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Postby Grant » 21 Jan 2011, 18:46

Hey guys, so this is a short science fiction story I wrote last fall, my friends seem to like it, but I'm trying to get more feedback :) I'm still new at the "short story" thing, so any constructive criticism is greatly appreciated! (also, sorry about the formatting, html likes to eat tabs and extra spaces!)


by Grant Entwistle

Sometimes I wonder what it was like being one of those first colonists. Young, middleclass, pretty damn sharp with computers… they came to Mars and suddenly had to work for a living. Houses, farms, roads, if they needed something that wasn’t coming in on the next supply mission, they had to put on their suits and build it themselves. When you learn about the sort of things they went through, it comes across as pretty bleak… but maybe these guys were tougher than your professor gave them credit for.
I’m Miguel Hernandez and I’m a civil engineer, professionally speaking. So when the boss says he’s got a good assignment for a history buff like myself, I’m going to be damn curious about it.
My boss’s conference room is a bit on the executive side for my taste, and I drop myself in one of the seats at an odd angle in order to expresses this sentiment.
“So Mig, what do you know about Herschel City?” He asks me.
“I know it. Small town in the Isis Basin.” I say, “Oldest continuously occupied settlement on Mars, if you can believe it.”
“Well, we’re building a new highway in the south part of Isis that goes right through there. We break ground later this fall, and I need you in Herschel City to plan that part of the route.”
“A route through a town that small? Is that the whole assignment?”
“Yes, but there’s a catch,” he says, sending me a link, “this is the site for their major tourist attraction, ‘Colonial Herschel’. While we’re building our highway, they’re in the middle of a major archeological dig. They’re recovering artifacts in an effort to completely recreate what Herschel City looked like in Colonial times, and you’ve got to de-conflict our highway with their dig-sites.”
“Colonial Herschel? I didn’t know there was anything left to find,” I say.
“Apparently there’s plenty. Harper State University is tearing down fields left and right, clearing spots for their digs. You’ll be working directly with the head of the expedition, Rebecca Taylor. She’ll show you exactly where they’re working, and you can assure her this company will find the least-disruptive path for its highway.”
“If they’re digging all over the place, maybe they don’t exactly know where they’re working,” I suggest.
“That’s why I wanted you for the job, Mig. Nobody else here knows as much about this history crap, you’ll make sure we don’t get caught with our pants down in a dust-storm.”
“Metaphorically speaking, of course?” I ask, smiling.
“Of course.”
* * *

Isis Basin is flat, some of the flattest land on Mars. It’s also just north of the equator, so not only is it cheap to build infrastructure, but farmers have plenty of sun to work with. Herschel City was prime real estate for a farm town, but the colony that grew up around it eventually outgrew Herschel itself. So four hundred years later, it’s still just another farm town.
I’m reminded of that as I’m driving down the crappy two-lane road my company wants me to replace. I’m just outside of town, and on either side of me are row after row of corn under row after row of polyethylene enclosures. Suddenly there’s a big break in the plastic on the side of the road, and as I pull in it looks like two or three acres were recently cleared.
I get out and make my way past some workers carrying shovels to a woman in a khaki-colored environmental suit. Light brown hair frames her face underneath her visor. “Miguel Hernandez,” I say, shaking her hand. “I’m with the Mars Corporation, Elysium State Branch.”
“Rebecca Taylor.” she replies, “You Elysium boys like to sleep in, don’t you?”
“I’m here to get the run-down on Harper State University’s excavation sites,” I say, handing her a printout, “According to the file you gave us, you’ve got ‘locations of interest’ all over the map.”
“Those aren’t locations of interest, those are where we’re already working,” she points out different areas over a couple of square miles, “Digging here, running ground-penetrating radar here. It’s basically the whole department working at Herschel, and you’d better believe we cover a lot of ground.”
“What exactly are you trying to find?” I ask.
“High yield chemical explosives,” she says frankly.
* *

We’re sitting in the back of the Herschel Colonial Museum somewhere and Rebecca Taylor explains the scenario. When the founders of Hershel City landed in the 2230’s their first priority was establishing farms. In order to break up the cold Martian hardtop, they used explosives instead of bringing heavy machinery from America. Once the ground was broken, the next layer of explosives would be laid beneath the next season’s seed, ready to be detonated months later at the end of the season, after the harvest had taken place.
As time progressed, good machinery became available and the practice stopped, but acres of dormant explosives were left deep under the fields around Herschel.

Since we’re already at the museum, she offers to show me a model. We go outside and make our way down a path to the Colonial Herschel exhibit. There’s a huge plastic dome with what look like crops and vegetables inside. As we get closer to the airlock it’s pretty obvious everything’s fake.
“This is it,” she tells me, “a full scale, 400 yard wide colonial farm.”
“After they blast out a shallow circular crater they’d excavate the debris by hand and install a vinyl liner. The idea is you have this airtight, waterproof cone buried underground that’d collect water at the center.”
We’re moving towards the middle, passing some fake tomatoes. “This arm you see above you is an aluminum sprinkler system. It’s got wheels on the extreme end, and it pivots at the center to cover the entire growing area.”
“Real cutting-edge stuff,” I tell her.
We’re at the center now, at the axis of the sprinkler arm. “There’s the water pump and filter, there’s the air pump, and that’s about it,” she says. “All of this effort for a grand total of 26 usable acres.”
“After these original farms were abandoned, the exact layout of the charges was lost. When the new farms were expanded to cover the old ones, they literally just piled soil on top of them until their plows had enough clearance.”
“So these things have been there for what, 400 years?” I ask. It’s unbelievable.
Suddenly the curator bursts into the exhibit and runs over to us, a dark haired woman with an expression of shock on her face.
“Dr. Taylor!” she shouts, “There’s been an explosion!”
* * *

I hit the brakes hard as we come to the sudden end of the crappy two-lane road. We get out and ahead of us is something like 30 acres of dirt, rubble, and broken corn stalks.
There’s a movement and we rush over to a man half-buried under massive clods of dirt. His visor’s cracked, but it’s not blown out.
“Roger!” Rebecca Taylor says to the man, “you’ve still got pressure, but we need to know if you’re alright. Can you tell me if you’re hurt anywhere?”
“Dr. Taylor”, he says unevenly, “I was taking a soil sample… when I got to six feet the probe was stuck so I… I used the hydraulic ram to force it… then the whole damn field lit up… I, something happened to my leg…”
We carefully dig him out and there’s a flash of panic across Rebecca’s face as we expose a jagged 12 inch tear through his environmental suit. Underneath, Roger’s leg is exposed to the vacuum and badly swollen; I smear the dirt off to make sure there aren’t any cuts.
I point out a bulge in the suit circling his mid-thigh, “His emergency seal managed to close off that part of his suit and prevent total decompression. It was just sheer luck the tear wasn’t any higher.”
“If he’s really lucky I still have enough duct tape left on this roll…”
* *

“He was real lucky you were carrying enough tape to patch his leg up,” the doctor tells me.
“I do a lot of work in the countryside,” I say. “I don’t go through it very fast, but it’s company policy to lug around a roll or two.”
It’s myself, Dr. Taylor, and a few of her seniors from the department in the waiting room. He addresses the group, “This is a best-case scenario. Minor scrapes from contact with debris, no frostbite. We expect the swelling to go down within the hour. He’s had his surface capillaries ruptured, but there shouldn’t even be long term discoloration.”

Rebecca Taylor thanks me again, and explains that she’s been called to a meeting with the Herschel City Senate to discuss the blast. I ask her if there’s any chance the operations will be shut down, but she’s optimistic about it.
“It’s never been a secret these explosives were down there,” she says, “But before now, there was never any public pressure to recover them. We’re not only not going to get shut down, but the city government is going to start funding part of our research expenses.”
We agree to meet tomorrow, after the hearing. I make my way back to my room on the other side of town, hoping to put an end to a long day.

* * *

I’m still asleep when the computer goes off. It’s Mike Adams, and I’m wondering if it’d be worth the trouble if I suddenly started blocking his IP address. Probably not, though I do seem to be building a surplus of trouble lately.
“Miguel,” he says, “I walk into my office this morning and my browser tells me you’ve been caught in an explosion.”
“You mean the explosion in Herschel City?” I ask, “That place six time-zones behind you where it’s still 3 AM?”
“That’s the place. So are you still in one piece?”
“Absolutely. It’d take a detonation twice that size to kill me.”
“Glad to hear it,” then he clears his throat. “Usually this would be a job for Sales, but I have an interesting new piece of geological equipment, and my coworkers and I think we could help you out with your little field trip.”
“What’ve you got?”
“It’s an Echoscope. You bury it underground and it collects sound-rays from distant objects and turns them into an image of the subterranean landscape. Rays of sound enter and get reflected from a parabolic mirror, then reflected again and focused onto an array of extremely small microphones. These make a live reading of the amplitude and frequency of the sound focused onto any given point, and a very simple program converts the readings and displays them as pixels on an image on your computer.”
“The principle is exactly the same as the one behind the reflecting telescope, except it uses sound, not light.”
“It’s expensive, right?” I ask. It’s starting to sound expensive. “It’s not exactly Mars Corporation’s responsibility to find these things.”
“No more expensive than sitting on your resources for 10 months while Dr. Taylor’s team ferrets out the rest of those corn-bombs,” Mike says, "Look for yourself.”
He sends me some basic spec-files.
“What the hell?” I say, “I always wanted to break into archeology.”
* * *

“Actually we found a sort of storage bunker under the debris field,” Rebecca Taylor tells me, “At first we thought the blast took out everything, but when we looked at the center of the farm it was relatively untouched. Should’ve expected it. They would’ve had their water cycling equipment there.”
It’s a little before noon and we’re standing around outside at the airport. Behind us we’ve got the truck waiting, in front of us the typical small town landing strip stretches some five miles towards the east.
“Sure,” I say, “it’d probably get to be a pain in the ass if they blew up their pumps every season.”
Suddenly we spot the cargo plane. It’s a triple-bodied monster, with three hulls suspended underneath a single 850 foot wingspan. Even before it lands, braking rockets on the wings have started to slow it down. When it touches down clouds of coolant erupt from the shock absorbers. It’s a hell of a thing.
Slowly it gets to our end of the runway and towers over us as it reaches the unloading zone. A small airlock pops open and it’s Mike Adams, grinning like an idiot behind his visor.
“So the echoscope made it in one piece?” I ask him, walking over to shake his hand.
“Hell, probably,” he says, “but you should come up and see what this passenger section is like, it’s nicer than my house.”
* * *
Rebecca Taylor hands me the shovel and starts brushing away dirt with her hand. She finds an ancient polyethylene sheet and cuts out a square of it. It gets passed to one of her seniors. Another twenty minutes go by and then she stops, pulls back her arm and exposes a tiny spot of glinting metal. She flashes a smile at the few of us in the pit, then looks up to the crowd of students on the edge above us.
“Six feet, three inches!” she tells them. “Right where it’s supposed to be.”

A few hours later we’re having lunch in the break tent. It’s as good a time as ever to let her have the good news, so I simply hand my computer across the table.
“I’m delaying the Herschel City highway project by 600 days,” I tell her. “We’re going to give you and your students almost a full year to finish, then we’ll start construction early next summer.”
Rebecca scans my report, eyebrows rising, “Miguel, this is amazing! We’ll be able to find everything! Next you’re going to tell me you’re donating the echoscope to the archeology department.”
“Even better, we’re going to lease it to you for the duration of the 600 days. That way, all that Herschel City Senate money won’t get wasted on textbooks and scholarships.”
She smiles…then, more quietly, “This means you’re done in Herschel now? Am I going to see you again?”
“Well,” I say, “We’ll need to send somebody out to check up on the equipment we’re leasing you. He’d have to come out here pretty frequently, it’ll interrupt his other assignments… but I expect we won’t have trouble finding a volunteer …”
I look into her eyes, “After all, I’m something of a history buff.”
* * *

He’s pretty surprised when he’s finished looking over my report, “You delayed it by six-hundred days? Do you even have the authority to do that?”
Mike Adams passes my computer back to me over the empty seat between us. In fact, all the seats in the passenger compartment are empty, and it really is nicer than his house.
“Well, my boss and I had an interesting discussion on that very topic,” I tell him, “But I reminded him of how thorough a job we wanted the HSU team to do finding those charges, and it seemed to grease the wheels a bit.”
“Actually he was more upset I wasn’t bringing the echoscope back with me. We had this plane on standby for three weeks, that sure as hell wasn’t cheap.”
Suddenly I remember something very serious.
“Mike, there’s something I’ve got to tell you about your machine.”
“What do you mean, did you find a problem?”

“Yeah,” I say, “Echoscope’s a God-awful name for it! We’ve got to change that name, Mike.”

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Re: Minefield

Postby Grant » 14 Feb 2011, 11:52

Too long, didn't read.
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Re: Minefield

Postby Kevak » 14 Feb 2011, 16:30

i read it, i just didn't post :P
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Re: Minefield

Postby What_Goes_Here? » 15 Feb 2011, 06:48

I've skimmed through it *Don't have the time for an indebth read atm I will latter, but I did notice that TLDR post came from the author of the post above.
I iz confused by the infraction. Is that because of a double post?
Anyway seems intresting. Hope you contiue.
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Re: Minefield

Postby Bonzi77 » 15 Feb 2011, 07:08

XD Oh wow. He posted a TL;DR on his own topic. I don't even.

Removing the infraction, nice catch. >_<
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Re: Minefield

Postby Grant » 15 Feb 2011, 07:28

gotta keep you guys on your toes! but yeah, it's a bit long for a single post. if I post another story I'll split it into parts and rework the layout to be more reader friendly on a message board like this
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Re: Minefield

Postby The Ghost » 24 Apr 2011, 08:45

Very classic hard SF feel. Love the piece.
For the Emperor!

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