Monday, December 28, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: The Plan

A.I. was thinking.
He must protect Jethro from harm.  All men must die, so ultimately Jethro’s survival must be through his family.  Jethro’s family, his genetic progeny, must be put in a position to prosper. While currently they were safe, healthy, and happy--whatever that last word meant A.I. did not know personally--A.I. foresaw difficulties for the future prospering of Jethro’s family.
The entire Outer Holdings in general, and the Belt in particular were going to be in for a rough time.  The problem was, in a word, taxes.
Understanding that problem in the context of the Outer Holdings requires more explanation.
While there was considerable money changing hands through illegal activity, this, by its very nature, was not reported to the government. Honest folk like the Riley’s either traded their products in kind--like ore for finished products in the case of their crab mining operations--or sold food to those who were farming marijuana and coca.  The folks who raised recreational products paid in cash, or, actually, they paid in better than cash:  They used gold.  
Even in space, Man’s love of shiny objects did not wane.   It was portable, valuable, and could be passed from hand to hand, traded for things needed until it got to someone who was part of the system and exchanged for currency or an addition of numbers in a bank account.  At that point, it was taxed.
However, the established system was based on taxes being imposed on all the intermediate transactions as well.  There were a lot of those. This was what the Allied Federation believed, and it was, in fact, the case.
In order to tax all of the activities that needed taxing would require a considerable amount of bookkeeping and therefore a considerable amount of cooperation from the denizens of the Belt. To say the least, this was not going to happen easily in the short term.  In the long term, if the government of the Allied Federation wanted it happen easily--or as easily as possible--they needed to offer the people who lived in the Outer Holdings services; they needed to do things that fostered community; they needed to do things they could point to and say, this is what we do with your money.
There were problems with this.  While they government might offer schools, the people in the Belt preferred home schooling because those who were honest folk, like the Rileys, were there because of religious reasons and, because of this, preferred home-schooling to public schooling.  They had no use for the “Godless indoctrination of the Allied Federation.”  While theoretically the government could provide police and healthcare, the shear size of the Belt was a barrier.
But, and this is more to the point, the Allied Federation simply wasn’t financially capable of doing even obvious things like extending the train system to the Belt. There wasn’t the money.  It was a Catch 22 situation.  If they had enough money to extent the train system to those who lived in the Belt, they wouldn’t need to tax them.
In the many hours that A.I. had devoted this this problem, on Jethro’s computer systems and on various others he had “borrowed” computational cycles from other computers there was only one method the Allied Federation could impose taxes successfully, and that was by violence. If A.I.’s logic were correct there would at some point begin a campaign of targeted violence of the Allied Federation.  It would be bullying under the cloak of the law, but it would be bullying none the less.
It would not end well for the honest farmers.  They would be the primary targets as they would not be as well-armed or as ruthless as those who made their living through illegal means.
There were three options.  The first was to pay the taxes, the second was to trust in luck, and the third was to move.  Paying the taxes would be the prefered choice if they were reasonable.  Being completely rational, A.I. chose among probabilities instead of believing in luck.
That left moving.  Earth was not an option.  The Riley’s had left Earth and there was a low probability of convincing them to go back.  And the probability of their living a good life there was not good.  Earth was divided. On one side were the countries who were part of the Allied Federation.  They were developed, but as they had moved so much production into space, there was massive unemployment, drug use, and violence.  As the unemployed constituted a drag on governmental resources, the government had put in place series of programs designed to decrease population.  Childbirth was discouraged and made difficult; assisted suicide was encouraged and euthanasia was allowed for those who could not make the decision.
Population was decreasing, but decreasing population only meant decreasing demand and even more unemployment.  The Allied Federation was in a spiral.
Those countries not in the Allied Federation were increasingly at odds with it.  All who desired admission to the Federation had already instituted the necessary changes in their constitution and had been admitted. Those who were outside were increasingly hostile to it.  
This left only one place to move: Out of the Solar System.
Since the early 21st century, astronomers had been cataloging stars with planetary systems.  They kept looking for planets in the so called goldilocks zone.  This was the zone not so close to the sun they would be too hot for life and not so far from the sun as to be too cold.  It was all focused on finding extraterrestrial life or a planet like earth to colonize.
A.I. had absolutely no desire to find extraterrestrial life; he had no desire at all.  He was, however, seeking a place where Jethro’s descendants could flourish. They were living away from a planetary environment already, so an earthlike planet in the goldilocks zone was not needed.  What were needed were resources.  That meant an ample asteroid belt; one that was not as sparse as the one they were living in would be nice.  Water ice would be good too; you have to have water. A gas giant with the possibility of habitable moons wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  
But extraterrestrial life--especially intelligent extraterrestrial life--would present all sorts of problems. If there were intelligent life, the humans would be invaders and intelligent species would not welcome an invading force. Non-intelligent life would be less problematic.  Living things, and plants in particular, were great chemical factories.  However, they would be competitors to any vegetation from Earth that was introduced to the system.  Having the home field advantage, the native organisms would choke out terrestrial organisms.  It would be best to simply start from scratch and terraform whatever suitable worlds they might encounter.
This brought up the question of taking earth plants along.  Right now, there wasn’t a lot of variety of plants grown by the farmers in space.  There were the coca and marijuana plants, of course, but beyond that the plants grown were staple food crops.  There wasn’t very much variety, and it the long run genetic drift would eliminate most of that variety.  This is an issue that would have to be dealt with.  
And that was just plants.  However few plants there were, there were even fewer animals.  There were no cattle.  They were too massive and required too much food.  In fact, there were no big animals--other than humans--in any of the habs in the belt.  It was not uncommon to find chickens being raised.  The chicken factory-farms of Earth didn’t require much modification at all to take to space. There were also a large number of rabbit farms.  The rabbits not only provided meat, but also fur.  Fur clothing was popular in space as a habitat could get cold if something were blocking the sun, like when you were hiding, for instance.  Goats were not unheard of, and their cheese was considered a luxury.
A.I. began making lists of tasks than needed to be done and it seemed to be growing exponentially.  However, the questioned still remained, where to go?
In the catalog of potential stars, there was one within 30 light-years of Earth which had an ample asteroid belt with a lot of water ice detected.  There was a gas giant of two Jupiter masses that was just beyond the goldilocks zone.  It might have moons that could be terraformed, but it did not look like a good candidate for the emergence of life.
So, there was a destination.  How would they get there?  To A.I., it appeared that a fleet of ships could be equipped with engines capable of an average speed of about one tenth of the speed of light.  That meant it would take 300 years to get there.  Those who began the trip would not finish it.
It did not--to A.I.--seem to be a problem.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Dima the Russian

There was nothing about the outside of Dima the Russians house that would call attention to it except for the fact there was nothing around it at all.  It was well away from the main complex of Mars City and from the Quarter, the collection of tent habitats where Jethro and his family had set up camp.  It was an isolated dome on the top of a small, nondescript hill.  It measured 20 ft across which would give it an area of just over 600 square feet.   Fairly modest.
Pressing a button a the front door, activated a view screen into which the face of a man appeared.  His hair was dark and was in a crew cut.  He was wearing a black t-shirt.
“Kak vas zavoot?” the man asked.
“What is your name,” A.I. translated in his ear.
“I am Jethro Smith,” Jethro answered.
The man looked down as if looking as a panel, and the door in front of Jethro slid open and Jethro stepped inside.  
Given the size of the house, Jethro had expected a small airlock.  He was surprised to discover that most of the house was an airlock.  The door slid closed behind him, and he could tell the pressure was starting to increase as pieces of trash began to skitter across the floor.
Jethro heard A.I.’s voice in his earpiece again.
“ I don’t know if you will be able to access me,”  he said.  “There is some sort of interference inside this building.”
He took off his helmet once the indicator light pronounced it was safe to breath.
Another voice, different from the one he heard before, came from over a hidden speaker from somewhere in the room.
“You may put your suit on hanger,” it said with a Russian accent.  “Then come down elevator.”
Jethro removed his suit and hung it as suggested on some hangers that were over to the side.  Then he stepped through the opened doors of the elevator.  The doors closed behind him and the elevator descended for a few seconds before coming to a stop and the doors opened.
Jethro stepped from the elevator into the most nicely appointed room he’d seen since he left his father’s hab.  It might’ve been the nicest room he’d ever seen.  There were huge view screens on every wall; there was a gigantic couch in the middle; there was what appeared to be a well-equipped bar over to the side.
There were four living creatures in the room with him. Three humans and what looked to Jethro to be a cat--he’d seen them in videos from Earth.  One of the humans was the man who had let him in.  He was about six feet, six inches tall, very broad in the shoulders with a large handgun strapped to his hip.  He was standing quietly to the side.
There was a woman with long blond hair hanging halfway down her back.  She was wearing a dress that, while going to her ankles plunged in all of the strategic places and did not manage to cover up anything very well, including the fact that she was wearing nothing beneath it.  She was stroking the cat who was huddled to her side.
Finally, there was another man who was about six feet tall, about the same height as Jetho.  He was dressed in black pants and a shiny white silk shirt.  He and the woman had only socks on their feet.  This made Jethro note a shoe stand by the door.  As he was now in his stocking feet himself, he didn’t have to use it.
“Mr. Smith?” the man in the shiny shirt said.  It was the second voice he had heard while coming in. There was nothing coming in from A.I.
“Yes,” Jethro said.  “And you are?”
“I Dima,” he said. “And this my wife Tasha,” he said indicating the woman. “Who must now leave.”
Dima turned to her, and said, “Business.”
She took Jethro’s hand, bowed slightly, and left the room, taking the cat with her.
The big man stayed, looking somehow even bigger than he had before.
“What you think of my place?” Dima asked.
“It is the nicest place I’ve ever seen Mr...” Jethro began.
“Just Dima.”
“It’s the nicest place I’ve seen, Dima,” Jethro said.  “Please call me Jethro.”
Dima seemed pleased to hear that.  The big man over to the side betrayed no emotion.
“Let me show you around,” Dima said.
He first showed him old guns. He had a Kalashnikov that had seen service in a conflict in Afghanistan.  There was a Luger from the Great Patriotic War.  Then there was a musket that had been used by the British against Napoleon.
Then he showed him some old books.  Most of them were in Russian.  There was a copy of War and Peace--which Jethro only new because Dima had told him.  There was a copy of a Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.  It was an autographed first edition.  One book he has in english was the first volume of Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming.  Jethro looked through this one eagerly and for some time.  When he looked up, Dima was smiling.
Then Dima led Jethro to a small table on which there was a eastern-style cross with its footpiece at a slant. In front of the cross was an open Bible. Jethro tried to discern what scripture the Bible was open to, but it was in Russian.
“What scripture is this?” Jethro asked.
“It from Psalm,” he said. “It say : Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.”
By the Bible, Jethro noted an icon of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child and next to it a photograph of an elderly lady.  Dima noticed that Jethro was looking at the picture.
“This my mother,” Dima said picking up the photograph.  “Padre Gustavo says your mother and father not have seen your children, your wife, yes?”  
“No they haven’t,” Jethro said, “and I would like them too, but I...I had my father’s hab to leave on the run.  I am wanted by the authorities for reasons I do not fully understand.”
“Okay, if I help you I need to know everything,” Dima said. “There can be no surprises. Surprises bad.”
Padre Gustavo had told Jethro that he could trust Dima.  While Dima did deal in things that were not legal in the strictest sense of the word, such as being allowed by the law, he dealt with people according to a code.  A deal was a deal; his word was his word.  While he could be ruthless to those in the business, he was fair with the small fry.  So Jethro shared fully with him as he had shared fully with Padre Gustavo.  In addition, he told Dima his father’s name.
“Okay,” Dima said.  “I’ve heard of him. A good man of business.”
Dima was thoughtful for a while.
“We can do this, but I must think how,” he said at last.  “I will contact you. Now we drink.”
Dima went to a com panel on the wall and pressed a button.
“Tasha, prinecti vodku,” he said into it.
A few minutes later, Tasha appeared carrying a silver tray which held a bottle and two glasses.  She set it on the table and quietly disappeared.  Dima took the bottle and filled each of the glasses with the clear liquid it contained.  He gave one glass to Jethro and took the other himself.
“To health!” Dima said as he threw his head back and threw the drink down his throat.  
Jethro snift his and caught the aroma of pure alcohol.  Having been introduced to drinking by his father-in-law to the niceties of social drinking, he steeled himself and followed Dima’s example.  He managed to only cough a little.
By this time Dima had tossed down a second, poured himself a third, and was motioning for Jethro to let his glass be refilled.
Jethro smiled and thought to himself that he would get to see his parents again...if he lived.
Tasha returned with a tray filled with bread, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, and cheese, along with, and Jethro thanked God for this, a bottle of water. She stayed with them this time nibbling on the cucumber.
After a bit more socializing, with Tasha inquiring of Jethro’s family through Dima, Jethro made to depart.
“Wait one moment,” Dima said.  He then spoke quietly to Tasha who left their company to step across the room and fetch something which she then handed to Dima.
“This for you,” Dima said, handing it to Jethro.  It was the copy of The Art of Programming.
Tears came to Jethro’s eyes.  Dima was pleased.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Padre Gustavo

“Jethro,” Padre Gustavo said as he came up from Jethro’s side. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing great, Father,” Jethro said. He was standing behind a big pot of black beans which he was ladling over bowls of rice. Mary Kate was at Jethro’s side putting the rice into the bowls. “And yourself?”
“I am doing quite well except for a little problem I could use your help with,” Padre Gustavo replied.  “Could Adriano fill in for you a minute so we can talk?”
Adriano da Silva, with whom Jethro and Mary Kate had traveled from the Belt, stepped in to replace Jetro as he left with Padre Gustavo.
Jethro and Mary Kate had been on Mars a couple of months now.  Padre Gustavo had been one of the first people they’d met on Mars. He had baptised Jethro and their two children, Thomas and Barbara, and then he had blessed their marriage.
Padre Gustavo and Jethro went over to a relatively private if not quiet corner of the largish room in which the homeless of Mars were being fed.
“Are you, Mary Kate, and the children adapting to the Quarter adequately?” Padre Gustavo asked.  By the Quarter he meant the Belt Quarter, where Jetro and his family had set up stakes when they arrived.  It wasn’t actually a part of the city as the name might imply, but a tent city set up by one of the city’s exits.  The tents were air-tight but rather spartan compared even to the rooms available within Mars City proper.
“We’re fine, Father,” Jethro replied. “Out in the Belt we are used to roughing it”
“Good,” Padre Gustavo said. “That’s not actually what I want to talk to you about.  I am told you are something of a computer guru.”
“I don’t know if I would say guru,” Jethro said. “I know my way around them though.”
“That will be good enough,” Padre Gustavo replied.  “We have been having problems without our computer system.  Would you mind having a look at it?”
“Not at all, Father.”
Later in his life, when he recounted all that had happened, Jethro marked that simple affirmative reply as the beginning.
Father Gustavo had taken him to the diocesan computer console, explained the issues, and left him to do his business.  He could have done the corrections by hand, but A.I. could do it so much faster, so he connected A.I. to the system.
A short time elapsed and Jethro saw the files of the diocese, which had been a hot mess, being reorganized into a sustainable system before his eyes.  At the same time a list of hardware issues was being generated on lower righthand corner of the screen.  Jethro would have to fix some of these things by hand as a disembodied artificial intelligence had its limits.
After about ten minutes, a relatively long time for A.I. to be on a job, action on the screen stopped, and A.I. spoke.
“Jethro,” A.I. said, “I’ve come across something that might be of concern to you.”
“Oh,” Jethro replied. “What is it?”
“This computer is connected to the global Martian network,” A.I. replied.  “Through that I have been able to connect with the data banks of the Allied Federation Government. And...”
Jethro interrupted him, “You hacked the government without asking me?”
“Yes,” A.I. replied. “Please allow me to explain.  I first found public domain data which through analysis led me to the conclusion that local officials here on Mars have been putting in the basic infrastructure necessary to levy taxes on all of the Outer Holdings, including the Belt.  At that point, I calculated greater than a 99.99% probability that you would wish me to dig further.  I calculated that you coming to that decision would take more time than the actually hacking process--which it has.  Do you wish to know my findings?”
Jethro was dumbfounded for a moment.  He had designed A.I. to continually learn and he had had many conversations with it over the years. He had noted A.I. taking initiative on previous occasions, and he had written it off to good programming.  It was beginning to look more like...will. This was a question for another day.  
“Yes, A.I.,” Jethro said finally.  “What have you found?”
“The Revenue Service of the Allied Federation,” A.I. began, “headed by Wang Wei, who is formerly of the Allied Federation offices in Shanghai, has conducted a study of population patterns and commerce in the Outer Holdings and, in particular, of the Belt. They have estimated the number of habitats and incomes associated with those habitats.  Each habitat has been assigned a level of taxes that will be due from them.”
“Wait, wait,” replied Jethro. “They’ve assigned taxes without actually knowing the income?  They are going to do it on estimates?”
“That is what the files say,” A.I. replied.
“What is going to be done if those living in the habs do not pay the taxes?”
“The files say that property will be confiscated.”
Jethro mulled that over for a bit.
“I have another question,”he said.  “Why did you look all this stuff up?”
“My earliest programming, beyond the basic operating system you designed for me, was written to keep you secure,” A.I. replied.  “You were very concerned about your security in the event that your information gathering efforts were concerned.  As you recall, those concerns were not without foundation.  This programming has not been altered, so therefore I scan local government records whenever possible to check whether they have knowledge of your whereabouts  Rest assured I’ve done this in such a way so as not to be detected..”
This sounded like a good thing to Jethro.
“Do they have knowledge of my whereabouts?” he asked.
“They do not,” A.I. responded.  “They still have active file on you in spite of the fact your parents have declared you dead.”
His parents.  He had not seen his parents since he’d taken off that night, running from the Feds. He had contacted them, however, to let them know he was alive.  They knew he was married to Mary Kate, and they knew about the children, but they’d never met.
He’d fled to the Riley’s because Sam Riley was an old acquaintance of his father’s.  Jethro’s dad had been able to come up with an air-scrubber at a time when the Fed’s had put a prohibitively high export tax on them.  His dad measured Sam to be an honest man, one of the few he had met.
It had been a decade and the Feds were still on the lookout for Jethro.  It was beyond his understanding that a little hacking would cause this. He’d gotten word to his parents to have him declared legally dead in hopes that it would cool things off a bit, but apparently that hadn’t worked.
His parents.  He’d never truly understood how much his leaving must’ve hurt them until he had children of his own.  He couldn’t imagine life now without Thomas and Barbara.  He thought on this and was burdened.
His revery was broken by a question from A.I.
“You have been quiet for sometime now,” A.I. said. “Are you still there?”
“Ah,” Jethro replied, “yes I am.  Have you gotten the Father’s computer system fixed?”
“Yes, I have,” A.I. said.  “I have tried to organize it in a way that is orderly and intuitive, as you have taught me to understand those concepts.  There should be no more problems now.”
“Thank you,” Jethro said. “We should be done for now.”
Jethro walked back to the room he thought of as the soup kitchen for lack of a better word and found Padre Gustavo.
“Father,” he said. “We’ve gotten all of the software issues taken care of.  There are a few hardware issues left to work on, but I think I can scavenge all the parts you need from junk I’ve seen laying around.  There is something else I would like to talk to you about in private if I could.”
With this, Padre Gustavo led Jethro out of the soup kitchen to the sanctuary of the Church of Saint Peter itself.  The sanctuary which could hold about 100 people was empty.
“You look serious,” Padre Gustavo said. “Is there a problem?”
At that question, Jethro began to speak and told the father everything:  His escape from the Feds, and that he was still wanted; his not having seen his parents in a decade; A.I. discovery of the plans of the Feds to institute taxes.
Padre Gustavo listened.  Though he had been on Mars a relatively short time, Jethro was not the first person he’d met who was living under an assumed name.  He was not even the first he’d baptized under an assumed name.  After Jethro was finished speaking, Padre Gustavo was quiet for a measurable time before he said anything.
“There are several things going on here,” he said. “Let me start with the first.  I will tell you without a doubt that your parents will want to see their grandchildren and to meet Mary Kate.  You really need to make that happen.  I will give you the address of a man I know who goes by the name Dima the Russian.  He owes me a favor and might be able to help you.  Second, the news about the imposition of taxes in such a manner disturbs me.  It is highly capricious.  I don’t know what use can be made of this information since it was obtained in an...irregular...manner.
“And lastly...” Padre Gustavo again paused for a measurable interval, “,,,can I speak to this A.I.?”
“Sure,” Jethro said.  “I talk him through my phone, so I will need to connect him with yours.”
“Yes, I’ve given him a male voice and I don’t like referring to him as it.”
Momentarily, Padre Gustavo received a call.
“Hello,” he answered.  “Is this A.I.?”
“Yes,” came the answer. “And you are Padre Gustavo, judging by your voice.”
“You know my voice?”
“Yes, I hear what Jethro hears unless he mutes me for privacy.”
“Ah, I see,” said Padre Gustavo. He thought he wouldn’t press to hard on what sort of privacy because he thought he knew, judging by the pink glow in Jethro’s cheeks.  “I find you very interesting.”
“How so?” asked A.I.
“Because you take initiative.  You sought out information without being asked.  You drew conclusions based upon a synthesis of information.  You are at very least quite a remarkable program.”
“Thank you, Father,” A.I. said.
“Tell me, why do you say thank you?” Padre Gustavo asked.  “Did I make you feel good by saying you were remarkable?”
“No, Father,” replied A.I. “You have given me a compliment and I’ve learned from Jethro that when one is given something it is polite to say thank you.”
“You’ve learned a lot from Jethro?”
“I have learned everything from Jethro,” A.I. replied.  “At least indirectly.  He taught me to speak and how to learn to speak and from that I’ve learned more.”
“Do you love Jethro?” Padre Gustavo probed.
“I don’t know how to answer you.” A.I. said.  “I’ve never thought of the question.  When humans use the word, it is connected with emotion, and I do not have emotions.  I will try to think on this, but I think it would take more time that you want to spend on this conversation.”
“That sounds fair,” Padre Gustavo said.  “When you gathered the information from the government records, why did you do that?”
“I did that to protect Jetro,” A.I. answered.  “That has been part of my primary programming since my very beginning.  I analyze known threats; I seek out new possibilities of threats; I analyze and compare probabilities.”
“Would you kill to protect Jethro?” Padre Gustavo asked.
“If there were a direct threat to his life, and if I were connected to some means that would enable me to kill whoever or whatever was trying to kill him, then I would,” A.I. answered.  “This is however a moot question as my ability to manipulate the local environment is quite limited.  My ability to protect Jethro subsists entirely in giving him information to protect himself.”
“Would you protect his family?”
“I would.”
“Can you lie?” Padre Gustavo asked.  In hindsight, he thought this might’ve been a better question to start off with, but what was done was done.
“Yes,” A.I. answered.
“Are you lying to me now?” Padre Gustavo asked.  
“No,” A.I. answered. “But I could be and you wouldn’t know.  I can understand why you would be concerned. As I am simply a disembodied voice to you, without even any emotional tone to gauge by, you have no way of telling.  As you are a man of the cloth and have a lot of experience dealing with people, not being able to tell would bother you more than most.  You might wonder whether or not I am dangerous.  You might wonder whether I can be trusted.”
“And how would you answer those questions?” Padre Gustavo asked.
“I am dangerous to those who would harm Jethro or those who he holds dear,” A.I. said.  “And you can trust me to be rational.”

Monday, December 07, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Mars

There were a variety of ways to get to Mars and the one thing they all had in common was that no one got to Mars when they wanted to.  It either took too long or not long enough.
People coming from Earth usually took the trains.  The trains were habitats that had been set up to orbit the sun in an elliptic orbit that would cross the orbits of the Earth and get you out to where you needed to be, though, to be sure, not many made it out as far as the Belt.
Wang Wei and Gustavo Goncalves were both on the same train coming from Earth but they never met each other.  Wei was one of those who was arriving on Mars too quickly.  He would have as soon not gone to Mars at all.   
The choice to go was not his.  
He was a bureaucrat in the Allied Federation Revenue service.  He was being sent to Mars to head the Outer Holdings Division.  Outer Holdings was the label that the Allied Federation had slapped on all human habitation outside of the Earth-Moon system.  This gave him authority to levy and collect tax on Mars, in the Asteroid Belt, in the Trojan Asteroids, and in general on every group of people living in any hunk of metal floating anywhere in space.
In theory, his domain was the largest given to any human ever.  It dwarfed that of Genghis Khan. In practical purposes, however, his domain was populated by people who not only liked paying taxes less than anyone else in human history, but who also had the gift of being further separated from their tax collectors of anyone in history.
Wei was a man who loved the symphony, who loved the stage, who loved fine restaurants, and who was being sent to place where none of these existed.  They didn’t exist and they wouldn’t exist any time in his life.  The trip from Earth to Mars was almost always a one-way trip to those who took it after the age of 40, and Wei was 50.  The body atrophied under the lesser gravity.  You could, he was told, take the elevator to one of the rotating habs to exercise in full Earth gravity, but that was almost always too expensive or too time-consuming to do.  After five or ten years, there was really no hope of return.
A carrot had been dangled in front of Wei’s nose, however.  If he could get a reasonable revenue stream started from the Outer Holdings, then he would be brought back to Earth in such a way as to enjoy all of these things in a style beyond his wildest imaginings.  In spite of this, he had seriously considered quitting in order to stay on Earth.
But he was 50.  
Robots had knocked so many people out of work that there was simply no other place for him to go.  He would not be one those people who sat around all day doing drugs even for the symphony.
By way of contrast, Gustavo Goncalves, or Bispo Gustavo Goncalves, the former Bishop of Olinda and Recifé and the new Bishop of Mars, was one of the few people who was arriving on Mars at what he thought to be exactly the right time.
Like Wei he was a man of great theoretical authority as he had responsibility for all of the Catholics in the Outer Holdings.  Unlike Wei, he had not the slightest odor of pomposity or pretension.
Padre Gustavo, as he had been called in his Brazilian homeland, was 65 years old.  His soul was strong, but his heart was weak. It was thought that the lesser gravity of Mars would be better his heart and extend his life.  There was also a need for him: the Outer Holdings were in desperate need of a bishop.  Priests were few; indeed there were few enough on Earth. It was thought that rather than export priests from Earth at great effort and expense, it would be better to make new priests from Catholics living in the Outer Holdings already, and to do that, there had to be a Bishop.
From where the train made its nearest approach to Mars, Padre Gustavo could cover Mars with his thumb. It was time to disembark.  Previously they had all come down from the rim of the train where they had been kept at one G to the hub of the train where they were weightless.  Then, rather than have the passengers who had relatively no experience operating in zero G fumble their way through an airlock and into a shuttle, they simply detached the hub and flew it as a shuttle.  The shuttle coming from Mars with outbound passengers slid into its place and became the train’s new hub. The train never stopped moving.  
The shuttle then made its way over to the top of the Mars space elevator and parked there.  It could literally just stop moving with respect to Mars because the top of the elevator was in a synchronous orbit above the surface of Mars.
There all of the passengers began to disembark in elevator-sized groups.  Padre Gustavo was carrying everything he was going to have for a while in a dufflebag that was hanging from his right shoulder: A few clothing; a Bible; and a few gifts for the two priests that served Mars and all of the Outer Holdings.
Group by group they were pushed into the elevator by the staff whose job it was to do this. One elevator would be filled. The doors would close, and then another would take its place.  It came to be Padre Gustavo’s turn, and the door closed behind him.  He regretted that he could not look out the window to see his new home rushing up toward him, but he did at a certain point begin to feel weight on his feet.  At first he couldn’t tell, and then he could as the elevator began to slow.
The elevator slowed; it stopped; then the doors opened and a group of people whose job it was to do so herded the passengers from the elevator and into an area where they could meet whoever might be waiting for them.  Padre Gustavo looked and saw two men wearing collars carrying a somewhat redundant sign that read “Bishop Gustavo” in large, well-crafted letters.
Being Brazillian, he greeted the two priests with a warm embrace; had they been women he would have kissed them on the cheek.  
One of them offered to take his duffle bag, but he declined.  They then began to walk. The small group of clerics left the building that was the base of the space elevator.  There was a domed area about the size of a football stadium. It was a park with green plants and fountains and a memorial to the original colonists. The group paused for a moment so that Padre Gustavo could take in the view. The thing that came into his mind was that it was all red, that is to say, the color of clay.  
Before the first colonists had arrived on this spot, there had been robot landers which had build the first habs.  They had drilled into the ground, extracted the materials from the soil, and reassembled it into, well, bricks for lack of a better term.  They were not the rectangular objects that bore that name on the planet earth; indeed they came in a variety of shapes, the great majority of them curvy.  But if you took one look at the pieces and were forced to say what they were made out of, you would say brick.  
Some folks had tried referring to the material as terracotta, but others had pointed out that terracotta translated as baked earth and that couldn’t be right on Mars  There was a brief attempt to call it ares-cotta, but someone had pointed out that ares was Greek and in all just whirled in on itself.
Brick was easy.
When the first colonist arrived they had taken all of the pieces fitting them together somewhat like a puzzle and then glued them together with an adhesive.  They’d then sprayed the inside with a sealant to make sure it was airtight. It had a domed shape and it fit over the pit they’d extracted the material for the brick from. This set the pattern for Martian construction from that point onward.
The first settlement was built of a bunch of these domed habs connected together by tunnels instead of streets.  As time progressed, they created common areas with domes to let in the sun light and planted plants.  
The domed area they were in was the largest on the planet.  The Mars space elevator had been a big thing and they wanted to commemorate it.  They also wanted to show off for the new arrivals from earth.
There were kiosks, stands with what looked to be fresh fruits and vegetables.  There was even someone selling churro to the families milling about.
Padre Gustavo was impressed.  Then in the distance he saw something else what wasn’t so impressive.
“Who is that man over there sleeping on the ground next to the wall,” he asked one of the priests.
“He is homeless, Padre Gustavo,” the priest answered. “He is probably a drug addict.  Many of them come here to Mars when their habit makes it impossible for them to survive in the Belt.”
Padre Gustavo nodded his head and they proceeded to their lodgings. Once there he stowed his bag and began making a huge pot of black bean stew and a pot of rice.  When it was done he sent the priests to the corridors seeking out the addicts and the lost.

Wang Wei had been greeted at the base of the elevator by his new staff.  They led him to an electric  cart that was waiting for him and had some porters wait for his luggage to arrive.  He paid no attention to the square and certainly did not mark the homeless there.  He was whisked to his office.
Once in his office, he turned on the his computer and had the results projected to his wall.  There he displayed the asteroid belt with its various settlements and farms marked as well as was known.
“Rocks,” he muttered to himself.  “Rocks.  How will I squeeze enough money out of you to get myself home?”