Inherit the Earth
by Saab Lofton
Touch me in the morning
Then just walk away
We don’t have tomorrow
But we had yesterday
The first Earthlings to explore our solar system were those who could afford to and therein lies the problem: By the time the corporate elite had colonized Mars, Terra Firma had been completely plundered and polluted. So while the wealthy wallowed in luxury hotel-casinos scattered across the red planet’s deserts, the meek finally inherited the Earth (Matthew 5:5) – or what’s left of it …
Tusayan, Arizona 2211 A.D.
To the everlasting shame of the few remaining Native Americans, the entire Grand Canyon was turned into a gigantic junkyard. Filled to the brim with everything from obsolete machinery to Scooby Doo lunch boxes, what was once one of the world’s premiere natural attractions has become just another assignment to the recyclers: Adorned in enormous exoskeletons (or “power loaders”), a recycler will sift through similar landfills for whatever could still be of use in the early 23rd century.
Three such recyclers — Aaron Dixon, his fiancée, Kathleen Neal and her little brother Lee — were working at a breakneck pace since the Weather Service had predicted that a bout of acid rain would soon douse the otherwise arid chasm. ”That’s enough for today,” Dixon radioed both comrades from his headset, “these suits are strong, but this metal won’t stand up to that dirty drizzle.”
“No, wait! I see something I got to have!” Lee impetuously insisted. “I can almost reach it …”
“Damn it, you heard Aaron,” Kathleen sounded parental even though she was only a sibling, “besides, you can come back when it’s not about to–”
“–just because you two are going to get married doesn’t mean you’ve adopted me, so get off my case,” Lee interrupted, “I know a collector that’ll give me a fortune for an Erin Brockovich action figure in mint condition!”
An ominous hiss could be heard as those first drops of corrosive precipitation descended from above and onto the armor of every recycler.
“Now, Lee!” Dixon commanded. “Before it’s too late!”
“Almost there …” Lee ignored the man he answered to and kept grasping at the ancient figurine until an acidic driblet burned through a crucial circuit, which shorted out his exosuit and the sudden loss of mechanical motor control caused him to tumble into a pit. “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
Then came an avalanche of garbage which made it impossible for either Aaron Dixon or Kathleen Neal to even see Lee — let alone pull the brash youth to safety …
… soon that light mist became a torrential downpour and left the recyclers with no choice but to retreat, lest they be scalded by acid or buried in debris themselves. “No! We can’t just leave him!” Kathleen tearfully shrieked as a remorseful Dixon drug her to higher ground.
Despite the New United Nations’ aspiration to repair the ecological damage left behind decades ago by rapacious industrialists, an immense miasma of smog still fouled the air, so major metropolitan areas were often converted into hermetically sealed bio-domes and Tusayan was no exception. After the tragic death of Lee Neal (2193 – 2211), a funeral was held in a union hall where recyclers gather, and within certain spots of this domed city, black flags waved in artificially circulated air.
“Once upon a time, if the rich wanted to gamble, they’d sail in their yachts out to international waters,” Lorenzo Veronza, an elderly labor organizer, addressed the assembled mourners, “but that wasn’t enough for them, so Old Las Vegas was founded. Now they’ve exchanged one desert for another …” Veronza gazed upward towards the stars; implicitly at Mars. “… the loss of this youngster is the latest example of how we’re all still suffering because of their greed. Sure, there’s zero unemployment, but that’s only because they left so much to clean up! The worst, of course, are the wildfires and blizzards created by climate change; by pollution, mind you, which are as mobile as tornados but as powerful as hurricanes striking at whim … Should we be so grateful for a living wage with full benefits that none of us will mind dying on the job?”
Subsequent to the bereavement, Dixon approached Veronza in order to inquire, “are there any current examples the rich hurting us? I hate to play devil’s advocate here, but I’ve been to the Republic of Mars and those Republicans would claim that’s all in the past. Now they have their world and we have ours, right?”
“Wrong,” Veronza shook his head in the negative and gestured for someone nearby to come hither, “Aaron this is Aoki. Aoki, tell Aaron what you told me earlier.”
Dressed as a messenger for the New United Nations, Aoki shook Dixon’s hand and asked, “you know what coltan is, of course?”
“Of course,” Dixon answered, ”after it’s refined, coltan becomes a heat resistant powder that can store an electrical charge, which explains its value to computer manufacturers. During the 21st century, most of it was in the Congo, where my ancestors hailed from, and genocide was committed fighting over mining rights.”
“Well, aside from ice and dust, Mars is one big ball of coltan,” Aoki informed, “Pyrmidon, the biggest corporation there, has even gone so far as to play God and create genetically engineered supermen to mine it, but rather than trade fairly, we’re actually expected to exchange crates of bottled water for the tiniest bit of coltan.”
If Lee Neal’s untimely demise upset and disturbed Dixon, hearing the aforementioned consumed him with righteous rage. “Are you kidding me? As hard as clean water is to come by in this day and age?” Taking a moment to calm down, he queried, “why doesn’t Mars melt its ice for water?”
“Because that could eventually increase Mars’ air supply and Pyrmidon is also in the business of selling air,” Aoki frowned.
In desperate need of catharsis, Dixon was about to launch into a profane rant until he observed a poster on the union hall’s wall of none other than England’s greatest legend, Robin Hood – at which point, a wild idea occurred to him. “Aoki, are you the one who makes these bottled water deliveries to Mars?”
“Yes, I’m ashamed to say.”
Dixon then draped his brawny arm across Aoki’s shoulders in an ingratiating manner. “We need to talk …”
As far as the New United Nations had been concerned, this was business as usual: A freighter christened as the Sagan ignited its plasma drive and lifted off from the spacecraft carrier Bradbury en route to Mars. However, within the Sagan, Aaron Dixon and Kathleen Neal were impersonating N.U.N. personnel. “I must say,” Dixon leered at Kathleen, “light blue and white tights suits you.”
“If we get caught, we’ll be wearing fluorescent orange,” Kathleen’s pale face reddened with angst, “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
“You’re an engineer extraordinaire, so we’ll need your expertise,” Dixon shrugged, “and you want to avenge your brother’s death more than I do. Granted, the bastards who’re directly responsible for the landfill and the acid rain that killed Lee have been dead for centuries,but history is repeating itself. Millions of gallons of our purest spring water for a smidgen of coltan?I don’t think so.”
“It’s not too late to turn back, apologize to the crew you stole those uniforms from and go back to Arizona,” Aoki suggested as he steered the Sagan out of Earth’s orbit, ”if you say it was a prank — or that you acted out of grief — they may not press charges.”
Dixon angrily grit his teeth. “We stick with the plan: When they unload all this bottled water, we’ll claim there was a computer error insofar as how much coltan we’re supposed to receive; we’ll trick their asses into giving us far more than they intended and then Earth will have enough coltan to last for years.”
“I don’t know if my hacker skills are up to the task,” Kathleen began to doubt herself, “tell me again why we’re not simply hijacking a ship filled with coltan?”
“Weren’t you the one who didn’t want this to become violent?” Dixon reminded. “Besides, it’ll take us thirty days to get there, so you’ll have plenty of time to practice those hacker skills of yours.”
Unfortunately, a month of study did little to improve Kathleen’s acumen. After the Sagan landed near the Milton Friedman Mine at the base of a massive volcano in Mars’ western hemisphere (Olympus Mons), she transmitted that false evidence of an oversight only to have her efforts laughed at.
“A thousand metric tons, indeed! Talk about wishful thinking! That glitch is because of your faulty software, not ours!” A snide miner replied. “In the name of Ayn Rand – you tree-huggers are supposed to build computers that actually function with coltan, not smoke it ..!”
“Smug bastard. So much for tricking them,” Dixon grimaced in chagrin from within the Sagan‘s cabin, “Aoki, what kind of fire power do we have?”
Dixon did a double take. “What do you mean, none?”
“All this time and you’re only now asking me if we have fire power?” Aoki raised his voice. “Some fearless leader you are!”
“I’ll show you leadership …” Dixon muttered under his breath as he hastily strapped himself into an exoskeleton. “… it’ll take a few trips, but with this, I’ll be strong enough to haul the coltan on board.”
“I’m going with you,” Kathleen also slipped into an exosuit, “in case you’ve forgotten, the Republic of Mars legalized cloning, so each of these miners are enhanced to the peak of Human perfection; strength, speed, agility, they’ll all be increased by a factor of–”
“–never tell me the odds,” Dixon cut Kathleen off, “and you know how jealous I get, so I hope you’re not lusting after those muscle bound Republicans. Aoki? While we’re out there, here’s what I want you to do …”
Every (exploited) employee within the Milton Friedman Mine’s protective dome panicked as the Sagan had unexpectedly spun 180 degrees in order for its rear exhaust to face them. In lieu of actual lasers, Aoki revved his engines so the fiery emissions could potentially incinerate anyone attempting to prevent Aaron Dixon and Kathleen Neal from loading the cargo hold.
“This is only going to keep them away for so long,” Aoki warned Dixon over their radio headsets, “soon they’ll start firing at the Sagan, and if enough damage is done, we won’t be able to take off.”
“I understand, but we’ve got problems of our own ..!” Dixon cried out into his headset since he and Kathleen were fighting for their lives against an onslaught of genetically augmented miners; dozens of six foot five, 250 pound men — each of which virtually identical in both dress and appearance – either fired lasers or threw themselves at the pair of power loader wearing intruders.
“Finish loading the ship!” Dixon ordered while swatting a muscular miner aside. “I’ll take care of these test tube Nazis!”
“I won’t leave you behind!” Kathleen shouted over the carnage.
“Just do it!”
With the last chest of coltan in her exoskeleton’s giant hand, Kathleen lumbered towards an increasingly besieged Sagan. Meanwhile, Dixon snatched a stray laser from one of his unconscious opponents, fired at the mine’s ceiling and caused a cave in. The resulting rockslide eliminated any remaining miners and allowed him to escape relatively unscathed.
“I thought you were against the death penalty!” Kathleen chastised her fiancé once she realized what had been done.
“They’re clones, honey,” Dixon defended his dubious actions, “they might as well be robots.”
The Douglas Trask Hotel-Casino is located amidst the Syrtis Major Planum between the northern lowlands and southern highlands of Mars. The region happens to be known for its dark hue which is due to volcanic rock and a lack of dust. However, locals colloquially attribute that darkness to the many atrocities committed by an aristocracy dating back to the days of Donald Trump the Third. On the streets surrounding this luxurious resort were either callous tourists, desperate peddlers or homeless transients, but in its exclusive suite, Pyrmidon’s C.E.O. Mark Malkin and his military attaché, Ronald Ernest, languished on anti-gravity mattresses with a bevy of barely legal prostitutes — most of whom were still in a drunken stupor from the previous evening …
… then their lecherous bliss was disturbed by an urgent call from what they call Mission Control: “Sir! Terrorists have attacked the Milton Friedman Mine! They’ve stolen a billion ducats worth of coltan and killed at least a hundred miners!”
“Holy Tea Party!” Malkin hastily fastened his satin bathrobe, leapt out of bed and addressed the viewscreen that had activated. “Where are they now?”
“They just left orbit in a New U.N. ship called the Sagan,” a space traffic controller reported.
“Then it’s war …” Malkin whirled around to rudely awaken Ernest. “… get your lazy ass up and earn your keep! I want you to personally lead the fleet that’s going to blow that little thief out of the stars!”
Since its purpose was to haul cargo and not to fight battles, the Sagan very nearly perished because of the atomic torpedoes launched at it. “We can’t take much more of this,” Kathleen pointed out, “their nuclear powered ships are faster and stronger than ours!”
At that dire moment, the word nuclear made Aoki recall an atrocity in Human history and prompted him to think along certain lines. “I have an idea – Kathleen, hack into the computers of those ships and input the following …”
On the bridge of the Goldwater, Ronald Ernest couldn’t help but notice a dangerous increase in temperature. “Is it hot in here or is it just me?”
“I wish it was just you, sir, but it’s not –our cooling system is offline,” the Goldwater‘s engineer regretted to inform, “without it, the reactor core will overheat and irradiate us. It’s happening on the other ships too. We have to shut everything down and wait to be picked up.”
“What ..?!” An enraged Ernest barked. “And let those damn commies get away?”
“It’s either that or we’ll all glow in the dark until we die of cancer,” the engineer alerted.
Cheers erupted inside the Sagan‘s cabin when its sensors detected that the Goldwater, the Reagan and the McCarthy slowly but surely ground to a halt. “One of these days, you’ll have to explain to me how y’all did that,” Dixon grinned.
“I’m originally from Hiroshima,” Aoki revealed, “and in school, we were required to learn everything about nuclear power – ’know thy enemy,’ as they say …”
Officially, to avoid a war with the Republic of Mars, the New United Nations disavowed any knowledge of the Sagan‘s mission and even went so far as to declare Aaron Dixon, Kathleen Neal and Aoki outlaws.
Unofficially, that coltan the Sagan managed to wangle was deposited in, ironically, England’s Sherwood Forest — where it incrementally found its way into Earth’s technology …