Julia Maciel jogged around the perimeter of the snow globe. She checked her ring: eight kilometers done. Two more to go.
Running had become Julia’s favorite thing to do in New Dagreb. While jogging, Julia found she could simultaneously clear her head and marvel at the wonder that was a snow globe floating in the middle of the living lava bed of Olympus Mons.
On the edge of the dome, where she was, a mere five-meter layer of hafnium-nitrogen-carbon-alloy stood between her and certain death in the form of molten magma. It was quite a sight: glowing, sparking, pustulating, seething with its own shape-shifting life, so oddly tied to the life of Mars.
Before New Dagreb, no people on either planet had ever lived this close to a volcano’s beating heart. Such a thing was considered impossible. Julia had been told pieces of the truth, embellished by pieces of the legend. Dr. Aquinas had faked his own death, but his website didn’t say exactly how, a strategy that now seemed clever to Julia. The missing Binto robot hadn’t made an ant farm under Olympus Mons – it had made one long passage right to the heart of the volcano.
Using the same remote-control technology that had moved other snow globes into the atmosphere, Aquinas had “driven” Darwin into the volcano, just as he’d promised the Senate. What the Senate did not know was that after plunging it under the surface of the lava bed – beyond satellite detection, incoming signals jammed – he turned Darwin hard to the right, where it re-surfaced a few minutes later under an outcropping. Like most volcanoes, Olympus Mons was something of an uneven cone, with walls that generally rose at something like a 45˚ angle, yet also varied, becoming more and less precipitous. Darwin, soon to be re-christened New Dagreb, had surfaced at a carefully chosen part of the lava bed hidden from the sky. Deftly deploying remote technology, Aquinas “anchored” the snow globe to the wall by linking it with the tunnel he’d spent years surreptitiously building. With Darwin secured, Aquinas and his people jumped through the tube and entered the dome, with most of Mars none the wiser.
After Aquinas and his acolytes arrived on anchored Darwin, they spent the next few hours testing “energy gathering stations” on their outer edge, along the lava bed surface. This assured that the snow globe would no longer need solar power – would now work successfully and indefinitely through geo-thermal energy. In fact, Olympus Mons produced more in a day than the dome could use in a month.
Now came the part that Dagrebians described in their most awestruck terms: detonating the volcano with enough force that the Senate would likely cordon off Olympus Mons, but not so much that it would actually endanger anyone’s lives. Dagrebians spoke with wonder about Aquinas’ ability to “read” the volcano and come up with the appropriate ED-210 settings. On that day, Aquinas threaded the needle perfectly. Inside the snow globe, everyone watched nervously as lava surrounded the walls, up to and including the “anchor” tunnel. But this was all part of Aquinas’ plan – in the same way that you can avoid a hard tidal wave by staying underwater, Darwin avoided the worst of the volcano’s eruption. The snow globe did rattle a bit, but, like all the other snow globes, it had been built to simulate a Terran city while traveling through space. The Dagrebians remained under lava for more than a day, until Aquinas reported that the tunnel to the surface was starting to fray. At that point, he “turned down” the volcano’s temperature, returning the lava bed to the level where they’d come in. And there they sat, without direct sunlight, ever since.
It was all so fantastic, almost unbelievable…but how could she argue, Julia thought, when the evidence was all around her. New Dagreb was utterly cut off from all sorts of signals, including radio and the internet. No holo rings allowed. New arrivals were the only way for New Dagrebians to learn about the worlds outside. It was normally a one-way passage, with exceptions only to discharge fish for their grizzly bear guardian. According to Godfrey, they didn’t even know how well the plan had worked until more than a year later, when Texrom and Mars United became a bit more relaxed about policing the area, and new recruits began discovering the tunnel. According to Godfrey, when one new arrival reported that the Senate had forbidden anyone to travel to Olympus Mons, there had been a roar of cheers.
Julia finished her run. Her favorite part was the post-run endorphins. So good. Julia began running workouts in New Dagreb three months ago when she found out…don’t think about that, Maciel, she told herself.
It was like trying not to think of pink elephants. Oh, God, the moment she’d caught Kenyatta cheating! She’d felt as though her heart had fallen into the volcano.
Does every couple think that they’re different from or better than all the others? Even if that was a contradiction, Julia wanted to believe she and Kenyatta were special…until she found Kenyatta in bed with Bridget. If Julia let herself think about all the arguments they’d had since then…she’d need to run another lap around New Dagreb.
By design, Julia’s run ended a few meters away from the New Dagreb Temple. Julia had a few minutes before the convocation began. She walked into the women’s restroom, toweled herself off, and entered the massive main chamber of the temple. Most of the population of New Dagreb was there – about 200 people, including Kenyatta. She sat next to her friend Ezekiel and listened intently as Aquinas delivered his weekly oration.
Dr. Aquinas began with by thanking everyone for all of their hard work. As was his custom, Aquinas told a brief story about his time working for Mars United. The moral of the story was to show how ignorant and far from enlightenment were the people in the story. Dr. Aquinas admitted that there was a time when he was materialist and pro-corporate, just like the people he worked for. But he had come to a higher truth, best symbolized by the very existence of New Dagreb. New Dagreb represented enlightenment, a place literally above the hypocrisies of Aresians.
“They believe an eye for an eye, while we know that leaves the whole world blind. They think to stop terrorism with terrorism; we terrorize no one. Albert Einstein said that peace cannot be kept by force, but only achieved by understanding. We refuse to fear our enemies more than we love our children.”
Julia loved this.
“On Earth, humans have come very close to destroying the life force of their world. On Mars, we were lucky; the same actions nurtured the life force of this world.” He meant that industrial waste actually improved their environment – for a time. “But now, Aresians are going too far. Luckily we are here, deeply connected to the life force of this world. Our mission is nothing less than preserving the life of nature for us and for future generations.
“I remind you to continue to strive for perfection. I remind you that you are so much more powerful together than you could ever hope to be separately. I encourage you to put away all selfish, petty emotions, and try to love one another and love New Dagreb. Should anyone have impure thoughts of hate, pride, avarice, or jealousy, confess these thoughts to myself or Godfrey.”
Julia slightly winced. She was happy to confess to Aquinas, less to Godfrey.
Dr. Aquinas reminded the congregants that according to New Dagreb’s new arrivals – namely Kenyatta, Isabel, and herself, Julia thought – war would be coming to Mars very soon. He predicted that it would not affect their lives at all, that they would not know the outcome until long after it was decided. It was because of situations like this that they had separated themselves from the hypocrites on the rest of the planet. According to Aquinas, they were very clearly vindicated. Julia cheered loudly along with the rest of the crowd.
After convocation, Julia watched as Dr. Aquinas approached a few congregants, and then a few others. Dr. Aquinas appeared to be in a friendly mood. He touched the arms and shoulders of several of the women with whom he spoke.
Julia reflected that Dr. Aquinas had never touched her arm or shoulder, not once.
“Julia?” said Ezekiel in his usual friendly tone. “Are you all right?”
“Your body language is tight.” Ezekiel had scruffy blond hair on every part of his head, face, and body.
Julia put her voice in a whisper. “Do you think…the leader ignores me on purpose?”
Ezekiel laughed. “Oh, Julia, everyone thinks that. None of us can get enough from him.”
“Keep your voice down.” Julia watched Aquinas put his hand on Isabel’s shoulder.
“You think,” Ezekiel mused, “He’s upset with you about Kenyatta?”
“No, I think he’s always been somewhat indifferent to me. More than others. I swear.”
As most of the convocation cleared out, Godfrey walked over to Julia and said, “My father wants to talk to you.”
Ezekiel and Julia shared a look. Dr. Aquinas walked over with all the majesty of an eagle alighting upon the top of a tree.
“Julia,” said Dr. Aquinas, “I have noticed that you jog around the perimeter every day.”
“Yes, leader,” she answered.
“May I ask why?”
“I thought you knew, leader. It’s for my rehabilitation. From, uh, the bear injuries.”
“Well, Julia, I have recently spoken with Doctor Ramsey, and he tells me that you’re fully recovered.”
“I suppose…of course you’re right, leader. I guess I just like the feeling.” As she spoke, Julia caught Kenyatta’s eye. He was lingering, watching from afar. She also saw Ezekiel seeing her see Kenyatta.
Godfrey asked, “Two hours a day of yoga isn’t enough for you?”
“Ah…” Julia looked down. “I’ll do whatever you say, leader.”
“I know that,” Dr. Aquinas said languorously. “Julia, you came here with a weapon. You’ll remember that we freed you of your attachment to it.”
“Thank you again for that, leader,” replied Julia.
“My concern,” he continued, “is that you’re still trying to distance yourself from your fellow New Dagrebians. That perhaps you see yourself as better than them.”
“Oh no, I don’t, leader,” answered Julia immediately.
“It’s not just the jogging,” put in Godfrey. “We know that you do…some kind of martial-arts exercises in your home.” She knew they watched her.
“Yes, I do,” said Julia evenly. “It’s called bojutsu.”
Godfrey narrowed his brow. “Why hasn’t this come up in confession?”
“I confess…” said Julia, looking down, “…that I didn’t think it was worth confessing.”
“Julia,” said Godfrey, “Now that you’re recovered, you must stop doing things that separate you from everyone else here.”
“Yes,” Julia said, looking from Godfrey to Aquinas. “Yes, leader,” she added, failing to hide the disappointment in her voice.
“I see two ways forward here,” said Dr. Aquinas. “One is that you stop all exercise except group yoga. Two is that you teach your exercises to everyone else in New Dagreb.”
A smile as wide as the great caldera broke over Julia’s face. “Really, leader?”
“…If they want to learn. You still believe that war is coming from Earth to Mars?”
“There’s no doubt, leader,” Julia answered too promptly. “Within weeks.”
“In that case,” declared Aquinas, “purely as a defensive measure, it would not hurt us to be prepared. As I’ve said, it’s highly unlikely that we inside this volcano will see any sort of warfare, but just in case, perhaps learning a few, ah, bojutsu moves wouldn’t be the worst idea.”
Julia would have hugged Aquinas, but that would have been weird. Instead she effused, “Thank you, leader!”
Aquinas coughed. “Well, it was also Godfrey’s idea.”
Julia hugged Godfrey, since that was fine. “Thank you, Godfrey.”
Training would begin the next day.