I have posted an extra chapter here of Mission: Flight to Mars. This is chapter seven in its entirety. Look for another chapter later in the week. June is the month of sample chapters! Enjoy!
I was asleep when I found the Phoenix orbiting Mars. I awoke to feel the ship had slowed down considerably. The blue aura around the ship had gone.
"Have we stopped moving?" I asked groggily. I was now used to speaking to Will from anywhere in the ship.
"No, Bob. But we are orbiting the planet's northern hemisphere. You have been asleep for two days. I decided not to wake you."
"Thanks." I was feeling stir crazy after the first ten days of the trip and had to sedate myself by using sleeping pills from the medical trunk to keep from doing something stupid. My thirst was monstrous.
"What can you tell me from here about where we need to be?" I asked, taking a large drink of purified water from the water tank.
"I can't scan anything down there until I am on the surface, Bob." I scrambled over to a cabinet drawer and took out the maps from the messenger bag. I had studied these for a couple of weeks over the trip.
"Okay. This Syzygy place is near Hecates Tholis. At the foot of this range."
"Do you know if the people in this city can detect us coming?"
"Maybe. You did say there was a cloaking device on this ship, right?"
"There is a weak one. It will not last long as it drains the power from the ship so hopefully we will not have to remain cloaked for longer than thirty minutes. The location of Hecates Tholis is 32.12°N 150.24°E, in the volcanic province of Elysium, and it is the northernmost of the Elysium volcanoes. There is a plain to the south of it."
"It has trenches located in the area too?"
"If you can, help guide the ship near the trench, unless it is too deep."
"Yes Bob." The ship descended into the rust atmosphere of Mars. The planet loomed like a massive, red mountain, its natural colors so utterly alien from the blue and white earth and its silvery moon to me. Even so, I was filled, not only with fear but anger. Mars was still ours. It was in our solar system. To think some other species had settled it was a massive affront. And a massive danger. I wondered how far along was the Syzygy city or town. How big was it? How many had already settled there? The dark night of space disappeared soon had all but disappeared. It was late evening. Nightfall was coming. I could see as the Phoenix continued its descent the neat patchwork look of a city from above. I nearly gasped.
"Yup. Someone beat us to it." I muttered. The ship was guided towards a large rock formation that looked like a petrified giant from ancient myth. Soon the lights disappeared as Will piloted the ship toward a trench near a small hill. The hill sat in a vast plain that gave me the feeling of deep emptiness.
"I hope no one saw us." I said quietly as the engines fired down. The landing was slightly rough but with the luck I was having so far, I had no complaints. The idea of a "Will" for regular people like me who wanted to go space-faring was a grand idea. If it weren't for him coming along I had no idea what I'd be doing now.
"If someone sees this ship, it's all over for us." Said Will.
"You're starting to sound more human all the time. You're becoming a worry-wart."
"Thank you." he said, sounding pleased. I unstrapped myself and stretched, or more like tottered and wobbled around as the ship was finally, after three weeks of travel, grounded. I grabbed an air tank and attached it to my enviro-suit and then looking over the atomic rifles doubtfully I took one of them.
"Are all of them charged up?" I asked, more to myself than to anyone in particular. I'd seen Fred use one on hunting expeditions but I had never used one before and knew by my friend's experience with them that they could be unpredictable.
"No one's been using them for the past three weeks."
"Funny." I said dryly.
"It isn't a matter of humor, Bob. Just a fact. They are charged up according to the ship logs and diagnostics information." Said Will.
"Do you want to send one more message back home to your family Bob?" He asked solicitously. I had already sent them a message telling them that I was on an emergency flight to Mars giving them only the barest hint of why. I know it would seem cryptic and even frightening to them but I couldn't risk telling them too much.
"No. Not just yet." I wolfed down three brown food pellets which tasted like bark dust wrapped in greasy gravy, drank some more water infused with electrolytes, made use of facilities, washed up and I was finally ready.
"I think you should wait until daylight, Bob. Out here the light is fading fast. We don't know what to expect." I thought I detected Will's voice becoming faint, weaker with slight static wafting in and out as he spoke.
"Okay then, let me know when dusk comes." Meanwhile, though the ship's scanning capacity was weak, we scanned the hill and surrounding land and found no life signs in the immediate area, a small comfort. I took a long and contemplative rest. When early dawn ascended, right before the sun rose, I was ready to explore Mars.
. . .
Soft purple and pinkish light limn the horizon. I put on my enviro-suit with its tank and my helmet. Will's chip was safely ensconced, turned on and underneath my suit with the ear piece lodged in my right hear. He didn't communicate with me at this point, so I was basically on my own. Slinging one of the rifles on my back I opened the door to the back of the shuttle as the doors to the living quarters closed and sealed shut. The ramp lowered. Then the outer doors opened and I met freezing Martian air. I breathed in deeply, looking around. My skin was prickling with nervous excitement and expectation. I found by fiddling with my helmet on the way here that I could adjust the color spectrum, even changing the view screen of the faceplate to black and white. I could adjust the viewscreen as if it were a weak telescope. I could also scan the immediate area for about one thousand feet in front of me. My suit's heating elements adjusted nearly immediately to the temperature. The system in the helmet scanned various things; air quality, various gas levels, wind factor and temperature. It also showed me the progress bar of life sign - my life signs, whether it was low, whether I was in danger of losing air, freezing or not. So far, all systems were fine. My gravity boots at first made walking a clumsy affair but simply putting one foot forward, steadily I could manage it, if rather slowly. I felt more alone now than I'd ever felt in my whole life, yet evidence pointed toward the fact that Mars was no longer uninhabited. I made my way over a surreal looking desert littered with rocks. I could see the mountain, Elysium Tholis in the far distance. I was approaching the large rock formation, long and wide like a red fist, looking somewhat like Ayer's Rock except that its base tapered down and was thinner than its top. When I was beginning to doubt my own sanity on this mission my helmet registered approaching life signs. I lurched to a stop, tripping over my boots. I gripped the rifle belt over my shoulder tighter even though I had little idea how to use the thing. Gathering my resolve as best I could (too bad I didn't have any fighting Virginian blood in my ancestry) and lumbered forward, approaching the rock formation. As I rounded the great rock I saw a small group of tents within what looked like a high, thin bubble, a near invisible dome. Staring in amazement at these strange dwellings I nearly missed the figures approaching me. In a fright I lifted up my rifle, pointing it at the two figures. I felt sweat forming, making me itch under my suit. The figures, humanoid in appearance from this distance - they were about three hundred feet away from me - stopped immediately. One of them slowly raised its arms high in the air. They both wore long, deep hooded robes. At first I could not detect if they were wearing environmental suits of any kind. Examining them closer I caught a glimpse of what looked like tangles of wires and tubes wrapped around their bodies. But I could not see their faces. Only a pair of eyes gleaming from the hoods, reminding me of animal eyes that shined in the night. I heard one of them making a low, muttering sound. On closer inspection their arms and hands were covered in what looked like gloves that covered their skin.
"Don't. . .don't come any closer!" I stuttered. One of them got down on its knees and then the other slowly did the same, prostrating their hands out before them in an imploring gesture. I lowered my rifle and looked around quickly. Then I heard a voice speaking.
"I am called Sworda. How are you called?" It was one of the creatures. It seemed more to hiss the words out than speak. At first I wasn't sure I heard it right. Then it asked again. It was the one who was wearing what looked like a collar of metal and polished stones.
"Who. . .wait? What?"
"How are you called? Your. . .name? Ou mu Gumsa? Your name?" The creature enunciated the words very carefully either because it had trouble, or for my own benefit. Sweat was running in streams down my face and body now. The environmental temperature levels in my suit adjusted accordingly and I felt a cool current of air wash over me. I began hyperventilating. It was speaking English.
"My name is. . .Robert." The creature nodded slowly.
"Robert." It repeated. It pronounced the last "t" with emphasis.
"How do you know my language?"
"I was once what you may call. . .how to say it, ah. . . linguist and interpreter." It said. It rose slowly, as did its companion, with its hands still in the air. "What are you doing here so far from your home world, human?"
"I. . .I came to find someone." They exchanged glances. What they were thinking was anyone's guest.
"Ah. So you are not the one who is called Abor, then? The one in the. . red. . ship?" I froze and nearly fell over. Teely!
"How do you know him?" The creature looked at his companion and they both made some utterances very close to what sounded like laughter.
"Abor is not one of you. He is one of us." They started toward me and I raised my rifle again.
"We will not harm you, Robert. We are not in league with him."
"It is too late for that, Robert. You have come to a dangerous place. Besides, I can tell that you do not know how to fire your own weapon." They approached me slowly, even though I continued to try and threaten them, to no avail. The first one with the collar stopped about five feet in front of me.
"Come, Robert of Earth. You and your kind have enemies here but we are not your enemies. If you are here on a secret mission you must know what you are going to see. Where are you going, truly?" The creature asked.
"To a city."
"Syzygy?" The other one rasped in surprise. I nodded.
"Come with us. Or stay out here and perish." Said the first one called Sworda.
I followed these two toward the environmental dome near the rock. Reaching it they merely slipped inside and bade me follow them. I touched the slightly shimmering surface of it and my hand broke through. Then I stepped inside. It was still dawn and they took me up through a footpath, climbing up the rock. It was far bigger than I had even thought when I first saw it from space. The dwellings here were a mixture of cliff side dwellings carved from the rock itself, like those of the ancient Anasazi, and of what looked like rawhide tents. They led me across the outer ledge and through a long and seemingly confusing tangle of tents and to a small cave ledge where apparently their own tent stood. I saw all manner of various aliens going about their tasks that ranged from indifference to mild curiosity at my presence as I followed my two hosts. Cooking, cleaning, attending to or fixing clothing, machines, weaponry or eating. I did not see any children or if I did, I could not determine if they were. Nor did I see what looked like females, but then I only saw the barest glimpses of activity.
"Welcome to my abode, Robert." Said Sworda. I decided hence forward that Sworda was not an "it". I didn't get the feeling Sworda was a female either, though I could have been wrong. In my mind, I settled on "he" for both of them.
Inside their tent it was wide and spacious and lit with globe lanterns that floated gently in mid-air. The first one took off its hood, startling me. His eyes, which at first appeared like cat-like slits, now that we were in the dimness of the tent his pupils grew much larger and darker, almost like bionic sight devices. His mouth was a very thin line with hardly any visible lip and his skin was a dark bronzed color, shimmering slightly like metal. His face was very long and thin, more exaggerated than a human head and the only facial hair he possessed was a long crop of what looked like a dreaded braid of a beard. His eyes had side lenses that opened and closed. He unstrapped his own environmental suit, took down a contraption strapped over his chest that looked like a breathing apparatus, clicking it open and unpeeling what looked like a clear skin mask from off his face. Vapors came forth from the contraption as he set it aside. He motioned to me.
'This environment is relatively safe for carbon-based beings to breathe. As long as you are inside the Mantri circle."
"The mantri circle?"
"The circle outside that covers the area. Mantri means life, in our languages."
"We speak many different languages, just like your kind do."
"Oh." I said, feeling slow. "Right. The city. How long has it been here?"
"So that is where you are going?" The creature asked. I nodded. The other one simply stared at me and didn't say anything.
"Why?" Sworda asked. I breathed deeply. I saw no sense in lying about anything. He took out what looked like a skin and rolled it out on the ground and motioned for me to sit. Slowly, I sat down. The other watched me closely, his staring made me uncomfortable but I continued on.
"I was a delegate on my way to a city on the earth moon. There was a man there who had some extremely sensitive information. Something about a solargate. He was hiding from people who wanted this information but they caught up with him. These plans were stolen and he was killed. I suspect I know who the culprit is."
"Culprit." Sworda asked.
"Ah. Assassin." Sworda glanced at his companion and they seemed to be holding some silent communication between them. Then he turned to me. His companion got up and went to a tray sitting on a glowing light source.
"Why doesn't your. . .friend over there talk?" I asked.
"He does not know any language other than our mother tongue, Hanga. It is the rare one who speaks many languages. Such as myself" I really lucked out! I said silently and gave thanks.
"The assassin is Teely. I followed him here."
"Teely. Not his real name. Abor is his true given name." Sworda's eyes grew even wider until they seemed to fill the upper half of his face. "The stargate is a common myth among all the peoples of Eraut, our home world. Such as like the Great Flood on your world. Our race of people especially, the Suwudi, revere it. It is a part of the Sacred Way. Another race, the Miku, of which your assassin is one, also see it as a holy thing that we are all destined to achieve. We have been seeking a way to voyage the stars for long years, a way to shorten the distance between them."
"Like a wormhole?" He gave me an odd look, or I thought he did. "I don't understand."
"It's a theoretical way to open up the fabric of space in one place and travel through it to another point in space. It supposedly cuts down the time in which you travel from one point in space to another exponentially. or that's my understanding of the concept."
"Well then, the gate must work very much like a wormhole. And it is no longer theoretical," He said.
"I guess you're right. It's soon to be a reality now."
"Listen. I am Suwudi Erautian. Among us, such a things used to be a distant thing, something for the great stories of old. Among our children it is like a fairy tale. You know fairy tales?"
"Made up stories that tell lessons. Derived from older folk tales."
"And more. There is truth in them. A map to truths about a people. Surely you must realize that? Erautians are very much like your own race of human beings: creative, intelligent, curious, loving. A need for structure, order and building societies. Also, war-like, violent, domineering, always striving for conquest. Destructive. But we are more advanced than humans. Our home world, Eraut, has reached its end-world age. The seas have mostly dried up. Rivers, lakes, ponds are vanishing. Most of the forests and farmlands are gone. But our system of rule is so vast and so old, so ingrained, that to turn back time and to recover lost resources, to change how Erautians operate, how they think, to make Eraut better is a political impossibility and now it is also physically impossible. The planet has past the point of no return."
'What does that mean?" I asked quietly.
"It means that I now understand the true meaning of our legends and myths. They are the ideals of First Destiny. They have long prepared us for a takeover in a grand way our ancestors had not even dreamed of."
"You're saying that a whole planet full of people are coming here to Mars to look for a new home?"
"I am saying they are coming here to take over Earth. This red planet is merely a stop along the way. The last one. The bureaucracy that exists now and for the last five hundred years would not allow for those willing to save their world to actually save it, for it meant turning a vast empire around to another way. Empires do not turn. They rise and then they fall. They are rigid structures that cannot turn back or turn circles around. So, they embarked on the one thing they knew how to do - look forward to more conquest. Our astronomers found this world thousands of years ago but it was only the last one- thousand years that we came to understand that Earth was not merely another planet but one that could, and does, nurture and maintain complex life forms, through their observation and study. A world blue with water and green with vegetation. Like our old home. They launched the Rebirth Initiative, a massive scientific and political undertaking, to come and take it over."
"No matter that we are here already." I drew a sharp breath. He paused.
"No matter," he said. I detected sadness in his voice. Maybe it was my imagination.
"Except the distances between worlds stopped them." I said quietly.
"For a time, but not anymore. They are patient. They set off one hundred years earlier in a great ship to get here. That first ship arrived long ago. I say they, because there is a great division among us now over the issue." He took up a large bowl of hot steaming liquid that the other one handed to him and he drank it down. Then he continued.
"They came here to this planet. Then from here they sent some to Earth disguised as humans. But this plan, as you see, takes too long. They needed a new plan. They had thought to send the first wave of colonists on the first ship to Earth to help prepare it for the arrival of the rest of the Erautians. When they arrived in the solar system they found that humans were more advanced and dangerous than they had first imagined. So they have had to tread carefully and move slowly. A scientist from Earth created the technology for a solargate which would greatly shorten the distances over time of travel from sun to sun, world to world. When it was found out, of course they had to have them. So they stole them. Abor is one of the agents sent to Earth to spy on humans and sent to watch for and take any technology that may be of use for our people."
"And they plan to build the gate out here?"
"Yes. So that those back home may travel here in a blink of an eye."
"And what happens to us humans?" He gave me something approximate to a grim smile.
"What do conquerors do to the conquered?" That dredged up sorts of ugly things I could barely fathom. So maybe all those movies about aliens coming here to destroy humans wasn't just science fiction after all?
"How do you know about this, Sworda? And why help me?" If you're even helping me. For all I knew his friend over there could be preparing the seasonings to throw me in a stew. I glanced over to where he was. He'd left off watching me and was busy stirring something in a pot.
"I know these things because I was once a part of the mission of first colonists to come to Earth. But as I have said, not all of us are in agreement. Some of us prefer to be. . .independent of the empire. I came to help you because I do not wish to see your kind destroyed. You may see all kinds of evil before all of this comes to fruition, but know this, Robert - not all of us are out to destroy the human races."
"So you all came on orders from your government and you've been traveling on a ship for a hundred years?" He nodded. I stared at him.
"You must live a very long time." I said finally.
"I do not know. What is a long time? The Realm had an ultimate plan and once the plan was implemented, the Rebirth Initiative, many served and sacrificed their lives for that goal even before we left Eraut. You see, it became easier to convince most of the people to accept this massive undertaking instead of trying to fix the problems of Eraut by telling them it was the birthright by way of the ancient belief of the Sacred Way. Once the , pontiffs, prefects and monks convinced all that the Rebirth Initiative was truly the Sacred Way, most accepted it. There was a great war between those who supported the initiative and those that did not. Those that were not. . .loyal to the Realm on the matter of the Sacred Way were eventually defeated and exterminated, but not before there was great bloodshed and loss of life which further threw Eraut into a faster spin toward planetary death. Even so, the idea was never truly stamped out."
"The idea that to purposely wipe out another species in order to implant your own is wrong. Evil, even. Among the first generation of colonists on the mother-hiveship some had implanted this idea in their progeny. Even through all the propaganda and indoctrination training some of us have had enough. So this. . ah. . outpost, you say, we stay here, we do not go further. Those brave rebels who secretly told us not to listen to The Realm and its lies, the ones that have made the journey a hundred years ago, are no longer with us. We are those born along the way. A new generation who thinks differently. Some of us, anyway."
"If this is the case, I've got to find the devil! If I find him, I may have already found Taylor's killer."
"Teely, as he is so-called by your people may well now look like himself. You will not recognize him. He will, however, recognize you. You will need some way to hide yourself." He then said something in his own tongue to his companion who readily went to a basket, opened the top and pulled out some material.
"Cloak with hood. Most here wear coverings and hoods. Many here serve the Realm, many do not. Of those that do not, some are sympathetic to your kind like myself and my brother here, Gruwdal, and others are not. There are many different kinds here. Even some other humans."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"Robert, you are not the first human we have seen traversing this planet. There appear to be a great many things you do not know about your own system."
"Apparently." I said, rocking back on my hips on the mat. They fitted the cloak over my suit and as I put my helmet on the hood fit over it so that my face was hidden. If I didn't know better I'd thought I was a Jedi master. The other muttered something to his brother and then they both looked at me and then pointed toward my rifle.
"Before I forget, my brother says that once you get to the city, look for a place called Dynashan. Very important."
"Named after the first owner of the establishment, who is long dead. One of the largest and safest places for travelers passing through. It is a sojourner's place. Where you rest, eat and drink and most important of all, get information. Several owners of these places speak several human languages. The most common are English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian."
"Information, right! Dynashan." I said, committing it to memory.
"Also," he said, looking at the rifle, "you will not be able to use your weapon until you slide the safety hatch down." He said. I looked at the rifle, clueless.
"It is the shining part there at the bottom. Looks like mercury liquid. It prevents it from going off and also from powering up accidentally."
"You mean the silver part here?" He nodded and pointed again. I fiddled with it slowly and cautiously, feeling rather stupid. Suddenly, it slid down revealing a row of brilliant looking light beams inside. It still looked fully charged.
"Keep yourself hidden and do not say too much to anyone. Perhaps no one will care enough to investigate why you are here. After all, some are here for their own dark purposes."
"Thank you so much. You didn't have to help me. But you did anyway. The gratitude I feel, I cannot say enough."
"Do not thank me until you come back from the city. Alive. Then we can sit and drink and talk and then you can thank me. And I must tell you, there is a growing population of wild creatures on the prowl in the desert. We believe they have been engineered and released from a laboratory in the north. We are not sure where this laboratory is located exactly. Be very careful." They bowed to me and I bowed slightly to them, turned and made my way to Syzygy.