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Counting Stars


 
written by Jason Galore on August 14, 2003 | contact me
number of views: 76956 |   printable version (text) (PDF)



Stars.
Stars.
Credit: Unknown
It had been the dullest morning for Cheyenne. She sat in her hover chair, basking brilliantly underneath the artificial sun. Darkened contact lenses kept the light from damaging her retinas, while the solar radiation gently pebbled her naked skin. She brushed her long blonde hair from her eyes as a thin layer of glistening sweat developed across her stomach, just above the spider-silk shorts covering her midsection.

Generations ago, during the Flesh Revolution, all self-consciousness about the human anatomy was destroyed in a fury of civil unrest. Now, it remained simply another difference between the Martian Federation and the Terran Homeworld. Differences that were ever-driving the two factions of humanity into an interplanetary war.

Her look turned to the vastness of the redrock. Kilometers of unterraformed land spread out to the distance surrounding her. Flat and desolate, the orange-red color penetrated her psyche. Back at home in Elysia, the green pastures and blue water breathed life into her, but here, the bleak scenery seemed to reinforce her boredom.

The Malea Planum was deemed a natural preserve nearly a Martian century before, and had been kept as untouched a locale as possible in the 31st century. The beauty of it all seemed to escape her, however, as she yawned, reinforcing the boredom of her parent's constant escapades. "You have to see the world," they told her as they dragged her along to destination unknown.

She'd rather be back in school with the rest of her friends. Not out gallivanting in this nothing of a desert. This was the only break she’d get for another six months, and she had to spend it in this place. No discothèques, no mass VidScreens. And worst of all, no boys.

Just then, a small telerover veered up next to her and parked. Cheyenne glanced down in disgust. Another fine day, ruined.

A small screen lifted out from the center of the miniature vehicle and switched on, revealing a vision of her father.

"What do you want now, Pops?" she mumbled.

"Your mother and I are going to go on the valley safari tour today; would you care to join us?"

"Is that the one with all the redrock? Didn't you already take that tour?"

"No, that was the mountain one."

"Oh, yes. I forget. Everything is red here."

"Cheyenne, your mother and I would appreciate if you worked on your attitude a little. We didn't drag you here; you said you wanted to come with."

"That was before I realized what a bore this place is! All there is to do is look at the scenery and the animals and play golf everywhere! That may be fine for you old people, but where's the adventure?"

"What do you mean adventure? Do you know how many girls your age would kill for the opportunity to visit the Malea Planum?"

"You should have found one of them, then, because if I have to spend one more day in that hotel or out here in this boring wasteland, I'll simply die!"

"Well, maybe we can go to Revlon Falls tomorrow."

"No more sandwater! It's all manmade anyway. Can't we go to the Zubrin Festival or something?"

"Cheyenne, I told you before, the carnival is full of drug dealers and promiscuous men, not the type of place your mother and I like to be seen in, nor the place we'd feel comfortable with you attending."

"But it only happens once a year! And when will I be able to come back here?"

"I said no. Now, you don't have to come with us, but we'll be out 'til late. But I do expect you to be back at the hotel by sundown. You know it's not safe at night. And with this conflict between Earth and us, we’d like to know where you are."

"You're so ...old!"

"Goodbye Cheyenne."

His frustrated face faded to a screen of nothing and retracted back into the six-wheeled rover. A quick note of the charge account and it sped off into the distance. Cheyenne leaned back into her hover chair to pout.

Glancing around, she remembered how truly far away she was from everything. Nearly four kilometers from the resort, chalk in the middle of the redrock desert. Her eyes transfixed their stare from the vacant ground back up to her PTV, personal transport vehicle. A slight smile cracked her pouting lips. Surely, she could make it to the festival at least briefly and even back to the hotel before nightfall. No one would notice. No one would be any the wiser.

But then again, if something happened her parents would be furious with her.

Without a second thought, she changed into her spider-silk jumpsuit and kicked up redrock dust, driving away at nearly two hundred kilometers per hour.

2

A Martian year is nearly double what it is on Terra and every new year is marked by a month long extravaganza in Columbia City called the Zubrin Festival. The festival showcases parades, street performers and the exchanging of gold chains to signify the Great Martian Gold Rush of the 23rd Century.

Cheyenne arrived in Columbia City shortly after midday. Her first sight was the fireworks shooting their gold fire into the air. The E-Bombs, Columbia City’s prized team, were playing. A massive VidScreen sat atop the walls, pointed to the outskirts.

After a few moments, she found a parking garage near the business district. Handing the valet her credcard, she flashed a smile. Thanks daddy.

“So is there anything interesting to do around here?”

Not catching the flirtatiousness of the small talk, he responded, “The Zubrin Festival is going on right now.”

“Oh, the Zubrin Festival, I had no idea.”

He scanned the card and handed it back to her, shaking slightly.

“What time do you get off, cowboy?”

“Um, in a couple hours.”

She took the card and walked off. “Too bad.”

Cheyenne realized she needed a native, someone who knew the city and knew what she’d like to see. Someone to entertain her. To show her a good time.

She exited the garage and found herself on the street in the midst of a flurry of activity. Her pulse raced as thousands of people, decorated in absurd costumes, drinkers and smokers and consumers, partake in the moment.

Roman Gods, Martian gypsies, and Terran politicians, all manner of miscreants, spread out in all directions. The entire city was devouring its own excitement. A loud, obnoxious celebration attended by everyone. Everyone who could make it, anyway.

Most suddenly, a diminutive clown burst from the crowd. Dressed in black and white polka dots and a faux fur coat, he began doing a short dance number. As Cheyenne watched in wonder, he pulled a gold necklace from around his neck and handed it to her.

Sometime around the 25th Century, colonists discovered huge caches of gold, making the metal almost worthless, but it's symbolic representation still possessed meaning as a good will gift to the generations that followed.

"Good Zubrin to you, my dear," and the clown pranced away, back into the anonymity of the crowd.

The finish twinkled in the late afternoon light. Cheyenne put on the necklace and toyed with it unconsciously for a moment, setting herself back against a wall, observing the hysteria with disbelief.

To her left hundreds of people were reaching up into the sky as water droplets fell from a sprinkler pole. To her right, a parade of Ares Enthusiasts marched, banging synthdrums and guiding Dophants by chains. Dophants were a genetic cross between elephants and dogs created centuries ago by early colonists. It was an attempt to create an intelligent, yet subservient species geared for the Martian atmosphere. It failed miserably and most Dophants died out. The only place they exist now is on the Malea Planum.

Suddenly, like some ancient Terran moon rocket, an odor hit her nose. It was a sweet perfume smell, almost flowery. Her body was awash with imagery of peace and togetherness. In a moment, everything seemed almost perfect.

She looked around for where the scent was coming from and saw a man leaned up against the wall, sucking on a metallic cylinder.

"What are you inhaling?" she asked.

"Sensium. Wanna tag?"

"I don’t think so," she jumped back with a startle.

His short dark hair blew softly in the breeze, accenting the ruggedness of his chiseled face. He was dressed in a tight plastic shirt, cut into a star formation around the collar. His pants were militaristic with water tubes running throughout.

Out the corner of his eye, he gave a sheepish look. The type of look that all girls love to see. Desperate for an answer, he waited.

"On second thought?" realizing this was her man.

Perhaps he knew of something to do. And after all, she did come to have a good time. Maybe she could just make conversation. That's all. Just conversation.

She leaned in on him, leaning her arm onto the wall near his head.

"Here you go." He handed her the sensium, "It's has quite the kick, so be careful."

"Doesn't anyone care around here?"

"No. The policebots are programmed to let anything go except violence during the festival."

She brushed some petite curls out of her eyes and put the short metal tube to her lips.

"Don't pull too much."

And with that she inhaled. A slow burn moved through her mouth and down her throat. Her lungs let out a loud scream and she began coughing relentlessly.

"Tough pull. First time, huh?"

"No," she tried to play him off, handing the tube back and wincing reluctantly.

"It's fab. My name's Senani." He stuck out his hand in a warmhearted gesture.

"Cheyenne," she coughed out in one breath.

"Nice to meet you, Cheyenne."

3

"I’m in the military," Senani said, "What about you?"

Cheyenne found herself in a small café somewhere in the trendier district of the city. Senani sat across the small table, sipping on mocha cappuccino.

"I study advertising and design at Kennedy University."

"Oh. An Elysium girl. Interesting."

"Not really. It's a total bore. The people there are all rich snobs with too much time on their hands. Making their kids rich snobs with even more time on their hands. Everyone either stabs you in the back or pushes the knife in deeper. It’s absolutely terrible. And the only reason I’m her is because my parent's insisted that I see the world. And with them, all that amounts to is the sandwater falls and kilos of golf."

"I hate golf."

"Me too."

They made eyes at each other. Cheyenne noticed the deep black tint in his gaze. His hard, dark hands as they pressed softly against his chin. The little wrinkles in his nose when he laughed. The sheer confidence he seemed to radiate.

“So it sounds like you hate your life.”

“No, not at all. My parents just don’t seem to get it.”

“Get what?”

“How to be real. How to live life.”

“And you’ve figured that out.”

“I’m here, aren’t I? In the middle of the biggest party of the year in this hemisphere.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Cheyenne leaned back quickly, crossing her legs and relaxing into the chair. She looked around at the setting. The walls were decorated in early Sprawl Period, a style of art from a century ago. Very much the cultural leftovers of the era when Mars was finally developing into an economic and socially significant planet. Lots of pictures of performers and artists of the period. And of course, famed golf players.

Her attention returned to Senani, who was very obviously staring at her breasts.

"So tell me more about you,” she interrupted the silence, bringing his attention back to her face, “Are you stationed in Colombia City.”

A dumbfounded grin overcame him as he returned to the coolness he so tried to represent.

"Um, first things first. Let’s get out of here.” He signaled the waitress for the bill.

“Where are we going?”

A ratty-haired redhead handed him his tab and he tossed down a black credcard.

“You’re a black carder?” She asks astounded. Only the wealthiest one percent of Mars carried those cards.

With a glance, he brushes it off, “Have you ever been to the Designer’s Guild Memorial?"

“I’d never even been to this city until this afternoon.”

“Good. You’ll love it.”

4

And as with all situations of girls and boys, she couldn’t explain the feelings she was suddenly experiencing. Wisps of energetic bliss slammed through her like electron bombs powering their youthful nature. It was glorious.

They'd made some small talk, nothing much, just the usual where-are-you-from chitchat. It helped that Cheyenne liked to talk about herself. And Senani, apparently did not.

Either way, the synthetic sun’s brightness had been lowered as they approached the Fructose Factory, a mass production center recently converted into a discothèque.

Her eyes grew wide with awe.

The outside of the building was all walls and tall golden spires, reaching up beyond the clouds and into the twilight’s air.

"This is the second tallest structure in Columbia City," said Senani.

The extensive construct dwarfed everything she had ever seen. The sheer magnitude of the mammoth industrial plant was enough to give her goosebumps.

“It ascends three hundred and seventy stories to the clouds. It took six years and over eight thousand men to built it. And now it’s the most happening place in Colombia City.”

Like every other part of the city during Zubrin, the streets were littered with trash. But it seemed this particular district was especially in disarray.

She noticed a man on the corner shouting, "Repent! Repent sinners!" He carried a large sign with neon letters announcing the end of the universe. Most everyone paid no attention.

“Do you want to go in?”

She beamed with anticipation.

Senani took her hand and guided her inside the spire's Romanesque entry. Two large pillars flanked the entrance as pimps, pushers, and prostitutes stood around drinking and promoting their wares.

Cheyenne’s ears were overcome by the harmonies flooding the room. Pounding and pulsating, electronic in nature but strangely organic, the beats fluctuated tempo, making her mind wander syncopated and fluid.

Inside the spire were the remains of what used to be the production facility. Machines riddled the epic expanse and catwalks crisscross the skyway.

"Look up," pointed Senani.

She followed his orders and saw an unending array of floors, pressed up against the walls of the tower.

"It's one colossal room," she mumbled.

As they maneuvered through the dancing crowds, Cheyenne's buzz faded. A plethora of skin-tight costumes and glowing personal effects burst from one corner to another.

A grimy man with a long beard and no teeth offered her a drink. The old man laughed maniacally, his face contorting into a snake like hiss. Her hand tightened around Senani's as he grasped the degenerate by the collar. Suddenly, the room slowed in activity and Senani’s eyes seem to redden.

The degenerate gave out a snake like hiss and backed away into the crowd. Cheyenne’s lips opened in hesitation as Senani towed her along, the revelers still slow.

The music went quiet.

They reached the core of the spire and gazed upward. The floor began to vibrate and Cheyenne's grip grew tighter. He looked at her with a half grin. Suddenly, a burst of light rose from the floor, sprouting pillars of color gliding up and to the heavens.

"It's beautiful," she proclaimed, running her hand through the concentrated light.

Everyone's eyes focused skyward. Suddenly, Cheyenne noticed something coming from the darkness. It revolved around the sky, gliding ever so slowly downwards. The lights bounced periodically from the shiny object as the hush became almost intoxicating. A thousand thousand people, all silent.

The object began to coalesce into the shape of a man, dressed almost as a bird, but bare-chested and with large multi-colored wings. He glided softly to a catwalk landing and as he stepped to the edge, he held his arms out in ecstatic peaking glory. Powerful greens and purples showed vibrantly against the industrial scenery.

The thumping echo began again and the horde carried on with its untamed exhaustion.

5

The night’s festivities were winding down as they reached the rim of Columbia City.

"So, what kind of name is Senani? Isn't that, like, Australian?"

"No. My family comes from Old India.”

"Really?" she acted as if she was bored, partly to act cool, but mostly to get attention.

They came to a bend in the path.

"Stop," he said and she did.

He pointed across the road at a man, all adorned in the conventional Zubrin fashion. Gold leaf paint covered his nearly naked body and swirls of purple ran across his torso and face. He was positioned perfectly still, acting as if he were in the middle of a foot race.

"Would you like some sensium?"

She cringed slightly, but it wasn't in her personality to turn down an offer from a man she just met.

"Well?"

And despite the hacking fit she'd had earlier, Cheyenne smiled and nodded, "Yes, I'd love to."

They sat down on two chairs protruding from the closed shop nearest them and he pulled out his cylinder and a half-used package of sensium sticks. She watched devotedly as he removed one of the sticks and inserted it into the cylinder drum. It made a spongy crackling noise as it activated.

Her attention returned to the Gold Leaf Man, a few tourists were vid-recording him and yet his stance never faltered.

"Amazing," she mouthed to herself.

He took a lengthy suck on the end of the pipe. He turned to her with his cute eyes all glossed over with a keen polish.

"Here you go."

With a sigh, she inhaled the sensium into her lungs. Everything began to slow down, almost as if the planet had stopped in its gravitational spin. The few revelers all became quiet to her and the moment was frozen. An intense sensation flowed down her body from her head to her toes. Everything seemed to vibrate at ultimate speeds or not at all. She wasn't quite sure. All she could tell is that she liked it. Whatever it was.

Whenever it was.

He looked into her eyes as the two were joined in a moment of suspended bliss. No words were spoken. No action was taken. Cheyenne could see everything within him and he could do the same. It was like they were one, joined. And suddenly she heard his voice inside her head, echoing repeatedly.

Senani.

Senani.

6

The Designer's Guild Memorial was built in the late 30th Century. A monument to the first colonists whose architectural fanaticism created a world of spiraling obelisks jutting into the sky and aqueducts that screamed with ancient Romanesque intrigue.

Cheyenne stood on the cliff overlooking the sandwater falls. Bits of dust sprinkled from the falls and glittered beautifully against the night's sky.

She could feel Senani suddenly pressed against her back. His full hands rested firmly against her shoulders.

"Have you ever seen such a glorious sight?"

She cocked her head slightly and rubbed her cheek against his fingers.

"Never, Senani."

She turned quickly, her eyes fixed on his.

"There's a legend," he said as she buried herself into his chest, " that on the verge of war, Ares returns from the front and takes a beautiful young girl as his bride."

Her eyebrows squinted. She felt the indecisiveness creep up her back. Was it the sensium? Or something else?

He draped his big arms around her. There was a moment of stillness as she relaxed into his hold.

Just then, a wave of cool water sprayed down upon them. They both glanced up and saw a Hydration Zeppelin sprinkling the ridge. She pulled away, reached her hands into the air and began to spin in delight.

It was almost perfect. She turned back to face him and he reached his hand up to brush the wet drips from her brow. The effects of the Sensium were beginning to overtake her.

“I have to go soon.” Cheyenne’s eyes dizzily glanced at her chronometer wristband.

“I know,” he took a deep breath.

She beamed as she moved closer to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. She slicked back her wet hair and bit her bottom lip. Her big eyes yearned for him and he gave her a wanting look in return.

Senani took her hand and spun her around. He pressed her body against the railing and began kissing her neck. She heaved ecstatically. His warm tongue ran along her shoulder as his strong hands maneuvered around her waste to her stomach. Fingers pressed against her exposed belly-button, tickling her to a laugh.

He worked his way back up with his mouth until he reached her left ear. He pushed her head forward slightly and begins sucking on her earlobe. A sigh.

Senani slowly pulled her black pants down, exposing her naked lower half. As he unbuckled his plastic pants and opened the front, she took his face with her hand and launched her tongue into his mouth.

“Are you protected?” She asked.

“Of course. Disrupted sperm production and VD guard.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

She turned her head forward and braced herself against the railing, leaning over the sandwater. She could feel the cool gust raise her goosebumps. Suddenly, she felt him. Swift and harsh, like a furious northern lightning storm, the action was rapid and to the point and Cheyenne was in paradise.

When they finished he backed away from her, breathing heavily and panting. She turned around to face him again, pulling her pants back up.

Leaning back against the railing she showed off the beaming glow in her face and wiped the sweat from his brow with her forefinger. Crossing her arms, she walked a few meters away from him. Distance is sometimes a good thing.

Senani buckled his pants and caught up with her, grasping her waste from behind and giving her a peck on the neck. She returned the feeling as the shadows truly set in for the night.

“I’m going to be leaving now,” she said with a sense of victory in her voice.

“I know.”

She caressed his hand and stared off into the sky.

"What are you looking at?" he asked.

"I'm counting stars."

"Before you go, I need to tell you something.”

"Right," she smirked, shifting her weight onto one leg, “But please, don’t make a fool of yourself.”

Senani walked to the railing and peered out at the sandwater falls. “As I said, Ares takes his bride every year on the Zubrin, but the constant call of battle beckons him. After all, Ares is not the God of Love, but the God of War."

He stared up at the illuminated darkness.

"And as the battle calls, his blood boils, until one moment the fury within his heart cries for war. Now is the time, he says.”

Her brow wrinkled in curiosity as she moved to his side, placing her hand atop his. Goodbyes are always the hardest. You never know just what to say.

"See, Ares is a god. And like any god, he gets jealous. No mortal will ever be good enough for his bride, and he has no choice but to rejoin the war."

"So, what happens to his bride?"

He pointed out at the sandwater again.

"He brings them to these falls and consummates the relationship. Then he sacrifices her before returning to the war.”

“Sacrifices her?”

Cheyenne looked back out into the epic landscape and she felt his hand pull away from underneath hers.

“He pushes her into the falls.”

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