The understage warren was a hive of activity, as Human Resources staff hustled to ensure there were no hiccups in the CEO’s grand celebration. Assistants buzzed from one room to the next with trays of coffee and scrawled memos. Amid the flurry of activity, no staff paid the Red Planet a second glance. They were probably extras for a staged reenactment, judging by the blood caking Alexandra’s arms.
Hamish led the way, slipping into easy nods of false recognition with the Human Resources staff. He whispered to Alexandra and Bea, “Remember, we need to take out the shield generators to give Julian his shot.” Alexandra flipped her comms channel back on, to check up on their sniper.
“A true warrior of the 777th legion remains mindful, living in the moment. He remains resilient, able to take on whatever challenges he faces at work, which remains his lifelong calling.” The CEO’s monologue continued, still locked on all channels. Alexandra flipped her comms back off. She’d have to wait for the speech to end to call in the shot.
Hamish led them through the organised chaos into a side corridor, where the frenzy of activity seemed to abate. The passage twisted around at right angles until they were faced with a pair of guards at an armoured door.
Hamish shot first. The pistol cracked out, echoing in the tight corridor. The bullets lodged in the guards white plastic armour, failing to penetrate, and delivering little more than a physical shock.
Alexandra charged in, to take advantage of that shock. She struck out at the guard on her left, a portly fellow, whose oversized armour concealed both fat and muscle with her knives, in a flurry of jabs at his neck. The guard raised his arm to block, and Alexandra’s knives bounced off the hard plastic armour. He delivered a shove with his other arm, and pushed her back.
Bea followed, mace flying as she swung at the other guard’s legs, trying to knock him off his feet. The guard jumped, vaulting over her swing. Martian leap beat Earth-born strength. He brought down an armoured elbow at Bea’s shoulder, and she rolled beneath it with the grace of practice.
Alexandra and her guard danced a duel of speed and power. She burst forward, jabbing in and around the guard’s armour. But this guard proved agile enough despite his size to keep blocking and dodging, and the armour itself was near-impenetrable if she couldn’t get to the weak mesh points. The guard swung uncoordinated fists, lacking the time or capability to get to his pistol without getting skewered along the way.
Bea hefted her mace, ready for another round. “Face your fate, Corporate lackey!” she yelled, as she swung upwards at the guard’s head. But this nimble guard ducked beneath, and struck her, hard, with a gloved fist in the gut.
As Bea crumpled to the ground, fragile with the depredations of age despite her strength, the guard gloated. “You’re not even a real Martian. You can’t stand against us.”
Hamish cocked his pistol and held it to the guard’s head. “She’s more a part of the Red Planet than you’ll ever be, forever bowed to your CEO.” He fired, and the guard slumped to the ground, revealing a 777th legion tattoo on his neck as his helmet remained in Hamish’s hand. The Earth-Roman god Ares couldn’t save him now. Not even if he did have a frankly sick looking scythe shaped like the number 7.
The remaining guard stuck out with firm but untrained fists at Alexandra. She ducked and dodged, but her ripostes couldn’t penetrate his armour. She had to give ground, being fought backwards to avoid the armoured strikes. Then her assailant buckled, his armour crumpling as Bea smashed his side in with her mace. Alexandra dived in to rip out his throat with her knives.
These brutes were so uncreative. Stuck replicating the tactics of centuries ago, rather than adapting to modern possibilities. Of course the Red Planet would overcome them.
Hamish opened the door, finding the Security Services portion of the understage virtually deserted. All the staff were outside, formed up for the parade on the Grand Boulevard. Still, wary of any remainders, Alexandra, Hamish and Bea kept low and quiet as they eased in toward the cabinet which held the humming shield generator. It was a mass of wiring, cables and computers connected to the central power grid.
“How do we shut it off?” asked Alexandra, looking at the complicated machine.
“These nerds ain’t had a fresh thought between them. It ought to be the same as in the Martian Cinematic Universe. Cut the red wire.” replied Hamish, as he hunted around for fresh ammunition for his pistol. The collection of cabinets and cases mounted across the walls offered all sorts of delightful opportunities. The kind of opportunities which regular staff weren’t authorised for, hidden deep in the bowels of the Security Services.
Alexandra fished through the mass of cables. Yellow? Nope. There were a whole bunch of grey ones. Ah, red. She gave it a swift slice with her knife.
There was a sudden shudder and bang. A thousand LEDs flashed red. Several viewscreens switched from showing the CEO to warning messages, flashing in black and yellow.
Alexandra thumbed back on the comms channel. From it, a sharp clipped voice continued, “For you see, it was only through hard work and self-discipline that I see you here today. If you follow the 777th legion’s method, you too can think and grow rich.”
The CEO was still rambling, blocking out all other comms traffic. What a narcissistic prick. Alexandra struggled to see how she’d ever fallen for his bullshit.
Still, it would give them the chance to help themselves to some more substantial firepower for the escape. Alexandra fished through a weapons rack for a pair of laser swords, humming with electrical power. She flicked the pommel switches on, and red blades of light emerged. Excellent.
Bea ransacked the heavy weapons locker for a bazooka. “This should help us cut the bastards down to size.” she said. Hamish smashed a glass case with a black-gloved hand and pulled out an experimental laser pistol, complete with bulky battery pack.
Alexandra flicked her comms channel back open. The CEO announced, “Soon, our brave soldiers will travel back across the void, back to Earth. And you can be there’s a place in the 777th legion for you, to be part of the glorious mission of spreading freedom across the solar system!”
The applause was deafening. But eventually, the central broadcast cut out, and she heard Julian’s voice from the other end.
“It’s go time.” she said.
Through one of the many viewscreens plastered to the walls, she watched as the CEO waved to his adoring followers. At a building in the distance, she could just about make out the glint of the scope on Julian’s rifle. It all came down to this. One shot at decapitating the machine which held them all in PM bondage.
A shot rang out. The crowd screamed. A puff of blood spurted out from the shoulder of the CEO’s immaculately tailored black turtleneck. He screamed and grabbed at his shoulder. A cadre of white clad imperial guards rushed out to surround him with their bodies, as he took to one knee with a groan.
The emergency comms channel kicked back in, and the CEO announced, through sucked breaths, “You bloody deadbeats! Not willing to seize the opportunities I give you? Well, you can’t kill this man, nor can you kill Mars Corporation. Security forces: execute the Kobayashi Maru.”