18th December, 3082

Helen watched the world escape beneath her, shrinking into a hazy ball of blue. Milk white clouds lulled by, apparently unaware of the seas shimmering beneath, plotting to transform their casual clusters into cyclones. It was always like this during the sun's peak solar cycle – a beautiful catastrophe.

Another of the passengers roughly deposited a file into her lap. She startled, glancing up for the culprit but all she found was a bored looking bureaucrat doing the exact same thing to the next person. Raising an eyebrow, Helen Magnus flipped open the top sheet and started skimming.

It was a summary, detailing the purpose the team's mission. She rolled her tied eyes and threw the folder onto the spare seat beside her, returning her gaze to the window. The shuttle skimmed out of the atmosphere and followed the curve of the Earth until it escaped the sun's bombardment. In the shadow of her home planet, Helen saw the cities come alight, trailing along the coasts of continents like lonely stars.

She smiled, letting her eyelids fall closed. A moment later she was peaceful, finally asleep after a long day.

*~*~*

The man staggered backwards, holding onto the handle of the knife embedded in his stomach. Pain blurred his thoughts as his eyes searched feverishly around the room for the safe. He had dragged himself halfway through the building like this – gasping for air. Finally his hand found the keypad beside the silver box. He fumbled his pass code, slipping over the keys.

The door unlocked slowly, sliding across as the man coughed up another gush of blood. He was dying and knew it.

As soon as the safe was open, he reached into the small box and withdrew an old paper manuscript. There were footsteps coming down behind. They were tracking him, following the trail of blood straight towards him.

Panicked, the man threw the manuscript into the small, mesh wastepaper bin. He poured the remainder of his vodka over it and set the whole thing alight. The combination burned fiercely, blackening into ash as he watched.

"Found you..." announced a sinister voice, slipping into the small office behind the man. The pursuer carried a set of knives around his belt identical to the one in the man's stomach. With an air of fascination, they withdrew another, slowly turning it between their fingers.

Flames reflected off the metal edge, dancing over the blade as it cut through the air.

The scientist, still on his feet, rested against his desk as he waited for the inevitable.

*~*~*

Mars wasn't half as impressive as the brochures led you to believe. It wasn't so much red, as pastel orange up close. Rust, by its very nature, was not particularly attractive. Neither was traipsing through it. There were reasons Helen rarely visited the new city and this topped them – miles and miles of sand getting into the air and over her skin. She couldn't see what John and Ashley found so appealing.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" said another member of the team, falling into step beside her. He was a young gentlemen dressed specifically for the walk rather than the orientation afterwards. Despite it all, he seemed to be enjoying himself as evidenced by the enormous grin hogging his face.

Helen didn't respond. She shifted her shoulder bag, wondering if there'd be time to change when they reached the outer building.

"Really a marvellous feat," the irritating man continued. "A terriformed planet, habitable to humans. Extraordinary."

Hardly, thought Helen. Despite their best efforts, apart from breathable air, Mars was still the same lump of iron oxide it had always been. The 'city' held as the pride of the human race's achievements was a smattering of buildings huddled together inside a small crater. In the beginning, when the promotional photos had been taken, they were stunning white pillars, capped in polished sheets of limestone. They glittered in the soft light, going pink at dawn and dusk. Granted, they had been beautiful then. Now the dust had got to them, reddening their edges and smudging into their facades.

Despite its three thousand permanent inhabitants, Prosperity appeared a ruin in the sand.

It was twilight before they reached the first building. The sun, a weak mew at best, had dipped behind the wall of the crater casting a shadow over the city.

The team of fourteen led by a tall man in green, filed into a squat building at the edge of the city. It was warm inside, a pleasant change from the freezing winds on the surface. Helen ditched her coat, stuffing it into her bag. She whipped her head forward, trying to shake her hair free of dust.

"Welcome to Mars," said the leader of the group. His ginger hair was straight to his ears where it took on a light curl. "No time for sightseeing I'm afraid, we have a lot of work to do and no time to do it. Break into your teams and follow me."

*~*~*

The scorched wreck was still smouldering when the first team approached. Level 4 of the Ecological sciences building had been badly damaged by the fire as it raged most of the night. A cloud of ash could still be seen on the horizon as the last of the light faded from the sky, revealing a glittering sky of stars. With no moon, it was their light that cast shadows after the sun was gone.

Helen was the last into the room, slinking around the burnt out doorway.

"Nice of you to join us, Magnus," the team leader lifted his eyes to hers. Her inclusion on the team was not his choice. As far as Smith was concerned, Helen Magnus was nothing but a red flag for trouble. No-one knew anything about her except for ridiculous rumours.

The other five had lined themselves along where the windows had once been. Behind their feet was a sharp fall to the city streets. Helen joined them, waiting for the leader to continue.

"Two days ago this level was burnt to a shell. The forensic scientists have found a set of remains belonging to Dr. T. Edwards. He was of course, Mars's chief climate engineer. This knife," Smith withdrew a plastic bag with a blackened knife, "along with another like it, were found in the victim. It is your job, ladies and gentlemen, to find and bring this murderer to justice. Now, we have reason to believe that they are not working alone and that their ultimate goal is to destroy the terriforming equipment, making Mars uninhabitable. This must not happen. Work fast and diligently. Dismissed."

Helen immediately made for the exit. She was stopped by a hand latching onto her coat sleeve.

"What are you doing? There's work to do," said Smith.

"I have contacts here," replied Helen, tugging herself free. "You'll have your answer inside the week."

With that, Helen Magnus vanished out the door, descending the flight of stairs to the building's foyer and out the double glass doors into the night.

*~*~*

Nikola adored this century.

It was a fresh, uncomplicated bed of corruption. He smiled, a thick moustache accentuating his grin. It was not so much that he loved corruption, more that all the major organisations were so busy watching each other that they left him in peace – a peace that he used to his advantage designing ever greater technology.

He sold patents whenever he needed money. Most of them ended up on space ships or Martian technologies and indeed, had he not blown the last wad of cash on this machine, he would be quite the wealthy gentlemen. Instead, he was as impoverished as he had ever been. But that was okay.

This was the main reason that he was surprised one night by the sound of the locks on his door thumping to the ground. There was another loud bang, bringing him to his feet just in time to see his door fly from its hinges and a group of people file in, covered from head to combat boot in black.