A Lifetime Opportunity
Thu Jan 19 2023 - 5 min read
Everliving Resort at Albor Tholus
Gwayn Erebus was not an easy woman to speak to.
Chaska had been attempting to secure a meeting for nearly two months. Erebus' schedule was booked for the rest of the Martian year, and Chaska always seemed to have ‘just missed her’ when he tried a more direct approach. A more paranoid man might suspect she was deliberately giving him the runaround, but Chaska was not arrogant enough to think he was on her radar. Not yet, anyway.
He’d spent his entire career slowly collecting the attention, respect, and professional secrets of all the Children of Mars who ran the Consciousness Transference Labs, but his reach fell well short of what he needed now. As the weeks dragged on, Chaska had been forced to call in several favors, threaten a few dirty secrets, and thoroughly abuse a decade old mental failsafe he’d left in the neural conditioning of the serfs that Everliving used for most of its menial tasks.
It had not gotten him a meeting with Erebus, but it had gotten him access to the hallway outside her personal chambers at her preferred Everliving resort.
As far as waiting in hallways went, his only reasonable complaint was that this one lacked any benches. The marble floors were highly polished, and a long strip window about three feet up the whitewashed wall overlooked the resort’s expansive gardens. The filtered air even held the faint scent of Planitia Jasmine and Acidalium Hyacinth. The effect was beautiful, but Chaska found his gaze continually drifting back to the two security serfs flanking Erebus’ doors.
He had never used his obedience failsafe outside of the laboratory before, and while the chemical aerosol that triggered the effect in reprogrammed minds had kept the guards from ejecting him, he knew there wouldn’t be a warning if it failed. These kinds of serfs always had the same empty eyes, staring dead ahead as their bodies performed tasks with almost mechanical precision. Their faces always fell into blank smiles by reflex, and they were completely still save for the occasional perfectly calculated shift to prevent muscle fatigue. Chaska kept one hand on his spare aerosol.
This entire gambit was a risk on several levels. He was tipping his hand – the resources he’d amassed, the extent of his ambition – and overstepping his bounds to do it. However, if he wanted to join the ranks of the Children of Mars, certain risks were inevitable. Chaska toyed with the ends of his graying hair. He wasn’t getting any younger. The Child-masters of Everliving had all the time in the universe, but he did not. At least, not yet. Not quite yet.
Down the hall, the elevator opened with a slight pneumatic hiss. Chaska snapped to attention immediately as two servants stepped through the doors. The first – based on the messenger bag, suit-length jacket, and slight spark of intelligence in their eyes – seemed to be some kind of personal assistant, while the second – large, sculpted muscle, empty eyed – was clearly another security serf. As he leaned forward, Chaska caught sight of the little girl between them.
Gwayn Erebus currently looked to be nine or ten, not quite coming up to her bodyguard’s chest. Her black hair, typical for Erebus based on her last few hosts, was paired with a stark white dress. A single teardrop earring, its bright orange surface polished to a high gleam, hung from her right ear. The stone had reputedly been mined during the founding of the original Martian colony centuries ago, and was worth more than Chaska could ever hope to earn in his natural lifetime.
She did not glance twice at him as she passed, the MPL chairwoman's attention directed firmly towards a small tablet. Chaska was just another clean, white figure in the clean, white hallway. The lack of regard itched under his skin, the way it always did while in the company of the Children of Mars. Chaska cleared his throat and stepped forward.
“Mistress,” he said. “If I could borrow a moment of your time.”
There was an eerie click of heels as Erebus and her attendants stopped walking in unison, and she glanced over her shoulder to pin him in her gaze.
His frustration and bravado melted instantly under the sheer weight of awareness in her wide child’s eyes. There was a small, crooked twist to Erebus’ lips, as if she’d caught his little joke about the Children giving people time – or perhaps she was simply amused that a mere mortal would dare to approach her unprompted. She didn’t so much look him over as silently pick him to pieces. Chaska felt the phantom prickle of her regard, and suddenly he was acutely aware of his bare hands, the length of his graying hair, the unmistakable shape of the aerosol canister through his coat pocket. In that instant, he felt both infantile and ancient.
“It seems my security arrangements need an upgrade,” she said. It was not a dismissal.
He managed a nervous smile.
"Chaska Espowyes, from the Consciousness Transference Lab. I have a proposal for you. One that was wrongfully dismissed by the Master in charge of the program."
"So you’ve decided to waste my time with it."
He was already losing her. Chaska blurted out without thinking, "The problem is space."
Erebus' eyes narrowed. He pressed on before she could say anything.
"The human race has finally expanded beyond the Sol System. New colonies are being founded at an accelerating rate, but the Lunar Directorate keeps the entire process on a tight leash. To be blunt, Mars is being stifled. The Children of Mars have all the time in the world, your problem is space.”
“A hundred years is a lifetime to people like me, and just a handful of host bodies to you. But what use is eternity if you spend it all here, stuck on a speck of red dust in the galaxy’s outer arm?" He fought the urge to pace, gesturing expansively. "Expanding through direct military confrontation has its own problems, though. It's expensive, it's messy - what you need is a way to create problems that the Directorate is unwilling to solve. Problems that cannot be traced back to us.”
She cocked her head. “What are you getting at?”
“We found something while researching new methods to imprint partial engrams into servants.” He looked up at her security serf pointedly. "A new procedure that's easily implemented into a host's mind, but unstable. Technically we can still impart commands, but it renders the subjects aggressive and prone to madness. It's not useful for our organization, but it's perfectly fit to sow chaos on the Frontier.”
Her eyes lit.
"A guerrilla army...” Erebus gave a thoughtful hum. "One that never surrenders, can't be interrogated, and flies under no banner at all. One which answers to us."
Chaska nodded excitedly.
"They'd just look like pirates, random marauders."
"And the Frontier bleeds," she completed his thought. "Until the MPL arrives to staunch the wound. As long as the procedure wouldn't show..."
It wasn't really a question, but Chaska answered anyway.
"I’ve already done it, now we just need a field test."
He dared to take a step forward for emphasis.
"We can put an immortal mind in a child's body, and I can put a killer in any person I choose."
"And then I can put everything you've ever wanted right in your hands," she said calmly. "Correct?"
Chaska's blood chilled. He stared down at the little girl, and the immortal woman peering through her eyes. Eleven, he thought abruptly. She was probably eleven, not ten. She would need to transfer to a new host soon.
Erebus chuckled, twisting a woman's huff of laughter into a girlish giggle and sending a shudder all the way down Chaska's spine.
"You're too familiar, Espowyes," she said. "But tell me more, and we'll see how long you last."