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Loyal soldier, p.1
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       Loyal Soldier, p.1

           Jack Stornoway
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Loyal Soldier

  Loyal Soldier

  Jack Stornoway

  Copyright 2016 Jack Stornoway

  Above the motel the sandstorm raged through the night. The small motel was in the valley of Claritas Fossae, near the Solis-Sirenum border on Mars. The valley provided some shelter from the sandstorm, which made the sky above impossible to navigate. The settlement of Claritas was several decades old, founded as a potato farming community to take advantage of the silty sand of the ancient riverbed, and water in a local aquifer. Most of the settlement was greenhouses, the only other buildings being the potato processing plant, the vodka distillery, and the motel which included a small pub.

  Shoulders hunched against the sandstorm, the rider stared at his bike's multi-spec display as he flew through the darkness of the valley, hugging the ground to keep below the worst of the storm. It was January in 2194, and the worst storm of the summer was raging across the Solis Planum, swirling down into Claritas Fossae and blasting everything in its path.

  Suddenly the shape of a human appeared in the multi-spec display. It was almost a hundred metres from the settlement, so he decided to stop and see if this person needed help. It was a woman standing in the valley in a thermal still-suit covered in a duster, like the rider was wearing. She had a flashlight in her hand which she started flashing as the rider drew close. The rider slowed, his bike's turbo-fans kicking dust in every direction. He landed his bike a couple metres from the woman and dropped a hand beneath his duster.

  "Hello, are you Nuka Strange?" the woman enquired moving quickly to the bike. Her accent was American, like the rider's. Her build was thin, her stature tall, and through her respirator-mask the rider could see she was pale skinned, the signs of someone that had spent her entire life on Mars. The rider decided she was probably born in Solis, as Solis had been an American colony before being sold to the Canadians during the war.

  "Nuka Strange?" He replied bewildered by the question. "No, I'm not Strange, why would you be out here looking for Nuka Strange?"

  "I work at the pub in Claritas. There are some mercenaries in the pub and they're talking about Nuke Strange. They think that Nuka Strange is flying to Sirenum tonight and storm will force him down into Claritas."

  "And you came out here to meet him?" the rider asked, stressing the word 'him' as Nuka Strange was a woman.

  "Yes. The mercenaries are planing to kill him. I'm hoping to warn him," the Martian woman answered.

  "How much do you know about Nuka Strange?" the rider questioned.

  "How much do I need to know about him?" the woman retorted. "I don't want anyone to be murdered in Claritas, not even an American."

  "Fair enough," the rider responded. "I'm headed into Claritas for the night, I could-"

  The rider's voice broke off sharply as two people came running through the sandstorm. Both were running at that strange gait that indicated they had recently arrived from Earth and hadn't yet adjusted to Martian gravity. Neither were wearing still-suits, instead wearing those thick puffy coats the Earth people liked. They had to be the mercenaries. As they got close the rider saw they were both dark skinned, and not the faded greyish-brown of dark-skinned Martians, but vibrant dark browns endemic to Earth. The leader was a tall woman, very dark skin, almost black. The other one was a dark-brown man, almost as tall as the woman.

  "So here you are!" The Earth woman shouted to the Martian woman over the sound of the swirling sand storm. "Why are you out here?"

  The Earth woman grabbed at the Martian woman's shoulder and the Martian recoiled in fear. Instantly the rider jumped from his bike and stood between them. In his right hand was his laser pistol, and in his left a plasma dagger glowed brilliantly. "Back off! She came to bring me a message, and it's private!"

  "Who are you?" The Earth woman asked in an Guinean accent. She stepped toward the rider obviously not intimidated by either the pistol or dagger. She hadn't reached for a weapon, and was instead trying to get a good look at his face through his respirator-mask. Suddenly there was that look of shock people got when they recognized him, followed by something that people never did, a smile. "Don't worry about this one Bala. I know him. He will not be a problem. Will you General?"

  She didn't wait for an answer, she turned and they headed back towards the settlement. Once they were out of sight, the General tuned to the Martian woman, "Can I give you a ride back to the pub?"

  He climbed back onto his bike, and she climbed on behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. He turned back to her before turning on the turbo-fans, "It's probably best if you don't mention what happened here to anyone."

  "I understand," was all she managed to get out before the fans started up and drowned out anything else she would have said. He dropped her at the front airlock of the pub and then flew over to the parking lot of the adjoining motel. After parking his bike, he walked into motel lobby, and inhaled shallowly as he removed his respirator-mask. The motel air smelled musty, and the rider assumed they must not get many guests if they didn't bother checking the algae filters regularly.

  He walked over to the wall display under the 'Concierge' sign and registered a room under an alias, then enquired, "Do you have a reservation for a Nuka Strange?"

  "We do not currently have a reservation for a Nuka Strange," the concierge computer replied in an American accent.

  The general shook the dust off as he removed his duster, the large overcoat commonly worn by Martians to protect their still-suits from sand damage. His dagger, pistol, and com were all within pockets in the duster. Once he felt civilized he walked over to the door under the sign 'Lucasta's Taproom.' The two mercenaries from Earth were just entering the pub through the airlock on the other side of the room. They both looked up at the general as they took off their respirator masks, then walked over to one of the tables. The general walked over to the bar, hung his duster and and respirator mask on a hook, then sat down at the bar. The woman he'd met outside had walked over to the mercenaries with a couple vodkas, and so he turned on the bar's menu-display and started scrolling through the options. Most of the food was potato based, as was the vodka no doubt. There were few vegetables on the menu, and the only meat was soy-based. The potato based foods were cheap, but anything else was quite expensive, even by Martian standards.

  "Can I get you something?" the waitress asked returning to the bar.

  "What would you recommend?" the general asked.

  "Our potato pancakes are excellent," the waitress answered. "As are the baked potatoes, possibly the best on Mars. They're fresh, grown right her in Claritas."

  "Sounds good, how about the mushrooms in the mushroom gravy?" the General asked.

  "The mushroom gravy is imported from Lassell," the waitress answered. "Everything on the menu that isn't potato is imported from Lassell or Solis City."

  "Well, I'll have to take your advice, and try one of your baked potatoes with the mushroom gravy, and the soy-burger on potato bread. Do you have any cheese or ketchup?"

  "We do have ketchup available, and some cheese imported from Lassell," the waitress answered cautiously, "but, it is quite expensive."

  "I expected it would be," the General stated. "I'll have both on the burger, and what do you have to drink other than vodka?"

  "We have raspberry juice and saskatoon-berry juice," the waitress answered. "And, if you have the credit, some strawberry wine."

  "Strawberry wine?" the General repeated in surprise. "From Sirenum?"

  "I don't know where it's from," the waitress answered evasively.

  "It's alright, I have Arean citizenship," the General stated. "I won't be reporting you. Besides it's been a decade since I've had any strawberry wine. I'll have a bottle."

  "Alright, I'll enter the order," the waitress stated. "Once y
ou pay, the order will go through to the kitchen."

  The general accepted the price on the menu-display in front of him, and added a generous tip. The waitress smiled and then left the bar to get the strawberry wine, which was stored somewhere else. Once she'd left, the pub seemed quieter and behind him the general overheard the voices of the mercenaries.

  " way they can make it through to Sirenum in this storm!" the woman was saying in a Guinean accent. "And there are no other settlements in the region, they will have to stop here. I guarantee it Bala, by the end of the night you will owe me $500."

  "For what we are to be paid, it is a small sum," the man replied in an Indian accent. "Assuming you are correct about them coming here. If not Nkiru, you will loose $500 and I at least have my drinks paid for."

  "Gita reported they left Lassell six hours ago," Nkiru continued in her strong Guinean accent. "The storm has only got worse since they took off. They will have to land here."

  "Good," Bala continued in his Indian accent. "The sooner we depart this frozen rock the
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