Chapter 24:

The Martian Republic

Red Storm Over Ganymede


**Isul**

Sensation returned slowly as my systems adapted to the present surroundings.

Hands brushed my hair away from my eyes. “What’s the last thing you remember?” Tristan’s voice was soft and feather-light.

“Trying to rescue you.” I sat up on the bed and looked at Tristan. I looked past him, then, and noticed the huge suite we were in. “I think I’m missing a crucial file. Where exactly are we? This does not appear to be our dire accommodations on Ceres.”

Tristan stifled a yawn and ran a hand over his shorn head. “No indeed. The bounty hunter captured us, Isul, and brought us here, to the Martian Republic.”

I could feel my servos grind to a halt as I looked at him. “We’re on Mars.”

“The Red Planet. Home of the devils,” Tristan replied.

That was a lot of information to compile. Better to start with smaller things. “Are you all right? Did the bounty hunter harm you in any way?”

Tristan shook his head, but got up from the chair he was sitting in and motioned for me to scoot over on the bed. I did so, and soon he was lying down and doing stretching exercises. “I mean, he pistol-whipped me, but the Martian medics took care of that.”

My fingers ghosted the side of Tristan’s head as they probed for injury and took a body temperature. “How long have we been here?”

“A little over a day, I think. They cleaned us up, fed me, and then deposited us in this room. I don’t even know what time it is.” Tristan pulled his right leg up to his chest, then did the same with his left leg. It was only then that I realized he was wearing light white clothes, as was I.

“Confiscated the clothes too. They almost took your antlers, but I convinced them it was a bad idea. That you might try to kill something without them.” The ghost of a smile passed across Tristan’s face.

I touched the antlers, and thanked whatever Saints watched over Tristan that they hadn’t allowed the antlers to be removed. But it did give me pause, because with Winnie dead, would I ever be rid of the emotional suppression subroutine the antlers contained? This was technology outside the norm for Bio-droids; I thought it very unlikely that I would ever regain my true feelings for Tristan.

It was strange. I knew, in an informational way, that I loved him. That he was the most important thing to me in all the worlds. But the emotions that were supposed to accompany that feeling of love were simply…absent. I felt neutered, as though there was a piece missing.

“I appreciate the protection,” I said.

Tristan smiled and turned to face me. His hand rested lazily on top of mine. “Just one time I get to try and save you instead of the other way around.”

I looked away, the strange feeling not leaving me. “So nobody has come to check on us, or tell us their demands?”

Tristan shook his head. “I’m sure they’re watching us, though. Plotting, trying to figure out the best way to use us against the Empire.”

“I contain twelve years of Imperial secrets, Tristan, as do you. They can get information out of us that could cripple the Empire,” I whispered.

Tristan’s face was dark. “Let them cripple it. Let them burn it hotter than the stars. The glory of the Empire is gone. Washed away by deceit and lies. There’s no true heir, anyway. He died a long time ago.”

I didn’t want to get into this recursive argument again like we had on Ceres. Clone or not, I didn’t believe that my Tristan felt this way in his heart of hearts. He had worked too hard and overcome too much to throw everything away like that. “Is that how you would feel if they hurt Grace, or Chet, or Abeth and Breton?” I asked.

Tristan didn’t answer, simply rolled over and looked away from me. I scooted closer and wrapped an arm around his waist, and smiled as his hand snaked into mine and our fingers intertwined. His voice was soft, almost too low for my auditory receptors to pick up. “No, but I want to hurt the Empire after all the hurt it’s caused me.”

I wanted to break down everything wrong with that statement when the door slid open and a chrome and red robot woman glided inside.

“Greetings, guests. My unit designation is Ferra, Assistant Director RDFSI. You are here under the watch of Director Hadar Welles, head of the Republic Defense Force’s Special Investigations Division. You are being held under the assumption that you are political refugees from the Jovian Empire.”

Tristan arched and eyebrow at the woman. “Enemy of my enemy? Are you hoping to get military and other Jovian secrets from us?”

Ferra continued in her blandly pleasant voice. “I am certain that we can come to some mutual understanding regarding your political asylum here in exchange for information. You will both follow me. Your designation, Bio-droid?” she asked.

“My name is Isul,” I replied. I squeezed Tristan’s hand and got up from the bed.

She turned to Tristan. “And your designation?”

Tristan stood a little taller as he said. “Prince Tristan of the Jovian Empire.”

“So noted in the official record,” Ferra said before she led us from the room. The hallways outside were many-branched, and I could spy offices down each of them that were in flurries of activity.

We followed the woman down a labyrinthine set of twists and turns before we ended up at a guarded metal door. The officers on duty stepped aside for Ferra, and she led us into a large office. There were paintings lining the walls, each person wearing the blood-red cape same as the man who sat at the slate desk.

He was a hard-looking man, all angles and sharp points and flinty eyes.

“Thank you for bringing them, Ferra,” the man said. The robot woman inclined her head, then left, though she left the two guards in the room. The man turned back to Tristan and I and gestured to the two seats set up. “Well don’t just stand about.”

Tristan reluctantly sat down, and I wondered if he was again thinking of all the times he had sat opposite his grandmother’s desk, and the feeling of powerlessness it engendered.

Once we were both settled, the man peered at us in the uncomfortable silence. “My name is Director Welles, head of the Republic Defense Force’s Office of Special Investigations. We’re the people who take care of all the uncomfortable business that the regular DF leaders don’t want to think about or don’t have the brain cells to comprehend.

“Take the two of you, for instance. What were you doing on Ceres, Tristan - if I may call you that - hiding with this Bio-droid, with a price on your head set by your own government that guaranteed every bounty hunter in the asteroid belt would be coming for you? I’m frankly shocked you made it two weeks.”

The muscle in Tristan’s jaw fluttered, and I saw him clench his fists. “Perhaps going into hiding is only natural for ousted rulers during a regime change,” he suggested as though we were discussing the weather and not the fact that he had almost been killed multiple times.

The man smiled, a thin and wan thing. “Question is, during this regime change, were you the original or the replacement? Your genetic markers suggest you are a clone, which suggests you were an intended replacement. But those same markers also tell us you were not simply grown overnight. Which suggests either an incredibly long game being played by someone inside the Empire, or that up until very recently, you might have been the Prince for all intents and purposes.”

“Believe what you will, but I was the Prince from the moment I opened my eyes,” Tristan replied. He gestured to me. “My Bio-droid Isul can confirm this statement.”

The Director’s eyes slid over me in an appraising glance. “Yes, your Bio-droid companion. Our sources always did say that the Prince favored them. So, Isul, assuming that you are not programmed to protect this clone and tell me lies, can you verify that this was indeed the Prince?”

I nodded. “I have served Tristan over twelve years.” I looked at Tristan, who nodded for me to continue. “Though I have discovered recently that ten years ago I lost the original unbeknownst to me. This one has been in my care ever since.”

The Director cursed. “Damn Theocracy and their predilection for cloning. We always wondered what their marrying into the Empire could produce, and this appears to be our answer.” He turned back to me. “We will, of course, have to verify your statement by cross-indexing your memory files.”

My fingers twisted the white material of my clothes. “I ask that you be very careful inside my memory core, Director. Thirty-eight percent of my system resources are constantly dedicated to containing a virus that would have me kill Tristan. I would very much dislike for it to be reactivated.”

Director Welles eyebrows shot to his hairline. “Plots and counter plots, then. Very well, I shall tell my technicians to be careful.” He snapped his fingers, and the doors opened back up, revealing Ferra and the guards. I looked at Tristan and tried to appear brave, but I was terrified beyond words. However, I squared my shoulders and followed.

Steward McOy
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