Mission Failure – Martian Rescue

Writing Prompt: The manned mission to Mars went off without a hitch. The transmissions came back right on schedule: “Touchdown successful.” “Habitat functional.” “Life-support optimal.” Then nothing for 48 hours. Then one last transmission: “We were wrong. Planet inhabited. Do not send rescue.”

“We were wrong. Planet inhabited. Do not send rescue.”

Silence fell upon the domed hall. Gathered inside were the four dozen minds responsible for the Mission to Mars. Dr. Hitchcock was stood at the far front before an overwhelmingly tall projector, the screen was currently a blank sheet of dusty grey. He had just switched off the radio transmitter through which the message had played.

“We received this transmission not half an hour ago. Best guess is that is was sent some four days past. Dr. Elizabeth Drew has already examined the message with the greatest scrutiny.”

Elizabeth, a tall, dark women who had a habit of smoking indoors despite the signs pleading against such acts, gave a cursory nod of the head. She at that very moment had a cigarette lit between her fingers, though it hardly touched her lips.

“The voice is that of Commander Terrance J. Cliff.” Hitchcock continued, “It is the only voice heard throughout the recording.”

“What of background noise?” Alfred Bloom, the psychologist responsible for having examined the crew before their mission, called from somewhere at the back of the hall. There were several inquisitive murmurs that approved his question.

“That’s the strange part.” Elizabeth stubbed out her cigarette and turned to address the hall, “A low level static can be heard through out, but no matter what frequency we focus in on, no matter how I scrub or clean the audio, the static never clears. It’s as if someone (or something) has intentionally silenced all but the sound of Terrance’s voice.”

“We have to go.” this was Dr. James Elliott, a well built man with a chin that protruded far out from his face. He was a handsome, well-intentioned man.

He’s an idiot is what he is. Penelope Appleby, a sour faced lady with a permanent frown and freckled shoulders, gave an audible sigh at Dr. Elliott’s outburst.

“You don’t agree?” Elliott glared at Appleby.

“I think we’d be fools to imagine this anything but an open invitation by whatever inhabitants call Mars their home. If this life is to be considered intelligent then it must have known that by sending a transmission warning us against attempting a rescue mission, we’d do just the opposite.”

“Reverse psychology.” Alfred agreed, “It makes sense.”

“And I suppose leaving eighteen of our own in the hands of this intelligent life also makes sense?” Elliott scowled.

“Yes.”

“Dr. Appleby, you can’t seriously expect us to forgo any attempt at rescue.” Hitchcock had rejoined the isolated arguing, “The very fact this transmission found its way back home, here to Earth, should lead us to believe these Martians know where we are. What’s to stop them from coming to us if we won’t go to them?”

“Nothing.” Dr. Appleby shrugged, “But if they could come to us, and what I mean is if they really wanted to, then why send the transmission at all? Why go to the trouble of informing us of their existence?”

“They’d have had to tell us something.” Elizabeth was toying with a second cigarette now, flicking open her lighter and waving the flame temptingly over the end.

“But that’s the thing, I don’t think they had to tell us anything.” Appleby was standing now, the spotlights of the hall beaming down upon her, “Consider it, these Martians convinced Commander Cliff to send the distress call, a call forbidding rescue. Yet I don’t think they merely convinced him, else surely we’d have picked up some trace of fear or some faltering in his speaking?” Appleby looked to Elizabeth who nodded, lighting the second cigarette and taking in a long drag, “Then I believe these Martians are capable of some form of mind control. Perhaps not anything particularly fancy, but control enough to keep Cliff calm whilst he delivered whatever message they intended. So that leads to the question, why chose this particular message? And the only logical answer is…”

“To bate us in.” Alfred interrupted.

“Exactly.” Appleby gestured her appreciation, “Thank you, Alfred.”

Alfred gave a smile, “You know, it really does make sense.”

“I don’t care a damn how much sense it makes,” Elliott rose from his seat and turned to leave. “we’ll be mounting a rescue team with or without you. Preferably without you.”

“I do believe we’re supposed to vote on such matters.” Hitchcock muttered. Elliott glowered at him and Hitchcock quickly added, “Well, alright then, I suppose it’s not strictly necessary. I’d have voted for rescue, anyhow.”

Elliott left abruptly and Hitchcock scurried after him. The hall was left in boisterous debating. Appleby simply shook her head; looks like we’ll be learning the hard way, as is the rule in Science it seems.

**

The next forty eight hours were spent in sleepless preparation of the voyage to Mars. Elliott would of course be leading the expedition, Hitchcock his second in command. Appleby, Alfred and Elizabeth would all too be joining the voyage.

There were several additions to the crew including that of Simon Peterson (A nuclear engineer with only one arm. He’d lost the second in an accident unrelated to his work.), Jaime Brooke (A linguistics expert, proficient in thirteen different languages.) and I3-S4P;. I3-S4P (A humanoid. The first of its kind if you disregarded the two previous outstanding failures. I3 had so far shown signs of being only passive aggressive.).

The journey to Mars would take but a matter of weeks. Even so, to describe all events in vivid detail would take precious time that I’m afraid we don’t have. So, instead, I’ll direct you to a diary (kept by I3-S4P) denoting some of the more note worthy events of the voyage:

Elizabeth has told the crew she’ll quit smoking, something about wanting to make a good first impression with the Martians. She’s doing terribly. I’ve caught her thirty two times already, hiding in the Ship’s broom closet, feeding her lungs with poison. I do believe she gets a certain sort of high in the secrecy of it all. I have agreed not to tell the others of her sordid affairs. I have not, however, agreed to keep the others out of the broom closet. What fault of mine is it if she’s discovered? I believe she’s hiding in there as I write, and my oh my the Ship’s looking awful dusty.

Elliott had made me aware (for the fourth night in a row I might add) that my cooking is sub-par to his standards. Well I say this, Elliott, cook your own damn spuds! There’s only so much a clap-trap like myself can do! I have barely the ingredients for mashed potato, let alone dauphinoise! Well I have about enough of that arrogant sod. We’re having steak tonight, and perhaps his will be a little on the raw side. A real shame, for a man that likes his meet well-done. Sub-par! Really, Elliot?

Jaime has quite a mouth on her! I went to inquire on her progress with Alfred (she’s been seeing him in therapy of late, quite frequently too). Well, I entered Alfred’s chambers and he was sat all alone at his desk, then as if from nowhere up pops Jaime like a little jack-in-the-box. She stares at me in horror, there’s some sort of mayonnaise all over her face, then screams for me to leave, none too politely either. I did believe therapy was working, she seemed to be calmer, more at ease. But clearly Alfred’s rubbed her up the wrong way!

Appleby and Elliott are at it again. Their little cat and mouse routine. I think they might like each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find that pair in the broom closest. Perhaps I might sprinkle some sort of chili powder on the shelves. That would teach Elliott. Sub-par cooking! If it’s flavour he’s wanting…

**

“We’re here.” Elliott announced, he gave Appleby a smile, she muttered some profanity in response.

“What are our directives for touching down on Mars?” I3 asked. Jaime gave him a queer look and then quickly turned away.

“First we suit up.” Hitchcock came forward, “I’ve always wanted to say that. Suit up.” he chuckled, “We each have jump suits that will allow us to walk freely on Mars without interference from shifts in gravitational density, and of course the suits are designed to maintain an Earthly atmosphere indefinitely. You’ve no need to fear a lack of oxygen so long as you remain within your suits.”

“Do we know what we’re looking for?” Alfred asked.

“The landing crew from the Mars Mission.” Elliott replied, most helpfully.

“A colony.” Appleby added, “These Martians will have established some sort of home, there’s no doubt that’s where the Mars Mission crew are being kept… if they’re being kept. Likely the Martians are expecting us, so stay alert.”

Appleby had finished suiting up, she was now dressed in yellow and black overalls with a cumbersome mask that looked something like an old world divers helmet retro fitted with a gas mask. Pipes snaked from the back of the suit to various containment modules strapped around the chest. The boots gave off a soft white glow, denoting they were powered up against gravitational differentiation. If those lights were to go out…

“Lead the way.” Appleby nodded to Elliott.

“And here I though us gentleman should be letting the ladies go first.”

Appleby grunted, shoving past Elliott and taking from the airlocks armoury a rifle that could disperse waves of intense heat and sub-zero mist. A weather-gun, as it was plainly known.

“Ready to disembark.” Appleby called out, and at once Simon Peterson started working at the controls for the airlock, sealing the crew inside the (all expect himself and I3-S4P).

A heavy blast of steam coated the crew.

“Depressurisation complete.” Simon called through the intercom, “Preparing to disembark payload.” he flicked back a thin lever and the airlock began to descend toward the ground.

“I’ve told you this whole affair is a terrible idea, haven’t I?” Appleby asked Elliott, without bothering to look at him.

“Many, many times.” he nodded.

“Oh God, we’re going to die on Mars, aren’t we?” Alfred asked, squeezing Jaime’s hand. She squeezed back, not saying a word.

“Yes, we probably are.” Appleby said plainly, powering up the weather-gun.

To be continued…?

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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