Tarbet of Blue Corporation had finally made up his mind and set the launch date for 4 months. There were some interesting developments that popped up right after. It seems that Ms. Kells had also declared that the start could be delayed by one month for each MNYCard a Corporation wished to sacrifice. One less MNYCard to use this year but it brought areas you might be interested in occupying a bit closer.
The troops were lined up in the hanger. They didn’t look like much. Just four Crunchy and four Squishy, but between the eight of them they held enough firepower to make any 20th Century standing army jealous.
The Crunchy had antena, sensors and larger caliber weapons folded away against their sides, waiting patiently to board. The Squishy were much less fragile looking beside their metal counterparts now that they were decked out in their environment suits. Muzzles of different launchers sticking out here and there, backpacks loaded with automated entrenching machines, food, medical supplies and extra ammunition.
Looking at the Squishy lined up with none of them the same height or bulk, it reminded me of the lie that these were all vat grown clones. Other than Dave Ship, who I knew and recognized, the other Squishy with him were real people and I was sending them down to fight and maybe die for a Corporate cause I was becoming less attached to. But there was my family to worry about. Ferret had made it clear that they were not above being indentured and possibly included in the Squishy program if I didn’t succeed. I couldn’t stand the idea of my wife and child standing in front of me, their memories walled off, eager to comply with any order.
I’d tested the resolve of the conditioning already. One of the Squishy in the group was a female and out of curiosity I asked, “Do you know what would happen if you were to enter space without a hardsuit?”
“Yes,” she said, “I would die.”
“If you step into the airlock I will open the outer door and you will be sucked into space and you will die. Do you believe me?” I asked.
“Yes.” was the simple response.
“Step into the airlock.” I said in the same tone. She immediately moved past me, opened the interior airlock door, stepped in to the lock and, as was protocol, closed and sealed the door again. I walked to the exterior door controls and keyed my passcode. A low alert sounded and the AI voice chimed, “Warning. There is an unprotected lifeform currently in airlock 42.”
I watched the Squishy’s face as I pressed the button to cycle the exterior door. She did not move a muscle, react in any way to the warning sound or make any move toward the Abort button to stop the process. The atmosphere started to be vacuumed out of the space. You don’t blow valuable air into space. The Squishy stood still and the only sign of distress was its throat tightening from not being able to inhale anything. Finally it dropped to one knee on the way to passing out. I pressed the button to stop the cycle and repressurize the lock. Damn. That conditioning was solid and scary. All self-preservation had been tucked away and any ability to disregard orders was gone. Former Earth citizens turned into perfect soldiers.
Squishy Dave and had met repeatedly in the months waiting for the start of the drop and I thought I was starting to see a glimmer of the person he used to be. I had thought long and hard about keeping Dave on the satellite, safe and sound, but in the end decided the best option was to drop him with his unit. Ferret would have noticed me keeping a valuable asset in space instead of sending it planetside. This early in the conflict it was all about exploration. The more boots on the ground the better.
So Dave had to go and I felt bad about that, but I had to keep things in perspective. I had to win this game. It was my only hope of being able to return to Earth and have the power and prestige to change things for the better.
The days had wound down to the start and the launch day finally came. As luck would have it a clear landing zone had rotated below each Company satellite and we would all be able to drop without worrying about landing in a radioactive dump or crashing into a bottomless canyon or mountain top.
The visual overlay on my contact lenses lit up showing that it was our turn in rotation to drop our units. “All right Larry,” I said to the air, “load ‘em up.”
A warning light flashed, low tone sounded and the shuttle door started to slide open. The Squishy turned and marched into the opening followed by the Crunchy rolling in on their small thick tires.
As the loading door slid closed, Larry the AI spoke. “We have just received a transmission from Ms. Kells that we are not allowed to drop at this time. A pod of small rockets has taken position in low orbit between our satellite and the planet.”
“What the… why?” I asked.
“There is a MNYCard filed with her from Mr. Stephenson of Yellow Corporation that provides a legal injunction, allowing Yellow Corporation to block our direct drop to the planet from our satellite. Any launch will result in the legal destruction of our shuttle. We will have to wait until next year.”
“If that hairy chested twit Stephenson thinks he’s stopping me...” I said, grabbing the nearest E-pad and bringing up my collection of MNYCards for this year.
“Hah! Not so fast. One of my contract cards allows for unobstructed deviation to an adjacent area.” I pressed the “Submit File” button and received a confirmation. My units were headed into a camouflaged unknown area which would cost them a bit more fuel to get to, but at least they would be on Mars.
“Launching shuttle now.” the AI said, having received the appropriate legal permissions. With the warning lights flashing and the klaxon sounding the air was evacuated, the outer door slid aside and the launching pad extended into the vacuum of space. Small bits of debris glittered in the harsh sunlight as the jets blasted the shuttle off the pad. It quickly rotated to point down towards Mars and slid out of sight on long blue flames. I turned my attention to the nearest screen to watch the descent.
I looked at the AI mech floating nearby and voiced my only concern. “What if they encounter a mountain under that haze? Will they be able to land?”
“The shuttles are not allowed to land on such steep and unpredictable terrain. They would automatically abort and return to the satellite. We would have to try again next year.” the AI replied.
I turned my attention back to the sensor feed in time to watch my investment for this year disappear into the boiling mist.
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