Ghetto Blaster: The Legend of Star Child

By Bryan Alston Patrick

Part 1

Former High Commander of the Affiliated Armed Forces, Harold R.M. Boston, felt awful about the tragic decline of one of his most celebrated war heroes, Master Sergeant Terrence Allen Marcus.  It’s not that he felt responsible—he didn’t—Terry Marcus made his own terrible decisions and landed himself in the solar system’s first ever orbiting ultra-max.  Boston was a tough man by any measure but a deeply compassionate man as well.  The fact was, from his point of view, the rise and fall of Terry Marcus was simply too heartbreaking to accept as just.  Boston believed that sometimes even the most capable people need help getting out of self-created traps.  Others might have walked away but Harry Boston wasn’t the type of person who walked away from anything worthwhile in life, fights or otherwise.  And Boston considered Terry Marcus “as worthwhile as they come.”

Before soldiering in the Off-World War, Marcus was a superstar laser-back for the Jackson City Outlanders.  He’d grown up in the Martian ghettos of Jackson City but won a track scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, where, despite an average temperature differential of over a hundred degrees, he flourished athletically and academically.  Decent jobs were scarce on Earth and Mars when Marcus graduated but he’d been heavily scouted during college by reps for the Gravity Ball League (GBL) and signed with an agent right away—a powerful agent named Kiev Tasker who made some moves to improve the odds that Jackson City would trade up to draft Terry Marcus.

Terry wanted to go home.  Living on Earth for a while had been enriching but it wasn’t as spectacular as he’d been led to believe.  He missed his mother and his sister.  He missed his boys from back home.  He didn’t miss the austerity of the landscape, the claustrophobia of the ghetto or the rigid class system of Martian society but he’d never felt at home on Earth.  His liberal education at UT along with the freedom and mobility enjoyed by many people on Earth had inspired him.  “I want to take what I’ve learned here back home,” he told one associate professor of political science.  “I want to have something to do with creating this kind of free society for my mom and my sister and the people I came up with.”  That quote made The Daily Texan’s graduation edition.

Less than a year later Terry Marcus was unanimously voted Rookie of the Year by the Interplanetary Press and the GBL after guiding the Outlanders to the playoffs in his debut season.  They went down to the Moon City Miners before reaching the Sky Cup but players, coaches, fans and sportswriters alike agreed that Terry Marcus was the breakout star in the league.

The next year he led the Outlanders all the way to their first Sky Cup title against the Moscow Cosmonauts.  Terry was MVP.  He shared the award with his league-leading thunder-back, Steve Trout.  The two launched a pair of game-winning drives that brought the Outlanders back from a ten-point deficit, mounting a dramatic comeback victory that inspired one sportscaster to remark that, “Terry Marcus clearly appears to have gotten over his fourth-quarter gravity issues,” and another to call him “the best laser-back in the game today, maybe one of the best ever—only time will tell, and I predict this young man has several more championships in front of him.”

The Outlanders repeated as champions the following year, knocking down a second Sky Cup against the Sao Paolo Star Sailors, going through their arch Martian rivals, the Wraithshire Red Rocks to get there.  It was another great season but Terry Marcus took a beating, as did Steve Trout.  They both finished the season with record-breaking statistics but the solar system’s most violent sport was taking its toll.  A combination of American football and basketball, gravity ball attracted big, strong, fast guys.  Played mostly off-world on split-tier playscapes with shifting gravitational fields, it more than maxed out human physical endurance.  The body armor worn by G-ball players was state of the art but getting hit by a six-foot-four pressure-guard approaching at 225 pounds and weight shifting up to 350 on impact stressed the body beyond acceptable extremes regardless of external protection.  By the end of their third season, both Marcus and Trout had bionic knee rebuilds and Marcus had one bionic shoulder.

They didn’t win Sky Cups over the subsequent three years but they stayed at the top as statistical leaders in their positions and consistent MVP candidates.  Life was pretty nice.  They were taking a beating physically but lacing up financially.  They were best friends and superstars in the solar system’s most popular sport.  Advertising and sponsorship dollars were massive, as were the endorsement packages that exceeded their salaries.  Terry bought a high rise spread in Scarlet Bluff.  Steve bought a bigger one a month later and two buildings away.  He threw a lavish housewarming soiree to outdo Terry’s first party.  Terry wasn’t mad.  He was happy, for Steve and for himself.  Besides, Steve’s housewarming was the best night of Terry’s life.  It was the night he met Soni Lau.

The war started before anyone announced that it had started.  Most historians agree it began on the Moon.  The miners had unionized but the company only recognized them on paper.  In practice, the union had no sway.  There were too many workers with too little food and water.  Their demands for improved work conditions resulted in polite, professional sit-downs with management that typically ended with warmly mendacious phrases like, “we understand your position,” and “we’ll do everything we can,” “we appreciate your patience and your hard work,” “it hasn’t gone unnoticed,” “we’re all doing the best we can with limited resources,” sounding less sincere with each additional iteration.

The first hostage situation lasted almost eight full days and ended with twelve arrests.  The trials of the accused hostage takers promised to be explicitly public, serving as a cautionary tale for anyone considering similar action against the military-industrial-aerospace-complex.

The hostage crisis and the ensuing trial drove a minor wedge between Soni and Terry.  She didn’t get it.  The daughter of a legendary aerospace entrepreneur named Monterrey Lau, Soni had grown up in Scarlet Bluff.  She was the first Martian supermodel to do shows and ink deals on Earth.  Angry miners pursuing power by force struck her as a threatening proposition—one that should be shut down as quickly as possible.  Soni couldn’t understand why Terry sided with the miners so fervently.  “I know you grew up working class but you’re the richest person I know, aside from my father.”

“That’s why you’re with me?”  Terry flaunted hurt.  This was a progressive change off the field, jagged emotional swings and flashes of maudlin sentimentality, arguably the cumulative impact of the sport on his nervous system. “That’s what you care about, huh? Money, fame and power? And prestige? You don’t respect where I came from.”

Soni’s icy upper crust melted in the heat coming off him.  Steve used to call them fire and ice, meant in a nice way.

“You know that is not true.”  She leaned over the back of the sofa and kissed Terry on his head, rubbing his shoulders, manipulating muscles, easing tension, hinting erotic.

He put his hands on hers and softened in her loving grip, restoring their oneness.  They were from different worlds but they had built their own together. When they were present enough they lived in the world they had created. But outside forces kept acting on them, bringing storms and tectonic shifts.

“The people on trial and the people like them work hard in those mines and they deserve better lives,” Terry told Soni, gesturing at his opulent living quarters.  “I want everyone everywhere to have at least some of what we have.”

“Then we should help them.”

Terry turned to her with a looked that asked, you serious?

Soni nodded and gently pinched Terry’s chin between her thumb and forefinger.  “We have the means to help people.  So let’s help them.”  She kissed him.

The public trial had the ironic effect of pissing off the proletariat more severely and inspired more rather than less militant acts against off-world corporate imperialism.  A second uprising on the Moon halted mining operations entirely, proving that the only lesson the miners learned from the first uprising was what not to do wrong the next time.  Historians speculate that the first uprising was actually a ploy in part to measure the corporate-military response.

The co-leader and chief strategist of the Lunar Resistance Front was a woman named Paris Sandström, second tunnel foreperson and seven-time champion on the virtual chess circuit.  The second time around they got it right, surreptitiously seizing control of the main reactor before moving on the supply ship that arrived later that day.

Within eight or ten hours, the resistance had control of all the food and the energy on the Moon, trapping the small management team inside the corporate structure at the center of the complex.  Similar uprisings followed in mining operations on Titan and Europa, despite last minute military and corporate efforts to prevent them.

From there, standoffs ensued.  Most of the media took the sides of their corporate parents, many of whom held stakes in the outcome.  The party line went something like “in challenging economic times we all have to work together and make sacrifices, keeping in mind that we’re fortunate to have food on the table,” with remarks from corporate spokespeople peppered in to the tune of:

Human labor advocates fought tirelessly when we were first developing industry on the Moon to be a part of it.  It’s well known that our original plans were to mine using AI and robotics.  But we responded to the demands of the human labor groups—we listened to their reasoning and concurred that there were simply too many people in need of work, food and space to build our operation around artificial labor.  They agreed to make sacrifices, understanding that our operating costs would skyrocket if we conceded to hire human workers.  Now, less than ten years later, after we’ve delivered on our original promises, put thousands to work and made even more concessions, we’re thanked by a completely unwarranted revolt that has frozen nearly ninety percent of our business operations.

The words of Brynn Stanley were compelling, especially when looped and replayed throughout the day everyday on hundreds of thousands of media outlets.  A poly-ethnic omni-sexual hermaphrodite and a devout evangelical Christian, s/he was difficult if not impossible to debate one on one so resistance leaders didn’t even try.  Their strategy was simply to seize power as quickly and thoroughly as they could while maintaining the option of discussing ideology later.  Centuries after Marx and Engels argued that a communist revolution would have to be global to succeed, their wildest fantasies paled by comparison to the interplanetary workers’ uprising.

Although Terry initially sympathized with the workers’ plight and felt he understood how radical action might be necessary to achieve any viable results, his patience was tested by increasingly violent and terroristic demonstrations.  At first he looked at it like a fringe element within the larger movement getting out of control and jeopardizing the unity of the cause.  Whether it was the angle of the media coverage, his own instincts or some combination thereof, Terry came to believe that the fringe element was actually more at the center than the edge.  The more civilians wounded and killed in bombings and hostage crises, the less Terry believed the resistance was capable of achieving anything positive.

He’d already changed his position and begun vocally supporting the new Affiliated Armed Forces, assembled to contain the rapidly spreading insurrection, when Soni inked a contract to walk with a small group of other elite models on a luxury star-cruiser called New Eden.  The name of the ship alone equated decadence with virtue, making the vessel a symbol of everything the resistance aimed to destroy.  Not only was the attack on New Eden one of the resistance’s most ruthless displays, it was also one of the most tactically alarming from the perspective of the AAF and the media in that the ship’s crew had been infiltrated and indoctrinated to the extent that those turned became willing to sacrifice their jobs and their lives to advance the cause.  Twenty-two people were killed in the attack including two of Soni’s friends.  Another three-hundred-plus were injured, including Soni, who healed more fully than many other victims but wound up with what looked like career ending scars on the left side of her face and body.  Terrence Allen Marcus moved beyond opposing the resistance to anathematizing it.

When the draft was announced to combat the “rising tide of terror,” Terry didn’t wait for his place in the alphabet.  He enlisted along with Steve Trout and their deep forward, Xavier Lavign.  In line with them the morning they all signed up was All-Galaxy pressure-guard and Red Rock rival, Lance Tate.  The tension between them eased as the line shortened. By the time they were all in, they left the recruitment office together and went out drinking, raging all night, howling about G-Ball war stories, several of which pitted Marcus, Trout and Lavign against Tate and his vaunted defensive front at Wraithshire, widely considered the best and most brutal ever.

They started their service together and finished it together during a raid on the USS Myriad, an occupied space station that AAF intelligence suspected had become the hub for rebel strategic operations.  They had been wrong.  Galactic Resistance Front leadership had seized control of the Myriad specifically to strip it of weapons, food and other supplies before disguising the station as a decoy headquarters.  Paris Sandström’s direct reports leaked the location and the ostensible purpose of the Myriad, then sat back and collected intel from their counter-cryptographers and a few well placed spies inside the AAF.  Paris opened a bottle of real champagne imported from France the night Myriad went down, taking three AAF vessels and over thirty soldiers with it.

The G-Boys, as Tate had dubbed the crew during basic training, were actually fortunate.  They had formed a tight-knit strike team known for their dexterity and precision.  They went in first and quietly, penetrating the command center before resistance leaders even realized they were there.  Marcus knew something was off right away.  Paris Sandström and her immediate sub-commanders were conspicuously absent from their alleged headquarters.  He got the word out in time to save a lot of lives but unfortunately not quickly enough to save them all.  The kamikazes on the bridge were caught off guard but managed to initiate a self-destruct sequence and fire all the station’s weapons before the strike team took them down in a web of plasma-beam fire.  One of the GRF soldiers armed a backpack full of pulse grenades before expiring.  The blast injured Marcus and Trout severely but Tate and Lavign had managed to get clear.  Lavign knew the station back and forth from cramming schematics before the raid and, along with Tate, dragged Marcus and Trout through an air-locked portal in the floor of the bridge, underneath which was a spherical escape pod built to withstand a total detonation of the Myriad.

The explosion threw the pod some two hundred miles from the site, stranding the G-Boys for a couple of days before their distress signal attracted the attention of an independent mining vessel scouting a nearby asteroid belt.  The miners saved their lives.  They had only rudimentary first aid and no medical knowledge among them but they shared their food and water for thirty-six hours and change until an affiliated vessel arrived.  Trout had flat-lined just before the medics reached him but they were able to resuscitate him with a Lazarus Box.  Marcus was barely there but he recalled the ordeal in clips and anything missing from his memory was filled in shortly thereafter by Lavign, who told him, “the miners helped us despite their politics.”

“How do you know that?” Marcus asked, still weeks of rehab away from recovery.

“They were crazy nervous about contacting a military vessel.  They were quiet about it but I overheard them talking it over in their dining area one night, debating about what they should do.”

“You mean, whether or not they should have let us die, or jettisoned us?”

“No, man.  None of them wanted to do that but it was clear they didn’t want the military knowing what they were up to.”

Marcus was able to make a complete recovery but the experience transformed him in body, mind and spirit.  All the life-saving medical procedures resulted in the nano-bionic enhancement and/or reconstruction of more than twenty-five percent of his body—joints, cartilage, muscle tissue and bone mass—leaving his return to G-Ball “questionable,” depending on policy changes in the league’s bio-mechanical standards manual.  He’d survived with his sanity intact, according to the tests run on him, but his beliefs and expectations had been forever impacted.  Post-traumatic stress from his combat injuries and the incursive medical technology had him trembling and pouring cold sweat in episodes that came and went randomly.  “I feel shaken to my core, doc—I don’t know what’s what anymore.  Can I live again? Can I love again?”

Dr. Emma Wyoming was the only physician and, for a while, the only person Terry Marcus felt he could trust on the Aurora Dawn.  His bouts of paranoia cast even Xavier Lavign and Lance Tate in sinister umbrae.  “Dr. Em,” as her patients called her, had a natural gift for inspiring trust.  Either she’d mastered the techniques of her trade or her presence was intrinsically soothing.  “You can and you will live and love again,” Dr. Em assured him with calm and compelling sincerity, “you’ve simply been through something profound.  I’d be more concerned if you weren’t asking big questions.”  She looked at her watch.  “That’s a good stopping point.  We’ll meet tomorrow in my office, then?”

Marcus nodded reticently, still unsure about getting up and walking on his own or navigating the medical wing of the Aurora D without constant supervision and assistance.

“By the way,” Dr. Wyoming paused at the door, “I was hesitant to say anything just yet but I suppose it makes no sense to defer any longer.  We’ve been in contact with your wife.”  She read Terry’s face.  His expression wasn’t clear.  “We’re ready to arrange her transport here.  How do you feel about seeing her?”

“I.  I want to.  I just.”

“I know.  It’s huge.  I’ll be in my quarters after eighteen-hundred this evening.  Please call me if you need to chat between now and our session tomorrow.”


“Otherwise, just get some rest and think about what I told you.”

Terry’s time in the military hadn’t been kind to his marriage.  Soni had never supported his enlistment.  Her father had, however, and plied his paternal powers of persuasion to prevent Soni from pursuing a divorce prematurely.  Soni would never have actually left Terry but, she was so badly hurt, she would have acted out for a while and done all kinds of damage before eventually coming to her senses.  She did “the right thing” and buckled up, standing by her man.  At least for the first six months of his active combat duty.

By the end of nine months they were rarely communicating.  Soni had taken a spokes-model gig on Earth and, although workers were revolting all over the planet, her circles in New York, London and Paris were insulated from the common peoples’ strife.  Plus the other models, agents and photographers transferred their disdainful complacence toward the matter to Soni.  As her colleague, Var, put it: “I’m just so bored wit zis already.  Why must we keep hearing about zis alwayez?”

Occasionally, someone in the fashion realm would actually sympathize with her.  It was so rare it made her realize she’d stopped sympathizing with herself.  Soni walked at a fundraiser gala for Global Thirst Quench in Beijing near the end of Terry’s first year in combat.  A rapstar/activist named Terra Nova hugged her and thanked her.  “I’m such a fan of you and your husband,” he told her.  “I put his picture up on stage every time I perform ‘Noble Sacrifice.’  He’s the man.”

Soni burst into tears.  Terra held her in his arms a little too long—apparently his admiration for her husband wouldn’t have precluded a few hours of “comforting” her in his hotel room, with few to zero articles of clothing between them.

She also got a warm embrace from Brynn Stanley, who naturally applauded her and Terry for their high profile opposition to the GRF.  Rumors of a Brynn Stanley presidential campaign abounded by that time and Stanley’s confidence was towering.  Brynn kissed Soni’s hand and gave her a little bow.  “Thank you for everything.  This benefit literally means the world to me and most of the population.”  They stood, regarding each other, hand in hand.  Brynn was attractive in an imposing and hyper-exotic way.  “If you or your husband ever need anything,” Brynn continued, “do not hesitate to contact me anytime.”

“Thank you.”

“I mean it.”

Desperately lonely and confused, Soni wound up in bed with Brynn and Terra Nova, lit up on an underground Martian narcotic slanged “Z.”  It was an epically kinky threesome that distracted Soni from all her uncomfortable feelings for a night, before leaving her lonelier and more confused that ever.  It was showering the next morning, alone in Terra Nova’s deserted hotel suite overlooking Earth’s largest city from two-hundred floors up, when Soni saw the truth about her own emotional life during the previous year: her husband, Terrence Marcus, was her best friend and soul mate, without whom life had been too desolate and frightening for her to face.

Terry Marcus never had a chance to talk things over with Dr. Wyoming.  Soni pulled strings via Brynn Stanley and got herself on a transport to the Aurora Dawn thirty-six hours earlier than anyone expected her.  Terry was barely awake when she walked into his hospital room late that night.  She kissed his face and fell to her knees, before climbing into bed with him, lying with her head on his stomach, gushing tears.  They didn’t say more than “hello” or “hi” for over an hour.  Soni Lau and Terry Marcus held each other silently for the first time in more than a year.
For months the war waged on without them.  Soni’s modeling fees combined with Terry’s G-Ball pension had paid their mortgage for the year and change during which their home was almost completely empty.  They stayed inside for days on end at times, occasionally going out for public appearances, ostensibly helping raise money to abate famine, cure rare diseases and build affordable housing.  Such outings were rare.  Most of the time they were home, just the two of them, cooking or ordering in, watching old movies, reading aloud to each other from corny mystery and adventure novels Soni would find online, making love on the floor in front of the glass wall in their living room, and often just talking.

Soni was also spending more time experimenting with Z.  Her use had been intermittent for quite a while before picking up momentum and closing in on daily doses, until she ran dry on the stash she’d smuggled back from Earth.  She had avoided drugs entirely except for a few occasions in college.  Her father was a strict Post-Buddhist and lectured her constantly growing up about the hazards of poisoning the mind, including without limitation in his book, “spiritual atrophy and profound despair.”  She hadn’t even consumed alcohol socially until her last stint on Earth.

Zardoxin was one of many psychotropic compounds discovered in ongoing pharmacological experiments intended to ease human acclimation to Mars.  Even carefully prescribed, Zardoxin proved extremely habit forming among the first two generations of immigrants and was phased out in favor of less potent stress relievers (many of which were also abused).  Shortly thereafter, it was declared illegal on Mars when law enforcement officials became aware of the flourishing gray market for Zardoxin, or Z, “zed” and “zebra,” as it was alternatively named in the infancy of its street life.  Draconian drug laws and enforcement strategies eventually stanched the trafficking and use of Z on Mars but, by that point, smugglers had taken it to Earth and introduced it to a market in which it was extremely attractive and perfectly legal.

Historians agree for the most part that Z really happened on Earth.  While it had been quickly ghettoized on Mars, it was trendy, futuristic and sexy on Earth.  It also happened to be a much better, cleaner and sustained high than any other dope around.  High tech vaporizers had been invented along the way that let users inhale or “huff” Z in a convenient, odorless manner that was even more potent than taking it in its base liquid form.  Heads called that “zublime” or “zubing.”  When the vapor technology hit, Z took discothèques worldwide in a matter of months, easily eclipsing all of its social precursors, including cocaine, e and k.

Z bars sprouted up everywhere for lounge lizards who weren’t into dance music and loud, crowded clubs.  These speakeasies served up shots of liquid Z for heads who preferred to “drop” it, which literally meant sucking it up in a dropper and dropping under the tongue or, as many users enjoyed in the privacy of their homes, dropping it anally—still, some users swore, the best way to rock.

As Z’s popularity exploded on Earth, outlaw chemists went to work on it structurally to understand it, produce it more efficiently and enhance it.  A lab out of New Haven created Red Z, a molecular variant with amplified aphrodisiac properties, the name of which was quickly simplified on the street to “reddy” or “reddies.”  Then there was e-z, an obvious and overrated blend of MDMA and Zardoxin that was briefly popular with the middle-aged and senior swinging circles, loosely resembling the hammer-heading scene of the early 21st Century.

By the time Soni was getting switched on, Z was widely considered nearly harmless and extremely fun in most countries on Earth.  Many of her sexy, sophisticated friends and colleagues in fashion were way into it and she was definitely looking for an escape while Terry was away at war.  Z was all that—easy, safe and totalizing.  Soni vaporized from time to time at parties, after runways and one last time in bed with Brynn Stanley and Terra Nova.

Back on Mars, chilling in the love nest with her man, Soni got the itch again.  The problem was getting Z on Mars.  It was so illegal that dealers wouldn’t move it in major cities, let alone swanky nooks like Scarlet Bluff.  Soni wasn’t sweating it until her upcoming gig on Earth was cancelled due to a military lockdown of all commercial and private traffic between Mars and Earth in response to a recently uncovered terrorist plot hatched among members of the transit workers’ alliance working secretly theretofore with the GRF.  Soni’s plan to link up with one of her old dealers in Beijing or Madrid got iced with her travel itinerary and she was fiending.

Rumor had it the one place on Mars to score was a fringe outpost called Tongueland, named for the proliferation of different languages spoken in its markets and less officially for the fact that transactions were rarely if ever documented in writing—business was conducted orally for the legal protection of all parties.  Tongueland had enjoyed the distinction of being considered the “most dangerous place in the solar system” for a brief time before several other illegal outposts sprung up on orbiting stations and roving barges, all of them making Tongueland look like a harmlessly spooky theme park.  But it was still sufficiently dangerous to alarm Terry Marcus.

“No way, Soni.  No fuckin’ way!” He had been cool about everything up to that point.  Soni told him about the three flings she had while they were apart, two of which she had with other women, one of whom Terry knew and liked. He wasn’t happy about it but he understood the stress of the situation.  It didn’t really matter to him.  He was so in love with her and she was so in love with him.  And he was so glad to be home with her.  His only regret was having gone away at all.  Soni had been right the in the first place—he should have stayed with her and let everyone else slug it out, putting their marriage first and politics be what they may.  Back home and battle ravaged, with his politics having been annihilated by the undeniable truths he witnessed at war, all Terry Marcus wanted was to be next to his wife, wherever she was and wanted to go.  But Tongueland was seriously pushing it.

“Come on, baby,” Soni pleaded with her sweet smile on, “we never go anywhere.”

“You’re right.  We should get out more.  I’ll take you to the opera, I’ll take you to Earth.  Just tell me where you want to go.”

Soni gave him her patented expression that stood in for the words she refused to speak until she got her way.

“We’re not doing it.”  Terry walked to the glass wall and stood in front of it with his back to Soni.  “That’s final.”

“It’ll be an adventure.”  She still wasn’t getting through, talking to Terry’s back.  She walked up behind him and put her arms around his waist.  “It’ll fun and crazy.  I want to share this with you.”  She felt the rigidity lessen in his posture.  It was working.

“In some bizarre, perverse way, I can appreciate what you’re saying.”  He turned to face her and put his arms around her.  “But no way, Soni.  This is too dangerous in too many ways.”

She huffed and wiggled loose from his embrace.  “Fine.  I’ll go by myself.”  She fired the secret weapon she’d kept loaded just in case.