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22.697 degrees North latitude,
48.222 degrees West longitude
Ian Keliher walked up to what loked to be an enormous portal, the steel plates sealed tight. He tapped it, then turned to the three men following behind him.
"So -- what's on the other side?" he asked. Two of the men -- Elliot Swann, the company lawyer, and Jack Campbell, the head of security -- turned to the man in uniform. Medals and colorful bars spoke of experience; three stars indicated a general.
A general in the space marines, Kelliher thought. Less a U.S. government military unit than a Union Aerospace Corporation private security force.
"Mars," the general replied. "Right now, nothing but a big flat expanse of red dirt and rock."
Kelliher nodded. He knew the project was behind schedule, even though no one had told him so. Nobody ever told him the truth about the problems. Nobody ever told him anything they thought he didn't want to hear.
Worst of all, he'd have to go back Earthside and report to his father, the great Tommy Kelliher. Sitting in his castle-like Newport Beach estate, monitored by the best medical help that money could buy, kept alive by drugs and machines that most of the world's hospitals hadn't even heard about.
Tommy Kelliher. UAC founder emeritus.
Ian was now the UAC chairman. But as long as the pumps forced air into his father's lungs, Ian would still have to talk to the man who made UAC the amazingly powerful global business it was today. After all, how many businesses owned an entire planet?
Sure, Mars was being developed as a "joint venture" by the United States government and the UAC, but there was no one on Capitol Hill who didn't know the truth. Mars would be a UAC operation, and the good old U.S. of A. was merely along for the ride.
Kelliher took a step closer to General Hayden.
"General, my supervisors say that the work out there, connecting the units...that it's all not going as easily as anticipated."
Hayden nodded. The man had seen his share of battles -- or "skirmishes," as the government liked to call the never-ending little wars that plagued planet Earth -- so he didn't exactly shrink, or back away a step, but a thin line of sweat broke out on his brow.
"True, there have been difficulties. Some rock formations went much deeper than we thought. The surveys were completely wrong in certain places -- "
The other two men stayed quiet. Not their job to add heat to this dish.
"But, General," said Kelliher, "you have done everything you can to help the teams, correct mistakes, to keep us moving forward, yes?"
"Full speed ahead, Ian."
As if we're in the navy now. And not in the middle of the largest construction project ever attempted anywhere, let alone in a hostile environment.
Nothing even came close.
"Good. Full speed, as you say. Okay -- so now I want to see."
Hayden's eyes narrowed. "See? See what?" Another tap of the metal. "Outside. The work, the progress, talk to some my supervisors. And -- oh yes -- " A pause, so Hayden knew what Kelliher's real purpose was. "I want to look around Delta. Best tell Betruger."
Hayden didn't move.
"And how about we get started now, General?"
Hayden nodded, and then turned and started leading the men away from the unfinished corridor and back to the Administration wing.
"This will all eventually be sealed," Hayden said, pointing to a series of airlocks.
Kelliher walked up to them. "They don't look very substantial."
"As I said...just temporary, until we have completed the other EVA access points," Hayden replied. "But perfectly safe, of course."
Kelliher fired a look at his lawyer. "Joining us, Swann?"
"That's all right, sir. I can wait -- "
"No, really. I insist. Join us," Kelliher said.
Campbell had already gotten into an EVA suit. A frequent visitor to the Red Planet, Campbell had supervised the implementation of the security systems for the ever-growing Mars City perimeter.
A prosaic name for such a massive undertaking, Kelliher thought. A city on another planet. And while there would be no towering skyscrapers -- in fact, much of the base would be underground -- it would ultimately rival many of its counterparts back home in size, scope, and -- to be sure -- ambition.
Big plans were in the works for Mars City. When it was done, anyway. One of these days.
Kelliher took a suit offered by one of the marines on guard, and immediately felt the weight of it. "We need something this heavy? I thought Martian summer was in full swing."
Hayden pulled on his suit with another marine helping him. "Last night we got hit with icy dust storms from the poles. And in the morning, it's always cold. So we need a heavy suit. Should get warmer by lunch."
Kelliher turned to the climate readout on the side of the EVA ports. Minus 43 degrees. South Pole weather. But here it could get a lot worse, down to minus 250 degrees. And every now and then, at the Martian equator you'd get a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Short-sleeve weather by Martian standards.
The marine assisting them brought over the lightweight helmets, consisting of a clear headpiece that attached to the compact compressed air tanks fitted into slots in the back.
Not much worse than gearing up for a deep ocean dive, Kelliher thought.
This would be only his second time out on the Martian soil. For some inexplicable reason, he found himself fraught with tension.
The Martian Rover, with its driver in front, sat parked, waiting just outside the airlocks.
"Let's walk instead," Kelliher said.
"Right," Hayden replied, his voice a bit too loud in Kelliher's helmet. "We can walk." Kelliher immediately adjusted the controls on his right forearm. Didn't need the general deafening him.
Even just a few feet away from what would be the Administration Wing, Kelliher could see the immense progress. The Mars City reception area looked nearly done, ready to connect to Admin. And past that --
"That's Security and Combat?" Kelliher asked.
"Yes," Hayden replied. "Marine Command is already based there. The infirmary is up and running. Most of the marines are already bivouacked over there."
"And that?" Kelliher pointed past Marine Headquarters to a large sprawl of construction just to the right and behind it, not yet connected to any of the other bases.
"Alpha Labs. Fully self-sustained. Already operational. Like all the labs."
Kelliher nodded. Each part of the base could exist independently of the others, with air, water processing, even -- to some extent -- food production. Alpha Labs was already busy carrying out experiments designed to make Mars more sustainable -- everything from the implications of low-grav hydroponics to the feasibility of using the great Martian dust storms to increase CO2 gases and accelerate the greenhouse effect.
The holy grail for Alpha Labs would be to create a breathable atmosphere on Mars. My God, that would really be something.
"Looking good, General. I assume the construction team can meet us after the tour?"
"Absolutely. I've invited them all for lunch."
"Fine. Just don't feed them. We're behind schedule enough." Kelliher made that comment flatly; no joke there. Every day they lagged behind schedule kept giant payments from the U.S. government from kicking in. Mars City had to be completed, and soon, or the UAC would start to bleed millions.
Kelliher looked at Hayden. "Just two more things to see now, General. Delta, of course. And the site."
Hayden didn't sound happy. The general never sounded happy when the site was mentioned. Well, then. Fuck him.
Copyright © 2008 by id Software, Inc.