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 (8 page)

BOOK: The Mars Shock
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“—can’t come in. Please, just go away.”

“Why?” Kristiansen demanded. His dander was up. “I’m from Medecins Sans Frontieres. I have permission to be here. I’ve already spoken to the commander of this base. What’s the problem?”

“No one can come in.”

“We’ll see about that,” Murray said. From some concealed pouch in his suit’s webbing, he produced a spiffy, and extremely deadly, laser pistol. He held it at thigh level, pointing down. “If there’s some kind of emergency here, I need to assess the situation personally. Step aside, Private.”

Two more soldiers came out of the airlock. These carried infantry-issue carbines. The carbines pointed at Kristiansen and Murray’s helmets. “Go away.”

“This base is contaminated!” the first soldier said. Once he started talking, the words spilled out. “One of our COP operators brought in a bunch of casualties. Their suits were breached. That’s not good, but there they are, so we take ’em down in sickbay. Couple hours later, they’re getting up off their cots. They’re walking around. Everyone’s like, hey, awesome recovery. Couple more hours passed, and then it kicked off.”

Murray interrupted, “What kicked off?”

“They went fucking psycho! ‘Cept for the ones that stuck forks in their own eyes.”

“The purebloods,” said one of the other soldiers.

“Yeah, and any that didn’t, the rest killed them. Then they took over. The only reason we’re standing here talking to you, we were working in the lower decks. I’m a mechanic. These two were on sentry duty in the garage.” The mechanic waved a glove up at the towers. “The psychos are holding 05 Deck, that’s the crew quarters, and 04 Deck, that’s comms, operations, all that shit. And life support. They’ve got life support. We’ve got the engine room, the cargo hold and garages. We had to shoot all the bots, ‘cause they were using them to attack us.”

Kristiansen struggled to wrap his brain around this horrifying story. He wouldn’t have believed it, except Murray obviously did. “When, exactly, did this happen?” Murray said.

“Coupla hours ago.”

“And when did the zero incident occur? You said some guys were brought in with suit breaches. When and where did they sustain their injuries?”

“Yesterday, somewhere down south. That crazy bitch drove all night.”

“What crazy bitch?”

“The telepresence operator who brought them in. She’s gone, too. She was on 05 Deck.”

“And she brought them in at what time?”

“Fuck, what was it, oh one hundred when she got in? She didn’t notify anyone she was bringing them back, or she would’ve been stopped. But OK, the guys are in bad shape, take ‘em to sickbay, hope for the best. That’s always a mistake on this fucking planet.”

“Did they go through scrubbing?”

“Of course they went through scrubbing. Scrubbing don’t mean shit if you’ve had a suit breach.”

“Well, that’s useful information,” Murray said. “OK. Let’s count on our fingers. It’s sixteen oh six now—” local military time bore little relation to the waning Martian day— “so that means it takes about 24 hours for the nanites to brainjack their victims. Maybe?”

They all stared at each other. The soldiers continued to point their guns in Kristiansen and Murray’s direction.

Kristiansen wondered if his mission was going to end right here with a faceful of smart darts. If he’d gasp his last in the filthy Martian air, while nanites colonized his dying brain.

The carbine pointing at him wobbled. The faceplate behind the gun had a STAR FORCE MOM decal on it.

“Come with us,” he blurted. “We’ve got a shuttle. We’ll take you to safety.”

Star Force Mom slowly shook her head. “We don’t know. We might be infected, too.”

“I have medibots. They have tent modules that can be pressurized. You can receive treatment if you start to display symptoms, while remaining safely isolated.”

“Nuh uh,” Murray said, dismissing Kristiansen’s offer before the soldiers could say anything.

Kristiansen’s temper boiled over. He snapped, “I know more than you do about infectious diseases, Murray. On Earth, there’s been no such thing as an epidemic for a century, but viruses ranging from measles to nanorot have returned in space, leaping from livestock to humans, mutating amongst isolated populations. What’s worse, colonies lose their herd immunity to diseases they don’t happen to have. One unwitting carrier can trigger a devastating epidemic. In these cases, quarantine measures are essential. Rest assured, I know how to handle this.”

“Yeah, but the nanites aren’t a disease. They’re version 1.0 of the Heidegger program.”

“Aw, you’re fucking kidding,” said the mechanic. Everyone had heard of the Heidegger program, the PLAN malware that wreaked havoc on 4 Vesta a couple of years ago.

“They called them meat puppets on Vesta, too,” Murray sighed. “It’s like people are making the connection, without making the connection. Crazy, huh? But there’s only so much we can do.”

A new voice intruded on the conversation. “Just to let you know, I’m outta here in two minutes.”

Their shuttle pilot must have been listening in. Now he’d heard enough. He wasn’t sticking around.

“If you want your stuff, come and get it.”

Kristiansen whirled. All his cargo had been unloaded from the shuttle and scattered on the launch pad. As he watched, one of the shuttle’s R&H bots dragged the last package to the edge of the launch pad, dumped it, and climbed back up the cabin steps.

“Hey!” Murray sprinted down the causeway. “You’re not going anywhere.”

The airlock closed.

“Try and stop me,” said the shuttle pilot.

“I order you to stop!”

“Move that stuff, or it’s gonna get fried.”

Kristiansen overtook Murray. Working at desperate speed, he threw his medibots onto the causeway, where they would hopefully be out of range of the shuttle’s drive plume when it launched. These little landing craft launched vertically, burning straight to orbit. The launch pad was surfaced with a steel alloy resistant to several thousand degrees of heat. His medibots were not. The low gravity of Mars assisted him; he hurled hundred-kilo machines through the thin air to safety.

The soldiers helped.

Murray shot at the shuttle.

The captain cursed him out, and launched.

They huddled on the causeway, instinctively shielding their faces from the glare with their gloves. Kristiansen’s faceplate went black. Out of the darkness he heard Star Force Mom saying, “We’ll give you a buggy.”

“A buggy?” Murray said despairingly. “Where the fuck do you think we’re gonna drive to? This is
Mars.”

“Alpha Base is three hundred klicks that way. You’ve got a radiopositioning beacon. They’ll probably come and pick you up.”

“Right after they nuke us,” said the mechanic.

The trio laughed with gallows humor.

“Keep the medibots,” Kristiansen said. It was all he could do for them.


They ended up taking a single Medimaster 5500, lashed to the roof of the buggy. Kristiansen drove. Murray spent the whole time talking to his contacts on Deimos, Eureka Station, and Earth. Actually, he spent half the time talking, and the other half swearing at the comms. The buggy had a satellite connection, but it was unreliable. They’d climb a ridge, and Murray would get five minutes on the phone; then they’d lurch down the other side, and he would get cut off and sit in silence, staring tensely at the comms unit.

“How is it that we know so little about the nanites?” Kristiansen said, breaking one of these silences.

“We’ve never had a chance to study them in the lab.”

“How’s that? If the planet is crawling with them, surely all you’d have to do is scoop up a handful of soil and scan it.”

“Yeah, and we have done that, and we’ve found microscopic carbon-based particles that shouldn’t be there. That’s how we know they exist. But they don’t
do
anything. So it’s a mystery.”

“Maybe they self-destruct when you try to study them; same as the Martians self-destruct when they are captured.”

“Congratulations. It only took Star Force six months to work that out.”

Kristiansen didn’t answer. He was concentrating on driving. The buggy had very simplistic controls, but the terrain was difficult. The steep ridges and deep folds reminded him of the foothills of the Swiss Alps, with dust instead of vegetation. The 1:5000 satellite map, based on pre-war surveys, showed that they were moving in the right direction—north—between two terrifying chasms. But the high ground between the chasms was far from flat.

His arms ached, tense from gripping the yoke. His back was complaining about his wild spasm of activity earlier. He scowled at the radar plot. “What does this flashing light mean?”

Murray took a glance. “Aha. That means the radar has locked onto something anomalous.”

“What an amazing deduction.”

Murray laughed. Then he jerked his head slightly, reacting to some information he could see on his HUD. “Whoa.”

Kristiansen tried to guess what had startled the ISA agent. On the dashboard screen that stood in for a windshield, a cliff loomed at right angles to the slope they were traversing. The radar indicated that this was the object it had identified as anomalous. It
did
seem out of place. It was huge. Kristiansen took it for ejecta from an impact, but rubble didn’t have right angles. Rubble didn’t … have the Chinese character for
life
printed on it in red.

“This is one of the Chinese modules!” Murray yelped.

Kristiansen sat up. “Why don’t they send help to Theta Base?”

As he spoke, he saw the ragged top edge of the module, twisted metal curling outward, dust blowing around the shards. Further away, a massive hole gaped in its side. This module was very much non-functional.

“There isn’t anyone here,” Murray confirmed. “I’m not saying this is a Chinese MFOB. Those are much
smaller, and they’re red. This is one of the modules that crashed.”

“What modules?”

“Go closer.”

Kristiansen drove downhill, angling towards the cliff-like side of the module, over ground littered with rubble. The buggy’s deep-treaded aluminum wheels lurched and spun in thin air. He braked. “Any closer, we’ll get stuck in this rubble field.”

“This’s close enough. Come on, I want to take a look.”

Murray hopped out of the buggy. Cautiously, Kristiansen followed him through the hatch in the roof. It was a pressure seal. The buggy could theoretically be pressurized. But someone had jarked the pressurization lever by squirting splart all over it. Kristiansen could guess why: so the crew wouldn’t be tempted to fill the cabin with air and take their helmets off. It was a natural human instinct to want to escape this glass bubble around one’s head, the fog perpetually forming on the faceplate, the inability to touch or scratch one’s face, and the sound of one’s own breath. Kristiansen had now been in his suit for a whole day, ever since they suited up for pre-flight checks this morning. He could smell the ripe stink of his sweat when he moved. He clambered after Murray.

They walked and jumped over the scattered rocks. The damaged module lay in a transverse position across the slope. They circled an engine nacelle the size of a juggernaut, torn off and lying by itself. “Must’ve been a rough landing,” Kristiansen said.

“Yeah.” Murray headed for the hole in the side of the module.

Kristiansen snuck a glance back at their buggy. Already the dust almost hid it. The vast bleakness of this landscape dispirited him. The thing about planets was that they were
large.

“There were twenty of these modules altogether,” Murray said. “The Chinese landed them on the surface during the Big Breakup.
Unmanned.
I told you, landing on Mars is easy, if no one’s shooting at you.”

“Someone shot at this one,” Kristiansen said, pointing at the top of the module. It looked as if a giant had cut its roof off with blunt scissors.

“Oh hell, yeah. The PLAN KKV’d the fuck out of them. But kinetic kill vehicles don’t move as fast as quantum-entangled comms signals.”

“What are you talking about?”

Murray stopped in front of the hole in the module’s side. “These modules were Trojan horses. They carried a computer virus for which the most polite term is ‘bad-ass.’ The Chinese really
get
AI utility theory. It’s shaken up my whole industry.”

“The spook industry.”

“Yeah. We never guessed they were that far along. But hey, they’re our best friends now, so it’s all good.” Murray’s tone conveyed dubiety.

“This virus, it was a cyber-weapon directed against the PLAN? What did it do?”

“You want the version with linear algebra?” Kristiansen shook his head. “Short version, we think that’s where the warblers came from.”

“The virus?”

“Yup. If only we could catch some of them alive!”

Kristiansen digested this. It was a lot to take in, and the wrecked module looming over them gave a feeling of futility to Murray’s talk of viruses and cyber-weapons. To defeat the PLAN would mean defeating Mars itself. Still, there had to be a path to victory. “In that case, rescuing them is a priority of extreme importance.”

BOOK: The Mars Shock
12.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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