Beyond the Black
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 microorganisms 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 travelers 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 the one-third Earth gravity, transhumans on Mars have 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 infomorph contract labor, 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”).
Mars is broadly divided between the lowlands of the north and the highlands of the south, which in many places are separated by dramatic cliffs up to two kilometers high. Mars has seasons just as Earth, and both north and south poles have permanent ice caps that persist despite transhumanity’s success in warming the planet. Both regions present obstacles to terraforming. The northern plains are open and windswept, while the rugged southern uplands remain a difficult terrain for life to gain a foothold. Even so, tough Earth species like cacti and succulents are able to grow in the best spots.
Ma’adim Vallis: This deep canyon system on Mars holds one of the Planetary Consortium’s most treasured possessions: the Martian Gate. This Pandora Gate was originally discovered by nomadic Barsoomians, then violently wrested from their hands by hypercorp troops—an event that still rankles the rednecks. As different hypercorps themselves nearly came to blows, the Hypercorp Council was forced to step in and offer a resolution that all could agree to. A new hypercorp was founded—Pathfinder—which would control exploration and exploitation of the gate and resources beyond, with special privileges and rights given to Planetary Consortium members. The Martian Gate is now a staging point for numerous exoplanet colonies, though some fear the prospect of keeping a presumed TITAN artifact operational on transhumanity’s most populous planet.
Olympus Mons: Mars’ most notable landmark is the mighty shield volcano Olympus Mons, on which the first—and still principle—Martian space elevator was constructed. Similar in shape and origin to Earth’s Hawaiian Islands, but now dormant, Olympus Mons is one of the highest mountains in the solar system, rising 27 kilometers.
Olympus, the settlement in the volcano’s caldera around the base of the space elevator, was once the chief city of Mars, but waned in popularity as a place to live when terraforming made other regions more attractive. A maglev train from Olympus takes a little over three hours to reach Noctis; air travel is even quicker. Despite the waning of the city, the space elevator still sees heavy use.
Valles Marineris: Most of transhumanity’s terraforming efforts center around the winding Valles Marineris canyonlands, which twist and turn over 4,000 kilometers east-to-west along the Martian equator. In these relatively warm bottomlands, liquid water is becoming abundant and the land is green with hardy Terran 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.
The Zone: Officially labeled the TITAN Quarantine Zone, the TQZ is a large area stretching from the smooth plains of Amazonis Planitia (between the Tharsis and Elysium volcanic areas) and southeast to Arsia Mons (just west of Noctis). This zone is known to be crawling with leftover TITAN machinery: warbots, nanoswarms, and other dangerous things. Several devastated habitats lie in this region, including the former Islamic stronghold of Qurain. Few dare venture here, though some rumors suggest that Barsoomian smugglers make use of the Arsia Mons caves and even scavenge for TITAN tech, despite the risks. Planetary Consortium drones keep a vigilant eye on the Zone’s borders, though for unknown reasons the TITAN relics rarely stray beyond its bounds.
Ashoka is located in a crater in the Ares Vallis region about 3,000 kilometers northeast of Valles-New Shanghai, not far from the landing sites of the early Viking and Pathfinder probes. The town is a popular spa and spiritual retreat for Martians wanting to revisit their pioneer roots. It is also an active terraforming station and a major point of contact between the seminomadic Barsoomian culture of the high desert and the settled Martians of the equatorial canyonlands. 10,000 scientists, historians, terraforming workers, and spiritual gurus live in the town and surrounding area. A major attraction is a museum housing the Pathfinder lander and the Sojourner rover (which was still operational when humans landed and discovered it circling endlessly in a crater). The Viking lander is in another museum a short monorail ride from town. In a move that infuriated historical purists, all three machines were given modern hardware upgrades when discovered and now house AIs who act as historians of early Mars exploration. Sojourner is particularly friendly and sometimes leads lucky groups on walking tours of early landing sites.
Located in the Elysium and Hyblaeus Chasma in the north of the Hesperia region in Mars’s eastern hemisphere, Elysium is the entertainment capital of the system and the largest Martian city outside of the canyonlands of the equator. It is also the most physically remote of the large Martian cities, though transhumanity’s advanced transportation technology (suborbital flights and rocket flight from habitats above) make this remoteness a trivial quality.
Elysium and Hyblaeus Chasma together make up a 250-kilometer long canyon system in the shadow of Elysium Mons, a 14-kilometer mountain located about 200 kilometers northeast of the city. In between is the Zephyrus Fossae, an undulating, windswept lava plain. The city was the vision of one person, Zevi Oaxaca-Maartens, an eccentric entertainment magnate who was intrigued by the close proximity of the eminently terraformable Chasma to the unspoiled Hesperian terrain.
The city is only 30 years old but already boasts a population of 9 million transhumans. Elysium is mostly built into the canyon walls of the Chasma, sprawling over a 75-kilometer stretch, all of which has been domed over. Unlike the big domed metroplexes of the south, Elysium takes advantage of the canyon walls, which are close enough together that rather than building free standing domes, the builders have simply built great enclosing arches to completely cover the canyon. These expand northward year by year as the city grows. From low orbit, it looks like a great, glistening serpent.
The Martian city of Elysium is the spiritual successor to old Terra’s Los Angeles as the entertainment capital of the solar system. Glamorous stars and blood drinking producers, coupled with a healthy dose of outrageous (if often vapid) transhuman creativity have made Mars an unrivaled media powerhouse. Elysium may boast more exalt and sylph morphs per capita than any other transhuman city.
Image is everything here, and to visitors it may seem as if everyone in this city is either blindingly beautiful or calculatedly ugly. The most successful performers and entertainment tycoons live lives of glittering privilege that would make the richest gerontocrat in New Shanghai mildly envious. Everyone else, from up-and-coming game producers to the virtual ero performers, has to hustle constantly.
With a population of 13 million, Noctis-Qianjiao is the major metroplex in the west of the Valles Marineris region, an area known as Noctis Labyrinthus. Although not as hospitable as the Eos region in which Valles-New Shanghai lies, Noctis Labyrinthus is considered prime real estate for its gorgeous scenery and well-developed river systems. The metroplex boasts two major domes: Qianjiao, on the northern bank of the River Noctis, and Noctis City (normally just called “Noctis”) to the south. Connecting the two domes and spanning the river is a sprawling network of lesser domes and souks, although these have been pushed north and south over the years as the planet warms and the river grows wider.
Noctis-Qianjiao is the center of the Martian design and fashion industries, which in the abundant Martian economy arguably makes the city as important as much larger Valles-New Shanghai. This settlement’s proximity to the Zone sometimes alarms visitors, but there have been no public incidents to cause concern so far.
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.
Progress is one of the largest Cole bubbles in the Solar System. With 8.5 million residents, it is second in population only to Extropia in the belt. Progress was created when Fa Jing evicted all of the former residents from the Martian satellite of Deimos, excavated the inside of the moonlet, and used a massive solar array to convert it into a bubbleworld. From an engineering standpoint, Progress is something of an embarassment. The habitat was originally meant to exceed Extropia in size considerably, but difficulties with heating and spinning Deimos forced Fa Jing to abandon their efforts early or risk the moonlet breaking apart.
Progress is nonetheless an impressive habitat, home to hypercorp glitterati and an outpost for a host of major political and economic concerns. Its sister moon, Phobos, remains a warren-like tunnel habitat due to the presence of multiple legal interests unable to agree upon the disposal of the satellite.
The principle city of Mars, Valles-New Shanghai is transhumanity’s largest planetary metroplex, with 37 million inhabitants. Valles-New Shanghai lies in the heavily terraformed Eos region in the east of the Valles Marineris canyon system. The metroplex is comprised of five major domes connected by a network of Martian souks. The souks are a unique architectural feature of large Martian cities, consisting of covered thoroughfares and galleries lined with bazaars, eateries, and squats. It is said one can find anything if one spends enough time walking the souks.
The domes themselves are tamer, with artificial waterways (many of which now connect to the tenuous rivers etching the surface of the Eosian bottomland), grand architecture, residential mini-arcologies, entertainment complexes, and hypercorp conference centers. The most impressive by far is the Bund, the larger and older of two domes making up the city of New Shanghai proper. New Shanghai is roughly bisected by the twisting Ares, an artifical river that helps regulate the dome’s climate. Near its center is an almost brick-for-brick duplicate of the original Bund from the destroyed Earth city of Shanghai.
The other four domes are Little Shanghai (a newer, smaller dome adjacent to the Bund), Valles Center (a business and financial center that rivals the Lunar banks of Erato and Nectar), New Pittsburgh (also called the Burgh, a hub of research and planet-side industry), and Nytrondheim (housing major entertainment districts).
Valles-New Shanghai is transhumanity’s wealthiest population center, a hotbed of art and culture, and one of the system’s great centers of hypercorp activity. The populace includes an extremely high percentage of gerontocrats, but their stifling influence on culture, economic mobility, and the legal system is only one force among many in a city of 37 million people. The city has expanded so much to accommodate its exploding population since the Fall that new construction is a constant. Crime and corruption are widespread, though the worst of it is contained to Little Shanghai. Valles is a place where dreams are made and broken every day, if not every hour.