|David Hutchison is in the consular affairs bureau. He joined the foreign service in 1966 and has served in Lima, Paramaribo, Amsterdam, New York, Johannesburg, and Caracas. He has not served in Marsport yet but hopes to be posted there someday soon.|
Post Report: 2083
|Average temperatures of 70 below and rules of protocol for three sexes, but Marsport was just another typical foreign service post.|
By DAVID HUTCHISON
ear, read again that part in the post report about the climate. I think we're going to be stuck in the holding pattern." Mary Brown peered eagerly out the cabin window at the reddish, dusky land beneath while her husband searched through a mound of magazines and coloring books. Far to the north she saw the edge of the polar cap, the white beginning suddenly and forming a perfect circle where the frost and desert met. Much nearer, to the south, she saw a small green lake and what seemed to be a highway leading to it. Her husband found the report and had just begun to speak when the sound of chimes came from the loudspeaker and red No Smoking and Fasten Seat Belts and Shoulder Straps signs blinked on.
"Hello, ladies and gentlemen, this is Steward Hopkins speaking. We have arrived on time at our destination, but I'm afraid we've been ordered into a holding pattern because of traffic congestion... (on behalf of Captain Perez and the entire crew, I'd like to thank you for flying Inter-World. It has been a pleasure having you aboard Flight 726 and we hope you have enjoyed the trip. We look forward to seeing you aboard Inter-World again soon.
"While we're waiting, I'd like to give you some details of our flight. Average speed was 448 km per second; trajectory, modified tangential hyperboloid; average acceleration .96 gees. Local time at Marsport is 23:13 GMT, 17:29 MST.
"If you look out the ports right now you'll see a beautiful view of the capital. Temperature at the terminal is -74°C, wind 135 kph, and as always, clear and dry."
Gary Brown shook his head and muttered. "I hope we don't have to wait long. We circled around Luna City 45 minutes, remember. You travel 100,000,000 km at better than 400 clicks and then have to wait on some puddle jumpers. The service wasn't so hot either. I think I'll write Inter-World's president. And we better not have to wait as long for the luggage as we did at --
"Just relax, dear. I know you couldn't sleep after the skew flip. Come on, what's it say about the climate? I know we're going to have to do a lot more shopping for the children."
"Oh, sure. Sorry, darling. I just had to let off steam. Gosh it'll be good to stretch and feel some real gravity, even though it won't be much." Gary Brown picked up the booklet entitled Mars Post Report: 2083 and scanned the index.
"Here it is, 'Climate: Mars is a cold, dry planet with remarkably consistent weather which most Earth people find dull and monotonous. Marsport, the capital and post city, has had only 3 cm of precipitation since records were begun 3797 Martian years ago! Plus, it is 70 every one of the 666 Martian days (equal to 24 hours, 37 minutes) in a Martian year (equal to 686 1/2 Earth days). The sun, however, is weak and small at Mars' orbit and gives only faint heat and light. The sky is deep purple, and bright stars can be seen even during the day. Clouds as we know them don't exist on Mars although occasionally a very thin wisp of vapor can be seen directly over the polar caps. Martians find Earth's clouds one of its most interesting and beautiful features...
" 'In the area of the post city wind velocities of 100 to 300 kph are typical. Despite the wind's high velocity, it does not exert a great "push" since the density of Mars' atmosphere is only about 1% that of Earth's.' "
Gary stopped reading and looked at his wife. "Honey, I was talking to Vincent Matthews about the weather and he said you spend almost all the time at home, or in the express-tube, or the embassy, and practically the only time you even think of the weather is when you go on a field trip or visit a Martian home. Then you have to wear an E-Enviro suit, of course, but all the rest of the time you're under the main dome, where it's 22 degrees and 38% humidity. Those post reports are written just to get hardship allowances and to let you know you're not going to a resort."
"Dear, I know you're worried that I won't like it, but just as long as you and the children are happy, I'll be happy, and besides Vera Stephenson said she heard Ambassador Richardson's husband say that she told him the department has its eye on you and that this is a great opportunity... you know how quickly the kids make friends... this is a chance for them to learn Martian and the Earth school here is supposed to be one of the best.... I hope we can make your trip to the polar cap. Sue said it was just beautiful in the fall. It's only an hour and a half away and not expensive. She said she and Sam talked about retiring there."
"Not me!" Mary's husband interjected loudly. "When my thirty years are up I'm going right back to the good ol' Earth."
"That's what you always say when we're making a move, dear. I know it's a lot of work and worry for you to get us all in a new place and get situated in a new job, but you know how it is when we're on Earth leave and visit your folks and mine. This kind of life gets in your blood. When you're back home it's nice for a little while but everyone there seems so... so..."
"Yes, provincial. And all they can talk about is what is happening on their own continent."
Young William Brown's eyes blinked open and he yawned deeply. "Daddy, are we there yet?"
"Soon, Billy, soon. Look out the window but don't wake your sister."
"Gosh, Daddy, it looks so funny! All rusty and... and gee, no oceans like home."
Billy's mother put her arm around him. "Dear, tell Billy what the post report says about the Martian people. He's going to have some little Martian friends soon."
"Well, it says Martians are very proud of their ancient civilization, which is much, much older than any on Earth, and are a little more formal than most Earth people but very friendly once you get to know them."
"Formal?" asked Billy.
"That means they're more... more... explain it to him, Mary."
"It just means, Billy, it Martians have a little different way of meeting people and making friends than we do. Of course there sometimes shy with us. Remember how you and Sarah sometimes felt when you saw Non-Earth people at home?
"Oh yeah. Well, Sarah and I know they're just different and we aren't going to laugh or stare or anything." Mary and Gary Brown gave each other a small, satisfied smile while their son looked at pictures of close typical Martian family. "They sure are funny looking and wear funny clothes go to five with, though."
Mary began reading. "Martians average 110 cm in height but are very thin and not as heavily boned or muscled as Earth people. Their skin is hard and dry and ranges in color from "pea" to "spinach" green.' "
"It doesn't make any difference to me what they look like, honey. Skip to that part about protocol."
His wife looked at the index and turned to a different page. " 'Many Martians are eager to show their knowledge of Earth customs and may offer you one of their four hands to shake when being introduced. Their 14 fingers may feel cold and bony, but remember yours feel just as odd to them. After shaking hands it is polite to reciprocate with the Martian equivalent of handshaking by tapping your head twice on "his" left shoulder, after which "he" will respond by tapping "his" head three times on your right shoulder. (Due to Martians' stature it probably will be necessary to bend forward.) Martians always warmly appreciate gestures of respect for their culture.' "
Mary looked up from the post report. "Gary, entertaining is what worries me, and goodness! Three sexes! Every ' couple' is a trio. Dear me."
"That's on page seven, Mary. Uh, why don't you just read that part to yourself?"
She turned to page seven and read silently. "... perhaps the most curious aspect of Martian biology is that all life on that planet consists of three sexes, all of which are necessary for reproduction. Although educated Martians are acquainted with the Earth customs and biology, the less sophisticated may seem uneasy during introductions since in their culture it is highly improper for a biological relationship to exist between only two individuals, or for two individuals of a married trio to appear in public without the third. (See Martian Courtship Rights, Marital Obligations, and Sexual Taboos in a Transitional Milieu, Dr. Andrew Janowski. Solar Press, New York, 2068. It is strongly suggested that all new arrivals become fully acquainted with Embassy Protocol Bulletin No. 2, which covers in detail proper etiquette on Mars. In addition, the embassy's welcoming program includes a lecture on this subject followed by a question and answer period." Mary glanced at her husband and feigned an expression of shock. "Who's going to explain it to the children?"
She turned the page and read aloud the post report's last paragraph. "'Mars is an important ally of Earth as one of its chief trading partners, and an excellent relationship exists between our two planets. The peoples of Mars and Earth have a tradition of friendship dating to 2008, when envoys were first exchanged. Earth people who make a sincere effort to understand Martian culture and biology will have little difficulty making friends and adjusting to the post. Although life on Mars can be boring and some of the amenities of Earth are lacking, many have found their assignment here highly rewarding and challenging.'
"The thought of the first reception line scares me, Gary," she said looking at her husband, her eyes wide. "Shaking the fourth hand of each couple -- I mean trio -- and touching your head to their left shoulder. It sounds so complicated and I feel like I've already forgotten all the Martian I learned... and those problems of entertaining! Martians don't eat the things we do and we certainly don't like what they like... chilled ammonia cocktails and nice tasty quartz crystal hors d'oeuvres sprinkled with sulfur!"
"Honey, you'll like it just as much as Geraldine Matthews did. Look, see what it says here. The schools are excellent, the hospital is first-class, and all kinds of Earth food are available at the commissary -- and with the hardship allowance we'll be able to pay off the house."
"Daddy." Sarah Brown was awake and had been listening carefully. "Daddy, can I have a six legged Mars doggie, and can we play hiders-snoopers sometimes?"
"Sure you can, sweetheart. A small one, just as soon as it has all its shots, and we'll play lots of %%
Mary Brown leaned across the seat and kissed her husband on the cheek. "I know we'll be happy, dear, I know we will. It's just my turn to be nervous."
A red light began to flash and Stuart Hopkins's voice again came over the loudspeaker. "We have been given clearance to land. Please fasten your seat belts and shoulder straps, and please be sure your customs form is filled out completely. Prepare for acceleration." Steward Hopkins repeated the message in passable Martian as the rocket engines fired for half a minute to drop them out of orbit. The ship entered the wispy atmosphere and started to buffet slightly.
"Gosh, Mary, do you have the passports? They're not in my coat pocket."
Mary Brown was looking down at the lights of the city and wondering what their new home would be like. "Yes, I have them," she said patting her purse. "I just hope our space freight gets here in the next six weeks."
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