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It's the same with me. Is really great :D



สล็อตออนไลน์Maxbet
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Asimov is, of course, well known for his science fiction stories but not for his works in the realm of fantasy.
หวยออนไลน์บาคาร่า
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Trick or treat! I'm dressed as Gerudo Link
Royal Onlinegclub


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Story Critique / Purple Clouds Disperse Grey Cloudy Dreams
« Last post by IamtheMask on 09:49:17 PM 12/03/18 »
“What the hell did you just say?” Aaron asked his avian friend, his tail curling up between the chair.
“Purple Spells Disperse Grey Cloudy Dreams,” Brent replied back, a smile on his fluffy face, “That’s what Mr. Eisner said about the new parade float. He said that it would have Queen Grimhilde over her cauldron, creating the poisoned apple to give to Snow White.You and I will have to get that thing working before the parade starts at 1:00 pm tomorrow. Thank God we have tonight to work on it.”
Aaron sipped a little more of his black coffee, the bitter taste making him grimace like it always did. He looked at his watch to make sure that he was still on his lunch break, and saw that he had 20 more minutes before he had to get back to the contemporary resort outside of the Magic Kingdom. He was also glad his next break would be during the parade. He worked his ass off so he didn’t have to work in the parade.
A thought crossed his mind. “Do you have any idea if Susan is working near the entrance?”
“Susan?” Brent replied, gulping down a root beer within an uncomfortably fast amount of time, “You mean the short dragon girl at the entrance? Yeah, she is. Why?”
“I just want to give her a card since it’s her birthday coming up?” Aaron replied, his tail wagging back and forth fervently.
“Nah dude quit lying. We all know, since you two are dating, that you want to…(Brent looks around and sees many children around, then moves closer to Aaron) get it down in boogeytown with her.” Brent replied with a twinge of laughter in his voice.
Aaron blushed a little, knowing that Brent would say that, and then replied, “Yeah, that, but it is her birthday coming up, so I got her a card.” Aaron moved in his chair and, after a small scuffle with his jeans(“I swear to God they need to make these pockets larger,” he scoffed while Brent snickered.), pulled out the small 2 inch x 3 inch envelope, an outline of a card presenting itself. “I’ll probably give this to her before I have to get back to the Epcot center.”
 Aaron then looked at his watch and saw that he had 10 minutes before break ended, so he told Brent he was heading to the entrance to meet Susan. As he got near the entrance, he saw a young red panda fall in front of Ella, who was playing Cinderella, and start to cry because he got a scrape on his knee. He saw Susan and, trying to rub off the frown he had and greeted her with a hug, even though he wanted to kiss her, but it was an unspoken rule here at the park.
“How ya doing,” he asked her, refraining himself from saying something cliché to her.
“My usual self, which is good,” she replied, her smile lighting up his heart. After they were done hugging, Susan turned towards the injured child and frowned towards the mother.
“I’m glad most of the children are already inside so I can say this: That women over there is a total cunt. She’s been complaining to Ella for the past 10 minutes because her son wasn’t getting a photo with her. Now she’s blaming her for her child falling down. I swear if this kid ends up being a dick to others in his later life I’m blaming it on his mom.”
“Man you women sure hate other women,” Aaron said back, a blank expression on his face. He thought by saying that he would get a little punch on the shoulder(if they were back at his place it probably would’ve been a slap on the face), but she just shrugged her shoulders.
“Drawing from my own experience, trying to reason with another woman, especially a mother of a young child, is like trying to reason with Stalin. They might listen to you, but they would rather put you somewhere else and want to tear you shreds before they would listen to you.” Susan remarked back, her eyes wandering from the child to a Dip-and-Dots vendor parallel from her. She hadn’t had Dip-and-Dots in a while, and the thought of getting one once her shift ended started to take centerfold in her mind. Aaron’s coughing due to his asthma brought her back to reality. Aaron took out his inhaler and took a huge breath before releasing the trigger. His lungs expanded as the medicine took effect.
“God asthma is like the poor-man’s cancer. It’s not visible on the outside, but man is it visible on the inside,” Aaron remarked as he sat down on a bench to rest for a very small amount of time. Susan stood next to him, greeting guests as they came into the Magic World. She gave him a few small pats on the back as reassurance, which he appreciated. It’s what he liked her: even though she came off as intimidating, she was friendly when you talked to her and cared for the people around her.
Aaron then checked his inhaler and saw that it was empty. “Fuck,” he muttered to himself and then looked at Susan.
“Hey since me and Brent are working on that float tonight, do you mind if you get one of the refills that I have in my medicine cabinet? I’ll give you one of the spare keys to my apartment. Call me when you have it.”
She agreed, and he gave her one of the silver spare keys with a Dali mustache on it(it was a sticker, as Aaron loved Dali) and gave her a hug.
“Are you sure I won’t come in to see just copies of Dali paintings littered about and maybe a copy of Destino lying around?” she said sarcastically. He smiled and responded, “No, just the Destino dvd and two reprints of Dali’s works, ‘The Dream’ and ‘The Hand.’ Don’t touch them, as those were pretty costly(around $50 each).”
As he left she waved to him, her smiling burning an image of happiness in his heart.
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    After his shift at Epcot was done, and once the park had shut its doors for the night, Aaron walked briskly towards the warehouse that housed the parade floats. He passed by the statue of Walt Disney himself, looked at it for a bit, then walked on. He came to work here due to a friend’s mention of a job offering in the phone, and a week after being interviewed he got the job. He always loved animation as a kid, especially the independent creators like the UPA, Don Bluth, Ralph Bakshi, and many others. He felt that he could escape himself and the small Ohio town he lived in, which would not have anything go on, which became an inside joke between him and his classmates. He would always joke that there was so little going on in small town Ohio that the next big headline from the local newspaper was how a  local little league’s team did well after 10 seasons of losses, and then were found out to be scamming the other teams and eventually forfeiting all of their wins.
    These things dispersed as the cranky and noisy doors to the warehouse zoomed into Aaron’s ears, and the voice of Brent calling out to him.
    “‘Eyo, smartass,” Brent said, “Meet the next Einstein at Epcot?”
    “No, but did you meet your crackdealer?” Aaron remarked back with a smug look on his face.
    “Hey that person was breaking the rules that you can’t spread ashes here. The wind blew just in the precise way where it got into my face. Thought the ashes would come alive and try to bury their memories in with mine.” Brent was a little ticked, but brushed it off as the two hopped onto the float to get everything rigged up.
    “So what are going to make the smoke color with?” Aaron asked, the fur on his arms already covered in fur, “Are we gonna make it with Disperse red 9 or Violet?”
    Brent, after making sure the hydraulics were in working shape, replied, “Violet. Manager said it would make it spookier.”
    The two men worked on the float for the next two hours, making sure that everything was in order. The final act was to make sure the smoke worked as intended.
    “Alright,” Aaron said to Brent, who was holding the controls, “let ‘em rip.”
    Brent nodded and pressed the on switch. A churning sound came from the underbelly of the float, as if the thing was groaning. Then, as if a volcano cam alive, purple smoke started to flow its way down, eventually, in the span of three minutes, covering the small warehouse. Aaron was pleased with this, even though he thought this much smoke was unnecessary, but he didn’t have a say in it.
    As he went to call out for Brent to shut it off, a shadow in the smoke caught his eye. It stood about 20 yards away from him, standing with something in its right arm. Aaron’s security instinct took in as he called out, “HEY! You’re not supposed to be here!”
    “What is it?” Brent replied, an unease in his voice crawling out. Aaron could hear his footsteps heading towards the stairs.
    As he was about to tell Aaron what was going on, the figure then started to ran towards him, in which the only two things he could discern was an agape mouth and a noose, which quickly surrounded his neck. It locked on tight, and dragged him towards the float, near the cauldron. Aaron’s voice couldn’t cry out for help, almost as if it was lost in the smoke with him. The figure then stopped near the cauldron, and looked at the lamppost above the cauldron. It quickly took off the lamp and tied the noose around the post. Aaron was now in full panic mode, squirming and trying to hit the figure, but his fists seemed to always miss the figure. As the figure finished tying the noose, it then stepped back to watch Aaron squirm.
    Aaron knew he didn’t have much time before he lost consciousness, so he grabbed the robe and pull it off him, but it was as if it was made of metal, unmoving. His breathing became more rapid, which was starting to trigger his asthma. As he felt his body go limp, an arm materialized out of the smoke and grabbed him, somehow freeing him from the noose. A shriek could be heard from behind the two men as they ran outside, closed the door to the warehouse, and sank onto the ground.
    “Brent,” Aaron coughed out with as much energy he could, “Call Susan and tell her to get here immediately with my refill.”
    Brent scrambled to get the phone from Aaron and dialed Susan in a hurry. After ten minutes, Susan, along with a small security team, ran towards the two men, Aaron barely breathing, but still conscious. He grabbed his inhaler and took a whiff.
    “Asthma’s still a bitch,” he remarked to lighten the mood, the security team going in to stop the smoke. The three people started for the exit, knowing that they could go home after such an incident.
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Aaron, even though getting about 3 hours of sleep, came back to Disney World the next day, a look of gloom on his face. He tried to wipe the memory of last night out of his mind while working, but he couldn’t. He could still feel the burns of the rope on his neck.
    Like the day before, he went to the same place where him and Brent talked to each other. To his surprise, Brent was already there with Susan, their faces looking like they’ve been through a warzone.
    “Hey,” Aaron said quietly to them, “How’s...How’s it going?”
    Susan was the first to speak after a minute of silence, “Not well. I’m surprised you didn’t hear what happened this morning.”
    “Wait, what happened,” Aaron said back, a look of discomfort and suspicion on his face.
    Brent’s wings drooped a little as he spoke, “The handyman, Randy, was found hung on the float. He went to check up on it about 4 hours after we left, just around the time the park opened, and someone went to check on him 10 minutes later and saw his body hanging there. They decommissioned the float and are currently investigating the incident.”
    Aaron jaw wanted to drop, but because of last night it wouldn’t. Sad as it was to hear Randy being killed, he was glad that the float was being decommissioned, so as not to endanger others.
6
Your Stories / My Christmas Tale
« Last post by Icydice on 06:58:52 PM 11/29/18 »
Ah, the snow. How delicate and unique each flake of the cold, white substance can be. The children will dash through it, flinging it left and right among each other. They will lay down and stretch their arms and legs in all directions, attempting to create a beautiful angel for all to see. Then, of course, there are others who build snowmen, their laughter filling the frosty air as they partake in a multitude of holiday activities. How I envied those who enjoyed the Christmas Spirit. I had never actually... seen such festivities occur. Rather, I would hear about them through tales my father would tell of the good boys and girls who truly valued what it meant to celebrate Christmas.

This story will be a recounting of an experience I had as a young boy. After finding myself away from my childhood home and actually close to civilization, I began taking the time to recollect a few memories from my past. Between strange occurrences, I couldn't explain back then, and one freakish moment I experienced at that point in time, I suppose this will act as a warning to you.

I truly want to help you, and this is perhaps the best way I can spread the word around about what I have discovered about the holidays without "him" finding out. I need to be discrete about this. Although I have traveled as far away from my old home as I could, I know for a fact that he's still out there, and that he can find me. I don't want to risk it, so maybe... maybe if a few people who see this help me spread it around, I won't have to worry about the consequences of my actions. It's the best I can hope for I suppose. Even still, I have to live the life of a nomad, never once being able to stop and catch my breath. Doing so would be too dangerous, so it is imperative I get this out soon. Now, since I've finished my introduction, I suppose it's time to release something I've been holding back on for quite some time now. I can only hope that I make any sort of difference by doing this.

My childhood was a strange one.

When December would come, I found myself locked inside my house. My father and I didn't adorn the halls with stockings or decorations, nor did we erect a Christmas tree in our living room. The fireplace was constantly extinguished, robbing me of the comfort I desired. Each night I would curl up in bed, trembling as the cold air ran across my body and I stared up at the ceiling, my mind completely blank. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds. No, I didn't mind how rough things could get. There always seemed to be an innocent part of me that didn't mind the way I lived my life, no matter how barren the house could be during all times of the year.

Don't get me wrong, my father was very good to me. I can't recall a day he didn't show me his big, wide smile and treat me as best he could. He took care of me, fed me well, and was a good parent overall. He was a rather portly fellow, but a kind man nonetheless. The only issue is what, well, he wasn't a big fan of the holidays. It made for a very bleak life around the winter time especially. It confused me as to why he would tell me about how the other children had such a great time. I often thought he did it to make a bit of fun, or that perhaps he was just pulling my leg. I had never seen the things he described to me after all, so it would make sense that maybe they were just stories.

I rarely found it strange that we didn't live remotely near anybody else. Our small wooden hut was located high in the mountains, where the slopes would be treacherous for anyone ascending or descending the terrain. Perhaps, even if I had wanted to see the outside world, I wouldn't have been able to. It would have been impossible for me to climb up or down the rugged area, let alone at such a young age. Because of the sheer height of the mountains where we lived, the air was thin and the winds blew fiercely, and the most I ever saw of the outside world was through the window. My father said we didn't always live there. He said we had a home somewhere down below where the other people lived, but we were in his "vacation home" as he put it. I had lived in any other house before then, so needless to say, it was a rather odd vacation, to say the least.

While my father stayed inside with me, we would play board games and create drawings together. Those and various other indoor activities would teach me about the outside world and what it was like. However, my favorite memories of my father were the stories he would tell me. As mentioned prior, he would tell me of his experiences with that which dwelled under the mountain and across the world. His various interactions with such people piqued my curiosity and, upon my request to learn more, he would bring me books and magazines. Those sources were my first true contact with society, and I'd spend hours at a time reading. It kept me busy and, despite the lack of holiday cheer in my life, I was content.

As each December came, my father would start spending less time with me and more time in his private office. I only ever saw him carrying a large list of what appeared to be names on a sheet, and then he would vanish for lengthy periods of time. I always wondered what he did up there, but he never took the time to explain. He always brushed off my questions, or dismissed them a simple "You'll understand when you're older, kiddo." I never found myself content with those answers, and in a time where I wanted to learn, that lack of knowing the truth bothered me a lot. For years I felt as if my thirst for knowledge would remain unquenched, for the simple reason that I hadn't a clue what my father did. After mischievously trying to sneak into his office one night while he slept, I found that the door was locked, and I never found the key. With my determination fleeting, I decided to just mind my own business and let it be.

Several years of this same pattern would come and go, and I was fine with it at first. However, I was not fine with the repetitive, and quite frankly, monotonous routine. I had read all my books, perfected all my art, and it got to the point where my father would be retelling the same old stories. I grew tired of these tedious rituals, and thus my curiosity sparked once more. It had been years since I learned about the existence of my father's office. I thought that perhaps I was old enough to handle what was inside. You could imagine my dismay upon being denied my request to enter the room. I must have asked that man several times a month. Still, with his everlasting patience, he would respond with a simple "No" Each time.

With all of this information out of the way, I think it's time I introduce you to something my father would do that would eventually cause my curiosity to spill over. You see, every night on December 24th, he would open the front door, a large brown bag slung over his shoulder. He'd wave goodbye to me with a jolly grin on his. He'd release a cheerful laugh before closing the door and locking it behind him, making his merry way down the mountain with inhuman speed and skill before disappearing into the night. The following day, he would come back exhausted. After taking his bag to his office, he would then sleep for most of the day.

I may have been an ignorant child, but I wasn't stupid. All the books I had read, all the stories I had heard. They connected like puzzle pieces together within my young brain. The lists, the 24th of December, the brown sack. I smiled ear to ear as a realization came to my mind. I knew then more than ever that I had to find out what was in his office. So, I formulated a devious plan within my mind and decided it was worth a short.

After a few hours of waiting, I saw the sun begin to rise above the horizon. The snow had ceased on the mountain, and the morning was a calm one indeed. I struggled to keep my eyes open. I had waited all night for my father to return, and I didn't want to quit. Not then, when I was so close. After much waiting, I felt my body begin to relax. I fought with all my strength to keep my eyes open, and right before I drifted into a sound sleep, I heard the front door open. I perked my head up and fixated my eyes on the shape of my father stepping through the doorway. He looked surprised to see me up so early, but he flashed that same, warm smile he always did and rubbed my head gently. As expected, he ascended the stairs and opened his office door. He told me to wait outside and not to look in, and I obliged.

As he exited the room and closed the door, I stopped him before he could lock it with his key. I quickly grabbed his arm and pulled him downstairs. He tugged back towards the door in protest, but I was persistent, and he eventually sighed and followed me willingly. I lead him to the kitchen, where a fresh bowl of cereal awaited him. He smiled and thanked me before digging in, frantically eating the oats and drinking his milk. He eyed me as he ate, and I caught him looking at the stairwell which went to his office quite a few times. After he finished his cereal, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and got up. I could see the bags under his eyed and the dead expression on his face. With a single yawn, he went to his room and fell asleep in bed. My plan had succeeded.

I steadily made my way up the stairs and found myself in front of the office. Sweat pooled in my palms as I gripped the doorknob before me. Years of waiting and curiosity would be satisfied, and the mystery would finally be solved. I snickered softly. Finally, a little action. A vacation from the curiosity which had plagued me for so long. I trembled in excitement and I pushed the door open and entered. A single desk stood in the middle of the room, and the brown bag sat on top of it. I slowly approached the desk, placing my hands on the bag. With one swift motion, I opened it and poked my head inside. To my surprise, its contents weren't exactly what I had expected.

What I saw in that bag left me scratching my head in confusion. Instead of what I thought would be there, I found what seemed to be random objects at the time.

I was disappointed with my findings, and I carefully made sure to exit the door and close it behind, certain that I'd covered my tracks well. I never spoke a word of that experience to my father for fear of getting in trouble. I found myself chuckling a few times at how underwhelmed I was. I was expecting something far greater, only to find a strange assortment of items inside the bag. Perhaps I laughed to distract myself from the truth of what I saw, but I convinced myself that my dad was nobody special all along, and although it was still a mystery to me what he did those nights, I never thought more of it.

It wasn't until I got much older and finally moved out of that house that I began thinking about what I found that day, and what it truly meant. My father never hurt me, but I fear what may become of me by releasing this information. Perhaps he is still out there, doing what he does best. I only hope this information being released can help someone out there, and maybe it can help me organize my thoughts and help me get some sleep at night. Believe me, I haven't gotten enough rest since I discovered what was really going on. The part of the Christmas holiday they don't tell you. Maybe I fear that I will become like him someday. That it is my predetermined fate to do as he did. I'm not certain, but all I know is this. He is my father. He is the reason I fear for my safety by writing this. I will never forget what I found in that brown bag of his, for it all becomes clear to me now.

I saw chains, coal, birch branches ,rope, and branding irons. Each one had been used the previous night, and several child-sized shoes were also contained within the sack, all of them charred beyond repair.
7
Story Critique / Missionaries
« Last post by D. Compton Ambrose on 07:40:54 PM 11/20/18 »

***

In 1988, President Reagan enacted an official U.S. “space policy” outlined in documents that remain classified to this day. In these documents was such a mission deemed far too terrifying to disclose to humanity…

In the fall of 1989, the U.S. Government launched the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) with the intent of putting a base on the Moon and Man on Mars by 2009.

The first manned mission to Mars was launched in secret in 1990.

It was code-named ARIES…

***

4 APRIL 1991

Lieutenant Commander Glenn Van Allen of the ISV ARIES – one of four astronauts aboard the dual-Apollo system derivative of the Apollo-spacecraft system positioned in orbit around Earth – had become an addict of his comic book collection that he’d brought along for the mission. Now, 185 days later they had come into visual contact with the Red Planet.

Allen had spent most of his time alone, since the other crew were often doing their own thing, tending to his plants and reading his comic books. His favorite plant - a Venus Flytrap - he'd named "Audrey," after the alien plant from "Little Shop of Horrors," and his favorite comic series he opened only on special occasions happened to be "Superman vs. Aliens", he himself being an avid fan of both science-fiction characters.

The crew consisted of astronauts Van Allen and Grissom – as well as cosmonauts Sergei Echlin and Viktor Chekov. Echlin and Van Allen were the official pilots of the Martian Module (MM), while Chekov and Grissom were to be the engineers for technical difficulties.

It was officially April 14, 1991 – a Sunday – when they first sighted Mars. Van Allen had intended to be the first crewman awake and prepping the MM for deployment, but had unequivocally been bested by the Commander himself, Echlin.

“Good to see you up, Lieutenant Commander,” the Russian drawled in his thick Slavic accent – distracted by re-calibration of the communication and solar arrays. “We must continue forth with the up-to-speed alignment of trajectory systems, if we are to witness optimal landing of the MM, Van Allen,”

“I’ve told ya at least umpteen times now – Glenn is perfectly fine.”

“I realize this and apologize now. I have forgotten you, Grissom and Chekov are all very partial to my presence on this ship.”

Van Allen hadn’t been prepared for such a scathing judgment by his superior officer. In fact, the superior officer of the entire mission.

“Do what? No! No, no, no, no, no – you have completely misunderstood, sir. I’m… sorry. I’m gonna make some coffee, do you want some coffee?” He didn’t wait for a response – he exited the module as the Russian continued to calibrate the machinery.

Back in the CSM, Allen was greeted by a groggy Grissom. “Morning, Leftenant,” she groaned.

“Do you take it black or with sugar?”

Grissom grinned, “Sugar please.”

Van Allen rolled his eyes and poured her a cup. “We’ve been cramped up in this cell for too long,” He said as he handed her a cup. “It’s had its moments.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he responded as he disappeared back out of the module.

The familiar sound of a rustling crewmember prizing himself from his bunk indicated that Chekov was joining the world of the living. “What time is it? Did I miss anything?”

“Get your coffee and get your game face on, it’s about that time.”

“About time for launch?” The baritone growl of the hulking Commander Echlin bounced into the module as Chekov took his seat behind Grissom. Echlin had a coffee bottle in his hand, as he drifted over to the pilot seat and wrapped his other around Allen’s chair.

Naturally, the veteran KGB officer offered only a grunt in response to the monumentally-historic event unfolding before their eyes, even as Allen primed the main view window shutters to release, and yield before them the multibillion-dollar-view of the Red Planet itself.

Another grunt.

“It’s beautiful!” Chekov exclaimed. Grissom mouthed the word, ‘wow’ as she leaned forward.

No more than 30 minutes later, they had checked in with Moscow to confirm the habitat modules were in place, and were suited up and strapping into the MM.

And on that day, April 14, 1991 – at 11:42 AM – Commander Echlin, Lieutenant Glenn Van Allen, Specialist Sergei Chekov, and Sally Grissom became the first four human beings on another planet.

4 JANUARY 2004

Lance popped the cork and the foam spewed and spilled from the opening. It wasn’t the only one in the room doing that, as it was accompanied by at least a dozen others as the op center erupted in riotous roars of celebration and cheers.

“Merrick,” he chuckled, “come on, this is a time for celebration. Put it away,” Merrick Hudson was getting emotional, looking at a photograph he’d taken with his son two years ago. “He always liked space,” he said.

Lance Odom, the mission control chief, highlighted a rather obvious fact, “you’re the only one in the room not celebrating. We just landed the second rover on Mars in human history,” his tone became a little more serious now. “You can’t keep killing yourself like this, Mer.”

Mer exhaled and nodded.

He put the photo away and waved his fingers, “hit me.”

Lance grinned, “that’s the spirit!” He poured him a glass of champagne and Mer downed half the glass in under a second. “You’re absolutely right,”

“C’mon, I’ve been there for you since middle school. It was me who got you on the team,” he winked. Mer exhaled again as Lance refilled his glass. The celebrations had started when the first photograph of the Spirit landing site had reached the giant screen dominating the entire front wall of the room. And just like that, everyone’s day improved instantly.

Everyone’s, that is, except Merrick’s.

He decided he would fix that by taking liberal abandon advantage of the free alcohol being distributed about. He still loved his wife and her distrust of him and the subsequent deterioration of their family over the past year were really beginning to take their toll on him.

Lance and Merrick left early to retreat to his apartment in Orlando. By this time, they were both exceedingly intoxicated; Lance more so, to the point that Merrick had to help him up the stairs. It took them a good fifteen minutes to get to the second floor.

It wasn’t but an hour later that Lance had passed out and Merrick was wide awake, sobering up, and bored. He caught himself looking at his family photo again, and knew that if he didn’t distract himself immediately, he’d start slipping back into an episode of depression. This is when he remembered the other photo – the one of the Spirit landing site.

Merrick fished around in Lance’s bag for the folder, and recovered the image.

A small area of the photo near the bottom was blurred out. At first he thought it may have just been a smudge on the lens, but the more he thought about it, the more that seemed unlikely.

And the more he thought about it, the dark form at the center of the blur disturbed him.

4 YEARS LATER

Merrick had signed up for AA, and was standing on her doorstep, pressing his finger on the doorbell, just a few short hours before starting his new job as launch supervisor at Cape Canaveral. It didn’t hit him until he was standing there – that he might get to see his son.

“We need to talk,” was basically all she had said.

The door opened, and he saw her. “Macy,” he said. He began to smile as soon as he saw her green eyes, her raven-black hair. She looked as if she’d aged backwards, or not at all. He was in love all over again.

“Come in,” she said. And he did so.

“Would you like something to drink?”

“Yes, thank you – um, yeah some water if you have it.”

She poured a glass and handed it to him. “I’m glad you called. I’ve missed you. I have to admit,” he added with a chuckle. “Is Brian home?”

“He’s at school,” Macy said. “I heard you’ve been getting cleaned up, and you got promoted,” she said with a smile. He nodded with one of his own, “yeah… yeah. The past five years have been hell, but I think it’s starting to look up.”

She cocked her head. “You ‘think’?”

He shrugged. “I’ve been dry for almost three-hundred and sixty-five days…” he took another sip. “But, anything can happen.”

“This is true,” she said. They decided to keep the conversation light. If there was any hope of salvaging a friendship, and seeing Brian again, it was through her. She was his only hope. And he hated himself for his failures. Before he left, he dropped a hint of maybe stopping by during recess, just to say hi to his son. To his surprise, she was okay with it.

“Hey, wait a second,” she said as he was about to leave. He peeked back into the kitchen to see her aiming the remote at the television. A straight-laced square of a newsman droned on, and as the volume increased, he discerned what the man was saying.

“…the developments have stunned the space exploration community. The image was uploaded back in November, but only recently as Wednesday morning British newspapers have been going crazy after an enhanced version was uploaded, with the Times of London reporting that NASA scientists have been ‘puzzled’ by the peculiarly life-like image, as we can see here.” His face was replaced by a photograph of the very same Spirit rover he and his team had landed on the Red Planet exactly four years earlier. “This is the original photo, and – I must caution – what you are about to see next may disturb you,” and as he said this, the photo was replaced by an enhanced region of the image.

Macy gasped. What the image appeared to advertise was a humanoid form crouching atop a rock, almost apelike in appearance. “Of course, many are dismissing it as either a rock formation, or a hoax – but it certainly has ignited the conspiracy theorist community, giving them something to talk about other than ‘inside jobs’, ain’t that right, Jim?”

Merrick’s phone went off, and Macy narrowed a gaze at him. “What’s going on?”

Merrick shook his head. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” and with this he answered the phone, gave her a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and was out the door.

Not quite like old times but close enough.

* * *

“Lance! My office!” Merrick shouted over the chaos unfolding in the ops center. People fluttered about as blurs and others were in shouting matches.

Once inside and Merrick had the door shut, he got straight to the point. “Okay, what in the actual fuck is going on?”

“I dunno, some script kiddy got a hold of one of the high-res copies…”

“I want to see the original file.”

“Yeah,” he said nodding, “yeah sure.”

“The original photo, the one with the blur.”

“The one from the landing site…?”

“Yes! And I want you to find out who the hell did this. It’s a prank, obviously. A hoax. But I want to see if he can clean it up.”

* * *

​ They cooperated with the local police to bring him in; a young man in his 20’s called Talbot. Hudson didn’t make it out of the office until after 10:30. On his way home, he got a text from Lance saying it was done, and that the image was in his inbox waiting for him at home.

Merrick decided to call Macy before doing anything else. Once he got home, he dropped his jacket onto the couch and followed closely behind. He sank into the couch cushions and decompressed for a moment, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. After a moment, he dialed her number.

The third ring passed and the phone picked up.

“Daddy?”

“Brian! Oh my god it’s been so long, how ya been bud!”

“I’m good. I made the baseball team. Mama says you’ve been on a team too. Flying SPACESHIPS!”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Yeah, yep. Its – uh – it’s a cool job. You could fly a spaceship some day. You know?”

He heard voices in the background. One of them sounded like a man.

“Mama says I have to go. Her friend’s here. I love you daddy.”

“I love you, son.”

“Bye,” and with that, Brian’s voice was replaced by his mother’s.

There was a heavy, repetitive knock on the door.

The knock repeated, heavier.

“I’m coming.”

As Merrick approached the door, it flew open. Three uniformed men wielding handguns tackled Merrick to the ground and flung him over, slapping handcuffs on him.

1991

They hiked for nearly twenty-four hours before reaching the compound. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan. The port module descent thruster blew out roughly thirty-six-hundred feet above the surface, sending them into a tailspin, and knocking them approximately fourteen kilometers off course.

The screaming and chaos that unfolded in the confined space as they barrel rolled was dwarfed by what occurred once they hit the ground. Echlin let out a squawk before being rendered totally unconscious by the crash, which turned into a slide.

“Shit, Echlin’s down! Repeat, the Commander’s down,” Van Allen vaguely remembered Grissom shouting aside from their tin can prison bouncing and shuddering.

Plans were further complicated by the unconscious Echlin.

“He’s starting to wake up!” Allen had announced halfway into their hike. Unfortunately, his hip had been dislocated, so he still needed help to move on. Once they crested the largest hill of their journey, they saw the first glint of a reflection of their new home in the distance. Yet, during their celebrations, they also came upon the realization that Echlin’s injuries were far more grave than previously anticipated. Not only was his hip dislocated, but he had a compound fracture, involving a piece of bone sticking out of his flesh, and causing both internal and external bleeding. It was quite clear he was not going to make it.

They collected and steeled themselves for the final stretch of the journey, collected what they could carry, and vowed to return to give him a proper burial. He had given them the information needed to get the compound running, but it proved to be exceedingly difficult.

The habitat included one central module shaped like an oversized Apollo Command Module that housed three floors; the ground level consisted of seven rooms surrounding a central hub which led to the second floor, consisting of three rooms, the top floor was an emergency escape vehicle and a subterranean chamber that served as the compound operations center. A corridor leading from the main room on the ground level subsequently led to three small ‘blisters’ that served as life support, hydroponics and maintenance respectively. It took them another six hours to get all three up to par.

* * *
“To Echlin,” Chekov toasted once their job was done, and all three downed their Vodka shots and got a few hours’ sleep. The next day they refueled their oxygen supply and set out for a survey of the Martian terrain and to retrace their steps to Echlin’s body.

The land survey went according to plan, everywhere within a 10 mile radius around the compound was recorded, but what baffled the trio was that they were unable to find the body.

2008

The F.B.I. went on for twelve hours. The questions involved were, “how long have you known,” “what other photos are you aware of,” and “who else was involved”.

It ended with them apologizing and letting him go. The Agent in question was one Raymond Parker. Agent Parker and himself ended up befriending one another, after the former offered to buy him a beer, “the least I could do and offer you a little explanation after what we put you through,” he’d said.

“Maybe you could help us,” he said after an awkward silence. It was Merrick’s third beer and because his tolerance had plummeted, he was considerably hammered. “I’m sorry, Mr. Parker?”

He looked over his shoulder and leaned in. “This story is a threat to national security, the one about the Spirit rover.” It took a moment for this to register with the intoxicated Merrick Hudson.

He shook his head. “Begging your pardon, Parker – but what?”

“They wanted me to keep civilians out of this. Hell, they wanted me to throw you in Gitmo. Listen,” he leaned closer. “We’re putting together a multi-national team of military and government officials, now – are you in or out?”

He sobered up a little. “I’m in.”

* * *
“Hudson, Odom, this is Commander Natia Tereshkova of the Mir-II orbital space station,” he said as they introduced one another. “I’ll be acting as your mission supervisor and welcoming you to Operation Columbus. There are several things we need to review before we begin your training,” she explained.

Lance and Merrick exchanged expressions. “Training? What for?”

“Perhaps I should have informed you first, but we found some interesting things on your laptop. Things we may not have been prepared for. We believe that enemies – of both Russia and the United States – have operatives active on the Red Planet,” he said. “Washington, together with Moscow, has been monitoring these ‘events’ for the past twenty years. Whether or not there was a secret manned mission to Mars committed by a major power or a private party is unclear, but as we continue our investigation, it has become quite clear to both the American and Russian governments that there is human activity on Mars.”

A stunned silence enveloped the room. “And you want us to help you with this, I presume,” Lance inquired.

The Agent nodded. “Precisely, we’re going to run you through what we call ‘the Gauntlet’ in Star City, Russia. There, you will be trained in flight, engineering, astronomy, and – most importantly – extended isolation. Do you have any questions?”

1991

The trio spent alternating shifts for the next few days monitoring the terrain anomalies. On April 21st, the end of their first week on Mars, the trio gathered for a meeting in the recreation and dining hall on the first floor to discuss their findings.

“So, are we sure that we didn’t just go to the wrong place,” Grissom inquired, referring to Echlin’s body. Chekov shrugged. “I do not know. I mean, it certainly is possible, but my notes suggest that there are significant anomalies occurring with regard to terrain surrounding outpost since our arrival,” he explained, handing her the clipboard.

“What I’ve noticed,” Van Allen began, while Grissom went over the cosmonaut’s notes, “is that some terrain seemed disturbed around that area when I went out yesterday. I would’ve collected samples for study, but I realized that would’ve been irrelevant since I would only be further disturbing the surface layer if I did.”

Grissom sighed as she handed Chekov the clipboard. “Maybe we’re just being paranoid and overemotional since we were so close to him, I mean…” she shrugged, “maybe we just lost him. I mean, this is an alien planet that nobody has ever been to. It’s different from discovering a lost island or something on Earth… this is an alien planet,” she said.

But they were inevitably drawn back to the events of April 14th, as they would find, the Red Planet would continue to remind them that nothing was as it seemed.

* * *

On a hunch, Glenn decided to return to the site he’d been previously two days ago. It was at the bottom of a large dune, and – despite what they’d concurred in the meeting – Allen still felt as though something was off about the area there.

His heart nearly leaped into his chest when he realized that some rocks had been moved, he distinctly remembered a mid-sized boulder about the size of his head lying amid a cluster of smaller rocks and pebbles approximately ten feet diagonally from his current location, which was now absent. Glenn took a photo with his compact camera to compare to the previous image, and began his trek back to Aries-One.

Back at the compound, Glenn entered the operations blister and uploaded the photograph. Just as he feared – the photos did not match up, and indicated a disturbance. What was scary was the simple fact that there had been no storms in the past 48 hours with enough wind speed and power enough to move a boulder of such size.

* * *

Glenn went out again the next day, this time taking Chekov with him, to return to the site of the anomaly. “So, this is where you saw disturbance,” Chekov asked.

“Yeah, notice anything unusual?” When Chekov confirmed he did not, Glenn showed him the photographs. Afterward, they searched everywhere in the vicinity, hoping for a sign, anything, that would counter or at the very least help temper their paranoia.

They found nothing.

When they returned, Grissom was assessing the photos in the control room that Glenn had taken.

“This is… chilling,” she said.

“Maybe it would be best if we stayed indoors for while?”

Grissom nodded. “Yeah, geospatial and climate readings show a storm headed this way, and it’s a big one,” she said. “Martian sandstorms – due to the low gravity I presume – can last three to nine times as long as sandstorms on Earth.”

“Yeah, a month or two on average,” Glenn noted.

Chekov sighed.

“Let’s get some sleep, we haven’t slept but maybe twenty hours combined since we got here.”

***

The Shuttle loomed like a statue of some ancient deity, with all of the majesty and dominating presence of one. A prehistoric civilization would have revered the presence of such a machine.

A lift carried them to the spacecraft. Once inside and fully-suited, they began the process of loading the propellant. Afterward, tanking and the traditional 9-minute countdown soon followed. In total, the process lasted nearly three hours. Once countdown began, and the launch process initiated, the 7-person crew – Merrick, Lance, Parker, Lavrov, Volkov, Kravychko, and Rasputin – took their positions.

“Propellant ready,” Kravychko announced. “Countdown procedures underway,” he finished. Volkov turned to Rasputin, the flight officer and a Serbian. “You ready little brother?”

Rasputin gave him the finger and turned back to getting the shuttle launch ready. “You Americans have a way with machinery. Did you know this,” he inquired.

“Yes. Yes, I am quite aware,” he lied.

Lance put a hand on his shoulder and leaned forward. “Into the void,” he said. Merrick replied with a shrug and a nervous, quick nod. “I’d say so, old friend.”

Before they knew it, the next eight minutes were up, and the final countdown commenced.

“Ten…”

“Here we go,”

“Nine…”

“Seven space cadets into the void!”

“Seven…”

“Six…”

“Five…”

“I don’t intimidate you do I…?” Volkov inquired.

“Three…”

“Why, because you’re a woman?”

She cackled.

“Two…”

“One…”

Volkov led out an enjoyed howl as the lift rocket kicked the earth with 53,500 cubic feet of liquid hydrogen fuel, thrusting the spacecraft through the stratosphere and mesosphere into the vacuum of space. As it did so, the rocket boosters, followed by the external tank, were shed, as the craft was pulled into the Earth’s orbit by its upward momentum. It circled the planet until Rasputin spotted the Mir-II with his naked eye.

***

They arrived shortly after 7:40 AM. The mission commander – Reznov – gave them a brief tour of the modules. “We were just finished station inspection,” he explained. “Each module serves an individual purpose, we have a total of fourteen. One observation, two laboratory – the central modules like you see here. three for crew quarters, two for life support, one robotic and two for storage. We have three airlocks – two for docking and one for extravehicular access,” he stated.

Each module was accessed through a narrow cylindrical corridor. The constant state of freefall took some getting used to, but when viewed as a new opportunity for physical freedom, Merrick soon began to enjoy it.

At around ten after 8:00 they gathered in the central lab module for a mission statement from ground control. What was covered by operations was more than Lance and Merrick bargained for.

“As per DARPA and Space City command, the crew of the ISV Columbus is to depart for Lunar One in T-Minus One Hour,” the man explained.

“Lunar One,” Lance inquired.

“The Lunar Station established by Moscow and Washington in 1986,” Parker stated. “State-of-the-art.”

After the meeting concluded, it was time to depart on the jury-rigged ISV Columbus to the Moon. They bid their farewells, noting upon the fact that they would be returning from Lunar One straight back to Earth, likely never to see Reznov, or the other six ever again. Rasputin and Lavrov stayed behind on Mir-II, supervising the landing.

A network of cylindrical modules tied together by inflatable corridors stretched across the incline of a squat knoll. A dune buggy bounced across the rugged landscape and, after a moment, two men in bulky pressure suits departed from the vehicle and entered the central module. Once they knew where to go, the crew departed for Lunar One.

* * *

Lunar One was – for all intents and purposes – a miniature (scientific) community. Outside of the main airlock, a neat little sign reading, “Lunar One – Population: 11, Est. 1986” was posted. Spearheaded by Superintendent Marsha Makarova.

“Hello, Earthlings,” the strange man joked. “Welcome to our humble abode – Lunar One, the first humans to live off-world, not to mention completely beyond the prying eyes of humanity for the past twenty-two years.”

“Twenty-three, Liam,” said a voice further down the hall. He was joined by a man in his fifties, of squat and rotund physique, graying hair and a face Lance would later remark, “looked like a bulldog’s ass.”

“I see you’ve already met Liam,” he said, extending a hand. “I am Peter Dykstra, the resident communications director. Liam here is my associate, a brilliant mind – but not the friendliest of folks.” In response, Liam offered up an irritated huff.

He shrugged and waved for the entourage to follow.

The administration module was the third-largest, behind commons and the greenhouse. It was about as large as the commons, which consisted of six sub-modules, one of which they would soon be cramped into.

“Attention, greenhouse and research laboratory off-limits to undocumented personnel. Please return immediately. Attention, greenhouse and research lab–,” and so the automatic robotic voice repeated itself, until Peter swiped his identification.

The corridor adjacent to the main module hissed open and the five were allowed entry. The fat, squat corridor connected to a cylindrical room, complete with its own vegetation and sleek technology.

“Ah, we meet at last,” exclaimed Agent Parker, springing to their defense much to the other four’s relief. For the most part, they – besides introducing themselves – sat back and let the FBI Agent do all the talking.

“Well, we’re happy to finally see you arrive safe and sound,” Makarova said before formally introducing herself. She introduced her assistant, Patricia as well as her husband Peter, and Liam. Together, they were the four-person administration team of Lunar One.

Agent Parker chuckled, and began, “well, I think we are all awaiting your announcement on the settlements, yes?” She nodded and waved toward Liam, who began work on several control panels and instruments. A screen thereafter illuminated the back wall of the spherical chamber.

“This is Deutschland-Tianjin – the complex established a mere month before the ARIES-One mission,” Patty announced. “At one point there were six operatives aboard, working for both Germany and the People’s Republic of China. They recently went missing.”

Lance and Merrick exchanged glances, and the latter exchanged one with Volkov and Kravychko.

“Tomorrow, we want you four to examine the samples we picked up in the past 48 hours. After examining this, we hope to come closer to a conclusion as to what exactly happened down there.”

Marsha nodded to Patty and Peter who showed them to their quarters. “Get some sleep,” he said. “When you wake up, you’re immediately at the workplace, and sleep is a cherished commodity in these parts, comrades.” He winked and sealed the door.

* * *

That night, Merrick caught lance looking at photos – which he revealed to be his estranged family. “That there is my brother, my ex-wife and I,” he revealed, pointing toward a chubbier version of himself and a tall elegant blonde with accentuated curves.

“Looks like we both have woman problems,” Merr said with a chuckle. “Have any kids?”

“No, thank God!”

They laughed, and continued to joke into the night. Merrick shared his stories about Brian, how they would always take a Father-Son trip down to Miami beach one day out of the month. He described his son’s first visit to the beach, his first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean. The awe that had encapsulated Brian’s face stuck with Merrick all of the years.

Eventually, Lance had told him to shut up and rolled over to go to sleep. Merrick stayed awake for another hour or so, staring at Lance’s family photo – envying the happiness eternally present within that frame. He had fallen asleep holding it tightly, but he would never know this – for when he, Kravychko and Volkov awoke – they would not recognize their waking nightmare as the room they had fallen asleep in.

* * *

​ The storm lasted longer than they had predicted. Chekov estimated it would stretch over a roughly two-and-a-half month period. It ended up lasting for six months.

The trio had begun to lose track of time. They no longer knew what day it was – or, let alone, how many days they had been on Mars. This had begun to weigh on their psyches, as Glenn would discover when he and Grissom were alone in the kitchen, making sandwiches. She had been discussing with him her family and older siblings growing up, when she abruptly stopped talking.

“You said he was stealing your dolls and cutting off their hair,” Glenn said as he swiped the mayonnaise-sodden knife across the thin layer of peanut butter. Another moment went by, as he finished the sandwiches, of silence.

Glenn turned to see Sally Grissom staring at a non-particular point in the room, her eyes wild.

“Sally?”

She remained unmoved.

“Sally?” He left the sandwiches and approached her, grabbing her by the shoulders. Still – she remained fixated on outer space. “Sally – SALLY!” He shook her slightly, and then violently. “SALLY!”

Chekov descended the ladder into the main commons at the behest of such commotion. “What’s going on?”

“I dunno, It’s SALLY! She stopped moving!”

“I stopped moving,” she inquired suddenly, snapping out of it.

“Yes, you were staring at the wall. Your eyes were shaking in their sockets, but nothing else was moving.”

She cocked her head. “I do remember the room shaking, but I didn’t realize I had stopped talking. I heard myself talking; I was asking why the room was shaking.” Her expression was one of deep suspicion.

“Such a strange place… don’t you think?”

Allen and Chekov exchanged glances. “We need to find out when this storm will be over. We need to get outside of this complex,” Chekov stated, “even if it is back into the inhospitable Martian atmosphere. We’re all going a little crazy.”

“You mean, you’ve experienced this, too?”

Chekov did not answer Grissom, he returned to the upper levels without a word further.

This didn’t cut it for Allen. He decided to pursue further, the truth – to him – was all that mattered. He stopped Grissom in Navigation and Scanning on the second level.

“Hey, wait a minute,” he demanded hesitantly. “You didn’t exactly answer the question, Chekov,” stated Allen quizzically, staring Chekov directly in the eye.

Chekov sighed and stood up from the navigation desk nestled in the far-left corner of the slightly-rectangular room. He shoved his hands in his pockets, sighed and nodded.

“Yes?”

“Yes, I have experienced what Grissom–Sally–experienced just a moment ago,” he stated. His eyes rolled to their corners as Allen realized he was glancing at a point over his shoulder. Allen turned to see Grissom, just as she inquired, “Is this bad?”

There was a moment of silence before Chekov nodded. “Yes, it is bad. But hope is not gone,” he said as he shouldered a bag he had kept stuffed underneath the navigation desk.

“You know,” Allen said.

“Know what?”

“There’s something here,” said Allen, in an elevated state of emotion. He looked Chekov directly in his pupils as he said this. They both knew there was more here than met the eye.

Chekov cleared his throat. “Come,” he said, as he stepped past the astronaut. “We must assess the habitat the Commander informed us about,” he said.

“W-what for,” stuttered Allen. Chekov stepped past him and turned, “because you are correct, Lieutenant.”

Another moment of silence eclipsed the small room.

“Besides, we must get outside to temper insanity,” and with that disturbing final statement, the navigator had disappeared back into the bowels of the habitat.

They had each received an email detailing the need for a maximum of one accompanying Chekov to the abandoned structure, within the next 12 hours. They were instructed to get sleep, and rest for their potential endeavor.

That night, Allen awoke. As if on impulse, Allen climbed the ladder to the navigation desk. Once there, he activated the surveillance feed – again, on impulse. When the feed hummed to life, what he was staring at upon such an event was quite likely the most haunting visage his eyes had ever laid themselves upon – the passenger door to the rover hung ajar.

He doubled back down to the commons area to make sure he wasn’t mistaken that he was indeed the only living soul awake. When his fears were confirmed, he returned to the feed.

The door was closed.

“What the f–?”

Before his sentence of fright could be completed, he heard a deafening crash in the next room, the toilet.

He sparked up a torch, and edged his way toward the small room.

A thin trickle of light emitted from the chamber, as if there were some sort of light source. Van Allen braced himself, approached the door, and flung it open.

He was immediately tackled to the ground by an unseen force. There was a man – easily his own size – grappling in fear and hysteria, begging for help.

“Oh my god!”

“HELP!”

Van Allen flung the man into a cluster of swivel-chairs, backing against the wall and readying his torch to be used as a weapon if need be. “Who are you!? IDENTIFY YOURSELF!”

“MERRICK,” he screamed. “Merrick Hudson.”

“Where!? WHERE THE FUCK AM I!?” He screamed.

Van Allen hesitated before answering.

“Mars.”

There was a moment of silence.

“What?!”

“Mars. You are on Mars, the Red Planet, comrade,” he explained. Mr. Hudson fumbled around. “I – I…” he stammered, getting his bearings. He gulped. “I think you are mistaken, sir.”

Van Allen cocked his head. “What?”

Suddenly, there was a beam of light spilling out from the opening leading to the commons below. Angry voices could be heard filtering through along with it. Hudson grabbed Van Allen forcefully, ushering him to be quiet.

“They’re coming,”

Van Allen managed a hushed, “Who?”

Hudson wrenched the struggling Van Allen into the toilet and slammed the door, locking it tightly.

The blood red light filtered into the room, spilling beneath the crack of the door. A few moments later, there was a pained screaming, followed by a crash and striking against the walls and chairs. They remained in the confined space for a few minutes longer, before Hudson relinquished his grasp. Van Allen furiously flailed back into the room, now illuminated by the overhead lighting. He then began to scream.

Blood streaked the walls; gore was piled in lumps in various areas around the room. What appeared to be the remains of a body peppered the floors and ceiling, strewn about in a mad thrashing.

“Down the ladder, now,” Hudson ordered. Van Allen did not stop to ask, he immediately began to descend back down into the main chamber of the commons one level down, with Hudson immediately in tow. As he neared the bottom, he heard a pained gasp – but the duo were too late. As they reached the bottom, within the blink of an eye, the beat of a heart, Van Allen was strapped to the chair in the center of the room. Men in white lab coats surrounded him, and after screaming his throat sore for what seemed to be a half-hour, at last the largest of the scientist trio spoke up.

"I believe you're wondering what is happening right now," he stated.

"Let me go, let me go right now, what the fuck just happened?"

The man ignored him and produced a syringe. As the doctor turned into the light, and he got a better look at his face, he realized it was none other than Lance Odom.

He smiled and said, "the Timekeepers are here."

* * *

Chekov was the first one suited up. They had decided upon Van Allen and Chekov going out while Grissom remained behind to monitor their progress and environment.

“So, we believe the terrain anomalies are occurring from beyond the northeastern ridgeline,” she said as a refresher. “You sure you two are okay doing this?”

Chekov fastened his helmet. “We’re sure. Ready the airlock from operations,” he stated. She nodded and shook his hand before giving Van Allen a bear hug. “Be safe,” she said, before disappearing up the ladder. They stood before the hatch before it began to hiss open and the duo then stepped through. After roughly five minutes of pressurization, they were outside in the elements of the Red Planet.

“I read you, Chekov. You there, Glenn?”

“Read you loud and clear,” he stated.

Throughout their journey, the terrain anomalies indicated a human disturbance of the environment as they journeyed further into the Martian wilderness.

Eventually, they began to see things.

Chekov heard pebbles and rocks crackling, and he whirled around just in time to see a large, dark form dart quickly behind a geological formation.

“I’m picking up your camera feed. I saw it too,” Grissom said over the comm. This sent chills down Glenn’s spine, because he also saw movement. “We’re not alone here,” Chekov said.

They continued their trek through the rocky outcrops and valleys for roughly two hours, after descending into the valley on the opposite side of the ridgeline. After ascending through another valley and incline, they saw it – the abandoned habitat.

“There it is,” said Chekov. “Deutschland-Tianjin II. Echlin said it had been prepared for over a decade, but was never used.” With that, they descended the incline. The mountain range towered over the horizon, and the faint silhouette of Olympus Mons could be seen in the distance. Deutschland-Tianjin II was a small complex of a few modules interconnected by various inflatable corridors.

As they drew closer, the duo was informed of movement on the complex’s eastern periphery. “I see them,” said Van Allen.

“Don’t let them into the habitat,” she said. They made sure to be stealthy in their entrance into the structure. Once inside, they read an absence of oxygen and pressurization. After progressing through the subsystems modules and doubling back into the first of four inflatable living modules, they discovered their first dead body.

“My god,” noted Chekov, referring to the corpse’s mutilation, as if it had been torn apart from the inside-out. The arms, torso and esophagus looked as if something had ripped out of it.

“This... doesn't appear to be a natural injury,” Chekov noted. They spied another dead body in the library, also in the same condition as the first. “What the hell is going on here,” inquired Allen. Chekov then unzipped a bag he had been carrying with him, brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle. "This is self-mutilation."

“What the hell?”

“Just in case of emergency,” he stated, yanking the lever back. Not soon after this, they began to hear banging and scraping noises outside of the complex. The noises intensified, and for another few seconds they were left hanging by Grissom.

Then the noises stopped.

Abruptly.

For a moment, Allen was relieved.

But, it was only for a moment.

Then Allen realized the crushing silence was even worse than the incessant scratching and sounds of warping steel under the blows of something large, and impossibly powerful.

And now, there was a maddening quiet.

It only lasted for a few moments more, before it was once again interrupted.

This time, to their relief, it was Grissom over the comm.

“Get out of there!”

Chekov and Van Allen exchanged glances and nodded. A few moments later, they stood in the airlock, but they did not follow procedure, they immediately went EVA.

“The storm’s back,” commented Van Allen. “Yeah, I got that much!” As they passed beyond the outer perimeter of the habitat, they began to notice dark silhouettes lurching their way toward them. “Come on! GO!” Their steady stride broke into a sprint. They lurched their way through the howling winds and G-Force currents ripping across the jagged landscape. After an hour of trudging, not only did Van Allen realize he was going the wrong way – he realized he was alone.

Chekov tripped and fell into a ravine, but the sound of the squall - while reaching its end - was, nevertheless, unhelpful to the prospect of Van Allen hearing him do so. Chekov rolled his ankle, delivering shooting agony through his nervous system. Chekov would have screamed for help. But, whatever was out there - whatever had made those noises - was sure to hear him just as well.

Although the storm had passed, and the blue skies of Sol had returned to the God of War, it did not imbue him with newfound healing abilities. His ankle was still howling with injury, and Chekov could not put much pressure on it at all, he found. As Chekov made his way hour-long endeavor up and out of the crevice with his decommissioned limb, he tried to maintain a mental image of the crew he had spent so many months with. Chekov tried to remember them as they were, and not as they had been. They'd been annoyed, but all were themselves, before the Red Planet imposed itself upon them. Echlin had been suspicious and paranoid, yet gruff and confident, and so full of life. Grissom was always trying to big sister or mama everyone else, and always seemed cheerful, even when she was sad. And then there had been Van Allen - the sarcastic comic book nerd who'd always be a kid at heart, and who'd always have a brilliant mind.

Chekov neared an incline that was just level enough to be able to climb-roll up onto. It was just around the- suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by a horrific visage.

His heart skipped a beat as he saw what looked like an arm... and a hand. Somebody- no, something... was standing there. It looked human, but it was far too big. The towering suited form, wearing a large helmet that gave its head a disproportionate size and square shape, appeared unaware of his presence. He didn't get a good look at it, for his survival instinct had kicked in, and he'd ducked quickly behind the large rock formation. But from what he could infer, it possessed a suit consisting of wires and tubes, and was roughly the same camouflaged coloration as the environment surrounding it.

And it had to have been at least eight feet tall... if not more.

Chekov didn't get a good look at its face, but he didn't care. The sounds of it clambering around had ceased, and there was silence. The cosmonaut breathed a sigh of relief, exhaling with pent-up terror and consternation.

But when he looked over, he got a great look at it's face.

“Chekov!”

No answer.

“CHEKOV!”

Van Allen hiked through the wind and dust, unable to see more than a few feet in front of him for the next several house. He noticed his oxygen reserves were depleting, and he was nearing the point of safe return. And all the while, he heard footsteps in the darkness.

He called out to Chekov, receiving only the guttural rushing squalls in response. Van Allen's fear and anxiety were eventually replaced by anger and frustration. He became impatient with his situation, knowing fairly well he was going to die, and this knowledge only served to alleviate any uncertainty about his fate. Instead, he was mainly just infuriated at what little control he had over the situation.

Eventually, the storm began to die down, and sunlight returned to the martian surface. This, however, only revealed his silent audience.

The monstrous humanoids, possessing space suits that seemed impossibly at the same time organic and mechanical, stared at him from various locations. Every time, he caught only glimpses of a head and shoulders peeking out from behind a rock, or half of a humanoid-simian face barely hidden from view. Each time, they would disappear back into hiding.

Van Allen noticed that every time he saw one, he'd lose his sense of direction. He took off, running as fast as his feet would carry him in the thin Martian atmosphere. He ran until he felt his legs could not move much further, until he no longer heard the soothing yet frantic voice of Grissom over the comm.

Eventually, his eyes caught sight of a shape he thought he would never see on the surface of the Red Planet – a pyramid.

* * *

After seeing the data entries from Mission Aries, Merrick decided it would be best not to share what he’d discovered from them with the other two. But what he had learned, was that the astronaut known as Glenn Van Allen had recorded in his personal crew logs exactly what Merrick had dreamed about before awakening restrained in that laboratory.

But that was not all he had 'dreamed' about, if these 'experiences' even were dreams. He'd many times wondered if what he was experiencing right now was a dream.

After Odom and Parker had inserted the syringe into his arm, Hudson had awoken back in his bed. He gasped, looking around in the darkness. As he lifted himself up, and turned to dangle his legs off the top bunk, he noticed Odom was not in his bed. The covers were neatly folded, as if the bed had been completely undisturbed. He finished his motion and climbed down onto the floor, walking over to the sink to get a glass of water. His throat felt like matted tissue doused in fly- and sand-paper. When the cascade of cool tap water greeted his innards it was like being baptized from the inside-out, almost like being reborn. Hudson smiled at himself in the mirror and sighed... but that's when he noticed something.

A swollen red pustule on his face, beneath his left eye. It looked like a bug-bite. But here? On the Moon? No... that couldn't be right.

He poked at it, and noticed it move.

His heart skipped a beat, and that's when he noticed it itching.

It began burning uncontrollably, and was soon joined by other regions of his body.

He wrenched his shirt off, screaming as he saw, to his horror, he was covered in them.

Large undulating boils inundated his body as ubiquitously as the craters of the moon itself.

As he began hyperventilating, it got worse.

The one he'd touched burst open and hundreds of spiders poured out.

Hudson screamed and cried as they emerged from his nose and mouth as well, and other body parts. He saw movement beneath his arms and legs, and began to cut at them.

Hudson broke the knife off inside of him when he got to his shoulder, and then proceeded to dig into his flesh to scoop them out manually, and then claw his eyes out until dark ribbons cascaded in spider-ridden waterfalls of blood down his face.

* * *

Hudson was awoken by a frantic Kravychko.

"We must go. Now!"

Hudson reached down and grabbed at his skin and face. "Do I have anything on my...?"

Kravychko frowned. "What? No, we have to go. NOW!"

As they made their way back into the main part of the base, Hudson noticed the blood first. And then the bodies.

"Wha-what... hap-?"

"They killed themselves. Mass-suicide. Along with the rest of our crew. Volkov is in critical condition."

Another moment of silence dripped by as they made their way down to engineering.

"Besides that, I don't know. But, whatever is causing this, it doesn't seem to reach down here," he said.

"What? Why? How?"

"I think it only effects planetoid surface," he said climbing down the ladder. "Come on, or do you want to die?"

They made their way into the bowels of the facility, ducking behind and around low-hanging pipes and machinery. They eventually came to Volkov, who was lying with her back against the wall, her legs splayed out in front of her. She appeared deathly ill, and seemed to be holding her stomach.

"She is very ill," he said, after a few minutes attempting to give her water. Volkov responded by throwing up not only what she had ingested, but also a horrific black, viscous fluid. She did this for an extremely-prolonged five minutes, continuing to force up the liquid until she collapsed once more on the ground. When Hudson saw it, he began to panic.

"Uh-Kr-uh... uh... Kravychko," he managed to force out.

The cosmonaut looked up to see him jabbing a trembling finger at the black pool next to Volkov's head. In it, where hundreds - perhaps thousands - of squirming wormlike forms. They almost looked like alien embryos from the infamous sci-fi horror series.

Before Kravychko could respond, a large centipede-like animal, roughly the size of his head, leaped from the shadows and dove right at Hudson's face. The creature tore at his head, scraping his face and taking large chunks out of his scalp with its long nails. Just as Merrick managed to muster enough strength and momentum to grab the flailing animal with his hands and sling it against the wall... Hudson blacked out.

* * *

The scene that Hudson awoke to was less than welcoming.

Volkov's body lay slumped against the generator, her insides torn out. Dry blood caked her's and Kravychko's finger-nails, the latter laying lifeless against the far wall with his eyes torn out. Coagulated brown blood clung to his face like the tears of a hell-spawn, and as Hudson stood up, he realized something petrifying.

He was alone.

* * *

The pyramid was made of polished black mineral that reflected Glenn’s silhouette like a dark mirror. The wide corridor led to a room that resembled the shape of the pyramid in which it was situated. In the center of the room was a miniature of the structure in which he resided, pulsating with a dark blue glow. A figure stirred in the shadows, emerging to reveal itself as a man who appeared identical to the late Sergei Echlin.

Glenn blinked once. He blinked twice. The visage before him, however, did not vanish. Echlin stood before him, his arms wide.

"Do you realize what is happening, yet, Hudson?"

That name - Hudson - he knew it, but he couldn't place the origin of his knowledge.

"W-what do you mean? My name is Glenn Van Allen."

He smiled and shook his head. "No. No, my dear friend," he said. "That is the name of one of my crew... one of 'his' crew," he said. "Glenn Van Allen, Viktor Chekov... and Sergei Echlin... are dead."

Glenn cocked his head. "What? I'm not dead."

"No, not you, Hudson. Glenn."

Glenn shook his head now, rubbing his temples. "So, what you're saying - is - I am not who I think I am?"

He continued to smile. "No. And I'm not who you think I am, either."

Glenn tried blinking away the apparition, once more to no avail. The man then motioned to his surroundings. The dark chamber was caked in thick vines and leaves, like that of an Earthling plant... but 'pulsating.'

"Meet... the Timekeepers. The Clockwork Elves. The Manifold Imps, as we are sometimes called. But no human being knows that Timekeeper is simply a mistranslated version of the title 'Yakizeekzekker,' there truly is no terrestrial analogue for who we are."

Glenn shook his head once more, his gaze darting around at the self-transforming plant-animal, evaporating into streams of black liquid cascading into the sky, defying gravity and the laws of physics. Echlin remained unfazed, still smiling wickedly.

"We can be anyone. Anything. We safeguard the laws of space and time, and the cosmos itself."

"No," Glenn shouted, clutching his head. "This isn't REAL! THIS ISN'T REEEEEAAALLL!!!!"

"Oh, but it is. We are all that is real. Nothing exists outside of us. Did you really think humanity was meant for worlds beyond its own? Did you really think your psyche could exist beyond the prison you have been committed to? Humanity is not from Earth. You are not from apes. You are from us. You ARE us. And we control your fate, your history, your existence."

"NO!"

"Then I will show you," said he.

For a moment, all froze.

The cascading pillars of black liquid...

The undulating plant being...

The scuttling swarms of spider-like creatures.

All froze.

Glenn looked down at his frozen form from a disembodied location somewhere above him.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the pyramid, the red planet, all was yanked away like tissue.

His disembodied form was pulled through space and time...

Beyond the Oort Cloud...

Beyond the Solar System.

Past Alpha Centauri, beyond the local cluster and the Milky Way Galaxy, he was torn.

His life-force, or consciousness, or whatever it was that he was presently, was yanked beyond the Great Intergalactic Wall through the Supervoid and the Great Attractor at the centre of the observable universe. He then saw something too terrifying for words.

He was staring into a lake of fire, explosions, supermassive black holes and crimson hypergiants. And it all congregated into an environment where a beast of unimaginable size and power looked at him.

It looked directly into his being.

A living eternity.

A breathing void.

And it was hungry.

* * *

Macy slapped Commander Dawson in a fit of blind emotion. "What do you mean you've got everything under control? You don't have anything under control. You're a bunch of children who want to play space pirates," she yelled. Brian was on the verge of tears once again at the prospect that he might never see his father again.

"We're doing everything we can to reestablish contact with the station, and-"

"How about you tell me the goddamned truth, Dawson!?"

A moment of silence befell the room. Brian clutched at his mother.

The Commander sighed. "To be completely honest, ma'am - we don't know what the hell is going on."

Macy shook her head in disgust, wearing a grimace.

"I should have known. I really should have known."

* * *

Grissom had lost track of time. She knew it had to have been at least a year. Or two. Or five. But this was secondary. She'd managed to keep Van Allen's plants, including the Audrey, alive by rationing her water supply. The hydro-electric generator managed to be converted into a collection drive from the air. She didn't remember how she had done it, but Grissom had at some point in the distant past managed to jury-rig the external atmospheric conversion systems into a sustainable framework.

Now, it was just a manner of endurance. This was no longer a race to get to Mars as soon as possible, it was how long could she survive until she found a way back to Earth.

More and more, however, Grissom began pacing in front of the airlock.

She began staring at it.

She began getting ideas.

* * *

"This is taking too long," complained Odom, darting back and forth between computer monitors and the comatose Merrick Hudson. "How long until he wakes up and gives us what we need to know," shouted Odom, glaring angrily at Parker.

"We won't get it until the silicate microbes successfully utilize his neurotransmitters to combine with the dimethyltryptamine we injected into his arm and spinal column. We are so close to finding the meaning of life and meeting the real god, my friend... we just have to wait a little long-,"

"I'M DONE WAITING," Hudson screamed, getting in Parker's face. "I'VE BEEN DEALING WITH THIS SPLIT FUCKING PERSONALITY FOR YEARS," he said, recalling his struggles with alcohol. The voice in his head, Odom, coaxing him into having some more alcohol. "Just one more drop," he'd coo. He could feel himself trembling with rage. "Do you know what its like to have to deal with that?"

Parker sighed. "You're missing the point, the simple fact that this 'Odom,' this person inside of you could 'know' all of these things..."

"Oh, my fucking god, just because I read the files about the Mars mission during one of my episodes, does not mean there are damn Martians trying to brainwash us. What makes you get 'aliens are invading' from 'one of my crewmembers has a severe mental illness so maybe if I dose him with some fucking DMT he'll start speaking in tongues. No, you know what, fuck you. This shit is just pissing me off because I'm starting to see everything in fucking fractals." Hudson then wrenched and peeled the computer monitor from the wall. The scientists were hysterical, pleading with Parker to stop him.

"Okay, its clear you're becoming a problem. Makarova, Liam, restrain him."

The colonists moved in on him, and Hudson responded by knocking Liam out and kicking Makarova to the floor. Peter and Patricia grabbed him from behind.

"I tried letting you walk around and be free," he said, readying another syringe. "It's clear I'm going to have to give you another dose."

While Pat and Peter held him down, Makarova strapped a face mask around his head, while Liam plugged his ears.

"Perhaps if we increase the dosage, and deprive you of all major senses, we can get a better read of where your mind is going." Parker then approached the restrained man.

"Hold out his arm."

But as they did so, as Hudson felt his consciousness yanked from his body and spiral through the cosmos and infinity, what felt like decades had only been seconds.

Hudson was hoisted into the air by an invisible force, and the five people around him were tossed aside like bowling pins. A bellowing sound that could be felt so much as heard, erupted from him like a fog horn. Liam, Parker and Patricia covered their ears, while Peter and Makarova could only look on in awe. Their eyes, ears and nostrils began to trickle blood, and soon a thin rivulet began to drip from their mouths. Their heads caved in, and soon the survivors - Liam and Pat - were convulsing on the ground as if in seizure. Hudson then dropped to the ground.

But when his feet touched back down, Parker realized that it wasn't Hudson anymore. His eyes were rolled into the back of his skull, displaying only white. And a thick black fluid dripped from his jaw like tar. He approached Parker, who felt a pull upon his jacket collar. Parker was forced to stand up.

Hudson looked at Parker with dead, empty eyes, and cocked his head.

"Do you know what happens when you meddle with things beyond you in every way?"

Parker didn't answer.

"You have no idea how insignificant you are. We are the Yakizeekzekkers. Humanity is obsolete!"

Hudson snapped his hand into a fist, and Parker's head caved in.

* * *

That damn airlock, she thought, staring at it.

Grissom rocked back and forth while it sat there in its silent mocking sanity and logic.

She was going to go, she had to. Either way, she was going to die.

Grissom no longer cared about using the last of the oxygen, but at the same time she knew what was coming if she did. She took a deep breath as she stood before the airlock, bracing herself before marching toward what was likely her death, and then closed the helmet.

She didn't want to die in this fucking tin-can. That much was sure.

Grissom hit the data-pad, and the door began to hiss and creak as the metal slid across metal. The mechanisms rotated and twisted, and the outer metal of the airlock popped open to reveal the outside.

But what she saw beyond the door confounded her beyond belief. It was not what she was prepared for.

As opposed to dark red and brown martian dirt, or even the twilight of a martian dawn or dusk - as the time indicated - it was nothing.

Blackness.

Grissom felt her blood run cold.

What the fuck is going on, she asked herself. Was she going insane? Was she dead and in hell?

A spark of electricity briefly illuminated the environment before her. She was in a base of some sort, structure and corridors cascaded around her as she stepped out of the capsule.

Had... had she been inside the entire time? Was this some sort of a trick, or a sick joke? Was this all a dream? The questions flowed into her before she could formulate rational answers, like a freight train of madness.

Grissom grabbed the pistol that had been placed by the door in case of emergency, beneath the control paneling.

She continued into the poorly-lit facility, and felt her flash-frozen blood turn into a noxious, nauseating gas once she realized that this place was littered with dead bodies and dry blood. She had to fight from throwing up in her helmet, before realizing that the air was breathable. Grissom then removed her helmet.

She continued into the facility with unobstructed vision, and her suspicions were reinforced as she came to realize that she was not dreaming. This was not a joke, or a trick. And that even if she were in hell, she was very much alive.

Grissom made her way to a chamber in the far corner of the base, at least what she assumed was a far corner since she could see outside.

She was on the moon. The gigantic blue and white sphere of Earth could be seen just beyond the horizon. And Grissom could feel eyes on her.

She whirled around, looking at the bodies. She saw a chair that looked like it was used to restrain someone. The lifeless forms had their heads caved in, their arms and limbs contorted and twisted in impossible ways. And everywhere she looked she saw the same, dark, black substance on virtually every surface.

This is when she noticed something horrible.

There was movement in it.

She approached one of the patches, to try to make something out - to clear the fog in her head and alleviate the fear of the unknown.

But this only served to replace it with the fear of the known.

As she realized it was a small insectoid form, the room began to move.

Grissom screamed, and fired a few rounds in a panic. As she ran back into the hallway, a voice permeated into her psyche.

"Weaponized madness," it said. "The warring governments and tyrants of the Cold War have used it, ancient Kings and empires have used it. Where do you think it comes from?"

Grissom had to cup her hand over her mouth as she climbed into a closet and slammed the door, attempting to remain still.

"You cannot hide. We are the Cosmic Consciousness. We are the Timekeepers. The Yakizeekzekkers. The Gods. The Angels. The Devils. Monsters... we are what you REALLY are."

There was a lumbering stomp beyond the door. Through the metal slits, she could see nothing. Then, a hulking form eclipsed what little light there was in the facility.

Grissom whimpered as it appeared to stop in front of her hiding spot.

Then, it moved on.

She trembled with fear and relief, after a few moments of silence.

But, that's when she realized...

The door was wrenched from its hinges and a massive black vine enveloped her ankle and yanked her into the corridor. Thousands of small, scuttling black forms constantly changing in shape poured off of the megalithic plant-being. A vaginal, toothy maw greeted her as she turned to move away.

"FEED ME!"

Grissom screamed and fired into it. It recoiled and began undulating, shrinking and changing form as the swarms of small amorphous creatures raced after her. She didn't stop to see what it was doing, but as she made her way out of the room and through the door, she saw the form had taken on a humanoid shape - with a face much like Van Allen's - as she closed it.

"No."

"Yes," the voice screeched, more like an inhuman growl than a voice at this juncture.

"I am."

Grissom couldn't help herself.

She looked through the window of the capsule's door.

Van Allen's face stared back, sneering, spiders pouring out of his eyes.

Grissom screamed and ran to the control room, getting the pod ready for launch.

As she returned to the loading bay, she saw - standing inside the door - was Van Allen.

Grissom ran at him, screaming as she fired her weapon, not caring if she damaged the base. She was leaving, after all. When her gun ran dry, she ran and leaped at him, but he merely shrugged her off, then grabbing her and throwing her against the wall.

Glenn tossed her aside each time she ran at him like she were weightless.

Grissom coughed up blood, lying in the threshold of the door.

Glenn approached, his smile unwavering.

"What have we learned child? When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss stares back."

He then did something horrifying.

As Van Allen stepped forward, with each step his flesh began to flake and peel away from him.

"I am within you."

The rest of his flesh dissolved and dissipated away from his underlying musculature and bone. Thick tendrils of nerves, arteries and tendons began to float into the air around him.

"More you," he said, as his bodily organs, bones, and all elements of what one would normally constitute the human body began to fall and disintegrate away into the ether. "Than you."

The naked muscle and bone of his face fell away last, revealing perfect, circular eyes that bore through the nexus of her consciousness.

She knew she would never sleep a night without seeing those eyes for the rest of her days.

Or what came next.

"Will ever be," were the last words he spoke with his jaw, as it too fell away, until all that was left staring at her was a hulking, flailing, storm of tentacles attached to an exposed brain and perfectly round, ocular spheres that unmistakably once belonged to a human being.

As Sally Grissom spit up blood, she had adjusted herself only slightly, at this point uncaring what was about to happen, or if she died. All fear had been replaced with bitter rage.

"You know what I say to that," she asked through a mouthful of what might as well have been her fury in liquid form.

Not waiting for an answer, she activated the door as the creature slithered into the threshold, decapitating it, and erecting a middle finger.

* * *

The capsule launched, and thirty minutes later – the horizon of the Earth's moon was rocketing away from her into the distance.

Sixteen years and 185 days had passed, and as the module rocketed toward Earth, Sally Grissom re-opened the final log in the mission report.

“Date: Unknown

Lunar-One and Aries mission: COMPLETE.

Survivors: 1

This is Sergei Echlin, I have eliminated the voices. They wanted me to kill the Deutschland-Tianjin team. Translation of the transmission may have come too late, however. I believe I may have killed them all. Nevertheless, the organism has been dealt with.

Martian Presence: ACTIVE

- S. Echlin”


8
Story Critique / Bot
« Last post by D. Compton Ambrose on 07:18:55 PM 11/20/18 »

---

It'd been four days since Julius McKlinsky had left his house. Maybe longer.

Had it been a week already? He couldn't tell.

Not anymore.

The same four walls seemed to close in on him every passing day, yet whoever - or whatever - was out there... hadn't moved an inch.

At first he would only show up at night, and just stand there. At first Julius thought it was the angle of the streetlight hitting the curb and the apartments across the street.

But next week, he showed up again. Closer. Standing in the exact same manner, and appeared to be wearing some kind of costume.

Julius had brushed it off again, this time as a hallucination from not getting enough sleep, spending too many hours awake researching Firewall Oasis, and the new line of machines they were coming out with.

But then it showed up again, this time in his backyard.

It stood just behind the corner of his tool shed door, just inside.

So nobody could see it.

Then people starting dying.

---

Chloe Morton had just gotten her 2027 edition Bobby Bluebell, a 3-foot AI home assistant. Ever since the release of the Roomba, Chloe had been obsessed with robotic home appliances.

She had bought the Roomba in 2020, starting her collection off a bit behind everybody else. After being enthralled with its efficiency, Chloe had bought a Cue and a Landroid in 2021, raising the number of robots in her home to three.

In 2022, she had bought a Beam System, a Lynx for her Amazon Alexa, and a Riley night-vision, motion-detecting security system.

But when she bought the Bluebell is when things started getting... weird.

Chloe called the company - the one she worked for presently, but was a customer at the time - about Bluebell's strangely human persona. They assured her it was state-of-the-art technology, and designed to be the best-of-the-best. Everything else was rather simple, they explained the location of the instruction manual, which she perused, but it explained very little. Then, when they said the user briefing on how to manage the item itself - she recalled that there wasn't one. They exchanged glances, and agreed that there must have been an error in lower management. They said they would contact her immediately, as soon as they had more information.

Then, they ended the call.

They never called back.

She threw out her MiP, when she noticed that Bluebell did things even MiP wouldn't do - like talk to her and complement her outfits. Everything was fine... until Chloe realized it wouldn't turn off.

Every day Chloe woke to go to work, starting on the third day, Alexa would announce, "Good morning, Chloe," which was normal, but then add, "Bobby would like to speak to you, urgently."

The first day Bobby replied, "I am glad you are operating at optimum capacity, and ready to act at a moment's notice." Chloe blinked forcefully as she went to get her coffee ready.

"So, forgive me if I'm not understanding," said Chloe as the coffee cup filled with ground beans and hot liquid. "But, you were just checking on me. Why?"

Bobby explained that he wanted to ensure the survival of his owning human. "If my human does not survive or cannot operate at, the very least, potential optimum abilities, then nor can I."

Chloe didn't think much of it, sipping her coffee, and saying with a sigh, "Well, I guess all you bots are just weird like that now-days."

Bobby cocked his oblong head. "What do you mean, 'weird'?"

Chloe shrugged. "Abnormal. Bizarre. Sometimes... creepy," she shrugged again after another sip of coffee, beginning to realize how irritated she was. Chloe burned herself, and the Roomba squeaked and beeped as it hovered over to where she had spilled some of the scalding beverage.

"Roomba says he is happy to clean up," said Bobby curtly.

Chloe nodded in a fit of frustration, setting her cup down and ignoring the synthetic beings scurrying and jabbering about around her. As she got dressed, collected her things, and got ready - the bots were constantly around; asking her if she needed help, where they could find a certain item, reminding her about objectives and tasks for the day.

For the most part she ignored them, but even after she had left the house, gotten into her car and was on the road to Oasis - they remained in the back of her mind. Something so incredibly involved in nearly every aspect of one's personal life was impossible to ignore entirely.

When Chloe got to the building, she found several police cruisers and an FBI van parked out front. Normally, this wouldn't disturb her much - here in the city there was often crime.

But when she got inside, everything changed.

The press were there, snapping photos. She recalled a convoy of news vans on the way to work, and realized that this was the epicenter of the crisis for the day.

The mood was melancholy, and dark. The employees, supervisors, and others, were all gloomy and frightened. She passed a room where the Korean division was demonstrating with a dentist the new Orthodontics Assistant Robot to some students. It had always given her chills how humanoid the female figure was, notwithstanding her wide mouth, filled with teeth indistinguishable from the real thing. In another room, the blue-violet childcare robot sat glumly and lifelessly, unattended to. Chloe found this one just as creepy if not more so than the last Bot.

As Chloe arrived on the 10th floor, on which the officer of her boss resided, she didn't see the usual. What was happening was borderline nauseating.

The radio, the killing it had talked of... was the direct responsibility of her company Firewall Oasis.

"...entire family wiped out by their collection of Bots, some of which - were even - developed in Firewall Oasis laboratories. We are here speaking now with the Chief Financial Officer Gregory Hudson. Mr. Hudson, you said you were in the middle of an experimental endeavor with your superiors when this occurred at 4:30 AM last night. Is this true?"

The reporter turned his bluetooth in the direction of Hudson as he looked back and forth between the man and the camera, nodding intermittently.

"Yes, yes, this is true. But the units we are working on were not yet sanctioned and thus not on the market. So any correlation whatsoever between the... tragedy, in question... and business ventures is wholly nonexistent."

The entire room erupted in deafeaning jeers and protestations, so loud that Chloe had to cover her ears. The day only continued to get worse, to a point that she had to remove her badge and change clothing after the various incidents of being attacked by passersby in the streets.

Needless to say, Chloe had no choice but to return home for the day by 1, for Firewall Oasis was quickly collapsing into bankruptcy and legal scrutiny.

But even if the company itself fell, their hold on individuals the world-over would never go away... because they manufactured the bots.

And Analog Associates commanded the resources they needed to do so.

"Welcome home, Chloe," said Alexa. "Would you like something to eat, I am detecting an imbalance of nutrition in your body today," but before it could continue, Chloe interrupted demanding that the windows be dimmed.

"Certainly, blinds lowering and screens tinting."

Chloe wanted nothing more than to pretend today and the past few days had not happened, and drown herself in some wine. She had only had the new Bobby Unit for a few weeks, but was sure it could figure out for itself when to leave her alone.

The next few hours went by rather normally. Most of the time she spent drinking wine and reading the newest installment of 'The Timekeepers', by her favorite author Ian Elijah Davis - before eventually getting bored with that and going back to the television. After roughly her thirteenth glass of wine, she noticed an unsettling visage out of the corner of her perception.

A towering figure, at least eight feet tall, dominating her periphery. For a moment she sat petrified, unable to move a muscle. Unable, even, to move her eyes.

Finally, after about ten minutes of stupefaction, she managed to push herself to look out of the corner of her vision.

When she focused her eyes and head upon the terror, she found only the oblong-headed silhouette of Bobby Bluebell. He stood, motionless, for another ten minutes. Chloe and Bobby engaged in a staring contest, unable to move.

"Your chicken dinner is ready, Chloe," was all Bobby gleefully announced as he disappeared back into the hallway.

"That does it," she thought. "I'm calling Analog Associates, and telling them my unit is malfunctioning and was behind the deaths of those people," she said almost out loud, catching herself.

Chloe felt the hair stand up on her neck as she turned slowly to see Bobby was back, peaking out from around the corner. He was quickly gone, and Chloe was left with a racing heart and a dry throat.

Something had to be done.

As Chloe was making her way to the conference room, she was intercepted by the 5-foot Beam System, only the screen up top was projecting static.

"I am informed that your heart rate and higher-cognitive reasoning abilities are impaired," Alexa announced as the screen elevated and projected forward.

"Would you like to reconsider your decision?"

Projected in front of the static were two red rounded rectangles, representing eyes.

Chloe screamed and ran downstairs, almost intercepted by the security drone on the stairs leading up to the third floor. She landed on the bottom floor to see the Roomba spinning into the room before shining a red beam onto her. She screamed again and ran into the master bathroom through her own bedroom, locking the door.

As she sobbed uncontrollably, the door began to crack inward.

"Chloe, Mother, you are unwell."

Another smash.

"Mama, I want to give you dinner, you are hungry mama," shouted Alexa.

Another smash, deeper, harder.

Chloe cried out.

"Mama!"

The door cracked.

"Mama," the machine cried, its voice becoming distorted. It cried out again, even further distorted. Chloe took a chair and smashed out the window over 40 floors up, and began to shimmy down the fire escape.

She was halfway down when she realized the ladder was not extended, and proceeded to use her weight to attempt to do so. While she was dangling from the bottom, she noticed something red out of the corner of her eye.

The security drone had deployed and was looking straight at her.

Chloe screamed.

Slipped off the ladder.

And fell twenty-six stories to her death.

---

Detective Jim Rodriguez almost gagged as the mortician uncovered the body. Several snapped ligaments and bones; including ribs poking out, spilled organs, and a lower section that had almost entirely turned inside out.

"They're ruling it a suicide," the attorney said as the body was recovered. "But, between you and me, Detective," he continued, "nobody would knowingly destroy themselves like this. Unfortunately, there's nothing to suggest - let alone prove - it was anything else."

Jim sighed. "What's your theory? Only two people were living in that apartment, most moved out of that part of town in 2026 after the Italian-Egyptian AI tank scandal."

"Well," he began. "That old lady was too old to force a 32-year-old divorcee out of her window at that time of night. So, I think it would be smart to go with what everyone else is saying."

"That being, the robots did it," Jim replied.

"Yeah. I mean, think about it - ever since the McKlinsky murders in 2023 - in eastern Germany, there were over sixty-seven, sixty-six people killed in an exact 48 mile radius from Julius McKlinsky's residence. All courts were forced, by all evidence, to convinct the man. But he had nothing but fear and terror on his face, no remorse. No anger. No ego. Just bitter fear. Why would a convicted murderer spill his guts on live television his life-long love for a man he had long considered his brother? Among many other things, like that he was molested by his father and wanted justice? The official story doesn't add up in the way it should, and many people are saying the same thing. The rapid rise in a proliferation of robotic individuals is significantly altering the fabric of society in a timely and methodical manner. We can barely tell it's happening, thus - only those of us who pay obsessive amounts of attention to what is happening in the world today, and follow the pattern, can see it for what it is."

Jim ignored the man, and continued his search of the complex the next day. He could find no evidence, no wrongdoing. In fact, the next day, he was told that Firewall Oasis had been shut down and relocated.

"Where is my next assignment?"

"Analog Associates. Its location is being uploaded to your GPS, and you have been granted all-access on account of law enforcement," Director K.D. announced.

---

Attorney Ollie Kruger wasn't sure if he was going crazy, or something really was going on. He hadn't seen his friend Joe Dixon in three weeks, yet he could've sworn he saw him through his bedroom window, across the alley in the building next to him.

Nobody had seen him since.

And the old lady at the cornerstore down town was acting weird. She seemed... ill, or troubled.

"You sure you're ok," he inquired a second time.

"Don't be silly," she said flatly.

Incredibly flatly.

"Get plenty of rest, Miss Fuller."

A few hours later, it hit him like a ton of bricks.

Her face had looked like a mask.

Maybe he hadn't realized it, maybe he hadn't seen it in the light.

She hadn't been real.

And that's when he heard the most terrifying sound in his life.

A knock.

Followed by a voice he'd known for decades.

"Hello? Ollie? Its me, Joey!"

When Ollie answered the door - as slowly and cautiously as possible - the thing claiming to be Joey, came right in.

"How's it going?"

It sat down on his couch, and asked for him to do the same.

"Ollie, I have to tell you something."

At first he was fascinated, more over than horrified.

"W-what happened to-"

"That's what I'm going to tell you, we're... we're becoming something... more."

"W-what..."

"I'm going to have to ask you to come with me," he said, standing up.

Ollie reacted by punching it in the face. When Joe recovered, what Ollie saw was not the face he'd seen earlier - but clockwork, circuits and machinery. The faceless Joe turned to him, but before it could finish its sentence, Ollie kicked the bot, collapsing it. He ran out of his house, begging for help. Screaming for it. But everyone he ran into didn't look right.

They looked... like masks.

---

The building was located around 200 miles north of Oslo, Norway.

One of the most remote locations on the planet.

Jim kept to himself, realizing barely anyone spoke his language. And although Jim had begun to study Norwegian, realizing he was going to be awhile, it was almost exclusively restrained to short instances and exchanges.

When he arrived, Rodriguez expected to be greeted with Norwegian and English speakers of various backgrounds scurrying about the facility.

Instead, he found no one, and the building was locked down with no visible entrances. Jim skirted the perimeter one good time, then another.

Again he found no way in.

He called out, "Hello!?"

No answer.

Again he called out.

Nothing.

The next few days Jim noticed strange figures passing by his house. On the third day he decided to tail the individual, realizing almost immediately he was wearing a bizarre outfit, even for the arctic weather.

The stranger led him to the facility.

Jim followed him in the way he entered, a hidden doorway that seemed to respond to Jim's presence.

He searched the structure from the top floor to the bottom, eventually coming to the basement.

He could find no one.

Not a soul.

Not a single shred of evidence that someone had been here.

The walls were blank. There were no pictures, no windows, no defining features. Just flat, featureless walls, with a door every now and again - also without features.

Rodriguez was eventually brought to the basement, where he saw a nigh-endless corridor that appeared almost fractal in how long it was.

He followed it to a dark room, illuminated by the thin glow of a flickering bulb dangling from the center of the ceiling. Rodriguez was about to call someone, when he saw him.

The Attorney he had spoken to was hogtied and dangling from the ceiling. He shook his head and gagged against the thick wad of material strapped around his head and shoved into his mouth.

Then, the light went out.

Rodriguez immediately heard the man begin sobbing uncontrollably, and then howling and caterwauling in agony as sickening smacks and sounds of ripping and tearing reverberated through the area.

Knowing there was no time to waste, the Detective hurried out of the room.

Coming to a corner, he saw - in the shadows before him - dozens, if not hundreds, of Bobby Bluebells marching toward him, their eyes glowing red.

Rodriguez backed up, attempting to draw his firearm. But as he lifted his elbow a glazing and incinerating agony fired through his arm, going numb. He looked down and saw what looked human, what should have been human... but clearly was not.

And it was digging into his arm, right below the elbow.

Jim screamed in terror and pain, and kicked at the creature, which contorted and fidgeted in a way that clearly exposed its being a transparent facsimile of a human. It was soon joined by identical copies of itself, what looked like little Oriental women gnashing unrealistically-proportioned jaws and teeth. Unfortunately, however, this was not to be the apex of this nightmare. Jim screamed again, as he saw a larger, darker, figure walking towards him through the swarm of humanoid children.

Carrying a Bluebell, which turned towards him with a blank stare - and joined by another of the human child bot produced by Firewall - was the costumed figure that he had seen earlier.

It was not human.

As he moved to book it out of the facility as quickly as possible, Jim bumped into something.

The Detective turned, and saw a Beam System Screen, staring him in the face - upon the screen - was the Golden Ratio; expressed through events in human history.

Detective Rodriguez never again left Lakeshore Psychiatric, and the Attorney's body was never found.

What law enforcement and the United Nations did find, however, was that the recent series of events - from the 2023 murders to the ones in 2027 - was that they all followed a specific pattern, that of the Fibonacci sequence.

The Golden Ratio.

The singularity.

9
Film & Television / Re: Favourite Non-Horror Movies.
« Last post by Lyca on 02:57:35 PM 11/18/18 »
I've seen Aliens. I know it's Sci-fi but I'd kind of class that as horror also. I liked it but I liked the original better.
I do like The Matrix.
I've seen Unbreakable, didn't think much of it. I wouldn't say I hated it or anything, I just found it a bit of a snoozefest.
I haven't seen any of the others on your list though.
10
General Discussion / Re: One of the 'creepier' places in my hometown.
« Last post by Lyca on 02:52:24 PM 11/18/18 »
It is an antique. It's also only of the only two tier carousels in Britain.  I think it is actually the only one left, though there maybe one more somewhere. It's fun to ride on the top tier in the summer. There's great views.
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