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 (4 page)

BOOK: The Mars Shock
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“Yeah,” Pencil Mustache said. “All the same, no soldier that gets into one of your Evac-U-Tents is ever going back to Earth. Admiral McLean wants to believe there’s a way around that. There isn’t. But you might get a few months to field-trial the system before they decide it’s too risky.”

Kristiansen raised his eyebrows. “Because of the nanites?”

“That’s right. The nanites.”

Kristiansen had pronounced the word with an ironic intonation. Pencil Mustache let it fall like a stone. The room went silent. No one had been talking before, but now the subliminal sounds of movement also ceased as everyone stopped moving. Even Dr. Peguero froze in mid-chew, his cheeks bulging with bagel.

Star Force’s scientists theorized that the PLAN’s absolute mastery of its muppets worked bacterially. According to this theory, ‘nanites’—genetically engineered bacteria, half organic and half machine—infested the bodies and brains of the Martians, controlling their behavior. Kristiansen had no opinion on the nanite theory other than natural skepticism. But Pencil Mustache had spoken as if it were no longer a theory, but confirmed fact.

Kristiansen shrugged. “I only mentioned the Evac-Tents to appeal to the admiral’s concern for his troops,” he admitted. Politics was not veiled here as it was on Earth. It operated nakedly, as visible as the laser pistol in Pencil Mustache’s thigh holster. “We’ll respond to Star Force emergencies if they ask us to, of course. But our primary mission will be rescuing the friendlies—the so-called warblers. I’m told that holding facilities for them already exist on the surface.”

“Yeah,” Pencil Mustache said. “They’re empty. The grunts use ’em as basketball courts. They say the hang time is out of this world.”

Pencil Mustache stood back, indicating that the conversation was over. Watched by the whole security group, Kristiansen and Dr. Peguero tidied up the conference room. They wiped the big screen’s cache, restored the ergoforms to their standard C-shaped blob configuration, and threw away the virtually untouched selection of snacks and drinks they’d set out on a side table. Kristiansen spilled a bottle of diet soda—easy to do, in Wheel One’s half a gee of spin gravity. He went and fetched a maidbot to mop the carpet. This was the glamorous reality of working for the solar system’s biggest surviving NGO.

And now, the job was about to get more glamorous than ever.

A briefing from Admiral McLean’s office arrived in his inbox as they tidied up. Dr. Peguero got it, too. They were to vacate their quarters within 24 hours and prepare for transfer to Mars.

When Star Force moved, it moved fast.

The other security personnel drifted out of the room before they were done tidying up. Pencil Mustache stayed behind. He walked down the corridor with Kristiansen.

“I heard you had a job offer from the ISA, back when you were in the Space Corps.”

Kristiansen snorted. The only way this guy could know that was if
he
worked for the ISA.

The Information Security Agency. The spooks.

Well, he’d kind of guessed it already.

“You turned us down, huh?”

”I’d just graduated from the Space Corps Academy. I wasn’t interested in leaving.”

“But you did leave,” Pencil Mustache said. “In what, 2284? Five years ago.”

“Yeah. For personal reasons.”

“We don’t actually have a record of that.” Pencil Mustache hitched his shoulders and let them drop, a gesture that said he wasn’t used to wearing uniform. “I’m just wondering if we’re dealing with, you know, if you’ve got a hero complex, if you’re going to cause trouble out there.”

“Doing good often does cause trouble,” Kristiansen said flatly.

“You know, I looked at the rest of your presentation. There was one thing that didn’t come up, and I was curious if you just forgot, or if you left it out for some other reason.”

Kristiansen tensed. They passed beneath a craggy overhang of asteroid rock, a reminder that Eureka Station was a hollowed-out asteroid. Pencil Mustache’s voice echoed beneath the rock.

“That atrocity pic? You didn’t mention that the leader of that platoon was a Space Corps agent named Jennifer Colden. You and her have some history together, am I right?”

“Of course you’re right,” Kristiansen said angrily. “You guys are always right.”

“Thanks. So I was just wondering, who are you really trying to save here?”

Kristiansen uttered a dry laugh. “I’m afraid Jennifer Colden is beyond saving.”

They entered the junior officers’ mess. Kristiansen wasn’t supposed to be in here, but Pencil Mustache walked in like he owned the place. He strolled over to the 24-hour buffet.

“Want anything? Mine’s tea. Hot, sweet, and milky.”

“Coffee.”

Pencil Mustache pushed buttons on the drinks machine. Kristiansen followed him to a table. Pencil Mustache said, “So, fill me in a bit about you and Agent Colden.”

Kristiansen sighed. He resented the invasion of his privacy. “You’re correct that we dated for a while. But it was never going to last. I was stationed on UNLEOSS, the UN Low Earth Orbit Space Station. She was on Earth. On our rare weekends together, we spent most of our time arguing. Eventually we split up.”

“What were your arguments about?

“The Corps, of course.” Kristiansen grew more forthcoming. This, he didn’t mind talking about. “The official mission of the Space Corps is helping and protecting people in space. But even at that time—five, six years ago, well before the war—it had been fatally compromised by political interference ... She refused to see that.” The memory of her wilful blindness still hurt. He drank some coffee. “Nowadays, of course, no one can pretend the Space Corps has a mission of its own. It’s nothing but the telepresence division of Star Force.”

“It must’ve been a shock to find out that Colden was involved with atrocities.”

Kristiansen chose his words carefully. “I admit that I glanced into her platoon’s data archives for sentimental reasons. But that’s how I discovered the vid I showed Admiral McLean. It was a fortunate find. These things are never flagged. Shocking? Yes. Surprising? No, unfortunately.”

Pencil Mustache sipped his drink. “It’s too widespread to stop. Everyone’s involved.”

Kristiansen shook his head. “Medecins Sans Frontieres isn’t. And I won’t cooperate with any kind of cover-up, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Ha! We don’t need
you
to cover up for us. We’ve got every media curator in the solar system to do that. No one wants to look at pictures of kids—things that
look
like kids—getting scrubbed.” Pencil Mustache corrected himself. “Obviously,
some
people want to. There’s an audience for everything. But fuck ‘em. Sickoes. Let ‘em voyeur, and we’ll store their browsing histories for future reference, thank you very much.”

Kristiansen saw a glimpse of humanity there, as Pencil Mustache got worked up about the idea of people choosing to consume what information they wanted, rather than what the media provided. “Voyeur isn’t a verb,” he offered with a smile.

“This war has made it into one.” Pencil Mustache sighed. “What I’m trying to say is, we’re on your side. If you can save even a few of the warblers, your outfit will be NGO of the year. I don’t expect much, but I’ll be there to give you any assistance we can provide.”

Kristiansen digested the unwelcome news that Pencil Mustache was to travel to Mars with them. “OK. Thank you.”

“By the way, I’m K’vin.”

“Kevin?”

“No, not Kevin.” He suddenly grinned. “That’s what my mother named me, but come on: Kevin Murray. How uncool is that?”

“So how do you spell it?”

“K, apostrophe, V, I, N.”

“Superfluous apostrophes
are
cool?”

“Haven’t you ever played any RPGs? There is nothing that rates higher on the cool scale than a random, uncalled-for apostrophe.”

Kristiansen smiled, genuinely. “I’ll just call you Murray.”

He and K’vin Murray came from completely different worlds, but they brought the same passion to their separate jobs.

Once, he and Jen Colden had shared the same world. The same tastes, the same friends, the same ideals and beliefs. That had changed. Looking back, he couldn’t remember exactly when his eyes had been opened to the corruption of the establishment. But once it dawned on him, he could no longer be complicit in their crimes.

As for Colden, if Mars hadn’t opened her eyes, he figured nothing ever would.

 

iii.

 

The phavatars stayed in the field unless and until they had to be recalled for repairs. Colden’s platoon worked twelve-hour shifts. Another platoon took the other half of the clock, so the phavatars were operating continuously. Remote-controlled charging stations followed them around with ammo and fresh power packs.

They cleared Conurbation 112 and moved on to Conurbation 117. By the time they got there, Alpha Base had crawled 100 kilometers further through Sulci Gordii, and Colden was just about ready to kill Danny Drudge.

He acclimatized quickly. That was one way of putting it. He was forever wandering off on his own, looking for souvenirs. She’d made it clear that they were
not
allowed to bring any items back to base—Commander Jackson’s orders, woo-woo, nanites—but a separate directive conflicted with that standing order. They were supposed to be looking for “PLAN information storage media, computing assets, or any items related to the original colony on Mars.” These were the words of the Special Security Council, parroted back to her by Drudge when she scolded him for going off on his own.

Meanwhile, the Chinese were out hunting for any items related to their own special area of interest: the People’s Liberation Army Navy fleet that had gone to Mars at the turn of the 23
rd
century, and come back to terrorize the solar system in the form of AI-controlled space fighters.

No more PLAN ships would ever fly against humanity. The Phobos impacts had obliterated the launch facilities in the Tharsis Montes and other locations around the planet. Sure, a few trolls had been caught away from home, and were still making mischief in the Belt. But for the first time in hundreds of years, humanity owned the skies of Mars once more.

That turned out to be a very different thing from owning the land.

The PLAN had its headquarters in Olympus Mons. Star Force’s scans revealed mind-numbing amounts of electricity being generated and consumed in there, buried beneath the caldera complex on top of the massive shield volcano. The orbital bombardment had bashed Olympus Mons up a bit, but not even ice-rink-sized meteors could make much of a dent in a volcano the size of France. The PLAN was still in there. Still alive. Whatever “alive” meant for an AI. Still plotting death to humanity.

How did they know? Well, because it kept throwing shit at them.

There were big guns dug into the walls of the caldera. Since Olympus Mons was
eight
kilometers
high, they could fire ballistic missiles all the way around the planet from up there. But because the peak stuck up above the nuclear-winter blanket of dust shrouding Mars, they couldn’t see very well to aim. Star Force had eliminated every last PLAN satellite in orbit, and demolished all the over-the-horizon radar arrays they could find. The only targeting system the PLAN had left, in theory, was radio waves: spray ‘em into orbit and take pot-shots at the source of any reflections. This was highly inconvenient for Star Force’s satellites, which had to keep changing their orbits, burning through fuel that had to be shipped all the way from Earth. But assets on the ground couldn’t be targeted in this way.

“Nope. I don’t believe it for a fucking second,” Sophie Gilchrist said, hands on her phavatar’s hips. “They have some way of targeting us. It may not be perfect, but they’re
not
just throwing kinetic kill vehicles into the air and hoping they get lucky.”

Lucky for the PLAN had meant, on this day in Conurbation 243, terminally unlucky for a Chinese patrol. They’d been ransacking a farm—one of the dedicated hydroponics facilities often found in larger towns—when a KKV had landed on it. The impact had rivalled a nuclear blast. Around a 500-meter radius from the epicenter, phavatars and earthmoving vehicles burrowed into the rubble. Every UN and Chinese asset within fifty klicks had rushed to the site, and that was how Colden had run into Sophie Gilchrist, an old frenemy of hers and one of the only other Space Corps agents left from the class of ’79. Now Gilchrist commanded a COP platoon, too.

“There is no way anyone’s alive under there,” Gilchrist said, staring at the debris through the mesh of her phavatar’s Faraday mask. “But I guess we have to make the effort, for the sake of international diplomatic relations.” She handed out crowbar attachments to the phavatars in her platoon. “We were having a really good day, too, Jen. We found like a thousand muppets holed up in a recycling facility. We fed them to their own fucking recyclers.”

Colden remembered when Gilchrist had threatened to quit the Corps over her belief that the muppets were human, and killing them was murder. She’d come a long way since then. And she was the closest thing to a friend that Colden had out here. Did she, too, have doubts about what they were doing?

BOOK: The Mars Shock
7.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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