Legends of Mars

A Sci-Fi short story by Rick Kennett

Legends of Mars

by Rick Kennet

Website  –  Amazon

 

Are there ghosts on Mars?

When Cy De Gerch opened her eyes she thought she might be the first.

Everything was dark.

She was lying on her side, still strapped into the ejection seat. Dirt crunched against her spacesuit and rattled against her helmet. There was a faint whispering that sounded like the wind, but with something in it.

She switched on her helmet light. Thick swirling redness leapt into view. She could barely see her hand in front of her visor.

Cy knew now what had happened. She’d fallen into a gigantic dust storm.

That morning her section of Martian Star Corps cadets were to fly their first orbits alone in one-seater training ships. Everyone had been excited. Though some, like Cy, had been nervous too.

There’s nothing to it, Cy,” said her friend Roscoe Wiltchie, just before they lifted off. “What could ever possibly go wrong?”

Later, high above the Martian equator, something went wrong. There was a surge in the main drive and Cy’s little ship plunged out of orbit.

Faster and faster it fell toward Mars, with Cy inside feeling like her stomach was being left far behind. She tried to call for help, but instead went, “Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!” into the mike while jabbing uselessly at control buttons.

Down she went, faster, steeper.

The thin air of Mars screeched all around her.

Cy thumbed the Eject button. The ship exploded away as she was hurled into space. Everything went blood-red behind her eyeballs, and she knew she was blacking out.

#

“’What could ever possibly go wrong?’” Cy muttered as she lay still strapped in her seat in the middle of a dust storm in the middle of a Martian desert. “Wait till I see you again, Roscoe Wiltchie!”

Unbuckling herself, Cy bounced to her feet, helped by the low Martian gravity, only one third that of Earth. The dust whispered past at 300 kilometres an hour or more. But because the carbon dioxide atmosphere was so thin it felt no stronger than a stiff breeze.

Her spacesuit and helmet were OK. No leaks. The radio and scanner weren’t working because of the thick dust about her, but she pretty much expected that. Then she checked her re-breather unit which recycled her air supply and made it breathable again.

The re-breather was broken. It hung splintered at the side of her spacesuit with all its tubes dangling free.

Cy stared at it and went cold. Without the re-breather all she had now was what was in her tanks, maybe two hours breathing air.

Stay put.

It’s what she’d always been told to do if lost.

They must’ve seen where I dropped into the storm,” she thought. “A rescue truck will soon be here.”

The flying red dust began to pile around her, whispering.

But what if I get buried before they come?” thought Cy, watching the dust cover her boots. “What if I die and stay buried for a hundred years? What will I look like when they finally dig me out?” She pulled a face, sucking in her cheeks and widening her eyes. Her reflection in the visor looked just like one of those mummies dug out of the Pyramids on Earth – dried up and shrunken, with skin like crumpled paper.

She’d never been to Earth. But she knew about the Pyramids. Like all Martians, she often saw vids and plugged into virtuals from Earth, the planet her family had come from generations ago. There were Pyramids on Mars, too – really just a huddle of hills with straight sides and sharp peaks. But some liked to call them Pyramids. Roscoe said they were Pyramids, built by the real Martians a million years ago. But that was Roscoe.

“Strange things happen on Mars, Cy,” he’d said only a few days ago. “In the old days, sometimes explorers climbed the Olympus volcano and never came down again. Others went into Mariner Valley,” he went on, meaning the great canyon that stretched half around Mars, “sometimes on foot and sometime in tractor-trucks, and never came out.”

“Old time explorers were always doing that,” Cy had answered. “Accidents happen. Even today.”

“What about the things seen moving about in the desert when there isn’t supposed to be anyone there?”

Cy shrugged. “Whatever.” If Roscoe wanted to be superstitious, wanted to believe silly stories, she wouldn’t argue. To Cy, Mars was red rock, red sand and a poisonous atmosphere that would one day be made breathable. Nothing was beyond explanation.

#

She glanced up to where the pink-brown sky should have been. Martian dust storms were hundreds – sometimes thousands – of kilometres wide and several kilometres high and often blew for days. Somewhere up above this one Roscoe and the rest of the class were swinging through their orbits.

There was now only an hour of air in her tanks, and still no one had come.

Maybe they didn’t see where I dropped.”

She stood and shook off the dust.

The compass imaged on her visor showed she was facing east. She thought she was on the Amazon Plain, a desert near the equator. If she was right and if there’d been no dust storm the enormous extinct volcano Mount Olympus would’ve been visible on the horizon.

With something between a step and a jump in the low gravity, Cy bounded off at an angle to the wind, hoping to find an edge to the storm. It was her only hope of survival.

But she hadn’t gone far when she stopped and turned around. Just then she’d had a sort of idea that something was charging up behind her.

All was swirling red for the few metres she could see.

Then something somewhere went eeeeeeeeeeeeee in an insect noise sort of way.

Cy swung her light around in the blinding red dust. Whatever was making the noise couldn’t be far away because sound didn’t carry very far in this thin atmosphere.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Now, standing there dust blind with something going eeeeeeeeeeeeee close to her, Cy remembered Roscoe’s stories of the lost explorers and other legends of Mars..

Something blurred by, eeeeeeeee, something big, something fast.

Not feeling at all brave, Cy bounded after it. She had to know what it was.

But within seconds it was gone again, swallowed up by the dust.

Where was it? To the left? To the right? Up ahead? Behind? She could see nothing but the blowing red dust in her light. Then, through her boots, she felt the ground tremble.

Faintly through the storm it came, eeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Louder now, somewhere to the left, eeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Large and fast, it broke through the flying dust. A single flat eye glinted in her light as the thing slammed by.

Cy recognised the monster. She jumped, springing high, landing on top of it, scrambling for handholds on its scanner and radio aerials.

It was an old tractor-truck with ten balloon tyres, a body of angled metal all dirty and scratched and dented, and a driver’s cabin forward with a glass view port.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeee went its electric engine.

Cy banged on the roof with a thickly gloved hand. Nothing happened. The truck just kept powering along a straight line, faster and faster. It bounced across the desert, rushing through the dust, swaying on its springs. Cy clung onto the roof as tight as she could with her hands and elbows, feet and knees.

Once, when she dared, she peeped over the front. She saw cracks in the cabin glass, clogged with red Martian dust.

There was not a lot of air left in Cy’s tanks now, yet on went the truck, speeding through the storm on its trip to nowhere.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Cy started wondering whether the truck would crash before her air ran out.

Would it make a­ny difference?” she asked herself.

The swirling dust began to thin. A moment more and the truck burst out of the storm and into the sunlight of a clear pink-brown sky.

Yes!” Cy yelled and flipped open her radio distress beacon.

A few minutes later she felt the truck slowing. She lifted her head and saw a rescue truck driving across the desert towards her. It too had ten balloon tyres, but looked much more modern.

With her truck slowing, Cy risked peering over the front again, through the cracked glass of the driver’s cabin. She glimpsed something white like bone and dry like a mummy. One hollow eye seemed to –

The truck gave a lurch. Cy slipped off the roof and fell slowly in the low gravity. She hit the ground, tumbled and bounced to her feet.

The truck turned and plunged back into the storm, its thin eeeeeeeeeeeeee fading away.

Cy!” Roscoe yelled from her radio. “We’re watching you on the rescue truck’s cameras. Are you OK?”

Roscoe … who was that?”

Who knows! One of the lost explorers I told you about? Maybe one of the legends of Mars?”

But – “

People die, yes, but machines keep running. Maybe that one’s been running blind across the deserts and in and out of canyons for a hundred years.”

Can blind machinery do what that one did?” said Cy.

I told you before, Cy, that strange things happen on Mars. You didn’t believe me then. Do you believe me now?”

She didn’t answer. How could she tell Roscoe she’d seen the skull beyond the cracked glass wink at her.

With her air tanks near empty, Cy watched the rescue truck approach.

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