Despite its bleakness I like the Martian Night. The cold and the wind, and the hissing of the sand being blown about. Sometimes the rush of air though the canyons make eerie noises and your imagination starts to play tricks on you. You feel completely isolated and it gives you time to think.
As the others slept on I was thinking alright-thinking about what we would do at dawn. Hopefully the buggies and bikes would ride off to the weather station, leaving a reduced number of Raiders at the base, and maybe a minimum 4 hour window for us to enter it and see if the other staff could be rescued.
My musings vaporised when I turned round and saw a silhouetted figure watching me from the dune behind us, a pair of binoculars raised to his eyes. He saw me and ducked out of sight. As I rushed down the dune I was calling in my comms to the others, and Vincent and Maria were first out. We raced to the top of the other dune and saw a pair of tracks heading down into a series of gullies and canyons nearby.
Maria tracked the fellow; our one consolation was that this was all heading away from Miryam base. Unfortunately if the fellow decided to snipe this was an excellent place for an ambush.
After ten minutes we were about to give up when we spotted a parked rover up ahead, concealed at a ravine junction. It had apparently been there for some time, as camo netting and an extended small camp had been made around the vehicle, which was a pickup-type rover.
Maria was all for flushing him out, but it occurred to me that it might be best to try talking-after all if we approached with weapons he would be well placed to take a few shots at us. I left my rifle with Vincent and approached with open hands saying we didn’t mean any harm.
A Mars-clad figure holding a rifle emerged from cover, and after a few more explanations he motioned me forward. My gamble paid off as fortunately the man wasn’t hostile. He invited me into a Pressure Tent and offered me coffee in a thick Spanish accent. The others were invited forward.
Our Host took his breather and hood off revealing a silver –haired weather beaten man in his 40s, with a gold ring in one ear. He introduced himself as Mando Luis Esteve, and he is a Scrap Merchant.
About a week ago he approached Miryam Base, which he occasionally trades with for supplies, but was attacked by the Raiders. A chase ensued during which he eluded his pursuers in rough terrain, but not until his vehicle had been damaged: the engine gave out about half an hour later. He has been marooned since then with two choices-to make the risky 150km trek on foot to Black Rock, or to make an even riskier night-time venture to steal parts from one of the raider vehicles which are apparently parked outside the base. He has supplies for several weeks so he is waiting in the hope that they simply move on, in which case they might simply leave one of the Base Rovers for him to scavenge.
He is prepared to help us enter the base if he can scavenge to fix his Rover, to which we have readily agreed. Mando seems pretty confident in the Outback and I am sure his knowledge will be a useful asset. He has a low opinion of the Raider’s outdoor skills, and seems to think it pitifully easy to avoid them-I hope his confidence is not misplaced. He says that apart from the two bikes and buggies the Raiders have another Buggy, and two giant rovers which they have parked and secured outside the base. He judges that one of these they move around and live in, and the other is a sort of vehicle transporter for the scout vehicles.
Like ourselves he is completely at a loss with regard to what these Raiders are doing at Miryam, but he did repeat a story we have heard so many times on Mars, and is attributed to the so-called ‘Beast of Black Rock’ or some similar urban myth.
Mando claims that a year ago he actually DID come across a homestead he occasionally visited: the colonists (a family of 8 and a couple of workers) had all vanished. Much of the buildings were still intact, and although some things may have been taken (he is evasive about what) the place had not been completely looted or destroyed. He has ventured that perhaps this gang, or a Gang like it, might have been responsible for this and the other reputed disappearances? I don’t know.
So what to do? Mando indicated that the Raiders (for want of a better term) were late risers, and that if any vehicles went off to harass the weather station, this could be any time between 8am and 10am: I grabbed some shuteye.
Around 9.30 am Maria woke me- two buggies and 2 Q Bikes had headed off toward the weather station. We gave them a good half hour and moved the Rover clockwise around the base, keeping all the time in cover of dunes: the intention was to circle away from the guarded hanger, and get as close as possible to the warehouse entrance.
Derik had indicated that there are security cameras inside the base-two in each large module and two in each main corridor-for safety monitoring rather than for intrusion alert really. For emergencies there was also a lockdown programme which could seal all the electronic doors.
The plan was as follows: Sylvie and Denise would stay with the Rover. Laura and Maria would attempt to sneak toward the warehouse module, on the opposite side of the complex from the two (very lax) guards, and attempt to gain entrance. If they got there without incident the rest of us would creep through the boulder field and join them.
Laura, who frankly I still wasn’t sure about, crept closer with Maria-they had a close call when the spotted one of the hab unit view ports was open but managed to adjust their route accordingly. In they went- Derik’s access codes worked fine. After a few minutes we crept in, following the same route they had taken.
The circular mod had a concentric arrangement of storage units, and Maria motioned us behind one of them to avoid the two security cameras positioned over the two internal exits. On the floor was an-almost decapitated man, quite dead. Maria looked a little shocked. He was armed with one of those homebrew martian revolvers that are so popular here, but was otherwise dressed only in a scruffy black vest, boots and combat trousers. His face was strangely tattooed (or painted) with odd lettering that might have been Arabic-then again it might have been something else.
Vincent squirmed out of his mars suit, and with his padded over trousers and T shirt, with a baseball cap from a hanger pulled onto his head he didn’t look wildly dissimilar to the dead man. He avoided the camera over the door leading to the Power Module, and activated his scrambler device. He and Derik then snipped the power feeds to the cameras on either side of the door and Vincent walked off along the corridor, across the intersection and toward the Power Module door. After scrambling the cameras at this end he signalled All Clear, and in ones and twos we flitted across the intersection towards the Power Module.
One thing stuck me as pretty odd about the place: as I sneaked across the intersection down the right corridor was the central Rec. Module, and the peculiar aromatic stale smell we had experienced ever since we entered the base, seemed to emanate most strongly from there. I could hear several voices, and what’s more the door was actually open, and a peculiar red light seeped out, in contrast to the functional pale whiteness of the rest of the base lighting.
At the backup terminal Vincent had been busy; with Derik’s login he had managed to hack in and upgrade his access, terminating the user rights of everyone else in the base. Luckily no-one seemed to be manning the main Lab Terminal. It was only a matter of minutes before he had worked out, with Maria’s help, the security camera monitors and displayed them as a matrix on the screen.
From what we could see there was one person in the lab area (‘That weasel Miles’ interjected Derik), apparently busy eating. In the garage area another individual was working and as we watched two other individuals came from one of the Hab. modules and entered the central Rec. area, from which we had already heard voices. We saw one other individual moving between the Galley and Storage mods and he was a bit odd: male I think, but something of a pretty boy-it makes me wonder about these people. One thing odd about him was his hair, which was blonde and spectacularly wild, and he was decidedly effeminate, and swished around as if he owned the place. Another bit of wierdness was the Rec. Area-the camera view was useless because large drapes or curtains had been hung across the room limiting their view.
With control of the computer access and computer we could now lockdown the electronic doors at will: now we needed to figure out what to do next-and where were the captives?
In the end we decided against initiating a lockdown and alerting the base inhabitants; while Vincent and I watched the screens, Laura, Maria and Mando scouted out the habitation units to the west and south. Fortunately they were not spotted by two Raiders heading from the western Habs towards the central Rec area- all of the Hab units were empty, though showed indications of being used by 3-4 very untidy inhabitants.
While Mando and Laura checked the units to the south Maria, who was guarding the corridor north towards the central Rec module heard a sharp female cry from that direction: we knew that one of the unaccounted for scientists-Dr. Anderson was female, and so we took this as an indication of where she was being held.
As they retraced their steps back towards us in the Power Module Vincent noted that Miles had finished his breakfast, and was moving back towards the central computer to resume whatever he had been doing. He frowned as he saw that he had been logged out, and started the login process. If he realised he had been locked out he might twig something was up. I took a chance and raced west from the Power Module to the Lab module-luckily I encountered no-one else, and Miles didn’t look round when I keyed open the electronic door. He did look round when I stuck my AFL-4 into the side of his neck. He gave a weak smile.
“Hey man thank God you’re here to rescue me- I thought I was done for.”
“Miles you pathetic little Turd”, interjected Derik, who had followed me, “Don’t try to bullshit us about your cosy new chums.”
“Hey what could I do? I could send you that radio message or I could let them shoot me. What was I supposed to do? Die nobly?”
He looked about as trustworthy as he smelled; the safest thing was to shut him up for now, and the lab fume cupboard looked handy, if a bit cramped; I jammed a suspension bar through the catch, making a primitive but effective latch.
“We’ve got to act quickly now-they could rumble us at any time. Derik and me will enter by the north door-you come in at the west. 30 seconds. Go.”
I opened the keypad into the Rec. Room and Derik, who frankly I didn’t think would be up to much, stepped through the curtain and coolly shot down one of the Raiders stood in the middle of the room; I hadn’t realised just how pissed off he was.
At the same time Laura, Maria and Mando stepped through the west door. We had gotten the drop on them, and some lucky shooting put two or three of them down before they had time to react. As I moved in I saw a naked woman tied down with leather straps-the source of the scream-I didn’t think twice as I shot down the scumbag fiddling with his trousers standing over her. Payback.
There were a few nasty moments as a particularly big brute took Laura’s pistol shot on his armor and blasted away with his shotgun, but overall the speed and surprise of our attack-and the fact that we still wore our Mars Suits and had Flak jackets against the Raiders T shirts and unhygienic underwear, made the outcome pretty certain. Derik received a slight wound, and Maria’s flak jacket needed a patch, but otherwise we were ok. There were maybe ten of the raiders all told.
With the fighting apparently over I took my knife to cut loose the woman-she was in a pretty bad way and I could see a lot of bruising; it was fairly obvious that she had been fairly heavily sexually abused. Derik confirmed that this was Dr. Greta Anderson, the base mineralogist. She just covered herself with her hands and cowered once I’d released her, and I’m not sure she was listening to my clumsy attempts to reassure her.
As we had entered the Rec. Room, Sylvie had started the Rover moving toward Miryam, and at this point she reported that the two outside guards had spotted the vehicle, and were moving towards her waving their hands. I was about to caution her when we heard a muffled report and then a cry, followed by more gunshots, much louder this time. We waited for a time which was probably only seconds, but seemed much longer.
“Denise she is down” came Sylvie’s thick French accent.
“And the Guards?” I asked, motioning towards Maria.
“They are down too. I must see to her.” Another pause. “She will be ok I think; but I must re-pressurize the cab and stop the bleeding. Is anyone badly hurt there?”
“Derik is wounded but he’ll live. See to Denise and then come here-we’ve another patient for you”About ten minutes later Sylvie entered the Rec Mod, and whistled as she looked round. I showed her Dr. Anderson- Maria had pushed her into the shower, and was now trying to dress her with some clothes I had pulled from her room. “Hmm” she said, looking at the terrified and cowering woman. “Sleep is best I think.” She administered what I assumed was a sedative, and I gave orders to get her out and evacuate the base.
There was something very odd in the north-western portion of the Rec module. Some tables had been pushed against the wall and covered with cloths. On this was a wooden statue-more like a tableau or diorama really- about three feet high. “Wood”, said Mando, “Is valuable.” I don’t know much about Art but it looked like some sort of Roman or Greek reproduction to me: the central figure was a naked man wielding a staff or rod, sat on a stone plinth with plants growing round it. Around the plinth drinking and fornicating were naked and almost naked men and women, some of them looking and reaching up to the central figure. Two of these appeared to be wild looking women with crazy hair, and sat at the side of the central figure (God?) was a goat-footed figure playing some pipes.
“Some sort of weird sex/ booze cult?” suggested Vincent. I had no idea, but if we took it with us someone in Mariner City might know-and we might be able to sell it. Around the statue were candles and bowls with meat of some indeterminate type in- I didn’t want to look that closely.
Mando said he would take one of the base Rovers, and take it to his own vehicle. He suggested we take the second base Rover- after all, the Raiders probably would if we didn’t. Outside the Hanger was the frozen corpse of Dr.Jones-the final member of the base staff.
A few minutes later we had all piled into the two rovers-including Miles, who Sylvie also sedated. The Sheriff at Black Rock could sort out his story.
We drove for a couple of hours, at which point Mando caught us up in his own vehicle: obviously his jury rigging had been successful. We continued on, three vehicles in convoy, until maybe 2.00 pm, at which point Sylvie pulled the lead Rover to a halt. The reason was easy to see. Behind the sloping dunes the air was thick with dust, and we could see at least a dozen tall columns of wind moving across the valley floor towards us. Mando and Sylvie pulled the three vehicles side by side, and brought out instruments which I later learned fired super-heated bolts down through the regolith and permafrost, to a depth of a couple of metres. To these were attached the ends of metal fibre lanyards, and after the bolts were fired anchors were triggered out from the sides. Minutes later the ground around the bolt head refroze, providing very secure anchor points. These lanyards were then used to tie the vehicles to the floor. Into our cabins we got, playing cards and eating precooked meals-and lots of coffee. There was nothing else we could do: it was a long night.