Mars Station

I wrote Mars Station a few years ago around the same time as Discovery. Like that story, this one is also a homage to the old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits stories that used to fascinate me as a kid. I was raised on stuff like Star Wars and Star Trek, but it was shows like the Outer Limits that really inspired me to become a writer and tell stories that could impact people with the sci-fi take on the morality tales that fables of old used to tell. I hope you enjoy my attempt at adding to that tradition of story telling.

Mars Station

Will today be any different than the last three hundred and sixty eight?

The star-filled sky beyond the atmosphere dome didn’t have any answers as I stepped out of my apartment corridor and onto the automatic slideway.  I gripped the hand bar next to me as I glided along and glanced around at the other slideways that criss-crossed above and below me, all leading to various lift tubes or corridors on this level of the station. When I first got here I found the vastness of the station breathtaking. Everything was wide open, with the backdrop of Mars rotating below us and the star field beyond. Every time you stepped out onto a slideway it was almost as though you were floating through space itself. I still found the view astonishing; it was just everything else that had lost its luster. The other apartment corridors, the restaurant level, everything all looked the same: pearl white, pristine, sterile- like a hospital ward. I’m told that the designers did that because it was considered psychologically soothing. After more than a year the blandness of my surroundings had me longing for the graffiti covered buildings of home.

I had transferred from the 21st police precinct in Houston to Mars Station because I wanted to be on the leading edge of what was going on out there. Apparently, what was going on was absolutely nothing. The most exciting things to happen around the station were the occasional case of vandalism or domestic disturbance. This was definitely not what I had in mind when I accepted the position. I guess I just watched too many of those old sci-fi vids as a kid. Aliens, adventure, excitement; those were the things I thought of when I thought of outer space. So far more accurate adjectives have been boring, repetitive, and dull.

I stepped off the slideway as it came to the lift tube station- large columns of tubes whose compartments worked a lot like elevators, except these could move sideways as well. There weren’t many people waiting, not that I expected there to be. Most of the people living on Mars Station were the scientists, who worked on the terraforming of the red planet below, and their families. With a population of just fifteen hundred people it was a wonder that you ever saw anyone. Especially on the upper levels, since the scientists spent most of their time in the labs that were in the bottom section of the station and a majority of the housing complexes were in levels four through seven. Most residents only came up past level eight when they wanted to eat at one of the restaurants or have a drink to unwind.

The thought of the day ahead of me darkened my mood even further and I sighed as I stepped into the tube and muttered my destination. The tube chimed, letting me know it understood me, then took off. The trip only took a minute, but it was enough time for me to prepare myself for what I knew was about to happen. It was the same thing that happened nearly everyday since I had come to the station. The lift stopped with a beep and the door swooshed open. I took a deep breath and stepped into the police precinct.

“Weeelll, there he is! Wyatt Earp himself!”

Bernard James was the resident wannabe-comedian. He was about forty-five as near as I could tell, with salt and pepper hair that was beginning to thin out, and a round chubby face with a permanent five ‘o clock shadow. He was about 6’2 and his thick frame hinted at a powerful physique, but that must have decayed along with his verbal acuity. His black uniform bulged across his expanding stomach, and if his breath was any indication, he’d hidden a mini-bar inside earlier. His laugh reminded me of a braying donkey, which only amplified Bernard’s ability to annoy the hell out of me.

The man lounging in the chair behind the front desk with his feet up and a toothpick between his teeth was Alex Lamar. He had short-cropped red hair and the type of nondescript face that would blend into the crowd wherever he went. His blue eyes seemed to pick up the light in the room and throw it back at you, which he’d say with a smirk was “a trait the ladies couldn’t resist”.

Alex was a nice enough guy, once you got to know him; he was the one person on the entire station that I considered my friend. That’s probably because he was the one person on the station that I had met so far that I didn’t want to avoid or shoot.  He chuckled as he leaned forward and lightly slapped Bernard on the back with the magazine that he was holding. “Leave the man alone, Bernard. He is the superior officer, ya know.”

Bernard smiled like a Cheshire cat. “Awww, the Cap’n knows I’m just playin with him, doncha, sir?”

I wasn’t amused. “Don’t you have a patrol you should be on right now, Sergeant?”

His smile faltered for just a second and then it was back, but I considered it a personal victory. “Yes, sir, Captain Richards, sir.”

He gave me a mock salute, shot a glance at Alex as he grabbed his hat from the desk, and then brushed past me into the lift tube. Alex laughed, shaking his head as he stood up, walked around the desk, and planted a hand on my shoulder. “Zach, you really need to lighten up a bit.”

I tried not to let the annoyance show on my face and knew I was only partially successful. “Really? I thought I was the life of the party around here.” I hooked a thumb back in the direction of the lift tube that Bernard had just disappeared into. “Speaking of which, happy hour start a little early today?”

Alex frowned and shook his head. “You know Bernie.”

I rolled my eyes as I grabbed a Cosmoburger wrapper from the top of the desk and pitched it in the trash. “Yeah, I know Bernie. If this were any other precinct he would have been suspended a long time ago.”

“Yeah, but it’s not; and considering he’s one of the five officers we have at the moment and it’d take a few months to replace him, we can’t afford to lose him right now.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

Alex snorted as I took his former chair and started pulling up the reports from the night before. There weren’t many. Alex must have caught the grimace on my face. “See, look at you. You act like it’s a bad thing that we don’t have more to do around here.”

“No, that’s not it at all.” I sighed as I turned off the monitor, since the “paperwork” was light and it wasn’t going anywhere. “I guess I just thought things would be a bit different here, but it’s not: I get up, have my coffee, come here, take crap from Bernard, fill out reports, sit here and twiddle my thumbs for a few hours, then I go home. It’s the same crap, different day. I could have done all this stuff in Houston.”

“Yeah, but then you wouldn’t get to see my cheery face every day.”

I smirked. “Well, there’s a bright spot I never thought about.”

The smile on his face reminded me of the one my father used to give me when I was a kid and would complain that something wasn’t fair. “I understand you came out here looking for an adventure; but you aren’t seeing the big picture buddy. We are standing at the cusp of history!”

He raised his arms like a fat kid that just walked into an all you can eat buffet for the first time. “I mean, look at this place! This is the adventure! You know how bad Earth is getting. This place, what they‘re doing here, is the future, man! It’s important to everyone. We may not be using laser swords and phasers to fight against alien invaders, but we are working towards saving the future of the human race!”

I couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm. “’Cusp of history’? Since when did you start using phrases like that? You watching history vids in your spare time or something?” I waved his unspoken retort away and continued. “You’re right, I guess. I just need try and look at things differently.”

“There ya go.” He slapped my back as he picked up his hat from the top of the monitor. “Well, I’m off for a few hours so I’ll see you later. Maybe I can get that cute waitress at the Uranus Grill to get a cup of coffee with me.” He adjusted his hat to rest sideways, leaned back against the wall, and winked as he shot me with imaginary guns.

I shook my head. “I still can’t get over that name. What the hell were they thinking?”

“Yeah, that’s probably why the place is always empty.” We both laughed as he sashayed his way over to the lift tube door. “Just remember man, we’re a part of history.”

“Right. Have fun.”

“Will do.”

He disappeared through the lift tube and I sat back and really thought about what he said. He was right, even if he was being a bit over-dramatic. Earth was getting bad; between the ozone layer breaking up and the nuclear fallout in Europe and the Middle East from the last war, scientists estimated that it would only be another twenty years before the planet would become uninhabitable. Sure, there were other stations like this one: resource satellites and colonies scattered across the solar system, not to mention the moon, Earth’s first terraforming effort. However, the moon was already over-populated and most people didn’t want to raise their kids on a space station if they had a choice.

They could never build enough stations to house the entire population in time anyway. Mars was Earth’s only chance for the foreseeable future. Scientists hoped that they might be able to make Earth habitable again using terraforming technology, but that could take several years or more after the Earth was deemed unusable.

The vibration from my phone shook me from my reverie. “Richards here.”

“Zach, its Alex.”

I laughed as I looked down at my watch. “What, you get shot down already? You just left five minutes ago.”

The vibration from my phone shook me from my reverie. “Richards here.”

“Zach, it’s Alex.”

I laughed as I looked down at my watch. “What, you get shot down already? You just left five minutes ago.”

“We didn’t have a shipment scheduled for today, did we?”

I could feel butterflies starting to dance in my stomach and my smile vanished. “No. We aren’t due for a shuttle until next week when the rest of the crew comes back from leave.”

“That’s what I thought, but I was taking a walkway past the hanger on my way to the diner, and I saw a shuttle on approach for the station. Want me to go check it out?”

I shook my head; not that anyone was there to see it. “No, wait for me there. Give Bernard a call, then try and get in touch with the shuttle or whoever it is operating the hanger bay. It’s probably nothing. Maybe someone got the schedules mixed up, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“Right.”

Alex didn’t sound any more convinced than I was. Scheduling mix-ups involving shuttles never happen. Everything is checked, then double checked, then confirmed with a whole different group of people that did their own double-checking just because of the sheer expense involved. No, there was no mix-up, which meant that whoever was coming was uninvited.

A few small terrorist groups that were staunchly against the terraforming project had come out of the woodwork recently on Earth. They were all religious fanatics that felt we had no right to play god by changing another planet when through our “sins” we had killed our own. The powers that be on Earth had assured us that these groups were small and not financially able to pose a threat to the station. However, if one of the groups had somehow managed to gain access to a shuttle then we could have a serious problem.

I rushed to the lift tube and told it to take me to the section nearest the hanger bays. My last thought before the tube closed was that I might have gotten my wish for adventure after all, and the old saying ‘Be careful what you wish for…’ was right on its heels.

***

I met Alex just outside the entrance to the hanger bays and silently cursed the fact that this had to happen when most of our precinct was on leave. That’s probably exactly why this is happening now.

“Where the hell is Bernard?”

Alex was busy loading his gun and didn’t bother to look up. “He didn’t respond. I think his phone‘s off. I didn’t get the message system.”

“If he’s sleeping it off somewhere, I’ll kill him!” I reached down and checked my own gun to make sure it was fully loaded.

One thing that everyone involved in the space station’s planning could agree on was blowing holes in the hull was not a good idea. For that reason, police officers were equipped with stun guns rather than conventional firearms. Stun guns fire small chips the size of a pellet that deliver an electrical charge on contact.  They weren’t very productive when used around electrical equipment, but that was a whole lot better than opening the station up to space and the charge was more than enough to make a man stop and think twice. More accurately, it just makes the man stop. The thinking part happens eventually after he regains consciousness.

I’ve only had to use the gun once. When I first took over the station precinct an engineer got liquored up one night and decided he wanted to play cricket using a co-worker’s head. When I arrived to try and talk some sense into him, he decided to take a swing at me, so I lit him up. When Alex asked him what it felt like to be shot by the gun, the man said that when he woke up it felt like he had been dropped from a two-story platform and landed on concrete. I’ve been told that after waking up with that hangover, he hasn’t taken a drink since.

Alex finished loading his gun and looked out the viewport at the approaching shuttle, which was firing its thrusters to shed some momentum for its final approach into the bay. “So, what are the odds that we’re just being paranoid and this will end up being some huge misunderstanding?”

The outer bay doors began to open with red lights flashing and sirens warning all those in the area to clear out before the room was opened to vacuum. “I dunno. You get a hold of the hanger bay or that ship to make sure it wasn’t a screw up on our end?”

Alex nodded. “Nothing but static from either.”

“Then I’d say the odds aren’t looking very good.” I glanced down at the Portable Access Datapad, or P.A.D., I’d been fidgeting with and shook my head. “Well, whoever they are they have at least one person working for them on the inside. All of the defenses and overrides have been locked down so I can’t access them.”

“Right, I was wondering why you hadn’t done that yet. Who would be crazy enough to try and do anything to this place? Don’t they know what we’re doing out here?”

I shrugged, “I guess not everyone got that memo.”

“You think it might be one of those terrorist groups we’ve been hearing about?”

I took another glance out the viewport and saw that the shuttle had landed and the docking bay doors were closing. “Well, as soon as they get that bay pressurized, I think we’re going to find out.”

Alex cursed and bumped his head back against the wall. He took a deep breath then let it out slowly as he glanced up at me. “What’s the plan, chief?”

I closed my eyes as I ran my hand through my hair and tried to think, but it felt like my head was full of molasses. “Well, I guess all we can do right now is wait and see what we’re up against. Try Bernard again and see if you can reach him.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

I didn’t like the tone of his voice. “What makes you say that?”

“Because it looks like he’s playing for the other team. Take a look.”

The bay had been re-pressurized and Bernard was walking over to shake the hand of one of the eight people that were walking down the shuttle ramp wearing full vacuum suits and carrying what looked like metal brief cases. The lead spaceman removed his helmet and gave Bernard a smile as he took his hand. He was completely bald with a goatee, a nasty looking scar that went from his eyebrow in an arc down to his chin, and a build that suggested he was really a superhero in disguise. The others, all men, had similar builds and were all working on removing the vacuum suits to reveal black jumpsuits underneath.

“They don’t look like they’re here for a social visit, do they?”

I grunted at Alex’s quip as I ducked down out of site of the viewport and began to work on my P.A.D. “I don’t know what they’re planning, but right now we have one advantage.”

Alex ducked down next to me, his face covered with sweat. “And what would that be, oh wise one?”

I forced myself to smirk at his joke, and I was surprised when my voice didn’t shake at all as I responded. “Well, they were expecting to take us by surprise. If you hadn’t have decided to play Casanova, we never would have known they were here until it was too late. They would have caught me going over reports and you asleep in your bed.” The P.A.D. beeped and I grinned. “Perfect.”

Alex tried to look over my shoulder to see what I was doing, and I ignored the sweat that was dripping down on the P.A.D. screen and me. “Ok, so what are you doing then?”

“Well, all the residential housing and science labs are on the bottom seven levels, right? Well, I just made the computer think there was a hull breach up here, so it’s locking those levels off from the rest of the station. That should keep most of the civilians safe, and hopefully slow down whatever Bernard and his friends have planned. It probably won’t keep them out long, so we have to make the most of whatever time it buys us.”

“Right, so what now?”

My phone vibed and I already knew who it was before I looked at the caller ID. Marvin Taim, Mars Station’s project head, was an extremely excitable man who acted like the world was going to end when a shoelace snaps. How he got to be assigned as head of this project, I’ll never know. No doubt hearing that there was a hull breach had him chewing his nails to nubs. He didn’t disappoint. “Richards, what’s going on up there? The computer said there was a hull breach!”

“Calm down Dr. Taim, there isn’t a hull breach. We have an unknown shuttle that has just docked with the station. They managed to lock out my access to the station defenses, so I made the computer think there was a hull breach to try and keep them away from the lower levels. I want you to stay there, be calm, and don’t let anyone else know what’s happening. Tell them it was a computer glitch or something and to go back to work. I’ll let you know more when I do. Richards out.” It was best not to let the good doctor reply, otherwise it would have taken forever to explain everything and I wasn’t sure how much time I managed to buy us with my little stunt.

I took a quick look out the viewport. Bernard and Scarface were still talking with one another, and the others were unloading some crates from the cargo bay of the shuttle. “Well, I’m going to sneak closer and see if I can’t hear a little of what they are planning. Then, I’m going to try and get a message off to Earth and see what they want us to do. I want you to stay here and keep an eye out. My phone is on vibe, so gimmie a ring if anything happens, then head back to the precinct and lock her down unless you hear my signal to open it from this phone.”

“You got it, boss.” He grinned weakly. “Well, looks like you got your adventure.”

“Yeah and if I ever wish for anything stupid like that again, I give you permission to shoot me.” I threw him a small salute as I ducked down to crawl into the engineering access tube. “See ya soon.”

“Good luck.”

***

I never had any notions about becoming an engineer, and after spending a few minutes inside a cramped access tube I thanked God for small favors. Sweat poured off me in tiny rivers that constantly made my hands slip as I slowly crawled my way towards the hanger control access door, and my uniform felt like it was trying to merge itself with my skin.

As I got closer to the access door I could hear talking from within the control room, which meant there was at least one other person working with Bernard. I couldn’t be sure if it was a person talking on a phone or if there was more than one person in the room, so I decided to try and get closer and see if I could overhear anything. I managed to pull my gun from its holster, wincing slightly when it scraped a bit against the tube wall. I didn’t hear a change in the voice from the room, so I hoped that meant that no one had heard it.

“So who are these guys anyway?”

“I dunno. Bernard didn’t say. I don’t really care as long as we get paid the money he promised us.”

There were two separate voices, and I didn’t hear a third. I eased my way up against the door and prepared myself to open and shoot if I needed to.

“You don’t think they are going to do anything that will hurt anyone, do you? I didn’t sign on for-“

“Look, stop worrying about it! You think Bernard would let anyone get hurt? I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.”

“I guess.”

“Just relax. Are all our programs still running ok?”

“Um…yeah, except it looks like someone locked down the bottom seven sections.”

The other’s tone darkened. “That wasn’t a part of the plan.”

“I better give Bernie a call.”

Uh-oh!

I flipped the latch and slammed my weight against the door with my shoulder. I snapped off a shot at the first person I saw as I fell and extreme luck caused the shot to hit the phone dead center, which the tech dropped as it was enveloped in blue-white tendrils of electrical charge. The phone clanked to the deck and sputtered smoke, and both techs took turns looking down at the phone, and then to me. They were both wearing those long white lab coats that always made me think of mad scientists, although one was a bit taller with black hair while the other was blonde. Both wore wire-rimmed glasses to complete the stereotypical image. The look on their faces would have been comical had it been under different circumstances.

“Alright boys, keep your hands where I can see them and act like you’re looking down at your monitors. We wouldn’t want to tip your friends off downstairs.” I forced myself to smile and tried to put as much cockiness in my voice as I could to give off the impression that everything had happened exactly how I planned it. “That would take the fun out of everything.”

I got myself into position on one knee, making sure that I couldn’t be seen if someone in the bay happened to look up, and kept the gun trained in their general direction. “Now, who wants to tell me who those guys are and what they’re doing here?”

The blonde one looked ready to vomit, so I assumed that he was the one who was expressing his doubts earlier. He confirmed my assumptions when he spoke. “We don’t know! They didn’t tell us anything!”

“Shhhhh! Calm down.”

The black haired guy rolled his eyes and glanced over at his partner with a look of utter disgust, but his voice was surprisingly calm. “You’re making a fool of yourself. He’s a police officer. Look at the uniform; he isn’t going to hurt you.”

He looked back at me with a smile and a predatory look in his eyes that made my stomach crawl. “Now, officer, what my rather excited friend was saying is true. We have no idea what is happening. Officer James simply hired us to shut down the defensive programs and to guide the landing procedure. If you wish to know anything more you’ll have to ask your friend when we see him.”

I was about to ask what he was talking about when I heard the woosh of the door behind me. I leapt up from my position, turning as I went and bringing the gun to bear behind me when a large hand knocked it from my grip, followed by an uppercut to my chin. The last thing I remembered before the darkness took me was my phone vibrating.

***

I was only unconscious for a few minutes, but I kept my eyes shut and faked it as the larger man carried me and dropped me unceremoniously down on the deck. I was hoping that if they thought I was still out cold I might overhear something that could be useful. I guess I used up all my luck on that shot to the phone, because as soon as I was on the deck a splash of cold water hit my face. My eyes snapped open to see Bernard smiling down at me as though I was a porterhouse steak and he was starving.

“Nice to see you’re enjoying yourself,” I muttered as I groggily got to my feet. No one moved to stop me.

His smile seemed to grow, but his voice was darker in tone than I ever remembered it being. “Oh, you have no idea how much I enjoyed that.”

“Actually, I think I have a pretty good idea. You always were easily entertained.”

His smile disappeared and was replaced by a sneer. “I don’t have to take crap from you any more Richards! I had to play nice around you before, but now it’s my turn.” He jabbed himself in the chest with his thumb then moved a few steps closer. For a second I thought he was about to hit me. Perhaps he was. “You have no idea how good you had it! First you get handed the job that was mine, but then you have the nerve to mope around here as though you were better than everyone else. Like this wasn’t good enough for you.” The smile returned, but now it was more a leer. “But now it’s my time.”

“If you are quite finished.”

The voice was calm and even but with a hint of command underlying it. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought the speaker was royalty. Bernard stepped aside, his icy glare never leaving my face, as Scarface walked towards me and surprised me by offering a small bow. “My name is Jakel, Captain Richards, and I would like to apologize for the…shall we say rather unfortunate circumstances of our meeting this way. This was not my intent at all. We may be here under less than positive circumstances but that is no reason to be impolite about things.”

“Right. Well Jacko, would you mind telling me what ‘less than positive circumstances’ you and the goon squad are here for?” I said it without thinking and apparently Bernard was just as shocked by my response as I was.

Jakel simply smiled tightly and continued. “To come right to the point, we mean to destroy this station.”

WHAT?” Bernard’s face turned beet red and he spun around to face Jakel, hands balled into fists. “That was never a part of our agreement! You said you were going to hold the station for ransom. You never said anything about destroying it! You lying piece of-“

There was a bright flash of light and suddenly Bernard was on the ground. Behind him I could see one of the goon squad lowering a wicked looking rifle. Jakel glanced down at the floor then back up to me as though nothing of importance had happened. “As I said, there is no need to be impolite.” He noticed that my eyes were still locked on Bernard’s body so he added, “Oh, don’t worry. He is only unconscious. My people don’t believe in killing unless it is absolutely necessary.”

I managed to drag my eyes away from the body and back up to meet his. “Your people? Who the hell are you guys and why do you want to destroy this station?”

Jakel reached up and pressed something behind his ear and the air in front of him seemed to shimmer and twist. When the effect faded the human I had been looking at moments before had been replaced by what looked to be a cross between a man and a fish. He still had his human build, but his skin had become a leathery dark green with splotches of brown; his lips were a lighter shade of green and protruded like a large mouth bass; and his eyes were like black mirrors, with no whites at all. The scar still remained, and it was the only way for me to tell that I was still talking to the same…thing. When he spoke, his voice had gone from regal to gargled, as though he were talking under water. “We are the Taverin, and we will destroy this station to protect our home.”

I had to choke down the shock and forced myself to croak out, “Your home. You mean Mars? No one lives on Mars. Mars is uninhabitable.”

Jakel shook his head slowly. “You humans are so arrogant to assume that you know everything. My people lived on the planet you call Mars when life on the Earth was still young.” He seemed to stare through me as he continued, “We were not so much unlike you then. Technologically advanced, industrial, we thought we knew it all. Also, like you, we fought amongst ourselves constantly. It was that arrogance and stupidity that destroyed the surface of our world. We used all our technological know-how to create a weapon that managed, quite by mistake, to burn away our atmosphere and kill all those on the surface. Some of us were already living in the underworld colonies, and that is what saved our race. In time those few colonies became cities, and the few hundred that were left became millions.”

He seemed to be looking at me again, and seeing my own reflection in his eyes was a bit disconcerting. “We have tried very hard to avoid contact with your machines that you have sent to our world. Time has erased all evidence of our existence on the surface, and we had hoped that you would do your exploring, see that there was nothing there of interest, then move on. But when you started your remaking of our world, it caused massive damage to many of our cities, and thousands of our people have perished. We cannot allow it to continue any longer.” He nodded towards the large man who had shot Bernard, who scooped up the body and threw the man over his shoulder as though he were a sack of flour. “If you would be so kind to accompany Markan, he will take you to a secure room where you can wait until we are ready.”

I held up a hand and backed away slowly as Markan approached, pointing what I realized was my stun gun at my chest. “Wait a second. You said you didn’t believe in killing unless it was absolutely necessary. If you destroy this station you will be killing all fifteen hundred people that live here, not to mention three fourths of the population of Earth who are relying on this station to fulfill its mission.”

Jakel held up a hand and Markan stopped his advance. “The people on this station will be jettisoned in the escape pods before the station’s destruction. As for the rest…it is unfortunate but it is not our concern. Your people are threatened because of your own actions. You must face the consequences just as my people did.”

He motioned with his hand again then turned without giving me another glance. Markan, still looking like a professional wrestling reject instead of what I assumed was his natural form, grunted and gestured with my gun. “Ok, ok. I’m going! Apparently your boss was the only one that went to charm school, huh?”

He led me to a room that was near the place where Alex and I had been watching the shuttle land. Alex was nowhere in sight so I hoped that meant he got away. The door opened and the two techs from earlier were already sitting at the large table in the middle of the room. The calm one with the black hair simply looked up then back down again, as if he couldn’t be bothered with more of a reaction. Markan dropped Bernard on top of the table, and the blonde tech nearly fell out of his chair.

There was a whistle from behind me and I turned just in time to see Markan swing my gun around to point at something behind him. Suddenly, he spasmed and fell to the floor. Alex popped his head inside the doorway and smiled. “Come on, Captain! This is a jail break!”

***

We managed to make it back to the precinct and get it locked down a few minutes later. We had the techs carry Bernard after we convinced the jumpy one, we found out his name was George, to stop rocking back and forth and muttering “This isn’t happening” over and over.

I debated bringing Bernard back. I figured leaving him there to whatever the aliens would do with him would serve him right, but Alex reminded me that he might be able to give us some additional intel. Not to mention the fact that we could use all the help we could get. I reluctantly agreed.

Regardless of the fact that Bernard had sold out, he didn’t actually know about the aliens and their plans to screw things over for everybody. That didn’t excuse what he did, but it meant we could probably trust him to help. Especially since his friends with the fish lips shot him once already. I promised myself that whatever else happened, I’d make sure that Bernard was brought to justice for what he did.

So after we made sure that the lift tube into the station was locked down and there was no way for the aliens to get in, we sat down in the briefing room and had a small council of war. Alex was the first to start. “Ok, so you want to tell me who those guys are and what they’re doing here? It took two shots to take down that big guy guarding you. I’ve never heard of that happening before. They mercs hopped up on some new drug or something?”

“Or something,” Bernard murmured from the back. He had his head down and was still trying to shake off the effects of whatever it was they shot him with. Apparently it was something similar to our own stun guns.

I scratched my head and tried to think of the best way to explain it. “I don’t know how to say this, but they’re Martians. Well, they call themselves Tavern-“

“Taverin.” Bernard muttered.

“Whatever, but they’re from Mars.”

Alex was laughing so hard that he had tears coming down his cheeks until he noticed that no one else was laughing and tried to recover with a cough. “Martians? I hate to say this but I think the stress is starting to get to you, buddy.”

“It’s true.”

It was the first time that the tech with the black hair had spoken since I had gotten captured. The smile on Alex’s face became that of pure shock as the tech disappeared in a distorted haze and was replaced with that face that only a mother could love…or maybe a mackerel. Alex went completely pale, and George simply fainted. I already had my gun trained on him and I noticed that Bernard was slowly moving towards the one Alex had left on the table.

The alien merely blinked and held up a gnarled green hand. “There is no need for that.”

Bernard’s curse pretty much said it all, and Alex had recovered enough to snatch up his gun before Bernard could grab it. I just shrugged and leveled my gun at its head. “Prove it.”

“I am not with them. Not now, at any rate.” He looked down at the gun, so I lowered it but still kept it pointed in his direction. He nodded slightly and continued. “Thank you. My name is Frogen. I was sent here to find out the intentions behind the project, to report that information back to my superiors, and then to assist Jakel in finding a peaceful way to get onto the station. With the help of Sergeant James, that wasn’t a difficulty.”

Bernard gave him a look that was pure venom but he continued as if he hadn’t noticed. “Representatives have already made their way to Earth, and a message was supposed to have gotten to you today. We were not aware that Jakel had lied to Sergeant James, and that he had intentions of destroying the station. That was why he locked me up along with you. He didn’t want me to get this information off to our superiors.”

“Or this could all just be a really great story to get us to trust you while you make sure we don’t do anything to get in the way of Jakel.” At this point I wasn’t anything at face value anymore.

Frogen leaned back in his chair and placed his hands out in front of him on the table. “If you do not believe me, check your messages. You should have already received a message from your superiors by now.”

“Right. Alex, watch him. If he so much as twitches a lip, light him up.”

“You got it.” To further emphasize the point, he cocked the gun and leveled at Frogen’s face with a smile like the one he had given me this morning.

Frogen blinked but didn’t say anything.

I pulled out my phone and braced myself for the onslaught I was about to receive as I called Dr. Taim’s number. “Richards? What’s going on up there? Are you alright?”

“We’re all fine up here. I need you to check and see if you received a message from Control.”

“A message? Uh…hold on.” After a few minutes of listening to him punching buttons I heard a gasp. “My god…Mars is inhabited?”

I nodded towards Alex and he lowered his gun. “Apparently. I’ve got one of them with me here, but we have a problem.”

“What kind of a problem? With the representatives? I assume that was the shuttle you mentioned earlier. This message said they were peaceful and-“

“Doctor, please. The delegation that came here has gone rogue and plans on destroying the station.”

“Destroy the station?!” He sounded almost as bad as George did. Maybe they were related.

“Doctor, calm down please. We’re not going to let them do anything to the station. I need you to send off a message to Earth and let them know the situation. Until then make sure you put the terraforming on hold and keep the breach locks in place. Don’t let anyone in until I call you again. Also, do your best to try and lock out all of the computer systems, just in case they find a way to get in. Richards out.”

“But Captain, I-“

The feed cut out and Alex laughed. “You know, he’s going to get tired of you doing that.”

I smirked as I holstered my gun. “He can fire me. Ok, so it seems Froggy here is telling the truth. Now we have to figure out how to keep the fish platoon from blowing up the station.” I looked at Frogen and raised an eyebrow. “Any idea what they may be planning on doing?”

“The name is Frogen-“

“I know. Don’t care.”

“-and I’m not sure. My best guess would be that those crates they were unloading before had some sort of explosive devices inside.”

“That’s just beautiful.” Apparently the effects had worn off and Bernard was his old, cheerful self again. “So not only do we have to take on a bunch of fish heads, but now we have to worry about blowing ourselves up while doing it. Wonderful.”

“Maybe you should just remember that this wouldn’t even be happening if you hadn’t have sold us out!” I didn’t meant to snap at him, but the stress really was starting to get to me, and we had enough problems without Bernard adding negativity to it.

“Zach.”

Alex’s eyes were on my gun, which made me look down and realize that I was pointing it at Bernard. Apparently Bernard realized that too, because he bit back whatever response he was about to shout at me and sat back in his chair. I didn’t remember drawing it again, but I made myself put it back into its holster. “You going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution? Because your negativity isn’t helping anyone, and if you keep it up, I’ll leave you here in one of our holding cells. It’s your choice.”

“Sorry.” It was short, and it sounded more like a curse than an apology, but I knew that was the best that I was going to get from him so I let it go.

“Fine. So here is what we’re going to do. We’re going to split up into teams. Alex, you take Bernard, I’ll take Frogen. If we hurry we may be able to get to them before they have much time to do anything. Alex already took out one, so that should leave seven more, right?”

Frogen nodded, so I continued. “Alright then. Alex, get Bernard and Frogen here a gun. Remember that these may be stun guns, but watch your fire. We don’t want to accidentally short out any equipment we might need, and I’d be willing to bet that hitting whatever explosive devices they brought with them with an electric charge probably won’t be a good thing.”

Alex pointed towards where George had passed out. “What about him?”

I shrugged as I unlocked the lift tube. “Leave him. He’d be a bigger help here out of the way than for us to have to worry about him.”

“Right. So where do you want us?”

“Well, there are two entrances to the docking bay, so we’ll take one while you take the other.”

Alex nodded as he handed Bernard and Frogen a gun. “Straightforward enough. So we just shoot anything that moves?”

“That’s the general idea. Frogen, you know how to use that thing?”

The alien examined the gun then cocked it once and nodded. “A bit simplistic, but it should be no problem.”

I grunted as I stepped into the lift tube. “Just remember, it takes two hits with these things to put them down. Frogen and I will go first. You two follow. Good luck.”

I told the lift to stop at the same place that I had this morning and as the lift beeped and began to move, something occurred to me. “Frogen, how is it that you and Jakel know our language?”

Frogen shrugged. “We have studied your people from afar for many years now. Jakel and myself were both trained as infiltrators, those of us sent to live among your people and gather information about you. We wanted to make sure you wouldn’t pose a threat to our people before we let you know of our existence.”

“So there are a bunch of you on Earth already? Then why didn’t you try to stop this project sooner?”

“We had no way of knowing that your transformation of the planet would cause harm to our cities.”

I shook my head and chuckled. “In other words, you wanted to wait and see if we could restore your world for you.”

His lips parted in what I assumed was a smile. “Something like that, yes.”

The lift beeped and I drew my gun. I stuck my head out just enough to see if there was anyone waiting for us. I didn’t see anyone so I motioned for Frogen to move out of the lift. We walked over to the viewport where Alex and I had watched the shuttle land this morning and saw that the remaining Taverin were taking the explosive devices out of crates and arming them. They were about the size of a suitcase, red, with silver casings on the side, and a timer in alien script on the front. It looked like they had them all wired together for one big bang. Apparently since they couldn’t get to the bottom part of the station and plant them individually, they decided to just blow them all together. The result would be the same. “How much time are they set for?”

Frogen looked out the viewport and his mirror eyes bulged. “Two minutes. That isn’t near enough time to evacuate the station.”

I forced myself to take a deep breath and focus. “Apparently he changed his mind. I guess we’ll have to change it back for him.”

My phone vibed. It was Alex. “We’re in position.”

“It looks like they are just planning to blow the station and everybody else with it. We don’t have a lot of time, so we move in and take them all down. Watch your fire.” One of the aliens glanced up and locked eyes with me. He started to shout and went for his rifle. “Move!”

I hit the release on the door and jumped through, firing as I went. My shots went wide and enveloped the metal landing behind the aliens in electrical tendrils that danced around the walkway. I saw Alex and Bernard swing through on the opposite side, and watched in complete horror as Bernard leveled his gun and shot Alex in the back.

With a bellow of rage I took aim and was about to fire back at Bernard, when suddenly it felt like all the muscles in my body began to spasm. I hit the deck hard and convulsed uncontrollably. It was like my entire body had gotten a Charlie horse. Seconds later the familiar blackness of unconsciousness came to pay me a second visit.

***

I woke up tied next to Alex; our hands bound to the railing that surrounded the loading area of the shuttle bay. It felt as though my whole body had been beaten for days by a group of chimps with sledgehammers. “Damn Alex, no wonder that guy stopped drinking.”

Alex’s eyes were still shut but I could see his chest rise and fall, so I was assured he was still alive. I glanced painfully to my right at what we had assumed were explosives. In reality, it appeared to be some sort of transportation device.

Several of the briefcase-looking things were linked together to form a circle. There was an electrical light show and then the circle began to glow with a neon blue pulse that hurt my eyes when I looked directly at it. More of the Taverin appeared to rise up from the center as though it were a lift. Jakel was moving enough of his people in to fully staff the station.

The three stooges, Jakel, Frogen and Bernard, emerged from the far lift and marched purposefully towards me; Bernard with his trademark grin plastered across his face. Jakel smiled politely; at least, that’s what I assumed he was doing. For all I could tell he might have just eaten something for lunch that was disagreeing with him.

“It’s good to have you back with us.” He crouched down so that he could meet me at eye level and put his hands together as though he were a priest about to pray over a condemned inmate. “I find myself in the rather awkward position of requiring your assistance, Captain. It seems your Dr. Taim didn’t take too kindly to our presence on the station; especially when he received word from someone on Earth and found out what was happening. He took it upon himself to try and destroy the facility, so my men were forced to breach the lockdown area with explosives and kill him. Unfortunately, Dr. Taim was able to lock out the stations computer systems, and hardwire them so that nothing in the station can be accessed before we could reach him.”

I felt bile rise into my throat and I tried my best to keep the extreme sorrow and rage I was feeling from showing on my face. “Gee, that’s too bad.”

Jakel nodded solemnly, either not recognizing the sarcasm in my response or choosing to ignore it. “Indeed. This is not the way we had hoped events would transpire at all. However, this brings me to my current dilemma. You are the only person left on this station that has the ability to access the computer systems, so it would make things much easier, both on us as well as your people, if you would see fit to help us without further need for…shall we say, persuasion.”

I fixed him with a hard stare and forced myself to smile humorlessly, then silently cursed at how much the effort hurt. “You know, I really would like to help, but I think I left those codes in my other pair of pants.”

“I see.”

Bernard slowly pulled his nightstick from his belt and began to walk towards me. “Please, allow me to persuade him.”

Jakel stood and nodded towards Frogen, who pulled a small handgun from the holster at his side and shot Bernard point blank in the back of the head, which exploded in a shower of gore that enveloped me in blood and skull fragments. As the body collapsed to the ground with a wet thud, the bile I had been holding back before came rushing up in full force, and I added to the colorful display on the front of my uniform with a lurch.

When I was finished, Jakel once again bent down in front of me. If the sickening display around us bothered him, he showed no signs of it. “Now, Captain, I ask that you please reconsider your position.”

Any further attempts at playing the tough wise ass left with my lunch, so I decided to go with the direct approach. “Go to Hell, you monster!”

Jakel shook his head and chuckled to himself. “Such compassion for a man that hated you so intensely. Fascinating.” Jakel stood up, walked over to where Bernard’s body had fallen, and toed it with the point of his boot. “Mr. Bernard was a detestable man that sold out his planet for nothing more than the promise of wealth and power. I cannot trust someone who would betray his people for something so petty. You, on the other hand, have a chance to protect the lives of everyone on this station. Not to mention saving your friend next to you from what I promise will be considerable pain. I do hope you’ll reconsider.”

I couldn’t help but to follow Jakel’s gaze to where Alex hung next to me, wincing as I did so. His eyes were open now, and he was looking directly at me. He shook his head slowly, then closed his eyes once more. My chest felt as though an elephant were sitting on it, but I still managed to croak out a “No,” before my head fell to my chest, as though that small effort had cost me all the strength I had remaining.

I heard Jakel say “Very well,” in a tone of voice that honestly sounded remorseful. I brought my head up just in time to see him once again nod to Frogen, who now was holding some sort of rod in his right hand. He calmly walked over to where Alex was hanging, and poked him with the device.

Alex lurched violently as he screamed. I couldn’t hear or see anything coming from the rod, which made the whole situation that much more terrifying. I wasn’t sure what it was doing to him, but it very obviously wasn’t much fun. Blood began to run down his nose, and his eyes rolled up into the back of his head as he convulsed.

Words cannot describe how intensely I wanted to scream out for them to stop and that I would tell them anything that they wanted to know. I wanted the whole thing to be over. I wanted it to be some vivid dream that was aroused by something that I had eaten before I went to bed. I wanted to wake up from the nightmare, but I couldn’t wake up because this wasn’t a dream. It was a living nightmare so horrid that you would never think it could happen outside some book or movie. So I had to watch those monsters torture my best friend to death in front of me.

Two more of Jakel’s men came to retrieve the bodies as Frogen left for destinations unknown, probably to go recharge his little pleasure wand. Jakel crouched down and looked me in the eye once more, and I would have given anything for my hands to come miraculously free so that I could beat the living hell out of him. Instead, he shook his head and made a little gurgling noise. “I truly am sorry that things have had to happen the way they have Captain; but you must understand that these things I do, I do for the survival of my people.”

He paused, as though considering his words. “I must confess that I lied to you about a few things earlier. My people are not from Mars, but from a planet in a solar system very near this one. It is true that we were once very much like you, and that we, too, destroyed our world. All that is left of our people are on a large spacecraft that we call a LifeShip, in orbit around your planet Jupiter. Our resources are depleting, and Earth was the only habitable planet within range. Now it seems as though your people have fallen into the same trap as ours.”

He spread his arms wide and gestured around the room. “However, with this station I will be able to form a new home for my people; and with Earth, we will have all the resources we need to survive until our planet is ready. We even have a sizable work force just waiting to help us rebuild again.”

I lifted my head to look Jakel in the eyes. “You’re a fool! Apparently in all your research on our planet you didn’t study our history very well. Humanity will never allow itself to be enslaved, especially not by a bunch of fish-headed freaks like you!”

He smiled and his fish lips parted wide enough for me to see for the first time the double rows of jagged teeth hidden behind, and I felt my heart freeze within my chest. “My dear Captain, they already have.”

I shook my head hard, as though the act would clear away everything that had happened over the course of the day. He was lying. He had to be. Now, more than ever, I wanted my bonds to break so I could lash out at my captor. I silently cried out to God to let me have my one last moment of revenge, like Samson within the temple of Dagon. Apparently, God wasn’t taking any more calls.

“Resistance was passionate, but easily staunched. We had more than enough agents on the ground to ensure a quick victory. The entire planet was under our control in less than twenty-four hours.” Jakel stood and looked down at me, all trace of lightheartedness gone. “Please, I implore you, make this all easier on yourself and save me the trouble of torturing you next. I’d hate to lose yet another slave today.”

“When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

-Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

Copyright © 2009 J.R. Broadwater

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