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Red Eden: Homeworld Bound | Chapter 1: Meet'n'Greet

ME2007VigilNov 25, 2018, 5:41:19 AM

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Chapter 1: Meet'n'Greet

Jack Hanlon grabbed the pull-up bar with both his hands and lifted his 95-kg body weight plus the weight of his 190-kg tungsten suit. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten!

His smart-visor sounded a ping and projected his girlfriend’s profile-pic into his eyes. Without skipping a beat, he answered the call. “Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen!”

A chat-window popped into view. Vicenta sat in the backseat of her car with her legs curled underneath her. “Jack, what are you doing?”

“Building my core, Snow White.” Jack lost count of how many reps he had done. Fortunately, he had an app on his smart-visor that kept track for him. “Gotta be strong for Earth.”

“Yeah, about that…” She bit her lower lip and averted her gaze from the camera. “I don’t think I can go through with it.”

Jack’s blood pressure spiked by thirty points according to the stats scrolling across the bottom of his virtual interface. His hands slipped from the pull-up bar, and he landed on the floor with a heavy clank. “Oh no-no-no. I already paid your fare. A hundred thousand runits, and there ain’t no refund.”

“Jack, I’m sorry. I’ll… I’ll pay you back.”

“You don’t even have a job.”

“My agent just got me a modelling gig. I swear I’ll make it up to you.”

“Forget the money. Why you bailing on me?”

“I just…” She pulled a handheld mirror out of her purse along with an eyelash curler. She proceeded to curl her eyelashes. “I just didn’t think it through when I agreed. You made it sound so romantic and all, but…”

He waited for her to finish. “But…?”

She applied lipstick to her already rosy lips then pressed her lips together. “Earth is no place for a lady.”

He scoffed. “Your agent, Sally, had something to do with this, didn’t she?”

“She and I had a long chat.”

“She just wants to sell that pretty face of yours.”

Vicenta held up her glossy-black lipstick tube. “Jack, where am I gonna find a Cha-Cha Chic on Earth?”

“Just bring your lipsticks with you.”

“And what happens when I run out?”

“Who cares? You don’t need that stuff.”

“What about clothes? Will we have to shoot innocent animals and skin them for their fur? Like savages?”

“You don’t wanna give up shopping? Is that your problem?”

“We won’t even able to shop for toilet paper. I can’t live without toilet paper, Jack.”

“Then we’ll bring a bunch with us. And it’s not like we’ll never make our own.”

Vicenta shook her head. “Why do we have to be the first? In fact, why do we have to go at all? We have a good life here. You have a hugely successful career making Mars adventure videos for DeepCast. Why are you throwing it all away?”

“You know my father is already on Earth. My whole family is moving there. This has been my dream since I was a kid.”

“And my family and all my friends are staying here on Mars. Stay with me, Jack. I’m worth more to you than a wild, untamed planet populated by primitive brutes. Right?”

Jack couldn’t believe the conceit of this woman. “When I was a child, my father and I went adventuring through the Martian outback every other weekend. Then one day, the adventures stopped. When I asked him ‘why?’ you know what he told me?”

Vicenta rolled her eyes with a sigh, a subtle non-verbal queue which stung Jack more than he would like to admit.

“He told me he was saving up for the ultimate adventure. Earth. I’ve waited over fifteen years for this, and in that time, my dad and I worked hard to save up enough money for this voyage. And you just pissed away a hundred thousand runits of that hard work along with whatever feelings I had for you. It’s over, Vicenta. Take a hike.”


Jack took off his smart-visor and cast it onto his unkempt bed. His mother had disliked Vicenta from the beginning. Ma had even warned him that Vicenta was going to get cold feet, but he had a terrible weakness for beautiful women, and this wasn’t the first time he’d been hurt by one.

He paced around his three hundred and fifty square foot single-room habitat, brooding over how he was going to salvage that one hundred thousand runit ticket that he had bought for his ex, that inconsiderate bitch. He only had a month to find somebody-anybody who was willing to fill that gaping hole she’d carved into his heart. But who?

His smart-visor beeped.

Could it be Vicenta? Had she changed her mind?

He grabbed his visor and slipped it on. He had just received a text message from his little brother, Ray. You coming to tonight's meet'n'greet?

Right. That little get-together organized by Solar Express. It was the perfect opportunity to scout the ladies and call dibs on the hottest one he could find.

He pulled up the virtual keyboard and typed his response to his brother. Fingers crossed it's not a sausage fest. According to online polls, more men than women wanted to be the first to move to Earth. Hopefully, Solar Express had taken steps to even out the sex ratio during the booking process.

He walked over to his armour stand, which stood next to his carbon-fibre wardrobe. He removed each piece of his tungsten suit and placed it on the stand. He had worked up a heavy sweat wearing that suit all day. Nobody else he knew, aside from Derek, who was his best buddy and future brother-in-law, had bothered to go through such lengths to train themselves for Earth gravity.

Jack took off his sweaty clothes and hopped into his tiny one square-metre shower. After he rinsed off his sweat, he towelled himself off and walked over to his wardrobe. He picked out a body-fitting, smoky-grey t-shirt and a black pair of Armano denims. He completed his getup with a black carbon nanoweave jacket and red running shoes.  

He took the elevator down to the lobby of his building, located on the underground level 10, and exited to the street. Electric cars sped down the road, each one travelling at the precise speed determined by the Standard Traffic Protocol, the autonomous navigation software installed on every vehicle.

He screened his eyes from the artificial sunlight beaming down on him. “Visor, increase shade to fifty percent.” His smart-visor darkened the tint on the glass. He lowered his hand and gazed at the fluffy white clouds drifting across the brilliant blue sky. A yellow biplane flew overhead, a white banner streaming behind it. The banner read, 'Virtu-Sky brought to you by Hyun-Sung Electronics.' A red dragon chased after the biplane. The dragon blew out a huge breath of fire, which left a fiery message that read, 'Co-sponsored by Red Sand Microsystems.' Here and there, a few black dots hovered in the sky. Those burnt out OLED pixels were an eyesore.

“HUDs up.” Jack's virtual interface reappeared. He pulled up a panel containing his apps and selected the Unterground Express app. The app asked him for his destination, which was the Enon Truss Congress Centre. The app asked if he wished to share a ride. He didn't mind sharing a ride, as long as it was with a beautiful lady, but that wasn't an option so he selected the more expensive 'travel alone' option. Within a minute of sending his request, an Unterground SUV pulled up to the curb.

The SUV automatically opened its falcon-wing door for him. He climbed inside, and the door automatically shut. The SUV had a single seat which formed an oval around the spacious interior. The glass roof offered him an unobstructed view of the artificial sky. He sat down, put up his feet, and relaxed as the SUV pulled away from the curb.

To pass the time, he opened the DeepCast app and browsed the top trending videos. The video titled Rediscover Humanity on Earth caught his attention. In less than twenty four hours, it had accrued over six million views, which was more than half the Martian population. He flipped open his smart-visor’s hidden earphones and shoved them into his ear. He selected 'full-vision' mode and played the video.

His vision faded to black. He heard leaves rustling in the breeze. A lush, green field faded into view. Before him stood a single tree with branches laden with red fruit. Birds chirped. Butterflies flew in circles around him. He rose from the ground as if lifted by a rocket. He saw lakes, rivers, and a huge blue sea. A forest-covered mountain, unmistakably Olympus Mons, loomed in the horizon, its highest peak obscured by wispy clouds. As he rose higher into the sky, it turned black. The horizon curved into the shape of a sphere. He zoomed past Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars. The stars around the green planet coalesced into words. Biomedica. Growing Earth on Mars. Click here to learn more.

He snorted. Terraforming Mars was a pipe dream that would never come true.

The ad faded to black. The actual video started.

A violinist played a haunting melody in the background. Solar Resource's company logo faded in and out of view, followed by the rocket-round-a-planet logo of its subsidiary company, Solar Express. A female narrator spoke:

Two hundred years ago, Enon Truss, Father of Mars and Founder of Solar Resources, led our ancestors to Mars in pursuit of liberty. One hundred years after the Exodus, Martian satellites detected multiple nuclear detonations across the homeworld. For the first time since dawn of the twentieth century, Earth fell into total radio silence.

But on Mars, our ancestors endured. They thrived.

Today, our population is eleven million strong and growing. We stand ready to retake our homeworld. In preparation for our journey across deep space, we have sent drones to monitor Earth. To our surprise, we have discovered that human society has re-emerged from the ashes of nuclear war. These societies are in the earliest stages of development. It is as if time has been set back five thousand years.

The following is a compilation of the footage that we have captured thus far...

The haunting melody reached a crescendo. A throat singer bellowed a deep rumbling note that sent shivers down Jack's spine. Tribal drums clashed in the background. A bonfire blazed before him. Half-naked tribespeople danced around the fire while screeching at the top of their lungs. The scene cut to a group of tribesmen stalking an unseen prey down an urban street overgrown with green foliage. The scene switched to a POV footage of a creature crawling towards a group of old women who sat in a circle inside a tent. The old women throat-sang as they scraped the meat off an animal hide. One of the old women smiled at the camera and patted its head.

The video cut to a scene in which warring tribesmen clashed with spears and axes in the middle of a snowy plain. The ruins of a great metropolis loomed in the background. A fiery comet tore across the sky. The tribesmen dispersed. A jet of flame burst out of the comet, which turned out to be a space capsule. It bore the emblem of a red sphere with a planetary ring around it, which was Solar Resource's logo. The capsule landed and opened like an orange peel. A flock of birds burst out of it.

The video cut to a scene of a young couple, dressed in animal fur, who sat on the edge of a vine-covered skyscraper on a moonlit night. The girl rested her head on the boy's shoulder. She was pretty, and he was handsome. The boy whispered something into her ear and pointed at the heavens. The camera panned towards the stars. The Hiigara II, Solar Express's debut interplanetary transport ship, came into focus above the red planet. The ship fired up her engines, and a burst of white light saturated the scene.

The female narrator spoke again: Join us and rediscover humanity on Earth.

Jack closed his eyes. Ooh, I've got the shivers. He could totally imagine himself hooking up with a cute tribal girl and making sweet love on a moonlit night on the roof of a jungle-skyscraper.

“Arriving at the Enon Truss Congress Centre.”

Jack gawked at the huge waterfall where the entrance to the congress centre should be. The car opened its falcon-wing door. He stepped out and cautiously approached the waterfall. Its gentle rumble called to him. An angelic choir drew him ever closer to the white mist. As he stepped into the mist, a hundred tiny droplets formed on his smart-visor yet he didn't feel any dampness on his skin. The waterfall parted for him, revealing a beautiful woman who stood behind a reception counter. She wore a white vest over a silver blouse. She smiled at him and waved him over.

He took off his visor to get a better look at her. The white mist disappeared from view. The waterfall no longer looked 3D and immersive. Its low rumble now sounded hollow and tinny. The entire facade of the congress centre was covered in OLED panels.

He laughed and slipped his smart-visor into his jacket. He walked through the entrance while rocking his head to the electronic techno beat thumping in the background. He put his left arm on the check-in counter and leaned towards the cute receptionist. “Please tell me you’re coming to Earth with us.”

She gave him a wry smile. “I’d love to, but who's gonna pay my fare?”

He pulled out his expensive smart-visor, still set to half-tint, and slipped it over his eyes. He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

She snorted out laughing. “You?”

He shrugged. “Interested?”

“Don't you have anyone else to take with you?”

He sighed. “My ex got cold feet. We just broke up.”

“Aw, that’s too bad.”

“So whaddya say? Want me to take you to the stars?” You’ll be seeing stars after you ride my rocket. Hehe.

“Tempting, but no. I’m taken.”

He shrugged. “Ditch him.”

She covered her mouth as she laughed. “I can’t just ditch my fiancée and run off with a stranger. My parents raised me better than that.”

He clicked his tongue. “You're such an angel.”

“Now move along before you get me in trouble, you devil.”

“Trouble? But we haven't done anything naughty,” he winked at her, “yet.”

“You're terrible. Just go. Enjoy the hors d'oeuvres.”


“Shoo!” She waved him away.

He held up his hands and backed away from her. “Alright, Tiger. I'll give you time to think about it. Ciao.” He walked away a few steps, glanced over his shoulder and caught her smiling at him. He winked at her and kept walking.

He came upon a railing. He leaned over and gazed at the reception hall below. The hall was thirty metres deep and a hundred metres wide. A white mist hung in the air above the dance floor. He tried to gauge how many people there were. Maybe a thousand. Swirling blue and red beams of light cut through the mist as electronic techno music blasted from the speakers.

A snake-like dragon straight out of Chinese mythology burst out of the ceiling, breathing multi-coloured fire onto the crowd. The crowd roared in delight as they jumped up and down with their hands in the air. The dragon curled into itself and spun with accelerating speed. The music sped up and became so fast that the notes blurred into a single tone which held for a few seconds. Pause. Then. Boom. Epic violin solo. The dragon burst from its shell, limbs stretched far apart, and undulated to the beat of the music.

Jack threw up his arms. “Woo!” He planted his butt on the staircase railings and slid down to the dance floor. He hopped off at the last minute and landed on his feet. He spotted his little brother, Ray, leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets. Ray chewed his lips as he gazed at the dancing crowd. Jack joined his brother at the wall. He followed his brother's gaze to a pretty blonde dancing on the floor with her girlfriend. They looked about eighteen, which was Ray's age. The girls bounced up and down while holding hands, squealing in delight.

Jack nodded approvingly. “Good choice. You know her?”

“I can’t believe my luck,” Ray said. “She’s coming to Earth with us. I’ve had a crush on her since, like, forever.”

A solidly built young man with dark brown hair waltzed over to the pretty blonde and spun her around. He caught her in his muscular arms, and she laughed ecstatically.

Jack cringed. “Ooh. Stiff competition.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

Jack pointed. “That pretty blonde over there.”

“Oh no. I was talking about her.” Ray pointed at a girl with pale skin, dyed black hair, black lipsticks, and a black dress who sat alone at a cocktail table with a scowl on her face. “Vanessa,” he said with a sigh. “Ain’t she a beauty?”

“Uh... not feeling the goth getup, but yeah, I guess she’s kinda cute.”

Ray groaned. “I want her so bad. You're good with the ladies. How should I approach her?”

“Hmm.” Jack rubbed his chin. “Observe her demeanour. Think what she’s thinking. Feel what she’s feeling. Vibrate at the same frequency as her, and the both of you will resonate.”

A big grin formed on Ray's face. “Jack, you're a genius.”

“Go get her, Tiger.”

Jack watched as Ray skipped over to goth girl. Ray slowed to a shuffle when he got near her. He shoved his hands into his pockets and casually took the seat across from her. She looked at him, and he, without even looking at her, leaned over and said something. Goth girl curled her lips in disgust and nodded. Ray crossed his arms and frowned. He said something that made goth girl shake her head. She said something back to him, and he nodded. He made eye contact with her for the first time. He curled his right index finger towards himself, and she leaned towards him. He whispered something into her ear and pointed away with his thumb. She nodded, a mischievous grin forming on her face. They stood up and walked away together, hand in hand.

Jack couldn't believe his eyes. He knew that he had given good advice, but he didn't know it was that good. Ray had executed Jack’s lesson flawlessly. Jack was proud of his little brother.

Someone clapped him on the back. “Jack, you missed the big talk where they went over all the important information.”

Jack turned to see who it was. The man looking back at him had dirty blond hair, brown eyes, and a muscular body. “Derek!” He gave his best buddy and future brother-in-law a big hug. “Skipped it for a reason. I'm here for the party.” Jack nodded at his sister who had come over with Derek. “Amy, have you been taking care of Derek?”

She pinched his nose. “Never mind Derek. We saw that last stunt video you posted. Mom nearly died of a heart attack.”

She was referring to the farewell video that he had shot at the wreckage of the original ITS Hiigara, which had crashed at the edge of the Valles Marineris over two hundred years ago after being shot down by the Eden Directorate. In the video, he free-climbed the wreckage, and the video ended with him hanging precariously over a five thousand metre drop to the bottom of the canyon.

He pulled his nose out of her pinch and let go of Derek. “Gotta live on the edge or I'll die of boredom.”

She put her hands on her hips. “I'm sure that's thrilling for your audience. We want you to be safe.”

“I'd be nobody if I were safe.”

“Why can't you get a normal job like Derek?”

Jack hugged his sister. “Love you too, Sis.”

She wrapped her arms around him. “You're never going to change.”

“Change is my only constant.” Jack had a bunch of cheesy lines like that. His fans loved them.

He and his sister let go of each other.

Amy linked arms with Derek. “We were just at the exhibition hall. Spent our last fifteen thousand runits on our wedding cake.”

Jack arched his left eyebrow. “Cake made of gold?”

“Might as well be,” Derek said. “Costs fifteen hundred runits per kilo to ship that behemoth of a cake to Earth.”

“Hope it doesn't go stale along the way,” Jack said.

“We aren't going to have a wedding without a wedding cake.” Amy jabbed her finger into Derek’s chest. “And it’s not going to happen until we have a lovely blue sky above our heads. It has to be perfect.”

Derek looked down at her and smiled. “Cost me near two hundred thousand runits, but you’re totally worth it, babe.”

The two of them mashed their lips together, and they made sucking noises.

Jack cringed. “Ugh. Get a room.”

Amy parted her lips from Derek's. “Oh, grow up. You're the big brother, yet I'm the mature one.”

“Really now?” Jack crossed his arms. “And who helped pay for your ticket?”

She smiled sweetly at him. “Thank you, Jack.”

“Did you have to sound so sarcastic?”

Derek patted Amy's arm. “She means it, Jack. Really. Thank you.” He muttered under his breath, “woulda cost me a hundred thousand more if not for you.”

“Just how much stuff are you guys hauling to Earth?” Jack asked.

“Oh, you know, the usual,” Derek airily replied. “Lots of shoes. A couple of dresses. A trunk full of makeup.”

“Hey,” Amy said, “you want me to look good for you on our wedding night or not?”

“You look good without that stuff,” Derek said.

“Oh, you're so sweet.” She kissed Derek then they started groping one another. Clearly, they didn’t care that they were making Jack uncomfortable, so he walked away.

He still had a few thousand runits left on his account, which wouldn't do him any good on Earth, so he decided to check out the exhibition hall to see what was on sale. He figured he should probably stock up on toilet paper. It could be a lucrative asset once everyone else ran out.

He crossed the dance floor and entered the adjacent hall. Dozens of companies had set up their booths here. From canned foods to cosmetics, all manner of products were available for purchase. He suspected it wasn’t the direct sales that these companies wanted. It was the prestige of having their products associated with Solar Express and the first Martian colony on Earth.

A beautiful woman with jet-black hair waved him over. She sported a black dress-suit and a red scarf, which she had tucked into her vest. “You must be Jack Hanlon. I have a gift for you.”

He had already received so many free products that he would have to leave most of it behind so as to not exceed his weight limit. Still, he didn't like to say 'no' to beautiful women, so he approached her. “Whatcha got there, Snow White?”

She slipped a plastic business card into his hand. “A Volta XCS-900 all-terrain vehicle. Courtesy of Volta Motors.”

He looked at the card in his hand. It was actually a key card. “Generous, but this will put me way over my weight limit.”

She winked at him. “We’ve got you covered, hon. Volta Motors will cover the full cost of shipping.”

He saw a poster of the XCS-900 ATV behind her. It wasn’t a large vehicle, but it must weigh at least two hundred and fifty kilograms, which translated to a shipping cost of three hundred and seventy five thousand runits. “What’s the catch?”

“Just promise me you’ll continue making adventure videos. The Volta XCS-900 will no doubt serve you well in your travels across Earth.”

“No doubt it will.” He studied the shape of her curves, and he liked what he saw. “I’ve got a gift for you. A free ticket to Earth. Interested?”

She covered her mouth, her pupils dilating. For a moment, he thought she was going to throw herself at him like a horny teenager. “Sorry,” she said with a subtle wiggle of her hips, “but I can’t abandon my mum and dad, unless you’re willing to pay for their tickets as well.” She ended her sentence with an inflection.

Nope. “Sorry. I can only afford you. Maybe one day, we’ll meet again on Earth. Thanks for the ATV.”

She blew him a kiss and waved goodbye.

He winked at her, pocketed his key card and walked away whistling. He strolled down the aisle, taking in the bustle of colonists browsing the exhibition hall. He came upon a stall occupied by Solokov Kinetic Solutions Inc. The company rep waved Jack over. “Mr. Hanlon, a moment of your time, if you please.” The rep was a middle aged man with a well-groomed moustache. He wore a grey suit over a red vest, which had a golden chain running out of its pocket.

Jack was a gun enthusiast, and he had always wanted a Solokov. Perhaps this gentleman had a free Gauss rifle to offer. Jack strutted over to the stall with his chin lifted high. “Got something for me?”

The rep wiggled his well-groomed moustache. “I’ve got a special offer just for you, Mr. Hanlon.” He turned around and grabbed a sleek silver rifle off his gun rack. “This is a Solokov Mark V Gauss rifle.” He detached a slim metallic slab from the stock of the rifle. “Comes equipped with a standard fifteen kilowatt-hour solid state battery, which can be upgraded to twenty kilowatt-hours if you need the extra juice.” He re-inserted the battery pack and detached the magazine clip. “For best performance, I recommend shooting .45 cal rounds. Each magazine packs fifty rounds.” He slipped the magazine clip back into its slot. He drew Jack’s attention to the dial on the left side of the rifle. “You can adjust the power from zero to a hundred. At max power, the Solokov fires projectiles at speeds in excess of Mach 5. Here. See how it feels.”

Jack took the rifle. “Feels heavy. What’s the recoil like on this baby?”

“The weight helps reduce the kickback. It’s also got a sliding stock to absorb most the recoil. Having said that, if you're firing at full-auto and max power, Newton’s Third Law cannot be denied. Solokovs are designed for strong men, and you are a strong man, Mr. Hanlon. I’m sure you can handle a Solokov.”

Jack admired the Solokov’s glossy finish. “Beautiful yet deadly. I’ve been loyal to Kinetoshock, but I can't resist this. How much?”

“Normally, it's sixteen hundred runits just for the base model. But for you, fifty percent discount. Plus, I’ll throw in a free scope.” The rep grabbed a scope off a display case and affixed it to the barrel of the Solokov that Jack was holding. “Scope’s got night vision, infrared, and aim-assist. It's state-of-the-art. Pass the gun over. I'll box it up for you and handle the shipping. Would you also like to purchase extra rounds of ammunition?”

“No point having a gun without bullets. Yeah, I’ll purchase a magazine box.”

The rep tapped away on his laptop. He spun it around for Jack to see. “Just log onto QPay and scan the QR code. The funds will be transferred.”

Jack scanned the code. A message popped into his virtual interface. Confirm payment of 810 RU to Solokov Kinetic Solutions Inc? “Confirm payment.” Another message popped up. Payment confirmed. Download receipt? He swiped away the message bubble.

The rep shook Jack's hand. “Good hunting, Mr. Hanlon.”

Jack gave the man a curt nod and walked away whistling a cheerful tune.

He came upon the stall of another arms dealer, the Huoxing-based Dapao Group. The Dapao rep spoke in mandarin in front of a hovering drone. He had his arm around the hulking shoulders of a towering Huoxing man. The rep switched to English. “And does the Hero of Huoxing have any message he would like to share with our English viewers?”

Jack couldn’t believe his eyes. Was this Erwin Yu himself standing before him? The Huoxing man was an action movie superstar. His debut and highest grossing movie was based on his real-life deeds in which he single-handedly took down the notorious Cohong Butchers.

Erwin crossed his muscular arms, his sparse moustache twitching above his lips. After glaring at the camera for several seconds, he growled, “I don’t go anywhere without a Dapao. When I took down the Cohong Butchers, I trusted only Dapao to get the job done. When they sent assassins after me, I had my Dapao by my side. And when I take my first steps on Earth,” the big man grabbed an electric chain gun off the table, “I’ll have my Dapao Shredder at the ready. Now suit up, grab your Dapao, and let’s take back the Earth.”

“There you have it,” the Dapao rep said. “Our first colony on Earth will be defended with Dapao arms. Always choose Dapao as your premier defence solution. This is David Chen signing out.” As soon as the drone flew away, David dropped his smile and said to Erwin, “The hardware will be delivered to the Hiigara.”

Erwin grimaced, dropped the Dapao Shredder back on the counter and stomped away before Jack could ask for an autograph.

The Dapao Rep rubbed his hands greedily as he eyed Jack. “Ah, I know you. You’re Mr. Hanlon.”

Jack held up his hands. “Sorry. Solokov rep got to me first.”

“You can never have too many guns. How about a free sidearm? Mars's premier security agencies can attest that Dapao Durangos are the most reliable.”

From past experience, Jack knew that freebies from Dapao always came with many strings attached. He didn't need the trouble. “Sorry, I’ve already got more free stuff than I know what to do with.” He walked away, though he still felt the rep's eyes on him.

He continued browsing the stalls, not looking for anything in particular. A stunningly beautiful young woman caught his eye. She stood by the Outback Company stall with her arms held out while her tailor, a small and effeminate man, scanned her body with a handheld device. She had long blond hair, which she wore in a French braid. She had a cute nose and petite lips. She wore a body-fitting dress-suit, which tastefully accentuated the curves of her body.

Her tailor checked the readings on his device and muttered something under his breath.

“What's wrong?” She asked.

“Your ratios,” her tailor replied, “are off-the-charts gorgeous. Such perfect proportions.”

Jack rolled his eyes. Come on, man. You need a machine to tell you that?

“The only thing wrong is that after I craft your suit, custom tailored to fit your delicate body, I will never again create anything so beautiful. You are my masterpiece.”

Jack wanted to barf.

The woman giggled. “I've never been complimented quite like that before. Thank you.”

“No, thank you. I should be the one paying you for the privilege of crafting your suit.”

“Nonsense. Name your price and I will pay.”

“Twenty five thousand is what I would normally charge, but for you, ten thousand is the most I would accept.”

Jack shook his head. Keep dreaming, shorty. She ain’t gonna sleep with you.

“Make that thirty thousand. No less,” the woman said.

“But that's more than-”

She cut the tailor off with a wave of her hand. “That is my final offer. Take it or leave it.”

The tailor bowed. “You are too generous, my lady. Thank you.”

Jack rolled his eyes at ‘my lady.’ Tacky as hell.

“Now you must pick a colour scheme for your suit,” the tailor said. He turned towards the fifty inch touchscreen display affixed to a stand behind his counter. He made a flicking motion from his handheld device to the big screen. A 3D-model of the woman's suited up body appeared on the display. The suit looked like a workman's coverall, trimmed to fit her body snugly. The base colour was white. The suit had black shoulder pads and a black band that ran down her flank past her thighs. The boots were black with white soles. The tailor flicked his finger across the screen to cycle through the various colour schemes. “May I suggest burgundy for the base colour and vermillion for the highlights so as to accentuate the rosy hue of your cheeks?”

Jack curled his lips. Vermillion was too garish. He cleared his throat and inserted himself into the scene. “Go with pearl-white for the base and gold for the highlights. Gold is a better match for your hair.”

The woman looked at him. He winked at her.

Grinning, she turned her gaze back to the tailor. “Let me see what that looks like.”

The tailor selected Jack’s colour scheme.

Jack studied the woman's reaction.

She smiled. “I like it.” She looked at him. “What is your name, sir?”

He was a little disappointed she didn’t already know who he was. “I'm Jack Hanlon. I make adventure videos on DeepCast.”

“I thought you looked familiar.” She shook his hand. “I'm Ellen Truss.”

He arched his left eyebrow. “As in the Truss family?”

She dipped her head. “My father is Cornelius Truss, CEO of Solar Resources.”

He smiled. “Beautiful and royalty.” I have to have her.

She waved her hand dismissively. “It’s just a name.”

“Your family brought our forefathers to Mars. Now you’re taking us back to Earth. I’d say it’s more than just a name. It’s a legacy that lives on.”

She smiled. She had such beautiful white teeth. “Is your father John Hanlon, the chief of our engineer corps, by any chance?”

He nodded.

“Now there’s a man who has dedicated his life to the vision of our company. I respect him.”

“He always said he wanted to watch his grandkids grow up on Earth.”

“Are you married? You have children?”

“Me? Nah. I've been too busy adventuring to settle down. But maybe one day...” He winked at her.

She pressed her lips into a thin smile. “Hmm.”

The tailor cleared his throat. “Ms. Truss, the QR code, please.”

Ellen turned her attention back to the tailor. “My apologies. There. Payment confirmed.”

The tailor looked to Jack. “And would you be interested in purchasing a new EVA suit?”

“Thanks, but I’m happy with the one I’ve got.”

“Well, I’d better get going,” Ellen said. “It was nice meeting you, Jack.”

You're not getting away from me that easy. “Hold up. Where ya headed?”

“The cocktail bar.”

“I was headed there myself.” I am now. “May I join you?”


Sweet. He followed her out of the exhibition hall and onto the dance floor. “You coming to Earth with us?”


He cheered on the inside.

“My father has put me in charge of Solar Express’s operations on Earth.”

“Does that mean you're my dad's boss?” Kinky.

“Technically, yes, but your father's the one in charge of our colonial engineer corps. My role is to look after my family's investment. We have poured much of our fortune into Solar Express.”

“Sounds like a big responsibility.”

“Not just for me but for all Martians. We are the sole inheritors of humanity's legacy. The next one thousand years will be shaped by the decisions we make.”

A tingle ran down his spine. She makes me feel all tingly with nothing but her words. Now imagine what she can do in bed.

They arrived at the cocktail bar. She pulled out a stool and sat on it.

He sat next to her. He glanced at her hands to see if she had on a ring. “You… seeing anyone?”

She smiled at him without answering. She hailed the bartender. “I’ll have a shot of Virgin Red, please.”

Jack wiggled his left eyebrow. “Interesting choice. Give me a shot of Risin' Rocket.”

The bartender poured a creamy red liquid into a tiny martini glass, placed a cherry inside and slid the glass towards Ellen. “Virgin Red.” He poured a steaming, colourless, effervescent liquid into a tall shot glass and slid it towards Jack. “Risin' Rocket.”

Jack took the shot glass and swirled the bubbling liquor. “So… it’s complicated?”

Ellen was just about to sip from her glass when she paused to look at him. “Excuse me?”

“I asked if you were with someone. You didn’t give me an answer.”

She swirled her cherry around her drink. “And here I thought I’d made a new friend.”

“Ouch. Got friend-zoned. Today is not my day.”

She giggled. “Sorry, Jack, but I’m already with someone.”

“Mind if I ask who?”

“You wouldn’t know him.”

He turned to face the dance floor. “Is he here somewhere?”

“Why? Are you going start something with him?”

“No.” He downed his entire drink in one gulp and smacked the glass back on the counter. “I just want to know who my competition is.”

She laughed. “There’s no competition, Jack.”

He winced. “You’re breaking my balls, Ellen. Is he that hot?”

She leaned in close enough for him to smell the shampoo she used this morning. “I need a man who can help shoulder the weight of my family legacy. What can you offer me?”

He stared into her blue eyes and became lost in them. “The world,” he whispered. He had no idea what he meant by that, but he meant it nonetheless.

She pulled away and sipped her drink. “Better roll up your sleeves, then.”

He tilted his head and wondered if she really expected him to hand her the world.

“Ah, Ellen, I’ve been looking for you.”

Jack turned to see who it was. A man, slightly taller than Jack, walked over to Ellen and gave her a peck on the lips. Jack clenched his jaw. The man looked ten years older than Ellen. He had brown hair, a receding hairline, and soft features. Not an ugly man, but not exactly a stud either.

“Kainen,” Ellen said. “I want you to meet Jack. He’s the son of our chief engineer.”

“You mean John Hanlon?” Kainen looked at Jack. “I know your father. He’s a solid man to have on the team.”

“Jack, this is Kainen,” Ellen said. “He's on Solar Express's Board of Directors. In fact, he was our angel investor. Without him, Solar Express would not exist.”

Jack smiled. This is who I'm up against? Great.

“I must confess,” Kainen said, “I didn't invest because I thought it might be profitable, though it certainly is. I had a vision,” he took Ellen’s hand, “of you, me, and the frontier. I had to make it come true.”

Ellen held Kainen's hand against her chest. “Promise me you'll always be this romantic.”

Jack looked away with a grimace on his face. Wish I had a billion runits to buyout a girl's heart.

“Ellen, I have something I want to show you. Can we go somewhere more… private?”

He'd better not be talking about his dick. Jack glared at the lovebirds. Kainen had his hand in his suit pocket. A ring? Jack stared into his empty shot glass, frowning.

“Yes. Let’s go somewhere quieter.” Ellen and Kainen walked away together.

Jack slumped over the bar counter and snorted. Gold digger. A different voice in his head sneered at him. Sure, believe that if it makes you feel better.

A text message from Solar Express popped into his virtual interface. We have just received a communications update from our engineers on Earth. Please report to Hall C to listen to their message.

He got off his stool, scanned the QR code for his drink and marched into Hall C. Everyone else headed in the same direction. Inside the hall, he saw a big OLED screen on the far wall with rows of seats arranged in front of it.

“Jack, over here.” Jack’s mother, Mary Hanlon, waved him over. She was at the front row with Ray, Amy and Derek. Jack crossed over to them. His mother gave him a hug. “Glad you could make it.” She let go. “What's the matter? Is something wrong?”

Moms. Jack was convinced they had a sixth sense for their children’s feelings. “Nothin’,” he mumbled.

She tilted her head. “Vicenta’s not here, is she?”

He shook his head.

His mother rubbed his arms. “I know plenty of nice girls who are coming to Earth with us.”

He held up his hands. “Ma, I don’t want you introducing me to anyone. Please.”

“Don’t be shy, Jack. You remember the Evans? They used to be our neighbours. I ran into them not too long ago, and we’ve been catching up. Their daughter, Brenda, absolutely adores you. Remember how she’s always wanted to be your friend?”

He remembered Brenda. The last time he saw her, she was eleven years old and not exactly the most attractive girl on the block. And yes, he did remember how she used to follow him everywhere. Come to think of it, she was a bit of a stalker.

“She’s grown into a beautiful swan,” Mother said.


“You should meet her. She’s very excited to see you. She follows your channel, you know?”

Great. She's still stalking me after all this time, but if she's beautiful... He bobbed his head. “Sure, I can meet her, if she’s as pretty as you say.”

“Oh, Jack. You put far too much emphasis on beauty.”

“Wait. So is she beautiful or not?”

“She is. You’ll see.”

He wasn’t so sure anymore. “Yeah, maybe.”

The lights went out.

Mother grabbed his arm. “It’s about to begin. Everyone, sit down. Hush!”

He sat down with his mother. The big OLED screen turned black. The low rumble of waves crashing against the shore filled the auditorium. Birds squawked. A soft guitar tune played in the background. A scene slowly faded into view. It was of waves washing against a beach of pitch-black sand. A male singer broke into song:

Blue skies and sunny days.
Green grass and lemonade.
Dance 'round and 'round and 'round.
Hiigara, we're homeworld bound.

Mother squeezed Jack's arm. “That’s your father!”

A violinist launched into a playful melody that put a smile on Jack’s face. When the melody ended, the camera cut to a tall man with blondish-white hair and a white goatee. He stood knee deep in the ocean while playing his guitar. Jack smiled. That's Dad, alright.

Surf the ocean waves,
and watch the palm trees swayz.
Jump up and up and down.
Hiigara, we're homeworld bound.

The camera cut to a violinist standing at the edge of a mountainous plateau. The man had swept-back blond hair, and he wore a tacky neon-yellow smart-visor. He launched into another playful melody as the camera circled around him.

The blue jay flaps it wings,
soaring as it sings.
Make angels on the ground.
Hiigara, we're homeworld bound.

The camera cut to a scene of twenty men making snow-angels on the ground. They sang in unison:

Hiigaara! Hiigaara!
We're homeworld bound. Homeworld bound.
Hiigaara! Hiigaara!
We’re homeworld bound…

The camera cut to Dad’s face. He closed his eyes and whispered, “Homeworld bound.”

The scene faded to black.

Mother jumped to her feet, applauding vigorously as she squealed in delight. Everyone in the auditorium stood up in standing ovation. Jack exchanged glances with Ray. Ray had a look on his face that said “that’s our Dad!” Jack smiled and gave Ray the thumbs up.

Back on the OLED screen, the camera focused on Jack's father. Father sat inside a cramped office with a computer desktop behind him. He held up his camera with his left hand like a vlogger. “I hope you guys enjoyed that. Just a little something the crew and I put together now that we have some spare time. As you all know, we have been working hard to restore the infrastructure down here. Iceland is a beautiful island. The capital city, Reykjavik, and many of the towns throughout the island have been well preserved over the centuries. And there’s nobody here but us. It can get real quiet here at night, but hopefully that will change once you guys arrive. Anyway, we’re sending you this communique to update you on our progress. So let’s head outside and take a look.”

Dad stepped out of his office and into the blackness. He turned the camera away from his face. “Phil, turn on the power.” Three seconds later, clusters of light flickered to life. As the lights came on, they revealed a harbour. Within seconds, light shone out of every street lamp and every window of every house in the city. It was beautiful.

“This is Reykjavik, our new home.”

The camera cut to Dad inside a shower stall. “For the ladies,” he turned a knob inside the stall, and steaming water spurted out of the showerhead, “we’ve got hot showers.” The camera cut to Dad sitting on a toilet. “Toilet works.” He flushed the toilet, and the water below him gurgled.

The camera cut to Dad standing inside a steaming lagoon of teal-blue water. He wore a white Outback EVA suit with no helmet, and his smart-visor was set to a black tint. His forehead glimmered in the sunlight. “Got a nice hotel here with access to a hotspring. Geothermal station next door still generates power.” He turned his camera to his left. Three men wearing nothing but their underwear splashed into the lagoon, hooting like baboons.

The camera cut to Dad on a boat that rocked up and down with the waves. “We restored this old fishing trawler. There’s so much fish in the ocean, you can practically walk across the surface.” He turned the camera towards the ocean. Slimy, wriggling bodies covered the entire surface for as far as the eye could see.

The camera cut to Dad and his crew in a backyard. “We’re roasting the fish we caught. Donny, over there, found some spices in the cellar. He’s adding it to the reindeer meat. Did I mention there are reindeer here?” The camera cut to a herd of reindeer stampeding across a moss-covered highway. The camera cut back to Dad and his crew at the backyard barbeque. “Life is good here. This is where we belong. Our homeworld. The cradle of our species. The Eden Directorate nearly destroyed it. We're gonna make it greater than ever before.

“Finally, I'd like to leave a message for my family. Mary, this has been our dream of fifteen years. I know that it's been tough. We've had to sacrifice a lot to make this happen, not the least of which are the friends and family we'd be leaving behind. I can tell you with confidence that it's worth it. We can walk outside, take off our helmets, and breathe. Rivers of water flow across the island, and water literally falls out of the sky, forever and for free.

“Jack, I know you love adventures, and I’ve promised you this one for a long time.” He walked through a sliding patio door and into a kitchen. “You see this?” He pointed his camera at a bar graph taped to the wall. The graph had red and blue lines on it, red representing Dad’s contribution to their Earth fund, and blue representing Jack’s contribution.

Jack remembered how he used to sit in front of the graph every Friday afternoon, waiting for his dad to come home with his pay stub. Jack loved it every time his father drew another red line over the rising graph. When Jack turned seventeen, he drew the first blue line over the bar graph. It was a proud day for him.

“We’ve earned this, Jack. I can't wait for you to get here. We'll go exploring together, like we used to. Majestic mountains. Mighty waterfalls. Hotsprings. Fields of black volcanic rock. And the derelict towns scattered throughout the island... I wonder what secrets they hold. We’ll find out together.”

Jack sniffled as he wiped a tear from his right eye. We will, Dad.

“Ray, I'm gonna take you fishing and hunting. That's how we're gonna earn our living down here. I'm not great at it myself, so we'll learn together. And finally, Amy and Derek... I am especially looking forward to your wedding. There's a beautiful church in the city, or if you prefer, there's this plateau in the central highlands. The view of the island is breathtaking from up there. Good place to say your vows. And of course, after the wedding, I expect many grandchildren.”

Dad winked at the camera. “I hope to see y'all soon.”  

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