Kabob

Snowy moonlit landscape in Kabob by Axel Martinsen

A kebab (kəˈbæb) is a Mediterranean dish consisting of pieces of meat, fish, or vegetables roasted on a skewer or spit, as in a “shish kebab” or similar foods on a skewer.

A kabob (kɑˈbäb) is a twenty-eighth century vessel designed to travel over snow, ice and water. Long and narrow like a cigar with a torpedo butt at both ends, it resembles a cross between a kayak and a bobsled.

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
—The Sign of Four, Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one does not live in the cradle forever.”
—Constantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935)

“One black swan debunks the myth that all swans are white.”
—Evidenced by Jey Gallium’s triumph over Hollister Swan and the liberation of all the canyon worlds in the Valles Marineris, Mars.

KABOB — a science fiction short story by Axel Martinsen

Kabob jumping a crevasse - short story by Axel Martinsen
The kabob sliced silently through an eerie wintry landscape made so by heavy snowfall and a luminescent three-quarter moon that cast her glow from a lonesome spot in the cloudless black velvet of the night sky. The stars were bright but their light had traveled for decades, centuries, millennia, and even billions of years. Aside from Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, the Earth’s Moon pretty much had the immediate celestial neighborhood all to her happy self. Or else, maybe she was pinning for her lost lover.

Jey reminded himself that the Solar System, remote as it is and residing in one of the Milky Way’s outer spiral arms, could still be subjected to errant asteroids and comets. Some of these were known to come close to the Earth on occasion. This happened sixty-five million years ago when a large asteroid was blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs on Earth. Then, one Saturday morning on October 31st of earth year 2015 in the Common Era, an extinct comet yclept Spook by the astronomers gave earthers a good fright when it came within three hundred thousand miles of the Earth. Seven hundred and fifty miles south of Iceland and fifteen hours later they passed Cape Farewell at the tip of Kalaallit Nunaat, formerly known as Greenland. It too was covered by a mile-thick ice blanket. The going was mostly smooth except for the occasional ice crevices that absolutely had to be detected or else their small craft would be swallowed up and never be heard from again. The fastest way to deal with these silent and deadly fissures was to jump them using the kabob’s retro rockets intended for this very purpose. Jocko had taken them over four such crevices already and each jump set the hearts of the three aboard to hammering. Each jump was unique with nary a guarantee of making it to the other side in one piece. Evil Knievel, the daredevil aerialist who attempted to rocket across the Grand Canyon in the twentieth century, would have been impressed by the kabob’s capabilities. A National Geographic photographer standing by on the ice sheet could have captured some striking shots of what looked to be a twenty-five-foot-long silver-blue flying fish soaring over glacial warrens, set against an endless ice field backdrop aglow in moonlight.

The kabob’s outrigger pontoons kept the craft gliding evenly over the wintry wasteland despite undulating snow dunes blown by the winds into scalloped patterns. Its bobsled-like underbelly was equipped with protruding foils running lengthwise down its hull and also beneath each pontoon, thus keeping the kabob on a straight course and also serving as shock absorbers. Shaped like a kayak – a flattened torpedo pointed at both ends – its pair of stabilizing pontoons could be retracted to hug the sides of the kabob when necessary.

The flying fish appearance came from its fins that were ribbed and fanned out just like the actual fish, but their function served an entirely different purpose. The webbing of the fins served only to keep the quills separated because the posterior surfaces of all the quills cumulatively formed the thruster array. This array consisted of a gallium-nitride gradient substrate, a solid state material that when electrified, emitted a thrust force and propelled the craft in a forward motion over ice, snow, or water. The array was the electrical equivalent of a sail that captures the force supplied to it by the wind in order to move a sailboat along, except that the array itself supplied the required rearward force.

The vessel’s power plant was buried inside the kabob at its center of gravity. It was a liquid fluoride thorium reactor, an LFTR, where reactions occurred in a salt-like fluid so a meltdown was not possible. Thorium has a higher burn-up rate than uranium, as much as fifty percent higher compared with the three to five percent that can be obtained from a uranium burn. And thorium is four times as abundant as uranium and in plentiful supply in the regolith beneath the glacier that New Reykjavik sits upon.

Kabobs had on occasion been pirated by Southern corsairs so the Northerners slept better at night knowing that the fission plants aboard their kabobs could never be used to make bombs. The ten megawatt LFTR power plant drove the electrogravitic arrays which, as if by magic, propelled the craft without any ion expellant or any other exhaust. The irony was that current technology produced an extremely green power plant but no one cared anymore. Survival at the most basic level was now the standard in this postapocalyptic new ice age.

Jocko occupied the foremost seat in the kabob’s cockpit, followed by Chrysty and then Jey. The tandem seating arrangement harkened back to the vintage fighter jet designs from over six hundred Earth years prior where each seat behind the pilot’s was raised a bit higher than the seat in front of it thus giving each person a good view over the head of the person in front of him or her.

The cockpit’s open air canopy had a curved ‘T’ shaped frame rather reminiscent of the T-roof on a Camaro Z28 when all the side windows are retracted. A piece of early force-field technology had been borrowed and improved upon from a twenty-first century BMW sports car where the rear wind deflector glass shield had been replaced with an electromagnetic-arc force-shield. In the case of the kabob the engineers had figured out how to replace the curved cockpit’s canopy with a force-shield so that the craft could be piloted in convertible mode. Unlike an old Earth convertible car, the kabob’s occupants were spared the wind turbulence which normally invades a vehicle when the top is down.

Jocko Seppala had been nominated (and had agreed) to ferry Jey and Chrysty to Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador for several good reasons. The treacherous ice fields had been a major deciding factor in the New Reykjavik parliament Alþingi’s selection criteria. Also, someone needed to return the craft to its owners in the North. In theory it ought to have been possible to rely on some type of service within the CSA, the Chimborazo Spaceport Authority, to honor a pre-arranged return-to-sender transaction, especially since the opportunity periodically presented itself to ferry passengers or cargo returning to Earth from space travel, and some of these passengers were Northerners who would need to make the final trek back to New Reykjavik or some other northern ice city.

Food and resources were scarce in both North and South and the cities or settlements on land, ice, and water where humans bivouacked were all over-crowded. But relations between the northern ice age survivors and the southerners were often strained, openly hostile, or non-existent. Sureños outnumbered Norteños eighty-five-to-one because most folks had migrated south as it was just so much easier to make a life at or near the equator where the glaciers would never reach and the weather could even be almost balmy at times.

Northern and Southern currencies were separate and neither accepted the other’s currency as legal tender. Bartering deals between North and South were tenuous at best and all too often went into a Mexican stand-off. Outwardly refusing to accept any blame, earthers nevertheless harbored an unspoken guilt which had been reinforced by their ancestors in an attempt to remind each new generation that humans were ultimately to blame, because they failed to destroy the errant asteroid which would have avoided the resulting ice age.

An arctic fox’s glowing eyes, lit up by the Moon’s rays reflecting off the snow, betrayed the invisibility afforded the creature by the white fur which camouflaged it against the landscape; the fox had stopped in its tracks and turned its fluffy head to stare at the kabob whisking by. In its mouth it held a limp boreal owl. The pickings were good because the northern owls that had long since relocated south of the fortieth parallel (where rodents were plentiful) periodically returned north in a phenomemon Northerners named the home sickness. This curiosity, unlike an owl irruption, was antithetical to feeding and resulted in many owl deaths from starvation.

In the bizarre twists and turns that plants, animals and humans had to take to survive the ice age, there were inevitably new winners and losers. Like the humans the owls had moved south but every so often returned north by force of habit and the few remaining human enclaves in the North, such as NR (New Reykjavik) rejoiced in their return and sent out expeditions to help the owls with food. But rescuing starving boreal owls, snowy owls, barred owls, and saw-whet owls didn’t figure into this kabob’s mission tonight.

The fox rotated its head to face forward again and trundled off into the snowy desert, perhaps taking its catch back to its pups or its mate. Having lost the fox against the white backdrop and wanting to share its charm with Chrysty, Jey cued his personal machine intelligence servitor, whispering, “Penumbria, engage infrared night vision for myself and Chrysty”.

Into Jey’s inner ear Penumbria said,
“Searching, Jey…”

The goggles they wore still ran twenty-first century Bluetooth wireless interfaces which Penumbria immediately detected and accessed.

As Chrysty’s and Jey’s goggles switched into infrared, Penumbria again supplied Jey with an update.
“You and the bonny lass should now be seeing in the infrared spectrum.”

Jey had encouraged his resident machine intelligence servitor to experiment with different accents years prior on Mars and Penumbria. Jey was pleased with the Sean Connery Scottish accent, as he was a fan of Earth’s 007 films.

The sudden switch of the goggles’ visual display was nothing new to Chrysty Beryllium, as she was intimately familiar with operating all types of gear in her profession as an infracoptic in The Valles Marineris on Mars. “This is deep infrared now, right?”

“Yup. Now look off to your right. Do you see anything?”

Chrysty swiveled her head to starboard and craned her lithe neck, eager to spot something interesting after the hundreds of miles they’d traversed so far over the endless snowy desert. Jay had spotted the animal again by its umber silhouette rendered by the night vision.

“What am I looking for?” she said softly, slurring her words as if she was impaired from a stroke. In point of fact, Chrysty was recovering from the latest in gene therapy available only in New Reykjavik. Clones sometimes suffered from various genetic disorders. One hundred and ninety Martian sols ago Christy’s cloned body had been diagnosed with a Progeroid syndrome. Premature aging. The genetic engineers in NR had reversed her illness which returned her body to a normal state and lifespan and which, for a humartianTM, was twice that of an earther’s. In another ten days to three weeks she would fully regain all her motor functions, speech, and energy.

Jey loved the rare qualities Chrysty possessed. Self-awareness, courage, a healthy selfesteem, joie-de-vivre, a certain confidence without arrogance, and loyalty. To him she had it all and as an added plus, her beauty was particularly captivating. High Scandinavian cheekbones, steel blue eyes, cherry red lips, toned physique, and sassy blonde hair was exactly what Jay dreamed of in a woman. They had made the space voyage from Mars to Earth with the express purpose of curing Chrysty. Now it was time for them to make their way back home to the Valles Marineris on Mars. Spending time on iceage Earth came with certain real risks and dangers but it was so worth it and he’d do it all over again to save her life.

“Look for a small four-legged animal.” He gently guided her head and gaze by curling his wrist and hand around her left cheek and pulled her face close to his. The only thing better than looking at her finely chiseled Nordic features was touching them. Chrysty and the twentieth century Earth actress, Kirsten Dunst, looked so much alike they could have been twins. The direction of her gaze matched his and she whispered,
“Yeah, I see it!”

“Penumbria.” Jey hailed his personal machine intelligence valet again. “Zoom our goggles in on the fox we are looking at and instruct the goggles to render the images in daytime mode instead of nighttime.”

“Will do, my bwana,” Penumbria responded. Jey had programmed his MI with a high degree of humor. Bwana was the Swahili word for a big boss. In most circles it was a term applied sarcastically but between Jey and his MI it was a standing joke and not meant offensively by the sentient machine intelligence.

A few seconds later Chrysty and Jey were enjoying the scenery in a fairly accurate facsimile of daylight and Jey smiled to himself at Penumbria’s seemingly endless talents and uses. Between Penumbria’s cogent instructions and the built-in rendering tek of the goggles, the fox’s umber silhouette had been textured and cast in light sepia and outlined in neon blue which made it stand out against the white expanse.

“Beautiful,” Christy breathed.

Jey marveled at how well Penumbria performed, even as far away as it was from the machine intelligence collective on Mars. The collective was a vast database that serviced each instance of a machine intelligence, wherever it was located. Distance between the collective and any machine intelligence was irrelevant because of quantum-entangled-pair technology that the humartianTM civvies had perfected over the centuries.

“Yes. You are. In every way.” Jey’s voice whispered into her inner ear.
“Oh stop,” she whispered back, blushing, and twisted her torso and neck a bit in her seat to deliver a long kiss to her close ally and lover. Her warm lips connected with his and they both forgot all the pain and suffering they had each been through and would likely face again while they lived.

In their canopied world, one humartianTM didn’t own or even marry another. Despite the miraculous and very Earth-like habitat the humartianTM civvies had fashioned for themselves on Mars, humartianTM daily survival was never to be taken lightly. Mars remained the extremely hostile planet it always was. Without a strong magnetic field Mars had lost most of its atmosphere to the solar wind over its billions of years of evolution.

And without an atmosphere, cosmic rays pounded the Martian surface mercilessly and the radiation levels were lethal to animal and humartianTM life. Then there were the microfines – those incredibly annoying, miniscule and insidious particles of Martian sand that somehow still made their way through even the best quality stinger suits and seals. The microfines could pose a threat due to their high iron content.

As with the crew of a submarine that navigated Earth’s seas and oceans, all citizens in the Martian sakops (canopied canyons) likewise pulled their weight by performing critical tasks that helped ensure the integrity of the sakop’s structure and thereby ensured the safety of each sakop’s inhabitants. Perhaps because most civvies understood the consequences of their actions and that death always lurked just around the corner, it was expected that humartiansTM put aside petty jealousies in order to get along and ensure not only their own personal survival but that of their fellow humartiansTM as well. This wasn’t hive mentality. This was a humartianTM survival mechanism and very reminiscent of the neighborly attitude among early American settlers, colonists, pilgrims and frontiersmen.

HumartiansTM were well educated in Earth’s history. By the Earth’s twentieth century America had rocketed to the top position as the most powerful nation on the planet. But, as predicted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835 book, Democracy in America, the individual became king and then greed and the amassing of fortunes beat out all reason, good manners and compassion, to be trumped only by corporations.

In the beginning of the second millennium on Earth, horrific acts of terrorism and mass murders in France and America by Islamic extremists coincided with summits and conferences such as the Coalition of Parties whose attendees and organizers claimed that the rise of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorist factions were just another byproduct of global warming that were caused by the irresponsible burning of fossil fuels by the biggest industrialized nations.

The reasoning went that global warming, brought on by the burning of fossil fuels, changed weather patterns and caused the oceans to rise and was therefore to blame for coastal flooding. And, it was to blame for severe droughts. The worst droughts in recorded history in Africa and the Middle East in the early 2000s helped create the breeding grounds for and the rise of terrorist factions as these regions already suffered with extreme poverty and oppression, and the droughts only made things worse. These were extreme views held by some earthers. To be real, one must consider that no one likes to be invaded and occupied by foreigners. Arabs and Muslims clearly resented the many invasions and occupations by armed forces from the West, whatever the well-intended reasons were. This, then, is what most likely fueled the rise of terrorist factions like Al-Queda in Iraq and nearby states.

But, the damage done to the environment by carbon emissions could not be ignored. James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist, suggested at the COP-21 conference in Paris to levy a carbon fee on all who got their energy from fossil fuels. Hansen also proposed that those who switched to solar and other clean forms of energy should receive a dividend from the carbon emissions producing culprits. He stressed the importance of making the cost of fossil use as honest as possible. The logic was to attach a strong economic incentive to spur the solar energy economy and force mitigation in the use of fossil fuels.

The Earth and Mars pose two entirely different sets of challenges for survival by humans. While it is true and likewise undesirable for corporate entities of industrialized nations to perpetrate acts of hostility and violence against an entire planet – in the form of pollution and warring – it is also true that a planet like Mars is inhospitable to life.

Given that human settlements on Mars had the challenge of taming their new and hostile environment, it would have been completely unreasonable to expect them to build only bio-friendly power plants and systems that did not pollute. For one thing, what may be considered pollution on Earth might be considered a blessing or a benefit on Mars. Completely different survival conditions demanded completely different solutions.

Greater than the threat of pollution and global warming, in the minds of the early Mars settlers, was the financial serfdom that the majority of Earth’s inhabitants suffered, those of the upper classes excepted of course. Those who founded the first canyon world in the Noctis Labyrinthus brought with them a strong appreciation for financial freedom and they established an economic system that would be adopted by each of the sakops, the canopied canyon worlds, that came into being thereafter. Financial freedom for a civvie of the Noc took form as a derivative of network marketing and every new baby was endowed with this financial freedom. Later, the descendants were hatched, spawned or freshly minted if you will, because these future generations of humartiansTM were actually clones.

At incipiency a humartianTM was immediately assigned a personal identification number (akin to a social security number). This number automatically enrolled the newly minted humartianTM clone in the sakop’s distributor network-centric economy. The young humartianTM‘s account was funded with substantial initial Martian mauri credits in order to see the baby through diapers, food, shelter and his or her childhood. The initial credits a new being was endowed with came from an escrow account that was held by the Noc’s governing body and these funds came from a small percentage taken from each adult citizen’s account in the respective sakop. No one objected to this tax because it was an investment in the sakop’s future, namely, its children and new generation. The initial funds were set at a hundred thousand mauris, or what would be the equivalent of five hundred thousand 2019CE U.S. dollars. As the humartianTM child reached adulthood and started working, funds from the goods and services the humartianTM delivered were credited to him or her and thus the young citizen became a thriving part of the economy. This was not social welfare. This was a business and most everyone was therefore well-to-do, lacked for nothing and enjoyed a very good standard of living. In some form another, each civvie in the Noc, and in all subsequent sakops, would contribute to providing all the goods and services which fed the populace, created and powered transportation, and ran the infrastructures which kept everyone alive with fresh water to drink and bathe in, and fresh air to breathe.

The treatment performed on Chrysty in New Reykjavik had done its job and given her another lease on life. Medicine was generally more advanced on Mars but the one thing humartiansTM couldn’t manufacture was uncorrupted genetic material. In Chrysty’s case, this was accessible only in Iceland, from a distant Icelandic relative of hers. That’s what had brought them to Earth.

The launch window for their return to Mars was fast approaching because Mars was almost at perihelion and at opposition, which meant that its orbit would be at its closest to the Earth. Yes, they had an urgent date with a mountain yclept Chimborazo, in Ecuador.

Besides the launch window deadline and Earth’s greater gravity compared to Mars, which the lovers were not Idaho Powwow & Other Tales accustomed to, there were other risks if they lingered longer than they should on planet Earth. The justice that presided over the Earth’s inhabitants in this new ice age punished petty crimes like burglary and theft severely because resources were in such short supply and in such high demand. Murder, however, often went unpunished — unless the family members of the victim took matters into their own hands, which they often did. Thus, Old Testament justice prevailed among Norteños and Sureños alike. Eye-for-aneye and tooth-for-a-tooth justice.

Sweden, Mexico and the Middle East, mostly, had paved the way for these new social norms on crime and punishment. Northerners leaned strongly towards being straight up with one another to avoid any misunderstandings that could lead to homicide. But in the radical human enclaves and ghettos in the Equatorial Zone, murder, piracy, and cannibalism ran amuck. And the EZ was exactly where they were headed. Jey and Chrysty had discussed it plenty during their interplanetary trip from Mars to Earth. They’d resolved to just grit their teeth and get on with the tasks at hand. What else could they do?

They were in excellent hands with Jocko Seppala. Despite Jocko’s lazy eye, a ne’er-do-well would make a fatal mistake to assume that Jocko’s easy manner meant he couldn’t handle himself in a fight. Jocko doubled as pilot and as mercenary-slash-bodyguard. The Martian natural resources of iridium, platinum and gallium were initially the purchase price to obtain Jocko’s services but Jey and Chrysty were banking on a bit more than money to ensure Jocko’s fealty. Jocko was half Finn and half Peruvian but wholly loyal to the North which meant he would fight to get his two charges safely into Chimborazo’s hyperloop launch tube and on their way to Earth orbit.

Any marauders or assassins they might encounter were going to be met by three highly weaponized fighters. In order to tilt fate in their favor they’d stowed several armored exoskeleton suits in the kabob’s cargo hold.

“Sweetie, was that an owl in the fox’s mouth?” Chrysty asked quietly.
“Yes honey,” Jay whispered back.

The force shield tek did an admirable job of shunting the wind turbulence around the open cockpit and attenuated most of the noise as well.

“I hope it wasn’t a western screech owl,” she said somberly. After some genetic modifications, saguaro cacti flourished in the fine iron-rich Martian sands of the ancient riverbeds of the Valles Marineris. As on Earth, these cacti made fine roosting sites for this small owl which had also been imported from Earth. The owl was a great mouser and adapted well to the two-thirds less gravity of Mars. Cats didn’t fare so well on Mars because the weak gravity freaked them out. A cat would leap and spazz out when it found itself airborne for many more seconds than its instinct told it was possible.

“No, I don’t think it was a western screech owl my love. Those were indigenous to America’s west and not suited for this cold.”

Her knotted brow relaxed. Caring for animals had become a passion and hobby of Jey’s and Chrysty’s in The Grabens and like shepherds tending their flock they worried about the welfare of the animals they’d left behind on Mars. This mindfulness translated to concern for animals they encountered on Earth as well. Increased incidences of typhoons and hurricanes were blamed on global warming, exemplified in October of EY2015 when Patricia, a category one hurricane and the biggest ever recorded, made landfall on Mexico’s pacific coast. Humanity lucked out that time because Patricia traveled over sparsely populated areas but the warning in people’s minds was becoming ever clearer. And then Patricia was trumped by hurricane Maria in EY2017 which devastated Puerto Rico.

By EY2052 all the Earth’s countries had congealed geographically and politically into four superpower regions: Eurasia, Afrasia, Oceania, and the Americas which included Latin America, the Caribbean Islands, Greenland and Iceland. Together these superpowers decided to attack the problem head on. They financed project SPICE to recreate the Pinatubo Effect in an attempt to arrest and reverse global warming.

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project was a mechanical aerosol delivery method that transported sulfate particles into the stratosphere in order to recreate the volcanic effect that resulted in the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines. Pinatubo had spewed millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, dropping the average global temperature by one degree Fahrenheit in one year. This project became known as the Pinatubo Option where the planet would be enshrounded in aerosol particles that reflected sunlight and thus cooled down the Earth. A brilliant scientific idea certainly, except for the arrival and impact of asteroid Deucalion in EY2062.

In addition, other scientific suggestions had been acted upon. A one hundred and eighty-mile dam across the Bering Sea was completed in EY2059 to prevent warmer, saltier Pacific waters from flowing toward the Arctic region thereby allowing the Arctic icecap and the Siberian Plateau ice shelves to refreeze.

These combined efforts and others did have the desired effect of reflecting more solar radiation back into space and began to allow for the restoration of the lost ice at both poles. With the impact of Deucalion a few years later the radical climate reversal projects humans had engineered only added to the devil’s workshop in the now opposite direction and by mid-2063 it was clear that a full-fledged and unstoppable ice age was underway.

The irony of Earth’s dilemma was not wasted on the new human settlers of Mars who landed there in EY2076 and had to figure out how to survive in-situ. They faced many challenges including maintaining a warm environment for themselves on their frigid new world.

Mekkanapi attacks the Kabob by Axel Martinsen
It was now pre-dawn and the eastern sky and horizon shone in heliotrope, in a brilliant purple hue. A rustling sound presented itself, akin to dry leaves disturbed by the wind. The rustling noise got louder and became almost deafening.

The four-inch thick upper layer of frozen snow that formed a mantle over the deep white powder beneath, like the crust on top of a crème brûlée, had fragmented haphazardly and violently four hundred feet just ahead and slightly to port of the kabob’s trajectory. To the threesome, it seemed the entire universe converged on the object that emerged in slow motion from the snowy landscape.

From a vantage point looking back at the three people riding in the open-air kabob, their mouths hanging open in shock, the mirrored surface of their goggles reflected a monstrosity rising and towering in front of them. It was the most bizarre thing Jey had ever seen until it dawned on him that he recognized this thing. As its body continued to emerge from the shattered white mantle and fine powdered snow erupted like geysers, it broke free of the crusty mantle and Jey recognized it for what it was: an enormous centipede. Giant shards of frozen snow were being flung about as if they were merely pieces of Styrofoam.

Only a second or two had passed since the monster had erupted through the crust and destroyed what had up to then been a serene morning for the trio gliding across the silent wintry landscape.

The word mekkanapi popped into Jey’s head. Kanapi is the Hawaiian word for the giant foot-long centipede that was native to pre-ice age Polynesia. Jey shouted at the disturbance,
“It’s impossible! Earth doesn’t have any of these mekkanapis. Only Mars does!”
“Hang on folks!” Jocko called out. “It’s going to get real bumpy!”

What followed was a series of deft maneuvers executed by Jocko to evade plasma blasts shooting out the mekkanapi’s mandibles. If the particle beam struck them the kabob would be incinerated. The pilot zigged and zagged and slalomed the little craft across the snow field.

Three canon blasts missed them and vaporized the snow wherever the beam struck. This created superheated clouds of steam in their wake. But each plasma strike was getting closer so Jocko pulled the only stunt left to him. The kabob was a quarter of a mile away from the cornices at the edge of the glacier. He pointed the kabob in their direction and fired the retro rockets. This, too, sent up plumes of steam and cloaked them visually from the mekkanapi. The kabob bounced several times and then went sailing off the edge of the mile-high glacier and dove towards the vast ice flats and icebergs below that covered the Atlantic Ocean.

While in freefall Jocko launched a posterior rocket-propelled parachute which deployed and opened up quickly and, hanging face down, the trio felt their bodies thrown forward against their fourpoint safety harnesses as the kabob’s freefall descent was arrested and the craft floated gently down. The threat wasn’t over, however.

“We’re sitting patos like this!” Jey blurted out to Jocko, using the Spanish word for duck to describe the predicament they were in. Jocko was thinking and said nothing. Jey followed up with, “I’ve got a plan!”

There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the mekkanapi was poised at the top edge of the glacier by now, looking down, and attempting to get a fix on them and may have already done so.

Working as a calibration technician and also as a miner in The Grabens on Mars, Jey knew full well the capabilities of a mekkanapi. Foremost on his mind at the moment was not to give the beast any quarter in taking even one shot at them. All the mekkanapi needed was one successful hit and then the trio’s next sensations would be the smell of everything burning followed instantly by scorching heat. The positronic energy beam would do its job quickly and if it hit their bodies full on they’d feel nothing at all as they’d find themselves atomized.

Jocko called back, “We need to get under the ice pronto!” Tough guy though he was the anxiety in the pilot’s voice was unmistakable.

Jey was already busy with a small joystick he’d familiarized himself with the day before their departure from the platform city in Iceland. Electromechanical devices were Jey’s specialty and in this case it was a matter of survival to familiarize himself with all the features of the kabob. After all, this vessel was ferrying them a long way and their very lives would depend on knowing how to operate everything it could do. The joystick was installed into the tip of his bucket seat’s right side armrest. Jey had rotated a lid to expose and activate the joystick. An annoying double-vision plagued his eyes. He yanked the Bluetooth goggles from his head to rid his sight of the second set of crosshairs that were offset a millimeter from the first and had caused the blurry double-vision.

Jey took aim and fired and held the switch down for several seconds. A linear rift appeared in the ice beneath the parachuting kabob and Jey worked the joystick to manipulate the plasma canon’s exit nozzle located in the nose of the kabob.

“Can you eyeball when to drop us through?” Jey demanded of Jocko.
“Yup,” Jocko confirmed. The vertically suspended kabob drifted towards a swathe of steam which momentarily obscured the newly created ice fissure and then the vapor dissipated thanks to a light breeze and the new crevasse created by Jey’s plasma blasts revealed itself.

Jocko worked the parachute’s controls and maneuvered the kabob over the opening. There was a click and the kabob was in freefall again. Jocko had disengaged the kabob from the parachute’s harness.

There was no way Jey could tell whether the plasma gun had completely pierced through the ice to the free flowing ocean water beneath the thick ice mantle. He fired the plasma gun into the fissure relentlessly as the kabob fell towards it, hoping all the while to ensure the rift was wide enough to allow them to pass through it without being crushed by walls of ice on either side of them – or worse yet, nose dive into solid ice because the plasma beam hadn’t penetrated all the way through.

Sunset was underway. High altitude cirrus fibratus intortus clouds had formed into a von Kármán vortex street at the western horizon. The clouds fluoresced in flaming atomic orange. On the other horizon the eastern sky had turned a fluorescent midnight blue. But the trio was preoccupied with survival and all three pairs of eyes were riveted on the gash in the icy surface. Two prayed they’d pass through to the liquid water below. The third prayed for a quick death if things didn’t go their way.

During their freefall Jocko had actuated the hard shell canopy halves which emerged and closed up the open-air cockpit. He’d also retracted the kabob’s pontoons and fins so they now hugged the sides of the kabob’s hull, readying it for submersible action.

Wide-eyed, they dove through the black void of the newly melted crevasse and held their breaths. Jey knew that one couldn’t just fire an endoatmospheric charged particle-beam continuously because its gigawatt consumption drew almost all of the thorium plant’s power away from the other critical functions the kabob vehicle needed to function.

“My friends,” Jocko called out. “I’m getting many warnings. Low power warnings. The kabob has battery backup but still, Jey, can you back off on that weapon of yours?”

A claxon alarm went off and attenuated immediately on its own but continued urgently nonetheless.

“What’s that?” Chrysty asked.
“Temperature alarms”, Jocko grunted. “Outer skin is getting too hot, cockpit’s heating up too. I’m sure we all like to eat hummeri but that does not mean we wish to be turned into scampi,” Jocko replied.
“Hummeri? What’s that?” she asked.
“Langoustine. You know, lobster,” Jocko said.

Superheated water vapor surrounded the kabob as the plasma canon’s beam continued to atomize the ice in front of them. The cockpit’s internal temperature was getting noticeably uncomfortable.

“Sorry about this,” Jey called out to Jocko. He stopped firing the directed-energy canon. “Can you get a forward radar footprint? Gotta know if we’re through the ice yet. Good news is the mechanical centipede can’t track us down here, so it can’t kill us.”
Jocko worked the controls. “Still showing ice leading us by eighty-five meters … oh no, now only fifty meters.”

The kabob was still in freefall and was in danger of slamming into the ice in front of it if Jey didn’t continue forging a tunnel through the ice for them to fall through.

Jey pulse-fired the particle beam canon again. “Does this kabob have air conditioning?”
Jocko worked the controls again. “It’s at maximum already. Okay, ice is leading us by a hundred and twenty meters.”

It was a race against time now. If they had a way to physically attach a seismic sensor directly to the ice they could ping the ice with radio waves and thus determine how much ice still lay below them until it ended and was replaced by free flowing ocean waters. But what good would the information do them anyway? There was no choice but to keep blasting through the ice to the water below. The kabob continued to fall swiftly through the smooth tunnel of ice blasted by the canon. To take their minds off the mounting heat inside the cabin Jocko turned on the stereo and the instrumental song Speedbumps by Sounds From The Ground filled the cockpit.

“I calculate we’re about fifteen hundred meters into the ice now!” Jocko yelled.

And then they were suddenly thrown forward into their harnesses as the craft slammed into the Atlantic waters.

As if echoing their triumph the music switched to the serene and majestic tune Edge Hill by Groove Armada. Ambient grooves and electronica of Earth’s early second millennium were Jocko’s favorites. And then this tune segued and meshed perfectly into Boards of Canada’s Left Side Drive. The human pilot and his two humartian passengers hollered and cheered happily at their good fortune.

The mekkanapi two miles above them reared up at the edge of the glacier like a king cobra preparing to strike. Its scanners swept the landscape but all it could see was a column of steam rising up from a point far below in the ice field. The mekkanapi’s pilot was mightily frustrated but there was nothing else he could do to reacquire his target. He sent a radio transmission and indicated that the target had escaped him.

Mekkanapis were the tool of choice for the early settlers on the Red Planet who piloted them and engaged their directed-energy drills to bore smooth tunnels through the Martian bedrock. Some of the tunnels were enlarged into caverns and in the early days these subterranean installations served well to protect the settlers from the invisible but lethal cosmic rays that bombarded the planet’s surface.

During the first half century of his life on Mars, Jey had lived in obscurity as a calibration technician. It wasn’t until he was forced to accept a call to action that his mettle was tested and he began to shine. From Tyree to the Noctis, Jey Gallium and Chrysty Beryllium were known as the pair of lovers who had stopped the terrorist and usurper of the Martian sakops. Jey and Chrysty were superstars in the eyes of humartiansTM and his heroics and those of Chrysty Beryllium were known across the human enclaves throughout the Solar System.

But today Jey and Chrysty were globetrotting across the Earth. They had been well received by Earth’s Northerners in New Reykjavik, although Jey hadn’t failed to notice the trepidation his and Chrysty’s presence created among some Icelanders who were xenophobic and didn’t trust foreigners or extraterrestrials. Who could blame them? The North and the South were essentially in a state of cold war with each other. Anyone who wasn’t known could potentially be a spy for the other side.

Using the kabob’s spotlights and its sonar Jocko was able to pilot the submersible beneath the jagged ice mantle that now loomed above them. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor powered the kabob’s propeller and the electricity it generated separated oxygen from water using electrolysis which was then combined with helium from the storage tank so that the trio had an ample supply of air to breathe.

They traveled for many hours at a depth of 1,700 meters and then the thick ice blanket ended in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras. Eight hundred miles further south at Cape Sable, Jocko piloted the vessel into the Straits of Florida and they passed by Havana (to port and far above them). Six hours later they surfaced in the Caribbean Sea.

Jocko opened up the cockpit canopy. They all took turns swimming and stretching their bodies in a sea that before the ice age would not have been quite so frigid. Chrysty’s Nordic genes made her more resilient to the cold waters and the exercise was particularly therapeutic for her recovery from gene therapy.

Chrysty and Jey were back in the vessel drying off and getting dressed while Jocko took his turn in the sea.

“Jey do me a favor,” Jocko called out. “Reach over and get my spyglass from my seat and scout the horizon.”

Jey did so and scanned the horizon for several minutes. Then he kept the spyglass fixed in one direction. The sea was very calm and visibility was good all the way to the horizon.
“Hey Jocko!” Jay shouted without taking his eyes from the instrument. “I’ve spotted a couple of boats headed our way, maybe six miles out.”
“I’m coming in,” Jocko replied, and he hurriedly swam back to the kabob and climbed aboard, dried himself off and quickly changed into dry clothes. Jey handed him the spyglass.
“Gunboats,” Jocko said. “They’re pirates,” he sighed. Jocko actuated the canopy mechanism and the kabob’s cockpit began closing up.
“Are we gonna dive?” Jey asked as he and Chrysty strapped themselves into their seats.
“Best thing to do,” Jocko replied. A loud splash a hundred and fifty feet to starboard could only be a projectile fired from one of the gun boats. The kabob’s radio crackled to life and a voice said,

“Prepare to be boarded. Do not resist and you won’t be harmed.”
“Who are you?” replied Jocko.

It was telling that their adversaries hadn’t even bothered asking them to identify themselves. There was no reply from the gunboats.

The kabob was moving forward at Jocko’s bidding. The canopy had sealed up over the cockpit and the vessel’s ballast tanks were filling up with sea water. The kabob’s nose pitched down and a few seconds later they were completely submerged and accelerating to twenty-five knots.

“The trip to Chimborazo is going to be a bit hairier than the trip to New Reykjavik, huh?” Chrysty put to Jey and Jocko.

“It’s looking that way,” Jocko said. Jey squeezed Chrysty’s shoulder.

“Nothing worth doing comes easy my love,” Jey said to her. “And your life and our future together is worth doing.” She nodded quietly and reached back for his hand. He grasped and kissed the top of her hand. “You just focus on recovering from what you’ve been through my sweets. We’ve got a few surprises of our own and we’re gonna get into the Chimborazo Spaceport one way or the other.”

“True that,” Jocko confirmed. “We gotta get through the Nicaraguan Canal and then from San Juan del Sur on the Pacific we’ve got about twenty-eight hours and eleven hundred miles – or eighteen hundred klicks – to go across open ocean waters. I’m assuming a submerged cruising speed of thirty-five knots all the way. “We’ll put in at Guayaquil in Ecuador. Then it’s two hundred and twenty klicks over land to the Chimborazo Spaceport which will take four hours by Jeep. I hope Cevallos is still around because he’s the guy with the Jeeps. But here’s the thing. We’ve got to play all this by ear because the climate in the EZ changes all the time and I’m not talking about the weather. Quite a different route than the one you took to get to New Reykjavik, eh?”

“Oh yeah,” said Jey. “Getting here was a piece of cake compared with the return. We deplaned from Ariel, the interplanetary spaceliner, at the moonbase and then took the reentry vehicle straight to New Reykjavik.”

“Back in the days before the ice age the larger nations launched payloads into Earth orbit with huge rockets. It sure took a lot of fuel to escape the Earth’s deep gravity well but they had the funds and resources back then to do it. We do things differently now, as you know,” Jocko said, a mixture of pride and deference in his tone.

Navigating inland from the Pacific they wound up taking the river routes to Guayaquil and stayed submerged and avoided detection and attacks from sea pirates.

It took an hour to find Porfirio Cevallos in Guayaquil and Jocko had begun to worry that something had happened to his buddy as he understood full well the volatile nature of the EZ environment they had braved. But he did find Porfirio at a local watering hole. It was a new one since the last time Jocko had visited Guayaquil. They embraced joyfully.

“Entonces, ¿qué te trae a visitar tu cuñado sureño?” Porfirio posed to Jocko.

They had a standing joke between them and although they were not brothers-in-law Jocko had at one time expressed interest in Porfirio’s sister, Lucia. They’d been introduced but there was no way Lucia would move to New Reykjavik, nor would Jocko relocate to Ecuador. So the relationship fizzled pretty quickly. But Porfirio still dreamed of having Jocko as his cuñado so he continued to refer to him as such, even as it would never happen.

Jocko explained the reason for his visit and introduced Porfirio to Jey and Chrysty.

“Certainly I’ve got a Jeep for you and your friends, Cuñado. But I’m not leaving this cantina until you have a drink with me – and you as well amigos,” said Porfirio, winking at Chrysty and Jey. Jey noted the brief cloud of concern that shrouded Jocko’s face but it departed quickly.

“Absolutely Cuñado.” To the barkeep Jocko called out, “Tabernero! Un tequila para mi cuñado”.
“Tonterías, cuñado. ¡Estoy comprando!” and with that Porfirio hailed the bartender and ordered four shots of Patron.

Jocko had recalled that the last time he’d met up with his buddy it had been clear the fellow was well on the path towards alcoholism. But Porfirio Cevallos and Jocko went way back. They’d fought together and each had always had the other’s back. Jocko didn’t judge folks on their vices. The least he could do was have a drink with his long-time chum.

“So, Cuñado, when are you going to leave that bola de hielo and enjoy some good weather here in the EZ? Aren’t you tired of being told what to do by those women in that Althingi? Entonces, does your socialist state in New Reykjavik still confuse itself for a democracy?”

Porfirio loved to get on his political soap box. The dominant party in New Reykjavik, the Vinstri Græn — the eco-socialist political Left-Green party in the NR — focused on democratic socialist values, feminism, and environmentalism, as well as increased democracy and direct involvement of the people in the administration of the country. But, to most folks in the EZ, this was considered ultra-liberalism. The Latin countries had reverted back to dictatorships or else rule by warlords and Cevallos tended to boast of his solidarity with the South when he got drunk. Truth be known he hated dictatorships, and Jocko knew this too.

“Okay Porfirio, what is the difference between socialism and democracy? Do you know?” Jey and Chrysty looked at each other and then looked back at Jocko, smiling.
Cevallos shrugged.
“With socialism, man exploits man. In a democracy – it’s the other way around,” Jocko delivered. All four had a good laugh.

Jocko secured a Jeep from Porfirio and they took off for the four to five hour drive to Chimborazo. The open-air vehicle resembled a Jeep Wrangler of twenty-first century Earth design. It had been hardened with armor and weaponry but Chrysty, Jey and Jocko were nevertheless fully decked out in their exoskeleton armor.

The rocket launcher and Gatling gun mounted to the Jeep’s roll bars were in plain sight to serve as a deterrent to the highwaymen who would be lurking along their route. Sure enough, just outside of Babahoyo the trio was accosted by two small pickup trucks that gave chase on Via Guaranda Babahoyo. Without any small arms warning shots Jey went straight to the rocket launcher and blew up each pickup truck.

That was their one and only skirmish because, presumably, the word got out that this trio was heavily weaponized and would kill on sight. Jocko’s other concern were the bandidos who were known to loiter around the fortified entrance into the volcano’s interior, so he prudently radioed ahead to the gatehouse to give the guards a heads up on their schedule and ETA.

Upon their imminent arrival at the Chimborazo Spaceport Jocko, pinged the guardhouse again. When they arrived at tunnel’s entrance they found that the massive steel doors had just completed their rotation into the open position. Remotely operated guns and canons protruded from trap doors in the rock above the doors in preparation for any marauders that might spring from hiding in an attempt to ambush the travelers and gain access to the tunnel. Hijacking the Chimborazo Spaceport was always in the minds of salteadores in the EZ as this was considered an enormous prize and could then be used for all kinds of leverage.

As the Jeep approached the entrance, hydraulics sprang into action and raised a massive portcullis just inside the tunnel. The moment the Jeep passed beneath it, the guardhouse dropped the portcullis and thus secured the tunnel entrance while the massive steel door began rotating to their closed position.

The Jeep was inside a very long paved tunnel and heading for Chimborazo’s hyperloop launch station.

Jocko saw his two charges safely aboard the capsule. The humartians thanked the earther for all he had done for them and they said their goodbyes.

“You will always be welcome to stay with us on Mars,” Jey told Jocko. “I think you’ll like Martian hospitality. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even decide to make it your new home. And I’ll see to it that you are issued a visa to travel to any saykop and afterwards you can decide which one you want to call home. You’ll find Mars a nice respite from Earth’s ice age. Shall we expect you?”
“I don’t know guys. Don’t think I don’t appreciate the invitation. But Earth is all I know. I’ve never actually been off-world, you know. Rollercoaster rides and space travel scare the heces out of me!”
“What? Compared to being cannibalized by marauders in the EZ?” Chrysty put to him.
That set them laughing.

Hyperloop space capsule exiting Mt Chimborazo by Axel Martinsen
Jocko gave them one last smile and wave as he exited the capsule that sat ready on its railway truck.

Chrysty and Jey were strapped into their bucket seats and aside from each other, they were alone. The capsule didn’t have and didn’t need a human pilot. The hatch closed and the capsule began to move along the tracks and quickly disappeared into a smaller dimly lit tunnel whose circumference conformed to the shape of the capsule. The four-wheeled rail truck on which the capsule had rested initially served only to deliver it to the hyperloop entrance where the wheeled truck was replaced by a much lower profile truck designed to couple the capsule to the maglev track in the hyperloop tube.

The capsule began to accelerate in earnest until it reached a supersonic velocity. Four miles later the launch tube bent into a nearly vertical position and maximum power was delivered to the maglev track. The hyperloop’s tube ejected the capsule near Mount Chimborazo’s peak at an elevation of twenty thousand feet. Rocket engines ignited and pushed the shuttle the remaining distance to low Earth orbit. The craft rendezvoused with an orbiting space station and Jey and Chrysty transferred to a lunar shuttle for the six hour trip. The lunar shuttle landed at one of the ports in Hemi Flats on the dark side of the Moon. The two lovers rented a room at The Baxter hotel for a couple hours of rest and some love-making. The next morning they caught the Ariel spaceliner for the three month journey to Mars.

The Ariel departed the vicinity of the third planet from the Sun. Arm in arm, Jey and Chrysty gazed out the porthole of their cabin at the Earth of the twenty-seventh century, more white and bright than its blue hue of old, given that it was deep in the throes of a new ice age. The lifestyles earthers had previously enjoyed were long gone but there was still a natural beauty about Earth. It still had an atmosphere, an abundance of water, and a gravity that was optimal for human, animal, and plant life.

The extreme-engineered infrastructure of the Martian canopied canyons provided an Earth-like environment and comfortable living conditions, modeled on pre-ice age Earth’s temperate climates. They were still just an approximation of what Earth offered – or used to offer. But Earth wasn’t home for Jey and Chrysty. The sound system in their cabin was playing the electronica tune Peacock Tail by Boards of Canada. The pair of lovers were very much looking forward to returning to their home world in The Grabens on Mars.

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