There is no magic on mars
I was a child when humanity fled the Earth. The torn weather patterns and radiation and pollution poisoned land, water and sky forced humans to abandon a dying planet. But my kind were unprepared.
The ungifted had been building rockets and settlements on the moon and mars for years. Preparing for doomsday. We scoffed, proclaiming this the best possible end. The world would be left to the magic folk, and we would heal Earth with our guidance and superior wisdom. How naive those generations were, blind to their own tampering. How long had they pulled at the rain, here not there, harvested rare flora and fauna to extinction for love potions, folded under the land for an exploding population?
In the end it was all folly. Heads popped out of the sand, and we begged passage with the ungifted in their tooled metal ships driven by science and cobbled together with all the faults of the laborers fingers. Many refused to go, taking their chances with the angry earth rather than risk the vast and empty space to Mars. Who knows, perhaps they thrive there after all, carving out an eden for the remaining few. If not, I still think their fate was kinder than ours.
Some lost their minds on the journey. Even with long periods in cryo, the trip was long and the waking times spent in awe, tedium or fear. It was difficult to maintain the secrecy of our talents, especially among the young. On that rocket, I discovered I could make my little toy elephant trumpet and run. My first, and final, taste of magic. My father struck me, the first and only time, "Some one could have seen" his hissed words cut through the ringing in my cuffed ear. "You do not want that...I could not..." he held me close, weeping. Later I learned that a girl on another ship had been caught juggling fire and ice. They called her Witch and jettisoned her from an airlock. On another a mage killed all the ungifted, claiming the ship for magic folk alone. Fear of the other is easier to justify when the world goes tits up, and many medieval supersticians had risen in the end as billions of people looked for someone to blame.
I forget much, but the image of Mars on entry will always remain, the orange arc of dust and mountains, splotched by blue-green bubbles of human settlements. They bloomed like pustules on diseased dog.
When the air locks hissed everyone rejoiced. And then despaired. As we sucked in our first breaths of filtered martian air the magic left. It was like a simultaneous outpouring of vomit and tears, but of the soul.
Many went mad and took their own lives before the first nights end, the rest did our best to forget what we had once been.
Some say our power was bound to the Earth, others believed the ungifted poisoned us. I think it is our penance and punishment.
We just can’t let them win, can we?
The Adaptive Kill Vehicle was a simple thing by modern technology standards, little more than a guidance chip bolted to a tube of fissile material and surrounded by the nanite mesh that everyone just called “goo”, which could mimic any shape and consistency required by its mission.
This AKV was guided over the Thar Desert towards Mirzapur by Agent Cassius Jiang from his home office. It could take any form as needed, but currently it was a grey aerodynamic tube, better for ballistic flight, as it was out of the engagement perimeter of any relevant AI, and therefore any relevant civilization.
The goo had changed everything. The nanite mesh could rebuild matter at an atomic level. It was abundant, and it ended manufacturing and cost as bottlenecks. Anyone could have anything the goo could make. Unless they couldn’t afford goo, or didn’t have an AI. But then they weren’t really civilized, were they?
Cassius sipped his tea as he guided the AKV past the perimeter of the AI of Pradesh. He sneered and put his teacup down, rubbing the side in a subtle motion. The nanites in the air began reconfiguring the liquid.
Pradesh wasn’t involved in the current skirmish, but any AI that detected fissile material in its orbit would react accordingly, usually devastating for humanity. This was why humans like Cassius guided kill vehicles. If they were autonomous, it devolved into AI vs AI warfare, game theory gone amok, and the deaths of humans by the millions. War at this scale needed human overseers. Humans had logic and reason.
Cassius grabbed his glass, now a lowball, and sipped Scotch built to the molecule to match 16 year old Caol Ila of the old days. “This is fine,” he thought.
The AKV sensed the seeking scanners of Mirzapur and transformed into a desert hawk, bouncing back lasers at the right frequency for feathers and blood. But a mistake, a subtle difference in the density expected of avian bone… Mirzapur noticed. Cassius saw the AI beaming itself to orbit and firing interceptors. “Close enough, now or never,” he thought, triggering the bomb.
Houses and buildings melted into the sand in a fusion of glass and steel. The dying cry of an AI would release particles with an energy of 10TeV as its core collapsed. Cassius saw nothing more than the expected signature of a low yield tactical nuke. He sighed. The AI had escaped to orbit. Mirzapur would survive, diminished, but they’d have no more AI, no more goo… they wouldn’t be civilized.
“Target missed,” he messaged command, and spun around in his chair to face the empty room. At his desire, it turned into a billiards room. He shook his head. Then a tea room, then a cafe looking out over mountaintops.
He sighed. Everything gets old after a while.
His chair shifted into a recliner and the wall reconfigured into a TV with the news on low volume. He drifted off into a nap. Life can be exhausting.
She stood at the kitchen counter, peeling an orange, her fingers digging into the flesh and pulling it away in strips to reveal glistening, unblemished fruit. She popped a piece into her mouth. It was juicy and tart, but not overly sweet. She ate a second piece, and then another. Perfect, like the first. She sighed and threw the rest of the orange into the bin beside her.
In trying to create the perfect product, they always neglected some minor detail—something which they no doubt considered to be a defect. Their Chicken tasted just like chicken, their Milk like milk, etc., but they were lacking some crucial element that she could never quite put her finger on.
Whenever she mentioned this feeling of hers to her husband, he’d become exasperated and explain yet again how these products were exact replicas of their natural counterparts, right down to their genetic makeup. But she could always detect a slight difference and she never felt fully satiated, no matter how much she ate.
There it was again. That sound. I couldn't tell what it was, but I am absolutely sure I heard it now. I can't tell if it's a male talking or a growl. Whatever it is , the pitch is too low for me to discern anything.
I quickly throw on my robe and try to stumble quietly as I attempt to find my house shoes. There. Again. Was it louder this time?
I really haven't been sleeping well. I don't need this at two o' clock in the morning. This is my life though: something always goes wrong.
I grab at anything on the dresser as I go out the door, thinking I need a weapon just in case. Okay, I guess my hair curler will do. It's solid. It can do a little damage.
Again there it is, but this time a little different. I'm silently going down the hallway to find and confront the source. I need this to stop because I have to get up with the suns.
I'm honestly terrified of what I might find. I'm realizing that the sound is almost in a pattern. I can hear it more frequently as I get closer.
It's definitely a growl. It has to be. Of course, my overactive imagination is telling me I'm about to fight a monster in my kitchen. I'm trying to calm down so that whatever it is won't hear my breathing.
I wonder what it wants, whatever is growling around the corner, as I take a deep breath to steady myself. Of course it would be this time of the century for me to have an intruder, with all the expensive gifts lying on the floor. Not to mention all the food I've been preparing for Feast.
Ok, I need to concentrate. Turn the corner fast. Keep my curler high. Protect my core. I think I'm ready.
I wait for a pause in the pattern and jump around the corner. I am confronted by absolutely nothing. I heard it again. It's really irritating my ears now. I think it's coming from the other side of the counter. I timidly step further into the kitchen.
I almost screamed when I rounded the corner. It took me a second to realize what that shape lying on the floor was. It's so foreign and alien to me still, I didn't recognize it at first.
I bought my niece a pet for her first Gathering. They just passed the Right to open one. I picked him up from the intergalactic shelter today.
A strange color of pink, with patches and a light dusting of fuzzy brown. What an interesting creature. He must have finished his dinner and gotten too full to move. I hope I didn't over feed it.
Having identified the sound, now I can relax and try to go back to bed. I'll just put on my sleep sounds to drown it out. I sure wish someone had told me humans could snore so loud.