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.Some kind of frost gathered in their lee.“My, I slept the night through.”“Are you okay?”Bisesa shifted, exploring.“A little stiff.But I guess even a chair like this is comfortable in low gravity.I’ll stretch and have a wash shortly.”“You’ll have to wait for Alexei.He’s shaving his head again.”“I guess I got hypnotized by the view.”“White line fever.Or something.” Myra sounded irritable.“Myra? Is something wrong?”“Wrong? Christ, Mother, look at that view.Nothing.And yet here you are, sitting up here for hour after hour, just drinking it in.”“What’s wrong with that?”“It’s you.If there’s something strange, you’re drawn to it.You revel in it.”Bisesa glanced around.The others were asleep.She realized that this was the first time she and Myra had effectively been alone since the washed-out days after her waking at the Hibernaculum—there had never been real privacy even on the Maxwell, and certainly not in the elevator spider cabin.“We’ve never had a chance to talk,” she said.Myra made to stand up.“Not here.”Bisesa put her hand on her arm.“Come on.Who cares if the police are listening in? Please, Myra.I don’t feel I know you anymore.”Myra sat back.“Maybe that’s the trouble.I don’t know you.Since you came out of the tank—I think I’d got used to living without you, Mum.As if you had died, perhaps.And when you did come out, you aren’t how I remember you.You’re like a sister I’ve suddenly discovered, not my mother.Does that make sense?”“No.But we haven’t evolved for Hibernacula time-slips, have we?”“What do you want to talk about? I mean, where am I supposed to start? It’s been nineteen years, half my life.”“Give me one headline.”“Okay.” Myra hesitated, and looked away.“You have a granddaughter.”Her name was Charlie, for Charlotte, Myra’s daughter by Eugene Mangles.Now aged fifteen, she had been born four years after Bisesa went into the tank.“Good God.I’m a grannie.”“When we broke up, Eugene fought me for custody.And he won, Mum.He had the clout to do it.Eugene is powerful and he’s famous.”Bisesa said, “But he was never very human, was he?”“Of course I had access.But that was never enough.I’m not like you.I don’t want strangeness.I wanted to build a home, for me and Charlie.I wanted—stability.I never got close to that.And in the end he cut me out altogether.It wasn’t hard.They’re hardly ever even on the Earth.”Bisesa reached for her hand; it was cold and unresponsive.“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”“Well, for one thing you didn’t ask.And, look, here we are on Mars! And we’re here because you’re the famous Bisesa Dutt.You have much more important issues to worry about than a lost granddaughter.”“Myra, I’m sorry.When this is all over—”“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Mum.It never is over, with you.But I’ll support you even so.I always will.Look, forget about it.You had a right to know.Well, now you do.” Her face was intent, her mouth pinched.Green light was reflected in her eyes.Green?Bisesa sat up with a jolt, and looked out of the blister window.Under a salmon-pink dawn sky, the rutted tracks snaked across a plain that was painted a deep dull green.Paula joined them.“Discovery.Slow down so we can see.” The truck obligingly slowed, with a distant grinding of gears.Myra and Bisesa sat uncomfortably; Bisesa wondered how much Paula had heard of their conversation.Now Bisesa could see that the green was a carpet of tiny plants, each no larger than her thumb.Each plant looked like a leather-skinned cactus, but it had translucent sections—windows to catch the sunlight, Bisesa supposed, without losing a precious drop of moisture.There were other plants too.She picked out small black spheres—round to retain heat, black to soak it up during the day? She wondered if they turned white, chameleon-like, to avoid dissipating heat at night.But the cacti predominated.Myra said, “The cacti are what Helena discovered, in the wake of the sunstorm.Life on Mars.”“Yes,” Paula said.“The most common multicelled organism we’ve found yet on Mars.The subsurface bacterial mats and the stromatolites in Hellas are more widespread—a lot more biomass.But the window cacti are still the stars of the show.The species has been named for my mother.”Each window cactus was a survivor from deep ages past, Paula said.When the solar system was young, the three sister worlds were briefly similar: Venus, Earth, Mars, all warm, wet, geologically active.It was impossible to say on which of them life spawned first.Mars was certainly the first to accumulate an oxygen atmosphere, the fuel for complex, multicelled life-forms, billions of years before the Earth.But Mars was also the first to cool and dry.Paula said, “But this took time, hundreds of millions of years.You can achieve a lot in hundreds of millions of years—why, the mammals filled out an ecology vacated by the dinosaurs in less than sixty-five million years.The Martians were able to evolve survival strategies.”The roots of the cacti were buried deep in the cold rock of Mars.They didn’t need oxygen, but fueled their glacial metabolism with hydrogen released by the slow reaction of the volcanic rocks with traces of water ice.Thus they and their ancestors had survived aeons.“There were always volcanic episodes,” Paula said.“The Tharsis calderas thicken the air every ten to a hundred million years.The cacti grow, propagate, grow dormant again, surviving as spores until the next episode.And then the sunstorm caused rain, water rain.The air has stayed thick and wet enough to keep them out of their dormant stages right through the year [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]