Red Soil

By Jamie Chipperfield

For one Mars lawman, a multi-disappearance shall have great implications for the colony he calls home.

We arrived at the Custodian building, a squat, fortified structure that was clearly built from sturdier materials than most on Mars. Once through its two sets of security doors and we was safe within its walls, into the unlit gloom of my sanctum. Those four desks huddled around the databank like a campfire gathering, even in this dormant state it still thrummed with intelligent energy, a vast operating system slumbering in its idle automation. The databank was a piece of unique technomancy, and seeing the beast now in such quiet awe, was simultaneously extraordinary and terrifying. Creeping through the silent confines made me feel part of some illicit affair, hanging around after hours with the lights switched off, yet when I discovered we wasn't actually alone, said

guilt intensified dramatically even though nothing truly illicit was taking place. The stark, clinical light of the armoury suddenly illuminated the room, as its doors parted in one corner of the room. Val emerged looking equally surprised and guilty, we weren't the only ones skulking around in the dark.

"Graham all sorted?" I asked politely.

"Yessir," she replied hastily.

"You can go home, I'll cover tonight."

"Thank you, sir," and with that she hurried out, leaving the two of us alone again once more.

"Did she seem nervous to you?" Iris suggested once the coast was well clear.

Oh great, I thought to myself, another person trying to sow doubt in my head, not another one.

"I think she thought she was about to be jumped. Tonight took its toll on all of us," I offered half-heartedly. Val had been following the orders I had given, but she had indeed looked rather nervous too.

"Whatever you say. She's the new one isn't she, I never received much information about her. Funny that. I can recognise a person with agenda when I see it, I wouldn't be much of a governor if I couldn't. You can tell when someone's been indoctrinated, they become followers, and there you have no better example of someone with a duty to follow."

As she blathered on, I showed her over to the now vacant armoury, an unnaturally bright room contrasting with a vast quantity of dark and imposing weaponry. To the uninitiated, it was a breath-taking and terrifying sight, a single room with the potential to cause so much destruction, and Iris dealt with it in her usual charming flippancy.

"Oh, so this is your gun shed."

"It's called an armoury," I corrected pointlessly.

"Gun shed sounds better, you should hang a sign above the door."

"I brought you here for a reason, if you’re going out there and make yourself a target, let's at least give you a fighting chance."

"Yes SAH, right you are SAH," she confirmed, providing an exaggerated barrack-room voice and a mock salute.

I approached the varying collection of drawers and display units, seeking something compact and straightforward enough for the governor, a point-and-shoot as photographers use to say. I found a handgun from the early twenty-first century, a relative antiquity devoid of the trappings of modernity, gone were the palm readers and target identifiers. All Iris needed was something for last resort, she didn't need it to be singing and dancing. I turned to her, gift in hand, and it seemed the reality of what I was offering finally dawned on her. I knew her as a person, but to most she was the governor, not a name or a person but a title. That figure of ultimate authority that apparently kept the world turning, but Iris was a person like the rest of us, living among us. And she cared, she really cared about the people of Mars, you just couldn't do her job if you didn't. But her job necessitates pragmatism, and when you’re that high up the tree, everything else looks small. I was providing her an opening into a world more real and consequential than she had experienced, where actions did not lead to forecasts and figures. Maybe that was why she nearly recoiled from what I was presenting, the romance of the uniform fading as she understood what I was, what I had to do to keep the world turning.

"Now I can't show you how to shoot, we don't have any blanks. For some reason, nobody seemed willing to smuggle pretend bullets," I told her as I turned the gun's grip towards her.

"Are you sure about this?" She replied to my hands, her eyes locked on to what I was holding.

"I alone won't guarantee your safety, not in these times," I urged despite not wanting to pressure her, though something within me knew I had to. "The Empress was felled right in front of me, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I failed to prevent the same thing happening to you."

"Okay okay," she sighed, finding her nerve, "I don't really have a choice."

She gingerly accepted the weapon, her fingers awkwardly tightening into a grip that I would not recommend firing from. I went around behind her and began to show her the necessary techniques, adjusting her stance, correcting her grip, explaining what I could without being able to fire the weapon. My arms reached around hers in an embrace that was unintentionally intimate. I was slightly taller than her and so my nose rested on her head as I peeked over at my teaching hands. My mind wandered as I was engulfed be her seductive aroma, a sweet haze that wafted into my very soul. I suddenly doubted my innate urge to protect her by any means, was it right to turn her into a soldier, should I really turn her into me.

"Stay focused Leon," she whispered as if knowing, "let's not lose our heads."

I did as she commanded and taught her what she needed to know.

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