Julia was reeling in and out of consciousness. Images flashed: Kenyatta, Mom, sims training, Martina, Aquinas, Godfrey, Olympus Mons, the mothership…Mom. Never surrender.
Julia had to fight back. Had to. Whether it made sense or not, she couldn’t die on her knees.
Or on her back. She began resisting, pushing, shoving…but then found she couldn’t move. She was frozen in place. The New Dagrebians were still pushing to pummel her. Jībā. No.
“Back off!” Julia heard someone say from beyond the dogpile that trapped her. It was…Isabel. And she was using her bamboo bo to swat men off of Julia like they were so many flies on a pie.
They all backed up. No surprise there. For about half of the bachelors in New Dagreb, Isabel represented their best hope at procreation. They weren’t going to strike back at her without thinking about it first.
“Julia?” Isabel cleared away the rabble and stretched out her hand. “Julia! Julia, are you okay?”
Julia’s gut felt like a boulder had fallen on it. “Uh, I don’t think ‘okay’ would cover it, no.” Isabel helped her to her feet.
Julia heard the hum of geo-thermic energy as it was being transferred to the Asian Alliance, and her eyes followed the enormous cables upward, where they were still connected to the mothership. Were there…planes up there? Trading fire? Or was she just seeing dots because of that beat-down? Was that…a pink plane? It had to be. That meant Sapolu. The Ten-Percenters were still fighting…was Martina up there?
Wow, the war for Mars wasn’t over. But of course it would be, as soon as the mothership powered up from Olympus Mons. Her mother and father killed while she sat here…her mother, fighting for the freedom of a planet…
Godfrey was furious. “Kill her! Kill anyone who resists!” The men hesitated. “What the hell are you waiting for?!”
Isabel cut Godfrey a glance. “What happened to peace?”
“Peace through strength!” Godfrey screamed.
“You mean peace through war,” said Julia.
“I’ll do it myself, then,” said Godfrey, and withdrew a pistol from his jacket. Everyone in New Dagreb gasped to see forbidden weaponry. As they gasped, Julia withdrew a bo and extended the stick to its fullest.
“Where did you get that?” shrieked Godfrey.
“Where do you think?” answered Julia. “Men can never resist a new Applokia product. You might have at least put it somewhere in your bedroom that was harder to find.”
“This is what happens to the enemies of New Dagreb,” said Godfrey, firing on the two women.
Julia’s bo was already spinning and had its magnetic effect; the bullets went around Julia and Isabel and hit several men.
“Godfrey, stop firing!” Schlomo pleaded.
“She’s killing you, not me!” shouted Godfrey.
Julia approached him, keeping her bo spinning. Was this the moment? Would the town now join her, or at least not kill her? As her bo reflected the bullets, as she came within meters, he hesitated, looking away, perhaps for his father’s help. She threw her bo right at his right arm, and scored a direct hit. The gun went flying out of his hand.
“Please!” Godfrey bawled. “Don’t let her kill me!”
“I’m not really going to…” Julia said, but by then Isabel had recovered the gun. “Isabel, please don…” Isabel shot Godfrey six times in the chest, until the gun was only clicking, no bullets left. Godfrey fell over right in front of Julia, dead as a meteorite.
Julia didn’t care. And for her, that was an even stranger feeling than the feeling of seeing a mothership. It wasn’t simply because of who Godfrey was, or what he did to Kenyatta. No, this was different. Martina had had a point. Sometimes, sacrifices are necessary.
Voices shouted, but Julia didn’t look at them. “Kill her!” “No!” “She’ll kill us!” “She didn’t do anything wrong!” “Get her now!” “You stay away from both those women!” Suddenly a bamboo bo swiped in front of Julia’s face. Some instinct made her duck. The attacker’s follow-up swing would have had Julia in the gut, but it was blocked by another bamboo bo. Another instinct made Julia fall to the ground, prone. Two men were fighting over Julia – not over her, but literally over her.
Julia snapped to attention. She rolled away from them, seized her bo from near Godfrey’s body, and looked around at the melee. Half the town was fighting the other half. Normally, Julia opposed violence, but in this case, she considered it a release of necessary tensions.
There was still time, but not much. This wasn’t a VG, where Julia could escape the melee and they might forget about her. Any cluster of them could lunge at her at any minute. She didn’t have a moment to waste; she ran for the machine. Dr. Aquinas had his hands on two of the machine’s levers. He massaged them as though he was the machine’s dance partner.
“This isn’t the way, Julia.” Dr. Ramsey, standing by Aquinas, spoke in a calming, half-patronizing tone. “Now, look, Aquinas has made some mistakes. Everyone has. But you and I know that violence doesn’t solve anyth…” With that, her bo moved quick as lightning and struck him in the jaw.
He staggered to one side, more out of shock than pain. His mouth bled a strawberry red. “Mah thongue,” he barely said. “You mathe me bithe mah thongue.”
“Keep her away from the machine!” ordered Aquinas over his shoulder.
“No, you get away from the machine,” Julia said, standing behind him. “I don’t want to hurt you. I believed in you.”
“Little girl,” Aquinas took his hands off the levers and turned to her. “You couldn’t hurt me if you tried.”
Julia swung her bo around; Aquinas caught it and seized it. For just a moment, Julia was so stunned that she forgot to move, but then sprang forward into a flying kick. Aquinas managed to block that with her own bo, but her counter-move brought her other foot around on the back of his spine. It was a blow more painful than she meant, but he left her no choice. He fell to the ground writhing in agony.
Julia seized the bo and pushed it onto his throat. He gasped. She looked over the controls of the ED-210. Ramsey was a few meters distant, holding his bleeding mouth. The other New Dagrebians fought each other maybe ten meters away. Julia said, “Tell them to stop fighting, now.”
Aquinas shifted his eyes to the melee and back to Julia. “I think my side is winning.”
She swung the bo and whapped him in his ear, which began to bleed. She turned back to the ED-210.
“Julia, wait!” said Aquinas. “Please, please don’t turn off the machine! You’ll kill us! The Asian Alliance…look, perhaps I was wrong to enter into agreement with them, but now that I have…if I back down on it, they’ll kill us. That’s what I meant before. You understand that they have that power?”
“Yes. Yes, I do,” mumbled Julia, not glancing at him, keeping her focus on the rattling levers of the machine.
“You don’t really know how it works!” pleaded Aquinas. “You barely touched it before! If you misuse it, you may break it, and cut off all our power, all our water and food.” Aquinas was up on his elbows. “Please, Julia! I know what happened to Kenyatta was wrong. But your current course would kill every single New Dagrebian. It may…it may be too late to save the rest of your family. But you can still save all of us.”
Now she looked down at him. “Wasn’t that supposed to be your job?”
“Please, Julia. Leave the machine running.”
“You’re really used to people doing what you say, aren’t you?” Julia pushed the bo’s butt into his neck. “Most of your life, people have done whatever you’ve said, haven’t they?”
He winced at the bo and at his back pain. “What do you want me to say, Julia?”
“Yell at them to stop! They’ll listen to you!”
“…Admit that what you really want is my apology.”
“No. I want you to apologize to everyone in New Dagreb. I want you to admit that you’re a false prophet and that like every other pacifist, you need war to bring peace.”
“Do you hear yourself, Julia? Like every other pacifist? Like you as well?”
“You know, leader, you’re right. Before I met you, I wouldn’t have sacrificed a single person to save Mars United. But you’ve changed me…just not the way you think.” She turned back to the ED-210. Kill two hundred people and myself to save the planet, or not?
No choice at all, really.
“Julia,” said Aquinas, rising to his knees, “I swear the Asian Alliance will kill us all without a moment’s hesitation. Please, whatever you do to me, don’t turn off the machine!”
The faintest of smiles crept over Julia’s face. “Who said anything about turning it off?”
At that, Julia pushed all the levers to their maximum setting. Then, using her bo as leverage, she broke off the handle of each lever.
Aquinas ran to his creation. “I…I can’t reset them. My God, you little…bitch! Do you know what you’ve done?”
They all heard a rumbling like the sound of ten buildings collapsing. Everyone in the melee stopped fighting.
Well, that part worked, anyway. “I think so,” Julia answered. “Same thing you guys did seventeen years ago.”
“We weren’t in the volcano at the time!” said Aquinas. “And we didn’t go to maximum…my God!”
Julia looked up at the mothership. Did it experience any kind of over-surge in electricity? If so, there was no sign. Outside the snow globe, large plumes of lava popped out of the lava bed, shooting all around the cone. And then…incredibly, the walls of the side of the volcano began to…get lower? No, clearly the lava bed was rising, carrying the snow globe with it like a spider in a well surging with water.
Aquinas looked as though he was about to slap Julia. “You’ve…Olympus Mons is…my God! Do you know what sort of forces you’re dealing with?!”
“I don’t know, Doctor. Do you?”
“This isn’t funny! Because of you, we’re dead!”
“Oh, come on, Peter.” Doctor Ramsey sounded reflective; Julia suppressed a giggle at the use of Peter. “This dome survived a long time in space. See, the bottom is holding stable.”
“Yeah, how many times while it was in space did this dome get shoved into a spaceship the size of Mexico City?” Aquinas spluttered.
“Well,” began Ramsey, “If you…”
Aquinas interrupted, “Or get hit by a death ray from the same ship?”
Julia looked over at the crowd. Everyone was frozen in place like statues in Pompeii. Hmm. No need to push that analogy too far.
Awed and slack-jawed, the Dagrebians were holding their breath. Julia knew she might have written their death warrants. And she felt…a remarkable sense of freedom and power. Presumably how her sister felt all the time. Not a bad feeling for the end of one’s life.
On the other hand, the snow globe might survive. It lasted almost two decades on a lava bed.
On the other other hand, that might have weakened it.
The cables still seemed to connect the snow globe and the mothership, though the extra slack caused some of them to fall below the lava line. Julia heard a bzzzzzing sound; the lava had melted the cables somewhere underneath the dome. A bit of cable still clung to the dome, like the sprout of an onion. Whether or not the mothership was receiving power, Aquinas’ machine was still over-producing it. The machine she broke operated the volcano by remote control. And…probably she had triggered a chain reaction that, by now, nothing could stop.
Up, up, up the snow globe went, like one of those pucks in an old-time carnival after someone hits the lever with a hammer. The lava under them was surging, seething, spewing, even making odd belching noises. Looking at the rocky brown walls of the volcano made it seem like they were in some prehistoric elevator, or perhaps the largest mineshaft on two worlds.
The snow globe couldn’t hold its place in the center of the lava bed…it drifted into a rocky wall. Several New Dagrebians screamed, and more gasped, but the dome withstood the minor impact. Even the gravity floor held, although they could certainly feel it shaking. Julia recalled that the same propeller jets that had steered it into the lava bed’s center – the ones that had awoken her – could probably submerge it into the magma, where it might be safer, the same way a surfer dives into the tide.
Or it was way too late.
Julia looked at Aquinas. She half-expected him to yell at his subjects that this was all her fault and that they should kill her. Instead, he looked terrified. Ramsey looked as though he half-expected all of this to happen already.
Splash! A grey airplane crash-landed in the lava about 50 meters away from them and sizzled as it sank. Oh God, Julia thought, that poor crew. She had no idea which side they were on.
She realized she hadn’t entirely lost her empathy. Okay, good. An even better feeling for the end of one’s life.
The mothership was looming closer and closer, almost as though they were falling onto it from above. Julia realized she could now make out details on the mothership. The thing was quite ornately appointed, for a big spaceship. It was apparently called Anahita, and it was almost beautiful.
Well, not for long, she thought.
Julia could now clearly see the jets in combat just below the mothership. Julia could just make out the markings of Mars United. They were ignoring the Asian Alliance planes in pursuit, and trying to shoot the cables. Like trying to hit a raindrop with a pellet gun. One M.U. plane made it through their blockage and took a clean shot, but missed. Julia found herself rooting for that little M.U. crew, even though she wished she could tell them that they were wasting their time.
Without warning, a gate opened on the bottom of the ship and the death ray came out. It incinerated a plane about two kilometers above Julia’s head. “No!” Julia couldn’t help but say.
The mothership and the planes in combat were behaving as though nothing had changed since Julia stuck the levers. Were they crazy? Did they not see what was coming? Or was Julia crazy?
Then, the mothership flinched. Julia could see from its sudden humming that the motors had been activated. Someone onboard apparently realized that the connector cables were now hanging uselessly into a bed of rising magma.
Now, Julia heard gasps amongst her fellow Dagrebians as the snow globe rose to the top of the great caldera. For a moment, everyone in New Dagreb had a view unlike anything seen on either planet: the spectacular, truly unearthly beauty of the Tharsis Bulge all around, snow on the edges and on the sides of the caldera, planes crossing each other in the air above and a sky-covering ship above all of that.
One of the Mars United jets seemed ready for the emerging dome’s appearance. It flew so close to New Dagreb that Julia thought she could almost see the plane’s pilot. Was it – Chee?
Julia had less than a heartbeat to consider it, because the bed of lava did not stop surging. The momentum pushed the snow globe off of the caldera, where it hung in the air for a few vertiginous seconds – Julia said to herself I love you Kenyatta, I love you Mom and Dad and even Martina – before smashing into a part of the mountain, perhaps 500 meters away from the top.
Inside New Dagreb, the impact felt like being in a car crash. Julia got tossed around the grounds. Julia heard glass shattering all around, saw parts of Aquinas’ mansion falling everywhere. It was probably something like the equivalent of a 10.0 earthquake. If Julia had been inside one of the dome’s homes, the last thing she would have seen was the roof collapsing onto her head. Because they were “outside” – on the massive lawn on Aquinas’ estate – the only roof to worry about was the ceiling of the dome, which cracked widely, like a windshield hit with a brick. But…it held.
Not that it was anywhere near over. Like a falling boulder, the dome crashed and tumbled down the mountain. They saw shards of the mountain’s ice shattering all around them as the dome rolled well ahead of the surging lava. New Dagreb shook and shook and shook, and everyone screamed, and shards of the snow globe fell, making holes in their overall roof, but…somehow it mostly held. After that first major impact, even the floor mostly kept its gravity – it had been designed with a weighty bottom and a rotate-able outer shell, so that it could keep its orientation even in space. That said, this was by far the worst earthquake Julia had ever felt, and she’d grown up on post-terraformed Mars, where the tectonic plates were still shaking from all the Tharsis-drilled nukes.
In the midst of the chaos, Julia realized Ramsey was looking at her. “You’re thinking to damage the mothership with magma?” he asked her. “You do realize it’s made of the same stuff – or better – as our snow globe, right?”
“What about the power of force?” she replied, and when Ramsey didn’t answer, she felt comfortable looking at the mothership – as much as she could, with all of New Dagreb’s shaking and tumbling. At the caldera, lava seemed to blow only over the side, and the mothership looked as though it was about to float north out of the way. For a moment it looked as though the whole volcano eruption was about to be for nothing.
Then, out of seemingly nowhere – outer space? – another squadron of something like 1000 planes appeared. Julia did not recognize their markings unless…they couldn’t be from New Moscow? But the Russians had never helped M.U., and besides wasn’t Russia part of the A.A.? Had her mother somehow procured their planes?
The New Muscovites, if that’s who they were, attacked the mothership ruthlessly, even suicidally, from the northern direction. They were like hundreds of bees stinging an elephant…and they arrested the big hulk, at least for a moment. Many M.U. fighters joined the Muscovites’ attack. And then, the mighty mothership stopped stopping, pushed forward, aimed its death ray at this group of ships, and began picking them off.
Then: a fearsome, terrible rumbling sound, as when thunder and lightning strike mere meters away from you. It’s as though nature is telling you to stop moving – and everyone does. But lightning ends in a heartbeat, while this continued for seconds…and seconds…no one moved…
Julia looked at Aquinas and Ramsey, next to her; even their fingers had stopped twitching.
“Krakatoa in 1883,” Dr. Aquinas said on her look, “was the largest explosion in recorded history. It was heard from Africa, more than 5000 kilometers away. This may be our last…”
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM was the sound Olympus Mons made. This was the way of major eruptions, Julia knew from school: increased lava, increased lava, and then the sort of surge that looked like a massive, skyscraper-sized geyser, a living tower of lava, ash and smoke. Everyone in New Dagreb – even Aquinas – gasped as the solar system’s largest mountain shot lava and soot and ferrous chemicals into the air with a force that looked and felt Biblical. The mothership was almost directly in the path of the raw geothermal power. It was suddenly surrounded by angry smoke, apparently taking a direct hit.
The mothership was now surrounded by smoke and there was no way to tell.
After what seemed like hours to Julia, but was probably only a couple of minutes, New Dagreb rolled slowly to a stop. The low grade of Olympus Mons had saved them. Had they rolled down a steeper mountain, like Mount Sharp, their momentum might have killed them no matter how strong the outer bubble.
After the dome was finally at rest, Julia watched as the citizens of New Dagreb carefully rose, shook off their fear, and hugged each other for dear life. Any old enmities from the fighting were long gone. They were mutual survivors now, and euphoric to be alive.
Julia was almost as thrilled for them. She had hoped for this, while at the same time she’d been ready to sacrifice everyone in New Dagreb. Despite everything she said and even thought, she had finally become her mother.
Just then, a wave of hot ash discharge smothered the top of the dome. It fell through the now-open cracks, burning a few Dagrebians. There were screams and gesticulations of panic, but the wave stopped as soon as it started. Perhaps five people weren’t getting up; Julia ran to them. The town sprang into action and pulled them all into one area for Doctor Ramsey to attend. The victims were lucky; they had burns, but they all looked as though they’d survive, with Ramsey’s help.
Oddly, Isabel came over and hugged Julia. Julia hugged her back.
The hot ash mostly slid off the globe, and Julia could still see most of the action at the caldera. Lava was rolling down the hill toward them. But the snow globe had fended off lava for 17 years, it would hopefully fend it off again…if it wasn’t too damaged and if the lava didn’t rise too high.
Was any of it worth it? Julia wished she had binoculars. The plume of volcanic smoke still surrounded half of the visible sky. As Julia squinted, she thought she saw – planes? Coming out of the unthinkably large smoke discharge? Yes. No bigger from here than mosquitoes on a porch, but she could still see them. She could even see that they were in an air war. And she could even see – wait. Some of them were barely planes at all. They were like little eggs.
That meant escape pods. And that meant that the mothership was…could it be?
Before she had time to finish the thought, the edge of the mothership became visible through the clearing smoke. The massive spaceship was tilting, though from here it was no more than the size of a Frisbee – a Frisbee knocked off of its axis.
And then…the mothership exploded with a horrendous booooooom. Or…did it? The smoke made it impossible to tell, but Julia saw something like old vids of stars exploding. Only in this case, the force of the explosion scattered all the planes around it; they reacted like dead flies in a gas attack, limp and helpless. Many planes burned up in the fire of the explosion, many crashed on the mountain, and many around the edges seemed to right themselves and fly again. New Dagreb was lucky not to get hit by any planes; Julia thought she could feel the heat from the explosion, though it could have been…the lava?
The lava was now all around the snow globe, but it didn’t seem to rise very high. The New Dagrebians would probably not die from, well, that.
Now, Julia could see that mothership hadn’t truly exploded. Perhaps that was merely the Texrom battery area. The ship was, however, a flaming husk, far larger than New Jerusalem. And now…that flaming husk fell right onto the top of the mountain’s equally large caldera. After a minute, the volcano’s smoke and ash stopped. The ship was large enough to block the hole! It didn’t seem real. Julia was afraid her stunt would increase global temperatures by 5 degrees, but perhaps, if she got lucky, this meant that it wouldn’t.
Some planes and escape pods were trickling out of what was left of the ship, but Julia could see the Mars United planes picking them off.
A wave of exhaustion hit Julia like a high tide. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.
Julia then noticed that a circle of people had surrounded Aquinas and Ramsey. A circle? Try the whole town, she realized. If the Dagrebians had been divided before, they sure looked united now.
“You lied to us!” Julia heard Ezekiel say.
“You sold us out!” said Schlomo.
“How long have you been lying to us?” asked Bridget. Ah, Bridget.
“Listen to you, my children!” began Aquinas, and Julia heard the panic in his voice. “My entire life has been dedicated to keeping you safe and at peace. And now, that woman has attempted to kill all of you…” He was pointing at Julia…
…but a piece of debris hit his pointing hand. “Shut up!” someone said.
“We’ll deal with her in a minute,” said Isabel. “First, you explain yourself.”
Aquinas paused. “You…just killed my son…violence never solves…” Another rock came out of nowhere to hit him in the eye.
“Explain!” said a dozen voices.
“L-l-let’s not blow anything out of proportion,” said Aquinas.
“Which part are we over-reacting to?” shouted Isabel. “Our city being destroyed, our anonymity gone forever, or your betrayal?”
“I did not…I can explain!” pleaded Aquinas. Julia pushed her way to the front of the circle. She now saw that at least a dozen people were brandishing rocks of debris that were the size of cats. “L-l-look,” said Aquinas, “They f-found us. The Asians contacted us. We had no choice.”
“Liar!!” a couple of people shouted.
“Kill him!” said Ezekiel and others.
“Wait, wait!” said Julia, stepping forward. “Please don’t. You can’t throw away seventeen years like this. He must have done some good…besides, what happened to giving peace a chance?”
Someone yelled, “Kill them both!”
At that moment they heard a jet whooshing from what had to be right next to the dome.
“Julia? Everything okay down there?” called a familiar voice over the plane’s megaphone.
“Yeah, General Chee, thanks,” said Julia. “Everything’s fine.”
The plane shifted into hover mode, the gunner’s cannon pointed exactly through the snow globe’s ashy cracks.
“Great,” Chee called out. “I can tell you, Maciel, it’s been a very very long day keeping Mars free. And I don’t want to see any further loss of life.”
Julia fell to her knees and whispered to herself, “Free Mars.”