Author : Bob Newbell

Minerva City had a population of one thousand and greater financial resources than all but the largest countries. The great aerostatic city-state floated 50 kilometers above the surface of Venus and moved along in the super-rotating atmosphere at 300 kilometers per hour. The airborne habitation circled Venus every four Earth days even as the planet itself sluggishly completed a single rotation on its axis only once every 243 days.

Without Minerva Incorporated, the solar economy would collapse. Just as Earth was dotted with oil wells during the 20th and 21st centuries, the skies of 23rd century Venus were dotted with floating fuel refineries. The automated aerostat platforms mined the Venusian air for raw materials and processed them into fuel. Then the orbiting skyhooks hoisted the payloads into space where they entered long, cycling orbits between the inner planets. It was this cheap and plentiful commodity that was the lifeblood of interplanetary commerce.

Daniel Sperry, president and CEO of Minerva Incorporated, watched as the shuttlecraft that looked like a miniature version of Minerva City itself made its careful approach into the docking bay. Fifteen minutes later, Sperry found himself sharing a bottle of exorbitantly expensive wine with Ng Yeow Chye, the Prime Minister of Mars.

“Fifty thousand people. That’s what the population of Mars will be by the end of the century,” Ng said. “Aerostats are fine outposts, but a true civilization must be built on land.”

Sperry poured Ng more wine. “Why just fifty thousand? Why not five hundred thousand? Or a million?”

Ng knew that Sperry knew the answer to his own question. The habitation domes, of course. Each one was an engineering marvel, massive both in size and cost. Ng stood with the assistance of a powered exoskeleton. Venus’ 0.9 g of gravity was over twice that of Mars. “You have a proposal, Mr. Sperry?”

“Paraterraforming,” said Sperry as he tapped a control on the table. A holographic model of the solar system filled the room. Sperry showed Ng a dozen carefully selected comets that could be made to collide with Mars, their disintegrations and impacts thickening the red planet’s atmosphere by dozens of millibars. He showed him the massive drilling machines that could pierce the planet’s crust at six different locations around the equator. He showed him the six huge induction motors that he claimed could magnetically stir Mars’ liquid metal outer core until a magnetosphere enveloped the world. He showed him images of genetically engineered bacteria that could turn sterile Martian regolith into lush soil.

Over the course of three days, Sperry answered the Martian Prime Minister’s questions and translated arcane technicalities into layman’s terms. Sperry allayed his doubts with reassurances and met his skepticisms with a confidence that bordered on arrogance.

“Two hundred years to transform Mars?” he asked Ng with a laugh? “We’ll do it in twenty!”

Ng finally boarded his shuttlecraft and left Minerva City bound for Mars a veritable disciple of Sperry. After Ng was gone, Sperry sat alone in his study. He tapped a control on his desk and a hologram of Mars appeared before him, large areas of wasteland highlighted in blue. The marked real estate would be his payment for paraterraforming Mars. The image gradually changed to show what a transformed Mars would look like. The highlighted areas now described the borders of beachfronts and fertile plains.

“A true financial empire must be built on land,” Sperry said aloud with a smile. His desk’s display showed Minerva’s quarterly profits. Enough playing around with a few hundred trillion credits, he thought. Time to make some real money.

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