It was sudden: if you looked through a telescope the night before and looked again the next night, you would have missed it. The Red Planet was now the Green Planet, and Venus turned even greener with envy. Blue Earth stood between the two, attempting to keep the peace.
There had been talk of terraforming Mars since the first humans landed on it. Early life-support domes incorporated miniature atmospheres and microorganisms, blowing bubbles of green on Mars’s lava-hued lands.
Then the word came: we could green it! And now! Some of the Mars pioneers opposed it: their bubbles were safe and solid. Why risk everything on untested technology? Of course, everyone Earthside argued that there was no better place to test it than the next-door planet. Though their voices were further away, they yelled loudest, and eventually the compromise came down from earth: They send rockets to the far side of Mars, away from the settlements, and that would give them time to study the effects of the launch before the pioneers would see the change.
It turned out the company was wrong. Their claims were much too modest: once the proprietary mix—rumored to be some combination of algae, spores, bacteria, primordial ooze, and just a pinch of radioactive ferns—spewed from the smashed rocket fuselage, there was no stopping it. The wiping of the planet from red to green was just the turn of a very large page. Within hours, one might have believed it had always been this way.
It took years to make that green into something useful, though. The pioneers who’d survived the wave of reconstruction watched with anger as a new planet seeded itself around them. Ferns gave way to bushes, and bushes to trees. Eventually insect life buzzed around as though it had always been there. The pioneers shouted back at Earth that they’d left mosquitos behind for a reason. However, they didn’t complain about the thickening of Mars’s atmosphere, which brought with it a regulation of temperature and gases that allowed them to leave their domes for the first time. You took the good with the bad.
Eventually some of the braver settlers thought that surveying the new Mars might become an industry unto itself. Or else they simply tired of farming.
One day, a settler named Lily saw her namesake flowers in bloom for the first time since leaving Earth. The call was too much to ignore.
“I want to see this new world. That’s why we came here, right?”
Her husband, Daniel, worried. “You have to let things settle, my dear. We’re not explorers anymore—we’re settlers, now. Things have to calm down out there a bit before we chance an adventure. Let the flowers grow and die and return in a year and we will see what’s out there.”
Lily nodded and went to bed. But after Daniel was asleep, Lily rose to her feet, gathered the essentials, and walked out of their bubble.
It wasn’t the first time she’d left it, but this time she had no immediate plans to return. It was beautiful: so like earth. At least, like what she had learned of earth. She’d been born on Mars, and had wondered what she was missing all this time. It was a beautiful world.
Out of provisions, Lily returned home three days later. Daniel wouldn’t speak to her for another two days. But Lily didn’t mind: it was the quietest their little bubble had been in a long time. That was the most beautiful thing about New Mars: the noises were limited to insects buzzing and leaves scraping. There was a breeze now, under the fresh atmosphere. You could breathe and walk and listen without any technology more advanced than a picnic basket. The effect was intoxicating. She wanted to go again, even further. This was real pioneering.
“No. I don’t want you to leave the bubbles. We have no idea what’s living and growing out there. Let the surveyors do their jobs first. That’s the risk they have to take.”
“I want to risk it, too,” Lily answered.
Daniel’s tone softened. “I know. But you can’t leave me here alone. There’s nothing out there that’s worth losing you over.”
So Lily waited. She didn’t want to, but she hated seeing Daniel like that.
A month later, the surveyors made a discovery. Made her discovery, Lily decided. The terraforming had been largely successful, but the explorers had found something strange, and the company was shuffling its feet a bit. “Well,” the executives said, “the greening has been mostly completed.” The rest was sure to follow.
But a month after that, the single red spot on Mars remained, and the border of green surrounding it had made no motion to cover it. That single red spot, a few kilometers in diameter, surrounded the Eirene Plateau. No one but the cartographers had paid any attention to this plateau before; it sat about a hundred kilometers from the major earth settlements, and had no feature to attract humans to its steep incline. Now it was the only thing on Mars that remained a mystery.
After the surveyors were through, a geologist took his turn. “Adamantine,” he said. “This is something new, some unknown mineral makes a ring around these rocks. It’s blocking the terraform’s completion.” People scoffed at the thought of a new element: but the Martians were proud to finally possess something that brought out the jealousy and curiosity of their Earthling cousins.
Several farmers tried to seed the new land: with grasses, trees, and fungus spores. Nothing grew beyond the line of new rock. Even the insects wouldn’t cross over it. The sun shone red amidst newly-green Mars.
This was enough for some of the farmers. They had an entire planet at their fingertips now. They happily left the problem to someone else and began to till and plow new fields. The military let it be: they would have their hands full watching the animal and plant life that developed out of a void. They couldn’t chase imagined threats when there were real ones at hand. The corporation were happy with a ninety-nine percent completion of the job. (They had been shooting for ten percent.)
The religious among the settlers thought the red patch was best left alone. Either it was a holy place or a stairway to hell, and either way it was not to be encountered. The Popes and Patriarchs of earth called for any ordained among the pioneers to bless the rocks, but none of the local clergy were particularly interested. It was easier to confess your sins from 1000 miles away than to bravely approach the abyss.
Tourists weren’t encouraged to follow the path out of the settlement toward what was now being dubbed Blood Plateau. Not that there were many tourists coming from earth anyway. After the initial novelty had worn off, shuttle voyages had grown fewer. That’s how the pioneers liked it.
Daniel said as much to Lily one day. “Aren’t you glad about the plateau? It will keep all those rich bastards from Earth away.”
“I’m happy it appeared, yes.” She answered. “Why don’t you want anyone to visit?” She already knew the answer.
“People are disgusting. At least here you can keep them out of your bubble. Well, most of them, anyway.”
Lily looked up from her desk. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m just joking.” Daniel smiled at her.
She forced a smile back, but said nothing.
“Besides, if Earth stays crowded, we’ll make our fortune selling organics back to them. Keep the home planet crowded and leave us a Green Mars, and we’ll soon be the rich bastards.”
Lily nodded and continued to read.
The next time Lily left, she was actually ready. Her vehicle was loaded with food stores and camping gear. There was nothing to hold her back. Daniel was of little consequence, and she had no interest in their land or his possessions. The plateau called her.
Newborn terrain fought against her, but she pressed on through marshlands and jungles that had sprung up nearly overnight. The atmosphere had been turned up temporarily to collect heat and moisture on the surface, and Lily was glad she’d brought a water filtering system. It would have been impossible to bring enough of her own stores to survive this trek.
After three days of hard driving, sometimes walking alongside her vehicle as it inched through the thickets of Green Mars, Lily found the perimeter. For a moment she stood an inch from the red rock and looked right and left, tracing the perfect ribbon of green grass and undergrowth that drew a straight, infinite line.
As far as she knew, no one had climbed the rock yet. Plans had been laid, but the Earth-born geologists and surveyors were too old to undertake the climb. The provisional government of Mars had ordered a halt to exploration until an adequate team from Earth could arrive.
It wouldn’t have made any difference, though: no one was interested in climbing the Blood Plateau—except for Lily. She’d climbed rocks virtually plenty of times. Virtual climbing had the benefit of offering you muscles without the threat of death. Her hands knew where to grip, her feet where to step. She wouldn’t need equipment beyond her lines, harnesses, and shoes. At least she hoped not.
It was too dark to begin now, so Lily, set up camp on the green side of the line. Before sundown she walked to the edge once more, and inched one foot forward, planting it down on Red Mars. She held that frozen step for a minute, before returning to her tent. The rains were picking up, and they would use their force to make up for lost time on this dry planet. Tomorrow she would move the other foot across, and see how far it would take her.