“Exit 29,” the computer said in a breathy female voice as the car veered to the right. Jack Marschenko took the wheel, deactivating the autopilot. He swept through the intersection onto Seventy-Third Street, where the abrupt change in the road’s conditions tested the vehicle’s suspension, evidence of the District’s half-assed efforts to maintain the infrastructure in the poorer neighborhoods. Marschenko, having grown up here, knew the area well. At Eighty-third he swerved to avoid a large pothole without slowing. More…
Chapter Two, excerpt one
Jeremiah Jones stared at the sentinel camera until he heard the slight click of the door unlocking itself. Then he opened the door and stepped into Elias Leach’s office, where multicolored lights imparted a sunset glow to the room.
Eli stood up from behind his desk, turned to his elderly cleaning lady, Mrs. Harris, and said, “That will be all, Manyara.”
Mrs. Harris muttered something about nonsense and secrets as she shuffled over to her cart. “Leave you two bigshots to ruin the world,” she said as she wheeled the cart out the door, shaking her head. More…
Chapter Two, excerpt two
The door opened and a young woman entered wearing a black silk dress that exposed only a hint of cleavage and ended just below the knee. She walked confidently: a brunette of mixed heritage, wide eyes, full lips, high cheekbones. Her thick hair swept down well past her shoulders and partially covered the computer interface she wore at her left temple. Such interfaces were not uncommon now, but they were still rare enough to draw attention. Not that this woman needed to draw more attention to herself. She was nearly six feet tall, her lean build accentuating her height. Except for her interface, she reminded Jeremiah of his late wife Catherine—something similar in the way she carried herself, as if unconcerned with how the world saw her. Jeremiah’s breath caught in his throat. This woman was taller than Catherine and thinner. Perhaps a little more athletic. Like Julianna but softer. Hell, everyone was softer than Julianna. Jeremiah was softer than Julianna. More…
The LTV’s retro rockets activated, causing a sensation like being caught by a bungee cord after a long drop. Several passengers screamed in delight. The touchdown at Lunar Base 1 came with only a slight bump. As the LTV taxied to the hangar, the intercom warned them of the potential for injury due to the lower gravitational pull of the Moon. After the LTV’s hatch sealed against the hangar and the “all clear” sounded, Marschenko, nodding reassuringly, gestured for Jeremiah to go first. Jeremiah followed a pair of research scientists in the row ahead of him off the ship. He grabbed the railing on the wheeled staircase and descended toward the surface of the Moon.
The hangar, about the size of a football field and thirty feet tall, constructed almost entirely of graphene-aluminum, smelled of chlorophyll: clean, unpolluted air. Genetically modified ivy climbed the walls all the way to the plas-glass ceiling, beyond which Earth shone brightly. Hundreds of other plants grew, scattered throughout the hangar, pumping out oxygen—mostly shrubs and bushes, with a few dwarf fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Amongst the greenery, walking paths wound, while off to his right he saw a red Marriott sign and a café decorating the space in front of the hotel. A handful of people sat at tables sipping coffee or tea and watching the new arrivals with interest. The sheer normalcy of the scene made Jeremiah want to cry. Just fatigue, he decided, and the realization that he was close to Joshua now.
Jeremiah awoke to a stunning sunrise of red, orange and pink: a golden orb off to his left slowly rising toward the ceiling—an artificial dawn playing out on his hotel room walls. He vaguely recalled the clerk mentioning it when he checked in. He found the remote and turned the sunrise off, leaving the room bathed in soft light.
A quiet feminine voice informed him that breakfast was being served in the lobby adjacent to the hangar. After almost three days with only nutri-water, he felt ravenous. He dressed in dark slacks and a shirt made of shimmer cloth that changed color with the light, giving it a rainbow hue, and made his way to the lobby, where he ate a tasty soy omelet laced with vegetarian cheese and sausage, lunar hash browns from Moon-grown potatoes, and three blueberry muffins. Then he made his way to the monorail leading to Lunar Base 2, stepped into a car and took the three-minute journey. When he reached the end of the line, he exited into a smooth tunnel decorated by genetically modified grape vines. Glow globes drifted near the ceiling. A door marked Escala Reception stood ajar. He entered, finding a small room that had a faintly musky aroma. Three Escala teenagers looked up at him from where they sat around a table playing a holographic game Jeremiah didn’t recognize.
“I’m looking for Quark,” he said.
They stood and moved to surround him, hands clenching into fists. They moved slowly in the lower gravity, gliding across the floor. The smallest one stood just over six feet tall, weighing a little more than two hundred pounds Earth-weight—about Jeremiah’s size. All three looked muscular.
“He’s busy,” the largest boy said, taking a step forward. An aura of menace radiated from him and made Jeremiah’s hair stand on end. He tensed, knowing he projected the same aura—a wild animal about to attack.
Elias held the PlusPhone in his hand as he let his thoughts drift back to Jeremiah. He envied the younger man, experiencing life on another planetary body. As a boy, Elias had longed to visit the Moon. He almost wished he could have given up his position with CINTEP and sought a job there. But they needed engineers and scientists, not administrators. He looked out the window at the Moon. We’re there irrevocably now. There will never be a time when it is empty of human life again.
Not until we’re extinct anyway.
It was even easy for life to survive on the Moon, despite a surface temperature varying between -387F at night and 253F during the day. Each lunar day lasted twenty-nine and a-half Earth days, so there were periods during each lunar day—whole Earth days—when the surface temperature was comfortable. And with millions of tons of lunar ice providing water, oxygen and hydrogen for a fuel source, the Moon could sustain thousands of people.
It might even be where humanity made its last stand. If this Susquehanna Sally had perfected the virus so that it could wipe out the human population, only those on the Moon would be safe—and Jeremiah, probably.
Elias shook his head. He was an Earth-bound creature. He would live and die here.
Sally23 longed to stay in the warm pub, but she’d already received one message from Sally2 ordering her to return to base. Seated at her table, Reg and Murph, her fellow graduate students, continued their good-natured argument over what the limits of science ought to be. As if it mattered anymore. As if their lives would not end soon. She didn’t tell them that, however. They had to remain ignorant.
“I don’t think you appreciate just how significant this development is,” Murph said, “what this can do for the sick and dying.”
“I understand perfectly, you gormless sod,” Reg replied, a smile mitigating the insult as he gestured to the tablet between them on the table. “You’re talkin’ about playin’ God. These people are messin’ with things they shouldn’t be messin’ with.”
Sally23 glanced down at the tablet, next to the basket that had held their deep-fried mushrooms and chips. She slid Reg’s pint a few inches farther away from the tablet in case the argument heated up, as such arguments were wont to do. The tablet displayed a story about the upcoming transfer of a rat’s mind from an animal on Earth to one on Mars. Playing God: that’s what people did. She turned to look out the window at the smoke-laden sky. Here we are, a year after the Las-cannon attacks by the lunar terrorists, and the air still holds particles of toxic ash. That used to royally piss me off. Ah well, we won’t have to worry about it much longer.
She wondered what death would be like. Part of her wanted to end it all right now. She knew she wasn’t worthy of life. But then, nobody was. Worthless lives made her think of her father. Was he still alive? She glanced around the crowded pub, took in her fellow diners, all stretching their lunch breaks out a few more minutes, their self-indulgent conversations creating a din of blather.
There was a small part of her that still feared death. It lurked at the base of her consciousness, tamped down by a kind of indifference that came with sick understanding.
Aspen wiped the environmental sensors and flicked the dust cloth, releasing fine red particles that drifted down Dunadan’s knoll toward the airlock to Tunnel Two. Moving on to the communications array, she glanced back at the sealed-off tunnel entrance to the New Dawn Martian settlement, then over to the pods where the idiots from the MineStar colony resided: a few kilometers away. A rotating crew of around fifty worked on Mars at any given time. Their current number was forty-eight. And their health was fragile.
Aspen still didn’t understand why the Escala had elected to settle nearby; she would have chosen the other side of the planet. The miners annoyed her. Supposedly self-sufficient—a ship came to offload ore and deliver a new crew every twenty-six months—they constantly intruded on the Escala for assistance: food, medicine, equipment and companionship. She wondered if it would bother her as much if the miners hadn’t created a trash dump a kilometer away, always in sight when she was outdoors.
Beneath her feet, the vibration of the miners’ big tunneling machines suddenly stopped. They’d agreed to cease digging during the experiment, so it must be starting soon. Aspen gazed up at the three inactive volcanoes that made up the Tharsis Montes. Then she stared out into space, across the darkness that separated her from Zora, toward the small white light of Earth.
Aspen remembered almost nothing about her early childhood. She recalled her parents only vaguely. But one clear memory stood out: the dock out in front of their home, and the vast lake that stretched for kilometers. The image of clear blue water and sky, interrupted only by the green pines on the far shore, left her feeling hollow as she surveyed the endless reddish sand beneath her feet.
A beep sounded on Doug’s control board. In the small info-window came the message “Chaos in Jakarta.” Doug reached down and activated the vidlink, compacting the President’s image on the screen into a small window, while the bulk of the screen showed an external view of a train station labeled “Sudirman station: 7:14 p.m.” Bodies lay strewn about on the sidewalk; buses drove past them without stopping. One truck ran over a fallen body and swerved around a vehicle parked in the middle of the street as it made its way to an intersection, where it turned right. Dozens of people ran away from the station, trying to escape the carnage. Sirens sounded in the distance.
“Are you seeing this, Madam President?” Devereaux asked.
Dr. Jaidev crowded close to the screen. Quark and Devereaux each took a step forward as well.
On the screen a woman wearing a long dress and a headscarf stumbled over a body. She managed to keep her balance, walked another few feet, then clutched at her chest and toppled to the ground. Doug’s mouth went dry. He looked out the window at the plume of smoke in the distance. Soon the virus would be here and Atlanta would look like that—people dropping in the streets. Thankfully his daughter was safe on Mars. If only he could be with her, hold her just once before he died, he would feel fulfilled. He wondered how long he had before the virus reached Atlanta.
“My God!” Dr. Jaidev said.
Devereaux shook his head. “We just ran out of time in Indonesia.”
Curtik stood in the light rain across the street from the Natural Hybrids Incorporated building wearing the face of a woman who died several years ago. A good disguise, he had to admit, even if the idea hadn’t been his. He made no effort to hide from the surveillance cameras. They would register him as Julianna Wentworth, a deceased CINTEP agent who had been his father’s partner many years ago. But by the time that data got passed to someone who might question it, Curtik would be gone. He flexed his mechanical right hand, a little annoyed at the residual pain lingering where the nerves in his wrist connected to the prosthetic. Yet the hand felt powerful and alive.
“You look ridiculous in that dress,” Zora spoke softly in his head. He knew she was watching him from a window on the fourth floor. She’d managed to disarm the security system on a basement entrance to gain access.
You don’t like my ensemble? Curtik replied via his implant.
“Julianna never wore dresses.”
How do you know?
“I read her file.”
It makes me look less threatening.
“You look like a loony. I can see your pants under your dress. Anything yet?”
Always waiting. Either for Lendra or Jeremiah or somebody else. He wished he could just spring into action. The Center for International Economic Policy had officially been created by Elias Leach to fight terrorism and engage in espionage, but in actuality it served as a tool for whatever the President of the United States wanted. And usually the President wanted to keep a stranglehold on power and maintain the status quo so that the large contributors who made election victories possible would stay loyal.
Now Lendra Riley ran CINTEP, taking orders from President Angelica Hope, doing the necessary things to keep the President in power and America near the top of the economic world. However, the good old days had vanished. Lendra, on orders from President Hope, had shut down the Operations section, prohibiting Eli’s policies of assassination and sabotage. Only a few field agents remained. Everyone else in CINTEP worked in Analytical.
At least Lendra had allowed Curtik to train as a CINTEP ghost—a secret agent like Jeremiah used to be—but whether he’d ever get to go on assignments like Jeremiah was an open question. This particular mission was unsanctioned and outside CINTEP’s jurisdiction.
“Just help him,” Lendra had said when she lent Curtik and Zora to Jeremiah. “I don’t want details. This is below the radar.”
At least that part was easy. Curtik couldn’t give her details when he still wasn’t sure what the mission was.
So was Lendra helping Jeremiah? Was Jeremiah helping Lendra? Were they in cahoots or just cooperating occasionally? Their relationship, no longer physical, was too complicated to grasp. And Jeremiah had almost completely vanished from sight, contacting them only by audio messages, dispersing minimal amounts of information, like now.
As the ore transport vessel MineStar 7 sank toward the surface of Mars, Doug Robinson looked over at Quark. It had been a year since Quark had been in the company of his fellow Escala—genetically engineered humans designed to thrive on Mars. Doug had been thinking a lot about how they’d met a few years ago in that shoot-out with the government in Minnesota. He liked Quark and was happy that the Escala was finally getting to join his own kind. He looked more serene than Doug had ever seen him.
Doug felt excited for his own reasons. He was about to land on Mars! A black man from a bad neighborhood in Minneapolis about to do what few astronauts had ever done. He didn’t know how Devereaux got permission for him to travel with Quark and he didn’t care. He was finally going to meet his daughter Celestia in person. She lived with her mother Zeriphi in the New Dawn colony. Doug had impregnated Zeriphi three years ago at her request, but she had never loved him. He thought he loved her once. But she had made it clear she would never love him in return. For her, it always came back to Zod.
How much did Celestia know about Zod? She and Doug never talked about Zod when they exchanged vid messages. And although Celestia called Doug Daddy, Doug wondered if she knew what that word meant. Did she consider him her father? Or was there someone on Mars taking that role? Or did it even matter? After the death of Zod in Minnesota, the Escala had shifted to a matriarchal society.
The trip up had been a long six months, but at least he’d had the company of Quark and the miners who were on their way to their new posts. Doug had been forced to spend most of the trip in this one room, shielded from radiation to protect against cancer. Quark hadn’t been similarly constrained.
Like the other Escala, he had been enhanced with the DNA of several species, one of which was an altered kineococcus radiotolerans bacterium that fed on radiation, so he had been free to move about the ship during the voyage.
The miners, like Doug, had been forced to stay in a shielded area, but their quarters were much nicer. Doug visited their section of the ship a few times a day for meals and exercise. He got to know each of the miners a little, though he spent most of his time with the new foreman, Colin Enright, who questioned him at length about what it had been like to work for Walt Devereaux. Doug got the sense that Enright and the miners disapproved of Devereaux because of his atheism, but they never came out and said so. Still, after a few months, he found himself engaging with the miners less and less frequently, keeping to himself, perusing the ship’s vast library for vids on a great number of subjects. He grew tired of defending Devereaux to these backwards laborers.
“How’re you doing?” Quark asked.
“I’m fine,” he said, wondering if that was true.