Scattered around you are the bodies of the Martians you’ve just dispatched, their normally gray fresh singed and burnt from the blasts of your laser pistol. The room smells like a barbeque. It smells like day old fried chicken.
It smells oddly delicious.
In ten seconds the Janitor King or the reinforcements for the corpses sprawled at your feet, or possibly both, will undoubtedly come rushing through the door. Your first thought is to use the light transporter that brought you here in the first place to get the hell out. It’s a perfectly reasonable plan. It makes complete sense. Plus it would be easy. It’s also the best chance you have for survival. It’s exactly the kind of plan you would have jumped at fifteen minutes ago.
Too bad this isn’t fifteen minutes ago.
Things have changed dramatically since the former “King” of Mars asked you to come with him and allowed you to log into his data cube. You aren’t the same person that woke up buried beneath Malloy’s underpants just twenty-four hours ago. You aren’t the same confused and fearful schmuck just trying to survive.
Sure, you still don’t fully understand what’s going on, but you think you might have the answers tucked safely into the pouch around your waist. You’re done running and you’re through being scared. If the bodies of the chicken-smelling Martian corpses at your feet prove anything at all, it’s that whoever is about to burst into the room should be scared of you, not the other way around.
Kneeling down, you snag a second pistol from one of the Martian corpses, and then a third from another. You grab a nearby rifle and toss it over your shoulder as well as a few percussion grenades, and a laser-knife – which you slide into the loop on your belt. After arming two of the still smoking pistols you point them at the still-closed door. Let them come and get you. Let them try. It’s about time you stopped searching for answers like an idiot and started trying to make some instead.
It’s time you grew a pair.
What comes next is mostly a blur. A group of Martian reinforcements blasts their way into the room and starts firing. Your body moves even before your mind has time to formulate anything remotely resembling a plan or a maneuver. This is muscle memory at its finest and most dangerous.
In no time at all the room has become a mass of laser beams, wild debris and billowing clouds of grayish black smoke. You’re sliding, and firing, and spinning, all while shooting holes in the chests of the attacking Martians at an astounding rate. One of the Martian guards manages to get close enough to take a swing at you with a four foot long laser-sword. You dodge the wild strike by dropping low and blast a hole in his stomach with one of your pistols.
Your other pistol takes off his head.
You’re moving too fast for the Martians to handle – your shots are too precise. Behind you something explodes. A severed Martian arm smacks you in the back of the head. A fiery torso slides across the bloody floor beside you, spinning like a top and spraying blood in every direction like a sprinkler. You ignore it.
As the Martians begin retreating into the hallway outside the room, you instinctively follow. They aren’t getting off that easily. No one is getting off so easily – not with you – not ever again.
Hoisting the corpse of one of your attackers into the air, you use the Martian’s body as a makeshift shield and continue to press forward. With your free hand you start firing into the crowd of reinforcements crammed into the tight quarters of the hallway. Though it’s difficult to get an accurate count through the smoke and the noise and the explosions, you think there might be thirty of them.
A Martin head explodes like a balloon inflated just a bit too far. A chunk of Martian brain bounces off the side of your ear like a NERF ball soaked in cottage cheese.
Better make that twenty-nine.
It takes you less than ten minutes to dispatch the remaining twenty-nine Martian guards, and the fifteen or so that swarm in afterward. A half an hour after that and you find yourself holed up in a modestly sized room in one of the Martian slums on the outskirts of the colony. You rented the place under a false name and used some Zircons you stole from the uniform of one of the corpses during your firefight.
You’re nibbling on some dinner you purchased on the way over – it's chicken. The gunfight left you very hungry for chicken. Go figure.
With a bit of creative tinkering you manage to connect the data cube the Janitor King gave you to the room’s rather crummy and remarkably simplistic Martian Television set built into the wall. The thing is so old it doesn’t even offer a brain interface – so old you’re surprised it even turned on. There’s absolutely no reason these two things should ever work in conjunction with one another, but making them do exactly that seems almost laughably simple to you all of a sudden.
You chuckle audibly; a lot of things seem simpler these days.
In no way prepared for the sudden jolt of information, the viewing screen of the ancient television begins to hum as the contents of the cube pop onto the monitor. The interface of cube and this antiquated bit of Martian technology isn’t likely to last long, and when the circuits are fried both contraptions will likely be useless.
You only need a few minutes though – five at the most – five measly minutes and you’ll have your answers.
Moments before the firefight you were smart enough to transfer the contents of the NOSSA surveillance cameras to the data cube. You need to finish watching the video you started earlier.
You chuckle to yourself again. In a weird way the Janitor King was right – turns out it does hold the answers to all your questions.
Quickly coding the transmission to the night in question you watch the screen carefully and notice the all too familiar forms of Saleen and Malloy entering quietly into your quarters back on Earth. With a wild static-buzz the camera shifts to the room's interior and follows the pair as they make their way past your couch, into the kitchen, and then through the door leading to your sleeping quarters.
The screen turns to static once again.
The television you’ve interfaced with is starting to overheat. The information is far too large for it to handle. It’s falling apart quicker than you imagined.
It won’t last much longer.
The static on the screen morphs into a twisty distorted image that stretches dramatically, leaving the feet of Saleen and Malloy on one end of the screen and their heads on the other.
With one hand you smack the side of the Television with your palm, “Come on you piece of junk. Hold together for a minute more!” Instantly the image clears.
You can hardly believe what you’re seeing.
Saleen and Malloy look to be standing alongside your bed. Not only that, but you’re standing right beside them – at least the you that’s dressed in black with dark make-up smeared across your face.
Even weirder than that is the fact that there seems to be another you lying sound asleep beneath the covers.
Like shaking a Frisbee loose from a tree, or the act of smacking that last bit of ketchup from the bottom of the jar, the bizarre image knocks loose the confused memories hidden previously within the folds of your brain. Immediately everything comes flooding back.
You’re not you.
You were never you.
Before the television screen overheats and fizzles out with a puff of smoke, you watch as Malloy fires a laser pistol at the you that’s snuggled under the covers with a stupid grin on your face. The blast opens a hole in your chest so large there’s barely a chest remaining when it’s over.
You were the secret weapon all along.
It all makes sense now. It’s all so clear. That’s why Big Boob Bob seemed to feel such a kinship with you. That’s why he was always winking at you and smiling knowingly. That’s why Malloy was so pissed and confused when you escaped. That’s why your memories have felt so disjointed, and uneven, and distant - they aren't even your memories.
You’re not an accountant. You were never an accountant.
They used the likeness of the accountant to get you into NOSSA and onto the transport to Mars.
Lifting your hand to your face you watch as it begins to morph into a shimmering, slimy blob of gelatinous goo. A moment later it transforms yet again into something more closely resembling a Martian hand, and then again into its original form.
You’re not you.
You’re a machine that’s gone haywire – an overheated television that’s burnt out.
The plan was for you to assassinate president Womack with the help of Bob, and then the pair of you – and a few others like you – would replace the Martian presidential cabinet and take over rule of the planet.
The plan failed.
They tried to use you. They tried to turn you into something you apparently had no interest in becoming.
No, you’re not you. You’re everybody. You’re anybody you want to be. And you’re going to make them pay.
Less than a week later, back on Earth, Tan’s body washes up in the sewage system underneath NOSSA headquarters. A day afterward Richardson’s laser blast-riddled corpse is discovered in stretched out in his bedroom. Only fourteen hours after that Saleen’s Amazonian-esque body is found stuffed into her modest locker in the NOSSA training center. Quite a few bones were broken and rearranged in order to get her in there, and it takes a day and a half and a laser-cutter to get her out. Only a day afterward, the NOSSA headquarters are burned to the ground. An investigation brings to light the fact that the company was neck deep into illegal experiments with Mutagenic Cell Alteration – which in layman’s terms means you.
A month later Malloy’s body is discovered in seedy hotel down south. He knew you were after him and had been on the run for some time.
While staring down at the corpse the investigating officer pulls the bed sheets covering him away from his body and is taken aback for a minute by what he sees.
He calls over the first officer onto the scene, “Was he like this when you found him?”
“What the hell happened to his junk?”
“Dunno…guess someone cut it off.”
RETURN TO CHAPTER 1