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April 15, 2024

Footnote 2

By Mel Trent

Snake spent several hours inspecting and interrogating PAM in an attempt to verify its warning. He tried to research Gurstockian history, looking for any time period of abrupt changes that might signal a hostile takeover. He looked through records of the planet Antigone, a long dead place on the fringe of what may have been where the universe had begun to unfold itself. He found nothing useful. Without Tanith to link him into the networks, his access to resources was limited. Snake wasn't looking forward to facing Owsley without supporting evidence.

He prepared as much of his report as he felt he would need, Owsley's demand for full disclosure be damned. He wasn't going to get Hope involved. Once it was out that she knew he was SS, her life would never be the same.

It was close to midnight when Snake got back to his apartment. Hope was asleep on the sofa, her brow furrowed as she tossed uncomfortably. He would find better accommodations for her in the morning. He watched her for a moment, but she didn't wake up.

Faolan did wake up when Snake crawled into bed. "Everything okay?" he asked as he turned over and snuggled into Snake's arms.

"I don't know. We'll see. I've got a meeting in the morning," Snake said.

"I'm sure it'll be fine."

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay. Maybe a little weaker than normal. I guess we should have been a little more careful this morning."


"It was worth it."

Snake felt Faolan smile against his bare chest. He closed his eyes and fought off tears. How much longer will I have these moments? he thought.

* * *

A majority of the Gurstockians took up residence in Enyo, which was northeast of Eris and was the largest and oldest city on Mars. Much of the city had been in ruins for centuries after a summer of brutal windstorms had nearly buried it dust. A few thousand Martians remained. The rest of the population of nearly 30,000 was made up of wealthy humans who could afford to build expansive houses on top of the ruins along with vast shields to protect their homes from the windstorms.

The mansions were almost big enough for the Gurstockians. The entrance ways, of course, were too small, but those were easily dealt with. Three humans were killed when they attempted to defend their homes. The rest became hostages and slaves, and it was no use trying to defy captors who barely acknowledged any existence but their own.

Most humans managed to escape. When they heard the news of the home invasions, they packed up what was most precious to them and left. Those who lived in more modest homes, not willing to take any chances, did the same. Several hundred humans, either trying to prove the strength of their will or their stupidity, stayed right where they were. Every Martian who lived in Enyo was out of the city before dawn.

* * *

The com began to chirp as Snake stood in the kitchen waiting for the coffee to brew and wondering where he could take Hope that she would be safe. Faolan trudged into the kitchen from the living room where he had been sitting with Hope. Snake switched on the voice link. "Theriot residence," he said.

"Good morning, Snake. It's Dr. Lanois. Vid link, please."

Snake wanted to turn the com off. Oops, dropped the connection, so sorry. He didn't want to hear what Dr. Lanois was going to say. He knew it wasn't going to be good news. There was a certain flatness to the doctor's voice that wasn't owing to the early hour. Like a good boy, he switched on the vid link as Faolan came up beside him.

"Hello, Dr. Lanois," Faolan said.

"Good morning, Faolan," Dr. Lanois said. "How are you feeling?"

"Not bad. Tired as always."

"You don't look like you rested well last night."

Faolan shrugged.

"I'm afraid that was my fault," Snake said.

Faolan grinned and slipped his arm around Snake's waist.

"What did I tell you two about sexual activity? You've got to keep it to a minimum. Strenuous activity --"

"It had been three months," Faolan said. "That's about as minimum as I think we can get."

Dr. Lanois bit her bottom lip. Snake didn't like the look in her eyes. "Test results are in," she said. For a moment, she said nothing more. "I'd like you both to come by my office today."

Snake and Faolan were silent.

"The sooner, the better," Dr. Lanois said.

"We'll be there in fifteen minutes," Snake said.

"What about your meeting?" Faolan asked.

"Fuck the meeting. They'll wait."

"All right, then," Dr. Lanois said. "I'll see you soon." She tried to smile.

Snake cut off the com and put his arms around Faolan, aware that Hope was watching them from the living room. He turned his eyes towards her. She had tears in her eyes.

"Is there anything I can do?" Hope asked. She knew there wasn't, but she felt obligated to ask.

Snake shook his head.

"I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault that most of your species are selfish fucking idiots," Snake said.

"Snake," Faolan said, lifting his head from Snake's shoulder.

"What? It's true."

"What about the Martians who agreed to the terraforming?"

"They're even worse."

* * *

Hope went with them to the hospital. She waited in the cafeteria in the human wing, picking at pancakes and cantaloupe. She didn't have much of an appetite. She felt so bad for Snake, and she couldn't imagine how difficult the whole thing was for him. His anger was obvious, but she knew it was just the brittle crust over a deep, debilitating grief. And he couldn't let his sorrow take over. He had to ignore it if he was going to do anything about the message PAM had given them. He would do it; he was strong. Hope got the impression that he was the kind of man who could handle anything, but she wondered what he would do when it was done, when he'd saved the world and lost his lover and was alone with his bitter victory. Well, she wouldn't let him be alone. She'd been through that when her husband died.

When they came to the cafeteria to retrieve her, Hope thought Faolan looked sicker just for having heard the news that there was nothing left to be done to save him. She looked at them expectantly, but neither of them repeated the sentence they'd been handed.

Snake looked at his watch. "I'm late for my meeting," he said. "Hope, can you --"

"I'd be happy to," Hope said.

"Thank you." He reached out and touched her cheek, a Martian gesture of affection among close friends. She wanted to hug him, but that was a human gesture. Instead she returned the touch with a wan smile.

Then he did something that surprised both Hope and Faolan. He took off his mask and kissed Faolan's temple. "I'll be home as soon as I can," he said after he had put his mask back on.

Faolan nodded, and then Snake was gone. Faolan sat down at the table with a heavy sigh.

"Are you all right?" Hope asked. "Silly question, I know. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Faolan said. "I'm fine for now."

"I shouldn't ask, but ... how long ..."

"Three months. Maybe."

"I'm so sorry."

"I think I always knew it would come to this. In a way, it's a good thing. I don't want to suffer any more. I don't want to watch Snake suffer any more. He can't begin to heal while I'm still here, still dying."

Hope prodded the pancakes on her plate and said nothing for a while.

"I love him so much."

Hope looked up at that. That wasn't an expression Martians used. While it was clear that they felt love, they had never bothered to name the emotion the way humans had.

"He would hate to hear me say that, but it's true."

"He loves you, too."

"I know. He'd never say it that way. No matter how saturated with humanisms our language gets, he refuses to use them."

"How do Martians express that kind of love?"

Faolan grinned. "Not with words."

Hope grinned, too. She didn't want to, but she couldn't help it. "So that kiss ..."

Faolan touched his temple where Snake had kissed him. "Yes, that kiss, to be willing to risk suffocation to kiss me ... he loves me."

* * *

It was almost nine o'clock by the time Snake got to the congress building, changed into his uniform (appearances before Congress always required uniform, which he hated with a passion) and arrived in Owsley's office. Owsley wasn't pleased and glared at Snake as he stood before her desk. General Seeley was standing next to Owsley. He looked mildly displeased, but it was no secret he didn't like Owsley, so it was up in the air exactly what he was displeased about. On a com screen behind Owsley, Tanith's image shimmered.

"Do you have any idea what time it is, Captain?" Owsley asked.

Tanith and Seeley cringed at the insult. For a Martian to be accused of not knowing the time was about as low as one could get.

Snake bristled. He had his own insults to share, but he governed his venom. He had pinged a message to Tanith before he'd left for the hospital, and he knew the message had been duly relayed. But did Owsley give a damn about that? Apparently not. "Forgive me," Snake said, "but my partner is dying."

Owsley sneered. Snake hadn't expected the news to soften her. She couldn't care less about a soldier's personal life.

Owsley looked down at a report scrolling up the screen built into the top of her desk. "The city of Enyo has been taken over by the Gurstockian invaders. We've reports of a few human casualties. No Martian casualties. This occurred precisely ten hours after you made your initial report of PAM 78.2's warning. Many humans are reported to be enslaved in their own homes at this point. We've shared this information with the proper human officials. Now, if you would, Captain, I'll hear your report."

Snake dutifully presented his report and still left out Hope's name, knowing full well that Owsley knew he'd lied about anyone else being involved. He didn't care. He didn't want Hope dragged into this mess, and he was sorry that he'd had to reveal his real job to her.

"Thank you, Captain Theriot," Seeley said when Snake was finished.

"I find your report lacking, Captain," Owsley said.

"If you mean how PAM came into my possession, then yes, my report is lacking," Snake said. "I invoked the oath last night, and I'll continue to do so."


"Because it's my duty."

"Hope Iverson is hardly an innocent, Captain."

Snake clenched his teeth. He should have figured Owsley would know.

"Do you know who she is?"

"She runs the coffee bar at the station."

"She's the widow of Dr. Erik Iverson, who was a professor of atmospheric science at the university."

Snake blinked and shook his head. Whatever connection Owsley was expecting him to make wasn't there.

"That makes her the daughter-in-law of Dr. Fredrick Iverson."

That name, he knew. Dr. Fredrick Iverson had been the one to assure the Martians that the change in their atmosphere would do them no harm. Iverson had been wrong, so very, very wrong, but it wasn't his fault. He couldn't have known. He'd done his research with due diligence and found no warnings. Or if he had found any dangers, they were ignored. Snake had nothing against the man, his dead son or his daughter-in-law. He wondered what made it such an issue for Owsley.

"So, Captain, why are you continuing to protect her?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't."

Owsley looked at Seeley. "General?"

Seeley glanced at her sheepishly. "Captain, you're disobeying a congressional order for full disclosure," he said. "If you don't comply, you'll be arrested and charged with treason."

"Permission to speak freely," Snake said.

Seeley nodded.

"Fuck the order. Hope has nothing to do with this. Her involvement is purely chance, and I don't believe she should be prosecuted for her father-in-law's actions, especially since it's unlikely she had anything to do with his proclamation. And what you allowed the humans to do to the atmosphere isn't their crime. It's yours."

Seeley looked away. Tanith hissed through her teeth. Owsley narrowed her eyes and slowly stood up.

"You are treading a very fine line, Captain Theriot," Owsley said.

"Thank you for making such a challenge possible."

"Captain, please," Seeley said.

"Why did PAM go to Ms. Iverson? Did it occur to you that she might be a Gurstockian agent?" Owsley asked.

"No," Snake said.

Lights flickered on a bank of monitors in front of Tanith. "Agents have arrived at Ms. Iverson's apartment," Tanith reported. "She's not there."

"You can't protect her forever, Captain," Owsley said.

"I can try," Snake said.

"You're dismissed."

Snake looked at Seeley. Seeley nodded, and both of them left the room. Seeley stopped the elevator between floors.

"Please don't try to interrogate me, sir," Snake said. "I have nothing more to say."

Seeley shook his head. "I know," he said. "I believe you. Snake, if anyone's a Gurstockian agent, it's Owsley. That bit you said about it being her crime that the humans changed the atmosphere ... that hit her hard. I had Tanith monitoring her, and when you said that ..."

"So she was deflecting guilt onto Hope."


"Damn it."

"You've got every right to protect Hope. I understand she's your friend, and you're right. She's innocent, and she's not safe. I don't think you are either."

"What do you want me do?"

"Get to your safe house. Get Hope there as well."

"I can't leave Faolan alone, and he's not well enough to move like that."

"Then make other arrangements. I've got Tanith patching up a secure line for us. Ping me when you're settled."

Snake nodded. Seeley released the elevator, and they rode to the ground floor in silence.

* * *

Snake didn't bother to change out of his uniform when he left the congressional offices. He didn't know how much time he had before Owsley's agents would figure out where he lived and decide to see if he was hiding Hope there. SS members' addresses were considered top secret information, and even Owsley would have to jump through hoops to get it. That didn't mean she wouldn't jump quickly.

Hope was sitting beside the bed, holding Faolan's hand as Faolan drifted in and out of uncomfortable sleep. Tears sprang to her eyes as soon as she looked up at Snake. "It was so sudden," she whispered. "He was all right when we got back, and then he just got so sick. He couldn't even keep down a glass of water."

Snake knelt beside the bed and took Faolan's hand from Hope. He kissed Faolan's knuckles and felt the fingers of Faolan's free hand twist into his hair. He looked up, still holding Faolan's hand against his lips.

Faolan smiled weakly. "You're so handsome in uniform," he said. "Glad I get to see that again."

"Faolan, don't ..."

"I don't want to wait three months."

"Faolan ..."

"It hurts, Snake. I don't want this. We talked about this already. It's time. I'm ready."

"I'm not."

"Snake, please."

Snake said nothing.

Hope stood up. "I'll leave you two alone," she said. She brushed her fingers along Faolan's cheek. He returned the gesture. "Goodbye, Faolan. I'm glad I got to know you."

"Me, too," Faolan said.

Hope touched Snake's cheek and left the room, closing the door gently behind her.

* * *

There was nothing Hope could do but watch the clock and wait. Part of her wanted to stop them. She wanted to tell them that there was still time, that they didn't have to take such drastic action so soon. But then, she knew better. Her husband's last days hadn't been as peaceful as they should have been. Erik knew that when his time ran out, it would be painful. He would be sick and weak. He hadn't wanted to suffer through that. He hadn't wanted Hope to go through that, but she had had such a hard time letting him go. For a month, they had argued about it, and finally when he had been a trembling sack of skin over crumbling bones, puking up blood and unable to control his bowels and bladder, she had fed him the pills, apologizing over and over, hating herself for being so selfish. Erik hadn't blamed her at all. He had understood, but all the same, he had been glad she'd come to the same conclusion he had. Snake and Faolan were doing the right thing.

Half an hour later, Snake came out of the bedroom. He'd taken off his uniform jacket and the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to his elbows. He looked disoriented and empty. Hope stood up from the sofa. He looked at her but said nothing. She went over to him and put her hands against his cheeks. He felt to her like a glass overfilled, tenuous surface tension holding back a flood.

She tried not to look into the bedroom behind him. She kept her gaze on his eyes, his strange Martian eyes, pitch black where humans had white, irises like voids and pupils like shadows. The iridescent colors that swirled in the blacks of Martian eyes were absent in Snake's eyes. She'd never seen that happen before.

"Oh Snake," she whispered.

He closed his eyes, put his hands on her wrists and took a deep breath. "I'm okay," he said. "We have to get out of here."

The words had barely left Snake's mouth when the front door burst inward, sending shards of steel and brass shooting across the living room. If Hope had still been sitting on the sofa, she would have been full of shrapnel. Snake grabbed her arm and yanked her back towards the bedroom door, safely behind him, as four Martians in full combat gear fanned into the living room.

"Captain Theriot, Ms. Iverson, come with us," the leader of the group said.

Snake studied the men. Three of them had machine guns aimed at him and Hope. The leader had only a pistol, and he hadn't drawn it yet. He advanced towards Snake, slowly, his left hand held up in front of him, his right hand on the butt of his holstered weapon.

"Hope, go to the closet in the bedroom. There's a locked trunk in there. Key's in my jacket. Get the bag that's in the trunk and stay in the closet until I come and get you," Snake said.

"Captain, be reasonable," the leader said. "You're outnumbered and unarmed."

"I'm insulted the bitch only sent four of you."

"Snake, what are you doing?" Hope asked. She was aware that she was holding onto his hand a little too tightly, but she felt that if she didn't, she'd lose him.

He gave her a gentle shove. "Go," he said.

She hesitated for just a second and then scrambled for the closet.

"Captain, I'm giving you one more chance to surrender peacefully," the leader said.

"Fuck you."

Snake shifted into a fighting stance, and the men shuffled nervously. If they were going to shoot him, they would have done it already. Firearms were a Martian's weapon of last resort. They were afraid to face him hand-to-hand, but they would do that before they shot him.

It was a short fight. Grief made Snake aggressive and careless. He was barely aware that he was engaged in combat. Everything was distant, dull and slow. The only thing that was absolutely clear was a shriek from the bedroom when the leader's pistol went off. Snake didn't realize he had been shot until the last man was dead and he came slowly back to reality. The bullet had grazed his left bicep, and he stared at the wound for a moment, watching his blood seep into the threads of his shirt. He shook himself out of his daze and went into the bedroom.

Hope yelped when Snake slid the closet door open. She clutched the bag in her lap and looked up, her eyes deep wells of fear.

"Come on, let's go," Snake said. He held his hand out to her.

She took it and stood. "You're hurt," she said.

"It's nothing."

"But --"

"I'm not feeling it right now. You can be my nurse later. When we're safe."

"What the --"

He put his finger against her mask. "Not now."

She nodded.

Snake took the bag from Hope and darted back out to the living room. He tucked the leader's pistol into his waistband and clipped a communicator to the front of his shirt. He shoved one of the machine guns into the bag and emptied the others of their ammunition. He had more weapons as the lighthouse, but extras wouldn't hurt. He pulled a thick metal disk from the bag and clipped it to his belt buckle. He zipped up the bag, threw it over his shoulder and darted back into the bedroom. He snatched his mask off the bedside table, sparing one last glance at Faolan's still form beneath the thin bed sheet. He put the mask on and wrapped one arm around Hope's waist.

She gasped in surprise.

"Ready?" he asked.

She wasn't sure, but she nodded anyway.

He kicked in the sealed window. "Hold on."

She coiled her arms around his neck, buried her face against his shoulder and squeezed her eyes shut. She knew what came next. She'd seen so many old movies where the handsome, fearless spy leaped through a window or off a roof or out of an airplane with his screeching love interest clinging to him. Hope tried not to screech. She might have moaned a little.

They touched the ground gentler than Hope expected. She opened her eyes when Snake let go of her and watched a nearly invisible zipline retract into the disk on his belt.

He grabbed her hand, and they ran.

To be continued ...

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-08-31
2 Reader Comments
06:07:44 AM
Poor Faolan. Poor Snake. Damn Owsley. I can't wait to see where the story goes from here . . .
03:39:24 PM
Wow Mel, once again you have me totally entranced with your story. I'm with Guardian - can't wait for next week!
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