At Least Dreams Are Still Free
The voyage from Earth to Mars was a one-way trip. Everyone aboard had happily volunteered. All where disenchanted with what they had left behind on mankind’s home planet. In that regard, I was no different to any of my fellow volunteers.
I hated what my home country had become through its desire for senseless regulation, legislation, sectarianism, racism, religious intolerance, monetary greed, violent attacks on the elderly by gangs of youths on the streets, plus heavy-handed laws, biased in favour of the super-rich privileged few, over the vast majority of the population.
As you age, you soon come to realise that the world has passed you by and to the younger generations you have become set in your ways, unable and unwilling to accept the rapid pace of change. Your views on morality, politics, war, religion and the way society have now shaped itself, no longer gel with the current state of affairs. Above all else, none of us wanted to stay on Earth a moment longer than we had to.
It had taken many months and hundreds of shuttle flights from the major continents and countries on Earth to gather us all together aboard the space station in fixed orbit above the beautiful blue planet below, where our massive purpose-built ark had been constructed for the six-month journey. We were all willing volunteers, and had been deliberately chosen for this first attempt at creating mankind’s first colony in space, not so much for our accumulated wealth of knowledge garnered over our lifetimes, but for our expendability should things go seriously wrong with the untested prototype ark, a decision taken by the world’s governments to solve the problem of the ever-increasing numbers of pensionable people.
While no government would admit it publicly, the cost to the public purse looking after the older generation was, in their penny-pinching eyes, prohibitive. Sending us off to other parts of the solar system was by far the cheapest option, and secretly our governments hoped that we would all perish in the emptiness of space.
We, however, had other ideas.
The average age of our group was fifty. The oldest was in her early seventies; the youngest was administrator Johnson, a truly loathsome individual in his late forties, sent as punishment for his gross stupidity and incompetence as the representative of the world governments to oversee the construction of our settlement.
Ahead of our ship’s long journey, the governments of the world’s nations had sent cheap poorly constructed unmanned solid fuel drone ships containing the building blocks for our fledgling society. Loaded aboard each drone were prefabricated buildings containing a fully functional hospital unit, a communications unit for those of us who may still feel the need to contact their nearest and dearest back on Earth, plus to establish our fledgling society’s rules for a new government and laws based on what was currently in vogue on Earth – not that any of us, with the exception of Johnson the sole administrator, believed replicating any form of that kind of institution here on Mars was a good idea – along with hydroponic units, living quarters, workshops and every other conceivable kind of contrivance deemed necessary for our outpost of humanity.
Until we had built man’s first Mars colony we would live aboard the ark we had all travelled in. In time satellite towns would be constructed to house what we all hoped would be our progeny in the near future. We may have been members of the older generation but we still had needs, and who knows, perhaps living here on Mars may even be beneficial to the reproductive organs of all concerned. If it wasn’t, at least we would all die happy in a few years from now, free from the disapproving eyes of our children who firmly believed that pensioners had no right to a healthy sex life.
Many of the drone ships had crash-landed miles from where we now gazed out across the vast red desert region chosen for its close proximity to the untapped supply of water in the northern ice cap due to inbuilt design fault inconsistencies in their navigational equipment. I was tasked by Johnson, along with six others, with locating the drone ships away from our immediate area. The tracked vehicles we used were solar powered, totally sealed from the harsh Mars environment, especially from the dust storms. For the moment at least we abided by his directives, but that would soon change.
Previous exploratory vehicles sent to sample Mars’ ancient soils back in the twenty-first century had simply stopped working after a couple of years due to the fine dust particles that not only covered their rudimentary solar panels but also clogged up the exposed working parts of those tiny pioneering, crudely constructed explorers. One had managed to survive for seven years before eventually succumbing to the dust.
“Ready to go Malcolm?” Liz Fraser’s velvet voice asked.
“Let’s go” I said, glad at last to be doing something constructive.
Liz and I had teamed up together within a couple of days. Before she retired, Liz had been a nurse in the armed forces, rising through the ranks, retiring on a full colonels pay. To say we hit it off straight away would be an understatement. We shared similar interests besides our physical attraction for one another, in things mechanical along with literature, films and music, and with our disgust with the way our home planet was being run. Liz led the way in her surface crawler with me bringing up the rear.
Fortunately for us the emergency beacons aboard the crashed drone ships were working perfectly. The three two-man teams of crawlers worked for nearly a month retrieving all of our supplies from the drones. The last trip we all made was to drag the now empty hulls of the drones, using all six crawlers linked in tandem back to our camp where they would be cannibalised for additional building material for our settlement.
While we were occupied, Johnson divided the rest into various construction crews. Some worked on building our accommodation units, while one specific group under retired emeritus Professor Alec Knight, a specialist in horticulture, built the hydroponic unit that would grow our fresh food. Alec, like Liz and I loathed Johnson. We all agreed that before too long, something would have to be done about the obnoxious little government representative. Over the next few days, between us we hatched a plan.
Johnson sat in what he liked to call his command centre, in reality just a small cubicle in the main building at the centre of the circle of buildings, keeping his beady eye on all of us as we slaved for twelve hours per day constructing the settlement. He jumped when a loud knock on his door disturbed his train of thought.
“Come,” he said in answer to the knock.
Alec entered followed by Liz.
“Yes!” Johnson snapped contemptuously, not looking up from the paperwork on his desk. He was a typical cold-hearted government employee and a truly malicious little man.
“Mr. Johnson, Colonel Fraser has found something while out in her crawler on a mission for me that she thought should be brought to your attention immediately. She told me about it and I concurred with her that as you are Earth’s official representative, you should be immediately informed of her momentous discovery.”
“Well, go on, get on with it. I’m a busy man!” Johnson almost spat out the words without lifting his head from his administrative work on the desk.
Liz began to speak.
“I was out in the northern sector assisting professor Knight in his search for samples of possible life when I drove along a particular escarpment the professor had asked me to explore. As I rounded a prominence, directly ahead of me I saw a large exposed vein of what I’m sure is gold Mr Johnson. I hurried back here straight away.”
Johnson’s face gave away nothing of his delight in the news. One of his overriding orders was to look for possible mining opportunities utilizing the many and varied fields of expertise at his disposal within our community.
“Right – take me there immediately. Bring Tennent with you. His geology skills will be needed. We’ll meet in the loading bay in fifteen minutes,” he said as he waved a dismissive hand.
Twenty minutes later we were all crammed into Liz’s crawler heading north.
Two days went by before Liz finally found the escarpment again. She drove slowly along its length until the prominence appeared. Johnson zoomed in the crawler’s camera onto the vein of fools’ gold.
“Well, Mr. Johnson why don’t you come with me while I check the gold for its purity?” I said, trying to make my invite as pleasant as possible as I helped him with his suit helmet while plugging in his doctored enviropac which gave each of us our supply of oxygen which I had switched back to base. The bastard had less than ten minutes air supply. Like his greedy counterparts back on Earth he took the bait hook line and sinker.
When we returned minus Johnson a great cheer went up among our fellow settlers…
“Hey? Tennent you worthless piece of garbage – daydreaming yet again? You are in here for life you useless old pathetic apology with no possible hope of remission on your sentence. Life Tennent, life!” he said through the inspection hatch of the cell door. “At least dreams are still free Mr. Johnson,” I replied without shifting my gaze from the night sky outside my cell as I imagined my hands around his throat choking the life out of my cruel and loathsome gaoler, reliving the moment when I strangled the youthful mugger who had killed my beloved wife Liz on the street near our home so cruelly that day six months ago…