Walkabout

“Do you mind explaining how a thousand inflated condoms made you bullet-proof? And- goddamnit, how the fuck did he get another cigarette?”

Vick reached out and yanked the cigarette out of the captive’s mouth, awkwardly butting it on the floor before throwing it in his pocket in exasperation. Zero gravity didn’t allow for a lot of dramatic flair when it came to just throwing things away.

The young man floated in the chair to which he had been zip-tied -a fact which was causing increasingly loud grumbles from the ship’s IT contingent, given that zip ties were limited- as proud as a strutting jay bird and carefree as a child. Even without his cigarette, he came across aloof and bemused. Like he was in a movie about his life, reenacting something that had already happened, instead of living through it with no idea of what would happen next.

“Perpendicular forces with the condoms,” said the young man, turning ever so slightly sideways with a wide grin on his face. In the three months he had been held captive, after stowing away on board the ship, Ali Cohen was infuriatingly not yet bored with zero gravity. “The cigarette was slight of hand, although nicotine addiction was the ultimate cause.”

Vick made a gesture over his data pad and the picture on the large screen in the center of the room froze. It was a picture of the same young man in Mecca -rare due to the fact it had not been censored for blasphemy- surrounded in holographic smoke and if you looked closely… also covered in about a thousand inflated condoms. He looked like a balloon animal dreamed up by HP Lovecraft.

“Uh-huh,” said Vick, “care to elaborate on that?”

“Well, let’s see. An object at rest will remain at rest, an object in motion-”

“Assume you’re talking to people who have studied engineering for a long time. Who are very annoyed. And that you’ve already wasted their time for the last three months and are wearing out any good will you started with, which was almost none,” sighed Vick.

“Isn’t this boring to you yet? I know none of you really have your hearts in this. Why play the game when it’s not of your choosing? Instead we have to put on this theater. I, the lone genius facing down a tribunal with my life in the balance. You, the backwards, bigoted judges who need to be swayed by my silver tongue. Except that describes absolutely none of you. Is this what you wish to bring to Mars? The same old same old? It’s bad enough that it’s wrong. It’s also tired and cliche.”

With another gesture, Vick shut down the screen and all that was visible through the windows was the dark of space. Yindi felt pity for him. He seemed worn. They all did. They hadn’t wanted this. Not one of them.

“Will you please explain?” asked Vick in a quiet voice.

Ali Cohen straightened himself the slightest bit and nodded, evidently bored enough to give them another little insight. It was the only emotion they had ever been able to induce in him that could cause him to speak.

“I wasn’t bullet-proof. A bullet has too much kinetic energy to stop without heavy barriers. I simply made sure the bullets were not where I was. Also, I more or less just threw the cigarette up from my sleeve and caught it in my mouth when it floated behind my head. Zero gravity has its advantages.”

Ali Cohen floated again, or as much as his restrains allowed anyway.

“Forget the cigarette. Explain this technology of yours,” groaned Vick, “even exile is conditional on you explaining how it works.”

Poor Vick was rubbing the bridge of his nose, fighting exhaustion. Yindi had seen him up the previous night, reading through the transcripts of the other interrogations. Cramming like a grad student. The hours long talks with their captive were like playing a game of chess, where the rules and pieces changed at the whims of their supposed prisoner. It had taken them almost a month just to get through what was surely a fictional account of the young man’s life. It was ludicrous in the extreme. It was also perhaps the first true political crisis of the Colonization.

Would Mars enforce the laws of Earth?

Or would Mars make its own laws?

“Bullets are faster than sound, but not faster than light and they follow the laws of motion. Hold on -I’m not finished. You beat me this time. I’m bored. I’ll explain it.

“The cameras on my body saw the bullets, the computers calculated their trajectories. From within a few microseconds of any bullet being fired, the computers knew exactly where they would be at a given moment. They used this information to detonate a Flat Fold -or condom if you prefer- at the precise time necessary to hit the side of the bullet perpendicular to its motion and move it to the other side of my body. It’s a very rapid, indeed explosive inflation. Think of it as a balloon bullet. The spiral of the metal bullet caused the Flat Fold to wrap around it like a scroll. The energy from this spiraling causes some quite interesting deformations in the material of the Flat Fold which use the bullet’s own energy to create a parachute, and drag. This sends the bullet both to the side of me and up.

“So, you see, perpendicular forces explain everything. It doesn’t matter how fast something is coming at me from one direction if I can simply push it aside from a different direction. I shot a metal bullet with a balloon bullet. I try to look at the world with this principle of perpendicularity in mind. I grant you, the application is sometimes a bit ridiculous in practice.”

The young man smiled his wide idiot’s grin again.

“Let me cut to the chase. Who do you work for? The Russians? The Chinese? Who gave you that technology?”

Everyone on the ship had seen the video, not to mention every human being in the solar system. The sight was astonishing. Ali Cohen striding in the middle of Mecca, clothed in holographic light and bulletproof. No less than three of the would-be terrorists had been firing at a distance of less than three hundred feet. Yindi calculated that unless a bullet was fired at several times the muzzle velocities presently attainable or at near point-blank range, that the “Bubble Vest” in the video would render any standard projectile almost completely harmless.

Balloon bullets. It was world-changing.

“I am in service only to my Art,” he said.

Yindi looked down at her own data pad. Other than the unbelievable autobiography, the charges of endangering the public, and the heroic blasphemy that had brought a sort of confused anger to half the world, this was the other troubling matter they’d have to confront. The sheer volume of odd crimes that had been laid at the feet of this boy boggled the mind. Based on a number of cop movies she’d seen as a child, she’d like to have said the rap sheet was as long as her arm, but her arm could never hope to be that long.

Most recently, he’d spent three months impersonating a substitute high school physics teacher, taken the local robotics team to a worldwide competition and won, all apparently to motivate a single group of juvenile delinquent student to try harder. All done as an homage to a film he’d seen as teenager with a similar plot. Yet it was neither the strangest nor most involved “crime.”

There was a conspiracy theory on various internet message boards that he’d once stolen the Mona Lisa, and as much as Yindi would have liked to believe these were far-fetched and absurd, the evidence in favor was unfortunately compelling.

As was the evidence that he had broken back into the Louvre to return it after showing it to a dying street painter.

He claimed to regret only one of his escapades, early in his career, when he’d broken into the home of a pathological hoarder and cleaned it top to bottom while they were away on a business trip. It had sent the poor man into therapy for half a year when he returned home. Ali Cohen claimed to have since learned to take the full psychology of his “victims” into account.

“This is ridiculous,” said Vick.

“Seconded,” said Omar.

Then Vick yawned so wide his jaws clicked and he muttered something unintelligible as he filled out a few forms on the data pad. Omar Weber did something similar, and knowing him probably cursed his declared religion for getting him assigned to this panel for cultural sensitivity reasons. Before the Mars Colony had become a reality, and lit a fire under his ass, Omar had spent most of his adult life working as a bank auditor, tracking down problems so obscure they hadn’t yet been automated by machine learning. All with the primary purpose of avoiding social interaction. After four hours of interrogation a day for the last three months, both men were exhausted and eager to be about their other duties on the ship.

For her own part, Yindi watched all of this, riveted.

“What would you have us do? Your little… performance has put this entire mission in jeopardy! You put thousands of lives at risk by not going to the appropriate authorities! You couldn’t have known you would be able to save all those people! The United Nations has already promised to hand you over to the Kingdom if you ever return to Earth. Do you want a death sentence that much? Don’t you realize your life is in serious danger?” Omar thundered, though without much passion by the end.

Ali Cohen straightened his back, affronted.

“I did nothing wrong,” Ali said.

The reason for the strangeness suddenly became clear to Yindi. Not only did the boy act like he was in a movie, it was like Ali Cohen was playing to an audience only he could see. Everyone else was stumbling along, like actors who hadn’t spent enough time learning their lines, babbling and slipping up, and Ali Cohen was looking through them to the audience, speaking with precision.

“He has a point. What if one of your machines had failed?” Vick asked.

“We were well within margins,” said Ali.

Simple and direct. Again, like in a movie. Not even believing that something might go wrong. Like it was already written. Yindi chuckled, drawing odd looks from her two compatriots.

“What would an apology hurt?” Omar sighed, exhausted.

“I have lived as slave, afraid to act, afraid to speak, afraid even to think anything other than what was permitted. Never. Again,” said Ali Cohen.

Yindi weighed the options. Imprison an unrepentant lunatic on Mars, where resources were scarce, in some sort of hellish exile that went against everything Mars had come to represent? Or send him back to Earth, where he would be executed for blasphemy? A punishment that the western world had been successfully and politely pretending wasn’t still practiced for the last few decades.

“How old are you?” asked Yindi, after a moment had passed.

“Twenty-six probably,” said Ali Cohen.

“So young, to have lived such a life. A slave you say? What else are you? A scientist, from the design of your machines. One of our other colonists had a lot to say about that. And an artist too, from what I have heard. Yet I have heard other stories about you. I heard you’re an industrial saboteur. That you think of yourself as some sort of techno Robin Hood. You stole agro-gene technology and used it to end a famine. You stole desalination technology and ended a drought. Germ technology and ended a plague. Is that true?”

“Twenty-six wasn’t always considered so young. It’s still not, depending where in the Solar system you happen to be.” Ali gave a slight smile to the window at that, although all there was out there was the black. “In fact, I’d say it’s rather recent dilemma that a full grown adult can be considered to still be in their childhood. That’s Earth thinking. It will have to be left behind.”

“I watched the tape of your… performance? Act of salvation? No one died, but I think you were luckier than you realize. After all, your failure in the end is what brought you here. Your illusion faded and you fell. You should have called the police. I also read the translations of what you and your friend were saying. Do you really think you’re God?” asked Yindi.

“Do you believe that the Neural Lace will be successful and will augment human intelligence?” asked Ali Cohen.

“It seems likely. It already is, in many ways,” said Yindi.

“Do you believe technology improves over time?”

“Given certain conditions are met, yes.”

“Do you believe somewhere out in the universe, there is an intelligent species far older than us?”

“So sharp it’s a wonder you don’t cut yourself,” Yindi laughed.

That got a rare laugh from Vick and Omar.

Ali Cohen went stonily silent and licked his lips before continuing.

“If those three conditions are met, I’d argue that you believe in God too. If by God you mean a higher intelligence with near omnipotent power. Except… where is He? Have you ever wondered? Holy Book or Science Book… where is He?”

Yindi massaged her temples.

“What do you want?” she asked. “Where does all of this go? Your friend is refusing to apologize as well. It takes a while to understand him, because he stutters so much no one can understand, but he still follows your lead. You risk his life as well as your own. Why are you doing all of this?”

Ali Cohen shrugged, or as much as he could, zip-tied as he was.

“Why does anyone do anything? Boredom? My own amusement? To find out what it all means? To prevent the destruction of the human race? All of those things?”

“I am sorry. I am almost seventy years old. I am having a senior moment. Can you explain what you mean by that?”

“Do you ever wonder why it is we attach meaning to the thing we attach it to? I’m not deflecting, I promise.” Ali gave a placating smile to an ever more surly Vick. “Our latest models of the universe predict at least eleven spacial dimensions. There are over a hundred billion stars in this galaxy alone. Who knows how long it will be before true Artificial General Intelligence is constructed? An event that will place the survival of humanity at risk. We have no solution to the Fermi Paradox. All of it feels like an abstraction, no emotional resonance at all. Yet here we are, arguing if a certain image I programmed could reasonably be construed to be a man who has no recorded image.

“Why is that what’s important? Why is that more important than those people being alive? Perhaps I could have gone to a corrupt police force and found someone who would have acted. I probably would have failed, but I could have failed in a way you approve of. But I did a wrong thing and no one died despite that. I did a wrong thing and people lived. Is doing what is approved and stupid more important than doing what is wrong and moral to save humanity?”

Yindi massaged her temples harder.

“Again, if you just say it’s not an image of Mohammed and apologize, you will be allowed to live free on Mars,” Omar muttered.

“Billions of years ago stars died so that we could be born. A sacrifice greater than that of any god. A real scientifically-validated sacrifice. Lights went out in heaven so that we here, all of us in this room, could exist. I have done the math myself. It is true. If children have the duty to be worth the sacrifices made for their birth, we have a duty to bring light to the universe greater than the stars. That’s truer than anything someone wrote down in a book two thousand years ago. So no, I won’t apologize!”

Despite herself, Yindi felt her heart flutter at that.

“This isn’t being recorded, there’s no need to perform,” said Vick.

“What does it mean to perform?” snapped Ali Cohen.

Ali groaned, then yelled, a sound wild and primal that would be heard throughout the entire ship.

“Is suffering the only truth? Should I have been content to lay down and die after I was first raped? Is that the dream that brought you to this ship? That sent you to Mars? The idea that you should just lay down and take what’s dealt to you? Why are you afraid to be as great as you are? As great as you could be? If only you let yourself believe! If you got up and decided it was your choice!”

Yindi realized then who it was that Ali Cohen was talking to. Knew who the person was in the audience that Ali Cohen was speaking to. Had been speaking to this entire time.

“Why am I this way? Because we have grown into a people too fat and too afraid to do what is right if it is not approved! Because we want orders instead of freedoms! Because we want permission instead of worth! Because I know what it is to live in hell because those in heaven are afraid to be called judgmental! Because we have lost confidence in ourselves and the Great Filter approaches! And because even if all of your are going to lay down and die, doing what everyone says you’re supposed to, I’m going to keep caring and get mad and I’m going to fuck the Great Filter wide open!”

Ali Cohen was talking to God.

*****

Mari heard the shouting, even in the botanical lab tucked into a remote corner of the ship.

She paused for a moment, staring blankly at some sludge on the other side of a plexiglass tank. The sludge was what she called Eco Snot and it was perhaps the most miraculous booger-like substance to have ever been created. And it couldn’t hold her focus.

Mari shook her head after a moment, determined to get back to work. Yet she couldn’t. The sludge was more important than whatever else was happening, the key to making the Flat Folds function as farms and-

“I love him, Mari,” said Mathilde.

This in itself was not a surprising statement, though the timing left something to be desired. Still, it almost took Mari’s breath away and it was hard to keep a straight face.

“I’m pretty sure he just promised to cheat on you with the first extinction level event that comes along,” said Mari.

She’d been a good friend, hadn’t she? When she’d separated them? By always finding a reason to bring Mathilde far away to this part of the ship from where Ali Cohen was being held? That had been for the best, hadn’t it?

“He is the only honest man I have ever met. Passion burns in him like the sun! Did you hear what he said to me? The beautiful words? When I pulled off his helmet, so full of rage, not knowing I was furious at the beatings of my own heart? Did you hear what he said to me when he must have known his life was at risk?”

Mari rolled her eyes, trying to be light but inside her stomach was in knots.

“He said, ‘I am having a subconscious intuition about the bone-structure of your face.’ Casanova better watch out. The guy is clearly out of his mind. It’s probably for the best if-”

“Mon dieu! Yes! Those words, exactly! Such precision! So honest! Other men would have tried to pretend it was something more profound, something magical. Yet in a sentence he cut me to the quick! And he was so delighted when he found out who I was! He never knew my face yet he’d read all of my papers! Even the ones I’ve never published! My work had intrigued him so much he’d hacked into my personal computer years ago, before we’d ever even met!”

You would have thought she was describing a carriage ride through Central Park with champagne. What worried Mari wasn’t that Mathilde was positioning herself to be heartbroken. What worried Mari was the ever more likely possibility that Ali Cohen and Mathilde were something akin to soulmates. That their insanities sang in harmony, and that their madness marched into the brilliance of the human collective consciousness with the same stride.

“You know I grew up in the oil fields, right? After my parents died?”

Mari shined a line at the Eco Snot, trying to keep a thread of focus on the future. On cleaning the Martian soil. On the crops she’d bring to feed the colony, clean the air, build the ecosystem.

“Oui, I am so sorry again, for your loss. To be so young and so alone… I can imagine it all so well. I meant not imagine it. Except I can. Because I lived such a life. I am sorry, that is an odd thing to say. But I know how sad it is to not be most people. It is very sad.”

Mari bit her lip, trying not to think of her uncle or the man tied up on the observation deck. For some reason, one always reminded her of the other.

“And you know that the men who raised me were roughnecks? That’s… very coarse men who use very vulgar language? Who do hard work with machines? Who speak bluntly?”

“Oui! What is your meaning?” asked Mathilde.

“Girl, you’re dick drunk,” said Mari.

Mathilde paused a moment.

“Does this mean… all-consuming passion? A throwing aside of the small but important things that make life balanced and stable? A state of… ecstasy?”

“Yes,” said Mari.

“Is it not wonderful to be dick drunk?”

Mathilde lowered her head.

“Yeah, I guess maybe it is. Just be careful. And don’t forget you’re the most brilliant geneticist of all time just because of a piece of dick.”

“Oui!” said Mathilde.

And it was only after that that Mari could go back to pretending to be checking on the Eco Snot.

*****

“Well, I’ll be damned,” huffed Al.

The cards on Al’s data pad ripped themselves into pieces, turned into confetti and formed the word “LOSER” which flashed on the screen several times at a rapid rate. It seemed a bit on-the-nose as far as computer poker programs went. But it wasn’t every day you lost to a straight royal flush.

“I am suh-sorry,” said Ford, holding his own data pad, bashfully. It didn’t stop the sound of clinking virtual golden coins or the party poppers. Which also continued a bit too long for Al’s tastes.

“Beginners goddamn luck… and don’t apologize for winning!” said Willie, although it was evident in his voice he was also disgusted with his loss and that the last bit was an afterthought. Ford had won five of the last five hands. One trait all Martians shared in common was that they were hyper-competitive. Perhaps the only thing stopping everyone from breaking into a full-on screaming match about hacking and cheating was that they were quietly competing to be the most gracious.

“Yes, fortune smiles on you, Ford. Yet I don’t know why we’re playing this game. There’s so much work to do. The landing is so soon. I have left my cultures unattended for-” Dhanishta said, but Willie got all worked up and cut her off.

“We all know your space steaks aren’t going to go bad,” said Willie, “besides, if we have to guard a prisoner, might as well do something to pass the time. I mean… I don’t suppose there’s a way we could cut open one of those cultures and…”

Dhanishta shook her head, not understanding the sarcasm.

“Those cultures are the germ lines of all the animal protein Mars will ever produce. We can’t use them for food for another three generations at least. I’ve shown you the math four times now.”

“You sure it will taste like the real thing? I mean, a burger is kind of like magic and…” Willie cleared his throat when Dhanishta gave him a look and turned back to Ford. “Say, how’d you learn to play cards like that anyway?”

“I’m not a beginner. Ali taught me. Well, we taught each other. We funded a casino once a few years ago.”

Everyone took a moment to process the information and groaned.

“Is this one of those times where I’m supposed to say ‘Do you mean robbed?’ and then you’re going to say ‘no, I mean funded’ and then tell some kind of fantastical story about making someone’s life better that’s completely counter-intuitive and ludicrous except it all works out? I’m not judging. I’m just saying it does have a weird anti-story logic to it after a while,” said Al.

What little bit of Al’s late teens and early twenties he hadn’t spent advancing his career in aerospace and flipping houses, he’d spent watching television shows from the 1980’s on various streaming services to put himself to sleep. His favorites had been “Quantum Leap” and “MacGyver” although “The A Team” had given them a run for their money. He had a personal theory that if he went back a way into Ali Cohen’s personal history he would have found a similar television viewing habits. Either that, or the god that was writing Ali Cohen’s life had also once incarnated as the show-runner for 80’s action series.

“Pruh-pretty much, yeah. The luh-lady who ran it, her duh-daughter got sick. Only oh-opened it to puh-pay for her care. She was no guh-good at it, though. So Ali and I fuh-fixed her up and luh-lost big there, and she shut it down be-because she cuh-could pay for the treatment.”

“How in the wild blue fuck do you two get so much money, anyway? I mean… do you steal it? Credit card scams aren’t as easy as they used to be. Ask Omar Weber about that. That’s the one thing I can’t wrap my head around. I heard your buddy up there got a bounty from the US government for taking out some terrorists back when he was just a kid, but that’s got to have run out after all this shit,” Willie shook his head in bewilderment, but pressed a few buttons on his data pad to deal another hand of cards to everyone. “If you don’t mind my asking, of course.”

“He duh-did. That was only his suh-seed money though. He guh-got ten million for that. Now we inv-vuh-vent things. There’s lots of stock in start-ups. And we consult. Muh-most of it was before me. The buh-big stuff. We don’t have tuh-time these days. Too much tuh-to do,” said Ford.

“But how does that work? I mean, he’s insane. Brilliant, but insane,” said Al, frowning at his cards.

“We juh-just show up. St-start working. We are guh-good. It works muh-more than you wuh-would think.”

“What did you invent?” asked Dhanishta, leaning forward, which made this one of the few times Al had ever seen her express curiousity. It was hard not to be curious. Ali Cohen seemed to be one of those rare people like Harriet Tubman or Theodore Roosevelt who was left over from a better, more awesome draft of the universe before God got exhausted with it all and decided to rewrite everything and tone it down. Like when he’d left all the action series in the 80’s intact.

“Lots of pruh-propietary algorithms, mostly. He also invented a lot of the huh-holograhpic technology in use in the Fuh-Fleet. Or he led the teams that did. I huh-help with the mechanical and pruh-programming side. And art, wh-which is my true puh-passion. We are guh-good at team-buh-building. The buh-biggest thing we did was fuh-found AutoDoc. I was uh-only around for the luh-last little bit of that. But we are wuh-worth buh-billions.”

Al was the first to raise his jaw back up, but Willie and Dhanishta weren’t far behind. Say one other thing for Martians, they didn’t stay surprised for very long.

“Holy! Fucking! Shit! I mean- fuck me in the ass and call me Susan! Really?” shouted Willie, who had literally gone red in the face. The tendons in his neck had also become visible. Willie turned to the side and saw Dhanishta biting her lips but even that barely caused him to tone it down. “I mean… wow.”

“I think we are all surprised, William. But, yes, I must say I find this claim to be somewhat dubious. If I recall, Doctor Ellis Harding founded AutoDoc with a group of his college friends… and… ah. Nevermind then. The story about the weirdo. I remember now. The one who wanted them to keep going until they cured death.”

Ford nodded.

“They kuh-kicked him out pretty hard after that. Th-though he was wuh-working with Big Ph-pharma to bruh-bring down the company. No one buh-belived he cuh-could be that puh-puh-passionate. But he still got ten-percent of sh-shares. He puh-put it all tuh-together.”

Imagine a common gym bracelet that keeps track of your pulse rate, steps taken, and sleep received. A simple wrist-watch like the kind that had been available in the mid-umpteens. Then imagine that in addition to this, the bracelet is also equipped with certain optical capabilities and lasers that are able to continuously and non-invasively take your temperature, a pretty comprehensive blood test, and blood-pressure test. Couple this with a simple phone app compatible with high-resolution phone cameras that use machine-learning to diagnose outward symptoms with a simple selfie.

It had changed everything. It had slashed the cost of healthcare by over eighty-percent in the first five years alone. Even when most of what it did was illegal, it had gained such immediate and widespread support that no politician dared to crack down.

If you were feeling sick, with the press of a button your information would be sent to a doctor or nurse-practitioner in your state who would either schedule more tests or sign-off on a prescription. Automation and suggested diagnosis brought time visits down to an average of five minutes. After the virtual “check-up” a drone would arrive, usually within fifteen minutes, to either drop off the medicine or a cell culture for more testing. And if you just needed something simple done, an automated car would show up with a robotic arm and a doctor on a holo-display. Beyond that, a mobile nurse would show up in a fully-equipped, fully autonomous medical car. It had been hailed as the Netflix of Healthcare and was so unbelievably dirt cheap for standard care that it had made an entire domain of health insurance unprofitable. These days, you really only had to go to a doctor’s office if you needed surgery or were dying.

And Ali Cohen had thought it was not enough. Ali Cohen had wanted to keep going. Where to, though? Where to?

“Why does he do all of this? What is it that he wants?” asked Al.

Al was vaguely aware that he had lost yet another hand to Ford but he was too lost in thought to care. He heard shouting at the other end of the ship. Shouting like he’d heard before, except this was not the shouting of a lunatic but the shouting of a man who’d saved a billion lives.

“I didn’t understand it at first, either. I thought he was crazy too. You’d show him a homeless person, and he’d be honestly confused why the man wasn’t a king. Wouldn’t understand why everyone kept walking by like they couldn’t see the problems. You tell him the way the world is, and all he wants to know is why everyone alive isn’t some kind of god. He just cares about… everything. He cares. When you’re around him, he makes you care too. That’s all the reason he needs, and that’s how he does all of it,” said Ford.

Al turned to Willie. For perhaps the first time in his life, the cowboy was speechless.

*****

Yindi’s favorite part about zero gravity by far was that her joints never hurt when she woke up in morning. Or rather, her joints never hurt her at the time everyone on board the ship had agreed to was the morning. It wasn’t quite the morning, but she woke up anyway. Today would be landing day. The ship deliberately synced landing to occur at noon on the last day of the journey. Which meant there wasn’t much time.

Throwing herself down the central corridor of the ship she made her way to the storage containers where Ali Cohen was being held. She’d may have a few hours with him. Maybe three if she was lucky and no one else was curious. No, not much time at all. Not nearly enough.

Doing her best to be quiet and circumspect she made her way to the storage locker and knocked three times very softly on the side. Then she brought herself low to the ground, opened the single door with her thumbpring and slipped inside… where approximately twenty people were standing shoulder to shoulder.

“I… was going to…” said Yindi.

A rough-looking who Yindi recalled barely fit into his spacesuit gave her a wide grin. The Hindu-looking woman at his side was more serious.

“Let me guess,” said the Hindu woman, “You didn’t think it seemed right, either?”

Yindi returned the big man’s smile.

“No,” she said, “I did not.”

“Glad to see I’m not the only one who didn’t want to start my life on Mars doing something wrong. So, between us and the people we all represent, would it be easier to compile a list of the people onboard who are against helping him escape?” asked Al, who Yindi recalled was a very accomplished builder.

There was some muffled laughter at that, then the tiny French genius woman brought everyone to order with some profanities no one understood.

“Mon Dieu, this is not done yet! No more congratulations until he is safe! We must make sure his rover is provisioned and his escape is plausible. He will have to go over six-hundred kilometers for refuge. That means extra life-support, extra battery power and reprogramming parts of the landing sequence. We have three hours,” said the tiny French woman.

Yindi nodded slowly, and for the first time in a long time felt a smile actually reach up from her lips and touch her eyes. It was a beautiful thing to be happily surprised. Perhaps even the best of things.

“Mars is no place for a Walkabout. Where will he go?” Yindi asked.

Other than Colony One there weren’t a lot of places on Mars to go. Barely half a dozen locations that were self-sustaining, though only in terms of life-support.

“How much do you know about Space Mormons?” asked Mari, a name Yindi had seen coming up very often in relation to the Bubble-Vest, who was turned to face their presumptive escapee.

“I believe I may have accidentally invented them,” said Ali Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Walkabout

  1. Ali Cohen is kind of a dick but not without redeeming qualities. I like Mari, more of her.

    1. Ali Cohen is my inner desire to do the right thing in the most offensive, inappropriate way possible because I live a very boring life looking at numbers all day.

  2. I like Ali Cohen – we really desperately need people like that. Someone who does not only care but thinks so far outside the box, the box is not even visible đŸ™‚ I wish this wasn’t just a story….

    1. I also feel something like desperation to see people invent new things. Seems like we have forgotten how to do that. We improve old things and don’t make new ones and if something doesn’t fit into some old paradigm we think it’s crazy. Have you heard of Elon Musk? The Age of Fusion stories are more or less Elon Musk fan fiction.

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