From Days of Yore
Earth was the cradle of transhuman civilization, but Mars, with a population of 200 million, is now its heartland. When humanity began its spaceward diaspora, Luna was its first stop. Yet while Luna boasts a sizable population, Mars was the first world humans settled where they could thrive entirely on locally available resources. During the first few decades, the early Martian settlers dwelt in tin can hab units, extracting methane from the local atmosphere for rocket fuel and water from the Martian permafrost, farming in inflatable greenhouses, and eventually manufacturing enough greenhouse gases to warm the planetary climate to the point where transhumans could walk the Martian surface unprotected, save for oxygen respirators.
The second phase of the great project of terraforming Mars—husbanding plant life and microbes engineered to rapidly replace atmospheric carbon dioxide with oxygen—was already underway at the time of the Fall. A belt of orbital mirrors helps to heat the planet by focusing the sun’s rays. The spread of plant life is a long-term project that will take several centuries to produce a fully breathable atmosphere, but the nigh-immortal transhumans of Mars are prepared to be patient. A new homeworld is worth the wait. Research into new plants and micro-organisms capable of releasing oxygen and nitrogen into the Martian atmosphere at an ever-accelerating pace is a major focus of economic activity.
In the meantime, the red planet is a place of startling contrasts, from the stark beauty of its mountain ranges and high desert to the slowly greening bottomlands of the equatorial Valles Marineris canyon system. In these bottomlands, oxygen levels are slowly rising, and liquid water can now be found in canals that had already been dry for millions of years when transhumanity’s ancestors came down from the trees. Mars is a popular destination for travellers from around the system. Many Martians accrue wealth by operating lavish hotels, offering tours of historical sites, and leading wilderness expeditions to the rugged highlands and vast deserts of the untamed Martian frontier.
Mars now sports five vast, domed cities, mostly in the equatorial regions, along with numerous smaller settlements. Settlements are connected by surface roads, a network of near-sonic maglev trains, and air/spaceports from which suborbitals, airships, and near space rockets fly on regular schedules. Thanks to the abundance of methane fuel and gravity only one-third of Earth’s, transhumans on Mars finally got their flying cars as well, and all settlements have well-delineated rights-of-way for these vehicles. Meanwhile, in the wild uplands, planetologists and terraforming engineers dwell in small villages, living the simple life in ruster morphs while seeing to the continued development of the Martian climate and atmosphere.
As a partially terraformed planet with vast tracts of unused land, Mars is one of the few places that can offer new sleeves to infomorph refugees. Martian brokerage houses do a brisk business in the purchase and resale of infugee contract labour, with agreements (for some) leading to eventual sleeving. This has led to a sizable Martian underclass, however, organized as a growing resistance movement under the Barsoomian banner (though the hyperelite socialites disparagingly call them “rednecks”).
Olympus, with a population of 1 million living in a space designed to accommodate 6 million, is something of a ghost town. The former principal city, built in the caldera of Olympus Mons around the space elevator, is now fallen into disuse. As the temperatures rose and the climate improved in the Valles Marineris canyonlands, most of the population left the windswept caldera for more hospitable surroundings. Olympus is not and never was a large domed city, consisting instead of a souk-like network of minor domes and antiquated tin can hab modules. Low atmospheric pressure and bone-freezing temperatures at the city’s altitude of 27 kilometres mean that most transhumans venturing outside the souks and hab modules still need the equivalent of light vacsuits to survive. Martian Alpiners, a rare morph found in few other places, are not uncommon here due to the harsh conditions.
The city centre is well maintained and carefully overseen by the Olympus Infrastructure Authority, a minor hypercorp that operates the space elevator. The outskirts are economically depressed and sometimes dangerous, mostly deserted and populated by squatters, indentured downloads on the run, and other people who really want to be left alone. Occasional outbreaks of dangerously mutated artificial life are one of the few reasons for which the Authority bothers to intervene in the outskirts. Otherwise, the old tin can habs and their strange inhabitants are left to decay.
Most of transhumanity’s terraforming efforts centre around the winding Valles Marineris canyonlands, which twist and turn over 4 ,000 kilometres east-to-west along the Martian equator. In these relatively warm bottomlands, liquid water is becoming abundant and the land is green with hardy plant species like crab grass, dandelions, and towering Douglas firs (which botanists estimate may reach heights of 180 meters in the low Martian gravity). 75% of the transhuman population of Mars lives in this region, giving it the highest density of transhuman habitation in the solar system.