Chapter 7: Escape

ISA Headquarters; New Langley, American Consortia

Matt was alone in the hallway that linked the forensic departments lab and office space. It was still a bit early in the morning, but usually there were other people around, he thought. Well, the only reason he was there so promptly was that he’d been up through the night holding watch over his entranced friends.

Then he heard, from nowhere, “Well, don’t you look tired.” Matt jumped in surprise and spun around: no one. He turned again, and saw Thom Busby standing in the doorway to his office.

Weird,” Matt thought, ”at least he isn’t grinning.” Maybe he’d been looking at the floor rather than ahead of him, but it was still creepy. In the last couple of years he’d run into Busby a couple of times.

“I was too wound up to sleep, and there was some maintenance on my building, which foiled my attempt to sleep all together. So I decided to just come in early,” Matt said, “You don’t look that rested yourself.” Matt was trying to play it cool, and managed to succeed, almost.

“There was a raid tonight. Huge. I’ve basically been plugged in all night.”

“Really, everything ok?” Matt asked, pretty successfully feigning surprise.

“Of course. We were working late anyway, and we pulled some folk from the department to help take care of things. Made a mess of things, but it’s alright now.”

“Good. Those can be tough, especially when you’re off guard.”

“Yeah,” Busby said. He continued to stand in the doorway, several yards in front of Matt, but he didn’t say a word.

“Say, what brings you to our fine department,” Matt said extending his arms outward–palms up, in a welcoming gesture.

Busby chuckled. “Well, I know you’re involved. You have to be. You’ve been connected to the Morgans,” he said.

Matt almost blanched, but what Quinn called “spy training,” kicked in, and he remained resolved. He let his hands fall to his sides and forced himself to make eye contact with Busby. There was no way that Busby could have incriminating evidence on him; or more properly, Matt and Quinn had seen most of Busby’s files, and there wasn’t anything that involved Matt other than suspicions and half baked hypotheses. ”This is Busby’s fantasy,” Matt thought, and if it wasn’t, he figured it was best to act like it was.

“And, you’ve been connected to Kyp Ebner, a known hacker who returned to Earth from Mars just weeks before my department was attacked,”

Busby continued, once it became clear that Matt wasn’t going to respond to the charge.

There wasn’t much point in responding, and Matt was usually pretty good about biting his tongue, but he couldn’t resist. “Kyp Ebner? You mean the security contractor?”

“Oh come on, Connor, just because there’s never any evidence doesn’t make it less true.”

“He’s contracted with the agency, done good work, from all reports, but yes, we’re friends. What’s your point, I have friends?”

“No. All your friends seem to come across my case files. All your friends seem to be computer hacker freaks who are what? Illegal cyborgs or something? I know you know!”

Matt laughed, and then he laughed a bit more. “Interesting idea, Thom,” Matt said, letting the familiar name hang in the air. “I hope it plays well for you in court,” Matt said, pushing past Busby and closing the door to his office behind him.

Crap,” he thought. Busby didn’t know anything, probably, and his comment about cyborgs meant that he was probably headed down the wrong path; but at least in this case, that wasn’t a good thing. There were legal statutes against cyborgs with very low burdens of proof, and there were no legal statutes about biological telepathy. But if Busby was determined, all of the things that Matt knew to be true, wouldn’t help him or anyone else, the fact of biological telepathy, the circumstances of his involvement with telepathy. Wouldn’t matter much, if Busby didn’t really care about the connection between evidence and truth.

“That would be my cue to leave,” Matt muttered. Almost instantly he opened his bag, and began to deposit the collection of personal things that had amassed at the office. A mug. A couple of books. Some data stores. An older portable. Not a lot of materiality to account for ten years in this job and office.

Matt stood to leave, still a bit shaken, angry and confused. He almost made it to the door when he remembered the computer. ”I’ll have to delete everything, and I should do something to explain my absence.” Having Busby after him was one thing, but having the entire agency after him for going rogue was probably worse.

Matt entered “Mars Bureau,” in his Agent Status profile wrote for location, and “special assignment,” for current task. He chuckled, uneasily, and then encrypted the whole thing. Typical of agents going undercover, which wasn’t very common in forensics, but it would work, and no one would question him, and he’d be off world by the time anyone cared.

There wasn’t much to save, data wise. He sent a small package of data to Quinn Dasen, and to himself, and deleted the rest. He’d probably regret that in a few weeks, but he’d regret leaving files around more. The terminal and what was left of his account and data would take care of itself.

Matt stood up again, and looked over the room one last time, before he walked out. He stopped to lock the door and didn’t stop again until he was home.

He never looked back.

Exodus

Leaving for Mars was perhaps the best thing I have ever done for my life, though I remember being extremely nervous about it at the time–frankly scared shitless. I’m sure that my abrupt departure from Earth effected the way things with Busby turned out, but I’ve always tried to avoid dwelling on this point.

As I’ve reviewed these months of my life, I’ve realized that despite my conflicts with the structure of the organization, leaving that behind seemed harder than leaving Earth behind. Kyp was, however, quite insistent that they were really the same anxiety, and I guess I’d begrudgingly accept his insight.

I’ve never been back to Earth, unlike Kyp and many of the others. Mars, instantly felt like home. There was–and is–work to be done here: I can “be a doctor” without having that be all I do. I can do forensics work without, it being all I am. Mars Colony–the hardware–was designed to be very self sufficient, and while our little outposts are not thermodynamically contained1, this doesn’t seem to matter as much as anyone ever thought. The end result is that, we humans don’t all need to fight tooth and nail for survival.2 This doesn’t mean that we don’t find enough serious things to fight for with our lives, or that it’s somehow a paradise on this frozen little rock: but it’s home, now.

The trip to Mars was uneventful. I think part of the reason that Martian settlement was so difficult was that the early ships were too small, and built, to both land and take off from both Mars and Earth, which is horribly inefficient, and ultimately means that accommodations for the months and months passengers spend in space are reduced for the sake of about two hours of take off and landing time. The particularly sad part about this is that, scientists and futurists had criticized the lift off-to-touch down model of interplanetary ship design a long time ago, but the engineers always seem to know best.

In the end the number of telepaths that wanted to go with us to Mars was a big larger than we had initially anticipated. I heard someone a few years back call it “the first telepath exodus,” which wasn’t what it felt like at all at the time. We had to scramble a bit to secure enough ship space, but it all worked out, we ended up employing a veritable convoy. I do remember thinking that it took far too long for the entire group to ferry up to the orbital docks that the transport ships would leave from, and that Busby was sure to figure us all out before we could break orbit. ISA had influence and operations active on some of the space stations, so although a bit paranoid, that fear wasn’t totally improbable. I knew that once we broke orbit, we were out of range.

During that trip, we–a group that consisted of primarily Kyp, Gus, me, and sometimes Irena via vid-conference from the ship she was on–started a very enduring practice of meeting every Thursday–or what we took for Thursday, apparently we were two days off on our count the trip stared started–and talked about Taban and Kalian’s book, about Earth, about Mars, about what it all meant. So juvenile in retrospect but there was something about being so far away from an actual planet that made taking the “cosmic” view of things seem appropriate. I can hardly think what the folk who transit (with some regularity, even!) between Mars and the Jovian moons, or even Titan, talk about3. In any case, it was I think through these conversations that the core group of us developed the deep friendship and collaboration that lasted for so many years.

Having said all this, I’m not without regrets, I suppose. I never saw Quinn Dasen again, I never went to North Africa again–though I hear they took the dome down–and I have never had fish of any quality worth mentioning. Seriously, I don’t think we have, as humans, ever taken well to geographical relocation. Even at the end of the 26th Century, people on Earth are born, live, and die in the same general area. People who leave for Mars or one of the outer settlements, rarely return. Which is ironic, because in a way we’re all pioneers, even the folk who stay on Earth: we change the world by walking it, no matter how far we go. And still, if leaving the consortia that you were born in is hard, leaving the planet is even more difficult.

Kyp told me, that it was probably good that my relationship with ISA–and the planet–ended the way it did. If I had been given too much time to think about it, I would have probably never left. And how different the world would be…

Matthew Connor, MD Mars Colony, 2597*

Chase

Thom Busby’s message had been brief “We should meet,” he said, giving the address of a cafe near the New Langley ISA headquarters, and a time. Quinn Dasen, hadn’t replied, because the message didn’t seem to need one. But, despite gut feelings and better judgment, here she was, at the appointed time waiting for him to arrive. She could have stood him up, and not gone, but didn’t, ”This is foolish,” she thought, ”Why do we all hate him so much?” she wondered.

Thom Busby was sly, and efficient, everyone got the impression that there was nothing he couldn’t pull off. This might not have been true, but it was scary enough. There was also a way that Busby’s general disregard for “the rules,” made him more dangerous. Quinn and Matt broke the rules too–everyone did–but Quinn and Matt always broke the rules with a little more caution and consideration. That made a difference.

“Thanks for coming,” Busby said, approaching her from behind. There hadn’t been any good tables where she could have a line of sight of all the doors, but she thought she’d gotten all the important ones. Apparently not.

“Of course, what’s the occasion?” Quinn asked pleasantly, though no one would have mistaken her sentiment for something genuine.

“I don’t suppose you have a few years worth of back reports to hand over,” Busby said, omitting any pretense of collegiality

“Sorry, that’s never been my area, but I’m positive that as soon as our people figure something out, they’ll be in touch with you. We’re busy, you know that, and the department has had a triage approach to these things since before we were talking. It works,” Quinn said. She had given this explanation a few times before, and while it was mostly true, Busby’s frustration was understandable and in this case Quinn would prefer it to his satisfaction.

Busby, nodded, but didn’t say anything immediately. Perhaps this was the upside to Busby’s rouge approach to his job: it didn’t strike him as unusual when other people played the game the same way he did. “Small grace,” Quinn thought.

“Actually, I’m here to tell you a few things; things I suspect you already know, but humor me,” Busby said. He was sitting upright and his hands rested calmly on the table, his voice was even and clear, and while his gaze was steady and level it didn’t seem like he was really looking at Quinn.

“For starters, I know that you’re a close confidant of Matthew Connor, an ISA agent who has apparently lost all of the moral fiber fitting of someone in his situation. I know that with your assistance he has deserted ISA for Mars Colony. I know that if the regulations were more clear, I’d have a warrant his arrest on this table and probably one for you as well.”

Quinn opened her mouth to object but she stopped, and became fixated on the fact that he didn’t seem to be breathing while he talked. He was, clearly, but it gave her something to focus on other than her anger.

“I know that along with Agent Connor a collection of confirmed cyber-criminals are on their way to Mars, including Kyp Ebner and Gus Rosell who have been confirmed as combatant in two attacks against ISA infrastructure in addition to likely incidents on various private entities on the net,” Busby said. When he produced, a packet of papers–presumably containing evidence to support his claims–Quinn didn’t notice: she was so fixated on his breathing and maintaining an emotionally neutral expression.

“The piece of the puzzle that I have yet to figure out–and this is, I suspect from your perspective the truly funny part–is what the hell it’s all about. It’s bazar, these folks are the best net-users I’ve ever seen—”

“Don’t you see more of the bad ones, in your line of work?” Quinn asked, the sharpness, of her question surprised even her. She and Matt had often snickered at Busby’s frequent predictions about consumer cultures, on the notion that his contact was almost certainly with the, well sort of stupid hackers. Unless the good hackers attacked him, he would, Matt and Quinn figured, never really know what cyber-culture was like.

”–and I know there’s something illegal going on,” Busby continued, ignoring Quinn’s interruption. “When the Morgans left Earth, I knew something had to be up. Innocent people don’t run.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Quinn said. She spoke less reflexively this time.

”–Now I don’t expect you to tell me,” Busby continued talking despite Quinn’s interjection, “nor do I expect you to keep this conversation in confidence, but I know you know what’s going on and I’d like to.”

“I think I know less than you think, and perhaps not much more than you,” Quinn said, “I did meet Kyp Ebner, in real life, though and he’s a sweetheart, and I think he mostly does contract security work, and I think he even mentioned something about a job for ISA once. I mean they’re friends, and I don’t know about Matt’s specific involvement but most of the people you likely mention,” Quinn said, tapping the packet of papers on the table, “you’re right, work together. I hardly think that’s a conspiracy, any more than any ‘conspiracy’ inside of ISA.”

“You don’t see the conspiracy? They’re all working together!”

“What conspiracy? I mean yeah, Kyp and the Morgans are friends, and Matt knows them all, but I think conspiracy overstates it. I mean what are they trying to cover up? That they’re hotshots? I don’t think they’re covering that up… I mean do you think there’s a conspiracy in ISA?” Quinn asked.

“A conspiracy in ISA? Over what?” Busby said, concern sweeping over his face, before he realized that it was a rhetorical question.

“But in the end this is foolish Thom,” Quinn said hanging on the name, and appreciating its artificiality in this situation. “They’re halfway–or whatever–to Mars, they’re not coming back, and what? What danger are they to you or the world? What does this leave you?”

“I think you, Quinn Dasen, are deluded about the precise danger that those people present to ISA and this world. People with that amount of control and ability on the net can rule this world,” Busby said, regaining his previous composure. “There is no privacy, there will be no freedom, and unless we–I–take a stand, there will be no one who can stop them. Ironic that I should have to take the stand in favor of liberty and freedom and argue against an old leftist like you,” he spat.

“Well, good fortune for you that they’re en route to Mars and probably will never come back. This world is still safe,” Quinn said.

“That’s false security, sending our troubles away doesn’t solve the route problem. Take the last Australian crisis: They almost got to Shanghi–it’s been brewing for six hundred years…”

Quinn laughed, and didn’t bother to try and restrain herself. “That’s just absurd,” she said, still chuckling. Had this been any other sort of meeting she would have stood up and left at this point, since Busby progrressed passed beyond rationality. But she stuck around because Matt would have wanted her to, and if nothing else she held out hope for another good story to tell at parties for a few years.

“No matter, other people will just learn whatever it is that they know, and probably learn it better. I’m getting on a ship next week bound for Mars, and I’m going to get to the bottom of this,” Busby said.

“That’s even more absurd. It’ll take you almost two years to get there if you leave now what with the planetary alignment,” Quinn said, recalling the data from a news item she had seen a few days ago.

“It will still be an issue in two years. You could join me?”

“Don’t be offended, we can’t even get through a lunch date–”

“Just thought you should know,”

“Of course you did. Thanks Thom,” Quinn said, standing up and walking briskly out. She retrieved a small portable from her pocket and tried to see if she could get a channel open to Matt’s ship. Too quickly, the response “out of range, direct connection not possible” flashed on the screen.

Crap!” Quinn thought as she walked briskly away from the cafe, ”I’ll have to go through ISA channels; and I better get something to the Morgans as well.

“And damn you Matt for leaving!” Quinn exclaimed, immediately grateful that no one seemed to notice that she was yelling at herself.


  1. And really I ask you what is? There was a campaign a few years back to combat heat pollution on Mars, which is crazed. At the current rate of “heat pollution,” Mars will probably never “terraform.” I suppose everyone needs a cause. I digress; though not efficient, the mining, processing, power generation, food processing, purification, and construction systems don’t require a lot of direct attention from us. Mars, as we occupy it now couldn’t support an Earth-like population density, but that’s never been a goal.

  2. Some early readers of this have suggested that these statements provide an inaccurate picture of life on Mars. It’s fair to suggest that my perspective is skewed by my age, and history with the colony; but I think that there’s a sense in which Mars Colony’s deliberate design and structure, though not perfect, has created a better baseline for community organization than anything that has ever existed on Earth.

  3. I suppose, not much given that many of them hibernate through as much of the transit as their bodies can manage, nevertheless, a valid question.

tycho garen

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