In an online writing course I started experimenting with opening lines and overall themes. With Casablanca in mind, I wrote the following opening line:
“Of all the asteroid bars in the Belt, she had to walk into mine.”
That line has long since disappeared but it got me to work on my novel. The opening scene still takes place in a bar the protagonist owns; now the scene’s based on the awkwardness of my first meeting with a lab partner as an undergraduate. I also wrote up a short piece about a true story of espionage an actual spy once told me. I realized these two characters could fit together and The Asteroid Gambit was born.
Gambit tells the tale of a future in which human activity has expanded into space, beginning with the development of asteroid mining. By the time of my story, about 2140 CE, there are two complexes for mining, smelting and manufacturing in space, located at the L4 and L5 Lagrangian points of the Earth-Moon system.
In 2078, the nuclear nations of Earth, by now numbering over twenty, made a compact to remove all nuclear weapons from their arsenals to a secure facility in the Earth-Moon L3 Lagrangian point. This coincided with rebranding the United Nations as the United Nations of Sol, which exercises control of all activities in space as envisioned in the (real) Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
One of the first activities of the UNS was to establish a project to terraform Mars. The objective was to create a space activity in which all the nations of Earth would have a stake. Building on an international outpost on Mars established in 2044 by a consortium of space-faring nations, the UN recruited workers to emigrate to Mars and build a settlement on the red planet. The consortium established an Aldrin cycler to transship large quantities of cargo and workers to Mars. Since most of the cargo was built in space to begin with, the daunting hurdle of lifting it from Earth was overcome.
The settlement grew into Tharsis City, on Thaumasia Planum overlooking Valles Marineris. (All the geography is real. The human settlement is my creation.) In the valley below Tharsis City, settlers built water mines in what became known as Chasm Town, where Coprates Chasma in the west meets Eos Chasma and Capri Chasma in the east. Chasm Town built Messier and Laplace farm domes extending east into the two chasmas. Both farms began creating Earth soil in the regolith of Mars, supplying both food and oxygen for the settlement. Later building efforts created Kepler and Burbridge farms, extending Chasm Town west into Coprates Chasma alongside Nectaris Montes. Simultaneously the UNS supported individual immigrants in developing isolated farm domes in Eos Chaos east of Messier Farm and beyond the Montes Nectaris.
By 2138 the settlement was prospering but the UNS administration on Mars had lost sight of the welfare of the terraforming workers. All UNS funding went into terraforming infrastructure and activities. The electronic diversions intended for the workers were sadly insufficient to provide off-duty life. Alcohol and drugs, supplied by members of the commercial elite of Mars and overlooked by the UNS administration, became a scourge on the terraformers.
Mars Union arose to address these concerns. Unable to change UNS policy by peaceful protest, Mars Union rebelled and took over the water mines. When the UNS Administrator refused to accede to their demands, the rebels threatened to destroy the water mines.
After this threat, the UNS committed a force of UNS Marines already on Phobos to a spaceborne assault against the rebels. When the Marines landed on Thaumasia Planum, the rebels had been alerted. Marines fought rebels there in a bloody battle the rebels lost. UNS control was restored.
Retreating underground and to isolated individual farms in Eos Chaos, the rebels tried to negotiate better terms. The UNS was interested only in advancing the terraforming project and maintaining their control. Chastened by the threat of the first rebellion to destroy the water mines and, ultimately, the human settlement on Mars, most Martians supported the goals of the rebels but not their methods. Discontent continued to fester.
Asteroid Gambit begins in the Belt. Harriet Briggs, a Mars Union member, purchases a black market nuclear weapon to arm another rebellion. Ellen Lecroix, Harriet’s prospecting partner, finds the weapon and fears rebels will use it on Mars. She seeks out Jack Jackson, her former lover, in his bar on Ceres. She wants Jack’s help to get rid of it. Jack agrees to help, hoping to win Ellen back. Ellen disappears from Ceres with Harriet before Jack returns from his mission. He follows her to Mars, hoping to help her avoid any reprisals for the missing weapon and to win back her heart.
When Jack arrives Mars he goes to Kepler to help Ellen, only to find that life is far more complicated than he thought. He and Ellen must contend with additional attempts on her life, corrupt bureaucrats and a quirky AI to survive and prevent the destruction of the human settlement by the rebels.