Read Olympus Mons Online

Authors: William Walling

Olympus Mons




William Walling

© Cover image NASA/MOLA Science Team/O. DeGoursac, Adrian Lark


This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


“Olympus Mons,” by William Walling. ISBN: 978-1-62137-319-3 (softcover); 978-1-62137-320-9 (hardcover); 978-1-62137-321-6 (ebook).


Library of Congress number on file with the publisher.


Published 2013 by Publishing Inc., P.O. Box 9949, College Station, TX 77842, US.
2013, William Walling. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of William Walling.


Manufactured in the United States of America.

You will do your work on water,

an' you'll lick the bloomin' boots

of ‘im what's got it!


Rudyard Kipling

Barrack Room Ballads, 1892



One: Partners

Two: Tharsis

Three: Croatoan

Four: Special Session

Five: Foot-sloggers

Six: Hoots and Catcalls

Seven: The Blue Planet

Eight: The United Nations Two-Step

Nine: Olympus Rupes

Ten: Wolf Chase

Eleven: Glorious Gloria

Twelve: Hoists and Brewers

Thirteen: Chutes and Sledges

Fourteen: Iatrogenic Solution

Fifteen: Crunch Time

Sixteen: Go for Broke

Seventeen: The Canyon

Eighteen: Shaker

Nineteen: A Bad Break

Twenty: The Iceman

Twenty-one: Olympus Mons





We have a fountain in Burroughs now, a small tiled affair in the plaza leading to South Tunnel's utility airlock. Water trickles down through the aqueduct pipeline, jets in the air, sparkles against the enclave's translucent roof-shield, and tinkles back into the pool. I sit beside my fountain and listen to the water music and reminisce. Between times I talk into a recorder, telling tall tales about whichever goings-on in the bad ol' days strike me as most memorable.

Memories, so many memories . . .

Time has fast-forwarded past me at a fearsome rate, picking up speed as the E-years go by, and leaving me only memories, sorrows and the catch-as-catch-can pleasures of old age. Lorna went to her reward a dozen E-years ago, shortly after Jay came back from the homeworld with a civil engineering sheepskin in hand, on it the fancy
Universitas Academica Edinensis
hologram seal
Once the medics invented a way to reverse the Bevvinase Process
a major breakthrough partly credited to workaholic Dr. Gloria Steinkritz-Jesperson
Marsrats able to chivvy up the outrageous amount of scratch needed for round-trip passage to the Earth-Luna System could undergo a fix, spend an E-week or so in oxygen quarantine, and visit the homeworld. Youngsters think nothing of taking the plunge, but damn few of us old-timers elect to go that route.

Our son, Jay, put up with each months-long whirligig trajectory for the best of good reasons: to do his studies in Edinburgh, where his Marsrat pedigree gave him second-string celebrity status. He went right to work soon's he got back, too. He lent a hand in designing the upland Jesperson Enclave to the east of us on the doorstep of Pavonis Mons, one of three giant volcanoes roosting in a neat line atop the Tharsis bulge. Jay also helped design the subsurface tube that links Jesperson and ol' Burroughs.

Some time ago I took the tube over to the fancy new digs bearing my former work-partner's name, mainly to pay my respects at the memorial pillar his twin sons erected to honor their famous dad. Nested in a larger crater, the new enclave is sleek n' shiny, lots roomier than ours. The esplanade ring over there makes our midway look sort of cramped and old hat, a reminder that Burroughs is showing its age
no surprise what with the wear, tear and hard times it's seen. That can also be said of a creaky bag of bones and dried-up meat named Barnes, who's content to sit beside his fountain with only dreams and memories for company.

So many memories, mostly routine granted, yet salted with a choice few anything
ordinary. The nostalgia bubble pops in my head more ‘n more often of late, sending me back in spirit to what began as just another breezy summer afternoon, then reversed course quicklike and  turned into a red letter day that shook up Burroughs like it was in a blender, and woke us Marsrats from a long snooze.

 One: Partners

My assigned work-partner, Jesperson, is a control freak. What's more, he dotes on being a control freak, and isn't shy about boasting of his “polar” likes and dislikes Don't know about polar, but whatever the hell it is he's got more ‘n plenty.

Slouched in the driver's seat, his mind on autopilot, Jess moved the joystick with two casual fingers, steering Crawler Two around the bigger boulders in our path, letting the cleated tracks mash smaller rocks. Through the forward transpex bubble I saw the curved way station roof begin t'poke above the too-close horizon. “Jess, I'm bushed,” I complained one last time before losing the chance for good. “What say we skip the video, truck on home?”

Zero response.

As usual, I figured my partner had ignored my notion to skip the holovision whoop-de-do, and as usual I was wrong. The crawler rolled on another half-kilometer or so, jouncing and swaying over windrows of sand, crunching smaller rocks under the cleated tracks, when out of the blue he said, “Got to see it, Barney.”

“Why? You won't learn a thing. It'll be like watching a movie you've seen before. Why not just listen in on audio whilst trucking for home?”

Zero response.

I gave up, sat back in the co-driver seat and closed my eyes. The inauguration ceremony was slated to be piped sunward live for homeworld propaganda purposes
“live” that is, if you don't count the light-minutes our lasercomm signal takes to bang the big dish in the far off Mojave, or its mates in the Gobi and elsewhere. The brain trust-elect at Burroughs, eighty-odd kilometers southeast of the volcano, had prepped for the transmission like it'd kick off a royal coronation. Jesperson was hot to watch the doings. I was indifferent, but saw no point in complaining again about stopping to see the show.

Two-man teams like us sashay out to the volcano once each E-month, or on occasion oftener. We use a telescope to inspect the downfall stretch of pipeline tacked to the sky-high, corrugated face of the Olympus Rupes escarpment, and then check-out the windmills powering heaters in the holding tanks at the base of the cliffs, where our precious water's stored.

I opened my eyes when the crawler slowed, slewed on its port track and plowed twin furrows in the sand as it forged into the way station's stub-walled compound. Don't know if any ground-pounders in Seattle, Stuttgart or Sydney have ever heard of our way station, which is nothing much; a pair of connected, pressurized Quonset-type shelters half-buried in drifted, rust-colored sand a few klicks southeast of the volcano. Now and then, if a team's plumb tuckered out or its too late in the day to safely truck back to Burroughs, we overnight in the less than comfy hidey hole stocked with tools, belt and pressure-suit batteries, freeze-dried food, water, first-aid supplies and so forth. The way station also doubles-down as a lifeboat in an emergency.

Jesperson slewed Cee Two in a half-circle on its starboard track, parked and flipped switches to power-down. We took our time going through the wriggles and contortions it takes to get into vacuum gear, and as a matter of habit checked the vitals in each others' life support readouts
a drill no seasoned Marsrat would ever dare skip. Exiting through the crawler's small, coffin-sized airlock chamber one at a time, we crossed the short stretch of windblown sand to the way station airlock.

Inside pressure, I opened my faceplate lens, wincing when the sudden arctic chill hit my face, undogged and lifted off the suit's headpiece, turned up the heat in the compartment, and went through the contortions and monkey-motions it takes to get out of a pressure-suit. Next came the battery exchange ritual. Plugging-in both sets of depleted energy cells for quick recharge, I swilled water and choked down one of the horse-pill caplets that replenish your electrolytes.

After doing his personal housekeeping duties same as me, Jesperson energized the aged holovision tank that gathers dust for E-weeks or sometimes months on end. Tuning in the pre-ceremony warmup doings at Burroughs, he watched for a few seconds and then, snide by nature, sang out, “Hark, ye Earthworms, to a live broadcast from Botany Bay!”

I quibbled about ‘live,' mentioning the transmission signal delay.

His “apology” mocked my objection. “Sorry, make that
from Botany Bay.”

Among his other likes and dislikes, quirks, follies and whatever else, calling our home away from home “Botany Bay” is true-to-form, certified Jesperson. He loves to bait me by trolling with sly word traps that're certain to egg me into asking what the hell he's talking about. I fooled him this time by not from biting on “Botany Bay.” I'd looked it up in our database, and learned how the Brits had first made Australia a penal colony. An oddball in dozens of cockeyed ways, my partner never explains his smartass remarks. It pains me to ‘fess up, but an ex-high school football coach like me gets left in the dark by eighty or ninety percent of the jargon that rolls off my partner's forked tongue, let alone the ditzy things he ups and does.

The broadcast went on the air, and the brain trust-elect opened the doings with a canned version of our new anthem: the “Mars” theme from an astrology-inspired mishmash called “The Planets” by a British musicsmith named Gustav Holst, information supplied by the Jespersonian Fount of all Knowledge. My partner loves to spew music, art, and book talk, most of it so highfalutin' that hardly anyone would have enough patience to try and unravel. I lean on his smarts, but only up to a point. “You're joshing,” I said. “What's a Brit doing with a moniker like Holst?”

He put a finger to his lips. “Shush, Barney! Pretend you're a music lover, and listen.”

Huh, some anthem! You can't hum, whistle, or sing along with Mr. Holst's ear-bending brass and thunder. Oh, it does grab you in sort of a monotonous, grinding way. On that score it suits Mars to a tee.

At the fadeout our enclave's senior medic, Deputy Director-elect Dr. Hiroshi Yokomizo faced the three-headed holovision camera at the podium smiling like the happy troop he is. Flushed with the dignity of his new office, Yokie looked serenely nervous. Even in the midst of a hand-waving argument his ranting comes at you through a cherub's toothy grin.

Back-and-forth conversation with the homeworld doesn't work so good; nobody'd be willing to put up with a minutes-long wait ‘twixt question and answer. He did his best to convince the earthside holovision audience he faced a good-sized crowd, not just a hundred-and-ninety leathery, semi-starved Marsrats, barring the few handfuls who hadn't bothered to stop work and show up in the meeting area.

Wait, hold on. The current headcount's a hundred and eighty-nine Marsrats, including absentees like Jesperson and me. About an E-month ago, nice Mrs. Whatzername, a roly-poly Inuit lady who most likely smiled even while she slept, had been found frozen outside North Tunnel. The headcount I mentioned only chalks up us adults, not the clutch of hardy, resilient little demons Vic Aguilar likes to call
in the be-yoo-ti-ful Spanish language. One of the kiddies is mine and Lorna's.

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