“He’s here, Murdoch”, Sam said, “I know he is.”
“Those canals are empty, kid”, Murdoch said, “This is stupidity.”
“His beacon is out there, can’t you see that. He’s got to be out there.”
The rover bounded over the red Martian landscape. Sam was frantic. Murdoch had told him Charlie was missing. The tracker in Charlie’s ID chip had led them out here.
“Kid, you’re making a mistake”, Murdoch said, “it’s got to be a mistake.”
“Those chips are implanted, old man. You know that as well as I do.”
“Look, Sammy, I know what you are feeling right now. Believe me, I’m just as scared for Charlie as you are, but we’re SecForce. You know the drill. We have to keep our heads about this.”
Sam engaged the rover’s hover-foil. They rocketed over the side of a canal into the inky darkness. They hit bottom with a soft thump. Sam clicked on the running lights and panned a hand search light around the canal bottom.
“The beacon signal is strongest up ahead”, Sam said.
“Whatever you say, boss.”, Murdoch returned.
“Did you see that?”
“See what?”, Murdoch said, looking into the darkness.
“I thought I saw something flapping.”, Sam said.
“Kid, there’s no wind down here” ,Murdoch said, “not even any static readings.”
“Look…right there.”, Sam said.
Sam and Murdoch got out of the rover. Their breath rasped through the respirators in their helmets. Sam pulled out a pair of electro-binoculars and scanned the area where he had seen the flapping. At first he missed it, but them a faint movement attracted his attention. Sam drew his sidearm and walked over to investigate.
“What did you see, kid?”, Murdoch asked.
Sam grabbed the corner of a piece of camo-cloth. He pulled it aside revealing a cave entrance. Sam heard a tumble of small rocks from above. Murdoch lunged forward and caught a larger rock that Sam was leaning against and steadied it.
“Good thing I caught that, kid”, Murdoch said, “If that rock had fallen we would have been buried.”
“Thanks, old man.”
Sam continued forward. After a few feet the passage opened onto a vast antechamber. Sam’s searchlight could not see the any ceiling and barely reached the opposite wall. He looked down and saw a shape huddled in the center of the chamber.
“Charlie?!”, he said and rushed forward.
Sam slid to the ground on his knees and grabbed the end of the tarp. He pulled and pain exploded in the back of his head. Blackness consumed him.
Sam awoke. His head hurt. He tried to move and discovered his hands were tied behind him. He was lying on his side. He took in a breath and realized his helmet was gone.
Damn, Sam thought to himself, I have about five minutes before I suffocate.
Sam saw Murdoch across the chamber from him. Tears poured down the older man’s face.
“Why couldn’t you just leave it alone, kid”, Murdoch moaned, “ I told you the canals were empty. I told you, but you couldn’t leave it alone. Now, I’ve got to give you to them or we’re all dead.”
Sam kept his breathing shallow and pretended to be unconscious.
“They told me a long time ago that if I gave them a sacrifice when the thunder roars, they wouldn’t come out of the canals. They would leave us humans alone in our ‘Second Mars’. I didn’t want to do it, kid. The first time I killed for them I couldn’t stand it, but after that, it started to feel good. I’m sorry, Sam, now you know their secret. They told me if I gave you to them everything would go back to normal.”
Sam started working his hands back and forth. He had his hands free in no time. He waited.
Thunder shook the antechamber.
“It’s time, Sammy”, Murdoch sobbed, “I’m sorry.”
Murdoch lurched over to Sam. His knife was clenched in his hands. Sam waited until Murdoch was almost on top of him. He kicked out with his foot and swept Murdoch’s legs out from under him. Murdoch crashed to the cavern floor. Sam wrenched the knife from Murdoch’s hands and drove it into his chest. Murdoch gasped once and died. Sam struggled to his feet, his lungs burning.
Something rasped across stone. It rose from the chamber floor and loomed above Sam. It looked like stone at first, but the rust-red surface of its flesh flowed like water. Shapes resembling eyes and mouths formed and dissolved at impossible angles. Sam tried to scream, but the lack of air constricted his lungs. Gasping for air, he stumbled toward the cave entrance. He could hear the thing behind him, gliding across the stone. With every step, Sam got weaker. The thing was right on his heels.
With his last burst of strength, Sam drove his shoulder into the loose stone in the entryway and rolled to the side. The rocks fell and crushed the horror just before it emerged from the chamber. Sam dragged himself along the ground to the rover. He opened the storage compartment and pulled a spare helmet over his head.. Sam fell to the ground sucking in cold, dry air. After a moment, he pulled himself to his feet. He glanced at the sensor array. His brother’s beacon was still pinging. It looked like it was right on top of him.
Sam whipped around. Cold steel tore into his chest. Sam gasped. Charlie stood before him twisting the knife in his chest.
“I’m sorry, big brother”, Charlie said, with a twisted grin, “but it’s the only way.”
Ben McInnis has been writing for over 20 years. His published works include "The Oracle of Enheduana" (co-authored with Warlock Asylum), poetry published by poetry.com, articles, and flash fiction published in a number of different venues. Ben is a married father of four living and working in the New England area.