Crucible of Mars Part 1: Godsbane’s Contract by Alexander Schmid

Grendel admired the shining twin Martian moons. 

Originally, the moons of Mars – Phobos and Deimos–had been nothing more than asteroids captured out of the nearby asteroid belt, asteroids that had been in orbit around the world of Mars for millennia, until humanity had come to colonise Mars. 

First, mankind had industrialised the moons, making them more like space stations than actual moons, only to start to increase the size and mass of the moons by using up resources from the nearby asteroid belt. They had expanded and altered the moons until mankind had decided to merge them together. 

This conjoining of the moons was now the first step in creating a single moon that would eventually act as a counterbalance for a space elevator. A space elevator that would be made from space downwards and would not be bound to the Martian soil but instead, float through the atmosphere. This space elevator would eventually be the passageway that would allow the flood of humanity to arrive upon the terraformed world of Mars. 

But that is still a long way off, thought Grendel as he looked at the moons out of the window before him and noted how the moons were only just beginning to be joined together, an act that could still take decades to finalise. 

“Mr Grendel Godsbane, the ambassador and general will see you now,” said a female voice from behind Grendel, a voice that carried with it a whiff of disapproval and disdain. 

Chuckling, Grendel turned away from the window that looked out over the expanse of the Martian world and its wondrous night sky. Grendel focused his red dragon eyes upon the human that had spoken to him, a secretary who was dressed in the administration uniform of the UEF, the United Earth Federation. 

Taking in the secretary standing before him and looking at him with eyes that held nothing but disgust for the magical, humanoid dragon, Grendel simply ignored the woman as he walked forward. 

He made sure that his talons would scratch against the polished, white marble flooring. He did this both to leave a mark behind and to make the secretary fume in further disgust at the fact that she had to play host to a monster that didn’t know any manners. 

Walking out of the foyer containing the window that looked out over the Martian world, Grendel entered into a conference room that was walled in on all sides. The conference room was clean and pristine in a way that was only possible with the level of human technology that the embassy employed. Every surface looked brand new despite the room most likely having existed for decades if not for a full century. In fact, this newness extended to the sleek table in the room and the nine chairs at the table, all of which had been pulled out as if they had just been in use.

Inside the room were two humans, each of them dressed in a uniform that was as dull as it was functional. A uniform of grey and black that had markings on the collar to show that the two humans were not only ambassadors but also military. The markings also revealed that they were at the top of their military’s hierarchy. 

“General, so good to see you again,” said Grendel as he opened his dragon maw in such a way as to make it look ravenous and as threatening and off-putting as possible.

“I have never seen you before in my life Dragon-kin,” said General John Williams, his voice containing the same disgust that was directed at the back of Grendel’s head, a glare from the secretary that was unwavering in its intensity. 

Aware that the secretary was still looking at him like he would start to rip the place up if she didn’t keep an eye on him, Grendel tilted his head back so that his left eye could look back at her. 

“If you admire my scales so much, you can come over here and buff them for me,” said Grendel, his voice echoing through the room, his words about his golden scales causing all of the humans to pause as they processed what he had said. 

“You filthy monster, I would not touch you for any reason under the sun,” said the secretary as her face turned red with rage. 

“Now, now, no need to be embarrassed. I am aware that you humans enjoy shiny golden things, just like us dragons. No need to be shy about it,” he said as he walked over to a chair that was situated at the end of the conference table and sat down. 

“I was not admiring your golden scales,” snarled the secretary, her voice dripping with venom, and only her military training prevented her from attacking Grendel. 

“Oh, so you were looking at me with such passion because you found me attractive then. It’s perfectly okay. I’m aware that I am glorious to look upon,” he said as he pulled a cigar out of his trench coat and put his fedora down on the table. 

Gasping in surprise and disgust, the secretary seemed to be going a few different shades of colour as she couldn’t contain the various emotions that were welling up within her. 

“Secretary Helena, you are dismissed,” said General John Williams as he could see that Grendel was fraying her self control. 

“Sir,” said Helena before she spun on her heel and dashed out of the room, quite possibly to be sick at the idea of finding Grendel attractive. 

Watching the secretary leave the room in a rush, Grendel chuckled again as he breathed out a small puff of flame that lit the cigar he held in his taloned hand. 

“You really are as repulsive as they say,” said Ambassador Adam Smith with a look that could have withered stone. 

“Only to those that are just as repulsive, whether internally or externally,” replied Grendel as he breathed out a cloud of smoke that almost reached Adam. It dissipated about halfway between the two creatures. 

“And how was she repulsive?” asked Adam, his voice daring Grendel to answer in a way that could allow him to take the dragon into custody. 

“If you can’t see it, then perhaps you are terrible at your job, Ambassador. But if you truly want to know, then you can hire me, and I can get you proof,” said Grendel as he puffed out another plume of smoke at Adam. 

“We can handle the humans on our own,” said John Williams, his voice cracking through the room like a whip. 

“Which means you need my private investigation skills for something non-human. Perhaps a rogue god, elf terrorists, or dwarf unionisation. Conceivably even a witch uprising, threatening to overturn the magical gravity of Mars. Tell me: should I sell my stock in Eldritch Gravity Incorporated or…” said Grendel, his words causing the humans in the room to twitch at the mention of elf terrorists.

“Put out that disgusting thing and we will tell you your job,” said John Williams, his voice harsh as he attempted to direct his ire at something other than the dragon he needed to hire for this mission. 

Glancing at the cigar in his black taloned fingers, Grendel chuckled derisively before pointing it directly at the general. 

“I need this for my medical health. Would you deprive me of my medicine?” asked Grendel as he tried to make his voice sound as sincere as possible. A task that he failed at if the narrowed eyes of both humans were any indication. 

“Cigars and all other forms of tobacco are banned due to their harmful effects on humans. You will remove it from us or we will fine you for polluting the atmosphere,” said Adam Smith, his voice shifting to one of authority, an authority that would make even the strong willed cave in to his demands. 

“The nanomachine filters that permeate the air prevent the smoke’s spread and cleanse the air before the smoke can even reach you. You are in no danger, and we both know it, so stop making idle threats. It makes you look weak,” said Grendel with a shake of his dragon head, his golden scales gleaming in the light of the room. 

Silence fell as the humans were stopped short, their attempts to dominate the Dragon-kin before them having failed to so much as intimidate the creature. And in that silence Grendel saw something in their expressions, something that made Grendel wedge the cigar between his dragon teeth so that he could speak and smoke at the same time.

“What is this job you have for me? What is so important that it renders you impotent? What have the elves done to make you so weak?” asked Grendel as a spark of excitement entered into his eyes at the prospect of taking on an assignment that the humans had failed at. 

“How did you know that this matter was because of the elves?” asked a voice that seemed to come from nowhere.

Pausing as he scanned the room while General John Williams turned as pale as a ghost, Grendel found he could not identify the location of who or what had just spoken to him.

“Show yourself, General. Turning invisible is a neat trick but just that–a trick,” said Grendel as he continued to look around. His red eyes  glowed with magic. 

As if he had just manifested into being, a second General Williams appeared, except this one was dressed in an actual military battle suit, not an office suit. The difference between the two generals was clear. The one who had just appeared stood straight and with an authority to him that rivaled heroes of old. 

“A trick, you say. Yet you failed to see us, even with all of your magic behind you,” said the real John Williams, his voice carrying with it the same distinct disdain for magical beings, but this time controlled and bound to his will. 

The moment that John finished speaking, the rest of the chairs that were arranged on either side of the conference table suddenly filled with other members of the military. All of them wore the same UEF battle tech suits. 

Grendel looked from one human to another before looking at the false general. “Your body double needs better training. Or did you not give him information about our previous liaisons?”

“I did, and he should have read them,” said the general as he glared at the body double, who seemed to be crumpling inward at being singled out by his superior. 

Staring first at the body double in shock and then at the eight military men and women present in the room, Adam Smith took a moment to control himself. It was evident from his rage-filled face that he had failed to catch on to the act, yet despite his anger, he refused to allow his emotions to control him. 

“Tell me, was that the only reason that you were able to figure out our ruse or was there more to it?” asked John as he shifted his focus to Grendel and away from his failed body double. 

“No, as always, human technology prevented my magic from detecting the lot of you… at least directly. You should learn that we monsters have more than just sight and hearing if you truly want to fool us,” said Grendel as he plucked his cigar from his dragon teeth and waved it in front of his nose. 

“Your feedback is appreciated,” said one of the other humans dressed in the stealth battle suit as he summoned up a hologram to write a note in. 

“You should leave,” said another human to the body double as a way to get rid of the unstable element in the room. 

Watching the body double hang his head in shame before walking over to a nondescript part of the wall and then tap on it to open it up, Grendel waved his cigar in the air so that letters of fire appeared. Letters that spelled out a single solitary word: ‘Bye’.

The letters of fire seemed to float in the air for only a moment before human countermeasures  smothered the flames. The technology had detected the magic in the air and quelled it before it could grow in power beyond what was acceptable. 

Both the act of creating the letters of fire and the neutralisation by human science caused a stir within the room. A stir that originated within the watching humans who had seen Grendel as only a dragon-esque monster that lacked anything else to his name. Yet the moment that he had created the letters of fire, the humans present immediately realised how much they had miscalculated. 

Grendel, on the other hand, studied the motes of fire that floated in front of him. For in their destruction, Grendel saw more than the humans wished him to see. He had seen from which direction the anti-magic pulse had come from and had even mapped out the speed that the system could react to his magic. These two factors gave him enough of an advantage that if he wished, he could escape from the room, even with the human technology attempting to confine him. 

“Enough of your antics, Grendel. We have a serious conversation ahead,” said the real General John Williams, his voice silencing the room so that none dared to move even a muscle. 

“Very well then. What is so important that you require little old me?” said Grendel, his voice gruff and heavy, yet all the while, there was a hint of mischief in his eyes. 

“I think you have already figured it out,” said John, his voice ringing with surety, a surety born from the fact that he did not under or over estimate those that he interacted with. 

“Elf terrorists,” said Grendel with a darkly humorous chuckle. “Nothing new for the Augustus Republic. So why is this so urgent?”

“Because we may have just discovered how they are able to operate under our noses. If this investigation pans out, then we may wipe out the entire terrorist network in a single instant,” said the general, his voice already ringing with the knowledge and belief that he would be victorious. 

“If this is so important, then why come to me?” asked Grendel, truly curious why he had been dragged into something of such importance. 

“Because you are an expert at ferreting out the truth, something that can be seen from your previous work, and as a magical creature, the elves and their allies will not consider you a threat. In fact, they will not  believe you would ally with the UEF,” said John with a smile as he had long ago identified a flaw in magical creatures. Since they were born from stories, myths, and legends, they tended to think and act along similar lines. They could not keep up with human volatility and grey morality, a flaw that left them constantly on the back foot.  

“Still, I have to wonder, why me? Why not pick someone else? I mean, I do stick out quite a bit,” said Grendel as he waved a golden scaled taloned hand about, his cigar leaving a trail of smoke in the air. 

“Because you managed to get pictures of Zeus cheating on Hera with Freya,” said John with a sly smile that caused everyone in the room to pause, even Grendel. “You succeeded where all others failed, you managed to outfox a god, two if you count Freya. That’s how you earned the name Godsbane.”

“How do you know about that?” asked Grendel as all humour seemed to leach from his body. “I never released any of those pictures and neither did Hera. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, only the two of us knew about those pictures.”

“Let’s just say that while you might guard your secrets with draconic discipline, Hera does not,” said John with a dismissive smugness to him that made it clear he thought of the Pagan Gods as lesser beings. 

“Very well. I accept,” said Grendel. As he was now curious enough about what the UEF had discovered, he would take the job. 

“Very good,” said John in a way that made it clear to all that he would not have accepted a refusal. “This is what we have discovered.”

“We have found signs that show that there is an inordinate amount of both political and criminal activity within the schools of the Augustus Republic. In particular, the Augustus High School for Magical and Mundane is believed to be the center of activity,” said one of the other members of the general’s staff, a willowy man that Grendel looked at once before dismissing him out of hand.  

“I’m beginning to see why you would need my help,” said Grendel with a sly, dry chuckle. “You can’t send a human into such a place without risking the human being corrupted by magic or being ousted as a member of the UEF. Not to mention, in order to investigate, you would need to stop hiding within your anti-magic fields, which would leave you susceptible to things like mind control or possession.”

“Indeed, it is not worth the risk to human life,” said the general with his own dark, sly chuckle, one that made it clear that he appreciated working with intelligent creatures even if said creature was expendable. 

“Is there a specific thing that I am meant to be looking for, or do you simply want me to enter into the school and see what I can observe?” asked Grendel as he continued to collect information for his job, even though he had caught on to the general’s willingness to see him as expendable. 

“There are several things that I wish for you to look into. Here is the paperwork,” said the general before he waved Adam Smith to give Grendel the documentation. 

Taking the documents from the Ambassador and looking them over, Grendel heard the Ambassador muttering how printing information on paper was such a waste of resources. Paying the human no mind, Grendel focused in on the documents that he was holding. Leafing through them, Grendel saw what the general and his staff had meant about the dubious nature of the school before he glanced up from the paperwork.

“All this information, and you still can’t figure it out in its entirety?” asked Grendel in a tone that carried with it emotions of schadenfreude and confusion. 

“No one’s perfect,” said John simply, his words calm and unbothered, yet Grendel had lived long enough to know that the general was not happy to have his flaws pointed out. 

“Very well, I guess I should be going,” said Grendel as he took the paper documents and slid them into the inside of his trench coat, the paper sliding into a pocket that was bigger on the inside. “When I have more information for you, I will get in touch.”

“Make sure that you do,” said Adam, his voice carrying a note of lethality in it.

Not even bothering to respond to the human, Grendel picked his hat up off the table and placed it upon his head so that the spikes that adorned his dragon head fit through holes in the hat. Once the hat was in place, Grendel started to walk to the door before a new voice called out to him. 

“I have one question,” said the willowy man from before. “How were you able to take pictures of Zeus?”

“Why is that relevant?” asked John harshly. It was clear that he did not like that one of his men had stepped out of place. 

“Because Zeus is a god of lightning, which means that he controls electricity, yet you were able to take a picture of him. How?” asked the man, who from his curiosity was clearly a scientist of some sort. 

“Because I didn’t use electricity,” said Grendel, a note of respect in his voice. “Zeus has the ability to control and overwrite anything powered by or using electricity.”

Hearing Grendel’s explanation, the room went very quiet as if they had suddenly realised that they were not as secure as they thought they were.

“Don’t worry. Your anti-magic protects you from his meddling. However, since I can’t gain access to your anti-magic technology, I had to get past this obstacle the only way I could,” said Grendel as he waved his hand about sending out waves of smoke that dissipated rather quickly into nothing. 

 “And how was that?” asked the willowy scientist.

“If you can’t overcome something, undermine it. I could not overcome his ability to control electricity like the lot of you, so I used retro-technology that has no electricity in it. I used a film camera that operates through gears, springs and levers and not a single spark of electricity,” said Grendel with a smugness to him, a smugness at the fact that he had managed to come up with a solution the humans had failed to consider. 

“Oh,” said the willowy scientist, a little bit stunned at the information. 

“Indeed, it’s something I think the lot of you should learn to be wary of,” said Grendel in a pseudo-friendly warning, one he knew the humans would fail to listen to.

“And why is that?” snarled one of the general’s staff, one who’d been seething in resentment at having to recruit a dragon for help. 

Instead of answering, Grendel turned around and placed a finger of his left taloned hand on the tip of a gun’s barrel, an invisible gun. 

“General, tell your men to point their guns at something else or I might be insulted at your lack of trust,” said Grendel as he slowly applied pressure to the tip of the gun, forcing it down and causing a burst of static to run through the startled soldier. 

Building up the static eventually caused the soldier to drop her invisibility, her face showing the sheer shock she felt at being outed so easily. 

“How?” she whispered, dread and fear in her voice.

“Simple. You humans walk about with clouds of nanomachines that protect you from harmful chemicals. Chemicals such as my smoke,” said Grendel as he shifted his body so that he could breathe on the cigar, sending a massive billow of smoke out to encompass another nearby invisible soldier. 

Seeing the outline of the soldier in the smoke that was far too thick for a little cigar to produce, the general seemed to stagger back as he realised the gaping flaw within his stealth technology. 

“Looks like you need to fire your research department or make them actually work for their pay,” said Grendel with a wave of his right hand and the cigar he held in it. “I’ll be leaving now.”

“You may go. Report back in a week with your findings,” said John as he rallied himself to remain in control of the meeting. 

“I will, and no need to get up and show me the way out, I already know where to go,” said Grendel with a laugh as he walked towards the door, his eventual destination the lift that would transport him down to the surface of Mars. 

And as he walked away, he left his back open to the angry humans who’d hired him. Grendel knew he was safe from any of their tricks. Because while he might have humbled them, in the end, General John Williams would see that he had helped them.  He’d shown them their flaws and reminded them of the threat of complacency. 

 

~~~

 

 Grendel paced about inside the small area of the lift that headed down to the surface of Mars. The lift itself wasn’t anything special. It was nothing more than a simple, white cylinder that was roughly two to three meters in diameter. However, the lift had two windows built into it, windows that allowed the occupants of said lift to see the world, both inside and outside. 

The outside window allowed the occupant to stare out at the surface of the Martian world, the un-terraformed landscape of Mars in all its untouched glory. The inside window looked into the bio-habitat that Grendel lived in. A biodome, or “diome” as they called it here on Mars, was a giant glass hemisphere that contained entire civilisations. In this particular case, it contained the Augustus Republic. 

The elevator was situated on the outside of the dome, so that the lift would travel down to the surface of the diome, by travelling along the exterior of the dome. The main base for the UEF was situated on top of the diome, like a castle caging in all that was below it.

Continuing to pace in circles around the slow moving elevator, Grendel switched frequently from  looking out at the world of Mars and at the Augustus Republic. This action served two purposes. It allowed him to make sure that there was nothing in the elevator with him and it allowed him to get perspective on the issue he was investigating and how it would affect the terraforming of Mars. And as he paced, he talked out loud to himself. 

“These stupid elf terrorists, why can’t they realise that all they are doing is delaying what is to come, what is written in stone,” he snarled as he looked back and forth between the two landscapes, one green and lush, the other red and hostile, both drowning in the darkness of the night. 

“If only they let go of their pride, Mars could have been terraformed centuries ago. Why can’t they see that that is best for everyone?” he said  into a small machine in his left hand, his smoking cigar still in his right hand. 

Grendel had started talking out loud at first as a means of replicating the feel of the old noir movies he had seen back on Earth, but after a while, he had realised it helped him sort through his thoughts. But even then, sometimes when he spoke aloud, he would lose track of his thoughts and good ideas would slip through his talons. So he had a machine constructed. A machine that would record everything he said and transcribe it to a micro vinyl disc, a machine that lacked even the smallest spark of electricity. 

Looking at the recording device in his hand, Grendel snorted in annoyance before he turned to look out at the rolling landscape of Mars. 

“This world is beautiful. It is filled with untempered wonder, seeing a sunrise over the red dunes of this world is spectacular. But to see such a sunrise over a world where all could live in freedom unbound by the darkness of history, that would be a miracle,” he said as he reflected over his time outside the diome. A time when he had acted as a living transport for cargo and other goods between the various diomes, the Sakura Empire and the Pyramid Alliance and of course the Augustus Republic. 

Grendel had flown freely through the skies and had loved every minute of it, and he would do anything in his power to make sure that one day the world would truly be free of these infernal prisons called Diomes. He longed with all three of his hearts to truly terraform the world into a new Earth to explore and enjoy. 

“But it seems that I am one of the few magical creatures that longs for these alien skies. Even in the other diomes–the Sakura Empire and the Pyramid Alliance–there is word of rebellion. What’s more: the rebellion is centred on trying to halt the terraforming process, an act of truly malicious stupidity.” He resumed pacing and turned to look inward at the diome, his expression shifting from one of frustration to another, a look of deadly calm. 

   “The magic school appears to be a hotbed of activity due to the fact that humans can’t really tell how old an elf is, even with all their science. They can destroy magic, but they can’t analyse it. This has allowed elves to repeatedly enrol in the same school over and over, allowing them to pass as teenagers, and who pays attention to them?” said Grendel as he looked over a city and landscape of green, white and gold. 

“To find out the true extent of what has and hasn’t been compromised, I’ll have to go undercover at this school to see who there is really a student and who is really something else.”  He thought about what he would need to do in order to enrol in the school. “This will not be fun, but while I’m there, I might as well get some magical licenses accredited there so that I can do more in the future. I wonder if they teach courses in dwarven gravity magic?”

Musing on the possibility that he would be able to accomplish two tasks at once and that since he could go without sleep for 3 weeks, school would not interfere with his nighttime activities, Grendel froze as he saw the sun crest the horizon. The elevator was on the west side of the dome, so as the sun rose above the horizon in the east, he saw the light tear through the vast landscape of the Augustus Republic before washing over his face.

Caught up in admiring the beauty of the Republic as it was slowly waking up, Grendel steeled himself for what was to come. For Mars was a great and giant crucible, and just like any crucible, it could reduce all that existed within it to ashes, or reforge it into something so much grander than what it used to be. 

“Now, the question is: which will it be? What will Mars shape the magic and myth of Earth into? Ruin or perfection?”

 

Continue to Part 2 in July.

About the Author

Alexander Schmid was born, raised and lives in Geelong, Australia. He has a bachelor in Engineering and Science from Deakin University, and is currently working as a Science Technician. He is an advert lover of games, movies, books, anime and manga. His love of books led him to start writing during university and in time, he created the Geb War Chronicles of which the Mirror of Reality is but the first book of many.

Facebook

Loading

This entry was posted in Fiction, Serials. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply