Night Driving on Mars: Horses

There will never be horses on Mars. Well, at least no time soon. I certainly won't see it and if I ever have kids, they won't, either. I will never wake up early one morning and walk into the dim sunshine to brush and feed and saddle a stallion in the presence of these impossible mountains. I will never mount up and trot into the dust with him, or feel his apprehension when negotiating rocky hills. I will only ever ride this car or a car like this car. I will only ever feel its metallic indifference to terrain or my own comfort, its profound lack of personality, its never-changing hum. I will only ever know my machines.

I will never see a skyscraper in this blasted landscape. There will be no glass elevator climbing into the air to take me someplace important. There will never be an office to hate, never a cafe where a beautiful stranger works and feeds my fantasies of warmer beds or happier weekends. Before I die I won't see a traffic jam here or a garden party. I won't drink wine from grapes grown in the red hills or taste a steak from an open-air ranch below them.

I may one day learn what Nan said the night before she left, that Chinese phrase I couldn't translate if I wanted to. I want to. If I ever find her again, if I bump into her at a stim party or if she doesn't see my car coming from seven clicks away on a repair run to whatever station she's hiding in. If something like that could happen and I could manage the courage, or the spite, or the carelessness to ask.

I'll never have an almond-eyed child with Felicia Nan Jin. This I know and probably knew when she'd still see me. I'll never take the kid to a park and push her on a swing. I'll never read with her when she's still sounding out each syllable of each word, or teach her to be polite to strangers, or name her something pretty. I'll never talk about air system repair at an elementary school. At least not for her.

The MW-1 is nothing if not a great desert highway full of things that will never be. They sprout like dream trees all along the road and drop fruit called cities no one will build, fake lakes no one will dig and grain no one will ever plant. The plains are pock-marked with yesterday's craters while the smooth spots look like they just haven't been hit yet. The MW-1 is a big circle surrounding a lot of nothing. At the equator it branches off into a road that leads to the quadrant launch pad.

I always told myself I'd save up my wages and buy a ticket to the Radio Orbit station. I also secretly believed I'd never go ahead with it. I'll never push the ignition of a commuter rocket, but tonight when the weather gets clear I'll at least find out what the pre-atmo-break compression feels like.

So You Want to Invade Planet Earth: A Guide

Greetings, sapient lifeform. If you have purchased this DVD it means that you are interested in invading that lush, blue planet in the Sol system known as Earth. This is a noble ambition and it can be a great way to get some exercise, but there are many dos and don'ts in the fine art of Earth invasion. You wouldn't be the first creature to attempt it and unless you pay heed to this handy guide, you won't be the last. Before you hop into your Class IV or above attack saucer and head for that famous rock in the void, make sure you commit these tips to memory.

Get a pre-invasion physical

For the most part, Earth is a moist, dirty and unhygienic planet. It's a fool's errand to invade if you're not in sufficiently good shape. Why, did you know that the #1 reason for failed invasions isn't weapon failure, a rag-tag team of underdog Earthling heroes or intervention by a third, Earth-sympathetic species, but common Earth disease? Yes, more invasions of Earth have been toppled because of the common Earth cold than for any other reason. See your doctor, make sure you're up to date on your immunizations and make a habit of bolstering your immune system with a multivitamin.


Do not assume an Earthling's intellect is too puny to comprehend your technology

While Earth is currently slow in its development of energy weapons, interstellar flight and a balanced system of taxation, its dominant inhabitants are quick to adapt. After all, there's nothing all that complicated about a Gruxxan plasma rifle or the controls of a Nib starfighter. If you must land your ships on the surface of Earth, make sure to lock the doors and activate the alarm system. Do not imprison any Earthlings in a room that has access to your internal computer system and check the ID's of all personnel wearing power armor. Earthlings are sneaky.


Don't underestimate non-human Earth lifeforms

There are millions of distinct species of animal on Earth. Precious few of them are neither disgusting nor dangerous. Reports confirm the presence of a creature that has replaced its hair with needles, an especially long water creature that is made entirely of jelly and poison, countless iterations of a creature that exalts in violence despite its ability to access its own genitals with its tongue and even a creature that is half-rat, half-bird, sucks blood, sees in the dark and moves in swarms. If you plan on enslaving Earth in the post-invasion period, trust nothing with a double-helix gene pattern.


Pay close attention to all charts indicating the relative hotness of local peppers

The great invasion of the Berid Lizard Men was aborted after the entire Berid reconnaissance team was incapacitated by a bowl of chili clearly marked 5 Alarm. Thinking themselves more robust than the fleshy, frail humans around them, the Berid spies consumed what amounted to a thick stew of beans, spices and Bhut Jolokia peppers. The underlying lesson is that Earthlings have no regard for their own safety and cannot even be trusted to devise food that is not essentially biohazardous material.


Bring a towel

The vast majority of Earth's surface is water. Furthermore, it has unpredictable weather patterns, weapons designed specifically to deliver water to the target and many Earth creatures involuntarily empty their bladders when frightened. Staying dry is crucial to maintaining a comfortable invasion. Though many in the Earth invasion hobbyist community are quick to judge the infamous Sign Species invasion as an utter failure on account of the species in question being deathly allergic to dihydrogen monoxide, modern projections suggest that their casualties would have been reduced by 35% had their foot soldier been carrying towels.


Good luck on your invasion attempt, fellow sapient being!

Night Driving on Mars: Before and After Girls

In Glacier Foot Station at the northernmost bend of the MN-1, there's this light therapy module. Folks that far from the equator don't get much sun and even then it's filtered through the protective glass of an atmosphere helm or a clear walkway. The sun's so damn dim here, too. To keep the skin healthy and the mood elevated, a lot of colonists go into the light therapy booths to get a dose of artificial sunshine. Outside the therapy module there are these two, big posters. The one on the left is of this washed-out looking woman with tired, droopy eyes and it says "Before" on the bottom. The one on the right is the same woman but looking pretty hale. Along the top it says "After". But in the middle... in the middle there's just a white wall crusted with ice flakes.

Before, on Earth. Before I got this job and went off-world. Before I met Nan, I was a tech support associate at Felton Plastics, this company that makes pieces of environment suits and hazard gear. I made enough to have a decent life. Kept a little pod apartment on the fringe of the city, right near the canyon. I'd put on my environment suit, not some company-issue piece of junk but a custom fit with light inlays, and tear down the road on my motorbike. It was one of the first domed models, but with the suit you can ride with the dome down. I'd cut across stretches of desert where I knew the intersections of the all the streets. At night it was like being one of those bioluminescent fish at the bottom of the ocean, all streaks of light on a black body slicing through the dark, going from street river to street river with their embedded lamps.

There was a motel and bar about a half hour outside the city, used to draw some damn interesting people. I went there a lot. Maybe that made me damn interesting. I dunno. I just liked the prosciutto-wrapped dates and the clientele. Sometimes I'd spend the whole night alone, other times Lena'd be there. Lena Brass, a black-haired bit of unbelievable who worked the pharmaceutical car of the regional magnet train, checking specs, taking inventory, communicating schedule updates to HQ. Wouldn't know by looking at her that she had a brain for logistics. Also wouldn't know by the way she kissed that she had a husband and two kids in some town where the desert turns to mountains. I wanted to see her one more time before I blasted off, but she wasn't there. Our last time, we didn't do anything special.

The air scrubbers at Glacier Foot degrade more slowly than normal on account of the cold air. Fewer microbes. Still, I change them out every time I go up there. No telling how long before I come back. It's not exactly the most convenient stop on the route. Sometimes we skip it when fuel production yields are lower than expected. I never visit the light module. I figure I get enough of the dim sun on the road.

I had dim sum with this woman Kelly at Barometrics South. Bless her heart, she didn't know how to use chopsticks. Back in her bunk she was too eager. Maybe it was the soy sauce on her lips or maybe I'm just hung up like an antique phone, but my mind went to Nan all the same. She always took her time, like she was really trying to do it right, like she was tying the perfect ribbon on a present for a friend. I told Kelly I'd come back around the next time I'm on the MS-1. I told her I had a great time. I told her my name is Zack. Nan told me she was going out for import chocolate.

People say a lot of things they don't mean.

End Haiku

it is a great truth

that nothing lasts forever

now bow out with grace

Night Driving on Mars: Hydro Bar

There's very little danger to nodding off on the Martian highways. All the cars here have automated safety features. If you start running off the road, the autopilot will take over and drive you to the next stop. Sure, it's a little freaky to fall asleep going 100 KPH and wake up in the parking lot of Farpoint Shower Station, but it's better than driving off the lip of a canyon. That happened to me once (the shower station, not the canyon) and when I was still groggy I thought I was on a road trip. That's what it always feels like to fall asleep in a car and wake up safe in civilization. Like somebody else was driving and just let you get your rest. That day I wiped the drool off my chin and mumbled, "Nan? Where in blazes are we, Nan?" But she wasn't there. Hell, she was on the other side of the planet that day. Memory's a funny thing.

I always get nostalgic sitting at a hydro bar. Fresh vegetables are still so rare here that the hydroponics labs figured they'd take advantage of their luxury crops by selling them at a premium in swanky shops connected to their growing facilities. You just sidle up to the clean, blue bar and get a crisp salad or some fingerling potatoes. No booze, though. It's hard to find the stuff on Mars seeing as there aren't enough surplus crops to justify a still and no colony sponsor is like to change its policy on shipping bottles along with approved provisions. Every once in a while I've stumbled upon a colonist who has something decent tucked away for special occasions. Physicists drink like mad men, no joke. I once spent a whole night shooting the bull with a nerd at the propulsion center who had a small bar tucked away in a cabinet in his quarters. I couldn't keep up with guy and I'd be surprised if he weighed more than 98 pounds on Earth.

Here in the MW-1 hydro they have some of the best fruit on the planet. Cherries. Drive around in the red for long enough without a natural flavor on your tongue and something like an honest cherry tastes better than a kiss. A bowl full costs me half a week's wages, but that doesn't matter to me. Money on Mars is strange. The sponsor covers your quarters and for a guy like me the fuel stations don't even ask for credit. I just swipe a badge and the cost of H2 goes to a processing department on Earth. So, what am I supposed to do with my pay? There's no one to send it home to and I'm on the road most of the year. I don't even grocery shop when I'm back at the resident station. So, cherries. A whole bowl of 'em all to myself. By the time I spit out the last pit I feel like I'm high from all the fructose.

But there's no stopping for me, at least not for long. There are scrubbers at the solar array some 200 Km down the road that are long overdue for maintenance and maybe if I drive fast enough the memories won't keep catching up with me.

Oh, Nan. You were prettiest in that kitschy travel dorm that projected scenes of the ocean onto the wall. Ain't no ocean here. Not for a long time, anyway. And for a long time coming.