Chapter 1

“Is this your real name?” the beefy port cop barked coldly, and Jas nodded with just the right amount of deference to be completely believable.

It wasn’t his real name, not the name his long dead mother had given him. His real name was Chakravarthi Pararajasekarn after his ancient ancestor, King Singai Arya Chakravarthi Pararajasekarn, the original Tamil tiger and forefather of the greatest dynastic clan in the island state of Sri Lanka, perhaps the world. That illustrious name had been shortened by missionary school teachers, immigration officials and 600 years of declining family fortunes down to just three simple syllables, Jas Chakra.

So Jas Chakra he became. But Jas didn’t resent the shortening of his name. Marineris Spaceport was a long way from the Sri Lankan royal palace, and when he pushed a mop for ten hours a day for thirty years, it wasn’t hard to be humble.

“When did you first hear the gunshots?” This second question from the spaceport cop was asked with equal disinterest as the first. How anyone could be disinterested in the sound of gunshots Jas could only wonder.

Jas had never heard real gunshots before today, or even seen a gun, at least not a real gun. There were no guns on Mars. He’d seen Gun Show clips from Earth. That’s what Martians called them anyways, Gun Show clips. Earthers called them by a variety of names – crime dramas, war epics, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping, summer blockbusters. In fact, there were more people killed on Earth Gun Show clips in a year than lived on all of Mars. And Jas, a great lover of Earth Gun Show clips, had witnessed just about every one of those ten thousand deaths.

Needless to say, he knew what gunshots sounded like.

“I’d just finished mopping Gate 97 concourse 4P, so that would make it about 19:30. People were craning their necks like a flock of…”

The port cop looked up from his report, eyes glazing over with boredom. “Cranes?”

“Flamingos.” Jas smiled. “But I guess they looked like cranes too. I knew the eight-ball was cock-eyed, so I craned my neck too in the same direction. I saw the flashes in the distance and then I heard the gun shots.”

“You saw the flashes from the gun discharge? So you saw the suspect.”

Jas nodded, delighted by the port cop’s sudden attention. “Saw him clear as a Martian sunrise.”

This was no lie. A second after the gun shots echoed off the diamond spaceport walls, a lone figure shot into the air like some mythic hero among mere mortals. No one could stand before him. Port cops were cast aside like children, and those who put up too much resistance were gunned down indiscriminately. Jas should have felt fear, should have ducked beneath his mop bucket and prayed to his mother’s ancient Hindu gods for deliverance. But he didn’t. Instead he felt nothing but pure exhilaration. He was in the presence of a god.

And then the automatics zapped the intruder with 50 000 volts, dropping him like a rag doll.

“Did he say anything to you? Give you anything?”

Jas looked at the port cop for a long second. “Not a thing, officer.”

#

Jas waited a full week before retrieving the little wooden box from its hiding place inside the sewage drain. Porties never checked there because of the smell. Jas had hidden a number of things down the drain before – stun guns, illicit drugs, imprinted data chips – things smugglers wanted buried until the heat was off. They sometimes paid him, sometimes not. But this was the first thing he’d hidden for himself.

When the lightning shot through the Earther, dropping him to the cold tile floor like a rag doll, he didn’t die, at least not right away. With a superhuman effort, he got back up. His hands seemed to be fumbling over something, his face straining in pain. He took a few steps, and then fell to his knees in front of Jas.

“Open it,” he said, holding out the wooden box in his shaking hands. “Please, op–”

And then he died.

Jas knew he should have turned the box over to the port cops. But he didn’t turn it over. On impulse, he dropped it down the sewer grate. And now he couldn’t turn it over, at least not without consequences. So instead, he waited for a late shift and smuggled it home under his jacket.

It wasn’t much to look at – just a simple wooden box with a bunch of geometric shapes carved into it. Some mass-produced trinket for tourists. Probably wasn’t even real wood. But Jas didn’t care about the box. Smugglers would use anything to get their stash by the porties. It was what was inside that counted. Only, this box seemed to have no means of opening – no lock, no hinge. He could break it, but then he risked damaging the contents. And what if it was a bomb?

The thought made Jas shudder. He placed the box gingerly on his small kitchen table. Clearly he’d not thought this through. No payoff was worth dying for. In the morning, he would dispose of it, somehow. A dumpster somewhere. Maybe even turn it in – say he found it in the trash. But he wouldn’t keep it, not if it meant risking his life.

That night Jas dreamed. This was a rarity in itself. He almost never dreamed, and when he did, it was usually about the mundane minutia that was the pathetic sum of his waking hours. But this dream was different, fantastical. He saw the great plains of Mars spread out before him, the orange dust rising beneath the marching of ten thousand sons, his sons, a vast dynasty springing up from his loins, and he their great commander, their father, their patriarch, their god.

In the morning, he awoke a different man. He looked at the little puzzle box on his dresser and knew instinctively what he must do. His fingers moved around the box with practised precision, a stealthy digital dance enacted by some unseen puppeteer, sliding hidden panels on the front and back, twisting corners, notches and along unseen ridges that Jas had not seen before. This went on for some time without Jas ever giving his hands a conscious thought. A dozen combinations, a hundred, a thousand – and then all at once, the box popped open as if driven by a spring.

Jas gazed down in fear and wonder. It had not been a bomb after all. For that he was glad. But it had not been some great treasure either. Slowly he lifted the wooden lid to reveal a small hole just large enough for his finger. This he had seen in his dream so it was no great surprise, but now came the moment of truth, of faith.

The dream had proved true. It had opened the box. But what of the future promises? What of the dynasty he had seen, the great army sweeping across the orange plains of Mars, his destiny? Could it really be this simple, or was it just a dream?

His hand was shaking as he lifted it, no longer possessed by the spirit that had opened the puzzle box. His will was his own again. This would be his decision, his act of choosing without constraint. He saw his ancestors, the great Tamil tigers bowing their knees before him in reverence. He would be the greatest of them all. King Singai Arya Chakravarthi Pararajasekarn would rise again.

With more confidence he slid his calloused index finger into the dark metallic hole. He felt a gentle prick, and then nothing. He frowned.

Chapter 2

Carl Neufeld rushed his very pregnant wife into the hospital.

“Can I get some help here?” he yelled, but no one seemed to pay him any attention. He cast a frantic glance around the crowded emergency room, searching for someone, anyone, in uniform, spotted an orderly, and directed his cries more pointedly in his direction. “Come on, man. Help me! My wife’s about to pop. I need a doctor right now!”

The orderly shrugged. “Join the club.” And then disappeared behind a curtain.

Join the club? Carl knew Martian health care had been in decline since the war, but this was ridiculous. No, it was criminal. If anything happened to Margaret or his unborn baby, that orderly would lose more than just his job. Carl would make sure of that.

“Carl, he’s coming.” Margaret squeezed his hand with surprising pressure for such a fair and petite Southern belle. Carl felt his fingers tingle.

“Okay, dear. Just sit here a moment.” He lowered his wife onto a molded plastic chair, carefully prying his fingers loose. “I’ll get a doctor if I have to drag her in here by her ears.”

Margaret gasped. “No time,” was all she could manage to say through the pain, and then her water broke.

“Doctor!” Carl screamed in panic, but his voice was immediately echoed by another man screaming the same thing. At first Carl thought he was being mocked, but then he saw the woman next to his wife was also in labor.

And the woman next to her.

And the woman next to her.

If Carl had not been so frantic, he might have wondered about the odds of such a coincidence. As it was, it just gave him enough information to give up on receiving any help from the doctor. He was going to have to deliver his baby, and he was going to have to do it alone.

“It’s okay, dear. Lie back. Try to get comfortable. Just breathe.” He sounded stupid, even to himself. Margaret gritted her teeth.

“He’s coming,” she said again, arching her back over the plastic chair. This wasn’t how he’d pictured childbirth so many months ago when Margaret came home with the good news that she was pregnant. They knew from the ultrasound that it was a boy. They even named him – Charlie. Wait till they told him how his mother brought him into this world over a plastic chair in the emergency.

Margaret raised her hips even higher, spreading her legs, and Carl saw Charlie’s black head crowning. Carl felt his heart jump. So quickly. He was coming so quickly. Carl dropped to his knees and put his hands between his wife’s legs, suddenly afraid his baby’s head was going to hit the floor like a dropped fly ball.

Margaret screamed as the wet, brown head broke through the birthing canal, and then came the tiny brown shoulders shortly after that. Carl cradled them carefully in his hands, unsure of what to do or say. Margaret was panting heavily, steeling herself for one last push. And then it came.

Carl cradled the little brown baby to his chest carefully. The umbilical cord was still attached and the afterbirth. He wasn’t about to mess with that. Margaret was sweating, her head back, eyes closed. He was so proud of her that tears came to his eyes.

He looked down at little Charlie crying in his hands. He was obviously healthy and strong. But there was something odd about him just the same. At first Carl couldn’t put his finger on it, but as the adrenaline and passion of the moment began to subside, he saw what it was. Baby Charlie wasn’t just dark from the goo and strain of child birth, he was brown – brown as a milk chocolate Easter bunny.

Just as the terrible thought crossed Carl’s mind like a noxious cloud of factory smoke in front of the Martian sun, Margaret opened her eyes.

“What is it, Carl? Is the baby okay?”

Carl did not answer.

“Give him to me.” Margaret sat up, suddenly worried. She reached out for the baby, and Carl passed him to her. Little Charlie cried, and so did Margaret.

“How could you?” Carl was about to say, but then the man next to him said it first. Carl looked over at him, dumbfounded. The Chinese man had a electro-shock stun gun pointed at his wife and her brown baby. Only then did Carl realize he was a cop.

“How could you betray me like this? Our family? I loved you. I cared for you. I gave you everything.” The cop raised the stun gun. It might not kill the little Chinese woman, but it would certainly kill the little brown baby in her arms.

Without thinking, Carl tackled the officer to the ground, knocking over a row of chairs and bewildered patients in the process. There was a brief struggle, but Carl was stronger than the man and less distraught. He wrestled the gun free, and the cop gave up the fight almost immediately, curling up in a ball of self-pity and crying like a baby.

Carl looked back at his wife, who was also crying, and then around the chaotic emergency room as if in surreal slow motion. The room was completely filled with new mothers and fathers of every skin color – red and yellow, black and white – but there was only one hue for the newborn babies – milk chocolate brown.

Chapter 3

1086 walked into Harper’s office, his head lowered, a look of grim resentment pasted across his brown face. The head master knew it was 1086 only because the number was printed across the front of his school uniform in large white letters. Otherwise 1086 looked identical to the two thousand other twelve-year-olds at the academy, identical in every way.

Harper checked the roll for the boy’s name, found it, and then shook his head in mock disappointment.

“John, there have been reports that you have been fighting with the other grades again. What do you have to say for yourself?”

1086 said nothing.

“John, I don’t think you understand how serious this is. The other boy you struck…” Harper searched for his name, but could not find it on the incident report in front of him. It was an older boy from a rich family. That much he knew. His father was on the board, very influential, very dangerous. “He was badly injured. He might have to see a doctor.”

1086 did not respond. Harper became agitated.

“His father is threatening to press charges. Do you understand?”

Still nothing. Harper sighed with disgust and sat down heavily in his large leather chair. The boy remained standing and mute.

Behind him, the morning sun cast a red glow across the office furniture, the brown wainscot walls, the academy’s many framed awards for excellence in education, and the antique mahogany bookshelf filled with imported volumes from Earth that nobody ever read – ancient encyclopedias, forgotten works of classic literature, massive tomes on archaic religions.

Technically, the books belonged to the Outer-Earth Preservation Society of Mars, but Harper liked to keep them in his office as a status symbol to impress prospective clients. From time to time, he would glance up at their inscrutable spines and wonder about the way things used to be on old Earth. Oh, to have been a man of power back then.

“Look, John, this is your third strike. I’m afraid I have no other choice but to recommend that you be transferred to an adult facility. Is that what you want, John? Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Harper snapped angrily.

He was losing his cool, and he knew it. But there was just something about the twelves that drove him crazy. They acted like they were better than everyone else. Yes, they were stronger and faster and smarter than every other child at the Valles Marineris Academy, winning all the track meets, taking all the top prizes in Math, Science and Literature, but that didn’t give them the right to flaunt their superiority. They were just kids, after all.

1086 lifted his head slowly and glared at the head master.

“Well, John, what do you have to say for yourself?” Harper snapped in defiance, not about to back down from the evil eye of any student, not even one as precocious as 1086. And then a more promising threat occurred to him. “What should I tell your father about all this? I’m sure he will not be pleased to hear what you have done. You tell me. What should I tell your father?”

Still nothing, just that glare of pure hatred. And then the boy spoke, biting off each word like it was raw flesh.

“He’s not my father.”

Harper blinked his surprise at this comment, but before he could respond, the fire alarm rang.

Strange, Harper thought to himself. There was no fire drill scheduled for that afternoon. Could one of the twelves have pulled it? It was a distinct possibility. The twelves stuck together like a pack of wolves. Perhaps they thought it might get their buddy out of hot water. No chance of that.

“This isn’t over,” Harper scolded.

“Yes, it is. You just don’t know it yet.”

Harper blinked. “What did you say?”

“His name was Frank, Frank Todd.”

Harper was bewildered.

“The boy I struck. The boy whose name you couldn’t remember. The Earther boy. It was Frank Todd. And he’s not injured. He’s dead.”

Harper’s jaw dropped. He stood up from his leather chair in a rage.

“I’ve had just about enough out of you, young man. You’ve bought yourself a month’s worth of detentions cleaning the cafeteria. But first you’ll write a formal apology to Master Todd’s parents. Now get out of my office.”

Harper pointed an angry finger at the door, but 1086 just laughed.

“Silly Earther, this isn’t your office anymore. It belongs to us. It’s not your school either. We saw to that. Hell, it’s not even your planet.”

“What are you talking about?”

“They’re dead. Don’t you get it? All the other grades, thirteens, fourteens, fifteens – all dead. As of oh-three-hundred, we killed them all. Teachers too.”

Harper took a step back, bumping into his leather chair. He did not believe the boy’s story. What head master would? Students would often said things to try and shock their teachers. But he had never encountered such blatant hostility in a student before. Was the boy having a psychotic breakdown?

Harper was about to call in the school nurse, when he heard a scream out in the lobby. He glanced at 1086, who was smirking like the cat who swallowed the canary, and then opened the office door.

Margaret, his secretary of thirty years, was sprawled in her swivel chair, her eyes wide-eyed with wonder at the large red gash in her throat and the fountain of blood that poured out across her frilly white blouse. Around the dying woman in a tight circle, was a pack of twelves with red knives in their hands.

Harper fell back in horror, stumbling over his leather chair and landing with a thud on the hardwood floor.

“What have you done?” he demanded into the copper air, his voice shaking with fear.

“The night of Earthers is over, Head Master Harper. A new day is dawning on Mars, a red day.”

1086 walked over to him casually, a large curved knife in his hand.

Chapter 4

Mayor Ruthers huddled in her office, cradling a cup of hot cocoa in her hands and trying not to think about the unbelievable reports that had been blasting across the Martian airwaves all week. Factory bombings. Crashed communications networks. All contact with Earth and other Martian townships cut off. And now invasion?

Mayors were not supposed to deal with such issues. They sat in boring town halls and listened to pencil-necked bean counters drone on about waste management, corporate sponsorship, budget deficits and environmental impact studies. Sure, they glad-handed during elections, kissed babies, made grandiose speeches about change and community spirit, but when it came right down to it, a mayor was just another bureaucrat, another cog in that great universal engine of progress.

They didn’t fight wars.

Johnson, the mayor’s twenty-something aid and occasional plaything, burst in the door panting like a hyena.

“I thought I told you I was not to be disturbed.”

“But they’re here.” He pointed behind him as if an army was about to step through the mayor’s door. His boyish hair flopped over his forehead like a mop and Ruthers wondered how she could have been so foolish to have invited him to her bed. But then, she wasn’t the first politician to have made such a mistake. She just hoped her wife didn’t find out.

“At the dome airlocks. They’re threatening to blow it up and us with it,” Johnson continued between gasps.

“Just calm down, Dick. They can’t blow it up with combustion charges. The energy dome is impregnable. They can rave all they want out there. Let them drink the Martian sand if they want to, but they won’t step one foot in Olympus Mons.”

“They don’t have combustion charges.”

“Ha. Then what are you worried about?” She took a sip of her cocoa calmly even though it was still too hot to drink.

“They have nukes!”

Ruthers felt the cocoa burn the roof of her mouth.

“This message is for Mayor Ruthers. It’s time you faced your deepest fears.”

The voice was coming from the view screen. Blast it, Ruthers thought. They had taken over the media. What was next? Start chopping off journalists’ heads on national TV? The images would circulate for years. How would she ever get re-elected?

“Turn that thing off,” she said, taking charge with every microgram of her mayoral authority. “And get me a private line to that terrorist immediately.”

“No need for that, mayor,” the voice on the view screen said calmly. “I can hear you just fine, and so can the rest of Mars.”

Ruthers cringed. He’d bugged her office somehow. He knew everything.

The terrorist was a Chakra clone. That much was obvious from his South Asian good looks and dreamy, saffron eyes. Nobody ever figured out how Jas Chakra, the lowly janitor from the Valles Marineris spaceport, had managed to impregnate more than two thousand women with his clones back in 2197, but ever since then his mysterious offspring had wreaked havoc upon the world of Mars.

They started by taking over a school, slaughtering its students and teachers with psychotic glee. Before anyone knew what had happened, they’d hacked into an airport, a communications tower, a military base, a bank. Their network spread quietly and quickly. High tech security measures were no obstacle to them. They were giants, geniuses in a world of sleeping sheep.

By the time the local security forces figured out what was happening, the Chakra clones had access to every aspect of Martian infrastructure. They opened bridges just as security vehicles were crossing. They ordered government security drones to strike government buildings killing hundreds.

Finally, the military was called in, but by that time it was already too late. The Chakra clones had disappeared, escaped into the vast open territories of Mars, bringing with them enough technology and state secrets to build a worldwide network of terror.

And now, ten years later, they were at her door with a nuclear bomb? Ruthers couldn’t believe it.

She would have to be tough with this terrorist, but reasonable. He was probably hungry and tired after ten years in the outback. She could offer him food, perhaps even supplies. But whatever she did, she could not let him inside the dome. It was the only defense left to her.

“What do you want?” Ruthers said coldly, drawing upon her twenty years of mayoral experience.

“From you? Nothing.”

Ruthers looked to her aid for an explanation but the pretty young man was speechless with terror. They didn’t make men the way they used to. What a shame. She turned back to the terrorist and gritted her teeth.

“Then why are we talking?”

The Chakra clone smiled at her boldness, his dreamy, saffron eyes sparkling with evil humor. “We are talking to you out of common courtesy, a courtesy that was never given to us when we were cruelly institutionalized by this puppet state. Mars, as you know it is about to be destroyed, but a new Mars will rise from its ashes, a true Mars, a pure Mars, a red Mars.”

Ruthers did not quake at the young man’s rhetoric. She had been hearing this same terrorist propaganda on guerilla bandwidths for nearly a decade. He was just making a show for his deluded followers. In a few minutes, he would open a private channel and beg for some brick rations or algae dishes or solar cells. They were scavengers, pure and simple.

“Thank you for the courtesy,” Ruthers goaded. “You are welcome to the rest of Mars, as long as my city is safe.”

He raised a sharp, razor-thin eyebrow. “Your city is not the first to be sacrificed. And it will not be the last.” He nodded gravely, a strange expression for such a young man.

“What do you mean?” Ruthers felt a chill come over her. This terrorist had a strange way of negotiating.

He stepped away from the camera to reveal a large metal box with a digital timer counting backwards from a hundred.

“What is that?” Ruthers asked, but there was no answer. The terrorist had apparently left. She turned to her useless aid. The cowardly man looked as if he was about to start crying. “What is it?”

“I told you,” he said, angry tears bursting out of his eyes and running down his cheeks. “I told you.”

Ruthers kinked her head, and looked back at the view screen. And then it dawned on her.

“Wait!” she called to the walls and ceiling. She stood up, hoping the radio bugs might better pick up the sound of her voice. “Wait. I have supplies. I have money. Whatever you want.”

The seconds counted down in mute response.

“I told you,” Johnson screamed in terror. “I told you,” he said again and then ran out of the mayor’s office crying like a little girl who has just lost her puppy.

“I’ll let you in,” Ruthers said at last. “You don’t have to do this. I’ll open the shield doors and let you in. Just stop the countdown.”

Seconds ticked away.

“Do you hear me? I’ll give you whatever you want.”

Less than a minute left. Less than half minute.

She was alone now. Her staff had abandoned her, running madly into the street to find their loved ones before the end. But there wasn’t enough time. There was never enough time.

She sat down wearily and picked up her cup of cocoa. She took a sip and felt the warmth run down her throat. She cradled the cup in her hands and watched the seconds tick by to oblivion.

Chapter 5

Omari dreamed he was a great warlord chieftain. His Mongol hordes spread out across the vast yellow steppes of Asia as far as the eye could see. No army could stand before him. No women resist him. He was the supreme ruler of the world. But it was only a dream.

A long time ago, when he was just a small boy, his father told him that he was a direct descendant of the original Khan. Of course, he didn’t believe that story anymore. It was just the type of myth that fathers liked to pass on to their children to give them a sense of family pride.

Now that Omari was a father himself, he too wanted what was best for his sons, for their future. And so when he found the gun in the ruins of the burned out city of Olympus Mons, he made a secret pact with himself that no matter how bad things got, he would save the last three bullets for them. He was glad that he was able to keep his promise after all these years. It was important to keep promises, especially the ones you made to yourself.

“Your wife?” Omari asked the question softly, although he already knew the answer.

“Gone. They took all the women. Killed the men. If only…”

“Then you would be dead too.”

The fire crackled. Soon it would burn down to the embers and go out. There was no more wood to feed it. They would soon freeze. But no. He wouldn’t let that happen.

“I just don’t know why they take all the women.”

“The Chakra clones are all men. They need our women to reproduce, to give them many children and build their dynasty.” There was a time when Omari had hoped to build a dynasty of his own, a humble dynasty in the laundry business, but a dynasty nonetheless.

“It seems so barbaric.”

Kuman was Omari’s youngest son, strong of arm but soft of heart. Omari could not bear to ask him what had happened to his children, especially his sons.

“Do not despair, my son. We will find your wife. We will find all our wives. And then we will have justice.”

Kuman accepted the reassurance without reservation, and Omari felt a pang of guilt. It was a forgivable lie, surely.

Kuman drank the rest of his tea in silence. Omari wanted to give him more, but there was none. Their supplies had run out days ago. The isolation of the polar station had shielded them from the war for a time, but that was of little comfort now. Without food and fuel for the fire, they would soon die.

Omari felt the gun in his pocket. Maybe he should end it now. Why prolong the suffering? But no. There was still time. And if his other sons returned from their journeys, he would need all three of his bullets.

He tucked the heavy pistol deeper into his pocket and attempted to warm his arthritic hands over the dying embers of the fire. A cold gust of wind flooded into the little shelter as the door opened. The embers glowed bright orange for a brief moment, and then died completely.

Rygul entered, frost on his goatee, his cheeks flushed with pink. He closed the door quickly behind him and smacked his arms around his shoulders to beat away the cold. Rygul was Omari’s second son. He was a doctor, a surgeon in the state hospital. Omari was proud of his accomplishments, and grieved by his tragedy. His wife and children were some of the first casualties of the war, killed by the bomb that destroyed Olympus Mons City.

“My son!” Omari exclaimed, rising to greet Rygul with a warm embrace. “My heart fills with joy at your return. You made it back.”

“Part of me, anyways.” He pointed to the frostbite on his nose. He took off his fur mittens and went immediately to the dead fire in a vain attempt to warm his numb fingers.

“And your journey to the hospital? Was it successful? Did you find what you were looking for?”

Rygul stared at the dead embers in silence. Omari felt his legs begin to shake with fatigue and sat down on the old army cot.

“It was some kind of gene splicer technology from Earth. That’s all they knew.” Rygul spoke without looking up, his blue lips barely moving. “Nobody knows how he got ahold of it. He was just a janitor, for cripes’ sake.”

Kuman leaned forward, suddenly interested. “What did he do with it?”

“Reproduced his genome a billion times. Sent it out into the atmosphere in microscopic spores that found their way into every ovulating female within a hundred-mile radius. Talk about your horny toads.” He laughed bitterly.

Omari’s own wife had been one of those ovulating females thirty-two years ago. When the little brown baby came out of her womb, he thought his wife had been unfaithful. He considered divorce, even murder. But then when he saw that the same thing had happened to two thousand other women, he thought it was a miracle. How could he have known that those miracle children would one day destroy his entire world?

“But what about Earth? What about the military? There must be something we can do to stop them,” Kumar raged excitedly, until Rygal turned on him.

“There’s nothing we can do!” he snapped. “Nothing Earth can do. Mars Com satellite received a message from them just before it went off-line. Bio-bombs have ravaged the planet, wiped out crops, cut the population in half. They’re in shambles. And as for Mars military, they were routed at Schiaparelli Crater. The war is lost. The only thing left is extermination.”

“I don’t believe that,” Kumar whined in defiance of his older brother. “Morgus said he found a weapon. He’ll fight them. You’ll see.”

Rygal sneered, but his rage had left him. He was done fighting. He put his hands back over the dead fire and fell silent. Omari fondled the weapon in his pocket. The time was approaching, but not yet. Not yet.

It was nearly morning by the time Omari’s oldest son arrived. Morgus had always been the pride of his life, the strongest of his children and the wisest. But Omari held out no vain hope that he had found any kind of weapon that could help them. The Chakras had the cities. They had nukes. Nothing could help them now.

“I found it, father,” he said, his mad eyes glowing silver with excitement. “It was hidden in the sewers of the old spaceport. Nobody would look for it there. Nobody but me.”

It must have been the cold that had taken his mind, or the loss of his family. Omari would have cried if he wasn’t so tired. He felt the weight of the gun in his pocket and knew that the time for its use was rapidly approaching. He just hoped he could kill them all with a single shot each. He could not bear it if they were simply wounded and forced to endure a long and painful death.

“What is it?” Kuman exclaimed, nearly falling out of his chair. “Let me see.”

“No,” Morgus snapped, wrenching the bundle out of his brother’s reach. “This is for father.” He placed the bundle onto the table next to the dead fire and began to unwrap it slowly, one fur at a time. When he was done, nothing remained but a small wooden box.

“Is this your weapon?” Rygal laughed harshly, but Kuman shushed him.

“How do you open it? What’s inside?” he reached for it again, but Morgus held him at bay.

“I know how to use it. Look.” He ran his fingers deftly across the intricate designs on each side of the box. With a strange shuffling sound, the box came to life and opened to reveal an oval mark just barely visible in the candlelight.

“Touch it, father.”

“Why? What will it do?”

“It will multiply your offspring a thousand times, a million times, more than all the stars in the night sky. The Khan dynasty will rule Mars. It will live on forever.”

Omari gazed into the weary faces of his three sons, each in turn. They would grasp at any hope, no matter how foolish. He felt the gun in his pocket. Wouldn’t it be better just to end it all now?

“How do you know this?” he said at last.

Morgus smiled. “I had a dream.”

Omari was surprised by that answer. He too had had a dream, a dream of a great dynasty that swept the world. He gazed down at the simple box for a long moment. Could this really give it to him – his heart’s deepest desire? He fondled the gun in his pocket one last time and reached for the box.