This morning two trucks from the Ryan Mine arrived –two large rovers with rear containment areas-to collect their monthly produce order from Tom and Mary. It seemed something of a social occasion for them-I guess they don’t get that many visitors, and the four crew joined us for lunch.
One of the drivers said that a VTOL had landed at Black Rock a couple of days ago, which certainly got me thinking.
After lunch the trucks drove off, and we started thinking about our return journey on the morrow. At the evening meal I noticed that Maria was casting odd glances at Anna, but I didn’t twig why- she looked rather pretty in fact. I decided to head to bed early with a journey the next day.
I was awoken by Vincent close to ten o’clock. “Get up, get your Mars Suit-Maria is in trouble.” I noticed he had his pistol. As I got dressed he explained.
“Maria was checking the Rover over in the Hanger when she saw someone slip out of the greenhouse, and down into the Flows. She followed and started tracking them. Thing is she sounds scared-she says she didn’t take a gun, and she thinks she’s being stalked by someone-or something.”
Without disturbing anyone else we went into the Greenhouse, and left by the end door. It was pitch black outside, though we could see lights on the Weather Station and antenna mounted atop the large rocky spur a couple of km or so ahead. We cast around for a couple of sets of footprints which led down into the sand filled crevices, and followed as best we could.
The walls of the crevices varied only between about one and two metres, but after going for a few minutes we could no longer see the Greenhouses. Vincent had Maria’s suit transponder on his wrist comp, and she was maybe a km or so ahead, somewhere in the tangle of the Flows. She appeared to be stationary.
The wind was making eerie noises as it pushed through the ravines and mini-canyons-but this is the sort of noise I’ve heard before. What wasn’t expected was a strange whistling noise-high then low-coming from somewhere ahead of us. This was answered somewhere off to our left by another whistling noise, this time pitched differently, piercing the thin Martian air. We looked at one another.
We were maybe only a couple of hundred metres from Maria at this point, and I crept up onto a rock, and scanned over the head of the boulders using my electronic sight-and caught a glimpse of movement. What I thought I saw was a rear shot of a head and shoulder-tall enough to still be visible while I scanned over the topmost level of the flows. There was something odd about the head, but the IR painter only shows a black/ greenish grey image, and I couldn’t really make out any detail. We crept closer, but the head, or whatever it was, disappeared out of sight.At this point we were quite close to Maria, and she hissed to us from a small cul-de-sac in which she had been hiding.
At this point we heard another noise-which I can only describe as chittering or tittering-this time from behind us, back towards the greenhouse. None of us were in the mood for further night-time adventures, but Maria was tracking who she thought might be Anna. She had noticed at dinner that she had made herself up slightly (neither Vincent nor myself had noticed), and it was her guess that she was sneaking out to see Elvis; Maria thought she might have a crush on him.
That settled it- with whatever it was out there, we couldn’t leave Anna wandering about alone. I handed Maria her rifle and she and Vincent walked ahead; we were all pretty jittery at this point and I backed up behind them, covering our rear as we negotiated the narrow passages. Ahead the rocky spur loomed.
Fortunately we reached it without further incident, and as we scrambled up onto the rover track I looked back across the Flows. Just for a microsecond I thought I spotted two greenish pin-pricks of light, and then it was pitch dark again. There is definitely something down there.
The spine of the spur was a hard walk, but there was little chance of ambush here. Eventually we walked underneath the bridge between the instrumentation block and the hab block, and emerged into the small vehicle park, with one of Tom’s Rovers parked outside. We walked up the steps to the Hab Unit, and keyed the access codes.
Inside we could hear Elvis playing his guitar and singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. I knocked, diplomatically paused and then entered. Inside Elvis was sat on a hard chair with his guitar; across from him was a slightly bewildered looking Anna; the top half of her Mars Suit, was rolled down, but beneath she was fully clothed. “Hi man I was just playing Anna some tunes. I’ll make you some coffee and then you can join in too.” As he walked behind Anna he motioned me to follow him into the canteen area.
“You got to get her back to her Daddy. Take the Rover. This happens to me all the time.”
We stayed and listened for an hour or so, and then started to make leaving noises. Anna had no excuse not to come with us. Before we left I warned Elvis to lock the doors and told him what had happened. He looked puzzled, but said he’d be ok as he had his rifle with him. He’s been in the army apparently.
We drove back down in silence, and headed back in without disturbing anyone. No point in embarrassing Anna with her parents.