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Mars Encounter

* Mars Encounter*

* By*

* J.J. Wright*

Half a Cup of Coffee Publishing

Halfacupofcoffee.co.uk

Half a Cup of Coffee and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered

trademarks of Half a Cup of Coffee.

 

First published in the UK by Half a Cup of Coffee, 2017

Text copyright © J.J. Wright, 2017

 

The right of J.J. Wright to be identified as the author of this work

has been asserted by him.

 

All rights reserved

 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or

otherwise, be lent, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or

cover other than that in which it is published. No part of this publication may

be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any

means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without

the prior written permission of either the producer or the author.

Produced in this form by Half a Cup of Coffee

 

Half a Cup of Coffee has no responsibility for the information gained from

websites who’s addresses are obtained from this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and dialogues are

products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to

actual people, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

www.jjwright.co.uk

 

www.halfacupofcoffee.co.uk

 

Contents

Prologue

Part 1: Learning

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Part 2: Adjustment

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Part 3: Searching

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Part 4: Discovery

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Part 5: Aftermath

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Epilogue

Note From The Author

Also By J.J. Wright

About The Author

Prologue

20:00 EST December 24th 1968

60 Nautical Miles Above the Surface of the Moon

In the bleakness of space a loan space craft is traveling across the lifeless void. This is mankind’s first tentative steps into the vastness of space and beyond their home planet. Inside the thin walled spaceship three men are traveling to the moon, put there by science, engineering and imagination. They are leaving humanity, war, peace, love, laughter, disease and everything else they have ever known behind. They start to travel further away from the Earth and cross from the all-consuming light of the sun to the bleak, cold, emptiness of the dark side of the moon.

“We’ll see you on the other side.” The radio crackles faintly into life before dying into silence. The craft vanished from view of the Earth, continuing on its journey held in place by maths, science and dreams. With the help of gravity it was travelling further and further away from the Earth. Eventually it would return and complete a full orbit of the moon but that wouldn’t be for 64 minutes. Until then the three men would have nothing to do but to take photographs and scientific readings of the moon, what they were here to do. Ten minutes of the darkness passed by before the radio unexpectedly crackled into life. The voice was not one that any of the three men recognised. The language was one that no human had heard before. The voice spoke.

“Nesvoen hipsin tanat. Vimmat Wimov papd Quqamat quttos qisaiposi put deiman.”

The three men inside the capsule looked at each other. What was it they had just heard? Was it a joke from one of their fellow astronauts or was it a message from an alien people. The three men argued with each other until they realised there was no way of knowing for sure if it was real or not.

“What was that?”

“It can’t be real, can it?”

The radio hissed static, announcing that it was going to speak again. The message repeated itself and kept on doing so. The three astronauts, all military men, looked at each other, each trying to contemplate what the other two was thinking. They had spent months training for this mission and felt that they could know what each other were thinking just by the tone of their voice or the rising of an eyebrow. But this was no simulation, this hadn’t been in any training manual, this was unprecedented. Only one short meeting that all three men had thought was a joke had prepared them for this.

“That man who came to see us was telling the truth?”

“Aliens though, really? It must be a joke”

“Do we use the code word in the TV broadcast?”

“It just seems so far-fetched.”

The discussion continued in this vain as the fragile spacecraft continued its course through space. All the time the radio received its strange message. The three men argued over what they had heard and what it really meant. They barely realised that they were about to come back into the light of the sun.

“Well, will you look at that.”

The window was filled with the Earth and it looked both smaller and larger than it did before. No man had ever seen it in this way before and none had heard what they had heard.

“Quick take a picture, we are not alone anymore.”

“Are we agreed, we use the code word in the broadcast?”

“At some point we will say ‘let there be light’ so those guys know about the signal. Now we just need to figure out a way to work it in somehow.”

Part 1: Learning

Chapter 1

13:30 AFT, January 4th 2002

Market Square, Kabul, Afghanistan, Earth

Breathe. No matter what you do in the next thirty seconds, breathe. Those were the first thoughts that went through Captain Yelps’ mind. His old drill Sargent had taught him the importance of the simple, yet effective mantra and Yelps had always held onto it throughout his short but distinguished career. Breathe. It had gotten him through some tuff situations in training, Somalia and Albania. Through fire fights, bomb scares and even hostage situations. Breathe. Down town Afghanistan was the worst place that Captain Yelps could think of being right now, the hot sun beating down, danger everywhere he looked and what was worse was the danger he couldn’t see. Breathe. The mid-day sun was beating down from the sky. It dried the sandy air Yelps was trying to swallow into his lungs, causing his mouth to dry up. The dazzling light reflected off everything it could, trying to blind him. Breathe. Yelps looked around. Across the street stood three people, at best they were innocent bystanders, caught up in a war that they had no choice but to be a part of. At worse they were part of the Taliban forces and Yelps would have to shoot them. Breathe. He looked up and could see one man on a rooftop holding a Soviet made rifle, probably left over from the 1980’s, full of sand dust and poorly maintained. Across the street was the rest of Yelps’ squad. Breathe. This was not a good situation to be in. Yelps needed his men over with him, he needed them to start searching this house where they believed a young local woman was being held captive. Breathe. Yelps looked over and motioned for his men to come over to him. First was the Lieutenant. New to the unit but a likeable guy. He was a specialist in bomb detection and Yelps would need his highly trained skills to help search the house. The Lieutenant started to run over to join Yelps. Breathe. Bang. Squelch. Thud. Almost in slow motion like in a film. Breathe. Yelps saw the flash of light from the roof top, the Lieutenant had nearly made it, three more steps. Yelps could almost reach out and touch the man who was falling in a street thousands of miles from home. Without thinking Yelps flew forward pushing the Lieutenant to the ground. Despite flying through the air Yelps felt the exact moment the bullet went into his thigh. This one wasn’t fired in slow motion. It had happened suddenly with little subtlety or respect for human flesh. Pain wasn’t the right word to describe the first feeling that registered in Yelps’ brain. It was more like surprise, like his brain couldn’t figure out what was happening. Yelps reached for his side arm having dropped his rifle in the fall. He managed to twist his body around and fire his weapon. He saw the gun man drop from the roof top, falling through the air and landing on the ground with a thud.

“Now.” Shouted a voice, Yelps wasn’t sure where from, it’s difficult to pick up on details like that as your bleeding onto a sand covered street in a foreign land. Breathe. The next flash of light was all consuming, blinding, cleansing and destructive. The noise was loud. The heat unbearable. Hell was real and it was on a deserted street in Afghanistan. Parts of a nearby wall started falling from the sky. A bomb had been detonated. Breathe. Yelps just managed to open his eyes in time to see his squad coming out from their hiding places. They were firing their guns at the surrounding buildings, hitting the fighters who had been entrenched there, waiting for their victims. Yelps noticed the people huddled against the wall again. They must be civilians, this was their street but now not their natural environment. Breathe. Yelps could always spot a real civilian over someone pretending during a firefight. There was something specific about how a civilian would cower in fear, something that couldn’t be faked. He had to help them, none of this was their fault and he had to protect their lives as much as those of his men. Yelps dragged himself across the street, picking up his previously discarded rifle. Slowly he dragged himself, bleeding, blinded, scared. Breathe. Yelps reached the civilians, up close he noticed one was a woman the other two were children, possibly hers, possibly already orphans. In this place who could tell? Yelps hurled himself up and twisted so that his back was against them.

“They’re civilians.” He yelled, almost choking as he spoke, the smoke and dust in his lungs not wanting to give up the space in his throat for his words to come out. Yelps was hit again. Breathe. A couple of more shots and then nothing but silence. Yelps fell to the ground. He looked up and could see all the rest of his men standing over him. Yelps knew that the rest of his squad would be safe. They were all highly trained and this was exactly what they had been training for. Each one of them would be able to cope with the situation and would know what to do. It was ok to pass out now, they were safe.

Coming too three days later Yelps looked around the make shift field hospital. Sitting in a chair by his bedside was a young looking Lieutenant. Yelps wondered at first if it was one of the men from his unit, but he didn’t recognise the blurry figure. As Yelps’ eyes started to focus he tried to figure out who this stranger was.

“Don’t worry Captain, you are safe.” The figure spoke out. “My name is Lieutenant Philips and I am going to stick by your side.”

All Yelps could manage was a whimper. Breathing tubes were forced down his throat, his eyes wouldn’t open fully and he couldn’t feel his arms. Yelps tried to come to more, he tried to fight against the overwhelming urge to drift off to sleep once again but he couldn’t, he couldn’t focus his mind on anything except for his desire to drift off into the darkness and embrace the comforting clasp of sleep once more. Just before he drifted off to a pain free existence Yelps heard but barely registered one more thing.

“You’ve been selected for a very special assignment.”

Chapter 2

07:00 GMT, March 2nd 2017

Brixton Child Care Home, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

Justin awoke to the sound of his alarm. The high pitch electronic beeping screeched at him constantly, rudely demanding his attention. Justin eventually summoned the strength and fight to reach over and hit the off button. He knew that he now had fifteen minutes to get up, and head into the shower before anybody else in the home arose. As much as Justin hated getting up he loved this time of day. This was the only time of day when he had the whole place to himself. None of the other kids would be up yet, neither would the social workers who lived in the home. This was his time and he was going to enjoy a shower with hot water before anyone else could get up. He very quietly stepped out of the bed and tried to make it to the bathroom without making a sound. He knew that one false step and he would cause a sound to wake up everyone else in the house. He loved them all in their own way but this was supposed to be his time. Many of the kids saw him as a big brother, especially the new arrival, Carl. It was fun to be the oldest one in the house, the one they all looked up to but it also carried with it a lot of responsibility and right now, in this moment that was something Justin was looking to escape from. Justin made it to the shower and breathed a sigh of relieve as he locked the door. It didn’t matter now how much noise he made, no-one would be able to get to the hot water before him. As Justin stepped into the shower he felt the first burst of freezing cold water, ideal for waking you up however not so relaxing. This unwanted cold water gradually and teasingly gave way to the warm and comforting hot liquid which he really wanted. Justin soaped himself, being careful to mind the scares on his right arm and torso. He knew not to spend too long in the shower, with nine other kids and three social workers living in the home there were plenty of other people who would be wanting to use it after him. But at the same time Justin knew to savour this instant, this was the time when it was only him, no exams, no expectations, no gangs and no other worries. This was the only time of the day when he would get to be himself and no one was around to witness it.

After dressing Justin went downstairs to get his breakfast. Susan was already in the kitchen and was getting the morning things ready. Justin liked Susan. He was never too sure why anyone would want to spend their lives looking after the children that no-one else wanted but with Susan it sort of fit, it made sense. He understood why this nice, friendly woman enjoyed looking after all of them. She would constantly fuss and worry about every single child in her care, even keeping in contact with most of them after they left the care system. One of the reasons Justin liked her was because everyone else liked her too, not that that was her main motivator, which just made you like her more. Susan was so appreciated by the kids that had gone through the home that she was God-Mother to many of the children that her kids had gone on to have. There had always been a sort of special bond between Justin and Susan. Unspoken, neither one wanting to draw attention to it in case the magic would be broken but they just seemed to get each other. Justin had put it down to the fact that he had been there the longest. In fact Justin had been there longer than most people. Nearly all of the other kids were under the age of eight. Very few stayed in the home past that point. Either they would go back to their family or off to be adopted or even to foster parents. But Justin never seemed to have that lucky break. Sure there had been foster parents and others but he always appeared to end up back in the home. Very few people were willing to take Justin on after they had heard about the life his mother had lived before she died, leaving Justin with no-one to look after him but the system. People always assumed that he would turn out the same as his mother but Justin was determined that this would not be the case. He would make something of his life, he would go to University, get out of the system and most of all be someone to be proud of, someone that Susan would be proud of. But right now Justin sat at the kitchen table and poured himself some cereal.

“You all set for today?” Susan asked as she buttered toast before adding it to the large stockpile she had already accumulated.

“I guess.” Justin replied, dreading the exam which he knew he would be taking later.

“Which one is it this time?”

“Advanced Maths. A-Level.” Justin said with a light sense of dread in his voice. He knew he would do well, he always did well, but he hated exams all the same.

“Well I won’t wish you good luck, you won’t need it.” Susan never wished any of the kids good luck on exams, she was convinced it would jinks them. But as she looked across at Justin she felt she had to say something. “You’ll do great.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Justin looked down at his cereal which was growing ever more soggy by the milk. He forced himself to take a bite. “I’m not that hungry.” Justin got up and took his bowl to the sink before washing up. He walked out of the kitchen and headed for the door.

“Hey Justin.” Susan called out. “Is everything ok? It’s not like you to be mopey.”

“I’m fine, I guess.”

“Well I’m here if you want to talk.” Susan’s voice betrayed the concern that she was trying so desperately to hide.

“I know.” Justin said. He couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye, she might see the truth of what was bothering him today. “I’m going to the library after College so I’ll be late back.”

Justin picked up his college bag and headed for the front door. Usually he didn’t feel like this but today he did, today he felt resentful that he was an orphan, resentful that he couldn’t get out of the system and resentful towards the mother he had never known.

Chapter 3

08:30 GMT, March 2nd 2017

Brixton High Street, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

Justin plugged his earphones into his phone and selected some music. He always had his head phones on when he walked to the 6th Form College but he didn’t always have music playing. Sometimes it was just a good way of keeping the rest of the world out, of trying to block out everyone who wanted to intrude into his own space and his own life. Privacy, that was what mattered to Justin. He walked up the pavement heading towards the high street. Three other kids stepped out in front of him. One was Jimbo, a kid that Justin had been at school with.

“What you doing?” Jimbo asked. Justin took the headphones out of his ears and started to answer.

“Just going to college Jimbo.”

“What you want to be doing that for?”

“Better life.”

“Better life? Tish, I am the better life. Look at me man I’ve got everything and one day I’ll be king of this manner.”

“Why do you think I want to get a better life and get away from here?”

Jimbo looked cross, he looked serious. He knew that this was an insult and he didn’t like it. Justin had taken a calculated risk in saying that but he knew it was a risk he had to take. Jimbo’s face suddenly changed to a broad big smile.

“See this is why I love this guy.” Jimbo put his arm around Justin who flinched at the unwanted and uninvited contact. “When you going to come and work for me bro?”

“Work for you? But I thought you worked for Big L.”

“I don’t work for no-one, me and Big L are more like partners.”

“I’m going to be late for college.” Justin slipped away from Jimbo’s grasp. He knew he would regret it if he turned Jimbo down flatly but he also knew that Jimbo was offering him a life he didn’t want.

“Well just think about it yeah.” Jimbo called out to Justin as he walked away. “What you looking at?” He added before hitting one of the other guys who had been standing with him.

Justin carried on walking away. As he looked around the high street he knew he had to get away from this life, as far away as he possibly could. Sure the odds were stacked against him, growing up in Brixton, living in a children’s home, not knowing who his mother was apart from the fact that she was a junky, but he had one thing going for him. Justin was smart, really smart. He had scored higher GCSE’s than anyone else who had ever gone to his school and he was looking to be the best at the Sixth Form College too. It wasn’t arrogance, it wasn’t even ambition. School work came easier to him than it did to most of his class mates, especially maths. To everyone else real life was a distraction to their school work. To Justin school work was how he distracted himself from real life.

Justin went into class nervous about the exam he would be facing later that day. He found it difficult to concentrate on what he was being told. He knew he should try hard but he couldn’t help the nervous, excited and horrified feelings he was having.

Sitting in the exam hall Justin was terrified. The exam would begin in a minute and he would be faced with having to answer the questions as quickly as he could whilst still being correct. Suddenly it was time to turn over the paper and get started. The first few questions were a breeze and Justin soon settled down to the rhythm of the exam. The nervousness drifted away as Justin quickly went through the questions. This was what he was good at, he could manage this exam and get top marks like he always did. Justin’s confidence was high and he knew he could handle this. Then came question 13. It was like some hieroglyphs found in darkest Egypt or something. Justin hardly knew what the symbols meant let alone how to do the sum. He just stared at the question for over ten minutes before deciding to move on and come back to it. He tried to find his natural rhythm again but couldn’t. Justin finished the exam with 45 minutes spare. He hadn’t answered question 13 though, that was the stuff that nightmares were made of. Justin decided he might as well have another look at it. He stared at the thing intensely for nearly three quarters of an hour. Suddenly he had a thought on how to answer it, a way of working it out and he set to on the problem.

Once out of the exam Justin looked around the others. He couldn’t believe that no-one else was talking about that question. Had he missed something, was it in fact so easy to everyone else that they hadn’t even given it a second thought. This made Justin even more panicked. After the exam Justin went to the library. He searched through every maths text book he could find and he couldn’t find any reference to question 13, nothing about its symbols or the strange way the question was made up. Had he imagined it, had his exhausted mind come up with a question so complex that it was unsolvable. Was the whole of question 13 in fact a trick played on him by his mind in an attempt to confuse him. Justin hunted through books, every maths book, every physics book anything he thought would have the question in. He wasn’t successful. Justin knew the library, he knew it well. Most nights after college he would head down to the library and read every book he could find. He had learnt about history, geology, physics and maths. In truth he had found his first love in that library, Mathematics. This is where he really learnt. He would come down at least three nights a week and read. At first it was just a way of hiding, from the loneliness of the children’s home, from the horrors of the street gangs and most of all just from life. He had been truly happy in that library. Yet right now it was of no comfort to him, he couldn’t find the answer he so desperately craved. The library would be closing soon and Justin would leave the library empty handed without the answers he was searching for, for the first time.

Justin walked out of the library and down the street. He was heading back home, still with the answer unfound. The cold night air refreshed him as he walked back by himself. The rest of the night would only hold its usual entertainment. Dinner, probably with Susan sitting next to him asking about his day, he would have to confess about question 13? She would tell him not to worry about it, not realising what it really meant to him, how it bothered him. He would then veg out on the sofa watching TV trying to pretend he was reading some book or other, usually whatever was closest to hand and then he would go off to bed. Just another day in the life of a south London orphan and so it would continue for ever more. How was Justin to know that today had in fact been a rather special day, one like no other and no other day would be the same for him, for the rest of his life.

Chapter 4

16:00 GMT, March 16th 2017

Brixton High Street, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

Justin walked down the street minding his own business, he had music blaring and was just trying to stay out of Jimbo’s way. He could see Jimbo further down the street. Hopefully Jimbo wouldn’t notice him. Then Justin could see Jimbo tapping one of his cronies on the chest and pointing towards Justin. The two set off towards him. Justin was nervous, he knew there was no point in running away, they would just chase after him, but at the same time there was no point in trying to reason with Jimbo either. Then a tall dark haired man in a trench coat stepped out in front of Jimbo just as he approached Justin.

“You don’t need to talk to him.” The man said to Jimbo.

“What you talking about.” Jimbo was aggravated, these were his streets, who was this guy, coming up to him like that?

“You don’t need to talk to him, but I do.” The man replied.

“Come on, I smell bacon.” Jimbo turned and walked away before looking back over his shoulder and adding “Say anything about me and you’re a dead man.”

“Thanks.” Justin offered the guy before trying to take a side step and walk away. The tall guy stepped into Justin’s path.

“Why don’t you and I get a coffee in that café over there.”

Justin hadn’t spotted it before but the man definitely had a soft American accent. Slightly watered down, like he had been living in the United Kingdom for a long time but it was still distinctive all the same. Justin looked at the man for a moment, why would this guy want to have a coffee with him, what possible business did they have together?

“Why would I want to go with you?” Justin asked, suspicious of the man.

“Because tomorrow that young man will come back for you, the following day it might be a different gang and I won’t be here.” The man smiled at Justin. “You have no idea who I am but I know you are interested in what I have to say.” Justin looked the man up and down before thinking for a moment. Justin didn’t say anything, he just started to walk towards the café. The two walked over the road towards a small but busy café. The man opened the door before allowing Justin to walk through it first. The plastic chairs and smell of grease in the air gave it away that this wasn’t some sort of large coffee franchise but rather that it was owned by the guy behind the counter, covered in grease stains and ketchup marks. The stranger brought Justin a coffee and they both sat down at one of the tables.

“My name is Captain Philips.” The stranger offered before pouring sugar into his own cup. “I want to ask you a few questions.”

“Are you a cop?” Justin asked worried that he was in trouble. Maybe his mother’s reputation was causing the police to look into him already.

“Do I need to get a cop for you to answer my questions?”

“Do I need a lawyer?”

“You’re not in any sort of trouble Justin, I just want to talk to you.”

Justin got up to leave and started to walk away. Captain Philips knew he had to get Justin’s attention right away and knew just how to do it.

“Question 13.” He blurted out. Justin stopped dead in his tracks. He could feel the sweat already starting to pour down his forehead at the very mention of question 13. This was the first recognition he had found that the question had even existed. He couldn’t walk out now, not when he was about to find out what it was all about.

“What about it?” Justin turned to face Philips.

“You answered it.”

Justin sat back down at the table. Philips undid the buttons on his long coat, revealing some sort of military uniform. Justin didn’t recognise it, he guessed it may have been American.

“So?”

“You’ve heard of Professor Stephen Hawkins.”

“What that guy in the wheel chair with the voice?”

“He’s a Professor at Cambridge and don’t call him that wheel chair guy. We both know that you checked out a Brief History of Time from the library when you were twelve.”

“Ok so I know who he is.”

“You returned that book two days later.”

“Well it was to tuff for me, I was twelve.” Justin offered an excuse, one that seemed more like a cover story then an explanation. It was a little to rehearsed for Philips’ liking.

“You read his doctoral thesis online when you were eleven, his book wasn’t too difficult for you, you read it in two days at the age of twelve.” Philips wasn’t able to hide the fact that he was impressed, his tone of voice betraying him.

“What’s this got to do with question 13?”

“He couldn’t answer it, we tested it out on him.” Philips let his comments hang in the air for a moment. “That question has perplexed some of the greatest mathematical minds this world has to offer and you answered it.”

“I just took a guess.”

“That was no guess work.”

“I had an inspired moment.” Justin offered. He then thought about it for a moment before realising that he was going to have to explain himself. “All you had to do was realise that the first part was written in base twenty-one the second part in base ten and the third part in base three. It was pretty obvious really, you just had to work out that the clue in the question was telling you to times the third prime number by the fifth, the second prime number by the fourth and the first prime number by the third. That tells you which base the three equations were written in and then it’s just a quick sum. It was simple really. I guess, if I got it right.”

“I am a Captain in the US Marine corps, I hold a Master’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate from MIT and I barely understood your explanation.”

“I’m good at Maths or seeing as you’re American Math.”

“Thanks for the translation.” Philips responded sarcastically. “Look, you’re some kind of genius.”

“We’re done here. You’ve not come to ask me any questions.”

“Ok maybe not questions but just one question.”

“Sure what is it?”

“What’s the most amazing thing you could imagine doing with your life. Don’t answer me now. Meet me at this address in twenty-four hours and tell me then.” Philips slid a card over to Justin. “Just think about it and tell me then.”

“Thanks for the coffee.” Justin got up from the table and walked away. This guy was obviously some sort of nutter, Justin wanted to get away as quickly as he possibly could. He walked out of the café and towards home. But something was bothering Justin, something important. If this guy was a nutter then how did he know about the exam question. The result wouldn’t be out for weeks yet this guy not only knew that Justin had answered the question but that he had got it right. That night Justin lay in his bed staring at the ceiling. The question Philips had asked kept going around his head, over and over again. What was the most amazing thing he could imagine doing with his life. Justin had never really thought about it, he had never really given much time to dreaming for dreaming sake. All he had really been focused on in his whole life was getting out of Brixton. Away from all the gangs, away from the hardship and towards finding a better life for himself. But how? He knew he wanted to go to university, he also knew he was clever enough to make it to one of the big ones, Oxford or Cambridge. He guessed he would probably end up either doing physics or maths but was never sure which. Could he go on to get his doctorate? Sure he had checked out the thesis from the library and he knew he was clever enough to try it. That would be his answer, he dreamt of completing a doctorate in astrophysics at Cambridge university. That would be his ultimate dream. Not that anyone with his background has ever done it before, but maybe he would be the first.

Chapter 5

14:00 GMT, March 17th 2017

Brixton 6th Form College, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

The following morning Justin kept going over in his mind whether or not he was going to actually go to the meeting. He was due there at 15:00. Justin didn’t recognise the address except that it was further into the city, into the posh part of town not far from where Downing Street was and the other parts of the government. No big problem, just a couple of stops on the tube. Justin spent most of the day in a daze, unsure what to do. What did he actually know about this stranger? Very little really. Except that he knew about the exam, not only the exam but about the question, how did he know about the question? All day Justin had been thinking about these questions. He couldn’t concentrate on his college work, he couldn’t even pay attention to those around him. Girls had tried talking to him and he hadn’t noticed, friends of his tried joking with him and he barely acknowledged them being there, his mind was busy, busier than it had ever been. Suddenly it was 14:00. Suddenly it was the moment. Justin wasn’t sure how he got here but here he was. Justin was standing in one of the college’s corridors, waiting to go into class. If he was going to make the meeting with Philips then now would be the time to leave. After spending all of last night wondering and all of today in a daze, now was crunch time. Was he going to go? Before Justin could think anymore his feet were taking him to the underground station. The rain was pouring down but Justin’s feet were moving him so fast that he could barely even notice. He was moving through the crowd in a determined pace, not quite running but not far off. The adrenaline was pushing him. He swiped his wallet over the turn styles and he was doing it. The route was simple, Victoria line up to Victoria station and then across Westminster on the district line. As the carriages clunked along the tracks Justin kept thinking up excuses as to why he was going. ‘I’ll just politely decline and then walk away’ he kept saying over and over in his head. But he couldn’t get over the fact that if he was going to decline then why go at all? Why bother to skip a class, oh god he had skipped a class, for the first time in his life he had skipped class, a really great move the day after he decided he wanted to get a doctorate. Justin knew though that it was something he had to do, his curiosity about what was going on had gotten the better of him. Question 13 had been to intriguing for him. Justin walked out of the tube station and along the busy streets. The address was down a little side street which would have been passed by thousands of people every day, none of whom had even noticed that it was there. Looking down at the card Justin wanted to check that he was at the right address. This was it. A rather dank looking building, easy to ignore and completely unremarkable. Justin realised that this must have been a hoax, some sort of wind up that will result in him looking silly. Why would a US Marine working in the United Kingdom have anything to do with such a dreary looking building? The rain that was still beating down seemed to suit the exterior of the building well. It looked right in the rain. Justin took a deep breath and decided to just walk away, but was surprised to find that his hand was reaching for the door knocker. He gave three sharp loud taps with the knocker and waited. Seemingly both immediately and an eternity after the door opened, slowly. At that moment a man was walking past, a man in a business suit, carrying his umbrella in his hand and despite the rain not using it. He would have been walking from one inconsequential meeting to another. This man saw Justin but didn’t notice him. It was just another rainy day to this man and Justin was just another face in the crowd. Later on that day the man would take his usual train, sitting in his usual seat and head home. He would walk from the train station to his house and be greeted by his wife. The two would share the events of their day. Telling each other every ‘interesting’ thing that had happened that day, every office joke, everything annoying trait of their co-workers, every ridiculous request of their clients. Nothing would be to insignificant to be included in this daily appraisal. Despite that the man wouldn’t even thing to mentioned the boy he had seen walking into that building. This man however, even though the two never met, this man was the last person to officially see Justin alive and he didn’t even notice.

Chapter 6

13:00 EET, January 8th 2002

Secret US Armed Forces Medical Facility, Location Unknown, Earth

Yelps had spent three days trying to make sense of it all. He could remember bits of the mission but the actual explosion and approximately the ten minutes leading up to that were a mystery. Then there was this place, a mystery all of its own. A first class medical facility with excellent staff but he seemed to be the only patient. No one else was there. This was a time of war, how can it be that he is the only casualty. Yelps couldn’t get over the young lieutenant either. He seemed a confident enough young guy, probably in his early twenties but why was he here? He wasn’t some sort of doctor, he always tried to be friendly towards Yelps as if they were best friends, but Yelps had never even met him before. The best Yelps could figure out Lieutenant Philips was some sort of chaperone. Conversation had been limited to idle chit-chat with no detail about how the war was going, the outside world or anything of any real meaning. Yelps’ days had all been the same so far. He would wake up and be brought breakfast in bed. Then he would be taken to the bathroom and a male nurse would help him to bath. Then doctors would inspect his injuries and praise themselves for their excellent work. This was followed by two hours of physiotherapy. Then lunch. Then more physiotherapy, treatment, dinner and bed. No-one would talk to him other than to ask about his wounds. Except for Philips, Philips would talk non-stop. Not about anything real, certainly not about the war but about sports, TV, books, films, hobbies, sixteen hours a day of small talk. Then came the fourth day, then came the change.

Yelps was put into a wheel chair and taken outside. This was the first time he had seen daylight since he had had engaged the enemy in a firefight. He realised he had no idea where he was. He had assumed he was still in Afghanistan but the green lush grass and cooler air told him otherwise. Yelps was wheeled out by one of the orderlies, a nice enough guy with a kind manner, but he never spoke. Sitting at a picnic table on the grass was Philips. He was wearing his uniform, laying out several items on the table. This was obviously and arranged meeting. Something that Philips’ was here to do. There was a large metal flask on the table and beside that a chess board already set up.

“Philips, what is this place?” Yelps asked.

“It’s a rehab facility.” Philips replied.

“Then why aren’t there any patience?”

Philips started to pour out two large cups of coffee from the silver flask on the table. “It’s a special facility.”

“Where are we? I assumed I was still in Afghanistan.”

“You have been air lifted. We are… somewhere else.”

“But where?”

“Listen I will tell you everything, everything you want to know but first, play me at chess.”

“What?”

“If you beat me at chess I will tell you everything you want to know about here, I will tell you about things you have never even imagined but most of all I will send you to a new place, a place where you had never thought you would go. If you lose then you will be returned to the US Marine corps. They will handle the rest of your treatment and there’s a chance that you will see frontline combat again, after time.”

“You’re crazy. Why would I take that bet?”

Philips pulled into his brief case that was down by his feet and pulled out a small bundle of crumpled papers. He placed it on the table. Yelps instantly recognised it, it was a paper he had written for school when he was twelve, it was entitled ‘How humans would live on Mars’.

“How did you get that?”

“Chess.”

Yelps was interested now, even a little excited to be playing chess again, he hadn’t played in such a long time.

“You know, I used to be state champion.”

“I know, why do you think I chose chess. By the way, I was a national champion.”

So the two played chess. A man in full military dress and another man in his pyjamas sitting on a lawn in a country that one of them didn’t even know where he was. The game began with a flourish of moves but soon slowed down. Soon each player was taking his time over his moves, carefully considering each possible counter-move and the outcome of each skirmish. Yelps was finding it hard to concentrate, his injuries were still hurting him and he knew that this sitting position wasn’t helping. But there was little he could do about that. He wanted to keep playing the game. Two hours went by, neither man speaking, both concentrating hard on the game.

“You’ve left your queen open.” Philips exclaimed.

“Take it then.” Yelps replied. Philips hesitated but eventually took the piece. The next three moves were a flourish of fast paced movement. “Check-mate.” Yelps exclaimed.

“You sacrificed your queen to protect a pawn?”

“I needed that piece to put you in check.” Yelps replied.

“That’s real out of the box thinking. You just might be the right man for us after all.”

“Now come on a bet is a bet. What is this place?”

“All in good time. First would you like some more coffee?”

Chapter 7

15:00 GMT, March 16th 2017

Whitehall, London, UK, Earth

Justin was standing in a large lobby, much grander than the exterior of the building. Small black and white tiles that looked old chequered the floor. A brown and almost gold looking tiled boarder encapsulated the floor to the room. The skirting boards were a dark rich brown wooden colour, also looking aged and unloved. The walls were white with paint, thick and looked like they hadn’t been taken care of at all. It had obviously been some time since the walls had been repainted. A very wide staircase twisted around the outside walls, ascending to the highest reaches of the building. It was draped in an old, thick, dark red carpet which had been worn through in places, after many years of service. On the walls hang various portraits of world leaders. Justin recognised the two nearest him. It was of Richard Nixon, former President of the United States and Edward Heath, former Prime Minister of the UK. Justin remembered reading about them both in a history text book that had been discarded in the library one evening. It seemed odd to Justin that these two portraits would be hanging in this hall but he thought little more of it. Justin’s eyes returned to the centre of the room. A simple wooden table sat by way of a reception desk. Behind it was a plain wooden chair, made out of a lighter plainer wood then that of the table, it was obvious that they were not a matching set. Justin looked round to the right, for the first time looking at the man who had opened the door. He was wearing what looked like a RAF uniform, he was young, probably only a few years older than Justin. Justin walked forward and the door closed behind him. Justin looked at the RAF dressed man, slightly puzzled and unsure what was going on. Then in walked Captain Philips, from a corridor entrance in the corner of the room. He was wearing his US Marines uniform and was tossing something small, round and red in his hands. Justin assumed it must have been a cricket ball or something similar, although it was a more rusty kind of red.

“Good you’re here.” Philips offered as an opening gambit.

“Look I only came to say thanks but no thanks.” Justin replied, trying to stick rigorously to the script he had been working out in his head on the way over here. “I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided I want to go for my PHD, I know it’s going to be tough but that’s what I’m aiming for.”

“A PHD hey, sounds ambitious.”

“I know not many go from Brixton to university, but I’m clever.”

“You certainly are.” Philips said through a smile. “I meet a lot of intelligent people in my line of work, but you are about the cleverest I think I have ever met, I would have like to have played chess against you. What will you study?”

“Maths, I’m going to study maths.”

“Math?”

“Maths is like rock and roll, only sexier.” Justin said with a smile before adding. “Well thank you, I think you may have helped in getting me focused on something. I should leave now and get back to my studies.”

“There will be plenty of time for that later. I want to introduce you to someone.”

Justin became aware for the first time that there was another person standing behind Philips. This figure was a little shorter in stature and certainly older. He was almost completely naturally bold except for a crown of grey hairs around the side and back of his head. He wore a nice smart suit, nothing flashy but obviously not cheap. In this part of town he would have slipped past you on the pavement or be sitting next to you on the tube and you would have never of even noticed, he would have blended into the background, one face amongst thousands of similar faces.

“This is Zee.” Philips spoke confidently, then realised he had said something wrong. “Sorry I mean Zed.”

The man known simply as Zed and Justin threw each other a look as if to say ‘typical American’.

“Nice to meet you Zed.” Justin offered, before turning back to Philips. “Who is he?”

“Before I tell you that there is something I need you to sign.” Philips walked over to the table and slid open one of the draws. He took out two pieces of paper which were stapled in one corner. Philips then went back to throwing the red object back and forth to himself. “We need you to sign this document.”

Justin walked over to the table and looked down at the document apprehensively. The top line read

Official Secrets Act 1989’

“I can’t sign this.” Justin offered.

“Why not?” Philips seemed angry at this statement.

“I’m only sixteen. It wouldn’t be legal for me to sign this.”

Philips stopped tossing the red object for a moment and slid open the draw a second time. He pulled out another document, this one was a lot thicker and seemed more official looking.

“This is an extraordinary act of Parliament, signed last night by the Prime Minister and the Queen. It makes it legal for you to sign the Official Secrets Act.” Philips turned to Zed and started to laugh. “You know what I don’t even think the PM knew what they were signing.”

“Why wouldn’t they know?”

“Your presence here is strictly need-to-know and quite frankly it was above the Prime Minister’s pay grade.”

“So you want me to sign the official secrets act without even knowing why I’m signing it?”

“Yep.” Philips soon realised that that wasn’t going to be enough of an answer. “Look kid, we both know that someone as smart as you will eventually end up having to sign this thing so you might as well just sign it now and get it over with.” Philips handed Justin a pen out of his top pocket.

Justin thought about it for a minute and decided that this was a game or practical joke worth playing. He took the pen from Philips and signed the document.

“Now can you tell me what this is all about?” Justin asked.

“No.” Philips answered before opening the draw again and pulling out another document. He threw this one down on the table. This one had the title:

Royal Confidential Act of Secrecy 1973’

“I’ve already signed the official secrets act, isn’t that enough.”

“That was just so that you could see this one, this whole document is so secret.” Philips sighed. “Look it’s basically just the same thing but the punishment is, well when you sign this you agree to keep anything we disclose to you a secret or forfeit your life to the state.”

“What?” Justin was shocked.

“If you repeat anything we tell you then we will kill you.”

Justin stood in panic. Without realising it and certainly without meaning too he had gotten in a lot deeper than he had first intended to.

“I’m leaving.” Justin announced bravely summoning up all the courage he could.

“I can’t say that I blame you but before you go one question.”

“What now?” Justin was becoming a little exhausted by all of this. “I told you, the most amazing thing I can imagine doing is getting a PHD.”

“No, not that question.” Philips replied. “What’s this I’m tossing in my hands?” Philips stopped throwing it to himself and placed the red object on the table. It wasn’t a cricket ball at all but looked like a small red rock, obviously weathered and eroded into a smoother shape, perhaps Philips had been playing with it for years.

“I don’t know, some sort of rock.”

“Yes it’s a rock. Where do you think it could have come from?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s from Mars, Valles Marineris to be exact. The deepest canyon in the solar system.” Philips tilted his head as he held the rock, examining it.

“Oh right, well obviously.” Justin started to laugh.

“You can laugh all you like, it really is you know.”

“Look, sure, probes have landed on Mars but none of them have ever returned and even if they had then the rocks would be worth a fortune.”

“And yet I’m tossing one around like it’s a baseball. Worth signing a piece of paper to find out how, don’t you think?”

Justin bent down and signed the document, if this was a hoax then it wouldn’t matter anyway.

“Good.” Blurted out Zed from across the room. Justin realised that Zed hadn’t spoken up to that point at all. He had a soft Welsh accent that added to his mild manner. “Welcome to the United Kingdom office of MI7.”

“There is no MI7.” Justin added.

“Right, as long as the public believe that then I can do my job.”

“So what is this place, looks a little plain to be a secret government agency.”

“That’s the point.” Zed replied. “MI5 if there to protect our interests at home. MI6 does the same job abroad. MI7 is here to protect the interests and assets of Her Majesty’s Government and those of her allies.” Zed gave Philips a nod, Philips returned to gesture and gave a wave of his hand. “Beyond the planet Earth.”

“What?”

“He’s a space spy.” Philips clarified. “Come up stairs with us, I promise everything will make sense, well sort of.”

The three men headed up the long and winding stair case. Justin looked at the picture on the wall, now able to read the plaques. Sure enough of the first two were that of Heath and Nixon. The plaques showed there name and the years in which they served. 1970-1974 for Heath and 1969-1974 for Nixon. The next portrait was for Brezhnev of the USSR 1964-1982. The third one Justin didn’t recognise at all. It was that of Georges Pompidou, the French President 1969 – 1974. The last portrait Justin did recognise. It was that of Chairman Mao of China 1945 – 1976. Philips had noticed Justin reading the plaques as they ascended the stairs.

“A pretty eclectic bunch hey.” Philips offered. “So what do they have in common?”

“Well.” Justin thought about it. “They were the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN security council in 1973, the date on that document you made me sign.”

“Exactly. See Zed, I told you he was our guy.”

“It doesn’t prove anything.” Zed offered.

“He got question 13 right.”

“We’ll see.”

Chapter 8

21:00 EET, January 8th 2002

Secret US Armed Forces Medical Facility, Location Unknown, Earth

Yelps was now lying back in his hospital bed, Philips sitting by his bed side. Yelps couldn’t believe what he was being told. The enormity of it, the sense that his whole world was changing and the lack of control he was feeling over the situation.

“So you see Apollo 8 had received a signal from the dark side of the moon.” Philips spoke very calmly and matter of fact, his tone of voice and the exact words he used a carefully rehearsed speech designed to put across the unbelievable truth that he was re-counting. As if he was describing a new washing machine or some other everyday object. He made talk of alien intelligence seem almost mundane and boring.

“Aliens?” Yelps responded, even though it was only three syllables he still managed to get a lump in his throat as he spoke. He spoke in a hushed tone, unable to comprehend the question he had just asked.

“Yes.” Philips responded. He had only been doing this job for a short time but he had already learnt that it was best to let it sink in. People reacted differently to the news but Philips was a professional and he knew that despite his injuries so was Yelps. “It took 18 months to decode but eventually we managed it. ‘We are the people of Mars. People of Earth now you can travel the skies please join us.’ It was in an old dialect, one that the Martians don’t even use anymore called Wivisan.”

“This seems…” Yelps stopped himself mid-sentence.

“Weird and yet makes sense all at the same time?” Philips said, filling in the gap left by Yelps’ pause. Philips had felt the same way when he had first been told.

“Exactly.” Yelps replied, pleased that Philips seemed to understand.

“We went back.” Philips’ eyes showed the exact same excitement that he had felt when he had found out the truth. “Apollo 13 was never going to land on the moon. The whole purpose of the mission was to send back a signal. Now we have six Martian bases. One for China, Russia, France the United Kingdom and of course our own one, plus a central base that acts as the administrative and logistical centre.”

“What?” Yelps was shocked, this seemed too much of a stretch for him to comprehend.

“There are humans living and working on Mars, right now.” Philips paused, he always paused here. He had hoped that Yelps would have worked the next bit out for himself, but no, Philips would have to say it. “You’ll be joining them.”

“What?”

“You have been selected, you were always selected for this mission, consider your life up to this point to be you proving yourself and training. You have been sent on secondment from the US Marine Corps to Martian Operations Agency.” Philips waited for it to sink in. “Congratulations.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then tonight while you sleep you will suffer a severe reaction to your medication. The doctors will rush to your bedside and pump into your veins more chemicals and potions.” Philips took a deep breath. “Your body will start to convulse, you will foam at the mouth. You may even manage to say something, your last words, I imagine you will curse me for having done this to you. Your doctors will fight bravely to keep you alive but even the most dedicated of them will give in after just four minutes. At that point a doctor will take your pulse, realising that there is nothing there they shall pronounce you dead.” Philips gave Yelps a moment to realise that this wasn’t the first future corpse that he had spoken to. “If you wanted a nice quiet life, to eventually retire and own a fishing lake, then you should have lost at chess.”

“I have no choice?” Yelps asked, realising what his time hear had been leading up to.

“None.”

“What if I refuse to sleep tonight? I won’t die quietly.”

“You’re already feeling tired aren’t you? You were so busy concentrating on our chess game I don’t think you noticed what I had put in your coffee.”

“Great. When do we get started?” Yelps couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive at this point. He had no way of knowing where this news would take him, or even if it was real. With the amount of drugs Yelps had received in the past few days for all he knew he was hallucinating, this could all be inside his mind, a drug filled dream which was designed to confuse and disorientate him. Yelps decided he would play along, eventually he would wake up and all would be well again. Breathe.

Chapter 9

03:30 EST, January 9th 2002

Secret US Armed Forces Medical Facility, Location Unknown, Earth

Yelps didn’t sleep much that evening. Everything was running in his head again and again. He couldn’t figure out if his mind was playing tricks on him or if all this was real. Yelps lay in bed staring at the ceiling, trying to focus his brain. What options were open to him? The truth was none. He had no idea what he should be doing, no amount of training, no amount of preparation could have equipped him for what he was facing. Yelps just lay there and contemplated his fate. Eventually Yelps became aware of Philips standing in the door way again. Philips smiled a broad smile, Yelps was unsure just how to greet the man. After all Yelps was still hoping that all of this was some sort of dream, a break from reality, that his mind was playing tricks on him.

“Morning.” Philips seemed cheerful and waved at Yelps.

“What’s really going on?” Yelps replied, wanting to skip the pleasantries.

“Come on, let’s go for a walk, you and I.”

Yelps looked across at the wheel chair by the side of his bed, he slid himself over and lowered himself into the chair. Philips stood by and watched. They were both military men, they knew the code, Yelps wouldn’t ask for help and Philips wouldn’t offer it. Yelps managed to get himself into the chair and adjusted himself to make himself more comfortable.

Once outside Yelps wheeled his chair whilst Philips walked next to him.

“Difficult to take it in, hey?” Philips spoke first, his tone was soft and understanding.

“Something like that.” Yelps replied.

“Look I know what you’re going through, this is difficult. I remember when I was told about the Martian colonies, I didn’t believe it either. I kept wanting to see prove, maybe if someone could show me a Martian rock or something.” Philips smiled across at Yelps. “I bet you wish you could go back to before yesterday when you knew that humans were alone.”

“Something like that.”

“So Apollo 8 received the signal, it was from a probe that the Martians had sent to the moon over three thousand Earth years before.”

“What?”

“They could see that humans were living on Earth, they wanted us to join them on Mars but they knew we weren’t ready. The probe was left as a sort of calling card, calling out to us.” Philips paused for a moment. “So we sent back a signal. Apollo 13 was never meant to land on the moon, it was all part of a plan to send a signal back to Mars. Life on Mars had changed a lot in the 3000 years from them sending the probe to us responding to it. The Martian culture that had built the probe split, there are now two distinct tribes The Haissisut and the Weona Napl.”

“This all seems a bit much.” Yelps interrupted Philips.

“I know, it seems strange to everyone at first but believe me you’ll get used to the idea. I sometimes think it would be easier if we had some sort of film to explain it, able to show pictures as the same time.”

“So what do you want me for, surely the scientists and diplomats are who you need.”

“Normally yes and there’s a lot of those up there already.” Philips paused for a moment before disclosing why they needed Yelps. “The Haissisut and the Weona Napl are at war, they have been for a few years now and it’s starting to spill over, we need soldiers.”

“You want me to go to war on Mars.” Yelps couldn’t really believe what he was saying out loud.

“We’ve been watching you for some time Captain. You were specially selected for this very mission.”

“So what now?”

“Next you need to write a letter, tell your loved ones that you’re not going to see them again. You’ll then be sent to an island in the South Pacific, there you’ll learn how to fight on Mars.”

“Am I going to learn how to use a ray gun?”

“Ray guns? You know this isn’t Star Trek right?”

Yelps had assumed that he would get to fire a ray gun. If he was going to go to Mars and fight aliens Yelps assumed he would be given a ray gun to do it.

“Look you want me to kill Afghans I’ll kill Afghans, you want me to kill Martians I’ll kill Martians. In the end it’s no different, go to another place and kill people because your government says so. I’m a Marine, it’s what we do. Oorah.”

“You’re only going there to protect American assets, you are not going there to get involved in their war. The governments of Earth and the human colonists are very clear on this, we are not getting involved in their dispute.” Yelps somehow already knew that the real situation on Mars wasn’t going to be as clear cut as all that. War was always more foggy then politicians proclaimed. Yelps also knew that despite his Marine uniform Philips was a politician in all but name, he had that air of confidence and distrust about him.

“You mentioned a letter?” Yelps wanted to move the subject on, although he was a career soldier he never truly felt comfortable about the idea that his government wanted him to kill others. It didn’t sit as well with him as it did some of the other guys Yelps had served with, was this the only contribution his country wanted from him? “What letter?”

“You need to tell your loved ones that they are never going to see you again, give them closure.”

Yelps thought about this for a moment. Both his parents had died in a car crash shortly before he had joined the services. He had never married or even had that many long term girlfriends, truth be told, the life in the service didn’t lend itself to meaningful relationships, particularly in the past few years. The only person Yelps could think of was his sister. She lived out in the mid-west somewhere and the two hadn’t spoken since their parents’ funeral. What would Yelps say to her now, how could he tell her that they would never see each other again, and even if he could find the words to say, what would be the point? Yelps had obviously written these sorts of letters before, the ones that started ‘If you are reading this then I am dead’ and ended with ‘I will always love you’ no matter who wrote them or who they were writing too. It was standard for every soldier to write that letter before going out on deployment. Yelps couldn’t face the idea of writing yet another one, even if he did know that it would be his last.

“You know what.” Yelps started. “They have my death in service letter on file back at command. Just send that to my sister.”

Chapter 10

15:30 GMT, March 19th 2017

Whitehall, London, UK, Earth

Justin couldn’t believe it. The film finished playing and Philips switched the lights back on. The light filled the room and Justin blinked several times, letting his eyes adjust to the new brightness.

“Everything you have just seen is true.” Zed spoke up.

“But?” Justin tried to find the right sentence to say.

“Believe me.” Philips spoke up, trying to reassure Justin. “It’s a lot easier if you choose to accept this.”

“I see.” Justin replied, not sure if that was true or not. “So humans really are living on Mars right now.”

“As we speak.” Zed added.

“And, here comes the difficult bit.” Philips said before taking a deep breath. “They need you.”

“Me, why me?” Justin was confused, he never considered himself special.

“They need your brain. There are these stone tablets, left by the Wivisan Martians, we hope it reveals some secret about the Martian surface, we are hoping that you might be able to figure it out.”

“But?”

“Question 13 was no accident Justin, it was only on one exam paper, yours. We’ve been watching you since…”

Zed coughed loudly, clearly Justin wasn’t going to be told absolutely everything.

“Well let’s just say you’ve become the maths genius that we all knew you could be. You’ll be flown out to an Island in the South Pacific, there you’ll go through basic training before you get to travel to Mars. Congratulations.”

“Oh I see as simple as that hey, I’ll just go home and pack right now shall I? Tell me what’s best on Mars this time of year, swimwear or ski hats?”

“Believe me it certainly isn’t swimwear.” Zed said, partially under his breath.

“You can’t go home Justin, not now.” Philips was surprised that Justin hadn’t realised this already.

“What?” Justin replied, it hadn’t really dawned on him yet.

“You signed the documents, you cannot go back home now, you know too much. You won’t leave our sight. If word about this were to get out it would cause wide spread panic, society is a fragile thing Justin, we’re here to protect it, not to be a part of it, you must realise that.”

“What if I refuse to come with you?” Justin was starting to grow panicked now, he knew there was still a possibility that these two men were nutters and this was all some elaborate fantasy, there was no way he was going to go with them. Philips reached to his hip and un-holstered his gun. He pointed it right at Justin’s head. Philips’ thumb reached out and cocked the gun.

“I don’t want to shoot a child, any child, particularly one who could be the answer to so many human and Haissisut prayers. But I will Justin. I will live with the guilt of killing an unarmed civilian child if it will help to protect this secret.”

Although Justin was used to seeing violence first hand and seeing violent men for that matter, he had never had a gun pointing at his head before. He had seen knives and guns on the street but never had one actually been pointing at his own head, especially by a man who would know exactly how to use it. Justin took a moment and thought about it. He looked over at Zed, hoping that the mild mannered man would come in and help him. Justin’s eyes pleaded with Zed to help him.

“Captain, Philips.” Zed started to speak. Justin felt slightly relieved, this would soon be over. “Captain Philips, if this boy tries to escape you are to shoot him.”

“Yes sir.” Philips replied.

“Please, you can’t shoot me.” Justin pleaded, partly crying although he knew it would have no effect on the seasoned soldier standing in front of him right now.

“Captain Philips you took an oath to protect the secret of Mars.” Zed ordered Philips, he spoke out in a hastened tone. “As did I.” Zed reached into his jacket and pulled out a small revolver. Zed pointed it directly at Justin’s head.

“Alright I’ll do it.” Justin yelled, screaming for his life. He would say anything to make this stop. “I’ll go with you.”

Both men immediately holstered their guns.

“It’s much easier if you just comply.” Zed spoke once again in his friendly mild mannered voice. Philips smiled at Justin sympathetically, Justin was shocked at how quickly these two men could turn back into their charming polite selves. But then again, Justin rightly surmised, this wasn’t the first time they had to threaten someone into doing what they wanted.

“Come with me kid.” Philips spoke softly, trying to reassure Justin.

“Where are we going?”

“You obviously care about someone very much, you should write them a letter.” Justin knew Philips was right, during this last two minutes the only person he could think of was Susan, he knew she would be devastated if he didn’t say good bye to her.

“What letter?”

“It’s up to you. Some opt for a note saying that they are running away. Some go for a suicide note, it’s a lot cleaner that way.” Philips paused a moment to let Justin realise the truth of what he was saying. “You’ll never see them again you know. Since the moment you walked into this building your life has only been heading in one direction. Justin, you are going to Mars.”

Chapter 11

15:45 GMT, March 19th 2017

Whitehall, London, UK, Earth

Justin was locked in a room by himself. It was a small dark room, one tiny window sitting high on the wall letting through only the slightest of light from outside. An outdated wooden table and chair were pressed against the wall. In the desk’s draw was a stack of paper, a few pens littered the table top but there were no other objects in the room. The solitary light bulb didn’t even have a shade over it, it’s dull light attempting, but failing, to light the room. He had no idea what to write, how do you tell someone who has raised you that you will never see them again. Justin thought about what Philips had said, should it be a suicide note? In a way that seemed the most appropriate thing to write, he sort of was going to commit suicide, Philips and Zed made it clear that no matter what he wouldn’t be coming back to Earth. Death by Mars, hopefully a slow death, after a life time of exploring an alien planet. But what would the point be, was there any point in going off on this wonderful adventure if he couldn’t tell anyone about it, none of his friends not even his family? Yes this would be a great dream but Justin knew he would have to give up on other dreams to live it, he would never know for sure who his father was, he would never go to university, he would never live the life Susan would want for him. But what a chance, how many orphans from Brixton, kids that had only known care, would get the chance to go to Mars? Yelps knocked on the door and entered. He walked in and gave a supportive smile. It was hard to believe that just a few minutes ago this trained killer had a gun pointing at Justin’s head.

“Are you alright in there Justin?” Philips asked.

“Not sure what to write.” Justin replied.

“Look I’ve seen about a hundred of these things written, as the person who has to deliver these letters can I tell you there is no right or wrong way.”

“I can’t do a suicide note, not to Susan.”

“Who is she, is she your girl?”

“Susan raised me in the orphanage, she was my everything, there’s no way I would be here without her.”

“You’re smart kid, you would have been intelligent without anyone else’s help.”

“I meant alive.” Justin thought for a moment. It was true, he wouldn’t still be alive without Susan and all she was getting was a note in return, it hardly seemed fair to her.

“You’ve got all the time in the world.” Philips smiled and walked out of the room.

How do you tell the most important person in your life that you will never see them again? Which words are appropriate, ‘sorry’, ‘thank you’, ‘I love you’. None of those seem appropriate somehow, they don’t seem emotional enough. Justin wasn’t a poet, he wasn’t a great author or a fantastic painter. Justin was good at maths and because of that he had to write this letter, a letter that not many people who ever lived would be able to write, and thankfully they wouldn’t have to. Justin scribbled on the piece of paper and placed it in the envelope. He sealed it up and then kissed the outside of the envelope. He wasn’t a sentimental guy, growing up the way he did doesn’t breed sentimentality but he felt he needed to kiss the letter goodbye.

Chapter 12

18:30 TOT, January 30th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Yelps looked out into the sea. The crystal blue waters crashed against the shore of the beach. The sun was beginning to set over the horizon. Palm trees swayed in the cooling breeze that blew in from the sea, bringing with it just the right amount of salty air to taint the taste in Yelps’ mouth. He bent down, to catch his breath, looking down at the sandy beach beneath his feet. He had been on The Island for two weeks and had already taken to running in the evening. Yelps wasn’t too sure about where he was. But then again he was getting used to that. He had spent the last two weeks beginning his training for his new assignment. Every aspect of him had been rebuilt. He knew that he was somewhere in the South Pacific. It was a small tropical island, it would only take a few hours to walk completely around it. There were a mix of all sorts of people including other soldiers, pilots, architects, geologists, scientists, medical professionals and many other professionals. Yelps would spend his days in the many training classes available. He was still spending time building up his own level of fitness but his afternoons were spent in classes learning about mechanical engineering, mathematics and physics. Yelps enjoyed these sessions, he had studied hard. His injuries from Afghanistan were still causing some discomfort. The medics and doctors on The Island had helped with the pain at first then his rehabilitation. Despite all the work they had put in Yelps was still surprised at how quickly his legs had healed. Various drugs had been pumped into his system, whenever he asked what they were the doctors had just told him that it was classified and reminded him of a form he had signed when he was half unconscious which gave them full power over his body. Although still uncomfortable Yelps was up to walking and jogging, full running was still a little beyond him at the moment, but he still tried every day. Yelps took in a deep breath and started to jog once again. He ran over the cliff tops heading back towards the complex of buildings that over looked this island paradise. He passed a few people along the way, some he recognised from the various classes and training exercises he had been in, some he did not. Eventually Yelps reached his dorm room. He quickly showered, tending to his wounds before he settled down for the night.

Chapter 13

13:30 TOT, February 27th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

On the whole Yelps’ training had been going well. His leg was healing to the point where he could run flat out, all be it for short periods of time, he felt like he was starting to settle into a routine. He had made a few friends even, mainly the other recruits. Now was time for Martian Biology class. Yelps always viewed it as a class which sounded much more interesting than it ever could possibly be. Truth was that up until now the class had mainly been about plants or small insects, very little difference between those on Mars and those on Earth, to Yelps they were boring. Just before entering the room Yelps looked up to see one of the new friends he had made entering.

“Doctor.” Yelps called across. The young Indian man turned and smiled.

“Hello Yelps. How are you today?” The doctor replied.

“Fine thanks Sanjeev. How are you?”

“In the best of health my friend, in the best of health.” The two friends smiled and looked at each other for a moment. Yelps was always impressed with the casual formalness of this man. As a Marine formality and discipline had been common place in Yelps’ life, it was something that every Marine strived for, but he was a man that made it seem natural. “Looking forward to today’s lecture?”

“Great more plants, can’t wait.” Yelps tried to sound enthusiastic but couldn’t help that it sounded like sarcasm.

“No, haven’t you heard today is the day we get to see what a Martian looks like.”

“Wow really?” Yelps was shocked, he thought he would never actually get to see what the Martians looked like. Images of the Martian creatures were tightly controlled on The Island for security reasons, yet another way how everyone was reminded that they could be washed out at any second. Yelps walked into the room excited, up until now it had all seemed like an incredibly elaborate joke, but today was the day it would all seem real. He sat down next to Sanjeev and the two men smiled at each other. Yelps missed the opening of the lecture to busy day dreaming. He snapped back to reality when he heard the lecturer clear his throat.

“So let’s take a look shall we.” The lecturer spoke up clearly. The slide changed and Yelps was presented with his first image of a sentient being from another planet. “Firstly the similarities, two arms and two legs.” The lecturer continued. Yelps was amazed by what he was seeing. Sure these creatures had two arms and two legs, one head and what looked to be a torso. But this was incredible. Similarities seemed to end there. This creature had six toes on each foot but only three fingers, plus a thumb. Their heads were big and pointed down, their eyes quite large and looked both welcoming and frightening at the same time.

“Isn’t this incredible?” Sanjeev whispered.

“To tell you the truth I was half expecting to see Marvin the Martian.” Yelps joked.

“This is what little green men from Mars actually look like.”

“Except it’s not green, what do you call that colour?” Yelps asked.

“Spectacular, I’ve never seen anything like it before my friend.”

Chapter 14

20:45 TOT, March 5th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Yelps was spending his time this evening alone in his room reading up on Martian culture. He sat at the small desk to the side of the room whilst sipping on a cold beer. Alcohol was allowed on The Island but greatly restricted. Most luxuries were like that, tobacco, coffee, chocolate and anything else that was considered addictive was controlled. People would be slowly weaned off of most substances, on Mars these were expensive commodities which had to be brought onto the planet from Earth. It was simply easier if people learnt how to do without the little luxuries that they had been conditioned to crave by wider society. The dull light of the desk lamp illuminated the well-worn text book Yelps was trying to read. But the information the pages contained had long ago stopped filtering into his brain. He was just going through the motions at this point, trying to learn how the Martian society had split nearly three thousand years before. He had no idea if he would ever be ready for making this long journey, or even if he really wanted to. The door chimes blurted into the room. At first Yelps didn’t realise until he heard them again. This time they were unmistakeable. Yelps got up from his functional but not comfortable chair and walked over to the door. There stood the friendly smile of Fernando, a Spanish Systems Engineer that Yelps had befriended over the past few weeks. At first Yelps had been surprised to find that people from all nations were working on Mars, not just those that had dedicated bases. Most of the people from ‘none big five’ nations lived and worked on the central base. Yelps smiled at his new friend and walked back into the room. Fernando followed, he knew that this was as warm an invitation that he was going to get.

“Have you heard?” Fernando burst out in excitement.

“Heard what?” Yelps was puzzled. Talking to Fernando was always like joining the conversation half way through.

“They have been assigning flight dates.” Fernando was excited. He had been on The Island for over six months and had already seen most of the people who he had come with either be re-assigned to Earth operations or already be sent to Mars. When each candidate was ready they would get assigned a launch date.

“I wouldn’t think I will be going anytime soon.” Yelps replied genuinely. He still felt weak at times from his injuries he sustained in Afghanistan.

“Is your shoulder still hurting?”

“A little yes. Plus I haven’t passed the Launch Safety Test yet.” They both knew that this would be the main hurdle for Yelps getting a flight. The Launch Safety Test had to be passed by everyone before they got a launch date. “Have you heard yet?” Yelps knew how much Fernando wanted to launch, how much desperately he was looking forward to going to Mars.

“Not yet.” Fernando replied, obviously disappointed. Yelps felt his pain. There hadn’t been many people on The Island that Yelps had gotten close to over the past few weeks but Fernando was certainly one of them. He had an infectious charm that meant you couldn’t help but like him. Yelps had always admired how at the end of every simulation, at the end of every test, Fernando was the one person wanting to do more, wanting to go again.

“I’m sure you’ll be assigned soon, they need you guys up there.”

“Sadly I think the soldier will be going before the engineer.” They both let this hang in the air for a moment. Everyone on The Island had heard how the fighting on Mars was escalating. Yelps looked across at the text book he had been reading, the fighting was always escalating, from what Yelps could tell it always had been so and always would be.

The silence in the room was interrupted by the chimes of the door once more. Yelps got up to answer it. Behind the door was one of the instructors, holding an envelope. Yelps took it and closed the door. He returned to his friend who was looking even more earnest than usual. Yelps started to open the envelope.

“What is it?” Fernando asked.

“It’s my orders. I leave for Mars in three days. I have to pass my flight safety test in the next 48 hours or I’m cut.”

“Oh I’m so pleased for you.” Fernando yelled and screamed with delight. Yelps looked across and knew that his friend wasn’t lying. He genuinely was excited that Yelps would be going, not a hint of jealousy. Fernando was a true friend, certainly a better friend to Yelps than Yelps felt he could be to Fernando.

Chapter 15

18:30 TOT, March 11th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Yelps had studied engineering when he first started out in the Marines. They had paid for his education and he had always been grateful, but this just wasn’t going in, it seemed that this was beyond him. Yelps looked up at Sanjeev and Fernando who were sitting opposite him with hopeful looks.

“No sorry guys still not getting this.” Yelps confessed.

“It’s easy my friend.” Sanjeev replied.

“Let’s try again.” Fernando said. “It can be a little tricky at first.” Fernando stood up and walked over to the bed. “Grab this.” Fernando took the top sheet off of the bed and held it up. “Sanjeev grab the other corner.” The tree men stood with the bed sheet between them. “Now imagine this is space.” Fernando grabbed the alarm clock from the side table and placed it in the sheet. “That’s the sun, pushing down on space.” Fernando took a coin out of his pocket. “Now watch.” Fernando took the coin and threw it across the sheet, skimming across the surface. “See how it bounces. The Zeppelin class space craft that will take us to Mars bounce across the surface of space time in the same manner.”

“I sort of get it.” Yelps spoke, still a little confused by it all. He was used to the physics and engineering he had been taught at college and school, this was something else, it took some getting used too.

“By skimming the surface.” Sanjeev added. “The craft can travel faster than going along the surface of space time.” Sanjeev smiled. “That’s why we can reach Mars in a day instead of a year.”

“I’m getting there.” Yelps replied, not sure if he was lying or not. Suddenly the room was filled with sound of sirens, the lights grew dim and chaos took over the room.

“Is that another drill?” Fernando asked cautiously.

“I don’t think so.” Yelps replied. He dropped the corner of the sheet he was holding and heading to the door. Yelps slowly opened it and peered through the gap into the corridor. Yelps could see people running in every direction. He turned back into the room, closing the door behind him. “Definitely not a drill guys.” Yelps thought for a minute. “What should we do?”

“General alarm.” Sanjeev thought for a minute. “Head to the harbour for evacuation.” Almost reciting the handbook each of them had been given when they arrived on The Island.

“Right.” Yelps announced forcefully before heading further into the room and commanding. “Grab what we need.” Yelps picked up a backpack he sometimes used when he went running round The Island. “There’s a first aid kit in the bathroom.” Yelp spoke to no-one in particular, although Sanjeev took it upon himself to go and get it. Yelps opened a cupboard door and took out half a dozen bottles of water, placing them in the bag. Fernando picked up Yelps’ old Marine knife from the side. Sanjeev reappeared from the bathroom carrying the first aid kit and placing that in the bag. The three men looked at each other and nodded before heading back towards the door. Yelps put his hand on the door knob and waited a moment. He looked over at the other two men. “We head for the harbour, we do not stop.”

“Agreed.” The two men simultaneously replied. Yelps opened the door and the three of them headed into the corridor.

A mass of people were already moving through the corridor, all heading for the harbour, in a strange mix of panicked and controlled. There wasn’t and panic or even real concern in peoples movements, this crowd was made up of too many professionals for that. The three men joined the crowd, finding their place in the mass of humanity moving forward whilst trying to stay as part of the group. They looked round at the sea of faces, most of whom they recognised from the various classes and training scenarios they had been involved in.

“Yelps, over here.” Yelps heard a voice through the crowd and low volume murmur. He looked round to see one of the combat instructors standing in the corridor. “Yelps.” The voice came again.

“What is it?” Yelps asked as he walked towards the well-toned instructor.

“You’ve seen combat haven’t you?” The instructor asked.

“Yes.” Yelps replied.

“Recently?” The instructor asked. Yelps just nodded in response, the mental scars of Afghanistan still taking their toll as well as the physical ones. “Do you know what this is?” The instructor reached behind himself and pulled out a gun.

“It’s a M164A assault rifle sir.” Yelps replied. “An old favourite.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“Affirmative.” Yelps replied, taking the gun from the instructor.

“A Weona Napl soldier has found his way to Earth, stowed away on the Santa Maria I think.”

“Really?” Sanjeev broke his silence. “There’s a Martian here on Earth?”

“There is a Weona Napl soldier here on Earth, no fake.” The instructor spoke slowly to emphasis his point. “We need to track it down and neutralise the threat.”

“Is he armed?” Yelps asked.

“Unknown.” The instructor replied. “We assume so until intelligence suggest otherwise.”

“Let’s go.” Sanjeev blurted out enthusiastically.

“Who are you?” The instructor asked.

“He’s a doctor.” Yelps answered. “A good one, he might be handy to us.”

“Doctor.” The instructor paused to take a breath. “The best thing you can do is head down to the evacuation boat and don’t mention this to anyone.”

“I must come with you.” Sanjeev responded. “I can help. Give me a gun.”

“Yelps do you trust him?”

“He knows how to shoot.” Yelps nodded as he spoke and turned to look at Sanjeev. Yelps had seen Sanjeev in the firing range. On more than one occasion he had been really impressed with Sanjeev’s marksmanship. If Yelps hadn’t known better he would have thought that Sanjeev had received some military training. “He could be very useful Sir.”

“I’ll go down to the boat.” Fernando offered realising that no one had acknowledge his presence until now, it had felt to him almost like he was eavesdropping. “I don’t really want this to be my first encounter with a Martian.” Fernando slowly walked away, saddened by the knowledge of what his friends were about to go and do.

“Gentlemen.” The instructor said as he handed another rifle to Sanjeev. “Let’s go and make this island safe.”

The three men turned and started to walk further into the building, against the crowd. Most people had already made their way out of the building but there were still a few stragglers. Yelps walked in beat with the other two men, both him and Sanjeev taking their que from the instructor. Yelps wasn’t ashamed to admit his had missed this, the pounding of his heart, he could feel his temperature rising, his eyes became more focused, the grip on his gun tightened as it naturally merged into part of himself. He knew what it was like to go to war and he knew what was going to happen next. No soldier wanted to go to war, it wasn’t something to look forward to, but there was a sense of pride that Yelps felt knowing that he was about to do something that he was trained to do and that he could do well. Yelps was happy to that his friend Sanjeev was with him, not only was it potentially useful to have a doctor with them but Yelps was looking forward to sharing this experience with this man. The three men walked down the corridor towards a service elevator. The instructor took out a small key from his pocket. He put it in a lock which was just under the button to call up the elevator. Yelps had never noticed this lock before but guessed that there was one by every elevator. The elevator soon reached their floor and they three men walked inside as soon as the doors opened. They turned and Yelps noticed the instructor putting his key into the panel again.

“We’re going to the basement level.” The instructor said calmly. “Our orders are to guard something of great importance that the Weona Napl mustn’t know is down there.”

Yelps and Sanjeev looked at each other, both worried by what they were being told, both curious about what could possibly be down there.

Chapter 16

19:15 TOT, March 11th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

The elevator doors opened slowly, Sanjeev and Yelps peered through the gap in the door. Both of them were curious as to what could be down there. They were being asked to protect something of great importance but didn’t know what it could be. Yelps thought it must be some sort of weapon, something being developed to combat the Martians. Neither man was prepared for what they saw as the doors to the elevator opened fully. The automatic lights shone down as the three men walked into the basement. The illuminating light revealing the room’s mysterious contents. Rows and rows of boxes, stack piled as high as the ceiling. The rows stretched as far as he could see. It was obvious that this basement connected all the buildings on The Island together. Yelps walked up to one of the boxes and read the label.

“Water?” Yelps questioned. Every box in the basement was full of bottles of water.

“You sound surprised.” The instructor replied.

“You want us to guard 99 cents bottles of water?” Yelps was confused and a little disappointed.

“If the Martian sees this much water down here then it will need to be neutralised.”

“What?” Yelps questioned.

“The Weona Napl couldn’t be returned to Mars if it saw all this.” The instructor said.

“They mustn’t know that we have this much water.” Sanjeev added calmly. “It would cause, problems.”

“Earth’s water supply is a secret.” The instructor announced in a whisper, surprised that the others hadn’t realised this yet. “An important one that people have already killed and died to protect.”

“Sir, we’re are on an island.” Yelps announced as a question, still a little confused by both the situation and Sanjeev’s acceptance of it. “What happens if the Martian goes outside?”

“If it does and it has a communicator on it then we may have already lost the planet.” The instructor started to move away from the other two. “Look at the lights, if the automatic lights come on then it will be down here, go towards the light.”

Yelps thought for a moment about the absurdity of what was happening. Then he remembered something, something important. Breathe. Yelps put the butt of the gun up against his shoulder. He looked down the sight and adjusted his grip on the gun. Slowly he felt it become part of himself in a very familiar way. Yelps lifted his head up and watched the room. Yelps looked over at his friend, making sure that he was alright, that the doctor would be ok with this situation that would be so strange to him. Sanjeev had also checked out his weapon and was standing poised ready for the action. This had surprised Yelps, he knew that Sanjeev was a good marksman but he hadn’t expected the doctor to be so natural, so at ease with a situation like this one.

“Fan out.” The instructor ordered. “Keep an eye on the horizon.”

“Eye balls on.” Yelps replied. Yelps walked sideways, stepping one foot behind the other as he walked.

“Not too far.” The instructor said as Yelps stopped. Yelps looked again at his friend and saw that Sanjeev had only moved a short distance away and then he too had stopped. The three men stood in silence, waiting, watching. Yelps knew this situation well. It was one that he had trained for and been in many times. In Afghanistan waiting for an attack had become common place, but before that he had be trained by the Marines in how to cope with this very situation. Breathe. The fact that the foe he was waiting for was an alien being from a different planet was irrelevant. Yelps was waiting for an enemy, an enemy that was dangerous not just to Yelps and his fellow soldiers but to the security of the entire planet. This was ‘normal’ to Yelps. Training to go into space, learning foreign languages, learning about space ships and gravitational calculations and space suits and Martian politics, that was all strange, that was the weird bit. But standing holding his gun, looking through the gun sight, guarding a resource of importance, to Yelps that was normal and common place, just another day at the office really. Some of the people Yelps had gone to high school with had become accountants, farmers, lawyers, mechanics, doctors, shopkeepers, dot-com millionaires but Yelps, Yelps had become this and right now he was thriving off of it. Yelps could feel his own pulse through his fingers as they gripped the rifle. He could feel the blood pumping through his veins and arteries as his pupils became focused on their target. He elbows came in towards his chest and every muscle in his body became both tense and relaxed at the same time. Breathe. Yelps started to recite to himself.

“This is my rifle.” He said very softly, not loud enough for even himself to hear properly and certainly not loud enough for the instructor and Sanjeev to hear. “There are many like it but this one his mine.” Yelps felt himself calm as his body synced with the rhythm of the chant he was saying. “My rifle is my best friend. My rifle is my life. I must master it as I must master life.” Out of the corner of his eye he could tell that Sanjeev had noticed what he was doing. Yelps however decided to continue, as it would help him to focus his mind. “Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.” Breathe.

Suddenly in the distance the lights came on.

Chapter 17

20:20 TOT, March 11th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Rat-ta-tat-tat thundered through the basement. The sound echoing off of the stone walls, the loud thunder of Sanjeev’s rifle being fired filled the previously silent room. The instantaneous change in noise level almost causing Yelp’s ears to bleed. The bright flashes of light out of the barrel of the rifle almost causing blindness in the three men. Rat-ta-tat-tat.

“HOLD YOU FIRE.” The instructor yelled, trying to be heard over the sound of the gun. Yelps looked over at his friend. Sanjeev was panting, his breath laboured and stressed. His eyes were red enough to be glowing. His ears were bleeding from the noise and his hands were trembling enough to be shaking the gun. His nostrils flared as they tried to take in more of the smoke filled air. Yelps suddenly realise what he had done. As good a marksman as he had been, as professional as he had been when handling the weapon this man was not a soldier. Doctors should be men of peace, not war. A moment of horror passed through Yelps’ mind. Why had he brought this man into such a dangerous situation? What was he trying to prove? Yelps panicked, not for long, not even an entire second, for less than a fraction of a second Yelps’ body, mind and soul was filled with panic. He quickly pulled himself out of his strange stance and walked slowly and quietly towards Sanjeev.

“It’s alright friend.” Yelps said soft and with a fake smile. “It’s probably just rats or something. Nothing to worry about.”

“Except.” Sanjeev spoke louder than Yelps, trying to force the words out in-between the deep breaths. “There are no rats on The Island, quarantine reasons.”

“It was nothing.” Yelps tried to reassure his friend. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the instructor raise his hand towards his ear. Yelps hadn’t noticed the ear piece before, discrete as it was.

“Roger.” The instructor spoke softly before removing his hand and looking over towards Yelps. “With me.”

“You’re going to be ok.” Yelps spoke slowly to his friend. “Wait here and only fire if you are absolutely sure.” Yelps was worried about leaving his friend by himself whilst he was in this state. But Yelps had seen enough civilians in war zones to know that the further from the action Sanjeev was the safer he would be. Not just his own safety but the danger he could cause to the others. Yelps walked slowly and deliberately away from Sanjeev. The instructor stepped in front of Yelps, he turned back and whispered.

“It’s here, come with me.” Yelps walked forward, following the instructor as he stepped. The two slowly moved away from Sanjeev. The instructor halted just at the edge of the light. He looked up and pointed towards the ceiling. “Lights.” He whispered. Yelps looked up and saw the lights switching on, the corridor of light getting closer and closer to them. Out of the corner of his eye Yelps could see a scared Sanjeev walking backwards towards the elevator. Breathe. Lights, lights, lights. Suddenly the room became illuminated. Yelps felt himself become more alert. Ready for action. Looking around. Senses heightened. Shwush. Yelps was confused, what was that? Suddenly Yelps could see the alien in front of him, it was running towards them. It’s eyes were full of anger, it’s mouth screaming. Yelps fired his weapon, three shots was all it took. The alien fell to the floor. This was the first time Yelps had ever seen a Martian and he had killed it. His first thought when confronted with a being from another planet was to extinguish it’s life. But yelps took solace in the knowledge that everyone was now safe. He turned to look at the instructor and his friend. The instructor was smiling, Sanjeev was lying on the ground. It took a moment for Yelps to realise what was going on, what had happened to his friend. Sanjeev was lying on the floor, blood pooled around him, his gun lying by his side, his eyes open full of fear.

“What happened?” Sanjeev asked, coughing up blood as he spoke. Yelps rushed over and knelt down beside his friend. He looked at Sanjeev’s stomach and could see the spear for the first time focusing on it. The foot long metal spear coming out of his friend’s stomach, blood around the tip. Sanjeev’s arm reached up to grab it. “What is this?”

“Weona Napl spear.” The instructor said as he joined the pair. “They fire them as a first shot.”

“They got their target.” Sanjeev whispered.

“I’ll get help.” The instructor rose and talked into his communicator.

“Stay with me Sanjeev.” Yelps said as he reached for his friend’s hand.

“I would have like to have seen the red deserts of Mars.” Sanjeev spoke with a single tear rolling down his dry cheek.

“You will Sanjeev, I promise.” Yelps lied.

“It’s a spear to the stomach, people don’t come back from that.” Sanjeev’s eyes started to close.

“Sanjeev!” Yelps yelled as he took his free hand and slapped Sanjeev’s face gently. “Sanjeev, you have to stay awake.”

“Touch the Martian rock for me.”

Chapter 18

16:00 TOT, March 20th 2017

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

The last twenty-four hours had been very strange. Justin now found himself in his new, all be it, temporary home. He was lying on his back on a hospital bed, on an island somewhere in the South-Pacific. A doctor and a man in a grey jumpsuit walked into the ward. They both wore surgical masks and had a march in their step as they strode in. They approached Justin’s bed.

“How are you feeling?” The doctor asked as he picked up the chart hanging on the end of the bed, not actually waiting for an answer. Justin murmured for a bit. Trying his hardest to concentrate. “We can’t have you taking all those nasty bugs onto the surface of Mars can we? No much better to flush out your system here on Earth.” The doctor scribbled something onto the clip board and then looked up again. “You’ll be fine, providing you make it through the next twenty four hours. Don’t worry if you die, I’m sure we’ll find another maths genius.” The doctor placed the clipboard in its holder, he turned and walked away.

Justin was left staring off into the distance. What was happening to him? He had been forced into this hospital bed where he had been given injection after injection. He looked across and besides from him there was no other patients in the ward. Rows of empty beds laid still in the night. A drip was feeding into Justin’s arm. He had been told how, under normal circumstances, he would be expected to spend months on The Island preparing for his new life on Mars. Yet he was being specially treated. He would be on Mars within the week. That was if he didn’t die here on Earth first. Justin was determined that that wouldn’t happen. Sure enough he made it through the next twenty four hours. Slowly his body adapted to the drugs in his system. He started to regain his strength. Slowly Justin started to get better, then he would get worse again. In between the bouts of unconsciousness Justin could just about make out some words that were being said to him. He had become used to seeing a blurry blob standing at the foot of his bed, a person. A person holding open a large folder. Words such as ‘Haissisut’, ‘Weona Napl’, ‘Zeppelin’, ‘Water’, ‘War’, ‘Faith’, ‘Mars’, ‘French’, ‘Virus’ would filter through the sweat, the pain and loneliness. One evening Justin came too enough to make out an actual conversation. There seemed to be a doctor talking to someone in military dress.

“I’m not sure any of this is going in.” The military man spoke softly, almost in a whisper.

“We are required to give him a briefing.” The doctor replied.

“But he’s medicated out of his mind.”

“They’ve requested he be ready to go as soon as he gets there.”

“But surely this isn’t working, how much will he really know.”

“Enough.”

Chapter 19

12:00 TOT, March 18th 2002

Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Yelps was strapped in. This was it. It was hardly the point of no return, that had passed months ago in the hospital, playing chess against Philips. Now he was sitting in the launch capsule waiting. He had seen launches on TV of course but no-one had ever explained the boredom you feel on the launch pad. There he was sitting on top of millions of tons of explosives, about to be launched into space, something that most people could only dream of, and he was bored. Two hours he had to be strapped in for before he would be hurled into the heavens. It is difficult to explain how quickly he had become bored by the mundaneness of it all. Yelps looked around at the cabin. Most of the twenty or so people here he had met before but not all of them. Yelps’ friend Sanjeev was next to him, smiling away, enjoying the excitement and joy of it all as only he could. Soon the engines would ignite and the rocket would hurl itself from the ground.

“This is your captain speaking.” A voice crackled over the speaker system. “We are just waiting for the right level of cloud cover before we can set off.”

“Cloud cover?” Yelps asked.

“So that we can’t be seen.” Sanjeev replied. “Remember all this is supposed to be a secret.” Yelps thought about the huge rocket they were currently sat in.

“Some secret.”

“That’s why we are in the underground bunker remember.”

“I keep forgetting that being blasted to Mars to fight aliens isn’t normal.”

The speakers crackled again. “Well that’s the all clear, we are go again.”

Just a few seconds passed before Yelps could hear the blast of the rocket engines. Yelps felt the rocket lift off of the launch pad, slowly at first and then gaining momentum. Yelps was shocked by just how gentle it all felt to start with. Then it felt more violent, more forceful. The rocket hurled its way from The Island into the sky. As it rose it got faster and faster. The rocket roared with violence, power and strength as it breached the skies. Faster and faster. Louder and louder. Yelps kept muttering to himself. Breathe. The noise, the vibration and the sheer exhilaration had over taken everything in his body and mind. Yelps took a deep breath. Then suddenly it stopped. The noise, the sensation everything stopped and settled. This moment was it. Yelps managed to reach his arm over and took out a pen from the pocket on his arm. He put it in front of his face and let go. The pen just stayed there, motionless in the air. Sanjeev saw this and leant over.

“We’re in space.” He spoke through a smile.

“We sure are.” Yelps replied. There was a small and sudden jolt before light filled the capsule.

“Escape tower.” Yelps yelled. The light of the sun and the blackness of space both seemed to fill the cabin in equal measure. Everyone scrambled to get the best view possible out of the windows. They were all trying to look at the Earth. It already appeared small in the window. It’s deep blue oceans the only colour visible. A shadow slowly started to fill the window, everyone turned to see it. A large sausage shape craft had entered into view.

“You can see why they call them Zeppelin class can’t you?” Sanjeev spoke out.

“That thing is huge.” Yelps replied. “Which one is it?”

Sanjeev struggle to read the writing on the ship. “Looks like it’s the Santa Clara.”

“We are on our way friend.” Yelps whispered.

“What was that?” Fernando asked. Suddenly Yelps remembered. He looked at Fernando, his friend but not the one he thought he would be sharing this journey with. “I’ll touch the rock for you.”

“You were remembering him weren’t you?” Fernando asked.

“It’s nothing, it’s silly really and doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes sense to me.” Fernando turned to face straight ahead. Then he smiled. He smiled at his friend Sanjeev who was sitting right opposite him.

Part 2: Adjustment

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[] Chapter 1

13:30 MTC, March 28th 2017

Central Base, Gusev Crater, Mars

Once Justin had landed in the drop ship it took a few moments to grow accustomed to the new surroundings. The zero gravity environment had been replaced and now he could feel the effects of this new alien planet. Justin unbuckled himself and stood up, immediately he jumped too high and hit his head on the console above his seat. Up to this point Justin hadn’t even noticed the flashing lights and readouts from the console and it occurred to him that it’s only real purpose was to provide him with something to hit his head on. He sat back in his flight seat, a little confused and disorientated. The hatch to the drop ship opened and several figures appeared at the door way. They all wore the same style dark blue jump suits with various different insignia on them. The third and final figure was that of a girl. She had pale brown skin and a warm demeanour. This was the first person to approach Justin.

“You hit your head didn’t you?” She asked in a soft voice. Her accent was like none like that Justin had heard before.

“Urm yeah er, mathematician.” Was about all Justin could manage to say. In his head he had wanted to say something smooth and funny.

“Yeah I think you may be a little concussed.” She replied. “Unless you’re always like this, in which case we are really screwed.” She giggled slightly, Justin felt better at the sound of this. “You should just sit there a minute until we get everyone else out.”

Justin sat in his flight seat and waited. He could see the others getting out of the drop ship, they all had a little difficulty at first coping with the lack of gravity.

“I’m Nina by the way.” The girl offered whilst the pair waited for everyone to leave.

“I’m Justin.” Justin managed to reply.

“Justin, can you tell me where you are?” Nina started to look in his eyes.

“Why?”

“You may have a concussion, I need to check if you’re delusional.” Nina looked around his eyes, as she had been trained to do. “Where are you and what are you doing here?”

“I’m not sure asking me if I’m on Mars helps to see if I’m delusional or not.” Justin grabbed her arm and gently pulled it away from his head.

“Fair point.” Nina replied. She stopped and sat down in the now empty seat next to Justin. She looked over to him, she hadn’t been sure what she was expecting but so far she was unimpressed by him. Eventually everyone else had left the drop ship. Nina gave Justin another moment or two to himself. She then rose and helped Justin get out of his seat taking him by the arm and helped him out of the drop ship. They emerged into a very short corridor and shuffled along the way, Justin dragging his feet, still feeling the effects of the rapid quarantine he had been through. They reached a door marked ‘Inner Airlock’ and went through. The pair emerged into a busy corridor. People were going back and forth. Most wore the dark blue jump suit uniform but a few were in civilian dress. In front of the entrance to the corridor stood a tall man with grey hair. He must have been in his mid-fifties. As soon as he saw Nina and Justin his faced changed to a broad smile, that of a politician.

“There they are.” The man spoke loudly with a deep tone, much deeper than you would expect for a man of his years. “Welcome Justin. I am Governor Mead, welcome to Central. Nina I think you can let go of him now.”

Nina hadn’t realised that she was still holding onto Justin. Justin stood up straight. He extended his hand to shake that of Mead’s, then promptly collapsed in the hall way.

“So this is the guy that’s going to solve the mystery.” Nina spoke in a sarcastic tone.

“Not now Nina.” Mead replied.

Chapter 2

21:25 GMT, March 22nd 2017

Brixton Child Care Home, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

Susan was sitting by the window. She looked out onto the street, maybe if she kept looking he would walk around the corner, he would be wearing his satchel and a smile and come in apologising for not calling. It had been three days and Susan hadn’t heard a word from Justin. She had worked as a social worker for some time and unsettlingly had grown accustomed to stories of trouble teens running away from foster homes or orphanages, although this had never happened with any of her kids. She was even more shocked that it was Justin who had seemingly run away. He seemed like such a settled kid. He hadn’t ever been any real trouble, apart from the normal growing up stuff and had even been a bit of an inspiration to the younger kids. He could often be seen to be helping them with their homework, helping them cope with missing their parents or just being a big brother to them. Susan took a sip of the hot chocolate that was supposed to be warming her hands. It was full and cold, she obviously had been sitting there for longer then she first realised. Susan turned to carry on looking out of the window. She took a deep breath and then got up from the chair. Walking through to the kitchen she filled the kettle with water. As she looked around the kitchen Susan couldn’t help but think about all the times she had been in that kitchen with Justin. She had looked after him when he fell of his bike when he was younger, she had helped to teach him to read, she had taught him how to cook, she had helped him with his homework and even given him advice about girls. Susan, perhaps more than anyone else had raised Justin and now she missed him. The kettle had come to the boil now so she made herself a fresh mug of hot chocolate. She took the mug and walked back to the chair in the living room, this time passing the hall way cupboard and taking out a tartan blanket. As she sat back in her chair to look out of the window she draped the blanket on her knees. She turned and stared out of the window watching what seemed like the entire world go by, the entire world except for the one boy she was hoping to see. As she turned back to face the room she realised she was no longer alone. Carl, a little boy who hadn’t been staying with them for long had appeared in the room. He was dressed in his Spiderman pyjamas and was looking sad at Susan.

“Is he coming home?” Carl asked full of hope that Susan would tell him his best friend was just ten minutes round the corner.

“I hope so Carl.”

“Where has he gone?”

“I don’t know Carl but I’m sure he’s safe.”

“Did you try the hospitals again?” Carl asked. Susan was shocked by this. She hadn’t thought that any of the children had heard her when she called round the hospitals once more, she didn’t want to alarm any of the other children, especially Carl. Although he hadn’t been with them for long Susan had already grown fond of Carl. He was a sweet boy of five years old, yet he had already had more pain in his short life than most people would experience in their entire existence. He had seen his mum burn to death in a house fire whilst trying to rescue his baby sister. His dad was unable to be found so he had been placed in care. When he first arrived he could never sleep. When he did manage it he would have screaming nightmares. Justin had stayed with him. Justin would read Carl a story and stay in his room, sometimes even having to sleep on the floor and stay through the night. Carl could even sleep with the light off if he knew Justin was in the room. Since then Carl had really come out of himself. He was starting to mix with the other children, doing well at school and learning how to cope. Sure he would still cry sometimes when he felt sad about his mum and sister dying, that was understandable, but each time it would last a little less time and would be further apart from the last time he cried. Susan would love to take the credit for the transformation that had happened in Carl, but she knew it was more down to Justin then to her. Carl’s nightmare had returned the last couple of days. He was scared about what might have happened to Justin. Every time a policeman had come to the house Carl panicked. If they were out on the street and they saw a fire engine go past Carl would become frozen with fear. Despite the fact that he hadn’t been living with them for long Susan knew that Carl was one of her favourites, she also knew you weren’t supposed to have favourites but she couldn’t help herself. This boy was too sweet not to be one of her favoured children. She just hoped that if Justin never did return that it wouldn’t set Carl back to much.

“You should be in bed.” Susan tried to order Carl, she knew it wouldn’t work, even if it did what would be the point, Carl wouldn’t get to sleep tonight. Carl walked up to where Susan was sitting and climbed onto her lap. He wrapped himself under the blanket that she had on her lap and rested his head against her.

“I’ll just wait up five more minutes with you, just in case he comes home.”

“Ok Carl, you keep me company.” Nothing more was said between the pair for the rest of the night, nothing else was needed. Occasionally Carl would drift off to sleep for a few minutes, not even his concern and fear could hold back the need for sleep that his young body felt. Susan didn’t sleep though, she couldn’t. She just carried on staring out of the window, wishing her boy would come home.

Chapter 3

23:30 MTC, March 28th 2017

Central Base, Gusev Crater, Mars

When Justin regained consciousness came too he looked around the room. The slightly dank, used white of the corridor had been replaced by pure white, clean walls. He was lying in a soft bed with white sheets. At the foot of the bed was a metal chair with a small cushion, on the cushion sat Nina. She looked up from the data pad she was reading.

“Good you’re awake.” Nina spoke before reaching over to the wall and pressing a large red button. “The doctors will be in in a minute.”

“You waited for me.” Justin managed to say before producing a broad smile that Mead would have been proud of.

“Of course I waited for you.” Nina replied in a smooth comforting tone before changing completely. “I had to wait with you because they’ve made me your chaperone.” Nina added angrily. “I missed dinner for this.”

“What time is it?”

“Twenty-three thirty hours MTC. It’s late.”

“I must still be concussed, I thought it was later than that, what’s MTC?”

“Martian Time Clock, you’ll get used to it, eventually. Everything on Mars runs to MTC.”

Several doctors came running into the room. They started to prod and poke Justin, taking every measurement of his health they could think of. After several minutes of being examined like this Justin spoke up.

“It was only a bang to the head.”

“You’re important to the people down here. The doctors want to make sure you’re alright.”

“You mean the human colonists.”

“I mean the Haissisut.”

Nina got up and left the room. As she headed back to her quarters she couldn’t believe that this was the boy that so many hopes were dependant on. He was only a year or so older then she was but she felt he knew nothing about the hardships of life here on Mars. How could he? He must had lived such a life of privilege back on Earth, anything he wanted on tap. Opportunities, food, water not to mention other people. At most Nina knew only about two hundred people or so on the whole planet. She hadn’t met everybody but she knew most of the Central and British crews. These were the only people she had ever met in her life. Occasionally new colonists would arrive, all coming to central first before heading to their respective bases. Nina, like most of the residents of Mars would get excited on their arrival. This was someone knew, someone who’s conversation you hadn’t yet gotten bored of and who’s stories you haven’t heard before. These new arrivals were always treated like minor celebrities, not just because they would be bring skills and talents that were needed in the colonies but because they brought with them new stories of Earth, new interests and new conversations. Nina felt different about this newbie though. She couldn’t see what all the fuss had been about. She had been involved in the setting of question 13 but she had hoped it would produce some one more spectacular than Justin seemed to be. Nina walked the maze of corridors of Central from the medical bay to her quarters. She punched in the four digit security code on the door lock and the door slid open. She took a breath before entering her quarters. A simple room with an ensuite shower and toilet to the side. The intrusion of the bathroom made upon the made quarters created a short corridor. Then it opened up to the main room. A desk and large worn out chair were on the right whilst a bed, a little longer then a usual one was on her left. At the foot of the bed was a simple wooden wardrobe. Nina collapsed on the bed before reaching over to the small cabinet and picking up the remote control. She pressed a button and flicked on the TV which was sitting on the corner of the desk. A repeat of a show she had seemingly seen a hundred times came on. At least there was one good thing about the Santa Maria coming back, it would have brought with it a mass of new DVD’s and tapes of TV shows. Mars was dependant on the Earth for many things, but above all it was entertainment. Life on Mars was to resource intensive to allow for people whose sole job was to entertain others. Other than sport all of the Martian colonies were dependant on Earth for entertainment. In the early days VHS cassettes were brought from Earth, these though had been too bulky and susceptible to radiation on their journey from the Earth. The colonists developed a special disc for the transportation of entertainment, this was now in regular use on Earth too. Nina knew that she would soon be able to watch new episodes of her favourite shows, and new movies too. Right now though those luxuries would have to wait, she was tired and needed the rest. Nina closed her eyes and began to fall gently to sleep. After all she was so tired tonight she might even manage to sleep through her usual nightmares.

Chapter 4

09:57 TOT, April 2nd 2002

Outside Conference Room C, Martian Operations Agency Secret Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Captain Jennifer Sirus stood in the door way. She wasn’t going to enjoy this, that much he knew. Since the incident, as it had become known, Sirus had left a solitary life aboard the Santa Maria. Unsure of her own future yet knowing exactly what was going to happen. Sirus looked at her watch, three minutes until she was going to be called in to the board. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and tried to pause for a moment. Time. Memories. Past destinies. Life. She tried to stop all of them, just for a moment, just so that she could return to self. But it failed. Reality kept creeping back into her consciousness. Whereas before she had been used to being a calm rational woman, one who was used to making logical choices based on maths, science and wisdom now she was ruled by her emotions being manipulated by fear, adrenaline and mania. The blood which once carried oxygen to the vital organs, muscles and tissue around her body had been replaced with a mix of toxins, chemicals and hormones which ruled over her body. She looked at her watch again, thirty seconds had passed, that was it, to Sirus it had been an eternity but in fact it was just a brief 30 seconds. The shortest eternity in existence. Sirus thought back to the moment she had realise what she had done. Security was something that was always stressed to everyone in the Martian Operations Agency at all times. Over the years though, perhaps things had become a little bit more complacent, not realising that this is where she would end up. The Weona Napl had made several attempts at getting to Earth but had never made it as far as actually getting down to Earth before. Sirus knew that she was in serious trouble. Fearing the worst she did something she hadn’t done in a long long time, she prayed.

“Please get me out of this.” She whispered. Sirus looked at the chairs lining the wall along the corridor, she decided to sit down. “Where did it all go wrong?” She asked herself. Had the guards checked every hatch on the drop ship before it left Mars, had the crew aboard the Santa Maria been more vigilant, had they checked before the drop ship returned to Earth then maybe all this wouldn’t have happened. But Sirus had known that this was inevitable. Everyone in the transportation arm of MOA knew that at some point something like this was going to happen. Sirus had made the mistake that everyone else had made in assuming it would happen to someone else’s ship. “Why couldn’t it have been the Pinta or the Santa Carla.” She whispered to herself. “Why my ship?” Sirus thought about this for a moment. It was an obvious question and a fair one. Sirus thought back to when she first learnt about life on Mars. She had been so excited about the possibility of actually getting to go there and would have gladly of gone even if it had meant knowing that she could have never come back to Earth. During her time on The Island though it had become obvious to all her instructors and even her class mates that she wasn’t going to make it to Mars. She passed the program but only just. Serving aboard the Santa Maria was her best hope of achieving something worthwhile. Although she would never get to set foot on Mars she would get to go to the planet, get to fly in space and see the wonder of space. It had taken several years but eventually Sirus had become the Engineering officer, then the pilot before being made Captain. A long and difficult journey but a worthwhile one. It was true that most of the time the Santa Maria would just travel between Earth and Mars, carrying colonists or supplies, but to her it had been a great adventure. Sirus looked at her watch. Just a minute and thirty seconds until she would be called in. Sirus smiled as she thought back to those early days aboard the Santa Maria. The truth was that the repetitive nature of their job had caused the crew to become complacent long before Sirus had taken over the ship. But the situation had certainly gotten worse while she had been in command. Sirus had seen that sort of thing before and knew where it would lead to. Before being recruited to The Island Sirus had served in the US Air Force as a pilot. Serving with distinction in the First Golf War. But she had seen flight crews become lazy and she had seen the consequences of that. Sirus knew she should have done something more to prevent it from happening aboard her own ship. Now she was sixty seconds away from losing everything. Sirus couldn’t help but think about all she had given up to be in this situation. Before she was recruited she had always wanted a family, but had known that joining meant that it would be impossible. She had planned to leave the military and get a nice office job with some Aerospace engineering company, meet someone have some kids settle down and generally have what most people would consider a good life. Then new words entered her vocabulary. Words like Haissisut, Weona Napl and Zeppelin Craft which had meant nothing before had become all she could think about. Suddenly her life dream of flying fighter aircraft was worth nothing and she became obsessed with the idea that maybe one day she could fly a Jumper or a Skimmer on Mars. When that dream had faded she had wondered if it had all really been worth it. Truth was that Sirus was still wondering that same thought. The door to the board opened slowly. A friendly sympathetic face appeared from behind.

“We are ready for you now.” The friendly face spoke softly.

“Ok.” Sirus replied as she rose from her seat. She smartened her uniform took a deep breath and walked inside, still wondering if it had all been worth it. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 5

06:30 MTC, March 31st 2017

Central Base, Gusev Crater, Mars

Nina awoke at her usual time of 06:00. She got out of her bed having felt particularly rested, having awoken screaming only a few times during the night. It was a sign of just how tired she actually was. Nina rose and went into the small shower room to wash herself. As she passed the table in her room she noticed the communicator illuminated. She looked down and read today’s messages. Water rationing was coming in again, her shower would have to be short. More and more of central’s supplies were being given to the Haissisut as aid. This meant that rationing had to be imposed. Nina took a long sigh and read her other messages, she had been summoned to the central command office. Nina took another deep sigh. Today was going to be a long day, she could tell already.

After her shower Nina got dressed into the dark blue boiler suit uniform she wore most days in central. She picked up her communicator and headed out the door. Striding the corridors of Central Nina saw friends she saw every day. The same faces, all looking a little more stressed today. Nina assumed it was because the water rationing was back, everyone was a bit more tetchy when they had to go without a cup of Degi beans in the morning or had to eat dehydrated food that couldn’t be re-hydrated . Nina was rarely called to the Central Command unless she was in trouble. Working in a lowly maintenance grade meant that she didn’t see much of the higher reaches of command and administration. Nina’s mind raced as she tried to figure out what she was in trouble for this time. Maybe this would be different, maybe she would finally be given permission to study full-time so she could work in something more thrilling then maintenance. Nina rounded the final corridor and reached the Central Command. She entered the room which was in its normal hive of activity. Nina looked around at the banks of monitors, displays and computers. From here the whole of Mars could be monitored. This was the most important room on the whole planet. Weona Napl scouting parties and Haissisut farms could be monitored, the other human bases were in constant telemetric contact with Central. Every detail from oxygen regeneration to TV scheduling could be monitored from this room. In the middle of the room at the large briefing table sat Mead. He was smiling, Nina was in more trouble than she realised. Nina looked around the room and saw the dozen or so operators all closely monitoring their stations. There was little light in the room except for the monitors, in truth not much was needed, the room already well-lit by the computer screens. The vast room already had two other meetings going on at different tables. This though was the biggest, so it was the one where Mead sat most of the time. The table itself was made up of several monitors, keypads and other devices.

“Thank you for coming in this morning Nina.” Mead managed to give a politicians smile whilst talking. “We have an assignment for you.”

Nina was fearing the worst, she could be sent into the ventilation ducts again. As the youngest member of the maintenance team she was the only one small enough to make it through. She hated that job. Nina looked around the room trying to get some clue as to what was going on. Next to Mead was Major Yelps. Yelps was from the US base but spent most of his time with the British on their base, certainly that was how it had been for as long as Nina could remember. Nina didn’t know Yelps that well but she knew that he was friends with her parents when they were alive, although he was the only human on the whole of Mars who never told her how wonderful they both were. Yelps was like that, his silence could say more than most people speaking for an hour. Nina always felt safe but a little uncomfortable around Yelps.

“What is it?” Nina asked hesitantly fearing the worst.

“It’s our new guest. He was rushed here so quickly that he didn’t go through the usual orientation. Could you show him around and let him see what life is like here?”

“Ok.” Nina replied, this didn’t seem as bad as she was expecting. “What’s he doing here?” Nina asked nodding in Yelps’ direction.

“In three days’ time Major Yelps will accompany our guest to the British base.”

“We will liaise about that later.” Yelps spoke up with his usual authoritative tone. Nina grew worried again that she might be in trouble. Nina always felt that Yelps was like a teacher, although he never taught her, his reputation was enough to make her scared of him.

“Is there anything else?” Nina asked, wanting to get out of the room as quickly as possible.

“That’s all for now.” Mead responded, smiling again. Yelps just shook his head. Nina turned and walked out of the room, feeling relieved that at least for now she was off the hook. Mead turned to Yelps and in a harsh tone, that of a commanding officer he spoke. “You read the boy’s file?”

“Yes sir.”

“You know who the boy is then?”

“Yes.”

“Is there going to be a problem?” Mead cut right to the chase, asking the very question that Yelps had been asking himself ever since he had heard who the boy was. Yelps found it hard to take in that this would be the saviour of the Haissisut people.

“No sir. I can look after the boy.” Yelps sighed whilst trying to sound like the professional soldier he thought himself to be.

“What will you tell him, the truth?” Mead nervously questioned with a hint of concern in his voice.

“About…” Yelps began to enquire.

“…About that day?” Mead snapped, he was tired of pretending this was a normal briefing. Yelps sat and thought for a moment. He stared off into the distance to collect his answer. He knew exactly the day Mead was referring too, although he never spoke about it, it was on his mind constantly.

“Nothing sir, it’s all classified. Besides I’m not sure how I could explain something like that.” Yelps made eye contact with Mead. Mead seemed satisfied with his answer.

“No I don’t suppose you can. Well we’ll see if he can crack this thing, if not we can always reassign him back to Earth, they can deal with him.”

“You mean either wipe his brain or kill him?” Yelps hated the word ‘reassignment’. Everyone on Mars knew what it really meant, you were surplus to requirements and therefore ultimately you would be shot or die on the streets as a homeless bum. Fortunately it wasn’t done too often, Yelps had only known three people in all his time on Mars to have gone through reassignment. With no contact allowed with those who had suffered this form of punishment there was no real way of knowing what had happened to them, Yelps hoped they had been shot.

“It’s for the good of the mission Major.”

“May I speak freely sir?” Yelps asked.

“You always seem too.” Mead replied with a hint of sarcasm.

“Why go to all this trouble for the Haissisut?” Yelps asked. “Getting the boy here, translating the tablets all just for the hope of maybe finding some water for them.”

“They are our friends Major.” Mead said. “We help our friends.” Mead added. It was supposed to sound comforting but coming from Mead even this sounded like a threat. “We have always found it easier to make friends with them rather than the Weona Napl. To many instances of bad diplomacy in the early days.” Mead paused for a minute. “Especially that incident on The Island back on Earth, hey Major.” Mead couldn’t resist bringing up that particular diplomatic failure. Yelps didn’t wait to be dismissed, instead he just got up and left. Mead sat and sipped his Degi beans. Everything was coming together just as he expected.

Chapter 6

09:00 MTC, March 31st 2017

Central Base, Gusev Crater, Mars

Nina walked along the corridor back in the medical unit. She walked in to see Justin lying in the bed, still asleep. Nina calmly walked over to the head of the bed with its metal frame. She immediately started to bang on the frame as loudly as she could. Justin woke up, startled.

“What that?” Justin awoke with a start.

“Morning sleepy head.” Nina said in a soft tone, that of someone gently waking up someone else, she managed to pull off this sarcasm perfectly.

“Morning.” Justin just about managed to say.

“How you feeling?”

“Like someone just banged on my bed, hard.”

“That’ll be me.” Nina replied, smiling to herself. She walked over to the foot of the bed and picked up his medical chart and started to read it.

“Hang on, isn’t that invasion of privacy?” Justin started to protest as he pulled himself up in his bed.

“I hope so.” Nina took a pen out of the pocket on the upper part of her left arm. She started to make adjustments to the chart. “They’ll never let you out with your vitals like this, best fake the results so you can leave.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“It’s a brilliant idea, you want to get out of here as quickly as possible.” Nina looked around over her shoulder. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but hospitals are full of sick people.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Other than falsifying medical documents?” Nina smiled. “I’ve been sent to look after you.”

Justin felt a pit in the bottom of his stomach. He knew instinctively that this was going to be a bad idea. He looked at the young girl at the foot of his bed, busily scribbling notes on his clipboard chart. She was kind of pretty, in a girl next door sort of way. She had dark skin and jet black hair which was tied up in a ponytail. Her big dark eyes presented a warm nature. She was slim and seemed quite tall for her age, which Justin took to be at around fifteen.

“I can’t remember your name.” Justin exclaimed, feeling a sense of if you can’t beat them join them. Nina looked up from the clipboard and gave a smile.

“I’m not surprised that was quite a bad bump on your head. I’m Nina.” Then she returned to look back at her chart.

“I’m Justin.” Justin spoke up without being prompted.

“I know.” Replied Nina. “It says so right here on this chart. Well the good news is you didn’t smack your head on the console because of not being used to Martian gravity. It looks like you were still under the effects of rapid quarantine.”

“Well that is good news.” Justin replied, unable to tell the difference.

“Very good news, if it had been due to one third gravity then I would take the mickey out of you for weeks, as it is there’s no shame in being sick from rapid quarantine.”

The door slid open and in walked several doctors. Nina quickly put the chart back in its holder and shuffled herself back to the side of the room, she blended into the background and was ignored. The doctors picked up the falsified chart that was standing in its holder. They examined it and began to congratulate each other with their splendid work, they couldn’t believe what a great job they had done in getting Justin better.

“You can be discharged.” Said the head doctor before they all left the room.

“That’s it?” Justin seemed a little panicked by their lack of thoroughness.

“That’s it.” Nina was pleased with herself. “I’ll go and get you a uniform.”

Chapter 7

10:00 MTC, 31st March 2017

Central Base, Gusev Crater, Mars

Justin had dressed quickly into the grey blueish jumpsuit Nina had found for him. The pair then left the infirmary as quickly as possible. Nina knew their next stop would be the Central Control room, Mead would want his photograph taken with the boy that many saw as the saviour of Mars. Nina led as Justin tried to follow, he knew he wasn’t one-hundred percent fit yet but he sure was pleased to be out of the hospital wing. Justin found it surprisingly easy to walk. Sure he felt lighter and he bounced slightly on each step but other than that he found the lack of gravity easy to grow accustomed too. Justin jogged a few steps to catch up with Nina.

“Where are we going?” Justin asked, slightly out of breath.

“Control.” Nina answered. She looked across at Justin’s face and realised that this wouldn’t be enough of an explanation. “The main control room for all activity on Mars. It’s also where the Governor’s office is, he’ll want to see you.”

“Oh.” Justin replied. He still didn’t know where they were going but he didn’t want to seem like a complete idiot.

“You haven’t a clue what I’m talking about have you?” Nina asked. She gave a slight giggle, she had never met anyone as clueless as this before. Usually every new arrival had been on The Island for basic training for months, if not longer, before they made the journey to Mars. “How long were you on The Island for?”

“Seven days, but I spent most of those in quarantine, truth be told I didn’t learn much.” Justin replied, smiling as he spoke enjoying the adventure of it all. Nina stood still. She hadn’t realised that he had absolutely no clue. This assignment was going to be tougher then she had first realised, suddenly she wished that she had been sent into the air ducts. She shook her head and carried on. “What’s your deal anyway?” Justin asked. “I didn’t think there were many young people on Mars.”

“I wasn’t sent here.” Nina replied. “I was born here. I’m the first human born on Mars.” Nina said with pride, she was proud of the fact that she was Martian, it helped make her feel special.

“Cool. So like are your parents both here, are they as much of a pain as you are?”

“They are both dead.” Nina responded. Justin stopped, he felt really bad. He knew the pain that Nina would be feeling right now, he always felt it too, when people asked about his parents.

“Look sorry about that, I’m an orphan too.” Justin realised that this didn’t excuse his behaviour, it merely showed that he should have known better.

“Justin, you should know, people die here. This is a dangerous place. There’s accidents and equipment malfunctions and not to mention that the Weona Napl aren’t exactly thrilled that Humans have just come here and set up bases for the exploitation of Mars.”

“The Weona Napl?” Justin asked.

“You have been told about the Weona Napl and the Haissisut?” Nina asked. A look of horror appeared across her face. Had this guy not been told anything?

“Yeah, but I can never remember the difference between the two tribes.”

“You will.” Nina replied. She decided she wasn’t going to make this too easy on him. The pair rounded the corner and were by the entrance to the control room. Standing in the doorway was an alien. Justin had spotted some others along the walk to the control room but his brain had dismissed them. Here in front of Justin was an alien and he couldn’t ignore it. The shock of it all at first caught Justin by surprise. He had known that he would aliens on Mars, had been looking forward to it in a strange sense of curiosity. But right now, he was faced with one and he didn’t know what to expect. He looked them up and down whilst the alien replied. Justin was shocked at first by how similar they look to humans, but then noticed all the differences in an instant. Confused he stood there motionless, still. The creature before Justin seemed to be just as curious of him as he was of it. Nina had to grab him by the arm to get Justin to start moving again.

“Why has everyone been staring at me?” Justin noticed that they had been staring at him. Nina had noticed it too. As they had walked down the various corridors they saw more and more people as they approached control. All of them had noticed Justin.

“They think you’re going to be the saviour of Mars.” Nina answered him. Justin looked panicked again. “Personally I think you’re an idiot.” Nina smiled at him. Strangely Justin had taken great comfort in this, he wasn’t used to everyone looking up to him. The two of them entered the control room. All of the various controllers sitting at their consoles looked up as one.

“Oh good, more staring.” Justin said to the room. From the side office Mead approached. Justin vaguely recognised him. Nina saw the confused look on Justin’s face and whispered into his ear.

“Governor Mead, you met him yesterday just before you passed out.”

“Thanks.” Justin whispered back.

Mead approached them both and shook Justin’s hand whilst giving his Cheshire grin smile, too forced to look real.

“So good to see you up and about young man.” Mead offered whilst trying to make eye contact with Justin.

Justin always hated being called ‘young man’. It stank of being talked down to, as if his opinion didn’t matter just because of his age. Justin knew he had already seen more than most other people do in their lives and had to deal with being ‘grown up’ since he was old enough to understand what it meant. Justin had never known his father, had never really known his mother and had had to cope with the knowledge of how she had lived her life, how she was known in Brixton. He was resentful to those who had known their parents, hateful of their happiness. Susan had always been like a mother to him but it wasn’t the same as knowing where you came from. Justin knew exactly where he had come from, he had been reminded enough by the taunting of children and scornful looks of adults.

“Smile.” Nina whispered to Justin, trying to make him focus on the here and now. It worked. He snapped back into reality as his photograph was taken, managing to force a fake smile just in time.

“So I imagine you are raring to go.” Mead spoke, nodding as he did to try and coax an answer out of Justin.

“Yeah, something like that.” Justin replied nervously, still a little unsure as to what he was really doing there.

“Well the jump shuttle will take you to the British base this afternoon. That’s where the tablets are so you’ll need to decrypt them there.” Mead announced, almost dismissively.

“This afternoon?” Nina shouted.

“Yes.” Mead calmly replied. “We had intended to move you in a few day’s time but the attention you are already getting here is… distracting.” Mead looked across at the three Haissisut which had gathered, staring at Justin. “Not to mention unnecessary.”

“Then I’m going with him.” Nina shouted, standing upright trying to make herself look taller. Although she was only fifteen she was an impressive height already, it always freaked out the Earth humans at just how tall she was for her age, she knew it could intimidate them. Not Mead though, he was too calculating for such a move to work on him, but it was enough to throw him off guard. “My assignment was to bring Justin up to speed on Mars operations, I’ve not had time to do that yet, I don’t want a failed assignment going down in my record.”

“You did ask her to do a job.” Came a voice from the back of the room. It was Major Yelps of the USMC, a man that Nina had met a few times and for some reason he was helping her. Nina felt uncomfortable about this, why was Yelps helping her? He had barely said anything since she had entered the room, choosing his usual watchful stance. Yelps stepped forward to join the rest of the group, fighting his way past the onlookers with ease.

“I have an idea.” Nina offered, trying not to make eye contact at Yelps yet being unable to look at him. “I’m due back on the British base in three weeks anyway, why not send me early?” Nina could see that she was backing Mead into a corner, not a good place to be, he can only come out fighting. Yelps walked over towards the computer screens which showed the water supply that was coming into the station.

“It will help with water rationing.” Yelps added. He knew if you were going to put Mead in a trap, make sure you close the trap. The now half a dozen Haissisut that had gathered broke from gazing at Justin, the word water would do that to Haissisut. Mead knew that they would never forgive him for wasting water.

“Fine, the girl can go.” Mead walked out of the room, quickly but statesman like, he knew he had become weak in that meeting, a meeting that didn’t really need to take place but his vanity needed the boost that morning. Mead understood that if you were weak in a room the best thing to do was to leave, quickly. The other station personnel slowly dispersed, getting back to their assigned duties. The now eight Haissisut which had gathered continue to just stare in awe at Justin. Yelps approached Justin and held out his hand.

“My name is Major Yelps United States Marine Corps. I’m going to be your Chaperone.” He tried to force a smile but found it too difficult, instead just offering a friendly nod.

“I thought she was.” Justin pointed casually at Nina, who gave a broad ‘cutesy’ smile.

“Fine, I’m her Chaperone.” Yelps replied. Nina’s smiled evaporated. “Either way I’m in charge ok. Now go and get your things, we’re leaving as soon as we can. You’ve both managed to show Mead up, it’s probably best that we make a swift but dignified exit.”

Chapter 8

16:00 MTC, March 31st 2017

Central Base, Gusev Crater, Mars

Once again Justin was strapped into a seat in a vehicle he didn’t understand. Justin wasn’t used to not understanding, he always knew something about everything, it might not have been much but Justin always knew something about anything. He looked around the cabin as Yelps entered from the rear hatch.

“It’s called a Jumper.” Yelps answered Justin before he had time to even ask the question. Yelps then went about strapping himself into his flight seat. Justin waited for more of an explanation, when he realised he wasn’t going to get one he carried on looking around. He hardly noticed the two soldiers who had followed Yelps through the hatchway.

“It’s a Jumper.” The first soldier reiterated to Justin. He was short, stocky, with closely cut thick dark hair and spoke in a soft Scottish accent.

“So I’ve heard.” Justin replied wanting to seem like he was cool with what was going on.

“It’s going to throw us about three miles into the air and catapult us about twenty miles along the ground, then it will keep doing that getting higher and further until we reach the base.”

“I’m feeling sick already.” Justin responded, showing that he understood what he was about to go through.

“It’s one hell of a ride.” The second soldier added with a big smile on his face. The pair both started to strap themselves into the flight seats either side of Justin.

“I’m Justin by the way.” Justin offered with a slight nod of the head.

“We know.” They both replied in unison before going back to the complicated process of strapping themselves in.

“I’m Allan.” The first one added, sensing that Justin wasn’t comfortable yet with how everyone seemed to know him before he knew them. “That’s Greg.” Allan pointed at the second soldier.

“Hello.” Greg waved before returning to his belts. Greg was taller and more gaunt then Allan and spoke in a Yorkshire accent.

“I’m close protection one, he’s close protection two.” Allan added, trying explain who they both were.

“I didn’t really want to be close protection one, it’s too much paperwork.” Greg said as he looked up for a moment from fiddling with his belts.

“Then how come I overheard you begging the commander to make you close protection one?”

“I was not. I was just concerned that the work would be too much for you that’s all.”

“Guys.” Yelps interrupted them both.

“Sir.” They both shouted, freezing as they did, in a rehearsed and practiced way.

“Shut up.” Yelps then closed his eyes and rested his head against the seat rest.

“So who’s close protection are you?” Justin asked.

“Yours.” Allan replied. “It’s our job to stop you from being shot, stabbed, beaten up, dismembered, poisoned, throttled or just generally attacked.”

“And who would want to attack me?” Justin asked, scared that he would actually get an answer to that question.

“Well you’re here to decode the tablet that is going to save the Haissisut right?”

“So they tell me.”

“Well the Weona Nepal aren’t going to like that are they? So they might attack you.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry though.” Greg was trying to sound supportive. “If they do attack they’ll have to get through me first.” He failed.

“Aye.” Allan added. “And then they’ll have to get through me.”

“And if they manage to get through both of you?” Justin asked.

“My family will finally deserve that medal the British government gave them when they told them I died in Iraq.” Allan replied.

“I meant what would happen to me?” Justin asked.

“You’ll die.” Allan answered, unsure why Justin had even bothered to ask the question, it seemed obvious really. “That is unless, Major?”

“No.” Yelps yelled out whilst not disturbing himself as he tried to rest.

“Aye, you’ll die then.” Allan thought this over for a moment before shrugging it off. “Sir, will we be there before 18:30 hours?” Allan turned to Yelps, even though he knew there was a good chance he was going to be ignored.

“I expect so.” Yelps replied without opening his eyes.

“Brilliant.” Greg was visibly excited.

“What happens at 18:30?” Justin asked. Greg and Allan both stopped what they were doing and stared at Justin.

“You asked that as if you didn’t know it was the quarter finals of the all-Russian Red Ball League tonight.” Allan accused Justin.

“I didn’t.” Justin replied. They both stared at him in amazement.

“Guys he’s only been on the planet a day, he’s never even heard of Red Ball.” Nina spoke. Justin hadn’t even noticed her walk through the hatchway, he felt better that she was here though. She leant over to his harness and checked it over. “The guys working this pad are such idiots I just wanted to check you’re safe.” She mentioned almost looking for an excuse for what she was doing. She looked up at Justin and smiled then she threw herself backwards, sitting next to Yelps.

“Have you never heard of Red Ball?” Greg asked almost in amazement.

“What is it?” Justin asked. Nina rolled her eyes, she knew it was a mistake to ask these two that question.

“When the first settlers arrived on Mars.” Allan started to tell the story. “They couldn’t play any of the old Earth sports, either the lack of gravity made it to easy or the sport was too rough to play in space suits, so they invented a new sport.”

“Red Ball.” Greg added, trying to sound mysterious.

“It’s sort of like Basket Ball.” Nina spoke up, hoping that that would be enough of an explanation.

“It’s a wee bit more complicated than that.” Allan replied, dismissing Nina. “There’s two goals, one either side…” Allan continued on his explanation despite the fact that Justin had obviously stopped listening. Nina had finished strapping herself in to her seat and the cabin seemed almost peaceful, except for Allan explaining how the Russian Technician team beat the American Scientists in the All Mars Finals in 1997. The rear hatchway closed with a loud thud and Justin could hear the door locking into place.

“How long till we launch?” Justin asked. With that the whole cabin rocked back then they were catapulted forward.

“Not long.” Nina replied, just in case Justin had missed the launch.

Justin’s stomach was left somewhere back at central. The rest of him? That was currently hurtling towards the Martian sky. His eye balls had fallen back into his skull. His mouth and throat had almost completely dried up. Justin was grateful that he had lost control of his body muscles, if he hadn’t then he was sure he would be throwing up already.

“WHOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAA!” Greg yelled out in his best cowboy voice. “What a ride.”

They continued to go up and up into the red dust-filled sky. Justin could feel his head shrinking down into his body, his arms became heavy and his legs felt like they were made of led.

“Don’t worry it gets better.” Nina yelled over to Justin, hoping to reassure him.

“Yeah this is only jump one.” Allan added.

“Jump one, how many jumps are there?” Justin asked, deeply concerned that things were in fact not going to get any better.

“Eleven.” Allan replied. “At the moment we’re just building up speed, wait until we really get going. Jump five is a real blast. We go ten miles into the air and sixty miles forward.”

“Oh good, I thought this was a bit mundane.” Justin managed to yell despite all the saliva in his throat currently being located some miles back.

“I lied when I said it got better.” Nina yelled across.

“Is it too late to change my mind about coming to Mars?” Justin yelled before almost blacking out.

They reached the top of the first jump and hovered in the air momentarily. The craft then started to fall back towards the surface of Mars. Justin felt his body go weightless. This wasn’t the nice calm peaceful weightless he had felt in space though. This was a mild panic from his body as he hurtled faster and faster towards the surface of an alien planet. He looked across at Greg and Allan, they both sat there with huge smiles on their faces. He then looked across at Nina who was smiling back at him. Finally he turned and looked over at Yelps. Yelps was lying his head against the head rest with his eyes still closed.

“What’s that noise?” Justin yelled out concerned. There was a deep rhythmic humming coming from somewhere. Greg, Allan and Nina all looked around the cabin trying to find out what the noise was. Nina leant in to Yelp’s chest as best she could whilst being restrained by the safety harnesses.

“Snoring.” She yelled.

“He’s asleep?” Justin asked in a shocked tone.

Greg, Allan and Nina all replied in unison. “Marines.”

“Relax.” Nina yelled across again. “It’s a lot better if you just relax your body.”

“Aye.” Allan added. “Just remember we’re about two and a half miles up right now and we’re hurtling towards the landing pad.”

“How big is the pad?” Justin asked.

“Twenty foot by ten.” Greg answered.

“Aye.” Allan confirmed before adding. “But these Jump pilots are really good they get the target almost every time.”

“And when they don’t hit the target?” Justin was afraid to ask, but he knew he must.

“They miss.”

“Oh.”

“Big wreckage and grunts like me and him are sent out to clean it up. We take the Martian environment very seriously, all wreckages must be cleaned up.”

“That’s good to hear.” Justin replied sarcastically.

“Come on, I’ll take your mind off of it by telling you more about Red Ball.”

The jumper leapt from pad to pad across the Martian surface, gaining speed. With each jump Justin felt himself get weaker and weaker. Nina sat opposite him, impressed that he hadn’t yet lost his stomach. Allan kept going on about Red Ball whilst Greg kept screaming and wailing at the top of his voice, excited by the sensations the jumper caused in him. Yelps continued to sleep, eyes closed unmoved by the Jumpers violent thrusts. The jumper hit another pad, it’s four legs taking the brunt of the force, the rest it seemed to Justin to travel through his spine. The jump then swayed forward before kicking off with its legs again. It travelled higher and higher into the sky. Justin could feel the pilots fire small thrusters which altered the trajectory of the jumper in mid-flight. The Jumper would continue flying upwards and upwards. Then once it had reached the maximum height for that jump the craft would hover in mid-air momentarily before starting to hurtle towards the ground once again. It would gain speed as it threw itself towards the alien surface, getting faster and faster. Eventually a red light would come on in the cabin, warning them that the Jumper was once more about to land, repeating the whole process over and over again.

Eventually the Jumper came to a stop. The last few jumps had been less violent and almost gentle by comparison. Justin had to stay in his flight seat a moment to catch his breath. Greg and Allan immediately started to unfasten their harnesses.

“Is there any lunch left?” Greg yelled out as the hatch way opened. Him and Allan both quickly leapt out of their seats and rushed out of the door before it had even fully opened.

Nina smiled at Justin, who was still looking like he was ready to throw up. She unfastened her harness and prodded Yelps in the ribs. Yelps’ eye opened. His hands reached up to rub the sleep out of his eyes. He yawned, stretched and started to un-buckle his harness. He moved out of his seat and slapped Justin on the knee.

“How you doing champ?” Yelps asked. Before waiting for an answer Yelps turned to the inner door which led to the cockpit. He banged on the door, hard several times. “Thanks for the smooth ride fellas.” Yelps turned and started to walk out of the rear hatch, whistling as he did so.

Nina, now free of her own harness, got out of her seat and went to help Justin with his.

“Can you leave it a minute please?” Justin asked, just barely able to speak for lack of breath.

“Why?” Nina was surprised by his comment. “You want to go again?”

“Just at the moment that harness is the only thing keeping my body up.” Justin paused, trying to pace himself, Nina smiled back at him. “Without it I might just pass out on the floor again.”

Nina tapped Justin on the chest and walked out of the Jumper, she would leave him to the ground crew.

Chapter 9

10:00 TOT, April 2nd 2002

Conference Room C, Martian Operations Agency Secret Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Sirus stood in front of the board not knowing what to expect. In all her time as part of the secret she had only known a board like this one to be convened a hand full of times. This wasn’t about judging her, it wasn’t even about sentencing her. Everyone knew that it was the Santa Maria which had brought the Weona Napl to Earth, she was the captain of the ship so therefore she was the one who been ultimately responsible for it. She was guilty, no need for a board to decide on her culpability. Mistakes were not things to be tolerated, especially those that not only cost lives but which could have ultimately let the truth about Mars be known to the wider population of Earth. To prevent such accidents from happening punishment had to be severe. Sirus knew she would be put to death or sent to human biological research where experiments would be performed on her to see if they could erase her memories. If successful, then she would have been allowed back into society. Although few knew for sure everyone suspected that these experiments were never successful. Truth was that being put to death was a more desirable punishment. There were no jails available, the cost of keeping someone in prison was too high. Punishment was certain. The board had been called to see what lessons could be learnt to ensure that such an incident never happened again. They would get every piece of information they could out of Sirus before executing her. She knew it was part of the deal. She also knew that now the board had decided to kill her there was nothing she could do. She was going to die, trying to prevent it or prolong her life wouldn’t help. The board would tire of her eventually and just execute her anyway, there was no point in keeping quiet to buy time.

“Are you Captain Sirus?” The chairman of the board asked. A grey haired gentlemen who had obviously done this sort of thing before. Not a soldier as such, but certainly from a military background. He spoke with a Russian accent.

“Yes.” She replied.

“You are aware of the charges brought against you?” The chairman asked.

“Yes.”

“You may now give evidence which you believe may help your case.” The Chairman said. Sirus thought about this for a moment, unsure about what she was supposed to say. “This is where you make your death mean something.” The chairman added.

“Oh.” Sirus retorted. She wasn’t expecting the board to be quite so blunt. “Well.” She spoke without having the rest of the words ready. Sirus had no idea about where to start. “Truth is we got complacent.” A few of the board members got excited by this admission and began to write down notes. “We knew the dangers but we hadn’t expected something like this to actually happen.”

“You realise the consequence of what might have happened had the Weona Napl soldier been successful?” The chairman asked.

“Yes.” Sirus muttered. “I know that no-one on Earth must know about the Martian colonisation.” She looked down at her shoes. “I know people are killed to protect that secret.”

“Captain.” The chair sounded like he was shocked by what she was saying. “I’m not just talking about the consequences here on Earth. Have you not considered what would have happened had the Soldier been able to tell its home planet about the water we have here on Earth.”

“Sir?” Sirus was confused. She hadn’t really considered that side of the argument before now, perhaps she should have done. Having never actually been down to the surface of Mars it was still easy for her to forget that there was this whole other world, one with a different set of politics, a different set of rules and it seemed a different value of commodities. Sirus had always assumed that the reason why everyone had been so scared by the incident was how close the world came to knowing the truth, she hadn’t realised that it could have cause just as much turmoil on Mars as it could on Earth. She knew that people wanted to keep the amount of water on Earth a secret, but she hadn’t realised that was the reason, the real reason why they felt they had no option but to execute her for her crimes. This was going to take a moment to get used to, a moment that Sirus wasn’t going to be allowed to have.

“Captain, you realise that the colonist’s lives were put in danger by your actions, or more to the point your inactions?”

“Yes sir, I realise that.” Sirus was hoping that it sounded like it was a thought that had occurred to her a while ago and not the shocking realisation that it really was.

“What is the lesson to be learnt from all this?” The chairman asked.

“Well…” Sirus started, realising yet again that she hadn’t thought through her whole sentence before starting it. What was the lesson to be learnt here? It couldn’t simply be that not sticking to the rules will always lead to an incident where you wish you had. But that was a simple premise from the military, it wasn’t knew it was something everyone had always known, even her. Then Sirus realised the cycle that they were all in, the cycle that she, almost by chance, had fallen victim too. “Something like this will always happen, it’s inevitable, hopefully it happening will postpone it happening again, but it will only postpone it.” Sirus looked at the members of the board. It was obvious from some of their faces that some of them agreed with what she was saying. The chairman however was not in procession of one of those faces. It was obvious that he didn’t agree that such incidents were inevitable.

“So you are saying that every few years one of the recruits will be killed because of the incompetence of a Zeppelin captain?” The chair angrily asked.

“I’m trying not to say that.” Sirus snapped back. “But it is true.”

“I see Captain.” The chairman looked around the rest of the board. He wasn’t really trying to see if anyone had anything else they wanted to ask. He didn’t really care what the others had to say, he was just putting up the pretence of politeness, not being bound by it. “Well I think we are ready for the sentencing. Any preference from you, you’ll be aware of the options open to you.”

“Firing squad Mr Chairman.” Sirus said. The thought by passing her brain and any real thought before coming out of her mouth. She hadn’t realised but it seemed that her sub-conscious had been giving more thought to her potential future. She didn’t want to be subject to their experiments, death was much cleaner a way out.

“I understand.” The chairman nodded as he spoke. It seemed to Sirus that this was the first moment of real connection between them both, the first time that they seemed to be talking to each other and not at each other. It occurred to Sirus that this was an odd thing to bond over, but it was also something understandable to those in this strange world of secrets and lies. “Very well, the date for execution will be tomorrow, you have twenty-four hours to get your affairs in order.”

“What affairs?” Sirus asked quietly. “You’ve taken away anything that resembles a normal life.” Something else struck Sirus as inevitable. For everyone involved in the truth about Mars this was what was waiting for them. Eventually a mistake would be made and they would die, either by the mistake or by justice being dispensed. No-one retired, no-one went on to a new employer, there wasn’t the possibility of life after this, there was only this. Retirement at the end of a barrel. “As quickly as possible will be fine by me.” Sirus answered. She spoke so quietly that most of the board couldn’t hear her over the sound of the sirens which filled the room with their deafening screams. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 10

19:00 MTC, March 31st 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Nina was sitting at the board room desk inside the flight centre. A smaller room then that of Command in Central but still as impressive. Less dramatic and not such an assault on the senses but still important. The room had been cleared of the normal operations people that would be working there. Not that unusual, space was limited on the British base so often rooms would have to double up in their use. Opposite her Yelps sat sipping at his mug of Degi beans. He had been quick to find some. Allan and Greg were there to, slouching in their chairs, obviously bored even though the meeting had yet to start. At the head of the table sat Commander Smythe. Known simply as ‘The Commander’ by most of those under his command. Also known as ‘The Old Man’ by those on Mars who worked on one of the other bases. Smythe was the most senior British officer on Mars, responsible for the entire British operations on the planet. He had also been one of the first humans to set foot on Mars and the only one of the original settlers left in command. He had seen this planet take good friends away from him for more than thirty years. Almost all of the people Smythe had arrived with were now dead or officially listed as missing. Smythe was slim and tall with greying hair. He was always clean shaven and well kept. His air force blue shirt was topped with a blue-greyish knitted cardigan. This was a man who didn’t need a uniform to command the respect of those around him. As well as being a military man he was also a scientist, teaching himself Martian geology in the 1980’s whilst the field was still in its infancy on Mars and non-existent back on Earth. Several of the scientific doctors which followed in the settlement of Mars had used his work as the basis of their own. In 1992 the Martian scientific community on every base bestowed upon him the title of Doctor. He was deeply touched but never used the title himself, preferring the simpler and more respected ‘Old Man’ or ‘Commander’. Smythe looked across the table at those gathered before him now. He tapped the table with both hands and hummed a nameless tune to himself.

“We appear to be kept waiting.” Smythe spoke. Breaking the air. Although by no means strict Smythe was not a man who was used to being kept waiting.

“He’ll be along in a moment sir.” Nina offered in a clear voice, trying to sound more grown up and professional then she really was. She hoped that Justin wasn’t going to show her up. Although Nina considered herself a child of Mars she was half British, from her mother’s side, so saw herself as British as well. Certainly when she was growing up she was raised on the British base and now split her time between here and Central. Justin entered the room, strolling in a casual pace, completely recovered from the Jump ship. Nina threw him a scornful look.

“What?” Justin asked, directing his question at Nina.

Nina rose from her seat.

“Commander Smythe may I present Justin an idiot from Earth who apparently is going to unlock the secrets of the tablets.” Smythe stood up. Greg and Allan instinctively rose to their feet as well. Smythe held out his hand and shook Justin’s. Justin was a little unsure what was going on. “Justin this is Commander Smythe, he is in charge on this base.”

“More introductions?” Justin said, being sarcastic but not really meaning to.

“Indeed.” Smythe replied before motioning to an empty chair for Justin. Justin walked around the table and sat in the empty chair. “So why are you guys here so soon, we weren’t expecting you back for at least another three days.”

“Governor Mead wanted us, that is wanted Justin, to get started right away.” Nina replied as self-elected spokesperson for the group.

“Any reason why?” Smythe asked.

“Politics.” Yelps explained the bizarre situation in a single word, a talent he had perfected over his years on the planet.

“Ah, attracting to much attention where we?” Smythe looked towards Justin, who didn’t know how to respond. “I’m so grateful that Base Commander isn’t an elected post, means I can actually get on and run things rather than worry about keeping my job.”

“Mead thought best Justin get started on decoding the tablet.” Nina replied. “Especially if as the Haissisut believe it does point towards an unknown water source.”

“I had heard about the Haissisut water problems.” Smythe replied, letting Nina carry on with pretending that water was the real reason why Mead wanted Justin out of the way.

“Commander.” Justin interrupted. “What is so important about this code? A lot of people have been going through a lot of trouble just to get me here.” Smythe turned to Yelps.

“Does he know nothing about this?” Smythe asked. Yelps shrugged his shoulders.

“Justin was put through Rapid Quarantine.” Nina rose to Justin’s defence, she felt it was part of her job as Justin’s chaperone. “He’s had very little briefing on current events on Mars sir.” Nina gave a sympathetic smile towards Justin.

“Well, you see, young man.” Smythe turned to Justin and started to explain. “Water used to flow quite a lot on Mars, there were vast oceans. Then over the millennia it started to dry up, evaporate or flow into the ground. Now it’s become so scarce that its quite a valuable commodity.”

“People fight wars over it.” Yelps added.

“Indeed Major.” Smythe immediately cut Yelps down, whilst acknowledging sensitively the reason why Yelps of all people would say such a comment. After all, as a Marine, Yelps would have known people who had died back on Earth fighting for oil. “The tablets with the coded message were found some time ago, brought to our attention that is. The Haissisut believe them to point to a secret water source, you’ve been drafted in to decode it.” So there it was. Justin felt sick, he couldn’t believe all of this was for something so trivial.

“Why not just bring water from Earth?” Justin asked, not wanting to do other people’s jobs for them, just trying to find out why they weren’t doing the obvious. “That big Zeppelin thing I came here on would be ample to bring plenty in just a few weeks of going back and forth.”

“Protecting our assets.” Yelps replied to Justin.

“What?” Justin was instantly confused.

“If water is so scarce in the solar system.” Started Allan. “Then we should protect all the supply we have of it on Earth. Earth water for Earthlings.” Smythe grew visibly angry at the notion.

“That is the position of Governor Mead.” Smythe said in as close a tone to angry that he got. “It is not shared by those of us here at British Command.”

“You don’t go against it though.” Yelps added.

“There is another reason why it would not be a viable solution, as desirable as it sounds.” Smythe wanted to defend himself.

“Why not?” Justin asked. Yelps, Allan, Greg and Smythe all looked guilty. They tried not to match each other’s gazes.

“Pollution.” Nina spoke as she leant forward. “Earth water has been too polluted by all of you Earthlings. Even the pure stuff is far more polluted then any Martian could handle.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you tried it.” Smythe wanted to defend himself and remind Nina of who’s side she was on.

“Any Martian.” She replied. She always wanted to distance herself from the behaviour of her race on their own planet. She had heard stories about people burning fuels that destroyed the air they breathed, dumping chemicals into water supply and dumping waste onto poorer people. She always assumed that these stories were exaggerated, Nina thought that there was no way anyone could purposely destroy their own planet.

“Most of the water on Mars is buried deep underground, much deeper than our satellites can detect. The Haissisut have some sources of water but most of it is held in Weona Nepal territory. It’s still the cause of tensions between the two tribes. If the Haissisut can find their own water source big enough to support their townships then we can alter the balance between the two races, they won’t be going to war all the time.”

“I see.” Justin replied.

“Come on, time you saw the puzzle you were brought here to solve.” Smythe stood again, followed by Allan and Greg. “Allan, Greg. Will you please take Justin down to the archaeology lab so he can get started.” Allan and Greg led Justin out. Nina followed, uninvited but sensing she wasn’t needed anymore. Smythe sat back down and thought for a moment. His gaze met with that of Yelps whom he didn’t realise was still in the room.

“He looks like…” Smythe started to say.

“I know.” Yelps interrupted. “It threw me at first too.” Yelps looked at his old friend and confidant. “It takes a while but you can get used to it, learn to see past it.”

“Does he know the truth?” Smythe asked, dreading the answer either way.

“Nope.” Yelps answered quickly.

“Best keep it that way.”

“Agreed.”

“Do you think that he can help us?” Smythe answered hoping to move the conversation onto other, more pressing matters, or at least a subject that they could actually do something about.

“I don’t know.” Yelps started to look around. “He’s smart enough, that’s for sure. But personally I’m not sure that those tablets really mean what the Haissisut think they mean.”

“How so?”

“They are so obsessed with water, they think everything points to it.”

“True Major, true.” Smythe paused for a moment to contemplate what Yelps was really saying, could this lead to another disaster for the Haissisut. Smythe swallowed before speaking again. “Nina’s growing up.” Smythe wanted to change the subject. “I know she’s not my daughter or anything but I’ve always felt responsible for her.”

“It takes a village commander.” Yelps replied.

“It certainly does, particularly with that one. Her father was a fine doctor, saved many lives.”

“Including mine.” Yelps interrupted.

“Including yours. I just worry that she’s growing up to fast, it can’t be easy living here without any family.”

“You’re her family Commander and don’t you forget it.” Yelps got up from his seat and walked out of the room.

Chapter 11

02:00 MTC, April 4th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Nina awoke screaming. Sweat pouring down her face. Out of breath. Heart pounding. The bedsheets were covered in her sweat. Nina screamed again. Her eyes blinked rapidly. Nina looked around the room.

“Your safe, your safe.” She whispered as she looked around the room. She leant over and hit the light switch. Still panting she reached for a bottle of water on the bed side. Her hands still shaking as she twisted the cap off of the bottle. She slowly brought the bottle up to her mouth and started to drink from it. Water poured into her mouth, some fell onto her face and the bed. Nina knew it was wasteful but she needed to feel the cool refreshing texture on her skin, it would help her calm down. Nina took in deep breaths, she sat the water back down and then put two fingers onto her pulse. She felt the rapid movements of her heart as it pounded, almost uncontrollably. Nina rose out of the bed and made her way to the Bathroom. Nina opened the tap and a small trickle of water started to come out. She took a few drops and threw them onto her face. The cooling sensation, however minor, helped to calm her down. She looked into the mirror and saw the girl staring back at her, puffy eyes and swelled cheeks.

“It’s ok.” Nina whispered to herself. “Your awake now, your awake.” She placed two fingers on her wrist to feel her pulse. “Calm down, calm down.” Nina took a deep breath. “You’re fine, you’re fine.” Nina picked up a towel and rubbed her face with it. Taking a moment trying and to return to normal. She tossed the towel back on the side of the basin before closing her eyes so she didn’t have to face the person in the mirror again. “You don’t need to see him, you can cope, you can cope, you can cope.” Nina opened her eyes and couldn’t help but notice the tear running down her cheek. “You don’t need help.” She rested her head against the mirror. “You’re fine, you’re fine. It will all just go away.” But Nina knew she was just lying to herself. “Aghhhh.” Nina screamed before putting on her shoes and heading out of her quarters. Within seconds of leaving the room she found herself in front of the door to the one person she knew could help and knew that she didn’t want to see. She pressed the door buzzer and the door almost immediately opened.

“Hello Nina.” Dr Richards said, standing by the door. “I was waiting for you. The screaming was particularly loud tonight.”

“Really?” Nina asked as she brushed past him walking into the quarters. “Jokes, at a time like this.” Nina sat herself down on a chair, Dr Richards closed the door and walked back into the room, sitting opposite her.

“I thought it would lighten the mood.” Dr Richards offered.

“It didn’t.”

“So shall we start?”

“Why not?”

“Can you remember any of the dream?” Dr Richards asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

“No.”

“Did you wake up screaming?”

“Yes.”

“Were you disorientated when you awoke?”

“Yes.” Nina conceded, knowing that this was a waste of time but there was no way around it.

“Do you think it has anything to do with your parents and what they went through?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well that’s the same answers as you’ve given me the last three hundred time’s we tried this.” Dr Richards conceded, exhausted by the futility of what he was trying to do.

“Can’t you give me something to help me sleep?” Nina asked, desperate for help.

“As I’ve told you many, many, many times. Nothing works.” Dr Richards voiced his frustration as he put his head in his hands. “I have no idea why you can’t sleep.”

“I know that.” Nina had to admit that no-one could really help her. “I don’t really know why I bothered to come here.”

“Because you want help, that’s why you come here.” Dr Richards thought for a moment. “If it helps, your body still seems to get the rest it needs. It’s just your psyche that seems to have the problem.”

“Not sure that does help.” Nina admitted. “I’m going for a walk.”

Chapter 12

03:30 MTC, April 4th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Justin stared at the computer monitor once more. His head being supported by his right hand, elbow on the desk. His left hand and both legs were dangling from his motionless body which seemed to the casual observer to be devoid of life. This was his usual position, as it had been for the last three days. His eyes were simultaneously unable to open and unable to close. The liquid in his eye balls having dried up hours ago. On the other side of the room the Wivisan Martian stone tablets sat inside a glass box, a video camera pointing straight at them. The picture was being relayed to the monitor which currently was attempting to burn out Justin’s eyes. Next to Justin there were piles and piles of text books. Some were maths books, some were translation books for either Haissisut or Weona Napl, others were books on Martian geology. Justin stared once more. He felt it was starting to get to him. He made a grunt, unaware even if there was anyone even in the room. There wasn’t. It was early in the morning and the archaeology lab was the only module in the east wing of the base with the lights on. Justin’s head slipped out of his hand, it hit the desk, hard, he then looked around the room to see if anyone had noticed. They hadn’t, mainly because no one had been there to notice him. He picked his head up off of the desk and continued to stare at the monitor once more.

“Ah um.” A voice said, almost clearing it’s throat. Justin checked to make sure it wasn’t him. He then looked around the room before settling on the door way. “Ah um.” The voice spoke again, Justin was unable to make out the figure currently standing in the door way. “Are you still working?” With a full sentence Justin could tell that it was Nina, he was pleased to see her, any friendly face was welcome right now especially Nina’s but it didn’t seem all that friendly right at this moment. Maybe it was that he welcomed anyone who would interrupt the solitary monotony he was feeling, staring at the computer monitor. “I said are you still working?”

“Argh, sleep.” Justin replied. Nina giggled a little bit.

“Yeah sleep, that might be a good idea.” Nina conceded.

“No me, you.” Justin pointed at Nina.

“Do you want some water?” Nina asked, wanting to change the subject from her sleeping patterns, please let there be someone in her life who doesn’t know about the nightmares.

“Please water yes.” Justin thought he had done well to say what was very nearly a full sentence. Nina walked over towards the water cooler which was mounted on the wall. She poured a small cupful into one of the plastic cups which was sitting next to it. She then turned and walked back towards Justin. Nina looked down at the cup of precious water and threw it in Justin’s face.

“Thank you.” Justin gave a thumb up to Nina.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet.” Nina asked jokingly. She turned to face the monitor. It just seemed to be a bunch of markings on stone. Some of it she recognised, some she didn’t. “Still can’t figure out if it’s a set of co-ordinates?”

“Oh it’s a set of co-ordinates all right, figured that out two days ago.” Justin confessed.

“What?” Nina was shocked, why hadn’t he said anything before?

“It’s just for some reason they’ve been written in base 42.” Justin felt refreshed after the cup of water Nina had given him, now able to think a bit clearer and speak in an intelligible language. “Why would anyone write numbers down in base 42? Maybe I would know more if I could decipher the rest of the tablet.”

“What these markings down here?” Nina pointed to the bottom of the second tablet.

“Yeah? They don’t seem to be in any of the translation books.” Justin said, pointing to the piles of tatty looking books that surrounded him.

“They’re Wivisan faith symbols.” Nina muttered, taking a closer look at the monitor in front of Justin.

“What?”

“Back in the Wivisan times Mars had not two civilisations but one, the Wivisan’s. It was only after they split into the Haissisut and the Weona Napl that their languages split into separate ones.”

“How come you’re only noticing this now?”

“Once the basics had been guessed at non-one was allowed to see these tablets until you arrived. I’ve never seen them this close before.”

“Do you speak Wivisan?” Justin asked, astounded by what he was hearing. Nina smiled at Justin.

“No one on the planet can speak Wivisan.” Nina explained. “Only three or four humans on the planet can read this, I know a little.”

“Can you translate this?”

“I don’t need to.”

“Why not?”

“That’s the symbol for water. Justin if you’ve worked out these co-ordinates then you’ve done it, you’ve found water.”

Chapter 13

08:00 MTC, April 4th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Nina couldn’t contain her excitement. It had worked. Justin had figured out that the tablets would lead them to a water supply. If the rest of what he had learnt from the tablets could be believed then this would be enough water to supply the Haissisut for centuries to come. Nina couldn’t believe that the plan to bring a maths genius to Mars had worked. Nina stood in the command office again. Justin was collapsed, lying on the table, unable to move. Yelps was stood next to Nina staring at the various pages of calculations and drawings Justin had compiled in trying to solve the problem.

“So you figured it out?” Yelps asked.

“In just three days. Isn’t this incredible?” Nina’s voice betrayed her excitement, it was rare that she would get so excited, Yelps liked seeing her happy. After all this was a girl who had known sadness and loneliness.

“Are these co-ordinates correct?” Yelps asked with a hint of concern.

“Aghum.” Justin replied out of the corner of his mouth.

“Apparently using base 42 is the only way to get a result that makes sense and this is it.” Nina added, she felt Justin’s response needed more clarification.

“I see.” Added Yelps. “Well there goes that idea then?”

“What idea?” Nina asked.

“Even if this is a secret underground water supply that we’ve never heard of before, it’s deep in Weona Napl territory.” Smythe explained. “There is no way we could get to it without causing a diplomatic incident. Even if we did do you really think the Weona Napl are going to let us use it to supply the Haissisut with water?”

“But we have to try don’t we?” Nina asked, concerned that all of the hard work everyone had put in would be for nothing. She was even more concerned that they weren’t going to help the Haissisut.

“That’s for the commander to decide.” Yelps looked into Nina’s eyes, he hated to make her upset like this but she had to wake up and start living in the real world, with real Martian politics. They may had seen the Haissisut as a simple farming community, never numbering more than a few thousand but to the Weona Napl they were the enemy and a deadly enemy at that. Why would they volunteer to give up such a valuable water supply? “I’ll tell you something else.” Yelps took a breath. “It’ll have to go before the Governor as well.”

“Mead won’t want to give the water to the Haissisut, he’s been against this project from the start.” Yelps added. “Anything that decreases their dependence on us is a bad thing in his eyes. He wants them to need us, makes him more powerful against the Weona Napl.” Yelps took a deep breath in. “No Mead certainly won’t want to help. Smythe would have done but this will be too much of an ask, even for him.” Yelps looked disappointed then looked up at the door just in time to see the Commander enter, wearing his customary cardigan.

“Morning all.” The commander said to the room. Nina and Yelps both turned and smiled at the commander.

“Morning.” They replied in unison. Justin reached his arm up and waved.

“Don’t slouch on the table like that Justin, it’s not polite.” Smythe corrected Justin.

“Sir, Justin has been up for three straight days.” Nina rushed to his defence. “But he’s done it, he’s worked out where the underground lake is, more like an ocean actually.”

“Let me see.” The commander didn’t want to get to excited too quickly.

“It’s here sir.” Yelps pointed to it on the map.

“Oh. I see. Shame.” Smythe offered in a ‘well there goes that idea’ anyway.

“I know sir. But we can’t risk a diplomatic incident.”

“No and I feel venturing uninvited into Weona Napl territory in order to help out the Haissisut would be a big diplomatic incident.” Smythe thought for a moment. “Any chance we can ask the Weona Napl for permission to go into their land?”

“Not without letting them know what we were up to?”

“And then they wouldn’t give us permission to go in.”

“I doubt it sir.”

“I see.” Smythe thought for a moment. “Does Mead know about this?”

“No sir.”

“Good.” It seemed this was the first piece of good news they had given Smythe. “If he did know he would only do something foolish. Well we need to consider this carefully. Nina you had best leave.”

“What?” Nina was shocked. “The grownups are talking so I need to leave the room.” Nina was getting angrier and angrier as she spoke each word, forcing it violently to come out of her mouth. Smythe shot her a look.

“In a word yes.” His eyes fully opened, he meant business. “And take him with you.”

“You’re not sending him back to Earth now you’re done with him.”

“Of course not.” Smythe had no intention of getting rid of Justin. “He could be very valuable to our little society here. Just this conversation is not for someone who has been on the planet for less than a week.”

“Or someone who’s lived here their whole life?” Nina asked.

“Indeed. Now if you need help moving him then get a medic.” Smythe gave as a final word on the subject. Nina thumped Justin on the side of his chest. He groaned. She picked him up and dragged him to his feet. Slowly and defiantly she dragged him out of the room, cutting a look towards Smythe and Yelps as she did so. Finally she left the room and closed the sliding door as she did so.

“You can choose your own men.” Smythe immediately announced to Yelps.

“For the covert op?” Yelps asked, turning to face Smythe as he did so.

“No for a tea party, of course for the covert op. Your training and military background both on and off Earth makes you the ideal candidate.” Smythe turned to face Yelps and smiled. “I’m not going to let a little thing like the fact that you don’t technically fall in my command stop me from assigning you. Who do you want?”

“I’ll take your SAS troopers.” Yelps requested, Smythe laughed. This was part of a very old conversation between the two men.

“There are no United Kingdom special forces on Mars.”

“Will you take Allan and Greg off of protection detail?” Yelps asked.

“You want them?” Smythe responded, slightly shocked that they were the men Yelps would request.

“They are both a massive pain in the ass, but in a fire fight they are exactly who I want on my side.”

“Fine. Anyone else?”

“No. The smaller a team the less likely we are to get caught.”

“When?”

“We can be ready to go in say twenty six hours.” Yelps thought for a moment. “Wait it’s the American Red Ball finals tonight, if they miss that then I’ll never hear the end of it, best make it fifty two hours, they’ll be unbearable on the trip otherwise.”

“Agreed.” Smythe smiled to himself. “We won’t tell Nina or the boy?”

“They’ll only want to come. I don’t need them on the team slowing me down.”

“What do you think about the boy?”

“He’s obviously a genius, but I don’t think he’ll adjust well to life here.” Both men pondered what that meant. “Hopefully he’ll prove me wrong.”

“I was thinking about assigning him to the engineering lab. But I want to separate him and Nina.”

“Good idea to separate them, she’s obviously grown very attached to the boy already.”

“It may get complicated.” Smythe thought for a moment before adding. “Are you sure he won’t be useful on your expedition?”

“If I take him then I’ll have to take Nina and ordering her to come will be a bad idea.”

“She doesn’t like doing what she’s told.” Smythe said, rather pointlessly as everyone on Mars knew this about Nina. “Is that someone who you really want on an expedition like this?”

“They could be useful.” Yelps had to concede.

Chapter 14

11:00 MTC, April 5th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Justin had spent most of the last twenty-four hours sleeping. He felt rested now but also still tired at the same time. His body felt ok but his eyes just wouldn’t stay open for any great periods of time. There was a strange taste in his mouth and his cheeks felt puffy. He was sitting in what looked like a cross between a waiting room and a cafeteria. White plastic and polished aluminium furniture, plain tables, a small hatch into a kitchen and tea making facilities occupied the room. It reminded Justin of the common room at his Sixth Form College back on Earth. Some of the seats were already taken, some were empty. The room was brightly lit in a very artificial way. The only way you knew you weren’t in some office block on Earth was a small window which looked out onto the red desolate Martian surface. Justin hadn’t realised before just how many shades of red there actually were. Yet it all seemed the same colour at the same time. Small rocks were close to the station, there seemed to be bigger boulders, some the size of cars, a bit further out. He guessed that these bigger rocks were moved there when the station was built. Justin stared into his lukewarm cup of tea. It was a special type of tea he had heard one of the service engineers talk about. Grown by the Haissisut it was poisonous to native Martians but fine for humans. For millennia they had just grown it for antiseptic medicine. Now however it was grown to trade with the humans. The British base was the biggest customer for it. Most other humans preferring a cup of Degi which was popular with humans and Martians alike. Justin’s cup had long gone cold but he was to lost in his own thoughts to think about it. What was to become of him? His mission here was to decipher the tablets and now that was done. Justin looked around the room. He had already grown accustomed to the whispering, the staring, the pointing. But what would the rest of his life hold for him. He guessed that an organisation which would abduct a sixteen year old and take him to another planet would have no qualms about killing him once he had out lived his usefulness. They wouldn’t even have to bother making it look like an accident. They would probably just take him outside and shoot him, alone, cold and on the surface of an alien planet. Justin chose not to dwell on such thoughts. He may of chosen not dwell on them but somehow his head hadn’t got the message and it was all he could think about, had he been stupid in solving the problem so quickly? Would he had been better to solve it slowly, in the meantime proving his worth and value in other areas? All Justin had seen was the problem, a problem which needed to be solved using maths, and he was the person to do it. Justin continued to stare into the cup of tea. He regretted ever showing up for that meeting back on Earth. Why did he let Philips get the better of him? Right now Justin could be sat at home, having dinner with Susan and Carl. All he would be worrying about would be passing his A-levels and getting into university. Instead he was millions of miles away from home, worrying about how he was going to survive out here in a place where every life had to justify its usefulness and yet he had no use, not anymore. Justin hoped this whole thing would be an elaborate dream. He would soon wake up and find himself back in the exam hall, drawling all over the exam paper and question 13. Nina walked into the room, she noticed Justin and immediately smiled at him before walking over.

“I didn’t expect to see you here Justin.” Nina said, she seemed pleasantly surprised to see him in a very genuine way. Justin didn’t like it, being nice didn’t seem to suit Nina. Maybe it’s because when they first met just a few days ago she had treated him with such contempt, now when she was nice to him it was unsettling, unnatural.

“Nina, what happens to people here if they are no longer useful?” Justin asked the question in hushed tones, he knew that he didn’t want the others in the room to hear him.

“You’re still useful. Don’t worry.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“You don’t actually want me to, you asked the wrong question.” There was that contempt back in Nina’s voice, Justin felt more re-assured. “Don’t worry, you’re safe. I think The Commander will re-assign you to some section here on the British base.”

“Doing what?”

“Maths. It seems to be all you’re really good at.”

“True.”

Nina sat down opposite him, Justin noticed that he hadn’t invited her to do so. She smiled at him, he just sat there motionless, still exhausted from all the last few weeks had thrown at him.

“Yelps likes you.” Nina said, as if that was an explanation in of itself. “That will go in your favour with The Commander. Mead hates you now and sees you as a political threat, that goes as a massive tick in your plus box.”

“Did you just switch metaphors there?”

“Shut up. And C your good at maths.”

“I don’t remember there being an A or B.”

“So basically it’s all good. Don’t worry.”

“Nina.” Justin wasn’t sure if he was ready to ask the next question, but he knew he needed to know the answer. “Nina, is it all work here?”

“Not at all. Look at Allan and Greg, you don’t think they let work get in the way of their Red Ball watching do you?”

“I guess not. How do…”Justin knew didn’t want to ask this question either, but it was more important than anything else he could think to talk about. “How do people die here?”

“Lots of ways.” Nina replied. “Some of them not very nice.”

“You don’t have to tell me but how did your parents die?”

“My father died before I was born, during the war. He was on the French station when it, it went off line. No-one has been back there, the whole area is contaminated. There was a disease which had broken out there and he had gone to help, he was a doctor. A really good doctor.” Tears were rolling down Nina’s cheeks, her eyes had become red. “Oh my god.” Nina almost giggled. “I can’t believe I’m crying over a man I never even met.” Nina really didn’t understand her reaction.

“It’s because you never met him then that you cry for him now.” Justin understood, he understood to well.

“You said you were an orphan too, how did your dad die.”

“I don’t know.” Justin knew Nina was trying to change the subject, trying to move the attention away from her. Justin didn’t mind that it would be painful for him, this time he didn’t mind talking about his own childhood. “He might still be alive for all I know. I don’t know who he was. I don’t think even my mother knew. She was a drug addict, in every kind of bad way. She died of a drug over-dose when I was six months old. I was cared for by the state. But that’s a whole other kind of bad story.”

“You and me both.” Nina smiled. “I was raised by The Commander really. Him and everyone else here.”

“That sounds nice, lots of people around.” Justin smiled as he spoke, it did sound good to him providing he didn’t think about it for too long.

“It’s lonely.”

“Yeah it is.” Justin couldn’t help but think about Susan for a moment. “Really lonely.” Justin breathed in. “At least your dad died a hero. My mum died an unwanted burden of society.”

“It doesn’t matter how they died, all that matters is how you live.” Nina smiled at Justin, he was starting to cry too.

“What’s up?” They both recognised the thick Yorkshire accent, it belonged to Greg.

“Nothing.” Nina replied whilst clearing the tears from her face with the back of her hand. “We were just talking.”

“Sometimes I talk to Allan while crying.” For a moment Greg seemed just like a genuine feeling person. “Then he punches me in the face and I feel all better.” Then Greg seemed his usual carefree self. “Are you guys coming on the mission?”

“What mission?” Justin asked.

“The one to find that watering hole you two discovered.”

Nina and Justin looked at each other, shocked. What did he mean? Was it true? Was the mission really happening or had Greg become confused again, like so many times before.

“It’s going ahead?” Nina asked in a cross tone, she was cross.

“Yeah, obviously.” Greg looked around the room. “But don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.” Greg gave a care free smile and turned to walk away. He whistled as he strode off, probably looking for food.

“Did you hear that?” Nina asked.

“We’re going back to The Commander aren’t we?” Justin said, hoping that he would be allowed to go back to bed.

“We are not being shut out of this. This was your doing, do you really want to be left behind?”

“Honestly, between Brixton to The Island, The Island to the Zeppelin, the Zeppelin to Mars, then central and now here I’ve had enough of travelling for the moment.” Justin rested his head against the table. “Can’t I just stay in one place for a bit please?”

“No.” Nina leapt up to her feet and immediately put her hand on the back of Justin’s head before pulling him up off of his seat. “Come on lets go.”

Chapter 15

11:30 MTC, April 5th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Nina stormed into the command room. Various people were sitting at their posts viewing the monitors that surrounded the room. In the middle at the large desk console sat Smythe, drinking tea from an elegant looking cup. He looked up at Nina with a concerned look. The pair just stared at each other, neither one wanting to speak first. Justin slowly walked in behind Nina.

“You were going to shut us out?” Nina yelled. The people dotted around the room turned to face the commotion, they had grown used to Nina’s teenage outbursts from time to time but this seemed different.

“Can we have the room for a moment please?” Smythe asked the command. Everyone knew to leave. Several of them gave ‘what is going on now’ looks to each other. Justin turned to leave as well before Nina grabbed his jumpsuit and held him back. Nina waited until everyone had left the room and only then would she begin to yell.

“You were shutting us out weren’t you?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” The Commander said without trying to acknowledge what was actually happening.

“This conversation goes quicker if you don’t treat me like a fool, by the way.”

Smythe took a deep breath. He wasn’t used to being spoken to like that, no-one would dare to address him in such a disrespectful way. That was no-one but Nina.

“What is it you think you know?”

“Allan, Greg and Yelps are going to look for the water that we found.” Nina stood smugly.

“That Justin found.”

“I helped.”

“If such a mission did exist then it would obviously be top secret and not open for discussion with civilian personnel.” Smythe looked her in the eyes, he hoped that this would be enough but knew that it wouldn’t be. Nina just stared at him, unmoved. “Who told you?”

“I’m not ratting him out.” Nina replied, standing with her arms crossed. Smythe casually walked over to one of the consoles. He pressed a button and started to talk into a microphone which poked out from the desk.

“Greg Musgrave please report to command immediately and don’t talk to anyone on the way.” Smythe spoke calmly into the microphone. Nina conceded the point to Smythe.

“So do we get to go or not?” Nina pouted.

“Major Yelps please report to command.” Smythe took his hand away from the button and looked directly at Nina. “You can discuss it with him.”

“We shouldn’t have to fight our way onto this expedition.”

“You two want to go out there, you want to go and play space soldiers do you?” Smythe was getting angry. Which for him was a mix of mild mannered threat and calm rational hate. “You want to shoot up some aliens like they are rival gangs Brixton boy.” Justin looked up at Smythe, that hit a nerve in him. Smythe knew that he had to back pedal. “People die out there.” Smythe said. “Don’t assume that I am the enemy. I am trying to keep everyone alive in a place that wants to kill you.” Smythe took a moment to calm himself down. “And my girl, don’t assume I’m the same as Mead.”

“You sure do a good impression of him though.”

A moment silence past, the pair looked at each other knowing that neither one of them could take back what had just been said. Mead felt anger. Nina felt rage. Justin felt uncomfortable. The door opened and Yelps walked in.

“Is there a reason why Greg is stood outside breathing into a paper bag?” Yelps asked casually.

“He blabbed.” Smythe snapped back.

“Who too?” Yelps was concerned now, the whole mission could be at risk. Smythe pointed at Nina and Justin. Yelps turned and noticed the pair for the first time. “Oh. Wait till I get to him, he’ll need more than a paper bag to calm himself down.”

“So are we going then?” Nina interjected.

“No.” Yelps replied.

“You need us.” Nina decided that having a tantrum wasn’t going to get her what she wanted so she would have to try being rational. “What if there is some sort of mathematical puzzle on the way you have to solve, some more tablets or something?” Nina spoke with a form of smugness to her voice, feeling she was about to win the argument. Yelps thought about this for a few moments.

“He can go.” Yelps pointed at Justin. “Not you though.”

“Part of the tablet was in Wivisan Martian.” Nina blurted out. “Who on your team can translate Wivisan , Haissisut and Weona Napl?”

Yelps thought about his for a moment. He stopped himself from saying anything. Instead Yelps opted for walking out of the room.

“Can we come?” Nina yelled after him.

“Yes.” Yelps replied, he knew she was right. But Greg would have to pay for his indiscretion.

Chapter 16

18:00 MTC, April 6th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Justin wasn’t getting it. Whatever it was he was supposed to get. Nina looked him directly in the eyes and sighed again.

“Come on this is kids’ stuff here.” Nina was starting to get tired and cranky, she had never known anyone who didn’t understand how to do this. Justin looked down at the table once more. He was standing in what looked like some sort of large inflatable tent, this apparently was the cargo store. On the table below him was a space suit, thrown onto the table like it was an old pair of jeans. Justin had to take a few moments to adjust to this sight. He had been to space and spent nearly a week on Mars but there was something about being presented with a space suit that felt even more surreal. He had to take a double take on the table. Was he really learning how to work a space suit.

“Don’t blame me, astronauts spend years learning this stuff before they get to go into space.” Justin replied. “They have whole teams of people teaching them how to work one of these things.”

“Yeah.” Nina started to chuckle to herself. “That always cracks me up that. Who needs years to learn this stuff, it’s playschool level.” Nina grabbed a blue hose which had been fastened to the chest plate on the suit. “What’s this for?”

“Oxygen?” Justin replied.

“I wouldn’t breathe that in, it’s your urine dump.”

“Then what is it doing all the way up there?”

“When you expel liquid waste it is pumped around the suit to help keep you warm.”

“I’m not sure I want to go on this mission anymore.” Justin uttered with a look of disgust on his face.

“Tuff it’s too late to back out now. You should have said something sooner.” Nina dismissed him,

“I did.” Justin replied, confused as that was all he thought he had said. He then went back to looking at the space suit.

“You need to know this stuff now concentrate, it’s important.” Nina returned her gaze to the suit. The doors to the cargo bay opened and Greg entered. He was holding a bucket and several pieces of cleaning equipment, some of which looked familiar to Justin whilst others seemed to be some ‘weird spacey’ design.

“Hi guys.” Greg cheerfully announced himself.

“How are we going to get there, it’s not by Jumper is it?” Justin was worried and had visibly gone pale.

“There are no jump pads where we are going.” Nina explained, noticing that the colour had returned to Justin’s face almost immediately before she added. “It’ll be by skimmer, slower but steadier.”

“And now.” Greg started, pleased with himself. “Thanks to me a clean skimmer.”

“That’s your punishment, you had to clean the skimmer?” Nina gave Greg a concerned look, surprised that he had gotten off so lightly.

“Inside and out. I didn’t tell that many people.” Greg smiled. “Just you two and the guys in the kitchens. Oh and a couple of people who were in the gym.” Nina and Justin both looked at Greg in disbelief. “They seemed interested.” Gregg offered in his defence. Nina laughed before adding.

“If the Haissisut find out they’ll want to come along.”

“They won’t.” Gregg said dismissively.

The door slid open again. Yelps walked in being followed by Smythe and a member of the Haissisut tribe. This Haissisut looked older than any that Justin had seen previously. He was taller, looked more toned and his skin was darker. There was a deep long scar almost covering the entire of the left hand side of his face, it was only interrupted by his eye.

“There you are.” Smythe yelled across to the group as his party walked towards them to join them. “Major.”

“This.” Yelps gave Greg a look of contempt, Gregg’s mood suddenly changed. “This is Itqoe of the Haissisut Guard. He’s an old friend of mine actually. He’ll be joining us, as a guide.”

“Hello.” Itqoe spoke almost perfect accent-less English. He waved to the group. “Nina, Daughter of Mars it is a pleasure to set eyes upon you again, truly you a growing to a fine example of a human.”

“How you doing Itqoe?” Greg spoke up. “Who do you fancy for the all Haissisut pro-team this year?”

“I am Justin of Earth.” Justin spoke in a loud clear voice, trying to make himself understood, trying too hard.

“You are dingbat of moron.” Itqoe answered. “It’s ok I can speak perfect English.”

“In fact.” Smythe interrupted. “Seeing as you’re from Brixton he speaks better English then you.” Smythe laughed to himself. Justin threw him a look of contempt.

“Don’t worry.” Greg leant into Justin and whispered. “He told the same joke to me.” This only drew Smythe’s attention to him.

“Ah Greg, are you still alive?” Smythe asked, sounding disappointed, Greg snapped to attention. “Major, are you sure you want to take him with you?” Yelps looked Greg over before answering the question.

“I’m taking him for his proficiency in firing a weapon, not for his ability to keep secrets.”

“Mmmm.” Greg started to smile, widely. He held up his hand and squeezed his trigger finger several times. “Bang bang.”

“The man is a moron.” The Commander announced as a discovery before he turned to Yelps. “Are you sure making him clean the skimmer whilst the game is on was punishment enough.”

“Oh yes sir.” Started Greg. “I’ve learnt my lesson, from now on when I’m told about a secret mission I won’t tell more than two people, three tops. Can I go and watch the game now please, Allan is recording it for me. It’s the US Technicians versus the US Marines for the Red Ball Red Bowl final.”

Both Smythe and Yelps sighed in disbelief. “That wasn’t his punishment, this is.” Yelps turned, grabbed Greg by both shoulders and twisted him so they were in eye to eye contact. “US Marines won 27-25. Marine Colton scored the final basket in the dying seconds of the game, one of the best games I’ve ever seen. Marines always win, OORAH!” Yelps gave the Marine battle cry. Greg visibly started to whimper, his bottom lip quivered and his eyes began to water. Smythe smiled and decided to join in.

“A real classic, one of the all-time best.”

“Permission to be excused sir.” Gregg spoke through his tears.

“Permission granted.” Smythe replied. Greg ran out of the storage room.

“Was it a good game?” Justin asked, wanting to assimilate into life here as quickly as possible, he guessed sport was as good a way as any.

“No idea, didn’t see it.” Yelps replied, looking back towards the door Gregg had just exited through. “I just made up that score to annoy him, it’ll be weeks before he finds out the truth.”

“Are you sure that’s punishment enough Major?” Smythe asked.

“Sir trust me, he’s learnt his lesson better than if I had shot him in the face.”

Smythe and Yelps turned and walked out of the room leaving Itqoe. Justin was suddenly struck by the truth of being faced with an alien being. Sure he had seen some in Central but here was one, standing right next to him, and it seemed as curious about him as he was about it.

“Itqoe?” Nina exclaimed, she was surprised he hadn’t walked out with Yelps and Smythe. “Is everything alright?”

“Are you the boy who solved the tablets?” Itqoe couldn’t take his eyes off of Justin.

“Yeah.”

“Forgive my rudeness, just seeing you two together.” Itqoe paused for a moment. “It brings back….”

“What?” Nina asked.

“Nothing, just superstition, that’s all.” Itqoe turned and walked out of the room, slowly as if in a trance.

“Superstition?” Justin asked. “What could he be talking about?”

“I don’t know but Itqoe is spooked and I don’t like that one bit.” Nina muttered, she seemed as shocked by the Itqoe’s behaviour as Justin was.

Chapter 17

10:05 TOT, April 2nd 2002

Conference Room C, Martian Operations Agency Secret Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth

Sirus ran. She knew that she had to run. Red flashing lights, the awooga of the sirens and the mad rushing of everyone, Sirus knew that this was her one opportunity to survive. Soldiers came rushing into the boardroom, more concerned though with securing the board members and their safety then they were with Sirus. She could see an open window in the corner of the room and ran towards it. Part jump, part flying she leapt through the window, not entirely sure of where she was going to land. She rolled before being able to figure it out. Rolling down the grassy slope she realised where she had jumped into. Her body discovering that the grass of the hill was a thin veneer and below it was a rocky surface with hard jagged edges that were causing bruises to appear on her body almost instantaneously. Eventually she came to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Sirus gave herself the luxury of a moments rest. She breathed in and tried to get her bearings before deciding that she was being to decadent. She had to get up. She couldn’t waste the time. She had to pick herself up and run. It didn’t matter where too. She didn’t need a plan. There wasn’t time for a plan. She had to pick herself up from the ground and run. Stop thinking about it and do it. After an eternity of a split second Sirus pushed herself away from the ground. She got up and ran towards the sea. Without consciously realising it she had been running towards a wooden pier used for diving practice and rescues. A small inflatable boat was awaiting for her, it had a small outboard motor. She jumped on board and untied the mooring ropes. A moment thought appeared in her mind and she opened the cap on the fuel tank. The tank was full, the first piece of good luck Sirus had had in a long time, probably since Iraq. She replaced the cap and fired up the motor. On the third pull of the cord it came to life and she was off. Whatever the emergency had been, whatever the commotion was that now engulfed The Island it had given her a precious gift of freedom. The sea water wind hit her in the face, the bruises were hurting and her brain was scared of what she was doing, almost out of control. She didn’t know what the future held for her, but she knew that was a good thing and one worth celebrating. Since being sentenced to death Sirus’ life was starting to show a real future. She would try to escape and see if she could make it back in the real world, living undercover. Sirus smiled at the thought that she would soon know a life again without Martians. Without Weona Napl, Zeppelin craft or Haissisut. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Part 3: Searching

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[] Chapter 1

07:30 MTC, April 7th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Justin was strapped into his flight seat. His space suit was on, although he still had no idea about how to operate it. Nina had finally managed to get it drilled into him how the computer on his lower left arm worked and how to change the oxygen cylinders but that was about it. If he had to do anything more complicated than that then he would be in trouble. There were two oxygen cylinders, when one ran out the other one would take over and you hand to change the empty one right away, that way you would always have a supply of oxygen and wouldn’t be changing them in a blind panic. It seemed logical to Justin, like everything had been thought through. Justin realised that this was a military operation and everything was planned out as such, years of experience had gone into every detail. It suddenly dawned on Justin, he had only just learnt about humans living and working on Mars but it had been going on his whole life and even for decades before. These people were used to the planet he now found himself on, it was the only life Nina had ever known. To them this was normal, to Justin it was fantastical. The Skimmer to which Justin was now strapped into was laid out differently to the Jumper and was much more comfortable and obviously designed for longer term use. It reminded Justin of an old school minibus. They sat in rows of two. Justin and Nina were in the middle. Yelps and Itqoe were in front of them at the controls. Behind were Allan and Greg, the naughty kids always managed to get the seats at the back. Everyone had their space suits on except for Itqoe who looked on at the rest of the group in amusement at their overly complicated suits. It amused him that Humans were so un-adaptable, so unable to cope with the simple truths of living on Mars. Helmets were off but Justin had been told to keep it close by. Yelps started to go through the pre-flight checks. He spoke out each system as he checked and double checked. Justin grew nervous again. Nina leant over to him.

“Don’t worry.” She whispered, not wanting to gain anyone else’s attention. “This is a lot smoother then the Jumper.”

“British Flight Control this is Yelps in Skimmer 3 Romeo.” Yelps spoke into the radio.

“Go ahead 3R.” The radio speaker crackled, it was obviously Smythe on the other end.

“Pre-flight complete, we are ready to depart.”

“God speed 3R. Radio silence.”

“Radio silence.” Yelps replied. He looked across the rest of the cabin and smiled a comforting smile. He pulled back on the control stick in front of him and flicked several switches. Justin could hear the clanger of the moorings separating from the skimmer. He felt the craft rise gently into the air and then very slowly move forward. It seemed similar to a car slowly moving away from a set of traffic lights.

“See.” Nina smiled at Justin.

The skimmer slowly moved forward away from the landing pad where it had been sat. The small crew compartment being flanked either side by the two large jet like engines. Each corner of the skimmer housed a large fan, approximately a metre and a half in diameter, that pointed down towards the rocky surface below. As the skimmer slowly moved further away from the base the fans tilted and pitched in a set pattern, testing that the movement was free. After a couple of minutes the skimmer was far enough from the base that any rocks which would be kicked up off of the surface wouldn’t hit the base, potentially damaging it. Yelps moved his hand on the controls and the skimmer quickly gained speed, the jets waking up after having been ticking along at idle. The skimmer sped on a cushion of air as went across the Martian landscape.

Chapter 2

11:45 MTC, April 7th 2017

Tharsis Montes, Mars

The skimmer sped across the surface of Mars on a cushion of air, never touching the rocky covered surface below. The jets of air kicking up some of the smaller rocks that littered the surface. The strange box like vessel the only thing on the horizon, even the base had faded from distant view. The craft continued quietly along, barley disrupting the small rocks and dust on the surface of the red planet. Justin looked out of the window, letting the hours drift by as he stared out onto the alien surface, as if trying to take it all in without concentrating on anything in particular. In a sort of day dream Justin pictured the green grass covered rolling hills of England, a blue sky with a scattering of white fluffy clouds and the feel of the hot sun on his face. It then dawned on him the irony. Right now back on Earth there would be people gazing out of a train or coach window looking out onto the English countryside, wishing they were viewing the desolate landscape of Mars. As the hours went by everyone sunk into their seats. Greg was napping, his head resting against the side of his seat, his snoring making more noise than the side mounted engines. Allan had given up trying to find a pen so that he could draw on Greg’s face and had decided to take to reading a Red Ball newsletter which he brought up on his arm mounted computer. Yelps had put the craft on autopilot and was casually monitoring the controls as he peered out onto the horizon, looking for everything but nothing in particular. Itqoe just listened and concentrated, all the time studying the map of where they were going. Nina looked across at Justin, getting his attention and smiled. He gave a nervous smile back. Nina leant in.

“It’s not that bad.” Nina spoke softly.

“I guess.” Justin replied. Unsure as to what she was really talking about whilst also feeling that she was able to read his mind and known exactly every thought he was experiencing right now in this moment.

“Are you a nervous flyer?”

“I never knew before, well, I had never flown before. I guess I don’t have that good a history of flying.”

“Why not?”

“Well the first time I flew was when I was on my way to The Island and I had been knocked unconscious. The second time was on the way to the Zeppelin, the Zeppelin and then landing on Mars, where I got knocked unconscious and had concussion. Then the next time was the Jumper, which was, well, the Jumper.”

“Yeah I guess not the best history of flying.” Nina added, chuckling to herself. “You just need to take your mind off of it.” The pair sat there and thought for a moment. “What’s…” Nina decided not to finish that thought after all. Then she decided to think better of it. “What’s Earth like?”

Suddenly Justin’s mind was full of fear, he remembered the countless times one of his teachers would say, ‘if you had to explain this to an alien how would you?’ and realised that essentially that’s exactly what he had to do now. How do you explain the planet you grew up on to someone who had never experienced it? It was something Justin had always taken for granted. Nina didn’t know what grass covered hills were like. She had never seen first-hand a white fluffy cloud. To Nina the sun wasn’t bright and huge in the sky, it was distant and dim. What speech would let Nina know how Earth felt? What sentence would describe the beauty and horror of the planet? What one word would sum up what it was like to live their?

“Crowded.” Justin replied, hoping that would be enough of an explanation but knowing that it wouldn’t suffice. “I mean there’s a lot more people then there are here.”

“That must be nice, having more people to talk to?”

“It can still be lonely. I only really had Susan who ran the care home I lived in and Carl, he was, is, one of the other kids there.”

“There must have been other people around, how many people lived in the city you came from?”

“London? I don’t know, I think about six million.”

“SIX MILLION?” The number seemed fantastical to Nina, like no such place could possibly have existed. “Sounds really lonely?” She added sarcastically.

“You know what, actually it was.” Justin thought for a moment. “It is possible to feel lonely in a crowd you know.” This time it was Nina’s turn to think for a moment.

“I know.” She added. The pair just sat there for a moment, the idea of trying to take Justin’s mind away from the flying hadn’t really worked. Now they were both just dejected and couldn’t get out of the mood. “What?” Nina decided to break the silence first. “What was your mother like, you said she died when you were very young?”

“She, she was a drug addict, she was, well, she was a lot of things, none of which were particularly pleasant. I don’t like to think about it.” Justin looked at Nina and hoped for a comforting smile, which he got. “Certainly she was never there for me, she couldn’t of cared for me that much and I guess she never really wanted to have a baby, probably gave me up as soon as she could.” Justin thought on this for a moment. “As bad as it may seem, I’m probably better off without her.” Justin let that thought hang in the air before noticing that Yelps had hurled himself round in his chair.

“LISTEN HERE!” He yelled into the craft. His eyes were blood shot red, spit flying from his mouth, his veins popping out of his head, rage and anger ruled his body. “In the course of the last eighty-seven minutes of your mother’s life she saved my life no less than three times, not to mention the lives of everyone on Mars and on Earth so maybe, just maybe, you should cut her some slack. So what if she wasn’t there to tuck you in to bed at night or read you a bedtime story.”

Everyone was shocked. Greg had been woken by the outburst and had instinctively gone for his gun. Allan looked up, his face pale and horrified. Nina was shaking, she had never seen this sort of emotional range from Yelps, she wouldn’t have thought him capable of such an outburst. Itqoe looked on in embarrassment, he thought his old friend was beyond such displays of anger after all they had seen and been through together. Even Yelps was shocked by his own outburst. But the most shocked was of Justin. What was it Yelps was telling him? Had he known Justin’s mum? If so how?

“What are you telling me Yelps?” Justin had anger of his own in his voice.

“Forget it.” Yelps immediately calmed down, the redness from his face almost disappearing immediately. “Just forget I said anything.”

“I can’t just forget it, what are you saying to me?”

“Secrets.”

“I’m getting sick and tired of secrets around here, what is it you are saying?” Justin stared into Yelps’ eyes. “TELL ME!” he yelled. Then he forced himself to calm down. “I want to know the truth.” And Justin may well have found the truth out, if it wasn’t for the skimmer crashing violently and uncontrollably into the hard rocky surface of the planet.

Chapter 3

10:30 GMT, April 10th 2017

Brixton Child Care Home, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

Susan was sat at the kitchen table. Just like she was every day at this time. She looked over the papers which covered the table. She had kept every police statement, every press release pleading for help and every description she had of Justin. Everyday Susan would try to piece together the mystery of what had happened here. Why would Justin run away? He seemed to be getting on with his life. Today’s first order of business was designing a new missing persons poster. The 6th Form College had let her use their photocopier to run off as many copies as she wanted, Justin was, after all, their star pupil and they wanted him back as much as she did, particularly before the exams were over. Each time Susan had made a public plea for help, each time she had designed a new missing persons poster, each time she had appealed to people on the missing persons forums online she knew that her chances of finding Justin were growing slimmer and slimmer. What could have happened to him? If Justin didn’t want to come back then she could cope with this, it would make her sad but she would understand. These homes were not designed to be lived in forever and Justin had been here a long time, longer than most. But surely he would call and tell her. He would have left her a note if he didn’t intend on coming back again. Susan had always assumed that she had meant something to Justin, that she was important to him, had she been wrong all this time? Had she really mattered so little to him that he could run away without telling her? Susan took her laptop out of its bag and powered it up. She always looked at the missing persons forums every day at this time. She would usually look on them at least six times throughout a day, but always at this time. Susan hoped that Justin was safe somewhere. That he had had enough of having to say no to the gangs, that he had grown tired of everyone’s expectations and had decided to just take himself off and start a new life, away from all of these pressures. Susan knew more than anyone else though that the other, more gruesome alternatives were more likely. She had been a social worker long enough to know the likely-hood of a child who had been missing for this long to be returned safely. She tried not to think about it, although it was all she could think about. The mind is too good at dwelling on unfortunate things, especially when your whole career it seems has been about filling it with such gruesome thoughts. Susan’s laptop had finished powering up, she typed in her password and began to look on the various missing persons forums. Nothing new about Justin, just as she feared and also hoped for, Susan had decided to cling to the idea that no news was good news. She knew that this just meant she had to work hard, resolving to keep up the fight until she found out the truth about Justin. Susan thought back to all the rumours that had gone around when Justin first went missing. She remembered how Jimbo had been heard bragging about killing Justin. How he had claimed he had knifed Justin because he refused to join Jimbo in business. She had heard the rumours that Jimbo had put about himself. This had filled Susan with a hate and anger that she would not have thought possible of herself. She loathed Jimbo and the other gangs at the best of times, their false promises and glamorising the seedy side of life taking good kids away from good lives. When she had heard the rumours she had wanted to kill him, she literally wanted to kill Jimbo. The usually calm and caring woman could imagine the pleasure she would feel in wrapping her hands around Jimbo’s throat and gently squeezing, applying pressure slowly to his windpipe before she could close it shut completely, she imagined the sound he would make as he fought for air, choking, she could even imagine the smell has he inevitably pissed himself. Instead she had gone to the police who promptly arrested him. Although it all turned out to be Jimbo blowing his big mouth off Susan had taken pleasure when the police officers told her about Jimbo bursting into tears in the interview room, how he had confessed every little miss-demeanour he had ever committed and even wet himself when he thought he really was going to face murder charges. Susan knew that all this had taken the police away from their duties, especially in looking for Justin but she had taken some joy in knowing that Jimbo had been humiliated by the whole affair. He change and had even quit the gangs and gone back to school, unable to face people who knew he was a big mouthed coward after all. Susan was snapped back into the present. She didn’t know what had done it at first. Then she heard a knock at the door, guessing this was the second one, the first bringing her out of her day dream. Susan took a deep breath and stood up from the table. She walked towards the front door. Each step getting shorter and taking longer, she feared bad news, she always feared bad news nowadays. Slowly Susan opened the front door and there stood a policemen. It wasn’t one of the usual ones, one of the ones that she had grown accustomed to seeing, this one was new.

“Susan Cunningham?” The policeman spoke, in that stern tone of voice that policemen always speak in.

“Yes?” Susan started to feel a pit in her stomach.

“May I come in, it’s about Justin.”

Susan turned and started to walk into the living room. She was filled with terror and fear. The policeman followed her, closing the front door behind him.

“I just wanted to let you know that we are no longer treating Justin’s missing person case as an active case.”

“Oh.” Susan knew that this was inevitable, that sooner or later the police would just stop looking. She knew that without any fresh information there was nothing they could do, they couldn’t spend time on this when there was so much else they had to do. She also knew that they had kept the case open for far longer then was normal. She assumed it was because she was a social worker, and the entire social worker network of the area had been pushing them to find Justin. Every social worker around was friends with Susan and they all knew that Justin was special to Susan.

“We simply don’t have anywhere we can go with this case.” The policeman spoke, knowing that it wouldn’t be any comfort to her but he felt he had to say something. “We will of course respond to any new information if it becomes available but you should know the chances of finding Justin are virtually nil.”

Susan knew this was true. “Well thank you for letting me know officer.” Susan said, she had feared worse but also knew she would have to mourn the loss of Justin without a body. The policeman looked at the woman standing in front of him. He felt for her. He knew that the pain she was now feeling was real, that she was missing this boy. That endured her to him. It was the sad truth that with most runaways the parents or guardians simply didn’t care if the child was found or not, that’s why they runaway in the first place. But he also knew there was little the police could do now. He wanted to ease her pain and what was worse he knew how too.

“Look I want you to know.” The policeman felt he had to say something.

“What?” Susan grew hopeful. Had the police been holding back? Had the kept something secret? Did they know more than they were letting on?

The policeman took a deep sigh. Could he say it, could he bring himself to let her know? He thought about it and realised the only way he could give her hope. “I’ll keep looking.” The policeman said. “In my spare time and whenever I can I’ll keep looking, I know other officers from other forces, we will keep looking for him, but don’t expect too much, don’t expect him to be found.” The policeman turned and started to walk towards the front door. Susan saw him out and closed the door behind him. She took a deep breath and decided to carry on, although she didn’t know how she would do it.

Chapter 4

12:00 MTC, April 7th, 2017

Tharsis Montes, Mars

No one had seen the shots being fired on the skimmer. They hadn’t spotted the Weona Napl patrol that had been out. Even if anyone in the skimmer had spotted them there was little they could have done about it. The shot that had been fired was from a large cannon which took three Weona Napl to carry. It had thrown out a large blast of light and energy which had hit the skimmer on the port side. The craft immediately twisted round on the spot, its nose diving into the surface and dug in. The rest of the skimmer hit the ground hard causing the outer hull to begin to break up. Inside the skimmer everyone scrambled for their helmets. Allan, Greg and Yelps quickly mounted theirs onto the suits and braced themselves. Itqoe braced himself against the side of the craft. Nina had gotten her helmet on quickly and had it fastened correctly. She looked across at Justin who was still trying to remember how to attached his. Nina slapped his hands out of the way and quickly fastened the clips into place. She checked the magnetic seals of the helmet and then pressed the pressurise button. Nina slapped the top of the helmet several times and then gave a thumbs up to Justin, he replied with the same gesture, not really sure what he was giving a thumbs up too. The intercom radio inside Justin’s helmet crackled into life.

“Three, two, one.” Yelps voice calmly counted down. The side hatch of the skimmer exploded open split seconds before Yelps, Allan, Greg and Itqoe burst from their seats with their guns blazing. Itqoe’s headset picking up the sounds of the gunfire. Justin tried to rise out of his seat and leap forward. He was thrown back in the seat by the harness he was wearing, he hadn’t even noticed the others taking theirs off. Nina then reached across and unbuckled Justin’s harness. Her arm then leapt around his body, holding him back. Her eyes tightly shut scared for her own life and knowing how important it was to keep Justin safe. The gun fire steadily slowed down. Finally there was a pause and a final gun shot. Nina took her arm off of Justin.

“It’s now safe.” Nina’s voice cam over the intercom.

“Come out you two.” Yelps’ voice crackled on the headphones.

Nina and Justin emerged from the stricken craft slowly. As they peered out of the skimmer onto the surface they saw the devastation before them. The large laser blaster which had started the battle lay motionless and scorched on the surface. By it lay three Weona Napl bodies, motionless and without the gleam of life in their eyes. Blue blood was oozing away from their bodies. Yelps stood over them and looked at the bodies. Allan and Greg kept surveying the horizon, looking out for more attacks. Itqoe was staring at the laser cannon, panting.

“Everyone ok?” Yelps asked over the intercom. A chorus of ‘oks’ followed from everyone. “Right, well the skimmer is gone, we’ll take what we need and carry-on on foot.” Yelps took a minute to himself, he had to think through the situation before making it any worse. Breathe. “Hopefully if the Weona Napl are monitoring then they’ll think we were killed in the crash, they might not even send out a patrol to look. Firstly lets bury these bodies.”

Itqoe turned to face Yelps. “I wouldn’t bother helping these Weona Napl scum my friend.”

“At the moment all this can be explained as a diplomatic incident.” Yelps explained with hope in his voice. “If we bury the bodies according to Weona Napl custom then that will help a lot, I don’t want this turning into another war.”

Justin was shocked by these comments. He hadn’t thought that his discovery could actually turn into a real war. Seeing the Weona Napl bodies on the ground, dead, brought it all home to him. No matter what happened in the future Justin wouldn’t be able to change the fact that the first Weona Napl he ever saw were these dead mutilated bodies. The gunshot wounds littered their thin armour. The blue blood had oozed out and was now hitting his boots. Justin realised what everyone meant by life being cheap here. By the body language of the others he guessed this wasn’t even that big a deal to them. What was this place like if it could make otherwise good people so blasé about death?

“I’m going to be sick.” Justin cried out on the radio.

“Don’t.” Yelps yelled back, turning to face him trying to get his attention.

“Justin.” Nina added. “You can’t take your helmet off. If you’re sick it will stay in the suit.” This made Justin feel even worse.

“I’m going back inside.” Justin turned and walked back into the craft he had only just managed to escape from. Nina patted him on the back as he walked by.

“Did you see how the gun blew up?” Allan asked over the radio, eager to move the conversation on. “It was surreal.”

“Was it self-destruct?” Greg asked.

“I don’t think so.” Yelps added. “Look at their armour, much more primitive then we usually see.” Yelps thought for a moment. “I think these are raiders.” The group thought for a moment.

“What are raiders?” Justin asked over the radio. He still wanted to be part of the group even though he was back in the skimmer.

“Weona Napl separatists.” Nina answered. “They hunt down craft and loot it for scrap. It would explain why they are on the surface.”

“This gun looks old.” Yelps added. “Maybe even pre-war. It looks like it over heated and blew up.”

“No need to bury criminals.” Itqoe spoke up.

“We still should respect the bodies.” Yelps replied immediately back. “Brothers in battle.”

“Agreed.” Itqoe’s voice changed. He had sounded quieter, more respectful, the hatred in his voice previously had disappeared.

The group moved the bodies so they were all in a row. Then, gently, rocks were placed over them so that none of the body was showing. Itqoe spoke a few words in Haissisut, Justin couldn’t really understand them but it sounded like some sort of prayer. Everyone stood respectfully and waited a moment. Justin couldn’t help but think back to just before the accident. What did Yelps mean? With all of the excitement this had been Justin’s first moment to really think on what Yelps had said. It sounded like Yelps had known his mother and more than that, his mum had been on Mars. Was everything Justin knew about his mother wrong? Or what seemed more likely had Yelps simply got the wrong person? Justin could feel anger boiling up inside of himself. He had to control it, he knew the next task wasn’t going to be easy but he had to get answers from Yelps. Justin looked at the pile of rocks in front of him. Here were creatures, is that even the right word, people? Here were three sentient beings who were now dead because of his actions, if he had never come to Mars then they would still be alive, how many more would die? How many humans, Haissisut and Weona Napl had already died on this planet since humans had come here and was his own mother to be counted among the dead? Yelps was the first to raise his head.

“We should get what we need from the skimmer and start walking.” Yelps ordered.

“We still going on?” Justin asked, he had just assumed with the skimmer destroyed the mission would be over. “We’re not going to radio for help?”

“We can’t.” Yelps turned to Allan and Greg. “Take as much oxygen and water as you can carry, leave non-essential equipment.”

“Aye sir.” They both replied in unison before turning and heading back into the skimmer wreckage. Nina followed the pair inside, although the order hadn’t been meant for her she wanted to help shift through the skimmer. She knew as well as any soldier what they would need to complete the journey, maybe even more so with her maintenance training. Yelps turned to Justin before heading back into the wreckage himself. Justin reached out and held Yelps’ arm.

“Tell me.” Justin tried to sound as commanding as he could. He knew though that a kid from Brixton wasn’t going to intimidate a US Marine, especially one that was used to seeing violence, these events had taught him that.

“Tell you what?” Yelps replied.

“You know what.” Justin couldn’t believe that Yelps didn’t know what he was talking about. This had been the subject that had consumed Justin’s life and the man before him had answers but was playing dumb. This couldn’t be true. “Tell me about my mother.”

“I never met your mother.” Yelps replied in a tone that sounded a little to rehearsed for Justin’s liking.

“The truth.”

“That is the truth and you will not find a shred of proof otherwise.”

“Oh really?” Justin thought for a moment, worried that Yelps would be right. “That skimmer, does it have a black box flight recorder?”

“What?” Yelps sounded both puzzled and troubled by this comment. What was Justin planning? Justin knew though that he had him. Justin had read once about how aircraft were always fitted with black box recorders that would had all of the data from the flight computers in case of a crash, these usually included voice recorders which taped everything which was discussed in the cockpit. Seeing as the skimmer was a military craft Justin was guessing that it would have a black box too and that it would have Yelps’ outburst on file. Justin stared into Yelps’ eyes. Although they were both wearing helmets with visors Justin could still see the fear and confusion in Yelps’ mind.

“Does the skimmer have a black box?” Justin reiterated the question, pausing after each individual word, hoping to drive home the point. Yelps freed himself from Justin’s grasp and headed into the skimmer. Moments later he remerged from the wreckages carrying a small briefcase sized black plastic box. Justin had never seen one before and was a little shocked that it was indeed actually black. Yelps placed the flight recorder down by Justin’s feet. “Everything you said is on there?” Justin asked tentatively. He felt like he had just discovered a secret pot of gold or something. He could feel a grin appearing on his face and eventually taking over it causing his muscles to ache, even though Yelps wouldn’t be able to see it.

Yelps then held up his rifle and shot half a dozen bullets into the black box. Even though the flight recorder was specially protected the rapid fire of a machine gun at close range pieced the casing quickly. Justin felt devastated by the loss, his only chance of finding the truth had gone. Yelps lifted his head and looked at Justin, then he returned to looking at the box in front of them. Yelps fired a couple of more shots.

“It was destroyed in the crash. The subject is now closed.” Yelps picked up the box and returned it to the wreckage. Justin felt devastated by these events. Although he hadn’t known Yelps for long he had assumed that he was a good man. Sure he was a little quiet and kept himself to himself but he always seemed to do the right thing and everyone else respected him that much was clear. Justin stood, alone on the alien planet. He had felt lonely all his life, never having any real family but now he felt lonely and distant. Why hadn’t he just stayed in Brixton? Sure he wouldn’t have seen all these amazing things but also he wouldn’t feel like this, like he had been betrayed his whole life. Is it better to live a lie and not know it or to know it’s a lie but not know the truth? Justin breathed in deeply and vowed that this was not over. Nina emerged from the wreckage and walked over towards Justin.

“Is everything ok, what’s going on out here?” Nina asked, although she couldn’t see Justin’s face his body language showed her that something was wrong, something was very wrong.

“You didn’t hear us talking?” Justin asked, only just realising that surely the rest of the team had heard every word over the radio.

“He remotely blipped you to a different channel, we couldn’t hear a word.”

“Can you do that?” Justin asked. Nina lifted her arm and fiddled with the controls for a moment.

“They can’t hear us.”

“Nina I do not trust that man.”

“Yelps, he’s a little weird but he’s a good guy.”

“He knows something about my mother Nina.”

“Justin, Mars is a planet of secrets, you’re never going to know all of them.”

“How do I know you don’t know anything about this?” Justin’s voice sounded angry and betrayed.

“Justin, without friends this can be a very lonely place, don’t push people away just yet.”

“You saying I should just trust everyone even though they could be lying to me? Including you.”

“Justin without friends this place will hurt you, without close friends you will die here.” Nina wanted Justin to see that fighting against Yelps was not worth it. “Why do you think Allan and Greg are always assigned together? It’s because they one hundred percent trust each other, always have done and always will do. That’s how they stay alive.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying trust me, you’ll find out the truth if your patient, it’ll just take time.”

Chapter 5

14:15 UTC, October 3rd 2005

Coffee Living Coffee Shop, Toronto, Canada, Earth

Paranoia was something that Sirus had grown used to over the years. She stood in the que of a coffee shop when the latest bout of it hit her. Three years since her escape to freedom and she was still finding it difficult to cope with life on the run. Standing in line in the coffee shop looking around at the people who were there sharing this experience with her, yet their own involvement would be quite different to that of her own. Everywhere she looked she saw potential threats, undercover operatives sent to assassinate her or conspiracy theorists wanting to know the truth from her. Everyone was a potential threat, it didn’t matter if they thought they were being friendly or even helpful, every person in the coffee shop was a potential new way for her to die tonight. Sirus took her paper cup from the counter and made her way to a table. Each step taken tentatively, as if walking blindfolded through a mine field. Her senses heightened by the possibility of being caught. Nothing had created this sense of doom. In its most legitimate form it was at best a mild panic attack the sort that had almost become a way of life for Sirus. She eventually made it to the table and threw herself down onto the chair. Hoping that it would act as a shield, making her invisible to the outside world and offering some level of protection. As unlikely as this seemed Sirus decided to look around the room instead. First the exits. Sirus had grown used to always counting the exits in a room. Two of them. One behind her, a fire exit that backed onto a side alley, the other main entrance in front of her. Secondly possible assassins. Sirus always looked out for military types, particularly those trying to blend in. Sirus counted three, although in her agitated state she couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t her own paranoia playing tricks on her. The third thing to do was look for weapons, anything that she could use to defend herself or could be used to harm her. Not obvious things like guns or knives but items like hot liquid, displays and electric wires. Anything that a would be attacker wouldn’t be expecting. The element of surprise would always be the most effective weapon. Sirus tried to look as normal as possible. She picked out two sugar packets and tried to open them both with her shaking hands. Inevitably however the contents of the packets flew onto the table, scattering everywhere.

“Dammit.” Sirus said under her breath.

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” Replied a friendly sounding voice belonging to a man on one of the nearby tables. His soft Irish accent being somewhat of a contrast to the Canadian ones Sirus had grown accustomed to in the previous months of hiding. “I think it’s the sugar companies fault, they tell the packet manufacturers to make them difficult to open, you spill your sugar and need more packets, they sell more.” The man smiled at Sirus, she noticed how handsome he seemed to her, a charming smile and friendly eyes, handsome without being good looking. “You could choose not to have sugar in your coffee and hammer a blow to bloated global capitalism, not to mention fight off type two diabetes.” He gave a worried grin, hoping his joke would go down well.

“More bizarre conspiracy theories have turned out to be true.” Sirus replied, hoping not to give too much away.

“I’m Ryan by the way, irritating bloke from the table next to you who won’t mind his own business.”

“Hannah.” Sirus replied, using her current fake name. Ryan offered his hand and she reluctantly shook it.

“Hannah, that’s a lovely name, my mother is called Hannah.”

“Really?” Sirus asked.

“No not really, that’s just something I say to put woman’s minds at ease when I’m trying to chat them up in a coffee house. I don’t know why but it seems to work.” Ryan gave a broad smile. Sirus laughed. She hadn’t laughed in quite a long time, not at something a stranger had said to her anyway. She had almost forgotten how normal it felt, how humdrum and every day, but then again wasn’t it the ordinary that she was trying to discover and get back too?

“What else do you tell them?” Sirus asked, feeling herself become more relaxed.

“Let’s see after I’ve given them line about bloated capitalists and lied about my mother’s name, no that’s it really.” Ryan looked like he was trying to think of something to say, Sirus could tell that it was part of the act, part of his patter. “Normally women have slapped me in the face by this point and run off, you must have a very high tolerance of nosey idiots, that or low standards, either way I like it.” Sirus laughed again. “You just looked like you could do with cheering up, like it had been a hard day.”

“A hard day?” Sirus almost chuckled as she replied. She was starting to find it difficult to remember what just one hard day was like, years on the run had taken their toll on her morale.

“Longer than that?” Ryan asked.

“Something like that.”

“Well Hannah you know what always helps when you’re having a hard time of it?”

“What?” Hannah asked, hoping it would be useful.

“Letting a young good looking Irishmen take you out for dinner tonight, how about it?” Sirus laughed again.

“Do you know any?” Sirus decided to join in the jokes.

“Oh that hurts Hannah, that really hurts.” Ryan faked clutching his heart, pretending to be wounded. “And after I was going to take you to the finest fried chicken franchise that Toronto has to offer.”

“Classy.”

“It’s ok I’ll still take you as long as you promise to pay.” Ryan smiled again. “Ok I’ll pay but we’ll have to share a milkshake.” Sirus laughed, she couldn’t help it, in the last few minutes she had completely fallen in love with this man. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 6

23:00 MTC, April 7th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

It was getting late in the evening, most of the staff had left the control room but Smythe was still there staring at the board. He couldn’t believe how quickly the events of the past few days had unfolded. He had launched a secret and potentially diplomatically fatal mission without any authorisation from Governor Mead, the Martian Operations Agency or even MI7 back on Earth. This was the sort of thing that would get people exiled, sent back to Earth or even shot. He had known that the day would come, the day when he would have to cross the line, again. Was securing a water supply for the Haissisut really worth it? Was this worth his career and potentially even his life? Smythe stared at the communication bored in front of him, willing it into life, hoping that by his intense concentration he could make one of the lights blink, that he could force some word from the skimmer. He was concentrating on it so hard that he hadn’t even noticed Cooper walking into the room.

“Sir.” Cooper said, startling Smythe, almost launching himself out of his seat.

“Oh Cooper, I didn’t notice you there.” Smythe looked up at the young officer and waited, trying to get his own mind away from the battle of wits it had been having with the communications board.

“Any word sir?” Cooper asked.

“Nothing yet.” Smythe tried to force a smile, he knew the importance of putting on a brave face in front of the junior officers. “Still we told them radio silence so I guess no news is good news.” Smythe wanted to present the best possible face he could, he knew how important his own morale was to that of those who worked under him on the base. Cooper had been on Mars for a few years and was already a rising star in the British base but Smythe was careful to remember how new he still was. Cooper was developing nicely, already running the control room at the base when Smythe couldn’t be there but it was a delicate time for him, he could easily struggle here still. Cooper was Smythe’s obvious replacement when the time came and this filled Smythe with hope for the future, the base would be in good hands when Cooper was in command.

“Sir, what will happen if the Weona Napl find the skimmer deep in their territory?”

“It all depends on who we get.” Smythe knew this wasn’t much comfort. “If we get a soldier that could be a problem but if we get a priest or even a high priest then this may just work.”

“Is that why you sent Nina?”

“They’ve always held her in some strange high regard, it’s to do with some Wivisan tradition or something.”

“A clever idea sir.” Cooper said.

“Do you think I’m a good man Cooper?” The commander asked.

“What?” Cooper was startled by the question. Everyone on the base and most humans on Mars thought Smythe to be a good man, one of the finest officers on the whole planet and a real asset to Mars operations.

“Do you think I’m a good man?”

“One of the finest sir.” Cooper stood to attention, it seemed appropriate somehow, like it would show Smythe more respect.

“I’ve just confessed to using a fifteen year old girl as a bargaining chip, to putting an innocent civilian in harm’s way deliberately.” Smythe shook his head as he spoke. “I am anything but a good man, hasn’t that poor girl been through enough.”

“Clever to make her think it was her idea.”

“The only way to get that young girl to do something is to tell her that she can’t do it.” Smythe said quietly.

“Was Greg in on it sir?”

“No, safer that way. That boy could shoot a man’s eyes out at four hundred metres but he was not blessed with brains. Still he’s one of the finest young men in my command.” Smythe got up from his seat and looked around the room. “I’m going to miss this you know Cooper.”

“Sir?”

“There are very few postings where an officer really does feel like he’s making a difference, but this was truly one of them.”

“Sir, we don’t know if the mission will be a failure yet. It’s too early for that talk.”

“Cooper if the mission is a failure the Weona Napl will discover the skimmer and will want answers as to why we, along with a Haissisut soldier ventured into their territory. It will be the biggest diplomatic situation since the war and will put relations between our two peoples back years. War may even be declared once more. Governor Mead will have to sacrifice me to the Weona Napl to have any hope of a peace settlement.”

“But the mission could be a success.”

“If that’s the case then everyone will know that it was me who authorised the mission, in which case Mead will see me as a political threat and will find a way to get rid of me.”

“Sir, the people of this base will not allow that to happen, you’re loved here.”

“Do you know what it will take for them to turn on me?” Smythe paused for an answer but Cooper’s face just looked blank. “I’ll tell you. All he would have to do is cut off our food supply in some fake emergency or disaster for three days and then I would be gone. They would be begging for me to be dismissed.” Smythe paused again and thought for a moment he knew the truth of what he was saying, he had seen it happen elsewhere so easily. “Then Mead would come in, with food and double water rations for a month and I would be forgotten.” Smythe took in a deep sigh. “I hate politics, I have no interest in running human operations on the whole of Mars.” Smythe looked around again. “I really do love this job, you know Cooper. Could you watch the screens for me? I need some rest.”

“Sure thing sir.”

“You’re a good man Cooper, you’re a good man. Those are hard to find around here.” Smythe walked through the door and into the corridor. He headed down towards his quarters, taking the long way round, viewing the base just for nostalgias sake. He really didn’t want to say goodbye.

Chapter 7

10:20 UTC, April 9th 2006

Ryan’s Apartment, Toronto, Canada, Earth

Sirus couldn’t believe that it had all happened so quickly. Within months of meeting this man she was now moving in with him. Something that would have seemed impossible not that long ago and now it was actually happening.

“You don’t seem to have much stuff.” Ryan puffed slightly exhaustedly as he hauled another box up the stairs into their new apartment.

“Well I live light.” Sirus retorted, hoping that would be the end of any further enquiry. She thought back to how even the day before she was hunting around 2nd hand and charity shops looking for anything that she could pass off as a family heirloom or keep sake from college. Anything that would make it look like she had a past. Most people in their relationships tried to hide their past, tried to make all the mistakes disappear, Sirus tried hard to make them up, to create more. “Besides it makes it easier for you to carry it all in for me.”

“And people say we live in a fair and just society with no sexism.”

“No that’s just what we women want you men to believe, so that you don’t realise that you have to spend your whole lives slumping around for us.” Sirus smiled as she spoke, the normality of it all amusing her. She was after all a woman who had flown in space, who had visited another planet, had met aliens and who was on the run from every major government in the world, yet here she was doing something so very very ordinary, moving in with her boyfriend. Ryan put down the box he was holding and walked up alongside Sirus. He put his arm around her and hugged her.

“You don’t mind moving in here rather than looking for a new place do you?” Ryan asked.

“Not at all.” She replied. The truth was she was grateful. Her new fake ID wasn’t ready yet and that would have meant signing rent forms or mortgage documents would have been awkward. This way she could keep official involvement down to a minimum and hopefully stop Ryan from finding out the truth. Sirus had learnt from life on the run that cheap ID was quick and easily spotted, a really good fake ID including a whole back story and past, one which was not only expensive but difficult to produce. It strange as the last few years had been Sirus knew it was about to get stranger. He she was living with a man, a man who she hardly knew. What if he turned out to be MOA or worse? The only thing this man had going for him was that Sirus loved him. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 8

21:00 MTC, April 7th 2017

Tharsis Montes, Mars

Justin felt tired. They had been walking for hours. He was starting to sweat but knew he shouldn’t drink too much water, they had to conserve their supplies. The group were walking in a straight line. Yelps up front being followed by Greg, Nina then Justin, Itqoe and finally Allan. They had been like this for hours, with little communication between the individuals of the group. Justin knew that he didn’t want to be inside his own head right now so had set himself maths puzzles to do based on the landscape, anything to try and get his mind away from the secret Yelps was hiding. He counted rocks of certain shapes, he looked for patterns in the dust, he did whatever it took to keep his mind busy. The intercom crackled into life.

“We should bivvy down for the night, get some rest for a few hours.” Yelps commanded. “I’m looking for oxygen pockets.” The group carried on marching forward. Justin jogged a few steps forward and caught up with Nina, tapping her on the shoulder.

“Oxygen pockets?” He asked. Nina fiddled with her arm mounted computer again and remotely bleeped them to a different channel.

“I keep forgetting just how green you are?” Nina said through a smile.

“Don’t pick on the new guy, what is Yelps on about?”

“About ten metres below the surface there are pockets of oxygen, some are small, others a huge caverns. That’s why the Martians can breathe either oxygen or carbon dioxide, it’s also why they choose to live under the surface. You can access them from the canals and cave network. The oxygen stays put because of the difference in pressure and magnetic charge.”

“Cool.”

“If we can find one that we can rest without using up our own oxygen, if it’s big enough then we may even be able to refill our oxygen tanks with fresh air.”

The group kept on marching. It seemed to be another hour of walking until Yelps stopped the group. Yelps gathered everyone around him.

“There’s an entrance to an underground cave network, looks like there might be some oxygen pockets in there.” Yelps blurted on the intercom.

“Should be good enough to have oxygen.” Allan added.

“Great. We can even eat.” Greg sounded hugely excited.

“What about the feeding tube?” Justin asked.

“Finished that while we were still on the skimmer.” Greg announced proudly.

“It’s only ration packs I’m afraid.” Nina added. “And they are the horrible Degi bean concentrate kind.”

“Spectacular.” Greg’s tone of voice seemed like he was genuinely excited by the prospect.

The group moved down through a small ledge into the cavern below. Slowly they made their way through a crevasse sliding one by one into the cave. Yelps played with the buttons on his arm control and gave a thumbs up to the group. He reached up and removed his helmet. There was a hiss as the excess oxygen escaped from his suit.

“Air is good.” Yelps spoke up and moved away from the rest of the group. He looked around at the walls of the cavern. Greg and Nina were the next to remove their helmets.

“Great, where’s the food?” Greg blurted out. Before anyone could answer he was already head first into Allan’s back pack.

“How do I remove this thing?” Justin asked. Nina rolled her eyes and moved around to the back of his helmet.

“System maintenance to the rescue, again.” Nina exclaimed. “You just need to hit this catch at the back like this.” Justin’s helmet came free from the rest of his suit.

“How come the oxygen doesn’t just flow out of the cave?” Justin asked, puzzled by how everything he thought he knew about physics was being questioned by this place.

“The rocks are made out of Oxymaglanite.” Nina replied matter of factly. Justin just looked at her even more puzzled. “Didn’t you study Martian geology in school?”

“Not much call for it in Brixton.” Justin replied, the rest of the group chuckled. This just made Nina angry. She hated it when the Earth humans laughed at the differences between them and her.

“The rocks have a unique electrical charge, the oxygen is attracted to them similar to metal and a magnet. It means the oxygen can’t float away.”

“Great, yeah get that.” Justin’s state of puzzlement had given way to full on confusion.

“It’s a magic room.” Nina replied, simplifying it down for him.

“Justin.” Yelps spoke up. “Nina has just told you about a type of rock you have never heard of before, what is it’s atomic mass?”

“What?”

“Calculate the atomic mass based on the tiny data you have. Nina is having trouble understanding why we need someone so green on this mission.”

“Oh, let’s see, to be like that I guess it would be something along the lines of twenty times ten to the power of nine times V times M to the power of minus one. Or something like that, I can’t really be sure without more data. It’s along those lines anyway.”

“See Nina.” Yelps replied. “That’s why he is with us.”

“Greg!” Allan shouted. “Will you get your head out of my bag, I need to get my helmet off.”

“I’m looking for food.” Greg replied.

“It’s not in there. Nina has it.” Greg’s head reappeared from the bag as he dashed over to Nina. She was almost pushed off of her feet by the force of Greg.

Chapter 9

03:30 MTC, April 8th 2017

Tharsis Montes, Mars

The evening had been a strange one to Justin. The group had eaten their packs in almost silence. Justin kept trying to steal looks at Nina, he couldn’t understand this girl, she was like no-one he had ever met before. So often the girls Justin had known in Brixton would try and be something they weren’t. They would present a brave front when they were scared, wanting to be strong. Nina was different, it seemed to Justin that her vulnerability, her lack of a front was what gave her strength. He already knew when she was scared, but he knew as well that she was coping with it, that she could continue to cope with it no matter how bad a situation got. He took strength from that. As much hope and happiness that Nina filled Justin with every time he looked at her he felt equal amounts of hatred and loathing whenever he looked at Yelps. Yelps knew something about Justin’s past and he wasn’t letting on. Justin’s mind would race with possible scenarios. All of them seeming to fantastical to be true. The night drew on and slowly the group started to settle down for the night, resting their heads on the surface, using their helmets as a pillow. Allan and Greg were the first to doze off. Yelps lay down but kept his eyes open. Itqoe offered to keep watch for a few hours. Justin kept trying to close his eye, trying to stop his brain from working. He wanted so much to just give into his body but every time he did so he would fail to drift off to sleep. Then, just as he was about to settle down, Justin noticed Nina gathering her things and moving away from the group. He rose slightly to go with her, then felt a hand on his arm. He looked down and saw Yelps’ hand firmly grasping his arm, Yelps shook his head.

“But she’ll be alone.” Justin whispered as softly as he could.

“She’s doing us a favour, believe me.” Yelps whispered back. “Don’t talk about it, don’t even mention it, just let her be.”

“What’s going on?”

“She won’t thank you for prying.”

“What is it with this place and secrets?” Justin was asking himself more than anything, not really expecting an answer from Yelps. Justin settled back down and lay motionless.

“You’ll see, some things are better off as a secret.”

Justin knew he would never get the answer to the question he really wanted to ask. He thought for a moment and his thoughts drifted back to the station and the troubles that were going back through his mind before the mission.

“Yelps, what will happen to me once this mission is over?” Justin asked wanting to feel the sense of trust in Yelps that he had felt before this mission. Yelps thought for a moment, he wanted to reassure the boy, but at the same time he knew there was nothing to be gained from lying to him.

“As long as you’re useful there is a role for you on Mars.” Yelps breathed in deeply and thought for a moment. “I will do my utmost to make sure you are looked after. I promise you.” Yelps said quietly. As strange as it seemed to Justin he was reassured by this. Yelps didn’t seem like the kind of man to make a promise he knew he couldn’t keep. Yelps didn’t seem like the sort of man that would make a promise easily, although Justin was starting not to trust this man he felt safe at the same time. Justin settled down, closed his eyes and drifted, slowly to sleep.

Yelps tried to sleep as well but knew he couldn’t. Eventually he shifted to a point where he was leaning against the wall of the cave. Itqoe came and joined him, it seemed as good a vantage point as any. The two old friends smiled at each other. Itqoe decided to be the first to break the silence, he knew Yelps wouldn’t be.

“It’s good to see you in a squad again.”

“A squad?” Yelps replied, shocked by the comment.

“Well that’s what this is isn’t it?”

“I suppose so. I didn’t really think of them like that, I always seem to get the squad of miss-fits.” Yelps chuckled gently to himself.

“It’s an honour to serve with you again my friend.”

“It’s an honour to me to.” Yelps grabbed Itqoe’s hand and shook it. The two smiled at each other again. “Itqoe, do you miss the war?”

“Young warriors crave battle, old ones fear it.”

“That’s not answering my question.”

“I’m old.” The pair laughed to each other.

“I don’t miss the war, of course.” Yelps said before confessing. “But I do miss the sense of purpose, the reason for me being here.” Yelps gave a guilty smile.

“Someone has to keep Mead in check, you’re as good as anyone at that task.”

“I hope this mission works. If the Haissisut could feel strong again, with the respect of the Weona Napl then we could have a lasting peace.”

“I’m not sure there is such a thing as peace on Mars.” Itqoe spoke not only with his own wisdom but that of over two thousand years of culture and history. Although there were not many warriors in Haissisut society they had always been there, ready for battle.

A few hours passed before Justin was awoken by screaming. It took him a moment to readjust. Soon he realised what was happening. The screams he could hear were coming from Nina. He rose up to find Allan and Greg asleep, as was Itqoe. Yelps was stood up, seemingly he had taken the watch. Yelps smiled at Justin. Justin shuffled himself closer to Yelps.

“What’s going on?” Justin whispered.

“It’s Nina.” Yelps replied.

“Is this why she wanted to separate herself from the rest of us?” Justin asked.

“Yep.” Yelps looked over to the poor girl screaming in her sleep. “She’s like this every night, has been since she was a small child, before probably.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“More secrets?”

“You need to learn the difference between a secret and a mystery.” Yelps smiled at Justin. “This is most definitely a mystery, who knows what she’s dreaming about?”

“She never talks about it?”

“She never remembers.”

“I think I would remember what ever caused me to scream like that.”

“Are you sure you would want to? I think I would rather forget, or at least try my hardest too.” Yelps let that thought stay in the air for a moment. “Don’t mention this to her, she’s embarrassed by it, I think it’s quite painful for her.”

Justin thought for a moment, he drifted back to that sleep deprived moment back in the lab on the British base. Nina had joined him in the middle of the night, she seemed loathed to go back to bed, was this the reason why, did she fear her own dreams?

“Should we wake her?” Justin asked.

“It’s probably time we get going anyway, let’s wake everyone.”

Chapter 10

21:05 UTC, September 2nd 2010

Ryan’s Apartment, Toronto, Canada, Earth

Sirus crept down the corridor quietly, she didn’t want anyone to hear her as she moved, it would only have direr consequences. Sirus knew she would have to move quietly or risk being caught and would then have to suffer for her actions. This was a dangerous game she was playing, one where the prize was big but the risks were much much greater, her chances of succeeding were slim but she had a deep burning desire in her to at least try. Sirus moved slowly, she could see her end destination, her goal. Back in her military days, a lifetime ago, she had learnt how dangerous this part of the journey would be and how she needed to stay focused. All too many missions ended in tragedy because the last phase would go wrong. Sirus crept into the lounge to find Ryan sitting on the sofa holding a glass of wine out to her.

“How are the girls?” Ryan asked.

“SHUSSSHHH.” Sirus managed to yell whilst whispering as she closed the door behind her. “They are both down but we must be quiet.” Sirus continued to creep to the sofa and collapsed next to Ryan. Ryan promptly handed her a large glass of wine, however not large enough by Sirus’ estimation. “What are we watching?” Sirus asked as she snuggled next to her man.

“A documentary about the planet Mars.” Ryan replied. “I’ll switch it over, I know how you hate this stuff.”

“No it’s fine.” Sirus replied. “Keep it on if you’re watching it.” She felt so tired she would inevitably fall asleep before long. “What’s they saying?” She asked as she felt her eyelids growing heavy.

“They thing that there might once have been intelligent life on Mars.” Ryan sounded excited by the prospect.

“HA!” Sirus shouted loudly, waking herself up. “Yeah maybe.” She said sarcastically before stopping herself. Normally she held her guard, but when she was this sleepy it was easy for something to slip out. The truth was even after all this time she was still living a lie.

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked.

“Nothing.” Sirus hoped that would be the end of it. “Just watch your program.” Sirus thought for a moment. However did she get here? Here she was living with this man and now was a mother to two of the most beautiful little girls in the world. Ryan had a good job now with Invelcorp and she was able to do some freelance work for a local Aerospace company, working from home they didn’t ask to many awkward questions. This seemed like a dream at times, a wonderful dream. She lived in fear that at any moment she would awake and find herself back outside of the disciplinary hearing waiting to be summoned.

“Scientists now believe there is water on Mars, just below the surface.” The documentary presenter contiued. Sirus just smiled.

“Maybe.” Ryan interrupted. “Maybe one day humans could use the water on Mars to establish colonies.”

“Yeah maybe.” Sirus smirked. “Way off in the future, maybe they should get the permanent members of the security council to do it.” Sirus smirked again.

“What as a joint venture?”

“Yeah maybe.” Sirus knew she had to keep quiet, she was in danger of letting Ryan know too much. She rose from the sofa. “I’m going to bed. You stay and watch your documentary.” Sirus slipped slowly out of the room, taking her wine glass with her and headed towards her and Ryan’s bedroom. She placed the glass of wine on the side table and reached for her laptop she kept by the bed. Switching it on she waited as the glow from the monitor filled the room. Quickly she made the familiar mouse clicks until she reached the program she was looking for. She logged onto the chat room she regularly used as part of the Dark Net. Finding online a few people whom she trusted. Others who like her were on the run. One guy who had discovered some computer files at work, nothing to detailed but they mentioned words like Haissisut, Wenona Napl and Tufe. It had been enough for him to have to abandon his family and go on the run. He had been living in hiding for three years. Another person online tonight was a former recruiter. She had grown a concerns about the lives she had been forced to take and had sought sanctuary in the one place on Earth where she knew the MOA wouldn’t be able to find her. North Korea had taken her in as a defector. Luckily her military background was of interest to them, so much that she hadn’t needed to tell them anything about Mars. Now she lived on a compound not far from the Chinese boarder, mainly populated with cyber geeks and other key intellectuals of the state. The authorities allowed her access to the internet as she used it to feed them information, information that they could easily get from elsewhere. ‘Is there any news?’. Sirus typed the opening that she often used. ‘Nothing new’ was all that came back from the both of them. ‘It has been a while since we heard anything from the French base’. Sirus added. Nothing came back. Her screen fritzed with static. This was dangerous. Suddenly she heard a loud bang coming from the front door to the apartment. She leapt to her feet reaching for the gun she kept under the bed. She placed it down the back of her trousers, hoping it would be enough of a disguise. Slowly she walked into the corridor looking around. She could hear her children screaming for her, awakened by the noise. Every instinct as a mother told her to run to them, to protect them. But right now she had to shake off who she had become in the last few years and go back to being who she had been before, a woman on the run. She stepped slowly back into the lounge, preparing herself for what she might find there. What she found though startled her. A man was standing with Ryan pinned in a head lock and a gun pointing at Ryan’s head.

“Hello Captain.” The man spoke in a strong Chinese accent. The man, oriental in looks but his demeanour was much more western, he had obviously lived in North America for some time.

“He’s a civilian.” Sirus yelled angrily.

“A civilian who is living with an enemy of the state, who has fathered children with her.” The man summarised. “The People of China cannot tolerate this Captain.”

“He knows nothing.” Sirus begged. “Let him go, let him and the children go and take me instead. No-one else has to suffer.”

“A tempting offer Captain Sirus.” The man agreed. “However I plan on executing you all for your crimes.”

“I have not told them a thing. There is no need to kill them.” Sirus pleaded.

“How can I trust the word of an enemy of the state Captain.”

“You must have the wrong person.” Ryan struggled to say, his face turning purple. “Who is this Captain?”

“Not now Ryan.” Sirus blurted out.

“Captain Jennifer Sirus.” The man articulated softly. “Give me your gun.”

“We don’t have any guns.” Ryan replied in shock, feeling himself starting to black out. “We are both pro-gun control.”

“They always have a gun.” The man replied, almost laughing.

“Well we don’t.” Ryan reiterated, hoping to have made his point. Slowly Sirus reached round her back and removed her hand gun from its hiding place. Ryan looked on in shock.

“See.” The man smugly stated. “They always have a gun. It seems you don’t know your woman that well after all.”

“Let him go and I’ll give you the gun.” Sirus offered.

“Or how about I kill him and then you.” The man offered. “Your file suggested you were a good shot, but are you better than a career recruiter?” Sirus knew that this wasn’t going to end peacefully. She quickly fired the gun, aiming for the man’s foot. She just caught him, enough for the shock to cause him to release Ryan. Ryan quickly ran towards Sirus. She pushed Ryan out of the way and fired the gun again, this time at the man’s chest. He fell to the floor with a sudden thud. The life already taken from his eyes. She calmly walked over and fired again, this time at his head.

“That should do it.” She whispered. She turned to see Ryan, he looked scared. Sirus smiled at him and he recoiled. She realised he wasn’t scared of the man, but he was terrified of her.

“Hannah, what’s going on?” He asked, trying to sound calm.

“Pack.” Sirus ordered. “Get the girls and pack, take nothing you can’t carry, we have to leave in five minutes.”

“What is going on?” He questioned again.

“PACK!” Sirus yelled. She calmly walked out of the room and back into the bedroom. The first thing she saw when she got there was her discarded laptop lying on the bed. She guessed that this was what had led them to her. She fired her gun twice more at the laptop hoping it would be enough to destroy any evidence. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 11

09:00 MTC, April 8th 2017

Valles Marineris, Mars

The group walked, single file across the surface of Mars. The sun, much duller on Mars then on Earth, slowly rose up from the surface into the sky. It’s bright dazzling light much dimmer then that on Earth, through distance and the dusty air that filled the planet. Justin felt lonely in his space suit. The suit didn’t lend itself well to being part of a group. It was easy to feel isolated in what was essentially a one man vehicle, a box rather than a suit. He could see Nina directly in front of him and knew that Allan was behind but he felt alone. The sun was high in the sky, the red dust tinting it’s glow. Justin couldn’t believe where he was. He was on Mars, walking towards the horizon on this alien planet. He had a job, he had friends, some of whom he trusted, some he didn’t but he knew he was loving this. His thoughts turned to Jimbo and the gangs in Brixton, it seemed so distant right now, like those problems belonged to someone else, as if they were from a different life time. Up to a few weeks ago the most Justin could of hoped for from his life would be to get out of Brixton, get out of care and fend for himself building his own but ordinary life. Now he was here and getting to do something that millions of people dreamed every night of doing. Justin knew that there were people who dedicated their whole lives just to get to work with robots on Mars. This was a wonderful adventure, more then he could have hoped for and it filled his heart, his mind, his soul with joy, the kind of joy that not many kids who have lived their entire lives in care get to experience. Slowly though Justin’s thoughts began to drift back towards the woman he left behind, Susan. Justin knew that she would be hurt by his leaving, particularly in not saying goodbye. He then remembered the note he had left her, maybe it would be of some comfort to her, although he couldn’t imagine any words being that comforting. He could barely remember the words he had used, his mind had re-written that note over and over again in his head, trying to come up with more appropriate words then the ones he had used. Justin then thought about Carl, the young life starting out on the journey he had already been down. He hoped that Carl would be ok, that he would learn to trust again. Whoosh. Justin knew that he had hurt Susan but he had betrayed Carl. Whoosh. Justin looked around. He snapped back to reality as Allan jumped on him, throwing them both to the ground.

“Stay down.” Allan’s voice crackled over the intercom.

“Everyone alright?” Yelps’ voice followed. A succession of ‘oks’ came from everyone. Justin struggled to free himself, only really managing to get his head free from Allan’s body. He looked around at the scene, finding it hard at first to make out what was going on. Everyone was lying on the ground and watching. Whoosh. This time Justin was all too aware of what had gone whooshing past. He soon realised that the sound was coming through the intercom in his helmet, it must of originated from Itqoe’s mouth piece, the only one which was free and open to the Martian air. Justin looked on the ground and saw a metal spike about a foot in length. Allan motioned for Justin to stay where he was before twisting himself over and going for his gun. “Eye’s on.” Yelps’ voice had taken to a commanding tone. “Remember everyone, breathe.” Three more spikes landed by the group. “Count them.” Yelps sternly commanded.

“Six so far.” Allan replied. Then silence fell on the group. Justin thought that it must have all been over, whatever it was. Then suddenly a hail of laser bullets came flying from the distance. Justin instinctively covered his head in his arms and hands, closing his eyes, wanting to hide.

“Bearing 270, 70 yards.” Greg’s voice sounded calm and in control, distinctly different from his usual idiotic voice. This was the voice of a man not only accustomed to the violence which now surrounded them all but thrived on it, he was almost calmed by it. He had been trained for this, this he understood. Yelps and the two soldiers turned on their stomachs into the same direction and fired their rifles. A storm of bullets came from their guns. Itqoe turned and reached for a small hand gun which had been attached to his leg. He fired a few shots.

“Too short a range.” Yelps yelled, looking at his old friend. “Wait until they are closer.”

Justin didn’t like the sound of this, as bad as the situation already was, Yelps was expecting it to get worse. Justin took a deep breath. Then there was a loud thud ringing in his ears, a splatted and then static.

“Itqoe has been hit.” Allan calmly spoke over the intercom, barely audible over the static. “Nina can you reach his mic?” Nina then crawled forward, she reach over the remains of Itqoe’s skull, of which there wasn’t much, before managing to switch off his mic and ear piece.

“Breathe everyone.” Yelps spoke again. Justin was grateful for the reminder, the shock of what had just happened was too much for him. “We’re going to lose this fire fight.”

“Agreed.” Allan confirmed his commanding officers opinion. “There’s a ridge fifteen meters directly behind us. We can cover and hide.”

“That will bring them forward.”

“Itqoe‘s body should distract them long enough for us to escape.” Justin was struck by how crass this seemed. Itqoe was their friend, how could they describe his body like this?

“On my mark everybody, crawl backwards carefully. Allan you lead the way. Greg lay down covering fire with me. Understood?” Everyone nodded in reply.

“Three, two, one. Mark.” The firing from Yelps’ and Greg’s guns intensified. Panic stricken Justin tried to crawl backwards. The rough rocky Martian surface making it hard going as he went. Justin really wasn’t prepared for this. He had always suspected that he wouldn’t be much use in a firefight, now he was finding out first hand that it was true. Justin shimmed his way across the surface. He looked over his shoulder and saw that Nina was making better progress then he was. He guessed that she probably was more used to being under fire.

Suddenly in a flash Justin was back in Brixton. He was sitting at the table telling Susan about his day, maybe reading a story with Carl. It was late afternoon, the early evening light from the sun setting was bursting through the window. Justin would see the other kids from the home playing in the garden or watching TV. Without his body moving he floated upstairs into his old bedroom.

Then in a flash he was back on Mars again, still in trouble. He looked down and saw Nina’s gloved hand on his ankle. She had obviously come back to get him.

“If you can’t crawl then run, but keep down.” She said calmly over the intercom. With that both Nina and Justin rose to their feet and ran over to the ledge whilst bending down. The flurry of bullets seemed to increase as they ran. They dodged the oncoming fire power as it flew past all around them. As they reached Allan, who was already by the ledge, Nina put a hand on Justin’s back and pushed him to the floor. He came down with a skidding thud, his body moving across the red dusty surface, kicking several rocks as he moved. Justin swung himself around and only just managed to stop at the edge of the cliff in time, a few small rocks having been knocked by his boot began their long journey down the cliff face.

“Nina.” Allan called out over the radio. “In my back pack is the climbing rope.” Allan turned his body so Nina could reach the rope. She pulled it out and with it a metal pole that was about a foot long when fully extended. Allan took it and pulled the bottom section down about an inch. Three large spikes emerged from the pole with a violent spring. Allan took the rope from Nina and started attaching it to the pole. “There’s an oxygen cave about thirty foot down the cliff face. We can wait in there.” Allan took the pole and slammed it into the ground. One of the large spikes forcing its way into the rock. “You ever abseiled before?” Allan asked.

“Once.” Justin replied. “At an adventure camp social services had arranged for us.”

“Agh, you’ll be fine.” Allan turned to Nina. “Will you be alright?”

“Do I have a choice?” Nina’s voice had a hint of anxiety to it, but only because she was hiding the full body fear she was feeling.

“On your suit is a clip like this.” Allan pulled on a clip near the waist of his own suit. Justin looked down and noticed it on his own suit for the first time. “Just clip onto the rope.” Allan clipped himself on. “Ready?” Allan asked. Justin and Nina nodded. “I’ll go first.” Allan stood and then immediately disappeared, taking the rest of the rope with him. In an instant he was over the cliff edge and making his way down. Justin moved his body over to the edge and peered over. Allan was already nearly at the cave opening. Justin was surprised by how quick he had moved down. “Right I’m here.” Allan’s voice called over the radio as clear as it had been when he was standing next to the pair. “Nina you’re next coming down, Justin help her with her clip.” Justin looked nervously at the equipment, his short briefing before the mission was rapidly proving not to have been enough. His hands were shaking as he attached Nina to the rope. He looked her in the eyes, he could see her fear through the tinted visor.

“You alright?” Justin asked Nina, concerned for his friend.

“Just not very good with heights that’s all.” Nina looked down and started to shake some more.

“You’ll be fine.” Justin tried to reassure her. “The important thing is just to take your time.” With that Justin pushed Nina from the edge. She quickly flew down the rope, her adrenaline pumping, her heart pounding inside her chest. The red cliff face in front of her was passing by quickly and getting faster. The jagged rocks becoming a blur to her eyes, she was unable to keep up. She didn’t have much time left. Nina’s brain soon took over and she regained control of her descent. Nina hung still on the rope for a moment. She thought to herself ‘what was that advice Yelps was always going on about?’. Then she remembered. Breathe. Nina slowly lowered herself down. It was now only a few feet to the edge of the cliff. Allan grabbed her by the foot and pulled her into the cave. Her breathing was still manic, her heart was furiously pumping, she collapsed on the floor of the cave. Allan dragged her further in to the oxygen bubble. He released the catches on her helmet and slowly removed it.

“Is she alright?” Justin yelled over the intercom.

“She’ll be fine.” Allan replied. “She just needs to calm down. It’s your turn next.”

Justin looked over towards the fighting that was still raging. He could see Yelps and Greg were starting to fall back. Justin looked down and attached himself to the rope. He kicked off from the edge of the cliff and started to fall down. His descent getting faster and faster. Then suddenly he realised he had forgotten how to stop, he had no idea. He got faster and faster. Panic flushed across his face. Sweat was pouring down his forehead. He panicked some more. Then suddenly he came to a crashing halt. He looked down and saw Allan’s hand on his leg.

“Don’t worry I’ve got you.” Allan calmly spoke over the intercom. Allan slowly pulled Justin into the cave, uncoupling him from the rope as he did so.

“Yelps and Greg were right behind me.” Justin reported.

“They won’t come down until the job is done.” Allan replied before heading further into the cave to see to Nina. She was now sat upright with her head in between her knees. Justin released his helmet clumsily and sat down next to her. He put his arm on her back.

“Sorry about that.” Nina spoke in between breaths. “Not very good at heights.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Justin rubbed her back as he spoke, trying to give her support. “You’re alright now.” Justin added with a whisper. Nina leant into Justin, forcing his arm into a hug. They leant against the wall of the cave for a few minutes, pulled into their own little world. Justin started getting self-conscious about it.

“Who were they?” Justin asked. Nina just looked up at him, still lightly panicked but also with a look of scolding him for breaking apart their little world.

“That was the Weona Napl.” Allan replied. “Probably a small patrol group.”

“Did they throw spears at us?” Justin had been shocked by the start of the attack, he just expected Martians to have ray guns, not spears.

“We call them harpoon spears.” Allan explained, without really explaining anything at all.

“They attach to the main weapon.” Nina added, still trying to calm herself down. “All Weona Napl warriors fire their harpoon spears first.” Nina was starting to breathe normally again by now. Concentrating on describing the harpoon spears to Justin was helping her to calm down. “It’s a point of honour for them.”

“That’s why Yelps wanted to know how many spears had been fired.” Allan added.

“So he knew how many soldiers they had?” Justin was starting to understand.

“Exactly.” Allan confirmed.

“But what if they held some back to hide their numbers?” The whole idea seemed strange to Justin.

“They wouldn’t.” Allan snapped back.

“But what if…”

“They couldn’t.” Nina interrupted Justin. “It’s all to do with their warrior code, it’s a big part of their faith.” Nina could see that Justin still didn’t get it. “To the Weona Napl being a warrior is devoting their lives to their faith, their faith demands they conduct themselves in certain ways, including the firing of spears to show aggression.”

“What?” Justin asked, still not really believing what he was being told.

“It’s beyond important to them, it’s something they don’t even think about doing before they do it. It’s as compulsive to them as tying your shoe laces when you put your boots on.” Nina had grown exhausted by Justin, she still couldn’t understand how this guy had made it this far onto Mars.

“Is anyone else surprised that they had lasers?” Justin asked.

“They weren’t lasers.” Nina said. “They are a long cylinder that glows due to friction in the air. They are more similar to bullets really.”

“We like to think of them as lasers though.” Allan added. “It makes it more spacey.”

Chapter 12

12:00 MTC, April 8th 2017

Valles Marineris, Mars

Yelps looked around the cave they now found themselves in. There was plenty of oxygen in this bubble and the tanks on the suits were filling up. He looked around at the small group of his team. They were all sitting on the cave floor in a circle cross legged and facing each other. Nina had found a bright flashlight and had put it in the middle of the group. Ration packs had been handed out and they were sharing food together.

“We only just made it, they weren’t bad shots.” Greg’s accent punctuated the air as he took another bite of the ration pack. “They know we’re here, Major.”

“They sure do.” Yelps replied before turning back to the rest of the group. He looked each one of them in the eye. “So we can’t stay here long, another ten minutes and then we need to head back, agreed.”

“What about Itqoe?” Justin asked. Everyone looked away, not wanting to make eye contact with him. Yelps leant down next to where Justin was sitting.

“He’s dead, we can’t retrieve his body and even if we could we couldn’t carry it.” Yelps tried to smile a sympathetic smile but couldn’t quite manage the sincerity.

“So we’re just going to leave him, even those raiders got a burial.” Justin shouted at the top of his voice.

“We can’t afford the time.” Yelps tried to spell it out to Justin, forgetting just how young he was, just how little war he had seen.

“You’re supposed to be a Marine, what happened to leave no man behind?” Justin snapped back.

“In case you hadn’t noticed he’s a Martian, not exactly a man.” Yelps retorted, hoping that would be the end of the matter. He immediately regretted saying it. He didn’t think about Martians like that, although he knew others did.

“Not exactly a man! He was supposed to be your friend.” Justin barked at the experienced soldier. Yelps’ face turned red with anger, purple with rage before turning white from lack of air. He breathed in deeply.

“He was my friend.” Yelps whispered under his breath with the sort of calm tone that can only be used by a truly angry man. “After this mission I will mourn him.” Yelps took a deep breath again. “But right now I can worry about the one dead member of this team out there or the five live ones in here.” Yelps picked up his gun which was resting against the wall of the cave and took himself off into the corner. He started to strip down the weapon, cleaning it as he went. Nina leant in to Justin.

“He’s right you know.” Nina whispered to Justin.

“Yeah well I don’t know that.” Justin snapped back. He had assumed on Mars the scarcity of life had made it more valuable, something to be treasured, it turns out on Mars life was cheaper than it was on the streets of Brixton.

“Well he does know it.” Nina replied, trying to comfort Justin. “We all do. Keeping us alive is more important. Itqoe would have known that too.” Nina smiled at Justin.

“What about his beliefs, what about a proper burial?”

“The Haissisut aren’t that fussed.” Nina tried telling the harsh truth as best she could. “They have a lose belief system but they aren’t that fussed by it, they certainly aren’t bound by it.”

“No beliefs at all?”

“Well some, but nothing concerning burial or anything we would see as a spirituality.” Nina tried smiling again. “Try taking on some water, we have a long walk ahead of us.” Nina rose and tried to walk away.

“Then why are we doing this, why are we bothering?” Justin asked.

“Because they are our friends.” Nina spoke softly and sweetly. “And they need our help. Sometimes friends need help.”

Chapter 13

14:00 MTC, April 8th 2017

Valles Marineris, Mars

Smythe looked at the bank of monitors in the control room. Suddenly a green blip on the radar screen caught his eye. The buzzers and alerts which always accompanied anything unexpected started to fill the quiet still room. Smythe pressed the cancel button on the alarm.

“What is it?” Smythe asked the room, looking around at the various personnel sitting at their assigned stations.

“Incoming Jumper sir.” Cooper replied.

“There’s nothing expected today is there?” Smythe already knew the answer but he wanted to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. A look of worry approached Smythe’s face and made him frown. A thousand possibilities passed into his thoughts but he managed to quiet them all with an air of professionalism.

“No sir.” Cooper answered. “It appears to be Governor Mead’s personal jumper sir.” Cooper turned from the monitor he was viewing to look at Smythe. “He’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“Well we were expecting him to join our little party.” Smythe took in a deep breath. “Have the VIP quarters readied. It looks like we are receiving a visitor.” Smythe took in a deep breath again and sat in his chair at the head of the briefing table. There he waited, mentally preparing himself for what was to come. He knew that Smythe would want to take credit for the mission if it was a success and would want to be in a position to blame Smythe if it failed. Smythe had a difficult relationship with Mead. Having been one of the original settlers on Mars Smythe was admired by most of the other station commanders and those of high ranking on Mars. Mead was a career politician who although once may have had a vital role on Mars was now nothing more than the ruling leader. The post of governor was an elected post, elected by all those of officer ranking on Mars. Mead was the most successful skilled politician on the planet and a man who could induce fear in those he saw as a threat to his job. When the post of governor had been created no-one had considered what would become of an ex-governor. That was a thought that had pre-occupied Mead and Smythe knew that made him dangerous. Mead’s unexpected arrival at this time was just another of his subtle ways of making Smythe aware of who was in control of human operations on Mars.

Chapter 14

15:00 MTC, April 8th 2017

Valles Marineris, Mars

Justin looked on, staring at the back of Nina’s helmet. The group had moved on and were heading deeper into the cave, the only light coming from the torches on the side of their helmets. They had long since left the oxygen bubble and continued on their journey. Justin had never been in such a dark place before. There was no natural light and from what Justin could tell no light had even shone here before, not only were they the first humans to tread this path, they were the first lifeforms to ever tread into this cave. Justin looked down at his arm, the read out looked normal to him. He chuckled slightly to himself. ‘Normal’. Here he was trekking in a cave, not a normal situation for him. He was part of a military squad, also not a normal situation for him. He was wearing a space suit, certainly not a normal situation for him. Weirdest of all, he was on Mars, not a normal situation for anyone. Justin looked on, trying to take in as much of his surroundings as he could. Everyone was trying to keep a good pace, they were hoping that the path which led further into the cave would eventually come out onto the surface of the planet. It seemed to Justin though that it was just getting deeper and deeper, darker and darker. His suit beeped once again. It had done this since he had put his helmet on, periodically making a little beep to itself. Justin wasn’t convinced that heading further into the cave would lead them to the water supply. But he had to acknowledge that they looked to be heading closer to the co-ordinates he had worked out back on the British base. It seemed to Justin that if water had once flowed on Mars then it was entirely possible that this cave had been formed by flowing water. Geology had never been his best subject at school, but he had read some of the books in the local library, usually when he wanted a break from the physics or maths he was really interested in. It sort of made sense to Justin that if the water was a natural source then maybe rivers had flowed from it along through the rock. The rocky surface of the floor cracked as he walked along, the edges of the small rocks clicking against each other. Justin’s suit beeped again. He kept walking on. The limited light made it difficult for him to see the path in front of him. He guessed that they were now walking up hill, it seemed to be getting harder to move. Justin had been surprised how easily he had grown accustomed to the low gravity on Mars, the important thing seemed to be to keep movements light and simple. Perhaps that was the reason why now he was having to put in what seemed like so much effort to walk. Justin’s suit beeped again. This was starting to annoy him.

“Hey Nina.” Justin called over the intercom. “How do I make the suit stop beeping?”

“It’s beeping?” Nina asked, concern featuring in her voice.

“Yeah, has been for a while. How do I switch it off? It’s getting really annoying.”

“Everyone stop.” Nina called out and the group stopped, Justin nearly walked into the back of Nina. “When did it start?”

“When we put the helmets back on. It’s like this old phone I had, that would beep randomly for no reason, it’s used to drive me crazy.”

“Justin let me look.” Nina turned, she busily typed into her arm computer. “Justin you’re losing oxygen.”

“What?”

“You’ve got less than three percent left.”

“How long is that?”

“Minutes, try not to panic.” Nina’s voice said over the intercom as she looked up at him.

“Oh great! So don’t panic about the fact that my suit is losing oxygen.” All sorts of scary scenarios started running through his head.

“Stay still.” Nina grabbed Justin with both arms. “I’m changing the setting. The oxygen will be thinner but it might buy us some time.”

“Don’t worry.” Allan added. “It’s just like breathing at altitude back on Earth.”

“Hurry Nina.” Yelps spoke over the intercom as he looked around the cave.

“Ok that’s done.” Nina looked up at Justin’s eyes. She could tell that the lack of oxygen was already effecting him. “Hold on Justin, I’m going to have to find the fault.”

“Is it the seals?” Yelps asked.

“I don’t think so, they seem to be holding firm.” Nina replied.

“Don’t worry Justin.” Greg spoke out. “Nina’s a great technician, she’ll be able to get it sorted in no time.”

“I’m not so sure about that.” Nina added.

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to panic.” Justin forced himself to speak, it sounded wraspy and laboured. “That isn’t helping.”

“Don’t talk.” Nina tapped him on the chest. “You need to conserve the oxygen. Everyone help me to lay him down.” Allan and Greg moved round and helped to gently put Justin onto the floor. Yelps just looked on, keeping a watchful eye on the passage way. “I need to get his chest plate off.” Nina opened up one of the pockets on her leg and took out a small screwdriver. She slowly started to unscrew the tiny screws which were holding Justin’s suit together. “Time check.”

“Not enough.” Allan replied.

“Thanks for the support guys.” Nina replied in a mutter. Nina continued to remove the screws. They were caked in the Martian dust and didn’t free up easily, but steadily Nina succeeded and she removed the chest plate. Underneath the plate there was a mass of wires. All different colours and in a spaghetti style mess. Nina took a deep breath and started to try and make sense of what was happening. She grabbed Justin’s arm and looked at the computer. “I think it’s the high pressure valve.”

“Can you fix it?” Yelps asked.

“We don’t have a spare.” Nina replied. The group fell silent as they contemplated Justin’s fate. “There’s a chance I can fix this.”

“Allan come here.” Yelps ordered. Allan started to shimmy his way around to his commander. “The suit spares are in my back pack.” Yelps turned so that his back was to Allan. “There is a two metre hose in there, take it out and hand it to me.”

“Aye sir.” Allan confirmed the order.

Nina carried on trying to make sense of the problem. She put her fingers into the chest space and tried to feel around.

“I can’t find the valve.” She cried out. “It’s in here somewhere.” Nina carried on looking. “He’s real low on oxygen now.”

“Get out the way.” Yelps yelled, pushing Nina from her task. She fell onto the ground as she pulled herself up ready to scream at Yelps she noticed the line now attached to Justin’s suit. It was the one from Yelps’ back pack and it was plugged into his own suit. “There you go Justin, breathe easily.”

“Major that won’t last long.” Nina knew he was being brave, but all he had really done was put both him and Justin in danger.

“Then fix the problem. Allan take the scanner and scout up ahead, we are going to need another oxygen bubble, find one.”

“Aye sir.” Alan yelled as he started to head off. Nina returned to her work and started to look once more for the faulty valve.

“Got it.” Nina cried out. “It’s jammed open.”

“Can you fix it Nina?” Yelps asked.

“No.” Nina looked directly into Yelps’ eyes. It was as if she could pass through her own visor and his and look right into him. “I can’t fix it.”

“Nina, at some point…” Yelps calmly spoke, hiding his own fear.

“I know.” Nina interrupted, she didn’t want to hear the rest, she already knew what he was saying.

“At some point I’m going to have to decide how much of my oxygen I’m prepared to give to Justin.” Yelps finished what he was saying. “I won’t allow anyone else to give up their air.”

“I think there might be a way.” Nina’s voice was suddenly full of hope. “If I can block the pipe leading to the valve it might be enough.”

“Do it.” Yelp ordered. He then sat himself down next to Justin. “Quickly now.” Nina reached back into her leg pocket and pulled out a roll of tape. “Electrical tape?” Yelps asked.

“Never leave home without it.” Nina replied. She quickly taped the tube shut, squeezing in the sides of the tube. Nina then taped up the valve. “That’ll hold, it’s not perfect but at least it will work.”

“Great.” Yelps replied. “I’ll pump more air into his suit.” Yelps tapped some commands into his computer. “Justin do you hear us, are you awake?”

“Yeah.” Justin replied, trying to force himself to speak. “Just about.”

“Good.” Yelps was relieved to hear Justin’s voice again. “I’m going to pump more air into your suit, you’ll soon be fine.” Allan came back along the path.

“There’s a small oxygen pocket about five hundred metres up ahead.” Allan spoke over the intercom. “It’s not much but it’ll be enough, just. You’ll need to force your way through a small crack into a tiny space but it will work.”

“Great.” Yelps acknowledged. “Justin and I will go and fill our suits. Everyone else ok for air?”

“I would like to go into the bubble too.” Nina added. “That fix isn’t great, there was only so much I could do with my gloves on, if I can take them off I can fix it better.”

“Not enough air.” Allan added.

“Will the fix hold?” Yelps asked.

“For now, but it could be better.” Nina replied.

“It will have to do for now then, we can fix it later.” Yelps stood up, helping Justin as he did so. Yelps looked at Justin’s face. “You alright to walk?”

“I think so.” Justin answered.

“Great.” Yelps turned and started to walk forward. “We’re still joined so try to match my pace.” The two men walked ahead of the group. Greg, Allan and Nina followed. Everyone was concerned that this wouldn’t work but no-one spoke about it. There was nothing that they could say that would make the situation any better. It wasn’t ignoring the situation, it was acknowledging that dwelling on it would only make it worse. Slowly the group moved forward, stepping carefully, hoping nothing else would go wrong. They eventually reached a small hole in the side of the wall, just about big enough for someone to crawl through.

“Here it is.” Allan declared. “It opens up, you both should be able to stand up in there, just.”

“Will they be able to get out?” Nina asked.

“We’ll have to risk it.” Yelps responded. Yelps was worrying about the same thing but knew there was nothing he could do about it, they had to take this risk. “Help us up here, we have to get through.”

Chapter 15

05:17 UTC, September 3rd 2010

Abandoned Warehouse, Toronto, Canada, Earth

“Tell me the truth.” Ryan spoke in a cold voice, one that lacked his usual charm and charisma. “Who are you?” Sirus looked around the room. A cold, abandoned warehouse where years before she had stashed some tins of food, just in case of such an eventuality. Ryan sat opposite her on a wooden crate, she was also on a wooden crate, their two girls trying to sleep in the corner of the room. Sirus looked around the room, piles of old bricks and wood lay around, the ceiling was more missing then present. This was rock bottom for her, the time for lies and protection was over. She was ten feet away from the man she loved and they had never been further apart since the day they met in that coffee shop.

“My name is Captain Jennifer Sirus of the United States Air Force, Retired.” She proclaimed, trying to smile.

“Not Hannah?” Ryan asked.

“Not Hannah no.” She conceded softly.

“Why did that man want to kill you?” Ryan asked another question, he thought for a moment and then added. “Why did he want to kill me and my daughters?” He could see that Sirus was thinking for a moment. “You hesitate?”

“I can tell you, but I can’t un-tell you.” Sirus hoped that Ryan could tell that she was trying to protect him, trying to keep him away from the horrible truth that could destroy them both.

“Don’t speak in riddles Jennifer.” Ryan dismissed her, speaking her name with such venom, such hatred, a tone of voice that Sirus hadn’t heard him use before. “They are trying to kill my children, I deserve to know why.”

“They’re my children too.” Sirus objected, almost in tears.

“Maybe.”

“Don’t be cruel Ryan. You’re not a cruel person.”

“People behave differently when they have been betrayed by the one they love.” Ryan spat.

“Ok the truth.” Sirus said softly, wondering where to start. “I used to work for the US Air Force. I was a pilot, a good one.” She tried to smile, wanting to show the pride she had felt back then long ago. “I was seconded out to a secret organisation loosely associated with the United Nations.” Sirus hoped that she could keep the detail down to the minimum. “I made a mistake and was sentenced to death, but before I could be executed I managed to escape and went on the run until I met you.”

“Details Captain.” Ryan ordered.

“Ryan I can’t.” Sirus pleaded with him.

“Details.”

“Ryan, it will cost you your life.”

“A price that it seems has already been paid. Details.”

“The organisation I worked for wasn’t based here.”

“Canada?” He asked quizzically.

“Earth.” Sirus said, the lone word punctuated the air and hang there for a moment. “Ryan I worked for an organisation called the Martian Operations Agency. A secret group that operates colonies on the planet Mars.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“If I was going to lie don’t you think I would make it more believable then this.” Sirus was already exhausted as she spoke. She wished she could have thought of a lie that would have been more plausible then the truth. “Right now there are colonies on Mars and,” Sirus paused for a moment, knowing how strange the next part would sound. “Right now they are fighting the native population.”

“Martians?” Ryan queried what he was being told.

“Yes.” Sirus closed her eyes. “It was my job to ferry people and supplies from Earth to Mars aboard a ship called the Santa Maria, it was a Zeppelin class space ship.”

“What are you telling me Hannah.” Ryan was almost sobbing by now. “Jennifer.” He corrected himself.

“The truth, at long last I am telling you the truth.”

“Did you love me?” Ryan asked.

“I still do.” Sirus was crying, her heart breaking as she spoke to the man she had betrayed, put in danger, lied to and loved.

“Were you using me?” Ryan asked.

“I was happy with you, happier then I had ever been.”

“Why were the Chinese after you?” Ryan asked.

“The MOA is made up of Russian, British, French, American and Chinese governments not to mention other members of the UN. They all work together to keep the secret. In the past I have had agents from eight different countries try to hunt me down.”

“Have you killed before?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know that one day they would come for you?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know that you were putting the girls’ lives in danger.”

“Yes.” She whispered, almost choking on the words.

“But you said you loved me.” Ryan muttered, the tears rolling down his face.

“Yes.”

“Where will my girls be safe?”

“They are my girls too.”

“I said where will my girls be safe.” Ryan sounded angry now. He announced every word carefully, trying to control his anger but his eyes betraying how he was truly feeling.

“They won’t be. The best we can do is hide.”

“I’ll hide, you will run.” Ryan stated. “The further you keep away from my girls the better.”

“You can’t do that.” Sirus expressed, feeling the hypocrisy raising up from within her, she wanted him and the children to come, but knew it would be putting them in danger. She thought for a moment. “You know how to protect them do you?” She asked. “You know how to kill those who will come after you?” She looked at him and for the first time in this conversation he looked at her too. “You think you can protect them, you’re not a killer Ryan.”

“I could kill to protect them.”

“I meant it as a compliment, not an insult.” She said sympathetically.

“Why won’t they leave you alone?”

“I made a mistake, mistakes can’t be tolerated.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess I make them look bad.”

“What mistake?”

“A bad one.” Sirus looked towards one of the windows, broken glass with a rusty frame, the remaining glass covered in grime and dirt. The beginning of the sun’s rays starting to filter through the muck covered window. “The sun is coming up.” She whispered slowly.

“The start of a new day.” Ryan whispered back. Glad for the conversation to change, he wanted anything that resembled normality at this point.

“What are we going to do?” Sirus asked.

“We run.” Ryan conceded. “We run far and fast and we hide, we figure out how to undo all this and we end it.”

“Together?” Sirus asked, her voice full of hope.

“Together.” Ryan admitted that he needed her. “But don’t think that everything is ok between us, we are still broken.”

“I understand.” Sirus said. “I guess it really is the start of a new day.” Sirus looked out the window again. She decided that being on the run with the love of her life and her two children wasn’t that bad, even if he didn’t love her back anymore and would never trust her to be alone with the girls again. It wasn’t going to be much of a life but at least she was still alive and they were together. She was worried about Ryan though, she had grown used to never seeing her real family and friends again. That was something he was going to have to grow used too. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 16

16:30 MTC, April 8th 2017

Valles Marineris, Mars

Justin slowly crawled his way out of the cavern. His helmet was firmly screwed on and thanks to Nina’s fix his suit was full of air and functioning normally. Nina grabbed him by the shoulders.

“You alright?” She asked over the intercom.

“Yeah fine.” Justin replied. “Did you hear any of that?”

“No, why? What did you two talk about?”

“I’ll tell you later, when we are alone.” Justin turned and started walking. Allan and Greg helped to pull Yelps out of the tight passage.

“Let’s move.” Yelps ordered. The group slowly started back on their journey.

Nina couldn’t help but drift into her own thoughts. She was getting tired, her body was aching, it wasn’t used to having to move the weight of the suit. The darkness of the cave came in again, then the cave would open up. They kept on walking. Nina’s thoughts went in a flood, what had happened with Yelps and Justin? What would her parents think of her on this mission? What would they find when they reached the co-ordinates? Would they get out of Weona Napl territory alive? Then her thoughts would spin round all those questions again. She drifted off in her head, not really concentrating on what she was doing, not really paying attention to the long walk.

After several hours Nina was surprised to realise that natural light was drifting into the cave, they had made it to an exit. Yelps stopped the group.

“This looks like it.” Yelps called over the radio.

“I knew there would be a way out.” Greg excitedly add. “Allan you owe me fifty.”

“I never bet you.” Allan immediately blurted out to his defence.

“Yes you did.”

“Aye I did, fair enough.” Allan quickly resigned himself to paying the debt. “Still at least we can finally crawl out.”

“It’s a little tight.” Yelps said. “But we should all be able to make our way through. Greg you follow me, then Nina and Justin, Allan you bring up the rear.”

Everyone nodded in accordance. Slowly Yelps and Greg disappeared through the small gap. Moments passed by but it seemed like an eternity to Nina.

“It’s all clear.” Yelps called over the intercom.

Nina made her way to the small crack in the rocks. She tried to squeeze her way through, she was the slimmest of the team but it was still tight for her. Slowly she fought her way through to the open air of Mars’ surface. Justin seemed to follow her almost immediately. Shortly followed by Allan.

“Where are we?” Nina asked.

Yelps typed into the computer on his sleeve.

“You see that opening in the rocks.” Yelps pointed to an opening that couldn’t have been more than a hundred metres away. “That’s the co-ordinates.” Everyone looked at each other in amazement. “Let’s go and take a look.”

They walked in silence, no one believing that they had actually made it. As they reached the opening the group stopped and all looked at each other.

“This is it.” Allan said over the intercom, he felt that someone needed to say something.

“Let’s see if you were right maths boy.” Yelps added. “According to the scanner there’s oxygen inside, that’s probably a good sign.” The group slowly entered into the cave. No-one could quite believe what they saw.

Part 4: Discovery

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[] Chapter 1

20:30 MTC, April 8th 2017

Lake Cavern, Valles Marineris, Mars

Nina couldn’t believe it, in all her life she had never seen so much water. The cave was ginormous. A mass of water sat still like a lake. The entrance gave way to a rocky shore that slipped into the water. The walls with solid large rock pieces. Light only coming in from the entrance, but it seemed to fill the space, making it only look dim not black. With this find the Haissisut water problems could be over, for generations. She knelt down by the shore of the massive lake. Nina remove the gloves and helmet from her suit and placed them by her side. Closing her eyes she cupped her hands into the water. It felt cool and fresh against her skin, she couldn’t believe how wonderful it felt. She had never realised before how the cleaning chemicals in the base’s water systems had made the water harsh and almost chalk like. Here however the water felt clean, crisp and cold, was this how water was supposed to feel like? Nina brought the water up to her lips. Slowly sipped the water cupped in her hands. It tasted, it tasted like nothing, no chlorine, no sweeteners nothing. It tasted good. Nina opened her eyes and surveyed the lake before her. It looked beautiful, like the sun, the moons and the universe itself had left a little gift for all of her senses to enjoy, and it was just for her. Light from their torches bounced playfully off the still surface. Nina could smell the rocks, the water, the still air, it was like looking into a time capsule and seeing the very birth of creation itself. Nina closed her eye once again and raised her hand up to hold back her hair. She leant forward and dipped her head into the water.

Justin looked on in bemusement. He had never seen anyone behave like this at the mere sight of water. It seemed to Justin that Nina was treating the water as sacred, to him she had always seemed cold but this sight was making her seem warm. He took a couple of steps towards Nina, then stopped. Suddenly the thought of all of those early morning showers back in Brixton came to mind. Justin thought about how those precious few minutes mattered to him, being alone, feeling the water cleansing his body, after all Nina had done for him in the past few days he could give her this. Justin decided to give her some privacy and turned to look at the rock face walls of the cavern. There were faint markings against them, similar to those on the tablets but much more worn . These must have been thousands upon thousands of years old. Although he couldn’t read them he guessed that they told the story of Mars. They would tell about the once great empire that crossed the entire planet, the unity of one people getting ready to venture into the solar system and beyond. He shone his torch light on a picture that he guessed was a representation of the solar system. He could make out simple detail of each of the planets, Mars’ canals, Jupiter’s red spot and Earth’s continents. Next to the Earth was a picture of the moon, the only moon shown on the graphic, and on that was an X. Below there seemed to be a strange shape carved into the rock.

“Yelps.” Justin called out and the major came running over. “Isn’t that the lunar probe, the one that sent the message to Apollo 8?”

“I guess so.” The major replied. He looked around the cavern in amazement. “This must be where the journey started, thousands of years ago, and now this is where it ends.” Yelps walked away from Justin and continued to look on into the dark deep cavernous cave. He couldn’t believe the sight before him. When Yelps had joined the Marine Corps all those years ago he joined in the hope of doing some good. In the sight of such beauty his mind turned to the ugliness he had seen in his life. Of his parents mangled bodies, of Afghanistan, of bombs and mothers cradling their children, of Martians killing each other over some blood feud no-one could remember how it had started, of lies, of politics and of threats. Maybe, if this was where all of that was leading him, then maybe in some weird way it was worth it. This water would mean so much to so many, Haissisut, Weona Napl, Human, this was going to bring all those who had long been suspicious of each other together. Yelps couldn’t help but smile when he thought about the small part he had played and how maybe the future would be better than the past after all.

Something didn’t feel right to Allan. This seemed a little too easy, too much like a come on. Here was this massive water supply, a resource that both the Haissisut and Weona Napl needed. This was life itself and in greater quantity then either race had ever imagined and it was sitting here in the Weona Napl territory being unused. By now the Weona Napl should have at least stumbled on it even without the tablets. This was just a little too convenient for Allan. He constantly kept his torch on the horizon. As far as he could tell the cavern went on for ever, reaching further and further back into the deep blackness before him. Allan kept a finger tight against the trigger of his gun, ready to fire at an enemy that for all he knew wasn’t there. Another finger was resting next to the power button for his suit mounted torch, he wanted to be able to switch it off if he was in a rush to do so. Allan kept his feet moving, slowly but deliberately, trying to scan as much of the area as possible whilst keeping himself moving and harder to hit. Allan could see Yelps moving away from Justin and slowly he walked towards the Major.

“This doesn’t feel right.” Allan spoke in the softest whisper possible but the sound still carried, bouncing off of the cold rock walls. Allan could see Yelps’ eyes, calculating the situation.

“You’re right.” Yelps whispered even softer. “Let’s not spend any longer here then we have to, collect the samples we need and then let’s get out of here.”

Greg was at the back of the group. He could tell Allan was thinking something was wrong, but he didn’t know what. Greg checked his weapon over, it was loaded and ready to fire. He looked around for cover, there was precious little of that. Slowly and without looking down Greg knelt down and picked up his helmet. He slowly rose and put the helmet on, he keyed in the pressurisation process but didn’t hit the enter key. Greg wanted to be ready, he had no idea what for or even if there was any danger but he had learnt long ago that when Allan was nervous you should be nervous to and from Yelps’ body language he was on edge as well. Greg heard a swoosh noise. A moment passed. Then he could feel the sharp sting of the metallic harpoon spear which was now implanted in his left shoulder. He fell and hit the ground, hard.

The next ten seconds were a blur to Justin. The next thing he knew he was on the ground, lying next to Nina who was on her front. Allan was in front of them kneeling. Allan had pushed Justin to the floor and dragged Nina up from the water. Now his gun was firing for all his worth, emptying its contents, the discarded shells falling onto the Martian surface. The volley of harpoon spears had ended. Justin thought about what he could do to help, he didn’t have a gun and even if he did he wouldn’t know how to use it. Then Justin remembered what he had been told about the spears when they had been attacked by the Weona Napl before. He looked down at the ground and could see four spears lying around them. There didn’t seem to be any around Yelps. One spear had come to rest in the wall, the final one was in Greg’s shoulder.

“Six spears.” Justin yelled out. “There’s six spears.” At least now Allan and Yelps would know how many Weona Napl would be firing at them. Sure it wasn’t much but Justin had known all his life that the key to solving any problem was information.

“Thanks.” Yelps yelled back.

Justin looked over at Greg. He couldn’t see any signs of life but knew he had to try and save the man who had become a friend to him in the past few days. As Justin crawled his way over to Greg he thought about how this band of brothers had become friends to him. He looked over his shoulder at Yelps, in many ways a dysfunctional father figure to Justin. He looked at Allan, his older brother and then looked at Nina. Who was she, was she his sister, that seemed wrong, especially because, because of what? What was it he was feeling towards her? Arriving at Greg’s feet slapped Justin back into the moment. He shook Greg’s feet and then rocked back.

“He’s alive.” Justin yelled back.

Then there was a static crackling sound in his ear.

“Intercom.” Yelps’ voice came through in his ear.

“Greg is alive.” Justin spoke into his mic.

The volley of laser bullets came through the air, it seemed non-ending to Justin. The sound of them flying through the air caused a screeching high pitched whine that Justin had never heard before and hoped he never would again. The oxygen rich air had changed how the laser bullet flew through the air, now they burnt their way across on a cascade of flame. The caverns ceiling had been lit up by the trailing light coming from the bullets. Yelps and Allan replied with even more fire power. They could tell that they had managed to hit some of the attacking assailants, but the volley of laser bullets continued. Justin threw himself onto Greg’s chest and face, being careful to miss the spear. He didn’t know what to do, should he take it out or leave it in?

Allan stood up to try and get a better view of the oncoming enemy. Then a Weona Napl soldier came flying from the cavern ceiling. He landed directly onto Allan. Allan fell to the ground, surprised by the attack, his gun flying across the floor. The two wrestled for life and to kill the other one. Nina jumped to her feet and ran to the gun. She picked it up and held it to the Weona Napl’s head. Justin looking on rose to his feet as well and ran over to Nina. He knew what she was trying to do but he didn’t want to see her become a killer, he had seen what that had done to people back home and didn’t want that to happen to her. He grabbed the gun from her hands. Maybe if he became a killer she wouldn’t have to.

“STOP!” Yelled a Martian voice from the distance and almost in an instance the fighting stopped.

Chapter 2

15:00 MTC, October 2nd 2007

High Court, Weona Napl City, Chryse Planitia, Mars

Qaje knew his whole life that he wanted to be a priest in the Weona Napl high court. This was the day it would finally happen. He looked out onto the Wivisan stone steps of his ancestors. The electric lights filled the cave he had for ever called home. The whole area looked very fine but the temple itself was resplendent if fine gems and bright coloured fabrics draping the ancient stone structure. The high priest before him was dressed in the Wivisan robes of his people a sign of their faith, handed down throughout the millennia. The soldiers of the Weona Napl guard stood either side of the two Martians dressed the latest battle armour and weapons. They each held a large spear like staff which was specially reserved for those who guarded the high command of the Weona Napl. This mix of ancient and modern was not strange to Qaje, he had known it his whole life. In the pursuit of technology, it was important to respect the past. This was a mantra that every Weona Napl knew and they were critical of the Haissisut for forgetting it. Qaje thought back to his young school days and his studying for his priesthood assessments. All those years of learning were now over, today he was being made a priest of the high court and his dream would become reality. He had worked amongst his people, he had provided comfort to the Weona Napl guard in combat and preached in the various churches across every clan of his faith. Born during the war he knew too well what would happen if his people forgot their beliefs once again. He hoped, like many Weona Napl for the day when they could join once again with their simple Haissisut brothers and build Mars back into an empire of peace, technology and faith. But for now such grand thoughts and desires were foolish, a false hood and unwillingness to accept the situation as it was. Qaje looked out over the scene. Everyone had turned out for this appointing of a new high priest as was the custom and the expectance. The high priest put the robes onto Qaje, now his dream was complete he had become the man that he had always wanted to be. The high priest conducting the ceremony leant forward and whispered to Qaje.

“There is another prophecy you don’t know about, we have a special mission for you.”

Qaje was intrigued. The ceremony lasted several more hours so his curiosity would be forced to wait for now. Gifts and sacrifices were offered up by each of the clans. Every segment of Weona Napl society gave to the alter before a big feast and celebration. The artisans brought forward new technology and sculptures, the farmers gave food and livestock, the guards laid their weapons down at the feet of the alter. The appointing of a new senior priest was a rare occasion and one for much celebration. The crowd for the feast was less segregated then the ceremony had been and everyone mingled. They all wanted to talk with Qaje and been seen with this holy symbol of not just their faith but of their society as a whole. Qaje slowly moved through the crowd, thanking well-wishers and bestowing blessing where it was needed, he deliberately moved himself towards the high priest who stood still and waited for Qaje’s arrival.

“You mentioned a prophecy I hadn’t heard before.” Qaje was quizzical about this. He had spent many years studying the sacred texts, working in the smaller temples before being taken into training to become a senior priest, he had assumed in all that time he now knew all the Wivisan prophecies.

“You’re going to become a guard. There’s something we want you to look after.” The high priest said with a large grin. “You may have to wait a very long time, but have no fear, I have some training for you to complete whilst you wait.”

Chapter 3

22:00 MTC, April 8th 2017

Lake Cavern, Valles Marineris, Mars

Justin was shocked by just how quickly the fighting had stopped, it was immediate. A tall Weona Napl figure came out of the darkness, he wasn’t dressed in the body armour that the soldiers were wearing but instead in magnificent robes. He ignored Allan and Yelps, walking in an almost floating like manner, straight past them. Both Yelps and Allan kept their guns firmly pointing straight at him. He stopped about a metre away from Nina. Justin shuffled forward to protect Nina, not knowing what he was protecting her from, it was instinctive. The figure reached out his hand and stroked Nina’s face.

“Daughter of Mars.” He spoke in almost a whisper. This was a greeting that Nina was used to, the Weona Napl priests she had met before all greeted her in this way. He turned and faced Justin. His head tilting slightly, almost in amazement. He looked deeply into Justin’s eyes. Justin started to feel uncomfortable from this attention. Then the priest studied the rest of Justin’s form, his head, his arms, his body and his legs were all closely examined by the priest. Eventually the priest lifted his hand up and stroked Justin’s face. “Son of Mars.” The almost ghostly figure then turned.

“What was that?” Justin asked, confused by the events of the past few minutes.

“Shush.” Nina sniped back.

The figure moved back towards Yelps. “We have no quarrel with you.” The figure spoke softly. “But you have ventured into our sacred place.” The priest spoke almost perfect English and Yelps suspected he could speak just as perfect Russian, Chinese or Haissisut. Most of the Weona Napl priests could speak all of the Martian languages perfectly.

“We have come to explore.” Yelps started to try to explain.

“From daughter.” The priest interrupted Yelps and pointed at Nina.

“It’s the water, we came here to find the water.” Nina softly spoke to the priest.

Yelps winced, he had been hoping to keep hidden their true intentions as long as possible. Yelps had been forced over the years to become quite a student of Martian politics, he knew that the Weona Napl would never willingly help the Haissisut. He also knew though that they held Nina in a special regard for some reason, maybe it would be enough to help them negotiate at least.

“I see.” The priest replied. He smiled at Yelps. “Daughter speaks truth, that is why we like her. Warriors lie.”

“Your people are warriors too.” Yelps replied.

“That is how I know they lie.” The priest immediately replied back. He gave a slight smile that unsettled Yelps slightly.

A groan escaped from Greg’s lips. His body writhed around in pain. Then Allan looked over, concerned. Justin ran to Greg’s aid taking his position next to Greg once more. He knelt down beside his companion and tried to help.

“Your warrior is hurt?” The priest asked.

“Your warrior’s harpoon spear hit him.” Yelps replied.

The priest turned to Nina again. “Is this fallen warrior your friend?” The priest asked.

“Yes.” Nina replied, a tear starting to roll down her cheek as the screams of pain came from Greg.

“Does his pain hurt you?” The priest asked again.

“Yes it does.”

“I will help ease your pain.” The priest turned and started to move back towards Greg. Yelps panicked. He cocked his gun, reaffirming his stance, staring directly down the gun sight towards the priest. Allan did likewise.

“What’s the line, Major?” Allan yelled out, waiting for orders to shoot.

“If he gets within two feet of Greg we shoot.” Yelps yelled back in a clear voice.

“Wait.” Nina screamed out. Nina ran up to the priest and took his hand. She looked him directly in the eyes. “Are you going to hurt my friend?”

“Not if the Daughter of Mars does not wish it.” The priest replied. “I want to help him, his death would be needless.”

“Nina.” Yelps yelled a warning.

“Stand down Major.” Nina yelled across. Then spoke softly “He’s not going to harm Greg.” The priest nodded and started to move again towards Greg. “Besides if he does, I’ll kill him myself.” The priest finally reached Greg’s body.

“Please Son.” The priest spoke softly, pushing at Justin’s shoulder. “Let me help.” Justin slowly moved away. The priest knelt down. With a firm grasp he held the spear and in one swift move yanked it out of Greg’s body. Greg yelled out in pain. The noise quickly disappeared as he fell unconscious. Nina ran over to the priest.

“Justin.” Yelps yelled. “Get out of the way.”

Nina hurled her body and turned, protecting the priest. “Let him finish.” She replied.

“Nina.” Yelps yelled.

The priest closed his eyes and placed his hands on Greg’s chest. A flash of light hurled from walls of the cave and settled on Greg’s wound. The priest collapsed, lying next to Greg’s body. Greg’s eyes opened. He took a deep breath and then coughed, almost choking on his coughs. He struggled for breath before pushing himself up, as he did his coughing slowly stopped. Justin rushed to look at Greg’s body. The only sign of the wound was the now drying blood stains on his suit. The skin was unbroken and the wound healed. Nina burst into tears of joy. Allan and Yelps lowered their weapons in amazement. Yelps had been on Mars for many year and had seen some amazing things, but he had never seen something as unbelievable as this, he couldn’t have even imagined it. Greg started to come to again, moaning slightly as he regained his strength. The priests eyes opened.

“Did it work?” He asked.

“YES!” Nina yelled, the trickle of tears of sadness turning to a flood of tears of joy. “You did it.”

“Your friend should feel normal now.” The priest spoke, forcing out the words.

“I feel.” Greg started to talk for the first time. “I feel hungry.”

“That is unusual.” The priest forced himself to talk again, despite the fact he was obviously weakened by the experience.

Allan laughed before adding “For him that is normal.”

Out of the shadows the Weona Napl warriors slowly marched forward. Three of the remained out of the original six. They walked straight past their former enemies and surrounded the priest, they stood around the priest and looking out towards the trespassers. Justin quickly picked himself up before him and Nina dragged Greg out of the way. Yelps looked around at the scene, he had no way of understanding the events that had just taken place but he knew he had to keep the peace going. Yelps slowly knelt down and placed his gun on the ground.

“Major?” Allan yelled across.

“Lower your gun Allan.” Yelp replied. Confused Allan complied, placing his gun on the floor. Allan didn’t like the situation but he knew that if Yelps wanted to seem like they weren’t a threat then it would be a good plan, after all disarming himself wouldn’t have been comfortable for Yelps either. Nina approached the oldest looking Weona Napl warrior, guessing he was likely to be the leader of the group.

“What can we do to help?” She asked. The warrior held out his hand as if to motion for her to step way. “Give them room.” Nina yelled, everyone checked their distance and shuffled back slightly.

Chapter 4

18:45 GMT, April 27th 2017

Brixton Child Care Home, Brixton, London, UK, Earth

Susan was doing the washing up, which for a household this big was no quick job. She stood over the sink, her hand gradually becoming more and more numb as the water turned from clear and boiling hot too murky, greasy and cold. She looked out of the kitchen window to see children playing in the garden. Carl was sat alone to one side, legs crossed watching on. He didn’t play with the others anymore. He didn’t play with anyone anymore, for playing would have meant talking and talking wasn’t something that Carl had bothered with in a seemingly long time. Each moment of silence broke Susan’s heart a little more, a heart which had already been broken enough times recently. Susan was growing worried and had even called in the regular psychologist to see Carl. She knew what he would say before she had even called him, it was some reaction to stress and shock and he would snap out of it when he was ready. Susan felt emotionally drained. Since Justin had left each day had grown harder and harder. Susan looked on at Carl. He got up and started to walk back to the house, ignoring the other children as he went. The kitchen door opened and Carl entered. He looked up at Susan and said, nothing. He looked back and continued to walk into the house. Susan’s heart broke again. Susan wasn’t sure how much of this she could take, her world was being destroyed systematically around her and there was nothing she could do about it. She drained the water away from the sink. For no reason she just continued to stand there, watching out into the garden, Susan couldn’t help but wonder which of the children would be the next to try and destroy her spirit, her reason for living. Her solitude was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Susan turned and reached for a cloth to dry her hands. She walked towards the front door and opened it. Standing there was the policeman, dressed in normal street clothes this time. At first Susan didn’t recognise him. It’s strange how you never can recognise people out of context, without his uniform he looked completely different. He looked more like a normal person, like just some guy you would see walking down the street and not even notice. In his uniform his tall well-built figure commanded respect and even admiration but like this he just seemed so ordinary. Despite Susan liking how the man looked in his normal clothes she didn’t like him looking like every other man. Susan wanted the police man who was looking for Justin to be some sort of super hero, the type that Carl would read about in his comics, she wanted Superman not Clark Kent. She had to shake these thoughts out of her mind, it wasn’t his fault that she had unreasonable expectations of him, he was only human and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. Susan smiled at him and turned to head into the living room, the policeman followed.

“How’s things?” He asked. Not really asking, he didn’t need to, he knew that she would be feeling awful, how could she be feeling any differently.

“We’re coping.” Susan answered, she knew that he was only being polite.

“Look I thought I would just pop round, we’ve had a lead, it’s a long shot but I thought best to let you know.”

Susan collapsed onto the chair. She was dreading the next sentence but knew that she needed to hear it, she needed to know what the latest news was, maybe he had been found, maybe Justin would be home within the hour and they could put all of this behind them. Even Carl would get better and everything would return back too normal. Susan hoped for that, she prayed every night for it. But what if the news went the other way, what if it was what she had been fearing, the words that she had been dreading to hear, what if they had found a body?

“There’s a boy in New York.” The policeman said. “He appeared there a little while ago and he matches Justin’s description.” He paused a moment to let the news sink in. “He’s a maths genius who is suffering from amnesia, it’s a long shot but it is possible. From what you’ve told me I thought it could be him.”

“What would he be doing over there?” Susan was confused by this turn of events.

“I don’t know, but it does happen, missing people can reappear anywhere. I’m looking into it and will let you know as soon as I know something.”

Susan smiled, she hadn’t done much of that lately, maybe everything was going to be alright. The police in New York would piece everything together, maybe she could even fly out there to get him, within a week it would all be over and she would be with her boy again.

“I’m buddies with some cops over there, they are looking into it for me.” The policeman smiled. “I didn’t want to get your hopes up but seeing you like this, I had to say something.”

“Thank you.” Susan looked up at the man and smiled. “I needed to hear that today.”

“Please Susan.” The policeman said, hoping it was alright that he had used her first name. “Please don’t get your hopes up to much, it could still be nothing. The chances of this boy being Justin are slim to nil.”

“I know that.” Susan lied, she was already praying inside for a safe return and planning to go straight online to buy a cheap plane ticket to New York as soon as the policeman left. “But it could be him couldn’t it?” Susan smiled a gentle but warm smile. “But if you only mentioned it because you saw me like this, why did you come around here.” Susan asked.

“The truth is.” The policeman thought for a moment, he was embarrassed by the truth. It hadn’t seemed like such a big deal when he set off to come around here but now he was faced with the reality of the situation it had taken on gigantic proportions. He became fidgety and uncomfortable. He looked at his watch, put his hand into the inside pocket of his jacket, moved his feet around. “The truth is I just wanted to see you, to see that you were alright.” He smiled goofily, hoping for some level of charm to come through the smile and show that he wasn’t as creepy as it sounded.

“Well I’m pleased you did.” Susan replied. “And not just because of the news about Justin.”

Chapter 5

22:30 MTC, April 8th 2017

Lake Cavern, Valles Marineris, Mars

The scene remained like this for several hours. No one speaking. All looking concerned at the Weona Napl priest as he lay on the ground and rested. It seemed to Justin that the priest was in some sort of sleep, maybe even a coma. The humans each slowly moved away from the Martians over time, the last to move away was Nina. She slowly walked down towards the edge of the water, there she sat down beside Justin. The two shuffled up closer to each other to keep warm, even though it wasn’t cold.

“Do you think he’s alright?” Nina asked in a soft whisper.

“Greg, he seems fine now.” Justin replied, in an equally soft tone as if not wanting to upset the stillness of the lake they were sitting by.

“I meant the priest.”

“The Weona Napl seem to be waiting, that’s probably a good sign I guess, like they are expecting him to wake up.”

“I suppose so. I would hate to think that us being here caused him to die.”

“What do you mean?”

“His eyes were sweet, that’s all.”

“Nina?” Justin asked tentatively at first. He wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know the answer to his next question. He knew he wanted to move the conversation on, he needed to change the subject from the sad thought Nina had just put into the air, but was this the right way to do it? He couldn’t think of anything else to talk about. “Nina, why did he call you daughter of Mars?”

“That’s what they call me, all the priests.”

“The Weona Napl call you that?”

“Not just them, the few Haissisut priests that are around call me that too. I think it’s because I’m the first human born on Mars.”

“But he called me the son of Mars.”

“I know, that was weird.”

“Oh good, you thought so too. Plus that stuff with Yelps and my mother, there’s more going on here then we know isn’t there?”

“This is Mars, there’s always more going on here then we know.” Nina almost managed a giggle as she spoke, she didn’t quite manage it, but almost.

“That light was nothing like I had ever seen before, no-one told me the Martians could do that.”

“I’ve never seen that before, I don’t think anyone has. In case you hadn’t noticed Mars is a place of more secrets then truths, more questions than answers.” Nina leant her head down, resting it on Justin’s chest. He wrapped his arm around her and held her tightly against him. It felt comfortable to him, not in a romantic way, not at least as he was aware, but in a warm safe kind of way. The pair just sat there and waited.

Yelps stood and looked at the walls, studying the strange markings and carvings on the wall the in the same way as he did before the battle. Some of the markings were crude, some very ornate, it was obvious even to Yelps that they had been done over a long period of time, perhaps over centuries or even longer. Yelps was a soldier, not a linguist but it seemed to him that it told a story. Yelps had picked up on parts of the history of Mars over the years and saw some of the familiar scenes from the more well-known stories. Then there were carvings which didn’t make any sense to Yelps, were these of things to come? Yelps looked over at the Weona Napl, he couldn’t understand what had happened here. Could all Martians perform this trick, seemingly bringing back humans to life? Yelps thought back to all the lives lost that he knew, all the people who he once laughed, cried or fought alongside but now were gone. Could these Martians had performed this little trick at any time and had brought them back? Yelps would never forgive them if this was the truth. Mars had taken so many friends from him over the years, in a way it had taken his own identity as well. He had changed as a man because of this planet, not always in ways that he himself liked. How could he grow close to people if they were only going to die? And many people died here. He could feel the anger starting as a pit in his stomach, swelling up through the rest of his body, spreading out to all his limbs, overtaking him. Had these Martians let his friends die when they could have done something to stop it? Yelps had to stop himself before his thoughts and anger overtook the situation. Breathe. Yelps snapped back into the moment. He turned back to continue looking at the engravings. This place was strange, it was different to anywhere else on the planet then Yelps had been. The vast lake of water had made this place feel colder, the air was felt almost damp as it touched the skin on his face. The lack of natural light gave the place a feel that it was still in time. Yelps wasn’t a spiritual man, nothing he had seen in his life had convinced him that there was some sort of all empowering god, but this place, here was something special, even though Yelps couldn’t understand it, he knew it.

Standing back from the water’s edge Allan and Greg stood by, waiting. Neither one of them really knew what to do next. Were they at war or were they at peace? In their experience it’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes. Allan felt he had to talk to his friend, he had to say something, today had been a momentous day.

“What’s it like?” Allan asked.

“What’s what like?” Greg was already confused.

“Dying.” Allan thought it was obvious.

“How would I know?”

“You were dead.”

“Was I?” Greg thought about this for a moment. “When?”

“Just now you div, what was it like?”

“I don’t know, I was dead.”

“Great help you are.” Allan looked on, he knew that this was a useless conversation despite the hope for some sort of philosophical debate Allan knew that Greg was the wrong man to do this with. “Do you think he’ll be alright?” Allan pointed over to the Weona Napl priest, still lying on the ground.

“His name is Qaje.” Greg replied. “He trained his whole life to be a priest, his proudest moment was when he became one.” Greg smiled as he spoke, Allan was shocked.

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t know, I just do.” Greg thought for a moment. “I like him, he likes the water and prays by it.”

“MAJOR, get over here.” Allan shouted loudly trying to get Yelps’ attention.

The group of Weona Napl started moving too. They spread out from the priest. He arose, his eyes open and bright, his mouth a gasp. He soon got to his feet and looked over at the scene, he smiled in Nina’s direction. Greg quickly walked over.

“Are you alright Qaje?” He asked, approaching the priest like he was an old friend.

“Yes Greg I am.” He replied. “Are you well now?”

“Aye fine and dandy.”

“Good, I am pleased.” Qaje tried to get his breath a moment, taking a pause.

The other humans had joined the group, all of the continuing to be astonished by the scenes that were unfolding.

“Major Yelps.” Qaje looked over to the Major and gave a smile. “Do not worry this is all quite natural.”

“How do you know our names?” Yelps asked, keeping his guard up but definitely confused by the situation.

“It is a side effect.” Qaje replied. “Greg here has knowledge of me as well, we call it Jophi Amileppi. I now know who you all are as Greg knows you.”

“This is a security risk.” Yelps was alarmed, what secrets did the Weona Napl now possess.

“Don’t worry Major.” Qaje spoke softly, knowing of Yelps’ concern. “It is a risk for us too. Greg now has knowledge of us and our ways.” Qaje tried not to sound concerned but he was. Greg smiled and nodded. Before pointing to one of the Weona Napl warriors.

“His sister is expecting kiddies, ah nice.”

“I seem to now be aware of every Red Ball result in the history of the game.” Qaje added, hoping to put the humans’ mind at ease.

“Cracking.” Greg was pleased that he had taught this spiritual leader something.

“Actually I never cared for the game.” Qaje confessed, slightly disappointed by this new hand life had dealt him. Justin laughed and smiled at this irony.

Chapter 6

02:00 MTC, April 9th 2017

Lake Cavern, Valles Marineris, Mars

A few hours had passed since the amazing events. No-one really knew what to do next. The whole situation had been so strange. Everyone tried to make small talk, some more successfully than others. Both human and Martian warriors knew that the battle could recommence at any moment, but both sides knew that they didn’t want to be the ones to fire first. Maybe if they could just keep the small talk going long enough then they would be able to keep the peace and not face the inevitable situation. Eventually Qaje walked over to Yelps and decided to break the deadlock.

“Ask me what you came here to ask me.” Qaje said in a business-like tone.

“Well.” Yelps started, looking for not only the words that would make them not want to pick up their guns again but the words that would make them want to share this treasured water with their enemy.

“Not you.” Qaje interrupted him. “Daughter.” Qaje pointed towards Nine. She stepped forward trying to stand up straight and appear more official then she was.

“Stone tablets from the Wivisan Martians led us here.” Nina started to explain.

“It was prophesied thus.” Qaje smiled, but not a happy smile, a sad smile. One of recognition, recognition of a terrible thing.

“It’s a mercy mission, the Haissisut need this water.” Nina tried to look her most humble and pleading. “Their survival is getting harder and harder, this water could last for many years.”

“It’s connected to an underground spring.” Qaje added. “It will last forever.”

The group of humans looked around at each other and smiled. They couldn’t believe their luck, maybe this was the answer to all the Haissisut problems.

“Please share it with those who have a common ancestry with you.” Nina hoped that plea would work.

“It will bring much change to Mars.” Qaje sounded like he was now pleading with Nina, like he was trying to say something else.

“Good change.” Nina added, the hope in her voice almost visible as her words escaped from her mouth into the air.

“Maybe, that is not for us to decide.” Qaje Smiled back at her. He looked around and realised that him and Nina were now the centre of attention for the rest of the group. He didn’t like this. “Daughter, Son, come with me to the water’s edge.” Qaje turned and slowly walked towards the water. Nina followed, respectfully behind him. The others all turned and stared at Justin. Justin looked around confused at them all.

“Oh.” Justin suddenly realised. “I’m the son of Mars aren’t I?” Justin quickly walked down to the edge, almost running as he did so. The rest of the group turned away, giving the small party it’s privacy.

Nina, Justin and Qaje stopped by the edge of the water. Nina and Justin didn’t know what to say. Qaje looked out over the still water, the place he had called home for many years. If Nina hadn’t known any better she would have thought Qaje was crying. Qaje smiled at the pair, turning to them.

“Daughter of Mars, Son of Mars, we thought this day would never come. The prophecy is slowly being fulfilled.”

“Qaje you must be mistaken.” Justin smiled, trying to be respectful but also viewing Qaje as some sort of feeble old man, confused by the many years he had lived. “I’m not a son of Mars, I was born on Earth, in Brixton.”

“A wondrous place?”

“Not really no.” Justin wasn’t sure about how to explain Brixton to a Martian, he had enough problems trying to explain it to a human. “It’s a bit of a dive.” Qaje raised his hand, stopping Justin from talking.

“Daughter born on Mars, Son born in mystery.” Qaje smiled once again. “Is us giving up the water what you want?”

“YES!” Nina shouted, excitedly. “Yes.” She spoke a little softer. “Give the Haissisut back their self-respect, show mercy and forgiveness.”

“It will bring great change to Mars. Son do you want this?” Qaje was careful in his tone, wanting to be as clear as possible. Nina prodded Justin, he nodded, unsure really of his significance and why he was being asked. “Are you sure son?”

“Yes.” Justin replied.

“Daughter and Son, together.” Qaje sighed. “I honestly thought this moment would come after me. Be sure that this is what you want, the future is decided here. It will be formed now.” Nina took Qaje’s hand and smiled.

“The Weona Napl are capable of sharing, this will bring you both together. A strong Haissisut is nothing to fear.” Nina tried to explain.

“Qaje.” Justin had a thought. “You keep mentioning this prophecy, what is it, who are we to you?”

“The prophecy, the prophecy is unfolding.”

“Deep and useless.” Justin muttered.

“There will be Daughter and Son of Mars, they shall come after a great war from here and yet from the third planet, they shall bring forth a new age for Mars. All prophecies point to this, none show life after it.” Qaje thought for a moment, he knew that he had no real choice in what to do next. “We shall share the water, they may take all they need.” Qaje turned and slowly started to walk away. “Be sure to always remember that this was your choice.” Nina grew visibly excited immediately.

“Thank you, thank you thank you.” Nina grabbed Qaje by the hand and shook it, she looked him directly in the eyes before calming down and almost in a whisper saying “Eovej.” Nina prodded Justin.

“Yes thank you Qaje.” Justin added, feeling that Qaje probably got the idea by now.

“Justin, Eovej.” Nina encouraged him.

“E-o-vej.” Justin tentatively replied not knowing what it was he was saying.

Nina ran back over to Yelps and the others to tell them the great news. Justin just looked over across at the cool still surface of the water.

“Are you troubled son?” Qaje asked in a caring tone.

“Just, Qaje the Haissisut are your enemy right? So why just give them this water?” Justin was confused. It all seemed a little too easy to him. Certainly in Brixton no-one would just had over something important without getting anything for it in return.

“Son, this is not our water, it is yours and Daughters you may do with it as you wish.” Qaje tried to give a smile.

“What?”

“The prophecy, we are merely guardians of the water, of the prophecy of Nestt.”

“Nest?”

“The Weona Napl word for Mars.”

Justin thought for a moment, he looked out at the scene and couldn’t really believe that it would all be this easy. All they had to do was trust the Weona Napl and ask for them to help the Haissisut. Justin realised that Qaje may well be able to answer some of his other questions.

“Qaje, what does the prophecy, that is, what do you know about…” Justin thought for a moment again. He couldn’t think of a way to phrase his question right, a way to say exactly what he meant to say. “Qaje what do you know about my mother?” Qaje’s smile turned for a moment. Justin certainly wasn’t accustomed to reading Martian facial expressions but even he could tell that Qaje had become serious again. Qaje looked thoughtful for a moment before he spoke, carefully saying.

“Not as much as Yelps.” Qaje thought again for a moment. “Be careful of that man, he is a good man but good men can’t always be trusted to do good deeds.” Qaje turned and walked away. He raised his arm and spoke into his communicator. “Viswovatif. Tii up Qaje. Ivvilaamavat Jellec. Quih ke vaves up topp. Pec Tuuwowecwii wito nopinesiotic. Tii up emepac. Kanam umha nioihe.”

Chapter 7

15:45 CLT, March 16th 2013

Wooden Shack, 20 Miles East of Copiapo, Chile, Earth

Sirus had enjoyed living in Chile. It had been three months, longer then they had managed to stay in one place for a long time. Living aside the mountain seemed romantic at first, and the views certainly were. But life was hard, local shops were three hours walk away and carried little in the way of luxuries. Ryan had managed to find work fixing IT problems for local farmers with their machinery. But this work was limited. They scraped by with cash in hand work, picking up labouring jobs and similar work. Truth was that Sirus knew this was as normal as life was probably ever going to get. She was happy, in her own strange way. They hadn’t heard from the MOA since arriving here, Ryan was being friendly with her again and the girls were enjoying seeing the world. If this was as good as it would ever get then Sirus knew it wasn’t such a bad deal. She walked through the kitchen and placed a coffee pot on the stove. She walked away from the cooker and looked out of her window at the lush green forest which greeted her every morning. It was raining again, as it usually was. The sound of the forest during the rain was wonderful, the smell of the lush vegetation getting its water always made her feel warm inside. So contented was she that Sirus almost hadn’t noticed the man standing there and when she did it startled her.

“Who are you?” She screamed.

“Can I come in please Captain Sirus?” The man asked. He spoke in an American accent and was obviously military.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Captain Philips, US Marine Corps.” He said looking up to the heavens. “And it’s raining, can I please come inside?” Sirus nodded. Philips looked relieved and walked in through the doorway. He removed his jacket and placed it near the cooker. “You don’t mind if I warm my jacket do you?” He asked.

“Go ahead.” She offered, she couldn’t believe how polite he was being, like he had popped round to sell insurance. “Are you MOA?” She asked, wanting to be sure.

“You know the answer to that, or you wouldn’t have asked the question.” He conjectured.

“I guess so.” She admitted. “Have you come to kill me?”

“And your family.” He added. “Or I can take you in, we can de-brief you.”

“And then.”

“Kill you.” Philips shrugged. “Sorry not much of an incentive is it.” Philips sat down at the table. “You always knew that I was coming.”

“You’re a recruiter aren’t you?” Sirus asked.

“Yes.”

“I’ve heard of you.” She realised. “Captain Philips, they say you are the best.”

“Others say that, yes.” Philips wanted to sound modest but his own sense of pride came through anyway. “I do work for a lot of different countries, I guess that’s a vote of confidence.”

“They say you are a fair man.”

“I like to think so.”

“What’s going to happen now?”

“Your boyfriend, Ryan, will return home with the kids soon. You’ll tell him you love him and that you are sorry for all the trouble you have caused him. Knowing that this is the end he will forgive you, you’ll be surprised, never expecting him to actually forgive you. You’ll tell the girls that you love them and then you’ll all be put to death.”

“Simple as that?”

“It’s never simple Captain.” Philips said. “If you like I can execute you first and then the girls, or the other way round.”

“What?”

“Some people prefer it one way, others prefer it the other.” Philips shrugged his shoulders. “Truth is there is no good way to do this.” Philips looked around. “May I please have a glass of water?”

“What?”

“I’m very thirsty, it was quite a walk up here from the town.”

“How can you be so calm about this?”

“Basically because it is not my fault, it is yours.” Philips smiled. “You started this the day you escaped your inevitable execution.” Philips looked around again. “I hate to ask again but may I have that water?”

“There’s bottles in that cupboard.”

“Thank you.” Philips said. He rose and walked towards a cupboard, slowly he opened the door, wincing as he did so, expecting it to contain a trap. He picked up a bottle from the cupboard and examined the seal. When he was happy it hadn’t been tampered with he opened it and took a sip. “Thank you for this, it’s much appreciated.” He thanked her before taking a deeper gulp and returned to the table. The door opened again and Ryan walked in with the two girls.

“Who is this?” Ryan asked, he had become suspicious of any stranger he met.

“Tell the girls to go and play in the other room.” Philips ordered.

“Jennifer?” Ryan asked. She nodded. “Girls go and play, I’ll be in there in a minute.” He knelt down and whispered to them. “Remember that game we play, no matter what sounds you heard coming from this room, do not come back in here.” He kissed them both on the forehead. They ran through to another room.

“Why don’t you take a seat?” Philips offered. “We have much to discuss.” Ryan sat down tentatively.

“Are you MOA?” Ryan asked.

“I work for the US Marine Corps as one of many people that help the Martian Operations Agency.”

“Are you a recruiter?” Ryan asked.

“Yes.”

“Have you come here to kill us?”

“Yes.” Philips responded. “But first we talk.” Ryan looked around the room. “I don’t suppose either of you two play chess do you?” He asked.

“No.” Sirus replied.

“Shame.” Philips smiled. “How much does he know?”

“Everything that I know.” Sirus spoke with an expression of regret. Over the years whilst they have been on the run she had told him snippets, by this point he knew everything there was to know. Ryan knew about The Island, the Zeppelin craft, the human bases and the Martians. But Sirus had always kept it secret as to what had started her life on the run.

“I see.” Philips realised, he smiled at Ryan sympathetically. “Not unusual, you try and keep it a secret maybe you even succeed for a few years but then eventually you end up telling them everything, you’re not the first one to spill the beans as it were.”

“The girls know nothing though.” Ryan blurted out.

“You would be surprised what they over hear. Sadly they cannot be trusted.” Philips’ face betrayed his emotions, he looked a mix of sad and angry. “I will have to make sure that they can’t tell anyone.” Philips thought for a moment. “How sure are you that they don’t know the truth?”

“They don’t.” Sirus screamed. “We wouldn’t endanger our children like that.”

“This is the part where you try to make a bargain.”

“What?” Sirus was confused and then she thought for a moment. There was perhaps one thing she could offer. When she had brought fake ID once she had met a man, a man who she knew Philips would be interested in. She knew he would know the name and identity. “I can give you Jonathan Dale.” She blurted out, surprised by how easy it was for her, she knew what she was doing, she knew that it would be certain death for him and his family but right now all she cared about was trying to save her daughters.

“Really?” Philips questioned. “What do you know?”

“He has a son now, a son in a wheel chair so the family can’t move.” Sirus offered.

“Jennifer.” Ryan was shocked by what he was hearing. “What are you doing?”

“Saving our girls.” Sirus looked at Ryan, she knew what she was doing and the pain she was feeling was in her eyes but right now she couldn’t worry about a stranger, she had to protect her girls. “I know his address and his current name. Don’t hurt the girls and I’ll give it to you.”

“We can take them into care.” Philips offered. “They will believe that you two died in an accident and be taken into care. They will be watched their entire lives but they will get the chance to live.” Philips reasoned, hoping that she would realise that this was the very best offer she was going to get. “That’s the best offer I can give you, you two will still die, here tonight. There can be no further negotiation.”

“Fine.” Sirus settled.

“If I believe you are lying I will go into that room and snap their necks as if they were injured chickens. You understand.”

“Yes.” Sirus confirmed.

“Jennifer you cannot trust this man.” Ryan spoke with concern in his voice. “He’s a killer.”

“I’m a professional.” Philips interrupted. “I have a job to do and I do it. Usually I am recruiting people for the greatest adventure mankind has ever known. Occasionally I am sent to tidy up other people’s mistakes, people like you’re girlfriend here.”

“It’s ok Ryan.” Sirus took his hand. “We have no other choice.” Sirus smiled at Ryan. “Jonathan Dale’s new name is Michael Reen. He lives in Winnipeg Canada and is working as a supply teacher.” Sirus took a deep breath. “Is that enough?” She felt unclean by what she was saying, she knew the inevitable consequences of what she was doing.

“Is there more?” Phillips asked, wanting to make sure he had every scrap of information possible.

“Please.” Sirus begged.

“It’s enough.” Philips knew that it would be enough information for him to track down this man who had been on the run for such a long time. “Thank you, I know that wasn’t easy but you have saved your children.” Philips looked at her, forcing her to meet his gaze and look him in the eyes. “That is a good thing.”

“Really?” She asked. Getting out of her seat she tried to escape his gaze. “Then why do I feel so bad?” Sirus walked towards the window, staring out at the landscape.

“If it helps, you won’t feel this bad for long.” Philips smiled. “Do you want to say goodbye to your daughters?”

“Right now I just want some coffee.” Sirus yelled. She turned round quickly on the spot. The hot coffee pot in her hand, scalding her skin but she knew it would make a good weapon. The surprise had caught Philips unaware. The first he realised what was happening was the hot coffee being thrown towards his face and eyes. He stood up, yelling and screaming in pain. Ryan knew this was his que. He reached under the table for a knife that he and Sirus had hidden there weeks before. In reality the house was full of hidden weapons, just in case they were ever needed. Ryan took the knife and plunged it into Philips’ hand, imbedding the knife into the table below, trapping the Marine assassin. Ryan rose from his seat, picking up a cloth from the side he took the coffee pot from Sirus and smacked Philips in the head with it. Philips fell to the floor, his hand still attached to the table. Ryan put down the coffee pot and went to the cupboard with the water. He opened a few bottles and poured their cool healing contents onto Sirus’ hand. The water both soothing and hurting her, she couldn’t help but let out a scream although the intense pain quickly subsided.

“We have to leave.” Ryan ordered. “Is you’re hand alright? There’s a dressing in the first aid kit.”

“Thanks.” Sirus spoke through the pain.

“Was that information you gave him true?” Ryan asked.

“I couldn’t lie to him, it would endanger the girls.” Sirus looked at the blooded mess on the floor that was captain Philips. “Do you think we should kill him?”

“I just can’t bring myself to do it. There’s been enough killing I feel.” Ryan said, feeling like he was being pathetic. “We can get a message to that guy can’t we?”

“Maybe.” Sirus wasn’t sure if that would just put him in more danger. “That was a pretty big bang on the head, maybe he won’t remember. We have to go on the run again don’t we?”

“Yes.” Ryan replied. “I’ll tell the girls, you take what we need. Bring anything of value, it’s expensive being fugitives and I’m not sure how much money we have in reserve.”

“I don’t think I’m up to this again.”

“We have too.” Ryan announced calmly. Sirus smiled at him, she couldn’t help but think that life was about to get even more complicated.

Part 5: Aftermath

Chapter 1

04:00 MTC, April 9th 2017

Lake Cavern, Valles Marineris, Mars

Yelps was standing outside of the cavern waiting. He looked out onto the Martian planet and tried to take in the events of the last few days. It seemed remarkable to him that the Weona Napl would be willing to share so much water. It seemed even more remarkable that it had been they who suggested building a pipe across their own territory to get the water to where it was needed. There were still the finer details to be worked out but the whole mission couldn’t have gone any better. Qaje had asked that they all say prayers for those warriors which had fallen, even the raiders which had shot down the skimmer. Yelps had met many Weona Napl priests in his time but Qaje had struck him very differently. He seemed calmer, with even more of an inner peace. Yelps not only respected that but was jealous of it. Every bit of violence, every bit of betrayal and certainly every killing that Yelps had seen in his life had moved him further and further away from his own faith. Yelps was always inspired by the way how the Weona Napl were warrior monks. He had seen enough of Weona Napl society to know that the priests were the ones who called the shots. Warriors were there to serve them and the scientists, engineers and everyone else would be there to serve both the priests and the warriors. The computer on Yelps’ arm beeped into life. Yelps looked out and could see the large skimmer coming towards him. Qaje had allowed them to send for a skimmer to take them back. Above all else Yelps was most grateful for this, he wouldn’t have to walk back over the Martian surface, the journey would only take a few hours by skimmer, not the several days it would take by foot. Yelps reached down to his computer and typed a few commands in, sending his signal to the skimmer. Soon the engineers and geologists that Smythe had sent out would disembark and Yelps’ team would be able to go home. Yelps smiled to himself. It seemed odd that he was now thinking of this group as his team. But they were, slowly over the past few days Yelps had grown to respect all of them as individuals but also as a team. He always knew the Greg and Allan were good soldiers and friends but he hadn’t fully understood how their survival depended on each other so much. It had been several months since Yelps had last spent any real time with Nina but over the last couple of days he had seen what a headstrong, confident young woman she was growing into, so fiercely independent. Yelps thought about his friend Itqoe, a noble warrior and friend to Yelps, one of the few friends he had made in recent years. It brought sadness to Yelps, knowing that he wouldn’t see his friend again. Yelps had known him for years and always found him to be fair and kind. Even though the two were from different planets and had had such different experiences, a brotherhood of warriors had taken over and bridged across the two of them. The Haissisut had lost a brave fighter and Yelps had lost a close friend. Then there was Justin, the member of Yelps’ team which troubled him the most. Yelps hadn’t realised how difficult it would be for him to work with Justin, he would never forgive himself for the indiscretion in the skimmer. Yelps remembered back to first being told about who had won the question 13 competition, he had been shocked and at the same time was expecting it. In a universe as mixed up as this it made sense that it would be Justin that they would need right now. It had been hard on Yelps right from the moment he first saw Justin, it had only gotten harder as he got to know the boy. Yet now Yelps was beginning to think of Justin as more then whose son he was. This was a young man in his own right, someone who had gone through his own hardships, his own troubles and was now ready to make his own way in life. Yelps knew though that Justin would need protection, from the truth, from the horrors of Mars but most of all from Mead. Those who were a political threat to Mead had short lives on Mars. Yelps looked across and saw the passengers from the skimmer disembarking. He waved them over and started to head back into the cavern. Soon he and his companions would be heading back.

Chapter 2

09:35 EDT, January 15nd 2017

32nd Street, New York, United States of America, Earth

Sirus was walking down the street, humming to herself. She was still suspicious of everyone she saw but they had been living in New York just long enough to become comfortable with the place. They had grown used to the noises and smells of the city. They had now realised that not every street corner was full of MOA operatives trying to kill them. They had found their place in the city and found a way to survive unnoticed. It was actually much easier to hide in a big city full of people, the difficulty was hiding in a small place like a village. New comers were much easier to notice in an unpopulated place here in the city no-one noticed them so they could go hidden easily. Sirus had been worried at first, as she always was when they moved to somewhere new but here they managed to cope quite well. She knew this wouldn’t last though, soon they would start to worry, people who they saw everyday would start asking questions, questions that would become increasingly difficult to answer. A couple of weeks, a month at most, then they would have to up sticks and move again. At least from New York they could head to anywhere in the world. Sirus was hoping they would be able to work their passage on a boat, maybe getting to Africa. It would do the girls some good to see Africa again. It had been a few years since they had last been there and it was a wonderful experience. Sadly they had to leave in a hurry when a British MI7 agent had caught up with them and Sirus had to drown him in a water bucket. That was when they had decided to flee to Chile. But here in New York they were just four faces in a city of millions, much easier to hide. Sirus was happy, not happy by how other people would judge it but happy by how it had come to be known to her. This was contentment and this was living. A van came screeching up next to the sidewalk. Sirus looked round and panicked. She felt sick inside, knowing just what was coming next. A bag appeared over her head and she felt her arms being held against her body. She felt herself being pushed into the back of the van and the van was off. Lying on the floor of the van she kept still. Her hands were tied together with zip-ties as were her ankles. Then there was silence for a moment. The van was moving. Through the fabric of the bag she could make out three figures.

“Can I sit up please?” She asked, her voice slightly muffled by the bag.

“Ok, but slowly.” A voice replied. A hand grabbed her arm gently and helped her to sit up against the side of the van.

“Is the bag really necessary?” She asked. “You’ve got me, I concede that but it itches. You have cleaned it since you last used it haven’t you?”

“Keep on the bag.” Said a voice, different than the other one, this one was a rough French voice.

“I’ll take it off.” Said the other voice. Sirus closed her eyes as the bag was removed and then slowly opened them. To her surprise Captain Philips of the US Marine Corps was sitting opposite her. Next to him were two other men, both similar in build, all three were obviously recruiters.

“You again.” She exclaimed. “I hate re-runs.”

“Hello Captain Jennifer Sirus.”

“Are the girls safe?” Sirus asked.

“They are being picked up at your apartment.” Philips spoke quietly. “They will be questioned and providing you still haven’t told them anything they will be let go.” Philips leant in towards Sirus. “I’m planning on keeping my end of the bargain.”

“Thank you.” Sirus replied quietly. Philips then sat back in his seat.

“The information you gave me was very valuable.” He smiled at her. “I was able to persuade my employers that they should keep to the deal.” Philips looked away for a moment and placed a finger to his ear he a finger from his other hand up in the air to silence his prisoner. “They have Ryan and your girls, they are safe. Apparently one of your daughters kicked an FBI agent in the balls.”

“Good girl.” Sirus whispered.

“Indeed, she takes after her mother.”

“Where are we going?” Sirus asked.

“It’s a MOA research institution here in the city.” Philips thought for a moment. “They have the facilities we need for this sort of operation. It’s all rather civilised so I gather. You’ll even be entitled to a last meal.”

“Great.” Sirus sarcastically replied. “How come I’ve got you again, don’t tell me I’ve worked my way through every MOA agent and having to go back round again.

“I requested this assignment.” Philips offered as he rubbed his fingers over his scarred hand. “I felt we had unfinished business.”

“We could have killed you and we didn’t.”

“Why didn’t you?” Philips asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“You were just so polite.” Sirus admitted. “It would have been wrong somehow.”

“It won’t take us long to get to the institute. About another ten minutes, you’ll get to see your family within an hour.”

“How did you find us?” Sirus asked, she had been convinced that they had gone unnoticed, it was puzzling her as to how they had made a mistake.

“It isn’t that sort of conversation Captain Sirus.” Philips smiled. “I’m not going to tell you anything just in case you manage to escape.”

“I won’t though will I?” Shae asked, realising that the game was up.

“Honestly Captain Sirus.” Philips leant in. “I’m still betting on you finding a way to evade us somehow.” He leant back against his seat. “You should know that as of ten months ago you made the top of our most wanted list. Congratulations.”

“Thanks, not sure it was worth it.” She said bitterly. Sirus leant her head against the wall of the van and closed her eyes. She could feel every bump in the road as the van moved closer and closer to its target. She knew there was a chance she could run, there was still a possibility that she could escape. But the truth was she was tired. Tired of running, tired of lying to her daughters and just tired of life. Many times over the years she had offered a prayer of thanks to whoever had pulled that alarm back on The Island, but right now she hated them. She took in a deep breath for a moment. She was ready to give in. Maybe she could get a couple of extra days if she told them everything she knew about those others living in hiding across the globe. She wouldn’t be able to get Ryan out of it, she knew that much, his fate was sealed from the moment they first talked in the coffee shop. But maybe she would get a proper goodbye with her daughters. Sirus started to cry. The fight was all out of her, this would be how her story would end and she didn’t mind. As Sirus thought quietly to herself for a moment she knew only one thing, only one truth remained, life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 3

07:00 MTC, April 9th 2017

Valles Marineris, Mars

Nina looked out of the skimmer’s window. This skimmer was larger than the one they had set off in. It was more comfortable for a squad size group. As Nina looked out she could see the harsh rocky red deserts of Mars. The deep red of the rocks scattered on the surface set against the pale red of the clouds casing the sky. Nina continued to stare. She didn’t want to make eye contact with the others, she didn’t want to talk about the adventure they had just shared and least of all she didn’t want to remember those who had died. She just wanted to be, looking out, waiting for her brain to go numb, for her thoughts to drift away and most importantly to just feel nothing. Right now all she could feel was guilt. The relief that she had made it when others hadn’t been so lucky, the guilt of asking the Weona Napl to share the water with their old enemies. She had hoped in a strange way that her request would be refused, that the Weona Napl would be disgusted by even the very suggestion. Instead she had been shocked that they had given in so easily. Clearly there was more to Qaje then she had realised. Then there was the guilt she felt towards Justin. She wasn’t sure why she felt this way, or even if it really was guilt that she felt towards him, it had all gotten so complicated. It would be easier when they returned and she wouldn’t have to see him again. Was that really how she felt, it didn’t seem to have the essence of truth about it. Nina guessed that she didn’t know how she felt about Justin, maybe she was just tired and wanted this to be over. Soon she would be able to return to her normal life. Nina continued to drift further and further into her own thoughts, into her own imagination where she didn’t have to face any of the troubles that seemed too real to her.

“Nina.” A voice spoke but Nina refused to acknowledge it, for if she did that then she would return to reality and would have to face the decisions they had all made over the last few days. Nina continued to stare out of the window, defiantly refusing to view the person who was so rudely forcing her back into reality. “Nina.” There it was again. Nina refused to let her brain even register who it was calling her name. Then she felt her shoulder being pulled away from the window. Her head followed and angrily her eyes met with that of the person who was disturbing her so. “Nina.” Justin spoke softly. “Are you alright?”

“I was just thinking, that’s all.” Nina replied. Her eyes locking with Justin’s the pair sharing a confused moment where reality and unconsciousness met.

“We’re landing soon.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Nina didn’t really want to thank Justin for interrupting her solace, but she didn’t know what else to say. Nina supposed that this was a reflection that she was more English then she realised.

“What were you thinking about?”

“I don’t know.” Nina looked away again towards the window. “Do you think we’ve done the right thing Justin?”

“Of course, why?” Justin was puzzled by the question, mostly because it had come from Nina. “The Haissisut will now have plenty of water. In time they will grow enough crops to trade with the Weona Napl. The more dependent on each other they become the less likely war will break out again.”

“I guess.” Nina quietly replied. “Just when Qaje waved us off, it felt like we had just signed his death warrant.”

“I’m sure you’re mistaken. Your over thinking it.”

“I hope so, because I fear we’ve not been thinking enough.”

Chapter 4

11:00 EDT, January 15th 2017

Martian Operations Agency Research Facility, New York, United States of America, Earth

Sirus was sitting in a cold empty interview room. It was just like those she had seen on TV so many times. A mirror was on the wall opposite her, she was sure that there would be people stood behind it, looking at her. She felt she should do something to entertain them but she just didn’t have the energy for and antics. Instead she just sat quietly by herself. Contemplating her fate. She was now wearing a plain grey jumpsuit they issued her after her shower. She had already showered a few hours earlier but the truth was she had found it soothing. She guessed that it was standard procedure and if the word shower appeared on their checklist then she would have to have a shower. After she had changed she had gotten to see her daughters. They had embraced, she told they everything was going to be alright, she knew she was lying, and she kissed them. Now though They cried, she cried. Then they were taken away, she howled as they left. Now though she was sitting in the room alone and waiting. The door opened and Philips walked in. He was holding a large file in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

“Can I get you anything?” Philips asked as he sat down opposite her.

“No.”

“I think I can get you a cup of Degi beans if you like, I know you were cleared to drink that before.”

“No thank you.” She said forcefully. “It took me months to kick that stuff.”

“Was that when you were in the rehab facility in Hawaii?”

“Yes, just after I left The Island. They told me it was one of the worst addictions they had ever seen.”

“I know. Me I love the stuff.” He conceded as he took a sip from his coffee. Sirus tried to peer inside to see if she could make out if it was Degi or not. “Shall we get started.”

“Sure, I’m ready.”

“I have to do the horrible bit first. If you are wondering about your right to an attorney, you don’t have one. If you are wondering about your right not to bear witness against yourself you don’t have it. You don’t have any rights at all really.” Philips lifted his hands up in admission. “We have a variety of different drugs I can call on, they will be used if I feel you are lying or are hiding something. Some will make you talk, some will give you very bad hallucinations.”

“It’s my intention for you not to use them.” Sirus replied calmly. “I’m tired of running Captain, I know it’s over.”

“Good, good.” Philips said, smiling. “Well according to your file here, you’ve had one hell of an adventure, I don’t think there’s a country you haven’t been too.”

“I ran for a long time.”

“Well let’s get started.” Philips commanded. Hours went by as they talked. Sirus gave up every contact she had made, every person she had seen who had known the truth. She suspected that she wasn’t really telling Philips anything new. Most of the people she had met would have been caught long ago. She just wanted to make this easy on herself. Suddenly after three hours she stopped talking.

“Is any of this any use to you?” She asked.

“You’ve not told us anything new Captain.” Philips responded. “It’s mostly just confirming what we have found out elsewhere. It’s good to get it from another source though.”

“How long have we been at this?” Sirus asked.

“Three hours.” Philips looked at his watch. “We should take a break.”

“Have I given you enough?” Sirus was frustrated. “I just want this to be over.”

“You know what that means?” Philips asked. “Right now talking is the only thing keeping you alive.”

“Can I see Ryan before you do it?”

“You really aren’t going to try and make a run for it are you?” Philips was confused almost dis-hearted by the fact that the great Captain Sirus was ready to quit, not even bothering to plead for her life.

“I have nowhere left to run too.”

“You can see him, you’ve earnt that much.” Philips rose from his seat, picking up his empty coffee cup and his files he left the room. It seemed like hours later, but in fact was just a few minutes when he returned. Ryan was with him, dressed in a grey jumpsuit just like Sirus’ he was wearing handcuffs and ankle bracelets. “Hold on a moment.” Philips said as he set about freeing Ryan from his shackles.

“You ok?” Sirus asked.

“I’m fine.” Ryan responded, trying to force a smile. “Have you seen the girls?”

“Yes.” Sirus whispered, she didn’t want to think about it too much. Finally Philips had undone all of the restraints.

“Ok you’re good to go.” Philips said as he stood up. Ryan rushed over to Sirus. They embraced, hugging each other for all they could manage. Sirus tried to breathe in Ryan, take in his scent, his essence of being. She hoped that she could hug him tight enough that the world away from them would seize to be. That everything around them would just melt into dust and they would walk over the ashes to their freedom. It didn’t work. Soon Sirus opened her eyes and realised she was still standing in the room. She pulled away and noticed for the first time that Ryan’s beard was stubble, even though he had shaved only this morning. He looked thinner too. She looked down at her own body and noticed it look thin. She slowly walked over to the one-way mirror and stared at her gaunt face.

“What’s going on?” She asked turning to Philips. He was sitting on the chair and wearing a different shirt to the one he had on.

“Captain Sirus we have been over this a dozen times.”

“How could this have happened in just a few hours.” She asked looking at herself, looking at the state she had become.

“You’ve been here for three months.” Philips added, annoyed at having to go over it again. Life was about to get even more complicated.

Chapter 5

10:30 MTC, April 9th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

The skimmer landed gracefully and soon everyone disembarked. Technicians and support people were on hand to help everyone out of their suits. They took the equipment off each member of the team and stowed it away. Justin was surprised by just how quiet the whole procedure was. Everyone in the team was tired, hurt and stunned, bodies broken. There was a certain feeling of disbelief that it was all over. Justin looked over at his new friends. Each tried to fain a smile of relief but were too tired to do so.

“Right everyone, shower, rest, get something to eat.” Yelps called out, still giving the orders. “Debrief in two hours.”

“Ah Major.” Allan replied in anguish. “We need longer than that.”

“Come on Major, we won’t have time to watch any Red Bull.” Greg added.

“De-brief in two hours.” Yelps reiterated. He too was hurting and would have given anything for more of a break, but he also knew that it would be better to get started right away.

“That’s not enough time to eat.” Greg complained. “I’m only going to get one meal.” Greg walked over to one of the technicians. He opened the top pocket of the technician’s overalls and removed a biscuit wrapped in plastic. “I need this pal.” Greg gave by way of asking permission and giving an apology.

Justin looked down as his suit was being removed. He hadn’t quite realised the smell that was now emanating from all of the team. It had been days since their last shower and they had been copped up in the suits. Justin felt embarrassed and very self-conscious about it all.

“You stink.” Allan shouted over to Justin, by way of support. “Don’t worry, we all do.” Allan smiled.

“That shower sure does sound good.” Justin replied.

“Debrief in two hours.” Yelps replied as he walked out of the room.

“Can one of you guys show Justin to his quarters?” Nina spoke to the technicians. “He hasn’t actually had chance to see them yet.” Nina then left the room.

Shortly after Justin was shown down the maze of corridors to his quarters. They were fairly non-descript, plain and without anything that showed who lived there. Justin immediately noticed the shower room in the corner. He headed in, turning on the water and then stripped down whilst the water was running, throwing his wet clothes onto the floor. He closed his eyes and tried to convince himself that the last few days were just a dream, but reality kept on encroaching, breaking the fantasy he wanted to be engulfed in.

Chapter 6

13:00 MTC, April 9th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Yelps waited in the main control room. He sat at the large briefing desk and waited for his team to enter. In just a few minutes they would be late. He looked down and picked up the drinks bottle which was sitting in front of him. He took and long sip at the cool liquid inside. Yelps had been drinking constantly since he had returned yet he still had no idea what this liquid was. It seemed to be some sort of energy fruit juice, it satisfied his thirst and that was enough for Yelps. Nina came into the room and sat down. She too was drinking from a bottle. She gave a nod of acknowledgement towards Yelps and then just stared at the table. Yelps looked around and wondered where everyone else was. Then then noise of running down a corridor came filtering in, eventually filling the control room. Allan and Greg burst through the door, the pair slightly out of breath.

“You just made it.” Yelps barked at them. They took their seats and were each handed a bottle to drink from. Yelps gave them a scalding look, he expected more professionalism from these two, although he wasn’t surprised that they were nearly late. Justin strolled in through the door. He looked surprised to realise that he was the last one. He sat down quietly, hoping not to get noticed. Nina looked across at him and realised he didn’t have a bottle with him. She reached under the table and pulled up a bottle, she pierced the top with the straw and slid it across to Justin.

“Thanks.” Justin mouthed quietly as he took a sip.

“Right, now we can begin.” Yelps took an authoritative tone. “Before we get into the nitty gritty it’s been confirmed by our wrist computers that we are all dehydrated so no water rationing for us for at least forty-eight hours.” Yelps smiled softly across to everyone. “Drink plenty guys, don’t exert yourself to much. For instance don’t run because your late for a de-brief.” Yelps spoke a little more harshly, he simultaneously told off Allan and Greg for running to the meeting whilst also telling off Justin for not running. “Also make sure you see the base doctor for moisturiser and lotion. If you need them then wear sun glasses too. Don’t be heroes when it comes to your health guys.” At that moment Smythe walked into the room.

“Welcome back team.” Smythe spoke to the room before sitting down next to Yelps. “Don’t mind if I listen in do you Major.”

“No sir.” Yelps replied. He had hoped he would be able to filter what had happened on the mission before he had to report back to Smythe.

“I’m not alone I’m afraid.” Smythe added. Mead entered the room. It fell silent, everyone was shocked to see him, he hadn’t left central in years.

“Governor.” Yelps exclaimed. “What a surprise.”

“He arrived shortly before we had heard that you had found the water.” Smythe explained. “Shall we get started.”

Chapter 7

17:30 MTC, April 9th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

The next few hours dragged by for Justin. He had little to add to the general conversation as each part of the mission was dissected. Justin found it difficult to concentrate on what was being said. He knew he should be paying more attention, maybe even contribute in some way but he just couldn’t focus on what was being said. In the end Justin rested his head on the table, only occasionally managing to make the effort to sit up. For the rest of the meeting he was mainly ignored by the others. When he finished the bottle he was drinking from another one would appear from someone. Justin only made a conscious effort to be part of the meeting at two points. Firstly when they were going through the skimmer being shot down and then when Yelps was describing the battle in the cave.

“At this point the battle stopped.” Yelps calmly and collectedly described. “We were approached by the Weona Napl High Priest, whom we learnt was named Qaje and he performed first aid on Greg.”

“First aid?” Smythe questioned. “What sort of first aid?”

“He brought me back from the dead.” Greg yelled out excitedly. Smythe and Mead both looked over at Yelps, concerned by these events. Yelps softly nodded at them both.

“It’s something to do with the rocks.” Yelps tried to explain even though he didn’t really understand it himself. “But Greg was for all purposes killed by a spear attack, then he wasn’t.”

“It’s magic.” Greg added, hoping he was being helpful, he wasn’t.

“This is unusual.” Smythe was shocked by what he was being told. If it had come from anyone else he wouldn’t have believed it, he would have thought this was some sort of prank but Yelps wasn’t that kind of man. “Well, off to medical, full internal and external check-up.” Smythe added.

“Ha Ha.” Allan blurted out. “You’re going to have to get probed by the doctor.”

“Anything else happen that was unusual?” Smythe asked.

“Not really.” Yelps added. “Negotiations for the water were swift, they know what we need it for and will share, they haven’t asked for anything in return yet. The details still need to be sorted.” Yelps knew what he was doing, he was offering Mead the glory of finalising the agreement and seeming to have done the negotiations himself.

“Well excellent.” Mead added. “It seems like you were quite a team.”

“Yes sir, we are.” Yelps spoke with a tone of pride in his voice, he was proud of what he and his team had done.

“It seems a shame to break you up.” Mead added. “Yet we must.” Everyone looked around at each other in shock. They had expected to be allowed to keep working together. “Allan you will be re-assigned to the cavern where you will act as a guard for the engineers as they build the pipe line.”

“Aye sir.” Allan replied.

“I’ll look forward to that.” Greg added.

“No Greg you’re going to the Haissisut villages, help distribute the water supply.” Mead dropped the bomb shell on them.

“Oh, aye sir.” Greg replied. He then looked over at his friend and tried to force a smile.

“Nina.” Mead turned to the girl. “You’ll return to Central, you’re going to be allowed to continue your studies on Martian history and culture. I know you’ve always wanted to do that.”

“Thank you sir.” Nina replied. She had gotten what she had always wanted, yet it felt like a punishment.

“Justin, you’ll remain here, you can work with the scientists and engineers, I know they can make use of your maths skills.” Mead nodded and smiled at Justin. “Major.” Mead then turned to Yelps.

“Yes Governor.” Yelps hated that his team was being broken up in this way, yet he was dreading his own re-assignment even more.

“It seems you’re here as an American military officer yet you have hardly spent any time on the American base. In fact I believe you haven’t been back there in several years.” Mead smiled a politicians smile. “You’re to go back there, they are anxious to speak with you.”

“Sir.” Yelps’ words had to be forced out of his throat and mouth.

“Well I must be getting back to Central. The planet doesn’t run itself you know.” Mead rose from his chair and walked out of the room. A few moments of silence passed by.

“Aye.” Allan spoke next. “Me and Greg had best go and pack.” Allan and Greg both rose and left the room. Nina turned to Smythe.

“Why has he done this?” She asked.

“I don’t know, I knew nothing about this.” Smythe seemed genuinely shocked by these turn of events. He had always been a man who could spot Mead’s little tricks but this had taken Smythe completely by surprise.

“We worked well together.” Nina added. “Why can’t we stay as a team?”

“Nina, it’s been decided.” Smythe spoke in his fatherly tone towards her. “You get to study, like you always wanted. Now go and pack.”

Nina left the room, Justin followed her, not sure what to do with himself.

“Say it.” Smythe commanded, looking directly at Yelps’ eyes.

“This is a crock of shit and you know it.” Yelps yelled, full of anger and passion.

“I know.” Smythe took in a deep breath. “He wants to split you guys up for some reason, I don’t know why.”

“Why am I being re-assigned back to the US base?”

“I don’t know. I’ll put in a request for you to be brought back here, but in the meantime you’ll have to report back to your own people.”

“You know what they’ll do to me.” Yelps spoke with desperation and concern.

“They’ll debrief you.” Smythe whispered.

“And then through me in prison or more likely kill me.”

“I hope to have you back in a week. They won’t risk a diplomatic struggle.” Smythe hoped this would be enough. “In the meantime hold tight and I’ll do all I can to get you out of there.” Smythe took a deep breath. “Have you been back since…”

“No.” Yelps shouted, interrupting the commander.

“Well they must realise you’re not going to talk about it.” Smythe thought for a moment. “You didn’t mention anything to the boy did you?” Smythe asked.

“No.” Yelps didn’t like lying to the commander but he knew he had to right now to save his own life. “He knows nothing about the incident.”

“That will work in your favour.” Smythe offered out his hand. “Good luck, hold tight and you’ll be back here in no time.” The two men shook hands then Yelps turned and walked out.

Chapter 8

18:30 MTC, April 9th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Justin was standing in the corridor waiting. He knew that Yelps would have to go back to his quarters so he waited. Justin’s breathing was shallow as he tried to keep as still and quiet as possible. He leant against the wall and waited. It seemed to take an eternity. The puzzles of the last few days kept rushing through his mind. Justin knew that with Yelps leaving to go back to the US base this was his best chance of getting to the truth. Justin could hear the soft footsteps of someone walking down the corridor. He closed his eyes and thought for a moment. He took a deep breath, waited. The footsteps were getting louder and louder. Soon the person making them would be right in front of Justin, he had to wait though, wait for exactly the right moment to make his move. Justin opened his eyes and could see the shadow on the floor. Then he pounced. With one hand he grabbed the person’s wrist, with his other arm he through them against the wall. Justin stood staring into the eyes of his victim. For a moment he looked into the eyes of his prey, slightly relieved that it was indeed Yelps. The two men stood still for a moment, their eyes fixed on each other, their faces just inches apart. Justin then realised that he was supposed to say something.

“You’re going to tell me the truth.” Justin blurted out, almost having to push the words out of his mouth. He was desperate to appear to be brave and threatening, inside Justin knew he was neither of these things. Here he was, not much more than a boy really and he was trying to threaten a trained killer, not just that but a US Marine who had seen more violence, more death, then even this boy from Brixton could imagine. “You’re going to tell me the truth about what you said on that skimmer.”

“Alright.” Yelps conceded. Victory for Justin, but what to do with it.

“If I think you’re lying I’m going push my arm against your throat, you’ll choke to death.”

“I don’t think you’re a killer. You’re too good a person to do that.”

“Were you a good person before your first kill Major?” Justin uttered through gritted teeth. Yelps thought for a moment, was there a before his first kill? He tried to concentrate on Justin’s point but couldn’t.

“What do you want to know Justin?” Yelps asked, conceding that for now he would just have to go along with it.

“The truth.”

“One question, just one.” Yelps offered, pushing out his chest, trying to show Justin that he could over power him.

Justin thought for a moment. In truth he knew that Yelps could easily push his way out of the grasp Justin had him in right now. Yelps was obviously accepting the situation as it currently was and although Justin knew he needed more than one question, he also knew that he couldn’t push the point much more. Justin thoughts over ran his mind, what question would tell him the most, what would give him the greatest insight into what really was going on? Justin knew he had to be clever, but careful too, Yelps could easily lie or twist the truth. Then Justin realised, there was one thing above all else that just didn’t make any sense. If Justin’s suspicions were right then it would tell him the truth above all else.

“Answer me this then, was I born on Mars?” Justin asked confidently. Justin knew that if Yelps answered yes then not only was his mother here on Mars but it would explain the Son of Mars mystery. Yelps smiled, he looked like he had dodged a bullet, this confused Justin.

“The first human person born on Mars was Nina, approximately six months after you were born.”

“But if that’s true…” Justin tried to reply. Suddenly his body was hurled round and he felt his back hit the wall. Yelps was now leaning on him, pushing against his chest with much more force then Justin was even capable of using.

“One question I said, you asked, I answered.” Yelps smiled. “Now let’s move on, we could be friends.” Yelps let go of Justin and backed off. “Seriously Justin I know it’s hard but you need to forget about this.”

“But if I wasn’t born on Mars then why did Qaje call me son of Mars.?”

“Justin, there’s a lot you want to know, there’s a lot you should know but there is nothing that I can actually tell you.” Yelps tried to force a reassuring smile. “By the way I’m not the only person who has been here for such a long time, there are others.” Yelps turned and started to walk away, heading back to his quarters.

Justin stood still, his attempt to learn the truth had failed and now he was more confused than ever.

Chapter 9

20:55 EDT, March 1st 2017

Martian Operations Agency Research Facility, New York, United States of America, Earth

Sirus backed away from the one-way mirror and found her seat, Ryan rushed over to be by her side.

“It took me a while too honey.” He reassured her slowly, grabbing her arms. “It will be ok.” He whispered into her ear.

“How long?” She asked.

“Three months.” Philips replied. “It’s the drugs, we’ve injected you with the antidote, you’ll start to remember soon.”

“The girls?” Sirus asked.

“Living in Houston Texas with a foster family.” Philips offered calmly. “They will be fine but we will check in on them from time to time. We don’t wish them any harm, they could lead a normal life.” Philips spoke with a sincere hope.

“How long have you been interrogating me?”

“Twelve hours a day, every day for the past three months.” Philips replied. “Not just me, we have a team of people. I’ve been away on other duties for some of the time. But I came here especially for today. It’s your last day.” Philips whispered quietly.

“How will you do it?” Sirus asked with fear.

“You’ll be shot.” Philips replied. “It’s a bit melodramatic I know but it really is the most humane way.” Philips smiled at her. “Would you like a last cigarette or a blindfold, I’m afraid it’s clichés only from this point in.”

“Where?” She asked.

“In the head, it will be quick.” Philips said softly. Sirus closed her eyes as if in pain.

“I mean where will it take place?”

“Here.” He replied. “In this room.” Philips removed his hand gun from its holster and placed it on the table. Ryan rushed over as best he could and kissed Sirus passionately. It was like their first ever kiss, all those years ago when the lies didn’t seem so important. They broke away and realised that both of them were crying. Sirus looked up and saw that Philips was standing opposite her with the gun pointing at her head. “It’s time.” He said softly, almost with regret. “Any last words?”

“Ryan I love you, I don’t regret any of it.” With tears streaming down her face she tried to fight back the pain. The words getting caught up in her throat, it felt like she would vomit her insides in trying to say what she wanted to say.

“Ryan.” Philips ordered. “You should tell her the truth.”

“I forgive you.” Ryan said, crying and feeling ashamed that it had taken him so long to say. “I forgive you totally and utterly you are forgiven.” He said slowly, unsure if the words were even able to come out of his mouth.

“I’m sorry that I lost you. I love you.” She uttered, her eyes blood shot red, every emotion on her face.

BANG.

Sirus wasn’t exactly conscious. That wasn’t how she felt. She could tell that she was still in the room but it felt like wearing glasses that were meant for someone else. Everything was fuzzy and unclear. He had felt the bullet touch her skin. It was hot. At that moment she saw all the things that had brought her joy in her life. The first time she flew a plane, her parents faces, the first time she saw the Earth from space, the first time she saw Mars, Ryan’s smile, her daughters. Everything that had had any real value in her life. She was aware of hitting the floor, the sensation of the fall was the last stimulus her brain had received. But then it all became a strange sort of dream. Like it was happening to someone else. It was in that moment that Sirus realised just how simple life had always been.

Sirus fell from her chair, blood covering the floor. The life gone from her eyes, the pain disappeared from her face too. Ryan rushed to her side and took the dead body in his arms.

“You never lost me.” Ryan said softly. “You never will.” Ryan kissed her lips and with his hand he closed her eyes. Gently he placed her body lovingly on the cold hard floor. Slowly he raised his head and looked up. Philips was standing over him, his gun pointing right at Ryan’s head. Heat coming off of it from the firing. “Do you really think that’s a threat?” Ryan asked.

“Perhaps not.”

“It’s a relief really.” Ryan stated. “Do it.” Ryan screamed through gritted teeth.

“You know.” Philips started to speak, turning away from Ryan and going back to his seat. “I’ve had a look at your Invelcorp employee file.” Philips put his feet up on the table. “There’s some good stuff in there. You’re a very talented programmer.”

“So?” Ryan said with resentment.

“We could use a guy like you.” Philips put the gun down on the table. “Your talents should not be wasted.”

“You want me to work for you?” Ryan was confused.

“Yes.” Philips replied calmly. “It beats the alternative.” Philips let his eyes roll onto the gun.

“You, you came here just to kill her.”

“I’m not an assassin Ryan, I’m a recruiter, I came here to recruit you.” Philips spoke trying to emphasis his point. All of this is part of that process.

“Tell me what she did that was so bad that she had to die.” Ryan asked.

“She never told you?” Philips asked, this time it was his turn to be confused. “You still don’t know how all this started?”

“No.” Ryan answered, still looking at the body of the woman he loved.

“She didn’t check that someone else had locked a door.”

“What?”

“Simple really.” Philips shrugged his shoulders. “But it did cause a few deaths, the question is will yours be one of them.”

“How did not checking a lock on a door cause all this?” Ryan was close to laughing at the stupidity of it all.

“It was inevitable really. I will tell you.” Philips said, leaning forward on the table. “But first how about a game of chess.”

Chapter 10

19:30 GMT, May 22nd 2017

Brixton Child Care Home, Brixton, London, UK

Susan was sat at the kitchen table with Carl, helping him with his reading. It was early evening and everyone in the house had already eaten. Susan had her arm wrapped around Carl as they read his book together. In the past few weeks he had really improved. Life was starting to look good again for the young boy, well not good exactly but there was a long shot at hope again and that was more than had been there before. Susan sat with her arm around the young boy and looked down at the page. Was this how life was going to be from now on? The doorbell rang, rudely interrupting Carl. Susan leapt up and spirited herself to the door. Several of the other kids appeared, Susan pushed past them to get to the door first, she knew who it would be. A couple of the kids started giggling and teasingly making kissing noises. Susan turned and stared them all down, the scowling causing them to run and flea. Susan stopped just before the door, she straightened her outfit before she opened the door slowly, agonisingly. There stood the policemen, out of uniform. Jeans, a shirt and leather jacket adorned the man. In the past few weeks he had called a few times, always with no news about Justin. The pair nervously smiled at each other. It was true that Susan had grown increasingly fond of the man, his visits were one of the few things that had kept her going in this difficult period. She invited him in by way of moving her body away from the door. Stepping in nervously and anxiously the policeman entered slowly. The pair walked in silence down to the kitchen.

“Carl why don’t you go and watch cartoons?” Susan spoke in almost a whisper. Carl leapt from his seat and ran, with no regard for running style, athleticism or personal safety, into the other room. Susan smiled at the policeman. “Cup of tea?” She asked.

“Yes please.” The policeman smiled back at her. “Look there’s something I need to tell you, the boy in New York, that wasn’t Justin.” He tried to produce a comforting smile on his face, he failed.

“I knew it wouldn’t be.” Susan turned her back to switch on the kettle, but mostly to hide the fear and sadness in her eyes.

“We’ve found…” The policeman started to take a white envelope out of his pocket. Could he really do this?

“What?” Susan turned back. “What have you found?”

“Nothing.” The policeman quickly returned the note back to his pocket. “We’ve found nothing.” The pair smiled at each other, trying to think of something else to say. “Look I know this is unprofessional of me and everything.”

“Yes.” Susan’s hope had returned to her voice.

“I was wondering if you would like to go and get a drink some time?” He looked away, fearing for her answer.

“Sure.” Susan replied. “But I don’t even know your name?”

“Philips, everyone calls me Philips.”

Chapter 11

22:30 MTC, April 9th 2017

British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars

Justin was leaning against the desk in Nina’s quarters. Nina was busy packing up her things. She very slowly and deliberately folded each item of clothing and placed it into the bag.

“But how do I know who to believe?” Justin whined as he spoke.

“I don’t know what to tell you Justin.” Nina replied, busy trying to focus on what she was doing, whilst aware that she was obviously for some reason trying to take as long as she could about it.

“My whole life I thought my mother was a drug addict who died and left me in care.”

“Well maybe that’s what happened, from what I’ve heard the Earth is a pretty messed up place.”

Justin thought for a moment. It caught him off guard to hear Nina talk like this, after all she seemed so normal to him, but he knew deep down that she was different to him.

“But why did Qaje call me Son of Mars?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you ever seen anyone else get addressed like that?”

“No. Even the other kids who were born after me aren’t called that.” Nina stood still and thought for a minute. “Maybe I’ll learn the answer now I can study Martian culture.” She returned to her packing.

“You can’t actually be happy about this can you?” Justin asked with genuine concern.

“The commander was right, I have been asking to be allowed to study full-time for ages, now I’ve got what I want.”

“A bit sudden isn’t it?” Justin asked. This made Nina stop again. The truth was it was all a bit sudden and Nina would be lying if she said she wasn’t suspicious about it.

“Look I’ve got to take this chance.”

“I’ll miss you, that’s all.” Justin couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. It was true, he would miss her, but did he actually have to say it to her.

“You’ll be fine, you’re getting acclimatised now, you don’t need me showing you around.” Nina smiled at Justin.

“That’s not what I meant.” Justin would miss the help Nina had been to him, he wouldn’t have achieved any of the things he had done without her. “I meant you as a person, not you as a chaperone.”

Nina put down the shirt she was holding. Justin stood up and looked her in the eyes. He felt his heart beating faster, he knew he wanted to do something but didn’t know what. A moment passed, a moment that seemed to last for hours but was gone too quickly. Nina sighed and turned back to her packing.

“You’ll be fine without me and you’ll enjoy working in the engineering section. They could use a good guy like you.” Nina wanted to ignore what had just happened.

“Nina.” Justin didn’t know what to say next, should he tell her that he wanted to kiss her, or take his cue from her and move the conversation on. Justin guessed that she probably didn’t want to kiss him and was a little embarrassed by the whole thing. But what could he say now? How could he move on. “What do you think Qaje meant by great change?”

“What?” Nina couldn’t believe that this was what Justin would want to talk about.

“He said that you and I would bring great change to Mars.”

“I don’t know, Weona Napl priests have a weird way of talking, they never really say what they want to say.”

“I suppose the real question is will it be good change…”

“Or bad.” Nina replied.

Justin thought for a moment, he realised that his short time on Mars had already brought about too much change for him and this planet. The water supply for the Haissisut, the deaths he had seen, the shift of the politics his mere presence had brought about. He felt like he was in a car, going just a little too fast for comfort and it was all completely out of his control. Then Justin remembered Yelps’ advice, the one thing from Yelps he could believe. Breathe.

Epilogue

22:45 GMT, June 4th 2017

Brixton Child Care Home, Brixton, London, UK

Carl lay in bed. He looked up at the night sky as it shone through his bedroom window. Although he was so young he knew his life had been hard, he knew he was different, his life was harder than other peoples. Carl slid round and put his feet on the floor. Today had been a good day. It had been his birthday and everyone had made a fuss of him. Best of all he had gotten birthday presents, he wasn’t expecting any, not with his parents gone. Today had been the first day he hadn’t been sad about Justin leaving. Carl got out of bed and walked towards the window, he looked up at the sky and saw all the stars, they shone brightly tonight. Carl turned back and looked at all the presents he had been given. Most of them were small toys from the orphanage or the other kids. But there was one, the bestest one of all that Susan and her friend the policeman had given him. That present was standing right next to him and it was a shiny new telescope, just for him. Carl walked round and peered into the eye piece, just how the policeman had taught him too. Carl pointed the telescope at one of the twinkly lights. It looked like a big red disc and it looked beautiful. Carl walked over and picked up a book he had been given, he looked in it and realised he had been looking at another planet, this was Mars. What a thing to think about, here he was in his bedroom and he could see another planet. Carl looked at the pictures in the book and wondered, would he ever get to go there?

Note From The Author

I hope you have enjoyed this novel. I have had the amazing good fortune to work with the team at Half A Cup Of Coffee in publishing this along with my other works. This particular novel has taken a while to get out there and I certain intend to write more novels in this series so keep looking back in at jjwright.co.uk and halfacupofcoffee.co.uk for more information.

This novel has been based in a very small part on a conspiracy theory that says mankind has already made to Mars and are living there fighting the native race. I can’t say I believe the conspiracy theory but the first time I heard it my imagination caught on fire and I just had to write about it. I couldn’t help but think about what sort of person would agree to travel to another planet knowing that they could never return. But also I started thinking about the people who would be left behind here on Earth. The result of those thoughts is the novel you have just read and hopefully enjoyed.

Viewing the world with hint of scepticism is always a good thing. How do we know that what we are presented with is the truth and how do we know that the world is as we preserve it? Governments and big business will always hide things for their own gain, people in power will misuse that fact for their own personal reasons. But how would people react with this novel turned out to be true. How would you react if you were suddenly told of life on Mars and that you were the only person who could help them? Would you go willingly or would you try to escape? When faced with an adventure like travelling to another planet to fight an alien species would you yern for a normal life and a family? What would you do if you discovered your loved one, the person you cared about most in the entire world had in fact been working for a secret organisation who had kept secret the biggest discovery ever made by the human race?

I hope you look at some other my other ebook novels which are available. Please do leave feedback/reviews either on the site where you downloaded this book from or on goodreads.com

Once again I want to say thank you for reading this book.

J.J. Wright

May 2017

Also By J.J. Wright

To keep up-to-date with the latest releases by J.J. Wright and Half A Cup Of Coffee check out the website and twitter regularly.

[* Mars Encounter: Prequel Stories*]

Written as part of the publicity for the release of Mars Encounter. Mars Encounter: Prequel Stories is a collection of short stories set inside of the Mars Encounter universe. These are ‘deleted scenes’ and short stories that tell the wider story of the Mars Encounter novel and help to set the scene. Includes a special bonus story set a few years before the main action of the Mars Encounter novel. Daniel is a MIT student who specialises in radio wave technology. After accidentally discovering radio signals coming from Mars he is let into a secret world of aliens, conspiracies and spies. But there’s another mystery laying underneath the surface and by the time he gets to Mars he realises that all is not as it seems.

  • Intergalactic Sweet Shop*

And so it came that mankind ventured out from the Earth to explore the galaxy in all it’s splendour. As mankind journeyed so did all of their hopes, dreams and ambitions. Not to mention a bag of Jelly Babies. Intergalactic Sweet Shop tells the story of the first Sweet Shop outside of our solar system. A host of characters that prove you don’t have the be clever, brave or even competent to journey into space.

Skate Park: Lucy and the Skate Park

The annual skate boarding competition comes to the park, this is Danny’s chance to shine and especially impress Lucy with his awesome boarding skills and his awesome hair. But tragedy befalls Danny at the competition and he must learn to live with a new champion of the park and an unexpected one at that. Can Danny learn to live with being second best or will he fight to regain his title as the best boarder in the park. 

Skate Park: Danny and Supreme Ultimate Mega Champion of the Universe

The annual skate boarding competition comes to the park, this is Danny’s chance to shine and especially impress Lucy with his awesome boarding skills and his awesome hair. But tragedy befalls Danny at the competition and he must learn to live with a new champion of the park and an unexpected one at that. Can Danny learn to live with being second best or will he fight to regain his title as the best boarder in the park. 

Skate Park: Victoria and the Petition

Councillor Pearce’s plans to take over the park have moved up a gear. Scared of losing the one place they all run to the gang decides they must try and stand up for their rights. Under threat of being centre to a youth group (and being forced to play ping pong) Victoria steps up and gets everyone involved in starting a petition to save the park. Is it enough though to save the park and what will happen when councillor Pearce finds out what’s been going on.

About The Author

J.J. Wright was born in the city of Leicester, United Kingdom in 1982. He now lives and works in Oxfordshire have also spent much of his life in Hampshire and Lancashire. He spends much of his time writing but also enjoys Rugby, Golf and Motorsport.

J.J. Wright previously worked as a university lecturer and in sales. He used his time in these job roles to start his writing career and often draws on these experiences in his writing.

In 2016 J.J. Wright released his first novel Intergalactic Sweet Shop with Half A Cup Of Coffee which has been successful. He also released a collection of short stories aimed at pre-teens called Skate Park. These ebooks are available through all good online ebook distributors.

Currently J.J. Wright publishes a blog on his website jjwright.co.uk and you can also follow him on twitter. J.J. Wright is bookable for speaking engagements and lectures, please contact him through the contact page on his website.


Mars Encounter

A sci-fi adventure for readers with a healthy suspicion of authority. Mars Encounter offers the reader an exciting trip into the lives of the first Earth colonists to Mars. Set in modern times it tells of a secretive organisation which not only knows if there is alien life on Mars, but lives amongst them. Politicians lie, truths are covered up and people die, facts Justin had to live with, he always new he wasn’t like the other kids in Brixton. He wanted out of gangs and was determined to use his brain to do it. Justin had no idea though just how far his brain would take him. Yelps however always knew where he was heading, straight to a war he didn’t understand, what else was there for a US Marine. But even he was surprised to learn which war he would be destined to fight in. Mars Encounter tells the story of those who live in the shadows, who protect the lies others are determined find the truth of and the question of in the brotherhood of creation who can be trusted and who is out for themselves.

  • ISBN: 9781370269556
  • Author: J.J. Wright
  • Published: 2017-05-05 13:05:29
  • Words: 78608
Mars Encounter Mars Encounter