White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 10, 11

White mars. Chapter 10, 11


My Secret Dance and Rivers for God

Some malcontents rejected everything offered them in the way of enlightenment, so impatient were they to return to Earth. They formed an action group, led by two brothers of mixed nationality, Abel and Jarvis Feneloni. Abel was the more powerful of the two, a brawny games player who had done his community service in an engineering department on Luna. Jarvis fancied himself as an amateur politician. Their family had lived on an Hawaiian island, where Jarvis had been one of a vulcanism team.

Expeditions outside the domes to the surface of Mars were strictly limited, in order to conserve oxygen and water. The Fenelonis, however, had a plan. One noontime, they, and four other men, broke the rules and rode out in a commandeered buggy. With them they took cylinders of hydrogen from a locked store.

A certain amount of hardware littered the area of Amazonis near the domes. Among the litter stood a small EUPACUS ferry, the ‘Clarke Connector’, abandoned when the giant international confederation had collapsed.

The action group set about refuelling the ferry. In a nearby heated prefab shed stood a Zubrin Reactor, still in working order despite the taxing variations in Martian temperatures. It soon began operating at 400° Celsius. Atmospheric carbon dioxide plus the stolen hydrogen began to generate methane and oxygen. The RWGS reaction kicked in. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen, plus catalyst, yielded carbon monoxide and water, this part of the operation being maintained by the excess energy of the operation. The water was immediately electrolysed to produce more oxygen, which would burn the methane in a rocket engine.

The group connected hoses from the Zubrin to the ferry. The refuelling process began.

As the group of six men sheltered in the buggy, waiting for the tanks to fill, an argument broke out between the Feneloni brothers, in which the other men became involved. Each man had a pack of food with him. The plan was that when they reached the interplanetary vessel orbiting overhead, all except Abel would climb into cryogenic lockers and sleep out the journey home. Abel would fly the craft for a week, lock it into an elliptical course for Earth, allow the automatics to take over, and then go cryogenic himself. He would be the first to awaken when the craft was a week’s flight away from Earth, and would take over from the guidance systems.

Abel had shown great confidence during the planning stage, carrying the others with him. Now his younger brother asked, hesitantly, if Abel had taken into account the fact that methane had a lower propellant force than conventional fuel.

‘We’ll compute that once we’re aboard the fridge wagon,’ Abel said. ‘You’re not getting chicken, are you?’

That’s not an answer, Abel,’ said one of the other men, Dick Harrison. ‘You’ve set yourself up as the man with the answers regarding the flight home. So why not answer your brother straight?’

‘Don’t start bitching, Dick. We’ve got to be up in that fridge wagon before they come and get us. The on-board computer will do the necessary calculations.’ He drummed his fingers on the dash, sighing heavily.

They sat there, glaring at each other, in the faint shadow of the ferry.

‘You’re getting jumpy, not me,’ said Jarvis.

‘Shut your face, kid.’

‘I’ll ask you another elementary question,’ said Dick. ‘Are Mars and Earth at present in opposition or conjunction? Best time to do the trip is when they’re in conjunction, isn’t it?’

‘Will you please shut the fuck up and prepare to board the ferry?’

‘You mean you don’t bloody know?’ Jarvis said. ‘You told us the timing had to be right, and you don’t bloody know?’

A quarrel developed. Abel invited his brother to stay bottled up on Mars if he was so jittery. Jarvis said he would not trust his brother to navigate a fridge wagon if he could not answer a simple question.

‘You’re a titox – always were!’ Abel roared. ‘Always were! Get out and stay out! We don’t need you.’

Without another word, Jarvis climbed from the buggy and stood there helplessly, breathing heavily in his atmosphere suit. After a minute, Dick Harrison climbed down and joined him.

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Categories: Aldiss, Brian