Next Part (Two) | Index
Ghale Putnum (H minus two months)
"Once we were Kings. Back before..." Martin waved a liver-spotted hand at the screen. Blackened bones and corpses littered it. "Back before we did this to our own world."
All I could do was nod and gaze upon the nuclear wastes we had wrought.
"Salt the earth, so that our enemy could never have it." He finished, his voice still a bit wet with tears. "This is poor soil to expect to plant the seeds of hope."
"Martin, that's Mars." I corrected.
The older man glared up at me. "Semantics, Ghale."
We both continued to look at feed from the Martian surface. The silence didn't grow awkward, but Martin remained fixated by the feed of charred remains. Irradiated glass in the corner of the feed glinted. There was no audio, but I imagined the crackle-hiss of the Transit.
"The Zeus Protocol always had to be an option." I said aloud, although it was mostly to myself. I still had my doubts. I tried to not let them show. Martin didn't need to add my doubts to his growing pile.
"Always had to be an option." Martin shook his head. "Thirty years ago we first learn to create the Transit. Damn miracle. Saved the planet from overpopulation. Now we can kill our own colonies in a blink of an eye."
"We had no choice once they reached Mars." I repeated. I sat down next to him. "They can't make use of irradiated sites, Martin. As Director, you know that. Zeus Protocol-"
"-Is something I regret doing." Martin sighed. "Necessary. Any means necessary. Ghale, look at the charred bones of our victims and tell me, did any means necessary to win mean anything to them?"
"I-" I tried not to let the words out.
"I'm sorry, Ghale. Forgive me." The older man sat up. "So many new wonders we've made, yet we can't find a way to win this war. Nothing stops them, nothing but irradiating our own people and territory. We use a Transit to send in a thermonuclear device. An instant later, we get a feed like that back."
"We didn't have a choice, Martin."
"It isn't a victory either Ghale. The UN Security Council wants a victory." Martin flicked a hand, shutting the feed off. "China and Russia both had to declare martial law. The European Union is livestreaming the executions of protestors and those advocating we surrender like the Colonists on New Washington did. We need something to prove to what's left of humanity we are going to survive this."
My eyes went wide at the thought of that. New Washington had been one of the hundreds of new colony worlds humans had created with Transit technology. Instant travel from one part of space to another star had been simple. Humans spread out in the largest steps we'd ever taken.
Before we met the Enemy. Before the war. What was turning into what looked like the Last War humanity would ever see.
"They don't know what joining the enemy like New Washington is like." I shook my head. "Killing them won't-"
"You see the last count?" Martin pointed at a number behind him. 1,789,567,202.
"Less than two billion." I shuddered. Of course I'd seen it. Everyone in the Pygmalion Program saw it. Everyday. Every stream or vid on the Net showed it. It livetweeted each time it updated. Almost every single remaining human on earth had subscribed it.
The Count. Less than two billion humans alive. No more than that. Each time someone died, it went down. An artificial intelligent algorithm maintained the count. Its heuristics had been confirmed to be significantly accurate.
"Yeah. Losing five hundred million is driving things even more out of control than before, Ghale." Martin flipped through a series of screens. "So we need to do something. We have to do something. We can't- no we won't resort to the Zeus Protocol again."
I paused. "The Pygmalion Program was created as a civilian engineering effort, Martin. We don't control whether or not the UN security council uses the Zeus Protocol. I assume you want to deploy one of the projects that is near-ready?"
Martin brought up a map of the entire martian surface. Half of the red planet looked charred from the nuclear fallout. Within the brown remnants outside that, what looked like purple veins clumped on one part of the surface. "They still are on Mars. We've destroyed our major cities there. Yet they haven't left yet."
"Ghale, we've been ordered to go ahead." He waved a hand at the clump of knotted purple veins on the martian map. "We will launch immediately."
"Which projects sir?" I gazed up at the map, uncertain.
"All that are at ready or near-ready status." Martin's eyes looked at me with cold certainty. "We've been ordered to all remaining Transit facilities here to launch a response to the Zeus Protocol."
"All?" I blinked. "But- I thought the Security Council thought conventional means could work this close-"
I stopped myself. No. They didn't. We were out of conventional means.
"Yes." Martin stood up, revealing his age. "I've been director here since we began eleven years ago, Ghale. We were to play God, or at least find a way to steal her might long enough to save ourselves."
"Well. We can use most of Project Everyman, but most of their numbers are too low, though to make a concentrated force." I flipped through project files. "Project Athena has been used in the field, but I think they might have heavier weapons they still have been experimenting with. And Project Erebus can't overcome technical issues. They don't know if it even work."
"What about Hecate?" Martin flipped their file to the main screen. I tried to hide my wince.
"Director Putnam still reports that they are making progress." I paused. Martin looked at me. I tried not to stammer for breath. Control came over me and I continued. "Hecate is... whether they can proceed... is still up in the air."
Martin cocked an eyebrow. "Your sister isn't going to bite you, Ghale."
I sighed. "She and I can work together, Martin."
"I know you can. You have to." Martin paused. "Hecate is her domain, but you and I run the Program. The Board sees that we keep the ship afloat."
I told my BrainSys to send a text to Project Hecate's secretary bot. Enough of a message to tell them I would be Transiting over to them in the next hour.
"I can look into Miri for you." Martin offered. "You can handle coordinating the launch, and I can get an assessment of Miri and Hecate's progress."
"No, Martin." I shook my head. "We both know you shouldn't be Transiting. I can handle it."
Martin smiled a bit. He'd prefer coordinating the other projects. His specialty, even after he first had been diagnosed with skin cancer, had been organization. He should've retired. Martin came out of retirement for the project.
"Good." Martin sat back into his chair. "No matter what Ghale, you need to her to understand. We need a victory and this is the chance for us to prove ourselves."
I nodded. I heard the words. But my thoughts went over and over Miri's project. Any means necessary. The Pygmalion Program had been intended to break any rule or restriction that the UN had created in the centuries past. That part was kinda scary. Cloning, human genetic manipulation and probably the most horrific monsters my little sister could dream up.
But worse though, was that I hadn't seen her in person in eleven years. Eleven years... and I talking to her now, after all that silent time, even in a age of nonstop digital contact seemed frightening. My little sister was the only person in the world who could scare the hell out of me without even being in the room.
Now humanity needed me to talk with my estranged sister in order to save it.
This who section was born of the line "Once we were kings." Its a kind of statement, invoking symbolism, although it might sound sexist in a way. Oh well.
If you enjoyed this first draft of In Transit Monsters, please share or consider subscribing to the newsletter for updates when the next one gets posted. I don't know what this is yet. I don't know if it's a short story or a crazy rambling or what. Iron Justice also needs a ending. And Crux, as always being Crux, will get its fair share of content focus too.
I want to tell a different kind of SciFi story. I'm tired of Frankensteins and not confronting our issues with our technology in our fiction. I'm tired of the old style of white men saving the world. Humanity needs new myths. I hope I can at least dream of doing that.
I only regret not having a image to go with this one. But, maybe you'll not need it.