The Boat

The boat is all we’ve ever known. It’s home. It keeps us alive. It feeds us, keeps us warm, and gives us a place to sleep. We live and love and die on the boat. The boat is everything.

One day I woke up on the boat. I stretched and yawned and went out to look at the sky. The sky was big, and I scanned the horizon. There was nothing but a vast ocean, going on forever and ever. I remember my grandfather saying that there is only one boat. There are no others. That had always made me sad. I want there to be other boats to explore and experience. I still come out here to the deck every morning to look for signs of one.

After coming down from the deck, I walked the corridors inside the boat, down to the galley to get something to eat. All of our food is grown on the boat and processed to get the most out of all the nutrients because there are many people to feed now. But the food doesn’t taste very good. It’s bland and stops me up. I once knew a friend who worked in the hydroponics section, and he gave me an orange from a tree. When I ate it, it exploded in my mouth with heavenly flavor. But the boat decides what we eat, and eating is just an act of survival.

Living on the boat is boring and repetitious. The boat understands this and keeps us busy working. There are some hours to relax and socialize, but mostly we are working to keep the boat running. Only the very young or the extremely elderly are exempt from work. They don’t stay young or old very long, so the boat understands that it is not losing very much work from them. I walked to my job like I do every day, and I stand at the workbench and repair the machines that keep the boat running. The machines come in, I fix them, and the machines go out. Most times I feel that I am really just another machine that fixes the machines for the boat.

The boat really never goes anywhere, because there is nowhere to go. They taught us in school that the world is one vast empty ocean, and there is not one space of land anywhere to live on. There is only the singularity of the boat, and so we must all work together to keep the boat and each other alive. There are so many of us now, and the boat seems smaller than when I was young. When I was a child, it was a place of wonder and excitement. A place full of discoveries to be made and with many empty rooms. Now it is crowded and old. I’ve seen every square inch of it, walked every corridor, deck, and room. There is nothing left to see, no new thing, except for more and more people everywhere. I don’t know what the boat will do about it. I think that it should look for a bigger boat, another boat out there somewhere in that vast ocean.

The people push and shove and yell. Their voices are angry and they believe different things, and they let those things divide them on the boat. I’ve heard talk of “taking over the boat”. I don’t even know what that would mean. We need to work together to keep the boat alive, but they want to own the boat. What would they do differently, except maybe have power over everyone. I worry that the violent-ones will kill again to do this thing. It has happened. And what if they destroy the boat in their anger? We would all die, all drown in the ocean of the world.

So I worry a lot about the boat, and the people in it. Especially when I see someone being careless. Like throwing refuse into the ocean, instead of using the recyclers. Our resources would dwindle to nothing if everyone did that. I sometimes think that it is already happening. It does seem that there has been less and less to go around. Some of that could be accounted for by the increase in population, but not all of it. More and more people leave trash around, and great sections of the corridors are dirty and unkempt. The boat is not well taken care of anymore, even though most of us are all kept working. I wonder if we are working on the right things. I wish I could tell the boat this, but I fear that it doesn’t listen or see any of us. It’s just a machine.

I finish my work for the day and head back out on the deck to watch again for other boats. Today I’m more anxious than ever about all of us on this island of steel. I’m more worried than I’ve ever been that we are all heading for destruction, and that we’ll be the blame of it—the cause of it. It would be one thing for a calamity to come upon us, and that would be sad, but there would be no shame in that. Nothing that we could have done about it. But to know that we had done it to ourselves, that we could have prevented it, that is the saddest thing of all. And it sticks like barbs in my heart that we are headed to that horrible destination.

I ponder all of these things and look out over the waves. I try to console myself with thoughts of my loving friends and family, and the lives and loves that we’ve shared. I think about the violent-ones and their agenda of hate, and their quest for purposeless power. I wish that we could all work together to make the boat a better place. I can feel what that would be like, I can see what it would take to get there, and I want it so bad. I look out into the growing fog creeping over the horizon…and I think I see a tiny glinting light in the vast distance.

The Golden Shoes

The shoes are grandfather’s, and most unusual. When I first set foot in them I was twelve. I didn’t know what they were. They had been handed down, I was told, through generations, and I should be honored to wear them. I wanted to ask Granddad why they were so special, but he wasn’t around. He’d passed away.

The first time I wore them to school, I felt proud. The shoes were gold and shiny, and I felt ten feet tall. I felt like I could go anywhere with them. Go faster than anything. Like I could do anything. But the other kids made fun of me for wearing them. They said they were too out of date. They weren’t cool enough. They weren’t in style. They were weird and goofy, and nobody wore gold colored shoes.

So I went home discouraged and told my mom about what happened.

She said, “Sometimes people don’t understand the value of a thing. They’re looking at your shoes, and they see shoes that don’t look like the ones they’re used to. They see shoes, but what they don’t see is where those shoes have been. Where they’ve walked, what they’ve tread on. They don’t know anything about your shoes. So they don’t know just how special they are.”

The next day I didn’t wear the shoes. I put them in the closet behind the old stuffed bear I’d had forever, that I didn’t use or need anymore. I’d grown out of it. I hadn’t had grandad’s shoes very long, but I felt like I’d grown out of them too. I’d keep them in the closet to remember him.

When I got to school wearing my modern shoes, the other kids accepted them. They didn’t pick on me and I fit in, but I didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel ten feet tall. I didn’t feel like I could do anything in the world that I wanted to. To go anywhere that I wanted to go. I felt like I’d be stuck in this town my whole life, and I’d wear what everyone else wore, and I’d do whatever anyone else told me to. And I didn’t like it.

So I went back to wearing grandad’s shoes and the other kids picked on me. But I shut them out, and I wore them anyway. I went where I wanted to go, and did what I wanted to do, and I didn’t let them tell me what I should be doing. I felt bad that I was alone and weird and strange, but I felt free.

Years past, and I grew up into an adult. I met someone and I married. We had children and I knew love and tenderness. My love didn’t like my shoes though. My love wanted me to get rid of the old tired things. I didn’t want to stop wearing them, but I loved my lover. So I put them away into the closet once more.

Without the shoes, I didn’t walk right. I started to limp through the day. I didn’t feel right. I didn’t act right. It was like I was a different person. It didn’t take long before my love noticed it too, but didn’t say anything. Didn’t say anything until all of the love had disappeared and nothing was left between us.

After my love was gone, I limped back to the closet, and put back on those comfortable old shoes. Those shoes that had carried me so far before. The ones that my grandfather had worn and his grandfather before him, and on and on. I started to walk right again. The limp was gone after a while. I could walk for miles and miles, and I saw lots of places, and I met lots of people. I could help them now. I was back to my old self.

I got a new job. I went to work with great ambition and energy, wearing my golden shoes. At first everyone was impressed with me, and I thought that I was going straight to the top. That my long years of struggling had finally paid off.

There came a day when the people I worked for stopped looking at what I was doing and started checking out my shoes. They didn’t like what they saw. Even though we were not in school anymore. They didn’t like the way they shone in the sun, and made me walk. They thought that my shoes should be dull and normal, something that everyone else wore.

My boss told me that I needed to perform, like the others in my team. That I was too busy thinking about high minded ideas and walking the wrong direction. That I needed to be less creative and work harder.

I was tempted to take my shoes off once more and put them away, but I’d learned from my previous mistakes and refused. Instead, I went my own way and became a success.

It’s been many years now. I have a grandson. I’m old and grey and tired. I sit him down and hand him my shoes.

I tell him, “I’ve learned something wonderful and true. The things that matter are not what others think. The things that matter are where you go and where you’ve been—what you do, and what you are. The shoes you wear are the record of these things. The people who know this will look at your shoes and see all of that in a glance, and the people who don’t will tell you to take those shoes off. But don’t you ever listen to them. You just keep wearing them, and I’ll keep watching you walk in them. And I’ll be proud.”

He’s wearing them to school today. I see him filling my shoes, and continuing our long walk. I know those shoes are safe, and I can rest easy. I know they will walk on and on—forever.

Martin on Mars: The Day The Wall Fell – Day 31

The smiley face kept me awake.  I couldn’t sleep and the snoring of my smelly dirty mining roommates didn’t help either.  I just about jumped out of my skin when the ding of a message emitted from my wristband computer.  It had stayed dormant for so long that I’d forgotten about it.  And that’s when I got dipshit Baxter’s log message that he’d left. That was it, nothing more came through. He’d arranged for his message to come through to me, somehow. Just so he could gloat. So I would know for sure that he was the one who’d done this. So he could get his last dig in before I died down here. But all I could think of was, the bastard is down here with us, and I’m gonna find him.

We set out into the tunnels and dug our way through. Martian dust has a unique smell.  Percolates, which are various types chlorine salts, mixed with the smell of gunpowder. Gives you sort of the ambience of a firefight at the pool. I haven’t figured out just what causes the gunpowder smell. Maybe it’s the sulfur, and maybe it’s just me, or maybe all those meteors that plowed into Mars over the last couple billion years put some of the same mix on it that they did on the moon.  I dunno. But we were kicking up plenty of the dust as we moved through the tunnels, clearing the debris and digging ourselves out.

Carly and Jake dragged Van Desoto behind them on a makeshift travois made from parts of the table in the safe house. He protested frequently that he could walk much more comfortably than being dragged along the dust on a frame of metal.  But I told him to stay put because I wasn’t sure how far along the nano-cells had gotten with the healing process.  They had been tuned to my genetics, and while they may be doing a great job clotting up any internal bleeding, I was sure that his gene sequence was going to give them fits.  They would probably halt and allow themselves to be flushed out rather than possibly do harm. There was an incredible amount of sophisticated programming involved with those tiny machines. Alone, a single cell was pretty simple, like some bytes of computer memory, like a few microscopic transistors on a chip.  But together, in millions, they combined their resources into a very smart hive mind of medical genius. It was hard to predict what they would do.  So I was prepared to get some heat over giving Van some of my blood. First for risking his life, which in my view had already been at risk.  And second for unauthorized distribution of nano-materials, which is a federal offense. Fortunately, I work for the feds. So they can just piss off.

We made steady progress for about four hours and then ran into a completely collapsed tunnel.  Everyone was exhausted and we just couldn’t deal with trying to dig it out at the moment.  Besides, as I looked at the tunnel I realized that there were some pretty big rocks in there that neither I nor Sledge could likely budge.  So we sat down in the dust that smelled like gunpowder pool, and we just rested a good long time.

I was feeling pretty dozy, when Carly came up to me and gave me a nudge. “Martin,” she whispered.  “I heard something down the tunnel.”  She gestured back the way we’d come.

“What did you hear?” I asked.

“Some kind of shuffling noise, then a a little bit of rockslide. It might be nothing, but then it…”

“Might be Baxter,” I finished for her.

“Yeah,” she nodded.

Her face was set with grim determination to be brave, but inside I could see her shaking.  Because Baxter had gotten in to some of the crew, like a freaking ghost demon. Larger than life.  And I knew that the little bastard was just a man like any one else, except for a very messed up brain.  And that might give him an advantage on some points, super intelligence, whatever.  But when it came down to it, he’d bleed like anyone else.  Well perhaps better than myself thanks to the tiny robots in my veins. The point was, it pissed me off that he’d gotten to them.  He didn’t deserve to own that kind of power over them, and I mean to see that got corrected.  ASAP.

“Carly.  Believe me when I say this.  I’m going to take him out.  He’s going down, and it’s going to be quick and its going to be soon. I promise you.”

“You do that Coswell.  And I’ll have your back.”

“I’ll be honored to have that,”  I gripped her by the shoulders and gave them a good meaningful squeeze.  “Now lets have a look down that tunnel.”

I took one of the crowbars we’d brought from the safe house to move rocks with and swung it experimentally. This would do just fine.  Carly shone a flashlight ahead of us and we crept along the tunnel with me in the lead.  I knew I was sticking my neck out here, but I also wanted Baxter and I wanted him bad after what he’d done to Van.

We hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards down the tunnel when we heard tapping of metal on rock.  Then the sound of rocks and gravel sliding, then some more of the metal sounds again.  Ahead I saw the dust kick up and then a light poured in from the side of the tunnel. I gripped the crowbar tightly in my right hand ready to lunge on Baxter if he showed his face.  He wasn’t going to take us by surprise again. Now that he was caught down here with us in a collapse that he’d caused, it was the perfect opportunity to get him.

“Martin?”  A light shone right into our faces.  I couldn’t see the person shining the light, but I knew that voice.  It was Chalie.