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Excerpt for Mars: Red Dawn of War by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Mars: Red Dawn of War

by Lindsey Tanner



Copyright 2018 Lindsey Tanner

Smashwords Edition

All Rights Reserved

Chapter 1



Deserts suck. They really do. They dry out your skin and your hair, and if you don’t dehydrate to death first, there’s a devlan waiting behind you to bite you.

So of course I live on Mars. Not by choice. I’ve lived here for all seventeen years of my life and I can’t do anything about it.

My grandmother died from devlan bite right outside her house. The snake-like thing was hiding inside a scrub she was trying to pull out, and before she even knew it was there, it had her by the leg and its neurotoxin had reached her brain. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing. There aren’t any yards here. In the big rich city with the big rich people there are, but not where I live. We’re too far into the desert. There are no lawns. No trees. Only this wide stretch of red dust under inky, uninterrupted blue. Out in the distance, there are these tall rocks that some people in the city think are these grand monuments, but they’re only rocks, and these big old fishnet-looking things on poles rising up out of the ground every few miles like they’re trying to catch rocket-sized butterflies. They convert methane into oxygen, but I’d love to see a tree or two. But one of them growing out here would be like a well-paying job with benefits landing in my lap, which is far from likely.

I’m sitting on the steps outside my house in my not-yard looking online for a job because I like to buy things and eat. I just graduated two months ago from high school and I can’t afford college, and no one is hiring around here. I might stay here until Kingdom Come. I might die here.

My next-door neighbors, who aren’t really next door, but a five minute walk from here, have a daughter my age who’s joining the System United. Which is great for her, I mean, she’s been gunning for that job since middle school. She applied in her junior year and they said if her grades and volunteer work are good enough, she’ll be at the top of the list for consideration. Boy, was it annoying sitting with her at lunch listening to her drone on about it. Maybe I should have done the same thing. My grades aren’t too bad, and it would be great to leave this house, and Mars, behind, but I don’t know. It’s just not for me. Building shelters and doctoring people, and stuff. It just isn’t what I want in life. Don’t ask me what I do want. I have no idea.

There are no jobs for me on this website. I’ve been through the main job boards about a hundred times already. I click on a flashing blue rectangle and it takes me to a list of hyperlinks surrounded on all sides by ads. This one definitely seems sketchier, but maybe there will be more leads. I scroll through the blue links, and look for something, anything, I’m qualified for.

Here’s one. RMLM?

I click the ad and a video pops up. A bunch of people standing on a truck pumping their fists and their rifles in the air. They have headbands on, and dust flies up from under their truck in the sunset.

I’ve seen these people on the news. They’re called the Resistance Movement for the Liberation of Mars, RMLM for short, and they’re absolutely vilified by the talking heads on TV. They’re fighting with the government of Mars, trying to overthrow it because they say it’s run by thieves and drug lords. They say the people need them, that we’re enslaved by their own leaders, and that society is collapsing. I don’t know how much of that I believe.

I hit play on the video, anyway. Out of curiosity, mostly. I also turn the volume down low enough to not attract attention from my parents. They hover over my shoulder whenever I’m inside, so I figure they probably won’t approve of me even clicking on this video.

A bunch of people stand on a truck and pump their fists and rifles into the air. They have headbands on, and dust flies up from under their truck in the sunset.

“Fight with us, and you will be rewarded with anything you pick up from the enemy, in addition to your regular pay. You will have three hot meals a day, a comfortable place to sleep, and the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in arms."

Wow. Oh, wow. I want that. I really, really want that.

Look how close they are. Look how they’re positively grinning and some of them have their arms around each other’s shoulders. Look at that. Wow. I want that. They have cool clothes, they have a cool truck, they have actual real live weapons, and those awesome looking headbands.

I don’t even care what they’re fighting about; I want in.

But can I leave my family? They’ve provided a roof over my head, too. Clothes, food. Surveillance. They kept me from embarrassing them. They kept me out of trouble to the extent that it didn’t hurt them. Nothing else. They never wanted to talk to me unless it was about them. They never listened. I would have moved out years ago had I been able to get a job. Dad’s already tried to kick me out of the house one time, but mom talked him out of it. It’s okay. As soon as I can pay for an apartment, I’m out of here. And I don’t ever have to see them again.

Strangely enough, these people on the website don’t ask for any information. They just give me an email address. Okay. I’ll email them and see what happens.

“Dear Sir or Madam,

I am interested in joining the fight, as stated on your advertisement. Please send more information.

Thank you,

Rosetta Bailey.”

Send. Usually I don’t put periods at the ends of my emails or texts, but since this is a job offer, I figure I should be more formal.

I wait. And I wait. And I look up at a desert owl flapping its great wings over the roof as it passes overhead. We were never supposed to have animals here. They were smuggled on board shuttles from Earth during the first great wave of colonization. The people who participated in that first wave weren’t very scrupulous, and they were going to sell the animals as exotic meat. Some of them succeeded, while others failed and had their meal ticket escape from them and do some colonizing of its own. And now we have neurotoxic snakes and owls with wings twice the size of their bodies.

Our house is a white little suburb-like building in the middle of a sandy stretch of land with a dirt road across the front of it. I hate it. I hate it, I hate the school I just graduated from where no one will even give me the time of day, I hate the college that I’d go to if I had the money, or if my parents had the money, because the same people that went to my high school are going to go to the college, and I hate the fact that I’ve only been out here for twenty minutes and already I’m sweaty.

I hate the way the land stretches out with nothing except rocks blocking the straight line between me and sand and sky. I hate the fact that I have no neighbors except Dawn, and I hate the fact that to get anywhere, even to town, I have to drive like fifty miles.

When I finally get an email back, I’m angry. Yes, as a matter of fact, I can leave here. Today, if they want.

“What Basin?” That’s all. No “Dear Ms. or Mr.,” nothing.

My location? Middle of nowhere, Desert o’ Mars. Population: not enough people.

“Fifth,” I write, and hit send. Mars is organized location-wise by Basins, or craters. They’re in order by discovery and colonization, and none of them are really “next to” each other because they are so far away from each other.

This is actually the fifty-third job I’ve applied for so far. I know this because I’ve saved all the rejects in my email. I don’t know why. I don’t throw away anything. Anything electronic, at least. You should see my list of saved sites: it would blow your mind.

I get an email back: “Your password is ten-fifty-seven. The Fifth Basin meeting will take place at 7:30 on June 20th in Phoenix. Delete this message after reading.” It listed a hotel in the city. Not Phoenix, Arizona: it’s named after where they found the rover sent here from Earth centuries ago. The machine’s in a museum, now.

The twentieth? Shoot. That’s tomorrow. Are they serious? It’ll take five hours to get there.

“When will the meeting after that be?” I write. Maybe somewhere closer, at a later date…

“Never.”

Never? Do they mean it? They’ll never come back here? Possibly, and it’s not something I want to make a bet about. I want a job. This is a job. The sooner I get out of the house, the better. My parents don’t like me, and they don’t want me living here. No, scratch that. No one likes me here. Except Dawn.

Can I make it to the interview? I’ll have to make up some excuse to take the car. I’ll find a way. Even if I have to steal the keys, I’ll find a way.

“I’ll be there,” I write.

I hope it’s not a cop I just emailed. Although going to jail would mean moving out, too, so…

Little potted plants next to me wilt on the doorstep in clay pots painted with tribal patterns. Don’t ask me which tribe it’s supposed to be. My parents got them from the dollar store in the city on one of our monthly trips.

Spider webs hang between the window screen and the front window. Cracks in the wall at the window’s corners make it look like they’re stretched even further. The gutters are clean, though. No leaves to clog them. The door is freshly painted shade of garish red, but the shutters are a nice green.

My jeans scrape the sidewalk as I shift around a little. Sitting cross-legged hurts my ankles after a while.

Am I being stupid? Is this really what I want? I pull up the video again.

They look so passionate. And independent.

My life here isn’t going to get any better. I’ve been applying and applying for jobs, and the few people that have responded have all given me no’s. I don’t want to live with my parents forever, and I’m not going into debt to pay for a house I can’t afford when there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get a job to make the payments. I’m not stupid. So, I can’t move out yet. Not until I can afford it. Maybe with the resistance, I can.

I know I’m not leaving until tomorrow, but I have to do something, so I decide to pack for the trip. I hate sitting around doing nothing. I have to move.

I close my laptop, stand up, brush the sand off of my backside, and go in the house, shutting the stupid red door behind me. There is no carpet in the house because mom says it’ll break her spine having to vacuum up sand every day. We have vinyl floors because the house came with them and they’re easy to sweep. I pass the bookshelf attached to the wall. Most of the books are in pristine condition, but some are so worn, the tops of the spines are ragged and torn.

The ones aimed at me are all about how your life’s supposed to change at some point in your teens or late childhood and you go on an adventure and learn the true meaning of life or something. Well, I’ve been waiting, and I’m tired of it. Something I’ve noticed, though: most of those characters aren’t expecting an adventure when they get it. I’ve been hoping for mine. Nothing outlandish, I mean, just something out of the ordinary. But no. Never. For all my life I’ve lived here, in this house, going to the same school on the same sandy little piece of the basin, and now that I’m out of school with no hope for a job or a life outside the basin, I give up. I refuse to die here. My parents can, if they’d like. They can get bitten by a devlan and succumb to the toxin, or bleed to death beforehand, but not me. I’m getting out of here


Chapter 2



I sneak past my parents. They’re at the kitchen table. Still. They haven’t moved since they got home from work. Dad’s reading the paper because he doesn’t get the chance to in the mornings, and Mom’s eating dinner. Again. If they see me they’ll ask me when I’m getting a job, and I’ll have to show them my list of rejections, and then they’ll say I’m not trying hard enough, and it’ll all descend into shouting.

No wonder I avoid them. I’ve learned from their example, though. I would rather live on my own and not have arguments. If I want to stay out late, I’ll stay out late. If I want to watch a movie, I’ll watch a movie. If I want to eat peanut butter and garlic sandwiches, I will, and nobody will complain about the smell.

I pass the overstuffed pantry on the way to my room. It’s where we store the things we buy after our monthly shopping trips. We have food enough to last for years—everyone out here does, including Dawn’s family. You never know when a sandstorm will kick up and grind the power grid to a halt like it did when my parents were little. The grid runs the power that pumps water from the city over to us. We also can’t grow crops out here, except cactuses, so we’re dependent on the city’s agriculture domes. The power outage knocked out their grow lights and irrigation. A lot of people died that year.

I get to my room and throw my laptop on the bed. My room has bare white walls and white, but clean, bed sheets, and clothes all over the floor and little glass jar of fake flowers on the side table so I don’t have to water them ever. So, I’m lazy. So what? There’s also a bag of chocolate on the nightstand left over from Christmas.

I know there’s backpack in here. I dragged it to school with me every day for four years. I had to get a new one in high school freshman year because the bottom of my last one ripped out. Must have had something to do with the textbooks we had to lug around. I’m happy my backpack went before my spine did, though. Seriously, just copy what we need for homework out of the textbook and give that to us, not the whole thing!

But whatever, I have a backpack, and it’s in good shape, wherever it is. Mostly because after I got this new one, I refused to carry my textbook home and I just did my homework at lunch. Dawn sat with me and did the same thing I did, except she had to because she was taking so many advanced classes, she had to keep up with the work.

Where is my backpack? Oh, here it is, in the closet. I dig it out from under a pile of colorful dirty clothes

What do I need for the trip? It’ll be at least overnight. I don’t feel like driving five hours just to turn around and drive right back, so I’ll rent a room or something. I’ll figure it out.

There are more clothes on the floor than there are in my dresser. But not my underwear, though, in case some sick perv breaks into my room. I don’t want them seeing my underwear while I’m not at home.

I think one change of clothes will be enough. I find a shirt, underwear, socks, and jeans. Not exactly your traditional interview attire, but this isn’t a traditional interview. I roll my clothes up, starting with the jeans. They’re a dark wash, good for dressing up or dressing down. The fabric scrapes across my palms, and heats up. My shirt goes in next: it’s purple, and it’s better than a t-shirt. It has half-sleeves and a little scoop-neck. I roll it up, too. Warm pajamas for those cold desert nights, two pairs of underwear in case something happens to one of them, two pairs of socks for the same reason, and a jacket because I get cold really easily. No, two jackets: hotel rooms are often freezing. And should I take another bra? The small pile on my bed would easily fit in the bag, but do I really need another bra? Can I just wear the one?

It’s only for one day, two days at the most, and I’m gonna shower at some point. I’ll rent a room somewhere. Otherwise, I’ll sleep in the car. No worries. And no extra bra.

What else? Reading material would be good. I have a little dark blue book of poetry that I read when my family goes on road trips.

Went, I mean. When we went on road trips because it was mostly to my grandma’s house, and since she died, I we haven’t really gone anywhere. It’s been on my shelf all this time. On the pile it goes. Ok, let’s see. My phone charger, my toothbrush, toothpaste, no shampoo because there will be some at the hotel, hairbrush, and tennis shoes, which I will wear on my feet.

Will I really have time to read the book? Probably not. But I think I’ll have room for it, for tradition’s sake, and because I haven’t read it in a long time.

I flip through the book. The corners are soft and permanently bent from turning the pages so often. I remember sitting in the backseat of our old truck listening to Earth rock and roll oldies as sand dunes slipped by out the window.

Rolling the clothes makes them fit with plenty of space to spare. Good. I don’t want to lug around a heavy backpack. I’m going to take it inside with me, and I don’t want to break my back while doing that. There’s something about people taking too much luggage with them that absolutely appalls me. Where is your freedom? You’re tethered to wheels. But that’s not my problem: I’ll just set a good example for everyone else.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I check for last-minute stuff I forgot to pack.

Most of me is pretty plain. I have brown eyes and tan skin, although I don’t know if my skin in primarily tanned from the sun or because my ancestors had olive skin: everyone’s tanned out here. But my brown hair is gorgeous. I cut it myself and I do a fantastic job of it. It’s a long in the back and I have fringy bangs that are kind of choppy, and I like them a lot. I wear my hair in a ponytail most days but when I’m feeling fancy, I’ll put it up in a bun.

My friend Dawn wears her hair in a ponytail, too, but it looks different because she’s Black. We’re both really pretty. But about my hair- shoot, I need to pack hair ties. I throw a couple of them in my bag, and then shove the bag underneath my bed. I actually think that’s it.

Now how do I get the car?

I could just steal it. It’s not out of the question. How much do I want this job, anyway? I might not be able to get the truck next time, though, when it’s time to leave for good. If I tried walking to the place, I’d die. I’d just be dead. I would no longer be living. It’s a long walk and it’s freezing cold at night, especially in the winter, and blazing hot in the daytime, especially in the summer, and there isn’t enough water in the world to keep me alive and hydrated out there. Would my parents believe me if I told them I was going to a job interview? I’d have to wear job-interview clothes and…and they’d interrogate me. They’d ask me what job it was, and if I really thought I was qualified for it, and if I had read up about the company, and on and on. And I’d have to choose the job carefully. They’re only concerned about me as far as it affects them. If I were to apply for a job at a tattoo parlor, say, or a bar, I would get a “stern talking to” (which really means a loud screaming at) and another kick-out threat. And I don’t actually feel like making up a job or going through all that so what else can I do?

I could take Dawn on a road trip and not tell Dawn about it and just leave, but the questions again… “Where are you going? Why are you going there? Bring us back…” you know, more questions I would have a hard time answering.

No taxi: I don’t have the money for a five hour drive. Ten hours total, counting the trip back.

I wonder if Dawn can give me a ride over. She has a car.

There’s no way I’m risking getting kicked out. What if this group doesn’t let me in? I have to live somewhere, and I’d rather it not be on the street or in a doorway. Especially around here. I don’t want my classmates, well, former classmates, to see me homeless. I‘ll try to join this group, and if I don’t, maybe I’ll just stay and try to find a job in that town. Maybe that’s what I’ll tell my parents, that I’m job hunting in that town because it’s growing and there are opportunities there.

I decide to just say I’m going shopping.

I walk down the hall to the kitchen. Oh, good. My parents haven’t gone to bed yet. Maybe I will just steal the car. I don’t have a fully-formed plan of how to ask them about borrowing it. I’m ready to burst.

“Yes, what is it?” Mom asked.

“I was wondering if I could borrow the truck tomorrow.”

“Sure. Where are you going?”

“Shopping,” I say.

“Sure. Oh, and pick up some milk while you’re out. And tortilla chips. And eggs. And that yogurt.”

I wait. Is she finished? I think so.

“Sure thing,” I answer.

I didn’t say when I would be going or how long I would be gone. But they didn’t ask, either.

So that’s done.

I go back to my room and lie down on my bed. So what now? I’ll wait, I guess. Maybe apply for a few more jobs tonight. But I don’t move. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to sleep, either, so I just stare at the ceiling fan with my eyes wide open and the sunlight in the window fades and fades. I’m sick of everything. I’m sick of feeling sick. I’m even sick of feeling because these are the only feelings I’ve had lately. They suck the life out of me. Dawn doesn’t feel this way. Dawn doesn’t get this way. Dawn lives a perfect life over there next door, and I don’t. I never will. I need to make money. I need to leave, and I need to do it now. And every time I say this to myself, the knot in my stomach tries to undo itself and tie itself tighter at the same time. It sucks. It really does suck.

Hours later, I still can’t sleep, and it’s hours more until I leave. Hours to wait while my stomach decides if it’s going to puke or not, and of listening to the oxygen towers buzz out the window. Hours and hours, and I can’t lie there anymore.

I go to the kitchen. Mom and dad have been in their room for hours, maybe sleeping, maybe watching TV. I plug in the machine, throw a coffee pack inside, and put water in. And I wait. And fidget. The world seems to be moving at a snail’s pace and I’m the only one who can run. I hope I’d put decaf in the machine. I don’t remember. It’s ready. I fill up a mug with coffee—no sugar, or cream, or flavoring—wrap my hands around it, and carry it back to the table. I don’t intend to drink it until after it cools down a little, but the warmth in my hands and the cozy smell is calming.

I sip my coffee until it’s empty, turn off the machine and go back to bed. I guess it was decaf after all, because I sleep like a bump on a log for the rest of the night. I hadn’t made much noise when I got up because my parents get upset if I make noise after dark. Early evening some nights. But I get upset whenever mom vacuums outside my door at five in the morning. And I’m telling you, she does it on purpose. She doesn’t care.

I’m so tired of people not listening to me. I did an experiment once where I tried to see how long I could go without speaking. See if anyone noticed. Only Dawn did. I stopped speaking for days. I lost count of how many because I was too sad and angry and done. Just done. No one noticed except Dawn. No one said anything. None of my teachers said anything. No one at school paid the slightest attention to me, so I wasn’t expecting anything from them. My parents didn’t say anything. They hardly spoke at dinners, either, except to argue. I was just so sick of it. I started talking again because it was so depressing, no one caring about the sound of my voice or my thoughts, or opinions, or beliefs. And I stopped listening to theirs.

I asked Dawn once why she wanted to join the SU when every planet in the solar system was so bad, it wouldn’t make a difference.

“It’s a tiny drop in this huge bucket,” I told her.

“But the bucket is better for having that drop,” she said.

“So you’ll go dig wells on Mercury and help the starving people?”

“No, actually, the SU works all over the world, not just here and Mercury.”

“So the whole solar system sucks, right?”

“Parts of it. Hopefully, the more we work, the better it’ll get.”

The next thing I know, my mother tears the blanket off of me and stands there holding it in the air over me. She does this every time I sleep past nine. She’s lucky I don’t sleep naked. Maybe that’s why she does it: to prevent me from sleeping naked.

“Get up, you need to get those groceries.” She drops the truck keys on the bed.

Her eyes are bugging out at me, and she’s still in her pajamas. She is usually in her pajamas. Unless she’s dressed for work, but she only went in when she felt like it. It was a wonder she hadn’t been fired yet. Mom, do you know you’re pushing me away from you?

Maybe she does. Maybe she’s doing it on purpose. Maybe she looked on my computer- no, there it is, leaning against the wall where I’d put it.

I crawled out of bed and my feet found the floor.

“You should take Dawn with you,” said my mother.

“I don’t think Dawn would want to go grocery shopping with me.”

“You two ought to go do something together,” she says on her way down the hallway.

“Okay.” I say. Not on this trip. I pull a shirt over my head. It’s gray. Long sleeves. Good to prevent sunburn. Backpack? Check. I make sure my jacket is with me too, in case it’s cold inside the interview place. You know they crank up the air so it’s colder inside during the summer than it is outside in the winter.

I really had better leave now. I manage to get down the hallway while carrying everything.

“Rosetta? Have you left yet?” I hold my breath, waiting for her to come around the corner and ask what I’m doing with an almost-full backpack.

“Not yet.”

“Well, pick up some eggs, too.”

“Ok.”

She doesn’t say anything else.

I get in the truck, back out of the driveway, and head down the road. That was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be.

The road is bumpy, but the truck is built for it. It used to be a much brighter blue, but now it’s bleached by the sun, but the dark, thick windows keep the interior, and me, from frying.

When I said it’s a long way to town, I meant it. It’s a long way to town. Such are drawbacks of living in a town like this, on the brink of nothing.

I drive, and I think about Dawn. More specifically, I’m thinking about what I’m gonna say to Dawn once I get this job and I have to leave. I envision a tearful goodbye.

“No you can't go,” she'll say.

“I must,” I’ll say. “It is my calling.”

“You'll write me, won't you?”

“Every day.”

And we'll hug, and I'll get in the truck, and she'll watch me drive off into the distance, the wind blowing her hair and the bottom of her blouse on the dusty plain until she's a dot on the rearview mirror.

It’s not up to me where my parents live, or where anyone else spends their time. It is up to me where I live, and in a few weeks it’s going to be wherever this group is. Whatever cause they’re fighting for—well, it’s good enough for me.

I listen to Elton John belt out Tiny Dancer on the tinny little radio the truck has. It still had a tape cassette slot, that’s how old it is. There’s a water bottle in the cup holder, and a lot more in the bed of the truck. Dad’s paranoid about getting stranded in the desert, so he keeps water everywhere.

I take the water bottle and slip it into my backpack on top of my clothes, in case I want it later. In five hours, it’ll be show time.



Chapter 3



Application

Name:

Rosetta Schiaparelli 

Age:

17

Gender:

This whole thing looks suspicious, but I put a check mark next to female anyway. The entire document looks weird; full of typos and stuff. Whatever. I’m a science person myself, not a grammar Nazi. I mean, I didn’t get such good grades, but my best grades were in chemistry. Chemistry rocks. For real. I love it. I can make stuff explode if I want. I can get permanent marker off any solid surface. I love chemistry.

Not language arts, though. That’s not my thing. Anyway, they can make as many typos as they want; as long as they say yes to my application, I don’t care.

This hotel room probably used to be clean before someone stuffed fifty or so people inside it. I don’t dare put my stuff down. It might get stolen.

I was questioned just about as soon as I walked into the lobby earlier. A woman in a red flowing shirt and a tight skirt came up to me and asked me for the time. I told her ten-fifty-seven and hoped it wasn’t a cop I was talking to.

She thanked me and said “Room 163.”

So here I am in Room 163 and it’s packed with people. The lucky few are crowded together on the bed, one is in a chair, but he takes up the whole thing, so I guess no one could have sat next to him anyway, and everyone else, including me, is forced to sit on the floor.

It’s cramped in here. And it’s a weird place for a meeting. There’s a TV on a table, and another table next to the door. There’s a little window with grey curtains and yellowish walls. The picture on the wall looks nice, though. It’s in a frame, and I think it’s a boat on the water, but the glare from the glass over it makes it hard to see.

I see a girl about my age sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, and I squeeze in next to her.

“Hi, I’m Rosetta Bailey.”

“Arie,” she says.

“What?”

“Arie. That’s my name.”

“Oh. Nice to meet you.”

I don’t know if she’s serious or not. Her hair is dyed purple and she’s wearing combat boots. She has no luggage to speak of. Okay. Maybe she has extra underwear in her pockets or something. Eyeliner, too. Loads of eyeliner.

Wait a minute. It’s not eyeliner. It’s marker. She has black marker underneath her eyes. I wonder if it’s permanent. Did it sting her eyes? The vapors, I mean? What if she got some in her eye? Is she just used to it?

I hear footsteps in front of me. Oh, here come some people, official-looking people, too, and by that I mean they’re holding clipboards while they walk around and step over sprawled legs. They’re not wearing uniforms or anything, only these off-white tunics and brown belts, but they mean business.

They’re collecting the applications. This guy, probably about thirty-something, comes up to me and snatches the paper out of my hands. He gives me the side eye and straightens the thin stack of papers. I have no idea what that means. I decide he’s just trying to scare me, so I don’t react. It’s stupid, really, the way some people do that. It doesn’t matter. I finished filling out the paper before he took it.

Someone else enters the room, bur apparently, no one except me notices. Most of the other people are talking. I look up at him. He’s of a light complexion, with blond hair. Can’t see his eyes from here. He’s wearing a white tunic. And jeans and… I stretch up a little to see his footwear. Brown, grungy-looking flip flops. Ok.

He surveys the room with a dispassionate air, with one hand behind his back and an eyebrow arched. It’s a couple shades darker than his hair. He probably dyes it. That’s two people who dye their hair so far: him and Arie. Is that a thing with these people?

I’m wondering about it because I like my hair a lot and I once promised an old lady in a grocery store parking lot that I would never dye it. And I keep my promises.

He waits for everyone to notice him. And waits. And waits. People keep talking. I nudge some of them, but they shove me back and keep chattering. I look up at him and shrug, but he takes no notice of me.

Evidently it’s taking too long, so he opens the door behind him and sticks his head outside in the hall. Someone else walks in and I can tell immediately that he’s a man of stature and influence. The way he walks, his disapproving stare, and the sharp cut of his clothes tell me so. His black hair is long, but cut straight across, as if measured with a ruler, and he’s very tall. Or, at least, it looks that way from where I’m sitting on the floor.

I know who I’m going to avoid.

He raps on the wall with the back of his hand. Slowly, people look up, and stop talking. I think he’s the one in charge here. Just saying. It might be the shorter guy with the blond hair, which I‘m pretty sure is dyed, but really I think it’s him. I don’t know if the shorter man knows that, though.

The shorter man steps forward with a smile on his face. “Welcome, dear candidates,” he says. “I'm glad that you have joined us this evening. My name is Walter Weave. I am the leader of the Resistance Movement for the Liberation of Mars, and soon, I hope, your leader as well. We are entering an exciting new era, and I am so happy that you all want to be part of it.”

He has a whiny, nasal voice, but the way he says things- the pauses, I think, give his words greater gravity. The taller man surveys Walter with interest, as if he was a professor giving a lecture. Maybe he the blond guy really is in charge. I think I’ll just avoid them both. I’m not stupid, even if dad used to call me that. I steer clear of scary people.

“Our organization is composed of only the best people from all over the world, and I think I see a few here who will fit in perfectly. Our organization has a mission.”

His voice grows solemn and he slightly bows his head. His hands are clasped in front of him, and we listen intently.

“It is a noble and crucial mission. The most important in all the worlds. It is a mission of freedom. It is a mission of consequence. Our mission-our great, overarching purpose-is to liberate the people of Mars from the hostile forces that hold them captive.”

“I’m sure many of you have heard of their plight on the news, but the message has been twisted by the government to make it seem as though good is evil, and evil is good. They want the belief to spread that the resistance caused these conditions. We did not. It is the fault of the government, who gains money from this corruption, and pays off the media, to the detriment of the people.

“They suffer,” he says. His hands are open, palms down and toward us, pleading. “They want their freedom, which is a right guaranteed, but not always given, to everyone. They want their freedom,” he says again, and looks each of us in the eye. “And we can give it to them. Join us, and be a hero. Join us, to aid your fellow man, who is ground into the dirt by forces stronger than him. Join us, and make history.”

If there was any sound in the room, any shuffling feet or soft whispers or rustling luggage, it was gone. Just like that.

He places a paper on the table next to the door of the room. “If you choose to come with us, you must do so now. We are leaving tonight and will not pass this way again. All who wish to, may sign up on this paper.”

As he speaks, the people stir. Then the flood comes.

“We have to leave tonight?”

“I don’t have anything packed!”

“I need to tell my family goodbye.”

This is just what I can hear from the people nearest me. Everyone’s shouting at once. The man raises his arms in an attempt to quiet us; I’m sure we’re attracting attention from outside. But it’s not until the taller man steps to the front again and glares at us that we quiet down.

“Yes,” the man says in a low, gravelly voice. “To everything.”

“If you wish to make history with us,” says Walter from beside him, “if you wish to be heroes and save the world—no, all of the worlds—you must make your decision tonight. The necessities will be provided. All we ask is that you come with us tonight. Should you decide not to join us, we require that you remain in this room until after we have left.”

I can tell a lot of people have a lot of questions, but no one asks because they’re afraid of the taller man.

These guys seem real. I remember the advertisement. I fight alongside them and I get rewarded with anything I pick up from the enemy, in addition to regular pay, which, I’ll admit, isn’t much from what I’ve heard the others saying, but it’s better than what I’m making now.

A see a group of four stand up, and then two more people, and suddenly everyone’s rushing to get to the paper.

“There is room for everyone to sign,” says Walter. I stand up and get in line. People follow me up to the front.

A pen is shoved at me from somewhere. I take it and look at the paper, which is already covered with signatures. Some took up so much space writing their name, the rest of us have to write even smaller. I put my name down and hand the pen to the next person. It’s Arie. So at least that’s one person I know.


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