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
“I expect a lot of us are thinking about it,” I
“I can’t imagine what anyone who had family back home
is thinking right now,” Lisa—who flew in from Melas Three to join
us face-wise—mulls. “Even if you could go back, if you’d left
children on Earth when you deployed, you’d be meeting your grown
. Your children would be older than you. A life
partner… if they were still alive… I can’t imagine what that would
feel like…” And I catch her looking at me the way she used to, but
only for a second. Then I have to catch the berry juice that’s
running down my chin.
“That’s why most of us brought family if we could,”
Tru reminds her of a luxury very few of the military personnel were
allowed, then cuts herself off when she realizes her misstep.
“We’re old UNACT,” I allow her, speaking for Matthew,
Lisa and Rick as well. “None of our group had family. But the
majority of our personnel… All volunteered. Most knew they’d be
leaving home for many years—at least full tours at a time…”
,” Lisa redirects. I nod
heavily. I wonder how much this “generational shock” does factor
into Earth’s frustratingly minimal communications.
“Any of your people recognize the couple on that
message?” I ask again, changing the subject. “Any family
She shakes her head.
“No names, Colonel,” Anton cuts in from Candor—he and
Rick have stayed live with us by Link. “I was thinking about that:
They didn’t want to give their names but put their faces on. I’ve
been scanning it apart—we may have been looking at some kind of
avatar, fake faces to avoid identification.”
“And arrest,” Tru concludes with an edge. “I’m
thinking Colonel Burke is right about the persistence of human
nature.” Matthew turns his eyes away like he isn’t paying
attention, idly nibbling at the warm grainy bread.
“Incoming!” Anton announces, breaking the mood at
least a bit.
It’s General Richards, his dress A’s crisp, centered
for effect in front of the UN symbol.
“Been a long day for all of us, I expect,” he greets
with surprising humanity. “As you’ve already heard, you’ll be
seeing quite a lot of me. I’d default to rank and duty, but I’d
rather establish a better working relationship with you all from
the start, so expect to receive some of the data you have been
“As for the Quarantine issue, I won’t waste your time
telling you I’m sorry or I don’t agree with it. I understand the
need to proceed with caution. But unfortunately the burden is now
upon all of you: The more intelligence you can provide us about
what’s happening there, the more thoughtfully we can proceed
towards proper relief and re-establishment of operations. As for
what that means, it’s all still a matter of debate. The least I can
do is give you an idea of where things stand…”
We get a montage of what Anton was asking for: Video
of public celebrations set in landmarks we still recognize:
Manhattan, Paris, London, Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo,
Sydney, Baghdad. The cities around the old architecture seem to
have grown up and out, but nothing is shockingly different—a
handful of new super-scrapers, a few new pieces of large-scale
public art. Each site has some variation on the same monument: a
group of weathered explorers in various colonial gear, usually done
in some kind of red rock or metal, with scrolling banners
announcing memorials to the “brave explorers of a lost
At one point I see a close-up of a red polished stone
wall engraved with thousands of names. Zooming out, it’s a low
flat-topped pyramid that fills an acre of what I recognize as the
old Kennedy Space Center, derelict launch gantries rusting in the
distance. The entire base of it is piled with flowers. Thousands of
people stand solemnly around it, looking at the names, leaving
tokens, touching the names on the stone.
Back to the urban crowd scenes, huge holo-displays
hovering above the cheering masses show old file-shots of myself,
Matthew, Lisa, Anton, Tru, Rick, Kastl, Rios, Halley, Ryder—our
faces hundreds of feet tall. I see clips of the videos we’ve sent,
which makes for a shocking juxtaposition simply in the fact that
the old file photos of us still resemble our faces now fifty years
later; I assume the effect is not lost on the crowds.
But I’m looking
what we’re being shown:
The skies are blue and clear. The people still look like people;
though, like many of those we’ve talked to, the racial
characteristics have continued to blur. Most are dressed in plain,
functional clothing, but it still shows the touches of individual
and cultural styles, so I don’t imagine some totalitarian dystopia.
see is a lot of what look like faddy trends,
corporate logos… Even in the big city scenes, I don’t see the once
ever-present glaring product placements. That alone makes me think
the scenes are fictionalized. Or something unbelievably extreme has
happened to global culture.
“I hope this helps,” Richards’ voice comes back over
the constantly changing video feed. “But I also need to put this
all in perspective. You’ve given us quite a shock. The public cheer
you see is huge—don’t mistake that—but it is far from all of it.
You have also hit us with a great deal of guilt and shame for
leaving you all behind. What this should do in a perfect world is
motivate the powers that be into lifting the quarantine and sending
every resource to your aid, but things are more complicated than
He pauses to gather himself.
“I’m sending you some files we’ve put together for
you. I’m not a historian or sociologist, and only passable as a
speaker, so bear with me please. When the disaster in 2065
happened, it happened on both planets. Even before the Discs killed
our incoming ships and crippled our orbital resources, we were
reeling as a planet from what had happened on Mars. It
us. Personally, socially, politically,
economically… The impact was beyond anything we could imagine. The
grief, the horror, the rage… We had watched what we thought to be
tens of thousands of people wiped out by our own machinations. And
once we finished blaming the Discs and the Shield and the
politicians and the activist groups and the corporations, it all
came back to all of
: our desires for longer life and
better toys had created this monster that turned on us. And we
changed in those years.
“You won’t recognize us now, just as we may not
interface well with you anymore. You are from are different world,
a different time. We purged so much… Maybe foolishly, blindly… But
we are now what we are because of that. You will see in the
reports… We turned on the corporations, the material culture… You
once fought a war against religious extremists who wanted the world
made simpler, purer. We are now perhaps more like those former
enemies than you would like.”
He stops the images, lets us focus on him. He looks
like he’s struggling to find direction, words.
“It isn’t at all bad, Colonel. I can say this because
I was close with my grandfather Thomas—I feel as if I know you,
what you went through to try to keep this world from killing itself
over ideals. You didn’t lose—this
a Muslim theocracy,
or a Christian one… isn’t a theocracy at all… but there is less
separation now because we turned to the spiritual, looked to our
better natures, to forgive and let go of what had poisoned us…
“We’re not cavemen, not superstitious primitives, not
Luddites… We held on to what was useful. We did not stop progress,
research. It’s just that we proceed more thoughtfully now. You have
met Dr. Chandry: UNCORT is an international accord to regulate
technological research and development, much like the weapons and
environmental compacts of your time. There are places that we have
to go again: No self-replicating or adaptive
nanotechnology, no DNA manipulation, limits on AI and
bio-research—Dr. Chandry can give you the specifics of the global
legislation. But larger than that: we no longer allow the markets
to drive our production any more than we let economics impact the
environment. You might like this world of ours: It’s cleaner,
healthier, less focused on material comfort and wealth as power.
There is less conflict, less famine. The population has stabilized
at ten billion. We still have babies the old fashioned way and live
about as long as when you were here last. And we still die of the
same things—even though we had the technology in our hands to
resist death, we will not allow our bodies to be so violated. I do
believe we are the better because of the lessons we learned when we
thought we lost all of you.”
He pauses to give us what he looks like he hopes is a
reassuring smile, something almost paternal (though like a father
who has been absent many years trying to explain the reasons for
destroy the corporations
that funded the colonies, and crippled the governments that relied
on those economies. We had a lot of rebuilding to do after that,
and we focused on what we all agreed was most important: living
better, not greedier. Quality over quantity. Appreciating the
simple things. Nurturing our planet and ourselves.
“I’m sorry to say what we
our space programs. This will mean delays in getting to you—we are
scrambling now to refit some ships we’d left in mothballs, to
revive the industries that built rockets and shuttles and orbital
docks. But it will likely take years—perhaps decades—to restore
anything resembling what we had before 2065. We are almost starting
from scratch. Simple unmanned probes and supply drops will come to
you first, likely within the year, but manned missions… Even if the
Quarantine is lifted, expect it will be at least two more
“I can tell you two more things at this time: First,
because of our bans and the fear of nano-contamination, the
researchers at UNCORT are especially concerned with what directions
the ETE have taken their technology, no matter what their
advancements have yielded positively for the planet and the other
survivors. The lifting of the quarantine may rest on this issue.
Second, in spite of the Quarantine, I am proud to say there are
quite a number of volunteers coming forward who want to be on those
first relief missions, even if the quarantine means that their trip
will be indefinitely one-way. I have put myself on this list—as I
said before, I do look forward to meeting you in person.
“I will say farewell for now. Message ends.”
No one says anything for at least a full minute.
Matthew just shakes his head, very slightly. Tru is biting her
thumbnail. Lisa’s eyes are locked on me.
I spin in my chair and key up the ETE Link channel.
I’m almost surprised by how quickly the blue sealsuit and chrome
mask appears on my screen.
“Your call is expected,” Council Blue assures me
calmly, “as is its purpose.”
“You’ve been monitoring?” I ask needlessly—just for
the social reassurance. The helmet nods—I find this is one time I
would especially appreciate seeing Mark Stilson’s face instead of
“We do not presume to interfere with your duty,
Colonel: Send them everything you have about us,” he allows evenly.
“When we see how they respond to that, then we will consider
whether or not it is time to speak with them ourselves. Know that
we appreciate your discretion up to this point. Know also that it
is unnecessary. What we have done here is not for you to
I nod my understanding heavily, and he vanishes.
Then I tell Anton to send the requested files.
“Everything?” he has to ask.
“Everything. Including Halley’s examinations of Paul,
our skirmishes with the Nomads, the Shinkyo attacks, the PK and
“Our training of the ETE ‘Guardians’?” Matthew asks
“All of it.”
3 February, 2116:
As if we’re being punished for our (my) sins, we
don’t get another message (other than pings to reassure us the
channel’s still open) for two days.
In the interim, we’ve been pouring through the files
sent with the last message:
There are a lot of personnel-specific records, most
detailing the fates of the families left behind. I decide not to
censor any of it. It’s in many cases more difficult than we could
have anticipated. Halley and Ryder have grown grandchildren and
great-grandchildren, their children dead years ago. Anton’s parents
are also long-deceased, and his “younger” sister has aged
poorly—the report from a UNMAC page says she doesn’t seem to
remember him at all, much less their conversations about him. He
has an adult nephew with children physically older than him.
Morales had a “baby daddy” back home taking care of
their young son. The child is now fifty-seven, a new grandparent
himself, with half-siblings from his father’s subsequent
Kastl’s wife remarried in 2069, had the children he
never had with her, and accepted “voluntary euthanasia” after being
diagnosed with a Stage 4 brain tumor three years ago, surrounded by
her children and grandchildren.
Smith’s ex died of a completely curable cancer,
having become a post-Apocalypse convert to one of many
newly-popular fundamentalist sects that passionately encouraged the
rejection of the nano-medicine that could have saved her.
(Apparently pumping adaptive self-replicating machines into your
body was now an unthinkable taboo.) His two sons were raised by her
family. His oldest was killed bringing aid to the starving in East
Africa—not by violence; just a senseless convoy accident. His
youngest had a family of his own and is still alive—a
grandfather—but hasn’t responded to UNMAC attempts to contact