Planet-wide registration was announced two days after the mothership left Earth. Every Mars citizen had to serve anyway – that was written into the constitution, to keep certain corporations from monopolizing the military. Nonetheless, something like one fourth of the population had managed to find some technicality to avoid service, often abetted by their corporation. The Prime Minister’s latest speech called for fresh updates from every person on the planet, itemizing recent changes in health, location, last time in space, family’s health, marriage, kids, drugs, sex partners, whatever. Julia knew the government – or at least Facrogle – could learn any of this information with a few mouse clicks. The registration was really about learning who refused to answer questions.
Julia Maciel was in an economics class at the time of that speech. Of course, the professor forbade cyber-interruptions; of course, half the class blatantly violated that rule, and Julia knew something was wrong when about half of that half turned their heads to her. She ran out the door and to her room.
All night, she heard her dorm-mates partying to fatalist, end-of-days music. She didn’t join them. She was too busy puking. After she finished, she wrapped herself in form-fitting Wazgretco fire-and-ice pads. Since the Battle of Melas, her body felt like she’d been run over by a wildebeest migration.
They were going to die, she thought. Probably half of her class-mates, maybe more. What kind of mercy was the A.A. mothership going to show? Probably none. Certainly she, Julia, would be killed; they’d make a point of that. Julia told herself she didn’t care as much about her own life as she did about the prospect of so many lives destroyed by a needless war. Hmm. Riiiight. She remembered herself on top of that BankBank building. She didn’t like to admit it, but she wanted to live.
Anticipating a draft, many people had already driven and flown to the hills and mountains of Mars. If they didn’t come back soon, the Army threatened to go get them.
Julia’s feeds were blowing up in a million directions. She tried to shut it all out, shut it all off. She turned off all her deco-holos, all her devices, and just lay on her bed, curled in the fetal position. Could the world just go away now? Both worlds?
Julia thought about the arguments for Mars being one country, or several. She thought about the federalists and the separatists in the Senate. A pox on both their houses, Julia thought. They’re all already slaves, to money. They were all corrupt, including her mother’s administration. Mom was always trying to split everything down the middle. Julia was sick of it. There’s no way to peace; peace is the way.
Isn’t that what it said on the Aquinas scrolls?
Julia decided to spend time researching Petraeus Aquinas. There was so much myth and legend! She finally found a relatively independent site that appeared to confine itself to facts, going back to when he was no more than an intern working on technology Iceland had first developed in the 20th century. Julia looked at photos of Aquinas as a young man, certainly cute for an engineer. She remembered her crush on him from middle-school science class.
It didn’t take long for Julia to happen upon every zealot’s favorite vid of Aquinas, from many years later, when he spoke before the Senate about Darwin, the snow globe that 21st-century scientists had occupied in Mars’ orbit while crashing ammonia-rich asteroids into Mars’ atmosphere. By the time of Aquinas’ speech, 2137, he had already spent years converting the historical relic into some kind of rain-forest paradise in space, but now he told the Senators that his experiments had failed, and he wanted to throw the snow globe into Olympus Mons, for two reasons: to prove that any amount of waste could be usefully recycled by Tharsis, and to catalyze a Pinatubo-like eruption which would, in a day, produce a year’s worth of energy for the planet. After the speech, as everyone knew, Aquinas’ plan worked too well: Darwin landed inside Olympus Mons, and the volcano erupted way beyond predictions, covering one-sixteenth of the planet in lava and ash, including the ED-210 that was being used to regulate its energy. Julia was four in E-years, and the news of the explosion was one of her earliest memories; back in New Jerusalem, everything got colder, then warmer.
Most of the planet described Aquinas’ Senate vid as Exhibit A of scientific hubris, what happens when you trust engineers too much. True Aquinas-heads claimed that the Senate testimony was full of secret signals, that the whole thing was a long con. Julia thought neither, instead noticing how persuasive Aquinas really was. This Senate could never have denied him, with his brains, his good looks…
Julia heard a knock she knew to be Kenyatta’s, and shut down the vid and the site.
“I told you,” she said to the door. “I want to be alone.”
“I just came to say goodbye.”
Her boyfriend was not prone to theatrics. As she got off the bed she could feel her joints aching despite the fire-and-ice pads. She opened the door. “What are you talking about?”
“We’re leaving for Olympus Mons tomorrow. We may never come back.” He leaned in for a kiss; she slapped his face.
“Are you crazy?” she said, shutting the door behind him.
“I know I’ve said this before,” said Kenyatta, “But this is real. The draft is real. It’s now or never.” By that, did he mean goodbye sex, or leaving New Jerusalem?
“How exactly are you going to get to Olympus Mons?”
“Train to Pavonis, then try to find a used land rover.” Pavonis Mons was one of the three volcanoes that Texrom still sourced for energy.
“You’ll be seen on the train.”
“Stuart is originally Texromian, so that’s covered.”
“You’re going with Stuart?!”
“And Deleuze, and Isabel,” he said quickly.
“That’s even worse. The three of you are supposed to be…what, comforting Stuart in his hour of need?” The look on Kenyatta’s face said: gee, when you put it that way… “Even if that somehow works, you’ll be seen in a land rover.”
“Then we’ll walk.”
“From Pavonis to Olympus?!”
“Probably not all the way. Just to where Aquinas and his ED-210 were. We think we’ll find the secret…”
“No no no no no. Do not go there.”
“I’m going there. At least I’m doing something.”
“What does that mean?”
“What are you going to do?”
Julia paced her own room. “Sometimes nothing is better than something.”
“So, you’re not going to fight?”
“I texted you that already,” she sighed. “I refuse to kill more people. Even if it costs my own life.”
“Are you going to try to escape the planet?”
The thought had crossed Julia’s mind. But she probably wouldn’t get away with it, and she could already picture the Facrogle headlines. “I…couldn’t do that to my family. It’s one thing to leave the army, but actually deserting Mars feels like too much of a betrayal.”
“You really should come with us. You agree with everything Aquinas ever said!”
“Aquinas is dead.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Don’t go, Kenyatta. Stay here with me.” What else could she say? “I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Ah, Jules,” he broke out grinning again. “Knowing that I’m not automatically saying yes to that tells me that I’m doing the right thing.”
Julia knew that no sim, no robot, could truly replicate looking at Kenyatta’s perfect face. Was this the last time she would see it? Jībā Rhodes.
“No,” Julia stopped Kenyatta removing her shirt. “You don’t get goodbye sex. I’m not saying goodbye.”
“Well, I am. Uh, saying it. I love you, Julia, and I always will. …Goodbye.”
Jībā if he didn’t mean it. He opened the door and was closing it behind him when she said, “Wait.”
“What?” he said from the door crack.
“Well…my aversion to things getting killed happens to include you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means…I’m taking you to Olympus. But that’s all.”
Kenyatta looked like a five-year-old seeing his birthday cake. “Music to my ears.”
Two days later, Julia, Kenyatta, Stuart, Deleuze, and Isabel arrived at Armstrong Base, the home of the Mars United Army. Stuart was short but scrappy, and Julia didn’t trust him based on how he’d dismissed her during boball. As for Deleuze, he was a tall, strong-jawed, wavy-haired, natural leader type, which brought its own reasons for mistrust. Isabel was chunky, hard-nosed and a little uncouth.
The gate was staffed by two sentinels demanding the usual proper paperwork. Deleuze presented some documents from Dr. McGee, professor of aviation, explaining that the five students needed to see a certain obsolete plane, the Airboeck 561, to report on some of its features.
The guards, whose badges said Lopez and Perlman, were skeptical. Lopez said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
“Well,” Deleuze said, “They’re taking aviation history much more seriously now.” Deleuze may have been tall and athletic, but Julia knew he didn’t know what he was doing. She had a feeling this jībā scheme wouldn’t work. Actually, she was almost relying on it.
“And,” Perlman scoffed, “You don’t have an appointment?”
“We tried; do you want to see the chain of emails?” Stuart had no such emails, which is part of why he reached for Perlman’s ring, ostensibly to transfer the information, really to get a predictable gun in his face.
“Watch it, buddy!” Perlman said, his gun barrel next to Stuart’s nose.
“Hey!” said Isabel. “We’re not armed! Search us!”
“Dan, come on,” said Lopez, and Perlman lowered his weapon. “I scanned them already. They’re not armed, not even with bos.”
“Tell me more,” Perlman squinted. “About this assignment.”
“Look, sir, we won’t see anything confidential,” said Deleuze. “Every detail about the Airboeck 561 is already online.”
“If that’s true,” Perlman grunted, “why do you need to see it?”
“Good question,” answered Isabel. “You should ask our professor.”
“Maybe I will.” Perlman looked at the documents again, and tapped out a phone number on his holo-ring. “You can just wait here while I wait for him to reply.”
Julia’s pulse was racing, but not for the same reason as her boyfriend or his friends. Julia didn’t expect their plan to work; she did expect her plan to work. She was picturing the more separatist Senators, like that fat guy from McPepsanto, saying Your own daughter is trying to run from this war. The prospect of shaming her mother this way was both exhilarating and terrifying.
Julia well knew that the guard’s IM would never connect. The documents were patently forged, and Julia assumed these guards would figure that out sooner or later.
“Wait a minute,” said the guard named Lopez. “Aren’t you Julia Maciel?”
“Uh, yeah.” Here we go, she thought. Facrogle headline: Maciels at War – With Each Other.
“You’re the daughter of the Prime Minister and a war hero from last week.” The guard wiped his brow. “And we’re holding you up?”
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Uh, yes,” Julia answered. Not a lie.
Perlman frowned at his partner. “They at least need an escort.”
“In the middle of a war,” Lopez said, “you want us to spare a soldier to babysit the Prime Minister’s daughter? I don’t think so. Go ahead, Miss Maciel.”
“Thanks,” said she, sheepishly.
“Thanks,” said her friends, less sheepishly.
“No recording devices,” called Perlman after them.
“It’s all right,” Julia looked over her shoulder. “Our rings are turned off.”
After they were well out of earshot, Stuart whispered to Julia through clenched teeth, “Why did you say that about the rings? It’s suspicious.”
“No, that was smart,” Deleuze made a low retort. “We would have had them off.”
“By the way, brilliant plan, Deleuze,” Kenyatta whispered. “How would this have worked without Julia, again?”
“It wasn’t over yet,” Deleuze grunted. “I had more dialogue.” The rest of them groaned.
After the five students entered Armstrong Air Base proper, they made their way to a series of hangars. Facrogle holos scrolled through the air, but because of military regulations, they featured mostly commercials, with no propaganda from Aquinas or Rhodes. The hangar areas were buzzing with activity, mostly soldiers doing jet repair. It wasn’t every week the Army had a thousand planes to fix…and without the expertise of Airboeck, who had declared for the other side.
“It’s not just Julia,” Stuart said. “It wouldn’t have worked without the war. This place is crowded with plainclothes contractors who are almost never here, which is the only reason we’re not standing out. Deleuze, you better let me do the next plan.”
Julia smirked at Stuart’s phrase “plainclothes contractors.” The correct military term was noncoms, which these noncoms didn’t know.
“Uh, boys,” whispered Isabel. “We’re not even at the hard part yet.”
The five of them arrived at a cavernous hangar housing planes dedicated to training. There were twenty docking stations, a training plane and soldiers and noncoms at each one.
“I thought you said,” Deleuze looked askance at Julia, “this place was likely to be empty.”
Julia furrowed her brow as she watched people work. “They’re outfitting these training planes with what look like new Applokia weapons.”
“Good,” said Stuart. “We might need those.”
“Bad,” Julia remanded him. “But noncoms aren’t working on all of them. Follow me.” She walked over to an unattended plane and checked the readings on power to the gun turret: empty. Good. If they took a fully armed plane, they’d be shot down before they left New Jerusalem airspace. She also looked at the chutes: all three were there, unused. Technically, two people could share a chute, though in such a fall they better know what they’re doing. She also checked the food supplies. This being Mars, every regular plane had emergency rations, this plane being no exception. And one emergency unsprung bo for each of the three chairs. Good to know.
Deleuze read Julia’s face, smiled, and said to the others, “This is it.” They boarded the aircraft as nonchalantly as they could. Anyone who happened to see them might wonder why two people were squeezed into each of the two gunner seats.
Julia slid into the pilot’s seat, perusing the dashboard as though she were part of a maintenance crew. Moment of truth: was she really going to start this bird? If she put it in the air, there was no coming back. Oh, there was coming back home, of course, but there was no return to active military service, and no return to normal life with her family. What, Julia Maciel, do you really want?
“Julia, I’m getting some suspicious looks.” Deleuze said over the intracom. “Those people are coming over here…”
She turned on the engine and rolled the wheels forward.
Now, everyone in the hangar looked at them – felt like about two hundred people. The workers couldn’t actually see their faces through the tinted windows, but Julia still felt slightly embarrassed. None were stupid enough to stand in the way of a moving aircraft. No one shot at them, not even soldiers sitting in the gunner seats of other planes. That made sense to Julia. For all they knew, she was taking it out of the hangar for maintenance. As she rolled toward the hangar exit, a couple of sergeants waved their arms. Big deal. They couldn’t stop her either.
The plane rolled outside, and Julia checked the airspace with radar and her own two eyes. Mars’ sky was as clear and yellow as a fresh ear of corn.
She pressed a few buttons, activating the plane’s hoverjets, which whooshed under the bird, pushing them hundreds of feet into the air.
A few more buttons, and the core engines lit up. With a roaring buh-room, the plane flew like a bullet eastward, in the direction of Olympus Mons.
Within minutes, two M.U. planes were on her ass. Probably they’d come from the Space Port. Julia had all the intercoms off, so they had to use old-school megaphones to yell at her – which they did.
“You are making an unauthorized flight out of New Jerusalem airspace.” Great, Julia thought. Of all people, it was Martina’s voice. “Stop now, turn around, or we will be forced to shoot you down.”
Julia pressed forward. Let dear sister shoot. Maybe, Julia thought, I’ll fake an injury on the chute ride down, and let Martina feel a little guilty. On the other hand, what about Olympus Mons?
“This is your last warning,” Martina called on her megaphone. “Slow down that plane, right now!”
As they were about to fly past Mount Sharp, Julia smiled and turned her bird down, plummeting it right toward the great mountain.
“Julia!” Deleuze splurted on the intracom, “What the hell are you doing?”
The two planes followed in hot pursuit.
“Julia!!” howled Stuart.
The face of Mount Sharp grew closer, closer…and at the last possible moment, Julia swerved out of it. As for Julia’s pursuers, they didn’t hit the mountain either, but she managed to split them: one went 90˚ one way, one went 90˚ another – the latter following them. Julia knew who’d be flying the one that stayed on her tail.
“Julia?” called Martina through the megaphone.
Julia knew she’d never get a chance like this again. Julia replied on her own megaphone, “Who else?”
Julia’s allies groaned. Deleuze shouted, “Shut up, shut up!”
Making a half-circle around the conical mountain, Julia’s plane hugged the cliffs like she was picking daisies off of them. Martina followed – barely.
“I should have known,” Martina called. “You’re gonna get us both killed up here.”
“Nah, just you,” Julia answered, slightly flinching a wing to avoid a jutting precipice.
“If you don’t kill yourself out here, Mom’s gonna kill you when we get back.”
“Who says I’m going back?”
“This isn’t funny, Jules. We both know a crash probably isn’t going to kill you. Therefore I will shoot you down.” Julia saw Martina’s partner’s jet approaching from the other side of the mountain.
“No, sister dear, you won’t.” Julia feinted to the left, as though to head to the top of Mount Sharp and then back to the air base. She watched for Martina to over-commit, and after she did Julia slammed to the right, down the mountain. Of course Martina adjusted again, as did her partner, but Julia leveled out and floored her engines east toward the Tharsis Bulge.
“Great job!” said Kenyatta. “You lost them.”
Julia furrowed her brow. The planes should have kept on pursuing, but they slowed, and doubled back.
“Wooo!” said Stuart.
“What the wángbā was that?” Deleuze screamed into the local com.
“I hear you,” Julia answered, “I have no idea why they didn’t keep chasing…”
“I don’t mean that!!” Deleuze screeched. “I mean, why did you almost fly us into that mountain? Why did you tell them who you were?”
“Deleuze, next time you want to go to Olympus Mons,” Julia coughed, “You learn to fly a plane.”