Aphelion Issue 220, Volume 21
August 2017
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
   

Seven Rules of a Martian Jailbreak

by Christina "DZA" Marie




Rule #1: don’t kill (no matter how tempting it is)

Now

“‘Help me break my cousin out of bankruptcy camp,’ you said. ‘It’ll be fine,’ you said. ‘Stealing a person’s just like stealing a diamond,’ you said.” Robin winces as her broken ribs protest. “Thanks a lot, John. If they keep us here long enough, we’ll be the first felons in Mars’ new prison. I’ve always wanted to be a tourist attraction.”

“Stop it,” Marian orders. She sits on the bench in the cell, glaring at Robin as she paces back and forth. “You’re the one who screwed up.”

“They did their route early! And by the way, John said you could handle yourself in a fight. Good lie there, John.”

“There were over a dozen guards!” Marian defends.

The large, hulking man sits on the floor in the corner. In the minimal light, his Asian skin is almost wan. “You could have said no, Miss Loxley.”

“Oh, please, you know just how to push my buttons,” Robin snaps. If John looks wan in the minimal light, she looks almost nightmarish, her dark skin blending into the shadows. Normally she’d make a joke about it: more thieves should have dark skin because it’s natural camouflage, or whatever. She’s too pissed and her ribs friggin’ hurt.

“You should stop moving,” John says. “You’re injured.”

“Not my legs.” Robin gives a wry smile. “Those are long gone.”

Marian’s eyes flick to Robin’s legs before going back up. Marian’s head is wrapped in a tattered hijab, as gray as her camp uniform. “How are you going to get us out of here, Loxley?”

“I’ll figure something out,” Robin grumbles. “Though I don’t know how keen I am on dragging you two with me.”

“Excuse me?”

“You put us in here! We wouldn’t be in this mess if you weren’t such a shrill bi—”

POW!

Robin staggers back, cradling her broken nose. Marian stands over her, shaking out her hand as John shouts and scolds her.

Robin chuckles (or more like gurgles with the blood dripping from her nose). “Chould’ve tadin up boching, Barian. Wouldn’t’ve ended up in bankrupchy camp.”

“You shouldn’t have been a thief,” Marian grumbles, sitting back down. “You wouldn’t have ended up here, either.”

Rule #2: no boring jobs

Two months ago

Robin laughed. “Wha-at?”

“A job,” her gardener repeated.

They were in the gym of Loxley manor, an hour’s drive from San Francisco. The gardens sprawled over four square miles. The gardener still had dirt under his nails from working, even though he was the head gardener (the “landscape designer”) and technically wasn’t supposed to get dirty, just design and plan how it looked. No matter how many times people said that, though, he had dirty hands every day.

The gym was empty but for the two of them, almost cavernous. It swallowed workout equipment, mats, and benches whole, its northern wall all windows to let in pale, indirect sunlight.

Robin turned away from her robotic sparring dummies, her dark skin gleaming with sweat. “Yeah, I get that. But…really? You? You, John Lei Markus, want me to steal something?”

John still hadn’t looked up from his huge, calloused hands. “Technically, it’d be kidnapping.”

Robin sucked in a breath. “Whoa, uh…”

“It’s not against your rules.”

Robin gave a nervous laugh. “I think I might add it to the list. I’ve never kidnapped before.”

“Marian’ll go with you.”

“Oh, please tell me this isn’t an ex-girlfriend or something creepy…”

“It’s my cousin. Er, second cousin.” John finally looked up. “Marian Ridgeley.”

Robin paused, thinking. “Ridgeley, Ridgeley . . . where have I . . . ?”

“New money. Parents hit it big in the stocks and her father runs a software company . . . .”

“And Marian’s in bankruptcy camp!” Robin finished with a triumphant snap of her fingers. Then she paused. “Wait, why is she in BC if she’s rich?”

“Her parents cut off her trust fund after she converted to Islam and refused to give her the money to keep her from camp. They think BC will straighten her out.”

Robin snickered. “Yeah, right. Those places are like summer camps. You do a bit of yard work, read some stuff on money management, and your whole family’s clear of debt.”

John shifted his feet, looking uncomfortable. Robin didn’t pay it any mind; he always seemed uncomfortable, or nervous, or shy.

“So why the hell should we bust her out?” Robin asked. “She’s having the time of her life!”

John shook his head. “Do you know the Worker Alliance?”

“Uh . . . isn’t that the group that hates rich guys? Like, Loxley rich?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, great.”

“Marian’s one of their leaders. And she’s already had someone try to kill her in camp,” John pressed, his big brown eyes pleading. “Someone hired one of the other prisoners to try to kill her, and they’ll hire someone else until she’s dead.”

“Did the guards catch the guy?” Robin asked.

“He killed himself before they could question him. Cyanide capsule.”

“Huh. Classic.” Robin crossed her arms and stared at the cushioned ground, thinking.

She should’ve said no.

Her targets were diamonds and paintings and trinkets nobody really cared about, or were at least rich enough to afford to lose them.

And the camp was on Mars. Which meant getting on a shuttle for a whole month.

But John was doing those puppy dog eyes that were actually cute on the older man…

So Robin hid her uncertainty behind a cocky grin that made John shift his feet.

“You’re going to make me help, aren’t you?” he asked, resigned.

Robin grinned. “You need something more exciting than tangling with rose bushes. We leave next month.” She turned back to her sparring dummy and kicked its head off.

Rule #3: no more than two candy bars a day

Now

“Gods, I would prostitute myself for some chocolate,” Robin groans.

“Aren’t broken ribs and a broken nose supposed to make it painful to talk?” Marian asks.

The blood stopped dribbling from Robin’s nose an hour ago, and she (mostly) fixed the (still crooked) cartilage herself.

Robin waves away Marian’s “concern.” “Nothing I can’t handle.”

Marian tugs on her hijab and rolls her eyes. “Well, thank God for that.”

“I’m a walking miracle, baby.”

Robin is finally sitting on the floor, as far away from Marian as she can get. She runs her right hand (the one still made of flesh) over her metal legs, the cold soothing even as she aches everywhere else.

Her legs and left arm are metal: cold, unfeeling metal for crying out loud. They shouldn’t hurt. Yet they throb even worse than her bruised and tired muscles.

The speakers in the upper corners crackle. “All prisoners, put your hands against the wall.”

They obey.

The door opens, and two robot guards enter. “Prisoner Loxley. Follow us.”

“What about John and Marian?” Robin asks. “They’re in as much trouble as I am.”

“Thanks for your concern,” Marian says.

“Prisoner Loxley. Follow us.”

Muttering, Robin follows the robots.

They put Robin in another cell, this one much smaller. And empty.

Finally, some peace and quiet. Robin sits on the bench as the guards close the door.

Rule #4: never take a job without knowing all parties involved

Thirty-two hours ago

Robin stumbled out of the shuttle onto the Martian base, trying not to vomit.

Her arm and legs hurt. It didn’t matter that they were metal and therefore couldn’t transmit pain sensors, they friggin’ hurt. And the leftover drugs were twisting her stomach in shapes it really shouldn’t try to attempt. And she couldn’t get her mother’s screams out of her ears.

It shouldn’t have been this bad. The month-long shuttle ride should’ve felt like five minutes, tops, with Robin being sedated and hooked up to an IV. But because two legs and an arm were prosthetic (don’t think about that, don’t think about that!) that made her actual body mass difficult to drug. Doctors were always afraid of giving her too much.

She would’ve vastly preferred too much over too little. She’d come out of sedation twenty hours ago and hadn’t been able to keep anything down. Hadn’t been able to push fiery shuttle crashes and screaming and pain out of her head.

“Miss Loxley?” John put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you --”

“Shut up and give me a minute.”

John didn’t move, but he did shut up, standing next to her in a cheap ten-year-old suit that barely fit his massive form. He rubbed her back in soothing circles while she tried not to hyperventilate. The minutes felt like hours.

She was just wrapping up her panic attack, when . . . .

“Miss Loxley!”

Robin sucked in a deep breath and straightened, smoothing out her slacks. She plastered a smile on her face. “Good morning, Mr. Nottingham.”

The warden’s shoes clicked against the metal floor of the shuttle bay. The Martian sun streaked his dark skin with gold, and gave his graying hair a silver halo. “I trust you had a good flight?”

An eternity of hell in the stars, thank you very much. “Well, we survived it.”

Nottingham smiled. “Thank goodness for small miracles. If you’d like, I’ll have a guard show you to your rooms, and we can start the tour after you’re well-rested. I think you’ll find Sherwood Corporation a worthy business partner, Miss Loxley.”

“Actually, a walk would do me some good. Let’s start the tour now,” Robin said in a rush. She couldn’t sit still; her muscles were buzzing with adrenaline leftover from the panic. The sooner she was off this damn planet, the better.

Nottingham paused, then nodded. “Very well.” He turned to John, his smile turning from courteous to condescending. “And you’re her bodyguard?”

“Her gardener,” John grumbled. “She hasn’t needed a bodyguard since she was twelve.”

Robin smirked. Rich children always ran the risk of getting kidnapped for ransom. It’d happened to Robin when she was nine, so she’d gone through martial arts training. Then the shuttle crash had happened, so she’d done it all again as part of her PT.

The men who’d tried to kidnap her when she was nineteen had spent over a month in the hospital.

“John’s doubling as my assistant today,” Robin explained. “He’s also visiting a cousin here. What was her name? Mary? Madeline?”

“Marian,” John said.

Robin gave her best, fake I knew that smile and turned back to the warden. “So, that tour?”

Nottingham walked them through the entire base. The more he talked, the queasier Robin got.

It wasn’t the shuttle or the drugs. She’d recovered from that.

Or the robot guards patrolling the base in groups of four, heavily armed with tasers and guns. She could hack those.

Or the human guards she couldn’t hack. They had a strict roster she could work around.

Or the fact that the tiniest crack in the metal walls or glass windows would cause a horrible death for everyone inside, exploding their eyeballs, freezing their bodies, and sucking the air out of their lungs. She trusted the architects.

It was the workers. The “campers.” The prisoners.

Most worked outside in space suits, expanding the base and turning it into the first off-world colony in human history. They wore white spacesuits that made them look like a mass of pale dots against the frigid, crimson wasteland. They were welding together the metal skeleton of a new building they wouldn’t enjoy. One or two were missing limbs, but unlike Robin, they didn’t have the money for robotic replacements. Only stumps, stumps she knew were made of knotted flesh.

One worker collapsed from exhaustion and was tasered back to consciousness by a robot guard. Robin cringed as the worker pulled himself to his feet. “I think that one needs a break.”

“This camp is designed to teach the meaning of hard work and efficiency,” Nottingham replied, not giving the worker a second glance. “Breaks are not efficient. This way to the barracks.”

The barracks, where all the workers slept, were tiny. Six people shared a room built for two. The cafeteria stank and served only a “nutrition package” for meals: brown blocks and gray gruel. The “library” was the size of a cupboard and offered only outdated money management techniques.

Well, this wasn’t in the brochure.

At the end of the tour, Nottingham invited Robin to a dinner party.

“Sure,” she replied, bile pooling in the back of her throat. “Should be fun.”

Rule #5: whoever falls behind stays behind

Seven hours ago

Dinner had not been fun.

Apparently, “dinner party” was Martian for “dinner date.”

Creep.

Robin had, however, been able to slip into Nottingham’s office and get the computer codes needed to shut down the robot guards. She’d even managed a polite exit at the end of the meal without kisses, blow jobs, or any other remotely sexual activity. (Bonus points!)

Later that night, Robin hacked into the camp’s mainframe from her room using the codes, shut down all the robot guards except for one, and sent that one to Marian’s room.

Robin watched through the security footage as Marian walked in step with the controlled robot, her five roommates watching her leave with worried and confused looks.

The robot and Marian got in an electric car and drove across the base to the shuttle bay, where John was waiting for them.

That’s when it went sour.

The human guards weren’t supposed to start their patrol until 1700 hours. It was 1600 hours and there they were doing their patrol now.

Because of the playoffs, which premiered at 1700 hours, of course.

Stupid men with their stupid sports obsession.

As soon as the alarm went up, John and Marian were surrounded. Robin sucked in a breath and shut everything down.

Someone knocked on her door. “Open up, Miss Loxley.”

Crap. They already tracked the signal.

She double-checked, getting into the security feed from the camera above her door, and . . . yup, four human guards.

Robin cracked her neck and rolled her shoulders.

They broke the door down.

Robin charged.

The fight lasted less than a minute. An elbow found its way to her ribs and broke at least three, but that was toward the end, when she’d already taken out two guards. She took down the third with a punch to the throat. The last guard raised his baton and swung.

Robin blocked with her left arm. Clang!

The guard frowned, confused.

“Shuttle crashes are a bitch,” Robin said, before knocking him out with an uppercut punch.

She did a quick check on her metal limbs to make sure they weren’t about to malfunction on her before running into the hall.

Straight into a taser.

Bastards.

Rule #6: it’s always better to throw the first punch

Now

Solitary sucks.

Robin has nothing but her overactive brain for company between the four walls and tiny toilet area. She tries working out, but her injuries won’t allow it.

This place reminds her of the hospital. That’s not something she likes being reminded of.

The shuttle crash that took three of Robin’s limbs and her mother was ten years ago. Surgery for her metal limbs and physical therapy had taken two years.

Those two years had not been fun.

No, that is a vast understatement. Having wires shoved into her nerve endings so her brain would be able to perfectly control the metal limbs as if they were made of flesh is the worst agony Robin has ever experienced. Those two years were filled with pain and tears and loneliness. Her father had preferred drowning in a bottle of whiskey to comforting his daughter. Still did. There’d been nothing but four white walls and silent nurses for company.

And John. He would visit every day. Usually he wouldn’t say anything, just check up on her and then leave with a quiet, “Get well soon, Miss Loxley.” He always left a flower behind. A rose. A lily. A lilac. A sunflower. A different flower every day. When Robin finally left the hospital standing, John was the one waiting for her instead of her father, with an entire bouquet of assorted flowers.

She still didn’t understand why he did that. They’re not family. They’re barely friends. He’s the goddamn gardener.

The speaker crackles, jolting Robin to the present. “Put your hands against the wall.”

Finally.

The robot guards pull her out. Robin looks up and down the hall, hoping to catch a glimpse of John or even Marian. When they aren’t there, she hates herself for being disappointed.

Rule 5, Robin. Rule 5.

The guards take her to an elevator, up to the top floor and march her into an office. They don’t follow, staying outside the door as it closes.

Nottingham is sitting at his desk, typing on a computer. The wall behind him is made of glass, overlooking the entire compound and a good chunk of Mars, too. He doesn’t look up when Robin steps into the office, which is big enough for a dozen teenage girls to have a slumber party, pillow fight and makeovers included.

From the way Nottingham’s dressed, you wouldn’t think it’s the middle of the night. He’s in a dark suit (different from the one he wore to dinner) that doesn’t have a single wrinkle, a fake-gold watch, and his hair is combed and coifed.

“Most twenty-year-olds in our social circles do sports when they’re bored,” Nottingham says. “Skydiving or mountain climbing. Why did you choose thievery?”

Robin shrugs. “More exciting.”

“Mm.” Nottingham finally looks up. “By rights I should send you to prison.”

“So why don’t you?” Robin challenges.

“Because you’re a Loxley. I knew your mother. She’s probably turning in her grave right now. Your father—”

“That alcoholic’s not gonna care about this, and you know it,” Robin sneers.

“True,” Nottingham says. “But let’s forget about your family for a moment. If I press charges, even if you manage to get away with it in court, you will have every government breathing down your neck for the rest of your life. You will never steal again.”

Crap. “There’s a ‘but’ at the end of this, right?”

“There is,” Nottingham says. “The hacking is in the records; we have to explain that somehow. Your accomplice will already be charged with aiding and abetting an escape, so we’ll add this to the pile. You walk away, and from now on will steal only from targets I give you.”

“Isn’t hiring a thief to steal from your rivals a bit low?”

“My family got to where I am today because we take every advantage. You are a very big advantage, Miss Loxley. It’s no ordinary genius who can get into my systems.” Nottingham leans back in his chair. “The gardener will take the fall, Ridgeley will spend another five years here, and you walk away clean. But you will work for me.”

“Uh-huh . . . .” Robin takes a good look at Nottingham, and has a sudden epiphany.

There are no pictures of friends or family anywhere in the office.

No wedding band on his finger.

He’s so desperate for some company he sprung a dinner date on a prospective business partner.

And if she follows him, she’ll end up just like that.

Robin sits on the edge of Nottingham’s desk as casually and seductively as she can manage. “You know, the reason John hired me for this is because someone tried to kill Marian . . . .”

“I approved that.”

Robin blinks. “What?”

Nottingham smiles at her, like she’s a child. “People like Marian think the world is unfair because of big bad wolves who happen to have a lot of money, but the fact is they’re just upset because they’re losing the game. They want to change the rules.”

Nottingham leans forward, brushing his fingers against Robin’s hand, the one made of flesh with millions of nerve endings, each one picking up on his sweaty fingertips. She tries not to cringe.

“The rules cannot change,” he says.

He traces circles around each of her knuckles, never breaking eye contact. “The rules are what make us. Protect us. People like Ridgeley endanger us.”

Robin stares at their hands for a minute. But in the end, it’s not even a debate.

“No,” she says.

She punches him. With her metal hand.

Rule #7: rules can (and should) be changed

Now

She really should’ve done the breakout from Nottingham’s office.

While Nottingham drools on the floor in a less-than-conscious state, Robin sends a memo to the guards. The prisoners are to be transferred to Earth immediately on an auto-piloted shuttle.

Robin lets the robot guards collect her, and she, Marian, and John are handcuffed to the shuttle wall and hooked up to IVs that’ll keep them fed for the month-long journey. Apparently, freedom of movement and real food are too much to ask.

Robin gets queasy as the automated shuttle takes off, and tries to forget the fact that her mother died in one of these things. But it’s not as bad. There’s no panic attack. (Arguing with Marian helps.)

When Mars is out of sight, Robin frees herself and the others (these cuffs are child’s play) and quickly hacks into the shuttle.

“What happened to Rule #5?” John asks, rubbing his wrists.

Robin doesn’t look up from the consol. “It got amended.”

“Amended how?”

“‘Don’t leave the prize or the employer behind.’”

Marian and John stare at her like she’s grown another head.

Robin snickers and plugs in a new set of coordinates.


THE END


2016 Christina "DZA" Marie

Bio: Christina “DZA” Marie is a God: creator of worlds and giver of life. She details the happenings of other, greater gods’ worlds and the lives of their creations (such as George R. R. Martin and Rick Riordan) in her blog Dragons, Zombies and Aliens, where her followers pay obeisance to her and listen to her Word concerning her online literary series The Flying Cobras and her various short stories. She welcomes all followers, believers, and laymen of the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

E-mail: Christina "DZA" Marie

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.