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Murder on the Mars Express: Chapter 3

Chapter 3:

Shut Up and Kiss Me


Ionasia never could resist talking to strangers.  Nick could do without meeting anyone new.  Ever.  They were a rather strangely complementary pair.

The transport to Mars….three months bottled up in a captured Near Earth Asteroid with six hundred fellow castaways, escapees, societal dregs, nutters, and dreamers.  Nick eyed them all with a disapproving eye, but Io relished the adventure.

At breakfast in the common room, she struck up a conversation with an elderly woman nearby.  Nick silently groaned, but Io just reveled in it.  Going new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures was her joy.  Nick found rather more pleasure in reading about new places and people than meeting them.

“So how far on are you going?”  Io asked.

“To Agenor.” she replied.

“I’m not familiar-”

“It’s a Trojan asteroid… one of the one’s following Jupiter.”  The woman didn’t want to say more and shifted in her seat uncomfortably as if thinking about leaving, but was considering the effort required to rise balanced against further questions.

“My name is Io.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“Alison.  Sister Alison.”  Her garb was not that of a strict order.  Nick wondered to which group she belonged.

“Sister?  Catholic?” Io continued.

“I’m of the Corinthian Order.”

“Oh, I-”  Io began, but Nick interrupted her.

“Io, it’s time for your medication.”  Nick gave her a stern look.

“Oh, so it is.” She rose.  “Thank you for reminding me.”  She turned to Alison who seemed relieved.  “It was nice meeting you Al-  Sister Alison.”

They made it as far as the hallway outside the common room when Io stopped him.

“Unless my medication is for memory loss, I don’t recall ever getting a prescription?  What did I miss?”

“The Corinthians are a religious order.”


“They’ve been implicated in the terrorist attacks in Madagascar,” he explained.

“You mean the nano-bombs?”

“Yes.”  A horrified look washed over her face.

The attacks were simple, despite the media reports to their expert coordination.  Seven separate devices were detonated in major population centers on Madagascar.  The explosions themselves did little damage save for a few demolished vehicles and some shattered glass in storefronts.  The horrible part of the plan were the nanites.

The police and fire crews arrived to douse the flames.  The news crews arrived to cover the story.  The locals turned out to gawk.  And the nanites made themselves at home.

The explosions had spread them as far as two hundred meters.  The nanites made their way through the victims skin, most often on their hands or legs causing a rash.  These nanites were a bit too big to slip in between the cells without some breakage; they had so much to do.  They established themselves in the bone marrow and began to manufacture the real killer.  The doctors call them ‘DAPK bugs.’

DAPK is short for Death Associated Protein Kinase.  Humans produce it naturally.  It performs multiple functions within cells, but the terrorists played on the “death domain.”  The body has a natural switch to turn off cells, that is… the cells commit suicide.  This has been used to treat some quite terrible cancers by tricking the cancer into switching itself off.  In the nanites case…the bug activates this switch.  As the number of bugs grow the worse the victim feels.  Dizziness, lethargy, rashes, fever at the start.  Then bleeding both internally and from the pores as the cells break down en masse.  Death comes within a week at most, but most die within five or six hours.  It’s a horrible, painful death.

Cyanide performs a similar action, but damages the cell’s ability to utilize oxygen and the cell effectively suffocates.  With an DAPK bug it starves.

“How do you know all that?”  Io asked.

“I read a great deal.”  I answered.  “And I remember most of it.”  Nothing like a good natural intellect and memory augmented by the very best consumer biocomputing, a Samsung K-1000.  A data dump.  Like a warehouse for information that was about the size of a pill, it rested in a hollow inside his cranium.  Of course, all that hardware was already obsolete the moment he purchased it, but it did the job.  Nick was a veritable walking encyclopedia.

“Another reason I love you.”  Io flashed her lashes at Nick and pulled him towards the bed.

“There’s more than one?”

“Ha.” She pulled me close and whispered an auricular, “Some days I love you for your body!”

“Too cruel.”  He whispered back, “only some days?  Especially, when I love you for you body every day.”

“Tread carefully.”

“And for you sharp fingernails, your way with people, your intuition, that curious knife trick you learned in Morocco-”

“It was Malaysia actually.”

“Really?”  Io just smiled.

“So it’s fear that binds you to me?”

“Don’t tease me.”

“So serious, Nick.”


“Shut up and kiss me.”


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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