Duran was keenly aware of the weight of the sword perched along his spine. Most of the time the feeling was so familiar he never even noticed it. But that sword was a dead giveaway to anyone who knew what to look for. Not that he expected an expert in nanotech to be hiding away in a remote border town. The sword also meant that everyone around him was in danger. He hoped those Ares Corp. robots had followed him into the storm. There was no way a machine could keep running after walking through nature’s own sandblaster for hours. Even if they had followed, he knew more would be looking for him. He needed to slip quietly away to another part of Mars.
Blackstone hadn’t been joking when he said the tour would be short. Ten buildings in various states of collapse perched on a road made of trampled Martian dust. Duran could tell just by looking down the main street, the only street in town, that the population was hovering somewhere around two dozen.
“Welcome to Blue Skies,” Blackstone said.
Duran looked up. With all the dust still hanging in the air from the storm, the town name was almost a lie. Undeterred by his guest’s doubtful expression, Blackstone continued.
“You’ve already seen my place. It’s the oldest building in town. Survey Station 224-B. Was supposed to be the center of a new settlement out of Lewisnclarke, but the corporation behind it got bought out. So here we are, decades later, still waiting.”
“What do you do for food?”
“We have solar roofing to keep our batteries charged. That lets us grow some modified algae under grow lights. There’s aboveground crops too, when they don’t get dusted over. And herds of cattle.”
“Pond scum protein.”
Blackstone shared Duran’s grin.
“I’d have pegged you for a city boy. Guess I was wrong.”
“I grew up in a place like this. Things didn’t stay simple.”
As they walked down the hard-packed street, the geologist glanced at Duran’s back.
“No, I imagine they didn’t.”
After Duran got the grand tour of the saloon, a couple farms, and met a few of the townspeople, they started heading back to Blackstone’s place. They got detoured by a torrent of swearing spilling out of the saloon into the afternoon air.
Duran pushed open the swinging doors and stepped inside. Like everything else in town, the bar was built from blocks of pressed and fired dust. Cheap and quick to build, but it didn’t last. Without major repairs or replacements, this town would return to dust in another couple decades.
The proprietor of the establishment was in the process of mercilessly beating his satellite uplink. Red-faced with a bushy black mustache, it looked like he enjoyed sampling his product. The poor machine didn’t look like it could take too much more, so Blackstone stepped in to calm the man down.
“Easy there Gent. We don’t need to lose our only contact to the outside world.”
“Piece of garbage has been running slow all day. What am I paying for?”