And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil... (Genesis 3:22)


Prologue

The Foreign Minister flinched and jerked fully awake at his desk, reflexively rubbing the sleep from his eyes and straightening his hair before he even knew what stimulus had roused him from his five minute accidental nap. He sat and listened for a moment or two, then heard again the buzzing on the intercom to his secretary's office. He tapped the call button and the young woman—who on weekends doubled as his mistress—warned him tactfully, "Mr. Argent, Ambassador Mariot is here to see you, the usual meeting."

Minister Argent stretched from side to side then glanced at the papers on his desk on which his entire schedule was written out for him. 5:30... The double M, he read, "That's right. Mariot from Mars... United States, right?"

"That's right, Sir."

"Send them in." Argent took a few moments to straighten himself up and make sure he was presentable to his visitor from abroad.

The doubled doors creaked open and Ambassador Mariot seemed to slither into the office with the usual heavy-footed walk that seemed characteristic of Martians in general. He was typical as one of his countrymen; a short but solid man with a thick beard and a purposefulness to his mannerisms that immediately commanded authority. Argent had first met this man on the slopes of Olympus Mons, and in that time and place he imagined that he looked as powerful but awkward on Mars as the Martian did on Earth.

Mariot, as usual, remained standing, bolting himself on the floor in front of his desk like an immovable roadblock. "You never returned my inquiries to your embassy, so I came to ask you in person." Mariot said, suppressing the thick Martian-Greek accent.

Argent feigned innocence. "I haven't received anything from Ithica. What's this about?"

Mariot growled. "Don't insult my intelligence, Jason."

Sighing heavily, Argent leaned back in his chair and pretended to guess, "I don't suppose this has anything to do with what's happening in the Promethean Sea?"

"There's a line of Tyhhrean destroyers blockading the seaports of Narraganset. They've been shelling them almost constantly with cruise missiles, rail guns, satellite weapons, even rover bombs. The United Nations in censuring them for it, once again."

Argent shrugged. "My condolences, but what's so important about this that you had to come all this way just to talk to me about?"

Marriott scowled at him. "Tyhhrea and Bassilus are longstanding allies of the Earth Federation. In fifty years neither of them has in any way relaxed their aggression against neighboring countries, and the Federation has done nothing but support them. What we're asking..."

"Pardon me, Ambassador, but I don't recal this government offering its support to the Tyhhreans or the Bassilus..."

"You want the numbers?" Here again Marriott demonstrated his amazingly accurate memory, "January 3, 2179, the Tyhhrean government contracted Turban Enterprises, Alias Defense Services, Wayland-Mackenzie and Bishop Enterprises. Each of them in turn sub-contracted Grammercy Enterprises, United Defense and Toyota Heavy Industries just to name a few. Do any of these industrial leaders ring a bell?"

Argent was silent for a long moment. He shifted his position in his chair, scratched his belly, then carefully put a reply, "Perhaps this is an issue you should take up with the International Business Commission?"

"Mr. Argent, don't con me," Marriott took two small steps forward and put his hands on the top of the Foreign Minister's desk, "Three of those companies represent the Federation's leading defense contractors. Your entire armed force is privatized, so those contractors basically are your military. And you can play the "free trade" card all you like, you and I both know that your government does have a large degree of control over its service providers."

Argent frowned, "So you're asking us to call off our attack dogs, is that it?"

Not to agree with such harsh terms, Mariot said after a pause, "We want to know just whose side you're on. Then we will deal with you accordingly. If you will not act to restrict military aide to the Tyhhreans, we would like to know whether or not to consider the Federation an enemy or an ally."

Argent rolled his eyes, a gesture of indifference to mask the strange feeling in the pit of his stomach as if he had just been caught with his hand in a cookie jar, "Picking sides just won't do. Earth doesn't get involved in Martian politics."

"You're already involved, Mr. Argent. Your arms industry stands to gain another one hundred and twenty eight billion dollars off this war, particularly Wayland-Mackenzie and the other robot manufacturers... or have you forgotten that the AT-659 patent was awarded to Wayland-Mackenzie and Macrosoft Inc. by the IBC this past year?"

"I've always been candid with you, so I'll be candid with you again." Argent sat up a little straighter in his chair, "Once again you come in here whining about the Tyhhreans or Omanians or the Bassilians, and all you have to present me with are petty complaints. The last war, if you can even call it a "war," the Mayans were fighting for independence from the..." And he chuckled, "Corporate-Nazi Bassilus Empire, wasn't it? Did you come to me complaining about the civilian casualties? How about the property losses? The shift of the power balance? Refugees, starvation, famine... any of those? Of course not, you came and complained about the fact that the Bassilian Navy was built right here in America."

Marriott took a long slow breath, and tried again, "You fly the flag of free trade as your companies maraud across the planet, aggressively driving local competitors out of business. In Tyhhrea you supply them with weapons and ammunition to fight their wars against their neighbors, strengthening your tactical control of your international puppets."

"That's not true at all, Ambassador. Remember, we pressured the corporations to deny contracts to Bassilus when Maya declared independence."

Marriott frowned. "The Mayan Revolution..."

"...was nothing Ambassador. Mars has never had a real war. You send an army of robots and self-programmed tanks and fighters, bombers and ships and program them to kill the enemy's robots, tanks, fighters and ships. The Mayan Revolution was no revolution, it was just a destructive and useless game. Barely a hundred people on either side were killed to hostile fire."

"Game?" Something in his expression turned from disappointment to a seething rage, something Argent had not expected nor could he explain, "You think this is a game, Jason?"

"Isn't it? The robots are doing all the fighting. So far all reports haven't listed more than a dozen casualties on either side."

"We're obviously reading different reports." Marriott stepped back from the desk and sat down slowly in the chair in front of the desk, at once causing the hairs on the back of Argent's neck to stand on end. This was a man who never seated himself in any circumstances unless his anger was at risk of boiling over into violent expression. "Tyhhrean media insists that it's robot against robot on all fronts. This is true in many situations, but once they get through the android military, they sweep into urban areas and target specific groups of civilians."

Argent poured mentally through the reports he had read in the last week, but sadly the quality of his memory was far inferior to his Martian counterpart. "Like what civilians, specifically?"

Mariott's face darkened. "I'm not at liberty to discuss those details now. Suffice to say, what's happening now in Narraganset and Memania is nothing short of an ethnic cleansing campaign."

"I see." Argent hadn't expected an accusation of this type, for that matter he hadn't even expected Marriott to know anything about that subject. The fact that he did was a two-fold curse; if Marriott knew about it, surely the Martian Allied Government knew about it as well and had already put plans in motion to intervene.

And even more troubling was Marriott's choice of words. There was only reason why Marriott would possibly equate the Narraganset Campaign with ethnic cleansing... "You act like it's a human rights issue, but you haven't shown me anything but vague accusations. According to all official reports, the only ones who stand to loose anything are androids. If they have a problem, let them complain about it."

Marriott sighed heavily, and stood up again. "I've wasted my time."

"Come off it, Ambassador, don't be that way."

The Martian Ambassador turned towards the doorway, leaving the office under a veil of disappointment. "You just don't get it, Jason, that's all."

"What is there for me to get? You're not making any sense."

Marriott paused at the doorway and glanced over his shoulder, "This conflict has been going on for four months. Two thousand people have lost their lives needlessly, and the Omanian and Tyhhreans has no motivation to cease this aggression with a limitless supply of androids being shipped to them from Earth. So I came to you asking you... no, begging you to stop supplying them in such a way."

"They're only robots, Marriott," Argent said, choosing his words carefully to make sure his suspicions were correct, "We don't tell them how to use them, we just sell them to whoever wants them. If the Tyhhreans want to take their robots and throw them into the sea, that's their right. If they want to hunt down and destroy the Narraganset machines, that's their right too. There's no law against destroying androids, is there?"

Scowling, Marriott stormed out of the office in disgust.

Minister Argent had seen enough. It was disturbing to know what he did now about the Ambassador; for ten years they had been opposites on a table of interplanetary, international politics. They had met as counterparts, as colleagues, even as rivals... now it seemed Marriott represented something far more sinister. He regretted this turn of events, but he knew what had to be done. "Samantha," He said, calling to his secretary in the next room, "Connect me to Mr. Russo on Mars."

"Regarding, sir?" She chimed back,

"Tell him it's about Dan Claude."

The Ambassador had no more time to be annoyed with his business minded American counterpart. Too many things were at stake now and, he knew, war was now inevitable.

Argent could care less. War was always good for business in the Earth Federation, and anything that was good for business was always the first order of business.

The Ambassador's limousine was riding the elevator down the side of the tower city. It was almost a thousand feet from Argent's office to the lower levels where the Olympius Embassy was neatly tucked into a row of buildings on the second shelf. Three thousand feet below them, beyond a protective energy curtain keeping the weather at bay, the city of Chicago stretched out for thirty miles from the lakefront to the farthest city limits and suburbs, ants at the feet of the Tower City in the middle of what had once been a thriving downtown area. And above them, a gigantic shaft at the top of Tower City reached three hundred miles into space; the orbital elevator that stood as well as hung from a completely different city in geostationary orbit.

Through the massive floor to ceiling windows of the elevator, Marriott took it all in and froze the image in his mind. The prosperity of Tower City was unparalleled; the newest machines, the best computers, the highest standard of living, the most comfortable lifestyle anywhere in the solar system. And just beyond the walls of the Tower City, seven million people shuffled about in stifling poverty, operating factories and hydroponics farms, retail shops that rarely had any business. Most of them were hard at work recycling scrap materials from Tower Chicago, rebuilding old discarded machines and salvaging any usable parts, only to ship those parts back up to Tower City to be sold again as a new product. No one in the Towers even bothered themselves with manual labor; even their engineers only designed the new machines, leaving it up to the Groundlings to build and maintain them.

The blue collar underlings worked like slaves and the giants of the Tower stood on their shoulders.

Marriott never let himself forget this view, a city of unparalleled wealth standing on the shoulders of unparalleled poverty. This was the end product of Federated Capitalism, the condition of the entire planet at present, where the wealthy made footstools of the powerless, bought and sold their lives, their families, even their own identities on the open market. The entertainment media was dominated by the aristocrats in Tower City; and as such even the most intuitive of the groundlings could never imagine another way the system could ever work.

"Do you see that, Royko?" He said to his driver, equally lost in the view.

The limo driver looked through the giant window of the elevator, almost to the point of stepping out of the car to see it more clearly. Marriott beat him to it; he opened the back door and walked to the edge of the elevator, put his hands on the glass. "What do you think?"

The driver walked up next to him and joined him, taking in the entire scene. "It's an amazing view... depressing though."

"Why is it depressing?"

"It's so..." Royko tried to figure out what it was that bothered him about the scenery; eventually it came to him, "It's so grey. No color, no variety, just one big sprawl."

"It's not like back home." Marriott admitted, "You're used to a city full of life and energy, people who know what they want out of the future. What you see now is a city that has no future and a people who could care less."

Like the ambassador, Royko burned the image into his brain. "And this is what they're trying to spread to Mars?"

"They believe free enterprise and total capitalism is the ultimate form of government. Down there," He gestured to the city below, "It's the same as here in the Tower. Everything is privately owned, from firemen to politicians and everything in between. So why do you think it's so different down there from inside the Tower?"

Royko didn't have to guess. "Because the companies outside the Tower are smaller. They don't have the resources like they do out here."

Marriott shook his head. "That's what they tell people, but the truth is the same people who own all the services and utilities on the outside live inside the Tower. As a result all utilities are sub-standard, simply because they reap the maximum profit from those poor bastards down there. They keep the best services for themselves with a minimal profit margin, and still get rich off the sweat and blood of the groundlings."

Royko stared at the ambassador in disbelief, "There's no way that can be legal."

"On this planet it is. They pillage the Groundlings almost daily. And don't forget, Royko, that all the wealth you see in this Tower City was acquired at someone else's expense."

"I suppose that's why you've been fighting so hard against the economic reforms back home?"

Marriott nodded. "They say privatization will be good for the economy. Of course it will. But when you look at things like this..." He looked out at the sprawling city for the last time, his stomach boiling in disgust, "You realize that the economy is not always good for the people." He felt the elevator started to slow down in its descent. He walked back to the limousine and climbed back inside.

Royko started back as well, but Marriott then did something unexpected, "Stay there," He said through the window, just stay right over there."

"Ambassador, we have to..."

Douglass, The voice echoed in the back of Royko's head. An electronic signal, he realized, straight from Marriott, coded and untraceable, I'm copying a file to your personal computer. As soon as you get it, transfer the file to the address listed. It's in the city, the Hillside neighborhood. Stay there and await contact from an agent from M.I.C.

Royko didn't understand, but for the moment gave up trying. He simply waited a few moments as Marriott uploaded a file onto the personal computer on his wrist, then nodded across the short distance where the Ambassador sat anxiously. Without a driver, the engine of the car started. The massive double doors began to open onto the second shelf and the miniature city stretched out on its platform, six miles from end to end.

The limousine shot forward suddenly, driven by remote from Marriott's own brain and surged between the double doors. And just as soon as the limousine was in the open a long string of luminous blue pulses rained down on it from a distant rooftop, sliced through the metal of the roof and hood, tearing the car to pieces. It skidded to a stop on its bearings, and still the assault continued. In the last few moments the string of pulses from the assassin's weapon focused on the rear compartment, melting and smashing it at the same time, ultimately punching through the fuel cells on the bottom of the car which in turn erupted into a plume of white vapors around it.

His mission accomplished, the assassin's weapon fell silent and the distant calls of police sirens now filled the air.

Dougless Royko rushed through the expanding cloud of vapors, pulled off what was left of the rear doors, staring through the fog for any sign of his charge.

He found Marriott in pieces, scattered about the inside of what was left of the car in a most peculiar way; where there should have been organs and entrails there were cables, tubes, bits of electronics and circuitry large and small, all of a configuration and type Royko had never in his life seen before. The ambassador's head was the largest remaining fragment, and even that had been cleaved in two by the assassin's weapon leaving only a piece of skull that more resembled the braincase of an industrial android than a human being.

Royko didn't quite know what to make of this, other than the fact that Marriott—with his usual insight—had seen this coming well in advance. That being established, he quickly departed the scene, away from the smoking limousine and the chaos that now rose to being as police officers and firemen surrounded the vehicle.

And left to his lonesome, he tapped a command on his wrist computer and opened the file Marriott and left him only minutes earlier.


Newtype Alpha Productions is proud to present this humble little fanfic by Mishalla (N-Xi) and Kai (N-Alpha). It's been on the back burner for some time, and we've even thought of adapting it for publication as a novel. Either way, reveiws are needed and in large number!