Science Fiction

Mind Painter


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Who—or what—shall inherit the Earth?

In 2045, the climate crisis has pushed civilization to the brink of nuclear war. Trillionaire space magnate John Rook leads a desperate escape to the nascent Mars colony. But when the atomic auroras fade and those left on Earth find themselves struggling against more than just fallout and other survivors, the lucky ones who got away fear they made a one-way trip.

Centuries later in the now-sprawling Martian metropolis, a transformed species tries to cope with life on an alien world starved of flora and fauna. Their ancestors’ actions and the distant neon blue flicker of the rewilded Earth haunt those confined to the rusty red planet. None feel it more than John’s daughter, the eminent Gloria Rook. Her mind and body are sharper than ever, but no cybernetic implant or designer chemical can dull the longing.

An impossible signal hints there may be a way to return to Earth and reveals another more nefarious secret. It might just be Gloria and the Martians’ chance to finally go home, or destroy everything they’ve built.

Chapter 0: Soldier of Fortune

Earth Year: 2035

Martian Year: 1

Aiden O’Connor thought it looked like a portal to another world, and in a way he was right. The entrance—like a tall, thin pyramid tipped on its side—protruded conspicuously from the snow-covered slope. Green lights decorating the six-meter-high door matched those fluttering in the sky and stood out against the polar night. Though the middle of the afternoon, it had been dark for weeks.

But although merely the absence of visible light, sometimes there were legitimate reasons to be afraid of the dark.

One hundred meters past the door, carved deep into the sandstone mountain, was humanity’s ultimate insurance plan. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault and adjacent Arctic World Archive held millions of seed samples and trillions of bytes of data. The doomsday vault’s location in this remote arctic archipelago was designed to protect it from rising temperatures and sea levels, and its contents could allegedly survive for thousands of years without electricity. But few had envisioned the need to protect it from an outright heavy assault. Who would do such a thing?

The Gaian Renaissance, that’s who, thought Aiden with a smirk behind his black tactical mask. He didn’t love the name and had advocated to instead call it the Human Annihilation Front but was told it was bad marketing. Nonoptimal for fundraising. Whatever, he was the muscle behind the operation, not the brains. Aiden had been trained as a soldier, and soldiers did their job without complaining.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and anti-natalists were too meek, the anarcho-nihilists too disorganized. Coordinated, aggressive action was needed to ensure that when catastrophe inevitably struck Homo sapiens, the ecocidal species could not reboot itself and again attain the means to destroy Mother Earth and her children. He regretted the loss of the seeds, but in one form or another, nature would survive. Just as the species was more robust than the individual, life itself was hardier than any one species, especially humans.

And Aiden was no speciesist.

“We’re in position,” he radioed to mission control, triple-checking his weapons were ready. Their firepower was probably overkill; the guards’ primary concern was the polar bears—the largest living land carnivores—prowling these islands year-round, desperate for food. But there was a chance someone inside the vault would manage to send for help before they were forever silenced. This was not supposed to be a suicide mission. Not yet, anyway. He knew he’d have to fall on his sword eventually. Such were the perils of fighting for a cause instead of money. So many strategies rely on the assumption your adversary wants to live. What an advantage to not be bound by such a constraint.

“Copy that. Standby,” came the voice in his ear. He waited for their other teams to be in position at the world’s other primary seed and data vaults—the ones for which Svalbard was a backup. Taking them out simultaneously before additional security measures could be put in place was paramount. The Gaian Renaissance may have been the fringe of the fringe, but it was astounding what a hundred well-motivated and well-funded people could do. Change the damn world. Worlds, maybe.

Aiden inhaled and exhaled deeply, calming himself amidst his amphetamine high. He watched his breath materialize in front of him, something he hadn’t seen in years. The dull pain of the cold felt good, and he smiled as he remembered skiing with his dad as a kid before his local resort went bankrupt, before things changed so perceptibly. Boy, would pops be proud if he saw him now. Aiden wondered how much longer winter sports would remain a viable enterprise, even here, deep in the Arctic Circle and the farthest north you can fly commercial. ‘Permafrost’ was a premature term.

A single word came over the radio: “Go.”

Four of Aiden’s team split off to approach the small structure where a handful of poor souls lived while he, the new guy, and two others approached the vault entrance. He barely heard silenced gunshots behind him over their boots crunching on the packed snow.

With the electronic defenses disabled they only needed to worry about the physical ones. It took less than a minute to cut through the heavy door. Its green lights and the red laser almost resembled a Christmas display. Fitting given the season. Then they were in and running down the tunnel. Their footsteps were heavy and loud, but time was of the essence now.

Two people in puffy coats came around a corner in front of them, but before they could understand what the commotion was about their red blood and stained down feathers were sprayed onto the blank canvas of the frost-covered walls, like an abstract painting. Aiden briefly took note and kept up his pace.

At the end of the hall the two teams split up. While laying charges around the seed vault Aiden heard the echo of an unsilenced gunshot ring out and cursed. He readied his assault rifle and moved to where his partner had been, this time stealthily.

He stalked around a corner and saw a figure duck behind a large metal crate, presumably armed. He didn’t have time for this shit. Fortunately he was prepared, and uninhibited by a concern for damaging the facility.

Ha! That was just why he was here.

The grenade exploded, sending a mix of the crate’s contents and human body parts down the corridor. Moments later Aiden was at his partner’s side. He’d been shot near the armpit through a gap in his vest but it missed his heart. Damn, that must hurt in the cold—glad it’s not me. All that physical training rendered useless by a bullet on the first mission for his new team. The young man could survive with prompt medical attention but couldn’t walk, it was over one hundred meters to the exit, and the grenade had blown whatever element of surprise remained. No way—this wasn’t the marines. Those days were long behind him, and they planned to leave every man behind eventually. Oh well, you can only do so much. The two locked eyes, and although Aiden thought he saw fear, there was no wavering. A true believer, just like him.

Then they curtly nodded, exchanged a firm grip, and Aiden put two in his head. One fewer human.

He grabbed the dead man’s remaining explosives and finished placing them around the seed vault. He met the other team returning from the old coal mine that contained the data archive and perfunctorily shook his head once to signal he was now alone. Soon he was back outside, but no longer felt the cold. In the distance he saw the black outlines of the silently approaching getaway drones against the twinkling yellow stars, shimmering green curtains, and full moon. At this latitude and time of year it never set, circling the sky day by day.

Aiden was a kilometer in the air when the charges detonated. The irreparable loss of a library greater than Timbuktu, Alexandria, or Congress was surprisingly anticlimactic from the outside. He chalked it up to some combination of imagination and the performance-enhancing drugs coursing through his veins, but he could swear that when the mountainside gently shuddered, it flashed blue.

About the author

Tom B. Night is an American-Australian technologist and the author of Mind Painter. He grew up in the Northwest but has spent his career in San Francisco and visited many other cities and countries along the way. He explores other worlds—real, hypothesized, and imaginary—by writing science fiction. view profile

Published on November 17, 2020

70000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction

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