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?”


Janet said...

Enjoying your reference to old clichés. "Get money out of a stone."

Ossian said...

Interesting. I wonder about the sounds of the place and the atmosphere, i.e. air, and also how he got the ingredients for the stew.