Chapter 4. Mars

Two guests now lived in the Bolshaya Martsianskaya hotel, and the staff had to tight. The Ares team settled in private homes, but Jimmy did not know anyone and decided to take advantage of the city’s hospitality. Gibson never decided whether it was good or bad. He did not want to place an extra burden on their beginning friendship; he knew that if Jimmy would see him too often, the results could be the most disastrous.
He remembered how his best friend once said: "Martin is a wonderful person if you rarely see him." This was true enough to hurt him, and he did not want to repeat such an experience.
Now his life in Port Lowell has entered a rather boring rut.
In the morning he worked, in the afternoon he walked and talked with the residents. Sometimes Jimmy went with him, and once the whole Ares team went to the hospital to see how Dr. Scott and his comrades defeated Martian fever. It was still difficult to draw conclusions, but Scott was optimistic. “We would have a pretty epidemic,” he said, rubbing his hands, “then we would have checked everything.” There are not enough cases. ”
Jimmy walked with Gibson for two reasons. Firstly, he was allowed into interesting places where he would not be allowed to go. And secondly, he was really more and more interested in the not entirely clear character of the writer.
Although they saw each other a lot now, they never returned to that conversation. Jimmy knew very well that Gibson really wanted to make friends with him and at least somehow offset the old. He was ready to accept this friendship, and not at all out of sensitivity - he very well understood that Gibson could be useful to him. Like most ambitious young people, Jimmy delighted in thinking about his future, and Gibson would have been unpleasantly amazed if he knew how Jimmy was figuring out the benefits of being friends with him. However, let's not be unfair to Jimmy - these selfish considerations lay on the surface. In fact, he often felt that Gibson was alone, a bachelor approaching old age.
Perhaps he understood, albeit unconsciously, that he was replacing Gibson with a nonexistent son. After all, it’s hard to treat someone who loves you badly.
The incident that turned Jimmy upside down was completely ordinary in itself. One day Jimmy was sad and he went into a small cafe near the office. I chose the wrong time - I just started tea, which for a million kilometers did not lie from Ceylon, as a whole crowd stormed the cafe. A twenty-minute break began when all work stopped on Mars. The chief insisted very much on this break, although everyone with much greater pleasure would have simply left twenty minutes earlier.
Jimmy surrounded a whole detachment of girls who, without any embarrassment, looked at him with menacing tenderness. There were also a few men; but they, driven by a sense of self-defense, sat down at a separate table and, judging by separate, not too polite phrases, continued to struggle with the columns of numbers left for a while. Jimmy thought how to quickly finish his tea and get out.
Opposite him sat a woman in her late forties, a rather austere look - probably the senior secretary. She spoke with a young girl with her back to him. It was very difficult to pass; when Jimmy got up and began to make his way through the narrow passage, stepped on someone's foot, grabbed the table and did not fall, but hit his elbow on the glass lid. In a fit of rage, he forgot that he was not a spaceship, and lightened his soul with selective expressions. Then he blushed terribly, came to himself and began to break free. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the oldest of the women was trying to resist laughing, and the youngest did not want to try.
And no matter how hard it was for him to later believe in it, he immediately forgot about both.
The next push was accidentally given by Gibson. They talked about how the city grew in recent years, and wondered if it would grow further with the same speed. Gibson spoke about the abnormal age composition of the colony; the fact is that people under the age of twenty-one were not allowed to go to Mars, and because so far there has not been a single resident in the top ten. Jimmy did not listen very carefully, when suddenly one of the phrases brought him to his senses.
“But yesterday,” he said, “I met a girl who was no more than eighteen,” and stopped.
Like a time bomb, the memory of a laughing face worked. He never heard Gibson answer that he must have been mistaken. He knew one thing: no matter who she was or wherever she came from, he must certainly see her.
In a small city like Port Lowell, according to probability theory, everyone must certainly meet everyone. However, Jimmy did not want to wait until these dubious laws lead to a second meeting. The next day, just before the break, he was drinking tea at the same table in a small cafe.
This not very subtle reception inspired him some concern.
Firstly, everything was sewn with white thread; although, after all, why shouldn't he drink tea here if all the management drinks? The second reason was more serious - he was ashamed of yesterday's scene. But his worries were in vain. The amber light came on. Gibson took a sip of water again, cleared his throat quietly, and straightened the papers. Before each, even the shortest, speech on the radio, he had a sore throat. In the control booth, the sound engineer raised a finger. Amber light instantly gave way to ruby.
“Are you listening, Earth?” Says Martin Gibson from the city of Port Lowell, Mars. Today is a big day for us. A new dome was installed, and the city grew by almost half. I don’t know how to tell you what it means to us, what a victory it is in the battle with Mars. Well, I'll try.
You all know that you cannot breathe Martian air. It is very rarefied; there is practically no oxygen in it. Port Lowell, our largest city, is located under six transparent plastic domes.
They are supported by internal air pressure. We breathe perfectly with this air, although it is thinner than yours.
Over the past year, the Seventh Dome has been built, twice as large as any of the former. I visited there yesterday before it began to be filled with air.
Imagine a large circle, five hundred meters across, surrounded by a thick, two human height, wall of glass blocks. It laid passages to other domes and under the open sky. These moves are simply metal pipes with doors that close automatically if air leaks from any dome.
We here on Mars do not want to risk it. When I entered yesterday under the Seventh Dome, the entire huge circle was covered with a thin film. She lay in large folds, and we fumbled under her. Try to imagine that you fell into a run out balloon. This film is a very strong plastic, almost completely transparent and completely flexible, like thick cellophane.
Of course, I had to put on a mask, even though we were cut off from the outside world, because there was no air yet. He began to catch up as quickly as possible, and right before our eyes, the folds began to stir, began to smooth out.
This went on all night. Today, early in the morning, I went again and saw a large bubble in the middle, but the edges were still flat.
A bubble of a hundred meters fluttered like a living and grew all the time.
By mid-morning, it had grown to such an extent that we had already seen the shape of the dome. Plastic never touched the ground. Work was stopped to check for leaks, then again blew until noon. Now the Sun was helping too - warm air was expanding.
Three hours ago, the first phase ended. We took off the masks and yelled.
The air was still thin, but it was: engineers could already work without masks. A few days later they will attach the shell to the stops and check for holes. Some yes, of course, but if the leak is not above the norm, it does not matter.
Well, today we feel that our borders on Mars have slightly moved apart. Soon, houses will be built under the Seventh Dome. We dream of a small park and even a pond - they are not on Mars, because in the open air the water does not stay here for a long time.
Of course, this is the beginning, someday all of this will seem nonsense to us.
But, no matter how you say it, we bit off another slice of Mars. And besides, there is where to resettle another thousand people. Can you hear me earth Goodnight!
The ruby ​​light went out. Gibson sat for a minute, staring into the microphone and reflecting on the fact that his first words, although transmitted at the speed of light, were only now reaching Earth. Then he collected the papers and went to the control booth.
Female engineer holding a telephone receiver.
“You are being asked, Mr. Gibson,” she said. - Someone responded very quickly.
“Indeed,” he grinned. - Hello!
- Says Headfield. Thanks. I listened to you, because we, too, were transmitted.
“I'm glad you liked it.”
Headfield cleared his throat.
- You probably guessed that I read your previous correspondence. It was very interesting to watch how your attitude changes ...
- How is this changing?
“You used to say 'they,' and now you are.” - He did not give Gibson an answer and continued in the same breath:
- And I'm calling for one more reason. I made you a trip to Schiaparelli. On Friday, there is a passenger plane. There is a place for three. Whittaker will tell you more. Goodnight!
The phone rang. Flattered, Gibson hung up the phone thoughtfully.
The chief told the truth, a lot has changed in this month. Boyish excitement lasted several days; disappointment - a little longer. Now he knew enough to treat the colony with moderate enthusiasm, which did not quite yield to logic.
He was afraid to analyze it, so as not to frighten him away. He knew that he more and more respected the local people, admired their knowledge, simplicity, courage, thanks to which they not only survived in this to the disgust of the hostile world, but also laid the foundations of the first extraterrestrial culture. And he wanted to become one of them, no matter what this led to.
In the meantime, he had the chance to see Mars. On Friday, he will travel to Port Schiaparelli, which is a thousand kilometers east, at the Charon Crossroads. The trip was planned two weeks ago, but was put off all the time. We must warn Jimmy and Hilton. Maybe Jimmy is now not so eager to go there. When Gibson woke up, the sun had already risen. It was still hiding behind the rocks, but the rays reflected from the red stone illuminated the cabin with an unearthly, sinister light. Martin reached out with difficulty - it was very uncomfortable to sleep in this chair - then he looked around and saw that there was no Hilton and no pilot. Jimmy was fast asleep. Others probably got up early and went on reconnaissance. Gibson was a little offended that he was not taken; but he immediately realized that he would have been offended even more if he had been awakened.
In a prominent place was a note pinned from Hilton:
“We left at 6:30. We’ll be back in an hour. We will be hungry. Fred".
The hint was clear, and he himself wanted to eat. He began to delve into the stocks of products, wondering how long they would last. His attempts to brew coffee in a small boiler woke up Jimmy. He saw that he was the last to wake up.
- How did you sleep? Gibson asked, looking for cups.
- Great! Said Jimmy, combing his hair with his fingers. - As if I hadn’t slept for a week. Where are the others?
And then he received an answer - something tinkled in the air chamber.
Hilton appeared, followed by the pilot. They quickly pulled off their masks and warming suits - it was still cold outside - and rushed at the chocolate and pressed meat, which Gibson divided into perfectly even portions.
- Well? Gibson asked, not without excitement. - What is the verdict?
“One thing I can say for sure,” said the Hilton between two pieces, “thank you for being alive!”
“I know that.”
“You don't even know half.” You have not seen where we descended.
Would turn two degrees to the right - and that’s it! When we sat down, we dragged forward a little, but, as you can see, we did not hurt ourselves. Here, to the west and east is a large valley. At first I thought it was a river bed, but rather it seemed like a shift. The rocks opposite us are a hundred meters high and completely sheer, they even somehow hang at the top. Maybe somewhere further and you can climb - we have not tried. Yes and no reason. If we want to get into the field of vision of Phobos, we need to go a little to the north, there the chain breaks. In my opinion, it would be necessary to pull the plane there. Then we could radiate, and with a telescope or from the air it would be easier to detect us.
- And how much does he weigh? Gibson asked doubtfully.
- Thirty tons. Of course, something can be thrown away.
- In no case! - said the pilot. “We cannot lose air.”
- Oh, God, I forgot! Well, the soil is flat and the chassis is fine.
Gibson grunted incredulously: even with a third of the Earth's gravity it was hardly possible to move the plane; but then his attention was distracted by coffee.
When he weakened the pressure in the boiler, the steam was clogged, and for a minute it seemed that they would breathe in gaseous coffee. On Mars, the true torment is to brew coffee and tea - the water boils here for about sixty degrees, and those who forget about it will have a hard time.
A not very tasty, but quite satisfying breakfast ended in silence - each had his own plan. They were not too worried; they knew that they would seek them and liberation is only a matter of time. But this time can be reduced if they contact Phobos.
Then they tried to drag the plane. They pushed him for a long time, pulled him and advanced several meters. We put caterpillars on the chassis, they were stuck in soft soil, and they retreated, panting, into the cab to discuss further actions.
- And we have nothing white? Gibson asked.
But this great idea crashed - they searched for a long time and found only six handkerchiefs and a few rags. Everyone agreed that even under the most favorable conditions, they could not be seen from Phobos.
“One thing remains,” said Hilton. - It is necessary to unscrew the landing lights, tie them to the cable, pull them uphill and direct them to Phobos. It would be better not to do this, of course. It's a pity to spoil a good plane.
Judging by the grim look, the pilot fully shared these feelings. Then Jimmy thought:
- Or maybe build a heliograph? If we direct a mirror at Phobos, maybe they will see it.
“Over six thousand kilometers?” Gibson doubted.
- And what? They have telescopes that magnify more than a thousand times. Wouldn't we see a bunny six kilometers away?
“Something's wrong here, but I don’t know what,” Gibson said. - But in general, a good idea. Does anyone have a mirror?
They searched for a quarter of an hour and found nothing. I had to abandon the idea. There was no mirror on the plane.
“Let's cut off a piece of the wing and polish it,” Hilton said, not quite sure. “Maybe it will.”
“You don't polish it very much.” Magnesium alloy, ”said the pilot, still trying to defend his car.
Hearing the word "magnesium," Gibson jumped up.
- Throw me three times! He shouted.
“With pleasure,” said Hilton, “but why?”
Without answering, Gibson went tail and began to rummage in luggage, his back to interested viewers. He quickly found what he needed and turned:
- Here!
A flash of unbearable, cutting light illuminated all corners. For a few moments, everyone was blinded, and a booth imprinted on the retina, as if illuminated by lightning.
“I'm sorry,” Gibson said, “I never turned it on full force indoors.” It is for night shooting in the open.
“Hmmm ...” said Hilton, rubbing his eyes. - I thought you quit

When Gibson woke up, the sun had already risen. It was still hiding behind the rocks, but the rays reflected from the red stone illuminated the cabin with an unearthly, sinister light. Martin reached out with difficulty - it was very uncomfortable to sleep in this chair - then he looked around and saw that there was no Hilton and no pilot. Jimmy was fast asleep. Others probably got up early and went on reconnaissance. Gibson was a little offended that he was not taken; but he immediately realized that he would have been offended even more if he had been awakened.
In a prominent place was a note pinned from Hilton:
“We left at 6:30. We’ll be back in an hour. We will be hungry. Fred".
The hint was clear, and he himself wanted to eat. He began to delve into the stocks of products, wondering how long they would last. His attempts to brew coffee in a small boiler woke up Jimmy. He saw that he was the last to wake up.
- How did you sleep? Gibson asked, looking for cups.
- Great! Said Jimmy, combing his hair with his fingers. - As if I hadn’t slept for a week. Where are the others?
And then he received an answer - something tinkled in the air chamber.
Hilton appeared, followed by the pilot. They quickly pulled off their masks and warming suits - it was still cold outside - and rushed at the chocolate and pressed meat, which Gibson divided into perfectly even portions.
- Well? Gibson asked, not without excitement. - What is the verdict?
“One thing I can say for sure,” said the Hilton between two pieces, “thank you for being alive!”
“I know that.”
“You don't even know half.” You have not seen where we descended.
Would turn two degrees to the right - and that’s it! When we sat down, we dragged forward a little, but, as you can see, we did not hurt ourselves. Here, to the west and east is a large valley. At first I thought it was a river bed, but rather it seemed like a shift. The rocks opposite us are a hundred meters high and completely sheer, they even somehow hang at the top. Maybe somewhere further and you can climb - we have not tried. Yes and no reason. If we want to get into the field of vision of Phobos, we need to go a little to the north, there the chain breaks. In my opinion, it would be necessary to pull the plane there. Then we could radiate, and with a telescope or from the air it would be easier to detect us.
- And how much does he weigh? Gibson asked doubtfully.
- Thirty tons. Of course, something can be thrown away.
- In no case! - said the pilot. “We cannot lose air.”
- Oh, God, I forgot! Well, the soil is flat and the chassis is fine.
Gibson grunted incredulously: even with a third of the Earth's gravity it was hardly possible to move the plane; but then his attention was distracted by coffee.
When he weakened the pressure in the boiler, the steam was clogged, and for a minute it seemed that they would breathe in gaseous coffee. On Mars, the true torment is to brew coffee and tea - the water boils here for about sixty degrees, and those who forget about it will have a hard time.
A not very tasty, but quite satisfying breakfast ended in silence - each had his own plan. They were not too worried; they knew that they would seek them and liberation is only a matter of time. But this time can be reduced if they contact Phobos.
Then they tried to drag the plane. They pushed him for a long time, pulled him and advanced several meters. We put caterpillars on the chassis, they were stuck in soft soil, and they retreated, panting, into the cab to discuss further actions.
- And we have nothing white? Gibson asked.
But this great idea crashed - they searched for a long time and found only six handkerchiefs and a few rags. Everyone agreed that even under the most favorable conditions, they could not be seen from Phobos.
“One thing remains,” said Hilton. - It is necessary to unscrew the landing lights, tie them to the cable, pull them uphill and direct them to Phobos. It would be better not to do this, of course. It's a pity to spoil a good plane.
Judging by the grim look, the pilot fully shared these feelings. Then Jimmy thought:
- Or maybe build a heliograph? If we direct a mirror at Phobos, maybe they will see it.
“Over six thousand kilometers?” Gibson doubted.
- And what? They have telescopes that magnify more than a thousand times. Wouldn't we see a bunny six kilometers away?
“Something's wrong here, but I don’t know what,” Gibson said. - But in general, a good idea. Does anyone have a mirror?
They searched for a quarter of an hour and found nothing. I had to abandon the idea. There was no mirror on the plane.
“Let's cut off a piece of the wing and polish it,” Hilton said, not quite sure. “Maybe it will.”
“You don't polish it very much.” Magnesium alloy, ”said the pilot, still trying to defend his car.
Hearing the word "magnesium," Gibson jumped up.
- Throw me three times! He shouted.
“With pleasure,” said Hilton, “but why?”
Without answering, Gibson went tail and began to rummage in luggage, his back to interested viewers. He quickly found what he needed and turned:
- Here!
A flash of unbearable, cutting light illuminated all corners. For a few moments, everyone was blinded, and a booth imprinted on the retina, as if illuminated by lightning.
“I'm sorry,” Gibson said, “I never turned it on full force indoors.” It is for night shooting in the open.
“Hmmm ...” said Hilton, rubbing his eyes. - I thought you quit...

After the most successful (as they later said) crash in the history of Mars, a visit to Port Schiaparelli seemed a necessary discharge. Of course, Gibson would be happy to return to Port Lowell as soon as possible with his booty.
He was no longer trying to get rid of Squick; and, since the whole colony was looking forward to the living Martian, they decided to take it with them.
But Port Lowell did not allow them to return, and the capital could not be seen until ten days later. Under large domes there was a decisive battle for the mastery of the planet. Gibson knew about this battle — a silent battle not for life but for death — only from radio reports and, in essence, was glad that he was not participating in it.
The epidemic Dr. Scott dreamed of finally erupted. One tenth of the population of Port Lowell fell victim to Martian fever. But the serum from Earth did its job, and there were only three deaths. Since then, the fever has never returned to Mars.
It was not easy to take Squick to Port Schiaparelli - I had to drag a lot of food with me. At first they were afraid that the young Martian would not be able to live under the dome in oxygen-rich air, but it turned out that this did not bother him even a bit, although it greatly reduced his appetite. This useful property was explained later; but no one ever knew why Squick was so attached to Gibson. Some, not without malice, suggested that the matter was in the small growth of the writer.
Together with the pilot of the rescue plane and the emergency team, our travelers several times visited the small Martian family.
No other families were found, but Gibson could not believe that they were the last representatives of a glorious family. As it turned out later, this was not so.
A rescue plane was looking for them when it received signals from Phobos, reporting outbreaks in Etheria. The origin of these outbreaks baffled everyone until Gibson, with legitimate pride, explained what the matter was. The engines were repaired for several hours, and the travelers decided in the meantime to observe the Martians in the wild.
It was then that Gibson unraveled their secret.
In the distant past, they apparently breathed oxygen and still needed it. They could not get oxygen from the soil; but it was mined by plants that served them as food. Gibson quickly discovered that pimples contained oxygen under fairly high pressure.
Slowing down their life processes to the limit, the Martians managed to establish an alliance - almost symbiosis - with plants, which in the full sense of the word became necessary for them like air. The balance was unstable: any catastrophe could disturb it, but the conditions on Mars did not change for a long time, and it stayed for a long time until man intervened.
The repair was delayed, and they got to Port Schiaparelli only three days after departure from Port Lowell. Residents of the medium-sized Martian city (a little less than a thousand people) were located under two domes on a wide plateau. The city owed its location to a historical error - it was here that the first landing on Mars occurred. Only a few years later they decided to move the center of gravity to Port Lowell and mothbal Port Schiaparelli.
The small town was in many ways a copy of its stronger and more modern rival. Geological (more precisely, aerological) surveys and studies of nearby areas fell to his lot. And the inhabitants could not forgive themselves that Gibson and his comrades came across the greatest discovery in the history of Mars so close to them.
This visit almost paralyzed the normal life of the city - wherever Gibson went, crowds gathered on his way. Everyone especially liked to lure Squick into the bright light and watch him blacken, trying to squeeze everything possible out of his position. It was in Port Schiaparelli that it occurred to someone to design simple pictures on Squick, and then photograph it. It got to the point that Gibson with chagrin saw on the side of his pet a rude, but quite clear image of the famous TV star.
In general, a visit to Port Schiaparelli did not bring much joy. For three days, they examined everything that was worth inspecting, and several walks in the surrounding area were quite boring. Jimmy was worried about Irene and now and then ordered long-distance calls. Gibson was eager to return to the big city - the very one that he had so recently considered an overgrown village. Only Hilton, a patient man, was not upset and enjoyed the rest.
Yet once Gibson had to worry. He often asked himself what would happen if the dome failed. Here he received an answer - in any case, he would not want a more detailed answer.
Once, in a quiet evening before the evening, he interviewed the chief engineer. Squick sat on long legs, looking like a huge tumbler doll. It seemed to Gibson that his interlocutor was becoming more and more absent-minded, as if waiting for something. And suddenly, without warning, the floor shuddered - once, second, third ... Almost immediately, an alarming voice came from the speaker: “Breakthrough of the dome! Breakthrough of the dome! A drill! At your disposal ten seconds! Everyone is safe! A drill!"
Gibson