Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 472, June 15, 2008

"Double or triple the price of gas, and that will
lock people down far more effectively than will
concentration camps and secret police."

Previous Previous Table of Contents Contents Next Next

Ares: A Sneak Peek—Part One
by L. Neil Smith

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

Prologue: Desert Freight

Conchita said, "Apparently what these Wimpersnits are so afraid of, Desmondo, are the dangerous side-effects of too much freedom: too much prosperity, too much happiness, and too much health."
Conchita and Desmondo in the Land of Wimpersnits and Oogies

"Lock that down, Jerry, lock it down hard, or we're gonna lose it!"

Blasting across the terraformed Martian desert at more than 700 miles an hour, Big Mike Malone, longtime long-haul truckdriver and original Martian pioneer, shouted against the wind into his headset microphone.

Even in the relatively sheltered spaces between cargo containers—twenty of them, this trip—winds of hurricane force prevailed. They could suck a man or a huge cargo container right off the truck, scattering its contents, or his insides, all over the lichen-covered prairie.

It wasn't so much, on this occasion, that an EVA outside the cab, enduring the shrieking wind of their passage was absolutely necessary. Big Mike was "showing the ropes" to his new assistant, rookie Jerry Austin.

"We're gonna lose you, too, if you don't transfer your tether properly!"

In 22nd century Solar System-wide civilization, Martian container freighters had become something of a symbol of the rough and ready new society that had created them. Their drivers were interplanetary folk heroes. The enormous tractor that pulled five "quadcars", each holding four containers, was driven by six huge ramjet engines, two per side, and two more on top. A catalytic fusion reactor turned the machine's gigantic wheels until it reached about 200 miles per hour, at which point, the ramjets cut in and took it to just below the local speed of sound.

Behind the powerful tractor the wheeled frames carried two more or less conventional containers side by side, with two more atop them. Narrow alleyways, left for inspection and maintenence, separated each of the containers. That was where Big Mike and Jerry were at the moment, securing a corner the computer said might come loose. This was a short run in more ways than one. Six to ten quadcars made up the typical truck-train. On each individually-braked quadcar, adjustable spoilers on the sides and top protected it from the tractor's jet engines and provided streamlining necessary even in the relative thin Martian atmosphere.

Once it was fully up to speed, the tractor burned a synthetic fuel generated by a "Biomass-to-Petroleum" process capable of converting virtually any organic waste—the Maritan desert was covered with it—into "oil". There was no law to govern it—there were no formal laws of any kind on Mars—but a trucker's failure to burn "B2P" was considered antisocial by many, because it put much needed carbon dioxide into the air and, more importantly, water vapor, helping to maintain the Red Planet's more or less recently-acquired artificial atmosphere.

A tiny minority felt differently, although few of them were native Martians.

When they returned to the apartment-like control cabin and shed their gear, Big Mike started some coffee and lunch for the pair while Jerry turned on an editorial beamcast from a 3DTV station in Coprates City.

"... an offshoot of the Mother Planet's latest gang of anti-tech nutcases.

"Making their presence known on our world, they have proclaimed that Mars now has a 'Mass Movement' of its own. Back on Earth, if you pay attention to such nonsense, the group's professed concern is about the effect of importing so much material from the Solar System, mostly the asteroids, that Earth's crust may begin to buckle, causing super earthquakes that will wipe out all life. On Mars, the expressed fear is much the same, although truck-trains are blamed for Marsquakes—microscopic, some say imaginary movements of the Martian crust—as well.

"A militant wing of the Mass Movement, calling itself 'Null Delta Em', for 'No Change in Mass', will be holding a rally—"

"For which read, 'riot,'," Big Mike interjected,

"—at Virginia Dale," the beamcast went on, "a popular truck-train eating and refueling stop between Bradbury and Coprates City."

"Our next stop." He drew his pistol and checked the chamber, making sure it held a cartridge. "Looks like we got truck and cargo to protect."

On this leg of the trip, the terrain was flat, the highway ruler-straight. To take their minds off their worries, Big Mike turned off the beamcast, checked on the autopilot, and brought their lunch to the table.

"You know if you look out any of the left-side windows—better yet, I'll put it on the monitor and magnify it ten or twenty times—you can catch a glimpse of one of the most important buildings on Mars."

"How vat?" Jerry asked through a mouthful of macaroni plant. He was new to the planet. Big Mike was always filling him in on the local history. Just now the man was pointing at the image of a house, half castle, half Victorian gingerbread, all of it built from the local sandstone.

Big Mike answered, "It's 'the house that Conchita and Desmondo built'. If Mars had a queen that's where she'd hang her crown. She's a living reminder of what being on Mars, being a Martian, was like before the planet had an atmosphere—enough to breathe, anyway—when simple survival was an everyday struggle, and the politicos and generals of every nation on Earth wanted everyone who lived on Mars to die."

Ares, one of three planned sequels to L. Neil Smith's Prometheus Award-winning 1993 novel Pallas, continues the saga of Emerson Ngu's pioneer family and concerns the terrafomation and settlement of the planet Mars. It will be followed by Ceres and Beautiful Dreamer, a "rational fantasy".


Artemis Zuna Trading Post
Artemis Zuna Trading Post

Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.
We cheerfully accept donations!

to advance to the next article
to return to the previous article
Table of Contents
to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 472, June 15, 2008

Big Head Press