Red vs. Blue
I shoved the barrel of the revolver into the traitor’s mouth. The Red’s eyes bulged. He choked on the gun.
“You should have surrendered.”
“Ethan,” Jon Tristan said, standing at my shoulder. “That’s enough.”
“No, Jon. This is enough.”
I pulled the trigger and made one helluva mess.
Afterwards, as the twin moons Phobos and Deimos rose in the west and east, one after the other, Jon and I set about burying the squad of Red Phantoms on the lush, green slopes of Olympus Mons, the highest mountain in the Solar System.
“Got any painkillers?” I asked. The altitude made the work hard, the air too thin. My head was killing me.
Jon wrapped his Blue armband across his brow to keep his hair out of his eyes as he worked. “Why do you use that old gun? The Red’s fear it, you know. Call you ‘Gunslinger’. Not very practical, is it. Only six sh—”
“—shots to the barrel. Yeah, I know.” I patted the original Colt Anaconda .44 Magnum, made trusted and true in the old United States of America at the turn of the millennium—some five hundred years ago. “It reminds me of home.”
Jon turned his gaze up to the plateau, reaching six miles above the surface of Mars, at the very tip of Olympus Mons. Creeping green vines clung to what was once barren red rock, disappearing into loose white clouds. In the three centuries since Mars had been terraformed from a wasteland of dust and windstorms, the plant and animal life had flourished.
“We’re along way from home, Gunslinger,” he said.
“Hmm… you looking for a few weeks Earth-side?”
Jon scoffed. “That won’t happen this far west of the Moon.”
I scowled and booted the last dead Red into the pit. The whole stinking planet had become a giant headache—a pain in the ass, Tess—for the Earth Defence Force. The Reds wanted ‘freedom’, wanted independence from Earth—and control of Mars and all its resources. They were traitors, spoilt children, clinging to red dust.
Terraforming Mars had taken the best part of four centuries. The planet was seeded in the 22nd century. Heat factories were constructed, converting CO2 into oxygen, nanobots introduced for nitrogen. Enormous solar mirrors in orbit directed light towards the poles. Superconducting rings buried at key lines of latitude, thousands of miles across, created a man-made magnetosphere, reflecting harsh radiation back into space. Comets and ice-rich asteroids were manoeuvred into sub-orbits around the planet, releasing vast amounts of water as they burnt up. Once the key building blocks were in place, the process was accelerated through a series of chain reactions and micro-feedback loops. Genetically adapted plant and animal life was introduced at the beginning of the 24th century. A hundred years beyond that, Mars was declared safe for biological humans. It had taken five hundred years and collaboration on a planet-wide scale, but it was done.
Humanity had created a second Earth.
Not long after, humanity started its first interplanetary war. The original settlers, the ‘Reds’, declared themselves independent from Earth. Mars, and all its vast potential, was to be denied to its creators.
The stink of blood and death clouded my nostrils. I drew my trusty revolver and punched six dark red holes into the scum at the bottom of the pit. The shots echoed across the undulating slopes of the enormous mountain, carried on the still air. I didn’t care if there were more Reds around. Jon and I were the best Hunters on two planets. We could handle it.
“Yeah? Who killed you?” I spat into the pit.
Jon cocked his ear, listening to something I couldn’t. My nano-communicator had been fried by Red electromagnetic cannon fire some days ago. “EDF commends us for holding Olympus Mons. Ethan Reilly is hereby promoted to Field-Commander, First Class.” He laughed, shifting our reserve ammo belt from one shoulder to the other. “Looks like you might get Earth-side after all, Commander. You’re being recalled.” Jon’s voice caught in his throat. “Oh… hell. They want you to lead the armada from Serenity Base against Ascension City.”
“Piss on that. I’m staying grounded until every last one of these rebel bastards is dead and buried.”
Jon’s smile didn’t touch his eyes. I could sense his discomfort. He was good at his job, but he didn’t want to be. I think he didn’t quite know how to kill himself. “Killing Reds won’t bring Tessa back.”
I shook the dead shells from the Colt’s barrel and handed it to Jon. “Hollow points reload,” I said, a brisk order, and turned to shovel dirt back into the pit.
The Martian moons hung in the sky against a curtain purpling toward night. Jon handed me back the Colt. I pointed the barrel at the bright star in the southern sky, at Earth, two hundred and twenty million kilometres away. “Killing Reds makes me feel better. Makes me feel like I’m making a bloody difference.”
Jon laughed. “Oh, Ethan, you are in the unique position of knowing you are able to make a difference. Most people never see that, they wait for someone else, anyone else, to be the difference. That makes you, right now, across both worlds, the most dangerous man alive. Mars fears you and Earth respects you. You have the opportunity to change how this story is supposed to end.” Jon shook his head. “Don’t. You. Fucking. Waste. It.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying maybe the Reds aren’t all wrong. Maybe at the head of an Eternity-class battleship armada you could force a peace.”
“Is it? Tessa saw this war for what it was—brothers fighting brothers. She came here to make peace.”
“And they killed her in the uprising. They think they can just bite the hand that feeds them and not get smacked for it? No.” I shovelled more dirt into the pit, masking that stench of death. With any luck we could reset the ambush and catch some more of the bastards tomorrow. “I will take that armada and turn Ascension City back into red dust.”
“I thought you might say that…” Jon whispered.
Any soldier worth his salt could’ve sensed Jon’s next move. I twirled on the spot, drawing my revolver, as Jon raised his pulse rifle against me. I was the faster draw, always had been, and I didn’t hesitate. My finger hammered the trigger, as it had done a thousand times before, and a round of hot, solid lead—
The barrel turned with a dry click. Misfire? No…
Jon’s smile was grim. “Sorry, Reilly. Must’ve missed a chamber on the reload.”
I licked my lips. “Your mother was a nano-augmented whore.”
A sphere of arced light burst from Jon’s rifle and obliterated my shoulder, cutting through it as if it were warm butter. I was thrown back into the pit atop of the Reds, my shooting arm flying clean away from the rest of my body. Blood sprayed in a violent arc against the star-strewn sky.
This ain’t no painted desert serenade…
There was no pain—only cold, red dirt. Earth shone like a beacon so far away. Jon blocked the stars, kneeling down next to me in the pit. He unwrapped his Blue band from around his head and dabbed it against the bright, crimson socket where my arm used to be. It stained the cloth, soaked it. Not red, but—
“Close enough,” Jon said, wrapping the band back around his arm. He spared me a final glance and then turned and walked away.
I remembered running into the sea back home on Earth with Tessa. You’re my sad song, she had once told me, and you’re stuck on repeat, baby.
I remembered the smell of her wet hair. My headache was gone. I imagined her blood trailing through the waters of Mars. Bless her—she had been trying to do the right thing.
Jon Tristan would have understood.