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Authors: Dana Stabenow

Red Planet Run

BOOK: Red Planet Run
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Red Planet Run
Dana Stabenow
 

For
Sean Stewman, David Carlson,
and Eddie Parish

Up, up, and away, boys

Contents
Introduction

UNTIL I WROTE
Though Not Dead
, the eighteenth Kate Shugak novel,
Red Planet Run
was my favorite book. I love the court scene on Ceres, the dedication of World One, the two storyknife ceremonies. I love the descriptions of what it looks like on Mars because I figure the only way I’ll ever see them is to write my way there. Probably my favorite scene of all is Star leaning up against nothing, daring Doctor Woolley to find fault with her hypothesis of the origin and function of the Tholus.

And I’m waiting to hear from you, when you read

 

"How do we know one of those kits isn't filled with seeds for pansies, giant, variegated?"

 

One of the privileges that comes with writing nuts-and-bolts science fiction is the ability to pay homage to Heinlein.

— 1 —
Worlds Enough
 

Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live…

 
—Niccolo Machiavelli
 
 

“YOU WANT TO MOVE
the river
again?”

Roberta McInerny’s square face settled into stubborn lines. If Outpost could find a way to bottle it, we could sell Roberta McInerny Mule Tonic to cure hull composites for spaceships.

“Roberta,” I said, amazed at and proud of the patience I heard in my voice, “the contract requires that this World be built in a substantial and workmanlike manner. It does not require us to redesign it every five minutes.”

“They changed my original design,” Roberta stated.

Architects have this obdurate and universal determination to inflict order and proportion upon a highly disproportionate and disorderly world.
Their
order and
their
proportion. I think it’s genetic. I know it’s a pain. “It’s their World,” I pointed out, for approximately the 756th time, but who’s counting? “They’re paying for it. If they want to repaint the interior in Black Watch plaid, that is their misguided privilege. We’re only the builders. They’re going to be living in it, and it’s our job to give them what they want. These particular owners happen to want a plain, simple river, a meter and a half deep, no falls, no white water. Just a shallow, humdrum, mundane, pedestrian, commonplace”—I ran out of synonyms— “boring little stream that circumnavigates the equator and provides a reliable, no-frills aeration process for the recycling system. Now then, can we do that?”

“It isn’t a question of ‘can,’ ” Roberta said. “It’s a question of ‘should.’ ”

“Interesting demonstration of an immovable object intersecting an irresistible force,” Archy observed.

“Shut up, Archy,” I said, without any real hope of being obeyed. I abandoned the appeal to common sense for the streak of avarice inherent in any Belter worthy of the name. “Look, Roberta, I’d like for us to get paid sometime soon, like within this century, and those engineers are not about to turn over the balance due before we finish the job.”

Roberta drew her stocky self up to her not very considerable height, managing nevertheless to radiate a towering disdain. “Money is not the issue here.”

“The hell it isn’t,” I snapped. “We’re not Thoreau, this isn’t Walden, and this shack’s going to cost us a tad more than twenty-eight dollars and twelve and a half cents. We’re eating a lot of the start-up costs as it is for promotional purposes, not to mention which there’s a clause in the contract that calls for a penalty for every day we run over the scheduled completion date. Terranova’s already screaming about the profit margin. Be reasonable. If we’re going to get paid on time, if we’re going to show an acceptable profit for the Terranovan gnomes, and if we’re going to have enough money in the bank to start work on World Two, we’ve got to deliver the product when we said we would.” I leaned forward, weight on the knuckles of my clenched fists, and said, “And we can’t do that if you keep putting waterfalls in the goddam river.”

Fortunately, you can’t slam doors on Outpost, but even the hiss of it sliding closed behind her sounded malevolent. I dropped my head in my hands and rubbed my eyes. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, but anyone who starts a business hollowing out asteroids for customers with more money than brains deserves everything they get. Especially when they hire a construction crew with more brains than the customer.

The door hissed open. My tall, sixteen-year-old son, Sean, sidled inside, his twin sister, Paddy, right behind him. I was immediately wary. “Hi, kids. Why aren’t you in class?”

“Crip’s jumping for 6789Cribbage today. Can we go, too?”

“What’s today, Wednesday?” They nodded. “Hydroponics, right?” They nodded again. “You got your weekly assignments in to Ari?” Silence, and I said, “You know the rules. No work, no play.”

Mad, they looked even more alike than usual, flushed skin the color of coffee with cream, dark blue eyes darker with anger, jet-black hair winding into tight, irritated little curls. “Oh, Mom, come on,” Sean said hotly. “We haven’t been off-station in a month and we haven’t seen Mom and Pop since the new baby was born.”

“Yeah,” Paddy said. “Who do you think you are, William Bligh?”

At least they weren’t finishing each other’s sentences anymore. Not out loud, anyway. “That’s Captain Bligh to you,” I said. “Now get on to the lab and finish your projects.”

They stamped out, spines stiff with outrage. I waited until the door was closed. “Archy? Where’s Crip?”

Archy, Outpost’s computer, conscience, and chief cook and bottle washer, sounded doubtful. “I think he’s still in bed. He got in late last night and told me not to set the alarm.”

“Beep him anyway.”

A moment later a voice growled, “Whaddya want?”

“Good morning to you, too. This is Star. Paddy and Sean tell me you’re making a trip out to 6789Cribbage today; is that right?”

“Where?” There was a murmur in the background. “Your lovely daughter; who else calls at the crack of dawn?” Into the pickup he said, “I didn’t get in until five this morning, Star, and if I’m going to make deadline on the new charts, I’m not going anywhere I’ve been before any time soon.”

There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I did my best to ignore. “Okay, Crip. Sorry to bother you. Go back to sleep.”

“Esther dear, is there something wrong?”

“Good morning, Mother. Sorry to wake you.”

“We weren’t sleeping, dear, but your timing leaves a great deal to be desired.” Mother actually sounded tart, which told me that my timing in fact did leave a great deal to be desired. “Are you sure nothing’s wrong? Your voice sounds odd.”

“I’m sure. I’ve got to get to work or I’ll be late for court. See you tonight.”

I spent another hour cleaning up all the little chores that accumulate in keeping a space station successfully in orbit in the Asteroid Belt, all the while with the sense that I was turning my back on a ticking bomb. St. Joseph alone knew what the twins were up to this time.

Oh nine hundred hours saw me suited up and boarding a solar sled. The eye on the end of the hawser slipped easily from the hook attached to Outpost’s hull. I shoved off with one hand, letting the sled drift for a bit.

Outpost was made of the two spaceships, the
Hokuwa’a
and the
Voortrekker,
that had brought us out to the Belt sixteen years before. They had been moored parallel to each other, bow to stern and bow to stern, and connected with corridors to form a sort of square-sided circle. We put on spin and,
voila,
a rotating habitat that didn’t make more than ten percent of the crew seasick at any one time, and most of them Charlie cured with an inner-ear monitor she invented that I kept telling her she should patent. But when did my sister ever listen to me? She just nodded her head like the little doggy in the window and went off to invent some other life-saving and/or life-enhancing gadget to give away. The woman had absolutely no sense of business. Fortunately, her husband, Simon, more than made up for her lack.

Outpost was orbiting Ceres at 60 degrees west Ceres’ prime; at 60 degrees east was World One, or what I devoutly hoped would be at some point in my lifetime: an asteroid, once a played-out mining claim in the process of being planeformed into a self-contained habitat for a group of Terran engineers and their families who’d had about enough of Terran smog and politics.

The urge to check on the progress on World One was almost overpowering. I resisted temptation and fired the jets, letting the rotating wheel of the space station and the gray sphere of World One recede in my rearview as the bulk of Ceres loomed ahead.

1Ceres was a large, 750-plus kilometers in diameter, more-or-less round rock, orbiting Sol from some 450 million klicks out. Charcoal-gray in color and pitted and pocked worse than the far side of Luna, it was the first asteroid to be discovered from Terra, the biggest of the bunch, and the first stop on the Hallelujah Trail for every dreamer in the Solar System with a one-way ticket in one hand and a pickaxe in the other.

The hangar, a shallow cavern that served as a parking lot for Piazzi City, was packed bumper to bumper, and it took iron nerves, great skill, and daredevil maneuvering to slip the sled into a Lilliputian space between a puke-yellow Norton Runabout with more klicks on her than Voyager II and a brand new, bright red Mercedes XL. I noticed with mean pleasure that the Norton had managed to leave a yellow crease down the spacetruck’s brand new port side.

There wasn’t a mooring buoy free within a hundred meters, so I left the sled unhitched and rotated through the airlock, shedding my pressure suit inside and stacking it next to a thousand others, standing in formation like an uninhabited army. I reminded myself to talk to Mayor Takemotu about more suit storage at the main lock. A p-suit is a perambulating collection of finely tuned, delicately balanced instrumentation; it doesn’t do to leave it in a heap on the deck for any length of time.

The subsurface cavern that was Piazzi City seemed to double in size every time I revisited it, what with the constant influx of wannabe Belters and the equally constant drilling of new tunnels to accommodate them. The halogen lights of my first visit fourteen years before had been replaced by an indirect solar panel array, which brought a bright, steady, and altogether merciless light to bear on the chaotic and incredibly filthy scene stretched out in front of me. There was a town square of sorts, with a few rudimentary blades of grass struggling to grow next to a square-sided column invisible beneath a blizzard of want ads touting everything from beds for rent to scooters for sale to wives for hire. Surrounding the square on more sides than I cared to count were numerous rooms carved out of the sheer face of the rock wall, from saloons to outfitters, and—will wonders never cease—now even a Hilton Hotel. I wondered if they rented the rooms by the day or by the hour. Either way, they were going to retire rich.

BOOK: Red Planet Run
3.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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