Book: Conflict On Mars
Conflict On Mars
Book Club Teaser
About the Author
Conflict On Mars
Copyright © 2019 C.P. MacDonald
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means,
Including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author,
Except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
P.O. Box 314
Paris, Tn 38242
Get C.P. MacDonald’s
Pirate Moon for FREE!
See the Exclusive Content page at the end of Conflict On Mars
for details on how to sign up.
The old and patched spaceship, an antique Solar System Authority Corvette, sat in the center of the crater in the middle of nowhere on Mars. The ship’s smooth lines, marred by mismatched hull plates and scratched from years of service, showed grace despite her age. And her two large engine pods implied she still had plenty of speed and power.
Captain Calin Aku guided the power jack by remote up the loading ramp and into the cargo hold of the ship, the Sea Rover. Bottles of moonshine clinked and rattled in their crates on top of the jack. He slipped the pallet of ‘shine into the last open spot and looked around at the full hold. This would be a good run, he thought. Nothing like a cargo hold full of illegal booze to give a smuggler a sense of job satisfaction. He stomped the red Mars dust off of his boots and removed his dust mask to take a deep breath of the clean air onboard. His fingers scratched his dark stubble where the mask had pressed, then ran over his buzz cut to wipe the dust away. It had only been a few years since the Martian terraforming had progressed to the point of breathable air in the lower altitudes. But it would be generations before enough wild vegetation spread across the surface to prevent the constant dust that blew through the air. After another deep breath of clean air he slipped the dust mask back over his face and sauntered down the ramp to rejoin his copilot Shona outside at the distillery.
To call it a distillery was being formal. One of the more powerful Mars Cartels owned and operated the illegal still, located several hundred kilometers outside of Mars City. This Cartel had hired Calin and his ship to smuggle moonshine into Mars City, to their underground bars and distributors. The import of legal alcohol all the way from Earth got expensive as hell. But since genetically modified corn grew like a weed on Mars the first thing the colonist did, of course, was to make moonshine.
Shona turned as he approached and held up a crypto-disk with a wink. He didn’t expect any trouble from the operator, they have been doing this run every month for the past year. And it turned out Shona had a real knack for dealing with their contacts and keeping their dealings running smoothly. Her soft voice could make even the most hardened criminal smile. And he had to admit her looks didn’t hurt the negotiations either. Especially out here on Mars her pale skin and long black hair, habitually pulled back into a ponytail, stood her out from the crowd and captivated most men's attention.
He hitched his blaster on his hip to a more comfortable position and gave an uneasy glance up. The distillery was dug into the side of one of the many craters that pockmarked the surface of Mars, effectively undetectable by anyone on the surface unless they knew where to look. But with his ship parked out in the open in the center of the crater an orbiting satellite overhead could easily spot them. Although he knew they had a 30 minute window before a satellite passed overhead, it was part of his job to be nervous.
“Ready to load up?” he asked Shona as she joined him next to the ship.
“Yup, we’re done here. No surprises, as usual. And he gave us a present.” She held up a bottle of clear liquid. “The operator had an extra bottle that wouldn’t fit in the crate.”
Calin grinned and laughed, “First time we’ve ever gotten a tip.”
The roar from a small dart shaped ship that flew above their heads and across the crater interrupted her reply. The whine of its engines changed pitch as it slowed down and looped back around.
“Shit!” exclaimed Calin. “That had Dothrok markings!” The Dothroks were a competing cartel in the moonshine business, and they'd taken it personally when he refused to smuggle for them. The dart ship looked like a cobbled together piece of junk, painted in the blue and white motif of the Dothrock Cartel. Anywhere else in the Solar System it would be moronic to advertise your illegal affiliation, but here on Mars the law enforcement was considerably lacking.
He grabbed the bottle of moonshine from Shona with his right arm. Even though it looked like a regular arm, it was a cybernetic. He used its enhanced strength to throw the bottle far up in the air. When the it reached a height of a hundred meters up, directly in the dart ship's path, his contact lens targeting reticle locked onto the tumbling bottle. The lens fed the targeting solution to his cybernetic arm and in one smooth motion he snapped his blaster out of its holster and fired, the extremely flammable 'shine exploded into a large fireball that filled the sky above the crater. The incoming Dothrak ship narrowly avoided flying through the flames.
“Time to leave!” he commanded as they both ran up the ramp into the Sea Rover.
“Rose! Raise the ramp and start the engines!” he ordered as they ran down the central corridor to the cockpit. Rose, the ship’s Artificial Intelligence, spun up the engines before they were buckled into their pilot chairs.
He pulled back on the control stick to raise the ship out of the crater. The engine pods, pointed downward, blasted a cloud of dust into the air which engulfed the ship as it lifted off. He threw the engine throttles forward to rotate the engines to flight mode, and they blasted out of the cloud at high speed, the dust swirled into their wake. Above them the Dothrok ship circled back around and locked on to them in pursuit.
“Jam their transmissions.” Calin told Shona in her copilot seat beside him. “I'll see if I can lose him in that mountain range to the north.”
She replied "Aye, Captain," and tapped commands on her console to sent out a jamming signal to prevent the enemy ship for radioing for backup or their location.
From what he could tell from its quick flyover back at the crater, the Dothrok ship was only a surface ship. It had a limited flight ceiling of a thousand meters in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Calin could fly his ship beyond that and into orbit, but he did not want to risk showing up on planetary radar and orbital sensors while loaded with illegal moonshine. The Sea Rover had stealth tech, but it only worked in certain conditions and at a distance. So his only option at the moment was to try and outfly their friend behind them. Once they entered the mountain range he flew down into the valleys between the peaks at a crazy speed.
Shona gripped her armrests tightly and muttered, “I hate it when you fly like this.”
“Better than getting shot.” He said through clenched teeth and weaved the ship around mountain peaks and through canyons. The pilot pursuing them was decent, he would give them that. Despite flying a piece of junk, they had managed keep up with him so far.
Rose, from a speaker above their heads, warned, “Category 5 dust storm Northwest 3 clicks and closing.”
A big grin broke across Calin’s face and he flipped the ship over to fly straight at the incoming dust storm, “All right asshole, let’s see what you got,” and he dove the ship straight into the rolling cloud of dust. He swiped up from his console to overlay the radar data on the forward window, creating a virtual rendering of the mountain range now hidden by the dust storm. Calin darted the ship back and forth to avoid the rock pillars and mountains in the blinding dust storm. The pursing ship, without the proper radar display to see through the storm, flew into the side of a mountain. He grinned to himself and began a gentle climb up out of the storm, but almost missed an elevation warning as a cliff face appeared out of the dust directly in front of him. He jerked back on the stick and tried to raise the ship above the cliff face. And he almost made it. But with a loud screech, they both heard and felt the bottom of the ship scrap the boulders on top of the cliff. Calin ignore the raised eyebrow on Shona's face and glanced at the readout panel, then exhaled a sigh of relief. “No warning or errors, just scrapped a little paint is all. I’m sure we can get Dean to patch her up in no time.”
Dean, his best friend and former engineer, had gone legit last year and opened an engineering consulting shop in Mars City. Mouse, the hacker that had tagged along with them from Earth, had joined Dean as a partner. Their particular talents of ad hoc engineering had a big demand in the up and growing Martian colony.
He turned the controls over to Shona and said, “Head for the delivery point. We can hit Dean up for repairs after we drop off this shipment."
Shona grabbed the controls and aimed the ship toward Mars City, "It’ll be good to see Dean and Mouse again, its been ages."
He nodded in agreement from the cockpit doorway, "Yup, it sure will. We could use some R & R with friends. I’ll go make sure the ‘shine is still secure in the hold, let me know when we get to Mars City.”
The Dive Bar, a large pub inside a converted warehouse in Mars City, was so-named due to its general clientele. It was a bar popular with the miners who worked in the Deep Mine outside the city. The Deep Mine drilled for water deep underground, so the miners were commonly called divers. Calin always thought The Dive Bar was a terrible name, but no one asked him. It was his job to deliver the moonshine and not get caught, not critique the bar’s branding. He stood on the roof of the warehouse and watched the cargo bots unload the crates of moonshine from his ship. Under Shona’s direction, the bots loaded the crates onto a freight elevator to take down to the bar below.
He looked at his ship, watched his copilot direct the bots, then looked at the surrounding city. He couldn’t help but appreciate the improvement in his life over the past year. Before coming to Mars he smuggled weapons, people, and even food from the cesspool of Earth to the Moon. Back then he always had to be on guard from the Planetary Patrol Division and local law enforcement. But after a strange turn of events that led to him actually helping the Planetary Patrol Division take down a corrupt Governor, the PPD had set him and his crew up here on the main colony of Mars, Mars City. The PPD tried to sell it as an interplanetary Witness Protection move and a thank you, but he couldn’t help but think a small part was to get him far away.
He took a deep breath and rubbed the marks on his face where the dust mask had pressed. Thankfully, the founders of Mars City had the foresight to develop and build the city in the Valles Marineris canyon. The canyon was deep enough to shield from the surface winds that kicked up the dust, so down inside the canyon the colonists didn't need a dust mask to breathe.
Stumpy, the bar owner, finished counting the crates of ‘shine going into his storeroom and stomped over to Calin. He was as wide as he was short, and every inch of him heavy corded muscle. Short-tempered, short statured, and short on words, he was well known for running a tight bar and did not tolerate violence, unless he was the one committing it. Calin had heard tales of Stumpy picking up grown men with one hand and bouncing them out the door himself.
Calin snatched the crypto-disk out of the air when Stumpy flicked it toward him and nodded his appreciation. Per their arrangements, the still operator paid Calin half on pickup, and he got paid the other half when he delivered. He should come out in the black on this run, even after he convinces Dean to repair the scrape on the belly of the ship.
Calin gave the crypto-disk readout a casual glance before he slipped it into his pocket, then paused in confusion. He casually placed a hand on his pistol and held up the disk with the other. He called out to Stumpy, “Hey! Your short!” and did his best to suppress a grin at the not so hidden pun.
With a growl Stumpy replied. “You got spotted by the Dothrok! And you destroyed one of their ships. Be glad I’m paying you at all!” and he turned around to head inside.
Stumpy came to an abrupt halt when a blaster bolt hit the door 6 inches above his hand. He turned to glare at Calin and growled, “Did you shoot at me? In my own bar?”
“I shot in your direction, if I had shot at you, you would be dead. Now, about the rest of my pay?” Calin replied and held up the crypto-disk.
Several of Stumpy’s bouncers ran out the door from below and gathered up on each side of their boss, weapons drawn.
Alerted by the sound of blaster fire Shona jogged over to Calin, “Trouble, Captain?” she asked.
He held up the disk between his fingers and summarized the situation, “We got shorted, Stumpy here is blaming us for crashing the Dothrok ship.”
Shona tilted her chin down and glared over at Stumpy and his bouncers, “Oh, is he now?”. She pulled her two pistols out of their holsters with her fingers on the triggers. Even though she didn’t have a cybernetic arm with enhanced targeting like Calin, he had worked with her over the past year until she was a deadly shot with either gun. He thought the dual pistols was overkill, but she argued as a woman she needed to portray a more intimidating image in a fight.
He turned back to Stumpy and tried to calm the situation down, “Dude, just pay us our regular fee so we both get on with our day, all right? It’s not my fault that Dothrok ship showed up. I assure you it wasn’t me that led them there, it had to be the operator that tipped them off.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Stumpy replied. “The Cartel has already dealt with the operator. The new one will take security a lot more serious.”
“So you are justifying shortening my pay how?” Calin asked with a frown.
“To smooth things out with the Dothrok Cartel, to prevent a war, we have to replace the ship you caused to crash.” Stumpy nodded at the crypto-disk, “So part of that comes out of your pay.”
“Caused? How is it my fault their pilot can’t fly worth a damn?”
Shona, impatient with the conversation, flipped the safeties off on her pistols and snapped, “Pay up!” as she took a step forward.
Calin moved in front of Shona and held up his hand to stop her. “Hey! Relax! Let me work this out, OK?”
Shona was a great partner and copilot to have, but she tended to be a little too eager for a fight sometimes. Part of her value as a crewmember and a friend was her fire and grit, but sometimes she had to be restrained. And he had to admit, it was that fire that attracted him sometimes.
While Calin was busy restraining Shona, he didn’t see a bouncer climb out of a roof hatch behind him and point a pistol at his head.
Only when he heard a ZAP! and the body of the bouncer hit the floor with a thud did he spin around. He lined up his blaster on the figure that walked out of the dark freight elevator, his finger on the trigger. But as the mystery guest stepped into the light, Calin lowered his gun and exclaimed, “Nilos!”
Shona kept her guns trained on Stumpy and his guards, but turned her head and shouted with a grin, “Hey Nilos! Long time!” She and Nilos had always gotten along well, so she was happy to see their old friend.
“It’s nice to see you old buddy, but this is not the best of times, as you can see,” said Calin. He wagged his pistol he had pointed back at Stumpy. "My friend here thought he had the right to renegotiate my fee, after I’ve done the job."
Nilos nodded at the body of the bouncer on the floor, “By the way, you’re welcome. As for your negotiations, maybe I can expedite the process. We need to talk, and I don’t have a lot of time.” He crossed the roof to Stumpy and his entourage, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his Planetary Patrol Division badge. He held it up directly in front of the bar owners face, “I highly suggest you pay my friend here his full fee. I can have this place shut down in 10 minutes with one call. Understand?”
Grumpily, Stumpy nodded in agreement. Calin handed him the crypto-disk so he could input the full, correct amount for the job.
Stumpy handed the disk back and growled, “There will be hell to pay for this.”
Calin shrugged and waved his hand dismissively at Stumpy's threat, “Yeah yeah. See you next month.”
He turned to Nilos and grabbed his hand to give it a hardy shake, "What are you doing here? We haven't seen you since you shipped us out here." Calin was happy to see Nilos but hesitant at the same time. Nilos was the one who had arranged for him and his crew to be shipped out to Mars in exchange for helping the PPD back on Luna. More specifically, for helping a secret organization inside the PPD. Every day Calin wondered how the citizens of the Solar System would react to what he and his crew had found out a year ago about Nilos and his group inside the government. What would people do if they knew the descendants of the mythical lost city of Atlantis lived among them in secret? The Atlanteans helped the human race where they could but also hid the true history of Earth from everyone to protect their secrets. Calin had always imagined some would reject the Atlanteans while others would worship them.
Nilos smiled and clapped him on the shoulder in greeting, then turned to give Shona a hug before he said, “Let’s get out of here and find a real bar. I need a drink!”
Calin took Nilos to his favorite bar in Mars City, The Dry Martian. It was one of the few non-cartel owned bars on the planet. He may smuggle for the cartels, but it didn’t mean he wanted to drink their booze. As far as he was concerned, The Dry Martian produced the best microbrew on Mars. Before they went in the bar area, they each checked their weapons into a lockbox. Stumpy, back at The Dive Bar, wasn’t the only bar owner with a no-violence policy. Since Mars was still very much a beginning colony, most establishments inside the city limits maintained their own safety rules. The local law enforcement was more interested with tourist safety and upholding corporate greed. The less-civilized culture of the colonial society appealed to Calin. It was his belief that once a civilization became too tame, it stagnated.
They entered through the batwing doors and headed to the back of the bar where the light was low. Calin opened his tab on the table screen and ordered a pitcher of house brew and 3 mugs.
“So to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?” asked Calin.
Nilos took a quick sip of his beer, raised an appreciative eyebrow and then took a long swallow before he replied in a hushed voice “They had me stationed up on the moon Titan to oversee the construction of a black op military base for the Planetary Patrol Division. But I think I have a problem.”
“Most of the personnel on Titan are strictly construction, I only had a few teams for basic security. But I’m beginning to believe that members of the Kyrios Cartel may have infiltrated the base.”
“Kyrios? Wasn’t that the group that financed Silas Drummer’s rise to power back on Luna?” asked Calin. He hadn’t thought about that man in a long time. Silas was the former Governor of Caldera City on the Moon. It was there where they had first met Nilos and learned of his people. Was it only last year they had stopped Silas from blowing up the Moon? he realized in surprise. And now Nilos shows up on Mars, out of nowhere? Why?
Nilos continued, “The one and the same. The Titan base is supposed to be Top Secret. Yet somehow, they not only found out about it, but I'm pretty sure they have infiltrated it.”
“Why are you telling us? Have you told your superiors?” asked Shona.
“Yes, of course. But my people, the entire Tereo group, are overwhelmed already with the Moon base you helped us recover from Silas. They can’t spare any personnel to help. There is also a power struggle going on, some are trying to increase our presence and control in the Planetary Patrol Division.” He waved a hand dismissively, “but that is just political junk you need not worry about. I don’t.”
“Why are the Kyrios interested in Titan? I thought they were interested in money and power on Earth?” asked Calin.
Nilos sat back in his chair, slumped. “Because they are not just interested in Earth.” He looked up at them apologetically, “I’m sorry my friends but I have not been completely honest with you, about the Kyrios.”
Calin narrowed his eyes, “After all we’ve been through together? Really?”
“I said I’m sorry didn’t I?” Nilos took a deep breath and continued, “The Kyrios Cartel is not just another criminal organization, they are Atlanteans.”
“What?!” exclaimed Calin. “I’m sorry, what a minute. You said the Tereo were the only Atlanteans?”
“We were, until about a decade ago. While most of us Atlanteans believe in protecting Terrans and not interfering, some believed differently.” Nilos took another sip of his beer. “The Kyrios are a group of Atlanteans that split off from Tereo to focus on their own agenda.”
Calin pursed his lips in frustration and asked, “And what would be that agenda?”
Nilos looked across the table with a blank face, “To rule the Solar System. They believe that is what our ancestors meant to do until they disappeared. For the past decade that is all they worked for. As Atlanteans, they consider it their right to rule and enslave the people of Earth and the Solar System. And they have been gaining power and influence, so they expanded out to the colonies, like here on Mars. They know the Solar Planetary Patrol Division has little to no established power out here so they can operate more freely.”
Nilos leaned forward and wrapped both hands around his mug before he continued. “And I’ve been hearing rumors the Kyrios leader has already set up his power base here on Mars because of a big discovery that concerns my people's history.”
Calin contemplated what Nilos said. Sometimes it was still hard for him to comprehend the truth about Nilos's ancestors, the ancient civilization of Atlantis. He still wasn't sure how a prehistoric advanced civilization kept themselves secret from the rest of the population for a thousand years.
Shona piped in, “Discovery? Out here? The discovery of an Atlantean base on the Moon surprised you, but didn’t you have any idea your people had been all the way out to Mars?”
“None, which is why this is so puzzling. And that makes it that more important I find out what they found.”
He looked up at them from peering into his beer and continued “I know we asked a lot of you last year on the Moon, but do you think you could help me track down any trace of the Kyrios faction here on Mars? For now, I’m alone on this with no support.”
Before Calin could ask more questions, Shona cut in, ”Of course! We will be more than happy to help you out.” And with that she shot Calin a “don’t argue” look.
“Now I should warn you, the leader of Kyrios is possibly a lunatic. My intel has told me over the years he has been obsessed, even more than we have, in finding any hint of our people’s power and technology. He doesn’t care about finding out what happened to them or where they went, just what they left behind and how he can use it to grow his power.”
Calin noted an extra level of venomous in Nilos voice and asked “It sounds like you know the guy.”
Nilos grimaced, ”He was my best friend, years ago before he split off from the Tereo.”
Calin starred at Nilos. There was something else Nilos wasn’t saying, but he had stopped himself before saying it. What was Nilos hiding? “So who is this lunatic and former friend?” he asked.
“Zenas. Zenas Ferran.”
Calin, through years of habit, had been keeping an eye on the entrance to the bar. So he was the first to spot a group of six suspicious men enter and sit at a table across the bar.
“Don’t look now, but I think your fan club has found you.” He said to Nilos.
Without turning around, Nilos asked, “How many?”
“Six, straight across the bar. At first I thought they were another work group on break, but their coveralls are clean. And while they are trying to hide it, they are keenly interested in you.”
Nilos, with a grin, said “Any group of guys looking at me while our lovely Shona is sitting right beside me is definitely up to no good.”
Shona gave an appreciative smile. “Well, perhaps I ought to get their attention then.” With a twinkle in her eye, she used the table screen to send a round of whiskey shots to the men’s table.
The group of men appeared confused at the arrival of the drinks and refused to touch the whiskey.
“That confirms it. Any group of guys that ignores drinks bought by a lady are up to no good.” Calin remarked, his hand automatically going down to his holster, but paused when he realized it was empty, his gun was still in the lockbox.
“Six against three, unarmed, this is not the best odds. We need our guns.” Calin frowned.
Shona stood up, knocked back the last of her beer, and announced, “One distraction, coming up!”
Calin objected, “No! Wait!” But she was already gone and across the bar.
Nilos grinned and commented “She's still the handful, isn’t she?”
“Yup, that she is,” Calin said with a laugh.
Shona had slid up beside a rather large miner at the bar and hung on his arm. Calin wasn’t sure what she was saying, but it was barely a minute before the miner’s hand slid down Shona’s back. As he watched the miner’s hand go lower, he stood up only to be restrained by Nilos who said, “Easy there, she knows what she is doing.”
Calin hesitantly sat back down but continued to keep a watchful eye on Shona and the miner. When the miner’s hand moved too low, Shona stepped back and let swing a backhand across the miner’s stunned face and yelled, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Immediately the surrounding miners gathered around to encircle the stunned patron. While the crowd struggled to remove the large 'handsy' miner from the bar Calin and Nilos got up to meet Shona at the door where they retrieved their weapons from the lockboxes.
“That wasn’t a very nice thing to do to that innocent man.” Nilos accused.
She raised an eyebrow, “What makes you think he was innocent? I knew he would be grabby from past run-ins with him.”
They used the bar brawl as cover and snuck out the door into the alley. “The Sea Rover is this way, hurry!” said Calin and pointed the direction. But before they could exit the alleyway the six Kyrios agents from inside came out and spread out across the mouth of the alley to block their escape.
“Shit!” Calin exclaimed as they all dove for cover and drew their weapons.
All six agents pulled out blasters from underneath their dust coats. Calin heard the leader order “We need Nilos alive, the others are expendable.”
“Hey! Who are you calling expendable?” Calin yelled. He peeked his head around the dumpster he was using for cover. The contact lens in his right eye targeted and locked in the two closest agents as primary targets. The power levels in his cybernetic arm jumped up in preparation. He withdrew his head and leaned against the dumpster, took a deep breath, and pointed his blaster blindly around the corner of the dumpster to fire off two fast shots. Thanks to his lens target lock, his arm knew the location of the two targets and hit them center mass. The sudden shots sent the remaining four agents to scramble for cover at the mouth of the alleyway.
“That’s two down. 4 to 3 is much better odds,” he stated.
Nilos held up a flash bang and requested, “If at all possible, I would like to keep one alive for questioning?”
His request enlisted a snort and comment from Shona, “Maybe, but no promises.”
Calin raised his eyebrow regarding Shona’s level of hostility. He would need to talk to her later and see what was bothering her. Later though; right now they had their hands full.
He held a hand up and counted down with his fingers. When he got to one Nilos heaved the flash bang over his head toward the agents. As soon as the bright flash of the grenade blinded and distracted the enemy agents, Calin and Shona rushed out of cover toward the mouth of the alley.
Shona used a stack of pallets as a springboard to launch herself onto the shoulders of an agent who was still rubbing the stars out of his eyes. She wrapped her legs around his neck and flipped head over heels to sent him flying down the alley. She hit the ground in a roll and continued her forward momentum to sweep the legs out from under the closest agent. She spun around and finished him with a quick kick to the head.
Calin, his arm still amped up with power, let loose with a powerful uppercut to the chin of the next agent. The increased power levels in his arm hit the agent hard enough to lift his feet off the ground as his eyes rolled back in his head.
Nilos wasted no time and had thrown the last agent to the ground, disarmed him, and had his arms twisted behind his back in a painful position. As he straddled the agent, Nilos slapped some restraining cuffs on him and then yanked him to his feet.
Nilos turned to Calin and asked, “Can I use your ship? I need a private place to question this fool.”
“Right this way,” Calin gestured with a nod of his head and led them to where he had the Sea Rover parked nearby.
He dragged a chair over to the center of the cargo hold and helped Nilos secure the agent with some tie down straps. Nilos hitched a hip onto a nearby crate and glared at the agent, “You understand the routine. I will ask you some questions and you will tell me everything you know.”
The secured agent silently glared at Nilos and clenched his jaw.
Calin stepped forward, opening and closing his cybernetic fist, “Need help softening him up?” he offered.
“Nah, I’ve got something a lot more effective.” Nilos pulled two triangular pieces of metal out of his pocket and jingled them in his hand. The prisoner’s eyes widened and his head drooped in defeat. Nilos walked behind the agent and pressed the triangle shapes, each the size of his thumb, to either side of the agent's head above his ears. Nilos turned to Calin and Shona, “We discovered these little gizmos in the Moon base a few months ago, they act like an electronic truth serum. It takes a little while to get the correct calibration per person, but once that happens they sing like a canary. This will take a few hours, why don’t you two get that drink these clowns interrupted and I’ll let you know when I have something.” He turned back to the prisoner, rolled up his sleeves and began to carefully tap on the controls of the little triangles.
Calin and Shona spent a quiet hour in the galley, waiting. Shona stared off into space and quietly sipped her beer. Calin tried several times to engage her in conversation but she only replied in simple monosyllable statements. He had suspected of something bothering her the past few months, but he had brushed it off. But now her hostility was becoming an issue, it was useful at times he had to admit, but not always necessary.
They were still sitting in uncomfortable silence when Nilos shuffled into the room and went directly to the wall cooler to grab a beer for himself.
Shona peered uncomfortably out the doorway and down the hall toward the cargo hold, “Um… what did you do with the prisoner? Do I need to go keep an eye on him?”
Nilos took a swig of his beer and shook his head, “No need, I let him go. I got all the information out of him I could. And we don’t have time to transfer him to PPD custody.”
“Well, did you learn anything?” asked Shona.
He nodded his head, “It’s worse than I thought. All this time we were building a base up on Titan, we thought we were ahead of them. We were sure we had beat Kyrios to the colonies.” Before he continued, he slammed his bottle down on the table, “but it turns out Kyrios was already here! And they’ve been here since the beginning!”
“So where are they hiding? I would have caught hints of a criminal organization that big on Mars,” said Calin.
“Turns out they were one of the original, and largest, mining companies to come to Mars. They’ve been hiding in plain sight as the Hades Mining Company.”
Calin nodded his head, “I’ve heard of them. they employ a lot of miners in Mars City. They have over a dozen dig sites scattered around Mars, and those are just the ones I've heard of.”
Nilos gripped his beer until his knuckles turned white. “This is Mars, they could be anywhere.”
Zenas Ferran paced across the bridge of the Atlantean Command Battleship, his head down and hands clasped behind him. He listened to the readiness reports from the fleet as they were called into the work stations around him. The clamor of the bridge personal as they prepared the ancient ship for launch was a welcome and long awaited symphony to his ears. He stopped and stared out the floor-to-ceiling window over the forward hull of the battleship. In the distance he could almost make out the shapes of the other battleships as they each initialized their startup sequences and prepared for launch.
He grinned in anticipation, he couldn’t wait to surprise the Solar System Authority with the appearance of twenty fully functional Atlantean battleships. Hidden for centuries on Mars, the legend of the fleet had been passed down through his family line for generations, a secret only the Ferran family had known. For generations, a legend of a lost fleet hidden somewhere off Earth had been whispered. And that one day a Ferran would recover the fleet and use it to regain the Atlantean people’s rightful place as rulers of the Solar System.
Years ago, when the colonization of Mars had finally begun, he had made sure his mining company had been one of the first boots on the ground. It had taken years to discover the location of the hidden fleet, and quite a substantial amount of money had gone into making sure no one else knew about it or its location. While the other colonists where scouring the planet for water, he was literally sitting IN the biggest water reserve on the planet.
Now he and the Kyrios Cartel had control of the most advanced battle fleet in the Solar System and it was time for the Atlanteans to take their rightful place as rulers. The reason for the existence of such a fleet and how it should be used had been a source of intense discussion among the Kyrios Cartel leaders. But as far as it concerned him, he could think of no other reason why their ancestors left this fleet behind but for their descendants to regain their rightful position as rulers of the Terrans.
The approach of his Second In Command brought him out of his reflections. He watched Nicia approach and the sight of her reminded of why it had been a smart decision to make her his Second, and his wife. Tall, blond, athletic, and even by Atlantean specifications, she was a perfect specimen. And as Head Scientist for the Kyrios Cartel she was also his intellectual match.
She snapped to attention in front of him and threw a salute before speaking. Married or not, they had to maintain a certain decorum in front of the troops.
“Sir, readiness reports slight delays in engine startups on five of the ships. I estimate two days before we can initialize the reactors safely for full power.”
He nodded his head at her, “Good, good. We are almost ready. These ships have waited generations to take flight and be among the stars, another two days is nothing. But begin a withdraw of the troops from the surface, I want all available personnel on board by tomorrow.”
“Yes Sir,” was her reply as she promptly entered his orders on her command tablet.
Meanwhile, his head of security marched up and saluted, “Sir, I have an urgent report about Nilos.”
Zenas saw the tiniest twitch of Nicia’s head at the mention of Nilos. He turned to the officer and ordered, “Report.”
“Sir,” the guard hesitated and then stammered his report. “We tracked Nilos and his friends to a bar in Mars City. While attempting to apprehend them, Nilos and his friends killed most of the acquisition team.”
Zenas exploded in fury “What a bunch of bumbling buffoons! All they had to do was capture one man!”
“Well, Sir, one soldier survived. But Nilos and his friends took him prisoner.” The guard reported.
Zenas turned sideways, drew his blaster and shot the security guard point blank in the face.
Nicia covered her mouth with her hand and turned away, the smell of burnt flesh drifted up and turned her face green.
The loud crack of the blaster filled the bridge and caused a increased flurry of activity as everyone attempted to appear too busy to notice. Zenas stomped over to the communication station officer and snapped, “Send out a notice to all agents, smugglers, thieves, and lowlifes on our payroll. I am placing a 1 million credit bounty on Nilos Wyer, alive only.”
Nicia had followed him to the comm station and asked, “What about his friends? The ones that are helping him?”
“500 thousand credits for his friends, dead only. Oh, and tell whoever the new Head of Security is if the guard Nilos captured comes back, shoot him on sight.”
He tapped the comm officer on the shoulder, “Give me a fleet wide channel.”
He cleared his throat and spoke, his voice heavy with authority and command. “My brothers, the day we come out of the shadows is almost upon us. In two days we will reveal ourselves to the entire Solar System. With this fleet our ancestors left for us we will be the ruling power in the System and over Earth.”
He placed his hands behind his back again, his voice grew grave as he continued, “Our Tereos brothers have failed to see the error of their ways and continue to resist us. But no more! They have stood against us and will suffer the same fate as all those who oppose us, brothers or not. Remember, our goal is not to demolish humanity, but to rule it. Once the Terrans see the advanced technology and knowledge we can provide and teach them, they will welcome our rule with open arms and hearts. So prepare my brothers and sisters, ready our ships for launch so we can bring an end to the Solar System Authority. These are the last days of the SSA’s tyrannical schemes and ineffective rule. Under our guidance we will bring peace, prosperity, and order to the Solar System.”
On board the Sea Rover, Calin dismantled his pistol for cleaning with habitual motions and listened unperturbed to Nilos rant about the Kyrios Cartel beating them to Mars.
“They’ve been here under our noses the entire time!” Nilos slammed his hand down on the counter in the galley. “The PPD administration was so focused on developing the Titan base they’ve ignored what was going on down here on Mars.”
Methodically, without conscious thought, Calin arranged the dismantled pieces of his gun in front of him. As Nilos continued his rant, Calin cleaned the corrosion off the electrical contacts of the pistol power supply and wiped the carbon buildup out of its barrel and waited for Nilos to run out of steam.
Shona stepped forward and placed a friendly hand on Nilos shoulder to stop his pacing. "Hey, this changes nothing. You still have to find them. In fact, if they’ve been here since the beginning that means they should be easier to find."
Nilos gripped Shona’s hand gratefully, took a few deep breaths to center himself and agreed. “You’re right. It’s just frustrating to know they beat us here. They have become more powerful and organized than we thought. My superiors will not like this, especially if I can’t find them. But we don’t have enough resources on the planet to help right now.”
Shona gave a quick glance toward Calin and said, “Well, we could help you find them.”
Calin paused in reassembling his gun and looked up, “Now just wait a minute there. We already did our part for the PPD back on Luna.”
“You heard him Calin, he doesn’t have resources here. We do.”
“I think this is too hot for us. It’s one thing to go after a corrupt City Governor, but an entire secret cartel of power hungry Atlanteans? That’s way above our pay grade, I’m a simple smuggler, not a secret agent.”
Nilos stepped between Calin and Shona to interrupt their argument, “Calin, I really appreciated how much you've helped me out already, and I know it cost you your home. But I could really use your help on this, even if it is just a little.”
Calin did not want to look up and see the expression on Nilos’s face or see how Shona looked at him. He kept his eyes down, snapped the pieces of his pistol back together as a cover so he wouldn’t have to look at the pleading in their eyes.
He slid the power supply into the handle of the blaster and it gave a slight whine as it powered up. As he stood, he slid the pistol into his hip holster with a snap. “All right, all right. I may know someone in the Mars City Records Department we can bribe to look up the property records of Hades Mining Company. But after that, you are on your own, you understand? This is Atlantean faction business, not mine.”
Nilos shook his head in amazement, “I shouldn't be surprised. A new planet for humanity, and it only takes a few years for corruption to set in.”
Calin crossed his arms and leaning against a bulkhead, “You call it corruption, I call it business. Even here on Mars people should have the freedom to earn a little extra credit when they can.”
“Freedom?” Nilos scoffs. “There’s a big difference between enjoying freedom and breaking the law because you don’t feel that it applies to you.”
Calin pointed to himself and Shona, “When we broke the law on the Moon, you seemed to find it beneficial to your needs.”
“That’s different! If Silas hadn’t broken the law first and tried to rule the Moon, you wouldn’t have had to break the law.”
Calin tilted his head and grinned, "News flash, I probably would have anyway." He pointed a thumb at his chest, "Smuggler, remember?" He gestured around them and continued to lecture Nilos, “Out here in the colonies, the SSA established the governing rules and laws, but they are too complicated and restrictive for this type of life. Sure, the organized crime families are more prevalent and powerful out here than the SSA but their rules are a lot simpler and easier to follow.”
Nilos dropped his jaw in disbelief, “Are you trying to tell me the organized crime cartels can run Mars better than the SSA and PPD?”
“Well, maybe not better but it’s simpler. Anyway, as a cop you won’t understand it from our point of view so let’s table it for now. I’ll get on the comm and call my contact in Mars City and see what we can find out for you.”
Nilos stepped forward and shook Calin’s hand, “Thank you, I appreciate it. Once we find out where their main mine is, I’ll go in alone.”
Shona crossed her arms tightly and glared at Calin. He did his best to ignore her disapproving scowl as he sat down at the comm station and dialed up his contact.
“Hey Calin, hows’ it going man?” the man on the other end of the video call answered the call enthusiastically. “I didn’t realize it was time for another delivery already.”
“It’s not. I’m calling about something else. Could you to do me a favor and look up something for me? I'll make it worth your while.”
“Oh, don't worry about that, anything for you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have my Bella with me.”
Shona leaned over to Nilos and whispered, “His wife has a congenital heart defect and didn’t qualify for colonist status. We got her out here anyway and routinely smuggle in her heart medication. The lighter gravity of Mars makes it easier on her heart, and now she has the chance to live a normal life span. Unlike if she had stayed on Earth. This is how the SSA's rules and laws restrict more than a person's freedom.”
A frown crossed Nilos’s face as he listened to Shona.
Calin continued with the Mars government employee, “I need to find all the mining sites for a company called Hades Mining Company. Specifically, their biggest and oldest mining site if it’s available. Any chance you can look that up in your records?”
“Sure, that will be easy enough.” The man said on the vid screen, his fingers typing out of sight as he dug through the government database. “Hades Mining Company, here they are. Wow, they are a founding company, been here since day one.” He continued to read off the screen, “It says here they operate 11 mining sites scattered around the planet, but the original one and largest claim is only a few hours outside the City. I’m sending you the coordinates now.”
Calin tilted his up and asked “Rose, did you get it?”
“Yes Captain, coordinates received.”
Calin turned back to the comm screen when it filled with static and they heard the civil servant say “What the hell?”, then the screen filled with snow and the connection dropped.
“Rose?” asked Calin.
“I’m sorry Captain but something jammed the signal. I am unable to reestablish contact.”
Nilos slammed his fist into the bulkhead, “Shit! This isn’t good. We’ve must've triggered a flag with that search. If they traced the comm signal he was on, they know where we are and that we are looking for them.”
Zenas, in his Captain’s room aboard the command ship, swiped through the readiness reports displayed on the clear screen in front of him. The troops progress pleased him as they prepared the ancient Atlantean battleships for action. A few engine problems were still delaying them a little, but that gave them more time to get the weapons systems calibrated.
He leaned back in his chair and paused for a minute to stare at the screen, then said to the empty room, “Ship, based on current readiness reports, what is the projected time until launch?”
His ship’s A.I., designated Ship, replied in a flat tonal voice, “Current estimates for launch ability is in 26.3 hours.”
Zenas clenched his jaw. After they crushed the SSA, he would make it a priority to upgrade the ship’s artificial intelligence. It was one of the earlier versions programmed specifically for the battleship, all efficiency and no personality.
The door to his office hissed open and a Junior Comm Officer marched up to his desk and snapped a salute, “Sir, a priority red flag triggered in Mars City 10 minutes ago.”
Curious Zenas asked, “What triggered the flag?”
“A record search for Hades Mining Company property sites.”
“And what was your response?”
“I spiked the work station that accessed the records in Mars City and transmitted a worm to spread through any open communication lines connected to that workstation.”
“The worm indicated the worker operating the workstation was in communication with a local ship, The Sea Rover. Registration records show the owner is a Captain Calin Aku.”
At the mention of Calin’s name Zenas slammed his fist down on his desk. The Junior comm Officer gulped and took a step back when Zenas shot out of his chair and took rapid strides across the office to the bar in the wall. The Commander poured a glass of bourbon and knocked it back it one gulp.
Gripping the glass to tight the crystal creaked, Zenas fumed. Calin Aku! The same low-life smuggler from Earth’s Moon that had ruined Kyrios’s plan for controlling the Moon. He had worked for years getting Silas in his pocket, and quite a bit of credits too. For Calin to be involved he had to be working with Nilos again. They had lost track of Calin after Silas was arrested, but this explained why. The PPD must have moved Calin and his crew out here to the colonies.
He waved the Junior Officer away in dismissal and told Ship to summon the new Head of Security to his office.
Within a minute the new Security Chief entered his office and saluted. “Sir! Chief Rodas reporting as ordered!”
Zenas strode over to the new Chief and shook hands with the new Officer. “Chief, congratulations on the promotion. I’m sorry I haven’t had time to meet you before now, things have been a little hectic lately.”
“Understood Sir. What can I do for you?”
“Well, you see Chief, I have a little problem. A Tereo agent is loose on Mars and is creating problems for us. The former Chief sent out a squad that failed at capturing him and his compatriots.” Zenas leaned against his desk and asked, “What would you suggest?”
Chief Rodas quickly replied, “Bounty hunters Sir. There are quite a few low-lifes, smugglers, and criminal organizations on Mars we can use to our advantage.”
With a nod Zenas agreed. “I’ve already placed a bounty on the Tereo agent’s head. But it turns out he has friends with a high degree of luck on their side. And a fast ship.”
The new Chief took a minute to scratch his chin before he replied, “Well, Sir. We recently discovered a fleet of semi-autonomous drones in this ship’s storage. We are bringing them on-line now. Maybe we can use them to scan and search the planet for this Tereo agent and his friends. And these drones would be less obvious than our Atlantean fighters.”
“Do they have weaponry?”
“With light weapons only Sir. But I believe a full wing firing in concert will bring down any ship.”
Zenas grinned at the news, there was nothing more he loved than new war toys. “Semi-autonomous you said?”
“Yes Sir. The ship’s A.I. is limited, compared to our current technology, but it can still coordinate basic drone operations. But for full efficiency I would recommend a drone pilot to supervise each flight squad.”
Zenas agreed and ordered. “Get on it Chief. Do whatever you need to do to get those drones in the air. Rotate drone pilots by shifts around the clock. The ship I.D. you are looking for is the Sea Rover, an old cargo ship. Find me that ship and take it down.”
After he dismissed the Chief, Zenas left his office and headed for his Head Scientist lab. When he walked in Nicia was bent over a screen, she was staring at blueprints so intently she didn’t realize he had entered. He sneaked up behind her and gave her a playful swat on the butt, causing her to jump up in the air in surprise.
"Zenas! I didn’t hear you come in!” she exclaimed and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "I was just going over the floor plans for the Titan base."
Zenas peered over the blueprints on the screen, “I’ve got to give it to the Tereo, they know how to design a base. Too bad they can’t keep control of it,” he said with a smile.
She nodded her head in agreement, “Yes they do. We almost have complete control over the Titan base, all while the PPD back on Earth have no idea. By the time we launch this battlefleet we should have complete control and can use the base as our center of operations. Your plan is working brilliantly, my love.”
He tabbed through the different floors of the blueprint, “And what about PPD HQ? Have we gained a foothold in there yet?”
She pulled up the reports on the large screen and gave a quick summary, “So far we have a few active low level operatives, but our influence and recruitment drive there is increasing. Soon we will outnumber the Tereo.”
“Good. Tereo’s weakness has always been their desire to stayed low to the ground and hidden, passive. We can be more aggressive in our expansion, since we are about to reveal ourselves anyway.”
Nicia stepped over and gave him a hug from behind as he looked over the blueprints.
“It is almost time, love. Your plan is falling into place, and now it is finally time for the Atlanteans to rule the Solar System, just as our ancestors wanted.”
Calin squeezed his shoulders through the small access hatch in the floor of the cargo hold, then hung upside down with a power-wrench in his hand. Since someone had cut their comm with Mars City Records, he was positive Kyrios was looking for them. It was a strong possibility Kyrios already knew where and who they were, so he was making sure they would be prepared for visitors.
He stretched his arm down and could barely reach the overload regulator for the Sea Rover's sensor mesh. Using the power-wrench he carefully removed the regulator. Now he could increase the power to the sensor mesh and hopefully they could hide from any Atlantean ships looking for them.
He let loose a string of Russian and Chinese swear words when he banged his head backing out of the hatch in the floor. He held his head as he laid on the floor and let the blood return to his body after hanging upside down.
Rose came over the speaker above him, “Captain, I can now boost the sensor mesh to 125%. Is that satisfactory?”.
“Yea, Rose that will be fine. Go over the schematics again and try to find any other regulators we can remove.” Man, did he miss Dean. He was the one who had installed the sensor mesh, and he would know how to squeeze more power out of it. Maybe once all this blew over he should swing by and check on him, he thought.
He laid still and stared up at the ceiling of the cargo hold. How did he get into all this mess? The agreement to come to Mars after the whole Moon base episode was supposed to simplify his life. All he wanted to do was some simple smuggling, some piracy, and be left alone. Yet somehow once again, he found himself, along with his ship and crew, in the middle of a power struggle between two opposing factions of an ancient secret civilization from Earth.
He shook his head and climbed off the floor to head up to the cockpit to finish the preparations for launch. Shona was already there warming up the engines and powering up shields. Nilos came in behind him and took up a station at the Engineering console, where Dean used to sit.
“If I may make a suggestion,” Nilos said. “There is a PPD supply depot hidden outside Mars City we can lie low in for a while. It’s not comfortable, but it has enough supplies to sustain us for a little while. It even has an underground hangar we can hide the Sea Rover in.”
“Sounds good to me, it's got to be better than flying around trying not to get spotted,” commented Shona.
Nilos entered the coordinates and displayed them on the forward viewscreen as Calin initiated liftoff. The ship’s vibrations increased as it came alive under his hands. When it sat on the ground the ship was a regular collection of hardware, but once airborne, Calin believed the ship came alive, a creature meant to fly.
He plotted the course to the coordinates provided by Nilos and tried to keep to the canyons and gullies as much as possible.
Right as they dropped into the first canyon after they left Mars City, Rose announced over the speaker, “Captain, I have detected a small ship off our stern. It left Mars City less than a minute after we did and has maintained a constant position at the extreme range of our sensors.”
“Crap, we’re being followed.” Calin banged his fist on the console. Can they not catch a break? And what happened to the sensor mesh?
Nilos checked the scanners and replied, “It’s not an Atlantean ship, it’s a simple Mars scow.” He frowned at Calin, “Possibly a friend of yours?”
Confused Calin examined the sensor readings, “None that I know of. Let’s see if we can lose them.” He pushed the throttles forward to dive them down into the canyon. “Rose, reset the sensor mesh and power it back up. And if that doesn’t work give it a whack.”
Everyone was silent and kept an eye on the rear sensors as Calin flew the ship through the canyons and dunes of Mars. The Mars scow, unable to keep up with an actual spaceship, fell off the rear sensors. Calin flew the Sea Rover in a large loop to fly back behind the last known location of the little surface dinghy. When they came up over a large dune, the scow was directly ahead right where he thought it would be. It was easy to locate by the dust cloud it left in its wake as it flew near the ground.
Calin gave a nod to Shona to power up the forward weapons and lock them on to the little ship. Immediately their comm station lit up with chatter, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!”
Calin rolled his eyes when he recognized the voice over the comm, “Dudley, is that you?”
“Dude don’t shoot! I wasn’t doing anything!” came the frantic reply.
Calin turned off the mic and answered Nilos's unasked question, "Dudley is a wannabe smuggler we know.
He flipped the mic back on, “Dudley, why are you following me?”
“Dude! I swear I didn’t know it was you! Honest! Someone gave me a ship I.D. code and told me to follow it.” Dudley stammered. “Um… Calin, who did you piss off this time? Do you know there is a huge bounty on your head?”
Taken back in surprise Calin asked, “A bounty?” then after a pause he curiously asked, “how much?”
Shona suppressed a laugh and shook her head in disbelief at Calin. Here they are being hunted and his ego had to know how much he is worth.
Dudley’s stammered over the speaker, "500k for you and your crew." After a slight pause he added hesitantly, "Unfortunately, it specifically says dead only."
“Damn, not bad,” Calin said with a smirk.
Dudley continued on, “There is also a connected bounty offered for your friend you were spotted with, 1 million credits. Alive.”
Nilos, at first taken back in surprise, but then couldn’t help but give Calin a grin and crossed his arms.
“Um… Calin?” asked Dudley. “You should probably know I already sent off your location and ship transponder frequency. They know where you are now.”
“Dudley, go home. And you can be sure, you and I will finish this conversation in person at a later date.”
All in the cockpit could hear a very audible gulp come over Dudley’s mic as the Mars scowl turned tail and blasted back toward Mars City.
“Well, that’s that. We’re screwed.” Shona slumped in her chair.
Rose interrupted as a light flashed on the communication panel, “Comm coming in, no I.D.”
Calin gave Nilos a ‘this can’t be good’ look and said to Shona, “Let it through.”
A vid-screen on the dash lit up to reveal a weaselly looking man standing with his feet planted wide and his hands behind his back. Behind him they could see a ship’s bridge with tech that looked strangely similar to the secret Atlantean base they found back on the Moon.
“This is Captain Aku, who are you?” demanded Calin.
Before the man could answer Nilos leaned forward into view and said, “Zenas.”
“Ah, Nilos. There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you.” Said the man on the screen, with a very pompous air to his voice.
“What do you want?” Calin asked.
Zenas eyes flicked to Calin, dismissing him silently, then returned to Nilos. “Nilos, I heard you weren’t on Earth anymore but I am very surprised to see you way out here. What brings you to Mars?” Zenas asked casually, as if they were old friends talking over a beer.
“Zenas you bastard, what do you want?” Nilos spat.
“Now, now, is that anyway to talk to an old friend?”
“Old friend? You’re a traitor.”
Calin interrupted, “Nilos? Would you care to introduce us?”
“What? You haven’t told them about me?” the man on the screen said, shocked.
Nilos glared at the screen and said “This is Zenas Ferran, the leader of the Kyrios Cartel. And a traitor to the Atlantean people.”
“Traitor is a harsh word, and very one sided.” Zenas objected with a smile. He turned and finally acknowledged Calin, “What Nilos has neglected to say is we were also best friends. We worked together in the PPD to further our people’s future. But while Nilos preferred the more passive approach, some of us took a more aggressive stance.”
Nilos jumped in loudly, “Aggressive? You killed our own people!”
Zenas shrugged, “There is always collateral damage, especially when you are on the wrong side. But it is not too late! Old buddy, you can still join us! We are about to regain our rightful position in the Solar System. No more hiding, no more secrecy. Then we can use all of Earth’s resources and uncover what happened to our ancestors and where they went.”
“You are not interested in history, you are only interested in power. Just like always. You did it on Earth, you did it on the Moon, now you are doing it on Mars.”
“Nilos, Nilos, you never could see the big picture. I have moved past those little goals. Soon, the Kyrios Cartel will rule the entire Solar System!” He gestured around him proudly, “Do you see this? This is my command ship for a fleet of Atlantean battleships!”
Zenas laughed at the obvious shock on Nilos’s face. “Did you hear me? A fleet! There is nothing in this Solar System that can stand in the way of Kyrios now! So join me! I’ll even give you command of your own battleship. Imagine all the secrets and wonders we can bring back to the human race with this technology.”
Zenas paused then smiled at the camera, “Besides, Nicia would love to see you again, she misses you.”
Nilos stepped forward with his fist clenched, “You leave Nicia out of this!”
“That may be a little hard to do, since she is now my second in command. Unlike you, she understood the potential and the future that should be ours.”
Nilos glared and shook his head, “When I find you, you will be lucky if all I do is arrest you.”
Calin and Shona exchanged worried looks, this was not the Nilos they knew. Something about Zenas really got under his skin.
“Ah Nilos. Always the responsible one, doing what you think is right instead of doing what you want. Always the perfect PPD agent.”
“Unlike you, I know my responsibility is to our people, not for power and control.”
“Ah, but you’ve got us all wrong my boy! Well, kind of. Yes, power and control is nice and essential to what we need to do for our future. But everything Kyrios is doing, we do for our people and our future. Don’t you see that?”
“All I see is a maniac, you’ve corrupted our people. When I find you, I will take you down.”
“Unfortunately Nilos, you will never get that chance.”
Something in Zenas’s voice and his non-specific talking alerted Calin, so out of sight of the vid-screen he boosted their long range sensors.
Suddenly Rose announced, “Six unknown contacts detected on an intercept course at a high rate of speed.”
Calin immediately cut the comm channel with Zenas, “Sorry Nilos, that was nothing more than a delaying tactic so they could track us down.”
Nilos plopped down into the Engineer’s chair and shook his head in disgust.
Within seconds the 6 unknown ships had surrounded the Sea Rover, Calin looked out the window and asked, “What the hell are those things?”
Nilos peered out the window. The ships were small, maybe half the size of a standard fighter, after a pause he suggested, “They look like Atlantean drones. I’ve never seen one functional before.” Unlike the Atlantean ship Allia who was curved and aerodynamic, these small drones were angular and pointed like a dart. He rubbed his chin in worry, “These drones, plus the Atlantean battleships. What did Zenas find here on Mars? And how?”
Rose’s voice announced, “The ship design may be unknown, but power signatures indicate a strong possibility they have charged weapons and are preparing to fire.”
Calin stared out the window at the Atlantean drones as they circled the Sea Rover, their weapons continuously pointed directly at them.
“Rose, is that coupler repair still holding up?”
“It is down to 65% of factory strength.”
“It will have to be enough. On my mark I want you to override safety protocols and increase the engine output to 125%”.
“Captain, I must warn you that is not recommended, it is above safety specifications.”
“Do it, Captain’s authorization. Everyone, get buckled up.”
Everyone strapped into their respective chairs. He increased the thrust until the ship hovered a few meters above the ground. Rotating the ship in place, they looked at the drones continuing to circle them. He pulled back on the stick to stand the Sea Rover on her tail, then threw the throttle forward. With the engines operating at 125% capacity the Sea Rover shot straight up into the air leaving the Atlantean drones behind.
As the Sea Rover gained altitude Calin kept an eye on the rear sensors. The Atlantean drones, taken by surprise for only a second, were catching up quickly. They were smaller, lighter, and with their advanced engines they had no trouble catching up to them. Red blaster bolts flew past the ship as the drones opened fire from behind.
Calin realized he would not lose the drones through speed alone. “Everyone, hang on to your breakfast,” he said as he cut the power to the engines and slammed the stick sideways to rotate the Sea Rover 180 degrees. Then Calin brought the engines back online at full power. They blasted back toward the Mars surface and flew straight through the center of the six pursuing drones.
“Shona, if we can get some distance on these guys be ready to fire up the stealth mesh.”
Nilos cut in, “I wouldn’t bother. Those Atlantean drones will not have any trouble finding this ship, even in stealth. Their tech is a lot more advanced than yours.”
Calin grumbled, “Fine, I guess we will have to do this the hard way.”
He gritted his teeth and used the gravity of Mars to give the Sea Rover a boost in speed as they flew straight down toward the surface in an attempt to put some distance between them and the drones. The ship continued down, with the landscape below getting larger and larger. He waited until he heard Shona inhale sharply, then he pulled up on the stick to pull them out of the dive to barely skim the surface and threw up a large cloud of red dust in their wake. The ship whined and shook under his hands, but she pulled through as he aimed for the nearest canyon. The drones, still behind them, fired their weapons again. Everyone exhaled in relief as the bolts bounced harmlessly off the shields.
Nilos said, “Individually they are too weak to hurt us but if they get close enough to use coordinated fire on one spot, they could do real damage.”
“Well then, I will do my best to make sure they don’t get that chance. The day I can’t out fly an A.I. is the day I quit flying.” With a quick glance up he added, “No offense Rose.”
“None taken.” Rose replied flatly.
Calin stopped talking to focus on flying them through the canyon. He hugged the ship next to the canyon walls and around boulders as fast as the engines could handle.
Within a kilometer, two of the drones had crashed into the floor, unable to keep up with the Sea Rover’s tight maneuvers.
He popped them up out of the dusty canyon and circled around a mountain, the inertial compensator barely offset the g-forces that pressed them into their seats. After they looped around the mountain they came up behind the drone swarm. Shona was quick on the trigger and blasted one out of the sky. The three remaining drones fired their reverse thrusters and swiftly came to a complete stop. When the Sea Rover flew past, the three drones accelerated and got under the Sea Rover.
As Nilos had warned, they fired simultaneously into one spot to overload a bottom shield. With the shield down the drones flew up and attached themselves to the underbelly of the Sea Rover.
“What the hell are they doing?” asked Calin.
“I have no idea,” said Nilos. “We’ve never seen one operational before.”
“Captain, I am reading a massive power surge building up in their power cores,” warned Rose.
“Nilos, any idea how to get them off my hull?” snapped Calin.
But before Nilos could answer the drone darts released their energy overload directly into the hull of the Sea Rover. With a loud audible zzzzttt, sparks flew out of every panel, lights blew, and everything on the Sea Rover shut down; lights, control panels, engines, everything. The Sea Rover turned into a brick hurdling through the air and losing altitude fast.
Calin grappled with the controls as if he could fly the ship through willpower alone. He banged on the screens and flipped switches, trying to get anything to come back alive.
“It’s a dead stick, everyone hold on!” warned Calin. “This is going to be more of a crash than a landing!”
The right side of the Sea Rover clipped a rock tower and spun it into a flat spin right when it hit the red sand dunes. The ship plowed through the crest of the first dune, sand and rock sprayed everywhere. Like a skipping stone on water it bounced off the first dune, hit another and another until the impacts had killed off its momentum. The Sea Rover crashed into one more dune and careened down the gritty face, an avalanche of sand preceding it until it came to a rest in the valley below.
Calin slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus in the low light. His safety harness pressed into his chest and made it hard to breathe. Why was his chair leaning forward? Why was the ship leaning forward? Why is it so quiet? Gradually, his memories came back to him, the Atlantean darts, the chase, the electrical discharge, and the crash.
“Shona?” he asked into the darkness. No answer.
He slapped the center release of his harness and fell out of the Captain's chair onto the floor. His eyes focused enough for him to see out the forward window. The ship was laying at an angle and he was looking down at the bottom of a dune. He stumbled over to Shona in the Co-pilot chair. She looked unhurt, just knocked out. He released her harness and carefully lowered her out of her chair.
Behind him Nilos groaned as he woke and coughed on the smoky air.
Calin gingerly laid Shona down and checked her vitals. Satisfied with her condition, he stood up and leaned against the pilot console. He looked around the bridge and tried to find anything that worked. He squeezed past Nilos, who was still trying to focus, and stumbled out of the cockpit. In the central hallway he popped open a panel full of dead lights. A groan escaped him when he saw inside. This was the brain of the ship, Rose’s brain, and the silver canister inside crisscrossed with electrical discharge burn marks, with tendrils of smoke drifting up. The attack by the Atlantean darts had not only overloaded the power system, they had also fried Rose’s central unit.
He leaned up against the wall and hung his head in despair. Without an A.I. the ship could not fly. Rose did more than just occasionally talk to him and crew and give sensor readings, her A.I. algorithms kept the engines balanced, regulated the power flow, and kept the ship flying.
Even if Dean was here, he doubted anything could be done for Rose judging by the black marks that covered her container.
He crawled back down to the cockpit and found Nilos rousing Shona, both of them bruised but unhurt.
Shona sat on the floor and rubbed her forehead before she asked, “How bad is it?”
He slumped against the doorway, “The ship is dead in the water. Rose is fried, the power system is down, and the engines are offline. Everything is dead.”
Shona's face fell, "Damn, I'm sorry." She used the back of her chair to help her stand up and peered up out of the front window. "But right now we need to get out of here before they send more darts, or troops."
“I agree, and we need to hurry. We will see what we can do about the ship later,” said Nilos. He pointed out the right side of the window to the vague outline of a tall tower in the far distance. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s an atmospheric tower. They usually have communication gear for the service crews.”
The atmospheric tower was one of a network of towers that spread across the surface of Mars, an integral part of the terraforming process. Thanks to these towers they could wander the lower altitudes of Mars without oxygen tanks or rebreathers. The manufactured atmosphere, for now, was only adequate at the lower altitudes. Over the next couple of decades the ceiling for breathable air would continue to rise and rise.
Calin opened a supply cabinet at the back of the bridge and pulled out survival packs for each of them. When he handed one to Shona, she grabbed his arm and looked up at him, “Don’t worry, Captain. We’ll come back for the Sea Rover. We’ll get her flying again.”
With one last solemn look around the dead ship he reached up and blew the escape hatch on the top of the ship. The three meter drop into the soft sand of the dune in the lower Mars' gravity was nothing for them. They wrapped a cloth around their faces and placed goggles over their eyes against the blowing sand before they headed off toward the tall tower in the distance.
“I’m sorry about Rose.” Shona said after they walked in silence for several minutes. “I know she’s been part of your crew a long time.”
“Since the beginning, since I got the ship.”
He turned to glance back at Nilos who walked with his head down, lost in thought and history. Talking to Zenas after all these years must have really bothered Nilos, he thought.
After two hours of trudging through the blowing sands, they reached the base of the atmospheric tower. Calin leaned back to peer up at the tall tower. The tower was considered an engineering marvel and the cornerstone of the terraforming process. It was five thousand feet tall, several hundred feet wide at the base, and anchored deep in the bedrock of Mars. By looking up Calin could see the tower got narrower and narrower the higher up it went. At the top was a platform which held the oxygen generators, overshadowed by the extremely massive atmospheric balloons that helped support the tower. The balloons and station keeping thrusters kept the tower supported and from swaying in the high winds of Mars upper atmosphere.
They gathered at the base of the tower while Shona, the Master Thief, worked on the gate’s security panel. The atmospheric towers were usually unmanned except for the occasional maintenance crew. They hoped, with luck, there would be no maintenance schedule today. Within a minute Shona had bypassed the lock, and they entered the base of the tower. It didn't take long to locate the high-speed elevator attached to the outside of the tower.
Calin slid the safety gate down behind them, and the elevator ascended the tower slowly. Nilos spoke for the first time since they had left the Sea Rover, “At this rate it will take almost 10 minutes to reach the top.”
Calin peered up at the sky above and peered at the horizon around them, “So far there’s no sign of pursuit. We’ve got time.”
Shona turned and looked out over the Martian landscape spread out below. “Wow, with all the running we do, I forget to take the time to appreciate how beautiful Mars is.”
Calin nodded in agreement. The reddish sand dunes below spread out below them like a wrinkled blanket and disappeared into the crimson atmospheric haze in the distance. A decade ago you would have been able to see all the way to the horizon due to the thin atmosphere. But thanks to the terraforming the air was getting thicker and thicker. These days when the sun set on the horizon, as it was now, the sky filled with colors splayed out among the clouds above. The setting sun painted the sky above them so riding up in the elevator hundreds of meters into the sky was like ascending to a heaven filled with pinks and purples.
A red warning sign flashed ‘Low Oxygen’ on the wall of the elevator because of the higher elevation, so they slipped their oxygen masks on from their survival packs.
The elevator gave a slight ping when it reached the top and the safety gate unlocked. The ride up had given them time to relax and to come down off the adrenaline rush that had bolstered them throughout the day and across the sandy desert of Mars.
They stumbled across the platform in the failing light, fighting to walk against the high winds of the upper elevation. They held onto the safety railings of the catwalks and made it to the pressurized crew quarters. After cycling through the airlock, they yanked off their masks and inhaled deep lungfuls of fresh air.
Calin hit the lock on the airlock just in case they had any surprise visitors. Feeling safe and secure in what felt like days they each stumbled to a bunk and laid down in exhaustion. Within minutes they all were asleep.
Shona slowly woke to the sounds of someone rummaging around the crew quarters of the atmo station. She rubbed her eyes and sat up with a big yawn. Sniffing in surprise she asked, “Hey, is that coffee I smell?”
Over in the small kitchen area, Calin held up a steaming mug, “Only the best for government employees.”
Shona rose off the bunk and crossed the room, stretching as she walked. Calin grabbed a cup from the wall dispenser and filled it for her. She accepted the drink from him and took an appreciative sip, “Now if you can only rumble up some eggs and bacon it will be a decent start to the day.”
Calin laughed and offered her a plate, “How about a protein burrito instead? It was all I could find in the fridge.”
Their conversation woke up Nilos, who sat up sluggishly and scratched his stubble. All of them had slept in their clothes and were still coated in red dust.
Calin handed Nilos a cup of coffee and a burrito before going over to the window to look out. Now that it was daylight again he could see the entire platform was covered in equipment sheds, large round tanks, pressurized pipes, and atmospheric generators. It was a spiderweb of walkways and gangways, an engineering marvel 5 thousand feet up in the air.
After he was done eating Nilos said, “I think I saw a comm shed on the way in last night. I want to see if I can get a signal to Tereo for help and to report on Zenas, they need to know.”
Shona swallowed the last of her coffee, “Somewhere on this platform should be a survey plane the maintenance crews use to check the balloons and the tower. If we can find that maybe we can get back to Mars City.”
The guys agreed with her but before they left the crew quarters, they recharged their air masks from the wall tank. Outside, the high winds from the night before had died down to be replaced by a cool gentle breeze that blew across the top of the tower. Nilos headed off to find the comm shed while Shona and Calin searched for the survey plane. Shona almost passed it by; the plane was suspended below them under the platform. When she spotted it, she stood there and looked down at it in concern. To call it a plane was being generous she thought. It was a small two seater, one seat in front of the other with long narrow wings for the thin high-altitude atmosphere of Mars.
“That’s more like a powered glider than a plane,” Calin commented from beside her.
“Are you sure you can fly it?” she asked with concern.
Calin stumbled back grabbing his heart in mock shock, “Ouch! That hurt!”
“Well, we have been in two crashes this week,” she said looking up at him innocently.
“Now don’t you start!” he answered with a laugh before staring back down at the glider. “Hopefully Nilos can get hold of Tereo to come get us and we won't have to chance riding in that thing.”
Shona turned around to look out over the side of the platform. She gripped the railing tightly and stared off across the surface of Mars spread out before them. Calin stepped up next to her and looked toward the horizon, “Life keeps getting complicated, doesn’t it? For a year it was just you, me, and Rose. We did a job, we got paid, we had fun.”
She nodded, “Yet once again, we're stuck right in the middle of something bigger than us.” She turned to look up at him, “Why does this keep happening to us Captain?”
“I don’t have a clue. I thought Mars would be a simple planet with simple rules for survival,” he shrugged in response.
“Boy, were you wrong,” she laughed. She could see the look of worry cross his face, even with the air mask on. “Things keep getting complicated don’t they?” she added as she gripped his hand. She waved at the view in front of them, “It’s a shame, really. Mars is quite beautiful. Unlike that polluted cesspool of Earth. Mankind hasn’t desecrated this planet yet. If only people would stop and realize it, instead of this constant struggle for power, control, and domination.”
Their conversation was interrupted when Nilos jogged up to them. “No luck on the comms. Either it doesn’t have the range to reach Titan or Tereo isn’t answering,” he said. “We can wait awhile and I will try again.”
Shona could hear the worry in his voice when he mentioned Titan, but before she could ask she felt a vibration in the railing under her hand. At the same time Calin whipped around and looked over the side of the platform. Below they could see and feel the elevator begin its descent.
Shona begged, “Oh please let that be a maintenance crew,” before they ran across the platform to peer over the other side to watch the elevator go down. Down at the base, even from this height, they could see a strange wide bodied ship had landed at the base, with lines of ant-sized troops spilling out.
“Oh hell no,” snapped Calin.
“Shit, they must have picked up my comm call to Titan,” exclaimed Nilos.
They all stood there and watched the troops load onto the freight elevator, the only way up the tower.
“Now what?” asked Shona, they were like an animal stuck in a tree with nowhere to go.
Calin turned to them, “I have a plan but you may not like it. Get to the survey plane, you two will have to get friendly and cram into the back seat together.” He turned to the control panel for the elevator next to them, and with a powerful punch from his cybernetic arm demolished the panel to send sparks flying all around them. Below, the elevator ground to a halt halfway up, stranding the troops inside.
They all raced over to the survey plane and clambered down the access ladder into the small cockpit of the plane. Nilos got into the back seat first then Shona climbed in and sat in his lap, much to his delight. Rolling her eyes in laughter, she wrapped the safety harness around them both as best she could. From her position she could see over the front pilot chair and watched Calin give the simple controls a quick pass to familiarize himself.
Before closing the cockpit canopy, Calin pulled out his blaster and aimed across the platform above them at a distant pressure gauge cluster. He fired off two quick shots, the first one blew the gauges off the pipes, the second bolt ignited the oxygen inside.
“Shona, if you would do the honors,” Calin asked and gestured above her head. She had to tear her eyes away from the rolling fireball of ignited oxygen coming toward them to reach up and grip the yellow handle above her head. With a hard yank the release dropped the plane from beneath the atmo platform. With their stomachs flying up into their throats the plane dropped like a rock underneath the exploding platform until it fell fast enough for the wings to grab the thin air and level off.
Shona looked over Calin’s shoulder in the cramped cabin and watched him grip the simple control stick and turn them north, toward Mars City. He spun up the engines to full power and tapped the fuel gauge in concern. This plane was meant for short survey trips around the atmo tower, not cross-country flying.
“We got enough power to make it?” she asked.
Calin shrugged, “Maybe, if we can hit a couple of updrafts on the way we might. At least maybe get close enough.” He turned the comm to a specific frequency she recognized. “You are trying to get hold of Dean?” she asked.
“Right now, he is the only person we can trust.”
Dean’s face appeared on the little screen on the dash, the smile disappeared from his face quickly when he saw them all crammed into the little cockpit. “What in the world are you guys in?”
“No time to explain, there’s a good chance someone will try to trace this signal. I need you to pick us up outside Mars City at these coordinates,” said Calin as he punched in a projected landing site.
Dean nodded when he received the coordinates on his screen, “All right, I’ll be there.” The last thing he saw before they cut the channel was Shona smiling and waving over Calin’s shoulder.
Everyone was quiet as the Martian sailplane glided through the air, Calin had already used up what little fuel there was for the small engines. Crammed into the back seat of the tiny cockpit, Shona sat in Nilos’s lap and each tried to crane their neck to see out the window behind them. So far it didn’t look like the Kyrios troops had spotted them leaving the atmo tower.
The only sound in the little plane was the whoosh of air over the long slender wings. Calin expertly used any updraft he could find to extend their flight closer and closer to Mars City. After an hour of silent flying, all of their altitude almost gone, they finally reached the coordinates he had sent Dean to pick them up.
Calin gradually lowering their height above the ground as they approached the landing coordinates. But as they approached the ground Calin inhaled sharply and mutter “Uh oh.”
“What uh oh?” Shona asked.
“Um… they never designed this thing to land, but only to detach and reattach to the floating atmo platform.”
“So no landing wheels or skids.” He tightened his safety harness, “Grab whatever you can to brace yourself back there, this may get a little bumpy.”
Everyone braced their hands and feet against the sides of the small aircraft as the ground rose to meet them. Calin did a slow flyby of the landing zone first to check for the large rocks or boulders that were usually scattered across the Martian landscape. He could see Dean sitting in a Mars surface buggy, waving through its glass bubble.
With a dip of his wing in response, Calin lined up for his final landing approach. The rocky landscape rose higher and higher to meet them. Calin was counting on the light gravity of Mars and the lightweight of the craft to reduce the seriousness of his second crash landing in only two days. After a low gravity bounce, the plane skidded across the ground as the jagged rocks tore gouges into the skin and sparks flew out. The left wing caught on a large rock to spin the plane around, but the maneuver killed what forward momentum it had left. Finally, coming to a rest the little plane tipped to the side until its right wingtip touched the ground and it was still. A line of dust from its landing path floated away in the breeze.
“Thank you for flying Mars Airlines, please put your trays in the upright position and exit in an orderly manner.” Calin quipped and tried to suppress a laugh.
Shona rolled her eyes as she popped the canopy above them and crawled off of Nilos’s lap. Nilos rubbed his thighs to get the blood back to them and stumbled clumsily out of the plane.
Dean climbed out of his surface buggy and rushed over. He gave hearty handshakes to Calin and Nilos, but gave a big hug to Shona.
Shona looked past Dean at the buggy and asked, “Where’s Mouse?”
He looked confused, “Didn’t I tell you? He walked out.”
Calin snapped, “What? When did that happen?”
With a sneer Dean said, “He walked out a few weeks ago. I meant to tell you but I’ve been so busy working solo time got away from me.”
“Sorry, me too,” offered Calin.
Dean led the way to his buggy,”Yea, he claimed doing legit work was boring. And if I ever got back into the ‘fun stuff’ as he called it to give him a call.” With a shrug he added, “It doesn’t matter, that hacker is probably working a cushy job for one of the Cartels by now.”
Everyone loaded up in the buggy and strapped in. The surface buggy had large balloon wheels that made the ride bouncy, but they made it easier to traverse the rocky Martian surface.
Dean sat in the driver’s seat and asked, “Where to? I’m assuming Mars City is a no-go?”
Calin punched in a set of coordinates on the dash, “This is an empty still, we can lie low for a while there until we figure out our next move.”
Dean glanced at the coordinates and aimed the buggy in that direction, “You sure that is a safe place? Illegal stills on Mars are not what I would call an ideal hiding spot.”
“We did a pick up there a few days ago, so no one will be there for almost another month.”
Shona clapped Dean on the shoulder, “It’s good to see you again Dean, so I take it business has been good?”
“Yup, I’ve got more clients than I can handle. There’s so much that breaks on this planet I can’t keep up. And with Mouse gone I may have to hire a real employee to help.”
“You? A bonafide business owner?” Calin jabbed Dean in the ribs jokingly.
But Dean replied sullenly, “There’s nothing else to do on this rock. When you talked us into colonizing, you forgot to mention when the low male to female ratio here.”
Calin rolled his eyes but grinned, it was nice to know something and some people never changed.
“Well, once all this is over do you think you can look at the Sea Rover?”
Dean snapped his head around to glare at Calin, “Why? What did you do to my ship?”
“I’ve got just as much time, blood, and sweat in that ship as you do, Captain. What did you do to her?”
Jabbing a thumb at his own chest, Calin snapped, “I did nothing.” He pointed up to the sky, “The Kyrio cartel shot her down.”
Dean jerked his head around, confused, “The who shot her down?”
Nilos interrupted from the back seat, “The short version is they are the bad guys of the Atlanteans.”
As Dean got flustered and angry Calin tried to calm him down. “Whoa! Just cool your engines, dude! Most of her is there, but an electrical discharge fried Rose and the power supply. Do you think you can check her out?”
Dean nodded his head as he drove the buggy around several large boulders. “Yes, I can look, but I’m not sure where we will find replacement parts for that old of a ship way out here. Mars doesn’t exactly have a ship yard yet.”
Dean drove the Martian buggy up and over a crater rim as he followed the coordinates given him by Calin. As they drove down the steep crater wall, they could see the illegal still installation buried in the side of the crater.
After they come to a stop Calin hopped out and offered a hand to Shona to help her down out of the buggy.
Dean asks Calin, “Are you sure this place is empty?”
“Yup, it’s all automated. They only come out here once a month to load up the product and restock the ingredients. We emptied it out the other day so we have plenty of time before anyone comes back.”
Dean stopped to throw a sandy-colored tarp over the buggy to hide it from any fly overs while everyone else filed inside the hidden installation.
Inside was no resort. The main room was a large storage room, the walls lined with bales of Martian corn and bags of yeast. They could hear the still operating a floor below them. As they entered the room, a hole opened in the floor and a metal keg rose out to be grabbed by a robotic arm and stacked against the back wall.
Calin grabbed a couple of glasses from the center table, “It’s not the quietest place, but we can lie low for a little while until we get an idea of what to do next. And until then…” he poured shots of moonshine into the glasses from a keg on the table, “we have an unending supply of 'shine!” he exclaimed and held his shot glass up in a toast.
Nilos slammed back his shot and asked, “Is there a comm station here? I still need to get hold of the PPD and Tereo.”
Calin nodded toward the back corner, “Over there, but I’m sure they lock it to the Cartel’s channel. I’m not sure how much good it will do ya.”
Dean walked to the back of the room to look over the comm station and commented, “I think I can unlock it to use another frequency. But I don’t see any scrambler circuits, so no encryption. Everything you broadcast will be open air.”
Nilos shrugged, “I’ll have to risk it. It is imperative that my superiors learn about the Kyrios and Zenas.”
Shona sat in a chair and crossed her legs up on the table. She knocked back her glass of moonshine, shuddered, then asked, “So, what do we do now?”
Calin replied “We wait,” as he slid another shot across the table to her.
Shona raised an eyebrow and grabbed the sliding shot glass, “Captain, are you trying to get me drunk?” she asked laughing.
Calin swallowed another shot of shine and made a face with a shudder, “If I was, this bottled lightning would do the trick.”
Nilos interrupted them from the back of the room exclaiming “Yes! I finally got through.” On the screen of the comm station a PPD officer with Admiral bars on his shoulders appeared.
“Nilos! Where have you been, son? We’ve been trying to track you down for days!”
“Sorry Sir, I was forced to go underground. I can give you a full report now if you are ready.”
“Just give me the short version for now.”
The crew of the Sea Rover sat quietly and sipped the moonshine while Nilos filled his boss in on what has been happening up on Titan and on Mars. Nilos explained how Kyrios had been secretly increasing their military power and presence, and their lack of concern for secrecy.
The Admiral nodded his head in agreement, “We’ve been seeing the same things here on Earth. It’s one reason we could not send you any backup. Kyrios attempted to stage a stealthy coup on the PPD here, we barely suppress it.” He shook his head negatively, “They got a lot closer to succeeding than I would like to admit.”
“Any idea why they are making their power play now?” Nilos asked.
“No idea, but I will guess the ship you saw Zenas in control of has something to do with it. You say they have been on Mars since the start of the colony?”
“Yes Sir. I don’t know what they found yet, but we may know where they found it.”
“Just hold tight on that for now. Once things settle down here, I will send support troops to you so you can continue your investigation. So far, we have been able to contain this and keep it out of the public eye. The SSA is still unaware of us and I would like to keep it that way.”
Calin stepped forward into view of the camera and asked the Admiral, “Do you have any idea why Kyrios is gaining military strength? From what Nilos has told us they usually focused on building wealth and political power.”
The Admiral cut Calin a questioning look and asked Nilos, “Who is that?”
Nilos grinned, “Sir this is Captain Calin Aku. You may remember him, he was the one who helped us find the Moon base.”
The Admiral grinned, “Oh! That guy! Good to finally meet you Captain! And as for Kyrios’s new strategy for building power, I am afraid our predictions are not good. All of their activity seems to point toward an actual coup against the SSA.”
Nilos tilted his head in question, “Do you think they want to go public? Tell everyone about us and our history?”
“It is very possible. Our spies have been feeding us information that the internal rhetoric in Kyrios is we were meant to rule over the Solar System, and everyone in it.”
Nilos tapped his fingers on the desk and shook his head in disbelief.
On the screen someone handed the Admiral a piece of paper, which he glanced over before he spoke again, “This is a report on our strike team inbound to Titan. Once we get control of the Titan base again, I will direct them down to you for support. But for now I need you to hold tight. Are you somewhere safe?”
“Good, stay there. Do not go after Zenas. I know you, Nilos! Just wait for help, OK?”
Nilos frowned but nodded his head. “Yes Sir,” before he turned off the comm.
Nilos sat, slumped in the comm station chair, and stared at the floor.
Dean asked, “So what can we do about Kyrios? Is your Tereo group strong enough to take them on like this?”
Nilos shook his head, “I don’t think so. We will be at a disadvantage, they obviously don’t care about going public while we are still trying to maintain the secret of our society.”
Shona interjected, “You don’t think people can handle knowing about the Atlanteans? Why not? I think it’s pretty cool.”
“People won’t be that upset to learn Atlantis was real, but they will be livid to find out we’ve been here all along but in secret, and behind the scenes keeping information from them.”
Calin absentmindedly tapped his metal fingers against a keg, “Kyrios will not care if they upset people or not, as long as they are the ones in power. To live under the SSA rule is bad enough, I have a bad feeling that having the Kyrios in charge will be worse.”
Before they could continue the discussion further the comm station next to Nilos pinged to announce an incoming call.
Nilos stood up and backed away from the comm station and said, “It’s too early for the Admiral to be calling again, and no one else is aware we are here.”
“I’ll get it, could be it’s just the Cartel. They got their schedule off or something.” Calin offered and stepped forward into view of the camera before he hit the receive switch.
The screen lit up to reveal Zenas sitting in a command chair behind a desk, “Ah there you are! I was worried you wouldn’t pick up.”
Nilos stepped back into camera view and spat “Zenas! How did you find us?”
Dean whispered quietly so only those in the room could hear, “Damn, I warned you the signal wasn’t scrambled. They must have back tracked Nilos’s voice pattern.”
Zenas, said, “My man, there is nowhere on Mars you can hide from me.” He steepled his fingers in front of him, “Did you have a nice little chat with the Admiral? Please tell him I said Hello the next chance you get will you?” he said with a grin.
Calin reached forward to cut the connection but Zenas snapped “Stop!” and held up his hand. “I need to inform your are surrounded. Do not try to leave. I have ordered my men to take you alive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt, a little. So I highly suggest you get comfortable for the time being.”
Shona darted to the bunker door and peeked outside. “Shit! He ain’t bluffing. The crater rim is lined with guys, and a bunch of guns.”
Nilos addressed the vid-screen, “So, what? You are just going to keep us prisoner here?”
“No, no, no. I want to meet you all, in person.” Zenas turned his head to stare directly at Calin, “And Captain Aku especially.”
Confused Calin asked “Why me?”
Zenas glowered at the camera, “Because you are the main reason my plan for Earth’s Moon failed. I spent billions of credits putting that puppet Silas into a position of power. The Moon was supposed to be mine! It had the perfect strategic position to enforce our rule over Earth!”
Calin gave a little shrug, “Sorry to ruin your plans. Here’s a suggestion, next time don’t recruit an idiot for your stooge.”
Nilos moved off-screen and whispered “Delay as long as possible. Maybe the strike team from Tereo can get here soon and take care of those guys outside.”
Zenas glared at the camera and leaned forward in his chair, “Well Captain Aku, Silas was an idiot I won't argue that, but he still cost you your career on the Moon didn’t he? I'm aware you grew up on the Moon, so how does it feel to leave your life behind? Your history? You see... you and I are not that different. All I want is my history. And we can’t recover that history or insure our future by being a secret any longer. And if I have to take over the entire Solar System to learn it, I will.” Zenas paused in his speech and cocked his head to the side quizzically, “Wait a minute. Do I still call you Captain? My reports say your ship went down. I guess it is just Calin Aku now. No ship no Captain right?” he added with a grin.
Calin whipped out his blaster and fired a bolt into the comm station, causing it to explode into a shower of sparks.
“It was a stupid conversation anyway,” he muttered.
He turned to Nilos, “That asshole is getting on my nerves. Did you always know he was the one behind Silas? And why we had to leave Caldera City?”
“I already told you the Kyrios Cartel was the power being the scenes, yes.”
“Not just the Kyrios Cartel,” Calin snapped and pointed at the now destroyed vid-screen, “but him specifically. Your old bestie.”
Nilos sniffed, “I suspected he was in charge, yes. But I wasn’t certain until recently.”
“Well, if he wants to meet, then I say let’s meet him.” He held up his pistol with his cybernetic arm, “All I need is one clear shot.”
“No Calin, I can’t let you do that. Zenas has to arrested and answer for his crimes. That’s why we have laws. That is how we have justice.”
“Laws? Are you kidding? He doesn’t care about laws. He's tried to kill you, me, and our friends multiple times. And you still want to slap handcuffs on him and let him sit in a jail cell?”
Nilos stood and stared at the ground, his hands behind his back. “I can’t let you kill him Calin.”
“Why the hell not?”
Looking up shyly Nilos said, “Because he is family.”
“What?” Calin's jaw dropped.
“He’s my brother-in-law. A long time ago when Zenas was my partner in the PPD, he was also my best friend. And before he disappeared he married my sister.”
Shona, shocked, asked, “You have a sister?”
"Why wouldn’t I have a sister?" Nilos snorted in amusement. "I’m Atlantean, not an alien. We have families just like you. Anyway, for years he never agreed with how Tereo kept to the shadows and behind the scenes. Despite our friendship, it was a constant source of conflict between us. And then one day he and my sister disappeared. I heard nothing from them for years until one day a spy in the Kyrios group sent in a report that included them in it."
Nilos looked at all of them, “Now you see why I don’t want to kill him? My former best friend may be the leader of the enemy, but his wife is my sister and I can’t do that to her.”
Before anyone can take another shot of their illegal moonshine, the bunker vibrated as a deep rumble came from above.
“What the hell?” asked Calin.
Calin and Nilos ran to the bunker door, opened it a crack and peered out into the crater. There, coming in over the crater rim, was a shuttle. A very unique looking shuttle.
“That’s an Atlantean shuttle!” exclaimed Nilos as he squinted his eyes examining the shuttle. “It looks like an older version of Allia.”
“An Atlantean battleship, and an Atlantean shuttle. Where did Zenas find these things?” asked Calin.
“He must have found an Atlantean base here on Mars. Odd, I don’t remember any mention of our ancestors coming out here.”
As they watched, the shuttle hovered over Dean’s Mars buggy. In a bright flash of light a flurry of bolts rained down and obliterated the buggy into a million flaming pieces.
Calin reached down and unsnapped the safety on his holster, “Well, if that’s the way he wants to play it, fine with me.” He growled.
Nilos held up his hand to caution him, “Just wait a minute. Let me talk to him. We were best friends for years, maybe talking face to face I can get through to him.”
Calin removed his hand from his pistol and nodded his agreement. He wasn’t in a hurry to get firefight with an unknown opponent and an unknown technology.
They pushed the bunker door all the way open, and they all marched out into the crater with Nilos in the lead and their hands in the air.
A ramp extended down from underneath the shuttle and a dozen troops exited in rank and file, weapons at the ready, followed by a very large man in a crisp white uniform.
The large man, hands behind his back, sauntered up in front of Nilos, who stood there looking up at the man expressionless.
“Nilos, it is good to see you again.” The man rumbled in a now familiar deep voice.
“Zenas,” greeted Nilos. “I can’t say the same.”
Zenas turned to his left and walked in front of Calin. “Ah, Captain Aku. I have looked forward to meeting you for a long time now. For an unknown smuggler, you’ve been a pain in my side for a while now.”
“I’m glad to have made an impression,” replied Calin, “for being an unknown smuggler and all.”
Nilos stepped up. “Zenas, why don’t you and I sit down and talk this out? This strife between our groups has nothing to do with these people. Captain Aku here is a man of his word. If you leave him and his crew alone, I’m sure they will do the same.”
Zenas laughed at Nilos suggestions and slowly circled around Calin while he looked him up and down. Calin looked up defiantly at Zenas and shrugged, “I might be persuaded, if you can guarantee the safety of my crew.”
Zenas, in the middle of a chuckle, snapped out a large fist and nailed Calin in the chin. Calin reeled from the blow and stumbled backwards a step. He instinctively grabbed for his pistol but froze when the Atlantean troops surrounding them snap up their weapons and point at them.
Zenas, his hands behind his back again, continue to strut around Calin and Nilos. “Nilos, buddy, have you ever known me to negotiate? In any situation? Has it really been that long that you’ve forgotten?”
Calin stood up straight and rubbed his chin while he stared at Zenas, “I highly suggest you don’t try that again bud.” Shona stepped forward to stand next to Calin, her hands clenched into fists.
Zenas held up a hand to stave off his troops and continued to circle them like a monstrous cat playing with mice. Moving swiftly for a man of his size, he kicked the side of Calin’s knee, forcing him down. Then he brought a massive fist down toward Calin’s head like a pile driver. But to his surprise Calin caught the massive fist in his cybernetic hand, stopping it cold inches from his head.
Taking advantage of the surprise, Shona twirled toward the nearest guard, and swept his legs out from under him as she grappled for his weapon. Nilos snapped out a series of kicks and punches at the two nearest guards. He disarmed one guard, but the other knocked Dean to the ground and got a shot off at Shona. The bolt grazed her right leg, causing her to grunt in pain and her leg to buckle.
At the sound of the weapons fire, Calin and Nilos froze. They knew they could not cross the open space between them and the guards fast enough.
Zenas walked backward away from them, smiling. "Ah, that was entertaining. I wanted to meet Captain Aku in person and I can say, you are definitely not a disappointment." He nodded his head at Nilos, "And you are still as feisty as ever, but as usual, you still come up short."
He turned his back and started up the ramp into the shuttle, then paused and turned back around as the ramp rose. “It’s a shame you can’t see the light and join us, it really is. Nilos, I would have loved to have my Atlantean brother at my side as we take control of the Solar System. It’s a shame I will have to inform your sister you pathetically perished in an illegal still explosion with a bunch of lowly smugglers.”
The crowd of guards brandished their weapons and herded them back inside the bunker. Calin grabbed Shona, who could barely stand on her injured leg, and scooped her up in his arms. Once they were inside, the soldiers closed the bunker door and shot the hinges to fuse them.
They could hear the shuttle engines get louder and feel the rumble as it rose up to hover above the crater. Then powerful laser fire pounded across the bunker, the wall and ceiling exploded inward in a deafening roar.
Calin carried Shona and shouted above the roar of the shuttle's blaster fire “Everyone down the stairs!”. The stairwell in the back corner of the room led down to a deep underground storage room for the ingredients used in the still.
Dean pulled down the hatch over the stairs to seal them inside. They could hear and feel the explosions above their heads as the top of the bunker crumbled and collapsed from the barrage of laser fire. As the room shook around them the lights above flickered and then went out as the power failed. After a few minutes the deafening thunder of the explosions above subsided. Calin and Nilos stumbled around in the dark until they found flashlights on a bench. Flicking them on sent beams of light piercing through the dusty darkness.
Dean came down the stairs after checking the hatch announced, “Well, we aren’t getting out that way. But at least we won’t die of thirst while we're stuck down here.” With a smile he gestured at several kegs stacked against the wall behind him.
"We will probably suffocate first," coughed Nilos, as the air in the room thicken with dust and smoke drifting down from upstairs. "I can’t believe that madman is the same Zenas I knew." He punched his fist into the wall, "He was my best friend for years! At one time he believed in the Tereo values, to keep our people secret, and to let Earth develop on their own."
Calin carefully lowered Shona to the floor and commented, “Well, he is not trying to keep a low profile now, flying around Mars in an Atlantean shuttle. He will be spotted soon and someone will ask questions.”
Shona grunted as she straightened out her leg, “Anyone noticed a med kit around here?”
Dean rummaged through the storage shelves and shook his head negatively, “Aside from these kegs and bushels of corn there’s nothing down here. We can use the moonshine to disinfect the wound but that will hurt like hell.”
“Do it,” commanded Shona. When Dean walked over with a glass of 'shine, she stopped him before he poured it on her leg. “Hold it, let me see that,” she said and reached for the glass. She took a big swallow of the moonshine first and gasped as it burned down her throat. And before she could have second thoughts, she poured the rest of the moonshine over the laser burn on her leg. She gripped Calin’s hand and squeezed hard as she clenched her teeth against the pain.
Calin grimaced and asked, “Next time, can you grab the cybernetic hand? You’re crushing the real one.”
Dean walked around the room examining the structure, “Does anyone have any idea how the hell we can get out of here?”
After making sure Shona was comfortable, Calin stood up, “This is a cartel property. And every criminal rat hole I’ve ever been in always had more than one way in or out. It’s part of their mindset to never be cornered.”
Calin walked around the perimeter of the room and occasionally struck his fist against the wall to listen to the sound. The dust in the air was becoming thicker by the minute, causing everyone to cough harder and wipe their eyes.
Shona, from her position on the floor, could see under the shelving in the room and noticed the dust near the floor was gently being blown sideways. She pointed to the wall on their left, “There is a draft coming from over there.”
Calin and Dean exchanged hopeful looks and bolted to the side of the room. In front of the wall was a storage rack of ingredients. Together, they put their shoulders against the shelf and pushed the rack aside, an ear-piercing screech filled the room as the shelf slid across the floor.
And behind the shelf they found a reinforced hatch set into the concrete wall. Dean grabbed the wheel and tried to turn it but it wouldn’t budge.
Calin stepped forward, “Here, let me give it a shot.” He planted his feet firmly and grabbed the rusty wheel with his cybernetic arm. Slowly, constantly increasing the pressure, he turned the wheel. The rusting mechanism screeched and howled after years of non-use. With a final hard jerk Calin broke the wheel from the rust and spun it to release the bolts holding the door closed. He gave the door a hard shove. The hinges protested as it creaked open to reveal a dark small tunnel disappearing into the crater wall.
“Told you criminals always had a back way out.” Calin said. He helped Shona up off the floor and wrapped an arm around her to help her, “Steady as she goes there.”
Shona rolled her eyes at his joke and gritted her teeth to limp down the tunnel. Dean led the way and shone a light ahead of them. The layer of dust on the floor showed no one had used this tunnel in a very long time. After several minutes of walking they came upon another sealed hatch. Dean and Calin together spun the rusty wheel and opened the door. On the other side they stepped out into a small cavern overlooking a narrow canyon. And parked in the middle of the cavern was possibly the oldest hunk of junk surface wagon they had ever seen. It looked like a pressurized can lying on its side with four large balloon wheels.
Dean, ever the engineer, walked up to it in excitement. “This looks like one of the original wagons from the first colonization, I’ve never seen one outside of a museum before.”
Shona sat on a boulder to rest her leg, “Fascinating,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “But is it functional?”
“I’m sure it is. The cartels may be criminals, but they know how to cover their asses,” offered Calin.
After they all climbed into the cabin of the wagon, Dean coaxed the antique hydrogen engine to turn over and start. Calin was right, the wagon worked perfectly and the hydrogen tanks were full.
“Head to Mars City,” ordered Calin. “We need to patch up Shona, contact Nilos's people, and get a square meal in us before we figure out our next move.”
“Aye aye Captain,” Dean said, throwing a mock salute.
They were only a few hours outside of Mars City so it didn’t take long for them to make it to Deans place above his engineering shop. But with the stacks of tools and equipment everywhere it was hard to tell where his shop started and his apartment began.
Dean cleared off a spot on a couch and helped Shona sit down before he dug out a field med-kit. As Dean patched up Shona’s leg, Calin stood watch at the only window that looked out over the street below. After asking where the comm station was, Nilos established a secured comm to Titan. He returned in only a few minutes, the look on his face showed the call didn’t go well.
Calin glanced back from the window and asked “Well, what did they say? When can they can get us out of here?”
Nilos shook his head negatively, “They still have their hands full trying to clear out and secure the Titan base. No help is coming, we are on our own.”
“What do you mean they can't help us?” snapped Calin.
Nilos held up his hands helplessly, “They said they have their hands full. There’s nothing I can do, I’m not the boss. Kyrios is as much a headache for them as they are for us. All available resources are being used to secure the Titan base.”
Calin squinted his eyes and glared, “But we need help here!” he snapped and pointed at their feet.
With a hurt and confused expression Nilos tried to calm Calin, “Hey, I tried. But don’t worry, I got you into this and I will get you out. OK?”
Calin pointed his finger at Nilos. His frustration over the past few days came boiling out, and he snapped, “It was you who convinced us to come to Mars, you said it would be a fresh start. The only reason we are here in this mess right now is because we helped you back on Luna. And yet, somehow, your Atlantean trouble keeps finding us.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. But remember, you are an unsung hero on the Moon. You did what needed to be done. And the Tereo Group will always be in your debt.”
“Unsung is right, no one will ever know what we did. No one will ever know that we had to leave our home. All because we helped an ancient society that no one knows exists. And yet again, here we are, being hunted and threatened again. By your people!” Calin pointed his finger accusingly.
“Now wait a minute.” Nilos said and held up his hand to halt Calin’s argumentative tone, “I’ll agree that the current predicament is my fault. I came to you and asked you to help me with Kyrios. But back on Luna, do you remember why you helped us?”
“To save our skins?” Calin snapped through clenched teeth.
“Yes, but to also to do what was right and save everyone else's skin. Silas Drummer would have ruined the lives of millions of people, and you fought against him. In the end it was you who did what was right and stood up for the people of the Moon.”
Calin turned back to the window and peered down at the street below. He wondered, how in the hell did he get into this? Again? All he really wanted to do in life was to sail among the stars, do jobs, and be free. Yet here he was, again being chased by a madman attempting to destroy his life and everyone around him.
He looked back into the room and watched Dean wrap gauze around Shona’s leg. It hurt him more than he wanted to admit that she had gotten injured. Back on Luna it had been his decision to help her find her brother, which led them to take on Silas Drummer and eventually to help a secret society of Atlanteans. It was his decisions that cost them their home, move to Mars, and ultimately to being chased by yet another power hungry maniac. He heard Shona gasp in pain as Dean tightened the gauze. When he heard her suffer, it increased his anger at himself for putting his friends and his crew in danger.
He hung his head in contemplation. His crew. He guessed he couldn’t call them his crew anymore, since he wasn’t a Captain. You can’t be a Captain without a ship he told himself, and he forced himself to face the reality that his ship, and Rose, was gone. The past few days had been so much of a roller coaster ride it was hard for him to accept what had happened. His ship, gone. Rose, gone. Now his copilot had been shot.
His cybernetic arm unconsciously gripped the pistol in his holster. There were only two things left in his life he knew he could count on, his gun and good old fashion vengeance. He clenched his jaw and decided if he couldn’t be a Captain, he would be a big pain in the ass to the person who took it away from him, to the person who took his ship and hurt his crew.
He decided, if Zenas wanted to play games he would play, but by his own rules. The days of being chased and hunted across Mars, across the Solar System were over. He was done running.
He snapped his pistol back into its holster and turned away from the window. The steel expression on his face grabbed everyone’s attention without him saying a word.
Dean looked concerned and asked “Captain? How come I don’t like the look on your face right now?”
Shona stood up from the couch, hobbled on her injured leg but stood defiantly, “Because I think the Captain has a plan.”
Dean wiped his hand down his face in despair and whispered, “Somehow, I don’t think I am going to like this.”
Nilos looked over with a raised eyebrow, “Calin? You’ve got something in mind?”
“I sure do. I am done cutting and running. I am done being chased, it’s time we turn the tables. Y'all don’t have to come along, without the Sea Rover I’m not your Captain anymore so you are free to do what you want.” He paused to look them each in the eye, “But understand this, Zenas and the Kyrios Cartel have hunted us, hurt us, and destroyed our ship. I intend to go after Zenas, and I intend to stop him. But I will go it alone if need be.”
Shona hobbled forward, careful of her leg, and stated firmly, “I’m going with you. If this is what he will do to us, imagine what he will do to entire Solar System.”
Dean looked up at the ceiling before he said, “Who am I to pass up the chance to see more Atlantean technology? Of course I’m in.”
Nilos drummed his fingers on the table, “Now wait a minute, don’t you think we should wait until the PPD can send us some support? You are talking about taking on the Kyrios gang by yourself.”
Calin clenched a metal fist, “As a smaller group we have a better chance at infiltrating them than any tactical strike team would. And besides, this is the last thing Zenas would expect.”
Dean held up a finger and asked, ”Even if we were crazy enough to do this alone, which for the record I do think is stupid and crazy, how can we find them? We have no clue where they are.”
“Actually,” Nilos held up his hand, “we may. During our little scuffle with the guards at the still, I was able to stick a small tracker to one of the guards I hit.”
“Really? You were able to do that?” asked Shona.
“Hey, I am a secret agent, remember?” asked Nilos with a grin. He pulled a small device out of his jacket pocket and pointed to its screen, “See, the signal is coming from about an hour away.” He tapped on the blinking dot and continued, “The coordinates match up with the oldest known mining site for Hades Mining Company.”
Calin snapped his pistol into its holster “Let’s pay Zenas a little visit.”
They had no problem traveling across the Mars surface in the antique surface wagon. Calin was thankful they could finally give their pursuers the slip, it was about time something went their way. Their slow and bouncing ride ended in a nearby series of canyons. After Dean parked the wagon behind some large boulders, they approached the mining site on foot. Peeking over a ridge into the canyon below, they surveyed the mining site carefully. According to city records it was the oldest mining site on Mars, opened right after the first colonization. A large rectangular strip mine dug down into the surface of Mars with large conveyors sticking out of the pit to remove the dirt for processing.
Dean peered through a set of binoculars, “Looks like a typical mining operation. Smelters, processors, and the extractors all look legit. You sure we have the right place?” he asked.
Nilos pointed his attention to the small towers scattered around the edge of the pit, “Those guard towers are topped with high frequency radar and the guards are armed with military PQ90 assault rifles.”
“I’m open to suggestions on how to get into there, all quiet-like of course.” Calin said.
"The normal operations areas shouldn’t be a problem, they would use regular miners for those, but the more sensitive areas may be a challenge." Nilos pointed at his own eyes, "Do you remember the Atlantean genetic marker I told you about last year? Gray eyes are how we find other Atlanteans, you all have normal coloring." He pointed to a large building on the rim of the pit, "That has an elevator on the outside going down into the pit. My guess that is our best way in."
Carefully they slipped and slid down the slope of canyon wall to disappear among the stacks of equipment and piles of Martian dirt. They quietly followed a squad of guards until their patrol put them out of sight of the mine. The small group slipped up behind them and silently knock them out with blows to the back of the head.
Calin, Dean, and Shona pulled the guards' uniforms over their own clothes, Shona did her best to tuck in the extra fabric over her small frame. The Terrans of the group pulled the caps down low to hide their non-gray eyes and placed handcuffs on Nilos. They formed up around him as if they were escorting a prisoner and headed toward the building Nilos had pointed out before. They kept their heads down and walked across the equipment yard and did their best to avoid the other patrols.
Without further incidents they arrived at the elevator and used a keycard attached to the guards' uniforms to bypass the security and opened the elevator doors.
Once the elevator doors closed, they all exhaled to release their pent up nerves.
“Well, that went better than expected,” offered Nilos.
“The party ain't over yet,” commented Calin as he adjusted his cap tighter to his head.
The elevator slowly lowered down into the pit, the clear sides of the cage gave them an open view of the mine as they descended. When they reached the bottom, the elevator continued into a small shaft down into the ground. For several minutes the elevator continued to descend deep beneath the surface of Mars until the small shaft led to a large cavern deep underground.
“What the hell?” exclaimed Nilos. Everyone gasped as the cage exited the shaft at the top of the cavern. The cavern, almost as large as the pit mine above, was not what took their breath away. It was the large body of water below.
“An underground lake? On Mars?” exclaimed Shona.
“I thought the only water they ever found on Mars was underneath the poles,” asked Dean.
“I guess they missed this one, or Kyrios kept it a secret,” suggested Nilos
“Why would Kyrios be so interested in an underground lake?” asked Calin.
“I think we are about to find out, look below!” Dean pointed down. The elevator’s structure descended into the lake and disappeared below the surface of the water.
“I really hope this thing is watertight,” said Shona nervously as the cage entered the water.
Looking out through the clear walls of the elevator they could see the Martian lake was clear, clean, and had visibility for a hundred meters. Below them,. they could see lights in the water lighting up the floor of the lake.
The elevator continued to descend into the depths with small air bubbles from the surface of the cage releasing and floating up.
“It’s not the lake they are interested in, it’s what is IN the lake,” said Nilos incredulously.
Below them, a dark shape appeared near an island of light. As they got closer, the shape clarified into a ship, a large spaceship obviously Atlantean in design.
Nilos gasped in disbelief, “That’s a battleship! We’ve come across records of them but we have never found one. We assumed our ancestors took them with them when they left.”
“And it’s operational, there are lights in the windows and a glow from the engines.” Calin pointed out.
Shona gestured to the right at other islands of light, “There’s another one! If each circle of light is a ship, there must be 20 ships down here!” She turned to Nilos, “Why would your people sink their battleships here on Mars?”
Dean raised his hand, “I can answer that. Long-term storage in a high radiation environment, such as Mars, means you need some sort of shielding. The ground above and the deep water here acted like a natural radiation shield.”
Nilos slipped his cuffs off and ran his hand down his face is despair, “Now I know what Zenas was talking about, and how he intends to do it. He really will take over the Solar System!”
“Does the PPD have anything that can stand up to these battle ships?” Calin wondered.
“No, there is nothing I know of that can stand toe to toe with them, that tech is too advanced. The SSA and the PPD don’t have a chance against this fleet. It will be a slaughter.”
Through the glass walls of the elevator cage they could see they were approaching a large round base in the water. A hatch in its roof irised open for the elevator to enter the building.
“Oh shit, this isn’t good,” said Calin as they looked around. The elevator shaft came down in the center of a crowded promenade, with several levels of walkways and hallways branching off from a big center area. And everywhere were black uniformed Kyrios personnel scurrying about on their business.
“It will be alright, just keep your eyes down. They don’t know we are here,” Nilos offered.
Dean shook his head in disbelief, “Yea, they wouldn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to sneak in this deep.”
“They haven’t met us, have they?” asked Shona with a smirk.
The elevator doors opened, which forced them to exit into the crowd. They slipped in behind a group of tech workers and did their best to blend in. Dean, ever the engineer, was craning his neck left and right trying to look at everything at once.
“The tech in here is unbelievable! Look, that drone is carrying a cargo stack bigger than it is!” whispered Dean.
“Keep your eyes down!” hissed Nilos. Looking around he added, “The tech is still not as advanced as what we found on the Moon. That must mean this place is ancient. I wonder how long it has been here? And why we never came across any references to a Mars base?”
They split off from the crowd and stood in front of the floor to ceiling windows that surrounded the promenade. Spread out before them, lit up in the clear water, they could see several of the battleships connected to the base by long slender annexes.
Calin commented, “I’ve never heard of anyone finding a body of water this big on Mars before, even at the poles. I wonder how they kept it a secret all these years?”
Nilos suggested, “They must have positioned puppets in the Mars government from the beginning. As one of the first major corporations on Mars they would have had considerable power in the early days.”
Looking out over the fleet of ships before them, Shona asked, “To store these ships in the water for radiation protection I can understand, but how are they going to get them out?”
Dean pointed up, “That strip mine is directly above us, I bet that’s the exit strategy. They dig down until they reach the ceiling of this cavern.”
A woman's voice blasted out of the speakers above them, drowning out the noise of the surrounding crowd, “Attention! All battleship personnel prepare for launch in one hour! I repeat, prepare for launch in one hour!”
Calin noticed Nilos’s eyes widen when he heard the voice, “You know that voice?”
Nilos slowly nodded his head, “That is Nicia, my sister.”
“Damn,” was Calin’s only reply.
“Hey, look. That ship over there is different,” Dean pointed out the window as a ship slipped through the water and into view. It was larger than the others and bristled with weapons.
Nilos eyes widen, “That’s a command ship! It enables them to coordinate and control an entire fleet using specialized A.I., there is no way the PPD can stand up to that kind of firepower!”
“Command ship, huh? So it’s a good bet that’s where Zenas is at?” wondered Calin. “If we can take out the command ship, how much will that hurt the fleet?”
“As I said, it's where the central A.I. that coordinates everything is housed. If we can destroy it, we may give the PPD a fighting chance. If they can get here in time,” was Nilos reply.
“How do we get to it? Unlike the other ships it’s not connected to this base,” asked Shona.
Nilos looked around them and smiled, “Taxi anyone?” and pointed to a hatch nearby. The pictograph above showed it was a hatch for a maintenance sub.
Calin began to put his hand over the access terminal when Nilos grabbed his arm, “Wait! I bet the security tech here is the same as it was on the Moon, based on Atlantean DNA. So yours may set off an alarm, let me.”
Once inside the sub, Nilos sat in the pilot's chair and glanced over the controls. “Good, it’s automated so it’s meant for maintenance personal, not pilots. I’m setting it for the command ship.”
The rest of them watched silently out the forward window as the sub glided through the water, dipping under and between the fleet ships scattered around the base until it flew up to the massive command ship.
Nilos banged a fist into the dashboard, “Crap, bad news, folks. The shuttle is going to the main hangar bay. I was hoping for a maintenance dock or something. Grab those tool bags I saw in the back, maybe we can blend in as maintenance workers.”
Everyone pulled their uniform hats down lower over their faces and exited the sub once it had landed in the main hangar. When they walked out, they couldn’t help but stop and stare around the hangar. It was huge, over 100 meters long and it was stuffed with equipment, personnel, and with 30 small ships Calin had never seen before.
“What are those?” he asked Nilos.
Nilos, his eyes wide, said, “Those are fighters. An old model, but still formidable by today's standards. Not quite as advanced as Allia, they don't have A.I. assistance or shields but they should still pack a powerful punch.”
Shona whispered, “With this much firepower, if they manage to launch, there is nothing in the Solar System that can stop them.” She turned to look at Nilos, “Why in the world did your ancestors need this much firepower?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know, but I will guess that they didn’t need it since they left it all behind.” He nodded his head to the left toward a nearby hallway, “Let’s head over there and get out of this bay, I need to find a computer terminal. If we can disable the engines, maybe that will give the PPD time to get here.”
They walked together, trying to keep their eyes down. But Dean, still looking all around and not watching where he was going, bumped into a guard. “Oh, sorry Sir. Excuse me,” Dean stammered with his eyes toward the floor.
The guard placed his hand on his holster, looked them over and growled, “Just watch where you are going, rat.” And hurried to catch up to his squad.
Calin whispered harshly, “Damn it Dean, are you trying to get us killed?”
“Keeping my eyes down but watching where I’m going are two conflicting actions, Captain.” Dean said sarcastically.
Shona grabbed them both by the arms and pushed them toward Nilos, who waited at a doorway that led away from the hangar.
As they crossed the bay Calin spotted a familiar device. It looked a lot like the command tablet they had used back on Luna, a portable device used to access and control anything Atlantean. It was lying on a workstation next to a group of officers. The officers were in a heated argument as they walked by, which made it easy for Calin to slip the tablet off the table and under his jacket. They joined Nilos in the hallway where Calin handed him the tablet, “Here, I got you a present.”
Nilos grinned and turned the tablet over in his hands. “Come on, let’s find a place to get out of sight.”
They spotted an open doorway down the hall and slipped inside, Nilos used the keypad to close and lock the door behind them.
The room was full of cleaning supplies and equipment. Dean walked around the room examining the equipment and said disappointingly, “A centuries old battleship from a secret society and we find the broom closet?”
Calin ignored Dean’s snarkiness and asked Nilos, “Can you get any information off that thing?” and gestured at the tablet.
“I’m trying to bypass the security now.” Nilos replied as he swiped and tabbed through a multitude of menus on the screen.
Shona, from a guard position at the door asked “What are you looking for?”
“If I can find an engine schematic maybe we can figure out a way to disable them. Right now my top priority is to delay the launch of this fleet long enough for the PPD to arrive.”
“And after?” asked Calin. “As soon as the engines go offline, they will know we are here. Does your plan include an escape plan?”
“I’m working on it, kind of doing this by the seat of my pants. When I got up this morning I hadn’t plan on sneaking into the base of the enemy.”
They carried tool bags slung over their shoulders and made their way down the maze of hallways by following the map on Nilos’s tablet. They kept their eyes glued to the floor and did their best to imitate overworked maintenance personnel by hanging their heads as they headed toward the power station.
Shona stepped up next to Calin and whispered “I think a drone is following us. It's made the same turns as we have for the past 5 intersections.”
As casually as he could manage, Calin turned his head to look behind them. And indeed there was a small drone down the hall behind them.
He hissed to get Nilos attention and jerked his head subtly backward to indicate the drone behind him, “Are we almost there? We have company.”
Nilos glanced at the map on the tablet, “We’re almost there, just two more hallways to go.” At Nilos urging everyone picked up their pace and walked as quickly as they could but still not draw attention to themselves. When they rounded the last intersection Nilos quickly palmed open a door to their right, and they all slipped inside and closed the door behind them. Calin put his ear to the door and heard the drone’s soft whine go up and then down as it floated past the door and continued down the hall.
“OK, I think we are in the clear for now,” he said and turned to survey the room they were in. It was big and open, two stories tall, with a large cylindrical power station in the center with massive pipes that branched off in many directions. A window in the reactor of the power station was dark; this reactor was still offline. Nilos headed straight to a control panel and slipped the command tablet into a slot. Once the connection was made, the control panel lit up with a multitude of readouts and schematics.
Nilos tapped the screens in front of him, “This is just one of 4 main power stations for the ship. One for computer systems, one for shielding, another for life support systems, and one for engines.” He jerked a thumb at the reaction chamber above their heads, “And each system has a small backup. This reactor is the backup for the engines.”
Shona, confused, asked “How is the backup generator going to help us? It’s not even on.”
“I’m willing to bet,” interjected Dean as he nodded at the control station Nilos had just powered up, “That station is a backdoor to the main engine power station, am I right?”
“Give the man a cigar,” said Nilos. “We are not in a position to access any main system component directly, so our best bet is through here. Now let me concentrate.” He went back to tapping on the screen, swiping icons out of the way and opening others for several minutes until he muttered, “Here we go, this might be what we are looking for.”
“Shh!” hissed Shona who had her ear up against the door.
In the silence it was easy to hear the click of the door as it unlocked. Everyone in the room backed away and drew their weapons. Then they heard the door behind them on the other side of the room click, and both doors hissed open. Two squads of guards spilled into the room, weapons drawn as they spread around the room and surrounded the crew of the Sea Rover.
An amplified voice echoed through the room, “Lay down your weapons!”
Shona, Dean, and Nilos all looked at Calin, who was letting his targeting system analyze positions until it flashed red in his eye.
Lowering his blaster he whispered, “There’s too many of them, they are too spread out.”
Swiftly the guards encircled them, disarmed them of their blasters, and slapped handcuffs on everyone.
Nilos grimaced in disgust, “Well, that didn’t work out according to plan.”
The nearest guard backhanded him and snapped “Quiet, traitor!”
An officer in a crisp black uniform stepped into the room, hands behind his back, and walked stiffly up to Nilos. “Did you really think you could hack us? We’ve been working on these ships for 10 years, we know them inside and out. Don’t you think we would have planned for this desperate attempt by Tereo?”
Nilos cocked his head to the side and replied “Well, we got this far, so you must not be as prepared as you thought, huh?”
Calin flexed his shoulders and tugged at his restraints to test them. The cuffs were not designed for a cybernetic arm, one good hard tug and he knew he could snap them. “You will fail in this. People barely tolerate the PPD, why do you think they will stand for tyrants like you?”
“They will not have a choice.” The officer replied dryly. He flipped a switch on the control panel and spoke into a microphone “We have them, Sir. What do you want to do with them?”
From the control panel speaker came a familiar voice, “With our timetable we don't have time to deal with them. Eject them out an airlock into the water and finish getting ready for launch.” Zenas commanded.
“Zenas!” barked Nilos. “Let’s talk this over old friend. You don’t have to start a war! The Solar System is a big place. I’m sure we can work something out and maintain peace.”
There was a pause over the speaker before Zenas continued “Yes, the Solar System is a big place. And soon I will control all of it. Why settle for an inhospitable planet or moon when I can take it all? Officer, do as I ordered.”
The officer grinned and turned to them, “Congratulations. You will have the prestigious honor of being the first people to drown on Mars.”
Calin fought against his restraints, his augmented arm dug the cuffs into the flesh of his real arm as the six guards escorted them through the hallways. Dean, even while being marched to his death, still craned his head around to admire the tech and architecture of the Atlantean battleship. Shona marched beside him and also struggled against her own cuffs, but gave Calin a small shake of her head. The restraints were the same type used by the PPD, the more you pushed against them the tighter they became.
With three guards in front of them and three behind them, Calin knew they were not in the best position for an escape attempt. Only Nilos seemed unfazed by their current predicament as he marched along with his head held up.
Their group rounded a corner and ahead of them the hallway ended at a large airlock door. When they reached the airlock, the lead guard stepped forward and entered a security code into the control panel. The large airlock door hissed open and slid into the wall. Nilos turned slightly around and flashed them all a hard warning look. Behind his back the fingers of his right hand tapped on his watch in an unusual sequence. When he stopped an audible high-pitched whine emitted from the watch, followed by all of their cuffs releasing and falling to the floor with a clatter. Without stopping to wonder how Nilos pulled that trick off, Calin turned to the guard on his left and swung a roundhouse punch to the guy’s chin with his metal hand to knock the guard out cold. Shona twirled toward the two guards behind her, a snap kick to the chin on one guard and a quick uppercut to the other put them both out of commission.
Nilos, as soon has his hands were free, gut punched the guard nearest him and slammed the guy's head into the wall. Dean, not known for his fighting ability, struggled with the guard on his side. The guard had his gun in hand and Dean battled to keep it pointed away from himself. A bolt shot out from the gun just as Dean slammed his elbow into the bridge of the guard's nose.
As Calin retrieved his gun from the unconscious guard he heard Shona gasp, “Nilos!”
He turned just in time to see Nilos crumble to the floor, his hand grasping his right side and smoke floating between his fingers from a black burn.
Nilos leaned back against the wall and grimaced, “Shit, I’ve never been shot before.”
Shona crouched down next to him and removed his hand from the wound to examine it. “I think nothing major has been hit, but you need medical attention.” She said and gave Nilos a comforting stroke on the shoulder.
She turned to Calin and gave him a warning look; they needed to get Nilos medical attention and soon.
Dean gestured to the six guards splayed out around them, “Yea but first we need to get these guys out of sight or someone will sound an alarm.”
Calin pointed into the airlock, “Throw them in there and lock the door.”
Shona helped Dean drag the unconscious guards into the airlock while Calin kept watch, his gun aimed down the hall. When the large airlock door slid shut Dean turned to Calin, “Captain, do you want me to eject them?”
Calin considered it but shook his head, “No. There’s no need.” He crossed the hall to Nilos, reached down to grasp Nilos’s hand and pulled him up to his feet.
Nilos exhaled slowly in pain and held his side, “We need to find another power station and stop this ship.”
Shona objected, “We need to find you a medical station!”
Nilos held up his hand dismissively, “I’ll be all right for a while. Stopping this ship is a priority.”
But as he spoke, they all felt a vibration through the soles of their feet pass through the ship and increase in strength. Dean rushed down the hall to a window and looked out. “Too late for that, this ship is moving!”
The ship intercom beeped and Zenas’s voice came over. “Attention brothers! The time has come to reclaim our rightful position as rulers! All hands to battle stations!”
"Shit," Nilos muttered, "We are too late."
The large Atlantean battleship shuddered and groaned as its engines pushed it through the underground lake toward the surface. A mass of air bubbles rushed passed the hall window as the ship picked up speed.
Dean peered up through the window at the surface of the underground lake above and asked “How in the hell do they plan on getting the ships out? The roof of the cavern is still intact.”
Almost as a response to his question they heard several loud THRUMPS as the battleship’s weaponry opened fire to shoot up through the water and hit the cavern ceiling above with explosive force.
“That’s why they did the strip mine, to dig down and make the ceiling over the lake thinner, so they could blow through it!” said Nilos, who leaned wearily against the window.
With each loud THRUMP and hiss as the lasers shot through the water, large chunks of Mars rock tumbled down from the cavern ceiling. The sound was almost deafening as the other ships in the water added their firepower. The ship shuddered when large chunks of Mars rock bounced off the hull and continued down to the bottom of the lake. The underwater base below was pummeled into pieces, with explosions rippled throughout the base to collapse it inwards from the pressure of the water.
The glare of the water’s surface above suddenly brightened as the coordinated firepower from multiple battleships blew through the ceiling of the cavern to let the sunlight above pour in for the first time in hundreds of years.
With the command ship in the lead, the fleet of battleships with their powerful engines roaring, exited the underground lake and rose through the large strip mine and up above the surface of Mars.
“This changes everything, there is no way to keep this a secret. Everyone for hundreds of kilometers will see this fleet.” Nilos shook his head, “All those years of struggling to keep my people’s existence a secret, and this asshole ruins it all. Everyone will know about the Atlanteans now.”
“We will worry about that later,” said Calin. “We need to get off this ship, like right now!”
Nilos pointed back down the hallway behind them, “If I read the signs correctly, we passed some escape pods back there.”
Shona and Dean got on either side of Nilos and helped support him down the hallway. “There,” he said and pointed to a door similar to the airlock but smaller. When he pressed his palm against the access panel, it read his Atlantean DNA and the door hissed open with a chime to reveal a small six passenger escape pod. Quickly they all crawled in and sealed the hatch behind them before they strapped into the crash harnesses.
With one last look around to check everyone was ready, Nilos slapped the eject button on his armrest and the escape pod blasted out from the side of the battleship.
The command ship was only a few kilometers above the surface of Mars when they ejected. The pod’s engines blasted them away from the ship at full speed and they arched down toward the surface pulled by Mars' gravity.
“We don’t have enough elevation to slow down, we will come in hard! Hold on!” warned Calin as he grabbed his safety harness and tugged it to make sure it was tight.
Through the windshield they watched as the surface of Mars rushed up to meet them as the escape pod arched down. The pod slammed into the sand dunes below, blasted through the top of the first one to blow a large cloud of sand into the air. The collision slowed the pod down enough so that when it hit the next dune, it slid across the surface, tumbling and rolling. It’s passengers were thrown against their harnesses by the sudden landing and rolling. The g-forces slammed Nilos forward, his harness straps pressed onto his gunshot wound and caused him to gasp in pain.
The escape pod slid down the face of a large sand dune and came to rest at the bottom in a pile of loose sand and rock on its side.
Calin shook his head to clear the dizziness and asked, “Everyone OK?” After getting confirmation from everyone he hit the release for his safety harness and dropped to the wall of the escape pod, now the floor. He reached up and released Nilos’s harness to helped him down as everyone else dropped out of their seats.
When they exited the pod out onto the surface of Mars, they looked up at the fleet of Atlantean battleships rising through the air headed to orbit.
“Do you think they saw us?” asked Shona.
“Hopefully they dismissed the escape pod as a glitch, those ships are hundreds of years old.” suggested Dean.
Nilos leaned up against the side of the escape pod and muttered “The cats out of the bag now. So much for thousands of years of secrecy. I’ve got to get hold of my commander.”
Calin turned from watching the battleships rise to orbit and kicked a pile of sand, throwing a spray of sand up in the air. “It doesn’t matter if you get hold of your boss, they can’t do anything about this!”
Nilos slowly slumped to the ground, “It’s the only chance we have. There is no one else. The Tereo group up on Titan MIGHT have the firepower to stop Zenas.” He gestured around him, “This is Mars. The law enforcement here can barely handle a bar fight, much less an ancient fleet of battleships.”
Shona came out of the escape pod with a small med-kit. She crouched next to Nilos, popped it open and dressed his wound. “Can you two stop fighting long enough for us to figure out how we will get out of here?” she asked. She sprayed bio-sealant over the blaster burn and added, “This will help with the pain, but we need to get you to a real hospital, like in Mars City.”
Dean had walked around the Atlantean escape pod to examine it closely, stopping to pull off various panels and hatches. “Maybe I can modify the pod to puddle jump us to the nearest settlement. It has a little fuel left, but it will take me some time to figure out how to configure it.”
Nilos inhaled sharply as Shona wrapped his ribcage, “That will take too long. We need to get help, and fast.”
Calin stared out over the landscape of Mars as his crew behind him continued to hash out ideas. The sun was near the horizon to the west, splaying a myriad of colors across the sky. A gentle breeze blew grains of sand off the tops of the dunes to swirled around him. The dust gave an alien yet beautiful red tinge to the air. Again, he had to wonder, how did he get into all this? All he wanted to be was a Captain of a ship, to sail among the planets and take care of his crew. Yet somehow he had placed himself and his crew in the crosshairs of an Atlantean dictator wannabe with the most advanced spaceships in the Solar System under his command. His companions behind him continued to argue about the best way to go after Zenas and stop him. He had to wonder, why did it fall on them to protect Earth and its over controlling government? He was no fan of the current administration, but even he could tell Zenas would be even worse than the SSA for mankind. Calin clenched his metal fist. What he should do is repair his ship and hightail it out of there. Let the Tereo handle Zenas and his Kyrios Cartel. It was their mess, let them clean it up. He helped them with the Moon base debacle; he had done his part. It was a big Solar System; he knew how to get lost and not be found.
“Captain, what do you think?” asked Dean, interrupting his thoughts.
He turned back to his crew, his hand on his blaster and said, “It’s obvious. We’ve been outplayed. Kyrios has the upper hand against Tereo and Earth, they have the most advanced tech in the System.” He gestured around them at the wide open expanse of the Martian sand dunes, “And we're stuck in the middle of nowhere. The Sea Rover is dead, what do you think we can do?”
Shona stood up and stomped over to Calin to glare up at him, “So what? Are we giving up? Don’t you want to get Zenas? Are you going to let him beat you?”
“Of course I want to get that son of a bitch!” he snapped. “That oversized megalomaniac has became a major pain in my ass! He shot my ship down, that alone makes me want to kill him.”
He pounded his fist against the hull of the escape pod, “But it would be the devil to pay to get him now.” He pointed up to battleships in the sky, “Zenas is up there and we're stuck down here.”
“Well, maybe not.” Nilos interrupted and pulled a slim card out of his shirt pocket. A weak smile broke on his face. “We do have an option.”
“What’s that?” Shona asked and looked at the black plastic card in Nilos’s hand.
“Well, since Zenas took it upon himself to reveal the Atlanteans to the rest of the System, there is no reason for me to keep this hidden any longer.” He said and wagged the little black card. “This is a remote distress beacon.”
“You mean you can call for help?” asked Dean.
“Sorry not really. It is a pulse beacon for an Atlantean ship to zero in on.”
Calin pointed up at the last of the ships disappearing from view above them and asked, “Won’t they pick it up?”
“Let me correct myself, it is a pulse beacon that one specific ship can pick up on. My ship, Allia.” He said with a weak grin.
“What? You have Allia here? On Mars?” Calin stepped forward and loomed over Nilos. “You put my ship and crew in danger while you had your own ship here the whole time? Why aren’t you flying your own ship?”
“I'm sorry about that, really I am,” replied Nilos. “But please understand until now I had to keep her hidden. I didn’t know the extent of Kyrios’s reach down here on Mars. If they spotted her, they would know Tereo was on Mars and it would blow our secret.”
Nilos held up his hands to calm Calin down. “I can’t fly Allia in public and risk her being seen. And Kyrios doesn’t know we have a ship like her. We’ve gone to great lengths to keep her a secret, even within our own organization. And so far, she is the only functional Atlantean command ship we’ve discovered. The command yachts were sentient and according to her only a few of them are known to have existed.”
“Sentient? I thought she was just advanced Artificial Intelligence?”
Nilos shook his head, “Rose was an A.I. She was not actually self-aware, but while she was programmed to respond very closely as a human would, but she was still not sentient. Allia is self aware, sentient. She can make her own decisions, especially about self preservation.”
“What use is a ship that will not follow a command if it believes it will put themselves in danger?” Calin had to ask.
“She still has limitations, and part of her core programming is to follow legitimate orders from a superior officer.” Nilos wiped his hand down his face, “Trust me, I’ve been in arguments for hours with her, trying to determine how aware she is and what she will and will not do.”
Shona drummed her fingers on her console, “So where is she?”
“I had her stashed in a shielded PPD storage base here on Mars so no one would see her.”
Dean looked up at the battleships, “You don’t have to worry about that now.”
“No, I don’t. Which is why I activated this right after we crashed.” He examined a blinking little light on the card, “In fact, she is almost here.” And he pointed off to their left between two large dunes.
Shona shielded her eyes with her hand from the setting sun, “I don’t see anything.”
Calin scanned the horizon for movement. He was the first to notice a slight shimmer approaching them. Spinning toward Nilos he couldn’t help but grin, “She has a visual cloak?”
Nilos nodded his head with a grin.
The slight shimmer in the air Calin had seen got closer and solidified into the smooth lines at an Atlantean Command shuttle. Nilos couldn’t resist the urge to brag, "We got her stealth system fully operational a few months ago. She cannot be picked up by radar, sensors, or the human eye." Using the side of the pod he worked himself up to a standing position. Holding his side he said, "But I still didn't want to risk flying her around in a populated area."
Allia slowed down and hovered above them. Her smooth teardrop shape as clean and pristine as the first time Calin saw her inside the ancient base on Luna. Slowly Allia descended and rotated to land beside them, her rear ramp lowered down toward them. Nilos reached up for Shona’s hand to let her help him across the sand. But walking made his face turn pale as he exhaled sharply.
Shona said to Dean, “Help me get him on board.” With an arm over each of their shoulders Nilos led them onboard the Atlantean ship, Calin following behind.
“Welcome aboard Captain. And you too Calin, Shona, and Dean. It is nice to see you again,” said a smooth female voice from the ceiling. “Do you require medical attention Captain?”
“Yes, Allia I do. Fire up the med bay.” Nilos voice became weaker as he gave the command. He pointed Shona toward the room on their right where they laid him down on the elevated platform in the center. Medical lasers scanned up and down his body for injuries.
Grimacing in pain Nilos asked Allia, “Can you fix it?”
“Yes Captain, I can, shall I begin?”
“Just a second.” With his eyes still closed, Nilos breathed heavily before he asked, “Is Calin in here?”
“Yes, I’m right here.” Calin replied from his position leaning against the doorway.
Nilos opened his eyes and looked right at Calin, “You said you wanted to kick Zenas’s ass? Are you still willing to go after him? Against an entire fleet?”
“You damn right I’m willing.”
Nilos nodded his head in agreement, “I thought you would.” He looked up at the ceiling and commanded, “Allia, while you do the surgery I want you to transfer command to Calin Aku, authorization code CT-A90.”
He turned back to Calin, his voice getting weaker, “Captain, you go get that son of a bitch. Do you hear me? Allia will show you how to get in touch with Tereo Command. But we are the closest ship to that fleet. The Tereo will need intel if they are to stand a chance. Get them that intel.”
Calin stepped forward and grabbed Nilos’s hand in a tight grip, “Don’t you worry about it, buddy. You hang in there, OK?” he whispered as Nilos slipped into unconsciousness.
Calin straightened up in surprise, "Allia?”
“Nilos is fine, Captain. I gave him a sedative. Why don’t you come up to the bridge and I will help you get familiar with the systems? It’s been awhile since you’ve flown in me.”
“Allia, is it alright if I look at your engines?” asked Dean. “If we are going to be in a fight I need to get a little bit more familiar with your tech.”
“Sure Dean, if you go down the ladder to your right you will find Engineering.”
Dean darted off down the ladder, a happy grin plastered across his face.
Calin headed toward the bridge and shook his head in disbelief. What was with people giving him their ships? This was how he had gotten the Sea Rover. His former Captain, Captain Otani, had transferred command to him in a similar situation. He stopped himself from thinking about it. This time would not turn out like that. He had buried enough friends already.
When he entered the bridge, it was just like he remembered it. The clean smooth lines and bright displays alien yet familiar. “Welcome aboard, Captain,” said Allia.
“Allia, would you be so kind and get your Tereo boss on the line?” Calin asked.
“Of course, Captain. One moment, please.”
Calin stared out the window over the Mars landscape in front of them, the tiny specks of light from the battleships above shrinking into nothingness as the fleet entered orbit.
“Report Nilos,” came a commanding voice over the comm.
“Sir, I regret to inform you Nilos has been injured. I’m Captain Calin Aku, a friend of Nilos.”
“I remember you, we met on the Moon after that whole underground base incident. What’s going on?” the Commander asked.
Calin gave the Commander a quick debrief on the days' activities. He ended with how Nilos was in surgery but Allia projected the prognosis was good. Calin shifted in his Captain’s chair uncomfortably as he gave the report, it felt way too much like his soldier days back in the PPD.
“We’ve had no reports of any illegal liftoffs from the Mars surface, much less a fleet of battleships appearing in the sky.”
“Kyrios must be suppressing any outgoing information of their appearance to maintain the element of surprise against the SSA. Believe me, you can’t trust anyone from Mars government.” Calin drummed his fingers on the pilot’s panel.
“I’m sorry you and Nilos had to deal with this on your own. But we’ve had our hands full regaining control of the PPD from the Kyrios insertion, and while trying to maintain our secrecy. But if there is a full battleship fleet flying through the Solar System, there’s no reason for us to maintain that secret anymore is there?” the Commander asked.
“One way or the other the truth will come out,” Calin suggested.
There was a long pause over the comm followed by “We’ve been trying to avoid this, but we may not have a choice but to take control of the SSA. We will need all of Earth’s resources to take on that fleet.”
Calin cut an ugly look at the comm panel and asked, “You will take control of Earth? I am not the biggest fan of the SSA but are you really suggesting a coup?”
“Like I said, we may not have much of a choice. We will need all the resources we can get to defend against that fleet!”
He looked up at the sky through the viewport, “What if we stopped them before they got to Earth? Then you wouldn’t have to take over the SSA. You have to admit, when the public finds out a secret organization of Atlanteans that have been hiding for centuries suddenly take over the government, it will not go smoothly. Whether it’s you or the Kyrios Cartel, it will look the same to us Terrans.”
“Our secret will come out anyway thanks to Zenas,” the Commander pointed out.
“True, but if the PPD comes to the rescue of Earth, rather than control of, the population might be more forgiving,” he argued.
“You have a point, I will forward it to my superiors. Until then, do you think you can keep recon on the fleet for us? And if you can, in any way, buy us time?”
“Buy time? For what?”
“One reason we built the Titan base was to retro fit PPD cruisers with Atlantean tech, for a worse case scenario like this. But we need more time to finish the upgrades. They weren’t supposed to be ready for months.”
“We need those cruisers now Commander. If you can hit the fleet now, if you take the fight to them before they are prepared, you may have a chance.”
“I have already ordered for them to finish up, no matter the cost. But we still need to know where that fleet is and what shape it is in.”
Allia, quiet until now, interjects, “My stealth systems are much more advanced and newer than that fleet. I should be able to provide recon undetected.”
“Agreed. Captain Aku, I need you to follow, observe, and keep me updated on the condition of the fleet until we can get there. Understood?”
“Um… you know I’m not under your command, right?” asked Calin.
“But I am,” said Allia. “Please, Captain?”
Calin rolled his eyes but agreed to follow the fleet.
“We’ll be in touch Commander. Aku out,” Calin said as he flipped off the comm channel.
“Yes!” exclaimed Allia. “Finally, some action!”
He raised an eyebrow, “You seem awful excited to go chasing after a fleet of battleships that can blow us out of the sky.”
“Captain, please understand. I've spent centuries buried under the surface of the Moon, followed by a year of being cooped up in a secret Tereos facility being studied, poked and prodded. When I finally get to go out in the field, Nilos hides me in a cave while he gallivants around the surface of Mars. I am a Command shuttle, and this is my first piece of action in centuries.”
Calin finished up his pre-flight checklist with Allia when Shona entered the cockpit. She looked around at the advanced tech displays before she took the seat to his right. “Nilos is in stable condition. Allia’s med-bay does better work than most surgeons.”
“Thanks Shona,” acknowledged Allia happily from above.
“Allia, can you put me through to Dean in Engineering?” asked Calin.
“Yea?” came Dean’s distracted reply.
“You about ready to fly?”
“Are we ever! This ship is in perfect condition! Even being centuries old, the engines are in pristine order. I can’t wait to see what the power output levels are under operation!”
“All right then, everybody get buckled up,” commanded Calin as he snapped his flight harness over his shoulders. “Allia, if you would be so kind as to engage your stealth systems?”
“Already on it Captain. They will not see us coming. Although I do suggest trying to maintain some distance, I cannot be sure of what degree their sensor sensitivity is.”
He looked up through the window at the cluster of artificial stars in the sky above them before he engaged the launch cycle. Allia hovered above the Martian sand dunes for a few seconds, partially obscured in a cloud of dust raised by the engine's thrust. Calin pulled back on the control stick and increased the engines power to push them up through Mars atmosphere.
Within minutes the air outside turned from reddish to black as they achieve orbit and closed in on the Atlantean battle fleet. Shona pointed to the left, “There, that one is slower than the others. If we tuck up under them their hull could help hide us.”
“I agree Captain. Even my stealth technology isn’t 100%,” said Allia.
He nodded his head in agreement and slowly brought them up under the battleship. The sheer size of the battleship became more imposing the closer they got.
“Allia, maintain position and distance from the ship.”
“Copy, Captain Aku.”
He turned to Shona and the sensor display she had pulled up in front of her and asked. “I wonder what they are waiting on? The whole fleet is just floating up here. I would have thought after all this time and effort they would gun for Earth as soon as they lifted.”
She shook her head and said “Maybe they are not ready yet for a full battle. These ships have been mothballed for centuries, underwater. I’m sure it takes time to get them fully operational.”
“Then let's hope they take all the time in the world until Tereo can get ready to fight them.”
They continued to float there in the cold of space and silently watched the Atlantean fleet maneuver around each other, their large thrusters lit up the darkness of space as they jockeyed for position and formation.
“Captain, I am reading increased patrol ships flying around the fleet. They must have brought their more aggressive flight systems online.” Allia informed them.
“How close can they get before they can see us?” asked Shona.
“They would have to get pretty close to spot me,” was Allia’s reply. “Warning! Patrol ship just appeared on our six! He was flying so close to the battleship I didn’t see him!”
“Any sign he spotted us yet?” Calin asked as he spun his chair back to the flight controls.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. Maybe he didn’t spot us. He is slowing down though, but no aggressive maneuvers yet.”
Everyone in the cockpit silently held their breath as they watched the patrol ship glide by behind them. Suddenly it’s maneuvering thrusters fired, and it rotated to point right at them.
“It has spotted us!” came Allia’s warning.
“Jam his transmissions!” ordered Calin.
“Done, but I think he got a warning out.”
“Shields!” Commanded Calin as he blasted the shuttle out from under the battleship and dove into evasive maneuvers.
Shona brought the shields up to full power but warned, “These shields will only take a hit or two.” She turned to Calin with a hard look, “So fly fast.”
“Sorry Captain. I’m a recon and command ship, I don’t have the maneuverability of a fighter. And that patrol ship is right on our tail,” apologized Allia.
Calin knew Allia was an advanced A.I., but he could swear he could hear genuine fear in her voice from the speakers above.
“Don’t worry about it Allia. You'll do just fine. Disengage the stealth systems and shunt that power to the engines. Do you still have offensive weaponry?” he asked.
“Oh yes. I have forward and rear gunnery stations. Would you like for me to put them on auto?”
“No, we can do better than that.” Calin said and turned his head to look at Shona.
With a nod of her head, Shona unbuckled and jump up out of her seat, “I’ll take the forward gun, Allia please tell Dean to take the rear.”
Calin continued his erratic flying as they uncloaked. Once they were visible the Atlantean patrol ship behind them opened fire, the bolts of energy zipped past them uncomfortably close.
“More patrols ships closing in on our location!” warned Allia.
“Guys?” asked Calin over the comm.
“Working on it,” came Dean’s reply, “You will have to forgive us for taking a second to familiarize ourselves with a completely foreign and advanced weapons system before we use them for the first time.”
“Ready,” came Shona’s voice over the comm, followed by a mutter from Dean, “Show off.”
“I’m heading back toward Mars, maybe we can lose them groundside,” said Calin as he dove the ship back toward the planet.
“Warning! Patrol ships have entered a lower orbit and are on an interception course!” Allia cautioned.
“I see them,” Shona said as laser fire erupted from the nose of the Atlantean shuttle to light up the sky before them. The three patrol ships below them scattered into evasive maneuvers to try to avoid Shona’s fire. But two were not fast enough and erupted into flames.
“Nice shot!” exclaimed Dean over the comm. “My turn!”
More laser bolts flew from the back of the shuttle toward the patrol ship behind them as it juked and danced around the laser fire.
“Hold still you little bastard,” muttered Dean as he continued to miss the patrol ship.
“Do you need some help?” asked Shona.
“No, no, I’ve got it, I’ve got it… “ Dean said as he continued to rain fire behind them until finally a bolt hit home and the patrol ship veered off trailing smoke. “Got him!”
“That was just the first wave,” warned Allia. “I’m reading six more patrol ships heading our way at a high rate of speed. And the nearest battleship has turned around and is closing in on our position, and their weapons systems is powered up.”
“This just keeps getting better and better,” complained Calin. “We will never make the surface.” With grim determination set in his face, Calin turned the ship around back toward the fleet, only to hear Shona in the front weapon pod ask, “Um.. Captain?”
“We can’t outrun them, so we will have to out-fly them. You and Dean get ready and don’t let up on those triggers,” he ordered.
“Yes Captain,” came Shona’s reluctant reply, and a deep breath from Dean.
“Allia, do whatever you can to make sure the weapons systems has a steady power supply, they will need it.”
"Yes Sir. I can borrow power from life support and the inertial dampeners. But you may get a little chilly and thrown around if you do any high speed maneuvers."
“Do it.” Calin gritted his teeth and gripped the control stick tighter as they plunged toward the cloud of patrol ships and head to head with the large battleship.
Within moments they were in the thick of it. Calin dove and swooped the shuttle above, under, and around the enemy, never giving them a clear shot to blow them out of the sky. Shona and Dean kept up an almost constant barrage of laser fire in both front and back of the ship. If they didn’t destroy a patrol ship, they would at least clip them to send them out of the fight.
Calin, his eyes glued to the sensor display, realized the fight was almost over and commented, “That was way easier than I thought it would be.”
“With you flying and my engines, they didn’t stand a chance,” came Allia’s confident reply.
Shona replied over the comm, the sadness in her voice unmistakable, “I don’t think those were actually fighter pilots. Consider, today was probably the first day they ever flew those patrol ships. They were unskilled and had no flight time to their names.”
Calin shook his head, he actually felt a little bad for killing the pilots, even if they were trying to kill them.
“The party’s not over yet people, that battleship is almost in range,” warned Allia.
“Forget the weapons system, funnel any available power to your engines. Shona and Dean, get back to your stations.”
“I have a station?” asked Dean.
Calin rolled his eyes and ordered, “Dean, go camp out in Engineering and keep an eye on the engines. Anything you don’t understand ask Allia.”
“Yes, Sir!” came Dean’s happy reply.
Shona darted into the cockpit and plopped into her seat, just as large bolts of laser fire flashed past.
“The battleship has entered firing range,” came Allia’s warning.
“We’ve noticed,” said Calin sarcastically as he pushed the engines to go a bit faster and slipped the shuttle from side to side to make it harder to hit.
Boom! The shuttle slammed to the side as it shook from a hit.
“The shields took most of the damage Captain, but I don’t suggest letting that happen again,” warned Allia.
Calin looked up at the ceiling and cocked his head wondering, did Allia just get snarky with him? An A.I.?
Shona caught it too and raised an eyebrow.
“Thirty seconds and we will be out of weapons range.” said Allia.
Dean’s voice came over the comm from Engineering, “Uh guys, you’re pushing these engines pretty hard. I’m not sure how much more they will take. I’m seeing stress fractures appearing on the engine casings.”
“We are almost out of range, just keep them together for a few more seconds,” ordered Calin.
Anything else he would say went unsaid as the ship again slammed sideways and a loud BOOM echoed through the ship.
“That’s it!” shouted Dean. “The port engine just went offline! The starboard engine is not too far behind!”
“Shit!” yelled Calin.
“Captain, may I suggest we alter our approach by 15 degrees down? We can use the pull of Mars' gravity to bolster our speed.” Allia advised.
“Won't we burn up in the atmosphere at that speed? I know your hull is tough but I don’t think it is that tough.”
“With the engines offline I can reroute power to the shields to protect us.”
“Good idea. Everyone check your harnesses, this will be bumpy!” commanded Calin as he nosed the ship down. He could already feel it speed up from Mars' gravity.
Shona studied the sensor display, “It’s working. We are leaving the battleship behind and are well outside its firing range. It has turned to re-enter orbit.”
“Well, that’s one good thing.” Said Calin, as he looked out the viewport and watched the surface of Mars race up to meet them.
“Everyone hold on!” Calin commanded as he gripped the control stick tighter against the increasing buffeting of the ship against Mars’ atmosphere. Without main engines, they were relying on Mars' gravity to pull them in. He could do small course corrections with the shuttle’s maneuvering thrusters, but not enough to smooth out the reentry.
He looked down at the ground rushing up to meet them and could see Mars City coming into view below. When he scanned the terrain he realized they were not too far from where the Sea Rover crashed. Had it only been two days since he lost his ship? But also, under what strain of bad luck did he get to be in two ship crashes in two days?
Well, two crashed ships have got to be better than one he decided, and aimed the Atlantean shuttle toward the coordinates of the Sea Rover. As the ground got larger in the viewport he shouted, “Hold on to something! This will be a little rough!”
He pulled back on the stick as hard as he could and used the belly thrusters to pull the ship up out of its dive toward the surface just in time to plow through the top of a sand dune. He felt the jar of the impact through his butt all the way through his spine. Another large dune ahead filled the viewport as he slammed the stick to the side to barrel roll the ship’s belly to take the impact with a loud crunch. Sand flew 20 meters up in the sky from the impact as the ship surfed down the slope of the dune, pushing a small avalanche of sand in front of it.
With the crunch of pebbles and rock the ship came to a rest at the bottom of the dune, the flood of sand behind it partially covering the back half of the ship.
“Well, any landing you crawl away from…” muttered Dean over the comm from Engineering.
“You OK?” Calin asked Shona, who was struggling with her safety harness.
She stopped to give him a look of wonderment and pointed out, “That’s two ships you’ve crashed. I may have to stop riding with you.”
“Correction, that’s two crashes you’ve walked away from,” he said with a smile.
She rolled her eyes and got out of her seat, “I’m going to go check on Nilos, make sure you didn’t kill him crashing. Again.”
Calin unbuckling his safety harness and stopped to look out the forward viewport. Just above the next dune he could see the nose of the Sea Rover nearby.
“Damn Boss, that was some flying!” Dean exclaimed as he burst into the cockpit. Calin turned to look at him with a frown, “Knock it off, not you too.”
With a confused look on his face Dean said “What did I do? That was a compliment!” He looked past Calin out the window and saw the Sea Rover over the next dune.
Dean stepped aside so Calin could exit the cockpit, but grabbed Calin’s arm as he passed. “What did you say was wrong with the Sea Rover?”
“Rose and her power supply are fried from an overload. She’s dead in the water.”
Dean rubbed his chin and with a sparkle in his eye said, “Hold on a sec, boss. Don’t go anywhere just yet. Allia, you there?”
“I’m here, Dean. Captain Calin shook me up a bit, but I’m still functional.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but your only problem is your engines? They are the only things offline, right?”
“That, and a 5 meter wide hole in my rear hull. Other than that, I’m peachy.”
Dean turned to look at the Captain, “How’s the Sea Rover’s hull boss?”
Calin tilted his head to look sideways at his engineer and sensed where Dean was going with this. “The hull is intact, an energy burst overloaded and fried her systems. The damage is electrical, not physical. You’re not thinking of…”
Grinning, Dean nodded his head. “Allia,” he asked. ”How hard would it be for your tech to interface with Terran technology?”
“It would be rudimentary but possible. We've influenced your development of technology over the years so the basic principles are the same.”
“Wait a minute, Dean.” Calin held up his hands. “Before you do what I think you are suggesting, we need to ask Nilos, it’s his ship.”
“I’m the ship, what about asking me?” Allia quipped.
“Don’t worry Allia, we won’t do anything to you without your permission.” Calin gestured for Dean to follow him and led the way to the infirmary.
They walked into the med bay to find Nilos sitting up on the side of his bed, holding his ribs but conscious. “I didn’t give you my ship to crash it Calin.” He accused with a small grin.
Calin held up his hands in expiration and complained, “Why does everyone rag me about crashing? At least you’re still alive to give me grief about it!”
With a small chuckle, Nilos said, “It’s all right Captain. You and Allia did the best you could do under the circumstances.” When he saw a look pass between Dean the Calin, Nilos asked “What? What have you two got on your mind now?”
Dean gave Nilos a quick update on the status of Allia and the Sea Rover, “I propose we take Allia and her power supply and put them into the Sea Rover. The Sea Rover is good to go, it only needs an A.I. to operate her, and a power supply.”
Nilos tilted his head up to the ceiling and asked, “Allia? What do you think? Is it possible? Or even feasible?”
“I calculate a high probability of the merger being successful Nilos. I can direct Dean through any complications he may have in combining the two technologies. And I would like to add, we have little choice, my engines are completely shot to pieces. And Tereo is nowhere near ready to tackle the fleet, we must do something.”
“I agree, Allia, I agree.” Nilos winced as he stood up from the medical bed. With a nod to Calin and Dean, “Ok gentlemen, let’s get this started. I am at your disposal.”
For the next day they worked non-stop as they ripped out damaged systems from the Sea Rover and repaired what systems they could. Dean was in heaven being given a condensed lecture and a course on Atlantean technology from Allia.
When Calin and Shona removed Rose’s central core from the Sea Rover, all the work paused when they gave a small and simple ceremony to bury her in the sands of Mars.
The next step was to remove the damaged power core from the Sea Rover. After disconnecting it, Dean inspected it. “Actually, it still works, kind of. Its regulators are completely fried, though. It has power left, but if we started it up it would go critical in under a minute.” He tapped his wrench on the power casing and paused. “Maybe we can still use it. Captain?” He looked at Calin. “Neomi’s Gambit?”
Calin fingered his pistol and considered it. Neomi’s Gambit is what they called a trick they pulled back when he had first gotten the Sea Rover, named after their previous Captain. “That could work, do it.”
Shona looking confused and asked “Neomi’s Gambit?”
With a sly grin Calin said, “You’ll see.”
The sun had already set when they removed Allia and her integrated power core from the Atlantean shuttle. Allia gave Dean step-by-step instructions so he would not blow them all up as he integrated the unfamiliar tech with the Sea Rover. Her A.I. and power core were all in a self-contained man sized cylinder. Once he had her installed into the space where Rose used to be, Allia released a small swarm of nanomachines to speed up the integration and repair of the Sea Rover’s electrical system.
“All right gentlemen, and Shona. I’ll need a few hours to complete repairs and the integration. I suggest you all get some rest while you can.”
With a confused look on his face Calin turned to Nilos, “Is she always this bossy?”
With a grin Nilos replied. “Welcome to Atlantean A.I. I told you, she is self aware and her own person, even if she takes orders from us.”
Shona impatiently tapped a coffee cup against the table, asked “Does anyone have any good ideas to pass the time while we wait? I’m not good at waiting.”
Dean slipped a pack of playing cards out of his jacket pocket and grinned, “Anyone got any money?” he asked as he shuffled the deck.
Hours later, Nilos was dealing out another hand of poker when they all heard the engine's whine as they came back alive and spun up to full power.
“All done!” announced Allia, her voice coming from Rose's old ship drone that just floated into the commons room they were playing cards in.
Calin folded his cards and stood up from the table, “All right crew, back to work!”
“But… but… I was winning!” whined Dean as he threw his hands up in the air.
Shona followed Calin out of the room and tossed her cards in front of Dean, “Were you?”
Dean picked up Shona’s cards and examined them. “Damn it!” he exclaimed and threw the cards hard onto the table before darting out of the room toward Engineering.
Calin and Shona took their seats in the Sea Rover's cockpit and paused a moment to enjoy being home again. “I didn’t think we would ever fly her again,” Shona whispered.
Calin rubbed the arm of his pilot’s chair and nodded his agreement. Addressing the ship drone that followed them in he asked, “Allia, are you sure the repairs will hold?”
“Positive, Captain. I was able to adapt the power cables to handle the increased power output of my reactor.”
He toggled the comm to Engineering, “Dean, what does it look like down there?”
“Oh my… Captain, Allia did a number on the engines! I will take me some time to backtrack all the changes, but I think she boosted the output by over 50%!”
“Closer to 67%, actually.” Allia chimed in. “Your engine technology is crude, but it is robust and built for power. Atlantean engine technology are designed to be efficient and long lasting. But with my increased power output and your heavy engine tech, I calculate we should be able to fly faster than any other known ship in the system.”
“Good, ‘cause we may need it. I will drop anyone off in Mars City that doesn’t want to go, but I aim to go after Zenas. He shot me down twice and now I am going to return the favor.” Calin growled and adjusted the resolution on the long range scanners. “Readings show the fleet is still in orbit, which means they must still not be fully operational. Allia, is the stealth system operational?”
“Yes Captain. I’ve tweaked the frequencies to enhance the capabilities but we still don’t need to get too close to the fleet. It wouldn’t take them long to get through our sensor blocking.”
Nilos, leaned against the doorway to the cockpit, added, “We can’t wait on Tereo to get here, by the time they do, the fleet could be ready and unstoppable.”
“Which means we need to do something now. If you want to be dropped off speak up now.”
When no one replied, Calin buckled his safety harness and ordered, “All right everyone, get buckled up. We are going to go pick a fight.”
Zenas stood with his hands clasped behind his back and looked out over the bridge of his command ship from the Captain’s balcony above. The bustling and scurrying of the personnel showed the energy and pace they were putting forth to get the fleet into battle readiness. Which was taking way too long, he scowled in impatience.
Behind him, the doors slid open and Nicia entered the Captain's office with a stack of tablets cradled in her arms.
“Well, has everyone stopped dragging their feet and gotten my fleet ready yet?” he snapped.
“Now Zenas, you have to give them time. This fleet has been waiting for us for hundreds of years, a few more hours will not matter. Patience,” she said softly. Placing the stack of tablets on his desk she stepped behind him to rub his stiff shoulders.
He shrugged her off in agitation and stomped up to the railing of the balcony to stare down at the command deck below. “Patience? I’ve been patient my whole life. I patiently took orders from the Tereo, kept my existence to the shadows to not scare the pitiful Terrans. I am done with being patient, patience is for the weak, and I will not allow Kyrios to be seen as weak.”
Nicia carefully interrupted, “No one will ever see the Kyrios as weak, dear. Under your leadership we have control of the most powerful fleet of ships in the Solar System. The Terrans will bow down to you, the SSA will quiver before you, and we will crush any resistance out of existence.”
Fuming, Zenas paced back and forth, the heels of his boots dug into the deck with each turn in agitation. “I’m not worried about the Solar System Authority or the Terrans. Once we crush the Planetary Police Department, and the Tereo that hide inside, there will be no one left to oppose us.”
He turned with a snap to glare at her “But in order to do that I need a battlefleet that is, I don’t know, operational?” he said sarcastically.
Before Nicia could respond an officer from below called out “Commander! Aft sensors are reading a soft ghost signal behind our rear guard. It keeps slipping in and out of range, possibly a cloaked ship.”
He grasped the railing to stare down at the officer and ordered, “Tighten the sensor sweep and integrate the readings from multiple ships. Use the ship A.I. to combine the sensor data, it will give you a sharper reading.”
The sensor officer dutifully swiped and tapped on his control screen to aggregate the data from multiple ships into one display. Within a minute he continued, “Sir! We have a positive reading. It is a small cargo ship, a CS-205 model.”
“What!?” Zenas shouted, his brow scrunched in confusion. “I don’t believe it. We shot that ship down days ago!”
Nicia asked “The Sea Rover? I thought you killed Calin.”
“So did I,” grumbled Zenas.
“It is just a small smuggler ship dear. There is nothing they can do to this battlefleet.” Nicia crooned as she tried to calm him. “They are nothing more than a minor annoyance now.”
Zenas took a deep breath and agreed. “You’re right. The upcoming war with Earth is more important. Calin and his Sea Rover are nothing. Send a flight out to deal with it.” And at that, he turned to her and glowered, “Again. And if they fail, tell them not to come back.”
Nicia gulped nervously under the full weight of his anger and stammered, “Yes Sir. Right away.” But before she could exit the Captain’s deck her personal comm chimed. She acknowledged it with a tap of her finger and listened silently to the report being fed to her, then a smile spread across her face. She looked up at Zenas with a twinkle in her eye. “Commander, I am extremely happy to report that all ships have reported readiness for battle. All systems, all ships, are fully operational! We are good to go!”
The crinkles around Zena’s eyes relaxed as he turned to look out over the command deck and out the large windows at the surrounding fleet. He gripped the railing tight and let a smile cross his face. Finally, it was time to fulfill his family’s legacy. The legend of the battlefleet that had been passed down in his family for generations, in secret, in hopes of a day like today. He signaled the comm officer below to give him a fleet wide comm channel. He took a deep breath, planted his feet wide with his hands clasped behind his back and ordered, “All ships! Prepare engines for full speed toward Earth! It is time to take back what is ours, to come out of the shadows and fulfill our destiny! And now nothing can stand in our way!”
Calin kept a light hand on the control stick. Even with the active stealth field he didn’t want to make any sudden maneuvers with the Sea Rover, unless absolutely necessary. They were directly behind the trailing battleship, and he was doing his best to stay in its engine sensor shadow. To his right Nilos drummed his fingers impatiently on the armrest of the copilot chair. Shona had moved to the forward gun pod, just in case everything went south. Dean was down in Engineering still not willing to admit that Allia’s nanobots had completely repaired everything.
“They should be close to being ready,” muttered Nilos. “Where the hell is Tereo?”
“They will be here, just give them time. Until then, all we have to do is sit here and watch, right?”
“Even if they show up, I’m not sure they can stop them. Zenas was a top-rated tactician, and Nicia is a very accomplished scientist. Together they make a formidable enemy that has me worried. And you should be too.” Nilos stopped in his rant to suddenly point forward, “Look, they are powering up engines! Tereo is too late, they are heading toward Earth!”
Allia interrupted Nilos’s warning with a warning of her own, “Three squads of fighters have launched from the nearest battle ship and are on a direct intercept course with us. I’m afraid they have detected us. Again.”
Cinching his safety harness to make sure it was tight, Calin grabbed the control stick tightly and ordered Allia, “Might as well deactivate the stealth field, it’s not doing any good anyway, and transfer that power to shields.”
He hit the comm switch to Engineering, "Dean, I hope you are done double checking those engines ‘cause we’ve got company!"
After a moments' pause Dean replied, “You still want to try Neomi’s Gambit?”
“It might be the only option we have, get started on it just in case.” Calin ordered.
Shona chimed in from the gun pod over the comm, “What is this Neomi’s Gambit you two keep talking about?” she asked.
Calin threw the engines into full power and blasted toward the nearest battleship, he hoped to use its bulk as a shield from the multiple squads of fighters flying toward them at high speed. “It’s an unconventional attack we’ve used a few times over the years. You set a power supply to overload and use it like a bomb.”
Nilos gripped the arms of his chair tightly as Calin flew along the hull of the battleship and stammered, “But once you start an overload of a power supply, there is no way to stop it!”
Calin shrugged and replied “No plan is perfect.”
Shona, her voice rising in concern over the comm, “So that is why you saved the Sea Rover’s old power supply. And you are going to overload it, while it’s still ON the ship?”
“Don’t worry, we will eject it out the cargo ramp as soon as Dean sets the overload.” He turned his head to the ship drone hovering in the back of the cockpit and asked, “Allia, are you ready to kick it up a notch?”
“Sure thing Captain. I am looking forward to seeing what my new ship body can do.”
“Then do it, pump out all the power you can handle.”
“Roger Captain.” Allia’s voice rose in excitement.
Immediately Calin could feel the vibration of the ship increase through his hands as it shot forward with a sudden burst of speed that overloaded the inertial dampeners and threw everyone back into their seats.
A “Woohoo!” escaped from Calin’s lips as he gripped the control stick tightly and he watched the fighters fall behind on the rear sensor. “That was a kick in the pants!”
Calin heard a sudden gulp from Nilos from beside him and looked up from the readouts just in time to flip the ship sideways to squeeze between two gun towers rising from the battleship hull. Calin hugged the battleship closely and flew the Sea Rover toward the stern, aimed for the next battleship ahead in the fleet.
“Allia, can you pinpoint the Command Ship?”
A circle appeared on the viewport in front of him, “That one,” said Allia. “And just so you know, there are still three squads of fighters behind us, powering weapons.”
Nilos peered at the sensor readouts and confirmed, “Now that we are not near the battleship they will feel free to open fire.”
“It doesn’t matter, they won’t get a chance to hit us.” Calin’s confidante reply came as he juked the ship side to side and up and down. “We are almost to the next ship. If we hop from one to another, that will minimize their chances of opening fire.”
As soon as he said that, the space around their ship filled with blaster fire. A loud boom echoed through the ship. Nilos cursed, “Damn it! I guess they are not worried about hitting their own ship. With that many fighters, they don’t have to be accurate. Someone got lucky and took out our rear shields.”
“I don’t believe in luck,” muttered Calin as he barrel rolled the ship over and looped them back toward the fighters. “Allia, reinforce the forward shield.”
Nilos exclaimed “What the hell are you doing?”
Calmly Calin comm’ed the gun pod, “Shona?”
“Working on it, if you could keep her steady, that would help a lot.”
Even as she spoke, a barrage of laser fire erupted from the front of the Sea Rover and tore through the cloud of fighters directly in front of them. The fighter pilots, new with limited fight experience, were flying in tight formation “by the book”, which allowed Shona’s opening salvo to tear into two of them immediately.
“Nice shot!” yelled Nilos and pumped his fist in the air.
“It ain’t over yet,” muttered Calin as he spun the ship onto its side to squeeze through the remaining cloud of twelve fighters. They were already beginning to disperse into smaller groups and different attack vectors.
Shona’s voice snapped over the comm, “They won’t fall for that again.”
The comm light from the cargo hold lit up and Dean asked over the speaker, “The power supply is all set, should I flip the switch?”
“Not yet, we are dealing with some distractions up here at the moment. I’ll let you know when we are in position.” Calin replied, as the Sea Rover bounced and shook from a laser blast glancing off their shields.
“Captain, I regret to inform you that at this rate, the shields will fail in under two minutes.” Allia informed them.
He gritted his teeth, “How far to the Command ship?” and pointed at the circled ship on his forward display.
“It is five kilometers away, but leaving fast.” Nilos replied, reading his screen.
Calin swooped the ship around and blasted straight for the command ship, but was immediately forced to hit the reverse thrusters to bring the Sea Rover to a dead stop. Settled into position in front of them was a wall of ten fighters, all with their weapons pointed at them.
“Shit,” said Calin softly. “Allia, on my mark put all available power to the front shields.”
Nilos gasped loudly, “There is no way our shields will stand up to that much firepower Captain! Even with Allia’s power boosting, they will shred us!”
His hand slammed down on his armrest as he snapped, “Do you have any other ideas? Because I’m fresh out!”
Their argument was cut short by a sudden swarm of laser fire that filled the forward screen. But it wasn’t aimed at them, it tore through the wall of fighters blocking their flight path. And immediately behind the blaster bolts came wave after wave of Terran fighters as they zipped past.
“Tereo! They made it!” shouted Nilos, almost jumping out of his seat.
“Commander, incoming ships!” an officer from below shouted.
Zenas whirled about and rushed to the edge of the balcony that overlooked the command deck. Outside of the floor to ceiling windows he could see ten large Earth ships as they barreled down on his fleet, led by a swarm of one man fighters. “Where the hell did they come from? Why didn’t we see them?” he shouted and slapped his hand onto the control to lower his balcony down to the bridge below.
Nicia met him below when he stepped off the balcony lift. She pointed out the windows to the attacking ships, “That one in front there, the one with the large dome on the nose, that’s an Atlantean sensor shield on a Terran ship. It blocked all of our sensors.”
“So that’s what they’ve been doing on Titan, upgrading Terran ships with Atlantean technology.” He turned to glare at Nicia and barked, “Well, what are you waiting for? Take it out. Open fire!” he yelled and marched up to the glass walls looking out over the fleet.
He could hear Nicia behind him as she ordered the fleet to raise shields and open fire as soon as they were in range. So Tereo came out of the shadows and fight him, did they? It didn’t matter, in orbit around Mars or above Earth, they would not be denied their destiny!
He snapped around and ordered a fleet wide comm channel opened, “Launch all fighters! Launch all drones! The battle begins here, brothers and sisters. This is what we have been working toward for so long. Now we stand and fight, now we take what is ours. And we will not loose!”
Outside, the emptiness of space was filled with the largest firework display the human race had ever seen. A storm of laser fire flew between the two fleets, the small fighters danced as tiny pinpricks of light among the large battleships. Explosions filled the sky as lives on both sides were lost.
Atlantean drones zipped around the Terran fighter pilots at speeds they could not match and peppered them with combined firepower and electrical discharges.
Although outnumbered two to one, the Terran ships still continued to plow their way forward into the middle of the fleet. They used the element of surprise to dive deep within the Atlantean fleet within the first few minutes of confusion.
Within minutes, Zenas was proud to see his fleet regain their footing and dominate the fight. Surprised or not, they had the technological advantage, and they would use it.
“Commander, we’ve identified their command ship.” An officer from the pit announced.
Zenas whirled around eagerly, “Order our two closest ships to flank us. We are going after that ship.”
He turned to Nicia, “Have a squadron fly screen in front of us to clear the way, we must get to that command ship at all cost.”
“At once, Sir.”
He marched to the nose of the command deck, his hands clasped behind his back and feet planted under his squared shoulders to stare confidently out over the battle as he listened to reports flow in. The battle was going even better than he had expected. The might of the Atlantean battlefleet was unmatched, again reaffirming his belief in their destiny to rule the Terrans.
As they flew above the Terran command ship a squadron of Terran fighters slipped past his fighter screen and dove straight at his bridge, blasters spewing laser fire only to splash harmlessly off the shields. As he held up his hand up to protect his eyes from the bright flashes, he couldn’t help but grin. The Tereo just didn’t know when they were outmatched and outplayed. He continued to study the battle before him. The Terran fighters were chased off by his fighter escort. With his ship now within firing range of the Terran Command ship he bellowed, “Target all cannons on the ship below!”
“Sir! The Terran Command Ship is requesting a channel.” The comm officer announced.
Zenas smiled and ordered, “Open it so we can discuss their surrender.”
On the forward display the Tereo Commander Tiege appeared on screen. “Zenas, what are you doing, son?”
“Commander Tiege, nice to see you again,” replied Zenas, the sarcasm dripping from his voice. “I am doing what you and your sorry lot have refused to do for centuries. We are inserting the Atlantean people into our rightful place as rulers.”
“Our lot?” replied the Tereo Commander. “This lot is your family, your brother and sisters. I trained you! I taught you how to be a soldier! We found you and gave you a family. And this is how you repay us?”
Zenas glared angrily at the screen and replied “I will repay you by offering you a chance to surrender. Do not stand in our way.”
Commander Tiege exhaled in frustration before he replied “You know I cannot do that.”
“Then die.” Zenas made a motion to cut the channel. He tilted his head toward Nicia and ordered, “Open fire.”
Through the windows in front of him, he watched silently as the combined firepower of three Atlantean battleships tore through the shielding of the Terran Command Ship. Explosions ripped through the hull and fire leaped out into space, fed by the escaping air. A large explosion from its reactor blew through the center of the ship, splitting it into two as the pieces slowly fell toward Mars below.
Zenas turned away from the window and marched to the lift to his Commander deck. As the lift raised him, he looked down at Nicia and ordered calmly, “Finish mopping up the rest of the Terrans. Inform me when we are reading to fly to Earth.”
Silently the crew of the Sea Rover watched the space battle unfold out the windows. Shona had come up from the gun pod and taken her place in the copilot’s chair, Nilos buckled into the Engineering chair behind Calin. Allia had tapped into the Terran Command channel and had fed them a live feed of the exchange between Tiege and Zenas.
They could only sit in shock and watch the three Atlantean battleships tear into the Terran Command ship. As the pieces of the Terran ship drift down in Mars' gravity well and burned up in the atmosphere, Shona whispered, “There must be something we can do. This war will end before it ever gets started. And the Terrans will be on the losing side.”
“Oh, there’s something we can do, but you may not like it.” Calin said and looked sideways at her, his lips pressed hard together.
“I know I don’t,” grumbled Nilos from behind them.
Calin taped the comm to the cargo hold and ordered, “Dean, get ready with that overload and strap in.”
He turned to the ship drone above and asked, “Allia, can you plot the clearest route to the Kyrios Command ship and display it on the forward HUD? And I will need you to adjust it in real time for the movement of the fleet. We need to stay as far away from the battleships as possible. With you calculating a course and me flying, working together, I think we can outfly anything out there and get near that Command ship.”
“And what are we going to do once we get there?” asked Shona, the worry she felt plastered across her face.
Nilos answered in a low voice, “They will drop an overloaded power supply out the cargo door.”
“What!?” Shona exclaimed. “That is insane. Have you done this before?”
“On a smaller scale, yes. And it worked just fine,” Calin replied. He didn’t think it would be helpful to admit that the trick did almost killed them one time.
“Captain,” interrupted Allia, “I feel the need to advise you that an overloaded ship power supply is the equivalent of a tactical nuclear bomb.”
He raised an eyebrow as he grabbed the control stick, “Then I guess we will have to fly really, really fast. Buckle up ladies and gentlemen! Allia, open her up! We need all the power you can push into the engines. Ignore the safety limits, push everything you have into them.”
Allia pumped power from her Atlantean power supply into the engines, making them roar at a level Calin had never heard before. Under his hands he felt the ship leap forward as it tore past the startled fighters dog fighting around them and left them behind before they could turn around to pursue.
Calin swooped in close to the hull of a battleship and focused on following the route displayed on the HUD by Allia. The Sea Rover flew faster than anything Calin had ever seen. It took all of his concentration to weave in, out, above, and below the various ships and wreckage between them and the command ship in the center of the battle. It took his entire focus to reach their target without plastering themselves against the hull of a battleship like a bug on a windshield. After they dove through a gaping hole in the center of a spinning wreck, they emerged out the other side right underneath the Kyrios Command Ship.
"Captain, let me talk to Zenas again." Nilos pleaded.
Calin looked over his shoulder at Nilos and saw the concern on his face, "OK, but we don't have long. If you are going to do it, do it now."
"Thank you, Captain." Nilos nodded his head toward Calin, "Allia, open a channel to Zenas."
After a few seconds Zenas’s voice came over the speaker, “What do you want Nilos? I’m busy winning a war at the moment.”
Nilos pleaded, “Zenas, there is no need for this. Please! Let us talk about this! You were once one of us, you know the Tereo are not a bad group. We can work this out.”
“You’re right.” Zenas agreed over the comm. “The Tereo aren’t bad, but they are complacent. The potential for our people is so much greater than what the Tereo envisions. Our ancestors never intended for us to be subservient to the Terrans, to say hidden.”
Calin interrupted, “Well then, let me ask you this. If the Atlanteans were supposed to rule us, why did they leave? Answer that!”
They all could hear Zenas exhaled hard in frustration, “I’ll admit the motives of my ancestors eludes me, too much of our history has been lost. But once I gain control, I assure you answering those questions will be a top priority.”
“I’m afraid we cannot let that happen.” Calin said.
A roar of laughter came out of the speakers, “Oh really? And just how do you think you will accomplish that? Within moments we will mop up the last of the Terran opposition, and then there will be nothing to stand in my way.”
Calin barked, "Wrong, there’s me. Zenas, you shot me down once, that’s my bad. But you shot me down twice, and I still lived. That was a mistake. If you are going to kill me and my crew, at least do the job right. Now it’s my turn!" He flipped off the comm and turned to Nilos, "Sorry, but I could tell he would not listen to anything you had to say."
Nilos pursed his lips and agreed. "Yea, I know but I still had to try. Thank you."
Shona com'ed the cargo hold and warned Dean to get ready. Everyone held their breath as Calin concentrated on flying the Sea Rover around and up over the Command ship, its hull zipping past incredibly close.
Looping up around the side, Calin aimed the Sea Rover at the Command Bridge windows.
“Now!” Shona yelled to Dean.
With a small whomp they heard the power supply eject out the cargo hold doors as Calin killed their forward movement with full reverse thrusters, the power supply flew past them directly at the Command deck.
“Allia, get us out of here,” yelled Calin. The Sea Rover shot forward with the engines roaring as Calin flew them around the Command ship’s hull. He hoped the bulk of the large battleship would be enough to shield them from the explosion. Once on the other side of the Atlantean ship he flew straight out and away just as an explosion lit up the dark space around them like a small supernova. The compression wave expanded out from the explosion and demolished everything in its path. On the rear screens Calin could see the tide of destruction as it caught up to them. He gritted his teeth and yelled, “Allia, pump everything you got into the engines, dampeners, life support, everything! Get us out of here!”
Allia said urgently, “OK Captain, but this is going to hurt.” The Sea Rover blasted forward like someone shot it from a gun. Even with all their power flowing into the engines, the small cargo ship barely stayed ahead of the tide of destruction, it rode the forward edge like a surfer riding a giant wave. The crew of the Sea Rover gripped their chairs against the violent vibration that shook the ship. The g-forces increased until everyone on board began to lose consciousness. Allia felt Calin’s hand slip off the control stick as he blacked out so she took control and kept the ship steady as it rocketed away from the deadly explosion.
When the wave dissipated behind them, Allia eased up on the acceleration and re-initialized the inertial dampeners. Everyone slowly regained consciousness, groggy but OK.
Calin pumped his fist in the air, “Damn! That was a kick in the pants. Woo! Allia, that was some fine flyin’.” He studied the rear sensors, “But did it work?”
Shona rubbed her stiff neck and pulled up the rear camera. “The Command ship is destroyed, along with a few other battleships. The Terran fleet is surrounding what’s left of the Atlantean fleet.”
She looked up with a huge smile, “The fighting has stopped! It’s over!”
Calin raised his mug to Shona and Dean and toasted, “Here’s to the best crew a Captain could ask for.” Shona grinned and raised her mug in return. Dean returned the toast but got distracted by the news cast playing on the vid-screen in the corner of the dingy Martian bar.
The camera on the vid-screen cut to a shot of the front of the Martian Government building there in Mars City. Stepping up to the podium to address the crowd of reporters was none other than Nilos. He began by gesturing for everyone to quiet down so he could begin.
“Now everyone, calm down. This will be a short prepared statement concerning recent events and the actions being taken by the PPD and SSA. We will schedule a full press conference for later with leading members of government.” He cleared his throat and looked right at the camera, “People of Earth and the Solar System, I am Nilos Wyer, Sector Commander for the PPD. As it has already been reported, there was an altercation a few days ago in Mars orbit. A rogue terrorist group attempted to stage a coup against the SSA. It has been quelled. This you already know. But what you don’t know is the origin of the terrorist group.” He paused to look around the room, locking eyes with the various reporters standing before him. His gaze returned to look directly into the camera before he continued. “These terrorists were an extremist faction splintered off from a group of people that had secretly infiltrated society and watched Earth and the Solar System for a thousand years.”
The crowd in front of him exploded into turmoil, reporters waving microphones and yelling questions. Nilos calmly waited and shuffled his notes until the crowd settled down before he continued. “I can assure you, this group of people have no ill will toward the people of Earth and the Solar System. In fact, on multiple occasions they had helped you throughout history to avoid cataclysmic events, and several times helped prevent the destruction of Earth. While you did not know of their existence, you do know of their origins. Throughout history, there have been legends and folktales told of them, of where they came from. A city lost in history.”
He peered deep into the camera, “You know this city as Atlantis.” He paused until the murmuring of the crowd died down. “Part of the legend is true, the city of Atlantis was lost, destroyed by a natural disaster. But the people were not. They, and their technology, spread out across the globe. But they elected to stay hidden from the people of Earth, to let Terrans develop naturally and without interference. These Atlanteans have watched and observed, and on the rare occasion interfered silently to prevent global disasters.”
A reporter at the front of the crowd loudly interrupted, “How do you know all this? Has the SSA known about these... these Atlanteans?”
Nilos pursed his lips at the interruption but answered, “No, the SSA was as oblivious to the existence to of the Atlanteans as much as the rest of the worlds were.”
The rude reporter continued, “Then how do YOU know all this?”
Nilos paused again, looked down at his notes, then back up to the camera with an unflinching gaze, “Because I am an Atlantean. It was my ancestors that fled Atlantis. I belong to the group I mentioned who watch over Earth and its people. We call ourselves the Tereo Group. Let me get one thing completely clear, we are NOT here to take over. The fleet of battleships above Mars was a rogue faction within our people. The Atlantean people did not sanction their actions, we are here to help you, not to control you.” He paused to look around the crowd, again locking eyes with the reporters before continuing, “Although we had stayed hidden throughout history, we are revealing ourselves to you now. We bring technology and knowledge that we promise we will share, to help Terrans advance as a people and a civilization. As a sign of good faith we will give the remaining Atlantean battleships above Mars that are still functioning to the SSA. Together we will study them at a military base on Titan to advance technology and knowledge for everyone.”
He picked up his notes before he finished, “We will schedule a full press briefing later and we will keep everyone updated when possible of any future plans. Thank you.” He said and then left the stage surrounded by his guards.
Calin raised his glass to Nilos on the screen and commented, “Mars is about to get real busy around here.”
“Not just Mars, the whole Solar System is going to be a little crazy for a while,” Shona said before she drained the last of her beer. “It will take time before the people trust the government again.”
Calin gaped and put a hand over his heart, “People trusted the government?” and laughed. “But on the plus side, when people stop trusting the government, our particular type of business gets an increase in demand.”
Shona raised a fresh mug up above the table and they all clinked glasses as she toasted, “To plenty of jobs and getting paid plenty.”
In the galley of the Sea Rover, Dean served up a meal for the small crowd gathered around the table. Calin, Shona, and Nilos were deep in a discussion of the implications of the Atlanteans society being revealed.
Nilos held up his hands to interrupt and said, “I think we should halt this for now. I am giving the SSA a few days to adjust then I will sit down with them to smooth things out. But until then, is there anything I can do for you? If it wasn’t for this crew, we wouldn’t be here today. So name it.”
Allia spoke from her ship drone floating above, “I have a request.”
Calin raised an eyebrow and answered, “Sure, Allia. What can we get you?”
“Nilos, I would like to ask permission to stay aboard the Sea Rover.”
Nilos was slightly taken back and surprised, “May I ask why?”
“I know you want to remove me from the Sea Rover and take me back to the PPD for more study. But here, on board the Sea Rover, I feel more alive than I have in centuries! This crew is a lot more fun than those lab geeks.”
He rubbed his chin and considered Allia’s request for a minute. “All right, I can see your point. I know I will miss having you around, but after everything you have helped us do, I don’t think it would be right to confine you to a laboratory as a reward.”
Calin squinted his eyes, “So you don’t mind if we keep her onboard?”
Nilos gave a shrug and a smile, “From a technical point of view, and in my report, Allia’s ship was destroyed when Calin crashed the Atlantean shuttle.”
“Hey, I didn’t crash it! They shot me down,” objected Calin.
Nilos grinned at his old friend and continued. “Allia is the most advanced A.I. we have discovered left behind by our ancestors. She was the last functioning command shuttle, well, before she crashed. But if she wants to stay on board, I can’t find it in myself to tell her no.”
A loud squeal came over the ship speakers, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
With a nod toward the drone, Nilos stated warmly, “I will miss you, Allia.”
“And where are you going to be?” she asked.
“Commander Tiege was not the only senior official onboard the Command ship. Unfortunately, the war may have been short, but it cost us a lot. As of now, I am the senior Tereo officer still alive in the PPD. So they have chosen me to lead the study and integration of Atlantean and Terran technologies.” He turned to Calin, “As an official thank you from the Atlanteans, I am going to have my techs install some Atlantean fighter engines in the Sea Rover, since yours are pretty much burnt out now. Those engines, combined with Allia’s incredible power supply, should make you one of the fastest ship in the Solar System. And besides the speed the engines have another bonus…” he teased.
Calin cocked his head questioning, “What bonus?”
With a big grin Nilos said, “You always say, you do a job, you get paid. Well, you did a huge job, a job that saved thousands of lives. So you should be paid accordingly. How would you feel about being the only private citizen with Solar System-wide flight range? These engines have enough range you could fly you from one end of the Solar System to the other.”
Dean placed the dinner he prepared in the center of the table and offered, “It sounds with all this new tech you will have aboard Sea Rover, you could use an Engineer again Captain. And maybe I could convince Mouse to come back on board too.”
Calin raised his eyebrows in surprise, “You want to come back?”
Dean shrugged with a grin and replied, "The past few days have been more fun than the past year back at my shop."
Shona jumped up and gave Dean a hug, much to his delight, “Of course you can come back!” she said excitedly.
Calin couldn't help but smile a little at seeing his crew coming back together before he drained his mug and got up from the table. While everyone else was busy shaking hands all around he stopped to give Allia’s floating drone a little pat before he left the galley and headed up to the cockpit. He leaned against the hatch frame and stared out the window at Mars turning below.
When he had originally taken over the Sea Rover, he could think of nothing else he wanted to do but run smuggling jobs on the Moon. Now when he looked back on his original plans, they seemed so small and limited. Never would he had guessed that one day he would get paid to do jobs on Mars. And now, he had the opportunity to expand his range System-wide, a thought that would have been inconceivable a few years ago.
It seemed no matter how hard he tried, he kept getting sucked into some high stakes conflict that was none of his doing. And now, this dumb old Moon smuggler would be the only private Captain that could fly System-wide to any planet or any moon of his choosing. He gave the bulkhead above him a quick rub and turned to rejoin his crew in the galley. If he knew one thing, it was to always keep flying toward the next adventure.
Join the Book Club to
get an exclusive story!
I occasionally send out newsletters with details of new releases, cool information, and special offers related to my books or the scifi genre.
If you sign up for the Book Club and the newsletter you will receive a exclusive novelette, the prequel story of Calin Aku that takes place before The Atlantean Conflict series.
You can get the novelette Pirate Moon for FREE by signing up at
About the Author
Conflict On Mars is the second book in The Atlantean Conflict Series, a sci-fi dystopia adventure of ancient secrets, Solar System-wide action, and a smuggler turned reluctant hero. The first book of this series is Lunar Escape, and you can get it free from Amazon and other platforms.
C.P. Macdonald works as a graphic designer and illustrator, and to relax he is a landscape oil painter. But a lifelong love of science fiction drove him to this trilogy.
Chris lives in Tennessee with his wife and two kids. He has a Bachelor Degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin in University Studies, focus on Engineering Management.