Tales of the Solar Patrol: Class of 2058
The Red Planet has long fascinated humanity. Of all the worlds in the System, this one always seemed most hospitable to life, and early observers saw “canals,” which had to be the work of sentient beings, not to mention areas of green that seemed to expand in the Martian spring and retreat in the Martian winter. Thus, it was only natural that the first long-distance electron-drive ships made a path for Mars.
The initial expeditions, launched in 1976, came from both the U.S.S.R. and the United States. The two ships were sent into space days apart and, to the slight disgust of their commanders back home, became fairly comradely over radio, the mutual bond of space exploration and adventure overcoming nationalistic hostilities. By the time the craft reached Martian orbit, the two commanders had agreed to land simultaneously at two points on the planet, so that neither nation could claim to have gotten there first. This angered a lot of people on Earth but pleased a lot more.
The first overflights showed clear evidence of cities, roads, agriculture, and so on – the world was obviously inhabited. Each ship set down a few miles from a major city, close enough to make easy contact but at no risk of landing on someone’s home. Minutes after touching down, both ships fell silent.
People assumed that the Martians had killed the crews, but there was no sign of panic or struggle, and both ships went dead at the same time. Rather than assume hostility and launch a war, the governments involved decided to gamble that an unknown factor had damaged the transmitters or the engines. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. next jointly sent a second expedition, with as much shielding and protection for vital equipment as could be built. More importantly, several craft would remain in orbit, to help monitor the landing situation.
The landing ship reported contact with the native people, though the transmissions were somewhat garbled and contradictory, sometimes changing in mid-sentence. Then all grew silent as well. As the orbiting ships considered their options and waited for Earth to reply (communications required 40 minutes to get through and back), a small flotilla of craft resembling metallic jellyfish appeared and began to attack the Earth ships. During the battle, the Stalingrad suddenly turned and began to shoot at the American Grant and the Soviet Moscow. The two ships pulled away, continuing to fire on the Martian ships while defending themselves against their former ally. As the Grant and the Moscow destroyed the last of the Martian ships, the crew of the Stalingrad hailed the others and explained they had no choice – the Martians had controlled them!
This led, in short order, to a failed diplomatic mission to Mars and the start of the Earth-Martian War. The Martian Mind Masters (as they soon became known) had great power but limited range; long-distance weapons could fry their ships. On the ground, though, they could turn any group of infantry into a chaotic mess as they leapt from mind to mind, turning ally against ally or, once they learned how to speak and communicate in English or Russian, causing commanders to give false or confusing orders. While the “Martian menace” could be wiped out from high orbit, the military learned during the war that the majority of the Martian people were innocents under the control of the Mind Masters – bombing the cities would primarily kill the victims of the psionic elite caste.
After three years of war, a tentative cease-fire was reached. Mars remains officially off-limits to the Earth League to this day.
Three known major races live on Mars: The Vithaani, which are genetically identical to humans; the Hajuur, which resemble humanoid felines; and the Mind Masters, which have no known racial name – the other Martian peoples refer to them as “the Lords,” “the Controllers,” “the Masters,” and so on.
The humans of Mars are genetically identical to Earth humans, and interbreeding is possible. They possess a mix of ethnic features, and they tend toward dark brown or reddishbrown skin, similar to that of Native Americans. Hair is usually long and straight, though in a variety of colors. Eyes are typically green, violet, or blue. Brown or black eyes are rare and considered exotic and ominous at the same time.
Culturally, they live in bronze-age city-states, each ruled over by a coterie of Mind Masters. They supplement their agrarian lifestyle with hunted game. While no competition for land or resources exists (the Mind Masters control everything), their overlords frequently force them to war as part of status experiments or games. Thus, they are skilled fighters, albeit with primitive weapons.
The Hajuur look similar to walking cats, but their DNA is definitely not of Earth. A nomadic people, they dwell in the vast, cold Martian deserts. They too are pawns and pets of the Mind Masters. The overlords often swoop in on a nomad band to pluck away a few for experiments, or set two tribes against each other for fun, or compel a group to attack a heavily defended Vithaani city just to see what will happen.
The Hajuur are carnivores, and so they spend most of their time hunting the scarce game in the desert. They are grimly fatalistic in outlook, and they form few close emotional attachments, as death can come at any time. With little access to metal, they have developed the use of their claws and teeth to an amazing degree. They have also created several advanced unarmed fighting styles envied by Earth martial arts masters. The few Hajuur that have been freed and brought to Earth have tried to teach some of these arts to humans.
The failure to liberate the enslaved Martian races has long been a thorn in the Earth League’s side. Unable to win an open war, the Earth League has begun covert operations, one of the few areas where it acts in a less-than-open fashion. Highly trained members of the Space Marines are sent to the planet in small, stealthy ships, sliding past the Martian’s physical and mental screens. Once on the planet, they make highly surreptitious contact with those few Hajuur or Vithaani engaged in active resistance against their controllers. The operatives then provide arms, other equipment, training, and, sometimes, escape. While the prospect of liberating the entire populace of Mars a handful at a time is ludicrous, the goal is to help create more future leaders of the rebellion by showing them how life can be when not under the psionic thumb of tentacled monstrosities. Some are especially grateful to their rescuers or enamored of life beyond Mars, and they end up joining the Solar Patrol or working for the Earth League in some other capacity.
Those in the underground live a dangerous life. They must be as secret as possible, avoiding all public places or locations where a passing Mind Master might scan their brain and realize they are not Vithaani. They cannot rely on Earth for any aid. They serve on Mars in two-year renewable shifts, following extensive training in language and culture. They work under a constant fear of death and mental evisceration, and they see only the smallest progress toward the goal of a free Mars.