November 8, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 135: Aster of Opportunity

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 and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – 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 (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Aster Theilen, consort of the Mayor-For-Life, Etaraxis, was waiting for her good friend and Artificial Human two corridors away, near a restaurant that, while seedy, was well-known for its Old Earth menu. The Mexican-Amish-Italian fusion at Middle Of The Road was so good that both Humans and Artificial Humans ate in the same establishment – of course, not mixed together. Even Opportunity couldn’t buck Martian mores that far! But, there was a bar that ran down the middle of the narrow restaurant so that friends could sit across from each other and talk. While they had to be served separately, once the food was on the bar, there was no stopping them casually sharing their meal.

FardusAH, secretary of Etaraxis, plopped down on a stool across from Aster, grabbed a an authentic scrapple-spicy sausage wrapped in a Mexican algae tortilla and downed it in six bites. She looked across at Aster and sighed.

“Feeling a little Middle Of The Road tonight, Fardus?”

FardusAH grimaced then said, “You know how much I hate it when you call me that.” She then smiled faintly.

“I call my friends by their names, not their titles.”

“I know. It might get us killed.”

“I’m the Consort of…”

“There’s a certain high-level bureaucrat whose name I consistently try to forget, who would be happy if you gave her an excuse to do away with you.”

Aster’s smile became grim as she nodded. “I know. But I haven’t given her an excuse. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve made a name for myself.”

FardusAH leaned forward, lowering her voice so that Aster could barely hear it as she said, “I’m more worried about those close to you, Consort.”

Her using the honorific startled Aster and her eyes widened. She leaned into the conversation also, “She would never have you killed. You’re too good at what you do! Etaraxis wouldn’t survive a day in Opportunity without you!”

FardusAH’s brows lifted and her eyes widened for an instant. It was so brief, Aster thought for a moment that she’d imagined it. Her friend said, “Not me, Aster. Someone much closer to you than me. Someone not the Mayor.”

Her breath caught. Would Vo’Maddux harm her father? FardusAH leaned back, watching Aster intently. Both of them then knew that the game had suddenly turned into an impending witch hunt. The archaic Earth English term had been resurrected some years ago when a group of Martian citizens had decided that while the old “standard” religions had been banned and were illegal, Pagan practices would be a happy substitute for the religious heart of Humanity. They didn’t bother with applications, fees, registrations, form-filing, and restrictive contracts the others had tried and found strangling to their beliefs, along with another dozen hurdles the United Faith in Humanity had thrown up to discourage casual – or even fervent beliefs. They felt certain that those kinds of things didn’t apply to them.

When they held their first coven, they were warned. Ignoring it because they were certain it was for show, they held an even larger one. UniFiH enforcement shut them down, jailed the entire coven, and fined them into indentured servitude. Cowed, the rest of the organized religions buried deeper underground than ever before. Aster said, “You think Vo’Maddux would try and kill my father?”

Fardus shrugged, pursed her lips, then said, “I don’t know for certain, but it’s certainly something she could do if it suited her plan.”

“What’s her plan?”

“To become First Consort initially. Then to become Mayor-for-Life.”

Aster narrowed her gaze and leaned forward. “Over my dead body.”

Fardus leaned closer and whispered into her ear, “She’d have to step over mine as well.”

The two women sat back as their drinks arrived. They toasted as if they were celebrating their friendship, but anyone who glanced at their faces would have shivered at the cold, calculating gleam in the eyes of both of the women.

Then they would have felt their hearts quail in fear.

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