“…You know, when I first met John, I joked with him that he needed to stop acting on his best behavior. He answered me, what if this was his normal behavior? And I didn’t believe him then. But I do now.”
Martina had always hated funerals. This was different; this was her husband being lowered into the ground. The yellow sky, the manicured green grass on the softly sloping hill, the birds singing in the sycamore trees: somehow all of it mocked Martina. She wanted Mars to stop turning. Her husband was dead, all right?
“You see,” Madam Prime Minister was saying from the podium, “John believed in Mars. He didn’t think the Red Planet should, or would, become Earth two-point-O. Instead, John saw Mars as a place where humanity could finally get it right. To live without war, poverty, pollution, disease, famine. To live as our best selves, on our best behavior. And he was doing that.”
Martina held Peoria’s hand tightly. She knew that her mother would turn John’s death into a propaganda stunt. Through her big sunglasses, Martina looked around at the others seated around the coffin like herself: her father, the Ten-Percenters including the wounded Sapolu, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend – what was he doing there? – and assorted friends and relations. Beyond them were various government officials, a few Senators, a lot of security, and a lot of journalists beyond the security. Well, at least they were all recognizing John in some odd way.
“I know we’re being tested right now,” Norine Maciel was going on. “I know that in some ways we’re letting go of John, but we can’t let go of John’s example. Yes, we will have difficult decisions to make, but if we act as John would have, I’m confident we can make and remake Mars United into the pinnacle of civilization that we all know it can be.”
Martina looked at the sun. Funny, she thought, how many Mars bands had written songs about the sun. She was thinking of one song right then, “Closer and Farther.” The lyrics were something like, From Earth you look like a quarter/ but from here you’re barely a dime/when I watch you, seems like it’s shorter/when I watch you you’re all of my time. Every Mars kid knew that Earth kids weren’t allowed to look straight into the sun, even with sunglasses. The song was about feeling paradoxically closer to the sun because the singer could watch it, even if it was farther away.
And then Martina realized she was really missing John. He was closer and farther than ever. Oh God. She felt tears coming like little hot bugs. Wángbā! Sapolu, Al-Basani, and Goldberg were right there in their jībā formals. Can’t let them see tears, Martina thought. Do something else, quick.
Martina pressed Peoria’s hand hard. And then Peoria hugged her, placing her little arms around her mother’s waist and her little head on her mother’s small breast. Wow, now her daughter was even comforting her. How did life go by so wángbā quickly?
Martina saw a Senator approach Mr. Chatterjee – the good-looking Indian guy, what was his name? – right, Samoset. Chatterjee’s hand movement suggested Not now, buddy. That’s when Samoset showed Chatterjee a holo image from his ring. When Chatterjee blanched, Martina guessed it wasn’t because you’re not supposed to show holos at a funeral.
Chatterjee waved at Martina’s mother. He drew a forefinger across his neck, the signal to cut off the speech. But she wasn’t done. She was talking about the strength of John’s parents.
Martina saw the reporters moving like a tide, practically fleeing en masse…and the Prime Minister’s eulogy wasn’t done. Where the jībā were they going?
“In conclusion…” Norine finally said, “Goodbye, John. We will try our best to be worthy of you.” Chatterjee almost grabbed her as he escorted her away from the podium.
Almost as an after-thought, Chatterjee strode quickly past the family and said, “Come on, everyone, into the limo.”
As the family hustled down the hill to their Airboeck ultralimousine, parked perhaps 20 meters from the gravesite, the press converged around them like wildcats around deer. “Madam Prime Minister, what are you going to do?” “Madam Prime Minister, can we rely on NATO?” “Madam Prime Minister, will you declare martial law?” “Madam Prime Minister, now will you kill Rhodes?”
“No comment, no comment, no comment!!!” yelled Chatterjee while the Maciel family piled into the ultralimo. Chatterjee said, “Family only!” even as Norine grabbed Samoset and Weaver with her two hands to pull them in. Martina saw Julia do likewise with her boyfriend, was his name Kenya?
Martina glimpsed Sapolu, Al-Basani, and Goldberg looking at her from the other side of the crunch of reporters, as though to say are you okay? Martina said, “In that case…,” reached out and grabbed Lida Al-Basani’s hand, pulling her into the ultralimo just as the door swung shut.
Martina noticed that the Facrogle feed holo-scroll already said MOTHERSHIP SPEEDS TO MARS UNITED in a font larger than Martina had ever seen in a car. The limousine floated forward as Al-Basani and Martina took their seats. Most of Mars failed to resemble canonical science fiction, but limousine interiors were an exception, with silver reflective walls and plush leather couches.
“Should I, uh,” Chatterjee asked, “bring it up on the limo holo, or…”
“Of course!” The Prime Minister was livid.
As he pushed a couple of buttons on the car’s control panel, Chatterjee muttered, “Okay, okay, I wasn’t sure…”
“They’re calling it the largest mothership ever built,” said the broadcaster, “In fact the largest single thing ever built by the hand of man. Today the rumors ended, and everyone is marveling at the monstrous craft that was built in secret underneath Idestam Island.” In the vid, the city-sized sphere emerged from the ocean, soared up into the sky, and sailed toward outer space. There were already several motherships in orbit around Earth, supposedly “defensive” measures by NATO against A.A., and vice-versa. But Martina hadn’t remembered them being so…big.
Then she realized she was furious.“Why did we have to leave the funeral?” snapped Martina. “We’ll nuke that jībā thing out of the sky!”
“Martina,” sighed Samoset, “You really think they won’t have thought of that?”
“Get a good look, people, because we won’t be looking at it long!” said the broadcaster. “Minutes after the craft rose out of the ocean, the leaders of Binto, Applokia, and Airboeck called a news conference. Here is their statement.”
“With heavy hearts, today we take defensive action to help our brothers on Mars,” said Leander Lohk, the dyspeptic Secretary General of the A.A. “Like you, we have seen the horrible images from Mars…an entire city laid waste, hundreds slaughtered.” Martina wanted to scream hundreds were not slaughtered! A few dozen at most! “We have often pointed to other cases of federal overreach, but this time Norine Maciel’s government has truly gone too far. We can no longer stand by and watch as she murders innocent women and children. These constitute multiple breaches in our treaties and contracts. Today we say that is enough is enough.
“In partnership with Binto, Applokia, and Airboeck, we have been working on a new kind of mothership, using the same magnetic technology Applokia has recently deployed successfully with other products. We deeply regret having to use it in this fashion, but…when Mars United unleashes their nukes, they will deflect around the ship, like bullets around a new bo.”
“Judases!” yelled Weaver. “Wángbā Judases! They have been lying to our face for months.”
“What kind of terms do you think they’re going to offer?” asked Chatterjee.
“I wouldn’t count on terms,” said Samir Samoset. “This is going to be the most hostile of takeovers.”
“Yeah,” said Weaver, “And the new org chart is going to have a lot of slaves on the bottom.”
Martina looked at her family, their faces turned the color of pre-terraformed Mars poles. As though today could have gone any worse. “Guys,” said Martina, “We just need to run some sims. No way they’ve truly tested this technology. Our nukes could still work on that thing.”
“What if they don’t?” asked Julia. “How many weapons fit on one of those things?”
“Julia, why are you always…” began Martina, until Samoset cut her off: “If the Applokia fan sites are right, this is the long-rumored 100k-100k: 100,000 fighter jets and a 100,000-watt laser death ray, and all the crew and energy necessary to support them.”
Martina wanted to break something.
“Let them send 200,000 jets.” Al-Basani said in a low tone. “We’ll still beat them.”
“Damn right, Al-Basani!” shouted Martina. “Thank you!”
“Can you please lower your voice, mi’ija?” asked Norine. Senator Rhodes was now occupying a split-screen with the Secretary General, and they were nodding at each other’s sentences.
“Leading includes listening,” Norine said in her must-I-say-this-again? tone.
“Let me be perfectly clear,” said Rhodes. “The A.A. is sending exactly one mothership to do no more than help its allies go from victims to victors, and then leave – with favorable interplanetary trade restored. The A.A. is not, I repeat not, traveling to Mars as conquerors.” Leander Lohk nodded warmly at this. Rhodes continued, “At the conclusion of hostilities, the A.A. is not going to remain even to administer justice to anyone on the planet. They will leave that to Senators Nystrom, Uribe, myself…and those wise enough to ally with us.”
“Turn it off,” said the Prime Minister.
Chatterjee complied and said, “Everyone is waiting on hold for you.”
“Who is everyone?” asked Martina.
“Pretty much everyone.” Chatterjee said evenly. “Well, except NATO.”
“I need a minute,” said Norine. She balled her hand up into a fist and struck the reinforced window. “Jībā wangba!!”
“Twenty percent,” Pablo said softly.
“Twenty percent!” she replied bitterly, not angry with him.
“There’s still time to negotiate,” said Samir Samoset.
“There’s still time to build more planes,” said Jodie Weaver.
“Mom,” said Julia, “Don’t do anything you’re going to regret in a year.”
“If we live that long,” muttered Lida Al-Basani.
Julia looked at her quizzically. Chatterjee put in, “We have eight months and two days until it arrives.” The traveling distance between Earth and Mars varied throughout the year. Sometimes it was six months, sometimes more than fifteen. Eight months, Martina thought, until 100,000 planes arrived to take on their 30,000.
“It’s not over,” said Samir Samoset. “NATO has treaties to honor, and even if they didn’t, they would rather deal with Mars United than with some unknown quantity.”
“If they help us, it’s a new World War on Earth,” said Chatterjee.
“If they don’t help us, it’s a new World War on Earth,” countered Weaver. “Why do you think the A.A. only sent one of their 14 motherships? So they can maintain a 13 to 11 advantage over NATO’s motherships.”
“That we know of,” added Samoset.
“They’ve been planning this for months, maybe years,” said Martina. “This is it. This is the A.A. and Binto and Applokia and Airboeck taking over both worlds. If we don’t stop them.”
Senator Weaver was looking at the Prime Minister. “Norine…?”
“Not now, Jodie.”
Martina watched her mother look out the one-way glass and for the first time realized this would all be blamed on her mother. Her legacy would be losing Mars United and New Jerusalem laid waste. Well, not that Martina or her mother would have long to live in shame. Certainly, anyone allied with Rhodes wouldn’t stop until the entire Maciel family was dead.
“NATO is going to stop them, right?” Chatterjee asked nervously. “They have to at least try to shoot them down. They have to shoot a missile at them, and they have to do it soon…Do you think they will?” No one said anything.
“You put corporations in charge,” Julia said quietly, “They fight for their piece while dressing up in populist rhetoric. Mars should never have been settled by corporations. Scientists and governments only, like Antarctica.”
“Jules, who the jībā would have paid for that?” asked Martina. “I mean, really. Without them, you and I never would have been born on Mars.”
“Julia, Martina, for what it’s worth, I see both your points,” said Senator Weaver, quietly. “And you know, there were many, many arguments, both before and after the war, that ended in the forming of Mars United. Perhaps if we’d opened Mars to development by competing corporations, instead of monopolies…”
“So, two Bintos, two Airboecks?” asked Pablo Maciel. “If that were even possible from what was on Earth? Two more powers like that would have tipped the Senate balance even further away from federalism.”
“And brought us this day…” Chatterjee said. “Uh…sooner than it came anyway.”
“It does us nothing to dwell on the past.” Samoset nodded. “We need to think about what Mars will look like a year from now.”
Pablo Maciel said dryly, “You obviously already have.”
“If we fail to get help from NATO,” Samoset replied, “and if our military fails – those are both big ifs – Mars will be Balkanized, with all the guns, money, and power concentrated in Melas.”
Norine Maciel finally turned her head from the window. “Are you trying to see an upside to this?”
“Not exactly,” answered Samoset. “We clearly have to fight. We just need to keep thinking about goals and areas of potential compromise.”
“What if we gave Binto two Senate seats?” asked Julia. “I’m just trying to think outside the box.”
“You want to reward sedition, Julia?” asked Martina.
“I want to save as many lives as possible,” answered Julia. “Maybe there’s still time to come to some kind of future resource-sharing agreement…”
“Why don’t we just give them everything?” scoffed Martina.
“Yeah, why don’t we?” said Julia, causing Chatterjee to laugh until he realized she meant it. “I mean, I don’t like it either, but at this point…”
“If you insist on looking at the past,” said Samoset, “Let’s think about the United States in the 19th century. Would it have been better off to simply let the South secede?”
“You’re a man of color,” Weaver appeared stunned. “And you’re saying slavery…”
“Well, I meant to put slavery aside. Melas has no slaves.”
“Not yet,” insisted Martina.
“They’re promising greater control by labor,” said Samoset.
“That will be for their corporations only,” said Weaver. “The rest of us will be made slaves, or exiled off-planet.”
“You don’t know that…” began Samoset.
“You believe Rhodes?” Martina scoffed. “He talks a big game about wealth distribution, but he lives like a king in Binto City.”
“Not anymore,” said Norine Maciel, allowing herself the slightest of smiles.
“Mom,” said Martina, “I told you we should have killed Rhodes.”
“Martina!” Chatterjee rebuked her. “We went over this a hundred ways. If we had sent soldiers through every home and catacomb in Binto City, we would have turned all our Melas sympathizers against us.”
Al-Basani grumbled, “Which would have been worse than the current situation how?” Martina loved Al-Basani.
“Mom, let me go kill Rhodes. Please.”
Julia’s nostrils flared. “We don’t know where he is!”
“Not alone,” Martina added quickly. “With the Ten-Percenters. We’ll get him. I bet Binto turns around their stupid mothership the minute they get the news.”
“No they won’t!” said Julia. “They don’t need him.”
“Melas will be half as effective without him,” Martina insisted, “and they know that.”
“The answer, Martina,” the Prime Minister said firmly, “is no.”
“Oh Mom, come on. I’m healing. I’m over 90% in most areas. I can…”
“Mi’ija!” Pablo said sharply. “Your mother has to strike a very careful balance now. She’s obviously lost Applokia and Airboeck. She stands to lose more than that if she does something unpopular.”
“Everyone wants Rhodes dead,” Martina answered, “They just don’t tell pollsters that!”
“I need you for something else,” her mother interrupted. “I need you and the Ten-Percenters to guard the New Jerusalem Space Port.”
“WHAT?!?” Martina could feel her face’s blood vessels popping. “That’s a job for my lowest lieutenant.”
“Martina,” Chatterjee said, “you do realize that your mother is the Prime Minister?”
“Martina mi amor,” Pablo cleared his throat. “The Space Port has already become the war. We didn’t want to bother you while you were in mourning and recovering from battle, but…think about it. All supplies coming on or off the planet. Anyone trying to leave the planet. Anyone in a ship already on its way to the planet who was half-expecting this and has something bad planned for us. There’s been a half-dozen incidents since we re-took Melas.”
“Rhodes already has high negatives,” Senator Weaver added. “If she replaces him, or worse, martyrs him, the rebels are much more likely to rally around the new person.”
“You really believe,” Martina glared at her mother, “that stopping and frisking people is a good use of my time?”
Martina’s mother used her most measured tone. “When things become volatile there – and they will – I need my best surgical pilots in the air, ready to arrest separatists and potential draft-dodgers.”
“Mom, come on, you can’t leave Rhodes…”
Julia said flatly, “You just want revenge.”
Martina reflexively slapped her sister in the face, saying, “You apparently missed the contents of the casket…” Before she knew it, another hand walloped her own face.
It was that Kenyatta! “You don’t ever touch her.”
“You stay out of this!…” Martina wound up to strike his neck nerve…
“Guys! Guys!” it was Senator Samoset, of all people. “This is what they want! They want us fighting amongst each other.”
“They chose the right family,” muttered Al-Basani.
The ultralimousine arrived at the Mars White House.
“Look, you two.” The Prime Minister stood up in the car and put a firm hand on a knee of each of her daughters. “Now more than ever, we can’t let anyone tear us apart.”