A science fiction story told in a series of interrelated fragments.
“So, tell me all the details!”
I tried to remain calm, but hearing that my long-time husband, Ernst, was attacked, set off the worst scenarios I could imagine in my head. I’d been in a holo-meeting with Seven-Diamond and Dr. Lowell, the heads of the Asgard Forestry Project, when I got the alert from the transceiver implant behind my left ear. I interrupted the two scientists’ dialogue with a curt ‘Something’s happened to Ernst…’ and ended the meeting. I saw the alarm in the ‘thal’s face, and the concern in Persephone’s eyes before their images vanished. I was pacing the small room in my apartment, which served as my office while I waited for the time-lag to pass, before I could get a reply from Tycho Deep on the Moon. Six minutes at this time of year…I would have gone crazy if it had been the twenty-one minute delay when Earth and Mars were at their farthest separation.
It was five years since I’d last seen him; one year to complete sampling had been drawn out to five, thanks to interference from the Genetic Authority—they’d stalled and hindered the work of his Collectors at every turn even though they were doing nothing more than recording the genomes of nearly-extinct species. The only reason his task was now at an end was due to influential family ties in the World Court in The Hague. It didn’t help that Ernst had been unable to visit the surface for nearly a century—none of the national blocs were willing to openly defy the GA—though more than a few gave his work clandestine approval.
I sat down at my desk and flicked on the window display, but didn’t really see it; instead of Yggdrasil, the first tree planted on the surface of Mars, surrounded by dark-green, nearly purple grass against a rosy sky, I was seeing the face of Ernst’s youngest brother Hartmann. I’d always picture him as the laughing, red-headed prankster from our wedding back in 2150—though he’d gone on to become the foremost engineer of the Star-Seeker construction team, which vanished in a plasma flare in 2366. No one knew what happened to Earth’s first starship, but the notoriety of the event allowed Ernst and I to attend his brother’s memorial service. The growing conservative movement of the Genetic Authority meant there would not be a second ship…not from Earth anyway.
In the nearly two centuries since that time, Ernst had been banned from Earth, and he spent much of his time on Sky-Hook directing the Earth branch of Hallbach-Sommers Combine, our terra-forming and environmental reclamation firm. Our son Two-Sapphire headed the lunar branch of the company, and his male-mate Green-Fawn was now a force behind the program to build a new starship. We were both touched when he wanted to name it the Hartmann Project, but we urged him to stick with the original name of Star-Seeker II.
My thoughts jerked back to the present when the soft chime of an incoming message sounded in my head. My autosecretary had instructions to use this mode only for emergencies, so I knew it had to be about Ernst. I could feel the sweat turning clammy on my forehead as I sub-vocalized “Acknowledge!”
The softly deep voice of Green-Fawn took over. “Uncle Jakob, video please…” My hand went instinctively to the switch that would change my window display to the communications channel. Green-Fawn’s face came into view, framed by his stylishly curled brown hair, and he gave me his jaw-drop smile of reassurance. Seeing that, I relaxed a little, but I was still very worried. He went on, in that time-saving way of interplanetary communication—speaking slowly and imparting as much information in a burst as possible, so that the other party could begin replying before the original caller had finished. If it was done right, it worked for shorter distances—but the twelve minutes of turn-around between us now was a bit much for it to work well.
Behind him, I could see the greenery of Tycho Park through the window—a real, old-Earth window with actual glass—highlighted by the summit of the crater’s central peak and a hazy blue sky. I’d think about all that once Ernst was returned safely to me, maybe take him for a second honeymoon there soon….
“Father will be fine, Jakob…his nano-bots put him in hibernation right away, and the pod was diverted straight here for safety purposes. Our med-techs have examined him and started the mending of his broken arm—there are no other injuries; Father is fine…I spoke with him before we sent him on to you, and he will be arriving in four days by fast-trajectory.” Once more, Fawn gave me the jaw-smile, and I began to feel the tension in my body ease just a bit. “Two-Sapphire is with him as there are things to be discussed.”
I let out a long sigh, not realizing that I’d been holding my breath, and began to answer him with thanks for the quick thinking on treating Ernst right away, and asking what required a personal visit from our ‘thal friend. I didn’t feel any qualms about using that term since the homo neanderthalensis community had taken it as their own. It had never been a major irritant for them as ‘negro’ or ‘fag’ had been for human minorities. Except for a few religious enclaves, bigotry had mostly died out in our Twenty-Sixth Century…the fad now was to hate genegineers like myself and Ernst for championing cellular adaptation.
“Uncle, due to the events of last evening, I don’t know how secure our commlinks are; that is why Two is coming to see you. We are running full diagnostics and listening modes, but until we are certain, clear-channel messages will be kept to common knowledge.
“In closing, I send you assurances again, and ask you to inform Two that I will call him on Tuesday, one week from tomorrow. Rest well, Uncle.” I watched as the burly brown-haired figure made a circular gesture over his heart, and dipped his head, the Neanderthal’s gesture of love and respect for Ernst, me, and—without the head part—the common farewell gesture of his kind, much like our wave. I watched a bit longer as the screen blanked out—it would be some time before he could answer my reply, so I switched the screen back to ‘window’, only this was a conception of what the Valles Marineris view would be like when our work of planetary engineering was complete.
Beyond the giant ash tree which centered the ‘real’ view, this concept image contained a broad flowing river with flowered banks of grass, bushes, and park benches, while the sky was deep blue above and just barely pink at the horizon. Clouds could be seen drifting overhead, and the far cliff of the gorge glittered with windows and carved façades making each home a different design. There were no real buildings scattered under the open sky, except for ones to secure transportation either by river, tram or autogyro. There were only a handful of humans in the picture, one human couple with a small girl, and a Neanderthal triad with a slightly older boy. Next to them was a real dog, and a cat was sunning itself on one of the benches.
I sat there with a ridiculous smile on my face, thinking of the day when Ernst and I would walk under that Martian sky, and smell the rich scents of the flowers, listening to the rippling of the river. I could picture us as that couple with the child—I wanted a boy, but Ernst favored a girl he could name after his late mother. I chuckled to myself at the idea of needing to choose—it would be a long time before Mars had to worry about over-population—if ever. It would be centuries yet, the exact number remained uncertain, before Man could walk outside without pressure suits or supplemental oxygen…and only in high summer could you venture out without heavy insulation to keep warm.
I thought the lack of surface housing was peculiar, but then, I’d grown up on Earth in the Saarland region of Germany. Here, and especially on the Moon, men had to live in warrens of tunnels and caverns for protection from radiation and the other dangers of planets with no, or little breathable atmosphere. I missed the open sky and natural breezes, but that was why we had park-caverns in our cities. On Mars, the biggest was located in the caverns and lava-tube tunnels of Pavonis Deep, the first settlement on the planet. After the initial years while the caverns were being sealed and readied, surface structures vanished as being too wasteful and dangerous to live in. For us, it wasn’t an easy choice, but we coped…for the ‘thals, who preferred caves for the most part, the hardest change had been the lack of open greenspace…and that was why their cities on the Moon had the largest parks in the Three Worlds. Who else would enclose a fifty-one mile diameter crater and stock it with plants, trees, animals, and lakes as they had at Tycho?
My stomach growled, and I went into my kitchen to start lunch, and that reminded me that I needed to double my supplies for Ernst’s arrival—he loved to cook even more than I did. After a quick lunch of soup and cheese sandwiches, I spent the afternoon on business, and talking to Seven-Diamond and Dr. Lowell again, informing them that Ernst was okay and would be here in a week. The two scientists expressed their relief on hearing my news, and we began discussing the anomalies, which genetic scans were hinting at in the Asgard Forest in Elysium. Something was affecting the genetic coders, but there was no clue yet whether it was in the process, the machinery, or the genetic codes themselves. I hoped it wasn’t a problem with the codes…that could endanger the entire future of the plan to make Mars into a newer, better Earth.
As I lay in bed, with my big Siamese cat Bortai at my side, my thoughts turned to dreams of my husband, and my heart began to beat faster. The longing I had for him was intense, and I knew the next days of waiting would be harder than the last five years had been. I slept fitfully, waking with my hormones aroused, and gave into them this one time rather than allowing the nanos to dampen their ardor.
When the day finally came for my husband to arrive, I took the tram from our home in Riverview, to the complex at the base of the Eagle’s Nest, where I rode up the Tether to the transfer station 8500 miles overhead. Unlike Earth’s, our ‘sky-hook’s’ upper end had room only for cargo transfer and passenger debarkation—the pods from the Moon and Earth arrived three thousand miles farther up above Mars’ equator at Deimos Light. Deimos had negligible gravity due to its small size, so it was simulated by induction fields that interacted with our shoes to keep us on the ground.
I must have taxed those fields heavily with my pacing as I awaited Ernst and Two-Sapphire’s arrival…I couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes before I was up again. Only now did it occur to me to wonder why I’d have to wait seven days to speak with my companion—the trip from Earth’s Moon took only four days on the path the computers had set. My implant announced the arrival of their pod, but it was another half hour before Two walked into the waiting area. He greeted me with a bone-crushing hug before explaining to me the reason why I wouldn’t see Ernst again for a couple more days—the new strain of nano-bots he brought for us required that long to acclimate to our bodies, and for them to do their initial adjustments. He told me that Ernst was still ‘under’ because it was simpler that way with his injuries…the new bots needed a clean slate to work properly, so our old ones couldn’t be cleared out until he had healed.
Ernst came out on a gurney, covered with a light sheet…I knew he was in good health, but still, I felt a hammering in my chest as I gazed down at his sleeping form. The last five years had added lines to his face which weren’t there before, and a touch of gray to his red hair. I took his hand and kissed it, stroking his hair gently as I followed Two-Sapphire into the medical section of Deimos Light. I stripped my clothes off as he instructed, and lay down on the bed next to the one Ernst occupied. He handed me a cup with a faintly blue liquid in it, and told me to drink it down.
“When you awaken, Uncle, you and Father will be new men…”
The world vanished then, and I dreamed of green fields, blue skies, soft breezes—and holding my love’s hand as we walked in the warm sun….
Tales of Three Worlds will be posted periodically
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