By the time of the alignment with Mars we had completed three new ships. The Jefferson, the Spooner and the Baltimore, I intended to go out to Mars to see how the rebellion was going. But not long after this was announced we were told that the French, Dutch and New Zealand governments were coincidentally planning their own expeditions. So it was decided that these expeditions would be combined.
The rally point would be at a new French base in Guiana in South America as it had been discovered that ships launching from the equator used far less fuel than those launching from northern latitudes. I flew the Lysander Spooner down to Guiana along with my daughter and a dozen recent hires. Upon our arrival we could see that the Richelieu and 2 smaller new French electrical ships had already arrived.
Upon landing we were met by many familiar faces, the French contingents were mostly made up of veterans of that first expedition to Mars, good men, it was great to see them again. As we shook hands I asked where the New Zealanders were, a French NCO replied. “We just got a radio signal from them, they are coming in over the rainforest, we should see them momentarily.”
We looked around for a few minutes, but saw nothing, I shrugged my shoulders, thinking that perhaps they were lost when the air was suddenly rent with the most horrific roaring. I looked up to see a white speck in a ballistic arc, the roaring subsided and then stopped entirely as the craft fell back down to earth, seemingly out of control. Then it straightened out and glided over the base.
It was beautiful, my heart sang as it coasted overhead, it was white with blue and red trim and a big New Zealand flag emblazoned on the rear. It was bigger than our ships, as it sailed overhead with no power on it did a snap roll. Then it powered up and landed effortlessly on short skids instead of wheels. There was only one pilot in the known universe who flew that recklessly.
As the turbines spun down I could see Pierce at the controls of the ship, he waved at us. He had been keeping things close to the vest, in his communications with us he had been sharing his patents but very little of the design of the craft he was working on. It was striking, the ship had a design geometry only vaguely similar to the heron type. The first thing I noticed was that the ship had elegant long scimitar like wings. But no horizontal tail, it did have short almost stubby twin vertical tails and shorter, stubbier vertical wing tips. Along with beautiful long thin upswept canards just behind the sharp nose. Rounded out with a fairly large crew compartment, a bubble canopy and an almost absurdly big engine. The ship looked like a collection of curving blades blended with a flattened fuselage, it looked pretty, but delicate.
Pierce had changed his appearance too, he was wearing a long leather coat and a silk scarf. On his boot he had a disintegrator pistol holstered and some kind of crazy contraption on his belt which I correctly surmised was a calculator. We shook hands and I commented, “Pierce, still flying like an absolute maniac I see!”
“Is there any other way to fly?”
Later on in the day the Dutch contingent showed up, their new ships looked decidedly inelegant, not showing the respect to aerodynamics that ours or the French ships did. They looked weird, like an electrical ship but bigger. Almost like four electrical ship hulls had been bonded together in a cruciform pattern then encrusted with all sorts of random lumps and bumps.
We spent the next week going over plans and procedures for this mission. By now the other ships had radio devices, but the old light flashing systems were retained for extra security. With our advanced sensors the Spooner would be the lead ship, warning of any hazards like meteors. Also we would be the command ship due to our greater experience in such things.
That was a good week, the French and Dutch crews were a fountainhead of information on what was really happening in Europe. There had been similar power grabs by governments in Europe to what had happened in the US. There was open talk of overthrowing some of the parliamentary governments in Western Europe.
Before our departure the French set up a big banquet for all of us, it was wonderful. The food was good and wholesome, there was a string quartet providing music, some local girls danced for us. We talked and talked about everything that had happened over the past few years. Then I stopped and realized that most of this stuff had been unimaginable not even a decade ago. I did not think that for too long as a Dutch officer pressed another glass of fine wine into my hands and announced, “think later, for now we party!”
Having a big drunken bacchanalia before our departure was probably not the best idea. It was late in the day when our hangovers wore off and we were able to go over the required checklists before launch. Because the Spooner and the Wellington were the fastest we would launch last. I took the time to send one last message back to Maryland, telling everyone that I would be back soon. I started the turbines listening carefully for any sound which might betray a serious malfunction. The Spooner was the latest of our ships incorporating several enhancements that I wasn’t 100% sure of. But these thoughts were batted aside when I looked at Pierce’s ship, the Wellington.
That ship might have better been named Prometheus, or Prometheus Unbound. Every single one of Pierce’s insane ideas rolled up into one breathtaking machine. Pierce was a good man and an undeniably creative designer, but I was more than a little nervous to see what his over-enthusiasm had wrought. I really didn’t see how this thing was going to be able to withstand the stresses of flight.
When the turbines reached takeoff speed I started rolling down the fine concrete runway and lifted into the air. I pushed the engines up to full power and we were climbing rapidly, there was no sensation to compare to lifting out of the atmosphere. The rush of speed as you shot through the clouds, the buffeting of the air growing weaker as it becomes thinner and thinner. Feeling like you were being hit with a constant kick in the rear. Then as the sky started to turn black the Wellington passed us at a considerable rate of speed, then executed a roll. Pierce just couldn’t stop showing off.
After meeting up with the rest of the fleet we made a brief stopover on the moon. By now the French and English had a small colony there doing exploration and some mining. They lived under great metal domes, the expense of this operation must have been truly prodigious, but it was good to see the expansion of the human species out into the universe was starting.
Transit to Mars was as boring as usual, although by now we had a device that allowed us to detect asteroids before they hit our ships. Loosely related to radio technology it sent out electromagnetic waves which were bounced back when it hit something. Tesla had some ideas on this but the Eutopians had developed it and they had been quite horrified that we had even attempted space travel without it.
Upon our arrival in Martian space we could see that the Eutopian flagship was still in orbit around the planet. We hailed them and they responded with a warm welcome and an invitation to come aboard. Apparently much had happened while we were gone.
By now the Eutopians had a designated area for us to dock aboard their ships where things were built to a scale that accommodated our smaller frames. The first Eutopian to meet me was Boudicca, I was surprised to see her there. I was not surprised though to see that she had learned to speak flawless English. She explained that the Revenge had just returned from Eutopous to take part in the Martian spring campaign.
Since we left the Eutopians to support the Martian insurgency total chaos had broken out on the planet. Boudicca hung her head and stated, “we hadn’t counted on the fact that Martian society was bound together by terror and obedience. When you killed the emperor and the insurgency started we hadn’t counted on the total lack ethics of their race. There weren’t that many of them left after the flood and your attacks and now they are almost all gone. Our surveys indicate that there are no more than 14,000 of them left alive, most of them living in armored redoubts.”
The Dutch commander asked, “what happened? I was under the impression that you were backing freedom fighters of some sort.”
She chuckled in an ironic tone and replied, “those freedom fighters didn’t last long. All of the Martians who fought for personal freedom and peace were either wiped out or enslaved by various factions who wanted some sort of coercive government. Even those who wanted an emperor turned on each other when they couldn’t decide who they wanted to be the new emperor. Up here we tried to manage things by launching precision strikes on the worst offenders and supplying some of the good Martian factions but it wasn’t enough. So we have decided that we are going to launch a total suppression of Martian fighters, claim the planet for ourselves and repopulate it with our people.”
Suddenly the French second in command piped up, “that’s not fair, we lost millions of people fighting these bastards. If anyone gets to claim this planet it’s us!”
I hung my head in shame at the stupidity of this statement, per capita the Eutopians had lost far more than we had. They had genetic and cultural ties to this place, what tenuous claim the human race had to this planet had been reduced to a single slave who had no desire to ever come back here. Boudicca was diplomatic, “if you have people who wish to come here and, I believe the term is homestead the land then you are welcome. But there will be no tolerance of some kind of claim to the entire planet. You may have broken it but you cannot take it.”
He nodded at the suggestion and Boudicca filled us in on what the rest of their plan was. It bore a striking similarity to the settlement of the American west, with one notable exception. The native Martians were to be brought into the fold of their society as soon as possible with much of their culture intact. They were not to be segregated on reservations. The French and Dutch governments promised 20 ships each, brimming with colonists to join the effort. I had no idea how they were going to afford the expense though.
Pierce concluded his countries part in the negotiations with a message of thanks, but no thanks. As far as he was concerned his people had enough on their hands to worry about settling a wild planet. Once all the diplomatic stuff was settled the captain of the ship, an extremely proud fellow by the name of Grolik, invited all of the Europeans on a tour of the Revenge.
While the staff of the great Eutopian flagship showed off their machine to the international crews Boudicca and I slipped away. She solemnly said, “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, how have things been back on Eutopos?”
“Good, we have almost finished repairs and the population is flourishing again. There is considerable optimism over the resettlement of Mars.”
“Life on the asteroid was getting tiresome?”
“You know it, speaking of which I want to come with you back to
“Okay, if you already have an android body built up I would be happy to take you.”
She laughed and replied, “oh do I! when Bebercki came back she told us so many wonderful things that it pushed me into deciding that I had to go back to earth. Here…”
She got out a box shaped roughly like an octagon that was about the size of a car. Inside was a perfect human sized replica of her body, “it incorporates several adaptations to living on Earth compared to the body Bebercki used. It certainly works much better than that watch you had.”
I laughed at that but I asked, “you say that Becky said wonderful things about Earth. When she left she gave us the impression that she thought that we were all ruthless savages with no respect for anything.”
Boudicca had a funny look on her face as she explained, “well, ruthless savages might have been a bit much. She certainly had no respect for the parts of your culture that glorify senseless aggression and violence. I mean the boxing ring incident, ugh.”
“Oh, she didn’t tell you about that huh? On her walk back from Washington she stopped at a boxing match. She watched 2 men beating the crap out of each other for 25 rounds until she said enough and got in the ring herself. Then she shouted to everyone there, “none of you know how to fight, here is how it’s done!”
I replied, “yeah, sure, that happened.”
“Sarcasm eh? Well I have all the evidence I need to make you look very silly.”
She turned on one of her tele-screen devices and it started playing back Becky’s memories of the night in question. Becky had told us about this feature but we had nothing that we could play back what she had seen.
What ensued was bizarre, she basically walked in and threw the 2 boxers clear out of the ring. A bouncer walked up and punched her square in the face, breaking every bone in his hand. Then a melee ensued where she proceeded to kick, punch and hurl half of the people at the match into next Tuesday.
I stammered out, “what the heck is this? why did she do this? and why didn’t she say anything about it to us!?”
“Well, she confused the boxing match with a sporting event we have back on Eutopos where everyone tries to beat a single fighter in a huge melee. When she realized that she had committed an act of aggression she ran and hid. I suppose this is just a reflection of a clash of cultures and she acknowledged that. Fortunately with her experience to learn from, now we all know better.”
“Does this mean that we can expect a large number of Eutopian’s to visit earth?”
“Oh yes, there are plans underway for dozens of us to use androids to explore your planet. Many of us dream of your oceans, blue sky, forests, deserts and mountains. It would be easier for all involved if our people who visit your planet to do it discretely.”
I replied, “looking forward to it, but please no more melees.”
She laughed heartily and replied, “well I can’t promise anything. Anyway, would you like to see the bio transfer process again?”
I sat quietly between her mechanical and living bodies as her consciousness was transferred. Her full sized body was placed in a kind of deep sleep. She rose from her container, moved her fingers and stumbled to rise. Unbeknownst to me learning to drive an android can be a bit of a challenge, it was a bit spooky to consider that body she was in had the strength to punch clean through a brick wall, or lift a train off its tracks. I wanted to go over and help her up, but the Eutopian technicians advised against that, she might just break my arm.
After about a few minutes she was walking, slowly and carefully she walked over to me and placed her hand on my face. Becky’s body had looked human but she had been cold to the touch, Boudicca’s new body had been modified to exactly replicate a humans. At first I was nervous, but she explained that she had everything on a minimal power setting. I held her hand, she felt completely alive, we both just laughed at what an odd image this made.
After final function checks we went back to the Spooner, where I introduced her to the crew and I explained that she was going to be coming back with us. Katy was especially curious, she stated, “dad has said all kinds of nice things about you, nice to finally meet you.”
The next day our expedition landed on Mars, we were led by a shuttle craft from the Revenge. We landed on a designated safe zone populated by Eutopian’s and friendly Martians. I immediately noticed the bionic exoskeletons that the Eutopians had developed to allow themselves to comfortably get around in the comparatively high gravity environment on Mars. As I exited the craft I did something I hadn’t been able to do for years, jump 20 feet straight up into the air.
I breathed the Martian air, it tasted better than the last 2 times I was here. Katy carefully exited the Spooner and looked around the red planet, she commented. “Looks like pictures of the amazon rainforest, with everything painted red.”
I agreed, the place was quite a bit more lush than I recalled.
As the scientists we brought set about determining what was going to be needed to allow a permanent human settlement on the planet. I couldn’t help but notice that there were few Martians left, and those who lived here regarded me with great sadness. I could feel a great weight on my soul as the Martian survivors looked solemnly at me with their big eyes. I wondered for a moment whatever had happened to those martian republicans I had met 2 years ago. Then I realized that they had probably died in battle. All the rage and hostility that I had seen in them had faded away. Some of them actually ran in terror when they saw humans, I asked Boudicca about this, she explained. “Martians regard humans as the ultimate terror, some Martians tell their children tales of Edison as being the vengeance of god.”
After a week on the planet my curiosity was satisfied, Mars was irrevocably defeated. For all their lofty words the Eutopian’s were probably not going to save Martian culture, all they could do was preserve it in museums and whatnot. This was their planet now, their culture was ascendant while the native culture was fading fast.
Mars had become an absolute hell for it’s native species, food supplies were nearly gone, crops were marginal. Outside of the Eutopian enclaves bandits ravaged the land armed with the end result of thousands of years of weapons development and stockpiling.
The Spooner and the Wellington were brought up to a geostationary orbit over the planet while a small number of Eutopian colonial ships arrived. The French and Dutch ships remained behind to address their colonial commitments. While we were making final preparations to start the trip back to earth when the radioman announced something. “I am receiving a transmission claiming to be from the Knapp!”
We gathered around the receiver, we had been getting fairly regular updates from Earth but we hadn’t heard anything from the Knapp in a week. We had grown concerned that they had been lost, but we were getting a faint but clear radio signal from them. They had landed on Venus and the place was almost habitable, it showed signs of some kind of massive alien project. So before we left we asked if there was any records left on Mars pertaining to attempts to settle that planet. There were extensive copies, and copies of copies of records of all of the great works of the Martian civilization. A sign of a tyrannical society seems to be an absolute obsession with recording positively everything that happened in the course of day to day life.
Their documents on Venus though were sparse, most of their dealings with that planet had been of a technical nature and since the Martians had no technical books due to their technical knowledge being entirely memorized there was little to go on. One of the Eutopian shuttle craft brought up what little they found, which was still a hundred volumes of books. Boudicca offered to translate these works and we commenced our trip back to earth.
As we approached the earth Boudicca spent the much time in the copilots seat. She needed little sleep, when she did sleep it was in her own words more for the sake of her sanity than any biological need. She spent her time out of the pilots compartment working on translating the Martian books on Venus. Her involvement in this voyage was a bit of a distraction to the rest of the crew, if her stunning looks weren’t enough there is the fact that Eutopian garb is much more, revealing than ours. Which was another jarring difference between their culture and ours. Although when she was around my daughter and coworkers she always conducted herself with the utmost professionalism.
Finally we were in Earth orbit, she was staring at it with a look of absolute wonder. I sat down next to her and commented, “Becky had the same look on her face when she first saw it. Everyone does when they see it in its entirety the first time.”
She just stammered out, “can we land now?”
“Not just yet, we could go straight in but that requires consuming more energy to slow the fall, it’s also a strain on the airframe. We will orbit, slow down, then come in for a landing over the US. But first we have to call for clearance, if you just come down you might be shot at as a suspected invader.”
As we orbited the planet she continued to stare at our great blue/green sphere. Moved almost to tears, I was reminded of the first time I had seen my planet from orbit. It’s a moving experience, to put it mildly.
I called over to the Wellington that we were cleared for landing at our facility in Fredrick Maryland. Pierce copied the transmission and we angled for a reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
Pierce told me that he had personally developed automated systems for his craft that were so sophisticated that he could fly his ship hands off. The Knapp could do that, however it’s sophisticated tech could not be replicated on earth. The Spooner wasn’t that advanced, I had to control her as she descended through the upper atmosphere. We came through the upper airs down into breathable atmosphere over the Midwest, kicked the engines back on and came in for a good landing back home.
As we rolled to a stop the Wellington was coming in right behind us. But Pierce engaged his turbines again and brought it into a hover, touching down right next to the Spooner. Frigging show off!
Waiting a few moments for the hull to cool off, the entire company came running up with a movable stairway to allow us to depart. Boudicca requested to be the first one off, she was warmly welcomed to Earth, but as quickly and politely as she could threw off her shoes and ran to a nearby patch of grass. Katy ran behind her, I followed as fast as I could. When we caught up Boudicca was on her hands and knees, crying. I quipped, “well, it’s not like this is your first time here.”
She sobbed and commented, “I could barely hear then, now I can see, touch, taste and feel. It’s just so wonderful, there were attempts to simulate what earth was like back home, but it can’t possibly hold up to this.”
Katy smiled at this and grabbed my hand, that was a wonderful moment. Right up until some New Zealander wag commented. “Why, you would think she never saw green grass before.”
I commented, “grass, this planet has far more to offer than grass. Boudicca, if you wish we can go to see forests, deserts, cities, just wait until you see New York, Paris, London or Berlin.
Katy asked, “well what about me?”
“Oh, you come too.”
The wag stated, “and what about me?”
“Oh come on pal, I don’t even like you!”
We all had a good laugh at that.
The New Zealanders were going to be on their way home tomorrow. During the celebratory dinner that night we all caught up on what we all had been doing. Also, the Knapp sent a radio transmission that arrived stating that all was well and that they were returning from Venus.
After dinner I offered Boudicca a room at the guest quarters of the factory, she whispered firmly in my ear that she wanted to go home with me. So, she, myself and my daughter walked home, Katy was exhausted from everything that happened. Her body was also straining mightily to get used to the Earth’s gravity again. After awhile she gave up trying to walk and I carried her home, she fell asleep in my arms. I put her to bed, told Boudicca that she could make herself comfortable in the guest room but when I went to my room she was waiting for me on my bed.
She sprung on me like a wolf, kissing me with almost violent force. She pulled herself away for a moment and stated, “I have been looking forward to this for years!”
I blurted out, “wait! How is this supposed to work?”
“You have a child, I think you know how this works.”
“No, I mean, oh never mind, just don’t get overexcited and tear my head off.”
She laughed evilly as she pulled my clothes off.
It had been a long time, too long, my weird dreams could not hold a candle to the real thing. There was probably no human on Earth with the knowledge of the romantic arts as a Eutopian due to their sheer age and the liberalism of their culture. All those years locked up on a space rock, so much time and so little to do mean they are much more forward in such matters than we could ever be. She had an endurance that bordered on ferocity.
I don’t know when it was that I finally shouted that I couldn’t handle anymore, but she smiled and said that was alright, that I had already gone longer than she expected. But I was completely exhausted, every cell in my body was screaming for rest, and less gravity. She went to the bathroom, cleaned herself up, then went to sleep.
The last thought in my head before unconsciousness overwhelmed me was a moment of envy, envy that I would never have the physical strength she had.
That night I had the most incredible dream I had ever had, it was a transcendent experience. Very hard to describe, but I felt as though everything was right in the universe.
I woke up the next day at around 1:00 pm, I didn’t want to wake up but Boudicca was gone and I no longer dreamt of things beyond human ability to describe. The curtains were drawn, I unwisely opened them and was briefly blinded by the sunlight. I stumbled downstairs, my body still complaining about some lout having turned up the gravity.
I looked in the kitchen and I could see Katy and Boudicca were going over some of the Martian books. Katy looked up and announced that Boudicca was teaching her how to read Martian. I smiled and slumped into a chair, I asked, “so what’s for breakfast?”
Boudicca replied, “I think you mean lunch, and it’s soup.”
She served me the biggest bowl of soup I had ever seen in my life, a crazy combination of meats, cheeses, vegetables and a fried egg. “I don’t know what you liked so I got a little bit of everything from the market. Well, everything edible.”
I must admit it worked, in an utterly insane way it tasted pretty good. Boudicca told me that Katy had been showing her some of the finer points of human cuisine. Eutopian food being completely dissimilar, as I ate Boudicca asked, “so what do we do today?”
“Well, I don’t know about you, but after a long space voyage standard procedure is to spend a week off getting used to the gravity back on earth. But since you don’t have that problem, what do you want to do?”
We went to a nearby park where Vaughn Wyatt was with his little family. Katy ran around playing with his young son and some other kids while Boudicca and I tried to keep up with them, I heaved myself into a bench with my best friend as I tried to catch my breath Vaughn commented.
“What is it with alien women? I haven’t seen one yet that doesn’t make me say, hot damn! It seems like every other planet creates women more attractive than what we commonly see on earth. That Boudicca, she looks like a reincarnation of the goddess Athena.”
“Athena? why not Aphrodite?”
“I never heard any myth about Aphrodite where she fought Martians.”
“Yeah, but wasn’t Athena supposed to be some kind of eternal virgin?”
“Probably, you might be thinking of Artemis though, those ancient pagans sure were obsessed with virginity for some reason. You know Jesus never said a thing about him or his followers having to be celibate. All that comes from early Christians trying to prove they were as self righteous and ‘pure’ as their pagan neighbors.”
He chucked at my cringing reaction, leaned back and asked.
“So does this mean that you and her are…”
“Well, that’s none of your business, but yes.”
“Oh please, it wasn’t scandalous when Aina and Phillips were together.”
“Yes, but they got married, also Aina was human, of a long lost strain of humanity, but human nonetheless.”
“Why should it matter, aren’t there bigger things to worry about than if some guy and his lover are married, or from another planet?”
“Well I worry about you, I am not concerned but there are those that will be.”
“After everything that has happened do you really think I care about the opinion of some nabob? For all I care they can accuse me of running naked through the streets of Baltimore covered in butter.”
Vaughn exhaled loudly and stated, “having a relationship with an alien is probably more controversial than running around naked in the streets, being out in space has changed you.”
“For the better my friend, it gives you perspective, shows you what is really important in life.”
“Well I certainly wouldn’t deny that.”
“So, how is the company doing, tell me everything.”
“It’s not the same when you are gone, Tesla is starting to go off in really freaking weird directions. He has developed new medical technologies, ways to see through walls, perfected wireless energy transmission and he thinks he may have come up with a way to annihilate a planet. Everyone else continues on, but people start to get sloppy without you or Harding keeping track of things.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t be leaving the planet again anytime soon. So how are things with your family?”
“Well, you can see that my son is just fine, but my wife is getting very nervous about our involvement in politics. Especially at this time in history.”
“What’s so important about this time in history?
“Have you lost your mind or something, our system of government broke and we had to fix it, but that fix probably won’t last. There are rumors of a revolution about to break out in Europe. Something that might make the French Revolution look like a romp round the maypole. After the failure of all those governments to defend against the Martian invasion all those centuries of corruption will no longer be tolerated. The regime of the emperor of Austria-Hungary is tottering. The Czar is on shaky ground as well.”
I stood up from my bench and stretched in every direction. I stated, “welp, you know what we have to do then.”
He hung his head and replied, “no, not really, but something tells me that it is going to have something to do with Graves’s little project.”
“You got it.”