Independence of Mars #3: Coup d'etat

25th Century

Jade City – Level One

Mars

* * *

Ellen tried and failed to stifle a yawn as she walked into the Command Center (CC). She took a deep drink of her coffee, the black liquid slightly burning the roof of her mouth. Sighing, Ellen willed the caffeine to work faster. 

“Good morning Captain Winters,” Lieutenant Hagel said from the raised central platform. 

Ellen raised her mug in response and walked over to the platform. “Morning Laurence,” she said. “I take from your cheerful demeanor that nothing bad happened during the night?”

“Nope,” Laurence said, looking down at his tablet and swiping through screens. “Only a brief altercation at Phobos Pub. Handled the Martian way.” 

Ellen smiled. The Martian way usually involved a stern talking to about wasting good recycled air on petty squabbles and chased down with a few shots of Martian moonshine. Many of the Martian UN police officers, such as Laurence, preferred to handle things the Martian way whenever possible. Doing so usually resulted in less paperwork and less resentment for the police from the populace.

“Glad to hear it. You are officially relieved of duty for the day. Go enjoy some breakfast.”

Giving a salute with the tablet, Laurence said, “Dinner in my case. You mind if I eat it here?” He gestured to Jose and Safiyya. “According to those two, the politicians at the summit are finally going to come to an agreement on the new Martian mining rights.”

“At least one of us does,” Jose said, frowning at Safiyya. 

The young Martian woman crossed her lithe arms and frowned back. “I have no doubt an agreement could be made if only your fellow Earthers would be more willing to compromise,” she said.

“Oh come off it,” Jose said, leaning forward in his chair. “We’ve been compromising plenty. You Martians are starting to get greedy.” 

Safiyya rolled her eyes, and on the two went like they did every day. 

Ellen shared a look with Laurence. He smirked and began walking towards the doorway. “They are your problem now Ellen. Have fun.” Smiling, Ellen shook her head as the man left the CC.

After logging into the command terminal and donning her Alternate Reality (AR) glasses, Ellen began making the rounds, visiting each workstation to check-in with the officer stationed there. Her third stop was with their IT specialist Michiko Nakamura. Walking up to the workstation, Ellen studied the chessboard perched on the corner for a few minutes before reaching down to move one of the black pieces. “Good morning Michiko,” she said.

Michiko looked over from her monitor to the board, and after only a few seconds made a move. “Morning Captain,” she said. 

Ellen frowned at the board. That new position was going to be a problem. Looking to Michiko, Ellen said, “Any word on your grandfather yet?”

“Not really. Doctors are waiting on test results. Grandmother says he’s getting worse though. Says he’s starting to have trouble recognizing dad when he comes to visit. She’s starting to freak out a little I think.” Michiko’s face betrayed no emotion during her explanation.

Ellen laid a hand on the young Lunarian’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. Ellen and Michiko had been transferred to Mars at the same time just over a year ago. Ellen had just been promoted to a precinct commander and Michiko had just graduated the academy, assigned to Mars as her first posting. Despite the disparity in age and rank, the two had formed a bond on the trip from Luna to Mars. Three and a half months of space travel in a small spacecraft can do that to people. About a month ago, Michiko’s grandfather had started becoming forgetful and confused, two words that had never been used to describe the former chess grandmaster.

“If there’s anything you need,” Ellen said. 

“Thank you,” Michiko said, giving Ellen a brief smile before turning back to her monitor. “That new position is going to be a problem for you.”

“I know,” Ellen said, moving onto the next officer. 

A dozen check-ins with the other officers arrayed around the circular CC brought Ellen to Jose’s and Safiyya’s workstation. Her last stop. The two officers were still arguing back and forth with one another, but as Ellen walked up behind them she could tell both of them were indeed working as well. The two of them had mastered the art of performing their duties while debating the finer points of all things Earth versus Mars.

Ellen spent a few minutes enjoying the show before interjecting herself. “If you don’t mind, I know you are deciding the fate of Earth-Mars relations here, but I would really like a status update from you both,” she said.

“Yes Captain,” they each exclaimed at the same time. Both gave their respective status updates, and like everyone else’s, nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Business as usual for Jade City Level One. 

“Thank you,” Ellen said, taking another sip from her now almost empty coffee mug. Looking to Safiyya, she asked, “How’d your niece do at the science fair?”

“Took home first place,” Safiyya said, beaming and looking like the proud aunt she was.

“Right on,” Jose exclaimed, fist-pumping the air. “Tell her I owe her a pizza the next time I see her.”

“She’ll love that,” Safiyya said. Despite the nature of their debates, Jose and Safiyya were good friends both inside and outside of work. Ellen was not sure what had forged such a close bond between the two, but whatever it was seemed to have created a strong enough friendship to weather all of the tension happening between their two home planets. If only she could show them to the dunderhead politicians at the summit. Show them what real Earth-Mars cooperation looks like.

“That’s wonderful Safiyya. Tell her congratulations for me,” Ellen said. 

“Will do Captain. She was over Deimos when she won. Thought her head was going to crack like an egg she was smiling so hard.”

Ellen bid the two officers goodbye and made her way over to the small coffee station they had set up near the main entrance to the CC. With her mug refilled with the sweet bean juice of life, Ellen returned to her own workstation and studied the curved computer monitor embedded into the wall of the CC. The monitor was colloquially known as the “Board”, and it took up a full quarter of the room’s wall space. Most of the Board was taken up with a large, two-dimensional map of Jade City Level One. Hundreds of colored dots moved around the city in real-time. They represented everything from patrolling UN police officers to emergency incidents to local events to construction work. Focusing on a group of dots or a specific dot with her AR glasses, Ellen could pull up additional information about the dot and get real-time information. 

Playing in the upper right-hand corner of the Board was a news feed from the Earth and Mars Trade and Governance Summit. The purpose of the summit was to settle trade disputes between Earth and Mars and to improve the level of autonomy the Colonial Martian Government, the local government on Mars, had over governing itself without interference from the United Nations of Earth. The summit had been going on for a little over five months, and progress has been slow. 

However, despite the length of it, the summit was still the big thing happening on Mars at the moment and everyone was excited about it. Some days it seemed as if it was the only thing people in Jade City talked about. Not surprising given that the results of the summit could have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for the residents of the city, particularly for Martians like Laurence and Safiyya. It had only been a few days into the summit before Ellen asked Michiko to permanently attach the news feed to the Board. 

“Now none of you need to have it playing on your glasses while you work,” Ellen had said after Michiko made the change.

Satisfied that there was nothing in the city or the precinct that needed her immediate attention, Ellen sat down and began reading through the status reports of the officers that had been out on patrol the previous night.

* * *

“Captain, we just lost telemetry. For everything,” Michiko said a few hours later, abruptly breaking the silence that had settled over the command center.

Glancing up, Ellen followed Michiko’s gaze to the Board. The map of the city was still displayed as usual, but all of the colored dots had disappeared. The map was now as useful as a twentieth-century map. Meaning not very useful at all.

“What the hell?” Laurence said from behind her. He had returned to the CC with his dinner-breakfast and had taken up residence at a workstation next to a few officers he had gone to school with.

“Laurence, contact the convention center. Get a status update on the summit,” Ellen said, adopting what she referred to as her command voice. Even toned, forceful, and slightly raised, but not angry sounding. Just the right amount of projection to be heard clearly by everyone in the CC.

“Jose, Safiyya,” she said, turning to the two officers. They were both poised to spring into action. “Start contacting our patrolling officers and get sitreps from them. Let them know we don’t have eyes on them anymore. SOP is to inform us whenever they move to a new position or engage in an incident.” Acknowledging the command, the two of them set about their task, their eyes blinking and shifting all over as they read the information on their glasses. Within seconds, each was talking with an officer out patrolling the city. Ellen relaxed a bit after seeing that they still had comms with their officers and they did not appear to be reporting any issues. Probably just an IT problem then.

Ellen turned to Michiko, and said, “Michiko, do the tech voodoo that you do to see what is going on with the Board.”

“Already on it,” Michiko said, typing away on her keyboard.

“Everyone else,” Ellen said to the rest of the CC, “Assist your senior officers as needed.”

Ellen fell silent as she watched her officers go about their duties. What was once a group of people enjoying a leisure morning was now a team of people buzzing with activity to solve a common problem. Everyone was going about their duties without further need of Ellen. She allowed herself a brief moment of pride. 

Ellen looked back at the board. Still blank save for the map of the city.

“Restarting the monitoring software,” Michiko said, and the map then blinked out of existence.

All that remained visible on the now dark board was the news feed of the summit. The rerun of the previous days broadcast had ended, and it now showed a live feed. Glancing at the clock in the corner of her glasses, Ellen saw it was 9:28 AM. About thirty minutes until the summit started.

Ellen frowned. Normally, the live feed would show the main hall of the convention center the summit had been taking place in, but this morning the feed was focused on an empty podium set up at the front of the main hall. Occasionally, heads would move in and out of the frame. She spent a few minutes reading the news ticker at the bottom of the screen, but it was all just random pieces of local Martian news. Nothing about there being an announcement at the summit today.  

Her thoughts were interrupted when her glasses began vibrating and an icon of a smiling man with light tan skin, a thin beard, and short cut black hair appeared in the center of her vision. It was a call from Captain Abdul Dupuis, commander of Precinct One. She answered the call with a double blink of her eyes in quick succession.

“Hey Abdul,” Ellen said, walking off to a relatively empty section of the CC.

“Hello Ellen,” Abdul said, his voice light and conversational. “How has your morning been?”

Ellen chuckled. “Well up until fifteen minutes ago it was very relaxing. We’ve lost all telemetry for the Board.”

“We have encountered the same issue here. Precinct Two as well.”

“That’s disconcerting. One sec,” Ellen said, then strode over to Michiko. “Michiko, precincts One and Two have also lost telemetry. Could this be a problem with the central servers at the data center?”

The young Lunarian turned around, a frown marring her face. “Possibly. I have confirmed that the monitoring software is no longer receiving data from the remote monitoring service. Datacenter could be down, but if so we should be receiving data from secondary sources. Given that the other precincts appear to be affected and given that we all share a central domain network, it could be some sort of virus or malware that got onto the network or firewalls. Could also be some sort of virus or malware that could have spread to each precinct. There is also the possibility of this being some sort of man-in-the-middle attack that is intercepting the network traffic.”

“I already have my IT tech contacting the folks at the data center,” Abdul said, and Ellen repeated that information to Michiko. 

“Then I’ll get scans going for viruses and malware on the networks and firewalls. I’ll also get someone to look into the man-in-the-middle attack possibility and coordinate with the other precincts.”

“Understood,” Ellen nodded. “You get that Abdul?”

“I did. Sounds like we have a plan to handle the IT side of things. Any word from your patrols?”

“We’ve been contacting them since we lost telemetry. So far none of them have reported anything out of the ordinary.”

“Same. My officers and contacts at the summit say everything appears normal there. You?”

“Laurence?” Ellen asked, walking his way. Laurence seemed to be speaking with someone on his own glasses. After throwing Ellen a quick glance, he spoke with the two officers he was working with, and then gave Ellen a thumbs up.

“So far it sounds like everything is business as usual there,” Ellen said, stopping at her workstation.

“Very good. Thank you for the status update. You and your team keep up the good work. I am going to check-in with the rest of the precincts and then contact Commander Jones. Keep me informed of any changes.”

“Will do. Oh, wait, before you go. Do you know if there is some sort of announcement being made at the summit this morning?”

There was a brief pause before Abdul answered, “Not that I am aware of. Why?”

“The news feed is focused on an empty podium. They only do that when they have an announcement, and they usually give us a heads up when they do.”

“Huh,” he said, then fell into silence.

After a few seconds, Ellen asked, “Any idea what to make of it?”

“Not at the moment no. I’ll ask Commander Jones about it when I speak with her. She might know something.”

“Sounds good. Thanks Abdul.”

Ellen bid Abdul a goodbye, disconnected the call, and she was just about to ask for an update from Jose and Safiyya when Sergeant Kamal O’Toole walked into the CC.

* * *

Sergeant O’Toole was a Martian officer with over thirty years in the force. He was a short, stocky man with crew-cut salt and pepper hair. He marched up to her workstation looking perturbed.

“Kamal, what are you doing here?” Ellen asked, greeting the man with a nod. “Shouldn’t you be out patrolling near Curiosity Street?”

“I was,” he growled softly. “Group of young porters decided to race each other to see who could deliver their goods first. Bet a full day’s wages on it. One of them ended up taking a corner too sharp and spilled their cargo all over the walkway. Tried four times to call it in, but no one ever answered. Then I tried calling Private Al-Marayati to see if she could relay my message, but I wasn’t able to get a hold of her either. Once the youngsters were sorted out and properly scolded, I decided to come in to get my equipment checked.” Kamal looked around the room, and when his eyes fell on the Board, he frowned. “Looks like I’m not the only one with problems this morning though.”

“Board lost all telemetry for the city about half an hour ago. Probably an IT issue. We’ve been looking into it.”

He nodded and then smiled. “Well, good thing it’s been a slow morning. Impatient teenagers notwithstanding of course.”

Ellen smirked and gave the man a quick pat on the shoulder, sending him on his way to one of Michiko’s techs.

Frowning, Ellen strode over to Jose and Safiyya, and asked, “Have either of you had any trouble contacting anyone?” Both officers shook their heads. Her frown darkened. Something was off.

Ellen felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She scanned the room. Everyone was going about their work and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Then her gaze fell on Laurence and the two officers he was working with. Did Laurence just avert his eyes? Why do that? Why were he and the other two still making calls? They had already verified everything was okay at the summit.

Ellen continued looking Laurences way, but he never looked up from his workstation. Ellen looked at the feed again. An uncomfortable sensation started growing in her stomach.

Leaning down between Jose and Safiyya, Ellen whispered, “I need you two to conduct an experiment for me. Each of you calls an officer you’ve already successfully contacted this morning. Tell them that after you hang up they are to wait ten seconds and then call you back. If their call is not answered after ten seconds, they are to wait another ten seconds and then try again. If neither of you hears from your officer, call them back and tell them they do not have comms with the precinct. Repeat this procedure with at least two other officers each.”

Ellen took a breath, and said, “Understood?”

The two officers gave each other the briefest of glances before they both nodded and went about making their first call.

Ellen stepped back a few paces and waited, listening in as Jose and Safiyya explained the procedure to the officers they had contacted. After hanging up, Safiyya began whispering a countdown, “Forty, thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-seven . . .” 

The closer Safiyya got to zero, the more uncomfortable the sensation in Ellen’s stomach got. 

“Zero,” Safiyya said. Neither of them had received a call. The sensation began to congeal and twist in her stomach.

The pair of officers gave Ellen a questioning look. She nodded at them to continue. They contacted the next pair of officers. Again, Safiyya counted down from forty to zero. Still no calls came in from the patrol officers. The congealed mess solidified into a heavy mass that plummeted to the bottom of her stomach. 

Ellen took a deep breath and resigned herself to her next course of action. She strode over to Kamal. Gently taking him by the arm, Ellen pulled Kamal over to a spot away from anyone else.

Leaning in so only Kamal could hear, Ellen whispered, “Sergeant, I need you to go down to the weapons locker, and prep for lethal weapon distribution.”

The old Martian’s gaze bored into Ellen. After a few seconds, his face hardened and he gave Ellen a crisp nod. As Kamal marched out of the CC, Michiko gave her a questioning glance, but Ellen shook her head and returned to Jose’s and Safiyya’s workstations. 

Ellen was able to catch the tail end of their latest calls. None of the officers out on patrol had been able to call them back. 

Thinking about the implications of this, Ellen glanced up at the Board and sucked in a breath. She placed a hand of both Jose’s and Safiyya’s shoulders, interrupting the two from making another set of calls. They followed her gaze to the Board.

On the news feed, the podium was no longer empty.

* * *

Martian Representative Shohreh Anvar, a long-standing and well-regarded member of the CMG, had taken up residence behind the podium.

“Michiko, unmute the news feed and turn up the volume,” Ellen said loud enough for the entire CC to hear the order.

A few seconds passed before Representative Anvar gravelly voice filled the CC.

“My fellow Martians, I humbly stand before you today to inform you of a decision the elected leaders of the Colonial Martian Government have not made lightly, of a decision I have not made lightly. As of today, Mars is hereby to be considered an independent, sovereign nation and planet in the solar system. We—”

The video feed disappeared and the sound cut out, plunging the CC into a heavy silence. Then, all at once, the room filled with the buzz of too many people talking at once. Ellen was inundated with voices from every direction, except for the section where Laurence was in. 

Laurence and the other two officers were still at the same workstations, but now all three of them were standing and affixing bright red bands printed with the flag of the CMG to their biceps. Adrenaline began coursing through Ellen’s body. Laurence glanced up at her and they held each other’s gazes.

“Captain Winters! Captain Win—” 

Ellen whipper her head towards the screaming voice. At the entrance of the CC was a young officer crumpled to the ground, clutching the back of her head, as a thudding sound echoed off the walls of the CC. On the ground next to the groaning officer was a small, lumpy fabric sack. A beanbag round.

A fireteam of UN officers dressed in full riot gear and sporting the red CMG armband, burst into the CC shouting, “Get on the ground! On the ground now!”

Ellen immediately dropped to the floor and placed her hands on the back of her head. More shouting. Two blasts rang out followed by multiple people screaming. Was one of those Safiyya? Footfalls landed near Ellen and she felt something hit one of her legs. In Ellen’s peripheral vision was Michiko, laying on the ground next to her workstation, folded up into a tight ball with arms over her head. As quickly as it began, the shouting started dying down when suddenly, echoing up from the depths of the precinct, multiple gunshots rang out in quick succession. Lethal weapons fire.

Oh shit, Kamal.

Quickly getting her feet under her, Ellen lunged toward her workstation, hand reaching towards the digital display to press the button for the building’s public address system. Something hard slammed into her shoulder blade, sending her crashing into the workstation. The hand extending towards the PA button crumbled against the touchscreen. Something snapped and Ellen’s vision went white. Screaming, Ellen caught herself with the other arm. A shot rang out and a beanbag round slammed into the workstation inches from her head. Ellen elbowed the PA button with her damaged arm, the impact sending white-hot fire shooting down to her wrist and through her fingers.

“Hold your fire,” Ellen half yelled, half screamed into the microphone embedded in the workstation. “All Precinct Three officers stand down. Do not resist. I repeat. Do. Not. Resist.” Ellen’s arm and legs gave out. She collapsed to the ground, twisting so that she landed on her back. She cradled her arm and squeezed her eyes shut. As she was breathing through the pain, a shadow fell over her. A helmeted female riot officer with lieutenant bars on the armor was standing over her, hand extended with the palm out towards the others in the room. 

The room fell silent. There was some shouting from elsewhere in the building, but there was no longer any weapons fire. After a few moments, the officer above Ellen nodded to no one in particular. The lieutenant crouched down to speak with Ellen. “Your officers are standing down,” she said, then after a brief pause, added, “Thank you.”

Ellen responded with a curt nod before resting her head against the cold floor, trying to wrap her head around the magnitude of what just happened.

* * *

Ellen was shuffled into the mess hall forty minutes later, her arm splinted and resting in a sling. The room was filled with Precinct Three officers. Some of the officers were milling around in small groups, while others were sitting down at one of the three long tables running the length of the mess hall. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Jose, Safiyya, and Michiko walked up to her.

“How is everyone?” Ellen asked.

“Terrified. Angry. Confused. Take your pick,” Jose said, his voice higher than usual. His brown eyes were wide and slightly dilated. He was looking around as if not sure what to do with himself. Shock.

Safiyya put a hand on Jose’s shoulder, and said, “Everyone just wants to know what’s going on and what will happen next. No one is terribly injured. Just bruises and scrapes mostly. A few cuts. The, uh, Martian police provided us with some medical supplies to take care of it.”

Martian police. Not UN police. Ellen scanned the people in the room again. There were people missing. “Headcount?” she asked.

“We haven’t seen any of the officers that were out on patrol duty,” Michiko said. “We’re guessing they’re still being rounded up or were taken elsewhere. As for the other officers that should here but aren’t, we were thinking they were, uh, well . . .” Michiko trailed off and glanced at Safiyya. 

“We think they were in on the raid,” Safiyya said, standing a little straighter and face becoming neutral. Ellen immediately thought of Laurance. 

“Why do you think that?” Ellen asked.

“Because . . . because the only people who are missing are Martians,” Safiyya said. 

Ellen nodded slowly and scanned the room again. While there was some mingling, the gathered officers had split into two groups. Earthers in one half of the room and Martians in the other half. Subtle and not so subtle glances were being cast across the invisible line that divided the two groups. Suspicion and anger. Not good.

“Has there been any altercations while I was getting this taken care of?” Ellen asked, raising her splinted arm slightly. 

“Only one. We took care of it,” Safiyya said, maintaining her neutral expression.

Ellen put a hand on the young woman’s shoulder and offered her a sympathetic smile. After a few seconds, Safiyya relaxed and let out a sigh.

“Well done,” Ellen said. “All of you. Go find something to eat and relax as best you can. I’ll address everyone shortly.”

Jose and Safiyya shuffled off, the latter guiding the former towards the snack counter. Michiko stayed put.

“Something else?” Ellen asked.

“Sergeant O’Toole isn’t here and no one knows where he is,” Michiko said. 

“He wasn’t at the infirmary either,” Ellen said. Other than Ellen and the medic splinting her arm, the only other residences in the infirmary were the two bodies covered by white sheets.

“He was the one that shot at the Martians wasn’t he?”

Ellen nodded curtly.

“He’s been arrest then you think? Taken to a cell or to another precinct?”

“Maybe. He should be here with us though. It’ll be safer for him here.”

“So how do we get him here?”

An answer did not immediately come to Ellen, but as she was once again scanning the people in the room, her eyes landed on a recessed security camera. “By demanding it,” she said.

Ellen strode over to the security camera in the far corner of the mess hall. She glared up at the small recessed glass socket embedded in the tri-corner where the two walls met the ceiling.

“Hey,” she shouted. “I know you are watching. One of my officers is missing. I want him brought here immediately. Sergeant Kamal O’Toole. He would have been near the armory during your raid.”

All conversation in the mess hall ceased, and Ellen could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on her. As the minutes passed by, Ellen’s gaze never wavered from the camera.

After five minutes, Ellen tried again. “I’m serious. I want Sergeant O’Toole brought here immediately. Unharmed.”

Again, they waited. Safiyya shuffled up to her, and asked, “Kamal was near the armory?”

Ellen nodded, still not breaking eye contact with the security camera.

“He wasn’t that one that . . .”

“He was.”

“Oh no, no no no,” Safiyya said. She then started mumbling something in Arabic. Ellen did not understand the language, but it had the same rhythm as a prayer.

Another five minutes passed and still nothing. Ellen scowled at the camera. “Last chance. Return Sergeant Kamal O’Toole to us right now or the people in this room will do all that we can to bust out and find him ourselves. It’s your choice if this situation remains peaceful or not.”

Ellen tore her gaze from the security camera. Almost everyone in the room was on their feet and tension in the room had risen. To an outside observer, it probably looked like a standoff between the Earther officers and the Martian officers. It looked that way to Ellen too.

“Kamal’s one of us. He should be here with the rest of us. We’re all in this together, regardless of where we call home. Understood?” Ellen said to the entire room.

The Martian officers nodded and then glanced at the Earthers. Soon, one by one, the Earther officers began nodding as well.

Another five minutes passed and still no Kamal. Ellen cast one more withering glance at the security camera. She then turned to the other officers, and said, “Start figuring out how to get this door op—”

The double sliding door to the mess hall opened, and Sergeant Kamal O’Toole was deposited into the room by two Martian officers. The two officers quickly left, leaving Kamal standing alone at the door. The man looked unharmed, but there was sweat beading on his brow and there was a slight tremble in his body. Kamal took a few shaky steps forward, his brown eyes unfocused on the floor in front of him.”

Safiyya was the first to reach him. Ellen was a few steps behind her. Gently grasping Kamal by the arm, Safiyya said, “Kamal. Kamal are you okay? Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?”

Kamal’s wide eyes focused on Safiyya. 

“I killed them Safiyya,” Kamal croaked, half grabbing onto and half collapsing into Safiyya. “Oh god, I killed them. Two of them. Children of Mars. I killed them. Lights were low. Shouting. Weapons fire. They, they came around the corner wearing armor, their, their weapons up, and I, and I, and, and . . .” Kamal collapsed to the floor, tears streaming down his face, sobs wracking his body. Safiyya followed him down, wrapping her arms protectively around the elder Martian. Ellen knelt down next to them and placed a hand on Kamal’s shoulder.

Ellen slowly looked around the room. Everyone’s attention was locked onto the three of them, surprise and concern etched onto their faces.

* * *

A few hours passed since Kamal had been returned to them. Most everyone in the mess hall had settled down, sitting at the tables, and talking to one another. There was no longer a dividing line between the Earthers and Martians in the room. Some people had pulled out a few board games to play. A few others had raided the kitchen and snack counter, preparing something of a potluck lunch for everyone. There was still tension in the room, but it was now bearable.

Ellen sat at the small table near the sliding doors. She was keeping an eye on everyone in the room and constantly gauging the atmosphere. She kept a close eye on Kamal, who had not yet left Safiyya’s side since returning. He held onto her as if she were a lifeline. Safiyya would give Ellen a quick, reassuring nod whenever Ellen caught her eye.

After appearing to win yet another chess match, Michiko joined Ellen. For a long moment, the young Lunarian sat silently, fiddling with an old, wooden chess piece. 

Eventually, Michiko asked, “What do you think will be the next move in all of this?”

“I’m guessing that once the posturing, saber-rattling, and shouting are all done, the UN and CMG will go to the negotiating table. Luckily most of their negotiators are already here. First priority will probably be getting Martians on Earth and Luna back to Mars, and getting Earthers and Lunarians off of Mars.”

“How long do you suppose that’ll take?”

“No idea. Days, weeks, months. We just have to wait and see.”

“Do you think Earth would go to war over this?”

Ellen shook her head. “The UN might be bold enough to threaten that at some point, but they’ll never follow through on it. Going to war will do no one any good. It’ll just bring even more chaos and uncertainty to the situation.”

Michiko nodded and scanned the room. “I’m going to miss it here,” she said. “The people. The atmosphere. The culture.”

It was Ellen’s turn to nod. “So will I,” she said.

“Do you think I’ll be allowed to say goodbye to Pauline?”

“I—” Ellen said, but was cut off by the sliding door unlocking and opening. Everyone in the mess hall paused what they were doing to see who had entered the room. It was Captain Abdul Dupuis. Flanking him were two Martian officers. The red CMG armband was wrapped tightly around Abdul’s bicep.

Abdul took a moment to scan the room before looking at Ellen. “Would you please join me for a walk Captain Winters?” he asked, not unkindly.

Ellen stood, making a calming motion with her hand at the others in the room. “Of course Captain Dupuis,” she said, and followed Abdul out of the mess hall, giving Michiko a quick squeeze on the shoulder as she passed by.

Ellen walked a step behind Abdul as he led them through the halls of the precinct all the way to the front entrance. Leaving the two other Martian police officers at the doorway, she and Abdul left the building. 

They stepped out onto the mostly deserted street. Everything seemed normal. There were no barricades, no protesting civilians, no news crews. Nothing. Aside from the pair of patrolling police officers wearing CMG armbands, it looked as if it was just an ordinary day.

Abdul began strolling up the street as if he did not have a care in the world. After a few seconds, Ellen stepped into place next to him, and the two walked down the street in silence for a time.

About halfway to the nearby intersection, Abdul said. “How are your officers doing?” he asked. 

“As well as can be expected I suppose,” Ellen said, keeping her voice professional. “Confused. Anxious. Angry”

Abdul nodded, a slight frown marring his face.

Ellen continued, “Sergeant O’Toole is having the most difficult time.” 

“I imagine killing two fellow Martians, younger ones at that, will not be easy for him to come to terms with. I will make sure he gets proper help in getting through it. I give you my word.”

“Thank you,” Ellen said, bowing her head. “I should not have ordered him to unlock the lethal weapons.”

“You were following your instincts about a situation that felt off to you, and you prepared for the worst outcome. You cannot fault yourself for that. I certainly do not. It is part of the job.”

“I’m sorry about the loss of your two officers,” Ellen said, after a moment’s pause.

“Thank you. Fortunately, there were not more. Lieutenant McKay, she was the officer in charge of the raid on your precinct, told me what you did to stop the bloodshed,” Abdul said, briefly glancing at Ellen’s splinted arm. “I am very grateful.”

Shifting her arm in its sling, Ellen asked, “Were there more fatalities? At other precincts I mean.”

“No,” Abdul said, sounding relieved. Ellen relaxed a little at the news. “Bruises, broken bones, and a concussion are the worst of it. No other precinct authorized lethal weapons to be distributed. You seem to have been the only one that caught wind of something going on.”

“I never imagined it would be a coup involving my fellow police officers.”

“This was not a coup.”

Ellen raised an eyebrow.

Abdul gave her a quick glance before explaining, “We have not overthrown the UN. We are simply kicking them out of our Martian government. Think of it like a board of directors firing a CEO.”

“Mars is not a corporation.”

“No, it’s not. We are a society, a community, a group of people with the right to self-govern, a group of people that deserve freedom from the whims of people on another planet that is millions of kilometers away.”

“Mars already had a government. It already had freedom. You’ve had both for decades.”

“Not fully. What we had was regulated government, regulated freedom. The UN has been more than happy to keep it that way. For years the UN has ignored input from the CMG regarding decisions of state and economy, and it has made unilateral decisions for Mars without consulting people that actually live on Mars. The CMG has always been subservient to the UN. That gave the UN power and leverage over Mars. By becoming politically independent, this will no longer be the case. We can now negotiate from a position of equal standing. From now on we will dictate how and when the resources of Mars get used.”

“And your willing to risk sanctions and ostracization for this? Political and economic ruin? Mars might be incredibly self-sufficient, but it’s not yet self-sustaining. It still needs the UN and the trade goods from Earth it controls.”

“You are correct. There is great risk involved, and yes we still need Earth to survive. No one is denying that. But Mars has the right to control and profit from its own resources.”

Ellen didn’t know what to say, partially because she agreed with Abdul that the CMG should have more autonomy than the UN currently allowed them. But completely throwing the UN out? That was too far. Wasn’t it?

As they rounded the corner to another street, the two of them fell into silence. This street had much more activity than the previous one. Dozens of people were walking here and there, going on about their day as if everything was normal. A decent number of them were wearing CMG armbands. Perhaps they were being given out? A few rickshaws rode the length of the street carrying passengers to their destinations, and a few kids chased after them waving around small CMG flags. Many of the shops that line the sides of the street were proudly displaying the CMG flag.

As Ellen and Abdul passed by, the people on the street and in the shops looked at them, their gazes drifting over Abdul, but stopping on Ellen. Some folks glared at her, contempt or deviance in their eyes. A few others looked at her with sympathy or guilt. Most appeared indifferent. The people she knew personally, such as the owner of the small pastry shop Ellen stopped by every Friday to pick up a chocolate donut or the waitress at the noodle stand she often went to for lunch, looked away from her. Eventually, Ellen stopped making eye contact with people. She focused on a small point, far off down the street. Not since her first week on Mars had Ellen felt like such an outsider while walking amongst the Martian people.

Needing something to distract her, Ellen said, “This is a mistake Abdul.”

“Maybe it is,” Abdul said, nodding. “I suppose though, in some way, that is what freedom really is. The agency to make your own mistakes and having to take on the responsibility of dealing with the consequences instead of relying on someone else to shoulder that burden.”

“And you really think Mars is ready to do that?”

“I do,” Abdul said, staring at Ellen with an intense gaze. “You are not Martian Ellen. You have not been here long enough to know us, to really know us, and what we desire and value most. Sadly, I doubt you will ever really know what the idea of independence, of autonomy, means to those of us who have only ever known Mars. Who have never stepped foot on Earth, nor ever will. And yet we are constantly told what to do by Earth. We are more than ready for this.”

Abdul’s words struck Ellen harder than the beanbag round had. Ellen thought she had been integrating with the Martians well enough, getting to know them and their way of life on the red planet. Abdul made it sound like she was nothing more than a tourist, an Earther playing at being Martian. That she was incompatible with Martian society.

They rounded the corner onto a new street and fell into silence once more. The street was not as busy as the previous had been, but there was still activity. Ellen continued not making eye contact with anyone. They passed by the small cafe Ellen went to every morning for her first cup of coffee. The owner, a tall Earther woman in her late fifties named Alicia, was out front speaking in hushed whispers with a few Martian police officers. As they passed by, Alicia gave Ellen a pleading look, her eyes burning with unanswered questions. Ellen gave what she hoped was a reassuring nod to the older woman, but she did not stop to talk. She did not know what to say. She was just as lost as Alicia.

After they were out of earshot of the cafe, Ellen asked, “So what happens next? What becomes of the Earthers and Lunarians on Mars?”

“Most Earthers and Lunarians on Mars will be allowed to stay if that is their desire,” Abdul said, dropping the intensity from before. “They are members of our community, and we do not wish to kick them out just because they were not born here. Those who have been here the longest will have the option of becoming fully-fledged Martian citizens. As for most of the UN personnel currently on the planet, you will all be forced to leave Mars.”

“When?”

“I do not know. Until the details can be worked out with Earth, you will all be relocated to sections seven, eight, and nine of this level of the city.”

Each level of Jade City was composed of multiple ten square block sections forming a grid pattern. Some sections were dedicated primarily to business or industry. Others were dedicated to education and recreation. For this particular level of Jade City, sections seven, eight, and nine were composed mostly of apartment buildings, small markets, and a few restaurants. 

“Should we expect a curfew and a barbed wire fence when we get there?”

“You are not being sent to an internment camp,” Abdul said, sounding annoyed for the first time during their conversation. “This is for everyone’s safety. Particular for Earthers and Lunarians. I doubt it will take the UN and the CMG long to work out an arrangement to get you all off-world. There are Martians on Earth we want to have returned safely back to Mars as well. Until then, we will make sure your relocation goes smoothly and that you are all comfortable.”

“In the meantime, we sit and wait.”

“Yes.”

Ellen shook her head, but let the conversation drop. The pair began making their way back to the precinct. 

About twenty meters from the precinct, Abdul paused and began cleaning the lenses of his glasses. “The Martians of your precinct will be released soon. Afterward, the rest of you will be transferred to section nine,” he said. Donning his glasses, he gave Ellen a resigned look, and continued, “For whatever it is worth, it has been a pleasure working with you Ellen. You and the other Earther and Lunarian officers. You are good people.”

Ellen nodded, absentmindedly looking around the street for a few seconds. “It has been a pleasure working with you and the other Martians as well,” she said, holding out her right hand towards Abdul. “And, for what it’s worth, happy Martian Independence Day.”

Abdul looked at the hand, his eyebrows raised. After a few seconds, a small smile formed on his lips. He took Ellen’s offered hand in his and gave it a firm shake.

“Thank you.”

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