The explosion tore across the night sky; the flames were brighter and more expansive than anything I’d seen on earth; I imagined that was due to the richer oxygen levels. The noise was preceded by a shockwave, which shattered the windows of the nearby buildings and greenhouses.
The explosion came from the factory. After the shockwave and the sound of the explosion, a raw heat permeated the air, and the ground trembled hellishly. I took cover under the desk, waiting for the initial explosion to fade to the backdrop of roaring flames, before approaching the window once more.
I watched as the flames consumed the factory whole, smoke meandered into the air around the factory, blackening the sky with plumes of carbonaceous cloud.
The factory had been hastily and shoddily set up. Under pressure from the governing body of this district, we’d been forced to industrialize. It was an embarrassment-they said- that the first colonized district on the entire planet was so far behind the other districts in terms of industrialisation.
I still remember the day I left that crumbling planet. With more than one third of the world’s waters polluted, and water levels rising, huge swathes of the planet had become uninhabitable maelstroms of tumultuous weather, inarable soil, scorching desert and arctic tundra. The sun seemed to pierce the sky like a fiery demon, and the waters of the ocean had become foul with pollutants; too saline to support life.
The moon was little better; it had been terraformed centuries before, but had quickly become overpopulated and had fallen to environmental mismanagement. I waited for years to finally secure myself a trip to mars. It had finally become –they said- safe for genetically advanced humans to enter the atmosphere.
The process of making the planet safe for humans had taken almost only forty years; but terraforming the planet itself had taken many centuries. The scientists who had lived and died working to create an entire planet on which human life could be supported had never seen their dreams come to fruition. I was no scientist, and the sheer scale of the operation was simply mind-boggling. To say they diverted asteroids of ammonia and ice to strike the planet and alter its atmosphere would be an enormous oversimplification.
In the same way that Earth’s moon had been terraformed, the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos had been terraformed; this was done to experiment with the Martian atmosphere, and find out if the entire operation was plausible.
After many centuries –and with a great deal of planetary engineering- liquid water had begun to form on Mars, and with it, fauna began to sprout and grow all over the globe. After many missions, the surface of the planet was deemed suitable to host human life. First, we sent animals to the surface, and though the first few expeditions resulted in the death of the animals on board, either from complications regarding long term space travel and weightlessness or from their inability to survive on the planet’s surface, eventually, certain animals began to flourish on the surface.
Shortly afterwards, a manned expedition was sent to mars. At first, they lived in bio-domes, and would conduct experiments to ensure the outside world was safe to live in. All of the expeditions involved bold volunteers, bravely venturing to the planet in hopes that humanity would soon be able to follow. It was not until twenty years ago that humans actually stepped out of the bio-domes and –for the first time- breathed the air of the Martian atmosphere.
Before they’d descended to the Martian surface, to live in Bio-domes, they’d docked on a space station on the fully terraformed Deimos. Those first humans that walked unprotected on the surface of Mars had been colloquially named the Descendants of Deimos.
Though the Descendants of Deimos had survived the trip, and stepped out of the bio-dome, certain unforeseen health problems began to arise; with so many years of human evolution orientating itself to the length of the days, years, air pressure and gravity, adjusting to new environment had not come easily. The health problems described in the final transmission from the Descendants led scientists to realize that in order to send human beings to mars –and allow them to live there comfortably, certain alterations to the human genetic code would have to be made. Essentially, this involved rewiring the human capacity to deal with lower air pressure, higher oxygen levels, and lower surface gravity. The genetic alterations could be put in place through a rigorous series of medical procedures and a course of gene-altering medicines.
It had been five years since I’d arrived on Mars. We’d been part of a mass exodus in which only certain people were selected; those left behind were given the opportunity to have their DNA registered and taken to mars as part of a future breeding program to prevent problems arising from a reduced genepool. This was a minimal gesture to those left behind; you may not make it to mars, but your children may be born there. Of course, the entire DNA sample had to be altered in order to ensure that any offspring from these samples would be able to live on the new planet in good health.
As part of the great planetary migration, we’d been broken up into different districts, dotted about in the more bountifully terraformed parts of the planet. I’d been selected to join District Alpha; the very first district that had existed, and the site of the original bio-dome which had been inhabited by the Descendants of Deimos. I’d been selected owing to my previous military career, my previous career as an ambassador, and my deductive abilities.
I watched as the factory began to crumble under its own weight, the fires burning away against the night sky. As I watched the flames, I knew that something was amiss, and I would be the one charged with uncovering it.
In my career as a military detective, I’d investigated all manner of crime. My skills lay not only in my ability to detect and identify crime, but in preventing crime itself through pragmatic and utilitarian means. One thing that had always interested me was the Moon’s propensity to increase crime rates. As strange as it may seem, crime on Earth was always higher during the full moon. It was unknown what exactly caused this to occur, but having investigated it thoroughly, I’d come to the conclusion that throughout the evolution of archaic man, the full moon had always provided enough light to making hunting, raiding, fighting and breeding more productive; and so –after millions of years of evolution- our hormonal cycles had begun to follow lunar cycles. This provided an explanation as to why women menstruated roughly once a month, and why hormone cycles in both men and women seemed to spike at one point each month. Perhaps it was memetically written into our DNA to both fear and revere the sight of the moon.
Migrating to a planet with two moons and an entirely different atmosphere was bound to have a great impact on not just the physical wellbeing of humans, but also their psychological makeup. You can’t undo millions of years of evolutionary hardwiring overnight. It’s believed that –when the Descendants of Deimos first stepped out of their bio-domes- they began to suffer serious psychological trauma. Some believed it was the effects of space travel, other speculated that it was the insurmountable stress of their job that had caused them to begin acting in strange ways, but I believed that –without genetically engineered safeguards in place- their bodies and their minds had begun to reject planet, just as a transplant patient might reject an organ.
I looked around the smouldering ruins of the factory, recording everything I could find. A strange, acrid smelling liquid seemed to emanate from the corner foundations of the factory, oozing from the ground and melting everything it came into contact with. I shuddered as I inhaled deeply, the foul smell offending my senses.
I’d handed in my report to Alison Mae, the governor for District Alpha. For three days, I waited impatiently for her to contact me. This was not the first incidence of suspected sabotage that had occurred lately, though nothing had pushed the boundaries quite this far. All over District Alpha, the inhabitants talked in hushed voices of figures prowling the streets at night. There had been a few disappearances, and several incidences of vandalism; but nothing quite as destructive as this.
After three days, I stood before Governor Mae, awaiting her orders.
“Waltere Swifte,” She spoke, “I have examined your report extensively, and I thank you for submitting such a thorough analysis of the scene of the crime.”
“You are then –I trust- treating this as a crime?” I asked.
“Absolutely.” She spoke, “We cannot simply dismiss this as a freak accident; please Mr Swift, delineate for me what exactly it was that you found at the site?”
I cleared my throat, “Within the foundations I found an acidic waste material; the by-product of Oxyhydrophenaline reacting with Oxygen, Hydrogen and Iron. Oxyhydrophenaline is a key component in improvised explosives that can be made with relative ease using materials present in Martian soil.”
Governor Mae nodded, “So you’re saying this is the work of saboteurs from competing Districts?”
I shook my head, “It would be impertinent to make such accusations at this stage. Our colonisation of this planet is in its infancy, and trade between Districts is minimal. It would be remiss to put the blame on another district; what possible motivation could they have to commit such an act?”
“Well,” Governor Mae spoke, “The districts will expand to become the first countries of a new human civilisation, in time. Which countries will prosper and which ones will falter will be determined early on. Such was the process on Earth; countries which failed to keep up with technology and industry were decimated, enslaved and subjugated by those that advanced.”
I looked at Governor Mae’s stern face, “Governor Mae, it would be give me little faith in humanity if I discovered that different Districts were competing –rather than collaborating- at such an early stage in our development.”
“It was no different in the Stone Age,” Governor Mae said, “Amongst different tribes, there were traders and raiders. People killed, raped and enslaved even in the earliest days of humanity.”
I shook my head, brushing off Mae’s assumptions.
“Oxyhydrophenaline is a chemical found deep within Martian soil. It is only found in the inarable areas, the no-go zones that have not yet been properly terraformed.” I explained, “I sincerely doubt that a rival district would send a team of saboteurs to destroy one of our factories, and equip them with nothing more than improvised explosives.”
“Then perhaps it is an inside job.” Governor Mae suggested.
“Also a highly dubious conclusion.” I spoke, “When Oxyhydrophenaline is removed from the ground, it begins to Oxidise. The oxidisation process leaves a small radioactive signal behind, which can be traced. When I examined the site of the explosion, I found that there was a faint radioactive signal coming from the east, and going far out into the inarable areas.”
Governor Mae looked at me for a moment, and then cracked a thin wry smile, “Do you think you can follow the trail Mr Swifte?” She asked.
I concealed a sigh, “It has been three days. The signal will be far weaker than it was, but I believe that if you give me the opportunity, I can follow the signal into the East and look for clues as to the identity of the attackers.”
Governor Mae squinted at me for a moment, “Okay.” She spoke, “I will allow you to mount an expedition with a team of eight people of assorted skills. They will accompany you in a 4TX Unit in order to help you track the signal across the inarable areas. You will report directly to me on your findings. Do you understand?”
I nodded, “Thank you for this opportunity Governor.”
I’d pored over the files of people I’d be working with; some I had selected, and others had been selected for my by Governor Mae. It was only when I looked upon the crew with my own eyes that I became acutely aware of what a mismatched bunch they were. As we stood outside, the 4TX Unit, I encouraged each crew member to make their introductions to one another.
To my right stood James Guerello, my junior detective and Godson; he stood next to me, trying to look confident in the face of the somewhat intimidating crew who stood before us. James had become something like a son to me, even before we’d left Earth. It was I who’d ensured his enlistment in the mass migration program. I’d been training him in deduction, investigation, and diplomacy for many years, and he was set to become a bright detective; the only thing he needed to work on was his confidence and ability to command.
Beside him stood Oliver Halliburton, who looks around at the crew with something of a menacing look on his face. Haliburton was an ambitious and scrappy military officer, and frequently served as my second-in-command. We often clashed when it came to matters of diplomacy and tact; with Halliburton preferring to negotiate using displays of force and cunning, where I preferred to approach diplomatic issues with transparency and open dialogue. Still, Halliburton possessed a cunning and resourcefulness which made him valuable when it came to investigation.
Standing slightly behind Halliburton was George Fold, who stood with a look of bored contempt on his face. Fold was Halliburton’s junior officer, and was known to have very little regard for District Alpha, believing it to be stunted and puritan compared with the other more industrial Districts. Though he would not dare to say it to my face, I knew that he resented my influence on the Governing body, and believed that my support of carefully planned, pragmatic progress was hampering polices of rapid expansion, that many in the district favored.
With crossed arms, and a look of keen adventure on her face stood Lucy Pax. Though I’d never worked with her before, her reputation for navigating the Martian terrain preceded her. Her knowledge of topography and geology had served her well, leading her to become an excellent military strategist. Seeing her in person, she exuded charisma and cunning.
Lucy’s keen smile was eclipsed only by Peter Hamping, who seemed to always possess a broad, toothy smile on his face. Hamping was not only a brilliant scientist, but a passionate one too. He simply loved science in all of its forms. Rigidly optimistic in every situation, Hamping had great faith –perhaps a little too much- in mankind’s ability to coexist peacefully with each other, and their environment. Sometimes however, his jubilance earned the chagrin of the local townsfolk, many of whom had left friends, family and loved ones behind in the great migration, as if his optimism made light of all the lives lost.
With sloping shoulders and nervous, blinking eyes stood Garett Johnson; assistant to Hamping, Jonson was a whizz when it came to memorising and interpreting lines of code and data. His meticulous precision with everything mathematical made him an excellent navigator and engineer; a trait which seemed entirely contradictory to his shaky and often quite clumsy demeanour.
Harry Azal stood next to Johnson, looking across at Halliburton and meeting his cold menacing look. I’d worked on the occasional project with Azal, but tended to avoid conversation with him; something about his condescension and smug attitude irritated me. I often imagined Azal as something of a mouse stealing the cheese from a mousetrap whilst another mouse lies dead on the trap; a ruthless opportunist who had no issue taking advantage of another person’s misfortune to better his own position. Still, Governor Mae had enlisted him on this mission because of his experience as a field medic; the same experience that had granted him the opportunity to be enlisted in the great migration.
In the centre of the group stood Bruce Lawton, a monster of a man, with an impressive military career. I’d read through his report and learned that he rarely spoke, and when he did, it was only for some utilitarian purpose. Lawton struck me as a man almost devoid of emotion, a soldier who was entirely in his element on the battlefield.
The 4TX Unit made short work of the terrain, even as we began to leave the green pastures and fields of the inner district and enter the rockier, rust-red hills of the outer planes. These parts were still safe to walk in, but were not suitable for life yet as there was very little groundwater and so growing any kind of fauna was difficult, even with the advance agricultural methods we’d come to employ.
Lucy Pax operated the 4TX as though it was an extension of her limbs, easily navigating dips and rocks.
“Where to Garett?” Lucy asked.
Garett –whose gaze had not broken from the Geiger counter- simply nodded, “5 degrees to the East.” He responded robotically, “That’s the strongest signal.”
As the unit trundled on, following the trail of trace radiation, I observed the climate for a something –anything- that could give us a clue of what we were looking for. The route we’d taken so far had been one of little resistance, easy enough to traverse on foot or in a vehicle. I wondered if the saboteurs had deviated from this route at any point, throwing us off by scaling a cliff face or crossing a gorge. Perhaps the saboteurs weren’t an intelligent band of insurgent soldiers hired by a rival district, but a simple band of runaways who lamented their lives in the wilderness, and sought to harass the inner district dwellers in any way possible.
Whatever the story was, they had to have left a clue somewhere nearby.
The TX4 Unit came to an abrupt stop.
“Are you quite sure this is the way, Garett?” Peter Hamping asked, “We seem to have come to a dead end.”
Garett punched some number into the navigation machine, “Yes.” He replied, “The trail goes directly up the cliff face, and seems to continue in the same direction.”
I looked at the cliff face; it was steep and would have taken a lot of effort to scale, I gripped the binoculars and scanned the cliff surface for signs of climbing gear, or scratch marks upon the rocks, and finding none.
“Are you saying they climbed up there?” Hamping said in disbelief, “How in the name of-”
“-They didn’t climb it.” I explained, “One of them went around, whilst the others were hoisted up by a rope and pulley. They did it to deliberately throw us off their trail. The route to the left…,” I said, pointing to the easily traversable route, “is where they’d expect us to go.”
Lucy Pax looked down at the map, “We should go right.” She said, “It’s a longer route, but a small incline about 10km from here will allow us to get on top of that cliff face and continue following the trail.”
I looked down at the map, looking to the left; I saw something glinting in the soil. At once, I climbed out of the 4TC unit and made my way over to it. Plucking it up out of the ground carefully, I realised that it was a soldier’s dog tags.
I looked at the dog tags, examining the serial number on the embossed metal as Lucy took the right route around the cliff face.
“What is it?” James asked in awe.
“It’s a dog tag.” I explained.
“What? There was a dog out here?” He asked.
“No no,” I sniggered, “It’s a term for a soldier’s identification tag. They wear them around their necks so that in the event of their untimely death, their bodies can be identified.”
“But…” James mumbled, “There was no body.”
“Yes.” I nodded, “And what else do you notice?” I said, handing him the dog tag.
James examined the tag scrupulously for a moment, “It’s… scratched.”
“Exactly.” I said, “It’s been scratched and scuffed in such a way that suggests that whoever owned this tag –or at least whoever was last in possession of it- used it as a tool. It has been known that modern dog tags can be struck against rock to create sparks for fires.”
James nodded, “But why?”
“That’s what we need to find out.” I said, “If this soldier was trying to start a fire somewhere out here in the wilderness, it suggests that his situation had become quite desperate.”
I turned to face Garett, “Johnson,” I said, rousing Garett’s attention, “Enter this serial number into the Database of Martian Soldiers.”
Garett looked down, typing furiously into the on-board computer.
“Okay.” He said, “It’s coming up as a Harry Gerrard Blake.”
My heart froze in my chest.
“Harry Blake?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes.” Garett replied meekly, “You can check for yourself.”
I waved Garett away; I didn’t need to check for myself. I knew who Harry Blake was; he was one of the original Descendants of Deimos.
He was one of the first pioneers to set foot on Martian soil, and one of the first to disappear.
As we reached the 10km, true to Pax’s navigational abilities, there was an incline which was at a gradient low enough for us to scale. At the top of the rocky incline, we began driving back in the direction we’d came, looking down at the landscape rose higher and higher. Eventually, we were looking down from the cliff face we’d once looked up on. At the top of the cliff’s edge, we watched the sun setting as Phobos rose into the sky on the horizon.
I looked at the group; with the setting of the sun, the alertness fell from their faces, and I decided it was time to rest. As Garett hastily typed the necessary details into the TX4’s on-board computer in order to make the Unit expand into living quarters, I stepped outside of the unit to survey the area in the last remaining rays of sunlight.
As I walked along the cliff face, George Fold approached me.
“What are you looking for?” Fold asked.
“I don’t know.” I said, “But I’ll know when I find it.”
Fold began to walk next to me, seemingly because he had nothing better to do and had grown bored of staying in the unit.
“So that dog tag, that was Harry Blake’s?” He asked.
“It was.” I said, “He was one of the original Descendants of Deimos.” I said, aware that Fold already knew the story.
“Yeah, one of the unlucky many.” He said, “Did they ever find his body?”
“No,” I said, “Out of all of the Descendants of Deimos, almost no bodies have been found.”
Fold looked at me, sneering, “Why do you think they all left District Alpha?” he asked.
“I could only speculate.” I said, “In the last transmissions, the correspondent sounds distressed, manic, and tired. Their DNA was not genetically modified; perhaps they became sick. Perhaps they ran low on resources and sought more further afield, which led to their demise.”
“Do you want to know what I think?” Fold asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, “I suppose.”
“I think they realised the futility of agrarianism on a planet which is not our own, with soil that is not familiar. Perhaps they realised that without technology, without the ability to make proper use of the resources within the ground –I’m talking about minerals, oils, and fuels- then their attempt to build a society would fail.”
I looked at an unusual pattern in the dust as I surveyed the ground.
“And I believe that unless we industrialise like the other districts, we too are going to go that way.” Fold said.
I raised a hand, as I followed the trail in the dirt. At once, it came to a large pile of dust. I crouched down; gently blowing away the dust to reveal what appeared to be a large sack. I opened it up and held it up to the remaining sunlight. Dimly lit in the bottom of the sack was a gnawed human femur bone.
Fold and I returned in silence to the 4TX unit in mutual silence. I carried the sack with me, having recorded everything I’d found at the site. When I explained my findings to the group, James took the bone, and began to examine it.
“The bone shows clear signs of cannibalism.” He said, “But to whom did this bone belong?”
Hamping looked down at the bone, “If we can drill through the bone and extract a bone marrow sample, we can analyse the DNA.”
Halliburton scoffed, “What good would that do?” He said, “It will take a long time to cross reference the DNA against the database. It wouldn’t tell us who this bone belonged to. I imagine we can surmise that this is the bone of one of the many people who have been kidnapped –or disappeared of their own accord- from District Alpha.”
Hamping shook his head, “No no no, Halliburton,” he said, “Whilst we might not be able to find out exactly who this bone belonged to, we can still –using the rudimentary equipment contained in this very unit, determine whether the DNA has been modified or not. We might also be able to determine whether the DNA matches that found on the dog tag.”
“That is of course,” Halliburton replied, “If Swifte himself has not contaminated both samples by handling them.”
I brushed off Halliburton, “I can assure you I took the utmost care not to contaminate either piece of evidence.”
After an hour of examining the bone, James drilled a small hole in the bone and extracted a small amount of bone marrow. Hamping placed this in the DNA analyser and managed to get a reading. Johnson quietly analysed the string of genetic code, comparing it to that taken from the dog tags earlier.
“It looks like,” Johnson hesitated, “The DNA from the bone is not that of Harry Blake. However, it does not bear the hallmarks of a modified genetic code, which suggests that the bone belongs to one of the original Descendants of Deimos.”
I nodded, “Thank you for your help Garett.” I said, knowing that he appreciates being referred to by his first name.
“What we can deduce then,” I looked around at the tired faces of my crew, “is that when the Descendants of Deimos had reached this point, they had become desperate and resorted to cannibalism. It is unlikely this relates in any way to the saboteurs and the kidnappings, but we can all take solace in the fact that we have begun to uncover a much older mystery; the fate of the original Martian landing party.”
Halliburton rolled his eyes, “Are you going to include this in your report to Governor Mae?” he asked, “I don’t think she’ll be particularly interested in old bones and the fate of those we can do nothing to help.”
“Everything I find,” I spoke, “I will be reporting to Governor Mae; at this stage, we cannot pass up any evidence we find, no matter what it relates to.”
Azal stood behind the ever-silent Lawton, poking his head out slightly.
“You know, I’ve heard things…” He said, “There are whispers of a subterraneous race of Martians. I’m not talking about you and me; I’m talking about real Martians, ones who were here before humans made it their own. People have heard things; creeping in the night, strange sounds coming from underground. Unusual symbols and strange images in the sky, some people think-”
“-Enough of your rambling Azal!” Halliburton shouted, “Your ridiculous superstitions and conspiracy theorist dogma are nothing more than a waste of oxygen. We are men of science, military strategy and medicine, not simpletons.”
I nodded, agreeing with Halliburton’s sentiment, if disagreeing with the way he expressed it.
As the rest of the group fell asleep, I found myself tossing and turning in my pod, unable to sleep. There was something I was missing; something hiding in plain sight that I simply hadn’t seen. I rose from my pod and crept slowly across to the navigation system, studying the map. I was looking at where we’d come from and where we were due to go. I looked at Johnson’s notations; he’d tracked the radiation as far as he could, and found that it led in an Easterly direction. We would have to make haste to get to this point when the sun rose, so that we could get a stronger reading. I anticipated that as we got closer, we would find stronger radiation sources coming directly from wherever the Oxyhydrophenaline had been extracted. This could lead us away from the direction of wherever the saboteurs were hiding. It was important to follow the faint trail at such a pace that we did not lose the reading, but slow enough not to miss any important signs of life.
One of the pods opened, and Lucy Pax emerged, walking over to join me.
“Couldn’t sleep either?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “There’s something I’m missing, I just know it. What happens if we keep going East Lucy?” I asked.
Lucy looked at the map, “Well,” She said running her finger along to the east, “This point here is as far as we can go.” She said, pointing to a spot on the map which was about 50kilometers away. “Beyond this spot, there is nothing but a mountain range that 70kilometers long. The Oxyhydrophenaline must have been harvested somewhere between this point and this point.” She pointed to two spots on the map which would be easily traversable by vehicle or by foot.
A crunching noise of twisting metal roused us both to action, as the door to the unit was torn open, and the cruel Martian winds bellowed loudly through the opening. At the door stood a figure clad in a dark robe, his face obscured by a blank white mask.
Lucy dropped to a crouch, pulling a gun from her holster and firing at the figure, who dropped to the floor. At once, the door on the other side of the unit tore open, and robed figures began to pour into the unit, tearing open the pods and attacking the crew with crudely improvised weapons of wood, stone and steel.
“To arms!” I cried, as the crew emerged from their pods. Unarmed, each crew member fought with the assailants clumsily, desperately trying to fend off their attackers. Lawton could be seen at the far end of the pod viciously brawling with the assailants, slamming his fists into their faces, knocking them down with ease as they rained ineffectual blows from their weapons upon him. The rest of the crew fared less well, falling to the floor in various states of consciousness.
Lucy took aim, firing at the assailants she could easily hit, without risking injuring her fellow crew members.
“Help me!” Johnson cried out, as a group of assailants gripped him and dragged him from the unit.
“Garrett!” I shouted, pushing my way through the melee and rushing out of the unit in pursuit.
I ran towards Garett, who had been beaten into unconsciousness as the robed assailants dragged him rapidly across the ground. I charged forwards, throwing myself headlong into the group. The assailants released the beaten and bloodied Garett, and began to attack me. I fought as wild cudgels bludgeoned me, stunning me and leaving me unable to retaliate. I looked up at the white cloth covering the faces of the attackers, as I faded out of consciousness.
I awoke to a crushing headache. After I’d gained some lucidity over my senses, Lucy explained how the situation had played out. After I’d faded out of consciousness, Lucy had fired on the remaining attackers, causing them to grab their dead and injured and flee. Everyone in the crew had been injured except for her and Lawton, who’d remained unscathed.
She’d followed the attackers outside, and fired on the ones whom had descended upon Garett and I. They fled, leaving me bleeding on the floor, but they’d taken a dead or severely injured Garett with them.
Afterwards, Lucy and Lawton had passed out weapons to the conscious crew members, whilst taking turns guarding the unit, just in case the attackers returned. Azal –whom had hidden under his bed for most of the attack and was only lightly scathed- had treated the wounded, cleaning their wounds and bandaging them, and distributing painkillers. I’d refused any form of pain relief, preferring to endure the pain and keep my wits about me.
Once the crew was sufficiently treated, I ordered the crew to holster their weapons and prepare to continue with the mission, as I began to compact the Unit and prepare the navigation controls, Halliburton stepped forwards.
“Are you joking Swifte?” He asked, “We should return to District Alpha immediately. We cannot continue without military support. You are endangering all of our lives.” He said, rubbing the bandaged wound on his head.
“Garett is out there, in the hands of those fiends.” I said, “We must do all we can to find him. I will send word to Governor Mae to send reinforcements.”
“If we run into those bandits again, we could all be killed.” He spoke.
“This time we are armed and ready,” I countered, “They attacked us with nothing more than crude bludgeons and knives. The only advantage they had was superior numbers, and the element of surprise. We have guns and strategic military minds; we have the advantage now.”
Halliburton muttered some obscenity as he walked away from the controls.
James sat next to me, rubbing his bruised ribs, “Waltere, you know I will follow you into hell and back.” He said, “But I fear that your concern for Garett is putting the rest of the crew in danger. Please do not be blinded by your emotions. We have to remain pragmatic for the good of the crew.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “Do you remember our last days on Earth? Do you remember the wars that were fought for the last pieces of arable land? Or the chaos that ensued when it was revealed that only a fraction of the population would be able to take part in the great migration?”
James nodded, “I remember all too well.”
“I fought when I needed to fight; but when I didn’t need to fight, I used diplomacy. If I can find these bandits, I might be able to find out who they are and what they want. If they are indeed the saboteurs, they will have demands, agendas, ideologies which we can use to negotiate with.”
Azal emerged from his pod, “Didn’t you see them?” He said desperately, “They were savages. You can’t negotiate with men like that, if indeed they were men at all.”
I shook my head, “That’s enough about that Azal,” I said.
“I saw them with my own eyes!” He said furiously, “Their faces were white.”
“They were wearing cloth masks Azal,” I explained, “They were human and you know it.”
“I’m not lying!”
“Is that right?” I asked, handing the navigation controls over to James, “But you are lying aren’t you Azal?” I said in a hushed voice.
Azal looked at me, his face freezing up.
“I find it awfully strange that –in all of your experience as a field medic- you would use cotton bandages to treat wounds, rather than Ionic Silver leafed polymer?; why you would clean a wound with alcohol, rather than Zyphrenol solution?”
Azal’s face turned red, “I’m a professional field medic Waltere!” He insisted, “I know what I’m doing!”
“Did you know that I too have had field medical training?” I asked.
Azal’s lip began to tremble.
“You counterfeited your documents to ensure you were enlisted in the great migration. You took the place of somebody who actually deserved to be saved. Who are you really?”
A palpable tension pervaded the entire unit, as the weary crew looked on at me as I took control of the unit. James, Pax and Hamping looked at me with a strange mixture of apprehension and admiration. Halliburton, Fold, and Azal looked on with sneering cynicism and contempt. Lawton stood stoically as ever, neutral and unfazed.
“We are closer now,” said Fold, “To District Beta.” He made his way to my side, “as a man renowned for his skills in diplomacy, I would have thought it wise for us to request asylum from them. I’m sure you have the necessary skills to negotiate our safety.”
“I have told you once, Fold.” I said firmly, “And now I’ll tell you again. We are not retreating until we have determined the fate of our companion Garett Johnson. Our assailants –if they are wise- will be keeping him as a hostage. They know his value to our district, and will use him to bargain with us.”
“He has no value to me.” Fold stated firmly, “I have not met him. He never ventured to speak to me about anything other than the mission. Why should we risk our lives to save a man who would not do the same for us?”
“Because it is the right thing to do,” I said, “We must set a precedent; we will not allow members of our district to be kidnapped.”
“And tell me Waltere,” Halliburton piped up, “What makes you think the attackers would negotiate with you? There have been numerous suspected kidnappings in District Alpha; numerous acts of sabotage, and yet never have demands been made. These attackers do not know diplomacy, nor do they want it. They further their aims –whatever those aims may be- through acts of wanton destruction and violence. Did you ever consider that by following them, we are playing into their hands? I imagine that we are being led directly into a trap, and I would urge you with great impetus to reconsider your plan. You may be suffering from a concussion; and it is my view that you have made a hasty decision in the midst of a hazy mind, and you are now too full of pride to admit you are wrong.”
I handed the controls to James as I rose from the chair. I walked over to Halliburton and met his steely gaze.
“I am the captain, and this is what we are going to do.” I impetrated, “If you wish to leave then you may do so –of your own free will- and wander into the wilderness on your own.”
Halliburton’s face twitched slightly, “You would send me to die in that arid wilderness?”
“Not at all.” I reaffirmed, “But if you would willingly leave Garett Johnson to die in that arid wilderness, then I would not mourn you for following the same fate.”
Halliburton’s shoulders slumped in submission.
“Do you wish to follow my authority? Or emancipate yourself from it?” I asked.
Halliburton looked up, “I will follow.”
The unit began to slow rapidly. I turned to James, “Why are we stopping?”
“It’s…” He stammered, “Something up ahead. A signpost or something… I can’t see clearly.”
I walked to the front of the unit and raised my binoculars. In the distance, mounted upon a stick, was the flesh-stripped skull of Garett Johnson.
I stepped out of the unit, examining the skull. It had been impaled upon a stake in the ground, and loose fragments of flesh and congealed blood clung to it. The skull faced to the West, and upon the ground an assortment of gnawed bones had been arranged to point in the same direction.
“It’s a warning.” Halliburton stated, “The attackers knew we would follow them. They knew we would try to save Garett Johnson.”
I looked at the skull.
“Collect the bones.” I stated to Azal, “We will inter them in District Alpha’s memorial cemetery.”
Azal looked down at the bones in morbid horror, “We must return before those monsters do,” he stated desperately, “Otherwise we’ll all suffer the same fate.”
“He is right.” Halliburton stated firmly, “Now that we know of Johnson’s fate, we can do nothing to help him. This is not just a warning; it is a clear statement that these assailants have no interest in diplomacy.”
I shook my head, “It is not a warning.” I said firmly, “It is a gruesome but desperate attempt to inspire fear in us because we have inspired fear in them. We are getting closer. We must carry on.”
Azal and Halliburton looked at me with a mixture of terror and disgust.
“Waltere.” Halliburton stated, “I fear you are losing your senses. We must return to District Alpha and return with a fully equipped and properly provisioned convoy of soldiers.”
I stood tall, looking into the empty eye sockets of Garett Johnson.
“We will not be swayed.”
I looked out at the road before us. The wind carried red dust across the planes, battering the side of the unit viciously. As the winds rebelled against us, I pushed further, punching through the eye of the needle, following the directions that Garett had so skilfully laid out.
Pax gave me directions to avoid the more treacherous areas, offering to take the wheel should I become tired. The rest of the crew watched with tired eyes as the sun began to set once more. I’d handed out guns and other assorted weapons to the crew members; this was done not only as a defensive measure, but in order to reassure them that they were safe in my hands. We were approaching the mountain range now, and though the trace radiation had all but died away, Pax and I had used Garett’s notes to triangulate the location from which the Oxyhydrophenaline had been extracted. I was determined to reach the position by nightfall; the winds which battered the unit relentlessly gave me little opportunity to spot any anomalies or pieces of evidence along the way; though James kept his eyes steadfastly locked on the binoculars anyway, in hopes of finding something.
Even Hamping was beginning to lose his enthusiasm for the mission, and had busied himself examining the bones for any possible clues which might aid us in our mission. He’d been attempting to get an accurate DNA reading from the tooth marks on the outer layers of the bones, but could not seem to get a reading.
Halliburton had relegated himself to the back of the unit; he sat in silence, only occasionally exchanging hushed words of frustration to Azal and Fold. I deduced that he’d become irate at having to follow orders rather than give them out, which he was so accustomed to. Fold joined his frustration, stewing in resentment as he sat opposite Halliburton.
Azal paced about anxiously between the Fold and Halliburton and the rest of the group. His hands quivered and his eyes darted about rapidly. Occasionally he’d raise his hands to his mouth and chew on his fingernails, like a mouse chewing on a morsel of food.
Lawton stood beside Hamping, seemingly uninterested in anything that was going on. His hand rested over the holster of his gun, ready to spring into action if necessary.
As the sun descended on the horizon, I turned the beams on the unit onto high, providing scant light amongst the dust. At once, we approached a large mound of loose rock, which seemed to be piled up like a pyramid; this was –by our estimates- the location from whence the Oxyhydrophenaline had been harvested.
I directed the fog lights onto the pile of rubble, as James adjusted his scope and took it all in. I pulled the unit to a halt, and prepared the anchors to hold it in place. The winds were bitter, but according to the meteorological equipment, they were dying down.
“It looks like a pile of rubble,” James said, “Perhaps the resulting mound from a deep excavation.”
I motioned for him to hand me the binoculars, surveying the mound myself. The rocks were big and heavy; far too heavy to have been carried by the wind and far too high to have been a natural geological formation.
“These rocks,” I said to James, “Are not from deep within the earth. They have been placed there intentionally.”
“To what end?” Asked James, “A cairn stone perhaps?”
Hamping stepped forward to the front of the cabin, “Allow me.” He asked.
I handed him the binoculars, and he spent a few minutes looking at the rocky mound.
“Ah yes,” He muttered, “Fascinating. We must get a GPIR scan immediately.”
I nodded, setting up the scanner and aiming it at the mound.
“GPIR?” asked James, “What’s that?”
“Well its Ground Penetrating Imaging Radar of course!” said Hampton, “We’ll be able to see what –if anything- is inside that mound.”
I looked in disbelief as the GPIR returned an image on the screen.
“Good gracious…” Said Hampton, “Is that what I think it is?”
James and Pax leaned over, clamouring for a look at the image.
Beneath the rocky mound there stood a metallic structure, pyramidal in appearance, rising from a square base the bottom to a flat apex at the top.
With the fading of the wind, a heavy nightfall descended upon us. The mountain range which we were adjacent to masked us in shadow. I looked around at the tired eyes of the crew, trying to remain positive, insisting that this artificial structure was of tremendous importance, and its discovery will secure us all a place in the annals of Martian history. This point I particularly emphasised to Halliburton, who was more scrappy and ambitious than any man I’d ever met.
Hampton -determining the strength of the rocks and the structure beneath- had quickly drawn up a diagram of the mound, and had designated certain areas in which explosives could be placed in order to blow away the rocks without damaging the internal structure.
After the winds died down, I instructed James, Pax, and Fold to start placing the explosives in the locations instructed by Hampton. I arranged for Halliburton, Azal and Lawton to keep watch for any approaching attackers.
After climbing around the mound for about an hour, with nothing but the lights from the unit to guide us, we managed to place each explosive and wire them together. It was essential –Hampton told me- that all of the fuses detonate at the same time. For this reason, I’d removed James, Pax and Fold and Hampton’s guns temporarily, fearing that –in the event of an attack- an accidental discharge might lead to an involuntary explosion, which could kill everyone in the vicinity.
Once the explosives were successfully wired together, I attached them to the detonator and after ensuring everyone was at a sufficient distance from the blast zone, I armed the detonator.
As I reached out to press the button, I felt the cold metal of a gun barrel pushing into the back of my neck.
“Drop the detonator.” Halliburton ordered.
I slowly lowered the detonator, placing it gingerly on the floor before me. I glanced around to see that Azal had a gun pointed at the back of Pax’s head.
“We’re short on time, so I’m going to be curt with you.” Said Halliburton, “If any of you try to escape, overpower us, or fail to comply with our wishes, we will kill you.”
I looked over at Fold, who grinned as he walked towards Halliburton.
Halliburton handed him a gun, which he turned to aim at Hampton.
James looked across at me, his face red with panic, as Halliburton reached into my pocket and retrieved the keys to the Unit along with my gun.
I looked at Lawton, who held his gun up to the mutineers. For the first time since I’d met him, his face was crossed with surprise.
“Bruce Lawton.” Halliburton said, “You are a mercenary. Your loyalty lies only to the person paying you. Right now, you must decide which will pay better. Joining us and taking the Unit back to district Alpha, or taking your chances in the wilderness.”
Lawton paused for a moment, and then slowly turned his gun toward James.
“I’ve made my choice.” He said in a deep, hoarse voice.
“Comrades,” I said sincerely, “What need is there for such rash action?”
“You pushed us too far!” Azal’s shrill voice screamed, “Now we’re taking control!”
“If you must punish somebody,” I said calmly, “Punish me. Leave me here in the wilderness, and take the others back to safety.”
“You’re not the one in charge anymore, Waltere!” Fold spat, “We’re running the show now, understand?”
“March forwards.” Halliburton ordered, “Towards the mound.”
At once, Pax, James, Hampton and I convened at the base of the mound. The mutineers closed in on us, binding our hands behind our backs and forcing us to scale the rocks to the top of the mound.
“Please don’t kill us!” James wept, “We don’t deserve this!”
“I’m not going to kill you.” Halliburton said compassionately, “It was not you, nor Pax, nor Hampton who led us on this fool’s errand. It is only our dear commander Waltere Swifte who deserves to be punished. But I am a merciful man. I will spare all of you. We are taking the Unit, and we will leave a pile of small arms for you –along with a satellite communicator- at the bottom of the mound. When you have untied yourselves and made your way to the bottom of the mound, you will have everything you need to radio for help from District Beta, and everything you need to defend yourself against those undesirable assailants.” Halliburton explained.
James’ face took on a noticeable look of relief at hearing this.
“All we ask in return,” He continued, “is that you defect to District Beta, and never speak of the mutiny.”
“Why would you want that?” I asked.
“Because –dear Waltere- when I return to Governor Mae with news of your defection, she will promote me to your level. A position that for so long I have desired; a position that for so long, you have abused.”
When we finally reached the top of the mound, the mutineers began climbing back down.
“Don’t try to escape until we are out of sight.” Halliburton ordered, “If I see you trying to untie those knots, we will shoot you. You know how good my aim is Waltere; do not test me.”
As the mutineers reached the bottom of the mound, Halliburton picked up the detonator, and began laughing hysterically; Azal and Fold joined in the raucous laughter, pointing and jeering at the four of us.
“What genius is this?” Fold mocked, “The great investigator Waltere Swifte has been swiftly tricked.”
I stood up, desperately wrestling against the knots behind my back.
“You treacherous coward!” I shouted to Halliburton as he ran his fingers tentatively over the detonator.
“You didn’t really think I was going to let you live did you?” He sneered, “If word of a mutiny got out, they’d have all of us executed. But this way…” He tentatively placed his finger on the button, “…There won’t be a dog tag to identify you, nor a trace of bone left.”
“You hear that?” Azal shouted, “You’re going to die now!”
“And guess what?” Fold mocked, “We’re going to take the credit for whatever that thing is under that pile of rocks. You’ll be remembered as nothing more than a group of failures who got dragged away by savages.”
I wrestled desperately against my knots, knowing it was useless. Halliburton had tied a constrictor knot; the more you pulled, the tighter it became.
“And do you know what the best part is?” Halliburton shouted.
Halliburton dropped the detonator as a clawed hand gripped him by the throat and dragged him to the floor, whereupon a mass of robed attackers fell upon him with malice.
Fold, Azal and Lawton spun around, raising their guns as the hordes of robed attackers surrounded them. Azal fired indiscriminately. In the lights of the Unit, I watched him fire all of his ammunition in the same direction. He pulled the trigger uselessly, as more figures advanced around him, gripping him by the neck and pulling him to the ground. The figures bludgeoned him with cudgels and tore at his flesh as his screams echoed into the night.
Fold tried to flee, lowering his gun and fleeing away from the scene; disappearing out of the view of the lights, his silhouette could be seen running, punctuated by intermittent muzzle flash. As he faded from view, all that could be heard were the dull thuds and shrill screams, as the mob surrounded him, tearing him apart.
I dropped to the floor, sitting with my back to a jagged rock, and began sawing at the robes which bound my hands. As I sawed desperately at the rope, I watched Lawton, as he spun deftly, shooting the attackers, carving a way towards the mound. His shots were accurate and determined, and he was able to reload with immense speed, but still the hordes advanced. As he passed the mutilated corpse of Halliburton, he stooped down, grabbing two additional guns and holstering one of them. With a gun in each hand, he managed to fight his way to the mound, where he began climbing steadfastly across the rocks, occasionally turning to the horde which followed him in hot pursuit.
At once, my ropes came loose, and my hands burst free. I quickly set to work untying Hampton, James and Pax, as Lawton ascended the mound. The attackers seemed to know the mound far better than Lawton, and were quickly gaining on him; gripping him by the heels and upsetting his balance, before he turned and fired on them.
“Lawton!” I shouted, “Your only hope of survival is to throw me one of those guns. I will cover your escape.”
Lawton looked up, reluctantly tossing me one of his pistols. I grabbed the pistol and aimed it at the creatures which had begun to swarm around Lawton, carefully picking off each one. James and Hampton grabbed small rocks and hurled them at the advancing attackers, upsetting their balance and knocking them down. Pax shifted entire boulders, sending them rolling down the mound towards the monsters, crushing them and sending them reeling backwards.
Lawton made it to the top of the mound, scratched and bleeding, but ready to keep fighting.
“We must descend the other side.” I said, “We need to break through them.”
At once, Pax rolled a large boulder down the Eastern side of the mound, clearing a way through the mound. I led the charge, with Lawton at the back. Each of us shot at any advancing attackers, as we descended the mound in single file.
When we reached the bottom of the mound, we fled on foot towards the mountain range. Once we’d reached a safe distance, I turned to face the mound, took aim at one of the explosive packages, and fired. A shockwave rippled through the air, followed by a tremendously bright explosion. The sound was deafening, as small chunks of dust and rubble rained from the sky.
After the explosion had subsided and the dust had cleared, the lights of the Unit could be seen, silhouetting a pyramidal structure with a flat apex. The light gleamed off the structure, and in the reflected light, small figures could be seen fleeing the area.
In silence, and with my gun raised, we made our way back towards the structure.
“The attackers have fled,” I whispered, “But a gunshot may draw them in once more.”
Hampton nodded, “That explosion seems to have done the trick.” He panted, “But whatever is that thing?” He asked, almost as if we were never in mortal danger.
Before the structure, amongst the dust and rubble, a motionless robed figure lay dead. In the light from the unit, I pulled back the figures hood and removed the white cotton mask from his face.
I stumbled back, blinking rapidly, unable to comprehend the face that I was looking at.
It was a human face; a human face that had been stripped of all its humanity.
Its dead eyes bulged from the sockets, flattened at the front and swollen at the sides. The skin was cracked, dry and leathery, and the lips seemed to have receded, revealing a set of jarred and yellowing teeth. Between the teeth and amongst the canines, small scraps of skin and flesh clung rebelliously. It seemed as through the skin on the face had been stretched back, or that the skull had grown to such a point that it was about to burst free from the head.
“What happened to this person?” I stammered, “This is so… unnatural.”
Pax knelt beside the person, cradling the hairless head, and examining it. She raised one hand and looked upon the long talon-like nails. The entire body looked withered and skeletal, malnourished and manic.
“We must…” Hampton said, “It’s imperative that…” He said, the words failing him, “We must recover a specimen for analysis.” He said, breathing heavily.
Rising to my feet, I made my way towards the structure with great trepidation. As I approached, I could see that it was built of a metal the likes of which I had never seen before; some manner of alloy which remained hitherto undiscovered. Around the edges of the building, there were a series of archways. The light from the unit cascaded in through the arches, directing us to a central column.
We entered the structure and made our way to the column. Upon it were what appeared to be numerous markings in some obscured language which none of us recognised. I ran my finger down the column, noticing that the notches, bumps and patterns seemed to react to my touch.
“What is this?” James asked.
“It’s an interface of some kind,” I stated, looking at it, “But under whose design was this created?”
Hampton looked upon the structure, “Based on the shape, I’d imagine it’s a transmitter of some kind. But whatever is it doing in a god forsaken place like this?”
The sound of trampling footsteps quickly turned our attention away from the column, as each archway filled with robed attackers, surrounding us from all angles. Lawton and I raised our guns, as the attackers stood still, blocking every exit.
At once, one of the robed men stepped forwards, lowering his hood and removing his mask to reveal his nightmarish, warped face.
“Lower your weapons.” He said in a shrill, crackling voice.
I pointed my gun directly at him, as he walked towards us fearlessly.
“You may kill many of us, but we will overwhelm you in the end.” He said, “We always overwhelm.”
“Who are you?” I barked.
“Who I am is of no significance…” He said, “Who I was is of no consequence.”
I lowered my weapon, stepping forward to meet the man.
“Who were you?” I whispered.
The man’s stretched skin formed a cruel smile, showing his pale guns and exposing his jarred teeth even further. At once, it occurred to me.
“You’re Harry Blake.”
The man let out a shrill cackle, “Harry Blake was my name on Earth. But now what am I?”
I looked at Blake’s warped and pale skin.
“You’re sick. You’re very sick.” I said, “But we can treat you. We can treat all of you.” I motioned to the robed figures.
“They called us the Descendants of Deimos.” Blake explained, “The first pioneers to colonise a new planet, where all can live in luxury and prosperity; far away from the harsh climate of our dying mother Earth.”
Blake began to pace about, as Lawton followed him with his gun.
“Do you know what Solipsism is?” He asked.
I shook my head.
“It is the realization that nothing that exists outside of your own sentience can be proved to exist. It is a continuous, infinite nightmare from which one can never wake up. In the infinity of space; as I looked out into the cold, empty void, I realized that one truth. That I am truly alone.”
I looked at Blake; his eyes seemed to bulge as he spoke.
“What you’re experiencing Blake is a condition related to space travel. Your bodies were not ready for the journey. Your bodies were not ready for the atmosphere. We have genetically enhanced ourselves to cope with the strains of living on Mars. We can help you too.”
“Then you are not human at all,” Blake spoke, “We are the last humans in existence; and look at what we have become?” Blake spread his arms outward.
“You –all of you- are suffering from a severe psychosis brought about by reduced gravity, unusual lunar and solar cycles, and a change in air pressure; this has manifested itself psychologically and physiologically but please…” I implored, “Let us help you. We can help you.”
Blake grinned at me wickedly, “Or perhaps we can help you.”
I looked around at the robed figures as they began to chant hypnotically.
“When we ventured out of those bio-domes, do you know what we found? A voice; an ancient voice that called to us in an ancient, dead language. That voice pervaded our radio signals with a message. We followed the voice; we followed the signal, with no vehicles we trudged on foot. Many of us died on the journey, some of us had to eat our own children to sustain our withering bodies; but we found the source of the signal. It came from right where you’re standing. It took us months to decode the message; can you guess what the message was?”
I inhaled deeply, “What was the message?” I asked.
“It was a warning.” Blake explained, “A warning to Earth from an ancient Martian race fighting for survival on a dying planet. They looked up to the skies and saw our planet forming; they saw that simple animals would soon develop into sentient creatures, and –like themselves- develop intelligence and technology that would eventually lead to their demise. The message told of war, and famine and pestilence; of polluted sea and dead, inarable lands brought about by greed. The ancient Martian race accepted their fate, and created this tower to beam a message to Earth to warn them of the dangers of greed, war and corruption. This is the last relic of their race. And we are the last relics of ours.”
I backed away from Blake, as his eyes seem to flash in horror.
“We devour flesh, just as it is natural for humans to devour themselves. Mankind is so sick and nihilistic in its thoughts and actions, that ultimately it craves its own destruction. And so it shall be. We were the ones who destroyed your factory; we were to ones who kidnapped your kin, all we needed was for somebody with enough influence to arrive; somebody with enough pride to isolate themselves and allow us to encircle them; somebody with a high enough security clearance to enter the Governor’s office, and order the redirection of an asteroid that will wipe out the remnants of life on this planet.”
I raised my gun once more, “You’ll never succeed.” I said firmly.
“If you knew that to be true,” Blake spoke, “You wouldn’t need to say it…”
At once, the chanting hordes charged towards us. I fired at Blake, striking him in the head and killing him, redirecting my fire at the attackers right in front of me. I watched as Lawton exhausted his ammunition and began fighting hand-to-hand, trying to break the lines of the attackers.
I watched as the assailants tore into Hampton, overwhelming him and pulling him to the ground, where he was swallowed up in a heaving mass of robed figures. I reached for James’ hand, pulling him towards me. Pax joined me, as the three of us stood back to back, fighting desperately to escape the attackers. Lawton threw wild kicks and punches, as the attackers turned their attention to him, climbing up on top of each other, managing -through sheer force- to topple him. As the attackers focussed on tearing Lawton apart, the three of us managed to break through the crowds, fleeing rapidly in the direction of the lights from the unit.
Throwing ourselves into the unit, Pax took the driving seat, spun the vehicle around and charged into the empty, Martian night.
We sat in silence, as the unit cut through the darkness. In the distance behind us, we could still hear the screams, groans and moans of the shuffling hordes. In the sky over the horizon before us, Deimos rose into the sky, glaring down menacingly on the landscape below.
(c) JC Axe 2016.