by Al Steiner
June 30, 2131
Laura Whiting was a politician and she was doing what politicians were expected to do at times such as these. She was 'touring' the area of devastation. Whenever something was devastated — be it by war, by industrial accident, or by acts of divinity — an elected official was expected to tour it, to see the damage firsthand. As to
Laura, though she was only a city council member, was expert in the art and science of politics. She should be. Her father, now retired and living the life of luxury on Earth, had had a long and distinguished elected career that had climaxed with two terms as the Governor of Mars. She had begun to learn politics about the time she had begun to learn to walk. Conventional wisdom among the Martian movers and shakers was that Laura herself would follow in his footsteps by the time she was fifty. Laura was a little more optimistic than that. She hoped to take the oath of high Martian office in ten years; by the time she was forty. But she did not wish this for exactly the same reason everyone thought.
'As you can see,' intoned Assistant Chief Henderson of the Eden Department of Public Health and Safety, 'the blast doors that were designed into the basic structure of the city did their job very well. They activated within two seconds of the laser strike and sealed off the damaged section, preventing further loss of life and property. Without those blast doors, we would not be able to stand right here at this moment. This entire building would have been reduced to the outside atmospheric pressure.'
Laura and the other two city council members who had gone on the tour with her were standing on the sixty-eighth floor of the MarsTrans building looking downward through the thick plexiglass windows. Around them rose countless other high-rise buildings, stretching upward into the red Martian sky. The high rise was the staple of life on Mars. People lived in them, worked in them, did business in them. A Martian city was nothing more than a compact collection of tall buildings that were located in a grid pattern of streets. The street level was where people moved from one building to another. All streets were enclosed by a steel and plexiglass roof thirty meters above the ground, and by plexiglass walls on the sides. This kept the air pressure inside, where it belonged, and the thin Martian atmosphere outside, where it belonged. The buildings did not actually touch each other but they were all connected to the street level complex making Eden, in effect, one giant, interconnected, airtight structure that was home to more than twelve million people. Then entire city was kept at standard Earth sea-level air pressure by means of a system of huge fusion powered machines that extracted the traces of oxygen and nitrogen from the thin Martian atmosphere and pumped it inside. This system of pressurization and air supply was what made human life on Mars possible, but it was a system that depended upon the airtight integrity of the city remaining intact.
The MarsTrans building stood across the street from the Red Towers housing complex — an upper end luxury apartment building. From their vantage point they could clearly see the large hole that had been burned through the steel of the building from the fortieth floor all the way to street level and below. Several floors of the building had collapsed from the force of the blast, burying the victims beneath tons of rubble. Many other sections had remained intact but had decompressed, smothering those inside of them. The street outside the building had also lost pressure, killing all who happened to have been walking about at that moment. The death toll from this one blast had been confirmed at more than nine hundred so far and was expected to rise even higher as more rubble was cleared away. Eden Public Health and Safety workers, commonly known as dip-hoes because of the acronym of their department, could be seen patiently digging through the debris or moving about within the building. All of them were outfitted in protective bio-suits that covered the body from head to toe. The bio-suits were the only way people could exist outside of the pressurization.
'Those blast doors and the other safety features were indeed a godsend,' proclaimed Councilman Dan Steeling, a senior member and, according to the movers and shakers, the man slated to be the next mayor of Eden. He was pretending to address Assistant Chief Henderson but was in actuality talking to the group of Internet reporters who were standing clustered behind them, just in front of the group of uniformed Eden police officers providing security. The reporters all had digital image recorders with microphones attached to them and they were all pointing them at Dan. 'It is fortunate indeed that, even in the midst of this horrible tragedy we are viewing, we are able to at least receive reassured proof that the safety systems in place in this great city work as they were designed. While it is true that the loss of life and property from this strike, and from the others that took place on other parts of Mars, was horrific, it could have been much, much worse.'
Laura, who knew she was partially in the frame of some of the cameras, kept the proper expression of saddened, though elated agreement on her face. She nodded a few times during his statement, just slightly, just enough to relate to anyone taking notice of her on the Internet screens that she was just as torn up about all of this as everyone else. In truth, had her natural expression been allowed to come through, it would have been one of horror. As she looked at the twisted steel and exposed apartments of the Red Towers, she had to clench her fists in anger at what had happened. Eden, her city, the city she had been born and raised in, had been attacked by EastHem atmospheric craft. Attacked! They had blown holes in it, decompressing entire sections like a child popping a balloon, killing thousands so far. And it was not just Eden either. Though Eden was the largest city on the Western Hemispheric Alliance's federal colony of Mars, it was just one of twelve large cities on the surface. So far, with the war only one week old, six of them had been hit, two quite badly. Triad, the orbiting space-platform that was home to more than six hundred thousand, had been attacked particularly fiercely, with more than six thousand citizens dead up there. And what was it for? Why were all of these Martians dying?
Because of greed. Simple greed.
They were calling it the Jupiter War, although the point in dispute was actually one of Jupiter's moons: Callisto. The atmospheric gas of Jupiter, which was composed primarily of hydrogen, was used as propellant for fusion-powered spacecraft and as conventional fuel for tanks, aircraft, and surface to orbit craft. It was a substance that was vital for continuation of the space-faring society and particularly for military operations. WestHem, of which Mars was a part, currently held the monopoly on the supply of this gas. Nearly sixty years before, WestHem corporations, most notably Standard Fuel Supply and Jovian Gases Inc. constructed a large space station in orbit around Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon. From the space station, which was actually an orbiting city, collection ships made the short trip to the gas giant and dove into the atmosphere, collecting a hold full of the hydrogen concoction before clawing their way back out and returning. The raw gas would then be refined into liquid hydrogen and stored in huge orbiting pressure tanks. Tanker ships, the largest moving objects ever constructed, would then fill up and transport the gas across the solar system either to Mars or Earth.
Nearly half of this gas was sold to EastHem who, although they were bitter enemies of WestHem and had been since the end of World War III, needed a fuel supply as well. Since EastHem did not have a secure supply of its own it was forced to buy it from the two WestHem corporations at top dollar. Not only was this expensive and not only did it take EastHem currency out of the hemisphere, it also meant that their fuel supply was subject to being cut off during times of crisis, which was usually when they needed it most from a military standpoint. It also meant that WestHem held an advantage in the complex relationship between the two halves of the Earth.