Say, Ed! How was your trip? Lager?”
“Hi, John. Yeah, I’ll have a lager. The whole trip was lousy, a journey through hell all the way.”
“Didn’t you fly Green-Osbourne?”
“Well, yeah.”
The bartender swore; he was a wealthy man who owned the bar he was tending and quite a bit of Green-Osbourne Transportation Company stock as well. “What went wrong on the trip?”
“Those stupid talking robots. God but I hate those things.”
The bartender laughed. “Everybody does.”
“Why do you have them talking, then?”
“Advertising and engineering want to point out our superior technology, including AI.”
“Well, it’s too much A and not much I at all. Those things are really stupid.”
John snickered. He hated talking robots, too, but had been voted down at board meetings. The tendbot he used when it got too busy for a single bartender to easily handle he’d special ordered, with no voice, only screen printouts and beeps. Most people thought talking robots were creepy.
“Well, look, Ed, they can’t really think. Pro-grammers just use humans’ built-in anthropomorphism and animism. It’s a parlor trick, one of our engineers explained it to me once. So what did the stupid thing do?”
“It was dinner time, the first night of the trip. I’d bought a business class ticket and somehow wound up on a first class flight... Say, did you have something to do with that?”
John just smiled. “Go on, Ed, what did the stupid robot do?”
Ed gave John a funny look and continued. “Well, I’d never had pork before. I thought it must be extra tasty, considering how ridiculously expensive it is.”
“Well, it’s environmental regulations.”
“Sure, it’s why Earth buys all its ores from space miners. Mining is pretty much illegal on Earth, because poisonous pollution from mining, farming, industry, and transportation nearly ruined the Earth’s ability to sustain life a couple of centuries ago. It... Oh wow. Want to get rich, Ed?”
“Not particularly, why?”
“Someone will. We should build hog domes and farm pigs in them, and sell the pork to Earthians. I’d do it but I’m way too busy, what with Green-Osbourne, the bar, the brewery, and the farm I grow beer ingredients in.”
“Well, I’ll talk to a few folks. It would help Mars’ economy. Fill me up, John,” he said, sliding his glass across the bar. “Uh, what were we talking about?”
“Pork and robots.”
“Your trip.”
“Oh, yeah, pork. Why is it so expensive?”
“Like I said, environmental regulations. They almost made Earth unlivable a couple hundred years ago. Pigs are just too nasty to ranch more than a dozen or so in any one place there.”
“Well, Earth was damned filthy, that’s for sure. Almost as dirty as it was heavy. Anyway, pork’s way too expensive for me. I wouldn’t even be able to afford pork on Earth, let alone on Mars, so since I had a first class ticket and meals were covered, I wanted to try pork. So I told the servebot I wanted ham and beans.
“The stupid thing said there was no ‘Hammond bean’ listed in its database. So I said ‘No, you stupid junk pile, ham, and, beans.’ It said ‘The word hammond is not in my database.’ stupid thing.”
John grinned. “So what did you do?”
“What could I do? I ordered a barbecued pork steak. It was really good! But the damned robots annoyed me like that the whole trip. The very next morning I felt like a turkey cheese omelette so I ordered one. The stupid robot said ‘There are no Turkish cheeses listed in the database.’ So I said ‘A turkey omelette with cheese.’ So it says ‘there are no Turkish omelette dishes listed in the database.’ Stupid computer.
“So I said ‘I want a cheese omelette with turkey meat. A turkey omelette has nothing to do with the country called Turkey...’ What’s so damned funny, John?”
John was laughing uproariously. “Exactly the same thing happened to Destiny when we first came here, only the computer was printing it out instead of talking. Let me guess, it said ‘Parse error, please rephrase’.”
“Yep, exactly. So I said I wanted an omelette with turkey meat, and it goes ‘There is no meat that has come from that country listed in the database.’ dumb machine! So I says ‘Turkey the bird, damn it!’ it said...”
“It said ‘Parse error, please rephrase,’ didn’t it?” John interrupted.
“Sure did. So I asked what meats were available for omelettes. It said pork, chicken, duck, turkey, and beef. So I said ‘A cheese omelette with turkey meat.’ the idiotic thing repeated ‘There is no meat from that country.’ I’ll tell you, John, that damned thing was really making me mad by then. I finally said ‘Damn it, computer, I want a cheese omelette with bird meat.’ it said ‘Please name the bird.’ I told it turkey and finally got my breakfast.”
“There’s a trick to it,” John said. “Tell it you want a cheese and turkey omelette and it won’t give you any trouble. If you would have asked for navy beans and ham you would have gotten your ham and beans. Like I said, they don’t really think.”
“No kidding. That must the dumbest computer I ever saw. Well, the tendbot in the commons may have been even more stupid. It didn’t know what a Cardinal was.”
John groaned. “Ed, that’s strictly the Martian name for that drink. Everybody else calls them Bloody Marys.”
“Oh. Why do they call them that?”
“Because that’s what they were called for hundreds of years before anybody ever came here, before they had space travel, even. Before your ancestors ever left Earth.”
“So why do we call them Cardinals then?”
“Frank Harris was responsible for the name. He was a farmer who came here from Earth and started growing tomatoes, under the ‘Cardinal’ brand.”
“But why cardinal?”
“There’s a bright red Earthian bird called a cardinal, so he named the bright red tomatoes after the bird. Bartenders here had never had a Bloody Mary before, because nobody here had tomatoes before Hardy brought them. So when they thought they had invented a tomato drink, they named it after the brand of tomatoes.”
“How do you know all this stuff?”
“My wife’s a history buff. She’s been getting me interested in it, too. So what happened after you got to Earth?”
“Oh, man, it was pure hell, painful torture and terror. You know I’ve only been off Mars a few times in my life, mostly to Ceres or an asteroid dome out in the belt. But Earth... oh man. It was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. Or even imagined, it was horrible!
“First was the weight! That was part of what was wrong with the trip, when the robot was arguing about the turkey cheese omelette it was already getting really heavy. By the time we reached Earth I couldn’t walk at all and had to use an electric chair to get around. How do those people live like that?”
“Ed, you should have been working out for months before going to Earth, especially since you’ve never had more than Mars gravity.”
“Well, I did walk.”
“Walking’s not nearly enough.”
“No kidding, I couldn’t even stand up there. Had to have a robot help me in and out of bed. It was torture!”
“Why didn’t you use a walker?”
“You have to have gravity close to Earth’s to learn how to use one.”
“Bill Holiday uses one, and he’s from Ceres. All the asterites grew up in less gravity than you did and he goes to Earth all the time, it’s part of his job.”
“He would have had to train to use it, those things weigh over a hundred kilos counting the power, and training takes longer than I was going to be on Earth.
“The horrible weight was bad enough, but it was horribly scary there as well.”
John grinned. He was an immigrant, who was born in St. Louis and had settled on Mars in late middle age. He hadn’t thought of how it must be for a native-born Martian or Asterite on Earth. “Pretty scary, huh? I mean, not having a protective dome.”
“Well, I’ve been outside the dome plenty of times, but being outside without an environment suit...” He shivered visibly. “Give me a shot of Scotch.
“It was night when we got there, and they used what seemed like they use here on Mars to connect the ship to the terminal. On Mars it’s so passengers don’t have to wear environment suits, but I don’t know why they do it on Earth. Probably so us spacers would feel at home.”
“Well, not really,” John said. “It gets hot and cold there, and it rains. It’s so passengers don’t have to have coats and umbrellas. They were doing it like that before the first spacer dome was built.”
“Yeah, I found out about rain and cold the night I got there, and heat the next day. In the entrance way to the terminal there was a flash in a window and a loud boom a second or two later. I thought there had been an explosion.”
“Yeah, and it was really loud! I almost jumped out of my skin. Anyway, we rented a car and I told it to take us to our hotel for check-in, and the first lightning flash scared the hell out of me. It looked like a crack in the sky and made me feel like all the air would escape, and then the thunder. I’ve never heard anything so loud!”
“You should hear a chemical rocket with a heavy load taking off!”
“I have, down here on Mars, and it’s nowhere near as loud as thunder.”
John laughed. “Ed, there’s hardly any air outside the dome. Haven’t you noticed how much quieter it is outside the dome?”
“There’s nothing out there to make noise.”
“Well, if there was it wouldn’t be loud.”
“I guess. Anyway, parking at the hotel was outside, but the car dropped us off under an awning before it parked itself. Lightning flashed again, and it really gave me the willies. Then it thundered, even louder than it had before. It was so loud you could feel the sound. It was really scary!” He finished his beer and slid his glass to the other side of the bar. “Fill ‘er up, John!”
John poured another beer for Ed as Ed continued his traveling horror story. “Man, all that water pouring out of the sky. It was really strange, and even the water was scary and I don’t know why. And it was cold. Must have been under twenty.”
“It gets well below zero some places.”
“How do they live like that?” he repeated. “I was all right as long as I was inside, except that first night when it stormed. I hated that storm! I sure am glad we don’t have anything like that on Mars!
“There was a bar in the hotel, thankfully, so I didn’t have to go out until the next morning. But the storm scared the hell out of me.”
“So how did your meeting go?”
“Well, I had to take the car there, meaning I had to be outside. It was fine in the dark, like a room with no lights turned on, but walking outside without an environment suit when you could see the sky really freaked me out. I finally told myself it was just a big blue dome.”
“Did it work?”
“Not really. It was really hard rolling around out there in my electric chair, and it was really hot outside! I never sweated before, and I hate it.
“But worse than that was bugs. Some of them bite. Some of the bugs they called ‘butterflies’ the Earthians thought were pretty. I thought they were creepy and scary.
“And barking dogs. I never saw a dog before, and John, those things are scary as hell, just downright terrifying. And there are a whole lot of them there.”
“Okay, how did the meeting go?”
“Lousy. Between the weight and the storm I didn’t sleep well. And the weight, the bugs, the dogs, the outside, the heat, the storm, all of it had me so rattled I couldn’t think straight, and we didn’t get the contract, DA2 did. At least it was a friend’s dome.
“Give me another shot, John. Man, but I’m glad to be back home here on Mars. Earth sucks. Now I know what people mean by ‘hell on Earth’. Earth is hell!”
John grinned again. “So... I take it you’re not going back?”


The Exhibit
A Strange Discovery

mcgrew publishing