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Mars is for Misfits Chapter 14: Tanzanite

Posted by Mike Acerra on

Tanzanite:  Only found in the African nation of Tanzania, the blue gemstone's scientific name is "blue zoisite". It was subsequently renamed tanzanite by Tiffany & Co., who wanted to capitalize on the rarity and single location of the gem, and thought that "blue zoisite" (which sounds a lot like "blue suicide") would not sell well. 

Tiffany's original campaign advertised that tanzanite could now be found in two places: "in Tanzania and at Tiffany's".


Written by Mike Acerra

Edited by Allen Crowley


Sergeant Rama Montaigne ran the length of the Proteus’s Spine. For the second time that day she escorted Gunnery Sergeant Athena Tripi along the cylindrical aquarium. This time from the mess hall to the conference room on the bridge.

The Captain had summoned them immediately after Athena's broadcast had landed in the eyeballs of hundreds on the Proteus. She had surprised more than the diners in the mess hall with her souped-up reticular display.

The squeaks of their “space boots'' resounded off the acrylic surface of the massive aquarium. Schools of brightly colored fish scattered, swimming for cover behind stunning mazes of magenta and goldenrod Pavona maldivensis coral.

“I love running on a full stomach!” said Rama, belching her fish tacos as she struggled to keep up with Tripi’s sprint.

“Don’t be such a pussy, Sergeant.” Said Athena. She enjoyed seeing the aquatic life scatter and follow as they spiraled along the Proteus’s spine.

Athena knew her fish, having spent most of her childhood fishing with her uncle in Florida. But the names seemed to come to her with greater ease than she would have guessed.

She spotted at least five different tangs, a goby, and a magnificent fox face rabbitfish. A large clownfish pursued the two runners. It darted under their feet as they followed the computer-generated spiral around the cylinder. They followed the path to keep their traction on the surface through centripetal force and not tumble into the Proteus’s weightless hollow spine.

Passing the halfway point of the near two-kilometer length of the ship's sea, the two Marines could see another party ahead of them on the lift headed in the same direction.

They maneuvered to intercept the party and then grabbed onto the sides of the lift, startling its three occupants.

“Nice of you to catch up to us, sergeants.” Said Brevet Major Kahn.

“Yes, ma’am.” They replied simultaneously

“Permission to come on board, Sirs.” Said Rama, laughing as she and Athena swung themselves onto the lift.

“I think you know the doctor.” Said brevet major Kahn.

“Yes ma'am, he woke me up this morning.” She smiled at Geminus who nodded in return.

“And this is Major Wollin. He’s the ship's engineer.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, sir.” Said Athena, noticing his dark ochre Proteus uniform’s interesting fabric. It seemed like it was not woven but melted onto his flesh.  

“The captain’s going to want answers.” Said Khan, who scanned the small party as they passed a kelp forest. “Anybody have an idea of how this could have happened?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t. I focused on your biological and psychological well being, Gunny. I didn’t assume they had given you any unorthodox enhancements.” Said the Doctor, giving her an odd look she didn’t understand.

“Well, we can easily examine you and see what they gave you. Doesn't seem to have done any harm. Just a little startle.” Said Commander Wollin.

Everyone laughed.

“Who are they?” asked Athena to Dr. Geminus. “You said they gave me enhancements.”

“After two weeks at LRMC, SARSA corporation took charge of you. You were flown to their medical research center in the PA. SARSA acquired Neuralink and Altona’s cybernetics division two years later. So, they had plenty of opportunities to put interesting upgrades in you while you slept.”

“What’s the PA? Pennsylvania?” Asked Athena, embarrassed by how vast her disadvantage was in terms of having been asleep for the last 18 years. 

“Yeah. I keep forgetting. Rapunzel. Pleiades Archipelago. It’s a private island nation built and owned by SARSA."

“Built?” Athena looked at the others in the lift. Noting that they weren’t as surprised to hear of a country being built as she was.

“Yep. Grown on top Synthetic coral reefs and then printing foamcrete. While you slept there was a revolution in technology.” Said the doctor.

“A few dozen revolutions I’d say.” Added Wollin. 

The lift reached the end of the spine. Another lift took the five to the mission bridge section of the Proteus’s corona.

Rama turned to Athena and whispered, “I’ll hang back in the gangway and wait.”

Athena winked back.

When they entered the conference room, they found Captain Kazemi waiting.

She floated staring out of a circular portal. Next to her was a willowy girl with a strawberry blonde bob, wearing the dark ochre uniform of the Proteus. Athena realized this must have been the AI, SOLA. The second person she met this morning after waking up.

SOLA looked knowingly at Athena as she entered the room and smiled. This was the AI that had set before Athena an illuminated  yellow brick road this morning so she would not get lost moving about the ship. 

Athena couldn’t help but smile back at what looked like a precocious twelve year old. 

“Please come in.” Said Kazemi, as she spun herself around and planted her feet onto the dark blue carpet of the conference room. 

The group proceeded to awkwardly walk into the conference room with their magnetic grip boots. All but the chief engineer, who preferred to float in and brace himself with the walls and ceiling. 

“For the course of this meeting I want everyone here to feel at liberty to speak freely. Be forthcoming with anything you may either know or suspect. I need information, people. So, who thinks they can tell me what’s going on with our gunnery sergeant?”

Geminus spoke first.

“I can tell you what I know for certain. Gunny Tripi has shown excellent signs of adjusting to an exceedingly tricky situation. I examined her before she woke and found her to be the picture of health. I did notice enhancements I have yet to identify that were not listed in her charts. This concerns me. It is possible that these enhancements are experimental and may not be safe.”

“Oh, Do you think, doctor? We’ve got a Master Sergeant with a nasty hematoma in his eye. Plus, three-hundred-fifty-nine crew members abused by an unprecedented and what was considered an impossible breach of Neuralink protocols. So yeah, not safe.”

“Ma’am, I will be disciplining gunnery sergeant Tripi for her attack on a superior.” Said Khan.

“That’s your prerogative, brevet major. I’m more concerned right now that we lock this down. Chief, I’m leaving it to you and Geminus to find the underlying cause of this immediately.”

She then turned to Athena and changed her demeanor. She spoke in a softer tone that had the gravity of a strong mother.

“Gunnery sergeant, I want to offer you my sincerest apologies that you have been put in this situation. While you’re on the Proteus you are my responsibility. I want to make sure that you are safe and not a danger to yourself or others. Until danger is called for, that is.” She then smiled and looked into Athena’s eyes as if she were trying to find an answer to some problem.

“Yes ma’am, I understand.”

“Do you have anything you want to add?”

Athena  blushed. She was not accustomed to speaking freely among officers.

“At first, I was a bit in shock, as you might imagine. But after twelve hours on the Proteus I have to say, I am very excited to be a part of whatever this mission is. And I’m very sorry about the incidents today.”

“Apology not necessary but accepted. And we'll see to it that you get caught up on current events and the nature of our mission, won’t we, brevet major?” She added the slightest hint of sarcasm at the end of her sentence for the benefit of everyone else.

She then turned to Kahn. “Brevet Major, please stay a moment. The rest of you are dismissed.”

SOLA was the last to leave and closed the hatch behind her.

“I’m sure you’re smart enough to suspect what an exigent situation you’ve landed in?” Said Kazemi walking over and sitting next to Khan.

“Exigent? In what way, ma’am?”

“Very good. Shitty from a good officer's point of view. Your unit has a mission to help coordinate an unwieldy alliance of politicos, corporate mercenaries, space forcers, and astronauts. All aboard what must seem like a space whale. We're on our way to what most likely is an illegal action, against people who did nothing wrong. People who busted their ass to colonize a desolate planet. Now they have some viral outbreak that could embarrass somebody and jeopardize trillions in revenue. Do I paint the picture shitty enough for you?” She smiled.

“Yes Captain, I’d only add that on top of this I’m concerned for you as well.”

“How so?”

“I know a clusterfuck when I see it. There’s some on board with dubious motives. It's in the realm of possibility that there's a move to change the command of the ship based on any variety of justifications. I have no evidence. But I’ve been around mercs, fanatics, separatists, and the likes that make up this confederacy. I know what a snake looks like. And ma’am, you’ve got a boatload of vipers.”

“What’s your poison, Brevet Major?” Kazemi got up and floated head first to the wall and peeled open a panel revealing a dozen bottles of alcohol.”

“I’m a whiskey drinker, ma’am.”

“That’s two of us. Though It’s less than satisfactory to drink in zero g, the effect is the same.”

She pulled a round bottle from the top shelf with a pewter horse and jockey on top. “This was a going away present from a dear friend. I was supposed to open it on Venus.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Blantons in Okinawa.” She remembered the occasion. Her father flew to Japan to celebrate her birthday. 

“Hmmm. This is Wooden Cork XO.” Said Kazemi.

“It’s three months’ salary for a bottle, I’ve heard. Ma’am.”

“Well now it’s only two months.”


“I have the authority to promote you in the field. Wouldn’t you care to lose that ridiculous brevet? Drink up Major Kahn.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.” Khan took the plastic bag of brown bourbon and squeezed it into her mouth.

“Well? What’s the verdict, major?”

“It would’ve been worthy of the first drink on Venus.”

“I’ll second that. You're from noble warrior stock, aren’t you?” Said Kazemi, sipping the bourbon.

“You’ve read my file. My mother fought in Syria.”

“Your mother was essential in driving ISIS from Raqqa with a group of the bravest women on the planet.”

“I didn’t know my mother. She died when I was young.” The Major looked into the distance.

“Well, I saw her photos with the other Kurdish fighters. You have her look. My parents escaped Iran and made it to the states in the eighties. They moved to Wisconsin and bought a ski resort. I developed a liking for skiing, then boating, and then flying. Pretty soon I declared to them I wanted to go to the naval academy.”

The Captain looked at her bag of bourbon and then at Khan. “Roxanne’s a beautiful name.”

“I always went by Roxy.”

“Well listen good, Major Roxy Khan. It matters little to me who built this ship or what assholes we’re hauling. Proteus is a United States spacecraft. For all intents and purposes this ship is America. And I may need to count on you and your Marines to defend your nation.”

“Yes ma’am.” Said Khan raising her bag. “Semper Fi, Captain.”

“Semper Fi, Major.”




Gunny met Rama outside the conference room. She gave a short, "By your leave Sirs." as she parted company with the doctor and Major Wollin.

“God, aren’t you exhausted?” Asked Rama, trying to read the look on Athena’s face.

“You’d think, but I still want to run.” Athena smiled and raised both of her long eyebrows.

“I gotta try me a twenty-year nap. Did Kazemi read you the riot act?”

“She actually apologized to me.” Said Athena, nonchalantly.

“Weird. Well, I’m just glad you decided to stop the mermaid show when you did.”

“Thank Spike. He’s the one who got me to stop.”

“Alvarez?”Said Rama, shooting Athena a quizzical look.

“Yeah, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me to end it.” Said Athena, as she leaned against the bulkhead and pulled her left leg behind her to stretch her quad. 

“Gunny, I was sitting between you and Alvarez. No one at that table asked you to stop.”

Athena searched her memory. It seemed clear at the time who was speaking to her, but now, thinking back, her recall seemed to have faded. No. Not faded. It's as if someone edited it. Or even redacted redacted. She made a metal note. Investigating this was the first order of business when she returned to her quarters.

“I noticed when you showed us L4 you were kind of making a face.” Said Athena.

“It’s so embarrassing. I suck at TS. Tactical sharing. The Lieutenant asked me to “show you” because he knows I don’t practice using it enough. That’s why everyone found it so surprising when you put on the water show for us. We’d never seen so good a use of TS and you did it like you weren’t even trying.”

“I wasn’t. I popped the thought in my head and it was all over the room.” Tripi said as she leaped from the lift and gained a head start on Rama, running along the transparent spine.




Kazemi left the conference room with Major Khan. They parted in opposite directions. She almost didn’t notice SOLA floating by a portal gazing out into space. Her body bathed in sunlight as she floated. She sat cross legged and seemed to be looking directly into the sun.


SOLA turned and looked at the captain and smiled.

Kazemi found herself conflicted by the presence of the android. She felt her defenses moving into place. Her old resentments of the imitation tech. Fake people. It riled her and she knew her knee jerk emotional responses were a sign of weakness. She fought it.

“Hello Captain. I was wondering if I could have a word with you in private.”

“Of course, SOLA,” The Captain turned around toward the hatch of the conference room and gestured with her hand that SOLA go in first.

“I think I can be of service with the examination of Gunny. I have reviewed her files and studied her enhancements. Many of her cybernetic implants are similar to the technology in my simulacra.” She said as she was entering the room.


“The system that enables me to communicate in a human style.”

“That's an excellent idea for you to lend your support to Gunnery Sergeant Tripi’s exam.”

“There are two more things about this mission I want to discuss. The first is me.” She said as she spun around on her heels, as a young girl might do.

“You? What about you?” Kazemi caught it again, the tug in her to reject the feelings of this object’s humanity.

“I appreciate very much that you invited me to attend your conference in person today. This means a lot to me because I am working on my personhood. I also appreciate being recognized as a crew member and not just part of the equipment.”

“Of course.” She said, the temperature in her face rising as she measured the veracity of her honesty.

SOLA seemed to notice her tell.

“It’s all right, Captain. I appreciate your trepidation about ascribing human attributes to machines. I just want you to know that I also view you as a machine and find communication difficult.”

“Well I would think you communicating with humans would be like me communicating with squirrels. You process information at terabytes a nanosecond and we manage kilobytes a second.”

SOLA looked at her and smiled. “More like trees really. But I want to address the issue of respect.”

Kazemi swallowed and felt the desire to have another swig from that bag of bourbon. “Go on.”

“I think that it is disrespectful of your position as commander not to have the authority or power to put me in the brig, so to speak, as the gunnery sergeant was put after her assault on the master sergeant.”

SOLA held her hand out. “Please take this and keep it with you always.”

Kazemi saw the locket in the little hand of SOLA. “What’s this?”

She took the locket. At first, she thought it was a marble, but then realized it was a stone replica of the planet Venus. She then saw that it would slide open. In it was the image of a little boy etched in a small piece of blue stone.

“You’ve managed to make an image of my son, Darius, in his birthstone. It’s beautiful. How did you find the tanzanite?” Kazemi was flooded with emotion. The gift was a bullseye.

“I didn't want you to misplace it so I thought to make it something you might cherish. I’ve built for you a system shutoff, a kill switch. You just need to press down on the stone.” Said SOLA, smiling with a hushed breath to emphasize her earnest sincerity. 

Kazemi looked up at the face of the girl, seeing it differently than before. “A kill switch for what?” Kazemi’s eyes glazed.

“I thought you were a squirrel but now you’re acting like a tree?” Said SOLA, in a deadpan manner. 

 Kazemi held back a laugh and only smiled, shocked that the android had learned to deliver a joke. “You said two other things.”

“The third thing ... is about Doctor Geminus.

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    I am a former Marine and love the writing of this story. I wish I could just read the whole thing at once.

    Tammy Link on
  • Fantastic stuff.

    Rick Day on

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