As science-worshipping totalitatians seek to overtake Mars, a defiant patriot stands alone against a corrupt system in
Morgan Asher never wanted to be part of the Martian colonization effort, but agrees to leave Earth for Mars to fulfill his wife's lifelong dream. After arriving on the Red Planet, Morgan discovers a sinister plot: Scientific Fundamentalists (Scifes) have infiltrated all levels of colonial society, and they hold a deadly weapon in their arsenal—one capable of rewriting a person's thoughts and desires.
Out of time and out of luck, Morgan must find a way to expose the enemies of liberty before their conquest of Mars is complete.
The Guns of Mars is here!
Cover Art by Philip R. Rogers.
Cover design by Alva J. Roberts
September 20, 2327
The frigid wind rattled the flimsy material of the pressure tent as Morgan Asher prepared for another evening among the rocks and dust of the lifeless wilderness. His eyes ached and he felt ready to pass out. He wondered if he would ever wake up again. Death was a definite possibility this night, and there were still a few things he needed to say before he succumbed to the eternal rest.
Retrieving a laptop from his duffel bag, he prepared to recount the events leading to his current predicament. His throat was too raw, his breath too shallow to verbally relate his testimony, so he let his fingers do the talking.
"Personal Log, Morgan Asher, Tuesday, September 20, 2327.
"It’s been a week since I had to run for my life, out here, into the wasteland of Mars. My food ran out today and my recycled water’s starting to taste like urine. The carbon filters for my tent and suit are getting hard to purge and the oxygen doesn’t smell right. Or maybe that’s just me. I haven’t had a bath lately and smell like a sewer.
"I don’t know how much longer I’m going to last out here, so I thought I’d better complete my account of recent events. I want to leave a true journal of what went on here, in case those dishonorable Scifes get away with their coup. I want to set the record straight and help defeat their revisionist history."
He paused a moment, trying to think of where to go from there. He’d already jotted down much of the tale during the past week. The guilty parties had been named, his own involvement explained, and now he was stuck with the daunting task of making sense of it all. He still had questions of his own, ones he never expected to have answered in the limited time he had left.
The carbon dioxide levels in his tent were rising and he found it hard to focus. His thoughts drifted momentarily as he resumed his writing.
"My beloved Lorna, if by some miracle you have managed to survive, and someday have the fortune to read this, please know that my only regret is that I’ll never see you again, and we’ll never have those children you were looking forward to; well, unless Saturday night made the difference, in which case, I hope the kid gets on alright without me. Don’t let those dirty Scifes turn it into a little zombie, okay? And I hope the kid has your hair. God, I love that red," he began to ramble.
A few sentences of gibberish later, he cleared his thoughts and continued.
"Everything I have uncovered regarding the traitors and their puppet masters, I have related in this journal. It has a decent buffer, and it doesn’t seem to mind the vacuum or the subzero temperatures, so I expect it will survive. I only hope the right people find this someday."
Morgan’s vision began to blur, his fingers numb from the cold. He’d written as much as he could. Shutting the laptop, he returned it to the bag and prepared for bed. He lay down on the lumpy ground, only a thin layer of plastic separating him from the dead soil of the Martian plain. He finished removing the last pieces of his spacesuit and used a hunk of chest plate as a pillow, the hard, rubbery material providing little comfort for his head. Flicking the switch on his LED torch left him in the dim glow of the miniature space heater staving off the lethal cold of Martian nights.
As sleep overtook him, both from fatigue and asphyxiation, his thoughts drifted back to where it all began. That fateful first day of Spatial Orientation 101...
October 26, 2326
New Mexico was never a place Morgan had considered living because the arid climate didn’t appeal to him. But he had lived there, for the last two years of his life, in an adobe box on the outskirts of Los Alamos with his wife, the lovely Lorna. They were only a few miles away from the newly established Aries University, where potential Martian colonists trained.
The facility was massive, built atop the rubble of the old government labs which had fallen into disrepair after the chaos of the Last Great War. For over two hundred years, this region of the country had remained quiet and sparsely populated. NASA’s new propulsion lab and primary launch center sat several hundred miles to the southeast, in Mescalero Valley, attracting jobs and personnel to the southern part of the state. But space colonization had need of new training facilities, and rather than build in an already crowded region, they moved next door, so to speak. The initial facilities had been built for lunar colonists decades ago, but the new, ambitious plans for Mars required upgrades and expansions, all of which were now complete and in operation.
Lorna had already spent eighteen months in classes, completing degrees in both structural engineering and metallurgy. With these specialties in her portfolio, her chances of landing a ticket to Mars were high. She had dreamt of being a Martian colonist all her life, and it appeared her life’s ambition was nearing fulfillment.
Morgan was her husband, and while he wasn’t required to have a PhD or any special job skills, he still needed to undergo the spatial orientation course to acclimate himself to a potential life on Mars. It had never been his intention to travel off-world, mostly because in his own time, such a trip had been pure fantasy. The America he’d known a hundred years ago hadn’t had a space program in ages, and hadn’t been eager to expend funds on researching the possibility. A lot had changed during the last century, and Morgan had slept through it all.
Morgan had mixed emotions about becoming a colonist, and he felt very out of place walking the halls of Aries University. He meandered along, on his way to his introductory class, while thousands of other students rushed around, eager and nervous. After passing a procession of people in spacesuits, he found the right door and entered.
The classroom was large and filled with hundreds of chairs, most of which were already filled with a diverse cross-section of society, people from all walks of life and every ethnicity. These were the spouses of the primary applicants, the proud, the few, who were willing to subject themselves to the harshness of another world, all in the name of love and devotion.
Morgan found a seat in the back row and kept his eyes forward, paying little attention to the strangers around him. It was like being back in high school.
A few minutes passed and a few more students filed in and filled the remaining seats, and then came the instructor, a thin man with egg-shaped glasses and a stained tweed coat. He made his way over to the hardwood desk at the front of the room and picked up a folder, which he surreptitiously tucked under his arm.
"Greetings class," the man droned on in a bland monotone voice. "Welcome to Spatial Orientation 101. I’m Professor Milton Pearson, and I’ll be your instructor."
The professor explained the upcoming curriculum. First and foremost, they would undergo a rigorous series of mental exercises and tests. Then there were physical examinations involving machines Morgan had never heard of, followed by extended use of simulators to test their resistance to G-forces. Toward the end of the course, they would all be taken aboard the Tigris Space Station, where they would spend five days in space, during which they would experience simulated gravity approximate to Martian normal, roughly 39% of Earth’s standard pull. All of this would determine who had the right stuff for colonization, and which of the many valuable jobs they’d be assigned.
Professor Pearson was an academic with a degree in psychology; a suitable instructor and evaluator for the mental aspects of space colonization, but by no means was he suited to rating the physical requirements.
As if on cue, their "gym teacher" entered the room and made her way to the head of the class. She was a small brunette girl who didn’t look much beyond puberty, wearing a sky-blue Air Force uniform and a sparkling smile. She stopped beside Pearson in front of the desk and spun around on her heels in a swift motion. Her eyes surveyed the room, studying all the new faces she was going to instruct.
"I am Colonel Melinda Faris of the United States Space Force. I’ll be aiding Professor Pearson in scoring your aptitude tests and serve as your primary guide during the physical aspects of your training. I’ll give you a taste of what life in space, and on Mars, will be like. Let’s start off with a few questions. Anyone?"
A hundred hands shot up. The Professor decided to yield the floor to the colonel, and sat down behind his desk to flip through his folder.
"Are you the same Captain Faris of the first Mars expedition?” a chipper young blonde asked.
“I think that would be obvious, if you’d read your introductory material,” Melinda replied coldly. “This isn’t going to be an easy course. If you want to make the cut, you’re going to have to come to class prepared from now on. But, to answer your question, just so we’re all clear, I was the first woman to ever step foot on the Red Planet in June of 2314, and that makes me uniquely skilled to grade your performance.”
It had been almost twelve years since the first Mars landing, and Morgan thought it doubtful this child could have been one of those famed astronauts. How could she have been the first woman on Mars unless she’d gone as a toddler? Nobody said anything, but it was no doubt on everyone’s mind.
“Colonel, why do we need to take this orientation course?” a young man asked. “I mean, my wife’s the geologist. I’m just a meat packer from Cleveland. What’s the point in me playing Neil Armstrong when I’ll just be a homemaker?”
Colonel Faris answered. “Well, first off, you’ll hardly be stuck at home, assuming you qualify for colonization. If you graduate, you’ll be assigned one of any number of valuable tasks. Mars needs more than just scientists and specialists—we need quite a few laborers and heavy lifters, people to do the honest work of building and expanding the colony. You might think the work is all done by machines, but even machines need people to run and service them.”
On the heels of her answer came a question from a young gentleman in a suit, his New England accent blatantly obvious. “Concerning the civilian labor force you are assembling. Why should we be conscripted into service when there is an overcrowding problem in many of the nation’s prisons? Wouldn’t it be fitting for them to repay this world for their crimes by helping to build the next?”
“I’ll field this one,” Professor Pearson said, standing. Turning to the questioner, he asked, “What is your profession?”
“Prosecuting attorney, Harvard, class of ‘23.”
“Really?” Pearson asked with a detectable sneer. “Then you’ve spent a great deal of time around petty criminals and violent offenders?”
“Yes,” the lawyer answered, and before he could continue, Pearson cut him off.
“Then are you insane?”
“Excuse me?” the lawyer asked.
“You must be mad to even consider sending reprobates into space,” Pearson said sternly. “NASA is not building a penal colony. There are literally millions of Americans who would do almost anything to be colonists, and you would steal their seats on the next ship in exchange for inmates? No. Space is reserved for the best of humanity. It is no place for those who have not earned it and do not deserve it.”
“It was a valid question,” the lawyer defended. “Colonial empires have long been built by the dregs of society. I was only curious to know why NASA hadn’t considered utilizing such a labor force.”
“You have your answer,” Melinda said. “Criminal labor is not wanted or needed, since there are more than enough honest citizens eager to go who aren’t in prison, yourself included.”
The lawyer sat down and shut up, allowing Melinda to continue her introduction.
“Most of you are in this class because your spouses are highly qualified specialists in one field or another. They’ve already gone through the training and been assigned a tentative seat on the next colony ship, which will leave orbit in roughly two months time.
“You may not be the architects, the geologists, the botanists, or have any specialization useful to colonization, but your contribution to this program will be no less important. You are the new colonists. You will bring human life and culture to a barren world, and within you lies the true foundation of Martian civilization.
“Over the next six weeks, you will learn what it will take to survive on Mars, and be given a taste of what the rest of your life will entail should you choose to go there. Now, I must warn you, not everyone is cut out to be a colonist. Some of you may not be able to handle it, and that is the primary purpose for the orientation course: to weed out the unfit. It is very important you learn your limits now, so we may succeed in establishing a strong and stable colony.
“If, for whatever reason, you are incapable of being a fully functioning colonist, it is important to discover that beforehand, for your own safety and the well-being of your fellow colonists. Your spouses are counting on you, so try your very best, but do not feel ashamed if your best isn’t good enough. Out of the first batch of colonists, nearly half of the spouses were deemed unsuitable or opted out on their own. That’s why we have nearly double the applicants we need this time around, because living on a lifeless rock in outer space is not something everyone is cut out for.
“Now, who else has a question?” she asked in conclusion.
Several dozen hands shot up again, and Melinda started in front and worked her way back through the room, addressing whatever questions came her way. Most were harmless queries which amounted to hero-worship. Everyone wanted to know more about the famed Colonel Faris, and what it felt like to walk on Mars for the first time. A few wanted to know more about the preexisting living conditions on Mars, and one bold lady expressed her concerns about the damage humanity was planning for the natural Martian environment. Morgan expected she’d be washed out of the program in short order, even if she was a Senator’s daughter.
A few students asked substantive questions regarding the upcoming curriculum, which gave Professor Pearson the opportunity to put the class to sleep with technical jargon while Melinda paced around behind him.
Filtering through it all, Morgan got a basic understanding of the class. It was a pass/fail grading system, designed to reveal the useful applicants and discard the rest. At the end of the course, everyone qualified would be offered a job with a paltry salary and free room and board. NASA was preparing a very controlled society from the beginning.
Morgan wasn’t terribly impressed or interested in the classroom, and the idea of spending the rest of his life in the heavily restrictive Martian surroundings ate at him. He liked his freedom and had always been wealthy enough to do most anything he desired on Earth—but on Mars, he would be delegated to some menial task, trapped within the confines of a tiny set of pressurized caverns and domes, tethered forever to the dictates of a government agency.
Above and beyond his own desires, this opportunity was what Lorna wanted, and he loved her enough to give up the world for her. So, here he was, doing just that.
Finally, after the last questions were answered, Morgan put up his hand with the most pressing thought on his mind. He spoke without standing, and with a youthful impertinence unbefitting a grown man. “Colonel, you say you landed on Mars twelve years ago, but I swear you’re not much over fifteen. How old are you, really?”
Melinda Faris giggled impishly at the query. “It’s no big secret. I’m sixty. Why?”
“Lady, I don’t care how much healthcare’s advanced, there is no way in hell you’re sixty years old with a body like that.”
Melinda’s smile vanished and her eyes narrowed at his insolent tone. “Stand up,” she ordered.
Morgan complied, and everybody in the class turned and glanced at him. His face was one they’d all seen on the news before, the historical figure from a century ago who’d advocated for the technological advancement of man.
Morgan wasn’t what you’d call a contemporary citizen. His body had been frozen in suspended animation for over a hundred years, his mind trapped inside a virtual computer program. Had he actually experienced all the years in-between, he’d now be a hundred and forty two, but in reality, he’d lived through less than forty of that.
In his own time, Morgan had been ridiculed and ignored by a world not yet ready to wake up from their addiction to computerized entertainment. Yet, in all the years he had slept, others had heeded his advice, turned away from trivial daydreams, and taken the first steps toward colonizing space.
None of the students seemed particularly interested in him, but Melinda’s expression lightened significantly as she locked eyes on him. “Morgan Asher. Of course,” she said gently. As she said it, the clock struck eleven, and the class recessed for lunch. The room emptied fast, as everyone was eager to fill their stomachs with the other twenty thousand students, all of whom had spouses eager to get to Mars.
Melinda asked Morgan to stay as the rest of the class left, and he felt appreciative to have a moment alone with this curious colonel in a child’s body.
The petite colonel sauntered down the aisle to Morgan’s back seat and stopped in front of him, studying his face. “The great Morgan Asher,” she remarked, beaming with pride. It was a reaction Morgan was familiar with. At first, the response had irked him, but the praise he received from select segments of society was growing on him.
“Disappointed yet?” Morgan asked, locking eyes with the girl.
Melinda dismissed the comment and added, “You know, I had no idea you were in this class. Each of the instructors get students at random, so aren’t I lucky?”
“First woman on Mars, eh?” Morgan queried dubiously.
“You don’t believe me? The history books are on my side.”
“I just can’t get over how young you look. Seriously, I’ve seen sixteen year olds with more wrinkles than you.”
“Really, Mr. Asher, even in your day and age, you must have seen old minds in youthful bodies.”
“Sure, virtual addicts who’d spent decades under sim. Not military officers who’d spent a lifetime in solid reality, subjecting their bodies to a ton of abuse.”
“As far as the world is concerned, this is all just plastic surgery. It’s what everyone believes.”
“You should know I’m not everyone,” Morgan said.
“No, of course not, and that’s why I wanted a word with you in private. Has your wife told you anything about the ‘added incentives’ for the Mars program?”
“Nothing specific,” Morgan replied, remembering the many times Lorna had alluded to fringe benefits, but been unwilling to get into details due to some non-disclosure agreement.
“Well, what I’m about to tell you must not leave this room. You’re not supposed to even hear about this until you’re safely on Mars, but you are a unique individual and I feel you have a right to know beforehand.”
Digging into her back pocket, she retrieved her wallet and pulled out several photos. She handed them, one at a time, to Morgan, talking as she went. “This is my yearbook picture from twelfth grade. Striking similarity.” She pointed to the next photo. “Now, this was taken shortly after my thirty-fifth birthday. Note the captain’s bars on the collar.” The next one was large and she had to unfold it. “This was a shot taken just before the first Mars mission.”
Her age was obvious in the photograph, as a woman nearly fifty years old. Her short hair was gray, her wrinkles obvious. She still looked quite fit, but hardly young.
Pulling out a fourth picture, she handed it to Morgan. “Here I am, accepting the Asher Prize for Scientific Achievement, almost nine years ago.”
Looking at the new picture, the woman was once again a teenager, scarcely old enough to vote. “What is this nonsense?” Morgan asked, confused.
“This nonsense is the ultimate fringe benefit of Martian colonization, and possibly the best kept secret of the United States government. You’re no doubt aware of the genetic research that has been ongoing since the first mapping of the human genome in the late twentieth century. Well, twenty years ago, a couple of lab technicians successfully uncovered a means of deactivating the segments of DNA which regulate aging.”
Morgan’s jaw dropped. He considered her words and looked at her youthful flesh, forty years younger than her natural age demanded. He wiped a hand over his forehead, feeling beads of sweat forming, and noticed the wrinkles starting to form above his eyebrows. He was pushing forty and the signs of age were beginning to claim his features.
“Now, the serum has been tested extensively on Earth among select groups of volunteers, most of whom work for the government, all of whom have been sworn to secrecy. While it works quite well to arrest the aging process on subjects Earth-side, there is something unique on Mars that also reverses the aging process entirely. I can’t be more specific than that, but rest assured, if you qualify for Martian colonization, you will be given the gene therapy and have the added bonus of perpetual youth and peak health.
“How’s that for a perk?” Melinda asked enthusiastically.
“It’s certainly attractive,” he said.
“I thought you’d appreciate it.”
Morgan handed the photos back to her and slid out of his seat, feeling the need to stretch his legs.
“You can obviously see why this must remain a secret.”
“Population control,” Morgan muttered, feeling a bit dazed.
“Yes. The world is getting to be over-populated again, even with three billion people on ice in virtual simulations. We have over six billion waking minds on this planet, and if the anti-aging therapy came into common use, there’d be no stopping a boom. If people stopped dying and stopped growing infertile at a regular age, you’d see the planet overcrowded in a couple of decades. Right now, we’re starting to find a solution to our over-crowding problem via colonization, but that can only curtail growth so much. Maybe in another hundred years we’ll be able to ship billions of people off-world and make this therapy available to everyone, but we need more time.”
Morgan’s head was reeling. He hadn’t run into this kind of future shock since waking up nearly four years ago. Even with the modern marvels, he could never have dreamt age itself could be conquered.
Still, some things didn’t add up. How could they keep Melinda’s transformation top secret? Exactly how had they explained her going to Mars an old lady and coming back a teenager? Obviously, there was more she wasn’t telling him.
“Take the rest of the day,” Melinda advised. “Go home, talk with your wife. Let it all sink in. The real orientation starts tomorrow.” With a happy nod, she turned and walked out, leaving Morgan with questions he had an uneasy feeling would eventually be answered.
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