by Amanda Jones
with a Mars bar and black coffee
They stood outside as dust spun around in the mini-twisters. Benign and soothing fresh air. Nearby the generator hummed gracefully keeping everything stable. Today marked ‘end of shielding day’ and the hashtags were trending all over Mars.
Ten years ago in 2060 something had to be done. Peace protestors had been right. You could argue about religion forever but the insurmountable core of humanity was love. Love had led a few here.
On the surface were atmosphere machines. It was only when you entered the main hatch that the extent of the colony could be appreciated. Below was a hive of automation. Thousands of rooms mined into the rock and made sterile. You couldn’t see any human walking around. The machines were totally able to maintain the facility.
As Coronavirus mutated again and again on earth the highly vulnerable were beyond help. Then the shipments began and the first space mission to establish building work on Mars saw one million minion robots successfully land. Working continuously they had the complex complete within months and the portavator installed.
Mr Harris had had Coronavirus seventeen times and made an excellent candidate for the first portavator flight. Beneath the Natural History Museum in London the other door lay and he stepped confidently into the shimmering mirror. Newton watched his vitals as he was squeezed and stretched and glooped and cemented and patched into the computer. A trolleybot waited in Mars.
BBC News streamed the flight live and a huge eruption of cheering and applause resonated around the world as Mr Harris waved from the huge, underground centre. Now the real work could begin.
For months the highly vulnerable had been collected into the transportation stronghold. Rows upon rows of cubical, transparent boxes queued along the corridor. The clear compartments were akin to houses for jumping spiders with a small, hinged door and circular vents. Shunted along the movator the people inside each room pressed their hands and noses against the plastic as they strained to see the portavator. Then plop, plop, plop, three at a time with a thirty second interval, they began to be deposited.
On Mars Mr Harris stood by to monitor as he instigated the shuffling procedure. Trolleybots ferried the boxes from the portavator to their permanent new homes locking them in place. On the whole the passengers seemed well having been kept away from germs for so long but one or two had succumbed to motion dislocation and had to be sadly relocated.
Many of the people hadn’t spoken to another person outside their boxes for four years.
Excited eyes twinkled as they smiled, maskless and free, at their fellow travellers. Most of them were older but a mixture of younger adults with both visible and invisible disabilities were mixed in. The centre of the complex held a vast, underground reservoir where tropical plants swayed in the air conditioning. An oasis of calm in a biosphere garden.
Penny balanced on her crutches and waved to her neighbours. ‘I’ll set up a WhatsApp group!’ she shouted, 'Pass it on.' One by one they joined with Penny adding each person into her retro phone.
A shimmer in the transportation announced the end of the operation. They were left to settle whilst Trolleybots busied themselves with dinner.
‘Who’s got Covid variant Oscar?’ WhatsApp pinged.
At least thirty participants affirmed and a competition of diseases and illnesses set the scene as people got to know each other. Once that was out of the system a feeling of peace was apparent as they had all determined no-one was out to compete or defeat anyone.
Mr Harris had remained in the portavator zone as he wasn’t staying. It would all be handed over to the bots to manage. The final Emotibots were delivered and soon positioned one-to-one with patients. Their eyes smiled and mouths cooed.
Zooming back to earth Mr Harris left the museum in his self-drive, aerial Fiat. He stopped at the WC to refuel with water and enjoyed his ride home. Tomorrow would be a big day too as he pulled the plans of the soil biome into his automatic tableau. Currently food for Mars was transported, but the next biome would ensure complete self-sufficiency as the first insects and seeds would be transferred to take root in the soil.
Taking his coffee into the garden Mr Harris relaxed with a Hopebot he had ordered for the evening. It flew around the borders, talking to the plants and helping the Countbots in their nature surveys. Underneath the leaves of a hosta microbots killed some slugs and relocated others as balance was restored.
Climate change had halted on earth with peat bog restoration and tree planting. Marine micro-ecos had long been successful as single-use plastic was extracted and fish replenished. Companion planting ensured ease.
His Hopebot turned upwards as an old drone passed. These were delicate systems and Mr Harris had a collection of them photographically captured. He snapped it as it whirred past and then settled for his evening.
Penny had an ear pressed against her left vent portal. Two metres away George was saying something through the plastic. ‘It’s no use! Message me through WhatsApp!’ she mimed.
‘How long have you been in captivity?’ he asked.
‘Oh! Not long, just seven years. You?’
‘Twenty-two. I remember when it all became necessary.’
Penny’s Emotibot alerted at this distressing information and shut it down. Each person’s Emotibot flashed red and the distraction process was instigated. A selection of computer games, e-books and films were offered. Penny chose a retro documentary on the world of plants. George went into battle with Tom to his left and several others chilled with a good story.
It was easy.
It was better.
Mr Harris awoke and made his way to the museum. The office was buzzing with colleagues ready for the launch. Trays and trays of insects were stacked up and the Trolleybots were paired up with specialist distributor Eco-microbots. It was a revolutionary day.
Stepping into the Portavator Mr Harris sighed with relief when he stepped into the reservoir biome. It was still early in Mars and the personal hygiene routine had not yet been instigated with the patients still tucked in their beds. A gentle light permeated through the controlled glass and he ordered an Emotibot. It accompanied him as he toured the vicinity and checked everyone, easing his worry.
At 9am Mars time Mr Harris walked into the soil biome and waited for the operation to begin. Steadily the insects and seeds were delivered and prepared. Each would play a role when the time was right and storage compartments on the perimeter were filled with the waiting parts.
Outside the atmosphere, though stable, was monumentally stormy. Mr Harris watched the dusty residue blow around and pile up against the dome. It would be smoothed out when everything settled again, as Mars was very temperamental.
He wondered whether he could live out here permanently. Though it wasn’t really an option and he would miss the earth’s environment. To be able to step outside whenever he wanted was something he wouldn’t give up.
It’s on the cusp of the treeline, where nature meets community, where the angels lie.
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