http://mars.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7731 Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
I’ve been watching the Smithsonian channel show, Mars. A mix of television show and documentary. It’s really getting me as excited about the space program again as I was when I was a kid, racing home from school to watch space launches. The following story is just a brief foray into space once again. And yes, there are echoes of Heinlein in there.
I waited at the gate. The first families with children were arriving from Earth. Would they look different somehow? In class, we’d been told about how different it would be for them. They wouldn’t be able to go outside without a suit. They wouldn’t automatically know all the safety rules. They may become claustrophobic living inside the tunnels. They’d be stronger, having grown up in a heavier gravity.
All in all, I wondered if their parents had a clue. What were they thinking?
The alarm sounded, the light over the door began to flash, and the pressure lock opened. They came down the ramp in family groups their duffels banging against their legs. Parents and children looked around, wide-eyed. Their faces showed fear, then after they realized they could breathe, curiosity, at the tunnel, plants lining the walls, the crowd waiting for them.
I waited as each family’s sponsor was called as they hit the bottom of the ramp. My name was called when the eighth family appeared. I moved through the crowd of Martians and stopped at the registration table. The guy at the table was taking their names. The Korian family, Dad, David, Mom, Idai, Daughter, Ali, Son, Zane, I overheard. The registrar looked up. “Hey, Helga. The Korian family is going to berth 23, tunnel 4.” He handed David a set of key cards. “Your keys. One for each of you. Lose a card, it will be fifty credits to buy a new one.” David nodded while Idai, Ali and Zane stared at me. “Helga will guide you to your new quarters. She’s your sponsor. You need to ask questions, call her. She’ll give you her comm.”
“Thank you.” David told the registrar. He turned to me. “Lead on, Miss.”
“Later, Pavel.” I waved to the registrar. He was a neighbor in my family’s tunnel.
He gave me a wave and looked at the next family.
“This way.” I turned and left, moving through the thinning crowd. The Korian’s followed. David moved up beside me. “How old are you?”
I knew that was coming. We’d been briefed on the culture. “I’m twelve. I’m tall for my age compared to Earth normal. The lower gravity allows us to grow taller.”
Idai nodded. “I’d read that. You’re the same age as Ali.”
I took a quick look at Ali. She had to be a head shorter than me. “Nice to meet you.”
“Um, not to be rude, but you’re our sponsor? Not your parents?” David asked, a look of disbelief on his face.
“Yep. I’m your sponsor. I know everything you need to know. I was born here. It’s all automatic for me. My parents have their own people to sponsor.”
His tone of voice said he didn’t.
“You’ll find that kids here have a lot of responsibility. There aren’t a lot of us. So, everyone, even kids, have duties to perform. This is one of mine. I’m also the garden supervisor in my tunnel.”
“Garden supervisor?” Ali looked curious.
“Yes. I’m responsible for collecting any compostables from each berth, getting it to the garden compost pile, and setting up the work schedules.”
Zane spoke. “Will we get jobs?”
“Eventually. Not when you’re newbs. You don’t know enough yet.”
David was having a bit of trouble with the plan. “I don’t mean to criticize but you’re only twelve. I’m a research biologist. Why would I take orders from a twelve-year-old?”
I sighed as I guided them left into tunnel two. “Because I know how things work here and you don’t. I don’t mean to be rude but you just got off the boat. You don’t know the emergency procedures. You don’t know where anything is. You need to become acclimated.”
“We took all the classes,” Ali said.
“That’s good. You’ll need that information.” I turned to look at her. “First thing you do when you get to your berth is watch the newcomer vid. That’s critical. It will tell you your assembly point in case of a problem. It will give you your passwords and set up your accounts. You can’t do anything or go anywhere until that is done because none of the pressure doors will open for you.”
“I know that,” Zane said. His voice reflected his father’s. Probably thought a fifteen-year-old boy shouldn’t have to listen to a twelve-year-old girl.
“Good.” We turned right into tunnel 3. “School is on your own vid. There’s a vid in every room so there won’t be any problems getting your classwork.” I looked at the parents. “Or your work assignments. David. I know you’ll be working in the labs. You can download the maps to the warren and the locations of where you want to go, from there.”
I turned right again into tunnel 4. “This tunnel is new, made to accommodate the new colonists from your ship. I stopped halfway down the tunnel in front of the door with a big, red, 23 stenciled on it. “Your new home.
David stepped forward and pressed the card to the lock. The door opened.
“It’s a pressure lock.” Idai studied the door with some surprise.
“Nearly every door is.” I motioned them to go in. “My comm code is on your introductory vid. Comm units for each of you are on the kitchen table. I’ll let you get settled.” I backed away from the door.
Idai raised her hand. “Wait! What about…?”
“Watch the vid then call me. I’ll come back and you can ask your questions.” I left. They had to learn how to think for themselves. Odds were one of the four of them would make a fatal mistake in the first seven days. I hoped it wasn’t Ari. She seemed nice.