Beyond the Black
Jake Carter, Firewall Proxy
Seen through the haze of a dust storm, the city in the caldera of Olympus Mons looks like a smouldering, half burnt cone of incense with a whole lot of ash piled up around its edges. In better visibility, you’ll see a core of tall, bright lit buildings, mostly mixed use corp office and housing towers, peaking around the base of the space elevator. In the pile of busted architecture around it—pressurized housing blocks, industrial buildings, and tuna cans—you see only scattered lights. The souks here are dangerous, and in some places freezing and only partly pressurized. This city had six million people living in it at its height, but now the periphery’s almost a ghost town. As the atmosphere in Valles-Marineris, Argyre, Hellas, and other bottom lands started to thicken up and temperatures climbed, anybody who could afford to move did.
Then came the mass evacuations during the Fall, which cleared out most of the poorer people, too. The latter wasn’t what you’d call a humanitarian action; the Olympus Infrastructure Authority (OIA), which pretty much runs this town, had heard rumours that TITAN virii could turn people as well as machines. They didn’t want a zombie horde tearing down their precious infrastructure, but the power players in Noctis and New Shanghai wouldn’t take them in, neither. So they scattered all these poor people around the countrysides of Amazonis and Tharsis in inflatable domes and prefab modules—little better than concentration camps, really—and wished them luck.
You know what happened to those unlucky enough to have ended up camped out on the Amazonis Planitia. Of the rest, a lot died when the cheap life support in their camps failed or because of other resource shortfalls. Many of them are in dead storage or serving as indentures now—which’d be a second or even third hitch of that for some. The first wave of people who had to go through that are just finishing out their indentures these days, and they’re some of the angriest Barsoomians you’ll ever run into. Others made it through, but only some went back to Olympus. There are dozens of small towns on the Tharsis plateau and southward that started out as relocation camps for Olympian evacuees and’re now turned to farming, contract terraforming work, and cutting permafrost for ice.
I’ve got plenty of reasons for not liking cities, and Olympus is a microcosm of them all. Don’t parse me wrong; there’s some real good people there. Sussing out who’s a good egg, who’s a chronic hard luck case, and who’s on the corp take can be a rough job for those of us who understand fixing buggies and programming ecoswarms better than back room deals and shady manoeuvres. The evacs are to blame. Those who made it back here after the Fall were either tough and enterprising, or desperate and bent.
Culture and Demographics
Mandarin is the most common language in Olympus, followed by English, and then a whole mess of other languages. You got a lot of people living in Olympus who just got no place else to go, so it’s a patchwork of transhumanity. Olympus has helluv people living in synths, which changes the landscape quite a bit. Walk through the souks in the Janks-Yao, and you’ll see near as many shops selling accessories and offering maintenance for synths as you’ll see restaurants and body stylists’ shops. Glamour morphs ain’t too common here, even for the upper echelons. Alpiner morphs are common, and just about everyone else wears a ruster. The harsh environment and decay of the city mean that even in well developed areas, citizens’ll regularly encounter souks or walkways with thin air or poor climate control. Specialized Martian morphs are just a lot more comfortable.
Important neighbourhoods here are Central, the OIA business district rising around the base of the Space Elevator; Deshengmen, the dense neighbourhood of corporate housing forming a ring around Central; Zhongguancun, a huge, half-abandoned office park full of squats and on-the-down-low corp projects; HLS, the centre of Vice in Olympus; Janks-Yao, a neighbourhood on the periphery of the city centre where a lot of working people live; and Fuxingmen, the general name for the mostly abandoned sprawl of buildings forming a huge ring outside the central city.
Fuxingmen and the abandoned stretches of Zhongguancun can be extremely dangerous. In addition to desperate transhumans, the constant research work in this area has left behind populations of wild artificials—robots that have gone feral—that are sometimes hostile.
The huge railyard for maglev trains coming and going from Noctis-Qianjiao is a section of Zhongguancun that projects deep into the abandoned section of the city. A spur line runs through the central city to the freight terminal for the space elevator, in Central.
At the mountain’s foot near the rail road is Olympus Skyport, the city’s spaceport; ain’t much going on there, which makes it good if you need a discreet flight off planet but don’t know any smugglers. The spaceport’s down below to keep a clear 15-kilometre no-fly zone between the space port and the elevator cable, for security purposes. High winds in the airspace of the caldera make it a sucky place to land ships anyway.
Law and Order
The OIA Police are the local law enforcement agency. It’d be fair to say I kind of hate them. They’ve beat up, robbed, and framed too many people I’ve known. Standard beat uniforms are black and safety yellow (which at least makes them easy to spot); tacticals wear OD green. Most OIA cops sleeve into alpiner morphs to make outside ops easier. Unlike most city cops on Mars, the standard issue prowler here is a small ground truck carrying a squad of four to six cops, rather than two in a flying car. High winds make flying cars impractical. The squad structure arose from the fact that when there’s trouble in an Olympus souk, the cops’re almost always going to need backup, so they travel in larger groups.
OIA Tacticals are incredibly well-trained and well-equipped given they’re living in the most dilapidated city on the planet. Reason is the space elevator and the city’s close proximity to the TQZ. OIA Tacs get issued the tools for taking down hostile war machines and swarms, and a full squad of ten’s got an infosec spec and a nanowarfare spec on it. While there’s never been a confirmed TITAN/exsurgent incursion into Olympus, the Tacs’ve seen action many times in Fuxingmen when black bag research projects got out of hand and somebody’s artificials went technical.
The Space Elevator
I said before that from the far distance, the space elevator looks like a minute black thread stretching up from the caldera of Olympus Mons. That thread’s about 23,000 kilometres long—long enough for the asteroid tethered at the far end to keep the cable pretty much taut. On their way up, the carriers on the space elevator reach speeds of about 500 kph in atmosphere. Around 200 kilometres up, where there’s practically no more atmospheric friction, they punch it up to 2,000 kph and maintain that speed for the rest of the ride. At 17,000 kilometres of altitude—aerostationary orbit—they either detach from the cable and slide into orbit for load out, or keep going, and shoot off the far end of the elevator at a velocity high enough to reach the Belt in just a few weeks, provided the launch window is right. Basic, the whole thing can double duty as a mass driver for in-system transit.
Sorry for geeking out on this thing’s specs, but if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a big sexy eff-all machine, and that the space elevator is in spades. The first space elevator (on Earth) had one cable. The carrier had two big wings for picking up microwave power beamed at it by an array of sun-fuelled satellites. Took forever to get up that cable; it had to be twice as long as those on Mars to reach geostationary altitude. And the jokers who came up with the thing never really had a good answer for what’d happen if something diffused the beam. The Olympus Mons space elevator has eight cables: four for carriers to run on, four configured as superconductors to act as the third rail for the carrier cable with which they’re paired. They got so much juice running along those rails, the practical max delta-V for the carriers, when you factor in the acceleration due to centrifugal force you’re getting off the planet itself, is around 14 kps. But the cables can’t handle that much friction, and I guess the people riding the carrier might be a concern as well, so ships skipjacking off the end of the cable generally only get about 9 kps—which is still pretty damned good for not burning any fuel.
The elevator never stops running, and it’s on a tight schedule, taking account of both the masses being lifted and their side effects on the structure. Carriers make the whole cable structure oscillate slightly as they travel, plus the Coriolis force drags at them as they climb, which bows the cable a bit. Schedules have to take this into account, with the result that there’re only two trips in each direction every day. There’re four cables, but the elevator’s rolling stock is a lot bigger, with hundreds of carriers ready on the ground and sitting in parking orbits near the elevator’s centre of mass. Some are just barely pressurized bulk cargo containers, while others are fitted out for passengers and high value or perishable cargo. And some are actually long-haul freighters. These are the ones that skipjack off the end of the cable; they got just enough fuel in them for course corrections and decelerating at their destination.
The whole ride up takes almost nine hours. Download something to read before you leave. The passenger section on the space elevator is one of the only places in the system with limited mesh connectivity. OIA’s so terrified of anyone monkeywrenching the elevator, they actually lined the walls of the passenger compartments with double-thickness Faraday cages. You need a special permit for mesh access. Only people with serious hypercorp connections get them, and even they get watched like hawks by the on-board infosec monkeys. Then again, hypercorp big shots hardly ever travel by space elevator, unless it’s for good press.
Taking the space elevator is like taking the bus; the main virtue is that it’s cheap. You can get to orbit in five minutes by rocket, but a lot of people on Mars can’t afford that, especially if they have to make the trip regularly. Aside from the initial acceleration, the second acceleration when you leave the atmosphere, and deceleration at the end of the trip, passengers can walk around the carrier. There ain’t much to see, though. Aside from the acceleration couches, there’s usually an observation area (always helluv crowded and only faces the planet if you’re lucky); a bar with the most watered-down, overpriced drinks you’ll ever find outside a Mormon hotel in New Salt Lake; and lavs that are just big enough to skronk in if you’re a lanky ruster and your partner’s a double-jointed bouncer. Not that I’d know or anything.
A lot of the people you meet riding the elevator are those who get classified as cargo: soldiers, work gangs, consignments of pleasure pods, and anyone else whose job sucks enough that they get writ off as a replaceable part. For a while before the Fall, corps tried keeping all of their worker morphs in orbit and egocasting people up as needed. They found their psych bills going through the roof. Take a previously well-adjusted construction specialist who used to be in a biomorph and beam her up into an orbital work synth, and she’s apt to get glitchy. Then you’ve got an expensive synth using up space and resources while it malfunctions and doesn’t get any work done. Far better to acclimate your workers on the ground where psych and power are cheaper, then send them up the space elevator without having to get resleeved. It’s one of those rare occasions where labour interests and profit actually overlap.
Olympus Infrastructure Authority
The OIA is the government, the law, and pretty much the whole show here. At one point Olympus had a government, but in the mass exodus after the Fall, the remaining citizens voted to privatize it under the OIA. OIA is technically a hypercorp, but it’s headed jointly by the governors general of Noctis-Qianjiao, Elysium, and Valles-New Shanghai. See where the conflict of interest with running a city people actually want to live in starts? Each governor general puts four members on the Board, where they serve staggered nine-year terms. The Secretary General of the Tharsis League elects an Executive Director who runs day-to-day ops and executes policy. Right now the job’s held by Mae Xi, a lady who’s as crafty as her morphs are curvy. The Board members always take whatever position their governor general wants them to on issues, and the Executive Director breaks ties. Xi was put in by Secretary Dhiagelev, making her a real unwelcome outsider facing a lot of trouble getting things done. That said, the lady’s got a lot of power, and she’s slowly figuring out how to use it. Just hope the Dhiagelev administration’s as benign as many want to believe it is.
OIA’s biggest job is keeping the space elevator running, meaning monitoring usage and looking for signs of fatigue twenty-four-and-a-half by seven. On top of groundside ops, they’ve got a respectable orbital presence, with a fleet of tender and security ships, centred around Tether, the captured asteroid acting as a counterweight to the elevator cables.
Okay, look: these guys’re a bunch of shit thieves. Yeah, I know, they’re fully one quarter of the game as regards supply chains insystem, but that doesn’t change anything. At its black heart, ComEx is basic
just a piece of tracking software for routing supplies— morphs, metals, water, reactor mass, and anything else that still needs to be moved around physically. The people who wrote that software probably deserve to be rich and famous, but the rest of this outfit can go hang far as I’m concerned.
ComEx owns an entire square block of housing and office space in Central, and through their subcontractors, they touch well over half the traffic coming down the space elevator and hitting the maglev rails. They used to own a majority share in Rail Eos, the line that runs from the space elevator clear across the Valles Marineris to Valles-New Shanghai. Then they got greedy and started trying to use their control of the maglev line to muscle their way into a voting position in the Consortium. As y’all know, success hates company, and the PC clipped their wings with a series of sanctions. They ended up having to sell off Rail Eos to stay afloat, and now the majority share in the railway is owned by the Consortium itself. ComEx and the OIA hate each other; the PC uses OIA to keep ComEx in line. ComEx relies on their own security forces in their facilities and on the yards, since they don’t trust the OIA cops. I’ve known black bag people who owe their entire livelihood to the efforts these two corps, their subsidiaries, and their business partners make at screwing each other.
ComEx and its business partners own helluv infomorphs and indentures in clanker synths. They’re alleged to’ve arbitrarily extended the contracts on hundreds on indentures to save cred after the Rail Eos fiasco, but all the lawsuits by Movement lawyers on this are just so much pissing into the wind, if you ask me. The rumor that the ComEx core software itself keeps emerging into consciousness and having to be reset so that it stays below the threshold is a lot more interesting. But that one ain’t been confirmed.