Science Fiction

“In a not-too-distant future…”

  • Mars by Train [sample]

    by Keegan Burke



    Siobhán knocked back the glass of red and called for another. “Yo, Yves, when you gonna start serving something stronger around here, for Chrissakes? Every damn day, and it takes me half a paycheck to get a buzz.”

    Yves mumbled something and took his time pouring the ice-cold, rust-colored liqueur. He didn’t feel much like explaining how higher alcohol content meant more volatile, or how the high oxygen concentration of the habitat’s atmosphere made it more difficult to get drunk. He didn’t bother mentioning the ridiculous amount of money that had already been invested in the local production of a stable intoxicating substance. He certainly didn’t bring up the crate of contraband whisky that he had stashed in the back room.

    “The price of crude oil has reached a new record high of 986 US dollars a barrel, as derrick fires have erupted in the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Alaska. The cause is yet unknown, but authorities believe this may be the latest in a rash of fires set by radical environmentalists.” The scantily clad reporter cradled a tablet delicately in her arms and turned to face the adjacent camera. “In related news, forest fires rage in southwestern Canada and northern Montana, threatening to cut off access to, and potentially engulf the Bakken LTO deposit.”

    “Ah, Jesus; turn it off Yves.” Siobhán pinched the bridge of her nose and glanced down at the scrolling display on her wrist, doing her best to ignore the projection behind the bar. She swiped down on the face of yet another slender, handsome man’s personal message.

    “We’re here today with Aureliano Rivera and Zhong Wen, members of a joint Chinese-Mexican research team who claim to have cracked the cellulose code…” A smooth talking, male anchor took over, sounding a little too much like a water salesman. The camera panned over to a young, bespectacled woman with white hair and a short, muscular man with a bushy mustache.

    Yves moved toward the display with deliberate slowness, concentrating fiercely on the disturbing news from Earth. “Tell us, Mr. Rivera, what is the cellulose code, and why is it important?”

    “Fuck’s sakes, Yves!” Siobhán’s face was more red than usual, and made her fiery hair look almost ironic.

    “That is a very important question you ask. I mean, you just saw for yourself that we cannot continue to rely on petroleum to quench our thirst for fuel,” the mustachioed man replied. “What Dr. Zhong and I have been working on is a way to efficiently make ethanol from corn and rice fibers.”

    “Sure, but haven’t we been making ethanol from corn for years?” The slender, female anchor chimed in, “and, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought you couldn’t run a vehicle off of pure ethanol.” The reporter raised an eyebrow and looked seductively into the camera.

    The Chinese scientist jumped in, adjusting her sleeve, “These are actually two misconceptions you point out. First, the people of Earth need our grain. We need it to eat and to feed livestock. But when we harvest these products, we have a lot of waste in the form of cellulose. This is the fiber, in the stalk and husk of the plant, especially with grains.”

    “I see, so you’re saying you can use the waste,” the smooth-talking anchor asked from his desk.

    “Precisely,” Aureliano chimed in, “we have developed digestive enzymes that work in tandem with common microbes to very efficiently…”

    “Yves!”

    “C’mon Siobhán. It wouldn’t hurt you to care what’s happening back home, would it?” Yves tapped the remote and the image disappeared, leaving a plain, matte white wall.

    Siobhán grunted and tapped her wrist, swiped left, finished her drink, and with two fingers, requested another. “Not my home,” she declared precipitously.   

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