RUMORS OF WAR

There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.

-Niccolò Machiavelli-

10 NOVEMBER 2212

KURTZENHEIM, PAVONIA PRINCIPALITY

MARTIAN FEDERATION, MARS

The crowds had taken to the streets surrounding the sprawling complexes that housed the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Truth once more as the lunch hour drew to a close in the capital of the Martian Federation. Lois Lafraniere, Zenith Orbital Network (ZONET) star investigative reporter, took this as her cue to rise to her feet. Her broadcast was due to begin in a few minutes.

Despite the general buzz of the human swarms in transit, she had to admit that there was a certain perverse sense of order to the mass migration of workers if one devoted enough time to study the movement of humans from the State-run cafeterias to their various workplaces.

Ensuring the orderly passage of traffic, both human and vehicular (most of it government-own or public transport, since private ownership of vehicles was almost unheard of in the Federation), were the immaculately dressed Polizei officers in their butterscotch uniforms who manned every street corner and road crossing, ensuring that everyone waited their turn.

Lois wanted to laugh humorlessly. The scene before her looked so much a totalitarian tyrant's dream come true, except for the fact that it was no dream and that the Federation was a totalitarian state. She glanced over at the sight of the two Ministry compounds resting side by side on Freiheitstrasse in central Kurtzenheim.

This whole nation is a contradiction of terms, she found herself thinking for the umpteenth time that hour as she studied the equally unyielding headquarters of the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Truth. The former oversaw the operations of the Federation's Militär, which comprised of the MartianBundesArmee, the MartianBundesLuftwaffe and the MartianBundesPlatzMarine while the latter handled the state media and public information dissemination networks. Of course, in a twisted sort of way, it only made sense for the organization tasked with propaganda and indoctrination to be based beside the nation's military.

To her and many outsiders, the only way to tell the two fortress-like buildings apart was the guards at the entrance. Where the home of the Federation's propaganda machine was guarded by unsmiling police officers in their trademark yellow-brown uniforms, its neighbor was protected by men and women of the Federal Army, Air Force and Navy, recognizable in the crimson jackets and jet black trousers of their Dress Uniforms. And while the police had a stun baton and a service pistol attached to their belts, the military guards clutched fully-automatic assault rifles across their chests.

And all of this could be found on Freiheitstrasse or 'Freedom Street'. She was surprised that neither the Ministry Justice nor the Ministry of Liberty had their premises along anywhere along the road that ran through much of the capital's heart. That would probably have been the ultimate contradiction of terms.

Lois Lafraniere hated the way the Federate government and its menagerie of enforcers, armed or otherwise, ran practically every aspect of its citizens' lives. Sure, her career as a reporter had allowed her to see more of the Solar System than most other individuals could ever dream of in their lifetimes. She had worked amongst the dour Selenites on Luna where their mania for safety and efficiency pervaded every facet of their life and bordered on neurosis. While pursuing several stories amongst the Mercurians, she had found the severe overcrowding and the consequent veneration of private time and space far too detrimental to her gregarious disposition.

But what made the Federation worse than any of these other stifling societies was the insidious way in which the government transformed its people into mindless automatons who had little appreciation for freedom of thought or action. Even as she prepared for her next broadcast, she watched the blank-faced serfs of the monolithic bureaucracies trudge past her, paying scant little interest to her and her camera.

It's different here, she thought to herself. In the other Solar nations, the presence of a camera emblazoned with the ZONET logo invariably provoked the interest of the average passerby. In some places, the locals even seemed eager to appear on interplanetary news. Here in the Federation, the people seemed to ignore her almost zealously, as if their lives depended on it. Of course, if one bothered to look around, such an assumption probably wasn't too far from the truth.

Pairs of armed and ever-present Polizisten, who were the uniformed arm of the Polizei, strutted amidst the crowd, unsmiling faces partially hidden behind their helmets equipped with high-tech surveillance gear to better monitor the crowds. In addition to these, there were the dozens of cameras perched prominently on nearby street lamps and buildings.

And for every one of those cameras Lois saw, she knew that there were dozens more hidden elsewhere. For all she knew, the bench she was currently using as the pedestal for her own news camera could have contained one.

She had heard rumors that the surveillance cameras were tied to pattern and threat-recognition systems programmed to distinguish certain tones of voice and physical gestures as hostile. Such occurrences would be logged and would earn a visit from the nearest Polizei patrol. While she wasn't sure if it were technologically possible or even legal as far as the Edicts went, she harbored no doubts about the Federal government's willingness to employ such a system if it existed. Her friendly contacts at the Ministry of Liberty were understandably less than thrilled when she had tried to verify such allegations.

And if the roving police patrols and cameras were not enough, there were the ubiquitous Roteschutzkappen or 'Red Caps'. According to State media, these were capable citizens tasked with keeping abreast of matters in their neighborhoods and workplaces who also assisted the Polizei in an auxiliary capacity. The Federation could call them whatever they liked. But Lois could think of only one word to describe them - informants. Individuals tasked with spying on their neighbors and colleagues and reporting them to the authorities for charges real or imagined.

And for such despicable individuals to be officially recognized with uniforms and police-grade equipment was a complete anathema to her. It was experiences such as these that made her realize how sheltered a life she had lived back in Olympus where she had been born. While she may have readily pointed out that the Jovian government seldom made wise decisions, she never thought she'd see a government make stupid decisions. It seemed as if everything in the Federation was calling out to her to make her feel that she had made a bad choice running away from Olympus.

Not that she would ever countenance admitting her mistake openly.

And it was soul-crushing to see the citizens of the Federation living with this, day in, day out for as long as all of them could remember. Each one of them was electronically tagged. Each one was closely monitored and liable to be pulled up for questioning at any time and for any reason. And for every new law that stripped them of what little freedom they possessed, they coined the phrase: während der daur der aktuellen krise. "For the duration of the current crisis", they would say, with little more than a shrug. Lois shuddered at that. It was a state of 'crisis' that had lasted for over a century.

A passing Red Cap seemed to catch her gaze. For a moment she wondered if he was going to demand to see her papers. He had every right to. But his chiseled features gave way to a tiny smile and Lois allowed the edges of her mouth to twitch slightly in response as he strolled past and went on his way, eyes returning to watch his fellow Federates keenly.

When her colleague Jennifer Mathur uncovered evidence of the Martian Free Republic's involvement in the Martian Elevator disaster that occurred back in 2210, ZONET reporters were suddenly the new friends of the normally frigid and obstructionist minions from the Ministry of Truth. Apparently, that sentiment had permeated all the way down to the average man in the street.

Checking her wristwatch, she saw that it was almost time. She rechecked the battery reserves for her camera, tested the audio recording levels and made sure her transmitter unit was properly configured. Her watch beeped once and she thumbed the hand controller that started recording and transmitting, adjusting the clip-on mike on the lapels of her jacket as she did so.

There was the familiar tension working her way into her gut followed by the normal flash of panic as she imagined herself forgetting her lines. Even though she wouldn't be going live, she hated doing multiple takes, believing that each successive take diluted her enthusiasm and passion. The watch beep again and she looked into the camera's lens, flashing her most beatific on-camera smile.

"Tensions in the Martian Federation remain high as the government spends yet another day waiting for a breakthrough in talks being held at the USN General Assembly on Pyrea Station. This morning, representatives from the Ministry of Truth reiterated that the Federation quote, 'values the peace it currently enjoys with the Republic, but firmly believes that reparations remain an unavoidable obligation of the Republican government in order to smooth strained relations between the two nations'."

Lois scoffed mentally. It was just the Federation's way of garnering the moral high ground for itself. She knew the Republic would never give in fully to the Federation's demands. "According to that same statement, Federation officials stressed that the onus is on of both sides to work together to maintain peace and unless the reparations are made, alternative methods of resolution would have to be sought. The present crisis between the two Martian nations began when this network uncovered evidence of Republican involvement in the disastrous Martian Elevator Crash which occurred 2210."

Lois found her mind speeding through the history that went behind this story. The mention of the Elevator Crash, the most horrific disaster in recent history, reminded her of the time she had seen the 'Vator Crater from Martian orbit. Known as the 'Vator Vallis' by the locals, the 20,800 kilometer long crater had wrapped itself around the planet's equator, stretching out from Pavonis Mons when the Elevator's cable came crashing down.

Viewing the awesome gash from orbit left no illusions as to the magnitude of destruction that had befallen the settlements - both Federate and Republic - that had sat on the equator. Shaking off those thoughts, she secretly feared that had spent too long staring at the camera and she forced herself to continue.

"Despite the presentation of such evidence, the Republic government maintains its innocence and has insisted that the blame lies in the hands of renegade militia groups based in the Isidis Planitia. These same groups have also been alleged to be behind many of the recent border violations into Federate territory. The Federate Ministry of Truth has rejected the Republic's quote, 'weak attempts to shift the blame away from itself to the usual suspects'. Meanwhile, the mood in Kurtzenheim remains one of anticipation. With the Republic's refusal to give in to Federate demands for reparations, one can only speculate at what will happen when the Federal government's patience finally runs out. If Martian history is anything to go by, then war may well be unavoidable."

She found herself suppressing an involuntary shudder. Catching sight of her own reflection in the camera's lens, she noted that her expression had grown grave. "All across the Federation, security has been stepped up. Border patrols have increased significantly, especially in light of the increasing violence of the border incursions. Unless new evidence surfaces to prove the validity of the Republic's claims, the Federation retains the moral high ground as the victim and with it, the trigger for the next Martian war. Without a breakthrough in the USN Assembly negotiations or a halt to the border raids, the matter of war may not be a question of if but of when."

Lafraniere paused, partly out of relief that none of the bothersome Federate officials had interrupted her broadcast and partly for the dramatic effect that she knew appealed to the people writing her paycheck. Then finally, in a far more somber tone than with which she had first begun, she concluded her broadcast.

"This is Lois Lafraniere for ZONET News, reporting from Kurtzenheim, Mars."