3:00pm, March 13th. Prime Minister Norine Maciel and Chatterjee walked around the halls of the Mars White House. As they walked past various low-level functionaries, Norine glanced at her holo-screen, at speeches meant to inspire soldiers from Churchill, Tudela, Hernandez. None of them felt right.

Someone once said you don’t go to war with the army you want, but instead with the army you have. As it happened, their army wasn’t as bad as feared. Several thousand soldiers had flown in directly from Earth, on racing ships that moved faster than the mothership. Some of them had only a few years of pilot’s experience, but they still helped. The mothership could “only” carry 100,000 planes. Norine thus chose not to fear reinforcements coming to the mothership as some had come to Mars United.

So: about 39,000 planes to 100,000 planes, plus the g advantage. 28% was now the simulation number that equaled M.U.’s chance of victory. Every Aresian saw that percentage in the bottom right-hand corner of their screens. This was up from 8% six months before. Norine knew that many people misunderstood simulations; two soldiers don’t have a 20% chance of beating ten evenly matched soldiers. Two soldiers would have perhaps a 5% chance in that situation. 28% as an overall chance of victory wasn’t terrible.

Chatterjee said, “Madam, when are we going to stop…?”

“What happened with your cousin? Did he make it into the war room?” Norine had used Chatterjee’s cousin as a test of the security measures.

“Uh, yes, but we’ve fixed that now.”

“Did the generals find out about it?”

“It’s fixed. Madam Prime Minister,” Chatterjee complained, “is this really necessary? My feet are growing tired.”

“You activated the noise fillers, right?”

“Yes, Madam Prime Minister, my ring says they’re still on.”

“Tell me when your ring says everyone is in the room.”

“Of course, Madam…ah. I just got it. They’re there.”

“Great.” Norine looked around. No one had followed them, no one knew what they were doing. “Let’s go now.”

“Uh, Madam Prime Minister, there’s something you should know…”

“Let’s hurry, Chatterjee, I see an elevator coming, I want to round the corner before its occupants see us.”

“Yes, Madam Prime Minister, but…”

They rounded the corner, Chatterjee struggling to keep up with the Prime Minister. She opened the door to the Galileo Conference Room, entered, and shut it quickly again.

Norine looked around the table. The end chair nearest the door had been left vacant for her. There were the Ten-Percenters she’d asked for: Chee, Goldberg, Wittgenstein, Sapolu, Al-Basani. “All right, people,” said Norine Maciel as she sat. “Glad to see you here.” She noticed that the seat at the other end of the table was turned around. “Uh, excuse me, who are you?”

The seat swiveled around. “Your daughter, remember me?”

Norine rolled her eyes. “Martina, this is a private meeting. I need you to leave.”

“Oh, I’m not in this club anymore because I’m a cripple?” Martina asked.

“You’ve had all day to work on that line.” Norine could feel her temper rising. “That’s the best you could do?”

“I haven’t heard an answer yet,” said Martina.

“Yes, you have,” put in Chatterjee.

“Martina…” Norine rubbed her forehead. “Let me ask you something. Do you know where you are?”

“The Mars White House.”

“More specifically.”

“Uh…I think the door said…Copernicus?”

“Galileo.”

“I was close.”

“So. Why are we here?”

“Isn’t that my question?” asked Martina. Norine waited. Martina sighed. “I guess it’s the same reason I’m hearing that humming. You’re using an obscure conference room because…this is top-secret, even from some of your advisers?”

“Bingo,” said Norine Maciel.

“Yeah, but you can tell me.” Martina smiled.

Norine sighed, and looked around the room. Everyone was shrugging. No help there.

“All right, Martina. I’m only going to tell you because I value your help as a strategist. You are injured and forbidden to take part in the plan, got it?”

Martina nodded.

“And you’re sworn to secrecy. Even from our family, understand?”

“Well, this sounds good,” said Martina.

 

Thats it? That’s a terrible plan!” said Martina, a few minutes later.

“Thanks for coming to our party, nice lady,” said Goldberg.

“Look,” Martina exhaled with exasperation, “If we’re sending a Trojan Horse to the mothership, we don’t waste time with their Texrom energy cells. We take over their computers!”

“Martina,” sighed Chee, “do you even know if that’s possible?”

“Or just destroy the computers,” said Sapolu.

“Same question,” said Chee.

“I thought maybe you would know,” answered Martina.

“We ran the sims. The answer is about a 3% chance,” said Chee.

“I had wondered,” mused Al-Basani, “why we can’t just carry a nuke on there and detonate it.”

“Now you’re talking,” smiled Martina. “Death is inevitable, glory is not.”

“People, it’s too big for that kind of glory,” insisted Chee. “Anything we could reasonably sneak aboard would at best destroy one-tenth of the mothership. Much like our White House and war room, the mothership is designed with all sorts of redundancies, virus protections and failsafes, so if anyone destroys or takes over any one part, the rest can disengage quite easily.”

“Then here’s what I suggest,” said Martina. “First, we enter the mothership near as we can to their mainframe. Then…”

“Martina,” declared Norine. “You won’t be anywhere near the mothership.”

“But look, if I…”

“I need you directing traffic, especially with all these rookies. You’re more valuable to me at a desk at Armstrong Air Base. Would have been even without the accident. Just like I was during the last war.”

“You were pregnant with Julia!”

And I need your help with a special operation at Armstrong…that I want to discuss privately.”

Norine watched as Martina looked around the room for moral support. Even Sapolu wouldn’t make eye contact. Norine thought: good. “Mom, you would never say this if it wasn’t for…”

“Chee is going to be doing the same thing in the war room.” Don’t do it, mi’ija, Norine thought. Don’t make me talk about the injuries here. Don’t make me humiliate you.

“I’m not your dog, you can’t keep me on a leash.”

“Martina!” Norine had had enough. “You’ve been tested, all right? Even your arm strength is down 31%. That’s too much. And I don’t believe you’re telling the truth about your pain.”

“It was fine until just now.”

The two women eyed each other like opposing bobcats. Norine found she was actually looking forward to her next meeting, with the generals.

Chee finally figured out what to do. “Okay, anyway, so, when they get to the mothership, I was thinking…”

 

9:00pm, March 13th. Prime Minister Norine Maciel entered one of the so-called “bunker rooms”; despite her best attempts, no one called them anything else. Because they were by definition far underground, residents were encouraged to decorate them with holos that would simulate waterfalls and lush green hills and other pastoral surroundings. Norine’s husband Pablo, with the exception of a couple of holo “windows,” had eschewed the usual advice and decorated the room like an unholy combined Mayan-Aztec temple. The holos looked convincingly like uneven, broken ruins.

“Wow,” Norine laughed. “You certainly…”

“Shhh,” replied her husband. “I just got them to sleep.” Indeed, Peoria and Drigo lay dozing in their small beds. Norine took a moment to listen to them sleep. The feeling was better than the best Pharealth pill.

In the last six months, Norine had learned that the only thing she found more calming than the sound of soft water flowing was the sound of young children breathing during sleep. She suspected that the effect was biologically driven; cavemen could only rest when their children were at rest.

After all their modern technology, they were cavemen again.

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” Norine whispered. “What did Peo and Drigo say?”

“This isn’t for them, it’s for me,” smiled Pablo. “If this place goes down, our Mayan and Aztec heritage goes last. We’ll invent writing again if we have to.”

“Are there any good Mayan-Aztec war speeches? I need something to inspire the troops.”

“I’ll see what I can find for you. How was work today?”

Norine sat down. “Martina crashed my meeting with the Ten-Percenters. It doesn’t matter in terms of strategy but…I’m worried about her.”

“Yo tambien.”

“Then the war council meeting devolved into shouting over the use of Mars United’s nuclear weapons.”

“Some of them still don’t think the mothership will deflect nukes the way bos deflect bullets?”

“Actually, they’re now all on board with that. General Rainier suggested that M.U. shouldn’t use missiles at all – what if they were deflected back onto Mars, even into New Jerusalem? While General Hasan felt that even a .001% chance of a nuke evading deflection was worth taking – if it worked, game over.”

“That doesn’t sound like shouting.”

“Then other generals split ranks over whether to use them early, late, or right in the heart of the air battle. Then the argument began over whether the Asian Alliance would nuke back. General Rainier said no, because they didn’t want to look like conquerors. Some felt that if provoked, they might nuke less-populated parts of the planet as a lesson. General Hasan said that if M.U. didn’t nuke early, the A.A. would be tempted to hover its mothership directly over New Jerusalem; others felt that the A.A. didn’t need the reminder, and would keep its distance while its planes flew their sorties.”

“Sounds tough, mi amor.”

“The generals are floated all sorts of wild ideas. Give the A.A. control over all of Mars’ resources. Anoint Rhodes the Prime Minister. Give them every city except New Jerusalem. Ask the Senate to print a pool of a trillion dollars and hand it over. Surrender on sight and perhaps they’ll be merciful.”

“They don’t know you. You’ll never surrender.” She smiled weakly, sensing the implicit criticism. He put his hand on her shoulder, which felt nice. “So, what’s easier, a roomful of generals or a roomful of Senators?”

“I never thought I would miss some of those Senators.” Amy Mansourian had given Norine what must have been the longest apology of Norine’s life. I don’t want to…its Collins back on Earth…well, BankBank now thinks Mars United is a bad investment…I tried to convince them…I love you Norine and I believe in you and I believe in Mars United…Im so sorry. Blah, blah, blah. Yoshimura, Ngorongoro…less sentimental, same result. Their soldiers were still under federal control, for the most part, because the people of Twiya and Wazgretco and BankBank couldn’t exactly resist armed soldiers, but the corporations on Earth were a lot better at resisting calls for money and allegiance. Still, Norine well knew that loyalty by gunpoint only went so far.

“Well, I still have Samoset and Falke,” said Norine and they both laughed.

“One can’t go,” said Pablo with a knowing wryness, “as long as the other is there. What about Jodie Weaver, when is she leaving?”

“Oh it’s far too late. Uniparney on Earth recalled her, but she refused to go.”

Senator Guen-hye also remained on Mars and even in war council, but Pharealth was a special case: most of its citizens’ exemptions were based on providing medical care, and thus even the drug farmers got special waivers. Pharealth, and by extension Holly Guen-hye, couldn’t really desert New Jerusalem when its medical centers were about to treat tens of thousands of new customers, ahem, casualties.

“Now that you’re reduced to your most passionate supporters,” said Pablo with a twinkle, “your speeches cater to them more and more.”

“Which I predicted when I finished that book about Lincoln.”

“Oh, you and Lincoln. Just because he regularly called his Secretary of War ‘Mars.’”

“You have to admit, that’s something.”

You have to admit that no matter how this ends, things aren’t going back to how they were before this war.”

Right, Norine thought. If M.U. somehow won – big if, as Samoset said – Norine’s closest companions would divide the best of the spoils. The Senate would remain, but every Senator would now be chosen by direct election, and every corporation licensed on Mars would have an INVEST FAIR score of 90 or higher.

Or did Pablo mean something else? “Pablo…are you asking about Julia?”

“Since you bring that up, what are we doing about her?”

“I thought we agreed that she’d be safest in that snow globe with Aquinas.”

“That was before you talked about expanding the war to Olympus Mons.”

“I am not…that’s not Plan A. I have to keep all my options open.”

“If you direct the A.A. over there, you sacrifice her.”

“Aquinas needs her. We’ve listened to their messages. They don’t have enough females that can reproduce. They’d never hurt her.”

“They wouldn’t imprison her?”

“Pablo, you and I know Aquinas. He wouldn’t do that.”

“But we don’t really know what’s going on there, except for some intercepted messages. And we should have told Julia about those. She could have been our double-agent.”

“We ran the sims on that, it wouldn’t have worked. Aquinas would have figured her out. And besides, Pablo, you know she has always had this thing about peace. We have to let this play out her way.”

“Norine, if you turn the war there, Aquinas may use her as a hostage against us.”

“Pablo, the sims say there’s only a 20 percent chance that…”

Bastante sims! You remember the last 20 percent chance?” That was a mean thing to say, and they both knew it. Pablo looked away and inhaled as though he were about to apologize – but he didn’t. Norine waited.

Pablo knew about her waiting.

“Pablo, is everything okay…with us?” The last few months had seen terrible mud-slinging, including accusations of old affairs between Norine and Aquinas.

“You and I used to have more fun. You changed.”

“I didn’t!” Norine felt offended. “Look, we’ll get through this, and then we’ll have fun again.” He looked at her as though she always said that. “This time it’s different!”

He leaned over and kissed her. She responded. She didn’t expect this, but it felt great to go along with it. They made love, and it felt like consecrating the Mayan-Aztec temple.

Norine felt some of the weight of two worlds come off of her shoulders.

 

9:00am, March 14th. Norine knew this might be the most important speech she ever gave. Did speeches really inspire soldiers? The historical record was unclear.

Norine looked down at her holo at the message from Pablo. “You don’t need anyone else’s speech. You’ve got this.”

She stepped into the Octagon Office communications room and watched as the camera light came on.

“People of Mars, I’m going to be brief. Rhodes and the A.A. claim to be fighting for your freedom. In fact, they are fighting for the worst of both worlds, a dictatorship of corporate control. They will keep their promise to break up Mars into a confederacy, but what they don’t want you to remember is that perhaps one, at most three, corporations will have all the guns. At that point, they will dictate a very new org chart, with their favorites on top, and their least favorites on the bottom. No longer will the people of Mars vote for their leaders; no longer will non-Big 12 corporations rise and thrive; no longer will we be guaranteed labor rights, health care, baseline education, and minimum wages. The absolute freedom they extol means freedom for most of us to become slaves.

“I know Facrogle’s scrolls have labeled this event ‘The War Against Mars United.’ But the scrolls are wrong. We’re fighting for the Mars we founded. We’re fighting for something other than Earth 2.0, something other than Earth’s domination. We’re fighting for humanity to demonstrate it can live on one planet, together, in peace. We’re fighting for our freedom, and prosperity, and to ensure those, we’re fighting for corporations with high INVEST FAIR scores. This is the war for Mars United. We will fight for these things, and I believe that against the odds, we will win! God bless you all, and God bless Mars United!”

Norine looked down at the insta-poll numbers – lukewarm at best – right next to a computer image of the mothership as it approached Deimos’ orbital path.

 

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