We were kicking some serious ass on Mars that summer. It wasn’t even funny. You could download this one hologram of these Martians all dressed up in shiny purple uniforms, their hollow eyes bulging with surprise as they are blown apart from space by our orbiting unmanned Dreadnaughts. One minute they are sitting there having a cup of rocks and a red dirt pita -- or whatever it is they eat -- the next minute they are all over your virtual face in shimmering green chunks, burping out alien terror from every scaly mouth. It was an ad for the Marines, and after the last slow motion close-up, there’s a website link and their theme song. Da da dum dum DUM DUM dum. It was awesome. Dominic and I watched it like thirty times.
“It’s stupid though,” said Dominic, rocking back in his recliner and packing a bowl. “That’s the Air Force that has the Dreadnaughts. The Marines go down on the planet and rescue hostages and blow up underground factories and shit. They are like, infantry. Pale little bitches commissioned out at Colorado Springs control the Dreadnaughts online. You can sit in your house with a beer and do it.”
“Nah, I heard they give them weed to help them focus. But they call it something else, and nobody knows about it. And it’s like, the best shit you can buy.”
Dominic nodded thoughtfully, “Maybe. I’d believe it.”
“Martians. I wonder what they do all day.”
“Who cares? They sure are ugly. I wouldn’t mind flying down there myself and punching some laser holes right in their filthy reproductive sacks. They fucking deserve it. I would dance in their brains.”
“I don’t know…sometimes…they don’t look right to me. Sometimes they don’t look real. They never seem to use their third leg. And where the hell do they come from?”
“They are Martians!” he said, taking in a hit, “They were on Mars this whole time, watching us and waiting. Like sneak ninjas. They only get you when you aren’t ready. That’s what the third leg is for – kneeing unsuspecting humans in the back.
We had been out of high school for two months now, and both of us had been accepted into college to study environmental engineering. We had heard great stories about what it was like since there was a war on. The ratio of girls to guys was unbelievable and all you had to do to get laid was to agree that the war was terrible, and to grieve with them over the death of a brother or father. Since straight men could do it now because they were in demand, prostitution was completely legal (and had better benefits than bartending), as were recreational drugs, suicide, and information piracy. You could make a lot of money in college. The Total Rights Act of 2012 made pretty much everything that wasn’t an outrageous property crime, slavery, or murder hunky dory. They passed it when I was ten – eleven years after the war began - so I don’t remember what life was like before, but I hear there were almost as many people depressed and addicted to sex and drugs as there were people in prison for them. Our parents were both slightly more conservative than the law, so we were looking forward to our freedom.
While we were smoking, we left the Box un-attended. The Marine’s Cube ran itself three or four more times, and then switched itself off. Now somebody on the Box was making love to a chicken. The chicken seemed to be enjoying it. I think it was a commercial.
“That’s out there, man,” I said, “Even I find that a bit disturbing, and not just because I’m high.”
“I know. That is BY FAR the smallest penis I have ever seen on television. Freaky. Hey, turn on C-SPAN. I think my dad is giving a speech today.”
Dominic’s dad was our congressional rep. Since the war had massively depopulated the fighting male population (along with any women who felt like signing up), the Senate and House were now entirely composed of stubborn civil libertarians, pacifists, and women. They never got the draft to work, even with invaders from Mars, and instead, warhawks got guilted into actually going to war after about five years of attrition and new geriatric power drugs. Subsequently, the legislation that got passed nowadays was awesome as hell. Prime Minister Otumbe couldn’t go a session without making something else hilariously legal. Last spring, they made bestiality okay as long as you could prove consent. Two bleats for no, one bleat for yes. Hence the fried chicken commercial, I suppose.
Interestingly enough, it made me hungry. I guess sex does sell.
We put on our Gogglepods and turned the sound back on. The CSPAN camera was roving the Steel Dome of Nonspecific Congress and taking candid shots before the session began. Some of the Senators looked so warm and friendly you could probably incubate eggs in their auras.
Dominic’s dad was a pretty good guy too, in my opinion. His big deal was fair housing practices and education reform. Thanks to people like Representative Cole, religion was mostly dead and other similar confidence games were on their way out. He made stolen Martian recordings of historical Earth part of the basic curriculum, and it’s hard to believe in Jesus or Mohammad when you can get quality holotape taken from Martian Archives of the entire crucifixion from 33 AD. If I remember my tape lessons, Jesus was a substandard robot sent here to hold back technological innovation for a few centuries. He did ascend into heaven, but that was only because of the jet boosters in his sandals. I think the Bible leaves out the fireworks when he explodes, but I’ve never read it, so I’m not positive.
“I can’t believe the war is almost over,” said Dominic, “Can you imagine that? We’ve got them down to their last fortified city. We’ve been fighting this war almost our entire lives!”
“Well, we haven’t specifically. We’ve been watching it on television. But yeah, I hear you. It will all soon be a nothing but a museum somewhere and a series of awful movies. Sweet victory.”
“Not that my Dad has had anything to do with it. He wants to cut military funding again this year. Against freaking Martians!”
“Like you said: the war is almost over. We are really just mopping up, now.”
“It takes a big mop to clean up the kind of pink and green scum my old man seems to love so much.”
Dominic and his Dad didn’t get along very well. But Dominic watched every one of his Dad’s speeches, no matter how pointless.
“Look at that long-haired sack of shit. I wonder what he’s whining about today.”
Representative Cole stood up and patched himself in. I could barely focus my eyes, but I tried to pay attention. Maybe it would be “an historic.” Dominic and I were attempting to spend a heroic month smoking together every day before we went our separate collegiate ways and I lost my favorite political shit-shooting partners: him and his father. Mr. Cole always laughed at my jokes, no matter how terrible.
A silver chime sounded and Mr. Cole – Representative Cole – began to speak.
“My fellow Uniterds, it has only been one year since America joined the Universal Terran Democracy and bravely let go of her stubborn xenophobic sovereignty in order to embrace a higher world government. With the pooled might of this year’s Plosive Rockjawed Unity campaign, we have been able to quickly vanquish our alien foes, showing a raw valor of truly Wagnerian magnitude. It has not been easy, and the casualties have been immeasurable – both in terms of numeric scope and the cost to us as a species. Yet we stagger forward, and soon the war will be at an end. None too soon: our victory coincides with the final remnant of our proud fighting ladies and gentleman shipping out this Tuesday next. The final swell in our ranks will be needed to destroy the entrenched Martian Stronghold of D’hhhhh’karmalak. And with its destruction, it is time to ask an important question…”
Dominic and I leaned forward. Representative Cole pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose. Somebody in the back of the dome coughed obnoxiously, provoking giggles all around. Probably one of those Spanish Anarchists who always showed up to Parliament naked. They had their own section with rubber floors.
“What I want to know is: when the fighting stops, where will our soldiers go? How will they live in our new world, and who will tend to their hardened hearts and shattered lives? They have lived as beasts and gods, and now that society has moved past them, how will the civilized among us cope with their frightening new natures?”
I sighed. Dominic groaned and then stood up and blew smoke through his father’s glowing image.
“Who cares?” screamed Dominic at the pixilated proxy, “Soldiers are people, you jerk.”
“I propose a bold solution. A solution that will be unpopular to some, yet will prove more humane than any package offered to returning veterans since the glories of Ancient Rome. The truth is, our soldiers dread their homecoming almost as much as our coffers dread their pension. For many, it has been decades since they have seen kith or kin, and they are afraid they have changed beyond recognition. They have done things that will haunt them for the rest of their lives and made unique bonds with their fellow warriors that can only be severed by death or dishonor. ”
“I love it when he talks about dishonor,” said Dominic, “Both my aunts and my Uncle Rob go to war, and he stays at home to waise his ittle bittle boy because he’s afwaid of big skawy guns.”
“If he hadn’t promised to stay home, your mom would have aborted you, dude. That’s what you always say.”
Representative Cole pounded his podium with a meaty palm. His glasses were fogging up.
“My solution is this: let those who have fought and died to win a planet keep it. Mars is theirs by every right imaginable, and we must give those willing to stay and colonize it our full support, backed by every Uniterd Peso we can muster. We will let them terraform it, let them own it, and let them live the rest of their lives exploring the deep space they have grown to love. We will divide Mars wholly amongst our soldiering class, sink attempts by outside corporations to rape its resources, and proclaim it free - the least we can do to reward the millions of brave men and women who have fought and died to ensure the future of humanity. Let the discussion begin. Thank you, and God bless.”
Instant ovation. I took off my Gogglepod and started dividing my half of the weed into a travel baggie. Dominic was irate: hissing and clenching his fists.
“Man, I cannot believe they buy his bullshit,” said Dominic.
“It seems like a universally good idea,” I said.
“He just doesn’t want to have to campaign against any angry war heroes in the mid-term elections.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Maybe I’ll be the first candidate in history to run a smear against his own father. How can he be so arrogant?”
“You aren’t old enough to run for office.”
“I am going to go get something to eat,” I said, “ You want to come?”
“Nah, I’ve got things to do, “ he said, “I’ll see you around.”
I was dreaming about Foghorn Leghorn sodomizing Yosemite Sam when the doorbell rang. Yosemite Sam’s pistols went off like a pair of La Cucaracha car horns. Leaping up into the air, he shouted his famous “Yahooooo!” through his bristly red pushbroom and golden steam came pouring out of his pimply cowboy ass. I promptly fell out of my bed.
“Ah say ah say ah say…I’m coming.”
I put on a robe and scurried downstairs. My parents were in Tunisia for the weekend, doing something vaguely romantic to celebrate their anniversary. I had no idea where my sister was – probably out getting another body mod, filled up with alcohol like a pink pipette slick and trembling with surface tension. My sister the drunken surgery addict: but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
I threw open the door and stood face to face with Dominic’s dad. He looked like shit. His hair was thrown back in a greasy ponytail; he was wearing a pair of gym shorts and a yellow tank top; and his eyes scanned mine suspiciously as if I had already lied to him. Which I figured I was just about to do, because this looked Dominic related. Maybe I would get away pure: I hadn’t actually seen him since that afternoon.
“Hiya, Mr. Cole.”
“Have you seen my son?”
“How ya been? Saw your speech this afternoon.”
“We hung out earlier today, but I left him at the house. As far as I know, he’s still there.”
“You haven’t seen him at all? He hasn’t come by to pick up anything or talk?”
“He hasn’t talked to you at all?”
“Not a chit.”
“He’s not in there, is he? Whatever he told you, don’t listen to him.”
Mr. Cole craned his neck around my shoulder and took a step forward. I threw the door open as wide as it could go and stood to the side.
“You can come in if you want to,” I said, “ But…”
“No time!” he shouted, “There’s no time!”
“But I haven’t seen Dominic, and I don’t know where he is. And you look like shit, by the way. Is there something the matter?”
Mr. Cole gave me another searching gaze, and then collapsed against the doorjamb. I thought he was going to fall so I reached out to grab him, but he knocked my arms aside.
“Get away!” he screamed, “Oh God…what am I going to do?”
I noticed for the first time that he had a crumpled piece of paper in his hand. He noticed me noticing. Reluctantly, he handed it over. I opened it and smoothed it against the foyer wall. Helvetica: Dominic’s favorite font.
This is the last you will hear from me as a civilian. The Coles are a shameful lot, and I can’t stand it any longer. I don’t want to be a part of this family if it is going to make cowardice and pandering its only notable qualities. Will history make a wheel-running pet-store hamster our crest and our motto “Let Someone Else Do It?”
So I have decided to enlist in the infantry division of our armed forces. I guess that means we will probably never see each other as friends again. You don’t associate with barbaric patriots, and I no longer associate with weak-willed bureaucrats who know nothing about honor or glory, and who insist on remaining blind and opportunistic when their planet needs them most. If I survive the final rush of D’hhhhh’karmalak and get my piece of Martian land, I shall see you on the Senate floor representing it. Fighting you with your own pedigree, and ending your plan to cull the strong and noble from the frightened herd. A god to your beast.
“There’s a letter for you, too. I thought it might be chaff, but he is gone and you are not. I guess this is all just his idea. Sorry: I opened it. I had to.”
He handed me a piece of paper with my name on the front this time. It was short and to the point.
Enlist if you want my respect and continued friendship. This is your last chance to be a man.
P.S. All debts are forgiven.
“This is crazy,” I said.
“I called every recruitment office in town, but they said they didn’t have his name on file anywhere, and that it is nearly impossible to trick them.”
“Dominic could do it. He’s got a really great fake ID. So do I, actually. We bought them together last year in Singapore so we could start getting weed before we turned eighteen. They are top notch.”
“Do you know the name on it?”
“That’s one of the beautiful parts. It’s completely adjustable. It’s meant to take the place of your regular ID card, and to snap back to it if you get caught. He could have programmed it to be anyone.”
“Fantastic,” moaned Mr. Cole.
“I can’t believe he’d do something like this. We have to stop him. He’s no soldier – he can barely tie his own shoelaces.”
I thought about it. Dominic was clever, but he was also predictable.
“Let me get some clothes on. I think I know where he went. You drive: I need to make some phone calls.”
The military recruitment center in the mall was always a shock. Tucked in between a crockery store and place that sold personalized t-shirts, it seemed intended to catch you off guard in order to terrify you into military submission. Maybe it was the swirling martial holograms -- all of those smiling men with guns occasionally lobbing animated light grenades into the food court. Sure their fleshly counterparts were protecting us from an often unpronounceable alien menace – but couldn’t they be more congenial about it? Not so uselessly threatening?
Mr. Cole stopped right before the sliding glass door. He went frostily pale and gave the appearance of trying to swallow his own tongue.
“Do you smell anything?” he asked.
“Cookies. Cordite. Big soft pretzels.”
“You don’t smell anything peculiar?”
“Maybe you are having a heart attack,” I said.
“No, let’s go in. We just shouldn’t dally. You are sure this is the one he went to?”
“Almost positive. If Dominic is anything, he is a show-off…”
“He gets that from me.”
“…and April Jimenez works at Pans n’ Such next door. They used to date, but she dumped him for unspecified reasons that Dominic always suspected were war driven. Her new boyfriend Gerry enlisted the day we graduated high school. I figured he would want to stop in and kill two birds with one stone. Flaunt a little.”
“But how can you be sure?”
“I gave April a call. She said he indeed stopped by and she saw him go in here afterwards. She said she tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up. She didn’t think to call you.”
“Let’s just go and get him. Quickly, okay?”
“There isn’t any rush, is there? I mean – we have until Tuesday, right?’
“Let’s just hurry.”
We passed inside, Mr. Cole squeezing my shoulder like it was an executive stress toy.
A holographic marine marched up and saluted. Another one rolled through us wielding a glowing machine gun and vaporized a Martian lurking near the entrance. I was pretty sure this one was a fax of John Rambo. A third wearing a motorcycle helmet jetted over to land next to his glistening comrades, all three pausing in a poetic Iwo Jima pose.
“Are you officer material? Do you have what it takes to be a leader unto men? Inquire about field promotions today!”
A crew-cut sergeant, whose Burl Ratio approached the far limit of comic ruggedness, popped up from behind a counter, carrying a broom and dustpan. He saw the holograms in commercial formation and gave them a torpid squint.
They evaporated, accompanied by the Marines theme song.
“Can I help you gents?” said the recruiting officer, whose name tag identified him as Sgt. Armand Mulp. “Here to drop off yer boy? Too much of a handful, huh? We’ll take damn good care of him, Dad.” He began to sweep up a puddle of blonde curls near an old fashioned barber’s swivel chair.
“Actually,” said Mr. Cole, “ I’m here to pick up my son. Dominic Cole. He accidentally enlisted this morning, and I’d like to take him home.”
“Yer outta luck, then. I ain’t signed up a Dominic Cole today. And even if I had, there ain’t no such thing as accidentally enlisted,” gruffed Sgt. Mulp.
“Then you have broken the law by aiding and abetting fraud. He came in this morning under an assumed name with a fake ID. Here’s his picture.”
Mr. Cole pulled out a glossy from his wallet and handed it over.
“My name is Phillip Cole. Representative Phillip Cole.”
Sgt. Mulp took out a pair of reading glasses and examined the photograph, frowning thoughtfully.
“Yeah, yer boy came in this morning. He’s in the back now, finishing up some paperwork and starting his exercises. But let me warn you…the sons of congressmen get treated just the same as everyone else around here. You don’t pull no special weight, so don’t even try it. Especially you. Watched yer speech yesterday. Can’t say I cared for it. Bad for morale.”
“Just go get my son. You have been extremely negligent, and are continuing in your error. You will be lucky if you get out of this with your job. The law is above us both, I hope.”
Sgt. Mulp finished sweeping and dumped the dustpan full of hair into a file folder marked “Private Dominic Guzman.” He looked us both over, and then pressed a button on his sleeve. The green outline of a door blazed on the wall behind him and then a pressurized door popped open. My ears popped, too.
"You can't threaten me, so don't even try."
Sgt. Mulp stabbed me in the chest with a sawplank index finger.
“What’s the kid’s clearance?”
“None,” said Mr. Cole, “But he’s with me.”
“You’ll have to come into the back,” said Sgt. Mulp, “Once a recruit’s sealed up into the Isosim Chamber for his training, he don’t come out until we board him on an outbound transport. And the Isosim Chamber is where this one’ll stay until we figure out what the hell’s going on. How do I know you ain’t a spy?”
“Fine,” said Mr. Cole, “But I won’t stay civil for very much longer.”
Mulp nodded laconically and then sauntered through the opening.
We followed Sgt. Mulp into the pulsating glow behind his desk. It opened onto John Wayne in a stainless steel waiting room, his thumbs locked into his belt.
“Welcome to the Marines, pilgrim. Gimme your vitals, and let’s get this show on the road. First off – what’s your handle, pard?”
“Dismissed,” said Sgt. Mulp, and John Wayne disappeared with a tip of his hat.
“Have a seat,” said Mulp, unlocking another door that seemed to lead into a long hallway. “I need to page my superior before I kin do anything fer you.”
“And if your solicitations fall on deaf ears I’ll be more than glad to make a few of my own,” said Mr. Cole.
Mulp shrugged. "Either way. Have a seat."
I immediately plopped down and tried to look as unlikely as possible. I didn’t want to get accidentally enlisted, myself. Mr. Cole stayed standing: pacing, brooding, and compulsively crossing his arms.
The waiting room was sparse, empty except for the chairs and a large animated poster listing Facts About Martians. For lack of anything else to do, I read each one as it materialized, emblazoned across a corresponding picture.
Fact: Martians need to eat the adrenal gland of small human children in order to achieve sexual potency. Until discovered, their hunter / seekers were mistakenly considered the “Bogeymen” of yore, stealing into infant bedrooms in order to extract this delicacy and responsible in the Twentieth Century for the fabrication of an ailment known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Fact: The most common Martian religion – Nijklism -- considers all human beings to be the failed first creations of a malicious demon goddess, later slain by the famous Martian hero Tsarmander. Martians believe all worshippers of transcendent deities to be delusional and therefore meat.
Fact: The planet Mars is completely hollow and able to turn itself inside out in order to protect the surface from invasion. That is why it is impossible to view the progress of the war from space, and why most television transmissions from embedded cameramen are scrambled and unwatchable.
Fact: Martians have complete mental control over their central nervous system and can kill themselves at will. To this date, no Martian has ever been captured alive.
Fact: The most sensitive part of a Martian is her reproductive sack. It functions simultaneously as mouth, procreative orifice, waste orifice, and prioperceptive stabilizer. This highly un-evolved weakness is vital to the human campaign and exploited whenever possible.
Fact: The Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, have never been sufficiently explored due to their hardened status. Many suspect they conceal ancient Martian ruins and will someday reveal much about the secret history of our enemy. The secret history of Earth as translated from stolen Martian history cubes is a matter of public record.
Fact: Martians can’t dance. Sound is not treated as a pleasurable sensation, and music is seen as a threatening form of tribal masochism. Until the encroachment of humanity, Mars was by and large a silent planet.
Nothing I hadn’t heard before.
After about fifteen minutes of tense waiting, Sgt. Mulp poked his head back in. He was smugly beaming, his lips pulled thinly against big horsy teeth.
“I talked with your son, Mr. Cole. You didn’t tell me he was eighteen.”
“What does that matter?”
“If he’s eighteen, it don’t count whatever name he gives us. Lotsa people enlist under assumed names, runnin’ away from debts or babies or wimmin or what have you. This war is…er…being won…by a man named John Smith as far as our books are concerned. He’s made up his mind, and there ain’t a whole helluva lot you kin do to stop him.”
“Has he signed his name yet? Please God tell me he hasn’t signed his name yet.”
“Not yet. We’re still feedin’ him our rules, regs, warnins, and expectations. But he’s movin’ right along. Should be ready to sign for basic any minute now.”
Mr. Cole grabbed Sgt. Mulp by the shoulders and tried to shove him out of his way and power past. But Mulp was a rock. Mr. Cole couldn’t even wiggle him. I wasn’t sure what to do. I stood up, and then sat back down, and then stood up again.
“Get out of the way, you great ass-basting loaf! Let me see my son!”
“This here’s military property,” said Mulp, visibly amused, “And that means it’s all mine, Cole. You are sure trying your damndest to get yerself arrested. You’ll have to do better than that if you want my help.”
Mr. Cole relaxed, defeated.
“What are you suggesting?”
“I can let you visit with him before he gives over. I can patch you into his mindlink fer a bit, seeing as how you are a fellow government employee and the boy’s father. I wouldn’t want yer to think me heartless. But that’s all I can do. The law is above us both, I’m afraid.”
Mr. Cole hung his head, and nodded.
“Of course, I will be requiring a small donation to our operation here in order to let you tour the facilities first class. Would be nice if we could get some new couches and maybe a soda fountain. Yakking away about the glories of the Uniterd Military is mighty thirsty work.”
Mr. Cole nodded again.
“Cash up front, please. If you’ll just hand me yer banking card, I’ll have a fair and just amount deducted while we chat with the young sir.”
Mr. Cole dug into his pocket and pulled out the piece of plastic. He handed it over.
“Might as well buy yer pal a ticket too, while we’re at it.”
“Fine,” said Mr. Cole, “Take it all. Just show me to my son.”
“Don’t be spiteful. It’s all above board, here. Just follow me, boys. Right this way.”
Sgt. Mulp stood aside and let us through. Behind us he began to whistle the theme song to a particularly insipid sitcom currently taking America by storm. We found ourselves traveling for a good five minutes along a snaking corridor that burrowed as it tightened. As we descended, I began to smell a funny sweet smell, like cheap detergent. Maybe it was industrial ink runoff from the T-shirt store.
“Here we are,” said Mulp eventually, “Don’t touch anything.”
The tunnel ended in a gigantic underground warehouse filled with mounted pods that steamed and beeped, rotating towards us and lifting to display their contents as we passed. Isosim Chambers. Each was filled with a sleeping human being and clouds of milky vapor. I gathered that these were recruits that had finished their training and were awaiting the outbound transport like Mulp said. As we walked by, I felt like we were in some sort of human farm where pod people were being incubated to replace us. I understood why Mr. Cole wanted to give these people their own planet.
Dominic’s Chamber was different from the others. His chamber glowed emerald and didn’t move when we approached. As we loomed over it, we could see that Dominic was awake, a sour twist across his face. Mulp knocked on the glass and Dominic winced.
“Yer visitors,” said Mulp.
“Put this in yer head, “ said Sgt Mulp, yanking a media lead from the side of the Chamber. Mr. Cole grimly parted the strands and snorted it into his nasal sockets. His eyes glazed over and he stiffened. His mouth began to churn, silently aping speech.
“You want to listen in?” asked Mulp.
“Not really,” I said.
“Well, you don’t know shit. And you are outranked.”
He twisted a diode. Dominic’s voice startled me and seemed to come from everywhere. It echoed in the warehouse, shrill and tinny with too much reverb.
“…and you can’t stop me. This is my decision and I don’t care what you think. You think too much, anyway. Now go home and figure out how you can write having your son in the Marines into a speech.”
“Dominic, you don’t know what you are doing. Trust me. This is suicide. You aren’t a soldier…war isn’t meant for people like you. It’s meant for bullies and killers and killer trainers. They’ll kill you, Dominic. And you will kill others. Those that emulate you, for instance. Maybe even a friend.”
Not bloody likely. There was no way you'd get me in one of those things.
“I will only kill other Martians," said Dominic. "A sacrifice to save us all.”
“You have to trust me. I don’t know what I’ll do without you. War is an awful, horrible thing. It doesn’t matter who the enemy is. It is better to be wiped out genome by genome than to participate in such futile gruesomeness. Can’t you simply be glad that we’ve won? Did I teach you nothing? What makes you think you are special and will survive? Because you are a rich man’s son?”
“Cheap shot, Rich Man. Why don’t you cop and get in the Chamber next to mine if you are going to miss me so much? I’m sure they’ll keep us together.”
“I would rather have my entire planet obliterated than to see my blood turn hired thug. Let alone take the bait myself.”
“ And that is the difference between us. You stand still and talk, talk, talk, and I am willing to fight for what is good and true.”
“To sell your soul?”
“To save yours.”
“Then that is the difference between us,” said Mr. Cole quietly, “If only your mother had been around. Maybe you would have seen through this. Bitten through your resentful frustration. Been willing to sacrifice a little pride to stay close to what you love.”
“But she’s gone, Dad. And the truth is, I don’t want to stick around either.”
Sgt. Mulp yanked out another lead. He split the strands but only inhaled the one that attached to his voice box.
“You ready to get your basic now, son? You ready to get you some skins and stalks? Feel that first space walk? Meet some folks who know what life is really all about?”
“Tell me what to do next,” said Dominic.
“Just say your name for the record and I’ll start up your Chamber. Stand and be counted.”
Suddenly, Mr. Cole yanked the listening lead out of the socket in his adenoids. His eyes focused again and he threw himself against the pod.
“Dominic, it’s a trap! You’ve got to believe me! This is just how we deal with sociopaths and the inbred human tendency to destroy! We send out the ignorant and vicious to fight a war without end; to strain them from cultural and genetic influence! You aren’t one of them: you are a Cole! It’s a trick; it’s all just a big ugly trick!”
Mulp lunged and pulled the other lead from Mr. Cole’s throat and kicked him in the chest. He fell over on his back and I heard something snap. I tried to charge, but Mulp pulled his sidearm and put it up against my head before I could even lower my shoulders.
“Say your name, Dominic. Your Dad just wants you to get special treatment. Nobody is here on accident. We all want to serve, don’t we?”
“Yes,” said Dominic, “I’m ready.”
“There are no Martians!” screamed Mr. Cole, trying unsuccessfully to stand. “We made it all up! We just wanted to make the world a better place! Please, please don’t kill my son…”
“Say your name,” said Sgt. Mulp.
“Dominic Cole. Reporting for duty.”
As soon as the words left his lips, the Isosim Chamber began to fill with milky smoke. Dominic began to cough.
“What’s going on? I’m ready for training…”
“I can’t say I blame you for trying,” said Sgt. Mulp, “I had two boys who joined the service myself. But it’s the only way to be clean. You, of all people, should know better.”
“I can’t breathe,” said Dominic, “There’s something wrong with my Chamber. Help! Dad! Help!”
Mulp let both media leads jerk back into the Chamber and killed the sound. Dominic struggled and screamed, bashing his forehead against the glass, twisting in his restraints. Slowly the color drained from his face and his eyes grew vacant and slack.
Still keeping the gun at my forehead, Mulp opened the chamber and closed Dominic’s eyelids with two fingers. He shut the Chamber again and the emerald light switched off. The Chamber swiveled to mimic the others in the warehouse, row upon row of military caskets. No veterans, no survivors. I knew what the smell was now: no amount of steel and ice could keep out the stench of that much death.
“We’ve never even been to Mars,” said Mr. Cole, “We’ve never even been.”