Author : J.P. Quinn

Arron sat on an outcrop of rock. He’d stopped to watch the sunset. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help it. It was the shift from copper to blue. That extended interlude between day and night, where, for a few fleeting moments, he could almost be home.

A blip interrupted his musings. Wiping away a layer of dust, he checked his wrist unit. They were close now. Two rovers and a utility vehicle. Climbing back to his feet he pulled his scope. Before, their faces had been as familiar as his own. Now, he could barely tell them apart. It was this loss of humanity that scared him most. Terrified him, almost.

They had been drilling core samples, checking for signs of mud volcanism. The initial results had looked promising, until Blake had dropped the casing. It had happened back at the lab, the cylinder slipping through her fingers to split apart on the durbar plate floor. She’d been furious. Her rage rolling in like a summer dust storm. Arron, who had never been good with conflict, had left her to salvage the sample alone. That had been the start of it.

Replacing the scope, Arron abandoned the sunset and climbed into his ATV. It was low on power. There was enough for a few miles maybe. More if he shut down the non-essential systems. Pushing the actuator into drive, he started off toward the nearest crater basin. They’d catch him soon, he supposed. Sooner, if he couldn’t find some rocky terrain.

A transmission crackled through his earpiece. They were calling him. The sounds little more than guttural barks. He tried to break the connection, but couldn’t remember how. He guessed it was the stress. The situation was starting to get to him. Starting to wear him down.

Perry had gone to help Blake with the analysis. She’d let him in, and then turned on him. He’d fought back, but neither of them had come out of it well. Arron had watched from the control room. That was the first time he’d noticed the change in their voices. The others had screamed at him through the intercom. Their words jumbled and fragmented. He’d only worked out what they wanted when Koskov had tripped the contamination alarm and sealed the lab himself.

The ATV took a slide. Arron struggled to regain control but there was little he could do as the slide became a tumble. They’d tried to seal him in the control room. He’d watched on the closed circuit as they burst the door hydraulics and shorted out the relay. That was when he’d decided to run. Pulling up the floor panelling, he’d crawled through the service conduit to the equipment store. There, he’d suited up and made a break for the transit bay.

Arron’s helmet collided with the dash as the ATV flipped onto its roof and then back to its wheels again. A crack swept across his visor. Instinctively, he reached for it, the plastic giving way in a single gust. A fizzing sensation swept through his body. It was worst in his eyes, ears, mouth and chest. Above, the evening star had emerged from the horizon, its pale hue cool and serene. Arron watched it rise, his transformation nearing completion, his breathing coming to a halt.

The last thing he remembered was the whine of an electric motor. Then the crunch of boots through dust.

After that, he knew only rage.