Author : Morrow Brady

Our first return mission from Mars was a complete success. The journey to the red planet, the orbit to surface transfer, the vast exploration and the return trip – all went perfectly to plan. The astronauts returned to ticker tape parades and talk shows across the globe.

However, microscopic stowaways on board the return spaceship proved to be resistant to the standard decontamination procedures and once a full understanding emerged, they had already begun to flourish and spread. Earth was the perfect nursery.

As soon as it was discovered they were asexual and were constantly ejecting offspring from pores along their carapaces, the nukes were launched. The shockwaves from the detonations only served to disperse them further and within 18 months, technology began to falter as their preference for anything electronic became evident. The tiny invaders excreted iron dust, which rusted immediately and coated everything in red – earning them the name Rusty.

Year upon year, Rusty grew larger in size and by the third year, though kitten sized, Rusty’s omnivorous appetite was insatiable. State funding, rewarded citizens with food for dead Rustys and freely issued barbaric clubs. However, as soon it was thought a zone had been cleared, Rusty would emerge from the cracks.

After six years, only a few insular island communities remained clear of Rusty. Rusty always found a way in though. When the mobile incinerators – eaten from the inside out by engorged dog size Rustys – began to litter the streets, martial law came into effect. Piecemeal repairs became the new street appeal as homeowners did what they could to patch the large holes in their houses. Horror stories emerged of pets, small children and itinerants vanishing overnight.

A decade had passed and as soon as the army’s arsenal ran out, soldiers simply dispersed. Sofa sized Rustys were now favouring concrete, causing high-rise buildings to collapse without warning. Cities became too dangerous and with the countryside barren after Rusty’s first wave, suburbia – with its enclaves and community driven action teams – became the last hope. A place where vigilant eyes came together on the street to promptly defend what little remained. A tribal society.

Fifteen years passed and we ceased to care what year it was and just tried to survive day to day. The air tasted like gritty blood as Rusty continued to transform our blue planet into mining town red. Rusty’s hunger turned to suck the marrow from what remained on our planet’s surface. Survivors clung to life in make-shift castles made from detritus.

Twenty years on, we learnt to build from Rusty’s excreta. It was the only thing Rusty wouldn’t eat. With food scarce, we learn that if you pried apart Rusty’s hardened outer shell, deep within an intricate biology, there was a purple organ, that didn’t kill you. It tasted like chalky escargot.

With the land all but barren, Rusty headed to the seas. Like a receding blood tsunami, Rusty dined at the tidal break, ingesting seawater and sea life alike until he digested the ocean to the horizon. In time, the world’s deepest underwater trench became the last river and was filled with engorged whale size Rustys.

Three decades on and there were few of us left. Having eaten all food sources, Rusty began to shrink. When we thought harmony had been reached, the spaceships arrived to reveal the true masters. It took them very little effort to finish us off. The Mars-forming biology they planted three decades earlier had worked perfectly.

Here in their zoo, there aren’t many humans left.

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