Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“Hell? Hell is what you carry in your heart. All your regrets. Things you should have done but didn’t. Things you did but shouldn’t have. That’s Hell. You carry Hell with you.” Without another word he stood and walked out beyond the reach of the light from the small campfire. The report from his pistol as he blew his brains out sounded faintly hollow in the crisp desert air. The four remaining men continued to stare into the dying flames.
“Seen it before, Mars’ll do that to ya.” Tom Marten was an old trail hand and a third generation Martian.
“Why’d he do it?” Henry Curry briefly turned his eyes in the direction of the departed man, but just as quickly turned away. He was young, just eight years Mars Standard.
“It’s the planet. She knows we’re strangers. She doesn’t want us here. A man stays out here too long he hears things. She talks to ya. Get‘s under your skin like.”
“Who talks to ya, Mr. Marten,” Henry asked as a cold shiver thrilled his body.
“Mars,” he said, “she knows we’re here. She doesn’t like it.”
“You’re full of shit,” remarked Bill Fryer, getting to his feet and dusting himself off. “I’m going to bed.” He crawled into his single sleep bubble.
“Think I’ll turn in too. Don’t scare the boy too much now, Tom. This is his first drive. Can’t have him shittin’ himself at every shadow. G‘night.”
“Night,” they replied in unison.
“What were they like Mr. Marten?”
“The Martians… the real ones I mean… no offence.”
“None taken, son. Well, they were tall. Taller than us. Very slim. Bird bones. The lower gravity you know. They built the crystal…”
“No, what were they like? I mean really like?”
“Nobody really knows. They were gone thousands of years before we got here. They were ancient before man walked on two legs. They don’t want us here, I can tell you that much.”
“How do you know?”
“They talk to me. Their ghosts anyway. I hear them all around me.”
Henry shivered again. The cold night air of the desert he rationalized to himself. He looked to the sky. The stars barely twinkled in air still too thin for much refraction despite nearly a century of terraforming. Phobos was a disk smaller than Earth’s moon. Tiny Deimos was barely distinguishable from the surrounding star field. It was an indescribably beautiful starry night.
Something brought Henry’s attention back to the moment. Glancing across the fire, he thought for the briefest moment that the pupils of Tom Marten’s eyes had gone from round to vertical slits. For a fleeting instant it looked as if his face had become elongated and his skin had taken on an ashen pallor.
He shook his head and blinked several times to clear his mind. When he looked again, kindly old Tom Marten was staring back at him. He removed his revolver from his holster, checked the loads, spun the cylinder and replaced it. Nearby, a horse, grown from tissue brought from Earth, whinnied nervously.
“Think I’ll go for a walk.”
“Good idea. You do that.”
Henry walked into the darkness. In the thin air, the blast from his weapon failed to echo off the nearby cliff face.
Tom Marten smiled. A smile that failed to reach his oddly slitted eyes.
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