The Dying Days of Summer


Terry Gibbons

I know a land where the sun never shines

no rain ever falls

and man like a grain of sand

blows aimless and lost in the wind...

Olympus Mons - Mars 2239

Alex Braxxian knew he was about to die. The sensation was not one of fear in the truest sense. It was almost a feeling of relief. True, Alex had faced death many times before in his short life. While some of them had left with him with a certain sense of fear, none had centered him in the truest way. Death was something that came easily on Mars. There were many and varied ways of perishing on this rundown crust of a world. There had been times when it would have been far easier to just let go, to let the endless struggle for survival to finally overflow you and to drift into that restful sleep everyone seemed to quietly seek. But something inside him awoke within the tiniest moment, a raw action that would not allow his end to come so quickly or without one last struggle for survival.

Alex knew that for all the stupidity of his recent actions, and despite the fact that death was something he certainly deserved, she would not have his soul quite so easily this day.


He threw his vac-suited head to the side, just moments before the rifle butt slammed into the soft ground next to him. A cloud of red dust quickly bellowed around him, forming a blood-red cloud that danced and moved to a life of its own in the low gravity. It was more an act of sheer desperation as Alex kicked out at the dark figure looming over him, and rolled to the side as quickly as his bulky vac-suit would allow.

His desperation was rewarded with a solid feel, as his boot drove into the midsection of the scavenger with as much force as he could muster. The man staggered back, clutching his old rifle in one hand and drawing a long steel knife with the other. Alex rolled to his feet, and for the first time in what seemed an eternity managed to take stock to his situation.


The monster that was Olympus Mons towered behind him. Its massive volcanic presence was unmatched in the entire solar system. The red, dust-covered plains of Mars spread out in all directions as far as the eye could see. Just in the distance Alex quickly made out the glint of red light off steel as he finally laid eyes on the scavenger camp. It was still some miles away, he noted with gloom.

It seemed his stealthy approach hadn't been as secretive as he would have hoped. His attention snapped back to the lanky figure standing before him. It was impossible to make out the features of the man. His face was hidden behind the tinted visor of his tattered helmet, with only the empty blackness of Alex's own reflection staring back at him. The figure's equipment was the usual assortment of decrepit parts and scraps of gear well past their use-by dates. It seemed the scavenger's equipment was in no better shape than his own. Still, it was hardly surprising. Nothing on this world was what it used to be, not the great houses, the Equipment, and certainly not the people.


The scavenger lunged with his steel knife, trying to plunge the blade between the armored rings around his throat. Alex turned on his heel as the blade passed an inch from his neck. With all the strength he could muster, the young Martian grabbed the arm and twisted. He felt a slight churn in his stomach as he felt the arm break in his hands. The scavenger shuddered for a moment and Alex didn't have to imagine hard to see the man scream inside his helmet. Time was critical now, Alex knew, as he pushed back hard and both men tumbled into the Martian dust. A huge cloud enveloped both figures as they fought a life-and-death struggle inside the rusty haze.

Alex didn't know how it happened, but in the dust-clouded turmoil he found himself on top of the scavenger, sitting on his back. The Martian didn't hesitate for a second. Pulling his own knife from its scabbard, he grabbed the scavenger's air hose and sliced the knife through it with one easy motion. Life-giving air sprang from the critically damaged hose in billows of vapor as Alex held the thrashing figure down on the sand. He didn't allow himself to feel any pity. It simply wasn't possible, for he knew without a shadow of a doubt that had the positions been reversed, he would have received no mercy at all. He was sweating heavily in his suit as slowly -- ever so slowly -- the figure stopped thrashing and finally lay still.


Alex stared down at the back of the man he had just killed and he started to laugh quietly to himself. He knew it was wrong, but he simply couldn't help it. The last five minutes seemed to have taken hours, and he had given himself only a tiny chance of surviving it.

Slowly the young Martian threw his head back and laughed at his survival, the dead scavenger, and the universe in general as he lifted himself groggily to his feet. He had survived and he was damn proud of himself for getting out of such a tight spot. He even managed to do a quick spin of triumph in the red dust and punched the air with a gloved fist. He had survived. He had endured, and he was master of all he surveyed.

"I am invincible!" Alex bellowed to the world. It was only then that he noticed the vapor seeping from the right leg of his own vac-suit.

"Oh, shit," Alex spluttered inside his helmet, as his elation vanished like the mist, only to be replaced with the cold clutch of fear he had come to know so well. The scavenger's knife must have gotten him in the fight and he hadn't realized it.

"Oh, shit," he cursed again, as he felt the air in this tanks bleeding away into the thin Martian atmosphere. He started gulping for air and fumbling for a seal patch as he staggered about in the sand, trying to get his bearings. It was getting hard to breathe. The rip in his suit seemed to be getting bigger; he was gulping air harder now, scrabbling for the catch on his pack. He had to have a patch somewhere!

Panic was truly settling into him now. The adrenaline of the fight had ebbed away, leaving only the icy fear of death to grip his heart. To die in battle was one thing, but to stagger about like some feeble old man while your suit bled to death all around you was something entirety different.

Finally, he pulled the pack from his back and pawed at the catches. He was getting dizzy, getting tired, getting cold. Gods no, he didn't want to go this way. It wasn't meant to be like this. Somehow, he threw back the flaps on his pack and emptied the scant contents onto the ground. His breathing was shallow now, his skin cold and clammy -- he was scared, damn scared. He quickly looked at his items: torch, flares, rations... no patch. His heart skipped a beat as the realization settled on him. He had brought no suit patches with him.

Alex staggered to his feet, barely able to hold himself upright. Directly in front of him lay his recent conquest, a victory now whipped away like the sands of the desert. He started to move towards the scavenger's body. Perhaps there was hope after all; possibly the man had a supply of patches himself. He felt so sleepy, so tired. He fought to lift one foot in front of the other, as he slowly shuffled the few meters to the corpse. His suit had stopped bleeding, all the air was gone. Alex couldn't help smiling at the irony of it all. He crawled towards the still-warm corpse and reached for the body, barely able to lift his hand even in the light gravity. He had to survive, he had to! Alex didn't remember anything after that, and his body collapsed on top of the man he had just killed.


Visions... memories... a million fragmented facts shifted and passed by Alex's mind. The darkness was complete; so complete he was convinced that death had taken him at the base of the largest volcano the solar system had to offer. The darkness swirled and engulfed his thoughts and feelings completely. He was dead, wasn't he? And yet, it seemed that something familiar, something comforting, was skirting around the fringes of his world this night.

The air tasted sweet, even though he could tell it had been recycled a thousand times. There was something cold on his forehead, a soothing sensation that was pulling him back into the light. He heard the low hum of power cells in the distance, felt the familiar and comforting padding and scent of an old bunk. Slowly, he opened his eyes. The brightness was blinding, even though he knew the lights were only on at half power to conserve energy. Power was precious on Mars, as was everything else.

Alex's vision cleared slowly as the damp cloth was pulled away from his forehead. He squinted, his eyes gradually becoming accustomed to the lighting levels. At first, all he could make out was a blurry shape. A dark mass of swirls and color that quickly formed into the most beautiful sight he could ever have hoped to see.

"Hi, sis," Alex croaked, as the familiar form of his sister came into focus before him.

Anna Braxxian was older than Alex by two years, older in physical years that was. She was light years ahead in brains, clear thinking, and good old common sense. Not that Alex was stupid; no one who didn't have a keen wit and nose for survival lasted long on Mars. Just reckless, as his latest escapade with the scavenger had shown yet again.

"Clown," was all that Anna said, as she tossed the damp cloth into the bucket beside the bunk and looked at her little brother with the kind of expression he had seen too many times during their years growing up. Anna was tall like all Martians, standing well over six feet; her mousy brown hair was cut to her shoulders in the truest efficiency possible.

Deep-green eyes, pale complexion, and high cheekbones would have made for a striking woman if she had ever bothered to enhance them. Yet Anna seemed to go out of her way to make herself look as plain as possible. Her sole responsibility, indeed her sole passion since their father had taken ill, had been to ensure her family's survival at all costs.

Romance was never given a thought in Anna's life; she was committed to those under her care. Even her reckless little brother.

Alex sighed and looked about the cabin. He knew he was in one of the family crawlers, the stout tracked vehicles used so commonly on Mars these days. The interior was drab and run-down, like most of their equipment. All dark gray and rusty colors, dented and blasted, the room seemed to be barely able to hold itself together. Alex quickly turned his attention back to Anna. He was about to spring to his own defense with a well-calculated excuse as to why he had broken protocol and gone to the scavenger camp alone, when the door to the bunkroom opened and another figure stepped inside.

He was tall even for a Martian, and there was something about the way he moved -- something that gave many a slight feeling of apprehension, even fear. Aaron Thorne slowly removed his battered vac-suit helmet and let out a heavy breath as he hung the helmet on a hook near the door. His dark eyes fell on Alex for a moment.

"Idiot," was all he said as he sat down and started to peel off the tattered vac-suit.

"Clown and idiot. I'm on a roll today," Alex muttered as he scratched his scalp through long, unkempt blond hair. He knew he was in all kinds of trouble. It was true that his intentions had been noble in an odd kind of way, but the road to hell is paved with them, or so an old Earth saying went.

The young man found himself looking at the two people he definitely didn't want to cross in the world. Their expressions were not to be taken lightly. Anna was his sister, and he knew she loved him. But he also knew of her almost fanatical obsession with protecting the family. As for Thorne... well, many stories surrounded Aaron Thorne; none of them very good. It was fair enough to say that he would kill you in an instant if the need arose.

Even on a world where life was harsh and survival difficult given the limited resources, Aaron was a man to be feared, for all the right reasons.

"Look, I'm telling you the scavengers were up to something, they had no intention of trading with us. At best we would have escaped with our skins intact," Alex said as he swung his legs over the side of the bunk to look at the others.

"How do you know this?" Anna asked, her expression neutral as always. Her eyes betrayed what was really eating away at her.

"Just a feeling I had," Alex said, shrugging and frowning at his sister. Anna had most of the brains in the family, there was no doubting that, but Alex seemed to possess keener senses and a gut feeling for how things looked between the lines. That alone made him valuable to the Braxxian family. Alex noted with a slight tremor in his stomach that Mr. Thorne was standing directly in front of the door. It was strange to be afraid of your own family, and while he doubted he was in any real danger, infuriating his sister -- the second most powerful person in their family -- was never a good idea.

"So without telling anyone, you stole a crawler and went to scout the scavenger camp all on your own, got ambushed, and had to be rescued by Mr. Thorne here," Anna said quietly, with a slight indication in the dark-haired Martian's direction.

Alex looked over at Thorne. He had no memory after those terrified moments when he was frantically looking through the scavenger's gear for suit patches.

The tall Martian tilted his head slightly to the side as he gazed at Alex, an almost amused expression on his face.

Alex was relieved and worried at the same time. He had no doubt that Aaron would have happily left him to die on the sands of Mars, but his sister had ordered the rescue. He was grateful to be alive, but owing Aaron Thorne a favor was something to be concerned about.

"They were up to something," Alex countered again. "Why was the scout so far away from their primary base? I was over ten miles away when he attacked me, and why did he attack me at all?" Alex stood and began to pace the room; he always thought better that way. He chewed on his bottom lip as he walked the short distance of the bunkroom.

"Scavengers can be hostile, sure, but they have never attacked us for no reason before; they can be negotiated with, dealt with," he continued. "I know -- hell, we all know -- something has them spooked, on edge. Maybe the Americans have finally woken from their long slumber and are on a rampage across Mars. Hell, I don't know. But something isn't right, I can feel it."

Anna looked closely at her little brother, as he spoke as much to himself as to the other souls in the room. She had to admit the scavengers' behavior had been unusual. This particular scavenger band had been their primary trading partners for a dozen years now. They had always been difficult to deal with, but never had things come to blows. Something was different about this case, something unnerving. Anna looked over at Thorne; she could see he was having similar thoughts. Something was wrong even for a planet as screwed up as this.

Anna's communicator crackled, and she lifted an elegant hand to her ear and listened for a few moments. Alex sat back down on the bunk and surveyed the battered interior of the crawler with gloom. Their equipment was getting older and more unreliable with every passing day. Soon even the most basic things would be in short supply. Trade with the scavengers would then be out of the question.

Anna whispered quietly into her communicator and turned for the door. "We have a sandstorm heading our way; we may be stuck here for a day or two." Her tone was matter-of-fact, as though she was reporting a sun shower back on Earth. In the old days, before the War, they could have used the GPS system of satellites to navigate anywhere on the surface under any conditions. Only the mightiest storms would have slowed them down. But those days were long gone. Now all they could do was wait.

Alex stood and looked at his sister. Try as hard as he may, there was no way to read her expression. Anna's face was as neutral as ever as she headed out of the bunkroom and made her way up to the driver's cabin. Alex rubbed his hands over his face and suddenly realized just how tired he really was. It's not every day that you come within an inch of your life, even on Mars.

Things didn't get any better when he looked up to see Mr. Thorne towering over him. Damn, he hadn't even heard him move from the far side of the cabin; that alone was unnerving.

Alex sprang to his feet a little too quickly for his own liking, yet still only came to the man's shoulders. He was almost ashamed to act so startled, yet Thorne had that kind of effect on people.

"Well, I've had a pretty crappy day but it looked like it just got worse," Alex muttered to himself as Thorne looked at him with dark eyes and an even darker expression.

"Do something like that again and I'll leave you to die, Alex." Aaron spoke with a quiet, almost soothing voice that sent a shiver up Alex's spine.

"I'm surprised you came out for me this time," Alex replied, looking the deadly man square in the eyes. He was the second child of the Braxxian family and had no intention of being bullied by anyone, even Mr. Thorne. He tried to ignore the quiver in his toes as he stood there looking into those dark eyes.

"I did it for your sister." Thorne smiled lightly as he turned away and started to remove the tattered vac-suit. "She considered you valuable, an asset to the family."

"But you don't," Alex asked as he slowly inched towards the door. He wanted away from this man, as fast as he could. Yet he found some small comfort in the fact that this was the first time he had ever stood up to Mr. Thorne in any aspect. His usual fast tongue and faster wit failed him when those black eyes looked at him, and he usually stood rooted to the floor like a mute. Yet today was different. Yes, he was scared of the man as always, yet something was making him respond in a way that he would never have dreamed of a short time ago.

"I think if this family is going to survive, it needs every person it can get." Thorne looked at Alex as he hung the tattered suit on the rack. "We are holding on by a thread, Alex; we can't afford to lose anyone, even you. Your sister is holding things together as best she can, but stupid stunts like yours today only make things harder. We barely have enough people now, so even one death will be more than we can afford."

Alex walked over and turned the hatch. He knew Thorne was still watching him, was always watching him. Finally, he turned and faced him. "Then you had better be careful, Mr. Thorne. It would be ironic if it were yours."


Dark shadows crept slowly around the cabin of the battered crawler. Anna sat silently, looking out into the billowing red storm that had enveloped them for the last two days. Only a baby, this storm could hardly be called one by Martian standards. Some storms lasted over half a year and could engulf massive amounts of the planet at a time. At least they had been lucky in that respect.

It was dark outside now. The storm was passing and Anna could make out the stars through the thinning blood-red haze. Yawning, she checked her watch and stood stretching her back. Anna turned to get some sleep in the bunkroom, when a tiny glimmer of light in the night sky caught her eye. Something was moving. Anna blinked and thought she must be imagining things as she leant forward and pressed her face to the plastisteel window of the crawler. The storm had all but passed and she could see the sky clearly now. A tiny star was moving in the heavens from North to South -- but that was impossible. Mars had no manmade satellites; they had all been shot down during the War.

Yet there was no mistake. A tiny speck of light was crossing the sky, and it was coming closer.

Anna scrambled down the ladder and into the bunkroom. She threw the door open with a deafening crash as she ran for her vac-suit hanging by the airlock. Alex and Thorne both flew out of their bunks in a storm of blankets and pillows. They both looked about the room, wild-eyed and expecting to see that some monstrous beast had broken in to devour them all in their sleep. You learnt to sleep lightly on Mars.

"What the hell?" Alex spluttered at the sight of his sister quickly slipping into her suit.

"There's something in the sky." Anna was breathing heavy now as she snapped the helmet into place and started towards the inner air lock.

Alex and Thorne just looked at each other for a moment. Alex had never seen his sister so excited before. She was always calm, almost emotionless, and seemed to carry sadness just below the surface. But now she looked more alive than he had ever witnessed. Without a word, he scrambled for his own suit. Mr. Thorne was right behind him.

All three figures gathered outside the crawler and quickly began to scan the skies. It didn't take them long to find what they were searching for. "There." Thorne pointed towards the South. A large clump of glinting metal of some kind was falling to ground, leaving a fiery trail in its wake.

"What the hell's that?" Alex whispered to the others as the object disappeared over the horizon. They had all seen meteors before, but this item seemed to change course, almost zigzag in its descent. All three stood in silence after the object had passed. No one alive on Mars today had ever seen anything manmade flying in the sky. Since the War, what little resources the various domes had left were being used for simple bare-bones survival. A flying machine was incredible enough, but something that had obviously fallen from orbit was unheard of.

Anna turned to the others, her voice barely a whisper. "Let's find out."


Finding the crash site hadn't been difficult. The object had gone down little more than a dozen miles from their location. Huge billows of smoke snaked across the sand like a giant serpent winding its way towards the red sky. The three companions stood on the crest of a small hill and looked down in wonder at the smoking wreckage that lay in the shallow valley below. For a long time they said nothing; they simply stared in wonder at the sight before them.

It was Alex who broke the seemingly endless silence. "It's a ship."

The statement was simple fact, but without a doubt it was the single most important statement made on Mars in more than a hundred years. "It certainly is," Anna said as she reached for her binoculars and began to scan the wreck with a keen eye.

"Where did it come from? There haven't been any ships visiting Mars since the War," Thorne piped in, taking a few steps closer to the wreck.

After a few moments, Anna answered all their questions. "It's from Earth."

The two men turned towards her and even in their bulky vac-suits Anna could make out the disbelieving stares behind their tinted visors.

"It's from Earth, I tell you," she repeated, handing the binoculars to Thorne. "There, take a look at the rear of the ship, you will see the symbol of Earth."

Thorne strained to see through the black smoke rising from the wreckage, but sure enough on the rear of the craft there was a blazoned symbol of a blue-white world. He could make out North and South America and several other continents. It was the old Terran symbol, there was no mistake.

"I'll be damned," Thorne whispered. Alex, however, wasn't so sure. "This is crazy. Earth is dead -- she destroyed herself over a century ago."

Anna turned to Thorne and her little brother and nodded. "Let's go take a look inside, then we will be sure."

As they approached the ship it finally began to take on some recognizable form. The craft was fairly small, only twenty meters long and shaped like an arrowhead. Anna noticed it seemed to be made from a flesh-colored metal of some kind. It was all ribbed and skeletal-looking; it was the strangest thing she had ever seen.

Thorne pointed towards a gash in the bottom of the craft and motioned the others to follow.

Alex's heart was pounding in his chest as they approached the strange vehicle. A ship from Earth. It seemed too bizarre to believe, yet here she was right before them. Alex ran a gloved hand over the surface of the craft. The skin was pitted and scarred with hundreds of tiny holes and gashes; it had certainly seen better days.

Alex watched Thorne disappear into the ship through the damaged area near the front of the craft. Anna followed right behind him. He found himself hesitating on the threshold of the entry, his eyes scanning the sinister-looking hull of the craft. Something about it made his skin crawl. He was finally woken from his thoughts as Anna's voice crackled in his ear.

"Alex, you have to see this."

He wasn't so sure, yet he followed nonetheless. What else could he do?

Alex found himself on a small flight deck. The "bridge" they used to call it on old Earth ships. Thick, oily smoke filled the room. No doubt several fires had broken out during the descent. But once the hull had been breached on impact, the thin Martian atmosphere had poured in and they had soon spluttered out. Alex looked about the bridge with a mixture of awe and apprehension. The ship looked as tattered as their own worn-out equipment. He recognized much of the electronic equipment that made up the bridge; computer panels, engineering displays, and power-conversion matrices all seemed standard enough. Similar equipment could be found in their own dome, even though much of it no longer worked. All the flight controls, though, were a pure mystery to him.

However it wasn't any of the equipment that had quickly drawn the attention of his two companions. Alex looked over to see Anna and Thorne hunched over what appeared to be a body strapped into one of the flight seats. As he approached, Alex could see the suit the pilot was wearing. Like the ship itself, the suit was ribbed and flesh-colored; again, it gave him a deep feeling of fear in his heart. He turned to look at the face of the pilot and his heart almost leapt from his chest.

"God of war," Alex muttered quietly to himself. The pilot was human, or at least his ancestors had been in some distant time. Like the Martians he had two arms and two legs, and a head. But the face... the face was of some nightmare that would only come out during horror stories told in the small hours of the night. The skin was dark blue and hard, with many tiny cracks running across its surface. The eyes were red and had an almost feline look about them. Alex didn't even want to think what the teeth were like. In many ways, he was glad it still wore its helmet.

"Is it dead?" Thorne queried, looking about the smoky bridge with keen eyes.

"As far as I can tell," Anna answered, looking at the creature with fascination. She was drinking in every detail of the bridge and corpse. "Killed in the crash, I guess; there are no obvious signs of damage to the suit or corpse. Perhaps..."

Anna didn't have a chance to finish her sentence before the small door leading to the rear of the bridge suddenly exploded open, and a blur of some kind flew from the darkness beyond and landed on Alex. The young Martian was taken completely by surprise as this second crewmember thundered onto him with unheard-of speed and strength.

Alex bellowed as he crashed into a panel and fell to the grated floor, clutched in an embrace with the second mutant. Alex gritted his teeth and tried not to look at the face of hell that pressed its own helmet right up against his. The skin was alive and moving across the face, the eyes were blood-red and full of savage hatred, and the teeth... damn if the teeth weren't pointed just like he had feared. Alex threw a punch at the mutant's head and kicked furiously as he tried to get the horror off him.

"Get this fucking thing off me!" Alex bellowed as the mutant clawed at his helmet, trying to wrench the bubble from his shoulders. The thing hissed inside its helmet and Alex fought with all his strength to throw the mutant from him. Suddenly, he saw the creature's head jerk back, saw the glint of a blade crossing its vac-suited throat.

Alex staggered to his feet and wiped away the black blood that had bubbled all over his vac-suit helmet.

"That was gross, Thorne, but thanks," Alex muttered as he looked down at the still-twitching corpse of the second mutant. The blood already was starting to bubble away in the thin atmosphere.

"You're welcome," Thorne responded matter-of-factly, and disappeared through the door into the rear of the ship.

"Where the hell are you going?" Alex said, stopping at the hatchway and looking into the darkness beyond.

"To check the rest of the ship; you don't want any more of these things leaping out at you, do you?"

"I guess not," Alex said to himself as he looked into the gloom beyond.

Aaron Thorne was the most capable killer Alex had ever encountered. He had no doubt he could handle whatever lay beyond the doorway, and if he didn't, then what hope did the rest of them have?


One hour later, the three Martians stood beside the ship from Earth in deep discussion. Thorne had discovered no more crewmembers on the ship, much to Alex's relief.

"You have got to be joking," Alex said, leaning towards his sister till their helmets touched.

"Not in the slightest." Anna smiled slightly, looking up at her little brother. She had regained her cool composure and was now fully in charge once again.

"Let me get this straight. You want to repair this ship and fly it back to Earth?" Alex said, looking at her bug-eyed; he still couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Yes" Anna replied smoothly once again.

"Why would you want to go to a planet full of those things?" Alex yelled, motioning to the two dead mutants they had laid beside the craft.

Anna placed a hand on her brother's shoulder. "Alex, we're dying, Mars is dying. Since the War and our isolation from Earth, this entire planet has been fighting a losing battle to stay alive. What's left of the population is scattered, leaderless. We live in a bunch of rundown domes that are getting by on major repairs and good luck. Each generation is smaller than the one before, and most of our major infrastructure was destroyed in the fighting. Alex, Mars will die soon; you know it just as well as I."

Alex turned towards the ship and looked at its sinister ribbed outline. "They have technology, they can build ships." His words were more for himself than the others. But they were true nonetheless.

"Yes, they have technology and they can build ships," Anna repeated, as she stood beside Alex and watched the smoking hulk.

"Still, this thing is busted, so how do we repair it?" Alex asked.

Anna turned towards Mr. Thorne. Aaron tilted his head and considered for a moment.

"The damage is fairly major, as you might expect, but with the proper facilities she might be made flightworthy, just about."

"Could we do it?" Alex asked.

"Afraid not," Thorne smiled a faint smile at Alex. "You would need major repair facilities and dockyards to get that baby up and running. There is only one dome on Mars with those kind of facilities."

"The Americans," Alex said, his face screwing up in distaste. "You realize the old American dome has been completely cut off from the rest of Mars for over fifty years. Anyone going near the place gets assorted body parts shot off." Alex was starting to pace now; this plan was getting crazier by the moment. "I've heard stories about that place, all kinds of weird stuff going on, you know."

"Yes, but they have the facilities to repair our baby," Thorne replied, looking back at the ship.

"You think they're just going to help us?" Alex laughed as he paced the ground before them.

"No, I don't think that for a moment, Alex" Anna said quietly. "I think we are going to have to rally a force and take the dome from them; that's before the repairs can even begin."

Alex stopped and looked at his sister long and hard for a moment. He knew she wasn't joking, Anna never joked about anything. If she said something, you knew she was deadly serious.

"Are you sure?" he asked, as the three Martians moved in close and faced each other.

"I am," Anna replied, her expression calm and her voice steady.

Alex smiled, the plan instantly starting to form in his mind. "So all we have to do is rally the remaining tribes and houses on Mars, half-hating the others' guts and not having worked together in decades. Then turn them into a decent fighting force, so we can take over the largest and best-defended dome left on the planet -- and who knows what the fuck has been going on there the last fifty years -- so we can repair a crashed ship and fly it back to an Earth that appears to be overrun by semi-human mutants. Did I leave anything out?"

"I believe you have summed it up, little brother," Anna said, with a small smile and a wink at Alex.

"Gee, and I thought it was going to be hard." Alex laughed as he started to think of the million and one things that needed to be done before this hare-brained scheme could even get off the ground.

Anna turned to Aaron. "Mr. Thorne, get in touch with home; we're going to need every crawler we have to haul our ship back to base."

Aaron nodded and headed back to the crawler to make the arrangements. They would have to stay camped here for several days before the rest of the convoy arrived to guard their find. Chances were they weren't the only ones that had seen the crash. Anna walked over and stood by her brother as he looked into the darkness of the night sky. She pointed out a bright star in the heavens and spoke quietly to Alex.

"It's summer back on Earth, where out ancestors came from, late summer."

"Do you think we will ever get there?" Alex asked, following her hand till his eyes fixed on the only hope for their people's survival.

Anna looked at him and smiled a cool, easy smile.

"You can count on it, little brother, you can count on it."


2006 by Terry Gibbons

Bio: Mr. Gibbons is yet another resident of Oz (the one near Tasmania, not the one with the Emerald City) who has found his way to Aphelion's friendly shores (if the point of closest approach to the Sun has shores). This story previously appeared in Planet Magazine (March 2006) and in Universe Pathways #2; Terry will get everybody on Earth to read it if he has to submit it to every webzine he can find! (But who can blame him?)

E-mail: Terry Gibbons

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