The newly terraformed Mars: A masterpiece of human ingenuity. Many hopes, dreams and, of course, decades of research has led up to this point. It's proof that humans have always looked towards the future. And I am no different, but all over Mars we see reminders of our own past.
There are various points in human history that make me wonder how we didn't wipe ourselves off of the face of the Earth. We humans could have so easily ended up like the Martian life that existed here before us: extinct. The changing Martian climate certainly took its toll on the young species.
All over Mars, mostly under the ground, we see relics of past life, long since departed. The Martian lifeforms were much like the ancient Maya back on Earth. They built many great structures, and had thriving colonies, but they suddenly disappeared, and nobody has ever found out why exactly they declined*.
Looking out of the window of my apartment, at the military base and the ferrous Martian soil, I see an omen of my own future: The state of the art ship I'll be living in for the next few months. It's a beautiful piece of machinery and a glorious example of what contemporary technology and engineering can do.
From the bridge at the top of the bow she flows elegantly downwards, diagonally, at about a forty-five degree angle, before meeting with the crimson Martian soil. She's so tall and curvy. She's just like my girlfriend, but she's not as sexy as her, of course.
I know that to some, Maxine's beauty may not seem obvious, but she's the best thing that ever happened to me. Most of her beauty lies within rather than without. But, not only is she charming and intelligent, she has that hour glass figure. I don't know what I'd do without her. Could I cope? She's always there to support me, always there to give me a shoulder to lean on, always there to keep me company.
That's it! When I get back from my tour of duty I'm going to ask her to marry me! That is, unless she asks me to marry her first. She's a fiercely independent woman and has always been one for the unexpected, so who knows?
And here she comes now. I hear the feint sound of each meticulous step, as she walks softly across the carpeted floor up to me – which must mean that she's finished her shower. Her arms wrap tenderly around my chest, forcing their way underneath my arms, in a telling embrace. I then feel her long brunette hair brush against my neck.
Her lips come into contact with my cheek, and I, all of a sudden, freeze. The way she sensuously brushes her lips against my face always manages to leave me in a trance. As her lips continue to flirt with my face, like a feisty young feline on the prowl, waiting for just the right moment to pounce and go in for the kill, her arms gently rub against the muscles of my torso.
Shivers go down my spine as her hands move from the top of my chest, lower and lower, closer and closer, probing; wanting to go down and see if there has been a reaction – which of course there has been. I always try to resist her charm, but I just can't! She's such an expert at this, and things are really beginning to heat up.
I want to push her arms away, to save myself from any further embarrassment, but I feel powerless. Love is the greatest form of magic, and I seem to have succumbed to her latest spell. She has me right where she wants me. I'm under her control – and there's nothing that I can do about it.
Her hands continue exploring my stomach, creeping slowly downwards, but they pause at my waist. She loves to tease me. She's an expert at teasing me. I really thought she was going to go for it this time. We don't have much time left together after all.
A couple more hours or so and I'll be well on my way out of the Solar System, and she may never seem me again. Hopefully she will, but one should never be complacent. If I lose my concentration, even just for a split second, it could be the end for me.
I tilt my head upwards in order to get a better view of what will be my home for the next while. I'm sure I'll be fine. She's state of the art. But I can't get complacent, not with who were going up against. Our enemy on this mission isn't a simple band of pirates that stalk the interstellar gas and dust clouds.
"Sidney," I hear her whisper in my ear.
"Yes," I reply flatly.
By now I've become used to her advances, so I'm not too flustered, even if I do often feel powerless to stop her. Somehow though, she can still give me goose bumps with every whisper.
"Come back in one piece won't you? I can only admire your body if you're alive and in one piece. I need you here, with me."
"Of course I will. You know me."
"I've always admired your confidence."
"Thanks. I won't let you down. I'm sure you don't need reminding who our enemy for this mission is, right?"
Just thinking about our target for this mission – Eris, a self-proclaimed goddess – gives me the creeps. She and her band of so-called 'Angels' manage to strike fear into the hearts of even some of the most hardened of servicemen and women. People often claim I'm incredibly brave, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared of Eris.
Her Angels have been known to appear anywhere on the edge of the known universe. But if you ask anyone where she came from you'll get mixed responses. Eris claims that she and her angels come from somewhere in the Rosette Nebula, though there isn't any proof of this. Makes me wonder what's so special about that nebula. It's not as big as some of the others. My guess is the name and the colour, although that's probably rather ignorant.
But women do like that sort of colour. I mean, that's the typical colour of lipstick. I don't like that colour though. The intense reds of the nebula remind me of blood for some reason. Plus, looking at old pictures of it I see a kind of skull shape. Could this be an omen?
I want to think that its just pure coincidence, but many brave adventurers have died there – even before Eris's rise to fame. The intense dust makes it hard to navigate and means that ships are not be able to rely on visual information. And, on top of that, there are a seemingly infinite number of asteroids. If I could set up a successful mining operation there I'd be a billionaire in no time at all, I'm sure! Which reminds me, I wonder how Eris managed to acquire all the technology that she has...? My girlfriend suddenly breaks my chain of thought.
"No, of course not; we talked it over yesterday, remember? It's just...well, you're known as a risk taker."
"I can't back down now. My luggage is already on the ship and I'm going to be leaving soon. I'll look like a coward in front of my comrades."
"There's bravery and then there's stupidity. Isn't that what you always told people?"
"But I have to do this! We can't let that big bully, Eris, win!"
It pains me to have to do this but there's no turning back now. We remain in our room for a while longer, talking, until the public address system says that it's time for me to leave. Just outside our state of the art ship, when I'm about to walk up the stairs to the crew entrance, is where we exchange our last words. I manage to pick out her voice from amongst the many onlookers standing alongside the parade of personnel, and see her sweet face in the second row of people.
"Goodbye, Sidney," I hear her call, "Bring back a trophy, or two, won't you?"
"I'll try," I reply, desperately trying to hold back my tears. "Maybe I'll be able to bring back a set of Eris's underwear or something. A huge bra would make a fine hammock!"
I really want to say more, but I can't hold up the line of personnel. I'm sure they are all just as eager as I am to explore the innards of this state of the art ship. Hard to believe my squadron was one of the ones selected for this mission. They must think we're really special. There's been so much hype about this new ship.
Unfortunately, the inside doesn't seem to live up to the expectation. I was expecting something sleek given it's sexy exterior. Instead, what I find is a sterile environment. Whether or not there are enough pleasantries to keep me sane remains to be seen, but they do say that this ship is state of the art. Hopefully there's at least a good Intranet on board.
Sadly, I can't stop and examine the ship in detail just yet, as we all have to make our way to the its canteen. Although the line dissipates upon entering the ship, everyone still manages to remain fairly organized. As I'm about to enter the canteen, I feel a hand on my shoulder.
"Hey Sidney," says a feminine voice behind me, as I walk through the doors.
"Oh, Jasmine, it's so nice to finally see you again. It's been weeks! How was your holiday to Olympus Mons?"
Before turning to look at Jasmine, I take a moment to study the canteen. There looks as if there are hundreds of seats, and above most of the gangways are monitors and security cameras. In the distance there are several other doors and the various kitchens. Then I turn to see her curly auburn hair and hazel eyes once again. Like me, she's still dressed in casual clothes.
"It was wonderful, thanks for asking! How are things going with Maxine?"
"Things are going great. When I get back I might just ask her to marry me. Unless she asks me first of course. You know how she is."
"For sure. Wonder what's going to happen in the..."
Suddenly all of the monitors hung from the canteen's ceiling turn on. A man with greying hair in a white naval suit, decorated with many medals, appears on the screens. Everyone stands to attention as he begins to talk.
"Welcome everyone. This is your ship's captain speaking..." he says with a clear stiff upper lip.
Guess he didn't get to the top by being nice to people. Hopefully he'll at least pretend to care, unlike our previous captain. Man, he was a real bastard.
"Well that answers that question," Jasmine whispers to me.
"As you are all aware, this mission is no ordinary mission. First let me congratulate you all on being selected. You are some of the finest pilots in the navy. Even in this age of robotics, we still need aces like yourselves, and I thank you for putting your lives on the line.
As you know, this mission will be a true test of your skills. Our enemy isn't the simple pirates or renegade colonists you may be used to. Our enemy on this assignment is the mysterious demon Eris. And I'm sure that I don't need to remind of what she is capable of. There's no shame in dying but just don't be a pussy and surrender to her. You will die anyway and you will look like a coward.
I'll have more information for you later. For now, acquaint yourself with the facilities. The stewards will be happy to show you to your sleeping quarters if you give them your section number. We leave in an hour. Thank you, that is all for now. Good day to you all."
Ah, he doesn't seem so bad as a captain. I'm sure we'll get along just fine. All I want is a little empathy.
"Psst, Sidney, did you hear the rumour?" Jasmine says, placing one hand beside her lips.
"Mining vessels have been spotted coming out of Eris's territory."
"But how? Eris is said not to let anybody escape her star system alive. Ships aren't even allowed to get anywhere near the system."
"It's just a rumour I heard when I was holidaying. There are lots of miners that frequent that area of Mars. I don't know how they heard about it. I was speaking to one man; I said I was in the navy and one thing led to another."
"And why mining vessels, of all ships?"
Suspicious mining vessels, giant women, battles of an epic scale. Sounds like a conspiracy to me. This has the makings of a great film. I bet the crazy part of the Web is full of theories.
"I'm as clueless as you are Sidney. How about we go and find Brandon and explore the ship so we can take our minds off of Eris for a while?"
"That would be great. I'm feeling very uneasy about the whole mission."
"You're not alone," I hear a nearby male voice say.
It's Brandon. I haven't seen him a while either. Wonder what he's been up to since I last spoke to him.
"Hey, how have you been?" I ask him.
He feigns a smile. His bright blue eyes tell the story of a man with much on his mind. Guess things haven't been going so well for him.
"Well, I've been spending a lot of time in the gym recently. You know, to take my mind off of our latest assignment."
"If there's anything you want to talk about, you know Jasmine and I are always ready to listen."
"It's okay. Aren't you worried about her too?"
"We'd be lying if we said we didn't," interjects Jasmine.
"But I'm sure we'll be fine," I say, attempting to reassure Brandon, "The technology on this ship is all new. Eris won't know what hit her."
"I hope you're right Sidney..." Brandon replies, with obvious unease.
I hope I haven't underestimated Eris. The military has a nasty habit of doing just that. She's more powerful than we dared dream.