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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bonus Story: Life and Times of Aries Webb, Epilogue

Here it is! The final part of my NaNoWriMo novel, the Life and Times of Aries Webb! I hope you all enjoyed it. I had fun writing it. :)

And with this post, that means I have one more story to write for this week, to be posted on Sunday, that will mark my 52nd Short Story, and the end of this entire project. Wow. Hard to believe. Stay tuned to see what get's posted! Meanwhile, enjoy the final bit of Aries Webb.

***


Epilogue

Aries looked down at his world from the top of Olympus Mons. How it had changed from his last climb. The city below was now larger, and other cities were close by. There were more clouds in the sky, and he could see water from the lakes that were forming on the planet. There were even a few patches of green here and there. Nothing so grand as a forest, but these were fields of lichen that could survive on the thin atmosphere of the red planet.

“Wow,” Zita said from behind him. “This really is a spectacular view. Thanks for bringing me up here.”

“No problem, honey,” he said. Being outside the domes, they were wearing their space suites, special ones designed for climbing. “I like to come out here when I need some place quiet to think. The last time I was up here was just before I ran for Governor of Mars.”

“Which, of course, lead to you being Prime Minster,” she laughed. “Its really too bad you couldn't’ come up here more.”

“Pressures of the job,” he said. “As you know, it was very difficult to get away from the desk.”

“Well, running a whole planet takes a lot of work,” she said.

“And time away from the important things in my life,” he said, turning to look at he. She smiled. She really was a beautiful girl.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” she said. “They’ll pass the vote. They have to. One man in power this long, and it starts to become a dictatorship and not a democracy. They learned that in America centuries ago, I don’t think we need to discover it ourselves for real.”

“Oh, I’m sure they will, honey,” he said. “I’m sure they will. It’s just a big deal, so I come out here to get some space.”

“Plenty of space here,” she said. “Look, is that Phobos?”

Aries looked up to where she was pointing in the sky to a bright star. “Yup,” he said. “I always loved looking at the moons in the day. It’s not often one can do that on Earth.”

“Yeah,” she said. She did like her home world, but the moon on Earth was just so much bigger and made for a stunning sight at night.

“Come on,” Aries said. “Lets finish setting up camp. I want to get to that dinner.”

“You mean before Anthony calls, right?” Zita said.

Aries laughed. “Are you kidding? He’s been calling me all day. I shut my phone off at the start of the climb. I told him to call you when the vote comes in.”

“Oh, great,” Zita said. “Thanks, Dad.”

The two laughed and returned to setting up camp.

****

“This speech is fantastic,” Aries said, looking over the words on his ePad. “Your best yet, Ho.”

The short, heavy set Chinese man bowed.

“Thank you, Minister,” he said in Chinese. “I thought that such an august and historic occasion needed something that would be remembered by future generations.”

“Well, this sure is it,” Aries said, switching to Chinese. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll make a few minor changes. You know, just to make it more my own words, but nothing major.”

“Of course, Minister,” Ho said. “I would expect nothing less. I look forward to reading your revisions.”

“Thank you, Ho. That will be all,” Aries said.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Prime Minister,” Ho said, bowing again and leaving the room.

Aries sighed. Ho was probably the most talented speech writer he had ever had, but the man was so formal and trapped in outdated methods of formality that it often made it difficult to work with him. He looked at the speech again. It truly was a fine speech, one that would be quoted and reread by future generations. It was sometimes awe inspiring to see history in action. And Aries had been in his fare share of historical moments. He just needed to make a few minor tweaks to make it less formal and more him. He’d done this before, and Ho would be obviously uncomfortable, but agree.

“Knock knock,” came a voice from the door. “May I have a moment, Mr. Prime Minister?”

“I tried to stop him, sir,” Anthony said, pushing the man in the fancy business suit out of the way. “But you know how Charles is.”

“It’s okay, Anthony,” Aries said. “I have a few moments available to talk to Charles.”

Anthony nodded and left, closing the door behind him.

“So, to what do I owe this visit, Chuck?” Aries said, motioning for his visitor to take a seat.

“You know I hate it when you call me that,” Charles said. “And I’m just here for one thing. To congratulate you. I wasn’t sure that the bill was going to pass, to be honest. These people seem to want you to be Prime Minster for life, and maybe even pass the job onto your daughter when all is said and done. A real monarchy, right here on Mars.”

“Yes, well, you know that I never wanted that,” Aries said.

“Yes,” Charles said. “And as much as I admire you, and am glad you were there for Mars when we needed you, I do think it’s time for some new leadership for Mars. We can make it on our own now, do more than survive, and we need leaders that will think about more than survival.”

“I’m not the campaign trail, Charles,” Aries said. “There’s no need for rhetoric here. But if you’re here to get my endorsement, you already know my answer. I can’t. I won’t. This election, the first real election since we voted for independence, has to be unbiased. The people should choose their next leader, not me. That was the whole point of my bill in the first place. I didn’t just want to limit terms on the Prime Minister’s office, but ensure that the next Minister wasn’t someone hand picked by the last.”

“I appreciate that, Aries,” Charles said. “I really do. It’s honestly one of the reasons you made such a good leader. I was hoping, however, that you migth change your mind. Ah well. I’m still ahead in the polls, even if only slightly.”

“I wish you the best of luck, Charles,” Aries said.

“Any chance I can count on your vote?” Charles asked as he stood up.

Aries laughed and showed his friend to the door. He asked Anthony to cancel his next appointment so he cold have time to breath for a moment. Charles was a good man, he thought as he sat back down at his desk to work on the script. So was his opponent in the upcoming Prime Minster election, Mrs. Rebbecca Cho. Unlike Charles, she wasn’t a current member of congress, but she did have a lot of experience leading, being the current CEO of the Martian Technical Institute, still the largest employer on Mars. He would be happy for either one of them to take over after he left. Mars would be in good hands.

He just had to remind himself of that. It was so easy to believe that the world really was his, in the sense that he owned it. The passing of the bill and the upcoming election made him realize that getting away from Mars was a good thing. He needed some distance, some perspective. And he needed to find those things he had discovered were truly important.

****

“Come on, Dad,” Zita said, shoving some of her dad’s clothing into the large suit case. “It’s the right thing to do. You know it, I know it... even Uncle Bo knows it, and he’s literally a whole world away!”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve just... well, I’ve never left you alone before.”

“Dad, I spent an entire summer on Earth with grandma, remember?” she said.

“That was different,” he said. “You were with your grandma in her lab.”

“I’ll be with her here, in my house,” she said. “And granddad will be with his time time. I’ll be okay. I’m in High School, for Mars’ sake, I can take care of myself. I’ve even got a job lined up for the summer already, remember? I’ll be working at Solar Tech, making robots.”

“Robots,” Aries shivered. “I still hate the little things. Give me the creeps.”

“But, they do bring in a lot of money,” she said. “And I get to be in near the beginning of one of the biggest industrial trends since... portable music players!”

“I agree, honey, it’s all very exciting,” he said. “I’m just... scared. I’m scared. I hate to admit that do my own daughter, but there you have it. I’m scared.”

Zita closed the suit case and walked across the room to her dad. She looked him in the eye, and started to tear up. He pulled her close to him on the bed and hugged her.

“I’m scared too, Dad,” she said. “Everything is changing for me. Everything. I’m no longer living in the PM’s Mansion. Not that this place isn’t fantastic, but it’s just not home... it was always our place to go to escape. And then, in a few days, there will be a whole new Prime Minister. That’s pretty scary, you’ve been the Prime Minister my whole life. And then to top it off, you’re leaving. Finally leaving to do what it is you’ve probably wanted to do for a long time, something I’ve selfishly asked you to do since I was a little girl. You’re going to go get Mom, how ever long that takes you.”

“I’m going to be living with Grandma,” she continued. “And I’ll be starting High School. It’s scary. I don’t want you to go. funny that. You’re finally doing the one thing I always wanted you to do, go get Mom, and now I don’t want you to leave. I want my dad to be here when some of the biggest changes ever happen in my life. But at the same time, I know that what you’re doing is important. It’s always been important. I get that. I want you to go, because I still want you to find Mom. This is the right thing to do. It really is. And you and I, we’ll get over being scared, because we have to. Because we know that the other will be waiting for us at the other side of this, and we’ll have Mom with us and be a family again.”

Aries wiped the tears from his own eyes before doing the same from hers. He hugged his daughter close to him and kissed her on the top of her head.

“I am so lucky to have such a fantastic daughter,” he said. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Dad,” she said. The, she disengaged from the hug and stood up, trying to look serious through the tears still running down her cheek.

“Now, come on, you need to sleep,” she said. “Tomorrow is the day you officially pass over leadership of Mars to the new Prime Minster. And two days after that, you get on your ship heading to Earth. Lots to prepare for.”

“You’re almost as bad as Anthony,” Aries said. “But you’re right. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She smiled and left Aries to his thoughts.

“Good night, Dad,” she said.

****

“Well, I guess this is it,” Aries said, looking back towards the city from the window of the space port. “My list view of Olympus Mons.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Son,” Charles Webb said, slapping Aries on the back. “Or were you trying to be poetic? I never can tell.”

“I have never, in my life, been poetic, Dad,” Aries said, giving his dad a wry smile. The two walked away from the window to join Ju and Zita at the table. It wasn't much of a last dinner, eating at the space port diner, but it was better than nothing. He was grateful that his family joined him today.

“I don’t know,” Charles said. “You were pretty poetic when you first met Amelia.”

“I remember,” Ju said. She winked at Zita, and Aries rolled his eyes. His parents were trying to embarrass him in front of his daughter again. “He used to write these horrible love poems to your mother, and then throw them away before ever showing them to her. I don’t know that Amelia ever saw a one of them.”

“She saw one,” Aries said. “exactly one. And that’s all she is ever going to see. Those were horrible. I’m not a poet, never was.”

“Only one?” Zita said. “Dad, that’s a crime! It’s too bad you don’t have them anymore, I’m sure Mom would love to see them when she gets back.”

“Oh, she still can,” Ju said, and Aries looked at her sharply. “I rescued all the ones he had written at our house and saved them. I figured that any woman that could move my son to poetry deserved to see exactly what effect she had on the poor man.”

Zita, Ju and Charles all laughed, and after a few moments, even Aries joined in. It felt good to laugh, on the moment of his leaving. He couldn’t help but escape the feeling that this was somehow final, like he was never returning to Mars. He knew that wasn’t true, but he had only ever been off Mars a few times, and most of them were on diplomatic missions in his role as Prime Minister. And he hated traveling in space every single time.

They ate and laughed and told stories about Amelia to Zita, who had almost no memories of her mother. That saddened Aries, but she told him not to worry. She looked forward to making all new ones once Mom was back, even if it took another ten years to make it happen. Finally, the call for his flight came over the loudspeaker. He gave everyone hugs and kisses, and all four of them shed tears. He walked down the hall to the airlock of the space ship that would carry him away from his home to Earth, saying one more good bye as he did.

“I’ll be back, Mars,” he whispered. “And I’ll be bringing my other love with me.”

****

The last four days of the trip to Earth should have been very relaxing for Aries. All his calls to the new Prime Minister were done. All the arrangements had been made for meetings once he reached Earth. He had no more responsibilities except to enjoy himself. This ship boasted a pool and a casino, too, so he had plenty of diversions to entertain himself with. Instead, he spent the time concerned. He planed and plotted and grew concerned that things would fall apart. So he planned and plotted some more. Finally, he tossed all his plans aside, realizing that there wasn’t really anything he could do.

But he just couldn’t relax, either. He was so close. He knew where his wife we being held. He had contact with her father, the man in charge of her prison. His best friend, Bo Wu, was waiting for his arrival. There wasn’t anything he could do form the ship, but he wanted to do something! Entertainment, relaxing, they just seemed... wrong. At least, until he had Amelia by his side again. And so, the last four days of his trip were spent in unbridled anxiety and much pacing.

Finally, the trip was over, and the space ship landed. The Earth star port at Dallas was far larger than the one on Mars, and featured a full dozen landing pads, with ships leaving and returning all the time, as opposed to Mars’ two pads. He still had trouble with how much bigger things were on Earth. Then, he saw his best friend, a tall, bald Chinese man in a black trench coat and duster. He looked like a modern cowboy, which made Aries smile. He could remember the time when the young Chinese man embraced communism, and the thought of American cowboys would send him into tizzy fits. The two clasped each other on the back and hugged. It had been years since they had been face to face. After a few moments, they released each other, and Bo smiled at him.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go get Amelia.”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Life and Tiems of Aries Webb, Part 8: Fathers and Daughters

The lights on the large display in the Situation Room were bright, yet the room itself seemed dark. It was a contrast that Aries had never gotten used to, even through the war. He squinted in the dark, trying to see the people around the table as he sat down. Finally, he gave up and pulled out his glasses and put them on. He hated these things, but medical care was not quite up to standards just yet as the new nation struggled to get things in order. Strangely, the nation was easier to run when they were busy fighting a war. Aries had since come to realize that the real task of building a nation was only just now starting.

The four men and one woman that sat around the table represented the Prime Minister’s top military advisers, the leaders of the armed forces and the state police. They all stared at him with expectant faces. He always felt a little uncomfortable around these people. To a person, they were all older than him by abut twenty years, and all had more experience in military matters than he could ever muster. But, by fate, he was their leader, and they waited for him before marching.

“Report,” he said, trying to sound authoritative. It was something Bo had taught him. Military types liked a decisive leader.

“Sir, the dissidents have moved their operations to Schmidt, near the South Pole,” General Edwards was saying. He had once worked for the enemy during the war, but had defected to become a Martian citizen after the final battle. Now, he was Bo Wu’s chosen successor as the General of the Martian Army. “It looks like we have them on the run, and I’m confident that now that our air force is in full fighting shape, we can take them before they can cause any more serious trouble.”

“I would agree, sir,” the woman, General Marissa Payne said. “We’re at full strength and ready to go.”

“Has there been any further word from Atherton?” Aries asked. “Before we make our move, I want to be sure that he’s really with this group this time, and that it’s not another set up.”

“Yes, sir,” Edwards said. “We have had several visual confirmations by our intelligence operatives that Atherton is with this group in Schmidt. We can trap him in the South Poll and trap him for certain this time, sir. I’m positive of it.”

“Are we sure that this isn’t just another one of his traps?” Aries asked. Since the man had escaped capture and lead a guerrilla war against the Martian people, Zachery Atherton had set up the Martians at least three times.

“We’re positive it is, sir,” Edwards said. “But, our intelligence confirms that Atherton is actually there this time. And I’m pretty sure I know what the particular set up he’s trying to trap us with. It’s similar to one he used in South America. Knowing what he’s doing, I can maneuver around him.”

“Okay, make it happen,” he said. They all nodded, and then Anthony, his personal aid, came up to whisper in his ear that his next appointment was ready to meet in another room nearby. He sighed, thanked the military leaders and walked out the room. His day was only three ours old, but he was already exhausted.

“Anthony,” Aries said. “Have some strong coffee waiting at my next meeting, please.”

“It’s already there, sir,” Anthony said. Aries smiled.

“I don’t know what I would do without you, Anthony,” Aries said.

“I know, sir,” Anthony said. “I know.”

****

Zita came into the massive, state granted building that was her home. She had, in fact, grown up in the Prime Minister’s mansion, and so had never known any other home. But, she had it drilled into her head that this was a gift from the people of Mars, paid for by their taxes and hard work. It was, in fact, one of two homes so gifted to her and her father. This particular mansion was the official residence of the leader Mars, and would pass onto the next Prime Minister when her father stepped down. The other was a smaller place, though still large compared to the apartments most Martians lived in, that was their actual home. It was built three years ago by three construction companies as thanks for securing Martian freedom. Zita loved both houses, and understood what they meant to both her father and the Martian people.

But she hated coming home alone. Servants lived in the Prime Minister’s mansion, sure, and they took care of her fine, providing food and taking care of her clothing. Cho even helped her with her homework. But none of that was a good replacement for her father. And he was never home when she got there after school. Or was it?

“Honey?” she heard her fathers voice say from down one of the halls. “Is that you?”

“Dad?” she asked.

“Down here, in Office Two,” he said. She walked down the hall to what was called Office Two, so called because it was used for times when her dad, the Prime Minister of Mars, wanted to work but didn’t mind getting interrupted. Office One was a private office that even Anthony couldn’t interrupt him in.

“What are you doing home?” she asked, leaning on the door frame. “You’re never home this early.”

“Well, I had to escape all the meetings,” he said. “I needed to get some real work done.”

She narrowed her eyes some. “Real work?”

He held up his ePad, which was currently opened to a mail program.

“It’s a report from Uncle Bo,” he said.

Zita gasped. Her Uncle Bo had been searching for her mother, lost since the middle of the War for Independence about ten years ago. All they really knew was that she was a POW, taken in an attempt to convince Dad to end the war to save her. He hadn’t, of course, and Zita was still angry with him about that. Mars could have won its Independence some other time, with some other leader. She had been without her mother since she was three. And she blamed her Dad for that. But Uncle Bo had volunteered to go find her on his own, and any news from him included news about her.

“What’s he say?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just got here a few minutes ago. I was about to watch it and find out. Come on, sit next to me, and we’ll watch it together.”

She pulled up a chair next to the big, metal desk and pressed the play button on the mail. Aries placed the ePad down on the table, and the video sprung up as a three dimensional hologram. It was new technology, developed by a new technology firm back in India on Earth. Zita was super excited that she and her dad were given advanced copies of the new ePads, she loved showing hers off at school. It was a perk to being the daughter of the Prime Minister.

“Aries,” the voice of Uncle Bo came through the speakers before the video fully realized. Then, she saw him, his hair starting to gray slightly at the temples. “And I hope Zita is there with you too. How are you, Little Princess?”

She smiled. Only Uncle Bo got away with calling her anything other than her name. Well, and Dad, who just called her Honey or Kiddo a lot. But Uncle Bo called her Little Princess, and that would always mean something special to her.

“So, I have some really good news, followed by some bad news, and both are related,” he said. “I’ll just get right into it. I found Amelia.”

That brought gasps from both of them. Uncle Bo usually didn’t talk out right about Mom, he usually spoke in code, and even in Chinese. Today he was speaking outright, and in English. That meant whatever he found, he wasn’t afraid of anyone else finding him. What was going on?

“She is being held in a POW Camp in California,” he continued. “It turns out that the US Government re-opened Alcatraz as a prison and is using it for Prisoners of War from both Mars and China. Lots of people are still in there. They kept it pretty hushed up, using the earthquake as cover for closing the park. But, I had been hearing rumors from my contacts in China that California was the place to find prisoners. I got here and started some snooping. I found proof about Alcatraz, and tried to plan getting on the island to confirm Amelia was there. Then, yesterday, I got this in my mail.”

The image on the screen shifted from the Chinese man to that of an outside scene. It looked like someone looking from a cliff of some sort, over an ocean or sea, and there was a city across it. Zita didn’t know where that was until she thought she recognized the bridge in the scene as well. It had to be San Francisco. A man moved in front of the camera than. He was older, in a starched and pressed military uniform showing general stars. He smiled, and it was a pleasant smile, not all what she was used to seeing on military people.

“Greetings, General Wu,” the man said. “I hope this message finds you well. I have it on good authority that you’ve been looking for me. Or rather, my daughter. Well, rest assured that she is here, and safe and sound. I’ve been making sure that she’s quite well taken care of. I truly wish I hadn’t had to take her away from her husband. Speaking of which, I’m going to assume that you’ll be passing this message along, so allow me to talk to my son-in-law.”

“Aries,” he said, and he smiled again. Dad stiffened a little, and Zita thought she heard him say ‘General’ under his breath. “Son before I begin, I want you to know that I admire you. I always have, which was why I was more than happy to let my daughter marry you. And especially in light of what you have accomplished up there. Impressive. I’ve had nothing but sympathy for you and your cause from the start. In fact, it was me that convinced the new president to end the war and sue for peace.

“But enough of that. You want to hear about Amelia, and no doubt some explanation about why, if I am so much on your side, I kidnapped my own daughter and took her away from you and that lovely granddaughter of mine. Well, that’s a little more complicated. See, when the war started, there was a lot of anti-China feelings in the US, and everyone thought of Mars as an ally of China, especially after that little stunt you pulled with Phobos. Brilliant, by the way. Anyway, no one was willing to let you win freedom for Mars if that meant you would just be working for the Chinese. And some up and coming officer here got the stupid idea that they could force you to give up if they kidnapped Amelia.

“I caught wind, and took control of the operation mid-stream. That took a lot of my political capital, let me tell you. But it was worth it to protect my daughter. Now, ever sense then, I’ve been working on getting her freed and returned to Mars, especially now that the war is over. But, she’s scheduled to face War Criminal charges, though a date hasn’t yet been set. It’s a big bunch of bull hockey, if you ask me. They’re not planning on charging anyone held here. They're just going to keep them here and use them for information. I just hope that you understand that I’ve done and am still doing all I can to help her and you.

“Now, General Wu, back to you. I’m sending you all the information I can safely include in this message. Please, do not try and rescue Amelia here. If you try, weather successful or not, this place will become worse that it has ever been. It’s very difficult to get here without being detected, never mind get off again. I suggest holding off on any rescue attempts. Truly, Prime Minister and General, your best bet her is politics. Negotiate for her release. Offer something to the US that they want desperately, in return for all POW’s currently being kept at Alcrataz. Please, don’t do anything rash. Diplomacy is your weapon now.”

The old man paused, and Zita thought she saw a tear slip down his cheek.

“I must go now. If I can, I’ll send you what information I have. Good bye, and good luck.”

The scene turned back to Uncle Bo, who now had a worried look on his face.

“It’s the first real news we’ve had in a long time, Aries,” he said. “I’m not sure how you want to handle this from here, but I’ll start some preliminary scouting missions, see if maybe there is a way to do something. But in all honesty... I think the General is right. Getting her off there will be next to impossible. I’ll be waiting for your reply.”

And with that, the message ended. Zita turned to look at her dad.

“OMG, dad!” she said. “This is it! This is our chance to get Mom back. You can call the US government and negotiate!”

She expected him to be as excited as her. She expected him to maybe even call Anthony and set up the meeting now. She did not expect the reaction she did get. Her dad stood, his face drooping and sad. He looked at her like he was about to tell her the worst news ever. She could feel the tears coming. She shook her head before he started talking.

“Honey,” he started. “I can’t. I’ve already tried. I continue to try. But the truth is, we’re in such a tough financial situation right now, we have nothing to offer. Not even natural resources, really. We need most of what we’re mining ourselves, it doesn't leave much to sell. And we don’t have much in the way of anything else the US would want. I’ll keep trying, of course. I have to, and knowing about Alcatraz will help, but I doubt very much we’ll make much progress in freeing your mother.”

“No,” Zita said. “No! You have to do more, dad! We’re this close, you have to do something!”

He sat back down, slumping into it. She could tell by looking at him, he was defeated.

“I hate you!” she screamed at him. It felt like she’d been doing that most of her life. “I hate you!”

She stormed out of the room, slamming the door as she went. But it did very little to make her feel better.

****

“I just don’t know what to do, Mom,” Aries said to the hologram of his mother. He slumped down on his overstuffed office chair and sighed.

“She’s thirteen, honey,” Ju said. “They get rebellious at that age.”

“It’s more than just that, Mom,” Aries said. “She’s been like this since she was eight. She really does hate me, and I can’t blame her. I mean, I promised her I would get her mother back. It’s been eleven years, Mom. Eleven! Zita doesn’t even know what her Mom’s favorite perfume is, or what kind of dresses she wears. She’s never made cookies with her, or even know what the sound of her laughter is like. She only knows what she looked like eleven years ago. And Amelia... she’s been without her daughter all this time. We’re this close, Mom. This close. The finish line is in sight, and all I can see are the huge, gaping pot holes in my wait. I not sure there’s anything we can do right now that won’t cause another war.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something, honey,” Ju said.

“We’re broke, Mom,” Aries said. “We owe so much money to the European Commonwealth that it’s likely they’ll simply buy us and we return to colony status, just to a different country. I don’t really know if there’s really anything I can do at this point. And poor Zita... I’m at a loss on both counts, Mom.”

“Well, I never was really good with politics,” Ju said.

“Or money,” Aries heard his dad’s voice come from just off camera. He smiled at that old joke.

“Hush,” Ju said. “But I think I can do something to help you with Zita.”

Aries sat upright. “What?”

“Send her down here,” Ju said. “We’ve got a good set up here in South America, doing our research. Send her down here for the summer, and we’ll make her a lab assistant. She’ll be away from you for a while, spend some time with the family she does have, and maybe advance her knowledge of animal sciences.”

“She wants to be a vet, now,” Aries said, rubbing his chin. “This is a good idea, Mom.”

“I know,” Ju said, smiling.

“I’ll talk to her about it,” Aries said. “It should be her decision.”

“Good,” Ju said. “Let me know what she says.”

****

“I can be packed in an hour!” Zita said and jumped up to give her father a great big hug. Aries quickly leaned back and wrapped his arms around his daughter, both to hug her and to prevent her from falling to the floor. He smiled, and then he set her back down.

“You understand that you’re going there to work,” he said to her. “You’ll be there for the summer and you’ll be working on your zoology studies, right?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Are you kidding, Dad? I’ll be working with real animals, animals we don’t have here on Mars. I’ll be with Grandma and Granddad. This will be fantastic!”

“And you understand that I have to stay here, right?” he said at last.

That caused her to pause. “Yeah,” she said. “I wish you could come, though.”

“I know, honey,” he said, and gave her another hug. “I know. Me too. I may get some vacation time coming up in a few weeks, so I could be down there for a few days.”

“Yeah?” she asked. Her dad rarely got vacations, it seemed like the congress was always tasking him to get something or another accomplished.

“Yes,” he said, and kissed her on the forehead. “Now, you go and play. You’re shuttle to Earth doesn’t leave for another four days, so your hour packing excursion can wait a few days.”

She smiled, hugged him again, and took off running. She couldn’t wait to tell her friends. Earth. A whole other planet, and the one that none of them had ever been to. The mother world, and she was going to see it. It was exciting!

And secretly, she thought that maybe she could find a way to free her mom while she was there.

****
Zita stepped off the small, personal jet onto what appeared to be little more that a dirt strip and a two-story building with a tower behind it. This was the landing strip where her grandparents were working? This didn’t look at all that interesting. She stepped off the plane and immediately squinted in the bright sunlight. The sky was a bright blue, far more brilliant and bright than at home, forcing her to dig into her jacket for her sunglasses. She understood now what Grandma had suggested she bring them with her. And the place was hot, too. She knew it would be, but she had never really experienced it before. All the domes back home were climate controlled to be a nice, even temperature, and it only varied in temperature in places where experiments or environmental needs required it. According to Dad, it would be another hundred years before Mars was terraformed enough that the domes could be removed and the world was more like Earth. Now that she was here, she wasn’t sure she ever wanted it to be like that.

But then she heard something that made her smile. It was the cry of birds. She looked around to see if she could spot any, and it took a while before she saw a few on the roof of the building. They were so bright and colorful that she wanted to cry. Eventually, one of the other passengers on the jet nudged her to get her moving down the ramp, and she apologized as she did so. She felt like such a tourist, but she couldn’t help it. Earth was just so amazing compared to Mars. Her home was just red dirt and rocks outside the domes, and inside the domes was mostly steel, plastic and glass. Oh, sure, there were parks and zoo’s, but on Earth there were forests and jungles, with real wild animals.

Such as the one she saw running towards her now. It looked like a cat, but it was gigantic, orange with black stripes and a white face. She froze on the stairs, as did the man behind her. It stopped just a foot in front of her, sniffing. She was sure it was going to attack and eat her. How unfair was that? Not even on Earth for a few hours, and she gets eaten by some giant cat.

Suddenly, it jumped on her with its fore paws, pushing her down to the stairs. Then, its mouth got right up to her face, and she closed her eyes awaiting the grizzly end. Her hart was thumping when she felt a wet, sticky tongue rub across her face. Then it did it again, and she could swear she heard the beast purr. She opened her eyes to see hat it was, indeed, licking her.

“Khan!” she heard a woman’s voice call. “Khan, bad tiger. Get down, get down you great brute.”

When she looked up, she saw her grandmother yanking on a collar on the cat’s neck.

“Welcome to the jungle, dear,” she smiled. “Come, lets bring this little escape attempt back to his cell. You can settle in there.”

Zita laughed at the ridiculous sight of her skinny, old grandmother manhandling a giant cat. She stood up and helped her mother wrangle the beast back to the buildings that she thought was the landing tower.

****

“He just doesn’t seem to care, Grandma,” Zita said, putting the blood sample into the rack, then bringing the rack to the freezer unit. “He hasn’t done a single thing to help Mom. It’s all been Uncle Bo.”

“That’s not true, and you know it,” Ju said. She sighed and shook her head, sitting up from her microscope and looking at her granddaughter. “Your father has been pursuing every avenue available to him to find your mother and get her free. Diplomacy and politics are powerful weapons in the right hand, and your father is very good at both of them.”

“I just sometimes think he doesn’t really care,” Zita said. “I mean, he spends far more time working on the problems facing Mars than he does finding Mom.”

“You say that like Mars isn’t important,” Ju said. “Or worth helping.”

“It’s not important,” Zita said immediately. “Not compared to finding Mom.”

Ju sighed and stared hard at her granddaughter. Zita cringed slightly. Ju sat up very quickly, causing Zita to jump slightly.

“Come with me, young lady,” Ju said. “I have something to show you.”

Zita swallowed, but got up and followed her grandmother out of the lab and down the hall. It wasn’t long before she realized that Ju was taking her outside, into the Jungle itself. Even though she had been here for a few weeks now, the jungle still made her nervous. It was so... wrong to her. Everything was closed in and crowded, and it was noisy there. Not in a mechanical way, like a city was, but more... random, chaotic. Creepy noises she couldn’t identify, sounds that seemed to come from no where, strange animals moving among the trees. And everything was so green. It was such an alien place to her, and she felt like she would never get used to it. The austere vistas and mountains of Mars were looking more and more appealing the longer she spent on Earth.

Once out in the jungle, Ju lead Zita down a series of twisty paths, so that in very short order Zita was lost. It was her worst area of study since arriving. The few other interns there had all claimed to have memorized the paths in the jungle for a mile around the complex in a matter of days. She didn’t really believe them, but still, not having memorized any of then in two weeks was beginning to bug her. They walked for what seemed like an hour, though when Zita looked at her phone’s clock, she saw that it was only twenty five minutes. Her grandmother stopped at a tree and pointed to it. Zita looked, but it really didn’t look any different than the other trees in the area. Of course, trees and plants were not her area of interest. That was animals.

“Up there,” Ju said, pointing to some branches in the upper parts of the tree, “Is a species of bird called the Caatinga Woodpecker. We need one of them brought back to the lab so we can get some blood samples from it.”

Zita breathed out, only then realizing she was holding her breath. This was the kind of work she had been doing since arriving. Maybe Grandma wasn’t going to yell at her?

“I want you to climb up there and get one of the birds, a young one if possible,” Ju said. “They put up less of a fight. You should find several nests, so take your time and pick the right one.”

She stared at Zita in such a way as to indicate that the girl should start climbing right away. Zita blinked and nodded, then started to climb. It was difficult, given that she normally had time to get on proper protective gear and some climbing equipment, but Zita was young, limber and strong, so the climb was possible. After a sweat inducing ten minutes, Zita reached the first of the nests. The birds had been flying around her head for the past five minutes, crying at her loudly and buzzing her, but they never directly attacked her. She figured that they were not an inherently dangerous creatures, and getting the baby should be easy.

The first nest showed promise, too. It had four babies in it. She reached out her arm, and it was immediately bitten by the mother bird, who swooped down from seemingly no where. She batted at the bird and reached again, only to find that another bird had joined in the defense of the net. In short order, her hand had several red marks on it.

“They’re biting me!” she called down. “I don’t have my gear, this isn’t easy.”

“It’s not supposed to be, dear,” Ju cried back up. “Just get a baby out of the nest and start climbing down. They’ll leave you alone about half way down.”

Great, Zita thought. Grandma isn’t yelling at me, she’s punishing me by letting the birds pick at me.

She gritted her teeth and went back at it. She adjusted her position so she could use both hands easier, and made a new attempt to grab a bird. She jabbed quickly, grabbing one of the babies and yanking it out of the nest before the two birds protecting it could get to her. She used her other arm to start batting at them as they came at her. The pecked at her arm and hand more, but it gave her the time she needed to start climbing down. This was far more hurtful than the attempt to get the baby, as she needed her free hand to climb, and so was defenseless. She tired her best to only present her back to the attacking birds, and kept the baby close to her chest as she climbed back down.

Suddenly, though, the attacks stopped. She looked up and saw that the two birds had returned to the nest. They were still squawking at her, but they were no longer attacking. She wondered briefly why, but decided to be glad it was over and finished her climb down. She handed the bird to her grandmother, who was now wearing gloves.

“Go get washed up, see Dr. Landry, and then meet me in Lab 3 when your done,” Ju said, then marched off with the bird, leaving Zita standing there. She looked back up at the birds, who were still agitated and yelling. She couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t followed her to rescue their baby. She wold have followed herself and her grandmother to the ends of the world to get the baby back. But these two just stayed behind, yelling.

“Stupid birds,” she said, then went back inside.

****

“I don’t get it, Grandma,” Zita said, marching into Lab three. She had on clean clothes, as her last ones were getting a special sonic wash to get free of bird germs. Dr. Landry had lectured her long and hard about working without protective gear, until she told him that her grandmother had made her do it. Then he just laughed.

“Good,” Ju said. “Not getting things is the spark that motivates most scientists.”

Zita frowned. Sometimes, her grandmother was a very odd person.

“Why don’t you tell me what, specifically, it is you don’t get, dear,” Ju said after a few moments of silence.

“Those birds,” she said. “Why did they stop attacking? I mean, I kidnapped one of their children, why didn’t at least one of them keep coming after me?”

Ju looked up from her notes and turned around to face Zita. She was smiling.

“Come here, child,” Ju said. Zita almost rolled her eyes. When Grandma called her child, it meant she was going into teacher mode. “Bring your ePad.”

Zita grabbed her pad out of the bag and brought it to the table, setting it down where Ju indicated. Ju punched up a few commands on it, bringing up some of the cameras the research station had set up around the jungle. It had started raining out there, and everything was wet. This was something else different about Mars, but Zita liked the rain. It felt natural and wonderful and magical. It always made her smile.

When Ju set the pad flat on the table, the hologram technology took over, and the image because a three dimensional projection just above the screen. It was focused on the nest she had taken the bird from earlier.

“Tell me what you see,” Ju said.

“It’s the nest I was at earlier,” Zita said.

“Tell me specifics,” Ju prodded. Zita hated when she asked that. It meant she was missing something obvious to Ju.

“I see that it’s raining,” she said, looking more closely at the image. “And it looks like the two adult birds are both sheltering and providing food to the younger birds.”

In fact, it seemed to be a team effort. Hardly something one bird could do alone.

“Does that look like it could be done alone?” Ju asked, as if she could read Zita’s mind. She just shook her head. “Now, ask your question again.”

“Why didn’t the birds follow me?” she answered with a sigh.

“And the answer is?” Ju asked.

“Because they couldn’t,” Zita said. “Loosing one baby was hard, but they both had to stay behind to protect the other babies.”

“And do you know why I showed all this to you?” Ju asked, and Zita felt her heart skip a beat as she realized that she did.

“Yes,” she said. “Its like my dad with finding Mom. He wants to come down here after her, after the people that took her, but he can’t, because he has babies to protect back home. Me. And even Mars.”

Ju smiled and nodded. “Excellent,” she said. “No, go and get some sleep.”

Zita reached down to pick up her ePad and bring it back to her bag, shutting off the hologram.

“That really is a remarkable piece of technology,” Ju said. “The hologram thing. Where did you get it?”

“India,” Zita replied. “There’s a tech firm there that’s really in Mars and are big fans of dad. They send him new technology all the time. They...”

She paused, a light bulb going off in her head. She turned to look at her grandmother, who was confused by her granddaughter’s sudden excitement.

“Grandma! That’s it!” she said. “I know how to help Dad. Can I call him?”

****

Zita walked up to her dad and looked over the terrace at the new building being built below.

“Take a look, kiddo,” Aries said, giving her daughter a hug. “This is all your doing.”

Zita smacked her father playfully. “Not all my doing. You helped. A little.”

He laughed and hugged her tighter. She liked it. Things had been better with her had her dad since she returned to Mars two months ago.

“And I have more good news,” Aries said. “When word got out that this company was moving its headquarters to Mars, other tech companies started petitioning to move here as well, or at least set up plants here. We’re getting an influx of jobs opening here that will bring in money like never before. Mars will finally be able to start paying off its debts and actually getting something accomplished. You did good, honey. You did good.”

“No, Dad,” Zita said, squeezing her dad hard. “You did.”

The End

Week 51

Well, here we are, only one week away from the end of the whole year! I have to admit, when I started, I never thought I would make it this far. I never thought I would make it even past the first month. But, here I am, only one week away from finishing. Woo! I'm excited. So, enjoy Part 8 of the Life and Times of Aries Webb.

And next week, I'll be back one last time for the final story.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bonus Story: Life and Times of Aries Webb Interlude 3: Zita

“I hate you!” Zita screamed as she stormed down the hall way. “I hate you so much!”

“Honey,” Aries called after his petulant daughter. This was becoming a recurring fight with them. “Baby girl, come here. We need to talk about this.”

“No,” she said, stomping her foot down again. “No. You said we were going to get Momma! Now your saying that we have to stay here. I want Momma! I don’t want to be here anymore. I hate Mars, and I hate you!”

She slammed her door shut on her father’s face. He sighed and turned around to lean on the door.

“Baby girl,” he said through the door. “Talk to me. This is important, I need you to understand.”

“No!” she cried.

“I want to leave, just like you,” he said. “I want to go find Momma. But I can’t. I’ve been given no choice. Mars needs me, and they don’t want anyone else being leader right now. It’s up to me to set things up so it can run without me.”

“I don’t care,” she said. “I want Momma, and you promised that we would go get her when the war was done. You promised!”

He sighed again. She was right, he had promised that very thing. At the time, it seemed like a realistic idea. Once the war was over, he could release Martial Law and return the government to the Ministry and Senate, back to the citizens of a now truly free Mars. They could elect a new leader. But the elections happened, and he was the only name on the ballot. No one else even wanted to run. The Ministry and the Senate, for the first time in their brief history, were united on this front. They wanted him to lead for the next full term, a full four years. His daughter would be a teenager by the time he was done with that, and he still didn’t even know where Amelia was. His heart was torn in three pieces. One for his wife, one for Mars and one for his daughter. How could a man make decisions like this?

“Honey,” he said, trying a different tactic. “I’m not giving up on Mommy. I still want to find her, just like you do.”

“Then we should go get her,” she said through the door. Oh, if only his little ten year old understood what it was she was asking.

“I would love to, but I can’t,” he said. “But, Uncle Bo has agreed to go.”

There was silence on the other side of the door for a few moments. Then, the door slowly opened, and Aires had to quickly stand up before he fell into her room.

“Really?” the little girl with tear stained cheeks said through the door. She looked so much like her mother, it almost hurt Aries. “Uncle Bo?”

“Yup,” Aries said, smiling. “He put in his resignation this morning. That means he quit. Just so he can go do this for us. Because he knows that I can’t, even though I want to.”

“Do you think that Uncle Bo can do it?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his waist.

He stroked her hair, a tear coming to his own eye. “I hope so, baby girl. I hope so.”

End Interlude

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb Part 7: War’s End

Aries slammed the report down on his desk, causing Anthony to jump in surprise. It was another loss. The Americans had taken the water processing plant Allegheny Vallis. Though it was only a secondary water source for Olympus Mons, it was a major source for the smaller mining colonies Arsia Mons, and would make defending those colonies now a major priority. Those mines provided the Martian Army with much of the metal it needed to function. To top it off, Al-Qahira Vallis, a major food producer on Mars, was now under siege by General Atherton. The whole war effort was going to hell in a hand basket. Something needed to be done.

He signed the paper that Anthony was putting in front of him, and the dismissed his assistant. He needed to make an important decision, and he did that better when he was alone. His troops were spread thin, and their moral was done. Five years had passed since Amelia had been taken from him, five years and they still had no idea where she was. Bo had received a report that she had been taken off world, but he didn’t want to think of that. If she had been taken to Luna or worse to Earth, it was unlikely that he could truly rescue her.

He had to win this war. That had become linked to rescuing Amelia. Once the Americans had released his world, they could start getting things started on their own. He could even release the government from the Martial Law they had passed on him four years ago. With these responsibilities turned over to someone else, he could focus his attention on getting his wife off Earth and back home.

He reached across his desk and picked up another report. It contained only a letter, on which was a singular offer. He had turned it away out of hand at first, but now he had to seriously reconsider. If he accepted the terms, this could turn the tide of the war in his favor. Even though some allied countries on Earth had begun to put political pressure on America to stop the war on Mars, they just didn’t give up. Though they were stalemated against China, the government kept painting Mars as China’s ally, and thus wins here were wins against the Communists back there. And accepting this offer would only make those accusations true, at least in the eyes of the American government.

Still, he didn’t think he had any other choice. He re-read the letter again, just to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. Truth was he didn’t trust the offer. But it didn’t seem like there was anything missing. He called in Anthony and told him to bring in Bo.

****

“Has hell frozen over?” Bo said. “I can’t believe that you’re considering this for even an instant!”

“It’s a good deal,” Aries said. “We need the reinforcements this offer gives us.”

“At the cost of our soles?” Bo asked. “This is so far from being a good deal that I am beginning to question your judgement. More than normal!”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Aries asked. It had been a long time since the two of them really argued. Ever since being elected Prime Minister of Mars, and Bo made the General of the Army, the two hardly ever argued. It was a strictly business relationship, with Bo the General taking orders from Aries the Prime Minister. Today, though, Bo was letting all his anger out.

“It means some of your military decisions over the past few years have been really shitty,” Bo said. It was rare he used English slang like that, he preferred to swear in Chinese. “We’ve lost every major battle since Amelia’s capture.”

“Well, if you and your generals would follow my orders instead of changing my plans,” Aries said, “we wouldn’t be in this position.”

“Seriously, Aries?” Bo replied. “You really want to argue this? ,You’re idea of strategy is throwing troops at the enemy in the hopes of just wiping them out entirely. We’ve had no choice but to change tactics in order to try and make something useful of your orders. And even at that, we can’t pull miracles out of our asses. You need to give us something solid to work with. And now you want to accept aid from China? Troops in return for mining rights? That’s ridiculous. Not only is it a bad idea to give them a foot hold on our world, but it will turn public opinion on Earth against us and prove the Americans against us.”

Aries started to argue again, but stopped, his mouth open. He sighed, slumped his arms at his side and sat down in the chair behind his desk. Bo was right, and he just had to admit it. He was tired of all this.

“You’re right,” he said in a small voice that sounded as tired as he felt. “You’re right, I’ve fucked things up royally.”

“It’s not too late to recover,” Bo said, turning around to look at his friend. His voice also lowered. “We can still turn this around and pull out a victory.”

Aries looked up at Bo.

“I should have been letting you lead all this time,” he said. “It should have been you sitting behind this desk, not me. What the hell were we thinking? We were so young, and I was still in college. I would give anything to go back to that time, and just stick to my science. I could be a scientist now, studying the rocks and insides of Mars, instead of ordering men to their deaths.”

“Aries, listen to me,” Bo said. “We can’t think like that. What If’s and Maybe’s don’t do anyone any good. We’re here now, and I truly believe that we’re both right were we need to be. Mars needs us, and they need us to win this war. And we can do it. We just need to return to a basic strategy that was working for us in the beginning. We need to return to being defensive, make the Americans spend resources trying to get us. Eventually, we can make this war too expensive for them, and they’ll be forced to quit.”

Aries sighed again, and looked Bo in the eye. He saw an intensity there that he hadn’t seen before. Bo wasn’t just saying these things. He believed them.

“Okay, Bo,” Aries said. “Tell me what we do first.”

****

“Something has changed,” General Atherton said looking over his map of Mars. It was a holographic map that represented all the topography and terrain of the world, so that he could get a better look at thing. It was also covered in several red and blue dots, showing which sights and colonies were controlled by the Martains and which were controlled by the US.

“Indeed,” his Colonel said. He pointed to a red dot on the map that marked Eos Chasma, the place of the US Army’s latest defeat at the hands of the Martians. “They’re fighting defensively again, that’s whats changed. Our attack at Eos should have drawn them out, they should have wanted to chase us down to defeat us once and for all, where we could have continued to whittle down their numbers. Instead, they stayed behind, and never advanced. They used the terrain as they have never done before, finding features we didn’t even know were there to take advantage of us. They defended, and they did it so well that we were forced to retreat before we lost too many men.”

“And this is the third time in the past year they have done so,” Atherton said. He ran a hand through his hair, still dark brown despite his age. “This young general, Bo Wu. This is his doing. The leadership of the army has transferred back to him, it has to.”

The Colonel nodded his head. “That begs the question, sir. What do we do about it?”

The General rubbed his chin. “He’s conservative, this Wu.”

“Form every report we have, yes,” the Colonel said.

“Not just from that,” Atherton said. “From his actions. He conserves, his resources, his troops. He even waits to fire until we are almost on top of them. He knows this land, this world, like none of us do, even those of us that were born here. He uses that knowledge to his advantage, and does so very effectively.”

“Sir, you sound like you admire him,” the Colonel said.

“Of course I do,” Atherton said, still looking at the map. He circled the table that generated the computerized map on it. “He has proven himself worthy of my admiration.”

He paused, looking down at the hologram. Suddenly he jabbed his finger. “Here.”

The Colonel looked down at the map. “There? Sir, There is nothing at the Moreux Crater. Only an abandoned mine, not even usable as a base. It holds no strategic value at all.”

“Here,” Atherton said. “That is where we will draw them out. Wu will be expecting us to attack Arsai Mons.”

“As we should be,” The Colonel said. “Its a major farming center on Mars. We’ve talked about this attack for the past two weeks.”

“Yes, which is why we will not attack it, we’ll go to Moreux,” Atherton said. “We’ll draw them out. We’ll start marshaling forces, slowly at first, let them wonder what we’re doing. While that happens, and we’ll study the landscape. We’ll turn his tactics against him. We’ll make him attack us, and we’ll defend.”

“What if they don’t take the bait?” the Colonel asked.

“Oh, they will,” Atherton said. “They will see this as the opportunity to end the war once and for all.”

****

“He’s baiting us,” Wu said.

“Of course he is,” Aries said, looking at his own holographic map. “This is Zachery Atherton we’re talking about. He is the man that lead the US to victory in the South American conflict, and again in when the US aided Egypt in defending itself against Lybia. He’s a tactical genius, one of the most decorated Generals in the US. The only reason he’s not serving on the Joint Chiefs is he refused the posting.”

“And as a reward,” Bo said. “He was transferred to Mars, to live out the rest of his carrier. Kind of like putting him out to pasture.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t presented to him that way,” Aries said. “From what my dad said, Mars was a choice assignment when we were kids. Giving Atherton Mars would have been a kind of reward, even if it was the political equivalent of putting him out to pasture. Two birds with one stone.”

Aries looked at the map again. It was showing several blue squares moving towards the Moreux Crater. He just didn’t know why. There was nothing out there. It wasn’t even a good place to stage an attack, it was too far away from everything. They would know the moment he made a move. And yet, he was gathering forces there. Bo was right, of course. It was a trap of some sort, the problem was he just didn’t know what kind.

“Well, General,” Aries said, pointing to the map, “If we know its a trap, what do we do?”

“We spring it, of course,” Bo said.

****

“You see, Edwards?” General Atherton said to the Colonel as they watched the assembling Martian forces from the deck of the General’s temporary headquarters.

“Yes, I see that they took the bait,” the Colonel said. “But they are not attacking. They have set up a siege position, and even started putting in fortifications. They intend to wait us out.”

“But as you and I know, that won’t work,” Atherton said. He turned from the deck and walked back into the building. “We have supplies coming in through a way they will never figure out.”

“Can you be sure about that, sir?” Edwards asked.

“Positive,” Atherton said. “If they knew about this, they would have set up a supply base here a long time ago. It’s the perfect location for such a place, right in between three major colonies like this. We’re still getting supplies in as needed. We can hold out here for a year if we need to.”

Edwards nodded, but there was something about this whole thing that he didn’t like. Why didn’t the Martians build some kind of depot here, a station to sort shipments between colonies? The General was correct, this was the perfect place for it, especially with the secret they had discovered about it.

“Edwards,” the General said, sitting at his table to eat. “You worry too much. Come, sit. Chef prepared us quite the feast. Real Martian delicacies, from what I am told.”

Edward nodded again and sat. But he only nibbled at his food. Something about this was still disturbing to him.

“Oh, spit it out, Edwards,” Atherton said, waiving his fork at the Colonel. “What is it?”

“I don’t know, sir,” Edwards said. “There’s just something about this I don’t like. They have to know that we’ve set them a trap here. Why would they just walk into it?”

The General put his fork down and then placed both hands flat on the table. He glared across the table at Edwards. The Colonel had worked for the General long enough now to have experienced this before, and didn’t even flinch at the look that had cowed even presidants.

“I’m only going to explain this once, Edwards,” Atherton said, “so listen closely. They come knowing it’s a trap because they have no choice. If they want to end this war, and they do, the come to us. They will try to prepare for what we are going to do, but without knowing the secret of this crater, they will fail to be ready for the final attack. We will surprise them, and obliterate them. If I am very lucky, that young wolf, Wu, will be there. I wold love to see that man face to face.”

Edwards nodded. But it was clear from the look on his face that he wasn’t convinced. The General sighed.

“Edwards, if your questioning wasn’t so important to me, I wouldn’t put up with you,” Atherton said. “Ask your self this question. Have I ever lost a campaign? Individual battles, sure, but entire campaigns?”

The Colonel shook his head. That much was true about the General’s carrier. It did make Edwards feel a little better. This battle had the feel of the end of the war, he realized. Maybe that was what made him uncomfortable.

Maybe.

****

“Something is not right about all this,” Bo said.

“Is that why I came out here, to the front lines?” Aries asked.

Bo looked at him with narrowed eyes. Aries smiled. He had asked to come out to the field HQ Bo had set up, to give a talk to the troops. This battle just felt too important to for him to not be there.

“Listen to me,” Bo said. “We’ve been at this for, what, six months now? This siege should have started having some kind of effect on him. Instead, they stay hunkered down in there. Every time we probe their perimeter, we get a fight. No one is surrendering in order to get food. They’re getting supplies in there.”

“Air drop?” Aries asked, looking to the sky as if he expected to see jets fly by on his cue.

“No,” Bo shook his head. “I mean, sure, they have jets fly in, but our air force has pretty effectively cut that route off. The amount of stuff that gets through that way is minuscule.”

“The Air Force must be pretty happy about that,” Aries said. “Their first real victory in this war.”

“Yeah,” Bo said. “General Gomez has been bragging to me about his success this siege, as if I wasn’t somehow doing my part.”

Bo sighed, and flopped back into his chair next to the map. The map automatically zoomed out to its default view of the whole crater. Aries watched as the blue and red squares representing buildings and troops shrunk and turned into dots as the landscape expanded to cover a larger area.

Then, he saw something.

“Bo,” Aries said, circling the map. “Is it possible that the air drops are a distraction?”

“What?” Bo asked.

“The air drops,” Aries said again, leaning over and squinting at the map. “Is it possible that they are not really bringing in any supplies with them, they’re just distracting us with them?”

“It’s not just possible,” Bo said, leaning forward, “it’s very likely. I mean, they’re obviously getting in supplies somehow. I just don’t know how.”

“I do,” Aries said. “And to top it off, I know a very easy way to stop them.”

Bo grinned.

****

The tunnels shook around Colonel Edwards. More explosions. He would say that he knew it was too good to be true, but the truth was he’d been saying that for the past month. The Martians had discovered the tunnels. The tunnels the General had repeatedly assured him they did not know about, the secret they had used to get supplies to them from the few colonies they controlled. Now, one by one, the tunnels were being shut off, and the troops bringing in the supplies were being attacked. They were starting to enter a real siege here, and eventually, they would have to either attack or surrender. The tunnel stopped shaking, and he looked around. Where ever the explosion happened, it didn’t affect the supplies they already had stored here. That was good, at least. They could still hold out for several months on these supplies.

He left the cave to go find the General. He found the older man in his office as normal, looking over his communiques from Earth on his portable computer. He didn’t look happy when he motioned Edwards to move in.

“Those fools,” he said. “Those simpering, weak willed fools back on Earth don’t know what they are doing.”

“Sir?” Edward said. The General must have received new orders, but whatever they were, he wasn’t happy about it.

“Well, this new administration may think they know what’s best, but when I win this battle, and thus the war, I”ll show them,” the General said. He was ranting as if Edwards wasn’t even there.

“Yes, sir,” he said in reflex. This was a highly unusual state for the General to be in, and Edwards was beginning to worry that his leader was loosing it under all the pressure.

“Come, Edwards,” The General said, suddenly standing. “It’s time for this charade to end.”

The general walked out of his office and down the hall. The building was temporary, of course, made from pre-fabricated walls and bolted together on the field. They were solid armor, and good protection from anti-personal weapons, but they wouldn’t stand up to artillery fire. Still, they were more comfortable than a tend, and allowed the General his luxuries, such as his desk.

“How many of the tunnels have they shut down?” the General asked.

“About half, sir,” Edwards said. “And it looks like they’re not done yet. I don’t know how they found them, but it looks like they’re taking them down one by one.”

“And how many of our troops were lost in those tunnels?” Atherton asked, never looking at Edwards as he marched down the hall. He looked like a lion stalking its pray.

“Approximately ten thousand men are on those tunnels right now,” he said. “Assuming that they shut down all the tunnels in the next two hours, which seems likely, we’ll loos them all.”

Atherton nodded, as if expecting to hear that news. “Order those troops on their way here to stop and return to HQ. No need to loose those troops for good. We won’t need them anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Edwards said.

“Then, I want you to order a platoon to secure one of those tunnels,” Atherton said. “They seem intent on taking these tunnels down one at a time. Find out which one is their last target and stop them from taking it down. We can still use it to launch our attack.”

“Yes, sir,” Edwards said, and rushed off to deliver the orders. He found himself feeling excited. This was the General Atherton he had served with in South America and Africa all those years ago. Bold, decisive and always with a plan. If anyone can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, it would be Atherton. After delivering the orders, Edwards returned to his own office in the make shift headquarters. His desk was just as portable and austere as the rest of the building, but it served him. He sat at the computer terminal to check his own communiques and then prepare for the battle ahead.

****

“Thank you, Captain,” Bo said to the man, who saluted and walked away.

“Reports from the scouts?” Aries said, practically jumping up and down to read the note over Bo’s shoulder.

“I knew it was a mistake to let you stay here,” Bo said, and then unfolded the report and began to read.

“They found it, didn’t they?” Aries asked again, turning away from Bo and pacing around the table that was the only piece of furniture in the room besides the two chairs.

“Seriously, are you the Prime Minister, or a six year old?” Bo said, trying to read the report.

“And they don’t know about it,” Aries said, as if he didn’t hear Bo. “Or if they do, it’s not guarded.”

“I would know all this for certain if you wold just let me read the report,” Bo said.

“It’s perfect,” Aries said. “We can leave a contingent of troops out here as bait and net at the same time, and send most of our forces through the tunnel to catch them by surprise.”

Bo ignored him this time, reading the report. It had a lot of details on it regarding the specific volcanic shaft that Aries had been talking about. Aries finally stopped pacing and waited for Bo to finish waiting, his arms and feet constantly moving.

“It looks like you were right,” Bo said at last, tossing the report on the table. Aries didn’t even look at it. He grinned at Bo. The general sighed. He really was a little boy sometimes.

“Okay,” Bo said. “This is the part where you tell me how you knew about this tunnel? Even with your descriptions, our scouts had the devils own time finding it.”

“Geology lesions,” Aries answered immediately. He had obviously been waiting for this very question to come up.

“Geology lesions,” Bo said with a sigh. Aries was obviously enjoying this, and wanted to drag it out as long as possible.

“Yeah,” Aries said. “When I first went to university, my Geology professor decided we needed hands on experience rather than a lot of book learning, so we took a lot of field trips. And I mean a lot. We traveled all over Mars to various interesting sights. Climbed mountains, looked inside craters, and even checked out several volcanic shafts. Including this one.”

“Well,” Bo said, crossing the room and tapping his finger on the report folder. “Do you know what this means?”

“It means I have outsmarted Zachery Atherton,” Aries said.

“No, you ninny,” Bo said, resisting the urge to smack his best friend upside the head. “It means that we’re about to win the war.”

****

“Are we all prepared, then?” Atherton said.

“Yes, sir,” Edwards said. He looked rather distracted to the General, though.

“What’s the matter, Edwards?” Atherton asked.

“Er... nothing, sir,” Edwards said, then looked towards the gathering troops. “Our men have secured tunnel four, the last remaining tunnel. We’re working on digging a branch line to the rear of our opponents outside the crater. We should be ready to launch the attack in as little as four hours.”

“Excellent,” Atherton said. “Excellent. Start gathering the men. I want to give them a speech. A speech on the dawning of a historical battle is fitting, isn’t it? Maybe someone should record it, for posterity. In fact, that’s an excellent idea. Colonel, get someone to record this speech. I’m going to prepare it, I want to give it in one hour.”

“Yes, sir,” Edwards said. He watched as his General walked back into the building that housed his office. Edwards shook his head. He was beginning to fear that Atherton had lost his mind.

****

“Are your troops all set?” Aries asked Bo. Bo nodded. “Good. I’ll only give a quick speech. They’ll expect it, seeing as how I’m here and all.”

Bo only nodded again. Aries was serious now, and Bo almost preferred it when his friend was the smart-ass he was a few hours ago. But this was a serious moment. A solemn moment, even. After today, everything changed. This would be the deciding battle, one way or another. Either Mars would finally be truly free, or the US wold win, and all their work would be for naught. Bo wanted to be hopeful, and believe that this battle would lead to freedom. But, he was a realist, and a General. Battle plans had a tendency to go to pot when confronted with a live enemy. That was why they were the enemy, after all. And this particular enemy was lead by a highly decorated American General, who was something of a hero back on Earth. What right did little Bo Wu, rebel and upstart, have to take on, never mind hope to defeat, Zachery Atherton?

“Bo, were you listening to me?” Aries asked, snapping Bo out of his revere.

“Uh...” Bo hesitated, then sighed. “No, sorry. I was thinking about the battle ahead.”

“I said I need some advice,” Aries said. “I need to know what to say to these men. This could very well be the end of the whole war.”

“You don’t know what to say?” Bo asked, eyebrows raised in disbelief. “You, the man who has had the media wrapped around your pinkie before you were even born? Mr. I sway public opinion just by showing my face on the news? You can’t figure out what to say?”

“This is different,” Aries said. “The media is one thing. Even addressing the populace is different. These men, these boys... they’re our people. They’re about to put their lives on the line, maybe give the final sacrifice, for our freedom, our Independence. This isn’t something I am saying to convince people that the hard times we’re going through now are for the greater good, or to negotiate a deal with a foreign power. Or even to try and get some positive press for me and our cause. No, this is far more important than that. This is history. And I’m not going to be the one making it, these men are. I think it’s important that they know that, and that I, personally, and very proud to have been here, simply to see them, to shake their hands, before they make that history.”

Bo just paused and stood staring at Aries right then. This was one of the things he loved about this man. Those things were not just pretty words or rhetoric. These were things Aries believed in, with all of his being.

“I think you should just say that,” Bo said.

Aries paused. Then, he nodded.

****
“Pull back, pull back!” Bo screamed as the enemy troops poured out of the tunnel they were unable to stop. He had expected an attack from that front, but not one as strong as it had been.

“We’ll take up defensive lines near the crater lip,” he said to the captain at his side. “Move platoons six and nine over to the left, and try to flank him as they come through.”

His aid nodded and ran off to deliver the orders. Bo sighed and raised binoculars to view the rest of the battle. As expected, things were going to shit and fast. The troops sent through Aries’ secret tunnel had yet to emerge, and while Bo held the terrain advantage, Atherton still had the advantage of numbers. Making this a pretty much even match for the time being. The only thing going his way was that Aries had gotten away before the fighting started. Wouldn't do to have the Prime Minister killed in the field.
Aries had better be right about those tunnels, Bo thought. Because if he’s not, and we lose those troops down there, this battle is over right now. And we’ve lost.

****

The explosion went off behind Atherton as he watched the fight outside the crater through his ePad. He dropped to the ground and scrambled for cover behind a large outcropping of rock. Colonel Edwards was at his side a second later, as were several soldiers that served as his guard. As soon as he realized that he was cowering under a giant rock in front of his soldiers, he stood up and shook himself off.

“Someone find out what the hell that was,” he shouted. He turned his binoculars towards the direction of the explosion. “What the hell?”

“It looks like... enemy uniforms?” Edwards was next to him, his own binoculars to his head. He had adjusted the magnification to full zoom, but the resolution got a little shaky at this level.

“Armor,” the General said. “Enemy armor. They’ve found a way to penetrate our position, and they brought armor with them!”

“Withdraw,” the Colonel shouted into his radio. “For a protective circle aroudn the general.”

Immedatly, the closest platoon did just that. The fighting was happening right in their front yard now, and it was very obvious that this was not going to go well for them. Edwards looked over at Atherton, but all he saw in the man’s eyes was anger.

“Push forward,” Atherton said.

“What?” Edwards said, unsure he heard the command correctly. A push would be suicide.

“Push forward,” Atherton said. “Attack. Counter attack them, damnit! Platoons five and six are on the other side of the ridge, attack them from the rear.”

“Those platoons are engaged with the enemies outside, sir,” Edwards said. “And a push from us out be suicide.”

“Give me that,” Atherton said, grabbing the radio from Edwards. Then, he was yelling into it for the attack to happen, spittle flying out of his mouth in his rage.
The Platoon hesitated to act, though, looking at the Colonel for confirmation. Atherton’s rage grew. How dare these men disobey him. He was the general, not Edwards! Then, amidst the din of battle, Atherton heard the quiet noise of a gun cocking right next to his ear. Slowly, he turned to look at the gun, and then followed the arm holding it to Edward’s grim face.

“Edwards,” Atherton said, glaring at his aid. “This is treason.”

“No sir,” Edwards said. “Its obeying orders. See, I got the same communique this morning that you did, the ones from Earth and the President. They ordered us to leave Mars, that the Earth was officially surrendering the planet to Prime Minister Webb, and that they would recognize the serenity of Mars from here on out. A similar letter was surely sent to the office of the Prime Minister. I didn’t do anything about it at first, because there was still a chance you could win this battle and get the enemy to surrender to us. But now, with our army facing defeat... surrender is the only option we have right now that doesn’t end with all our men dead.”

“Traitor!” Atherton bellowed. The madness was quite clear in his eyes now. “Those fools back on Earth don’t know what they are doing. These rebels can’t get away with this, or others will try and do the same! I have never lost a battle, you hear me? Never! And I don’t plan to start now!”

Edwards only nodded to some nearby soldiers, who took the General under custody. He then picked up the radio, and gave the order to surrender. This battle was over.

And with it, so was the war.

****

“Colonel Edwards,” Bo said, accepting the saber offered to him by the US army officer apparently in charge of the enemy army. “I accept your surrender.”

“Thank you, sir,” Edwards said.

The two stared at each other for a few moments, not quite sure what happened here.

“So,” Bo said. “I guess this is it then. The war is officially over.”

“Yes, sir,” Edwards said. “It most certainly is.”

“You’ll be something of a hero here on Mars,” Bo said. “For stopping Atherton like that.”

“I’m not a hero, sir,” Edwards said. “I’m just a soldier.”

Bo nodded, understanding that statement more than Edwards could ever understand.

“Still,” Bo said. “If there is anything we can do for you, Colonel...”

“There is one thing, sir,” Edwards said.

“Name it,” Bo said.

“Do you happen to have a form for requesting citizenship?” Edwards said.

Bo laughed.

The End

Week 50

Wow... week 50! Only two more weeks to go! It's hard to believe that the year is almost over. And for this week, the next chapter in the adventures of Aries Webb!

Also, go check out my guest blog over at CA Marshall's website as part of her 12 Days of Christmas Blogfest. It's been pretty cool so far, and I had a ton of fun writing my entry.

http://www.camarshall.com/2010/12/on-seventh-day-of-christmas.html

In the mean time, enjoy this week's story, and I'll see you next week!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb, Part 6: Amelia’s Story

Amelia watched as her troops trudged back into camp. The temporary dome had been set up on the flat plains of Utopia Planitia, and had been serving as her base of operations for the past six months. She hated being this far away from both Aries and Zita, but it was necessary. Zita. The thought of her two year old little girl being afraid for mommy broke her heart But it was partially for her that she lead her troops. The fighting had become particularly harsh here, near Elysium Mons, the largest US Holding on Mars. Though Bo had decided, and rightly so, to fight a defensive war, Elysium Mons was providing too much support to the US troops, and it needed to be either taken or at least cut off.

Amelia had attacked the city twice, without success. Now, she was preforming a siege, preventing the city from getting anything out and from the US troops from getting in. It was that last part that was proving difficult. Her forces had been assaulted three times in the last month alone, and from the looks of the returning troops today, this was another loss for the Martians. A few moments later, DeVore entered her office.

“We lost, didn’t we?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. They had developed a good working relationship over the past few years. What little success she did have she truly felt was due to his aid. “The enemy managed to break through our line and get some soldiers into the city. The good news is that they’re stuck in there now. We managed to seal the entrance they used.”

“What about our losses?” she asked.

“Surprisingly light,” he said, handing her the report.

She sighed. This was the part she hated the most. She would write each family that had lost a child to this war personally, but that would have to wait until later.

“We need to do something different,” she said. “This siege is only partially working. We’re keeping them in, but we’re not preventing supplies from getting in either. At this rate, we’ll win this siege well after the war is over. We need to do something different.”

“We’ve already tried attacking,” DeVore said. “I mean, short of a surgical strike inside the dome, I think we’ve done everything we can.”

“Wait,” Amelia said. “I thought we looked at surgical strikes and ruled them out. What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about commandos,” he said. “A small squad that gets inside and takes out some key targets. Food stores, water, that kind of thing.”

“Again, we talked about this,” Amelia said. “It’s not practical. There’s too many enemy troops inside, whoever we send in has a high chance of getting caught. It would be a suicide mission. What changed?”

“Nothing,” DeVore said.

She looked at him blankly for a few moments. It took that long for what he was saying to sink into her tired brain.

“I take that back,” he said. “Something has changed. Our need for something to happen.”

“You’re seriously wanting me to order men on a suicide mission?” she asked.

“Of course not,” he said. “You ask for volunteers.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” she said.

“Think about it,” he said. “ You’re right, we can’t keep on like this. Right now, our enemies are fighting a war of attrition against us, and we can’t win that way. They have more troops back on Earth. We don’t. If we don’t do something here soon we’ll loose Elysium Mons, and they keep a major foot hold on our territory.”

“I should have never allowed you to speak so freely around me,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “But you also know that I am right. We need to do this.”

She thought about it for a few moments. The sad truth was, he was right. But she just didn’t know if she could really ask any of her men, even men who volunteered, to commit themselves to something like this. Her father once told her his secret to being a leader. ‘Never order a man to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.’ Was she willing to go on such a mission? The answer came to her right away, and it surprised her. Yes. She thought of her daughter. She should be thinking of her, and getting back to her, not getting herself killed. But at the same time, she realized that it was because of her daughter that she was so willing. She would gladly lay her life down to protect her daughter, and also to provide her daughter with a safe home.

“Okay,” she said. “Well do this. But I’m leading this mission.”

“No, ma’am, you can’t,” he said. She looked up at him. She realized that he wasn’t the least bit surprised by her answer or desire to lead. That smug bastard knew what she was going to answer before she did.

“Don’t give me the ‘your too valuable an officer’ speech,” she said. “I’m leading this, and that’s final.”


“No, ma’am,” he said. “It’s more than just your value as an officer. Don’t get me wrong, you are one of the finest officers I’ve ever worked under, but it’s more than that. You’re the Prime Minister’s wife. Our First Lady, if you will. A celebrity. If you die out here, it would be a blow to moral, not just to our men, but to the people of Mars. Not to mention your husband. If he fell apart, this whole war would be for nothing. No, ma’am, you need to stay here.”

She smiled up at him, then stood and clasped him on the shoulders. “DeVore, I appreciate your honesty about all this, and you make some valuable points. But I can’t ask a man, even one who volunteers, to do this if I’m not willing to do it myself. I have to lead this mission, and there is nothing you can say that will get me to change my mine. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. She believed him.

“Good,” she said, “gather the men. We need to find the rest of my squad.”

****

“Honey, this plan of yours,” Aries said over the video call, “it’s amazingly dangerous. Those men you send in there have a higher chance of being killed than completing the mission.”

“I know,” she said. “That’s why we asked for volunteers.”

Aries shook his head. “What’s the chance of this working?”

“Pretty high if they manage to get their first two targets without getting caught. The food and water storage facilities will be highly guarded, no doubt, but if those can be taken down, then we can turn this seige around and make some real progress here.”

“I still don’t like it,” he said.

“Me neither,” she said, “but we don’t have much of a choice. its also why I’m the one that will be leading the mission.”

There was a long pause as Aries did a touble take and stared at his wife. She kept a serious look on her face.

“What?” he said in a very quiet whisper.

“I have to,” she said. “I can’t ask men to go on what amounts to a suicide mission when I’m not willing to do the same. Besides, I have experience in doing this kind of thing.”

“Since when?” he asked. “You weren’t a commando when you were in the Marines.”

She wanted to laugh at that thought. Marines were commandos out of basic, as opposed to Army grunts. At least, that was her opinion. Instead, she gave him an even stare.

“Since Korea,” she said. “I spent a lot of my time behind enemy lines running these kinds of missions. I’m qualified.”

“What does DeVore say?” he asked.

“He’s agreed,” she said simply. There was no use in stating all the arguments he already made. “I’m leaving Captain Pei in charge. DeVore has worked with him a lot already. He’s a good officer with lots more experience at being an officer than I have. He’ll do well while I’m gone.”

“I...” Aries said, starting to protest again, but stopping when he saw the look on her face. He sighed. “I guess I’m not talking you out of this. I don’t think this is a good idea. I’m stating that on the record.”

“You wouldn’t be the man I married if you did think it was a good idea,” she said. She touched his face on the screen with her finger. “I love you, Aries Webb. And my daughter too. I promise the both of you, I’ll be back.”

“You’d better be,” he said. “You’d better be.”

****

“Okay, soldiers,” Amelia said, looking at the eight men and women that had volunteered for this mission. “I’m not going to give a long speech here. You all know what we’re doing, and the chances we have of success. But, those chances are worth it, so we’re going in. If anyone wants to back out, now’s the chance. No one will think the lesser of you.”

Not one of them backed down. She smiled. Of these eight commandos, only two were native to Mars. All of them had prior service in the US military, serving in such groups as the Special Forces, SEALs, Rangers and Marine Special Operations. One of them she had worked with before in Korea. These were people that knew their stuff. And more importantly, they had declared Mars as their home, and their willingness fight and die to protect that home. They were her people, and if anyone could get this job done, it was them.

“Okay then,” she said, “let’s move out.”

The plan to get into the city was simple. Her troops had the city pretty much surrounded, and all the known entrances were sealed. They would simply use one of the less well known routes inside. It was one used before by Martian Intelligence operatives to get in and out. No one inside seemed aware of it. This was one of the advantages to being the side that built all the cities on the planet.

Once they were inside, they met with a contact that set them up in an apartment building that would be their base of operations. It was in a district heavily visited by the military. That didn’t seem safe at first until it was pointed out to her that this section of town was considered the property of the US Army, and thus no one would be looking for terrorists here. Their contact provided them with false ID papers, listing them all as American citizens. Amelia was now Amanda Dreyfus. The military presence also allowed them to easily store and transport military hardware, like guns.

The team waisted no time. Four of their number were sent to scout the first target. There were three main food storage facilities in the city, but one was the central hub. The other two were simply storage. If the hub could be taken out, the food in the other two units would disappear pretty quickly. Of course, the hub was probably the most heavily guarded building in the city. They took the reports from the scouts and formulated a plan.

Everyone on the team had a part. Demolitions, cover, heavy weapons, something. Everyone by Amelia. Even behind enemy lines, Amelia was still the Colonel. When this first raid was staged, she stayed behind with two others. She was still proving to be too valuable for the other soldiers to just leave her be or allow her on the raid. So, instead, she wrote off on all final mission plans.

When her men came back to report the mission was a success, she was elated. When they reported that they had taken fire, and had a causality, she fell again. The only good news out of that was that they managed to drag her body back with them. That would slow down the investigations. But she didn’t have the numbers to loose people each mission. Still, she supposed it was too much to expect that they wouldn’t lose anyone. this was a suicide mission, after all. She sighed.

“Everyone get some sleep,” she said. “We’ve done all we can to prepare for target number two. We’ll hit it tomorrow.”

As she prepared to sleep, she thought that she would go with them. She came here to help, to actually do something, not just sit at a desk making decisions. There would be some left behind to watch the base, of course, but the rest would go. The water supply was nearly as heavily guarded as the food storage was, and everyone would be needed.

The next morning, they started early. No one seemed surprised or tried to stop her when she geared up and discussed her part in the raid. She smiled. They were expecting it, apparently. She wasn’t stupid, she paired herself with the two Marine Special Operations soldiers, who knew that part of their job was to keep the inexperienced officer alive.

The plan was pretty simple. The main water resources was a big tank kept at one end of the city, attached to the water line that fed them from the newly created Hellas Basin Lake. It was the first real sea Mars had, and was a major point in the terraforming of the world. It’s fresh water fed both Olympus Mons and Elyssium Mons. The goal of this mission was simply to destroy the tank. A few well placed bombs would do the trick. The hard part would getting the bombs well placed. Or placed at all really.

They set off. Getting to the location was easy, it wasn’t difficult to miss. Getting through the first set of guard posts and fences proved to be fairly easily as well. She was in awe watching this team work. Though they had never worked together before, they were consummate professionals, and the way they knew what the others were doing, their method of silent communication, it was massively impressive. In order not to slow things down, she had put Lieutenant Rand in charge of the team, and his leadership style was very interesting to watch. No one questioned him, or talked back. They just did what he said. And if they didn’t, they were off the mission and set to guard duty.

She was no exception, and he made that clear during the mission. She kept her mouth shut and did as ordered, and it all felt pretty good. To just be a soldier again, to follower orders and get the job done. That was why she had enlisted rather than go the university to officer route. Getting the job done felt better than ordering others to it.

They managed to get tree of the five bombs planted before they got caught. Getting caught, in this case, meant the fire fight started. This was where Amelia and her two Marines came in. They were the distraction to allow the rest of the team to keep working. She fired her gun, making sure to take careful aim. She and her men had three men killed before they even had their weapons raised. Then the real fighting started. The three of them ran, keeping up the fire as they went. They ducked in and out of cover, leading the enemy guards on a merry chase away from the other team. They even set up a few bombs of their own, mostly designed to distract the enemy, but if they managed to go off, all the better.

She could hear some other fire fights going on, which means the guards discovered the second distraction team. She kept firing, taking down two more soldiers. These had to be the worst soldiers she had ever seen, she souldn’t be able to take them down this easy. Then she saw their uniforms. They were roughly made, and looked like they were jackets and jumpsuites that had unit patches sewed onto them. They weren’t real soldiers, they were a unit of civilian volunteers, probably just had a truncated basic training. Things were more desperate in here than her spies had lead her to believe. They continued to run, but eventually one of her Marine’s pulled them to a stop.

“What’s up?” she whispered.

“They’re leading us,” he said. “Those aren’t the civilian troops we’re supposed to believe they are.”

“What?” she asked.

“They’ve been directing us, showing up where they weren’t supposed to be, forcing us to change course,” he said.

She had noticed that they made a few unexpected turns, but they were still heading towrds the extraction point.

“Trap?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Anything we can do?” she asked. There was still some gun fire going off from another end of the tank.

He shook his head. Great, she thought. She looked up, and found herself looking at the last bomb she just placed. She could hear the enemy getting into position around them. They were being boxed in. If this was a trap, it was about to be sprung. Then, she had an idea.

“Get ready to run,” she said, pointing her gun up at the bomb. The two men with her looked up and saw what she was about to do. True to form, they only nodded and set themselves to run. One looked around the corner and saw the enemy setting up position. After a few minutes of tense waiting, he put up his hand as a signal to wait. Then, he dropped it down quickly and the two started running. She fired her gun, hitting the bomb and started running after them.

The two men in front of her were firing at the enemy, causing them to scatter out of surprise. The bomb went of behind them, and she felt a push from behind her of hot air. So hot her back felt on fire. It pushed her hard, causing the three of them to fall. Quickly, she started getting up, but apparently not fast enough. One of the Marine’s grabbed her arm and yanked as the other stood next to them firing. She watched as five men fell to the Marine’s fire, but the enemy was equally quick to return fire. The Marine fell to a hail of bullets as she and her partner took of running. She raised her gun firing as well. Everything seemed to stand still. The fire burned behind her as water leaked out of the tank. In a few seconds, the tanks emergency systems would take over and seal of the hole, but for now it worked as a distraction.

But not enough of one. The two ran around a corner to find themselves facing a large group of soldiers. And these were wearing full uniforms, in the gray and black of urban camouflage. She looked behind her to find about twenty men setting up positions with guns. They were well and truly trapped. She held up her arms and dropped her rifle, and the Marine next to her did the same.

****

The room was completely dark. She didn’t even know how long she had been here now. A couple of days, at least. She had telt her way around the chamber when she was first placed in it. It seemed like a prison cell, with a bunk and a toilet and notihing else. Some how, during the time she slept, food and water was placed in the room. She found that out the first time when she stepped in the food. It was some kind of gruel that tasted like oatmeal mixed with ground beef. It was still better than the field rations she had been eating in her tent. She figured from the feel of things that she had been placed in a space ship and was probably on her way to Earth. None of this was really a surprise. She was a high profile office in the Martian resistance. The wife of the Martian Prime Minister and leader of the Martian Army. They would try to use her to get Aries to surrender.

She was concerned about that last bit. She was worried that Aries would capitulate. That would be the absolutely worst decision he could make, but outside of the Free Mars movement, she was his one true love. He had said that too many times for her to not believe it. Still, he was dedicated to winning their freedom, and there was the hope that he wasn’t willing to give it up even for her. Maybe he could even find a way to rescue her without giving up.

She ate her gruel. She felt like an idiot. How could she have let herself be trapped like that. She remembered Atherton after her capture. How the older man had gloated.

“I expected to capture most of your team, Mrs. Day-Webb,” he said, not even using her rank. “But I never expected to capture the woman that has been leading the fight here at Elyssium Mons. Thank you for proving why it is that you Martian’s shouldn't be allowed independence. If we let you go, you would fall to a superior foe, like the Chinese, who would surely use that moon your husband stupidly gave them as a launching point.”

Her only response was to glare at him. She hated that, too. After all that fighting, she gets herself caught, and then can’t even come up with a witty come back. He had thrown her into a make shift prison cell until she was put into a box that was presumably latter put on the space ship. She didnt know if the five other soldiers that had been caught at the end of the last mission were still alive, or on this ship with her. All she did know was that after Atherton was done gloating, the bombs on the water tank went off. Her men that managed to avoid capture were successful, and the siege would change.

It was the only hope she clung to. She had made a difference. Hopefully, Aries and Bo could take it the rest of the way, and Mars would truly be free. She slowly ate her gruel. It was bland, and she found herself wishing she had some Martian salsa. It was a unique dish from Mars that originated when a scientist managed to genetically engineer a tomato that grew with its own spices built in. The Martian Tomato, as it was now called, had become the center piece of Martian Salsa, and the dish had quickly grown to be one of her favorite things on Mars. It went well with lots of food, and she wanted some now to mix into her gruel. It would make it taste so much better.
She heard something outside, and then a noise like a door being rattled. Quickly, she stood up. She had flung the food across the room and lifted the bowl up, flattening herself against the wall. She wasn’t sure where the door was, but she figured it would be across from the toilet, like a prison cell was built. The door opened, and she closed her eyes due to the bright light outside, but swung where she saw the figure outside. The bowl connected with something, and she felt it dent from the impact. The guard that had come in fell to the ground. She shot out her arm to try and punch the next guard in line, but the lights were still too much for her eyes, and she couldn’t see. He grabbed her arm and swung her around, twisting her arm around her back.

It hurt, but she grew up with her uncle putting her in this move all the time, and knew ways to escape it. Like the simple move of kicking the attacker in the knee. He backed away, letting her go, and she spun around, hitting him hard in the face with her fist. She saw a third figure move into the room, and crouched ready to move. The brightness was starting to dim some, her eyes getting used to it.

“That’s enough, ‘Melia,” a sharp voice said, and she paused. No one called her that. No one except...

“Dad?”

****

“It’s unconscionable,” he said, throwing the letter across the room. It managed to hit Bo in the face, but he calmly pealed it away and looked at it instead. Aries, in the mean time, continued to rant. It was nothing short of what Bo had expected when the first reports started coming in from Utopia Planitia. The siege there had been won. General Atherton and his troops made a final run for it, launching a full attack against the blockade and making it through, but giving up Elyssium Mons in the processes. It was a huge victory for the Martians, taking away the largest foot hold the enemy had, but it came at a major loss of men.

“I can’t believe that they would hold her hostage like that,” Aries said. “And to think that they believe I’ll just roll over and give up Mars for her. She’s my wife, and I love her, but damn it, this is bigger than that.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that,” Bo said, which brought Aries up short. He looked over at his long time friend.

“Why would you say that?” he asked.

“You love her, like you said,” Bo said, as if that answer were obvious. “You’ve done things for her that I’ve never seen you do for anyone before, not even me. I was afraid that you might be willing to end this whole war to save her. Or at the least resign.”

Aries paused, as if resigning wasn’t something he had considered before.

“You can’t,” he said. “Like you said, this is bigger than that. It’s bigger than you and her, bigger than me. But it also needs you and me to keep it going. If you quit now, even if it is to go and rescue her, the people of Mars will lose hope. We have to keep this going. We have to.”

Aries narrowed his eyes, and for a moment there Bo believed he would actually disagree with him. Not that Bo could blame Aries. If the situation were reversed, and it was his wife that had been captured, Bo wasn’t sure he would be able to let her go and continue the fight. But, Aries was a stronger man that Bo ever was, and as much as he hated to admit this in public, he believed that no one else could lead Mars through this time but Aries. Something about that man brought people together and bound them in common purpose like few other leaders in history could.

Eventually, though, Aries just sighed and sat back down. “You’re right,” he said. “I can’t leave, there’s too much important stuff going on. And even if I could resign and go after her, what good would I do? I’m no soldier. The best I could hope for was to turn myself in in return for her freedom. And that wouldn’t really change anything, just switch our positions. Not to mention that I need to consider how any decision I make affects Zita.”

Bo breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we need to take advantage of the opportunity she provided us. Atherton is on the run and his reinforcements are not due for another week. My suggestion is that we push him back to his fortress near the southern pole.”

Aries listened, and then nodded. For the most part, Bo wanted to fight a defensive war, but opportunities didn't come all the time. And for once, Aries found himself really wanting to punish Atherton, to hurt him, even kill him if he could. That was the man that had not only been leading America in its bid to retain Mars, but now he had taken his wife from him. It had become personal, and briefly Aries wondered if that was a bad thing. He shook off the thought, though. He could use this anger. Never before had he wanted to push Atherton off Mars more than he did now.

“Do it,” he said. “I want you to push Atherton right of the edge of the world. I want his base destroyed, I want his reinforcements to have no place to land. I want this war ended, and I want the end to cost the American’s dearly.”

Bo glanced at his friend. He had never seen him so angry. He hoped this wasn’t a bad sign. Still, the idea of taking out the American base was an appealing one. They really had no way of preventing the reinforcements from landing, but stripping their resources away was a good idea.

“Good ideas,” he said. “I’ll get the plans in motion. And don’t worry, Aries. We’ll get her back. I don’t know where Atherton has her holed up, but we’ll find her. I swear we’ll find her.”

****

“Stand down, Colonel Webb!” Major General Louis Day said in that commanding voice that only a life long military man can muster. “That’s an order.”

Amelia found her self responding to the order and stood at attention. She dropped her bowl, but glared at the two men that were entering the room. The General was, of course, her father, who she hadn't seen since her wedding. He wore a standard duty uniform instead of his class A’s, but he looked no less imposing. In fact, he may have looked more imposing, his short cut curly hair and dark skin contrasting against the gray and black of the urban camouflage.

The other man she recognized as the spy that had saved her husbands life during the assassination attempt a few years ago.

“You,” she said to him.

“Me,” he said, with a rather smug smile.

“Yes,” her father said. “Colonel Webb, I want you to meet Agent Ford of the CIA. At least, meet officially.”

“What’s going on here, General?” she asked. If he insisted on using her rank, so would she.

“Simple,” he said. “I’m saving your life. I ordered Atherton to take you alive, even though he wanted to kill you, and rather publicly too, in order to try and break your husband and end this war. Instead, I’m taking you back to Earth in the hopes that I can talk you and that stubborn husband of yours to end this needless conflict before more people have to die.”

“Earth?” she asked. All this time, she had assumed she was in orbit around Mars, at the US research station. Earth would mean that she was beyond rescue. Earth would mean that she was now a POW, and would likely not see her husband and daughter again.

She broke down. She couldn’t handle that knowledge. She collapsed to the floor and started to cry.

The End