Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Baxter stood in the atrium of Marpo One and gazed up through the greenery, through the clear observation port above and into the blackness of space.

Three years he’d called this home, he with the sixty three other lost souls that had signed up for the one way trip to the red rock. They were a motley crew, all skilled in their fields; geologists, ecologists, survivalists, mediators, physicians, and each with nothing to lose by leaving Earth and everything behind them and living out their days as pioneers.

There had already been two births on Marpo, which wasn’t supposed to happen this early, but confine men and women together and it’s a practical inevitability.

Baxter would be happy if he’d just had a partner for some recreational non-procreational activity, but nobody wanted anything to do with him.

Something about him had changed, maybe the long sleep to get here, or the time spent in a self perpetuating cycle of loneliness. The more marginalized he felt, the more people left him alone, which made him feel even more isolated, and that made for a Baxter people really didn’t want to be around.

He kept to himself, did his job, and didn’t think twice when the voices came to him, first in his dreams, then in his waking hours.

They reaffirmed the things he already knew; Janey the Botanist was a bitch, and should be run through the organics recovery mill at the earliest possible opportunity. Markus the Manslut was jeopardizing the future of the colony, and should be flushed through an airlock in his sleep, a sleep that would be blunt force trauma induced.

Not right now, however, for right now Baxter was on route to the atmosphere chamber for what had become the de-facto nursery wing to blow it the hell up.

He bypassed the alarm and wedged the door on the atrium end of the tunnel, shouldered his welding rig and marched towards his grim obligation.

“Alright Baxter, stand down.”

The voice in his head was familiar, but the message was new.

“I’m going to do what we agreed needed to get done, this is important for the safety of the mission.” Baxter shook his head as he spoke out loud, confused at the sudden inner conflicting instructions.

“When you’re ready, lockdown corridor three, opaque and disable.”

Baxter felt a new height of anxiety; the voices were still in his head, no longer speaking to him, now clearly speaking about him. Dropping his rig he took off for the door he’d come in through. Half way there the lights went out, then the tube filled with electric blue lightning and Baxter travelled his last few feet in searing pain into a heap on the floor.

“It’s always the isolated male that cracks. We need more women with lower expectations.”

Behind him, a section of the observatory ceiling opened, and a pair of black suited figures dropped into the hallway.

“Do we bring him out?” One of the figures looked up through the opening, awaiting instructions.

“No, everyone thinks he’s on Mars, so we can’t really have him walking around here, and the rest of Marpo Nine thinks they’re a hundred million kilometers from home, so we can’t really have him just disappear, can we?” The voice was clinical, matter of fact. “Load his welding rig up, open the gas and light him up when you’re clear. Un-wedge the door so the fire seal holds, he’s not using hot enough fuel to breach.”

The figures worked quickly, stripping the bypass and closing the atrium hatch, then dragging Baxter back to the middle of the tunnel before strapping him into his welding rig. One of them pressed a nicotube into Baxter’s mouth to moisten it, then rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. He waiting until his partner had climbed the rope ladder back through the ceiling before pressing the igniter and tossing the tube down the hallway. He opened Baxter’s tanks wide and then pulled himself clear and sealed the hatch behind him.

Baxter came to on his back with the stars flickering overhead.

He used to find peace in the stars, as a boy, then as a pioneer before the voices came.

The voices were gone now, and Baxter felt a old familiar calm.

In a flash, both were gone.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows