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Posted on Fri Feb 28th, 2020 @ 5:25pm by Client The Narrator & Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue & Passenger Kol Wescott-Fitzgerald & Comm Tech Wulf Edevane

Mission: Port In A Storm
Location: HIgh Elysium, Tether Station Departures
Timeline: One Week After The Eros incident, Just After Getting Released From The Pokey

Chu and his goon’s with government-sanctioned authority to use force were good on their word. And whilst Kol, Ken and Wulf were not frog-marched in chains to the tether station’s debarkation terminal they were given a ride in a HEPD cart.

The cart wound through the high ceilinged halls of High Elysium’s many concourses, passing every stratum of life within the Solar System. Gangly Belter’sn in baggy jumpsuits speaking in clumps of Belter cant, their hands moving in time with the conversation to add empathise and subtle meaning. Earthers were few and far between but stood out in suits and earthen tones that spoke of a crushing weight of history under a single gee.

And Martians, well, they were everywhere.

MMC troopers patrolled in squads, their light armour and face masks given them the look of techno noir ants in a shaken nest. At one intersection a pair of Mammoth Heavy Power Armoured suits stood side to side. The two and a half meters of brute force mean that radiated off the two armoured troopers was lessened slightly, as one of the trooper’s suits had unfolded enough for him to get out and direct a child’s attention to all the cool things about his walking tank.

‘Made On Mars: The Last Word In Quality.’ Or at least that was the common concept.

The cart came to a stop by the debarkation terminal, and the trooper strongly suggested the trio pass through to now loading tether car that was preparing for descent.

“Welcome aboard the High Elysium Tether Crawler Pride Of Marinaris. I’m your Chief Operator today Captain Dan Valpor,” the volumetric hologram said. The projection was of a tall man with dark caramel coloured skin, a bristly moustache under his lips and the twang of a Martian drawl tugging on his words. “On behalf of the cabin crew who will be serving you today, I want to wish you and yours a pleasant stay on Mars. We understand that in your surface to orbit travels you have a choice in your carrier, and we at High Elysium Tether Management Services appreciate your choice to patronise us this day.”

The line of people slowly moving through the terminal snaked a little closer to the ingress airlock to the crawler. With the hub-bub of conversation and the buzz of air recyclers, now was as good a time as any to speak freely.

Wulf had kept quiet while they were in transit, grateful for the escape though suspicious of how easy it had been. He didn’t dare ask any other questions or speak a word out loud, unwilling to jeopardise this fragile state of affairs that had resulted in their freedom. He wondered if Kai had influenced them at all, but suspected that was wishful thinking in the extreme. Instead of trying to unravel minds and motivations that the tech didn’t fully understand, Wulf focused on admiring the scenery.

Last time they’d come to Mars it had been a whole different vibe. Fun times, plenty of money to spend and great moods all round. Here and now it all felt considerably more volatile and regimented, but still his gaze widened as the young man took in the scenery.

Martians knew how to make a grand military gesture and they hadn’t wasted any money on this show of local force. Anyone harbouring any idea of causing trouble surely could tell this was hopeless by the simple means of having their eyes open. Wulf focused his gaze on the Heavy Suits, envious of the child getting the talkthrough, but he hopped out when instructed and led the way towards the Pride of Marinaris.

“Think they let us go so they could see where we went next?” Wulf asked as he waited in the line with Kol and Ken. He shrugged and cast his gaze around idly. He was too worried about protecting Mickey and Allegra to mention that potential vulnerability in so many words, but the worried look in his eyes telegraphed concern to both the Marine and the UNIB Agent clearly enough.

Ken replied with a chuckle. "They didn't inject a tracker under the skin. But you can guarantee that every step we make is logged, analyzed, and stored for the future court case." He gave Wulf an encouraging smack on the shoulder, "Mars is the closest one can come to a police state. Enclosed cities with no real ways of sneaking around, controlled lines of transportation between settlements, no Posse Comitatus Act. You cannot not make a police state out of a collection of dome cities."

"Yeah... okay. I guess." Wulf offered up a frown in response to Ken's amusement, but relaxed a little as the engineer reassured him. "I've never had a problem coming to Mars before," the comms tech muttered, knowing that Ken knew that already. Wulf looked to Kol with sympathy for the Earther. "It's Kai's fault, she drew way too much attention to us, sorry man." Then the tech's dark gaze locked back on Ken. "You think the boss will find us, or we'll have to find him?

"She can't be blamed for who her parents are," Kol replied with a shrug. In his relief, he'd begun to grow excited to visit the surface. Given his line of work, it hadn't really been ideal for him to visit Mars in the past for either business nor pleasure. Although they had stuff to do his identity would at least buy him some time to take the place in. "And I reckon we assume we're looking for him, he might already be there," he suggested. Even if he wasn't it couldn't hurt and would give them the chance to properly stretch their legs.

"Fair point," conceded Wulf, while thinking that worked the other way too. Parents could be complicated creatures. And kids could be spoiled brats. "Good shout, dude," the tech continued. "And Alli-gator too. Can we grab something to eat on the way though, guys? I'm really hungry."

As if drawn by their words a drone cart trundled along the snaking line of tourists. The narrow cart offered a variety of items for purchase, from Vector Red branded cola, to insta-heat ramen noodles. It did this all with a cheery sing-song jingle that echoed in faint counterpoint to the tune of the god damn fucking jingles mug that got jammed somewhere inaccessible on the Albatross.

It slowed as it approached them, giving them time to reach out and tap a finger on print reader to make a payment. As it did so the jingle came to an end, and an interlaced news feed began to play.

"Within the last hours, Martian diplomats on Earth were in desperate talks with their UN counterparts to bring peace talks to the Inner System. With outer planet fringe elements still broadcasting the anti-MCR hate monger James Holden's claims concerning the fate of the ice haulier Canterbury, the MCRN has withdrawn all Outer System forces back to the Inner System on high burn trajectories. We here at MNN would like to wish our fighting boys and girls a safe voyage home. In Sport, the New Hebe Astronauts went 3-10 against visiting rivals the Planitia Krakens. Team coach Hukor Narf said that the doping allegations made against leading Q-Back Nathan Bridges were unfounded."

That pesky jingle was like a warm welcome home to the comm tech and a relaxed grin covered his face as he fell victim to the simple advertising head-worm. Vector Cola and rice with hot spicy chicken-esque protein would do nicely. Wulf couldn't help but pick up and idly sing that tune as he waited the few seconds for delivery of said delicious meal. One day he was gonna find that mug. One Fine Day. Then he wouldn't have to hear Mickey bitch about it whenever it rolled around enough to call out. An impossible dream, perhaps, but a life goal nonetheless.

"Shit..." Wulf said, as the news report filtered into his brain. "I thought the Astronauts would beat the Krakens..."

"What do you expect when they put an Earther on the field?" a voice said from behind them. A corn fed looking man in civilian garb stood behind them, a messenger bag over one shoulder affecting the look of a tourist travelling the solar system. He nodded to the holo cast from the vendor drone. "Everyone knows Bridges is Earthborn, bigger bones, more muscle mass. Might pass a dope screening but that doesn't mean he has a right to play in the MFL. The Kraken's will win because they have the big brute able to throw a ball down the field like it's fired from a rail gun."

Ken turned around to look at the new voice. The maths ran through his mind, a risk calculation that had been honed over decades. "Right..." The engineer said, giving the new man another once over. "Can I help you with something?"

"Naw," he said, his Martian drawl showing a little as his eyes flicked over Ken for a second. If this had been outer space every sensor in Ken's Ops Deck would have been screaming he was getting target locked by something big'en mean. "Just mulling over the fact the Martian Football League can't exactly be that when they let Takers from Earth get a starting position that's for a boy from the Red. Next thing you know they'll just let any punk from the Blue Dot take a Martian's job."

The line shuffled forward, and the vendor drone with the sportscast trundled down the line. A uniformed port guard walked the line, noticing the growing tension. No doubt in his mind the words 'The altercation was started by an Earther' were already being fed into the report he was going to write.

"Attention: Will passengers Ken McTigue, Kol Wescott and Wulf Edevane please make themselves known to a member of the boarding team. I repeat..."

Wulf looked from his food to Ken to Messenger Bag and back to his food without making a comment, but he was thinking about the MFL. It wasn't, the tech considered, really fair for an Earther to steal a Martian's place. But even he saw the warning sign as the stranger's drawl kicked in and Wulf shovelled the rice and protein into his mouth at double speed, just in case Ken decided to hit the guy before he finished his lunch. "Maybe Bridges has a Martian grandparent or something?" The tech offered up by way of a peacemaking attempt. Then he couldn't hide the flinch in his expression as three very familiar names were called out.

Kol groaned into the pseudo-bacon BLT cob he'd grabbed from the vendor drone. They'd not even had the chance to enjoy a simple meal without getting extra attention. After their encounter with Chu he couldn't fathom a single scenario where the trio being fast-tracked to the surface was a positive thing, especially when you considered the political climate. He suspected it was to prevent them from becoming lost in the crowd, even temporarily. It'd also be easier to keep an eye on them when the crew had reassembled. With a sigh, he chucked the rest of his meal into a trashcan close to them.

"We best get going, it's not every day the crew of a courier ship gets to skip the queue at a Martian port" Kol suggested as he started towards the docks. Despite his outwardly appreciative reaction, Kol hoped that the others felt as cautious as he did. It'd be hard not being able to share their truth whilst visiting the Red Giant but you never knew when a surveillance Drone had you in it's sights until it was too late.

"Can't help the fact that a proper Earth lad had better football talents than one of your Martian mates there." Ken shrugged with a cocky grin. "Maybe one day they'll finally make a Martian who can stack up against an Earther. But that'll take a while longer." He gave the stranger a wink. "Now excuse me, it seems we need to be somewhere." and turned around to walk with Kol and Wulf.

He'd watched Kol ditch his BLT with a forlorn look at the lost lunch, but it was Ken who instigated motion in Wulf. The tech put a hand on the engineer's back and shot a terrified look up at his buddy. Please, that look said, please don't get us into a fight. THIS IS MARS. You said Mars was a police state.

What could have been, what should have been, and what would have been a brawl to end all brawls...was not. Now there was attention, not only from his fellow passengers but from the port security and carriage attendants. Now if anything happened the Martian Football League fan would be held up.

"Yeah, better run," he said in the grand old fashion of the ancient bullies of old.


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