Martina Maciel couldn’t decide who she was more furious with, her mother or her sister.
Her mother knew for months that she was outnumbered and outgunned, and had had to play a few long shots. But the resources she devoted to the Texrom battery dump – including the Ten-Percenters – could have been deployed in higher-percentage scenarios. I mean, fooling the A.A. into flying to Olympus Mons to restock energy? Back in the Galileo Room, her mother defended the idea by suggesting that Aquinas’ machine probably wasn’t working anyway, or wouldn’t properly connect to the mothership.
Wrong and wrong. According to everything Martina just heard at the door, the energy restock was going exactly according to the A.A.’s plan. Their planes were now repowering – at least 2000 had returned to full power. Great job, Mom.
Then there was the notion/wish/prayer that Julia, sitting in Darwin inside Olympus Mons, would help, somehow. That she would see the mothership connect to Aquinas’ ED-210, and sabotage the operation without direct instructions from M.U. Really, Mom was losing her power to predict moves and counter-moves. If Julia was even alive, she was no doubt one of Aquinas’ brain-dead acolytes now. It was true that by then, Julia should have seen planes flying under the mothership and realized she should be helping the wángbā war effort. But Julia always acted as though she was better than that.
Grrrr. If Martina wanted anything done right, she had to do it herself.
Martina could still win the war. She could succeed where her mother and sister had failed. She could make all these sacrifices, all the dead, all this destruction, worthwhile. She could keep Mars free. God, if you’re watching Mars, send me a sign that this is right.
At that moment, Martina heard voices rise on the other side of the door. “We have our visual! Planes from the west!” someone said in Mandarin.
“Their whole fleet is 988 planes,” someone else said. Everyone was jabbering now, excitedly.
“Shut up!” said Chan-Ocha’s voice in Mandarin. “How many planes do we have at full power, ready to blast?”
“2150” was the exact answer. Martina knew how to count that high in Mandarin – no doubt about the translation this time. “A thousand more in about thirty minutes.”
She heard Rhodes say, “We can’t let them hit the power cables.”
“We won’t,” replied Chan-Ocha. “On my mark…prepare to deploy the first 2150.”
Martina’s final text was ready; she had even left tombstone instructions. Martina looked at her contacts list, lingering in the “Maciel” area, and decided that if she was sending this text to her kids and her mother she may as well send it to her father as well. And all right, fine, only one close family member left, add Julia as well. Martina closed her holo – and her eyes – and pressed her ring’s send button. That was that, all right. She was now findable – if the A.A. was paying attention.
She opened the bathroom door with a soft slide. She looked out at the control room. It was just as she’d hoped, with Rhodes in the middle, not looking at her. She was at the moment of the final 10%. She could not fail. Death is inevitable, but glory is not.
She walked on her hands, like a gorilla. She’d practiced this so many times, she only had to close her mind, let instinct take over, and it was nothing. It was maybe fifteen meters to where Rhodes stood at the control panels with Chan-Ocha.
The first two meters or so went remarkably well. No one seemed to notice her; all eyes were glued to the screens. Could she really get this lucky?
No. General Chan-Ocha turned his head, squinting with a sort of disbelief, as though to say, How did this buzzing fly get in here? The General did a double-take, and reached for his gun. Martina withdrew her bo and let it roll to half-extension. She planted it vertically and let it extend to its full height as she pole-vaulted in his direction. With a motion as fluid as water rounding a bend, she picked up the bo at the instant that it no longer propelled her, unsheathed its blade, and swung the blade around, pointing it directly at Chan-Ocha’s neck.
Unfortunately, Martina’s exhaustion and her flipper-like legs caught up to her. She knew this might happen and tried to adjust – but in the moment of truth, she failed. Chan-Ocha managed to fire three rounds at her. One missed, and two hit. Her chest and stomach felt like fire.
But Martina had practiced getting shot as well, with rubber bullets. Just as the brain controls your arms and legs, it can exert a limited amount of control over your nerves and organs. You can direct blood to a certain part of your body if you focus very, very hard over several hours. And you can repress pain.
In this case, Martina’s repression didn’t entirely work. The real bullets burned much harder than the rubber ones. As hard as Martina worked to push away the pain and overcome the exhaustion, she still stumbled. Her bo’s blade missed Chan-Ocha’s neck by at least six centimeters. As she fell to the floor, she overcompensated with a final lunge.
That’s when Martina cut Chan-Ocha from neck to pelvis like she was gutting a dead fish.
On the floor now, Martina had to blank out everything: the two five-alarm fires from the bullets in her torso, the sumptuously bleeding general writhing beside her, the gasps and raised voices around the room, the sounds of air combat coming from the screens – all of it. Only Rhodes mattered.
As Rhodes swung around his body, drawing his gun from its holster, she swung her bo’s shaft around to the back of Rhodes’s knees. Direct hit, and he fell like a rag doll. She quickly shortened the bo to its truncheon length, and brought the blade to rest on Rhodes’s neck. How badly she wanted to snuff out his life…but she had to maximize her situational leverage. Take a page from her mother’s book.
“You move, you die,” said Martina. The pain in her chest was getting harder to repress. It felt like someone had stuck two flaming spears into her body and was twisting them every time she slightly moved. She knew she must have been bleeding, but she had no time to look down and check.
“Wow, you look like shit, and I really mean that.” Rhodes answered. “Anyway, are you crazy? You know how many of my friends are here?”
“Stand up and let’s find out,” she barely said.
Rhodes did as he was told. For a moment, Martina’s satisfaction at this ploy obviated the excruciating pain in her chest. Martina’s plan couldn’t work if they were down on the floor, but she knew she couldn’t stand herself up. However, Rhodes lifted her up to the point where her legs might have looked like they were supporting her weight. In truth, she was clinging to Rhodes with her left arm wrapped around his shoulders, but under the circumstances, that looked normal. It probably even felt normal to Rhodes, considering her right hand held a bo whose blade was pressed up against his Adam’s Apple.
Every single soldier in the room had a gun drawn on her. There were no fewer than twenty, all spread out in the circular room.
“Call off your planes,” said Martina in what she hoped was the right Mandarin, as she tasted blood coming out of her own mouth. “Call off your planes or I k-k-kill him.”
“Where’s General Chan-Ocha?” someone said, easy enough to know from Mandarin.
“She killed him,” said someone else, also easy to translate.
The pain throughout every nerve was giving Martina a sharp migraine. She couldn’t think in Mandarin anymore. “And I’m going to do the same to Rhodes if you don’t stop your attack right now,” she said in English.
“Shoot her!” someone said; Martina knew that Mandarin from about a thousand VG moments.
“No!” someone else said. Martina wasn’t sure, but she feared that the person followed up with something like, “Don’t you idiots see what she’s done? She knows we don’t care about Rhodes. She wants us to shoot all at the same time, so that we hit each other.”
“But she’d be dead too,” another soldier said – probably.
“Don’t shoot, you idiots!” shouted Rhodes in a heavily enunciated Mandarin that Martina understood. “I’m your commander now. Stand down!”
The smart one leveled his eyes at Martina and mumbled something; she made out the word “kamikaze.”
“They tried this in the battery room,” said a soldier, maybe. “Just make a half-circle, everyone.”
For just a moment, Martina caught the air war on the screens. Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. The last stand. If only she could be there with them…if only she could have done more for them…
“Stand down, you fools!” commanded Rhodes in his native language, a now-panicky English. “She can barely stand up!”
Martina saw the soldiers gathering themselves into a semi-circle. Still others wavered, perhaps questioning the authority of a general who wasn’t Chan-Ocha. Yes. She could have killed Rhodes on the floor, but her last attempt to foment dissension…was working.
Blackness in her vision. Chan-Ocha’s bullets had stopped the blood going to her brain. Finally, finally. She knew this moment would come. As it must to all people. As it did for some people…way too soon.
Martina whispered, “This is for my family,” and…she over-flinched. She didn’t kill Rhodes, in the end. She didn’t need to do it directly.
Shots rang out from all directions. Perhaps she was getting lucky, and a few of them were hitting each other. Perhaps there would be a control room melee, a struggle for power that might swing the battle to the Mars United jets for just a few precious minutes.
But Martina knew she wouldn’t live to see that. As she fell to the floor, she knew that she and Rhodes had been shot to ribbons. In the end, the bo had lost to the gun. But in the same end, Rhodes was no martyr, not worth building any future movement around. As for Martina…
So this is what she thought about as she died. As the darkness closed in, she hoped she’d done enough.