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Excerpt for Saturnius Mons by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




SATURNIUS MONS


Jeremy L. Jones















Cover Design by Nick Martin

Edited by Madison Hansen





This novel is a work of fiction. Names character places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events organizations or persons living or dead is purely coincidental and beyond the interest of either the author or publisher.





Saturnius Mons

Ruins of Empire #1

Copyright ©2018 by Jeremy L. Jones



ISBN 978-1-7324709-0-3

ISBN (ePUB) 978-1-7324709-1-0



All rights reserved. Copyright under Berne Copyright Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, and Pan-American Copyright Convention. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without prior permission of the author.

































To Kari


The woman whose beauty and kindness inspired Althea, whose stubborn dedication and tenacity inspired Isra, and who inspires me more every day.



















“Gods conceal from men the happiness of death so that they may endure life.”

Lucan













PROLOGUE


As I write this, it is exactly ten years since the beginning of the third millennium AD. Five years ago on July 7th, 2999, I, along with millions of others around the world, watched the launch of Corporation Spaceship: Discovery. The event marked the beginning of a new age of exploration for mankind. It was a testament to the endurance of the human spirit and a symbol of our species’ thirst for knowledge. That was the rhetoric used by the leading members of the Corporation, at least.

Unknown to the cheering crowds that witnessed the launch, Discovery was a rather ironic name for the vessel. Humankind was not exploring the unknown, but returning to a place they had been forced to abandon centuries ago. When Europeans first set sail for the New World in the eighteenth century, they had no words to describe the act of finding something that nobody knew existed. Here in the third millennium, we shall have to create a word that means ‘to discover what was previously known but since forgotten.’ 

It’s hard to imagine that a space-faring civilization once thrived on Earth. Its great cities are little more than ruins, its technological advancements lost to time. Even the Ministry and the Corporation are mere shadows of the governments and corporations that once dominated the globe.

There was a time when global civilization spread to every moon and planet in the solar system that could be made adaptable to human life. They established colonies for resource extraction and trade. Distances that seemed insurmountable became crowded thoroughfares.  It was a wonder of human creation never before seen nor replicated.

Then came the Fall of Civilization. Deprived of resources and the technical knowledge needed to maintain them, those colonies collapsed. The people, however, continued. On September 05, 3002 the first mission to Mars since the Fall found an entire society still thriving on the vast equatorial plains. The explorers that first met with this long-lost civilization described them as a society of scattered, barely civilized warlords. Some went as far as to describe them as savages’. Any memory of their ancestral homeland existed only in myth and legend passed down through the generations.

In spite of that—or because of it—they had survived. Like the Martian society, our 31st century world is a crude facsimile of an ancient golden age. What caused civilization to collapse into catastrophe only a couple centuries into the second millennium? What happened to the people left behind on those far flung worlds?

I have dedicated my life to finding the answers to these questions and this book is my attempt to share them with the world.


-from The Fall: The Decline and Failure of 21st Century Civilization by Martin Raffe.

 













CHAPTER ONE


It could be that civilization is an inherently destructive force. A kind of virus that consumes and destroys everything around it and, when it can no longer sustain itself, commits suicide.

 

-from The Fall: The Decline and Failure of 21st Century Civilization by Martin Raffe.

 

Then, Viekko was awake.  

Coming out of hibernation was like waking for the first time. No memories. No pain. No fear. Just darkness and an all-encompassing comfortable stench like that of a well-worn boot. 

The darkness turned into a blinding light and Viekko heard a computerized female voice. Some programmer somewhere probably thought that it sounded friendly and comforting. For Viekko it sounded like a woman whispering words of comfort while she looked for a good place to stick a knife. 

"Good morning. Your name is Viekko Spade. Today is April 3rd, 3010. You have been asleep for thirteen months, seven days and sixteen hours. You are aboard the Corporation Resource Transport Ship Innovation in a transfer orbit around Saturn en route to the moon, Titan.”    

Titan. The word echoed in his head like a profanity screamed in church.  Memories of exactly who he was and what he was doing here were still fuzzy. They were like pictures in a stranger’s photo album. But something about Titan made his guts stir. He knew there was to be some nasty business on Titan, but he couldn’t remember why. Only the vague feeling that if there was to be any judgment on the day he died, Titan would be part of the conversation. And possibly the cause.

The voice continued, “The other members of your party, Althea Fallon and Isra Jicarrio, are already reanimated. Althea Fallon requests that you see her in Medical Bay 25 for a post-hibernation physical exam. Some mild muscle discomfort and nausea are a normal part of reanimation."

Whoever wrote this spiel obviously had a twisted sense of humor. It was like saying that jumping out of the airlock may cause a slight change in pressure. Every muscle in his body felt like it had been tied to two horses running in opposite directions and the only thing that kept him from being sick in the hibernation pod was the fact that he couldn’t muster the strength. Also, he hadn't eaten anything for over a year.

There was a hiss of rushing air and a drop in pressure that made his ears pop. A small door opened near his feet to a white, glowing beyond. A harness that held him down released and he started to float in a box a little bigger than a coffin.

“The Corporation welcomes you as a guest aboard Innovation. Please notify any crew member if there is anything we can do to make your visit more productive. Be careful as extended hibernation may have prolonged effects. Thank you and have a pleasant day.”

The last of his memories assembled themselves in his brain and the phrase ‘have a pleasant day’ seemed like the punchline of a sick joke. He was Viekko Spade, wild man of the Martian steppes.  A kind of human ruin from a society caught in the rising tide of civilization. He was here as part of the Human Reconnection Project, a small team of explorers whose aim it was to protect and preserve extra-terrestrial societies and cultures.

But, really, if there was a society left on Titan, he was going to destroy it. Not by choice, but it was inevitable. Civilization was about to descend on Titan and civilization has the same effect on a native culture as a wildfire has on an ancient forest.

But that was his job and it was time he got to it.

The hibernation chamber aboard Innovation was little more than two filing cabinets set across from one another. One for personal effects and one for humans.

He pulled himself out of his pod and hung there for a moment hoping the spinning in his head would calm down. Around him, others floated out of their own little holes. Scientists, engineers, and those with no skill except the ability to hold a gun all milled together in this little room. Some looked green and bent over double as they got violently ill inside a black plastic bag. Others didn’t seem affected at all.

Trying to keep a low profile, Viekko pushed his way to the other side of the room and found the locker with his own personal effects. He pressed his thumb to a black pad near the locker number. The bolts slid aside and the steel-colored door swung open. He retrieved the few clothes he brought from Earth: a white khaki suit and a wide-brimmed hat with a black stripe. They seemed archaic and frivolous in a spaceship of simple white plastic and Spartan accommodations. Still, the jacket had its uses. For example, it provided a convenient hiding place that the overworked Corporate dock security wasn’t as likely to check. Keeping an eye on those around him, he pulled out the suit jacket and started rummaging through the pockets.

If one were to distill all the pleasures of the world and make them into a drug, they would be left with a dose of triple-T. If someone wanted to destroy that world, they would make sure every single person had a dose. It was a drug that made everything feel so good and its victim feel so sharp and alive that the un-enhanced life wasn’t worth living anymore.

He plucked a little blue glass container from his pocket.  It was shaped like a pill and about as large as the tip of his little finger.  The blue gas that swirled inside was so reactive that it had to be contained in glass as it would melt most conventional polymers.  Then he placed it between his molars and bit down. There was a sharp sting of glass against his gums. He breathed the gas it released. It tasted like burned plastic and sugar and burned his lungs.

As quick as the flick of a light switch, his world was clear. He tasted the blood from where the shards made tiny cuts in his mouth. He could smell the chemicals they pumped into the ship’s air supply to combat the effects of zero gravity on the human body. The hair on his arms stood up at the chill in the air. He felt fear, trepidation, and excitement.

He felt alive.

Next to his suit, there was the standard light blue cotton pants and shirt that was the unofficial uniform of Corporation vessels. He pulled it out of the locker and started to squeeze into it. Whoever was in charge of making these things obviously never planned on a man of Viekko’s size. It wasn’t just that he was tall, but he was tall and broad. Men had a tendency to call him ‘sir’ when he was in earshot. Probably to make up for the things whispered about him when he wasn’t.

Then there was his hair. Martian warriors traditionally let their hair grow their entire life and braided it into a queue. It was a symbol of respect and masculinity on his home world but here, in zero gravity and unbraided, it was a giant, irritating cloud of hair.

He pulled it back and braided it as well as he could while floating in the hibernation chamber. He briefly considered asking someone to help but the only people on this ship who could braid hair were probably women and they would do it wrong. They’d make him look like a girl. His queue might be a mess, but at least he’d have his dignity.

Dressed and put together, he floated out of the hibernation chamber hatch. The corridors outside were already crammed with people flying toward some important thing or another. Luckily, Med Bay 25 wasn’t far nor terribly hard to find. Viekko knocked on the outside of the hatch a couple of times. He wasn’t sure why; it just seemed like a polite thing to do before he went in.

What Viekko saw inside was the most fantastic torture chamber ever dreamed up even by the most diseased mind. Its primary features were five slabs that hovered in the center of the room, each fitted with a set of straps. Some might say that they were there to keep patients secure in zero gravity and Viekko was sure that was true. However, above the slabs there was a jumble of steel and plastic all set on metal arms and flexible hoses so the medic could select something horrible for every hole the gods drilled into him. Those that wouldn’t fill a hole could put a new one in. The sight of the apparatus probably gave more than a few people a powerful urge to make for the nearest exit if not for the straps.

Althea Fallon was waiting for him. She floated near one of the corners touching icons on a hologram projected in front of her. She wore the same blue jumpsuit Viekko did, although she filled it out much better. Of course, Althea would look good in a tarp. She had the kind of fiery too-red hair and piercing green eyes that was only achievable through genetic modification.  Floating there, she looked like a kind of angel sent to redeem humanity. Or possibly damn it.

Althea saw Viekko climb through the hatch and hit a switch on a device attached to her arm that made the projection disappear.  

Viekko,” said Althea, smiling at him, “How are you feeling?”

In his youth, Viekko heard stories about women so beautiful that armies would fight and die in their name. Any man fighting for Althea would never see battle; she had a smile that would make a convert of anyone. 

“Good,” said Viekko, “Under the circumstances.”

“Any discomfort? Muscle aches, joint pain, nausea, that sort of thing?” said Althea, floating closer.

“No more than usual.”

“Lie down,” said Althea, patting one of the slabs. “Let’s have a look.”

‘Lie down’ was an interesting term for what he had to do.  He twisted and arranged his body roughly parallel to the slab.   Althea pressed a few more buttons on the metal cuff attached to her arm. Stiff straps unrolled from the side of the slab, around Viekko’s body, and bound him to the metal surface and a hologram of Viekko’s body materialized above him.

“How’s things on Earth?” asked Viekko.

Althea touched the air near the hologram and the projection’s skin and muscle disappeared revealing Viekko’s inner workings.

We’re not on Earth,” said Althea her voice all-business. “You’ve got mild muscle atrophy. But your cardiovascular system looks good. Blood pressure normal. Heart is strong.”

“You seein’ anyone?”

Althea floated over Viekko. Her red hair radiated around her face like a halo. She produced a small light from her pocket and waved it over Viekko’s eyes. “Reflexes normal. Pupil dilation is a little fast.”

“You didn’t answer the question,” mumbled Viekko squinting into the light.

She turned off the light and turned her attention back to the hologram. “That’s because it’s none of your business. Take a deep breath, please.”

Viekko did. “How ‘bout the medical consortium? Ain’t they any closer to reinstatin’ you as a doctor?”

“Another deep breath please.”

It wasn’t that Viekko wanted to be with Althea again. Well…he did.  He’d chop off his queue at the base of his neck for another roll in the hay with Althea Fallon. But that wasn’t what he was after now. Viekko found that, when he woke up on the ass-end of the solar system, it was best to focus on the constants of life. Establish a kind of psychic link to those things that proved he was still in the same world that he left when he entered hibernation.

He’d always have his white wide-brimmed hat and khaki suit.

He’d always wear the queue of a Martian warrior.

And Althea Fallon would always treat him like a memory she’d rather forget.

There was a sharp jab in the base of his neck. “Ow!” said Viekko pressing against the restraints, “Ya see, that’s your problem. Bedside manner. I’ll bet if you were a little

nicer—”

Althea pulled something away from his neck. “My mistake. I assumed a tough man such as yourself could handle a simple blood test.”

Viekko tried to relax. The good news was that triple-T was hard to detect unless the medic was a good one. Something about the blood brain barrier…he didn’t know. But it was always possible. It hadn’t happened yet, but it was possible.

Althea floated up to look at the results on a computer screen. “Viekko, are you sure that you are feeling quite all right?”

The problem was Althea was one of the best medics in the Universe despite being banished to the ass-end of it.

Viekko nearly strained a facial muscle trying to look innocent, “Whatcha mean?” 

“It’s just that…well it’s probably nothing, but your plasma endorphins are quite low.” 

Viekko shrugged as much as the restraints would allow, “It’s hibernation. Does all sorts of sarmagchin baas to my innards.” 

Althea floated to another computer terminal. “Low endorphins can be indicative of several problems, but nothing life threatening. It’s worth watching in case it materializes into something more severe. Would you take off your shirt please?” 

The restraints released and Viekko floated off the slab. “Always tryin’ to get me naked.” 

“Without the sexual innuendo, if you please?” 

Viekko grumbled as he pulled the shirt over his head. “I seem to remember a woman with a sense of humor.”

Althea opened a compartment and pulled out something that looked like two irregular slabs of metal held together by wires and pocked with lights, ports, and small displays. To say it looked complicated would be to say that the sun looked big. Some engineer had obviously worked out some childhood issues on this piece of equipment.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of data the Corporation demands from crews about to do missions on the surface of a planet. Especially crews they are not keen on having in the first place. If my sense of humor is lacking, it is because we’re on a schedule and there’s no time slot marked out with your particular brand of… let’s call it charm.”

“And just what is that thing?” accused Viekko pointing to the device in Althea’s hand.

Althea floated forward. “The RX5 Field Medical Regulator. Something I helped develop before…” she sighed as her voice trailed off. Then she continued, “It will let me monitor your vitals during the mission. Come here and turn around please.”

Viekko maneuvered along the wall until he was about a meter away from Althea. As soon as he spun around, she clamped the device on his shoulder. The thing tightened and felt like it was digging into his flesh.  He winced as it whirred, whined, and finally settled into place.

They both said nothing for a few moments although he could feel Althea working some controls on the back. Her breathing was slow and came in deep, heaving breaths as if she was trying to focus her mind on the present and away from the more horrific topic of ‘could have been.’

“For what it’s worth, Althea. I’m glad you’ll be here with us,” said Viekko with as much sincerity as he could muster.

“If it makes you feel any better, this device is made to be integrated with the EROS suit. It’s probably uncomfortable now, but when they get you fitted for that, you won’t even know it’s there,” Althea said, still working on the controls.

“I know it’s been hard for you. Booted out of the medical consortium and all that. But, you know, their loss. Our gain.”

Althea finished her calibrations and the device loosened enough for her to pull it off. “That’s all I need for now. That will establish some baseline conditions to help it regulate fluids, body temperature and blood chemistry and alert me to possible problems.”

Viekko grabbed his shirt out of the air and put it back on. Great—he would have Althea monitoring his body every minute of every day. He thought back to the stash of triple-T still in his jacket pocket. He should be fine sneaking a dose when he needed it. Triple-T was hard to track and Althea would have other things on her mind. Plus, there could be worse things.

Then, one of those worse things happened.  Isra Jicarrio opened the hatch and floated into the medical bay. “Is Viekko up and ready yet? We have a meeting with Vince Laban…five minutes ago.”

“And nice to see you, Isra,” said Viekko. “Out terrorizin’ the locals early today?”

Isra glared. No one could drop the temperature in the room with a look alone quite like her. She was a small woman with short black hair, olive skin and dark, almond eyes.  She wore the same Corporation blue jumpsuit as everyone else but, in contrast to Viekko, the clothing hung loose over her small, slender frame. At first glance, she was the quiet unassuming type; she could disappear into the crowd if it wasn’t for the fact that most of the crowd would be trying to keep their distance from her the minute she spoke. And there was something else about Isra that bothered Viekko.

“What is wrong with him?” said Isra nodding her head at Viekko.

“Nothing to speak of. Just a few anomalies coming out of hibernation,” said Althea, putting her equipment away.

Isra examined every inch of Viekko from his hair to his toenails. “Anomalies? He is nervous. Is there something I need to know, Viekko?”

Isra could read people like a book and she had a tendency to flip through the boring parts. Viekko wouldn’t go so far as to say she was psychic, but whatever innate skill or talent that psychics needed to convince people they were psychic, Isra had it. A lot of it.

Lying didn’t typically work but deflection could if well-timed.

“I need my guns,” said Viekko folding his arms.

Isra looked him over again. “They are still in storage. We will ask Laban about them when we see him.”

“I ain’t setting foot on that tsosni burkhuleer kuchigdsan baidag moon unarmed, Isra.”

Ugsiig khar,” Isra snapped back. That was the other unsettling thing about Isra, she had a gift with language.  Most scholars who studied the Martian languages for years could never get the pronunciation right. Isra spent a week among them and talked like a native when she wanted to.

Isra set her face into a carefully neutral expression. “You will be adequately supplied for this mission; however, I do not anticipate a scenario where violence will become necessary. Now please come with me.” 

Isra left through the same hatch she entered through and Viekko followed. That was the problem with both Althea and Isra. They were both products of Civilization, a system designed to minimize the amount of violence needed for a productive solution.

Pushing himself after Isra, he passed by a large window. The small orange and blue moon, Titan, was getting closer.

Civilization meant people could meet without violence. But when two civilizations meet, violence was almost a foregone conclusion.

There was going to be blood.

Whose blood and for what reason were still details that would be sorted out in time.













CHAPTER TWO

 

There are few human emotions as base, vile and creative as greed. It is a force that changed whole worlds beyond Earth. It is the drive that pulled people from their terrestrial Eden to far-flung colonies. It is also what ultimately stranded them.

 

-from The Fall: The Decline and Failure of 21st Century Civilization by Martin Raffe.

 

The tight corridors through C.R.T.S Innovation were like some sort of small animal habitat in a madman’s laboratory. It was a maze of cramped white plastic and aluminum that twisted and turned around each other so much that any sense of direction was jammed into the tumble drier. Just to make it extra exciting, every corridor and hallway was packed with people. Engineers, soldiers, scientists and crew members damn near had to crawl over each other in the zero-gravity. They all seemed to know where they were going and they were all in a terrible rush to get there.

Viekko could barely make his way through it all. He found himself inching along the walls trying to escape the press of humanity.

We are late, Viekko,” said Isra, several meters ahead. “Some urgency, if you please.”

Isra took a ballistic approach to navigating the crowd. She moved with the assumption that people would get out of her way and, not surprising given her normal demeanor, most of them did.

“Did you not hear me? We are late and Laban will use that to his advantage,” scolded Isra, nearly barreling into a worried-looking scientist.

She was barely sociable at the best of times, but today she had all the good will and patience of a crocodile with a piece of driftwood crammed up its nethers.

“Who we meetin’ again?” asked Viekko, narrowly dodging a couple Corporate executives coming the other way.

“Vince Laban. Mission commander and Energy Consortium executive.”

That explained her mood. High ranking Corporate figures tended to be the immovable object to Isra’s unstoppable force.

Viekko darted through a hole in the crowd, “So whatchu want me to do?”

“Show up and look tough.”

Viekko cursed and flung himself forward. It wasn’t that he minded that people viewed him as the embodiment of rage and muscle packed into human form, but he hated being used like he was nothing but a predictable chess piece to be moved around when and where they wanted. But he kept his mouth shut.

And yet, somehow, without even looking back, Isra sensed his annoyance.  She stopped and twisted around in the air. “Viekko, you are one of the finest extraterrestrial survival experts in the world as well as a fine military tactician. I am aware and, trust me, I intend to bank on both those skills when we are on Titan. But right now I need a show of force and you are the best visualization I can come up with on short notice.”

Viekko grabbed a hand-hold to keep him from plowing into a couple of annoyed Corporation Marines and said, “You think you’re gonna needin’ a military tactician on Titan?”

“I like to be ready for any number of scenarios, especially with the Corporation involved.”

Without another word, Isra pushed back down the corridor and through the crowds. Viekko could only sigh and try to follow. Isra was nervous, and Isra didn’t get nervous. The prospects on Titan were getting bleaker by the second.

She continued to lead the way through the white plastic maze until she came to a hatch. At first glance, it was indistinguishable from the dozens they passed between here and the medical bay. Except a small digital sign just above the door release that read, ‘Vince Laban: Mission Director.’

Without the slightest hint of hesitation or trepidation, Isra pulled the door release, pushed the hatch open and pulled herself inside.

Now, whoever Vince Laban was, he seemed to be in some sort of denial when it came to space travel. He was a man who wasn’t going to let a little setback like zero-gravity keep him from having a well-ordered office. As Viekko pulled himself inside after Isra, he saw a desk complete with an ‘In’ and ‘Out’ box and some kind of spinning office knickknack. They were all, presumably, bolted to the top of the desk to keep them all from floating away. The desk, along with a few chairs and a filing cabinet, was bolted to the floor...or ceiling, depending on how one entered the room.

Viekko pushed himself towards the desk and tried to move the spinning thing attached to it.  It was one of those toys for those who found themselves creeping towards terminal boredom. It used magnets to spin faster and longer than most things were intended to. That was, as near as Viekko could figure, all it did. 

Viekko flicked the spinning part. “What sorta mind does this, you think?”

Isra just surveyed the room with a sense of awe and said, “The kind that has never been told he cannot have something he wants. In other words, the worst kind.”

A man entered from a hatch on the other side of the room. At least it was probably a man. Rats didn't normally grow that big or wear expensive black suits. He had a small scrunched face that radiated from a nose that was several sizes too big for his body. His jet-black hair was combed to mathematical precision and heavily caked with something that could stop a bullet.  He plastered a wide amenable smile on his face and pulled himself down to the desk. Even his smile was the kind of fake, toothy grin that never precedes something honest or truthful. He situated himself in a grand, red cushioned chair and gestured to the smaller chairs in front of his desk.

“Please. Have a seat,” he said.

The way the man spoke made Viekko want to look behind his chair for an oil slick.

“How exactly do you expect…?” Viekko started to say. Then he noticed that every red antique chair was fitted with a lap belt. 

Once they were both seated and strapped in, Laban steepled his hands and said, “I apologize that we were not able to speak before the entire crew went into hibernation. Your addition to the roster was…. immediate.

He touched the top of his desk and a series of holographic documents appeared.  He scrolled through a few pages acting as if he forgot he had people in his office to talk to him.  Viekko felt a hot rise of anger but Isra’s expression remained perfectly still.

After a few minutes he waved his hand and the documents disappeared.  “While Ministry-Corporation treaties allow oversight committees aboard trans-planetary missions, you should inform your superiors that last second additions such as yours disrupt the entire flow of a mission.  This has been in the planning stages for months and there was ample time for your people to request passage instead of forcing it on us hours before liftoff.”

Isra took a moment and smoothed out some of the wrinkles in her jumpsuit. This was something Isra did to take control of the situation. There was complicated psychology involved, but it basically meant that the conversation would start when and how Isra wanted it to.

“I apologize, but it could not be helped.  And to be perfectly honest, we are not an oversight committee.  Not exactly. I am here representing the Ministry’s Human Reconnection Project,” said Isra after a minute or so. “Are you familiar?”

“I am,” said Laban. “I seem to recall you did some excellent work on Mars and some of the Jovian moons, yes? I understand you brought back some very…. entertaining specimens.” Laban flashed Viekko a smug smile.

The Martian closed his eyes and imagined caving Laban’s skull in with the spinning knickknack. It brought some measure of peace.

Isra brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “Yes. We discover and study lost civilizations stranded on other planets after Earth fell.  Which brings us to why we are here. Time is a factor and we could not wait to plan and execute a separate Ministry mission. Signing aboard Innovation as an oversight committee is what you might call a… loophole.”

Laban’s smile grew wider as if being irritated was a pleasant state of mind for the man. “A loophole?  Ms. Jicarrio, I don’t know what game you and the Ministry are playing, but several Ministry officers signed off on the mission specifics and…”

Isra interrupted, “Tell me, Mr. Laban, are you aware of any evidence that Titan might harbor a civilization?”

Viekko couldn’t help but look at Isra on that one. It wasn’t unusual for her to set people up for a lie, but she was typically a lot more subtle than that. She might as well have opened a bear trap inches from Laban’s face. 

Laban’s expression melted into something resembling concern. “I see. I suppose I should offer my deepest apologies.”

“It just so happens,” Isra started automatically, “I have documents that prove…wait, what did you say?”

“Yeah, whatchu say?” asked Viekko.

Laban laid his hands flat down on the table, “Ms. Jicarrio, your reputation within the Ministry is impeccable.  Furthermore, delaying a Corporation mission so that you could make it on board is not a minor feat. The Corporation runs on a schedule, I’m sure you know this, and the schedule waits for no one.  Which tells me that you have found something. Something I was not aware of, to be sure. This mission was planned in good faith and for the betterment of all humankind. But clearly there has been a… miscalculation.  And for that I am sorry.”

Incredible, thought Viekko, the man managed a completely sincere apology while accepting exactly zero responsibility.  For him or anyone else. Truly the sign of a born leader, at least by Corporation standards.

“I have documents,” said Isra unwilling to let a good offensive go to waste, “leaked from Corporate files about the hydrocarbon supply on Titan. May I upload a copy to your SET-path?

The surface of the desk glowed faint blue and a series of icons appeared just above the surface. Laban touched a few. “Please. Go ahead.”

Isra touched the screen attached to her forearm. A few seconds later, numbers scrolled above the surface of the desk. Laban watched for a few moments and said, “Ah, yes. This is the hydrocarbon exploration analysis. It lists coordinates on the moon and the level of hydrocarbon deposits that might be available.”

“Not might,” said Isra folding her arms, “These figures are far too precise to be scanned from orbit. These numbers came from the ground. Pulled from some kind of surface installation settled before the Fall. That means there is still working technology on Titan which proves that someone’s there to tend to it. Furthermore, the Corporation knows this.”

The numbers disappeared and Laban leaned forward and put his hands together as if pleading. “Like I said. I offer my deepest apologies. I had no idea where those numbers came from. All I knew is that they were good enough to fund a mission.”

“You had no idea?” said Isra.

“Miss Jicarrio. I know you view the Corporation as a group of power-hungry sociopaths that would sell their own grandmothers to an organ dealer for a promotion in the Corporate ranks, and your assumption is more accurate than even you know. When our technicians found this information, I will bet their first instinct was to keep its source a secret. But protecting our investment is hardly a crime.”

“It is when you withhold information regarding the violation of a Ministry treaty.”

“Only if such a violation is known but, as I’ve tried to explain, Ms. Jicarrio, I had no knowledge regarding the source of the data.”

Isra smiled but there wasn’t an ounce of friendliness contained in it. It was the smile of a predator who just found its prey cornered, “Ignorance is not a defense. You are in charge of this mission, which means that any and all activity—”

“—Is the responsibility of the managing personnel,” interrupted Laban, “Fair enough. How about a show of good faith then? What can I do for the Human Reconnection Project?”

“First of all, your landing zone between the Ligeia Mare and the Kraken Mare has got to change. I have reason to believe that there is a population at that location and the last thing I need is for you to drop landers right on top of them.”

Laban took a deep breath and Isra braced herself for a fight. It was a confrontation that was expected and necessary. There was no way that Laban would give up his landing zone, but it would give Isra a starting point to compromise.

“Very well. We have a backup landing zone on a peninsula approximately sixty kilometers to the East. We will begin operations there if that is your wish.”

Or there was the possibility that he would just roll over and give Isra whatever she wanted. It was not a contingency that Viekko had anticipated and, from the look on Isra’s face, neither had she.

Wait…you are willing to move the landing zone?” said Isra.

“As a show of good faith,” said Laban spreading his hands, “I can move it farther east if you would like, but if I go much farther away it will be harder for you to get to that population.  You are going to visit them while you are there, yes?” 

Uh… yes, of course,” said Isra.

“Then I will arrange a crawler for you and your team. I can also arrange a military escort if you would like.”

No,” said Isra dropping the word like a steel weight. “I do not want anyone Corporate anywhere near that city. Do I make myself clear?”

Crystal,” said Laban again spreading his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I will see to it personally that no member of my team gets within twenty-five kilometers of the city.”  

Isra leaned back again confused. It was like getting into a boxing match with a waterfall.

“Is there anything else I or my team can do for you?” said Laban.

Isra sat and stared for a moment. Every part of Laban’s face practically radiated sincere helpfulness. Viekko wondered if Isra saw anything else. If she did, she didn’t say anything.

“My guns,” said Viekko, “I had ‘em surrendered when I boarded the shuttle on Earth. I’m gonna need them once we hit dirt.” Isra flashed him a glare and he added, “What? He asked if there was anythin’ else he could do.”

“Of course,” said Laban with his voice like engine grease, “All weapons confiscated before hibernation are stored in the armory. I’ll make sure they are delivered to our military depot on Titan. You may pick them up there, good enough?”

Viekko nodded.

“I have to admit,” said Isra suspiciously, “I did not expect you to be this helpful. You are aware if we find a lost civilization on Titan, the Ministry will force you to halt your hydrocarbon extraction operation?”

“Delay,” said Laban abruptly, “Temporarily. If you find something.”

Viekko folded his arms, “Whaddya mean ‘if?

Laban reached out to touch the holographic documents in front of him.  The pages cycled to the left with every flick of his wrist, “Well your only real proof that there is anyone on Titan the fact that our orbital scans were too accurate.” 

Isra pushed against the restraints that held her in her seat, “They are too accurate.  Nobody can get that level of detail from orbit.”

Laban waved his hand and the document disappeared, “The Ministry can’t.  I think you will find that, within the Corporation, all things are possible if they are profitable enough.  But that’s not the point. I am willing to help you because I have nothing to hide. And if, by some miracle, you are correct and there is a civilization on Titan that has been lost to us then we will gladly cooperate to ensure their safety and prosperity.  The Corporation is on Titan to make a profit but I would like to believe we are building something bigger than that. We are on the precipice of a new age. We must move forward as a civilization without repeating the mistakes of our past.”

He held out his hand toward Isra.

She shook it and said, “It does my heart good to hear you say that.”

“We are currently in a transfer orbit,” Laban said, releasing Isra’s hand. “We'll be firing the engines that will put us in a stable orbit above Titan very soon. It would be wise to find a safe place for you and your crew.”

“Thank you, I will do that,” said Isra unstrapping herself from the seat.

Viekko followed her as she pulled herself back into the hallway.

“There ain't no way he’s not up to something,” Viekko said after they were far enough away.

“I am aware,” said Isra. Her voice had a sub-zero quality to it.

“If he don’t got somethin’ rollin’ ‘round his noggin, he’da fought you on some of that. He just rolled over like a broke-dick dog.”

“I am aware.”

“So whatchu wanna do about it?” asked Viekko, losing his patience at Isra’s constant monotone.

“Nothing.”

“Nothin’?

Isra grabbed a hand-hold that brought her to a quick stop and flipped around. “If we do anything to cause trouble now he can go the Ministry and rightfully claim that he cooperated fully to the best of his ability. He has got us right where he wants us.” 

“Is there any chance that he was being truthful in there?”

Isra scowled, “The only time the Corporation is ever truthful is when they are sliding a knife between your ribs. But for now, play nice. When Laban makes his move, we react. But not before.”

Isra turned and pulled herself down the corridor.

 


The worst thing about the crew decks was the stench. It was the sweat and shit of fivehundred marines and engineers recirculated in the same confined space for over fourteen months. It even made the bare aluminum walls feel greasy as Laban floated through the crowd.   

And there were people everywhere. Ever since he left the executive deck, Vince Laban felt crushed against the walls by the constant flow of humanity. And even though people took one look at his pressed black suit and gave him extra room, there was still something claustrophobic about the place.

In truth, he would never be found outside the executive decks, but Laban was a pragmatic man above all else. Isra Jicarrio seemed satisfied for the time being, but that was temporary. She would start to cause trouble soon enough and it would be best to have an agent in play.

Laban found the marine barracks just as a recorded message played through the speakers, “Orbital thrusters engaging in one minute.  All personnel and cargo must be secured immediately. Repeat, orbital thrusters in one minute...”

Corporate soldiers in dark-blue uniforms and grey body armor scrambled to find a place to strap in as the recorded message continued.

Places to sit were filling up, but there were a group of seats around one marine in particular that were noticeably vacant. He had a large scar etched down the side of his face and short, blonde hair cut to exact Corporate standards. He sat alone sharpening a knife with a leather strap held between one hand and his foot.  The blade looked long enough to run through two or three people if he put enough effort into it. And he looked like the type who would give it a try.

Laban pulled himself into a seat next to the soldier and buckled the seatbelt.  “It is my understanding that weapons are not allowed aboard Corporation spacecraft.”

The man slid the blade up and examined the edge.  “They made an exception for me. Because I’m such a nice guy.  Can I help you, sir?”

Vince detected an air of sarcasm in the marine’s voice. Bordering on defiant.  “Sergeant Carr, am I right?”

“You’d be right.” He ran the knife back down the strap and said, “And just what can I do for you?”

The speakers clicked on again, “forty-five seconds until orbital thrusters…”

“I have a problem. I am told that you have a gift for solving problems. Problems that need to be taken care of… discreetly.”

The soldier continued to sharpen his knife.  When it became clear that Carr had no intention to react, Laban continued, “You are aware that we have some… guests on this mission, Sergeant?”

Carr shook his head, “We are not to engage, hinder, molest or interact with Ministry personnel in any way without express permission from command. That would be you. Sir.”

“And, of course, I would never give an order contrary to the wishes of the Great Corporation. The CEO himself expressed his wish that no action will be taken against the Ministry or the Human Reconnection Project.”

“Well that saves us some time,” said Carr, returning his attention to his knife.

“I need someone to watch and report back to me. Someone to make sure that they are following the treaties between the Ministry and the Corporation.”

“Sir. You are in the wrong compartment, sir. Agents are farther up. You probably passed them on your way here.”

Laban smiled. “Agents require paperwork. I need some work done… off the books.”

“Fifteen seconds,” said the computerized voice, “All personnel…”

“Work like that is highly illegal, sir.”

“You will be compensated, of course.”

“Why, if I may ask, are you so eager to keep this off the books?”

“I was put in charge of this mission to ensure that the Corporation has control of the hydrocarbon fields of Titan and I intend to do that. The Corporation may be bound by the treaties with the Ministry, but I am not. I may be punished for my actions if they are ever found out, but it is a risk I can assume.” 

“Kind of a human sacrifice thing? Suffer for the greater good?”

“Something like that.”

Carr sheathed the knife, “I want 600 million in Corporation Fiat. 300 million paid in full to an account in my wife’s name before we land on Titan. And I want to verify that she received it. The other 300 million is due on my return to Innovation.

The voice started the countdown, “Ten, nine, eight…”

“That is a lot of money, but it can be arranged.”

“Then I believe we have a deal.”

The countdown ended and the ship jolted forward as the nuclear engines fired all at once to slow the ship into a stable orbit around the moon.























CHAPTER THREE


History has a strange sense of the ironic.

 

In the beginning of the twenty-first century, global corporations emerged on the world stage as a power that rivaled the traditional nation-state. Their lust for money and power drove them to, at first, undermine and, later, utterly destroy the governments whose job it was to keep them in check. After the collapse of the great nations—the United States, China, the European Union, India, and the Russian Federation—there was only one entity that could possibly fill the power vacuum.

 

Hence, the global corporations were forced, over time, to unite and form The Corporation, a governing body to provide the oversight and regulation that they fought so hard to destroy. In essence, becoming exactly what they so despised.

 

-from The Fall: The Decline and Failure of 21st Century Civilization by Martin Raffe.

 

Titan was tidally locked to Saturn which meant that it stayed in the same spot above the horizon.  Every day throughout Titan’s year the ringed planet remained perfectly still while the icy moons and stars drifted across the sky. During the seven-day-long night it bathed the moon in a soft glow that rivaled the light from the sun during the day. It cast deep shadows through the towering trees and rocky outcropping that dominated the skyline.

 

The moon was silent except for the wind through the trees and the muted sound of laughter and mayhem that came from a certain clearing. There, the remains of a massive tanker ship lay where it crashed nearly a millennium ago. It was almost part of the forest now; only small parts of steel and aluminum underneath the vines, ferns and trees gleamed in the soft glow. The flicker of firelight could be seen through the windows that were still open to the sky. There was a rare sense of warmth on a moon coming out of another frigid night.

A solitary man opened one of the hatches. He wrapped thick, heavy furs around his body as he stepped out onto the hard, frozen ground. It was cold, dreadfully cold. It stung any piece of exposed skin. The man spat and it snapped as it froze in mid-air. It was always the coldest in the long, final hours before the sun returned to warm the moon again.   

He stopped walking and turned his gaze upward. Only Saturn, Rhea, two or three icy moons, and a few of the brightest stars could cut through the constant cloud cover of Titan. The rest of the sky was like a choking black sheet. The man reflected on the tales from ancient times; stories of men who jumped from far away stars and brought the people to Titan. Tonight, it felt like whoever brought them here covered the moon in clouds so they could never escape. 

Well, it was official. On this night, after hours of argument in the Great Hall, the Elders finally made their decision and another generation of his people would grow up as slaves. Most would die but a few would come back, become old men and sell another generation into slavery. Titan was place where everything remained constant, even the sky dominated by the great ringed planet. 

The man bowed his head and recited a prayer. It was the quiet sort meant to be heard only by the man and any deity that cared to listen.  He spoke in the language of his people. A language that, legend said, was also a gift from the ancients who came before. “Great Kompanio. I still believe you care about all the people of Titan. I still believe you will come for us someday. Please, give me some sign. Show me that my faith is not misplaced. Let me know that I am doing the right thing. 

Saturn didn’t move nor did any of the icy moons or stars. Nothing ever changes on Titan.

 

Just as the man turned to go back to the warmth of the ship, a light filled the entire sky. Brighter than Saturn. Brighter than the sun during the day. It lit the entire horizon with a blinding flash. When the light dimmed and he could see again, there was a new star flying across the sky at amazing speed.

The flash was bright enough to draw more people from the ship. They gasped at the white point of light speeding toward the horizon. There were descriptions of stars like this in the ancient writings but nothing like it had been seen in a thousand years. The people knew what they were seeing even if they couldn’t put words to it. 

The man turned to the assembled crowd and screamed in their native tongue, They have returned. They have returned! They have come to free us at last! I called for them and they have come! We must gather offerings. We meet at the landing place! Kompanio has returned! Returned to free us all!


 

Inside one of the shuttle’s staging areas, Viekko struggled to pull on the shirt-piece of his EROS suit in a room with ten or fifteen other Corporate personnel. He privately wondered if someone purposely gave him a suit that was a size or two too small for him so the others could enjoy watching a man of Viekko’s size turn himself into a sausage.

The material was a strange sort: flexible in some places, stiff and pokey in others. The way it felt reminded Viekko of the plate-male armor used by some tribes on the Martian steppes. Except this suit was thin, lightweight, black, and had a slight shine to it. As he pulled the top half into place the whole thing adjusted. Bits of metal, wire, and fabric pulled and pinched him in some very awkward and, at times, very personal places.  

Then there was Althea’s RX5 Medical Regulator. It was waiting for him in the supply locker having made its way to him from the medical bay through all sorts of Corporate channels. He clamped the device on his right shoulder and clenched his teeth while metal plates and probes spread out across his chest to his heart and to the middle of his spine on the other side. 

Once he felt he was through the worst of the discomfort, he put the white khaki pants and a white jacket checking the inside pocket to make sure his stash of Triple-T was still there. He slipped a sleeve-shaped device on his forearm that covered it from wrist to elbow. He removed the earbud charging in a matchbox-sized compartment in the locker, placed it in his ear, and touched the screen on the inside of his forearm to activate it. 

The same infuriating computerized woman’s voice sounded in his ear: “Welcome to the Body-Mod Consortium version 8 Environmental Reorientation and Operations Suit. Our goal is to make your work outside the confines of Earth gravity and atmosphere as safe and as comfortable as possible.” 

That was the Corporation, thought Viekko, always trying to make everyone safe and comfortable. Like a big, suffocating blanket around all of society. He grabbed his hat and followed a few others out of staging area and into a hallway leading to the cargo bay.

“Your EROS suit is equipped with nano-actuators built into the polycarbonate weave that will help compensate for microgravity conditions. Oxide-based conductors use the suit’s motion and your own heat to keep your body at a comfortable temperature while working in harsh, extra-planetary environments.” 

Lights flashed through the corridors and the same woman’s voice announced that the main bay doors were opening. Even though the hallways were choked with engineers, scientists and soldiers, he increased his pace through the crowd. He reached one of the airlocks leading to the cargo bay already packed full with people and, despite the protests of a few, crammed himself inside before the door slammed shut.

“Your EROS suit is also equipped with an interface pad attached to your arm. This provides an uplink to the Corporation satellite network for location and communication services. Welcome to Titan and have a safe and productive visit.”

The airlock door slid open and a flood of completely new, heavy, choking air filled his lungs. It was like sticking his face in a bag of noxious gases. At the same time there was something invigorating about it. There was much more oxygen here; Viekko could feel it in every cell of his body.  

The cargo bay was a mass of carefully controlled chaos as a thousand different people tried to accomplish a thousand different tasks at the exact same time. Soldiers in formation marched double-time into the blinding light outside to secure the perimeter. Teams of workers tried to keep spools of hose as large as a tractor tire from rolling uncontrolled down the ramp.  Closer to the open doors, he could make out a landscape of towering trees already being obscured by tall metal scaffolds, inflatable domed structures, and drilling rigs. Civilization had arrived on Titan and it was already making a mess of the place.

Viekko rammed his wide-brimmed hat in place and activated the communications application through the screen on his arm and selected Isra’s channel. There was a series of tones through his earpiece as the computer connected.

Isra’s voice came through, “Where are you, Viekko?”

Viekko looked around. “Cargo bay. Just gonna take a walk outside and see ‘bout getting my guns back.”

“We will meet at the weapons depot,” said Isra, ending the comm.

Viekko took his first steps onto the alien world. The ground was soft, granular, and his boots sank into it like wet sand on a beach when the waves came in. The landing zone was surrounded on three sides by a green-blue ocean that stretched beyond the horizon. Ahead, the land disappeared into a dense, green forest. The trees were so impossibly tall that the tops disappeared into the orange mist that covered the sky of Titan. From his position it looked like a solid green wall between Civilization and the rest of the planet. The sun, peeking through the perpetual clouds was just above the sea and, above it, the planet Saturn twice the size as the moon as viewed from Earth.

Even with the EROS suit, it was cold here.  Not a harsh freeze, but an invigorating chill that encouraged a man to keep active to stay warm.  Viekko buttoned up his jacket and went looking for the marine supply depot.

It turned out it wasn’t terribly hard to find. Just about every hard-faced, dull-eyed goon wearing Corporation Blue armor was headed in the same direction and soon he found a whole mess of them lined up single-file in front of a collection of crates where a few ranking officers were handing out standard-issue gear and weapons.

Viekko got into one of the lines and, before he knew it, found himself at the front. There weren’t many good things one could say about Corporation marines, but they were efficient which, depending on what they were trying to accomplish, might be another strike against them.

A corporal near the supply crates was entering something into his own EROS computer when Viekko walked up. He gave Viekko a look of barely contained disgust and continued to key in commands on the arm computer, “Name and rank,…soldier.” The word ‘soldier’ had a distinct sarcastic tone to it. 

Viekko Spade and I’m with the Human Reconnection Project. Special assignment with the Ministry.” 

The corporal tapped a few icons on the screen. “Supplies for Corporation military only. Next.” 

A marine behind him started to push forward but Viekko didn’t move. “‘’Scuse me, sir. I don’t wanna bother you, but I got a job to do, same as you. You should have two Old-Earth style handguns…” 

Another man, a sergeant, approached the line of marines and surveyed the situation for a moment. His Corporation Blue breastplate had black carbon scoring in several areas and he bore a large, jagged scar down the side of his face that just missed his left eye. Apart from that, the man’s every physical characteristic was straight out of the Corporation marine guidelines from the shine on his boots to the short, blond crew cut. His gaze settled on Viekko. It was a smug, bemused look. The same look that a man like him might give to a yapping puppy right before he shot it.

“What exactly is the problem here?” he asked wearily.  

Before the corporal could answer, Viekko looked the sergeant in the eye and said, “No problem. I just gonna collect my guns and then I’ll be on my way. Vince Laban told me they’d be here, Sergeant.” 

The man activated the screen on his arm. Carr.  Sergeant Carr. Name and rank?”


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