They were prisoners, exiles, pawns of a corrupt government. Now they are Dr. Rachel Dycek's adin, surgically transformed beings who can survive new lives on the surface of Mars. But they are still exiles, unable ever again to breathe Earth's air. And they are still pawns.
For the adin exist to terraform Mars for human colonists, not for themselves. Creating a new Earth, they will destroy their world, killed by their own success. Desperate, adin leader Boris Tiban launches a suicide campaign to sabotage the Mars Project, knowing his people will perish in a glorious, doomed campaign of mayhem—unless embattled, bitter Rachel Dycek can find a miracle to save both the Mars Project and the race she created.
"Kevin Anderson is the heir apparent to Arthur C. Clarke"– Daniel Keys Moran
Under a salmon sky, the rover vehicle crawled over the rise, looking down into the cracked canyons of Mars. Without a pause, the rover descended a tortuous path into the gorge, feeling its way with a thousand sea-urchin footpads.
The site of the old disaster lay like a broken scab: fallen rock, eroded fissures, and utter silence.
Alone in the vehicle, Commissioner Rachel Dycek held a cold breath as she looked through the windowport at the debris crumbled at the bottom of the toppled cliffside. The avalanche had been enormous, wiping out all thirty-one of the dva workers who had been tunneling into the canyon network of Noctis Labyrinthus, the "Labyrinth of Night."
Around Rachel, the wreckage still appeared fresh and jagged. Even after a full Earth year, the pain burned inside her. Another loss, the largest link in a long chain of disappointments, against which she had kept her face of stone. Russians were good at enduring, but inside she felt as fragile as stained glass.
The weathered rock walls of Noctis Labyrinthus formed barriers of reddish oxides, gray silicates, and black lava debris—all sliced a kilometer deep by ancient rivers. For millions of years, the entire planet had barely changed. But now, after six decades of terraforming activities had bombarded the planet with comets and seeded its atmosphere with innumerable strains of algae and free-floating plankton, Mars looked raw. The terraforming had awakened the planet like a slap in the face—and occasionally Mars lashed back, as it had with the avalanche.
The rover's engines hummed, and the telescoping sea-urchin feet underneath made popcorn-popping sounds as the pressurized vehicle scrambled effortlessly over the rough terrain. Letting the Artificial Intelligence navigator pick its best path, Rachel brought the rover Percival to a halt next to a stack of granite boulders. Back at Lowell Base, operations manager Bruce Vickery had reserved Percival for later in the day to check his remotely placed instruments, but Rachel had traveled only a hundred kilometers. She had hours yet before she needed to worry about getting back.
Alone in this desolate spot, Rachel felt as if she were entering a haunted house. She listened to the intense, peaceful emptiness. Then she began working her way into the protective environment suit. The slick fabric was cold. The chill never went away on Mars—but it slithered up her legs, hugged her waist and shoulders, and clung to the damp sweat of her hands as she worked her fingers into the tough gloves. It took her fifteen minutes, but Rachel was accustomed to suiting up by herself; she didn't like the interference of too many hands.
Technically, she was not supposed to be out in the rover by herself, but Rachel was still commissioner of Lowell Base—for the moment, anyway—and she could bend the rules. She had logged her intentions on the vehicle assignment terminal as "historical research." Duration of outside activity: half a sol (which was the correct term for a Martian day, though the fifty human colonists at the base simply called them "days"). And she had set out across the sprawling wilderness by herself, leaving Lowell Base behind.
Rachel sealed the suit and powered it up. A thin hiss echoed in her ear, and the stale metallic smell of manufactured air spilled into her nostrils. Pressurized, the suit puffed up, pushing the fabric of the suit away from her skin and making her feel less confined. The oxygen regenerator on her back burbled as its chemicals reacted to make air thick enough for her to breathe.
Lowell Base environment suits were lighter, more streamlined than the bulky monstrosities the original visitors to Mars had been forced to wear. After many decades of terraforming, Mars was more hospitable to human life, nearly as pleasant as the worst day she had lived through in Siberia.
Rachel clambered through Percival's sphincter airlock and stepped out onto the powdery red dirt of Mars. With a crackle like wadded tissue paper, the cold wrapped around her body, and she turned up the suit's embedded heaters so that she could stand tall.
On the eve of her forced return to Earth, Rachel Dycek felt a profound sense of displacement. But she wanted to return to this place one last time, to see her shattered expectations, to see the buried dreams of Dmitri Pchanskii and his dva group who had given up everything for Mars, even their lives.
One Earth year ago today, a team of surgically augmented humans, the dvas, had been mining the labyrinth, using explosives to uncover channels of primordial ice. The blasting brought down a huge section of the canyon wall, burying everything beyond hope of recovery….
Standing next to the rover, Rachel felt the weak but insistent wind push against her suit. Rust powder gusted into the air in tiny whirlwinds. She had been on Mars for a decade now, and she no longer felt light and springy on her feet. The red canyons, the extinct volcanoes, the growing tendrils of green in sheltered areas, no longer awed her. She had lost the energy for enthusiasm.
Rachel picked her way into the rubble, half expecting to hear some sound, some echo of the rocks crashing down into the gorge…the screams of dying dvas, pitched high in the thin air. All the tracks from the Lowell Base rescue missions and search parties had long ago been wiped away by storms and sifting microfine dust. Nothing left, just dreams.
In one wash of sloughing boulders that fell slowly in the low gravity, but with just as much mass and just as much inertia, thirty-one of Rachel's best dvas were lost—a sixth of their population. Rachel could not understand why her augmented human beings had been fated to suffer such disasters.
The dvas, an English bastardization of the Russian word for "two," were the second and most successful phase of humans surgically altered to live in the rigorous Martian environment. Performed under the bright lights of world scrutiny, the dva surgery had been much more successful than the great gamble of the adin, Rachel's secret initial phase.
The dva volunteers had been willing individuals, rather than subjects pulled from Siberian labor camps. The first three shipments of dvas were tough and dedicated workers, while the fourth group of fifty were true jewels, members of the intelligentsia who had volunteered for the augmentation surgery because they considered it their duty to the human race. A brilliant flash of glory, now smothered forever.
Dr. Dmitri Pchanskii himself, a talented Belorussian obstetrician and surgeon, had set an example as the leader of the fourth group of dvas. Watching his outspoken commitment, other medical professionals and scientists volunteered for the extreme surgery, with the justification that becoming a dva would be the best way to do research on an alien world. After the surgeries, they could be part of the environment, studying Mars hands-on, the same way field researchers studied Earth.
Firebrand legal representatives for the dvas had even demanded of the UN that their clients actually "own" the land they worked, not just receive lifelong leases. A Volga German lawyer named Rotlein had played on public sympathies—everyone admired the dva bravery, especially after learning of the horrors that had befallen the adin phase. Why not throw the dvas a bone? The dvas would probably not live long in such a harsh environment anyway….
For a time, the dva project appeared to be a complete success. Over the years, the dvas had received enormous, robotically piloted shipments containing the modules for Lowell Base and the four other human bases scattered across the surface of Mars. Before the first unmodified humans arrived to stay, the dvas completed all the prep work, like servants sent ahead to prepare the master's room. Three years after the last dva landing, Rachel and fifty others arrived at Lowell Base to prepare for the "Grand Opening" of a terraformed Mars.
But, when a project was as large as an entire planet, the work never ended. Pchanskii's team of dvas had been searching for subterranean water in Noctis Labyrinthus. But Pchanskii had been a surgeon on Earth, not a geologist or a construction engineer. He had not understood what he was doing when he blasted the fragile rocks.
When Lowell Base received no progress reports from them for several days, and with a large seasonal dust storm approaching, Rachel had dispatched a search team. She herself had rushed out on the rescue mission, as others watched the green-and-pink skies thicken with approaching waves of dust. Rachel had stared at the fallen rocks, the sheared-off cliffs, and the fine dust that refused to settle, whipped back into the air by precursor gusts of wind.
As much as a week could have gone by since the collapse; little wonder they found no survivors, no sign at all.
With grim irony, Pchanskii's avalanche had exposed a rich vein of water ice that looked like a steaming white gash on the rock. It created a thick, temporary fog in the canyons as the ice sublimed in the thin air….
The weather satellites politely advised everyone to take shelter at the base and ride out the storm. The rescue team, unable to recover dva bodies or precious equipment from under tons and tons of rock, was forced back to the base. Later, after the abrasion from the month-long storm, there had been little point in even looking.
Pchanskii's group had been swallowed up by the tumbling walls of rock, but Rachel was left to face the avalanche of recriminations, and "I-told-you-so"s, and the sadly shaking heads. She had endured it, barely flinching, with no more than a tic in the right eye and a grim twitch at the corner of her wide mouth.
She could no longer deny that the entire dva project, her brainchild, was at an end, with only a few messy loose ends to tie up: 150 dvas still toiling on the surface of Mars, while spacesuited humans plowed ahead with their own work. In a few more decades, neither surgical augmentations nor environmental suits would be necessary to survive in the cold, brittle atmosphere. The remaining dvas were obsolete, the program a dead end, and they would live out their lives on Mars with no hope of returning to Earth.
Now, Rachel's decade as commissioner seemed like such a grand folly. She stared at the motionless rubble in the canyon and listened to the whispers of wind and the burbling of her air-regeneration system.
In the first launch opportunity from Earth after the dva disaster, the UN Space Agency had dispatched a new commissioner along with a dozen more mission members assigned to Lowell Base. Jesús Keefer, her replacement, would arrive tomorrow. The Mars transfer vehicle was already in orbit. She craned her neck, looked through her polarized faceplate up into the frigid sky that sometimes showed a few bright stars even during daytime when the dust or the algae clouds weren't too thick; but she saw no sign of the orbiter.
She stayed at Noctis Labyrinthus for a few useless and depressing hours. Finally, leaving the wreckage behind with the wreckage of her dvas' future, Rachel returned to the rover, brushing the clinging dust from her thermal suit.
She should get back to the base and put her things in order.