Author: Alastair Millar

They got us on Gagarin Avenue, by Central Hub’s tourist centre with its garish scrolling ads.

Janey and I had borrowed one of ’Lymp’s crawlers for the two day trek back to Marsport. Everyone assumed we were just using the independence referendum as an excuse to catch some R&R, but we planned to register our partnership too; just in case of accidents, we told each other, knowing it was a bigger deal.

Back at base, we hadn’t been able to escape the political posturing in the run-up. The Interplanetary Alliance’s silly ‘Forward together!’ slogan sounded weak and ineffectual. The Arean League was encouraging local autonomy over colonial dictates from Earth; given how little the sweat and dedication of Martians meant to the terrestrial agencies, that sounded good. Like a lot of people, we were both starting to think that it was time for Mars to strike out on its own.

But here and now, Security heavies kitted out in suppression gear were doing stop-and-search, GuardEyes floating overhead. The rideshare pod we’d picked up at the city airlock slowed down as one of the troopers sent an override from her handset. The important thing was to stay patient and polite: Seccies weren’t known for their sense of humour. I dropped the side screen without being asked.

“Hey, Sergeant. How can I help?”
“IDs,” was the only reply.
I handed over our chipcards, and they went through his scanner.
“Jones and Raines. Huh, more Earthers” he sneered. His badge read ‘Domer’, a good Martian name.
“Weapons? Liquor? Recreationals?”
“No sir, abolutely not”. Neutral tone, eyes front, don’t make eye contact.
“Open up the back.”
I pressed a button, and another squaddie poked into the empty space behind me. What did they think we had in there – unlisted supplies? A contraband pet? As if!
“What are you doing here, Earthers?” I noticed the League patch on his breast pocket.
“We’re Martians. In town for a few days, going to vote. We work climate research at Olympus Mons.”
“Can’t hold real jobs huh? Get out of the pod, slowly. Up against the vehicle, empty your pockets on the roof, thumbs and forefingers only. Spread your arms and legs.”
We obeyed. It wasn’t like we had a choice.

We stood frozen while they continued going over the car. By the time they were sweeping beneath the chassis I was stiff and my arms were hurting, but moving without permission would be dumb. Never cause trouble, never give them an excuse. Anything could be called ‘resisting legitimate authority’, and RLA’s led to a world of hurt.

When it was over, they dismissed us with casual contempt. I hated that. I was a Citizen, I hadn’t done anything wrong, but these goons acted like I was some kind of cockroach.

Guys like these Seccies, it was obvious how they’d vote. And clearly they were looking forward to sticking it to people like us – folk with the ‘wrong’ names, people who worked with their brains not their muscles. Did I want to take the next step in a relationship by associating with that kind of mentality?

Janey raised an eyebrow at me as I took a deep breath.

“I think we should talk before we go to vote,” I said.