Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The alarm of the Olympia Undae Penitentiary snapped warden Jacobs from a deep sleep. He hurried down to the den to access his computer terminal, only to be greeted by a dozen escaped convicts. Jacobs recognized them as members of the Tharsis gang, a group of third and fourth generation settlers known for their sadistic brutality. He glanced at his phaser rifle above the mantel.

“Don’t even think about it Warden,” growled one of the prisoners. “As you can see, we have weapons. Your guards in the armory insisted that we help ourselves. Well, that’s what they would have said if they were alive.” The prisoners broke into laughter.

“You can’t escape,” argued Jacobs. “There’s no place on Mars that you can hide. Surrender now, before things escalate out of control.”

“It’s already too late, Warden. Besides, we don’t plan to stay on Mars. That’s why we came here. You’re going to take us to your ship in orbit, and then to the asteroid belt. We have a standing invitation to join the pirates.”

“I have no intention to take you anywhere. I’ll die first.”

Just then, three convicts marched down the steps dragging the warden’s wife and two children. “I never understood,” stated the lead convict, “why there is a policy to house the warden’s family on prison property, but I’m not complaining. Now, take us to your shuttle.”

Reluctantly, Jacobs lead them to the attached hanger. The shuttle was only designed to hold twelve, but they all crammed in. Jacobs was glad to see that his wife and children were placed in seats. Jacobs sat at the pilot station. He did not delude himself. He knew that it was unlikely that he or his family would survive. If they weren’t shot down by security, they would certainly be killed when they reached the asteroid belt. As he programmed the shuttle for lift off, he committed to a desperate plan.

The lead convict grabbed the radio. “This is the Warden’s shuttle; we have four hostages on board. Stand down, or we’ll start executing the children.” The hanger doors opened and the shuttle lifted off. It was not confronted. The shuttle climbed through the thin Martian atmosphere, and headed toward the harbor in orbit. At an elevation of 100,000 meters, the computer shut down the main engine. The shuttle leveled out and began to fall toward the red Martian surface.

“He’s trying to kill us all,” yelled one of the convicts.

“No, I swear,” pleaded the warden. “Not with my family on board. I don’t know what happened. I can restart the engine as soon as it cools down to 2000K.” When the shuttle dropped to 20,000 meters, Jacobs restarted the engine and pulled back hard on the controls. As he watched the accelerometer climb to 7g’s he strained to keep from passing out. When he leveled the shuttle at 50,000 meters, the convicts were motionless on the deck. His wife and children were unconscious, but still breathing. He activated the radio, “Warden to AUP, the situation is under control. I’m returning to base. Have medical teams standing by.”

The warden helped his family off the shuttle; the children were crying. Armed security guards rushed toward the shuttle. “That won’t be necessary Sergeant. They’re all dead.”

“But how?”

“Simple physiology. My family and I were born on Earth. We’ve only been on Mars for a few months. Those guys are third generation Marsers. They’ve lived at 0.4g all their lives. When I pulled 7g’s on the shuttle, it felt like 17g’s to them. Their weakened bodies couldn’t take it.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows