Another Man’s Dreams
By Larry Austin Bernard
Editing by Luke Melendez
The Reflecting Pool
The stone skipped across the reservoir 3 times, sending out ripples before it sunk to the bottom. Like a projectile moving in space if the eye could see it the ripples traveled almost uniformly from the points where the stone skipped and where it finally fell. The waves from the ripples crashing together and making a new and detailed pattern in the water which matches the tiles bellow the watter and around the reservoir. The energy of the stone dissipated across the water and now born in light on the back of an eye and into impulses into the brain immortally stuck there within the span of one human life. The slight sloshing made an echo that was broken by a voice, the voice from behind him cut into him like a feather secretly spirited against the back. “You know we all have to drink that water.” The young man didn’t turn around. His long brown hair flipping in the soft meek wind, in the direction of the accusing voice, his lip began to smirk playfully. “Rocks don’t pollute much considering they periodically do enter the reservoir Serenity.” The girl knocked him down and he started gasping and groping for a small metallic blue object with some degree of rapidity as his skin began to show the signs of the lack of oxygen. In short order she put mouth piece between his teeth. He took long and labored breaths, each one less labored then the first “Jesus Darren, why did you have your Breather off? I know kids used hate going to school but getting yourself killed is a bit extreme.” Her eyes were not accusatory but they were clearly upset as she moved to ensure she wasn’t laying against him to hard so he couldn’t breath. He coughed a little bit as his lungs loosened some of the Martian dust.
“The air quality index was going to be high…. thats what the weather said.” He mouthed before retaking the breather into his mouth. The girl simply shook her head at him “They had the alerts on, but you were probably to busy daydreaming here to listen to anything but your own thinking. And for god sake don’t try to talk while your struggling like that.” As the boy regained his breath he looked up at the figure pinning him down. The Strawberry blond with green eyes and the faintest of tans on a world where tans are usually a sign of being from another planet was his best friend, realistically the only friend he had, for the longest time the only other child in his parent’s quad. But then there was enough of an atmosphere for real neighborhoods to be formed, and they remained cronies ever since. Children on Mars were a rarity and most of them were born on the longer dust storms here people would be locked in their quads for many weeks. A few were even planned out, a fact shocking still to many on Mars and Earth. A small first Generation and a slightly Larger Second Generation now had known nothing but Martian soil. A third generation would be ready for the schools on mars such as they were. The early days of the atmosphere on mars were like the old smog days where their would be good or bad days. Though little atmosphere existed on mars their was a thin atmosphere like the extreme heights of Tibet. Machines were situated in areas where above ground settlements existed to make the atmosphere a little thicker in advance of larger scale terraforming of mars. Today was supposed to be a good day, but it ended up turning bad at the last moment as a residual dust storm problem shorted out mos of the machines in the area. His breathing is a bit more normal now but still weak.
“Well Serenity, if you must know I was here reflecting on my dreams.”
The girl rolled off him and lay back against the wall of the reservoir complex. “You know, dreams shouldn’t trouble you as much as they do. Dreams are just a jumble of information the mind spits out like a blender.” She looked on the one whom till just last year had been the smaller of the two. As long as she can remember Darren was the weaker and she would still have to keep a watchful eye on him in school. He had trouble breathing when they lived bellow the ground, and he had allergies often. But now he was blossoming on the vine and becoming a young man. The frailness of the allergies and the stifled atmosphere ave him a particular beauty, one that would likely grow more masculine and rugged but for two high school age children it was very much ripe. The fresh atmosphere was very helpful to his health, so much so he often would go without his breather on days with good air. Even though it was a risky thing to do. His hair grew long and he grew tall when they started to actually live in the sun on the surface of Mars. He has been known to wander off and roam around their homes now that he can, an idea still a bit strange during the current stage of Terraforming. A few of the people educated in older earth Literature like to call him “Valentine” a nickname the two kids don’t understand well.
“People used to put a lot of stock in dreams you know Ms. Smarty pants.” The young man sitting up and looking at her, the breather out of his mouth again his lungs full enough of air. “Heck, men for centuries dreamed of the people who lived on mars, and here we are talking about how dreams are meaningless.”
She stood up and ruffled his hair, resisting the urge to pound him in the shoulder.
“Allright smarty, what was worth your nearly expiring from lack of oxygen.” he shook his head. “ A lot of it didn’t make sense a lot of it was a jumble. I saw a line drawn in the sand. On the one side of the line their was rain. First the rain just made mud.. but then the mud turned to a lake. Then around the lake Trees , plants, and animals all grew.” he took a long pause and looked at her for a moment thinking about his words carefully “ Then On the other side of the line the sand begins to crack and a something black came out of it and it came into the lake and it felt like everything was about to die…. then I woke up.” She nodded her head, half in interest to him and half to wrap it all up “ and do you think it means something?” he laughs “ that the treasure of oil leads to the destruction of eden.” they both laugh now. “Well Mr. Philosopher, were going to be late for our first day of high school if we don’t get going here soon.” He laughed a bit from behind his breather. “Was that why you came to get me? Trying to keep me under your wing like a little ducky?” he quacked at her and she gave him a cold irritated stare. His eyes however revealed a great deal of relaxation and care. She popped off her fist into his shoulder. “No goofus, your mom is taking me to school the first day to remember.” He nodded, not wanting to laugh in his breather as they both walked back to their homes. Gathering up their supplies for their first day at school. He felt guilty about lying to her about the second half of the dream. Maybe she was right that dreams were meaningless. He saw the ground, the cracked aged earth that bled black… and the blackness came to the people living on the lake, that part of the dream was true. But she was standing on the other side of the line… he tried to pull her across only to witness her hand crumble and his own blacken and stiffen from the damage crossing the line meant.
The soil here was not yet ready for planting, but the terraces of hydroponics made up for what an earlier generation on earth would seek in a yard. Flowering plants and a little garden sitting in wait for the day they could grow strong in red Martian soil. A few little plants have been tried by some of the neighbors but their blackened remains are mulched into the soil. Old plants were tilled into the dirt with some additives to begin the process of building good fertile soil. In a few parts of mars the soil is good enough for engineered fungi and other heartier plants to begin the process of the conquest of the soil. Turning the red and barren rock into the great outpost of humanity. Darren wondered when they were kids if the food plants would grow red if they were ever in the soil, Serenity just laughed at him. The Orange color of the house, looked almost red against the contrast of the sky. The shape of the house looked like it had been cut into the side of a Martian hill. When looking at the face it seemed almost reminiscent of the Anasasi cliff dwellings or something made by some old Mound Building civilization. But the pattern of the houses and lots bears the most American of handiworks a new Levittown on a new world. People who hunkered down in the dirt and struggled underground now having a chance to walk on streets and have a life slowly resembling the normalcy of earth. The sweat and muscle brings forth a new middle class, as it has time and time again in human civilization. The new Generation on Mars was walking out on the surface that they would some day plant in as their parents pulled tentatively out from under the planets surface. Most of them had seen an Earth Sunrise as children, but now they look at a Sunrise which is alien to them, but is the only star their children had ever seen. The kids grew up watching the two small moons in the sky, something most of their parents themselves only experienced for the first time not so long ago. The children of mars who saw a earth sun on videos and earths moon will only be able to compare it to their children to the dual moons in the sky. The air is richer then earths. The children of Mars would know a carbon that only the worst of Earth’s pollution would have made known to their parents. But the carbon is growing less and less every year. The nitrogen sits at the upper end of the human norms and Earth Born people still have problems with it in the first few years. Trying to describe to kids born on Mars what their air is like compared to that on earth is about like trying to explain how a fruit thats been extinct tastes to people who never put it to their palate. Like trying to taste a fruit for the very first time, with no one who had ever eaten it before or even any other fruit. The truth of it all is this world while becoming more human every day is still alien.
In the doorway Darren’s mother stared at him sternly, his face still flushed from losing his breath earlier. “Darren Michael James…” He waved to her to stop the tongue lashing “I know mom, but it looked like it was going to be a good air day.” Her brow relaxed somewhat, her son’s face and his sense of regret at the action calming her anger ” Well that’s why they have an air quality report young man, so you know if you have to use your breather of now.” Serenity tried to speak up “He was fine until I knocked him over…” she looked her son’s only friend for so many years of his life in the eye “Young lady you know he was wrong just as I do, so why try to cover for him now? Now Darren, go upstairs and get your bag. I’ll be damned if I let either of you be late to school.” Darren slipped the few tools they directed him to add into the bag. Some paper and pencils and a small tablet computer, lighter then the work a generations generation of children’s children carried since the dawn of time. The school however still had children learn the craft of working pen and pencil ink to paper. The tactile sensation to link the generations, or words to that effect, the school used in the documents instructing the students in how to prepare for their first day ever at a school. As Darren came down he thwacked Serenity in the back of the head “why did you do that?” he softly said into her ear. She looked at him “I was trying to cover for you with your mom…” he hit her in the shoulder “ I don’t need you to protect me when I am owning up to being stupid ok.” he said in a half lie, the truth is he didn’t think he was so wrong but he knew that some times the unexpected happens and makes the right thing very wrong. “And besides of which, if I need you to bail me out with my mom for god sakes it should be for something good.” she nodded laughing a little as they slipped into the Hydrogen car.
The old hydrogen car slowly worked itself to a start, the battery was largely unreliable but it was much more practical then using a gas engine on mars. As few were made with engine’s designed for the Martian atmosphere. And the right mixture to form the combustion was never reliable. The Gas car’s had lottery days to determine when they could drive, to keep them from tampering with the formula for terraforming. But the hydrogen cell cars could drive whenever they wanted. And with the fuel cell manufacturing industry the cells that are made surplus to earths are amazingly cheap. Hydrogen Manufacture was the major industry on mars since the discovery of Martian Oil and Gas reserves. The idea of oil and gas on a planet that was in many ways dead, barely flushed into life by the hand of man seems rather difficult to believe. Many speak of fossils on mars, some even question the role of fossils on the forming of fossil fuels. But a single Satellite in the hands of a single technician found geological data that was suggestive of oil. No one believed in him at the time, it took him decades to make the first private venture to mars. They lived in the ship and struggled to breath. And on the last day they could stay on mars the first gusher was found. It changed the world as Mars had bellow its soil for two worlds if not 20. The cheap Fuel cells cost less then a credit most days, and has produced many benefits. Though most energy is transmitted via the HALO systems directly to earth. But the ability to make cheap batteries on mars lead to mars becoming the heart of the industrial development. The pollution that was a bane to earth nurses mars making the formation of a dense atmosphere to hold in the thin air struggling to be born.The old Jeep had spent to many days tunnel driving in the old quads being now above ground and running in red soil it didn’t know what to do with itself. The water vapors helped in the process of getting the soil ready for real planting, and in the forming of the nascent Martian atmosphere. But the Jeep formerly being a mole in the ground still struggled in the atmosphere that is a bit of a dirty mix from the old tunnel atmosphere which was almost purely like that of earth, though dusty and stale.
“I don’t understand why these high schools are mandatory; couldn’t we just finish it up like we did our old quad school system?” Darren’s mother sighed
at his question “Son, we made a lot of sacrifices in how we educated our children. The process of school just doesn’t teach you facts and figures it also teaches you about people. How to work and live with others, you know things that can’t be taught over a vid screen.” His mother rubbed her brow for a moment. “ We lived in the quads because the atmosphere hadn’t gotten thick enough. Because the breather technology hadn’t been refined enough. Our lives were restricted, controlled, and managed just to survive. But now we can do more then survive and we have to give you kids more so you will do more then Just survive.” Serenity hit him in the back of the head and whispered to him in a hushed whisper “you ask this kind of a question then bitch to me that you have to spend all day locked in the house with her.” Darren rubbed the back of his head, muttering only briefly in a soft voice “It would seem all the women near me are against me today.” his mutter piped up “You’re a young man, you have the rest of your life to learn that all women are against you. This is why your going to school to learn about people young man.” She followed up “Also the quad schools were what we had to do. Mars wasn’t a real place we were in then. We lived in small apartments dug into the ground near an oil field or a gas field, not the kind of places where people form communities and societies. Its not healthy to be that cloistered and having a world full of such cloisters even more so. Humans can barely run a patched together confederation on earth. And that confederation has a barely tied together patchwork of colonies. Mars will have to become its own place, an independent place some day. And it can’t do that with a bunch of people who don’t know what its like to live with other people. A community of individuals is the foundation of Human civilization and culture. If we all are just plugged into monitors and machines we loose what it means to be human.”
The long road into Aries City was largely desolate from their outer settlement. Aqueducts and terra-forming equipment slowly reshaping the landscape of mars dot the red occasionally, breaking the monotony of the drive. Long trails of brown and white popping up. Large machines sprouting out gases and fields of Artificial Tree’s being tended to in a alchemical mixture to make a good atmosphere monitoring the levels of Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen in the thin Martian atmosphere. As the approach to the city came closer signs started to mark the landscape;’ Future sight of Aries City Spaceport’, ‘Mars development plan progress’, ‘Water park coming in 2175’, and a host of others. As the car comes near the memorial wall, signs of a real city begin to greet them. The technology of the Nano-machine based Terra-forming machines popped up very quickly after the hydro-carbon fuel reserves were first discovered on mars. The Nano-Machines made massive amounts of gas and liquid to begin reshaping the face of mars and working through some of the large Martian mountains. These machines rung the city first and allowed the small settlements which bore the first fruit in natural gas and oil, and then rang out to the far wells and mines. But Aries city was built because Humans build cities. The governments of Earth and the big corporations built Aries city to be the Rome, the New York, The Paris, The Tokyo, the fundamental and first city of Martian Civilization. The machines dotting the planes of mars show man bending the environment to his will but Aries City shows the fruit of that will. It was very unpopular in the first days and deemed a “Boondoggle” but Mars was balanced out with follies and positive efforts. The memorial wall stood to honor those people who died building this particular folly as well as the early Martian outposts. The pioneer spirit that writers as the discovery of oil on mars, and the earliest outposts of humanity said once was lost to mankind blossomed in the soil again on a red planet. People experienced the chance of taking full control of their life and the intoxication of that siren’s call was awakened on Mars.
Advertisements, sloganeering, graffiti, and so may other signs of modern human civilization dotted the land scape as they came closer to Aries City. Aries City was built under a great dome of materials that were a miracle when they were built. The wall and dome are the greatest work of engineered Carbon. Strong then the toughest Steel and titanium. Harder then Diamonds, and clear as glass save for the black wall surrounding the domb.Two gateways lead through the wall; on each is a simple list that causes everyone to pause as they enter the gate. The first is a list of people from all the earth countries who helped to build Aries city, and mars itself. The second gateway contained a list of all the disasters that killed ten or more people in the first decade of the cities existence. Ever car driving past the second came to an almost halt for a moment, less from a sense of reading it and more from a sense of a religious ritualism. Along the walk way flowers and letters mark the second gateway. And on down the walk way the preserved letters from people back to the first settlers of Aries city writing a short memorial to lost fathers, lost mothers, and lost children.
The Wall was never planned and it started out as the people who built the city began to put notes and pictures up on the wall. One of the first labor disputes came as management tried to clear it all away. The wall was the first monument to mars a wall that speaks to the need people have to honor Hero’s. Even on earth the Earth Confederation honored them as “Pioneers on the edge of humanity.” As the new little hamlets are popping out of the ground many cities are building their own walls to honor their own dead from the early days of the colonization of Mars.
On earth this would barely count as a city. Little over 100,000 lived within its walls, and barely a quarter of a million lived within an hour and a half’s transit time. But on Mars this city was a New York, or a Los Angeles amongst the much smaller population. It was the only Martian city to have competing broadcast television stations, and most of the satellite stations broadcasted from here. It was the only city to have any broadcast radio traffic, and all the satellite radio stations came from here. The Mars Herald, the only newspaper published on Mars ships itself out of Aries city, to those few who still enjoy the sense of ink and paper in their hands. Only the Bradbury, the seat of the Mars Authority lay outside the direct influence of the largest city on Mars. But, this mattered less as the only schools open to those outside their city walls lay here and it was only built when people started putting foot to the surface of Mars. And it was the seat of the only University on Mars. The heart and soul of Mars was here in Ares City.
“Ok Darren, Serenity since your now going to a real school I got you both a present.” She hands the two kids small envelopes, they feel metallic and have a coppery tint to them. As they open the envelopes inside is a card, with a holographic image of Aries City on it and a magnetic strip. The Cards read in English ‘Mars Transit Authority’ “What’s this mom?” Darren asks curiously “It’s a transportation voucher card. It gives you to enough trips on the Maglev train to get home and go back to school for a month before it recharges.” She then smiled “But if you don’t use it all you carry over your balance, that means your going to be up one today.””Then why are you driving us today?” Serenity spoke up now, asking the silly question now. “Look, it’s an old tradition on earth that I wanted to start up now. That you take the kids to their first day in school and since this is the first school you actually go to away from home, I figured why not start the tradition now.” Darren sighed “But Mom…” She replied almost by route “Mother’s prerogative young man.” His friend “Thanks for the cover brat” and then pounded his shoulder. While she stood and protected him, he stood up far more these days for her then she did for him.
They drove down Aphrodite Boulevard on their way to their final destination. They drove around the Statue of Mars at the entrance to the city standing majestically in a silvery glow flanked by a sign which reads “Welcome to Mars”. They drove through Founders Park and past the Smith Monument honoring the first man to place his foot on Martian soil. Then they traveled down Howard way till they say an area of better then a city block under a dome.
“Was that what a domed city was like mom? Before we had the atmo we have now?” Darren asked first. “Probably, I hear tale they have it domed because they are doing experiments at the school.” The kids walked out of the Car and Darren’s mother gave them both a firm hug “Mom, your embarrassing me.” Darren whined. She smiled a bit “I was so worried, that I’d never live to see the day my children’s lives would be normal. I feel very privileged that I was wrong.” a soft tear went down her skin as she hugged both of the kids. As they approached the Dome a security guard stood at the door “When you get into registration they will secure your breathers.” The man in the gray jumpsuit said. “No Breather’s” Darren commented “This is so cool.” Serenity smiled a bit. Breathers had been a part of their lives for so long, as it was very expensive to have atmospheric seals built for their houses. The domes on large scale cities had more of an atmosphere to them then living in the new settlements but this was different. To the kids from outside Aries city to them this must be what Breathing on earth is like. So for the first time the heavy equipment would be unnecessary. As they walked into the dome, the temperature was a very crisp feeling adding to the pleasantness of the experience. Tree’s were present and grass. Some areas had honest to god vegetation and even flowers to it. Those who designed the school did so not just as an island of what Humanity has on earth but as a gateway to what they want the future of mars to be.
They were greeted by a young woman, who hardly seemed much older then themselves. “Hello, you guys must be so excited. You’re some of the last kids to have gone without normal schools on mars. Well, I hope I get to meet you my name is Chantal and I work for the principal. All new students need to assemble in the auditorium for their introduction.” Watching Chantal speak, you could see the almost rhythmic pattern of her movements. “She’s a hologram” Serenity said matter-of-factly, Darren just rolled his eyes “Duh Ms. Rocket Surgeon.” He leaned to her and whispered to her ears “probably an synthetic intellect to, well if such an animal really exists.” He smiled some what self assuredly. As the two walked towards the auditorium they saw streams of kids approximately their own age joining them and forming lines. Much as they did you can see bands from the outer areas of mars clinging to each other out of some sense of familiarity. Other kids seemed more at ease on their own; these kids showed the inner resolve that this place, this setting itself was not some abnormality. The kids from the city and the slowly evolving suburbs seemed to divide themselves along the lines that make high schools seem as they always have been. Darren wondered to himself about what his mother said ‘How can places like this unite people when it just fosters new divisions.’ he rolled over those thoughts to himself as he went to take his seat. The building itself was like the other Martian architecture, reminiscent of some cliff dwelling or adobe brick homes. But it was larger making it resemble some great castle. Enriching the imagination and projecting a sense of security that those within the early domes must have needed.
The room was less fitting in a high school, it seemed more like the college auditorium class rooms from the old movies of the 20th that were popular in the quad settlers homes. The chairs even had the sense of being caught like an insect in amber, preserving the sense of that other time. The room sat as a temple to some other era’s sense of education, a temple which would soon see its invocation, perhaps calling to it a muse for their future. The chairs were stiff, small, and gave a sense of discomfort that just felt right in a school setting. The plastic felt like those old desks from the 20th century even though it was a different kind of synthetic material. As the last of the student’s was seated the Principal walked into the room. His white hair, still full of life and fire was like the top of some majestic mountain. His body still strongly built showed a man who very easily could have struggled working in some mine or in some field. But with his age and if he lived his whole life on mars or at the very least most of it that could indeed be the case.
“My name is Dr. Henry Jordan. You are the last class I will be giving this particular speech to. If one thing can match the history of a first class in a program, it is the last class. You are the last group of youth to come up through a Martian educational system built on survival. But the survival of the days when we lived underground, dreaming of living under a free Martian sky is not the survival you will face after leaving this school. The learning from a video monitor, directed by an algorithmic process will become a thing of the past. Some of us came from societies that a focus on the value of the individual, as the sole actor in his society. Others came to Mars viewing the nature and role of the collective or group as the actor to society. What path will those individuals forced into a collective to survive form, it will form it in you. ” He took off his glasses and walked to the front of the podium. “Mars is rich in minerals, people have coaxed this wealth from the earth but you are the greatest resource of all borne into this world through the same blood and sacrifice that has been borne by so many for such simple things as to let us struggle to breath. To make limited supplies of free flowing water. Many have lost their lives so you could have yours.”
“Mars is a nation. I use the word Nation because we are often want to confuse it with the term Nation-State. Mars has her myths, myths that came long before man ever came to settle on mars. Those old legends have become our new legends. Mars has her Hero’s and Martyrs. The black wall at the entrance to the city, and black walls forming in cities and townships over mars speaks to that. While we are a nation we do not have our own national identity, because we are part of a larger human nation. It is true Mars, The Moon, the orbital stations and Earth are confederated into a single state, remember it is not a single nation. Just as the Moon is not the same nation as we. An author once said that the moon is a harsh mistress and who could doubt him. As we see the videos of people living under domes and structures on the moon that we are now transitioning out of on Mars. Remember that nation is a group of people with a common history, a common heritage, and a common culture. In your veins is the blood of men and women who sewed the soil of this planet with their tears and made it their own. Nothing else then such labor and pain makes a nation. Because while a nation may be formed of ideas and thoughts, ultimately it is only the struggle that gives birth to a nation.” He took a pause and took a long drink from his glass of water.
“Where will this nation find its poets: Its scientists, its leaders? Will we continue to import them from the earth? We have seen Cincinatus plow the fields but will we see him leave his plow to fight for his people. And I do note that such a fight is not always war and more importantly wars are far from just wars of bullets and bombs. War can be words, war can be ideas, and war can even be what we choose to treasure as a people. Or will those men and women grow here, just as humanity has grown Strong on Mars? Their was a time when people feared a new nation gaining its identity, a new nation rising up to claim its own treasure. China at the close of the 20th and the dawn of the 21st built a national treasure out of iron, built it on the backs and sweat of people laboring under inhuman conditions. India during the same time built a national treasure on its intellect. We have built this Mars on the blood and sweat of our pioneers. So we reap the treasure of those pioneers we must build a nation of ideas, and a nation of people who will master their own destiny.” He smiled and put his glasses back on his face. “It is my hope as now we begin to bring people who lived isolated lives as laborers in the far fields of mars that we will begin to become more then the breadbasket for a humanity reaching the very vault of heaven. One where man shall by his will, beget an empire. We are a nation of such men, who with the tools can turn more then just our planet into an Eden but the stars themselves. Mars is the gate to the western mysteries of humanity. How and who men will be when they leave the Sol system will be borne here on mars. Perhaps borne with husbandry from you.”Student assistants handed out papers to each student by their name. “ But for this to work their must be a process adhered to. First we will set up some placement tests to see where you are in your education, and where your strengths lay and what weaknesses you should overcome. Then we will have a lunch break and an interview process. This will determine the “Plan” we want to set up for you. And this will determine how you are graded. And after that, you get to go home. While this is a school, and there are classes you must take you are the center of your universe here.”
The tests weren’t important to Darren; this place was like a whole alien world to him. He didn’t get questions wrong per say, he just really didn’t care to work really hard to get them right. He didn’t pay attention to the camera’s watching him. Serenity however, much as they had been their entire lives was the one focused and serious who labored hard on the placement exam. She was always the one more practice of the two, and more grounded in what was good and best. Darren out of the corner of his eye watched her struggle and wrestle with the angel on her paper. Darren never did a great deal worse then she, which in a sense gave her some degree of resentment to him. But because he never had to work to do well he was poorly motivated for school, and often times lacked the tools to learn best/As she sat taking her battery of tests she could see him out the school window, reclining under a majestic earth tree. Darren sat their drinking the first soda he ever had in his life, not like one of those from a vending machine either. This was the kind made with soda water and syrup. It was a rare pleasure that was once how all soda’s were. The richness danced on his tongue as he waited for his only friend to get out of her test. The proctor of his test center made Darren wait while he evaluated his testing, he just smiled for a moment and shooed him off. Darren felt a sense of a kindred spirit in the proctor as he waited for Serenity to get out.
“So Brat, did you at least make it look like you made an effort.” Serenity said to him as she got out of her test, he simply smiled at her. ‘that was like… Two, maybe three earth standard hours ago I think so.” She huffed at him “I swear, if they don’t prepare you to be president of mars I should hope the train you to be a janitor.” Darren laughed at handed her a small card “They supply us with a free meal today, after that it comes out of our meal credit plan.” The two made their way to the cafeteria. “Ok Brat what woman did you seduce with your silver lounge to get my card.” He laughed “ Who has to seduce people, she watched me and said it would make you less mad at me.”
The computer took their ID card’s and processed their vital information. Knowing their last medical checkups, knowing there metabolism, and knowing how they at home it presented a series of options on a 5 to 1 scale. 5 representing the best meal options for them to eat. You had budgets based on your particular metabolism for a given month. Though you could trade credits within a 10-15% Varience of the number of meals 1-5 you can eat in a given month to others. Serenity picked a level 5 meal; Darren went with a standby level “3”. She scowled at him a bit “You men get away with eating like that…” he quipped back “you could to, if you give on the healthfulness you have to push somewhere else.” She started into her sandwich and rolled her eyes. “No A 3 for you is a 5, how do you manage to get the tests to work for you…. are you blessed by some Martian god?” They laughed heartily. The stories of old Martian civilizations written by generations of earth authors before brought a smile to those in the first civilization built on Mars. Especially those born on mars would often curse the old Martian gods for just about anything.
As the two chatted next came the interview portion, something they thought was odd even for a school, though neither had experienced one. They were waiting for the committees together, luck of the draw they were assured would give them their answers. Darren walked into the office first. A young red headed female left in tears just before him, and a blond female was set after him. The office was very cozy, there were a series of bookshelves along the wall with leather sofa’s and chairs. Just as the auditorium was a sign of an archaic period, so to was this office. Behind an oak table sat the principal, a female slightly his older, and a male slightly his younger. “So, this is my star chamber huh?” Darren opened.
The woman smiled “Oh I like this one.” She started off before the principal began his second monologue. “Well Darren, don’t think of this as a Star Chamber. In the past education systems have been very assembly line based. But, producing the right student is less a mass exercise as it is helping direct the natural forces of our students. The process should be an art, not a mechanism. So this is part of that process, we get a sense of whom you are and where your going.” The Young man spoke up next “It’s a process we do redundantly, so we are assured the highest quality output.” Darren Adjusts himself in the chair uncomfortably “ So, I’m only putting myself up for judgment to myself. I guess that makes you disembodied voices. Either that or I am am the block of Marble and you three are Michaelangelo.” The Woman let out a light laugh, smiling a little, “Oh Darling, If only I were a few decades younger, your simply perfect.”
He smiles, less nervous then before and speaking with a greater sense of confidence “So when does this process start?” the Younger man smiles “Oh it already has. So tell me Darren, just how bored where you?” he cocks an eyebrow “Excuse me” Darren was caught off guard by the accusation “Your scores are adequate, but in watching the tape of your performance its clear you were more interested in exiting. So, how bored were you?” Darren regains his composure quickly “Well I know Doctor Jordan here, but how can you interrogate me if I don’t know whom you are?” the woman quickly volunteers “My name is Dr. Minerva Wong. I run the social sciences department; our junior associate is Dr. Leo Kohen.” Dr. Kohen’s eyes scowl. “Since this triviality is done, now to my question.” Dr. Kohen curtly interjected. Darren resumes a tense position in his chair “Well, I just always at home wanted to get done quicker so I could do something else?” Minerva spoke next “And what was it you liked to do? I am sure your not of a mine to toil away in some mine or on some well.” Darren looked for some mental exit, something in the room he could hide his mind in while they talked.Dr. Jordan cut in “You see Darren, you’re a day dreamer. You’re more in your mind then in your body, while this has been a great strength for you; this is also your clear fatal flaw.” Darren drooped his head, he felt as if he was some kind of lab rat in a cage. The younger man spoke up “So, tell us about your father.” This removed him from his depressed state rather quickly. “Dad lost his way, he fought the Martian Defense Corp system and it ate him alive. Once we went above ground he left mom.” The young man moved in more, sensing blood in the water. “Is that what you’re trying to run away from?” Darren just smiled “everyone has their escape from the world.” Dr. Kohen digs in more “But life isn’t about escape, it’s about living.” Darren’s knuckles went white as he grabbed at the edge of the chair. He really didn’t know why this talk of his father was upsetting him, or if it was just the alieness of his process. Or if he really didn’t like the tone.
The woman now gets uneasy “Look these interviews are just designed for freshmen as an introduction to the system; I don’t want you to break another student. It scares the rest of the body.” Darren watches the interplay for a few moments before he speaks. “So this is more about seeing who I am and what I can do?” She smiles “well, it’s almost a metaphysical thing. It’s a test to see how you handle your mind.” At this point Doctor Jordan speaks up with his question. “Darren, where are you going from here? Where are you taking your life?”
He shrugs “I’m a teenager, aren’t I supposed to be a bit clueless on that front?” the older man smiles. “That’s one of the things of the old earth culture we never really had a good handle on killing. Your body isn’t finished developing but you’re equipped to move forward, so where are you going?” he shrugs again “ I mean, we don’t need as many back breaking laborers right so , maybe I can get another kind of job.” The principal smirked “come on now, from you that’s a bigger cop out then the last answer.” He closed his eyes Darren seems to pull in some confidence before he spoke “I just want to be able to make a bit of the firstness of mars my own. I’m not sure much past that.” All three simply nodded Minerva spoke next “Thank you for not disappointing, we are finished here.” As Darren gets up and heads for the door Dr. Kohen speaks up. “You have a spirit of a pioneer but I am not sure you have the discipline to make it happen. I’m not going to be as easy on you.” Darren smiled “So be it devil’s advocate, do you wish to be a nemesis or is this a mere sales speech?” he says nothing and the woman applauded him as he left.
It’s a good half an hour before Serenity finds him. She seems to be a bit long faced “So how did it go?” he said with an inquisitive look? “The woman in that panel was a real bitch; she laid into me for almost 20 minutes.” Darren looks at her slightly confused “On mine she was the nice one, did the younger guy play it soft with you?” she nods and he begins to get a sense of awareness “ I think they are going to make you more science oriented.” He said with some degree of confidence “what makes you say that?” she asks her demeanor picking up. “It’s a hunch, but tells you what. I’ll bet you a bonus water credit hour that I’m right.” She smiles “well, I could use an extra hot bath.” He laughed and patted her on the back “that’s the spirit.” As he through his charm brought her spirits up they both walked for the air chamber to pick up their breathers.
As they walked out of the Breather room and into the airlock they saw some students harassing a smaller boy. Two boys dressed in their breathers were holding a boy with some red hair and a much more slight frame while a third boy the size of an ox was pounding into his gut “Listen Terat scum, you don’t own me and you don’t own shit here.” Darren clutched his hands watching the Scene as Serenity looked at him “Look there are three of them, there isn’t anything good going to come of you trying this.” He smiled “Look, this is an easy problem to solve without any violence.” The young man slipped on his breather and walked into the airlock. Making sure to trigger it shut. His female companion ran to get help.
Darren looked at the huge mountain of a teenager “Man you tube baby’s sure get big when you’re inbred, and stupid to. I mean you’re in the airlock they have to have gazillion cameras here. If you kill this guy, they’ll fry you on the firing range for sure.” The large boy turned to him. “Hey, my mother and father had me natural punk, now take it back or I’ll pound your face.” Darren smiled “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your parents were the tubes. They probably were brother and sister from the look of your genes.” The large teenager and his cohorts turned now to the new target for their rage. Darren didn’t even see his breather get smashed by the large ham handed fists of his assailant. He groped and gulped for air wildly as an alarm went off “oh boot me, we need to get out of here Hector.” One of the smaller boys said “Shut up Norman, there is no way to escape. They had us all on the cameras.” The outer edges of his Vision and hearing started to fade as Darren passed out.
Darren woke up a few hours later; he was in the school’s infirmary. “Man you are pig headed brat.” Serenity shakes her head at him.” You tried to get the oaf to beat on you instead, what sense was there in that?” he lifted his head up a bit and looked at her, half smiling “ I figured you’d have the cavalry by then, I was just buying you some time…” She huffed and put her hands on her hips “Darren, you risked your life assuming I’d have the cavalry to save you what would have happened if I was a minute later?” He just laughed “I’d have been dead probably, which is why I knew you wouldn’t be late.” She got a small drink pack and put the straw in his mouth. “You know you scared your mother half to death with this stunt, she’ll probably ground you.” As he kept sipping she just laughed “Or hug you to death, I’m not sure she has decided which.” He coughed a little bit “I’m sorry it’ll be late when we get home, I really didn’t plan on getting my breather cracked open.” She smiles and brushed the hair out of his face “Dar hun, you didn’t plan this out at all. Don’t lie to me; we were stuck underground together for to long for me to know you any different.” He closed his eyes “Well, I thought I could stop him some how, I just figured I’d do it on the fly.” She gently hit him in the shoulder “Well, when your doing something like this that could get you killed, maybe you should plan it out just a little bit huh?” he coughed and wheezed “Ok, next time I am going to risk my life, I’ll try to plan it out a little bit. What’s happening to that Ox of a Kid?” she smiled a bit “Hector, well the boy whose life you saved has decided he doesn’t want any charges pressed, your mother and the school are haggling over that.” He muses “So does mom want a pound of Flesh?” Serenity shook her head “No, the school does. Messing with breathers and nearly killing some one like that is something that puts the school in real jeopardy.” The Nurse walked in and looked at the youth in her sick bed “Your a lucky young man, there wasn’t any brain damage.” Serenity chuckled “He’d have to have a brain for it to be damaged.” The nurse smiled “Your lungs also weren’t damaged. I think the fact he knocked you out may have helped things.” As she looked at the clip board she added a few lines. “Your mother will after signing some forms be ready to take you both home.” As the Nurse left the Principal came in and looked at Serenity “Young lady can you leave me and your friend here for a moment?” She nodded and walked out of the infirmary.
“Well, it seems you put a much more profound test of your character up for us to see young man.” Darren looked over at Doctor Jordan “well I didn’t plan to….” Dr. Jordan smiled at him and ruffled his hair. “That’s the problem in life, the true tests of character are rarely planned.” Dr. Jordan opened “we rarely choose the moments that show our better natures to those who need to see them. We can just hope we have enough of them.” Darren looked down now “So am I in trouble?” Dr. Jordan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, have you done something that would get you in trouble? No I don’t think you have. You did something that may be a little suicidal perhaps, but not in trouble.” Darren smiled at that.
“But” the older man added “You have earned your share of consequences, some which you will know shortly. And others, that you may never know.” Darren simply nodded as Dr. Jordan continued. “Every choice kills a potential life, the person you are when you die has killed untold tens of thousands of other yous that could have been. So, are their any questions that burn in your mind right now?” Darren nodded quickly “Who was the kid I saved?” Dr. Jordan smiled “That’s a fact you’ll come to learn rather shortly, his father wants to see you. That’s one of the consequences you have brought on your head.” Darren tried to laugh but started coughing the Professor helped him sit up “So I won’t step on a father’s prerogative.” Darren now, his voice feeling more alive responded quickly “And the three boys who were doing the bullying?” Dr. Jordan leaned back taking a more authoritarian pose. “Detention for the lot of them, the maximum 3 weeks worth. Anything more would have required your mother’s ok. She didn’t want them to go to jail, and to an extent that was helpful. But if they screw up with you, or anyone else like that again they’ll be in the deepest darkest cell I can stick them in.”
“Well, any other consequences you can tell me about?” Darren inquisitively looked at his elder. The principal smiled “ oh certainly, but I’d be a poor educator if I just told you things and didn’t let you learn them on your own now wouldn’t I.” the laughter from the older man soon inspired the younger man to follow suit. “Just, if you can promise me one thing. Try to have a less eventful second day then your first. I can scarcely handle such a trend as an administrator.” Darren laughed “Ok sir, I promise to keep my second day relatively peaceable.”
Hector entered in with his mother, a woman every bit a mountain of flesh as her son. From the look of her she worked out in some of the coal mines in the far reaches of mars, but even that was pure speculation. The Woman slapped her son firmly on the head “Say it Hector, say it now.” Hector rubbed the back of his head “why ma?” she smacked him again, this time harder still. “Because, you’re not going to jail stupid. An apology is the least you can do to show your gratitude to his mother. ”Yo man, I’m sorry.” The look in his eyes showed the clear insincerity of the gesture. Darren nodded his head “Well let’s just not do anything like that again.” Hectors lips formed an almost feral grin “Oh, that’s something we can most certainly agree upon.” His mother gave him a slap to the back of the head again, for good measure as the two walked off. Darren sighed, it was clear this was not going to be a problem which would go away easy in his schooling.
The next person of “consequence” to enter the room was a some what dashing figure. He had a fiery and curly mane of red hair. It was well styled and probably by some one whose salary dwarfed anything his mother or father combined would have ever made. His suit was a fine silk and synthetic blend, in the style of a pinstripe suit out of the 1930s. It wasn’t common place to see anyone on mars, native or terran wearing earth clothes. He was trying to “show off” his wealth. On his right ring finger was affixed a large opal encrusted ring, something unusual to attract the eye. His eyes however showed a man of a most reptilian and predatory mind, taking apart the boy in the sick bed as if he was some target to be acquired, or neutralized. The dress was there for show, but the green eyes were the real man who walked into the room. His playing the role of the fancy man was to try to fool people it would seem to be.
“How are you doing my boy, I am quite in your debt.” The man took his hand firmly withdrawing his right hand quickly “You saved my son, I am sure as you were that those ruffians were going to take his very life. To me, this makes you and your friend my family now. Your mother also.” Darren piped up “It wasn’t anything really. I just did the right thing.” He smirked at the youth “Nonsense, you saved the Son of Hiram Stone and as such I won’t soon forget it or you.” Darren just smiled “Now, your friend and your mother are both ambivalent to my request, but when I set my house up here in a week or so I would like you all to come to my estate as my guests. Would you mind the hospitality?” Darren coughed a bit ‘Well, why not. I enjoy meeting new people.” Hiram clapped his hands together firmly “excellent my boy, I look forward to entertaining you all and welcoming you as a part of my family here on mars.”
Dr. Jordan leaned over as Mr. Stone exited the room “The wealthiest man on Mars, perhaps one of the wealthiest human beings has just opened his home to you. This is one of the consequences you will have to endure.” Darren looked at him “That guy?” Dr. Jordan nodded “Prior to his moving to Mars he gave me some of the seed capital to work on this school.” Dr Jordan rubbed his Chin “His eyes tend to rip into a man, break him down to his base elements. I think he saw more in you then just that you saved his son. You seem to have impressed him, hope that works out well for you in the end.” Darren’s mother entered into the room and shook her head at him. Her silvery blond hair and hazel eyes affixing blame, anger, and relief. “So young man, do you plan to give me any more heart attacks today?”Darren looked at his feet and his mother bent down beside him on the bed.” You know I am not sure if I should be proud of you or I should strangle you.” The tired voice she had revealing her exasperation at her son’s actions that day. “Well mom if it’s any consolation, this wasn’t what I planned to have happen.” Darren strained a weak laugh. She then began to laugh herself “No, it isn’t really. But I think you get to go without any form of punishment today young man.”
Serenity joined with them very shortly “Ok kids, lets get home before it gets really dark.” They quickly get dressed to go to the thin atmosphere outside. Darren turned on the internal heater in his suit, feeling still a little weak from his earlier experience. “Serenity you mother called, she has some good news, your father’s ship is going to be coming into port early. We expect to see it here tomorrow.” Serenity’s heart skipped a beat “Daddy is getting home early, this is great. Did anything happen to his ship? Why is he getting home early?” Darren’s mother smiled “They took care of the transaction back on earth early your mom said.” Darren smiled, his friend was always way to serious about things, except when it came to her father. Her father ran a tanker ship carrying various commercial products from Mars to earth. And on earth they loaded up his ship with a variety of products to be sold to the Martian populace. They whole trip ended up taking about 4 years, this time he has returned a full year early. One had to question why his ship came back at the first launch window, but the joy in Serenity’s voice made that question seem most out of place. The Car ride home was a lot longer. Darkness fell over the Martian landscape quickly, the few signs of civilization there were soon became shrouded in night. Only the aqueducts broke the night sky shimmering in semi luminescent silver light.
The old jeep’s heater blew a fiery temperature and made the suits nice and toasty feeling. At this point in the drive serenity breaks the silence which has almost put everyone to sleep “So has my mother gotten back from the field yet?” Darren’s mother shook her head. “She is with an oil crew so deep out there it’ll be another 2 weeks before she can just get the papers processed to get home early. You know dear you are more then welcome to use our guest room till your father gets home.” Serenity thought about it for a while. “No thanks Ms. King, I can handle it in the house on my own.”
They slowly pull into their development as Serenity turns to Darren “Now Brat, no sitting out in front of the reservoir with your breather off tomorrow you got me? I actually need you alive for a change.” Darren struggled a laugh “I guess it is nice to be needed for something.” Serenity ran to her house, like a kid running down on Christmas day. Darren and his mother walked toward their home. His mother smiled a bit “So, you end up saving the life of son of the richest man on Mars. I guess that’s an ok reason to nearly get yourself killed.” Darren groaned as they entered into their home. He took off his suit and breather and went to bed, his mother got their old oxygenator out for him to use while he slept.