– – –
“Thank you Delmar. We now go to Amanda Rodriguez at Founders Hall for the latest on the Earth-Mars Trade and Governance Summit that has now stretched into its twentieth week. Amanda.”
“Thank you Xiu. As you said, the summit is on its twentieth week of negotiations where…,”
Jane Yamato looked out at the butterscotch landscape of Mars through the solitary window of her hotel room, no longer paying attention to the news broadcast. A dust storm had been blowing in the last few weeks covering the bubble city of Huygens in a rust colored haze and reducing the visible sunlight. Not for the first time Jane wondered what it would be like to live on Mars as a permanent resident. She had spent a great deal of time on Mars over the last four decades, but it was never as a permanent resident. She would stay for eight to sixteen months, and then she would go back to Earth for a few years before coming back to Mars. The interplanetary commercial transport company Solar Winds considered her a frequent cosmic traveler.
Despite sharing time between the two planets, Jane had always considered herself a citizen of Earth. She had been born and raised there. She had loved and lost there. All of her family was there. Earth was home. Jane had a hard time picturing herself settling down anywhere else once she finally retired. But Jane did have to admit that each time she came to Mars it became a tad bit harder to leave.
“Although leaving this time might not be as difficult as other times,” she said aloud to her empty room.
The twenty weeks of almost nonstop negotiations and mediations at the summit, which had originally been organized to be eight weeks, were starting to take a toll on Jane’s sixty year old self. As one of the two lead organizers of the summit, Jane was responsible for making sure that the various negotiations taking place were being done productively and in a cooperative fashion. When the negotiators were having trouble finding compromise, Jane was one of the people who could step in to mediate as a mostly unbiased party. The summit had been putting all of her skills as a professional diplomat to the test.
The constant back and forth between the United Nations (UN) and the Colonial Martian Government (CMG) was nothing new. Arguments and disagreements between the two planets had been happening since the first group of Martian colonists arrived on the Red Planet over two hundred years ago. However, over the last forty years relations between the two planets had been steadily getting worse. Empathy and cooperation were diminishing while tension and anger were rising.
Five years ago the rising tension between Earth and Mars culminated into an almost complete breakdown in effective communication between the two planets. Politicians from the UN and the CMG would argue back and forth with neither side interested in seeking a compromise. Many joint ventures between Earth and Martian businesses came to an end due to pressure from stakeholders who in turn were pressured by a public that had begun to participate increasingly in planet level tribalism.
Seeing their two planets on the verge of total diplomatic collapse, Jane and a high level Martian diplomat had decided enough was enough. It was time for a reset. It was time for Earth and Mars to come together to figure out how to effectively coexist again. The two diplomats were going to force Earth and Mars into a locked room, and they would not allow either planet to leave until they had learned how to play nice with each other again. The two diplomats had spent the better part of two years putting together the Earth-Mars Trade and Governance Summit. After a great deal of effort that had required much schmoozing and horsetrading, both diplomats were successful in convincing government leaders and business owners from both planets to agree to meet on Mars for the summit.
The summit had started off smoothly enough, as most negotiations tended to. Each side calmly presented the issues that were most important to them along with their stances on the issues. Then began the timid back and forth discussions with each side feeling the other out. Around week three is when things began to get go down hill. Many of the people taking part in the negotiations began falling back into tribal mentality split along planet lines. By week seven the situation was nearly back to where things had been before the summit. From that week on Jane’s skills as a diplomat and mediator had nearly been stretched to their limits.
Week twelve became a breaking point. It occurred during the negotiations over interplanetary cargo shipping regulations. The week had ended with UN Representative Bob Stuttgart and Alicia Singh, who was the CEO of Hermes Interplanetary Shipping and a Martian native, standing from their chairs, climbing onto the table, and shouting profanities in each other’s faces. Other negotiators and summit staff members had to get involved to pull the two people away from each other. Because the entirety of the summit was being broadcast via internet streaming for the sake of transparency, the entire debacle had been recorded. The shouting match had blown up in popularity on the internet which had dubbed it the most interesting day of the summit.
Jane and her co-organizer had decided an extended weekend was needed in order to allow each side time to cool down. During the course of that weekend, Jane had sat down with the various government leaders and business owners from Earth so that she could discuss with them the state of the summit. By using highlights from the news streams, she had showed them how the summit was considered a failure by the public. The summit had become more about entertainment instead of diplomacy. Her fellow summit organizer had held similar meetings with the Martian representatives.
For the most part, the two sides each came back to the negotiation tables calm and collected the following week. With a renewed sense of making the summit work, Earth and Mars continued their efforts to find common ground. The last couple of weeks had started seeing progress be made. Agreements regarding policy, regulation, and trade were finally being made. Jane had felt things were turning around for the better.
With a final glance at the Martian landscape outside her window, Jane pressed the button to tint the window and went back to finish preparing for the day.
– – –
After giving herself a last once-over in the mirror, Jane donned her suit jacket and slipped on a pair of comfortable sneakers. She had learned long ago that comfortable shoes during long negotiations were absolutely essential. She then slung a light backpack over her right shoulder. The backpack contained many more essentials: a few bottles of water, a couple protein bars, a packet of throat lozenges, tissues, a spare tablet, charging cables, a mixture of various cable adapters, deodorant, and an extra pair of underwear. Some people had snarkily compared her “negotiator’s survival kit”, as she liked to call it, to what you would take when traveling, not for going to a conference room for a negotiation. Given how some negotiations tended to meander on and on for what felt like hundreds of miles, Jane felt her survival kit was appropriate.
As Jane headed for the door of the hotel room, she yelled, “Computer, Off, All”, to power down most of the electronics in the room. She slid her room card over the card reader that was beside the door and then pressed the green confirmation button that appeared on the digital display. Whatever software controlled the door went through whatever set of sensors and algorithms it needed to determine that the world outside of the door was safe. The door’s locking mechanism disengaged after a few seconds, allowing Jane to leave the room.
The door automatically closing behind her, Jane stepped into the blue-gray hallway. Looking to the left, Jane saw that the hallway in that direction had been blocked off. Jane had received an email the previous day informing her that maintenance on the airlock next to her room was going to be taking place starting today. Jane gave the two technicians that were in the blocked off area a small wave before turning to head down the hallway in the opposite direction. As she walked down the curved hallway Jane began pondering what she might have for breakfast.
Before she could make up her mind about breakfast, Jane came upon a sight that caused her to come to a sudden halt. Seated upon one of the cushioned benches that lined the hallway every few dozen feet was senior Martian diplomat and co-organizer of the summit, Yusef Antar. He was sitting alone on the bench, leaning forwards, elbows resting on knees, and chin resting on interlocked hands.
Yusef and Jane were old friends. They had met during their third year of high school when Jane had travelled to Mars as a foreign exchange student under the United Nation’s Future Interplanetary Diplomats training program. Yusef was a sixth generation Martian from a family that had a long tradition of civil service. Yusef had wanted to continue that tradition, so he had been specializing his education around political science, foreign affairs and economics. What better way to score some bonus points when applying to college than showing around a random future Earther diplomat. Yusef had quickly volunteered to be Jane’s official guide at school. It had taken a full semester and a four hour long debate on Earth and Martian diplomatic relations before Jane got upgraded from college transcript bullet point to fully fledged friend. Theirs was a friendship that had remained strong despite the physical and political distance between their two planets.
Jane slowly approached Yusef. The man was staring down at the floor. His eyebrows were scrunched into a frown, and his lips were pressed tightly together. He had not noticed Jane’s presence despite her being in the middle of the hallway.
“Yusef,” Jane called out softly.
Hearing the sound of his name brought Yusef back into the hallway with Jane. His head snapped in her direction with a look of surprise on his face.
“You okay?” Jane asked.
Yusef did not immediately respond. He looked away from her and took a moment to compose himself. Jane started to feel the beginnings of her stomach dropping out of her body. Something serious had happened. Something she did not yet know about. Yusef was a person used to speaking difficult truths to people. The fact the he didn’t immediately tell her what had happened informed Jane of the seriousness of the situation.
“No. No, I am not okay,” Yusef answered. He gestured to the empty space of the bench on his right. “Please sit.”
Jane eyed Yusef searchingly for a few moments before slowly sinking down onto the bench.
After taking a deep breath, Yusef said, “I am not okay because I have to tell my closest and dearest friend that I have betrayed our friendship for what I hope will be for the good of the Martian people.”
Jane sat there dumbfounded. She had no idea what Yusef was talking about. As a big fan of the theatre, Yusef did sometimes have a flair for the dramatic, but what he had just said seemed a bit much even for him. What could he have possibly done to betray their long standing friendship? How was doing good for the Martian people a betrayal?
Jane leaned closer to Yusef with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
“Yusef, I don’t understand. How could you have possibly betrayed our friendship? That doesn’t sound like something you would ever do,” she said.
Reaching to his left, Yusef picked up a tablet that had been resting out of sight on the bench. He activated the screen and unlocked the device using a password, a retinal scan, and an authorization code that had been sent to his phone. Jane raised an eyebrow at the above average security for a tablet. Once unlocked, Jane saw that a document had already been opened on the tablet. While her slowly failing eyesight prevented her from seeing the text of the document clearly enough to read it from this distance, she did not have sit in curiosity for long. Yusef handed her the device.
Jane waited a few moments for some sort of preamble from Yusef, but all he did was silently gesture to the tablet. Jane began to read the opened document.
On this day, the first of January, 2407, the people of Mars declare their independence from the nations of Earth. Mars is henceforth a sovereign planet in the solar system. . .
After Jane finished reading the entire document twice through, she continued staring down at the tablet. She was in shock. Her mind was totally void of thought. The list of times when Jane had been without thought or words for a situation was very short. She prided herself on being capable of handling unexpected situations. This, however, was a rare moment that saw Jane completely caught off guard. It took her a few minutes to recover from this shock.
Without looking up from the tablet, Jane asked, “When’s this going to be delivered?”
“In another twenty minutes at ten o’clock,” Yusef answered, glancing down at his old fashioned mechanical wrist watch. “Governor Shohreh Anvar is going to present the declaration in a speech. She will also be named the interim Prime Minister of Mars by the standing CMG senate until official elections can be held for the position.”
“Official elections. When will those be?”
“Nine weeks from now.”
“How long has Mars been planning this?”
“Just over two and a half years.”
After pausing a few moments to consider the implications of that answer, Jane then asked, “How long have you been a part of all this?”
Seconds stretched by with no answer.
Jane finally looked up from the tablet, and she turned her gaze on Yusef.
He took another deep breath before saying, “From the beginning.”
Jane’s gaze became fierce.
“We started planning the summit two years ago! Has it been a farce this entire time? Have you been using it, using me, this entire time?” she said, anger and pain creeping into her voice as she fully realized what Yusef had meant by betrayal of their friendship.
Yusef held Jane’s gaze as he mournfully replied, “Yes.”
“What was the true purpose of this summit then? Why go along with it for so long, making so many false promises, only for it to end up like this?” Jane asked. The diplomat in her needed to know. The rest of her, the part that considered Yusef a dear friend, wanted to run away screaming.
“To buy time for the CMG to prepare, and to distract the UN without them becoming suspicious as to why so many Martian politicians have stopped answering their calls.”
“You wanted it to appear like the CMG was only willing to start negotiating again at the summit.”
“Whose idea was it to use the summit this way?” Jane asked. She already knew the answer. There was, after all, a reason why Yusef had the authority to inform a high level Earther diplomat such as Jane of Mars’ declaration before the official announcement had been made. Jane asked because she wanted to force Yusef to admit out loud that it was his decision, and his alone, to corrupt the original purpose of the summit. She wanted him to fully own up to his betrayal of her trust.
Through a remorseful sigh that seemed to deflate his entire body, Yusef answered, “It was mine. All mine.”
Yusef finally broke Jane’s gaze, his head falling into his hands. For the remainder of her life, Jane would look back on this moment in shame for the small amount of pleasure she had felt at seeing her friend admit the depth of his betrayal and hang his head in remorse.
– – –
Jane looked away from Yusef. She was betrayed. She was hurt. She was angry. That anger was slowly building in her body causing her face to feel flush and her hands to tremble slightly. Jane had always believed emotion had a place in civil discourse. It was emotion that drove passion after all, and without passion someone could not truly argue a belief. Being emotional in an argument was essential. However, emotion could be both a strength and a weakness. The weakness came from letting your emotions run unchecked. Anger was one of the emotions that could easily grow beyond one’s control and throw a debate into pointless, ineffectual chaos. Jane needed to center herself. She needed to allow time for the worst of the anger to run its course. Jane did this by focusing her attention on Mars instead of on Yusef and his betrayal.
Since the earliest days of the Martian colony, there had been talk that Mars would one day be independent from Earth. In those early days, it was said jokingly and with a hint of wonder that humanity might ever advance to the point where independence between two planets in the solar system would be a reality. It was a romantic notion inspired by science-fiction. However, after the formation of the Colonial Martian Government and as the colony grew beyond a scientific outpost into a thriving community, the idea of an independent Mars became a topic of serious discussion and debate amongst those on both Earth and Mars.
With growth came economic and social prosperity, but it also brought conflict. The conflicts usually centered on industrial and economic regulations imposed on Mars by UN regulators back on Earth. Fierce competition between public and private businesses over Martian mineral and interplanetary shipping rights contributed to the growing discontent between the two planets. Eventually, the Martian people began wanting more agency over how Mars developed economically, so the issue of self governance was tossed into the pot of conflict.
Many of these conflicts were cast into issues of social inequality between the people of Earth and Mars. Many Martians felt they were being belittled, undervalued, and mistreated by Earthers. On the other hand, many Earthers felt that Martians were not separate from Earth and were therefore not entitled to any kind of special treatment. Martians were working to establish their own identity in the solar system while Earthers were struggling to reconcile with the idea that Martians wanted to let go of their Earth ancestry.
Like most conflicts that revolve around social change and injustice, the arguments between Earthers and Martians got very heated. Anger, the ever volatile emotion, consumed the people of both planets. Sometimes the anger was born from passion. Other times it was born from fear and hate. Regardless of where the anger came from, it often times overshadowed the original issues, and it distracted from the discovery of potential solutions to those issues. While few in number, there were some instances where the anger had turned into violence.
This story of conflict had finally led to the Earth-Mars Trade and Governance Summit. A summit co-organized by an Earther and a Martian. Jane had hoped the summit would be the catalyst for a renewed sense of cooperation and civility between the peoples of Earth and Mars. Yusef had said he also shared in this hope, and he had worked with Jane as if he had meant it. It had all been a lie. The summit was instead going to be the springboard from which Mars would declare its independence from Earth. No longer was independence going to be a joke, an idea born from wonder, or a topic of debate. It was going to be a reality.
Jane realized that she was terrified by this reality. She was not terrified by an independent Mars. She was terrified that Mars was attempting independence. She was terrified that her closest friend was going to be near the center of it all. Yusef was going to be stuck in the middle of whatever fallout was about to hit Mars, and Jane feared that she was going to have little power to help him. This sobering thought calmed some of her anger, replacing it instead with fear. Fear for her friend’s wellbeing.
Jane turned back to Yusef. The man still had his head in his hands.
Quietly, Jane said, “Holy shit Yusef. What have you all done?”
Lifting his head slowly, Yusef looked back to Jane with a sad smile.
“I have been asking myself that very question for years now. Today I finally get my answers,” he said.
“You might not like those answers,” Jane said. “The Martian people might not like those answers. Jesus Yusef, have you all even thought about the consequences of all this?”
Jane knew the question was ludicrous. Martians were not idiots. They were a people that had figured out how to survive and prosper on the desolate and inhospitable rock that was Mars after all. Of course they had thought this through. But Jane still needed reassurance from Yusef that they had done so. She needed to know for sure that her friend was prepared for what was to come.
“We have,” Yusef said.
“Mars can forget about the easing of trade regulations and UN oversight. It’s now going to get hit with full economic sanctions,” Jane continued.
“Most likely, yes.”
“Hell for all I know the UN might decide to do a full on blockade of Mars. Nothing in or out of the planet. That would lead to a collapse of the Martian economy!”
“We have considered that possibility.”
“You should be terrified by that possibility.”
“It concerns us, but we Martians are a very self-sufficient people. We concluded that Mars could successfully weather such a situation,” Yusef said, a hint of pride creeping into his voice.
Jane knew she would have a hard time arguing against that point given that the history of the Martian colony could be looked at as a case study in self-sufficiency. Instead, Jane moved on to her next concern.
“What about the Martians that are abroad on Earth and Luna? They’re suddenly going to find themselves as pariahs surrounded by people that will show little sympathy for them. Their lives are about to be turned completely upside down without warning and without having a say in any of this.”
“We have prepared for this. Martians abroad are going to be contacted soon after the announcement has been made. They will be provided with information and links to resources that should help them during the fallout.”
Rolling her eyes, Jane said, “Like that is really going to be a comfort to them. Damnit Yusef!”
Jane turned away from her friend. She stared at the wall across from where they sat and waited for her her body to calm down. While doing so, a horrid thought occurred to her. Turning back to Yusef, she quietly asked, “What if . . . what if the UN decides to go to war over this?”
Yusef’s face became grim, and he did not immediately respond. Mars did not have a military. From the very first years of the colony, the Martian leaders had pushed back uncompromisingly against having a heavily armed military or police force stationed on Mars. There was a small police force on Mars, but they were only armed with a variety of non-lethal weapons. Those weapons were enough for helping keep the peace but nothing that could pose a threat to an actual armed military force.
“Mars would lose a war with Earth. It would only be a matter of how much Mars would lose by the time it ended,” Jane said, cold reality settling into her stomach.
“We know,” Yusef said. He had always been a devote pacifist, and he had always been appalled that war was still occasionally used on Earth as a tool of statecraft.
“Then why risk it?” Jane asked.
“While it might not always seem like it, we Martians do know that the UN is not Earth. The UN is an arbiter that represents the will of Earth, but that will comes from the actual citizens of Earth,” Yusef explained.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Jane said.
“But it does,” he replied, with a shake of his head. “It is only because we Martian leaders understand that the citizens of Earth and the UN are two separate entities that we risk this entire thing. We acknowledge that the people of Earth will not feel much sympathy towards Mars after the way we went about preparing for and declaring our independence. We—”
“No they won’t.”
“We do not however,” Yusef continued more forcefully, “believe that the people of Earth will want the Martian people to suffer to the point of starvation and death due to fallout from economic sanctions or outright war. The people of Earth will not allow the UN to push it that far. We understand that the UN will never give in to Mars. It will eventually give in to its own people however.”
Jane stared at Yusef disbelievingly and said, “You understand the irony of that right? You are saying that for Martian independence to succeed that it needs the assistance of Earthers to do so.”
“Yes. I have held this belief from the very beginning of this endeavour. It took a while to convince some of the others of it, but I eventually guided them to the same conclusion,” Yusef explained.
Looking away from Yusef, Jane leaned back into the bench letting her body sag into the cushions. She soon felt Yusef do the same. Jane let out a deep sigh as she stared up at the ceiling. Her mind continued racing, but no thoughts were coalescing into anything worthy of voicing. Yusef and the other Martian leaders had made their bed, and now they were going to have to lie in it. There was nothing Jane could do about it, and she could only speculate at the extremeness of the UN’s response to Mars’ actions. She feared for the people of Mars. She feared for Yusef. Time would determine if those fears became reality.
Jane glanced back over at Yusef. For the first time she really noticed how old he was starting to become. Other than a few rebellious black strands in his beard the rest of Yusef’s hair had gone snow white. Laugh and frown lines had settled into the corners of his face. Dark bags rested under soft blue eyes. He was a person who had been fighting hard battles on behalf of Mars for a long time. Unfortunately for his aging body, the fight was only going to be started anew instead of coming to an end. Looking down at her own wrinkled hands Jane knew she looked as old as Yusef. She was also beginning to feel that age.
The two sat in companionable silence for a time. It was actually comforting to Jane. Yes, Yusef had been working against the summit since the beginning, and yes, he had betrayed her trust, but he was still Jane’s oldest and dearest friend. Yusef’s familiar presence was still soothing to her.
As Jane continued to stare up at the ceiling, a thought occurred to her.
“Does Maggie know about any of this?” she asked.
“Nope,” Yusef said.
A smile appeared on Jane’s lips. “You are so fucking dead when you get home tonight.”
“Probably,” Yusef said, leaning forward and looking at Jane with a smile of his own. “But I’ve lived a good life. I can die happy knowing that.”
Jane let out a laugh, some of the tension finally beginning to leave her body. The two old friends lapsed back into silence.
At five minutes to ten o’clock the stream on the wall monitor changed from replays of the Martian eSports 2406 Finals to a live news stream of the summit. The stream showed the main room of Founders Hall. The camera was focused on an empty podium at the center of the hall. Most days the summit did not start with people speaking from the podium. The viewers of the stream would know something irregular would be happening today. In a few minutes the Martian people would finally know what their leaders had been doing in secret for so long. As for the people of Earth. . . .
Jane looked down at her smart watch. The display showed three numbers. The top number was the local time on Mars. The bottom number was the UTC time back on Earth. The middle number represented the time in minutes it took for round-trip communication between Earth and Mars. Because the distance between Earth and Mars changes over time, this number existed within a range of approximately four to twenty-four minutes. Currently, that middle number was set to eleven and one-half minutes.
Sighing, Jane asked, “How long into the speech is it before the intentions of Mars is made clear?”
“Not very long,” Yusef answered.
“Then I image that by ten thirty I will be getting the first panicked call from the UN asking what the hell is going on. I expect the follow up question to be something along the lines of ‘how the fuck could I let this happen?’ “
Yusef nodded his head in understanding. He reached beneath the bench and pulled out his leather rucksack. It was the same rucksack he had when the two had first met back in highschool. From the rucksack Yusef took out a bottle of sake and two shot glasses. He silently opened the bottle, a popular local brew called Mizukai. As Yusef poured their drinks, Jane recalled when the two of them had snuck a large bottle of the same brand of sake from Yusef’s mom’s office. Jane briefly smiled at the memory of them having to explain the empty bottle and their hungover selves to Yusef’s parents the next day. Jane silently accepted the shot glass Yusef handed to her.
While staring down at the glass, Jane said, “Intellectually, I understand why you did all this and why you did it the way you did. Emotionally though, I am going to need some time to sort through it.”
“I understand,” Yusef said, emotion filling his voice. “I truly hope that wherever you end up is at a place where you wish for our friendship to continue.”
Jane looked up at Yusef then, and she saw that hope in his eyes. She wished she could feed that hope, and reply in kind to Yusef. But she couldn’t. It was all still so raw. So recent.
Instead, Jane held her glass up in salute and said, “To an independent Mars.”
Holding up his own glass, Yusef said, “To mending a friendship.”
As their shot glasses clinked together, the news stream showed Governor Shohreh Anvar walking up to the podium with a tablet in hand. After she reached the podium, the governor took a moment to glance out over the room full of people. With a deep breath, she began, “My fellow Martians. . .”
– – –