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The Red Sands of Revolution (a novel exerpt)

 

 

 

The Red Sands of Revolution

By

Tom Wells

 

 

Preface

 

Richard Laroby, a historian and biographer, sat at the starboard bar on the aging cruise ship Intrepid. He sipped at his third martini and watched a much larger spacecraft glide by on its way to Mars, passing the Intrepid like it was standing still.  The Intrepid had left Earth two weeks ago. The larger cruise ship had left Earth only three days before passing the Intrepid.  Mars was once the main destination for a vacation cruise. Now it was only the first stop on most trips which visited several outer planets on each cruise. The larger ship was also headed for a rendezvous at the larger Martian orbital space station, Unity. The Intrepid was due to arrive at Trinity Station which could only serve smaller ships like the aged ship Richard was on and the private yacht class ships of the rich.

Richard was glad that the two week journey to Mars was nearly over. He was anxious interview Anita Ronad, the wife of the leader for the Martian War of Independence which had taken place nearly one hundred years before.

A man seated at the bar next to Richard made a remark about how hulking and out of scale the new interplanetary ships had become. Richard acknowledged the comment with a nod trying to not get sucked into the stranger’s attempt at conversation. He keyed a few entries into the display under the glass of the bar’s surface, paid his bill and left a tip. With that business done he left the lounge and headed back to his state room. 

Once in his room he gathered his things. The Intrepid was due to dock at Trinity Station soon and he wanted to be one of the first ones off the ship. On Earth it had seemed like a great idea to follow the same route to Mars that Carl Ronad had followed ninety-six years earlier when he had returned to his home just before the revolution. Richard was surprised to find out that the Intrepid was still in service after all of these years and he was pleased to find out it had the gravity net flooring that was so new back when the ship was first built over a century ago.  What Richard Laroby had not counted on was the anticipation that would build as he waited out the two weeks it would take for this older ship to cross the distance between Earth and Mars.

At Trinity Station Richard quickly made his way to the shuttle bays. If he had known that Carl Ronad had been detained at this station those many years ago, he might have taken a moment to familiarize himself with the station a bit more. But he wouldn’t know anything about that part of the story until he had a chance to begin his interview; and he wouldn’t be able to start that until he could get down to the surface of Mars.

To be authentic in retracing Carl Ronad’s steps back to his home at Valley Grand, Richard Laroby would have landed directly at Adamstown. Unfortunately, Adamstown was now nothing more than a suburb for the relatively new Martian capitol city of Ronad. He would have to land at Ronad Interplanetary Orbitalport and take a taxi flyer over to Adamstown in order to board the same monorail line Carl Ronad had taken on his final leg of the journey back to the District of Valley Grand.

While the city of Ronad had been built under an artificial ozone bubble, Adamstown still relied on several skydomes to hold its atmosphere in. The Martian atmosphere was much warmer and thicker than it had been back in the revolutionary days, but it was still several hundred years away from becoming breathable. The Polar Ice Melting Project that had been started one hundred and seventy-five years ago was working to fulfill the goal of another Earthlike planet in the solar system. It was becoming clear that advances in artificial ozone technologies might make an entirely breathable Martian atmosphere a reality much sooner. The sustained atmosphere around Earth’s Moon was a good indicator that the technology would be available here within a decade or two.

Richard Laroby boarded the Transplanatery Rail Line One in Adamstown’s central rail station. The train glided over the same concrete rail that had been used 96 years before for the first leg of the journey over relatively open and flat land. The monorail made one quick stop at Viking National Park and then headed off into the mountain ranges beyond. The train left the old concrete rail and glided on a taller composite rail that wound into the mountains with fewer curves and abrupt changes in elevation that the crumbling old concrete rail followed below.

As the monorail train crested the mountain range, Richard could see the shimmering elegance of the artificial atmosphere floating over most of the District of Valley Grand beyond. The train slipped through the atmosphere five minutes later and fifteen minutes later the monorail stopped in the historic Dome Ten stop at the Ronad Family Settlement which was now operated as another National Park. The station at Dome Ten and all of the other twelve domes of the park were kept intact to preserve the history of earlier life on Mars.

Richard Laroby disembarked with a few other tourists and the monorail sped off through an air lock whose doors no longer had to open and close with each arrival. There was a push to have the airlocks operate as they did for the last time twenty five years before, but the Transplanetary Rail Lines Corporation threatened to close down the marginally profitable line if delays were forced into every historic stop.

Richard scanned the people gathered at the receiving platform, searching for a possibly shaking and frail old woman well over one hundred years of age. He was instead surprised by a striking and dignified woman whose white hair was the only real indicator of her age from a distance. Anita Hannash Ronad recognized her guest from their earlier halo-phone conversations and went to him at once and greeted him with a firm hand shake and a warm smile.

“Welcome to Valley Grand Mr. Laroby. It  is a pleasure to meet you in person. I hope your trip from Earth was pleasant.”

“Yes ma’am it was. I’m looking forward to our interview.”

“Good, then come with me and I’ll take you to my house where we can begin. It’s going to be a long story. I hope you plan to stay a few days.”

Richard had of course been prepared to stay several weeks if necessary. The two of them climbed into Anita’s personal flyer and they flew back up though the atmosphere to her retirement home in the mountains overlooking Valley Grand. She and Carl had built the home together before the atmosphere had been activated over the valley below.

They seated themselves in the main parlor of the home, which had a commanding view of the Valley Grand, and Richard set up the dictation recorder. He sat back and asked a leading question. From there Anita Ronad told the astonishing personal story of how it was that her husband Carl Ronad had come to be the leader of the first independent planet beyond Earth.


 

Chapter 1

The seeds of revolution were not planted in the red sands of Mars Mr. Laroby; they were planted in the fertile soils of Earth.

You mean that the United Nations controlling Mars at that time were doing so from too far away.

No, what you have to understand is that the independence of Mars was not about any one person like my husband or any one controlling interest such as the United Nations.  I’m sure that you have been reviewing all of the news accounts and speeches from that time. I wouldn’t doubt that you’ve also reviewed the battles and all of the documents concerning the War for Martian Independence, but the reason you are here with me now is to learn what all of those facts add up to.

My husband said it best in his first speech as a leader of the Martian independence movement, “We are all human, but we are more than just that. We are Americans, and Japanese and Russians and Britons and Europeans and so much more; and now we are the People of Earth and we are the People of Mars.”

You see it was never about being under anyone’s specific authority. We all need some form of organized control.  What made Carl Ronad the great leader of the Revolution was that he was the first person to articulate the fact that Martians were no longer colonizers from Earth. Carl and I were from the first generation of native Martians. Our grandfathers and grandmothers had been born on Mars but people from earth had raised them. Their ties to your planet were still strong. Our mothers and fathers had been raised on Mars by people born there and had begun to think of themselves as true Martians and they raised my generation to be Martians and not Colonists.

Your planet considered us to be outcasts and runaways and that implied we were more directly connected to Earth in some way. This was no longer the case. We depended on Earth for trade, but we no longer depended on Earth for survival.

Excuse me Mrs. Ronad,

Mr. Leonard, we are going to be here a long time talking about my husband Carl. I insist that you call me Anita. Here it’s been twenty minutes with the inscriber recording and we haven’t said word one about my husband’s life story. You’re not here talking with me to find out what day it was when he went to the prom or what happened at his graduation from the University of Mars at New Angeles. You want the story about what it was that inspired Carl to become the first President of Mars and that is going to take a long time to explain. I am not going to spend the next God knows how may days with you calling me Mrs. Ronad.  It makes me feel the 112 years old that I am. To be referred to so formally by such a good looking young man like you just doesn’t feel right.

O.K. Anita, at 50 years of age, I had begun to think of myself as old. Especially in the mornings, but I suppose I’m barely middle aged to you.

I haven’t broken any longevity records yet but I am up there in years, even by today’s standards. Besides, I feel the age I am more and more every day. I’m not saying that I feel suicidal or anything of that nature, but I am looking forward more and more to the day I join my husband. Anyway you were about to ask me something?

Hmm? Oh yes. Right, but now I’ve forgotten what it was. Let me just read what you were saying just a minute ago. Oh yes, here it is at the top of the screen, you were talking about Martians and how you had all come to think of yourselves as natives of your planet. But you had started out by saying that the idea of the revolution had started on Earth. How does all of that tie in?

Carl was not the first man to realize that Earth was too distant to govern the affairs of Mars. In fact, there were two major clandestine efforts during the time Carl had spent on Earth, which sought to build up the strength to fight for Martian independence. These people were more or less operating on some sort of instinctive yearning for self-determination.

Carl however was the first to see that we had become a different culture, if you will, than the cultures of Earth. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the theory that Carl had started thinking of independence when he found out what really killed his father. First of all, Carl had been told the truth about his father’s death on the day of Jake Ronad’s funeral. This was much sooner than he could officially admit the timing of when he knew about the circumstances surrounding the accident. You’ll understand why later. Still, it wasn’t his father’s death that had made Carl realize Mars needed to be independent and not a member of the Earth United Nations.  It was a number of weeks before then that Carl finally realized this. It is not a coincidence however, that it was on the same day as Jake Ronad’s accident.

You see Carl was a graduate student teaching a class called the History of Exploration Beyond Earth.  Carl was the student teacher who was naturally favored by Professor James Reed for all subjects having to do with space colonization. This wasn’t too surprising considering Carl’s upbringing on Mars.  But it had as much to do with how impressed James Reed had been with Carl since their first encounter five years before when Carl first went to Earth.

You don’t mean the same James Reed who wrote the Declaration of Inseparability in response to Mars’s formation of the first Extra-planetary Congress.

Yes, he was the same man. You will come to understand that you can study facts until you’re blue in the face but you won’t find out the fun details until someone puts it all together for you.  Carl had first met Professor Reed in his first semester at George Washington University.  Reed was teaching a freshman course in history which Carl had to take to begin earning his masters degree in History. Carl had a Bachelors of Science degree from University of Mars at New Angeles, in Engineering as you know, but he had still been required to take this freshman class. A master’s degree in history would require a few more background courses first.

Why did Carl first earn an Engineering degree and then move on to a Masters in History?  The two disciplines seem so unrelated.

Carl wanted to become an Engineer so he could help to build up Mars as a stronger planet. But he also had a curiosity about history.  In fact, it was his early studies in history at UMNA which taught him that Mars was not so unlike the colonies which had been established by the Ancient European powers.  At the time when Carl first came to George Washington University on Earth, he thought that he might find a way to help Mars avoid the great epochs of wars for independence followed, by nation building only to rejoin alliances with the governments that former colonies fought so hard to break away from. 

That sounds pretty lofty and ambitious for a twenty-eight year old graduate student.

Remember we are talking about President Carl Gene Ronad, builder of great cities, hero of the revolution and the first human leader of an independent world other than Earth.  You don’t accomplish all of this in one lifetime without some ambition and a king-sized ego.

Point well taken.

Yes, well as I was saying, when Carl and Professor Reed had first met they hit it off immediately.  Reed later told me that he had seen the fire in young Carl’s eyes the day they met. Carl had challenged Reed about the principal cause for the United States’ Civil War. Reed had been lecturing about the usual causes such as slavery and trade, but Carl began asking about the desire to assert the culture of the North over that of the South.  Carl of course lost the debate in class but the two went on to discuss the issue well into the night at a local brew-pub.  Reed went on to take Carl under his wing and mentor him though the next few years.

You, Mr. Leonard, would not be here today interviewing me about my husband if James Reed had not died in the terrorist bombing on Lunar 7.  Reed and my husband were at odds with each other during the War of Independence, but they had a unique understanding of each other.  Reed had been very excited when the war ended and Carl had become president because he realized this was his opportunity to be an eyewitness author to history rather than a distant observer.

Yes, I did of course read the manuscripts Professor Reed had written just before his death. But you would never have guessed the close personal ties to President Ronad you’re describing.

Well, Professor Reed didn’t want to let his personal relationship with Carl prejudice his chance at recording history. That is what will make your book about my husband so much more interesting Mr. Leonard. You will not sidestep these personal relationships in an attempt at objectivity and that will make your story very compelling.

Anyway back to the story about what started the whole thing.  At about the same time that Carl’s father was working on the skydome at Jefferson’s Ranch on Mars, Carl was teaching this class about the tragedy of the first colonists on Mars.  Carl lecturing about the crash landing and the long two years they had to struggle to live, and about the cannibalism. Those were old details he’d learned growing up on Mars so he could recite the events almost without conscious thought. This was fortunate since on that day what was mostly distracting Carl was the pair of legs on a student sitting in the first row of the lecture hall.

For most of the semester Carl had only seen this woman in sweats with her hair in a bun, but today she was dressed in a short black skirt and her hair had turned out to be a length that hung down to just above her breasts. Carl had been going over his notes for the day’s lesson at the teacher’s podium when this girl had first entered the room with the other students. She had made a point of brushing his lectern as she made her way to her usual seat. At first he hadn’t recognized her as the same person who had sat in that very same seat all semester long.  To Carl, she had never been more noticeable than the other anonymous students in the class had.  Today however she was dressed to catch his attention.

At twenty-eight Carl was a very good looking man with broad shoulders, but he was a modest person and the fact that this girl across the room had suddenly dressed this way would not have struck Carl as a gesture towards him personally. In fact he may not have noticed her right away if she hadn’t brushed the podium as she went to her seat. He had noticed how attractive she was and had taken a long appreciative look at her, and then went back to calling up the smart-board displays from his network files when a message had appeared at the top of the note screen on the podium desktop. It read, “Yes Carl, I would like to go out with you tonight, Jcole73” 

From then on, Carl had taught his lecture with only half a mind on what he was doing.  That day’s discussion as I said was about the first colonists on Mars, and he recounted the same story he had grown up learning so the students in the class couldn’t tell he was teaching on auto pilot. While doing so, Carl had dialed up the class-seating chart on the desktop interface and put a name to the face, Jenny Cole.  The name Cole seemed familiar to him. He looked up and smiled at the strawberry-blonde beauty across the way and she smiled back just as Professor Reed entered the class unexpectedly. You see, this was officially Reed’s class, but like most professors at the University, he rarely taught at the undergraduate level.  That was a job for graduate students like Carl, so it caused quite a stir when the professor himself had entered the room.

“You would be interested to know that a direct descendent of those original colonists is here in the room with us today,” Professor Reed was saying to the class as he crossed in front of the class heading in Carl’s direction.  “Carl Ronad’s great grandparents were among the survivors of the first colony,” Reed said taking a place alongside of Carl at the head of the class.

“That’s right; they were Emily Jacobs and John Voit. They had been married during the six-month period that the survivors had gone without any contact with Earth.  My grandmother was born seven months after the relief party had come from the Ulysses’ Mines.”  Carl was inwardly amazed he had been able to get that out in a matter of fact tone considering his wonderment at Reed’s presence in his lecture. 

The class had begun to stir with new found excitement, and Carl had seemed to pick up with the conversation smoothly despite the fact that he had no idea of why Professor Reed was there.  He was further amazed that Professor Reed was apparently turning the attention of the class to him.  Reed and Carl were good friends but Professor Reed was quite the model of a flamboyant self-assured lecturer who commanded the student’s attention in class whenever he graced the class with his presence.  His rare lectures to the undergrads were of great interest for the most part and Reed enjoyed the unfaltering attention given to him by his pupils.  So it was quite a surprise to have Professor Reed coming into the class but keeping the attention on Carl.

“Four hundred years ago you could have been in this room being lectured by a descendant of George Washington or Benjamin Franklin at this podium in this very room and they would have been addressing you  as a living artifact of history.  Well, Carl here is no different.” Professor Reed now had his hand around Carl’s shoulder and was pointing at the image of Mars on the large digital smart-board behind him.  “Just because the events he has been describing happened just over one hundred years ago don’t start thinking those events are any less significant than longer removed (and therefore more romanticized) events such as the American Revolution. The point is class; the events of today are the history of tomorrow. It is our duty as students of history to get to know people like Carl who have a direct connection to the past.”

The point of what Professor Reed was saying was a bit lost on Carl.  First of all, in all of the classes taught by Professor Reed that Carl had attended, Carl himself had never been made an example of, even when the topic had been directly related to the colonization of Mars.  Second, of all of the long conversations between Professor Reed and Carl, there was never a mention of Carl’s being some “artifact to history”.

With no time for Carl to figure it all out, Professor Reed abruptly declared the class to be over and dismissed everyone. As the students began to save their notes to their personal accounts and sign off the note screens on their desks, Carl tried taking a step away from the podium to do the same. Professor Reed gripped his shoulder harder however and said, “Not so fast Carl, got a moment?”

“Ordinarily I’d say sure Jim, but I’ve got plans to make.”

Professor Reed let loose of Carl’s shoulder but hadn’t seemed to acknowledge Carl’s desire to leave. “Look, Carl, you and I have been friends for over five years now. That won’t change when you graduate in a couple months and move back to Mars.  Still, I was wondering, do you really need to go back up there? I’ve met many Martians in my day, but you’re a different breed from those miners and farmers. I would never have guessed that someone from such a far flung frontier like Mars could become a more sophisticated statesman.”

“I’m sorry Jim you lost me somewhere when you started stereotyping my neighbors as backward hicks. What’s bothering you anyway? You’ve never shown such a predilection towards Mars before,” even as Carl was saying this, his mind replayed many of the conversations with Professor Reed over the past years. Now suddenly what had seemed good-humored ribbing about the miners on Mars, the majority of which Carl had laughingly joined in with, seemed to have a condescending undertone. Carl also now began to question whether Professor Reed had been mentoring Carl all of these years, or lecturing him.

He realized this all at once?

Well, yes. I know it sounds odd, but Carl had mused about this with me many times when the topic of his last days on Earth had come up. He decided that the realization may have come then because this was the first time Reed had ever suggested Carl not go back to Mars. Reed had a reason to turn his discussion in this direction. I’ll explain that later. For now, understand that Carl was confronted this way just a few hours before learning of his father’s accident. The thoughts in Carl’s head must have shown on his face because Professor Reed seemed compelled to defend himself.

Back on point, Reed then said, “Carl! I’m not trying to insult you. Hell man, I was paying you a complement. Let me make it up to you. I’ll buy the first round at Merlot’s, what do you say?”

Carl glanced down at the podium desktop, the seating chart was still displayed and an animated pair of lips had been superimposed over his name. Carl casually reached down and hit the PREVIOUS icon that changed the display to the notes he had been working from just before all of this distraction.  He inwardly wondered why he didn’t want Reed seeing what was on the screen.  Professor Reed was too wrapped up in his discussion with Carl to notice what had been on the desktop.

“Sorry Jim, I’ve got plans,” Carl replied with a smile.

James Reed’s eyebrows made a disapproving frown, which puzzled Carl, but he smiled as he said, “O.K., but just think about what I said. You came back to Earth to help Mars grow into a more civilized planet. That won’t happen out there on the frontier. You could, however, go places here.”

“The 350 million kilometer return trip to Mars two months from now will be going far more places then Washington DC could ever offer.”

Carl left Professor Reed standing in the dim lecture hall. He stepped out into be bright light outside.  As Carl began to cross the lawn he realized he was being followed.  He turned and was surprised to see it was Jenny Cole.  “Well hello. I kind of figured you’d be long gone by now.”

“What’d the Professor want?” Jenny asked.

“It’ll probably sound strange but, I’m just not sure,” Carl replied beginning to get that ‘Monday kind of feeling on a Friday.”  It was a phrase his mother had always used.

“Good,” Jenny replied. She bit her lip as she said this.  She hoped Carl hadn’t noticed, but he stopped walking abruptly.

“Good? It seems like everyone is suddenly started talking in code because they’re not making sense,” Carl mused in a frustrated tone.

“Well what I mean is,” Jenny started out stammering and her toes shifted in her sandal, but she smoothed out as an explanation came to her. “I mean good, after waxing on about you up at the podium like he did I thought he might have you off on some lecture circuit or something and tonight would be off. You remember, tonight?” Her face was looking down but her eyes were looking strait up at Carl as she bit on the tip of her stylus pencil.  This was a look she was well practiced at and the effect was not lost on Carl.

Carl was realizing why he never noticed her in the class before. As he would later put it to me, with her hair normally up in a bun, dressed in plain clothes and glasses on, she had reminded him enough of me to dismiss her.

That’s right, you two had been an item back at the University of Mars at New Angeles before he had gone to Earth.  What happened?

You mean between us?

Well, yes.  Every image of the two of you is of a couple destined to be together forever, you know, storybook style.

Oh Mr. Leonard, you can make an old woman blush!  We were meant to be together. Of course we did eventually make it happen, but I’ll explain more about that later.  Carl often said that one of the qualities, which attracted him to me, was my ability to stay focused when he went off on a tangent.  Mr. Leonard sir, you are off on a tangent. 

Sorry, you’re right, but you did send me there with that last part.

About him ignoring her when she even slightly reminded him of me?  Well it seems that she wanted to be noticed by him on this particular Friday.  For now though, Carl hadn’t realized that Jenny’s sudden attraction to him had little to do with his charm or good looks. He too was distracted by what Reed had said to wonder why Jenny Cole had suddenly taken a new interest in her teacher. You see, it was Carl’s conversation with Professor Reed that had planted the seeds of revolution in his mind.

Really, I was just thinking about how it seems you started in the middle of the story.

No. You had asked when it was that Carl realized that Mars should be an independent planet and not the extension of Earth’s world powers as his original motivation for being on Earth had been. The last thing Reed had said was that Carl had come back to Earth for his time at GWU. When someone who was born and raised on the North American continent goes to Africa, they don’t refer to the journey as going back to Africa even though their ancestors originated there.  By the same token, Carl had not gone back to Earth because he had not come from Earth in the first place. Earth was the origin of his ancestry, but Mars was the origin of his heritage.  It was the chain of events that I am describing that brought this kind of distinction to the forefront of Carl’s mind.

While he started thinking this through, he and Jenny made arrangements to meet later that day after classes. In his five years on Earth, Carl had never owned a car. In fact he never learned to drive the things. I know it sounds funny considering he grew up operating flyers and the like. It’s just that the automobiles on Earth were still restricted to narrow strips on which to operate then and they only moved in two dimensions. Remember that on Earth back then the authorities reserved 3 dimensional operations to public transit in order to discourage congesting the skies as well as the land. That many people on the surface of a planet was overwhelming to Carl who never drove on Earth as a result. It was Jenny who picked him up and took him to a restaurant called Dukes.

During dinner Carl failed to notice that he was doing most of the talking and Jenny was doing most of the listening.  She kept asking him about growing up on Mars. She seemed genuinely interested so he obliged. At first, she had asked about the usual things like how a person could stand being indoors so much.

“How did you get to school today?” he asked.

“I got in my car and drove there,” She answered.

“Did you go straight from your car to classes?”

“Of course.”

“Mars is just like that. We go from place to place with full freedom of movement. In fact, for the past fifty years, the atmosphere has been thickening with the Polar Ice Melt Project of ‘29. As the atmosphere has become denser, we have shed the old pressurized suits and wear what we call excursion wear,” Carl explained.

“Are they the clothes where you put on the hat and it seals itself automatically to the collar?” she asked intrigued.

“I guess for you that might sound novel, but I was raised in the clothes so they’re second nature for me to wear. I wore a hat everywhere for my first few years on Earth because I felt naked without one. Anyway, you see that moving about on Mars is no different than going from place to place on Earth. We just have to put on our hats before going out. So no, the differences in atmospheres isn’t the most striking difference between our planets.”

“What is then?”

“It’s the casual disregard and use of water here on Earth.”

“How’s that?”

“Water is so plentiful here, you bathe in it, you wash your windshields with it, you fill rooftop pools with it, but most incredibly, and I don’t mean to be too crude but you actually flush your crap with it. On Mars there’s way more than a sustainable amount of water for several times the population we have today, but getting to that water requires enough resources that it is a coveted commodity. I can’t imagine us ever filling commodes on Mars with water.”

Carl was accustomed to Earthlings asking about such trivial things and paid no attention to her questions at dinner. It wasn’t until later, when they had moved on to a quiet bar near campus that Carl began to inwardly wonder about her motives. She had moved into specifics like, what sort of rent is typically charged, or what are the food prices like on Mars. Most people had never asked these questions because most people he met on Earth were never going to go live on Mars.

“Tell me Jenny, are you thinking about going to Mars someday?” he asked getting to the point.  He was going to be sourly disappointed if this attractive girl was only on a date with him for his Martian connections. 

“Earth is such a boring place. Mars sounds far away and exotic. Daddy says you’re probably going back soon, I thought I could go with you.”

“Daddy,” Carl’s mind raced and the connections were made. Jenny Cole was James Reed’s daughter. Reed had told Carl about his divorce from Amanda Cole just a couple years before Carl had met Reed. Suddenly the cryptic conversation he had earlier with Professor Reed made more sense.

“He says that going to the frontier was a foolish idea. I think it would be an adventure,” she said with longing eyes.

“Look, you don’t need me to escort you to Mars. Just book passage and go if that’s what you want,” Carl said dismissing her suggestion that they go together.

“Nobody goes on an African safari without a guide. Don’t be such a stick in the mud Carl.”

“It’s been five years since I left Mars. When I go back, all I’m going to do for a while is hang out at my family’s settlement and get reacquainted with all of my boring old friends. You should go and join some tour group and see the sights of Mars,” Carl said trying to discourage her aims at him. Jenny was about to protest when Carl’s comp-watch paged him.

It displayed a message that there was an urgent call for him. Carl reached over to the personal viewer at the back of the table and keyed up his personal communications file. There was a message from Mars posted there asking him to open the displayed communications link. Carl activated it and waited a moment while the interplanetary call was placed. The screen blinked black for a moment and then the image on the other side was his brother, Thomas.

“Thomas, what’s up?”

There was a small delay while Thomas was motionless on the screen. Then his expression changed as he now saw Carl asking the question and then he answered, “There’s been an accident at Jefferson’s Ranch. Dad was hurt bad. He’s in the hospital now and things don’t look good.”

Carl’s face went pale. “Oh my god what happened?”

Again there was a pause before Thomas answered.  There were repeater buoys then, but they didn’t use today’s signal accelerating technologies, so talking to Mars from Earth was cumbersome at best.

“They were doing a sky dome raising when it collapsed. Dad was the only one up on the frame when it came down. He’s really in bad shape. I don’t know if he’s going to hang on long.”

Carl had already decided on his next course of action. “I’ll book the next available passage home.”

Thomas’s face seemed surprised but pleased.

“It’d be a few weeks at best before you could get here. Are you sure?”

“Absolutely! I’ll call later and let you know when to expect me. Tell dad to hang in there if you get the chance.”

“Of course. Mom will be relieved to know you’re coming. I guess I’ll talk to you soon then. Bye Carl.” The screen flashed black and then it went back to Carl’s personal page. He keyed out of the network and looked up at Jenny.

“Sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to arrange quite a bit. It’s been nice. Say hello, and I guess goodbye to your father for me,”

Carl paid the bill via the viewer and left her there abruptly. Jenny’s mouth opened and closed trying to reply, but he wasn’t paying attention to her now. He went back to his apartment to pack.

Carl had the choice of boarding a small merchant ship that night and taking three weeks to get to Mars, or boarding a large cruise ship that was leaving in a day and a half, but which could make the trip in two weeks. He opted for a modest room on the cruise ship. He was busy packing when Professor Reed came to his door the next morning.

“I have great news for you Carl,” he said, obviously unaware of his father’s accident.

“I could use some good news about now Jim, but you’ll have to talk while I pack,” Carl said going back to the task of updating the destination information on his luggage’s ID chips.

Reed looked surprised and confusedly asked, “Where are you going? Graduation isn’t for another few weeks my boy.”

Carl stopped and turned to face him. “Didn’t your daughter tell you?”

“I’ve meant to call on her, but I’ve been distracted and you won’t believe by what.”

“My dad’s been seriously hurt on Mars. My brother Thomas doesn’t know if he’s going to make it. I have to go back tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Carl. Wow, the timing is horrible.”

Carl had gone back to his task, but now he stopped. He turned and gave Reed a hurt look. “What do you mean the timing is horrible? I have all of the units I need to graduate. My thesis was finished months ago.  I was only sticking around here on Earth to finish my teaching commitments for you. This just sends me back sooner. What’s horrible is that my father is hurt.”

“Carl, don’t misunderstand me,” James Reed pleaded. “I’ve just come to tell you that a friend of mine who works at the United Nations just told me that you were up for an ambassadorship representing Mars in the UN.”

That announcement was something Carl could never have seen coming. He had to sit down. This was too much. All he could manage was a quick “What? How the hell do they know me from Adam?”

“I was planning to make it a surprise for you. My friend is pretty high up in the United States delegation for the United Nations. You’ve been talking about making Mars a more direct part of the United Nations. I told my friend about the plan and he told his people about it. They agreed that it would be good to have a representative from Mars in their midst who could help them understand the conditions there.”

Yes, this did seem like the break Carl was looking for. The whole reason for his going to Earth was to find a way Mars could break from its colony status and grow into a more self-determined society. But something didn’t seem right about this. James Reed was right, the timing was horrible. Carl couldn’t tell me years later whether his recollection of this was skewed by the events he was about to live, or if he genuinely had misgivings at that moment about the timing of the offer for ambassadorship in relation to his father’s accident. The events were related as you’ll find out later, but Carl had no way of knowing this then.

Add together the anxiety Carl was feeling towards his father’s condition to the part where James Reed had referred to the position as reporting “conditions” and you get Carl’s answer that surprised Reed a great deal.

“Sorry, as tempting as a political meteorologist position for the UN sounds, I’ll have to take a pass on it until I have a chance to see my father,” Carl said sarcastically.

“Carl, I went out on the limb to make this opportunity happen. Don’t put yourself in the position of regretting turning down this chance when you’re understandably upset and not thinking right.”

Carl stood up and looked James Reed in the eyes. He wanted to see if Reed knew something that he was holding back. “If I’m such a natural choice for this new position, why can’t it wait a few months until my personal matters are put back in order?  Let me go to Mars and be with my dad when he needs me. The job can wait until then, can’t it?”

James Reed’s face twisted with confusion. He had received the call about the job offer just before rushing to Carl’s apartment to relay the good news. He hadn’t thought much about the details of the offer, but Carl was right and his answer wasn’t going to make sense. “I was told that you would need to report for training ASAP. The UN representative said that the position was only open right now and that it would probably loose funding next week if it wasn’t filled.” Reed heard how odd this sounded as he spoke the words out loud.

“Look, do me a favor,” Carl said returning to his packing tasks. “Use my communications link over there and key this guy back up. Explain my situation and ask him if my decision could be put on hold for no more than a month. I’m sure I’ll know what’s happening with my family by then.”

Reed agreed and went to the link screen. While he made his inquiries, Carl was busy separating out what would stay and what would go back to Mars with him. He couldn’t pay close attention to Reed’s part of the conversation. He did pick up on the increasing frustration Reed was showing in his voice. Ten minutes later, Reed signed off in aggravation.

“They insist that the position will loose funding next week and that they need a decision now,” Reed announced.

“I thought the position just came open, how could it have such a short funding window? Sounds like a looser to me,” Carl said dismissively as he moved his luggage to the door.

“You’re right, it sounds crazy, but that’s bureaucracy for you. You can’t change it without becoming involved with it. Please, stop a moment and think this through.”

Carl did stop. He went to where Reed was standing. Again he looked him in the eye. “Why haven’t you mentioned this before? Why be so secretive?” Reed opened his mouth to answer but Carl interrupted, “And why did you dance around the reason you had that strange conversation with me yesterday? Why not just come out and say that you didn’t want your daughter flying off to Mars? I could have saved you some worry. I intend to go back to Mars alone, the way I came. I’m in no mood to play tour guide.”

“Now wait a minute Carl! What about Jenny? You can’t just run away from her like this!”

Carl’s face showed all of the confusion he felt. “Like what? I barely had one date with her last night. I never even noticed her until yesterday. Is it just me or has this whole planet suddenly gone a little mad?”

“Jenny told me that you two were an item and that you had asked her to go back with you. Of course, I don’t want that, but why would she lie to me about this?”

Carl threw his arms out and shook his head, “She’s your daughter. Like I said, I only really met her yesterday. You figure it out.” Carl’s wrist-comp beeped. He glanced at it. The message let him know that a sub-orbital taxi was ready for him on the roof. He signaled for the doorman to come help him with his luggage. Then he looked back up at Reed who was obviously trying to determine who he was going to believe.

I would get a chance to meet this Jenny Cole in person later. Let me tell you, people like her have an inherently calculating personality. James Reed was a doting father who couldn’t see what his offspring was really like. Carl had spent only one evening with her, and this little story she had told James Reed had Carl convinced she was a bit of a shrew. Carl put a hand on his mentor’s shoulder.

“You’ve been a trusted friend to me here on Earth. In fact, you’re the only one I’d call a true friend on this planet. I thank you for all you’ve done. I think you can understand why I can’t take the position just right now. As for Jenny, I don’t know why she’s told you what she has.  You’ll just have to believe me when I say it isn’t true. My taxi’s here and I’ve got to get up to Gateway Station to board my transport back to Mars.” The door chime sounded and Carl looked in that direction, “I’d love to stay and help clear things up here, but I’ve got to go,” Carl grabbed Reeds hand and shook it. “Thanks Jim,” he said genuinely and hugged the man on a whim.

Carl opened the front door and the doorman quickly gathered his things onto the floating cart he had brought with him. James Reed gingerly made his way past the two loading the cart. He said good bye with red eyes that were on the verge of loosing a tear. Carl watched the man walk away down the corridor and then he turned and followed the doorman in the opposite direction. He said he couldn’t stop the tears as he walked on.

On the roof, the taxi took him up to Gateway Orbital Station. He watched as Washington D.C. grew smaller and smaller as they rose into the sky. He took one last look at the alien blue atmosphere and became homesick for the orange glow of our home world.

E-mail me at wellsdesigned@msn.com if you would like a pdf or kindle version of the full story, the hook, I’d like to hear what you think of the full story.  Tell me if you like the story, but also, tell me if there are parts that you might have questions for, if there are plot or character suggestions you have, and if there are any areas that need more detail.

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