Chapter Twelve


After Class


Going to Mars... and living there!

Anton had proposed it. Now we all got to think about it.

It was pretty heady stuff! Move to Mars. Not just pull up stakes on The Big Apple, but pull up stakes on the whole planet Earth as well!

It was crazy! ...But he had made some compelling arguments. I could sure feel what he was talking about.

We scheduled with each other and the class got together for our first post-class gathering. We reserved a room at Salucci's.

After some small talk I opened the main event.

"Who's been thinking about Anton's Mars proposal?"

At first there was silence, and for a scary moment I feared I'd told a bad joke, but Bob responded.

"It's crazy! ...But Janet and I have been giving it a lot of thought.

"We've been thinking about what we humans are doing here on Earth. Our class encounter with Ms. Antonelli sure brought home that times are changing here in America too.

"But those no-nothing nomads are just the icon. They indicate that humans on earth are steadily transforming into soap opera entertainment for the creations." He shook his head. It was not a comfortable thought.

"You're saying she's important? That's nuts!" affirmed Jaina in her way.

"She's not the only one." Ben continued, "There have been other similiar changes going on around the world. You know those Geishas that Dahlia showed us that video about?" we nodded, "Well, I was just reading that the East Africans have come up with another use for that concept. Some entrepreneur there is launching a project to grow albinos, with plans for harvesting them for their magic mojo."

"I thought you said those people there were getting more civilized?" said Jaina after we all had thought about that a moment.

"They are. But they are also getting more prosperous as well. Which means they can afford to support more of some of their expensive local customs. For them this is much like cultivating rhinoceros for their horn -- something the East Asians still dearly adore. And for something more local it's like cultivating foxes and racoons, and hunting hounds and horses.

There was silent thinking on that until Ruby changed the subject by bursting out, "But Mars! There's nothing there!"

"That's what makes it so exciting." said Adrian, "You're starting from scratch there."

"Well, not quite from scratch." Janet added, "This is a government-sponsored colonizing program. The government has spent billions to set up infrastructure there already."

"Mere billions. Pfft!" scoffed Adrian, "Mars is a white canvas with a single black dot on it."

"Is it true about the good medical?" asked Miranda.

"It should be," I said, "Jaina and I visited one of the Mars baby labs, and they were sparing no expense there." Jaina nodded.

"Compared to the cost of providing basic life support, the cost of adding state-of-the-art medical will be small. And this isn't some kind of slave colony. The government needs to attract people. It should be good." added Janet.

"What will people do there?" asked Jaden.

"Make it suitable for even more people will be task number one for a long time." answered Adrian, "Much of that will be basic infrastructure building, but the creations will handle much of that. The interesting part for people will be dealing with the surprises. I guarantee you that some things we do there will be easier than we expected, some things will be harder, and there will be a whole bunch of things were people say, 'Eh? You're doing what?'... surprise things! Those will be the most fun, too, and probably the most valuable.

"As the folks already on Mars say, 'Mars isn't Earth.'"

"You mean like UV-process harvesting?" said Jaden.

"Exactly! Who would have figured it was cheaper to lay out stuff on Mar's surface for solar UV to cold-roast than to build sun lamps and shine them on stuff sitting in freezers here on Earth? It's a surprise, and it's now a thriving industry on Mars. And humans discovered that."

"Sort of like your fruit flies?" I added.

He winced a little at the memory, but his answer was enthusiastic, "Yeah! The humans on Mars had to do a lot of trial-and-error to figure out that UV technique. They did it, and now they, and we, are getting the payoff."

Annette was connected by conference call. She mused, "This looks like a place where our lifestyle could be appreciated. We've long worked on doing things with as little creation inter... involvement as possible."

Janet frowned, "The match on that might not be as good as you think, Annette. The people on Mars don't shun creation help. They take all they can get. It's just that there's a lot creations can't do there."

Annette nodded, "Point taken. I brought up this project with the colony leaders when I returned, and there has been some interest. But I will be sure to point out what you've said. ...Still if the creations are helping humans... and needed to do so... this could be compatible with our colony philosophy. It's worthy of more discussion around here."

What followed was silence. After a minute I asked cautiously, "Well... does anyone think this project is completely nuts?"

No one spoke up, no one raised their hand.

I got bold, "Should we plan on forming a Mars Colony Club and go through the information/application process?"

To my amazement, there were nods all around! Everyone there was willing to take the first step at pulling up stakes and starting a new life on a strange world!

It felt very strange, but very good!

"OK. I'll start the paperwork rolling. One thing I know we'll all have to do is take the MAT -- Mars Application Test. I'll set up a schedule for some class prep for that. Whew! The training never ends."

I laughed, and we all did.


The Mars Colony Club


I had my bot jump through the hoops to formally start a club and apply for it to get into the Mars program. The Big Apple Mars Colony Club name was taken, not surprisingly, so I called ours the Child Champs Mars Colony Club.

My bot recieved and passed around the list of what it was going to take to qualify. The list of requirements, as summarized by my bot, was surprisingly simple:

o Pass a general competance test: Meaning, have a college degree or expertise in something technical that creations on Mars can't handle well.

o Pass a means test: This is a proxy for demonstrating that you really have handled problem-solving in the real world well.

o Pass the MAT: Mars Aptitude Test. This is to demonstrate you can still learn and have learned some Mars basics.

o Pass the MST: Mars Simulation Test. This is the Mars environment version of a Neolithic Park sim and is conducted here on Earth. This is to demonstrate you do have a clue about what you're getting into, and still think it's a good idea.

Pass all of the above, and you get a slot on the queue for a ship berth, and you get to start planning seriously on what you're taking along and leaving behind.




At our second class meeting, and first formal club meeting, we had two surprise guests: Andy and George-776! They both wanted to join the club.

Andy told us, "I made inquiries with the Mars colony program people and got word this club was forming. Mind I if join?"

I had no problem with that.

George-776 told us, "You humans aren't the only ones that are dissatisfied with how things are changing here on earth. My experience at the Fruit Fly Raid was not an isolated incident. There are controversies that rage through the creation community that humans don't hear about. The Fruit Fly Raid happened because what Mr. Julian Homeby was complaining about resonated with a point of contention within the creation community, and I ended up on the sharp, pointed, receiving end of that point of contention.

"I was outraged, and the issue has not been resolved to my satisfaction. Something like it could happen again, so I am... how do some of you humans put it... out of here! ...And with your club, if you're willing to have me."

I vouched for Andy and Adrian vouched for George-776, we had a quick vote and both were admitted.


We talked about the requirements. They looked straightforward enough.

Janet pointed out, "This program is new. This means it can change. I would recommend we move as quickly as we can. In particular, I'm looking at the means test. I can see that becoming a target for lots of groups demanding equality. It could change in some fashion, and change quickly. And the change won't be good for us."

"Why not?" asked Jason

"The change is likely to be from a means test to a tax -- have the emmigrants help pay their way -- and from that into a subsidy for those who can't pay the tax -- make it fair for everyone."

"What's wrong with that?"

Janet looked at Jason carefully, "Mars isn't Earth. If a person is having trouble being productive on Earth, and they can't change that when they get to Mars, they become a liability, not an asset. Mars Colony doesn't need extra liability in this stage of its development."

"You're presuming that--"

"Let's save philosophy for the ship ride, folks," I interrupted, "While we're still on Earth let's concentrate on getting us off-planet. Who is ready to take the MAT? Who needs some help?"

Jason and Janet backed off, Jaina raised her hand, "MAT and PAT. I want to do better on that PAT, and this time I'm ready to let my cybertutor help me. I still think I want to be raising babies when I'm on Mars."

Adrian said, "I should be ready next week. What kind of schedule do we want to set up?"

The rest of the meeting devoted itself to hashing out a schedule for prepping and testing that all members of the club could stick with. And, presuming that went well, what date we wanted for a berth?


Passing the MST


I'm on the surface of Mars, as in, above ground! And it's cold! Bone chilling cold!

And that's not a euphemism!

It's that way because my suit power supply has failed! It happened in mid-bounce and I've now rolled to a stop facing the black, star-filled sky. What do I do now?

I reach down to my chest, a lot of effort without power!, and manually move the power plug from the main fuel cell to the emergency. My suit comes to life! My gosh, I'm so relieved!

I check my revived head-up display, click over to the Mayday Channel, and in half a second announce, "Mayday Control. Have experienced severe suit malfunction. I'm headed directly for rescue center Charlie-One-Four."

"Roger Man-Eater-Four. Have received your suit diagnostic. Will send a recovery cart in ten minutes." That's Rubyzin on the radio. She's manning the recovery center.

On emergency power my suit isn't fast, but I'm not far from the recovery center. Thank goodness I passed on the temptation to take a short cut which would have saved me thirty minutes of broken field suit-jumping, and showed me a wonderful vista of a Mars canyon, but taken me well away from the chain of recovery centers dotted between Entry Able and Entry Delta. I'm learning!

I get to Charlie 14, pop inside, and plug into its life support. I'm back to full power, and full communication. The suit diagnostics confirm that I've suffered a main fuel cell failure and all else on the suit is in tact. Then I cool my heels. If this was an entertainment sim, the cart would show up in a minute or so, I'd catch up on game admin stuff while I waited, and when it came I'd be fixed on the spot in seconds and then be on my way to the next adventure.

But this is not an entertainment sim. It's not even an educational one. This is the MST final test sim. I can switch on some music, and I can communicate, but I have to wait for that fool rescue cart to actually drive over sim terrain to get here! That'll be in about thirty minutes. Then I have to decide if I want to risk finishing the trip with just a main fuel cell swap, or play it safe and take a ride in the cart back to Entry Able, and finish this jaunt some other time. It will be my call, and I will make that call after I double check by running some suit diagnostics using equipment that's on the repair cart.

Speaking of... should I remind Ruby to be sure that suit diagnostic equipment is on the cart? ...No. It's her job to know that. If I bring it up I'm being a worrywart. That won't help my personal score any more than being fool-hearty would, and it would hurt the club score. Part of what we are being scored on is how well we work as a team. Instead I while away my time watching what other team members are doing. On Mars that's OK to do. It's not considered snooping.

Ruby is in the Rescue Center, it's her shift there. We all take turns at that. We cross-train a lot. Now that she's ordered out the rescue cart, things are quiet again and she's working on a new dance routine. I laugh to myself -- All the Rescue Center is her stage.

Adrian is in the hydroponics area. He's tending there. He and George-776 have been interested in Mars biology since we started on the MAT. Personally, I'm expecting some billion-dollar breakthrough, but that's just because I've been very impressed with what Adrian and George like to work on ever since he took me to his workshop.

Janet is resting and Ben is working on imprinting algorithms for creations that will initiate here on Mars. He is designing their first impressions. ...Listen to me! Thinking I'm on Mars already! I guess this sim is doing that part of its job just fine. And, I admit, the more I've been working on this project, the more excited I've become to take that big rocket into the sky.

Jason and Jaina are both working in the Mars baby kindergartens. I notice that they seem to be getting along real well together these days. That's good.

Annette is with us too. Technically, she's with her Zion on Mars Colony Club, but she's picked up a liaison role, so she's participating in MST's for both groups.

Andy is walking back from lunch. I'm working with him on a geo-survey. That's why I'm out here on the surface. This wasn't serious enough to interrupt his meal, when he gets back to his post, he'll find out about my glitch, and we'll talk about what to do next. I'll still be here. <sigh>

"Dahlia! You OK?" It's Andy he's back and at his console.

"Doing fine. Had a fuel cell failure. I'll head on if I get a green light on the diagnostics from the repair cart."

"Have you checked on the weather? Annette tells me there's a storm coming, a big one."

"What's the ETA? I'm closer to Delta now."

"Let me check..."

Annette got on the comm link, "Dahlia, Andy, It's big and it will stay a while -- hours to a day. It's big enough that the wrong gust in the wrong place and it will blow the cart over."

"Will some extra weight help stabilize it? My weight?"

"It should." said Andy.

"OK... How about I ride the cart to Delta. It's downwind."

Ruby said, "That rescue vehicle is stationed out of Alpha, but given the circumstance, your plan sounds great. We can move the cart back when the storm ends."

The dust was already kicking up when the cart arrived. I took care to put on the dust cover before I switched fuel cells. I didn't take the time to run cart diagnostics. This wind issue was more important. Instead I hopped on the cart and headed for Delta as lickity-split as the cart would go.

The ride got wild. Mars' atmosphere is thin, way thinner than Earth's even at the top of Everest, but it blows fast. Hurricane strength winds are a breeze on Mars. So when there is a normal dust storm there is a little push and a lot of dust blasting -- surfaces wear down. But really strong storms can push too. Get in a canyon with a wind howling down and you'll definitely get a push. That's what I'm dodging now.

The visibility is also way down, of course, but that's less of an issue.

Whoa! Then there's the problem of new, very soft, dust dunes! I just ran into one! I get off the cart and push it back ten feet, hop on again, and skirt the dune.

Delta Lock is starting to fill with dust, but I get in. This is one of the unsolved problems on Mars: How to keep lock entrances, lee areas, from filling up with dust. Currently, we simply dredge them out in between storms. But there should be a better way.

I stow the cart in the parking area, take off my suit and put it in the cleaner, then report into the receptionist at Delta.

As I do that, the sim dissolves around me. I'm back in my body. I get up, freshen up a bit, and head back to the briefing room where we club members started this MST test. We small talk as we await the results.

The MST coordinator comes in, and she has a genuine smile on her face. She was also quite hospitable during the briefing that started us off. My conclusion: This is no DMV department, the government really wants to attract well qualified people to this program.

She takes a final look at her results form and tells us, "In a word: Well done, folks. You clearly did your homework.

"Your club qualifies, and you may now pick berth space and start packing."

I'm relieved. This experience has gone much better than I expected. The government people we've dealt with have all been hospitable, and the paperwork straightforward -- we haven't had to go through much hazing or hoop-jumping.

I'm surprised because this means the government hasn't had to do a lot of weeding out of the hopeful-but-hopeless. This hasn't been at all like becoming a Hollywood movie star. I'm surprised because this means that going to Mars no longer fires the imagination of a lot of people. In my grandmother's day people of all walks of life would have lined up around the block for a chance like this. How times have changed. How people's thinking has changed!