“It’s a fact MS1, it’s going to hit us, and the outcome is certain: Planetary extinction.” The image on the large screen scrambled then came back crisp. Major Deaton of Earth Solar System Command stared through the screen at a group of 20 men and women within the communications room of Mars Station 1. They all gasped. Silence filled the room, and everyone stood in shock.
The Major continued, “So we estimate the impact in…out …months.”
“Damnit! The approaching asteroid is already causing interference with communications,” Jessica’s voice boomed.
Jessica, the lead scientist of Mars Station 1, a 30-year-old brunette short, stocky, commanding, and sharp as a whip. She had assembled everyone in the comm room so that the word from earth was heard by every person as it was spoken to limit rumors developing about the situation.
Everyone knew about the asteroid heading for the earth because early deep-space detection satellites had discovered the object hurtling through space. A team of asteroid geeks back on earth armed with the latest in AI computer software projected the trajectory of the planet killer billions of times. Every simulation brought the impact probability to 100% at the high end and 98% at the low. It was a sealed deal, even at a 2% chance, the asteroid would skim so close to the atmosphere that the effect would still be catastrophic. Just the heat created would boil off most of the protective ozone, and the residual meteorites hitting the planet would be equivalent to thousands of hydrogen bombs going off across the earth.
They all understood this would end human existence on earth. Only a few people within Solar System Command knew the asteroid was heading for earth. The protocol had been designed to deal with such an event. First detection and threat were analyzed by AI and the few people monitoring the system. Once the threat was determined to be significant the data were presented to a qualified scientific committee at the highest level of secrecy. Finally, the President and an inner circle of officials were briefed and they would call the shots on informing the public.
Major Deaton’s message continued, “We will continue normal operations and procedures as usual for the time being until the committee has…then proceed…awaiting a response.” The transmission ended the screen displaying “End Transmission”.
Everyone in the room began chatting amongst themselves, getting quite loud. “Quiet! Quite everyone please,” Jessica took control of the room.
“You heard the Major, continue as normal. Everyone, please go back to your assigned duties for the day except for department heads. Heads, please stay behind to meet with me. I know everyone is going to have heavy thoughts, but keep focused on your tasks, and your department head will update you as we formulate plans. You’re a brave lot, we’re the first Martians, and we are settlers, so let’s do what we do best. Mars UP!”
Everyone gave a loud “Hoooah!” a motivational shout used in military circles on earth. Mars UP had become the settlers’ motto whenever things got tough. On Mars, things could get tough in a hurry. A slight mistake could mean your death; like Jim Reavers who was working in the food development lab. He got a small cut that he ignored, it became infected, causing a severe fever that killed him within a week.
The settlers were a collection of remarkable people that consisted of twelve men and eight women of different backgrounds, ethnicity, and skills. They ranged in age from 25 to 50, and each had unique talents selected for the assignment. They had arrived in groups of 7 at roughly 2-year intervals. The first couple of groups had the hardest startup. They lived within a small capsule lander and a large conex container left on the surface during a supply shuttle drop-off explicitly designed for establishing the first settlement on Mars. During the time between the second and third group arrival, a cavern in a nearby crater had been excavated out and developed into a living station that provided protection from the Martian surface and had access to ice found deep within the subsurface. A team of robots extracted the ice. The ice would be processed for food and water.
The food development section was the heart and soul of the station. Each group brought various food-producing plants to begin a food growing source utilizing the Martian resources. It was not successful at the start, but with a bit of bio-modification, and nature, earth plants adapted to the new world. Some domesticated animal embryos were in the bio lab deep freeze. The plan was to lab gestate the embryos once the plant stabilization was able to support the human population. The required proteins and nutrients gained from eating meat are subsidized by vitamin mixtures and stores of dehydrated freeze-dried space meals.
Everyone had left the comm room except for Jessica and the five department heads: Maria (Biology), Prudezio (Engineering), Roberta (Psychology), Pankaj (Health/Medical), and Godeliva (IT/Technical). The station was still operating at a bare bone essential tasks level, and more sections planned to come online as more settlers arrived with various skills.
“Everyone, have a seat,” Jessica directed. The five others joined her at the table display where a 3D hologram of the cavern station appeared.
“So we got it confirmed. The asteroid is going to impact earth in 6 months. No more questioning or guessing it’s a fact. I need input from each of you concerning your sections and the most important assets that you will need. We are going to construct a list that will greatly enhance survival for the settlement,” Jessica started the conversation, looking around at each of them.
Roberta spoke next, “In our initial response to Command, we need to ensure them that we are mentally fit and focus on the task. I ask all of you to keep a very close eye on your people. They are all strong-willed and have to be for settlement assignment. Still, you never know what such devastating news can do to a person mentally. Any signs of change of behavior, please let me know. Let everyone know I am available as well as for yourselves.”
“That’s great, Roberta, but who’s going to be your shrink?” replied Godelina from IT/technical.
“You all are. I can always drop by Engineering and have a nightcap with Prudezio and his little Martian Shine gizmo he has going in that mess of a warehouse of his,” Roberta returned giving a wink and a smile towards Prudezio. Everyone chuckled. Jessica felt better hearing the light-heartedness, knowing that it showed their character. They had all been chosen for this assignment because of their ability to handle tough situations.
“I think we all might be visiting Prudezio at one time or another, don’t worry, we won’t interrupt anything..ahem,” Jessica said, shaking her head toward Roberta then Prudezio. Everyone knew that the two of them had a romance going on, and there were no regulations to stop it. Solar Command psych and health department had initially selected a mixture of men and women, knowing that relationships would develop and one day the first naturally born Martian would happen. No one in the station had let that happen so far. There was sex going on, but everyone had been making sure to take preventive measures. No one was quite ready to bear that responsibility of producing a child yet.
Prudezio broke in, “I think we can expect at the most two maybe three more shuttle ships from the earth before impact. They will be taking longer to get here since we are approaching aphelion with earth. I estimate that that Space Command could plan and push three shuttle launches within the time and remember that one of those will likely contain as many crew as they can fit. You should estimate your requested supply to be within slightly larger spec on size and weight. And all of you are more than welcome to come by and try some Martian brew. I’ll be having a new batch next week; just if you see a do not disturb sign, please respect it.” Everyone began to chuckle again picturing the do not disturb door sign that Prudezio had brought with him from some defunct hotel back on earth.
Jessica finished off the meeting, “Ok, everyone sounds like we are in order, and we all know how to proceed. I will be composing our initial response to earth over the next hour. Send in your comments for addition. I will be sending the first version to each of you for edits before submitting it. Start working on those lists of needs and be conservative but due add a few things, forgive me” she began to cry “…add some things to remember our old home by, that’s all for now.”
They all got up and started to head back to their respective areas. Everyone gave Jessica a touch on her shoulder on the way out of the room. Maria from the Bio department came by last and waited as everyone left the room.
“Jess, I know this might not be the best time, but there’s something I got to let you know,” Maria said to Jessica.
“Why didn’t you say anything while everyone was here?”
“I was going to but then thought I had better tell you first.”
“Ok, so what is it?” Jessica asked as she sniffled and wiping the remaining moisture off her cheeks. Maria pulled a seat over next to her and sat down, looking Jessica in the eyes.
“You remember how you told me Reavers had died from a simple cut, then I replaced him when I arrived on the second shuttle? I was looking into this over my spare time, even reexamined his remains taking samples of his blood and tissue, and came across something.” Maria looked down in deep thought.
“Well, what is it, Maria?”
“There what looks like to me, a mutation that was happening within the Reaver’s cells, and it was an infection all right, just not the type of infection that we’re typically used to.”
“I found it odd that he did succumb to such a small wound, but with our limited resources and personnel, there was little we could do, and you know the plan was to send his remains back to earth for complete analysis on future missions. But what are you saying exactly, Maria?”
“I’m not sure, Jess. But if I had to say it in layman’s terms. I don’t think we’re the first ones on Mars,” Maria looked directly into Jessicas eyes with concern.
Everyone kept busy only and became laser-focused on their task, knowing that each improvement made could increase their chance for survival and the survival of the human race. Roberta and Prudezio continued their intimacy and grew even closer than ever. She and Prudezio were having a nightcap of his Martian bourbon that he had specially distilled.
“To earth and future Martians!” Prudezio held up his cup to hers after pouring just a drab for each of them. They smiled at each other and drank the exquisite elixir.
“Jessica, I’m not sure what is going on. I have been taking multiple samples, checking monitoring systems, but I show nothing unusual from any part of the station. Tony is the fifth person this week reporting to me about severe headaches, blurred vision, and nausea. I’ve given them medication and each of them has been confined to their quarters in case they are contagious.” Pankaj described the situation to Jessica.
“What’s their status currently?” asked Jessica.
“They are all laying in their bunks feeling miserable. I check up on them, making rounds every few hours. Either they are asleep or moaning in their bunks. They do not appear to be improving. Three of them work within the bio areas. I have sampled those areas multiple times, but still have not seen anything out of the ordinary.”
“Keep at it Doc. I will have a chat with Maria in Bio and see if she has noticed anything,” Jessica instructed Pankaj. She was thinking about the conversation she had with Maria the day they got the news from SSC.
Jessica touched the avatar for Maria on the hologram imager. Maria’s full-size holographic image appeared in front of her.
“Get over here to my office ASAP. I’m going to get Pankaj here as well.”
“Ok Maria, what do you got for us? Pankaj here has five people down ill and signs are pointing towards bio as the source area.”
“Jess, right but it’s bigger than the bio area. Remember I said I don’t think we’re the first ones here? We aren’t. I’ve isolated some microbes within the wheat we are growing and they are not our synthetics or from the earth. They are unknown and I believe Martian. I did some tracking and sourced them back from the ice being brought up from the deeper levels of the caverns.”
Pankaj interjected, “I thought the robots scanned every recovery for such things?”
“They do and anything brought into the station is analyzed and scanned in import. Hold on a second,” Jessica punched Prudezio’s avatar and his hologram appeared. “Prudezio, is everything good with the scanning analyzers in the import station?”
“I just did my weekly system diagnosis this morning everything came back green light. Why what’s up?”
“I’ll fill you in later but for now can you please run another check and do a physical inspection as well, we got some concerns going on with materials coming in.” Prudezio’s hologram vanished.
“The microbes are definitely within the wheat and soy which are the basis for most of the foods we’ve been eating,” added Maria.
“Effective immediately, we switch solely to the space MREs. We got enough of them to feed everyone until the next shipment arrives. Communication back to earth is becoming near impossible. Looking at data on the asteroid indicates that it is the cause of comm troubles so we need to work this problem here,” commanded Jessica.
“I’ve got a specimen isolated and running analysis down at my lab. I should have some detailed information from AI within a few days…Uggh! I’m feeling sick to my stomach,” Maria said then gripped at her stomach doubling over.
Within a week four of the five that had reported to sickbay had perished and more crew were lying in their quarters too ill to work. Doc noticed that as the sickness progressed the sclera in the eyes of each victim became blood red and the pupils would dilate beyond normal. He also noted that he, Prudezio, Roberta, Jessica, and one other female Stacey from the IT department were the only ones not showing signs of sickness. He sent each of them a message to meet at Jessica’s office.
“What I have ascertained is that for some reason each of us has not gotten ill from this virus caused by the microbe, but we are being affected by its mutation effects. For instance, each of the people with the virus goes through stages and I noticed that the ones that have succumbed to it are perhaps in the final stages of that mutation and their bodies can’t adapt to it. As for us, we have each reported abnormalities with our vision, breathing, and eating. The microbe is changing us. I would bet it is genetic, but it will take AI some time to sequence our DNA and find out how.”
“Communication with the earth is next to impossible, 75% of the station personnel are none functioning or deceased, and we are all going under some sort of mutation. At least the automated systems and AI should keep us alive. We are in a bad way people any suggestions?” Jessica summed up the situation.
Pankaj answered, “Maria’s analysis she was running! She gave me the admissions to her program. AI report on Maria analysis, Martian Microbe.”
A computerized voice replied, “Accessing analysis. Analysis summary: Microbe of unknown origin discovered Mars date June 10, 2055. Microbe most likely originated from deep ice extraction within lower levels of Mars Sation Cavern. The microbe is parasitic and is possibly billions of years old laying dormant deep within the Martian subsurface ice. The microbe is unknown and missed by any sort of scanning before entering the station. The parasite is an endangered species and has evolved to enable itself to lie dormant in inhospitable conditions until it comes in contact with other life forms where it can create a symbiotic relationship with its host as long as the host can adapt to the parasite’s mutations. End of analysis.”
“You people are our final hope. We haven’t heard from Mars in months. The asteroid has messed that up, but we should have heard something. It doesn’t matter. By the time you arrive at Mars, you will not be able to contact us. Good luck to you all,” Major Deaton told the crew boarding the final flight to Mars.
Six months later the crew was in orbit around Mars. Communication with Mars Station or to earth failed to get a response. They had come in the hope of saving some of the human species along with DNA samples of hundreds of plants and animals from the earth. What they found was that they were the last earthlings and what was left of the settlers of Mars Station 1 had become Martians.