THE MONORAILS of MARS (1905)
Like watchful eyes—the twin moons of Mars voyeured above the chaos. Men and aliens in savage battle fractured into shadows. Soon no human witness stirred. Percussion waves and Disruptor fire quieted. Solitary alien figures remained, sweeping past sentry stations, feeding on the dead and dying
"This is Nobile. (No-bill-ay) Code 3 emergency—" the message interrupted suddenly.
"Evacuate! We’re over-run. My god—the. . . "
Rally flares erupted outside the dome splashing blood-red light across Orion's starry backdrop.
Jack Clayton and Louise Boyd raced frantically to the stairwell seconds before dome shields collapsed. They dived for the shuttle tunnel just as the artificial atmosphere vanished in a whoosh.
Landing inside hatch entrance, Clayton punched the contamination-seal button. The hatch cover hummed downward sealing above them. A red light blinks 3 times followed by a green light all-safe.
The escape shuttle awaited 5 minutes beyond the tunnel promising refuge and deliverance . . . if it could be reached in time.
“Countdown 5 minutes to launch”
Norge (Nor-gay) escape shuttle afforded no weaponry or counter-measure defenses on board. Every contingency had been prepared—except this one.
Jack Clayton struggled to run and speak at the same time. His body screamed in distress.
"You can hustle faster . . . than . . . I . . . can . . . Louise. Go on ahead--don't wait . . for me!"
Clayton was an impressive man, large and athletic, but injury had hobbled him at this worst of all moments. For all his astuteness and vigor, shrapnel caught him by surprise in the left knee.
"No Jack—I’ll hold the shuttle for—"
Louise Boyd froze, stumbled, and choked. Percussion waves jolted her in mid-sentence. She clutched her neck and toppled; dropping into unconsciousness only meters from the shuttle’s closing door.
The cramped staging area swelled with smoke, swirling dust and two human bodies laid out like firewood. Weird beast-like ululations pierced the silence menacingly. Seconds later a trio of skulking alien figures emerged from the shadows, Disruptor pistols at the ready.
A wiry mutant soldier stood straddling the unconscious colonists, grasping a round feeding drum. Its elongated face glowed with triumph and ravenous expectancy. (Human colonists had described drawings of them as a cross between Greek gods and starvation victims.) Torsos of Martians oddly mimicked humans, with forearms freakishly longer; lower leg bones contrarily shorter. Elongated thighs flexed in bunched muscles. Alien physicality possessed a magnificent, ugly beauty.
"These two—I demand . . . my food!"
The Martian platoon leader’s tongue swept its lip flap. It hesitated, then holstered its weapon—voice booming with absolute authority.
"Infect and release them—go!”
The mutant underling hunkered down, glowering at the meal, making every effort to restrain its wolfish appetite. The alien trembled and tossed the feeding drum aside, leaning forward on its haunches; spitting on its terrestrial captives. Wrenching off its glove, plunging its spindly finger down its own throat (gagging with an awful retching sound); the creature bent forward with a determined trajectory—splashing both humans with spill.
Slime oozed across the victims like melting wax. A chemical hiss vaporized into white smoke. Garment threads began to dissolve. Out of the foul liquid, parasites the size of strawberry seeds skittered toward the victims’ nostrils, disappearing inside.
The alien platoon leader observed until satisfied then signaled to its minions. The alien patrol dispersed, quick-stepping into the roiling smoke from whence they'd come.
Back at shuttle launch area, emergency search scans swept the shuttle interior—no human life detected. Subsystems pinged, located, and recovered Boyd and Clayton’s unconscious bodies utilizing search and rescue lifts. Straightaway the shuttle, bolted like a cartridge in a high-powered gun, entered final launch mode.
Five leagues away Umberto Nobile (No-bill-ay) fought his last stand. One by one his confederates fell. He had detected a pattern to exploit for temporary advantage. Aliens staged frontal assaults vocalizing eerie ululating war cries followed by direct attack. Three abreast—aliens became easy targets once they’d sprung into view.
“Suppertime—come and get it.” Nobile bellowed.
He reckoned the numbers stacked against him—he could hold them at bay until his charging unit went dead—maybe 2 minutes remaining at best.
(Disruptor weapons destabilized without nuclear reaction. The fabric of reality jiggled for a microsecond—ripping apart living cells.)
Umberto Nobile was an aeronautical engineer and explorer in his early life. He had never fought in battles of any sort; not even a fist fight. He’d earned a solid reputation exploring Earth’s Arctic, suffering many encounters with near-death. Nothing had prepared him for this.
From his nine-o’clock and three-o’clock position the enemy approached, both at once—his one choice remained. Nobile fetched a tiny capsule from his utility pocket to pop into his mouth—but before he could self-terminate, shrieking enemy mutants rushed him full on.
He screamed and blasted as he swept his weapon in all directions wildly. At once his uniform splattered with intestines of Martian soldiers. He let go the final bursts of his Disruptor pistol. His boots glistened with green slime and human blood. He blasted again. The putrid aroma off offal and bile arose.
“You scum are really full of it.”
His uniform transformed to the color of death and desperation. Relentlessly, the waves of mutants plunged into the breach; their weapons spitting death.
In one arcing flourish Nobile emptied his clip. Slashing diagonally left to right, then reversing—Nobile gasped dumbstruck as nine enemy combatants clutched themselves and tumbled dead at his feet.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God!”
Nobile checked his clip: only one round remained.
From the shadows, in one swift movement, an alien Commander lunged forward seizing the man by his throat, forcing him to kneel. Gasping for breath, Nobile struggled utterly helpless in the alien’s insuperable grip.
“I’d like to call my lawyer if you don’t mind—”
Immediately, two Martian mutants grasping meat hooks scrambled to the sentry dugout, raking across two of Nobile’s dead companions. They scavenged at top speed hooking, skewering, and dragging corpses off, stuffing them into large dinner drums grasped by a third alien.
Nobile’s eyes went wide—incredulous as three mutants took turns vomiting into the drums. Digestive acids dissolved dead sentries’ clothing without affecting flesh.
A 2nd Martian Commander of higher rank stormed the enclosure barking orders.
"Devour dead ones—infect and release living ones."
Another mutant, scrawny and fierce, hustled into the group grunting and slurping; its eyes wide with madness and starvation.
"I sniff—delicious meat!"
The creature grunted and farted. A snake-like tongue slithered inside its mouth as it unhinged its jaw, creating a cavernous, fanged oral hole.
Nearby, the Supreme Commander stood sniffing the motionless Nobile suspiciously like a hideous bloodhound.
"This one reeks!” Its voice boomed with revulsion.
Nobile puzzled it out. Colonists had frequently bemoaned his liberal fondness for onion and garlic. Despite the gravity of his situation, he felt offended.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re not a people person?”
The unhinged mutant bewailed, "I demand my share!"
Its fellows ignored him and concluded marinating their meal as they commenced peeling meat from human skeletons, sucking flavor from the bone marrow.
Nobile’s stomach churned. He battled back his nausea.
At once the shrieking mutant lunged at his fellows, brandishing his hooked trident. A chaotic melee of blood and curses erupted. A deafening sonic wave abruptly concussed the ground. Supreme Commander's Disruptor pistol spoke four final words of death. Four twisted alien corpses answered . . . then, stillness.
The elite Commander snatched Nobile by his ankle, dragging him to open ground, as a blinding beam of energy pulsed toward Earth in the direction of shuttle launch dock.
Platoon leaders swiveled about to scan the bridge just as the Norge shuttle dimmed into after images in the inky night sky. The alien snorted with a gesture of confusion.
Nobile smirked wearily, “I’d explain that to you, but I’m out of crayons and puppets.”
Supreme Commander pivoted to his underling, “Infection?”
The other alien lifted his chin in assent.
Easily hoisting Nobile onto a rail car, it then turned and clasped its comrade by the shoulder. The larger one threw its head back as both howled a spine-chilling ululation in weird unison startling Nobile in fear of his soul, rattling his bones.
Moons Deimos and Phoebos spread weird, silver beacons about the Martian landscape to the sounds of vomiting, flesh-rending, and meat gobbling. Mars had triumphed and these were its savage victories.
Supreme Commander’s gaze bore down at his human quarry, scrutinizing him curiously, almost scientifically. Something glimmered behind his eyes.
The officer motioned and Nobile’s hair went up on the back of his neck.
“Nah, I’m trying to quit—but thanks anyway.”
The smaller alien removed a glove, jamming its spidery finger into its throat, and spewed parasitic vomit into the mouth of Umberto Nobile: Arctic explorer, adventurer and aeronautical inventor. The victim choked violently. His body quickened as his eyes rolled madly back in his head. The hulking mutant’s basso voice whispered as though intoning a macabre lullaby to an alien infant.
The effect was hypnotic and paralyzing.
Nobile sensed his mind ebbing . . . dimming. Nightmarish white light flashed in his head with the sweet, imaginary voice of a mystery woman dancing behind a veil.
Nobile’s body shuddered and went still.
“All is well.” Alien Commander gazed contentedly at his day’s work done.
The relay from Mars to Earth arrived. Transcribed and delivered directly to the White House, the President read the words: “All is well on Mars.”
Teddy Roosevelt looked up from his desk.
“Good news gives me a warm feeling—like pissing my pants.”
He turned to his Chief of Staff.
“Find out what’s wrong up there and see to it immediately.”
________END CHAPTER ONE _____