The slap of palm on metal was a sound that echoed loudly in the largely empty room, the audio equivalent of ‘trust me, it’ll go.’
Matis turned his attention away from the large vehicle sitting proudly centre-stage on the display floor and back to the salesman who was smiling with that self-assured confidence that somehow seemed to infest anyone who worked a sales floor.
“This is a fresh design from the Western Europe Arcology, built specifically for the rigours of the Martian environment and able to be assembled swiftly with nothing more than three hours and an Allen key.”
Matis ran his hand against the segmented hull of the vehicle before him, stepping around the bulky, ridged wheels. He paused to peer closer at the tan-coloured carapace before he looked back towards the salesman, “Assembled?”
“A standard for all Martian equipment. Freight rockets can’t afford to waste space, so everything has to be packed and stacked. Believe me, if the UN could fit people in a rocket like sardines, they’d do it in a flash.”
The salesman waved a hand, the gesture encompassing the entire vehicle as he continued, “The Elateride was developed by Erracom. The name is a portmanteau of ride and-”
“Elateridae, I know,” Matis finished, “I’m a biologist.”
The salesman’s smile faltered for a moment, a brief spark of straightforwardness escaping the affable veneer as he said, “Not much call for biologists on Mars yet.”
“Not much call for us on Earth now.”
Neither of them glanced towards the protective screen that looked out on the monolithic surface of the Baltic Arcology’s curtain walls. Neither of them needed to. The curtain wall dominated the horizon in every direction, a testament to mankind’s refusal to give up against the ravages of the collapsing ecosystem.
The silence was broken as Matis continued his examination of the vehicle.
Its gently conical shape combined with the segmented shielding was responsible for its namesake. The chassis itself was balanced atop a suspension system almost as large as the fat thorax-like body. Each spar led down to a wheel that was, to Matis’ surprise, simply made of a thick, metallic mesh.
“The older designs had problems with tearing.”
Matis found himself nodding along with the salesman, before he looked up at the cabin proper. The cabin’s canopy protruded ahead of the main chassis and was entirely made up of a clear transparent material. As Matis scaled up the side to take a closer look, his attention was drawn instead to the rear of the Elateride where the panelling was sparser.
The vehicle’s rear was bulbous and featured a large oblong canister that hung off its back. He knew enough to recognise the sinister shape of radioactivity warnings plastered on the container. As if sensing his train of thoughts, the salesman nodded,
“This is just a model of the MMRTG, it’s perfectly safe. During assembly, you should follow the instructions carefully to minimise exposure. The cabin itself is more than sufficiently shielded due to the placement of the engine.”
“Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator. The Click Beetle is a mobile generator. These panels,” the salesman pointed at the tan-coloured upper panels, “they open upwards and allow a feedline to be extended and attached. The MMRTG is compact, but able to power a wide range of industrial tools, sufficient to help a colonist explore and settle on Mars. Don’t worry, all tools designed for the Martian programs share a universal cabling system.”
Matis Kazlaukas hummed and hawed as he looked over the vehicle again.
“You called it a Click Beetle just now.”
“The term is in common usage by the colonists, I’ve heard.”
“Because it is the common name for the Elateridae?”
The salesman shuffled his feet and looked away for a moment. He shook his head, “Well, it’s colonist humour really. You’ll all have geiger counters built into your suits on Mars. If you get too close to the Click Beetle’s rear, you’ll hear it click. A useful way to remember to keep clear of the generator.”
Matis laughed. He found himself wondering if he could really go ahead with this. It was one thing to talk with the salesman, another to up and leave Earth behind.
As he thought about it, he realised the arcologies were no different from a base on Mars. He’d be trading one dome for another, but the principle difference, the difference that had lured so many to sign up with the UN’s UNJAM project, was simple.
It would be his dome, his life, his home.
There was really only one thing left to say.
“I’ll take it.”