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 (7 page)

BOOK: The Mars Shock
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“Fuck!” Hawker shouted.

The chunk of roof had landed on the scale model, crushing the glass case and its contents to smithereens. No one would be taking
that
home now.

Colden edged back from the hole in the roof, afraid her phavatar’s weight might crumble it further.

“Sir!” A panicked voice cut across the babble of swears on the public channel. “Sir, I’ve got a suit breach! My leg’s all torn up!”

“Aw, Ustinov, man, are you sure?”

“Drudge, assist that casualty!” Colden said. Here was Drudge’s chance to redeem himself after smashing the scale model.

“On it, ma’am!” Drudge’s phavatar soared out of the hole in a standing leap—a feat impossible for a human, even in Mars’s gravity—with the injured private in his arms. Hitting the roof, he stumbled. Colden grabbed the casualty from him. The private’s right leg was a mess. The chunk of roof must’ve hit him, gashing his supposedly impermeable outer garment,
and
his actual spacesuit, from knee to boot-top. Dust already coated the exposed flesh and the sluggishly welling blood. Colden prepared to rush him down the ramp to the buggies.

“Do it, Ustinov,” Hawker rasped.

At that moment, Sophie Gilchrist line-of-sighted Colden. “Hey, Jen. This just turned into a
great
day.”

“Sarcasm implied, I take it,” Colden said grimly. Hawker got in her way, preventing her from reaching the ramp. Sidling around him, she said, “We just smashed a unique PLAN monument to shit. What about you?”

“Geoff’s team found some muppets hiding in the farm. Like maybe ten survivors all huddled up together.”

“So what’s the problem?” She switched channels again. “Hawker, could you please get out of my way?”

“Don’t be a wimp, Ustinov,” Hawker ordered, dancing on his feet to stay in front of her, his gloves raised as if to push her back.

“They’re all warblers is what,” Gilchrist said. “Every motherloving one of them, singing away like a fucking choir.”

“Oh, great. What’s Captain Saroyan gonna do?”

“They’re discussing that right now, but I think we’re gonna end up taking them home. Unless … I wondered if you could get Captain Hawker to talk to him? I don’t want to lose our exercise area. If I don’t get to run, I get seriously depressed.”

Each MFOB had a so-called Detainment Module. They were gymnasium-sized, pressurized, and all of them were still empty of muppets, to the best of Colden’s knowledge. MFOB personnel used them to play games and hold dance parties. You could even run laps in there, if you were into self-punishment. Colden had never set foot in Alpha Base’s Detainment Module,
not
being into self-punishment, but she understood how Gilchrist felt.

“I can try,” she said. “But Hawker’s being a bit of an arse at the moment.” She switched channels again. “What the hell, Hawker? This man needs help! I have to get him to the buggies!”

In her arms, Private Ustinov spasmed.

Hawker dropped his arms. “It’s OK.” He sounded choked up. “You were a good man, Ustinov. The best. Fuck it.”

The rest of Hawker’s unit crowded around Colden, touching Ustinov’s helmet with their gloves, saying goodbye.

Ustinov’s faceplate was decaled with the logo of some electrofolk band, so Colden couldn’t see his face, but she knew he was gone. His weight in her arms felt limp, like luggage, not a human being anymore. “He took the stuff?!” she said in outrage.

“He saved the rest of us,” Hawker corrected her. “He was infected. If we took him back to base, he would’ve infected everyone else, too. He chose the path of honor.”

“Oh, Jesus. You really believe in the nanites, don’t you?”

“I don’t believe in taking risks.” Hawker’s voice hardened. “You aren’t out here, Agent. You’re safe and sound on your couch. You have no fucking idea.”

“Excuse me, Captain. I am out here twelve hours a day, taking the risks that your guys can’t … or won’t.”

First one, then two, then several Chinese grunts came up and likewise bowed their heads to Ustinov’s corpse. They exchanged fist bumps with Hawker and left.

“They do it, too,” Hawker said.
“Nobody
is risking contamination of their base, regardless of what the ruperts say.”

Colden thrust Ustinov’s corpse into Hawker’s arms. “You carry him. Hide his body, or burn it, or whatever you do. After that, there’s someone you need to talk to.”

“Who?”

“Captain Saroyan. He apparently doesn’t share your views about contamination. He’s about to detain a dozen warblers and transport them back to Theta Base.”

“Saroyan? He’s a fucking rules lawyer.”

Those words were Captain Geoffrey Saroyan’s epitaph.

The sky flashed. Everyone on the roof flung themselves flat. The regocrete vibrated. Slumped steeply.

Rolling toward the now-much-larger hole in the roof, Colden dug her grippers and toes in, breaking her slide. She made herself an anchor for the soldiers sliding down on top of her.

Debris pattered on their backs.

Radio discipline dissolved. An incomprehensible din of English and Chinese filled the public channel. Everyone still down in the street fled to the safety of their vehicles.

Colden barked on the operator chat channel, “Pratt! Watty! Houlet! Gwok! Mattis! Gimme a sitrep!”

“We’re out,” came the disconsolate responses. Her platoon had lost contact with their phavatars. That could only mean one thing. Their phavatars had bought it.

“Gilchrist? Sophs, are you there?”

Now she was line-of-sighting Gilchrist’s phavatar, not expecting to get an answer.

“… Here.” Gilchrist’s voice was shaky. “I’m … we’re OK. The rubble sheltered us from … the impact.”

“KKV number two.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah. Geoff was in there.”

“I’m so sorry, Sophs.” Colden stayed stiff, letting the soldiers clamber over her to safety. She was hearing reports of more suit breaches. There’d be more self-euthanasia cases today. And Star Force thought they had a problem with soldiers getting depressed. Now she knew that what they
had
was a problem with soldiers being honorable. Bet they hadn’t expected that when they resurrected humanity’s fighting spirit from its dormancy.

She consoled herself that at least the casualties would be minimal, compared to the massacre that would have occurred if everyone had still been at the farm site.

“You were wrong, Jen,” Gilchrist said. “It wasn’t an ambush! They aren’t targeting
us
at all!”

“How do you figure?”

“They’re targeting the warblers.”

“Oh my God …” She thought back over past KKV strikes. In every case, there’d either been warblers there, or there could’ve been, and Star Force had never found them because they had been flattened. “But wait a minute, Sophs. What if the warbling is a signal to the PLAN? ‘Hey, we found something!’ It could be both things: the warblers
are
the spotters,
and
they’re being targeted, because the PLAN doesn’t care enough to give them time to get out of the way.”

“You really do have a twisted mind,” Gilchrist said. “I guess it could be that, but I think the warblers are the targets. Geoff said they were
hiding
in there. They’d barricaded themselves into the farm with air and food.”

Colden swallowed. It was awful to contemplate the idea that the warblers might be rebelling against the PLAN. It would make them victims. It would make
her
… a murderer. “Well, pass that hypothesis on to Sector Command.” Her lips felt numb with horror. “There’s always a chance they haven’t thought of it on their own.”

“You do it. I’m busy.”

“Doing what? There’s no one left to rescue in there.”

“Geoff is alive. I’m going in to get him.”

“Oh, Sophs. It’s not possible.”

“I’m on the radio with him right now. If you want to be helpful, grab one of our buggies and bring it to my location.”

 

iv.

 

The landing shuttle skidded down into Mars’s gravity well and performed two passes around the planet, circularizing its orbit. Kristiansen rested his chin on his fist and watched the optical feed projected on his retinal implants. All it showed was clouds.

For a couple of hours nothing changed. They crossed the terminator again and again. On the shuttle’s third aeropass, the clouds rose up and seemed to engulf the little spaceship in fire, as its thrusters sparked the dust in its path into incandescent plasma.

“Aerobraking is fun,” yelled K’vin Murray, the ISA agent who had invited himself along with Kristiansen. The two men were strapped to the walls of the cabin, sandwiched between shrinkfoam-wrapped bales of cargo. This shuttle was actually a private spaceplane purchased from some rich owner on Earth. It might’ve been quite luxurious before the seats and furnishings were ripped out. “Pretty, pretty,” Murray crooned. “The dust won’t even begin to settle for another couple of years.”

The shuttle bucked and seemed to nosedive.

“Is this safe?” Kristiansen yelled.

“Sure! The impacts fucked up the weather. But landing on Mars is really easy, as long as no one’s shooting at you.”

The shuttle made what felt like a white-knuckle emergency landing. The thump jarred Kristiansen’s teeth in his skull, and flooded him with gratitude for their improbable survival. The optical feed showed a group of highrise buildings with dun-colored clouds whipping around their tops. In fact, the shuttle had landed with pinpoint accuracy on the 100-meter launch pad trailing behind Theta Base.

They waited for a while.

Murray got antsy. “C’mon, let us out. They should be unloading the cargo. What’s taking so long?”

He pinged the pilot, who said he’d been told to remain where he was.

“I don’t like the sound of that.” Murray unbuckled his harness. Kristiansen did the same. They were the only two passengers on board. Dr. Peguero was supposed to be coming on the next shuttle. They clambered over the cargo, squeezing through gaps. Kristiansen pinged the status monitors on each bundle he crawled over. They were his medibots, plus peripherals and spare parts. To his relief, all of them seemed to have survived the trip in good condition.

Murray threaded his arm down past a Medimaster 5500 and pressed the action plate of the cabin airlock. Both ends of the chamber opened at once, since the cabin was unpressurized. Dull, hazy light flooded in.

It was like the light in northern Europe before a winter storm, but with an indefinable alien quality. Kristiansen slid out of the airlock and walked self-consciously down the steps, getting a feel for 0.38 gees. He had never before stood on another planet. He realized he’d been unconsciously expecting it to feel like home. It didn’t. This was enemy territory, and his bones and nerves knew it.

A yellowish desert crawled past the edge of the launch pad. Theta Base was trundling over Olympus Mons’s northwestern flank—a slope so gentle, it was scarcely perceptible—at about ten kilometers per hour.

Kristiansen hurried to catch up with Murray. The ISA agent stood at the edge of the launch pad. A causeway connected the pad to the cluster of steeples ahead of them. It was made up of articulated segments that undulated as the base moved, as wide as a highway.

“Someone should’ve come out to meet us,” Murray said. “There should be bots to move the cargo. Something’s wrong.”

“Have you tried pinging them?” Kristiansen couldn’t. As an NGO employee, he was shut out from all military comms. He was used to it.

“I’m just getting some asshole who says they cannot admit us to the base at this time.”

“That doesn’t make sense. They were expecting us.”

“Yeah, I know. I called Deimos to find out what’s going on.” Deimos was Mars’s surviving moon, now a depot and forward staging area. Dr. Peguero was still up there, waiting for his ride down to the surface. “They said they’d get back to me. Let’s try knocking on the door.”

Murray and Kristiansen jumped from one segment of causeway to the next. Glancing down, Kristiansen saw caterpillar treads the height of a house. Hydropneumatic suspension allowed the steel tracks to hump over large boulders. It was a pretty rough ride, all the same. The towers ahead swayed from side to side. Kristiansen lost his balance. Murray stuck out a hand and caught him. They shuffled up to the vehicle airlock at the end of the causeway.

Both of them had been given entry codes for Theta Base. They took turns keying them in. Nothing happened.

“They forgot to authorize us,” Murray surmised. “Fortunately, that presents no obstacle to the ISA. Don’t look.” He tapped the keypad again. “This’ll definitely work.”

Nothing happened.

“Okayyyy.”

Kristiansen glanced back at the shuttle. Something white was sticking out of the open airlock. One of his Medimaster 5500s. It toppled all the way out and fell on its side.

He was about to dash back along the causeway when Murray said, “Hello. Looks like they’ve finally deigned to notice us.”

The personnel airlock next to the vehicle airlock valved. A person in a sky-blue ground crew EVA suit clomped out and held up three fingers. Kristiansen dialed in suit-to-suit channel three.

BOOK: The Mars Shock
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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