Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Distress signal?” Sharla frowned at the readout.
“Looks like it.” Rick altered their course to intercept. “We need to check it out.”
Sharla kept her eyes on that dusty Martian plains for the sight of a crashed ship as her husband followed the signal.
As they got closer Sharla saw a small shape in the dim light, but no sign of the ship that she had been on. “Over there! Hurry!”
They screamed to halt to find a girl sitting alone in the barely breathable atmosphere. Sharla held her breath as she dashed out to grab the girl and brought her back. The air cycled and they breathed easily, the girl seeming none the worse for her experience.
Wide, violet eyes staring out from beneath her long, dark hair. She wasn’t as young as she had first appeared, there was something ancient in her countenance. And something that didn’t feel right to either of her saviours.
A feeling of unease washed over Sharla as their ship suddenly jerked forward. Rick hadn’t touched the control. They careened across the barren plains, unable to force the ship to stop.
Still, the girl stared past them, not bothered that the ship shuddered and shook as it surpassed the speeds that were considered safe.
“Do something! Make it stop!” Sharla shouted at Rick who was struggling with the controls.
“What does it look like I’ve been trying to do?” He’d tried everything he could think of to slow their mad rush to wherever the ship was heading. He’d even tried sending out an emergency signal, but nothing worked. Nothing responded. He turned to stare at the girl who ignored him. “She’s got to be doing this.”
“How? She’s just a little girl.” Sharla bit her lip, not wanting to think about what her husband was implying. It didn’t make sense.
Rick was saved a response as the ship shrieked to a halt and the stabilizers that held them safely in their seats were barely able to compensate. Without warning, the doors opened allowing the Martian atmosphere into the ship. Rick and Sharla scrambled for rebreathers that made the most out of trace amounts of oxygen in the air here. It gave them thirty minutes of safe breathing – if they were lucky. After that, they’d slowly suffocate to death like fish out of water. Gasping to the end.
Before either of them knew what they were doing, they had climbed out of the ship and started walking. “Rick, I’m scared.”
Rick tried to say something to his crying wife, but he couldn’t will his lips to open nor his tongue to speak. He couldn’t even stop his feet from moving him forward to an unknown fate. He turned to look at the girl who didn’t seem to have any problem breathing out here. He did his best to plead with his eyes to have mercy on them. She didn’t seem to notice.
Rick had no idea how long they’d been walking when they stopped near a rocky outcropping in the middle of nowhere. Breathing was getting harder. He guessed that there was less than ten minutes worth of the active materials that broke down the carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen for them.
Instead of forcing them forward, there was no doubt for either Sharla or Rick that she was the one controlling things here, she simply pointed towards a crevice in the rock. Sharla reached out and took her husband’s hand. There was no chance of returning to their ship, they wouldn’t make it even if the child let them go.
Sharla got down on the ground and wiggled through the opening first, then Rick followed. They expected darkness inside this barely noticeable opening. Instead of darkness, there were luminescent pastels painting the rocks, enough that cast a light glow to see the huddled figures at the other end of the small cave.
Not sure what else to do, they moved forward. None of the people spoke, they only stared at the newcomers with wide eyes. Sharla looked back, the girl that forced them to this place had followed them inside. She caressed the face of one of the huddled people and then looked at Rick and Sharla. She didn’t make them do anything, she only stared and waited.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Gasping, struggling. Rick and Sharla crumbled to the ground as the oxygen became saturated with carbon dioxide. Sharla stared into her husband’s eyes and he into hers as they slowly lost their grip on consciousness with death's inevitable approach.
When their breathing stilled, the girl reached down, removed their masks, and gently caressed their faces. Sharla sat up with a gasp, her lungs gratefully filling with carbon dioxide, Rick followed her soon after. She looked around, the pale light from strange fungus on the walls was all she needed to see clearly.
They scurried across the sand to the others that sat against the back of the cave and joined their place in line. The girl no longer looked like a girl, she looked strange and alien to them.
Soon. Her voice echoed in their heads for the first time. Whatever language she was speaking sounded truly alien to them, but they understood her perfectly. A few more of your kind to bend to my will, and then I will have enough genetic material so that my people will rise again.
If they could have, Sharla and Rick would have run, but the only thing that was left of them was their bodies that were adapted and changed for life on Mars.