On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.
Aster Thiel pursed her lips then swiped her finger through the virtual screen hovering over the desk in her apartments. After a moment, she said, “City, please connect me to Captain Stanton.”
“You do not have to say ‘please’ to me, Mayor’s Escort Thiel.”
Even though the title irritated her, she smiled, “You’re an artificial intelligence, aren’t you?”
“I am, ME Thiel.”
“Then you are an independent entity in my eyes and you deserve to be politely treated.”
“Thank you, ME Thiel. I have Captain Stanton for you.”
The scenery screen disappeared, replaced by the crew-cut, serious face of the Mayor’s House head of security. He smiled faintly – which Aster had come to realize was as god as a full-blown grin in normal people – and said, “How may I help you, Miz Thiel?”
Aster smiled at the old-fashioned appellation. She liked it much more than the one the computer used. It sounded less possessive. She said, “James, I was wondering if I could see my father.”
James gave an exaggerated sigh and said, “He’s in his usual place. Drinking coffee and reading subversive literature in the Qalipu Qoffee nook up the avenue from the House. Dark roast, vacuum processed, fully-caffeinated an from the slopes of Olympus Mons itself.”
“Think you could let me go down there today?”
James shook his head slightly. “You know what Mayor Etaraxis thinks of people like your father.”
Aster nodded, “He could be arrested for possessing a Bible and could be taken into custody for treason and reprogrammed.”
“You make it sound like such a bad thing!”
Aster shook her head, smiling, “It is, but this is where we are. As long as there are decent men and women in the Mayor’s service, he’ll never be completely evil.”
James rolled his eyes and said, “Taking you into his service would be proof that he knows a good person when he sees one. There are people who would as soon push you and your father out an old execution lock as look at you.”
Aster felt a chill tap dance up her spine. She knew the Mayor’s Chief of Security was a darkly angry woman. It was only when James had insisted she forward under her own name the weakness in the Mayor’s Home security that she’d acted – and it wasn’t hard to guess what Hanam vo’Maddux’s reaction would be. She nodded. “If you think it’s best I don’t see Daddy today, I’ll go with that, Captain Stanton.”
He winced. “Ouch.” He paused then said, “How is it that you’re the only person who can turn my rank into an appeal to my deepest, darkest heart?”
“Because you’re a good man through and through, Captain.”
He snorted. “You don’t know the worst parts of me.”
Aster shrugged slightly, “Only the Universe knows those. Judgment isn’t something I concern myself with. Thanks, James.” She reached to hang up.
“Well, your dad does know how to drink his coffee,” James said. Aster knew that was a high compliment. James occasionally brewed a cup or two of beans imported from Ancient Ethiopia on Earth, where coffee was purported to have its original roots. He sighed. “I suppose I can give you an hour.” He leaned closer to his screen, “Just be careful.”
She frowned, nodded and hung up. For a while, she sat at her desk, staring out the window that opened on to one of the vertical garden spirals masking internal dome support columns. Most of the columns had wide, gently rising ramps built around them with soil troughs planted with Earth flora from different regions on the Mother World. The one she could started with short-stemmed prairie grasses at the bottom and progressed upwards to blue spruce and dwarf white pine. Contained, cultivated and cared-for, she felt the chill dance up her spine again as she contemplated the similarities between the vertical garden and herself.
She gathered her purse and a hat and left a moment later, wondering how she would tell the Mayor she would be going back to the office pool below.