SIX MONTHS LATER

Prime Minister Norine Maciel sipped her red wine. A lovely vintage. Whatever else you wanted to say about Mars’ weather, the prolonged seasons helped the vino.

Pablo had escorted Julia and the grandkids into the little temple, leaving Norine alone at the picnic blanket. Unless you counted the little Mars ants. Actually, Norine didn’t find ants as strange as looking at foods without McPepsanto logos, or any logos at all.

Martina’s birthday was next week, but Norine knew better than to try to visit her grave then. Part of Norine wished her fans could just be satisfied with online commemorations, but no, they wanted to come. In two worlds of digital online life, there was still something about being there.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but wasn’t that what the war was for?

Julia refused to talk about it. Other than two or three words in an hour, maybe. What an irony, Norine reflected, that the soldier who did the most to win the war was the only one not strutting online, demanding the credit.

Norine had received more than her fair share of the credit, but that’s what happens to the leader of the winning side. Actually, the only one of her allies who seemed upset with her was Julia. After the whole thing was over, Julia cross-examined her mother…in the exact way Norine had predicted she would. “So you knew the old Darwin snow globe was there, the whole time?”

“Yes.”

At that point Norine admitted and explained everything. Years after Darwin fell into Olympus Mons, a scientist named Jasmine Lumumba came before the then-Prime Minister of Mars United to explain that Aquinas had paid her for an “undetectable” radio signal. Lumumba admitted that if Mars United tried to detect it now, with then-current technology, Aquinas would sense the detection. Lumumba named the fee she’d supposedly received from Aquinas, then charged Mars United double that amount to do years of research into how to invisibly detect the undetectable signal. Eventually, they got what they paid for.

“And you knew Aquinas was there, running his creepy cult.”

“Yes.”

Norine informed Julia that she’d learned about Lumumba after she ascended to the Prime Ministership, and the whole thing seemed like a colossal waste of government funds. It also confirmed what she’d known about Aquinas since her days as a Senator: he was certain he was smarter than everyone else – especially women. Probably it never occurred to him that the same woman who’d invented one kind of signal could invent another kind. Certainly, from the conversations Norine had seen transcribed, there was little sign that Aquinas or Godfrey thought they were being monitored. Norine had considered the possibility that they could have been performing for her, but if so, these were poorly judged performances, promising the Asian Alliance all the help they could offer.

“And you let me wander into the lion’s den, not knowing if I’d live or die.”

“If I’d have tried to stop you, would it have worked?”

Amongst the Prime Minister’s staff, only Chatterjee had known about the secret intercepts. He thought they should attack New Dagreb. Norine saw it differently. Give them enough rope…

“Perhaps if you’d told me what you knew.”

“I raised you right. That’s enough. At a certain point, a mother has to trust her child to take care of herself.”

“Not when she knows better!”

“…”

“Oh, don’t act as though you knew what was going to happen.”

“…the big Texrom battery dump.”

“The big battery dump was to drop exploding cells on their heads! And it dropped almost as many on ours.”

Norine smiled faintly. “Not much of a strategy then, was it?”

“You’re saying…you wanted the mothership to go to Aquinas for power. How could you have possibly known that I would do what I did? I didn’t know until two minutes beforehand!”

“That wasn’t the only possible outcome. Aquinas might have been lying to his Asian Alliance contact all along. Or Aquinas and Godfrey might have been in a sort of power struggle, which the mothership’s appearance might catalyze. I knew them both, you see. Based on percentages, I only expected the ED-210 power transfer to be disrupted somehow. The truth is I barely factored in the low odds of you turning the machine to maximum.”

“So you were ready to sacrifice me to a wacko cult.”

“No, you were ready to sacrifice you. I…hoped that after you arrived you’d come to your senses.”

“Mom, Aquinas is still right about…”

“Aquinas will spend the rest of his life…”

“…still right about peace,” Julia counter-interrupted, repeating and finishing her thought. “And you dismiss that way too easily.”

“Well, be that as it may, I doubted that your experience would be based purely on the merits of his philosophy. You see…I knew…how Godfrey felt about you. Even from eighteen years ago. Boys like him don’t change. They just get more hostile.”

“So you planned for him to rape me?”

“Oh please, Julia, I raised you better than that.”

“…Mom, this is ridiculous. You’re saying that you knew Godfrey would proposition me, you knew I’d say no, you knew I’d give up on the cult, and then you knew that once I saw the mothership, I’d foil their plans?”

“Not knew. Hoped. While you were leading your sister around Mt. Sharp, I had to decide, and I did, that NATO would refuse to come help us with the mothership. Oltman had given them a 26% chance of coming, so I played the 74%, which came in. That meant I’d also have to play some lower-percentage scenarios. I’m not going to bother you with all of them. Let’s say I got lucky yours came in.”

“You got a lot luckier than that, Mom. No one can think that many moves in advance!”

“…Well, that’s why they pay me the not-so-big bucks.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me? I could have been your…what’s it called…double agent.”

“We ran the sims on that. The probable outcomes weren’t great.”

“…How could you have possibly known that New Moscow would help?”

“I didn’t. That was another long shot. Honestly, I’m not sure they made much of a difference, other than to make sure they were on the winning side.”

“Mom, you were ready to kill me.”

“Ran those sims too. Godfrey couldn’t kill you, he needed you.”

“…All right, Mom, how many moves in advance did you plan Martina’s death?”

“That…was not part of any plan of mine.”

Norine broke out of her reverie with the sudden realization that she had risen, left the picnic area, and walked to Martina’s temple. She looked over at the picnic blanket: Pablo, Julia, and the kids were back. They had said their prayers inside and returned to eating.

As the only Prime Minister of Mars walked into the temple, her guards stood vigil at the entrance. The smell was like falling into a hothouse. Everywhere she looked, flowers: carnations, peonies, tulips, orchids, lilies, poinsettias, mums, narcissus, gerberas, daffodils, gladiolus, irises, violets, roses, and names Norine didn’t know. Many of the flower arrangements had some kind of little insignia attached, and Norine’s eyes drifted over the logos of various clubs and companies and organizations. Her daughter did not lack for visitors.

The Prime Minister flashed on the similarity between the patchwork pattern of floral arrangements and the new appearance of the New Jerusalem mall. No more was the mall a succession of the Big 12, and then the Big 12 again, and then the Big 12 again… Instead, the mall looked like a big quilt where each square was done individually and with care. Capitalism, at least on Mars, was no longer crony capitalism. It was a hundred engines of innovation, and each of those engines had an INVEST FAIR score of at least 90. Holo-scrolls had become both more diverse and more uncommon. Norine had come to worry a little less about what would be written on her gravestone.

This tomb wasn’t ostentatious, like Napoleon’s or Lenin’s. Norine had asked for it to be the size of the room where Martina had been raised. Besides the neoclassical trimmings, it wasn’t much more than a medium-sized room dedicated to a statue on a pedestal that happened to house her daughter’s remains. But what a statue, Norine reflected at that moment. She still loved it. There was her daughter, etched in shiny marble, clothed in Mars United’s military finest, feet just barely off the ground, hands on her bo, stuck in a permanent vault. She looked like a modern Athena. The sculptor had provided another example of tremendous work done outside the Big 12.

The Prime Minister was less sure about the inscription on the pedestal. Of course it was what Martina had specified, but perhaps Martina only wrote that to please her mother. Well, Norine would just have to live with that, wouldn’t she?

 

IN THIS TEMPLE

AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE

WITH WHOM AND FOR WHOM SHE SAVED MARS UNITED

THE MEMORY OF MARTINA MACIEL

IS ENSHRINED FOREVER

 

Norine wiped back a tear, said a silent prayer, and left the temple. Madam Prime Minister re-joined her family. She couldn’t quite sit yet.

“Mom?” asked Julia. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay.”

“What are you thinking about?”

Florian Falke, my god of war, forgot to tell me ‘Now she belongs to the ages’. Her family looked at her as she answered, “Nothing. Mars is at peace. We’ve made our world safe, perhaps for decades. What more could I want?”

Drigo said, “I want Mommy.”

“We all do, Rodrigo.” Pablo took his hand. “We all do.”

Julia noticed that her 10-year-old niece was looking up into the sky. “Peoria, don’t look into the sun like that. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but eventually you’ll hurt your eyes.”

“Yeah, told you,” said Drigo.

The girl kept her eyes on the sun. “Nobody asked me what I want.”

The Prime Minister used her body to block the sun from Peoria’s gaze. “What do you want?”

Peoria squinted in Norine’s shade. “I want revenge.”

 

THE END

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