We needed to be at the Magrail Station for 10 am. Our destination was the small settlement of Black Rock, which is apparently a grade 2 Terminus, meaning that you have to book onto a special train which only runs once per week in either direction, in order to board or alight there. This was it. Laura turned up at the last minute-I wasn’t sure she would-and we settled onto the automated train. The speed of the thing is amazing, and the Martian landscape shoots by at about 600km/hour: our journey would take about an hour. Outside we occasionally glimpsed the famous ‘Golden Road’, the trail which roughly parallels the Magrail along which the massive Road Trains haul ore from the mining to the processing facilities, and thence to the factories and industries of Mars.
The trains stopped in a tunnel (Red, not Black)-no other passengers got off. We emerged down a tunnel and through an airlock into a cold Martian Afternoon, where we were met by a Rail Company Employee called Callum. He knew about our arrival and had a Mars Rover ready for us, which we drove the half mile or so into Black Rock.
Black Rock wasn’t much –an odd assemblage of buildings which seem to have been erected at different times to form a hotch potch community which does include a general store, a doctor, a hotel and even a sheriff. I expected Walt Brennan or Robert Mitchum to come and greet us as we alighted, but all we encountered were half a dozen curious townsfolk who pretended not to be looking in our direction.
Laura surmised that Derik had filed a copy of his intended route with the General Store, where he had also bought a few supplies a couple of weeks before. The Sherriff, who appeared to have a broken leg, didn’t have much to add, but did advise us not to advertise the fact that we were LFC employees-the local Mining Company-the independently owned Ryan Holdings- might be a bit suspicious at LFC officials poking around what they saw as their own territory (Ryan have a facility about 6 km out of town). We didn’t stay long as we wanted to get some driving in before dusk.
My first experience of Martian Rover driving was not a great success. It seemed easy enough at first, as the wheels are huge and the suspension amazing on these vehicles. It’s also about reading the landscape however, as I discovered when I drove over a 6 foot obstacle and emerged into a 20 foot gulley. There was an almighty creak and we decided to stop early in a sheltered spot. We had made maybe 60 km. We checked the vehicle over and discovered that one of the suspension rods seemed to have bent: we improvised it well enough by hammering it back into shape, welding a brace either side and then encasing the whole into a split sheath of tubular steel from one of the bunk beds, and then binding the whole together. Apparently that is to be my bunk bed.