At 25km high and 264km in diameter, Olympus Mons is the largest mountain in the solar system and the second largest in the known galaxy after 4Vesta. After the humans of Earth had dropped a hydrogen bomb into this, and several other, volcano the resulting cloud of ash fertilized the soil and thickened the atmosphere enough to melt the ice caps and start an environmental cycle. By seeding the planet with flora, fungae, sea life, and assorted bacteria, it took less than a decade to get the red planet prepped for humans and other animals. A timeline significantly accelerated by Kentauran terraforming technology.
None of this impressed Victor as he flew towards the northern escarpment. His immediate superior, known as Arthur to the humans, waited impatiently for a report on his recent mission. A report Victor had no idea how he was going to present without losing everything he’d built for himself. It was supposed to be a simple recon, instead it had devolved into a complete disaster.
As he closed on the ridge line, Victor tucked his wings and dove for the row of cave entrances along the face of the escarpment. Slowly allowing his wings to extend and turn up, the air currents pulled his slender, red body in a long, slow arc directly into the open rock mouth of the largest cave, Southern Passage. “Slow Down!” Someone yelled at him as he shot down the artificially smoothed tunnel. Tiny adjustments in the position of his wing tip or the slightest degree change in their angle allowed him to weave through the traffic of Kentauran buearacrats and families cluttering the air of the passageway.
Southern Passage served as the main thoroughfare for the municipal region in the central southern escarpment. Every municipal region in every Kentauran settlement on every world was laid out exactly the same. Throughout the universe, the consistency of the bureacratic mind is a truth as unyielding as the laws of thermodynamics. Victor confidently flew down the main passage, broke right at the 3rd intersection, then curved in a long slow downward parabola as he slowed to a stop before the last door on the left. On the door, in Kentauran glyphs, it read simply, “Native Relations”. As it does on this door on every foreign world. Behind everyone of those doors, on everyone of those worlds, is the Kentauran intelligence service.
Victor scanned his eye in the security check, opened the door and flew in. Several important looking Kentauran he had never seen before were hovering in the middle of the room with Arthur. He knew they were important because they looked at Victor like they were calculating who was supposed to kiss whose ass. This was his first time in Arthur’s office on Mars. Typical of their species architecture, it was a half sphere narrowing at the top, walls smooth as glass from the process which hollows out the rock by heating it within a curved field till it becomes magma and flows out. the floor of the room remains a pool of lava, keeping the temperature closer to life on their home world. A number of steel bars hunts from the crest of the dome, for the Kentauran to hang from when they needed to relax. Along the rock face to Victor’s right were a bank of communication terminals. On the opposite face hung large, digital maps of Mars, Earth, and the solar system. In the middle of the room, the flock of Kentauran just stared at him.
In the high frequency Kentauran vocal range, Arthur introduced him, “Friends, this is my agent on the ground, code name Victor. Victor, this is, well, these are my friends, they are here for an update on operations.”
“Hello”Victor coasted forward and up, bringing his eyes even with these individuals to whom he was sort of being introduced. He joined the circle so that there were now 6 of them, with practiced ease they adjusted their wing beat pattern so that those opposite in the ring beat their wings in unison, and then the next pair clockwise did the same, and so on. In this way the group was able to share the effort of generating the required current for them all to float upon, a skill every child on Kentaurus was taught.
The oldest member of the group spoke first, his skin darkened and lined with age. Deep grooves in complex, rolling patterns flowed across the thick, deep maroon flesh. The bright ochre eyes held the memories and experiences of 300 years, and the quivering tone of his voice revealed the accompanying exhaustion. “I understand all did not go as planned.”
Victor sank slightly, he looked to Arthur who simply nodded, “No sir, we, the human deputy and I, were attempting a simple observe and report of the renegade operation known as “the Czar”. The human Mayor did not want us to engage unless it involved rescuing their missing Sheriff. But we discovered the Sheriff had been killed, and then were discovered ourselves. We had to fight our way out.”
Arthur spoke up, “And the human?”
“He made it out alive, mostly. I returned him to their hospital before coming here. But sir, respectfully, the important thing is here is the rogue operation. We vastly underestimated it. I sincerely doubt it began here on Mars.”
Deputy Frank Vigo knew he was in a hospital from the grey/white walls and sheets and floors, and the grey/white smell of antiseptic. He was not sure, however, what hospital this was, or how he got here. Reaching to rub the sleep from his eyes with his left hand, he felt resistance pulling on his flesh. Confused, he held up his arm and stared at the tubes sticking out of it without comprehension. Noise at the foot of his bed caused him to look and discover a group of people standing there.
“Madam Mayor?” as if he wasn’t sure if she was really there. Alicia Evens, 1st elected Mayor of Tholus County, Mars. Her mocha skin holding a pale green hue in the fluorescent hospital lights, she stood at the foot of his bed, looking as concerned as a Jewish mother on the first day of camp.
“Deputy, How are you?”
“I’ve felt better. Where am I?”
“You’re in the medical center in Tholus City. Victor brought you here.”
The Doctor chimed in as he and the others began moving about the bed, poking and prodding Frank, “Just in time, too. Another hour or so, even I might not have been able to save you.”
“Good thing you were here.”
Alicia rolled here eyes and cleared her throat, “Deputy, I’m sorry to be blunt, but do you remember anything from your investigation?”
“M-my? Oh yes, the Czar.”
“Yes, the Czar. Did he, they, do this to you?”
“Oh yeah. Well, sort of, yes.”
“What? Dag! I just regained consciousness for god sake. Can I have a minute?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. It’s just that I sent you out with orders not to engage, and you came back looking like you might have engaged.”
“Yes, we engaged a little. It turns out Sheriff Tomes is dead. His body is probably dumped in the Labyrinth. And the Czar, as far as they are concerned, is the law in the area around the old arboretum. Apparently they don’t like outside law enforcement coming around.”
“Wait, wait, go back to the beginning. How do the Sheriff die?”
“Actually, that’s not the beginning. You have to start when Victor and I left your office a month ago…”