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1 A Question of Any

Radically altering weather systems, the alien affected, inadvertently, massive re-locations of population, industry, and agriculture. Following the flight of these tax bases were governments and whole nations--some, like the bipolar Dominion of Canada, evaporating in the turmoil of the general exodus to southerly climes. As if an insidious armada of nano technology's micro-machines had attacked, the whole body politic of Canada dissolved and disintegrated piecemeal, leaving only widely-scattered scraps of territory and solitary, isolated cities fending for themselves like Roman outposts in Britain after the withdrawal of Roman rule. Indeed, it was most like a repeat of post-Roman Gaul, Britain, and Spain. Never again would the maple leaf flag wave from the border with the U.S. to the Arctic Ocean and from the Pacific to the Atlantic. A nation majestic in size and diversity but never significant in population and ethos passed--virtually unwept in the confusion, panic, and sheer self-interest that characterized the phenomenon called simply, the Break-up.

Canada, the Western Hemisphere's largest country, had long threatened to split in two, English-speaking as opposed to French-speaking parts. Conquered by the British, French Quebec seethed with Francophone Canadiens who wanted the province to separate from the union and go it alone. One Canada--or Two? Why not Three? Four? The question plagued Canadian politics for most of the 20th Century, until an unexpected development in the weather intervened to shift priorities from politics to simple survival.

When the union collapsed in ANNO 2024--the second greatest collapse of government in the Western Hemisphere since the sudden demise of Washington, D.C. in 2002 and the U.S.'s precipitous transfer to NYC--it was not separatist politics that administered the

coup de gras.

The collapse amounted in magnitude, it should be noted, to a third world country's, since Canada's economy could not be compared to the U.S. If New Jersey had, say, dropped off into the Atlantic, that would be the economic extent of Canada's disappearance from the North American continent.

From ANNO 1912 on the weather seemed to grow colder. Farmers knew it for a fact, but scientists were harder to convince. They had to have "solid and verifiable" evidence. Finally, it was confirmed to the scientific community's liking. The weather was, indeed, colder--a fact that had been difficult to establish scientifically, due to the lack of regular forecasting and verifiable meteorological information for that year and several following.

Canada, alerted to the problem, assigned meterologists to study it and come up with a proposal the government might consider. Years and millions of dollars later, the monumental study was completed in ANNO 1997: the decrease in the growing season, region by region, was mapped out thoroughly. The possible causes were identified. The scientists' final recommendation? Move Canada south--for unless the pattern changed significantly there would be no Canada in a matter of two or three decades.

The report went to the proper committees in Ottawa, but it was buried. China with its billion and a half people was always a major concern. No, the real danger lay, as always, in the highly volatile Near East. The Arab Bloc and particularly the Arab fundamentalist movement were poised to sink World Peace for generations to come, a prospect that necessarily took the government's attention away from less life-threatening domestic affairs like freezing solid in ten years time.

By the time the story broke through in the press, it was perceived to be clearly too late. Already the economy was reeling from the big freeze up north--industries, dams, hydroelectric projects, mines, all were locked in ice and snow. With the severely shrunken growing season, agriculture was fast disappearing from Canada. For the first time in its existence, Canada was forced to import food.

Native peoples, such as the Cree and Inuit, saw difficult times ahead. They knew they had grown to depend on the Ottawa and Quebec provincial governments for most of their income and for government services and transportation. The territory of the Inuit lay north of the 55th parallel, above the Arctic Circle. In the past the Quebec provincial government had insisted the Inuit speak French if they wanted subsidies and government services to continue. English, in Quebec, was abandoned and French made mandatory. Then, when the winter began staying year-round, French began dropping away fruther and further to the south while Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit, became the sole language in the North. But it was spoken without joy by a people threatened with eventual starvation. How long would the financially-strapped provincial government supply them with needed things? They had depended on the national and provincial governments far too long and had lost most of their traditional hunting and fishing skills.

Inuit lived in all the High Arctic regions. Around the globe, in the Soviet Union before its collapse, the Inuit also depended on government subsidies and services. Then came the dissolution of the Soviet imperium and the end of the dole. It meant severe hardship for the Soviet Inuit too.

From the formal dissolution of Canada in ANNO 2024 into struggling fragments that could scarcely be called sovereign nations, the question of what to do with the pieces was perennially debated further south on Manhattan, at the UN-mandated version of the defunct Federal District of Columbia.

Absorption of the floundering Canadian provinces with the U.S. was hotly contested and never resolved in the still loosely-federated United Nations. Those who still resided north of the U.S. border wanted it left where it was, preferring direct rule from London to America or UN takeover. Outright annexation was bitterly opposed by the British Crown and blocked in the World Court as an illegal move by the U.S. government.

So Canada remained Balkanized for the next century. The remaining fragments of provinces received emergency aid from the better-off U.S., until the whole issue of nationality and nationhood--not world climate--was taken up and settled by the one person who thought himself superbly equipped to deal with it--a man who seemed to some to have just as much ice in him as Lost Canada.

2 A Matter Under Advisement: The Triliths of Orion

Sometimes it is best to keep one's counsel. "Discretion is the better part of valor," they used to say. Right? But what if the "matter under advisement" belongs to everybody? That is, the findings are, beyond question, public domain? After all, the public paid for the whole venture to Mars--paid through the nose. Shouldn't the long-suffering taxpayers get something tangible for their money? It would be hard to argue with that--unless the findings would jeopardize national security, or something just as vital.

So, should the person or persons most directly involved blow the whistle? What if they stand to lose their careers and reputations if they sound off? Who really can blame them if they choose to keep silent?

Even with rival China's taikonauts about to launch forth toward Mars in a "divine vessel" made of bamboo encased in a secret alloy stronger than titanium but having the appearance of glass or ice, it may have been a bit much to expect NASA astronauts to break their own agency's strict rules and go public with a most delicate discovery: clear, unmistakable signs of intelligent life on the Red Planet. And these "signs" were spectacular. No microscopic Martian thingamabobs or "micro-organisms," whose claim to be microbes was still being hotly debated back on Earth. Now no one would be able to question the facts that stared them brazenly in the face--facts that stood every bit as tall and immense as a St. Peter's Basilica squeezed upward in the shape of an Obelisk of Thutmosis--three such squeezed Basilicas, in fact! There was even evidence of--but no nice guy could possible rat on his own sainted mother, could he? Whistler's famed picture of his mother might well have captured the essence of NASA in the astronauts' estimation. So how could he live with himself after doing that?

Commander Kipp St. Kitts Mina ("St. Kitts" stuck in by his parents to mark the spot where they conceived him on a weekender) parked his Mars land rover according to the plan and at the right time in the schedule at the base op site. Routinely entering his arrival (for everything he did was on camera) with his computer pencil on the mission logbook and signing his acronym, KSKM, he began unloading the instruments and equipment for his marathon solo 12-hour stay.

Except for the unplanned flare-up in the weather, he would have never landed on this particular spot on the flanks of Olympus Mons, the fifteen high volcano that dominated martian landscape. Chryse Planitia, Golden Plain, at 22.4 degrees N., 48 W., had been chosen, since earlier touch-downs had been successful there. Failing that, Utopia Planitia at 48.0 degrees B,m 225.7 degrees W. would have been the second option. Alternate sites were necesary as weather on the Red Planet changed rapidly and radically. Way back in the 1970's, the very daring Russian probes had come to much grief due to the weather and the presence of an atmosphere. One week the sky could be the classic pink associated with martian skies, the color caused by rust-colored dust stirred up by the heating of a an immense, planet-wide convection cell, but in just a few days the dust might be gone, replaced with a temperature drop of forty degrees and hurricane-velocity clouds filling a dark blue killer sky.

Coming in and orbiting the planet, the mission had hit a radical change in weather. The classic pink they had hoped would last a week or so was swept away. Clouds mantled both Golden Plain and Utopia Plain in the northern hemisphere, ruling out any landings on their relatively smooth surfaces due to the likelihood of extremely high wind velocities there in a martian storm. Craters in the south were filled with frost and haze--no landings possible there either. But all was not lost. Trisha Pang Woo Carlisle, director of science analysis and mission planning at the UNUS Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, could draw from decades of successful Mars missions from Viking to Pathfinder and Sojourner and the Boeing Space Responsibility Group (for which UJPL had supplied vital consultation and backup). Fifty something but still looking like a feminist preppie with her boyish cut hair and taut, marathon runner's physique, Carlisle paced the UJPL corridors as the problem was first being considered. "What if he hits that big boulder coming down that we spotted? Or lands on too steep a slope? Or sinks in a pothole a thousand feet deep containing fine dust? All this time and effort will have done nothing but provide him a well-publicized burial at NASA's expense!"

She kept Kipp in the orbiter while she debated what to do as head of her NASA-UJPL Space Responsibility Group. On her desk at the moment was a recent picture of him, and he looked so young in it, she had to remind herself that it was accurate--he really did look like a school boy posing in the NASA skin suit. Some rare individuals--such as Kipp--never aged in looks--not ever. In that way he was a freak, but an exceptional astronaut, she knew.

Kipp Mina

The JECU-US mission was set up for the Mars IN-Depth Nuances, Internationally Guided, Holistic Topography (MIDNIGHT), which ws the information-gathering stage for establishing a Mars colony, and it was the most expensive on record since four of the five flights were scheduled to be manned. Kipp, everybody agreed, was the right man for the mission, which had some built-in challenges that she believed only he could handle. The international project team had spent a total of four years on the prep for the latest flight. Until now no phase of the mission had been compromised or cancelled. But even with solid Japanese, EU, and Chinese approval and investment, along with the United Nations-United States governments' full endorsement, the fate of the Mars JEC-US manned mission was up in the air. Landing in clouds, even with the best laser mapping and reconaissance, was very tricky. Last second changes in touch-down location were sometimes critical. Would Kipp be able to see the "big daddy boulder," which everyone called "Kevorkian," because contact with it would be assisted suicide. Would he be able to catch even one glimpse of it looming upwards at him out of the swirling mist in time to perform an evasive maneuver?

A rather tense conference with the project team convinced Carlisle that if Kipp could slow his descent even more than originally planned, there was probably time for him to avoid convergence with "Kevorkian" or any of his neighboring offspring. They had gone too far with the mission to turn back now. After a group portrait was taken and the mission toasted with an excellent vintage, Kipp was given the green light to touch down on an alternate site one hundred km. from the base of Olympus Mons, which, according to the laser scans, rose above the present cloud cover.

Carlisle and her gang of champagne-sipping pros had figured right on the window of opportunity, but the particular spot chosen for landing turned out on closer inspection to be a crevasse large enough to swallow Greater Mexico City. How had they missed it? Kipp wondered, making frantic evasive maneuvers to save his life, the mission, and Mother NASA's reputation.

His years of training stood him in good stead. He had fired his jets on the side of his craft that propelled him up and over the crevasse and then he coasted down to a touchdown without further mishap. Instead of 100 km. from the base, he was up on the monster volcano itself.

Olympus Mons, with tiny Phobos palely ascendent, was framed with a sky colored classic orangeade-pink, while beneath was nothing but cloud-cover. Since the caldera was 45 miles around and base 335 miles, the slope appeared relatively flat, sloping gently to one side of the horizon. His eyes shielded by UV screening mirrors, Kipp had picked out the most level spot, not too close, but not too far from the first obelisk-shaped monolith. There he would soon plant his flag with JECU-US-IV emblazoned on it. Towering hundreds of feet above the site, the slab of reddish stone--which turned out to be a brown cousin to marble when the surface was scraped--soared into the empty sky, almost too brilliant to look at for more than a few seconds at a time. For purposes of fixing site topography, this one was termed MI of a grouping of three which were thought to be pyroclastic flows from vents which had flowed so slowly in an eruption that they built the tall, termite-like cones. The second, M2, was quite close--only 1.5 km away. The third, swirling with mist further down the slope at the edge of the volcano where he had been scheduled to land, was barely visible.

Descent had started routinely. From orbit, after a last landing-site safety check and authorization, the orbiter released Kipp's lander encased in the aeroshell. The de-orbit engines ignited perfectly and he and the aeroshell went into a landing trajectory. Entering martian atmosphere from the turbopause 65 miles up, the frictional temperatures climbed to 1,500 Celsius, but his ablative ceramic shield worked just fine. When slowed down by the friction to 600 miles an hour, the aeroshell deployed a parachute for additional braking, and then the shield was jettisoned. Finally, the parachute was released, and Kipp's lander fired the terminal-descent engines to slow him to 5 mph and a nice touch-down. It was then he spotted the crevasse and made the right adjustment that landed him safely up on the other side next to the monolith.

More corks popped at UJPL and in Tokyo, Brussels, Shanghai, UN-US headquarters, Beijing, and everyone in the consortium of JECU-US-IV--everyone except UJPL responsibility group director Carlisle, that is--enjoyed the bubbly and the toasts offered each other on the wide screens.

The fourth in the series of a planned five, increasingly expensive manned missions to the Red Planet was plainly alive and well as Commander Kiopp proudly planted the mission flag in martian soil.

Mars, though a small planet, boasted the anomaly of the Solar System's biggest volcano, Olympus Mon, sometimes called Nix Olympica. Whatever it was called, the "Snows of Olympus" mount excited more than casual interest from normally jaded UJPL personnel, even overshadowing the planet's other claim to attention, an abyss measuring 250 miles wide and four miles deep, Valles Marineris. Would there be any more such surprises besides these two? Not after all the mapping that had been done, surely! Pictures could scarcely do justice to Olympus Mons, however, even if its monstrous size wasn't scientifically surprising for a planet without plate tectonics. Squatting on a lava plume, any volcano would grow indefinitely, just as this one had. But JECU-US-IV hadn't been put in place by private, discreet British funding to study the volcano, however impressive it was. Let the tabloid-crazy folks be hanged, UJPL had more important things to study in the Solar System.

Kipp paused. He hadn't noticed something before on his approach--a cave. No, it wasn't a cave, he quickly decided. It was seemingly a CUT entrance in the rock of the monolith closest to him of the three. In the natural stone tower the opening was large enough for a classic Titan booster or two to pass with ease. Why hadn't he noticed it before? Was it the brilliance of the reflection blasting his UV shield? And what were those trenched drag marks leading to the entrance doing there?




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