Memetic Drift - J.N. Chaney


Chryse was like any other Martian city, old and alien.

Mars was one of the first worlds to be colonized, even before the development of the Boson Apertures. Unlike the towers on Venus with their almost-desperate attempts to establish an identity, Chryse had layers of culture built on the decaying ruins of what came before. It was like walking through an alternate reality. An Earth that never was but could have been.

Just a few months earlier, I was with the rest of my team in a different Martian city, where we were shooting our way to safety as a nascent revolution flared behind us. We lost one of our own in that mission, and there but for the grace of God go I, as they say. I had hoped to never come back to that city or this planet, but fate has a sense of humor. I was once again on Mars to find Geoffrey Rosenstein, a mid-level Chryse gangster with information that could help Section 9 write the final chapter of that story.

I found him as he left a tailor, and I slipped into the foot traffic behind his bodyguards. As we wound through the market district, I caught the scents of the city—the restaurants serving spicy-sweet noodles, the honey tea shops, the pungent incense from the Buddhist temples—and drank it in despite myself. No hints of choking smoke, or metallic blood, or rotting bodies. It was an improvement over East Hellas. Over Tower 7. Over most of my life, if I’m being honest.

Seeing but unseen, I slipped through the afternoon crowd as Rosenstein made his way back toward his power base in midtown. I planned to take him once when he left the busy market district and was in an area with fewer witnesses. Section 9 does tend to be a bit loud sometimes, so for this solo job I was going to do it my way and minimize collateral damage.

Up ahead of me, Rosenstein ran into someone he must have felt was important enough to talk to. They stopped and chattered in the street for a few minutes while his three guards stood like blind statues and failed to see me. I was in front of a rug shop pretending to admire the merchandise, angled so that my body was mostly hidden by an air purifier. When they started moving again, I gave it a minute and then followed them. Whoever he had been talking to was already gone.

They wandered through the busy streets, not hurrying at all, letting Mr. Rosenstein be seen. It’s important for minor royalty to do that sometimes; you can’t claim to be a king if you don’t maintain a presence. Then they turned down Tharsis Street and made their way toward Lowerback, the warren of narrow streets he called his own. It would be better to take him before he reached that neighborhood, though not impossible to take him after.

The job would be harder at that point. I could follow them on Tharsis Street, but there was a lot less foot traffic and an increased risk they would make me. I slipped across Tharsis instead and found a smaller street that ran parallel to it. If I attacked them from behind, the guards would be able to engage me while Rosenstein escaped in another direction. If I attacked them from the front—blocking the way back home—my odds of actually talking to Rosenstein would be a bit better.

When I reached a cross street, I returned to Tharsis and spotted them behind me by about a block and a half. We had left the downtown area, but we were not yet in Lowerback. There were fewer witnesses to spot me or what I was doing, and fewer allies to come to Rosenstein’s aid unexpectedly. It was time to pick a spot.

The area was mostly empty, the security shutters of long-vacant storefronts lining the street. Red dust hung heavy in the air. I walked rapidly, like I had somewhere important I needed to be. I knew they could see me now, a lone figure on the otherwise clear street, but they had no reason to suspect anything. Once they were just beyond arm’s reach, I spoke.

“Hello, Geoffrey.” My voice was quiet, but he stopped dead in his tracks. “We need to talk.”

He looked at me for a second like he didn’t quite know what I was supposed to be. I didn’t blame him. People do say I have a baby face. “Do I know you?” he managed