Eclipse Phase: picking up the pieces
It was impossible in creating this orientation document for Firewall agents operating on Mars to find Martians who were able to be as objective as professionalism dictates in describing their homeworld. This is unsurprising. Mars is a place of social upheaval and deep-seated unrest, the locus of a long, cold war being fought between transhumanity’s past and its future. The authors, one proxy and two sentinels, editorialize a great deal about political matters on their homeworld that often should not be the concern of Firewall, even where sentinels’ individual politics might suggest otherwise.
One Guy’s Story About Mars
They say the Earth was beautiful. Wouldn’t know; I ain’t been there. This here’s my planet. She’s cold, full of people hard and scarred, bone dry and unforgiving. But damn if she ain’t beautiful, and I wouldn’t trade her for nothing. I was born in a tuna can on a hardpan rust flat 300 klicks west by southwest of Olympus—the Amazonis Planitia, dead center of what would become the TQZ. Our nearest neighbors were a bunch of Islamic fundies, but my parents were still able to make ends meet by selling some of them bootleg shoju on the sly. There was a big town dome, but nobody lived in it save company people. The rest was given over to growing food, and all we rednecks lived in the network of cans and tunnels spread about it. My people, and most of our town, came from Korea on old Earth, and like a lot of immigrants, the thing we held onto tightest was food. The biggest event every year was when the cabbage and chili crops came in, right around New Year’s; then mom’d put up enough kimchee to last 14 months. The other 10 months of the year we were eating unflavored tofu and calling ourselves lucky. And we were lucky. Dad and Mom were solid— didn’t get hooked on XPs or stims like half the town, didn’t take out adjustable rate mortgages on their bodies and end up in cheap synths like some people’s parents.
Even if you steer clear of the obvious traps, though, there’s one piece of fine print ought to be sequenced onto the eyelids of every ruster morph: rednecks are born fucked. My first tattoo was those last two words, to keep me mindful of it. Some years Mom and Dad just couldn’t afford the Genetic Service Packs to keep their bodies running right, and those years were tougher than others. They always found enough money to buy the GSPs for me and my brother, though. Some kids in my town actually needed asthma inhalers, if you can believe such a thing. Dark ages, right?
Every day from when I was eleven on, Dad and I’d get up two hours before sunup to warm up the buggy. It’d be twenty below just about every morning, maybe a little chillier in winter. Lucky we lived a bit north of the equator; gets helluv colder on a winter’s night down south. Actually, ain’t lucky we lived where we did, but I’ll come to that. Dad was a line tech, mostly contracting for TerraGenesis. Huge swathes of the Amazonis Planitia are permafrost, and in some places you even find sheets of ice kilometers wide a meter or so below ground. The plan in those days was a slow melt using simple solar-powered heating rods that’d grow a network of heat-conducting nanofibers below ground, like a tree’s root system. It was a big operation with a lot of melting and monitoring gear to watch over, and even self-repairing machinery needs servicing. Lot can go wrong in an extreme environment. We’d drive a few klicks, check out a cluster of gear (it all needed visual inspection; you could never trust the self-diagnostics), then move on to the next. We’d check out two or three clusters while it was still dark, and then we’d always stop in the same spot, on a low rise facing east, and watch the sun rise over Olympus Mons.
Dad never said anything, and I knew not to talk. He’d put the engine on a low idle and watch the shadows shorten for maybe fifteen minutes—a long time for a guy who got up two hours before dawn on a Martian morning so he could finish his rounds by dusk. Dad wasn’t a religious guy, but if he had a spiritual bone in him, it came out every morning right then. Olympus hasn’t got much by way of foothills like Earthan or Venusian mountains, and it’s about the biggest single object you could imagine below the scale of an asteroid. It flattens the landscape around it. Kilometer-high cliffs look like nothing, and our proud space elevator is only a tiny black thread above its caldera. Watching the morning clouds roll down its lower slopes while the sun crept up painting the Martian desert red gold, it was all enough to make you forget you were a helluv poor redneck in a ditchstop town full of XP junkies who didn’t even hold the copyrights on their own bodies. Since joining Firewall, I’ve gone sailing on Titan’s methane lakes, I’ve spent the night in a 2,000-cred-an-hour cathouse in Elysium, and I’ve stood on a planet orbiting an alien sun. I’d give all that back to see the sun rise over Olympus Mons from that vantage again just once, but now that spot is dead in the middle of the TITAN Quarantine Zone.
When the Fall came, I was twenty-seven and working as a line tech like Dad, looking after a string of ecostations around what was left of the Hellas Planitia glacier. Hellas is a huge impact basin, and it was in the transition from ice field to bog at the time. Mostly I worked at night, when the brutal cold quick-froze the bog, turning it back into an ice field, so I was awake when the first attacks hit Mars. I didn’t have much politics ‘til that night, but the way the PC-run media lied to people during the Fall about what was really going on, lied when they didn’t have to, when people could’ve got away to safer regions if only they’d known, that was what changed everything for me. I only knew what was going on ‘cause a friend at the time—I’ll just call him Mahesh—turned me on to Radio Argosy, the n-cast the Argonauts’d been running. How’d rednecks cutting frost in a boggy crater tune in to neutrino-band broadcasts? Mahesh was an industrious guy, and you can do some crazy stuff with repurposed terraforming gear. We weren’t the only ones tuned in, and a lot of lives probably got saved that way. My fam, though, didn’t have an n-cast receiver. I’ve never found out what happened to them. All I know is when I finally made it up to Empire, the town on the Noctis Labyrinthus canyon rim that used to be the last stop for supplies before you headed out on the M-4, the western highway was barricaded. Nobody was being let through to the Quarantine Zone beyond, and they didn’t give a damn whether you had people out there.
The Barsoomian Movement
Two things to know about the Movement: one, it’s a real crazy quilt, a lot more complex than any one group’s agenda. Two, you can tell who’s in the Movement and who ain’t by how they call it. If you’re down with B, you’re just in the Movement; nobody actually calls it the Barsoomian Movement, except in boardrooms and offworld.
There were four million people living on Mars before the Fall: about a third in each of cities, small towns, and back country. Now there’re 200 million. How’s a planet absorb that many people? If you’re the hypercorps and their PC spitboys, you could’ve settled a lot more people in the country, but that ain’t cost effective. Instead, you build bigger habs, bigger cities, establish a pecking order, and get helluv mean if anybody steps out of line. Now over half the planet lives in cities and the big towns around them. Most are either direct employees of a corp or indentures, and it’s changed life for the worse. Used to be you filed a report on your terraforming zone and the Tharsis Terraforming Office used that feedback for planning. You gave them your hydration stats, biomass estimates, local demographics and all, and if you were hitting the targets—which were sane back then—they let you be. Now the TTO is just a rubber stamp for whatever crazy plan the PC’s cooked up that month to make the city folk think they’ll get to come out of their domes some time during the lifespan of their current morph.
Which of course is dead wrong. Terraforming’s going a lot faster than we thought it’d do, but there’s a point, and we’ve reached it, beyond which you just can’t rush it any faster, leastways not without jeopardizing the climate over the long, long run. Right now Mars is a fixer-upper, but fuck it up by going too fast, and in 500 years you’ll have a stormy hellhole like Earth or Venus. The TTO and the corps realize this, so they do stuff that’ll make it look like they’re accelerating the process with a lot of smoke and noise. Orbital bombardments near populated areas, flooding—that kind of crap. It doesn’t change a thing in terms of the terraforming process, but if you’re a nomad or living in a small town that’s forcibly evacuated, it makes a rough life even rougher. The compensatory cred from the TTO is always a fraction of what it’d take to get a new start in another town, so whole towns end up forced into the city population, where most of their kids end up being whores, hustlers, and office drones instead of farmers and formers. City dwellers, by and large, don’t care what happens to the poor dumb rednecks getting displaced by this weird dog and pony show, but if anyone makes a peep about how atmospheric density and O2 levels aren’t rising at the promised rate, they’re quick enough to blame it on sabotage by “Barsoomian agitators.”
from: Das Frettchen
Back in the day, we’d have called the Barsoomians terrorists, and it’s not an unfair assessment. Politicians in this day and age are far too subtle to fall into such an enticing rhetorical trap, though, despite the truth of it. One can’t get away with crying terrorist at any element of the Barsoomian “movement” (and one must use this term loosely; they’re about as unified as early twenty-first century Palestine). If you do, you’ll have an army of the ignorant beating on your mesh presence—not just the actual terrorists-in-activist-garb, but a whole cavalcade of social democrats, mesh neutrality activists, and pansexual degenerates. While the thought of this should generate a frisson of excitement among those with the will to power, our present planetary authorities are not made of such stuff.
Rednecks, Scum, and the Clanking Masses
The Movement brings together a coalition of interests that’s helluv diverse, going from your radical autonomists, ruster preservationists, and Titanian-influenced technosocialists to trade unionists, right-on progressives in the city middle class, and good ol’ boy Martian nationalists. The Movement’s got no platform, but everybody who identifies with it’s got one thing in common: a list of grievances called the Complaints. Summing up basic, the Complaints are against:
Planned obsolescence of morphs—especially rusters—cultured on Mars.
Central planning of orbital bombardments, floodings, and other landscape-altering terraforming events.
Abuse of eminent domain and forced relocation of populations.
A few other issues are common cause among a lot of Barsoomians, but not all:
Mesh neutrality and active suppression of fabricator technology. This one is a pet issue mostly of urban autonomists and technosocialists, although it also gets a lot of support from rednecks with nanoecologist leanings and technosurvivalist clades like the Makers. I’d love a fabber, myself, instead of having to scrounge tin off ecostation gear past its duty cycle. Mesh neutrality is a big issue on account of it keeps too much information under PC control. You’re a blogger, you ain’t going to reach nearly as many people with your scathing indictment of the Consortium if they start throttling down your content the second one of their PR flacks sees something they don’t like.
Economic justice. Everybody wants some pie, right? Hell, I do. I like pie. How we get from a big, desperate underclass and a rich minority that’s stingy down to the markup on its piss, to a planet where people got some opportunities— well, I’ve gotten in a few bar fights over it. All Barsoomians can agree on this in some shape, though. On one side you got people who just want a better chance for them and their kids under the current system, and they usually talk about education, labor organization, getting rid of GSP licenses, and stuff like that. Elsewhere, especially in the cities, you’ve got those who’d like to see a system more like what the Titanians have, or even a full-on anarchist revolution. All in all, the Movement’s got plenty to be angry about, and every year, they get more organized. Never mind a lot of people in the Movement hate each other’s guts as much as they hate the PC, the corps, and in some cases, the League. Some supporters are actually in the Tharsis League now, mostly holding low offices or appointments, but it’s enough to make the powers that be look over their well-tailored shoulders. How it’ll all turn out, though, now that’s a poser.
Most people in the Movement won’t dick around on this point: hypercorp and government use of indentured infugees is slavery, plain and simple. It’s only in recent years this issue has caught some real traction with the masses, though, because up until a few years back, the Martian working class wasn’t big enough that free Martians were competing with infugees for work.
Those who know their history’ll tell you that citizens released from their indentures are in a place a lot like black sharecroppers after the United States Civil War. They’ve worked for years in agriculture or terraforming, and they ain’t got any opportunities in other industries … but the jobs they occupied previously’re filled by new indentures drawn from the billions-strong archives of lost souls uploaded during the Fall. The Tharsis League made up some homesteading programs such as they had in the antique United States to get people to colonize the interior, and of course the Planetary Consortium trumpets these loudly as opportunity for all. But you got limited infrastructure and transit networks in the back country. The railroads gouge everybody on rates, so getting supplies in or produce out is helluv expensive. Most would-be homesteaders wind up deep in debt, living on rented land with corp-built life support and agricultural systems.
Although anybody who’s down with B agrees that infomorph indentures should be a thing of the past, there’s a lot of debate on the fate of the people who’re infugees now. Suggestions run from building more simulspace capacity so that all personalities currently on file could be instanced as infomorphs in a virtual Earth, to producing more case morphs and letting them compete in the labor market like everyone else, to simply writing them off as dead. As debates go, this one gets pretty sick.
Planned Obsolescence of Martian Morphs
If you’re really damn lucky, you own your body. If you don’t, you’re like more than half the free Martian population—part of some twisted fuck’s business plan, under the heading, “Long-term Recurring Revenues.” The part I can’t even believe is that so many people on Mars, a lot of whom should fucking well know better, on account of they’re the victims of it, think this is not only okay, but desirable. People’re convinced their bodies will fall apart if they get off the GSPs, when really all you need is a few months of low-level gene therapy to correct some of the errors the corp genetic designers couldn’t be bothered to fix.
In the years between when I left home and the Fall, I put in five years planting water bears and blacking rocks, I ate paste, and I scarce cracked a beer or lit a joint the whole time. I don’t think I could ever make myself save cred like that again, and if I’d had kids, there’d’ve been no way. At the end I got the Cure, and it worked. Doubtless there’re some PC and League types who’d wanna clap me on the back after that story, say, “Son, I like the cut of your jib,” or some crap like that, and point me out as proof the system really is fair, ‘cause if I could do it, anyone could, right? Balls. Most people ain’t made like that, and they know it. People—all of them, not just obsessive fucks like me—need to own their own genetics.
Central Planning of Terraforming
What we gain from terraforming will take centuries to ripen, but in the short run it sometimes gets incredibly violent and destructive. Put aside the obvious risks from bombarding the planet with comets, and you’ve still got flash floods, heightened dust storm activity, altered wind and moisture patterns, fog, and violent hail storms coming along with the process. Some of this stuff is unavoidable, but Mars, especially down south where the land is heavily cratered, has microclimates everywhere. The most violent storms and floods’re local a lot of the time, and anyone who tells you they ain’t connected to careless terraforming is either drinking hooch made from reactor coolant or a corporate PR flack. In the Valles Marineris, you’re starting to see permanent floodings in the lowest parts of the canyonlands, too, and these are almost always the result of a call made in a planning office somewhere 500 klicks away.
People in the Movement figure the planning process has been co-opted by the hypercorps, especially since they started talking up this Red Eden project. Red Eden is nothing but a move to privatize all terraforming ops under one umbrella. In that kind of space, you end up with a system where sites for the most upheaval-prone terraforming ops are picked with nothing but cost-effectiveness in mind. If an area slated for heavy environmental modification is populated, they invoke eminent domain to relocate anybody who doesn’t want to move—almost always screwing them on land prices when paying comp, if the locals are even lucky enough to own their own land.
Planetology and Terraforming
Terraforming’s been going on for half an Earth century now, but it’s got a long way to go. Looking at Mars from orbit ain’t too different from the view the first space probes got. Sure, there’s some green, some more clouds, big areas that’ve been blacked to up the albedo, and even a little water sparkling here and there, but the stark red terrain’s still raw enough to show its prehistoric roots. Mars is broadly divided into north and south, with big differences between the terrain of the two. The northern hemisphere is pretty damn flat, or in some places rolling, with the occasional mountain here and there. Go south, and you’ll eventually hit a cliff or scarp, some high as a few kilometers, dividing the northern plains from the south, which is older terrain, rugged, heavily cratered, and usually higher elevation. Just about everywhere you look, though, one thing’s clear: a long time ago, our planet was warmer. You can see the evidence in the deep cuts of old rivers, some of which are coming to life again, and in the chaotic terrain they left behind. And in Hellas early this spring, we got our first real snowfall ever. It was the loveliest damn thing I seen in years.
Before we really got to exploring Mars, there were those on old Earth who thought we’d be able to come out here and just walk around with a breather mask. Obviously, they were wrong. Atmospheric pressure is still way too low (meaning that aside from problems for morphs that can’t tolerate low pressure, a lot of radiation makes it through), and it gets murderously cold at night. Mars being a desert, the day to night temperature fluctuations are extreme. On a warm day at noon, it can get up to seven or eight degrees, but even on a warm night in Valles Marineris, the temperature goes down to twenty below. Splicers need survival clothing at night, and rusters need heavy winter duds. On the up side, pressure’s a lot higher at low altitudes, and it doesn’t get cold enough for carbon dioxide to freeze any more.
Dust storms’re still common, too, although the huge, planet-covering redouts we once got are rarer and rarer these days. When a big one comes, though, you batten down the hatches. In open country, dust storms can go on for days. Aircraft are grounded, you can’t see a damn thing, and even going anyplace on the ground can be impossible. Likewise, dust devils are still common, up to a klick across and a few klicks high. As the air gets thicker, these actually grow in strength and last longer, and someday they’ll be as bad as old Earth tornadoes, I hear. It’s beautiful sometimes to see three or more of these devils tearin’ up the terrain in the distance at once.
I could talk your ear off about terraforming and ecostation gear, on account of I’ve been working with it half my life, but I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. Forming activity falls into a few main categories: the big industrial stuff, offworld and orbital megaprojects (what we call “pot-stirring”), and terraculture (the stuff that goes on at ecostations).
Rubbing shoulders in the areostationary sweet spot with space elevators, swanky habs, shipyards, and such are orbital mirror arrays. Each one’s made up of four or five kilometer-wide discs of rigid foil with station-keeping solar trim tabs. They reflect additional sunlight onto the Martian surface. Individually, they don’t make much of a difference, but there are two hundred of them up there now, enough to raise temperatures just a little along the equatorial belt beneath them. New belts around the poles are planned over the next couple years.
The flashiest part of the terraforming project, though, is cometary bombardment. In the early years of forming, they were dropping any old asteroid, mainly non-minable carbon-silicate rocks from the outer Belt. The point of it then was to heat up the polar caps enough to melt off all the carbon dioxide and start the water melting, too, and for that all you needed was a helluv big kinetic impact. Now most of the objects coming in are comets. It’s a dicey operation, for sure. You get a crew of ice pushers to live on one of these things for four, five years. They build a propulsion system that uses the mass of the comet itself as propulsion mass, then keep the thing on course while it accelerates in from way outsystem. All of these snowballs have to be a kilometer or less in diameter; anything bigger could fuck the whole planet. In the final months, they do course corrections and steer the ice so that it makes the slowest possible approach to the planet. They payoff is a giant fuck-all cloud of water and ammonia, and another big jolt of kinetic energy to melt more of the polar caps. Nowadays, though, they’re talking about comet impacts farther and farther from the poles, and they’ve even done a few. There was a week of rioting in Noctis after the first one hit, and now it’s a political hot potato for the Tharsis League. The scientists ain’t helping. Some’re arguing in favor, some against, and it’s unclear who’s working off the facts and who’s on the take from the PC.
The same techs we wrecked old Earth with’re actually great for making Mars a better place to live. Chlorinated fluorocarbon factories are mostly automated plants that use robotic miners to extract minerals rich in fluorine, then manufacture greenhouse gases. CH4 plants use ice and the atmosphere itself to electrolyze water into oxygen and hydrogen, then produce methane and water using the Sabatier reaction. Scumyards are industrial-scale decay beds using agricultural and industrial waste products to nourish bacteria and, in the last few years, Martian termites. Mainly they crank out compost and a whole lot of CO2, which you need to thicken and warm the overall atmosphere. Blackeners are huge, rolling nanobot hives that move over open country, belching smart soot. Smart soot propagates and darkens the landscape, decreasing surface albedo so that the planet holds in more heat. Blackeners mostly operate around the equator, which makes the orbital mirror arrays more efficient. The last major industrial effort involves getting more hydrocarbon-burning vehicles out there. Buggies, flying cars, and a lot of other vehicles now run on methane. This last issue’s created some fights within the Movement. City anarchists are a bunch of bicycle freaks, and air quality inside the domes is one of their favorite things to get pissed about.
Rusters and alpiners ain’t the only transgenic life on Mars, and in fact we’re kind of behind the curve. The most successful lifeforms on Mars so far are microbes: extremophile planktons and nitrificating bacteria released in the wake of comet impacts to break down ammonia. Also doing well are water bears: microscopic animals that can survive being frozen solid. We’ve planted a lot of them to get more of an ecosystem going. From the water bears and other extremophiles, the gene designers figured out how to sequence cold-tolerant traits into a whole mess of other animals that ain’t warm-blooded and can’t carry around a lot of insulation: small insects, lizards, and annelid worms.
We’ve also got some plant life, especially in the Valles-Marineris, breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out sweet, sweet O2. There’s been some success with types like conifers, sagebrush, tumbleweeds, some grasses, lichens, succulents, and cacti.
All these plants and critters’re getting the liquid water they need to live in part from all the work we’ve done on melting the permafrost. You pick a promising patch, plant a field of solar-powered heating rods, and while you’ve still got an ice field at night, during the day you’ll get liquid water—enough for worms, bacteria, and plants to go on with their little lives. Meanwhile, the less-modified plants living in agricultural domes do their part. Life support systems in a well-equipped dome these days’re good enough that there’s often surplus oxygen you can vent directly into the atmosphere.
Finally, there are nanoswarms. I talked a little about blackeners, but there’re a host of other robotic crawlies loose out there working on tasks like soil aeration, breaking down rust, and “sorting” desirable minerals toward the surface through the soil and regolith. Using swarms for forming work is controversial, and there’s a law on the books (which gets ignored mostly) prohibiting planting replenishing nanobot hives in forming zones. During the Fall, a lot of swarms got subverted by the TITANs and went from aerating the soil to aerating people. The nanoecology bloc argue the benefits’re greater than the risks, but for my money I’m suspicious of them. You need to lower albedo, seed more lichens and algae. But the nano-ecologists’ve been winning this debate so far.
‘Cause of all this, the places with the highest population density on Mars are those where the effects of terraforming are being felt first: Tharsis and Valles-Marineris, Hellas Planitia, and Argyre Planitia. Of course, there’s population scattered all over the planet, but large settlements have sprung up mostly where the living’s least harsh.
Tharsis and Valles Marineris
Tharsis is a huge plateau, the result of ancient volcanic processes we’re still working on understanding. The Valles Marineris canyonlands begin here, cutting eastward to give us a 4,000-klick stretch of terrain that’s just on the bad side of habitable. Three-quarters of the Martian people live here, mostly in settlements at the bottom of the canyons (though high enough they won’t drown when terraforming eventually floods the canyons). Here, fogs’ve replaced dust storms. Some mornings as the cold night air flows over rivers that’ve thawed from the freezing nighttime temperatures, you get immense flash fogs that can kill visibility in much of the canyons, especially further east in Eos where there’s the most standing water.
Hellas is another big project. It’s an impact basin, left over from a helluv big asteroid impact that happened so long ago it boggles the mind thinking about it. The glacier at the center—what’s left of it—is a major source of water for the settlements around it. Hellas is dotted with a dozen or so towns and a lot of smaller settlements, and it’s the heartland for the part of the Movement that concerns itself most with terraforming politics.
This is the other big impact basin we’ve put a lot of time into terraforming. It’s big enough that there are other craters inside of it. One of them, Galle Crater, looks like a giant smiley face from orbit. By all rights, Argyre ought to be as well developed as Hellas, but local politics’ve slowed down population growth a lot, mostly on account of the lousy maglev service through New Dazhai (more on that boondoggle later).
South of the equator, Mars is mostly a rugged, cratered place, and elevations are mostly higher than up north. Going along with that, the weather in the uplands can get a lot colder. Even so, there’s a lot of terraforming activity going on here, and you find little towns tucked into nooks and crannies all over the place. The deep craters dotting the landscape are like microcosms of Hellas or Argyre—tiny, tiny pockets where life can find itself a foothold. You can also find Barsoomian nomads here, but since the Fall, most’ve moved up north.
Northern Plains and Nomad Country
The north’s a hard land. Sure, the altitude’s lower, but for the most part, it ain’t like down south where a microclimate can take hold in a crater or canyon and give full-blown ecosystems a foothold. Terraforming work out here is gradual, done at isolated ecostations that might be 50 or 100 klicks from the next nearest station. Settlements are even fewer, so most people living out here’re the real Barsoomians—nomads.
Lot of people don’t recall, memories being short these days, but Barsoomian originally referred only to the ecostation nomads of the high desert and northern plains. It was only after the Consortium and League media started conjuring up images of crazed desert warriors and tying them in with the Movement that the Barsoomian label got applied to the Movement broadly.
Nomads working for the TTO get periodic resupplies from airdrops near the ecostations. If they’re independent, they run ecostations of their own: tiny caches of life, often camouflaged mini-domes no bigger than 10 meters across, equipped with water condensers and automated greenhouses. Nomads’ll live near one for a few days or weeks, depending on how well it’s yielding, then move on to the next. Never, ever fuck with these installations. Aside from messing with someone’s food and water supply out here being a shitthief move, Barsoomian nomads’re helluv good trackers. Raid a nomad ecostation, and like as not, they’ll find you and use your cortical stack for ping pong.
There’re two main camps among the nomads: those employed by the TTO and the independents. Independents call the TTO nomads “les esclaves.” Nomads usually run in clans of from five to twenty people. TTO clans tend to have names that sound like small companies, like Wright & Wu Terraforming or Société Lafitte, and the people in them might come from a lot of different backgrounds. Independents’re more family-minded, which makes sense on account of lots of them are related, or at least got strong ethnic and cultural ties. Some clans I’ve run into are al-Maqqari, Girard-Moussa, LeMieux, and Duverger. If rednecks and city scum are the heart of the Movement, indie nomads are its soul. Most of them got ties to the Francophone diaspora in North Africa. As Europe froze, millions of French refugees wound up in Morocco and Tunisia, where they lived for decades before the Fall. While they were there, they mixed in with the local people, which is why you see all the hyphenated French/Arabic names. Trying to solve the refugee problem, the French government, which had a trashed country but great space infrastructure, started offering its citizens the chance to egocast to Mars as indentures. The forebears of the Barsoomians—French citizens and their new Moroccan and Tunisian families—took that offer en masse, while very few citizens who’d been well off enough to remain in France did. During the Settlement Conflict that came on the heels of the Fall, France lost any political claim on its citizens on Mars, most of whom’d worked off their indentures by that time, or the areas they’d settled. But the French North African culture stuck around. There’re two main cultural branches: the makers and the sufis. Both speak a mix of French and Arabic among themselves, but the sufis are mostly from Morocco, while the makers’re mostly from Tunisia. Makers’ve got a lot in common with the autonomist cultures out in the Trojans and Saturn’s rings; they’re technolibertarian engineer-survivalists. Among other things, they invented the extended duty breathers everyone uses in the Martian back country—and open sourced them, which pisses the corps off to no end. As far as anyone can tell, it’s the makers who first invented the “Barsoomian” tag. Word is they got it out of an old Earth sci-fi vid.
The sufis were an Islamic sect on old Earth, but here they ain’t precisely that. They got a strong belief in helping others, and they believe the trials of living in the Martian desert purify the soul and bring the heart closer to their God. I don’t hold with religion, but the sufis make me proud to be human, while proving what a crock of shit the corp way of life is. You approach them peaceable, they’re the most hospitable people you’ll ever meet—pretty amazing for people living off barren soil in a frozen desert. I got lucky enough to watch one of their dances once, and it was probably the third most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on this world. Piss them off, though, and you got yourself a deadly enemy. Where the makers got clever tech on their side, the sufis have … something.
Firewall’s been wanting to check out the rumor that a sufi clan roaming the north edge of the TQZ picked up the Watts-MacLeod virus and shared it among their people, but so far no one’s had the temerity to bang on their door and ask them where they’re hiding their asyncs. Which is probably real wise.
Anyhow, you want to find people who hate the PC, look no farther. The lifestyle of the indie nomad’s been under attack for decades. Land use claims and attempts to bring them on as TTO employees have failed, and now the nomads got to contend with badly programmed former swarms gone rogue, flash floods, and even “misguided” orbital bombardments if they’re ranging far enough north.
Sidebar: Talking Rust (Some Martian Slang)
Artificials: Catch-all term for artificial life that has a physical body, from self-replicating nanoswarms up to robots. Generally only used to describe artificial life with animal-level intelligence or lower.
Basic: Contracted form of basically or simply.
Black Kettles: Criminal morph storage or production facilities.
Technical: Crazy or haywire. “Technical” was corp psych services shorthand for technical somatically-induced stress disorder, a condition similar to posttraumatic stress disorder that was extremely common among early infomorph laborers sleeved in cheap synthmorphs. It still occurs, though less frequently, in newer models.
Wild Artificials: Artificial life gone feral, either through poor programming or abandonment by its creator. Wild artificials often evolve in unexpected ways and may be dangerous to transhumans.
Darian Calender and Seasons
In a lot of the solar system, time’s still kept based on UT (Universal Time, once known as Greenwich Mean Time—Greenwich was a town on old Earth). ‘Cause so many habs and settlements, especially outsystem, don’t have a natural day/night cycle, timekeeping gets pretty damn arbitrary. I think a lot of the Moon, being tidally locked with the Earth and with the same sidereal period, uses UT, too. On Mars, though, we got our own cycles of seasonal change with their own rhythm. The seasons have a real effect on terraforming, weather, agriculture, and day length. So with a little modification, we’ve standardized on the Darian calendar developed on twentieth century Earth by an engineer name of Gangale.
Mars rotates at about the same speed as Earth, so the Martian day, (technically it’s a “sol,” but that term never really picked up) is only 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than a Earthen day. But the Martian year is just over 669 sols long (668 some years), meaning the seasons are maybe twice as long as on Earth. The Darian calendar splits the year into 24 months, with years beginning on the Vernal Equinox. Each month is 27 or 28 days long, split into seven-day weeks. The main change from Gangale’s original calendar is that the names of old Earth calendar months were partly kept to make the system easier to learn for colonists from Earth. March is the first month of the year, so Darian months roughly line up with Martian seasons in the same way as the Earthen months of the same name. The other 12 months are ancient Sanskrit names for the constellations of the Zodiac. So the months of the year are, in order: March, Dhanus, April, Makara, May, Kumbha, June, Mina, July, Mesha, August, Rishabha, September, Mithuna, October, Karka, November, Simha, December, Kanya, January, Tula, February, Vrishika. The only part really trips people up is remembering how many days in each month, but it’s actually pretty simple, not to mention that your muse does it for you. Every sixth month is 27 days long, so you’ve got 27 days in Kumbha, Rishabha, Simha, and Vrishika. All the rest’re 28 days. The exception is in leap years. All of the odd-numbered years in a decade, and the tenth year of each decade, are leap years, meaning they got 669 days instead of 668. On leap years, Vrishika, the last month, is 28 days long. And being as it’s always a Saturday, people make a pretty big deal out of 28th of Vrishika parties. Best one I ever went to was in Noctis, where they call it Hogmanay and throw a big fire festival in the tablelands.
Mars, nearby stations, and more remote settlements under Martian sway use AMT (Airy Mean Time), the time at the center of crater Airy-0—zero degrees longitude on Mars. Because a second’s a second anywhere in the system, Martian clocks run to 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds before rolling over to the next day. Mars has twelve time zones, each set off 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 17.5 seconds from its neighbor. Meshed tech, including your basic mesh inserts, can track time changes when it moves from time zone to time zone. Spimes in orbital installations normally broadcast their current offset from AMT, allowing nearby meshed devices to update themselves. Orbitals that ain’t in an areostationary orbit normally use AMT for station time. Time zones don’t have names—officially they’re known by their offsets from AMT—but colloquially people’ll refer to New Shanghai time or Noctis time and be understood.
Sidebar: Time Zones of Major Martian Cities and Regions
Argyre Planitia AMT – 4
Ashoka AMT – 4
Hellas Planitia AMT + 6
Valles-New Shanghai AMT – 4
Elysium AMT + 10
Noctis-Qianjiao AMT – 8
Olympus AMT – 10
I hate politics, especially when it ain’t my politics. Lucky for me, I didn’t get asked to do a report on the Planetary Consortium, but I got a few words to say on the Tharsis League, the planet’s other big political organization. When PC oligarchs look at the League, they see a herd of agencies like the TTO put there to do their bidding and maybe voice some rubber stamp political support here and there to make things look proper. Interesting thing is, the real structure of the League is basic a mirror of the Movement. You got most of the same camps represented: city dwellers, rednecks, small town people, and nomads. But you’ve also got people with more to lose: middle management, professionals, bureaucrats, and local business-people. The upshot of this is, there’s helluv different factions in the League, all with different agendas, and working within different agencies.
League Council and Secretariat
The Council’s supposed to be a representative body drawn from all Martian settlements and populated regions. They set policy, make laws, and appoint the Secretary General and other members of the Secretariat, who’re supposed to execute all this grand vision through the League’s various agencies. Problem is, reps in the Council’re overwhelmingly from the cities, where most of the population lives, so most of them get hand-picked by the Consortium. However, the last election cycle there was a weird split in the city vote when a big bloc of moderates from Noctis and Elysium didn’t want to go along with the Consortium-backed candidate. So now the Secretary General is Natacha Dhiagelev, formerly the rep from Ashoka. She’s screwing up a lot of Consortium plans, she’s down with the Movement even if she only alludes to it in public, and I’m pretty damn sure PC Oversight is already thinking up ways to off her.
Infrastructure Workers’ Association (IWA)
IWA started out as a credit union and benefits group for terraforming, ecostation, and transportation workers. Funny thing is, it was meant to be a union-busting move put in place by the League’s Consortium paymasters, but with so many lower-level IWA officials and members being down with B, it’s started to act more like a real trade union. This pisses off the PC and the League higher-ups to no end, ‘cause an org they sanctioned in the first place to keep the Movement out of their hair is now making unwelcome demands regarding better worker benefits and decreased use of infomorph slaves. Some of the wheels in this group include John Payne, a redneck station nomad up north who taught himself law and now files a lot of the IWA’s advocacy briefs and motions by mesh from wherever he happens to be that week, and Katrina Takahashi, the big union boss out of Pilsener City in Hellas.
Tharsis Teraforming Office (TTO)
The TTO, on the other hand, has been pretty well co-opted by the Consortium, and now they’re openly collaborating with the Red Eden project (or Red Bleedin’, as a lot of rusters call it). You ask me, they’re out to totally privatize forming work, bring it under the control of a single hypercorp entity. Right now, most line techs and ecostation workers’re either paid out of the public chest, as TTO employees or private contractors, or they’re working for small, local hypercorps. Red Eden coming to fruition’d mean everybody working for the Red Eden corp, and the TTO getting pared down to the point where all they’d be doing is cutting checks to Red Eden. Obviously IWA doesn’t like this, but they’re not the only ones. There’s a faction in the TTO itself, led by Kaki Varma, the powerful Committeewoman for Water Usage, that wants nothing to do with Red Eden (although whether Kaki’s down with B or just out for herself is a question mark).
Martian Rangers and Magistrates
The closest thing Mars’s got to a planetary police force, the Rangers technically got jurisdiction anywhere within 30 klicks of the surface of Mars. Unless they’re on a specific case, though, they mostly work outside city limits; city militias are violently allergic to these guys and gals. They’re also not allowed to operate in corp-owned settlements under Consortium protection without the right warrants. Rangers’re a mixed bag. Some are down with the Movement and generally all right. Others got corruption and brutality written on their faces bold as the red circle on a Japanese flag. Make sure you figure out which is which quick when dealing with them. Captain Sage Kim, ranking officer of the Elysium Rangers who patrol the periphery of the TQZ, is of the better sort. She’s caught a lot of flak for not busting up the Arsia Mons smuggling rings, and word is she’s real sympathetic to the Movement. At the other extreme you got guys like Captain Lem Boudin with the Argyre Rangers, whose department got its wings clipped after he turned a pack of police baboons loose on a group of farmers protesting high freight prices. The footage from that dust-up got shown all over the planet, and now most of the policing in the limits of Argyre towns is done by a security corp, Pecos (which I’m sure ain’t any better, but the League was forced to do something to quell the outcry).
The judicial complement to the Rangers, Magistrates are circuit-flying judges who hold court in the back country as needed. Like the Rangers, some’re good people, others not so good. Magistrates have to convene a jury when deciding criminal cases, but beyond that, they’ve got wide latitude to do as they please. A few Magistrates out there’ve gone technical from too much stress on the job, meaning frontier justice can get pretty weird.
Mars Department of Transportation (MDOT)
MDOT builds and maintains all of the planetary transit infrastructure outside the big cities, including highways and flyways (but not maglev trains— those’re the bailiwick of the railroad companies). MDOT was the first agency where the Movement really started to make gains in the League, but the current director, Isaiah Xei, a grandfathered appointee of the previous Secretary General, is a stone bastard. One of his first acts was to asscan half of MDOT’s free workforce and replace them with indentures.
Mars is one of the only planets in the system with real surface infrastructure: roads, bridges, flyways, and the like. People’ve been living here long enough that it’s gotten pretty built up, which is good, because going everyplace by rocket ain’t as cheap or practical as it is on, say, Luna.
Maglev Railroad System
For much of the Martian population, rail is the only affordable means of long distance travel. Railroad hypercorps—Red Northern, Elysium & Tharsis, Rail Eos, and a score of others—have built maglev rights-of-way connecting cities and major settlements with polar ice mines, important terraforming stations, and the agricultural hinterlands. As on Earth in the 19th and early 20th centuries, railroad stations are the nuclei around which towns and villages spring up.
Maglev trains reach speeds of 400 kph, meaning that a train from Valles-New Shanghai takes about 10 hours to reach Noctis-Qianjiao or 13 hours to reach the space elevator at Olympus. In populous areas, tracks are generally elevated on heavy concrete plinths about 5 meters above ground. In open country, these give way to sturdy embankments elevated 2 to 3 meters above the surrounding terrain, with the occasional bridge or viaduct to cross gullies or allow roads through. Trains are similar in dimensions and interior appointments to old Earth rail cars. Long haul trains almost always carry a mixture of passengers and freight, while shorter runs might be passengers only. Freight may include among other things imported bulk raw materials (helium-3 and hydrogen—an important commodity for settlements in dryer areas), large or specialized machinery that can’t be locally microfactured, and perishables like produce and biomorphs. High-value commodities like qubits and antimatter are normally transported by air.
Surveillance along railroad rights-of-way is tight, and plinths and rail beds are built much more heavily than necessary to discourage saboteurs. Maintenance and security drones regularly traverse the rails inspecting them for damage and watching for intruders. Nevertheless, daring gangs pull occasional train jobs on the long, lonely stretches between settlements, and militant Barsoomians have managed to derail trains with a combination of clever infosec work and physical monkeywrenching.
Martian highways’re a mixed bag. On arterial roads in dense urban areas and on big highways like the M-1, there’s a traffic control system. Grid control picks up your license plate’s mesh broadcast, gets a destination from your car’s nav, and takes control of the vehicle ‘til you’re back in a low-traffic area. Make any crosstown trip in a major city, you’ll be on grid control for a lot of the trip. Spoofing grid control to get where you’re going faster or get manual control of your buggy back is a major pastime among hackers. They claim the system prioritizes not just official traffic like emergency and service vehicles, but anyone who’s got enough cred to drive first class. I’m sure this is true, but no one’s ever been able to prove it. Every couple years some blogger’ll try to expose the first class system, but they always come away empty-handed.
In areas with light traffic and on the long stretches between settlements, most people drive manual, but you can use grid control if you want. If you’re driving from New Shanghai to Hellas and’re tempted to nap on the way, though, don’t. Lonely back country highways’re under surveillance, sure, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s watching the feed, and it doesn’t stop desperate locals from pulling robberies here and there. Speed limits on most city streets are 40 or 50 klicks an hour. Urban highways, the limit’s usually 150 kph, and on back country highways, it’s 200, conditions permitting. There are traffic control spimes on every street that track your speed and issue a fine, usually between 50 and 100 cred, if you go over the limit. If you’re going more than 25 over on a city street or 50 over on a highway, the system dispatches cops or a traffic drone to get you to slow down, and the fine doubles. Way out in the back country, there’re roads with no grid control, and little or no surveillance. Usually, they’re dirt or gravel, and in some cases, they’re just an ancient arroyo bed that happened to be fairly clear of big rocks. It’s real hard to be sneaky moving around the back country in a buggy, though, on account of you’re constantly kicking clouds of rust if you drive at any speed. In the TQZ, there’re several highways that still look drivable. Stay the hell off them. Smuggler buddy of mine tried to drive on the Romanesco, a stretch of the M-4 that’s become a wild artificial. The self-repair systems went technical during the Fall, and it started growing clusters of twisting, fractalized side roads. It’s called the Romanesco ‘cause of the spirals and the green coloration it’s started to develop. It’s not an exsurgent—but it will try to eat your vehicle and everyone inside to build more of itself.
Flyways are designated rights-of-way for flying cars. Most of these are virtual, using broadcast AR graphics to delineate lanes and show ads. In some places, especially urban zones, these are like three-dimensional versions of surface roads, divided into lanes by 150-meter tall, regularly-spaced, slender spars that provide lighting, sensors, and mesh nodes.
Grid control and surveillance is tighter here, especially in heavily trafficked areas, and attempts to suppress or spoof the traffic grid are contested more vigorously, with more severe consequences. Get caught fucking around in a flyway, and you ain’t looking at a traffic ticket. It’s a criminal offense, punishable by time in dead storage or indenturing. Penalties range from three to six months for speeding, to a year for spoofing, to longer terms of imprisonment for causing property destruction or injury. Vehicular manslaughter on flyways is a capital crime. Stealing back control of your vehicle or speeding on a flyway can get your car shot down in some places. In others, militia prowlers equipped with net guns and foam rubber cannons may be on alert to force vehicles down if they’re threatening populated areas.
To merge onto a flyway, you start from a merge pad—a specially marked highway lane where cars go airborne one at a time or in small, manageable groups. Except on lightly-trafficked flyways, merging is almost always a fly-by-wire operation run by grid control. Once on the flyway, movements’re tightly regulated. Lane changes, getting on, and getting off are mediated by grid control. Outside of the tunnel flyways connecting big domes, there’s nothing to keep you from swerving off the flyway into open airspace—except the cops, who get real pissed about that sort of thing. In open country and on the verge of smaller settlements, movement is freer, and there are approved zones outside settlement limits where flying cars can move from flyways to open airspace, at which point you’re on the same, much less regimented control network as planes and copters.
Flyways shut down during high winds and dust storms. If a storm kicks up, the entire system automatically brings cars down onto surface roads. If conditions are bad enough, surface grid control halts traffic on surface roads to make space for all the traffic alighting from overhead. Careful if you ever try gridspoofing to go manual during a storm; you’re like to get smashed by the grid landing a vehicle on a spot it thinks is empty.
Flyway speed limits are usually between 200 and 300 kph, up to 400 kph on open stretches outside settlement limits. This makes them a fast way to get around—but only if you got the cred. Flying cars ain’t prohibitively expensive for most people, but flyway tolls are. Rich folks who commute from private domes in Eos to Valles Center by flyway, for instance, eat seventy or eighty cred a day just in flyway tolls, and probably another twenty or thirty to park their whip for the day.
Sidebar: Major Roads
M-1 East-West combined highway/flyway running the length of Valles-Marineris.
M-2 Loop highway connecting major settlements in Eos.
M-3 North-South highway connecting Noctis-Qianjiao to settlements on the Tharsis plateau on both sides of Valles-Marineris.
M-4 Combined highway-flyway connecting Olympus to Noctis-Qianjiao; runs parallel to the Elysium & Tharsis Company’s Olympus-Qianjiao maglev line.
M-5 Combined highway-flyway formerly connecting Olympus to Elysium. Still connects the two cities to nearby settlements, but ends on both sides of the TITAN Quarantine Zone.
V-5 Flyway connecting New Shanghai and Valles Center to Nytrondheim
V-101 Local highway/flyway connecting New Shanghai and Valles Center to New Pittsburgh and points in between.
V-104 Local highway connecting Nytrondheim to New Shanghai and Valles Center.
V-401 Local highway connecting Little Shanghai to New Shanghai and nearby settlements in Eos.
QB4 Major bicycle artery in Noctis-Qianjiao.
Q-23 Local highway connecting Noctis, Qianjiao, and nearby settlements Hellas 53 Loop highway joining settlements in Hellas Planitia.
A12 Highway connecting New Dazhai to key settlements in Argyre Planitia.
E90 Arterial highway/flyway running the settled length of Hyblaeus Chasma in Elysium.
Most Martian cities’re well equipped with automation for basic maintenance of infrastructure. A lot of the gear involved in this is in the form of drones. Maintenance drones of various types are absolutely everywhere in big cities—so much so you just tend to block them out after a while, and monkeying with them is a favorite pastime of infosec people. Almost all of them got eyes, ears, and manipulators of some kind. Although the munis tend to keep a lot of their own infosec people and infomorphs watching these drone networks, they can’t watch everything all the time; there’s just too much of it. You can do a lot of damage with a temporary local takeover of maintenance drones, or learn a lot by co-opting a single one nobody’ll miss for a more extended period.
Academic Institutions on Mars
Valles-New Shanghai and Noctis were home to the offworld campuses of a number of Earth universities and research institutes prior to the Fall. Well funded and equipped, they were able to egocast tens of thousands of their own personnel to Mars. Academic infugees have fared much better than private sector employees and ordinary citizens. The practice of indentures is virtually absent in academia, and most universities have either resleeved their faculty and staff as quickly as possible, or kept them running in simulspace campuses until their endowments grow large enough to afford more morphs. (“Getting tenure” has become slang for being resleeved in a biomorph on the university’s dime.)
The University of Mars system is large and lavishly funded by hypercorp donors, but the old Earth institutions have in many cases managed to attract better minds by promising researchers greater freedom to pursue their interests. Among Earth institutions that have managed to survive in some form are: Caltech, Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Chicago, ETH Zurich, and Qinghuá in Valles-New Shanghai; and MIT, Cambridge, IIT Mumbai, and Universidade de São Paulo in Noctis-Qianjiao. The degree to which these universities maintain independence varies. Caltech, for instance, has become more a brand name for U-Mars’s honors track engineering programs. Others, like MIT, remain fiercely independent, playing various factions in the Tharsis League and Planetary Consortium against one another to avoid being overly beholden to any one entity for grant money. That said, most of them still spend a disappointing amount of time researching extremely dangerous technologies.
All this talk about sufis and makers and how fuck-all awesome the Movement is might give you the idea the PC and their tools in the League are the only bad guys on Mars. Ain’t so. Now don’t get me wrong; some of my best friends’re thieves and whores. But Mars’s got some real mean termites in the frame, too, and they ain’t all sitting in executive suites. Most of the big system-wide syndicates you might’ve heard about have their fingers (or sometimes whole fists) in Mars, so I’ll concentrate on some of the local ones.
Arsia Mons Smugglers
Arsia is riddled with caves, most of them poorly surveyed on account of it’s on the fringe of the TQZ. Interdiction is shaky here, so smugglers can dare the TQZ to get rich. They’re kind of technical if you want my opinion, but that hasn’t stopped me doing some jobs with them when I was hard put for cash. Maybe as much as 80% of their business is in red market fabbers from Qing Long, which get shipped out by truck and buggy to customers. The fabber smugglers are the most professional; they got a product with stable demand. Others, especially drug and human traffickers, can be downright unpredictable and dangerous.
Thought to be based in Qianjiao, Conduit’s not really a harmful organization, but they’re sure as your shoes considered “criminal” in Martian terms. Conduit provides its subscribers a feed of open source software and fabber blueprints that’re proscribed as copyright or patent violation under Martian law. Conduit is a bunch of mutualists running tight beam transceivers out of the inner belt to create their own darknet. The receivers are thousands of baseball sized satellites seeded in Mars orbit that create a mesh with immense bandwidth. The PC wants to find the people in Conduit and put all of them in dead storage for 200 years. Some think there might be AGIs in the group, too.
These guys trade in bodies. It’s thought they got operations in Valles-New Shanghai, Elysium, and Noctis Labyrinthus. They use the Arsia Mons caves, but they’re not connected to the smugglers. Same smugglers would tell you that the few times they crossed paths with a Les Goules drop in the caves, the result was a gunfight and both sides retreating. Les Goules are very private. Stuff they deal in is crazy: combat morphs with full-body lidar implants, clones of XP stars grown from stolen genetic samples, packaged human meat for the anthropophagy niche market, and deep discount—occasionally badly-glitched—pleasure pods and case synthmorphs.
They’re flesh market loan sharks in some places, too. Solaris doesn’t want to do deals with your average redneck scum, so these bastards’ll offer you credit with your body as collateral. Miss too many payments, and they have an option on repossessing your body. Of course, this ain’t legal, but the civic authorities ain’t doing anything about it.
These guys trade in guns. The gang’s senior membership is heavily Chinese via Hong Kong and Macao, but the mid-level people on down are more diverse. The Moderates have ops in every city and large settlement on Mars and a score of buyers, mostly in the Belt, scouting for product they think they can move. Moderates mostly want to be businesspeople, but every so often they’ll pull some vicious gang shit, like murdering people who try to set up competing operations in their territories.
The back country’s got more than its share of desperate people. Most’re products of the PC’s systematic disenfranchisement of workers, but that don’t make them any less nasty. Outfits like the Dalton Gang in Argyre, the Family Sung in the Valles midlands, and the Ryukyu Uumakus on the Hellas periphery have gotten into everything from train jobs and highway robbery to kidnapping and small-time extortion. Their relations with the locals vary. The Daltons’re thugs who terrorize everyone around them, while the Uumakus are sort of folk heroes to the Okinawans in Hellas.
A lot of illegal drugs and narcoalgorithms come from a cottage industry that has just enough access to fabbers and illegal biotech to produce massive amounts of their product in situ. ‘Cause of that, Mars doesn’t have too many big drug cartels; supply is too close to the dealers. Of course, the cops constantly bust the small operators, which can make prices jump around, but it’s just ripples in a coolant pond.
They say the heart and spirit of Mars is in its small, industrious cities and happy farm towns. They say that in AR interstitials for buggies, anyhow. Mars’s little towns are by and large some beat-up places, full of people who’ve been knocked down a few times too many.
Much of Mars is open plains and frigid high desert, traversed by maglev tracks and lonely byways.
Ma’adim Vallis and the Martian Gate
Ma’adim is practically a crack in the ground compared to some of the other things on this planet got “Vallis” in their names, but scaled to a human being standing at its mouth, it’s an impressive sight, bigger than the Grand Canyon of Earth. Less than half a klick in there’s a perfectly cylindrical cut about 10 meters diameter deep in the canyon wall. You come into it through a gap about three meters wide. In the center of the cut, standing in the open air, is the Martian Gate, now controlled by the Pathfinder corp. The gate was first found by sufi nomads ranging southward from the Gusev Crater at the canyon mouth. Somehow some high-ranking Consortium figures got wind of the find, realized the value of it, and tried to buy the sufis off, but they weren’t interested. So they bought the land out from under them and established a territorial claim on the property, which was outside any established government’s sphere of influence. Then they hired Herzog Security, a firm from the Valles Marineris midlands, to storm the gate and shoot all of the sufis. Which they did. The rumor that a sufi async opened the gate and some of his clan escaped through it before Herzog overwhelmed them is probably just that—a rumor.
The Consortium suits quickly pooled resources and pulled strings, and in short order Pathfinder was founded and given control of the situation, with full Consortium backing. The new hypercorp immediately established Ma’adim Research Park, a small settlement in the canyon, centered around the gate. Similar to Elysium, a short stretch of the canyon is walled and lidded to hold an atmosphere. Outside there is an airfield, maglev depot, and a long, lonely stretch of highway that connects after about 1,000 kilometers to a highway running into the Hellas basin. Few visitors arrive by road. No one enters the settlement without an invite from Pathfinder. The place is set up to efficiently support and deploy gatecrasher teams, with a new team ready to go every time a window opens up.
Herzog, Pathfinder’s security contractor here, are smart and well-equipped. Infiltrators shouldn’t expect meek resistance from their infosec specialists, and it’s unwise to get in a stand-up firefight with them.
To support the logistics of the Pathfinder Colonization Initiative, Pathfinder has constructed a city about forty kilometers from the canyon mouth. People’ve been commenting on the distance—maybe these rumors that’ve been going around about massive energy releases from mishandled gates are more than hearsay. Dubbed Pathfinder City, numerous massive building projects are still underway, giving the settlement a lively but unfinished air. An arterial highway has been constructed between the city and the gate site in the canyon, along with a corresponding set of rail lines. In short, it’s infrastructure for a full scale colonization effort—despite the fact that the number of actual colonies that have been economically viable so far has been extremely limited. Gotta have dreams, I guess.
The fact that the Martian Gate is just south of the Titan Quarantine Zone is a fact lost on no one. Though there has been no sign of TITAN machine activity or interest in the area, Herzog and Pathfinder pay particular attention to the stretch of land between the two.
A deep impact basin located far in the northern plains, Korolev is sheltered enough that many sufi and maker nomad clans spend the harshest months of the Martian winter here. The crater’s thus a semi-permanent settlement, with a small crew of clan wardens stationed here to do terraforming work year round. During winter, you might find as many as 10,000 nomads camped here. There’s also a permanent ecology station that breeds lichens and microbes for seeding in the surrounding landscape. Dozens of wind turbines on high spars or on the basin rim provide a low-footprint power grid for the camps. Similar camps accompanied by terraforming or ecostations exist at Aggasiz, Burroughs, and Chamberlin craters in the southern hemisphere, and at Curie, Escorial, and Littleton craters in the north.
“ … And you will have treasure in heaven.”— Mark 10:21
Twenty million people live in Martian orbit, the majority of them in the areosynchronous zone near the equator. The space above Olympus Mons is especially crowded, with scores of immense orbital industrial parks and long haul shipping facilities situated to get goods and materials to and from the surface quickly. Further from the space elevator tether are corporate stations, research facilities, and the private sanctuaries of the mega-wealthy.
Faction and Hypercorp Stations
The TITAN Quarantine Zone*
The TQZ’s part tomb, part zombie museum, part imminent threat. It forms a scalene triangle with rough vertices just east of Arsia Mons in the western outskirts of the Noctis Labyrinthus, just southwest of Olympus Mons on the Amazonis Planitia, and at Gale Crater, south of Elysium. So it covers parts of Tharsis, the Amazonis Planitia, Lucus Planum, and the Elysium Planitia. I grew up out here; it used to be the most heavily settled part of the planet outside Tharsis.
The outskirts of the TQZ seem pretty normal, but by the time you’re wondering what the big deal was about, you start seeing that there’s something real wrong with the terrain. The actions of the TITANs left weird landforms: fractal barrows, termite mounds, and disassembler aeolians, among others. Fractal barrows look like geometrically-branching clusters of wing-like shapes made of finely patterned slag. The process that forms them hasn’t been studied, but given they’re made of iron, the barrows’re probably a byproduct of baking the regolith for oxygen and other volatiles. Termite mounds seem to be the reverse: weird columns of glittering yellowy-white silicate shaped a lot like the giant termite mounds on old Earth, formed by a process that extracts iron. Disassembler aeolians resulted in places where an active cloud of disassembler nanobots was pushed by strong winds against or through a rock formation, possibly more than once. They look like hoodoos and other wind erosion formations, but the stone is newer and the shapes they form much more extreme.
Arsia’s the southernmost of the Tharsis Montes (the others, to its north, are Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons). The mountain’s fully inside the TQZ, but it’s close enough to Tharsis’s major highways to make it attractive for smugglers. Hostile machines are rare here, but they still appear often enough to keep this place under quarantine. The Martian Rangers and occasional Consortium military patrols’re more of a threat than exsurgents here.
Set on the massive natural overlook formed by Apollinaris Mons, Qurain was built as a fortress. They were Muslims of some sort—never really understood the theology myself. Qurain was a Martian city-state in its own right, with a lot of dependent settlements scattered around what’s now the Zone. I spent some time in this area selling condenser pool shoju to them, just like my dad did to the the Muslims where I grew up—markup’s better than on cabbage. Muslims or no, the illegal liquor trade to Qurain kept a lot of us rednecks afloat back then. Now Qurain is a ruin. You’ll see scatterings of burnt-out, dust-choked domes on the way in, then the citadel itself up on Apollinaris Patera, cracked in half by a tac nuke. Qurain died quickly in the Fall, and the other city-states didn’t have to think about it more than five minutes before bombing the place back to rust. There was a massive tunnel complex under the citadel and numerous surface buildings that partially survived the nukes, leaving a lot of ground to explore for scavengers. Most of the place is hot, though, so don’t forget to pack your deionizing nanopharm.
The White Zone
This is where the flyovers end. The White Zone is the most dangerous part of the TQZ, where you still run into active warbots, zombified transhumans, nanoplagues, and the like. It’s also the heart of the TQZ, centered roughly around a big ridge on the Amazonis Planitia called Amazonis Sulci. If you’re going in here, have your weapons hot and your killswitch program ready. There’s stuff in here that’ll break your brain down into its component atoms and replace it with sentient tapioca, just for kicks. The fact this area’s still so active is a source of worry to both the Consortium and Firewall.
The PC’s made matters worse by dropping bunker buster nukes on Amazonis Sulci, thinking if they drill into it they’ll kill some beating heart of evil. Idiocy … I mean shit, are things ever that simple? Still, something under that ridge is still cranking out helluv monsters.
Believe it or not, people live here. Whether you want to call them people or not is a debate I don’t want to get into, because the evidence ain’t weighed yet. There are reports from the smugglers all the time about individual drifters, hermits and such, wandering into or out of the Zone. More intriguing for my money’re rumors of the Yazidis, a clade of authentics who supposedly got abandoned out here during the Fall. Like the sufis, they were ecostation nomads with a mystic bent, but they ain’t sufis. They speak Kurdish, though they ain’t Kurds, and on old Earth they lived in southern Turkey. We’ve got evidence of the Yazidis—a little refuse from a camp here, bit of footage recorded by a distant scavenger there—but the patrols’ve never spotted them. They ain’t exsurgents, but they might be classifiable as exhumans.
The one person I know of who’s ever talked to them was a smuggler named Deja Torvik who ran into a band of them when she had to abandon her flyer over the Zone evading a patrol. She claims the Yazidis helped her find her way and resupplied her. They talked about how their head angel, Tawûsê Melek, had sent machines into the world to cleanse it of human evil. After she came out of the desert, Torvik started acting weird. She got a whole mess of new implants, mostly cybernetic as I hear it, and then about a month later disappeared with nothing but a note to a few old friends that she was going to rejoin the Yazidis. Hasn’t been heard from again. Give anyone you meet in the TQZ a wide berth, is my advice, unless you’re there specifically to investigate them. It’s a big place, and there’s more weirdness than just the Yazidis hiding out there.
Sidebar: Eerie Encounter
Entry transcribed from an account provided by Jiang Mee, over beers at a maker camp on the outskirts of Hellas Planitia.
Stupidest thing I ever did was one time I was running repairs on chlorofluorocarbon generators out by the Zone. My rover had a bad strut, and I stepped outside to take a look at a spot not half a klick from the quarantine signs. The wind was strong that day, and it took my hat straight off my head. Before I could catch it, a dust devil had it and carried it a dead run straight into the zone. Now, I could have let it go, but it was a genuine oil-tanned leather Stetson, one of the few items my dad had brought from Earth. What can I say, I really liked that hat.
So I jumped back in my rover and went after it. I knew this stretch of the zone boundary didn’t have a solid sensor mesh, and I didn’t plan to be in there long. I must have chased that dust devil for 10 klicks. Every time I nearly caught it, it would get carried away again, and the wind was moving it fast enough I couldn’t get ahead due to the rocky terrain. Finally I saw my hat get blown into a narrow ravine. There was no way to get my rover down there, but I knew the hat wasn’t coming back out, so I hoofed it. The ravine was deep and narrow, a dark crack in the ground. It took me a few minutes to climb down and locate my hat. I never felt so good, getting that back on my head. Until I heard the whirring, that is.
I had just enough time to look around and see that the walls in that part of the ravine were crawling with bots. Weird, freaky, alien-looking bots. Hundreds of ‘em. All at once they were making little buzzing noises, like I had disturbed their nest. I felt some of them land on me, then I lost consciousness.
I came to in the dark. I still had my gear, so once I had the area lit up I could tell I was in a tunnel. My muse told me I’d been out for about four hours. I was sleeved in a ruster, so I wasn’t worried about running out of O2. There was no sign of the bots—but I did have my hat. I spent about ten hours trying to find my way out of those tunnels. It was a complete maze down there. The tunnels easily stretched for klicks. Space was cramped. Some of the tunnels were so small I had to get on my hands and knees and crawl through. There were signs that something had been active down there. I found strange markings on the walls, and various types of tracks left by synthetic sources. At one point, I stumbled on what seemed to be a graveyard of robotic shells—a whole pile of them, all cracked open, like discarded husks. Eventually I found a chute I could climb that brought me back to the surface. When I finally got my bearings, I was about 20 klicks southwest of where I had started. I wasn’t even in the TQZ any more. That’s my story. I don’t know if they were TITAN machines—I just assume so. I don’t know why they didn’t take my head or infect me with something. I checked myself in for every type of scan imaginable, and I came up clean. They didn’t seem to care about me—it more seemed like they wanted to be left alone, to do their thing.
I heard a rumor once that the Consortium found tunnels in the area of the Martian Gate, which they promptly sealed off. That’s not too far from where I lost my hat. It makes you wonder, eh?
Mun-Eo Bahn Log Entry