The overhead light buzzed and blinked on, blinding her eyes and her brain.
“Good Morning Shelby,” chimed the Rover AI.
“Really? Is it really a good morning?” she said, eyes half closed, and her hair a mess.
“The weather looks good today,” the AI was smart enough not to argue with her.
Shelby fell forward slightly and grabbed onto the toilet. The cramped bathroom on the rover lurched as it navigated the rough terrain.
“Milo, are you messing with the route again,” she shouted through the bathroom door.
“I’m trying to find a route back that will take us past the house,” said Milo.
Shelby sprayed a fine mist of water onto her face and wiped it with the cloth and hung it over the dehydrator. The small bathroom barely contained her tall slender frame, it was impossible to brush her long blue hair without keeping the door open.
She squinted in the mirror at her reflection, looking closely at the shaven side of her head. She applied a some cream to the radiation damage, happy that it looked more like a fashion statement, rather than the scar it was. She tied up her hair in a loose bun on top of her head, ready for her helmet.
Shelby sat down on the toilet and had her morning pee, she noticed the Toilet Personal Health Diagnostics Panel flashing red.
Pressing the red button on the Health panel, she read the display in disbelief.
‘Illegal Human Conception in Violation of Sub-ordinance 35.1 of your Detention Agreement. You are to report immediately for Re-habitation back to Max Security on earth.’
“Oh shit. It worked” Shelby dropped her head in her hands, squashed her palms into her eyes.
She slid open the thin toilet door and looked at Milo’s back as he was working on the Computer Table, studying pings from the radar survey.
The Rover was a tube 6 feet wide, by 15 feet long. After a while you could got used to the smell in the airtight Rover, but never anyone else’s. It had everything needed to keep a man and a woman alive for 2 months on the surface, any longer and they were bound to kill each other.
“It worked.” She said in a whisper, hardly believing her own words as they left her mouth.
Milo turned, and stood, hunched over to mind the low height.
“The Rover AI picked up a 35.1 Violation.” looking at Milo, looking into his eyes to make sure he still felt the same way.
He jumped forward, grabbed Shelby and lifted her high, banging her head against the light fitting in excitement.
“Don’t get carried away, we still got to deal with the troopers.” Said Shelby.
“Wait a sec.” Milo held up his hand, went over to his desk, and scratched through a drawer.
He turned around, and got down on one knee. “Milo, stand up what are you doing.” Said Shelby.
Milo held out a small metal ring that he made himself. “I have loved you from the moment I met you, Shelby Ford, will you marry me, and make us a happy family.”
Shelby bent down, and picked up Milo, “I know you love me, but we have a serious problem.”
Milo looked as if he had been shot in the heart. “Wait, ok, we can wait.” He put the ring down on the table, and pretended to be busy with the computer.
“We are going to have to sneak back home, can you disconnect the Tracking Beacon?” Said Shelby.
“Already on it.” Said Milo.
“Sir, um excuse me Deputy Commander Ryker!” Said the small man, shouting over Beethoven’s 9th symphony playing loudly.
The small office was on the ground floor, behind the supply depot, and next to the noisiest scrubber on Mars. Ryker had always wondered what he had done to deserve this office.
“We have a 35.1 in the Hellas Basin!” Mouthing the words over the loud noise.
Ryker turned the music down, sat up, straightened his navy blue tunic and effected the most patient smile he could.
“Ok Mr. Fingus. I’ll give you a minute.” Said Ryker.
“Never before in the entire 20 cycle history of the Mars Penal Colony has there been a Section 35.1 and you are telling me you have found one.”
“We got a notification from the Rovers Personal Health Diagnostic System. Two notifications in fact. And they have switched off their tracking beacon.” He said squirming in his boots.
Ryker leaned forward, put his hands to his temple, and thought for a second.
“Pull up their files, let’s see who we are dealing with.”
The holographic display flicker to life and showed a male and female face.
Milo Rudovsky: Male 21, Arrested London Food Riots of ’43, Convicted under Protest, and Food Hoarding laws and sentenced to 40 cycles. He is serving a reduced sentence of 3 cycles as Class 4.
That’s strange, the girl, Shelby Ford, she’s 19, but her file is classified, just says convicted, sentenced to 55 Years to life, Class 4.
Ryker leaned forward looking closely at Shelby, at her tough but beautiful features, at how her half head of hair reminded him of the fashion the kids enjoyed back on Earth.
Ryker stood face to face with the hologram of Shelby’s face and he whispered to it. “You were so young when they sentenced you to life. What did you do, to be sent out here to Redemption?”
Turning back to Fingus, Ryker said. “Interrogate the Rover AI, double check the results and I’ll go talk to the boss.”
Ryker stood up from his console and walked over to the lift, and traveled up the 10 floors to the Boss’s personal suite. He entered the upper level suite, impressed with its clear glass aerial overview of all 8 of the Mars Operational Districts covered under domes.
“Mike we have a problem.” Said Ryker standing at attention talking to the back of the chair.
Sundance swung his blood red, high backed chair, around and glared at Ryker. He hated that his deputy was forced upon him, and more than that hated that Officer Protocol allowed first name basis in private, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“What is it.” He said with clear disdain in his voice, leaning back is his chair, looking at something on the far wall.
“We seem to have a 35.1, we are busy double checking now.” Said Ryker.
The Commander leapt to his feet, and began to pace up and down. “We have never had a 35.1 before, how sure are you.”
“It looks pretty tight, boss” The commander winced at the casual tone.
“We are being audited next week, I’m up for the Council Chairmans position, and a ticket off this shitpile, I can’t afford any problems now.” Said the commander, shaking his head at his bad luck.
The Commander stopped pacing and looked at Ryker. “Where are they?”
“Hellas Basin, on a Towed Radar Scan looking for water.”
“Send the Troopers and make sure there is no evidence left come next week when the Trans Orbit arrives with our guests, we don’t want this to come out when the audit starts.” The Commander lifted his chin, problem solved.
“Mike, we can’t do that. Lets bring them in, we can run a few tests and figure out how this happened before we Re-hab them back to Max Security.”
“Do you know how much is riding on the Sterilization program back home. Trillions of dollars! Earth needs a solution, and we have proven that it can work. We can’t afford to mess that up now!” Said the Commander slamming his fist on the desk.
“Sir, please, we lock these kids up together in a Tin-can for months on end, it’s bound to happen.” Sundance’s expression was unmoved, dismissive.
“They are out there doing our dirty work for us on the surface because we are to shit-scared of the radiation. It’s bound to happen sooner or later. It’s not their fault.”
“Are you questioning a direct order Ryker?! Because it sounds like that is what you are doing!” Said the Commander, red in the face, and his hands shaking with anger.
Pressing the intercom on his desk, set to all stations, he looked Ryker in the eye:
“All stations this is Senior Commander Mike Sundance, Advance Earth Liaison, and Senior Mars Exploitation Council Member. It has come to my attention that we have a 35.1 loose on the surface. It is my direct orders that they are to be captured with immediate effect, should these criminal terrorists resist arrest in any way, then they are to be neutralized with extreme prejudice.”
“Oh and another thing, if anyone is found to be working against the spirit of this order they are to be arrested and charged with treason.”
“That is all.”
Sundance smiled at Ryker with death in his eyes, sat down and turned his blood red chair around.
“Um Shelby, we got a problem.” Said Milo over the radio.
Sweat beads formed on her forehead, slowly rolling down into her eyes, burning. The rover had become stuck on a large boulder in a field full of boulders. Milo was hiking ahead to look for a route out.
“I’m a bit busy right now, hang on.” She yanked on the pry bar, and the Rover moved a little.
Shelby was on her back under the rover, trying to free it with a long pry bar. She had to be very careful around the Rover Power unit under the rover, a short circuit would release all the power stored in the battery with a flash and a pretty big bang.
“Get inside the Rover now.” The urgency in his voice clear over the radio.
“Wait, what.” She slid out from under the Rover and stood up.
She walked around the side of the Rover and saw Milo, down some distance away, looking up to the sky.
High up in the red Martian atmosphere was a small spec slowly growing bigger and bigger. It glowed a dull orange as it used the atmosphere to slow its high speed entry.
The spec grew bigger, then brighter as the retro rockets fired, slowing down the Hopper rocket as it came in to land. Troopers loved to use the hopper to move around quickly in Mars thin atmosphere and low gravity.
“Milo, who is that?” Said Shelby on the intercom.
Milo was closest to the landing site. “Milo can you hear me?”
“Milo, Milo!” Shelby waved her arms, and Milo was waving his, telling her to get back, the radios weren’t working.
The Hopper slowed down just before it landed, its legs extending like a large mechanical spider. The rocket was short and squat, almost wide as it was tall, aerodynamics and good looks forgotten in Mars’s thin atmosphere. The grey steel color of its underside was scorched black, from its hot descent.
Shelby quickly climbed up into the cab of the Rover, closed the airlock, and took off her helmet.
She rushed to the driver’s seat and reached up to the overhead console and pulled down the radio.
”Milo, Milo come in please.”
She reached up and changed the frequency to a longer range frequency.”
“Milo I don’t like this, Come back to the Rover, Milo do you receive me?”
She looked out through the glass at Milo, willing him to talk to her, the radio static crackled quietly.
Shelby sat at the console and watched, powerless, as Milo walked slowly toward the still smoking Hopper Rocket.
The doors to the Hopper opened slowly, lowering to the ground.
2 Cycles Earlier
Redemption, a Mars Exploitation Council Penal Colony housing 600 inmates and 20 Troopers meant to guard them. The Convicts where used to prospect and develop the vast natural resources on Mars, without risking radiation exposure to normal people. Convicts where offered a reduction in their sentence, and a one way ticket to Mars. In exchange they had to work in the extreme dangers of the surface, exploring, prospecting, and claiming.
The 8 Districts of the Mars colony where each protected by a single large tower that formed the dome and the scrubber. It arrived from earth in show of fire and smoke. After the tower had cooled it came to life, first drilling down to anchor itself, then like a giant lotus the top opened to create a solar collector, next the sides of the dome began to inflate, until at the end of the day, the dome was complete and ready for people to move in.
When the wind blew the dome would shake a little, the water condensing on the dome would drip down in a torrent, and for the briefest of moments, it would rain on Mars. This was Shelby’s favorite place, out in the farming district, with her bare feet in the soft soil, her head held up to the heavens and the rain falling on her face. For a moment she was at home, on her old farm, back on earth, she was free.
A Bit more about how he was a fresh arrival and how they met
It was an event, once or twice a year an Earth Trans Orbit would arrive, everyone would set their clocks by the cycle that brought in construction materials, new supplies, and fresh faces. It seemed like all of the residents where there, hoping to see someone they knew from the old days, or maybe to find some company or love on this lonely planet.
The new convict arrivals had just landed, and everyone was excited. The small crowd lined the landing pad airlock entrance on both sides.
Shelby looked over the heads of those awaiting the new arrivals.
Then she saw him. He walked in with a large group of guys, but somehow he stood out. Something about the way he walked, or maybe it was the small naughty smile you just wanted to kiss.
His mousy hair was cut short, his shoulders were broad, Tattoos danced on his arm muscles, his shoulders broad and his waist narrow. He walked in carrying a heavy duffel bag, and a searching gaze.
She lay in her cubicle, no bigger than a short man’s coffin, she was too tall, so that she always had to bend her legs. On the roof, if you could call it that, was her little vanity mirror and a picture of her Nana.
She carefully applied the dark blue paint in a band across her eyes, cheeks and the top of her nose. She brushed her long blue hair and dusted pink power crushed form Martian rock onto the bald patch on the left of her head.
She dabbed the last of her favorite white sparkled lipstick on with her finger, and looked in the mirror one last time.
Her new compression suit she picked up later that afternoon, was cut to fit her perfectly, her tall and slender frame made it difficult to find a compression suit that would fit right.
She climbed out of her bunk bed and closed the roller door, and locked away her meager possessions.
He was waiting for her when she arrived, and he was in his finest uniform, strong and handsome. His smile grew bigger when he saw her approaching.
“Madam, you look absolutely heavenly this evening.” Feigning a posh English accent.
They walked down the narrow path between the red mud walls, towards the Southern Free District, the overcrowded home of those that had finished serving their time, but that could not afford the heavy price to return home.
Through the narrow passageways, coming out of the doors and windows, you could hear the life of the district, conversations, arguments and joy. They were restricted to the free dome, no outside help, no work, and no money. They found a way to live, to enjoy life in purgatory, somewhere between hell on Mars and heaven on Earth.
Milo stared intently, as he saw everything for the first time. “What are you thinking?” asked Shelby.
“I’m wondering what all these people did to be sent here.” Said Milo.
Shelby’s face turned serious, her shoulders hunched forward and a frown creased her forehead. “You know, Murder, Protest, Food Hoarding, the usual”
“Na, you’re not a Murderer.” Said Milo, looking at her sideways with that devilish little smile.
“How sure are you that I didn’t hack someone’s head off.” She said slashing at the air with her open hand.
“Cause that’s what I did.” Said Milo.
Shelby stopped cold in her tracks, looked at him for a second, and then laughed.
“I was busted for inciting a riot during Her Majesty’s food riots in 43’. Can’t a bloke get hungry I told the judge, she never listened.”
They walk on slowly, walking past a lot of couples, old people and young people, but no children.
“Love is a funny thing on Mars, it happens so quickly, people fall in and out of love all the time here.” Said Shelby, watching a couple walk past, holding hands.
“Maybe it’s cause of the risk,” Said Milo pointing out the dome, “You know outside.”
“Maybe, maybe it’s just that the sterilization has screwed our chemistry up.” Said Shelby.
“Is everyone here sterilized?” Said Milo, feeling for the tender place where they had shoved the giant needle into his groin.
“You know how they sterilize women on an industrial scale? When you first arrive on Mars they strap you down, with a big guy holding you at each corner. They strip your clothes off.”
She stopped walking, crossed her arms and looked off into the distance. Milo put his arm around her, and held her.
“They use a Y shaped metal rod with a red hot balls at the end. They force that into you, it burns your tubes closed, and the pain is unbearable. You see they don’t need to operate, it only takes a couple minutes. They can do hundreds a day.”
“They say the sterilization is to protect the children from the radiation. But we think it is to control us, to stop us from making this our home, from making a family, and living a normal life.” Said Shelby looking into Milo’s eyes.
Shelby, shook her head, put on a small forced smile, and said. “I want you to meet someone, you will like her.” Pulling Milo across the street, towards a house that looked very different from the others.
It was made from scrap metal pieces of Rocket and Rover. It had methane torches either side the large sliding door. Loud music with an impossibly fast beat, echoed under the dome, and the noisy crowd spilled out onto the street.
Inside the club Shelby took Milo’s hand up the small rickety stairs to the second floor, at the top she banged on an old Aluminium Airlock door.
A short round woman, half as tall as Shelby, answered the door. She was ancient, her dark skin was deeply wrinkled and hung low. Her brain was still sharp as an arrow, her Asiatic eyes quickly assessing the situation.
“Ah my favourite daughter here.” She said in broken English. She was dressed in layers of yellow industrial plastic, cut into strips and made into a poncho. Around her neck where many small electronic and mechanical trinkets, all hung on thin electrical wire.
“You bring me a man, ooh and what a strong man he is.” She said, feeling Milo’s muscled arms with a smile on her face.
Milo’s awkward expression made Shelby laugh. “Ha ha, I thought you would like him, ma.”
Doc turned, still laughing and waddled slowly back to her large cluttered desk and chair. The room was packed with every bit of medical machinery you could find. Some new but mostly scrap, either stolen or salvaged, from broken dentist chairs, to heart monitors that no longer beeped.
Milo’s was confused. “She’s, um, your.”
“No, no.” She’s like a mother to me, we look out for each other.
“Come and sit over here on the table.” Said Doc, clearing the large metal desk of clutter.
“Ok, pull down your pants, lets have a look.” Said Doc.
Shelby, nodded to Milo. “It’s ok, lye back, she won’t bite.”
The Doc, pulled a Monical that hung off her neck up to her eye. She looked closely at where the Sterilization pill had been injected into his pelvis, just below the belt line.
“Yes, yes, my darling. He will do just fine.” Said the Doc, dropping the Monical and smiling to Shelby.
The Doc pulled a large syringe out of nowhere, placed it over the still fresh hole where Milo had been injected, and before Milo could say a word, pulled hard on the plunger.
Milo doubled up in pain, clutching his groin. “What the hell was that.” His eyes glaring at Doc.
She smiled a broad smile, held up the syringe, and shook it slightly. A small red tablet bounced around inside the syringe. “If we waited another day it would have been permanent.”
“We want you to be able to do the job when the time comes, if you know what I mean.” Said Doc winking at Milo.
“Come again?” Said Milo, confused.
“I haven’t been entirely open with you.” Said Shelby, looking down.
The Smoke from the Rocket engines drifted away slowly from the Hopper as it cooled.
Milo moved slowly towards the doors of the Hopper, waiting for them to open fully.
From inside burst forward 5 Armed Troopers hunched low with rifles at the ready, pointing in all directions.
Milo turned and ran back towards Shelby waving his arms to warn her of the danger.
The first Trooper raised his rifle, took aim at Milo’s back, and fired. Milo looked up at Shelby, and even at that distance she could see his mouth open as the bullet hit him in the back, knocking him down.
She quickly leaned forward and flicked some switches and the Rover came to life.
She flicked the battery overrides, and the rovers eight electric wheels kicked into life, she pushed hard forward on the joystick, and the Rover lurched forward. But didn’t move, it was still stuck on the rock.
The Troopers turned and started to run towards the Rover, rifles at the ready.
She yanked back hard on the Joystick, and the Rover made a terrible noise as all 8 wheels dug in, the Rover scratching on the rock, sliding and wiggling.
“Come, on move you piece of shit!” Screamed Shelby hitting the console, suddenly it lurched backwards and slid loose, accelerating quickly in reverse.
Out of the front window she could see the approaching Troopers, stop, take aim, and fire at the Rover.
The bullets ricocheting off the thick hull of the rover, but one bullet hit the windscreen, and cracked the glass of the Rover.
Shelby watched as the crack quickly grew bigger and bigger. It would explode out and kill her instantly with the decompression.
She locked the autopilot into last known point, retracing the way they had come, jumped from her seat and grabbed her helmet.
She slid her helmet on and locked it, just as the front glass of the Rover explosively decompressed blowing out all the air in the Rover.
She reached forward and hit the emergency exit button, jumped out of the moving rover and rolled on the ground out of the way of the big wheels.
Shelby stayed low and quickly scrambled behind a boulder and watched as the Rover automatically drove back the way they had come, weaving through the boulder field.
“Milo!, babe I’m coming for you.” she screamed into her intercom.
She looked over the top of the boulders and watched as the Troopers turned to follow the Rover as it weaved through the Boulder field, giving her a clear run to Milo.
She hunched over and ran as low as she could towards Milo.
Shelby’s heavy breathing sounded like a race horse in her helmet, the scrubber was running out and couldn’t keep up and she felt like she was choking.
“Hold tight babe, I’m coming.”
‘He hasn’t said a word.’ She thought.
She had gotten behind the Troopers and was close to Milo.
She slide on her knees up to his still body, face down in the dirt.
A small hole in the back of his compression suite was spraying out a fine mist of blood and compressed air.
Shelby pressed her hand against the hole and rolled Milo on to his side.
She pressed her face plate up against his so he could hear her.
“Babe, talk to me, please god, babe, you can’t leave me now.”
His eyes slowly opened and rolled back.
“I’m gonna get you out of here.”
Shelby looked around frantically, the only Suit Patch Kit she had was gone on the Rover, and she needed somewhere she could strip him down and treat the gunshot wound before he bled out.
The only place was the Hopper that the Troopers came in. It would have to do.
She stood up, and dragged Milo by his arms towards the ramp of the Hopper.
‘Hopefully no one else is home.’ She thought to herself.
She struggled to pull Milo limp body up the ramp, and onto the flat floor. She hit the button to close the airlock door.
The airlock quickly equalized and she knelt down to pull Milo’s helmet off.
His breathing normalized as the air pressure returned, but he lay still and barely responsive.
She yanked and pulled at the compression suit, trying to pull Milo out without hurting him more than she had to.
He was quite, he only made a grunting noise when Shelby pulled the suit over his wound.
Shelby looked around the small Hopper rocket, 6 seats sat in circle facing a central column of equipment, rifles, and displays. Milo lay on the floor.
She frantically searched through the equipment and found a First Aid Kit.
She tore the side of the kit open and poured the bandages out over Milo, picked up the biggest one, and pressed it hard onto the bullet wound between his shoulder blades.
The decompression alarm rang out loud.
They were back.
She ran over to the Airlock control as they were entering the decompression override code.
She kicked out and smashed the airlock control with her heavy duty boot, after 3 kicks the decompression alarm stopped, and the door never opened.
A face in a helmet was pressed up against the viewing port, trying to find them inside.
It stepped back and placed a rifle barrel to the glass.
The radio came alive.
“You have 10 seconds to open this door or we will open fire.”
Shelby looked around frantically.
There where 5 of them, and only her, she would never make a fire fight with them.
Milo wouldn’t survive another decompression.
Only one option.
She stabbed at the flight computer with her finger, pulled up the launch sequence.
Co-ordinates, oh fuck, what co-ordinates
She entered the only co-ordinates she could remember.
She hit the launch button, the faint sound of grumblings as the engines warmed up, but nothing happened.
She knelt down, hugged the love of her life, to shield him, closed her eyes and said “Hold on babe, it’s gonna to get rough.”
This is an excerpt of a Novella available on Amazon