Forming

Hai Zhi stood on the edge of Huygens and watched the boxes unfold.

It was summer on Mars. It was sixty degrees and Hai was wearing a thinsuit, little more than a tracksuits with built-in boots and helmet. His visor crystal was synthetic sapphire and Hai could never shake the feeling that it gave the red planet the slightest tint of blue. He may have been an engineer but he wasn’t immune to imagination. That’s why they’d made him leader of a team.

Team 1 – Bill Turenne’s team – was at the edge of Schiparelli. Team 2 – Anna Kwa’s – was at Cassini. Team 4 was the farthest south, on the plain next to Hellas. That was supposed to be Leigh Kwa’s – no relation to Anna – but their oldest son kept getting into trouble and they decided to put family first and go home. An act that was cheered by pretty much everybody. Their second-in-command, Oberon Santander, took the reins. There were four people on Mars, watching the boxes unfold.

There were hundreds of them. They looked like shipping containers abandoned in a desert, like some apocalyptic fantasy or heavy metal album cover where the oceans had dried up and a cargo ship had spilled its guts onto the sea bed.

It had taken years to get them here. First we had to wait for the elevator to be up and running. That gave everyone ten years to plan. Ten turned into fourteen, then another nine when  it shattered and we had to built it again. By that time we’d realized that it would be far easier to build a Martian elevator first. That added thirty years. We were in no hurry.

They’d started with two teams. There were enough divergent ideas that they’d added a third and then a fourth. Six years to get the equipment manufactured. Another two to get it all to Mars. There were a hundred and thirty people in orbit around the red planet. There were four on the surface. Hai was one.

Hundreds of boxes. They came down the elevator at the crater Jezero. The first boxes had contained pavers, wide tracked vehicles that smoothed and flattened long strips of red Mars leading from the elevator to the four sites. The dust-storms wouldn’t be kind to those roads, but they weren’t meant to be permanent. Giant borers were already at work making tunnels from the elevator to the four sites. Maglev rails would line the tunnels. They’d be active in two months. Rail would connect the sites to each other in three.

The boxes took the rough paved road, strapped to self-driving eighteen-wheeled lorries trundling across the face of Mars. Now they were all distributed. Hai stood and watched his open, and the machines come forth. The machines he’d selected – designed, or at least helped program. Tunnelers. Construction drones. Smelters to broil the Martian dirt into building material to make structures, homes. Long tracked machines that were little more than landing pads for dozens of little drones, blasting about in the negligible Martian atmosphere.

The machines left their travel crates. They all turned to Hai, and wordlessly they saluted him – raising cranes or conveyor belts, anything they had to raise. Hai would have been touched except he’d come up with the idea himself. The other three team leads weren’t expecting it. He hoped they liked it.

The machines got to work.

They spread across the barren plain. Dozens of them began to dig. They quickly disappeared. Others took up station at the edge of the soon-to-be down and began to eat the dirt of Mars. They would broil it and smelt it into the building-blocks of the new city. Some things they’d have to send from Earth. Most things they would make right here.

In a few minutes the ballet had wound down. The machines were still working but they were spread out or disappeared beneath the earth. They were digging conduits for power lines, sewer pipes, air pipes, secondary and tertiary fallbacks. The same was happening at the other sites – or near enough.

Hai’s city was the most traditional. There would be houses. They would have windows. They would be thick enough to resist a Martian dust storm in all its might. There would be streets. There would be public parks. There would be warning sirens for people to hide from storms and the Martian night. Every building would be connected underground, everybody would be able to get to their house from anyone else’s. It was a compromise

It might not be the best idea. That’s why they were making four cities. People would come and live in each of them and see which they preferred. Bill was making one great tower, either the first true arcology or else proof that man would export the failures of public housing even unto the stars. Anna was making an entirely underground city, safe and secure and hopefully lining every wall and ceiling with viewscreens showing Earthen vistas would keep people from turning into tunnel rats. Leigh – or Oberon now, Hai corrected himself – had decided to build a great triple dome, clear and strong, with unprotected buildings inside. Hai hoped it withstood the dust storms, and hoped its residents didn’t mind the thought of living under the biggest magnifying glass in the galaxy.

Maybe people would hate one of them, and the city would be abandoned to the wastes. Maybe people would hate all of them and they’d try something new. Maybe some people would love one or hate one and move between them to suit their desires. Maybe they’d just moved disparity offworld. Maybe they’d just created diversity.

They built on the edges of craters. It was thought that, within a few decades, people would finally decide to begin Martian terraforming. The process would take generations – maybe millennia. But when it finished, Schiparelli and Cassini and Huygens would be lakes – and Hellas would be an ocean. And the cities they built today would be by cities by the sea.

For today, the cities were building. Makerbots planted themselves down and began packing the sand around them. In an hour there would be foundations. In six hours there would be houses. Within eighteen hours, if everything went to schedule, inspections would begin. In three days people could start moving in to his city.

The weather was clear and Hai could see the solar disk through the beige dust. One day he hoped it would be visible through clear skies – and even more he hoped it would occasionally be obscured by gray storm-clouds, heavy with rain. For the moment he would sit and watch a bit more. Then before it got dark and cold he would go back to his command station, monitor his instruments, and drink a beer.

 

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~ by davekov on 15 November 2017.

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