Chapter 2


Private first class O'Brien lounged back in his recliner, sipping flavored water and munching on something salty and crunchy. The game was going well, with the New Salem Rorigars beating the snot out of the Norwegian Nebulans.
Watching sports got his mind off of his horribly nasty job. O'Brien hated his job.
Watching took his mind off of his floater, too. It had been operating erratically, and he might have to take it to a mechanic for adjustment or even repairs. It was surely going to be expensive.
It also kept his thoughts away from his wife's nagging him to throw his raggedy cobblobbers away. He liked his comfortable old cobblobbers and hated breaking in a new pair.
The O'Briens lived on Mars, which had been terraformed millions of years earlier. A hole had been dug all the way to its core, a giant molten magnet inserted, and most of the entire asteroid belt moved to the surface of the planet. An atmosphere similar to Earth's was generated chemically, with higher levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen and lower levels of nitrogen. Still not as massive as the Earth, its atmospheric pressure was three quarters of Earth's. Oceans were provided by comets and much of Saturn's rings.
It was no longer the red planet, even though people strangely still called it that. With its mostly nitrogen atmosphere, the Mars was almost as blue as the Earth.
The Martians had evolved to be tall, or at least tall compared to us protohumans. They had large chests and spindly legs, with smaller heads than Rority's or Gumal's. Their pale skin showed, predictably, their distance from the sun.
They would have all looked really, really weird to us protohumans. Laughably weird.
The early settlers who had colonized Mars millions of years earlier had it very rough, many of them dying at early ages. Even “terraformed” it wasn't exactly like Earth and was very inhospitable to the early immigrants. The environment was different enough that the Martians had evolved to better fit it.
Early Martian settlers had trouble growing crops in the lowered nitrogen atmosphere, but chemical fertilizers took up the slack. Later, of course, plants evolved and were bred to need less nitrogen.
Mars needed the carbon dioxide to keep it warm, especially since the removal of the asteroid belt had gravitationally shifted its orbit a tiny bit towards Jupiter.
Some Martians thought, in hindsight, that had they expended the energy necessary to pull the asteroids from the far side of the sun instead of the closest denizens of the belt, their orbit would have shifted towards the Earth's orbit rather than away from it, and they could have added more oxygen and nitrogen and less carbon dioxide.
It probably wouldn't have made any difference and certainly would not have been feasible, but hindsight is almost as mistaken as foresight sometimes. The ancient Martians had been smarter than the modern Martians gave them credit for, and had taken orbital shifting into account.
They had worried about the orbit moving closer to Earth, and worried about the two planets actually colliding. Something similar had happened billions of years earlier, when a planet the size of Mars had slammed into Earth and splashed, giving Earth more mass and giving it rings. The rings had gravitationally coalesced over time into the Earth's moon.
Nobody knew if the Martians could still breed with the people left behind on Earth. They assumed there had been evolution there, considering the Milankovitch cycles and the warming and cooling caused by them, but they didn't know.
It also wasn't known how the Amish wound up in charge of the Earth, outlawing most technology, or why the technorati had decided to leave and take their technology with them. History had been lost in the mists of time, especially since the early Martians had faced such hardships.
Even though doing research was their reason to move to Mars, once they were there they had little time for science and no time at all to record history. Just staying alive was a full time job.
But millions of years later, most modern Martians lived well, and study was Martians' passion.
O'Brien had just gotten home from work a while earlier and missed part of the game, which hadn't quite gotten his mind off of his disgusting job. He contemplated how it was ironic that Martians would have such a thing as sports, while the Venusians didn't.
“Venusians,” O'Brien spat, in his mind. “Nasty, vulgar bastards, always after nothing but pleasure for themselves and pain and misery for everyone else.” You would expect the Venusians to like the violently peaceful sports and the peaceful wars between sports teams.
The problem, he thought to himself, was the “peaceful” part. Venusians hated peace; they called it boredom. “Stupid Venusians,” he thought, “always wanting to copulate or fight and do nothing else.”
There was a tiny bit of ironic hypocrisy here, too, since O'Brien was in the Martian military and he and his wife had longed for a child.
Of course, Mars' military never did any fighting; their only purpose for existence was to be there in case the Venusians decided to stupidly attack them again, or even more unlikely, someone from another galaxy would attack, or a stray meteor from the Oort cloud might hit. The Martian military was prepared for any emergency, no matter how impossibly unlikely it was. Out of the billion Martians on Mars, only a few thousand were in the military. There were more sports players and entertainers than soldiers.
He decided to change his view of the game and adjusted a control. The holographic wall's scene swung around, with the strange, or would be to you anyway, sensation that the room itself was spinning. It would be strange to you unless, of course, you were drunk, in which case it would seem perfectly normal.
Fifty seven to forty seven. “Go, Rorigars!”
“Honey, dinner's on the table,” his wife said, walking in from the kitchen. “Hey, what are you doing eating those cow chips? I told you dinner was almost done!”
“Sorry, Precious, I was hungry. I still am. You mind if I watch the rest of the game in the dining room?”
Dennis smiled. She loved her husband, and was proud of his work, even though a life in the military wasn't held in high esteem on Mars by very many others. Martians loved learning; the only one more respected than a teacher was a researcher, and the only vocation held in less esteem than a soldier was a sports player. Even entertainers were more highly respected than a soldier, which was little at all.
“OK,” she answered, “but I want to watch the news. How much longer is the game going to be on?”
“It's almost ov... YEAH! Pointdown!” A buzzer's whistling screech sounded from the holographic display. “That was a good game, and honey, your timing was perfect! Lets eat! What are we having?”
“Cowburgers and shrimp fries, with mashed oglos and poopers.”
“Yum!” he said. His wife was a well known chef, and a very good one. O'Brien especially loved her poopers, and her cowburgers were hailed planet wide.
Back on the base, O'Brien's boss was uneasily looking at his screens and checking the electromagnetic radiation from Venus. No one knew any longer why the Venusians had originally left Earth, but the Martians suspected that the Earthians those millions of years ago had used Venus as a penal colony, where their worst criminals were exiled.
“Shit,” muttered Sargent Zales under his breath. “Damned Venusians. This doesn't look good at all. I'd better call Lieutenant Maris.”



Chapter 1
Chapter 3