They were not alone. Rising up the sands along a parallel course, a towering mech followed a squad of space marines. In the middle, hovering in the sky, was the CEO. His Iron Man exoskeleton blew off rocket propellant from each extremity.
“Let me at ‘em!” cried Bea over their local suit comms network, as she brandished her bazooka from the back seat of the rover. “Open up the cabin, and I’ll take a shot from here.”
“There’s no chance of out-shooting them here.” replied Hamish, as he rummaged through the rover’s storage compartments. “We’ve got to get through the escorts to the spaceport, and intercept them there.” He pointed towards the hemispheric dome on the horizon, as a gleaming white spaceplane flared and burned, executing a reverse thrust manoeuvre to shed speed lining up the long runway outside the dome. “We can take his goons. But this rover ain’t equipped to take down a mech, no matter how good a shots y’all are.”
“They must have guessed.” replied Alexandra. Four space marines clad in shining metal exoskeletons and armed with Gatling guns broke off from the main escort and strode toward them with long, loping strides. Their fusion of human nous and mechanical firepower augmented by hydraulics and armoured in steel had seen off many uprisings on Phobos and the Belt. Alexandra turned down into a valley in the sands and eased off the accelerator, to allow the battery to store some of the extra power. They’d need every watt.
The spaceplane landed with a burst of smoke and taxied across towards the terminal dome, as it fell out of Alexandra’s sight, hidden behind the rising ridge of sand which provided cover against the marines, if only temporarily.
“Keep your suits firmly fastened.” said Alexandra, as she watched the battery gauge slowly tick up. “There’s gonna be a little turbulence.”
Hamish hefted a mining explosive and its remote detonator from the storage compartment. “That ain’t nothing the Red Planet can’t handle.”
Bea slotted another round in her bazooka. “I’ve got a whole rack of ammo back here. Just let me at the bastards.”
Alexandra glanced across the array of switches in front of her, illuminated by glowing green labels. The battery had crept up to 20%, but there was nothing to pop the top off and let her comrades drop the hammer on the Corporation goons. She kept the rover following the gully, comfortable that the CEO couldn’t move any faster than his hulking mechs without losing their protection.
A whirring cry filled the air. On the ridge to Alexandra’s left, steel and man formed the basic unit of the Corporation’s Security Service, the space marine. The man encased in the exoskeleton smirked, as a volley of bullets from his arm-mounted Gatling gun struck the roof of the rover. Air began to rush out of the cabin with a high-pitched squeal.
Alexandra wrenched the rover left and right, trying to dodge the hail of bullets which struck home, littering the extended solar panels with scars.
Time to use some of that battery charge. Alexandra cut upslope to her left, and put her foot to the floor. “Take cover, everyone!” she cried, as the rover shot uphill with a burst of speed.
The windscreen took the brunt of a hail of bullets with a series of sickening cracks as the hardened plastic shuddered and screamed. Alexandra hit the overdrive lever, and ducked down below the parapet, as the rover careened toward the space marine, ancient electric motors shuddering as they pushed past their healthy voltages.
As they approached, the marine gave a grunt, and launched upwards, his jump aided by the hydraulic pistons in his carapace. Over the ridge, Alexandra glanced three more space marines, readying themselves for action. The rover sped beneath the first marine, who floated up languidly in the lax Martian gravity. His Gatling gun ceased its chant of death. Newton’s third law took the side of the Red Planet – he couldn’t fire in midair or the recoil from the Gatling gun would have thrown the marine clear backwards away from the fight, to fall in the gully below.
While he floated in midair, Bea saw an opportunity. It took little more than a shove to knock clear the roof of the rover’s cabin, thanks to the lacerations it suffered at the hands of the marine’s Gatling gun. She stuck her head up above the vehicle, and aimed her bazooka backwards.
As the rover reached the apex of the hillock, it flew into the air, soaring with all it’s momentum. Bea fired a rocket from her bazooka back at the aerial marine, instantaneously floating as he reached his apex. It struck home with a bang, and both the man and the debris cracked loose from the impact were thrown backwards, away into the gully. The rover, on the other hand, surged forward, continuing its ungainly path toward the three marines, who gawked in wide-eyed surprise. It landed with a groan from the abused suspension, but continued, straight toward the centremost marine. Bea pulled another rocket from her stash, Hamish primed his explosives, and Alexandra sized them up.
The blemishes on the steel torso armour by the face of the central figure indicated that they had faced stiff resistance at their last drop, probably at the miners’ strike on Phobos, if the news could be believed. His engraved epaulettes marked him as the squad leader. The boy on the left looked hardly old enough to be out of school, let alone piloting a killing machine. Kinda handsome, in a pretty boy way though. But he’d shatter if he faced serious opposition. On the right, however, was the salt-and-pepper beard of a veteran.
She wrenched the wheel right, aiming at the far side of the veteran. See how keen they were to fire around their own. “Give me a distraction, Bea!” she called out.
“With pleasure.” Bea replied. She shot a rocket toward the feet of the squad’s leader. The marine jumped back as it hit the ground, sending up a thick cloud of fine red dust. Alexandra herad the Gatling guns spinning up. But the cloud of dust blocked the marines’ vision, and the electric rover was too quiet for them to hear over the whirr of their cannons. Bullets flew through the air, but only a handful of pockmarks were added to the existing damage on the rover.
They emerged from the cloud fifty metres to the right of the veteran who quickly spun and redirected his fire. The buzzsaw of the Gatling gun at close range ripped off the extended solar panel on the left side entirely, leaving the rover crippled like a one winged angel. The side of the cabin resounded with echoing thumps, as the bullets slammed into the fragile core. Alexandra and Bea ducked as low as they could, taking whatever cover the crippled vehicle could still provide. Alexandra snuck a glance past their foe, and saw the other marines’ guns spun down, fearing hitting their comrade. They tried to reposition, quickly.
Hamish warily glanced up above the parapet, heaving his explosives in one hand. As they approached the marine, he threw out a stick, and ducked, covering his ears.
With a click from Hamish’s detonator, the explosives burst, shattering the armour of the veteran and sending sharp pieces of steel debris flying. A thick slice of metal burst through the hydraulic leg of the squad leader. He hopped and gesticulated, but that leg remained immobile. Even without comms to the marines, Alexandra could almost hear the cry of anguish that went out from the rookie, who laid his head in armoured hands, falling to his knees.
Alexandra and her rover sped onward, putting the marines behind them. Their destination was not far ahead. She flicked off the overdrive lever. The battery display read 5%, and the rover’s solar panels were shorn clear or, at best, pockmarked with bullets.
To the north, the CEO hovered, circling around the head of his mech. The remaining space marines had slowed, keeping pace with the hulking machine. If they were lucky, it would give Alexandra and her crew the chance to spring a trap.
“Have you got any of those explosives left, Hamish?” she asked. He answered in the affirmative. Excellent.
Alexandra circled the rover around to the far side. They couldn’t risk getting too close to that mech. Still, they sidled up to the entrance airlock well ahead of the CEO. She reckoned they had half an hour to set up a snare for that bastard.
“Access Denied.” claimed the automated message from the airlock.
“The hell do you mean, access denied?” asked Alexandra. There was no reply from the automated system. “We’re on suit air only, and it’s running out!” The shattered cabin of the rover was riddled with bullet holes, and Bea had of course forced the roof off mid-firefight.
“The whole reason the spaceport’s separate from Barsoom proper is to keep people like us out.” said Bea, from the back seat. “In an emergency situation like this, the Corporation will have override control. Can’t have the proles like us buggering off.”
“So, what do we do?” asked Alexandra. Hamish fished through the rover’s storage compartments, looking for inspiration.
“This vehicle has been in storage since before the spaceport was operational. We won’t find anything in here, and we don’t have the time to waste.” Bea said, hefting her bazooka above what remained of the rover’s cabin.
“Wait, you can’t just blow a hole in the dome!” exclaimed Alexandra. Eliminating the CEO and his lackeys to make a better world was one thing, but there were innocent people in there. “Think of the staff, they’ll suffocate!”
Hamish was nonchalant. “We can’t fight a mech.” he said, as he turned to Alexandra. “And we can’t get in any other way.”
“This isn’t what I signed up for!” shouted Alexandra, as she moved to disarm Bea.
Hamish forcefully grabbed Alexandra’s arm to stop her. Bea fired. The rocket whizzed toward the edge of the dome and exploded on contact. It shattered the plastic wall into a thousand pieces, flying through the Martian air. Air rushed out, as pressure sought to equalise. The screams of the occupants were carried on the wind.
“No!” Alexandra shouted, as she wrestled with the stronger man. “No, no, no!” she shouted. “Are we just as bad as the fucking CEO, slaughtering innocent people just to serve our own bloody ends?” she asked. She tried to swing a punch at Hamish, but Bea’s firm hand stopped it before she could connect.
“Child, how many have been ground up in the recycling tanks, worked to death so that the CEO could have his fancy parades?” said Bea, looking Alexandra straight in the eye. “How many workers have wasted their lives in toil, building his gilded palaces?” she asked, rhetorically. “You know why we call ourselves the Red Planet, don’t you?”
Alexandra shook her head through tears. “The red soil of Mars?”
“No, young one, we’re much older than that.” said Bea. “We’re the descendants of the workers from Earth, who used a red flag, even on the green planet.” Bea tried to comfort her, but Alexandra pulled herself away. These supposed comrades of hers were little better than the Corporation.
“The people’s flag is deepest red,” Bea chanted, raising one fist to the sky. “It shrouded oft our martyred dead.”
Alexandra butted in, “Sounds like the goddamn Pledge of Corporate Allegiance, to me.”
Bea muttered to Hamish, “That’s the problem with the bloody kids these days, no class consciousness.”
Hamish spoke up, “While this is a great academic debate and all, how about we get in there and try and help the workers who are left, try and shroud as few martyred dead as we can?”
Alexandra looked askance at him, then nodded her head. Fair enough. What’s done is done. She checked her oxygen tank, and clambered out of the crumbling rover, laser swords in her hands. 60%. She sure hoped this would be over before it was her turn to asphyxiate for the cause.
Bea and Hamish followed, eyeing her warily.