September 23, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: The Hunt for Beagle Part 4

Here it ’tis… part 4 of our Mars-spanning adventure The Hunt For Beagle. This puts us neigh half-way through the tale… head back here to start from Part I. If you want to check out more stories in the Solar Winds universe featuring an older Ms. Makati  — and some original tales outside of it — head over to our Amazon author page.

And it’s rather ironic that news concerning the Beagle 2 spacecraft came out just last week! Clearly, there’s more to the tale to be told…

The Hunt for Beagle

Part 4

by

David A. Dickinson

Andrea kept watch over the virtual terrain as the Sun climbed higher in the Martian sky. Already, she felt the thrill of being out in the open Martian desert, somewhere she obviously wasn’t supposed to be. If her Mom had her way, she would go off to university just like her sister, without a whimper. But she didn’t feel suited for cubicle life. She wanted adventure….

“We should have asked Hanna along,” she called over her shoulder to Zeke.

“Hanna the Manna? She’s never broke perimeter. We’d have turned tail hours ago because of her.”

Hanna was Andrea’s best friend from primary. They fed off of each other’s energy. Andrea had the guts to do things Hanna couldn’t imagine, and Hanna kept Andrea level-headed enough to tolerate foreign concepts, like responsibility. She liked Zeke okay, but it would be good to have a familiar sounding board…

“Good morning, ma’am. I notice your blood sugar is alarmingly low. Might I interest you in a lunch stop on the next plateau?”

Andrea jumped. “What the…”

Zeke laughed. “I just powered up T.I.N.A., The Integrated Neural Automaton… Dad had cybernetics put in all of the creepers last month. She has a mobile mode as well…”

“And a bad Venusian accent,” Andrea continued. “Does she take requests?”

“Just don’t ask her to sing…”

“TINA, lets stop for a bite on the plateau ahead.”

 

They parked and took lunch on the creeper’s observation deck. Zeke pointed out with a handheld heads-up finder that they could see Olympus Mons, the highest peak on Mars, through the haze. Andrea had heard of it, but never spotted it with her own eyes.

“We’re about a quarter of the way to the crash site,” Zeke continued. “If we make good time, we should be there noon tomorrow, with an overnight.”

The building haze worried Andrea. She knew from the tell tale signs her grandfather had taught her that a Martian dust storm might be brewing. “Zeke, don’t you think the sky’s a bit yellow?”

He bit into his sandwich and swallowed. “Nah, season’s another week away, and the big ones don’t hit ‘til summer’s end.”

She squinted at the horizon. She thought she could see a fleck of light, although she knew that it could be just a random cosmic ray hit in her retina. She saw T.I.N.A.’s mobile scout moving about the exterior, doing maintenance checks.

“I’m going to do a brief walk about,” Andrea called out moving below deck and sliding on an excursion suit. She felt like getting out on the Martian surface a tiny bit.

“Take signal flare with you,” Zeke tossed her a small ejector gun and grinned. “Shoot off a pop or two, if you run into any bug-eyed Martians”

 

Andrea made her way down the steep scarp and looked around. The landscape stretching out before her was silent. It amazed her that after over a century of habitation, most of Mars was still wild and untamed. Most colonists spent all of their time cooped up in the settlements away from damaging radiation storms, but Andrea found that she preferred the solitude of the open desert. To so many people, it’s just a “bunch of red rocks,” as Hanna would put it, but to Andrea, it was comforting, with just the whir of her suit coolers and the dusky sky.

She heard a brief beep and checked her radiation badge on her heads-up display. Perhaps it was a random high energy particle hit, but her grandfather had taught her that they would also ping from a narrow beam scan…

A large hand clamped around her left upper arm.

“What’re you doing out in the open desert, missy,” A voice overrode her comm. In terror, Andrea spun around to find herself visor-to-visor with a black-suited Terran Legion patrolman. Had they found Zeke yet?

“You’d better answer my question, girlie,” He clamped tighter. “Smaller fry than you’ve been swallowed up by the vastness of Mars.”

She saw two soldiers, both armed with pistols and stun sticks. Doubtless, they had a glider somewhere near by. Andrea’s head spun. They’re just trying to scare me…

“We’re not doing anything wrong,” She shouted. Crap, I’ve given away Zeke!

The large solider pushed her to the ground. “Take the glider back to camp,” He called out, “I’ll take jailbait and her ride back in myself. He pressed his helmet against hers and turned off his comm. Andrea felt her suit fans working overtime against her beating heart. “But first, we’ll have a little fling…” She felt her left hand jammed between her thigh and a rock. She struggled to get a grip on the flare pistol strapped there.

“Lean in closer, hon. I’ve got a present for you…” She squeezed the trigger on the flare gun. Instantly, she felt its burst of heat blossom between them. “What th’ F…”, he cried out as she rolled free of his grip and struggled away.

“That’s no way to treat a lady,” she hollered back, not sure if her comm. was up. I hope that burns through your suit, right about at your crotch…

“Damn bitch, you’ll dance a jig with my stunner up your tw…”

“Drop it,” a voice called over comm. Andrea looked up the ridge to see Zeke aiming back down at them.

A maser rifle! Where did he get his hands on that?

Personal weaponry had been outlawed in the Martian colonies since the start of the occupation. Beyond those possessed by Terran Legionnaires, rifles or pistols were a rarity. Her grandfather had a sonic pistol stashed behind a crate of old electronica “for revenuers,” he’d like to say, but most colonists had little use for them, beyond smugglers and rumored undergrounders…

Andrea saw their glider emblazoned with the Legion insignia pull off from behind the plateau. Good… there goes his ride… she saw the pilot was turned back to, and didn’t see them. Doubtless, they’d landed below the plateau and hoped to ambush them when they descended.

“Put the pop-gun way, son,” The soldier called back. He was fumbling with his short wave radio, which Andrea noted had been damaged by the flare. A low wave microwave burst hit them. Even on the edge, it knocked Andrea over.

Zeke shouldered the rifle and strode down toward them. “It’s alright, Andi… I just tickled ‘em with a low power burst. He’ll be out for a few minutes, but your head may ring for a while…”

Dazed, Andrea got to her feet. “Where’d you get…”

“Let’s just say my dad sells more than Creeper parts on occasion,” Zeke replied.

They stripped the soldier of everything but his enviro-suit, and left the site. Andrea wanted to give him a jolt of his own stun-stick, but Zeke talked her out of it. He also jettisoned one of their survival tents for him. “It’s a long walk back to Saganopolis,” He said. “We’d be signing his death warrant to leave him out here exposed.”

Andrea turned over the small projectile gun she had procured. It seemed to have an internal gas cartridge. “You don’t think he wouldn’t have done the same to us?”

“Law of the high desert, gal,” Zeke replied, shouldering the maser rifle. She thought he looked vaguely like an amateur Solar Ranger out here in the dimming Sun.

“Let’s high tail it. We’ve got to make the lowlands if there is any hope of hitting the Beagle site by tomorrow night.”

They made a few more hours across the Martian sands and set up camp just past local sunset. They didn’t quite make the descent out of the highlands as hoped, but Zeke was reluctant to drive the Creeper off a marked trail in the dark. Plus, they had a pressurized tent and camp to set up. Andrea had wanted to be on-site and range out from their base camp with the Creeper, but they were now in a time crunch and would have to settle for sweeping the crash site with the Creeper tomorrow afternoon. She knew they would probably only get the briefest passes over certain areas.

The tent had a transparent dome top and two bunks. It could be rapidly depressurized and re-inflated for entry/exit, but of course, the idea was to stay put within its confines once inside. They could have slept in the Creeper, but Andrea sensed having the tent was part of the adventure. L.I.S.A.’s mobile version scampered about, inspecting the day’s abuse that the Creeper had taken. Her spidery form was uncannily swift.

“Our front rotor will need replacing back at Sagan, hon.” L.I.S.A.’s voice crackled over the comset.

Zeke blushed a bit. “I’ll put her on long range scout mode when we bed down…”

“Hon?” Andrea noticed that L.I.S.A. came equipped with a vaguely Terran female accent.

Zeke grinned and looked at the dirt. “She came equipped with a synthetic personality chip…”

“That you augmented to drip honey, no doubt,” Andrea paused and laughed. “At least you’re like every other red-blooded Martian male!”

They both laughed together in the dimming twilight.

To be continued…

Read The Hunt For Beagle in its entirety on Amazon.com.

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