Fiction: "Stand"

Story by Geoff Tuffli

++++ DATE 18.4.2470
++++ TIME 14:56 VST
++++ LOCATION Ammavaru Aerostat, Lada Terra Stake

Paavo Rebane, Speaker for the Venusian Parliament, rapped his ceremonial gavel. "Mr. Schulz, we thank you for your words." He cleared his throat. "Science Director Adelaide Karga of the Neu Sif aerostat has the floor. You have fifteen minutes, ma'am."

Adelaide stood. "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will, however, only need ten." There was a murmur through the chamber. Adelaide smiled faintly. The first rule of politics is to keep your enemies off-balance.

"Ladies and gentlemen of Parliament, you have now heard from a parade of, let me count...eight advocates for moving forward the bill to begin first phase implementation of terraforming. That is close to two hours of time the rest of us were desperately fighting not to fall asleep during. I confess I failed at least twice."

Laughter. Good. Wake them up.

"Science Deputy Director Maria Becker from Zisa would have you think that the issue before us is primarily a logistical issue. A financial problem that can be solved with financial tools. An issue of how. An issue of when.

"She is wrong. This bill is a death sentence. If not for you, then for your children." The rumbling in the chamber grew louder, and her implant was throwing up a stream of red flags derived from the popular media livefeeds. Adelaide continued, "They tell me I am the Science Director for the Neu Sif aerostat." More laughter. "So I supposed I should start with some science just to prove it."

Adelaide keyed the display in the center of the chamber. A holographic representation of Venus flickered into existence. Incredibly detailed, it was even possible to pick out individual aerostats, although of course that was a display trick; Venus' atmosphere was far too thick to see the aerostats, even 50 kilometers up from the surface where they circled the tarteran world.

"There is no place in the solar system more accommodating to human life than where we stand now, besides, of course, Earth herself." A murmur of dissent rippled through the chamber. She could even see some of the nearer MPs rolling their eyes.

"No? Then consider. Where else in the solar system is there true 1g of gravity. Mars? No. Luna? Hardly. Europa? Please. What about atmospheric pressure? If your station hull breaches on Ceres, you die. If an aerostat hull breaches here, your oxygen gauge barely moves, and maybe someone gets around to patching the hole in a few hours. We don't have explosive decompression here - we have, well, non-explosive slow leaks."

More laughter.

Adelaide continued quickly, "Cosmic radiation. That's bad, isn't it?" she quipped. "That sort of thing is likely to kill you fast, or so I hear. I wouldn't know, though, and neither would you. Venus' atmosphere is so bloody thick that the fact that we don't even have a magnetosphere doesn't particularly matter, since said radiation doesn't even make it through to where we all live.

"Eating is nice, yes? They are easy to forget, it's true, but don't forget the kilometers-long orbital greenhouses full of algae, soaking in solar light, pumping out oxygen, fueled by the very carbon dioxide that is all around us. That's well and good for air, but what about water? Venus has no water anymore, isn't that so? But we can make water, from hydrogen ripped from our famous clouds of sulfuric acid and the oxygen from our greenhouses.

"But what about...falling?" She looked around the chamber slowly. "Carbon dioxide is an interesting molecule. Kind of heavy. And by kind of, I mean terribly heavy, at least compared to oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen...all the things we pump our own aerostats full of. The ones that don't, by the way, explosively decompress."

Someone shouted from the gallery.

Adelaide turned towards the source of the shout. "Sir, I heard you mention the Fall of the Cities. That is something that is supposed to be covered by primary education, but, well, my esteemed collegues slashed the education budget over, I should note, my own protests, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Yes, a hundred years or so ago aerostats fell. Navka. Sacajawea." She paused, adding quietly, "Sif."

She lifted her chin, her voice ringing through the chamber then, "But," she said, pointing for emphasis, "That fall was not a fall at all. It was a powered crash. The attitude thrusters pushed those three aerostats out of orbit. Left alone, to be sure, they might have drifted, even wobbled inconveniently. But they would not have fallen!"

Adelaide preferred to avoid hyberbole, but sometimes political necessity required it. Technically a fib, but the rate of decay would have given enough time even for ridiculous political debates like this before something had to be done.

Adelaide lifted her hand to quiet the uproar. "And what about industry and commerce, let's talk about that. We mine the surface with robotic drones heat shielded with reams of graphene, and to be sure, the metal and potassium and phosphorus they extract is necessary, but we can always buy ships. No, our true product is the very atmosphere that sustains us here in the clouds - carbon. Enough for a millenia of usage at current rates. We spin graphene here in floating factories for electronics, biological engineering, composite materials, photovoltaics, lubricants, capacitors, inks, 3D printer slush, even paint, if that can be believed." She shook her head in mimicked amazement.

She took a deep breath. Have to make the flip soon, or I am going to lose them.

Adelaide fell quiet, eyes sweeping the chamber. When she spoke again, her voice was soft. "The Proformer faction would have us all believe that the only acceptable, the only conceivable answer for our future is on the surface. To that end, they would have us crash asteroids into Venus to try to induce spin. Feed iron to bind up the atmosphere. Seed the clouds with mirrors to turn the sunlight away. Our homes - our cities - cannot survive this - they would fall, in a second Fall of Cities." She winced to herself as she made the comparison. That was a dirty trick, albeit necessary.

"And for what?" she demanded.

"For some salty, shallow seas that would still be too hot to swim in? For the benefit of huddling on the mountain peaks? Assuming, of course, that this insane plan of theirs works. Oh, you didn't catch that part? The Proformers want to start this project - without even knowing if it will work. There are entire subcategories they don't even have theoretical models for how to solve them. That's right. They're betting your lives - your childrens' lives - on their own confidence, their own egos, that they'll somehow figure out a way to solve what are currently quite unsolvable problems."

Adelaide shook her head. "The Proformers tell you that we Seraphim in Parliament are Luddites who reject the future, but the Proformers are selling you a lie. They want to tear down everything we've built, here, in the most naturally hospitable environment in the solar system after Earth, to try to make some cheap, inferior copy of Earth. We don't need the surface. Why should we leave the clouds?"

She glanced at Maria Becker, seething at her terminal, then looked around the chamber, but she already knew she had won the vote before she even spoke her carefully chosen final words.

"We are already home."