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Stuart Atkinson

Articles
- Better Red Than... Green?
- A Deep Breath
- Waiting...
- The Lost Dawn

Short Stories
- Halley - The Next Time
- Fairy Graffiti
- Message Home
- Merry Christmas From Mars

Fairy Graffiti (12 ratings)
         by Stuart Atkinson
Page 1 of 6
Hello, Tharsis Control, can you hear me? Janine? Kim? Is anyone there? I don't know if you're picking this up or not; my comms set took a hit a couple of hours ago. I've spent the last hour patching it up as best I can, but I've never been much good at that techical DIY stuff. Still, you never know, maybe I got so many wires crossed something's getting through to you, so I'll make my Status Report.

17.30: Deep Noctis, somewhere just past McGregor's Point I think - but don't quote me on that, none of this looks very familiar. Wherever I am I can't stop here much longer. It's very cold, and getting dark too: no stars yet, but I think that's Deimos glinting away up there in the little bit of sky I can see. My AI says local sunset's in two hours, but this deep down I'll start to lose the light in less than half an hour, then it'll get really dark and I'll have to got to infra-red, and you know how much I hate relying on IR.

Doesn't matter though. I know he's here. Somewhere. Somewhere near. I can't see him or detect him with the sensors in my suit, but I know he's here. I can feel it.

And he's close.

You know, I should thank you; you actually set me a challenge this time guys! This one's got skill, a bit of cunning. Not like most of the dead-heads you send me after. This one's been using the terrain, moving fast and low through the shadows of these canyons, keeping me guessing. I managed to get a shot off at him about an hour ago, but I'm pretty sure I missed him. He was only out in the open for a moment, but it was so close he must have filled his pants! Not the first time I'd nearly had him, but he's managed to keep ahead of me. If he wasn't such a maniac I could almost admire him. Almost.

If the Controller's there Janine, tell him there's no way I'm going out again for the rest of the week. It's still hard to believe I'm out here again so soon. You know, he called me just after midnight, just an hour after I'd fallen onto my bed after getting back from my last Track, and as I looked at Phobos shining like a lantern through my window I actually told him to get someone else for this one. Then he told me who it was, and I was wide-awake: he knew there was no way I could pass up a chance to nail Dudoyev.

He's beaten us twice. I promise you, there won't be a third time.

Okay, I'm done. Unless something dramatic happens before then, I'll check in again in two hours.

Murray out.

Yeah, Murray out. Well and truly. Maybe I should have told them that my 02 tanks got fried at the same time as the radio, but there didn't seem much point. It wouldn't have changed the fact that there's not enough air left in them now to get me back anyway. I'll just keep recording so they'll know what happened when they find my... when they find me. Maybe it'll stop some other guy dying out here, maybe not. Either way, it's about time all this was out in the open. People deserve to know what's been going on out here. We've been fighting a war up here - a genuine "War Of The Worlds" - but you'd never know it...

It's nice and quiet now though. Just me, the rock, the dust, and this half-mapped maze of canyons, valleys and chasms where They were first found, exactly a decade ago last week.

Did I just say They? Didn't mean to. Don't usually. It still doesn't seem right somehow to call those multi-coloured stains "They". I've always felt more comfortable with "It", but hey, each to his own. Whatever pronoun you use, finding that stain was the most important thing we've done in space since that Russian guy- what the hell was his name? Should have paid more attention in ancient history - took off in his natty little rocket almost a century ago.

Man, I wish I could have been here when that Japanese crew, hopelessly - but understandably, looking at this mess of walls and buttresses around me now - lost in this maze of western marineris' canyons stumbled across the first hot spring, and sent those grainy but breathtaking pictures back to Earth, but I'd just started my Moon survival training then, and was stuck in that cave on the Farside, deep in the bullseye of the Orientale mountains. Saw it on TV though, watched it again and again, all through the night, afraid it was some kind of practical joke by the guys at Copernicus Base who'd dumped us there, desperately trying not to feel the same excitement that had swept around the world like a mexican Wave back in '96 when those guys at NASA announced they'd found traces of ancient, long-extinct martian life in some meteorite they picked off the ice in Antarctica. Took them another year to prove they were right, but every mission after that seemed to say the same thing: martians never advanced beyond the microscopic stage. And as the SETI telescopes listened in vain for year after year it began to dawn on even the most optimistic white-coats that we were probably Alone.

Is it really ten years since I was sat in that cave? I've forgotten a lot of things that happened then, but I'll never forget how we all sat there, literally watching history unfold before our eyes. It was almost surreal. The camera - or, more accurately, the guy holding the camera - was shaking so much that the pictures jumped about like crazy as young Suji Ikoshi punched the air in triumph, pointing a shaking hand at what he'd found.

A few scientists had suggested over the years that there might be hot springs on Mars, but they were never taken that seriously, not even after the ALH 84001 discovery. Mars is dead, they were told, there are no more active volcanoes, nothing's happening beneath the crust, they were told.
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