The Grand Tour
In January of 1917, flying saucers descended over every major city on the planet Earth, and over every battlefield. The fighting stops, the world watches.
The Martians have arrived. They demand:
1) That the people of Earth stop fighting
2) by god water please oh my fucking shit you have no idea.
The Martians have recently fought a war, you see. They developed strong artificial general intelligence, and failed to give it a sufficient ethical foundation. The Sunrise War was costly, in terms of lives and functioning Martian biosphere. It was also over in an evening.
Deprived of a good deal of its potable water, Mars needed a replacement. Before asking their more primitive neighbors on Earth for labor and industry, they tried to fix their situation themselves. Out to Saturn, to snag ice from the ring and fling it back at Mars orbit.
A decimal point was missed. Then a digit was misplaced. While there are a few large chunks of ice in Mars orbit, now, Phobos is gone. So is the top half-mile of Olympus. Imagine the Environmental Impact Statement for those missions.
So the Martians hammer out a deal. There’s a lot of humans. Like, “a lot” a lot. And we’re good at making things. Mars, on the other hand, has more mineral wealth than you can shake a stick at. Trades are arranged: We’ll build water furnaces for them and score them ice, and they’ll teach us technology and space travel. We help them make it rain, they’ll make it rain in a somewhat more metaphorical way. Oh, and help us solve our population issues by giving us the keys to the cosmos.
And so ever since the end of the Great War, the world’s been eager to trade with our newfound Martian neighbors. They need water, and we need room. The hub for commerce, built out here in the cold and dark between our worlds, is the Grand Tour.
The Grand Tour is a spaceborne New York, a massive platform a hundred miles across. Martian technology and human labor brought together to craft a new city, a symbol of our concord. Ten million people living under the geodesic dome. The Tour provides services and facilitates trade between the Martians and the burgeoning manufacturing economy of Earth. Mars is resource-rich but lacks in important facilities and available labor for manufacturing. Materials pass through the station to the factories of Earth. Finished goods return to the city and are handed to Martian shipmasters on their cargo discs. Between the cracks of lawful commerce, of course, flows the stuff of film noir. Mafiosi and rum-runners, class warfare and pyramid schemes. Murder and worse.
The city’s Martian-provided internal ubiquitous surveillance and weapons-suppression field provides a safe space for commerce and life. The field also leeches all color from the city except four very specific frequencies – 635nm (red), 561nm (yellow), 520nm (green), and 445nm (blue). Any light that doesn’t meet those strict spectral criteria is desaturated to gray. There are exceptions, of course. Private residences have the ability to turn off the field internally without the need for a license, tax, fee, or other levy as per the Grand Tour Charter. Businesses require a license, of course, and the advantages to turning off the field (the presence of color and the lack of surveillance) are balanced against the disadvantages (reduced policing priority, weapons function within the exclusion zone). Unlicensed “color blocks” are prohibited by law, with strict penalties of course.
And it’s not just normal realistic shit that people aboard the Tour have to deal with. The Martians are psychic – They have electrogravitational powers that can do everything from telepathy to sound manipulation to firing death-ray bolts from their eyes at will. And there are human scientists (some call them mad. Mad, they say! Hah! I’ll show them ALL!) that have figured out how to focus what little potential humans have for these kind of shenanigans and amplify it.
Like any good science fiction setting, we’ve got robots too. The Automatic Men, built by automotive and electronics manufacturers and driven by atomic batteries, they’re very nearly lifelike. And of course, the Automen are genuinely sapient though without all of the rights of born people. Built of steel and plastic and glass in all body types, male or female in appearance, Automen are just human enough to not trigger the Uncanny Valley effect. Like their human builders, they have names – A first name, chosen at random for their sex, followed by a truncated version of their serial number and the name of the company that built them. Originally intended as labor forces for the Grand Tour, the Automen have come into their own after a few years of function.
Today is January 1, 1922, in the Grand Tour’s most populated district. They call it Freeside. And down on 33rd Street East, a bar has been tossed. The Sullen Solenoid, a place frequented by humans with Automatic limbs and organs as well as Automen of all stripes, the carnage there is less permanent than usual.
With one exception. In a back corridor, color flickers within a single room. Laying on the floor in pieces is an elegant silver-and-glass job in what was once an elegant dress. The ID panel at her collarbone reads HELEN 201 ABBOT-DETROIT. One eye and both arms are missing, and her chest has been pried open. Part of her brain is missing within, connections cut instead of removed.
Elsewhere, a welder goes about his work. A chemist discovers that space tastes like raspberries. Two Martians load an anonymous cargo container aboard a ship.
A phone rings.