I woke up with a headache that threatened to swallow my brain whole, like the fang dragoots of Venus, except less merciful. My alarm blared on the nightstand, and I telekinetically hurled it across the room. Or I tried. All I did was give it a nudge and worsen the throb in my skull. I had to roll out of bed and switch the burfling thing by hand. I was about to fall back into bed and pull my pillow over my head when Zort Jr. appeared in the bedroom doorway.
“Hello, Father,” he said.
“Hi, Junior.” The words crawled out of my dry throat.
Zort Jr. stood there silently. His sickly olive green skin and white hair were marks of his half-human heritage. Those didn’t bother me. Much. But his cold blue eyes and the way he never blinked creeped me out every now and then.
“Mother says breakfast is nearly prepared, Father.”
“It’s Sunday,” I said. “I think I’ll sleep in for once.”
“Mother will disapprove, Father.”
I coughed. “I think I’m sick. Earth germs. You know what I’m talking about.”
Zort Jr.’s expression didn’t change. It never did. “Father, have you been taking your pills?”
I almost thought it was concern in his voice, but there was no inflection.
“The Health Master advises all Martian citizens to take their pills daily, Father. To perish of easily preventable causes is a correctable offense.”
I thought about Martian order, where those who died before they could be corrected were cloned and corrected anyway. Sure, the clone wouldn’t really be me, but I couldn’t do that to the poor bastard.
“I’m up, I’m up,” I said.
“I shall tell Mother you’re getting ready, Father.” He turned mechanically and disappeared down the hall.
I trudged into the bathroom and avoided looking at my blotchy green face in the mirror. I popped my pills, a selection of medication designed to keep me alive on this hostile planet for another twenty-four hours, brushed my teeth with my eyes closed, and put on some clothes. My headache wasn’t going anywhere, and my antennae felt like they might break off at any moment. But I drew on the will of countless Martian warriors before me and made my way to the kitchen.
Sarah was making eggs. The smell both enticed and sickened me. The triplets sat at the table, arms at their sides, staring straight ahead.
“Mornin’” I grunted.
“About time you got up, sleepyhead,” Sarah said.
“Right. And the alcohol has nothing to do with it. You’re not as young as you were.”
“I’m barely one-hundred and twenty,” I said. “Long after you’re dead and gone, I’ll still be here.”
“Not if you insist on drinking like a seventy year old.”
I sat at the table with Zort Jr., Zeeg, and Zurp. They were identical. All hybrids were, aside from gender, and even then they tended toward androgyny. It didn’t matter the individual Martian and human contributors to their DNA, they all came out the same somehow. I couldn’t even be sure they were my kids. The hybrids, two boys, one girl, that went to school might not be the same ones who came back. Except they were all pretty much the same.
According to the Sovereign Intelligence, this was the future of the Martian race. It wasn’t a pretty thing, but I was only a lowly soldier. I followed orders. And orders said to come to Earth, settle down, and procreate.
The kids rotated their heads like they were mounted on gears and silently studied me. I erected a telepathic barrier, but I could feel them pushing against it. They were stronger every day. I pictured a race of these things leading Mars in conquest across the galaxy, and I shuddered. Maybe the Intelligence had made a bad call this once.
I thought about something else before the kids detected my mental treason.
“Breakfast is on.” Sarah, tall and dark, set a plate before me. I sometimes wished the kids had inherited some of her height and color, but genetic diversity wasn’t the goal of this operation.
She kissed the top of my head and smiled at me. I felt a little better. She might have been a hideous lesser life form, but familiarity had lessened my revulsion. I’d learned to sort of like the breasts on the human female. My eyes strayed toward her cleavage as she bent over to serve the kids.
She caught me staring. “Oh Zort, you’re incorrigible.”
“Father, would you like us to leave the room so that you may impregnate Mother?” asked Zeeg.
“Not right now,” I replied.
“You are in danger of falling behind birthing quotas, Father,” said Zort Jr.
“Oh leave your father alone,” said Sarah. “There’s plenty of time.”
The triplets said nothing else. It might’ve been the Martian half of their DNA that compelled them to obey the matriarch of the unit. Or it might have been Sarah’s way of deflecting everything with a casual wave of her hands. The kids levitated their bacon to their lips, in unison, and bit and chewed, in unison. And I got the impression that every hybrid in the neighborhood was doing the exact same thing at the exact same moment.
“Don’t forget, Honey, that we have a meeting with Zurp’s teacher at the school tomorrow afternoon,” said Sarah.
“I’ve memorized the ten thousand verses of the Xylonian War Ballad,” I replied. “I don’t need to be reminded of basic appointments.”
I had forgotten, but she had no way of proving that. Unless one of the triplets had telepathically noted it and passed the information onto their mother. They did that sometimes.
“What did she do?” I asked.
“Scotty Bryson was thinking unacceptable thoughts, Father,” said Zurp. “I corrected him.”
“You can’t go around correcting people yet,” I said. “You’re not old enough.”
“I see. Shall I be corrected, Father?”
“Just don’t do it again.”
“Father, without appropriate correction, unacceptable behavior is likely to continue,” said Zort Jr.
“Perhaps it would be best if I corrected myself, Father,” said Zurp.
“You do that. Be sure to send a report of the correction to the Intelligence while you’re at it.”
“As you wish, Father.”
While eating breakfast, some bacon grease stained my shirt.
“You’re not going to Allegiance Ceremony like that, are you?” asked Sarah.
“I was thinking about not going,” I said.
“Oh, Zort. Not this again. Do we have to have this conversation every Sunday?”
“It’s my Sunday,” I said. “I doubt the Sovereign Intelligence gives a damn if there’s one less ass in the seat.”
“Maybe, but this is one of the few things we do as a family.”
“I just want to sleep in. Studies have shown that even with the pills that sleep deprivation can cause vulnerability. Zyff down at the office went to Allegiance every week right until he died from the common cold. Do you want that to happen to me?”
She said nothing. Just stared at me blankly. Maybe there was more of her genetic material in the triplets than it first appeared.
I focused my will and gave her a subconscious push. “You don’t care if I go.”
My head was pounding and I’d lived on Earth for too long and she’d grown resistant to my telepathic powers over the years. She didn’t budge.
“Fine,” I said.
“And don’t go grumbling about it,” she said. “You’re the one who decided to stay out all night carousing with your friends.”
“It wasn’t carousing. It was a celebratory ritual for Brian’s promotion.”
“Whatever it was, you need to get changed. We’re not going to be late again.”
“Repeated tardiness can lead to correction, Mother,” said Zeeg.
“Yes, sweetie. Your father is well aware.”
I changed, and when Sarah rejected the new shirt, I changed again. We were off to Allegiance. Sarah sang along to whatever pop song was topping the charts while the kids sat in the backseat, staring straight ahead.
We weren’t late though we did make it under the wire. We had to sit in the back, which I preferred. You could barely hear the Speaker Envoy as he extolled the virtues of Mars and our glorious leader. I was as loyal as the next soldier but could only be told how amazing the Sovereign Intelligence was so many times before realizing that, despite its promises of galactic domination, it was a giant brain in a jar that had nearly died when a janitor had accidently tipped it over.
Next cycle, I was voting for the Grand Acumen, but in the end, it’d be a different brain, the same old promises.
Afterward, we made mandatory small talk with the other couples while the kids played. The purely human children ran around the playground while the hybrids stood in a row to one side and watched in silence. Once in a while, one of the humans would stop suddenly and move like an awkward marionette. Then the hybrids would switch to another as amused them.
Zug pointed to his kid. It might have been his kid. Who knew?
“They tell me Zar is mind controlling at a fifth grade level,” he said with pride.
I sipped my punch and smiled. “I’m sure the Intelligence will be pleased.”
Zug nodded toward his wife, talking to Sarah. “Chloe is expecting quadruplets. I think we’ll get an official commendation with this batch.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“You and Sarah haven’t birthed in a while.”
“We still have time,” I said.
“Well, sure, but you’ll never get any recognition if you don’t put more effort into it.”
Zug was a good guy, but he spent his whole happy life blindly meeting quotas and expectations. Martian society had always valued order, predictability. There was no word for Suck Up in Martian, but I lived on Earth. Every burfling certificate and minor award given to him by the Intelligence was hanging, framed, on the walls of his home, including that one acknowledging Zug for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Unquestioning Loyalty.
His wife was much the same. Sarah glanced over at me with quiet desperation in her eyes and broadcast a telepathic plea for help. Not that I needed telepathy to pick it up. I rescued her with a half-mumbled excuse and pulled her away.
“My hero,” she said.
“You wanted to come.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Five more minutes is mandatory,” I said.
She stroked my antennae gently. Even with my hangover, it felt good. Several nearby couples averted their prudish eyes. “I don’t care.”
We grabbed the kids (or a close enough set) and headed home. Along the way, we stopped at a drive thru and picked up some burgers.
“Will we be eating a family lunch, Mother?” asked Zurp.
“We’re skipping it today, sweetie.”
“This is highly unusual, Mother. Deviations of expected behavior should be reported. Shall I report this?”
“Use your own judgment,” I said.
We pulled into the driveway, and Sarah and I ran into the house. The triplets could take care of themselves. They’d been doing it since they’d been telekinetically changing their own diapers.
Sarah led me into the bedroom as I used my mind to unzip her dress, revealing smooth brown shoulders. She turned, holding her dress with her hands. She leaned down and kissed my forehead. My antennae twitched.
The back of my head tingled like we were being watched. I turned to see Zort Jr. standing on the other side of the door.
“Are you preparing to meet birthing quotas, Father?”
“Mind your own business, Junior.”
I telekinetically shut the door as Sarah pulled me toward the bed.
There were times when I missed the red plains of Mars, the grand cities, the singing forests and the glittering seas, the sights and sounds and smells of the world that I’d once called home before it had been deemed more efficient for me to become a genetic forefather of a new Martian empire.
Sarah pulled me close, burying my face in her chest. Breasts definitely had their charms.
“I love you, baby,” I said.
Smiling, she ran her finger down my nub of a nose. “I love you too.”
There were times I missed Mars.
But this was not one of those times.