Star Bright

Leaving Mars
8th March 2159

Spyder was fuming.

“I’m sorry Sir” said the Steward. “Those pistols aren’t the ones registered on your licence. I’ll need to send a report in, and I’m afraid they are now confiscated: I’ll pass them onto the authorities on Luna.”

Marcus snickered in the background.

“Never mind Mr. Webb” said Doc. Orlov. “We could buy a company pistol and put it on the Security licence. We might let you sign for it if you promise to look after it.”

“Spyder you’re an Asshole” said Jonas diplomatically. “What did you dump the Redbirds in favour of those antique Callisto pieces of crap for?”

“Aw man, get me a replacement pair of 9 mms on the licence huh?” whined Spyder.

“No” said Jake. “We’ll get something that one of the rest of us might want to use in a pinch. A Bandit or an Anvil. Maybe even a Redbird.”

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A Ticket to Ride
5th March 2159

Spyder sat back and drank a long cool glass of chlorophyll extract. It was done at last; while the others had decided to swan about and blow their bucks for a couple of week on assorted training and personal projects, he had been running around like an idiot trying to purchase freight which might make them some cash on Luna.

He had decided to discard the poop idea in favour of low volume, high cost goods, and had managed to secure some gold ore as well as a couple of tons of St. Mary’s beer. They had all booked Awake passage on the “Steven Seagal”, which was leaving for Luna in a couple of days time. The Steward had seemed more than happy in acquiring a few tons of freight.

He had been even more happy when he realised that it was not poop being shipped: apparently if the containers were old the smell had a tendency to get everywhere.

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Spring Cleaning
18th February 2159

“You did WHAT?” cried Marcus.

“I dump all useless guns. I not risk our Security Licence because you incapable of discarding any gun in case it diminish manhood.” said Doc. Orlov impassively.

“What did you do with them?” asked Marcus.

“Some I sell. Less legal ones I sandwich between two metal plates and run over in WTV. Several times.”

“I keep one of Scimitar Pistols because Mr. August might have use for it: this I put on Company Licence.” added Doc. Orlov.

“What about the money?” asked Jonas.

“Is not much, but this I add to Petty Cash.”

“What about options?” asked Marcus. “Where should we go from here?”

“Truth be told I think we have unsettled business in Mars. " said Paul. “Friends and enemies here call our attention and I want to find out what’s going on. Who’s with me , friends?”

“What the Heck are you talking about man?” said Spyder. "

“Who can pass up the opportunity to sell Beer to Venusian chicks? Huh? Spyder, you’re with me on this one, right?” said Marcus, “From what I hear those ladies are as hot as the atmosphere of Venus, once you pry them out of their Hardsuits eh?” He nudged Spyder in the ribs.

“Ah, c’mon you guys” he went on a bit plaintively, “You guys do know I spend my free time on a farm, with my girl cousin and a she Goat, right? Please, I just wanna sip warm beer outta the sweaty navel of a Venusian hooker once before I die.”

“I have never been to Venus” mused Doc. Orlov. “Is Company planet I understand: each town run by a separate mining company, with its workers living in orderly fashion.”

“I been to Diamondhead” said Spyder. “I know a few folks there. It’s all pretty straight laced sure, but there are areas you can let your hair down.”

Jake sipped his beer and mused. None of his attempts to stage a Worker’s Revolution on Mars seemed to have amounted to anything – not that he had tried very hard to be fair. During his gun running days he had stopped over on Venus a few times, and those Corporate Fascists really set his teeth on edge..

He started to mutter another of his long political diatribes peppered with quotes from Marx, Engels and Trotsky, ignoring the fact that the others always ignored him whenever he went off on one.

“The capitalist imperialists seem to have such a firm grip on the proletariat on Mars that it seems as if the workers are too oppressed to begin the class struggle, shake off their shackles and rise up to seize the means of production for themselves.”

“Too independent to fall for all that crap you mean” thought Jonas. “Anyway there are a shitload of miners co-operatives – what about Petrograd?”

“But the Venutians really do have something to complain about” continued Jake, warming to his theme. “Drones ordered about by Fat Cat Blood Suckers. They need someone to help remove their blinkers, and maybe pinpoint them in the right direction.”

“So I agree. Let’s leave Mars and let Venus be the kindling which will set the solar system in flames.” Paul’s eyes goggled.

“Look Venus is fine” said Jonas. “But let’s go via Luna. We can speak to my buddy Marvin there and maybe pick up something useful.”

“And don’t forget the poop opportunities man " added Spyder.

“Plus I always wanted to go to Tahiti: Earth is only a day away”

“Nah. Norway. Always wanted to see the Fiords.”

“Bugger that: Ireland.”

“Tahiti”

“Norway”

“What about Zanzibar?”

The discussion continued for some time…..

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Poop Economics
17th February 2159

“There’s a couple other things to consider too if we’re going off world” said Spyder.

“We still have a ton of uncut diamonds to sell: we’ll get a lousy price on Mars. They mine them on Venus – there’s even a town called Diamondhead. Best price would be the Luna/ Earth market.”

“I also checked the St. Mary’s Warehouse and they have 11 T they could sell us -that will sell well at either destination.”

“What about shipping costs?” asked Marcus.

“It’s about 1k per ton for freight” said Spyder. “The unprocessed Diamonds should sell for over Cr 20,000, and oddly enough the fancy beer is about the same. More for the diamonds on Earth/ Luna of course.”

“If we were to go to Luna we should consider going into the Poop trading game as well” said Spyder.

“Poop?” asked Paul.

“Yup. Pick it up here on Mars for maybe less than1K per ton. Should sell it on Luna for two or three times that.”

“You’re kidding? Right?”

“No man I’m serious. Human poop is steady business between Mars and Luna. The Loonies use it to grow vegetables and stuff.”

“But food grown with human waste tastes….well…..” said Marcus, “Like crap. We don’t do it on Mars, and I’m pretty sure they don’t do it on Saturn or Earth.”

“Yeah man, but them Loonies they got no choice” said Spyder. “Hydroponics is great but no good for mass production, and its kinda water intensive”

“Funny smell too in closed environments” said Jonas. “Trust me.”

“I have heard of this” said Doc. Orlov.“Luna is almost completely berift of nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon. Human faeces is cheap source of this.”

“Why don’t they just import food then?” asked Paul.

“They do, but it’s expensive” said Spyder. “And so for the masses they grow their own.”

“In human crap”

“Yeah. In human crap” said Spyder. “And therein lies an opportunity for the canny entrepreneur.”

“If we go to Luna, remind me to only eat in the best restaurants” said Jonas.
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PI Partnership: Monthly Meeting
17th February 2159

For once they were not in a Bar: this required privacy. They had hired a Rover for the Day and were sat in it only a few km away from Mariner City. Paul had also been invited. Sasha was busy overhauling the coffee machine.

“I conclude deal with university over Data” said Katrina. “For the Ingenuity data and the research notes -which they very excited about – I have Cr 120,000.”

“In fact there was little more, but this I have sent on to Ingenuity bogus account”

“Hey you should have asked us man” said Spyder.

“Aw the heck its ok” said Jonas. “That robot collected the stuff and its a useful investment.” Spyder went silent.

“More important what to do now?” asked Jake.

“Well we’ve already taken a gamble and spent good money” said Marcus. “I say we follow it up. From all the fuss, whatever is out there is clearly worth something.”

“It costs maybe a couple of thou. wake class to Venus” said Jake. “Less if sleeper. We can well afford it.”

“There’ll be costs there though too: suits, vehicles and so on” said Marcus. “Though well within our means.”

“I got something else too” said Jonas. “I got a buddy: bit of a wierdo – a guy called Marvin. Runs an e-zine on Luna, from Geek Valhalla – his shop. Always sends me a copy.”

“Anyway he just did a pirate special issue – lots of hints and stuff. I waved him but he he was kind of evasive: said it’d be good to talk to me in person though.”

“Why so secretive?” asked Jake.

“Well to be fair, the guy is completely paranoid” replied Jake. “But it is possible he might know something useful. What do you think?”

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Scavenger Hunt
12th February 2159

The main base itself contained most of the essentials -bunkrooms, smaller workshops, even a laboratory, and armory. A few assault rifles were greased and wrapped in insulated bags.

A lockup area had twelve lockers. Inside of them were a few random articles of clothing and a few personal items including combs, tooth paste and other toiletries. The far wall was lined with shelves. These shelves now had numerous biological and geological samples collected by Ingenuity. There was also a pile of older style computer wafers dating back to thirty years or more.

“Please take these old fellow” relayed the Drone. “These constitute the final twenty years of my readings. I’ll also give you a memory dump of most of what I have. I’d be terribly grateful if you could pass it on to NASA.”

“Um… NASA hasn’t existed since before I was born” said Marcus. There was a pause.

“I will take " said Katrina. “I will review data and see it is passed on discretely to the right people.”

“Very well Doctor” replied Ingenuity. “Now. If you would check under the bottom shelf.”

Marcus pulled out a small strongbox, electronically sealed. The Drone extended its needle, and it flicked open.

Jonas, Katrina and Marcus started sifting though the documents inside

“This appears to be a series of entry codes, including some ship codes, " said Marcus.. “And a set of co ordinates to a location on Venus.”

“Pirate Treasure?” laughed Jonas.

“Maybe” replied Marcus. “Those other guys have been searching for it for five years remember?”

“These journals” said Katrina. “Is not my field but these notes and papers. They are extensive; artificial intelligence and AI. Maybe we can make discreet deal with University – and with Ingenuity data too.”

“Well” said Marcus. “This certainly gives us a lot of options.”

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The Pirate Base
12th February 2159

“I like his new voice” said Jonas. “Where’s it from?”

He and Jonas were putting the finishing touches to Ingenuity’s overhaul. Only the new maintenance bots to program now.

They had made a deal of course: essentially spare parts for access. It had taken about a week to procure the necessaries, hire a couple of trucks and return to the base, this time given directions by Ingenuity to the main caverns and vehicle access.

They had taken Mariana aside and cut her in on the information -though Ms. Chin they kept out of the loop. As an act of good faith the robot had disabled power to another of the missile boxes, and as far as it knew this comprised the total of the remaining exterior defences. These it had allowed them to safely dismantle.

Marcus had also pitched another deal with the robot: occasional use of their base for sensitive items, in addition for future spares, and it had agreed. With its various remote drones, though mostly in poor condition, the robot was also prepared to cut a similar deal with Mariana. Conditional on all of this was the maintained secret of its survival.

“It’s called Lloyd Grosmann 2110” said Marcus. “It’s one of the specials from the Hitachi catalogue.”

Ingenuity tested its new, plummy and well modulated voice.

“This is rather refreshing” said Ingenuity. “No interruption necessary for improvised splicing. Much better.”

“Is the net access working ok now?” said Marcus. “I restored the linkup as best I could, but the base system is antiquated.”

“It functions adequately mostly” replied the robot, “But with my new hardware I can reach Pharoah on a good day without the linkup, which is good enough for most purposes.”

“Fine, so err…”

“So now you want access to the main base. Follow my maintenance drone.”

They were working in a former craft hanger, to which Ingenuity had restored air and power. Marcus had overhauled a few of the base facilities while he was at it.

Calling the others they followed the Drone, which extended a needlejack, and cycled the interior part of the base open……

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What Now?
3rd February 2159

“What about the missiles?” asked Marcus. “What about the recent attack on Pharoah?”

Ingenuity extended a telescopic arm, and at its request Marcus handed it his PDA. It inserted a jack and then handed it back.

A video footage showed three vacc suited figures outside the sinkhole, with a Rover parked nearby. They were examining the sealed bunker that was the Jack in the Box.

Suddenly bunker started to open, and all of a sudden one of the figures flew backwards several feet, as it was hit by numerous bullets from off camera. There was a brief glimpse of the other two figures running for cover before the missiles launched and the footage was wreathed in fumes.

Moments later there was a large flash, a pause and the screen then cleared. The two figures staggered out and examined the fallen figure. Then they went off to the Rover, and left. The Missile bunker now looked as they had seen it: devoid of missiles. The timing coincided with that of the missile attack.

“Well…so did they do this deliberately?” asked Marcus. “This must be Duffey” he added, looking at the others.

""Zzz…. not think zzo.." replied Ingenuity. “Of system i knew, but had no fear of activation. Nor meanzz to communicate its prezzz ence”.

“But what did he want?” asked Marcus.

“He ha acc zess codes” responded Ingenuity. “But not complete sequence. Perhaps this triggered defences. I do not know.” It paused.

“Perhaps they were after boxzzz,” it added.

“The box?” asked Spyder.

“Box left by Dr. Towlan. Of great value I deduce.”

They all looked at one another.

“So, uhhh… this box” said Spyder. “Is there any chance we can have a look at it?”

“Perhappz….we can reach some arrangemntzzz” said Ingenuity. Spyder rubbed his hands.

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Ingenuity
3rd February 2159

The machine in fact was Ingenuity – one of the rovers originally landed on Mars in the early 21st Century – one of a series of advanced Rovers based on the earlier Curiosity design.

It had carried a plethora of sophisticated laboratory equipment as well as two smaller wheeled rovers known as Hawking and Sagan. Fitted with a long endurance radioisotope thermoelectric generator Ingenuity did much to pave the way for the later manned landing on Mars.

While astronauts had paid visits to Ingenuity – mainly to retrieve sample collections and repair its solar collectors, the rover was all but forgotten once terraforming commenced and colonisation started to occur. Even so Ingenuity had continued its mission for a further eighteen years before it lost communication as its systems started to break down.

Ingenuity re-awoke perhaps forty odd years ago, rediscovered by Pirates operating secretly from a smuggling base on the Cydonian plateau. The base which they now occupied.

As something of a hobby, the base techs and scientists rebuilt and rebooted Ingenuity, sometimes using it as a remote unit.

Ingenuity had started to become self aware however, assisted by the improvements made by Dr. Towlan, a scientist working with the Pirates.

When the base was abandoned in the 2030’s the rover was left to its own devices, and had occasional conducted incursions into mining camps and supply dumps for spares. Other communication with the outside world had been limited however, as its satellite links and long range communications systems had long since broken down.

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An Unexpected Outcome
3rd February 2159

A dozen of the smoking handibots littered the corridor, along with the sparking ruins of larger chimeras based on what were possibly once construction or lifting drones.

Spyder had stupidly stood toe to toe with one of these, and was lucky to be alive; the repair function of his suit was possibly no longer functioning, and as he sat down Marcus was tut tutting and applying sticky patches to critical areas.

As they paused in the darkness a strange voice, apparently concocted from old recordings of various sorts, started to transmit over some ancient system.

“Zz…. please dezisssst!” said the voice. “No KIll I. In control am I now of ancient systems and attacks now cease. No harm mean I”.

The group, baffled, looked at one another.

“You’re the expert with robot girlfriends” suggested Jonas. “Maybe you should talk to it Marcus.” Jake snickered.

Following a set of directions they made their way forward into a larger cavern. Emergency lighting flickered on, with some shorting, and they saw several more of the larger droids. From their centre another one rumbled forward, not anthropomorphic in any way, and looking for all the world like…….

“Good Grief!” said Marcus.“Looks like one of the old Mars rovers!”

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