Friday, February 24, 2006
Martian Intafada part one
Khalid looked across the table at the corporate recruiter, thinking that this was a very well lit office, for a basement office. He had worked for the ‘Constructeur du Pont’ company for ten years and could not understand the problem he was having with his transfer request.
Mr. Castay, as the well dressed middle-aged recruiter had introduced himself, explained, ”our joint operation with the Asahi Corporation is now our biggest project, you would be away from your family for five years Mr. Hamada. And it is not like you can pop back to earth to visit them. We need people who will be able to focus on the job not be moping about homesick.”
“I don’t have a family”, replied Khalid softly.
“Oh I am sorry, our records show you with a wife and daughter,” he said in a questioning tone.
“They died during the pandemic 2 years ago,” said Khalid his voice growing even softer than before.
“Oh, I am very sorry, I had a brother die during the pandemic.”
“I just want to get away from Paris, from France, and Algeria is just not far enough away.”
“I understand, yes I will approve the transfer.” Mr. Castay typed on his keyboard and a couple of mouse clicks later turned to Khalid, “You should be able to pick up your plane ticket to Jakarta Monday.
Khalid stood up, leaned over the table cluttered with papers and family pictures and shook Mr. Castay’s hand.
“Thank you sir”
“Good Luck Mr. Hamada, and I hope that Mars is far enough away.”
After 6 months the IJS Ryujo docked at the Mars orbital elevator station. The Journey had been uneventful. Khalid had spent the time studying the project details. He was to take control of a railroad project that was already behind schedule. It seemed to Khalid that the company expected him to perform a miracle.
Khalid had enjoyed the trip once he had gotten over his space sickness. The Ryujo was a large ship over a thousand meters long and more than 100 meters wide. Khalid had been shocked when the crew informed him that it wasn’t the biggest in the merchant fleet. Most of the Ryujo, about 70 percent was cargo hold. The rest of the ship, the engine room the bridge and the crew Quarters was all off limits to the passengers. The passenger quarters were divided up into first class, where Khalid stayed with two other French engineers and about 2 dozen Japanese technicians scientists and bureaucrats. There was a second class where 30 Japanese military personal were traveling and a workers hold, which held approximately 600 workers, mostly Indonesians, Malays and Philippinos.
The two French engineers seemed very enthusiastic, as did the Japanese technicians and scientists. The Japanese bureaucrats had an air of forced exile about them and the military personal, whom he saw rarely, gave him an impression less of soldiers than of prison guards. The workers he saw not at all, which at first seemed strange to Khalid, but out of sight out of mind and they were quickly forgotten.
It was only when he disembarked from the space elevator at Kyoto on Mars that he saw the workers, being loaded into huge pressurized trucks and quickly driven away.
A Mr. Landry met him at the elevator station. A well dressed man who kept brushing himself off and demonstrated an inability to not talk. He escorted Khalid to his hotel and after checking him in gave him a watch.
“We have a 24 hour day like on Earth, but the Martian hours are about a minute and half longer than a Earth hour.” He explained,” don’t worry you’ll get used to it, no problem at all. But you do have to use a Martian watch.”
Khalid had 24 ‘Martian’ hours until he had to report in. He had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, unable to read the Japanese menu, he convinced the waiter using a lot of pantomime as the waiter spoke no French, Arabic or English and Khalid’s Japanese was limited to hello and thank you, that he needed a vegetarian meal as he wanted to avoid eating anything haram.
Back in his room he discovered that all of the television shows were in Japanese and therefore switched it off and pulled out his flash drive with all his music on it. He plugged it into the room’s entertainment system. Soon he was listening to one of his old Rai albums by Cheb Khalid. He fell asleep with the album looping all night long.
The next day, following the instructions that Mr. Landry had given him he was able to leave his hotel and catch the train that brought him to the offices of Constructeur du port. The offices were a little different than he had imagined as the entire office complex had been dug out of the Martian rock and the walls, floor and ceiling were simply sprayed with a clear stabilizing agent. Also there were a lot more Japanese workers than he expected.
He was introduced to Mr. Leblanc, the head of construteur du pont operations on Mars. The briefing went well as they explained he would be going to worksite two. Where he would stay, a pressurized trailer. He was introduced to his immediate subordinates Rene Tomson foreman and Lt. Shoichi Watanabe.
“And what is Lt. Watanabe’s job on the worksite”? asked Khalid
“He will keep the workers in line” replied Mr. Leblanc cheerfully.
Khalid felt an icy chill run down his spine, but could not help himself as he asked his next questions. “While reading one of the reports I have here on page 125 the amount of concrete used, steel used, ect ect and on page 127 I have the estimates for how much will be used for the rest of the project. But I do not understand this column where it says workers, as that number is not the number of workers assigned to the project. What does that number signify?”
“That is the worker attrition rate per month and that there is the total number of workers we expect to lose by the end of the project,” stated Mr. Leblanc with a smile.
“When you say lose, you mean they will quit? I don’t see how?” he questioned hoping Mr. Leblanc did not give him the answer that he was expecting.
“Not quit Mr. Hamada, die. Mars is a very harsh environment. The temperature typically gets down to –83c and only rises to –5c during the day. Dust storms and accidents. Anyway the workers cannot quit most of them are conscripts and the rest are prisoners. Would you like a chocolate?”
“Would I like a chocolate! Conscripted labor is a violation of French law and the earth labor treaty.”
“We are not in France, we are not on Earth. And while you can quit, you will have to pay for your trip here and back and the company will sue you for breach of contract. Also if you cannot afford passage back you may find yourself being conscripted into the labor force.”
Khalid felt his guts freeze and said, “I am not quitting but I am not happy about this” what I have gotten myself into he thought.
“No one is happy about this. Just do what I do. Do your job, get your big fat Mars bonus, go home and build a big house on a river or stream and forget about this place.”