I hung around Hellas Basin after talking with Angel. The first thing I did was check out the records she’d sent me. It was almost an exact replay of what I’d experienced in Baxter’s cell. Only Baxter didn’t tell his god to fuck off. He wept, and bowed, and lay prostrate on the floor of his apartment as the projection played out and the sounds of the waves filled his room. Brainwashing at its finest. I wondered, though, about all the events that led up to that point. What they’d done to him in that government program to enhance his intellect. What tortures had he endured, until he was reduced to this groveling thing that I saw in the recording? It was probably best that I didn’t know. I didn’t want to feel empathy for this killer. What I did want to know was who had done this to him, and why. Who was pulling his puppet strings? They were even more dangerous than Baxter, and this job had just gotten a whole lot bigger.
Angel is back in my head again, twenty-four seven. As much as I find it annoying, embarrassing, and invasive, I also find that I’ve missed her. She doesn’t judge me as harshly as I judge myself, and I can learn some of that from her. That’s a great thing here on my second round of life, because the more years I put behind me, the more things I remember that I’d rather not. And with self replicating nano-cells buzzing through my bloodstream, I’m likely to be around for quite a few more. That is, unless Baxter and company figure out how to stop me.
I had to think about who was manipulating Baxter, but nothing was coming to me. Today, I decided to take a little tour of Hellas Basin, the vast multi-dome complex. I figured it would help me think. I booked myself on a tour with about a dozen tourists. I even wore my vacation shirt that Angel hates so much. She didn’t say so directly, but when I wore it she said, “You’re not wearing that today, are you?” I wore it anyway. I love this shirt.
I arrived at the visitor center on time. It was bustling with people not accustomed to Martian gravity. You could tell by the way they walked. A little too cautious, and little too high-wire act, walking an invisible tightrope of lighter gravity and hoping not to spring off. I’d had a couple of weeks to get used to it, definitely not attuned as a Martian, but certainly not as funny looking as these tourists.
A woman appeared behind the counter and waved for our attention. “I’m Linda, and I’ll be your tour guide today.” She gave me a short, slightly uncomfortable look. I assume that she was admiring my shirt.
Linda continued, “If you will gather at the end of the building, we will board the dome-tram and get started on our trip around The Basin.”
We shuffled that direction in a disorderly fashion, as groups of people do in crowds. Double glass doors opened, and we filed into the completely transparent box that was the tram.
“Dome-trams are the major mode of transportation and are built into the design of each of the domes in Hellas Basin. They were used initially to build these great structures and now provide an easy way to travel within and between the domes.”
The tram car gently accelerated under our feet. The gravity rookies all grabbed for support bars around the sides of the traveling glass room. Outside, the Martian sun shone in weakly from the East on the city landscape as we slowly rose above it, gaining speed every second. This dome was probably about a quarter the size of the one over Olympus Mons, but it is still huge. Buildings jutted up from the planet surface below. Lamps attached to outer shell of the dome also lit the city from above to give the equivalent illumination of a nearly sunny day on Earth.
“The dome we are currently in is a foundation dome and rests directly on the surface of Mars. At the one hundred degree apex of each foundation dome a bubble dome connects to it.” Linda gestured out the transparent tram car.
As the car carried us higher and higher along the inner curve of the dome, I could see the other side more clearly. In the distance, the spherical shape of a bubble connected to the dome. The lower third of the sphere was dark, while the upper two-thirds was brightly lit, filled with a network of buildings and sky bridges. The tram reached the apex of the dome’s center point and began descending down the other side toward a familiar circular structure that I’d seen too many times lately, an airlock. The car slowed smoothly and we docked.
The double glass doors parted and we walked through the lock into yet another tram car. There was no noticeable change in air pressure during this, which I was thankful for. We all migrated to the front of the car to look out over the large bubble dome in front us.
“The lower third of each bubble is below the ground level. This contains all of the equipment necessary to provide power, air, and other utilities. Each dome is completely self sufficient, in line with the the three R’s of Martian architecture: Redundant, resilient, and reparable.”
Those three R’s were slightly different words, but lined up basically with what I’d heard in The Tubes. As we approached the apex of this bubble dome, something got brighter and brighter and dazzled my eyes. I was about to ask Linda what it was, but she beat me to it.
“Ahead you’ll see one of the large sun mirrors used to distribute light through the dome complex. A cubical mirror sits on top of each bubble dome, which carries light from the outer edges into the interior domes. This reduces the need for artificial lighting and power requirements.”
It made sense to use the available light of Mars, and concentrate it using mirrors. Especially since I already knew about the agricultural domes that existed in Hellas Basin.
“What about radiation?” asked a man in his forties, with slightly greying sideburns.
“The domes are made of radiation resistant ceramic alloys that reduce Martian radiation exposure by sixty percent. This is approximately at Earth normal levels. It’s a relatively new technology and was not used in older Martian architecture.”
We transferred through several domes in the next two hours, and I got to see some of the agricultural domes. We walked through small forests and flower gardens where birds flew freely through the air and small animals scurried among the bushes. For the first time since arriving on Mars, I almost forgot that I was in an artificially created world.
As we continued our journey to the top of the dome structure in a seemingly never ending series of tram car arcs and airlock transfers, it all became sort of routine and I started to lose my initial awe at the structure. I suppose after a few months here it would all seem perfectly normal and boring. But at first, it was quite overwhelming to realize that these structures had all been man made and fitted together like worlds in a Martian universe placed into a large impact crater created billions of years ago.
“This is the capital dome of Hellas Basin.” Linda announced with some flair, as we made another airlock transfer. Before us, we could see stately buildings of white and Martian-red concrete. Beautiful architecture spread out everywhere across the dome. Statues of important persons stood proudly, and flags wavered in an artificial breeze. Parks with grass, flowers, streams, and ponds dotted the landscape between bureaucracy. People milled about enjoying the parks, or marched purposefully along the sidewalks between buildings.
Linda droned on about the political buildings and pointed out some of the prominent ones, describing the purpose of each. I tuned her out and just enjoyed the scenery, which you could see better now as we gained altitude along the dome wall. I’d almost forgotten about all the stress of the case, the close call I’d had in Baxter’s cell, the existence of yet another adversary.
Then the dome exploded.