The concrete landing strip stretched for kilometres, a product of the difficulty in slowing down in the thin Martian atmosphere. Twin silo tanks sited away from the spaceport held vast pressurised reserves of liquid methane and oxygen. Half a dozen men in pressure suits fussed around the spaceplane, refuelling and checking its integrity.
They scattered back towards the busted spaceport when Hamish gave a shout and a warning shot with his pistol. “No, wait, we need…” he started, before trailing off. To give up a pressure suit freely was to choose death.
“I’ve got a better idea.” said Alexandra. She limped over to the maintenance hanger. It was a cavernous space, patterned with galvanised steel, sufficient to store several spaceplanes. None were present at the moment, Mars Corporation in her opinion having overestimated the demand from Earth tourists for holidays where transit took six months, and the chief attraction was a lifeless plain of red dust. At the back, however, was something which had caught her eye.
The maintenance exoskeleton stood three metres tall, solid steel appendages wrapped around a central, figure hugging core. A core which also worked as a mechanical pressure suit on its occupant. And one of those hydraulic appendages held an inbuilt plasma cutter. Just what she needed to swat that bothersome fly out of the air. “Help me with this, will you, Hamish?” she asked.
It was awkward to control, with her hand inside her crippled pressure suit inside a glove inside a glove. But the hydraulic power was exhilarating, as she took her first steps out of the hanger, and into the open air. It was almost enough adrenaline to cover for the sharp pain which racked her leg with each step. Her knee did not appreciate wrenching two hundred kilograms of steel up and down, no matter the level of hydraulic assistance. She gritted her teeth and saluted the air with a crackling plasma cutter in her exoskeleton’s left hand. “For the Red Planet!”
“Let’s give ‘em hell.” replied Hamish, as he approached the empty spaceplane, which gleamed in white, a long, skinny marvel of technology.
The hulking mech was as tall as the crippled spaceport dome it approached. Alexandra shivered, even from the distance. It was bristling with armaments, a lumbering steel kaiju. Which, while certainly impressive, couldn’t deploy its weapons without risking massive damage to the Corporation’s assets. Those spaceplanes weren’t cheap, and one wrong shot could ignite the whole city’s methane and oxygen stores, in a flaming inferno. Alexandra hoped that the CEO was a smart enough businessman to avoid such costly carnage.
The devil himself flew over the shattered dome, the rockets in the hands and feet of his suit burning bright red. Development of the titanium suit he called the Iron Man, after the pop-culture figure – hero of both the Martian and Earth Cinematic Universes – had taken Mars’ brightest minds a decade. The CEO landed in the dust with a crash, sending an ochre spray of grit into the air, a neat hemisphere carved into the ground.
Alexandra heard a crackle on her comms channel, as the CEO broadcast on all frequencies.
“Well, well, I do appreciate the work you’ve put in.” Alexandra could almost hear the smirk, though the gold painted mask on the CEO’s suit stayed rigid. “With initiative like this, you could have made something of yourselves. If only you were properly dedicated to your profession, instead of this pointless anarchy.”
“Shut up, you leech!” called Alexandra, as her exoskeleton accelerated painfully slowly to a run. “The time for talking is over!” Her plasma cutter shone blue against the red sand.
“So hostile. Such envy.” The CEO popped his leg thrusters, and hopped into the sky, hovering with a wobble above Alexandra’s futile charge, as she cut the air with a yell of frustration and crackling of ozone. “Much wow.”
Hamish ducked out from behind the nose of the spaceplane and fired a volley of shots from his laser pistol. The CEO pulled out a shield patterned in the stars and stripes from behind his back. As the shield took the blasts, its design morphed into a smiling dog, of the shiba inu variety.
“If only you were rational enough to love science and technology like I do,” taunted the CEO. “If you were logical enough to have invested in dogecoin before it became our official currency, if you weren’t ruled by those pesky emotions of yours.” His suit’s right arm clicked out, to reveal a mounted grenade launcher. “Then you shirkers might have had a chance.”
Alexandra reflexively shielded her body with her arms. A barrage of grenades crashed into her exoskeleton’s steel arms, throwing fragments of steel clear and slamming her into the ground with a smack. She warily flexed her arms, and found the hydraulics were still responding, if sluggishly. With a groan as her knee flexed in an entirely unnatural way, she stood back up to her feet.
She gritted her teeth and shouted back, “That isn’t science. You’ve enslaved us all, but not for science or discovery. No, you’ve ruined millions of lives for nothing more than vapid nostalgia and children’s toys.” She smirked as she saw the CEO’s thrusters cut out. “And it seems like your batteries have run out.”
The CEO landed in a crouch, cutting another divot of red dirt free with a crash. “No, I’m superior!” he cried out, as he turned to Hamish and let loose another salvo with his grenade launcher. Hamish dived for the cover of the spaceplane with a yell of panic. With a series of concussive bangs, the nose of the spaceplane was blown clean off, launching a shower of debris toward Hamish. An even louder sound echoed from near the spaceport, and Alexandra spun to see the CEO’s escort mech wracked by a series of explosions. She silently clenched her free fist in salute to her comrades. The servos in her mechanical arm were awfully slow responding. The exoskeleton was as beat up as she was. With a grimace, she lurched forward, plasma cutter blazing blue, toward the CEO.
The CEO turned to Alexandra, raised his shield, and clicked his grenade launcher once again. “I’m the techno-king!” he yelled, with triumph in his voice. Alexandra ducked, sliding in an awkward mechanical crouch, but no barrage was forthcoming. She screamed in agony, as her knee gave way, and she toppled over, right leg askew and unable to stop the tears of pain. The CEO clicked his grenade launcher again. Nothing happened.
“Your workers had to make some serious compromises to get that design to work, hey champ.” called Hamish, extricating himself from the carbon fibre debris which had once formed the spaceplane’s nose. His ancient spacesuit was intact, but it had provided little protection against the concussive force of the debris thrown by the grenade salvo. Its faded natural red was augmented by a smattering of blood. He hefted the laser pistol in his less bloodied left hand, and aimed down the sights at the CEO’s gleaming gold mask. “Not enough fuel, not enough ammo. Basically useless in any real fight. It certainly does look like the thing from the movie, though, I’ve gotta give you that.”
Hamish squeezed the pistol trigger and fired a barrage of laser blasts at the CEO. He raised his shield, which took the brunt of the fire, though several shots hit him flush in the chest. The CEO gave a yelp of pain, but shrugged them off. “Solid titanium. Basically impenetrable.”
Hamish dropped the laser pistol with a grunt of pain, as it glowed red hot. “Fucking movie props.”
Alexandra lurched forward, dragging her mangled leg behind her. Through gritted tears, she howled, “Eat plasma, you bastard!” and swung her plasma cutter at the distracted CEO. He barely turned in time to raise his shield, which it cut in two, slicing through with an ugly blue inevitability. The CEO hopped backward, and dropped the mangled shield. “Deal with this logic, you sociopath.” Alexandra concluded.
Alexandra swung the plasma cutter again, but the CEO was out of reach. He feinted right, and Alexandra raised the plasma cutter. But he dodged left, and launched a firm, titanium plated kick at her shattered knee, aiming between the exoskeleton plates. The pain was almost unbearable, as her leg rang out with agony. She shrieked, and swung her right arm wildly.
It connected, slamming the CEO in the side and knocking him to the ground. “That smarts. I’m going to have a bruise later, I’m sure.” he said, in his clipped, professional tones. “But you’re never going to walk again. Not without some very expensive prostheses.” The CEO grasped at his side and stood up, taking a couple of paces back. “You know I love a good deal. So I’ll offer you one.”
“Never!” cried out Alexandra, through gritted teeth.
“Now, now, hear me out.” said the CEO. He pointed to the sky, where three spaceplanes of an unusual design, all black fins and ridged protrusions, were circling. “I’ve got the whole capability of the Security Service inbound. You’re one man and one woman, badly beaten.” His golden mask retracted, displaying his smirking face beneath a plastic screen. Serious, professional, except for a little blood running from his nose. “You both volunteer for a tour of duty with the Security Services, they’ll fix up your shattered bodies, and you can work off your debt to society.”
“You call that a deal?” asked Hamish, blowing frenetically on his red hot laser pistol.
“A very good deal.” The first spaceplane descended on a trajectory towards the landing strip. “There are a great many situations where your expertise would be quite useful. Rebel infiltrations are so difficult. There’s so much arcane terminology. Someone who can pretend to know what bourgeoisie means would be quite useful indeed.”
“Usually there’s two sides to a deal – what do we get out of it?” asked Hamish.
The CEO smirked. “Why, I’ll refrain from crushing you beneath my feet like the bugs you are.” The spaceplane landed with a puff of smoke and began to taxi over toward the conflict.
“No deal.” grunted Alexandra. She heaved herself to her feet, blinking the tears from her eyes, and hopped forward, kicking off with all the power left in her good leg. Then, in a tumble, she landed on her arms, landing awkwardly upside down and pushing off again in a handspring. The hydraulic power of the exoskeleton’s arms was plenty enough to allow an ungainly gait, as her blood rushed to her head, and she stalked toward the CEO, upside down. She kicked out with her good leg, and connected, hard, with a steel knee in the man’s face, blowing out the plastic face screen.
The CEO yelled out in surprise, as he fell back, giving ground while he raised his golden mask back up, resealing his suit. He tried to lunge low and trip Alexandra. But she pushed off in another handspring and hopped over his thrust, then slammed down on the man’s arm, holding tight with her exoskeleton’s right hand.
He cried out in pain, as the exoskeleton’s weight pushed down on his arm. Alexandra pushed off with her left hand, laying all thousand kilograms across the CEO’s arm. The titanium plating began to buckle and bend under the load. Beneath, the man’s flesh was much more pliable, mangled by the rapidly flattening titanium. He gave a howl of agony.
“Alright, I give up. You can be Deputy Executive Vice-President!” he yowled. Alexandra twisted with her hand, crumpling the titanium plating and the flesh underneath. Air began to gush out of the man’s suit. He gave a final scream, and lost consciousness.
Alexandra sprung up from her hands, and landed on her one good leg. She immediately collapsed, cradling her poor, mangled leg. Hamish stumbled up to her and tried to offer an arm around her for support, settling for awkwardly draping it across her steel exoskeleton.
A figure approached from the newly landed spaceplane. A figure in a costume, rather like a humanoid mouse, with big fluffy black ears, carrying a clipboard and pen.
He called out to the survivors in a solemn tone at odds with such a ludicrous costume, “Greetings. We’re here from Walt Disney Corporation. The happiest place on Earth.” He gave a little bow. “Who represents Mars Corporation?” he asked.
Alexandra gestured with her mechanised arm to the dead man behind them. “He did, but we’re free now.”
“I don’t think you quite get how this works, young lady. It’s up to the board of directors to choose a new CEO, if he isn’t up to the job.”
“No, we’re the Red Planet. We’re going to free the workers.” she replied.
“Sure thing, lady, sure thing. Anyway, I need to talk to someone about all the intellectual property which Mars Corporation has been stealing from my employer.” He shook his mouse-suited head. “It really is quite blatant – laser swords, imperial guards, mechs, space marines. They’re all the intellectual property of Walt Disney Corporation. We had to forcibly eliminate that mech of yours from the air, it was such a blatant walking IP violation. And you wouldn’t steal a car, would you, missy?”
Hamish sighed, and responded, “I’m sure someone in Barsoom can help you out. Head for the tallest building in the centre of the dome.”
“Barsoom?” The mouse-suited man shook his head again and tutted to himself quietly as he made a note on his clipboard. “That’s another infringement notice. The fines really are quite substantial. We’re going to need some serious collateral, maybe even the whole colony.”
Alexandra sighed. Together, her and Hamish started singing, “The people’s flag is deepest red,” and they raised their fists to the sky, one still gloved in steel, “It oft shrouds our martyred dead.”
The mouse man called out to them as he left, walking toward Barsoom, “Yes, that is indeed also Walt Disney Corporation property.” and he made another note on his clipboard as he strode toward the dome gates.
“Meet the new boss,” started Hamish. “Same as the old boss, you reckon?”
“Huh?” replied Alexandra, as she tried to massage her leg beneath the misshapen steel.
“It’s an old…” he started, but trailed off. “Never mind.”
Alexandra gritted her teeth. “I’ve had enough relics of the past for one life. While the corporations are distracted fighting each other, how about we make something new?” she asked. “Fulfill the promise of the red planet – boundless plains, where we can build something better.”
Hamish approached the landed spaceplane, seemingly left empty by the emissary from Walt Disney. “I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”