Red Planet Blues
by the Sf Site Forum
The fourth of July didn't mean much on Mars. Not when two thirds of the population weren't even human. And those who were human were hesitant to even mention the word "freedom" to those where weren't. Nevertheless, Calvin Winters left work early to mark the occasion. He hoped his supervisor, his son-in-law of all things, wouldn't give him a hard time just this once.
His big mistake, he realized later, was to stop at the water cooler and buy water to refill the water in his protective gear. Jeff was there, and he felt that the least he could do was to take the time to offer his condolences. But how do you express sympathy to a man whose first born son has tested non-human, especially when that man is your boss, your daughter's husband, and hates your guts? He didn't know, but he did know that if he didn't try he would be that much closer to being shipped back to the refugee camps, and that was something he never wanted to see again.
He followed up his clumsy attempt at sympathy by telling Jeff that the thumbots would be finished disinfecting the facility by morning, and he was taking off for the day.
Jeff Schmidt looked down on him from his seven foot height and said, "If you don't want this job, Winters, I'm sure I can find someone who does." What he wouldn't give to wipe that smug look off his face. A quick twist of his wrist to release the concealed phase cannon, followed by two short bursts from the vicious weapon, ended up doing so much more than simply wiping the smug look off his face. It was a lovely daydream, and by the time Winters snapped out of it, his boss was walking back to his office. As he watched Jeff's shoulders recede into the gloom, his thoughts turned towards the meeting he would have later this evening.
In theory, since he had a genetic code that tested within human parameters, Calvin enjoyed all the rights that every free human was guaranteed under the Corporate Charter. It took an uprising and the loss of two domes before the corporations would even sit down and talk. Now, everyone was walking on eggs, and the feeling was that the human citizens of Mars had their hard-won rights, just so long as they didn't exercise them.
He fastened the straps on his out-of-dome suit (less unpleasant than waiting for an hour in the tube line for a two minute ride) and began walking home. He only made it halfway to the front gate when he felt the ground shudder. His shadow leaped out across the Martian sands, and the heat of the explosion washed across his back. In a reflex you developed quickly on Mars, he dropped face down onto the ground in case there was flying debris. The sound itself was muffled, and for once Calvin was grateful for the thin Martian atmosphere.
At first, he thought that someone was helping him up; then he realized that he was being dragged to his feet, and his hands cuffed behind his back. His com link was offline so his yelp of pain went unheard. When he was spun around, he saw a man wearing a cheap imitation of a police uniform; one that could fool someone who was at a distance or who hadn't been arrested very often. The fake policeman was silhouetted against the ruins of the factory where Calvin worked. He gave Calvin a shove and said, "That way."
In the low gravity of Mars, a jump kick to the fake cop's face was almost too easy, but with his hands cuffed, he landed badly. Knowing that speed would make all the difference in this fight, he quickly slammed his heel into the other man's face, cracking the man's faceplate. This left Winters with a decision to make. Martian terraforming had proceeded to the point where the exposure might not kill the man if he was found soon enough.
Mind racing, Winters decided that he could not leave a man to choke on the barely breathable atmosphere. Painfully rising to his feet, he took in the devastation around him; it wasn't pretty. He sucked water from the spiggot inside his faceplate, knelt, caught the chin of his faceplate on the top of the faceplate of the fallen man, and spit water into the crack. The water froze, sealing the gap. He nudged his own faceplate back into place and gasped for air. Winters figured that should last him until the real cops showed up. But the Martians showed up first.
They weren't your stereotypical little green men, but they did have some features that made you think of those old time sci-fi vids. They had so much protective blubber that they were almost round, and their eyes rose from the tops of their heads on prehensile stalks. All nine of the eye-stalks were pointing at him. Still kneeling, Calvin quickly twisted his body as far as he could, trying to reach for the fake cop's pockets. He felt one gentle eye-stalk come to rest on his shoulder, while another dipped into the unconscious man's pocket and pulled out the handcuff control device. Telepathy wasn't Calvin's strong point, but he sensed some urgency in the Martians' behavior.
The cuffs fell away from his hands. As two of the Martians picked up still-unconscious cop, the third handed Calvin an envelope.
Before he could open the envelope, he felt through his feet the rumble of approaching vehicles, only dimly audible in the thin Martian air. Martian police never used sirens, but Calvin reckoned that he had only seconds left. He bounded across the Martian desert in the direction of his home. Luckily, human cops outside the domes were almost as eager to avoid confrontation as Calvin was. Nobody wanted another outbreak of the riots that had destroyed so much property.
Fairly soon Winters found himself in relative safety of his neighborhood. The sight of the neat little houses, each with its own airlock and air supply, its pocket nuke for heat and enough water to last two weeks in an emergency, sent a wave of relief flowing through him. He hurried inside, gulped down a glass of berry juice, switched on the wireless, and finally opened the envelope.
"Dear human and/or Martian," the message began. "You have been chosen because your neurodynamics show required stability at the edge of chaos. Bad times are coming. In such times, your unique attributes can be useful to The Spectrum."
It sounded like spam, and yet the Martians had saved him. Calvin never believed in stories about The Spectrum - a mysterious virtual space-time allegedly created and shared by powerful sentients from all over the Solar System.
Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon,
good evening, and good night! — The Truman Show (1998)