None of us really knew how to react when we realized what we were seeing. It was undeniably a face, but a face of what? It’s eyes and mouth were little more than slits in the frame. It looked more like some sort of mask than anything else.
The operator directed Romulus to get a closer look. The little rover carefully crept forward, her beaming headlight illuminating the uncanny sight. Once she was within a couple feet we gained a clearer image.
The face appeared covered by a thick coating of red sand and dust. It was partially degraded, appearing rough while the rest of it’s body was either absent or remained hidden below the sand. We realized then, it was likely not the remains of a living organism, but rather, one constructed to resemble the likeness of one. A statue or totem of sorts. But the implications were clear. Statue or not, someone had to have built it.
Von Braun sighed and folded his arms, scanning his eyes around at the other members in the lab. It was clear that even he did not expect to find something like that. He turned to Albert Wolf.
“It could just be a pareidolia effect. A rock.” Wolf commented. Von Braun shook his head.
“No… it’s too perfect. The eyes are symmetrical.” Von Braun gestured up at the screen to emphasize his point.
“Besides, after what we’ve seen so far, we would naïve, if not downright foolish to believe that.” Von Braun sauntered away from the group, slowly with arms crossed behind his back.
“Gentlemen, this discovery changes nothing. Our mission remains the same. We must find the root of the mountain, and discover the source of this radiation.” He then turned and began to walk out, only to be halted by the question of another lab tech.
“What do we tell the teams?” Alpha and Omega had no knowledge of the discovery, as they themselves did not possess the ability to see what Romulus and Remus did. There was no uplink giving them access to the rover’s video feeds. In hindsight, not adding such hardware to their repertoire was a glaring oversight on our end.
“Nothing. The discovery is not vital to their mission. It will only add a wave of anxiety to their already incredibly stressful situation.” Von Braun then turned to walk out, and no one else said a word. I could understand his reasoning, but once again I hated to leave Alpha and Omega in the dark on such a monumental discovery.
Romulus was turned around within the tunnel, as she had no way to continue past the discovery. Omega team was told this, and told to inspect the area for other possible routes. Peverley and Rusakov began combing the lower outside of the mountain as Romulus began her trek back out towards them.
Some 90 kilometers to the east, Gaskins and Novak had very nearly finished their repairs on Remus. I took my leave as everyone returned to their stations. Myself and the other engineers continued our work upon the rescue probe. It was constructed to be an almost identical replication of Aphrodite before it. We were only a couple days away from finishing the probe and launching it to recover the teams. That was when all hell broke loose.
Klein suddenly burst into the engineering lab and frantically waved me towards him.
“What is it?” I asked moving towards him. His face was pale, eyes trembling and his arm furiously beckoning me toward him. I picked up my pace and began a jog towards him.
“What? What’s going on?”
“Just come on… I’ll show you, hurry.” Klein turned and darted from the lab. Through the cold porcelain hallways, we dashed, back into the main control room. Once the doors opened, I found everyone in the lab in a complete uproar. Dozens of my fellow scientists were barking commands through the comms and scurrying between terminals.
On the screen I saw the video feed from Gaskins shaking about wildly in darkness. Then on it, I saw the image of Novak. Her eyes were wide and blood had begun to drip from her nostrils. She gurgled and croaked while letting out intermittent coughs of pain. Von Braun entered the room behind us and immediately made his way over to Albert Wolf who was trying desperately to calm down Gaskins and relay proper instructions.
“What the hell happened?” I asked Klein as the commotion spiraled in the background.
“Something attacked Novak…” His words struck like frozen needles.
“She was at the rim of the pit. Gaskins was down below finishing the repairs when something hit her from behind and sent her flying into it.” Klein’s eyes were almost bulging, and his lips trembled. A disturbing thought then entered my mind.
“Resisender2?” Klein shook his head, to my partial relief but also further confusion.
“No, it was something else.” I looked to the location monitor, and felt my jaw hit the proverbial floor. At Alpha team’s location, a third transponder had now joined them. It was the transponder belonging to Peter McCauley.
Von Braun was able to get a handle on the situation soon after. Speaking slow and concise messages to a fully-panicked Captain Gaskins.
“It’s her back, I think it’s broken.” Gaskins relayed in a hushed garble of a message.
“What the hell happened Novak?” Gaskins asked. Novak however, was in too great of pain to respond.
“Captain she’s bleeding, we need you to return to the lander and retrieve the medpack.” Gaskins continued to hold Novak close, doing his best to comfort her and abate the pain.
“It’s okay… just a bit of a bruise.” Novak managed to stammer out. Gaskins laughed, feeling at least partial relief as his heartrate monitor evened out.
“You’re tougher than you look.” He replied. Novak gave a weak laugh which turned into a gurgling cough.
“Had to be… five brothers.” Gaskins carefully laid her on the ground before making his way to the lifeline. He grasped the rope with his hands and pressed one boot against the wall. Suddenly he grunted and stumbled backwards. The rope then slithered down from over the ledge and fell in a heap at his feet.
“The fucking rope has been cut command. What the fuck is going on?” Gaskins shouted, once again severely distressed.
“What?” Novak asked, a frail whimper of a breath. Gaskins seized the line and inspected it in it’s hands. At the end of it, the rope had been frayed, exposing the threads of Kevlar within.
“What the hell could’ve done this?” Gaskins asked. Wolf had no answer to give. He turned back to me but I just shook my head.
Weight for weight, Kevlar is almost five times stronger than steel. Severing it like that would be no easy task. Only it didn’t even appear to have been cut, but rather torn apart. While lying still on the ground, Novak suddenly flicked her head to the side. In the shadows, further into the dark tunnel, something appeared to move.
“Gaskins…” She muttered.
“Command you sent us out here unprepared knowing damn well the dangers of this damn place. How the hell are we…” Gaskins was abruptly cut off and seen falling to the ground. He struck the dirt with a pained grunt before being suddenly and violently yanked down the tunnel. From Novak’s perspective a large slender shadowy form was seen rapidly retracting with Gaskins in tow. It looked no more defined than that of a shadow.
“Walter!” Novak shouted. Gaskins was heard screaming on the radio as something carried him far away at an incredible speed. His video feed sputtered and swiveled around as debris and dirt flung about the area. The feed jolted several times before a sudden impact put it offline for good.
On the GPS monitor, his transponder on the screen was seen moving through the landscape at a torrid rate. He had been dragged almost a full kilometer in only about a minute before his transponder disappeared from the map altogether. His audio feed cut off his screams for help, and the lab fell into silence once more.
“Captain…” Novak spoke, tears beginning to infuse her voice. Carefully she glanced around the hole, but saw nothing aside from the Remus rover.
“What the hell is this place? What was that thing?” Those in the lab glanced around nervously. Von Braun took the mic again.
“Never mind that Novak, we need to get you to safety. Can you move?” Novak sniffled and gave a brief yelp of pain while enduring the message latency from command.
“My damn back is broken. Something took Gaskins, I can’t move.” Her voice was obviously quite labored, and her frustration and creeping fear was evident. Overlaid with her voice though, there was another sound in the background. A strange sort of hissing sound.
“Oh lovely… my air tank has been punctured as well…” In all the sudden madness I had neglected to pier to her vitals. I looked over to Novak’s display on the monitor, and saw that her O2 supply was draining like an hourglass.
“Do they have a medpack down there?” Von Braun asked, and Wolf shook his head.
“It’s still in the lander.” Von Braun swore and ran a hand over his face. He leaned back in and spoke through the radio.
“Okay Novak, you hang tight. Slow, methodic breaths okay? See if you can plug the leak with your hand. It’s probably from the valve stem on your back. We’re bringing Omega to your position.” Von Braun then switched frequency on the comms as Novak awaited the arrival of the message.
“Lieutenant you read me?” Minutes passed as the latency time dictated before Peverley’s response came.
“Go ahead command.” The video feed showed Peverley and Rusakov milling about the tunnel entrance in anticipation of Romulus’ eventual return.
“Cancel your objective. I need you to make your way over to Alpha’s location.” Von Braun replied. Rusakov paused and glanced to Peverley.
“What’s going on command?” She asked.
“Novak is injured, we need you to make your way over to her as quickly as possible.” Silence fell for a moment before Rusakov responded.
“Where is Gaskins?” Von Braun looked to Wolf and then sighed.
“He’s unavailable at the moment. I need you to get going now.”
“Roger that command.” Peverley called back. She gave a nod to Rusakov and the two of them hastily made their way back to the Martian rover. Peverley activated the key and within moments the leviathan rover began to creep it’s way through the expansive dunes. In order to save time, Peverley was instructed to travel south around the base of the mountain and continue east to regroup with Novak.
Novak meanwhile, attempted to reach her arm over her shoulder. She screamed and cried as her arm slowly lifted over her head. The pain must have been excruciating. She found the apparent leak, and clamped down on it with her hand. The loss of O2 slowed on her monitor, but continued creeping on.
Von Braun rose from the terminal and pointed an arm to Albert Wolf.
“Monitor their progress, and call me if anything comes back.” Wolf nodded, and grabbed the mic once more.
“Novak hang tight. Help is on the way.” He looked up to the vitals monitor, and all the color seemed to drain from his cheeks. He realized then what the rest of us already knew. Novak was still quickly losing oxygen despite her hand on the cracked stem. Omega team was much too far away to complete the rescue in time.
“There’s only one way…” Klein suddenly spoke up. Wolf and I both turned to him.
“Does she have her utility torch?”
“Why?” Wolf asked.
“Use it to seal up the leaking stem.” Klein replied. I wanted to believe his idea had a chance to prevail, but it didn’t.
“It won’t work, it’ll ignite that tank and kill her.” I replied.
“Well it’s better than doing nothing.” Klein desperately added. Wolf stared at both of us, trying to determine the best course of action. Without a word he turned back to the terminal.
“Novak, see if you can patch your stem with something in the tool bag. If you can, see if you can use the Teflon.” Novak grunted and looked down her torso as command’s message came through.
“Yeah I thought that too, not gonna be easy but I’ll see if I can get there.” Novak turned again and looked at the tool bags. She gave several seconds of labored breaths before sighing. She then took three deep breaths, and with a grunt she lunged over onto her side with a pained yowl. Immediately the hissing sound of escaping air returned, and Novak’s O2 meter began to rapidly plummet.
“No no no…” She cried while desperately fondling at the valve stem. She managed to plug it, but still the air siphoned away. By that point it had fallen to just over 10% capacity.
“It’s no use command. The oxygen will drain before I get there…” She replied grunting again as she rolled to her back. All of us just remained quiet, out of ideas and out of time.
“How far is Omega?” She asked. Wolf looked up at the GPS monitor. Omega was still almost 85 kilometers away. He looked back to both me and Klein hoping for reassurance, but neither of us had any to give.
“There on their way…hold on.” Wolf replied. Novak continued breathing heavily before the message arrived several minutes later.
“No… they’re too far. You would have told me otherwise if they weren’t.” Novak replied, sounding much weaker now than she had before. She whimpered as she tried to adjust something on her suit, only to collapse back down to a heap.
“Command… do me a favor would you?” She called. She paused a moment, before beginning to quietly weep on the other end.
“Tell my brothers that I love them. My mom and dad too. Tell them I did everything I could to see them again…”
“Novak, we need you to…” Wolf cut himself off, lifting his finger from the intercom button after a moment’s hesitation. He must’ve rethought his response, and realized Omega was simply too far away. Novak’s O2 supply fell below 10% capacity, prompting an alarm to ring from the terminal. Wolf silenced it, and wiped his face with his sleeve.
“Okay, I’ll tell them.” In all the years I had known him, I thought of Albert Wolf as little more than a faceless acolyte of von Braun. That moment was the first time I saw him truly vulnerable. I shared his sentiment, as the events seemed almost to mimic that of Reisender2. There was nothing we could do, but watch helplessly from millions of miles away.
I felt tears begin to well in my eyes as I realized we had made the same exact mistakes that I had sworn to never repeat. A tragedy repeated, is crueler than any other fate.
“I just wish I could’ve told them about this place. How amazing it is…” Novak erupted into a fit of coughs as the lab remained stoic. We heard her sobbing reverberate through the radio soon after.
“Tell them never to come here though… don’t let anyone ever come here again…” She said, echoing a weak laugh. Novak then took one last deep breath, and released her grip upon the valve stem. The O2 supply once again began dropping like a lead weight.
“Swing low, sweet chariot…
Comin’ for to carry me home…” Her voice was frail, and haunting. As the last words left her mouth, the oxygen drained entirely from her tank. Novak began gasping for breath.
“I can’t breathe…” Her voice appeared more panicked now, but no one in the lab knew how to comfort her. She was heard groaning and struggling upon the other end.
“Help me…please… I don’t want to die…” She muttered, tears infusing her voice as well as gasps for breath. Several members of the lab held tears within their eyes, but not one of them spoke a word. Even Albert Wolf, confident and intelligent as he was had nothing of comfort to say.
Novak began to struggle wildly, and soon tore the helmet free from her head. A yelp of pain was then heard before the helmet camera was dropped. Novak was seen twitching in the background momentarily, before falling still. A pin drop in that moment would’ve clamored like thunder, compared to the deafening silence that befell the lab. Wolf slammed a fist on the terminal, and quickly fled the room.
If I could define any single moment along my journey as the one which broke the will of those involved, that was it. McCauley’s death, coupled with seeing Gaskins abducted by some terrible thing was one thing. But witnessing Novak slowly suffocate while powerless to aid in any way was one of the most painful moments of my life. They were not just coworkers, they were friends. People I bonded with, shared personal stories with.
That was the moment that I think we all realized. It was not a pioneering venture we had embarked upon. It was a tragedy. More Hamlet, than it was Lord of the Rings. We were not the heroes who arose to challenge a powerful evil. We were the curious fools, who had stumbled into something far beyond what we were capable of fighting.
I was reminded in that moment, of the words that Wernher von Braun had spoken to me some time ago.
“There are things going on that neither you, nor I will ever fully understand.” He was right, he was always right. He had known about the dangers, and yet we continued forward. What possible ends could have driven so reckless an action.
Klein pulled me away from the group as the lab personnel returned solemnly to their duties. Wolf didn’t come back in, and another man took his place at the comms station.
“Look at this.” Klein pulled up a video from Novak’s video archive. I watched as Novak overlooked the pit from the top while the light from Gaskins was seen down below working on the rover. The two of them bantered back and forth, before she suddenly stopped and looked out towards the horizon.
“What do you mean? What’s coming?” She asked in response to an unheard prompt from command. Suddenly the loud sounds of footsteps were heard behind her. Novak turned just in time to see someone plow into her. She was sent hurdling to the far side of the pit, striking the wall with a solid thud and falling some 15 meters to the bottom of the pit. She landed square on her back, and Gaskins rushed to her side.
Klein then rewound the footage to right before Novak was struck. He slowed the speed to only a single frame per second. The footage lurched forward slowly, as Novak’s gaze turned gradually around to meet her attacker. Then it came into view, if only for a half dozen frames.
The footage was incredibly blurry, but several details became apparent. The person was dressed in the same suit that was worn by the members of Aphrodite. It looked as though a series of indistinct black shapes were sprouting from his helmet and parts of his suit. The blurry imagery made it impossible to be certain. What I was able to see though, was that it was clearly not Reisender2.
“McCauley.” I stated. Klein gave a nod.
“It appears Reisender2 is not the only one anymore.” I took a seat down beside him, rubbing my temples with my hand.
“How was he not incinerated in the crash?” Klein shrugged.
“Must’ve jumped before it hit, the madman. The impact still would’ve killed him, but would’ve kept his body… partially intact thanks to the strength of the suits.” I sighed, replaying the wildly convoluted events back in my mind.
“So, it’s official then. Something is reanimating them.” Klein nodded.
“Looks that way.”
“Do you think he was the one who dragged off Gaskins?” Klein shook his head.
“No. No way he could’ve gotten down into the pit that quickly without Alpha seeing.”
“Unless there’s another entrance.” I added. Klein seemed to acknowledge the possibility.
“Oh, I have no doubt there’s other entrances. Hundreds probably, all over the planet. But after the attack, McCauley’s transponder left the vicinity and did not return.” I looked up to the GPS monitor, and found Klein to be correct. McCauley’s transponder listed him as several kilometers away from Alpha’s location.
“He could’ve removed it.” Klein shrugged.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I saw the uncertainty begin to spiral in his mind, coalescing with a look of reluctant understanding upon his haggard face.
“What is it?” Klein scoffed and reorganized himself.
“I just can’t help but think, maybe we were never meant to find all of this. I feel like we’re just being toyed with. Like we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all of this.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr. Green talking privately with Albert Wolf and another man. Wolf appeared concerned by something the two men were telling him.
He and Mr. Green then approached the station responsible for control of the Hera satellite. They whispered to the man in control, and he began working upon the terminal. Klein and I approached them, as Hera’s feed was redirected.
Soon enough, it showed Omega’s lander module, but something was very wrong. The lander had been gutted, and looked as though something had torn it apart. Pieces of the hull were scattered all over the vicinity. Then I looked back to the transponder screen, and noticed something quite troubling. McCauley’s beacon, indicated that he was at the landing site of Fünfter Forscher.
Hera was repositioned to Fünfter’s location, and soon revealed a staggering development. Fünfter Forscher appeared to have been patched. The gaping hole that once existed within it was gone, and it appeared as though something had crudely repaired it. Splotches of black strands ran the length and width of the craft, looking almost like obsidian glue of some kind. We all stared in disbelief at the discovery, when a familiar noise began to echo from the radio.
Suddenly I perked up, heart quivering from the sounds of the ethereal female voice. It was coming from the relay onboard Omega team’s rover.
“Uh command… are you hearing this? It’s back…” Peverley asked over the comms. Wolf quickly scrambled away once he realized what was happening. He regained his station and absorbed the scenario silently. Rusakov began peering through the side windows.
“Where is it, I don’t see anything?” Peverley slowed the rover, a nervous grimace now etched upon her face. Wolf quickly pulled out a walkie and spoke into it.
“Commander… she’s back.” Wolf then grabbed the mic once again and spoke in a hushed tone.
“Omega. I need you to remain quiet. I’m muting the comms for now. Hide yourself from view, cover your ears and for god’s sake do not look at it.” Von Braun burst into the room behind us a moment later, accompanied by several of the bald men.
“Everyone out.” He ordered. The personnel began to do as instructed, but Klein and I remained behind.
“Cover the screens.” Von Braun commanded. The bald men did as was instructed and threw tarps over the video monitors of Peverley and Rusakov as their rover was seen trudging slowly onward. The last of the lab assistants filed out and Von Braun assumed the mantle.
“What the hell is going on?” Klein asked, but von Braun ignored the question as he settled in.
“What do you know about her?” I asked, voice almost reaching a scream. I had had enough of the secrets and being kept in the dark by that point. I wanted answers, I needed answers.
“Too much.” That was the only response I received from him. I didn’t know what he meant, and I knew I wasn’t about to receive an explanation. Von Braun beckoned Mr. Green over to him.
“You know what to do.” Mr. Green nodded, and replaced Wolf at the terminal. Von Braun turned and then moved over to our position at a separate terminal. Albert Wolf and a few high-ranking others then joined us soon after as their positions were replaced by the bald men. Mr. Green turned back to von Braun and nodded. Von Braun nodded back and turned to us.
“Do not look at the screens.” The bald men then put large headphones on and removed the tarps from the various monitors. I did as he said and turned away, still incredibly confused by the whole ordeal. I expected something graven to take place, but to my surprise there was nothing out of the ordinary. For over ten minutes the bald men typed furiously away at the terminals as the rest of us cowered away.
“Sie sind alle Lügner.” A female voice suddenly spoke. I looked around the room, but no one else seemed to have noticed. Where the hell did that voice come from? Had I just imagined it? I shivered at the prospect, and what those words meant. *They are all liars.*
“Commander, it’s done.” Mr. Green finally spoke, breaking the tension.
“And Omega?” Von Braun answered back as he turned to face them.
“All systems green.” Von Braun then rose to his feet and sauntered away from our group. The rest of us slowly stood as well, still perplexed by the sudden events.
Von Braun reached the terminal that Mr. Green was stationed. He hit several buttons and the screen flickered between various viewpoints in a sporadic manner. He stopped after cycling through a couple times, and let out a deep sigh of relief. Mr. Green reactivated the comms, and the nervous voices of Rusakov and Peverley became audible once again.
“Command do you read me? What is our RM?” Peverley asked, voice almost sounding terrified.
“What the hell was that thing?” Rusakov asked. Von Braun altogether overlooked the question altogether and returned one of his own.
“How do you both feel? Any sensitivity to light? Nausea?” Several minutes passed before the response reached them.
“No sir, I feel fine. Rusakov?” Peverley responded.
“Just wonderful. A little pissed off but hey what else is new?” He asked, obviously annoyed.
“I Just wonder if you…” Rusakov suddenly paused as a cracking sound reverberated through the mic. The feed from the rover then quivered and bounced around as a tremor of some sort struck the rover.
“What the hell was that?” Rusakov asked. Peverley must’ve realized what was happening, for without a word she lurched for the controls, but it was too late.
The rover suddenly slanted heavily to the port side. Peverley tried gunning it, but the ground beneath them collapsed sending them both falling downwards into the dark below. What followed was a mixture of pained grunts, clashing metal and crumbling rock. The feed on the rover cut out several times as the vehicle slammed into rocky outcrops on it’s way down.
The rover hit the bottom with a thunderous calamity a moment later, expelling a cloud of dust and fragmented rocks.
“Omega are you okay?” Wolf called through the intercom, only to be met with silence.
“Omega do you read?” Wolf asked again. Again, there was only silence. Wolf turned to von Braun, throwing his hands in the air in a confused gesture. Before the message reached them, a voice emerged.
“Rusakov? Rusakov are you okay?” Peverley asked.
“Ohhh my fucking head… what happened?” He replied.
“Hey you’re alright, here give me your hand.” Rusakov groaned in protest as Peverley helped get him to a seated position. Quickly she fumbled around until finding an upturned medkit a moment later. She removed some bandages and began patching up the sanguine wound on Rusakov’s forehead.
“Command we’re alright, where are we?” Peverley called in response to Wolf.
“What happened?” Rusakov asked again.
“Ground collapsed, we’re working on pinpointing your location now.” Wolf answered back. Von Braun stepped away from the terminal muttering curses under his breath. Klein moved in, and I followed. Peverley continued working on Rusakov for several minutes until the message from Wolf arrived.
“I have the utmost faith in you command…” Rusakov replied with a scoff, hocking a bloody wad of spit onto the ground of the rover.
The feed on the rover sputtered and showed a thick blanket of darkness around the vehicle. Light filtered down from above, illuminating particles of dust falling from the ceiling. There was also something else though, something beige and vaguely rounded which gleamed in the feed from the rover. It was too dark to make out what it was though.
Peverley and Rusakov suited up and managed to wrench open the hatch to the rover. Peverley stepped out first and Rusakov a moment later. Both touched down in the gloomy cavern, shining their flashlights about the area. Immediately they noticed something unnerving. Upon the ground was a massive scattering of what at first appeared to be splintered beige remains of some sedentary rocks. However, once they looked closer, we realized what they were. Bones.
“Command… what is this?” Peverley asked with a slight quiver in her voice. All in the lab remained silent, staring blankly at the grotesque sight displayed on the monitors. No one said a word as Peverley continued to pan across the desolate cavern. With every step she took bones would shift and crunch beneath her feet.
Rusakov carefully crept forward and dropped to one knee. He reached an arm downward and began fumbling through the clutter. After a moment he pulled something out, and admired it in his hands.
“So, we’re the first eh?” Rusakov spoke with a chuckle devoid of all humorous tones. Rusakov took the object and displayed it to Peverley, allowing all of us to get a better view. I felt my heart slump in my chest as I realized what it was. A human skull.
“It could be Gaskins.” Peverley answered. Rusakov nodded, but was clearly not convinced. He turned away, and his flashlight fell upon another section of the cavern.
“I suppose, but then how you explain those?” Rusakov pointed a finger past Peverley. Peverley turned, and her light drifted to yet another morbid scene. There were dozens of remains, all scattered about haphazardly. Some were broken, with chips and fragments, but many were entirely whole. I counted at least a dozen separate human skulls. Rusakov continued glancing around, and dozens, if not hundreds more human bones were seen.
“What the hell is this place?” Rusakov asked, voice quivering.
Peverley approached one sight of particular interest. It was an entire skeleton, partially petrified and yet still fully whole in a fetal position. It’s jaw was slacked open, and left-eye socket cracked, and something was cradled in it’s arms.
Peverley crept closer, and saw what it was that the skeletal arms held to the ribcage. It was another, smaller bundle of bones in some sort of severely worn garment. A child-sized skull poked out from the top of it.
All my life has been devoted to my work, and yet all I have learned does not even put a drop in the ocean of mysteries surrounding the red planet. We were not the first, not ever the first. Not even back in Munich. We were only the latest. Humanity had already been to Mars long before us.
Who had those people been? Why were they there? How did they get there and how long had they been? And most terrifying of all, what had happened to them?
I have grappled with this revelation, and subsequent questions ever since that day. The images and scene remaining so visceral within my mind. I have been as of yet, unable to supply a gratifying answer, but at least I know one thing. It’s true, humanity was there before us in some capacity. Mars has a history long since forgotten, or perhaps one which was never even known to begin with.
Rusakov and Peverley continued to inspect the scene for almost an hour. All the while, the rest of us could do little aside from silently gawk at the scene. Even von Braun, in all his wisdom and answers, had nothing to say. Several thousand runes in the same vein to those that Omega found on the door were etched upon the walls. All of them, as alien and cryptic as the planet around them.
Peverley inspected their rover as well, and soon found that the comms relay had been torn from it along with several other crucial components. As if it were not clear before, the discovery proved that the rover, and the team were sitting ducks.
“Sir…” One of the comms operators suddenly broke the thick silence that saturated the lab. Von Braun and the rest of us broke the deadlocked stare with Peverley’s monitor and looked to him.
He was an older fellow: Reginald Thompson or ‘Reggie’ as we called him. A partially bald head, slender crooked nose and fleeting hazel eyes. The look of uncertainty on his face was enough to make me shiver in my boots. He cleared his throat and pointed to the commotion on the radar screen.
“The probe that Remus investigated…” Upon the screen a single blue dot was moving steadily upwards.
“What of it?” Von Braun asked. I didn’t need the answer, for I already knew what the sight entailed. The probe that had begun everything, that had ferried two brave souls from Germany. The probe that had sat unused on the Martian surface for over thirty years had been suddenly and inexplicably, reactivated. Fünfter Forscher, had come back to life.
A few minutes passed, and a crackling sound was heard as an old frequency began to broadcast. It had been years since anything had been heard from it. Upon it, I heard that familiar hymn which I have come to dread more than anything else. The sounds of Reisender2 singing, as her probe departed from the Martian planet.