“Slick, that suit has a tear …”
“What are you talking about … ?”
Lars was confident, but Zon knew that sometimes, on Mars, it was better to add a little caution …
“Lars, I swear, if one of the medusa-rats gets you because they smell your scent or because you’re fucking around with your suit … I swear …”
Zon made threats, knowing full well he’d promised his sister that he’d look out for Lars – his sister had died of the blue-fever 3 years earlier.
Zon Greskow, or “ZG”, was preparing to make his bi-annual (Martians still measured time as on Earth, no matter the 1.8 years it took Mars to circle the Sun – some habits are hard to break) trek to “Mons City” – a place that had become the keystone, the foundation, of the current Martian culture. His employee, and nephew, Lars Anderson, was making his first journey to the trading post there.
Three centuries earlier, Mons was the principle city of the Martian colonies, now, with most of its structures abandoned, domes destroyed by meteors, it was a shell of some dead city – sitting on top of a living thing, what most of the foragers, traders, farmers, hunters, called the “rendezvous” – hearkening back to a time, hundreds of years earlier on Earth, when beaver trappers, traders, gunsmiths, and buyers would meet – to conduct commerce, knowing that commerce was, and continues to be, survival.
The “rendezvous” was a system of caves, tunnels, and underground living spaces, where the Martians retreated, following the “event”.
The “rendezvous” and “bazaar” were an ongoing thing – meaning that, unlike the ancient rendezvous, something was “always happening” or being bought/sold.
And, the “rendezvous” was the main way most, not all, Martians found “a mate”.
“Fuck ‘Unc’, I know the deal … I’ve got jimmy-tape … totally sealed my man!”
“Jimmy Tape” was one of many items to be bought at the trading posts of Mars. Low pressure suits and masks were still manufactured by the printing co-ops, but they were expensive – Jimmy-Tape, or “JT”, was created by Jim Johnson, that was the legend … Nobody really knew. History, records, much changed after the “ash times” – the time when the lights turned off on Earth, ending all interplanetary trade, and control, from the nations of Earth. Most on Mars had legends of what happened, some data, history books, it seemed like Earth was a “light” that turned off one day, so very long ago …
“Lars, that tear is going to be uncomfortable … all I’m saying.”
Mars had been partially terraformed – it was the 27th century, and Mars had a thicker atmosphere, mostly CO2, ammonia, and nitrogen, but still at a pressure (and toxicity) that would kill a person in 15 minutes. “Golden 15” … that’s how long you had on Mars without a low-pressure suit. Tears or rips didn’t prevent the suit from working, just prevented it from working well – meaning more stops, more breaks on the road, more dependency on their sol-trek trikes.
Sol-treks, or “trikes” or “trykes”, were 3 wield vehicles, powered by electricity and re-charged by portable cells. Sol-treks usually had methane powered generators on them, and methane was available at the Mons-TP (trading post), but the smaller trading posts had methane for sale as well.
Mons was the “shit”, as they would say – most of the smaller posts had one or two items consistently, water, compressed methane, synth-food, but to see a bazaar you had to go to Mons … if you wanted “something special”, there was nothing like Mons on Mars.
In the year 2145, the Earth nations decided to settle, to colonize and terraform, Mars …
When Earth decided to settle Mars, they sent automated factories there first – factories that produced raw materials, exuded gases to increase atmospheric pressure, and “the beasts” – the beast issue is why you don’t want a crappy lp-suit (lp meaning “low pressure”).
The “beasts” were creatures, flora and fauna, genetically engineered to live under exotic conditions …
There were the “brown trees”, whose roots appeared on the surface, and sought the safety of the Martian soil against radiation and the harsh conditions. They converted the elements, minerals, in Mars’ soil, to CO2, methane, ammonia. Brown-trees were poisonous – they got their name from their color. The roots would bloom, above ground, and from the right angle looked like normal Earth trees in winter – but trees that would never show “leaves” above the surface, their limbs were not limbs.
The “flower worms” were sent to the deep caverns and canyons of Mars …
Flower-worms were genetically modified from the tube-worms found near sulfur vents, deep in the oceans, of the now distant, remote, disconnected Earth.
They, the worms, had flourished on Mars – converting rock and earth to consumable matter, and then leaving, at death, an organic mass. The theory went that these worms would “quicken the cycle” and speed up the terraforming – but life is without boundaries, and the worms changed.
The first colonists to be killed got too close – the worms were stationary, but could project their flowers and grab a nearby passerby, suffocating and crushing them, slowly digesting the suit, the body, everything.
“Broaches” (b-roaches) were sent to mars to feed on the worms, and they did so – but soon found the human dumps and domed cities. The roaches were originally based on the Asian cockroach, but, because of low gravity, learned to swarm, to fly in swarms. They did not threaten humans, unless you considered the fact that they often clogged the oxygen stills and exhaust vents of the underground habitats.
Last, but not least, were the medusa rats – designed to control the b-roaches. This last creature was monstrous, and began as a crude hybrid of the Norwegian rat and the lamprey or hag fish. It had the body of a rat, the head of a lamprey, and grew to a much larger size than on Earth – once again, due to the lower gravity (37% Earth’s gravity).
By the 10th year of the Earth efforts with the “medusa rats”, they had already grown to a length of 5 feet – and became adept at cooperative hunting. Very quickly the rats realized that the b-roaches were good, but human flesh was better. By the 20th year, the rats stabilized at a length of 10 feet, and a height of 4 feet – weight wasn’t the issue, since density was lower, but they were lethal to humans by themselves … in packs? – it was a death sentence.
Even with these mishaps in the terraforming project, the human colonies grew – with new colonists arriving daily, until the “event”.
The old timers had their own oral history of this, since communications shut off completely, from Earth, within hours after the “event” …
Some believed it was a massive coronal mass ejection – and there was reason to believe this based upon the data that was sent to Mars …
Others believed that a solar maximum had antagonized the Earth’s core, leading to massive volcanic eruptions, almost simultaneously, with every major known caldera, on Earth, “cooking off” at once …
But communications were delayed, by variable amounts, and very soon the Earth simply went dark – no more colonists, no more “government ships”, no more anything from Earth … and the colonists of Mars were left, alone, to fend for themselves. The new Martians started their calendar at zero, and this was now the year M321.
This was Lars’ first trip to Mons – and he was excited.
Lars was 18 years old, measured in Earth years, and had discovered digital pornography 2 years earlier. Even though there was no government on Mars, there were co-ops that provided a connected network, an internet of sorts, with relatively reliable bandwidth and up-time.
Lars was lonely – the way men get, especially when they’re young men, and don’t have access to “others”. Zon knew Lars wanted a “girlfriend”, and Zon, who was 45 years old, had “such hankerings” as well.
“Unc, will there be women there?”
“You’ve asked me that fucking question 10 times a day for 4 weeks … fuck …”
Zon knew the boy, the young man, needed to be around other humans – if only for a while. Since his mother died, he’d been isolated, living near Pavonis Mons, in an underground bunker, with his uncle.
The trike was loaded, and the bunker was put into low-power mode. The door of the “garage” (as they jokingly called it) opened up, and rushing in came the gasses, dust, the debris.
As they sped away from their home, Zon thought “shit, did I bring everything” – and since the journey would take a few days, with stops at smaller trading posts along the way, he would need tradable items or m-tokens.
The crypto-economy had taken full control of Earth finance centuries earlier, with the major governments relenting after, what is called, the “crypto wars”. At one point in the early 21st century, the governments of Earth waged an “anti-terror campaign” to stamp out the blockchain – the net effect was to create stronger, better, blockchain tech.
Zon had over 2,200 M-tokens, and that was the equivalent of 2 years savings – more than enough for the trip. He had 100 ounces of silver, and 46 ounces of gold, some diamonds, and “goop”.
“Goop” was the slurry, the decaying organic matter, from the medusa rats.
Goop contained powerful anti-oxidants, immune system boosting properties, and, most importantly, proteins that increased bone density to Earth levels – assuming you wore the “sweat suit” 3 hours a day.
The “sweat suit” or “rubber suit” was really a specially designed one-piece full body suit that, when worn, simulated, through tension, 1.5 times Earth’s gravity. The suit, plus the goop, meant that a Martian could develop almost as normally as a human (almost).
Zon’s main trade, his “occupation”, was “hunter” – and on Mars that meant hunting the medusa rat. They were fast, but stupid – and tended to behave in erratic ways when they “clumped up”. Zon had read about the ancient native Americans, who would drive buffalo over cliffs – and that was the main way to deal with the “rats”.
Zon would “drive” the rats into canyons – drive, means lure, and lure means he would be the bait. After a few herds, he would move to another canyon, marking his “kills” the Martian way, with a multi-spectrum beacon. By driving the rats into canyons, they would decay, naturally, and then weeks later you could simply collect the “goop” – assuming you weren’t stupid enough to drive the rats into a forest of worms.
After 8 hours of driving on one of many “trails”, Zon decided to make camp.
The trike or tryke or “mars car” had its own habitat, and was designed so that 2-3 people could, “comfortably”, travel around Mars. The wheels of the tryke would fold so that the profile could be reduced. Since the atmosphere of Mars was thicker than several centuries earlier, the high speed winds were more treacherous – not so much for the velocity, or force, but for the materials that could be moved around. Trykes had been buried before, or tipped over, so it was best to lower the profile, and not become a wind break for dust and sand.
They finished dinner, and enjoyed a few swigs of “Martian Gold” – an alcoholic drink fermented from apples – apples that were being grown on Mars hydroponically.
As Lars settled down to sleep, he asked the same question but a little differently …
“Unc … what if none of the women like me?”
Zon smiled, as he smoked a smigarette (smigarettes were what Martians called cigarettes) …
“Dude … if only you knew … the problem is quite the opposite … I hope you don’t get trapped by some female-hell-cat …”
Women and men, on Mars, had to live differently than men and women on “old Earth” – not unlike the mountain men of the past. Some of the “Mountain Women of Mars” were lesbian, and so his nephew was safe – but many were just strong-willed women, forged by a harsh world, and as lonely as Lars, and often nearly as physically strong as most men.
“If Lars only knew …”, Zon thought.
Lars would find out.
The Sun dipped below the Martian horizon, Zon and Lars fell asleep, the first day of their journey was over.
As Zon fell asleep, he wondered … “will Lars stay at Mons, take a trade there?”
Zon knew that each man and woman had to be free …
Zon had done the best he could to mentor Lars, but now Lars had to make decisions for himself – not because of his age, but because “it was time”.
“Some hell cat will try to capture his heart …”
(just as Zon’s heart had been captured, and broken, so many years earlier)