Yew and Me
Reacting to the gunshot, Lily was out of the door and running down the corridor in seconds without considering the danger. One of her girls could be in trouble and that was all that she needed to know. Still, the top corridor was empty which meant that if there was trouble it hadn’t spread so she kept on going.
She stepped through the door at the bottom of the stairs and looked around. Her security drones were in evidence, helmetless but still clad in their slick black exosuits. The Master’s... No, she corrected herself... The former master’s slaves were gathered together in a confused looking group while her own girls applied the mind-melting fragrant oil to their throats to render them docile and easy to handle. Not that they were causing any trouble at the moment.
Lily approached one of her drones: one that she recognised. “Aruna?” She addressed the slave by name.
The tall, Indian woman turned gracefully, when she recognised Lily her eyes seemed to come alive. “Mistress?”
“Aruna, the last gunshot I heard, where did it come from?”
The security drone hesitated for a split second as she thought. “It was from over there, Mistress.” She said indicating the far end of the hall. “From out of the passageway.”
“Who fired?” She demanded.
arunadrone looked at her blankly. “I do not know, Mistress.”
Filled with terrible resolve, Lilith issued instructions. “Take me there.”
Then as she passed a tall blonde drone Lily tapped her arm to attract her attention. “Ruby, come with me!”
The two drones fell in side by side and marched purposefully through the hall with batons and tasers drawn. They could be escorting their beloved Mistress into danger and so were taking no chances. Then Lily, who was following closely behind received yet another epiphany regarding the power of her hive. Aruna’s head suddenly swivelled towards two more security drones who they were marching past in the opposite direction. One by one they fleetingly met her gaze before silently falling in behind their Mistress to bring her escort up to four.
The mopping up was still going on, not that the facility’s occupants had put up any resistance beyond attempting to continue with whatever tasks they had been engaged upon. Even so, Lily’s girls were still escorting dribs and drabs of them into the main hall from elsewhere in the facility or from the dome or the landing area outside.
At the end of the hall the escort conducted their Mistress through an archway and along a corridor with doors labelled in Arabic lining both walls: their boot heels echoing ominously as they proceeded. The corridor ended at a wall with double white doors that were marked with a large red crescent: she had found the Medical Centre.
‘Thud—thud!’ Two more gunshots rang out from behind the door startling Lily but not her drones, one of whom grabbed her and hustled her into a corner where she held her beloved Mistress tightly, shielding the precious body with her own, Lilith Yew, Director of the Mars colonisation project, fumed quietly as she peered around the larger woman and watched the other three security drones pile through the door of the Med Centre and vanish inside. She struggled briefly, but the arms held her as securely as steel cables, so, cursing softly, she had relaxed and waited as it would be silly to use force against her own slave.
Eve and her team unrolled their sleeping bags in the old mine tunnel that they had entered with some difficulty earlier. The dust had worked its way into the lock just as it did into just about everything else. One of the fugitives inside the base had disabled the detectors that were linked to all airlock door mechanisms. The Ward sisters hadn’t even considered that the door catches would be alarmed when they had gained entry a few weeks before. No other Facility was so equipped, so why was Tsiokolski? There had never been any need to defend against intruders simply because there were none, or at least there hadn’t been until Karpova arrived.
What were they afraid of—Martians? Eve smiled wryly when she thought about it before telling herself: We are the Martians now!
They were now about a mile from the base proper and judging by the dust, no one had been along here for years. Closer to the occupied areas the tunnel was noticeably warmer and as the air was passable they had removed their helmets just before eating. The plan was to rest until about four hours before dawn and then slip into the base proper while it was still quiet.
As they settled down they felt the tunnel suddenly shake as a small marsquake thrummed through the rock before tailing off to nothing. As it was probably caused by a meteor strike, which was a common enough occurrence, the girls gave it no further thought or at least they didn’t at that time although the next three that they felt during the course of the night did cause more than a little concern. Especially when the final one which was stronger than the rest, was followed by the rumble of falling rock that sounded from elsewhere in the tunnel complex.
Eve sat up, turned on the Maglite that was built into the sleeve of her exosuit and used it to probe both directions of the tunnel.
“Looks okay,” responded Kate, “no tell-tale dust.”
Eve found herself nodding in agreement for Kate was no longer the ‘baby’ of the group. She glanced at her watch. “I don’t think that they are meteors, they are too evenly spaced.”
“Blasting?” Yseult suggested.
Eve shook her head. “They are too close together and in any case the lengths of time that the ‘rumble’ lasted would have meant very large explosive charges.”
“Or nuclear weapons.” Suggested Ciara.
“Unlikely!” Concluded Saira. “Who’d nuke Mars?”
“The Russian Government?” Suggested Kate, trying to be helpful. There was a pause during which she frowned. “No if they’d found out that they’ve lost control of their bases it could only have been within the last couple of weeks so there wouldn’t have been enough time for their missiles to get here. Assuming that they have anything with the required range.”
“That only leaves one thing,” said Saira, who had once lived in Southern California, “earthquakes!”
“Wrong planet,” Yseult corrected, “marsquakes.”
Eve made a decision and began packing her stuff. “They’re just under an hour and a half apart and they seem to be getting stronger, so we should move to somewhere that’s better built.”
The others glanced at the rough hewn tunnel walls and the roof dotted with more than the occasional loose rock and also began packing. Breakfast was eaten cold, early and on the move.
Lily did not have long to wait although the minute or two seemed like hours. Are my girls safe? Ran constantly through her mind nagging at her incessantly. “I should be in there with them.” She growled at the drone holding her.
“Mistress?” The woman asked politely although her strong arms did not relax their grip.
Suddenly the door swung open and Ruby emerged carrying an automatic pistol. “All clear, Mistress.” She announced and Lilith felt the restraining arms relax.
Lily stepped forward and took the proffered weapon. Two guns in one day... There aren’t supposed to be any on Mars! She checked it, it was a GSh-18 according to the Cyrillic lettering stamped into its slide. She grimaced... So the Russians have brought firearms to Mars after all, despite Feodorov’s denials!
Then, with her drones escorting her, she stepped through the doors into the Med room where she was confronted by a sight that shocked her: a dead body. Oh, people died on Mars, but not often and usually by accident. Violent death was very rare and ones involving firearms had been unknown. She gazed down at the crumpled black bundle sprawled on the floor in front of her and felt physically sick. This was Mars and not gun-obsessed Earth.
“This shouldn’t happen here!” She mumbled as she swallowed bile and bent down to examine the corpse.
The body was that of a man, tall and thin, wearing skin-tight black clothing and a black cape with long, bleached-blonde hair done in a Martian plait like a woman’s. Lily recalled Yseult and Ciara’s description... “Dr Sarn!” She said dully.
“Mistress?” ruby enquired.
“His name was Doctor Sarn and he was the former master’s slave... A surgeon according to Karpova.” She answered her drone even as she thought Why? He was unpleasant enough according to reports, but he was a slave, merely a reflection of his owner, so why kill him?
“Mistress?” She heard a voice enquire and looked up to see aruna standing in a doorway at the side of the room.
Lily stood and walked over to the tall Indian drone who Pines had probably abducted from the Gandhi Facility many years earlier.
“Through here, Mistress.” The woman said quietly, her voice calm but her eyes still sparkling with vigilance. Clearly she was concerned that there could still be threats to her beloved owner’s life.
The sight that she beheld when Aruna led her into the side room was a sad one. The Russian woman, who had accompanied them to identify any of her countrymen and women who were possibly held here was sitting on the edge of a bed hugging the naked body of another woman. Tears flowed as she rocked the corpse backwards and forwards just as a mother would a child. “Mashenka ! Mashenka ! Mashenka !” She repeated over and over again.
It took some time for Lily to calm her and to move her away. The bed, which was in-use as an enslavement station as were the other twelve arranged along both sides of the room, although hospital ward might be a better name for it. So great was her concern that she barely glanced at the other beds, each of which was occupied by a pair of naked women, lying side by side and each wearing headphones as they gazed motionlessly up at a flickering computer screen.
The Russian woman readily admitted to shooting Sarn and seemed proud to have done it, too. “Look what that monster did to Mashenka .” She sobbed pointing at the body of the young woman who looked about the same age as she was.
Lily looked at where she was pointing and wished that she hadn’t when her eye fell the distorted body with its massive breasts, hips and backside. She was well aware that some slave owners had the bodies of slaves modified so that they could be used for some special purpose. But in her wildest nightmares, she had never imagined anything resembling the bloated monstrosity that lay before her eyes.
She turned back to the sobbing woman and took a good look at her now-calm face. Yes there was a family resemblance. “Your sister?” She asked gently.
The woman nodded numbly. “He turned her into a monster... My Mashenka wouldn’t want to live like that so I killed her!”
Lily closed squeezed her eyes shut to hold back the tears. What to do? What to do? It was her planet, but what was she to do? Should she be judge and jury? Could she punish or pardon murder? Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Ran through her mind once more. Shakespeare certainly understood my burden when he penned those lines.
As they moved purposefully through the Tsiokolski Hive, Eve and her team were doing their best to blend in. A simple fast-burst radio transmission had been enough to alert the last four free inhabitants who were hiding out on the hydroponics level. The detectors had then failed on all doors throughout the facility and the five of them stepped in. The clothes that they now wore were designed to let them blend in, or so everyone hoped. The Ward sisters’ hair had been dyed blonde and trimmed to the elfin style worn by Karpova’s Security-units and they were once more dressed in skin-tight black uniforms.
Eve, Saira and Kate in contrast, were dressed in the classic brown coveralls as worn by the Work-units. This way they had baggy clothing and large pockets to stow the assorted items of equipment that the other two couldn’t carry without looking suspicious. All five also had phony captive bolt studs affixed to their foreheads and equally false computer terminals behind their left ears, Lily was taking no chances this time around.
Needless to say, they had left their exosuits and everything else not needed inside the base back in the mine tunnel. Their stuff being concealed a short way from the doorway so that it could be retrieved at the end of the mission. Now, after meeting up with the three Russians and their American colleague, the five intruders were making for their objective: the offices overlooking the reception hall: however the route selected was a rather indirect one. It had been chosen as it was the one with the fewest security cameras, the free residents were interrupting the feeds, but the fewer the cameras, the less work that they would have to do.
It had all gone well so far and the Units that they had seen had ignored them. Karpova’s drones didn’t seem to have any initiative or curiosity and this was making their task easier. Just one more staircase and they would be at ground level.
“Eve, listen!” Her radio crackled into into urgent life and with a direct transmission, not a fast radio pulse. “There are groups of drones at either end of your corridor, both heading your way. Duck through the next door on your left... We’ll lock it behind you!”
Have we been detected? Ran through Eve’s head as she brought her party to a halt. Then, just as her eyes fell on the correct doorway, all Hell broke loose as the next quake hit.
Suddenly the world around them lurched and shook and this one really was a bad one, Eve staggered and fell to her knees. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was early and less than an hour had gone past since the previous one. Then, as she looked up at the rest of her team the tunnel lights slowly faded to black. Worse still; she heard the dull rumble of falling rock from somewhere close by. Saira pulled a maglite out of her pocket and used it to probe the darkness. As they watched, the beam turned a salmon-pink as dust lazily swirled towards them.
An hour or so previously, Lily had been supervising the temporary re-organisation of the Meridian Hive. She had made a series of decisions about which she was in the process of informing the heads of the major Facilities. There was, however, something that did not quite add up: Karpova had led her to believe that The Master had been the major threat that she had faced. Yet having interrogated the obnoxious woman several times she had arrived at the conclusion that the former ruler of The Meridian Hive had little interest in anything other her own comfort and gratification and had only relocated to Mars because of the mounting opposition that she was facing on Earth.
Lilith Yew had shrugged. Why am I surprised to discover that Madam Karpova is also a liar?
Still, she had successfully removed one stain from the good name of her beloved planet, although as far as the Facility heads were concerned, The Master would retain her status as ‘a major threat successfully dealt with.’
The Master and her former slaves would be transported to Philae where they would be reprocessed and integrated into the population of Lily’s own Hive. The slaves would also need to be rehabilitated as Sarn had transformed many of them into little more than automatons. Many would also require reconstructive surgery, especially the two creatures who resembled poor, dead Mashenka: they proudly proclaimed themselves to be sex-dolls and had little interest in anything other than fucking. For more than a fleeting moment, Lily wondered if Mars should introduce the ‘death penalty’ for the likes of the former ‘Master’. Her own shocked reaction to the distasteful thought was enough to dissuade her from seriously considering the idea: especially when she recalled the shocking instruction that she had received from one of the Authority bureaucrats five years before.
They had ordered her to kill a hive slave that had been apprehended at Newton Facility. Naturally she had objected and been instructed thus.
She’s just a mindless puppet of Pines, Yew! Get over your ridiculous life-affirming crusade and face facts! The functionary had ordered...
Naturally Lily had disobeyed and as a result, Olivia was alive and well over at Philae. It had been this monstrous directive that had pushed Lily into breaking away from Earth five years before so she easily dismissed the idea of judicial murder as nothing but an aberration. So putting the unworthy thought out of her mind, she continued her inspection of the liberated base.
The female slaves would join her at Philae, once reprocessed, that is. While the males would be shipped back to Earth where, no doubt, one of the Mistresses or Masters who re-homed and cared for abused slaves would take them in.
The former Saudi Facility itself was in too good a condition to abandon again, she had decided while walking around it. She would probably ‘ask’ one of the leaders of an existing base to take it over as a settlement... Dr Nehal Chaudhari, possibly, as her Gandhi Facility was only about six hundred miles away, having primarily been set up as a scientific research station in the massive Schiaparelli crater. A function that it had long since outgrown as it was now surrounded by a scattering of small settlements.
She was still pondering the matter of the ‘new’ settlement when one of her own drones trotted up to her, a determined expression on her young-looking face. “I am sorry to bother you, Mistress, but a report has just been received... Mount Ascraeus has exploded and is erupting.”
Lily looked shocked as thoughts cascaded through her head. Mount Ascraeus... Ascraeus Mons... One of the Tharsis Mountains... Extinct volcano, nearly 60,000 feet high, evidently it isn’t extinct any longer.
She turned to the drone. “The research station in the Tharsis Mountains, are they okay?”
“Contact has been lost, Mistress.” The drone answered gravely.
“And the Tsiokolski Facility? That’s about eight hundred and fifty miles away... That’s okay surely?” Lily’s mind was racing as she thought about her team of infiltrators and of the hundreds of other people living there.
“I do not know, Mistress contact has been lost with that also.” The tall, black-clad woman admitted with equal gravity.
“I need to be there!” Lily muttered in anguish. “I really need to be there!”