Here's the opening of Mother Go, as narrated by the wonderful January LaVoy.
Here's a brief adventure that Mariska shares with her friend Elan of Mars. It takes place about a third of the way into Mother Go.
The superpressure balloon was three kilometers above them, according to Elan. When Mariska peered up she could see a bright pinprick in a butterscotch sky. It was easier to see the scoop which hung from it, sailing across Escalante Crater toward them. The scoop was unreeling its tether to get closer to the surface. Even though she was wearing an insulated pressure suit, Mariska shivered. Elan squeezed her hand; he was wearing just his uniform and a breather. The scoop skimmed lower and lower. Its wings looked sharp as knives. The rear propeller began to churn, acting as a brake. The flaps went up. Slower but still way too fast for Mariska. The fuselage hung beneath the wings; from where she stood it looked to be barely skimming the surface. A wide door slid open; the boarding step stuck out like a silver tongue.
The EV suit felt like it was made of dough. She couldn’t possibly run fast enough in it to hop aboard.
Elan’s feed was like an electric shock.
=As I’m going to be.=
=It’ll be down to six kilometers an hour. A slow jog.=
Mariska felt her thigh muscles twitching.
=If you miss, fall flat. We’ll try another pass.=
If the wings didn’t slice her in half. And here it was, zigzagging slightly, the door a yawning black hole.
And then she was running as fast as she could, trying to match speed with the scoop. As she closed on it she was surprised to feel backwash from the propeller, even in the thin atmosphere of Mars, but she threw herself forward and there was the boarding step. Jump up, hands on the grab bar, pull hard and she was in. She started laughing hysterically, even though no one could hear her. Because no one could hear her. A few seconds later Elan stepped calmly through the open door as if he were taking a stroll through the greenhouse. He put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her.
=Yaaahhh.= In her excitement her head opened wide. They were probably picking her up in orbit. =Did it.=
=You’re practically a Martian.= Elan was too polite to take advantage of her vulnerability. =But don’t go fizzy on me now.= He steered her deeper into the cabin and pointed to a grab bar. She remembered that when the pilot put the flaps down again and reversed the prop, the scoop would lurch forward, tugged along by the balloon, sailing the winds in the upper atmosphere. She wrapped one hand around the bar and gave him a thumbs-up with the other.
Elan had explained that if they had been taking on or dropping off cargo, the scoop would have hooked onto an anchor at the Escalante landing dock. But docking took too much time; the scoop wouldn’t stop for passengers only. Martians caught their rides by hopping a moving scoop.
They passed through the airlock and Elan took off his breather. The air pressure in the passenger compartment was only 200 millibars, too low for Mariska, so she was stuck in the pressure suit. There were two other passengers. One acknowledged them with a nod. The other was asleep under a sun lamp, her photoreceptors erect and reaching toward the light like hungry snakes. Mariska tried not to disturb them as she flitted from window to window, taking in the view. The scoop was reeling in the tether to gain altitude. Behind them was the base. She could see the squat chocolate chip shape of the Tréboles and the jumble of service modules around it. Beyond that was Ferryland, the cluster of vintage Mars-to-orbit cargo ships where the Martians who had built the base lived. Ahead was the southwest wall of Escalante Crater and, two hundred and sixty kilometers beyond that, Tarragona.
This wasn’t a trip Mariska had been looking forward to, and the only reason she was making it was because Elan had begged her to come. His own relationship with his parents was strained and he claimed they would have to behave if he brought a guest. She owed him; after all, hadn’t he helped Mariska with Natalya? She could’ve resisted this argument, but what she couldn’t resist was that he needed her support. Had anyone ever really needed her? Maybe Jak, her first and only boyfriend, but that had ended badly. Was Elan her boyfriend? They’d certainly spent a lot of time together in the past few weeks. No, that was ridiculous – he was a Martian, and a spacer, and he’d be out of her life before too much longer. But he was her only friend on the base, if she didn’t count Shengyi. What Mariska didn’t understand was how she could be his only friend. Despite all the kidding he got, the rest of the crew seemed to like him. Kora and Neha especially made an effort to include him, but he kept pushing them away.
The whirring of the tether reel got even louder as they cleared Escalante. The ground fell away as the scoop hauled itself up towards its balloon. Ahead of them loomed the peak of a mountain.
Elan came up behind her. “Like the view?”
“That’s a big one ahead.” The helmet muffled her voice, but Martians had keen hearing.
“Mt. Letosa. Two thousand meters of up between here and there. We’ll make it.”
“I’m not worried.” She placed her glove flat against the window. “This is great.”
“This part, sure. Later, maybe not.”
She patted his back. “We’ll survive.”
=I really appreciate this.= His feed was practically melting with gratitude.
Elan had guessed that it would take at least four hours to get to Tarragona, depending on how many rolling stops they had to make. The pilot tacked north after crossing over Mt. Letosa and worked his way around its western slope to pick up two miners and drop off the Martian who had been snoozing. A couple of hours later, she swooped low over a seemingly empty plain. Mariska peered, but couldn’t see anyone. The scoop slowed down but not nearly enough. Nobody, not even a Martian, could run that fast. Then she spotted the trail of dust peeling behind the glint of metal: a dust buggy was hurtling toward them. She wanted to call Elan to come see but there was no time. The buggy’s single front wheel came off the ground as it closed the last few meters; the dual rear wheels spewed clouds of dust. Even with her face pressed to the window, Mariska couldn’t see the entry, although she could hear the squeal of rubber on metal in the cabin behind them. She expected a crash but none came. Then the scoop lurched forward to catch up to the balloon and at the same time climb the tether. A few moments later, the rider burst through the airlock. She tore her helmet off and stomped to Elan.
“She can’t even breathe the air,” she said, wisps of Marsdust puffing from her buggy suit.
Mariska glanced at Elan. When he shrank in his seat, she sat upright. Was this person talking about her?
“Why are you here?” Elan sounded as miserable as he looked.
“Why?” The rider turned to the other passengers. “He wants to know why I’m here.”
“So do we,” called one of the miners. “Tell us. We’re bored.”
“It’s been a long trip.” The other was laughing that staccato Martian laugh.
=Elan, who is she?= Mariska offered, but his head was slammed shut.
“This is his tourist,” said the angry rider. “For her, he leaves me. Me, three times his wife.”
Grrr. Now Elan was growling. “We were never really together, Nelow.”
Mariska didn’t like anything about this woman, but especially not her claim to be married to Elan. “I’m Mariska Volochkova.” She stood. “And you are?”
“Yes, we know all about you.” The look she gave Mariska could have crushed stone. “The billion yuan girl – you cost almost as much as his damn starship.”
Elan stood beside her. “Why are you here?”
“I am invited by Gamir and Zak. The grandparents of our child.”
“There is no child.”
Mariska bumped him. “What is going on here, Elan?”
“He doesn’t tell you? Wake up, sleeper.” She snapped her fingers in front of Mariska’s face. “You two talk now. I need to sit with real Martians.” She turned, stalked to the two miners and pushed in between them. “Talk!” she ordered Elan and Mariska, then leaned back and slung arms around each of the miners’ shoulders.
They talked. When Nelow and Elan had been two Martian years old – not quite four standard -- their parents had agreed to a term marriage contract for their children, who had never met. Nelow lived in the city of Schiaparelli and Elan lived eight hundred kilometers away in remote Tarragona. This was, first of all, a civic and business relationship. The marriage earned both families government stipends under the Repopulation Act, passed at the end of the Abandonment. However, while the institution of child marriage was most popular among the poorest Martians, money was not their only motivation. Pledging that their children would marry and reproduce was seen by parents as a patriotic duty to their decimated society. Mars needed Martians. Their original contract had been for three Martian years; renewal for another term doubled the stipend and created a greater expectation that the marriage would someday be made permanent. At the time of the third renewal, the couple was required to bank eggs and sperm as insurance against radiation damage since levels on the surface of Mars were fifty times those on Earth. Most who agreed to three term contracts went on to permanent marriage, while those who chose not to renew a contract were required to pay the stipends back.
“We waited too long to live together,” whispered Elan. “I liked her well enough ...” He kept checking on Nelow. “… but from a distance.” She appeared to have fallen asleep; her head rested against one of the miners. “I tried moving in with her while I was in school at Schiaparelli.” He ground his foot into the deck, as if to squash the memory. “Not good – we lasted a week. Should have split then, but my parents couldn’t afford to pay the stipend back. We thought we might give it a go again when we were older. But then there was the Natividad. Mother.”
Mariska offered a feed again but his head was still closed. “She’s angry about that,” she said.
“I had to try for it,” he said. “No Martian has ever crewed on a starship.”
“So you got married for the future of Mars?”
“Yes, but that was my parents’ choice, not mine. Now that there won’t be a child, I’ve been putting money aside to pay back the stipend.”
“And you’re leaving for the greater glory of Mars.” She poked him in the ribs.
He gave her a sour look. “You don’t like my reason?” He considered. “Nobody I know wants me to do this. Maybe not even me.”
This was news to her. She waited to hear more.
“My Mom is proud, even though she hates that I’m never coming back. Dad was always against my going. He’s practically a Firster, like that one.” He nodded toward Nelow. “The crew thinks I’m more of a nuisance than I’m worth. Good for public relations, mostly. Like you.”
“And now you’re not sure you want to go?”
“I grew up dreaming about starships and the wormhole and the Builders.” He bit his lip. “I need to do something. I’m twelve years old.”
She nudged him with an elbow. “Twenty-two standard.”
“Tourist years. I can’t believe she called you that.”
“I think she’s awake.” Mariska took his hand in hers, mostly to tease Nelow. “And peeking this way.” At least, that was what she thought she was doing. “She’s burning up at the sight of us together.”
“Maybe.” He sounded doubtful.
“I can’t believe your parents invited her.”
“I can,” said Elan.