Facts and figures don’t inspire the imagination — nothing could have prepared me for my first glimpse of the Mars base up close. It was huge. The base took up a total of forty-five square miles on the Martian surface; almost one and a half times the size of Manhattan island. The hydroponic and aeroponic growing areas took up two-thirds of the total space, the remaining third was made up of habitation modules, science modules, and the various factories required to keep the station running.
The hydroponics areas were a feat to behold: one kilometre long, by two hundred fifty metres wide, by three levels high. Each module provided seventy-five hectares of growing space. Ten of these modules fanned out around the habitats in a vast semi-circle — like the fingers of two massive hands.
The four habitats — or hab modules — were multi-story cubes of two hundred metres to a side; each comfortably housing 20,000 individuals. Each cube contained its own theatres, gyms, malls, restaurants, and communal gardens — all the amenities of life were available. Each cube had developed it’s own unique culture over time.
The heating, air and water purification plant was another two hundred metre cube that sat in the exact centre of the base with the four hab modules spaced evenly on each side. The various factories and science modules were opposite the hab modules from the hydroponics bays. Long, aboveground corridors connected all the modules — golf cart like electric buggies were used for module to module transportation.
The solar collection, thermo-nuclear, and geothermal generating facilities were kept away from the central station. The solar station was about one hundred kilometres north of the main station, the geo-thermal about one hundred kilometres south, and the thermo-nuclear station was buried five hundred metres under the heating and water purification plant — its excess heat was used to keep the station warm. The spacing of the plants was done both to optimize their locations as well as to avoid a simultaneous failure of two or more plants; which could result in a total loss of power, and the death of everyone on the base.
The descent was smooth, the thin atmosphere of Mars provided little resistance. We landed at the spaceport with no noticeable jarring or noise.
“This place is huge,” I exclaimed to Scott. He was seated on my right in the small landing craft.
“It’s mind-boggling.”
“Where’d they get all the metal to build this? They couldn’t have shipped it all from Earth.”
“It’s mined here Ryan. Did you think that Mars was devoid of iron?”
“I guess I never really thought about it,” I replied. “The size of the station didn’t become real until just now.”
“I know what you mean. This place is huge.”
“I wonder when I’ll get to see an android and when I can start putting together my interface. Do you think they’ll let me fabricate all the parts myself? I’ve always wanted to build an interface from scratch.”
“They will probably have most of the parts pre-fabbed, but you will be able to customize it, most likely,” Scott replied as the chime sounding the deboarding went off. “I think you should probably focus on finding your quarters and getting settled in first, though.”
“Of course,” I replied as I removed my seat belt and pulled my baggage out of the overhead compartment. “I’ll need somewhere to build my interface.” I smiled coyly.
“All passengers are to disembark immediately and follow the green lights to conference room Delta 1-3-9, again, all passengers are to disembark immediately and follow the green lights to conference room Delta 1-3-9.” A lilting female voice called over the intercom.
“C’mon Ryan, let’s hurry so we can get some good seats.”
I had become used to Scott towing me around — I gathered my things and followed him without resistance. The Mars base was similar to the transfer station in appearance: all clean lines and white panelled walls. There was an interface screen at every second bulkhead where, occasionally, someone was tapping out commands. The corridors in the spaceport were wider than anything I had traversed in almost a year; three men could easily walk abreast with room to spare.
We followed the green lights embedded in the floor to our assigned conference room. Scott led me to a seat in the front row. The rest of our landing arrived and began to settle into their seats.
A small, mousy looking man entered the room cautiously — as though he was expecting an attack — and walked to the podium. An enormous man with the bearing of an army general followed the little fellow into the room.
The mousy man tapped on the microphone to make sure it was on. “Welcome to Mars,” he said in a breathy, small voice. “I am Commander Wiggin. I am in charge of this station. You’ve probably already heard of me in your pre-launch briefing. This,” the commander indicated the huge man standing on his right, “is Arthur Hockett, the station’s director of security. As most of you are assigned to base security, Mr. Hockett is your commanding officer — he reports directly, and only, to me.”
“Sheesh,” Scott whispered under his breath, “this guy is a real treat.”
I chucked quietly.
“All new personnel are required to remain in their quarters for seventy-two hours upon arrival. You will all undergo a medical and psychological screening. This testing ensures that the trip to the station has not changed anything about your physical or mental state. I’ve had some issues in the past with Earth doctors, and I no longer trust their reports—”
One of the security bros stood up, interrupting Mr. Wiggin: “No one told me about any quarantine. Why do we need more tests? I’ve already been locked in my bunk for nearly a year—”
Mr. Wiggin and Mr. Hockett both stared at the security bro as if he had committed a capital offence, silencing him. “What part of in command are you having difficulty with private? If you take issue with the way I run this station, I will have you permanently detailed to sanitation. Would you like that?” Mr. Wiggin paused to survey the room with his beady eyes, “if anyone else has any questions about the way I run this station I suggest you keep them to yourself. We do not take kindly to insubordination here.”
Arthur stepped forward and took the microphone: “Now, all security personnel are assigned bunks in hab charlie, Mr. Ryan Buchanan and Mr. Scott Woodman, the odd men out, are both assigned to hab delta. Security personnel are to follow the orange lights to charlie administration where you will be scanned in and assigned quarters. Anyone who stops on the way will be punished severely. Questions?” He paused for a moment. “Good. You are dismissed.”
The security bros quickly gathered their things and left. Once the room was empty, Arthur and Mr. Wiggin approached Scott and me. Mr. Wiggin spoke first: “You must be Ryan,” he indicated me, “I’ve heard that you gave the transfer station some trouble. We don’t tolerate children asking about things they have no business knowing. Keep your nose out of my database and we will get along just fine. Am I clear?”
“Yes, of course. What parts of the database am I allowed—”
Mr. Wiggin interrupted me: “You should consider yourself lucky that you have any access at all, I have enough trouble with you father’s insubordinate dalliances, now I’m expected to babysit his child? I will be assigning you a chaperon as soon as you’re done quarantine. Stay off the net until I’ve decided what level of access to grace you with. Arthur here will take you to you quarters.” Mr. Wiggin turned to leave, “oh,” he said offhandedly, “your father should be along shortly to welcome you.” He left us alone with Arthur.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to be scanned in.”
Scott and I followed Artur, both sensing the need for us to stay quite and keep a low profile, we remained silent. Arthur was not a man to be trifled with. The scanning in process consisted of a palm and retinal scan for security purposes. We were then issued five pairs each of standard issue clothing — mine were light brown; signifying civilian crew, and Scott’s were a pale lavender; signifying his status as an engineer.
My quarters were huge compared to what I had become used to on the trip to Mars. Eight feet wide by fourteen feet long it was as though I had been delivered into the lap of luxury. Opposite the door there was a large window overlooking the Martian surface. I had a queen sized bed, a wardrobe, and an empty desk — the interface had been removed before I moved in, I could still see it’s outline in the film of dust on the desk. There was ample space for me to build a Star Commander interface once I was released from quarantine.
I unpacked my clothing into the wardrobe, made my bed, and wondered when my father would come by to welcome me.