[identity profile] ice-tealc.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] remix_redux
Title: Frame of Mind (The Eye of the Storm Remix)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] kangeiko
Summary: After a dig at Syria Planum goes awry, IPX dispatches a team from its New Technologies division to investigate.
Fandom: Babylon 5
Characters: Mr Morden, Mary Kirkish, Anna Sheridan.
Rating: PG-13 for swearing and sexual situations.
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Original story: Before Any Coming Storms by [livejournal.com profile] aris_writing.
A/N: This monster was betaed by a great many people, all of whom worked very hard to fix my mistakes. For this, I am very grateful indeed, and if any snaphus sneaked in there anyway, it's entirely my own fault.




In the old days, before humans had telescopes or satellites or shuttles with which to view the world, when they had no way of seeing that did not involve their naked eyes turned heavenward, they imagined Mars as red, scarred and pock-marked as burnt flesh. A tale has it that this bright, virulent colour came to be because of all the blood spilled across it, staining the sands and running over it like rivers. All this was known and dreamt of, eons before grasping human hands strung together bits of glass and metal and humanity looked up at the sky, at the red planet blazing down. Centuries later, the wandering eyes cast heavenward grew ever more curious about the starry sky as, slowly, the tentative spiders' webs of terraforming stretched across it. The early explorers romanticised it with tales of Martians and of canals; the deep grooves the only remnant of a vast and terrible alien empire. It was, perhaps, an even more fanciful idea than the child sacrifices watering the sands.

Unlike those old dreamers - and unlike the great unwashed, dreaming of gleaming metal domes and jobs for all - Morden thought that Mars was quite possibly the ugliest planet in the entire galaxy. In one thousand cubic feet of space, Mars Spaceport encapsulated all that was wrong with this planet. The air was recycled more per daily cycle than any other place on the planet, and it stank: sour sweat and old urine. It didn't help that it was crowded to the point of a safety hazard. The immigration queue alone stretched for half a mile, winding around itself to form more of an ordered mob than anything else. Above, fans rotated half-heartedly, moving fetid air from one part of the port to the other, trying to ease the impossible strain on the air recyclers. Several children just beyond the Mars/no man's land border were whimpering quietly, too tired to scream.

This place is a giant coffin, Morden thought, no longer sure whether this was a bad thing. He'd been earth-born, like most of the émigrés, and pulled to Mars out of necessity rather than any real curiosity or inclination. Those dreamers flocking to the glittering domes - bright as bits of starlight from Earth's viewing platforms and beloved of so many schoolchildren - were utterly foreign to him; their motivation inexplicable. Even as one of those schoolchildren, he had preferred the things one could find in the dirt beneath his feet than in the cold spaces between the stars. Who would choose to live in sealed domes when fresh air was available a shuttle-ride away? It was beyond him, he'd told Denni in all seriousness. She'd laughed at him. You'll change your tune when it comes to something that really matters to you, she'd said. You're all that matters to me, he'd replied, all reflex. That had been before Sarah had been born, and maybe it had even been true. Certainly, he'd believed it to be the truth, and he remembered being a little hurt when Denni had smiled at him, a little sadly. I'm not dead enough to matter to you.

He closed his eyes against the scrape of the flickering neon lights. She had been right, as usual. Denni had told him that it was why he'd gone into academia in the first place - as if she'd been there, and watched it happen - and why he'd chosen languages. Dead languages, Morden. It makes all the difference. And it had. He hadn't expected it to, but since arriving here… You can't love live things, Denni had said, so certain, with not one iota of blame or anger in her voice - or maybe he couldn't, maybe there was just something about him that couldn't cope with it. Live things grew and changed and ran away from you, or pushed you away. They cut their hair or changed their minds or said, God, you're stifling me, all right? I can't stay this way forever! and expected him to understand.

Sometimes, they expected you to love them back.

A shadow fell across him, and he opened his eyes, blinking. "What are you doing here?"

The light streamed from behind her, casting her face in shadow. He smiled. "Hello, Anna."



Morden had never been a particularly big fan of Mars, not even as a child. Settled worlds didn't interest him that much, and poor settled worlds with little to no terraforming effort interested him least of all. His arrival had thoroughly disabused him of any lingering romantic notions that he might have harboured about a red, barren wasteland. Not that it was the Marsies' fault; no, he didn't blame them at all. They'd been dealt a bad card, is all.

EarthGov were a stingy lot, all things considered. When space had started to get tight, five or so years previous, Geneva told the district councils to raise rents and tax the people accordingly. Thinning the demand for living space, they said. Only a government light-years away could have come up with something quite that stupid, of course, and the mere suggestion had been laughed right out by the Mars-born. Thinning the demand? How? Where were the people who couldn't afford the residence taxes supposed to go? There wasn't an 'outside' for them to dwell in, and sleeping on the streets wasn't much better than sleeping in over-crowded apartments.

What Syria Planum Unitary Authority, and Melas District Council, and all the rest of them, had needed back then was not a paltry increase in tax income, but a great big pile of money with which they could build new domes. What Mars had needed (what Mars still needed) was more Mars: more liveable space, more development areas. Predictably, when it came to shelling out for off-world capital, EarthGov was suddenly tightening its belt, rebuilding and restructuring after the Minbari war. Devastated areas had priority, and while they were sympathetic to Martian issues, Earth had casualties and disaster zones to tend to. The MarsNetwork commentators had chosen a few four-letter words in response that hadn't done a blind bit of good but had made the viewers feel marginally better. Used to Earther slights, even the most stoic Mars-born had been hard-pressed to swallow the sly insult. Not a priority area - not affected by the war - the nerve of them! Did Mars turn its back on the flood of refugees from Earth? Did they cite short resources and bar those scarps of humanity from their ports? It was the poor and desperate that Earth sent heavenwards, overloading the Martian domes. Food riots resulted, with thousands of casualties - and where was Earth then? Once more, turning its back on Mars, calling the unrest a Martian problem.

Left on their own, with dwindling resources and a restless populace, a year or so before Morden set foot on Martian soil, the councils clubbed together and came up with enough funds to rig a new cover for one of the old abandoned domes, long ago condemned for being unsafe. They moved a whole crowd of new families into the abandoned buildings with great fanfare and crossed fingers. It was fine for a while - long enough to raise everyone's hopes - and then the jury-rigged cover blew.

The deaths of over two thousand people hardly made an impact on the Earth news. Morden couldn't remember a single mention of it, in fact. ISN was too busy singing the praises of the new Babylon station, due to start construction any day now, to pay attention to a few thousand dead Marsies. An Earther would have screamed at the injustice of it. An Earther would have sued someone.

Mars dusted itself off, buried its dead, and all eighteen council reps met back in the Syria Planum Grand Chamber to talk it over. The resulting discussion had barely caused a blip on ISN, but it had been quite the spectacle on MarsNet, and he'd sourced himself a copy. When it came to figuring out the whims and demands of the people writing your budget, Richard Aspen had once told him, there's no such thing as 'over-prepared'. As team leader - and the person who had initially brought Morden on board with NewTech - Aspen hadn't steered them wrong yet. So, on the flight over, Morden passed up on a sleeping pill and blanket and instead sourced a black coffee, a data pad and earphones, watching the recorded conference on the small screen mounted in the back of the chair in front of him. It was a poor, scratchy recording, as government minutes often are, but it served him well enough.

When the tape started up, he thought that he recognised a few people from the newscasts, but it took him a while to put names to faces. They were Martian politicians, after all; no reason for an Earther to know them. All right - 2252, March 18th, preliminaries and introductions, stacks of data, yadda yadda yadda - ah.

"We're going to have to cap the refugee numbers, it's as simple as that," Elena Yan said, with an air of finality. Her voice was tinny over the recording, and not helped by the periodic pops of atmospheric adjustment as Morden's shuttle accelerated. Yan was a tall woman, with a pale oval face and wide, almost masculine shoulders. Beside her, a small balding man silently took the minutes. The data crystal glowed periodically as it uploaded the data real-time onto the MarsNetwork and ISN.

"Well, that's all well and good for Chryse Planitia and the rest of the Tharsis, but what about established centres such as Syria Planum?" Derek Holtz, Yan's counterpart at the Syria Planum UA, interrupted. "We already have immigration controls in place; the majority of our growth comes from internal birth rates." As the host of the conference, he sat at the head of the table, ostensibly chairing the discussion. "Or are you suggesting that we regulate our own people as well?"

"You could encourage movement outwards," Yan said stubbornly. "The Tharsis domes still need people; that's why the immigration flood hasn't abated. If we stem the tide at Earth's point, and encourage those in the main centres to move outwards, it would solve our need for people on the fringes and ease your overpopulation pressures."

"That's a short-term solution," the Isidis Planetia rep pitched in, finally breaking her silence. She was a middle-aged, somewhat dumpy woman; for a second, Morden couldn't place her.

Yan rolled her eyes, exasperated. "You have a better idea, Kay?"

Ah, yes: Kay Oko, Isidis Planetia Unitary Authority. Morden tuned out for a moment. Isidis Planetia and Chryse Planetia were on the far side of the Tharsis, well away from the dig site, and he wasn't too concerned with the minutiae of population control. Holtz, though, was someone he'd have to work with, and he was curious as to the man's 'tells'. Not much thus far - but maybe that was something all by itself. Back on the tape, another one of the Tharsis reps, Morgan, got to his feet and palmed the o/p, throwing up the EarthGov logo. "Computer - schematic of London, Great Britain, Earth, one hundred metre cross-sec of builds from late twentieth to late twenty-first centuries. Show depth and height." A faint squiggly line appeared on screen, representing the London skyline. Then, in a blinding array of colours, deepening as time progressed, the builds. They started off fairly uniform, stretching upwards by no more than twenty metres on average, but, as the century pushed on - and as the population continued to increase - the lines started dipping downwards as well. Extra floors were added to extant buildings, pushing the basement level of the city downwards with each new wave of construction. Soon, the lines above and below were almost equidistant, with approximately 40% of the builds below-ground. "Computer, stop. Freeze."

"That's disgusting," Yan said, staring at the screen with ill-concealed nausea. "Alan, tell me you're not being serious!"

He waved a hand dismissively. "Keep your panties on, Elena, I'm not suggesting we go all the way down. For one thing, Mars soil is different, and it won't take to being prodded too deeply. But you wanted something 'out there' as a solution, so here it is. We don't have any more dome space, but we have plenty of planet to drill down into. Oh, it won't last forever, and it won't solve the problem. But it'll buy us another half-century, maybe more."

Holtz frowned, steepling his fingers. "I admit that, on paper, it sounds workable. But -"

"It's not workable at all, it's treating it as a neo-Earth!" Yan again, and outraged. She rounded on Morgan. "This is what you've been working on? It's useless! Sure, you can build us more living quarters, but you'll kick up so much dust inside the domes in drilling that you'll break every filter we have! This isn't Earth, Alan, all that crap you'll kick up has to go somewhere and I, for one, would rather the air filters didn't wear out twenty years ahead of schedule. And even if you don't break the whole damn system - say you get your ten storeys underground. How are we supposed to get enough air in the domes for all those extra people?"

Morgan shrugged. "The filters won't break. We'll funnel everything out sideways, cart it outside the domes. Drill down from the outside, drill across 'til we're beneath the domes -"

"I can't believe we're following the Wily Coyote school of construction," Yan said loudly. Morden almost smiled at that; he mentally bet a sizeable sum that it had been solely for the benefit of the cameras.

"- sure, it sounds insane, but it'll work in Mars gravity." He levelled a glare at her. "Don't you make the mistake of thinking this a neo-Earth. Gravity's on our side, here."

"And the filters? Long-term?"

"That, we didn't get around to discussing," Oko admitted.

Holtz threw up his hands. "Have a think on it, wouldja please? There's no point in building the damn things if we can't afford the people anyhow!"

That first meeting, then, had not accomplished much, but that didn't really matter to Morden. He gathered the layout of the different factions, and the 'set' of the main players, which was more than enough. Holtz would be his main contact at the Syria Planum Unitary Authority – or, the NewTech contact, at any rate – and he thought that he was starting to get a handle on him. Well enough for the time being, in any case. He seemed a sensible enough man, and open to suggestions - blue sky or otherwise - that would help with his current problem. That, Morden could work with. He was a little worried that the man appeared to have several conflicting priorities rather than an obvious agenda, but he couldn't do anything about it now. He skipped ahead to the rest of the pertinent data; much the same people, working through the logistics of selling the idea to the populace, and trying to figure out a way to make the actual thing work. The Syria Planum dome was chosen for the first round of digs, starting a few clicks out from the main settlement, in an area mostly covered by sand storms and rocky ground. Crappy for terraforming; ideal for waste dumping.

Skip ahead on the info tapes: the actual dig was irrelevant, now that it was on hold. What concerned him was on the prelim scouting data Aspen had sent through, and it was -

- there.

Holy mother of God. He sat forward in his seat, his forehead practically touching the screen. It was a little thing, only a glimpse - half a metre of exposed black rock, slick as oil, with some faint scratches -

- this was why Aspen had asked for him.

He sat back. Fragging hell. His palms were sweating.



When he first received Aspen's invitation to join the Mars project, Denni had jumped for joy and fucked him through their well-worn mattress. Morden had been receptive to the celebration, but less ecstatic about the idea itself. "It's Mars, Denni. I'm hardly going to be at the Hilton. It's a long way away, it's one of the most run-down places of the entire Alliance, and it might be a wasted journey anyway." They'd finished 'celebrating' and decided that refuelling was in order, grabbing some snacking food from the kitchenette and settling in the living area, close to where Sarah was staring in wonder at a pile of multi-coloured bricks. Morden pulled her into his lap and settled against the wall. "I'm keen for a challenge, but this looks like one of Aspen's pipedreams fell into a pile of funding."

"A pipedream, maybe. But you're going to go check it out anyway, I think."

He smiled and popped a grape into his mouth. "And why is that, precisely?"

Denni reached out and touched Sarah's small hands; sweet, plump fingers clutching something against her daddy's chest. "Because of this," she said, sadly.

He looked down at the sliver of black rock against his daughter's skin, sharp and terrible and fascinating, even for an infant. He sighed.

When he thinks on it now, he reasons that he didn't 'give in' but, rather, acquiesced to the inevitable, with as much grace as he could muster. At least, that's the way that he chose to think on it. He would have been just as happy on any similar dig, but Denni had some firm ideas about him being 'up and coming' and 'going places', and prodded his career along accordingly. I'm saving you from academic inertia, she said, laughing. And it really was just easier to go with the flow.

Denni was wrong on one front, though: nothing would come of this Mars project, of that he was certain. He trusted Aspen, but had lost a fair bit of faith in Aspen's ability to pull strings and get digs happening. The guy was good, but he was a civilian, like most of IPX. Trouble was, most digs these days were contracted out to IPX through obscure military connections, and any proposed excavations tended to need military approval. Morden had pretty much come to the conclusion that EarthForce was the galaxy's biggest cocktease, dangling the possibility of digs in front of NewTech and then snatching it away to hurriedly classify everything the moment things started to look interesting.

He touched the black pendant around his neck, almost without realising it. It was a silly thing to wear, maybe, but Denni had had it mounted as a gift, and he had now built up far too many memories around it to consider taking it off. Holding on to it had started off as a way of keeping Sarah's busy little fingers from slicing themselves open on a sharp edge, and had gradually faded into habit: a reminder that his family loved what he loved, that his family was what he loved - and that he should not get his hopes up, because the military would come up with a way to screw him over yet again.

A couple of years previous, he'd been sitting pretty back in the lab, jumping for joy and unable to believe his luck. Aspen had all but run into his office with a stack of flimsies, and deposited them on his desk with an expectant look. The very top one was an aerial shot of a mostly-buried monolith of black polished granite, with only a meter or so visible. That was enough, though. Oh, God, it was more than enough.

He'd stared at the stack for a while, then looked back up at Aspen. "You're kidding me."

"Nope." The sonofabitch had grinned at him like a kid at Christmas.

He'd looked back down at the stack again, picking up a flimsie and turning it towards the light. Even in that poorly-lit, crappy little lab he'd seen the faint scratches across the monolith's surface, like an insect's impressions on the dirt. It was a language, all right, but not like any language he'd ever seen before. Almost guiltily, he'd looked back up at Aspen. "You know, I'm not the only qualified linguist in the department. Other people have PhDs." Denni would have had his hide if she'd heard. She was always going on about him needing to be more assertive, to fight for those plum research jobs he pined after. Here one was, literally landing on his desk, and he'd tried to push it back to Stevenson and the rest of his cronies.

"Yep. But you're better than they are." Aspen'd smiled again, his bearded face stretching into a grin so wide it was almost a grimace.

And, just like that, he'd been bought. It hadn't been Aspen's enthusiasm, although that had certainly played a part. No: it had been that damned flimsie, the one that Aspen had set right at the very top of the stack. The rest had been more or less useless - graduate student work; Kim's supervision of the shots hadn't added one iota of quality, but, then, Kim was a complete idiot - but that top shot… God. It had given him nightmares.

He'd taken the whole thing home, high as a kite on the possibilities. Denni had still been nursing, and Sarah had started screaming more or less the instant he set foot home, so. The survey team had included some fragments of rock from one of the most damaged monoliths, and he'd been sent a tiny sliver in case his analysis required it. It was smooth and black, almost quartz-like in structure, and reminded him of the ruins of the Vietnam memorial in some ways. He'd fallen in love (in academic lust?) with it instantly, ordered a geochem breakdown and retired with a semantic map and the strongest coffee money could buy.

Some time later, he was back in the lab, practically vibrating from the amount of caffeine in his system. It had taken him three weeks of working all night and pissing off both Denni and Sarah in equal measure, but he had produced a thick hardcopy run of the first set of Ikaara translations. The footnotes alone accounted for over 70% of the actual surface space. He'd waited, impatient, for Aspen to skim through the abstract and the exec summary.

"Organic weapons?" When he finally looked up, Aspen's eyes were practically flashing credit signs.

He'd grinned back, visions of years of research; interstellar accolades; an actual office with an actual window; all dancing in front of him. He'd been practically salivating. "I'm almost totally sure."

"Organic technology?"

"Worth another look, isn't it?"

"Worth a raise - but don't quote me on that."

Ha! Morden thought, grimacing in disgust. He'd waited for weeks - longer, even - as his notes were requisitioned and classified, piece by piece. Eventually, all that was left was the sliver of rock, no bigger than a man's finger; fallen through the cracks of paperwork. "I'll fix it," Aspen promised, and kept promising, long after Modern stopped listening. He took on other work - make-shift stuff - plodding ever-closer to his PhD. He spent more time with Denni. He took Sarah to parks, and introduced her to cake and to duckies. He swam more. Somewhere along the line, he is sure that he just plain forgot about the Ikaaran dig and the language that had kept him awake those nights, more than a year previous. Liar, he thought, disgusted with himself. You just changed the symbol, is all.

Even then, deep in his determined attempt at normality, the black sliver hung heavy about his neck.


The next morning, following a comm. call to her work that Morden had not been privy to, Denni informed him that she would be coming out to Mars precisely one week after his own arrival. He'd better find them some nice quarters, she said with a wicked smile, or there'd be hell to pay.


Well, yes. Unless she was supposed to leave Sarah on her own. "I know why you wanted to go to Ikaara, and maybe you would have gone, if the dig had gone ahead. But this is here, now, and I'll be damned if I'm going to be the reason that keeps you from chasing after this a second time." She sighed a little, self-deprecating, and bent down to kiss him. Her long fingers tugged gently on the silver chain about his neck. "But I'm also a bit of a coward, Morden. I'm scared to let you go on your own, because I think that you'll fall in love with that place and never come back."

Fall in love with Mars? Not likely! Not even the holy grail would keep me on that forsaken planet a minute longer than necessary. He speared his bacon and attacked it with gusto.


end part 1 of 4


Part 2

Part 3

Part 4



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We Invented the Remix...Redux V

May 2007

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