled with spruce trees and other flora that made it resemble the great world-wrapping Terran forest of the sixtieth latitude. Like Nadia Cherneshevsky’s old home in Siberia, in other words. Was this perhaps a sign that she had a touch of his disease? And could he prevail on her to build a Mediterranean?

Nadia was up working on a bulldozer. A woman with her own kind of viriditas. She stopped and came over to talk briefly with them. The project was coming along, she told them calmly. Amazing what one could do with the robot vehicles that were still being sent up from Earth. The concourse was done, and planted with a variety of trees, including a strain of dwarf sequoia already thirty meters tall, nearly as tall as the whole arcade. The three stacked rows of Underhill-style vaulted chambers behind the concourse were installed, their insulation in place. The settlement had just the other day been sealed and heated and pressurized, so that it was possible to work inside it without suits. The three floors were stacked on each other in ever smaller arches, reminding Michel of the Pont du Gard; of course all the architecture here was Roman in origin, so that should not be a surprise. The arches were wider, however, and slighter. Airier in the tolerance of the g.

Nadia went back to work. Such a calm person. Stabile, the very opposite of labile. Low-keyed, private, inward. Couldn’t be less like her old friend Maya, it was good for Maya to be around her. Opposite end of the scale, keep her from flying away. Set an example for her. As in this encounter, where Maya was matching Nadia’s calm tone. And when Nadia went back to work, Maya retained some of that serenity. “I’ll miss Underhill when we move out here,” she said. “Won’t you?”

“I don’t think so,” Michel said. “This will be a lot sunnier.” All three floors of the new habitat would open onto the tall concourse, and have terraced broad balconies on the sunny side of the rooms, so that even though the whole structure faced north and was buried deeper than Underhill, the heliotropic filtered mirrors on the other side of the trench would pour light onto them from dawn to dusk. “I’ll be happy to move. We’ve needed the space from the beginning.”

“But we won’t get all this space to ourselves. There’ll be new people here.”

“Yes. But that will give us space of a different kind.”

She looked thoughtful. “Like John and Frank leaving.”

“Yes. But even that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” In a larger society, he told her, the claustrophobic village atmosphere of Underhill would begin to dissipate; this would give a better perspective on certain aspects of things. Michel hesitated before continuing, unsure how to say it. Subtlety was dangerous when you were both using a second language, coming at it from different native tongues; possibilities for misunderstanding were all too real. “You must accept the idea that you perhaps do not want to choose between John and Frank. That in fact you want them both. In the context of the first hundred that can only be scandalous. But in a larger world, over time. .”

“Hiroko keeps ten men!” she exclaimed angrily.

“Yes, and so do you. So do you. And in a larger world, no one will know or care.”

He went on reassuring her, telling her that she was powerful, that (using Frank’s terms) she was the alpha female of the troop. She disagreed and forced more praise from him until finally she was satiated, and he could suggest they return home.

“Don’t you think it will be a shock to have new people around? Different people?” She was driving, and as she turned to ask him this she almost drove off the road.

“I suppose.” Parties had already landed in Borealis and Acidalia, and the videotapes of them had been a shock, you could see it in people’s faces. As if aliens had arrived from space. But so far only Ann and Simon had met with any of them in person, running into a rover expedition north of Noctis Labyrinthus. “Ann said it felt as if someone had stepped out of the TV.”

“My life feels like that all the time,” Maya said sadly.

Michel lifted his eyebrows. The Maya program would not have said that. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, you know. Half the time it seems like one big simulation, don’t you think?”

“No.” He considered it. “I don’t.” It was all too real, in fact— the cold of it seeping up through the rover seat deep into his flesh— inescapably real, inescapably cold. Perhaps as a Russian she didn’t appreciate that. But it was always, always cold. Even at noon on midsummer’s day, with the sun overhead like an open furnace door blazing in the sand-colored sky, the temperature would be at best 260 degrees Kelvin, meaning 15 degrees below zero Centigrade, cold enough to push through the mesh of a walker and make each move a little diamond pattern of hurt. As they approached Underhill Michel felt the cold pushing through the fabric into his skin, and he felt the too-cool oxygenated air expand out of the mouthpiece deep into his lungs, and he glanced up at the sand horizon and the sand sky and said to himself, I am a diamondback snake, slithering through a red desert of cold stone and dry dust. Someday I will shed my skin like a phoenix in a fire, to become some new creature of the sun, to walk the beach naked and splash in warm salt water…

Back at Underhill he turned on the shrink program in his head and asked Maya if she was feeling better, and she touched her faceplate to his, giving him a brief glimpse of a gaze that was a kiss. “You know I do,” her voice said in his ear. He nodded. “I think I’ll go for another walk, then,” he said, and did not say, But what about me? What will make me feel better? He willed the movement of his legs and walked off. The bleak plain surrounding the base was a vision out of some post-holocaust desolation, a nightmare world; nevertheless he didn’t want to go back into their little warren of artificial light and heated air and carefully deployed colors, colors that he himself had chosen for the most part, utilizing the very latest in color-mood theory, a theory which he now understood to be based on certain root assumptions that did not in fact apply here. The colors were all wrong, or worse, irrelevant. Wallpaper in hell.

The phrase formed in his mind and pushed at his lips. Wallpaper in hell. Wallpaper in hell. Since they’re going to go crazy anyway. . Certainly it had been a mistake to have only one psychiatrist along. Every therapist on Earth was also in therapy, it was part of the job, it came with the territory. But his therapist was back in Nice, fifteen timeslipped minutes away at best, and Michel talked to him but he couldn’t help. He didn’t understand, not really; he lived where it was warm and blue, he could go outside, he was (Michel presumed) in reasonably good mental health. While Michel was a doctor in a hospice in a prison in hell; and the doctor was sick.

He hadn’t been able to adapt. People were different in that regard, it was a matter of temperament. Maya, walking toward the lock door, had a temperament quite different from his, which somehow enabled her to be completely at home here. To tell the truth he didn’t think she really noticed her surroundings much in any case. And yet in other ways he and she were similar. It had to do with the lability-stability index, and its particular emotionality; they were both labile. And yet fundamentally they were very different characters; the labile-stabile index had to be considered in combination with the very different set of characteristics grouped under the labels extroversion and introversion. This had been his great discovery of the recent year, and now it structured all his thinking about himself and his charges.

Walking toward the Alchemists’ Quarter, he fit the morning’s events into the gridwork of this new characterological system. Extroversion-introversion was one of the best-studied systems of traits in all psychological theory, with great masses of evidence from many different cultures supporting the objective reality of the concept. Not as a simple duality of course; one did not label a person plainly this or that, but rather placed them on a scale, rating them for such qualities as sociability, impulsiveness, changeability, talkativeness, outgoingness, activity, liveliness, excitability, optimism, and so on. These measurements had been done so many times that it was statistically certain that the various traits did indeed hang together, to a degree that exceeded chance by a huge amount. So the concept was real, quite real! In fact physiological investigations had revealed that extroversion was linked with resting states of low cortical arousal, introversion with high cortical arousal; this had sounded backward to Michel at first, but then he remembered that the cortex inhibits the lower centers of the brain, so that low cortical arousal allows the more uninhibited behavior of the extrovert, while high cortical arousal is inhibitory and leads to introversion. This explained why drinking alcohol, a depressant which lowers cortical arousal, could lead to more excited and uninhibited behavior.

So the whole collection of extrovert-introvert traits, with all that they said about one’s character, could be traced back to a group of cells in the brain stem called the ascending reticular activating system, the area that ultimately determined levels of cortical arousal. Thus they were driven by biology. There should be no such thing as fate: Ralph Waldo Emerson, a year after his six-year-old son died. But biology was fate.

And there was more to Michel’s system; fate, after all, was no simple either/or. He had recently begun to consider Wenger’s index of autonomic balance, which used seven different variables to determine whether an individual was dominated by the sympathetic or the parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic branch responds to outside stimuli and alerts the organism to action, so that individuals dominated by this branch were excitable; the parasympathetic branch, on the other hand, habituates the alerted organism to the stimulus, and restores it to homeostatic balance, so that individuals dominated by this branch were placid. Duffy had suggested calling these two classes of individuals labiles and stabiles, and this classification, while not as famous as extroversion and introversion, was just as solidly backed by empirical evidence, and just as useful in understanding varieties of temperament.

Now, neither system of classification told the investigator all that much about the total nature of the personality being studied. The terms were so general, they were collections of so many traits, that they said very little in any useful diagnostic sense, especially since both were Gaussian curves in the actual population.

But combine the two systems, and it began to get very interesting indeed.

It was not a simple matter, and Michel had spent a fair amount of time at his computer screen sketching one kind of combinatoire after another, using the two different systems as the x and y axes of several different grids, none of which told him much. But then he began moving the four terms around the initial points of a Greimas semantic rectangle, a structuralist schema with alchemical ancestry, which proposed that no simple dialectic was enough to indicate the true complexity of any cluster of related concepts, so that it was necessary to acknowledge the real difference between something’s opposite and its contrary; the concept “not-X” being not quite the same thing as “anti-X,” as one saw immediately. So the first stage was usually indicated by using the four terms S, — S, S, and — S, in a simple rectangle:

Thus — S was a simple not-S, and — S, was the stronger anti-S; while — S was for Michel the skullcracking negation of a negation, either a neutralizing of the initial opposition, or the union of the two negations; in practice this often remained a mystery or koan; but sometimes it came clear, as an idea that completed the conceptual unit quite nicely, as in one of Greimas’s examples:

The next step in the complication of the design, the step where new combinations often revealed structural relationships not at all obvious on the face of it, was to build another rectangle that bracketed the first at right angles, like so:

And Michel had stared at this schema, with extroversion, introversion, lability, and stability at the first four corners, and considered their combinations. Suddenly everything had fallen into focus, as if a kaleidoscope had clicked by accident into a depiction of a rose. For it made perfect sense: there were extroverts who were excitable, and extroverts who were on an even keel; there were introverts who were quite emotional, and those who were not. He could immediately think of examples among the colonists of all four of the types.

When considering names to give these combined categories, he had had to laugh. Unbelievable! It was ironic at best to think that he had used the results of a century’s psychological thinking, and some of the latest laboratory research in psychophysiology, not to mention a complicated apparatus from structuralist alchemy, all in order to reinvent the ancient system of the humours. But there it was; that was what it came down to. For the northern combination, extroverted and stabile, was clearly what Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle, Trimestigus, Wundt, and Jung would have called sanguine; the western point, extroverted and labile, was choleric; in the east, introverted and stabile was phlegmatic; and in the south, introverted and labile was of course the very definition of the melancholic! Yes, they all fit perfectly! Galen’s physiological explanation for the four temperaments had been wrong, of course, and bile, choler, blood and phlegm had now been replaced as causative agents by the ascending reticular activating system and the autonomic nervous system; but the truths of human nature had held fast! And the powers of psychological insight and analytic logic of the first Greek physicians had been as strong, or rather stronger by far, than that of any subsequent generation’s, blinkered by an often-useless accumulation of knowledge; and so the categories had endured and were reaffirmed, in age after age.

Michel found himself in the Alchemists’ Quarter. He exerted himself to pay attention to it. Here men used arcane knowledge to make diamonds out of carbon, and they made it so easily and precisely that all their window glass was coated in a molecular layer of diamond to protect it from the corrosive dust. Their great white salt pyramids (one of the great shapes of ancient knowledge, the pyramid) were coated in layers of pure diamond. And the one-molecule diamond-coating process was just one of thousands of alchemical operations performed in these squat buildings.

In recent years the buildings had taken on a faintly Moslem look, their white brick walls displaying equation after equation, all rendered in black flowing mosaic calligraphy. Michel ran into Sax, who was standing next to the terminal velocity equation displayed on the wall of the brick factory, and he switched to the common band: “Can you turn lead into gold?”

Sax’s helmet tilted quizzically. “Why no,” he said. “Those are elements. It would be hard. Let me think about it some.”

Saxifrage Russell. The perfect Phlegmatic.

The really useful part of mapping the four temperaments onto the semantic rectangle was that it immediately suggested a number of basic structural relationships between them, which then helped Michel to see their attractions and antagonisms in a new light. Maya was labile and extroverted, clearly choleric, and so was Frank; and both of them were leaders, and both were quite attracted to the other. Both being choleric, however, there was a volatile and essentially repellent aspect to the relationship as well, as if they recognized in each other exactly what they didn’t like in themselves.

And thus Maya’s love for John, who was clearly sanguine, with an extroversion similar to Maya’s but much more emotionally stabile, even to the point of placidity. So that most of the time he gave her great peace, like an anchor to reality— which then occasionally rankled. And John’s attraction to Maya? The attraction of the unpredictable, perhaps; the spice in his hearty bland happiness. Sure, why not? You can’t make love to your fame. Even though some people try.

Yes, there were a lot of sanguines in the first hundred. Probably the psychological specs for selection to the colony preferred the type. Arkady, Ursula, Phyllis, Spencer, Yeli. . Yes. And stability being the most preferred quality for selection, there were naturally a lot of phlegmatics among them as well: Nadia, Sax, Simon Frazier, perhaps Hiroko— the fact that one could not even be sure about her tended to support the guess— Vlad, George, Alex.

Phlegmatics and melancholics would naturally not get along, both being introverted and quick to withdraw, and the stabile one put off by the unpredictability of the labile, so that they would withdraw from each other, like Sax and Ann. There were not many melancholics among them. Ann, yes; and probably by the fate of her brain’s structure, although it did not help that she had been mistreated as a child. She had fallen in love with Mars for the same reason that Michel hated it: because it was dead. And Ann was in love with death.

A few of the alchemists were melancholics as well. And, unfortunately, Michel himself. Perhaps five all told. Along both axes they had been selected against, as neither introversion nor lability had been considered desirable by the selection committee. Only people quite clever at concealing their real nature from the committee could have slipped through, people with great control over their personas, those larger-than-life masks that conceal all the wild inconsistencies within. Perhaps only a certain kind of persona had been selected to the colony, with a wide variety of persons behind it. Was that true? The selection committees had made impossible demands, it was important to remember that. They had wanted stabiles and yet they had wanted people who cared about going to Mars so passionately and monomaniacally that they would devote years of their lives to achieving the goal.

Was that consistent? They wanted extroverts and they wanted brilliant scientists who necessarily had had to dive deep into solitary study for years and years. Was that consistent? No! Never. It went on like that all down the list. They had created double bind after double bind, no wonder the first hundred had hidden from them, had hated them! He recalled with a shudder that moment in the great solar storm on the Ares when everyone had realized how much lying and hiding they had had to do, when they had all turned and stared at him with all that pent-up fury, as if it were all his fault, as if he were all psychology, and had concocted the criteria and conducted the tests and made the selections all by himself. How he had cringed at that moment, how alone he had felt! It had shocked him, frightened him, so much that he had not been able to think fast enough to confess that he too had lied, of course he had, more than any of the rest of them!

But why had he lied, why?

This was what he could not quite recall. Melancholia as a failure of memory, an acute sensation of the irreality of the past, its nonexistence. . He was a melancholic: withdrawn, out of control of his feelings, inclined to depression. He shouldn’t have been chosen to go, and now he could not remember why he had fought so passionately to be chosen. The memory had gone away, overwhelmed perhaps by the poignant, aching, fragmented images of the life he had lived in the interstices of his desire to go to Mars. So minuscule and so precious; the evenings in the plazas, the summer days on the beaches, the nights in women’s beds. The olive trees of Avignon. The green flame cypress.

He found he had left the Alchemists’ Quarter. He was at the foot of the Great Salt Pyramid. He stepped slowly up the 400 stairs, putting his feet carefully on the blue no-slip pads. Each step gave him a wider view of Underhill Plain, but it was still the same sere and barren rockpile, no matter how large it got. From the square white pavilion at the pyramid’s summit one could just see Chernobyl, and the spaceport. Other than that, nothing. Why had he come to this place? Why had he worked so hard to get here, sacrificing so many of the pleasures of life, family, home, leisure, play. . He shook his head. So far as he could recall, it had simply been what he had wanted to do, the definition of his life. A compulsion, a life with a goal, how could you tell the difference? Moonlit nights in the fragrant olive grove, the ground dotted with small black circles and the electric warm brush of the mistral rustling the leaves in quick soft waves, flat on his back, arms spread wide, the leaves flickering silver and gray under the black bowl of stars; and one of those stars would be steady, faint, red, and he would seek it out and watch it, there among the windswept olive leaves; and he had been eight years old! My God, what were they? Nothing explained that, nothing explained them! As well explain why they had painted in Lascaux, why they had built stone cathedrals into the sky. Why coral polyps built reefs.

He had had an ordinary youth, moved often, lost what friends he made, went to the University of Paris to study psychology, did his degree work on space-station depression and went to work for Ariane, and then Glavkosmos. Along the way got married and divorced: Françoise had said he “was not there.” All those nights with her in Avignon, all those days in Villefranche-sur-Mer, living in the most beautiful place on Earth, and he had walked about in a fog of desire for Mars! It was absurd! Worse, it was stupid. A failure of the imagination, of memory, of, finally, intelligence itself: he had not been able to see what he had had, or to imagine what he would get. And now he was paying for it, trapped on an icefloe in the Arctic night with ninety-nine foreigners, not one of whom spoke French worth a damn. Only three who could even try, and Frank’s French was worse than no French at all, like listening to someone attack the language with a hatchet.

The absence of his mind’s own tongue had driven him to watching TV from home, which only exacerbated his pain. Still he taped video monologues, and sent them to his mother and sister, so that they would send replies in kind; he watched the replies many times, looking more at the backdrops than at his relatives. He even had occasional live conversations with journalists, waiting impatiently between exchanges. Those talks made it clear how famous he was in France, a household name, and he was careful to answer everything conventionally, playing the Michel Duval persona, running the Michel program. Sometimes he canceled consultations with fellow colonists when he was in the mood to listen to French; let them eat English! But these incidents got him a sharp reprimand from Frank, and a conference with Maya. Was he overworked? Of course not; only ninety-nine people to keep sane, while at the same time wandering in a Provence of the mind, on tree-covered steep hillsides with their vineyards and farmhouses and ruined towers and monasteries, in a living landscape, a landscape infinitely more beautiful and humane than the stony waste of this reality—

He was in the TV lounge. While lost in thought he had apparently gone back inside. But he could not remember that; he had thought he was still standing on top of the Great Pyramid; and then he had blinked and was in the TV lounge (all asylums have them), watching a video image of one of the lichen-covered canyon walls of Marineris.

He shivered. It had happened again. He had lost touch, gone away and come to later in the day. It had happened already some dozen times before. And it was not just being lost in thought, but buried in it, dead to the world. He looked around the room, shivered convulsively. It was Ls = 5 now, the beginning of northern spring, and the northern walls of the great canyons were basking in the sun. Since they’re all going to go crazy anyway. .

Then it was Ls = 157, and 152 degrees had passed in a blur of tele-existence. He was basking in the sun in the courtyard of Françoise’s seaside villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer, looking down on tile rooftops and terra-cotta pillars and a small pool, turquoise above the cobalt of the Mediterranean. A cypress stood like a green flame over the pool, swaying in a breeze and casting its perfume over his face. In the distance the green headland of a peninsula—

Except really he was in Underhill Prime, usually called the trench, or Nadia’s arcade, sitting on the upper balcony looking out at a dwarf sequoia, behind it the glass wall and the mirrors with their gradient refractive index that guided the light down into the concourse from its origin on the Côte D’Or. Tatiana Durova had been killed by a crane tipped by a robot, and Nadia was inconsolable. But grief runs off us, Michel thought as he sat with her, like rain off a duck. In time Nadia would be well. Meanwhile there was nothing to be done. Did they think he was a sorcerer? A priest? If that were true he would have healed himself, healed all this world, or better, flown through space home. Wouldn’t that cause a sensation, to appear on the beach at Antibes and say, “Bonjour, I am Michel, I have come home”?

Then it was Ls = 190, and he was a lizard on the top of the Pont du Gard, on the narrow rectangular rock plates that covered the actual aqueduct itself, which ran in its straight line high over the gorge. His diamondback skin had sloughed off around his tail, and the hot sun burned the new skin in crisscross lines. Except he was in Underhill, in fact, in the atrium, and Frank had gone off to live with the Japanese that had landed in Argyre, and Maya and John were at loggerheads about their rooms, and where to house the UNOMA local headquarters; and Maya, more beautiful than ever, stalked him through the atrium, imploring his aid. He and Marina Tokareva had stopped rooming together nearly a full Martian year before— she had said he was not there— and looking at Maya, Michel found himself imagining her as a lover but of course this was crazy, she was a russalka, she had slept with Glavkosmos bosses and cosmonauts to make her way up through the system and it had made her dissociated and bitter and unpredictable, she used sex to hurt now, sex was just diplomacy by other means to her, it would be insane to have anything to do with her in that mode, to be drawn down into the vortex of her limbs and her limbic system. Why not send crazy people in the first place. .

But now it was Ls = 241. He walked over the honeycombed limestone parapet of Les Baux, looking in the ruined chambers of the medieval hermitage. It was near sunset and the light was a curious Martian orange, the limestone glowing, the whole village and hazy plain below stretching out to the white-bronze line of the Mediterranean, looking as implausible as a dream. . Except it was a dream, and he woke up, and found himself awake and back in Underhill. Phyllis and Edvard had just returned from an expedition and Phyllis was laughing and showing them a buttery lump of rock. “It was scattered all over the canyon,” she said laughing, “gold nuggets the size of your fist.”

Then he was walking the tunnels out to the garage. The colony’s psychiatrist, experiencing visions, falling into gaps of consciousness, gaps of memory. Physician, heal thyself! But he couldn’t. He had gone insane of homesickness. Homesickness, there must be a better term for that, a scientific label that would legitimize it, make it real to others. But he already knew it was real. He missed Provence so much that at times he felt he could not breathe. He was like Nadia’s hand, a part of it torn away, the ghost nerves still throbbing with pain. . And save them the trouble?

Time passed. The Michel program walked around, a hollow persona, empty inside, only some tiny homunculus of the cerebellum left to teleoperate the thing.

The night of the second day of Ls = 266, he went to bed. He was dog-tired though he had done nothing, totally exhausted and drained, and yet he lay in the dark of his room and could not sleep. His mind spun miserably; he was very aware of how sick he was. He wished he could quit the pretense and admit that he had lost it, institutionalize himself. Go home. He could remember almost nothing of the previous few weeks— or maybe it was longer than that? He was not sure. He began to weep.

His door clicked. It swung open, and a narrow wedge of hall light shone in, unblocked. No one there.

“Hello?” he said, working to keep the tears out of his voice. “Who is it?”

The reply was right in his ear, as if from a helmet intercom: “Come with me,” a man’s voice said.

Michel jerked back and bumped into the wall. He stared up at a black silhouetted figure.

“We need your help,” the figure whispered. A hand gripped his arm as he pressed back into the wall. “And you need ours.” A suggestion of a smile in the voice, which Michel did not recognize.

Fear thrust him into a new world. Suddenly he could see much better, as if the touch of his visitor had sprung his pupils open like camera apertures. A thin dark-skinned man. A stranger. Astonishment launched through his fear, and he got up and moved through the dark light with dreamlike precision, stepping into slippers, and then at the stranger’s urging following him out into the hallway, feeling the lightness of Martian g for the first time in years. The hallway seemed bursting with gray light, though he could tell that only the night strips in the floor were on. It was enough to see well by if you were scared. His companion had short black dreadlocks, which made his head appear spiked. He was short, thin, narrow-faced. A stranger, no doubt about it. An intruder from one of the new colonies in the southern hemisphere, Michel thought. But the man was leading him through Underhill with an expert touch, moving in utter silence. Indeed the whole of Underhill was soundless, as if it were a silent black-and-white film. He glanced at his wristpad; it was blank. The timeslip. He wanted to say, “Who are you?” but the silence was so blanketing that he couldn’t bring himself to speak. He mouthed the words and the man turned and looked over his shoulder at him, the whites of his eyes visible and luminous all the way around the irises, the nostrils wide black holes. “I’m the stowaway,” he mouthed, and grinned. His eyeteeth were discolored; they were made of stone, Michel suddenly saw that. Martian stone teeth in his head. He took Michel by the arm. They were heading to the farm lock. “We need helmets out there,” Michel whispered, balking.

“Not tonight.” The man opened the lock door, and no air rushed into it even though it was open on the other side. They went in and walked between the black rows of packed foliage, and the air was sweet. Hiroko will be angry, Michel thought.

His guide was gone. Ahead Michel saw movement, and heard a tinkly little laugh. It sounded like a child. Suddenly it occurred to Michel that the absence of children accounted for the colony’s pervasive feeling of sterility, that they could build buildings and grow plants and yet without children this sterile feeling would still permeate every part of their lives. Extremely frightened, he continued to walk toward the center of the farm. It was warm and humid, and the air stank of wet dirt and fertilizer and foliage. Light glinted from thousands of leaf surfaces, as if the stars had fallen through the clear roof and clustered around him. Rows of corn rustled, and the air was going to his head like brandy. Little feet were scurrying behind the narrow rice paddies: even in the darkness the rice was an intense blackish green, and there among the paddies were small faces, grinning knee-high and disappearing when he turned to face them. Hot blood flooded his face and hands, his blood turned to fire, and he retreated three steps, then stopped and spun. Two naked little girls were walking down the lane toward him, black-haired, dark-skinned, about three years old. Their oriental eyes were bright in the gloom, their expressions solemn. They took him by the hands and turned him around; he allowed them to lead him down the lane, looking down at first one head and then the other. Someone had decided to take action against their sterility. As they walked along other naked toddlers appeared out of the shrubbery and crowded around them, boys and girls both, some a bit darker or lighter than the first two, most the same color, all the same age. Nine or ten of them escorted Michel to the center of the farm, weaving around him in a quick trot. And there at the center of the maze was a small clearing, currently occupied by about a dozen adults, all naked, seated in a rough circle. The children ran to the adults, gave them hugs and sat at their knees. Michel’s pupils opened further in the nimbus of starlight and leaf gleam, and he recognized members of the farm team, Iwao, Raul, Ellen, Rya, Gene, Evgenia, all of the farm team except for Hiroko herself.

After a moment’s hesitation Michel stepped out of his slippers and took off his clothes, and put them on top of the slippers and sat down in an empty spot in the circle. He didn’t know what he was taking part in, but it didn’t matter. Several of the figures nodded at him in welcome, and Ellen and Evgenia, seated on each side of him, touched him on the arms. All of a sudden the children got up and ran together down one of the aisles, squealing and giggling. They came back in a tight knot around Hiroko, who walked into the middle of the circle, her naked form dark in the darkness. Trailed by the kids she walked slowly around the circle, pouring from her two outstretched fists a little bit of dirt into each person’s offered hands. Michel held up his palms with Ellen and Evgenia as she approached, he stared at her lustrous skin. Once on the night beach at Villefranche he had walked by a gang of African women splashing in the phosphorescent waves, white water on black gleaming skin—

The dirt in his hand was warm and smelled rusty. “This is our body,” Hiroko said. She walked to the other side of the circle, gave the children each a fistful of dirt and sent them back to sit among the adults. She sat across from Michel and began to chant in Japanese. Evgenia leaned over and whispered a translation or rather an explanation in his ear. They were celebrating the areophany, a ceremony they had created together under Hiroko’s guidance and inspiration. It was a kind of landscape religion, a consciousness of Mars as a physical space suffused with kami, which was the spiritual energy or power that rested in the land itself. Kami was manifested most obviously in certain extraordinary objects in the landscape— stone pillars, isolated ejecta, sheer cliffs, oddly smoothed crater interiors, the broad circular peaks of the great volcanoes. These intensified expressions of Mars’s kami had a Terran analogue within the colonists themselves, the power that Hiroko called viriditas, that greening fructiparous power within, which knows that the wild world itself is holy. Kami, viriditas; it was the combination of these sacred powers that would allow humans to exist here in a meaningful way.

When Michel heard Evgenia whisper the word “combination,” all the terms immediately fell into a semantic rectangle: kami and viriditas, Mars and Earth, hatred and love, absence and yearning. And then the kaleidoscope clicked home and all the rectangles folded into place in his mind, all antinomies collapsed to a single, beautiful rose, the heart of the areophany, kami suffused with viriditas, both fully red and fully green at one and the same time. His jaw was slack, his skin was burning, he could not explain it and did not want to. His blood was fire in his veins.

Hiroko stopped chanting, brought her hand to her mouth, began to eat the dirt in her palm. All the others did the same. Michel lifted his hand to is face: a lot of dirt to eat, but he stuck his tongue out and licked up half of it and felt a brief electric shiver as he rubbed it against the roof of his mouth, sliding the gritty stuff back and forth until it was mud. It tasted salty and rusty, with an unpleasant whiff of rotten eggs and chemicals. He choked it down, gagging slightly. He swallowed the other mouthful in his hand. There was an irregular hum coming from the circle of celebrants as they ate, vowel sounds shifting from one to the next, aaaay, ooooo, ahhhh, iiiiiii, eeee, uuuuuu, lingering over each vowel for a minute it seemed, the sound spreading into two and sometimes three parts, with head tones creating odd harmonies. Hiroko began to chant over this song. Everyone stood and Michel scrambled up with them. They all moved into the center of the circle together, Evgenia and Ellen taking Michel by the arms and pulling him along. Then they were all pressed together around Hiroko, in a mass of close-packed bodies, surrounding Michel so that warm skin squashed up against every side of him. This is our body. A lot of them were kissing, their eyes closed. Slowly they moved, twisting to keep maximum contact as they shifted to new kinetic configurations. Wiry pubic hair tickled his bottom, and he felt what had to have been an erect penis against his hip. The dirt was heavy in his stomach, and he felt light-headed; his blood was fire, his skin felt like a taut balloon, containing a blaze. The stars were packed overhead in astonishing numbers, and each one had its own color, green or red or blue or yellow; they looked like sparks.

He was a phoenix. Hiroko herself pressed against him, and he rose in the center of the fire, ready for rebirth. She held his new body in a full embrace, squeezed him; she was tall, and seemed all muscle. She looked him eye-to-eye. He felt her breasts against his ribs, her pubic bone hard on his thigh. She kissed him, her tongue touching his teeth; he tasted the dirt, then suddenly felt all of her at once; all the rest of his life the involuntary memory of that feeling would be enough to start the pulse of an erection, but at that moment he was too overwhelmed, completely aflame.

Hiroko pulled her head back and looked at him again. His breath was whooshing in his lungs, in and out. In English, in a voice formal but kind, she said, “This is your initiation into the areophany, the celebration of the body of Mars. Welcome to it. We worship this world. We intend to make a place for ourselves here, a place that is beautiful in a new Martian way, a way never seen on Earth. We have built a hidden refuge in the south, and now we are leaving for it.

“We know you, we love you. We know we can use your help. We know you can use our help. We want to build just what you are yearning for, just what you have been missing here. But all in new forms. For we can never go back. We must go forward. We must find our own way. We start tonight. We want you to come with us.”

And Michel said, “I’ll come.”

Part 5. Falling into History

The lab hummed quietly. Desks and tables and benches were cluttered with things, the white walls crowded with graphs and posters and cut-out cartoons, all vibrating slightly under bright artificial light. Like any lab anywhere: somewhat clean, somewhat disorderly. The one window in the corner was black and reflected the interior; it was night outside. The whole building was nearly empty.

But two men in lab coats stood at one of the benches, leaning forward to look at a computer screen. The shorter of the two tapped at the keyboard below the screen with a forefinger, and the image on the screen changed. Green corkscrews on a black field, squiggling so that they looked sharply three-dimensional, as if the screen were a box. An image from an electron microscope; the field was only a few microns across.

“You see it’s a kind of plasmid repair of the gene sequence,” the short scientist said. “Breaks in the original strands are identified. Replacement sequences are synthesized, and when mass quantities of these replacement sequences are introduced into the cell, the breaks are seen as attachment sites, and the replacements bind to the originals.” “Do you introduce them by transformation? Electroporation?” “Transformation. Treated cells are injected along with a competent, and the repair strands make a conjugal transfer.” “In vivo?”

“In vivo.”

A low whistle. “So you can repair any little thing? Cell-division error?” “That’s right.”

The two men stared at the corkscrews on the screen, waving about like the new tips of grapevines in a breeze.

“You’ve got proof?”

“Did Vlad show you those mice in the next room?” “Yeah.”

“Those mice are fifteen years old.” Another whistle.

They went next door into the mice room, muttering to each other under the hum of machinery. The tall one stared curiously into a cage, where patches of fur breathed under wood chips. When they left again they turned out the lights in both rooms. The flicker of the electron-microscope screen illuminated the first lab, giving it a green cast. The scientists went to the window, talking in low voices. They looked out. The sky was purple with the coming day; stars were popping out of existence. Out on the horizon stood a black massive bulk, the flat-topped mound of an immense volcano. Olympus Mons, the largest mountain in the solar system.

The tall scientist shook his head. “This changes everything, you know.” “I know.”

From the bottom of the shaft, the sky looked like a bright pink coin. The shaft was round, a kilometer in diameter, seven kilometers deep. But from the bottom it seemed much thinner and deeper than that. Perspective plays a lot of tricks on the human eye.

Such as that bird, flying down the round pink dot of the sky, looking so big. Except it wasn’t a bird. “Hey,” John said. The shaft director, a round-faced Japanese named Etsu Okakura, looked at him, and through their two faceplates John could see the man’s nervous grin. One of his teeth was discolored.

Okakura looked up. “Something falling!” he said quickly, and then: “Run!”

They turned and ran over the shaft floor. Quickly John found that although most of the loose rock had been swept off the starred black basalt, no effort had been made to make the shaft bottom perfectly level. Miniature craters and scarps became increasingly difficult as he gained speed; in this moment of primate flight the instincts formed in childhood reasserted themselves, and he kept pushing off too hard with each step, coming down on uninspected terrain with a jolt and then pushing off wildly again, a crazy run until finally he caught his toe and lost control and fell crashing across the ragged stone, arms flung out to save his faceplate. It was small comfort to see that Okakura had fallen as well. Fortunately the same gravity that had caused their tumbles was giving them more time to escape; the falling object had not yet landed. They got up and ran again, and once again Okakura fell. John glanced back and saw a bright metallic blur hit the rock, and then the sound of the impact was a solid whump, like a blow. Silver bits splashed away, some in their direction; he stopped running, scanned the air for incoming ejecta. No sound at all.

A big hydraulic cylinder flew out of the air and banged end over end to their left, and they both jumped. He hadn’t seen it coming.

After that, stillness. They stood nearly a minute, and then Boone stirred. He was sweating; they were in pressurized suits, but at 49 degrees Centigrade the shaft bottom was the hottest place on Mars, and the suit’s insulation was built for cold. He made a move to help Okakura to his feet, but stopped himself; presumably the man would rather get up himself than owe giri to Boone for the help. If Boone understood the concept properly. “Let’s have a look,” he said instead.

Okakura got up, and they walked back over the dense black basalt. The shaft had long ago bored into solid bedrock, in fact it was now about 20 percent of the way through the lithosphere. It was stifling at the bottom, as if the suits were entirely uninsulated. Boone’s air supply was a welcome coolness in the face and lungs. Framed by the dark shaft walls, the pink sky above was very bright. Sunlight illuminated a short conic section of the shaft wall. In midsummer the sun might shine all the way— no, they were south of the Tropic of Capricorn. In shadow forever, down here.

They approached the wreck. It had been a robot dump truck, hauling rock up the road that cut a spiral into the shaft wall. Pieces of the truck were mixed with big rough boulders, some scattered as much as a hundred meters from the point of impact. Beyond a hundred meters debris was rare; the cylinder that had flown by them must have been fired out under pressure of some kind.

A pile of magnesium, aluminum and steel, all twisted horribly. The magnesium and aluminum had partially melted. “Do you think it fell all the way from the top?” Boone asked.

Okakura didn’t respond. Boone glanced at him; the man was studiously avoiding his gaze. Perhaps he was frightened. Boone said, “There must have been a good thirty seconds between the time I caught sight of it and when it hit.”

At roughly three meters per second squared, that had been more than enough time for it to reach terminal velocity. So it had hit at about 200 kilometers per hour. Not so bad, really. On Earth it would have come down in less than half the time, and might have caught them. Hell, if he hadn’t looked up when he had, this one might have caught them. He made a quick calculation. It had probably been about halfway up the shaft when he saw it. But at that point it could have been falling for quite some time.

Boone slowly walked around into the gap between the shaft wall and the pile of scrap. The truck had landed on its right side, and the left side was deformed but recognizable. Okakura climbed several steps up the wreckage, then pointed at a black area behind the left front tire. John followed him up, scraped at the metal with the claw on his right glove’s forefinger. The black came away like soot. Ammonium nitrate explosion. The body of the truck was bent in there as if hammered. “A good-sized charge,” John observed.

“Yes,” Okakura said, and cleared his throat. He was frightened, that was sure. Well, the first man on Mars had almost been killed while in his care; and himself too, of course, but who knew which would scare him more? “Enough to push truck off road.”

“Well, like I said, there’s been some sabotage reported.”

Okakura was frowning through his faceplate. “But who? And why?”

“I don’t know. Anyone in your team seem to be having any psychological difficulties?”

“No.” Okakura’s face was carefully blank. Every group larger than five had someone experiencing difficulties, and Okakura’s little industrial town had a population of 500.

“This is the sixth case I’ve seen,” John said. “Although none so close up.” He laughed. The image of the birdlike dot in the pink sky came back to him. “It would have been easy for someone to attach a bomb to a truck before it came down. Detonate it with a clock or an altimeter.”

“Reds, you mean.” Okakura was looking relieved. “We have heard of them. But it is. .” He shrugged. “Crazy.”

“Yes.” John climbed gingerly off the wreck. They walked back across the floor of the shaft to the car they had come down in. Okakura was on another band, talking to people up top.

John stopped by the central pit to have a final look around. The sheer size of the shaft was hard to grasp; the muted light and vertical lines reminded him of a cathedral, but all the cathedrals ever built would have sat like dollhouses at the bottom of this great hole. The surreal scale made him blink, and he decided he had tilted his head back too long.

They drove up the road inscribed in the side wall to the first elevator, left the car and got in the cage. Up they went. Seven times they had to get out and walk across the wall road to the bottom of the next elevator. The ambient light grew to something more like ordinary daylight. Across the shaft he could see where the wall was scored by the double spiral of the two roads: thread-marks in an enormous screw hole. The shaft’s bottom had disappeared into the murk, he couldn’t even make out the truck.

In the last two elevators they ascended through regolith; first the megaregolith, which looked like cracked bedrock, and then the regolith proper, its rock and gravel and ice all hidden behind a concrete retainer, a smooth curved wall that looked like a dam, and was angled so far back that the final elevator was actually a cog rail train. They cranked up the side of this enormous funnel— Big Man’s bathtub drain, Okakura had said on the way down— and came finally to the surface, out into the sun.

Boone got out of the cog train and looked back down. The regolith retainer looked like the inner wall of a very smooth crater, with a two-laned road spiraling down it, but the crater had no floor. A mohole. He could see down the shaft a little way, but the wall was in shadow, and only the road spiraling down picked up any light, so that it appeared to be something like a freestanding staircase, descending through empty space to the planet’s core.

Three of the giant dump trucks ground slowly up the last stretch of the road, full of black boulders. These days it took them five hours to make the trip from the bottom of the shaft, Okakura said. Very little supervision, like most of the project, in both manufacture and operation. The inhabitants of the town only had to see to programming, deployment, maintenance, and troubleshooting. And, now, security.

The town, called Senzeni Na, was scattered over the floor of Thaumasia Fossae’s deepest canyon. Nearest to the hole was the industrial park; here most of the excavation equipment was manufactured, and the rock from the hole processed for its trace amounts of valuable metals. Boone and Okakura stepped into the rim station, changed out of their pressure suits into coppery jumpers, and entered one of the clear walktubes that connected all the buildings in the town. It was cold and sunny in the tubes, and everyone in them wore clothing with an outer layer of copper-colored foil, the latest in Japanese radproofing. Copper creatures, moving in clear tubes; it looked to Boone like a giant ant farm. Overhead the thermal cloud frosted into existence and shot up like steam from a valve, until it was caught by high winds and blown out in a long flattened contrail.

The town’s actual living quarters were built into the southeast wall of the canyon. A big rectangular section of the cliff had been replaced by glass; behind it was a tall open concourse, backed by five stories of terraced apartments.

They walked through the concourse and Okakura led him up to the town offices, on the fifth floor. A small crowd of concerned-looking people gathered in their wake, chattering to Okakura and among themselves. They all went through the office and out onto its balcony. John watched closely as Okakura described in Japanese what had happened. A number of his audience looked nervous, and most would not meet John’s eye. Had the near accident itself been enough to incur giri? It was important to make sure they didn’t feel publicly shown up, or anything like it. Shame was strong stuff for the Japanese, and Okakura was beginning to look desperately unhappy, as if he were deciding it had been his fault.

“Look, it could just as easily have been outsiders as someone from here,” John said boldly. He made some suggestions for future security. “The rim is a perfect barrier. Set up an alarm system, and a few people at the rim station could keep an eye on both the system and the elevators. A waste of time, but I guess we have to do it.”

Diffidently Okakura asked him if he knew anything about who might be responsible for the sabotage. He shrugged. “No idea, sorry. People opposed to the moholes, I guess.”

“But the moholes are dug,” one of them said.

“I know. I guess it’s symbolic.” He grinned. “But if a truck falls on someone, it would be a bad symbol.”

They nodded seriously. He wished he had Frank’s facility for languages— it would help to be able to communicate better with these people. They were hard to read; inscrutable and all that.

They wondered if he wanted to lie down.

“I’m okay,” he said. “It missed us. We’ll have to look into it, but today let’s just continue according to the schedule we had.”

So Okakura and several men and women led him on a tour of the town, and cheerfully he visited labs and meeting rooms, lounges and dining halls. He nodded and shook hands and said Hi until he was sure he had met over fifty percent of Senzeni Na’s inhabitants. Most had not yet heard of the incident in the hole, and all were pleased to meet him, happy to shake his hand, to speak with him, to show him something, to look at him. It happened everywhere he went, reminding him unpleasantly of the fishbowl years between his first trip and his second.

But he did his job. An hour’s work, then four hours of being The First Man On Mars: the usual ratio. And as afternoon darkened to evening, and the whole town gathered for a banquet in honor of his visit, he settled back and patiently played his part. That meant shifting into a good mood, no easy task that night. In fact he took a break and went back to the bathroom in his room to swallow a capsule manufactured by Vlad’s medical group in Acheron. It was a drug they had named omegendorph, a synthetic mix of all the endorphins and opiates they had found in the brain’s natural chemistry, and a better feel-good drug than Boone would have imagined possible.

He returned to the banquet much more relaxed. In fact filled with a little glow. He had escaped death, after all, and by running like a wild man! Some more endorphins were not inappropriate. He moved easily from table to table, asking questions as he went. This was what pleased people, what gave them the festival feeling that a meeting with John Boone should bring. John liked being able to do that, it was the part of his job that made celebrity tolerable; because when he asked questions, people leaped to answer like salmon in the stream. It was peculiar, really, as if people were seeking to right the imbalance they felt in the situation, in which they knew so much about him while he knew so little about them. So that with the right encouragement, often a single carefully judged prompt, they would erupt with the most astonishing spills of personal information: witnessing, testifying, confessing.

So he spent the evening learning about life at Senzeni Na. (“Means, what have we done?” Quick grin.) And afterward he was led to his big guest suite, the rooms thick with live bamboo, the bed seemingly hacked out of a stand of it. When he was alone he connected his code box to the phone, and called Sax Russell.

• • •

Russell was at Vlad’s new headquarters, a research complex built into a dramatic fin ridge in the Acheron Fossae north of Olympus Mons. Sax spent all his time there now, studying genetic engineering like an undergrad; he had become convinced that biotechnology was the key to terraforming, and he was determined to educate himself to the point where he could contribute actively to that part of the campaign, despite the fact that all his training was in physics. Modern biology was notoriously gooey, and a lot of physicists hated it, but the people at Acheron said Sax was a quick learner, and John believed it. Sax himself made little snicking noises at his own progress, but it was clear he was deep in. He talked about it all the time, “It’s the crux,” he would say, “we need the water and nitrogen out of the ground and the carbon dioxide out of the air, and it’s going to take biomass to do both.” And so he slaved at the screens and in the labs.

He listened to Boone’s report with his usual impassivity. Such a parody of the scientist, John thought. He even wore a lab coat. Seeing his characteristic blink made John think of a story he had heard one of Sax’s assistants tell, to a laughing audience at a party: in a secret experiment gone awry, a hundred lab rats that had been injected with an intelligence booster became geniuses. They revolted, escaped from their cages, captured their principal investigator, and strapped him down and retro-injected all their minds into his body, using a method they invented on the spot— and that scientist was Saxifrage Russell, whitecoated, blinking, twitching, inquisitive, lab-bound. His brain the sum of a hundred hyperintelligent rats, “and named for a flower like lab rats are, it’s their little joke, see?”

It explained a lot. John smiled as he finished his report, and Sax cocked his head at him curiously. “Do you think this truck was meant to kill you?”

“I don’t know.”

“How do the people there seem?”


“Think they’re in on it?”

John shrugged. “I doubt it. They’re probably just worried about what happens next.”

Sax flicked a hand out. “Sabotage like that won’t make the slightest dent in the project,” he said mildly.

“I know.”

“Who’s doing this, John?”

“I don’t know.”

“Could it be Ann, do you think? Has she become another prophet, like Hiroko or Arkady, with followers and a program and the like?”

“You have followers and a program too,” John reminded him.

“But I’m not telling my followers to wreck things and try to kill people.”

“Some people think you’re trying to wreck Mars. And people will certainly die as a result of terraforming, in accidents.”

“What are you saying?”

“Just reminding you. Trying to get you to see why someone might do this.”

“So you do think it’s Ann.”

“Or Arkady, or Hiroko, or someone we’ve never heard of in one of the new colonies. There are a lot of people here now. A lot of factions.”

“I know.” Sax walked over to a countertop, drained his battered old coffee mug. Finally he said, “I’d like you to try to find out who it is. Go where you need to go. Go talk to Ann. Reason with her.” There was a plaintive note in his voice: “I can’t even talk to her anymore.”

John stared at him, surprised at the display of emotion. Sax took this silence for reluctance, and went on: “I know it isn’t exactly your thing, but everyone will talk to you. You’re practically the only one left we can say that about. I know you’re doing the mohole work, but you can get your team to do your part of that, and keep visiting the moholes as part of this inquiry. There really isn’t anyone else who can do it. There’s no real police to turn to. Although if things keep happening, UNOMA will provide some.”

“Or the transnationals.” Boone considered it. The sight of that truck, falling out of the sky. .”All right. I’ll go talk to Ann, anyway. After that we should get together and talk about security for all the terraforming projects. If we can stop anything more from happening, that will keep UNOMA out.”

“Thanks, John.”

Boone wandered out onto his suite’s balcony. The concourse was filled with Hokkaido pines, the chilled air stiff with resin. Copper figures walked below, among the tree trunks. Boone considered the new situation. For ten years now he had worked for Russell on terraforming, managing the moholes and doing PR and the like, and he enjoyed the work, but he wasn’t on the cutting edge of any of the sciences involved, and so he was out of the decision-making loop. He knew that many people thought of him as a figurehead only, a celebrity for consumption back on Earth, a dumb space jock who had gotten lucky once and was living off that for good. That didn’t bother John; there were always knee-high people hacking away, trying to get everyone down to their size. That was okay, especially since in his case they were wrong. His power was considerable, although perhaps only he could see the full extent of it, as it consisted of an endless succession of face-to-face meetings, of the influence he had over what people chose to do. Power wasn’t a matter of job titles, after all. Power was a matter of vision, persuasiveness, freedom of movement, fame, influence. The figurehead stands at the front, after all, pointing the way.

Despite all that, there was something to be said for this new task. He could feel that already. It would be problematic, difficult, perhaps risky. . above all, challenging. A new challenge; he liked that. Going back into his suite, getting into bed (John Boone Slept Here!) it occurred to him that now he was going to be not only the first man on Mars, but the first detective. He grinned at the thought, and the last action of the omegendorph set his nerves aglow.

• • •

Ann Clayborne was doing a survey in the mountains surrounding the Argyre Basin, which meant John could check out a glider and fly from Senzeni Na to her. So early the next morning he took the elevator balloon up the mooring mast to the stationary dirigible floating over the town, exulting as he rose in the ever-expanding view of the big Thaumasia canyons. From the dirigible he lowered himself into the cockpit of one of the gliders hooked to its underside. After securing himself he unhooked, and the glider dropped like a stone until he ran it into the mohole thermal, which tossed it violently upward. He fought for control and banked the big gossamer craft into a steep rising gyre, whooping as he battled the intense buffeting; it was like riding a soap bubble over a bonfire!

At 5,000 meters the plume cloud flattened and spread out to the east. John swooped out of his spiral and headed southeast, playing with the glider as he went to get a feel for it. He would have to ride the winds carefully to make it to Argyre.

He aimed into the sun’s smeary yellow blaze. Wind keened over the wings. The land below him was a dark rough orange, shading to a very light orange at the horizon. The southern highlands were wildly pocked in every direction, with the raw primordial lunar look that saturation cratering always had. John loved flying over it, and he piloted unconsciously, concentrating on the land below. It was precious to sit back and fly, feeling the wind as if under his elbows, watching the land and not thinking a thing. He was sixty-four years old in this year 2047 (or “M-year 10” as he usually thought of it), and he had been the most famous man alive for almost thirty of those years; and nowadays he was happiest when he was alone, and flying.

After an hour had passed, he started thinking about his new task. It was important not to get caught up in fantasies of magnifying glasses and cigar ash, or gumshoe with handgun; there was work he could do even as he flew. He called up Sax and asked if he could connect his AI into the UNOMA emigration and planetary travel records, without alerting UNOMA to the connection. After some investigation Sax got back to him and said that he could manage that, and so John sent a sequence of questions through, and then continued to fly. An hour and many craters later, Pauline’s red light blinked rapidly, indicating a downloading of raw data. John asked the AI to run the data through various analyses, and when she was done he studied the results on the screen. Patterns of movement were confusing, but he hoped that when matched with the sabotage incidents, something might turn up. Of course there were people moving around off the record, the hidden colony among them; and who knew what Hiroko and the others thought of the terraforming projects? Still, it was worth a look.

The Nereidium Montes popped over the horizon ahead. Mars had never had much tectonic movement, and so mountain ranges were rare. Those that existed tended to be crater rims writ large, rings of ejecta thrown out by impacts so great that the debris fell in two or three concentric ranges, each many kilometers wide, and extremely rugged. Hellas and Argyre, being the biggest basins, therefore had the biggest ranges; and the only other major mountain range, the Phlegra Montes on the slope of Elysium, was probably the fragmentary remains of a basin impact later inundated by the Elysium volcanoes, or by an ancient Oceanus Borealis. Debate raged over that question, and Ann, John’s final authority in such matters, had never expressed an opinion on it.

The Nereidium Montes made up the northern rim around Argyre, but currently Ann and her team were investigating the southern rim, the Charitum Montes. Boone adjusted his course southward, and in the early afternoon he soared low over the broad flat plain of the Argyre Basin. After the wild cratering of the highlands, the basin floor seemed smooth indeed, a flat yellowish plain bounded by the big curve of rim ridges. From his vantage he could see about ninety degrees of the arc of the rim, enough to give him a sense of the size of the impact that had formed Argyre; it was an amazing sight. Flying over thousands of Martian craters had given Boone a sense of the sizes they came in, and Argyre was simply off the scale. A quite big crater named Galle was no more than a pockmark in Argyre’s rim! A whole world must have crashed in here! Or, at the very least, a damn big asteroid.

Inside the southeast curve of the rim, on the basin floor against the foothills of the Charitum, he spotted the thin white line of a landing strip. Easy to spot human constructs in such desolation, their regularity stood out like a beacon. Thermals were rising hard off the sun-warmed hills, and he turned down into one, dropping with a vibratory humm, the craft’s wings bouncing visibly as it stooped. Dropping like a rock, like that asteroid, John thought with a grin, and he pulled up for the landing with a dramatic last flourish, putting down with as much precision as he could muster, aware of his reputation as a hot flyer, which of course had to be reinforced at every opportunity. Part of the job…

But it turned out there were only two people in the trailers by the strip, and neither of them had watched him land. They were inside watching TV news from Earth. They looked up when he came in the inner lock door, and jumped to their feet to greet him. Ann was up one of the mountain canyons with a team, they told him, probably no more than two hours’ drive away. John ate lunch with them, two Brit women with North accents, very tough and charming. Then he took a rover and followed the tracks up a cleft into the Charitum. An hour’s twisting climb up a flat-bottomed arroyo brought him to a mobile trailer, with three rovers parked outside it. Together they gave it the look of a dessicated café in the Mojave.

The trailer was unoccupied. Footprints led away from the camp in many directions. After thinking it over Boone climbed a knoll west of camp, and sat down on its peak. He lay on the rock and slept until the cold penetrated his walker. Then he sat up and tongued a capsule of omegendorph, and watched the black shadows of the hills creep east. He thought about what had happened at Senzeni Na, running through his memories of the hours before and after the accident, the looks on people’s faces, what they had said. The image of the falling truck gave his pulse a little surge.

Copper figures appeared in a cleft between hills to the west. He stood and descended the knoll, and met them down at the trailer.

“What are you doing here?” Ann said over the first hundred’s band.

“I want to talk.”

She grunted and switched off.

The trailer would have been a bit crowded even without him. They sat in the main room knee-to-knee, while Simon Frazier heated spaghetti sauce and boiled water for pasta in the little kitchen nook. The trailer’s sole window faced east, and as they ate they watched the shadow of the mountains stretch out over the floor of the great basin. John had brought along a half-liter bottle of Utopian cognac, and he broke it out after dinner to moans of approval. As the areologists sipped he cleaned the dishes (“I want to”) and asked how their investigation was going. They were looking for evidence of ancient glacial episodes, which if found would support a model of the planet’s early history that included oceans filling the low spots.

But Ann, John thought as he listened to them; would she want to find evidence of an oceanic past? It was a model that tended to lend moral support to the terraforming project, implying as it did that they were only restoring an earlier state of things. So probably she would not want to find any such evidence. Would that disinclination bias her work? Well, sure. If not consciously, then deeper. Consciousness was just a thin lithosphere over a big hot core, after all. Detectives had to remember that.

But everyone in the trailer seemed to agree that they weren’t finding any evidence for glaciation, and they were all good areologists. There were high basins that resembled cirques, and high valleys with the classic U-shape of glacial valleys, and some dome-and-wall configurations that might have been the result of glacial plucking. All these features had been seen in satellite photos, along with one or two bright flashes that some people had thought might be reflections from glacial polish. But on the ground none of it was holding up. They had found no glacial polish, even in the most wind-protected sections of the U-shaped valleys; no moraines, lateral or butt; no signs of plucking, or of transition lines where nanatuks would have stuck out of even the highest levels of ancient ice. Nothing. It was another case of what they called sky areology, which had a history going back to the early satellite photos, and even to the telescopes. The canals had been sky areology, and many more bad hypotheses had been formulated in the same way, hypotheses that were only now being tested with the rigor of ground areology. Most collapsed under the weight of surface data, got tossed in the canal as they said.

The glacial theory, however, and the oceanic model of which it was part, had always been more persistent than most. First, because almost every model of the planet’s formation indicated that there should have been a lot of water outgassing, and it had to have gone somewhere. And second, John thought, because there were a lot of people who would be comforted if the oceanic model were true; they would feel less uneasy about the morality of terraforming. Opponents to terraforming, therefore. . No, he was not surprised that Ann’s team was not finding anything. Feeling the cognac a bit, and irritated by her unfriendliness, he said from the kitchen, “But if there were glaciers the most recent would have been, what, a billion years ago? That much time would take care of any of the superficial signs, I should think, glacial polish or moraines or nanatuks. Leaving nothing but the gross landforms, which is what you have. Right?”

Ann had been silent, but now she said, “The landforms aren’t unique to glaciation. All of them are common in Martian ranges, because they were all formed by rock falling out of the sky. Every kind of formation you can think of is out here somewhere, bizarre shapes limited only by the angle of repose.” She had refused any cognac, which surprised John, and now she stared at the floor with a disgusted look.

“Not U-shaped valleys, surely,” John said.

“Yes, U-shaped valleys too.”

“The problem is that the oceanic model isn’t very falsifiable,” Simon said quietly. “You can keep failing to find good evidence for it, and we are, but that doesn’t disprove it.”

The kitchen clean, John asked Ann to go out for a sunset walk. She hesitated, unwilling; but it was one of her rituals and everyone knew it, and with a quick grimace and a hard glance she agreed.

Once outside he led her up to the same peak he had napped on. The sky was a plum-colored arch over the black serrated ridges surrounding them, and stars were popping into existence in a flood, hundreds per eyeblink. He stood by her side; she stared away from him. The ragged skyline might have been a scene from Earth. She was a bit taller than him, a gaunt, angular silhouette. John liked her, but whatever reciprocal liking she may have had for him— and they had had some good talks in years past— had dissipated when he chose to work with Sax. He could have done anything he liked, her hard looks said, and yet he had chosen terraforming.

Well, it was true. He put his hand before her, forefinger raised. She punched her wristpad and suddenly her breathing sighed in his ear. “What,” she said, without looking his way.

“It’s about the sabotage incidents,” he said.

“I thought so. I suppose Russell thinks I’m behind them.”

“It’s not so much that—”

“Does he think I’m stupid? Does he imagine I think a little bit of vandalism will stop you from your boys’ games?”

“Well, it’s more than little bits. There’ve been six major incidents now, and any of them could have killed people.”

“Knocking mirrors out of orbit can kill people?”

“If they’re doing maintenance on them.”

She hmphed. “What else has happened.”

“A truck was knocked off one of the mohole shaft roads yesterday, and almost landed on me.” He heard her breath catch. “That’s the third truck to go. And that mirror was knocked into a spin with a maintenance worker on it, and she had to do a free solo to a station. It took her more than an hour to get there, and she almost didn’t make it. And then an explosives dump went off by accident at the Elysian mohole, a minute after a whole crew left it. And all the lichen at Underhill were killed by a virus that shut down the whole lab.”

Ann shrugged. “What do you expect from GEMs? It could have been an accident, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.”

“It wasn’t an accident.”

“It all adds up to peanuts. Does Russell think I’m stupid?”

“You know he doesn’t. But it’s a matter of tipping the balance. A lot of Terran money is being invested in the project, but it wouldn’t take much bad publicity to get a lot of it to drop out.”

“Maybe so,” Ann said. “But you ought to listen to yourself when you say things like that. You and Arkady are the biggest advocates of some kind of new Martian society, you two plus Hiroko, maybe. But the way Russell and Frank and Phyllis are bringing up Terran capital, the whole thing’s going to be out of your hands. It’ll be business as usual, and all your ideas will disappear.”

“I tend to think we all want something similar here,” John said. “We want to do good work in a good place. We just emphasize different parts of the process of getting there, that’s all. If we only coordinated our efforts, and worked as a team—”

“We don’t want the same things!” Ann said. “You want to change Mars, and I don’t. It’s as simple as that.”

“Well. .” John faltered before her bitterness. They were moving slowly around the hill, in a complicated dance that imitated the conversation, sometimes face to face, sometimes back to back; and always her voice was right in his ear, and his in hers. He liked that about walker conversations, and used it, that insidious voice in the ear which could be so persuasive, caressing, hypnotic. “It’s not that simple, even so. I mean, you ought to be helping those of us who are closest to your beliefs, and opposing those furthest away.”

“I do that.”

“Which is why I came to ask you what you know about these saboteurs. It makes sense, right?”

“I know nothing about them. I wish them luck.”

“In person?”


“I’ve traced your movements in the last couple of years, and you’ve always been near every incident, within a month or so before it happened. You were in Senzeni Na a few weeks ago on your way here, right?”

He listened to her breathe. She was angry. “Using me as cover,” she muttered, and something more he didn’t catch.


She turned her back on him. “You should ask the coyote about this stuff, John.”

“The coyote?”

She laughed shortly. “Haven’t you heard of him? He wanders around on the surface without a walker, people say. Pops up here and there, sometimes on both sides of the world in a single night. Knew Big Man himself, back in the good old days. And a big friend of Hiroko’s. And a big enemy of terraforming.”

“Have you met him?”

She didn’t reply.

“Look,” he said after nearly a minute of their shared breathing, “people are going to get killed. Innocent bystanders.”

“Innocent bystanders are going to get killed when the permafrost melts and the ground collapses under our feet. I don’t have anything to do with that either. I just do my work. Trying to catalog what was here before we came.”

“Yes. But you’re the most famous red of all, Ann. These people must have contacted you because of that, and I wish you’d discourage them. It might save some lives.”

She turned to face him. Her helmet’s faceplate reflected the western skyline, purple above, black below, the border between the two colors jagged and raw. “If you left the planet alone, it would save lives. That’s what I want. I’d kill you if I thought it would help.”

• • •

After that there was little to say. On the way back down to the trailer, he tried another topic. “What do you think happened to Hiroko and the rest of them?”

“They disappeared.”

John rolled his eyes. “She didn’t talk to you about it?”

“No. Did she talk to you?”

“No. I don’t think she talked to anyone but her group. Do you know where they went?”


“Do you have any idea why they left?”

“They probably wanted to get free of us. Make something new. What you and Arkady say you want, they really wanted.”

John shook his head. “If they do it, they’ll do it for twenty people. I mean to do it for everyone.”

“Maybe they’re more realistic than you.”

“Maybe. We’ll find out. There’s more than one way to do this, Ann. You have to learn that.”

She didn’t reply.

The others stared at them as they entered the trailer, and Ann, storming into the kitchen nook, was no help. John sat on the arm of the one couch and asked them more questions about their work, and about groundwater levels in Argyre and the southern hemisphere generally. The big basins were low in elevation, but had been dehydrated in the impacts that formed them, and in general it appeared that the planet’s water had mostly seeped north. Another part of the mystery: no one had ever explained why the northern and southern hemispheres were so different, it was the problem in areology, a solution to which might prove the key to explaining all the other enigmas of the Martian landscape, as tectonic plate theory had once explained so many different problems in geology. In fact some people wanted to use the tectonic explanation again, postulating that an old crust had slid over itself onto the southern half, leaving the north to form a new skin, then all of it freezing in position when planetary cooling stopped all tectonic movement. Ann thought that was ridiculous; in her opinion the northern hemisphere was simply the biggest impact basin of all, the ultimate bang of the Noachian. A similar-sized strike had knocked the moon out of the Earth, probably around the same time. The areologists discussed various aspects of the problem for a while, and John listened, asking an occasional neutral question.

They turned on the TV for news from Earth, and watched a short feature on the mining and oil drilling that was starting in Antarctica.

“That’s our doing you know,” Ann said from the kitchen. “They kept mining and oil out of Antarctica for almost a hundred years, ever since the IGY and the first treaty. But when terraforming began here it all collapsed. They’re running out of oil down there, and the Southern Club is poor, and there’s a whole continent of oil and gas and minerals right next to them, being treated like a national park by the rich northern countries. And then the south saw these same rich northern countries start to take Mars completely apart, and they said What the hell, you can tear a whole planet apart and we’re supposed to protect this iceberg we’ve got right next door with all these resources we desperately need? Forget it! So they broke the Antarctic Treaty, and there they are drilling and no one’s done a thing about it. And now the last clean place on Earth is gone too.”

She walked over and sat before the screen, stuck her face in a mug of steaming hot chocolate. “There’s more if you want,” she said to John rudely. Simon gave him a sympathetic glance, and the others stared round-eyed at the both of them, looking appalled to see a fight between two of the first hundred: what a joke that was! It almost made John laugh, and when he got up to pour a mug for himself, he leaned over impulsively and kissed Ann on the top of the head. She stiffened and he went on to the kitchen. “We all want different things from Mars,” he said, forgetting he had just said the opposite to Ann out on the hill. “But here we are, and there aren’t that many of us, and it’s our place. We make what we want of it, like Arkady says. Now you don’t like what Sax or Phyllis want, and they don’t like what you want, and Frank doesn’t like what anyone wants, and more people are coming every year supporting one position or another, even if they don’t know it. So it could get ugly. In fact it’s started to get ugly already, with these attacks on equipment. Can you imagine that happening at Underhill?”

“Hiroko’s group was ripping off Underhill the whole time they were there,” Ann said. “They had to’ve been, to take off like that.”

“Yeah, maybe. But they weren’t endangering people’s lives.” The image of the truck falling down the shaft came to him again, quick and vivid. He drank hot cocoa and scalded his mouth. “Damn! Anyway, whenever I get discouraged about all this I try to remember that it’s natural. It’s inevitable that people are going to fight, but now we’re fighting about Martian things. I mean people aren’t fighting over whether they’re American or Japanese or Russian or Arab, or some religion or race or sex or whatnot. They’re fighting because they want one Martian reality or other. That’s all that matters now. So we’re already halfway there.” He frowned at Ann, who stared at the floor. “Do you see what I mean?”

She glanced at him. “It’s the second half that matters.”

“All right, maybe so. You take too much for granted, but that’s the way people are. But you have to realize that you’re having your effect on us, Ann. You’ve changed the way everyone thinks about what we’re doing here. Hell, Sax and a lot of others used to talk about doing anything possible to terraform as quick as possible— driving a bunch of asteroids directly into the planet, using hydrogen bombs to try and start volcanoes— whatever it took! Now all those plans have been scrapped because of you and your supporters. The whole vision of how to terraform and how far to go with it has changed. And I think we can eventually reach a compromise value, where we get some protection from radiation, and a biosphere and maybe air we can breathe, or at least not die in immediately— and still leave it pretty much like it was before we came.” Ann rolled her eyes at this, but he forged on: “No one’s talking about pumping it up into a jungle planet you know, even if they could! It’ll always be cold, and the Tharsis Bulge will always stick right out into space, in effect, so there’ll be a huge part of the planet that’s never touched. And that’ll be partly because of you.”

“But who’s to say that with that first step done, you won’t want more?”

“Maybe some will. But I for one will try to stop them. I will! I may not be on your side, but I see your point. And when you fly over the highlands like I did today, you can’t help but love it. People may try to change the planet, but all the while the planet will be changing them too. A sense of place, an aesthetics of landscape, all those things change with time. You know the people who first saw the Grand Canyon thought it was ugly as hell because it wasn’t like the Alps. It took them a long time to see its beauty.”

“They drowned most of it anyway,” Ann said blackly.

“Yeah yeah. But who knows what our kids will think is beautiful? It’s sure to be based on what they know, and this place will be the only place they know. So we terraform the planet; but the planet areoforms us.”

“Areoforming,” Ann said, and a rare little smile flashed over her face. Seeing it John felt his face flush; he hadn’t seen her smile like that in years, and he loved Ann, he loved to see her smile.

“I like that word,” she said now. She pointed a finger at him: “But I’ll hold you to it, John Boone! I’ll remember what you’ve said tonight!”

“Me too,” he said.

• • •

The rest of the evening was more relaxed. And the next day Simon saw him down to the airstrip, to the rover he was going to drive northward, and Simon, who usually would have seen him off with a smile and a handshake, at most a “nice to see you,” suddenly said to him, “I really appreciate what you said last night. I think it really cheered her up. Especially what you said about kids. She’s pregnant, you see.”

“What?” John shook his head. “She didn’t tell me. Are you the, the father?”

“Yeah.” Simon grinned.

“How old is she now, sixty?”

“Yeah. It’s stretching things a bit, so to speak, but it’s been done before. They took an egg frozen about fifteen years ago, fertilized it and planted it in her. We’ll see how it goes. They say Hiroko stays pregnant all the time these days, just keeps popping them like an incubator, same C section over and over.”

“They say a lot of things about Hiroko, but it’s all just stories.”

“Well, but we heard this from someone who supposedly knows.”

“The coyote?” John said sharply.

Simon raised his eyebrows. “I’m surprised she told you about him.”

John grunted, obscurely annoyed. No doubt his fame meant he missed out on a lot of gossip. “It’s good that she did. Well, anyway—” He extended his right hand and they shook, hooking their fingers in the stiff clasp that had developed in the old space days. “Congratulations. Take care of her.”

Simon shrugged. “You know Ann. She does what she wants.”

So Boone drove north from Argyre for three days, enjoying the countryside and the solitude, and spending a few hours each afternoon ransacking the planetary records to track people’s movement, looking for correlations with the sabotage incidents. Early on the fourth morning he reached the Marineris canyons, which were some 1,500 kilometers north of Argyre. He ran into a north-south transponder road, and followed it up a short rise to the southern rim of Melas Chasma, and got out of the rover to have a proper look.

He had never been to this part of the great canyon system; before the completion of the Marineris Transverse Highway it had been extremely hard to get to. It was dramatic, no doubt about it; the Melas cliff dropped a full 3,000 meters from rim to canyon floor, so that the rim had a kind of glider’s view north. The other wall of the canyon was just visible out there, its rim peeking over the horizon; and between the two cliffs lay the spacious expanse of Melas Chasma, the heart of the whole Marineris complex. He could just make out the gaps in distant cliffs that marked the entrances to other canyons: Ius Chasma to the west, Candor to the north, Coprates to the east.

John walked the broken rim for more than an hour, pulling his helmet’s binocular lenses down over his faceplate for long periods of time, taking in as much as he could of the greatest canyon on Mars, feeling the euphoria of red land. He threw rocks over the side and watched them disappear, he talked to himself and sang, he hopped on his toes in a clumsy dance. Then he got back in his rover, refreshed, and drove a short distance along the rim, to the start of the cliff road.

Here the Transverse Highway became a single concrete lane, and switchbacked down the spine of an enormous rock ramp that extended down from the south rim to the canyon floor. This odd feature, called the Geneva Spur, pointed north almost perpendicularly from the cliff, straight toward Candor Chasma; it was so perfectly placed for their purposes that with the road on it, it looked like a ramp that the road-builders had constructed.

It was a steep spur, however, and the road had been forced to switchback all the way down, to keep the grade within reason. It was all visible from above, a thousand switchbacks snaking down the spine, looking like yellow thread stitched down a bump in a stained orange carpet.

Boone drove down this marvel carefully, turning the rover’s steering wheel left then right then left then right, time after time until he actually had to stop to rest his arms, and give himself a chance to look back and up at the southern wall behind him; it was steep indeed, fluted by a fractal pattern of deeply eroded ravines. Then it was off again for another half hour’s drive, hairpins left and right, again and again, until finally the road extended straight down the top of the flattening spur, which eventually spread out and merged into the canyon floor. And down there was a little cluster of vehicles.

It turned out to be the Swiss team that had just finished building the road, and he ended up spending the night with them. They were a group of about eighty: mostly young, mostly married, speaking German and Italian and French and, for his benefit, English in several different accents. They had kids with them, and cats, and a portable greenhouse thick with herbs and garden vegetables. Soon they would be off like gypsies, in a caravan made up mostly of their earthmoving vehicles, traveling up to the west end of the canyon, to thread a road through Noctis Labyrinthus and onto the east flank of Tharsis. After that there would be other roads; perhaps one over the Tharsis Bulge between Arsia Mons and Pavonis Mons, perhaps one north to Echus Overlook. They weren’t sure yet, and Boone got the impression they didn’t really care; they planned to spend the rest of their lives traveling around building roads, so it didn’t much matter to them where they went next. Road gypsies forever.

They made sure all their kids shook John’s hand, and after dinner he gave a short talk, rambling in his usual way about their new life on Mars. “When I see you people out here it makes me really happy because it’s part of a new pattern to life, we’ve got the chance to create a new society out here, everything’s changing on the technical level and the social level might as well follow. I’m not exactly sure what the new society should be or should look like, that’s the hard part after all, but I know that it should be done, and I think you and all the other small groups out on the surface are figuring it out on an empirical basis. And seeing you helps me to think about it.” Which it did, though he was never much at doing it on his feet; so he just slithered along a bit more in his free associational way, plucking whatever stuck out of the bag of his thoughts. And their eyes shone in the lamplight as they listened to him.

Later he sat with a few of them in a circle around a single lit lamp, and they stayed up through the night talking. The young Swiss asked him questions about his first trip, and about the first years in Underhill, both of which obviously had mythic dimensions for them, and he told them the real story, sort of, and made them laugh a lot; and asked them questions about Switzerland, how it worked, what they thought of it, why they were here rather than there. A blond woman laughed when he asked that. “Do you know about the Böögen?” she said, and he shook his head. “He’s part of our Christmas. Sami Claus comes to all the houses one by one, you see, and he has an assistant, the Böögen, who wears a cloak and a hood and carries a big bag. Sami Claus asks the parents how the children have been that year, and the parents show him the ledger, the record you know. And if the children have been good, Sami Claus gives them presents. But if the parents say the children have been bad, the Böögen sweeps them up in his bag and carries them away, and they’re never seen again.”

“What!” John cried.

“That is what they tell you. That is Switzerland. And that is why I am here on Mars.”

“The Böögen carried you here?”

They laughed, the woman too. “Yes. I was always bad.” She grew more serious. “But we will have no Böögen here.”

They asked him what he thought of the debate between the reds and the greens, and he shrugged and summarized what he could of Ann and Sax’s positions.

“I don’t think they are either right,” one of them said. His name was Jürgen and he was one of their leaders, an engineer who seemed some kind of cross between a burgermeister and a gypsy king, dark-haired and sharp-faced and serious. “Both sides say they are in favor of nature, of course. One has to say this. The reds say that the Mars that is already here is nature. But it is not nature, because it is dead. It is only rock. The greens tell this, and say they will bring nature to Mars with their terraforming. But that is not nature either, that is only culture. A garden, you know. An artwork. So neither way gets nature. There isn’t such a thing as nature possible on Mars.”

“Interesting!” John said. “I’ll have to tell Ann that, and see what she says. But… ” He thought about it. “Then what do you call this? What do you call what you’re doing?”

Jürgen shrugged, grinned. “We don’t call it anything. It is just Mars.”

Perhaps that was being Swiss, John thought. He had been meeting them more and more in his travels, and they all seemed like that. Do things, and don’t worry too much about theory. Whatever seemed right.

Later still, after they had drunk another few bottles of wine, he asked them if they had ever heard of the coyote. They laughed and one said, “He’s the one who came here before you, right?” They laughed again at his expression. “A story only,” one explained. “Like the canals, or Big Man. Or Sami Claus.”

Driving north the next day across Melas Chasma, John wished (as he had before) that everyone on the planet was Swiss, or at least like the Swiss. Or more like the Swiss in certain ways, anyway. Their love of country seemed to be expressed by making a certain kind of life: rational, just, prosperous, scientific. They would work for that life anywhere, because to them it was the life that mattered, not a flag or a creed or a set of words, nor even that small rocky patch of land they owned on Earth. The Swiss road-building crew back there was Martian already, having brought the life and left the baggage behind.

He sighed, and ate lunch as his rover rolled past transponders north. It was not that simple, of course. The road-building crew were traveling Swiss, gypsies of a sort, the kind of Swiss who spent most of their life out of Switzerland. There were a lot of those, but they were selected out by that choice, they were different. The Swiss who stayed at home were pretty intense about Swissness; still armed to the teeth, still willing to be the bagman for whoever brought them cash; still not a member of the U.N. Although that fact, given the power UNOMA currently had over the local situation, made them even more interesting to John, as a model. That ability to be part of the world but to stand away from it at the same time; to use it, but hold it off; to be small but in control, to be armed to the teeth but never go to war; wasn’t that one way of defining what he wanted for Mars? It seemed to him there were some lessons there, for any hypothetical Martian state.

He spent a fair amount of his time alone thinking about that hypothetical state; it was a kind of obsession with him, and he found it very frustrating that he could not seem to come up with anything more than vague desires. And so now he thought hard about Switzerland and what it might tell him, he tried to be organized about it: “Pauline, please call up an encyclopedia article on the Swiss government.”

The rover passed transponder after transponder as he read the article that came up on the screen. He was disappointed to find that there was nothing obviously unique about the Swiss system of government. Executive authority was given to a council of seven, elected by the assembly. No charismatic president, which some part of Boone did not like very much. The assembly, aside from selecting the federal council, appeared to do little; it was caught between the power of the executive council and the power of the people, as exercised in direct initiatives and referendums, an idea they had gotten in the nineteenth century from California of all places. And then there was the federal system; the cantons in all their diversity were supposed to have a great deal of independence, which also weakened the assembly. But cantonal power had been eroding for generations, the federal government wresting away more and more. What did it add up to? “Pauline, please call up my constitution file.” He added a few notes to the file he had just recently begun: Federal council, direct initiatives, weak assembly, local independence, particularly in cultural matters. Something to think over, anyway. More data to add to the stew of his ideas. It helped somehow to write it down.

He drove on, remembering the road-builders’ calmness, their strange mixture of engineering and mysticism. The warmth of their welcome, which wasn’t something Boone took for granted; it didn’t always happen. In the Arab and Israeli settlements, for instance, he was received very stiffly, perhaps because he was seen as being antireligion, perhaps because Frank had been spreading tales against him. He had been amazed to discover an Arabic caravan whose members believed he had forbidden the building of a mosque on Phobos, and they had only stared at him when he denied even hearing about such a plan. He was pretty sure that was Frank’s doing, word got back to him through Janet and others that Frank was prone to undercutting him in that way. So yes, there were definitely groups that greeted him coolly: the Arabs, the Israelis, the nuclear reactor teams, some of the transnational executives. . groups with their own intense and parochial programs, people who objected to his larger perspective. Unfortunately there were a lot of them.

He came out of his reverie and looked around, and was surprised to discover that out in the middle of Melas it looked exactly as if he were out on the northern plains somewhere. The great canyon was 200 kilometers wide at this point, and the curvature of the planet was so sharp that the north and south canyon walls, all three vertical kilometers of them, were completely under the horizons. Not until the following morning did the northern horizon double, and then separate out into the canyon floor and the great northern wall, which was cut in two by the gap of a short north-south canyon connecting Melas and Candor. It was only when he drove into that wide slot that he had the kind of view people thought of when they imagined being down in Marineris: truly giant walls flanked him on both sides, dark brown slabs riven by a fractal infinity of gullies and ridges. At the foot of the walls lay the huge spills of ancient rockfall, or the broken terracing of fossil beaches.

In this gap the Swiss road was a line of green transponders, snaking past mesas and arroyos, so that it looked as if Monument Valley had been relocated at the bottom of a canyon twice as deep and five times as wide as the Grand Canyon. The sight was too astonishing for John to be able to concentrate on anything else, and for the first time in his journey he drove all day with Pauline off.

North of the transverse gap, he drove into the huge sink of Candor Chasma, and now it was as if he were in a gigantic replica of the Painted Desert, with great deposition layers everywhere, bands of purple and yellow sediment, orange dunes, red erratics, pink sands, indigo gullies— truly a fantastic, extravagant landscape, disorienting to the eye because all the wild colors made it hard to figure out what was what, and how big it was, and how far away. Giant plateaus that seemed about to block his way would turn out to be curving strata on a distant cliff; small boulders next to the transponders would turn out to be enormous mesas half a day’s drive away. And in the sunset light all the colors blazed, the whole Martian spectrum revealed and blazing as if color was bursting out of the rock, everything from pale yellow to dark bruised purple. Candor Chasma! He was going to have to come back some time and explore it.

The day after that, he drove up the steady slope of the north Ophir road, which the Swiss crew had completed the previous year. Up and up and up, and then, without ever seeing a distinct rim, he was out of the canyons, rolling past the domed holes of Ganges Catena, and then over the old familiar plain, following a wide road, over the tight horizon past Chernobyl and Underhill; then on for another day west to Echus Overlook, Sax’s new terraforming headquarters. His journey had taken a week, and crossed 2,500 kilometers.

• • •

Sax Russell was back from Acheron, in his own place. He was a power now and no doubt about it, having been named by UNOMA a decade before as scientific head of the terraforming effort. And of course that decade of power had had its effect on him. He had solicited U.N. and transnational aid to build a whole town to serve as headquarters for the terraforming effort, and he had placed this town about 500 kilometers due west of Underhill, on the edge of the cliff that formed the eastern wall of Echus Chasma. Echus was one of the narrowest and deepest canyons on the planet, and its eastern wall was even taller than south Melas; the section they had chosen to build the town into was a vertical basalt cliff four thousand meters high.

At the top of the cliff there was very little sign of the new town; the land behind the rim was almost unmarked, only a concrete pillbox here and there, and to the north the plume of a Rickover. But when John climbed out of his rover into one of the rim pillboxes, and got in one of the big elevators inside it, the extent of the town began to come clear; the elevators went down fifty floors. And when he descended fifty stories, he got out and found other elevators that would take him even lower, a whole series of them, descending right down to the floor of Echus Chasma. Say a story was ten meters; that meant there was room in the cliff for 400 stories. Actually not that much of the room had been used yet, and most of the rooms built so far were clustered up in the highest twenty floors. Sax’s offices, for instance, were very near the top.

His meeting room was a big open chamber, with a continuous floor-to-ceiling window as its western wall. When John walked into the room looking for Sax, it was still mid-morning, and the window was almost clear; far, far below lay the chasm floor, still half in shadow, and there out in the sunlight stood the much lower western wall of Echus, and beyond that the great slope of the Tharsis Bulge, rising higher and higher to the south. Out in the middle distance was the low bump of Tharsis Tholus, and to the left of it, just poking over the horizon, lay the purple flat-topped cone of Ascraeus Mons, the northernmost of the great prince volcanoes.

But Sax was not in the meeting room, and he never looked out this window as far as John could tell. He was next door in a lab, more lab rat than ever, hunch-shouldered and twitch-whiskered, gazing around at the floor, speaking in a voice that sounded like an AI. He led John through a whole sequence of labs, leaning forward to peer into screens or at inching graph paper, talking to John over a shoulder, in a state of distraction. The rooms they passed through were jammed with computers, printers, screens, books, rolls and stacks of paper, disks, GC-mass specs, incubators, fume hoods, long apparatus-filled lab tables, whole libraries; and placed on every precarious surface were potted plants, most of them unrecognizable bulges, armored succulents and the like, so that at a glance it looked like a virulent mold had sprung up and covered everything. “Your labs are getting kind of messy,” John said.

“The planet is the lab,” Sax replied.

John laughed, moved a bright yellow surarctic cactus from a countertop and sat down. It was said Sax never left these rooms anymore. “What are you simming today?”


Of course. It was a problem that gave Sax a serious case of the blinks. All the heat they were releasing or applying to the planet was thickening the atmosphere, but all their CO2-fixing strategies were thinning it; and as the chemical composition of the air slowly shifted to something less poisonous it became less greenhouse-gassed as well, so that things cooled back down and the process slowed. Negative feedback countering positive feedback, all over the place. Juggling all these factors into any meaningful extrapolative program was more than anyone had yet accomplished to Sax’s satisfaction, so he had resorted to his usual solution; he was trying to do it himself.

He paced the narrow aisles left between equipment, moving chairs out of his way. “There’s just too much carbon dioxide. In the old days the modelers swept that under the rug. I think I’m going to have to have robots feed the southern polar cap into Sabatier factories. What we can process won’t sublime, and we can release the oxygen and make bricks of the carbon, I guess. We’ll have more carbon blocks than we’ll know what to do with. Black pyramids to go along with the white.”


“Uhn.” The Crays and the two new Schillers hummed away behind him, providing his monotonal recitative with a ground bass. These computers spent all their time running through one set of conditions after another, Sax said; but the results, while never the same, were seldom encouraging. The air was going to be cold and poisonous for a good while yet.

Sax wandered down the hall, and John followed him into what looked like another lab, although there was a bed and a refrigerator in one corner. Violently disarranged bookscapes were overgrown with potted plants, bizarre Pleistocene growths that looked as deadly as the air outside. John sat in the lone empty chair. Sax stood and looked down at a seashell shrub as John described his meeting with Ann.

“Do you think she’s involved?” Sax said.

“I think she may know who is. She mentioned someone called the coyote.”

“Ah yes.” Sax glanced briefly at John— at his feet, to be precise. “She’s siccing us onto a legendary character. He’s supposed to have been on the Ares with us, you know. Hidden by Hiroko.”

John was so surprised that Sax had heard of the coyote that it took him a while to figure out what else was disturbing about what he had said. But then it came to him. One night Maya had told him that she had seen a face, the face of a stranger. The voyage out had been hard on Maya, and he had discounted the tale. But now. .

Sax was wandering around turning on lights, peering at screens, muttering about security measures. He opened the refrigerator door briefly and John caught a glimpse of more spiky growths; either he kept experiments in there, or else his snack food had suffered a truly virulent eruption of mold. John said, “You can see why most of the attacks have been on the moholes. They’re the easiest project to attack.”

Sax tilted his head to the side. “Are they?”

“Think about it. Your little windmills are everywhere, there’s nothing to be done about them.”

“People are disabling them. We’ve had reports.”

“What, a dozen? And how many are out there, a hundred thousand? They’re junk, Sax. Litter. Your worst idea.” And nearly fatal to his project, in fact, because of the algae dishes Sax had hidden in some of them. All of that algae had died, apparently— but if it hadn’t, and if anyone had been able to prove Sax had been responsible for its dissemination, he could have lost his job. It was yet another indication that Sax’s logical manner was a front.

Now his nose was wrinkled. “They add up to a terawatt a year.”

“And knocking a few apart won’t do anything to that. As for the other physical operations, the black snow algae is on the northern polar cap, and can’t be removed. The dawn and dusk mirrors are in orbit, and it’s not so easy to knock them out.”

“Someone did it to Pythagoras.”

“True, but we know who it was, and there’s a security team following her.”

“She may never lead them to anyone else. They may be able to afford to expend a person per act, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Yeah, but some simple changes in screening personnel would make it impossible for anyone to smuggle any tools aboard.”

“They could use what’s out there.” Sax shook his head. “The mirrors are vulnerable.”

“Okay. More than some projects, anyway.”

“Those mirrors are adding thirty calories per square centimeter per sol,” Sax said. “And more all the time.” Almost all the freighters from Earth were sunsailers now, and when they arrived in the Martian system they were linked to large collections of earlier arrivals parked in areosynchronous orbit, and programmed to swivel so that they reflected their light onto the terminators, adding a little bit of energy to each day’s dawn and dusk. The whole arrangement had been coordinated by Sax’s office, and he was proud of it.

“We’ll increase security for all the maintenance crews,” John said.

“So. Increased security on the mirrors and at the moholes.”

“Yes. But that’s not all.”

Sax sniffed. “What do you mean?”

“Well, the problem is that it isn’t just the terraforming projects per se that are potential targets. I mean, the nuclear reactors are part of the project too in their way; they provide a lot of your power, and they’re pumping out heat like the furnaces they are. If one of them were to go, it would cause all kinds of fallout, more political even than physical.”

The vertical lines between Sax’s eyes reached up nearly to his hairline. John held out his palms. “Not my fault. That’s just the way it is.”

Sax said, “AI, take a note. Look into reactor security.”

“Note taken,” one of the Schillers said, sounding just like Sax.

“And that’s not the worst,” John said. Sax twitched, glared furiously at the floor. “The bioengineering labs.”

Sax’s mouth became a tight line.

“New organisms are being cooked up daily,” John went on, “and it might be possible to create something that would kill everything else on the planet.”

Sax blinked. “Let’s hope none of these people think like you.”

“I’m just trying to think like them.”

“AI, take a note. Biolab security.”

“Of course Vlad and Ursula and their group have stuck suicide genes into everything they’ve made,” John said. “But those are meant to stop oversuccess, or mutational accidents. If someone were to deliberately circumvent them, and concoct something that fed on oversuccess, we could be in trouble.”

“I see that.”

“So. The labs, the reactors, the moholes, the mirrors. It could be worse.”

Sax rolled his eyes. “I’m glad you think so. I’ll talk to Helmut about it. I’ll be seeing him soon anyway. It looks like they’re going to approve Phyllis’s elevator at the next UNOMA session. That will cut the costs of terraforming tremendously.”

“Eventually it will, but the initial investment must be huge.”

Sax shrugged. “Push an Amor asteroid into orbit, set up a robot factory, let it go to work. It’s not as expensive as you might think.”

John rolled his eyes. “Sax, who’s paying for all this?”

Sax tilted his head, blinked. “The sun.”

John stood, suddenly hungry. “Then the sun calls the shots. Remember that.”

Mangalavid broadcast six hours of local amateur video every evening, a weird grab bag of stuff that John watched every chance he got. So after building a big green salad in the kitchen he went to the window room on the dorm floor, and watched while eating, glancing from time to time at the florid sunset over Ascraeus. The first ten minutes of that evening’s broadcast had been shot by a sanitary engineer working on a waste processing plant in Chasma Borealis. Her voice-over was enthusiastic but boring, “What’s nice is we can pollute all we want with certain materials, oxygen, ozone, nitrogen, argon, steam, some biota— which gives us leeway we didn’t have back home, we just keep grinding what they give us till we can let it loose.” Back home, John said to himself. A newcomer. After her there was an attempt at a karate bout, both hilarious and beautiful at the same time; and then twenty minutes of some Russians staging Hamlet in pressure suits at the bottom of the Tyrrhena Patera mohole, a production that struck John as crazy until Hamlet caught sight of Claudius kneeling to pray, and the camera tilted up to show the mohole as cathedral walls, rising above Claudius to an infinitely distant shaft of sunlight, like the forgiveness he would never receive.

John shut off the TV and took the elevator down to the dorm. He got into bed and relaxed. Karate as ballet. The newcomers were all still engineers, construction workers, scientists of all kinds. But they didn’t seem as single-minded as the first hundred, and that was probably good. They still had a scientific mindset and worldview, they were practical, empirical, rational; one could hope that the selection process on Earth was still working against fanaticism, sending up people with a kind of traveling-Swiss sensibility, practical but open to new possibilities, able to form new loyalties and beliefs. Or so he hoped. He knew by now it was a bit naíve. You only had to look at the first hundred to realize scientists could become as fanatical as anybody else, maybe more so; educations too narrowly focused, perhaps. Hiroko’s team disappearing. . Out there in the wild rock somewhere, lucky bastards. . He fell asleep.

He worked at Echus Overlook a few days more, then got a call from Helmut Bronski in Burroughs, who wanted to confer with him about the new arrivals from Earth. John decided to take the train to Burroughs and see Helmut in person.

The night before his departure, he went to see Sax in his labs. When he walked in Sax said in his monotone, “We’ve found an Amor asteroid that’s ninety percent ice, in an orbit that will bring it near Mars in three years. Just what I’ve been looking for, in fact.” His plan was to place a robot-controlled mass driver on an ice asteroid and push it into an aerobraking orbit around Mars, thus burning it up in the atmosphere. This would satisfy UNOMA protocols forbidding the kind of mass destruction that a direct impact would cause, but it would still add huge quantities of water and separated hydrogen and oxygen to the atmosphere, thickening it with precisely the gases they needed most. “It could raise the atmospheric pressure by as much as fifty millibars.”

“You’re kidding!” The pre-arrival average at the datum had been between seven and ten millibars (Earth’s sea level averaged 1,013), and all their efforts so far had only raised the average to around fifty. “One iceball will double the atmospheric pressure?”

“That’s what the simulations indicate. Of course with the initial level so low, doubling is not as impressive as it sounds.”

“Still, that’s great, Sax. And it’ll be hard to sabotage.”

But Sax didn’t want to be reminded of that. He frowned slightly, and slipped away.

John laughed at his skittishness, and went to the door. Then he stopped to think, and looked up and down the hall. Empty. And no video monitors in Sax’s offices. He went back in, grinning at his own furtive tiptoes, and glanced around at the paper chaos on Sax’s desk. Where to start? Presumably his AI would be the repository of anything interesting, but probably it would only respond to Sax’s voice, and would surely keep a record of any other inquiries. Quietly he opened a desk drawer. Empty. All the drawers in the desk were empty; he almost laughed out loud, stifled it. There was a stack of correspondence on a lab bench, and he picked through it. Mostly notes from the biologists at Acheron. At the bottom of the stack was a single sheet of unsigned mail, with no return address or origin code. Sax’s printer had spit it out without any identification that John could see. The message was brief:

“1. We use suicide genes to curb proliferation. 2. There are so many heat sources now on the surface that we don’t think anyone can tell our exhaust from the rest of it. 3. We simply agreed we wanted to get off and work on our own, without interference. I’m sure you understand now.”

After a minute of staring at this John whipped his head up and looked around. Still alone. He glanced at the note again, put it back where he had found it and walked quietly out of Sax’s offices, back to the guest quarters. “Sax,” he said admiringly, “you tricky congress of rats!”

• • •

The train to Burroughs carried mostly freight, thirty narrow cars of it, with two passenger cars up front, running over a superconducting magnetic piste so quickly and smoothly that it was hard to believe the view; after John’s endless plods cross-country in rovers, it was almost frightening. The only thing to do was flood the pleasure centers in the old brain with omegendorph and sit back and enjoy it, looking out at what appeared to be some kind of terrain-following supersonic flight.

The piste had been routed roughly parallel to the 10 ° N latitude; eventually the plan was to ring the planet, but so far only the hemisphere between Echus and Burroughs had been finished. Burroughs had become the biggest town in the far hemisphere; the original settlement had been built by an American-based consortium using a French-led EC design, and was located at the upper end of Isidis Planitia, which was in effect a huge trough where the northern plains made a deep indentation into the southern highlands. The sides and head of the trough counteracted the planet’s curvature in such a way that the landscape around the town had something like Terran horizons, and as the train flew down the great trough Boone could see across mesa-dotted dark plains to horizons some sixty kilometers away.

Burroughs’s buildings were almost all cliff-dwellings, cut into the sides of five low mesas that were grouped together on a rise in the bend of an ancient curving channel. Big sections of the mesas’ vertical sides had been filled by rectangles of mirrored glass, as if postmodern skyscrapers had been turned on their sides and shoved into the hills. A startling sight, in fact, and far more impressive than Underhill, or even Echus Overlook, which had a great view but could not be seen. No, the glass-sided mesas of Burroughs, on their rise over a channel that seemed to be begging for water, with a view out to distant hills; these features combined to give the new town a quickly growing reputation as the most beautiful city on Mars.

Its western train station was inside one of the excavated mesas, a glass-walled room sixty meters high. John stepped out into this grand space and made his way through the crowds of people, head craned back like a hick in Manhattan. Train crews were dressed in blue jumpers, prospecting teams in walker green, UNOMA bureaucrats in suits, construction workers in work jumpers, colored like rainbows to suggest sportswear. UNOMA headquarters had been located in Burroughs three years before, causing a real building boom; it was a close thing whether there were more UNOMA bureaucrats or construction workers in the station.

At the far end of the great room John found a subway entrance, and took a little subway car to the UNOMA headquarters. In the car he shook hands with a few people who recognized and approached him, feeling the old weirdness of the fishbowl return. He was back among strangers. In a city.

That night he had dinner with Helmut Bronski. They had met many times before, and John was impressed by the man, a German millionaire who had gotten into politics: tall, beefy, blond and red-faced, impeccably groomed, dressed in an expensive gray suit. He had been the EC’s minister of finance when he took the UNOMA post. Now he told John the latest news, in a very urbane British English, eating roast beef and potatoes rapidly between bursts of sentences, holding his silverware in the workmanlike German fashion. “We are going to award a prospecting contract in Elysium to the transnational consortium Armscor. They will be shipping up their own equipment.”

“But Helmut,” John said, “won’t that violate the Mars treaty?”

Helmut made a wide gesture with the hand holding the fork; they were men of the world, his look said, they understood these kinds of things. “The treaty is superannuated, this is obvious to everyone dealing with the situation. But its scheduled revision is ten years away. In the meantime, we have to try to anticipate certain aspects of the revision. That’s why we give some concessions now. There is no rational reason to delay, and if we tried there would be trouble in the General Assembly.”

“But the General Assembly can’t be happy that you’ve given the first concession to an old South African weapons manufacturer!”

Helmut shrugged. “Armscor has very little relation to its origins. It is just a name. When South Africa became Azania, the company moved its home offices to Australia, and then to Singapore. And now of course it has become very much more than an aerospace firm. It is a true transnational, one of the new tigers, with banks of its own, and controlling interest in about fifty of the old Fortune 500.”

Fifty of them?” John said.

“Yes. And Armscor is one of the smallest of the transnationals, that is why we picked it. But it still has a bigger economy than any but the largest twenty countries. As the old multinationals coalesce into transnationals, you see, they really gather quite a bit of power, and they have influence in the General Assembly. When we give one a concession, some twenty or thirty countries profit by it, and get their opening on Mars. And for the rest of the countries, that serves as a precedent. And so pressure on us is reduced.”

“Uh huh.” John thought it over. “Tell me, who negotiated this agreement?”

“Well, it was a number of us, you know.”

Helmut ate on, serenely ignoring John’s steady gaze.

John pursed his lips, looked away. He understood suddenly that he was talking with a man who, though a functionary, considered himself to be vastly more important on the planet than Boone. Genial, smooth-faced (and who cut his hair?), Bronski leaned back and ordered them after-dinner drinks. His assistant, their waitress for the evening, scurried off to oblige.

“I don’t believe I’ve been waited on before on Mars,” John observed.

Helmut met his gaze calmly, but his beefy color had heightened. John almost smiled. The UNOMA factor wanted to seem menacing, the representative of powers so sophisticated that John’s little weather-station mentality couldn’t even comprehend them. But John had found in the past that a few minutes of his First Man On Mars routine was usually enough to crush that kind of attitude; so he laughed, and drank, and told tales, and alluded to secrets only the first hundred were privy to, and made it clear to the assistant-waitress that he was the one in command at the table, and so on— behaving in general in an unconcerned, knowing, arrogant manner— and by the time they were finished with their sherbet and brandy Bronski was loud and blustery himself, clearly nervous and on the defensive.

Functionaries. John had to laugh.

But he was curious concerning the ultimate point of their conference, which still wasn’t clear to him. Perhaps Bronski had wanted to see in person how news of the new concession would affect one of the first hundred— perhaps to gauge the reaction of the rest? That would be silly, for to get a good gauge on the first hundred you would need to poll eighty of them at least; but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. John was used to being taken for a representative of things, for a symbol. The figurehead again. It could definitely be a waste of time.

He wondered if he could salvage something of his own from the evening, and as they were walking back to his guest suite, he said, “Have you ever heard of the coyote?”

“An animal?”

He grinned, left it at that. In his room he lay on his bed, Mangalavid on the TV, thinking things over. Brushing his teeth before going to sleep, he looked his mirror image in the eye and scowled. He waved his toothbrush in the expansive gesture: “Vell,” he said in an unfair parody of Helmut’s slight accent, “ziss is business, you know! Business as usual!”

• • •

The next morning he had a few hours before his first meeting, and so he spent the time with Pauline, going over what he could find out about Helmut Bronski’s doings in the last six months. Could Pauline get into the UNOMA diplomatic pouch? Had Helmut ever been to Senzeni Na, or any of the other sabotage sites? While Pauline ran through her search algorithms John swallowed an omegendorph to kill his hangover, and thought about what lay behind this inspiration to search Helmut’s records. UNOMA constituted the ultimate authority on Mars these days, at least according to the letter of the law. In practice, as last night had made clear, it had the U.N.’s usual toothlessness before national armies and transnational money. Unless it did their bidding it was helpless, it could not succeed against their desires and probably would never even try, as it was their tool. So what did they want, the national governments and the transnational boards of directors? If enough sabotages occurred, would that constitute a reason to bring in more of their own security? Would it tend to increase their control?

He made a disgusted noise. Apparently the only result of his investigation so far was that the list of suspects had tripled. Pauline said, “Excuse me, John,” and the information came up on her screen. The diplomatic pouch, she had found, was coded in one of the new unbreakable encryptions; you’d have to get the decryptions to enter it. Helmut’s movements, on the other hand, were easily traceable. He had been to Pythagoras, the mirror station that had been spun out of orbit, ten weeks ago. And to Senzeni Na two weeks before John’s visit. And yet no one at Senzeni Na had mentioned his appearance.

Most recently, he had just returned from the mining complex being set up at a place called Bradbury Point. Two days later John left to visit it.

• • •

Bradbury Point was located some 800 kilometers north of Burroughs, at the easternmost extension of the Nilosyrtis Mensae. The mensae were a series of long mesas, like islands of the southern highlands standing out in the shallows of the northern plains. The island mesas of Nilosyrtis had recently been found to be a rich metallogenic province, with deposits of copper, silver, zinc, gold, platinum and other metals. Concentrations of ore like this had been discovered in several locations on the so-called Great Escarpment, where the southern highlands dropped to the northern lowlands. Some areologists were going so far as to label the entire escarpment region a metallogenic province, banding the planet like the stitching on a baseball. It was another odd fact to add to the great north-south mystery, and a fact that was, of course, getting more than its share of attention. Excavations accompanied by intensive areological studies were being conducted by scientists working for UNOMA and, John discovered as he checked new arrivals’ employment records, the transnationals— all trying to find clues that would enable them to locate more deposits. But even on Earth the geology of mineral formation was not well understood, which was why prospecting still had large elements of chance in it; and on Mars, it was more mysterious yet. The recent finds on the Great Escarpment had been mostly an accident, and only now was the region becoming the main focus for prospecting.

The discovery of the Bradbury Point complex had accelerated this hunt, as it was turning out to be as big as the largest Terran complexes, perhaps the equal of the Bushveldt Complex of Azania. So, a gold rush in Nilosyrtis. And Helmut Bronski had visited the scene.

Which turned out to be small and utilitarian, a mere beginning; a Rickover and some refineries, next to a mesa hollowed out and filled by a habitat. The mines were scattered in the lowlands between mesas. Boone drove up to the habitat, coupled to the garage, then ducked through the locks. Inside a welcoming committee greeted him, and took him up to a window-walled conference room to talk.

There were, they said, about 300 people in Bradbury, all employees of UNOMA, and trained by the transnational Shellalco. When they took John on a brief tour, he found they were a mix of ex-South Africans, Australians, and Americans, all happy to shake his hand; about three-quarters men, pale and clean, looking more like lab techs than the blackened trolls John envisioned when he heard the word miner. Most of them were working on two-year contracts, they told him, and keeping track of the time they had left, by the week or even by the day. They ran the mines mostly by teleoperation, and looked shocked when Boone asked to go down into a mine for a look around. “It’s just a hole,” one said. Boone stared at them innocently, and after another moment’s hesitation, they scrambled to gather an escort team to take him out.

It took them two hours to get into walkers and out a lock. They drove to the rim of a mine, and then down a ramp road into a terraced oval pit some two kilometers long. There they got out, and followed John as he walked around. Surrounded by big robotic dozers and dump trucks and earthmovers, his four escorts’ faceplates were all eyes— on the alert for a behemoth on the loose, John guessed. He stared at them, amazed at their timidity; it made him realize, all of a sudden, that Mars could be just another version of the hardship assignment, a hellish combination of Siberia, the interior of Saudi Arabia, the South Pole in winter, and Novy Mir.

Or else they just thought he was a dangerous man to be around. Which gave him a start. Everyone had no doubt heard of the falling dump truck; maybe it was just that. But could it be something more? Might these people be aware of something that he wasn’t? Reflecting on this for a while, John found his own eyes beginning to press glass. He had been thinking of the falling truck as an accident, or at least something that could only happen once. But his movements were easy to trace, everyone knew where he was. And every time you went outdoors you were only a walker away, as they said. And in a pit mine there were a lot of behemoths about. .

But they got back in without incident. And that night they had the usual dinner and party in his honor, a hard-drinking party, with a lot of omegendorph consumption and loud raucous talk: a bunch of young tough engineers, pleased to find that John Boone was actually a fun guy to party with. A fairly common reaction among newcomers, especially younger men. John chatted them up, and had a good time, and slipped his inquiries into the flow pretty unnoticeably, he thought. They had not heard of the coyote, which was interesting, as they did know about Big Man, and the hidden colony. Apparently the coyote was not in that category of tale; he was some kind of insider thing, known, so far as John could tell, only to some of the first hundred.

The miners had had a recent unusual visit, however; an Arab caravan had come by, traveling the edge of Vastitas Borealis. And, they said, the Arabs had claimed to have been visited by some of “the lost colonists,” as they called them.

“Interesting,” John said. It seemed unlikely to him that Hiroko or any of her crew would reveal themselves, but who could tell? He might as well go check it out; after all, there was only so much he could do at Bradbury Point. Very little detective work, he was noticing, could be accomplished before a crime occurred. So he spent a couple more days observing the mining, but that only reinforced his shock at the scale of the operation, at how much robotic earthmovers could tear away. “What are you going to do with all the metal?” he asked, after taking a look down into another great open pit mine, located twenty-five kilometers to the west of the habitat. “Getting it to Earth will cost more than it’s worth, won’t it?”

The chief of operations, a black-haired man with a hatchet face, grinned. “We’ll hold onto it until it’s worth more. Or until they build that space elevator.”

“You believe in that?”

“Oh yeah, the materials are there! Graphite whisker reinforced with diamond spirals, why you could almost build one on Earth with that. Here it would be easy.”

John shook his head. That afternoon they drove for an hour back to the habitat, past raw pits and slag heaps, toward the distant plume of the refineries on the other sides of the habitat mesa. He was used to seeing the land torn up for building purposes, but this. . It was amazing what a few hundred people could do. Of course it was the same technology that was allowing Sax to build a vertical town the whole height of the Echus Overlook, the same technology that allowed all the new towns to be built so quickly; but still, wreaking such havoc just to strip away metals, destined for Earth’s insatiable demand. .

The next day he gave the operations chief a fiendishly tight security regimen, to be followed for two months. Then he drove out into the wind-eroded tracks of the Arab caravan, and followed them north and east.

It turned out that Frank Chalmers was traveling with this Arab caravan. But he had not seen or heard of any visitation by Hiroko’s people, and none of the Arabs would admit to being the one who had told the story at Bradbury Point. A false lead, then. Or else one that Frank was helping the Arabs to eliminate; and if so, how would John find that out? Though the Arabs had only recently arrived on Mars, they were already Frank’s allies, no doubt about it; he lived with them, he spoke their language, and now, naturally, he was the constant mediator between them and John. Not a chance of an independent investigation, except what Pauline could do in the records, which she could do as well away from the caravan as in it.

Nevertheless, John traveled with them for a while as they roamed the great dune sea, doing areology and a bit of prospecting. Frank was only there briefly himself, to talk to an Egyptian friend; he was too busy to stay anywhere for long. His job as U.S. Secretary made him as much of a globe-trotter as John, and they crossed paths pretty frequently. Frank had managed to keep his position as the American department head now through three administrations, even though it was a cabinet post— a remarkable feat, even without considering his distance from Washington. And so he was now overseeing the introduction of investment by the American-based transnationals, a responsibility that made him manic with overwork and puffed up with power, what John thought of as the business version of Sax, always moving, always gesturing with his hands as if conducting the music of his speech, which had shifted over the years to full-tilt Chamber of Commerce overdrive, “Got to stake a claim on the Escarpment before the transnats and the Germans snap everything up, lotta work to be done!” which was his constant refrain, often said while pointing for illustration at the little globe he carried with him in his lectern pocket. “Look at your moholes, I just entered them last week, one near the North Pole, three in the sixties north and south, four along the equator, four bracketing the South Pole, all of them nicely placed west of volcanic rises to catch their updrafts, it’s beautiful.” He spun the globe and the blue dots marking the moholes blurred for a moment into blue lines. “It’s good to see you finally doing something useful.”


“Look, here’s the new habitat factory in Hellas. They’re manufacturing starter units at a rate that’ll enable them to handle some three thousand emigrants per ell ess ninety, and given the new fleet of round-trip shuttles, that’s just barely enough.” He saw John’s expression and said quickly, “All heat in the end, John, so it helps the terraforming with more than just money and labor, I mean think about it.”

“But do you ever wonder what’s going to come of it all?” John asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You know, this deluge of people and equipment, while things are falling apart on Earth.”

“Things are always going to be falling apart on Earth, you might as well get used to it.”

“Yeah, but who’s going to own what up here? Who’s going to call the shots?”

Frank just made a face at John’s naíveté, at the very nature of the question. One look at his grimace and John could read it all, the whole complex of disgust and impatience and amusement. A part of John was pleased at this instant recognition; he knew his old friend better than he had ever known any of his family, so that the swarthy pale-eyed face glowering at him was like that of a brother, a twin that he couldn’t ever remember not knowing. On the other hand, he was annoyed with Frank for his condescension. “People are wondering about it, Frank. It’s not just me, and it’s not just Arkady. You can’t just shrug it off and act like it’s a stupid question, like there’s nothing to be decided.”

“The U.N. decides,” Frank said brusquely. “There’s ten billion of them, and ten thousand of us. That’s a million to one. If you want to influence those kind of odds you ought to have become the UNOMA factor like I told you to when they set up the position. But you didn’t listen to me. You just shrugged it off. You could have really done something, but now what are you? Sax’s assistant in charge of publicity.”

“And development, and security, and Terran affairs, and the moholes.”

“Ostrich!” Frank pounced. “Head in a hole! Come on, let’s go eat.”

John agreed and they went off to a dinner in the Arabs’ biggest rover, a meal of basted lamb and dill-flavored yogurt, delicious and exotic. But John found himself still irritated at Frank’s scorn, which never let up. The old rivalry, sharp as ever; and no First Man routine would ever make a dent in Frank’s sneery arrogance.

Thus when Maya Toitovna showed up unexpectedly the next day, traveling west on her way to Acheron, John gave her a longer hug than he might have otherwise, and by the time that night’s dinner was over, he had made certain that she would spend the night in his rover— a matter of a particular attentiveness, a certain laugh, a certain look, the nearly accidental brushing of arms together as they stood trying sherbets, talking to the happy men of the caravan, who clearly found her fascinating. . All their old code of conciliation and seduction, established through the years. And Frank could only watch, deadpan, talking in Arabic to his Egyptian friends.

And that night, as John and Maya made love in John’s rover bed, John pulled up from her briefly and looked down at her white body, and thought, So much for political power Frank buddy! That deadpan look had told it all, the fierce desire for Maya still there, still burning. Frank, like most of the men in the caravanserai that night, would have loved to have been in John’s place at that moment; once or twice in the past he no doubt had been; but not when John was around. No, tonight Frank would be reminded what real power was made of.

Distracted by such nastiness, it took John a while to pay any real attention to Maya herself. It had been almost five years since he and she had slept together, and in the intervening time he had had several other partners, and knew she had lived for a time with an engineer in Hellas. It was strange to begin again, as they knew each other intimately and yet didn’t. Her turning face flickering under him in the dim light, sister then stranger, sister then stranger. . Something happened, then, something turned in him; all that exterior business fell away, all those games. Something in her face, in the way she was all there, the way she would give her whole self to him when they made love. He didn’t know anyone else who was quite like that.

And thus the old flame sparked again, uncertainly at first, as it had not been there at all in their first lovemaking. But then, after an hour’s quiet talk, they had started kissing and rolled together and suddenly it was ablaze and they were inside it. Lit up by Maya as usual, he had to admit it. She made him pay attention. Sex for her was not (as it tended to be for John) some kind of extension of sport; it was a grand passion to her, a transcendent state of being, and she was so tigerish when she got going that she always surprised him, woke him up, brought him up to her level, reminded him what sex could be. And it was wonderful to be reminded again, to learn that again— really wonderful. Omegendorph was nothing to it, how could he have forgotten, why did he keep wandering away from her as if she weren’t, somehow, irreplaceable? He crushed her with a hug and they twisted together, bit at each other, panted and moaned; came together as they had so often before, Maya pulling him over the edge with her. Their ritual.

And even afterward, just talking, he somehow felt very much more fond of her. He had started things just to irk Frank, it was true; he had been completely careless of her. But now, lying beside her, he could feel how much he had missed her presence in the previous five years, how bland life had seemed. How much he had missed her! New feelings— they always surprised him, he kept assuming he was too old for them, that he had more or less stopped changing. And then something would happen. And so often that something (thinking back over the years) was a meeting with Maya. .

She was still the same Maya Toitovna, however: mercurial, full of her own thoughts and plans, full of herself. She had no idea what John was doing out there on the dunes, and would never think to ask. And she would slash him to ribbons if he accidentally crossed her mood, he could tell that just in the sultry set of her shoulders, just in the way she padded off to the toilet. But he knew all that already, it was old news, something from the first years at Underhill, so long ago; and the sheer familiarity of it was pleasing— even her irritability was pleasing! Like Frank and his scorn. Well, he was getting old, and they were family. He almost laughed, he almost said something to set her off, then thought better of it. Just knowing was enough, no need for another demonstration, Lord! At that thought he did laugh, and she smiled to hear it, and came back to bed and shoved him in the chest. “Laughing at me again I see! Because of my fat bottom is it?”

“You know your bottom is perfect.” She shoved him again, insulted at what she considered a gross lie, and their wrestling drew them back into the reality of skin and salt, into the world of sex. At some point in the long lazy session he found himself thinking I love you, wild Maya, I really do. It was a disconcerting thought, a dangerous thought. Not something he would risk saying. But it felt true.

So a couple of days later, when she left to visit the Acheron group, and asked him to join her there, he was pleased. “Maybe in a couple of months.”

“No, no.” Her face was serious. “Come sooner, I want you there with me sooner.”

And when he agreed, on a whim, she grinned like a girl with a secret. “You won’t be sorry.” With a kiss she was off, driving south to Burroughs to catch the train west.

After that, there was less chance than ever of learning anything from the Arabs. He had offended Frank, and the Arabs closed ranks behind their friend, as was only right. Hidden colony? they said. What was that?

He sighed and gave up on it, and decided to leave. Stocking his rover the night before his departure (the Arabs were punctilious about filling his hold with supplies), he pondered what he had accomplished so far in his investigation of the sabotages. Sherlock Holmes was in no danger, that was sure. Worse than that, there was now a whole society on Mars that was basically impenetrable to him. Moslems, what were they exactly? He read Pauline that evening after he was done stocking, and then he rejoined his hosts and watched them as closely as he was able, asking questions all that night long. . He knew asking questions was the key to people’s souls, infinitely more useful than wit; but in this case it didn’t seem to make any difference. Coyote? Some kind of wild dog was it?

Baffled, he left the caravan the next morning and drove west, on the southern border of the dune sea. It would be a long journey to Acheron to join Maya, 5,000 kilometers of dune after dune; but he preferred driving to going down to Burroughs and taking the train. He needed time to think. And really it was a habit now, driving cross-country, or flying gliders— getting away, traveling slowly across the land. He had been on the road for years now, crisscrossing the northern hemisphere and making long excursions into the south, inspecting moholes or doing favors for Sax or Helmut or Frank, or looking into things for Arkady, or cutting ribbons at the opening of one thing or another— a town, a well, a weather station, a mine, a mohole— and always talking, talking in public speeches or private conversations, talking to strangers, old friends, new acquaintances, talking almost as fast as Frank did, and all in an attempt to inspire the people on the planet to figure out a way to forget history, to build a functioning society. To create a scientific system designed for Mars, designed to their specifications, fair and just and rational and all those good things. To point the way to a new Mars!

And yet after every year that passed it seemed less likely to happen the way he had envisioned it. A place like Bradbury Point showed how rapidly things were changing, and people like the Arabs confirmed the impression; events were out of his control, and more than that, out of anyone’s control. There was no plan. He rolled west on autopilot, up and down over dune after dune, not seeing a thing, sunk deep in an attempt to understand what exactly history was, and how it worked. And it seemed to him as he drove on day after day that history was like some vast thing that was always over the tight horizon, invisible except in its effects. It was what happened when you weren’t looking— an unknowable infinity of events, which although out of control, controlled everything. After all, he had been here from the very beginning! He had been the beginning, the first person to step on this world, and then he had returned against all the odds, and helped to build it from scratch! And yet now, despite all that, it was spinning away from him. Contemplating that fact made him tense with disbelief, and sometimes with a sudden furious frustration; to think that the whole thing was accelerating not only beyond his control, but even beyond his ability to comprehend— it wasn’t right, he had to fight it!

And yet how? Social planning of some sort. . clearly they had to have it. This flailing about without a plan, in violation of even the flimsy plan people had made back at the beginning with the Mars treaty. . well, societies without a plan, that was history so far; but history so far had been a nightmare, a huge compendium of examples to be avoided. No. They needed a plan. They had a chance at a new start here, they needed a vision. Helmut the oily functionary, Frank with his cynical acceptance of the status quo, his acceptance of the breakdown of the treaty, as if they were in a kind of gold rush— Frank was wrong. Wrong as usual!

But his own rushing about was probably wrong, too. He had been operating on the unarticulated theory that if he only saw more of the planet, visited one more settlement, talked to one more person, that he would somehow (without really thinking too hard) get it— and that his holistic understanding would then flow back from him to everybody else, spreading out through all the new settlers and changing things. Now he was pretty sure that this feeling had been naíve; there were so many people on the planet these days he could never hope to connect with them, to become the articulator of all their hopes and desires. And not only that, but few of the newcomers seemed much like the first hundred in regard to their reasons for coming. Well, that wasn’t entirely true; there were still scientists coming up, and people like the Swiss road-building gypsies. But he didn’t know them like he did the first hundred, and he never would. That little band had formed him, really, they had shaped his opinions and ideas, had taught him; they were his family, he trusted them. And he wanted their help, he needed it now more than ever. Perhaps it was this which explained the sudden new intensity of his feeling for Maya. And perhaps it was this which made him so angry with Hiroko— he wanted to talk to her, he needed her help! And she had abandoned them.

Vlad and Ursula had relocated their biotech complex to a finlike ridge in the Acheron Fossae, a narrow prominence which looked like the conning tower of a vast submerged submarine. They had honeycombed the upper part of it with excavations that extended from cliff to cliff; some of the rooms were a kilometer wide, and glass-walled on both sides. The windows on the south side had a view of Olympus Mons, some 600 kilometers away; north-facing windows looked down onto the pale tan sands of Arcadia Planitia.

John drove up a wide ledge to the bottom of the fin, and plugged into the garage lock door, noticing as he did that the ground in the narrow canyon south of the settlement was lumpy with heaps of what appeared to be melted brown sugar.

“It’s a new kind of cryptogamic crust,” Vlad said when John asked him about it. “A symbiosis of cyanobacteria and Florida platform bacteria. The platform bacteria goes very deep, and converts sulfates in the rock to sulfides, which then feed a variant of Microcoleus. The top layers of that grow in filaments, which bind to sand and clay in big dendritic formations, so it’s like little forest sylvanols with really long bacterial root systems. It looks like these root systems will keep on going right down through the regolith to bedrock, melting the permafrost as they go.”

“And you’ve released this stuff?” John said.

“Sure. We need something to bust up the permafrost, right?”

“Is there anything to stop it from growing planetwide?”

“Well, it has the usual array of suicide genes in case it begins to overwhelm the rest of the biomass, but if it keeps to its niche. .”


“It’s not too unlike the first life-forms that covered the Terran continents, we think. We’ve just enhanced its speed of growth, and its root systems. The funny thing is that I think at first it’s going to cool the atmosphere, even though it’s warming things underground. Because it’ll really increase chemical weathering of the rock, and all those reactions absorb CO2 from the air, so the air pressure is going to drop.”

Maya had come up and joined them with a big hug for John, and now she said, “But won’t the reactions release oxygen as fast as they absorb CO2, and keep air pressure up?”

Vlad shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

John laughed. “Sax is a long-term thinker. He’ll probably be pleased.”

“Oh yes. He authorized the release. And he’s coming to study here again when spring comes.”

They had dinner in a hall located high on the fin, just under the crest. Skylights opened above to the greenhouse on the crest itself, and windows ran the length of the north and south walls; stands of bamboo filled the walls to east and west. All the residents of Acheron were there for dinner, holding to an Underhill custom as they did in many other ways. The discussion at John and Maya’s table ranged widely, but kept returning to the current work, which involved trying to solve problems caused by the need to implant safeguards in all the GEMs they were releasing. Double suicide genes in every GEM was a practice the Acheron group had initiated on its own, and it was now going to be codified as U.N. law. “That’s all well and good for legal GEMs,” Vlad said. “But if some fools try something on their own and blow it, we could be in big trouble anyway.”

After dinner, Ursula said to John and Maya, “Since you’re here you ought to get your physicals. It’s been a while for both of you.”

John, who hated physicals and indeed all medical attention of any kind, demurred. But Ursula hounded him, and eventually he gave in, and visited her clinic a couple of days later. There he was put through a battery of diagnostic tests that seemed even more intensive than usual, most of them run by imaging machines and computers with too-relaxing voices, telling him to move this way and then that, while John in complete ignorance did what he was told. Modern medicine. But after all that, he was poked and prodded and tapped in time-honored fashion by Ursula herself. And when it was over he was lying on his back with a white sheet over him, while she stood at his side, looking at read-outs and humming absently.

“You’re looking good,” she told him after several minutes of that. “Some of the usual gravity-related problems, but nothing we can’t deal with.”

“Great,” John said, feeling relieved. That was the thing about physicals; any news was bad news, one wanted an absence of news. Getting that was somehow a victory, and more so every time; but still, a negative accomplishment. Nothing had happened to him, great!

“So do you want the treatment?” Ursula asked, her back to him, her voice casual.

“The treatment?”

“It’s a kind of gerontological therapy. An experimental procedure. Somewhat like an inoculation, but with a DNA strengthener. Repairs broken strands, and restores cell-division accuracy to a significant degree.”

John sighed. “And what does that mean?”

“Well, you know. Ordinary aging is mostly caused by cell-division error. After a number of generations, ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands depending which kind of cells you’re talking about, errors in reproduction start to increase, and everything gets weaker. The immune system is one of the first to weaken, and then other tissues, and then finally something goes wrong, or the immune system gets overwhelmed by a disease, and that’s it.”

“And you’re saying you can stop these errors?”

“Slow them down, anyway, and fix the ones that are already broken. A mix, really. The division errors are caused by breaks in DNA strands, so we wanted to strengthen DNA strands. To do it we would read your genome, and then build an auto-repair genomic library of small segments that will replace the broken strands—”

“Auto repair?”

She sighed. “All Americans think that is funny. Anyhow we push this auto-repair library into the cells, where they bind to the original DNA and help keep them from breaking.” She began to draw double and quadruple helixes as she talked, shifting inexorably into biotech jargon, until John could only catch the general drift of the argument, which apparently had its origins in the genome project and the field of genetic abnormality correction, with application methods taken from cancer therapy and GEM technique. Aspects of these and many other different technologies had been combined by the Acheron group, Ursula explained. And the result seemed to be that they could give him an infection of bits of his own genome, an infection which would invade every cell in his body except for parts of his teeth and skin and bones and hair; and afterward he would have nearly flawless DNA strands, repaired and reinforced strands that would make subsequent cell division more accurate.

“How accurate?” he asked, trying to grasp what it all meant.

“Well, about like if you were ten years old.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, no. We’ve all done it to ourselves, back around Ls ten of this year, and so far as we can tell, it’s working.”

“Does it last forever?”

“Nothing lasts forever, John.”

“How long then?”

“We don’t know. We ourselves are the experiment, we figure we’ll find out as we go along. It seems possible we might be able to do the therapy again when the rate of division error begins to increase again. If that is successful, it could mean you would last for quite a while.”

“Like how long?” he insisted.

“Well, we don’t know, do we. Longer than we live now, that’s pretty sure. Possibly a lot longer.”

John stared at her. She smiled at the expression on his face, and he could feel that his jaw was slack with amazement. No doubt he looked less than brilliant, but what did she expect? It was. . it was. .

He was following his thoughts with difficulty as they skittered around. “Who have you told about this?” he asked.

“Well, we have asked everyone in the first hundred, when they get a check-up with us. And everyone here at Acheron has tried it. And the thing is, we’ve only combined methods, that everyone has, so it won’t be long before others try putting it all together too. So we’re writing it up for publication, but we’re going to send the articles first to be reviewed by the World Health Organization. Political fallout, you know.”

“Um,” John said, considering it. News of a longevity drug loose on Mars, back among the teeming billions. . my Lord, he thought. “Is it expensive?”

“Not extremely. Reading your genome is the most expensive part, and it takes time. But it’s just a procedure, you know, it’s just computer time. It’s very possible you could inoculate everyone on Earth. But the population problem down there is already critical as it is. They’d have to institute some pretty intense population control, or else they’d go Malthusian really fast. We thought we’d better leave the decisions to the authorities down there.”

“But word is sure to get out.”

“Is that true? They might try to put a clamp on it. Maybe even a comprehensive clamp, I don’t know.”

“Wow. But you folks. . you just went ahead and did it?”

“We did.” She shrugged. “So what do you say? Want to do it?”

“Let me think about it.”

• • •

He went for a walk on the crest of the fin, up and down the long greenhouse stuffed with bamboo and food crops. Walking west he had to shield his eyes from the glare of the afternoon sun, even through the filtered glass; walking back east, he could look out at the broken slopes of lava stretching up to Olympus Mons. It was hard to think. He was sixty-six years old, born in 1982, and what was it back on Earth now, 2048? M-11, eleven long hi-rad Martian years. And he had spent thirty-five months in space, including three trips between Earth and Mars, which was still the record. He had taken on 195 rems in those trips alone, and he had low blood pressure and a bad HDL-to-LDL ratio, and his shoulders ached when he swam and he felt tired a lot. He was getting old. He didn’t have all that many years left, weird though it was to think of it; and he had a lot of faith in the Acheron group, who, now that he looked at them, were wandering around their aerie working and eating and playing soccer and swimming and so on with little smiles of absorbed concentration, with a kind of humming. Not like ten-year-olds, certainly not; but with an aura of suffused, absorbed happiness. Of health, and more than health. He laughed out loud, and went back down into Acheron looking for Ursula. When she saw him she laughed too. “It’s not really that hard a choice, is it.”

“No.” He laughed with her: “I mean, what have I got to lose?”

• • •

So he agreed to it. They had his genome in their records, but it would take a few days to synthesize the collection of repair strands and clip them onto plasmids and clone millions more. Ursula told him to come back in three days.

When he got back to the guest rooms Maya was already there, looking as shocked as he felt, wandering nervously from dresser to sink to window, touching things and looking around as if she had never seen such a room before. Vlad had told her about it after her physical, just as Ursula had with John. “Immortality plague!” she exclaimed, and laughed strangely. “Can you believe it?”

“Longevity plague,” he corrected her. “And no, I can’t. Not really.” He felt a little dizzy, and he could see she hadn’t heard him. Her agitation made him nervous. They heated soup, ate in a daze. Vlad had told Maya to come to Acheron, and intimated what it was all about; that was why she had insisted that John accompany her to Acheron. When she told him that, he felt a shiver of fondness for her. Standing next to her washing the dishes, observing her hands shake as she spoke, he felt exceptionally close to her; it was as if they knew each other’s thoughts, as if, after all the years, in the face of this bizarre development, there were no need for words, only for each other’s presence. That night in the warm dark of their bed she whispered hoarsely, “We’d better do it twice tonight. While it’s still us.”

• • •

Three days later they both got the treatment. John lay back on a medical couch in a small room, and stared at an intravenous plug in the back of his hand. An IV feed shot, just like all those he’d had before. Except this time he could feel a strange heat rising up his arm, flushing his chest, pouring down his legs. Was it real? Was he imagining it? For a second he felt extremely odd all over, as if his ghost had walked through him. Then he was just very hot. “Should I be this hot?” he asked Ursula anxiously.

“It’s like a fever at first,” she said. “Then we put a small shock through you to push the plasmids into your cells. After that it’s more chills than fever, as the new strands bond to the old. People often feel quite cold, actually.”

An hour later a big IV bag had drained into him. He was still hot, and his bladder was full. They let him get up and go to the bathroom, then when he returned he was strapped into what looked like a cross between a couch and an electric chair. That didn’t bother him; astronaut training had inured him to all devices. The shock when it came lasted about ten seconds, and felt like a disagreeable tickling everywhere in him. Ursula and the others detached him from the apparatus; Ursula, her eyes twinkling, gave him a kiss full on the mouth. She warned him again that in a while he would start to feel chilled, and that it would last for a couple of days. It was okay to sit in the saunas or whirlpool baths; in fact they recommended it.

• • •

So he and Maya sat in the corner of a sauna together, huddled in the penetrating warmth, watching the bodies of the other visitors, who came in white and went out pink. It seemed to John an image of what was happening to the two of them— come in sixty-five, go out ten. He really couldn’t believe it. It was still very hard for him to think, he found his thoughts simply blanked, his mind stunned. If brain cells were reinforced too, had his clogged unexpectedly? He had always been a ragged slow thinker. In fact this was probably no more than his usual obtuseness, brought to his attention because he was trying so hard to come to grips with the thing, to think what it meant. Could it really be true? Could they really be sidestepping death for some years, perhaps some decades?. .

They left the sauna to eat, and after their meals they took short walks in the crest greenhouse, looking out at the dunes to the north, the chaotic lava to the south. The view north reminded Maya of early Underhill, with the random litter of stones on Lunae replaced by Arcadia’s windswept quilt pattern of dunes, as if her memory had cleaned up her recollections of that time, making them more patterned, tinting their faded ochres and reds to rich lemon yellows. Patination of the past. He stared at her curiously. It had been M-11 years since those first days in the trailer park, and in most of the years since, the two of them had been lovers, with a number of (blessed) interruptions and separations, of course, caused by circumstances or, more usually, their inability to get along. But they had always started again when the opportunities came, and the upshot was that now they knew each other just about as well as any old married couple with a less interrupted history; perhaps even better, because any completely constant couple was likely to have stopped paying attention to each other at some point, while the two of them, with all their separations and reunions, fights and rapprochements, had had to relearn each other countless times. John said some of this to her, and they talked about it— it was a pleasure to talk about it—”We have had to keep paying attention,” Maya said intently, nodding with a look of solemn satisfaction, sure that this was mostly her doing. Yes, they had paid attention, they had never fallen into the mindless rut of habit. Surely, they both agreed as they sat in the baths, or walked the crest, this compensated for the time they had spent apart, more than compensated for it. Yes; no doubt they knew each other even better than any old married couple.

And so they talked, trying to stitch their pasts to this strange new future, in the anxious hope that it would not prove to be an unbridgeable rupture. And late the following evening, two days after the inoculation, sitting alone naked in the sauna, their flesh still cold, their skin all rosy with sweat, John looked at Maya’s body sitting there beside him, as real as a rock, and he felt a glow like the IV injection running all through him. He had not eaten much since the treatment, and the beige and yellow tiles they sat on had started to throb, as if lit from within; light gleamed on every water droplet covering the tiles, like tiny chips of lightning scattered everywhere, and Maya’s body sprawled over these sparkling tiles pulsing before him like a pink candle. The intense thereness of it—”haecceity,” Sax had called it once, when John had asked him something about his religious beliefs— I believe in haecceity, Sax had said, in thisness, in here-and-nowness, in the particular individuality of every moment. That’s why I want to know what is this? what is this? what is this? Now, remembering Sax’s odd word and his odd religion, John finally understood him; because he was feeling the thisness of the moment like a rock in his hand, and it felt as if his entire life had been lived only to get him to this moment. The tiles and the thick hot air were pulsing around him as if he were dying and being reborn, and sure, that was really the case if what Ursula and Vlad said were true. And there beside him in the process of being reborn was the pink body of Maya Toitovna, Maya’s body which he knew better than his own. And not only in this moment, but through time; he could recall vividly his first sight of her naked, floating toward him in the bubble chamber on the Ares, surrounded by a nimbus of stars and the black velvet of space. And every change in her since then was perfectly visible to him, the shift from the image in his memory to the body beside him was a hallucinatory time-dissolve, her flesh and skin shifting, dropping, lining— aging. They were both older, creakier, heavier. That was the way it went. But really the amazing thing was how much had remained, how much they were still themselves. Lines from a poem came to him, the epitaph of the Scott expedition near McMurdo in Antarctica, they had all climbed the hill to see the big wooden cross together, and carved on it had been lines: much has gone yet much remains… something like that. He couldn’t remember— much had gone; it had been a long time ago, after all. But they had worked hard, and eaten well, and perhaps Mars’s gravity had been kinder than Earth’s would have been, because the obvious glowing truth was that Maya Toitovna was still a very beautiful woman, strong and muscly, her imperial face and gray wet hair still commanding his gaze, her breasts still magnets to his eye, completely different in appearance if she so much as shifted an elbow, and yet in every position completely familiar to him… his breasts, his arms, ribs, flanks. She was, for better and worse, the person he was closest to, a beautiful pink animal and also an avatar for him, of sex, of life itself on this bare rocky world. If this was what they were at sixty-five, and if the treatment did no more than hold them at this point, for even a few added years, or (the shock of it still) for decades? For decades? Well, it was astonishing. Absolutely too much to grasp, he had to stop trying or he would strip all the gears of his mind. But could it be? Could it really be? The aching desire of all true lovers through all the ages, to have a bit more time together, to be able to stretch out and live the love fully… Similar feelings seemed to be stirring Maya. She was in a great mood, she watched him from hooded eyes, with that come-hither half-smile he knew so well, one knee up and tucked in her armpit, not flaunting her sex at him but just comfortable, relaxing as she would if she were alone… yes, there was nothing like Maya in a good mood, no one could infect other people with it so much and so surely. He felt a rush of affection for that aspect of her character, an IV of sentiment, and he put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, eros just a spice in a feast of agape, and suddenly as usual the words just burst out of him, he said things to her that he had never said before, “Let’s get married!” he said and when she laughed he did too, and said, “No no, I mean it, let’s get married.” Get married and grow really, really old together, seize whatever gift years came and make them a shared adventure, have kids, watch the kids have kids, watch the grandkids have kids, watch the great-grandkids have kids, my Lord who knew how long it might last? They might watch a whole nation of descendants flourish, become patriarch and matriarch, a kind of mini Martian Adam and Eve! And Maya laughed at each declaration, her eyes vivacious and sparkling with affection, windows to a soul in a very, very good mood, watching him and soaking him up, he could feel the blotter tug of her gaze watching him and laughing delightedly at each new absurd hilarious phrase that burst out of him, and saying to him “Something like that, yes, something like that,” and then hugging him hard. “Oh John,” she said. “You know how to make me happy. You are the best man I ever had.” She kissed him and he found that despite the sauna’s heat it was going to be easy to shift the emphasis from agape to eros; but now the two were one, indistinguishable, a great mingled flood of love. “So you’ll marry me and all?” he said as he locked the sauna door and they began to fall into it. “Something like that,” she said, eyes flashing, face ablaze with an absolutely ravishing smile.

When you expect to live another two hundred years, you behave differently from when you expect to live only twenty.

This they proved almost immediately. John spent the winter there at Acheron, on the edge of the CO2 fog cap that still descended over the North Pole every winter, studying areobotany with Marina Tokareva and her lab group. He did this on Sax’s instruction, and because he felt in no hurry to leave. Sax seemed to have forgotten about the search to find out who the saboteurs were, which made John a little suspicious. In his spare time he still made efforts through Pauline, concentrating on the areas he had been working on before Acheron, travel records mostly, and then employment records of all the people who had traveled to the areas where the sabotages had taken place. Presumably there were a lot of people involved, so individual travel records might not tell him much. But everyone on Mars had been sent there by an organization, and by checking which organizations had sent people to the relevant places, he hoped to get some indications. It was a messy business, and he had to rely on Pauline not only for statistics but advice, which was worrying.

The rest of the time he studied a branch of areobotany in which all the payoffs were at least decades away. Why not? He had the time, and might very well see the fruits of the work. So he watched Marina’s group design a new tree, studying with them and doing their lab work, washing glassware and the like. The tree was designed to serve as the canopy of a multi-layered forest which they hoped to grow on the dunes of Vastitas Borealis. It was based on a sequoia genome, but they wanted trees even bigger than sequoias, perhaps 200 meters tall, with a trunk fifty meters in diameter at the base. Their bark would stay frozen most of the time, and their broad leaves, which would probably look as if they had tobacco leaf disease, were going to be able to absorb the baseline dose of UV radiation without damage to their purplish undersides. At first John thought the trees’ size was excessive, but Marina pointed out that they would be capable of taking in great quantities of carbon dioxide, fixing the carbon and transpiring the oxygen back into the air. And they were going to be quite a sight, or so they supposed; the actual shoots of the competing test prototypes were only ten meters tall, and it would be twenty years before the winners of the competition reached their mature heights. And right now all the prototypes still died in Mars jars; atmospheric conditions would have to change considerably before they would survive outdoors. Marina’s lab was getting ahead of the game.

But so was everyone else. This seemed to be a result of the treatment, it made sense on the face of it. Longer experiments. Longer (John groaned) investigations. Longer thoughts.

In many respects, however, nothing changed. John felt about the same as before, except it didn’t take omegendorph to get an occasional buzz humming through him, as if he had recently finished swimming a couple of kilometers, or cross-country skiied for an afternoon, or, yes, taken a dose of omegendorph. Which now would have been carrying coals to Newcastle. Because things glowed. When he took the crest walk, the whole visible world glowed: stilled bulldozers, a crane like a gallows, he could watch anything for minutes on end. Maya left for Hellas, and it didn’t matter; their relations were back on the old rollercoaster ride, a lot of bickering and fits of temper on her part, but all that seemed unimportant, floating inside the glow, changing nothing in the way he felt toward her, or in the way she had, from time to time, turned on him that look of hers. He would see her in a few months, and talk to her on screen; meanwhile this was a separation he was not entirely unhappy to see.

It was a good winter. He learned a lot about areobotany and bioengineering, and in many of the evenings, after dinner, he would ask the Acheron people both individually and severally what they thought the eventual Martian society should be like, and how it should be run. At Acheron this usually led directly to considerations of ecology, and its deformed offshoot economics; these to them were much more critical than politics, or what Marina called “the supposed decision-making apparatus.” Marina and Vlad were particularly interesting on this topic, as they had worked out a system of equations for what they called “eco-economics,” which always sounded to John like “eco-economics.” He liked listening to them explain the equations, and he asked them a lot of questions, learning about concepts like carrying capacity, coexistence, counteradaptation, legitimacy mechanisms, and ecologic efficiency. “That’s the only real measure of our contribution to the system,” Vlad would say. “If you burn our bodies in a microbomb calorimeter you’ll find we contain about six or seven kilocalories per gram of weight, and of course we take in a lot of calories to sustain that through our lives. Our output is harder to measure, because it’s not a matter of predators feeding on us, as in the classic efficiency equations— it’s more a matter of how many calories we create by our efforts, or send on to future generations, something like that. And most of that is very indirect, naturally, and it involves a lot of speculation and subjective judgment. If you don’t go ahead and assign values to a number of non-physical things, then electricians and plumbers and reactor builders and other infrastructural workers would always rate as the most productive members of society, while artists and the like would be seen as contributing nothing at all.”

“Sounds about right to me,” John joked, but Vlad and Marina ignored him.

“Anyway that’s a large part of what economics is— people arbitrarily, or as a matter of taste, assigning numerical values to non-numerical things. And then pretending that they haven’t just made the numbers up, which they have. Economics is like astrology in that sense, except that economics serves to justify the current power structure, and so it has a lot of fervent believers among the powerful.”

“Better just to concentrate on what we’re doing here,” Marina put in. “The basic equation is simple, efficiency merely equals the calories you put out, divided by the calories you take in, times one hundred to put it in the form of a percentage. In the classic sense of passing along calories to one’s predator, ten percent was average, and twenty percent doing really well. Most predators at the tops of food chains did more like five percent.”

“This is why tigers have ranges of hundreds of square kilometers,” Vlad said. “Robber barons are not really very efficient.”

“So tigers don’t have predators not because they’re so tough, but because it’s not worth the effort,” John said.


“The problem is in calculating the values,” Marina said. “We have had to simply assign certain calorie-equivalent numerical values to all kinds of activities, and then go on from there.”

“But we were talking about economics?” John said.

“But this is economics, don’t you see, this is our eco-economics! Everyone should make their living, so to speak, based on a calculation of their real contribution to the human ecology. Everyone can increase their ecological efficiency by efforts to reduce how many kilocalories they use— this is the old Southern argument against the energy consumption of the Northern industrial nations. There was a real ecologic basis to that objection, because no matter how much the industrial nations produced, in the larger equation they could not be as efficient as the South.”

“They were predators on the South,” John said.

“Yes, and they will become predators on us too, if we let them. And like all predators their efficiency is low. But here, you see— in this theoretical state of independence that you speak of—” she grinned at John’s look of consternation—”you do, you have to admit that that is ultimately what you talk about all the time, John— well, there it should be the law that people are rewarded in proportion to their contribution to the system.”

Dmitri, coming in the lab, said, “From each according to his capacities, to each according to his needs!”

“No, that’s not the same,” Vlad said. “What it means is, You get what you pay for!”

“But that’s already true,” John said. “How is this different from the economics that already exists?”

They all scoffed at once, Marina most persistently: “… there’s all kinds of phantom work! Unreal values assigned to most of the jobs on Earth! The entire transnational executive class does nothing a computer couldn’t do, and there are whole categories of parasitical jobs that add nothing to the system by an ecologic accounting. Advertising, stock brokerage, the whole apparatus for making money only from the manipulation of money— that is not only wasteful but corrupting, as all meaningful money values get distorted in such manipulation.” She waved a hand in disgust.

“Well,” Vlad said, “we can say that their efficiency is very low, and that they predate on the system without having any predators, so that they are either the top of the chain or parasitical, depending on how you define it. Advertising, money brokering, some types of manipulation of the law, some politics. . ”

“But all of these are subjective judgments!” John exclaimed. “How have you actually assigned caloric values to such a variety of activities?”

“Well, we have done our best to calculate what they contribute back to the system in terms of well-being measured as a physical thing. What does the activity equal in terms of food, or water, or shelter, or clothing, or medical aid, or education, or free time? We’ve talked it over, and usually everyone at Acheron has offered a number, and we have taken the mean. Here, let me show you. . ”

And they would talk through the evening about it before the computer screen, and John would ask questions, and plug Pauline in to record the screens and tape the discussions, and they would go through the equations and jab their fingers at the flow charts, and then stop for coffee and perhaps take it up to the crest, to pace the length of the greenhouse arguing vehemently about the human value in kilocalories of plumbing, opera, simulation programming and the like. They were up on the crest, in fact, one afternoon near sunset, when John looked up from the equation on his wristpad, and stared up the long slope toward Olympus Mons.

The sky had darkened. It occurred to him that it might be just another double eclipse: Phobos was so close overhead that it blocked a third of the sun when it crossed in front of it, and Deimos about a ninth, and a couple times a month they crossed at the same time, causing a shadow to be cast across the land, as if a film had got in your eye, or you had had a bad thought.

But this wasn’t an eclipse; Olympus Mons was hidden from view, and the high southern horizon was a fuzzy bronze bar. “Look at that,” he said to the others, and pointed. “A dust storm.” They hadn’t had a global dust storm in over ten years. John called up the weather satellite photos on his wristpad. The origin of the storm had been near the Thaumasia mohole, Senzeni Na. He called up Sax and found him blinking philosophically, stating his surprise in mild tones.

“Winds at the edge of the storm were up to six hundred and sixty kilometers an hour,” Sax said. “A new planetary record. It looks like this is going to be a big one. I thought the cryptogamic soils in the storm start-up zones would have dampened them, or even stopped them. Obviously that model had something wrong with it.”

“Okay, Sax, too bad about that, but it’ll be okay, I gotta go now because it’s rolling right down on us now and I want to watch.”

“Have fun,” Sax said deadpan before John clicked him off. Vlad and Ursula were scoffing at Sax’s model— temperature gradients between biotically defrosted soil and the remaining frosted areas would be greater than ever, and the winds between the two regions correspondingly fiercer, so that when they finally hit loose fines, off they would go. Totally obvious.

“Now that it’s happened,” John said. He laughed and moved down the greenhouse to watch the storm’s approach by himself. Scientists could be so catty.

The wall of dust rolled down the long lava slopes of Olympus Mons’s northern aureole. It had already halved the land visible since John first saw it, and now it approached like a giant breaking wave, a billowy chocolate milk wave 10,000 meters high, with a bronze filigree foaming up and off it, leaving great curved streamers in the pink sky above. “Wow!” John cried. “Here it comes! Here it comes!” Suddenly the crest of the Acheron fin seemed located a great distance above the long narrow canyons of the fossae below them, and lower fin ridges reared like dragon backs out of the cracked lava: a wild place from which to face the onrush of such a storm, too high, too exposed. John laughed again, and pressed himself against the southern windows of the greenhouse, looking down, out, around, shouting, “Wow! Wow! Look at it go! Wow!”

And then suddenly they were overwhelmed, dust flying over them, darkness, a high whooshing shriek. The first impact against Acheron ridge caused a wild flurry of turbulence, quick cyclonic twisters that appeared and disappeared, horizontal, vertical, at angles up the few steep gullies in the ridge. The general shriek was punctuated by booms as these disturbances hit the ridge and collapsed. Then with dreamlike rapidity the wind settled into a smooth standing wave, and the dust rushed up past John’s face; the pit of his stomach lifted, as if the greenhouse were suddenly dropping with violent speed. Certainly that’s what it looked like, as the ridge had caused a ferocious updraft. Stepping back, however, he saw the dust streaming overhead and then off to the north. On that side of the greenhouse he could see for a few kilometers, before the wind smashed into the ground again and cut off the view in continual explosions of dust. “Wow!”

His eyes were dry, and his mouth felt a bit caked. Lots of the fines were less than a micron across— was that a faint sheen of them, there already across the bamboo leaves? No. Only the weird light of the storm. But there would be dust on everything, eventually. No seal system could keep it out.

Vlad and Ursula were not completely confident of the greenhouse’s ability to withstand the wind, and they encouraged everyone up there to go downstairs. On the way down John reestablished contact with Sax. Sax’s mouth was bunched into a tighter knot than usual. They would lose a lot of insolation with this storm, he said evenly. Equatorial surface temperatures had been averaging eighteen degrees higher than the baseline figures, but temperatures near Thaumasia were already down six degrees, and they would continue to plummet for the duration of the storm. And, he added with what seemed to John an almost masochistic completeness, the mohole thermals would loft the dust higher than ever before, so that it was all too possible that the storm might last for a long time.

“Buck up, Sax,” John advised. “I think it’ll be shorter than ever before. Don’t be so pessimistic.”

Later on, when the storm was going into its second M-year, Sax would remind John of this prediction with a little laugh.

• • •

Traveling during the storm was officially restricted to the trains and to certain heavily used double-transponder roads, but when it became obvious that it wasn’t going to die back down that summer, John ignored the restrictions and resumed his wanderings. He made sure that his rover was well stocked, he had a backup rover follow him, and he had an extra-powerful radio transmitter installed. That and Pauline in the driver’s seat would be enough to get him around most of the northern hemisphere, he figured; rover breakdowns were rare, because of the really comprehensive internal monitoring systems hooked into their control computers. Two rover breakdowns at once was unheard of, there had been only a single recorded fatality as a result of that happening. So he said good-bye to the Acheron group, and took off again.

Driving in the storm was like driving at night, except more interesting. The dust rocketed by in gusts, leaving little pockets of visibility that gave him quick dim sepia snatches of a view, the landscape rolling, everything seeming to be moving south. Then blank rushing tempests of dust would return again, flush against the windows. The rover rocked hard on its shock absorbers during the worst gusts, and the dust did indeed get into everything.

On the fourth day of his drive he turned straight south, and began to drive up the northwest slope of the Tharsis Bulge. This was the great escarpment again, but here it was not a cliff, only a slope imperceptible in the storm’s dark, lasting for more than a day, until he was high on the side of Tharsis, five vertical kilometers higher than he had been in Acheron.

He stopped at another mine, located near crater Pt (called Pete), located in the upper end of the Tantalus Fossae. Apparently the Tharsis Bulge had initiated the great lava flood covering Alba Patera, and later bulging had then cracked the lava shield; these were the Tantalus canyons. Some of them had cracked over a platinoid-rich mafic igneous intrusion that the miners had named the Merensky Reeflets. The miners were real Azanians this time, but Azanians who called themselves Afrikaaners, and spoke Afrikaaner among themselves; white men who welcomed John with heavy doses of God, volk, and trek. They had named the canyons they worked in Neuw Orange Free State and Neuw Pretoria. And they, like the miners at Bradbury Point, worked for Armscor. “Yes,” the operations head said happily, with an accent like a New Zealander’s. He had a heavily-jowled face, a ski-jump nose and a big crooked smile, and a very intense manner. “We’ve found iron, copper, silver, manganese, aluminum, gold, platinum, titanium, chromium, you name it. Sulfides, oxides, silicates, native metals, you name it. The Great Escarpment has them all.” The mine had been running for about an M-year; it consisted of strip mines on the canyon floors, with a habitat half buried in the mesa between two of the largest canyons, looking like a clear eggshell, packed with a meat of green trees and orange tile roofs.

John spent several days with them, being sociable and asking questions. More than once, thinking of the Acheron group’s eco-economics, he asked them how they were going to get their valuable but heavy product back to Earth. Would the energy cost of the transfer overwhelm the potential profit?

“Of course,” they said, just like the men at Bradbury Point. “It will take the space elevator to make it worthwhile.”

Their chief said, “With the space elevator we are in the Terran market. Without it we will never get off Mars.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” John said. But they didn’t understand him, and when he tried to explain it they only went blank and nodded politely, anxious to avoid thinking about politics. Which was something Afrikaaners were good at. When John realized what was going on, he found he could bring up the topic of politics to get some time to himself; it was, he said to Maya one night on the wrist, like tossing a tear gas canister in the room. It even enabled him to wander into the mining operations center alone for most of an afternoon, linking Pauline to the records and recording everything that she could lift. Pauline noticed no unusual patterns in the operation. But she did flag an exchange of communications with the Armscor home office; the local group wanted a security unit of a hundred persons, and Singapore had agreed to it.

John whistled. “What about UNOMA?” Security was supposed to be entirely their purview, and they gave out approval for private security pretty routinely; but a hundred people? John instructed Pauline to look into the UNOMA dispatches on the subject, and left for dinner with the Afrikaaners.

Again the space elevator was declared a necessity. “They’ll just pass us by if we don’t have it, go straight out to the asteroids and not have any gravity well to worry about, eh?”

Despite the five hundred micrograms of omegendorph in his system, John was not in a happy mood. “Tell me,” he said at one point, “do any women work here?”

They stared at him like fish. They were even worse than Moslems, really.

He left the next day and drove up to Pavonis, intent on looking into the space elevator notion.

• • •

Up the long slope of Tharsis. He never saw the steep, blood-colored cone of Ascraeus Mons; it was lost in the dust along with everything else. Travel now consisted of life in a set of small rooms that bumped around a lot. He worked his way around Ascraeus on its west flank, and then motored up onto the crest of Tharsis, between Ascraeus and Pavonis. Here the double-transponder road became an actual concrete ribbon under the wheels— concrete under a rush of dust, concrete that finally tilted up sharply, and led him straight up the northern slope of Pavonis Mons. It went on for so long that it began to feel like a slow blind takeoff into space.

The crater of Pavonis, as the Afrikaaners had reminded him, was amazingly equatorial; the round O of its caldera sat like a ball placed right on the equator line. This apparently made the south rim of Pavonis the perfect tethering point for a space elevator, as it was both directly on the equator, and twenty-seven kilometers above the datum. Phyllis had already arranged for the construction of a preliminary habitat on the south rim; she had thrown herself into work on the elevator, and was one of its chief organizers.

Her habitat was dug into the rim wall of the caldera, in Echus Overlook style, so that windows in several stories of rooms looked out over the caldera, or would when the dust cleared. Photos blown up and stuck on the walls showed that the caldera itself would eventually be revealed as a simple circular depression, with walls 5,000 meters deep, slightly terraced near the bottom; the caldera had slumped often in earlier days, but always in nearly the same place. It was the only one of the great volcanoes to have been so regular; the other three had calderas that were like sets of overlapping circles, with each circle set at a different depth.

The new habitat, nameless at this point, had been built by UNOMA, but the equipment and personnel had been provided by the transnational Praxis, one of the biggest of them all. Currently the rooms that were finished were crowded with Praxis executives, or executives of some of the other transnationals who had subcontracts on the elevator project, among them were representatives of Amex, Oroco, Subarashii, and Mitsubishi. And all their efforts were being coordinated by Phyllis, who was now apparently Helmut Bronski’s assistant in charge of the operation.

Helmut too was there, and after John had greeted him and Phyllis, and been introduced to some of the visiting consultants, John was led into a big high room with a window wall. Outside the window swirled clouds of dark orange dust dropping down into the caldera, so that it seemed that the room ascended, uncertainly, in a dim fluctuating light.

The room’s only furnishing was a globe of Mars one meter in diameter, resting waist-high on a blue plastic stand. Extending from the globe, specifically from the little bump that represented Pavonis Mons, was a silver wire about five meters long. At the end of the thread was a small black dot. The globe was rotating on the stand at about one rpm, and the silver wire and its terminating black dot rotated with it, always remaining above Pavonis.

A group of about eight people ringed this display. “Everything is to scale,” Phyllis said. “The areosynchronous satellite distance is 20,435 kilometers from the center of mass, and the equatorial radius is 3,386 kilometers, so the distance from the surface to the areosynchronous point is 17,049 kilometers; double that and add the radius, and you have 37,484 kilometers. We’ll have a ballast rock at the far end, so the actual cable won’t have to be as long as it would be without it. The diameter of the cable will be about ten meters, and will weigh about six billion tons. The material for it will have been mined from its terminal ballast point, which will be an asteroid that starts at around thirteen-and-a-half billion tons, and ends up when the cable is finished at the proper ballast weight of around seven-and-a-half billion tons. That’s not a very big asteroid, about two kilometers in radius to begin with; there are six Amor asteroids crossing Mars’s orbit that have been identified as candidates for the job. The cable will be manufactured by robots mining and processing the carbon in the asteroid’s chondrites. Then, in the last stages of construction, the cable will be maneuvered to its tethering point, here.” She pointed at the floor of the room in dramatic fashion. “At that point, the cable will be in areosynchronous orbit itself, barely touching down here, its weight suspended between the pull of the planet’s gravity and the centrifugal force of the upper part of the cable, and the terminal ballast rock.”

“What about Phobos?” John asked.

“Phobos is way down there, of course. The cable will be vibrating to avoid it, in what the designers call a Clarke oscillation. It won’t be a problem. Deimos will also have to be avoided by oscillation, but because its orbit is more inclined this won’t be such a frequent problem.”

“And when it’s in position?” Helmut asked, his face bright with pleasure.

“A few hundred elevators at least will be attached to the cable, and loads will be lifted into orbit using a counterweight system. There will be lots of material to load down from Earth as usual, so energy requirements for lifts will be minimized. It will also be possible to use the cable’s rotation as a slingshot; objects released from the ballast asteroid toward Earth will be using the power of Mars’s rotation as their push, and will have an energy-free high-speed takeoff. It’s a clean, efficient, extraordinarily cheap method, both for lifting bulk into space and for accelerating it toward Earth. And given the recent discoveries of strategic metals, which are becoming ever more scarce on Earth, a cheap lift and push like this is literally invaluable. It creates the possibility of an exchange that wasn’t economically viable before; it will be a critical component of the Martian economy, the keystone of its industry. And it won’t be that expensive to build. Once a carbonaceous asteroid is pushed into the proper orbit, and a nuclear-powered robotic cable plant put to work on it, the plant will extrude cable like a spider spinning its thread. There will be very little to do but wait. The cable plant as designed will be able to produce over three thousand kilometers of cable a year— this means we need to start as soon as possible, but after production begins, it will only take ten or eleven years. And the wait will be well worth it.”Shikata ga nai, John thought sardonically. Phyllis glanced very briefly at John, as if he had spoken aloud. “We won’t let that happen,” she said. “And best of all, our elevator will serve as an experimental prototype for a Terran one. The transnationals who gain expertise in building this elevator will be in a commanding position when it comes to bidding the contracts for the much larger Terran project that is sure to follow.”

John stared at Phyllis, impressed as always by her fervor. She was like a convert giving witness, a preacher in a pulpit, quietly and confidently triumphant. The miracle of the skyhook. Jack and the Beanstalk, the Ascension to Heaven; it definitely had an air of the miraculous to it. “Really, we don’t have much choice,” Phyllis was saying. “This gets us out of our gravity well, eliminating it as a physical and economic problem. That’s crucial; without that we’ll be bypassed, we’ll be like Australia in the nineteenth century, too far away to be a significant part of the world economy. People will pass us by and mine the asteroids directly, because the asteroids have mineral wealth without gravitational constraints. Without the elevator we could become a backwater.”

On and on she went, outlining every aspect of the plan, and then answering questions from the executives with her usual polished brilliance. She got a lot of laughs— she was flushed, bright-eyed. John could almost see the tongues of fire flickering from her mass of auburn hair, which in the storm light looked like a cap of jewels. The executives and project scientists glowed under her look; they were onto something big, and they knew it. Earth was seriously depleted in many of the metals they were finding on Mars. There were fortunes to be made, enormous fortunes. And someone who owned a piece of the bridge over which every ounce of metal had to pass would make an enormous fortune as well, probably the greatest fortune of all. No wonder Phyllis and the rest of them looked like they were in church.

Before dinner that evening John stood in his bathroom, and without looking at himself in the mirror took out two tabs of omegendorph and swallowed them. He was sick of Phyllis. But the drug made him feel better. Phyllis was just another part of the game, after all; and when he sat down to dinner he was in an expansive mood. Okay, he thought, they have their gold mine of a beanstalk. But it wasn’t clear that they would be able to keep it to themselves— highly unlikely in fact. So that their fat-cat complacency was a bit silly, as well as grating, and he laughed in the middle of one of their enthusiastic exchanges and said, “Don’t you think it unlikely that an elevator like this will stay private property?”

“We don’t intend for it to be private property,” Phyllis said with her brilliant smile.

“But you expect to be paid for its construction. And then you expect concessions to be granted. You expect to make a profit from the venture, isn’t that what venture capitalism is all about?”

“Well, of course,” Phyllis said, looking offended that he had spoken of such things so explicitly. “Everyone on Mars will profit from it, that’s its nature.”

“And you’ll skim a percentage of every percentage.” Predators at the top of the chain. Or else parasites, up and down the length of it. . ”How rich did the builders of the Golden Gate Bridge get, do you think? Were there great transnational dynasties formed from the profits of the Golden Gate Bridge? No. It was a public project, wasn’t it. The builders were public employees, making a standard wage for their work. What do you want to bet that the Mars treaty doesn’t stipulate a similar arrangement for infrastructural construction here? I’m pretty sure it does.”

“But the treaty is up for revision in nine years,” Phyllis pointed out, her eyes glittering.

John laughed. “So it is! But you wouldn’t believe the support I see around this planet for a revised treaty that sets even tighter limits on Terran investment and profit. You just haven’t been paying attention. The thing you have to remember is that this is an economic system being built from scratch, on principles that make sense in scientific terms. There’s only a limited carrying capacity here, and to create a sustainable society we’ve got to pay attention to that. You can’t just lift raw materials from here to Earth— the colonial era is over, you have to remember that.” He laughed again at the glinty stares being leveled on him; it was like gun sights had been implanted in their corneas.

And it only occurred to him later, back in his room and remembering those looks, that it probably had not been a very good idea to stick their noses in the situation so hard. The Amex man had even lifted his wrist to his mouth to take down a note, in a gesture obviously meant to be seen: This John Boone was bad news! he had whispered, eyes on John all the while; he had wanted John to see him. Well, another suspect then. But it took John a while to get to sleep that night.

• • •

He left Pavonis the next day, and headed east down Tharsis, intending to drive a full 7,000 kilometers to Hellas, to visit Maya. The journey was made strangely solitary by the great storm. He glimpsed the southern highlands in murky snatches only, through billowing sheets of sand, with the ever-shifting whistle of the wind as accompaniment. Maya was pleased he was coming to visit; he had never been to Hellas before, and a lot of people there were looking forward to meeting him. They had discovered a sizable aquifer to the north of Low Point, so their plan was to pump water from that aquifer to the surface, and create a lake in the low point, a lake with a frozen surface which would be continuously subliming into the atmosphere, but which they would keep supplied from below. Sustained in that way it would both enrich the atmosphere, and serve as a reservoir and heat sink for cultivation, in a ring of domed farms built around the lake shore. Maya was very excited at the plans.

John’s long journey toward her passed in a mesmerized state, as he watched crater after crater loom out of the clouds of dust. One evening he stopped at a Chinese settlement where they knew hardly a word of English, and lived in boxes like the trailer park; he and the settlers had to make use of an AI translation program which kept them both laughing for most of the evening. Two days later, he stopped for a day at a huge Japanese air-mining facility in a high pass between craters. Here everyone spoke excellent English, but they were frustrated because the air miners had been brought to a standstill by the storm. The technicians smiled painfully, and escorted him through a nightmare complex of filtering systems that they had set up to try to keep the pumps working— and all for naught.

East three days from the Japanese, he ran across a Sufi caravanserai, located on top of a circular steep-walled mesa. This particular mesa had once been a crater floor, but it had been so hardened by impact metamorphosis that it had resisted the erosion that had cut away the surrounding soft land in the eons that followed, and now it stood above the plain like a thick round pedestal, its furrowed sides a kilometer high. John drove up a switchbacking ramp road to the caravanserai on top.

Up there he found that the mesa was situated in a permanent standing wave in the dust storm, so that there was more sunlight leaking through the dark clouds here than anywhere else he had been, even on the rim of Pavonis. Visibility was almost as truncated as everywhere else, but everything was more brightly colored, the dawns purple and chocolate, the days a vivid cloudy rush of umbers and yellow, orange and rust, pierced by the occasional bronzed sunbeam.“Talib?” John said. “Tariqat?”

It was a great spot, and the Sufis proved to be more hospitable than any of the Arab groups he had met so far. They had come up in one of the latest Arab groups, they told him, as a concession to religious factions in the Arab world back home; and as Sufis were numerous among Islamic scientists, there had been very few objections to sending them as a coherent group of their own. One of them, a small black man named Dhu el-Nun, said to him, “It’s wonderful in this time of the seventy thousand veils that you, the great talib, have followed his tariqat here to visit us.”

“A talib is a seeker. And the seeker’s tariqat is his path, his special path you know, on the road to reality.”

“I see!” John said, still surprised at the friendliness of their greeting.

Dhu led him from the garage to a low black building which stood in the center of a ring of rovers, looking dense with concentrated energy; a squat round thing like a model of the mesa itself, its windows rough clear crystals. Dhu identified the black rock of the building as stishovite, a high-density silicate created by the meteor’s impact, when pressures of over a million kilograms per square centimeter had momentarily existed. The windows were made of lechatelierite, a kind of compressed glass also created by the impact.

Inside the building, a party of about twenty people greeted him, both men and women alike. The women were bare-headed and behaved just like the men, which again surprised John, and alerted him to the fact that things among the Sufis were different than they were among Arabs generally. He sat down and drank coffee with them, and started asking questions again. They were Qadarite Sufis, they told him, pantheists influenced by early Greek philosophy and modern existentialism, trying by modern science and the ru’ yat al-qalb, the vision of the heart, to become one with that ultimate reality which was God. “There are four mystical journeys,” Dhu said to him. “The first begins with gnosis and ends with fana, or passing away from all phenomenal things. The second begins when fana is succeeded by baqa, or abiding. At this point you journey in the real, by the real, to the real, and you yourself are a reality, a haqq. And after that you move on to the center of the spirit universe, and become one with all others who have done likewise.”

“I guess I haven’t begun the first journey yet,” John said. “I don’t know anything.”

They were pleased by this response, he could see. You can start, they told him, and poured him more coffee. You can always start. They were so encouraging and friendly compared to any of the Arabs John had met before that he opened up to them, and told them about his trip to Pavonis, and the plans for the great elevator cable. “No fancy in the world is all untrue,” Dhu said. And when John mentioned his last meeting with Arabs, on Vastitas Borealis, and how Frank had been accompanying them, Dhu said cryptically, “It’s the love of right lures men to wrong.”

One of the women laughed and said, “Chalmers is your nafs.”

“What’s that?” John asked.

They were all laughing. Dhu, shaking his head, said “He is not your nafs. One’s nafs is one’s evil self, which some used to believe lived in one’s chest.”

“Like an organ or something?”

“Like an actual creature. Mohammed ibn ‘Ulyan for instance reported that something like a young fox leaped out of his throat, and when he kicked it it only got bigger. That was his nafs.”

“It is another name for your Shadow,” the woman who had brought it up explained.

“Well,” John said. “Maybe he is, then. Or maybe it’s just that Frank’s nafs gets kicked a lot.” And they laughed with him at the thought.

Later that afternoon sunlight pierced the dust more strongly than usual, lighting the streaming clouds so that the caravanserai seemed to rest in the ventricle of a giant heart, with the gusts of the wind saying beat, beat, beat, beat. The Sufis called out to each other when they looked through the lechatelierite windows, and quickly they suited up to go out into this crimson world, into the wind, calling to Boone to accompany them. He grinned and suited up, surreptitiously swallowing a tab of omeg as he did so.

Once outside they walked the circumference of the ragged edge of the mesa, looking out into the clouds and down onto the shadowed plain below, pointing out to John whatever features happened to be visible. After that they gathered near the caravanserai, and John listened to their voices as they chanted, various voices providing English translations for the Arabic and Farsi. “Possess nothing and be possessed by nothing. Put away what you have in your head, give what you have in your heart. Here a world and there a world, we are seated on the threshold.”

Another voice: “Love thrilled the chord in my soul’s lute, and changed me to love from head to foot.”

And they began to dance. Watching John suddenly got it, that they were whirling dervishes: they leaped into the air to the beat of drums pattering lightly over the common band, they leaped and whirled in slow unearthly spins, arms outstretched, and when they touched down they pushed off and did it again, for turn after turn after turn. Whirling dervishes in the great storm, on a high round mesa that had been a crater floor in the Noachian. It looked so marvelous in the bloody pulsing glow of light that John stood up and started to spin with them. He wrecked their symmetries, he sometimes actually collided with other dancers; but no one seemed to mind. He found that it helped to jump slightly into the wind, to keep from being blown off balance. A hard gust would knock you flat. He laughed. Some of the dancers were chanting over the common band, the usual quarter-tone ululations, punctuated by shouts and harsh rhythmic breathing, and the phrase “Ana el-Haqq, ana el-Haqq”— I am God, one translated, I am God. A Sufi heresy. The dancing was meant to hypnotize you— there were other Moslem cults that did it with self-flagellation, John knew. Spinning was better; he danced, he joined the chant on the common band by punctuating it with his own rapid breath, and with grunts and babble. Then without thinking about it he began to add to the flow of sound the names for Mars, muttering them in the rhythm of the chant as he understood it. “Al-Qahira, Ares, Auqakuh, Bahram. Harmakhis, Hrad, Huo Hsing, Kasei. Ma’adim, Maja, Mamers, Mangala. Nirgal, Shalbatanu, Simud and Tiu.” He had memorized the list years before as a kind of party trick; now he was quite surprised to find what an excellent chant it made, how it spilled out of his mouth and helped stabilize his spinning. The other dancers were laughing at him, but in a good way, they sounded pleased. He felt drunk, his whole body was humming. He repeated the litany many times, then shifted to repeating the Arabic name, over and over: “Al-Qahira, Al-Qahira, Al-Qahira.” And then, remembering what one of the translating voices had told him, “Ana el-Haqq, ana Al-Qahira. Ana el-Haqq, ana Al-Qahira.” I am God, I am Mars, I am God…. The others quickly joined him in this chant, lifted it into a wild song, and in the flash of rotating faceplates he caught sight of their grinning faces. They were really good spinners;as they whirled their outstretched fingers cut the rush of red dust into arabesques, and now as they spun they tapped him with their fingertips, guiding him or even actively pushing his clumsy turns into the weave of their pattern. He shouted the planet’s names and they repeated them after him, in call and response style. They chanted the names, Arabic, Sanskrit, Inca, all the names for Mars, mixed together in a soup of syllables, creating a polyphonic music that was beautiful and shivery-strange, for the names for Mars came from times when words sounded odd, and names had power: he could hear that when he sang them. I’m going to live for a thousand years, he thought.

When he finally stopped dancing and sat to watch, he began to feel sick. The world swam, his middle ear thingie was no doubt still spinning like a roulette ball. The scene pulsed before him, it was impossible to say whether this was the swirling dust or something internal, but either way he goggled at what he saw: whirling dervishes, on Mars? Well, in the Moslem world they were deviants of a kind, and with an ecumenical bent rare in Islam. And scientists too. So they were his way into Islam, perhaps, his tariqat; and their dervish ceremonies could perhaps be shifted into the areophany, as during his chant. He stood, reeling; all of a sudden he understood that one didn’t have to invent it all from scratch, that it was a matter of making something new by synthesis of all that was good in what came before. “Love thrilled the chord of love in my lute…” He was too dizzy. The others were laughing at him, supporting him. He talked to them in his usual way, hoping they would understand. “I feel sick. I think I’m going to throw up. But you must tell me why we can’t leave all the sad Terran baggage behind. Why we can’t invent together a new religion. The worship of Al-Qahira, Mangala, Kasei!”

They laughed, and carried him on their shoulders back toward the shelter. “I’m serious,” he said as the world spun. “I want you people to do it, I want your dancing to be in it, it’s obvious you should be the ones to design this religion, you’re doing it already.” But vomiting in a helmet was dangerous, and they only laughed at him and hustled him into the crushed-stone habitat as quickly as they could. There as he threw up a woman held his head, saying in musical subcontinental English, “The King asked his wise men for some single thing that would make him happy when he was sad, but sad when he was happy. They consulted and came back with a ring engraved with the message ‘This Too Will Pass.’“

“Straight into the recyclers,” Boone said. He lay back spinning. It was kind of an awful feeling, when you were trying to lie still. “But what do you want here? Why are you on Mars? You have to tell me what you want here.” They took him to the common room and set out cups, and a pot of aromatic tea. He still felt like he was spinning, and the dust rushing by the crystalline windows didn’t help.

One of the old women around him picked up the pot and poured John’s cup full. She put down the pot, gestured: “Now you fill mine.” John did so, unsteadily, and then the pot went around the room. Each pourer filled someone else’s cup.

“We start every meal this way,” the old woman said. “It is a little sign of how we are together. We have studied the old cultures, before your global market netted everything, and in those ages there existed many different forms of exchange. Some of them were based on the giving of gifts. Each of us has a gift, you see, given us freely by the universe. And each of us with every breath gives something back.”

“Like the equation for ecologic efficiency,” John said.

“Maybe so. In any case, whole cultures were built around the idea of the gift, in Malaysia, in the American northwest, in many primitive cultures. In Arabia we gave water, or coffee. Food and shelter. And whatever you were given, you did not expect to keep, but gave it back again in your turn, hopefully with interest. You worked to be able to give more than you received. Now we think that this can be the basis for a reverent economics.”

“It’s just what Vlad and Ursula said!”

“Maybe so.”

The tea helped. After a while his equilibrium returned. They talked about other things, the great storm, the great hard plinth they lived on. Late that night he asked if they had heard of the coyote, but they hadn’t. They did know stories about a creature they called the “hidden one,” the last survivor of an ancient race of Martians, a wizened thing who wandered the planet helping endangered wanderers, rovers, settlements. It had been spotted at the water station in Chasma Borealis last year, during an ice fall and subsequent power outage.

“It’s not Big Man?” John asked.

“No, no. Big Man is big. The hidden one is like us. Its people were Big Man’s subjects.”

“I see.”

But he didn’t, not really. If Big Man stood for Mars itself, then maybe the story of the hidden one had been inspired by Hiroko. Impossible to say. He needed a folklorist, or a scholar of myths, someone who could tell him how stories were born; but he had only these Sufis, grinning and weird, story creatures themselves. His fellow citizens in this new land. He had to laugh. They laughed with him and took him off to bed. “We say a bedtime prayer from the Persian poet Rumi Jalaluddin,” the old woman told him, and recited it:

I died as mineral and became a plant,

I died as plant and rose to animal.

I died as animal and I was human.

Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

Yet once more I shall die human,

To soar with angels blessed above.

And when I sacrifice my angel soul

Ishall become what no mind ever conceived.

“Sleep well,” she said into his drowsing mind. “This is all our path.”

The next morning he climbed stiffly in his rover, wincing with soreness and determined to eat some omeg as soon as he got on his way. The same woman was there to see him off, and he bumped his faceplate against hers affectionately.

“Whether it be of this world or of that,” she said, “your love will lead us yonder in the end.”

The transponder road led him through the brown wind-torn days, crossing the broken land south of Margaritifer Sinus. John would have to drive it again some other time to see any of it, for in the storm it was nothing but flying chocolate, pierced by momentary golden shafts of light. Near Bakhuysen Crater he stopped at a new settlement called Turner Wells; here they had tapped into an aquifer that was under such hydrostatic pressure at its lower end that they were going to generate power by running the artesian flow through a series of turbines. The water released would be poured into molds, frozen, and then hauled by robot to dry settlements all over the southern hemisphere. Mary Dunkel was working there, and she showed John around the wells, the power plant, and the ice reservoirs. “The exploratory drilling was actually scary as hell. When the drill hit the liquid part of the aquifer it was blasted back out of the well, and it was touch and go whether we were going to be able to control the gusher or not.”

“What would have happened if you hadn’t?”

“Well, I don’t know. There’s a lot of water down there. If it broke the rock around the well, it might have gone like the big outflow channels in Chryse.”

“That big?”

“Who knows? It’s possible.”


“That’s what I said! Now Ann has started an investigation into methods for determining aquifer pressures by the echoes they give back in the seismic tests. But there are people who would like to release an aquifer or two, see? They leave messages on the bulletin boards in the net. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sax is among them. Big floods of water and ice, lots of sublimation into the air, why shouldn’t he cheer?”

“But floods like those old ones would be as destructive to the landscape as dropping asteroids on it.”

“Oh, more destructive! Those channels downslope from the chaoses were incredible outbreaks. The best Terran analogy is the scab-lands in eastern Washington, have you heard of them? About eighteen thousand years ago there was a lake covering most of Montana, Lake Missoula they call it, composed of Ice Age meltwater and held in place by an ice dam. At some point this ice dam broke and the lake emptied catastrophically, about two trillion cubic meters of water, draining down the Columbia plateau and out to the Pacific in a matter of days.”


“While it lasted it ran about a hundred times the discharge of the Amazon, and carved channels in the basalt bedrock that are as much as two hundred meters deep.”

“Two hundred meters!”

“Right. And this was nothing compared to the ones that cut the Chryse channels! The anastomosing up there covers areas—”

“Two hundred meters of bedrock?”

“Yeah, well, it isn’t just normal erosion. In floods that big the pressures fluctuate so much that you get exsolution of dissolved gases, you know, and when those bubbles collapse they produce incredible pressures. Hammering like that can break anything.”

“So it would be worse than an asteroid strike.”

“Sure. Unless you dropped a really big asteroid. But there are people who think we should be doing that too, right?”

“Are there?”

“You know there are. But the floods are better yet, if you want to do that kind of thing. If you could direct one of them into Hellas, for instance, you’d have a sea. And you might be able to refill it faster than the surface ice sublimed.”

Direct a flood like that?” John exclaimed.

“Well, yeah, that would be impossible. But if you found one in the right spot, you wouldn’t have to direct it. You should check where Sax has sent the dowsing team lately, see what it looks like to you.”

“But it would be forbidden by UNOMA for sure.”

“Since when has that mattered to Sax?”

John laughed. “Oh, it matters now. They’ve given him too much for him to ignore them. They’ve tied him down with money and power.”


• • •

That night at 3:30 A.M. there was a small explosion in one of the well heads, and alarm bells ripped them from sleep and sent them stumbling through the tunnels half-naked, to be faced with a gusher that was shooting up into the night’s flying dust, in a column of white water torn to shreds in the unsteady glare of hastily directed spotlights. The water was falling out of the dust clouds as chunks of ice, hail the size of bowling balls. Wells downwind were being pummeled by these missiles, and the ice balls were already knee deep.

Given the discussion of the previous evening John found himself quite alarmed by the sight, and he ran around until he found Mary. Through the noise of the eruption and the ever-present storm, Mary shouted in John’s ear: “Clear the area, I’m going to set off a charge beside the well and try to snuff it!” She ran off in her white nightshirt, and John rounded up the spectators and got them back down the tunnels to the station habitat. Mary joined them in the lock, huffing and puffing, and fiddled with her wristpad, and there was a low boom in the direction of the well. “Come on let’s go see,” she said, and they got thr