The day after NATO’s final vote, Martina worked eight hours at the Space Port without major incident. From there, she did not go home. Instead, Martina remained in military uniform, tied up her hair, put it under a military beret, donned sunglasses, and set off for the bad part of New Jerusalem. Blocks upon blocks of warehouses and townhouses, many abandoned to their broken windows and rusty pipes. There, Martina calmly walked amongst the homeless people and whores and pimps. She felt no fear. She heard a few whistles, apparently calls to her. Despite her hair bound in her hat, she supposed she was hearing about the same amount as when she walked through the mall. Hopefully, no one recognized her, though it was hard to be sure.
Binto and McPepsanto and others at first refused to participate in a central city on Mars. Then, they insisted that Facrogle and BankBank and the others give them pieces of New Jerusalem. Then they blamed them for handing over bad pieces. Or they demanded that New Jerusalem pay for policing their warehouse district. Whatever the truth, one look at all the hookers and drug users in alleys made it clear that the police work left something to be desired.
After walking around for a few blocks, Martina finally saw two other uniformed soldiers. She was relieved, not because of fear, but because she had come to watch them. She stopped short, hoping that the soldiers didn’t take special notice of her.
One of them knocked on a door while the other stood on the sidewalk. A random woman answered the door while Martina watched. There was an app on her ring that read lips from fifty meters away, but she didn’t feel she needed it. When do you expect him home, Martina thought the soldier said. When he gets home, please have him call me, was the next part. He held up his ring in an offer to transfer data. When the lady shook her head, the soldier handed her a business card. The soldiers moved on to the next house.
Right, Martina thought. I have to get business cards made. Okay, no problem.
Martina came home, late, to see her father sleeping on the couch. She went to Drigo’s room and kissed his forehead. It was nice to see him without any reminder that he couldn’t walk. She went to Peoria’s room and kissed her blonde hair.
“Mom?” Peo stirred.
“Go back to sleep, Peo,” Martina whispered.
“Where have you been?” Her daughter was suddenly wide awake.
“I’m working double-shifts this week.”
“Does Grandma know what you’re doing?”
Ahem. “Everything I do, I do to keep you safe.” That wasn’t untrue.
“Go back to sleep, Peo,” Martina whispered again.
“Are you talking to me to keep me safe?” A jolt of déjà vu, like a snake bite. Martina remembered once saying those exact words to her own mother.
Martina stood up, holding herself to keep from shaking. She closed the door on her daughter, as her mother had just pushed her out of that meeting with Weaver.
Am I nothing but my mother? Martina asked herself in the hall. No. I’m going to succeed where she failed. Eliminate threats, instead of negotiate with them. Stop placating separatists. Which meant killing Rhodes. To help everyone, including her kids.
And to avoid being more maternal?
The next evening began in a similar fashion. Martina finished Space Port work and went to the ghetto dressed in her military best. She strode confidently down the dirty boulevards. She tapped her finger, and her ring projected its holo in front of her face. Here was the list she’d prepared.
She knocked on the door of the first address on the list. After a minute, an older man’s gruff voice came to the door. “What is it?”
“Hello, I’m with Mars United, can I have a minute of your time?”
“Can you open the door?”
He opened it; he was indeed a bent old man with a white beard. “One of your people was already here.”
“Great, can I come in?”
“I don’t see why,” said the old man, stroking his beard. “Where’s your partner? Don’t you people come with a partner?”
“He’s waiting down the street. Can I come in just for a minute?”
“I told the other person, my kid clicked the wrong site. He’ll fix the problem. We work for McPepsanto. He’s not back from his farm yet today.”
“Sir, I’m Martina Maciel, daughter of the Prime Minister. Can I come in? Believe me, if I were to do anything to disturb your house, the resulting scandal would look worse on me than on you.” The old man shrugged and let Martina in to his house. “Thank you,” Martina said. “So, you say your son failed to comply with the law?”
The old man stopped Martina on her way into the kitchen. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Sir, do you want to go to military prison?”
“Let me walk around here, and I promise you won’t. Stop me, and when the mothership gets here I’m going to make sure I use your son as a human shield.”
Martina was letting her ring cameras do her work for her. She’d put their data in another kind of recog program later.
“I guess it’s too much to hope,” said the old man, leaning on a doorway, “that you people would be like Jehovah’s Witnesses. You know, something more like ‘Hey, we have a great program, have you thought about it?’”
Of course, Martina had lied to this man. Martina was 75% sure he didn’t know that if her mother even found out she were here, there’d be a scandal.
“I know what you’re doing,” said the bent old man. “You’re filming my whole house, looking for General Rhodes.”
Actually, she’d just finished. “Do you have something to hide, sir?”
“Then we won’t have a problem,” Martina said, striding to his front door. In fact they would, if he posted any of this online. Hopefully Martina’s confidence would scare him off. She found it usually worked that way. Martina didn’t expect to have this much trouble with the other addresses on her list.
What she did expect, and what she got, were several cases where no one answered the door. In those cases, she left her business card, with a little inscription promising to come back the next day.
Upon coming home, she checked on Peo again. This time her daughter was waiting for her.
“Mom, are you looking for Rhodes?”
Oh, brother. “Peo, even if I were, you know I couldn’t tell you…”
“Mom, how many times have you told me to stay safe?”
“I am staying safe!” Martina could barely believe her voice had broken. “Peo, I’m very tired and I’m going to bed. You need to sleep, you have a lot of studying to do tomorrow.” Well, that was probably true anyway.
As Martina closed the door, her daughter gave her a this-isn’t-over look. Martina exhaled. She had not expected this war to increase her sympathy for her own mother, but there it was.
After the next day of Space Port work, Martina spent the evening visiting all the houses where she’d received no previous answer. Her list had changed slightly. She wasn’t particularly proud of this, but the evolving list was based entirely on internet conjecture. Mars United-loyal geeks had theories about where Rhodes might be. She collated the theories and checked on the likeliest places Rhodes might be hiding. Occasionally she would see another soldier in the ghetto as well. It didn’t matter.
Halfway through her third 16-hour day in a row – eight at the Space Port, eight in the ghetto – Martina began to worry about not seeing Drigo, about Peo staying up late for her. She decided: no fourth night of this.
The list of internet suspects wasn’t that long. There were only eleven homes where she’d left a business card during both evenings. It was time to stop being polite.
Martina banged loudly on one warehouse’s door for the third evening in a row. No answer. She withdrew her bo from her thigh, pointed it at the doorknob, and pressed the quick-release button. The bo extended it to its full two meters while smashing in the lock. With the door disabled, she easily pushed it open.
Martina knew what she would say if confronted. There’s someone living here who hasn’t registered. In about half the cases, this was true. In the other half – well, by the time of tomorrow’s scandal, she’d be done searching for Rhodes in the ghetto.
It was dark. This warehouse was a set of abandoned storage rooms. Well, she had to record every inch of it with her ring camera. Or did she? If no one was here, she could look for secret passages and hiding-places. Martina tapped her beret, switching on the Binto miner’s light she’d brought for just this moment. Rhodes would intuitively burrow, like a gopher, right?
Wrong. She found nothing. Ten more of these, she told herself, then she was done with the ghetto.
But what if he wasn’t in the ghetto?
“Ah-chooo!” Martina heard. Her heart jumped like a boball. She coiled herself into a prone position, holding her bo level with her head.
“Just come into the light,” Martina said to the darkness surrounding her miner’s light beam, “And I won’t hurt you.” No noise. Now the miner’s light had become a bull’s-eye.
What was I thinking? Martina thought. Her ring had a heat-seeking app. She tapped her finger to find it, scrolled past her list of contacts…
What was I thinking? Martina thought again. Call this in to Chee. Now.
Chang!, she heard, as a metal boot hit her jaw. She fell to the floor swinging her bo like a windmill, and it hit someone about two-thirds of the way through its arc. Without bothering to get up, she attacked the same space with three quick jabs.
She rolled across the floor only enough to avoid her attacker’s body landing on her. It was a man – good. More protection from his friends, now that he was unconscious. A tap to her ring switched off her miner’s light. Blackness. And now, footsteps echoing through this large ink-black room.
Martina brushed her face up against the unconscious man’s. There was something – cold and metal on his head? She looked over just for a second. Oh, he was wearing glasses. Double-take. No, he was wearing night goggles. Pìhuà. Grab them…
Bam! Hostiles came from all angles now, pummeling Martina before she could put on the goggles. She did push herself up with her bo and touch the walls. But they landed several bo blows anyway. There was a night goggles app on her ring but she had no time to scroll for it now.
Martina swung her bo in helicopter fashion. She pirouetted like a ballerina. She bounced like a pinball. Two shots hit her solar plexus squarely. She fell, winded. It was day for them, a coal mine for her. And this wasn’t a VG where they give you a brief reprieve; she felt three more bo blows to her head.
Martina knew she was losing consciousness. She had just had Chee’s number selected. She thought, if she could tap her middle finger to the right part of her ring in time…
A bo came down hard on her right hand. The glowing circuits of her smashed ring fell all over the floor.
Another wham to her head. “Good night, Martina Maciel.”
Her last thought as the bubble closed in her brain: she knew that voice…