Read The Mars Shock Online

Authors: Felix R. Savage

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration, #Science fiction space opera thriller

The Mars Shock (10 page)

BOOK: The Mars Shock
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“Rats! They’re RATS!”

Rats the size of poodles, their black pelts smeared with Martian dust, their stomachs bulging and almost scraping the ground.

Kristiansen kicked out at them, his teeth gritted, his hair standing on end inside his helmet.

“They aren’t rats.” Murray’s voice came over the line-of-sight link. “I know, I know, they look like giant mutant rats out of some lame-ass horror flick. But they’re only animals by the broadest definition of the term. They breathe CO2. Eat lithium to react it with. The rest of the scrap that goes in, comes out as refined metal poop. It goes to show what biotech can achieve where there are no pesky obstacles in the way, such as ethics.”

“Shoot them!”

“Waste of juice.”

Kristiansen spun in mid-stomp. Murray was just standing there. The salvage bots—Kristiansen found himself thinking of them as salvage
rats,
whatever Murray said—streamed past Murray, parting around his legs as if he were just a boulder in their way. Kristiansen realized the creatures weren’t actually attacking either of the men. When Kristiansen disturbed their feast, they’d left the buggy. They flooded down the slope in a moving black patch, so tightly synchronized they looked like a single organism. They vanished into the hole in the side of the Chinese module.

That hole hadn’t gotten there when the module crashed, after all. It had been
gnawed.

The buggy looked a bit gnawed, too.

“They must’ve been here already, recycling the module,” Murray said. “There’s probably millions of them in there. They weren’t interested in us because there isn’t enough metal in our suits.” He walked around the buggy. “Looks like they didn’t have time to do any real damage, thank fuck.”

Kristiansen jumped onto the buggy’s hood and inspected his medibot. The rats had tried to get through the shrinkfoam, but had only succeeded in exposing one corner of the machine. He wondered why he was bothering to carry the medibot around like this. His mission had narrowed down from the expansive ideals he held in his heart, to a singular focus on making it through the day alive.

“Get in,” Murray said. Kristiansen climbed into the buggy. Murray dropped through the roof hatch after him, and locked it. “Wherever there’s a pack of salvage bots, there are Martians nearby. So I’ve heard, anyway. They
herd
the bots, and collect the metal pellets they deposit in their shit pits.”

“Uh oh.” Kristiansen scanned the optical feed screens. From inside the buggy, the view was technically 360°, but the screens were so small he felt like he wasn’t seeing everything. Martians could be lurking under their noses, hidden by the sheets of blowing dust.

“Just drive.”

Kristiansen put the buggy in drive. He reversed out of the rubble field around the module. Then they had a long hard climb up the slope that the module had skidded down when it crash-landed. Kristiansen had done some off-roading as a teenager, strictly in secret—it was forbidden by the UN’s ecological conservation regulations—on a quad bike he and a friend had built from salvaged parts. He fiddled with the buggy’s annoyingly simplistic drive controls, looking for a lower gear.

Murray knelt behind the front seats, fiddling with the carbines the guys at Theta Base had given them. These were as long as a man’s arm and heavy as hell—but not as heavy as they would have been on Earth. They had few moving parts that could get clogged by Martian dust. Murray passed one between the seats. Kristiansen pushed it away. He had to concentrate: they were crawling uphill over loose rocks, at risk of starting a landslide, and of getting stuck.

“Fuck!” he shouted suddenly.

“What? What?”

Kristiansen stabbed a gloved finger at the ‘rearview’ optical feed. Lean humanoid shapes moved swiftly uphill through the dust clouds thrown up by the buggy’s wheels.

“Hello,” Murray said softly. “Martians.”

Kristiansen’s stomach clenched into a cold, hard knot. Here they were. The beings humanity had come to Mars to kill, or save.

Right now, all he could think about was getting away from them.

Murray dropped his carbine. He swung up onto the gunner’s platform. The hatch clunked open. “Eat lead, you putrid scrap bandits!”

Kristiansen heard a succession of whines and bangs—the sound effects electronically generated by the roof-mounted .50 calibre machine-gun. The real noise of the gun, attenuated in the Martian atmosphere, travelled through the buggy’s frame and up his spine, rattling his teeth.

The Martians seemed to melt away into the rocks. Smaller boulders exploded into shrapnel and dust.

“Hot dog!” Murray whooped.
Whine. BEEEP.
“Shit, I can’t reload. The fucking rats ate the latch of the feed tray.”

Almost before he finished speaking, a rash of blue sparks sprang out on the rearview screen. Murray’s barrage hadn’t taken out all the Martians. And some of them were armed. Kristiansen had heard they used primitive energy weapons. Blasters, like something out of the 21
st
century. But primitive beat sophisticated, when your high-tech machine-gun had been literally chewed up by salvage bots.

“There are hundreds of the fuckers!” Murray sounded panicked. After all, he wasn’t a soldier, either.

“I can see that,” Kristiansen gritted. The sideview screens as well as the rearview showed Martians converging on the buggy, leaping over the boulders like mountain goats. They were unbelievably agile. And
fast.

A horde of salvage rats scurried at their heels, like undersized hunting dogs.

“No.
No,
these little bastards do not get to recycle
us.”
Grabbing his carbine, Murray jumped up on the gunner’s platform again.

PEW PEW PEW,
the carbine uttered electronically, sounding more like a gun in a game than the real thing. But this was no game.

Kristiansen frantically scanned the dashboard. They didn’t have any other armaments. This was it: his life depended on an ISA agent’s aim.

Only a few of the Martians went down. Either Murray’s aim sucked, or the ‘smart’ darts’ motion-targeting sensors were getting confused by all the pebbles bouncing downhill in the buggy’s wake.

“Can’t this piece of shit go any faster?” Murray yelled.

“Nope.” Still climbing the slope, they were progressing at only 10 kph. Murray could yell all he liked, but the buggy’s electric engine wasn’t going to put out any more juice.

“I’m outta ammo!”

Kristiansen grabbed the other carbine by the barrel and stretched backwards, keeping his toes hooked under the dashboard. The ISA agent bent down through the hatch to snatch the weapon.

The Martians surged towards the buggy.

Kristianensen plopped back into the driver’s seat.

The rearview screen filled with broad-cheeked, flat-nosed faces. Dust-coated hands in fingerless gloves reached up. Blaster fire obliterated the rearview camera.

Murray screamed.

The front screen was next to go. It went black, and then the blackness turned into legs. A Martian had leapt onto the hood of the buggy, blocking the front camera. Kristiansen detachedly noted that the legs were rounded with muscle, and the skin had an odd pebbly texture. A foot in a fur-topped boot kicked the camera. The feed vanished.

Murray toppled down into the cab.

Martian arms reached in through the open hatch. A hideous face blocked out the dull sky. It wore the Martian expression familiar by now to everyone in the solar system: a tight-lipped evil smile. That smile said clearly that the creature was
enjoying
this. It wormed around and fired its blaster into the cab.

Kristiansen struggled out of the driver’s seat.

He jumped over Murray and—because he couldn’t think of what else to do—punched the Martian in the face.

It recoiled. Its second blaster pulse sizzled into the wall of the cab, narrowly missing Kristiansen.

He slapped the big red button next to the hatch. It closed hydraulically, grinding shut on the arm of a second Martian. The trapped limb jerked.

Fingers pried into the gap, trying to force the hatch open again.

Murray pulled himself up, using Kristiansen’s legs as a ladder. A cutter laser hummed in his hand. He slashed it across the trapped arm and the prying fingers. They fell severed, smoking at the ends.

“Drive!” Murray yelled at the transfixed Kristiansen.

Reminded of what he should be doing, Kristiansen threw himself back into the driver’s seat. The autodrive had carried the buggy onto a slope too steep for it to gain traction. The wheels were spinning. Kristiansen engaged the spikes, which extruded from the wheels like crampons, giving them better purchase.

All the screens except one—the righthand sideview—were dark. That one showed what looked like the top of the slope.

“Murray, are you OK?”

“Just get us the fuck out of here!”

“I’m trying!”

The buggy’s nose tilted up, and then lurched sharply down. Kristiansen had hoped the slope would flatten out on top. His hopes were dashed. They’d just gone over a ridge as sharp as a knife.

He slammed the joystick over hard, jamming the brakes on.

The buggy spun 180° and began to slide down the hill … backwards.

The single working screen allowed him a glimpse of where they were going. And it was terrifying.

The slope descended at a brutal gradient, fractured by gullies deep enough to swallow the buggy. Pebbles and large rocks bounced away downhill, leaping high in the low gravity, raising a tsunami of dust that seemed to boil back up the slope towards them. Kristiansen fought for control. He turned the buggy at an angle across the slope.

“Ah fuck! You fucker!” Murray howled. Kristiansen risked a glance back. A blue spark flashed at the edge of the hatch. The Martians had come along for the buggy’s wild ride. They were drilling through the hatch with their blasters.

Murray braced himself to one side of the hatch, carbine at his shoulder, waiting for the first Martian to show its ugly face.

With the buggy descending in reverse, Kristiansen was doing everything backwards. He leaned on the joystick and cut the engine, taking the traction off the front wheels—which were now at the back. The buggy drifted. Just like in the hills of Nidwalden, where he’d broken his collarbone when he was fifteen. But Mars only had 38% of Earth’s gravity. At the midpoint of the drift, the front wheels lifted off the slope. It was a gentle sensation. Kristiansen knew it was irreversible.

“Hold on!” he yelled. “We’re going to flip!”

CRASH. The buggy flipped and skidded down the slope on its roof. Kristiansen hung upside-down in his straps. Murray bounced around on the ceiling, which was now the floor. They flipped a couple more times, coming off bumps, and hit the slope each time with a louder, more violent crash.

For a moment they fell straight down, weightless. Then the buggy bounced once more, hard, and came to rest.

On its side.

Kristiansen felt like he’d been bludgeoned, repeatedly, with a mallet. But he was alive. He hit the release button on his harness with trembling fingers, and fell out of the driver’s couch. It was pitch dark. Screens, interior lighting, everything was dead.

He checked his suit, to make sure it wasn’t breached. His faceplate’s HUD, backlighted, flashed a reassuring message in the dark: SUIT INTEGRITY 100%.

“Murray?”

The thin cone of light from Kristiansen’s helmet lamp picked out litter that had fallen out of the webbings. Spare ammo drums for the carbines. Refill packs of gorp.

Murray lay motionless on his back.

Kristiansen crawled to the ISA agent and shook him. “Come on, man, come on, wake up.”

Murray stirred. “Jesus H. Christ.” He tried to rub his head; of course, he could only rub his helmet. “Am I dead, or do I just
wish
I was dead?”

“The latter,” Kristiansen said, relieved. “Are you OK?”

Pause. “Yeah, I guess.”

The hatch had been damaged, either by their fall or by the Martians who tried to break in. For a few nightmarish minutes, it looked like they were stuck in the buggy. Finally, an application of Kristiansen’s shoulder to the hatch got it open. He pitched out headfirst, grabbed the machine-gun mount to break his fall, and stumbled down to the ground.

The dry, pebbly regolith seemed darker here. So did the light. That could be because the Martian night was falling. Or it could be because they’d fallen into a crevasse which was—just a guess—at least a kilometer deep.

Kristiansen swallowed. The silence in his helmet seemed louder than before, thicker. He stirred the sand with his boot. Nanites teemed in this dry-as-dust soil, invisible to the naked eye. The outside of his suit would be thick with them by now. Only a layer of shape-memory alloy and his outer garment of radproof ‘sandwich’ cloth stood between him and death … or worse.

Then again, at the moment, the nanites were the least of their problems.

They righted the buggy by pushing on it together. The engine was dead. The machine-gun was as useless as a blunt stick. The UHF antenna and the radar mast were broken stubs, underscoring the futility of their plight.

BOOK: The Mars Shock
2.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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