Fiction: Life on Mars

Image via NASA/JPL

This short story originally appeared on Cellstories.

I caught Jones jacking off again. I walk into compartment three, and there he is, space trousers around his ankles and cock in hand. Let loose on him this time. Told him that if I ever saw the shriveled little peg ever again, I would cut the goddamned thing off with pliers. The crew has had an agreement this entire mission, to wait until the others are sleeping, and to do it as covertly as is possible when you're sharing a tin can 23 million miles from Earth's surface. He doesn't give a shit though. It's clear he doesn't have shred of respect for another human being. Can't wait until I never have to stare at that jowly good-ole'-boy grin again.

Jones is a disgusting beast. First time I caught him, we had just left geosynchronous Earth orbit, I wake up and there he is, sitting across the galley, trying to catch droplets of his own cum with a rations container, shit-eating grin on his face. He looked like a boy who'd just been caught burning ants with a magnifying glass, all furtive pleasure and "fuck you" defiance. Just being in the same compartment with him makes my skin crawl. And then there's the come-ons. Just last week, he tried to talk Kwon into letting him fuck him in the ass. Now Jones is no fag, mind you. It's more like consensual prison sex he's looking for. Wonder if anyone at Mission Control prepared for that contingency?

Once they found out that I have sex with men, Jones wouldn't let up, making homophobic jokes and half-veiled come-ons. It was months of this I put up with, until I told him that I would never touch his disgusting ass, even if we were last two queers in the whole milky way. He backed off after that, but every once in a while I notice him catching himself before he shoots off his mouth.

Anyway, I don't have much time, and I'm not doing this to make an record of Jones' sexual hangups for the ages. More importantly, I need to tell you know just how we discovered life on Mars. It's not whatever the story you've heard on the news, I'm sure you'll find.

After six months on Mars, we found that an Earthborne bacteria had greatly diminished our rations. For days we went through all the supplies, and found that 60% of our food supply--meant to last us another 12 months on the Mars surface and 18 months returning to Earth--was inedible. Kwon did the calculations, and even going by our minimal daily nutrition requirements, there was no way all four of us could survive. Our fearless Mission leader Jones discussed the situation with Mission Control, and it was agreed that Evans, being the most disposable member of our crew, would have to go. They sent him out on an excavation mission--the same one we did day in and day out, trying to find fossils, only coming back with useless sand and rock--and when he returned, we didn't let him back in.

This is something that will remain with me to my final breaths. We could feel him banging on the hull for a full hour before it was done. Jones had turned off the voice feed as Evans approached the ship, so we were spared have to face what we had done, while denying him the dignity of begging for his life. Kwon and I shot ourselves full of antidepressants, and sat there, heads in hand. I shook with the sound of every deadened thud on the side of the ship. Jones--that bastard--just sat at the console, impassively, and watched Evans suffocate to death. That sociopath's cock of his was probably rock-hard.

It took an hour for the air in his suit to run out. Not a moment went by that I didn't consider grabbing the closest blunt object, smashing Jones' skull, and throwing him out of the airlock in favor of Evans. But we had our orders from Mission Control, and what's a soldier if he doesn't follow his orders, no matter how unjust they may be? A mutineer. A traitor.

It took an hour to end--the longest hour in my life. Jones announced, coldly, "he's not moving anymore." A few moments of silence among us--couldn't have been more than a minute--before Jones called us to the console. On the monitor, we watched hundreds of thousands of small, ant-like creatures swarm out of crevices in the Martian surface. They covered Evans' body in seconds, thousands of small black creatures, tearing through his suit and feasting on his flesh. I have never seen anything like it. Kwon couldn't handle it--he puked all over the TCP-IP relay box, shorting it out. We were without Internet access for nearly a week before I was able to re-route the wires. Within minutes, there was nothing left but bones, and the creatures--we've call them dilupids--rapidly returned to the crevices from which they came.

So there you have it, extraterrestrial life. We stood there stunned, faced with the greatest discovery in human history before us, weighed down by abject guilt. Jones was immediately on the horn with Mission Control. They asked us if we had captured a specimen. Barely any mention of Evans, or what to say to his family, aside from some cursory talk about "sacrifice for the country, for the human race".

We spoke of the dilupids incessantly in the weeks following, but rarely mentioned Evans. Were they actually arachnid-like? What was their genetic makeup? Why had they been so difficult to discover, and how did they come so quickly to feast on Evans as if he was carrion? How had none of the Mars surveyor missions discovered a single fossil? All questions we had absolutely no answer to.

Jones didn't give a shit about Evans' sacrifice, and Kwon didn't seem capable of talking about it. We all knew it--Jones, bearing no trace of internal turmoil, Kwon, in his studied denial--but never was Evans' sacrifice given the dignity of acknowledgment. Jones called it "collateral damage" as if that were the first and last word on the subject. Honestly, I don't know if he can tell the difference between this place and Iraq. Not a week goes by without him fuming, "the only difference between Mars and Iraq is that Mars doesn't have camelfuckers shooting at you." It wasn't funny the first time, much less the 50th.

We were all murderers, but it was silently deemed mission-critical to never acknowledge this.

It's all I think about, though. Every 24 hours and 39 minutes, I stare at myself in the mirror. I never imagined I'd see a murderer staring back at me, but I have to swallow that fact every morning. I quickly brush my teeth, shave my face, and look away, avoiding my own gaze. Even when I'm working on the internal systems, fixing burnt-out transistors and parsing code, the memory of Evans haunts me. I'm not a superstitious person, but often I feel like his ghost is behind me while I work, silently damning me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but your perspective becomes skewed after you've watched your shipmate's body consumed by ants on the surface of Mars.

I have to finish this up here. Mission Control has sent me out to the Martian surface to excavate more rocks, try to find some dilupid fossils. I know there's more at work than that. Rations are dangerously low, and I know that what they need, to justify this whole goddamned thing, is a dilupid specimen. They left no trace on Evans' body, not a single one remained after their feast, and everything we've tried as bait--rations, containers of piss and shit--have failed to summon them again. Mission Control, Jones and Kwon know they need to throw some just-dead meat out there to get them back, and since I'm the repair schlub--something Jones and Kwon think they can handle on their own--they're going to throw me out there to the dilupids, under the guise of an research dig. Jones will be glad to be rid of me, so he can rape Kwon in peace.

I'll be leaving out of the airlock in 0200 hours, and I know I'll never see the inside of this can ever again. I'll never walk upon Earth ground again, I'll never taste Cajun cooking again. I'm sure as hell not going to make it easy for Jones and Kwon, though. If they want to pick over my bones for a remaining dilupid specimen, they're going to have to work for it. In 0100 hours, I'll put on my suit, look at Mom's photo, and say my prayers. When I walk out that airlock, I'm not even going to try to complete my mission. I'm going to step out on to the surface, and walk as far into the Martian sunset as I possibly can before I gasp my last breath and surrender to all things.