Marcel perched on the edge of the South face of Olympus Mons looking down on the platform set into the lower East face where the Queen’s Regent would be speaking in a few minutes. Nearly the entire Kentauran colony population, almost 30,000, had gathered for the dedication ceremony.
The mountain itself was something to behold. This had been 1 of the dormant volcanoes they had dropped hydrogen bombs into over a decade ago to create the necessary greenhouse effect on Mars. Even after having an H-bomb dropped down its maw, it remained the tallest mountain in the solar system. The eruption had blown out the east face, leaving the western tip of the peak intact. The resulting tear opened the entire upper portion of the East slope and part of the North slope. From deep within Mars the very rocks became as liquid and blasted through the surface, attempting to escape the nuclear death below. Running down the mountainside, a brilliant cascade of oranges and reds and yellows, the lava burned and cut while building anew as it cooled.
Marcel marveled at the fact that all these years later the lava was still pouring out from the deep beneath the Martian surface. Not just down the mountainside, the natural moat encircling the mountain continued to gurgle, bubble, and steam as well. There were still pockets of cooling lava along the freshly resurfaced shoreline.
Above all of this hung a 10 meter diameter steel circle enclosing the seal of the Royal family. Dangling from a shuttle by 3 very tenuous looking lines, it awaited the Regent to be lowered into the still cooling lava flow on the lower eastern face; forever marking this region as Kentauran territory. The door to the shuttle opened and the Regent jumped out, and circled slowly to the platform below.
“Always the showman…”
“I don’t think she can help herself.”
She paused in the air above the platform, flapped her long, slender wings once, and then settled into the middle of the 2 by the 3 meter metal platform jutting off of a ruddy outcrop pointing Southeast. The crowd became still as the Queen’s Regent spoke. Marcel closed his eyes, after so much time spent listening to the mechanized tones of the translators it was soothing to hear the natural tones of his people’s voice. With variations of rhythm, pitch, and tone she formed images within the airwaves and the entire Kentauran community received the message.
Rivers of liquid planet
Embrace the name of our Queen
Home on a world unknown
Still, Kentauran we remain
The currents of existence
Have lifted our wings
Carrying us to this perch
In space and time.
We fly in formation
Into the uncertain
Trusting the currents
And our Queen
To serve the Queen
is to serve one’s self.
The entire Kentauran populace rose from their purchase on the mountainsides, and the field below, into the air and replied as 1;
To serve one’s self
Is to serve the Queen.
On cue, the seal began to lower into the lava flow. The Kentauran hung in the air listening to the song of cold metal and hot lava meeting for the first time. As the circle began to buckle, liquid nitrogen sprayed from small canisters along the upper rim, cooling the lava enough to set the Seal in place.
In the sky above, a fire burned across the Martian afternoon sky.
“Attention! Attention! This is Captain Archibald, we are making final approach to Mars. Secure yourself. Atmospheric entry will be bumpy. Landing will also be challenging. Do not get up from your seat for any reason prior to being given the all clear! See you planetside. Captain out.” Archibald set the mic into its holster and grabbed hold of the chair arms.
Combs looked over her left shoulder back towards the Captain, hair falling across her face, “Always an inspiration, Sir.”
“They’ll be inspired when we land this thing on the planet without anyone dying.”
“Adjust angle of entry .05 degrees on the Z axis. Divert life support and waste management power to energy buffers. Hold her steady. Commander, take us into Martian atmosphere.”
“Aye, Sir. Ummm..Sir? By energy buffer did you mean the Magnetic Field Generator?”
“Its an energy field that creates a buffer layer around the ship, right? Energy buffer.”
“Aye, Sir. Entry in 3…2…and…”
The solar sails burned off the long silver tube as it entered Mars’ atmosphere without a sound. Just a flash and they were gone. Children cried for their mothers as they sat, restrained, feeling the walls and floor begin to shake around them. Fear became a physical presence in the room when the metal began to sing out in protest of the gravitational forces being exacted upon it. It was not until the temperature on board began to noticeably rise that the Captain showed any outward concern.
“How much longer till we are through Commander?”
“3 minutes, Captain.”
“Divert power from the passenger cabins to the energy buffers.”
When all the lights went out, few of the passengers noticed that the ship’s hull had stopped protesting or that the temperature had lowered slightly. They were too distracted by the sound of screaming coming from all quarters. The cries of protest and fear began to subside as the light levels rose in the cabin. When they realized where the light source originated, they were struck dumb from terror. Outside the portals, the air around them burned a deep brimstone. Behind the flames dancing lights of all hues could be seen arcing a few meters away. The interior of the ship now glowed in the flickering light.
In the middle of the deck, a man unsnapped his restraints and rose to have a better look, “My god its beautiful.” He whispered to nobody in particular. His long, slender frame quickly carried him to the starboard side portals. Setting his left elbow upon the sill, he rested his forehead in his palm, fingers nestled within his thick dark hair, as he gazed, mesmerized into the burning sky outside.
“Arthur! Arthur! The Captain said to remain seated!” She dared lean forward in her chair just enough to give her brother a disapproving look. She sat back down, straightened her medium length blonde hair, re-centered the lines of her plain blue blouse, and brushed off her comfortable slacks. At least she could keep herself in order.
Arthur looked back, smiling, “Don’t you see the wonder of it all, Anne? The aurora and the fire, it’s the invisible forces of the universe revealed.”
“Yes, I know Arthur, the invisible power of the cosmos, now please come sit back down.”
Arthur wandered back and allowed his sister to buckle him back into the chair. The entire time he stared out the nearest portal, smiling.
If nothing else, Arthur’s outburst managed to distract the passengers from their fear long enough to calm them down. As they sat in the unlit cabin, most just watched the fireworks display. A few prayed, and few tried to behave as if they were unaffected by the experience; attempting to eat or read or some such façade. As if they hadn’t all been in exactly the same place only a moment ago. In the end all anyone could think about was if that fire would stay outside.
And then it was gone. The flames burned out, the lights winked off, the ship steadied, and the Captain came on the radio, “Okay folks, we made it past the first hurdle. We’re a little dinged up, but none the worse for wear. We’ll be making landfall on Mars in 15 minutes. Hang on to something.”
Captain Archibald set the mic back just as the sounds of cheering echoed through the ship. “Commander, sit rep.”
“Aye, Sir. With all stations reporting we are in fairly solid shape. We lost the solar sails as designed, but no other significant structural damage. Medical reports only a few minor injuries. Engineering reports all engines and landing gear are green lights. Navigation and communication check out, as does waste management.”
“Just being thorough, Sir.”
It was actually 14 minutes later that they made landfall. The shuttle craft settled into position above the coordinates in northwestern Terra Sirenum, the landing gear dropped, and then the ship set down without further incident.
Captain Archibald looked around him at the crew, picked up his mic, “Attention, this is your Captain; Welcome to Mars.” Hanging up the mic he looked at Commander Combs and the rest of the crew. “Well, you took a job few wanted and fewer still could do, and you saw it through to the end. There is nothing I can say to bring further honor to you than you have already earned for yourself. A few days more and we’ll have the civilians squared away; then you will be released from service to go and build a new future for yourselves. I am proud to have served with each and every one of you.” For the first time since Combs had known him, Archibald gave a crisp salute to his crew, and then turned and walked out of the cabin.