“Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” Saying this, the priest ended the service, feeling pleased with himself, and gazed up at the backdrop behind him, a huge picture of the planet Mars. He’d done his bit.
Susan Storey left the church, nerves eating at her stomach. She smiled at a row of reporters but kept going, ignoring their pleas. Keep a brave face! In just a few hour’s time, her husband, Stephen, would be taking his first foray onto the Martian surface. It would be the first interplanetary rescue mission in history and she was immensely proud.
Stephen spoke into his helmet. “Approaching the pods.”
His companion Matt steered the rover in the direction of six thimble-shaped buildings. “Look at all that shit on them!” Hard to believe they had once been white. Now they were barely distinguishable from the rolling red Martian hills behind them. Even the huge digits, numbering each pod, were indistinct.
The rover stopped and they dismounted. In the low gravity, they skipped over frozen red desert to the entrance of pod three, the power plant and communications area.
Like the NASA mandarins, Stephen had been exasperated that the mission had been re-tasked as a rescue mission, shortly before landing. The president’s say-so had been final, he reflected grudgingly.
He punched the entry code in, feeling trepidation. Ten years of NASA training had studiously avoided dealing with dead bodies.
Against all the odds, and all the naysayers, the independent space company, Mars One, had trumped NASA, to make the first manned landing on Mars. World-wide euphoria had accompanied the ‘little man’ of space exploration’s achievement. In every bar in every pub and hotel, patrons stood gawking as yellow-suited figures bounced gleefully around the Martian landscape. Behind them, a background of pods, previously dropped and assembled by robots.
One year later, with NASA’s first manned mission to Mars well on its way, a second group of six Mars One astronauts had joined the first. Then all communication with them had ceased.
“Okay. Doors opening, there’s some power. We’re taking corridor five to the power plant. Using torches…there’s some emergency lighting…temperature’s fifteen degrees…there’s air…breathable…removing helmets…”
They passed through room after room of machinery and plant. Most of it sat like useless junk, ominous in the semi-darkness, but here and there a light flashed. What the hell happened here?
“Steve! There’s someone here!” Behind a mountain of storage batteries, looking like huge black beetles, yellow-suited legs showed. “I think he’s dead.”
The two men stood over the figure, which lay face down.
“It looks like Kenny. Going to turn him over.”
“Jesus Christ, he’s got no face!” Sickened, Stephen gazed on what looked like grey mashed potato.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ A voice, high and even, sounded in their minds. Startled, they turned to see a female figure, perhaps seven feet tall, slim, with red ochre-coloured skin. She had long silver hair and huge black eyes. ‘One of your race wrote a book.’ Again the voice sounded clearly, although her face remained motionless. ‘It was called War of the Worlds.’ There followed a strange sound, perhaps a laugh, perhaps a snort of derision. ‘Your microbes defeated a supposed invasion by us!’
Stephen and Matt gazed open-mouthed. How the hell could she know that?
‘Our nano-microbes have turned the tables. Unfortunately…’
A moan came from the prostrate figure. Horrified, Stephen saw its fingers move.
He turned to the female. “What should we do?” but there was just an empty space.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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