Martina couldn’t get used to her house without John in it. She kept expecting him to come in the door any minute. That wasn’t as bad as the nights when she would dream he was alive and talking to her. When she woke up, it was like losing him for the first time all over again.
All her life, she’d dealt with frustration by focusing harder on training, often by hitting a punching bag or running a 5k. But she didn’t do that now; she felt that under the circumstances, she had to spend more time with her family.
When Martina came home from the Mars White House, she hugged her family tight. Peoria asked, “You want to play cards with us, Mom?”
“In a minute, mi’ija,” said Martina. Pablo was happily doing it, anyway.
God, Martina had always loved her father, but never quite as much as now. Pablo Maciel was deferential, whimsical, stolid, and quick to laugh: sort of a perfect house-husband. He was teaching Peoria history every day. He was cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, getting snacks – he was doing absolutely everything that Peoria and Drigo could possibly need. Martina didn’t have to lift a finger around the house if she didn’t want to. Every day Drigo seemed to improve a bit, and every day Martina thanked her father – well, in her mind.
Since losing her father, Peoria had really stepped up too. She’d utterly ceased any kind of sibling rivalry they once had, and was now doting on Drigo, playing any game he liked, losing to him every time. It was almost like Peoria was more naturally affectionate than her own mother.
Why hasn’t more of my father rubbed off on me? Martina asked herself. What’s wrong with me? It didn’t matter when playful John was alive, but how could Martina goof around with her kids, when it didn’t come naturally?
Growing up, Martina wasn’t interested in fun and games; she was more drawn to stories about female warriors. One thing she noticed about the girls in those stories was that they often suffered from what you could call “daddy issues.” Daddy was missing, or didn’t love the heroine, or treated her like a boy, and so she over-compensated by becoming hard as a brick or taking it out on the world or something. Martina never had daddy issues. Her father was always loving and kind to her. Pablo never made her work for his affection; he loved her unconditionally. And contrary to rumors, he wasn’t the one who showed her how to be tough. That was her mother.
Lost in thought, Martina almost missed the words wrapping around her wall screen: NATO NO VOTE MEANS NEW RIOTS IN GHETTO. She felt her jaw harden. These people were all separatists and separatist sympathizers. And yet, her mother had a plan to recruit them. Put another way, she had a plan to send soldiers door-to-door and demand that every able-bodied young person turn up for registration.
What was it going to be like to train these people? Martina wondered. They’ll be horrible soldiers, Martina guessed. No discipline, and even worse, since they’ve got those tough miner/farmer bodies, they’ll think they know better. Some might even have sabotage on their minds. They all know that the separatist mothership will be here in eight months. They might wait until just before, then crash a plane into a few other planes.
Like we don’t have enough problems.
“Mommy! Look!” said Drigo from the living room. “I just juggled three balls!”
“You juggled three balls?” Martina repeated. She hadn’t realized they’d stopped playing cards.
“Yeah, Peo just taught me!”
“Can I see?” she smiled, entering the room.
Drigo tried to do it, but the balls flew away from his wheelchair. Peo and Pablo and Martina all scrambled for them. Martina suddenly realized she was furious at her son’s disability and how they were to live now. She had been suppressing the feeling since the explosion, but at some point she had to face it.
“Okay, Drigo,” said Peoria, “Try again.”
He did, and the balls scattered again.
“Peo,” Martina said, “I don’t think we should push it. There’s lots of other games he can play.”
“Aw, Mom!” said Drigo.
“Martina mi’ija,” Pablo came over. “Go ahead and lie down. I’ve got them.”
Julia going AWOL had come at the end of Martina’s shift. She’d been up almost 24 hours; she was tired. She kissed her father on the cheek, walked into her bedroom, took off her uniform, crawled into bed and tried not to think about John not being next to her. As it happened, she fell fast asleep.
This time, it wasn’t a dream about John that woke Martina. This time, it was a beeping noise coming from her ring. But that particular beep meant…it couldn’t be?
Groggily, Martina scrolled her ring with her thumb until she found the right vid feed. Or wrong one. Her heart leapt into her throat. She called Chee at once. He picked up within seconds.
“Maciel, shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“I’m sending you a video. See it yet?” Martina was now wide awake. She put on her uniform as she talked.
“Yeah, I see it,” Chee answered. “Looks like the train station’s public feed. I see people getting on and off trains.”
“Since Melas traitors have been leaving Mars,” Martina checked over her bo, “I set up a face-recog-alert at the Space Port. Then I thought, why am I limiting myself to the Space Port? What about the train station?”
“Face-recog?” Chee scoffed. “Those things are about as reliable as lie detectors.”
“Look closely at the guy in the hoodie and the beard.”
“Martina, I’m telling you,” Chee said, “it’s…oh my God.”
“It’s him, right?”
“Meet you there. Got to go.”
So did Martina. In fact, she was already out her own front door.
She considered various transportation options, but she’d slept straight into rush hour and traffic was thick. She lived a ten-minute walk from Wang Jiangou Train Station. Time to make it a three-minute run.
As Martina ran, she blamed herself. Of course, General Rhodes was running out of places in Melas to hide. Of course, it made more sense to come to New Jerusalem. Much as she might like it otherwise, the army couldn’t search the house of every suspected separatist in the ghetto.
The NATO “no” vote was a perfect opportunity for Rhodes. After getting the word, he probably left on the next train from Melas. Of course there’d be increased chaos. Of course M.U. troops would be busy dealing with more people trying to leave New Jerusalem. Of course they’d forget about people coming in.
New Jerusalem was built like Old Amsterdam, meaning a surfeit of waterways. The centuries-old idea of “Canals of Mars” somehow retained its cachet, at least with tourists, who paid Twiya to drive boats through the capital. Martina sprinted through the tourist part of town, where the main canal had been built to Twiya’s specifications: just wide enough for two passenger boats to squeeze through, or about 20 meters wide. 1 meter less than Martina’s long jump record, though when she set that, she hadn’t recently broken bones in a battle.
This wasn’t about going viral, dishonoring the law, or doing on Mars what you can’t do on Earth. This was about the absolute quickest way from Point A to Point B. She looked ahead at the boat situation – clear if she hurried – extended her bo, planted it in just the right place, grabbed it as her feet left the ground and…
The tourists in the boats saw Martina soaring just ahead and just behind them. As she flew, Martina thought she heard a child say “Am I allowed to do that?” and a parent say “NO!!”
Martina touched down on the other side with about 5 cm to spare. She heard a few people say “Whoa!” as she landed in motion and carried on running, which is a lot harder than it looks.
Martina approached the façade of the train station’s main building. By this point, Chee would have contacted whoever was on duty. They should have already found Rhodes in the crowd, even captured him already. Right?
Martina ran right through the crowded main entrance. She swerved around a few people – only to crash! into another couple. A man’s suitcase popped open; clothes flew everywhere.
“Sorry,” said Martina, barely stopping. “Really sorry.”
“Well, I…!” started the man. “Wait, are you…”
Looking back, Martina somehow combined a shrug and a smirk as she scrambled into the soccer-field-sized main room. She thought to say I get that all the time…crash! Another random pedestrian. Despite what Julia thought, Martina really didn’t have time for fun and games. She was already five feet away from this pedestrian when she flashed on the millisecond of the impact, the moment she’d seen his face…
She turned around. RHODES.
Martina froze, as when a glass falls from a table and one can’t make oneself move before it hits the floor. Rhodes squinted at her, smiled, and bolted out of the station faster than its trains.
Martina heard a faraway soldier yell “Stop that man!”
NO, Martina thought. She ran after Rhodes.
Back on the streets, sprinting now on the opposite side of the street, somehow Martina had time to think: yeah, great man, future leader of the confederacy of Mars, yet he’s running like a scared chipmunk. Maybe it was better if she didn’t catch him right away, so that a hundred vids could capture just what a coward he really is.
Nah. Better to kill him.
And she had to hurry. The other soldiers were right behind her. They’d want Rhodes alive, especially with all these people around. They wouldn’t want the bad publicity, and the Prime Minister preferred him alive. In this case, Martina didn’t care about publicity or what her mother wanted. For what he did to John and Drigo, Rhodes had to die. If she was a man, no one would question her. Blood for blood.
She’d already have caught him if she hadn’t sprinted to the station in the first place. And that canal leap didn’t help. Her legs felt like burning rubber. A light was changing up ahead. If he got past it and she didn’t, he could get away – or at least make some serious distance. NO.
She withdrew the bo from her side and extended it to its fullest. She stuck it to the ground and vaulted herself half a city block – an all-or-nothing gamble, because if she missed him, or landed wrong, he would easily get away. She managed to stick the vault, keep grasp of her bo, and land on his leg. He kicked her – but to no avail. She threw herself on top of him.
“You killed the love of my life!” she screamed, pressing her bo into his neck.
“Wait!” the squirming man said. “Wait! I’m not Rhodes! I swear!” Didn’t sound like his Queen’s-English accent. The man pulled the latexish mask off of his face.
She touched his face. He wasn’t Rhodes. She cried, “Then what the heck are you…” Her heart sank as she realized she knew the answer.
As the other soldiers ran up, one said, “Ah, wángbā. He’s a distraction.”
“That’s right,” the doppelganger said, breathing hard. “And Rhodes is here, but at this point you’ll never find…” WAP! Martina punched his face.
“Colonel Maciel, I think that’s enough.” A soldier pulled Martina to her feet. “We don’t want to do anything too crazy out here on the street.”
“Excuse me, lieutenant, do you out-rank me?” asked Martina Maciel.
“Well, uh, no. But don’t we need him alive for questioning?”
“Alive?” asked Martina. “Oh, why didn’t you say so?” She kicked the jībā hell out of this imposter, until blood poured from his ears. She looked around at the dozen onlookers with their ring-cameras. She could imagine the down-votes on both worlds.
Martina rested her gaze on her fellow soldiers, who hardly seemed less horrified. “He’ll live.”
But she didn’t feel any better. Wángbā all to hell.