The Year is 2040.
The Marines have landed on Mars to guard the unearthed secrets of an ancient and dangerous alien race: Ourselves.
Scientists have discovered something astonishing in the subterranean ruins of a sprawling Martian city: startling evidence of an alternative history that threatens to split humanity into opposing factions and plunge the Earth into chaos and war. The USMC -- a branch of a military considered, until just recently, to be obsolete -- has dispatched the Marine Mars Expeditionary Force, a thirty-man weapons platoon, to the Red Planet to protect American civilians and interest with lethal force if necessary.
Because great powers are willing to devastate a world in order to keep an ancient secret buried. Because something that was hidden in the Martian dust for half a million years has just been unearthed . . . something that calls into question every belief that forms the delicate foundation of civilization . . . Something inexplicably human.
Something inexplicably human.
Wednesday, 9 May
Cycler Spacecraft Polyakov,
three days from Mars Transfer
1517 hours GMT (shipboard time)
This wasn't the first time the Marines had ventured into space, not by a long shot. On February 20, 1962, Colonel John Glenn, United States Marine Corps, had become the first American in orbit, thundering into space atop a primitive Atlas-D booster. Of course, Navy astronauts were quick to point out that Alan Shepard, a former US Navy aviator and test pilot, had been the first American in space nine months earlier, even if his suborbital flight -- with a full five minutes in zero G -- had also been the shortest spaceflight in history.
Major Mark Alan Garroway did not think of himself as an astronaut, even though he'd been in space for seven months, was drawing astronaut's flight pay, and was watching now as Mars drifted past the command center's main viewport. He was a passenger -- in effect, he was extremely expensive cargo -- aboard the Polyakov, one of four cycler spacecraft set to shuttling between Earth and Mars in the past decade. He was a Marine, and as far as he was concerned, sharing bridge watches with the ship's three officers-two Russians and an American -- did not make him an astronaut. That distinction was reserved for the glory boys and girls of NASA's Astronaut Corps and the Russkii Kosmonaht Voiska. Marines liked to boast that every Marine was a riflemen first, and that any other job descriptionwhether that of AV-32 pilot or combat engineer, of electronics and computer specialists like Garroway or the goddamn commandant of the whole goddamned Corpswas at best a minor elaboration.
Garroway was still less than enthusiastic about this mission, even after seven months in space. The routine had swiftly become tedious, especially after the magnificence of the blue and cloud-smeared Earth faded to nothing more than a brilliant, blue-white star. It was the sameness of life aboard ship, day in and day out, that ground away at his nerves, convincing him that this time, finally, once and for all, when the mission was done and he got back home, he was going to retire from the Corps at last. That tour-boat concession in the Bahamas was looking better and better with each passing watch Kaitlin, his daughter, had been accusing him of going soft, lately, in her frequent v-mails. Well, maybe she was right. It was hard to stay gang ho for twenty-five years in a Corps dying of slow starvation ... and with nothing much to show for it but a ticket to Mars and a hell of a long tour away from home.
Mark Garroway was the second-highest-ranking officer in the Marine Mars Expeditionary Force, a thirty-man unit comprised of a single, specially assembled weapons platoon on special deployment ... very special deployment. General Warhurst himself had put this op together, a last-ditch attempt at saving the US Marines from the Washington compromiser corps. Tradition might dictate that Garroway was a rifleman first, but he rarely thought of himself as such these days. He was forty-four years old and had been in the Corps for almost twenty-five years. A mustang, he'd mated out as an enlisted man, an aviation electronics specialist. When he'd re-upped after his first hitch, however, the Marines had paid for him to finish his interrupted tour at college, including stints first at MIT, and later at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and his area of expertise shifted from straight avionics to the obtuse, complex, and frequently highly classified electronics found in military communications, robotics, and Al computer systems. By then, of course, he'd received his commission, and he spent most of the next ten years working on classified programs at half a dozen research labs, from Aberdeen, Maryland, to Sandia, New Mexico, to Osaka, Japan.
His communications electronics expertise was the reason he was a pan of the MMEF. Technically, he'd volunteered as a CE Tech for the Marine Mars Expeditionary Force, but no less a Corps luminary than Genend Montgomery Warhurst had personally requested that he accompany the expedition, and so far as Garroway was concerned, a request by the commandant of the US Marine Corps was a direct order -- a politely disguised one, perhaps, but a direct order all the same.
Garroway's primary responsibility on the mission was to oversee the maintenance of the Marines' computers and electronic gear -- especially the microcomp, circuits that controlled their battle armor, commo gear, and assault rifles. Vital work, certainly, but considerably less than a full-time job. If it hadn't been for the fact that he wag also Colonel Lloyd's executive officer, his second-in-command, Garroway thought he would have gone mad from the boredom by now.
His eyes followed the stately drift of Mars past the control deck's windows. He still hadn't accustomed himself to the strangeness, the alienness of the world. At the moment, it looked like a small and seriously diseased orange, its overall yellow-ocher coloration interrupted by patches, streaks, and smears of dark browns and grays. The north polar ice cap was a slender glimmer of sun-dazzled white. That band of black and dark fed along the equator was almost certainly the Valles Marineris ... the Valley of the Mariner Spacecraft. Despite over a year of study, he could recognize little else in the way of surface features save the polar cap and the three dark smudges of the Tharsis volcanoes.
And then the Polyakov's slow rotation carried the planet past the edge of the window, and he was looking at stars and emptiness once more.
To his left, Commander Joshua Reiner reached up and tapped one of the monitor displays on the console above his workstation in that annoying way people have of trying to chivvy delicate electronics into proper operation.
"We got a fault in camera sixty-two. No picture." Reiner tried upping the gain on a volume control. "No sound, either."
"Is the thing on?"
"Yup. Readouts say it is, anyway. Must be a loose connection. "