“Earth-spast,” R’osh muttered as he watched the wriggling figure on the ground. Cut off from its synthetic augmentations, the body on the floor spasmed, suggesting more of a struggle than was really left in it. It was those death throes that had given the slur its rise to prominence.
Earth had gotten quite advanced in modifying what was a rather flawed concept to begin with: the human body. In fact, the bodies of Earth’s citizens were probably way beyond what R’osh and his kind could handle in hand-to-hand combat. Fortunately for R’osh and his fellow Martians, wars in the year 5016 AD had little to do with fist fights.
Every now and then, one of Earth’s agents got through the Martian defense lines. Like this one. In the earliest years of the war, you could easily spot them with something as rudimentary as a magnet. Since then, military modifications have moved on from metal-based augmentations to ceramics and other materials. Would-be assassins have not only become a lot more powerful, but a lot harder to spot as well.
This one was of a whole different kind though. In fact, his bones had none of the dull gleam of metal, his organs none of the super-stretchy plasticity, and his skin charred the same way as that of a Martian. R’osh could tell, because all of those now decorated the floor around the dying body.
War between Mars and Earth had been inevitable. If you grew up on Mars, a planet that hadn’t supported more than microbiological life since the solar system formed, it’s pretty obvious that the human genome might not be the most suitable one to populate the planet. Earth, on the other hand, prided itself on its ability to adapt – except when that adaption took place in the womb.
Initially, the idea of human genome modification was pitched to leaders back on Earth by a handful of scientists on the red planet. Little progress was made until competition for Mars broke out in all seriousness and military arguments took on a whole new weight. At first, it was all hush-hush special forces; later on, efforts had become much broader, and information about what was going on started to leak through.
By that time, countries back on Earth had stopped working the way they used to, but it was still the Americans and Chinese who were calling the shots. Having come to a grudging truce back on Earth, few of these hesitations seemed to be in place off-planet.
Mankind, or, more specifically, ‘Marskind’ was a few press releases away from an all out mutant-proxy war between the Americans and the Chinese. If things had turned out according to the wishes of the masters back on the blue planet, that would have been a perfectly acceptable course of action. All the benefits of war – unity, loyalty, support – without any of the nasty outcomes like media reports and refugees. Considering it was made of absolutely nothing, space proved to be a formidable barrier for journalists and war victims alike.
However, the proverbial cat was out of the bag, and while human modifications for a stronger, more aggressive, merciless, warrior-like caste were in full swing, some scientists used their blissful isolation to go down a different route: What could be used to create a more killer variation of mankind, could also be used to create a more insightful, humble and considerate variation. Beings that did not conquer foreign ground, but foreign hearts. It sounded like a hippie’s wet dream.
The confinement of Mars meant that such ideas couldn’t stay hidden for long. Ironically, it was the laughable, naive and wishful hippie character of the idea that allowed it to progress even after it was discovered. The powers that be heard of the attempts, but figured it would keep the hippie scientists happy. Sooner or later, that would have to be dealt with, but for now, giving scientists who didn’t agree with full-out war a little leeway was a way to ensure their cooperation for more important ventures.
It was the Chinese who created R’aniya.
R’aniya was the first specimen resulting from those experiments that didn’t take her own life within the first three months. R’aniya was a ray of sunshine in a world that was starved of warmth. She was utterly free of aggression, and yet she managed to win over anyone she came in contact with. She read people like others read street signs. She could access subconscious notions, analyze them, alter them and propagate them in a way that was eery in spite of the sympathy she elicited, no matter where she went.
Ultimately, the Chinese Martians decided to send R’aniya over to the Americans. It’s not quite clear if they were spooked by her or if they knew how things would unfold. But one cold, sunny day, R’aniya arrived in the American base like Lenin in St. Petersburg. It took her 67 hours to get the entire base to stand down. Accounts later on credit the majority of that to buggy government software preventing her shuttle from docking in the first place.
When their connection with their Mars base went dark, the Americans triggered the switch. Everyone thought it was an empty threat, but it wasn’t. The nuclear war heads stationed in orbit around Mars activated. Their mission? End Mars.
And end Mars these nearly did. Some bases escaped the inferno. Others managed to salvage leftovers into functioning habitats that seemed at a constant risk of being ripped apart by storms. Often these were. But ‘people’ on Mars survived.
Earth in the meantime got busy with itself. Apparently genocide was a step too far. The Americans had overplayed their hand. Things got very chaotic for a long time before a unified planetary government rose from the ashes of that conflict. Still, many questions were unresolved, but the one thing that the administration agreed on in its entirety was to ban modifications of the human genome. Never again should anyone mess with DNA in a way that could make chains of command collapse within hours.
R’osh remembered those early years of the nuclear fallout. He was pre-R’aniya, or Preran as his generation of warriors came to be called. The Prerans saw themselves as protectors of future generations of genetically modified Martians. Later generations of Martians were less aggressive and capable of cooperation bordering on the point of telepathy. They might one day transform the population of the solar system.
There are many things a population that’s so interconnected, so aware of each other’s thoughts, can do. Committing war crimes, however, wasn’t one of them. That was R’osh’s job. A job he resolved to carry out to its gruesome end while he stepped over the remains of Earth’s agent.