Lenz Tio sat at his desk at the Solar Marshall Adjunct HQ on Mars, located in the western shadow of Olympus Mons. The view was extraordinary, they said, if you had a window facing out. Tio did not have that luxury. In all of the squat three-story glory that was the Adjunct office, there wasn’t a splash of colour to be found. Halls stretched on in bleak, geometrically perfect lines, the perfect shade of corporate bland to suck the light and life out of any soul worth mentioning. In a small act of rebellion, Tio had secreted a fern away by his desk, but, as he had no access to natural light, and because he may have been absentminded more often than not, the thing was currently a browning husk of its former self, littering the slate and charcoal speckled carpet with its desiccated fronds. His corner of the office was next to the usual surplus printers and filing cabinets. But at least he had a desk. Five long years he’d been busting his hump out in the Badlands, helping foil separatists trying to sabotage the terraformers. Once, and he was very proud of this, he helped a settler’s wife give protracted, messy birth on a homestead during one of the most ferocious dust storms the planet had seen in some years. They’d made him a casserole later, but it had turned out to just be the worst thing he’d ever bothered putting in his mouth. Still, kindness for kindness, that was his motto. Or it would be, if he could afford a motto. Right now he was trying his best to afford the rent on his condo out in Memnonia. Even with the longer commute times, it was still prime real estate, one of the first areas to be colonized properly back during the first big land rushes happened. But that was ages ago, and now, with the micro-terraformers up and running, the area had been built up and out so rapidly it was a wonder that there could ever be a shortage of housing. And really, was it so much a shortage of housing as much as it was a shortage of housing you’d actually be caught alive in? That seemed to be the sticking point for most folks. Sure, there were the slums, and the lower income regions, but those were for the miners and other day laborers to fuss over. Tio had plans, big plans, and they all focused around making his was up the rank with the Solar Marshalls.
But for today, this lazy worthless Saturday, Tio was saddled with phone duty, alone in the office. Everyone else was taking the holiday off, what with the recent crime waves all being solved and there being nothing at all to do, not even a bit, save sit around and watch whatever it was the macho types around there spent their Saturday’s watching. Probably rugby? He never paid much attention around the replicator corner, just spending enough time to get out a polite greeting and nab his coffee from the machine before it ran out of matter to transmogrify. So here he was, all alone and set to answering any and all inane calls set to forward from the main command to the Adjunct Marshall service. And good lord they could be dull. Just today, he had already to turn down a woman wanting to set a bounty on a runaway child (who, as it happened, was well of age and had surely left of their own free will), an even older sounding woman wanting to know what the Marshall’s service planned to do about the noise in her quadrangle (that is, nothing), and a man with a voice so small and hoarse that Tio could only make out that he wanted to know what he was wearing and, if he asked nicely, would Tio then take said clothing off. To say it was a slow day would be to say the mountain outside was rather tall. Tio dreamed of an adventure, something worth putting on his badge every morning, something they would write songs about, maybe make a cool serial of on the Satellite shows, anything that would get him the notoriety he knew a newly minted Marshall deserved. His hero, a Solar Marshall by name of Darya Sithembile, had movies made of his exploits, every last one of them. And Tio had seen them all, grown up with them in fact, and he had his heart set on one day making those same headlines, drawing those same crowds.
Granted, Sithembile ended his career in disgrace, having been caught fraternizing with the enemy (the enemy in this case being the Outlaw Fadila In’am). It had been the news of the decade: Decorated lawman caught in flagrante delicto with notorious jewel thief. There was a headline Tio could have done without. As far as he was concerned, the law was a sacred duty, something you were called to by a higher power, and to abuse the trust put into you by the people of the Solar Empire, well, that was just anathema. And an outlaw of all people! Tio might have been able to forgive (if not forget) a casual liaison with one of the many, many prostitutes in their seemingly endless havens throughout the system, after all, even a man as famous as Marshall Sithembile was still a man, at the end of it all. But why did it have to be In’am the Cat? She who had so casually stolen upwards of 10 billion Ken worth of precious finery (and that just what they managed to recover from her known safe houses). That’s not to say she wasn’t a beautiful woman, Tio wasn’t blind, but beautiful enough to betray the capital L Law? No. Nothing was worth that. Not even a rent-controlled condo.
Besides, he wasn’t the sort of man who drew that kind of attention from the ladies, jewel thieves or otherwise. He was short, not just by Marshall standards (and lord did they come tall in these parts), barely clearing 175 centimetres, 68 kilos soaking wet, and heard no end of jokes about that. He wasn’t particularly handsome by his estimation, no square jaw, or rugged good looks. Definitely not the Cowboy type out there hunting bounties through the cold depths of space. If there was anything he liked, it would have to be his eyes. He thought highly of his eyes and their deep blue, almost purple colour. He had practiced diligently to make sure he had an open, honest face, and he was sure his eyes helped to accent that. They drew people’s attention away from his short stature and less than body-builder physique. Chief Marshall Yannic even had to admit it. When they needed someone to deal with a particularly hard witness or recalcitrant criminal, they would send Tio in and in short order he’d get them talking and get what info they needed. Still, Tio often worried it was less his open, honest face, and more the fact that he looked like no kind of threat, someone lost and not quite at home in this office of big men, that led people to letting their guard down. A Solar Marshall under six foot who couldn’t even grow the seemingly requisite stubble? A pushover surely. He would’ve kept moping about this for a solid hour, had the phone not decided to take that low point in his morning and ring off the hook.
“Solar Marshall, Mars, Officer Tio. How may I direct your call?” The greeting had become automatic, considering how often he had to sit on phone duty.
“Please, if you can hear me, I need your help.” It was a woman’s voice, faint, and broken by terrible static.
This was new. A thrill shot up Tio’s spine. Finally, someone that needed his help. He got his pen and pad ready. “Ma’am, please state your emergency.”
“Bartholme,” she was whispering now, sounding terrified. “It’s the Butcher. He’s found us.”
Tio had been to enough briefings to have the thrill of excitement be replaced by the chill of dread. Bartholme the Butcher, they called him. He was a walking natural disaster. Had a bounty in the millions. He’d been quiet for some time, since the last massacre, and they’d completely lost his trail. This was his chance, Tio knew, his chance to do something incredible.
“Ma’am, please state your location.”
“Just outside the Warrens, on Nerine and Ultor. God, please hurry, there’s children in there.”
The Warrens. Of course it had to be the Warrens. Bartholme might have a high body count, but he wasn’t one to go for hard targets. And the Warrens were about as soft as it got this side of Mars. It was where you found your homeless, junkies, and the sadder sort of whores. Scores of abandoned children lived there too, flocking as they did to the overtaxed cathedral belonging to the Sisters of Mercy. They did what they could, those fine women, but there was only so much that could be done for all those unwashed masses teeming around the place. The cathedral they inhabited had been done in the old style, back when architecture was still trying to mimic that of the Earthbound sort, and it stood proud and gothic and so very out of place in the modern, slick environment that had grown up around it. The Warrens were in decay, this much was certain, but there’s only so much that decay can do to mask the dazzle of steel and glass, especially on clear days when the sun blazed down and baked the streets to reeking. Tio often tithed to the Sisters, the only habit he managed to pick up from his mother, and he would be damned if he let Bartholme run amok in the Warrens. That man was a special kind of sick, a mass serial killer, if you could call someone who had massacres named for them something as simple as “killer”. His name was a solid fit. Every scene Tio had studied had been laid out the same way, with bodies piled and gutted, left to rot or be dragged off by the more feral denizens. There was a brisk trade in fresh kills on Mars, dead bodies being at a premium on such an under populated planet. You never knew who might need a cornea, or a spare left hand. And with Bartholme around, you weren’t usually at a loss for choice. Tio hung up, had the presence of mind to set the answering machine to forward calls to his personal comm, and practically jumped from his seat, running as fast as seemed casual toward the exit. He probably should send out an APB, he thought, as he grabbed his leather duster and patrol hat from the coat stand by the outer door. He should probably definitely do that. And he might, he thought, climbing into his standard issue rocket car. Maybe it could wait, though, until he single-handedly brought down the Butcher. Probably. Maybe. He lowered the hatch, and enjoyed the satisfying thunk and clack of the latches snapping into place. He still fumbled with his passcode, which sort of ruined the whole urgent flash of the thing, but soon enough the turbines kicked on and Tio was airborne, his sleek black and blue flier’s blunt nose pointed at the centre of danger. Finally, something interesting was going to happen.