Mars ain't no get ahead

Mars ain't no get ahead

A Story by Joel

Part IV


Azrael poked the small fire, now burned down to embers. He pulled a half-smoked cigar from it, pressed it to a coal to relight it and smoked it for a few seconds before discarding it. The cigar confirmed his suspicions.


He'd never expected to find this area unpatrolled. The Haddad ruled this part of Tharsis and they were not a people to take their security for granted.


Calliandra was strong, but her feet were unused to the hard rock and the long days of walking. Azrael scouted early and hunted late, using his energy to determine risks and more wisely choose their path. Until the campfire, he had found no threats to worry him.


He thought of going back, but decided against it. He knew which direction the patrol was going, he'd find them. First, though, he'd have to climb.


The thin cold air of mars dug at his lungs but his chest heaved, drawing as much as he could as he climbed along the ridge, dogging the steps of the unwary patrol. The Haddad were an unfriendly people, not as bad as the Enyalius, but no less willing to kill outsiders on sight.


Finally he found them, a party of five on a shelf of rock fronting a small cave. The shelf hung over a dizzying chasm, a black line that sunk to an unknowable depth, fronting the ridge that Az walked along, twenty feet above the heads of the men he tracked.


He began creeping slowly, with only thirty yards between himself and the hunting party he dared not alert them. Incrementally he made progress, slithering with the single-mindedness and patience of a snake until disaster struck. At a crucial moment in moving from one outcropping of red stone to the next, the rock beneath his foot gave way. he watched, hanging by his fingertips as the rock plummeted soundlessly into the black void. Whatever noise might have been made by its impact was lost in the thin air and howling wind of Mars.


Azrael was thankful for the wind, his targets huddled from it, and it narrowed their eyes to slits, so that though he hung in midair, vulnerable to the most casual shot with one of their revolving carbines, he remained unobserved.


With a transcendant force of will, he began to pull himself forward. His fingertips, knuckles, and finally both hands whitened with the effort. When he had himself as high as he could manage he lunged and, to his relief, caught a handhold.


It took him fully five minutes to regain the perch lost in his fall. Every second was a fight to cling, to pull, to survive. After that, the killing was easy.


Taking a thin, strong cord from his belt, he secured it to a hard spur of red stone and rappelled down the face of the cliff towards his foe.


Landing on one side of the shelf, Azrael whipped his pistol from its holster, gunning down two before they could turn. Two more took up their carbines and fired, but their shots were wild and from the hip. they had no chance at a second shot. The fifth man backed into the cave, intending to make his stand there.


Scooping up a carbine from the ground, Azrael swung it into the cave entrance and fired it 6 times blindly forcing the man to duck and go prone. When the last of the scouting party raised his head from the cave floor, the last thing he saw was the barrel of a revolver.


One by one, Azrael searched the bodies and threw them off the cliff. There was a wealth of powder and lead to refresh his waning supplies, and he took the remaining unfired carbine for his own.


"Calliandra!" He called when he returned to his camp, and he quickened his pace when no answer came. He looked around but he saw no sign of the girl who had travelled with him from the ghost city three days ago. More than no sign, no indication that this camp had ever been for more than one person.


With a growing sense of dread, he looked up to the now-darkened sky and saw the light of earth no longer overhead and knew that the girl of the ghost city was a ghost after all, and the magic of the earth no longer held her here. As he lay down to sleep, newly unused to the coldness of his bedding, he offered a prayer that her soul had found rest. He would not weep for what was lost, for things left behind are rarely where you leave them...on Mars.

© 2008 Joel

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Added on March 25, 2008



Pleasanton, TX

I'm a High School English teacher in Pleasanton, TX. As I feel that I am presiding over the death of the written word (judging from my students), I should either try to help or dig a deeper grave. Con.. more..


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