Life on Mars had a stifling feeling that was, in a sense, paradoxical. When the pioneering astronaut Francis Carter first set foot on the planet in 1959, he soon discovered that it was a hollow world. Beneath the dead and wind-driven sand of the surface, its previous inhabitants had burrowed, tunneled, and built a civilization that had lasted millions of years. Carter had described it, Lamont remembered from an interview he had read, as an “Eerie providence—” that mankind, desperately probing outward from his devastated home, should find his sister planet artificially primed for colonization. In its three-dimensional vastness, the technological anthill of chambers and corridors constituted an area greater than the surface of earth. For all that, it was impossible for the average colonist to roam freely. Life was restricted to the areas that had been made fit for human habitation and connected by transportation corridors. There were industrial zones, business districts, hydroponic farms, even suburbs.
Cerberus District 7, which Lamont had called home for some months now was none of those. Originally planned as a micro-city for corporate men and their families, it had formed an alternative economy in the 1980s when the Company had turned its attention elsewhere. It was now a place for people who had fallen through the cracks. People like Chester K. Grimwald, whom Lamont had visited earlier that day. Formerly an employee of United Space like most of Mars’ Western colonists, Chester’s life had crumbled some years ago because of his gambling addiction. He now occupied a makeshift apartment in what had once been an upper story of a department store, from which he spent his days alternately avoiding debts and acquiring new ones. Lamont had befriended him shortly after arriving in town—not as a newspaperman for the Atlantic Free Press, since that would have gotten him nowhere, but as a fellow down-and-outer with a good ear and a supply of real Earth tobacco. Chester of course may have suspected that Lamont was a United Space sleuth or even a foreign agent, but was apparently beyond caring about such things.
For Lamont, it was mainly a way to pass the time in the absence of a more direct lead, and to possibly glean some small detail about the Company’s past on Mars that could be useful to his investigation. The visit carried the additional advantage of not requiring him to use public transportation, by which he might always be tracked. To avoid this, he never got off a bus or shuttle within a mile radius of his apartment, and consequently did a great deal of walking. Lamont didn’t mind. He had always liked to walk.
Next: Mars Gothic