Barsoomian Rebels


Two things to know about the Movement: one, it’s a real crazy quilt, a lot more complex than any one group’s agenda. Two, you can tell who’s in the Movement and who ain’t by how they call it. If you’re down with B, you’re just in the Movement; nobody actually calls it the Barsoomian Movement, except in boardrooms and offworld.

There were four million people living on Mars before the Fall: about a third in each of cities, small towns, and back country. Now there’re 200 million. How’s a planet absorb that many people? If you’re the hypercorps and their PC spitboys, you could’ve settled a lot more people in the country, but that ain’t cost effective. Instead, you build bigger habs, bigger cities, establish a pecking order, and get helluv mean if anybody steps out of line. Now over half the planet lives in cities and the big towns around them. Most are either direct employees of a corp or indentures, and it’s changed life for the worse. Used to be you filed a report on your terraforming zone and the Tharsis Terraforming Office used that feedback for planning. You gave them your hydration stats, biomass estimates, local demographics and all, and if you were hitting the targets—which were sane back then—they let you be. Now the TTO is just a rubber stamp for whatever crazy plan the PC’s cooked up that month to make the city folk think they’ll get to come out of their domes some time during the lifespan of their current morph.

Which of course is dead wrong. Terraforming’s going a lot faster than we thought it’d do, but there’s a point, and we’ve reached it, beyond which you just can’t rush it any faster, leastways not without jeopardizing the climate over the long, long run. Right now Mars is a fixer-upper, but fuck it up by going too fast, and in 500 years you’ll have a stormy hellhole like Earth or Venus. The TTO and the corps realize this, so they do stuff that’ll make it look like they’re accelerating the process with a lot of smoke and noise. Orbital bombardments near populated areas, flooding—that kind of crap. It doesn’t change a thing in terms of the terraforming process, but if you’re a nomad or living in a small town that’s forcibly evacuated, it makes a rough life even rougher. The compensatory cred from the TTO is always a fraction of what it’d take to get a new start in another town, so whole towns end up forced into the city population, where most of their kids end up being whores, hustlers, and office drones instead of farmers and formers. City dwellers, by and large, don’t care what happens to the poor dumb rednecks getting displaced by this weird dog and pony show, but if anyone makes a peep about how atmospheric density and O2 levels aren’t rising at the promised rate, they’re quick enough to blame it on sabotage by “Barsoomian agitators.”

Back in the day, we’d have called the Barsoomians terrorists, and it’s not an unfair assessment. Politicians in this day and age are far too subtle to fall into such an enticing rhetorical trap, though, despite the truth of it. One can’t get away with crying terrorist at any element of the Barsoomian “movement” (and one must use this term loosely; they’re about as unified as early twenty-first century Palestine). If you do, you’ll have an army of the ignorant beating on your mesh presence—not just the actual terrorists-in-activist-garb, but a whole cavalcade of social democrats, mesh neutrality activists, and pansexual degenerates. While the thought of this should generate a frisson of excitement among those with the will to power, our present planetary authorities are not made of such stuff.


Lot of people don’t recall, memories being short these days, but Barsoomian originally referred only to the ecostation nomads of the high desert and northern plains. It was only after the Consortium and League media started conjuring up images of crazed desert warriors and tying them in with the Movement that the Barsoomian label got applied to the Movement broadly.

Nomads working for the TTO get periodic resupplies from airdrops near the ecostations. If they’re independent, they run ecostations of their own: tiny caches of life, often camouflaged mini-domes no bigger than 10 meters across, equipped with water condensers and automated greenhouses. Nomads’ll live near one for a few days or weeks, depending on how well it’s yielding, then move on to the next. Never, ever fuck with these installations. Aside from messing with someone’s food and water supply out here being a shitthief move, Barsoomian nomads’re helluv good trackers. Raid a nomad ecostation, and like as not, they’ll find you and use your cortical stack for ping pong.

There’re two main camps among the nomads: those employed by the TTO and the independents. Independents call the TTO nomads “les esclaves.” Nomads usually run in clans of from five to twenty people. TTO clans tend to have names that sound like small companies, like Wright & Wu Terraforming or Société Lafitte, and the people in them might come from a lot of different backgrounds. Independents’re more family-minded, which makes sense on account of lots of them are related, or at least got strong ethnic and cultural ties. Some clans I’ve run into are al-Maqqari, Girard-Moussa, LeMieux, and Duverger.

If rednecks and city scum are the heart of the Movement, indie nomads are its soul. Most of them got ties to the Francophone diaspora in North Africa. As Europe froze, millions of French refugees wound up in Morocco and Tunisia, where they lived for decades before the Fall. While they were there, they mixed in with the local people, which is why you see all the hyphenated French/Arabic names. Trying to solve the refugee problem, the French government, which had a trashed country but great space infrastructure, started offering its citizens the chance to egocast to Mars as indentures. The forebears of the Barsoomians—French citizens and their new Moroccan and Tunisian families—took that offer en masse, while very few citizens who’d been well off enough to remain in France did. During the Settlement Conflict that came on the heels of the Fall, France lost any political claim on its citizens on Mars, most of whom’d worked off their indentures by that time, or the areas they’d settled. But the French North African culture stuck around.

There’re two main cultural branches: the makers and the sufis. Both speak a mix of French and Arabic among themselves, but the sufis are mostly from Morocco, while the makers’re mostly from Tunisia. Makers’ve got a lot in common with the autonomist cultures out in the Trojans and Saturn’s rings; they’re technolibertarian engineer-survivalists. Among other things, they invented the extended duty breathers everyone uses in the Martian back country—and open sourced them, which pisses the corps off to no end. As far as anyone can tell, it’s the makers who first invented the “Barsoomian” tag. Word is they got it out of an old Earth sci-fi vid.

The sufis were an Islamic sect on old Earth, but here they ain’t precisely that. They got a strong belief in helping others, and they believe the trials of living in the Martian desert purify the soul and bring the heart closer to their God. I don’t hold with religion, but the sufis make me proud to be human, while proving what a crock of shit the corp way of life is. You approach them peaceable, they’re the most hospitable people you’ll ever meet—pretty amazing for people living off barren soil in a frozen desert. I got lucky enough to watch one of their dances once, and it was probably the third most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on this world. Piss them off, though, and you got yourself a deadly enemy. Where the makers got clever tech on their side, the sufis have … something. Firewall’s been wanting to check out the rumor that a sufi clan roaming the north edge of the TQZ picked up the Watts-MacLeod virus and shared it among their people, but so far no one’s had the temerity to bang on their door and ask them where they’re hiding their asyncs. Which is probably real wise.

Anyhow, you want to find people who hate the PC, look no farther. The lifestyle of the indie nomad’s been under attack for decades. Land use claims and attempts to bring them on as TTO employees have failed, and now the nomads got to contend with badly programmed former swarms gone rogue, flash floods, and even “misguided” orbital bombardments if they’re ranging far enough north.

Barsoomian Rebels

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