I looked over the dry and dusty surface of the barren planet and wondered why this was a good idea. There was nothing from where I stood to the farthest distance possible. It was sand dune and rock formations. And yet we were told this was where our colony would be. The ridge was a perfect buffer from the fierce Martian winds and someone did strike water here once before. I would need to look at the history texts to see when because honestly, I didn’t think it was in recent memory. My partner, Davis, was going to be the head cook of this small establishment. He had the small seedlings prepped for growing in a hydroponic environment. Another member of our team was going to be farming, starting with chickens and small sheep. Again, my cynicism rose to the surface. Sheep needed grass to graze on if they were going to survive. Davis, though, had a plan. He and his earth based collaborator had been doing experiments for years before this colony had been announced. He knew a lot about grasses and the turf on Mars. It could be done! The rest of the colony were scientists and their families. They made up the other fifteen apartments. The company that sponsored this colony had watched multiple movies and documentaries about how too few people in a space like this caused so many mental health issues. They wanted this place to succeed. They wanted people to thrive on Mars. So they made sure the population was diverse and happy. So that leads me to this point. I was the de facto leader, the company’s representative. I was the one who brought issues to the bosses or offered solutions. I had to be the worst decision they had ever made. I wasn’t leadership material. I hated doing group activities and I encouraged people to do things that could get them hurt or even killed. Davis thought it was funny but then he also thought they made the right decision. Whenever problems arose as some of them had while we were soaring through the stars, I made the colonists talk it out. I parroted their comments or paraphrased them to death. And it worked!
I looked at the computer generated map on my small tablet and back at the windblown scenery. It looked like a match. With my trusty staff, I slammed the marker into the ground hard like I was supposed to and watched as the radio tower emerged from the slim metal pole. It was awesome and I couldn’t believe I could be here to see it. After that, the colony went up in short order. Everyone knew their duties and performed them well. I was sure it was because Davis promised them a proper home cooked meal with all the fixings. I knew I was looking forward to it. The first night we celebrated. Everyone was excited from the eldest man to the youngest baby. We had good food, good alcohol and Mars was going to be amazing. The energy in the air told me so. And then we went to sleep.
The first alarm went off and I almost ignored it. But everything was too new and I was tossing and turning anyway, thinking of everything that might go wrong. So I wasn’t surprised at all that something happened.
I mumbled into the communication device I was on my way to security when the second perimeter alarm went off.
Slamming my ass down in an empty chair, I pulled up all the surveillance videos. I scowled and growled until one of my teammates shoved a travel mug into my hand. “Drink that until you’re fully awake.” The deputy leader ordered. He stole the joystick from me and did a scan of the area himself. I gazed at the screens while sipping. Slowly the rest of the security team stumbled in. They all looked tired and shell shocked as I did. Coffee was passed around and slowly people perked up. The deputy was still scanning the perimeter, his brow furrowed as he slowly did another pass of one area. I leaned close to the monitor, seeing something odd. The deputy nodded and zoomed in. “What is that?” I asked, getting data from the rover updated to my tablet. I tapped a few buttons to see the composite materials but the tablet hit a dead end. It wasn’t anything we had ever recorded before.
“What’s what?” Johnson stole my data and began writing notes. His expression became gloomier as he continued to read them.
“Share with the class, Johnson. We don’t have time for you to parse through all the data points. If you don’t have enough, share the highlights. We just need a place to start.”
“I’m working on that right now, Leo. I need a little bit more time to understand.”
“Well hurry up.” I snapped as I watched the weird material go through our perimeter fence with ease. Was it alive?
“Someone with better eyes, tell me what I’m seeing. Not the actual details, Johnson but the picture as a whole.” I leaned back in my chair, hoping that would help me understand what was going on. But the dots looked like pixels on the screen and I wasn’t seeing all of the pictures.
“It looks like the umm, the dots are eating through the vulcanized material. They’re destroying the integrity of the domes. If they get through…” one of the scientists hesitated and I shivered.
“Okay, okay. Let me think. Is it just that tunnel and where does it lead?” I asked bringing up a schematic of the whole complex. It had two main hubs, one where we were, and another where we had the recreation area. The residential spaces were interspersed between the two main ones.
“It leads to the classroom. It has an access point to the rec centre.” Anna piped up. “If we shut the airlock between the rec centre and the classroom, it should slow them down while we get more information.”
“Okay, go do it. Take someone with you.” I ordered. Anna nodded and ran off quickly.
I continued to watch the creatures, trying to understand what they were and it didn’t make sense. They continued to gnaw on the tarp, slowly breaking through. “What if we electrified the wall? Will that stop them from moving forward?”
“We can try. MOre and more of these creatures are coming from afield. Why didn’t any of the probes pick up on these? They can’t have just appeared.” Johnson rubbed a hand up and down his face. The data sets aren’t making sense.”
“Leo, we’ve locked up the classroom and we’ve woken everyone up. Davis is making some food for us.” Anna’s voice crackled in and out on her radio. I furrowed my brow. The radios were all connected via the fibre. She shouldn’t have been cutting.
“Anna, you’re breaking up. Say again?” I asked. I changed the surveillance camera to source out the problem and found nothing. “Johnson, something’s wrong with the internal microphones.”
“I’m working on it. The little shits are chewing through the wires. Every time I get a handle on these creatures, something in them changes. I don’t get it and it’s starting to piss me off.” Johnson bit out. Someone still left in the room handed him a pastry. He savagely bit into the soft treat. “Leo, what’s your take? Have you figured anything out yet?” “No, I’ve looked in the records and the databases but nothing’s coming up. Rover is coming up useless. He keeps sending me ‘compound not found’ reports. I need to go out there and see for myself.” I slid out from my chair and stopped dead as I locked eyes with Davis carrying a tray of snacks. “What do you mean? You can’t go out there,” Davis said, blinking. He set the tray down and crossed his arms. A determined look settled on his face and I did nothing. He was my love, my person of sound mind. “I have to, darling. In order to make sure everyone is safe, someone has to see in person what these things are. Since I’m the one who has no… no.. uhh,” I bit my lip as Davis’s expression darkened with every word I uttered. “Davis, it’ll be fine. Just a quick five minute in and out. Everything will be hunky-dory.”
“Leonard, it takes twenty minutes to put on the damn suit. It’s going to take you more than five minutes. Let someone else more experienced do this. Let Rover bear the brunt of the problem. You stay here. You’re a computer person.” Davis came forward and held my hands tight in his. “Please, don’t do this.” I wavered and looked around at the room. The only people left were studiously gazing at something else. “Davis, I know what to look for. No one else understands the composition like I do.” “They are eating through our home, our brand new supposedly safe from everything home. I can’t let you just go out there,” Davis argued back. I brought our hands up and kissed the back of his. He shook his head sadly. “It’s too dangerous, Leo. What if something goes wrong?” “Johnson will back me up here and Anna will be with me in the airlock.” I decided on the spot. I cast a quick glance toward Johnson who was staring at the ceiling, ignoring everything I said. “Leonard,” Davis sighed. I rolled my shoulders and looked down at my feet. Making Davis feel terrible wasn’t my goal nor my intentions. I loved him and wanted him to be happy. I made him give up his cushy life on earth for this adventure. And on day one, things weren’t that good. “Leo! Come in Leo. We have a bit of a problem.” Anna’s voice echoed in the quiet room. Davis and I turned and looked at the surveillance feed. Anna stood with a respirator down a dark hallway. “What’s going on, Anna?” I asked hesitantly. I didn’t want to know the answer. Johnson tapped in the background, changing the feed to what Anna was looking at. A black form roughly the shape of a human stood backlit far from her. A quiet hiss echoed as we all reacted to the sight. “Exactly. The black things took a human shape. They’re…uhh. It’s not a good scene, boss. I’ve locked down the classroom. We’ve bolstered the walls between us and them as a just in case measure, Steel shelves, you know anything that’s tough. Should we let the others know?” I looked at Johnson who stared back at me. We both shrugged. We didn’t have a policy for these matters. Nothing like this was supposed to happen. “Is there anyone awake? IS the umm, creature near any sleeping quarters?” I asked unsure. Was now the time to contact Control? What were we supposed to do?
“No one was awake when I got up,” Davis answered as he moved to sit down. He bit his lip as he glanced around. “If it was just adults, maybe I’d suggest we wake them up. But we’ve got kids here. I don’t want to scare them if we don’t have to.” “That makes sense. Johnson?” “I agree with Davis.” was Johnson’s quick reply. “Anna, if you can get out of that area. I think we can vent out all the atmosphere and freeze the bastards?”
“Sure, let me look at the manifest. I think there was one person staying down here. They claimed they were a loud snorer and didn’t want to disrupt anyone–”
“Anna! Move!” Johnson cried out suddenly. The black shape moved abruptly, disappearing the gloom before reappearing again behind her. Anna turned her head slowly, her eyes growing huge as the form loomed. The camera turned off and all we had was the rough gasp of Anna breathing.