A Marked Man

Author: Rick Tobin

He wandered in idle thought. Not like practicing poking on oranges or pigskin, before both disappeared. Can’t get them shipped to Mars since the war. This guy’s skin is tougher than expected. A wrong needle plunge and free-range nanobots will rip him up. Got to keep it in the upper layers. Ink looks better there, too. It’s hell breaking ground for interactive tattoos.

“How much longer?” complained the stalwart mechanic, leaning on his other bulging arm toward Julias Campford, master tattoo artist.

“Can’t be rushed, buddy,” Julias replied, focusing on needle pressure and nanobots sliding through silvery tubes from a cryocabinet. “Bots are delicate. You push these buggers too fast and they shut down…then no automation. You want a tat that just sits there, like old times?” Julias squinted at the design his client requested—a mishmash of meaningless lines and symbols.

“Just speed it up. I gotta catch a shuttle back to Earth in two hours.” The customer twisted his neck side-to-side, cracking tight vertebrae.

“I know that sound,” Julias added, continuing his art. “My discs are still compressed from bad landings at Hellas Basin. No excuse. Those Tesla engines still have bugs.”

Campford focused on repeating the desired, odd pattern. Gurgling sounds rose from the cryopump pulsing out integrated robotics into fresh flesh. Julius was anxious about any new client willing to sign a waiver for his innovation; so focused that he didn’t hear room wall perforations as a projectile left most of his patient’s head splattered against a display catalog of tattoo design choices.

He froze. Sweat ran through his gray beard onto his wrinkled neck.

“Don’t move,” shouted an electronic voice, as Red Suits surged through his parlor, kicking aside waiting-area chairs and reading lamps.

Red Suits meant trouble or fame… a prison sentence on Ceres, or an award on the Net. Julias imagined the worse.

“You’re Julias Campford?” asked a soldier-shaped robot, with no face, but heavily armed.

Julias nodded slowly, remembering what Mars security forces did to resistors.

“You know this one?” The officer pointed at remains below Campford’s shaking hands.

“No. He just came in this morning. I was in the middle of…”

“Scanning.” A metallic voice came from within the officer as laser light passed over Campford’s new tattoo.

“What is this about, officer?” Campford asked, slowly straightening his stiff back.

“Earther, this one. Had our latest weapon technology they want. Office requests…can you make these move?” It pointed at arm markings.

“Yes,” Campford responded, as he pushed on the symbols. They twirled about, connecting into a complete diagram. The unexpected results stunned Campford. He felt his impending doom.

“You can repeat?” It questioned further.

“Yes, but, it’s experimental. I didn’t know it would do this.” Julius pointed to the corpse’s arm as it continued forming a weapon’s diagnostic using the nanobot ink.

“Julius Campford, your brilliance is identified.” A new, human voice rose out of his captor. “This is General Pothos. You have a skill of utmost importance for national security.”

“I what?” stammered Julius.

“Under the Mars Rendition Act, I am inducting you into our most secure operations base. We have no solution to our human pilots losing short-term memory while traversing to mining operations near Jupiter. Your art ensures they won’t forget their mission…ever. Can you add sound?”

“General…I’m honored, but this is all so new. I’m old. I could make mistakes.”

“Better than losing a ship.”

“So I’m…”

“Yes, drafted.”

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