Chapter 8: Happy New Year!

Tom started sizing up his wife with his eyes. He stated, "You look amazing in that dress, Daria." He walked over put his arms around her and kissed her neck.

She retorted in typical deadpan, "I'll bet you say that to all the old women around here wearing the same dress."

"None of them look as good in it as you do. You are hot tonight!"

Sighing, Daria turned to Tom, kissed him, and said, "I'm 62 years old. I've had kids, menopause, and my hair is streaked with gray. I am hardly hot. But at least I have learned to take a compliment wherever I can get one!"

Tom stepped back and said, "Seriously, Daria. You always have been a beautiful woman and I would put you up against any woman on this planet."

"All 50 of us," Daria deadpanned. "And the youngest one is a kid of only 55."

"Yes. I don't know how you have managed to keep your figure, but it is the same one that turned me on in high school."

Reaching up and patting Tom's cheek Daria responded, "I'm so glad you don't see well. You realize that certain things just plain sag – even in Martian gravity. Not to mention wrinkles and fat deposits in certain places I have no control over. It doesn't matter how much exercise I get or what my diet is like. It simply is."

"I think you are great and there is no one I would rather be with at this party. The men will all be envious."

Daria took a couple steps up to Tom and grabbed the lapel of his tuxedo. Pulling him close to her she whispered, "Well, since you are being so nice, maybe after this party we can see what this old body still has left in it. You look pretty darn good yourself and I am happy to be with you. When we get back I think I can still muster some pleasure for both of us. We can start the new year off right!"

Tom pulled her closer and they kissed. He felt the length of Daria's body and all of her curves along his. If it wasn't for the need to get to the party he would be reaching for the zipper on her dress. But, they needed to get up to the now decorated cafeteria. Their lips parted, Daria touched up her lipstick and wiped the lipstick off of Tom's face. Then they left their quarters hand in hand.

Tom and Daria walked into the cafeteria. They were really surprised at what they saw. Neither of them had been on either the planning or decorating committees. The chairs were wrapped. There were table cloths on all of the tables. Place cards graced each place at the tables. There were streamers hanging from the ceiling and the light level was definitely "mood" lighting. Recorded jazz was playing in the background.

Looking around the room, Daria saw that almost all of the men were wearing black tuxedos with white shirts and Martian red bow ties. The only exceptions were the few military people, who were wearing the dress uniforms of their services – primarily U.S. Army dress blues. The women were mostly wearing one of three designs of formal gowns. It was a mix of Martian red, blue, and yellow gowns. The blue was the blue of the Martian sunset and yellow was for the sun. The two military women wore their dress Army uniforms.

Tom and Daria found their seats and started chatting with the other two couples as at the table they arrived. Soon the room was filled and Commander Mia Ramirez stepped up onto the small stage with a microphone, which was set up at the far end of the room.

"Fellow Martians," Commander Ramirez began. "By the Grace of God and human technology humanity arrived for permanent settlement on this planet 3 Martian years ago today. That is almost 6 Earth years. We are fortunate and thankful that all of the first colonists are with us this evening. Please stand so that we can recognize you."

A group of 12 people stood up. The 6 couples were scattered around the room. There was thunderous applause.

The commander continued, "When we welcome the newest members of our community in just a few weeks we will have increased our number 10 fold over those first colonists. In the short time we have been here we have gone from living in prefab habitat modules to our permanent home, which we built with our own hands. I put forward this is the equivalent of going from living in tents to living in a palace."

Once again there was thunderous applause. Daria had to admit that where they lived now was so much better than the original modules they now used as workshops. Those were buried under a meter and a half (59 inches) of Martian regolith to block the ever present radiation, In comparison to the new habitat – the 12 story tall titanium pressure cylinder located in an old lava tube – the original habitats were cramped and uncomfortable. Now it was much more like living in an all-suite hotel. In fact, their quarters were somewhat larger than her first efficiency apartment in New York. Sure the building materials had to be sent from Earth, but they would last centuries on Mars.

"It is not just the living quarters where we have had great progress. We can now feed ourselves through our own agriculture. We can print almost anything from rover parts to these clothes we are all wearing and even the decorations. When we are done with any of them we can recycle them to make new things we need. We can even produce plastics and fuel for rockets! All of this in just a few short years! Give yourselves a round of applause for your hard work."

Once again the applause was loud.

"We Martians are a free people. We say what we think. We respect each other and we move our colony forward. We freely elect our council. To be truly free we must become completely self-sufficient. We are already at least 80% of the way there. I am putting forward to you that our next goal together needs to be to become completely self-sufficient – needing no resupply from Earth – by the 6th Martian New Year. That is almost 6 Earth years away and many of us will no longer be on Mars. However, self-sufficiency ensures our colony's future and that no one back on Earth can call an end to this 'experiment.' We owe it to the future of humanity in the universe."

This time people not only applauded, but more than half of the stood up. Daria was beginning to think she had missed a message somewhere.

In a loud and official sounding voice the commander stated, "Now let me read a resolution by the Martian Council: 'Hear ye, hear ye. Be it proclaimed that from now and forever more on this day shall all of Mars celebrate a new year of the Martian calendar. Make ye merry for ye have earned it through a year of toil and sacrifice! This day shall not be a day of toil but one of celebration! This is duly ordered by the People of Mars in their Council Assembled on Mars date Sol 2005 and Earth date 1 May 2044.'"

Once again applause rang out.

Finally, the commander made her closing statement, "Fellow Martians, we have a great evening ahead. We will be starting with cocktails and mingling. The bar is on the opposite side of the room from the kitchen. If you take your place card you will notice that the back is made of 8 perforated tickets. These are your drink tickets! There is also a list of cocktails available on each table. Naturally, the kick for each one comes from Martian Moonshine! If you like, you can trade 4 tickets for a small flask to take with you."

Daria had to laugh. Martian Moonshine was the answer to the eternal human question of: How can we make booze? Everything from fruit rinds to potato skins was collected and fermented in a big vat. It was all then distilled to a high alcohol content. It might be thought of as Martian Vodka, but that would be insulting to vodka. If you didn't drink this stuff it could be used to remove paint. It was truly 'white lightning.' It wasn't aged. It was just raw liquor. But, when there was no other choice, then it was good enough.

The commander went on, "A buffet dinner will be served after the cocktail hour. The stewards will dismiss by table. During cocktails and dinner we will enjoy light jazz. Dancing will start after dinner. We will have both waltzes and modern dancing. Enjoy!" With that she turned off the microphone and stepped down. One of the stewards stood up and announced, "The bar is open!"

Daria and Tom headed for the bar. There were three bartenders working to serve the hundred people in the room. The couple patiently waited their turn. When it was their turn, Daria ordered a Martian Sunrise, which was something that had three layers: on the bottom was a layer of orange juice representing the sun, on top of that a red layer representing the daytime sky, and finally a blue layer representing the color of sunrise. Daria was a bit amazed that the layers stayed separated. She even stirred the drink and watched the layers separate once again. Tom ordered a Martian Cosmo. Clearly the agricultural staff had been working hard to create juices as well as moonshine. With drinks in hand the two returned to the area around their table.

One of the people at their table was Julie. Daria always thought of her as Julie the geologist, because that was her profession. She had a doctorate in geology from Michigan and had worked for decades for the U.S. Geological Survey. She was definitely an expert on rocks and the deposition of material over time. Even on Mars, however, where great questions of the history of the planet were being studied and debated, she was not a great conversationalist.

Julie walked up to Daria and said, "Hey Daria."

"Hi Julie," Daria responded.

"How's the library? Read any good books lately?"

"Well, let's face it. The library only has a few dozen actual books. We read everything on 'pages' or computers. I did get an upload from Earth today. There were probably 300 books in the upload."

"Still, our flexible 'pages' are so much better than holding a bunch of paper or those heavy tablets we used to carry around that had glass screens. Any geology journals or new texts?" Julie asked.

"I would have to look. I won't add anything to the master publication database until day after tomorrow," Daria deadpanned. She thought to herself, 'Where did Tom go?' She sipped her drink and started looking around for Tom. It was a good thing that Julie was totally oblivious to social cues. That way Daria would not seem rude!

Julie practically bubbled, "Oh it was so cool. I had just finished polishing a sample I had sectioned off of a rock we picked up about 10 kilometers from here. I just about had it ready to put under the microscope. At least with my trained eye it looked like it would have a really interesting microstructure. The rock it came from had evidence of water erosion. It probably was a river rock, but the really interesting thing is that it was a river rock that had been thrown up as ejecta from a meteor crater."

Tom was three tables away toward the bar. He was talking with Rod and Peter, two of the other equipment operators. Both were engineers. Rod had recently designed a new generation of 3D printers for the colony. Peter was an electrical engineer. He had just designed upgrades for the control systems in the rovers, which were in the process of being printed by the fabrication department, which made everything from integrated circuits to structural beams for the colony.

Peter asked, "Tom, so what was it like driving back in that massive dust storm. You are the first one to drive in one that intense!"

"I wish I could really turn that trip back here into a good story," Tom replied. "But truly it was just excruciatingly slow. We averaged about 12 kilometers per hour (just over 7 miles per hour). The key to success was the synthesized view projected on the windshield plus the autopilot. The rover was able to navigate itself using the reflectors and stored MPS and terrain data it had gathered up to the point of stopping at the hooch. I guess I could embellish the story with something about the potential of starvation. Maybe add thoughts of cannibalism and drinking someone's blood or bodily fluids when the water ran out."

Rod laughed, "Let's face it guys. Most of the stuff we do here is deathly dull. The excitement comes because we are doing these deathly dull things on Mars. If we are lucky, there is some moment of abject terror once in a while because something didn't work as expected. You go back to the original moon landing and they were just out collecting rocks and soil."

Lifting his hand and pointing his index finger at the sky Peter exclaimed, "But it was on the moon!"

Tom and Rod chuckled. Rod responded, "And that is what made it an adventure. They got there with less computing power than I have in my watch. Almost miraculously they got back. Of course, there were thousands of people working back on Earth to make sure they got back in one piece and still breathing."

Tom chuckled, "Well, at least we had far better accommodations and safety systems to get us here. Of course that is where Daria and I had our greatest adventure so far. It was when that tiny meteor went through the Mars Transfer Vehicle. That is a much better story than driving in a dust storm. There was mayhem and death!"

As he started to relate the story of mayhem and death, Tom felt a tug on his arm. He paused, looked over, and saw Daria standing there. After over 30 years of marriage he knew the look on her face. He excused himself from the other men and walked off with her toward their table.

Daria scolded Tom, "You abandoned me to the stories of Julie the geologist. I thought I was going to die of boredom. I think I now know more about a slice of some tiny pebble vomited out of some crater than I ever cared to know."

"Sorry," Tom responded. He knew this was no time to point out that she could have just talked to someone else.

"Please stay by me. We may live with all of these people, but that doesn't mean that I want to spend time talking to every one of them. If you want we can go back to Peter and Rod. At least they can tell a story."

Tom looked back toward Peter and Rod. They were just sitting down at their table with their wives. It looked like they would be next to go to the buffet tables. Tom leaned over to Daria and whispered, "We can sit down. I will sit between you and Julie. I know that I could stand to brush up on my geology."

Taking Tom's arm Daria responded, "That sounds like a plan. Certainly driving all over the place you could stand to know more about geology." The two returned to their table and sat down. Tom greeted Julie and asked about her sample.

Daria sat down and arranged her plates and flatware in front of her. It was really amazing to her how good the food had become here on Mars. The commander had been right. Martian agriculture was feeding them now. On top of that the kitchen stewards were highly skilled – in fact the head chef had a Michelin star and a sense of adventure. She was actually excited as they got up and headed to the buffet.

When they had returned to the table Daria found herself looking down at her salad bowl. She had a salad that included four types of lettuce, some red cabbage, and carrots. Tomatoes were abundant here on Mars, so the salad had those as well. At least whoever had planned which tomatoes to bring had the foresight to include several red, yellow, and even deep purple varieties. There were shredded cucumber, daikon, and radicchio in there as well. The dressing was a balsamic vinegar and oil.

Daria's dinner plate wasn't lacking for variety either. Oven roasted purple potatoes were there along with broad Italian green beans sautéed al dente. The beef they grew was essentially New York strip steak. It just came from a vat not a cow. Tonight it was served as a 250 gram (5 oz.) steak grilled medium rare.

Leaning over slightly Daria asked Tom to pass the bread and margarine. The basket contained whole grain white and a hearty rye bread. The margarine was good and Daria was thankful they had it, since dairy milk was something that they had not yet been able to synthesize. Any milk on Mars was most likely based on soy. Still, it was not bad at all. Daria took a slice of rye and a knife full of the margarine and put both on her bread plate.

Next to Daria sat Ursula Kelting. Urusla was one of the first 12 Martians. Ursula turned to Daria and started to strike up a conversation. "So, Daria, how is your dinner?"

Daria cleared her mouth and then replied, "It is really good. I can really see not only the improvement in quality, but variety as well just since Tom and I arrived."

"No kidding! Your freight load had so many seeds in it. It was a real turning point. When we arrived it was all classic 'space food.' You sure get tired of freeze dried food and paste quickly. I remember when the first potatoes were harvested! They were the first things we grew ourselves. We grew them in the regolith and our own waste. The little agriculture dome smelled bad, but those potatoes tasted so good!"

'Mmm,' Daria thought to herself. There is nothing like talking about growing potatoes in human waste to really compliment your appetite for dinner. Sure they still used human and now vegetable waste as well to make fertilizer, but at least it was all composted, treated for pathogens, and not odiferous! One of the things you had to note about Martians is that they didn't hold back when it came to describing how to survive in what was a mostly closed system.

Daria deadpanned, "Survival must have been challenging in those early years. How did you cope?"

Ursula was clearly excited about giving her wisdom to Daria, "It was a psychological nightmare. No wonder we were so rigorously screened for psychological issues. We were in cramped quarters. Goodness, you were practically sleeping in your neighbor's armpit! " Lowering her voice she leaned closer and said, "Not to mention it was a real challenge to have sex with your husband. On more than a few occasions people snuck off to the agriculture dome just to do it! I remember the time another couple walked in when we were behind the corn. We thought for sure we would be seen. We just wanted some privacy. I'll tell you that Dieter and I learned real fast to be dressed, quiet, and quick!"

Daria stared a moment remembering what Ursula had just said about the agriculture dome. She finished chewing her mouth full of green beans and swallowed before responding in total deadpan, "That must have been so hard for you!"

"Dieter was pretty strong back then, too!" Ursula quipped. "I think the danger of being caught in the act was part of the fun. Of course, it was not really forbidden or anything. It's just that most people don't want to have someone standing there watching them copulate while waiting for the space so they can do it too! At least Dieter was strong enough to hold me when we did it standing up. Truth be told he still is! So, did you and Tom find a favorite place to have sex in the old habitat? Have you found any good spots in this place?"

'OK,' Daria thought. We are clearly not back in Lawndale at the country club making polite dinner conversation. This is going a little too far even for Martians. Clearly Daria was faced with a dilemma. Should she just say something to quickly end this conversation or should she take Alice through Wonderland? She set her fork down and turned to look at Ursula.

"You know," Daria started in a very hushed voice. This forced Ursula to lean closer to her to hear what was being said. "Even though I am more of a moaner than a screamer, I have developed the talent for being quiet. We even managed to do it on the MTV without anyone being the wiser. If we wanted a little more spice there was a space in Section 27 behind the air processors that we found to be very private. The noise of the machinery covered any sound we made."

"That sounds kind of exciting," Ursula said. Daria could tell that her breathing rate had increased.

Daria went on, "The old habitat was a challenge, but with more room we mostly used what passed for our quarters, until we made a discovery."

Ursula's breathing was much deeper now and her attention to Daria's every word was very intense. "What discovery did you make?" she asked.

Daria decided a half-smile – an evil half-smile – was what was needed here. So she gave the half-smile to Ursula. "As a heavy equipment operator Tom has access to all of the rovers. We would sneak out there in the middle of the night and climb into one of the rovers. The driver's seat is electrically controlled and can be varied in height and about 15 other positions. It will even lie flat. That seat also turns 360 degrees. Oh, and one of the things I brought along was this little cheerleader skirt."

Ursula narrowed her eyes and whispered, "I can't imagine you were a cheerleader! You don't seem to have the personality."

"Correct on both counts," Daria replied. "I didn't bring that skirt along for high school memories. Other than meeting Tom and my close friend Jane I would just as soon forget high school. Anyway, I would change into my little skirt, make myself comfortable in the driver's seat, and then put it at just the right height. Tom would get on his knees and, well, think about fun on a lazy susan! When we were done we would just go back into the habitat."

Ursula's expression of pleasure, closed eyes, and heavy breathing were certainly noticeable. Gradually her breathing returned to normal. While this happened she didn't say anything. Daria was even able to turn away and get a few bites of her food. Ursula turned away from Daria, interrupted Dieter's conversation, and then started whispering something in his ear.

Daria was trying to remember the conversation. Did she tell Ursula that there is always a camera running in the rovers? She must have told her that. Anyway, even if it wasn't true it made a good story and kept Ursula occupied so that Daria could enjoy the rest of her dinner. Truth be told, she and Tom were such private people anyway the very idea of being such exhibitionists was well beyond their comfort zone. They would never do anything like that. Their love life might seem deathly boring to outsiders, but it fit the two of them perfectly.

Dinner was soon finished and the stewards collected the dishes and utensils. Then dessert was served. The stewards actually brought those to the table. It was a three layer chocolate cake with cherries embedded in the frosting between the layers. Chocolate, along with coffee and coconut were items in very short supply on Mars. This was the first time cacao had been harvested. They were expecting the first coffee in about four to six months. Coconuts were still about a year or so away. Special varieties of each had been developed on Earth and sent to Mars. However, they were still very resource intensive to grow here. Daria relished every bite of her cake. There was no telling when the next chocolate cake would come.

Dinner gave way to dancing. Tom took Daria out onto the floor and they waltzed. When they returned to the table Tom looked around and commented to Daria, "What do you think happened to Dieter and Ursula? I don't see them anywhere around."

Leaning over to Tom's ear Daria whispered, "I have no idea, but I will happily tell you about my dinner conversation with Ursula back in our quarters, dear. By the way, you might want to check the rover security tapes tomorrow."

Tom knew from long experience that when Daria called him 'dear' it was a very good idea to just drop the topic and do as she told him.

At midnight it was time for the toast. Glasses of bubbly drink were passed around to everyone. It certainly wasn't champagne. It was Martian Moonshine mixed with white grape juice and a dash of raspberry juice to make it red.

A toast, a kiss, and more dancing. Two hours later after a wonderful party Daria and Tom headed back to their quarters. They still weren't quite ready to sleep.