The ship was massive compared to anything that had come before it, and it was truly that, a ship. It wasn’t a spacecraft as had ever been seen in prior eras of space exploration. It had multiple decks, private cabins, and a massive open area at the prow with a screen posing as a window. It carried a crew of dozens on a journey that lasted months. It was an oceangoing freighter to the coastal bound yachts of earlier days, built to ply the deeper waters of interplanetary space. Its name was the Heart of Gold, and it carried the first 46 humans to set foot on the surface of Mars.
The huge vessel landed on a sunny afternoon in June of 2025, to the breathless anticipation of nearly a billion TV viewers around the world. The Heart of Gold touched down on the broad mesa of Sacra Mensa, in the Lunae Pallus quadrangle, a few hundred meters from a near clone of itself, an unmanned twin that bore the name Anticipation of a New Lover’s Arrival, The. The drone ship had come down two years earlier, during the last Earth/Mars optimal launch window. In its time on the red planet, it had been sucking up fuel, deploying solar panels, and inflating prefabricated structures. By the time the Heart of Gold touched down, there was already the beginnings of a first base on Mars.
The base grew rapidly in both size and population, with more and more new Martians arriving every two years. Many of those early visitors to Mars, despite having intended to return home, never quite got around to leaving. Before they knew it, they were starting new lives on the red planet.
It only took eleven years from touchdown on Mars to the birth of Ginevra Arcadia: the first human to be born on another planet. Humans, in whatever environment they’re placed in, can never quite seem to help themselves. By that time, Sacra Mensa had nearly 50,000 people in it, a small city in its own right, and hundreds of ships were coming and going at each launch window. Economies of scale had begun scaling, and once the ball was rolling it just kept building speed. A year later, SpaceX moved their headquarters to Sacra Mensa, with a dozen other companies quickly following in their wake. As the population bloomed, talks began about forming a Martian government.
But it was not the governments of Earth that had colonized Mars in the first place, it was the corporations. Following hot on the heels of the trail blazed by the likes of SpaceX followed a growing list of massive multinationals, buying infrastructure, housing, laboratories, employing personnel, and shipping them all to Mars on the still expanding transportation pipeline.
Additional colonies owned by various corporate and government interests began popping up all over the Martian surface, spreading out from the initial base like a fungus spreading over a piece of fruit. In 2039, the Martian internet came online, in 2041, the first Martian film reached worldwide theaters on Earth, by 2042, the nearly a thousand vessels were plying the space lanes between Earth and Mars, and the population of Mars had boomed to nearly 500,000.
Those early years were not without hardship though. Many of the corporate interests had jumped onto the Martian bandwagon without fully understanding the implications of colonizing another planet. They saw the opportunity for profit, and they took it. It didn’t take long for poor working conditions, minimalist safety standards, and absolute corporate control, to start costing lives and setting the political situation to a low subsurface boil.
The distances and signal delays exacerbated the situation. The corporations technically owned everything on Mars. They owned the houses, the shops, the spacesuits, all the production and distribution, even water and air were owned resources under the heel of corporate power. The ruling corporations, aside from the few that had formed on Mars or rebased their HQs to the red planet, were cast as distant and sinister oligarchs and plutocrats, out to extract the wealth of Mars for themselves at all costs, while sitting safe and cozy back in their nice homes on Earth, where air wasn’t a commodity.
In 2048, the Martian population reached one million people, and it only took three years more for the frustration to boil over. A crowdsourced constitution was circulated through the Martian internet, propped up by the leaders of newly formed unions and activist groups. Petitions began circulating among the Martian population, and in 2051 the Mars Socialist Republic came into existence, declaring authority over all of Mars. The MSR was constructed with incredible care and thought towards future proofing, and was seen by many of its drafters as a way to escape the entrapments and pitfalls that had befallen earlier Earth nations. It thus heavily curtailed corporate power, instituted operating taxes and employee living standards, and seized vast amounts of corporately owned Martian infrastructure in the name of the new state government.
The Earth corporations had invested trillions into Mars, and expected a return on that investment, a return that was made impossible by the widescale seizure of their assets and the sudden new standards regarding business regulations and working conditions on Mars. Their attempts to extract financial value from the lack of a Martian regulatory environment catastrophically backfired with the imposition of the Martian government. The futures of their companies were at risk, and they refused to go down without a fight.
In the decades since the colonization of Mars had begun, corporate power on Earth had continued to steadily trickle upwards. As the economy continued to globalise, the combination of new international unions forming and the balkanization of older power structures led to a gradual smoothing of the political environs on Earth. The UN’s political power had been rising, propped up by corporate interests in maintaining peace and free trade amongst member states. Continuing advances in automation technology leached more and more power into the hands of the corporate elite, bypassing problematic state governments with international law. Thus the sudden rejection of corporate authority on Mars was seen not just as a financial blow, but as a blow to the institutions themselves, a threat to their way of life.
It only took a year for the various lobbyists to ram through a new international law. The Treaty of Man declared that UN jurisdiction and law applied to all human nationstates, regardless of political affiliation or location. Such a law had been sitting on the fence for years, waiting to be instituted to deal with certain holdouts in the wave of corporate control, such as North Korea and Sweden, but the political will had never quite been there before the formation of the Martian Socialist Republic. The MSR threw all the old political calculations out the window, and the Treaty of Man was rammed through the various UN subcommittees and passed the general vote in record time.
The law essentially informed the Martians that the previous set of laws, those governing international corporate property rights and ownership, still applied to them, and thus all the property that had been taken from the controlling corporations on Mars had been illegally seized. The dozens of corporations piled on lawsuits in the International Court of Justice, lining up to sue the Martian government for property theft.
The distance worked in the favor of the Martians. With a government approval rating of nearly 85%, there was little the corporations could do to directly enforce their edicts. The Martian digital democracy ground into gear, and furious discussions filled AI moderated chatrooms and algorithmically sorted message boards. After weeks of discussion the top voted comment that had emerged out of all the various layers of discourse, stated:
“Dear United Nations,
We did not ask to join your clubhouse of countries, we did not ask to be subject to your rules. In fact, we formed our government specifically to get out from under a bunch of your rules. We’re not going to follow them, regardless of whatever edicts or decrees you pass saying we have to. You have no authority on our planet. Your corporate lapdogs have no authority on our planet, and we reject your claims of jurisdiction over us. We are refugees of the tyranny of Earth, and we refuse to let you drag us kicking and screaming back into the dark ages of oligarchs and tyrants. This is a new age, one of automation, knowledge, free thought, and openness. You are not taking our planet from us, kindly go fuck yourselves, and have a lovely rest of your lives.
The post received over 800,000 upvotes, representing nearly the total adult voting population of Mars, and was read by the Martian Ambassador to the UN general assembly aloud to the room in its entirety. The governments of Earth and the corporations they represented, reeled from the slap to the face, and immediately declared the Martian government a rogue state in defiance of International law. The reaction of the Martians was mocking, asking what the governments of Earth thought they were going to do about it. The UN arrested the Martian ambassador for collusion with a rogue state, and the Martians declared war in response.
It was initially a baseless threat. The Martians had no military to speak of, it was merely a way for them to reflect their frustrations with the breakdown of negotiations, few thought it would ever result in actual military action. Regular trade between the two worlds continued seemingly unabated, with over a thousand ships launched between the two worlds during the 2052 window. Their perspective on waging war changed rapidly when a fleet of ships from Earth arrived in 2053, having launched in secret, hidden amongst the commercial vessels. The fleet was composed of armed corporate paramilitaries, mercenaries and private operators, all armed with the latest and greatest of Earth military technology, modified specifically for operations on the red planet.
The fleet landed outside major population centers and stormed in to seize control. Many of the smaller installations and colonies gave in without struggle when rushed by the armored suit wearing paramilitaries, but in more populous areas, the colonists dug in hard. The Martian War of Independence had begun.
Sacra Mensa was seen as the priority target for the invading corporate forces, being the seat of the Martian government as well as the largest single colony on the surface. However, its high bluffs protected it from approach, and the colonists shot down the three ships that attempted to land directly on the Mesa with improvised rockets.
Death tolls on both sides began rising, but the colonists had a major numbers advantage on their invaders. As the Martians realized they were actually fighting a war, more and more Martian military production began to come online, and Martian militias rapidly formed to defend their colonies and homesteads.
The corporate invasion began to falter as Martian tanks started rolling off fabrication lines, and the power imbalance began to tilt. It took nearly a year to retake control of the Martian surface in its entirety, but by that point the Martians had started amassing the first generation of interplanetary warships in orbit of their world. The shallower gravity well of Mars made it easier to put bigger ships into orbit in greater numbers, and the wartime economy of Mars was almost entirely directed towards survival or military output in an unprecedented feat of economic unity.
By the time the next launch window approached, nearly two hundred brand new Martian warships crowded the red planet’s equatorial orbital plane. Following the footage of the invasion of Mars, the governments of Earth had grown reticent to engage with the Martians following the public backlash from the corporate backed invasions. The corporations themselves however, were still not ready to give up yet, and threw dozens more vessels filled with paramilitaries at Mars.
The Martians watched, waited, and when they finally witnessed the distant deployment of forces against them, held another vote and decided enough was enough. 62% of the population voted to attack earth in response, and demand a cessation of hostilities toward Mars in exchange for a cessation of hostilities toward Earth.
A third of the Martian fleet launched toward Earth, third launched toward the incoming corporate military vessels, and a third remained in orbit of Mars as a defensive screen. The Martians demanded the corporate ships stand down and turn back or face the consequences, and gave the UN until their ships arrived to figure out what to do.
The various conflicting corporate and governmental forces comprising the United Nations argued back and forth over what to do about the Mars Situation. Many of the more powerful nations and corporate factions didn’t consider the new Martian military a real threat, and remained confident they could be forced back into the fold at gunpoint. In order to prove their point, all they had to do was stall peace talks and keep the argument going until their fleet arrived at Mars.
The second corporate invasion force was twice the size of the first, armed with weapons designed to be fired down from orbit as artillery support, as well as aerial drones designed to work in the thin Martian atmosphere and power armor for use in house to house fighting.
Their fleet was not however, designed to fight a battle with another fleet of ships in space. The Martian fleet was cobbled together in appearance and largely assumed to be no more than ferries for ground troops, not a threat that had to be warded off; desperate boarding actions were the most that was expected.
It thus came as a major shock when the Martian fleet engaged the UN forces in interplanetary space three months later, firing guided missiles from hundreds of thousands of kilometers away, and destroying the corporate invasion force in its entirety. Earth went into an uproar at the sudden turning of the tables, and the discussion regarding Mars grew more angry and muddied as a result.
In February of 2055, the two Martian fleets converged on Earth’s sphere of influence, settling into an orbit of the moon. Over one hundred warships formed a belt around the moon, their running lights glittering in the moon’s shadow. The small UN outpost on the moon was boarded and the crew were captured as prisoners of war.
Again, the Martians sued for recognition of their independence, broadcasting a plea for peace. The UN again argued over how to respond, and after another month of debate, declared that they did not negotiate with terrorists.
The direct electronic democracy on Mars churned, peace seeking factions formed and debated with factions that wanted to invade and topple the government of Earth to liberate it, suggestions for response ranged anywhere between ‘render the planet uninhabitable’ and ‘immediately sue for peace while we clearly have the upper hand.’ The fact that the UN continued to declare the Martian Socialist Republic illegitimate unless they submitted to corporate authority was lobbed back and forth like a beach ball as automated democratic systems tried to zero in on the solution space. In March of that year, a 600,000 upvote answer came to dominate the discourse, and after another week of talking, was transmitted down to the Earth.
“Dear United Nations,
We will keep destroying your fleets as you send them. Stop sending them. We want peace you dolts, stop forcing our hands. We will force yours harder.
The UN response was swift and brutal, the governments of Earth fired hundreds of nuclear missiles at the Martian fleet in orbit of the moon. The Martian forces scattered, trying to outrun the missiles as they climbed out of Earth’s gravity well, but the much greater acceleration tolerance afforded by the nonliving missiles ensured they caught up to the ships hauling the fragile humans. After a week’s pursuit, the missiles finally caught up with their quarry as they attempted to loop back around and land on the Earth. Escape shuttles scattered by the hundred like seeds in the upper atmosphere, before the Martian warships vanished from orbit in nuclear starbursts.
The Martians that survived the destruction of their fleet went to ground on Earth, and began a protracted guerrilla campaign against corporate shipyards and infrastructure. Earth and Mars swung apart once more on their orbits, and another two year buildup of arms began.
Second generation Martian warships began to crowd the red planet’s orbit once more, with the UN mirroring the Martian tactical doctrines and launching their own warships. The Martians were fed up with fighting though, and they were fed up with Earth. They decided it was time to send a message, and began changing the orbit of a 500 meter long nickel iron asteroid. Powerful thrusters shifted the trajectory of the rock, swinging it around Mars and launching it back out of the sphere of influence on a retrograde heliocentric orbit that would send it looping around towards the Earth.
Mars transmitted a daily demand for peace, for the corporate military forces to stand down and cease their aggression against Mars, and still the buildup in Earth orbit continued. The Martians knew they had to force the issue, they couldn’t win a protracted struggle, Earth could in the end, simply outproduce them. Already three hundred corporate warships floated in a parking orbit around the Earth.
In October of 2056, the launch window opened from Earth once more and, the fleet of paramilitary warships launched themselves towards Mars. Mars issued their ultimatum: turn the fleet back now, or we start destroying your cities. The fleet continued onward towards Mars, and the Martian fleet launched towards it.
A few days later, the 500 meter long asteroid made a final course adjustment and came screaming at the Earth from interplanetary space. It slammed into the planet at 60 kilometers per second, perfectly striking the International Court of Justice in The Hague and carving out a ten kilometer wide crater where the Dutch city had once stood.
Earth accepted the peace offer the following day. Tensions and hostility from the two worlds as a result of the conflict would persist for over a century.