Sunday, April 26, 2020

Avocado Katz and the Battle for Mars - chapter 1

Avocado Katz and the Battle for Mars
by David August

cover image for 'Avocado Katz and the Battle for Mars' by David August
Gullies at the Edge of Hale Crater - NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, Frederick Tubiermont/Unslpash

The First Chapter
[this was written years ago, and may or may not end up with more chapters]

Avocado Katz took a calming breath as the hiss of atmosphere filling the compartment began to be audible. The airlock light would switch from muted red to muted green in 15 seconds and then the interlocks would release. Then she could go inside and face the others. 

It wasn't fair. She wanted to be like the others. To really be like them. But she wasn't. They'd been sent to colonize the red planet. She'd been sent to watch them. Of course they all thought she was like them. Just here to scrape out our species' first foothold on another world. And she was. Only it wasn't that simple. 

"You see, colonization has never been a gentle process," he'd stood looking out the windows of his Palo Alto office with his coffee in his hand, like it was a brandy, eight months ago. And he continued. "The others are in it for the adventure, or the isolation, or maybe the chance to be a 'founding father' or even the money. But you, Dr. Katz, you are there to make sure we don't end up just a footnote with 'Croatoan' carved into some Mars rock."

"Croatoan sir?" She shifted uneasily as the young chief executive replied.

"Roanoke island, in North Carolina. There was a colony there, in the late 1500s. Then one day there wasn't. There were a lot of theories, DNA research and such, but the upshot is that the lost colony is a footnote. A historical curiosity." He turned to her, with greater purpose, "We're not gonna go that way. We're not going down as the first ones who tried. We're going to be the first ones who did."

"Yes sir."

"Katz, it's not just for the sake of this company, or this country, but for all of us. Humanity. We can't let this New World have attempts separated by centuries. We have to start a straight line, a timeline of humans touching it and never stepping away."

"Yes sir," and then she thought, "sir? If I may ask, why the urgency then, why now?"

He let a breath out. "What I'm about to tell you doesn't leave this room."


"Satellites and human intel on the ground say the Russians are arming their expedition."

"Arming?" she almost whispered, the familiar feeling she hadn't had in years, since back before a battle when she was in the Corps, crept into her stomach.

"Arming. They're not just going to get there 6 months after us," his eyes connected with her, underscoring the stakes, "they're going to try to wipe us out when they do."

The airlock indicator shifted green, and she willed herself to step to the door and release the latch. 2 months, they'd had 2 months on this rock alone, and she'd been sneaking time to get the system online. She was the only one who knew it was there, even if other ex-military had been staffed specifically to use it when the time came. They didn't know the weapon system was there. 4 months. They were 2 months in and in 4 months, if recent history on Earth was any indicator, they would be fighting. 

The click of the helmet release in her hand took her out of the horrible calm she always felt before an engagement. Today she'd put the targeting system through its paces, and sent the data off to Earth to get it analyzed. She'd know then if they had a prayer.

About 23 minutes after she'd sent the communication, after eating and just as she was climbing into her rack to get some sleep, she wasn't sure what sort of reply would be good news. For the system to work would seem like a good thing. But there was a little voice in her chest that wanted it not to. Then maybe they could evacuate. The message indicator gently sounded. Earth had done their work fast, the long message to Earth had been returned with cool concision that made the feeling in her stomach that had started back in that office in Palo Alto grow: "Targeting systems ok."


"Incoming ordinance," the stern concern of the computer voice startled Avocado, "cover cover cover." Then the concussion and sound were more felt than heard. The computer was speaking again, and her heads-up overlay was highlighting in red before the dust settled and she could make out the figures it indicated, they were coming closer. "Recommend fire, recommend fire..." she almost felt the rhythm of the words before her ears adjusted and could hear the threat identification system's repeating suggestion that she shoot the people coming to kill her before they did kill her. She squeezed the trigger, rounds flew away, figures fell. Then her thigh screamed. "Auto-tourniquet engaged, seek medical help immediately." She'd only ever heard it say that phrase before failing one of the simulated missions in drills on Earth. But the dust was red. Like it was already soaked with blood. This was Mars.

She tried to feel for her leg, to assess the damage herself, with her non-gun hand. She couldn't find it. The system repeated, "urgent, get medical help now!" Then an all too human voice cut through on the coms, "my god, they're-" and a thud then a crackle. Her heads-up overlay filled with red and she made out the Russian flag on the faceless figure's gear. Then the muzzle flash blinded.


She jerked out of sleep, and tried to throttle the ceiling above her rack. Realizing she woke up, she smiled a hollow smile. That might have been the first nightmare on Mars. She could have done without being the one who did that first.

© 2014 David August, all rights reserved.

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