“Listen young man, Bishop West himself commanded I review the next train to the Lowell Crater.” Don glowered at the young man operating the Electrotrak to the southern pole of Mars. “You won’t have it on your record, because as I told you, it’s confidential.”
The man, nearly a boy, cleared his throat and looked again at the computer pad in his hands. “Sir, I understand that, but I have been given instructions, I believe from your office, that no deviation to protocol is allowed without express written permission signed by you and by the Bishop himself.” The young man wiped his brow, a bit of sweat appearing there.
Don rubbed his eyes and adjusted the pack on his shoulder. “Look kid,” he squinted at the boys name patch, “I mean Master Parks,” Don smiled feebly, “I know the rules but you also know I am your commanding officer.” Don looked back over his shoulder down the corridor, no lights were on, they were alone. “There is an emergency at Lowell, the new site we’ve begun digging and it requires my immediate and in person attention. This time we have to break protocol.” Don put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Have I ever asked you to do anything you shouldn’t do?” Don smiled at him again, trying to look fatherly.
The boy’s eyes shone in the harsh artificial lights of the floor and ceiling, “No sir.” He shifted uncomfortably. He looked at the pad again.
Don sighed, he had trained this young man several months ago. This was Parks’ first assignment, and his first time off Earth. He would do anything he could to prove himself faithful first to the Bishop, second to Don. Don weighed his options carefully before his next words. “Master Parks, you have a long career ahead of you but there is something that every soldier needs to able to move forward. Do you know why we don’t staff our outposts with Robots?”
Parks raised his eye brows and looked up at Don. “Sir?”
“Robots boy, do you know why we don’t have robots doing the job that you’re doing right now?” Parks slowly shook his head. Don smiled a bit, “Because they lack the ability to make abstract decisions. They will always follow their programing, to the T, to the letter. They are perfect in that fashion. ” Don cleared his throat a bit, “the issue is no one else in the entire known universe does that, that is follow the rules to the letter.” Don removed his hand from the boy’s shoulder, allowing it to drop down by his pistol. “If you were a robot son, I’d have to deactivate you. I’d turn you off. That’s how important this mission is to the Lowell Crater. But son, you’re not a robot, right?” Don looked into the boy’s eyes.
Parks shifted nervously, considering what Don had just said. He glanced again at Don, noticing that Don’s right hand was on his side arm. Sweat flowed more freely. He swallowed visibly, his voice catching a bit, “Sir I am not a robot, Sir!” He snapped to attention, both hands clutching the computer pad, his own side arm ignored.
Don nodded. “That right Master Parks, you’re not. You also won’t need to be deactivated.” Don slowly lowered his hand from his holstered pistol. “Parks I am going to submit a note to your record for outstanding service. ” Don looked at the entrance to the Electrotrak. “Now we’ve delayed this transport long enough don’t you think.” he glanced back at Parks.
“Yes sir.” Now the stress of that moment, of breaking orders had passed, Parks assumed a new disposition, one indicating he was going to follow Don’s orders. He dropped the pad into the satchel he wore and turned to the door of the Electrotrak typing in his security code. The lights flashed green around the entrance handle, indicating they were unlocked.
Don struck the boy just at the base of his neck with the butt of his pistol, knocking him unconscious. “Sorry Parks, but you’d report this immediately after I left I have no doubt.” Don bent down next to the young man and felt his pulse, it was strong. Don shook his head, he’d have hell to pay, but he would worry about that later. His rank and experience would likely result in a demotion, or at worse, a reassignment to one of the small colonies on Mars. Don rolled Parks away from the door and turned the handle to open the entrance to the Electrotrak platform. The rush of the super cold and stale air from the corridor rushed around his feet and he looked worriedly at Parks, who began to moan slightly. “Damn” he muttered. He bent down and lifted Parks chest up off the floor by reaching under his arm pits. He slide him into the corridor and shut the main door behind them. He could see through the glass the metal frame of the Electrotrak car, a lone yellow light blinking on it.
The trains were largely automated, the only function that wasn’t was the launch sequence, usually initiated from the platforms. This particular train had been loaded by the robots and Parks job had been to download the shipment manifest, confirm the train number and shipment contents before hitting the all clear and sending the auto train on it’s way to the miners at Lowell Crater. It was the last unmanned transport to the crater until next week and Don knew he had to be on it. He reached into the satchel and pulled out the computer pad. He flipped it on and scanned the contents. Mostly tools, some water, a hydrogen cell, rations and…… Don’s eyes widened. He looked down at the young man at his feet, still mostly unconscious. He then looked back at the main corridor, good, no lights on. He bent down to one knee to be near the boy, while moving near him, pulled Parks’ gun out of its holster and placed it in the jacket pocket he was wearing. Don reached down and grabbed Parks face around his cheeks.
“Soldier!” he growled, “wake up.” The boy moaned, “I know you’re coming to, I didn’t hit you that hard.” Don shook the boy’s head a bit, eliciting more moans, “Wake up soldier, you have work!” For a moment Don thought the boy would pass out again completely, but then the boy’s eyes fluttered open.
“Si.i……rrr,” he stammered.
Don didn’t have time for this. “Look Parks, I’m taking the train, and unfortunately you’re going to have to go with me.” Don pulled the pad out, “Tell me where these came from.” he pointed at a line on the pad.
The boy couldn’t focus, he shook his head. “Sorry, sir I, I can’t….”
Don dropped the pad and grabbed the boy by his lapels lifting him close to his face, “Tell me why there is a thermonuclear warhead on this train!!!”
Parks squeezed his eyes shut, “Sir, I don’t know, sir.” He muttered. “I just verify the train’s contents, I don’t know why they are there.” Don dropped Parks back down from his lapel holding.
“Bull crap boy,” he leaned down to be centimeters from the boy’s face, “It didn’t occur to you to ask someone, your immediate superior, about a thermonuclear device on a train on Mars?” He gritted his teeth, “FUCKING robots know better.”
The boy pushed himself away from Don as much as he could, “Sir, I was given direct orders to not ask questions and to make sure this shipment makes it to Lowell Crater.” His eyes were widening as he looked at Don’s face.
“Who?” Don leaned closer, their noses touching, “who gave these orders?”
“W-w-est, um Bishop West sir!” The boy was awake now.
Don almost fell backwards. He leaned back onto his haunches, “Did you actually speak to the Bishop?” He looked down at the boy. The boy didn’t say anything, he only nodded. “When?”
The boy looked at the door to the main corridor, hoping perhaps someone would save him. No lights were on, no one was there. He looked back to Don’s face, “sir, please, I’m just following orders, I can’t say anything more!”
Don sighed, he reached down the to dropped pad, placed it in the satchel Parks still wore. “Alright, look, I’m taking the Electrotrak, we’ve got to get the damn thing moving before we arose suspicion.” Don stood up, his hand on the butt of his holstered gun. “I’m guessing you’re not going to give me any trouble?” the boy shook his head. “I thought not.” Don looked at his wrist monitor, “okay I figure we’ve got 5, maybe ten minutes before someone comes to check on you, on why the damn train is still sitting here.” He looked back at the boy, “Did you verify the contents yet?”
Parks, still laying on the floor, half propped up nodded, “yes Sir, just a moment before you arrived.”
Don nodded. “Good. I take it this train has environmental systems, enough to take it to the Lowell Crater?” Parks nodded. “Good. And are their any robots?”
Don glared at the boy, “Are there any active robots on the train?”
“Oh, yes, yes sir. Two. One is a general maintenance bot, the other is a war bot.”
“A war bot? What’s its primary directive?”
Parks cleared his throat, “to guard the warhead.”
Don groaned. “Shit son, this didn’t cause you concern?” Don walked towards the end of the connecting corridor, to the entrance to the train. For a moment forgetting the boy on the ground. He leaned his face against the thick glass leading to the train. “What in the hell is going on here?” He started to turn back to the soldier, when he was struck.
The boy was on him, suddenly very awake, and very strong. he had hit Don, but his timing had been off as Don turned just as he swung. As a result the blow glanced off Don’s chin. He didn’t stop though and threw his full weight into Don’s midsection, knocking the wind out of him.
Don fell back against the wall, for a moment surprised, but he was a soldier, and had fought before. He brought both his fists down on Parks back while bringing up his knee. He allowed the wall to leverage his balance and center of gravity. This combination forced Parks to fall away from Don to his right. Don had a second, “Parks stop!” the boy was up again, fists swinging, and suddenly he had a knife, surely pulled from his boot. “We don’t have to do this, you must know there is something wrong here!”
Parks shook his head, grimacing at the pain in his neck, he slashed the knife at Don, who side stepped, “No sir, the only wrong doing so far is that you attacked a soldier.” He trust the blade at Don again, Don jumped to the side, sliding along the wall.
“Parks, stop, you cannot best me!” Don’s gun was out and he leveled at the boy. “STOP!”
Parks saw the gun, shook his head and grimaced, “Sir, you won’t shoot me.” He started to step towards Don, knife in the lead.
The roar of the gun was amplified by the small space, deafening. For a moment neither man moved, then, as if in slow motion, the knife fell from Parks’ hand to the ground. Parks looked at Don, his other hand reaching to his stomach, blood welling out. “Sir?” he muttered as he dropped to his knees. He fell forward on his face, his head hitting the top of Don’s boot.
Don slowly lowered his weapon, a bit of smoke drifting from the barrel. He slid it into his holster. He slide his boot out from under Park’s head, which thumped on the cement floor with a sickening sound. Blood was pooling under Parks’ body. Don quickly reached down and pulled the satchel and computer pad from Parks’ lifeless body, slipping it onto his shoulder. He stepped over the body and went to the door leading to the Electrotrak platform. He entered his own access code and the door to the train slide open, even colder air poured down. Don reached behind him and pulled the hood of his coat up around his face, activating the protective cover. He pulled it, like a ski mask and the seal on the neck magnetically activated, protecting him from the immediate air of the surface. There was atmosphere on the platform, but it wasn’t intended to sustain breathing for more than a moment. Don walked to the door of the train, the yellow light still blinking. Don entered the door code and the light above the train blinked green and slowly the door of the train slide open. he activated the timer to launch the train in two minutes. Don looked back at the body of Parks, laying in his own blood, which was already beginning to freeze as the warmth of the corridor was compromised by the platform’s freezing Martian air. He shook his head and stepped onto the train, leaving the door of the platform room open. He knew that when the seal from the train was disengaged the Martian atmosphere would completely freeze Parks’ body. That would buy Don a few hours time probably before a manhunt was launched for him. Enough time that he would make it to the mining colony at Lowell Crater.
He activated the door code and the train door began to close. A red light flashed and the body of Parks slide behind the closing door. The train became pitch black. Don activated his mask’s light and turned to look into the train. It was filled with crates, each marked with numbers. Don knew that the computer pad he carried would tell him what was contained in each crate. He looked around and spied the main console for this train car. Walking to it, he activated the car’s lights and environmental controls. A claxon alarm sounded, scaring him, then the train threw itself into motion. The sudden and forceful acceleration threw Don to the floor, and he nearly broke his arm trying to soften his landing. “Damn,” he said out loud.
He allowed himself to stay on the floor for a moment, his body, his hands were shaking. Not from the fall but from the fact that he just murdered a soldier. “Shit” he said. He took several deep breaths, placed his hands palm down on the train floor and stood up. For a moment he couldn’t catch his balance, then it occurred to him that there was no gravity enhancement on this train. No wonder he felt so light, and no wonder he was having trouble staying upright. “Computer,” Don called out.
“Computer active,” came the response.
“Computer activate gravity controls.”
“Unable to comply, this train is not programed for artificial gravity.”
“Damn.” He said out loud. “Computer, what is the estimated time of arrival at Lowell Crater?”
“Our estimated arrival time is 22:00 hours, Martian.” Don looked at his wrist monitor, good, nearly 4 hours.
He looked around the train again, now with the lights on. “Computer what is the oxygen and ambient temperature in this car?”
“The oxygen level is 21%. The temperature in the car is 12.6 degree Celsius.”
Don smiled, reaching up he opened his hood and released the magnetic clasps holding it in place. The car air was cool, and smelled stale, but it wasn’t cold and it was breathable. Satisfied he took the satchel off, removing the computer pad. he dropped the satchel and turned on the pad, “Now where was that…..” he flicked the screen with his finger nail, scrolling the roster. “There!” The code was listed as TN911TERM. Only a soldier of his rank even knew that code was for a high yield nuclear device. They had been banned after the war, but of course the Church was the only power to enforce the ban, she still had the weapons. These devices were the size of a water melon, and could yield enough force to destroy 350 square kilometers of area. They had one purpose, to completely destroy a target. Released in a cavern, like the mine at Lowell Crater, well, nothing would be left.
The device was listed in crate number 2304, train car number 6. Don looked around, “Computer, what train car number is this one?”
“This is car number 4.” Don sighed. He had to get to the crate and see the device himself, but he knew there was a warbot waiting for him. “Computer” he said again, “In which train car is the maintenance robot located?”
“Maintenance bot 6453 is located in car two.” Don nodded and said aloud, “Then it’s off to car two I go.”