The Skies of Mars, a Prelude to Spiral Legion short story, is now available on Kindle! To pick up your copy, visit amazon.com! To learn more about my upcoming Prelude to Spiral Legion short story collection, visit the Spiral Legion facebook page here! For now, enjoy an excerpt from one of my favorite stories in the collection:
The Skies of Mars
by Rob Lopez
Prior to the terraforming of Mars, astronauts, miners, scientists and colonists witnessed unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) over the skies of Viking Colony at Terra Meridiani over a span of fifty years. The UAPs were never satisfactorily explained.
Circa 2265, Viking Colony, Mars 6:00 PM
Agent Raaf Krusen stepped off the drop shuttle onto the platform and felt the gravity plate pull on his lank frame. He rapped his thanks on the side of the shuttle, and it lifted off and pulled away into the dark, blue-gray, hazy Martian night. He peeled himself out of his flight suit as he walked, placed it into a locker at the platform station and stepped into the conveyance tube towards the residence tower. Viking Colony, an array of clear geodesic domes, glittered beneath him. More eager than impatient, he walked on the moving floor, pulled his netvisor from his breast pocket, snapped on his netglove and pulled up the case files.
A vis message alert chimed.
“Hi, daddy, when are you coming home?” His daughter’s pink face so suddenly filled his field of vision, he almost took a step back on the conveyer floor. “Auntie Rel says you won’t be home for fireworks? For hawween? For my birfday?”
He felt lighter again, and smiled, pausing the vis with the flex of his glove to record his reply. “Soon, Samanta, honey. Maybe as early as Christmas. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’ll bring home sparklers, a new costume and a special surprise.” He didn’t know what it was yet, but he knew it had to be good. He stepped off the conveyer into a mid-level lobby and walked through it into a lift and pressed his destination into the directory panel.
He let the vis play on. “I just want you home, daddy. No presents, just you.”
He paused it and replied, “I’ll see what I can do about finishing up here earlier, but I have to do my job to the best of my ability. And you’ve got to do your job of being a good girl for Auntie Rel, okay?”
Played. “I miss you, daddy. I love you.”
Paused and recorded his parting response. “I miss you too, cuddlebug. I love you this much,” he said with a world-sweeping gesture.
He knew his vis message wouldn’t reach Earth for another half hour, and that she probably wouldn’t see it until morning. He hated lying to her, and she was a smart kid, she’d see through it eventually, but he was grateful the company at least agreed to a direct line between them. Otherwise, he might have walked away from this, what had become his life’s work. Agent Krusen was one of the last of the UFOlogists, one of the last believers, but these days even he had grown weary of every lead leading to a dead end.
The lift stopped and opened into another hallway. Krusen refocused on the case files and made his way to apartment 70-B.
The door opened as he arrived at it. A man in his mid-sixties with receded brown-gray hair and mottled skin stood in the doorway tying the belt of his flannel robe and adjusting his silver-rimmed glasses. Krusen could see netcrawls at the bottom of the old man’s lenses.
“Sheriff Gerald Corbett?”
“I’m Aerospace Conglomerate Agent Raaf Krusen. I’ve been going over your old case files and I had some questions. I know it’s late, but if I could just have a minute—”
“You drink coffee?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes.”
“Come on in.”
Raaf and Gerald sat in a set of gel chairs, on the enclosed balcony overlooking the colony. The chairs had been set to firm. “My back,” Gerald muttered. He cleared a space for their coffee on the patio table between them, making stacks out of the datafiles and plastisheets. Raaf picked up a few that had fallen on the floor. One of them was a missing person file. “You still on the job, Sheriff?”
“Call me Jerry.” He took a drink from his mug, letting it lubricate his gums. “Oh, I do a little consulting here and there. Keeps the mind sharp.”
“Good, good. I was hoping you might be able to provide additional insight on the Aerial Phenomena cases you investigated.”
“Investigated? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. I took down statements, poked around a little bit.”
Raaf pulled up the case files. “In 2240, you were brought in to investigate claims that the phenomena might be industrial spy remotes. One of the miners, a Dagiel Salinksy, 35, felt that he was being watched while he slept and whenever he was alone. When no one took him seriously, he went on a violent rampage, assaulting several co-workers and taking a hostage. You talked him down. You saved lives. That’s hardly poking around a little bit.”
“That’s right. He had an adverse reaction to the alertness inhalant he was taking to pull double, even triple shifts. Poor sonofabitch had no idea he was one of the 4 percent for whom NRG-6 induces severe paranoia and mild hallucinations.”
“So there was nothing to link Mr. Salinksy’s claims of being watched to industrial spy remotes?”
“There were no remotes.” Under Jerry’s graying mustache, he flashed a smile of still perfect teeth, only slightly stained from years of coffee drinking. “Oh, we caught a couple of industrial spies with ties to the South American Cartel–booted them so far off planet, they’re probably hittin’ Jupiter by now–but they were more the theft by intimidation types. ‘Course, miners, as a general rule, are a pretty hardy bunch, so those spies had the deck stacked against them from the get go.”
Raaf appeared to look out at the spectacular view, but it was only to put his visor display against a darker background. “But the ‘alternating yellow, orange and red lights, moving in a V formation, breaking, banking, then shooting off into the upper atmosphere,’ witnessed by over a dozen people on September 8th, 9th and 10th of that year, subsequently attributed to spy remotes, which then were never recovered, and you now clarify as never having been in these skies in the first place,” Raaf took a breath, and continued, this time watching Jerry for his reaction, “these lights were seen on two previous occasions, the first of which, was the night the first survey team landed on Mars in 2216. Same colors, same formation, same dispersal pattern and exit.”
“Don’t know about that. Wasn’t there.”
“But you read the files, spoke with some of the individuals who were there.”
“Do you need a refill? How about a bran muffin?” Jerry rose with a slight grunt and took Raaf’s cup.
“You know, I just had dinner, a meatloaf sandwich, but I could go for another one. You up for a slice? My personal recipe: no oats, no filler, just meat, garlic, Worcester sauce–” Jerry moved through the living room into the kitchen.
“No, that’s alright. Jerry–” Raaf followed him into the kitchen, trying to recapture his attention. “You spoke with Marsha Jemison, a geologist from that first crew, and, according to the report, she was said to remark to her husband, ‘look, honey, angels have come to guide us down.’ Did you corroborate that?”
“Didn’t that report also say that Captain Wexler attributed the lights to ‘reflective ice crystals in the upper atmosphere catching the light of the setting sun?'” Jerry opened the refrigerator and pulled out the meatloaf and condiments. He also pulled out a couple plates from a cabinet.
“If you were satisfied with that explanation, you wouldn’t have flown 1,880 miles to Darwin to meet with her personally.”
Jerry set the meatloaf in the reheater, refilled Raaf’s cup and leaned against the counter top. “Sometimes a man likes to look a person in the eye–no vis screen, no holograms–to get a real sense of what they’re about, where the truth lies.” The reheater beeped, and he turned to take out the steaming plate of loaf slices. “Like you coming here, for instance. Earth’s a lot farther than the Darwin crater.”
Raaf took a sip of coffee, then set the mug down. “Oh, I didn’t travel 352 million miles, give or take, just to meet with you face to face, Jerry. I’m on assignment for the Conglomerate to establish a definitive conclusion for the ‘Lights on Mars,’ and, as an extension of my work back home, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in their entirety.”
Jerry laughed, clapped his hands together and laughed some more. When he was done, he shook his head and finished the sandwiches. “Hoo, that’s a good one, Agent Krusen. Can’t remember the last time I laughed from my belly.” He handed Raaf a plate. Raaf started to refuse, but Jerry insisted. “So you’re the guy, huh? You’re the guy that’s going to close the book on UFOs once and for all?”
“That’s what they’ve asked me to do, yes.” Raaf was surprised that Jerry even knew the term UFO. It hadn’t been in common parlance for over a century. It was a glimmer of hope that told him he was in the right place after all.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from The Skies of Mars, a Prelude to Spiral Legion short story. I’d love to hear your first impressions in the comment section. Also, if you pick up a copy, let me know here or at the Spiral Legion facebook page and be entered to win some art from the anthology!