Days into a dangerous life search expedition deep inside
caves within Olympus Mons, Kate, Charles, Oracle Dodd, and their team lose
communication with their support group on Mars' surface. Greatly increasing
the danger of their mission, the communication loss leads to serious and
contentious discussions. The determined explorers decide to split their team
with Kate, Charles, and a few others deciding to explore on as two members
backtrack to find why communications have been lost.
Having found an underground lake at the end of an exhaustive
period of exploration, Kate and her companions try get some badly needed
rest. The rest period is rudely interrupted ...
Kate jerked in her sleep, her back sliding from its marginally comfortable
position against a smooth, sloping pillar. She grunted and squirmed to regain
a restful position. Barely awake, she sleepily resumed watching for any
movement in the water a dozen feet away. It was while so engaged that she'd
drifted off in the first place.
Kate glanced at her chronometer, her tired eyes blinking to focus. Still two
hours of rest left. She wriggled against the rock to again find comfort. A
glance around revealed the other expedition members sprawled in various
positions, apparently asleep. Kate closed her eyes, trying to salvage what
remained of the rest period.
Her eyes blinked open again. Something was different. She surveyed
the sleeping crew. At length she noticed that the neo-lite placed in
the center of their camp, the only light left on during rest
periods, was turned down more than usual. She leaned back and
closed her eyes again. The light's brightness must have been
bothering one of the other members, and he turned it down.
Her eyes blinked open once more. It wasn't the light, something else was
different. She again swept her attention across her sleeping comrades. One ...
two ... three ... four.
One was missing. There should be five other than herself.
Kate sat up straighter and looked exactingly at each sleeping member.
The dim setting of the neo-lite made identification difficult, but at
length she was sure she could make out Oracle, Tony, Jeff, and
Charles. Where was Ben?
She reached up to turn on her own lamp, then thought better of it. If
Ben had turned down the neo-lite, perhaps he had a reason.
Kate slowly stood, her stiff muscles reluctant to forfeit the remaining rest
interval. She realized she had no obvious reason for being so leery, but
none-the-less felt compelled to be cautious. She moved slowly and quietly in the
direction she thought Ben had occupied at the beginning of the rest period.
When she neared the edge of the neo-lite's fading umbrella of illumination, she
stood perfectly still. She turned her head slowly left and right and listened.
Would Ben be exploring? Surely not, the rest periods were too
valuable. They were all exhausted, and relished the opportunity to sleep.
Kate twitched her head to the left at a sound. She crouched down and moved into
the darkness. Twenty paces into the gloom brought her to a boulder that stood a
few feet taller than her head. She warily moved parallel to the wall it
presented, feeling her way with outstretched hands. Slowly she crept around the
When she'd traveled a dozen feet she noticed a dim light escaping from the edge
of another rock formation that stood further beyond. She thought about the
location of the light. From where she stood, she couldn't see the neo-lite of
their camp. It was effectively curtained off by the rock she now leaned
against. Just as effectively, the light she saw was blocked from the eyes of
the crew collected around the camp.
Kate knelt on all-fours. She carefully ambled to the edge of the
second boulder. She dropped prone to the ground and crawled around
its perimeter. She tried to invisibly slither along; the light became
At last Ben's right side was in view. It appeared that he was seated. Kate
was frustrated with her helmet for the awkwardness it imposed. She peered at
Ben, keeping as low as possible. She hoped the subdued light he was using
didn't reflect from her helmet, which was poorly designed for such clandestine
With a bit more creeping she could see Ben's chin within his visor. She felt
some relief at not being able to see his eyes. If she could see them, he could
Ben's chin continued to move up and down. He was talking, yet Kate
heard nothing. He must have his acoustic mic turned off. Kate quietly
turned on her receiver, but still heard nothing.
She squirmed slightly further ahead. She could now see that Ben held
something in his hands. A wire connected from the object to his
helmet. A radio, Kate surmised. Ben was talking to someone on a
separate device, obviously using a different frequency than that of
their suit units.
Kate lay frozen in fascination. Who could Ben be talking to? She
fixed her eyes on the unit in his hands. He continually manipulated
its controls. She looked again at his visor. His chin continued to
bobble up and down. He was having trouble with the unit. Maybe he
wasn't reaching anyone.
Kate watched his hands again. Maybe it wasn't a radio. Suddenly the
hands froze. Kate glanced at Ben's visor -- his eyes met hers. His
expression made her shiver.
Ben didn't move from his seated position, but grabbed at his pack
near his feet. Kate couldn't move. She saw the events unfolding as if
watching a slow-motion video.
He pulled something from the pack. Kate gasped. It was a laser.
No one brought weapons on this expedition. No one but Ben.
Kate's reflexes finally commanded her muscles into motion, her eyes fixed on
the laser muzzle swinging her direction. Her muscles sluggishly sprang into
action. She leapt to her feet and backed away from the edge of the boulder out
of Ben's view. She hesitated briefly, then darted into the darkness behind the
myriad of rocks littering the edge of the lake.
"Help," Kate yelled. "Help. Ben has a laser gun." Having
shouted a warning, Kate moved swiftly and silently into the maze.
Without her lamp on, Ben could only find her if she broke silence.
* * *
Charles was jolted from a deep sleep. He was having such a strange
dream. He'd been swimming in the lake, talking with a translucent
creature the size of a child. The creature was a biped with large
finned hands and enlarged eyes. It was about to tell him the
mysteries of the underground world. But, had someone shouted?
His heart thumped energy into his rudely awakened body. Yes, that
was Kate's voice shouting for help. Ben has a laser-gun?
Charles was on his feet quickly. Tony was already shaking off the
inertia of a lagging sleep. Jeff was squirming, not yet awake.
Oracle lay near Charles, and was already alert. Charles held a finger
to his visor in a 'shhh' gesture. Where were Ben and Kate?
Charles saw that Tony was nearest to the neo-lite. "Turn it off," he
said. "Turn it off."
Tony groped for the neo-lite. He knocked it over, then
scooped it up and turned if off.
The darkness was so instant and complete that Charles almost expected a
thunderclap. He sat in the stifling stillness, his heart beating
rapidly. He listened, but could only hear Jeff's occasional shifting
of position. Was Jeff still asleep? Charles was afraid to ask, but
hoped Jeff was either asleep or would keep his mouth shut.
A shuffling noise. Charles stood and turned to the sound, so disoriented in the
total darkness that he nearly fell. He kept waiting for his eyes to get
accustomed to the darkness, but knew this murkiness would deny any hint of
A flicker in the distance. Charles stared in that direction.
It must be Ben's lamp. He was running away.
Charles waited for the sounds and occasional glints
to disappear into the gloom.
He stood quiet another few minutes.
"Kate," he said, barely above a whisper. "Are you there?"
If this scene interests you, rest assured it is only one of
many exciting scenes in The Evolution of Oracle Dodd.
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