“Ah, hell.” proclaimed Hamish, as he kicked a viewscreen with a brown boot. “The fuck do we do now?”
Bea remained calm, her well-lined face serene. “We’re not going to get another chance. He’s wounded.” She shouldered her bazooka and mimed firing it. “The mission remains the same. We kill the goddamn CEO.”
Alexandra piped up, “They’re shaken. We’ve got an arsenal. Let’s do the fucking thing!” The air fizzed with ozone as she powered up her laser swords.
“Right, right.” said Hamish. “Okay,” he took a big breath, trying to calm down from what he’d spent years working towards. “First we get out, then we ambush the CEO’s evacuation.” His confidence seemed to be slowly returning.
An alarm sounded, cutting the air with its shrill tones. With a shout, Alexandra called Hamish and Bea into the changing room annex. She sliced open a dozen lockers with her buzzing laser swords. Well, hacked is probably more accurate. These swords, for all their panache and movie star style, seemed surprisingly dull compared to her honed knives. You couldn’t block a bullet with a knife, though. Still, she pulled out white imperial guard armour suits for the three of them. Bea’s was far too tall for her Earth-born height, but she shrugged and made do with what they had.
From inside her suit, Alexandra tested the limitations. These things were good at stopping bullets, but sure slowed down her movements. Her voice was strangely accompanied by static as the audio processors worked to overcome the deadening of the helmet when she called out, “Just act normal. We should be able to walk straight out of here in these.”
Hamish, still a little flustered but the most authoritative speaker, led them out. Until they reached the entrance where they had previously killed two guards.
They listened by the door to hear a squadron of imperial guards examining the scene.
“Seems like blunt force trauma and a gunshot. We’ve got at least two fugitives, armed and dangerous.” declared a guard. Then he pushed the door open.
“Uh, hello, sir.” declared Hamish, rapidly trying to assume formal military position. “Oh, no, sir! My friends have been murdered!” he said. He placed his hands over his head, and let out a half-hearted cry, which was muffled by his helmet.
It looked like there were at least a dozen guards outside, not including the leader who had popped through the door. And all Alexandra could rely on were Hamish’s dubious acting abilities.
The guard’s leader shut the steel door. “I really sympathise with your loss, soldier, but we need all hands on deck against these saboteurs.” Though his helmet covered his features, the guard’s voice and bearing marked him out as a middle aged man with combat experience. “Say, son, you wouldn’t happen to have seen some dubious deadbeat PMs pass through here recently, would you?”
“Uh, no, sir.” Hamish stammered. He tried to quickly change the subject. “My friends, sir, are they going to be alright?”
Alexandra thought she saw a glint in the guard’s eyes behind his helmet, as he asked “It’s alright, son. Your friends are in a better place, promoted to the great corporation in the sky. Say, what were their names, again?”
Hamish let out an overdramatic wail and dropped to his knees, head in his hands. Trying to buy time, Alexandra surmised. “Oh, poor, uh, Ren and Stimpy.” he improvised. “Gone, now, to the great corporation in the sky.” he sobbed.
“Really, those men were Ren, and Stimpy, you say?” asked the guard eyes shining brightly now with distrust.
Alexandra piped up, “Well, their friends called them that. Y’know, classic double act, they were.”
Bea swung her mace hard into the man’s back, which gave an ugly cracking sound as he fell, clattering against the door. His head hit the door as he fell and oozed blood along the corrugations.
“Now, why’d you have to do that?” asked Hamish. “I had him all fooled.” Alexandra let out a sharp breath in relief. Hamish absolutely had not had them fooled.
Bea shoved the man’s body up against the door with a meaty thump.”There’s always a back exit to these places.”
The three of them ran back towards the armoury, to the sound of shouts behind.
The door was locked, reinforced, and covered with alternate yellow hatching and warnings. Do Not Open. Entry Prohibited. Severe Danger. All the fun ones.
Bea and Hamish watched from a safe distance as Bea lined up her bazooka. With a whoosh, she fired. The door ceased to exist, swallowed up by an enveloping explosion. The alarm claxons grew louder and more irritated.
Bea led them through the door. What was Severe Danger, anyway, to the Red Planet?
The tunnel was rough-hewn through compacted red soil, but it must have been well built to retain its stability. Every twenty metres or so they passed steel reinforcing pillars. Bea led the way, bazooka reloaded and at the ready, bandolier of ammunition slung across her shoulder. It was cramped, dry and dusty. Hamish sneezed.
A signal came through to Alexandra on the comms. “I’m so sorry.” Julian said. “I’ve bugged out. Should be safe enough, for now. But we’ll not get another chance like that for a decade.”
Alexandra replied, voice muffled by her awkward helmet, “We’re still in pursuit. What’s happening topside?” she asked.
“The CEO’s heading for the spaceport, to take refuge on his Phobos station. You’re still trying to do this?” Julian asked.
“Of course! We’ve got to free everyone from the CEO’s iron grip. Free Mars for the Red Planet!” she replied, with the zeal of the new convert.
“Well, good luck.” Julian replied, sullenly. “Hope it all works out for you.” She couldn’t blame him for taking the failure hard. But they’d find a way, she was sure of it.
Alexandra relayed the news to Hamish and Bea, as they continued through the tunnel. They heard faint echoes behind, as the guards scrambled through the crude passage. She guessed that a great big hole where there had formerly been a high security door wasn’t the stealthiest way to hide their tracks.
At the end of the tunnel, they emerged into a dust covered room. This was old. As old as the ancient spacesuits which lined the walls. As old as the heavy-duty airlock with its mechanisms coated in red dust which sat at the far end.
“Ah, this takes me back.” said Bea. “The classic 600 series,” she continued, as she approached the old spacesuits and reverently stroked clear the dust from the hefty chest-mounted control panel of the smallest suit. “Three layers of redundancy, integrated air scrubbers,” she brushed clear a section of the chest to reveal an ancient blue logo, faded with age, which read NASA. “Bet these things still work, even if they are 60 years old. Proper engineering, not like that modern Corporation garbage.”
Hamish cleared off the thick coating of dust from the viewport in the airlock door with thick gloved hands. “Whoa,” he commented. “What even is that thing?”
Alexandra approached the viewport and crouched down to see. On the other side of the airlock, pristine and gleaming, was an original rover, dating back to the founding of the colony. Its design resembled the cybertrunks which were popular among the Corporation’s executives, who could afford the luxury of personal transport. But its six conical wheels, sharp ridged edges and surface coating of solar panels marked it out as a very different beast. The cabin was strictly sealed, and it looked like it could accommodate a half-dozen people, or a couple and cargo.
“Hey Bea, do you think she still runs?” asked Alexandra.
Bea came over, the three of them crowded around the tiny viewport. “The old colony rovers were built tough. And this one’s been sitting in a perfectly sealed environment for half a century. The battery’ll be flat, but apart from that, I don’t see why not.”
The shouts of their pursuers echoed louder from the tunnel entrance.
“Alright, how about we pay a visit to the spaceport?” asked Hamish, as he fiddled with the airlock controls. “See if we can stop the CEO in his tracks.”
“Sure, but suit up, first.” replied Bea. “We’ve got most of the Security Service out there, looking for us. And the rovers were meant for construction duties, not dodging mech rockets.” She pulled an ancient, faded red spacesuit from the rack. “Let’s bring the fuckers back into public ownership.”
Alexandra picked through the spacesuits, trying to find one suitable for her Martian height. She settled on one which was fair too broad, but at least she didn’t have to stoop to clip on the helmet. She threw the largest to Hamish, as Bea flicked the levers on her chosen suit, energising the air scrubbers. For once, it was the Martian-born comrades who had to hunt for correct sizes, the suits dating back to the era when Earth-born height was standard. Hamish found the mechanism on the airlock and it burst open, covering the rover with a sheen of dust as the pressures equalised.
Alexandra walked over, freshly suited, and threw open the cabin door to the rover. She was faced with a bewildering array of controls. The steering wheel was classical enough, but the multitude of levers and toggles resembled her day job at the Water Refinery Division more than any vehicle she’d ever seen. Bea squeezed through to the back, bazooka in hand, while Hamish fiddled with his spacesuit.
“Any minute now,” Bea growled, as Hamish screwed on his helmet and cycled the scrubber. Alexandra cycled switches in the rover cabin manically, in the hope of energising the ancient vehicle.
The imperial guard announced their arrival with a spray of laser rifle shots, which snaked past Hamish as he ducked and dodged, hitting the airlock button as he dove into the passenger seat. “Go, go, go!” he shouted. Alexandra put her foot to the floor.
And nothing happened.
A volley of laser rifle shots deflected off the vehicle’s shining bodywork as the inner airlock door slowly lifted. A half dozen white clad imperial guards filled the room, working at the mechanisms on the door.
As the outer door slowly opened to the red sands of the surface, Alexandra continued toggling switches. The expansive desert of the Martian surface opened up in front of them, eerily empty, especially to those like Alexandra who had spent their whole lives in the crowded domes. But almost immediately, the outer door began to close, as the guards figured out the override.
A surfeit of lights glowed green, illuminating the controls, as a trickle of charge reached the rover’s solar panelled exterior. Alexandra toggled the newly marked On switch, and gunned the accelerator.
They slowly crawled forward, and the closing door stuttered and stopped just above the roof of the rover. They trickled out into the red sands. Behind, a white clad guard cursed, as he hammered the override button to no avail.
The rover extended an array of solar panels from each side of the back of its cabin, like a bird sprouting wings. And gradually, as the battery picked up charge, it sped up.
Alexandra steered due east, over the range of sand dunes toward the spaceport.