by R.T. Allenson
I have died many times; I died when she passed from this world seven years ago, leaving me with a son who hated me as much as he hated the planet we lived in. I have lived and died many times afterwards.
I died when I took the life of my best friend to save him from a worse end as a living incarnation of quagmire and corruption, no more human than the foetid husks that now dot the whole Martian landscape. His death-screams, though inhuman, could still be translated into what I can say was a painful end. When the bullets failed to silence him, I personally tore his heart from his leathery body. I died, for though I am stern, I am not capable of taking the life of another. And that act, as merciful as it was, I confess that I am now truly fated to take a life of another.
And how cruel fate is, that it leads to this. I am afraid to take the life of another, as much as it is a needed act.
But more so, I am afraid to take the life of someone who I brought into this world. For they are in essence, my own flesh and blood. The culmination of love and life – a disease unto this world so beautiful, our children. A living testament marking our passing from this world. And yet..
My son. Forgive me for all my transgressions, for all my failings as a father. But in the end, forgive me for bringing you into this world. This world wrought in suffering and greed…
and the madness in-between.
Max knew what was happening.
When the light from the third quadrant went out, he knew that there was something wrong in the Matthews’ homestead. It had not been a forgiving season for them, or for anyone for that matter; it had been left up to chance whether the crops would live or die, or if the whole would succumb to the plague from the soil. His own farm began showing the symptoms of the plague the week earlier, though he managed to limit the spread via a noxious brew concocted by a woman visiting from Earth. It was a risky maneuver on his part as the brew itself made him sick, but it proved to him that not all was lost in Mars. If the woman escaped, as he prayed and hoped, then the red planet would certainly live up to its name as the New Eden.
But all these thoughts went past him the moment he saw the light from the third quadrant die out. Something had happened or was happening and it was partly his duty as Benjamin Matthews’ closest friend to find out.
Taking his shotgun, he traveled towards the third quadrant on foot – around this time, the oxygen in Mars was stable enough for a healthy person to travel without the need of a stabilizer or a calser. It was not, however healthy for the person in question. Though the colonizers argued that it would be like traversing a colder place on Earth, the hidden truth of the air in Mars was sinister; most importantly, the plague. The plague was carried through the air and this was the fate of most colonizers who foolishly went outside the safety of their domes. In the earlier years when the air outside was non-existent men and women would die suffocating only to be consumed by the plague and turned into husks of their former selves, bearing no little consciousness other than the insatiable urge to inflict death upon their unfortunate prey. ‘The Mad Marchers of Mars’ they were called and in the succeeding years following the onset of the plague, half of the fifth and seventh sectors and their respective quadrants were all hut slaughtered by the rise of a new species, a horrific combination of human and the pre-human ghosts that still haunt the Martian landscape.
The Marchers, at around this time, were no more the overwhelming monsters that they were known and feared before. With only a few of them left, the remaining colonizers took it upon themselves to finally berid of the new breed. From thousands there were now only a handful of bumbling, insane hybrids roaming the fringes of the third and eighth sectors, with vagrants outcasted amongst themselves turning to the wastelands – ultimately succumbing to their own madness and tearing at themselves in a brutal and painful suicide. Max was seasoned with dispatching them, having made a name for himself when he singlehandedly killed over fifteen or more Marchers using only a pitchfork during the onset of the plague. He was young back then and a bit hard-headed and he still is, but the blood and deaths and the faces of old friends in the form of monsters made him realize that there are harder things in life than giving up on your dreams.
Or that maybe, all things in the end, are inevitable and fated to die. He didn’t want to accept that fact before but again, that all came to pass as more blood for the god of conquest was given unto the red earth.
The shotgun felt lighter than he remembered. He paused for a while to check if it had ammunition and, finding that it was, contemplated that he had gotten stronger working in the fields and fighting of the marchers.
Perhaps it was just the air in Mars; everything felt lighter in this nebulous world.
It was hard for me, to betray their trust like that. I’ve always been the trustworthy type and, taking the lives of those people behind their backs was just damnable. But what was I to do?
His hunger would not be sated and in the end, he would turn to me. It was my fault and I was too afraid to atone for my own sins. It has been said countless of times that we create the forces that undo us, in the end. But why, why oh why if there be any providences still. Such cruelty on my part to be so blind to my own catastrophe and his own. There are no more regrets in my heart, only callousness that cannot be differentiated from sorrow.
Sometimes I wonder…
I had killed another just yesterday to sate his hunger. She was another woman and it pains me to see such beauty gone to waste. But this must be the way. Again, I betrayed another person’s trust; she needed to get away from her pursuers and I granted her that escape somewhat. I had grown proficient in ending lives it’s almost instant when my hands find their’s and the knife plunges in straight to the heart.
It gets noisy when he’s hungry and he often trashes about and hits the generator, causing the whole dome’s electricity to fluctuate. It has been like this for so many months now that I’ve lost count. I supposed I’m used to it now but still, is there any other way to end this? The corn is still growing actually, but they have their own space now. I don’t trouble them anymore. A long time ago, or so it seemed, my son tended those fields. For a time we were happy, before the stalks started swaying when there was no wind or when the stalks didn’t blink as we passed. It was normal for a time, for a very short time and sometimes, those fleeting and absurdly short moments are what drives me to continue on doing this.
…wait, I think someone’s at the door.
Max had been walking the wastes for almost an hour now when he finally spotted the Matthews homestead. It was pristine, unlike the other domes; his own was noticeably covered in Martian dust, the maintenance drones having since lost function after the first few weeks of the plague. The mechanist told him that Sector Twelve’s own domes had the same problem and it was likely caused by the unforgiving air combined with dust swept by the wind. He knew that this wasn’t true of course as the drones were designed for such an environment. Apart from hushed rumors that something was really amiss in that sector, nobody including himself pursued the cause of the malfunctioning drones. It was hard after all, to think of the little bug-bots when insane corpse-men twisted by the martian soil were out for your neck.
The dome was pristine in all forms and despite the passing of many months, the Matthews’ dome could and was still grow crops. This kindled something in Max that pushed him to run towards the entrance, banging hard on the door panel. Perhaps noticing his arrival, the panel slid smoothly to left and granted him entry. In his excitement he failed to realize that he had dropped his shotgun on his way to the dome.
He ran past the groves of cornstalks who, in his passing, started shivering and clicking in distinct patterns – talking in their private language, of a new visitor to the dome when so many bad seasons had passed. Nobody knew they could talk now and perhaps nobody would. He certainly didn’t care. In his eyes was the last homestead amidst the forest-like groves of cornstalks, untouched by the battles outside yet eerily solemn in its standing. As if it had mourned its own share of loss.
Oh but there is mourning. There’s always something to mourn.
His breath was drying, the arid air clinging on to his neck. “Benjamin! It’s me, Jones’ kid!”
Resting on the porch, Max knocked on the door as he slowly caught his breath. His eyes were suddenly watery and silently berated himself. He was always a bit of nancy boy. Always too emotional, always staring at the other men in the field.
“Benjamin! It’s Max. I saw your light went out. Is there something wrong?”
For a while there was no response, with only the subtle footsteps from within the house assuring him that his friend was still alive. He moved to check the windows but they were draped over by the curtains from within. There was noise in the house, aside from the footsteps but it was too faint to fully discern.
“Benjamin! Hey are you-.”
The door swung open, knocking him back a good distance away. The sound of a gunshot rang in the air, echoing across the entirety of the dome and causing the cornstalks to rattle in fear. There was a second wherein he felt the sharp pain and then, it was gone. He was gone. It was all over.
“It’s out of kindness, boy.” The man holding the pistol said. “It’s mercy, not murder.”
There are worse deaths. This I know for I have died many times.