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L. Neil Smith's
Number 672, May 27, 2012

"Choose to be free"

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Ares: A Synopsis
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: this is the story that will be told at much greater length in the novel I am working on right now, Ares. It is a part of the "Ngu Family Saga" which presently consists of Pallas and Ceres. This novel, named for the Greek equivalent of Mars, fits chronologically between the two other books.

WARNING: there are spoilers in this treatment, so if you want to be surprised when the book comes out, you might want to give this synopsis a miss. I find it interesting and enjoyed writing it, years ago. It is an example of an artform in and of itself, in the words of a former agent of mine, that the public generally doesn't know about.]


Blasting across the terraformed Martian desert at more than 700 miles an hour, Big Mike Malone, longtime long-haul truck-driver and original Martian pioneer, is outside the cab in the shrieking wind of their passage, "showing the ropes" to his new assistant, rookie Jerry Austin.

In 22nd century Solar civilization, Martian container freighters have become something of a symbol of the colonial society that created them, and their drivers interplanetary folk heroes. Their enormous tractor features six huge ramjet engines, two per side, and two more on top. Catalytic fusion turns the machine's gigantic wheels until it reaches about 200 miles per hour, at which point, the ramjets cut in and take it to 700.

Behind the comfortable interior of the tractor are the "quadcars", wheeled frames carrying two relatively conventional containers side by side, with two more on top. Narrow alleyways for inspection and maintenence separate each of the containers. That's where Big Mike and Jerry are at the moment. Six to ten quadcars make up a typical Martian truck-train. On each individually-braked quadcar, enormous adjustable spoilers on the sides and top protect it from the tractor's powerful jet engines and provide streamlining.

Once it's up to speed, the tractor burns a synthetic fuel made by a "Biomass-to-Petroleum" process capable of converting virtually any organic waste to "oil". There is no law to govern it—there are no formal laws of any kind on Mars—but a trucker's failure to burn "B2P" is considered antisocial by many "Martians", because it puts carbon dioxide and, more importantly, water vapor into the air, helping to maintain the Red Planet's more or less recently-acquired artificial atmosphere.

A few others feel differently about it. When they return to the apartment-like control cabin, Big Mike and Jerry learn from a news broadcast that an offshoot of the Mother Planet's latest collection of anti-technological nutcases is making its presence known on their own world. Mars now has a "Mass Movement" of its own. Back on Earth, the group's professed concern is about the effect of importing so much material from the Solar System, mostly the asteroids, to Earth that its crust may begin to shift, causing titanic super earthquakes that will wipe out all life. On Mars, the expressed fear is much the same, although huge trucks like Big Mike's are being blamed for Marsquakes and tornados, as well.

Big Mike and Jerry are worried because a militant wing of the Mass Movement, calling itself "Null Delta Em" (for "No Change in Mass"), is holding a rally—"for which read riot", Big Mike predicts—at their next stop, Virginia Dale. He checks his pistol; he has a truck and cargo to protect.

On this leg of the trip, the terrain is flat and the rudimentary "road" is straight. To take their minds off their troubles, Big Mike turns the broadcast off and puts the 10-trailer freighter back on autopilot. He begins explaining to the younger man what living on the Mars was like before it was given an atmosphere, when simple survival was an everyday struggle, and the political and military leaders of every nation on Earth wanted the handful of adventurers who lived on Mars to die.


In the late 21st century, power-hungry and ambitious politicians—in what has become known as "East America"—feel stung by the way they've been outdone in space exploration by private, international, non-governmental entities. Organizations like the infamous Curringer Corporation have successfully terraformed and settled the asteroid Pallas, and are now performing similar feats elsewhere in the Solar System.

The East Americans, led by the most power-hungry and ambitious among them, dynamic mercantilist Richfield Chen, employ the United Nations as a screen to send a series of ill-founded manned expeditions to Mars, supposedly following Robert Zubrin's 20th century "Mars Direct" plan.

Chen is an industrialist, and holds no political office himself. But his actual motive in sending missions to Mars is to deflect the attention of the media and public away from the government's—for all practical purposes, his government's—continuing and massive domestic and foreign policy failures. Engaged in one trumped-up and ridiculous war after another overseas—against poor and backward Third World nations unable to defend themselves—they are losing ground at home, where no state west of the Mississippi recognizes their authority or bothers to send elected representatives to Washington any more.

At first, in order to fend off the now-wealthy settlers on Pallas, as well as other potential competition for Red Planet real estate (Mars has the same surface area as all of the dry land on Earth put together), Chen and his cronies assert—citing treaties signed by their predecessors more than a century before—that ownership of Mars is "the common heritage of all mankind" and that the planet must therefore fall under UN (meaning East American) protection and control.

Later, when Chen arranges for another change of political regimes in Washington—as he has previously done on more than one occasion—his loyal underlings in Congress, led by his son-in-law, Senator Maxwell Promise, "discover" legal pretexts under which they can lay claim to Mars exclusively, as the property of the East American government.

Promise occupies a "safe" seat in the Senate—one that would otherwise belong to a West American, but has instead been assigned, "by default" to an individual who can be trusted to advance the government's interests. Promise detests the very concept of space exploration and settlement because it threatens to deprive his class of subjects it can control and whose labors it can tax at the present rate of 75%. Basically, he sees astronauts and colonists as runaway slaves.

One by one, each of the East American/UN interplanetary missions—six in all—fails disastrously usually owing to irrational changes made in Zubrin's plan for purely ideological reasons. The last of these dismaying failures occurs during the administration of Horton Willoughby, a politician who claims to be the first really black president of the United States—although the United States no longer exists as such, and seven eighths of Willoughby's immediate ancestors were white.

A substantial number of expeditionaries from the seventh mission are stranded on the Red Planet at the moment and are expected to die slowly and hopelessly for lack of food, water, and air. Willoughby and his government don't seem to care very much. They've long since noticed that their "best and brightest"—meaning the worst of the chronic troublemakers—detest conditions in East America so much that they're willing to stand in line and risk their lives to be sent to an airless desert planet that's hundreds of times worse than Siberia. If some—or all—of these "heroes" die in a futile attempt to adapt to the inhuman environment of Mars, so much the better.


Finally, disgusted with the East American government and its vile puppet, the UN, and tired of watching lethal failures happen over and over again on interplanetary network TV (the broadcasts aren't seen in East America), a small collection of "young punks" from the asteroid Pallas, the first of the Settled Worlds, decides to do something about it.

Pallatians and their little ships are accustomed to landing on worlds with one tenth of a standard gravity or less. Pallas has one twentieth. Mars has one third, nearly seven times greater than they're used to. Led by Billy and Brody Ngu, sons of billionaire industrialist and inventor Emerson Ngu, and supported by Pallatian spacelines founder Fritz Marshall, they outrage the East American government and the UN by cobbling together a spaceship capable of landing in the gravity of Mars—once—bringing badly-needed aid to the survivors of Earth's most recent tragedy. Given the limitations of their ship, it's pretty much a one-way trip to the surface of Mars, and they know it.

Their landing is rough. The first individual they encounter on the Martian surface is "the Old Survivor", a crazed, mysterious desert rat left over, apparently, from one of the earlier expeditions. Nobody is quite sure which one, including the Old Survivor, himself. He mutters continuously to himself and sometimes insists that people call him "John Carter, Jeddak of Jeddaks". At all times, he carries a crude, handmade sword and apparently wears nothing but a loincloth underneath his battered environmental suit. The suit itself appears to be patched together from various remnants of suits from all of the six previous missions.

The Old Survivor offers to take the Pallatians to the makeshift East American Seventh Expedition settlement. It develops that he appears there at irregular intervals, offering the suffering colonists food and little bits of salvaged technology. Then he vanishes for days, weeks, or months at a time. The colonists assume he's a cave dweller, although no one has successfully trailed him back to his lair.

Aided by the Old Survivor and by disillusioned would-be colonists like Chechen individualist Mohammed Khalidov and his wife Beliita, the Pallatian rescuers do what they came to do: distribute spores of what environmentalists on Earth soon come to denounce as an "unauthorized and environmentally damaging organism" across the planet's surface. In fact, it is an organism potentially capable of terraforming Mars in mere decades, virtually by itself. The furious critics are led by Timothy Strahan, the powerful chairman of the "All Worlds Are Earth" Society.

The Ngu brothers also bring with them the seeds, spores, ova, and sperm of many other useful organisms for use in saving the Martian settlers.

The outlaw organism was developed by Billy and Brody's scientist sisters Mirella and Teal. (Mirella has stayed at home on Pallas, but Teal has come to Mars with her brothers.) It's variously known by its young creators, and others who learn of it, as "macaroni plant", "oxymold" "happygrass", "tubeweed", "kudzuroni", and "Shmoogunk". It is a recombinantly engineered, genetically-tailored fungoid, highly photosynthetic, and roughly the size, shape, and color of ordinary macaroni.

The basic genetic material was first discovered on Ceres, largest of the asteroids, where an almost microscopic organism was discovered during a pre-terraformation survey, thriving at Absolute Zero in hard vacuum. The tough-skinned, cheesy yellow, y-branching plant generates oxygen—originally, the two scientists believe, to protect itself from anaerobic bacteria that can also live in space—storing the precious, life-giving gas within its hollow tubules, which burst open at random intervals, releasing the gas and spreading the oganism's spores.

The hardy plant also grows from rhizomes, like strawberries, and from cuttings. Immune to the Martian cold and lack of atmosphere (if the plant could speak, someone observes, it would declare Mars to be positively tropical) it proliferates thickly wherever there is the slightest amount of water and enough light to support it. Through a fine, complex system of root-like threads that penetrate the soil and burrow down into the permafrost, it also brings water to the surface. It can be cooked and eaten in an emergency, rendered down to make lubricants and fuel, or fermented and distilled to make a powerful whiskey.

Before very many months have passed, the stuff covers both Martian poles, and is steadily gaining other territory, as well, like the caldera of Olympus Mons and the sunnier valleys of Valles Marineris. Soon traces of oxygen—along with nitrogen and other byproducts of the plant's natural growth and decay cycle—begin to be noticeable with instruments, if not yet breathable, everywhere in the thin, cold atmosphere.

In the thickest patches, in broad equatorial daylight, a time comes surprisingly soon when an individual can walk without helmet or mask, his feet releasing oxygen from the tubules as they crush a path through the macaroni plant. Should he return and try the same thing at night, however, when there's no sun and the photosynthesis isn't working, he would surely die. Before long, in startling contrast to the planet's ancient red sandy deserts, huge yellow patches of the yellow macaroni plant soon become easily visible by telescope from Earth.

Strahan and other environmental socialists back on the mother planet are furious and publicly refer to the plant (and its creators) as a "cancer", spreading like wildfire across the soon-to-be-formerly Red Planet, "despoiling the pristine natural surface" of an entire world. Portwell Rocker, ruthless commandant of "Gaia's Guardians", a radical group associated with (and perfuntorily denounced by) All Worlds Are Earth swears to come to Mars personally to deal with the "disease".

Interviewed on network TV (these broadcasts, too, are censored in East America), the transplanted Pallatians and their new friends (who seize the opportunity to publicly call themselves Martians for the first time) reply that the "pristine natural surface of Mars" mostly resembled a horrible case of acne, which they're presently in the act of curing.

They adopt a revolutionary slogan, "Mac the Planet!" and declare independence.


President Willoughby, Senator Promise, and the rest of the East American government, still anxious to avoid the political consequences of their failed domestic policies, are looking for scapegoats outside their borders. The President's wife, Helen MacClellen Willoughby, has the perfect victims in mind. Known as the "Fist Lady", she bleaches her hair and has her skin lightened so people will understand how liberal she is, to be married to a black man. She privately urges her husband to have his skin darkened and his hair kinked to enhance the contrast.

Once again using the UN as a front, the Willoughby Administration angrily threatens to invade Mars, to arrest the colonists it now calls rebels, and haul them "back" to Earth, to be publicly tried for the crime of "ecotage"—environmental sabotage. The nasty artificial organism transforming the planet will be destroyed, not because it's a bad thing, or because it's doing a bad thing, but because it was unauthorized, which, in the administration's view, is the ultimate bad thing.

More concerned with satisfying a bloodthirsty public sentiment that they manufactured themselves, than with actually accomplishing anything real, the administration sends a punitive expedition to Mars, consisting of a single, hastily converted "warship", a former heavy lifter space-tug rechristened the USS Retaliator, and several different kinds of special forces, including something resembling the United States Marines.

Among them is a young female lieutenant from Newark, New Jersey, Julie Segovia, who enlisted in the Marines in the first place to avoid discovery, arrest, and prosecution for the murder of her sister Millacente's pimp, a "retired" member of the Russian "Mafiya" who beat the older woman half to death for failing to supply certain services to his clientele. Julie excels in boot camp, earning the respect and affection of her elderly Drill Instructor, who gives her a family heirloom—a 16-inch "D-guard Bowie" from the War between the States—and recommends her for officer training which is interrupted when the punitive expedition is put together.

The expeditionary force is commanded by the ruthless and controversial Colonel Atherton Nye and his henchman Major Grenville Swope. Nye—known as the "Butcher of Burlington"—is most famous for having led a brutal but successful military expedition to keep Vermont and New Hampshire from seceding from East America, following the example of West America. To people like the Willoughbys, he's a hero in the Civil War mold of Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Swope, on the other hand, is better off having left Earth. There's a price on his head—a billion dollars in gold—offered by the people of Muslim nations where he directed the murder of millions, and buried any leader who dared to oppose him wrapped in the carcass of a pig. Strahan's man Rocker, another experienced cold-blooded killer (although he personally prefers time-bombs), is sent along to Mars, as well.

However against colonists who know the territory, and Pallatians who grew up with weapons in their hands, Nye's forces don't fare very well. Most of them never get more than a few miles from their landing site where they can't move forward or retreat and are forced to dig in.

Reduced to what amounts to garrison duty, morale and discipline begin to rot. Fights have to be broken up, pilferage has to be punished, and things grow worse by the day. One seemingly bright spot is that Billy Ngu, one of the ringleaders if the rebellion is captured and, after a thorough beating by angry and frustrated troops—Julie interrupts, brandishing a pistol and her enormous knife—brought before Nye and Swope.

Peculiar circumstances lead to the young lieutenant fighting a knife-duel with Billy. He loses humorously and she begins to suspect the let himself be captured to get a look inside the military encampment.

Nye and Swope have their own problems. Refused a ride home by their government (Retaliator has already left orbit), half of Nye's command immediately deserts, taking weapons and other survival necessities with them. Rocker attempts to rape Julie at a moment when she isn't armed. But raised on the mean streets of Newark, she makes him regret it. Word, however, gets to Billy, by now thoroughly smitten with Julie. Supplied with a fancy brace of special Thompson-Center Contender pistols by the Old Survivor (everyone wonders where the old man got them), Billy kills Rocker in a duel.

Julie immediately defects to the colonists' side. The remainder of the humiliated punitive expedition is allowed to retreat with their leaders to the middle of the macaroni plains where some begin a small, reluctant colony of their own, constructing black plastic domes that, among the Martians, instantly inspire the name "Derbyville".

In the end, Nye's people grudgingly trade with their neighbors for supplies, but otherwise keep to themselves. Teal Ngu is found in the desert, raped and murdered. Occasional violent raids on the first few outlying homesteads, and the disappearance of females—both of which they blame on renegade East Americans—help keep the soldiers isolated.

Julie, Billy, and his brother Brody track the culprits down and give them swifter justice than they deserve. Death by hanging at one-third gee takes a long, painful time.


Once existence is relatively secure on Mars, some individuals have a hard time deciding what to do with the rest of their lives that they couldn't have been doing better and perhaps more profitably somewhere else.

The first human beings to arrive on Mars came as participants in a series of dangerous and massively expensive East American political stunts. The second "wave" came only to rescue the first. The third— the colonel's people—came only to conquer the others. Having failed, they now live in isolation, and have rendered themselves irrelevant.

The Red Planet has little to offer settlers that isn't available in vastly greater abundance, and with far less effort, elsewhere, mostly among the asteroids. There are, of course, individuals who make a living supplying daily necessities. Farming can be done under the colony's transparent plastic domes. The soil is rich in the planet's many volcanic regions, and the light is better than in the Asteroid Belt.

Importing spores, seeds, and cuttings from Pallas—via vessels that lower them on cables from synchronous orbit—becomes relatively cheap, although all the Martians can pay with, at present, is the equivalent of souvenirs and postcards.

The now-ubiquitous macaroni plant is processed to produce food, fuel, lubricants, and plastics. Water can be extracted from it, as well. At the same time, extracting water directly from the permafrost, employing catalytic fusion, or even solar power, becomes a career in itself.

Some people—like the Khalidovs—begin to have big pioneer families. They don't care what they do for a living as long as they remain free of the war and oppression that drove them away from Earth to begin with.

As the Martians begin to settle into their new lives, there is talk of holding a planetwide convention and forming a government. Perhaps as a consequence, many Martians start receiving periodic door-to-door visits from an individual who wants to be known as "King Tom".

Originally from Earth by way of Pallas, King Tom makes a simple proposition to every individual he visits: "Hire me to be the Monarch of Mars. No, I won't start a government. In fact, my noblesse oblige will be not to rule. It will be my job to act as a political zero, a placeholder. My presence will fill any potential power vacuum that might develop, preventing formation of a traditional government, and preserving your freedom.

"Instead, I'll found a corporation to provide whatever physical security you can't provide for yourselves, under rules that you specifically agree to and anyone can opt out of at any time. I'll help create a commercial court system to adjudicate disputes, under which traditionally "criminal" offenses will be treated in the same way as civil matters. And should the planet need protection from some outside threat, I'll organize its defense. My contract with you will terminate when I die and if you don't like how I did my job, then don't rehire my successor."

Not everyone is quick to sign on, of course. Julie, the Ngus, and the Khalidovs, having had many bad experiences with authority, are suspicious. But enough do hire Tom that his "royal" corporation is a going concern within a short time, and nobody on Mars ever talks about making a government again.


Time passes. Political boss Richfield Chen passes on, and even Horton Willoughby and his wife fade from the scene. Finally, as his government nears an irrevocable state of collapse, East American President-for-Life Maxwell Promise becomes obsessed with the Martians whom he believes do what they do only to publicly defy and humiliate him. They have ruined his life and his career and he will have his revenge.

Promise secretly assigns to the only warship he can muster—the old USS Retaliator, the same vessel that took Nye's command to Mars so long ago—the task of carrying out an orbital saturation bombing to rid the planet of its unnatural "blight"—and also of its pesky colonists (as well as the remains of Nye's embarrassingly futile command).

Lovely Melanie Wu, still often surprised to find herself the president's mistress, began as a campaign worker and went from there to intern to paid White House staffer. The president's wife, a former broadcast news anchor whom he married for purely political purposes—and with whom he hasn't slept in years—knows all about Melanie and secretly approves. She has other romantic interests, herself, all of them female.

Melanie's college roommate for four years, closest friend, and confidante, is Francine Carmody, youngest sister of Hale Carmody, a major who started as a second lieutenant with Nye's abandoned detachment on Mars. Although he's stuck there, Francine occasionally hears from her brother, who has switched sides and settled down with a colonial girl.

Melanie overhears President Promise discussing the deliberate destruction of every living thing on Mars with an aging Timothy Strahan. Shocked and horrified to hear Rocker fondly missed at the meeting, she agonizes over telling Francine about it so she can warn her brother.

Pursued by the president's hit men, Melanie's father, Harmon Wu, manages to get both women out of the city and across a border that the government doesn't like to acknowledge, into West America, where they send a message to Mars.

Not surprisingly, the news from Earth causes a sudden revolution in Derbyville. Carmody calls Swope out in a duel and kills him. The former colonel Nye, now a self-declared but senile dictator, is killed by his own nurse. The soldiers declare themselves solidly on the side of the colonists.

When the East American warship finally arrives—with Maxwell Promise on board in person to claim its victory as his own—the colonists first neutralize its bombs and missiles, then blow it out of the Martian sky, in both cases employing hastily assembled "Backyard Strategic Defense" technology that fills the space ahead of the orbiting ship with tiny metallic fragments going thousands of miles per hour slower than the vehicle as it slams into them, ripping itself to pieces.

Promise narrowly survives in an escape capsule, only to be returned by a commercial carrier to Earth where is assassinated a year later.

Billy and Julie are married.


As their truck nears its destination, Malone and Austin try to raise the terminal by radio, but the terminal doesn't answer. Malone begins preparing for the worst.

He reminds his young apprentice that the members of Null Delta Em, no matter how contemptible, have an absolute right to free speech, an ancient West American value many of the first Martians fought and died to protect. On no account must Austin use deadly force or the threat of force to prevent the environmentalists from expressing their point of view.

However, unlike anywhere on Earth (even West America), on Mars (and in the Asteroid Belt, as well), property is afforded the same protection as life, because somebody gave up portions of his or her life to discover, create, or acquire it. Should the Null Delta Emmers attempt to destroy anything that people on Mars worked so hard and suffered so much to build, they can—and should—be shot down like dogs.

They arrive to find an almost comical scene. The Mass Movement demonstrators are surrounded by a circle of inward-pointing tractors. Drivers standing up in the doors are pointing weapons at them.

On the ground, around the remains of one of several fuel pumps, the demonstrators have abandoned dozens of clear plastic shields, large clubs, gas masks, and riot helmets. No police are present; there are no police on Mars.

Instead, Queen Erica, successor to King Tom, is there among them, explaining that things are different on Mars than they are on Earth. They have damaged private property, a B2P pump, and will have to pay for it right away, since otherwise, they can be shot and none of the planet's magistrates (non-governmental commercial arbitrators) will disapprove.

The demonstrators have a hard time believing what they could have learned from tourist brochures, that every Martian from about the age of six is armed, that there are no riot police or non-lethal munitions on Mars that their shields, masks, and helmets might have protected them from, and that if they're killed destroying property, the person or persons who killed them will not be prosecuted, but very probably rewarded.

The would-be rioters hastily search their pockets for money and credit cards.

Having declined to fight a duel with the owner of Virginia Dale (and the B2P pump), the self-declared leader of the protestors is being kept busy washing dishes in the station restaurant to work his debt off, after which he will spend the night "slopping the hogs"—carefully separating garbage and feeding it into the station's B2P converters.

It is the last environmentalist demonstration in Martian history.

L. Neil Smith is the Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, as well as the author of 33 freedom-oriented books, the most recent of which is DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis:
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