Planetary type: Rocky world
Region: Communal Space - Solar System
Age: 4.53 billion years
Parent star: single G-class star.
Natural satellites: Phobos-Deimos debris ring.
Surface gravity: 0.37 Earth gravities
Atmosphere: 0.3 Earth pressures, carbon dioxide-rich
Average temperature: 273k
Ecosystem classification: simplistic, undergoing terraforming
Solar revolution length: 687 Earth days
Day length: 24 hours and 37 minutes.
Settlement Type: Planetary civilisation
Settlement age: 115 years.
Population: 5 million.
Distance to Earth: 20 light-minutes.
Starports: Phobos-Deimos Memorial, USRE Monitoring Station, Nirgal Terminal.
1 - The Mundane World
The pre-Low Age history of human settlements on Mars is somewhat uncertain. In public and curated historical records only one human incursion on Mars is mentioned before the Low Age: the first manned expedition to the red planet, fifteen years before the initial collapse. However, there are persistent rumours of industrial age ruins having been found on Mars, hinting at more complex settlement attempts that were somehow erased from collective memory and records alike during the Low Age. All of these settlements were lost when contact with the Earth was cut. Permanent, stable human settlement on Mars only really became a thing in the early years of the interstellar age.
Mars, to put it bluntly, isn't a very interesting world for a civilisation with interstellar travel. A rocky world at the edge of the habitable zone with a thin atmosphere isn't a rare object in the grand scheme of things. Mars-like worlds can be found by the dozen just in the close neighbourhood of the Earth. And this mundane nature is precisely why Mars is what it is nowadays. It's irrelevant. It can be wasted. It can be experimented upon.
And the experiment being run on Mars is planetary terraforming.
2 - A song in Blue and Red
The origin of Mars terraforming as a concept goes back to the industrial age, and the theory finds its origin in the Low Age, while the interstellar age gave mankind the technical means to start turning Mars into a habitable world.
Interestingly enough, Mars terraforming - by all means a centuries-long endeavour - wasn't started by the USRE or the Moon Communes but by a vast, semi-informal network of Earth-bound cooperatives colloquially known as The Blues, in reference to their original dream to see an ocean appear on Mars. The Blue ideology might be understood as one of transformation of nature: being the children of both the industrial era and the Low Age, the Blues consider lifeless planets the same way a potter would consider clay. A meaningless, formless material they can bend and model to their will.
Terraforming is a violent process. It aims at brute-forcing planetary changes with the subtlety of a global thermonuclear war. On Mars, it has so far consisted of massive releases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere followed by the deployment of orbital mirrors to push the planet towards a thermal state where the ice caps can melt and form a vast polar ocean, the first step towards the establishment of a global ecosystem.
But some people do not want to see Mars change. Some people consider that terraforming itself is an absurd endeavour reminiscent of the deadly hubris that ended the industrial age. That an interstellar civilisation should not seek to adapt planets to their organic form, but on the contrary, should adapt itself to whatever planet it wants to colonize. That the enormous footprint of terraforming is not justified. That mankind, on a deep level, does not have the right to undo what billions of years have created, be it ecosystems or geological features.
These people are known as the Reds, from the endless sands of Mars.
3 - The Long War
Mars is at war. It's been at war for ninety years and will likely remain as such in the centuries to come.
It all began with the space elevator. Built at the equator by a powerful Blue commune, it was the first of its kind and was meant to greatly accelerate the terraforming process, turning Mars from a backwaters gravity well into a sprawling spaceport. So a radical Red party detonated two nuclear charges, one at the top of the elevator, the other at the base. The elevator collapsed through the atmosphere of Mars, circling the planet and striking the red desert like a gigantic whip. In response a Blue AI opened fire on a prominent Red server farm, shattering a dozen organic intelligences. The Reds retaliated with surface-to-orbit railgun strikes, pulverizing two of the four solar mirrors. When automated cargo ship Twilight triggered its laser grid in response to a Red boarding attempt the battle quickly spread to low Mars orbit. Seventeen hours after the destruction of the space elevator the two natural satellites of Mars, Phobos and Deimos had both been reduced to a thin debris ring around the planet. After twenty-two hours a USRE warship translated in high orbit and the hostilities ceased.
For a while, that is.
The struggle between the Blues and the Reds is bitter and will not be solved by Flower Wars or diplomatic tractations, in no small part because none of the sides are states or even organized polities, but blurry conglomerates of ideologies. The Long War of Mars, as it came to be known, is not waged by soldiers and warships. It is a low-intensity, constant war dominated by artificial intelligences and zombie algorithms. The targets are automated terraforming installations, orbital mirrors and supply ships. The victims are made of lines of code. The weapons are viruses, railguns and suicide drones. The stakes are, simply put, the future of mankind in the stars. Planetary adaptation versus human evolution, one of the most fundamental ideological divides in the interstellar era.
And there will be no armistice, ever.
Illustration by Wikimedia Commons user Ittiz.
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