The Montgomery Report
Director Gene Haldry, PhD.
Black. A spotlight appears on a theatrical stage framed by red velvet drapes. Stage center sits a round oak table with two chairs. Also made of oak, the chairs’ tall backs appear to made of a single piece, warped by craft into a smooth, comfortable curve. The entire chair is plain faces and right angles, except for these backs adorned in ornately carved symbols and geometric shapes weaved into dynamic patterns that hypnotize the close observer. Each chair carved by hand, a unique piece painstakingly created by the carpenter.
Introductory music causes the studio audience to applaud politely. Two men walk onto the stage, from opposite sides. From stage left enters the celebrated host, Gerald Montgomery. Gerald became a journalist for love of the truth. Then he broke a major story, found himself on national news, and discovered he really loved celebrity. And celebrity loved him back. In just 3 years, Gerald has gone from a local TV reporter to local anchor to having a national, weekly interview show.
Gerald straightened his plaid tie and pulled at the bottom of his grey vest, which he wore over a white button down tucked neatly into slacks that matched his vest almost perfectly. He smiled and nodded across the stage to his guest.
Dr. Gene Haldry strode onto the stage, a disheveled presence despite his neat blue business suit with the corner of a red handkerchief popping out of the lapel pocket, perfectly matching his blood red tie. He smoothed the corners of a mustache he no longer owned, fidgeted uncomfortably at the realization, recovered his demeanor and continued forward. He approached the table confidently, nodded to Gerald and grabbed the back of his chair to pull it out.
As if on cue, a deep disembodied voice filled the room, “Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight on The Montgomery Report, we are pleased to introduce, Dr. Gene Haldry, Ph.D., Director of the Mars Project.”
Haldry bowed, slightly, to the audience in response to their polite applause, then sat down and faced his host.
Gerald waited for his guest and then sat, turning to the audience, he smiled like Tom Sawyer offering his friends the opportunity to paint the fence, “Good evening everyone, thank you for coming. If you are familiar with the show then you know our purpose is to speak with everyday people who have exceptional things happen in their lives. I hope you’ll forgive me, but today we’re going to break with that theme. Dr. Haldry, as the head of a major government project, certainly does not qualify as an everyday person. But it will be everyday people going on this venture, and that will certainly be an exceptional experience. So we jumped at the opportunity to learn more about it. For you, our audience of everyday people.”
Gerald turns dramatically to face Haldry, “Good Evening Dr. Haldry, Thank you for coming.”
“It’s good to be here, Gerald, thank you for having me despite my uncommon handicap.”
“Well, let’s get right into it. Why don’t we start with learning something about you. What are the qualifications for Director of Earth’s Mars colonization project?”
“Thinking of applying for the job? Because I know a guy.”
The audience laughs politely, Gerald smiles, turns to the camera, “No thank you, I’ve got the best job on this planet.” Audience claps on cue.
“Certainly the easiest.” Uncomfortable laughter emanates from the audience like a wagging finger, Gene smirks to himself and continues,
“Indeed. So, yes, you asked about my resume. My degrees are in astrophysics and particle physics, but what I really study are patterns.”
“Yes. You see, for decades, scientists have been trying to develop a unifying theory. A theory which explained the universe in such a waythat all the other known laws and theories could clearly be tied together as springing from this most basic law of nature. In much the way all of human behavior ultimately springs from survival. So I study sub-atomic particles, and microbes, and humans, and galaxies, observing them for common patterns that might reveal some basic truth of the universe.”
“And have you discovered anything?” Montgomery’s hand cupped his chin, as he had heard people do when thinking hard on a subject.
“There are no right angles in nature.” Sitting there, smiling, it did not seem to occur to Haldry that this was not enough information.
“Its true. There are lots of curves, spirals, spheres, what have you. And numerous angles as well, acute, obtuse, but no right angles anywhere unless made by humans. Even the Kentauran don’t construct right angles, which was what made it stand out for me.”
“What do you think that means?”
“I do not know.”
Montgomery sat back and up in his chair, sure he had just discovered his first “gotcha” moment of the interview, “So you’ve learned nothing?”
“Well, I’ve learned a great deal, just not about my primary goal.” The audience again laughs for Haldry.
“And, no disrespect I just don’t understand, how does this qualify you for this project?”
“We are going to another planet, en masse, for the 1st time ever. I understand biomedical issues, physics issues, and human systems management issues. And 4/5th of this project primarily involved the scientists and engineers, it is only the final stage which involves the general public.”
“I see, and what exactly is your job description?”
“Sure, Gerald, that’s actually a good place to start, because to understand my job, you have to understand exactly what the parameters of the project are. Technically my job is ‘to organize and execute the goals of the Mars Project on behalf of the UFN’ but that provides little information if you don’t know what those goals are.”
“True. So…what are those goals?”
“We have 4 goals: 1, to terraform Mars for human life; that we did. 2, to establish a research base on Mars in order to determine its habitability; that we did. 3, to build ships for the safe transport of humans to Mars; that we did. And 4, to safely transport a human population to Mars; that is what we are trying to do now.” Haldry ticked off the 4th goal on his thumb, smiling smugly as he listed his own achievements to a national audience.
“And you were Director for the entire time?”
“Which began when?”
“20 years ago, give or take.”
“So, for 2 decades, give or take, you have been working on Mars, building ships, terraforming Mars, all without anyone knowing?”
“Yes, it was deemed necessary, as the President explained.”
“Those who give orders to the people who give me orders.”
“And how exactly does one terraform a dead planet?”
“Well, as it turns out, Mars wasn’t actually dead, so much as slumbering.”
“Really. So, what, you woke it up?”
“Essentially, yes.” Again, the smile of self-satisfaction shined forth.
“And what made you think it was a good idea to wake up a planet?”
“The Kentaraun do it all the time.” He shrugged.
“You sound like my son when I ask him why he did something wrong.”
This time Haldry smiled mischievously, “I gotta tell you, I felt a bit like a kid when we were doing it.”
“What, exactly did you do? How does a person go about waking up a planet?” Montgomery’s hand spread wide on the table, palms open to the sky.
He sat forward and made a dome of his left hand on the table while his right continued to punctuate his words into the air, “Okay, so the largest mountain in the solar system is on Mars. Its called Olympus Mons, and its actually a volcano, still active. There are several of these giant volcanoes on Mars. There was also a great deal of Martian water, but it was all frozen at the poles.” His hands now positioning to become the ice caps on an imaginary globe in the air before him. The gesture then adjusted to signify the entire atmosphere, “The problem with Mars, from a human perspective, was the lack of atmosphere. Without any greenhouse gases, there was no heat to melt the ice and no way to trap the moisture on planet if it did evaporate.”
“So you made an atmosphere?”
Smiling and pointing at Gerald Montgomery, “Exactly!”
“I just told you, the volcanoes.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
Sighing he sat forward in his chair, as if proximity might help the lesson sink in, the hand gestures became more vivid,“We dropped hydrogen bombs in the active volcanoes, massive heated clouds of greenhouse gasses poured into the Martian sky, spewed forth from the depths of the planet by the thundering volcanoes. It was something to behold. This dark grey cloud swallowing the deep red landscape as it rolled across the sky. Then the ice caps melted almost completely. In just 1 year! The flood waters tore across the surface, filling canals and basins, tearing down ancient stone pillars like they were made of paper. It was truly awesome.”
“Wow.” Gerald sat still for a moment saying nothing. “How were you able to observe all of this?”
“UAVs. They were all destroyed by winds 10 times the speed of any hurricane on Earth. But we managed to download most of the footage. We will be releasing some of it soon.”
“Alright, so you dropped several H-bombs into volcanoes on Mars in order to change the atmosphere…”
“4, we dropped 4 hydrogen bombs, missiles actually, ICBMs adapted for launch from an orbital craft.”
Gerald Montgomery froze for just a second, realizing the biggest story of his career had just landed at his feet in the middle of the biggest interview of his career, he pounced,“We can launch nuclear missiles from space?”
“Ummm,” He shifted about in his chair, “no.”
“What do you mean no? If they did what you’re saying, they could not have been on the surface, so it must have been done from space, right?”
“So why did you say no?”
“It just occurred to me that I had not been cleared to say so, but you are correct there is no other logical conclusion and they must have realized that when they chose to announce it, so….”
“Well, add that to the list of things we weren’t told about, I guess. Moving on for the moment.” Gerald Montgomery shook his head, digesting this info for later, “I’m no scientist, but I seem to remember learning that cataclysmic events like this take generations, if not centuries, to clear up enough for higher life forms to proliferate.”
“You remember correctly, Gerald. The Kentauran have these maintenance ships, I can only describe as skimmers, although that doesn’t do them justice, which clean the air.”
“So first you polluted the air, then you cleaned it.”
Haldry laughed, “Yes, I suppose that’s true. The cleaning was managed in much the way a green house is managed. We controlled the light and chemical levels crossing in and out of the atmosphere, seeding the planet with microbial, fungal, and plant life at just the right stages to allow for the new life to adapt to its environment as well as help shape it. What we did not expect, was the growth of indigenous life.”
“Indigenous? To Mars?” His eyes grew wide, revealing honest surprise.
“Yes, we knew there was microbial life, but plants? Nobody thought anything was left, let alone would survive terraforming. But there they were, flowering vines and fruit trees. Unlike any seen on Earth.”
“Fruit trees? Edible fruit?”
“Oh yes, there is this tree that has 5 different types of fruit growing from it.”
“How is that possible?”
“I do not know. I mean, its all the same fruit, just the flavor changes. I imagine it has something to do with the chemical concentrations in the branch. 4 of the 5 taste great, but 1 is completely disgusting and there is no way to know what you’re getting until you bite into it because they all look the same. We call it the Tree of Life.”
The audience laughs spontaneously for the first time.
“So there’s Martian vegetation-”
“Yes, sir. Lying dormant in hives deep below the surface. When the plants started growing, out came the bugs. Nature is amazing to behold.Life will find a way.”
“So what does this mean about Mars?”
“It means Mars was once a viable planet with life and atmosphere and who knows what else.”
“Isn’t it possible that these, Kentauran, seeded the planet with some life they wanted?”
“You mean secretly? No, they had no reason to do that. They did seed some crops, with our cooperation, as part of the project, there would be no need to do something behind our backs.”
“Unless they thought we wouldn’t like it.”
“They could have terraformed Mars and taken the ore from the asteroid belt without our permission, if that was their nature. So that’s not much of a theory. The dormant life theory is the most reasonable.”
“If that’s true, what could cause a planet to die like that?”
“The list of practical hypotheticals is rather long.”
“So this could happen to Earth?”
“In theory, yes, but I wouldn’t loose any sleep over it.”
“Because not a single 1 of those scenarios are preventable in any way.”
“That’s less calming then you may think.”
Nervous laughter from the audience.
“So you, and these aliens,-”
“So you and the Kentauran, terraformed Mars with H-bombs, with nobody the wiser, and now its time to start building ships. How did you manage that with out anyone noticing? The Kentauran again?”
“No actually, we had already been planning on going to Mars when we built the Moon Station, so we built a space port for assembling ships in synchronous orbit with the darkside of the moon.”
“And how much did that cost?”
“10 trillion dollars?”
“That’s something like half the cost of the Moon Station.”
“It’s exactly half the cost.”
Gerald sits back in his oak chair and stares at Dr. Haldry for a moment, “So…you charged twice as much for the Moon Base project, in order to embezzle half of it and build a secret ship factory?”
“You realize you just confessed to a felony?”
“Whose going to charge me? The people who planned it?”
“I have to say, Dr. Haldry, with all due respect, your nonchalance about violations of the trust we have placed into our government is very disturbing. In fact, the only concern you’ve expressed tonight is for the opinion of your bosses. Yet you fail to realize, that in a republic the people are your bosses.”
Haldry laughed, “Please, you elect a few members of a large national government, that in turn elects a few representatives to a large international government, that in turn elects a governing council, which elects a President who hires me to plan the secret terraforming of Mars with our partners from the Alpha Kentaurus constellation. Exactly how much of a voice do you really believe you have?”
“So you’re what? The Duke of Mars, now?”
“No, c’mon, I’m just saying, have a practical view of your government. You may have control over the school board, but the UFN has nothing to do with the “everyday people” you claim to speak for. I don’t think everyone realizes just how much of their life is handled for them by that central government either. Every piece of fruit you eat, every wireless network you connect to, every article of clothing on your body, has passed through the hands of the central government in some way. It shall be interesting to see how humans deal without that on Mars.”
“Will not the Federation be claiming jurisdiction there?”
“How? It takes weeks for a message to pass between planets even at their periapsis. And the entire surface of the planet is open for colonization without any roads or communication lines. So how would a chain of command work? How would enforcement work? Oh, no, my friend, there will be no helping hand from the ever watchful government on Mars. There is going to have to be a brand new civilization developed by the colonists. Should they survive.”
“Well, there aren’t any dangerous animals on Mars, or were they dormant too?”
“Hah! No, but there are wild animals on Mars, animals that we released; horses, and bear, and turkey, and snakes, and-”
“Yes, snakes, they may not be popular but they are important to the environment. Keeping the rodent population in check for example.”
“You brought rodents?”
“Try shipping several hundred containers without bringing rodents. You wont be able to do it.”
“So, you built an ark without anyone noticing?”
“Not exactly, we captured DNA samples from multiple representatives of hundreds of species and grew them on Mars.”
“So you made Martian clone snakes, without telling anyone.”
“Well, when you say it like that…”
“How would you say it?”
“We used cloning technology to seed Mars with flora and fauna in order to prepare it for colonization.”
“Without telling anyone.”
“Yes! Without telling anyone! Yes. I understand, everyone is angry that you were not informed, but it is done, and you know now, and I am not the person responsible for deciding whether or not you were told, so can we please move forward?”
“Surely, I’m sorry to have upset you with expectations of accountability. Let us move forward. Have you been to Mars?”
“No, I have not. No human who has been to Mars has come home so far.”
“Are you in touch with them? How are they doing?”
“We send and receive transmissions twice a month. Our last contact was yesterday, we viewed a report sent two weeks prior. The science team reports stable climate and clean water.”
“They water is drinkable, then?”
“Oh yes, cleaner than anything in our cities. Your body may miss all the chemicals in Earth water.”
“Will you be going on the voyage?”
“Unfortunately no, my responsibility to those going requires me to complete my job on this end. But if there is a second wave in my lifetime, I will go.”
“What will you be doing once the ships leave orbit?”
“I must continue to monitor the fleet. If something unforeseen happens, it would be my job to figure out the solution. There will also be constant communication between the ships sensor arrays and Earth’s communication network, which must be monitored for operational and administrative purposes. My deputy has already requested permission to go, or I would be probably be asking him to take over for me.” A broad grin crossed his face.
“You are his boss, could you not order him to stay and go anyway?”
“How could I do that?”
“Interesting that you would be so concerned about your subordinate’s perspective, yet so cavalier about the impact of your actions on millions of people.”
“I am an enigma.”
Gerald stared at Gene Haldry for a moment. Silence filled the auditorium. Haldry looked back at him, with the innocent look of a guilty child.
Gerald leaned forward in his oak chair, resting his left arm on the table and his right hand on the arm of the chair. “So, when these volunteers land on Mars, without power source or plumbing or medical center and a disease begins to spread, what then? Will the unaccountable UFN and its hired hand be responsible for those people? Or will they just be left to die?”
The smile fell from Haldry’s face, he sat back in his chair, hands resting on the pommels of the chair arms. He raised his right hand just enough to extend his pointer finger, “Now just a minute. There is no reason for you to take this tone on this subject. We are not tricking anyone, or lying to anyone. The 1st thing the President told everyone, ‘you will have no resources when you get there and there will be no coming back’, now I don’t know how much clearer we can be. This is the greatest adventure in human history. These volunteers will be the only people in the history of human kind to be able to say, ‘I colonized Mars’. Now that is so amazing, because it is so fucking hard.”
Shocked laughter from the audience, a quiet rumble of whispers.
“Sir, I would ask that you control your language on my show.”
“Of course, I apologize, I simply wished to emphasize the degree of difficulty faced by the Mars pioneer.”
“What will they have going for them? Paint us a picture of day 1 on Mars.”
“Okay, your on board the ship, in orbit, strapped into a chair, metal plates of the hull are rattling as you descend through the atmosphere, the sky literally on fire outside the portal. Once you break atmo the ride becomes less hot, but the ship isn’t really designed for sub orbital flight so its a rocky ride all the way down.”
“Its not designed for sub-orbital flight?”
“It spends years in open space, and 2 hours inside both planet’s atmosphere combined. What would you prioritize?”
“Once you’ve landed, most likely crash landed, but we have some of the best pilots in the world training on these, so who knows? And the ships are designed to crumpled around the passenger area if things go really bad. So it is nearly impossible for the population to get seriously injured in a crash.”
“You are not really the best salesman Dr. Haldry.”
“You did a good job of laying out how serious this is Gerald, and I agree. I wont start accepting volunteers until I’ve done my duty by informing people of exactly what they are signing up for.”
“Okay, I’ve been thinking of volunteering to go, what do you think I need to know before I make a decision?”
Dr. Haldry sat up in his chair, leaned forward just a little, lifted his left hand and pointed, “You need to be able to grow some type of staple food, and bring some seeds. And you should know how to make something that people will need, something you can trade because Earth money wont be worth anything there. You’re going to need something of value to trade until a monetary system develops. Also, bring a weapon that doesn’t need reloading, unless its a bow or something you can get resources for there. But bullets are not so easy to make, so have a backup. And bring something to mark your territory with, once you have staked out a piece of land, there’s not going to be any title to file with the Mayor’s office. Your going to have to declare your claim visibly and be prepared to defend it.”
“You make it sound like the wild west.”
“The wild west had marshalls and judges and soldiers, this will be true anarchy. Nobody will have a job or a post or property or money. There will be no government, and therefore no agents of the government. There will be no nations to govern, nor to demonstrate patriotism for. There will be no parks and no prisons, no zoos, no offices, no hospitals, no churches, no schools, no roads, no plumbin,g no lights, no computers, no cars, no airplanes, no commuter rail, nothing. Just open spaces that no human has ever set foot on before. If you are weak, you will die. If you are strong, you can build anything you want. Volunteers are welcome.”
“And why should we, as a people, do this?”
“Humanity can not continue to grow, as we are, on this planet. So either we find more room, or we seriously shrink our numbers. I vote for more room. Besides, exploration is our nature. What better reason did we ever need than, ‘Because its there.’ ?”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. Gene Haldry, PhD., Director of the Mars Project.”
The audience applause was resounding as the 2 men stood and shook hands. The spot light turned off as they stood there, hands clasped, and then the drapes flew shut. The stage lights came, Gerald released his hand, the audience continued to applaud for a few polite seconds, and then the sounds of a crowd working their way out of an auditorium began, with all the slams, squeeks, screams, and general mumbling.
“When I was invited on this show, I didn’t realize you were trying to earn yourself a Pulitzer.”
“Well that was stupid.” Gerald turned and walked off the stage, discussing rating statistics with his assistant. Haldry snorted, watched the insectoid activity around him for a few moments, then walked out.