March 23, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 99: Stepan of Burroughs

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified 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. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (70,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Neither Stepan Izmaylova nor Quinn was paying attention to the roof until a booming roar echoed from the filthy wall of a formerly transparent Dome rim. A high-pitched whistle drowned out Stepan’s shout. A moment later, it was followed by the hooting of a Dome breach siren.

Stepan looked down at Quinn, set to run to the nearest Seal Shelter, but Quinn had started walked, poking the roof with a steel rod. Stepan said, “Aren’t you going to find shelter?”

Quinn looked over his shoulder, scowling, “Where’d we go?”

“There aren’t any Shelters on the Rim?”

He shrugged and turned back to probing the roof. “Shelters is for Humans. I ain’t Human.”

Stepan stared after the boy, finding a literal growl rumbling in his throat. This whole thing – everything he himself had set in motion – sent waves of nausea from the pit of his stomach burning up his throat. He had to change it, no matter what. His God had sacrificed his only son for the lives of those who had then slaughtered him in order to bring men, women, and children whose lives had missed the mark; who had not won the prize; like the artificial creations of Humanity. They and the ones who had been branded as undesirable by the United Faith in Humanity – a faith that prided itself of having set itself free of ancient religious biases – were the ones he had condemned by his angry, selfish pursuit of free will. “Well, I helped start it. I can end it,” Stepan said out loud.

“End what?” asked Quinn, not looking up from his careful poking of the roof over the warehouse.

“Don’t worry, my friend, stick with me long enough and you’ll find out.”

Quinn stopped and looked at him, eyes wide. “What’d you call me?”

“My friend,” said Stepan, locking the boys icy, blue-eyed gaze.

Quinn held it with the strength of youth, blinked, then smiled shyly. “No ain’t never called me they friend.” Nodding he went back to prodding the roof. Stepan cast a nervous glance upward, but not giant cracks had appeared in the Dome. “Don’t worry,” said Quinn, “The stupid siren goes off all the time. Least this time it was during the day. I hate it most when it starts blaring and I’m asleep.”

“So there’s no breach?”

Quinn shrugged. “Who knows?” He poked at the roof, then said, “Ya know, I could use some help here. This roof ain’t gonna get tested all by itself.”

Stepan nodded and resumed the careful tread across the warehouse. “We should go toward the edge more. It’s more likely to be sound there. Here toward the middle, it seems like it could…” Under his feet, came a squeal, then the material sagged under him. Before it could go any farther, Quinn tackled him around the waist, twisting both of them so that their hard fall was translated into a flattening roll. They came to rest with Quinn on top. The boy’s eyes were squeezed shut and he was shivering. “I thought you told me you aren’t afraid of anything?”

The younger man cursed then jumped to his feet. “I ain’t – except letting my credit chip out of this slum fall to his death.” Quinn’s accent was gone.

Stepan stood up as well, then stared at the Artificial Human. He pursed his lips, shaking his head slowly. After a moment, he smiled a bit. “Yeah, well, we can’t let that happen, now, can we? Let’s head straight over and stay on roofing we already poked.”

Quinn turned abruptly and led the way, sometimes walking saddle-legged, other times practically heel-toe. They reached the edge without incident. The warehouse ended two meters from the Base of the Dome, though four meters below, the wall of the warehouse merged with it – most likely where the warehouse offices had been, integrating the architecture into the existing structure. Stepan said, “I don’t remember seeing any doors into the Base downstairs.”

“Prob’ly covered by the owners when they vayked…”
“What?” Stepan shook his head, adding, “Half the time I don’t even understand what you’re saying!”

QuinnAH…something in how he looked up at Stepan made the differences between them leap to the size of Valles…said, “The entrances into the shielded quarters and offices of the prior warehouse owners were most likely sealed a short time before they vacated the premises.”

Stepan scowled, felt anger rise up in him; privileged anger; anger at the temerity of a young, unskilled, impudent Artificial Human that made him want to strike the thing down. Then he gasped, stepped back, left hand holding right, staring down at it.


He couldn’t answer at first, then finally said, “I know what’s wrong with this world and I know how to fix it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He looked up at Quinn, rolled his eyes, and said, “You wouldn’t understand.”

The boy’s faced purpled – literally – and he shouted, “I thought you were…”

“It’s because I don’t think you know what the definition of propitiation is.”


Stepan grinned and said, “See, there’s stuff you don’t know!” He reached out tentatively and when Quinn didn’t flinch, tousled  his hair.

Then the boy slowly pulled away and said, “Let’s get below. There’s enough stuff up her to start your stupid garden.”

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