Continents are passing through an area of space around Mars that we have dubbed the Arena, they whisk through space and tug infinitesimally on the atoms of the red planet, urging it to change orbit and break away from the Sun’s embrace. We do not know why this is, just that it is. Asteroids large and small, mostly heavy cores of iron, they all curve in a myriad of paths through the system, the only common point being Mars. On this predictability we have begun to use the deluge of asteroids as a mighty river that carries our species out and away from our Earth.
The space-faring age of humanity has just begun.
We placed all manner of sensors on the asteroids as they passed Mars. We launched our mechanisms on dumb rockets and used tethers and smart harpoons on the rocks. They barely slowed, did not mind at all to picking up an extra ton or a dozen of weight, and flew inward toward Mercury or Venus, or the first brave souls out past the meteor belt.
The first humans into orbit were the Russians, Americans walked on the Moon, Chinese got to Mars, a Japanese team tethered to a megaton asteroid and rode on it for two years, their orbit reaching beyond the belt and to Jupiter, where it slows within spitting distance of the gas giant and begins its fall back toward Mars. The Japanese team perform EVAs on the asteroid and nickname it The Cliffs, after the Cliffs of Dover. They’d never seen them, but heard stories.
The Cliffs was an asteroid as big as Everest, some had made the comparison. Hitomi hadn’t been convinced, but she nonetheless voted for it.
She was moving along the flat side that their ship was attached to. The horizon was sharp and nearby, the features of the asteroid dropping off quickly. Hitomi fired her jets and flew a few feet away from the smooth surface, her right hand hovering just in front of the surface, keeping them level, sensors in the glove helping her navigate toward today’s location.
The team was mapping out the asteroid on foot, walking over every major feature. They had plenty of time. Hitomi moved through the handful of asteroid collision sites, collected samples and bored deep into the atmosphere, then returned to the ship. It was quiet and she went back to her sleeping pod.
The lights were on and Hitomi found a small maintenance drone hanging over her pillow, its electronics utensils out.
Hitomi floated in and swung the door closed.
“You’re quite paranoid.”
“Somebody has to be.”
“Better you than me, yeah. I didn’t find anything out there, just more craters. No letters, no nothing.”
Hitomi looked away from the drone, toward her tablet, and tapped away for a minute. The repair drone moved toward the door, which opened just enough to let it slip out, then resealed.