Aubrey was laughing and she couldn’t help it. “Don’t be absurd, Priss. There’s no such thing as martians outside of the hominid group. And they’re from here on Earth. Mars has never been colonized.”
“Of course it has.” Priss shook her head. “With no history books it’s no surprise you don’t remember it. It was probably deleted from your datahubs but the Borealis Colony was established two decades before the Departure as a trial run for most of the technology and techniques intended for use during the Triad Colonization efforts.”
“And what?” Aubrey was starting to piece together where this was going. “Earth’s martians fought a war with them over… space? Food? Manufacturing? Is any of that even relevant over the interplanetary scale?”
“You might be surprised,” Priss said. “And it would have had to be Earth as a whole, no region isn’t exposed to the threat at some point during the planet’s rotation. If you think one part of the population just sat around, uninvolved… well, you don’t know much about war. The main point is, that fits all the data points we have.”
“Like what?” She spotted Sean coming around the side of the tarp, his expression looking very troubled. But for the moment he just stopped and leaned against the side of the vehicle, listening quietly.
“Like how the Armstrong got fragged. It’s standard procedure to drop subluminal outside a star system, pick up the exact locations of planets and then move in along a standard approach vector at superluminal until within two hundred thousand kilometers of the intended destination. The standard approach to Earth was along the Earth/Mars Superluminal Corridor. If Earth and Mars went to war that would be the most logical vector to guard first. If we ran into guard satellites there it could very easily explain what happened to us.”
Sean started to speak but Aubrey snapped, “Not now, Sean.” Priss jumped a little, following her line of sight to see him standing off to one side and looking more than a little surprised. “You were really dismissive of the drone you blew up today. How come your fancy space ship got blown up by satellites of the same age?”
“For starters, weapons scale up really well but passive defenses struggle to keep up.” Dex materialized from the darkness, looking amused at the conversation. “Active defenses require several seconds to bring online after a ship leaves superluminal. If we got painted by kill satellites, even very old ones, as soon as we dropped to subluminal then even a state of the art orbit ship could get fragged in just a few seconds. And that’s assuming we didn’t physically collide with one of them. From some of the chatter I heard on the way to the drop pods I’m guessing that’s what happened.” He glanced at Priss. “Did you share this with Lang?”
She snorted. “Long story. Anyway, satellites along the approach path would also prevent any of the messenger drones the colonies sent back with reports from reaching the planet. So a guarded Superluminal Corridor would explain the long silence from Earth as well. They never answered messages because they got blown up before reaching the planet.”
“Except for the little problem where there is no colony on Mars,” Aubrey pointed out.
Priss pinched the bridge of her nose with a sigh. “Aubrey, if your history books-”
“You keep going on about that,” she replied in exasperation. “Have you ever thought you might be projecting some?” Dex and Priss exchanged a glance, and Aubrey had gotten used enough to this weird silent communication of theirs to guess they were trying to figure out what she meant, so she just told them. “Like, have you ever stopped to wonder if there was a Martian colony?”
Dex laughed. “Of course there was.”
“How do you know?” Aubrey asked. “You’re always doubting what I tell you history was. What about what you say history is? History is pretty subjective anyway.”
“If there was a colony on Mars there was a colony on Mars,” Priss pointed out.
“So you’ve been there? You’ve seen it?” Aubrey laughed. “Everything you said about history being changed could easily have been done by your leaders. You needed to justify your choice to colonialize other planets as part of a warped need to spread your culture beyond its sustainable boundaries so you spun a story about other colonies on other planets to make it seem like a natural thing.”
“Fair enough of a point,” Dex said, “but the existence of physical copies of history makes changing it much harder. You’ll always miss copies of the old history in you clean up – anyone who’s tried to issue upgrades to an equipment pool can testify to that.”
“Even on those colony ships you rode on?” Aubrey asked. “I’m an expert on transportation, Dex. I know how hard it is to design a vehicle with a lot of luxury systems. There can’t have been much room for private books onboard, all they would have had to do is load the new history books and the switch is complete.”
“What about all the people that knew differently?” Priss asked. “They can’t all have been in on it.”
“I don’t know,” Aubrey said in exasperation. “This scheming and tricking schtick is your forte, you tell me how they might have dealt with them. I’m just saying you seem to expect a lot more of me than you do of yourself in this little theory you’ve put together.”
A throat cleared noisily in the darkness and they all turned to find Lang staring balefully at them. “I don’t know what you guys were arguing about and I don’t care. It’s time for you to hit the hay. If we get an early start we should reach our destination by early evening, enough time to look around and get back out into the desert by nightfall and pull together a plan. I’m going to hit the sanitizer and then pass out for a bit. I want you horizontal by the time I’m done.”
He pushed past them and ducked under the tarp, leaving the other four to stare uncomfortably at each other for a few moments before they went their own ways.
Lang stepped out of the van ten minutes later feeling much less grimy. It was easy to forget how badly an evac suit could smell when you stripped out of it after a few days of hard use, especially after a long time in space, and he couldn’t blame Priss for wanting to spend a little time in ship slops before strapping it back on. He’d chosen to pick his battles there rather than insist on the evac suit. It did have actual armor and thus offered some protection in combat, but it wasn’t intended for their current situation and he didn’t see anything to gain by insisting she wear it.
He did put his own back on as soon as the suit scrubber was done with it.
To his surprise he found Aubrey sitting at the back of the van when he got out. She had pushed the tarp up to make a small tunnel so she could stare out at the stars while she waited. He hesitated a second, not sure what to say. The stereotype of pilots as smooth talkers definitely didn’t apply to him.
Fortunately, she took away the need for him to come up with something.
“You look like shit.”
“Yes. The truth is, when you scrub away the dirt, spacers are a pretty unimpressive form of life.” He smiled wearily. “Wait till we get a look at what you look like under all that grime. I’m sure it’s equally impressive.”
“I’m serious, Lang.” She got up and looked him in the eye. “Priss was telling me earlier about the stupid fucking logs you have to keep, and how much trouble they can get you in. Why do you even bother with it? The stress is eating you up.”
“It’s not the logs that stress me out. I’m pretty sure those will reflect pretty well on me. It’s worrying about Priss and Dex. I’m not cut out to be making decisions for other people, much less trying to balance the long term good of a unit against immediate concerns. That’s why I never did OTC.” He could see she didn’t know what officer’s training camp was so he hurried past it. “Recording the logs actually helps me get my thoughts in order, clears my head so I can get over the bad calls made and be ready to make better ones in the future. I’d take writing logs all day, no matter what it meant for my career, over having to worry about their lives all the time. It’s not like having to look after kids or anything, but it’s still stressful as hell.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I never saw you as the nurturing type.”
“I’m not,” he said with a laugh. “But my older brother has kids and that comes with responsibilities.”
The eyebrow dropped back into place. “Oh.”
There was more to that ‘oh’. “Oh, what?”
She looked down and away. “UNIGOV places all children over one year old in guided care facilities to ensure their health and wellbeing.”
“Of course they do.” He sighed. “You know, sometimes I envy the kind of life you’ve lived here on Earth. Then you say things like that.”
Her head snapped back up, murder in her eyes. “The fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means hit the showers, Aubrey. And wash your mouth out while you’re there, that kind of language is unbecoming of someone who’s had every medical and educational need catered to from birth.” He shook his head and trudged back out under the stars. The desert was remarkably cold now that the sun was down, something that had surprised him, although not Priss who could quote chapter and verse on every climate in human experience. Still, their sleeping gear could accommodate pretty much any weather with a few adjustments and he got it reset to the local temperature in a few seconds then crawled into the sleeping bag and set the perimeter scanners. He was about to doze off until his shift on watch came up when Priss said, “Have you noticed that they’ve increased the rate they use profanity with us? They’re starting to build up mental barriers between us and them.”
He groaned, not wanting to get caught in another of her long communicative theories. “Go to sleep, Priss. We’ve got a long drive tomorrow.”
She went to sleep, but perhaps she shouldn’t have bothered. They stumbled on the city by ten hundred hours the next morning.