Yew and Me
There was consternation at the Mars Space Traffic Control headquarters which was located inside the Copernico Facility.
“Hallo, spacecraft currently approaching Mars, please identify yourself, over.” The operator said, repeating the message that had been broadcast hundreds of times over the last few days. According to the radar returns beamed down by the orbiting satellites, the craft was making all of the necessary course corrections and braking manoeuvres that were needed for a successful re-entry: it just wasn’t talking to anyone.
Over the course of the following week, Mistress Lilith Yew made a point of visiting each of the major facilities that were dotted across the face of Mars, which although a much smaller planet than Earth lacked its warmer sister’s oceans. The consequence of this being that the two worlds had similar sized areas of dry land. Due to temperature considerations, most of the major settlements on the surface of the planet were close to the equator where it could get above 20°C in the daytime although the nights of -70°C would remain a problem for the foreseeable future.
A plan had been worked out that would elevate the temperatures considerably. Part of it was controversial and involved the manufacture of CFC’s which would be pumped straight into the atmosphere. CFC’s being the gases that had once been widely used on Earth for such things as powering refrigerators and as propellant in aerosols but they were banned for precisely the reason that made them necessary on Mars—They were powerful greenhouse gases.
The CFC’s were not the only development that was underway: powerful artificial magnetic fields were due to come on-line later in the year to protect the planet from the solar wind which constantly stripped away the atmosphere. It was this that was the reason that Mars had dry-up billions of years ago. The new magnetic fields would deflect the solar wind and prevent it from destroying Mars all over again. It was the lack of a magnetic field that had caused the planet to die in the first place and Lilith Yew’s team was poised to remedy this fatal flaw.
As Lily flew from settlement to settlement she took the opportunity to read the latest reports on the real progress that was being made in terraforming. Quite frankly the last thing that she needed was some clumsy Earth-side government trying to muscle in and upset the delicate situation at such a critical time. If Valentina Karpova had managed to oust the Kremlin before it could reclaim its Martian Oblast then so much the better, the woman might just prove to be an asset after all, as long as one glossed over her ethics, that is.
Her first visit had been to the former Chinese base where Zhuan Jin had greeted her warmly like the old friend that she was. Possibly because the Chinese government had paid little more than lip service to the Authority, their settlements had been the largest and most prosperous on the planet, although the others were now catching up fast. The populations of the cluster of settlements surrounding Zhuan Jin’s main facility were still mostly Chinese although people from other backgrounds were now beginning to appear just as the Chinese themselves were spreading across the planet.
“So, what’s this that I hear about Karpova converting the old Russian bases into one huge slave-hive?” Jin had asked pointedly while glancing suspiciously at Ciara and Yseult Ward who were accompanying Lily.
Lily had sighed. “A lesbian hive, ‘just like mine at Philae’, or so she claims!”
Jin shook her head, but refrained from commenting because it would be impolite to seem to criticise Lily who she had regarded as their Head of State for many years. Instead she asked. “Do you believe her?”
“About it being an all-female hive?—Yes. About it being like Philae?—No! What I do know is that she shipped out all of the families with children under the age of sixteen and also forced out or deported some of the men, too. The majority of the other males were sent back to Earth in some of the empty ships that had transported her hive from Russia.”
“Why did she do that? Did she even say?” Madam Zhuan asked suspiciously.
Lily gave her a half smile. “Oh, yes: it appears that Tsiokolski and the surrounding settlements and stations are, in her words, ‘no longer provide the suitable environment that children need to prosper’, and she did not wish to separate families as that would be inhumane.”
Madam Zhuan nodded but never-the-less looked suspicious. “And the single men who remained?”
“Apparently they alone did not ‘wish’ to return to Earth.” Lily shrugged.
The Chinese woman’s expression hardened. “I take it that you do not believe her?”
Lily gave a single barking laugh. “Of cause not, Jin, but I gained the impression that she didn’t much care whether I do or not. Valentina Karpova is a woman who is used to getting her own way and will go to any lengths to make sure that she does.”
Zhuan Jin sighed, then changed the subject. “The refugees that you mentioned: I would be happy to offer sanctuary to twenty-five of the fifty families and to some of the single men also. We need to grow here at Shen Kuo, as do our smaller settlements. We just aren’t receiving as many colonists from Earth as we would like.”
The conversation shifted to production: Jin’s facilities specialized in heavy engineering which was fed by mining and metal refining facilities. Responsibility for these being shared with the Indians under Nehal Chaudhari over at the Gandhi Settlement. Lily, to the Chinese woman’s relief, declared herself as being pleased with the progress being made.
“Yes, but we have spare capacity! Production is being held back by a shortage of manpower hence our willingness to invite those unfortunate Russians to settle here.” She hesitated realising that her remarks made her sound cold and hard-hearted. “I mean.. Well... Our main concerns are of course humanitarian, but... Well... You appreciate that there are other considerations, don’t you Lady Yew?”
Lily did, but tea was served before anything else was discussed and it would have ben impolite to discuss business over tea.
Dr Sarn prowled around his Master’s dome like a malevolent ghost and constantly poked into things and checked up on work that didn’t need his supervision. He threatened the drones with dire punishments if they failed to complete their given tasks to a high standard. This, however, was neither necessary nor effective as the drones, being drones, would always carry out their tasks to the best of their ability and no amount of supervision or threats would have any effect upon them although his constant interruptions probably succeeded in slowing things down somewhat.
Things, however, were coming along nicely and any urgent repairs had long since been carried out although the air in the dome was nothing like breathable due to the high levels of carbon dioxide. Fortunately air pressure inside was still much higher than out on the surface as very little of the atmosphere had leaked out during the time that the structure had stood abandoned. The Saudi’s had built everything to a very high standard as they had wanted it to last and the dome had been intended to become the centre of a large Saudi-controlled territory. Over the years the automatic systems had pumped air in to replace any leakage and so keep the dome inflated while the surviving plants had produced oxygen. Unfortunately the dreaded Carbon Dioxide levels were still over five times the toxicity levels for a human being: clearly, as Sarn well realised, there was still much work to be done!
The increased pressure inside the dome did have one advantage however, as it meant that people could move around inside without the restrictive exosuits. Simple breathing masks being enough during daytime as the temperature rapidly climbed above zero: the dome itself was, among other things, a well-designed greenhouse. Night-time temperatures, although low, did not fall to the horrific levels of those outside. Twenty below could not be classed as a comfortable working temperature so the exosuits were still necessary once the sun had gone down.
Sarn continued to prowl the dome and even though his behaviour was having no beneficial effect, he kept on threatening the drones who reacted by placidly ignoring him. The main task remaining in preparation for Master’s arrival was the clearance of all dead vegetation and this was being carried out mainly by the pre-drones obtained from that vile Russian woman over at Tsiokolski. Master had long worked out how to control pre-drones like these... They were kept naked and when required to work outside, totally transparent jumpsuits were issued so that nothing could be concealed that might later be used as a weapon. Pre-drones were easily embarrassed, probably because they were ashamed of their bodies, and looking at some of them, Sarn could see why. Naturally enough he enjoyed humiliating them which tended to make them more ashamed and thus more docile and easier to handle. Although, just to be on the safe side, he dosed them with tranquillizers too.
Dr Sarn’s threats and insulting comments made him feel better about having nothing to do. In short he was frustrated and was itching to get to work conditioning and surgically modifying the latest additions to Master’s property. Annoying as it was, he couldn’t begin until Master had inspected them and decided just how each one was to be utilized.
Still, Master’s shuttle would arrive within the week and in the meantime Sarn divided his time between arranging and rearranging his medical centre and tormenting those pathetic Russians.
After her visit to Shen Kuo, Lily had dropped in on the Hawking Facility to reassure Mike Price and his team. Naturally he was very concerned because a lot of his people were spread out across the face of the planet occupying about a dozen tiny scientific research stations. Unlike most of the rest of the former controlling governments, the British maintained friendly relations with the staff of their former Martian bases and Lily guessed that they were relieved that they no longer had to pay for the upkeep.
Once the local population had satisfied the British Government that the declaration of independence was voluntary and was supported by a majority of the population then control was handed over amicably. The Brits still being one of the main countries friendly towards Lilith’s efforts on Mars, although this friendship did not quite extend to monetary support.
After Hawking she moved on to Gandhi, Galileo, Simon de Bolivar and finally Newton bases in quick succession before finishing up at Copernico to brief Alexander on what she had learned.
The transport aircraft, a great lumbering and seemingly flimsy contraption, was alien-looking to those used to the sleek craft that plied the skies of Earth. Flimsy however was the one thing that it was not as it had to cope with winds that could reach speeds in the order of several hundred miles an hour. Its massive looking oblong box of a fuselage was supported by the two pairs of biplane-style wings that were needed to give it lift in the exceptionally thin atmosphere. Solar panels formed the skin of these wings and kept the powerful electric motors running. However cheap to run or not, the aeroplane could not fly at night although with the very low temperatures, who would want to?
Lady Yew had spent the final leg of the journey in complete silence. Oh, the visit to Newton had been routine even though working with the management committee had been harder than the face to face meetings at the other bases, but then she was used to the way that Newton was run so made allowances as she saw herself as a leader and not as Mars’s first dictator.
Yseult and Ciara had spent the last two and half hours looking out of the window and watching crater after crater slip past far below. The six hundred mile flight from Newton to the landing strip at Copernico might have been the shortest that they had made this trip but it was also the quietest. They weren’t alone on the plane because others had taken advantage of the unscheduled flight to ship either themselves or their cargo across the planet. Lily, being who she was, rated the exclusive use of one of the compartments so that she could at least enjoy some privacy. If anybody had objected to this they kept their resentment to themselves for by now it was common knowledge across the planet that Mars was in the middle of its biggest crisis since the break with Earth five years previously.
Although Lily had spent most of the previous flights reading reports or working away on a PADD, she spent the homeward leg sitting in silence and mostly staring straight ahead. The Irish sisters had known that something was wrong but as she was their beloved Mistress and regarding themselves as her property, they had left her to her thoughts. Then as the massive aeroplane had commenced a banked turn to line it up for its final approach one of the pilots had come on the intercom and uttered a phrase that would be recognised by every airline passenger since commercial flights had begun. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are commencing our final approach to Copernico Field, please make sure that all loose items are secured and that your seatbelts are fastened. Thank you.”
Yseult glanced across at her Mistress and was just about to go across and assist her when Lily suddenly moved and began to comply with the announcement. As she did so she spoke, although it was more to herself than to her companions.
“I don’t know what to do.” She muttered. “I don’t have enough data to choose a course of action. We need to find out just what the hell is going on and decide what to do otherwise we might be swamped!”
yseult exchanged glances with ciara who frowned slightly. Her expression only lasted a split second but for a drone, it was the equivalent of a full-blown puzzled glare. Mistress knows best! yseult thought, but then hesitated. No she doesn’t... She’s said so!
“Mistress, do you trust Lady Karpova?” yseult enquired quietly, her voice full of respect.
Lily looked surprised, drones did not normally question their Mistress. This, however, did not upset her. “No, Yseult, I do not.”
“And this new one, The Master, who has taken over at King Faisal Base?” Do you trust him?” She asked.
“Definitely not!” Lily’s voice was much sharper than intended, so naturally she was concerned that she might have offended the woman until she recalled that this was impossible.
However yseult persisted. “Mistress, are these two new Hives a threat to us at Philae?”
Lily, who was in the middle of buckling her seat belt froze, her mouth falling open in surprise. She sat without moving for a minute or two before suddenly banging he two parts of the buckle together with a loud ‘clunk’. “Yes!” She growled. “They represent a clear and present danger!” Her mind seemed to spin. Something has to be done.
Several courses of action presented themselves too her but they were all far too risky to contemplate. Well they were, weren’t they?