H e had had an office, once. Once he had worn a suit and had a gold bar on his desk with his name on it, and a string of initials after his name to signify that he had taken multiple degrees in agricultural engineering at the La Molina National Agrarian University Extension at Cusco. He had won an award for innovative designs for improvements in high-altitude agriculture. The British Arean Company had approached him about becoming part of the terraforming team on Mars. Manco had accepted their offer gladly. In those days he had been ambitious, eager to make a name for himself, and he had no family ties on Earth, his mother having died the year previous.

The arrival on the new world had been a shock. Mars was nowhere near as Earthlike as Manco had been led to believe by the smiling British Arean Company executive who had recruited him. He had spent a week in his new office, sunk in gloom as he studied the facts and figures. A frozen-fossil aquifer, deadly winds, punishing UV… and the British Arean Company seemed to have no terraforming plan more complicated than planting a few domed-over fields and sitting back to wait for them to vent oxygen into the starved atmosphere.

The design of the Areomotor pumps had impressed him, however, and when he realized that it was, indeed, possible to pull thawed water to the surface, Manco had psuited up and gone Outside for a walk. He had wandered through the few and pitiful acres the Clan had managed to put under cultivation, because while the earthworms they had brought with them were working dutifully, the bees refused to fly and therefore to pollinate anything. It was not a sight to inspire much hope.

But Manco had taken samples of the soil, taken holoshots of the terrain, stared for hours at the Martian landscape and, finally, carried melon-sized rocks back to his office. There he had cut the Martian stone into a variety of shapes. He had ordered a cement-casting unit at his own expense and experimented with the properties of Martian grit as a construction material. He’d had a brief but insightful conversation with a young architect named Morton, who had designed most of the existing shelters on the planet.

Electrified by possibilities, obsessed with hope, Manco had locked himself in his office with his buke and spent days drawing up elaborate plans. Then he had called a meeting of all department heads.

A nd everyone in the conference room, himself included, had had clean hands, neatly manicured nails, and the faces there had been optimistic, and the air had smelled sweet because the British Arean Company had still been able to afford things like air fresheners. He had set up his buke’s holoprojector and shown them his renderings for the canal and aqueduct system.

“We bring the water to the surface and we keep it moving in enclosed canals,” Manco had explained. “We’ll need a network of them, circling the planet, extending up to the poles. Here and there they’ll feed into artificial ponds, domed over with vizio. I thought we’d just use craters for ponds, maybe line them with concrete shells, see? And when there are accessible water sources everywhere—“

“But we won’t be farming the whole planet for centuries,” Sub-Director Thorpe had objected. “Why waste all those resources delivering water to the uninhabited parts now?”

“Because this isn’t just a water delivery system,” Manco had explained. “It’s part of a terraforming machine. The ponds will be used to grow algae.”

He had looked along the row of faces, trying to recognize one he had noted in the personnel files. Far down the table he had spotted a younger and more shapely Mary Griffith, and in those days she had still owned things like lipstick and perfume, its floral scent dissipating quickly in the thin air.

“Ms. Griffith,” he had said, “I was reading about your work with Martian algae and lichens. You were experimenting with gene splicing, trying to develop varieties that might help out terraforming.”

Mary had nodded. “Martian lichens are photophobic. I’ve got one now that’s phototropic, look you, and I’m trying to make the little bastard produce oxygen like an Earth plant.”

“What about an algae that produces methane? I read you’d produced a strain of algae that did that.”

“I have.”

“That’s why we need the ponds and canals,” Manco had said, turning back to Sub-Director Thorpe. “We stock them with methane- producing algae. The methane outgasses into the atmosphere through vents in the vizio domes. Install the ponds planetwide and we have a greenhouse effect. The planet gets warmer, the water thaws, storms occur and electrical currents in the air build up an ozone layer.”

“Just a moment,” General Director Rotherhithe had said. “I thought a greenhouse effect was a bad thing.”

Someone had stifled a giggle. Sub-Director Thorpe had rolled his eyes and, turning to the General Director, said “On Earth, sir, yes, sir. But we want a greenhouse effect here on Mars.”

“Oh.”

“More to the point,” Financial Officer Goodwin had said, “How much would all this cost the Company?”

“It won’t be cheap,” Manco had admitted. “On the other hand, we won’t need to import any building materials from Earth. Martian grit makes good cement. Martian stone is good for cutting and shaping.”

“But you’d need hundreds and thousands of miles of high-grade vizio, wouldn’t you? To say nothing of all the casting units and work crews to build this thing.”

“It’s the terraforming system, sir. It has to be built planetwide for there to be enough methane generated for the job, but it’ll require very little maintenance once it’s built and have virtually no moving parts.” Manco had sensed the tide was turning against him, then, but he’d kept on. “Furthermore, once the system is up and running, colonies can be seeded along the canals. The water will be their lifeline. They’ll be able to farm the land between the canals, with a little more expenditure on vizio. The day will come when it’s warm enough to grow crops without vizio domes over them!

“And from Earth, people will look up and see Mars the way Lowell thought he saw it, crossed with water-bearing canals, seasonally green with crops.”

It had been a nice image, but the wrong one to throw out before bureaucrats. Too fanciful, too much like science fiction. Most of them had filed out of the room in silence afterward, though Mary had stayed to shake his hand and tell him she thought he was a genius. At the end only Sub-Director Thorpe and General Director Rotherhithe had remained, staring at him as he shut down his buke.

“Well, it’s an interesting proposal,” Sub-Director Thorpe had conceded. “We’ll have to take it up with the Board of Directors, of course. Really quite an innovative plan, however.”

General Director Rotherhithe had stepped close and peered at the tiny gold crucifix Manco wore around his neck. He poked at it. “What’s this, then? You’re not a Christian, are you?”

“I am, sir,” Manco had replied. General Director Rotherhithe had pursed his lips and walked from the conference room without another word.

A month later Manco had received a memo from Sub-Director Thorpe telling him that Manco’s proposal had interested the Board of Directors, but would of course involve far more outlay of capital than the British Arean Company was willing to spend at this time. They wished to see a scaled-down version. Could Manco prepare a new proposal in time for the next quarterly meeting, with a two- thirds reduction in projected costs?

A month after that, as Manco had been revising his canal network, the Big Red Balloon had burst. Two days later Manco had been fired. The termination notice cited Article 3-17 D in his contract, the one stating that British Arean reserved the right to terminate without redundancy pay any employee determined to have joined any cult or engaged in any manner of cultist activity.

Manco had hurried to Sub-Director Thorpe’s office, begging to speak to him, but been refused. Thorpe was gone anyway, in another two weeks, as the British Arean Company reduced its staff on the planet. Only the bureaucrats received enough redundancy pay to get them home.

And Manco had gone a little mad, perhaps, for a while. He stashed his belongings at the transit station, bought whiskey from the Clan and spent a lot of time drunk, wandering the Tubes, muttering to himself in Quechuan and glaring out at the red world that might have become green. He had slept in the Tubes by night, like a lot of other former British Arean Company employees, and if it had been cold enough for a couple of the jobless to get frostbite, there was at least air to breathe.

Chiring had sought them out, thrusting his handcam into the faces of ragged unshaven men and a few women, inviting them to speak out about their abandonment by the British Arean Company. Some had ranted and raved; Manco had simply stared into the lenses, too full of bitter words that choked him to be able to get any of them out. Where would he even begin, if he could speak?

A few shamefaced Incan laborers, still on the payroll, hunted him up now and again to press handouts on him. He took to cutting himself. The sight of his welling blood was strangely consoling, though it tended to crust over black at once, never ran enough for cutting his wrists to kill him.

O ne night he woke abruptly, as he sometimes did in the Tubes, gasping in the thin scant air, his heart pounding. A storm was raging outside, in the black night, with sand hissing as it whirled against the vizio walls. It made opaque boiling patterns there, visible only faintly where a distant light from Settlement Base showed them up. The drone of the wind filled the Tube, hypnotic, ominous, like the voices of alien gods singing.

How long until dawn? Manco wrapped his coat around himself and wept for everything that might have been, for the pure malevolent strangeness of this depth to which he had fallen. He put his hands over his ears to shut out the sound of the wind, rocking himself to and fro.

He heard his mother calling his name. He lifted his head and stared, with his tears evaporating to salt tracks on his face. Her voice echoed down the grey ghostly tunnel. His mother had been a Mexican emigrant to Peru, never very comfortable speaking Quechuan, but she was calling to him without accent now, her grammar perfect. Manco, my son! Manco, come up the mountain to me.

Manco got to his feet and stumbled along the Tube, peering through the impenetrable gloom. He had a vague idea that it was bad to respond to a ghost who called your name. He walked on, though, wondering what sort of hallucination he was having. The darkness swarmed with barely-perceptible movement, sand and shadows, nothing but void ahead of him…

And a light, flickering red. Manco thought it was a warning light, perhaps, one of those posted by airlocks to remind the unwise traveler to mask up. Then he saw that it was a candle, a votive offering flaring in a cup of ruby glass.

It was familiar. He had seen it every night of his childhood. It was part of the shrine his mother had kept on the little shelf above the holocabinet, the shrine she had taken with them on all the family holidays, the Virgen de Guadalupe looking down on all the holovised soccer matches his father had watched, all the soap operas and news broadcasts… at night it had looked like this, the small circle of ruby light and above it only the downturned serene face, the folded hands, visible.

Manco saw them now. He stood there swaying, blinking at the vision. What was he doing here, back in the house on Avenida Tullumayo? His mother had sold the house after his father had died. Just as he wondered this, the roaring night fell abruptly silent. He heard his own breathing and heartbeat, and nothing else.

Nor did he hear the voice, when it came. It spoke inside his skull, piercingly sweet, words that he felt rather than heard. And smelled: there was an overpowering scent of roses. The face and hands were above him now and they were not smoke-darkened wood but alive, the dark skin of the Mother of God, and the eyes opened and regarded him.

Manco stood still, trembling. “What do You want?”

The reply was that She wanted him to plant roses for Her, in this cold and wretched place. Make the mountain bloom. Expend his life and the blood of his heart in this purpose. In return, She would be with him and keep him from all harm. She spoke to him for what seemed like hours.

The vision passed, he never knew how or when. Manco found himself shivering by Airlock Four, staring out at the Martian sunrise, and the sun was like a pale opal. He began to walk up the Tube, with no clear objective.

A little way up the mountain he spotted a domed shelter, looming against the morning sky. Hazily he wondered what it might be, until he remembered hearing that Mary Griffith had bought a building and moved it up here. He walked closer, near enough to spot her in full Outside gear, working at the base of the dome’s wall. It looked as though she were plastering or tarring, daubing and slapping something on the wind-scoured surface. As he watched, she finished and came back in through the airlock, rubbing together her gauntleted hands.

Her eyes widened as she spotted Manco. He nodded a greeting. “Remember me?”

“Manco Inca, is it? I do indeed. The bright man with the plan. It would have worked, too. Damn Rotherhithe and damn the BAC to black stony flea-bitten hell. Look at you! They cast you off too, did they? You look as though you haven’t eaten in a week.”
“I don’t think I have,” he’d said. “What were you doing there?”

“Ah! Remember all my hard work with the bioengineered lichens? All gone for nothing. Bloody BAC sacked me and locked me out of my own laboratory. All my notes, all my data gone Goddess knows where.”

“They fired you too? But you have kids!” Manco was horrified. The little girls had amused him, when he had seen them playing in the tubes. He had found the little chattering one particularly funny.

“And I’ve still got ‘em, and damned little else. Six Petri dishes I had on a shelf in my kitchen, that’s all I have left of my work, can you believe it? So I’ve just done a bit of gardening, you might say, putting the stuff on my wall here. If it lives, it lives, and I know I have phototropic lichen. If it doesn’t, it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“Either way, it’s no stinking use now. Come inside, Manco dear. You look like you could use a good cup of tea. I’m setting up a tavern, see.”

“I’d be grateful for something to drink, Ms. Griffith, but I can’t pay you,” Manco had said. She’d waved an impatient hand.

“Nobody has any money. Don’t worry about it, my dear. And call me Mother; everyone else does,” she’d said.



  • Back To About Empress of Mars


  • About the Work of Kage Baker

  • About The Author

  • To Mail The Author:[E-Mail]