Norine Maciel awoke with a start.

Pablo Maciel rustled. “Todo bien, mi amor?”

“Uh, yeah.” She had sweated through her pajamas. She got up to change them.

“Bad dream?” her husband asked.

“Yes,” she said, changing clothes, not letting Pablo see how round her middle had become in the last few years.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Norine was still shaking, a little. “I was dreaming…about the day Uniparney’s snow globe arrived on Mars. The image of it going through the atmosphere, you know, like a boiling tea kettle seen from below.”

Pablo got up on his elbows. “You were on it, you didn’t see it.”

“Well then I know it from movies. Movies about a young beautiful athlete, hoping to invent the first martial-art in .38g.”

“Hoping her tombstone would be like Bruce Lee’s. We’ve talked about this.”

“This is new.” She sat on the bed next to him, in new pajamas. “In my dream, the ship became the mothership. Instead of hope, it represented destruction.”

He hugged her. “Oh, mi amor.”

“I did have those dreams, Pablo. I mean, the tombstone dreams. Now, it’s all I can do to keep it from saying ‘Lost Mars.’”

“You’ve accomplished so much, Norine. You – we, all the leaders – have established civilization on another planet.”

“Only to lose it.”

“No. No, mi amor. It’s not over.” He kissed her neck with loving tenderness. “You’ve done so much but…you still have more to do. Your best act yet.”

 

Prime Minister Norine Maciel sat in front of the green screen in the Octagon Office’s side communications room as her makeup person applied a bit more base to her forehead.

After a moment, the cameraperson said, “You ready?”

“Do it,” said the Prime Minister.

“Three, two, one…”

Norine saw the words come up on her prompter, but she didn’t need to look at them. She knew what she wanted to say. “Delegates of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, first, I want to thank you very much for scheduling and attending this vote on such short notice. Second, thank you for viewing this vid before voting. I know that many of you have already heard from me – and many of you have also seen my public appeals to your citizens. I understand if you’re getting a little tired of me right about now.

“Please understand that we are caught in a war we did not start, and we are now faced with an existential crisis. As you well know, the Asian Alliance, in partnership with Binto, Applokia, and Airboeck, have launched a mothership to Mars, seeking to destroy our rightful and constitutional nation. They claim we can’t nuke it; we have to take them at their word, or why would they send the ship at all?

“Let’s get real. We cannot defend ourselves against a mothership. Certainly, we will do our best, but they have 100,000 planes against our 30,000 or so. The percentages say that we will be crushed. Our only realistic hope are your missiles or the aid of one of your motherships. Our only hope is you.

“I fully realize that a NATO engagement with this mothership will not be easily confined to Mars’ airspace. I realize that your assisting us will almost certainly lead to bloodshed on Earth. More than bloodshed. But if you refuse to help Mars, the casualty count will worsen on both planets. I do not ask anything lightly and I do not expect you to answer lightly. Yet there is no time for me to be anything but blunt. If you don’t launch a nuclear missile or one of your own motherships in the next day or two, you’ll never catch theirs in time.

“I want you to remember that today’s vote is not simply to help your longstanding friends in Mars United. This is also a vote for your own power and integrity. The very name of your organization suggests the honoring of treaties. As you know, we have a treaty, or agreement, that assures your assistance during a crisis like this, just as we would help you if the situation were reversed. Should you choose not to honor this treaty, how can NATO ever be trusted in the future? How can NATO continue to do the work for humanity that it has done for more than 200 years?

“In conclusion, vote for yourselves. Vote for your friends. Vote for democracy over separatism. Vote for freedom over false promises. Vote to maintain the hope for humanity that is Mars United. Thank you, and God bless you all.”

“It was good.” The cameraperson took off his headphones. “Sound glitched in a couple of places. I might want one more take.”

“Are you crazy?” asked Jodie Weaver. “Those were barely glitches.”

Samir Samoset pulled off his headphones. “They’re all reading the subtitles anyway. We don’t have time for another take.”

“That’s not getting any better,” Chatterjee agreed. “We should send it. Now.”

The Prime Minister said, “Do it.”

The cameraperson shrugged. “Whatever you say.” He pressed a couple of buttons on his monitor, and it was gone. He and his small crew packed up and left through the back door. Chatterjee, Samoset, Weaver, and the Prime Minister opened the front door to the Octagon Office. As was customary, everyone in there stood: Senators Falke, Guen-hye, Cagampang, Lazio, and Ngorongoro.

Prime Minister Maciel asked Falke, “What did you think?”

“Doesn’t matter what I think. The votes are all that matters.”

“If this vote fails,” said Samoset, “We can ask them to vote again. We probably have about four days until any help they send would be too late.”

The Prime Minister sat at her desk, eyeing Falke. “So you didn’t like it?”

“I don’t like asking for help, but we don’t have much choice.”

“No, Falke, we don’t,” said the Prime Minister.

“As you put it, let’s get real. How much did you offer?”

“Forty-nine percent. We can’t go over that.”

“Obviously.”

Offering 49% was the biggest metaphorical horse-pill Norine had swallowed in her career. It left her practically nothing to give to the other Senators in the room…and they well knew it.

Norine turned Samoset. “Can we trust them to play the tape?”

“Of course,” Samoset answered.

“All we have to do is twiddle our thumbs for an hour,” Cagampang said sarcastically.

“Senators,” said the Prime Minister. “I invited you here to give me the first draft of how we engage the mothership, if we have to go it alone.”

Silence fell over the room. Norine saw scrolls reporting percentages of public opinion on various questions about the war.

Falke was restless – he always was. “Honestly, Madam, I’m thinking the mothership is a jībā work of genius. I mean, this isn’t Star Wars or Independence Day, so it’s not like it has one little place where you can hit it and then the whole thing explodes. It doesn’t even have a computer system that can be corrupted throughout the ship. To be honest, I can’t find one single part of the ship where even an eight-kiloton blast would cripple the ship. Injure it, sure. But take it out of commission? I don’t know how.”

Guen-hye furrowed her eyebrows. “You could sound a little less impressed.”

Chatterjee said, “Senator Yoshimura is here.” Norine looked at the monitor of the hall just outside.

“About time,” said Norine Maciel. “Get him in here.”

The Senator entered, nodding his head. “We’ve now interviewed everyone at Armstrong Base. No one knows it was Julia. Tinted windows helped. The only people who ID’d her were the two guards at the west gate, and they don’t know that she took the plane. She apparently told them she was there on a class project, and they apparently believed her.”

“Clearly,” Cagampang mused, “we need less credulous sentinels stationed there.”

“That leaves the two pilots and their four gunners,” said Yoshimura. “They all have impeccable loyalty scores; I think we can trust them not to say anything.”

There was a loud banging at the door, a sharp contrast to Yoshimura’s quiet waiting. Norine looked at the screen again. She said to Chatterjee, “Open it.”

Martina Maciel stormed into the room, still sweaty from her airplane ride. “Mom, why the wángbā did you ask me to turn around?”

“Martina,” Chatterjee said, “you know your mother happens to be…”

“Oh shut up, Chatterjee!” roared Martina.

Norine sighed with a vehemence that she could feel in her bones. “Sit down, daughter dear.”

“And now you’re asking my crew to lie?” Martina sat on her mother’s desk without pausing to draw breath. “Mom, this was an avoidable embarrassment. I could have shot her down!”

“I know you could have. And I’m not embarrassed. But there’s no reason to give Julia the publicity she obviously wanted when she spoke to you on her megaphone.”

“People are going to figure it out.” Now, Martina sighed. “The cover-up is worse than the crime, right Chatterjee?”

Chatterjee said nothing. Lazio was smiling from ear to ear.

“People saw three military jets flying around Mount Sharp,” Jodie Weaver offered. “In the middle of a war mobilization. Not exactly breaking news.”

“Yes,” Martina answered, “but it is breaking news that during new travel restrictions, the Prime Minister’s own daughter was permitted not only to break the rules, but escape military service!”

Senator Lazio laughed. “Jealous?”

Martina stood up. “Are you questioning my patriotism?”

“Martina, privacy,” said the Prime Minister, marching into the communications room with the confidence that no one refuses a private audience with a Prime Minister, not even her own daughter.

“I want to ask you something mom-to-mom.” Norine said as soon as they were alone. “Do you ever find that when one of your kids really wants something, sometimes it’s better just to let them have it, and get it out of their system?”

“Not in this case, Mom. It’s too dangerous.”

“Dangerous for whom?” Norine kept her voice as level as she could. “Satellites are going to follow her progress the entire time…”

“You don’t want her in danger? You’re gonna bring down the troops’ morale!” Martina interrupted. “One rule for your kids, another rule for everyone else’s! Like that President…uh, I forget, during September 11…”

“Bush.”

“Right, him!”

“Martina, darling, I expect I can trust you to hold up your generation’s end.”

“It’s not right, Mom.” Martina banged on the arm of her armchair. “You know it’s not right. I’ve been loyal to you my entire life…”

“You wanted to be loyal, mi’ija. It’s not as though I had to talk you into it.”

Banging on the door. Probably Chatterjee. Norine ignored it and focused on Martina.

“What do you really want?” Norine asked her older daughter.

“To go after Rhodes,” she said without hesitation.

“No. We are now searching every house and every catacomb in Melas for him and his close allies. That is not a job for you.”

More banging on the door.

“Because I’ll be recognized?” asked Martina Maciel. “I can wear a disguise.”

The Prime Minister opened the door and Jodie Weaver came in, closing the door behind her. “Because I need you at the Space Port,” said Norine to her daughter. “A robot could find Rhodes; a robot can’t make hair-trigger decisions about identifying and stopping potential fugitives. We already had this discussion.”

“Martina, I want you to cut it out,” said Senator Weaver. “These Senators are about to turn on your mother like dogs looking for a new bone. You can’t give them that bone, and you will if you disobey your mother.”

“Mom,” Martina exhaled. “At least tell me the real reason you let Julia go. Come on, tell me.”

“Major Maciel,” said Senator Weaver, “You are way too close to the situation. You’ve had soldiers like you. Now stand down, soldier. You’ve had a long enough day. Get your REMs and get back to post tomorrow.”

Martina was momentarily speechless. Norine was impressed with Weaver.

“Norine,” pivoted Weaver, “We need a strategy change. You can’t inspire soldiers with the status quo. We need to fight for high INVEST FAIR scores, for the Mars we’ve always wanted.”

“The Mars youve always wanted, Jodie,” answered the Prime Minister. “You’re liberal.”

“Incremental measures and compromises got Mars where it is – full-blown civil war.” Jodie Weaver said vehemently. “Only wholesale reform can break the cycle, and this is our only chance.”

“At what, Marxist revolution?” Martina rolled her eyes. “Mars can’t sustain that.”

“Not Marxism,” said Weaver, “but state-guided small-business pluralism.” Martina sighed as though she’d come in from an airlock.

Norine said to herself, Why am I putting up with this? “All right, you had your moments. You’re both discharged from this room. And Martina, you’re discharged from this building.”

Martina gave her mother a this-isn’t-over look, turned on her heel, and walked out. Prime Minister Maciel and Senator Weaver followed her into the Octagon Office. A few Senators watched Martina depart. Norine examined a bank of four monitors dedicated to the search for the Melas separatist leaders. According to a scroll on the bottom, robots were 75% finished combing the catacombs. They’d captured a couple of lieutenants, but no big fish.

“The votes have already happened,” Samoset said, looking at his ring. “We’re just waiting on the time delay. 30 more seconds.”

The Prime Minister, Falke, Samoset, Weaver, Lazio, Ngorongoro, Cagampang, Guen-hye, and Chatterjee all stood and held their breath as NATO’s vote appeared on a whole wall of screens. 101 ayes for war. 108 nays. The nays had it.

“Not even a nuke missile,” groused Chatterjee, “just to test the A.A.’s claim of deflection?”

“It’s logical,” sighed Guen-hye. “That would invite serious retaliation.”

“What’s the difference?” Falke retorted. “If they give up now, they’re basically surrendering both planets to the A.A. and the A.A.’s three favorite corporations.”

“They’re going to vote again tomorrow,” said Samoset. “We only need to move four votes. We still have time.”

This got people arguing. A smaller mothership, say holding 50,000 planes, could move a little faster. If NATO took a week to get to yes, Mars United could defend itself for a week, right? No, probably not. The war would be Israeli: quick and deadly. 100,000 planes versus maybe 35,000, if they fixed enough of them in time.

Norine looked around the room at her squabbling Senators. She asked herself: who was going to jump ship next? They certainly wouldn’t all remain loyal to a federal government, even one that they themselves created. No, capitalist entities have no such loyalty. They’d step aside and form alliances with the new masters. And it wouldn’t be their fault; their corporate leaders on Earth would demand it.

Norine could hardly consider herself a master of a game whose playing pieces were melting away.

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