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#1 2012-01-27 18:35:06

From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 7,208

Life on Mars - Short Story Part 3


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 in the process of being furrowed or 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 operational problems at the photovoltaic production unit, 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’ve  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. Besides, disease control goes out the window.”

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 – that’s just a bonus.  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 balanced 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 1 to 2 tonnes of gold per annum. I’m pleased to say the figures do stack up.  No EOCs – that’s 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. “

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.


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