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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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This is it

by Patrick Wiley


‘This is it, the first interplanetary war,’ thought Carlyle.

 

This moment had been imagined in every possible way by centuries of writers, filmmakers, artists and dreamers. Finally human kind would see how it really is, how it works out.

 

Carlyle was wired. He had been since his picket moved into position. He thought he’d burst from all the adrenaline. Earth’s fleet could be hours off. Protocol said he was to have no distractions at this stage, but who’d know?

 

He flipped on his receiver and set it for civilian bands. He started with the Martian channel. Instantly the voice of chairmen Thomas filled the cabin of his picket craft.

 

“-was founded on a few simple principles, amongst those principles was a ‘necessity before luxury’. No Martian claims we have a perfect system, but there can be no doubt that no one on Mars starves to death, no one dies from an easily treatable illness. The Coalition of Earth Nations wants to change all this. They want to take our necessities in order to further fuel their luxuries-“

 

Carlyle switched channels. He believed every word, but he’d heard it all before. He wondered what those Earthfolk were saying.

 

“In this moment we stand united. For once in our history Earth stands as one.”

 

Carlyle snorted. A united Earth. What a ludicrous concept. No society on Earth was ever built with a real plan in mind. It was all a hodgepodge of warring tribes, vestigial remnants of old clans. Their governments, on a long enough time frame, could be traced back to whomever happened to own the most sheep.

 

“The Coalition, another brief alliance that will fall the moment its ends are met,” thought Carlyle. Nonetheless he kept listening to the broadcast. He wanted to hear their side, biased and irrational as it may be.

 

“The Martians hoard their tritium. After all the people of Earth have sacrificed to grant them sustainable habitations, they turn their backs on us. They leave us to suffer and starve so they can live in a paradise. They let your homes grow cold from lack of power, they let your children waste away from cold and malnourishment while they feast and play.”

 

Carlyle chuckled at the crude propaganda. How dim witted the general Earth populace must be to buy such tripe.

 

Before he could continue to revel in his superiority Carlyle’s LIDAR sensor raised an alarm.

 

“ENEMY CONTACT” it announced in angry red letters.

 

Carlyle shut off the broadcast and went to work. If he looked through the picket craft’s canopy he would not see the other craft, but the LIDAR told him what grid it was in. He fired the aft rail-gun and propelled himself forward. Combat at this range would be a pointless guessing match.

 

If he bothered to look up from his console Carlyle would see a very faint shape. The craft would be very much like his, an efficient construction, a rail-gun that can fire to the fore and aft, maneuvering thrusters on elongated props, and a cockpit.

 

The ships locked into a lethal orbit, each drifting around the other.  Rail shots poured from their weapons, each pilot having no doubt that the spread would turn the other’s fragile craft into a cloud of metal fragments.

 

Shot after shot flew off into space, doomed to burn up in the atmosphere of a planet or else drift endlessly in some Lagrangian point.  Carlyle’s system flashed a warning. If he continued, he’d have too little fuel to propel himself back to Mars. Without a second thought he hit the override command.

 

In a clever ploy he fired half of his reserve shots to the aft. He rocketed forward till he was only a few kilometers from his target. Purple spots obscured his vision as the G forces threatened to bring him under. He let loose a final volley as the Earth ship frantically tried to maneuver away.

 

The shots missed by significantly more then a mile. Carlyle felt a moment of dread before he realized that his foe was drifting aimlessly. In order to escape the final desperate volley the Earth ship had exhausted the last of his fuel. They were both adrift.

 

Carlyle sat taking deep labored breaths before he realized there was nothing left to fear. At last his shaking hand flipped his receiver back on. He heard only static.

 

Curious, he rewound back his digital recorder. He kept it active always, on both Martian and Earth frequencies.

 

“The Xanthe Terra module cluster has been completely destroyed. All citizens are urged to report to disaster-“

 

The feed ended. Carlyle sorted through a few minutes of static. He checked emergency channels but heard nothing. Instinctively he switched to the Martian Space Corp command channel.

 

“In five, four, three, two, one… nuclear bombing is successful. Secondary bombardments have neutralized strategic bunkers. Brothers, Sisters of Mars, our planet has been avenged.  All active craft are ordered to rendezvous at Phobos-“

 

Carlyle shut off the receiver.

 

“A nuclear bombing,” he thought, “how could they?”

 

He sat in silence; his mind could scarcely conjure a coherent thought. At last he flipped on his transmitter.

 

“What’s your name,” he asked.

 

The answer came after a very brief pause.

 

“Marcus,” the Earth pilot replied in a voice with the drawl of Central North America.

 

“I’m Carlyle. Will any of your people be looking for you?” he asked.

 

“Slim chance, we’re supposed to be regrouping at Luna,” he answered.

 

“There’s no point is there,” Carlyle replied.

 

“Nope, Luna can’t sustain itself without the Earth.”

 

“Phobos and Demos can’t without Mars.”

 

Perhaps the survivors would limp on for years, lashing out at each other in futile spite. Perhaps they’d accept their fate and submit to starvation with dignity like the ancient Inuit. Carlyle and his new acquaintance would not know. They were drifting slowly towards the Lagrangian point of Jupiter.

 

“Is this it?” asked the earth pilot.

 

“This is it,” replied Carlyle, “the first interplanetary war.”




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