Mars. I didn’t like coming to Mars.
The trip there took a little longer than it should have. The planet was out of the optimal position for a trip from Earth. The Perseus continued on its mission, off to hunt down pirates. The Aotearoa came with. Aboard was a large force of New Zealand marines who would provide security for the operation when we were on the ground. The Martian civil war may have been long over. But the red planet could still be a very dangerous place. The Nemesis was patched up and carefully flown back to Billings. On the trip out I was informed that the Core had fled from Siam to Rhodesia. A country which, as was the style of various post colonial areas of the world, a complete mess.
Rhodesia and many of its neighboring countries had been riven by ethnic strife, war and corruption before the Martian invasion. Various native groups and the Boers had a variety of long standing disagreements with the English government of the Cape Colony. When the Eutopian’s arrived they immediately partnered with the Boers and flooded the region with exotic weaponry. Just before an English drive into Boer territory that became known as the Second Boer War.
Within a week the invading English army had been annihilated. The Boers drove south into the Cape Colony. Exotic weapons began to diffuse across Southern Africa. Brushfire wars sprang up, spreading north as far as the Congo. Tribal conflicts suddenly went from brawls and stabbings involving cattle rustling or moronic blood feuds to a gigantic series of apocalyptic battles where entire villages and cities sometimes vanished from the map. Rhodesia became a central hub of the trade in advanced weapons. After Eutopian traders realized their mistake and stopped selling weapons in Africa traders from various European countries came in to fill the gap.
Those left couldn’t even agree what to call the country anymore. White people and foreigners continued to call it Rhodesia. Most black people called it Zimbabwe, or whatever they happened to call the land before the white man showed up. In any case there were several groups who would welcome the services of a technological magician like her. They wouldn’t care about her record of mass murder and mayhem, they were already guilty of crimes that were almost as bad as hers.
This wasn’t unique. All over Earth governments were crumbling under the weight of Eutopian insurgencies and technologies. In private conversations with Eutopian employees many of them told me that they felt guilty about the chaos they had unleashed. Yet they stressed that this chaos was inevitable and that their actions had actually defused conflicts that were brewing across the globe. They cited the German/Anglo-American war as an example that powerful governments were too dangerous to go on existing. Especially when those governments had weapons powerful enough to destroy a city.
The Eutopians held up the example of their pacification of Mars as an example of Earths potential future. What remained of Martian civilization had been saved from itself and now tens of thousands of people from Earth were emigrating there to take advantage of the planets growing economy.
Still I didn’t like coming to Mars when I was a kid and I didn’t like it now. This was a place of murder, immeasurable, incomprehensible mass murder. Not just death, every living thing dies. This was a place where uncounted millions of sentient beings had their existence snuffed out before their time.
Life had retaken the planet. The scars of decades of battles upon the surface geography may have healed and the piles of corpses burned or buried. But I still remembered the stories my father and other survivors of the Edison expedition and the atrocities they saw and committed. An entire civilization enslaved by a mad emperor for millennia then almost exterminated by the great flood that the expeditionary force had triggered.
With the native Martians population reduced to no more than one hundred twenty thousand, Mars was essentially the property of Eutopian and Earthling immigrants. Most of these immigrants were good people. Some were villains hiding out from prosecution on a new frontier. There were also a number of nomadic treasure hunters, seeking various valuables of the fabulously wealthy Martian emperor. Especially his long lost fountain of youth. Though after decades of fruitless searching for the legendary fountain many of them were giving up and doing something else.
The thing that amazed me about the Martian emperor was how he maintained control. Every aspect of his society was tightly clamped down on. Even the gold based currency of Mars was just another aspect of his control system. By releasing or withdrawing large sums of gold from circulation the Martian government was able to dominate the planets economy. Providing a lesson that gold based currencies were not as resistant to governmental meddling as many American economists believed.
Drakous lead us straight to his former workplace off in a particularly remote area of the Martian North Pole. On the trip there Drakous talked about this place as one might talk about Valhalla. This was where he started his scientific apprenticeship. A central hub of Martian weapons research, development and stockpiling. He stated that most of the Martians who knew of its existence were probably dead or else it would have been looted by now. From overhead it looked like little more than a few square shaped rises in the ground not far from the Martian ocean. Drakous assured me that the place always looked like that. He told us that we should land right on top of it.
As we landed the Aotearoa hovered nearby dropping off a couple of squads of marines. While most of them spread out looking for potential Martian resistance I took five of them and Drakous up to the places front door. It looked like a muddy, rusty bunker. I was expecting to have to use explosives to open the thing up before I did that I knocked and asked if anybody was home. There was some odd sounds coming from inside and someone shouted. In English shockingly. “Go away, haven’t you humans done enough to us already?”
I motioned for Drakous to try to reason with them. He started talking in the terrifying growling, snarling, roaring language of his species. Where even a pleasant conversation sounded like a pair of wolves tearing each other apart. Then he stepped back and announced, “okay, she is letting us in. But be careful, she says she has been alone up here for a very long time.”
The rusty door swung open like a great cog revealing a surprisingly spiffy interior. There was a Martian female inside with a pistol sized heat ray. Drakous talked with her, he explained that she was a refugee. She had no knowledge of what this place was. Just that it was far away from the main population centers and it was comfortable. A place where she could be left alone. She led us in to a palatial environment which used to be a welcoming area to the laboratory complex. According to Drakous this place was created as a waiting room for curious military and political officers. In practice though it was more like a bar for cajoling and bribing politicians. It was decorated with beautiful paintings of Martian battles, including a couple that had to have taken place on Earth and rich overstuffed furniture that had clearly seen better days. It even had a chandelier, all covered in decades of dust, grime and decay.
We weren’t here to schmooze or appreciate the furniture. I wanted to see what this alleged Aladdin’s cave of weapons had to offer. I started jogging down the absurdly long hallway leading into the complex. The first side door I saw was locked. The second led into a huge room filled with iconic Martian walking tanks. Drakous caught up to me and said that this was something of a museum of the development of the tripod walker. This was impressive, some of the models were much scarier looking than those of the second invasion. But we had better stuff back home. There was a company in Australia. Part of the huge Pearse-Lysaght conglomerate that built quadruped walkers that were as good as any of these. Earth’s smallest battleship could probably take out every walker ever made. The Australian walkers were mainly used for off road travel, mining and timber harvesting. Walking vehicles still had their niches of usefulness. Particularly in places without roads.
Drakous led me deep into the complex where the really potent weapons were developed. I asked about the locked door he explained, “That leads to a facility where we assembled our atomic bombs. We don’t need to go in there yet.”
In a insouciant tone I asked.
“Oh? And why not? They might not be useful for fighting The Core but I think we can find some use for a bomb powerful enough to flatten New York.”
“I don’t want to go in there!”
In a softer tone.
“Radiation scares me.”
“Okay, I will have some other staff take care of those bombs then. I am not going to leave the most powerful bombs in the solar system lying around for some Martian hobo to pilfer.”
Deeper into the complex the weapons got less familiar. In a large hangar there was a humongous missile, Drakous explained. “This was developed shortly after the invasion of Earth fell apart. It’s code name was The Nuclear Crowbar. When we went to Earth the second time the emperor wanted to conquer and enslave you. And live for the rest of eternity on your relatively unspoiled planet. This thing is pure bitterness in metal. The idea was to send a meteor car to detonate over a major city. That blast would do a great deal of damage, but it would be nothing compared to what this thing would do.”
“As it fell away from its shell, it would ignite it’s primary power source. A nuclear reactor, it would fly around at three times the speed of sound, targeting major population centers with its cargo of 8 thermonuclear warheads of 20 megatons of Trinitrotoluene equivalent force. It would drop them from a very low height, the bombs would detonate with blast optimized for fallout.”
“Once it’s cargo of bombs was expended it would find a remaining population center and auto destruct with a relatively small on board fission bomb. Blast optimized for fallout. It was estimated that three of these would completely sterilize your planet. One probably would have permanently destabilized most of your civilizations.”
I swallowed hard at these terrifying statistics.
“Well, now I know why radiation scares you. I take it by your cavalier attitude to it that it is not operational?”
“No, this is merely a mockup of inert parts. There were dozens of technical problems that had yet to be solved when your fleet showed up. They were working on this thing feverishly while the punitive expedition was here. After the flood it seems that all this work was forgotten. I just wanted to show that off, that is not what we are here for.”
He looked up at the missile one last time as we walked away and asked. “Did anyone ever tell you the real reason for the invasion of Earth?”
“Resources, at least that’s what the Eutopian’s told us, your military wanted Earths resources.”
“Mm, that’s a half truth. What was really happening was that our planet was dying and we needed a new one. After centuries of using nuclear fission reactors and building these bombs, radiation had become endemic. It was starting to unwind our very DNA. We were going to move our entire civilization over to Earth.”
I was puzzled, “I don’t understand. If radiation was killing your civilization back in 1895 how come Mars is doing so well now?”
“It is the work of the Eutopian’s. We used hydroelectric power and light water fission reactors as our primary energy sources. The reactors were great for making bomb materials and lots of waste. The hydroelectric dams plugged up the natural flow of water around the planet. Causing toxins to accumulate. The Eutopian’s use fusion and liquid fluoride-thorium fission reactors. Their fission reactors don’t just run on Thorium, they also eat radioactive waste byproducts from our reactors and bombs rendering them inert.”
“From the day they showed up in force they started cleaning up the planet. They have already decontaminated three nuclear weapons storage facilities like this. I remember the plans the Imperium came up with to deal with the radioactive waste problem. We were going to put it on asteroids, or shoot it into the sun in meteor cars. The expense would have been mind boggling. Then along come the Eutopian’s and they not only solve the problem, they made huge amounts of hard currency doing so. Then they reconfigured our entire water system. Water, energy and life flows freely around Mars again. As it did in the days before the emperor.”
He sighed and slumped against a wall. Drakous and this facility were the last legacy of the Martian Imperium. He was cracking under the fact that this facility was serving as a dramatic landmark to the fat that everything that he had done in the first part of his life had been dangerous to himself, his planet and his people. He took a deep breath and urged me to continue on.
As we went deeper into the complex some ANZSAC marines caught up to us, Drakous announced. “I just showed you was orange sector. Green sector was concerned with big, terrifying weapons like huge bombs and walkers. Blue sector in the back was concerned with genetic manipulation to create weapons. Then there is red sector where I worked which was occupied with the creation of guidance systems, small arms and tactics. Between the two however is a collection of laboratories where some really nasty things were done.”
We stood before a huge steel door. Drakous pulled out what looked like an identity card and whispered something that sounded like, “please work.” He traced a complex pattern around with his finger on a touch pad. Suddenly there was a loud pop sound, the doors swung open.
“Yes! Ahem, humans, welcome to the darkest secret of the Martian Imperium. Purple sector.”
Past the vaulted door was another collection of armored doors that were swinging open. Drakous proudly announced, “I got the superuser password for this complex from the lead scientist before he resigned. These doors are never supposed to stay open. Can you marines force the mechanisms so they don’t slam shut on us?”
They assented and went about their work, while twenty IEC scientists came pouring into the complex to help with securing the facility.
As we went into the main lab complex I was immediately struck by the extensive banks of specialized equipment for genetic and molecular engineering. I was a mechanical engineer, not a biologist. Still I was able to estimate that this equipment represented a colossal investment of time and resources. Drakous announced,
“This was where the warriors we sent to Earth were created, in fact right over there is the original prototype, still in stasis.”
The creature was clearly dead, the life support machines attached to it were all off. The thing itself was still preserved in liquid. It was terrifying, far taller than I, or even Drakous. A tentacled monstrosity with a huge head. I felt sick for a second, then I noticed something.
“I heard from a Eutopian that these things had a habit of raping things? How would it do that, I don’t see a…”
Drakous laughed “You got some bad information madam president. These things are incapable of rape, they don’t have reproductive organs. They were specifically left off of the design. They did like to, um, feel things from the inside. They were made to derive pleasure from death, the more exotic and horrifying the better and what could be a more horrifying death than being pulled apart from the inside out? Also your historians screwed up one other important aspect of these monsters, they were disposable. They were intended to not be around when the second wave arrived. But someone much higher up the food chain than me screwed something up and they died before the second wave was ready.”
“What? You mean they were supposed to die?”
“Yes, the emperor was kept in power by the military caste, though they were utterly loyal, he feared them. So he frittered away resources on projects like this. With these he could keep a relatively small number of police on hand. Slaughter the entire military, and if there was an uprising he could decanter a couple thousand of these things. Just smart enough to operate his war machines and follow his orders. Then when the war was over they would die off. Their corpses would be collected and the biomass used to create another squiddy army for the next rebellion. The invasion of Earth was partly a test to see if these creatures were effective in combat.”
“Dear god, he really was a madman!”
“Hmm, well, I suppose we weren’t all that unhappy here when we heard that you humans vaporized him. But, and I do hate to repeat myself, that is not what we are here for, come on.”
As we walked deeper into the lab he began speaking again. “When project Ocky went from a crazed series of experiments to an operational weapons system those in the military caste who were aware of it finally realized that they had been digging their own graves. They began plotting a coup against the emperor. Their goals were quite lofty, they intended to bring about a society similar to what they had on Eutopous. But incorporating elements of the old system, Anarchy-Syndicate-isim, or something like that. It was an attractive idea, but it probably wouldn’t have worked.”
“I was an apprentice assigned as a courier link between the different aspects of the project. Granted clearance to see secure compartmentalized data, though I didn’t find out what was really going on until after the Emperor was dead. The officers and scientists responsible scattered from here and went to work repairing the waterworks. They are all probably dead by now, if they weren’t someone besides me would have come back for this. The most powerful weapons of the Martian Imperium. Too bad really, many of them had been philosophically enlightened by listening to intercepted Eutopian radio broadcasts.”
“For centuries Martian science researched how to unbalance areas of the brain in a variety of ways. All this time we convinced themselves that the process of unbalancing the brain created beings that would be better at their specific task than any generalist could ever be. After seeing the monsters created here my superiors finally acknowledged that if you do nothing but create weapons it is only a matter of time until those weapons will be turned on you. They saw the pointlessness of working towards creating better slaves and better controllers. So the scientists and military officers here went in the opposite direction, attempting to restore balance to the Martian mind and civilization. Investigating all sorts of things which had previously been considered militarily unproductive.”
We came to what looked like a janitors closet. Under a huge pile of cleaning equipment that he dramatically tossed away was another of those fancy electronic locks. “The result of that research was this!”
A hidden door swung open. I giggled involuntarily at the ridiculousness of a hidden door in a secret lab. Drakous looked back for a second and observed, “you won’t be laughing when you see what’s in here. Oh wait, no you probably will.” Inside was a small office full of papers and computing devices. Drakous announced to the porters, “I want every data disc, drive and scrap of paper in this office collected and brought aboard the Montana for replication and transmission as fast as possible. I want copies of everything backed up on every server you can find as soon as you can. I don’t want a single fragment of information in this room to go missing. This information is not like those bombs. This is meant to be shared.”
The office was a mess of books, papers, various small bits of Martian technology I did not recognize. Shelves were stacked high with items. Standing above all this was a poster with a map of sorts on it. It looked like it did not belong amidst all the serious scientific and military hardware I had seen so far all over this complex. It had an image of some kind of a frog or a toad on it and words in Martian that I did not understand. I asked Drakous what it meant. He answered.
“A leap of faith never fails.”
My curiosity was piqued.
He opened a drawer and took out a metal box about the size of a large shoebox. He breathed somberly and opened it. It was lined with a very fragrant smelling wood and what looked like a crystal sealed in a hexagonal glass enclosure. Along with something I guessed was a Martian USB drive. Atop a few notebooks.
He sighed, holding the box with reverence. I had never seen him look so satisfied and happy. Then he straightened up and asked,
“want to watch a movie?”
He set up a projection device outside the closet. He started showing a black and white film of the experiments done in this lab. Martian recording tech was bizarrely anachronistic, silent, no color, but in a digital format with crystal clear images. I suppose it reduced memory requirements having everything in black and white? Drakous narrated.
“First we took a subject who had a childhood with very little mental or physical abuse. Unlike most of the military caste and bureaucrats. Gave them a full body detoxification. Then the interesting stuff started, we undid every kind of brain stimulation restoring balance of function within their minds. If the Ockys were evil incarnate and the theoretical end of all our bad work we asked what if we went in the complete opposite direction. This was the result.”
The footage was some sort of testing of an exoskeleton weapon system, it looked like an angel with a great big set of wings. It could move absurdly fast, with reaction times that made me suspect that the film had been altered. The first few tests were basic dexterity and puzzle solving. Then simulated combat against dummies, then flight.
I asked, “I don’t understand, if you had exoskeleton weapons that could match or defeat an Eutopian exoskeleton how did they conquer the planet?”
He looked me like I was an idiot, “I suppose you forget who really destroyed our civilization don’t you? It was the work of your Edison and ourselves, the fairy folk just swept in at the last minute and saved us from ourselves. What the hell were you lunatics thinking when you made that war criminal your president? How could you not know that he was going to try to solve all his problems with mass murder? As for the, exoskeleton as you call it…”
“It’s not reflected in these recordings, but the test subjects were unstable. To properly use the suit you see they needed to take a substance that had some… side effects. They had no respect for military life. Females were better suited for this process than males. If only because it was easy to find females who had not had their brains altered. That fact alone, of females having a bigger role in our society, ruffled some feathers. However the bigger problem was that the balancing process gave them traits that left them utterly unsuitable for Martian society. They were indescribably compassionate, rapaciously witty and completely uncooperative with anything they perceived as wrong. Completely unwilling to follow orders. They wouldn’t fight offensively, only defensively.”
“Are any of these test subjects still around?”
“Probably not, over time the effects had a habit of dissipating, they went back to being normal Martians. Everyone in these recordings probably drowned when the planet was flooded. I hope that with the IEC’s resources I can replicate….”
He stopped talking, took a deep breath and with a voice that radiated power he uttered the words.
The recording was playing a combat scenario. The test subjects were showing off this bizarre new exoskeleton’s abilities. Ever since their invasion of Mars and their arrival on Earth the Eutopians had developed a large number of exoskeleton suits. They were relatively large and unwieldily things. Assemblies of hydraulics, motors and extremely complicated software that had been cobbled together as a way to allow their giant bodies to move around in high gravity environments. Nowadays there were several companies on Earth that were building crude knockoffs. The Martian exoskeleton was a far more elegant solution that used fabrics in ways that I had never imagined were possible. When I asked about it Drakous explained.
“The name for this stuff was about 124 syllables long. A very long and complicated molecular-biological formula. For convenience I will call it Ultra-Fabric. Our military had been working on this for over a hundred years. A substance that was able to increase the strength of the wearer, survive weapons fire, the vacuum of space and be absolutely flexible. It reacts to the muscles of the wearer. Becoming an extension of their body. Supple when moving, hard as steel plate when struck by a fast moving projectile. It can even harvest the energy of a heat ray and use it to power the suit.”
Drakous looked over his shoulder and shouted to the men clearing out the laboratory outside. “There should be three bolts of the stuff and the instructions on how to make more next to the gene sequencer. Don’t lose it because I have no idea how to make any more of it!”
The female Martian could easily lift a boulder the size of a small car. Fly and fight more smoothly than anyone in any other exoskeleton I had ever seen. Right after she cleaved a thick plate of metal in half with a wicked curved sword she turned around and looked straight at the camera. There was no audio, but I felt that it wasn’t needed. This Martian had the most intense and beautiful eyes I had ever seen in my life. I looked away, Drakous chided me and told me to keep looking. She was talking silently into the camera and to some scientists around her.
Drakous smiled and related. “Another thing about them no one ever figured out, they could cause altered states in those around them. They could induce joy in others. They could project empathy, it was wonderful to be around them.”
Drakous coughed and straightened himself up. “I think that this collection of weapons and other technologies might allow us to defeat The Core once and for all. Before we go ahead I have to ask. Why are you so hell-bound to defeat her?”
“Because she blew up two cities and almost enslaved my planet Drakous! That isn’t a good enough reason?”
“No, she didn’t do anything, she did not even exist yet. I admit that this manifestation of The Venusian Core may be a reflection of a darker whole. But in the time she has been conscious of her true nature what has she done to anyone?”
“Listen Drakous, much as I appreciate all this lest not forget. You work for me! So let’s just get this stuff back to Earth and get the eldritch abomination from before the dawn of civilization who destroys cities for laughs under control okay?”
“Very well, but you should know that once we start experimenting with these technologies it will lead to some very weird places. We may be surrounded by weaponry, but I honestly believe that this work hidden in this office may lead to the obsolescence of armed conflict in this solar system.”
Then he caught himself and observed. “Or perhaps you just should just drop a dozen nuclear bombs on some remote part of Rhodesia and civilization goes on as it was with little more than a few feathers ruffled.”
I looked back at where we came from and concluded by saying. “Yeah, I don’t want to do that unless we have no other choice. You know better than I do that nuclear bombs are not to be taken lightly.”
Once the brain research and exoskeleton parts were boxed up Drakous went back to the Montana while I, the marines and my scientists donned protective suits and opened up the door to the bomb assembly facility. It looked like most of the materials inside had been carefully processed into functional warheads of varying sizes ready for use. Some were small and light enough to fit in a backpack, one was as big as a Heron 3 without wings.
Nuclear bombs had been known ever since New York was destroyed by one at the end of the invasion when escaping Martians had set one off. The basic design of a fission bomb had been theorized for years but no one from Earth had seen one until now. It was rumored that some shadowy business conglomerate on Eutopous had a few of them. This was unlikely as their fission reactors did not produce suitable bomb making material.
What killed interest in atomic weapons on Earth was that something like a tungsten bolt fired from a rail gun or a plasma blast would do much the same damage without radioactive contamination for a fraction of the cost.
So, what were we going to do with all these bombs? Well I didn’t know, but it seemed unwise to leave them lying around where anyone with a ship and a few friends could steal them. So they were catalogued, examined and packed up in the hold of the Montana. There were so many of the awful things that they overfilled Big Blue’s magazines and the rest had to go on the Aotearoa.
Before we took off back to Earth Drakous was already working on condensing the research on the exoskeleton and brain reconfiguring into a working model suitable for humans. A young typist, Amanda Saunders had volunteered to be his guinea pig. Though I can’t help but feel that she wouldn’t have been so quick to volunteer if not for the fact that her profession was quickly going the way of the dodo with recent advances in office software.
Drakous set up in the gym on the Montana and set about administering a cocktail of potions which detoxified Saunders body. Along with a condensed critical thinking program. After a few days of work Ms Saunders IQ jumped 20 points and her physical strength increased by 30%.
While she was cleaning herself out. Drakous started working on the chemical that he claimed would take things to the next level. He took the crystal he had made such a fuss of finding and shaved some of it into a smoking pipe along with some other stuff that looked and smelled like marijuana.
He looked incredibly nervous, he had the air of a man holding a stick of dynamite. Unable to decide wether to light it or not. I was with him in his quarters as he grew more and more spooked at the sight of this substance. In an attempt to calm himself he explained what was going on to me.
“This may look strange, but this is the most effective means of rebalancing the brain that we found. Electro stimulation as we used it just threw everything out of whack and critical thinking doesn’t do the job fast enough or as effectively. This substance is a potent hallucinogen. It exists in nature in relatively small amounts. This is probably the only chunk of it in it’s concentrated form in the solar system. Its derived from the venom of a rare toad on Mars that lives near the equator. Mm, strike that, it used to be a rare toad. When I was a child they were rare. But by the time I left Mars to come work for you they had become common. Since collecting the toad venom was difficult, darn near impossible if we couldn’t find the little buggers we synthesized it. Chemical recipe Five Methoxy Dy methyl tryptamine.”
I asked, “how did you find out about this stuff.”
He chuckled, “we tried everything, I mean literally everything to find a shortcut to heal our brains. Over the course of years we experimented with all manner of synthetic and natural substances, exotic technologies and so on. Nothing worked, most had horrifying side effects. There are plenty of things that you never want to hear. One is a test subject shrieking ‘demons are eating out the back of my eyes!”
“Then someone got a bright idea, if all our modifications to ourselves led us down a bad road then where did we come from, culturally and technologically and how could we get back there? In forgotten archives we found tales of the fallen ones, the creators of the earliest Martian civilization. A civilization much different than the one you destroyed. In the course of researching the past we were found out by a historian.”
“I thought your society didn’t have historians?”
“We had a few, it was a frowned upon profession. I suppose most Martians feelings towards historians could be summed up as. Those who remember the past are doomed to be punished by those who don’t.”
“The historian was brilliant, what you humans would call a renaissance man. He had a vast knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. What was important was that he had researched and catalogued various hallucinogens used by various Martian societies existing on the fringe of our civilization. He had done more research all by himself than we had done with all our resources.”
“He had a desire to understand and use the most powerful chemicals that he could get his hands on. He gave us this medicine, I never met the man but I heard… weird things about him. That he could affect people in ways that seemed impossible, perhaps because he was using these medicines longer than anyone else and had gained some unique benefit from them.”
“His downfall was his willingness to share his knowledge. Not just with the military or his students, but everyone who came to him. His work drew the attention of the OGPU. The emperors personal secret police. They captured him, I heard from a credible source that they worked him over pretty badly. I heard from a retired OGPU officer shortly before I left Mars that he might have escaped when your military attacked the facility where he was being held. I doubt that he is still alive. Someone like him is not going to keep a low profile. It seems that he did not crack under torture, usually that means that the victim died before he gave up any information. Apprentice torturers have a bad habit of killing their victims.”
“In any case the Emperor did not find out about our work. The military has become very good at hiding secret projects like this over the past couple thousand years. Though he must have had his suspicions that the military was working with him or else the OGPU probably wouldn’t have detained him. They would have let the regular police deal with him.”
Drakous looked afraid, “I should warn you, I only saw this stuff being used once and it freaked me out pretty badly. I swore I would never touch it until I met the Singers and heard them speaking in a similar fashion. This process can have some extremely weird side effects. Nothing too dangerous, I think. The substance is nontoxic. Just some really really weird results and of course it was never tried on a human. Are you sure you want me to go ahead?”
I assented. He ran down one last checklist. “Alright, relax, let go. See it for what it is, not what you think it will be. Embrace the experience for what it is. Let the energy flow. Symmetry, must remain symmetrical. Okay, here goes everything.”
He took out a butane lighter and lit the crystal shavings. Taking a massive draw off the pipe. The effects were immediate. His voice changed. It became deeper, significantly deeper. He bellowed, “yes! I am, I am energy! I am!”
Over the course of about a half an hour he acted like a…. Well I can’t really say what. His limbs flailed around in increasingly symmetrical patterns. He started rearing up on his upper back. All manner of odd noises came out of his mouth. Most of what sounded like a combination of ranting in native Martian and the sounds of a really big cat. Sometimes purring, sometimes roaring. When the stuff finally wore off he was utterly exhausted. He laughed one last time and addressed me. He tiredly, but confidently spoke.
“Non duality, that’s what it is all about. This stuff unwinds the energy that ties you up in knots and allows you to see what the universe really is.”
I was rather freaked out by this. After seeing all that I asked. “So can you, are you sure that this stuff will work on a human? Do you think you can get Saunders where she needs to be to use the exoskeleton?”
He rolled over and looked right at me. Those big Martian eyes burned with an incredible fire. Like a hawk, like a predator. But with love. For as long as I had known him I was always freaked out by Drakous’s giant eyes, now I wanted to look into them forever.
“I think I could take a bash at it. For now I need food and sleep. We will pick this up tomorrow. Growth doesn’t happen instantly you know.”
Drakous took a few days before he tried anything else with that insane substance. I was starting to have second thoughts about all this. This molecule, drug, whatever it was seemed to live up to Drakous’s opinion that it was the most potent hallucinogen in the solar system. As spooky as that was what was freaking me out more was that the use of this stuff was changing him profoundly. He was growing more lighthearted, whimsical, way more pleasant to be around than the stilted creature that he usually was. There was an energy that crackled around him that was indescribable. I was never a religious person but I was beginning to suspect demonic influence. I was seriously wondering what the heck I had unleashed.
About a week after his first dosing Drakous and Amanda wanted to go ahead with dosing her. I voiced my concern and so did Drakous. He warned her before they got going. “This has never been used on a human. I know our anatomies are similar but I still don’t know exactly what will happen. Do you still wish to go ahead?” He asked as he held up his pipe and a lit match.
Amanda looked at it and stated, “sure, what’s the worst that could happen.”
I racked a round into the chamber of my Browning, Drakous assured me. “That won’t be needed.”
I sure hoped not.
Before he drew on the pipe he reminded her. “Now remember, as odd as it may sound. It’s all you, you aren’t going to commune with demons or angels. You aren’t going to slip into another dimension. There aren’t spirits or gremlins living in the engineering section who are going to tell you to make tapioca or else the world is going to end. Everything you see will be a projection of your own subconscious mind. You must be willing to accept that.”
Amanda took the pipe and drew a huge breath.
Drakous stated, “give it a moment.”
“Whoa, here we go, something is happening, I see, holy mackerel I see everything!”
“Ah, that’s more like it, does it look like all things are connected.”
I asked, “what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Katy, I have to guide her through this process. I can talk to you or her, please be quiet.”
Over the course of an hour what happened was one of the oddest things I had ever seen in my life. The formula transformed Amanda’s perception into something radically different than what it was before. She claimed she could see the fabric of all reality expressed as a great fractal. Her words seemed kind of reminiscent of the philosophy/science of the Singers. She was doing those same symmetrical motions. Evidently this stuff worked just as well on humans as it did on Martians.
After awhile it ran out and she was back to normal. Well, not quite, I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes now burned with the same fire as Drakous.
He explained, “this will be the first of several treatments. Once we get back to Earth we can begin testing to see if the weapons we developed will interface with human musculature and technology. Remember they will work best if your mind is completely clear. You must be completely willing to let go of your ego. This is something that no one can force you to do, you have to take time to adapt.”
She assented and went off to her bunk to rest. I had to get some shut eye myself. It had been an overwhelming experience just to watch.
Once we got back to Earth we started unloading our store of Martian weapons and adapting them to our systems. These bombs were so refined that after a few days of work they interfaced beautifully with our bigger missiles. Most were put into cold storage. Twenty were loaded into the Montana’s missile batteries. A couple were loaded onto a Heron mark 6 fighter. Just to see if it could be done.
The ANZSAC Scimitar may have been more maneuverable, the Nakajima Eiko was faster. And the Bugatti-Deperdussin 110P might have been cheaper to make. But the Heron 3 series was still a good fighter. Though work had commenced on designing a replacement it was going really slow since there wasn’t too much demand for high performance fighter aircraft. For the past few years far more racers had been built than fighters.
After function testing our new nuclear weapons. Drakous and his team of engineers worked for a week straight adapting the Martian exoskeleton to Earthlings. Drakous folded in some of the latest research on biomechanics and lessons learned from Eutopian exoskeletal systems.
Theoretically this system would give the user incredible strength, speed, the power of flight and the capability to harvest vast amounts of information on a battlefield, theoretically. Eutopian exoskeletal systems had a built from garbage ascetic to them and were designed to do one thing, make the user stronger. The Martian suits were a much more refined system. They had been in development for a much longer time. All this capability came at a price, Drakous did not believe that someone who had not been through the 5meo treatments could use the suit, certainly not to its full capability.
I had given Drakous one of our bigger hangars for his experiments Hangar 47A. His team of employees soon grew to dozens of engineers, chemists, technicians a collection of marines from New Zealand and the USMC and a man named Patrick Diehl.
Someone meeting him for the first time would probably describe mr Diehl as a detective. With his long trench coat, 41 caliber S&W 57 revolver in a shoulder holster and carpetbag full of investigative equipment. His massive build gave him the appearance of a bodybuilder when he took off that long coat. He was the German governments man looking for evidence of the Legion Conspiracy in the United States.
He had been grievously injured during the Martian Invasion. His family had picked a really bad time to take a vacation in England. When The Core published a request for test subjects for her research in enhancing the human body Patrick had been among the first volunteers. It appeared that once The Core had completed her experiments on him she let him go. Leaving no mind control artifacts that would have involuntarily made him a member of the Legion Conspiracy.
The Cores experiments left mr Diehl with a brain that could process information at roughly three times the speed of a normal human, the physical strength of five strong men, superhuman reflexes and speed. Or as he liked to joke, the combined ability of five guys, a calculator and an emu. After the treaty of St Petersburg was signed Eutopian scientists studied his body. It was from him and a few other test subjects of The Core that the Eutopian’s learned the secret to creating emotionally and physically stable cyborgs.
After the many crimes of The Core emerged he had dedicated his life to hunting down the Legion Conspiracy. Once they were mopped up he began studying the technology and culture that had healed him. He was one of the Earth’s preeminent experts on Yonth weaponry so I figured that he would enjoy advising my Martian how best to adapt his suit to combat with our mutual enemy.
It took two weeks of hard work and almost no sleep for Drakous and his assistants to complete the first suit. When Saunders put on the suit for the first time, it fit her with all the elegance of a burlap sack. She seemed unimpressed, “uh, I think this is still sized for Martians big guy.” She kindly stated to Drakous.
He replied, “that’s because you haven’t turned it on yet.” He reached down and pressed the on button on a tablet computer on her wrist. As the computer booted up the show began.
The fabric started clinging to her body. The suit seemed to collapse onto her like liquid plastic into a mould. The surplus fabric collected at her spine and started billowing out into two wings. She made a series of surprised noises as the fabric began to form to her muscles. I asked, “does it hurt?”
She laughed out, “no, the opposite, this is amazing!”
After about two minutes the transformation was complete. The suit was skintight. Which brought up some whistling from the four New Zealand marines who were observing the operation. I yelled at them to shut it and asked Drakous if everything was going according to plan.
“Suit systems are at 100 percent capability. I would like to run some diagnostics while you do some minor exercises ms Saunders.”
She started off with simple, symmetrical movements, then she began running. Much faster than a normal human. Some basic boxing moves followed and eventually she progressed to flight. In order to counter the effects of Earths greater gravity than Mars the hangar was equipped with a low power gravity inhibitor.
In order to fly she needed to put on a set of special goggles and get used to the wings. The wings served a dual purpose, they not only facilitated flight they also worked as heat exchangers. Dumping large amounts of waste heat from the suit.
She started off slow, flexing the wings in every possible position. It took four hours before Drakous granted permission to fly with the inhibitor on 20% power. When she did she didn’t so much fly as hop. Though rather gracefully.
After another couple of hours she was able to flit around the hangar like a bird. Soon she was able to fly outside the hangar. She took to flight like a duck to water, hmm might be the wrong metaphor there. But the program was progressing so well that Drakous started work on the weapons system and arranged sessions with ninteen more test subjects.
Before we started building an army I wanted to test the system to see if it genuinely offered any advantages over an Eutopian exoskeleton. So I called in a specialist.
Sgt. Graham Pertwee, a marine in the New Zealand military. One of Earth’s premier experts in exoskeleton combat. He had expressed an interest in this suit and had done some consultations with Drakous while he was building the thing. However he had been attending to a family emergency during the early testing of the suit. So when I invited him to hangar 47A for a sparring match after Saunders had decided that she had gotten comfortable enough to handle combat.
He came whirring and clanking into hangar 47a. His uniform was not particularly impressive and the relatively noisy mechanism he was strapped into made him look like a not particularly well built prop from a movie about robots who terrorized the prairie. For all his shoddy appearance when he saw the Martian suit for the first time he laughed, rudely.
“What, I’m supposed to fight her!? Good lord, I can almost see her naughty bits. No, if I hit her I will kill her, I don’t care what you say. You can’t stop the inertia of a hydraulic assisted punch with, whatever the heck this is supposed to be.”
Saunders did not take this well. Her wings flared open and she took off across the room, half running, half flying. She slowed down just enough to grab Sgt. Pertwee by the drag handle on the back of his suit and carry him about twenty feet into the air. dropping him into a barrel of waste oil.
I ran over to him. As he pulled an oil pan off his head he asked. “Can I use live ammunition for this?”
“No sergeant, hand to hand only.”
“Aargh! this is impossible, she is up there and I don’t have a jet pack on this suit.”
Saunders landed and beckoned for attack, “ready when you are little man.”
I got out of the way as Pertwee wiped off the oil and picked up a large wrench. The sergeant had over a decade of training and experience with fighting in exoskeletons. Saunders had no combat experience and the suit she was wearing had not even existed a few days ago.
After about a minute it was clear that Saunders was just playing with poor Pertwee. Her suit was more advanced than his in every way. It not only enhanced her strength, but also her speed. After his first great swing with the wrench she had smacked it out of his hand. Then landed a punch right on his chest. She danced around his attacks while landing punishing blows to his shoulders and rib cage. If she kept this up much longer the sergeant would die, so I shouted. “Knock it off, I have seen enough!”
Saunders leapt backwards from the sergeant. Who crumpled to the polished concrete floor in severe pain. As he collapsed he spread out like an oil slick, leaking blood out of several places. His armor had probably saved his life, but he was going to need to spend time in an infirmary. As he was unbuckled from his suit and hoisted into a stretcher he waved goodbye to Saunders. He spit out a couple of teeth and said to no one in particular. “I want the next Martian suit please, I don’t care if it looks silly anymore.”
Once Drakous was satisfied with the workings of the suit he started working on the weapons suite. Most Martian weapons systems came across as simple and powerful. What Drakous put on the suit seemed overly complicated. That was probably because other Martian weapons had been refined over the course of centuries. This was the work of desperate designers throwing everything at a wall and seeing what would stick. The original system incorporated experimental compact heat rays, grenade launchers, an amazingly advanced sensor suite, and a sword forged out of a strange mixture of metals and ceramics. Customized to the users personal combat and ascetic preferences. Drakous discarded the grenade launcher and substituted the heat rays with a madness gun and a disintegrator. Though he decided to keep the sword. Saunders chose a variation of a short sword with a rapier type hilt.
Saunders could use the weapons on the ground fairly easily. Watching her use the sword was poetry in motion. It was a relatively heavy thing but her suit allowed her to whip it around as though it was as light as a stalk of wheat. Using the weapons and the suit seamlessly proved to be quite a challenge at first. This would eventually be overcome by training. While she honed her weapons skills Drakous did 5meo sessions in a little room in the back of hangar 47A. With nine other employees, Sgt. Pertwee and Mr Diehl Drakous created his own little company within the IEC.
As he predicted the toad squeezings could be synthesized in our laboratories. He sent the recipe for the drug and most of his notes on 5meo to practically every laboratory from here to Jupiter. The recipe for Ultra-Fiber was kept a company secret. We were going to make a ton of money off of that once we worked out how to make large quantities of the stuff.
Before doing a session with a volunteer he always explained that the key factors in getting the most out of the drug. Like symmetrical body position and a willingness to let go and embrace a so called non-dual state. Failure to do so could results in some pretty wicked hallucinations.
Some were able to take to it and let go, others… It’s a jarring thing to hear someone who you worked with for years. An upright, confident, conservative fellow start screaming like a man possessed accusing everyone around them of all manner of crimes. Or of being lizard people, or some other act of lunacy. Drakous explained that the process unwound all manner of issues lying within people’s minds. Sometimes it brought up horrifying traumas buried for years all at once. The process was inherently unpredictable. Sometimes, though not often, nothing happened at all.
Drakous was exhausted by all this. A single session every day for a week left him completely drained. One day after a somewhat successful session with an engineer I told him that he was going to have to take a couple days off. As I wrapped him up in a blanket. I was wondering to myself why people reacted so differently. I didn’t say anything but Drakous explained.
“It’s the nature of the process, it can only work if you allow it to work. As potent as this medicine is it cannot force you to do anything you do not want to do.”
“How do you know that I was thinking about that?”
“I could tell.”
“Is this stuff making you psychic?”
“No, I can read you. I can see everything in your mind written on your face. It’s incredible, I can see everything now. All the cruelty, all the insanity, all the stupidity, all the glory, the achievements. Of you, of me, it’s all one, one consciousness. So alone, so it divided into so many forms.”
I smiled at him, I was starting to get a little nervous because he sounded like a lunatic.
In an alarmingly deep voice he stated. “You don’t understand yet, but you will, in time. You will see it all for yourself. So will everyone else. Goodnight Katy.”
I looked right into in his ridiculously big eyes and kindly replied. “Goodnight Drakous.”
I was starting to see things, swirling patterns all around me as I walked home that night. What he was saying was so bizarre, but so familiar. That moment when I touched the consciousness of that Singer. All this seemed so similar. What were the odds that the ramblings of a drug addled Martian would sound so similar as to be almost identical to the perspectives of the oldest, most technologically and intellectually advanced species known in the known universe? It seemed to state that there was some deep hidden truth of the nature of reality that I, I refused to acknowledge. Though it was staring me in the face.
As much trouble as my higher brain functions were having processing this, the rest of my body seemed to be going along with this new enlightenment wether I was aware of it or not. That night as I looked in the mirror before brushing my teeth I was shocked to see a different set of eyes looking back at me.
At first I wanted to scream, I had not spent much time in my life looking into mirrors. I had never liked how my eyes looked, now they burned. The flame was fainter than those I had been looking into over the past few weeks. But they burned nonetheless. Here was visible proof that the process was affecting me in spite of the fact that I had not been dosed. That being said I still couldn’t process what I was seeing. I laughed compulsively, I had no idea why. Then I heard Drakous’s voice. “You don’t understand yet, but you will.”
This was all getting crazier and crazier. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.
I showed up at work the next day a little early. Drakous was still sleeping but I wanted to see the progress of the new weapons on the suit. Ms Saunders had most of the weapons figured out and gave a very impressive demonstration. Flying out of sight up to 4000 feet. Then coming down and doing an attack run with her disintegrators on a firing range. She had excellent control of the flight systems. Working her way through an aerial obstacle course of flares, drones and flash bangs fired by a bunch of workers at her.
She landed and asked. “So, what do you think?”
“Extremely impressive, but I have to ask, how is this going to help us take down The Core? Flying around is neat but I think she would still make a flambé of anyone who fought her, even with these weapons.”
“Well, isn’t it your job to come up with the tactics? And mine to test the weapons, boss?”
“Not more than a month ago your job was to do paperwork and take messages. And this company was supposed to be getting out of weapons manufacturing.”
“Well, priorities change, don’t they?”
I sighed and replied, “they certainly do. So how is the training of the others progressing?”
Saunders didn’t have an answer for me yet. Drakous had done sessions with nineteen other volunteers, of them only three had decided to continue on with learning how to use the suit. After using 5meo a volunteer had to spend some time analyzing their life and the result of that analysis often led them to do something besides continuing on with learning how to use the suit.
This was a similar problem to what the Martian military had encountered with 5meo. So what were we going to do with this? Drakous drove himself into the ground working with the stream of volunteers who came to hangar 47a. After two and a half months we had a force of thirty volunteers who could use the Martian exoskeleton weapon system effectively. By this time I felt so guilty about making Drakous and his specialists work 24/7 that I made a call, we were going to take down The Core with what we had at hand. We were going to launch an assault on her compound.
While I was contemplating the assault Saunders asked. “So have you figured out how to make more of this fabric and come up with a name for this outfit?”
I replied, “the synthesizing of this fabric is really complicated. But I have a few machines on order that should help with this. As for the name, what did the Martians call it?”
“Some eighteen letter acronym that doesn’t translate into English at all. You know how the Martians love their acronyms.”
“Alright, what do you and Drakous call it?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Her wings burst open and she fluttered into the air. “Drakous and I call it the Angel Weapons System, Mark 2.”
“Well Amanda, that sounds like as good a name as any.”