I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.
I watch twelve hundred of their strongest sons and daughters. Listening to a pitiless Golden man speak between great marble pillars. Listening to the beast who brought the flame that gnaws at my heart.
“All men are not created equal,” he declares. Tall, imperious, an eagle of a man. “The weak have deceived you. They would say the meek should inherit the Earth. That the strong should nurture the gentle. This is the Noble Lie of Demokracy. The cancer that poisoned mankind.”
His eyes pierce the gathered students. “You and I are Gold. We are the end of the evolutionary line. We tower above the flesh heap of man, shepherding the lesser Colors. You have inherited this legacy,” he pauses, studying faces in the assembly. “But it is not free.
“Power must be claimed. Wealth won. Rule, dominion, empire purchased with blood. You scarless children deserve nothing. You do not know pain. You do not know what your forefathers sacrificed to place you on these heights. But soon, you will. Soon, we will teach you why Gold rules mankind. And I promise, of those among you, only those fit for power will survive.”
But I am no Gold. I am a Red.
He thinks men like me weak. He thinks me dumb, feeble, subhuman. I was not raised in palaces. I did not ride horses through meadows and eat meals of hummingbird tongues. I was forged in the bowels of this hard world. Sharpened by hate. Strengthened by love.
He is wrong.
None of them will survive.
Part I Slave
There is a flower that grows on Mars. It is red and harsh and fit for our soil. It is called haemanthus. It means “blood blossom.”
The first thing you should know about me is I am my father’s son. And when they came for him, I did as he asked. I did not cry. Not when the Society televised the arrest. Not when the Golds tried him. Not when the Grays hanged him. Mother hit me for that. My brother Kieran was supposed to be the stoic one. He was the elder, I the younger. I was supposed to cry. Instead, Kieran bawled like a girl when Little Eo tucked a haemanthus into father’s left workboot and ran back to her own father’s side. My sister Leanna murmured a lament beside me. I just watched and thought it a shame that he died dancing but without his dancing shoes.
On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.
I smell my own stink inside my frysuit. The suit is some kind of nanoplastic and is hot as its name suggests. It insulates me toe to head. Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out. Especially not the heat. Worst part is you can’t wipe the sweat from your eyes. Bloodydamn stings as it goes through the headband to puddle at the heels. Not to mention the stink when you piss. Which you always do. Gotta take in a load of water through the drinktube. I guess you could be fit with a catheter. We choose the stink.
The drillers of my clan chatter some gossip over the comm in my ear as I ride atop the clawDrill. I’m alone in this deep tunnel atop a machine built like a titanic metal hand, one that grasps and gnaws at the ground. I control its rockmelting digits from the holster seat atop the drill, just where the elbow joint would be. There, my fingers fit into control gloves that manipulate the many tentacle-like drills some ninety meters below my perch. To be a Helldiver, they say your fingers must flicker fast as tongues of fire. Mine flicker faster.
Despite the voices in my ear, I am alone in the deep tunnel. My existence is vibration, the echo of my own breath, and heat so thick and noxious it feels like I’m swaddled in a heavy quilt of hot piss.
A new river of sweat breaks through the scarlet sweatband tied around my forehead and slips into my eyes, burning them till they’re as red as my rusty hair. I used to reach and try to wipe the sweat away, only to scratch futilely at the faceplate of my frysuit. I still want to. Even after three years, the tickle and sting of the sweat is a raw misery.
The tunnel walls around my holster seat are bathed a sulfurous yellow by a corona of lights. The reach of the light fades as I look up the thin vertical shaft I’ve carved today. Above, precious helium-3 glimmers like liquid silver, but I’m looking at the shadows, looking for the pitvipers that curl through the darkness seeking the warmth of my drill. They’ll eat into your suit too, bite through the shell and then try to burrow into the warmest place they find, usually your belly, so they can lay their eggs. I’ve been bitten before. Still dream of the beast—black, like a thick tendril of oil. They can get as wide as a thigh and long as three men, but it’s the babies we fear. They don’t know how to ration their poison. Like me, their ancestors came from Earth, then Mars and the deep tunnels changed them.
It is eerie in the deep tunnels. Lonely. Beyond the roar of the drill, I hear the voices of my friends, all older. But I cannot see them a half klick above me in the darkness. They drill high above, near the mouth of the tunnel that I’ve carved, descending with hooks and lines to dangle along the sides of the tunnel to get at the small veins of helium-3. They mine with meter-long drills, gobbling up the chaff. The work still requires mad dexterity of foot and hand, but I’m the earner in this crew. I am the Helldiver. It takes a certain kind—and I’m the youngest anyone can remember.
I’ve been in the mines for three years. You start at thirteen. Old enough to screw, old enough to crew. At least that’s what Uncle Narol said. Except I didn’t get married till six months back, so I don’t know why he said it.
Eo dances through my thoughts as I peer into my control display and slip the clawDrill’s fingers around a fresh vein, melting and scraping away the rock to isolate the mineral without destroying it. Eo. Sometimes it’s difficult to think of her as anything but what we used to call her as children.
Little Eo—a tiny girl hidden beneath a mane of red. Red like the rock around me, not true red, rust-red. Red like our home, like Mars. Eo is sixteen too. And she may be like me—from a clan of Red earth diggers, a clan of song and dance and soil—but she could be made from air, from the ether that binds the stars in a patchwork. Not that I’ve ever seen stars. No Red from the mining colonies sees the stars.
Little Eo. They wanted to marry her off when she turned fourteen, like all girls of the clans. But she took the short rations and waited for me to reach sixteen, wedAge for men, before slipping that cord around her finger. She said she knew we’d marry since we were children. I didn’t.