August 4, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 107: 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.

“I’ll go down. You wait here.” Without waiting, Stepan Izmaylova sat on the edge of the dark, gaping hatch and said, “I was a hero of the Faith Wars. There’s nothing down there that can harm me – not after all these decades.”

“Keep tellin’ yourself that, Preach,” said his companion, QuinnAH, an artificial Human who had attached himself to Stepan’s mission. He added, “My only thought is that maybe they wasn’t tryin’ to seal us out. Maybe they was trying to keep something IN…”

Stepan looked at him, nodded, and said, “Good point. You keep on praying while I go down there.” He slid forward, reaching with his toes.

“How come you didn’t bring no light?”

“I didn’t think I’d be going caving; just roofing.”

Quinn snorted in laughter. “I should push you down the hole for that dumb joke.”

“No need,” said Stepan as his toe caught on a platform below. He slipped over the edge of the doorway, touching down with only his head showing. “If I find anything useful down here, I’ll hand it up to you, all right?”

Quinn just grunted, sitting slowly, folding his hands, staring at Stepan.

“OK.” He pulled his communicator out, switching it to flashlight and aiming it into the depths. “I don’t see any monsters.”

“Don’t joke. The worst monsters look like us so we don’t notice them.”

Startled, Stepan gaped at him. Finally he nodded, adding, “Brilliant observation. If I died today, my life would be complete because I met you.”

Quinn snorted. “That sounds more like something you’d say to a girl, but I get it. If you see anything down there that’s gonna eat you, shout and I’ll call the cops. They probably won’t show up until tomorrow, but then they can investigate…”

“Thanks! I get the idea!” He ducked down, shining the light around his feet. “There are stairs leading down.” He reached out a foot, withdrew it and called up, “You want to get me the stick you were poking the roof with?”

Quinn turned and came back shortly. “It’s strong so make sure you poke really hard.”

Stepan grinned then said, “Why? You want me to come back?”

“‘Course!” he paused. “If you don’t whose gonna feed me?”

“Scamp!” Stepan snorted, jamming the stick against the step below. It held and he started down, jabbing three times and following. The skylight above shrank slowly and he had to rely on the flashlight more and more. He reached a landing when he estimated he’d gone halfway down the warehouse. There was a door set in the Rim Wall.” He called up as much to Quinn.

“Don’t open it!”

“I have to!” Stepan called back.

“Why? What if there’s like a mummy in there?”

“This isn’t Egypt!”

“What’s that?”

“I’ll tell you about Egypt later – it also has to do with my religion! I’m going to try and open the door.”

“Why does your religion have mummies?” Stepan called down.

Stepan leaned on the door. It didn’t budge. He set the stick down, found the seams of the door then ran his fingers up and down. Nothing happened. He pressed the center of the door. Nothing happened. Stretching his arms, he ran his palms over wall beyond the door. His fingers caught on a square, raised slightly from the wall, about waist height. Scowling, he turned his light on it. “There’s a switch here!”

“Don’t touch it! Come on back up, Master!”

Stepan stared up at the light, Quinn’s head hanging over, looking down. Then he pressed the switch.

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