Authors: Gavin E Parker
See The Worlds
Version 1.0.7 published
Copyright © 2015 by Gavin
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See The Worlds
Gavin E Parker
Looking back on it now, I still can’t decide
whether coming to Mars was a good thing or a bad thing. I’d volunteered, kinda,
so I must have thought it was a good idea at the time. Now though, I’m not so
I’d grown up in a small seaside town on the south
coast of England. Nothing had happened there for about two hundred years. Joining
the army was my ticket out. There were risks, of course. We were in the
middle of a major war, after all. But I thought that I’d get sent to the
mainland USAN and, with any luck, get stationed in one of sheds there. Even if
I did draw the short straw and get sent into a battle zone it would still be
pretty safe. Forward Support Operations were all about logistics and civilian
support; any fighting would still be by drone. It wasn’t like I’d signed up
for the Commander Program, or anything.
I don’t remember when I met Greeley. I think it
was in basic, but it might have been on the bus or maybe even somewhere before
that. He always made me laugh - still does. He was from some
woebegone shithole like me, only he was mainland. I think he was from Ohio or
somewhere. We never really went into that sort of thing. We’d joined the army
to get away from all that stuff, so we never spoke about it much.
Greeley was the smartest idiot I’ve ever met. He
thinks fast, sees all the angles. But in a strange way he’s kinda dumb, too,
but funny with it. Sometimes I think he just puts it on to make me laugh.
Other times I think maybe he really is as much of an idiot as he seems. I
We made it through basic and we were sent to
Kentucky, to the sheds. We were going to be piloting drones operating out of a
forward base near the Pakistan border in northern India. It was a good gig.
Most of the time we were doing circuit training, or team sports. Now and then
we’d have to go into the IVRs and pilot drones, when there was a big mission on
I wasn’t bored in the sheds, or anything. It was
what I’d signed up for. I’d made it out of my hometown, seen a bit of the
world and was having a great time. I was getting paid for it, too. But one
day they asked if any of us would be interested in a Mars posting. Guys got
rotated out every two or four years and there was a batch due out in few
months’ time. The garrison on Mars wasn’t big enough for a whole battalion, but
when a battalion was selected for the Mars posting it would be asked to provide
volunteers. Our group had been selected this time. It would be a weird gig - a
year of the tour would be spent just getting there and back.
Tours to Mars were always oversubscribed. It was
a cushy job. You got to experience space travel, and you got to spend a year
on an interplanetary cruise ship doing pretty much nothing. So what they did
was gather the names of the volunteers and then just select the required number
at random. Pulled them out of a hat, or something.
My number came up, and Greeley’s.
A few weeks after that we were pulled off our
usual duties and sent for some advanced training. We thought it was going to
be space warfare, low-gravity fighting and stuff like that. To be fair,
there was a little, at the beginning. We spent a bit of time in an AG room, where
they lowered the gravity until it was like Mars. That was great. We could
jump really high. Greeley did some amazing backflips. But that was just one
morning. What we did mostly in our Advanced Mars Training was study policing.
That’s right, we were going a hundred and forty
million miles to arrest shoplifters. Couldn’t the locals take care of that
themselves? Well, yes and no. The truth is there is no need for a USAN
garrison on Mars. Venkdt and the others can take care of their own. There’s
no military threat out there, and Venkdt Security can handle any policing they
The garrison was there for appearances only.
Back in the old days it wasn’t even a garrison - it used to be the USAN
Research Center. It was about thirty scientists working away at various
projects, trying to figure if Mars was habitable in the long run, what the
impact of the low gravity and confined living conditions might be on human
After Venkdt arrived in 2143 the Research
Center’s raison d'être faded away. Venkdt’s operation expanded so fast that
they ended up doing the things that the Research Center was researching the
viability of. Pretty soon the Venkdt operation dwarfed the Research Center,
and the scientists were called home. In their stead the USAN put a garrison on
It was one of those decisions that I guess must
have felt right, even though there was no logical justification for it. It was
small, to be sure, with just over two hundred personnel. But that was still
two hundred people, a long way from home and with nothing to do.
As a sort of post-hoc justification for the
garrison they fell to the role of an informal police force. They flew the
flag, reminded everyone that Marineris and the rest of Mars was an outpost of
the USAN, and then calmed domestic disturbances and threw old soaks into the
drunk tank on a Friday night.
It was a huge waste of tax-payers’ money in
truth, but it’s what they had been doing for over a hundred years and it just
seemed like one of those normal things that nobody questions. It’s what we had
to train for, anyway.
The launch was amazing. I’d been on sub-orbital
flights before but that was something else. Greeley slept through it, or at
least he pretended to. He had to have been faking it. The sound, the
vibrations were enough to wake the dead. I loved it. You don’t get excitement
like that in southern England.
The HLV took us out to the solar orbiter. We
transferred to that, and that was the ship that took us to Mars. We were on
there for six months, which was fine by me. They had artificial gravity, AG,
which they subtly lowered over the course of the journey. By the time we
reached Mars we were at 0.38 Earth gravity, ready for life on the surface.
There wasn’t much to do on the orbiter. There
was a gym and some IVRs, so we did a bit of training in them. Some of the time
we did ‘enhanced sleep’. That involved taking some pills and hooking yourself
up to some monitoring equipment. I think there was something that sent waves
into your head, or something, too. Anyway, you could sleep for two or three
days at a time, and that helped to shorten the journey a bit.
At Mars we transferred to a local shuttle craft,
and that took us down to the surface. That was another wild ride. From there
we went to the garrison, and that’s where we met Colonel Shaw.
Colonel Katrina Shaw was a good commanding
officer. I liked her from the off. That first day on the parade ground, she
gave a short speech and she seemed like a straight up sort of character. I
think she knew that Mars was a bullshit posting but she wasn’t going to let
that be an excuse for any slackness or shirking. She was army to the core, so
I felt like we knew where we stood with her.
Her two subordinates were poles apart. Major
Edley seemed fine. Like Shaw, she was old school and down the line. She
seemed to get that it was a weird gig, but that we had to maintain standards
and do our part and get to the end of it.
The other guy, Major Bowers, was a different
case. He seemed to take it seriously. Shaw and Edley seemed to know that
there was a job to be done, and we had to do it to an acceptably high standard,
and that beyond that it was just a case of seeing the tour out.
Bowers, though, seemed to take everything way too
seriously. Everything, and I mean every little thing, mattered to him. It
wasn’t just about maintaining discipline. It mattered to him that your creases
were out of line. It mattered to him that your cap wasn’t quite straight. He
actually thought we were there for a reason. Shaw and Edley were soldiers like
the rest of us, but they were human beings too. Bowers was just a soldier.
I lucked out and ended up in the same squad as
Greeley. We were under Major Edley, which was another piece of good fortune,
but we still had to deal with Bowers from time to time. It might be an
impromptu kit inspection or extraordinary detail or something, but he could be
relied on to be a pain in the ass. I never liked that guy.
We settled in quickly. Within a few days we were
going out into Marineris on patrols or calls. It was all pretty lightweight
stuff. I had a cousin in the police on Earth and what we did was a walk in the
park compared the stories he had told me about policing London.
Although there was the occasional theft or
domestic bust-up most of what we did involved the bars, especially on
Friday and Saturday nights. I’d heard that in the early days of settlement
alcohol had been banned. I don’t know whose idea it was to lift that ban, but
sometimes on a Friday night I’d wish they had never been born.
Things were good on Mars. We got all the streams
from Earth, we were a long way from the war and living was easy. Now and then
I felt a little guilty watching the news from home. World War IV was in its fifth
year by then and, although the USAN military were relatively safe, it still
felt like we were dodging our duty out here on this cushy posting.
There was a new thing going on, too. It was
called the Commander Program, and it was all over the news. Someone had the
great idea that our soldiers were too safe, or something. Wouldn’t it be great
to roll back a hundred and fifty years of technological development and put
soldiers back on the battlefield? Somehow this madness had caught on and there
were now special forces where mechs were piloted - I mean
literally, not remotely - by soldiers on the battlefield. They
dressed it up by talking about situational awareness and stuff like that, but
to me it just seemed like macho bullshit. Soldiering was risky business, we
all knew that. Peacekeeping forces were regularly attacked, and it wasn’t unknown
for forward support bases to be overrun. But deliberately putting soldiers at
the heart of the fighting just seemed barbaric and unnecessary. They were all
volunteers, too. Probably jock assholes, trying to impress each other.
After a year I was used to living on Mars. I’d
adapted to the gravity and I didn’t miss open outdoor spaces as much as I
thought I would. The garrison was in central Marineris, which was the only
conurbation on Mars. There were a few far-flung outposts with a
smattering of personnel, but Marineris was where it was at for humans on Mars.
Marineris was bigger than I had expected. The
population was about ninety thousand or so, and it covered a good few square
kilometres. Most of the buildings were underground, with domes or skylights at
the surface. The road system was dropped below ground, again with Plexiglas
overhead, allowing natural light.
There were a few large public domes in Marineris,
which were as close as you could get to an outdoor space. They tended to be parks
or bathing areas, though I heard there were some private ones for fancy
So life on Mars was good for a young USAN
soldier. Stay out of Bowers’ way, put your hours in and wait for your tour to
play itself out. That was all we had to do.
I guess it all changed part of the way through
’41. Charles Venkdt, the top boy at Venkdt Mars Corp, decided that he was
going to rock the boat and pull Mars out of the USAN. I didn’t even pick up on
it at first. I’ve never followed the news all that closely and the odd bits I
did hear about it just seemed ridiculous. The war had just ended at home and I
suppose lots of things were changing. I guess this crazy idea just got jumbled
up in all of that and I didn’t really take it seriously.
One day we were called to the parade ground and Colonel
Shaw addressed us all directly. The only time she had done that before was
when she told us the war was over. We already knew that anyway, but she made
the formal speech and we got extra chow that evening. But this other time it
all seemed very serious. We were to be on high alert and were not to leave the
garrison. All leave was cancelled. Greeley said it was a revolution, and we’d
have to suppress it. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.
So we were cooped up at the garrison, where
nothing much happened for a couple of months. The rest of Mars was going
independence crazy, and eventually they got their way. They had an election,
or something, and declared independence. That left Colonel Shaw twitchy, and
the rest of us, too.
Greeley told me about this thing. I slept
through it, but apparently some woman from Vendkt Security turned up in the
middle of the night with troops and transports and demanded to speak to Colonel
Shaw. She wanted to take control of the garrison, or take Colonel Shaw
prisoner or something, but Colonel Shaw told her to get lost. Greeley said he
saw them nose to nose. He said he thought Colonel Shaw was going to swing a
punch, but in the end she backed off and the Martian woman left.
This all sounded crazy to me. I’d signed up for
a good life in the USAN army, and I’d lucked out with one of the cushiest
postings going. Now our commanding officer was being threatened and we were
holed up like it was some sort of medieval siege.
Well, I thought, that was surreal, but the next
day it got worse.