Mars Mission One - Year - 2050
|Commander Jim McLaren, closed his eyes, covered his ears and screamed.
A thousand legs scurried above his head. A thousand claws scraped and slashed at the module's thin metal layer; the only barrier between the Commander and the vermin's savage jaws. The horde’s ravenous hunger for metallic deposits pushed forward their siege upon the strange intruder. Their insatiable cravings were spurred on after their latest discovery: human flesh.
“Stay away,” the rabid space traveler screeched over and over. His mournful blatting echoed in the cramped chamber that had become his asylum only hours ago. Not a great amount of time, but long enough for the Commander’s mind to snap.
A blinking message, Merry Christmas, on the crystal display went unread. Houston Command Center was unaware that on Christmas Eve the sole surviving member of a crew that began as three, nine months ago, was now curled in a ball. The freakish horrible scene the cosmos explorer had witnessed claimed his thoughts, the image robbed him of his final moments of sanity.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse as young Jimmie ran through the house. “Oh, Papa, can we go to City Center and see Santa?” the little boy cried. While visions of sugar-plums danced in his head it wasn’t Jolly Saint Nick that Jimmie saw. It was Lucy Wheeler moments before her eyes popped out of their sockets and she was eaten alive. Her Santa suit turned a darker red. Her blood mingled with the red dust of Mars. “I wanna go home, Papa.” Jimmie whimpered.
Day 1 on the Martian surface. December 23, 2050
The automatic machines whirred. The life support system’s rhythmical throbbing created a soothing timbre; liken a symphonic choir. The glimmering red and green panel lights blinked, giving the Mars Module's interior a cheery glow, an unintentional Christmas aura.
“All systems online, Commander,” First Officer Deke Davis said as he unbuckled his harness. “Textbook landing, Jim.”
“I couldn’t have done it without your help,” Jim replied. “Send Houston a message, Deke.”
“And what profound words should be the first to come from Mars, Jim?” Deke asked.
“Well…for now, inform them we are safely on the Martian surface and it’s damn windy here.”
Both men laughed and continued with their congratulations.
Science Officer Lucy Wheeler interrupted the jovial mood when she jumped back from a viewing screen. “Holy shit,” she blurted. The seasoned officer, Harvard educated and fat with more common sense than any astronaut in the fleet, stood dumbfounded with a look on her face that for a moment; shook the Commander’s confidence to his core.
“What is it, Lucy?” Jim asked.
“I…I thought I saw movement on the screen. The starboard camera picked up something,” the shaken officer explained.
“Something, Lucy? Perhaps blowing dust, the wind is notorious.”
“Little green men?” Deke wisecracked.
Still visibly shaken, Lucy cautiously approached the screen, made some adjustments and looked closer. There was nothing. Nothing, but rocks and iron oxide dust. She widened the vista plane. Impact craters, large boulders and the red hue of Mars covered the screen.
“What do you think you saw, Lucy?” Jim asked again.
“I hesitate to say, Sir…maybe I’ve been cooped up nine months too long. I could be cursed with some kind of unknown space illness; causing delusive images on my optic nerve.”
“Always the scientist first, aren’t you, Lucy? You must have seen something, you jumped like you’d seen a ghost,” Deke said.
“An…an insect. I thought I saw an enormous insect,” Lucy reluctantly admitted.
“Not green little men. I’m disappointed,” Deke said, attempting to ease the tension with humor.
Commander McLaren assured the officer her eyes must have played tricks on her and soon she would embark upon an opportunity to do what she had dreamed of for a long time…explore the planet Mars.
“At sunrise tomorrow, you and Deke will walk on Mars, the first of many to follow. You will be making history and the colonists that come later will talk about you, they will read about you, they will revel in your accomplishment and this achievement for generations. Your name will never be forgotten, Lucy.”
The comforting whir of the module’s automatic machines lent reassurance to the three newest life forms on Mars as they readied themselves for the following day’s mission. But soon, the pulsating beat was joined by another sound. The hissing and any threat of danger it might represent went unnoticed by the crew’s fervor. The whirling wind picked up the red sand of Amazonis Planitia and with unrestrained bombardment; peppered the module, masking the hissing noise that became louder as the Martian night wore on.
Day 2 on the Martian surface. December 24, 2050
“Outer airlock is ready, Deke,” Jim said. “Stick with the itinerary, don’t venture beyond 400 meters this first time out. Stay in radio contact and for God’s sake, Lucy, don’t bring back the whole of Mars with you, remember we will be here for four months…plenty of time for that.”
Jim brushed his hair back, looked into the eyes of his companions and resisted the urge to hug them. At that moment, he felt more like their father than the Commander of Mars Mission One. Instead, he ordered: “Check your gear one more time.”
“Check,” Lucy said.
“Everything looks good, Jim,” Deke spoke up.
The lock door closed and moments later, the first humans stepped onto the planet Mars, leaving deep footprints in their wake. In seconds, their prints were obliterated by the incessant wind as if they had never been made.
Jim maximized the viewing screen and watched Deke and Lucy trod across the eerie landscape. Their clumsy gait carried them farther and farther away from the safety of the module and into the shadow of Olympus Mons. He could clearly hear the steady beat of their re-breathers. Air in…air out. Air in…air out. He waited for communication and wondered if he shouldn’t have insisted upon using tethers. Dirty dust clouds engulfed the white clad explorers as they went deeper into the unknown, the waning visibility made it impossible for Jim to track his crew.
“Jim.” Lucy’s voice crackled over the radio.
“Yes, Lucy,” Jim answered, suppressing his mounting anxiety.
“Can you see us, Jim?" Lucy cried, unable to hide her panic. About 300 meters out, Lucy stopped dead in her tracks. Deke went on, moving closer to a roiling, anomalous reddish brown mound.
There on the bleak surface of Mars something appeared that caused Lucy’s logical mind to utter: “It’s not real, Lucy. They cannot be here. Life cannot exist in this hostile Martian environment.”
“Always the scientist first, aren’t you, Lucy,” is what Deke had said, but now her sense of sound reasoning abandoned her and self-preservation took its place as the undulating mound attacked the naïve First Officer Deke Davis. The first man to walk on Mars was quickly covered with a dark pall and consumed.
“I cannot see you through the dust clouds. What’s wrong, Lucy?” Jim yelled into his mouth piece, now powerless to hide his emotions.
“Deke’s gone. They…they devoured him,” Lucy wailed. She turned away from the hissing hideous crawling mass and with hurried bounding leaps sought the safety of the module.
“They, what is they, Lucy?”
In short labored breaths, the terrified Harvard graduate, the finest officer the NASA elite had to offer, bellowed into her headset, “MEGALOBLATTA!”
“Megaloblatta, Lucy?” Jim screamed.
In the throes of panic, Lucy screamed back, “Big fucking bugs…cockroaches, bigger than Norway rats.”
Fifty meters from the module, the swarming insect army overtook Science Officer Lucy Wheeler, pulling her down to her knees. Jim zoomed in the camera’s lens and watched in horror as the creatures clawed at Lucy’s white garment, which instantly turned a dark red. Her visor shattered and for an instant, the Commander of Mars Mission One looked into Lucy’s eyes just before they bulged from their sockets and were eaten.
The heinous, voracious swarm consumed everything, leaving a boiling pool of Lucy's blood behind and with a cognizant collective intelligence circled the Mars Mission One module.
Jim fell to the floor and wept.
Twas the night before Christmas and the only creatures stirring were Megaloblatta. They were dressed all in scales, from head to tail and were prepared to defeat any and all invading armada. The children on earth were nestled all snug in their beds, while sugar plums danced in their heads.
Jimmie whimpered, “I wanna go home.”
Houston Command Center – NASA Administrator’s office – Christmas Eve – 2050
“Sorry to bother you, Sir, we just received two messages from Mars Mission One.”
“Yes, what does Jim have to say, good news I hope. Mars Mission Two will launch in 24 hours.”
"Well…Sir…they are very odd messages, ground control is perplexed and we’ve lost all contact. At 2100 hours the first message read: STAY AWAY. Fifteen minutes later the second message was received: WE ARE WAITING."
Prompt for this story: Write a story about humans celebrating Christmas on Mars for the first time.