Captain Rush of Martian Security watched the screens on the bridge as the Terran warship Poseidon Earthshaker slipped into synchronous orbit over the spaceport on Mars. He was considerably more impressed with the great ship than he was with the planetscape below. What some people thought an awesome sight he thought was just a dead, dry world of canyons, long-dead volcanoes, and constant dust-storms, populated by dirt-poor miners who lived in crowded tunnel complexes beneath the surface—people who had nothing to do but work and plot against Earth. It was all desert except for the badlands, someone had said. When he thought of the great blue jewel that was Earth—notwithstanding the ecological and political disaster it represented—he wondered why he had volunteered for the thankless if not impossible task of trying to help pacify Mars. Of course, if he succeeded at this job, it would be a boon to his career.
Once the ship was fixed in its orbit directly above the spaceport atop Mount Pavonis, on the equator, claxons sounded and he went to join his elite support troops at Debarkation. Hand-picked and trained by him, they were the best produced by the great space colonies at the L-1 position of the Earth-Moon system—High Asia, High Europe, High Africa, and the High Americas.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s go. Our shuttle leaves for Pavonis in ten minutes.”
He watched them gather up their kit and their weapons—Bautista, Youssef, Noah, Haruto, and Wolfe—moving in trained efficiency in zero gravity as were all the best of Earthforce. They had continued their training during the long journey from Earth-orbit, plus special training in the one-third gravity of Mars, for the spinning portion of the great ship could be set for any of the standard gravities of the Solar System. This would guard against Terran awkwardness on the Martian surface, but they would retain the full-gee muscles of Earth, making them more physically powerful than any born Martian.
He had a particular eye for Sergeant Wolfe, his second-in-command. Rush didn’t much care for female soldiers, but she was actually the most deadly of the bunch. Also, as his second, she slept alone in the chamber next to his. He did not flatter himself that she actually enjoyed her Special Duties, but she was ambitious and he was certain she would someday be performing those duties for a General or an Admiral, and she performed them well enough for him. Unlike his men, he did not need to deal with hookers or Martian prisoners, and he could maintain a certain officer decorum.
“All prepared, Sir.” His troops lined up as well as they could in the air and saluted. He turned and they followed him down the corridor, swinging from handhold to handhold with packs on their backs until they reached the shuttle hangar. They filed into the shuttle to which they were directed and strapped in. The pilot and navigator were already seated at the controls and in a moment the small ship dropped out of the Earthshaker and fell toward the rust-red landscape below.
The near end of the great Mariner Valley was directly beneath them, and the complex maze of canyons called Noctis Labyrinthus that cut into the high cold plains of the Tharsis Uplift stretched out before their gaze. Gradually, the huge shield volcano of Mount Pavonis rolled toward them. Situated precisely on the equator, the spaceport tucked into its caldera would receive the benefit of the planet’s fastest spin, helping to launch ships and shuttles into orbit. The water pumped from the planet’s crust, the asteroidal metals mined from the many impact craters, and much of the food grown in the agricultural domes and garden caves by the miners were all lifted to the orbit of the Terran residence colony of High Mars and shipped off by slow but almost free solar-sail to High Earth.
This was necessary, of course, because the Terran surface was mined out and now almost useless for agriculture on a grand scale. The agricultural zones were now desert and the forest zones were steaming jungles because of the temperature rise of the previous centuries. That is why the wealth of the High Companies had been spent on orbiting habitats for their directors and employees, the dwellers on the surface largely left to fend for themselves, and why Earth and the Galilean Moons of Jupiter were still competing for control of the Asteroid Belt.
The shuttle dropped into its lock in Pavonis Caldera and was lowered into the surface. Two Junior officers were there to greet them, one to direct the squad to their quarters and one to escort Captain Rush to a meeting with Admiral Darius, Captain of the Poseidon Earthshaker. Rush was taken down gleaming corridors to a conference room where Darius sat at a table with others, including Satin Almak, the Governor of Mars. Rush was impressed and a little nervous.
“Captain Rush,” the Governor said, “welcome to Mars. We have been following your career back on Earth and hear good things about you. Admiral?”
“I imagine,” Admiral Darius said, “that you are aware of Captain Solla’s reassignment to control of the Venus prison.”
“Yes, Sir.” Rush had certainly heard of Solla’s punishment detail on the worst planet in the Solar System because he had failed to arrest the founder and leader of the Martian Rebellion, Progeny Brown. Or, more precisely, he had arrested him and lost him. Twice.
“Well, you are to be his replacement on Mars. If you succeed where he failed, you will be given all his powers. If you fail, you will…not.”
“I understand, Sir.”
“For now, you have his office and his authority. The leader of the rebels is now dead, though he did not die in custody, but others have risen to take his place, their names largely unknown, and they are certain to continue harassing our shuttles and rovers and shipments, using their uncanny knowledge of the landscape and conditions of Mars. No sooner do we knock them down than they pop up somewhere else. Your work is cut out for you. Major Alexander will show you to your quarters and familiarize you with the resources at your disposal. If there is anything you want to know, ask him. He can tell you just about anything about Mars. Any questions at the moment?”
“Good. Congratulations and good luck. Dismissed.” The Admiral turned to discussion with his companions as if Rush was already gone.
Captain Rush saluted and followed the handsome, haughty Major Alexander through the maze of corridors. Alexander moved like a born Martian, like a dancer, and Rush felt just a bit awkward. The squad was busy making their beds and stowing their gear when the officers joined them, returning their salutes but not speaking. Rush was taken into his office and shown the computer.
“Well, Rush, what would you like to see?”
“I’ll see everything I can lay my eyes on eventually, but I’m curious about the Labyrinth of Night.”
“Ah, the Noctis Labyrinthus,” Major Alexander mused. “That’s been a thorn in our side for a long time.”
“It was created by subsidence from the rise of the Tharsis uplift and the growth of the volcanoes following the Hellas Crater impact on the other side of the planet, some billions of years ago. The subsurface ice melted and the water, on its way to the Mariner Valley, carved out a maze of canyons and chasms, and the winds carved them some more. The Martians know them like the back of their hand. What’s more, they use explosives to cause landslides and change them about. They can hide in there and come out to attack our rover-trains coming up the Mariner toward Pavonis. We go in after them and get lost, or we get decimated.”
“What’s this?” Captain Rush touched a complex figure on the screen.
“That’s the Labyrinth Commune. Quite extensive, with a number of domes. There’s quite a bit of subsurface water to support it. Of course, like most of the water on Mars, it's polluted with toxic perchlorates, but our detoxification process renders it harmless. Naturally, we charge them for the equipment.”
“That commune would be their best base of operations in the Labyrinth, wouldn’t it? Why is it still there?”
“Captain Solla had a policy of leaving the Martian holy places alone if he could—places where Progeny lived or taught. In the case of the Tharsis Commune, just over here, the Martians co-operate by not allowing any rebellion activity. Kind of a treaty.”
“But the Labyrinth Commune doesn’t do that, correct?”
“Judging by the number of attacks in the area, they must be channeling saboteurs through the place now and then. We have no proof. Every time we raid them, we find nothing. But that’s what we believe.”
“Well,” Rush said, “I don’t believe in coddling rebels. The planet belongs to us, not them. If we close the place down, arrest everyone, and ship them off to Venus, and then the attacks cease or are seriously reduced, that’s our proof that they were harboring rebels.”
Major Alexander paused for a moment. “Captain, my orders are to let you use your own judgement and see what happens. Frankly, I think this could blow up in your face. We have done this before, when we had proof that a commune was aiding rebels, but to do it just on suspicion seems a bit heavy handed to me.”
“It would show them just how serious we are, Sir.”
“Well, we brought you in to see what you could do, Rush. Go ahead and do what you think best.”
“Okay. Good. I’ll draw up some plans.” Captain Rush suspected that Major Alexander would be quite happy to see him fail, but he was pleased. He had his own ideas of how to make use of the Labyrinth of Night Commune. His team could use some entertaining practice. All he needed was a suitable group of Martians who wouldn’t be missed.
Rush was feeling good. After Alexander left, he called in Wolfe and, without expression, she stripped off her uniform to reveal her magnificently muscled body.
The raid on the Labyrinth of Night Commune was a major operation. Three air-cruisers descended from the skies and landed outside the domes. Guns swung out along their sides and covered the main airlocks to the interior. A half-dozen Police Rovers appeared and took control of the surface entrance locks. At a signal, they opened the locks simultaneously, rolled down the ramps into the hangars, sealed the locks behind them, and disgorged troopers who pounded double-time down the corridors. In a matter of minutes, the commune was completely under Terran control.
Captain Rush and his squad swung out of his cruiser and met with the commune elders, who were read the arrest warrant. In another few hours, the entire population—men, women, and children—were loaded aboard the rovers and locked inside. They trundled out through the locks and turned West to Mount Pavonis, where all the prisoners were shuttled up to the Poseidon Earthshaker. The ship left orbit for the prison colony above Venus and the commune was left dark, abandoned, and locked down in the Labyrinth of Night.
For about forty days after that—almost a Martian month—there was no rebel activity in the district and Captain Rush was praised as a brilliant tactician and an able administrator. He had been right: the commune was an important factor in rebel activity in the Labyrinth. Of course, there was a reduction in rebel activity everywhere, and Major Alexander thought it was simply a matter of shock at the brutality of the attack, and the rebels were mourning and making plans.
But Rush could do no wrong now. He and his squad turned up at the commune and a huge rover truck unloaded equipment and weapons. The commune was wired for sound and vision, booby-traps were built, and the entire maze of tunnels, corridors, and domes became a shooting gallery and a killing field, in which Rush’s squad intended to practice hunting down human game.
Rush monitored the data recorded from orbit above Mars, looking for likely prey. After a time, there were pockets of rebel activity now and then on the planet, but they seemed to have changed. An entire bar full of soldiers was destroyed utterly, leaving bodies frozen in the vacuum. A platoon of soldiers woke one morning to find that every second throat had been cut in the night. Alexander said that someone with a knowledge of Terran history was copying the Zulu Wars in Africa. A ship was hijacked and flown straight into the Pavonis spaceport, killing many and destroying a fleet of cruisers.
Alexander pointed out that there were many terrible stories in Earth’s history that the rebels could copy. Perhaps, he mused, Captain Rush’s ideas were not so brilliant after all and his escalation was coming back to bite Earth on the ass. Admiral Darius held off a bit on Rush’s promotion. Nevertheless, he did not criticize his erstwhile hero and Rush bathed in the admiration of his admirers in Earthforce. He kept searching for something to inaugurate his Labyrinth of Death, and eventually found it.
A satellite detected an incident taking place in the Mariner Valley. A Terran rover-train of Martian prisoners had been stalled and hijacked in the valley. It appeared that it was near a Free Trader ship. The ship was fully camouflaged for Mars—rust-red and gray on top, sky-pink ranging to butterscotch on the bottom, but its infrared profile gave it away. Clearly, the Galilean was back in the business of airlifting and evacuating Martian prisoners, probably to the Galilean System or the Nova Terra colony in Saturn orbit, well out of the war.
Cruisers that Rush had prepared took off in seconds and headed down the valley to converge on the site. As they appeared overhead, the freetrader ship took off and headed at high speed toward the horizon, apparently seeking to hide in the Asteroid Belt.
“Typical cowardly Free Traders,” Rush laughed, and he let it go. He concentrated on the rover-train as it was surrounded by his cruisers. Men in pressure suits approached the lead rover and climbed into the driver’s cab. The vehicles turned and headed for the Labyrinth, their huge tires bouncing over the rocky terrain. Rush watched on the monitors as the prisoners were marched into the lock. He searched their faces, hoping to find their names in Earthforce records. After a while, he was rewarded. A young Asian woman, small of stature but abundantly muscled and even more abundantly tattooed, lit up the screen.
“This is Chi-Chi Li of the Martian Liberation Front,” Wolfe told her boss. “Well-known to Earthforce as a saboteur. And this…”
The screen lit up for a tall, dark, bearded man with obvious military bearing. “…is Aaron Ben David, Israeli mercenary, once based on Earth and now on Mars. He‘s a founding member of the Ancilius Group, which are Terran mercenaries working for Mars. He was Progeny Brown’s right-hand man at one time. Helped him to escape from our custody.”
“The younger crowd are unknown,” Wolfe said, “but there are some known clan elders. Useful as military planners, probably. But life on Venus Colony would likely kill them, which is why I suppose they were being evacuated. This is interesting.”
“This woman is not listed, but she bears watching.”
Rush peered at her. She was tall and dark and could not hide the muscles rippling in her body. She moved with cat-like grace and her eyes roved everywhere.
“I can see why you like her,” Rush said. “You’d like to take her on in single combat, wouldn’t you?”
“I can’t deny that, Sir,” Wolfe laughed.
A young man came up to the dark woman and spoke to her. He was handsome, Afro-Arab, and powerfully but smoothly muscled. Wolfe did not find him attractive but would enjoy fighting him.
“They’re Terran,” she said. “Both of them.”
“You’re crazy. Look at the way they move in this gravity. As gracefully as any Martian.”
“No, they were born and raised on Earth and trained to move like Martians. Interesting to fight them. A Martian’s grace and a Terran’s strength.”
“No, I don’t believe it.”
Wolfe shrugged. Her boss was incapable of believing any opinion that contradicted his own, particularly coming from a woman. But she knew a superior fighter when she saw one.
“Let’s get this started,” Captain Rush said, and touched a sensor on the panel before him.
Everyone in the lock looked up as red warning lights flashed and a claxon sounded on the outer lock. At the same time, the inner lock irised open to reveal the empty interior of the rover hangar.
“Okay, everybody,” Aaron Ben David said, taking over by instinct, “we’re being herded inside like cattle. Everybody who can’t breathe vacuum get in there.”
The tall dark woman added her impressive stature, helping to herd people inside. “Are you all right, Aaron?” she said.
“This is particularly distressing to me,” he told her.
“I can imagine. All right, everybody, Aaron is the leader here. If we all follow his instructions, we’ll come through this. Karil?”
Her younger companion came up beside her. “I’m here, Loris.” His voice dropped to a whisper and Captain Rush could not hear him, or her, but what she said was, “The Commune should stay together as long as they can. But we can go off on our own and reconnoiter, see if we can find some weapons.” She turned to the elders. “Do any of you know this commune intimately?”
One gray-haired oldster approached her. He spoke quietly. “I was born and raised here. Moved to another commune when I married into it. But I’ve been back many times.”
“Is there a training room or a gymnasium somewhere?”
“Through the hangar, corridor on the left, second right.”
“Is there any archery equipment?” Karil asked.
He grinned. “Yes. It’s very popular here. The arrows are blunted for safety, but the safety caps can be removed.”
“All right,” Aaron said. “I’ll take these people to the kitchen, where we can hole up. There’ll be water and maybe some food. You and Karil see if you can get some weapons.”
“I’ll go with them,” said Chi-Chi Li.”
Aaron hesitated for a tick, then nodded. “Okay,” he said, and turned to the oldster. “Show us to the kitchen.”
Karil and Loris crossed the hangar with Li. It seemed strange and silent without humming vehicles and the sound of metalwork, the sparks of welding. Li moved ahead of them and crept along, all business and alert glances.
“What was that about?” Karil asked Loris.
“Bad blood between those two,” Loris said. “Li accused him of being a double agent. You were incommunicado at the time.”
“A double agent! Aaron Ben David? No wonder he’s upset.”
Chi-Chi Li turned back toward them. “All right. It was stupid. We’re all on the same side here.” They found the corridor and crept down it in the near darkness.
Under Aaron’s direction, the commune group made its way down the main corridor into the big communal kitchen. They took the huge tables and turned them on their sides to form a barrier in front of the main door. Other doors were blocked completely. The place had been evacuated only a few eight-days before and there was some food in good condition. Aaron thought they could hole up in the place for some time. They would have to sleep on the floor, but that would not be an ordeal for the commune as long as they were together.
Captain Rush observed them at work together via the camera mounted on the ceiling. He knew his squad was fanning out through the corridors, on the hunt. He was not surprised that Bautista was the first to find the group in the kitchen. The double doors flew open and Bautista strode through, his assault-gun in his arms. There was a chorus of screams as the huge man in black body-armor appeared. In an instant, Aaron vaulted over the table and was upon him. He was fast and thought he had a chance to wrestle the weapon away from Bautista. The men were of the same height but Aaron was slim and athletic, Bautista a lumbering monster. He tossed Aaron aside with ease and raised his weapon.
He stood silently for a moment, a bloody arrow protruding from his mouth, then dropped to his knees and toppled over. Karil had been hidden behind his body. He already had a second arrow nocked and ready, but the first, expertly penetrating the back of Bautista’s neck, just below the skull and just beside the spine, had done the trick.
Loris stepped into the room behind him, holding a long wooden pole.
“What are you going to do?” Aaron asked, getting to his feet. “Beat them off with a big stick?”
“That’s pretty much the idea, yeah.” She picked up the assault-gun and handed it to Aaron. “I think this should be yours. Everybody else would probably be blown off their feet trying to use it.” She stripped off Bautista’s bandoleros, one of which contained steel-tipped shells for the assault-gun. Aaron put them on and Loris laughed. “Now you look like a mercenary instead of just a big handsome lunk.”
Chi-Chi Li chuckled. She removed Bautista’s big silver automatic and strapped it on, then wriggled into the other bandoleros. No one laughed at her. “It’s not my favorite weapon,” she said, studying it. “I like a nice sawed-off shotgun. Powerful, but not too bulky. Shotgun shells have oxygen in them and they work in both air and vacuum. You should see what a sawed-off shotgun does to a pressure suit. It’s terrifying.”
Karil hugged her. “It’s you who’s terrifying, Babe.”
Chi-Chi Li winked at Loris and patted Karil’s ass. Aaron rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Look at this. The laser’s not just for targeting.” Li spun the weapon into its holster, then whipped it out and sent a laser-bolt into the recording device on the ceiling. Captain Rush jumped backwards as his screen went blank and nearly fell off his chair. Wolfe kept a straight face.
“It was nice of them to send us this walking arsenal,” Karil said, and picked up Bautista’s legs. “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbour room.”
“What was that?” Loris demanded.
“It’s from Hamlet,” Aaron told her.
“Oh, Jesus. No wonder you’re such good friends. Come on. Let’s go shopping. Maybe we can find you a sawed-off shotgun, Li. Or a cannon. And then we’ll bring the fight to them.” She turned to the elder. “Where do you think they’ll be coming from?”
He pulled out a scrap of paper. “Well, Ma’am, I’ve made a rough map for you. This is the central computer core, where the comm system is run from. They’ll be monitoring from there, so I think their line of attack should be along this corridor. All the domes open up from there too, so if you can lure them into a pocket forest, you’ll have more cover than in a corridor. Also, they’ll be reluctant to use their heavier armament in a dome. They’re Terran and probably trained to fight in a forest environment, but so are you, I’m thinking. Frankly, Ma’am, I’d hate to run into any of you in the woods, especially if you can turn out the lights, which should be right next to the lock when you enter.”
“You seem to know your way around battle tactics.”
“I’ve been in the Rebellion for a long time.”
She stuck out her hand. “I’m Loris.”
He grinned and shook her hand. “They call me Gramps.”
“Nice to meet you, Gramps.” She turned. “Okay, you two. Let’s go make some people wish they’d never messed with us.”
Loris was in the lead, holding her Kendo fighting-staff lightly in her hands, just off the floor so it would not make a noise. Karil was at her side, an arrow nocked and ready, a full quiver on his back. Chi-Chi came up behind, glancing back every now and then, her hand resting lightly on her automatic.
Noah suddenly appeared, coming around a corner from a side-passage. He was a tall, blond, Scandinavian-looking young man with a thin beard, a laser-pistol at his hip. He whistled and two huge attack-dogs came around the corner behind him—the new Terran breed of feral police-dogs bred with mutated wolves, and terrifying to behold. They locked eyes on the trio approaching them and growled menacingly. Noah whistled again and they leaped to the attack. Karil stepped sideways to give Loris plenty of room.
She stepped forward, graceful as a ballroom dancer, and spun the heavy wooden staff around her head like a windmill blade. The dogs leaped to the attack but before they could reach their target, she spun like a dervish. The staff connected with one dog’s head, spun away and connected with the other’s. They yelped and plowed into the floor and lay still, skulls fractured.
Noah froze for an instant, his laser-pistol half drawn from its holster, in shock at what had happened to his dogs. Then he looked down at the arrow protruding from his chest, dropped to his knees, and collapsed on the floor.
“Jesus Christ!” Chi-Chi whispered. Her own weapon was halfway out of the holster, but it was all over before she could finish the draw. But she drew the weapon, saw the dogs’ chests fluttering, and shot them both in the brain, then glanced up and shot the camera on the wall.
They continued down the corridor and found the entrance to the nearest dome. Loris tapped the lock and the hatch irised open. Chi-Chi looked around for a camera and found it. “No,” Loris said. “Let them see us going in.”
They stepped forward into the lovely forest, welcomed by the call of birds and the distant splashing of water.
Captain Rush spoke into his microphone. “Youssef, Haruto, they’ve gone into Dome Three.”
“Understood, Sir.” In the corridor several meters from the dome’s entrance, Youssef turned to Haruto. “That’s a smart move. They’ll have lots of room to set up traps in there.”
“We’ll go in together. Quickly. Don’t give them time to work.”
They trotted down the corridor, weapons at the ready, turned the corner, and found Noah and his dogs dead. “Allah! They’re good.”
“They’ve got his laser now, too. Every time they take out one of us, they enhance their arsenal. This is not going to be the pigeon-shoot Rush told us about.”
“You want to tell him we changed our minds?”
“Not a chance.”
They found the entrance to the dome, checked their automatic weapons, and crept warily inside. They were several meters into the forest when the lights flickered three times and went out. The trees stood out against the quickly darkening Martian sky and the birds fell silent. In a break in the foliage above, they saw Phobos racing across the zodiac. They laughed and switched on their infra-red target-finders.
Out on a high cliff above the Labyrinth of Night’s canyons, Atalanta sat, looking down on the commune. She saw the light in the dome wink three times and go out and decided that it was an invitation from Loris. The ship rose into the air, using her fans instead of her fusion drivers to reduce the noise, and headed down the slope. Silently, in the dark, she settled to the ground outside the dome, searched for a power-coupling on the base of the structure, and plugged herself in. Instantly, she could see the entire interior in infra-red and deleted the body-heat of birds and small animals. Now she could see the warm bodies of five people in the dome.
Captain Rush looked up as the cameras in the dome switched off. He tapped a few sensors on the panel but was unable to bring them back again.
“This isn’t working out very well,” he said.
No shit, Wolfe thought.
“We have to get involved,” Rush said, “just in case Youssef and Haruto don’t make it.”
“What do you want to do, Sir?”
“We’ll take out Aaron Ben David. He’s the big prize here. And we’ll take out the Martians, once they have no protection, as a warning. That way, even if we lose Youssef and Haruto, we’ll have something to show for our trouble.”
“Yes, Sir,” Wolfe said. She strapped on her weapons and Rush did the same. They left the control center and made their way through the corridors toward the kitchen, discovering Noah and the dogs, and Bautista on the way. The door of the kitchen was bolted shut, but Wolfe set some charges where the lock and the hinges were located and they moved back around the corridor to set them off. There came a great explosion and the door collapsed and hit the floor with a crash. Rush and Wolfe stepped into the opening and opened fire.
Crockery, pots and pans, shelving and furniture erupted in a hail of shards and splinters, but they continued firing until the clips were empty. When the whirlwind subsided, Rush stepped into the room, expecting to see the riddled bodies of the Martians. No-one was there.
Rush turned to speak to Wolfe, but she was standing silently, her hands raised. Aaron Ben David was behind her, the blade of a carving knife resting against her throat.
“Put the gun down,” Aaron said. “It’s empty anyway. And drop your pistol too. I can cut her throat before you can move on me.”
Slowly, Captain Rush lowered the gunstrap from his shoulder and dropped the smoking assault-gun on the floor, unbuckled the belt and added his holster and laser-pistol to the pile. Suddenly, there was a commando-knife in his hand and he was slashing at Aaron’s throat. Aaron had been berating himself for threatening to do something he would not do. Now, he realized that Rush didn’t actually care if he killed Wolfe or not. In fact, he was willing to kill Wolfe himself to get to him. Aaron stepped back and struck Wolfe on the temple with the haft of his knife. Her knees buckled and she collapsed, unconscious, to the floor. Aaron stepped over her and took a step toward Rush, his knife glistening.
For a moment, they stood looking at each other and, knives out, there was a ballet of swift moves, threats, blocks, and defenses, blades clattering, balance shifting, eyes on each other’s faces intently. Aaron realized that Captain Rush had begun his lifelong training as a corridor-punk and was brilliant with a blade. They were tall and lean and well-matched. Rush was doing his best to press Aaron back so he would trip over Wolfe’s unconscious body, but suddenly he realized she was no longer there. He glanced down in shock and Aaron stabbed him in the heart. For a second, Rush looked stupidly at the haft protruding from his hemorrhaging chest, and then he hit the floor, stone dead.
“You can come out now,” Aaron said, wiping his knife on Rush’s uniform. The door to the walk-in freezer opened and the Martians came out.
Wolfe pelted down the empty corridors toward the dome. She paused at the door and strode inside quickly, so as not to outline her form against the light. She moved sideways and peered into the dark, hoping to adjust her vision.
“Welcome, Miss Wolfe,” said a mellifluous feminine voice. “Messers Haruto and Youssef are already here, and you can join them. I assume you are hoping to measure your fighting skills against Loris.”
Wolfe wondered for a second how the Galilean ship, for that was who must be speaking, would know their names, but then she realized that the artificial intelligence would already have listened to their recorded conversations over the comm.
“You know about Chi-Chi Li of the Martian Liberation Front, of course,” Atalanta went on. “She might wish to take on Haruto, though I fear it might be racist to suggest it. Likewise, Karil might wish to take on Youssef, as they both hail from High Africa and may well have had similar training. But it hardly matters who fights whom. Karil is trained in Ninja fighting like Haruto, and Li moves like a wild cat. She can take on anybody.
“I do not hesitate to reveal Loris and Karil’s names,” Atty went on, “even though they are under cover, since you will probably be dead shortly and I will be erasing this recording. I do not approve of your death, of course, but it seems inevitable. Your commander, Captain Rush, incidentally, is already deceased, but you know that because you did not expect him to survive against Aaron Ben David when you abandoned him like the cowardly, self-serving piece of shit you are. Let there be light.”
The lights blazed in the dome and, incongruously, the birds broke into joyous song. Loris emerged from the green gloom and confronted Wolfe. She spun her kendo-staff about her body and waited. Wolfe reached back over her shoulder and unclipped a meter-long aluminum pole. She tapped it on the floor and it extended to a full two meters. Then she spun it about her impressive black-clad body as Loris had done.
Loris’s eyes went wide. “That’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “I will definitely keep that.”
“Well, let’s see if you can take it away from me,” Wolfe laughed.
They began to circle each other in the fragrant meadow.
“I love the way you’ve programmed your ship,” Wolfe said. “Psychology is half the battle.”
“It is, but I didn’t do that. Karil taught her his inane chatter. She was amused and now she makes it up. I have to tell her to shut up sometimes. He taught her to swear too. She used to be quite the lady, but now she sounds like a bigger whore than you.”
Wolfe grinned, knowing full well that Galileans held prostitutes in high regard and this was simple trash-talk. Loris moved first. The clang of wood on aluminum echoed in the dome.
Elsewhere, Haruto and Chi-Chi Li searched for each other in the forest. They were both somewhat small in stature, but Haruto was encumbered by his assault-gun. He was strong enough to carry it, of course, but it was awkward in the deep bush, where Chi-Chi kept him. She had her pistol on fully automatic and with the bandolero she had just as much firepower as Haruto with a clip in his gun and another to spare.
He caught sight of her and loosed a fusillade of bullets, quite thoroughly decimating a tree, but she had vanished from sight. Small and lithe and born to 3.7 gravity, it was easy for her to disappear. Back on High Asia, Haruto was considered particularly light-footed and graceful, but here there was a tendency to step too hard and rise too high and he was always consciously aware of his stride. He was distracted and found that frustrating. This was perhaps the oldest story in the Martian Rebellion. His Terran strength would be an advantage should he get his hands on her, but she would not let him do so. To her, he was clumsy and not sure-footed and she found it easy to evade him.
Karil, on the other hand, had Terran strength but long training with both Aaron Ben David and Loris that made him as graceful as a dancer. He could pull a bow with Odyssean strength and had learned to aim his arrows accurately in every gravity. He and Youssef caught sight of each other across a glade. The latter swung his powerful weapon in Karil’s direction. But Karil let fly an arrow, then turned on his heel and vanished into the forest in a twinkling. The arrow thudded into Youssef’s upper arm and the assault-gun fired off in the wrong direction. He pulled out the arrow and wrapped his bleeding arm with a strip torn from his djellaba. Now he was weakened and at a disadvantage before this Galilean unbeliever. He pushed down his anger and crept through the forest.
Wolfe and Loris were well-matched. Wolfe was shorter but well-muscled and well-trained, but she tended toward voluptuous and was not as hard bodied as Loris. The aluminum staff was stronger but the wooden staff was lighter, more supple, and more swift. It whispered sweetly as it moved.
Suddenly a powerful blow of the metal rod broke the wooden pole in half. Wolfe rejoiced, but Loris advanced upon her at twice the speed, one half of the staff in each hand, and swinging them both independently to counter every move by Wolfe. Loris was in fact completely ambidextrous and Wolfe found herself bewildered by the movements as if facing a many-armed Indian goddess. If she could connect with Loris’s head at full strength, the woman would be knocked unconscious, or, if she could strike hard on her arm or leg, she could be crippled, but Loris seemed oblivious to pain and exhaustion. She shoved them into the back of her mind and concentrated on spoiling Wolfe’s aim with every strike.
Haruto found Li appearing silently from the forest behind him. He whirled, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Li tucked and rolled below the stream of bullets, and there were only a few of them. The assault gun was empty. Haruto ejected the clip and grabbed for the other, but Li rolled to her feet, dropped again, and kicked Haruto in the chest with both of her tiny feet. He found himself falling backwards and stepped back quickly to stop his fall. But he stepped too hard and too far and did not correct his imbalance. Chi-Chi was on her feet and levelling her pistol. Her last bullet tore through Haruto’s face and out the back of his skull. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Youssef burst through a thicket and found Karil exposed before him. He swung the assault-gun in Karil’s direction but Karil had already sent an arrow winging Youssef’s way. It thudded into his thigh and he fell to his knees. The gun swung away and the bullets went wild. With amazing speed, Karil snatched another arrow and sent it into Youssef’s throat. He plowed face-first into the dirt and Karil leaped away as the assault-gun in Youssef’s dead hand continued to fire into the bush until it was empty.
Li and Karil emerged from the forest just as Loris was finishing Wolfe. The woman’s face was covered in welts from a constant barrage from two wooden clubs, and she could barely hold up the aluminum pole. Loris dropped her weapon, snatched the pole from Wolfe’s hands and struck her across the back of the head with it. She went down in a heap on the ground.
“Come around to the main lock. We have to take these people to Callisto where they’ll be safe.”
Before they could leave, they arranged the bodies of their enemies in a row in a forest glade near the entrance to the dome—five men, one woman, and two dogs. They placed stones at their heads as if they were tombstones. Gramps, who was a Lennonite, said a few words.
Loris clipped the collapsing aluminum staff to its strap on her back. “Thanks for the weapon, Wolfe,” she said. Chi-Chi Li had a holster on her own back, holding what she had found in Rush’s armory collection—a hammerless antique-looking sawn-off shotgun.
“That's great,” Aaron said. “It’s a modified Lupara. They were used by Italian shepherds to hunt wolves, and the Cosa Nostra used them against Mussolini’s troops. This one has four barrels and a laser-sight. Lovingly built. It’s perfect for you.” He bathed her in his warm smile.
Li was delighted. She wore two bandoliers of shells over her shoulders and criss-crossing her breasts. Karil found her fetching indeed.
Taking a supply of food and water from the kitchen, they cycled through the main lock into the ship, who had already erased all the recordings and left only a repeating beacon aimed at Pavonis Spaceport. Atalanta’s cargo holds were arranged with free-fall sleeping bags for the Martians. Karil and Loris took their places on the bridge, accompanied by Chi-Chi Li and Aaron Ben David, and Atty leaped for the horizon with the throaty roar of fusion drivers.
Aaron hugged Karil and Loris and shook hands with Chi-Chi Li as they dropped him off at an Ancilius safe house on the other side of the planet. Aaron suddenly grabbed Chi-Chi with a grin on his face and hugged her too. She came up to his nipples. He kissed the top of her head and walked down the ramp, leaving Li uncertain whether he had been patronizing or affectionate, or both. She was supposed to leave too, and arrange transportation with the MLF, but she had a suggestion for Karil and Loris.
“I’ve never been off Mars,” she said. “Can I come with you for a while? I might be of help with our passengers. If we suggest that to the MLF…”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s pretty crowded,” Loris said with a glance at Karil, “and it’s a long trip.”
“I won’t take up much room in your cabin,” she said, and suddenly she seemed very young and very shy.
Long before they arrived in the Jupiter system, it became clear that Chi-Chi Li was extremely useful. She knew how to cook food the Martians loved, and she created an atmosphere at the table that reminded them of their home commune, helping to make a long journey in the dark and weightlessness to a strange new society more comforting. The Martians—all women, children, and elders who were best out of the Rebellion—had to learn about the Galilean and what to expect there and Li was useful in helping Karil and Loris know what to tell them. At night, she proved delightful. Her small, hard, curvaceous body was decorated with battle-scars and tattoos, each of which had a story to tell. And she was just as enthusiastic in the sack as in everything else.
As for Chi-Chi Li, she found, as had others, what she came to realize was the safest and most comforting place in the Solar System—curled up between Loris and Karil in a sleeping-sack while Atalanta hummed and clicked and gurgled gently in the bulkhead behind them.
Major Alexander and his platoon, following the beacon, had discovered the bodies laid out inside Dome Three of the Labyrinth of Night Commune.
“Major,” someone said, “this one’s alive.”
The medics managed to bring Wolfe around. Her throat was injured and she couldn’t talk at first but after an eight-day or so Major Alexander came to debrief her in the hospital.
“Do you know who it was?” he asked. “I mean, to take down one of the best squads in Martian Security…”
She could only whisper. “We recognized Chi-Chi Li and Aaron Ben David, and there were about a dozen Martians, mostly women, children, and elderly, looking to evacuate.”
“Was there anyone from the Galilean aboard that ship? It all seemed kind of their style.”
“I suppose there might have been crew from the Galilean ship, but I never heard their names.” A bare-faced lie, backed up by long habit.
“Well, it’s quite a mystery. They seemed extremely capable and quite thorough. Except that they left you alive.”
“Yes,” Wolfe said with a smile. “Lucky break for me, I guess. There weren’t many.”
“I’m sorry about Captain Rush,” Major Alexander said. “I know you served with him for a long time.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I was quite devoted to him. I worshipped him, in fact. I got down on my knees for that man.” Her eyes met Alexander’s and she smiled warmly.
Captain Alexander was silent for a moment. “We have to find you another position. Perhaps you could be assigned as my adjutant.”
Her smile widened. “I’d like that very much,” she said.