The revelations on Mars -- a half-million year-old legacy of the vanished star-traveling Builders -- have fed the flames of catastrophic war. A beleaguered United States and its Russian and Japanese allies struggle to hold their own against the indomitable forces of the enemy United Nations. The bloody conflict that has swept over the home planet now rages across the blackness of space -- with the U.S. Marine Corps in the vanguard, leading the charge as always.
But Mars is not the sole repository of alien wonders. The Earth's moon hides unsettling mysteries of its own-and dangerous secrets pointing toward an unstoppable threat advancing from somewhere beyond the solar system. And as scientists on both sides ract to utilize technology they have only barely begun to comprehend, the UN makes the opening move in a gambit that could end the hostilities quickly and decisively by bringing about the death of millions...without the aid of alien-inspired weaponry.
A bad situation worsens by the nanosecond. And that means it's time to call in the Marines -- to make a life or death stand on the gray shores of Luna.
Saturday, 5 April 2042
1635 hours EST
"Okay, gorgeous. La's get you out of those clothes, first."
"But, Jack...all of them? How far do you want me to go? I mean, I'm outside, and the neighbors might --"
"I want you naked, babe." Not that the bikini top and tight, red slacks she was wearing now left all that much to the imagination. "Make yourself starkers. For me."
John Charles Ramsey -- he preferred the name Jack -- leaned a bit closer as he watched the young woman on the flatscreen that dominated one wall of his room. She gave him a sultry pout, one filled with lust-churning promise, then started slowly unzipping her pants. She was lounging on a folding chaise next to an outdoor pool, where the sunlight turned her long hair to spun gold, and she had to wiggle a bit to get the slacks down off her hips. Jack licked his lips once, then reached down to unzip his own pants.
Before long, the woman was naked, seated in that tailor's seat, show-all pose that Jack loved best. She leaned back with catlike grace, closing her eyes and smiling dreamily as she started gently fingering her blond-tufted cleft. "Oooh, Jack," she breathed.
"Yeah, Sam. Oh, yeah. Do it. Do it...." His hand was inside his shorts, now, squeezing with slow, deep movements. God, she was beautiful....
"I want you, Sam," he told her, leaning even closer to the screen. The way those big, hard-nippled breasts bobbed, and circled with her quickening motions was pure heaven, especially when she reached up with her free hand and rubbed them. "Oh, God, I want, you, Sam."
"Oooh, and I want you, Jack. I want you right here, inside me...."
"Mom!" He started violently, bumping hard against his desk top and nearly falling out of the chair. At the code word "Mom," the image of Sam and her breast-heaving passion dissolved in a cloud of rippling pixels, replaced in a startled heartbeat by an elderly man with a bushy mustache, bright eyes, and a white linen suit, standing in a library or book-filled study.
The door to Jack's room, just to the left of the screen, opened, and his mother walked in. She glanced at the screen, then at Jack, who was pulling himself and his chair awkwardly up close against his desk. "Are you okay, dear? I thought I heard you...talking to someone."
"Um, sure, Mom, I was just talking to Sam, here. You know, Sam Clemens? My agent?"
"Howdy, Ms. Ramsey," Sam said in a pleasant, homespun Missouri drawl.
"0h, of course, dear," she said, ignoring the AI agent. "I just wanted to tell you that your Aunt Liana just arrived. I think it would be nice if you came down and said hello.
"That's the general idea."
"Uh, I'll be down in just a few, Mom. Sam here is helping me download some stuff."
She paused to glance at the recruiting posters decorating much of the wall space not taken up by the monitor. Above Jack's bed, a grinning, life-size Marine in crisp Class As snapped a salute, held it, dropped it, then saluted again in an endlessly animated cycle. "The Marines Want YOU" was emblazoned across the bottom of the sheet, the letters cycling through the entire spectrum, as Valkyries streaked through the sky in the background. Nearby by was a large, full-color poster of the flag-raising at Cydonia, five US Marines in vacuum armor, hoisting a small American flag on a length of pipe against the pink sky and rusty stone backdrop of Mars. The photo was signed by David Alexander, the civilian archeologist who'd taken the photograph.
The man who also happened to be Jack's uncle.
"Come on down when you're ready. Just don't take too long."
She pulled the door shut behind her, and Jack loosed a long, heartfelt sigh of relief. That had been entirely too close; usually, he could hear her coming up the stairs, but that time he'd nearly been caught. He thought again about a pressure-sensitive switch with a PC-radio link he'd seen in World Electronics for fifty bucks. It might be worth it, to be able to flash an alarm whenever Mom started up the steps. If she ever caught on to "Sam's" alter ego...
"It's okay, Samantha," he whispered. "She's gone. But, uh, keep your voice down, okay?"
At the name Samantha, Samuel Longhorn Clemens pixel-flickered back into the guise of a blond, naked, twenty-year-old woman, standing this time in the Clemens library. Jack himself was seventeen, an age particularly susceptible to the charms of commercial AI net agents who looked and spoke and undressed like her. Software packages like Samantha -- the thought of the word "software" made him vent a quiet, frustratedly longing groan -- were supposedly restricted to people twenty-one and older, but it was easy enough to get around those rules, especially if you had a buddy with a valid Net ID. The net vendors, mostly, just wanted your recorded assurance that you were twenty-one so that they didn't get into trouble if you got caught. Damn it, the United States still had such uptight and puritanical laws about sex. It wasn't like you couldn't go to any public beach or download any movie these days without seeing plenty of nudity, all ages, all sexes, all orientations.
"Maybe I should go ahead and get those downloads," he told her.Reaching up, she cupped her full breasts, rubbing her nipples between her fingers. "Whatever you say...Jack. But, oooh, I would just love it if you could download me." Watching her, it was impossible to think of her as anything other than a flesh-and-blood woman. Net agents, however...