In “High Steaks”, the most recent addition to the Quantum Series, a resistance rises to meet the fascists who’ve overthrown the legitimate local government of the Terran colony Deanna – a resistance with friends in low places. This time, we look at The Mark Conspiracy.
So… who is Mark, and what is this conspiracy about?
Let’s start off with who Mark is:
Back in the first book in the Quantum series (“Black Sunrise“) an alien comes to Deanna – not to visit it like most tourists, but to bomb it! The Ruminarii (a.k.a. Gimp) are a race of aliens with whom Humans have tangled before in the distant past – and Half-Lieutenant Marsh’k Kluss’ta, a Ruminarii warrior, is the commander of the alien warship that comes to attack Deanna. He’s none too fond of Humans, in fact, he’s resentful towards them because they’re responsible for defeat of the once mighty Ruminarii war machine a century earlier, and the resulting gradual decay and loss of stature of the Ruminarii’s own empire.
As the story rolls on though, while the reader gets to know Marsh’k a little better as a dude who loves sharp objects and is very good at avoiding getting assassinated by his underlings who think his seat on the bridge looks more comfy than theirs, they also find themselves noticing that he’s not really a bad guy. Marsh’k is mostly the product of his upbringing, culture and society – and while he struggles to get to grips with juxtaposed concepts like “good” and “evil”, he and the crew of the Black Sunrise – a Ruminarii hammerhead class warship – get the crap blown out of them on Atro City’s spaceport tarmac!
Defeated, thoroughly disgraced, and slightly toasted, Marsh’k Kluss’ta picks himself off the concrete tarmac and slinks away to try and avoid the inevitable: being captured by the Humans, and probably invited to dinner at the pointy end of a fork.
This is how life on Deanna starts out for the alien – on the lam while wearing a disguise made up of assorted items of borrowed clothing which makes the reptilians biped humanoid somewhat resemble a cowboy. In the outback beyond the outskirts of Deana’s capital, Atro City – pretty much having worked out that the purpose of Human ears was to hold their silly hats up on their heads – Marsh’k succumbs to the heat and thirst and falls at the side of the road. There, he meets a Human quite by accident: Jenny Grauffis, a rancher of Skeggs Valley.
While repairing fences and righting overturned red-horned wildebeest that morning, Jen had seen the struggling form of the Ruminarii without realizing who or what he was, and rushed to his aid. Once she notices the prone form’s true nature, she hesitates for only a moment, and offers him water anyway. After a brief exchange, she departs and Marsh’k in turn chooses not to kill her to cover his tracks. Instead, he observes her for a little while as she drives back to her ranch gate – where a gang of thugs awaits her. They work for Edos Sylvestri, a strong-man at the local mine – whose representatives have been trying unsuccessfully to buy the Grauffis family off their land for years. Jen is of the opinion that it’s far too coincidental that shortly after turning down repeated offers from the mine’s lawyers, her parents, her elder brother, and her fiance’ all died in short order.
In the meantime, while Jen and her surviving younger sibling Danny find themselves tied up and staring down a trio of blasters and thugs in mirror-sunglasses, who should take care of them, but the dark-eyed alien?
This places all concerned into something of a pickle. Marsh’k Kluss’ta – an enemy alien had intervened and saved the lives of Jen and Dannielle Grauffis out of gratitude for Jen helping him earlier. What were they to do?
The Mark Conspiracy
Instead of turning the Gimp over to the authorities – which would mean almost certain torture and probably death, Jen and Dannielle Grauffis, bounty hunter Gary Beck, Cindy-Mei Winter (then posing as a C.I.A. agent), and Sheriff Peggy-Ann Muller agree to hide the alien on the Grauffis ranch.
Because his name is so hard to pronounce, they agree to “round it off” to Mark instead. Mark becomes a regular feature of the Quantum series of novels, and pops up here and there, and sometimes when least expected. He’s the strong, silent type. He thinks and listens and watches and learns quietly from those he meets before replying – and when he does reply more voluminously than his usual one or two word conversations, it is usually profound.
Mark makes the basement under the ranch house his home – accessible by the kitchen – and every time a visitor comes by, he “finds a cranny” – and retreats there.
Mark is known for his accent – he speaks Terran (what they used to call English) with a hiss. Well, he is a reptile after all.
In “High Steaks“, the exiled governor of Deanna sets up his cabinet and staff at the ranch – in Jen’s dining room, and while civil war is on the cards with the loyalist militia being set up on the grounds, there’s really very little point in maintaining the charade. Out of his own, Mark volunteers to join the Militia to fight for Deanna – and the Terran Empire, his former sworn enemy – and because he hopes to find and rescue Jen’s younger sister Danielle who has been imprisoned by the revolutionaries.
As you may gather, Mark is quite a deep character. He ponders concepts like good and evil, and the innuendo inherent to the recipe names in various cookery books on Jen’s shelf (the ones she wishes she’d burned). He helps around the house and cooks, cleans and also lends an air of security to Jen – who since Danielle went to study at ACU (Atro City University) – lives alone on the ranch. He’s versatile too, because he lends himself to humor in respect of awkward situations. His attempts to grasp humor and Human emotions and culture and especially dining, are particularly troublesome to him. It’s obvious that during his time with the Grauffis sisters, he’s developed feelings for them – more than just friendship, but familial.
When he signs up at the head of the queue faced by a flabbergasted, slack jawed Corporal Garfner – and Sarge, who only cares if the volunteers have “the will to fight”, he gives his name as Mark Graffis.
In sparing Mark, the conspirators unwittingly provide a useful ally to the loyalist militia in the coming Deannan Uncivil War.
A little about “High Steaks“:
Troubled times had come to the small Terran Colony planet of Deanna – and having amusing names for its sun (Ramalama) and two moons (Ding and Dong) hadn’t made this quaint little world immune to bad things. After a shock assassination, the three largest cities on Deanna have been overrun by separatist troops and the former Governor has gone into hiding! The quirky little world seems about to be enveloped in a destructive civil war – replete with a supporting cast of heroes, villains, aliens, victims, perpetrators, volunteers, vampires, war veterans, space battles, bovine torpedoes – and a little time travel on the side.
“High Steaks” is the sixth title in the Quantum Series by Christina Engela.
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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.