Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mars Rising by Mark David Major

at 6:30 AM

1 At the Threshold of the Gate

T

he threshold was abstract, without physical substance. Its definition was relative. Beyond it in all directions lay a vast expanse of vacuum. Its dominant characteristics were silence, unending night, and deathly

cold. The zone defined by this boundary was significant in its symbolism. All military craft of the Sovereignty were legally barred from entering or traversing this forbidden zone. It was a law that had been held sacrosanct for hundreds of years. The threshold was called the y’Alene Line. The orbit of the solitary Terran moon projected into three dimensions to form an eccentric, elliptical sphere surrounding the birthplace and heart of the Sovereignty marked its location. Though Terra’s moon was the hub of all space faring craft in the Sovereignty, it was treason for any military craft to venture closer to Terra than the natural satellite itself.

____________

The lights dimmed to signify the rotation of ordered life on the ship into nighttime. The low rumbling of ship’s engines was the only indication of the destructive force harnessed within its hull. It was the command ship of a powerful armada. A young Martian lieutenant roamed around the bridge of the destroyer. The lieutenant hobbled as he walked to favor his left knee. It was a legacy of the Mars campaign a few years prior to this moment. He wandered behind every station and paused to observe the precise efforts of the soldiers attending to their duties. Once he had completed his circuit, the lieutenant turned away from the activity on the bridge and exited its confines. His escape accomplished, he then made his way with purpose through the mechanical intestines of the destroyer. His destination was the quarters of his captain.

When the lieutenant entered, the captain was sitting in front of a small desk, one of the few furnishings in the officer’s sparse quarters. His commanding officer was sipping a warm drink laced with a sugary depressant. An infinitesimal amount of steam, barely visible to the naked eye, was rising from the dark liquid. Casually draped over his shoulders and opened across the middle of the chest of the burly man was unbuttoned tunic displaying the captain’s military rank. The lieutenant offered a brief report.

“It’s quiet, Captain. Nothing to report on telemetry.”
“Hardly surprising. Everything is proceeding as expected,” replied the captain, sounding unconcerned, a tone matched by his demeanor. He only then looked up from the report he was reading to briefly appraise the drink before taking another sip of the sweet substance.
“I wish I had your confidence. He has been mistaken before, you know, sometimes badly. Planitias often says daring is the Commander’s greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness.”
“Yes,” muttered the captain, the lack of concern in his voice now betraying boredom, “and if his friends had not been there to caution him, we would’ve found ourselves in far deeper trouble. But Planitias isn’t here now and I’m pleased to be rid of that space garbage, if only for a little while.” He paused, looked up, and casually appraised the lieutenant. “Spare me your wisdom from the mouth of that wretched man-whore.”
u’Loth Planitias, the most experienced of the Commander’s counselors and his companion since their first days in the military on Mars was disliked, even despised, by the captain and other career military officers like him. Planitias’ fascination with young boys and even younger girls, as well as his capacity for ample servings of vintage spirits, revolted them. The drinking of Planitias often tripped over into excess that foreshadowed trouble of some sort, usually from the irrepressible Martian himself. The criticism was fair enough for those still devoted to the more traditional nuances of polite behavior in the Sovereignty. Despite his weaknesses, Planitias also possessed strengths. For all of his self-indulgence and so-called perversions, he had courage and nerve in abundance. It was a fact that the ordinary soldiers adored Planitias. They found amusement in the constant parade of scented nymphs, whether male or female, who always seemed to orbit about him. Planitias often and loudly professed to adore his soldiers. Many suspected that on these occasions he was merely an actor on the stage reciting the lines others had written for him. He played the role with panache and vigor but, to some, it was also clear that with possible exception of the Commander, Planitias cared about no one but himself. If it were in his best interests, Planitias would slit anyone’s throat without provocation.
“I left the Commander’s cabin about an hour ago,” said the Captain, “he was drinking something to help him sleep. One of his nieces, I don’t know which one, was fawning over him. She’s a cupful of sweetness I’d drink from any day, certainly sweeter than the old crow he married. I’m afraid she will be disappointed,” said the captain. He emphasized the word ‘will’ without ever clarifying whether the niece or wife would bear the disappointment. He returned his attention to reading the report.
“He issued the orders,” the lieutenant relayed, “and sent a communiqué to proclaim his intentions were honorable and his cause righteous, all in the name of justice and protection of the people.”
The captain sighed.
“You can also spare me the political propaganda. When we fight, it will be for his career and honor as well as our own. If I can kill just a few of my creditors, the universe will be a sweeter place. Do you know how much debt I carry now?”
The captain continued without waiting for a response from the lieutenant. “Neither do I. But it seems I’m spiraling closer and closer to Vassalage. Soon, selling my sons into Vassalage will be the only option left to me or, God forbid, my daughter.”
“Surely you can take advantage of the debt forgiveness for military personnel secured by the Commander from the council?”
“Only if I resign my rank and re-enlist at the bottom rung of the ladder I’ve spent a lifetime climbing. The devil is in the details of that outstanding piece of legislation passed by the council,” the sarcasm in the captain’s voice was plain. “It served Ran’s purpose at the time. I can only hope it will be soon rectified by the Commander.”
The captain paused. He looked up again to acknowledge the lieutenant’s presence. “Tomorrow will also be quiet. Crossing the y’Alene Line is merely symbolic. The Commander already ordered a regiment of y’Hi’dean to the lunar settlements. Planitias arrived there yesterday. I heard he had to flee Terra disguised as a vassal. I would’ve liked to have seen that,” said the obviously amused and now smirking Captain.
“I suppose the Commander is waiting for him,” theorized the lieutenant. “It explains the reason of our delay.”
“No. The reason for our delay was to force his opponents on the council to loudly and publicly proclaim their commitment to his destruction and disgrace. The expulsion of Planitias from the council is the pivot,” the captain gestured with his fingers crooked in the form of a circle, “on which everything else will now turn. Now he can argue he was forced into this action, that it was self-defense.”
“Isn’t it?”

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Genre – Science Fiction

Rating – PG13

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