Under Pressure

underpressure2

“That’s it! Go outside and play!”

Sometimes Miranda Bennett despaired of civilizing her twins. The boys had turned her living room into an obstacle course. The thudding sounds of their journey from couch to ceiling fan to the top of the bookshelf and back again were driving her to distraction.

“Do you want us to die?” James asked innocently. “You do realize it’s -50 °C outside.”

“She knows they don’t make pressure suits our size,” Michael added. He eyed his mother speculatively. “Do you think we both could fit in Mom’s suit?”

“Don’t you dare,” Miranda said. “You know exactly what I meant when I said go outside.” She slapped a large ball of dough onto the counter. She pounded it with her fists, imagining it was the face of the Bennett twins’ schoolteacher.

“That’s good, Mom,” Michael said. “Physical activity is supposed to be a great stress reliever.”

“Out.” Miranda pointed at the door with one floury hand. “I’ll ping you when dinner is ready.”

“It really wasn’t our fault you know,” James said. “It’s like Dad said. Mrs. Rathbone is an idiot studying to be a moron.”

“Out.” Miranda’s voice was quiet and dangerous.

The Bennett twins exchanged glances, their brown eyes wide. Without another word, they left, stopping to pee in the compost pile. They hopped onto their bicycles, kicking up a small cloud of red dust as they sped into Mars Town Square.

Miranda watched them go from the large picture window overlooking the front yard. Its many panes were faintly green, cut from the olivine quarry outside the solar-paneled geodesic domes that encompassed the colony. Through it, the terrain looked more brown than red. With the vegetables in her raised bed garden growing tall, Miranda could almost imagine she was back on Earth. Not that she wanted to be. She jabbed at the ball of dough murderously.

When the bread was safely in the oven, Miranda called her husband. His avatar answered.

“Hello, Mrs. Bennett. I’m sorry. Mr. Bennett is in a meeting.” The avatar was in her early fifties with a tight bun of grey hair. She was a bit of a martinet. Three months into activating her, Eamon had changed her accent. He said it was easier to take orders from a Brit. Miranda wondered why he allowed a computer program to boss him around so much, then realized it was probably a good thing. Eamon was so focused on work he would forget the mundanities. Like yearly physicals and getting his hair cut. And eating.

“It’s an emergency, Ida. It can’t wait.” Miranda said.

“Are the boys alright?” Ida asked, raising her digital eyebrows. “For this meeting, your husband specified the categories of emergency that would be required to interrupt him.”

“Rathbone suspended them from school again.”

Ida nodded, her face registering no surprise. “Mr. Bennett will be with you in one moment.”

While Miranda waited for her husband, she pulled up the readings on her bioreactors. Her engineered bacteria thrived on the perchlorate that poisoned the Martian soil, converting it to harmless salts and invaluable oxygen. The bacteria scrubbed a metric ton of soil per day, and she planned to bring several more reactors online within the year. They had a backlog of requests for fertile soil. First priority was the fields, but Miranda wanted the new colonists to get home gardens soon.

“What did they do this time?” Eamon Bennett’s face filled the screen. He was sandy-haired, with sky blue eyes and a square jaw. Eamon was governor of Mars, and the most well-known face on the planet. He was far too young for the position and more adventurer than politician, which made him perfect for the job. None of the Washington good ol’ boys had been willing to leave the home planet on a dicey, likely one-way trip to Mars. None of them would have been elected unanimously.

When Eamon was only a junior engineer at NASA, his dream had been to set foot on Mars. Miranda had even jokingly made their marriage vows include the red planet: Till death or Mars do us part. But when Eamon received a berth on the colony ship, he had asked Miranda to go with him. He assured her that their marriage plus her doctorate in biochemistry would make her a shoo-in. He was right. The Bennetts were two of the first one hundred Mars colonists. From training in Houston to the frontiersmen boot camp on Luna, Eamon emerged as a leader.

By the time the colony ship was in orbit around Mars, Eamon had been elected governor of the colony and Miranda was unintentionally pregnant. Her pressure suit was not made for an enceinte woman, and after five months she couldn’t fit in it. So Miranda had missed the completion of the dome and had directed the assembly of her bioreactors from orbit. Over the next eight years, they had received three more rounds of colonists, each arriving with the materials to build their own dome.

“Sorry I interrupted your meeting,” Miranda said. “Is it about Delta?” The most recent batch of newbies included families with young children and a team of so-called experts determined to refine and advance Martian society. Mrs. Rathbone was one of the latter. Miranda had been inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt as the planet’s first official schoolteacher cum child psychologist. But Rathbone had been nothing but trouble for the Bennett family.

“I’ll tell you about my meeting later,” Eamon said. “What about the boys?”

“They hacked into Rathbone’s account and used a facial recognition program to identify and replace her face with a rat.”

“An entire rat?”

“Just a rat face. They used images from almost every angle and kept Rathbone’s eyes. The integration was pretty seamless.” And hilarious, Miranda thought, though she kept that to herself. Eamon claimed his line was secure, but he was a politician and you never knew these days.

Eamon wasn’t laughing. In fact, his face was more serious than usual when it came to the twins’ antics. “What prompted this?”

“Rathbone’s been forcing them to do triple-digit addition for a week.”

Before Rathbone’s arrival, schooling on the colony had been informal. The twins were the oldest children, the firstborn of Mars. They had taken their first steps in Miranda’s lab and spoken their first full sentences in Eamon’s office during his monthly conference call with NASA. There was a ten minute delay between messages, so the folks at NASA were surprised to hear two bell-like voices declare that they were hungry and in need of diaper changes. The twins were inquisitive and absorbed information like a sponge absorbs water, so Miranda hadn’t really worried about their education. She just let them have access to the digital library and encouraged them to ask questions of any adult who they believed might have the answers.

The only time Miranda had intervened was when she discovered that the twins had learned the full nature of the human reproductive system and were plotting an interpretive performance for the harvest festival, complete with paper mache representations of human anatomy. Those had gone in the composter.

“Rathbone knows the twins are gifted,” Eamon said, rubbing his forehead in frustration. “Why is she doing this?”

“She says there is no harm in reinforcing fundamentals. She also says the boys are emotionally immature and should be kept with children their own age.”

Eamon let loose an expletive. “So she’s forcing them to learn with the insipid eight-year-olds from Delta?”

“Eamon,” Miranda cautioned. “Rathbone is the Federation-appointed teacher and the Delta colonists are your constituents.”

Eamon let out a resigned sigh. “How long is the suspension this time?”

“Three days.”

“I’m sure the twins were devastated.” Eamon cracked a wry smile.

“It’s not just that,” Miranda said, hesitant. “Rathbone says that Mars is not equipped to meet the needs of our children. She has recommended that they return to Earth for proper psychological evaluation and therapy.”

“Well she can take that recommendation and shove it.”

Miranda winced. “It’s not just a recommendation. She has Federation authority and you know it.” Before Eamon could explode, Miranda rushed to reassure him. “The next colony ship won’t be here for at least two years. We can get her to change the recommendation before then. I’ll talk to the boys.”

Eamon closed his eyes for almost a minute, emotions warring across his face. When he opened his eyes, he was calm. “Now I understand.”

“What?”

“My meeting. The Federation just informed me that they sent a shuttle with a governor to replace me. Six months ago.”

Miranda’s jaw dropped. “They can’t do that! You were elected by the people of Mars!”

“We’re only a territory. The colonist vote always had to be approved by the Federation. When I accepted office, I knew they had the power to remove me. I just wasn’t expecting it so soon.”

“You’ve done a fantastic job establishing this colony! People won’t stand for it!”

“The colony is established, and we discovered the mineral deposits that make it worthwhile for Earth to care about us. I had hoped—“ Eamon stopped abruptly. “Well, it’s too late to do anything. The politicians are ready to take over. The shuttle is a month out with my replacement. They’ve worked it perfectly by using our sons against us. If I refuse to step down quietly, I’ll be vilified as a power-hungry demagogue who cares more for my office than the welfare of my children.”

“That’s a lie,” Miranda said angrily. “No who knows you would believe it.”

“Picture Rathbone’s sanctimonious face on the vids.”

Rathbone was a big-boned woman, with a double chin and an aquiline nose. She had a grandmotherly air that had deceived and disarmed Miranda at first. Then the boys had gotten their first suspension and she’d realized Rathbone was a pit viper.

“The woman is clever,” Eamon said. “She set a trap, and our boys walked right into it.”

#

After leaving their mother to cool off, the twins pedaled to the mercantile that anchored Mars Town Square. They left their bikes out front and went inside. Ben was behind the counter, his beard more grizzled than ever. He had a pressure suit in his hands and was disassembling the helmet with a multitool.

“Shouldn’t you two be in school?” Ben asked with a chuckle. He had known the twins since they were born and taught them to repair the small electronics that came through his store. He also had a variety of goods on display, some on consignment and some homemade. Shelves with jars of jam and canned meats, bins of root vegetables. A stew simmered in a slow cooker behind him. Ben and his wife, Martha, would have some for supper and sell the rest. It was how they used up vegetables that were about to turn. Any organics left over went straight into their composter. Ben was a retired engineer, and Martha was a master gardener.

“The Rat kicked us out again,” James said glumly. He scratched red dust out of his close-cropped brown hair.

“Now, James,” Ben said. “Be respectful.” Ben was one of the few colonists who could tell the twins apart on sight. He said it was the mischievous twinkle in Michael’s eyes that gave him away.

“Dad says mutual respect is important,” James said. “The Rat doesn’t respect us. Why should we respect her?”

“She is in a position of authority over you,” Ben said. “The sooner you get her to like you, the better. It’s called diplomacy.”

“We have to spend six hours a day sitting in our seats reading stupid books and doing basic arithmetic.” Michael frowned, crossing his arms. “It’s torture!”

“Sounds like it,” Ben said, hiding a smile.

“Where’s Martha?” James asked. “I mean, Mrs. Eatherton.” The Rat had been appalled at the twins addressing adults by their first names.

“She’s in Delta,” Ben said. “Helping the newbies frame out their raised beds. Your mother thinks we can start delivering soil in a week.”

“What’s wrong with the suit?” Michael asked, poking at the one in Ben’s hands.

“Shoddy workmanship,” Ben said. “The wiring is all wrong. The thing would have died at any temp below -30 °C.”

“Can you show us?” The twins had been angling for months to learn more about pressure suits.

“Not today,” Ben said. “I think you need to apologize to the Ra—“ Ben coughed and corrected himself. “To Mrs. Rathbone. I heard what you boys did. That wasn’t kind.”

“Mom already made us say sorry.”

“Actions speak louder than words.” Ben ladled some stew into a tub and sealed it. He set it on the counter and added a jar of jam and a tin of smoked trout from the fishery in Gamma Dome.

“Put this in your basket and cycle on over to Delta. Give it to Mrs. Rathbone and promise her you’ll do better.”

“We already do everything perfectly,” Michael protested.

“Not the work, Michael,” Ben sighed. “I mean the tough stuff. The sitting still and being quiet stuff. If you guys can get through school for a whole week without getting in trouble, I’ll teach you how to fix pressure suits.”

“Woohoo!” James whooped. He and Michael high-fived each other and did a victory dance. Ben grinned.

Michael grabbed the food from the counter and the boys were off, the door slamming behind them.

#

In less than ten minutes, the twins reached the thoroughfare between Alpha and Delta. The tube was about two hundred meters long and the path was paved. When the first tube had been erected between Alpha and Beta, so much dust was stirred up by the traffic that visibility was less than two meters and travelers had to wear their emergency rebreathers to get through it. The engineers had put their heads together and figured out a way to synthesize the cement they needed to pour the Mars version of concrete.  Now they had paved roads on all main arteries of the colony. Instead of treated nylon tents brought from Earth, colonists built homes from Mars-made brick with olivine-paned windows. It was all part of their Dad’s plan for self-sufficiency. “We can’t expect the ships to keep coming,” he said.  “We have to use what we’ve got.”

To that end, Dad was always sending out rovers to take soil samples. It was how they found the quarry and a few other spots that were classified. Dad got excited when he talked about the classified finds. “I knew it!” he had crowed. “The Federation is going to eat their words!”

The twins reached the airlock of Delta and sealed it. When the light turned green, they entered the dome, carefully closing the door behind them. Safety came first on Mars. The tubes were made of flimsier stuff than the domes. So far they had held fast against the Martian dust storms, but Dad said there was a first time for everything.

The twins stopped in front of the Rat’s tidy brick house. It had been the first one built in Delta, to honor the colony’s inaugural schoolteacher. The Rat had seemed nice back then, Michael thought ruefully.

James carried the food and Michael knocked on the door. The Rat answered with a condescending smile, towering over her pupils. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“We’re sorry,” the boys chorused.

“We were not being kind,” James said, trusting Ben’s words more than his own. He held out the food. “We brought this for you.”

“Isn’t that thoughtful,” the Rat said, taking the containers from him. “I’m going to miss you two.”

“Are you leaving?” Michael asked, his heart leaping with hope. It was possible. The Federation sent shuttles much more often than colony ships. He held his breath.

“No,” the Rat said, amused. “You are. The whole Bennett family, actually. Your mother didn’t tell you?”

James chewed the inside of his lip. “You wouldn’t happen to be lying to us in retaliation for what we did, would you?”

The Rat gave them a look of mock hurt. “I would never retaliate against children, especially troubled, gifted children like you. Earth has highly trained specialists who are skilled in working with wee ones of your bent. The shuttle will be here for you in a month.” She shut the door in their faces.

James and Michael got back on their bikes. “She’s lying,” James said uneasily. “She has to be.”

“I don’t think so,” Michael said. His eyes brightened with unshed tears. “I don’t want to leave Mars. This is our home.”

“We should call Mom on our comms and confirm,” James said.

“Not yet,” Michael said firmly. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “I don’t want her to know that we know.”

“Why?”

“Assume the Rat is telling the truth. We’re off planet in a month. We should go out with a bang.”

“What kind of bang?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Michael said. “Let’s find Martha and talk to her.”

The boys cycled around Delta Dome. Most of the colonists were still in tents, their homes half-built.

“Have you seen Martha? Mrs. Eatherton?” James called to a group of kids playing foursquare. The kids stopped playing, eyeing the twins warily. Given how much the Rat hated them, the non-Marsborn kids steered clear of the Bennett twins.

“She’s in town center,” a girl with jet-black hair finally said.

“Thanks, Ashmi!” Michael called over his shoulder as they pedaled past.

Martha was on her knees, pouring soil into a red concrete pot.

“What’s up, Martha?” James asked, the boys braking to a stop.

“I’m giving the Delta folk something to look forward to,” she said, using her fingers to make an indentation in the soil. Taking a tub from her backpack, she opened it, revealing a seedling inside. Martha carefully slid it from the tub and into the pot, pouring more soil around it. She took a water bottle from her hip belt and poured half of it in. Martha’s long black hair was streaked with white and twisted into a long braid. The twins already came up to her shoulders and had a bet going on how old they would be when they surpassed her in height.

“What is it?” Michael asked, dropping to his knees to examine the plant more closely.

“Flowers,” she said.

“Wouldn’t herbs be more useful?” James asked.

“Of course,” she said. “But this plant is a symbol. I don’t want its leaves stripped to season the newbies’ dinners.”

“Someone could pick the flowers,” Michael pointed out.

“That’s why I’m putting it in front of the Mayor’s office.”

Each dome had its own mayor, even Alpha, where the twins lived. Dad said delegation was important in leadership and most problems people had to work out on their own. He said his only job was to make sure Mars was a good place to live. The twins thought this was a solid approach.

Just thinking of having to leave made Michael tear up again.

“What’s wrong?” Martha asked, suspicious. “Tell me everything.” She held out her arms and the twins pressed against her, dampening her shirt with their tears. In between sobs, they told her what happened with the Rat.

“Well now,” she said. “If the Rat thinks she can make the Bennetts leave Mars, she’s got another thing coming.”

“It’s all our fault,” James said. “If we hadn’t…”

“Stop that talk right there,” Martha said. “Rathbone came here with an agenda, anyone could see that. I wouldn’t be surprised if getting rid of your dad was part of it. Torturing you boys was just a means to an end.”

“Why?” Michael asked. “Dad loves Mars.”

“He’s doing what’s best for the colony, not what’s best for Earth,” she said. “They’ve been clashing over the terraforming plans.”

“What plans?”

“Your mother’s bacteria,” Martha said. “She’s got a few new strains that can withstand the cold outside the domes. Eamon wants to seed the planet with it. With no restrictions on growth, those critters will make the Martian soil outgas its oxygen in a few years. The temps will rise, the water will melt, and the domes won’t be necessary.”

“That’s amazing!” James said. “Why haven’t they spread it everywhere?”

“Politics,” Martha said grimly. “Some bureaucrat got the bright idea that we had to do an environmental impact survey first. The Federation issued an injunction against releasing the bacteria until the survey is complete.”

“But it’s dead out there,” Michael protested. “Mom’s bacteria could bring the whole world to life!”

“Exactly,” Martha said. “The Delta ship arrived with a team of environmental engineers who should come to the same conclusion, but you want to know a secret?” She lowered her voice and the twins ducked their heads against hers. “I don’t think they’ll ever allow us to terraform Mars. As long as we have to live under the domes, we won’t be self-sufficient. We won’t be able to grow our population naturally.”

“Why doesn’t Dad ignore the injunction?” James demanded. “He says when a law is unjust you have a duty to defy it.”

“If he did he’d spend the rest of his life in prison,” Martha said. “He’s got Miranda and you boys to think of.”

“It’s not fair!” Michael declared.

“Life’s not fair,” Martha said frankly. “I’ll talk to Ben when I get home. We can rally the other domes. We won’t let them do this to one of our own.”

“It won’t matter,” James said bitterly. “We’re only a territory. How many times have we heard Dad say our vote doesn’t count?”

#

“What now?” James asked as they reached the airlock out of Delta.

“Shh,” Michael urged. “I’m thinking.” His brow furrowed in concentration, his lips pursed.

“Your ears are steaming,” James teased.

“Got it!” Michael said triumphantly, ignoring the jibe.

“What?”

“You go to Mom’s lab and grab all the vials you can of her special bacteria. Meet me in Beta at the airlock to the quarry.”

“We don’t have a pressure suit,” James began.

“That’s why I’m going back to the Rat’s house.”

Comprehension dawned. The Rat was almost as tall as Dad and probably outweighed him. They’d easily fit inside her pressure suit.

“We’ll go out with a bang for sure,” James said delightedly.

#

“Two steps forward,” Michael ordered.

James complied. Michael was sitting on his shoulders, his feet hooked under James’ arms. Michael’s bent knees kept the stomach of the suit out far enough for James to breathe.

“Now what?” he asked, gripping Michael’s shins.

“Just a minute,” Michael said. James heard him muttering to himself as he fumbled with a vial of Mom’s bacteria. “Shoot,” he said. “I can’t unscrew it.” His hands were dwarfed in the Rat’s gloves.

“Just smash it,” James suggested.

“These glass tubes are from Earth!” Michael exclaimed. “Mom won’t be happy if we break them.”

“Cost of doing business,” James said, echoing a phrase their dad liked to use.

“Fine.”

James felt a tug as Michael hurled the tube to the ground. “Did it work?”

“Yeah. Take another step forward and shuffle your feet a little.”

James tap-danced around the broken vial, mixing the bacteria in with the regolith.

“Turn a hundred degrees to the right and run.”

“Run?”

“As fast as you can without falling over. I’ll tell you when to stop. We’ve got to spread this stuff far and wide and we only have enough oxygen for two hours.”

The boys broke eight more vials. Even though Michael was lighter than James and the boys spent time in the centrifuge to build bone density, James was getting tired.

“There’s only one left,” Michael assured him. “By the way, how did you get these?”

“I asked where they were,” James said.

“And they just gave them to you?”

“Of course not,” James scoffed. “Bina showed me the fridge where they were stored. I waited until she wasn’t looking and stuffed my pockets. How about this suit? It smells like the Rat’s nasty perfume.”

“I saw it outside her house when we dropped off the food,” Michael said. “It was all rolled up and stuffed in her helmet. It fit in my basket perfectly.”

“Let’s finish this up and go home,” James said. “I bet Mom’s pinged us for dinner already.”

“Sure.” Michael smashed the last tube and James kicked at it wildly.

“Which way do I go now?”

“Half a turn to your left, then…” Michael’s voice trailed off.

“What?” James asked.

“Do you feel cold?”

“I’m sweating,” James said. “Who’s doing the heavy lifting, baby brother?”

“One minute’s difference in exiting Mom’s womb does not make me a baby,” Michael said. “Let’s go. Make it quick.”

“Wait a second.” James was suspicious. “Why did you ask if I was cold?”

“Our suit is losing heat. Fast. Shoddy workmanship.”

James took off at a run, Michael correcting his path as needed.

#

“I pinged the boys twenty minutes ago,” Miranda said. “I didn’t expect them to answer, but when they didn’t show up I activated the search function on their comms. I found them buried in the sand in Beta, next to the airlock leading to the quarry.” She told Eamon all she had learned from Ben and Martha. “Even if they believed that a shuttle was coming for us, the boys are too smart for this. Stealing a pressure suit and hiding outside? It would never work. It’s got to be something more.”

“I want every tracker on every pressure suit on this planet activated,” Eamon ordered. He was talking to Ida, not Miranda. “Flag all the ones outside the dome and let’s get some rovers out there.”

“It’s already been done,” Ida said. “I’ve confirmed the identities of all colonists outside the domes. James and Michael are not in any of them.”

“Then where are my boys?” Eamon asked stiffly.

“If they stole a suit from Delta, those ones don’t have trackers.” Ida’s voice was impassive. “Budget cuts.”

“They could be anywhere,” Miranda said, wringing her hands. “We’ve got to find them!”

“I’ll speak to the domes,” Eamon said. “I’ll ask all colonists who are able to suit up and search. I’m going out myself. You stay home in case they come back on their own.”

“I can’t,” Miranda pleaded. “I have to do something!”

“Please,” Eamon said, “I need you at home.” He ended the call.

A second later Miranda’s screen flashed with an important message from the Governor. She started the vid. Eamon was speaking live, telling the colonists that their sons were missing, having likely stolen one or more pressure suits from Delta. After Eamon signed off, Ida replayed the message, keeping it on loop on the emergency channel. Miranda muted it.

There was a knock at her door. It was Ben, out of breath.

“If the boys took a suit from Delta, they are in trouble,” he said. “I’ve fixed three so far that have faulty wiring. If they’ve been out there more than an hour, the heating system will fail.”

Miranda sat down hard on the couch, her hands pressed to her face.

#

“Keep walking!” Michael urged. He could see his breath, misty in the glass of the helmet. He could no longer feel his hands. James was moving at a snail’s pace. “We’re so close! We’re almost there!” It wasn’t true, but Michael felt that as the only one with a view, he had to stay optimistic.

“I’m so tired,” James said, falling to his knees. The boys dropped gently to the ground, nestled in a drift of dust. “Did you call for help?”

“In every direction. More than the heating system is fried in this junk heap.”

“We win,” James said faintly.

“What?” Michael asked.

“We’re never leaving Mars.”

“James? James!” Michael began to cry, his tears freezing on his face.

#

The monument was unveiled a month later in Mars Town Square. Eamon Bennett stood at the makeshift podium and adjusted the microphone. With utter solemnity he began to speak. “We are gathered here today to honor the sacrifice made by James and Michael Bennett. Though only children, they changed Mars forever. If they had not dared to do what was right over what was law, the terraforming of Mars might have stalled for years, if not for our lifetimes. Within this monument lies—“

“Two fingers!” Michael shouted, holding up his left hand.

“And three toes!” James chimed in.

“Quiet,” Miranda ordered the twins over the colonists’ roaring laughter.

“Come on, Eamon!” Ben shouted. “Stop yammering and start the party!”

#

After watching their dad consume two mugs of beer, the twins figured it was a good time to ask the question he had avoided ever since their adventure outside the domes.

“Hey, Dad?” James asked.

“Yes, son?”

“How did you find us?” The boys waited, watching their father consider the question.

“Footprints,” Eamon answered finally. “We were searching blindly until your mother guessed that you boys stole bacteria from the lab. They fluoresce under the right wavelength. After that, we followed your tracks.” Eamon flashed back to the moment. The pressure suit had been half buried in dust, bent at an awkward angle that seemed to indicate two occupants. He had jumped from the rover and gently lifted his sons into his arms. Eamon was not a religious man, but at that moment he had prayed with every fiber of his being.

Once they got to the colony’s small hospital, the boys were carefully removed from the pressure suit. They were alive, barely, their extremities frostbitten. The doctor had been blunt about their chances of losing fingers, toes, and possibly limbs. Once the boys were wrapped in warm blankets, Miranda had broken down, sobbing into Eamon’s arms. Rathbone had chosen that moment to show up, smugness permeating her every word.

“As you can see,” she began, “these children clearly need psychological treatment on Earth.” That was when Miranda decked her. Rathbone, one hand pressed to her face, had declined to press charges. Instead, she declared magnanimously, she would include Miranda’s violent tendencies in a supplemental report to the Federation.

Eamon slowly exhaled, looking down at his sons. “You boys almost died. I hope you realize that. If your mother hadn’t figured it out…” Eamon’s voice grew thick.

“What your father means,” Miranda interjected, “is that if you pull something like that again, we’ll lock you up and throw away the key.”

“We won’t, Mom,” James said. “Scout’s Honor.” Mars was now home to a scouting troop. Ben and Martha were co-leaders. They had decided the boys and girls of Mars needed to learn practical life skills. Like fixing pressure suits.

“What are you going to do with the Rat?” Michael asked.

“Mrs. Rathbone is going back to Earth, along with that two-bit politician who hired her.” Eamon ruffled Michael’s hair.

“Is Mars independent now?” James asked.

“The shuttle will take back our official declaration,” Eamon said, “but yes, that’s what we voted on.” He had modeled the Mars Declaration of Independence after a much older version, his hand shaking as he put his signature to the paper. The four Mayors were solemn as they, too, signed. They all knew they were making history. “We’re also sending back a gift of some very valuable minerals,” Eamon added. “A down payment on the debt we owe to Earth.”

“What debt?” Michael asked. “We don’t take a dime from Earth!”

“Who built the colony ships?” Miranda asked. “Who paid for the fuel to get us here? Who filled the ships with supplies and people?”

“Alright, Mom, I get it,” Michael said. “Geez.”

#

When the twins were tucked into bed and sound asleep, Miranda poured two glasses of honey wine and curled up with Eamon on the couch. “How are our unwelcome guests doing?” she asked. “Causing trouble?”

“Not a peep,” he said. “They’re still confined to the Rat’s house and under guard. Ben finished his modifications to the shuttle. We’ll control the launch.”

“The Federation won’t be happy.”

“I don’t care about their happiness. I care about their pragmatism. It makes no sense to launch an interplanetary war on a waning budget when they can engage in a lucrative trade relationship instead.”

“Are the minerals really worth that much?”

“More than gold and diamonds put together,” Eamon said.

“They might spin it as rebellion, claim we’re holding the minerals hostage to gain independence. If they gain popular support…”

“They can try. I recorded my entire conversation with that blowhard carpetbagger. I provoked him into acknowledging Rathbone’s involvement and got him to admit that the Federation will never make us a state. Ben’s got the shuttle computer rigged to play the footage once every waking hour the whole ride back to Earth.”

“Oh Eamon, now you’re just being mean.”

“How are your little bugs liking it out in the cold?” he asked.

“They love it,” Miranda said. “Readings from orbit indicate that we are a few good dust storms away from seeding the whole planet. It’s already two degrees warmer out there than typical for this time of year.”

“Here’s to global warming,” Eamon said, raising his glass of honey wine.

“To global warming,” Miranda echoed. “And twins.”

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