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Episode 1 | Missionary To Mars

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“Where’s Eustis?” asked Fred Gibbs. 

“Probably sharing with some street creep,” Leena Bickle said with a dismissive wave and a smile. The others laughed. “You know how Eustis is. Planting seeds everywhere he goes. He’ll get here when he’s ready to be here. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind us starting without him.” 

The others nodded in warm agreement. Martha Grambling laid a gentle hand on the shoulder of her husband, Todd. They sat next to the window. As the motion in the room stilled, Fred brought his voice above the gentle murmur. 

“Thanks for coming, everyone,” Todd said, smiling as he looked around the room. “Especially thanks to Melone for baking that wonderful apple pie. I can’t wait to dig in, but before we do, let’s—” 

A loud explosion ripped the front door off the hinges. The house rattled as glass sprayed onto the wooden floor. A blast of smoke and splintered shrapnel fired into the living room stinging the skin and eyes of everyone there. Fred Gibbs was on his feet. Everyone’s ears were ringing, but they could hear Fred through the din. “They’ve found us! Scatter!” 

The dozen occupants of the living room spread out, moving quickly for the two exits. Leena Bickle and Sue Tuttle were rushing toward the stairs but skidded to a stop across shards of glass. A scream pierced the flurry of footsteps behind them. Leena Bickle collapsed to her knees and interlocked her fingers as Sue Tuttle’s eyes locked on a mortifying silhouette. It couldn’t be. The shape of an enormous man, clad in black battle suit, drifted ominously into view. His head would have hit the wood if the doorframe hadn’t already been blown to cinders. “The admiral,” she whispered as she tripped backward over an upturned chair. 

Black boots crunched the shattered remains of the nearby window, and ozone mixed with the smell of charred wood. The hinges that hung where the door had been glowed orange and set the splintered frame ablaze. Wisps of black smoke swirled around the dark silhouette as he moved deeper into the room. His dark eyes scanned the scrambling contents of the house, logging the IDs of each of his prey. 

Leena Bickle did not look up from her prostrate posture and thus did not see the black-clad man charge his power glove and drive his knuckle down on her bowed head. She went limp and splayed across the debris below. Before Sue Tuttle could find her feet, the dark intruder unholstered a sidearm and fired a bolt of plasma through the woman. Her screams were squelched immediately. 

“Stop!” Fred Gibbs shouted as he rushed to block the path of the death dealer. “We’re not hurting anyone!” Fred’s attempt to shield the others was short-lived, as the executioner tapped the back of his power glove and swung his fist in a wide path catching Fred across the temple, sending a hundred thousand volts of electricity into Fred’s face. He fell in a heap. Flames spread from the broken door frame to the curtains. Smoke licked hungrily across the ceiling. An overhead sprinkler popped and began spraying water to quell the fire. 

“Disable fire suppression,” the battle-clad man said. His deep-rumbling voice was calm and detached. A beep followed. 

“Yes, Sir,” came the response over his cortical communicator. The sprinklers sputtered out, and the hiss of water turning to steam was replaced by the crackle of a roaring blaze. 

Two people hiding behind the couch slipped out behind the massive killer and rushed through the growing flames trying for the back door. 

“HEXA. Two dissidents at the back exit,” the admiral said. A beep confirmed that the command was received, and a spray of gunfire from outside the house cut through the pair fleeing for their lives. “Eliminated. Ceasefire.” The explosive cascade of plasma bolts stopped at once. 

The man drifted through the house like a shadow. He executed three more people in the laundry room and another hiding under the kitchen table. 

“Pulse scan,” he said—a beep issued from his cortical implant.

“There’s one hiding in the upstairs bathroom, Admiral,” HEXA, his A.I. assistant, responded over the comm. “Correction, make that two.” 

Without a word, the admiral turned and began up the stairs. Before he reached the top, HEXA came across the radio once more. “Sir, one of them is making a call.” 

“Trace it.” 

“Can’t, Sir. It’s an encrypted line,” HEXA said. “But I can give you a raw audio feed.” 

“Put it through.” The Admiral paused on the stairs listening to the embedded audio on his cortex implant. A thin voice, a woman’s, was speaking. 

“Don’t come here,” she was saying. The Admiral’s cortical display blinked with a voice ID notification. The person speaking was someone called Martha Grambling. A second notification sounded. Her name appeared on the dissident database. “There’s nothing you can do, Sweetie. I know you want to help, but GovCorp found us. They killed—everyone’s—they’re probably all dead except me and Todd. We’re hiding. It won’t be long. You have to—” The voice paused for a second. She was listening to the other end of the call. Her ragged breathing set a frantic tempo before it broke into sobbing. 

“No,” a second voice cut in, a man’s. The admiral’s visual HUD blinked with a voice ID. Todd Grambling also on the dissident registry. “There’s nothing for you to do. We knew this might happen.” A long pause followed. “Listen, Eustis, you have to get off-world. We can’t let this die with us. We might be the last ones anywhere in the Sol System to know about—”

The bathroom door burst from its hinges, and a massive boot stepped in. Martha and Todd Grambling were huddled in the shower. The black-clad man raised his sidearm at them. 

“Please,” Todd Grambling said. “Let my wife go. You can kill me, but—“ 

Two bolts of plasma spat from his barrel, shattered the glass of the shower, and ended the conversation. The bodies landed on the tile with a thump as a blanket of glass fell around them. 

The admiral glanced through the broken bathroom door frame. The flames had reached the top of the stairs and were spreading down the hall. He turned toward the bathroom window, crouched, and made the hand gesture that brought the mechanized feature of his battle suit online. It pinged, letting him know it was ready for an augmented leap. 

He slapped a spot on his chest, which brought a protective visor over his head. He vaulted through the window and allowed his suit to execute a perfect dive toward the ground. At the last moment, his body tucked and rolled before coming up to his feet unharmed. Glass showered down around him as the house fire haloed his dark features with orange. 

A superimposed hologram of a man walked through the raining ash toward Admirał Strafe’s location on the front lawn. HEXA, Strafe’s A.I. assistant, was the best chief logistics general manager he had ever employed. He’d certainly survived longer than his human predecessors who held the post. “You got them all, Sir, and you didn’t even need to call in the squad.” HEXA thumbed to a row of android soldiers. 

“Not all of them,” Strafe corrected. HEXA’s artificial image displayed a surprised expression. 

“None got out, and I’m scanning the house now, Sir. There aren’t any more inside. Even if there were, the fire would do them in.” 

“One was absent. Name is Eustis,” Strafe said. HEXA paused and began searching the database. 

“There’s no Eustis in the dissident registry. The database says they’re all—”

“I know what the database says. It’s wrong. Make a new entry. File it under Eustis.” Strafe slapped his chest to bring down his protective visor. “He’s in the city. Get me a location.” 

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