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The Eternity Prize - Chapter 7
The Thing Awakens
Earth date: April 20, 2080
Little Beirut, Colony 5, Mars
Faoud's thin frame formed a question mark aimed at Ada’s emptied shot glass. "Please stop drinking the good stuff." he said.
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"All right, I'll drink the cheap stuff." she said, refilling her glass from the same bottle.
He vigorously wiped away the drops she'd spilled. "And stop swimming in the Borealis. You'll get hypothermia."
"I come out of the water when I can no longer feel my fingers and toes. Hypothermia averted. Très simple" She took off her Gizmo, set it on a chair and wrung her hair out over the mossy floor.
Faoud was two years younger than Ada, but old at heart. "You and Mike take too many risks. He thought the new sound system would bring in more customers. It didn't. Now we can't pay our bills."
She slid the jellyfish jar towards him "This might help."
"Yuck. What is it?"
"Turritopsis dohrnii - the ocean's eternal twenty-something."
"They're fascinating. If they're attacked and one shred of them survives, they take that little part and shift themselves back to the polyp stage. Then they grow back into their young, vibrant selves."
"How does this help?"
"Bibs is paying over ten thousand coin... "
Faoud was still grim. "You didn't see the news."
He tried to explain, his mouth was moving, but his words were drowned out by the roar of Zeph's rover outside, blasting Zydeco.
"Mike!" Ada shouted, barely able to hear herself "The boys are here."
Bobo was in first. His bulky shoulders held the steel door open for Zeph, Tony, and the icy wind. They stomped their mukluks on the floor. "Merde, this weather." Zeph said.
"Why don't we ever have a real spring?" Tony growled.
"It's one degree above zero. That's spring." Ada replied.
Tony brushed the snow from his hair and stomped over to the bar. "Hey, Fanouk."
"His name is Faoud." Ada said.
"That's not what I heard." Tony said. Zeph laughed. After all these years, they still gave Faoud grief for being gay.
Zeph sat beside her and smiled, all Cajun charm in his snakeskin jacket and tight black jeans. He'd done a bad job of trimming his mustache, and she was about to point that out when he noted the glass beside her. "I didn't know the bar was open."
Faoud wasn't looking. She quickly filled her glass. "It's not." she said.
"Huh, one of those special girls. You know what wet hair means, eh chérie?"
Aunt Carole never tired of telling her "It's a sign to men that you are salope, a prostitute.'
"It's proof I have more cojones than you." she said.
His blue eyes shone. He jutted out his chin. There was nothing he liked better than an argument. "You think you're tough because you swim in that shit? My Daddy was Finnish, a real Viking. He took us to Helsinki. We swam in the ice water. We swam ..." he arched his eyebrow suggestively. "Naked."
She gulped her drink and slammed the glass down "Let's go."
"Uh ... what?"
"Swim naked with me."
He tried to laugh but it came out as a croak. "I'll do the naked with you anytime, darlin', but not the swim."
Tony laughed as he walked to the kitchen. Bobo followed. Without an audience, the argument fizzled. She sat beside Zeph. "What kind of Viking are you?"
He blushed. "The pussy kind."
"But you, chérie... " he held a strand of her newly cropped hair. "You are brave."
He was so sweet when it was just the two of them, but insufferable whenever Tony and Mike were around. One of many reasons they weren't together anymore.
With a slam of swinging doors, Mike came out of the kitchen with breakfast - steak, eggs and potatoes. Tony followed, brushing his hair back the same way as Mike's, following the rhythm of her brother's strut. Zeph put his shoulders back, hardened his gaze, made his blue eyes as dark and direct as Mike's.
Mike put the plate down and sat, arms outstretched over his chair, gazing proudly at his feast. He always had breakfast ready for his soldiers. The Boss never eats alone.
When Ada and Mike were in school, Mike was the better student. He was fluent in five languages, he knew 'The Odyssey' by heart, read Sun Tsu in English and Mandarin. Then, one day, after a week of trying to study by candlelight, he said. "Pops is wrong. Knowledge isn't power. Power is power."
She was studying theoretical mathematics, so she had to disagree. "Saying Power equals Power is like saying A equals A. It's true, but it proves nothing."
"Let me put it mathematical terms. You want to get from point A to point B, you find the shortest path. Knowledge is the longer path."
"Define Point B."
"Influence. Controlling people. Controlling yourself." he pointed to the candle. "Not being fucked by jackoffs like Mafous."
"He promised to send the check."
"Yeah, right. Pops set this colony up to run on nuclear and solar. Mafous told him to replace it with oil. Said he'd pay the difference. His promises are shit."
She opened the warming fridge and pulled out a bottle of yak milk. Sniffed it. Sour. "You want to get a job?"
"I don't want to find a boss. I want to be one!" He slammed his fist on the table.
Milk spattered over her trembling hand. She hid her fear by stepping behind the fridge door. Mike's temper scared her, but if she let that show, he'd never stop bossing her around. "Social systems are wicked problems." she said, trying to keep her voice even. "The more you try to control people, the more chaotic the system becomes."
"Tell that to Caesar. "
"Et Tu Brute?"
He didn't answer, he was making plans. While she was helping Papa propagate plant cells, Mike made plans to turn his father's eccentric Martian mansion into a bar. Alliances were made, palms were greased. He would call it 'Casablanca'. Everybody comes to Rick's.
Casablanca's biggest selling point was the food. Most Martians were tired of eating lentils, sprouts and crickets. Papa's extensive underground farms had fresh tomatoes, figs, grapes, lettuce and hash. Red Lebanese.
Mike learned how to wield a knife, in the kitchen and elsewhere. Got the respect of the local gangs. You couldn't have a business in Little Beirut without the blessing of the bosses. Mike made friends everywhere - Shia, Sunni, Maronites, Amal, Aounists, Socialists, Socialist eco-nationalists, Nationalist eco-socialists. And that was just their little patch of the souk. He made deals with the Basij on the south side and Sikhs on the north.
Then he dropped out of school.
Papa was okay with the bar. He spent most of his time in his lab, he was glad Mike found something to keep himself busy. But quitting school crossed a line. They had a fight, their worst ever. Papa smacked Mike. And, for the first time, Mike hit back. Ada was terrified, Aunt Carole hustled her out. They both sat, drinking coffee, awkwardly silent, fearing the same thing -- they'd get back to the house and find them both dead.
When they got back home, the place was a mess, but Mike and Papa were arm in arm.
Papa had always said he would never let Mike drop out of school, and Mike never backed down from a fight, but there they were. She was so glad she didn't ask how or why.
And Mike was right. Everybody came to Ricks.
"Hey Ada" Mike said as Zeph carved the steak. "Get some plates. And harissa sauce."
She played the good soldier and hurried to get them.
"Where's the General?" Zeph said. "Haven't seen him lately."
Mike shot Ada a glance and said, "He's upstairs, sleeping."
"He's always sleeping."
"He's old!" Mike said.
Tony took a forkful of eggs. "You know those toads they found in the Borealis?"
"The Nemo Toads?" Zeph said. "Yeah, I saw that on YouNews. Frozen for thousands of years in a chunk of ice."
"Nematodes aren't toads" Ada said, taking a giant slab of juicy steak "They're a very short-lived worm."
"Not short-lived." Tony said. "They defrosted them. The damned things woke up, started squirming around."
"It begins." Bobo said in a voice of doom.
Ada looked the precious jellyfish whose value just nosedived. "Who found them?"
"Pros." Zeph said. "Mafous' guys."
Ada sat up, alarmed. "Mafous promised never to set foot on Mars."
"His brother-in law is running his operation now, in the old space elevator, Elysium. He's going to make it his 'Castle in the Sky."
"He has a whole army of workers up there. Fuckin' Gulfies never hire my crews." Tony said.
Mike hid his concern behind a smile. "Don't worry boys, they truly care about our welfare. If we work very hard and do what we're told, all that coin will trickle down to us."
Zeph and Tony gave him a sideways glance. They all laughed.
Ada gazed at her poor, devalued jellyfish. She was planning to sell them -- to be experimented on. She was a terrible person. Terrible. She must do a good deed, return these jellies to the ocean, to their home. "Born free – As free as the wind blows." she sang.
Mike tossed her a joint. "To help you process that fifth you just drank."
She pushed it away. "I haven't had that much."
He raised his scarred eyebrow. She lit the joint. The buzz in her brain mixed with the sound of a rover outside. It stopped in their driveway. There was a knock on the door. Tony got up like he was expecting someone, then brought in a guy who looked to be about 7 feet tall. High-powered enhancements shone through the giant's bulky jacket. His ski glasses gave him a buggish look. He reminded her of a character from one of Papa's old movies.
"The Thing Awakens" Zeph whispered as the muscled bro slouched out of his parka.
Tony said "Madam et Messieurs may I introduce Babak the Super-soldier. He just arrived from Earth. South Lebanon, to be exact."
"Hassan sent me over." Babak said in Russian-accented English. No way that guy was from Lebanon.
"What for?" Mike said, also in English.
"Said you could use some help – the Breiviks are trying to move in." He glared at Zeph, whose red hair and pale skin marked him as a Breivik.
"I'm the token Ginger." Zeph said. "Every gang should have one."
Mike put his fork down but not his knife. The snake tattoo on his wrist quivered as he adjusted his grip. "We've had sit-downs with the Breiviks, agreements were made. Why are they a problem now?"
"The Caliphate of the Hudud is moving in too. Word is, they're working together."
Babak's straight up crewcut was Iranian special forces – and the green-shaded enhancements might also be Basij. Everyone was 'green' these days. But even without her Gizmo, she could place the accent. Chechen. Chechnya was allied with the Gulfies, which meant it was 99% likely Babak was working for the CHUDs - and Mafous.
"Gulfie militias are working with the Nazis?" Tony said.
"They've done it before." Zeph said.
"I just follow orders." Babak said, walking to the bar like he owned the joint.
Mike's grip tightened around the knife. Ada wrapped her hands protectively over her jellyfish.
"Gimme a whiskey." Babak said, towering over Faoud. "Your best."
Hassan and his Basij never ordered Whiskey. Whisky was a Gulfie thing.
Tony walked beside him. "Sorry, bud, grappa's all you'll get around here."
"Yeah, gimme that."
Faoud looked to Mike, who ok'd the drink.
Babak gulped it, then put the glass down with a decisive thump. "Add me to your Facebook group. Username – SuperBab."
"Did I say you're in?" Mike said.
A tense quiet settled over the room.
"Hassan said ..."
"Tony, where’d you meet this guy?" Mike said.
That was Ada's cue to get her Gizmo, link it to her work computer and find everything she could on Babak. She stood up and grabbed the jellies. The water shook as she tried not to stagger.
Babak slowly looked her up and down, eyes settling on her tits. "Whoa.” he sneered “You are one prime cut of meat!"
Nothing like being objectified over breakfast. She was about to do her most sarcastic eye roll when a silver streak flew past her nose. In the slow-motion surprise inspires, she watched, fascinated, as Mike's knife sliced Babak's thick arm. Neon-green enhancement juice and blood spattered across the eggs.
SuperBab screamed in slo-mo as Mike leaped across the table and whole-body slammed him to the floor. Her brother pounded the giant, shouting "That's ... my .... sister!"
"Stop!" she cried. But, too late, she was pushed aside as Bobo, Tony and Zeph jumped in.
She ran to the bar, tried to block Faoud, but he ran around her. Had to get a few kicks in. She shook her head, poured another grappa as Mike, the boys and Babak rolled out the door. After many grunts and shouts, Mike strutted back in, battered but flush with victory. "Always good to get the trash out early."
Bobo laughed. Zeph and Tony high-fived Faoud.
Ada walked up to Mike and smacked him on the head. "Imbecile!"
He gave her a fast smack back. "Watch the hair!" He brushed it back in place.
Zeph wiped red dust and snow off his jacket. "Chérie, we were defending your honor."
"Casse-toi." she said, rubbing her reddened cheek. "Like you haven't said worse." They looked at each other and shrugged. "Hassan will be furious! Why don't you think before you act?" She raised a hand to smack him again.
Whip fast, her brother grabbed her wrist, looked her in the eye. "Babak isn't with Hassan. He didn't look right. He didn't sound right. You noticed it too."
"Yes." she said, twisting her wrist free. "But I confirm my suspicions before acting on them."
"Some things can't wait." Mike said. His words that were a hard punch to a very old wound. She wrapped her hands around herself.
"Why would CHUDs bother with us? We're small fry." Zeph said.
Ada knew, but she didn't want to say it out loud. Babak was sent by Papa's angriest investor -- Prince Mafous.
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