(Previous chapter is here.)
On the other side of New Jerusalem, on a parquet hardwood floor court in the Uniparney Gymnasium on Mars University campus, Julia Maciel watched six college-aged men play an unofficial scrimmage game of boball (pronounced boh-ball). After some back-and-forth, one of the players fell to the floor with a thud and a howl.
“Tanner?!” asked one of the players. “You okay?”
“Yeah, pìhuà,” Tanner replied, getting up slowly. He limped to the sideline, where Julia – diminutive, brown-haired, wiry – stood bouncing her pink boball with her bo.
In a voice so low it was almost a whisper, Julia asked, “Sub?”
“Ugh, a girl?!” one of the players recoiled. Wordlessly, Julia used her bo to launch her ball high into the air, and it descended smoothly into the far-side net without grazing the hoop.
The skeptical student, whose name was Stuart, used his bo to dribble their regulation-black gameball. He looked not at her but at his fellow players. “She thinks one shot with her trick ball is supposed to prove something…” Before Stuart could finish his thought, Julia swooped onto the court, stole his ball out from under him, and drove it to the hoop for another basket. The rest of the men laughed, and the game commenced.
Julia Maciel loved boball, which is a hybrid of basketball, lacrosse, and ultimate frisbee, and can only be played properly on Mars, with its unique magnetic and gravitational properties. The objective is similar to basketball: score points by putting the ball into one’s team’s hoop. Every player wields a bo, a two-meter stick with magnetized ends made by Applokia. The softball-size boball is made by Wazgretco to adhere to either end of a bo. Players in possession of the ball must either pass it or dribble it, giving the other team a decent chance to steal it. Bo-to-bo contact is permitted and even encouraged, but players are penalized when hitting another player’s body. The better players play indoors; in Mars’ 38% gravity, players literally bounce off the walls. (Weighing 100 kilos on Earth means weighing 37.6 kilos on Mars.) The best boball players can bench-press their own weight even on Earth, but are also agile enough to manipulate their bo and boball dextrously.
For Julia, a boball court was the one place where her years of military training resulted in something she actually enjoyed. Scattering along the wall like a spider, she played like the rest of them were standing still. Up, around, over, under…and putting down shots like they were potato chips. Of course, Julia still had to pass and play a lot of defense, but it’s a little hard to get around your defender if her feet are always in the right place. The other team smiled during her first few lay-ups – anyone can come out hot – but after a while, they looked like someone had stolen their VG collections.
“Hang on,” gasped Stuart, heaving breath. “I want to look at your shoes.”
“Please and thank you, Stuart,” said Kenyatta, one of the two guys on Julia’s team. “Julia’s boball kicks are just like all of ours, just like regular Earth ones.”
“Julia?” said Stuart. “Wait, are you Julia Maciel?”
She nodded without affectation.
“What are you,” asked Tanner from the sidelines, “12 centimeters shorter than your sister?”
“11,” she muttered.
Stuart made a cry/sigh of contempt. “Your family’s got craters of money!”
“Yours doesn’t?” she said in a lowered voice.
“Not like you!” he said. “Did you grow up training on an adjusted-g court?”
Stuart’s team went “awwwww.”
“Look,” she said calmly, “You played plenty of VGs in both g settings. And we’re all playing in Mars g. You guys use it to drain threes from half-court. I use it to improve my fakes and inside game, and you guys haven’t bothered.”
“Haven’t bothered?” asked Stuart’s teammate Deleuze, incredulously.
“Should I put on g-boots? Would that make you feel better?”
They didn’t answer, and she didn’t do it. They played for another half-hour, and Julia’s team didn’t lose.
Julia’s dorm room was decorated with a hundred tiny holograms of people and places of Julia’s family and childhood, all sponsored by Facrogle.
Kenyatta and Julia celebrated their victory with a post-game warm-down that led to them getting even warmer under her down blanket. In other words, they made love. As Kenyatta happened to notice a fixed holo of the mountain known as Olympus Mons, he became more excited…and as he peaked he shouted “Olympus Mons!!”
“Olympus Mons? Are you crazy?” Julia broke out laughing, as though she was being tickled. “You never said that before!”
He paused, composed himself, and lay down flat on the bed with her. “I guess I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”
“Yeah, way too much. You gotta get over this.”
“Jules, you have a holo of Olympus Mons in your room.”
“That’s because…well, you can’t tell how big it is in 2-D.”
“Duh,” Kenyatta stretched out on the bed, his head on his hand held up by his forearm. “Jules, I swear, I’m not some deranged conspiracy theorist about any other issue. In this case it’s the only explanation.” Julia’s Facrogle holo-scroll finished a round of ads and read, Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds. “See, even Facrogle agrees with me!”
“Oh, don’t go there again.” Kenyatta didn’t look hurt. Julia saw that he looked as smug as a cat who’d just eaten the family dog. She blurted, “No one could possibly have survived a volcanic eruption like that! The ED-210 and its crew were completely destroyed! As was the land, for acres around the machine!”
“They might not have been operating the ED-210 right that minute.”
“Right, which squares brilliantly with the part of your theory where they, or he, caused the eruption.” During Julia’s early childhood, Olympus Mons was subjected to several medium-sized “controlled” eruptions up until the day Julia and Kenyatta were discussing, when the mighty volcano had had a truly massive, gargantuan, atmosphere-altering eruption, burying an area the size of Brazil in lava and ash.
“You just refuse to believe,” sighed Kenyatta. The holo-scroll got through a round of ads and read War is costly; peace is priceless.
“No, you just refuse not to.” Julia sat up. “Where has he, or they, been for seventeen years?” The he was Petraeus Aquinas, the inventor of the ED-210, a machine that tapped and harnessed geo-thermal energy. He had almost single-handedly completed the terraforming of Mars by convincing the Big 12 to drill holes under the Tharsis Bulge, detonate nukes, and re-awaken the solar system’s five largest volcanoes. The ED-210 activated the volcanoes, filled the atmosphere with countless millibars of greenhouse gases, and used the extra heat and energy to provide power to the colonies.
“Seventeen Earth years,” Kenyatta’s eyes twinkled. “Nine M-years. And the answer is, somewhere in the Olympus Mons region. It’s been closed off as too dangerous since…guess when?…that eruption.”
“And drones wouldn’t have seen them? Heat-seekers? Radar? Satellites? You think anyone can really hide anywhere in the solar system anymore?” Julia’s prosecutorial tone hid, even from herself, her curiosity regarding the prospect that the ‘Wizard of Mars’ was somehow alive.
“Missing robot…” Kenyatta said in the cadence of the true believer. If Julia gave him half a chance, he’d mention the 400-odd people who had, in violation of the ban, gone traipsing through Olympus in search of Aquinas. More than half had returned to civilization…but 170 had never been seen again. Where are those 170 people? Kenyatta would be happy to ask her again.
“Let’s say I grant you,” Julia said dispassionately, “that he faked his own death – by causing a volcano to erupt. Let’s say he used a mining robot to build an ant farm or a little cave somewhere. So he and perhaps others are hiding underground or in a cave somewhere near the precarious volcano zone…and your dream is to join them there?” She could see him starting to doubt himself. “I mean, Kenyatta…is that what your parents would want?”
Kenyatta’s eyes suddenly blazed with indignation. “Do not presume to know what my parents would want, Maciel.” Here we go again, thought Julia. Kenyatta’s family were Binto miners, not “Uniparney babies” like the Maciels. Kenyatta had excelled in school, enough for a scholarship to the University of Mars, but, like all miners’ kids, his post-graduation job prospects were increasingly in doubt. As the employee-citizens of Pharealth and Twiya and Bankbank and Uniparney and Facrogle were having more and more kids, white-collar jobs on Mars were getting scarcer. Kenyatta could always return to the mines, and perhaps even supervise there. Or he might work in metal-fashioning at Applokia or Airboeck, but even that seemed a waste of his talents. This was not only a little tension between Kenyatta and Julia; it was also a big tension that separatist rebels were exploiting.
“I can’t help my name,” Julia finally said.
“No,” he answered, “but you can use it for us.”
“Not that way.”
“Just get your Mom to tell us the truth about Dr. Aquinas.”
“Julia, I thought you said you had a crush on Aquinas when you were a kid.”
She hoped she hadn’t blushed. “Every Aresian girl has that phase.”
“You also said you were a radical pacifist.”
The holo-scroll just happened to say, You are beautiful and desirable not because of what you wear or how you look, but for the spark of life within you that compels you to make your life a full and meaningful one. – Petraeus Aquinas
Julia agreed with everything Aquinas had written, but she didn’t really see how Kenyatta’s claims were possible. If anyone ever thought that any part of Mars could be a new Walden, well, the planet was way past that now.
Kenyatta waited, then: “If you really want to live at peace, away from hurting anyone, you’d want to join Dr. Aquinas.”
“Aquinas is dead,” she snapped. “And we are at peace.”
In a tone of genuine wonder, Kenyatta asked, “Do you…see something flashing?”
Hard to tell, in her room of rotating holos. Julia realized she hadn’t checked her ring since before the boball game. It was sitting in the side pocket of her gym bag, giving off a red flicker that meant she had one or more urgent messages. She dug it out and thumbed along the grooves to check her texts first.
“Oh, jībā,” she gasped.