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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb Part 5: Childhood’s End

“Vote now for Martian Independence?” Vic said. “Really Amelia?”

“Yes, really, Vic,” Amelia said. She put her hands on her hips and looked around the room at all the Marines there, men and women. They were all dressed in the red camouflage of the Martian tour, and they all looked so young. Was she ever really this young? “And why not? How many of you were born here? You’re only a few years younger than Aries Webb himself, you know.”

“You’re asking us to participate in an illegal vote,” Vic said. He was a particularly large man, with piercing blue eyes and a flat nose that looked like someone smashed it with a brick.

“It’s only illegal on Earth,” she said. “Look, you all know the score. The US is now at war with China. War folks. Not a police action or a training mission into Korea, or even a war against a little place like Iraq. No, war with another superpower. The only other superpower. A war like this will draw other powers into it, too. We’re looking at a potential World War III. And given that both America and China receive needed resources, not to mention the inventions and discoveries made by the Martian Research Institute, do you really think that the War won’t reach Mars?”

“So, what?” Vic said. Apparently, he had become the spokesperson for the group. “You want us to turn traitor and aid a group of rebels from seceding?”

“They’re not a state, they can’t secede,” she said. “No, what I am asking you to do is live by your conscience. Come on, Vic. You and many others here have been here for at least two years, its become home for you. How many of you have married locals?”

“What difference does that make?” Vic said. “Happens all the time in the military. You’re still asking us to turn against our government. The Chinese were the ones that invaded Korea, they’re the ones that started all this. You really want us to turn our backs on that?”

“And do you really want to go fighting against the Chinese soldiers here?” she asked. “Suit up in space suits and shoot at the guys you’ve been drinking with every Saturday for the past two years? Or worse, march through the streets of Olympus Mons with tanks, shooting at those same guys, this time risking the people that live here? You know these people. They’re not some third world country natives, who barely have electricity. These are US citizens, many just trying to make a buck. And now they are saying that they want to live out their lives on this world with out being drawn into the politics of another. The US once said the same thing to England.”

“I’ll fight the boys across the desert if the order is given,” Vic said. Amelia believed it. Vic was a true Marine, doing whatever he was ordered.

“What about the rest of you?” she looked around the room. Most had their heads bowed. “What about you, Johnston? I know for a fact that you and Private Chen are poker buddies. And you, Tracy. You married one of the Chinese soldiers! You really want to go shooting at your wife?”

“No,” Tracy replied immediately, even though Vic was staring him down. “Sit down Vic, I have a right to talk here. My wife and I were planning on returning to Mars when our service contracts were up, and living out the rest of our lives here. Mars has become our home. In fact, she told me that Bo Wu was giving a similar speech to her side just the other day. She and I are ready to stand with you, Amelia. You’re husband is going to need soldiers if he wants to win Martian Freedom, and there’s a lot of men and women here that are ready to side with him.”

“That’s treason,” Vic said. “You’re all talking about abandoning your duty and siding with rebels. Not just rebels, siding with the enemy!”

“You’re right, Vic,” Tracy replied. “It is treason. But it’s also the right thing to do. And for once, I’m going to follow my heart, and not orders. You just give the word, Amelia, we’re in.”

“Good,” she said. “Remember, nothing has happened as of yet. Aries is still trying to win the election for Governor of Mars. The Independence vote can’t happen after that. However, he wants me to promise you that any of you who join the Martian Army and help defend this world will be granted full citizenship of Mars.”

“We’re behind you, Amelia,” Tracy said. “Even Vic is. Right Vic?”

Amelia turned to eye the big Marine. He glared at Tracy, and for a moment he thought that he was going to rip the smaller man’s neck out. Instead, he finally bowed his head and then turned to look at Amelia.

“I’m in,” he said. “My girlfriend is a native, she lives in town. She’s pregnant. I just wanted everyone here to be clear that they understand what it is you are asking of them.”

“Fair enough,” Amelia said. “I’m asking you to turn against your government. I’m asking you to possibly fight against the men that stay here, and the other men that get shipped up here, in order to defend a bunch of domes on a red rock in space. I’m asking you to help us build something worthwhile on this red rock, to defend the homes of decent people that just want to live their lives to their own standard, and not the standard of someone on a completely different planet. I’m asking you to turn traitor against America, and support my husband. Vote for him in the coming election if you can, vote for Independence when it comes, and help us build a new nation in the sand.”

“We’ll do it,” Tracy said, and Vic nodded. “We’ll be there when you need us, and we'll spread the word with those we know we can recruit. When it comes time, your husband will get the army he needs. He’ll get it.”

****

“This is great news, guys,” Aries said, looking across the table at Amelia and Bo. The two people he loved the most, and here they were, helping him make something amazing come to fruition. “If these numbers are correct, we’ll have a pretty decent sized army.”

“Enough to defend with, yes,” Bo said.

“Defense is all we’ll need,” Aries said. “They literally have to come to us in order to try and revoke our independence once the vote passes. And I’m convinced that it will. According to the latest polls, I’m ahead by a large margin, and even my opponent is beginning to see that the Martian people, at least those of American citizenship, don’t want an Earther leading them. Once I become Governor, I can get the Independence Act passed. I know I can.”

The two of them smiled and he smiled back. “It’s all coming true, Bo. Everything you worked for your whole life, it’s happening.”

“It is,” he said. “and in no small part to you.”

“Ah, I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t pushed me into it all those years ago,” Aries said. “But, you’re right. It’s all happening now because of me.”

Everyone laughed. It was a good laugh, a full bodied, genuine laugh. Those were hard to come by lately. War truly loomed on the horizon. The US and China had been shooting at each other for the past year in Korea, and both were making demands on Mars to provide resources and people to the fighting. And their demands were getting contradictory. Even people that were happy to live in their little cultural domes, Little China and New America, were beginning to talk about Free Mars.

“What about you?” Amelia asked. “It’s time for you to deliver your report, Mr. Not-Governor-Yet.”

He smiled at her, and then cleared her throat. “Both France and England have agreed to provide us with support in our Independence, though they can only do it quietly as America is their ally. I get the impression that the Prime Minister of England wants to do it as a kind of revenge against America. Germany has also agreed to aid us, but at a cost, and only overtly against China.”

“What’s the cost?” Bo asked.

“They want seats in the senate and on the board of directors for the Martian Research Institute,” Aries said. The words came out in such a rush that it almost sounded like one word.

“Unacceptable,” Bo said immediately.

“Agreed,” Amelia said. “We can’t give a foreign power a seat in our government, or in the Institute. It’s still the largest employer on the planet, and as such is a major political influence.”

“Oh, I know,” Aries said. “My counter proposal was a single seat on the senate, as an observer only. No right to speak at senate sessions, and no vote.”

“What did they say?” Bo asked. he was obviously surprised that Aries even made such a proposal.

“They said that the German government would need to discuss things further before they could make a decision,” Aries said with a smile, “My guess is that they will be willing to accept my offer, but only for them to stay neutral in the coming conflict.”

“I could accept that,” Amelia said. Bo nodded.

“Now the really good news,” he said. “Japan is behind us one hundred percent. Turns out, they are happy to stick it to both China and the US, and if by helping us thy can get both at the same time, they will jump at that chance.”

“Wow,” Bo said. “That really is good news. Okay, so it looks like were all set.”

“Yup,” Amelia said. “My husband is going to win the Governor race tomorrow, and we’ll pass a vote to declare Mars a free and independent world. We’ve got not only a bunch of native volunteers, but we have troops will to defect to our side from both the American and Chinese military. And we have allies from some of the nations back on Earth. Now, all we have to do is hold off against two invading armies that are far superior and better equipped and trained than ours.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up,” Aries said.

“Okay, great,” she said. She seemed genuinely excited about this all. Surprisingly, so was Aries. “I’m going to leave now and pick up the baby from your mom. Zita always gets grumpy when she spends too much time with your mother.”

“Okay, Hon,” Aries said, and they kissed.

She packed up her things and left. Bo leaned in close to Aries after she was gone.

“Okay,” he said. “Lets start with the serious planning.”

****

Amelia smiled as she pushed the stroller through the Uptown Shopping district. The election ended last night with Aries winning by such a significant margin that even the word landslide seemed inappropriate. The people were dancing and celebrating throughout the streets, and streamers and confetti was scattered everywhere, still being thrown in some cases.

She checked her ePad again to make sure she had the right address. She wasn’t quite sure what this meeting was supposed to be about, but it was Vic that set it up, and she trusted him. So, she entered the little bookstore. It was a cozy place, with lots of places to sit. Half the store sold actual books, with covers and paper and everything, while the other side was a series of electronic stations where one could download their book purchases into their ePad. It was Amelia’s preferred method of getting books. But, books weren’t why she was here.

“I’m looking for Victor Brown?” she said to the clerk behind the counter. He nodded and pointed to the loft that looked over the store. She thanked him, parked the stroller, pulled out little Zita and walked up the stairs.

The loft was everything she expected, decorated in faux wood. It included several couches and tables for people to sit comfortably and read. It even had a little coffee and pastry stand. She smiled. This was the last place she ever expected to see Vic, which was probably why he set up the meeting here. She started looking at the few patrons here, but couldn’t see Vic anywhere. She looked at her watch. She wasn’t early. Was he just late?

“Don’t bother to look for Corporal Brown,” a voice whispered in her ears. She spun around, switching Zita to her left arm, and brought her right up in a defensive posture, ready to strike. What she saw, however, caused her to pause. It was a man in a black suit with a pencil thin tie. He was dark skinned, and looked instantly familiar to her.

“You,” she said. “I thought you were just a figment of my imagination.”

“No such luck for either of us, I’m afraid,” the man said. Then, he pointed to a couch in a dark corner of the loft, well away from the other patrons.

“This is rather public for you, isn’t it?” she said, moving towards the suggested sitting place.

“No more unusual than you bringing your baby to a secret meeting about military movements,” the man said as he sat down.

“I had to make everything look normal,” she said. “So, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“It’s the same thing that I spoke to you about last time,” he said.

“Someone is trying to kill Aries?” she said, her eyebrows raised. “I’ve been keeping my eye out for the past eighteen months, and I haven’t seen anything.”

“Which only means they’re good,” he said. “Listen to me. I’ve been keeping an eye out as well. They’ve kept quiet because they weren’t sure your husband was really the threat they thought he was. But now that he’s won the election, and he’s going to push his independence vote, his threat level has been escalated. Someone is going to try and kill him, and probably soon.”

“And once again, I have to ask,” she said. “Why tell me? I don’t think you seriously expect me to stop a trained assassin. I’m just a housewife.”

“Hardly,” the man snorted. “You are a trained Marine, with combat experience from Korea. But, you’re right, you’re not up to taking down an assassin. That’s my job.”

“And what’s mine?” she said.

“To keep an eye on your husband,” he said. “The truth is, we just don’t know when the attack will come. With my focus beign on taking down the assassin, you’re job is too keep your husband when the proverbial bullets begin to fly.”

“They might not be so proverbial soon,” she said. “This was a job I was already planning on doing.”

“Excelent,” the man said. “Then our conversation is done here.”

He stood up to leave, but Amelia cleared her throat.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Tell my father that I appreciate this,” she said.

He didn’t say anything and instead turned to leave.

****

Aries settled into the office that would be his new work space. His personal assistant, an older man named Anthony, gave him his schedule and started to go over it with him. There wasn’t as much as Aries expected, and when he mentioned that, Anthony said it was because this was his first week in office. People were letting him settle in before hitting him with the really hard schedules.

“I look forward to that,” Aries said. “I should get ready for my first meeting.”

“Yes, sir,” Anthony said. “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering you some breakfast. A fruit bowl and a cup of coffee.”

Aries raised his eyebrow. That was his favorite breakfast.

“I also took the liberty of speaking to your wife, sir,” Anthony said and smiled. Then, he left Aries to prepare.

Aries smiled. He had hired the man because he had worked this position for the last Governor, and because he had seriously impressed Aries with how quickly he had his day scheduled and included time on it for his family. He also hired him because while Anthony would never say if he was for Free Mars, he did say it wasn’t his job to interpret or interfere with Aries’ political views, just to help him preform his job as Governor to the best of his ability.

This first meeting was actually with Bo and a couple of the Martian senate. They were going to discuss the wording of the Independence Bill. They were also going to talk about making sure the whole colony participated, including the Chinese citizens. There was, of course, precedent for this. It wasn’t uncommon for the US Governor of Mars to meet with the Chinese Governor and make joint decisions. His next meeting was with the Chinese Governor for just that purpose.

A few moments later, a knock came at the door. It was Anthony, informing him that his first meeting was here. Already? Aries looked at the clock. The notes and books he had gathered in preparation for this meeting didn’t seem nearly ready enough. He sighed and nodded to Anthony. Then, he gathered his stuff together and walked down the hall to the large meeting room. He took a deep breath. Lets get this show started.

****

The crowd had been cheering for nearly twenty minutes now. It was a full on celebration, and Aries was having trouble getting them all to quiet enough to make his speech. Amelia smiled. She couldn’t believe that in a few short months, the whole world had changed. This day would be remembered for all time as the day that Mars declared itself an independent nation, free from the control of Earth. As part of the vote, the Martian people had also declared that Aries Webb would be their first Prime Minister. A letter had been drafted and signed by the senate and the Ministry of Mars, declaring that the Ministry, renamed the Ministry of Affairs, and the Senate would remain as the two bodies that kept the Prime Minister in check, much like the way America worked. The Senate would make the laws, the Prime Minister would enforce the laws, and the Ministry would make sure the laws were just and followed the new constitution the three offices were drafting even now.

Independence. It had really happened, and now, the people were celebrating. Aries tapped the microphone to try and get some attention. The feedback caused at least the first several rows of people by the stage to quiet down, though many were laughing.

“Today is a historical day,” Aries said. “A day that will be remembered for generations to come. And those are the words everyone will repeat when they quote this now doubt destined to be famous speech.”

Everyone laughed. Amelia smiled. Though she had heard this speech, in several forms, for the past two weeks, she knew that Aries would deliver. If there was one thing Aries Webb was good it, it was performing in front of a crowd. Something he hadn’t lost since his teenage days, to say the least. And this speech, written by Aries but with help from his very talented speech writing staff, was designed to take advantage of every last bit of charm her husband had. She stopped listening with her full attention and started looking about the crowd. She had left Zita home with Aries’ mother, who never did like the crowds. This left her free to keep an eye for any unusual activity in the gathering. She knew that Aries had his own security, and that the mysterious man in the black suit was there as well, but this didn’t prevent her from worrying.

“We’re going to move forward as quickly as possible,” he said. “Our new congress will start drafting our constitution as soon as possible, and I will get to work on structuring our military. Let me start by announcing the man who will be our nations first General of the Army. Bo Wu.”

There had been a long discussion about this move. Aries was rather adamant about his friend being the general of the martian military, even though there were offices from both armies that had more experience and were more qualified. However, in the end, they all realized that Bo was perfect for the role. He had charisma, natural leadership qualities, and would lean on the experienced officers to to the job. Plus, being Aries’ best friend, he had a chance of getting needed information in front of the Prime Minister that might otherwise be ignored.

Suddenly, Amelia’s phone went off. Curious as to who would call her at this time, of all times, she picked it up. It was a text message from an unknown caller. It said ‘they’re attacking now. Protect Aries.’

Without thinking she immediately jumped across the stage and yanked Aries down. When Bo saw what was happening, he dropped down as well. Half a second later, the bullets flew by the podium. Aries security threw themselves into the action, and the crowd started to panic. The panicked crowed was probably more dangerous than the bullets, which had stopped after the initial volley of three or four. Several security guards, police men in flack jackets, circled around Aries, Bo and Amelia, helping them up and moving them across the stage. In the back of the stage was a car, one that had been made bullet proof so it could be used by the Prime Minister. Now, that precaution seemed justified. They piled into the car and drove away.

“What in the hell was that?” Aries shouted.

“Obviously, someone didn’t like your speech,” Bo replied.

“Yeah, well, next time,” Aries said, “they should throw rotten fruit.”

“I can’t believe that you two are joking about this,” Amelia said. “Aries, someone just tried to kill you.”

“Honey,” he said, smiling at her. He was trying to look brave, she though, but she could see the fear in her eyes. “We were planning for this, remember? We knew this news wouldn’t be popular with the governments back on Earth. One or both are likely to try and take me down. What’s funny is that they think that if they kill me, the whole Independence thing fall apart. As if it were just me making it happen.”

“I don’t care about that,” Amelia said. “All I care about is that someone tried to kill you, that you’re still alive. And that there will be a next time.”

Aries looked at her, his smile faded. Good, she though. You need to be afraid.

****

“War,” Aries said, holding up two documents to the assembled senate. “That’s what these two documents say. Oh, they pretty it up with nice language, quote Earth law to us and declare our actions against those laws. But most importantly, what they say is that they will be using force of arms to bring us, and by us I mean all of us here and those in the Ministry, to justice. These documents, gentlemen and ladies, are declarations of war.”

He paused and looked around the room, making sure that everyone was paying attention. They were.

“And worse yet, the first shots of this war were fired just a few hours ago,” he said. He paused to allow those words to sink in, and was rewarded with all the muttering he shocked outrage he was hoping for. “That’s right. Today, the Chinese military fired upon those soldiers that have abandoned them to join our cause. Thankfully, our men managed to get away, and bring some of their equipment with them This war has officially started, and its only a matter of time before they attack one of the domes, probably an outer colony, like Holden. But it’s only a matter of time before the fighting reaches our streets.”

“What do you propose we do, Prime Minister?” a man said. “Are you asking that we declare Martial Law?”

Aries paled. “No,” he said, probably a bit more forcefully than expected. “Martial Law would put me in total control of the nation, and defeat everything we have worked for. No, I am proposing that you do what we declared you need to do in our charter. You, the senate, must declare a state of war, and authorize me to mobilize our military to defend ourselves.”

The vote was called for then and ended quickly. Unanimously, the senate had agreed to the proposal, which was exactly what Aries wanted.

“Thank you, my friend,” he said. “Whit this action, our true declaration of Independence will happen. I have already set forth some military troops to the outer cities, readying them for defense. These include our veteran troops from the US and Chinese military, as well as those we have just recruited in the past few months.”

“We’re using green troops already?” cried a woman. “Who is leading the recruits?”

Aries smiled.

****

“Get your asses moving, maggots!” Amelia cried. She caught a glimpse of the officer badge on her uniform and flinched. She still wasn’t used to seeing that. She had refused commission as a general, even though both Bo and Aries had wanted to put her there. Instead, she accepted the rank of Colonel. Now, she was leading a mixed group of raw newbies and vets outside the mining town of Holden. It was believed that here would be the first real attack of the war. She had spent the last few weeks whipping her recruits into shape, and they were starting to look like real soldiers. She wasn’t quite ready to call them Marines yet, but soldiers at least.

“Ma’am,” came the call from her NCO, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Brian DeVore. “Look over there.”

She took the offered binoculars. They were specially designed to use in her military space suit. These suits her and her troops wore were state of the art, designed by the Martian Research Institute and intended to be used by geologists and miners. Instead, Aries had asked them to be redesigned slightly for use by the military. They were smaller than the standard suit, and lighter, and allowed better freedom of movement. Currently, there wasn't enough to outfit the whole army, buy Amelia's battalion had been given them for this first battle. It was both a test and to show the US forces marching this way that the Martians may not have the numbers, but they did have some advantages.

The view she saw through the binoculars showed a large column of vehicles moving across the desert, heading straight this way.

“Their not holding back, are they, Gunny,” she said.

“No, ma’am,” he replied. “They have superior numbers and equipment, for the most part, and it appears that General Atherton feels a direct assault on this little mining town will win the day.”

“He’s got a point,” she said out loud, and the Marine nodded his head in agreement. This was not going to be an easy fight, and likely would end in a loss. But, Holden was important, providing much of the coal and other basic minerals needed by the cities of Mars. She planed to fight hard, and even if she lost, General Atherton would know he fought a battle.

“Ma’am,” DeVore said. “If I might make a suggestion?”

“Please do,” she said.

He pointed to the distance. “There’s a box canyon at Eberswalde. They’re going to have to move through it to make it here, and it’s the perfect place for an ambush.”

She looked down at her map of the area and saw what he was referring to.

“Won’t Atherton be expecting that?” she asked.

“Likely,” DeVore said. “But unless you have a better plan, ma’am, this is our best bet of doing any damage to his forces.”

She nodded and gave the order. The troops moved efficiently, and the army she did have was placed to support the troops. It took another hour before the fighting started, and when it did, it was chaos. Amelia watched it all happening from her command tent, no doubt something that Atherton was doing as well, assuming he was even out here. Her men fought admirably, and it even looked like they were winning. Losses were piling up on both sides, but it looked like the US forces were taking more than the Martians. She gave directions and asked for advice based on the things she witnessed on her monitor.

Then, she saw a small group of armored vehicles break away from the battle and move towards the dome. One was carrying a missile. What? she thought, than she saw it. They were planning on setting up the portable firing platform and firing the missile right at the dome. Thousands of people would die instantly if that went off. She ordered soldiers and armor away from the main battle to take care of this new threat. It wasn’t happening fast enough, so she jumped into her jeep, DeVore only just behind her, and drove it towards the moving troops. She got down the hill and reached her troops just as they started firing on the missile crew. The armor still wasn’t there yet, but she drove her jeep straight at an enemy tank. DeVore jumped off it when she got close, and she drove off. A few moments later, the tank was firing on it’s on side. Her troops started to cheer, and a charge was made against the missile platform. In a matter of minutes, it was over, and the US troops were captured, as was the missile platform.

The troops cheered again, and when she called to her command to find out what was going on with the rest of the battle, she received the best news of the day. The US troops were fleeing. Apparently, they had put all their money in the missile platform. It was a victory. The first real battle of the war had happened, and it was a victory for Mars.

She smiled at DeVore as he drove up in his captured tank. When Aries heard about this, he was going to be insufferable in his praise of her and his gloating over the Americans. But he would be right too. This win would motivate the troops and the citizens throughout the next few, hard years. But she believed it was also a sign. This victory at Holden pointed to a victory for the whole war. She just knew it with her heart. Mars would truly be free.

The End

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