Go and Build a Boat – Ch. 1
July 14, 2048
Mars, Sector 3, Yochi Complexity Preserve
“Life finds the Way.”
Familiar to the colonists, those are the words carefully etched onto every single product provided by Yochi.
Yochi, if you’re not familiar, maintain the largest remaining nature preserve on Mars, providing ecological services to the Martian colonial effort.
Yochi has, only hours ago, packed and sealed the very last “ZAMITA” superfood ration inside a coconut shell in support of the latest — and certainly most crucial to date — return mission to Earth.
Until now, journalists and tourists alike have only been allowed to observe Yochi from the designated “Loki-Glass” — an auxiliary structure on the eastern fringe of the tribal society of hermits.
But now, for the first time ever, Yochi has allowed us inside-access of their underground home. Provided, of course we agreed to be outfitted with DeCon suits and thoroughly washed with their own algae pond water. That way, according to our guide, Seshua Y, “You don’t contaminate our worlds with your foreign microbiome.”
Seshua, 17, is the first Martian, born in 2030. This was the same year as the first “Great Flood” and, you’ll recall, when the Yochi sent its first settlement party, mostly women and children, to the budding eco-industrial facilities and para-terraforming project.
Seshua led us into the Exocosm and handed us our suits.
On the wall, I noticed, meticulously etched into the red rock, was a passage from the Epic of Gilgamesh:
“Demolish the house, build a boat!
Abandon riches and seek survival!
Spurn property and save life!
Put on board the boat the seed of all living creatures!
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.”
-Ae, Tablet XI Epic of Gilgamesh (Story of the flood)
“The entrance to Midgard is this way,” Sesh said to us as we walked into a small tube hiding behind a few shrubs, leading us into the preserve.
We walked through several decontaminating air-locked hatchways, until, finally, the steel vault gave way to a thick veil of vines and dwarfed palms, intersected by winding, well trod paths lined with fruits and radiant flowers. On our way in, Sesh allowed me a moment to gaze upon the famous shining mosaic patterned ceiling, “komorebi,” as the Yochi say, reminiscent of the legendary mosques of Iran. I increased the sunshade factor on my mask and the mesmerising complexity of the psychedelic patterns shined like a thousand tiny stars through a kaleidoscope. The incomprehensible depth felt similar to the familiar feeling of gazing deep into the stars from olympus mons.
As we traveled deeper, a strange and exotic insect, a creature with vivid, colorful patterns on its wings — the most beautiful living thing I’d seen up to that point — floated gracefully in my direction.
It was the closest thing to magic I’d ever witnessed. Its glow, the way it moved, hovering effortlessly, made my soul quake. I recognized it as a butterfly from the Wikis. All of the stories I was told as a child about Earth came flooding back.
Nature, I thought as I marveled at this incredibly alive creature. This is what they meant. How could we have ever been so selfish? Such fools to have consumed such unbelieveable majesty!
I reached to wipe the tear off of my cheek as the butterfly landed on my shield, reminding me of my suit. It froze, almost as if it were allowing me to steep deep into the miracle that it is.
A strange sensation, a feeling I can only describe as sheer religious ecstasy crept up my spine.
“Stay completely still,” whispered Sesh, his eyes also intent on the small butterfly. “Do. Not. Move.”
I did as he asked, expecting Sesh to lift the fragile insect off of my helmet to escort it to a safe place.
With an incredibly deft pluck, Sesh snatched the creature by the wings and, to my absolute horror, stuffed the silent, gleaming angel right between his teeth.
“Shall we?” he asked, as he imbibed the half-masticated remains of my Nirvana.
We walked for a few minutes, my cheek still wet with rapture, until I noticed the tranquility of the forest creating within me an unsettling, yet strangely familiar calm.
“So,” I stammered, trying to adjust myself to the stillness of the screeching forest, “tell me a little bit about ZAMITA.”
“ZAMITA,” Sesh told us as he picked up a stray coconut from our path, “is the last and only food you’ll ever need. The majority of our diets here in Yochi consist of it. We actually prefer it. It’s simple and it makes our bodies feel good and strong.
“Originally,” Sesh explained, “a less dense form of ZAMITA was used by Moroccans on their pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. About five percent of the population would take this pilgrimage annually, many of them sustaining themselves on ZAMITA and water alone.”
According to Sesh, it took about fourteen centuries of pilgrimages, and thousands of attempts to refine the recipe to ensure the best possible nutritional value in the least amount of space.
“Since our first harvest on Mars,” Sesh said as he tossed the coconut in the air, “Yochi has constantly refined Zamita into a perfect staple. If one wanted to, he or she could thrive on one ZAMITA coconut for 1 week. That’s how powerful it is. We’re very proud of it. To me, though, it’s more than just a superfood.
“To me,” he said with a cheeky grin, “it represents my entire life’s work.”
“This coconut,” he said as he raised it to eye level, “is a simple but powerful symbol of the ecological complexity Yochi have spent decades nurturing into existence. But we are not just living amongst this complexity, we are a crucial part of it.. We are the linchpins of everything you see here. We are the complexity. We are the keys to the lock.
“We are ubiquitous.
“That’s the secret to our success. And it’s also the reason why the hierarchies have mostly left us alone and allowed us sovereignty. Without our presence, the outsiders understand, the Gaian complexity dies. Many of the species you’ll see today were killed off on Earth during the Great Floods. Amazingly, according to our calculations, by 2060, we will produce more seeds than exist in all of Western America.
“Without us, many powerful people would be forced to go back to Earth. There’s a lot of interest in keeping us here.”
According to Sesh, all 172 ingredients which make up ZAMITA were grown exclusively within the settlement.
From what I could gather, ZAMITA consists of, but certainly isn’t limited to honey, citrus peel, various sprouted seeds and nuts, carob bits, cacao nibs, mint, cannabis leaf and seeds, cinnamon, and even a couple of carefully-engineered plants native to Mars.
“But, as you know,” Sesh went on, “we’re more than just Martian peach peddlers. We provide much more than just ZAMITA and foodstuff for space travelers. We also provide ecological assets in exchange for Nexus currency, robotics hardware and AI technology upgrades.”
Yochi, Sesh explains, provides the following “symbiotic services”:
[one] ATMOSPHERIC EXCHANGE: Currently, Yochi exchanges atmosphere by the ton to 23 different below-ground tribes through a system of metered pipelines. It’s not the only settlement to provide such services, but, says Sesh, “we’re the only ones who, quite frankly, are doing so in a sustainable manner.”
[two] WATER PURIFICATION: Yochi, we’re told, offers to purify drinking and sanitation water through their proprietary bio-filters for .0017 Nexus per load.
[three] TOURISM. “Our auxiliary structures,” Sesh says, pointing toward the outer rim of the eastern corridor, “allow tourists to move through our environment via VR or by observing from the fringes, without affecting the ecological complexity.”
[four] ETHANOL. “Our palm sugar orchard over there,” he said, pointing toward the southern end, “provides copious amounts of ethanol, which we normally barter for robot parts.”
[five] WASTE PROCESSING. “Provided it’s not tainted and we can use it,” Sesh explains, “we are more than willing to take waste off the hands of any tribe who isn’t yet able to process it themselves.”
[six] MASS-PRODUCED TERRA-FORMING SOIL. “Our soil is the richest you’ll find on Mars or on Earth. This is due to our soil’s depth of complexity and diversity. Which is why it’s become in high demand by both Martians and Earthlings alike. Last year alone, we exported 6,000 tons of soil.”
[seven] ECOLOGICAL ASSETS. “We are often willing to put surplus of the ecosystem on the Martian market, if it serves our purposes. This includes medicinal herbs, plants, fungi and ferments. Many of which are exotic and engineered on Mars or extinct on Earth.”
All of this occurs within roughly the space of 11 hectares of ecological preserve, not including the auxiliary structures which produce much of the ecological services the colonies need to survive.
The northern end of the settlement is an artificial hot spring: It’s hot, humid and unbearable for extended periods of time. The further south you travel, the cooler the climate becomes until, eventually, you reach glaciers and equally unbearable cold.
Borrowing from Norse mythology, the tribe refers to North Yochi as Niflheim, or the “Mist Home,” and South Yochi as Muspelheim, or the “Fire Realm.”
In all, Yochi consists of nine “spheres”, Niflheim and Muspelheim representing the polarities. Between them, there are seven distinct worlds.
Apart from Niflheim and Muspelheim, we were shown three more:
Jotunheim, the land of the “deity,” where many of the medicinal plants can be found, working in symbiosis with one another and even, in a few cases, interbreeding with one another on their own.
Alfheimr, the land of the “elves” of automation, where much of the technology is harvested and adapted into the eco- and exosystem.
And most impressive of all, Midgard, in the center of the settlement.
Midgard has strangler fig hammocks around saltwater streams and fresh water springs. It’s also where the “World tree” is situated, which connects the nine spheres as one through a thick layer of mycelium spread throughout its roots.
“How,” we asked Sesh on our way out, “did the Yochi people know about the floods?”
“There has been a lot of speculation as to how the Yochi predicted the floods. Much of it is demonstrably false.
“Our answer,” Sesh said as he unlatched the door to the Exocosm, “is the same every time: History rhymes and life always finds the Way.”