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Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier

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Table of Contents

Title Page
Copyright Page




Best Short Novels (2004 through 2007)
Fantasy: The Very Best of 2005
Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volumes 1 – 4
Eclipse One: New Science Fiction and Fantasy
Eclipse Two: New Science Fiction and Fantasy
Eclipse Three: New Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows
Godlike Machines
Under My Hat

Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery (forthcoming)

The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Fantasy and Science Fiction


The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volumes 1 and 2 Eidolon 1

The Jack Vance Treasury
The Jack Vance Reader
Wild Thyme, Green Magic
Hard Luck Diggings: The Early Jack Vance

The New Space Opera
The New Space Opera 2

Science Fiction: Best of 2003
Science Fiction: Best of 2004
Fantasy: Best of 2004

Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, ; New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in 2011 by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


Introduction, story notes, and arrangement copyright © Jonathan Strahan, 2011

eISBN : 978-1-101-51384-2

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

The characters and events to be found in these pages are fictitious.
Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

For my brother Stephen, again, with gratitude for his endless willingness to share his frontiers with me.


Jonathan Strahan

Mars has traditionally been the setting for grand tales of romance and adventure: stories of powerful gods of war, beautiful maidens, and mysterious aliens. Tellingly, those tales have grown and changed with each passing year as what we know about the red planet has increased.
Our nearest planetary neighbor has had many names: the ancient Romans called it Mars, but it was known as Nergal by the Babylonians, Ares by the ancient Greeks, Mangala by the ancient Hindus, Ma’adim in Hebrew, Bahram by the ancient Persians, and Sakit by ancient Turks, while the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures referred to the planet as the fire star, a name based on the ancient Chinese mythological cycle.
Although Mars was known to many of Earth’s ancient cultures, it is only in the past few centuries—since telescopes improved to the point where we could begin to make out its image clearly—that we have begun to learn much about it. The astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell named Martian seas and continents in the late nineteenth century, creating a world that fired the imagination of H. G. Wells, who in The War of the Worlds described an ancient race casting envious eyes across the gulfs of space at our young and vibrant blue world. In A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs told of the swashbuckling adventures of a Virginian soldier on the sweeping plains of Barsoom, a savage frontier world filled with honor, noble sacrifice, and constant struggle, where martial prowess is paramount, and where strange Martian races fight over dwindling resources. Mars often appeared in early twentieth-century science fiction stories, providing either a threatening nemesis or an exotic locale for many, many classic tales.
Then, in 1964, the United States launched the space probe Mariner 4, followed by Mariner 9 in 1971, as well as Soviet probes Mars 2 and Mars 3, and then most significantly Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1976. They sent back images that swept away any grand visions of a romantic world filled with ancient civilizations, replacing them with photographs of what may be the largest mountain in our solar system—so tall it reaches through the atmosphere into space itself!—the longest, deepest valleys, and many other awe-inspiring sights.
Wonder after wonder . . . but no sign of life.
Our knowledge of the planet changed permanently, and this changed the kind of stories we told. Instead of stirring adventures with four-armed green giants fighting shoulder to shoulder with heroes on dead seabeds, we were treated to tales of shattered, isolated expeditions traversing cold, distant deserts, or epic visions of vast engineering projects to make Mars more Earthlike, with Mars turning first blue as its oceans filled and then green as its forests grew. But, alas, all of those tales were merely dreams.
Or were they?
In early 2004 the president of the United States, George W. Bush, announced that they would send astronauts to the moon by 2020, establish a permanent base on the surface of the moon—and then turn its attention to Mars, with a goal of putting people on the planet. NASA now estimates it can send a manned mission to Mars by 2037. It was a grand vision, and one that looks like it could come true, if not quite as we might have anticipated. In 2001 the Mars Odyssey orbiter was launched, and remains in orbit as I write. It was followed by further probes—the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter, the Spirit and Opportunity probes and then the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter—all of which added more and more to our knowledge of the planet. The European Space Agency announced that it too intended to put humans on Mars, sometime between 2030 and 2035. There’s even a Google Mars.
And yet nothing’s assured. Political plans change. There’s no way of knowing exactly when, or if, humans will land on Mars.
Whatever human exploration of Mars turns out to be like, though, we can be sure it won’t be easy or safe. Half the size of Earth, Mars has almost no atmosphere, and what little it has is constantly being stripped away by the solar wind. Relentlessly bombarded by radiation, its gravity is about a third of Earth’s, and it receives only half the amount of light we’re used to, and . . .
. . . and yet it’s Mars! Another world! Modern dreams of Mars are dreams of a cold, hostile place initially made bearable and then possibly made wonderful. In response to former President Bush’s bold and optimistic presidential decree, I challenged some of science fiction’s finest writers to imagine stories set in a world where the mission was a success, and humanity gained a permanent foothold on a new world. Some set their tales on the journey, some soon after colonization, and others in a far, far distant future. The tales that follow are very different from the kind of stories that were being written about Mars one hundred years ago, but they are still filled with stirring adventure and grand romance. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Jonathan Strahan

Perth, Australia


Kage Baker

It was close and foul in the shed as the kids packed in, giggling. Attlee wrinkled her nose. Some of the stink came from the sacks of chemical fertilizer being used as seats, and some of it was the goaty sweat of children, but most of it was the ever-present methane fug of the Long Acres.
“Ayck-oh!” said Stot Richards, ducking inside and pulling the door to. “All clear, Supreme Council.” The Supreme Council of the Martian Shadowcats was presently only Hobby Augustus and Jennifer Langshank, since Eddie Penton had started working grown-up hours and attending Collective meetings. Jennifer would probably follow soon, since she had begun to grow interested in boys and was getting a little impatient with the rules and regs of the Shadowcats. Attlee figured that Hobby would stay until she dropped, though, because Hobby loved being in charge.
You could see it in the way she held up her hands now for silence, like she was an Ephesian Mother from the mission up the hill, and in the way she pursed her lips in disapproval when Dinky Purett farted and everyone around him started laughing.
“This is not a laughing matter,” said Hobby. “This is a deadly serious matter! So you just listen up, brother and sister Shadowcats. Because you won’t be laughing when it’s your turn, I can tell you.”
The snickering died down. Hobby leaned forward and lowered her voice dramatically.
“This is the story as we heard it from Blackie Atkins, who heard it from Sharn Penny, who heard it from Pollitt Gardiner, who heard it from Bill Haversham who is dead and gone and killed in the Strawberry cyclone. They say. But some people say that the Old Roach got him, just for knowing that he was there and letting on. So you think about that as you listen. The Old Roach might be listening too.
“It was long years ago, when our mums and dads and our granddads and grandmams first formed the Collective and came up here to Mars. And there was a lazy sod came along among them and he was a Backslider. And in his crate of personal stuff some cockroaches stowed away, and the frozen cold of space didn’t get them, and they didn’t starve neither on the trip. And when the Backslider opened his crate, the cockroaches all ran out and ran away down the Tubes. And everybody thought they’d die, on account of they were Earth bugs.
“But no!
“The black night frozenness didn’t kill them: they changed their blood so they were full of antifreeze. The Ultraviolet didn’t kill them: their scritchy armor got hard and thick and kept it out. The Outside didn’t kill them, either: they learned how to breathe without any air out there. And where they’d been little chippy things on Earth, up here they grew big and strong; big as your hand, big as dinner plates. And they laid their eggs everywhere and ate the insulation off wires and started fires.
“So it was War. And the brave heroes of the Collective gave every kid a hammer, and said, ‘It’s your duty to hunt and kill these enemies of the people, and that ought to be enough for you, but if you’re really good at it you’ll earn threepence for each one you kill.’ So that was when the Bug Hunting started. The kids killed hundreds and thousands of cockroaches, and the smashed corpses was ground up into fertilizer, in aid of making the new perfect world. And so it goes on to this very day.
“There was one cockroach we didn’t get. One cockroach that was bigger and faster and smarter and meaner than the rest. And he kept growing! Rays from space made him extra big. He got smart enough to pick up commcodes on his long, long antennas, so he listened like a spy to everything the Collective done, and waved his whippy antennas in the air and picked up signals from the shuttles coming in, and from the capitalists up on the mountain, and he learned human ways. There’s even talk he learned to steal clothes, disguise himself as a man, and sneak up the Tubes at night to gamble and drink on Mons Olympus. But that’s just talk.
“Because everybody knows that what he done was, he hid himself far out, way out, at the farthest, farthest ends of the Long Acres. Four times four kilometers and then some. Way out there where there’s nothing but algae bubbling in the canals. That’s where the Old Roach hides, and he only comes creeping back at night when we’re all asleep in our beds. He knows how to steal from the fields. When you go out in the morning to feed your rabbits, and the screen’s torn and maybe a rabbit or two is gone—well, it was the Old Roach done it.”
There was dead silence in the shed as the younger kids listened open-mouthed. Leo Grindell looked as though he was about to cry. Hobby surveyed them triumphantly. She leaned forward and continued:
“And, ever since there’s been Shadowcats, we Shadowcats have had one test, and only one test, for admission to the Supreme Council. And what it is is, any kid that comes of age has to go out to the very end of the Long Acres, all by themselves. All the way. They have to brave the Old Roach. Then they have to come back alive. Not everybody comes back alive. When my cousin Shree was on the Supreme Council, there was one kid who went out and didn’t come home again. And when the mums and dads went looking for him, all they found was his bones.”
That did it for Leo Grindell, who started to bawl. He was only two (in Collective years; the people who lived up on Mons Olympus still measured time in Earth years and would have said he was four), so nobody laughed at him, but some of the older kids looked good and scared. Hobby turned slowly, pointing with her finger, and Attlee braced herself.
“And now it’s your time, Attlee Bonser!”
“I ’n’t scared,” said Attlee defiantly, standing up. She had turned six a month ago and been expecting this. She folded her arms and stared Hobby in the eye.
“Well, you will be,” said Hobby. “Being a smarty-pants won’t help you when you have to go all alone into the farthest, farthest fields. When you’re huddling all by yourself in the dark and cold, waiting to hear the Old Roach coming along down the canalside—skitter skitter skitter! What’ll you do then?”
“Expect I’ll do as well as you did,” Attlee retorted. She hated it when people made fun of her for being smart.
“Yeah, well. We’ll see.” Hobby stood up and folded her arms too. She wasn’t quite as tall as Attlee, in that crowd of stringbean youth, so neither Attlee nor anybody else there was as impressed as they might have been. “Tonight after Lights Out. At Besant Fields. Be there.”

Attlee trudged home to the allotment shelter where she had lived with her mum since her dad had been killed. It was smaller than the place they’d lived in before, of course; as the Council had said, there was no reason to waste a good shelter on just two people when a family could make better use of it. Attlee’s mum had sighed and nodded in agreement, too weary with grief to argue about it. Later—in private, to Attlee, on the understanding that Attlee would never ever tell anyone—she had laughed sadly and remarked that neither the old place nor the new would have done for a garden shed back on Earth anyway. Attlee had just shrugged. She’d never seen Earth.
Now, she stepped in through the lock and unmasked. Before sitting down with her lesson plan, Attlee knelt in the kitchen space and rummaged through the locker where they’d stashed her dad’s things. His psuit was in there; so was the billy-can he’d used to take out with him to the fields. The heating element was broken in the billy, and the psuit had some damaged sensors so it didn’t work very well (otherwise both would have gone back into the Collective’s store of goods), but Attlee was good at fixing things.
It took only a little tinkering to fix the billy, swapping out the element from an old hand-warmer. The psuit took a bit more work. In addition to repairing what she could of its broken connections, Attlee had to mend the couple of long gashes where her dad’s mates had tried to cut him out of the psuit when they still thought they could save his life. But what was duct tape for? She’d finished the job and stowed both the psuit and the billy together with some ration packets and a canteen in her pack, and got dinner on besides, by the time her mum came home from work.
They ate dinner in near silence, seated side-by-side on the fold-down, taking turns dipping into the casserole with their spoons. Nobody wasted resources on individual plates in the Collective.
“Done your lessons?” said Attlee’s mum at last.
Attlee nodded. “I finished extraordinarily fast.”
Attlee’s mum winced at the big word. “Don’t brag, girl.”
“Sorry.” Attlee looked sidelong at her mum. “Hobby and Jennifer asked me to a sleepover tonight. Ayck-oh if I go?”
“Thought you didn’t like them,” said her mum in surprise, turning to stare at Attlee.
“We made up,” said Attlee.
“That’s nice,” said Attlee’s mum.
“Might sleep over two days.”
“Having a party, are they?”
“Working on lesson plan project.”
“Oh. Well, that’s nice too.”
They scraped up the corner crust with their spoons, savoring it. “How’s Uncle Dave?” Attlee inquired.
“Busy,” her mum replied.
Busy went without saying in the Collective, but in this case it meant that Attlee’s mum wasn’t likely to be seeing Uncle Dave for walks along the Tube anytime soon. Uncle Dave wasn’t an uncle really; he had just been friends with Attlee’s mum before she’d married Attlee’s dad. Uncle Dave was kind and besides was a boffin in a white coat, doing science stuff. Boffins earned perks within the Collective because they worked with their brains. Uncle Dave had told Attlee that she had a good mind too. Attlee thought that if her mum married Uncle Dave, life would get a lot nicer for all three of them. Attlee had loved her dad, but he was gone. Attlee was a realist.
Attlee put the dish and the two spoons in the sink and carefully measured water to soak them, while her mum stretched out on the bed and opened a buke. She was absorbed in watching her holos by the time Attlee shouldered her pack, masked up, and crept out.
The little bluish sun had set and the temperature was dropping fast out in the black night out there beyond the vizio roof. Shivering, Attlee found a storage shed and ducked into it long enough to strip down to her thermals and pull on the psuit. It was too big, of course, but a few loops of duct tape (no Martian ever went anywhere without a roll of duct tape) around the wrists and ankles snugged it close. If it bulked awkwardly under her outer clothes, Attlee didn’t care. Even with half its sensors broken, it still kept her deliciously warm.
The wind had picked up Outside and was howling, hissing sand against the vizio by the time Attlee got to the lock by Besant Fields. Hobby and Jennifer were huddled together in the red light of the warning lamp. As Attlee drew near, Jennifer reached up and turned her speaker on.
“You took your time,” she complained.
“I’m here, ’n’t I?”
“All arranged with your mum?” demanded Hobby. Attlee nodded. “All right, then. You go in there and you go all the way to the end. You may not even get there before morning. If you get to the end you need to look for a rock that’s got SHADOWCATS scratched on it. You need to take it and put this in its place.” Hobby drew a big flattish chip of stone from her pocket and thrust it at Attlee. Attlee took it and glanced at it briefly. It was marked s-c.
“Then, if you make it back you have to bring it straight to the secret shed,” Hobby said.
“You lot waiting here for me?” Attlee shoved the stone into her pocket.
“As if!” cried Jennifer. “We done our test, thank you very much. I’m not standing out here freezing all night.”
“So you both went all the way out there and had it out with the Old Roach, huh?” Attlee looked hard at Hobby.
“Of course we did!”
“How big is he?”
“I couldn’t see him very well,” said Jennifer, after a moment’s hesitation.
“Big as a tractor,” said Hobby. “But I can’t say anything else. That would be telling.”
“Right,” said Attlee, putting as much scorn as she knew how into her voice. “Ayck-oh. Step aside, then.”
They moved and Attlee palmed the lockpad and stepped through as it irised aside. Then it had shut behind her and she was alone in the dark, staring down the long passage into Besant Fields.
The canal ran down the passage’s center, from the place just in front of her where the pipes fed it, to the far vanishing point in the darkness. The moistness in the air was rich, heavy, like perfume. Attlee lifted her mask cautiously, then slid it off her face. She gulped in a breath. She could taste the oxygen, the water droplets. It was just the sort of lush pleasure the kids of the Collective were taught to distrust. That’s sensual, that is. Bad for you. As if to underscore the admonition, something flickered with movement far ahead.
Nothing really there, Attlee told herself. Nothing to be scared of anyway. Except Mars. And Mars is enough.
Every Martian kid knew that there had once been a time when ancient Mars had been like ancient Earth, a little blue planet with water and an atmosphere, but something had smashed Mars into—what had the book said?—into its own Permian Extinction that never ended. Only algae had survived, down in the frozen water. But just as Earth had healed itself of its Permian catastrophe, Mars might be healed too, and that was why everybody had to work selflessly at the Great Work of giving him back an atmosphere and freeing his water to fill his vanished seas. . . .
Attlee stepped forward, clenching her fists on the straps of her pack. Nothing jumped out at her, and so she took another step, and another, and after that she just put her head down and kept walking.
At Besant Fields the domed area widened out, with rows of beets on one side of the canal and rows of cabbage on the other. Attlee paused here and looked around suspiciously. Though the wind howled outside beyond the vizio transparence, though it moaned and spattered the walls with blown sand, no breath of air moved in here. The beets and cabbage were as immobile as though they were painted on the rows. Only the water moved, flowing down the canal, throwing little glints of green around the walls where a safety light reflected off its surface. Had that been what she’d seen?
Of course it had been. Must have been. Attlee marched on along the service path next to the canal, resolutely ignoring all the sneaking memories that came creeping to mind now. Hadn’t it been Besant Fields that had been hit by the first-ever Strawberry the Collective had faced, a long time ago when they were newly arrived on the planet? The cyclone of pink sand and red boulders roaring up out of the west was very rare here on the Tharsis Bulge, but came paying a special visit to the Collective to test its resolve. It had destroyed the temple the Ephesians had built, it had picked up another building and whirled it like a hat until it landed on a ledge far up Mons Olympus, and it had ripped through Besant Fields.
Don’t think about that. Useless memories make you weak.
But it was hard not to remember the whispers passed among the adults when they thought children were asleep: It tore away the vizio like it was cobwebs. The cabbages froze and dried in an instant, they looked like green glass and shattered to bits if you kicked them. The boulders came smashing down and bashed the canals so the water froze and blew away as frost; you can still see the places where the concrete was replaced. And we hadn’t learned yet to wear psuits, see? There was only one man, Alf Higgins, who had traded for one. And he was wearing it, and he was one of the five who was in Besant Fields when it happened.
He saw it all and lived to tell it. Saw the others, heroes of the Collective all, picked up and whirled away like straws. They all hung on to the vizio frames but one by one their hands froze and they lost hold, all except Alf. The gloves of his psuit kept his hands from freezing. But whether they were scoured to death or froze or were smashed by rocks going ’round and ’round, all of them died, see? Except Alf. Which is why we always wear psuits in the fields now.
And we went out weeping and found the heroes’ bodies, one by one, with their clothes shredded away and the black blood frozen in their mouths, and those four red polished stones mark where we buried them, and those are the graves of the heroes of Mars. They’re shrines, that’s what they are, to the first who gave their lives in the great work of making this planet the perfect world.
Attlee hated that story. It was a lot of talk to give you the shivers, the same way Hobby was always talking to impress the kids. Making up things. The Strawberry had been real enough, that was even in their history lesson plans and you could still see the foundations where the Ephesian Temple had stood. The other bits, though . . . people becoming heroes with shrines just because they were in an accident and got killed . . . that was stupid.
It wasn’t like they had wanted to die. It wasn’t like their deaths had done any good. Attlee’s dad hadn’t wanted to die either, when the tractor fell down the dune and onto him, but there had been the same kind of talk at his funeral. Fat lot of good a fancy tombstone did anybody.
Attlee shrugged and quickened her pace now, reaching the lock into Besant Annex. It was loud here, where the canal dove into pipes that took it underground and up again into the Annex. She palmed the lockpad and went through hastily.
Besant Annex ran on for kilometers and kilometers, striking north. Someday, when the Collective had terraformed the whole planet, it would be only one of thousands of vizioed canals crossing the face of Mars, carrying water everywhere. For now it was the most that had been managed, a long, long tube of air over cultivated soil, with the canal running down its center like an artery. If the Collective had a good year there might be enough money to drill more wells, extend the annex. Someday it’ll be too long for the Shadowcats to send kids walkabout like this. Wonder what we’ll do then?
Attlee walked for hours, going through lock after lock. To her left, beyond the vizio, Mons Olympus blotted out the stars. Before her, rows of cabbage gave way at last to potatoes, and then gradually to barley. The smell of the air changed too; just as wet, but not so heavy with fertilizer. Attlee didn’t know what sort of smell it was. She was wondering about it, half in a dream as she paced along, when the cockroach darted out at her.
It had scuttled up her leg and was making straight for her face before she coordinated herself enough to beat it off, smacking it away into the vizio wall in a frenzy of disgust. Acting on a lifetime of habit, Attlee had her mask down and had pulled a hammer from her belt in one smooth motion. She watched the roach, which lay immobile where it had fallen. It was a big one, maybe the size of a rabbit. A faint hiss and a warning pulse on the safety light told Attlee there was a puncture in the vizio, probably from one of the roach’s spurred legs. She took her eyes off the roach for a split second, just long enough to glance at the light. When she glanced back the roach had flipped itself over and was coming at her again.
Attlee leaped into the air and stamped on it, but the roach whistled in fury and pushed back under her boot, refusing to be crushed. It took several blows with her hammer before she was sure she’d killed it. The spiked legs kept flailing, slowly now. Attlee turned, gasping for breath, looking to see if any others were lurking about. Seeing none—and Attlee knew how to spot the curve of a shiny carapace, the involuntary twitch of an antenna—she put away her hammer and dug out her roll of duct tape. The vizio puncture was easy to find by the needle-jet of burning cold it was admitting. Attlee patched it and stepped back into the comparative warmth of the potato field.
She eyed the dead roach distrustfully. You’re not so big, she thought. Are you the Old Roach? No wonder the likes of Hobby and Jennifer saw you and lived to tell the tale.
Looking ahead, though, Attlee saw that Besant Annex stretched on a long way yet, curving slightly as it veered northwest, its vizio panels glittering faintly in the starlight. Closer to she saw that some of the potato plants were dying, pulled up, their roots all gnawed through and tubers dug out of the sand. Had one roach done all that?
Wary, hammer in hand, Attlee searched along the rows for any other insects, but nothing attacked her. It wasn’t until she got to the end of that section of the canal that she saw the black hole in the ground, right by the conduit pipes. After a long staring moment of incomprehension, she realized what it must be. Snarling in disgust, Attlee scuffed sand into it to close it, stamped hard to collapse it. Bloody roaches!
She jumped through the lock into the next length of the annex, holding her hammer high. Nothing but the peaceful trickle of water along the canal, seeping under its layer of algae, and the boom and sigh of the wind Outside. Silvering barley stood tall and motionless along both lengths of the fields. Anything might be hiding back in there. Anything might come rushing out at knee level.
So that’s it, thought Attlee. It ’n’t one big old roach, it’s a bunch of regular ones, only biggish, and they’ve learned to dig the ground. And they hide in the day, when the grown-ups come out here, so that’s why only Shadowcats ever see them, here at night.
And that would be why those stories might be true, about some kid that went missing and all they found was his gnawed bones out here. Some kid who maybe pushed his mask up, same as Attlee had, so he could smell all the sweet wet air, but he maybe hadn’t had the sense to pull it back into place. And maybe he’d got tired and lay down for a sleep. With his face and hands uncovered, and no psuit like Attlee had, and then the roaches came.
Attlee shuddered. Something bright yellow was flashing in her field of vision; one of the working sensors in her psuit was telling her that her heart was beating fast. She clenched her fists.
“Listen! You don’t understand me, because you’re stupid roaches. But any of you takes me on, I’ll kill you, see?”
Nothing answered her. Blown sand gusted against the vizio. She raised her hammer in the darkness, gripping it tight. “Shadowcats rule OK!” she cried, and immediately felt silly. Oddly, it diminished her fear.
She began to run along the canal footpath, jogging steadily, counting her strides as she went. Each stride was a meter; five hundred meters brought her to another lock; five hundred more took her down the next bit of canal and all the way to the next lock.
All this, she thought, just so I can join the Supreme Council. Had she ever actually wanted to join the Supreme Council? What was so great about sitting in on private meetings with Hobby and Jennifer? It was the first time Attlee had ever thought about it objectively. Then again, thinking objectively wasn’t really encouraged, was it?
You got born and your parents dropped you off at the Collective’s baby-minders, so they could work while you got fed your pabulum. As soon as you were old enough you got put to work doing baby stuff for the Collective, feeding rabbits and chickens or cutting air filters out of paper—anything a little kid could do—so you’d learn to be a good worker. As you got stronger you were given your roach hammer and set to harder jobs, learning to repair tractors or pick cotton. Until you were fifteen Earth years old, though, the work day ended at two in the afternoon.
It was supposed to give kids a chance to play, before settling down with their lesson plans; a chance to have some “unstructured time” so they could just be kids. The only problem was, most kids in the Collective didn’t know what to make of unstructured time. They wandered listlessly in the Tubes, uneasy without someone shoving chores at them. And so the Shadowcats had been founded.
Bill Haversham had started them. He had been born on old Earth and he had said a cat was a kind of animal you didn’t eat, but people had used to keep them because they hunted rats, which were like roaches only not bugs. So the Shadowcats were the great roach hunters, the kids who were best with their hammers, fast and brave and smart.
That had been the idea, at least. Shadowcats were supposed to band together and have exciting adventures stalking and killing roaches. Sometimes that happened, it was true, but mostly they held meetings that were just like little Collective meetings, where everyone sat around and listened to Council members talk on and on. But at least it was something to do, until you turned eight—sixteen in Earth years—and went to work full-time.
Attlee had begun to suspect that she’d be bored by the Shadowcats long before she came of age. She wasn’t sure they didn’t bore her now, actually.
But what’ll I do with the next two years if I drop out of the Shadowcats?
She thought about it as she pounded grimly along. She liked books. Attlee was good at her lesson plans. Everyone said she was smart, though they usually said it with a slight sneer, as though cleverness was something to be ashamed of. Uncle Dave didn’t, though. What if she had the brains to be a boffin? Wear a white coat like Uncle Dave, get a nicer place to live, work with clean hands in the Collective’s laboratory instead of grubbing in the fields like her dad and mum? You weren’t supposed to be ashamed of grubwork, because it was honest labor and a noble sacrifice that would transform the planet. Attlee wasn’t ashamed of it, but she didn’t fancy being crushed to death in a stupid accident because Earth tractors didn’t work well in Martian gravity, or for some other fool reason.
Wrong to think that way. That’s practically criminal. Selfish. You don’t get to have a future; the future belongs to everybody. Somebody has to work in the fields. Your mum and dad did. Think you’re too good for that? Pride’ll be your downfall.
But some kids were smart enough to become interns, and learn to work alongside the boffins. If she spent more time on her lesson plans, took some extra courses instead of hanging out with the Shadowcats, would Attlee qualify to become an intern?
Is that why you want Mum to marry Uncle Dave? So you can get a soft job?
No! Attlee wanted her mum to marry so she’d be alive again, instead of the dead-eyed low-priority field mule she’d been since Attlee’s dad had died. Rise up in the dark and spend your days cutting irrigation trenches in the clay with a shovel, and come home worn out and only too glad to do nothing but watch old holos until you fell asleep, every night for the rest of your life until you died, when you got called a hero. Her mum had used to laugh sometimes. Now she never even smiled.
And it was obvious that Uncle Dave cared about Attlee’s mum, the way he looked at her, the way he’d asked her out to walk in the Tubes, the way he’d invited them over to his shelter and cooked them dinner. Boffins got allotted a lot of good food. But Attlee’s mum seemed content to disappear inside a cocoon of apathy and exhaustion, as though her life was already over and there was no point hoping for anything new.
Still, if Attlee worked with Uncle Dave, that would make reasons for Attlee’s mum seeing him more often, wouldn’t it? And then she’d have to come back to life. She could be proud of Attlee being smart, instead of apologetic. She’d have a reason for taking an interest in things.
Attlee Bonser, Backslider.
She wasn’t a Backslider! Wanting a better life wasn’t the same as if she planned on ditching the Collective, the way some traitors had done, and going to live up on Mons Olympus with the rich people or, worse, going back to Earth. Attlee would stay on Mars and use her brains to make the terraforming go faster. She’d be a hero too. Just not a dead one.
But the jeering voice in her mind wouldn’t shut up, and finally she stopped arguing with it as she loped along through the darkness. She was a long way out now, and though Mons Olympus still obscured stars to the west, different stars whirled and burned to the east; the others had long since sunk behind the jagged ridges of Ceraunius.
When she felt her strength flagging, Attlee stopped and pulled off her pack. She set up the billy-can, filled it with water, and dumped in a packet of dehydrated broth and noodles before activating the heating element. The pounding of her heart took a while to slow down, as did her gasping breath, but they did, and so it was fairly quiet when she heard the scuttling run of another roach.
Attlee looked up in time to see it streaking straight for the billy, a big bold roach. Rising from her crouch, she grabbed the billy and set it high on the edge of the canal. The roach halted for a second. She was pulling out her hammer when it darted right up the side of the canal. Outraged, Attlee kicked at it to knock it off, but it dropped before she connected and her boot hit the canal wall with a painful thud. She chased it down the canal path, slamming at it repeatedly with her hammer, until she killed it at last. Limping, she turned and went back. She drank the broth and ate the noodles standing, dipping them out with two fingers as she glared around, daring anything else to surprise her.
Nothing more did. As she packed up the billy, Attlee spotted another couple of holes in the ground at the far edge of the field. The beets all around looked chewed and plundered. Muttering to herself, she stamped in the holes and continued her journey.
During her rest, the cold had begun to sink in a little, even through her psuit. Attlee could see the frost patterns on the vizio now, and here and there as she jogged along, the vibration of her passage knocked little flakes of ice from the ceiling or walls.
Got to be somewhere close now. Nobody’s ever frozen to death going to see the Old Roach, at least. Attlee halted in her tracks as she heard a low gurgling roar in the darkness, echoing along the canal. She fumbled for her hammer and gripped it, half-crouched as she waited.
The roar grew louder, but as it did Attlee realized that it was coming from the fields behind her, rather than ahead. He’s back of me! How? How’m I getting past him to get home again?
Attlee trembled as she waited, swinging her hammer to brace her nerves. Big as a tractor, Hobby said. Can’t be true. Just big. Jump high, hit hard. Don’t let him knock you down—
She saw the wave of steam racing along the pipe before she understood what it was. When she realized that the roar was coming with the steam, Attlee almost dropped her hammer, she was so relieved. She laughed out loud as the noise and the heat caught up with her and passed her, racing mindlessly on down the canal.
“Big as a tractor!” she cried. “You liar, Hobby!”
As clouds of warmth rose from the heating pipe, the ice on the vizio melted and began to fall in little drops, plinking into the canal and spattering on the path. The crops in this particular bit of the annex—oats, still green—seemed to wake up, seemed to crane eagerly toward the falling water. They must be remembering rain, thought Attlee in wonder. She slid her mask up and turned her face toward the ceiling. A big drop hit her cheek. Is this what it feels like?
She’d never seen rain. Rain was the blessing of old Earth, it fell from the sky everywhere down there. On Attlee’s planet, water had to be melted and pumped from below, every drop, or brought in by Haulers from the poles. Mars had no blessings; every good thing here had to be earned. But someday it will rain.
Feeling light-headed from the moist warmth, Attlee trudged on. More often, now, she saw the black mouths of dug burrows, always in fields that looked neglected and chewed. The crops out at this distance were all stuff that didn’t need to be tended much, oats and barley and sugar beets, and the burrows looked fresh. Attlee supposed they had all been dug since the last time the planting crews had been out here. Dutifully she stamped in each one, as a Shadowcat ought to do, but there were more and more of them now.
What if the Old Roach laid eggs and they hatched, and these are his kids? He’s a she then. Attlee thought briefly of an Old Roach dressing itself up like one of the posh ladies on holos, disguising itself with makeup, drawing red lips around its mouthparts and simpering. Somehow that made it scarier. And what if thousands of giant roaches were down this end of the fields, now, with Attlee was out here all alone?
She began to run again, not too fast, determined to keep control. I’ll do it. I’ll fetch back their stupid rock, just to show I wasn’t scared, and then I’ll ditch the Shadowcats. I don’t need the likes of Hobby and Jennifer always telling me what to do. Jennifer’s going to leave soon anyway and that’ll just make Hobby bossier. I’ll go to Uncle Dave and tell him I want to be an intern and ask him what classes I have to take.
The sneering voice in her head called her a coward, called her lazy, told her she wasn’t worthy to clean the canal-mud off the boots of the noble field workers, and asked moreover what would happen to the Great Work if everyone tried to get themselves soft jobs?
Attlee came to the next lock, smacked it, and jumped through. There, far off but clearly visible, was the far wall with no lock, the end of the annex. And that was dawn light filtering in, over a wretched ragged field of sugar beets so chewed up the field looked already harvested.
If the Old Roach is anywhere, Attlee thought, it’s here.
She was suddenly acutely aware of how tired she was, and what a long way she had to go to get home. She thought of Hobby’s scary stories, all the kids nodding solemnly and believing every word. You were supposed to believe, weren’t you? Believe and shut up and do what everybody else did. Not question the ones like Hobby, who liked to boss everyone around. Not know things by finding them out for yourself.
But it’s good to know things.
Attlee took the stone from her pocket with one hand as she walked forward and swung her hammer in the other. All around her, black things were springing out of the ruined field and streaking for . . . streaking for the biggest den Attlee had seen yet, a mass of holes and thrown-off dirt.
There’s dozens of them. Not one big one, but lots. One slip and they’d be on you in a second, biting and hooking you with their spikes. So this was it, this was the real danger you had to face. This was the truth behind the stories.
Attlee walked straight and steady, keeping to the canal path. She got all the way to the end and looked out at the vizio wall. The sun must be coming up, far away on the other side of the eastern hills. She could just glimpse frost glittering on the Ceraunius tops, though stars were still visible. Lowering her gaze, she saw the rock marked SHADOWCATS lying in front of her boots.
Attlee bent, dropped the rock she was carrying, and scooped up the one she had come so far to find. As she was putting it in her pocket, she saw something beginning to emerge from one of the holes.
Shuddering, she ran and stamped at it with her boot, as hard as she could. The soil gave way under her and she fell.
Attlee didn’t fall far. But it was pitch-black where she landed, somewhere warm and stinking of. . . what was that smell? Her arm was buried but she thrashed free, smacked on her mask’s light, and swung her hammer.
It didn’t connect with anything. Attlee looked around wildly, expecting her light to flash across clicking mandibles, waving antennae. She saw none. There was only a glimpse of a pair of legs vanishing into a wall of holes . . . black-furred legs . . . and the wall was obscured by branching spindly stuff, whitish-yellowish. . . .
Attlee followed the branches with her spotlight, down to the floor where they sprouted from a dense carpet of pellety things, black and squashy.
She remembered being little and working at the baby-minders’, working with the animals the Collective farmed because kids were supposed to like animals, only she never had liked cleaning out the pens full of . . . rabbit poo.
Rabbits vanished, and everyone assumed something was taking them. But hadn’t they lived in the ground, back on Earth? They dug under fences and ate carrots. Attlee remembered an illustration in a lesson plan that showed rabbits doing just that.
And here on Mars they had gotten away and dug down into the Martian soil, where the cold and the ultraviolet couldn’t hurt them. Some would burrow out into Outside and they’d die, of course, but some would learn to burrow only under the domed fields where there was air, and they’d survive to have babies. Lots of babies, because rabbits did that too, they bred fast. It was why the Collective raised them for meat.
Old Roach is rabbits! Attlee struggled to her feet, laughing, but with her mouth closed because of the smell. Were Hobby and Jennifer in on the joke? Or had they never dared to step off the canal path? Hadn’t the grown-ups noticed? Or didn’t they pay attention, sending the harvester machines in?
She was about to scramble out of the pit when her attention was caught again by the spindly branches. What were they? Was it some kind of mushroom? . . .
Wondering, she put out her hand and swept a bunch toward her. Not mushrooms at all. Thin scaly stems, no leaves, unlike any plant that grew on Mars where there were no weeds ever, nothing that the Collective hadn’t planted. Attlee had seen a picture of something a little like this, something primitive that once grew on Earth. What had its name been? Cooksonia. But it was extinct. And this was different, and alive.
It was something that had lived underground away from the UV glare, casting out spores, and had finally perished as the planet got colder and dryer. Except for its spores, which lay dormant. Who knew how long?
Until something dug down where they were and gave them warmth and damp and fertilizer.
Well, so what? It’s not something you can eat, is it?
“It’s a Discovery,” said Attlee out loud. She put away her hammer and pulled out her fieldman, unfolding the sharpest blade. She cut a bunch of the branches free. It was awkward climbing from the pit holding them before her, but she managed.
It was a miracle. Something Martian finally growing again on Mars, instead of cabbages and beets. Something that would make Attlee’s mum proud. Something to show Uncle Dave and maybe get Attlee an internship in the laboratory.
Attlee emerged by the canal path just as the first sunlight was spreading out over the high valley, and the frost on the mountains blazed like bright windows. She slid her mask up and ran for home, holding her future in front of her like a bouquet.

KAGE BAKER grew up in the Hollywood Hills amid glamorous houses, ruins, and the ruins of glamorous houses. Her aunt and uncle, Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling, played the cosmopolitan ghosts on television’s Topper, endowing the young Kage with a permanent and uniquely flexible view of time, reality, and immortality.
This resulted in the concept of Dr. Zeus, Inc.—an all-powerful cabal responsible for a secret history of the human race—the source of her acclaimed Company series (In the Garden of Iden, Sky Coyote, et al). She won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2004 for “The Empress of Mars,” and was nominated several times for both Hugos and Nebulas. The novel length version of this story is a nominee for the 2010 Locus Awards, and has just won the Romantic Times SF Novel of the Year Award. Her novella The Women of Nell Gwynne is a nominee for both the 2010 Nebula and Hugo. Her fantasies include the novels The Anvil of the World and The House of the Stag (a 2009 World Fantasy Award finalist and winner of the 2009 Romantic Times Best Fantasy Novel of the Year Award). She contributed stories to numerous anthologies, including tribute collections for Robert Silverberg and Jack Vance, and published extensively in the developing steampunk genre. She also wrote a children’s book, The Hotel Under the Sand, in the classical traditions of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, and Kenneth Grahame.
Her upcoming novels are Not Less Than Gods, a Company/ steampunk novel, and The Bird of the River, set in the universe of The Anvil of the World. They will be published posthumously.
Kage Baker lived her entire life in the numerous environments of California. She died in Pismo Beach, her home for the last fifteen years, in January 2010 after a brief and heroic battle with cancer, whence she departed for the Uttermost West. She is assumed to be sailing over the horizon now, dining at the Captain’s table, drinking the kinds of cocktails that feature rum and fruit spears, and slow dancing on the aft deck with God.
Visit her Web site at www.kagebaker.com.

“The biggest inspiration for this story was the fact that new lands are settled by courageous idealists and sturdy pioneers—but their kids have to live with that decision, willy nilly. Most kids do rebel in some way against their parents, but they still end up living essentially the same lives Mom and Dad did. The kids of Mars 1 are like that too: and if you aren’t by nature a heroine of the Revolution, you’re pretty much out of luck unless you can invent your own way. Attlee is one of those people who has to navigate life on their own. Her parents are among the dedicated socialists who have emigrated to Mars to make a new and perfect world; and while Attlee loves her parents and her home, she doesn’t much like her society.
“Attlee is named for Clement Attlee, Labour Prime Minister of the UK from 1945 to 1951. Her parents name her Attlee because he’s a heroic Labour politician; I called her that because Clement was a rather cool guy, actually. He helped develop the National Health Program, and was instrumental in India, Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Jordan all winning their independence from Britain. He was independent, smart, and resourceful, and I’ve tried to give Attlee some of those characteristics. The big difference, though, is that she finds her parents’ socialist paradise stagnant and boring, and she wants to strike out on her own.”

“Attlee and the Long Walk” was conceived of and written during Kage Baker’s last few months, when she was undergoing therapy for the cancer that finally took her life. She was hopeful and stubborn and sure she would win, and that attitude is reflected in self-sufficient, determined Attlee. It’s also largely the way Kage lived. She made her own worlds and quietly insisted on living there, and so succeeded in accomplishing things that elude most people. She’s off on her own Long Walk now, and Old Roach had better watch his ass.
—Kathleen Bartholomew

(Kage Baker’s sister)


Alastair Reynolds

In the belly of the airship, alone except for freight pods and dirtsmeared machines, Yukimi dug into her satchel and pulled out her companion. She had been given it on her thirteenth birthday, by her older sister. It had been just before Shirin left Mars, so the companion had been a farewell present as well as a birthday gift.
It wasn’t the smartest companion in the world. It had all the usual recording functions, and enough wit to arrange and categorize Yukimi’s entries, but when it spoke back to her she never had the impression that there was a living mind trapped inside the floral-patterned—and now slightly dog-eared—hardback covers. And when it tried to engage her in conversation, when it tried to act like a friend or even a sister, it wasn’t clever enough to come out with the sort of thing a real person would have said. But Yukimi didn’t mind, really. It had still been a gift from Shirin, and if she stopped the companion talking back to her—which she mostly did, unless there was something she absolutely had to know—then it was still a place to record her thoughts and observations, and a useful window into the aug. When she was seventeen she would be legally entitled to receive the implants that gave her direct access to that shifting, teeming sea of universal knowledge. For now, all she had was the glowing portal of the companion.
“I’ve done it now,” she told it. “After all those times where we used to dare each other to sneak aboard, I’ve actually stayed behind until after the doors are closed. And now we’re in the air.” She paused, tiptoeing to peer through a grubby, dust-scoured window as her home fell slowly away. “I can see Shalbatana now, Shirin—it looks much smaller from up here. I can see Sagan Park and the causeway and the school. I can’t believe that was our whole world, everything we knew. Not that that’s any surprise to you, I suppose.”
It wasn’t Shirin she was talking to, of course. It was just the companion. But early on she had fallen into the habit of making the entries as if she was telling them to her sister, and she had never broken it.
“I couldn’t have done it if we hadn’t played those games,” Yukimi went on. “It was pretty hard, even then. Easy enough to sneak onto the docks—not much has changed since you left—but much harder to get aboard the airship. I waited until there was a lot going on, with everyone running around trying to get it loaded on time. Then I just made a run for it, dodging between robots and dock workers. I kept thinking: what’s the worse that can happen? They’ll find me and take me home. But I won’t be in any more trouble than if I do manage to sneak aboard. I know they’ll find me sooner or later anyway. I bet you’re shaking your head now, wondering what the point of all this is. But it’s easy for you, Shirin. You’re on another planet, with your job, so you don’t have to deal with any of this. I’m stuck back here and I can’t even escape into the aug. So I’m doing something stupid and childish: I’m running away. It’s your fault for showing me how easy it would be to get aboard one of the airships. You’d better be ready to take some of the blame.”
It was too much effort to keep on tiptoe so she lowered down. “I know it won’t make any difference: I’m not a baby. But they keep telling me I’ll be fine and I know I won’t be, and everything they say is exactly what I don’t want to hear. It’s not you, it’s us. We still love you, darling daughter. We’ve just grown apart. As if any of that makes it all right. God, I hate being me.”
She felt a lurch then, as if the airship had punched its way through the pressure bubble that surrounded the whole of Shalbatana City and its suburbs. A ghost of resistance, and then they were through. Behind, the bubble would reseal instantly so that not even a whisper of breathable air was able to leak out into the thin atmosphere beyond.
“I’m through now,” she said, going back on tiptoe. “On the other side. I guess this is the farthest from home I’ve ever been.” The sun was catching the bubble’s edge, picking it out in a bow of pale pink. Her home, everything she really knew, was inside that pocket of air, and now it looked like a cheap plastic snow globe, like the one her aunt had sent back from Paris with the Eiffel Tower.
It hit her then. Not the dizzy sense of adventure she had been expecting, but an awful, knife-twisting sense of wrongness. As if, only now that the airship was outside the bubble, was she grasping the mistake she had made.
But it was much too late to do anything about it now.
“I’m doing the right thing, Shirin. Please tell me I’m doing the right thing.”
She slumped down with her back against the sloping wall of the cargo hold. She felt sorry for herself, but she was too drained to cry. She knew it would be a good idea to eat, but she had no appetite for the apple she had brought with her in the satchel. She closed the covers on the companion and let it slip to the hard metal deck, gaining another dent or dog-ear in the process. Sensing her mood, the cartoon characters on the side of the satchel started singing and dancing, trying in their idiotic way to perk her up.
Yukimi scrunched the satchel until they shut up.
She listened to the drone of the airship’s engines. It was a different sound now that the air outside was so much colder and thinner than inside Shalbatana City’s dome. She knew from school that the air had once been even thinner, before the changes began. But it was still not enough to keep anyone alive for very long.
There was enough air inside the cargo hold to last for the journey, though.
At least that was what Shirin had always said, and Shirin had never lied about anything. Had she?

“I think something’s happening,” Yukimi told the companion. “We’re changing course.”
They had been flying high and steady for eight hours, Mars unrolling below in all its savage dreariness, all its endless rust-red monotony. Adults were always going on about how there were already too many people on the planet, but as far as Yukimi could tell there was still a lot of empty space between the warm, wet bubbles of the settlements. Aside from the pale, arrow-straight scratch of the occasional road or pipeline, there had been precious little evidence of civilization since their departure. Unless one counted the lakes, which were made by rain, and rain was made by people— but lakes weren’t civilization, as far as Yukimi was concerned. How anyone could think this world was crowded, or even beginning to be crowded, was beyond her.
Yukimi closed the book and strained to look through the window again. It was hard to tell, but the ground looked nearer than it had been all afternoon. They didn’t seem to be anywhere near a dome. That made sense, because in the time she had been in the air, there was no way that the airship could have made it to Vikingville, let alone anywhere farther away than that.
“It’s a good sign,” she went on. “It has to be. Someone must have figured out what I did, and now they’ve recalled the airship. Maybe they even got in touch with you, Shirin. You’d have told them about our game, how easy it would be for me to escape. I’m going to be in a lot of trouble now, but I always knew that was coming sooner or later. At least I’ll have made my point.”
That was going to cost someone a lot of money, Yukimi thought. She could see her father now, shaking his head at the shame she had brought on him with her antics. Making him look bad in front of his rich friends like Uncle Otto. Well, if that was what it took to get through to her parents, so be it.
But as the airship lowered, so her certainty evaporated. It didn’t seem to be turning around, or be in any kind of a hurry to continue its journey. The engine note had changed to a dawdling throb, just enough to hold station against the wind.
What was going on?
She looked through the window again, straining hard to look down, and, yes, there was something under them. It wasn’t a bubble like the one around Shalbatana, though, or even one of those settlements that was built straight onto the ground with no protection from the atmosphere. It was a machine, a huge, metallic-green, beetle-shaped juggernaut inching slowly along the surface. It was bigger than the airship, bigger than any moving thing she had ever seen with her own eyes. The machine was as long as a city district, as wide as Sagan Park. It had eight solid wheels, each of which was large enough to roll over not just her home but the entire apartment complex. And although it seemed to be crawling, that was only an illusion caused by its size. It was probably moving faster than she could run.
“I can see a Scaper,” she told the book. “That’s what I think it is, anyway. One of those old terraforming mechs.” She held the companion open and aimed down through the window, so that it could capture the view of the enormous machine, with chimneys sprouting in double rows along its back, angled slightly rearward like the smokestacks on an ocean liner. “I didn’t think there were many of them left now. I don’t think they actually do anything anymore; it’s just too much bother to shut them down.”
But for the life of her she could not imagine why the airship was now descending to rendezvous with a Scaper. How exactly was that going to get her home any quicker?
“I’m not sure about this,” she told the companion and then closed it quietly.
Through the window, she could see the airship lowering itself between the twin rows of atmosphere stacks. They were soot black and sheer, as tall as the highest buildings in Shalbatana City. The airship stopped with a jerk, the freight pods creaking in their harnesses, and then a series of bangs and thuds sounded in rapid succession, as if restraining devices were locking into place. The engine note faded away, leaving only a distant throb, one that came up from the floor. It was the sound of the Scaper, transmitted to the cargo hold.
For long minutes, nothing happened.
Yukimi was by now quite uneasy, not at all sure that this rendezvous had anything to do with her being rescued. Halting on the back of a Scaper—kilometers from anywhere—had not figured in her plans. She had always assumed that the airships went from A to B as quickly as possible. No one had ever mentioned anything about them indulging in this kind of detour.
None of this would be happening anywhere else in the solar system, she told herself. Mars was the only place where a girl could run away from home and not be found. Everywhere else, the aug was so thick, so all-pervasive, it was impossible to do anything illegal without someone knowing more or less instantly. You couldn’t hide away inside things. You couldn’t get lost.
Mars was different, as everyone liked to say. Mars was a Descrutinized Zone. The aug was purposefully thin, and that meant people had to take responsibility for their own actions. You could get into trouble on Mars. Easily.
Yukimi was pacing around, wondering what to do—with all sorts of impractical ideas flashing through her head—when the cargo doors began to open. She took in a deep breath, as if that was going to help her. But apart from a slight breeze there wasn’t any loss of pressure. As hard blue light pushed through the widening gaps where the doors were rising open, she slunk back into the shadows, hiding between two freight pods. She had put the companion back into her satchel, and she hoped neither of them would make a sound. She very much wanted to be discovered, but she also very much wanted not to be.
For a long time nothing at all happened. All she heard was faint mechanical sounds in the distance, and the continuing throb of the Scaper. She was aware now of a very slight undulation to their motion, as the colossal machine followed the terrain under its wheels.
Then she heard something approaching. The noise was patient, rhythmic, wheezing, and it was accompanied by a labored shuffling. Yukimi tensed and pushed herself even farther back, but not quite so far that she couldn’t see the cargo doors. With an agonizing slowness, something horrible came up the ramp.
It was a monster.
Silhouetted, huge and bulbous against the blue light beyond, came something like a man, but swollen out of all proportion, with the head no more than a bulge between wide, ogrelike shoulders. Yukimi’s fear sharpened into a very precise kind of terror.
She had never seen anything like this before.
The figure stepped into the bay, and at last she saw it properly. It was wearing armor, but the armor was scratched and scabbed and rusty, and bits of it didn’t fit correctly. There were pipes and cables all over the misshapen form, with wisps of steam coming out of its joints. Green fluid dribbled out one of the knees. The bulge where its head should have been was a low bronze dome, caked in grease and dirt, with nothing at all that could pass for a face. It didn’t even have eyes. It just had cylinders sticking out of it at various angles, glassy with lenses, and some filth-smeared grills in the side of the dome. She couldn’t tell if it was a robot or some ancient, grotesquely cumbersome space suit. All she knew was that she was very, very frightened by it, and she didn’t want to know who—or what—was inside.
The figure clanked and wheezed as it moved through the cargo bay. It paused by one of the cargo pods, not far from where she was hiding. She hardly dared move in case it saw or heard her.
The figure raised one of its huge arms and scraped dirt off a shipping label. Its armored hand was big enough to crush a chair. One of the lenses sticking out of its head swiveled into place, telescoping out to peer at the label. Yukimi felt herself caught between possibilities. She wanted to be found now, no doubt about it. But she did not want to be found by this thing, whatever it was.
No one had ever told her there were monsters like this on Mars, not even Shirin, when she had been trying to scare her little sister. And Shirin had never missed a trick in that regard.
The figure moved sideways, to the next pod. It peered at the next label. If it kept that up, there was no way it was going to fail to notice Yukimi. Yet in that moment she saw her chance. There was an open-topped cargo pallet behind the two pods she was hiding between—it was only partly filled with plastic sacks of some agricultural or biomedical product. She could conceal herself in that easily—if only she could get into it without being noticed.
She listened to the figure’s wheezing. It was regular enough that she had a chance to move during the exhalation phase, when the figure was making enough noise to cover her movements. There was not going to be time to agonize about it, though. It was already moving to the next pod, and the one after that would bring it right next to her.
She moved, timing things expertly. Shirin would have been proud. She was into the open-topped pallet before the wheeze ended, and nothing in the ensuing moments suggested that she had been discovered. The figure made a sound as of another label being scuffed clean. Yukimi crouched low, cushioned on the bed of plastic sacks. They squeaked a little under her, but if she stayed still there was no sound.
She had done the right thing, she told herself. Better to take her chances on the airship than to put herself at the mercy of the creature, whatever it was. The airship would be on its way again soon. They didn’t just go missing between cities.
Did they?
The figure left. She heard it clanking and wheezing out of the bay, down the ramp, back into the Scaper. But she dared not move just yet. Perhaps it had sensed her somewhere in the bay and was just waiting for her to leave her hiding place.
Shortly afterward, something else came. It wasn’t the shuffling, wheezing figure this time. It was something big and mechanical, something that whined and whirred and made pneumatic hissing sounds. Quite suddenly, one of the freight pods was moving. Yukimi snuggled down deeper. The machine went away and then came back. She caught a glimpse of it this time as it locked onto the next pod and hauled it out of the cargo bay. It was a handler robot, similar to the ones she had seen fussing around at the docks, except maybe a bit older and less cared for. It was a big stupid lunk of a robot: yellow and greasy and easily powerful enough to crush a little girl without even realizing what it had done.
Then it came back. Yukimi felt a jolt as the robot coupled onto the open-topped pallet. Then the ceiling started moving, and she realized that she was being unloaded. For a moment she was paralyzed with fear, but even when the moment passed she didn’t know what to do. She dared move enough to look over the edge of the pallet. The floor was moving past very quickly, racing by faster than she could run. Even if she risked climbing out and managed not to break anything or knock herself out as she hit the deck, there was still a danger that the robot would run over her with one of its wheels.
No, that wasn’t a plan. It hadn’t been a good idea to hide inside the pallet, but then again it hadn’t been a good idea to sneak aboard the airship in the first place. It had been a day of bad ideas, and she wasn’t going to make things worse now.
But what could be worse than being taken into the same place as the wheezing, goggle-eyed thing?
The robot took her out of the bay, down a ramp, into some kind of enclosed storage room inside the Scaper. There were lights in the ceilings and the suspended rails of an overhead crane. Even lying down in the pallet, she could see other freight pods stacked around. With a jolt the robot lowered the open-topped pallet and disengaged. It whirred away. Yukimi lay still, wondering what to do next. It seemed likely that the airship had stopped off to make a delivery to the Scaper. If that was the case it would be on its way quite soon, and she would much rather be on it than stay behind here, inside the Scaper, with the thing. But to get back aboard now she would have to make sure the thing didn’t see her, and lying down in the pallet she had no idea if the thing was waiting nearby.
She heard a noise that sounded awfully like the cargo doors closing again.
It was now or never. She scrambled out of the pallet, catching her trousers on the sharp lip, ripping them at the knee, but not caring. She got her feet onto the floor, dragged her satchel with her, oriented herself—she could see the loading ramp, and the doors above it lowering shut—and started running. Really running now, not the pretend running she had done all her life until this moment. She had to get inside the airship again, before the doors shut. She had to get away from the Scaper.
The thing stepped in front of the ramp, blocking her escape. With dreadful slowness it raised one of its hands. Yukimi skidded to a halt, heart racing in her chest, panic overwhelming her.
The thing raised its other hand. They came together where its neck should have been, under the shallow dome that passed for its head. The huge fingers worked two rust-colored toggles and then moved up slightly to grasp the dome by the grills on either side of it. Yukimi was now more terrified than she had ever thought possible. She did not even think of running in the other direction. The thing was slow, but this was its lair and she knew that she could never escape it for good. Plodding and wheezing and slow as it might be, it would always find her.
It took off the helmet, lifting it up above its shoulders.
There was a tiny head inside the armor. She could only see the top of it, from the eyes up. It had lots of age spots and blemishes and a few sparse tufts of very white hair. The rest of it was hidden by the armor.
An unseen mouth said, “Hello.”
Yukimi couldn’t answer. She was just standing there trembling. The thing looked at her for several seconds, the eyes blinking as if it, too, was not quite sure what to make of this meeting. “It is, at least in polite circles, customary to reciprocate a greeting,” the thing—the old man inside the armor—said. “Which is to say, you might consider giving me a ‘hello’ in return. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Yukimi moved her mouth and forced herself to say, “Hello.”
“Hello back.” The man turned slightly, his armor huffing and puffing. “I don’t want to seem discourteous—we haven’t even introduced ourselves—but that airship’s on a tight schedule and it’ll be lifting off very shortly. Do you want to get back aboard it? I won’t stop you if you do, but it’d be remiss of me not to make sure you’re absolutely certain of it. It’s continuing on to Milankovic, and that’s a long way from here—at least two days’ travel. Have you come from Shalbatana?”
Yukimi nodded.
“I can feed you and get you back there a sight quicker than you’ll reach Milankovic. Of course you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that, but—well—we all have to trust someone sooner or later, don’t we?”
“Who are you?” Yukimi asked.
“They call me Corax,” the old man said. “I work out here, doing odd jobs. I’m sorry if the armor scared you, but there wasn’t time for me to get out of it when I learned that the airship was coming in. I’d just come back from the lake, you see. I’d been scouting around, checking out the old place one last time before the waters rise . . .” He paused. “I’m wittering. I do that sometimes—it comes of spending a lot of time on my own. What’s your name?”
“Well, Yukimi—which is a very nice name, by the way—it’s your call. Back on the airship and take your chances until you reach Milankovic—miserable arse-end of nowhere that it is. You’ll need warm clothing and enough food and water to get you through two days, and maybe some supplementary oxygen in case cabin pressure drops. You’ve got all that, haven’t you? Silly question, really. A clever looking girl like you wouldn’t have stowed away on a cargo airship without the necessary provisions.”
Yukimi held up her satchel. “I’ve just got this.”
“Ah. And in that would be—what, exactly?”
“An apple. And a companion.” She observed the faint flicker of incomprehension on the old man’s forehead. “My diary,” she added. “From my sister, Shirin. She’s a terraforming engineer on Venus. She’s working with the change-clouds, to make the atmosphere breathable. . . .”
“Now which of us is doing the wittering?” Corax shook the visible part of his head. “No, there’s nothing for it, I’m afraid. I can’t let you go now. You’ll have to stay here and wait for the flier. I’m afraid you’re going to be in rather a lot of hot water.”
“I know,” Yukimi said resignedly.
“You don’t seem to care very much. Is everything all right? I suppose it can’t be, or you wouldn’t have stowed away on an airship.”
“Can you get me home?”
“Undoubtedly. And in the meantime I can certainly see that you’re taken care of. There’s a catch, of course: you’ll have to put up with my inane ramblings until then. Do you think you can manage that? I can be something of a bore, when the mood takes me. It comes with age.”
Behind Corax, the cargo doors were closed. The loading ramps had retracted and now even larger doors—belonging to the Scaper—were sealing off Yukimi’s view of the airship.
“I suppose it’s too late now anyway,” Yukimi said.

She followed Corax’s stomping, wheezing suit down into the deeper levels of the Scaper. By the time they got anywhere near a window the airship was a distant, dwindling dot, turned the color of brass by the setting sun. Yukimi considered herself lucky now not to be stuck on it all the way to Milankovic. She was sure she could do without food and water for two days (not that it would be fun, even with the apple for rations) but it had never occurred to her that it might get seriously cold. But then, given that the airships had not been built for the convenience of stowaways, it was hardly surprising.
Yukimi was glad when Corax got out of the armor. At the back of her mind had been the worry that he was something other than fully human—she had, after all, only been able to see the top of his head—but apart from being scrawnier and older than almost anyone she could ever remember meeting, he was normal enough. Small by Martian standards—they were about the same height, and Yukimi hadn’t stopped growing. The only person that small Yukimi had ever met had been her aunt, the one who sent the snow globe, and she had been born on Earth, under the iron press of too much gravity.
Under the armor Corax had been wearing several layers of padded clothing, with many belts and clips, from which dangled an assortment of rattling, chinking tools.
“Why do you live out here?” she asked, as Corax prepared her some tea down in the Scaper’s galley.
“Someone has to. When big stuff like this goes wrong, who do you think fixes it? I’m the one who’s drawn the short straw.” He turned around, conveying two steaming mugs of tea. “Actually it’s really not that bad. I’m not one for the hustle and bustle of modern Martian civilization, so the cities don’t suit me. There are a lot like us, leftovers from the old days, when the place was emptier. We keep to the margins, try not to get in anyone’s way. Bit like this Scaper, really. As long as we don’t interfere, they let us be.”
“You live in the Scaper?”
“Most of the time.” He sat down opposite Yukimi, tapping a knuckle against the metal tabletop. “These things were made two hundred years ago, during the first flush of terraforming.”
“The table?”
“The Scaper. Built to last, and to self-repair. They were supposed to keep processing the atmosphere, sucking in soil and air, for as long as it took. A thousand years, maybe more. They were designed so that they’d keep functioning—keep looking after themselves, locked on the same program—even if the rest of human civilization crashed back to Earth. Their makers were thinking long-term, making plans for things they had no real expectation of ever living to see. A bit like cathedral builders, diligently laying down stones even though the cathedral might take lifetimes to finish.” He paused and smiled, years falling from his face, albeit only for an instant. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen a cathedral, have you, Yukimi?”
“Have you?”
“Once or twice.”
“The Scapers were a bad idea,” Yukimi said. “That’s what my sister told me. A relic from history. The wrong way to do things.”
“Easy to say that now.” He drew a finger around the rim of his tea mug. “But it was a grand plan at the time. The grandest. At its peak, there were thousands of machines like this, crisscrossing Mars from pole to pole. It was a marvelous sight. Herds of iron buffalo. Engines of creation, forging a new world.”
“You saw them?”
He seemed to catch himself before answering. “No; I’d have to be quite impossibly old for that to be the case. But the reports were glorious. Your sister’s quite right. It was the wrong approach. But it was the only way we—they—could see at the time. So we mustn’t mock them for their mistakes. In two hundred years, someone will be just as quick to mock us for ours, if we’re not careful.”
“I still don’t see why you have to live out here.”
“I keep this Scaper from falling apart,” Corax explained. “Once upon a time the self-repair systems were adequate, but eventually even they stopped working properly. Now the Scaper has to be nursed, treated with kindness. She’s an old machine and she needs help to keep going.”
“There are people who care about such things. They live on Mars, but also elsewhere in the system. Rich sponsors, for the most part. With enough money that they can afford to sprinkle a little of it on vanity projects, like keeping this machine operational. Partly out of a sense of historical indebtedness, partly out of a cautionary attitude that we ought not to throw away something that worked, albeit imperfectly, and partly for the sheer pointless hell of it. It pleases them to keep this Scaper running, and the others still trundling around. It’s Martian history. We shouldn’t let it slip through our fingers.”
Yukimi had no idea who these people were, but even among her father’s friends there were individuals with—in her opinion—rather more money than sense. Like Uncle Otto with his expensive private sunjammer that he liked to take guests in for spins around Earth and the inner worlds. So she could believe it, at least provisionally.
“For them,” Corax went on, “it’s a form of art as much as anything else. And the cost really isn’t that much compared to some of the things they’re involved in. As for me—I’m just the man they hire to do the dirty work. They don’t even care who I am, as long as I get the stuff done. They arrange for the airships to drop off supplies and parts, as well as provisions for me. It’s been a pretty good life, actually. I get to see a lot of Mars and I don’t have to spend every waking hour keeping the Scaper running. The rest, it’s my own time to do as I please.”
Looking around the dingy confines of the galley, Yukimi couldn’t think of a worse place to spend a week, let alone a lifetime.
“So what do you do?” she asked politely. “When you’re not working?”
“A little industrial archaeology of my own, actually.” Corax put down his tea cup. “I need to make some calls, so people know where you are. They’re sending out a flier tomorrow anyway, so we should be able to get you back home before too long. Hopefully it won’t arrive until the afternoon. If there’s time, I’d like to show you something beforehand.”
“Something no one else will ever see again,” Corax said. “At least, not for a little while.”
He made the calls and assured Yukimi that all would be well tomorrow. “I didn’t speak to your parents, but I understand they’ll be informed that you’re safe and sound. We can try and put you through later, if you’d like to talk?”
“No thanks,” Yukimi said. “Not now.”
“That doesn’t sound like someone in any great hurry to be reunited. Was everything all right at home?”
“No,” Yukimi said.
“And is it something you’d like to talk about?”
“Not really.” She would, actually. But not to Corax; not to this scraggy old man with tufts of white hair who lived alone in a giant, obsolete terraforming machine. He might not be an ogre, but he couldn’t possibly grasp what she was going through.
“So tell me about your sister, the one on Venus. You said she was involved in the terraforming program. Is she much older than you?”
“Six years,” Yukimi said. She meant Earth years, of course. A year on Mars was twice as long, but everyone still used Earth years when they were talking about how old they were. It got messy otherwise. “She left Mars when she was nineteen. I was thirteen.” She reached into her satchel and pulled out the companion. “This is the thing I was talking about, the diary. It was a present from Shirin.”
He moved to open the book. “Might I?”
“Go ahead.”
He touched the covers with his old man’s fingers, which were bony and yellow nailed and sprouted white hairs in odd places. The companion came alive under his touch, blocks of text and illustration appearing on the revealed pages. The text was in an approximation of Yukimi’s handwriting, tinted a dark mauve, the pictures rendered in the form of woodcuts and stenciled drawings, and the entries were organized by date and theme, with punctilious cross-referencing.
Corax picked at the edge of the book with his fingernail. “I can’t turn to the next page.”
“That’s not how you do it. Haven’t you ever read a book before?”
He gave her a tolerant smile. “Not like this.”
Yukimi showed him the way. She touched her finger to the bottom right corner and dragged it sideways, so that the book revealed the next pair of pages. “That’s how you turn to the next page. If you want to turn ten pages, you use two fingers. Hundred pages, three fingers. And the same to go backward.”
“It seems very complicated.”
“It’s just like a diary. I tell it what I’ve been doing, or let it record things for me. Then it sorts it all out and makes me fill in the gaps.”
“Sounds horrendous,” Corax said, pulling a face as if he had just bitten into a lemon. “I was never very good at diary keeping.”
“It’s meant to be more than just a diary, though. Shirin had one as well—she bought it at the same time. She was leaving, so we wouldn’t be able to talk normally anymore because of the lag. I was sad because she’d always been my best friend, even though she was older than me. She said our companions would help us bridge the distance.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“We were both supposed to use our companions all the time. Make entries whenever we could. I would talk to my companion as if Shirin was there, and Shirin would talk to hers as if I was there. Then, every now and again, the companions would—I can’t remember the word.” Yukimi frowned. “Connect up. Exchange entries. So that my companion got better at copying Shirin and hers got better at copying me. And then if we kept on doing that, eventually it would be like having Shirin with me all the time, so that I could talk to her whenever I wanted. Even if Venus was on the other side of the sun. It wouldn’t be the same as Shirin—it wasn’t meant to replace her—but just make it so that we didn’t always feel apart.”
“It seems like a good idea,” Corax said.
“It wasn’t. We promised we’d keep talking to our companions, but Shirin didn’t. For a while, yes. But once she’d been away from Mars for a few months she stopped doing it. Every now and again, yes—but you could tell only because she was feeling bad about not doing it before.”
“I suppose she was busy.”
“We promised each other. I kept up my side of the promise. I still talk to Shirin. I still tell her everything. But because she doesn’t talk to me enough, my companion can’t pretend to be her.” Yukimi felt a wave of sadness slide over her. “I could have really used her lately.”
“It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. It just means she’s an adult with a lot of people making demands on her. Terraforming’s very important work. It requires great responsibility.”
“That’s what my parents keep saying.”
“It’s the truth. It always has been. The people who made the Scapers understood that, even if they didn’t get the technology quite right. It’s the same with—what they call them? Those things in the air, swirling around?”
“Change-clouds,” Yukimi said.
He nodded. “I see them sometimes at dusk. Just another machine, really. In a thousand years, there won’t seem much difference between them and this. But they make me feel very old. Even your book makes me feel like an old relic from prehistory.” He stood up, his knees creaking with the effort. “Speaking of recording devices, let me show you something.” He moved to one of the shelves and pushed aside some junk to expose an old-looking space helmet. He brought it back to the table, blowing the dust off it in the progress, coughing as he breathed some of it in, and set the helmet down before Yukimi.
“It looks ancient,” she said, trying hard not to show too much disappointment. It was scratched and dented and the white paint was coming off in places. There had once been colorful markings around the visor and crest, but they were mostly faded or rubbed away now. She could just make out the ghostly impressions where they had been.
“It is. Unquestionably. Older even than this Scaper. I know because I found it and . . . well.” He stroked the helmet lovingly, leaving dust tracks where his fingers had been. “There’s serious provenance here. It used to belong to someone very famous, before he went missing.”
“We’ll come to that tomorrow. In the meantime I thought it might be of interest. The helmet’s still in good nick—built to last. I had to swap out the power cells, but other than that I’ve done nothing to it. Do you want to try it on?”
She didn’t, really, but it seemed rude to say so. She gave an encouraging nod. Corax picked up the helmet again and shuffled around the table until he was behind her. He lowered it down gently, until the cushioned rim was resting on her shoulders. She could still breathe perfectly normally because the helmet was open at the bottom. “It smells moldy,” she said.
“Like its owner. But watch this. I’m going to activate the head-up display playback, using the external controls.” He pressed some studs on the outside of the helmet and Yukimi heard soft clicks and beeps inside.
Then everything changed.
She was still looking at Corax, still inside the galley. But overlaid on that was a transparent view of something else entirely. It was a landscape, a Martian landscape, moving slowly, rocking side to side as if someone was walking. They were coming to the edge of something, a sharp drop in the terrain. The pace slowed as the edge came nearer, and then the point of view dipped, so that Yukimi was looking down, down at her chest-pack, which looked ridiculously old and clunky, down at her heavy, dust-stained boots, down at the Martian soil, and the point where—just beyond her toes—it fell savagely away.
“The edge of Valles Marineris,” Corax told her. “The deepest canyon on Mars. It’s a long way down, isn’t it?”
Yukimi agreed. Even though she was sitting down, she still felt a twinge of vertigo.
“You can still go there, but it’s not the same,” Corax went on. “Mostly filled with water now—and it’ll only get deeper as the sea levels keep rising. Where I’m standing—where you’re standing—is now a chain of domed resort hotels. They’ll tear down the domes when the atmosphere gets thick enough to breathe, but they won’t tear down the hotels.” He paused. “Not that I’m complaining, or arguing against the terraforming program. It’ll be marvelous to see boats sailing across Martian seas, under Martian skies. To see people walking around under that sky without needing suits or domes to keep them alive. To see Earth in the morning light. We’ll have gained something incredible. But we’ll have lost something as well. I just think we should be careful not to lose sight of that.”
“We could always go back,” Yukimi said. “If we didn’t like the new Mars.”
“No,” Corax said. “That we wouldn’t be able to do. Not even if we wanted it more than anything in the world. Because once we’ve touched a world, it stays touched.” He reached over and turned off the head-up display. “Now. Shall we think about eating?”

In the morning they left the Scaper, traveling out in a small, four-wheeled buggy that came down from a ramp in the great machine’s belly. “Just a little sightseeing trip,” Corax said, evidently detecting Yukimi’s anxiety about not being back when the flier—scheduled for the afternoon—came to collect her. They were snug and warm in the buggy’s pressurized cabin, Yukimi wearing the same clothes as the day before, Corax in the same outfit he had been wearing under the armor, which—for reasons not yet clear to Yukimi—he had stowed in the buggy’s rear storage compartment.
“Will the Scaper be all right without you aboard?” Yukimi asked, as they powered out of its shadow, bouncing over small rocks and ridges.
“She’ll take care of herself for a few hours, don’t you worry.”
An awkward question pushed itself to the front of Yukimi’s mind. “Will you always be the one in charge of it?”
Corax steered the buggy around a crater before answering. “Until the people who pay for my upkeep decide otherwise.” He glanced sideways, a cockeyed grin on his face. “Why? You think old Corax’s getting too old for the job?”
“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully. “How old are you, exactly?”
“How old do you reckon?”
“Older than my aunt, and I’m not sure how old she is. She’s from Earth as well.”
“Did I say I was from Earth?”
“You mentioned cathedrals,” Yukimi said.
“I could have been there as a tourist.”
“But you weren’t.”
“No,” he said eventually. “I wasn’t. Here I’m the tourist.”
They drove on, crossing kilometers of Martian terrain. Most of the time Corax didn’t have his hands on the controls, the buggy navigating by itself. Yukimi saw tire tracks in the soil and guessed that Corax had come this way before, maybe within the last few days. As the route wound its way around obstacles, the Scaper became little more than a dark, chimney-backed hump on the horizon, seemingly fixed in place. And then even the dark hump was gone.
The ground began to dip down. Ahead, reflecting back the sun like a sheet of polished metal, was what appeared to be a large lake or even a small sea. It had a complicated, meandering shoreline. Yukimi could not see the far side, even with the buggy raised high above sea level. She did her best to memorize the shape of the lake, the way it would look from above, so that she could find it on a map. That was hard, though, so she took out the companion and opened the covers so that it recorded the view through the buggy’s forward window.
“You want to know where we are?” Corax asked.
Yukimi nodded.
“Approaching Crowe’s Landing. You ever hear of it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. It’s been a ghost town for decades; I’d be surprised if it’s on any of the recent maps. It certainly won’t be on them for much longer.”
“Why not?”
“Because it’ll soon be under water.”
Corax took control of the buggy again as it completed its descent to the edge of the lake, following a zigzagging path down the sloping terrain. As they neared the water, Yukimi made out a series of sketchy shapes floating just beneath the surface: pale rectangles and circles, some of them deeper than others, and reaching a considerable distance from the shore. They looked like the shapes on some weird game board. They were, she realized, the roofs and walls of submerged buildings.
“This was a town?”
Corax nodded. “Way back when. Mars is on its second wave of history now—maybe even its third. I remember when Shalbatana was nothing, just a weather station that wasn’t even manned half the time. Crowe’s Landing was a major settlement. Not the main one, but one of the four or five largest colonies on the surface. Yes, we called them colonies back then. It was a different time. A different age.” Slowly, he guided the buggy into the waters, picking his way down what must have been a thoroughfare between two rows of buildings. With some apprehension, Yukimi watched the water lap over the tops of the wheels, and then against the side of the cabin. “It’s all right,” Corax said. “She’s fully submersible. I’ve taken her a full kilometer out, but we’re not going anywhere so far today.”
They were driving along a hard surface, so even though the buggy’s wheels were underwater, they didn’t stir up much material. The water was clear enough that Yukimi could see for tens of meters in all directions. As the road sloped down, the sea gradually closed over the cockpit bubble and it was almost possible to believe that they were just driving through a normal, albeit strangely unpopulated, district of Shalbatana City. The buildings were rectangles, cylinders, and domes, all with small black windows and circular, airlock style doors set out from the main structure in rounded porches. There must never have been a bubble around Crowe’s Landing, so the buildings would have been the inhabitants’ only protection from the atmosphere. Yukimi guessed that there were tunnels linking them together, sunk under the road level. Even the newer communities like Shalbatana—and it was strange now to think of her hometown as “new”—had underground tunnels, maintained to provide emergency shelter and communication should something untoward happen to the bubble. Yukimi had been down into them during school field trips.
She wasn’t alone—she was in the cabin with Corax—but there was still something spooky about driving slowly through this deserted colony. She wished Corax hadn’t called it a ghost town, and while she understood that he hadn’t meant that the place was literally haunted, she couldn’t turn her imagination off. As the light wavered down from the overlying sea, she kept seeing faces appear in the windows, brief and spectral like paper cutouts held there for a moment. Once they turned a corner and passed another kind of buggy, left parked there as if its owners had only just abandoned it. But it was a very old-fashioned looking buggy, and the symbols painted on its side reminded her of the faded markings on the old space helmet.
Eventually Corax brought the buggy to a halt.
“We’re here,” he said grandly. “The objective. You see that building to our right, the one shaped like an old-fashioned hat box?”
“Yes,” Yukimi said dubiously.
“It’s still airtight, unlike most of the others. Because of that, it’s watertight as well. And the air lock’s still functioning—there’s just enough power in the mechanism for another cycle. Do you see where I’m headed?”
“Not really.”
“Crowe’s Landing is almost gone now, and in a hundred years it’ll be completely forgotten. The seas will rise, Mars will be greened. A whole new civilization will bloom and prosper. You’ll be part of that, Yukimi—when you’re older. You’ll see wonderful things and live to tell your grandchildren of the way it used to be, before the change-clouds finished their work.” He smiled. “I envy you. I’ve lived a very long time—the drugs weren’t always the best, but at least I had a ready supply—but my time’s coming to an end now and you’ll outlive me by centuries, if luck’s on your side.”
Yukimi thought of all the things in her life that were not the way she wanted. “I don’t think it is.”
“I’m not sure. That airship could have carried on to Milankovic, and then where would you be?”
“Hm,” she said, remaining to be convinced.
“I had an idea,” Corax said. “Not long after I found this place and this building. Mars is changing now and the seas will rise. But they won’t stay that way forever. One day—a thousand or ten thousand years from now, maybe more—the seas will shrink again. People will have other worlds to green by then, and maybe they’ll let Mars return to its primal state. Whatever happens, Crowe’s Landing will eventually come out of the waters. And that building will still be there. Still airtight.”
“You can’t be sure.”
“It’s a fair bet. Stronger odds of surviving than anything left on the surface, with everything that’s to come. Soon there’ll be woods and forests out there, and where there aren’t woods and forests there’ll be cities and people. There’ll be weather and storms and history. But none of that will reach down here. This building’s as close to a time capsule as we’re going to find. Which is why we’ve come.” He tapped a few commands into the buggy’s console and stood up creakily. “That helmet I found? It used to belong to Crowe, one of the very first explorers.”
“Can you be sure?”
“Reasonably. As I said, it’s got provenance.” He paused. “I’m going to put the helmet in there. It’s a piece of the past, a memento of the way Mars used to be. Not just a chunk of metal and plastic but a historical document, a living record. I only played back a tiny part of what’s stored in that helmet. That old fool captured thousands of hours, and that’s not including all the log entries he made, all the thoughts he put down for posterity. An old man’s ramblings . . . but maybe it’ll be of interest to someone. And it’ll all still be inside that helmet when they find it again.”
Yukimi had trouble thinking much further in the future than her seventeenth birthday, when she would receive the golden gateway into the aug. Everything was a blank after that. Centuries, thousands of years—what difference did it make?
“Will anyone understand it?”
“They may have to work at it,” Corax allowed. “But that’s what historians and archaeologists do. And I was thinking: while we’re at it, why don’t we give them something else to puzzle over, in addition to the helmet?”
Yukimi thought for a moment. “You mean my companion?”
“Your thoughts and observations aren’t any less valid than Corax’s. You’ll miss your diary, of course, and maybe you’ll have some explaining to do to your sister when she finds out what happened to it—assuming you tell her, of course. But in the meantime, think what you’ll have done. You’ll have sent a message to the future. A gift from the past to a Martian civilization that doesn’t even exist yet. No matter what happens, you’ll have made your mark.”
“No one’s interested in what I have to say,” Yukimi said.
“Don’t put yourself down. Look, there’s still time to make another entry. Tell them how you got here. Tell them how you feel today, tell them what made you run away from home yesterday. Be angry. Be sad. Get it out of your system.”
“I’ve got to go back to it later.”
“Believe me, this will help. When everything seems like it couldn’t get any worse, you’ll always be able to tell yourself: I did this one brilliant thing, this one brilliant thing that no one else has ever or will ever do. And that makes me special.”
She thought about the companion. It had been a gift from Shirin and—for all that it was dog-eared, and not the smartest in the world—she had treated it with fondness. It reminded her of her older sister. It reminded her of the good times they had spent together, before Shirin bored of childhood games and started looking to the skies, dreaming of worlds to make anew.
But had Shirin really cared? It had been easy for her to promise to keep her side of the bargain, before she said good-bye. Yukimi sometimes wondered if her sister had given her more than a moment’s thought except for the times when her conscience prickled her into sending a message.
“I cared,” Yukimi said to herself. “Even if you didn’t.”
She still had the companion in her hands from when she had shown it the lake.
“You want a moment to yourself?” Corax asked.
Yukimi nodded.

She stayed in the submerged buggy while he took the helmet and the companion into the airtight building. He went out in the underwater armor, a monster born anew. But when he had taken a few paces away from the buggy and turned back to wave, Yukimi waved back. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew it was Corax inside now, and while the armor was still monstrous, it was no longer frightening. Corax had been kind to her, and on some level he had seemed to understand what she was going through.
She watched him enter the building via the porch air lock. Some bubbles erupted out of the dark mouth of the door, and then there was nothing. She didn’t think it would take him long to place the helmet and the companion, especially if he already knew his way around the building.
The buggy started moving.
It was sudden, purposeful activity, not the result of the brakes being loose or some underwater current stirring it into motion. It began to turn, steering back the way they had come. This wasn’t right. Yukimi looked despairingly at the console, with its many controls. She didn’t know which one to hit. There was a red panel, lit up as if it was some kind of emergency stop. She whacked it with her palm and then when there was no response she whacked it again and again. She grabbed hold of the steering joystick Corax had been using and tried yanking it l