Mare and Dr. Marcus Willner sat chatting about dreams and Mars. Willner realized that what he had seen and heard on the enhanced holoclip, and what Mare had experienced, were not the random misfiring of a child’s neurons in a child’s dream. This seemed a tableau, a presentation, a privileged peek at an extinct, magnificent race from eons past. What a gift! To witness what he witnessed through Mare. There was more to her crag, Willner realized, than just an inert foreign body lodged in her brain.
“I might kidnap you, Mare, to make you my lifelong work,” he teased.
“My Dad would beat you up.”
“That’s why you’re safe with me,” he said. “Don’t want that.”
“Dr. Willner?” his automaton paged.
“Mare Mickal’s parents are here…with a guest.”
“Who’s the guest?”
“I don’t know,” replied the automaton.
“Curious,” he mumbled. Her parents were the only ones designated for any privileged medical information. He looked at Mare, who extended her hands in puzzled resignation. “Please, then, let them in,” he instructed. The door opened. Deniz moved through slowly as if hiding something. Evan followed.
Tuesday was behind Evan.
Dr. Willner dropped his thumbclip. His mouth was open. He started to talk but only stammered. Finally he croaked, “Please clear my schedule. Forever.”
“You have a schedule?” Mare asked. Willner’s eyes slowly moved from what he recognized as a Martian to Mare.
“That’s an old doctor joke, the schedule, clearing it,” he explained softly, returning his gaze to what he recognized from Mare’s dream. “It means I’m going to be busy. For a long time.”
“Hello, Dr. Willner,” Tuesday greeted him. The doctor laughed a nervous laugh.
Back at the VSD, Renée, Blaise, Chris, and Ricardo listened in earnest as Deniz’s datastrip interview transcript was presented by the automaton.
Datastrip Privileged Conversation, continued.
D: What if one of the m’rang is gay?
T: Sexuality in humans is presented by the brain. Sexuality in Martians is determined by gender alone—by the reproductive organs.
D: In your chest?
T: Yes. The gender is the genitals alone. In our chests. There is no hetero- or homosexuality. Each member of the trinus chooses one of the other two into which to interlock; and the other; and the other. We are a serial circle.
D: A three-part ourobos.
T: I do not know that word.
D: Like you said, a serial circle, but end-to-beginning and beginning-to-end, connected.
T: Oh. Like crags.
D: Exactly. I should know that word, but I’m—”
D: Don’t say it. [PAUSE]. What about genetic exchange?
T: When our Chantū find us—”
T: We await our Chantū. Each trinus has one, and successful reproduction relies on a specifically attracted Chantū entering the circle for the exchange. It goes from A to B, from B to C, and from C to A, as mediated by the Chantū. Once the A, B, and C are determined, it never goes retrograde or in any other different order until after gestation and birth. Thus genetic mixing yields variation, and can be mixed further with a shuffling of the three with next m’rang. All three siblings are created at once—three—one for each member of the trinus.
D: The Chantū. I had no idea. What an extraordinary synergy—across species lines.
T: Not really, Dr. Mickal. Think of bees pollenating flowers.
D: And the Chantū for the trinus, that specific one—is that a special relationship, too?
T: Very. It’s the bond that connects two ends of Mother Mars. Flora and fauna, as you call it.
D: Have you found your other members of your trinus? Have you seen your special Chantū?
T: That’s personal.
D: Oh, sorry. Um, you don’t remember the last time this happened with you, or if it even happened ever?
T: My long term memory is not very powerful, I’m afraid.
D: Do your remember what you had for supper with me?
T: My short term memory is not very powerful, also, I’m afraid.
D: Don’t say it.
T: What? That I’m stupid? No. I really don’t have to, do I?
At this point they underwent the Level-5 Interrupt intrusion from Lagrange 1 and “Ray Bradbury.” They listened in disbelief. Blaise was the first to comment.
“It looks like there’s trouble in paradise.”
Renée noticed a signal imprint on the running floater, notifying her there was a visitor to the VSD.
“Wednesday, Thursday, go with Chris to the back kitchen.” Chris nodded and led them off. “Allow him in,” Renée instructed the automaton, which although censored from the usual goings-on, still had servile functionality. The hiss of the automatic front door preceded the arrival of a very severe man.
“Hullo,” he barked. “My name is Lt. Lawrence. I am your Prestige Society Welcome Wagon volunteer.” Renée noticed a sidearm.
“You’re armed,” Renée gasped. Ricardo leaned in close to her.
“Part of the uniform, ma’am,” he said.
“The volunteer uniform?” Blaise asked.
“Forget the gun,” he said, “that’s not why I’m here.”
“Thank God,” said Renée.
He was a black man, so chiseled and muscly as to strain the seams of his shirt at the sleeves and neck. He appeared very anabolic and was the ilk that more than likely devoted the majority of his waking physical and mental activity to the construction and maintenance of his muscles he so contractingly and willingly presented. His eyes were white and bulging and seldom blinking. In between fierce chews of gum he spoke in blurts as if he were firing off phrases to a spotter on the final exertion of a run of pumps.
His physique, which his mirror called perfect, was in fact a self-parody, an unintended caricature, of what he aspired to be. He seemed stupid.
At least the Martians had the integrity to admit it.
“Have a seat, Lt. Lawrence,” Renée offered icily. He had trouble bending but ultimately seated himself. All three expected a ripping sound but were surprised.
“Must be flextile you’re wearing on your ‘Extra Medium’ shirt,” Blaise said. Lawrence regarded the material he wore.
“Wouldn’t wear anything else,” Lawrence said, missing the joke.
“What can we do for you?” Renée asked. She was seated at the conference room table across from Lawrence, Ricardo standing by her side. Lawrence appeared nonplussed about the uniform Ricardo himself was wearing.
“I’ve come to welcome you to the Prestige Society.” There was a stunned silence.
“Lt. Lawrence,” Renée began, “did you by any chance see the Level-5 interrupt we just saw?” Lawrence looked puzzled.
“And you still come to welcome us?” Renée laughed.
“Yes. That’s what I’m here for.” Blaise and Ricardo exchanged a glance. “We at the Prestige society want to know why you haven’t joined yet.” His eyes bulged in anticipation of the answer.
“Who is ‘we at the Prestige Society’?” Ricardo asked.
“Me. And some others,” he answered uncomfortably.
“What others?” Ricardo pressed.
“No, not yet. That’s why I’m here.”
“Well,” Ricardo said, “my message to ‘we at the Prestige Society’ is—and I remind you that I am technically the military head of the Prestige Guard—my message is…not us!” Ricardo walked over to the chair where Lawrence sat. Lawrence now seemed to notice Llorente’s outfit, puzzled that Ricardo wore a Prestige uniform, too.
“What if we’re undecided?” Ricardo asked with a menacing tone. “Again, from the military head of the Prestige Guard.” Lawrence rested his right hand on the top of his holstered gun.
“Again,” Lawrence repeated, “that’s what I’m here for. He petted the holstered gun as a clear gesture.
“That’s a joke?” Ricardo asked in no joking tone. Lawrence stood suddenly, his fingers fumbling to unsnap the holster. His chair fell backward onto the floor.
“I’ve been instructed,” Lawrence announced, “to—”
The special forces experience in Ricardo unsnapped his own holster of sorts, and he pinched the web space between Lawrence’s thumb and index finger with his own thumb and index finger.
Lawrence’s web space, one of those silent but cowardly pressure points that surrender immediately under attack, lost quickly and totally. He was on his knees, and in an instant Ricardo had Lawrence’s right arm bent very unnaturally behind his muscular trapezoid of a back. Ricardo easily led him whimpering out of the door and down the hall. He triggered one of the animal containment doors and pushed him in while simultaneously and deftly removing his gun which dangled as a limp, useless appendage in his denervated hand.
“Don’t worry,” Ricardo told him, “these, um…” he strained to identify the occupants through the smoked window, “monkeys are nice monkeys. I think.” The containment door hissed shut as Ricardo heard the first primate shrieks fade with the hermetic closure. Through the window Lawrence sat crouching and inert, his exophthalmic eyes bulging at the orangutan that regarded him suspiciously. Chris peeked from the rear room off the hallway to see what the door hiss meant. Ricardo waved him toward him. Although Lawrence no longer had his pistol, he was able to retrieve his thumbclip from his shirt pocket with his good hand; he moved stealthily and slowly, lest he further goad his orange-haired territorial host. He opened and then whispered into the CommLink.
“He’s behind the glass,” he told Chris. “Damn lucky I didn’t throw him in with the crags,” he added as they returned to the conference room.” He stopped when he saw Renée and altered his direction abruptly to hover over her. She didn’t, it was clear, wear well through the experience.
“He was going to shoot us!” she blurted. Her face was ashen, her eyes panicky. Ricardo cupped her damp face in his hands. In his most effective testosterone reassurance he could dispense, he said, “No one shoots anyone on Mars. That’s crazy.” She didn’t seem to buy it. He repeated it, drilling into her eyes. “No one’s going to shoot anybody. That. Is. Crazy.” She drew a long breath, her cheeks still cupped by him.
“What enclosure did you put him in?” she asked.
“One of the monkey ones. The big ones. Orangutans I think.”
“I hope they throw all their shit at him,” she said angrily. Ricardo relaxed his hands and when the trial seemed successful, removed them from her cheeks.
“All those muscles,” Blaise said in wonder, “and he went down with just a pinch. I am impressed.”
“No one’s going to shoot anyone,” Ricardo repeated once more, circling his glare at each of them.
“You’ve got to teach me that pinch,” Blaise said.
“CommLink, Colonel Leeper to General Llorente,” the automaton announced. “Communique, unfortunately, cannot pass the Weirjam. Sorry, but there is nothing to present.”
“Do you think Walsh is going to come?” Renée asked, the scared little girl within escaping, as hard as she tried to stifle it. “Or more like him?” She pointed toward the animal enclosures.
“The Martian Chronicle,” Blaise said, shaking his head.
“I think with the Martian Chronicle out and viral,” Ricardo said with a wink Blaise’s way, “and Lawrence and the Welcome Wagon derailed and detained, we should expect a lot more company. The VSD was the last holdout of scientists, the last ones to be working. Only because of these crags. And ferramine. I think Walsh believes we can synth it for whatever he thinks he can do with it.”
“Ferramine,” Blaise admitted, “pretty good stuff.” They looked at him. “You know, of course, in the right hands.”
“I wasn’t going to be able to milk the crag potential much longer,” Ricardo continued. “I’m surprised I held Walsh off as long as I did. Team, we’re about to be boarded and closed down. Real soon. Probably be a raid with troops. I know recently all your research has been off the automata, so if you have data you want, I would suggest putting it on a datastrip, put it through the Quanzer enwrangler, and stuff it in a good hiding place.”
Chris had waited patiently, then asked, “What about the animals?”
“Chris,” Ricardo answered, “We have a lot more pressing things to deal with, all of a sudden. Like, what about the Martians?” He was not dismissive. It was a tone of a seasoned veteran who accepted the reality that people come first, which included Martians. Especially in war. He was surprisingly gentle and had an apologetic tone, as if he were speaking with Mare, and if he knew crags, he was: himself to Thursday to Tuesday to Mare.
Renée gulped a swallow of water from a cup. “What now?”
“Leeper was trying to warn me about something,” Ricardo said, “but it was Weirjammed.”
“He was probably trying to warn you about everything,” Blaise surmised.
The servile automaton announced the arrival of Evan, Deniz, Mare, and Tuesday. “With a guest,” it added, “Dr. Marcus Willner.”
“He insisted,” Evan explained as he walked in.
Following him in, Willner pointed to Tuesday. “If you think I’m going to let this guy out of my site, then you’re crazy.”
“Is that a psychiatry joke, Marcus?” Blaise asked, approaching to hug him hello.
“Um, no, actually,” Willner answered.
“Evan and company,” Blaise offered, “you know Marcus. Everyone else, this is Dr. Willner. And I speak for the group here, Marcus, when I say that it’s good to have a psych doctor here, because crazy stuff is about to happen. Goon squads and guns.”
“Guns?” Willner asked. “Are there even guns on Mars?”
“Not exactly a whole squad of goons,” Ricardo explained. “Just one goon. And only one gun so far and the goon’s already in the dog house and the gun’s out of his reach.” He reconsidered. “More like the monkey house.”
“More like the ape house,” Renée corrected him absently, her attention still on goons and guns.
Deniz darted her eyes all around in alarm. “Mare! Where is she? Where is Mare?” she cried.
The maternal desperation overwhelmed the room. Ricardo bolted out of the door toward the orangutan enclosure, but it was too late. Everyone had followed him and were stopped short by what they saw. Lawrence held Mare by her collar and had his gun again, unsteady in his wobbly but uninjured, non-dominant, left hand.
“Daddy!” Mare shouted in terror. “He smiled at me and asked me to please let him out and I knew it had to be a mistake him being in with the orangutans and he said please, so I did and—” she ran out of breath. Dr. Willner, who had been following her for the psychological trauma she had sustained long before her crag attack, concluded this was the last thing her trust in adults needed.
Blaise looked at Ricardo in expectation, while Ricardo’s mind raced through acrobatic flow sheets of options.
“How’d he get his gun again?” shouted Renée. Mare started crying and Lawrence held her collar more tightly, even though it was his previously injured hand. Deniz whimpered.
“When he was behind the glass, I guess I laid the gun on the windowsill out here in the hall,” Ricardo said, more to himself. Then to Renée, “I didn’t want to go back to you with it. Didn’t want you to see it. I figured, you know—”
“You figured wrong,” Lawrence said abruptly. He was furious, his white, bulging eyes nervously darting back and forth. He wore several gashes on his left arm, indicating there had been some interaction in the bin.
Martians joined the crowd in the hall. The abruptly stopped press of VSD colleagues was followed by the gentle Martians, still hidden behind them. Tuesday was the tallest of them all and he interpreted the situation correctly form behind his human blind:
Mare was in danger.
The one of his mouths that had the deepest and thickest vocal cords channeled out a subsonic vibrato; the animals began jumping, shrieking, crying, and barking in agitation. The subsonic synchronized the messaging in his nervous system and ferramine buckyballs virtually rolled the appropriate virtual amino acids into appropriate virtual receptor sites. At the speed of light. The physiologic response inverted his intraocular lenses and fired the erectile muscles among his millions of louvered feathered scales. He grew by a meter, towering over the humans. The hallway was wide enough for four of the humans abreast, but all six of them fell back behind Tuesday as he charged forward with two colossal steps. The Martian had never seen a gun, but he knew how they were upsetting to Renée. And from Mare’s hologames, he knew that they were designed to put extra holes in a person—unwelcome holes. Dangerous holes. He knew humans were all born with just the right amount of holes and he didn’t want Mare to have any extra ones. Besides this cogent rationale, Lawrence was putting Mare in danger, which evoked a cogent irrationale. His scalp fiberoptics waved angrily above him, glowing red.
The tails from the ferramine buckyballs filled more receptor sites and the subsonic vibrato matured into a roar. More mouths were involved, showing menacing dark teeth. Photonic energies summated and filled his light basket. He began flailing his akimbo arms. By now, all the mouths were involved in projecting a dissonance of lower registers, several octaves lower than the usual Martian elocution.
He outstretched his arms, Martian fists slamming hall wall to hall wall, cutting off the rest of them, now hunkered behind him.
“Tuesday!” Deniz shouted hysterically.
“Tuesday!” shouted Mare, but it was a different type of shout. It was a communal shout, and next Mare matched Tuesday’s roar. Lawrence trembled in disbelief. He had no idea what he was seeing or hearing.
“What kinda animals you got here!” he screamed. He cocked the hammer back on his pistol. This gave Mare an opportunity to struggle, but Lawrence tightened his hold on her collar until she began choking.
Tuesday suddenly grew an additional half meter. His girth, likewise, expanded. All of his soft scales, previously louvered so compactly, now were unlouvered fully and threateningly. Unquestionably threatening. Their previous overlapping edges were now interlocked in a Leviathan exoskeleton.
Wednesday and Thursday now made their way to the front to join Tuesday; likewise, they arrayed.
“Shappoff,” Tuesday’s primary mouth seethed ominously.
“Uh-oh,” Deniz intoned. She knew Shappoff.
Suddenly, all six of Tuesday’s auxiliary mouths, each skewed by microseconds, screamed terribly, each easily over 110 dB.
Shappoff!” followed by “Gah-Ree-Shappoff!
Gah-Ree-Shappoff!” this time non-syncopated, but even louder.
All three Martians joined in, eighteen mouths, like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from Hell, a chorale of Furies in a small room, singing for vengeance. It was thunderous. It was alien and terrifying. It was fear and terror. It was Phobos and Deimos.
Deniz and Renée held their ears. Deniz knew Shappoff, but could only tremble at what the Gah-Ree prefix might mean.
Mare broke free and Lawrence fired toward the Martians; Mare froze with the sound of the shot within the hallway. Tuesday whipped out one of his auxiliary chest arms and caught the bullet in a fantastic maneuver of blurred speed. He opened his central arm’s palm and considered the bullet lying next to the rust-bloodied palmar proboscis, obviously damaged somewhat by the feat.
Evan knew; so did Deniz. And Mare, for that matter: Lawrence had just shot Tuesday in his genitals. It is a universal truism that such an action invites a universal response.
Tuesday next amply demonstrated for the group what adding the prefix to the Martian expletive for anger did. A final combination of neuroreceptors filled and his light basket distorted to reflect back the collected light in a retrograde direction along his optic neurotubes to his eyes. He winked at Lawrence, which confused him over and beyond his already astounded mind that he winked back, hoping that would be what the Martian wanted. Tuesday’s eyes glowed faintly, then an intense beam leapt out in a tight column at Lt. Lawrence from one of them. Then it shut off and the other eye resumed in an uninterrupted hand-off. It went back and forth this way. At first Lawrence’s skin sizzled, then undulated on the surface like bacon in a pan, then began popping. First the epidermis, then the dermis. He screamed. Next, all of his hard-earned muscles began to denature.
Lt. Lawrence was frying.
Tuesday began tracking out third degree burns in slashing strips crisscrossing his face. Lawrence shut his eyes to lock them tightly and screamed louder when they seemed to pop from under them, a burst of liquid from under his eyes plopping down his shirt. No one had noticed at what point he had dropped his gun. Smoke came off of him and hovered. He had his own dirty cloud.
Everyone smelled it.
The burned man collapsed in a heap on the floor. Tuesday collapsed into himself again and Mare ran tearfully to her mother.
sorry,” three of Tuesday’s mouths said.
Mars 1, Earth nothing, Blaise thought to himself, the sarcasm underscoring his anger. Mare broke from Deniz and ran to Tuesday and hugged him, even though she only came up to his thighs. Deniz jumped in, too, hugging both.
“Damn!” Ricardo said incredulously.
“Yea,” agreed Evan.
Dr. Willner let escape his nervous laugh. “I need professional help,” he said in a breaking voice.
“So does this guy,” Evan said of Lawrence, still heaped on the floor, smoking but moaning pitifully. Renée used her thumbclips to summon paramedics. All of the animals, who after their initial alarm had become strangely silent during Tuesday’s retaliation, now began acting up again, barking, screeching, whistling, snorting, and jumping. Hearing the cacophony, Lawrence started, then cried out in terror, splitting his charred lips.
“Intruder alert,” the automaton announced.
“Who?” Renée asked. They all ran back to the conference room.
“Over 200 persons,” it replied.
“And?” Renée asked.
“I cannot tell you more. I am servile, only.” Renée used her thumbclip to arm her automaton with its higher functionalities. “Thank you,” it said. “They come wearing combat-ready attire and are armed, if what I’ve assimilated from review of my appraisascan of Mr. Lawrence translates accurately.”
“Shappoff,” Deniz said quietly to herself, which said it all.
“More guns!” Renée cried. She trembled. Ricardo came close again.
“No one is shooting anybody,” he repeated yet again, sternly. That is when they heard the first shots.
“Shit!” Renée exclaimed.
“Shit,” repeated her automaton.
“Shit,” even Ricardo mumbled. “I thought you had Mr. Know-it-all fixed,” he whispered to Renée in an effort to smolder the firestorm within her. He was unsuccessful.
“Way down the list of priorities,” she snapped back. “Who are they shooting at? At us? At our building? At each other? What the hell, Ricardo?”
Evan went to check on Lawrence back in the hall and Mare followed him to check on the animals which were very upset by the loud turmoil, the burning flesh smell, and now the gunfire outside. And they were all very hungry. They hadn’t eaten since the day before due to the rations cut-off and the tumultuous goings-on at the VSD. There was more food crated near the garage area, but no one had gotten to it today before all the drama had started.
In the conference room Renée instructed her automaton to display the outside perimeter. From the gunfire they expected something unusual, but none of them expected they would ever see this on Mars—an armed skirmish. Two opposing forces. An actual battle.
Renée had assumed an armed contingent would come for them, but now she was surprised—although hardly comforted—by a second force trying to thwart the first.
Gunplay. Casualties falling. The worst that Earth had to offer a brand new and shiny place like Mars. It was offensive on a planetary scale. What was being portrayed was the very first Battle of Mars.
War had been imported successfully.
The first force, it was reasonable to assume, had been sent by Walsh. The second? Ray Bradbury, figuratively; Colonel Leeper actually. Ricardo squinted, then used his own thumbclip to pan, scan, zoom, and confirm this. A round broke a high-perched transom window. Deniz and Renée screamed.
“Evan, you have Mare?” Deniz called out.
While Ricardo and now Chris leaned into the real time holoclip, Blaise stood in a corner next to Tuesday.
“Those middle hands are pretty fast, it seems,” he said.
“It seems so,” agreed the Martian.
“They have to be.”
“Fast enough to catch a bullet,” Blaise added. “I figure, about Mach 2.”
Another round reported with a ricochet sound, but by now Renée realized the angles were all wrong. None of the shots could make a line-of-sight trajectory directly to the inner part of the room.
Evan bolted in with a very concerned face.
“What?” Renée asked. Evan studied the holoclip.
“Yep. It looks exactly like what it sounds like,” he said to himself. Then to Renée, “Nothing, nothing new. Just all this.” To Deniz, “Mare’s in with the dogs—she’s safe. It’s the most internal place of the whole building. No windows toward the outside.” He waved at the holodepiction of the ongoing battle. “I guess Mr. Lawrence’s medical help won’t be coming anytime soon.”
“I’m a real doctor, not just a Ph.D.,” Willner said. “Oh, sorry, doctors, I didn’t mean it like that. But I should go tend to him.”
“No,” Blaise objected, pushing Tuesday his way. “Look at this guy first.” Tuesday hesitated at first, but then let Willner retrieve his center arm to hold out the palm, showing his injury.
“May I?” Willner asked.
“Yes,” Tuesday replied. Tuesday liked him. He trusted him. Wednesday and Thursday, who were standing nearby, turned away out of a sense of respect and propriety.
“I’ll get the first aid cart,” Renée offered. She went out to the hallway toward the lab. She avoided the sight of Lawrence, but she could still smell him. She saw Mare in the canine enclosure and waved to check on her. Mare waved back that all was well. There were no transoms in the enclosure, so there would be no ricochets to worry about. Renée marveled at the child’s resiliency after what had happened, seeing her comforted by all the wagging tails.
She retrieved the cart and returned to the conference room. Dr. Willner proceeded and Tuesday’s palm and proboscis wounds were cleaned and dressed in dry flextile bandaging. Only then did the other two Martians turn back again toward Tuesday.
“Y’know,” Blaise said, “if the good guys don’t beat the bad guys, we still have these three big boys on our side.”
“Colonel Leeper will prevail,” Ricardo insisted.
“You said no one was getting shot, too,” Renée said, but sadly.
“I trained him. I know him. He knows what’s at stake, and he knows I’m in here with you.” Another bullet struck the other transom window, and all but Ricardo and the three Martians flinched.
“I’m not bulletproof,” Tuesday abruptly declared.
“But—” Blaise started.
“Catching a bullet is one thing. It takes one’s speed to do it, and the retrieval causes buffering of the angular momentum to reduce the impact.” He held out his bandaged inner hand as proof. The other Martians turned away again for a moment, then turned back.
“And we thought you were stupid,” Blaise teased.
“We have our moments
moments,” Thursday said.
Tuesday tried to smile with several mouths, one or two almost succeeding. “Don’t do that, please,” Blaise said. “I know what you’re trying to do—the cultural overture and all, really, we all appreciate it, but it’s just creepy, and—” The automaton alarm sounded.
“Security breach,” it announced amid the sudden warbling of sirens.
“Shit?” Renée asked.
“Very shit,” Mr. Know-it-all confirmed.
“The good guys or the bad guys,” Ricardo asked it.
“I’m sorry,” it said, “I wasn’t discretionary enough to tell based on your audience reactions I logged, based on my appraisascan.”
No one noticed that Mare had been gone too long. Mare with puppies and dogs and no windows had meant no worries, and worries occupied all the attention.
All of the animals were famished, having missed their last three meals. There had been no new deliveries and even though there were enough rations to fill a two-story palate, no one at the VSD had had a chance to devise a plan to spread them out over any type of rationing schedule. That would have likely been this day had it turned out to be a typically non-violent day.
Mare knew very well how to program a RibCar, or in this case the huge RibCart. It was as simple as laying in the Point A to Point B and then assigning the RibCart’s mobile signature to the ribbon route. Point A could easily be Mare and her animals; Point B could easily be the Hydrome. She used the autofork, another working robot with a simple instruction set, to load the large palate to the cart loader. Next, she used a wristlaser to cut a swath of spilling food and seed from the packaged rations onto the open cargo bed. She knew from her visits here the code for the doors, long overdue for its reset but never done. The RibCart garage door opened for her on the first try.
She engaged the ribbon route, which silently lifted and rolled the cart vehicle to the courtyard with the high walls. She paused the cart. She now could hear the gunfire, but she remained undeterred. After all, this was for the animals. She had apparently given this a lot of thought. Perhaps not all on her own.
She pulled out a coiled hose and flipped the release lever on the nozzle, and the water flowed forcefully enough to douse the rations and food stuffs on the cargo bed of the RibCart. Even she could now smell it all, so she knew the animals would be rapt.
“Good!” she exclaimed, shut off the hose, which recoiled itself, and started the RibCart again with a thumbclip that was tethered to the open garage door. It was a simple thumbinstruction, just an unpause, and the RibCart resumed its journey. The Hydrome lay ahead and as the RibCart automatically invited the large courtyard gates to open, it departed the VSD, its odoriferous baitstream trailing behind. She had a vague idea of the speeds of all of the different animals to sight-gauge a guess for an appropriate speed for the departing RibCart.
She ran back into the VSD and used the touch screen on all of the animal enclosures except the crags. The animals lumbered out of their opened enclosures with some uncertainty initially, but then began running amok.
The lure worked. It didn’t take long for the hungry animals to pick up the scent and begin following.
Mare knew it was no Noah’s Ark and that it wasn’t foolproof; she wondered whether the Hydrome gates would even open for it. They probably would, recognizing a laden RibCart. But she wanted to at least try to save as many animals as she could. As precocious and clever as she was, however, she was not insightful enough to prevent the parade of cart and animals from passing right through the battle line. If these soldiers, she thought, had no trouble shooting each other, they would have no trouble shooting all the animals now or even after all the fighting was over.
It was the external gate opening that triggered the intruder alert that had set the sirens off. The gate didn’t know the difference between invasion and escape, and Mare’s parents and the others in the conference room assumed a coming drama: one or the other of an armed force would soon pounce, either to save them or to arrest them. Or worse.
The automaton sensed an approaching presence. “Ten meters away,” it reported. Then, “five meters…two meters…” Then, “Prepare for intruder entrance.”
Ricardo had Lawrence’s pistol on him and was dedicated to it since his colossal mistake with it before. It would work for him, since it was one of those paramilitary versions that didn’t have the palm print recog safety on it. But even armed so, he knew he was kidding himself.
The door nudged open and Ricardo raised the gun. In walked Mare who, when seeing the gun, promptly screamed. Tuesday flared into full stature array for a second time. His pieces quickly snapped together and erect.
“Down, boy,” Blaise told him. He collapsed back to regular height, Ricardo tucked the gun behind his back, out of sight, and Mare was once again in Deniz’s arms.
“Listen,” said Ricardo. All noticed that the gunfire had stopped. When they huddled to look at the monitored perimeter, they were stunned to see that the quiet was not due to any one side’s victory, but to a truce of indecision while a parade of dogs, cats, apes, ferrets, rabbits, and monkeys passed between the opposing forces, a cloud of birds aflutter about the whole movement. The RibCart, like Moses, led them onward to the Promised Land. Evan snapped around toward Mare.
“Brilliant!” shouted Ricardo. He quoted Sun Tzu’s Art of War. “Book Six: Strength and Wellness. ‘Throw something unexpected into the equation. Even if it is nonsensical, it will make the enemy wonder and fret.’”
“Don’t be so brilliant ever again,” Mare’s father scolded her, but her grin was ear to ear. Tuesday practiced his own grins.
“Where are they going, Mare?” Renée asked.
“Duh!” Mare mocked her.
“Where, Mare?” Evan pressed.
“To the Hydrome,” she answered proudly and confidently.
“Did you hear us talking about this before?” Blaise asked.
“No,” she replied.
“Well, then, how did you know where to send them?”
“Uncle Blaise! Duh!” she repeated.
“Stop doing that, Mare,” Deniz reprimanded.
“Where else would I send them? They certainly couldn’t stay here.”
“Like us,” Dr. Willner commented soberly, which refocused everything.
“Why’d they stop the shooting?” Renée asked.
“Why’d they start?” Willner asked right back, his voice up an octave.
“They didn’t stop to make it safe for a bunch of monkeys,” Blaise said.
“Ten meters,” the automaton announced again. “Five meters…two meters.” Everyone was accounted for, so everyone drew a deep, nervous breath.
Colonel Leeper walked through. Before Ricardo could let his breath out in a sigh of relief, however, Denton Walsh followed closely behind with a gun in Leeper’s back. Behind them were about ten armed Prestige Guard members brandishing automatic rifles. The three Martians had fallen back to a wall, with Evan, Willner, Blaise, and Chris standing in front of them, concealing them as best they could. The Martians louvered down further, shrinking them to just under one and half meters.
“Sorry, sir,” Prisoner Leeper said to his general, Ricardo Llorente. The ever-growing armed entourage peaked and stopped when no one else could fit into the conference room without retracting their arms and hands that brandished their weapons.
Ricardo winked at Leeper because he understood. He didn’t have to outwardly thank him for his loyalty to a friend, to Mars, to Earth, to a mature sense of righteous history.
“There’s a man down out in the hallway,” Walsh said angrily to Ricardo. “How did that happen?” He snatched away his sunglasses from his face.
“He needs medical attention,” Willner said. “Will you allow in paramedics?”
“Paramedics? Are you joking! Have you even looked outside?” Ricardo and the rest let that sink in. “Besides,” Walsh added, “he’s dead.”
“Dead?” Renée asked guiltily.
“Call it friendly fire,” Walsh explained. “He couldn’t survive, right? Did you see him? He was a cinder. Couldn’t leave him like that.” He was suddenly struck with a thought. “Euthanized,” he said. “I mean, this is a vet clinic, right?” He walked over toward Ricardo and approximated him face-to-face within a couple of centimeters. He fingered a hand-written note out of his shirt pocket. He began reading names. “Eggleton, Moore, Dillon, Payne, Shank, Gansey, Greene, Taffe, Thomas, Atkins, Brown, Stanley, Batts, Liles, Cromer, Comer, Potters—two of them, Viechek, Sjuve…Guess what?” He came even closer to Ricardo’s face. “They’re dead, too, that’s what. “Griffin—what a mess he is—you should see him! Poor bastard, even if he had paid attention, he’d still be dead, with a shot to the front of his head instead of the back. The Ramseys—two of them, too.”
“What about Nelson, Medina, Santiago, and—” Leeper tried to impose his own dead—the good guys dead. Walsh cut him short.
“Silence!” he screamed, not veering a millimeter from his face lock on Ricardo. “Well, Mr. Historian,” he meant entirely for Ricardo, and taking a step back, “my Mexican French-loving historian.”
“I’m Cuban,” Ricardo corrected him.
“And it’s Francophile,” Blaise now added. Walsh only grinned sinisterly.
“Whatever! So worried about corrupting this heavenly Eden with the dark side,” Walsh continued. “What would Napoleon say? What would Gandhi say?” He paused. “Or…Atilano? What would Mr. Diplomat of Peace Atilano say?” He widened his tight smile and snapped fully away from Ricardo. “A first for Mars. Its first murder,” he said, pointing toward the hallway.
“You did that,” Renée objected.
“No! You did that. I just put him out of his misery.” He snapped back around to Ricardo. “You’ve broken the seal, General. Cain and Abel have arrived. Well, maybe just Cain. Abel’s out there smoking in the hallway.
Ricardo hated this imbecile for being even partially right.
“What’s with the animals?” Walsh continued. Deniz clutched Mare closer to her. Walsh caught it. “Are they the little girl’s animals?” He looked again at Ricardo. “Your colonel ceased fire because of the animals. We were able to move in. So, thank you.”
“Why did you cease fire?” Ricardo asked Leeper.
“Shut up!” shouted Walsh, spit flying like an actor on stage spraying the front row. “I ask the questions.” He considered for a moment, then turned to Leeper himself. “Why did you cease fire, Colonel Idiot?” Leeper looked at Ricardo for approval, then answered Walsh.
“We thought it might be a VSD surrender,” Leeper answered, so there might be no reason to fight. No enemy if your mission surrenders. I was just thinking of any way to cap the body count.”
“Animals first. Woman and children second?” Walsh laughed. “That’s rich!”
“No,” answered Leeper. “Everybody first. It was a sea change in the scenario,” Leeper explained, himself quoting The Art of War. Ricardo smirked. “In a battle moving too quickly, a sea change requires pause and appraisal. A change can be made beneficial or unfavorable to—”
“More unfavorable than capture?” Walsh roared.
“Sometimes it is,” Ricardo interrupted, which was a private ‘well done’ to Leeper, “when there’s a lot less dead soldiers.”
“And more prisoners,” Walsh smiled. He put his sunglasses back on. “So everybody’s happy, I guess. I know I am.” He faced Ricardo again. “How ‘bout you, General? Happy?” Ricardo remained silent. Walsh turned and offered another hitchhiking thumb to indicate Lt. Lawrence, the dead man, in the hallway. “Think he’s happy?” He turned back to his room of prisoners. “How the hell did that happen, by the way? Out there, in the hallway?”
The conference room was divided in its middle by a floor pad that completed an interface with a ceiling pad, used for holoclip display when aerogel was liquesced between them. At this point it was Walsh who stood between the two pads, center stage, allowing him to pace triumphantly to and fro to address his captive audience.
It was a tyrant’s dream: center stage with I-TOLD-YOU-SOs, GOTCHAS, and WORSHIP-MEs for the fallen who had opposed him.
“Come on, now, there’s a question on the floor. How’d that guy burn?”
In the front of the room, Walsh’s armed phalanx crowded together in readiness and blocked the door. At the back of the room behind a large rectangular desk stood Renée, Evan, Blaise, Dr. Willner, Ricardo, Deniz, Mare, and Chris. The men continued to stand on their tiptoes to block the view to the wall the three Martians stood against.
Blaise wondered why none of them hadn’t fluffed out and flamed on yet, but then he considered this solitary, crowded, confined room filled with searing Martians, itchy soldiers, and automatic weapons. If it all exploded it would be like overcooking a bowl of chili in the microwave, except it would be blood that was all over. No, he agreed with the status quo—best not to ratchet up the melodrama.
“Why here, Walsh?” Ricardo asked, to get him to turn to him, away from the crowd and the wall behind them. “Why make the VSD the battle for Mars?”
“To get you,” Walsh answered. “Couldn’t have you running around. And all the data,” he added, turning to Renée. “You kept it off the datacloud, but I know it’s here somewhere. In fact, we’re getting ready to play a little game. It’s called ‘Who do I kill first to get you to give me the data?’ A fun game.”
“There’s nothing here,” Renée informed him angrily.
“That’s not what I heard,” he said, looking at Ricardo. “Hmm…maybe I’ll start with my Prestige Coordinator,” he offered now, turning to Colonel Leeper, then turned back to Ricardo. “Tsk, tsk, never thought I’d have to fight my own men to get to you, General Llorente.”
“I was never your man,” Leeper said defiantly, mutinously.
The ruse of hidden Martians couldn’t last. At some point there was just enough of a clear visual between Evan’s and Blaise’s heads for Walsh to take pause. He strained to see better through the sunglasses, then lifted them and parked them above on his bald head.
The jig was up. Blaise fretted microwave ovens anew.
“What’s this?” he asked, feeling very clever. “I saw movement back there. Who’s behind you? Now!” The men checked their clips with a palm strike. It all sounded ballistic enough for an effective imminent threat. “Now! I said! Who is there? Fall out!”
Evan and his fellow tiptoers relaxed their gastrocs and Achilles tendons. They shrank. The Martians were taller now in contrast.
“Not who…” Walsh whispered to himself, “but what?”
“Your Martian welcome committee,” Blaise announced. Walsh kept his eyes fixed on the three Martians. He stood with his mouth agape, then closed it after a pregnant, stunned pause. He spoke to Blaise without taking his fixed gaze off of the Martians.
“I don’t like you, Lewis,” Walsh said quietly. “Never did.” Blaise remained silent and wondered why everyone seemed to have a Martian behind him but himself. “So,” Walsh said angrily, thinking of Atilano, “temporal reconciliation worked, after all.”
Walsh’s self-serving, defensive mentality struggled for advantage. First, The Martian Chronicle. Now, successful tempconciliation. And Martians, for God’s sake! Tempconciliation! Martians! Now he realized Earth would never let go of Mars.
The room watched Walsh pace back and forth, thinking ferociously. He was screwed. For all he knew, E-Lead supply ships to Lagrange 1 were being loaded with an armada of soldiers to re-take the planet.
He needed a play. Taking the VSD was a shitty little victory. Even with crags he could aim, it meant nothing, he thought. Nothing! And he would never allow himself to, ever again, be nothing.
These were the thoughts that a selfish, foolish, out-bullied bully spent his epiphany on, instead of a new dawn of alien races, time manipulation, human milestones, and cosmic implications.
His prisoners stared ahead blankly. These Martians—his Martians—stood inert, in no way appearing threatening, until Walsh again considered the burned, dead man heaped in the hallway.
“They did it,” he surmised out loud, looking at the three Martians. Mare looked at Tuesday and began crying. “Shut that kid up!” shouted Walsh toward his men.
“Don’t you dare!” snapped Deniz.
“Oh, Mrs. Mickal,” he said. “I’ve heard all about you. The bitch, right, Ricardo?” She shared a confused look with Evan. Suddenly Tuesday regained his combat height and his eyes began to glow. One of his eyes blinked.
“Or you winking at me, Godzilla?” Walsh asked. “That is so cute!” Another check of the magazine clips sounded.
“Tuesday!” Evan said sternly. “No.” Tuesday collapsed, understanding the risks Evan implied.
“Well,” Walsh chuckled, “one thing’s for certain. They’re obviously not stupid.” Blaise thought nothing about any of this was humorous, but he couldn’t help the smirk of irony. Walsh caught it.
“Something funny, Lewis?”
Blaise instantly neutralized his injudicious grin. Walsh approached him. He studied his face, very close, as he had with Ricardo before. “What’s so funny?” Walsh repeated. “You laughing at me?”
“No,” Blaise answered curtly. Walsh turned to his men again. He walked over to one of them, lifted his ID, and read.
“Yes, sir,” a middle-aged, serious looking man responded.
“Take this scientist,” he said derisively.
“And then what?” Walsh couldn’t believe his ears. He became angry and in his customary style, got right into Mosely’s face.
“Take him out and shoot him.”
Mosely stood for a moment while Blaise’s fellow prisoners gasped. He looked at Blaise and Blaise looked at him. Walsh, growing impatient, bellowed. “Now! ASAP-ly! Right away, immediately, yesterday!”
Walsh pounded his hand on Blaise’s chest to seize him and then he flung him at Mosely. Mosely had a maelstrom of conflict in his own head but dutifully motioned to Blaise, who obeyed and allowed escort out of the room. Walsh turned back to look at the Martians.
“Really?” fumed Evan. “Murder? Is that the new Mars?”
Walsh answered quickly. “Funny, wasn’t that my exact question a few minutes ago?” He swallowed, then held up a finger. “No, not murder like the guy in the hall. I call it something else. Justice. Time to nip this in the bud.”
This, sadly, Evan grieved, was the new Mars. He felt the pain of a stifled gasp, swallowed a bolus of breath that seemed to scratch his throat all the way down.
Dr. Willner usually thought things out with two levels of brain: first, for what was happening and second, for what it means. How far was too far? the psychiatric thinking went, and Dr. Willner was thinking it. Had Walsh gone too far when he had dissolved the Security Command? Had he gone too far when he had bribed a new armed force and exiled those who had refused? Had he gone too far when he assumed Divine Right dictatorship? When he had one set of soldiers attack another? When he had just ordered an execution?
The answer, as Willner saw it for all of these questions, was yes.
None of these questions could be answered with “almost too far.” Too far was an absolute, an all-or-none. Willner ran through his list of questions as a graduated political assessment of human outrage. At execution it reached the inhumane. Now, he diagnosed, they were all at the capricious mercy of someone who was that inhumane. Such a thing would require a whole lot of therapy; weeks, months, and for Walsh, probably years. Such unaddressed pathology was as painful to Willner as a patient bleeding to death would be to a helpless surgeon who had no instruments, a hemorrhaging reality Blaise would be suffering in a moment.
Outside in the courtyard where Mare had released the RibCart through the gate and the animals had followed, Mosely stood Blaise up straight with a firm grasp of his shirt with one hand, a pistol prodding him in his ribs with the other.
Mosely was indeed conflicted.
“Do you have children?” Blaise asked nervously, pleadingly. Mosely shuddered.
“Yea. A boy and a girl,” he answered so unprofessionally for a soldier under orders. “Do you have any children?” he asked Blaise right back, a spinal reaction that slipped out before his soldier’s neocortex could stifle it.
“No, not yet,” answered Blaise.
Perhaps this man, his executioner, was looking for a reason—any reason—to not kill him, and Blaise had hoped his question would be an initial chess move of conscience that would effect a series of refutations along Mosely’s military connections. Blaise hoped he had twanged Mosely’s own sense of the hearth. He wanted Mosely’s children to be looking at him as he killed a man he didn’t know for a reason he didn’t understand. Willner would be proud, Blaise thought, if I could just stay alive to tell him. Then, what a stupid plan. Children would not have softened Mosely’s order, he thought, as the horror of the reality began to gel. There were no options included in the capital order. It was simply a matter of following the order or disobeying it. Blaise so hoped Mosely was a bad soldier.
Mosely thought about his children. Mosely the soldier, Mosely the father. Mundane family life.
He thought about a particular episode. It was right after his wife, he, and the children had moved into their new, spacious, Tier II housing. He had just joined the Prestige Society and had come home with the datastrip that was a manual of the perks and responsibilities of being a Prestige member. He had joined for the good of his family, so he knew that however the manual read, he would find a way to make it work. He would wear the “P” for them.
The new accommodations had a study/library, which was a real luxury by Mars Colony standards. If Tier II was payback, he was already enjoying his investment of loyalty. His son, Tibbs, sat at a table with a holopad, sketching with ambidextrous thumbclips an assignment due over the LearnLink by the next day. But he struggled; he was distracted, troubled.
Mosely sat in an overstuffed armchair and he held his own 3-D H-pad in his lap, ready to begin his Prestige Society indoctrination. He hadn’t yet engaged his floater but instead was still looking at the holoplane title page in his lap. He did a quick paternal check on his son before diving into the material, and his parental intuition proved prudent.
“What’s up, Tibbs?” he asked his son. Tibbs took off his two thumbclips and rested them on his H-pad where they magnetically locked into their docks on the frame. The H-pad faded to black. Tibbs didn’t answer. “Tibbs?” his father asked again.
Tibbs Mosely was ten years old. The Moselys had been on Mars all of his life, five m’ears. He had been born here. With the reduced gravity and therefore the reduced resistance to germinal migration of the three embryonic germ layers—endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm—gestation on Mars usually came to term by seven months instead of nine. This presented some untoward but not insurmountable side effects:
All babies were born jaundiced and required photogesic bilirubin stack-conjugation. All babies required Panfactant/Surfactant, Lecithin/Sphingomyelin, and Phospatidyl Hyperglyph therapies for their lungs. An embryonic blood vessel, the ductus arteriosus, remained stubbornly open and required chemical closure. A whole subspecialty of Martian pediatrics had grown out of the outcropping of the newest colonists.
But the babies did just fine.
One persistent and noticeable result of the abbreviated gestation was the one-in-three risk of retinal hyperplasia, a retinopathy of prematurity, in spite of the stereotactic and quadratactic tocopheration pulse therapy. Such therapy actually succeeded in preventing blindness but in some unlucky children there was enough subtle lifting of the retina by hypertrophied blood vessels to require Nuvostatin injections, the thick eyeglasses early on, laminocontacts in pre-adolescents, followed by neoretinophakoplasty for the permanent fix at age eighteen.
Tibbs Mosely was one of the unlucky ones, but even unluckier in that he didn’t tolerate the contacts well, preferring to wear the thick glasses. In schools of yore, such a look would invite derision, being called “4-eyes,” and physical cheap shots in hallways such as being tripped or having one’s books knocked to the floor.
In the age of post-terraformed Mars, there were no conventional schools, schoolyards, or school hallways, yet there were gathering areas where children could play, engage in GravPad competitive sports, and socialize. “Hanging out” was considered psychologically important, and Tibbs, like all Colony children, had such a “recess” schedule interposed between his learning modules, LearnLink sessions, and home schooling. Officially, they were called Psychosocial Interaction Periods, “PIPs,” but most just called it recess.
Mosely had correctly read Tibbs’ awkward refusal to answer. “Something happen at PIP today?” Tibbs just put his head on the study table, defeated. “Not again, Tibbs.” Tibbs lifted his head and straightened his glasses centrally on the bridge of his nose. He looked at his father through them with eyes that appeared larger than they were.
“I got into a fight today. I got in trouble.”
“Oh?” Mosely now sat up in his chair, his posture begging exposition, and Tibbs read it right.
“Well,” Tibbs began, looking down, searching for the right words. “You know that girl, Susie Mars?”
“Mars? Really? Her name is actually Mars?” Mosely didn’t know her.
“Dad! Lemme finish.”
“Sorry—but the name, Mars. Really?”
“Yea,” Tibbs relented, “she gets a lot of that.” Then his smile dissolved. “She’s got glasses, too.”
“I see,” Mosely said, appreciating the comradeship in such a connection.
“That Taffe kid, y’know—that asshole!” Mosely frowned.
“Is that necessary?”
“Yes, Dad, it is.”
“If you say so,” Mosely said with that fatherly advice tone that cautioned such names should be reserved for very special cases.
In the present with Blaise, Mosely recognized the name, Taffe, one of his fallen comrades. His son would find out today he had no father.
“Well, that asshole Taffe—” Tibbs said, again evoking a frown of disapproval from his father.
“I get it,” Mosely said to Tibbs sternly.
“Well, that Taffe…kid,” Tibbs said, ratcheting down. “I heard him talking to another kid, Griffin, and…”
Another son without a father. In fact, a father who had suffered a most grizzly and painful death in the skirmish.
“And they were planning on taking Susie’s H-pad and throw it in the water.”
“With all her work on it?”
Such a pad really didn’t have all of her work on it, but served as a key for access to her datacloud. It was tantamount to the same thing.
“They didn’t care, Dad. She had a whole year’s bunch of work on it. She told me. She used to show me all the time.” He paused. “Except for her diary—she didn’t show me that. But her art and stuff. And she didn’t have the dehydrator cover on it and Taffe and Griffin knew it.”
“Alright,” Mosely agreed, “asshole.” Suddenly there was a motherly call from the kitchen area.
“I don’t like all this ‘ass-H-O-L-E’ talk,” she hollered. Mosely waved his flattened palm down repeatedly: the guys would have to tone it down if they were to continue to talk about assholes.
“So when she was walking toward where they were, they started whispering. Couldn’t hear that, but I knew it was on, y’know. And I thought about how I would feel if a year’s worth of my stuff got trashed in the water, y’know, on purpose, just to be mean. And they were laughing about it.
“So what happened?”
“I walked up to them, cut ‘em off, and told ‘em not to do it, or else.”
“And they dared me to stop them.”
“I shoved that—” he then whispered, “—asshole. Down to the ground. Real hard. Griffin punched me. I didn’t know he was gonna do that, and when I fell, he just laughed and said, “Pay attention.” Well I jumped up and grabbed Griffin around his waist and we both fell down, fighting. And then,” again he reverted to a whisper, “asshole Taffe runs off.” Tibbs picked up his volume again. “So me and this Griffin guy are still fighting and—”
“So this Griffin guy and I,” his father corrected him.
“So this asshole and I are still fighting and then guess what?”
“Susie yells at both of us, ‘I’m telling,’ and she runs away to tell the PIP prefect and…” he trailed off. He looked down. “…and now I’m in trouble.”
“You hit Taffe first, right?”
“I guess so.”
“You guess…or you did?”
“I did,” Tibbs replied. “I broke his nose.” It was not the end of Tibbs’ story certainly, with the implied finale of disciplinary repercussions to follow, but it was enough of the end of the story for Mosely who in the present was considering Blaise. Father regarded son, a son who wasn’t so afraid of his father that he wouldn’t volunteer a tale of misconduct. A man would dismiss the whole incident with just, “Don’t get in trouble”; but a father’s role was to consider another message: there was a moral law afoot which said it is wrong to fight, but it is wrong to allow harm to befall others. It was right to follow the rules; it is wrong to follow them no matter what. There were no rules that were so absolute that moral law couldn’t wrinkle them with nuance. If rules were absolute, there would be no moral law to offer other options.
But there was a moral law. It isn’t codified, because it changes for every person, situation, and moment. We are all aware of it intuitively, without the necessity of a flow sheet or officially established paradigm. It is an instantaneous conduction that is a birthright. We’re all born with it. It is the insidious soft wiring which cajoles the hard wiring. Even children get it. Children like Tibbs, fully human. And Mosely stood proud.
Instantaneous conclusion. Such a thought at the speed of light, following relativistic tradition, slows space-time down to zero and lasts—is—forever. What is morally right is outside of time. Eternal.
Had the whole story of Mosely, Tibbs, and assholes been a story told in real time, it would have been of a noticeable duration. But it took no time in the tense scene between Blaise and Mosely. Mosely didn’t care that Blaise had no children; but he himself did. And a Mom and a Dad back on Earth. And his son’s little crises and morality plays. And his love for his son and daughter and wife. And how love seemed to point out the really important things in life, like moral law, which was intuitive—instantaneous.
He instantly knew this: Walsh had gone too far.
“Yes, a boy and a girl,” Mosely answered Blaise so unprofessionally for a soldier.
Blaise closed his eyes and was making peace with God, so he didn’t watch when Mosely fired into the air.
Susie Mars unscathed, Blaise Lewis alive, and moral law at the speed of light. Even faster. At the speed of is.
Blaise cried out with the shot, but then opened one eye in disbelief.
He’s gone too far,” Mosely said. “Now go on, get out of here.” Then he smiled wryly at Blaise. “Now, ASAP-ly, immediately, yesterday.”
“What about the rest?” Blaise asked, pointing back to the VSD interior.
“I’m thinking! But don’t go back in. There aren’t any more Mosely’s in there. Now go!”
Inside, everyone heard the shot outside. “I’ll be damned,” Walsh said to himself, the irony lost on him as he realized he could probably get anyone to do anything. His men heard the shot as well. Charging a mob with guns blazing was one thing; the single pistol shot was so much more personal. Everyone heard it. This broke a seal of sorts. It would be easy now to command someone to shoot another person. The Martians’ acoustic calderas pivoted on the sides of their heads.
“Oh, no,” Renée cried. Deniz and Mare were sobbing. Evan, Chris, and Ricardo stood stoically, stifling their trembling lips. Leeper had already been through his own phase with his casualties outside.
The Martian calderas had funneled the acoustics of Mosely’s pistol into the interpretive prowess of six hexaspheres and, alone, knew the sound they had heard was of bullet meeting no target. If they had thought otherwise, there would have been no holding back their unbridled incendiary fury.
Everyone else thought otherwise.