Authors: Michael Rizzo
Tags: #mars, #military, #genetic engineering, #space, #war, #pirates, #heroes, #technology, #survivors, #exploration, #nanotech, #un, #high tech, #croatoan, #colonization, #warriors, #terraforming, #ninjas, #marooned, #shinobi
that?” Kastl idly asks.
“A tent,” I tell him. “Or what the samurai called a
tent—really just a kind of showy privacy screen to give their
commanders the illusion of having walls around them in the
“You really need to practice being less scary with
the random shit you know,” Matthew grumbles in my ear.
“Would I be stupid to assume they’d know you’d know
that, sir?” Kastl asks nervously.
“Sadly, Captain, you would not at all be stupid to
make that assumption,” Matthew lets him know. “Just as I won’t be
stupid to assume Colonel Ram isn’t about to do what I know he’s
going to do.”
“If Lieutenant Smith is awake,” I tell Kastl, “let
him know I need a ride.”
Sakina comes with me—I’m sure they expect that. Just
as they expect I’ll be wearing the sword they gave me.
Smith sets us down a hundred yards short of their
“tent,” then glides back to park the ship a half-klick off. He’s
careful not to sit it in any direct line between the base batteries
and our visitors, or on ground that isn’t clear and well-covered
just in case this is a ruse to capture the ship (the Shinkyo would
easily assume my choice of aircraft from prior encounters—the
Lancer would be a tempting prize).
The Shinkyo don’t move as we approach. Sakina follows
my example and bows deeply with me at the perimeter of their
symbolic meeting space. I can hear the fabric of their banners
whipping in the chill wind.
I could tell who was under the black hood before she
pulled it back. She still wears dark goggles and a mask, though as
they are a necessity out here I cannot tell if she still requires
them all the time due to her exposure injuries. I also cannot read
her expression—she’s like a doll, a mannequin.
“Hatsumi Sakura-san,” I greet her evenly.
“Thank you for coming, Colonel Ram. You honor us by
wearing our gift.”
Her voice is calm and level, and almost mechanical
through her mask.
“It is a fine sword,” I return politely. She gestures
to a place on the platform in front of her to sit. There are two
brocade mats, one slightly behind the other, for a lord and his
bodyguard vassal. I take the front one, pulling my sword
still-sheathed from my belt and setting it down in front of me as I
kneel, a signal of ambivalence (to my left would mean enmity, to my
right, friendship). Sakina settles down on the mat just behind my
“We have been monitoring your transmissions,” Sakura
begins, a rattle in her voice that lets me know she isn’t fully
recovered from the exposure I’d inadvertently ordered, “but I am
certain you have realized this. We have analyzed the incoming
objects and have had some partial success with translating their
code, enough to know that there is urgency about them, that whoever
sent them demands updated data almost continuously.”
“I expect they’re nervous,” I return, “thanks to the
actions of your people.”
She nods serenely, accepting my dig.
“And you are to be thanked for giving my father a
good death,” she says as if she means it. “Because of that, and
because you have shown us you are a warrior of exceptional honor
and refinement, we have come here, knowing full well you have your
batteries trained on us.”
I give her the nod back.
“And for what have you come?” I ask her, maintaining
“My brother Oda has taken his rightful place as
Daimyo,” she explains flatly. “Nothing else has changed. We do not
come here to surrender.”
“I do not expect you to,” I respond, “nor will I ask
“But you would have us under your leadership?”
“I would have you desist in your aggression against
the ETE. I would have you stand with us, especially given the
“And I would warn you to consider who you already
stand with, Colonel. The ETE will be your undoing. I think you know
“There’s what I fear and what I hope, great lady,” I
counter vaguely. “I don’t lose sight of either. Nor do I forsake my
allies on the advice of their enemies.”
“I do not expect you to,” she repeats my sentiment,
“nor will I ask it. But will your old masters embrace the
nano-infected who enforce their will on this world? Or will they
prefer those that would act to break their hold?”
The Shinkyo always have at least two reasons for
everything they do, and
“A good strategist will win even in losing,” I say
out loud. “You knew that the ETE would have to militarize just to
defend themselves against you, and how much more frightening that
would make them appear to Earth.”
“You were one of us in a former life, Colonel. I am
sure of that.”
“You honor me,” I play. “But that isn’t why you’ve
The morning wind is picking up, snapping at the
fabric of the “tent” panels, threatening to blow them down. But the
flimsy break at least keeps the rising dust at bay.
“I come to let you know that you have options,
Colonel,” she tells me with theatrical dryness, “and that we are
not the only ones who’ve been monitoring your communications.” Then
she gives me a formal bow and rises. “Time is short.”
Her Shinobi rise with her. We follow suit. They file
through the panels of the “tent” and into the wind. Sakura is the
last to go. She turns to face Sakina.
“I look forward to crossing blades with you again,
Cousin. Another time.”
The instant Sakura passes through the panels, the
intensifying dust storm brings them down. We must retreat quickly
from the platform. We can see no sign of where the Shinkyo went,
and they’ve disappeared from our scans in the rusty clouds. Smith
flies in and has to guide us blind using our goggle Link heads-ups
to get us back into the airlock.
“You think they planned for the dust blow to cover
their exit?” Matthew asks me as I’m vacuuming off.
“Winds are easy enough to predict with a decent AI
modeling system,” I counter. In fact, the winds shift with the
consistency of tides as the sun travels the length of the Marineris
valley. Even the synergistic variables that turn the usual steady
currents into a significant dust blow can be reasonably anticipated
even by eye, assuming you’d spent your life watching them.
“Nice timing, though…”
Sakina doesn’t say a word while we clean up, which is
hardly unusual. But I’m left idly wondering how literal Sakura’s
use of the word “cousin” was.
1 February, 2116:
It finally comes the way things like this do, at
exactly the moment you’re not expecting it. I will specifically
remember this little detail every time the cliché question is put
to me: “Where were you when it happened?”
I’d just dozed off in my rack.
I had slept not at all the night before, and had been
lying awake until some moments before 01:05. I only realized I’d
finally fallen asleep because the priority signal on my Link woke
me, and because I was so slow and groggy in answering it. In fact,
I distinctly remember being in that cognitive disorientation
between dreaming and waking, because I was sure I knew what the
message would be before I answered it.
, Colonel!!” Anton manically greets
me, the light from the screen burning my unadjusted eyes. “I have
them! It’s Earth!”
I think I told him to make them hold. I did. I
ordered him to put Earth on hold after fifty years. And the next
coherent thought I had was that Matthew would never let me forget
I remember feeling shaky, even nauseous. The lights
came up in my quarters automatically and it hurt. The room felt
very small. I remember Sakina was already sitting up at disciplined
attention, her black eyes looking into mine like she was afraid we
were under attack, like she was waiting for orders. I staggered
over her and got into the toilet niche. I saw enough of myself in
the mirror to know I was pale and drawn and looking very, very old.
I managed to get my LA jacket on but not clasped, and I got myself
out the hatch and up the stairs to Command Ops.
I needn’t have rushed.
Anton had warned me about this months ago: Even at
closest conjunction, it would take a radio signal at least four and
a half minutes to get across fifty thousand miles of space. I knew
the math already—it was rattled into me with so many more necessary
facts of operating on Mars before I left Earth—but I got used to
relaying messages and mission briefs through Ares Station or Phobos
Dock, not ever having to talk directly to Earth and wait out the
delay. (I suppose it says something that I had no one back home to
keep in touch with.) And apparently—fifty years later—the
scientists back home still have no shortcuts around the speed of
Nine minutes to send a signal and get a reply, plus
whatever time it takes for them to receive and reply. I sit and
wait forever until 01:22. I don’t even realize Tru has been holding
my hand the whole time. Matthew is actually sweating.
“Melas Base, this is Planet Earth,” it begins with
the kind of measured enthusiasm I would expect, given the span of
time and the likely suspicion about the source of our signals. “We
have received your confirmation signal.” The tone is equal parts
elation and caution, hope and anxiety. The voice is that familiar
slightly-Southern US accent very common with soldiers and space
program specialists. I’m not sure if I find it reassuring or
creepy—part of me wonders if this is some kind of tactical trick or
cruel hoax perpetrated by one of our less-friendly on-planet
fellows. I notice the voice doesn’t identify itself by name, or
even by organization or command.
Then it gets worse.
“Sorry for the delay responding to you. We had a time
confirming your authenticity. Quite a shock after all these years,
you can understand. But we’re all very excited down here…”
The voice sounds too much like someone you’ve
cornered who doesn’t want to talk to you but is too polite to tell
you to go away. Matthew’s eyebrows go halfway up his forehead.
“I know those Earthside Ops Specialists practice at
being cool even when things are exploding,” he complains
incredulously, “but this is just
“We received your flash status report,” the
barely-cheery drone continues, talking to a long-lost but unwanted
relative. “We haven’t finished reviewing it all yet, but we look
forward to hearing from you directly. You may have detected our
inbound probes. They were intended for surveillance, given what
we’ve been monitoring on the surface, but they can serve to improve
our communications once they’re in orbit. Command is wondering if
you fired those warheads off as a signal, or if your situation is
threatened. Please send updated situation reports and lists of
needed supplies. Regret earliest material assistance will not
arrive for at least seven months. Looking forward to further
communications. The entire planet is celebrating your news. End
message and out.”
I realize immediately: whatever elation I feel about
finally making contact is mixed with a sickly foreboding.
“What the fuck was that?”
I look up at Matthew, but then realize it was Anton’s
reaction over the Link. I can only shake my head.
“Sorry sir,” he tries, “it’s just…” But he doesn’t
finish the thought.
“Can you confirm point of origin?” Matthew asks him
heavily, his head apparently going into some of the dark places
“It’s Earth, no doubt,” Anton tells him.
“No sign of any kind of satellite any of our local
friends could be using to screw with us?” Matthew presses. I
remember what Hatsumi Sakura told me: Others are listening. Rick
comes on and assures him the signal came from where it said it did.
He sounds tired, frustrated, not at all like a year’s worth of
efforts have just come to fruition.
“But it’s Earth,” Kastl tries to get the sense of
success going again. “We did it.”
I take a deep breath and nod, feeling my face
“We did it,” Tru agrees quietly. But relief isn’t the
only thing I hear in her voice.
“You got a speech ready?” Matthew asks me, at least
say?” I ask him back. I
realize I’m shaking. Tru squeezes my hand.
I take a long breath. Then I have MAI record with
video of the three of us:
“This is Colonel Michael Ram, acting commander of the
UNMAC Mars Base Melas Two. With me is my second-in-command Colonel
Matthew Burke, and our civilian liaison Truganini Greenlove. We are
almost twelve hundred souls, having made it through extended Hiber
Sleep, all healthy despite a few recent casualties and injuries. We
have managed to restore this facility to functional status and have
partially recovered the Melas Three site, which we found abandoned
and gutted but structurally intact. We have sources of food, water
and breathable atmosphere to sustain us for the foreseeable
All of this would have been in the basic situation
report Anton had been sending with our distress call for the last
two months, but I think they should hear it again fresh and with
faces attached. I get down to the difficult part.
“Our situation is stable but uncertain. We have
sign of nanotech or biological contamination, or
any further Disc activity, but we are far from alone here: There
are an unknown number of individuals who have managed to sustain
themselves in various societal groups on the surface, descendants
of the survivors of the Corporate Colonies. We roughly estimate
their numbers to be in the thousands. We have made productive
contacts with some, but others remain hostile due to fierce
competition for resources—for their sake I would request an
immediate renewal of humanitarian supply drops, including food,
survival gear and medical supplies. We do not have anything like a
completed census yet due to extremely limited resources and high
risks—some of these groups are well armed and suspicious of us, and
a number of our outreach attempts have been met with violence. I do
not believe they are in any immediate peril, but material relief
would likely be most welcome, and may go far in promoting peaceful
contacts. They have gone to great lengths to conceal themselves, as
many of them believe that the nuclear bombardment of the planet was
intentionally triggered by Earthside, and not by Disc sabotage. It
may take some time and quite a bit of goodwill to convince them