September 23, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: The Hunt For Beagle Part 9

It’s Friday, and here without further fanfare is the conclusion to our Mars-spanning adventure The Hunt For Beagle. You can start back at chapter 1 and read the entire tale here a chapter at a time on Astroguyz, or read the tale in its entirety over on Amazon.com.

Enjoy!

The Hunt For Beagle

by

David A. Dickinson

What happened next was a force unlike any Andrea had ever experienced. A blast of air slapped her in the back of the head, knocking them both off of their feet. They were both tossed like rag dolls down the passageway, towards the bay and the open Martian desert beyond. Andrea caught a glimpse of the clear, airless pink sky that lay beyond. It was like a bad dream. Everyone on Mars had a lingering subconscious dread of getting caught out in its near void unprotected. The guards, surprised at something that was never supposed to occur, barely had time to slide their breather masks in place before they could be sucked off their heads.  She closed her eyes and dug her head hard into Zeke’s side, fearing the final end was near…

The back ramp clanged shut, and the sound of air whooshed around them. Andrea thought she’d never tasted something so sweet in her life.

“We’re in!” Zeke cried, already on his feet. “T.I.N.A., get us rolling!”

“With pleasure, hon. Although the Base Control-bot is being a nuisance…”

The entire creeper lurched forward toward the gaping launch ramp. Andrea thought she heard some loud pings of rounds off of their back ramp as they slid down into the Martian desert.  The planet wide dust storm seemed to have abated, leaving a crisp Martian morning in its wake.

Suddenly, the creeper shuttered to a stop.

“Shit!” Zeke exclaimed. “Tank traps!”

Andrea came forward and saw large claw spikes sprouting out of the desert like improbable plants. They held them snug in place. She looked about for their confiscated weapons, but they appeared to have been stripped clean.

“Come on out, spies,” a call crackled over the comm.

“This is it, I am fresh out of ideas,” Andrea called, as they both donned abbreviated excursion suits. She doubted they would get far.

The two guards were waiting for them at the ramp exit. The first one, a larger woman, put Andrea’s arms behind her skull and began walking them back to the base. She saw reinforcements gathering on the ridge beyond to watch the action. Andrea saw the trap retract invisibly back into the ground. She wondered if they would shoot them outright here in the deep desert or torture them a bit first. The woman pulled Andrea’s visor up until the back contacted her faceplate. Andrea heard a voice vibrate through the back of her skull.

“When I release you, be ready to run.” She said.

Not understanding, Andrea nodded imperceptibly. She thought at first perhaps she wanted to instead shoot a fleeing prisoner, just to assuage her conscience a bit. But it was the only choice she had…

She felt the arms slacken, then push her free.

“She’s loose…” She heard a call over the comm… “She waited for the jolt to the base of her skull that was sure to follow. She spun in time to see the woman level her pistol at the guard holding Zeke and drop him with one shot.

“C’mon,” she called to both of them, “Back aboard before they raise the trap again!”

Startled, they both complied. Zeke quickly fired back up and rotated the tri-axle around to the undamaged tires.

“Take this heading,” The woman ordered Zeke. “Go as fast and level as you can.”

“Wait a minute,” Andrea called out.  “Who are you? Why should we trust…”

“Can you shoot girlie?” The woman pressed a maser pistol in her hand. “No matter. You’re what’s available.”

I could shoot you… she thought to say, and then thought better of it. Clearly, the woman trusted them. They both clipped in as the back ramp rose to mid-position. The woman had unslung a rifle larger than Andrea and began to scan the receding terrain. Did she have a built in Magni-ocular implant? A line of dust appeared on the horizon.

“Here they come,” she called over the comm.   “I’ll pick off the ones that are far out. You shoot any that get through.”

A knot tightened in Andrea’s stomach. She suddenly realized that there was a very real possibility that their captors wouldn’t let them leave with the location of their base in their skulls, that they were about to throw all of the firepower they had against them…

The woman began lobbing shots towards the horizon, at targets Andrea couldn’t even see. She’s got to have some sort of implant…

“Heads up girlie. Shoot!” A pair of dirt trikes zigzagged across the desert floor at them. Snapping to, Andrea pulled up the maser and fired. Her shots went wide. She found it hard to concentrate as the whole creeper bucked around her. “I can’t get a steady shot…”

A blast buckled the entire creeper.

“We can’t take another of those…” Zeke called back. The woman lowered the sniper rifle and picked off the lead trike in a clean shot. “Lead them in,” she called out. “But only pop them off when they’re close!”

“Thanks, Mom,” Andrea called out sarcastically. She tried to imagine her own mother giving her such advice. She decided not to mention this part to her if they survived.

After leading and shooting some approaching bikes, she got fairly good at picking some off. She was elated at first, and then noticed that more and more were getting through. The two of them simply couldn’t keep up with the onslaught.

Then she saw it. A large platform creeper was coming in range with a pulse canon.

“Get down, hon,” the woman grabbed her.

Andrea barely saw the Legion Glider swoop in and drop a thorium charge almost directly on top of them.

The platform creeper disappeared in a flash of smoke and dust. Andrea looked up to see the skies fill with converging gliders battling their surprised Martian pursuers. Flashes dotted the receding horizon.

“Your friends?”

The woman lowered the enormous rifle. “We’ve been watching this den for months,” she began. “It was a good source of intel. Until you two showed up.”

“You’re a sp…”

The woman put her hand up. “Don’t go there. Some things you’re best to stay ignorant on, girlie. This den, they’ll scatter and regroup elsewhere, what we don’t catch or kill. You go back to your schoolwork and wait for your prom. Go to college and become a cyber-surgeon. And you won’t talk about or get involved with any of this.”

Andrea swelled. She was amazed by this woman and her independence. She decided not to mention the Legion patrol they had over-powered a few days back.

“You’re taking us back to Saganopolis…”

“Half of Mars is tied up searching for you two. You just had to go missing during the worst sandstorm of the century. I don’t know if the commendation is worth it.”

Andrea slid into the navigator’s seat, next to Zeke. He shot her a sideways look, but most of their journey was now silent. Idly, Andrea began scanning the surrounding terrain as it slid by like a great silent carpet with a wide field viewer…

A glint caught her eye. “Stop, I see it!”

“What?” Zeke exclaimed. He’d had enough excitement for one day.

 

Her grandfather had told her that sandstorms would uncover things sometimes. “Storms always tell the truth… the blasts will show what lies beneath.”

The Legion woman at first protested their stop, fearful of any lingering pursuers. But she saw the glint in Andrea’s eye, and felt a tinge of the children she could no longer have. The Legion was her life now. She decided to let Andrea have hers. She instead kept a watchful cyber-eye on the distant horizon as Andrea and Zeke got a closer look at her find.

Andrea knew that it would be small, but it was still tinier than she expected. She could easily pick it up on her own, although she decided not to try just yet. It looked like an improbable metal flower in the desert, like an ancient, oversized pocket watch. It was still partially buried, and Andrea noticed one of its petals had shorn off, probably on its original landing so many centuries ago. But its radio antenna was still deployed. This wounded robot had tried unsuccessfully to call home. Andrea felt a strange sort of kinship with this dumb beast. She, too, had nearly been trapped by the sands of Mars…

“Let’s get it in before the sands cover it,” Zeke called out.

“No, wait,” Andrea said, dusting it off a bit. “Let’s record the location and photo the site first.” That’s what a real archeologist would do… Something tripped under the palm of her hand. The comm was suddenly filled with music.

“What the…”

“I remember this,” Andrea cried, “The Beagle 2 was equipped to broadcast back a signal constructed by an ancient British rock band…”

“The Beatles?” Zeke called back “It sounds terrible.”

“I think they were called Blur…I kinda like it!”

 

The remainder of the journey back to Saganopolis was uneventful. A crowd was waiting, and Zeke was immediately snatched up by his father. Andrea’s mom grounded her for life, and now barely talked to her. She was secretly glad that her daughter was alive, but no longer felt she could control her. She thought of sending her off-world, perhaps to the Deimos Legion Academy for Girls, but her elder sister talked her into assigning Andrea a permanent cyber-chaperone instead. “You owe me one, sis,” She said to her on the side. “Mom was about to make you a permanent Legion drone.”

Andrea didn’t think that would be all that bad. She wanted to keep in touch with their mysterious Legion rescuer, but she disappeared shortly after their heady arrival. She hated the chaperone and found every way she could to ditch her. She was also permanently off of the low grav gymnastics team, which satisfied Jessica Sabbath to no end.

But finding the Beagle 2 had also made them both instant celebrities. An old pre-colonial probe hadn’t been recovered for over a century, and archeologists were already crawling over the site location that Zeke and Andrea had given them. Andrea enjoyed the photo-shoots that they had done at the Saganopolis museum, as well as their interviews and fifteen minutes of fame in Mars: in Focus. Plus, their celebrity toned their respective parents down a bit. There was even talk of a made-for-cyber-novel teen drama based on their escapades. Andrea cringed as she heard that teen idol Wendy Windthrift might play her, but knew it would irritate Jessica Sabbath to no end…

 

Andrea sat with Hanna in the school common area. She was one of the very few friends her ever-present chaperone approved of. She saw Hanna less and less, now that she was involved with Kris. There’s no justice in this universe, she thought.

Suddenly she saw Zeke walk by. She excitedly waved him to sit down. The chaperone approached in disapproval.

“Back off Rusty, we’ve got homework to do”

“You have exactly ten minutes…”

“Rusty, huh, nice nickname…” Zeke said.

Andrea pulled him close. “Still grounded?”

“Til the next millennium. Dad won’t let me out of the perimeter. He’s got me cleaning the scum pods”.

“Yum. That doesn’t sound so bad…” Andrea offered him half her sandwich. “How ‘bout an off-world adventure next time? Could you show a gal how to scuba dive on Europa?”

Hanna blushed next to her.

“I’ve had enough excitement for one lifetime,” Zeke continued, “I’m staying put right here on Mars. And you?”

“I don’t know,” Andrea said, looking to the bright horizon beyond the dome at invisible worlds in her mind.

“It’s a wide open universe out there!”

Next Week: We’ll start in with a brand new tale of time travelling adventure in a time of eclipses with Exeligmos!

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