The lander touched down within the hundred-yard radius they’d plotted for it, blowing the red Mars dust into a billowing cloud.
Chance Fullerton pulled the rover up next to it and, after giving them a moment to stand on the surface in their spacesuits and soak it all in, helped each passenger aboard, Captain Leslie Willis in the front, her two crew mates and passenger Argus Bohnezaehler in the back. Mission commander Marvin Hassler wouldn’t tell Chance what Argus’s function was, so he was a little edgy around him. The rover’s door shut and pressure restored, they took off their helmets.
Leslie looked the same as she did in the academy. Brown hair in a short bob, brown eyes, and a smirk that made you wonder what mischief she planned. One crewman looked like a high school boy, hair cut high and tight. The other more grizzled. Argus had sandy brown hair, beady blue eyes, and a pointy nose.
“Greetings, travelers. My name’s Chance Fullerton, Chief Mechanical Engineer, and I’ll be your tour guide.”
“You’ve been promoted then.” Leslie shook his hand.
“Hah!” He gunned the rover toward the colony.
“How’ve you been, Chance?”
“Seeing a lot of red these days.”
Leslie groaned. “Puns like that really will get you demoted.”
Argus issued a strange grunt and wrote on a pad of paper.
“What’s that?” asked Chance.
Argus furrowed his brow.
“Don’t mind him,” said the grizzled crewman. “He does that all the time.”
Chance rounded the colony’s shielding—state-of-the-art nanotech that absorbed the radiation and reused it’s energy. He pressed a button and the airlock door to the rover bay raised. He drove in and waited for the indicator light that showed pressure had equalized with the vehicle.
In the room outside the bay, they stripped off their spacesuits. The high school kid helped Argus peel his off, revealing a charcoal gray dress suit, a red tie, and wingtips.
“What the hell?” Chance gawked. “What is this?”
Argus sniffed. “I’m the accountant. I’ve been sent to manage your resources. They’re out of control.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Chance looked at Leslie.
“Don’t look at me, pal. I’m just transport.”
“I’ll see your commander now,” said Argus.
During the next several days Argus turned up everywhere. In the command center, the labs, the greenhouse, the power grid, the common areas, the mess, the dorms—no place was sacred. He then spent about a month going through records and logs for the last five years. Chance would have forgotten about him but for the occasional encounter in the mess.
Commander Hassler called Chance and the other section heads to a meeting that turned out to be Argus presenting his findings and dictating policies that followed. He used networked tablets where every attendee saw the presentation on their own, the relevant charts to their sections included.
“As you can see, everything, without exception, is being way over provisioned, and usage has to be strictly moderated.” He tapped on his tablet, and the oxygen usage chart popped up on Chance’s screen. “Here’s an example. From now on you will only add the amount of oxygen to your atmosphere that is allotted by month on this chart. You will see that there is a general reduction that is more severe and less severe at different times depending upon the trending indexes.”
“This is ridiculously complex,” said Bethany, the xenobiologist.
“I simplified it for you by making the allotment the same for every section throughout the month.”
“This is outrageous,” said Chance.
“These numbers say otherwise,” said Argus. “Allow me to show you other areas that may improve your understanding.”
He displayed equally appalling charts to regulate food, energy usage, water, and even entertainment.
“You’re out of your mind,” said Greg, the botanist in charge of the greenhouse section.
“These numbers say otherwise,” said Argus.
Chance had had enough. “Mr. Bohnezaehler. I understand the importance of accounting. I understand how it can give you a snapshot of your assets and liabilities. It can reveal your cashflow and track your profits and losses. But this kind of detailed and scrupulous accounting is not realistic. It can inform policy, but there’s no way in hell it should define it. Nothing here takes into account the real value of the commodities and of the people, who need surpluses and backups and a whole lot else.”
“These numbers say otherwise,” said Argus.
“These numbers, as you have applied them, have lost all connection with reality and treat people like objects to be used rather than human beings to be served.”
“Say that again, and I’ll shove you out an airlock,” said Leslie.
“Where the hell did you learn to do this?” Chance held his arm out to keep Leslie from pummeling the accountant. “To be blinded by the numbers and disregard humanity?”
“My previous job.”
“And where was that?”
“I worked for an apartment rental company in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas.”
Several people said ‘oh’ or ‘aah.’
“Well,” said Chance. “That makes perfect sense now.”
They threw him out the airlock.