The Red Ruins

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Neo Seoul, Mars

December 2127

On a sleepy street in the heart of Edinburgh, there lies a tea house that has been in business for over 100 years, despite the sign on the door always proclaiming it closed. It provides a haven for a specific type of traveler: one who journeys, not from place to place, but through time.

Whenever the monthly artificial rain cycle fell on Neo Seoul, cleansing the Plastic City, it reminded Veer of Edinburgh (which, in turn, made him crave a nice cup of chai tea). He rubbed his eyes and groggily sat up in bed, not bothering to look at the clock. He knew he hadn't slept in; Veer never could sleep in, not even on a rare day off. And after the week he had had, Veer certainly deserved a day off.

Even though everyone had survived the defrosting process, the image of those cryo-tubes lined, blank, frozen eyes staring out at nothing still sent chills down Veers spine. He shook his head and staggered out of bed to the kitchen. To his surprise, his son Amir was already awake and dressed in his school uniform.

Amir had just turned eight, yet he inspected the fine print on his cereal box with the severe scrutiny of a middle-aged health inspector. "The box says it's organic on the front," he said, "but there are so many extra chemicals added. Do you think the chemicals are organic too?" Amir looked up at his father, his large brown eyes wide with curiosity. Veer grinned. Amir had just learned what "organic" meant, and it had quickly become an obsession of his.

"I'm not sure," Veer said. "But I think I'll have some, all the same."

Amir pushes the box towards his father. "Could you wear your uniform today?" he asked. "My friends really want to see it!"

Veer furrowed his eyebrows. "Today?" he muttered. The realization struck him, and he, in turn, smacked his forehead. "Ah, right, the field trip," he said. Veer forgot he had agreed to go. Honestly, he wished he hadn't. The thought of leaving the protective dome of Neo Seoul, only to venture out to the ruins of the city where his father died nearly thirty years ago sounded anything but relaxing.

Nevertheless, Veer put on his uniform, much to his son's delight, and walked him to the school. Instantly, Veer was surrounded by children, who oohed and awed at his uniform and fired off more questions than Veer could possibly answer. Amir beamed with pride as he dragged his father around the schoolyard by the sleeve. As happy as it made Veer to see his son happy, relief washed over him when the teacher called the students onto a multi-terrain tourist tram. Veer joined the other parents in the back.

However, as the tram zipped down its tracks towards the city edge, the relief started to dissipate. It did not help that none of the other parents would even look at him, not that it was a surprise. While his Butterfly Corps uniform made him popular with children, it only brought hostility and fear from adults. Even with time travel being common knowledge, it was far from mainstream, and many distrusted the Butterfly Corps, regardless of how many restrictions their agents had. Many were still convinced that the BC was taking advantage of its position. It didn't help that over half of its agents were Earth-born, like Veer.

Veer sighed and looked at the ground, not daring to look either outside or at the others in the tram. It had been easier when Deepika was still alive. She was born on Mars, and while her father was an Earthen scientist, her mother Ha-Yoon was a descendant from one of the original Neo Seoul colonists. That history alone often smoothed over any challenges Veer faced by being a transplant. It pained his heart to think of her, even after all these years. Veer clenched his cybernetic fist and glanced at the place where his wedding ring had once been. He had lost the ring along with the rest of his hand.

The tram pulled to a stop and clicked into a sleek station. As the airlock beeped and the doors opened to a glass observatory, Veer was finally forced to look at his surroundings. His heart jumped to his throat when he saw the massive crater that marred the vivid red terrain. And, in the middle of it, half of a giant star cruiser stood straight up amidst the ruins of what had once been K'ando.

As Veer gazed out at it, he was vaguely aware of Amir's teacher, who rattled off facts about the city.

"K'ando was originally founded in 2072 as a small Turkish colony. However, it quickly expanded into a cultural and technological mixing pot. Many consider K'ando to have been the first and only truly Martian city."

Veer sensed sorrow in her voice, but the teacher did not let such feelings reach her face. She continued to talk about the city's unique architecture, directing the student's attention to a holographic recreation of some of the brightly colored domes and impressive metal and stone arches that had once made up a good portion of the city. Veer was amazed that the holograph could capture all enhanced intricately carved details of the buildings.

In the corner of his eye, a flickering screen stole away his attention. As he realized just what was playing, dread filled his chest, yet he still moved nearer, unable to look away. Playing on a loop was the news clip from that day fateful day in 2101; the day the ship had fallen from the sky onto K'ando.

"They said the dome would withstand anything," a voice whispered. Veer looked to find one of the other teachers standing next to him, eyes fixated on the clip. He was an older man, probably in his seventies, with old-fashioned glasses... far too old-fashioned to belong to anyone from the 22nd century.

"You're a time traveler, aren't you?" the man asked, not looking at Veer.

"Yes, sir," Veer replied.

The man smirked. "I remember when time travel used to be a big secret, something you whispered about in a dark room over a cuppa tea, not in a public place. Tell me, do you remember when this clip aired?"

"Like it was yesterday," Veer said.

"How old were you?"

"Grade school." Veer paused. Then, to his surprise, he added, "My father was Ambassador Hrithik." He didn't expect the old teacher to respond, but the man's eyebrows shot up at the mention of Veer's father.

"He's the one who stayed behind to try and negotiate a peace treaty, wasn't he?" the man said. Veer nodded, though his mind was already in his old classroom in India where he had seen the clip for the first time. He hadn't been much older than Amir was. When the flaming ship had dropped through the atmosphere, torpedoing through the dome like it was a thin sheet of glass, there had been no cheering, no, not even whispered. Instead, the entire class had watched in silent horror as half of K'ando was obliterated. Moments later, what hadn't been crushed was exposed to the toxic Mars air. And just like that, all be fighting had stopped. Veer hadn't waited to be released from school that day. As soon as the shock had worn off, he ran home, hoping that there was a chance that his father had left the city before the accident. Instead, he only could found his mother and grandparents sobbing in the kitchen.

Veer turned to look at the old man, but he had already left to look at the recovered mech suits and spacesuits from the battle. Taking a deep breath, Veer turned his back on the screen and rejoined his son's group. Rule number one of time travel: don't live in the past. Be in the present.

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