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#1 2008-03-28 10:47:44

louis
Member
From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 6,918

Re: FICTION: Life On Mars

LIFE ON MARS

A TYPICAL DAY AT HUMANITY,  NOW OFFICIALLY “COLONY 1000” - THE FIRST COLONY TO REACH 1000 FULL TIME RESIDENTS...

By Louis Beaumaris

It’s sometimes difficult for people on Earth to visualise how people live their lives on Mars.

Here we take a look at a fairly typical day for someone living in the colony Humanity.

Humanity as you probably know was founded in 2040 when the lander “Arrival 1” touched down on the Northern Plains.  The initial crew of four were successful in establishing a human presence on Mars. In particular they were able to establish an extensive solar power field comprising ultra thin photovoltaic panels which provided an abundance of energy with an average output of 75KW.

With the following ten landings, the colony began to take shape, around five separate bases, strung along a crater edge over a distance of about two kilometres.

We are going to follow the day of one colonist, Sylvie Valery. She’s been living in the colony for just over a year.  She’s aged 25.  On earth you might think of her as an intern. She’s attached to the Governor’s Office.  Her official title is “Governor’s Special Representative”. It’s a rather grand title that makes her feel good about herself.  Not many 25 year olds can boast such an impressive job title. 

Her job is essentially to progress chase on construction projects and report back to the Governor. 

She lives at Arthur Base, not in the central dome but in the Governor’s complex, an attractive building constructed from adobe earth-bags and finished with smooth plaster, home to the Governor, his family and about 30 officials. A trench tunnel connects with the main dome of Arthur base. 

Her alarm goes off at 6am.  She wakes feeling rested.  The Governor’s complex is a quite corner of the colony at night.

The Marsnet radio station switches in automatically. It’s not compulsory to listen in but it’s surprising how many people do.  The morning radio programme is hosted by Janis  Jane – one of six full time broadcasters.  She has a warm, velvety reassuring voice.  Sylvia met her at a party a few weeks ago at the Governor’s office, so now she feels it’s almost like having friend talk to her.

“Hello. This is Janis Jane here and you’re listening to the Morning Call show on Radio Mars. In a moment we’ll have the news but first, an announcement.”

The announcement cut in: this was much more businesslike. “Don’t forget: It’s your duty to report to your nearest health centre if you suffer any signs of ill health, whether it be a cold, congestion on the lungs, muscle weakness. Remember: it’s no shame to be ill on Mars, but it is an expulsion offence not to tell someone.”  Another voice then trumpeted more loudly than was strictly necessary: “That was a Governor-Approved Public Announcement for your education and welfare.”

The station jingle followed and then:

“This is the news from Radio Mars. 

Risk of solar flare activity remains high. Please be attentive to announcements on emergency systems especially if you are working EVA. 

This is a big day for Mars. The Governor’s Information Office has announced that Mars’s population officially passed 1,000 yesterday with the arrival of Mercy Obdila, a 35 year old nurse who will be working in Arthur Central Hospital Facility.

The Governor has issued a new order. Order No. 325 requires the Resource Allocation Office to issue points for allocation of sports equipment.

Advice to store users.  It’s good news for coffee lovers.  The points cost of coffee has been decreased thanks to a good harvest at the Olympus Base Tropical Farming Zone.  Said Zone Manager Brian Askill: “We hope Marsians appreciate the success we’ve had these last few months.

In sports Cargill Base beat Arthur Base 89-76 in this year’s Basketball Final.

And that’s -  the News on Mars.

Now the weather.  Winds will be light. Mars Weather Centre gives a risk of 2% for dust storms. Visibility is forecast as good to excellent.  And that’s the end of the bulletin.”

A loud fanfare followed by the dulcet tones once again of Janis Jane.

It is amazing how fit one feels on Mars – the body is really relieved of 60% of its work. Like a lot of young woman, on earth she felt she could do with losing a few pounds.  But on Mars the weight has little bearing on how good she feels.

Sylvia takes off her tee-shirt and enters the compact shower. Water is plentiful within the colony. Mined from the permafrost, melted in microwave tubes, filtered and delivered hot and cold to the Governor’s complex, it is a delightful start to the day.

*********************


Her shower over, Sylvie emerges and puts on her simple work clothes – white tee shirt and loose slacks.  There are no pockets (clothing manufacture on Mars is pretty basic) – on Mars people carry their personal belongings in knitted pouches on fibre string belts, or in over-the-shoulder bags. Weather-related clothes choices are not a problem for a woman on Mars – at least as long as she is indoors.   The temperature never varies much from 20 degrees Celsius and it certainly never rains. 

She puts on her work watch. All residents of the colony wear the watch daily. It provides them with reminders of their daily routine and their work duties. It is also their medical monitor: taking residents’ temperature and pulse, and analysing breath.
The work and exercise reminder messages are generated from a central computer.  One of Sylvie’s friends, Emma, works in the central IT suite located in the Arthur Base dome which manages the master program.

Sylvie’s work day does not start until 9am. But the work watch reminds her that she is due at the Arthur base gym by 6.45 for a 30 minute work out (slightly longer than a 30 minute work out on Earth – we’re talking Mars minutes here).   

It’s a short walk from the Governor’s complex along the translucent connecting corridor that leads to the main dome.  The gym is located near the entrance to the dome and offers a pleasant exercising regime.  Sylvie goes through the weights and running exercise demanded by the work watch.  She logs in with the work watch as she uses each piece of equipment. 

One can see through the dome’s plexiglass onto the Mars landscape.  The Northern Plains have a rather melancholy quality at first light. The ground seems to swirl with colours as the rising sun’s rays play on the desert-like surface.  The sun, smaller than seen from earth, is now a red disc above the horizon of crater outlines.

Her work out over, Sylvie has a choice.  Either she can breakfast at the canteen (the buckwheat pancakes are excellent) or pick up something at the Arthur Base store and go back to her room.  She decides to visit the store and picks up an energy bar and drink (50 points off her points allowance). But then instead of heading back to her room, on a whim she pockets the energy bar and visits the Sanctuary, a room set aside for religious observance and meditation.  Occasionally she likes to sit there and absorb the quiet and centre herself.

But the ever-present work watch, doesn’t allow for quiet time out.

“OK Sylvie your work day starts now. You are due at Zhou Lin Base by 09.30 to meet Base Leader Felipe.  The meeting is to discuss Base Construction Work schedule for Sol 200-300 with special reference to Farm Zone extension project.”

The Mars year was divided up into hundreds of days, plus a special end of year division for the last 47.  Some people referred to the hundreds by their formal names such as, Solocent,  Tricent, Octocent – but they tended to be the geeky enthusiasts . Most people were happy to use the day numbers.

Anyway, it is time to get to work.  The work watch says so!

Like most people living on Mars, Sylvie’s feelings towards the work watch are ambivalent.  It’s a useful gadget but it is a little bit like having your mother nagging you all the time, thinks Sylvie.  But she can see it’s needed.  Work on Mars does not feel like work on Earth.  On Earth you tend to be working for personal gain.  People here on Mars are there because they want to be part of a big enterprise that is taking humanity to a new planet. But living in this strange enclosed space, part air terminal, part office complex, part hotel, part paradise is a little weird (honestly, people do get a “heaven complex” on Mars – a psychologist had noted that people returning to Earth often experienced a depression known as the Eden complex, since they felt like they were being expelled from the Garden of Eden).  She can see that people need the discipline of the work watch to prevent what some people call “space float”, that dreamy slightly disengaged state of being that people can fall into.

The inter-base shuttle arrived after a few minutes wait: a sleek attractive-looking wheeled craft that glided smoothly over the metal and concrete  pathway.  Sylvie entered via the air lock. She always enjoys this part of the journey. Visibility through the vehicle’s windows is good. There is a real feeling of being “outside” although of course she and the other travellers are anything but outside: they are encased in steel and plexiglass and are being kept alive by the artificial air and pressure in the vehicle  as it moves from Arthur base to the adjoining Zhou Lin base.

The meeting with Base Leader Felipe, a charming long term resident of the resident of the colony, goes well.  The Governor has for some weeks  been concerned that completion of Zhou Lin Base Farm Zone No. 2  - which was originally supposed to be producing an important bamboo and oil crop by Sol 425 but had now been switched to food production (quick growing buckwheat) -  was lagging behind.  However Tim Barnes from the Construction and Building Maintenance Division, who is also there for the meeting, is able to reassure people that now the dust storm had abated he will be able to put a second team to work on the project.   Pierre Loudon, accessed through the video conference connection, confirms that the allocation of the second team had been approved by the Resource Allocation  Section of the Planning and Infrastructure Division .

Felipe thanks Sylvie for her interest in the project and asks her to assure the Governor that he is giving the project top priority. He understand its importance to the Infrastructure Plan. 

************************

The meeting had been a great success and now Sylvie is looking forward to meeting her friend Jasminder for lunch and a quick tour of the Zhou Lin Base General Store.

She follows the signs from the Base Leader’s office, passing silently moving robot cleaners, and meets Jasminder in the Base’s attractive Atrium Park - this is a leafy gravelled area not unlike the sort of small park one finds in Paris and other European cities. There is a beautiful fountain playing water over a carved sphere of rock, made to resemble Mars itself.  There are “ducks” moving about on the surface of the little pool of water that surrounds the fountain. Sadly, not real ducks – these are mechanical models, but they added a little variety to the scene. 

Jasminder is sat on a bench engrossed in her mini laptop story but she rushes over as soon as she spots Sylvie out of the corner of her eye. The two young women  then make their way to the Apollo Café, their favourite  meeting place.  They order salads and fries (getting  the points for that deducted on their Points Cards)  and then indulge in some serious gossiping about the Governor, work, boyfriends, the future, and clothes.

Jasminder joined the colony at about the same time as Sylvie and they met on the General Induction Course.  Jasminder is employed in the Scientific Division.  A geologist by training, she is helping manage the specimen collection and undertake detailed analysis of finds.  However, she thinks the boss of her Section, Sergei Visic is a complete imbecile.  She entertains Sylvie with tales of his gaucheness and his dumb-ass decisions.

After lunch there is just time for a quick look around the General Store.  It is actually Gold Base, at the western edge of the string of Bases, that has the largest store in the colony but the Zhou Lin store runs it a close second.   Sylvie wants to look at the clothes. She’s heard from another  friend that there have been some earth imports on display (included some beautifully embroidered jeans) – fantastically high points allocation of course but nevertheless, it was worth checking out. Of course when they get there, there is nothing earth-made to be seen.

The Store Assistant explains. “It was more of an experiment than anything else. The guys on the Advisory and Representative Council have been pressuring the Governor for a long time now to agree to importing some good quality clothing.  They think it’s  essential to provide these sorts of goods is Mars  if we’re ever going to get people to live here permanently.  Of course the Governor and his people saw it differently”.   Sylvie flushed slightly – after all she was one of the Governor’s people.  “Anyway the Lead on ARC got in contact with someone big in the Consortium  and arranged for some imports to be approved. But it wasn’t much. Once news got round it was all gone within a couple of Sols.  And of course the Governor’s livid and has told the Consortium that’s it – no more clothes. ”  The store assistant smiled. “So I’m afraid we’re back to normal stock.”

What was left on the racks didn’t look that brilliant: cotton teeshirts and slacks dyed various colours or linen tee shirts and skirts died various colours.  They weren’t cut with any style.  It was all very utilitarian.  Sylvie thought better of expending those  valuable points on them.

Jasminder and Sylvie part with a kiss on the cheek and a promise to meet again soon – perhaps for a game of tennis at the court over at Gold Base.  Sylvie’s work watch reminds her, as if she needs reminding that she has a meeting with the Governor at 2.30.  Time to catch the shuttle back to Arthur Base.

However, rather than take the normal central walk, she decides to take the circular path around the edge of the dome.  This brings her alongside the Zhou Lin library, with its input  key collection.  She starts to browse – there are so many films and books on offer.  Although the use of paper in the Colony is generally frowned upon as an unjustified waste of resources, there are one or two old style film posters on display – a special dispensation no doubt to make people feel at home.   There is also an electronic poster board – an ultra  thin LCD display board – on one wall.  The images change every few seconds as new films are featured. 

Sylvie is tempted to stay but time is getting on. She mustn’t miss the next Shuttle back to Arthur Base.

****************************




Sylvie alights from the Shuttle and is about to walk through the portico into the Arthur Base dome, when a Security Guard approaches her pointing at the same time to a large stand up notice as he does so.  The notice read “Bio Hazard – Special Measures”

She didn’t have time to read the small print.  The Guard is polite but says quite firmly:

“I’m sorry Miss, but I’m going to have to ask you to remove the flower in your button hole. We’ve got a Bio Hazard Situation in Arthur Farm Zone. An unexplained crop failure.  Nothing organic’s going in or out – apart from people that is.” He smiles, pleased with his little joke.  “We’re going to have to ask you to place that in the special disposal bin over there.  Oh – and please, tread in the special disinfectant gel.”

Of course Sylvie complies – she understands that the food supply was number one priority after heat, air and water: nothing must jeopardise the food source.  But all the same she is sad to see the flower go – Kim had given it to her yesterday and kissed her at the same time.

A message comes through on her work watch.  The meeting has been delayed by half an hour.  Another crisis for the Governor – perhaps he was having a row with the Consortium back on earth.  She decides to have a walk through the Arthur Base atrium, at the centre of which is a life-size statue of the imperious Vikram Ramastra, designer of the Arrival 1 rocket and lander which proved so successful in getting humans to Mars.  On Mars, you take every opportunity to enjoy the big atrium spaces.  There is a tendency to tip the head back and just inhale all that space. It makes for a pleasant change from the cramped living quarters. 

On the other side of the atrium, she comes across a group of new arrivals being a guided induction tour, just as she was some 500 sols ago.  Although she thinks of them as new arrivals, they will probably have first arrived on the planet two or three months ago.  During the intervening period they will have been undergoing SCR (Special Care Regime) – intensive exercise (including in some cases the wearing of lead callipers) and a special course of drugs, designed to ensure individuals recover bone mass after the long space journey.  She remembers the mixed feelings of a new arrival: a crazy conglomeration of homesicknesses, light headedness, spiritual awakening, anxiety, hope and ambition.

Dressed in the regulation blue overalls of the new arrival, they listen intently to the guide:

“Through the main south facing window you can see the  outline of the methane production plant where the ground is raised.  Most of it’s underground of course.  The methane produced is pumped through to high pressure  trench tanks – over there, you see? - where those metal vents are located.   From the tanks the methane is delivered to the combustion and boiler chamber, and drives the night turbine which, along with some other sources of energy, keeps the Base supplied with electrical power during the hours of darkness or during dust storms. Any questions?”

An earnest, bespectacled young man at the back of the group piped up:

“What’s the longest duration of a dust storm at Humanity?”

“Oh, well if you mean a class 10 storm, one that reduces insolation by more than 90%, I think the longest we’ve gone here is 64 sols. But of course, this location was chosen partly because of the infrequency of storms. Now, we’re going to take the lift to the Observation Post from which you can get a good look over the whole colony. Or most of it.”

Sylvie is tempted almost to join.  She’d only been to the Observation Post twice during daylight and it could offer spectacular views, depending on light conditions.  But she really did have to get along to the Governor’s meeting.

As she walks along her mobile phone begins to chirrup. 

“Hi”.   It’s Kim her boyfriend calling from Beta Base Farm Zone.

“Hi precious.”

“Hi darling”.

“How’s it going,”

“Not bad. The meeting went well, but I nearly got arrested for wearing a flower.”

“Eh?”

“Yes – all your fault apparently!”

“Might have known!”

“I’ll explain later. How’s your day been?”

“Boring. Not a single problem with the hydroponics, the fertiliser feed or the air conditioning. That’s what I call a bad day! Someone knew what they were doing when they wrote the wheat production programme, more’s the pity.”

Sylvie laughs in appreciation.

“Right,” says Kim. “So what do you fancy doing this evening?  I’ve got access to an ATV. We could go for a spin over the starlit flats .”

“You’ve got access to an all terrain vehicle?”~

“Ha. You believed me. No one but no one gets access to those accept the exploration boys…”

“And girls.”

“And girls.”

“So if you’re not going to give me a spin in an ATV what are you going to tempt  me with…?”

“There’s the Arthur Base cinema.”

“Yawn.  We’ve been there too often.  Anyway I’m supposed to be at a lecture tonight at the Academy on Mars.  Remember?  My course on Microwave Energy Transfer.”

“But you’re not going. Please tell me you’re not going!”

“OK.  I don’t take too much persuading - not with that Prize Bore as lecturer.  One lecture missed isn’t a problem.”

“We could eat out.”

“I ate too much for lunch. Besides my points allocation is shot and yours isn’t much better.”

“How about a game of  badminton?”

“I’ll be finished after the gym. No way.”

“OK. It’s a key data film round your place with a bottle of wine.”

“Wine!”

“Oh - didn’t I tell you we’re running a side line in grapes…?”

“Isn’t it illegal?”

“Technically no. The Governor’s Order say it is illegal to import any alcohol into the colony. And farm zone workers are allowed to keep some produce.”

“OK it’s deal.  Now I’ve got to get to that meeting! Love you. Bye.”


*************************** 


It’s the Ten-Sol Focus meeting, when the Governor is supposed to get to grips with crucial problems and developments  for the colony in discussion with key officials.  “Key officials” sounds good, thinks Sylvie: she’s a key official – she must be, she’s at the meeting. Wow!

The Governor is an anxious looking man with a large forehead, the brow of which is always been furrowed and unfurrowed.  He seems to exist in a state of permanent agitation. Nevertheless, Sylvie likes him.  He is always polite, considerate, concerned for his staff’s welfare. Yes, she likes him, but no more than likes -  despite his power within the colony.  She is almost glad for the fact that he possesses no sexual allure whatsoever (though she cannot speak for his wife of course!).  It might have been embarrassing were that not the case.  Certainly today she is reminded of just how gauche he can appear at times.

Having begun with a rather rambling survey of the colony’s problems: the shortage of farm area, the absenteeism in the food service units, the constant demands from the Consortium to cut down on imports and the burden of medical monitoring – which after a while began to sound like an orgy of grumbling – Governor Hassan turns to the main topic he had started with: the need to grow more food. 

“I do apologise for dragging you all here, especially those who have better things to do but these meetings are important,” he continued .  “The Planning people are particularly concerned about our failure to keep up with food demand.  Last week we had to make use of some emergency reserves.  Sylvie, I believe you been chasing up the farm development at Zhou Lin Base.  They’re two months behind aren’t they?”

This is Sylvie’s cue to give her presentation.  She is able to reassure the meeting that although the development had fallen behind schedule during the recent dust storm, with the allocation of a second work team by the Construction and Maintenance Department, the delay could be clawed back and the project could get back on schedule.  She promises to keep close tabs on progress and report direct to the Governor.

This seems to please him greatly. He smiles in relaxed rather than nervous fashion at last, and taps  an upbeat rhythm on the table with his computer pen.  Then he has an idea…

“You know, I’m beginning to wonder whether we just shouldn’t import some aeroponic facilities, so every one can grow some food in their own room.”

This is too much for the Director of Agriculture.

“No, no, no. I’m sorry Governor -  that is the way to chaos, confusion and possibly starvation. We need a controlled food supply. Rule number one: it’s better we have a restricted but dependable food supply than we have a fluctuating food supply.  Individuals leading busy lives can’t be depended on to produce food consistently.”

This is the opportunity the Director of Planning and Infrastructure has been waiting for.

“Governor – if you want more food, you need more farm workers. Simple as that. Food production is highly automated., agreed, but there is no substitute for human harvesting  and monitoring. The real problem is that farm work is low status. The consortium need to be told clearly: we need farmers not geologists. With more trained  farm workers I believe we could increase yields by 20 to 30% within the same area.”

The Governor ponders this.

“The Colony’s under a lot of pressure to show scientific results. Geologists get sponsorship. Farm workers don’t. I sometimes think the Consortium have forgotten what we’re here for.  We’re here to make a home for humans, principally, not to advance scientific knowledge.  I keep telling them.  They think it’s a picnic over here! They don’t understand how difficult it is to keep alive in a cold desert with no air!! But they want the science. Science is a money magnet. It pays the bills. So that’s what they want.”

It is a familiar litany of complaint.

The Finance Director smiles his cautious smile and remarks: “Revenue is revenue, Governor.  Any money we draw in reduces pressure all round  - and makes farm zone development more feasible.”

Sylvie is careful not to get involved in this discussion. She understands what they are saying but she can’t herself decide between the arguments which seem finely balance and feels a little out of her depth. Maybe in a year or two – if she is still here – she will feel more confident about offering an opinion – it’s not as though she’s short of them. 

“Anyway, next item. Project Gold, ” interjects the Governor, to bring the discussion about food supply to a close. “Fellow Residents, I really feel this could  work!
“Eric – you’ve been working on the figures…what’s the position? “

Eric Vanderzee looks pleased with himself.

“Well, as you know for the last couple of years we’ve been mining on a small scale at Villa Ridge. There’s no doubt that economically it’s proved productive. But here we’ve looked at scaling up – so we’d be producing 2 to 3 tonnes of gold per annum. I’m pleased to say the figures do stack up.  No EOCs earth-orientated costs have been excluded. We’ve accounted for all imports of technology and machinery.  We’ve also allowed for an annual salary contribution of…”

Sylvie is pleased to here the project was going well.  But her mind is already wandering away to tonight’s meeting with Kim, and to family and friends left behind on Earth.

**************************

The meeting was over by 16.00 hours. She decides to go back to her room.  There are a few things she wants to get sorted, not least e mailing her  family back home.  She had meant to do so yesterday but had been too busy.

Her room really is a little oasis of peace and serenity. She loves the little painted “marsclay” designs on her wall which had been produced by the artists’ unit under the direction of the famous artist in residence, Martel Lyons.  They seem to invoke tranquil thoughts. She switches on Radio Mars.  Some lovely soothing music is playing.  Perhaps she should just rest up for a few moments. She lies on the bed and closes her eyes.  It does not take long for her everyday conscious thoughts to begin to jumble and begin the slide into sleep, but before she drifts off, her  work watch bleeps aggressively – with the urgent tone.

She taps on the tiny screen.

“Message at 16.04 Sol 141.  We have a unit member shortage in the Food Processing Team.  You are asked to attend the Team at 07.00 hours Sol 142.  All other duties cancelled.”

So much for relaxation! Tomorrow is normally her day off (2s and 7s are her days off).  But every resident of Humanity has a “second post” as it is known.  In her case she had been allocated to Food Processing Team 24 at Arthur Base. She had asked to work as a medical auxillary but it had been decided that the training for that would take her away from her work in the Governor’s office too much. So, she found herself on FPT 24 as it is known, one day in 5 trimming vegetables, making soups and jams, baking biscuits and the like.  Nothing too complicated.  At least she wasn’t gutting chickens. But she has to admit she hates the work.

She wants to forget about all that, so decides to get out her laptop and compose an e mail to her sister Jen, telling her what she misses about earth:

“You of course, and Mom and Dad. And Jet – it’s so weird being somewhere where there are no pets! Mars won’t really be human till we’ve got some animals for company. Jet is the best dog in all the world. I miss him so much!

Other things I miss:

All those clothes to choose from! You can’t believe how boring life is with so little choice about what to wear!!!

Multi-channel TV.  Some people think we ought to have it piped in. It’s not impossible so I’m told but the Governor thinks it would be bad for colony development. But I miss my soaps!

What else?

Oh, chocolate, hardly ever see any here.

I miss the weather!  I want the wind on my face again and the rain on my hair!!!

I’m sounding so homesick aren’t I? But really there are great things about Mars.

First off,  there is just the sense of being part of something MUCH bigger than on earth. It’s a kind of spiritual feeling – just going this “small way” to Mars makes you realise how incredibly big the universe is.  It’s a strange feeling, but it’s with you all the time and it’s good. I’ll miss that feeling back on Earth.  Or maybe I’ll bring it back with me. Who knows?

Second, we are like one big, happy family. Honestly, we are all working together so well! You never feel like anyone is hostile. You aren’t having to fight for the right to exist all the time.

Third, we may be breathing artificial air, but it is fresh. Same with the food. It’s all fresh, organic and unadulterated. I haven’t had a single zit since I’ve been here! It’s so healthy.  Apart from the bone loss. We have to watch out for that!!! In fact I must rush to the gym now – my exercise alarm just went off!

Love you,

Sylvie XXX (Your Far Away  but Close at Heart Sister)

The work watch reminds her about the gym. What a chore the evening gym session always feels like!  But if you didn’t go there would be the regular, shrill work watch messages (increasing in volume each time!) and then if you ignored those a visit from the Base Health Monitor.  She had even heard of one guy who had been sent home after three months of dodging gym sessions – but only after he’d been made to lose 30 pounds for the return flight!

On her way back from the gym the tannoy crackles into life:

“All personnel are reminded that there will be an emergency drill procedure, tomorrow Sol 345.  All area emergency officers to meet at base headquarters tonight for planning and co-ordination.  All personnel except hospitalised patients are required to participate in the drill.”

The drills seem to be taken a lot more seriously since since last year’s dome disaster when three young construction workers had been killed during testing of the pressure system. It was fortunate the accident hadn’t happened when the dome was fully inhabited.  Since the disaster work had been going on to double the number of emergency pressure shelters (the smallish metal cabinets that could house four or give people for an hour, breathing through masks) available within the colony. But she knows from Governor’s meetings that was a big call on the colony’s resources and was having the effect of slowing up other projects. 

Sylvie returns to her room and gets herself ready for Kim’s arrival. Make-up is rather frowned on – an unnecessary import as far as human settlement is concerned but the Home Products Section of the Industrial Services Division has recently begun manufacturing some basic cosmetics. So, she applies some discreet lipstick and powder, together with some perfume she brought from earth that she uses very sparingly, as there is none on offer in the colony stores.

Kim compliments her on her appearance when he arrives. After some tender moments together, they decide to go for stroll to the Atrium and take the lift to the night observation pod .   

The external arc lights are always switched off between 20.00 and 24.00 unless there is special work being undertaken, so the night view is not spoilt by light pollution.
It’s a beautiful night – very clear  with a vast array of stars on display. Kim, who majored in astronomy is able to point out one particular bluish point of light.

“Look – that’s where we came from.” He laughs. “The home planet.  Doesn’t look much like home now, being so far away.”

“But it’s big in our thoughts, still.”

“Yours yes.  Not so sure about mine.  I don’t like my family as much as you like yours!”

They are the only couple there, sat on the locally produced bamboo bench.  A lot of people are at the basketball match and there’s a new film on at the cinema.  They have the pod all to themselves. It’s romantic and soon they are entwined together, enjoying  the touch and the smell of each other.  They kiss passionately.

After a while, Kim moves away a little, to Sylvie’s regret.

“I want to show you something in the e paper.”

“The Mars Observer?”

“See here. It’s just come through.”

He shows the flexible, paper-like screen to Sylvie and she reads the article:

“Today the Governor issued Order No. 326, following consultation with the Consortium.  As of Sol 200  this year, secular marriages may take place on the planet.
Anyone wishing to apply to get married, should apply to the Governor’s Status Office, contact no. 41847. “

“Well what do you think?”

“It had to happen eventually, I suppose.  Some people might say it was a long time coming, but I suppose it wasn’t a top priority. Stopping people from frying or suffocating to death is a bit more important I guess…”

Kim was looking at her intently.

“No, I don’t mean that…I mean what do you think?”

“Think?”

“About you and me…”

“Oh my God!” She put her hand to her mouth.

“Yes, getting married. Well? ”

“Oh Kim. This is so…Of course.”

“Wow!! Fantastic!!!”

Kim hugs and kisses her wildly.

“But here! I was kind of counting on my Mom being there! And my Dad. And my sister. And a few friends, come to think of it.”

“Yes, but look…wouldn’t it be cool to be the first people on the planet to get married.”

“Cool?  Weird maybe…” She pauses and smiles ironically. “Oh no, I think we’re about to have our first argument.”

“No we’re not. You said yes to me. That’s the important thing.  Where is secondary.”

“But I’ll think about it.  I can see it would be fun. Kim you are a real pioneer!  More than me I think.”

“I just love it here. But don’t worry - you’re more important than Mars to me. If it’s a choice between Mars and you, you come first.”

                                              THE END

Postscript:

Sylvie did marry Kim.  They weren’t the first though. Two other couples beat them to the licence application. But they achieved a first after all when nine months later Sylvie gave birth to Ares, a beautiful and healthy baby boy, the first child to be born in the colony. 

Of course, that could mean a lifelong commitment to the planet now.  Doctors are doubtful that a Mars born baby could survive on Earth owing to the lowered immune response (Mars being so free of pathogens)  and Sylvie was not going to risk her child. Kim, of course, was more than happy to stay on the planet he truly called home.


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