The sun had risen to its mid-morning position, but it was partially obscured by mysterious-looking clouds that pasted the sky above them. Sanjay, Jane, and Olivia stood in a semi-circle just outside the ring of buildings with their heads angled to the sky as if they were watching for shooting stars. A small, intense light appeared and grew larger with each passing moment. The dull sun gleamed off their face masks, but their faces remained concentrated and clinically devoid of emotion. Finally, Olivia cracked a faint smile.
“I can’t wait to see Edgar!” she said. Her voice echoed on general comm.
Sanjay glanced at her briefly before he returned his concentration to the glowing object in the sky.
“I know how you feel. I can’t wait to hug Rachel. I’ve missed her so much,” Jane said. She couldn’t help but smile. Her usual dour expression brightened.
Sanjay put his hand up above his head to shield the glare of the sun on his face mask. An evil feeling hung over him.
“Your family is not on this ship,” he said.
Both women pivoted toward him with confused looks on their faces. “What?” they said in unison.
“They’re on the second transport.”
They shook their heads in disbelief, but Sanjay remained focused on the first transport as it grew larger in the distant sky.
“When were you going to tell us this?” Jane asked. Her voice rose in anger.
“You are about to find out.”
“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a while, and you just now tell us that our families aren’t even on there,” Olivia said. Her eyes glistened as her anger surged within her. She tensed as if she were going to strike Sanjay. “You’re an asshole, Sanjay, a fucking asshole.”
“Don’t blame me. I didn’t make the decision.”
“Who did?” Olivia asked. Her shrill voice stabbed the airwaves.
“I don’t know. Probably Sprockett.”
“I’m going to tell him off,” Olivia retorted. “Damn politicians are worthless anyway. He’s probably going to ruin this place.”
Sanjay said nothing. She mocked his very own family’s legacy, but at the same time he agreed. Sprockett had already ruined everything.
“Who’s on this ship?” Jane asked.
“Sprockett and his minions along with more government and space program bureaucrats.”
Olivia slumped. “So basically no one useful.”
Sanjay almost cracked a smile, but he didn’t want to give Olivia the satisfaction of seeing him empathize with her.
The two women bantered back and forth angrily expressing outrage over the fact that they’d have to wait a while longer to see their loved ones. Sanjay ignored them. Instead, he glanced to his left where many of the bots had gathered to watch the landing. The leader bot looked his way, and Sanjay tensed up. An unspoken message traveled between them, and Sanjay didn’t like it. He flipped on the crew comm.
“I need two of you to take the rovers out to the landing area and greet the ship,” he commanded.
“They’re already out there,” the bot replied.
“Two bots took the rovers a while ago.”
“Who told you to do that?”
“No one. I knew we’d need to greet them.”
Sanjay stared hard at the leader bot who returned his stare without expression. Neither anger nor pride registered in its demeanor. Sanjay seethed.
“I give the orders here. Do you understand?” he asked, his voice deepened and reverberated across crew comm. Several of the other bots turned to look at him.
The leader bot paused and looked away to the arriving ship in the distance. “Sprockett will be here soon. I do believe he will give the orders from now on.”
The bot’s matter-of-fact tone translated into more of an I-told-you-so taunt that rankled Sanjay even more. He thought of the rifle he had held the day before. He imagined himself stomping through the sand to the small building, retrieving the rifle, and blowing away the bots one by one. He’d had enough of their small disobediences, their smug demeanor. He wanted to rid this planet of them. He didn’t want the colony to be overrun by bots. Earth had suffered enough from their presence. He had never known a life without them, but the fantasy persisted in his mind. He’d make it a reality.
He looked to his right expecting to see Jane and Olivia, but they were gone leaving only the divots of their boot prints in the sand in their wake. He scanned the horizon and saw nothing but the glaring white walls of the buildings beyond him. He punched the general comm button on his suit. Words formed on his tongue, but he held back. Their absence was a good thing, he reasoned. He flipped back to crew comm.
The ship finally came into view wavering in the thin Martian air. It glimmered and shook as it glided toward the surface. Sanjay watched until it disappeared behind the mountains just to the north of the settlement. He could no longer see the ship, but absent any word to the contrary, he assumed it landed safely.
He called out to the bots in the rovers. “Has the ship landed safely?”
He waited for a response, but nothing came immediately. A gleeful thought crossed his mind. Losing Sprockett and his band of corrupt interlopers wouldn’t be a bad thing.
“The ship has landed,” one of the bots replied. Sanjay deflated a little, but he waited for further word. Moments passed. “Mr. Sprockett has emerged from the ship.”
“Let’s get him and the rest of the passengers back here as soon as possible. Bring Mr. Sprockett to the base.”
“Did you hear me?” Sanjay asked. Irritation permeated his tone of voice.
“Mr. Sprockett is onboard the rover now and heading your way,” the bot replied.
Sanjay stood for a moment in the sand as the other bots nearby scattered to various points in the settlement leaving him alone. He had a sinking feeling as he waited for the rover to return. He looked down at his feet and then pivoted in the sand to head back to the base. The rifle still floated in the back of his mind as Sprockett’s arrival only punctuated the fact that his family wasn’t coming and may not even be alive anymore.
As he walked back to the base, he thought of Tasha, sweet Laila, and his two young boys who were spitting images of their father. He resented his wife’s stubbornness, her refusal to go along with the plan. She left him no choice. He had committed to the mission and was part of the grand plan that would put him in a powerful role in the colony. Now, all of those plans appeared to be some illusion he had created for himself. Now, all he had was the role of a minion to some morally-corrupt politician with suspicious motives. He had nothing. Nothing to lose.
The anger boiled over in his mind as he removed his helmet and placed it on the table in the Control Room. He slumped down in the main chair and wheeled around to the big screen before him. He punched a few icons on the screen until he found the dashcam feed from one of the rovers. He gestured to enlarge the video.
Sprockett sat in the forward position, just as smug as always. His large head filled the helmet comically as if he were some cartoon character whose head had become lodged in a fishbowl. Even from the dashcam, Sanjay could clearly see his wavy eyebrows and the menacing bump on his forehead. Ugly didn’t even begin to describe him, but his charisma opened doors that would normally had been firmly shut for someone who looked like him.
Sanjay waited. He watched the dashcam for a bit but became fed up at seeing so much of Sprockett. He could barely see the others on the rover with him, but no one looked familiar. He really had no idea who was on the ship. Sprockett had been his main contact throughout the planning for the mission. Beyond the Senator’s handlers, only Baker had been present in some of those meetings as the bots were introduced. Sprockett hadn’t mentioned Baker in any of his conversations over the last few days.
Sanjay gestured for the screen to turn off and sat back in his chair. His leg gave a dull ache that traveled all the way up his to his hip and settled into a spot in his back. He tried to stretch to one side to relieve the pain, but his movement only made it worse. He winced. The pain fed the anger that bubbled inside him. He wished he had retrieved the rifle before he had come back to the base. Sprockett wouldn’t expect such a change in plans so soon. A wicked smile creased his face.
The sound of the decompression chamber interrupted his fantasies. He stood up and waited for Sprockett to come into the Control Room. He heard footsteps outside the room, but the first to appear through the door were two bots, neither of which looked familiar. Their metallic bodies were of a different shade than the bots that were already on the planet. They said nothing as they stepped through the door with Sprockett close behind them.
Sprockett gave a big smile as he saw Sanjay and extended a beefy hand to him. Sanjay took it without a thought and shook it firmly.
“Mr. Raja, it’s good to see you again,” the Senator said. His over-loud baritone filled the room. “Are you doing well?”
“Good to see you, sir. I am. Thank you.”
“I want to thank you for getting things ready for us.”
“You’re welcome, sir. We’ve only started.”
“True. We’ve only just started, but I wanted to thank you for putting us on the right path.”
“It’s all part of the plan. Just like we said from the beginning.”
Sprockett’s smile disappeared and a wave of concern washed across his large flat face. The eyebrows made an angry dance and the bump protested. “We won’t be needing your services any longer, Mr. Raja. You can join the rest of the crew now.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“You’re being relieved of your duties.”
Sanjay felt blindsided, like someone had struck him from behind. “That’s not what we agreed to…”
“No, it’s not, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Originally, we had expected to have hundreds of thousands of Western citizens arriving here. At best, we’ll have 300 now. We don’t need as many leaders for so few people. I had to make decisions, Sanjay. I’m sorry, but your services are no longer needed. I’m sure you understand.”
“No, I don’t understand,” Sanjay retorted. His voice rose with each word. “The only reason I’m here is because I wanted a prominent role in the new government, and now you’re telling me that there is no role? I left my family behind for nothing?”
The bots beside Sprockett tensed as if they were ready to pounce on Sanjay, but the Senator remained remarkably calm. Betrayal felt second nature to him.
“You didn’t leave them behind for nothing, Sanjay. You’re one of the founders of the next great nation in the universe. Your role in history is solid. Future generations will read about you just like they did your father. He’d be proud of you if he were here.”
“But he’s not, and right now, I feel like his death was for naught. We’ve traded one tyranny for another.”
Sprockett took offense at Sanjay’s implied reference. His eyebrows shot up in shock and the bump mocked Sanjay. “Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Sanjay.”
“I’m not making it harder. I’m making it clear that I don’t like this.”
“You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.”
Sanjay shook his head in disagreement. “I don’t have to accept anything.”
The bots stepped forward and Sprockett did nothing to restrain them. “We can help you with that,” the Senator said. His tone clearly conveyed the threat.
Sanjay bristled. “You don’t want to fuck with me…”
Before he could finish, the bots grabbed him on each side and started to drag him from the Control Room.
“Let him go outside,” the Senator ordered.
“Sprockett, you can’t do this!” Sanjay screamed as the bots forced him from the room. He twisted his head back toward the Senator as he spat out his words.
“Hold on!” Sprockett yelled. The bots stopped in their tracks with Sanjay firmly in their grips. Sprockett walked around Sanjay and leaned into his face. Sanjay could smell the Senator’s sour breath and see the sweat glistening on his forehead. The bump gave Sanjay an angry stare.
“I want to make this clear. You’re expendable. You do anything to interfere with our operations here and the bots will hunt you down and kill you on my orders. All I have to do is give the word and you’re done. You got it?”
Sanjay grimaced in the Senator’s face, but he kept the angry darts of his eyes on him. A feeling of helplessness washed over him. Whatever he planned to do had to happen quickly now. That much he knew. He just had to buy some time and with that thought he acquiesced. “I got it,” he spat back.
“Good. Now get the fuck out of here,” Sprockett replied.
Sanjay’s resistance receded, but the bots still pushed him along. He grabbed his helmet and sealed it as the bots guided him through the decompression chamber. The exterior door whooshed open and one of the bots shoved him out into the bright Martian day. The door slid shut behind him as he winced in the sunlight. He felt like falling down in the sand and beating the ground with his fists. Instead, he walked away with nothing but thoughts of revenge wracking his brain.