Carl York succumbed first, with a trickle of
blood from his ears. It was always the same. First
came the noise no one else could hear. Then the
crushing pressure inside their head. Then death, each
succumbing faster than the previous victim. The
station sub-commander did the best he could with his
army medical training, but the nearest doctor was
ninety million kilometers on Earth.
As the station’s chief engineer, Janette Karns double-
checked the equipment, but nothing accounted for
the noises. The only pattern was that the sounds
began after a stint outside the station conducting soil
samples. But the samples checked out clear, and the
contamination alarms never sounded.
Weeks of tests and urgent radio calls to Earth proved
fruitless. And then they were down to two, Cecil
Halligan and Janette. She found him hunched over
plastic tubes, and for a moment, she thought he was
dead. But he raised up, the dark circles under his
eyes like the Martian craters.
“I’d guess a week,” he said.
Cecil waved his hand over the tubes. “Until we run
out of nutrient powder.”
Janette stared at the vials, reliving in her mind the
day Bill Hess dumped a three-year supply of powder
onto the Martian soil after he went mad.
“And the archea microbes from the caves? Any luck
drying them out? Might be enough to keep us going
until a rescue ship.”
“I need another month or two to get the process
She put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll ration what we
have. By the time it runs out, you’ll have perfected
the archea powder.”
She wanted to tell him to take a breather, more than
their two-hour naps. But they didn’t have that luxury.
Janette left Cecil to his task and went through the
motions of her equipment checks. They might die of
starvation, but by God, they weren’t going to die from
Seated at her small station, she sorted through her
notes. There had to be a pattern for the disease or
whatever it was. She looked at a photo above her
station and reached out to touch the smiling face of
the man. Her husband was the third victim, and now
his body lay outside the station with the others.
Wiping away tears, she jumped up from her seat and
headed back toward Cecil. She didn’t want to be
alone. “Cecil? What about the microbes we found in
the salt rocks? Could we dry them? Cecil?”
She rushed into the lab—but no signs. Maybe he’d
given in to the call of sleep and gone to his quarters?
She checked there, but no joy.
With a sense of dread, she looked out the window
toward the red landscape she once found so beautiful.
Fifty meters out, a figure in a spacesuit gyrated
wildly, his gloved hands pounding on his helmet.
Images of her husband, her family, her station
colleagues—a montage of ghosts called out to her.
She could survive a few weeks longer. It might be
quick, it might take a while, but either way, she’d die
Making up her mind, Janette raced to the suitport and
maneuvered into the remaining spacesuit. By the
time she got to Cecil, he’d slumped down against a
rock. She peered into his helmet and saw the crimson
streaks streaming down his face.
He looked up at her, his face contorted in agony. He
screamed out through his comm, “They won’t stop!
Make them stop!”
Janette bent over to hold Cecil in her arms as much
as she could in their bulky suits. She considered
dragging him back to the station, but it wouldn’t
make any difference.
She glanced over the barren surface of the planet,
imagining she heard a faint sound. Then it grew
louder. She squeezed her eyes shut, knowing what
was coming, determined to fight until the last.
As she looked down at Cecil’s body, the urge to fight
faded. She lowered the barriers in her mind to the
noise. She welcomed it. Willed it to take her soon.
The noise grew louder, and she noticed a change. It
branched out into a multi-layered spectrum of
sounds, more like music. It wasn’t painful at all, more
a symphony of the joy of living swirling around her.
As she listened with wonder, she heard individual
voices, followed by a chorus, and then she knew.
Mars wasn’t a barren planet, after all. And with a
great rush of the sounds of rebirth, it was waking up.
B.V. Lawson’s stories have appeared in dozens of magazines
and anthologies. She is a four-time Derringer Award finalist
and 2012 winner, as well as contributor to the Anthony Award-
winning Blood on the Bayou anthology. Her Scott Drayco crime
series was named Best Mystery in the Next Generation Indie
Book Awards, chosen as a Featured Library Journal Self-E pick,
and was a finalist for the Shamus, Silver Falchion, Daphne,
and Kindle Book Awards. B.V. lives in Virginia with her
husband and enjoys flying above the Chesapeake Bay in a little
Cessna. Visit her website at bvlawson.com.
- gotten up, arisen, having been arisen