Chapter 1: Just Another Day
Everything Starts Out Great - Revision 1
As Thomas walked down the hall he looked to his right where he could see round ports about the size of a dinner plate; one could view outside onto the Mars surface if they wished to do so. Where one could see if they so desired, the reddish brown dust and hills of what once was not so long ago a long dead and barren world. To be fair, they were really large hills that made even the largest mountains of Terra seem like ant hills. His step was light, but only because he lived on a planet that had approximately thirty-eight percent the gravity of his homeworld, Terra. Thomas had been living on Mars for over a year now while he attended the University of the Stars. He was due to graduate in another four years. He planned on living in space, as he wanted to be a technical engineer. His primary studies were in Faster Than Light travel, but he would settle for anything in a related field, just as long as that was on an interstellar spaceship.
Ever since Thomas was a young boy he had wanted to go to space. His parents had painted stars on the roof of his bedroom before he was even born, using fiber optics to make them shine. Growing up in a world that had contact with a group of five other species, he had no idea what it was like to have wondered if there was life on other worlds. Recent history was one of his favorite topics to read about. He loved to read about how Terra was accepted into the Collation of Aligned Worlds to become the sixth member species. It may have helped him understand it because his family was involved with CAW and he was able to see some of it firsthand. There was only one other species that could live alongside Humans without much discomfort: Those from Katzen. The other species either breathed methane or a different mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and came from planets with differing air pressure and gravity amounts. The Katzen homeworld’s gravity was 1.15 times that of Terra. Living on Mars was more work for them, even though they had many other colony worlds of different gravity amounts. They had to exercise even more than Terrans to compensate for the low gravity of Mars. Thomas thought he had to exercise more than enough as it was.
When Thomas was younger, he enjoyed taking apart anything and everything and using those parts to make something new. Later in life, he improved on his abilities. This behavior was oddly encouraged by his parents even though at first they were not happy about it. At some point they realized he was learning how things worked and not just destroying appliances. Later they would supply him with electronic items from second hand stores whenever they could, and that was fairly often.
Thomas’ father enjoyed working on classic cars, such as his prized royal blue RX-7 FD. In a way, that was what had gotten his family involved with those of Katzen in the first place. His father had gotten the car from his father; he was in the process of restoring it and one day found a Katzen tinkering with the car in his garage. Long story short, they became friends and that was how first contact was made. That however is a story for another time.
He enjoyed life on Mars; sure, he had to do more exercise because of the lower gravity, but living with real extraterrestrials was very exciting for him. It was like living in one of his comic books, minus all the fluff and most of the fun stuff. Come to think of it, it was nothing like a comic book at all. Thomas lived in the dorms in the colony that were completed about two decades ago. The colony had never stopped growing after it was ready for use, that was how it was designed. They added new modules every so often as needed, and every cycle a new section was added. Just about every cycle there was another Terran ready for his own privateer ship to captain for CAW. The Mars trade station should be done in a few years. After that they had plans to add a small station in Terra’s orbit, for shuttling people and goods using an orbital elevator. It was planned to be grounded in Osaka Japan. It would have shuttles to and from Mars as well. Humanity’s future was looking bright for once.
Sure, he missed his homeworld, the beaches, the forests, but not the wars. He could not believe people were still fighting over ideologies in the twenty second century. Sadly, some things never change.
He often relaxed during his off time using a VR rig. He could visit his home and many other places he had never been to or dreamed of, some real, some not.
His wrist watch chirped and brought him out of his thoughts. He looked at the circular face on its OLED screen it read, “Next class WP204 starts in ten.” He was so retro using a watch instead of an implant.
He grunted out loud and quickened his pace. He had already been heading to that side of the University, so he just needed to add a small amount of speed to make it on time, not a good idea to be late for his favorite class in its second week. He could not go too fast; he was not alone in the hallway. A few other species could be spotted in environmental suites, or breather masks that were going about their business; just as he was. There were not many, most were Terran or Katzen, but a few of them were needed to keep the station running.
As he entered the classroom for Warp Physics, he did his best to not breathe heavily, and glanced up at the wall to find the time on the class information display. He noted that he had more than a minute to get to his station. He made his way to it near the back, then sat down as soon as he got there. Each station was mostly brushed aluminum, including its legs, its sides, and on the border of the top in the shape of an upside down ‘U’ around a glass like surface with a screen below it. It had one drawer, which contained a built-in computer keyboard. His table had one for Humans, and he only used that if he had to write something longer than a few sentences. Each one was basically a workstation that was wirelessly tied into the Mars computer network, as every computer on Mars was, from watch to workstation. It was like the World Wide Web on Terra, only much more efficient. He had a workstation at his desk in his dorm room as well, just as all the other students did.
Thomas’s class had eleven other students in it, the others were humans except for the three Katzens. One of them was a male of the largest type, they had markings similar to the Terran tiger except the stripes were more angled and curved but that was the most noticeable difference. They are known as Togartz and he stood about 1.85m, not much taller than Thomas. The other was a female Löwe she was of average height of 1.61m and friendly enough and her fur was more yellow than tan. Last but not least was one of the Luchs that stood a very great height of 1.11m. Her name was M’Sara and she did not get along with him at all. In fact, she did not seem to get along with anyone else either, at least not in his last class with her. Thomas had shared one of his first semester classes with her, and she took issue with him when he had thought to give her a suggestion on an issue he thought she was having. Thomas did not know any of the other humans on Mars, even though he was one himself, the three girls or the five other guys. He left all his friends back on Terra. Part of the reason for that was likely because he was a bit of a loner. The other part was because learning was what was important to him while he was on Mars.
Thomas touched his screen, and it activated. After he signed in he chose what he was working on before he read over his notes from the last class. He hated Mondays, it meant the end to a relaxing weekend. It was not really Monday, he just thought of it as that, because it was his first day with a class after two days with no classes. Last week they covered the effect gravity has on a warp field and what is done to compensate for it. It was one of his favorite subjects.
Thomas was brought out of reading his notes when he heard the door slide open. He looked up and watched Doctor Tyson enter the room. As he walked past the front wall monitor he swung his arm around with the remote and activated it for the class to view.
Doctor Tyson was a dark skinned human of average height; you could see his African heritage in his sparkling brown eyes under his curly mostly now gray hair.
Thomas watched him turn back to face the class and look over the students as he said, “I see everyone is here. I have your first group project for this quarter; I have all of you assigned to teams of two. You will work as a team, and complete a thesis on the theory of gravity wells of singularities and their effects on warp fields including a working simulation. I want a full analysis, and I want a write-up on how you would deal with them both as an engineer of an interstellar craft.
Sent to your personal files are your team members, that is the person you must work with for the entirety of this project, no exceptions.
This exercise is to prepare you for the real world, so this is going to be twenty percent of your total grade for this class with seventy percent of that based on teamwork. This project is due Friday at the start of class. That means if you are unable to get a passing grade, you fail this class.
No lecture today, I will stick around for questions, I’ll be at my desk. Today is a lab day, as is Friday. Thank you.”
Now That Is Strange - Revision 1
As Dr. Tyson walked back to his desk Thomas could have sworn he heard him chuckle. Dr. Tyson no longer gave the class any attention as he viewed his terminal, he must have had work of his own to do.
Thomas quickly opened up the class assignment on his desk terminal. He felt his gut sink as he read over the requirements. It was who he was partnered with that he was not happy with, M’Sara D’Khatarr. Maybe it was better that it was someone he was acquainted with rather than a complete stranger. At least this way he knew where he stood from the start with her. At least he was telling himself that when he was abruptly startled from his thoughts by a small furry hand slamming down on his desk.
Thomas looked up suddenly, then down to find the person the female voice that said and almost spit, “You!“.
Thomas jumped as he stood up quickly, backing away and turning his head to look in the direction of the voice as he yelped, “What?!”
It was M’Sara, her ears were lowered, she looked as happy as she sounded. Moving her hands to her hips, she quickly said, “I had hoped I was just mistaken, human names sound all the same to me. Once I got close enough to nail your scent, I knew it was you. You can only imagine my outrage.”
Thomas wondered if she was still upset about that incident in the not all that recent past, things seemed to be going downhill quickly for him. “Do all Luchs really hold grudges for so long? Yeah, we had a disagreement, but that was a weeks ago. Can we not work past that?”
Her feline muzzle made a small snarl as her ears went even flatter, “I must have another lab partner as I will not work with you.”
Thomas Shrugged his shoulders as he sat back down, “Suit yourself, you can try, but I doubt he would allow that, you read the requirements, did you not? I would be happy with someone else as well, but I’m willing to work with you in spite of that. I need to get a good grade point in this class.”
Thomas had been talking to her backside as she had already stalked off towards the instructor’s desk in the front corner of the room. He looked at the other students chatting or working with their new partners. He noticed the Togartz was getting along fine with his partner, a blond female Terran. He noticed that all the other females were partnered with a male, Katzen with Terran. He wondered if his instructor was doing another experiment of his own with his students.
Again M’Sara slammed her hand on his desk, tearing him out of his thoughts. This time he was expecting it and just turned to look at her slowly as she started, “He explained that this was part of the exercise, and I would deal with my issues or fail, no exceptions. He made that crystal clear. Let’s get this over with then. I will not let you get in the way of my future.”
Thomas frowned and, rolled his eyes, “Yeah, because you could not get in the way of mine. I’m in the same boat as you now. You think you are alone here? You can just shape the world as you see fit by sheer force of will?”
M’Sara climbed onto his desk on all fours so she could use her finger to poke him in his chest. “I am alone here, I’m likely the smartest person in this class, and you are nothing but a bottom feeder. You think you are smart, you big hairless ape! Hah, don’t make me laugh.“, she followed that with a Luch version of a very forced sounding laugh.
Thomas grunted, but otherwise ignored her as he touched the screen to close out his session. He could not figure out what it was that set her off about him with the first incident like this either. He was going to maintain his cool if it killed him. If his friend Mateja could do it, he could. This is his most important class. “I’m going to the lab so we can start working on this project.”
The lab was located in the back half of the classroom it had six tables that were designed for multi user interaction. It used a hologram in the center of the 1.5m long rectangular table with six smaller touch screens on either side along the top. They were very powerful workstations designed to test and analyze the most complex, multidimensional matrix algorithms and very quickly.
M’Sara trailed behind him as he walked to the lab. Thomas looked to see if she was following and saw that her tail was swaying back and forth so furiously it was causing wind currents. She seemed to be even more upset-fuming, in fact. He powered on the closest empty station and logged in by placing his hand on the screen next to him on its surface. The table was 1.14m high, designed to be stood at when used, so when she got on the other side of the table she had to pull out the shelf for that purpose in its side to stand on. Hopping up on it with a small growl she put her hand on the screen near her to log in.
Thomas touched and swiped the other screen next to him that displayed the detailed requirements, reading over them again he thought for a moment. Gathering the needed data on the first screen he used, without looking up, he informed her, “I’m going to setup a test singularity, you start on setting up the warp field parameters.”
With a growl M’Sara slapped the table top, “Who put you in charge? This is not how a team works! I doubt you could even handle setting that up! You do the warp field. You should be able to handle something simple enough for a child.”
Thomas looked around the lab and saw that most of the other students were watching them. “Fine, whatever. It was just a suggestion. Let’s get started.”
As M’Sara touched, and dragged her fingers on the screens he heard her muttering, “Like I would trust you in setting this up...” He could not hear the rest of what she said as her voice dropped.
Thomas shook his head in disbelief as he set up the warp test on his screen. Most of it, including the test ship, was loaded from a preset template that the user could change the parameters for. After about fifteen minutes as he was almost done, he was alarmed when he felt a shove on his waist, and he started in surprise.
M’Sara pushed him out of the way, pulled out the shelf, and hopped up on it to look over his work, “What are you doing? What is taking you so long? Can you not even handle this simple task? How did you even get admitted into this school to begin with?”
He watched her with his hands on his hips as he explained, “I’ll have you know I’m ranked in the top ten of this school for this quarter. I was top of my class on the Terra prep school by a large margin too.” Her only reaction was a flick of her ears. He looked over her shoulder to see what she was doing. He was shocked and let her know, “What are you doing! That will invalidate the test! Do you want to fail this class?!”
She growled and pointed at the screen, at the parameters for the oscillation diffuser frequency, then turned her head to face him, “What are you talking about? This has to be less than twenty megahertz of the warp field frequency!”
He blinked at her in confusion, then blurted out, “That would cause it to collapse in seconds! It has to be no less than twenty gigahertz! Maybe you are too upset to be working on this now, and are unable to think properly.”
Still facing him M’Sara’s lips parted to expose her sharp teeth, her ears went flat against the back of her head, and her tail bristled as it whipped around slapping his leg. Quietly she snarled between her teeth, “How do you think it would stand up to a singularity otherwise? Are you suggesting I’m wrong? This is so simple a child could do it! How dare you! I will not put up with this treatment from you! I’ve put up with you dishonoring me long enough! I hereby challenge you to Ma’ahrurl’La!”
Stepping back in shock, Thomas exclaimed, “What are you talking about?”
M’Sara turned to face him as she explained, “You will spar in a physical non-lethal combat with me. One witness of my choosing will determine the victor. The victor receives honor, and the loser admits he is wrong as well as gives the victor a full public apology. If you refuse, it is the same as admitting defeat as well as losing what little respect I have for you. After you apologize to me, we will then be able continue tomorrow.”
With a sigh, Thomas laid his forehead in his hand, thinking for a minute, he needed her trust, “On one condition, I chose the venue.”
She huffed, “Such as?”
Thomas lifted his head to her, to look her in the eyes as she still stood on the shelf that gave her elevation, “We each wear a gi, and matching sparring gear. I’m willing to modify one to fit you. We spar on a sixteen square meter open mat.” If this would settle her issue with him, then he was willing to do it. He was sure she did not know he had been trained in Taekwondo since he was a child. He wanted some advantage, he was of course not fooled by her size. He knew just how inhumanly strong and fast Katzens were, even the Luch. He also knew it was customary for them to train in martial arts as well. Not to mention their muzzle full of sharp teeth and retractable razor sharp claws.
M’Sara considered his request for a moment, and with a nod said, “Your terms are acceptable.” With a snarl she said, “You will not go easy on me because of my size or that I’m female either, I have seen human videos and how humans treat females.”
With a scoff, Thomas answered quickly, “Of course not, I will treat you no different than anyone else. In fact, I have a female Katzen friend I spar with when we get time to do so.”
M’Sara’s hands moved to her hips, “You had better. It would be dishonorable for you not to treat me otherwise. I will help you modify the gear you supply for me as well. I’m glad to hear you claim to know how to fight, I had thought as much, and look forward to see if you can fight well. It would be better than just using you as a Dragel post. I’m leaving now, we will meet at the gym an hour after breakfast.”
After Thomas moved his hands to his sides he stood straighter as he relaxed with a sigh he said, “Fine. I’ll be there.”
Without another word M’Sara hopped down, then stormed out of the lab, her tail twitching, and ears still down as he lost sight of her.
Thomas deactivated the workstation, then left the classroom, not noticing much as he watched the path in front of his feet as he headed to the general area of the Mars colony. This is why he hated Mondays.
It Starts - Revision 1
Thomas stared out at the reddish dust of the dunes of Mars outside of the colony complex through the viewing area that was built on the side of the general area that faced the edge of the colony. He could see Ascraeus Mons far off in the distance with the edge of Pavonis Mons to the right, as it was 18km tall and surrounded by mostly flat dunes. Tharsis Montes was between them sticking out like a sore thumb. The colony was located near Jovis Fossae, a fairly flat area. His hands gripped the railing with the frustration he felt as it built inside him.
Thomas was lost in thought when his friend greeted him, “Thomas, good to see you.” When turned around to face Mateja she continued, “I was just on my way to lunch from my battle tactics class. Join me?”
Nodding, he answered, “I would like that, and I could use some company I feel comfortable venting on.”
Mateja was his Katzen friend, she was a hybrid between a Lehpparr and a Löwe. She was just a few centimeters shorter than him with a wide face and a pronounced muzzle with yellow eyes that were surrounded with fur of a tan color, and spotted. She was his first extraterrestrial friend, and was the same age as him too. They had bonded quickly through a few common interests a few years ago just after they met on Terra at the CAW prep school just after he started, and she started there as a transfer student.
At the cafeteria, they found an empty table and took opposite seats. as she started eating he told her what had happened earlier, with as much detail as he could muster. Once or twice he paused to take a bite of his ground turkey sandwich. He was still not used to eating the food on Mars, it had to be soft to help digestion because of the low gravity, even more so for the Katzens, their homeworld was about 1.1g that of Terra. By the time he was done explaining the situation, she was done eating.
As Thomas ate the rest of his sandwich, his friend Mateja was able to give him her thoughts on it, “I see, they have an honor system similar to the samurais of Terran ancient history in some ways. It would seem you have somehow insulted her. I think she would have said, if it was a cultural misunderstanding, so I think there is something more behind it. I do remember you complaining to me about her before. I do not know her myself, we usually don’t mix with the Luchs very much. The other thing it could be is that she is seeking you out as a mate, but I would say that is highly improbable.” She mumbled after a moment, “Even so that would not explain her attitude towards you.”
Thomas took the last bite of his sandwich before replying in a serious tone, “I’m sure you could be right. I don’t even know where she is from or anything else about her. That was one reason why I agreed to this duel thing. I need to work with her, or I’ll fail my class and risk being sent back to Terra. I’ll do what I can do to get this taken care of; get it out of her system. I’m going to spend the rest of the day after my next class at the Six-O-Two club cooling my heels. I have much to think about.” He felt more troubled now than before.
Mateja got up, taking her tray with her before leaving, “I have a paper to write. It is what you call, more boring tactics stuff and it is do in the morning. I wish I had more time to spare and I hope we can spar again soon as well. It has been a few tens of rotations since our last time and I miss it. Enjoy yourself, dear friend of mine, if you can.”
Thomas smiled and nodded towards his closest friend, “Of course. I’ll do my best my dear friend.”As Thomas walked to his afternoon class he wondered about his friends he left on Terra, and thought it would be nice to have more than one being he could call friend on Mars, Katzen or Human. Oddly he was her only friend on Mars as well as she was his. They had grown very close over the past six years before their trip to Mars. He had only a few close friends so he was not that surprised about it. He knew that she had left friends back on Terra as well. Not to mention he felt apart of everyone else on the colony, he kept himself apart because he felt others would want to take advantage of him because of his family’s part in joining CAW. At the same time that made him more accepting of the Katzens than other Terrans he knew were.