Mission 37

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Mars

Walking into the canteen, the first thing I noticed was the distractive smell of food. I hadn’t eaten a decent meal in god knows how long. My eyes scanned the line of food. There were potatoes and vegetables of various kinds. I didn’t realise that there were still plantations growing most of these foods with people fighting over canned produce. Most things had died out.

I walked to an empty table the room filled with around 50 convicts, all stuffing their faces. I sit down, ready to put something in my body for the first time in over 40 days. The prisoners were given a brown goopy liquid before their execution, this brown liquid was full of the necessary proteins and nutrition to keep us alive and working. We never asked what was in it. I don’t think any of us wanted to know.

As I started to take my first mouthful of food, a shadow passed over me. Someone had sat down next to me. I look up to see a 6ft tall man who looked like a bulldozer. He had a buzzcut and his neck was covered with tattoos. He smiled at me, his smile lacked the full set of teeth.

What came out of him was unexpected. A high pitch voice greeted me

‘Hi, my darling. I’m Luke. I’ve come over to introduce myself as we’re going to be working together’.

I grunted. I wasn’t in the mood for chit chat.

‘Not much of a talker are you?’.

Was he still there ?

“It doesn’t matter,” he continued, “you see, look around here. Everyone’s getting into groups. You see, there’s strength in numbers. You seem like a survivor. Not a sociable person. But a survivor none the less.”

He paused hesitating “I saw how you took out that guard in prison. So, I thought that this friendship could be beneficial to the two of us.”

“Wait, you’ve seen me before?” I asked.

He laughed “I’m hurt you don’t remember me! Yes, we were in the same prison block. I saw you knock out that guard.”

I looked him over. “I want you to know I’m not that kinda person. He was getting handsy. You gotta stand up for yourself.”

Luke looked concerned “Yeah, he seemed like a real piece of work. That’s why I told the other guard he had just fainted.”

“Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”

Luke laughed again “No worries. I have a daughter so I can’t stand for any of that. So, I think we’d make a good team. What you think?“′

Nodding my head. I had to agree with him. He was right; I needed people in here to survive. Plus, he seemed like the best option out of everyone here, the least bad of a bad bunch. Here’s where I realised I still hadn’t given him my name.

.

“I’m Mars.”

He laughed “Mum was a star dreamer?” he asked.

Star dreamers were groups of people convinced we were going to move to one of the other planets. That was our solution. Kids got all sorts of names Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, but the worst was Uranus. I winced with pain the first time I heard someone introduce themselves. I felt so bad for them. I got picked on for my name, but I couldn’t imagine the struggles of being named “Uranus.” He must have known my train of thought.

“At least it wasn’t Uranus” he laughed, and I couldn’t help join in.“ATTENTION ALL,” yelled a short man from the end of the room. It was clear from his uniform that he was a soldier. The room went quiet, I quickly turned away from Luke, cursing myself for letting my guard down. There was no way I was gonna get rid of him now. By the window stood a stage, where the short man stood. He continued,

“Corporal Lance will give you a briefing on the upcoming days and what we are expecting from you. Corporal Lance will be leading you on this mission and should be shown the utmost respect. He has several medals for bravery,”

The short man got cut off when another man walked quickly on stage towards him. He was saying something to the other man, but I couldn’t hear it all. Something along the lines of stop it with the arse kissing. The man looked to be in his late 40s he had short grey hair, a long face with a scar along the right side of his face. He looked tall compared to the soldier next to him. He shook the hand of the soldier and thanked him. Both were looking embarrassed by the situation.

“Welcome all.” He paused, scanning the room.

“My Name is Lance, don’t bother using that Corporal shit. I’m not looking to be put on a pedestal.”

He paused again, seeming deep in thought. As he did this, I glanced around the room. He seemed to have captivated the entire room. Everyone was watching him with curiosity. I returned to looking at him only to find his eyes staring back. He squinted at me as if something seemed familiar to him. It seemed we were in a staring contest. Whose nerve would cave first. It was mine. I looked to the floor and then towards the large glass window, out into the anyss of the ocean. He started speaking again, I wouldn’t look back at him for some time in fear of being singled out of the pack.

“These are scary time. Many of you don’t understand where you are or how you got here. Some of you have been asleep for more than two months, others for just a week. We need to put you to sleep before our departure.”

The room started to become loud, people were obviously upset by this. Lance raised his voice.

“Hey, Hey. I understand that this sounds bad, but we didn’t do anything that you didn’t agree to do. Before you were put to sleep, each of you was on death row. We gave several people another opportunity to live, and you were the ones who were smart enough to accept.” Someone from the crowd yelled,

“How do we know you’re telling the truth. I wouldn’t have signed up for this.”

People seemed to be agreeing with this. I looked around the room again, people were getting angry. Their faces are red with anger. I started biting my nails, anxiety rising. Lance turns to the side of the stage and says, “Play it”. The screen behind him lights up, and a video plays with a girl on the screen.

“My name is Tish, I’m 27 years old. I was arrested for armed robbery. My skills report shows I am a good leader, I am strong and good at combat. I have adequate problem-solving skills and am a survivalist. I agree to take part in Mission 37.”

A girl on a table full of people stood up, she was the girl from the video. She had short dark hair, fair skin. A tattoo can be seen poking out from under her collar on the right side of her neck. She wasn’t more than 5ft 2 at the most.

“What is mission 37?’ She yelled.

Corporal Lance walked back on the stage, pausing the video.

“Mission 37 is a mission to send a group of people through what looks to be a portal. At this time, the science points to the portal leading to another time in our history. We are unsure of when and what awaits on the other side. This mission will hopefully bring a new chance for humanity. It’s been said hundreds of times over the past 300 years that the Earth is coming to an end.” He paused,

“But this time it’s true the sun will explode in precisely 30 days from now. Wiping out all of humanity.”

My heart started pounding; my hands were sweaty. The room went dead silent. No one was asking a question; no one was whispering between themselves. All eyes were on Corporal Lance.

“I understand that this is difficult to hear. It’s difficult for me to tell you. But we have the opportunity to make a difference. We can save the human race.”

The cheering started erupting all around. I clapped along, not really buying into this whole save the world crap he was spewing out. I’d seen people like him before, they’d lie with such ease and everyone always believed in them. Why because they had that charisma that oozed out of every word they said. Corporal Lance raised his hand in a manner to silence the crowd. I stopped clapping and so did everyone else. Except, I went back to gazing out the window when everyone else stared towards the Corporal.

“Our mission is to go through the portal. We will each be separated into teams and sent through in highly efficient pods,”

I couldn’t help feeling a pit open in my stomach as he emphasied the word ‘efficient’. “Once through, our mission will be to scout the location and set up camp. Once we determine the safety of the land, then we can begin to send word back through the portal.”

People were nodding along—no one questioning. I looked around, my eyebrows knitted together.

Why were these people not questioning this information? Were they brain dead?

Pushing my seat back, it scraped against the floor, making a loud screech. “How do we know that there is another side?”

Before anyone could answer, I continued at a fast pace. My hands are sweaty, my heart beating out of my chest,

“And even if there is another side, we could end up taking one breath and find there’s no oxygen. Or the dangers that might be on the other side. We’re convicts as you said, we’re not soldiers, we haven’t been trained for this. Why isn’t the military being sent?”

Corporal Lance looked at me with shock. “You all agreed to be here, it’s on the tapes.” I cut him off.

“That’s not good enough, we need to agree now. So, explain why we should be doing this, not someone better trained?”

“Thank you very much for those questions miss. I’m happy to answer them. You have all been trained, but due to the amnesia caused by the sleeping medication, you don’t remember. However, these skills are second nature, so you haven’t forgotten them completely. And as for why not soldiers it is because the soldiers are needed to keep the peace on Earth. When a message comes through, we need to move people efficiently and effectively, which we can’t do without the support of the army. There are a few of us, such as me have volunteered

a long with a couple of nurses. I would like to point out that we did not have to, and we are putting ourselves in as much danger as yourself.”

He took a deep breath and moved from speaking to the crowd to focussing on me. “However, if you want to go back to death row, be my guest Mars.”

My eyes widened; how does he know my name. Does he know me. He turns away and continues to present his pitch. I sit back down quietly, feeling embarrassed and angry. My face feels on fire. Luke leans over to me,

“Someone had to ask the difficult questions. Good on you for speaking your mind.”

I gave him a half smile and try to ignore the hushed laughter and mocking happening behind me, as Corporal Lance finished his talk with a ‘we’re all in this together cliche speech.’ We turned back to our tables, I watch as Corporal Lance walked out of the room, he had an uneven walk. He grabbed a phone out of what seemed to be a secretary’s hand and stalked off out of the canteen. He seemed angry and completely different from his on-stage persona. I turned back around to face Luke,

“So, what’s your take on all this?” I asked tucking into my food. He shrugged,

“Seems a bit odd to me. But what you goanna do, it’s this or certain death. Look on the bright side you got to meet me from this experience.” He chuckled.

“Oh yes, that would be a massive shame. Do you think we’ll be put in the same team?”

I asked hopeful. I don’t like the look of any of these other inmates, they look angry and untrustworthy.

“I hope so, this place is full of.”

He lowered his voice, “criminals and weirdos to be frank.” I laughed. Great minds think alike.

“Yeah I’m not interested in drama.” He nodded,

“I knew I liked something about you. So, tell me a bit more about yourself Mars?” I might as well open up a bit more if he is going to be my only friend.

“Well, I’m not that interesting, I’m 24 years old. I’m a nurse from sector 37B, I work at Great London Hospital mainly in A&E. I have a baby sister, she’s 12 years old,”

I stutter, thinking of her makes me sad, how’s she going to survive without me. Luke must have seen the pain in my eyes, trying to change the subject he asks.

“So, what about your parents.”

I look down at my food, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Mum died giving birth and dad left without saying goodbye. Went off on the rocket to Mars that exploded killing everyone.”

Luke squeezed my hand. When I looked up again, Luke looked at me with compassion. “Those lousy star dreamers. I’m sorry that happened to you, I couldn’t imagine leaving my daughter! Don’t understand how any dad could.”

“Yeah he was a crappy dad, mum wasn’t much better, spent most of my childhood watching those weird old time movies star something.”

He cut me off “Star Wars!” I nodded,

“Yeah such a weird film, anyway they spent so much time worshipping the alien Gods that they thought lived on Mars, that I practically raised myself. It was like they were gone before they left. You know?”

Luke nodded in agreement,

“People like that don’t deserve someone like you.”

I smiled at him, feeling a lump in my throat, I took a large gulp of water. People aren’t usually this nice to me.

“So, your long-term memory seems good?” He asked,

“Yes, I remember things from years ago, but I can’t think what’s happened in the last few months. It’s weird! What about you how’s your memory?”

“Mines good actually, long term and short. I’m glad, otherwise I wouldn’t have known you were someone to be friends with. So, I heard you walked across the dead sea? Is that true, because if it is you’re now the coolest person I know.”

“How’d you hear bout that?”

I asked suspiciously. He put his hands up in a joking manor. “Just heard people round the prison talking about it, that’s all.”

His eyes lit up like an innocent excitable small child. This made me laugh. “It’s a boring story really.”

He looks really disappointed. He looked down and started playing with his fork, moving around the remaining peas scattered on his plate. He resembled a child being told they couldn’t have that toy or go to the park. I sighed.

“Okay then.”

His eyes light up again and a smile beamed on his face. I shook my head and continued. “It was pretty grim”

I cautioned. He nodded as if to tell me to go on.

“There were skeletons everywhere and the smell, let me tell you about the smell.” I told the story the same way I told my baby sister bedtime stories.

“I started off only wearing a bandana, I got about halfway across the channel. I was so excited to get away from England and to arrive in France. I’d heard the stories of France and how they were thriving. I waited till my baby sister was 10 years old, left her with enough food and water for a few weeks and set off over. It took me 3 days to walk the channel. At first it

wasn’t bad but there were miles where the Earth was full of rubbish, skeletons of fish and whales.”

Luke cut me off,

“Wait you saw a skeleton of a whale. That’s mad!” I laughed,

“Yeah I didn’t realise it at the time but when I got back, I searched through some olds books and found a picture. It was humongous.”

I exclaimed using my arms to gesture. He grinned, “So, did it stink?”

I shook my head,

“Nah, that wasn’t the cause of the smell. They’d obviously been there a long time, no flesh left just bones.” I paused “The smell was coming from the dead decaying bodies. People who had set off on the trip with no water or food. Some I think were killed. It’s a good place to hide a body. Barely anyone goes out there, so I guess no body no crime.”

I noticed Luke’s eye had gone wide.

“Don’t worry I didn’t kill anyone. It’s just obvious that it happens.” He nods, “How’d you know?”

“Some had bullet holes.”

“Ahh shit. Not the adventure you were hoping for then?”

I shook my head feeling a pit of disappointment open in my stomach. “Nah nothing out there. No ones doing better than the others.”

He chuckled adding in,

“Except for the rich folk. Enjoying their lives on Earth 2.0.”

I clenched my fist, it always made me feel angry knowing that some people are living a life full of luxury when the rest of the world is struggling to survive. My thoughts were cut off

by the sound of a soldier asking us to finish what we are doing and for us to head to the changing bays.

“Women go to the right and follow the pink arrows and men to the left follow the blue arrows.”

I rolled my eyes. ‘Sexist’ I thought to myself. “See you later Mars.”

Luke says as he stands up. “Hope we’re in the same team.”

He adds smiling at me. I smile back and say goodbye.

Being alone I could finally process. So, we have a choice certain death or a maybe death but most likely death. I feel like a gas bottle about to explode. I get up and follow the arrows leading us to the rooms, I’m a bit behind everyone else. Not as eager to head to my death. They’re sheep all of them, just following their Shepard blindly off the cliff. Are they brain dead?

Well apart from Luke. I smile ever so slightly. Maybe he’s rubbing off on me. Not that we’re going to be able to be friends for long if we are to die in a few hours. Rounding a corner, I smash into something. Landing with a thud on the floor. I grunt,

“Watch where you’re going, you dingbat!”

I guess this is my chance to explode. I look up to see a hand extended out to me. Once on my feet, I see Corporal Lance in front of me. He looks stern,

“We need to talk, Mars.”

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