Forrest Cameranesi Geek of all Trades

(3x10) Light of the Foundation: Part 1, Episode 1

Hundreds of years into the future, Earth is united in a network of world governance called the Internation, and has developed into a technological utopia complete with an enormous planet-girdling platform in geosynchronous orbit called the World Ring, connected to the surface by four space elevators called Starbridges. The last remnants of the old United Nations retain control of the Lunar colonies established before the rise of the Internation, and these two powers now vie slowly for control of the rest of the solar system; principally the only other permanently inhabited natural body, Mars, where they also face competition from a network of powerful local crime syndicates. The only truely neutral habitable place is a space station in the first Earth-Moon lagrange point, called the Open Palm, jointly constructed specifically as a peace gesture between the two powers.

On the Open Palm, a single mother named Athena raises her daughter named Metis. Their world is one of a post-scarcity economy, where almost all labor, physical and mental both, is carried out by automata, and the widely-distributed ownership of those automata, facilitated by subtle changes to market regulations and a basic income safety net, enables everyone to enjoy at least the most essential products of that automated labor. Some humans continue to work as a safeguard or emergency break of middle management, approving the AI-designed plans and strategies and relaying orders to the robots who carry them out, while others pursue what are effectively hobbies, as performers, craftspeople, or personal instructors of various kinds, in exchange for a little extra spending cash.

Athena works such a job, as an instructor in a wide variety of martial arts in which she is extremely proficient, both in a small class aboard the Open Palm, but also in the widespread immersive virtual reality simulation called Virtuality, in which many of humanity's recreational activities now occur.

Her daughter Metis meanwhile dreams of being a kind of adventure guide leading tours of her favorite sites of interest both on Earth and around the solar system, which she has enthusiastically studied her entire childhood. She has always been more interested in exploring the physical world rather than recreations of it (and other fantastic realms) in Virtuality, both out of a kind of materialist nostalgia that is not generally uncommon, but also personally because she is frequently mistaken in the virtual world for an infamous character therein dubbed "The Queen of Hell", whom Athena has counselled her against meeting, having encountered her while training clients in the "lower", more combatative realms of Virtuality.

Coming of age, Metis has begun to realize that her dream is a little out of the immediate reach of someone of her modest means, as it would require the purchase of a starship to even get started. But her mother, realizing that well in advance, has been saving up for a down payment on one, and has called in a favor to a family friend name Joe, who works at the premier starship manufacturer Jovian Corp, for a low price and long-term installment deal that is unusually within the means of someone as young as Metis. Athena and Joe give Metis the ship together as a present at her 20th birthday party. This only further reinforces Metis' long-held suspicion that Joe may be her biological father, despite her mother's insistence that Metis is purely the product of artificial reproductive technology and has no biological father, something that is not remarkably uncommon in their time.

With the ship in hand and such affordable payments to make on it, Metis is able to charge low fees and still cover her costs enough to begin her dream job immediately. Her personal AI helps her design and place some ads on the internet to drum up business, and pretty soon her first clients start trickling in. She initially takes clients mostly from the Open Palm to sites of interest on Earth. (In Hellenia she shows a status of the goddess Metis, jokingly asks if she looks like her, and explains that she’s named after her, though her mom got it backward because Athena is supposed to be daughter of Metis, not mother, according to the myths. Touring Hawaii, she mentions that it's named after Auei, having been settled by the early Aueian diaspora. In Lesser Auei, she mentions how there's an entire continent sunken beneath the ocean, that’s beginning to be settled by colonies of Pacifica. (She eventually begins to take higher-paying clients coming from Luna as well, and some Earthers interested in sites of interest on Luna as well.

That escalation of business begins to grow as she develops more of a repuation in the industry, and clients from around the Earth-Luna system are eventually willing to pay the higher costs for tours farther out in the solar system. The Jovian moons are a popular sightseeing attraction (and with Joe's help she is even able to schedule tours of some of the highly exclusive Jovian Corp facilities as well), as is the in-progress terraforming of Venus; but by far the most popular extraterrestrial destination is the only other permanently inhabited major planet, Mars. It is also one of the more dangerous destinations, as Mars is virtually the only place left in inhabited space that has not found a settled domestic peace yet.

Initially settled involuntarily by condemned criminals sent there by the fading United Nations powers on old Earth, the UN remnant on Luna still claims jurisdiction over the four remaining high-altitude colonies out of their initial five (the Olympus colony having been destroyed in a mysterious accident generations ago). But those colonies are now in truth each ruled by a local crime syndicate, who ally with each other to keep Mars free from extramartian influence. Despite them, the Internation has begun settling a new wave of more voluntary colonists along the red planet's now-stabilized coastlines, in an effort they call Mars Unification. Most of her clients are interested in visiting the safer coastal colonies, but now one client insists on seeing what it's like in the old mountainous colonies.

In considering that request, she reads up on the history of Mars and the rise of the crime syndicates that have largely wrested power away from the nominal UN governments of the original colonies. In the process she learns that only one of the highly secretive leaders of the syndicates was ever confirmed in a photograph, the leader of the revolution in the Elysium colony, whose face she recognizes even though he should have died well before she was even born – a face she has been seeing in recurring dreams she has had for her entire life. In the dreams she is living on a large starship with an extended family that she doesn't really have, including a different mother than her real one, a father, a grandmother and an absentee grandfather who in one particularly disturbing dream got thrown out an airlock and never showed up again, plus many cousins, and some aunts and uncles, one of whom (the uncle who threw grandpa out an airlock) is the self-declared captain of their ship and head of the family, with her other four uncles watching his back, and only her dream-father really objecting to that. One of those dream-uncles, one called Koie, looks exactly like this mystery leader of the Elysian revolution, even though she's sure she never read about any of this when she was younger, and definitely never saw him in person.

Metis' client wishes to visit the Tharsis colony, that being the largest of the four UN Martian colonies, with both its original city of Pavonis but also Mars' first two cities built from local initiatives, Ascraeus and Arsia. Metis on the other hand wishes to visit Elysium, if they're going to visit any of these dangerous places, and when her client presses her to find out why, she admits that it is because of the image she found while researching the trip. Being on quite friendly terms with her client, Metis confesses to recognizing the Elysian leader's face from her dreams, and that because that she just feels drawn to visit Elysium, if they're going to be going on this reckless adventure anyway, which she's still not sure about.

Her client, quite wealthy, offers her quite a bit more than she had initially asked for this Mars trip to convince her to take him to Tharsis; enough to pay off nearly half the remaining value of her starship, and half of that up front, right now. He also floats another idea to entice her: since one of the sights he wants to see is the network of high-speed trains that the Unification people are building between the colonies to help unify them, maybe while they are at Tharsis they can take a train to Elysium and back. Those two offers convince her, and they head in her ship to Tharsis.

While there, they partake in many Martian tourist attractions, including the famous red-sand-surfing slopes of Arisia Mons. While the Tharsian capital of Pavonis has a very functional, industrial aesthetic to it, befitting a city built by robots as part of a first attempt at colonization back when terraforming was barely under way, Ascraeus and Arsia have an intentionally anarchronistic, frontiersy, adventury vibe to them that Metis finds distastefully inauthentic and touristy. Ascraeus somewhat resembles the Columbian Southwest from its frontier days, while Arsia more resembles the African desert, complete with gaudy "Pyramids of Mars", more resembling those of Earth's Giza than the ones once thought to be found in Mars' own Cydonia, far from Tharsis. Her client seems to enjoy it all though, and Metis gathers that this "frontierland/adventureland" schtick is the kind of ideal that draws wealthy tourists like her client to visit the dangerous cities of Mars, and Tharsis at least has the wherewithal and savvy to capitalize on that image.

While they tour Mars, the recurring dreams Metis has had her whole life begin to change, in a way she suspects is due to the unprecedented danger she has allowed herself to walk into visiting these unruly Martian cities. She candidly relates these changes to her client one night after a busy day of touring, while they regroup back in the ship for dinner. In most of the old dreams, besides the one in which that one uncle threw grandpa out an airlock, she is just routinely mulling about her life uneventfully, not doing much of anything besides somehow studying real prehistoric civilizations live from space. Since it's a dream, and that's something she's always been interested in studying, that makes a weird kind of dream sense.

Around the time she got her starship, the dreams got more action-packed: the ruling dream-uncle, called Kron, had been imprisoning his own children, and dissent among her dream-cousins rose until she eventually lead an uprising of them against him, sparked by Joe's unexpected appearance in her dreams as another dream-cousin, the youngest son of Kron. She figures, weird dream-relations aside, this is symbolic somehow of Joe's gift of her starship sparking a revolutionary change in her life recently, adding much more action and adventure to it. But in that uprising in the dreams, the dream-starship they lived on crashed, and the family ended up on prehistoric Earth; she's not sure what the crashing symbolizes but maybe prehistoric Earth is symbolic of her many opportunities to visit historic sites on Earth in her new career?

And now while they've been on Mars, the dreams have been full of political intrigue and power struggles among the primitive humans living beside her dream-family, which she thinks represents the unstable political sitution and power struggles here on Mars, which she and her client are thankfully above and not a part of. Also, she admits with embarassment, things with dream-Joe have gotten weirdly romantic over time, which creeps her out since she's still pretty sure real Joe is her dad, not that he's really raised her like one or anything.

Eventually her client has had his fill of the tourist trap that is Tharsis, and her and Metis set out on a long-distance high-speed train ride to Elysium as promised, leaving her ship safely in port at Pavonis. Despite its idyllic name, Elysium proves to be far less of a tourist attraction than Tharsis had, being quite obviously riddled with poverty and crime. Her client almost immediately wants to turn back again, but feeling ineffably drawn to stay and find something she knows not what to reconcile her inexplicable dreams of the face of a long-dead crime lord, she turns on her tour guide charm and sells him on the idea of staying a bit longer.

She argues that he wanted to see the frontiers of Mars, and this is the real, authentic experience right here, not that fake touristy stuff they're trying to sell him back in Tharsis. It looks as dangerous as she thought it would be, but it's the real deal, and they're here already so they may as well take it in while they are. Besides, she reminds him, she has been training under her martial arts instructor mother for her entire childhood, so she can handle herself in a fight and protect him if push comes to shove. That assuages his fears enough, and they decide to stay a while.

But Metis quickly comes to regret that decision, as local criminals soon try to abduct the both of them, and though she is able to fight her way free thanks to the aforementioned martial talents bestowed by her mother, the criminals escape with her client. Metis then faces the difficult decision of what to do about that situation, here in this nearly lawless frontier where the most effective authorities are likely to be in cahoots with the very criminals she'd want them to deal with.

Next: Light of the Foundation: Part 1, Episode 2