Escapee on Mars

Submitted into Contest #179 in response to: Start your story with someone making a vision board.... view prompt

51 comments

Adventure Crime Science Fiction

TW: Swearing.


Detective Arthas Jacques’ swipes moved images from the network to his visual explanation of Marvel’s character, Vision. “He was created by Tony Stark, who is Iron Man,” said the grown man with the tangible excitement of a toddler who’s heard the ice cream truck.

“Why are they hand drawn when you showed me video?” asked Agent Belle Nguyen of the Mars Security Agency.

“They’re from the comics, the video you saw was from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He typed in the air. Words appeared amongst the holographic mess of his eclectic explanation. A video popped up, showing the red one with a yellow and green costume next to an actor Nguyen knew was Robert Downey Junior.

“Why are you showing me all of this?” asked Agent Nguyen with a furrowed brow.

“You asked if I’m a man of Vision. The answer is yes, but I prefer Spider-Man,” he said with the Arab French accent typical of families from the Martian capital.

“How many hours left until we’re back to Mars?” Belle looked over Detective Jacques’ shoulder to the droid in the pilot seat. Her accent was a private school mix of English and French.

“Too long if you’ve not told him to stop by now,” said Purple, the pilot and bodyguard program which lived within a black metallic Adonis of a droid electronic sheep could only dream of becoming. Though it was chipped, scratched and a little bit faulty, it was worth more than everything Agent Nguyen owned put together.

“If we’re going to talk about objects until we get back, can we talk about your ship? The Morrigan is a work of art.” Arthas frowned at the change of subject for a moment, then a smile cracked through the disapproval.

“My other pride and joy, after my Spectrum unit,” he said, looking at the droid.

“I looked it up, there are only ten of these in existence, how the hell can you afford something like that?” She leaned towards him on her reclined seat.

“I spent a year’s worth of profits from my share in the family company to buy the ship and the droid. That’s the second reason my father disinherited me. We haven’t talked since.

“Sounds like your father has reason to be angry. You’re an heir of the Jacques-Shinoda Holdings, a year’s worth of any shares in it would be enough to feed Mars for years, enough to finish the terraforming, wouldn’t it?” Her preachy tone set Arthas’ hackles up.

“I should have known you would know about that. None of this is news to you, is it? Do you know the real headline my father has hidden from everyone?” The detective’s tone implied scandal of the highest order.

Belle shrugged. Her brown eyes met his baby blues without comprehension. “He operates on the aggressive end of legality, but from what I’ve read there’s never been a hint of anything illegal. Your sister has a reputation for running his holdings like clockwork. Randal Jacques is known for his conservative views in terms of gender roles. I know he sent you to military school along with your brother and your sister was raised to handle the business while the men killed for Mars. He donates to military veteran charities.”

“He’s a pompous tyrant. You forgot that. He bullied mother until she lost her mind. He made her lie about me and Lukas. He acts like we’re his sons.” Arthas spat the words out as if they were vomit on his tongue.

“What do you mean he acts has if you’re his sons? You are. You must be. The family resemblance is incredible.” Somewhere deep-down Belle knew what he was telling her, but the improbability of it felt akin to her having kissed a-

“Clones. We’re clones. My father loves himself so much that he had to make more. He made mother undergo implantation to grow his little legacies so that his face would grace Mars for a few more decades. He never told us. That’s the kind of man he is. Then again, mother never told us either.” Having thrown the front-page gossip of a Martian century in Belle’s lap, Arthas buried his nose in a book and dived into the world within the pages.

Belle took the opportunity to look up images of Randal Jacques on the visual board his son had been using to explain comic book characters. Deleting everything else, Agent Nguyen placed holograms of Sergeant Arthas Jacques alongside three-dimensional projections of his twin, Lukas, and his father, Admiral Randal Jacques.

Only the lines laid upon them by time distinguished the three men. Using scans from their teenage years, when all had been unmarked by the years and had crew cuts, they were identical to the point that the projection software asked if Belle was intentionally projecting the same hologram three times.

“Some people feel angry that no one told them they were adopted. I got the same feeling for the opposite reason.” His words after an hour of silence made Belle jump.

Deleting all the images, Agent Nguyen swept long black hair behind her ear and changed the subject. “What are your thoughts on the Deus ex Sapiens case?” she asked of the MSA intrigue she’d dragged him into.

“I think the psycho behind that stuff is planning something awful and giving away the samples was his opening move. I think the fact he decides when the implanted whatever it is is active gives him too much power over anyone who volunteers or pays for it. It’s an incredible technology but it’s in the wrong hands. That man deciding the future of it could be disastrous for humanity.

As well as all of that, I think I’m going to be taken off the case when we get back to Mars. He had someone stab you in the heart to demonstrate the healing properties Deus ex Sapiens can provide. They won’t want a police detective anywhere near this now. You might be off the case as well.”

Belle bristled at the thought of having to give up the investigation which had already killed her once. “They can’t reassign me,” she said with the high-pitched desperation of someone in denial.

“Someone is going to say you’re too close to the case. They’ll say you’re a liability because you have Deus ex Sapiens inside you. They’ll want to run a medical and psychological evaluation. Whatever you have inside you, they’ll be prodding and poking it, or trying to kill it.”


As Arthas had predicted, he was told he would no longer be part of the MSA investigation into Deus ex Sapiens. From the explosion of swearing with Belle’s signature blended English French accent, he guessed she would be aiding the investigation from behind a desk, or within a lab at MSA headquarters.

Arthas’ Spectrum droid was violated to remove data pertinent to the Mars Security Agency’s investigation.


The detective had a lifeline. Though he could not join the MSA agents replacing Belle Nguyen in the field, he could chase up his own leads. During their time together, the agent and detective had arrested a wanted mercenary called Cain Ableman. He had volunteered to be shot up with Deus ex Sapiens before Belle.

Cain had escaped prison, unheard of on Mars. He’d done so using inconceivable strength and had survived being shot a dozen times by prison wardens.

Presuming Ableman had left Mars, he was within the jurisdiction of Offworld Crime.

Leaving Mars wasn’t as easy as it was on Earth. Sure there were plenty of space ports but there was no hiding out in wilderness unless you had an EVA suit and enough oxygen for the journey. Everything inside the mighty domes was monitored. Cain had travelled in disguise after breaking out, but like tracking a stealth vessel, there were ways to spot an absence.

For a disguise, the jailbird had stolen a warden’s uniform. A man that tall was notable in anything, not least a uniform. He’d have changed to civilian clothes as soon as possible.

The discarded clothes had already been discovered by local police in an electrical station. Spare jackets were always lying around in a place like that. Arthas had his droid trawl through surveillance to flag anyone wearing fluorescent clothing that matched the target’s height. Dozens of possibilities were thrown up. Running gait recognition narrowed it to three suspects. Facial recognition software found Ableman entering a mine shaft.

The mines crisscrossed Mars beneath the surface. Down there, getting different clothing would be easy and the direction Cain had fled in was anyone’s guess.

While most of the old mines had been repurposed as safe pathways between the domes, others were still pulling up valuable minerals that would shape the surface for generations.

A man wearing a Carlton’s Electricals jacket was working on an airlock right in the path of the escapee.

“Have you seen this man?” Arthas asked, showing the photo.

“No, officer,” said the bearded man. His response was too quick. He hadn’t even looked but he had known someone would ask.

The purple eyes of Arthas’ droid turned yellow. “Increased heart rate. Difficulty maintaining eye contact. Prepared response,” said Yellow, the droid’s behavioural profiling program. The accent was crisp Berlin. “He’s lying.”

“I didn’t need a droid to tell me that,” said Arthas. “This man is a wanted criminal. Aiding his escape in any way is a serious matter.”

“Oh,” said the man with nervous joviality. “Now that I look again, he does look a lot like the man who swapped me this coat. I’m old.” He patted his bald head. “My mind plays tricks on me.”

“Did he have a weapon?” Jacques asked.

“Yeah, police officer’s gun,” said the doorman, turning pale. “I’ll tell you where he went if you promise he’s not coming back.” The old man looked between Arthas and Yellow.

“That was the truth,” said the droid.

“He went down the left path.”

“Lie,” said Yellow.

“Alright. He was scary, alright. The path on the right. That’s all I know. We swapped coats. He’s got a red Jacket with Tokyo Talisman Mining written on the back in black. That enough?”

Arthas looked at the droid.

“Truth,” said Yellow, eyes glowing a menacing gold.

“Thank you for your help, sir. We’ll catch him.” Arthas gave the old man a miner’s salute and jogged down the tunnel that led to the right.

After a kilometre the tunnel forked again. One path led up to a dome, the other on to more tunnels and mines.

“There’s an underground station if he stayed the course below. The dome above has no ports,” said Yellow.

“On we go then.” Jacques kept a quick pace. The underground station was on the main loop of the Martian Subway. From there a transfer to any of the major stations was only an hour away at most.

Gold eyes turned emerald as the droid ran its technology systems program. Green talked Arthas through the process of matching Ableman to surveillance from the subways, knowing he had changed into a red miner’s jacket.

“He transferred to the Seibu line at Maruetsu Station. Got off at Shin-Komazawa Station.” Green’s thick Dublin accent was friendly compared to Yellow’s blunt words.

A man fitting Ableman’s look had handed a Tokyo Talisman Mining jacket into the lost and found while at the same time claiming a jacket that he’d barely been able to describe until being shown it. 

“Shin-Komazawa is beneath the Komazawa Tradeport. All he’d have to do is offer himself as cheap labour there to get onboard a ship.”

“The surveillance cameras at the port have been ‘broken’ for months.” Green made air quotes at the word broken. “It means the ships have deniability when bad things and bad people get on and off. The repairs keep being pushed back on an official priority list. I’m guessing there are bribes involved there.”

“Probably,” said Jacques, picking up the pace. “Purple,” the detective spoke to the pilot program. “If there’s a free berth in Komazawa I want the Morrigan docked there ASAP.”

The droid’s eyes flashed to amethyst from emerald. “Consider it done,” said Purple in its Newcastle accent.

Containers ranging in size from cat to blue whale were moving in the arms of men wearing fluorescent jackets and cranes. Haulage droids were everywhere, rolling on tracks that clacked against the cold concrete beneath. Fuel, fart, and body odour filled Arthas’ nose. The ships docked in the trade port were mostly vertical take-off rockets enclosed in clamps that prevented them from toppling like dominoes.

“Find me the most legitimate of the Argentinosaurus class freighters. I want a log of the drive signature from every ship that left here within an hour of Ableman arriving. He wouldn’t want to hang around.”

“The Trading Ship Eliot George has declared one hundred percent of its expected cargo for the last five years. We need to be aboard to extract drive signature registers,” said Green.

The droid’s eyes flashed from emerald to sapphire. “Lots of dodgy pricks here, Arthas. Keep your eyes peeled,” said the scene documentation program with a Glasgow twang. The droid’s eyes flashed back to amethyst again.

“I am, lead the way. I want to be right on Cain’s tail.”

Manoeuvring between auctions, Arthas caught a whiff of tuna from Earth as buyers from all over Mars clamoured to bid for it. Men covered head to toe in waterproof orange jostled the detective as he pushed through them.

The Eliot George was declared in scratched yellow on grey to be the property of the Leif Gjokaj Trading Group. The gangplank was up four flights of stairs. Arthas’ black boots pounded the crisscross metal all the way to the top at a run.

“Detective Arthas Jacques, Offworld Crime. I need to see your sensor data for drive signatures.”

“I need to see some credentials,” said a woman with a pine green Trading Ship Eliot George overall, the name of the ship printed in white. She folded thick arms across her chest. “We run a clean ship; we don’t want trouble.” The woman’s green eyes took in the Spectrum droid with a wary glance. Arthas recognised her lenses as contacts with flecks of gold in them, a fashion spreading from Earth out across the system.

The Spectrum unit flashed up Arthas’ identity file.

“Eugene,” called the brunette. A crooked scar across her brow wriggled as she frowned at Arthas.

“Captain?” said a pine green humanoid droid as it emerged from the ship.

“Verify this man’s claim that he’s an officer.” She tucked shoulder length hair behind an ear decorated with a gold stud earring mounted with an emerald. The droids shared data.

“He’s legit,” said Eugene.

“He’d be the only one here who is,” said the captain. “If this wasn’t the cheapest dock on Mars-” She sighed. “Come aboard. Do what you have to do then get lost before someone here works out what you are.”

Eugene led Arthas and his droid to the communications control system. The Spectrum unit plugged in, eyes emerald and flashing.

“Got it,” said Green, “he left aboard the Zero Dawn. It’s heading for Earth.” The Dublin accent had Eugene’s full attention.

“You have multiple character programs running simultaneously,” said Eugene. “Why?”

“Shits and giggles, brother droid. For the banter,” said Blue in its broadest Glaswegian, slapping a hand on Eugene’s shoulder.

“How are you sure he’s on the Zero Dawn?” asked the detective as they left the ship. The captain had some local louts eying her suspiciously. “Nothing this time,” he yelled at the captain, “but we’ll be keeping an eye on you. You slip up, you’ll fall hard. What are you fuckers looking at? Want me to search your ship as well?” The thugs slouched away, grumbling.

“Someone with Cain’s build held a gun to the crew of the Zero Dawn and boarded two minutes before departure. It was captured on the rear-view camera of the Slow Loris Called Morris,” Green said, pointing a black steel finger at a rusty Argentinosaurus class freighter at the other end of the hangar. Red lights flashed as another ship was lowered into the cavernous dock from the airlock.

The Morrigan was easily the most beautiful ship in Komazawa. The sleek black lines contrasted the neglected grey cuboids that passed for vessels everywhere else. A crowd of cutthroats were admiring and sizing it up as Jacques pushed his way through and aboard.

“Did you miss me?” asked a familiar voice. They were sitting in the pilot’s seat.

Purple reached for the gun at its hip as the door to the Morrigan shut behind them.

January 07, 2023 04:01

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51 comments

John Del Rio
23:22 Jan 17, 2023

This time I clicked on thumbs up before I read the story and did not have to change my vote. I assume that it was Belle who surprised him at the end. The MSA operative seems to be the obvious choice to me. She would have the skill and motivation to be there to join Jacques.

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Graham Kinross
02:10 Jan 18, 2023

I wanted a little room for interpretation with that one. No spoilers though.

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Helen A Smith
07:49 Jan 13, 2023

As always, a lively read. In spite of all the wacky technology, the human element is what keeps me hooked. Looking forward to further adventures with Detective Arthas and his droid!

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Graham Kinross
08:45 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks, Helen. Science fiction not your usual thing?

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Helen A Smith
09:23 Jan 13, 2023

Hi Graham I wouldn’t say that. I count Bladerunner as one of my top films. I also love Total Recall. I think you do a great job of it. I like reading anything that expands my horizons.

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Graham Kinross
10:29 Jan 13, 2023

Have you seen the Martian? It’s quite grounded compared to those. I love Bladerunner as well. Did you watch the sequel that came out recently?

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Helen A Smith
10:44 Jan 13, 2023

I have seen the Martian and found it moving. Ridley Scott is an awesome director. I have read Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I haven’t watched the sequel to Bladerunner yet.

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Graham Kinross
10:58 Jan 13, 2023

I have mixed feelings about the Bladerunner sequel. It was beautiful but it feels shallow compared to the original. It’s tough to follow up something that iconic. Rogue one was great science fiction as well, and for once Star Wars wasn’t trying to set up a trilogy. I like the Mandalorian as well.

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BRUCE MARTIN
01:48 Jan 12, 2023

A wacky but fun story.

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Graham Kinross
02:09 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks, Bruce.

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Laurel Hanson
20:49 Jan 11, 2023

"a black metallic Adonis of a droid electronic sheep could only dream of becoming" - Ha! What a great homage to Dick.

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Graham Kinross
21:29 Jan 11, 2023

Thanks, Laurel.

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J.C. Lovero
02:37 Jan 10, 2023

Fun story with a quirky cast of characters. The truth/lie droid was my favorite. I could picture the banter back and forth. Also, as a former World of Warcraft player, I approve of the name Arthas lol

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Graham Kinross
03:01 Jan 10, 2023

Someone knows the reference! Do you know where his second name comes from? From a fantasy writer? I’m hoping people will see them all eventually. Also, I know he’s popular but I was more rooting for Ilidan to take the Frozen Throne.

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J.C. Lovero
03:23 Jan 10, 2023

Gonna guess Brian Jacques but you will have to let me know. Illidan was a fan favorite. Both characters got a special class modeled after them. I haven't kept up with WoW since BfA but the days of Burning Crusade through WotLK were some of the best storytelling.

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Graham Kinross
04:04 Jan 10, 2023

Brian Jacques is right. I was a big fan of the Redwall books and they still hold fond memories for me. I might have to drizzle in some more references to them as I write more of this.

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John Del Rio
23:24 Jan 17, 2023

You have so many great references. I liked the one about Phillip K. Dicks - do androids dream of electric sheep. Anything that is the basis for Bladerunner is OK by me.

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Graham Kinross
02:08 Jan 18, 2023

I love Bladerunner but reading Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep is still on my to do list. Dune has to be my favourite of the classics. I’ll need to slip in a few references to it.

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Tara Leigh Parks
02:05 Jan 09, 2023

Hello, Graham. It seems like you're going to continue this piece because of the cliffhanger. I'm exicted to see where this goes! I have two suggestions: If you decide to rewrite it, I agree with the comment about the hyphenation. I also think the opening could be edited with the following suggestion: "Detective Arthas Jacques swiped images from the network..." and I say this because it sounds better when read aloud. It improved the rhythm. You have lots of fun references and cool imagery, too. I like how you describe movement, as in the tun...

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Graham Kinross
03:12 Jan 09, 2023

Thank you. If reedsy allowed ongoing editing after stories were approved I would do that a lot. It’s irritating seeing typos that can’t be fixed. There will definitely be a sequel. This is the latest of a series. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/jlat1o/ This is the first one.

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Chris Campbell
00:05 Jan 09, 2023

Ooh, a cliffhanger, Graham? I'm curious to read more. This reminded me of a combination of the TV series', The Expanse and Foundation (two of my favs). Any stories about Mars gets my undivided attention. You impressively packed a great deal of Sci-Fi into such a small space (no pun intended). I liked the line, "Arthas recognised her lenses as contacts with flecks of gold in them, a fashion spreading from Earth out across the system..." You might be onto something with this. I can definitely see it becoming a fashion reality. Well done!

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Graham Kinross
00:31 Jan 09, 2023

I really enjoyed The Expanse tv series, haven’t read the books yet but I want to. I really liked Altered Carbon as well, it was a a shame when they both ended. Though The Expanse ended well I wanted it to explore through the portal more. Altered Carbon had a lot left to do, it felt like it had just started. The books are meant to be very good, again they’re on my to do list. I’m a big fan of The Martian as well, book and film.

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Chris Campbell
01:37 Jan 09, 2023

I have my name on a chip on board the Perseverance Rover. Maybe one day in the future, it will be downloaded to a Martian archive of trivia-related junk mail. 😏 https://mars.nasa.gov/participate/send-your-name/future

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Graham Kinross
03:03 Jan 09, 2023

That’s cool. I’m tempted to sign up myself.

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Chris Campbell
03:32 Jan 09, 2023

It's free!

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Lily Finch
22:49 Jan 08, 2023

Cain Abelman is such a character. I enjoyed the references. The Trading Ship Eliot George - twofer as you mentioned below. I thought that was brilliant. I have to say that is the only reference I got because Sci-fi is lost to me. However, I enjoyed the characters and reading this story. You never disappoint Graham. LF6

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Graham Kinross
22:56 Jan 08, 2023

Kind words, Lily, thank you very much.

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Wendy Kaminski
20:51 Jan 07, 2023

Not gonna lie, I always envision Belle as Ada Wong in "Resident Evil" (Bingbing Li). That said: “You asked if I’m a man of Vision. The answer is yes, but I prefer Spider-Man,” that was TERRIBLE. Bingbing should have shot him right there. Delbert got so many of the good picks on references, but I have to say I also chuckled at Cain Ableman. :) I think this passage might be improved with some word hyphenation, as it's pretty awkward in reading: "implanted whatever it is is active". Maybe "implanted whatever-it-is is active"? Love how active...

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L M
08:01 Jan 10, 2023

I pictured Belle Nguyen looking like Maggie Q from nikita. Badass.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:15 Jan 10, 2023

Also a good one!

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L M
07:46 Jan 11, 2023

Yup.

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Graham Kinross
21:42 Jan 07, 2023

I wanted to make that hyphenation change you suggested but it’s already been approved, which is days faster than usual. In defence of Arthas, sometimes a geek can’t find an opening to shoehorn his passions into conversation so he has to misinterpret conversation to make his own. I’ve been enjoying this for the simplicity of only having three recurring characters. Also making Arthas a science fiction and fantasy book nerd means more references to cram in there. People missed a Dollhouse/Agent Carter reference but I’m not going to point that ...

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Wendy Kaminski
21:58 Jan 07, 2023

hehe I'd love to see a flowchart of all of this some day, very cool! Shoot, sorry, I forgot they lock it down after a certain time. Well I think it unlocks after that, though, so ... :) I missed a reference to something by Bad Horse guy?! I would have said I was a total fangirl, but I haven't watched more than 1 of the Dollhouse series, so that's on me. :(

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Graham Kinross
22:07 Jan 07, 2023

It’s an obscure reference, middle and last name of an actor, not his first name. He played a Russian American gangster in Dollhouse and an agent with a limp in Agent Carter. That’s all the hints you get. No spoilers.

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Wendy Kaminski
22:12 Jan 07, 2023

hah! Found it. Though now I can't say, since we should leave it for someone else (I needed too many hints!).

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Graham Kinross
22:33 Jan 07, 2023

They would have to wade through our comments anyway. Thanks for taking a deep dive, was that cross referencing Wikipedia articles?

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Delbert Griffith
18:54 Jan 07, 2023

LOL just too many references here to list, but some of my faves: 1) Adonis of a droid electronic sheep - Phillip K. Dick would be proud 2) Deus ex Sapiens - great take on Deus ex Machina 3) Elliot George - George Elliot, anyone? This is a riveting tale - or part of one - and it is so engaging! You can write action and drama, my man, with a healthy dose of great humor thrown in. I'm a fan!

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Graham Kinross
20:19 Jan 07, 2023

Thank you. The Trading Ship Eliot George was a two for one reference (TS Eliot as well). To prove you can not only have your cake but eat it as well, what else is cake for?

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Geekly Weekly
01:45 Jun 22, 2023

I appreciate the comic book references. I like this story, another!

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Graham Kinross
06:10 Jun 22, 2023

THOR!

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L M
08:00 Jan 10, 2023

Its cool that the other color droids get to have more time in this story. Its always purple doing everything. Nice cliffhanger ending but i aee i cant read any more now. Shame.

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Graham Kinross
09:06 Jan 10, 2023

Purple being the pilot and bodyguard might have been a bit much to put in one. I needed to flesh out the others. Thanks for noticing.

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L M
07:43 Jan 11, 2023

Youre welcome. I cant wait to get to know them.

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Aoi Yamato
01:37 Oct 05, 2023

there is a lot to read again here. i look for references now. so many.

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Graham Kinross
07:43 Oct 05, 2023

That’s part of the fun for me. Thanks for reading Aoi.

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Aoi Yamato
01:09 Oct 06, 2023

welcome.

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Graham Kinross
04:17 Jan 19, 2023

The sequel to this is read to read if you’re interested. Thanks for reading Escapee on Mars. If you want to keep going you can use the link below. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/7cxpxm/

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