The Callistoan Massacre

This is the beginning of a short story.

Message me to let me know what you think or if you want to read more.

His heavy boot stepped onto the icy surface, small particles that lay on the frozen ground lifted. He watched as they slowly moved upwards near his ankle seemingly undecided on their next move; a reminder that gravity was weak here.

He placed his other foot out of the lock and onto the ground, standing firm on Callisto’s hard surface. He drew in heavy breaths, not because of his old age, but to contain the emotions from within; eyes closed, memories washed through him like ripples through water. He never thought he’d come back. Not after what he’d gone through here, not after all these years. How long had it been now? Short of a half century maybe, and yet, the memories of that fateful day came rushing in his mind with vivid detail.

He looked up at the dark sky hanging above the large rover that had driven him to the site; a small blue star could be seen rising up just over the horizon. It was Earth, now distant and far away. A faint light awash in a sea of darkness. A speck of light. His home. Our home. The cradle of humanity that had scattered amongst all four corners of the Solar System, like seeds drifting away in the wind, or a contagious disease infecting every planetary body it could reach. It all depended on the point of view one took; everything depended on choosing a point of view. Every day, choices had to be made in light of how we viewed the world around us. This was the essence of being human. A wrong choice might spell disaster. Another one, success. Which one would he choose today?

'Major General Jackson?' A young voice crackled into his intercom. It continued, 'Welcome to Callisto. I am so pleased you have accepted my invitation,' the old man turned his gaze at a spacesuit that was hopping towards him, lifting icy particles in its wake. A grinning young man’s face could be seen through the clear visor. 'I am Matthew,' he continued in the intercom as he approached, holding the right hand of his bulky suit outwards but the Major General didn’t move.

'Pardon me young man,' he said, 'but I’m of the generation that still thinks that shaking hands in a full body suit is …ill-suited.' He found a slightly malicious enjoyment in the embarrassment he had just caused.

'Oh. Er,... OK.' Unfazed, the young man lowered his hand, and continued on a more serious tone, 'Well, this research project is important to me so thank you for taking the effort, especially at your age. Did you have a good trip?'

The Major General’s visor was also set in see-through mode, revealing a craggy chiseled face etched by decades of interplanetary travel and warfare. His inscrutable deep seated brown eyes locked onto Matthew’s gaze, 'I’m not sure you truly understand what you’ve set in motion here young man,' he paused for a few seconds, then continued with a less assured tone, 'All this,…' he waved at the landscape as if unable to contain himself. 'They’re all gone. Just ghosts,…' His cried out before pausing and turned towards the horizon. The silence was awkward but Matthew knew enough about the old man to give him some space.

The scenery they were looking at was one of darkened ruins scattered across a bleak, frozen landscape. In the sky, Jupiter laced with bands of yellows and red hues overlooked the scene, like a lost god over a fallen kingdom. The gas giant lacked the vivid radiant colors portrayed in images published by the media who want to enhance its appeal; it had in reality paler, washed out hues instead. To the east, another moon of Jupiter, shiny and white , popped over the horizon against the dark sky. Viewed from Callisto’s surface, it was as small as a ping pong ball held at arm’s length, yet, its name now evoked a rare sense of wonder for all humanity: Europa. This is where a second genesis had taken place in our Solar System as lifeforms unlike from anything else found on Earth had been discovered deep within its subsurface ocean. It had also been the reason why the Solar Civil War had taken place.

After a few minutes had passed, Matthew broke the silence, 'In your last correspondence two weeks ago, you said you wanted to go straight to the site upon arriving here. Are you still up for it?'

His answer swiftly came, 'I’m ready. We,…' The Major general paused for a short while then continued, 'Go ahead young man. Lead the way.”

Matthew lifted a hand in acquiescence and took the path leading from the memorial center to the ruins, although at a slower pace that he would usually take. Major General Jackson followed.

After five minutes of walking across the frozen white plains, Matthew’s voice came back on the intercom, 'Major General, we are soon going to reach the south entrance. That’s where I'd like us to do our first interview.'

'Fine. Better get it done with now that we’re here.'

The gateway to the South Entrance was part of a set of structures that were still standing amongst the ruins, although at first glance, you’d expect them to have collapsed ages ago given how lopsided they were. Low gravity and the solidity of modern materials had held these mangled structures in place, seemingly resolved to be reminders of the devastation that had fallen upon Valhalla, the first and what had been at the time, largest city of the outer Solar System.

They arrived at the gateway which dwarfed both of them. Matthew grabbed a chunk of dark metal lying nearby and held it near his visor for some time, studying it in detail.

Matthew turned to the Major General, 'As you know, I’ve been studying the Solar Civil War in detail. The battle that took place here is one of the its least understood aspects. That’s why we’re here.'

'The University of Free Mars clearly doesn’t know what to do with its money.'

'I’m actually from the Free University of Mars in Hellas Basin. The University of Free Mars on Olympus Mons was renamed five years ago following the Underhill Accords.'

'Typical Martian that is. Can’t hold something still for more than a decade,' the old man mumbled on the intercom.

'The University of Free Mars was renamed The Mars University of Science and Technology. It's less poetic, I’ll admit.” Matthew turned back to the ruins and continued, 'If you’ve read the brief I sent you, you'll see that we’ve been studying the war crimes which took place all over the solar system during this time. Our aim is to better understand the initial conditions that led to them.'

'You should have gone into biology young man. Then, you’ll know what a bloody messed up animal we are and how we can't stop killing ourselves,' grunted the Major General.

'Well, this is a multidisciplinary study involving numerous experts from space historians to off-world anthropologists.'

The Major General grunted and threw the metal towards the floor in front of him. 'Academics.,' he sneered, 'The battle of Valhalla deserves better.'

'Can we start?' said Matthew.

'Let's go,' replied the old man.

'Right,' said Matthew, 'The reports at the time state that you held the rank of major within the Callistoan separatist movement. Yet, declassified files seem to indicate that you were working very closely with the leadership. Far to close for a person of your rank. Can you clarify?'

'We were not a separatist movement. We were a government. We represented the people and our own identity as Callistoans. The Solar System Republic wanted to impose new measures on us. We had to act.'

'By bombing spaceports and killing innocent victims?'

The Major General took some time before responding.

'Those were the work of radicals. I had nothing to do with them, and few people in the leadership approved of such tactics,' he paused before continuing, 'We had difficulties stopping them.'

'Three thousand, seven hundred and fifty-two people died from these attacks.' Matthew said sternly.

Another pause ensued.

'I was close to the leadership because I was more than just a major. I also worked as an intelligence specialist.'

'Can you be more precise?'

'I was in the Callistoan secret service.' the Major General croaked.

'We were part of the Glasislundr!' exclaimed Matthew .

'I was third in line.'

Matthew was lost for words. Little was known about this secretive organisation that took hold during the war, let alone met anyone ranking higher than five in line to the leadership. He knew the Major General had things to hide, but never in his wildest dreams had he considered the man now in front of him to be such a big catch. Matthew had to think quickly.

'Why are you telling me this?'

'Because people need to know.'