Read The Mars Shock Online

Authors: Felix R. Savage

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration, #Science fiction space opera thriller

The Mars Shock (2 page)

BOOK: The Mars Shock
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Unfortunately, the destruction had been spotty. The city designated Conurbation 112 remained more or less undamaged.

The phavatars climbed the tableland towards the flattened section of wall Colden could see on the sat map. This pinpoint strike hadn’t come from a Phobos impact, but a Star Force warhead. For a while after the Big Breakup, it had looked like Star Force was going to slag everything on Mars, finishing up the job that the sainted Bob Miller had started. Colden wouldn’t have shed a single tear. The PLAN had pulverized Hyderabad and Seoul last year. It had killed Colden’s adoptive parents two decades ago, and killed her best friend during the Big Breakup. She herself had had a very narrow escape. So—give the metalfuckers a taste of their own medicine.
Hell
yeah.

Then it had all come to a screeching halt.

And three months later, here was Colden leading a bunch of half-trained teenagers into a PLAN city, vidding all the way, because
ethics.
And
accountability.
And
the founding principles of the United Nations,
and
our human identity,
and all the rest of that crap.

To Colden’s secret glee, the Chinese were not so big on
the founding principles of the United Nations
etc., etc., blah, blah. Not surprising, as the Imperial Republic of China did not belong to the UN. China had joined the war belatedly and now operated on the ground in loose confederation with Star Force, which caused no end of logistical snarl-ups and misunderstandings, a situation which was not aided by the awful quality of surface-to-surface comms. As the phavatars rounded the end of the wall, they saw that a Chinese artillery unit had got to Conurbation 112 first. They’d slagged the city’s power plant. Three glossy red Chinese tanks sat fatly on their treads before the ruins. Dust devils boogied around their charged-particle cannons.

The power plant had formerly been a ziggurat the size of the Grand Pyramid of Cheops. Colden had seen intact ones. It pleased her to see this one levelled.

Combat Unit Alpha 15 had parked their buggies nose to nose with the Chinese tanks. They were out in the dust, arguing with the tank crews. The Chinese soldiers responded with familiar gestures signifying that they were not speaking English today.

Captain Hawker line-of-sighted Colden: “Check your rad exposure. These meatheads just blew up a fission reactor.”

Nuclear fission had gone out of fashion on Earth 150 years ago. But the PLAN didn’t care about the march of technology. Mars had thorium and traces of uranium, so the PLAN had exploited them to power its cities. The Phobos impacts had killed pretty much every reactor on the surface: dust was murder on heat rejection systems. This power plant would already have been shut down. But its core would still have been hot. Colden duly checked her rad counter. The phavatars were striding through a blizzard of gamma-emitting particles.

“We’ll be fine,” Colden radioed to Hawker. “It takes more than a few pissant gamma rays to cramp our style. But what about you?”

The Star Force infantry wore combat suits, which was to say standard Star Force EVA suits with a kevlar outer garment. They were supposedly rad-proof, but manufacturing standards had fallen so far during the war that equipment specs could not be trusted.

“We need to clear this burb,” Hawker said. “They’ve been harassing our rear.” He was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of someone puking in their helmet. “Oh, fuck.”

“Get back in your vehicles,” Colden said. It was not her place to give them orders. But she was probably the most experienced person on the scene. “We’ll handle the door-to-door. I assume the Chinese will help, and you can provide fire support if necessary. Now get that kid into the buggy and give him some rad pills.”

“’M not taking my suit off,” mumbled the puker.

“Fine, whatever. The buggies are rad-shielded, so get inside, anyway.”

Hawker reluctantly ordered his grunts back into their buggies. He gave the Chinese tank crews a middle-finger salute by way of farewell. From inside his low-slung Death Buggy—more Star Force irony; the personnel carriers used by the infantry were more likely to cause death to their occupants—he radioed Colden’s platoon. “You go ahead, we’ll bring up the rear. If it moves, slag it. If you need additional slagging capacity, yell. Any questions?”

One of Colden’s noobs, Allison Gwok, had not got the message being subliminally—and now overtly—radiated at her throughout her short career. She spoke up. “But sir, what if we encounter one that, you know, isn’t dangerous? How can you tell the difference?”

Hawker said, “They’re all dangerous. I’m repeating myself, but if it moves, slag it. Any
other
questions?”

No one had any.

Colden led her platoon around the mountain of rubble that used to be the power plant. They crossed a broad plaza littered with debris from the demolition of the power plant. Radioactive particles billowed around them. Their electronics would go flakey if they stuck around here too long. Dimly seen through the haze, four boulevards of Stalinist scale and straightness radiated off the plaza. Dunes of rubble paralleled them. Before the Phobos impacts, these dunes had been high berms topped with solar panels. Humanity—spying on the PLAN’s building programme from afar—had assumed they were just more art. But the quakes had demolished the loosely bonded rubble blankets, revealing what was inside: long, one-storey concrete silos, mostly intact.

Two of the Chinese tanks overtook them, and rumbled away down the two leftmost boulevards. Every fifty meters or so, they paused to rake the silos with charged-particle beams. The buildings did not explode. They just collapsed.

“OK,” Colden said. “We’ll stay a safe distance from
that.”
She led the platoon down the rightmost boulevard.

The newbies swivelled their heads, eyes on stalks. “Hard to ’magine it was an AI made this place,” Mattis murmured. He said
AI
like everyone did, as if it was a curse word.

Colden scanned the street alertly, too. But she was not looking at the scenery. Once you’d seen one PLAN town, you’d seen them all. She was looking for movement.

“We have to clear the houses,” she said. “We’ll go up one side of the street, and come back down the other side. Everyone has their IR filter enabled, right? I shouldn’t even have to ask.”

Her own IR filter showed the silos as bleak ranges of polar-blue hills. But those concrete walls were
thick.
Anyway, the absence of heat sources didn’t necessarily mean the silos were empty.

They clambered over the first dune of rubble, slipping on loose rocks. The entrance was at one end. It was just a hole. There’d probably been an igloo-style exit when the protective berm was in place. The silo was proportioned oddly, by human standards: long, high, and narrow. These were typical Martian proportions. Cots stood in broken lines, easily a hundred of them stretching from end to end of the silo. Broken pieces of machinery lay here and there on the floor. “This is a typical Martian dwelling,” Colden said in her tour-guide voice. “But note the absence of any working fab equipment, such as printers, CNC lathes, forges, etcetera. That is a sign that the muppets evacuated a while back, taking their valuables with them. When they were here, you would have seen manufacturing equipment all mixed up with domestic shit. They worked, ate, and slept all in the same area, like medieval people.”

Drudge leapt into the air, turned a somersault, and came down on a cot. He jumped from one cot to the next, his clawed feet ripping up the thin polyfoam mattresses.

“Agent Drudge! What the fuck are you doing?”

“We used to do that at home,” Drudge explained, jumping down from the last cot.

Oh, so he came from a group home, where the kids slept in dormitories. Colden had kind of figured that. “Jesus,” she said. “Don’t do it here.”

Near the end of the dwelling, Allison Gwok screamed. “Aaargh! A rat!”

A rat,
Colden thought.
Give me strength.

She strode to catch up with Gwok. The newbie’s phavatar was standing on a cot, pointing at another one. “It went under there!”

Colden’s deputy, Pratt, and the other vets struggled unsuccessfully not to laugh. Colden was having difficulty in that regard, too. She picked up the cot Gwok was pointing at, and tipped it on end.

A dozen four-legged creatures raced out from underneath. They leapt at her, climbing her legs, gnawing on her carapace. They
did
look a bit like rats, except they were the size of Yorkshire terriers, with huge bouncing bellies. Colden grabbed them by the scruff, one by one, and threw them down the silo. The vets shot at them with their flechette cannons. It was a contest of skill and timing, like shooting clay pigeons. Drudge got in on the action, whooping, too late to score any kills. “Ay caramba!” he yelled. “Are these the Martians?”

Colden strode over to one of the twitching bodies, stood on its forepaws, and bent to slice its belly open with the cutter laser in her right gripper. Silvery dust spilled out and rolled across the floor like mercury. “See that? Metal pellets. These are the PLAN’s salvage bots. You’ll find them everywhere, scavenging for recyclables.”

She straightened up and turned to look at the far end of the silo.

“To answer your question, Drudge: these are
not
the Martians. The Martians are in there.”

A metal hatch stuck out from the end wall. It was covered with swirly gouges which formed the same patterns as the city walls.

“That’s the entrance to a refuge,” Colden said. “You’ll find several of them on every street. Most are abandoned. But since there were scavenger bots in here, there’s a high likelihood this one is occupied.”

She got everyone together.

“We will go in tactically. Pratt, Thanisuwatra, Houlet …” She stacked her vets behind her in the 2, 3, and 4 positions. “Everyone else, stay here until I call you.” She just could not deal with newbies in a live-fire CQB scenario today. She’d take them through room clearance training when they had a room that was more likely to be empty. “Jay, you’re up.”

Jay, short for Jayashankar, was the platoon’s explosives guy. He slapped leeches—handy little shaped charges, made for this purpose—on the hinges of the hatch. PLAN airlocks were manufactured to 200-year-old American standards. Same all over the planet.
Phut
went the timer, and the hinges blew in a shower of sparks.

Colden hurled her phavatar through the smoke of the explosion, leaping over the fallen hatch cover, firing a .50 slug from her left-arm gun at the inner seal of the airlock. The recoil spun her around 90 degrees so she ended up with her back flattened against the wall of the chamber, in position for her next move. Air whistled past her, escaping from the breach. Same as yesterday in Conurbation 111. Same as last week in Conurbation 85. Same as last month in Conurbation 274, a thousand klicks north of here. Pratt, Watty, and Houlet squeezed into the chamber behind her. She hardly even knew where she was anymore.

The instant they were all in position, Colden fired another projectile into the seal. She followed that up with a piston kick.

The seal cracked like glass. More air whooshed out. They charged into the refuge.

Rickety bamboo catwalks lined the walls, rising twenty meters above her head, crowded with hollow-eyed Martians in ragged clothes.

She jinked right, dominating the corner, spraying flechettes from her right-hand gun.

Pratt went left, also firing flechettes, screeching his unique battle cry: “Gargle my BALLS!!”

Watty and Houlet zoomed through the seal, heading for the far corners, firing as they went. Colden wedged herself into her corner so her carapace protected her, and swivelled her arms all the way around. She had eyes in the back of her head. She fired another burst of flechettes, straight up.

The muppets on the catwalks turned into clouds of shredded flesh. Blood gouted from disintegrating bodies and rained down on the phavatars.

“I’m hit,” Watty shouted in fury. Bullet holes pocked his phavatar’s chest.

Colden’s target-recognition software picked out the source of the bullets: three muppets with a DIY assault rifle, skulking on a catwalk near the ceiling. She fired a burst of flechettes. These little razor-edged darts were smart. Her gaze-targeting sent them arcing straight at the shooters’ ugly shaggy heads. Bastards dropped their weapon right quick.

The air had mostly exited the room by now, but there was enough of it left to carry sound waves clearly to Colden’s audio mic.

The high-pitched whine of flechettes circling like pigeons, looking for leftover targets.

The screams of the dying.

(Damn flechettes were supposed to
kill
,
not just wound. They got confused with this many targets.)

And the gleeful voice of Danny Drudge, projected into the air of Mars from his phavatar’s speaker, proclaiming: “Fucking hosed ’em! Sent ’em to the fucking recycling! Yee-HAAAH!”

He jumped and grabbed an intact piece of scaffolding. It broke in his grippers. Undeterred, he attempted to climb straight up the wall, holding onto the bolts where the scaffolding had been attached to the regocrete.

BOOK: The Mars Shock
7.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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