We are thrilled to announce that the science fiction author, Allen Crowley, has begun to release the long-awaited Lux Force Chronicles: Mars is for Misfits. Martian Independence fighters unite with a small band of United States Marine's and an amazing group of young Martian colonists, to fight humanity's greatest threat - the contagion known as the Phage. Stay tuned for weekly installments in the series!
Written by Allen Crowely
Story by Mike Acerra
Gunnery Sergeant Athena Tripi pressed herself against the remnants of the brick and plaster wall as bullets chipped away more of the second story room. She squeezed the handle on the radio, "I say again, fire on these coordinates."
"Gunny, come on, let's go" Lance Corporal Salvatore shouted as he ran up the steps. He stopped when he saw his sergeant sitting on a sheet of maroon glass. "Madre de Dios! Gunny, you’re coming with me."
She struggled to snap another hundred-round drum into the grenade launcher. Her hands were slippery with her blood. She gave what she knew would be her last command. "Lance Corporal, turn around, get those kids on the truck, and drive. That’s an order." She then squeezed the trigger sending a steady stream of 40mm grenades out the window indiscriminately.
An explosion rocked her, heat waves crawled across her skin. Pain knifed through her, and then none, just bright white light. She sat bolt upright blinking. "Move Salvatore, just follow orders for once in your miserable life!" The brightness slowly gave way to pastel colored walls around her. The room was lit up like sunshine, but the walls absorbed light like a bandage soaking up blood. They held the light and brightened because they absorbed it. There was no glare, no reflection, no bright shafts of light, just an even steady glow. She couldn’t focus.
She was on a bed and woozy. A hospital ward maybe. Nausea swam through her. Sniper training focused her on breathing like yoga practice. The uneasiness passed for a moment. A couple of meters away a man sat in a chair. Threat? Any objects at hand to use to her advantage?
"Athena, you're safe." The man seemed to be having a conversation with himself or reading a book she couldn’t see. It was just the two of them in the room. The man’s voice had a level, doctorly tone but with a jovial subtext, like the way Salvatore’s questions would annoy her at briefings.
"Salvatore! The kids! Did they get out?" Athena barked at the man, feeling a bit awkward for shouting at a man dressed in what looked like a cross between long underwear and a dive suit.
"Yes they did. But you didn’t."
The sentence just hung there in the air. Nothing made sense.
"Where am I? What is this place? Who are you? What is going on? ... and it's Gunnery Sergeant." She barked in the drawl she had adopted after a year as a drill instructor at Pendleton. What does he mean? I didn’t make it out?
The man relaxed and reinforced a courteous smile. "Easy Athena, er… Gunny Tripi, I'm Doctor Ben Geminus. You’re safe. You’re in the medical bay of a ship. How are you feeling?"
With quick jerky movements she scanned the room. Her adrenaline enraged amygdala started to unwind. She was not in combat. She was standing. The weird silence unnerved her. No gun fire, no explosions, and no shouting came from the Congolese Army of God (CAG). A faint hum of a fan blew through the air. Fresh air, smoke free, clean as if dust and daylight had never mixed to make floating motes glow in the air. Her mouth was dry but she tasted blood. Memories tried to unbalance her. The bed against her leg kept her steady. She lifted the top of her medical pink pajamas looking for the hole in her abdomen. There wasn’t any blood draining out, not even a scar.
"The last thing I remember I was in a firefight." She didn’t feel right in the head. Her attention drifted around the room and through memories that faded when she tried to hold them. A soothing presence in her head whispered to her, ‘relax.’
"That's right, you were wounded. Now you're in the sick bay of a ship."
“What ship? The Mercy? This place seems really high tech." Why would they fly wounded from the center of Africa to a ship for medical treatment? Hadn’t USAID been building hospitals all over since the pandemic?
“We’re on the Proteus."
"The Congo isn't exactly close to the water. How long have I been out?"
"You've been heavily medicated for quite a while.” The doctor paused. "Gunnery Sergeant Tripi, are you listening?"
She had stopped listening. Sensation interrupted thoughts. She tingled from heel to head. "I feel really light."
"That’s to be expected.” Dr. Geminus stated, eager to move on. “You were fighting the CAG. It probably feels like just a moment ago. You were almost killed in battle.” The doctor continued. “After the battle you were brought back to Med-Surge. The medic had put you on ice. You were in really bad shape.” He paused. “Actually, you were pretty dead when we got you out of the Osprey. We could keep you from dying, but we couldn’t bring you back to life. In 2029 you would normally have been allowed to die. But since you were kind of a hero for saving those children … The Marine Corps enrolled you in a special program, run by the SARSA corporation. They kept you alive, in hibernation, until we were clever enough to fix you. After all, you were a national celebrity. Lots of people wanted you to pull through and they were willing to wait decades if that’s what it took. Many surgeries later you are finally being awakened." Geminus paused looking at her to see if this was getting through.
She froze, listening. She lifted her gaze from the wound that wasn’t there to the man’s slate blue eyes. "How long?"
"Eighteen years. The ship you’re on ..."
"The Proteus, yeah. You said eighteen years?" Clarity returned even though the situation remained surreal.
"Yes, the Proteus is not an ordinary ship. It’s a science research vess….” he shrugged. “You’re on a spacecraft."
"OK, enough. In spite of the meds, I can see through this smoke screen." Whatever was going on in her head was making it too comfortable to accept what the man was saying. She wasn’t losing her mind as much as it was wandering off. Playing poker in Djibouti, she had called SSgt Perez’s bluff and won a night on the town. What happened that night? The tendrils of memory pulled her gently away. Sniper training snapped her to the present. She adjusted her bead on this guy.
He smiled. "The main reason you feel light is because we're at one third of Earth's gravity to prepare us for a rescue mission on Mars."
Still incredulous, but feeling a sudden call more urgent than her curiosity, "Where's the head?" She needed time to think.
He laughed and pointed at one of two oval hatches in the room. "Luckily we're not in zero G. You might find the apparatus a bit odd, but there’s enough gravity for things to basically work the same. You'll figure it out." He kept his seat.
It could be the drugs, but the sensation of being lighter than usual persisted and things did not seem to flow exactly right. Coriolis effect? She grasped at the present to ponder what this guy had said. Hibernation? Eighteen years? Spacecraft? Not taking this at face value. She opened the hatch and reentered the bay to find the doctor approaching with a stack of clothes.
"Good. Looks like you figured it out. You might as well get dressed." He passed her the bundle.
Tripi backed through the door. It was the strangest head she had ever been in. It seemed to be all one thing. A single pearly enameled material made up the sink, toilet, shower, walls, floor, and ceiling. Everything was designed for function but looked like it had been grown instead of built. For a ruse, they'd gone through a lot of trouble. The clothing was made from the same material as what the Doc was wearing. She looked at the name tags on the blouse. "GySgt Tripi" on the right and on the left, "Space Force?"
Tripi returned to the bay and took the only other chair across from Geminus. There were no portholes, just the two hatches, two beds, and a variety of modular medical equipment, with similar weird shapes like the ones in the head and made from the same pearly-looking material. What is that color? Grey? White? blue?
He studied her for a moment. "You don't remember me, do you? We met before."
"You said you were on the team that saved my life, … eighteen years ago." Tripi lifted an eyebrow. The Doc did that funny thing where he looked like he was reading a book she couldn’t see.
"Where did we leave off? Lance Corporal Salvatore carried you to the truck with the twenty-three children in tow and drove away before the artillery strike landed. The one you called on your own position.” He chuckled and shook his head. “ Wiped out every one of the CAG.”
Her body clenched as the pain, the fire, and the emotions flooded through her. Tears welled in her eyes. She squeezed the cool elastic material of her leggings. Minutes ago she was fighting for her life now she was in … either an elaborate ruse or a spacecraft heading to Mars. There was really no evidence at all that any time had passed. The doctor’s calm voice interrupted her combat reverie.
“Relax Athena. You’re safe here.”
Her adrenaline rose again as the firefight came back to her. She was about to die. She had taken too many hits, lost too much blood. She took deep steady breaths. Sniper training slowed the heart and increased kills down range. She didn’t complain about the rank. She sighted in on his name tags, “Dr. Geminus” on the right and on the left “Civilian.” She still couldn’t get past these ridiculous PJ’s that served as uniforms.
She continued to stare at him. Then she heard herself asking again, but as if it were someone else’s voice, "What's going on?" She looked at the doctor. Another shudder of memory rippled through her. She had met him, but he had been younger, much younger. "You, you're the guy from Djibouti."
"Yeah, that’s right." he smiled and dropped his gaze to the floor.
"But you, you're older. Eighteen years older?”
"Right again," he said, looking up and smiling.
She could feel her cheeks flush.. “I thought you were with Doctors Without Borders.”
“Yes, you did. I should have let you keep thinking that. But when you found out I was a Navy corpsman, you made it clear how full of BS you thought I was and that there wouldn’t be any fraternization. You also pointed out that you were older than me then.”
“I’m still older than you.” Tripi stood and the weird sensation of weightlessness confused her for a moment. “And I still think you’re still full of it”. She stepped behind the chair and held on to it. “Your story is getting weirder and weirder, Doc. By the looks in the mirror, I haven’t aged 18 years. Show me some evidence.”
“Dr. Geminus to the bridge. Dr. Geminus to the bridge.” A female voice prompted through an intercom system. Geminus laughed. He stood and then waved his hand at the hatch opposite the head. It slid open.
“You want proof, Gunny? … follow me.