Rolling across the low red hills of the Martian plains in the ‘bug José turns to Beth. “¡Meirda! That pill cleaned me out. Was that really necessary?”
“Remember there’s a very limited amount of actual organic material on Mars, just what we brought with us. The gardens are slowly generating more from CO2 but it’s a long, slow process. Anything you can compost is like currency.”
“¡Jesus!” José shakes his head. “They extorted poop out of us. What made me think coming here would be a good idea?”
“As you tell it, being really really stoned in that Amazon warehouse.”
“Oh right… ugh. So, a pizza? Where the heck are we going to get that?”
Beth sucks her teeth. “Pizza is pretty simple. We don’t have any meat products, obviously, but we can make or get the other ingredients. We can fake a crust pretty well. We can get actual tomatoes from the gardens, there’s even some herbs. The catch is the cheese.”
“Where on Mars are we going to find cheese?”
“Well, we aren’t. But there is a place where we can get milk, and my mother used to make cheese at home so I think we should be able to make something that’s good enough for pizza on Mars.”
Beth steals a glance at José. “Are you up to meeting with another faction?”
“Oh great, mas gentes todos locos. Now who?”
“We are going to have to go see The Mothers.”
Another standard-issue dusty airlock. José pauses before the door. “I can guess what this group is about, maybe. What do you think they are going to want from us in return?”
“Shit if I know.” Beth keys up her comm. “Two visitors from Engineering section requesting audience with The Mothers.”
The outer doors open revealing an unusual sight. The inner airlock doors have somehow been done up to resemble a vulva.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Pressures equalize and the inner doors open revealing three blue-robed women, one clearly pregnant.
“Welcome visitors. Please remove your suits and state your business.” The entrance room is unusually clean, sporting actual cushions on the seats and tasteful wall-hangings. The pair removes their suits and Beth addresses the trio.
“We are here to arrange a trade. We are in need of milk.”
“Ah,” she nods knowingly “then you will need to meet with Grandmother. Follow us.” The group starts down the corridor.
José leans in to Beth, “Where the heck are they going to get milk?” Beth silently nods towards the pregnant one. “Oohhhh. Ah. Err. Okay…”
Much like the airlock entrance chamber the passageways in this section of Bradbury Base are far less sterile than anything José has seen so far. Walls are decorated either with wall hangings or murals. Furniture seems to be somehow color-coordinated. Curiously enough, they don’t see any men in the corridors, only women. After a short walk they enter what was surely originally the dining area. The dining tables are empty, the lights are low. At the far end of the room three women in blue robes are seated in comfortable-looking chairs on a short riser facing the room. One is cooing softly to an infant, the other two staring intently at tablets. Quiet flute music is playing in the background. What appears to be fresh-cut flowers poke out of vases on the dining tables and a long coffee table situated before the three seated women.
Their guides beckon Beth and José forward. As they approach tablets are are lowered to laps and the three women regard their audience cooly. The woman in the middle is older than most people on Mars, José thinks, “mmm maybe 50?”
After a moment she speaks: “Daughter, what brings you to our home?”
Beth clears her throat. “Grandmother. We come with a request and an offer. We may have found a way to contact Earth again, and perhaps a way for a few people to return.”
“Return?” scoffs the Grandmother, eyes rolling. “Why would you want to do that?” She takes a glance at both of her compatriots who each have stern expressions on their faces then turns a quizzical look at Beth. “Have you been here so long you’ve forgotten what it was like to live under the Patriarchy?”
Caught off guard Beth stammers, “Err… Ah… Well…”
Grandmother smacks her palm on the armrest of her chair. “We have paradise here, do we not ladies?” The other two nod in agreement. “We are building a new society not ruled by the rages of testosterone and the male ego. How would you expect to get back to Earth anyway?”
José raises a finger and starts to explain, “Well you see…” Grandmother cuts him off with a quick gesture of her right hand, palm held out.
“Hey! Save it for the ‘Mansplaining Hand’!” José decides he’d better zip it. “Daughter, please explain.”
Beth gives her a run-down of the plan, what they need and why.
“Daughter, a most curious path lies in front of you. Whether it will lead you anywhere I cannot say.” Grandmother pauses taking a long look at both of them. “We do have what you are looking for and we are open to a trade. We have no need of anything from Earth, but you do have something we need, something we cannot make for ourselves.” At this the other two women crack sly grins.
“What would that be, Grandmother?”
“Seed? Seeds? As in plants?”
Grandmother lowers her head a notch, looking directly at José. “Not plants. Seed.”
José leans back in the seat of the ‘bug as they roll back to Engineering Section. “¡Carumba! Mi carajo está adolorida.”
“I bet you’re sore” chuckles Beth. “How much did they milk out of you?”
José groans. “All of it. And then some. And then some more. And not the fun way either.”
“But you got us our milk. Good job, soldier!”
“I don’t know if I feel good about this. Am I going to be the absent father to a soccer team of Mars niños?”
“Maybe, maybe not. There’s a lot of ionizing radiation falling on the surface of Mars from space. The base modules are supposed to be shielded but it’s a good bet that people who’ve been here a long time may have been sterilized by now.”
“Oh great. On top of everything else now I should wrap tin foil around my nuts?”
“Not a bad idea.”