The smell of the breeze swept over her naked skin, blowing her long hair around her body and out behind her. It held a faint tinge of mint mixed into the salt and she took a deep breath with closed eyes, relaxing.
It’s almost like being in the Seychelles. She remembered the feel of the sun on Earth, its soft warmth in the morning and the burning heat at midday. Then there was the gradual cooling as evening approached, the wind slowly strengthening and taking on a chill that forced you to cover up.
The sand under her feet crunched the same as the sand on Earth, the wind was similar; even the sounds and smells were soothingly familiar. Except that it’s not Earth.
Opening her eyes brought a cacophony of colour to bombard her with its Monet-like textures. Deep red sand like dried blood surrounded her feet, dotted with blue and yellow shells. Bright green crab-like creatures scuttled along the edge of the mint coloured water.
“The ultimate in holiday destinations,” She murmured, quoting the Mars Inc. brochure. “Bask under the beautiful Martian sun in the complete privacy of your own safety dome by day; enjoy the stunning dust enhanced sunsets as you eat in our ten star Restaurant or Beachside Barbeque each evening.”
The dome could just be seen in the distance, slicing down like a bubble through the sea. It was the green tinged dome that gave the water its colour. She looked straight up above her head. “Still a dust storm out there then.” The soft orange-brown dust outside the dome had blocked the sun out for the last four days.
Sighing, she splashed forward into the water, determined to make the most of her trip. I have to leave in three days time. At least it’s warm inside the dome, rather than the freezing temperatures outside in the storm. She swam her usual lengths, right out to the dome’s edge and back to shore eight times.
By the time she’d finished, she was pleasantly tired. Wrapping herself in a towel, she lay back on her lounger to watch the caramel swirls of the dust storm outside.
“Lucy!” a voice called from behind her.
She jerked awake. I fell asleep again. That storm is hypnotic. Swinging her legs round and putting her feet on the floor, Lucy looked for the source of the voice. It sounded like mum. She stood up and casting one last glance at the water. “Some private beach. It’s just a big man-made pool really.” Her voice echoed a little and it made her feel just a little lonely.
The path to her villa was laid with soft white sand imported from Earth, the colour sharp against the native red. Flowers bloomed in tubs along side the path, broadleaved trees shaded the sand and created a cooler area in the outside shower room.
“Lucy.” The voice called again as she slipped out of the shower and she froze, holding her towel tightly around her. I don’t know anyone here. I’ve not spoken to anyone and even in the restaurant I’ve been left alone, so who is calling me?
“Hello is there anyone here?” she moved through into the bedroom and started drying herself.
No one answered, so Lucy carried on drying, smoothing moisturiser over her skin. I think I’ll have Moonsteak tonight. No sense being able to eat whatever I like and not taking advantage of it.
She slipped into a white spider silk all-in-one, sighing with pleasure as it tightened around her body, soothing the muscles aching from her swim. Over the top, she dropped a long silver dress and added matching silver heels. A moment or two with her makeup bag and she was ready to go.
The corridor between her dome and the main one was empty. She passed several open doors and glimpsed other people’s holiday paradises. Who would want to go to a snow planet for a holiday when you can go to the beach? She mused as she caught sight of a bright white landscape. Lucy shivered and moved away from there quickly.
As she entered the atrium dome, a few more people appeared, lounging on sofas or staring out at the thick caramel and butter coloured clouds of the dust storm. Lucy moved over to the side of the dome and looked out as well.
I have to admit the dust storms are pretty. All those swirls and spirals in so many shades of red, orange and yellow. I wish they’d stop though; I want to take that tour of the Gale Caldera and see the remains of Curiosity, as well as those plants they found.
The wind outside seemed to let up for a second and Lucy first frowned, and then screamed. “There’s someone out there!”
“What?” A couple nearby turned toward her, alarm etching their faces.
“Look!” she pointed, but by the time they had looked where she indicated, the wind swirled in again, obscuring the face she had seen.
“Are you all right, Ma’am?” a uniformed android appeared at her side.
“The wind stopped for a moment and I saw a face outside.” She said.
The android tapped on his communicator and shook his head. “The control room says there are no life signs out there, Ma’am.”
“There was a man out there. I saw his face!”
The android took her by the arm and moved her away from the dome wall. “Ma’am, there are no living creatures on Mars that we haven’t brought with us.” He led her to a seat and another android brought a large glass with an amber liquid. “Many people see shapes in the dust storms, there have even been a few guests who say they saw faces. Whenever Control has investigated, there have been no life signs or bodies out there.” He handed her the glass. “Here, with the compliments of the House. Ancient French Brandy to soothe your nerves.”
She took the glass and sighed. “But I’m sure I saw a man out there. He was wearing a black spacesuit like the ones on the ship who brought me here.”
The android shook his head. “Drink the brandy, Ma’am. It will soon be time for dinner.”
The two androids left her and headed for the restaurant dome entrance.
By the time she had finished the brandy, Lucy was calm again. The storm continued unabated outside and she fell back into the relaxed mood she had been in after her swim. I must have imagined it. She thought as the chimes sounded to summon the diners to their meal.
An android quartet played soothing music on one side of the restaurant dome. The dome itself had been blackened to hide the storm and the stars of the Mars night sky were projected onto it, the bright blue spot of Earth sparkling.
Lucy felt suddenly homesick as she was escorted to her table by an android waiter. I want something to eat from home. She sat down; nodded civilly to the people she was sharing it with and picked up her menu tablet. Flipping through the seventy five pages of ‘astronomical’ delights, she found the pages dedicated to Earth Cuisine and touched her choices softly. Let’s see. I’ll have Potato and Cauliflower soup to start. Then I’ll have Toad-in-the-Hole, Mash and Carrots with rich beef gravy, for main, and finish with Sherry Trifle.
The waiter nodded as each choice appeared on his tablet. “May I suggest a wine for this?”
Lucy nodded. “Just bring a bottle of whatever you think will go best, as long as it’s from Earth.”
Having finished giving the waiter their order, one of the women across the table caught the conversation and stared at her. “You’ve come to Mars on holiday and you’re having Earth food and drink?”
Lucy shrugged and finished the glass of brandy. “I’m homesick.”
“You actually live on Earth?” the woman’s eyes got even rounder. “I thought no one lived there any more. We came from Demos.”
“Some one has to look after the animals. Besides, it’s rather nice and peaceful now.” Lucy sighed. “I live in London and the city is surrounded by countryside.”
“So why come to Mars?” the woman’s partner asked, stroking his rather lurid pink and green Saturna fur robe.
“I won it. It’s the trip of a lifetime for someone who has never been off planet.” Lucy accepted the glass of wine handed to her by the waiter. She sipped. “That’s fine, thank you.”
The woman sniggered. “Why thank it? It’s an android; it’s programmed to serve you.”
“My mother taught me manners cost nothing.” Lucy frowned at the woman.
The man snorted. “Throwback.”
Lucy bit her lip, reminded of another of her mother’s sayings. If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.
The first course arrived via the transport mat in front of her and silence fell over the restaurant as the diners began eating.
“Lucy.” The voice came from behind her this time and she dropped her spoon in shock as she turned around. There was nothing there. I’m going mad, I must be.
“Are you all right, Ma’am?” The waiter picked the spoon up from the floor. He put it into a caddy on his belt and from a second caddy produced a clean spoon, which he handed to her.
“I’m fine, thank you. I just thought… it’s nothing.” Lucy smiled and turned back to her soup.
The waiter bowed and turned to help another diner.
“So you’re hearing things as well as seeing things?” The male guest to her right asked. “Have you been taking hallucinogens as part of your package?
Lucy blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. You were the woman that thought she saw a man outside the dome.” He stuffed half a Venusian prawn into his mouth and continued speaking, even as he was chewing. “The hotel gave you a glass of expensive brandy to shut you up, but if you’re hearing and seeing things that aren’t there, then either you’re on Acid or you’re nuts.”
Lucy bit her lip again. “I ordered the brandy.”
“Brandy before dinner?” the man in the Saturna Fur Robe snorted. “Definite throwback.”
His partner giggled.
Taking a deep breath, Lucy finished her soup then rose from her seat. Instantly the waiter was at her side. “Ma’am?”
“I would like a table to myself please.” She asked softly.
He nodded, collected her glass and bottle of wine, and then escorted her to a small table by the quartet. “Is this suitable, Ma’am?”
“Yes, thank you.” Lucy sank down in the seat.
“Your meal will be rerouted. Is there anything else that I can do for you?”
She shook her head. “No, thank you for asking.”
The waiter bowed and left her by herself.
Lucy relaxed again. I’m not sure I could have remained civil much longer.
The rest of the meal was soothing and relaxing and by the time her coffee arrived, Lucy was feeling much better. I might go to the observation deck. It’s far enough up that I should be able to see the real sky.
She pushed her chair back and the waiter appeared.
He helped her out of her chair and bowed. “Thank you for eating with us, Ma’am.”
“You’re welcome. Is the observation module open today?” Lucy pushed her fringe out of her eyes.
“Indeed, Ma’am. I also believe there is a 3D presentation of the latest Lloyd-Webber Musical being streamed live from the Moon in the Theatre Dome and a real Circus in the Entertainment Dome.” The waiter paused. ”If you prefer solitude, you might wish to take a walk in the Arboreal Dome.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I might do just that.”
“We have some wonderful arboreal specimens, including a giant redwood and an ancient oak forest. There are also several species of bird and butterfly. It is considered a most relaxing place.” The waiter seemed strangely insistent.
Lucy nodded. “I will definitely visit it before I leave the hotel, thank you for the information. But for the moment, I want to see the night sky.”
The waiter bowed. “Of course, Ma’am.”
She turned and threaded her way out of the room. As she passed the table she’d been on originally, the man in the fur said in a stage whisper to his partner. “Cuckoo, I tell you. Seeing things, hearing things; she’s an antisocial throwback.”
Lucy ignored him and swept out in a whisper of silk as the other guests at the table, burst into laughter behind her.
The elevator up to the Observation deck was contained in a transparent tube, so riding up through the dust storm was an exhilarating experience. Lucy marvelled at the shapes that formed in the cloud and laughed when she spotted a shape that looked very much like one of the green Martian crabs in her dome. I wonder if those crabs really did come from Mars, or if they were imported.
As the lift reached the top of the storm, the dust lightened and it was possible to see the horizon; the majestic, ancient shapes of the mountains glowing red in the last of the sunlight. Finally Lucy stepped out of the lift into the Observation module and moved to the windows. She was completely alone and as the sun dropped below the mountains and night fell, the last of her anxiety and irritation engendered by the other guests in the restaurant seeped away with the light.
Lucy raised her eyes from the mountains to the sky, absently naming constellations, planets and galaxies to herself. “Well the Earth is there, which means, that is Venus and this is Sirius. That must be the rest of the Milky Way.” A sigh of appreciation escaped her lips. “This whole trip is worth it, just for the view.”
She stayed there, examining the sky and making mental notes to further her exploration of the solar system with a trip to Saturn’s rings or possibly Neptune. I remember Papa saying that Saturn’s rings sparkle like diamonds as you approach them from space. I could stay here all night, just watching the stars.
In fact that thought filled her with such anticipation that she seriously considered it. However, a flashing green light from an unobtrusive console informed her that the module was about to be closed and she made her way back to the lift. As she did so, Lucy cast one last look out of the window. The storm was starting to move away from the hotel-base and some of the domes further out on the edge had come into view.
What on earth? She rushed back to the window. Black spacesuit clad figures formed a dotted line, not unlike a “cut here” line on a food package on Earth. The line moved up to one of the domes and surrounded it. What are they doing?
The light on the console changed to yellow and a voice emanated from a nearby speaker. “Gentle Guest, we apologise for the inconvenience, but we would ask you to vacate the Observation module, as it is about to be retracted for the night.”
Lucy frowned. But those people out there are doing something to that dome. It must be one of the rainforest ones, because the air escaping is turning to snow. She glanced down at the control panel. There isn’t any way of contacting the Control Room to tell them what I’ve seen.
The dome roof collapsed and the line of black suited figures climbed into it. Another group of figures appeared, but these ones wore white suits which seemed bulkier than the black ones. The second group headed for another dome, to the left of the first one.
They’re attacking the domes. Lucy shivered. What on Earth… Mars is going on? She ran for the lift and hit the button to open the door. “I have to tell someone.”
In the lift she paced around the small area, no longer fascinated by the storm cloud surrounding her, I must find this Control Room. Maybe one of the androids can help me.
The lift jolted to a halt just as she emerged through the roof of the entry room. ”Apologies, Gentle Guest for the inconvenience, but there is a technical fault with this conveyance. Please remain calm and help will be sent shortly.” The lift told her in the same voice as the observational module console had used.
“I have to get to the Control Room!” Lucy banged on the lift doors. “Let me out of here, the hotel is under attack.”
“Control Room here. What seems to be the trouble Ma’am?” The voice that slipped through the lift speaker was still the same, psychologically timbred to keep the listener calm, but held a touch of asperity as if she had interrupted something.
Lucy related what she had seen. There was a long pause before the voice returned to her. “None of our instruments indicate the kind of destruction you have described, Ma’am. There are no life signs where there should not be.”
Lucy stamped her foot in frustration. “I’m not making this up. There are figures in black and white space suits attacking the domes and gaining entry to the hotel.”
“Please, Ma’am, calm yourself. We are aware that you are currently stuck in the Observation Module’s elevator, and that this is probably the reason for your vital signs being raised. Technologists are approaching to rescue you as we speak.” The voice now sounded a little irritated.
“Are you an A.I. or an Android? You certainly can’t be human because no human would allow a report such as the one I have given to be ignored, not when the safety of your guests is concerned.” Lucy huffed and folded her arms.
A group of androids in the blue suits of technologists appeared, carrying a ladder and tool boxes. They set up around the base of the elevator’s shaft and began investigating the problem with the lift.
“Ma’am, I am neither. I am human and believe me when I say this, we have had reports like this before and when we have investigated them, found nothing of note, except for dome damage. Any guests harmed, died of exposure to Mar’s atmosphere and not through violent attack.” The Controller sighed.
“So there was Dome damage?” Lucy pounced. “Something did happen here?”
“The domes were in need of repair after a dust storm similar to the one which is now moving away from us. The damage done was commensurate with storm damage and the enquiry cleared us of wrong doing. I’m sure all you saw was a mirage formed by the clearing storm.”
The lift jerked and began to move slowly floorwards.
Lucy clenched her teeth on the implication that she was lying. “I am telling you the truth. I am not drugged and I have a high alcohol tolerance level, so I am sober despite the half a bottle of Californian white and your blasted French brandy. “
“I do not doubt the veracity of what you think you saw…” the Controller paused. “As an apology for the inconvenience and any emotional distress the elevators technical fault has caused, I am add an authorisation to your room so that you may order anything you would like from room service for the rest of your stay. Good Evening, Ma’am.”
The click as the controller closed the line echoed in the lift.
Lucy seethed. I know what I saw. Free food and drink is not going to solve this.
The doors opened and Lucy stepped out, smiling stiffly at the technologists. “Thank you for freeing me, it was really quite scary in there.”
One of the blue suited android technologists bowed. “You are welcome, Ma’am. May I suggest a walk in the Arboretum to soothe any nerves you may have from the experience?”
That’s the second time one of the androids has suggested that. She smiled. “I need a drink first. Is the bar close to the arboretum?”
“You can order room service in there. There are waiters in the rest spots dotted around the dome.” The technologist bowed again. “Would you like me to escort you there?”
Lucy studied the android’s face. They all look alike, but this one seems different somehow. She shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind the company.”
He nodded and offered her his arm, which she took the same way that she would have a human’s arm.
They strolled through the corridors. Several times, they encountered other guests, laughing and conversing. Each time the conversation hushed and the other guests stared, then as they moved away again, the discussions began, often with mildly curious and scandalised overtones.
Lucy ignored them. Why is it the rest of the solar system is so down on Androids? They’re people, just as much as I am.
Thankfully, as they approached the Arboretum, the wandering groups disappeared and she was able to strike up a proper conversation with the android. “Why has every android I have encountered this evening told me to come to the Arboretum Dome?”
“For your safety, Ma’am.” The technologist replied calmly. “An event that happens here once a century is almost upon us and we androids have learned to rescue those guests who embody the ideals of the Human race from the cataclysm.”
Lucy was shocked. “Rescue? What about the Sol Fleet? Cannot they help?”
“The Controller always refuses to believe us.” He stopped outside the dome entrance. “The Controller calls the Fleet far too late to repel the invasion, but never lives to see Fleet land.”
Lucy swallowed against a sudden panic and tightening in her chest. “So why here?”
The technologist indicated the door. It had a strong airlock in deference to the controlled atmosphere within. “This was the first dome completed. It is the strongest and is self-contained, with Hardinger Seals on all exits. All who have heeded our warnings will be safe inside and we androids will do our level best to make sure it is not breeched.” He touched a button beside the door, which spiralled open.
Lucy stepped inside the airlock. “Do you know anything about a voice calling me?”
“Did it sound like anyone you know or may have known?” The technologist sounded interested.
“My mother. But she’s been dead for nearly a hundred years.” Lucy caught her breath against the sudden pain. I really ought to get some grief counselling.
“Where did she die?”
“I was told that she succumbed to a heart attack while she was on holiday here; it’s the reason I decided to accept the trip when I won it.” Lucy’s eyes widened as the airlock door closed between them. “She died in one of these attacks?”
The technician shook his head sadly. The last she heard from him as the door locks thumped into place was “If she was here, then she never died properly.”
The second airlock hissed open after a short moment of equalising pressures and Lucy stepped into the arboretum. What does he mean, She never died properly?
***Continued in Part Two ***