Charlie maneuvered through the dusted-red congestion of Diamond Parkway, located just outside the heart of City K744-5547. When the Galactic Government made wormhole relays publicly available, the streets of Mars crowded quickly, much to Charlie’s dismay. But with this decision, Mars experienced an unprecedented economic boom. The crowds brought customers, which meant money, which meant food.
Liquid sloshed and reminded him of the job he was on. He turned onto Fifteenth Avenue. He was, after all, a postman. A prestigious client had entrusted him with delivering a strange box filled with liquid. He assumed it to be an aquarium of some kind, based on its size and weight. He held it in both arms with careful balance.
Fifteenth was nearly empty, traipsed by only upper-class pedestrians. This part of the city was home to many of the founding members of K-Town–scientists who established sustainability on Mars’ harsh landscape. Now old men, most of them had been compensated well for their work and luxuriated their remaining days. Charlie wondered what could be in these apartments, maybe expensive exotics imported from earth or the Lunar Colonies.
He turned back to the aquarium, or what he assumed to be an aquarium because of the sounds coming from it. The box was wrapped in opaque metallic paper, hiding its contents, but each time he shifted his weight or took a step, liquid rushed around inside. The client had given him specific instructions to not, under any circumstances, open the wrapping. This proved especially difficult for Charlie, having been obsessed with marine biology for many of his early years, and also knowing that whatever was inside the box was most likely Martian marine life.
But what could be so important about this delivery? Ever since GPS itemization for Mars Postal was made legal, no one worried about deliverymen running off with their goods. The only other problem would be privacy, but what could be embarrassing that lives in a fish tank?
He arrived at the door to 2049 Fifteenth Avenue. What was the apartment number again? 398? Yes, 398. He rang the doorbell and waited patiently. He struggled to distract himself from the aquarium: looking around the doorway, counting tiles on the ceiling, observing a small camera above the intercom.
Finally he caved and tore a small line in the bottom corner of the box. If questioned, he could say he almost dropped it.
A small glow escaped through the tear. Charlie felt a sting, like a syringe, just in front of his ear. His head numbed, then swelled with pain.
“Hello. You must be the deliveryman,” said a voice. It was esteemed, speaking with the accent common to upper-class civilians of Mars.
Charlie jerked his attention back and pushed the voice button, rubbing his temples. “Uhm. Hi, yes, that’s me.”
“Charlie, is it?” Charlie barely heard the voice this time; it sounded distant and faint. It was fuzzy, like the intercom was malfunctioning or losing service. And was there an echo in the doorway?
He clicked the button again. “Sorry, did you say something else?”
There was no response.
Once in the elevator, he set the aquarium down and rubbed his arms. It was heavy, having been full of water. Or was it water?
“Charlie, I know you hear me,” the voice said. It was still fuzzy but clearer now.
Fancy, Charlie thought, intercoms in the elevators, too.
“No, you idiot,” the voice said.
He froze, then turned slowly to the aquarium.
by Raleigh Barnes