I'm standing on what was once the bottom of a great ocean, that was once teaming with so much life that it would be impossible to count all of it. We thought it would be many sols until we would manage to dig anything up, to find a single fossil or any evidence of what was once potentially life, but instead of life, we found something deadly. When you find me, hear my story Paris.
Earth date - 2083 AD 23rd November
We have been floating around the orbit now for three sols, trying to plan the perfect landing by both comfort and via what is believed to have once been a sea bed. From here, the earth, or land perhaps, looks more butterscotch in colour rather than red. I knew it was the iron in the air which caused this look, but it's still something to get used to.
Peter is still the same annoying bastard he's always been. He keeps complaining. He wants to land so, in his words, he can have a proper shit siting down rather than floating around.
Olivia is getting board of all the waiting. She read an entire book in the time we've been waiting. She only bought ten with her. She wasn't expecting to have this much time to read. She wouldn't tell me what the book's about, and I can't take a peak as it's in French.
Myself, well, I want to land too. I didn't train for seven years to be floating around in space, I trained for seven years to walk on Mars. To be like the legend Renard, the first human to walk on Mars. I'm reading her book, Vixen astronaut.
"Anno Domini, didn't know you kept your faith" Came a feminine Occitan voice. "Are you reading my diary?" I replied, very much annoyed at the intrusion. "No, just peeking. I'm board" "I know you are Livy, but remember, Renard had to wait an entire fortnight..." "You and this fucking Renard. Renard this Renard that. I know she's your hero but she's all you talk about. Worse than that, she's a Parisian" "And all you talk about is being board Livy. You could have done what Peter did and bring a game thing at least" "A game thing? Have you ever lived in the real world?" "We're in a spaceship orbiting Mars, is this the real world?" "Ugh" Olivia grunted "You are such a, how do your people say, a Klugscheißer." "And you're a, how do your people say, a putain or chispa."
" 'Ay will you twos shut the fuck up!" Came a loud rough northern English voice. Or as they called it, scouse. Apparently there was a difference. "It's bad enough this transmission is 20 minutes behind, and we're fucking losing again, and ya know what, it's a lot easier to get pissed off when you're stuck floating in space with a Smartass kraut and a noisy frog who are having an argument about fucking whatever, so will yous two just be quiet?" Peter screamed, without moving or taking his eyes of the football match he was watching. Poor guy was from the blue half of Liverpool - Everton. Honestly, I could relate, being a St. Pauli fan myself.
No one spoke for a moment, Myself and Olivia just looked at eachother, silently. "Would you prefer it if I used CE instead?" I asked, breaking the silence. "Use what you like, just didn't expect you to use a Christian term" "It's a Christian calendar. I may not believe in God but that doesn't mean I hate the idea of one. The calendar exists to date Jesus. Common era is some bullshit invented by inadequate people who want to rewrite every religious cultural element to fit their Atheist worldview." "Oh Merde" Olivia said in an abundant horror, realising that she had just set me off on one of my tirades. "I mean, we're speaking now. In California they no longer say breakfast because it means breaking the fast, a religious tradition. They now say Morning food. So stupid. They're talking about renaming the days of the week because they are named after Gods. What next? The planets? Will this planet soon be called Earth's red friend or some bullshit like that?" "Fucking Yanks" Peter said to himself in the distance, still having his eyes glued to the screen. There was a brief silence. "Timo, I'm sorry for being noisy. I'm going to read my other book." Olivia said, defeated.
Both myself and Olivia just had a brief argument. It didn't get too out of hand like it has previously. I think we're both just inpatient about landing. How many more sleeps is it? when will be be able to actually walk properly? Instead of running on that dam treadmill?
Everton just scored, well they scored 20 minutes ago technically. I think even Paris could hear Peter's jubilant celebrations. Olivia just threw her book at him, seeming to forget that it would mealy just float around. I guess I should report to Paris soon. There nothing else to do.
Finally, a good landing spot had presented itself. "Ok Paris, I think we're clear to land. Please confirm" I transmitted. It would be forty minutes until we would hear a response, then a further two hours until we could officially descend. Paris would need to go over the footage we sent them and double check for anything they had missed. Until then, we all had our roles to play. I was to quickly switch the controls to simulate mode and simulate the landing. Peter would looking over the ship to check if everything was steady enough to both land and take off again. Meanwhile, Olivia checked the return craft, which would stay in orbit for their eventual return. She would also be checking the incubators and food supply.
All of those early morning ten kilometre nightmare runs, Every disgustingly healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner, I shall finally walk on the Red planet, just as the Vixen astronaut did.
"Paris reporting. You are clear to land" Came a voice on the radio. I switched off the simulator, and pressed the communicate all button. "All crew get ready for landing procedure" I said calmly, all of those years in the Luftwaffe and flying commercial planes across the globe, it all lead to this moment.
"Murphy Peter, in position" Came his Scouse voice "Tatau Olivia, in position" Came her Occitan voice.
"Beier Timo, running through pre-landing procedures." Came my Hamburger voice "Ok, all communicating will be English throughout the landing procedure. We start each communication by first speaking our surname. Some example, I shall say Beier, we have landed. Only vital communication is necessary. I have Murphy Peter on Engineering station and Tatau Olivia on projection station. Myself, Beier Timo, is on Flight control station. Please copy that all crew understanding starting from the front of the ship backwards."
"Murphy, understood" "Tatau, understood" "Beier, starting landing procedure. Descending now"
I took a deep breath, and started the descent. The entire ship was shaking relentlessly, as if some giant had picked it up and used it as a salt shaker. I looked at the speed we were traveling at.
"Beier, we're quick. Initiative slow down" "Tatau, initiating slow down mode one" Olivia reported, releasing the first heavy parachute to slow out descent. Most of the air on Mars was carbon Dioxide , but the air was one hundred times thinner than on earth, so to combat this the parachute was about eight times the size of the shit.
"Beier, speed is still too high. Ready reverse mode" "Murphy, Reverse mode ready, on pilot's mark" "Beier" I said, keeping silent for a moment. I looked out of the window, then back at the speedometer. We couldn't reverse at too high an altitude or we could end up back in orbit. The noise was relentless, even with these state of the art noise cancelling headsets, I could still hear the thin yet violent air attacking the ship. It's wings were only useful on Earth. "Deploy"
We were slowing a considerable amount, I had timed it well enough but it was clear that a rough landing was to be our fate. "Tatau, Landing will be heavy. I project considerable damage. Thirty G impact worse case." "Murphy, Standing by with cushion ball."
I could feel the adrenaline pouring through my body. My mouth was dry, even though I drank the recommended litre of water before descending. Was I sweating all of it out of my body? I couldn't tell you, I giving my all to keep my focus on what was needed to be done. The landing was going to be rough, very rough. I was at the front of the ship, which meant the chance of my fatality was the highest of the crew. Holding those controls while the ship was relentlessly shaking, feeling the strongest of vibrations that seemed designed to relive my hands of the controls, was taking every bit of strength my had.
"Beier, yes deploy now! I said calmly. We were professionals, all three of us. We were all speaking so calmly, despite everything that was happening. Peter Murphy, without any hesitation, deployed the cushion ball. The cushion ball was a quick inflation, filled with nitrogen, it was designed to absorb half of the impact. A thirty G landing was now about to become a fifteen G landing. It would still be a very swore and painful landing however, plus there was the matter of investigating why the landing went sour.
When the ship landed, despite the lower gravity levels, it felt like - I don't know how to describe it actually. Like being on a rough rollercoaster and being punched all over your body at the same time. Not very pleasant. Not very pleasant at all, no not at all. Where was I? Upside down apparently, the ship dragging itself along with a great force. We must have hit a big rock, as we've just flipped over. Oh no. I must have been seeing so many different things at the same time. It had all become a blur visually and my ears felt completely numb.
For the first time in what felt like an eternity, silence. Complete silence. So silent, that my ears started to hurt even more trying to adjust to it. My eyes themselves were just fixing themselves when I heard a voice.
"Livy? Timo?" Came a dreary Scouse voice "You two better not be dead" "I'm hurt, but breathing" Came a Occitan voice "Fucking hell" I signed to myself "Beier, commencing landing report for Paris. Confirmation of landing from Engineering" "Murphy Peter, landing confirmed, Ship damaged, repairs may be needed. No sign of any fires breaking out. But keeping personal oxygen tanks near by just in case" "confirmation from observations" "Tatau Olivia , landing confirmed. According to the computer, we have lost one incubator, but the others are fine" "Beier Timo, reporting that the cockpit doesn't appear to have any damage, but investigation will be required. We will need to investigate what caused the rough landing. We will send Paris all of the data. All three crewmates are alive. Report for any injuries. I am shaken but ok." "Tatau Olivia, I am bleeding from my nose." "Murphy Peter, I feel swore all over and my ears are ringing, but overall ok" "Beier Timo, Ok, report complete. We shall recover medically for the remaining sol. We may sleep in the ship tonight rather than setting up base. Let us know what you think Paris. We'll send another report soon."
I stared out of the window for a moment. the air was red. The land was butterscotch. The gravity was certainly a little lighter. I felt myself shaking, trying to hold it in. Be professional, but how could I? I almost died, and I must confess, despite the bruises, the headache and the dehydration, it was the greatest feeling I had ever felt in my entire life. The report had sent.
"Oh Mein Gott, we're on fucking mars! Holy shit!" I screamed in the happiest Jubilation my faint breath could muster. "I have pinched myself, still awake, still alive too. C'est manifique" Olivia replied quietly. "If we didn't have so much work to do I'd pop fucking a sherry open right now" Peter said, with clear exhaustion in his voice "I could certainly use a drink" I replied "Fuck the base I want some wine" Olivia chipped in.
Getting out of that seat was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. My heart was still racing but my body was exhausted. I don't think I had ever been so thirsty in my life. When I was in the Luftwaffe, I never saw conflict. Never wanted to, I hated how only the armed forces had the best aviation technology. But I had never crashed before, Paris likes to call this a rough landing but no, this was a full on crash landing alright. As soon as I unstrapped myself and pushed myself forward, I feel straight onto the floor. After an entire month floating, gravity sure did feel strange.
We heard back from Paris, they advised us to make sure that the Algae tanks were safe and spend the night in the ship. I remember that evening, being on Mars for the first time. Olivia, Peter and I got drunk, just happy to be alive. Poor Olivia broke her nose. Of all the people to get something broken, it was of course the medical expert. We didn't excactly have a bag of frozen peas for her, but we did have paracetamol, which we all needed. I know, we all knew, that you should never mix Paracetamol with alcohol. But we didn't care.
We didn't really speak about much with each other. We all knew each other well. I knew that Peter had never managed to make a long term relationship work. I knew that Olivia broke of her engagement a few years ago when Paris approached her. They both knew that I had two failed marriages, one to a man and one to a woman. When you spend an entire month floating around with two other people, you tend to learn everything about them. We just sat together, drinking a Beaujolais red wine, and being grateful that we didn't have to bury anyone.
I woke up and decided to write in my diary about the event of the previous day. Or I guess sol now. Felt strange thinking that. It was a nice thought none the less. I Couldn't think of anything to write, I was freezing up. The alcohol and adrenaline rush from the previous sol had somewhat clouded my senses. But now, with my senses returning, I could feel just how cold it was. Mars is further from the sun so of course it was cold. But it was only now I really started to notice. We were certainly going to need to get the generator up and running so we could get the heating started up. The sooner the better. I went to see where the others were.
Peter was sleeping but Olivia was already awake, reading a chapter of her book in a chair. "Good Morning Timo" She said, noticing me before I noticed her. I saw that she made herself a coffee too. Why didn't I think that? "Good Morning Olivia. We should wake up Peter and get the generator working. It's freezing" She nodded back at me, getting out of her seat and making her way towards where Peter was sleeping.
We got the generator up and running. We knew the heating was going to take an hour or two to get started, so in the meantime we decided to get the basic area of the base set up. The base needed to be set up in three different instalments. Instalments two and three were on their way, an unhumaned vessel would drop them off. Section one would contain the algae tanks, the kitchen and canteen. We were the first to use them, but in the future others would come to the base. We were only here for the set up after all, to find a good spot to find potential evidence that there was once life here. Olivia's job was to find what could have once been a seabed. During the set up I looked outside at the vast empty planet and realised that we were essentially in the middle of a giant desert.
"So Livy" Peter asked, whilst setting up the electoral components for the Algae tanks "Why did you reckon this was a seabed anyway?" "You ask now?" She questioned back. She had a point, neither Peter nor I had asked why she insisted on this spot. "I trusted your judgement" Peter responded sharply. "Ok. Look, Peter, Timo, look outside the window. What do you see?" She asked. "A lot of rocks" Peter replied, with a sly smile on his face. "There's a lot more than just a lot of them. There's, ah what's a good way the describe it" Olivia answered. "A metric shit-tonne" I decided to chime in. It was a British expression I picked up for Peter. "Good, oui, a metric shit-tonne of rocks. Where can we usually find a metric shit-tonne of rocks?" She asked, to no answer from neither myself nor Peter. Peter certainly knew less about geography and chemistry than I did, but I still won't say he was confused. I certainly was however. "Christ do I need to spell it out?" Olivia asked, like a frustrated school teaching asking basic comprehension questions to a classroom full of idiots. "There's sand, a lot of sand. The Sahara, The Mojave, The Gobi, they were once seabeds. The water cut down the rocks until they were tiny fragments. I saw evidence of sand, if we find sand, then there's a good reason to believe that this place was once a seabed."
Both myself and Peter looked at each other. I certainly understand what she was saying, and I'm pretty sure Peter did too. "So is that why beaches are sandy?" I asked, realising soon after that I did sound a bit like a child asking such a question. "More or less" Olivia replied. "Well" Peter started "Brighton's a pebble beach. But then again, Brighton is a shithole." "yes Peter" I said "Add that to the list of British Shithole towns & cities. Basically everywhere except for Liverpool" "I never said Birkenhead was a shithole" Peter responded, keeping quiet for only a moment "It's an absolute shithole" "Like Paris" Olivia added "Or anywhere in Normandy" "Gelsenkirchen" I added, more from my dislike of Schalke than of actual knowledge of the city.
The base was finally set up, well, as much as we could set up for ourselves until the next two ships arrived. They should be about seven or eights sols away. In the meantime, as pilot it was my job to report on the landing, which I knew was going to take up a lot of my time. It really pained me, but I knew it meant I couldn't leave the base for at least the next two sols. I was watching Olivia and Peter suiting up with great envy. Obviously, if there was anything that needed fixing, then Peter would fix it. My job was to investigate. We would work together but we were only a crew of 3 and Olivia was the one who chose this spot. She would need to justify it on the ground. Someone had to go with her and someone had to stay back at base. I wasn't very happy about it, but it was what it was.
"Remember you two" I said to them as they were about to step out "We landed here first. By the rules of Space colonialism, it's our land. What we find is ours, not Paris's. The money they will give us is them technically buying said objects off our hands" "yea bags of old sand, beg I could make a fortune on that back home" Peter joked. "Oh yea, how is your nose?" I asked Olivia. "Swore, but I can breath through it" She replied "I still don't understand why Paris didn't send a doctor with us. It's certainly not my area of expertise" "Well they're cheapskates" Peter responded. We smiled at each other, then they left.
I waved them farewell as they ventured out. off back to the I went. What a boring next few hours. Or whatever the equivalent was for Mars. I checked everything, and couldn't find a single failure anywhere. I checked again and again. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Strange. I checked and checked and checked. Nothing appeared to be wrong. I decided to check the computer system. I couldn't believe my eyes, the fucking computer. It had simulated the landing for when we first arrived. It should have updated, why didn't it? Because of those three sols we spent waiting for a good landing, we crashed! The computer updates itself, why didn't it? I was very confused, and quite frankly, angry. I was yelling at that screen for a good minute when I suddenly heard a voice in my ear.
"Murphy. Timo, we found something." Came Peter's voice over the radio. "Beier. That was quick" I responded. "Tatau. You will want to see this" Olivia chipped in. I know I should have been more excited, but part of me was disappointed that I wasn't out there discovering evidence of life with them. That thought me realise that I hadn't asked what this something was. "Beier, is it evidence of life?" I asked, hopeful, and with great anticipation for the answer. "Murphy. Certainly died a long fucking time ago"
They switched to Point of view mode on their visor, and shared their images with me. I couldn't believe what I saw. A black liquid oozing from the sand. Thick and deadly. Oil. Fucking Oil on Mars.
"Tatau, I guess that means we're standing on a giant graveyard." Olivia said, is a low and soft voice. "Murphy, it's only a graveyard when attached to a church. But there's no one left to remember them" Peter chipped in, unusually poetic. I was looking at Peter's Point of view, and it was as he looked up at Olivia, a sudden hole emerged on the screen of her helmet. She instantly fell to the ground, struggling to breath. Peter was silent, then for whatever reason, he fell to the ground too. I didn't believe what I was seeing in front of me. I was in a sort of denial at the time.
I felt very cold, very cold. All of the heating just stopped working. The power was gone. What was going on? I ran towards the outer area of the base to see if I could see Peter and Olivia from there. Along the way I remember seeing Peter's Everton shirt and Olivia's book on the dining table. They couldn't just be gone, could they?
I then fell to the floor. I don't know what caused it. I just sort of fell down. My eyes shut, and when I opened them, I was outside, suffocating. What was happening? I didn't know, I still don't know. I never will know as I don't have much time left. I am in a desert, and my oxygen tank is almost empty. I don't know what brought me outside, or what happened to Olivia or Peter. Paris, I have no idea who killed us. Scheiße, I should have said that at the start.
I still hope they're ok, even if I won't be. I should think of something poetic before I go. This place, this desert, this entire fucking planet really is a massive cemetery, where I will soon be buried too. Some of the sand blew onto my visor, I may as well take it off. I can die feeling a Martian wind.
It's off, time for my goodbye. I was engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.
(I'm too tired to proofread so hopefully I didn't make too many errors)