Martina Maciel woke up in what looked like a 2-meter-by-2-meter cell, lit by a solitary strip of neon in the middle of the ceiling. Her feet were bound and her hands were bound behind her back. Instinctively, she wormed her body through a circle made by her arms and Wazgretco handcuffs, to get her hands in front of her. Okay, that hurt a lot more than usual. Probably felt like it did for people who tried it without training.
Her ring – or what was left of it after that smashing – had been removed, but otherwise her clothes hadn’t been changed and she felt no soreness in her nether regions. Good, no rape. However, she felt bruises in about ten other parts of her body. Well, that was typical battle aftermath. Nothing was broken except perhaps her left hand’s middle finger. That didn’t really matter, except for the pain if she moved it the wrong way.
Of course, her bo was nowhere to be seen.
She needed to urinate. A bucket sat in the corner. She used it.
The steel door had no lock – well, not on this side. Its only feature was a head-size window-door at about the height of her head. She opened it and saw a closed window on the other side. Based on the cavity, the door was about 20 cm thick.
Martina considered knocking on the outer window. She could yell. But what was the point? Did they know she was awake? She looked around the room again: featureless. But hidden cameras came in all sorts of guises. She had to assume she was being watched.
They knew she was here. They would get to her when they felt like it.
Nothing to do but sit and wait.
Why was she more useful to them alive than dead? A hostage, probably. Martina had specifically and repeatedly told her mother to let her die if she were ever taken hostage. In one sim, her mother actually let it happen just to show her how well her teammates got on without her. But this was the first time it was happening in real life, and somehow Martina guessed that her mother wasn’t going to detach so easily. Not after how she’d reacted to John.
How much would a hostage situation derail the war effort?
Martina knew there was no point in struggling with the Wazgretco cuffs.
Hours passed. Martina remembered being knocked unconscious around 10pm; it felt like she’d slept all night. Instinctively, she felt it was now midday the next day. What were they waiting for?
Finally, the window opened and someone threw in a sealed plastic bag of some kind of oatmeal mush.
“Hey!” said Martina. “I want to see Rhodes right now!” The window closed again before Martina could see who was on the other side.
“Hey,” Martina called. “What are you afraid of?” No answer.
Martina shrugged, bit a hole in the bag, and sucked down the contents. Okay. Now what?
Martina sat facing the window, waiting for it to open.
More hours passed. Martina’s stomach churned. Did they poison her? But why go to all these lengths just to kill her that way?
At some point, the window opened again. She saw a person wearing a mask over his/her face. The person threw in a sealed plastic bag of what looked like water.
“Hey!” said Martina. “Let’s talk, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
The window slammed shut again. Martina shrugged, bit a hole in the bag, and drank down the water. Tasted like regular Mars water.
In sims, jailers waited to break you, to get you to talk. Martina had a bunch of useless-but-useful-sounding facts memorized for this exact situation. She’d already modified them a little in her mind, just to suit the current war operation.
One problem was that Rhodes knew about that kind of training.
Her stomach churned again. What the heck were they giving her?
There was no way to be sure, but it felt like night again. Had she been here 24 hours? Why? Had they issued demands to Mars United?
How were Peoria and Drigo holding up?
She could yell at the walls, but that wasn’t going to help, and it would look weak on any potential viral vid.
There was nothing to do but sleep. She curled into a fetal position and did just that.
Her stomach bothered her during the night.
She woke up with a serious thirst. Where was a bag of water?
Perhaps an hour later, she heard some clicking, and the door slowly opened. The light in the next room was relatively blinding, compared to her cell.
Martina stood up. She waited.
A voice said, “What are you waiting for?” It was the same voice she’d heard just before she was knocked out, the same voice she knew from the Binto City battle.
Martina stepped forward through the doorway, still not entirely adjusted to the light. She expected to be attacked immediately, probably to the head. But she wasn’t.
Instead, she came upon a woman dressed in form-fitting, indistinct black clothes, much like a ninja, though her face was uncovered and her long black hair was tied up behind her. This was the woman from the top of the BankBank Towers in Binto. In a businesslike fashion, without saying a word, she took a key to Martina’s cuffs and unlocked them. Now that Martina’s eyes adjusted, she could see that this was a medium-sized room, perhaps 4 meters by 4 meters. Besides her steel door, one other door permitted access to it. Two bos leaned against a corner.
“Where’s Rhodes?” Martina asked this ‘ninja.’
“Oh, he’s around. Why do you want to see him?”
“He killed my husband and paralyzed my son.”
“Actually, I planned that.”
Martina felt the blood in her veins turn to boiling mercury. “Who are you?”
“Thanks for asking,” she said, a little too chipper. “I’m Azalea. And you’re Martina Maciel. But everyone knows that.”
Martina was ready to pull this woman’s eyes out of her skull. But training said to pump her for information first, if possible. “Are you related to Rhodes?”
“I suppose everyone who works for him must be related to him?” Azalea laughed. “No, I’m not. Just a loyal foot soldier.”
“I bet you’re more than that,” replied Martina.
“Not really,” said Azalea. “You’re the ones obsessed with rank. For us, it’s more of a group struggle against your pìhuà.”
“What pìhuà is that?” asked Martina.
“Thanks for asking,” said Azalea. “You and your mother claim to rule based on the consent of the governed. Yet it’s very clear that many of the governed do not consent to your rule.”
“55% of Mars United citizens voted for my mother. That’s consent.”
“That disregards people who didn’t vote because they consider the whole Mars United government to be a sham.” Martina decided that Azalea was enunciating a little too clearly. They were being taped. Azalea planned to put this on the internet, if it wasn’t already streaming live.
“How are we supposed to get them to vote?” Martina enunciated. “More tax credits? Half of them are barely paying taxes anyway.”
“Well, not everyone is from wealth, like you and your family.”
“And no one has done more than my mother to expand opportunities to everyone, whether they came to Mars as miners or something else.”
“That was your promise. But you broke your promise. Your miners aren’t moving into the middle-class. Under your Facrogle-written policies they’re going to be miners forever.”
“No, that’s what you’re promising,” said Martina.
“Look at you, princess,” said Azalea. “You’re happy that poor people are going to remain poor.”
“Of course I’m not happy about that!”
“Oh, so you do admit it’s true?”
Martina took a breath. “I’m happy that murder and chaos and separatism and terrorism lost the war.”
“Yeah,” sneered Azalea, “Those are words that the big army always uses to discuss the little army. Probably the A.A. is using them right now when they talk about you.”
“So, I guess it’s right for you to set off a bomb in a children’s play space?”
“It’s regrettable,” shrugged Azalea, “But it happened because the federal government wouldn’t leave us alone.”
“That’s your government! That was settled a long time ago!”
“No, princess, it never was. And we will never, never surrender.”
“You think you’re smart, don’t you?” seethed Martina. “But you’re on the wrong side. We can both make cases about federalism and sovereignty, but you’re on the only side that makes their case by blowing up innocent children.”
“They weren’t innocent. They were yours.”
Something snapped. Without even thinking, Martina laid a punch into Azalea’s face. It hurt both of them.
Azalea shoved Martina into the corner where the bos lay. Martina grabbed both of them. With her left hand, she briefly stuck one bo in the corner to launch herself, lunging at Azalea, leading with her right hand’s bo.
Azalea barely dodged it, swinging her body to the right and then suddenly forward, yanking Martina’s left-hand bo out of her hand.
Both women re-adjusted. They faced off, each wielding her bo like a sword.
“Take me to Rhodes right now,” commanded Martina.
“Sorry, princess, but you’re not really in a position to be making demands. In fact, you’re not really in position.” She swung and attacked; Martina barely parried.
“You fight well,” said Martina, “Fight well in the name of slavery.” Swing.
“‘Slavery’ is such a buzz-word for you,” answered Azalea, “but you’re so naïve about it.” Parry.
“So I guess it’s naïve to be against slavery?” Thonk. Martina battled her like a fencer, banging bo into bo, swinging it back, counter-moving, counter-counter-moving.
“From Britain in the 19th century to America in the 20th century to China in the 21st century, industry was built on low wages in some sectors, higher in others.”
“Azalea, America abolished slavery in the…”
“Apple and every other major corporation built its wealth via sweatshops.” Azalea apparently thought to impress vid viewers by fighting and chatting at the same time.
Two could play that game. “That somehow excuses your under-paying farmers, miners, smelters, metalworkers…” Cha-bonk.
“Have you thought, princess, that urbans might be over-paying your movie gaffers, hospital bed-changers, pipeline workers, custodial staff…”
“You heard her!” Martina got careless, talking to the presumed mic. “They’re going to make citizens into slaves!” Martina knew that even if she beat Azalea, she wasn’t going anywhere. The other separatists would keep her until her mother surrendered – or until her mother got the better of them.
Thonk, bonk, gronk. “Hardly, princess. Corporate outposts who insist on remaining with Mars United will be re-structured for maximum efficiency.” Pìhuà. Martina hated being a liability. Use the frustration, Martina told herself.
Martina pushed harder, backing Azalea into the wall as she said, “You mean raided, like by pirates. Forcibly scrambled. Overturning centuries of continuity of union contracts. And what about your own employees who are no longer protected by a federal minimum wage?”
Martina thrust with her bo and leg at the same time, but Azalea managed to dodge by pushing herself into the wall and springing off of it to the other side of the room. As she landed she said, “They’re getting a raise, remember? No more onerous taxes?”
Azalea swung at Martina’s legs and Martina jumped. Azalea quickly struck her body with a powerful fist. Martina fell. As Azalea brought her bo around for another strike, Martina quickly thrust her bo at Azalea’s fighting hand, forcing her to re-group.
Martina and Azalea eyed each other like cats. Martina sensed this woman’s performativity, her accenting her moves. In a one-on-one viral vid like this, whoever won would appear to be the moral victor. That was just the way people’s minds worked. Martina refused to hand the separatists another propaganda tool.
“I guess I’m wondering,” said Martina, catching her breath, “these citizens who are fighting to pay less taxes, are they getting the maximum benefits from their efforts, or are their corps taking finder’s fees?”
Azalea suddenly lunged, and Martina parried. “That’s funny. We brought them to another planet for the opportunity of the millennium. We are also protecting their jobs from unfair competition.” Attack. Counter-attack.
“Thanks for bringing that up – can you clarify Rhodes’ immigration policy?” Spin. Turn.
“Can you clarify Maciel’s? It seems to be a constantly revolving door, with half the Twiya tourists over-staying their visas to startup the next contractor or middle-man business.” Swing. Classic bojutsu moves.
“That’s called capitalism,” sweated Martina, “and these Big 12 outposts have found a lot of creative solutions to problems they didn’t have on Earth, but those plucky entrepreneurs prove every day how much they missed. And why are you so scared of capitalist competition?”
“It is the very essence of a successful company to try to buy or crowd out its rivals,” Azalea said through regular parries that were wearing Martina down. “Maciel’s open-door, open-population growth policies decrease efficiency and increase chaos.”
Who the wángbā was this chick? Martina asked herself. She was as good as an advanced sim, as good as anyone she’d ever fought. But Martina was better, she told herself.
“It’s hardly surprising that people want to emigrate from over-crowded, over-polluted Earth,” said Azalea, “but unlike Maciel we don’t want to lose what makes Mars special.” On special, Azalea flinched the wrong way, and Martina managed to get her own right foot behind Azalea’s left shin for just long enough to push her down to the floor. Without a moment’s hesitation, Martina brought the long end of the bo down on Azalea’s neck. Martina moved her hand along her bo to find the button that would pop the blade, when Azalea managed to swing one of her pinned legs around Martina’s leg and kick the bo out of Martina’s hand. It fell to the far side of the room.
Martina never lost her bo. Never! Wángbā, shouldn’t have gone for the blade, she thought. But even while thinking it, she quickly brought her own left foot around and stepped on Azalea’s right hand, hard. Azalea didn’t scream. It was more of a sharp moan.
“In the end,” said Azalea, “I respect a pacifist like Aquinas more than you. Because you don’t even know what you’re fighting for.”
Azalea used her free left hand to punch Martina. Martina was surprised, then punched her right back. “Liberal democracy,” Martina retorted as she punched, “the essence of civilization since at least Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps since ancient Greece.”
“Both slave-owning societies.” Azalea put her arms around Martina and wrestled her to the ground. They both jibbed and jabbed as Azalea continued, “Anyway I don’t really think you believe in anything that abstract. What you actually like is bureaucracy and human-imposed order. You see the corps on Mars the way that a kid sees her Lego sets, or a scientist sees all the planets, and you want to impose some kind of top-down system that brings them to heel, keeps them all in a row.”
“How’s this for order?” said Martina as she grabbed Azalea’s ponytail. They punched and kicked like dogs in a dogfight. At least Azalea stopped talking for a minute. Azalea poked Martina’s eyes and Martina reacted by grabbing Azalea’s crotch. They both dug in for a second, then separated by about a meter, just to catch their breath.
This wasn’t bojutsu, thought Martina. This was jībā war.
Martina used her left hand to grab the back of Azalea’s ponytail again, finally getting a scream out of her. Another knee kick led to another parry and they were both on the ground. Martina found she barely had voice to say, “Legos and planets are part of finite, controlled systems” as she tried to get her legs over Azalea’s body…
“But is that how they thrive?” said Azalea as she yanked on Martina’s right ear, causing excruciating pain as Azalea flipped over, now pinning Martina. “Or would they thrive from more freedom?”
Azalea straddled Martina and pressed her attack with a series of body blows. Martina couldn’t take it anymore. She collected her last bits of strength and threw Azalea to the ceiling, a vintage 3/8ths g move.
Azalea reacted like she’d been doing the same sims as Martina. She bounced off the ceiling like a swimmer doing a relay. She pointed herself at Martina’s head. Martina managed to dodge, but that only brought Azalea onto her, Martina’s, solar plexus.
Now Martina could barely breathe. As she gasped, Azalea pressed her advantage. Azalea struck Martina ten more times in the head, neck and chest.
Martina writhed on the floor, pain coming from every part of her body. She had never been beaten like this, ever. Azalea somehow found the Wazgretco cuffs and clicked them back onto Martina’s wrists and ankles while shoving Martina to the door of her cell.
Martina barely said, “W-w-wait!”
Azalea caught her breath. “Yes?”
Martina didn’t want to be a helpless pawn in a larger war. But she couldn’t get the words out. “Y-y-you know why.”
Azalea used her bo to push Martina into her cell as she panted, “The minute I want you dead, you will be.”
The cell door swung closed with a loud Wham! Martina managed to crawl to a corner, where she shivered in a fetal position. She pushed her body once more in front of her cuffs, almost automatically.
Hoping that her back was to any camera, trembling, Martina held her shaking left hand in front of her face. At the bottom of her fourth finger, next to her wedding ring, was a wire-based scrunchie that Azalea had used to tie her hair.