Don't Go To Mars
Artist's Comments:

Hi guys! A bit of an unusual treat for you today, a bit of writing to go with the artwork. This is a short I wrote as part of NaNoWriMo. My thanks to Mari and Eeni for being my editors!

Alone and cut off from the rest of the team, Mallory must search for a mysterious energy source on the surface of the planet. One shot, No OCs.

The Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series is property of Disney. This is a piece of fanfiction.

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Don’t Go To Mars (T) 5765 words
Alone and cut off from the rest of the team, Mallory must search for a mysterious energy source on the surface of the planet. One shot, No OCs.





   The sixteen hours of testing the extravehicular unit in their pool were supposed to make her feel better.

    It didn’t make her feel better.

    Sixteen hours was pretty inadequate when the bottom of the pool was only about two meters from air. Right now that same air was about two hundred million kilometers away, give or take. In the pool there were safeguards and people to pull you out - that was the whole point. Here there was nothing of the sort.

    Tanya was chipper and confident about the whole thing, but Tanya got to direct from the relative comfort of the Aerowing.

    Really this should have been someone else’s job. Anyone else’s job. The unit was kludged together junk, cast off from the humans, mixed with their own tech. It was far heavier than it needed to be, and it would have been better to send one of the drakes with more upper-body strength. But the constraints of the helmet meant that, as the one with the smallest bill, she won the raffle and got to trudge in a monstrosity of mad science. It felt like walking in a trashcan.

    Mallory made the mistake of looking upwards only once. She wasn’t sure what she expected, perhaps something similar to the night sky of earth. Instead overhead was nothing but shades of brown, a strange bowl of drab that had been placed over the planet. It confused her vision enough it felt as though she were standing on a ceiling and looking down at the ground far away.

    The vertigo made her sick and elicited a dry heave. At least she had been smart enough to remember some of her few months of extravehicular training in the academy. She had skipped breakfast. Puking in a helmet you have to wear for six hours is an unpleasant experience.

    The volume on the comm link was too loud. Her teeth vibrated with the screech of “Hey, Mal!” She stopped in her tracks to try to fiddle with the controls on her arm. “Bring me back a rock!”

    “I’ll personally smash your head open with it if you don’t shut up.” She growled.

    She was allowed to be cranky. She was carrying at least ninety-five pounds of essential crap while stumbling around like an asshole on a dusty pile of nothing.

    There was something in the static of the background, maybe an admonishment or some other heated conversation, which then turned into Wildwing’s voice speaking to her: “Do you see anything unusual?”

    Standing on the face of Mars, surrounded by jagged rocks, massive cliffs, red dust, a brown sky, and not a single living soul, Mallory surprised herself by laughing in a delirium of terror. It was rather undignified.

    The Aerowing was somewhere out of sight, a speck above the dust and haze of brown, hanging silently on the edge of the atmosphere. She couldn’t see them, though they would be able to track her. Not that it mattered a whole lot. While it was agreed that monitoring her from orbit was best overall, as it reduced the possibility of being caught off guard - from lizards or whatever else- it also meant they were five minutes away. Any emergency she had on the ground, however unlikely—or however unlikely Tanya wanted her to think it was—was going to be her problem and hers alone. If she ruptured her oxygen supply it would be at least another five minutes to properly cycle the airlock.

    Best not rupture it then.

    Wildwing was voicing concern through the comm link. She regained her composure, as best she could. “There’s nothing here.”

    "The object we’re tracking should be directly in front of you."

    "I'll try to find it."

    The object was a euphemism they had taken to calling it— a source of energy on a dead and skeletal planet, strong in readings but small in size. Mars was far enough from Earth for it to be dangerous to recover, but close enough to be dangerous to leave alone. It was unclear how long it hard been here, now uncovered after a recent violent dust storm.

    Mallory walked forward in her trashcan, thankful for the one-third Earth gravity as she went. She tried to survey the area and realized how easy it would be to get lost among all the jagged boulders and ugly cliffs. One pile of rock looked much like another. Mobility was limited. Her puck canon was strapped to her back, by her own insistence; but, in the thin atmosphere, it was questionable whether or not it would fire, if she could even reach it. This had not been covered in the pool simulation.

    The sun cut through the hazy brown sky, casting short and stark shadows on the ground.

    "Mallory," chipper Tanya had taken the back seat to professional Tanya now. Her earlier enthusiasm was diminished, leaving behind the mechanical scientist. "There's…There's a new dust storm coming. Maybe thre-yeah three hours from you."

    "I'll be fast." Mallory agreed. "I don't feel like an extended stay anyway."

    "How is your radiation shield?"

    Mallory stopped walking to check, the sudden silence that replaced her movement made her conscious of her breathing and heartbeat. "Still showing green." She brushed the square patch.

    "Good, good. Three hours will be less...exposure than we planned for."

    “Right.” Mallory began moving forward again, listening to the sound of her own labored footsteps. “If I come back with an extra arm, it’s your fault.”

    ‘Radiation’ didn’t have quite the scare-factor for them that it seemed to with the humans, who half-understood the universe around them and chose to find it all terrifying. Mallory knew better than to believe she actually would grow extra limbs, but disliked the added danger on top of everything else just the same.

    It was impossible to tell time. The sun was directly overhead, there was no sound, no movement, just the dry, dead landscape. An occasional glance back at her path behind her, as well as checking the comm patched into the sleeve of her left arm, assured her that she was making progress, even if it was slow. The humans were going to have a shit-fit if they ever made it this far, trying to make sense of footprints already there.

    There were occasional snatches of conversation heard through the link, never clear, always distant, somehow fitting for the landscape. Whispers and voices for the desolace.

    Mallory found her mind wandering, and tried to refocus on the task at hand. This was not the place to lose discipline. Distraction could be fatal.

    A glint of light caught her eye - the reflection of the sun on a silvery surface. It was in the bottom of a relatively shallow but wide crater, along the far wall.

    “I think I have eyes on it.” She broke the chain of low banter.

    It might have been space junk left behind from an unmanned human excursion, barely visible. As she came closer, cursing the noise of her movement, she slowed her pace, trying to be extra cautious. She couldn’t hear any sounds over her own exertion down the wall of the crater, and there was no movement from below. The reflection was still small; but, the dust around it began to define an outline of a cylindrical object, contrasting heavily with jagged and sharp landscape around it.

    “That’s it.” Wildwing agreed from somewhere above. “Whatever it is, it’s in there.”

    She heard a heavy metal clang as she walked, and stopped. She bent down and brushed away a layer of dust, revealing a smooth metal panel the same silvery color. There were markings on it that may have been paint or a coating, long since lost to time. She scanned the area and saw there might be several similar panels strewn about.

    “There’s debris,” she reported.

    “If it struck the surface, it was pr-probably controlled,” Tanya interjected. “A crash from space wouldn’t…. be that contained.”

    Well, that was a pleasant thought.

    Now on the crater floor, Mallory tried to gauge the size of the large, once cylindrical object, but was unsure from its burial. As she approached, the first indications were that it was largely intact. It did seem to have survived the impact in some recognizable form, and as Tanya observed, most of the debris had not been flung very far away. The ship appeared to have come down in a manner lateral to the crater, striking the far wall lengthwise. It rested such that the length of it was mostly visible, if buried under a thin layer of dust that concealed most of its glimmer. She tried to inspect the surface for any indication of an entrance or airlock or doorway, taking care to watch her footing. It was slow work.

    “Any ideas?” She heard the voice in her ear buzzing.

    “Can you see this thing?” She grumbled back at Wildwing. “This is corny beyond belief.” The slick, reflective, silver surface looked like something out of a sci-fi serial more than anything airworthy. It felt like a prop, a toy more than a real object. Not for the first time, the thought crossed her mind that she was being set up. They were all teasing her, surely.

    Wildwing gave a noncommittal response, “Maybe.”

    “Not everyone prioritizes the same ah-ah-aspects of design,” Tanya protested. She would be one to know, of course, favoring a bizarre number of spikes and superfluous additions to her… fantastical version of the Migrator. And lasers and firearms…

    It was always the quiet ones that you needed to look out for.

    “The energy signature is still coming from somewhere in there,” Wildwing pressed, trying to refocus them back on task.

    “I can’t see any entrance on this side,” Mallory reported. “I’m going to work my way around.”

    She continued to move with caution, picking her way through ripped panels and tossed boulders. She sometimes checked over her shoulder awkwardly as the suit didn’t allow much movement; but, she was adamant with herself that hindrance would not allow her to be lazy. She was the one that had to do this, so she would do it right. She kept aware of her surroundings, insisting that she would not allow her mind to wander, that she would be sure of every detail as she went. If this were a trap, anything that moved or seemed out of the ordinary could mean the difference between life and death.

    Once, as she turned to check the trail behind her, she heard a low noise, perhaps a thump, that seemed to resonate from within the metal structure of the wreck. She paused, unsure. Had she actually heard something, or was it residual noise on the comm link? She strained to listen, somehow hoping for confirmation—knowing there was indeed a noise would be better than remaining unsure. After an extended moment, no other sound was apparent.

    Mallory resolved to unclip her puck canon from her back. It was an annoying, cumbersome process. She was used to ease of access. She wanted it to be fast, reflexive. The suit, necessary as it was, made the movements slow. The bulk of it fought her as she reached for her back; the oversized gloves were clumsy on the clasps.

    But she was able to get it, and Tanya was reasonably sure that it would fire in this atmosphere - though the dust in the air made it such that it might never fire again afterward. Tanya’s ‘reasonably sure’ was more trustworthy to Mallory than any other person’s absolute conviction. She tried her best to maintain good firearm etiquette, here where there appeared to be no one around and nothing to harm. She wouldn’t let the circumstance make her sloppy. Sloppy was dead.

    At last, she came to the end of the wreckage and found that the ship had been torn. It wasn’t a clean break in the fuselage, but it was complete. It appeared she was looking at the mid-section of the object; the head may have been buried within the wall of the crater; the tail could be scattered anywhere behind on the trajectory path.

    The interior was dark. She paused while she considered. She knew she would need to go in, but had no way to tell the structural stability of the craft or how many other dangers would be present inside.

    It would have been quite helpful to have the Mask along, yet it was pointless to wish for - it never would have fit within the confines of her air bubble. If it had, Wildwing would be the one wearing the sorry excuse for a space suit.

    “I’ve got an opening here,” she reported. She tried to be calm. “Visibility is poor.”

    “Do you...” Wildwing trailed off. His mind was probably trying to weigh too many options. His anxiety was slipping through his usual forced calm.

    “I can get in there,” she responded for him. She activated the tactical light on her canon and then the additional lighting on her suit. “It’s accessible without any climbing.”

    Wildwing seemed at a loss. “Fifteen minutes,” he finally agreed. “Keep the comm open.”

    “Keep quiet for me,” she said. “I want to be able to hear it when the walls of the crater come down on me.”

    He didn’t seem very amused by her gallows humor.

    Mallory approached with due caution. She minimized the volume of the comm so the static of the connection became a quiet hiss. Hopefully that would be enough to keep it from covering any noise she needed to fear.

    She took an initial step on the paneling inside, tested her weight on it, and then moved with a little more confidence. The bright red landscape outside had already let itself in. A thick coating of dust and sand covered the interior. It was thankfully untouched with no prints suggesting movement, resting as it had been since the landing. She looked above her, trying to determine the craft’s orientation as it landed. It seemed nothing above her was vital.

    As she moved forward, the light behind her dimmed, changing from the red, natural glow of the world outside into the artificial, yellow glare of her light. Panels and consoles that had been shorn from the fuselage in the crash littered her path. Nothing looked like a power source to her, though she began to worry that she wouldn’t recognize one anyway. This would have been better suited to Tanya’s expertise.

    A low hiss startled her. She froze and pivoted, looking down the barrel of her canon, shining the light in the direction she thought the sound had come from. It was to her right, the half of the ship exposed to the day outside.

    Wildwing must have heard her intake of breath. He was prompting her for a response.

    She waited, not wanting to make any noise of her own in case it drew attention, still searching. The hissing continued, and then a few small thuds, and then silence.

    Maybe more sand covering the outside of the craft. Maybe. In any case, it didn’t appear that there was an immediate threat here.

    Wildwing was getting more urgent. Tanya was monitoring her vitals - surely she would see the increase of adrenaline, but would also be able to see she was alive and relatively well.

    “I think this thing had artificial gravity. Landed right-side up.” Mallory willed herself to respond. “There are control panels on the walls that are within arms reach.”

    There was a quiet affirmation. They understood. She was still okay.

    “Your signal is very close to the energy reading,” Wildwing offered.

    She nodded, and then, remembering that there was no one to see, mumbled a “Right.”

    She continued to move, avoiding debris, trying to understand what she was seeing. The craft didn’t seem very advanced, but just the same, most of the machinations were beyond her limited knowledge. It all looked equally alien and frustrating to her.

    She finally came to a blast door at the far end of the shorn chamber. It didn’t appear to be powered; and it rested with a few inches of space open between the panels.

    “Is the signal still in front of me?” she asked.

    “Yes,” came Tanya’s voice. “Maybe, maybe another twenty feet.”

    “Okay. I’m going to have to force this open.” Mallory sighed.

    “No explosives,” Wildwing reminded. As if she needed the advice.

    She looked behind her again at the length that she had already traversed. A sliver of sickly brown sky could be seen over the lip of the far crater wall.

    She was wasting time.

    She gripped one of the door panels in her hands and placed one foot in the opening against the other. She was already exhausted from making the journey here in the spacesuit. She would need to leverage her lower body strength if she couldn’t use any firepower.

    It fought her as she pressed; but, she heard something within the mechanism of the wall give a metallic groan and the door panel popped open, as if a vital piece had fatigued and snapped.

    Inside, she was expecting a true black, but was instead greeted with a strange, distant, blue-green glow.

    “I might see the source,” Mallory reported in once more.

    She picked her footing carefully. It was tempting to rush forward so that she could be in and out and outside. But sloppy is dead; sloppy is dead. She shone the tactical light over the room, insisting to herself that she needed to be aware and prepared for whatever was around her. She froze again.

    “I… I think I found part of the crew,” she allowed herself a strained whisper. It was unclear. It was a body, that much was recognizable, but it didn’t appear to be any species that she knew. It had too many limbs. Perhaps it was actually more than one person, perhaps not. It did have the outlines of a head, and a skeleton. The flesh had dried, stretched, and lost any color it may have once had in the Martian atmosphere.

    “Can you describe it?” Tanya inquired. “Maybe how they died?”

    “I don’t… I don’t know,” Mallory admitted, approaching cautiously, still straining to hear any other sounds. “This crash would have been violent, and the chamber was not airtight before I got in. Cause of death isn’t a great mystery.”

    “Well, one has different signs than the other,” Tanya insisted. “Tra-trauma or asphyxiation.”

    Mallory got as close as she was willing, sweeping the tactical light over the area. “There’s bits of them everywhere. I’m going with trauma.”

    “Bits?” Tanya said aloud, somewhat distraught.

    Mallory turned her attention to the glow. There was what looked like shattered glass around the room- although it may have been something stronger- as some of the original sealed containers appeared in tact as well, if strewn about. The glow came from some of them, a strange tangle that resembled a ropy moss or slime.

    “The power source?” she asked, hopeful, but still cautious.

    “Still somewhere further in the ship,” Wildwing said.

    She cast a doubtful look at the jars. These weren’t it, then, though maybe it would look similar.

    Mallory began to pick her way through the equipment, trying to avoid both the slime and the body. It didn’t matter that both appeared harmless; she was still creeped out beyond reason. She searched in earnest, overturning and shoving the things she could, looking for something that could be what they came here for - no, what they sent her here for.

    “This stuff…” she said, knowing that she should be quiet, knowing she should be listening for danger, but her nerves were starting to overcome her.

    “Ten minutes,” Wildwing’s reminder came.

    “This place reminds me of Tanya’s lab,” Mallory finished. Most of it was shattered, but it resembled things that had vague familiarity - maybe test tubes, maybe slides, maybe equipment for eye safety - if they had eyes. It was all a step removed from anything she had seen, yet the purpose felt right. “I think this was a science vessel.”

    Tanya was probably listening, but offered no response of her own.

    Mallory searched, reminding herself to check the room as she did. Be smart, be smart, be smart. Her muscles were straining under the weight of the suit and moving the heavy equipment.

    “Can you give me a hint?” Mallory asked, trying to catch her breath. “What this thing would look like?”

    There was the low static of silence before Wildwing prompted Tanya, getting her attention and repeating the question.

    “It’ll look mineral,” Tanya tried to find terms Mallory would understand. “Yellow or purple. Size of your fist.”

    “Yellow or purple,” Mallory repeated doubtfully.

    “Depends on purity.”

    “I don’t suppose it sparkles or something? That would help,” Mallory tried to lighten the tension.

    “Uuuuh, if it does, I would recommend not picking it up.” Tanya missed the joke. “Or being on the planet surface, really.”

    “Thanks, Tanya, you really know how to make a girl feel better.” Mallory felt an inward pang of dread.

    Mineral, mineral, mineral.

    She came across the second corpse, crushed under a console. She paused before sighing and pulling up a stray bar to use as leverage. She really, really didn’t want to do this, yet it was possible the alien was holding what she was looking for. She heaved, feeling the sweat of her exertion pooling at the back of her neck. She would need to leave soon, whether or not she found the damn thing - her faceplate was beginning to fill with condensation.

    The console lifted off with a screech, dragging along the floor and sand and glass.

    The body was missing its lower half. Mallory stood, unsure, searching with the tactical light for the other half. It was not in evidence.

    “Um,” she tried to speak.

    “Mal?” Wildwing’s voice urged. “Did you find it?”

    “I’m… willing to reconsider cause of death,” she said quietly.

    “Mallory, we can find another way; your time is up. Let’s just regroup and try something else.”

    She hesitated, torn between options. She did want to back out and leave. From the start she had hated every moment of this expedition. Yet, if this thing she was looking for really did have the destructive power that Tanya seemed to think it did, it would be irresponsible for her to leave it behind for anyone else to find. Maybe if she pressed a little more, she could find it before the storm moved in. Maybe, maybe.

    The decision has made for her.

    There was a plop, an object that fell through the light cast from her visor lamp, landing on the ground in a pile of dust near the severed body. It was a rock, about the size of her fist, crystalline and yellow.

    Confused, she cast her light up to find where it had fallen from.

    The ceiling mostly showed the same damage as everything else, panels torn, rips showing the inner wiring of the hull. Her tactical light was answered by the same blue-green glow of the slime in the jar. It seemed to shrink back and she held her breath, trying to keep the light and the muzzle of the puck cannon pointed at the source. She reached for the fallen rock without looking at it, fumbling in the dust with her large glove. All she had to do was take it and she could leave.

    She grasped it and then made her move, planning on going backwards, carefully, keeping an eye on the lightsource while picking her way back through the debris. Wildwing’s voice was distant in her ear. She was reluctant to answer, concerned about what causing noise might bring. The glow seemed happy to hide behind the loose paneling of the ceiling. She stashed the rock in the pouch they had given her on her side.

    She checked behind her again, as fast as she was able with the cumbersome suit. She had cleared a decent exit path for herself. She brought her eyes back to the glow. It might have been dimmer now than before. Maybe it hadn’t noticed her.

    She tripped and fell backwards, a noise of surprise escaping her. She landed with a crunch, dazed under the weight of the suit. As awareness came back to her, she began to worry that she had landed directly on her back-mounted oxygen supply. She was facing upward at what should have been the ceiling but instead was one of the black ropy limbs of the first carcass she had come across.

    Mallory tried to get a full view of the thing, but could only see the single limb writhing above her, torn from the body, occasional dancing lights of blue and green as it moved. Pieces of desiccated flesh flecked off, dried and ruined in the cold, timeless room. A second bioluminescent creature, similar to the one hiding the ceiling, appeared to be happily eating the corpse from a safe perch, halfway buried in the dried remains.

    But it wasn’t until the first creature emerged from the ceiling, roping its bioluminescent arms along the broken panels, slipping with alarming quickness in and out of sight, that she got the idea to react.

    “SHIT!”

    The flaking limbs stopped their writhing. The second creature took interest in her as she rolled away, onto her stomach. It seemed slower in movement but more massive. She lifted herself up, regained her canon, and threw caution to the wind. She ran as best she could in the constricting suit.

    Somewhere distant, a loud thud sounded, announcing the Aerowing reentering the atmosphere.

    Too far, too far!

    The quicker creature cut her off at the blast doors, falling from the ceiling, writhing on the floor, a mess of ropes and slime. Behind her, Mallory could hear the one occupying the corpse dragging its prize as it came to investigate. She didn’t dare look at it, knowing it was the lesser problem. The small one before her lashed out, striking her shoulder, nearly toppling her. She opened fire as she regained her footing, landing a puck in its center mass. It recoiled and screamed a strange, high-pitched sound. It scuttled out of her light and went dark itself, pulling off to her right and disappearing into the black faster than she was able to follow it, but surely near her exit, and now angry.

    She backed away, pushing towards the opposite left hand wall, stealing a glance towards the large, writhing creature and its corpse, which seemed to be more concerned with holding its prize than making its way to her. Behind it, she thought she may have seen a flick of movement that could have been the second, half-eaten body. That’s all she needed, a third friend.

    The hiss of sand on the outside of the hull announced the open air on the other side. Mallory weighed her options and decided she would rather be flattened in a rock slide than eaten. She twisted, trying to keep an eye on her assailants while opening fire on the wall behind her, blasting away the remnants of the interior panels, then through the hull itself into the open air. She moved to jump at the hole, hoping the impact of her weight would force it the rest of the way open, only to be caught in the air by the arms of the quicker, small mass.

    It struck her in the back, knocking the wind out of her, smashing her against the hull, bursting it open, and throwing her outside into the bright light of the open crater.

    Mallory lay on her stomach, gasping for air, knowing she had to get up, wondering how far the rest of the team was. Too far, too far, too slow, too slow.

    She had to get up again, had to, had to. If she didn’t get up they would have to risk themselves and retrieve her, all for the stupid rock she was carrying. She brought herself up to her elbows, looking up to the sky to see if she could make out the familiar white dot. A crack in the helmet obscured her view.

    She wasn’t dead, she wasn’t dead. Where was her canon? She wasn’t dead.

    She regained her feet, giving up on the missing firearm. She sprinted, trying to make distance between her and the broken ship. Her ribs ached. Her muscles protested. There was a single loud scream behind her, probably the faster creature, but she didn’t hear it coming after her in the sand. She didn’t have time to look. She couldn’t look. It would catch her faster if she looked.

    “Mallory!” There was a lot of distortion behind the voice, still Wildwing, edging on panic.

    “I’m okay!” she coughed out. “There’s-” She took a sharp breath, trying to retrace a safe way up the crater wall, aware of how slow she felt. “There’s something alive in there.” She clawed at the surface through the gloves, pulling herself up. “I think it… It ate them!”

    She made it over the top. It was not a graceful exit, but she managed to flop over the edge. An alarm in the visor had started to alert her to a low oxygen supply. Still on her stomach, she allowed herself a look back to the wreckage. She didn’t see anything moving behind her. Maybe the sunlight disagreed with it. Maybe it could tunnel underground.

    “Mallory, listen, listen to me. You need to hold still.” Tanya cut through her thoughts.

    “You can’t be serious.” Mallory was aware her voice was edging into panic.

    “Sit still; try to breath slowly,” Tanya insisted. “You need to save air.”

    Mallory let herself lie there on her stomach, eyes watching the approach up the wall from the crashed ship. She tried holding her breath, finding her composure. This wasn’t her. She was better than this. Panic meant dead. She let her air go in a rush and took another gulp. All the previous sound was gone, replaced with her racing heart and the quiet chatter of the team trying to lose altitude somewhere above her head.

    She willed her breathing to normal, she made her eyes focus on the ground and not the crack in the faceplate in front of her. She couldn’t do anything else. If she survived, it would be entirely dependent on the team.

    “I found it,” Mallory whispered. It was important. “I have Tanya’s rock.”

    “We know. We can see it with the scans,” Wildwing responded. “Stop wasting air.”

    A blue-green glow shone in the hole she had blasted in the hull, a small cobweb of light, and another scream. A tendril of slime tested the air outside the ship, unsure, at first, and then more limbs joined it. With new confidence, it burst out into the daylight.

    Now it was going to eat her.

    The creature began moving along the ground towards her with its characteristic speed, overturning rocks as it went, pausing behind one large boulder and then darting on to the next one in a fashion that may have been comical under different circumstances. Behind it, the black flaking limbs of the desiccated corpse also tested the outside air.

    The small, quick one reached the crater wall and she knew she had to move, yet she couldn’t will herself to her feet. It ached too much. Everything was too heavy. She just couldn’t do it. She shut her eyes so she at least wouldn’t have to watch the thing approach, and found it within her to be just a little pissed off that she was going to die on this rock, a million miles away from anyone who would care.

    Her thought process was interrupted by a crunch that wasn’t her own limbs. Her eyes opened to see the creature falling from the crater wall, still alive, still flailing, but thrust away. When it landed on the ground below, it seemed to try to tend to a burning hole blasted through it, angry screeching filling the crater.

    Mallory smiled to herself as the creature, and its companions and the wreckage of the alien ship, erupted into flame.

    Above her appeared the familiar sound of the Aerowing’s engines.

    What remained was to find the strength to crawl her ass to the airlock. They couldn’t do anything, not fast enough. This was on her. She pulled herself onto the drop platform and let it retract back into the craft with her on it, hoping all her limbs were clear of the edges. That would be embarrassing, to make it this far without being eaten and then lose a leg to hydraulics. There were spots in her vision and her peripheral seemed to be turning black. Over her shoulder, she could hear additional shots being fired into the crater, fuzzy and distant.

    Mallory waited to hear the sound of the airlock sealing and beginning to recompress. There wouldn’t be enough air to breathe, not for a few minutes; but, she might not be awake to enjoy it and the others wouldn’t be able to open the inner door soon enough for her tastes. She clawed at the clips of the cracked helmet, fingers refusing to answer her. She was able to open it, just a sliver, before she finally gave up, looking at the ceiling as it dimmed out of her vision.

    Her thoughts drifted, turning fuzzy. The cold panic was starting to wear away, turning into a strange, warm calm.

    A knock came from the far door. Still locked and cycling, the smells of the Aerowing—grease and avfuel—were permeating the air.

    The air.

    The small porthole in the airlock had Wildwing’s face and an obnoxious Nosedive waving behind him.

    “Mal! You okay?”

    Mallory didn’t bother trying to sit up, instead opting to shout from her position on the floor, death grip on the power source within its pouch on her side. “I FUCKING HATE MARS!”

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