August 4, 2016

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 85: Paolo at Burroughs Dome

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (60,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Paolo Marcillon pursed his lips. He wasn’t getting any younger; his brother’s life wasn’t getting any less strange as far as he’d heard. His friends in Burroughs talked about a man calling himself Stepan who had once been Natan Wallach. It seemed insane on the face of it. His brother had been violently anti-faith; a penultimate materialist, unable to grant credence to anything he could not touch, taste, hear, see, or smell.

To believe the rumor mill, his brother had made a three hundred and sixty-degree reversal away from lifelong, rigidly held beliefs. With a sigh, Paolo suited up. There was only one way to find out the truth and it was impossible to deny the compulsion he was under. While he was certain God had a hand in this crazy scheme, he was also terrified.

He sealed his helmet, stored the air in the marsbug, and let himself out through the airlock.

He’d catch the inbound commuter lev-train from the outposts ranging along the heights of the crater ring, then try and discreetly snoop around to see what his big brother was really up to. He found himself hoping that the conversion was true.

He also found himself hoping that Natan…Stepan…his adoptive brother…could help him avoid their father and help him search the Dome archives for information on the strange probe. He’d discovered it just outside of the crater. It had already been excavated – or it had done a soft landing. By the surface pitting, it was clearly old and it wasn’t anything made by any Human government.

On the other hand, it might have been a secret project, but the level of technology apparent in it wasn’t within the reach of any current Martian government. Unless there were players he’d never heard of.

Shaking his head, he made the short walk up to the crater lip to get his bearings. Just to the east was Outpost 14. The silver thread of the maglev track running along the rim then spiraling down to the floor and into Burroughs. Setting off for the ‘post, he started out by worrying and gradually slipped into prayer.

An hour later, he was on the platform, waiting for the next train. His helmet’s faceplate display showed him he had only a few minutes to wait. Even so, he found himself nervously checking the suit’s condition, reviewing his direction, and wondering what his brother was doing living so close to their father. Though the rumors from the Hidden Church said his brother was somewhere on the Rim doing something like mission work, none of them were specific enough for him to have a clear target.

He snorted as the train pulled in. It was a simple flat car with one rail around the edge, steel toeholds set in rows and vertical T-shaped poles to hang on to. It was mostly empty, though five figures stood at the far, rear corner. They didn’t even sway as it stopped. They were locked in place, probably conferencing. Or they were robots. Unlikely. Mars had never gone in for the robotic revolution like Earth had. Genetically modified artificial Humans had taken the place of mechanicals because they weren’t bothered by the fine Martian dust that pervaded life on Mars.

It took the better part of an hour to loop around the crater wall; another half an hour to descend to the floor. It was only minutes non-stop then to Burroughs itself. The car stopped, the other five passengers they’d picked up on the way down, himself, and the first five got off, heading for the decontamination and entry gate.

By the time he was out of his suit and standing on the main concourse of the Dome, it was nearly noon. The city kept its ambient temperature a little high and he wiped his forehead on his sleeve. Standing with his back to a column near a city map, he scratched his chin. The rumors said that Stepan was working somewhere on the Rim, which was the immensely thick permanent “wall” on which the dome rested. Even though the dome itself wasn’t made of real glass, but was a forcefield sandwiched between mobile nanomachines in constant motion, it was still a technology that could break down. Theoretically no dome could actually “crack” as there wasn’t any physical structure involved. But the complex interaction between the field and the two layers of microscopic robots could be disrupted by a large enough force. Designed to deflect micrometeorite impacts, a strike from something larger than a fist could conceivably disrupt enough of the sandwich to set up a vortex that would gradually spread; rather like a skin disease.

The Rim held temporary material that would explosively bubble a neighborhood if there was ever a catastrophic failure of the nanomachine-forcefield-nanomachine sandwich. It had only ever been tested in an actual disaster once. FirstDome, since abandoned along with Paolo’s father’s Ghost Dome, had blamed not the bubble technology to save everyone in the neighborhood, but religion. A Pogrom had followed and not long after, the Dome government fractured and the Councils had seized power, sometimes allowing a Mayor to rule, sometimes doing the job themselves as democratically as possible.

He sighed. Life on Mars was complicated. He wondered if life on Earth, where you could walk around on the surface had been any easier. Shaking his head, he located the nearest library and set off for it.

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