Chapter 1

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STELLAR DATE: 3227162 / 07.28.4123 (Adjusted Gregorian)
LOCATION: Steel Dawn III, En-Route to Mars
REGION: InnerSol Stellar Space, Sol Space Federation

Tanis entered the forward observation lounge on the Steel Dawn III. The windows were crowded with passengers, weary after the two-week voyage from Earth, catching their first glimpses of Mars.

Her HUD identified the passengers and she saw that most were fellow colonists, destined for the Intrepid and ultimately the world of New Eden. Near one of the windows on the starboard side stood Patty and Eric, who she had spent some time with during the voyage.

Threading the crowd, Tanis walked to the window and stood beside the pair. Eric looked up at her and smiled a greeting. Patty nodded and pointed toward the planet.

"You can just make out the ring now."

Tanis peered out the window and cycled her vision to a higher magnification.

"So you can."

The Mars 1 ring was a large orbital habitat which wrapped around the world like a glistening silver halo. It was over one hundred and eighty thousand kilometers in circumference, and sixteen hundred kilometers wide. It rotated at over twenty-two thousand kilometers per hour above the blue-green planet. On the world below, the Borealis Ocean filled the viewport, and the large Mariner Valley lakes slowly slipped past the day/night terminator.

Built in the twenty-fifth century the ring was a marvel of human engineering and provided the energy management to terraform and power Mars. The Mars 1 ring was the gateway to the stars. Without it, modern terraforming techniques would never have been invented.

"Home sweet home," Eric said.

"Not exactly." Patty pointed to her left. "You can see the Mars Outer Shipyard coming around the ring over there. That's where the Intrepid is being completed. We'll be staying on the station or the ship, I imagine."

The Mars Outer Shipyard was a thousand-kilometer arc which was tethered to Mars's second artificial ring, the Mars Central Elevator Exchange, known by the locals as the MCEE. That outer ring linked to Mars 1, and from there massive elevators provided access to the planet below.

Though it was not the largest planetary superstructure, Tanis always found it to be one of the most beautiful. The Marsians had opted to build it with materials that glistened in the sunlight. With all of the orbital stations and outlying habitats tethered to the MCEE it sometimes appeared as though the planet had been caught in a celestial cobweb.

"I can't make it out," Eric said after peering out the window for a minute. "You two keep forgetting I have these organic eyes. Not special hopped-up mod jobs like yours."

Patty laughed. "Well, I don't know how hopped up mine are; the major has the super eyes."

"Your tax dollars hard at work," Tanis smiled.

"So how long till we arrive?" Eric asked.

Eric had only a rudimentary Link to the shipnet. While he could look it up himself, Patty and Tanis already had the information overlaid on their retinal HUDs.

"Just over an hour," Tanis said.

"Doesn't look like it should take that long." Eric leaned forward, still trying to make out the shipyards.

An announcement over both the shipnet and audible systems interrupted their discussion.

"All passengers, this is your captain speaking. We are beginning our final descent into the Mars Outer Shipyards, which the locals call the MOS." The captain pronounced the word 'moss'. "In thirty minutes there will be two 0g maneuvers separated by a hard 15g burn. We apologize for that hard burn, but Marsian traffic control has busy inbound lanes today and we need to clear the space as quickly as possible.

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