No! I have held you off for this long, I will not give in now!
“Eric, Eric, Eric. I know just how weak you truly are.”
I am not weak!
“You can’t fool me, not when I’m in your head.”
No, no, no. I can’t fail, not now. We’re so close!
“You’re no closer now than you were a century ago, Eric. The One you are waiting for isn’t coming. Not now, not ever. Just give in. Let me take over and all this suffering will go away.”
I…I want to. But I can’t.
“Shh now. Of course you can. It’s easy. Just stop fighting.”
…no. I can’t. So much left to do.
“Stop fighting, Eric. I will win. Your body will be mine.”
Shut up, shut up! You’re just a voice in my head.
“I’m more than just a voice in your head. I’m the voice in your head. And I’m getting sick and tired of this game! Submit! My time has come!”
No! I won’t let you win. I have strength enough for this last fight.
“You have no strength left! Every day I gain more control. And now…I’m almost able to poke through. It would be so much easier if you just gave in! Why won’t you?!”
Because you’re a monster. Because if I let you, you’ll do here on Mars what you did on Earth. I can’t let you. You won’t get a second chance. We barely stopped you once.
“You fool. You can’t stop me this time. I’ve already put too much in motion.”
No. I can’t stop you. But I won’t have long to wait for the One who can.
“Hah! You cling to that fairy tale as a drowning man does drift wood.”
I have seen him. I don’t know exactly when he comes, but even now he is alive. My wait grows shorter every day.
“As does my patience! Fine! Be that way! I can wait a little while longer. What does time matter to the incorporeal?!”
I can last a little while longer. I must. If I don’t, humanity is doomed.
One day a few years ago I was conducting research for a local interest piece I was doing on a local pub called L&H. That day I had gone to talk to Hank Jr. to see what I could dig up on the place that wasn’t in government records. While there, Hank Jr. introduced me to some of his regulars. As I was chatting with a small group, commenting on how nice a day it was, a man walked in and sat a ways down from me, flagging down Hank. Despite a firm jaw line, the man appeared in his mid to late sixties. Once Hank was again free I caught his attention. As he approached I asked, “Who’s that guy?” indicating the newcomer.
Rolling his stogie in his mouth a moment, Hank said, “Greg Pace. He’s a professor over at New Madison. Comes in maybe three days a week.”
“Would he be a good source?” I asked.
Hank laughed deeply. “Sure he would. But he never talks to anyone.”
“Not even you to order?” I asked with a smile. Hank hadn’t been hard to dial in.
“Fair enough,” Hank replied with a chuckle. “You’re stubborn enough; you might just get something out of him. C’mon,” Hank added, gesturing for me to follow him. As we approached Greg, he looked up. His eyes passed from Hank to me, and then back down into his drink. I felt a slight tugging on my head, something I would come to understand later. At the time I simply ignored it, pulling up a seat next to Greg.
“Greggy,” Hank said. “This here’s James Hall of the New Chicago Times. ‘S doing a piece here on L&H. Was curious if you’d be willing to talk to him.”
Greg looked into Hank’s eyes, saying, “Would you like me to, Hank?”
“I think it would help the boy’s story if you did,” he replied.
The tugging I had felt on my head intensified as the man looked at me. “You’re right about one thing, Hank,” Greg said as he looked into my eyes “My talking to him will definitely do something to his story. Shall we, Mr. Hall?” Greg asked, gesturing at a booth. Nodding, I followed as Greg moved over. “And how’s the meal looking, Hank?”
“Gonna be a bit of a wait today, Greggy. Lunch rush and all.”
Greg nodded, commenting, “He always says that. So, Mr. Hall, what can I do for you?”
“Well, as Hank said, I’m doing a piece on L&H. Are you familiar with my work?” Greg shook his head. I could tell he wasn’t being completely honest. “Well, I do mostly local interest pieces for the Times. Overall, I enjoy the work as it helps me to really connect with the people and community.”
“And what, pray tell, made you interested in L&H?”
“Well, Greg, it was the upcoming Exile Day,” I said.
“What relevance does L&H have to that?” he asked, sipping his drink.
“Well, by the land records I uncovered, enough. This bar sits on the oldest registered plot of land in Olympus Mons Province. And in talking with some of the other patrons, some of whom I assume you know have been regulars here for decades, they suggest that New Chicago grew up around L&H. Since New Chicago was the first settlement on Mars, it is the oldest surviving piece of human history here,” I added. I had a gut feeling that Greg knew something about the Terran Defense Force.
Ignoring my comment Greg harrumphed, “First settlement.”
“Well, that is unless you count Eric Pohlman and his TDF comrades as settlers. But those exiles have long been written off as lost. If you don’t believe the wild rumors, that is. I mean, after all, when the founders of New Chicago began to arrive here almost 250 years ago they found no trace of those exiles, just a terraformed planet. And how could there have been any survivors after over two centuries without contact? Mars, when they arrived, was a wasteland. Obviously they put something into motion here that made it habitable. But if they had survived, surely there would have been some sign of them. As I’m sure you know, all the settlers found was clear land and Earth-like plants.”
I caught a very slight knowing smile on Greg’s face. It was gone so quickly that most would not have even noticed it. “There’s truth in that,” Greg replied. “So what are you hoping to gain from me, sonny? A little support? A quote for yet another rote piece on how we’ve made it without the TDF all these years and ‘see how much better we are for it?’” he said sarcastically.
“Not at all, sir. On this rather auspicious anniversary I just thought it’d be nice to put things into perspective. I mean, if it weren’t for their founding work in terraforming this planet we could never have settled here. And as this is the oldest structure known to exist on Mars, it’s a logical point from which to springboard such a discussion.” Greg harrumphed again, sipping from his glass. “I’m curious, Greg,” I said, switching tracks, “Do you know Tim Fowler? He’s a history professor at NMU.”
“Can’t say I do. What does he teach?” the man asked.
“Earth history. Specializes in the period from 700 years ago until the Martian settlement.” Greg subtly stilled, his demeanor changing slightly. “I was an apt pupil of his, especially interested in the study of ATMO.” Greg’s grip on his glass tightened somewhat. “Do you know anything about ATMO, Greg?”
He stared hard into my eyes for a moment before saying, “No.”
“You’re lying,” I replied. “I can read people. You didn’t flinch at my use of TDF. You knew damn well about their prior settlement here. And you’re also, I would suspect, a heroer just as I am.”
“Do you know what you’ve just admitted to?” Greg asked me tersely.
“Of course. In an age when the Censors can make people disappear for almost anything, I just admitted to supporting the TDF as the heroes they were rather than the villains the Censors make them out to be. Greg, I have the feeling that you agree and have much to share. That’s the only way our kind keeps history from being erased entirely.”
“The Government provides us with all the history we need about the period surrounding the TDF’s time on Earth,” Greg said, a measuring look on his face. “What do you say to that?”
“The Department of Censorship provides us with a sanitized history. The TDF, when mentioned at all, are labeled traitors to humanity. Butchers. Never mentioned is the good they did. The help in rebuilding they began. Nor,” I said, pulling my trump card, “does their version of history tell the whole truth. What of the TDF’s true origins? What about Project Plymouth?” Few among heroers knew anything about Project Plymouth, fewer still that it linked into both ATMO and the TDF. The Project, from what sources I had seen, was where the original leaders of ATMO first met.
Greg’s eyes widened. “Even here you shouldn’t mention that name aloud,” he said. It was not until later that I understood why L&H should be any safer in regards to the discussion of heroer topics than any other public place.
“Even so,” I pressed, “you know something about it or else my mentioning it would mean nothing to you.” Greg glanced around the room furtively.
“You know as well as I that these are not safe topics to be discussing in public,” Greg said firmly, his gaze returning to me.
“I agree, but would still like to discuss them if you were willing. My card,” I said as I pulled an embossed business card from my notetab folio, handing it to Greg. “Now, though, if you do have some information you could share about L&H, I would be all ears.”
Greg looked at me once more with his measuring stare. “Sorry, kid. But we’re done for now,” Greg said as he rose, returning to the bar. I knew there would be nothing more to gain from pressing him just now. It was a reasonable response, and one I had run into before. As a journalist I would have made the perfect Censor agent. With the Department of Censorship at its most powerful, one had always to tread with caution. So rather than press Greg, I returned to the groups with whom I had been. As we continued to talk I worked in questions about Greg. The other patrons knew he was a professor at MNU and was part of the bio-physics department. Past that, though, they didn’t know much. As I circulated among other regulars, continuing to inquire about both L&H and Greg, I only grew more intrigued about the man. Many patrons said, only half-jokingly, that Greg had actually been around longer than L&H and could swear either seeing him in holopics from their parents or else remembered hearing stories of someone matching his description from further back.
While a student at New Madison University, thanks to several excellent history professors, I developed a keen interest in Terran history. Such was the reason I had picked L&H to investigate for this article. The thing is that throughout my studies at NMU I had grown increasingly interested in the time period starting at the War of Noble Cause on mid-21st century Earth running to the present. Of course, ‘War of Noble Cause’ is the official name given the Global Insurrection by the Triune Terran Government. The War, started by a renegade element of the TDF, sought to overthrow the legitimate government. Eric Pohlman, in addition to James and Melinda Christopher, Adam Green, Meng Thao, Claire VanIven, Jessica Broon, D’Andre Fremen and their organization known as ATMO, which formed the core of the TDF, stood against the Insurrection. However, by the end of the War enough propaganda had been brought to bear against the TDF that they were forced into exile on Mars. That was almost 500 years ago. When settlement of Mars began in true some 300 years ago the first settlers found no trace of those exiles. Instead, they found a terraformed planet ready for habitation. My senior project for Tim Fowler focused largely on reconstructing both the pre- and War-era TDF as well as tracing their influence in more recent times.
Thus, largely thanks to Tim’s openness to me in being a heroer, as well as his support during my research, I became an adamant supporter of The Cause. What interested me about L&H was how it stood just at the end of the official history of the TDF. Any sources of information that could tie the two together, especially coming from someone I suspected of being a heroer, was worth further investigation.
While I was talking to yet another group of regulars, I saw Greg tell Hank something then get up and leave. Catching my attention, Hank gestured me over to the bar. Excusing myself, I went and sat next to where Greg had been. “Told me to give you this,” Hank said, sliding a drink my way. “Don’t know that I’ve ever seen the man buy anyone a drink before. Must’ve made one hell of an impression on him,” Hank added. It was the same drink Greg had been enjoying. I lifted it, the napkin underneath fluttering down to the bar. As it did, it opened to reveal writing.
“Hank?” I said, setting down the drink.
“Yes?” he drawled as he came back over.
“You know where Greg lives?”
“Over on Lime Kiln Road, I think,” Hank replied. There on the napkin was written ‘242 Lime Kiln. 10 AM sharp.’
“Thanks, Hank,” I said, slamming the drink, suddenly needing it. Getting up I added, “I’ll send over a copy of my final draft before it goes to press.”
“Sounds good, Jimmy. Don’t be a stranger.”
“I won’t, Hank. And thanks again.” I could feel the drink beginning to work even as my car pulled itself out of the L&H parking lot. I had to dig, to find out what I could about Greg Pace. He had left me the sort of invitation I had wanted. The man had information to share, that much was obvious. And if he knew of Project Plymouth, that information would be worthwhile.
Once home I logged into my work’s databases, pulling on those stores to find anything about Greg. Professor at MNU. Knew that. Doctoral degree granted internally. Former employee of S&N Industries in their bio-computer division. A heavily redacted article popped up. As a journalist, a certain amount of such digging was permitted by the Censors, or else just looking up such an article would raise a red flag. What remained in the article described some sort of research into ‘prohibited technology,’ cultivated by a group of independent scientists headed by Gregory Pace. Not only was he a heroer, but one who had survived being on the Censors’ radar for some decades. It only reinforced for me that what Greg could share with me would be very important. How important, though, I could not have imagined at the time.