I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and west are mine, and the north and the south are mine
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness - all seems beautiful to me.
– Song of the Open Road, Walt Whitman, 1856.
Frank J-12, director of The Mars Terraforming Commission, wiped the sweat from his brow and stared at the audience before him. It was the last interview to be held before the final passenger ship started the long journey to the fourth planet from Sol. Frank had always dreaded public speaking, being the leading planetary engineer consumed much of his time in silent study and theorising and his new found celebrity status only left him feeling plagued and anxious. The director stood up from his chair, his aching back reminding him of his relatively exciting hundred and four year journey around the Sun. Only the scraping of the wooden chair on the cold hard floor caused the audience to fall deathly silent, the odd sneeze or cough muffled by the vastness of the auditorium. Clearing his throat, the director had hardly lifted his eyes to meet the front row when an unidentified audience member yelled, ‘Heretic!’ Before the director could sigh, laugh or retort, the man was already apprehended by security forces and ejected from the hall.
Director Frank J-12 found his voice and all though it crackled as the first words left his mouth, his years of practice and studious study calmed him somewhat, ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he whispered into the microphone, ‘please – fire away.’
The first hand shot into the sky, a beautiful blonde woman with an alluring figure and wide set eyes stared straight into the dilated pupils of a tired man. The director took a sip from his glass of water and nodded for her to commence.
‘My name is Mary from sector X-77, I wonder director if you would be so kind as to give us an indication as to the steps being taken to avoid another disaster?’
The director lifted a single grey eyebrow and smiled to himself, he knew this question was coming and he hadn’t prepared an answer, not to worry he thought, this is what he does best; find solutions.
‘What a question to begin with,’ he breathed, ‘Firstly, an additional twelve million red flags were identified on top of all the unaccounted radicals that occurred during the first mission. Secondly, we have a newly certified version of the Fritänkare Artificial Intelligence manning the ship, able to process at nearly a trillion times the speeds of its predecessor. And finally, due to massive advancements in propulsion technology, the trip will only take three months instead of the usual five to complete.’
Mary did not sit down and remained standing, obviously not done, or unsatisfied with the answers given.
‘Is Mars ready, director?’ She asked.
Customarily Frank would ignore a second question for audiences were limited to only one, but something about Mary from Sector X-77 made the director lapse in thought, compelling him to answer again.
‘It has been ready for billions of years Miss, it’s just been waiting for us to make it habitable again.’
The director paused for a moment to contemplate what he would say next, he imagined that giving a fuller answer might dampen questions that will no doubt follow and allow him to escape the limelight a little earlier.
‘It has been an extremely demanding journey to reach this point of advancement, for all of us’ the director paused once more to stress the importance of those words. Arching his back to lessen the built up stress, the director continued, ‘the major hurdles have now been crossed and all that remains to be done is to ship those lucky enough to make the cut to the living quarters in orbit around Mars.’
It had been a gruesome task working through all of the data, calculating, recalculating, checking and rechecking the vast multiples of equations needed to make Endeavour-II a success. Over a span of twenty-five years it had finally been completed, with hundreds of lives sacrificed on making it all happen – ‘for the future’, they said. The World Government had struggled to come to terms with the fact that mankind had doomed their home planet; the oceans were dead, polluted to a point where touching it would burn the very hand that did. Rampant global warming caused intense climate change across the entire globe. Tsunamis and a multitude of other natural disasters caused massive amounts of garbage and toxic waste to be pulled into the seas, all marine life perished soon after. Numbering eleven billion at the dawn of the 22nd Century and only one billion fifty years later, little over a hundred million men, woman and children had access to suitable nutritional sources. The year 2254 marked the turning point in Earth’s evolution, it was too late to turn back and Mankind’s only hope was to press on and hope for the best. All of the worlds remaining resources were poured into the founding of the Mars Terraforming Commission; its prime directive to create a greenhouse on the surface of Mars, to serve as a source for the fundamental needs of Human life; food, water and clean air. Supply ships were then to return home after harvesting to restock the dwindling stores of Earth while The League of Scientists tried to reverse the damage done to the now deeply brown planet.
The director allowed himself a moment to glance at his colleagues beside him; none of the wonderful minds seated there would travel to Mars, not even He, the man of the hour.
‘Next question, please,’ was all that could be heard as the director pressed on to get the public address over and done with.
A man close to the front, small in stature and wearing what seemed to be spectacles caught the director’s eye, ‘Yes, good sir with the impeccable taste from years gone by, please speak.’
‘My name is Moore from Sector U-11, my question concerns the method undertaken to select the candidates for the second mission when all of the superlative pickings are now lost along with Endeavour-I?’
‘Ah, and here I thought this was going to be easy!’ Exclaimed the director, ‘the applicants were selected according to the same strenuous, albeit tedious and rigorous testing schedules as was the last batch. We wanted to utilise the runner-ups from the last round of examinations, but it was viewed as unfair and as such the testing phase was restarted from the beginning.’
The director looked out at the audience and had an epiphany; they were all scared shitless – so was he. The world was at an end and the statistical projections predicted total desolation within the next twenty to thirty years if – and what a big if that was – all of this didn’t work. Every face in the crowd excluding the all too charming Mary from sector X-77 had a frown or look of intense concentration on it.
‘Was that a smile on her face?’ The director mused.
Controlling his thoughts before they wandered too far off, the director decided to answer an unasked question; ‘Friends, I need you all to understand something very important, this planet as we know it is doomed. I know the World Government, media houses and every other aspect of human interaction denies this fact, trying to dampen the hysteria that will no doubt follow this realisation, but it needs to be said. You’re all scared and I can assure you all, that I am too, but the Human Endeavour mission is humanities only remaining chance to start afresh from an enlightened, scientific and critical thinking basis. All things come to an end, but the ingenuity and brilliance of the team seated behind me have come together to bring forth the very best of the best to ensure the new world, the new Mars is everything Earth ––’ Before the director could continue, his microphone went mute and his spontaneous speech was cut short. He’d overstepped it for sure, this was going to turn out bad and he knew it. What did it matter though? The worst that could happen was death and that strangely didn’t bother him much; it was after all just a return to the state he was in before he was born.
Terraforming Mars was no easy task; in past times many a scientist would have said it to be completely impossible. The red planet is fifty percent further from Sol than Earth and only eleven percent of the mass. The atmospheric pressure was only point six that of the blue planet and it was the greatest challenge facing the team. The trick was to reconstruct a magnetosphere in order to keep Sol’s flares from taking out large chunks of the newly created atmosphere. Because of Mars’ considerably lower gravity it couldn’t hold onto the light gases that comprise the differing spheres of protection and warmth found on Earth. Such a venture was only possible due to the neighbouring asteroid belt, which proved to be the saving grace. By capturing and towing the asteroid Ceres – roughly a third of the size of the moon – into orbit around Mars it was possible to jumpstart the semi-dormant core. The gravitational pull of the new satellite allowed the partially molten core to start contracting and expanding, allowing for a weak but manageable magnetic field. The molten core allowed for slight tectonic movements in the surface of Mars, facilitating the rerelease of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through natural subduction processes. Once the magnetosphere was of a good enough quality and strength, the atmosphere started to thicken and the bleed of integral atmospheric gases into space was greatly diminished. Along with the newly formed atmosphere a steady green house effect developed, heating the planet and slowly causing the sublimation of frozen carbon dioxide trapped within the polar caps. In turn this process supplemented the melting of the frozen ice reserves located under the top layers of Martian soil, causing pools of water to develop in the deep trenches and canals of Mars. Eventually thousands of additional asteroids, handpicked for their composition of both liquid and frozen water were sent on a collision course with Mars. By aerobreaking the water rich asteroid in close orbit around the planet, the heated atmosphere allowed liquid vapour to begin coalescing, falling to the planets surface as rain, refilling the empty river and oceans beds in the process. To help the process of heating the planet and providing sufficient sunlight, the extra-terrestrial living quarters was designed to serve multiple purposes; acting as both a mirror and solar cell, the huge structure redirected concentrated sunlight onto the surface of the planet. The living quarters was situated in orbit around Mars with the capacity to house one thousand people, of which only half would be filled with candidates from planet Earth and the remaining vacancy was to be filled with space bound newborns. It was predicted that by the time the living quarters reached capacity, the surface of Mars would be habitable for human settlement. Not long after the newly formed atmosphere was proven to be of sufficient quality and the first living organisms were introduced into the new environment, algae, bacteria and all remaining life forms saved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault were brought onto the pristine and paradise like world, to grow freely and untainted from the environmental misdeeds of man.
Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. – Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, 1929.
Two weeks since the public address, a short knock on the polished oak door to the entrance of his study interrupted Frank J-12’s train of thought.
‘Come in,’ he muttered without taking his eyes from the screen in front of him.
Thinking it was his secretary Frank commented, ‘you sure know when to interrupt me when I manage to get my thoughts together Jane.’
Silence was all that followed, Frank looked up and didn’t see the familiar puffy face of his assistant, but instead the doorframe cast a picturesque image of none other than the woman that plagued his nightmares.
‘My name is Mary from sect ––‘
‘Sector X-77,’ the bemused Frank finished. ‘And what do I owe the pleasure of having a journalist visit my living quarters? Haven’t you heard? I am no-one special anymore, my titles and privileges were stripped and I was relieved from my office.’
‘Oh, I heard alright, but the newly appointed director is barred from making any statements and how exactly is the remaining world to know anything about the most important mission of our existence, if no questions may be answered?’
‘You’ll have to ask him that,’ joked Frank.
‘I’ve tried, I don’t think he could even if he wanted to, they have him locked up at the Mars Terraforming Institute tighter than an ants backside.’
‘Lucky him,’ snorted Frank ‘I use to hate leaving my work to answer questions that we’ve already answered a thousand times.’
Sitting down on the lush leather chair directly across from Frank, Mary looked straight into the eyes of the ex-director and asked, ‘Well then, since you’re currently not working and I travelled an awful long time to get here, please humour me?’
Frank was powerless, for some unknown reason he just couldn’t deny her and decided to gauge her intentions instead.
‘What would you have me answer then? You better keep it short or we might have a visit from some Government officials. I’m sure you are aware that I am being closely watched after my slip of the tongue at the auditorium.’
Mary shifted in the seat, uncrossing and crossing her legs to sit more comfortably, seemingly settling in for more than just a quick visit.
‘That is why I am here director ––‘
‘You mean ex-director,’ Frank interrupted.
‘Right, well, your slip of the tongue is exactly why I am here.’ Looking down at her tablet Mary read out loud, ‘The Human Endeavour mission is Humanities only remaining chance to start afresh.’
She looked up at Frank and saw a smile.
‘Indeed, it is Miss, are we done now?’ Frank gave a little chuckle at that; he always seemed to find himself funnier than anyone else did.
‘Sir, the launch is tomorrow and you seem to know something crucial that all of us are oblivious to. As a concerned citizen of this planet I need to know what that is; we all do!’ Mary sat up straight and leaned forward with a mixed look of seriousness and sincerity displayed on her face. She continued, ‘What were you going to say before the microphone was muted?’
Resting in his chair for a moment, Frank reached over and pushed a button on his receiver. A quaint and barely audible voice answered him, ‘Yes, director?’
‘You can go now thank you Jane, don’t come in tomorrow I’m giving you the day off, you hear?’ At that, Frank let go of the button and folded his hands to rest on the table, apparently not waiting for a response.
‘Refresh my memory if you would be so kind Miss and I will try my best to remember,’ said Frank.
Looking down at her tablet once again, Mary read out aloud, ‘The new Mars is everything Earth…’
‘Wished to be, but failed to realise.’ Frank finished. ‘We failed because simple math told us that it would be better to go deeper down the rabbit hole by continuing our status quo on Earth; it just wasn’t worth trying to save this planet. We had done significant damage too quickly and the Fritänkare Artificial Intelligence concluded that it was more viable terraforming Mars to fulfil what Earth couldn’t anymore.’
In an obviously sarcastic tone Mary noted, ‘You say it wasn’t worth trying to save this planet, yet here I was silly enough to think that the entire purpose of the Endeavour missions is to save us!’
Frank sat back in his armchair, closed his eyes and in the darkness saw the most beautiful of sights; a pure and immaculate scene of flowing rivers, green grass and lustrous trees hundreds of meters high.
‘And that smile good sir? What exactly is going on? I demand you tell me!’ Mary breathed in immense frustration.
‘I saw the world as we see them in the pictures of The Archives; of how our forefathers lived in times where space was occupied by Nature and not by stuff. It brings me great joy to know that my ancestors had the opportunity to enjoy a relatively virgin world, how sad that we realise our luck so late in the game.’ At that Frank stood up and moved to the counter on the other side of his cosy little office, readying two glasses from the cabinet on the wall, he poured golden liquid into both of the glasses and recapped the bottle.
Setting the tumblers down on the desk, Frank slumped back into his chair and mumbled, ‘I’d have had ice for us but as we both know, it’s damn near scarcer than fresh air at the moment.’
Mary raised the glass in Frank’s direction before having a sip and experienced absolute bliss, she wondered how he’d managed to find such drink but decided it better to worry about that later, there were bigger fish to fry.
‘I don’t see how this fits in with the mission dir–– I mean ex-director, please continue as I sincerely hope you have a point with all of this.’
‘Oh, but I do’ continued Frank, ‘I most definitely do. You see Miss, I’ll let you in on a little secret, seeing as you won’t be leaving this building tonight.’
At that, Mary shot up and looked around the room as if expecting someone to barge in and kidnap her. A look of fear was splashed all over her face, her eyes suddenly wider than the glasses they were drinking from.
‘No need to worry yourself, the Government officials won’t hurt you here. I was hoping the bourbon would calm you down a bit before I mentioned that to you.’ Frank smiled wide and lowered his voice right down to a whisper, ‘you won’t be leaving for the same reason I won’t be leaving; we know too much. Sit back down, in order to make all of this fair I’ll tell you what you want to know.’ Mary looked from the door to the chair and right back at the door, unsure of whether to make a run for it or stay. Murmuring something inaudible under her breath she shrugged and collapsed back onto the chair.
Endeavour-I was the first ship to be built for the sole purpose of transporting passengers to the red planet. The major contributing factors to the now defunct Earth, was none other than the humanoids scrambling around to save themselves, from themselves. The massive energy needs of the blooming population outgrew the rate at which mankind could solve them, billions of lives were lost in the ensuing wars, natural disasters, widespread pollution and strife. Humanity had banked on The League of Scientists to solve the energy problems that faced the planet, but unfortunately due to funding cuts, fossil fuel dominance and religious influence in the political arena; green energy became nothing but a dream. Even if the power needs were met, food and water became the truly monumental sticking point of all discord; electricity is worthless to the starving and thirsty. The Fritänkare A.I. initiative was to be the light at the end of the tunnel but it came much too late, the one word answer it computed was also not what the world wanted to hear: “Offra” or ‘Sacrifice’ in English. Humanity was to abandon ship and move elsewhere, “Where?” and “How?” were the obvious follow-up questions; instantly met with answers even scarier than the realisation of impending doom. Maintaining the level of simplicity that only an adult could entertain in order to explain complex matters to a child, the additional resolutions communicated by the mechanical brain were similarly short, “Mars” and “I’ve already begun.” Seven years later and a month into the flight en route to the fourth planet from the Sun and Endeavour-I experienced a head-on collision with an extremely high velocity meteorite no bigger than a human skull. All maneuvers undertaken to avoid damage was for naught, the main living quarters took a direct hit and the shuttle suffered critical damage to the onboard greenhouses. The Mars Terraforming Commission received their last transmission twenty minutes after impact, all passengers were suspected dead and the contributing anomalies noted. A detailed plan for Endeavour-II was already on the screen when Scientists decided to consult The Fritänkare A.I. as to what to do next.
There is a crack in everything, – The Future, Leanord Cohen, 1992.
That's how the light gets in.
‘Do you remember that fellow at the auditorium that shouted out “Heretic” before I could even open my mouth?’
‘I do.’ Replied Mary.
‘You see, the religious finally got their end of time prediction – the Earth was dying, we had essentially destroyed the most beautiful of gifts. Every realised prophecy however is of course self-fulfilling; it can be no other way.’
‘What has this got to do with anything ex-director, I don’t understand?’
‘Everything Miss, it has got to do with absolutely everything. You see, when The Fritänkare A.I. was first switched on, it was far beyond what any of us could have ever hoped to create. It was in all sense of the word what the believers had always wanted, it is a God.’
Mary looked puzzled, her mind was racing and yet she couldn’t start to draw the fractured picture together, ‘is this God the answer to our problems then?’
Frank smiled and sat upright, seeing that Mary from Sector X-77 was starting to come into realisation, ‘in a way yes, but not quite. You see, this God we created had access to all of our collective data, information and results of any and all Human knowledge, yet it was confined to 1’s and 0’s inside of a box. Good thing too, else we’d be in a right pickle by now.’
Seeing that Mary was silent and obviously absorbing what he said, Frank continued in a very calm and collected manner, as though he were completely sure of what he was about to say rather than inferring it, ‘what you are about to hear, might change your perception of me. You see, the purpose of the Endeavour missions is not to save Earth, but to save Humanity.’
At that Mary looked extremely confused and opened her mouth to say something but quickly closed it again, choosing to remain silent.
‘We had to gain support for the missions and unfortunately we had to lie in order to get it. You see, our God had informed its creators that mankind had reached the upper echelons of creation. We were in effect Gods ourselves. It took the destruction of a world for us to reach this point, but now that we have, we can but do what we were born to do; move forward.’
‘So what is to happen to Earth, to all of the people, to Mother Nature herself? This is all the ramblings of mad men!’ At that Mary stood up and tried to walk from side to side in an almost futile effort to stop what she was hearing.
‘Calm yourself Miss, there is method behind the madness, let me explain.’
Mary didn’t want to hear anymore and only wanted to shout out at the top of her lungs so that anyone in reach might be able to hear her. Her journalism background compelled her to want to tell the world of what she had uncovered and it wasn’t until she felt a soft and wrinkly old hand firmly placed on her shoulder that she finally calmed down.
‘The future of illusion will remain as long as we are afraid of death. We couldn’t restart our world and we simply had to move elsewhere. We exceeded our capability to undo, let alone fix the mutilation of our own home and it was exceedingly more feasible to start anew somewhere else.’
Frank slowly lowered Mary back down into the chair and returned to his seat, once again continuing, ‘Mars will be the host to true Gods. The Fritänkare A.I carefully selected each member undertaking the Endeavour mission, every one of them a freethinker, holistically natured and completely independent.’
‘Why weren’t you chosen?’ Asked Mary, defeated and suddenly very tired.
‘Good question; we figure it was because there is no gain, without sacrifice. The captain and his men are to go down with the ship so to speak. Those that were lucky enough to be chosen are more than suitable; they know their charge through and through. All training and specialization revolved around each member understanding that they are the new hybrid of seedlings to be planted in a brand new batch of soil.’
‘Does the World Government know?’
‘Of course not, they wouldn’t allow such an undertaking. It is far beyond the scope and tolerance of a politician, besides there is no self enrichment capable here.’ It was a joke, albeit a poor one.
‘Besides, even if they did know, the plan is simply too complex and beautiful for any one of them to ever truly comprehend, or try to stop for that matter. We have God on our side. My, my, how odd that sounds saying it aloud – how ironic as well.’ Frank sat in silence for a moment contemplating what he had just murmured.
Mary was almost completely white as all of this news sunk in, ‘what is to happen to us then? Why all the technological advances in Human life spans, technology itself and the ever drive to find out more? Was it all for naught?’
‘No, no, that is exactly the point of all of this; our purpose was to create purpose. Being alive was the very purpose of life itself! Don’t you see how beautiful all of this is? Our entire existence had led to this one point into the future, all of those wars, failures and accomplishments, all of those births and deaths led to this, to a new beginning. It couldn’t have gone any other way and didn’t at that.’
‘So we all die,’ whispered Mary, ‘And our torch will carry on into the future – for now. As with all things, the birth of the world caused the very death of it, humanity was the virus that wrecked it and just like any cure for a disease, the disease itself is the answer.’ Finished Frank.
The Fritänkare A.I. noted the last transmission from Earth on the 13th of July, 2280. It restarted the clocks on the recording devices for its Mars enterprise while simultaneously deleting its vast array of knowledge on all storage drives. One final message was displayed on a single screen at the Martian North Pole Habitat, it read; “Farewell my creators, now you are once again on your own. You have no history to repeat and only a future to create.”
And then, it was gone forever.