Sunday December 6th, 2015

The exercise:

Today we make our final visits to The Colony. A part of me, a big part actually, wants to say Already? But it is indeed true. It ends here.

I'm going to assume that mine will get long, so I'll just get straight to it.


They are inside the compound.

We've locked ourselves in the infirmary. The computer has changed the access code, so if they need medical supplies they're not getting any of ours. We've brought as much of our rations as we could squeeze into the already cramped space, so they won't be looting that either. Everything else, I guess, is fair game.

Because they are inside the compound.

Vassily has two men with him. They split up shortly after entry and appear to be communicating via headsets. We're tracking their movements on three video monitors and the computer keeps offering to scramble their equipment. I've told it no, every time. We'll wait them out in here. They have to go away eventually.


They outnumber us three to two. Back home on the farm, I'd sometimes try to take on both of my brothers at once. There was only one time it worked out in my favor, and that was when Morris had a cast on his left hand and couldn't grip anything (my hair, in particular) with it. Besides, I'm not sure Robbie could take any of them one on one. Sure, they're isolated now, but how long would that really last if we stepped outside this room?

We're each still carrying two coils of rope, just in case. Otherwise we're unarmed. Our intruders all have knives of varying, lethal sizes. This would not end well if we dared to confront them. Not now, at least. Not like this. We just have to stay hidden. It's our best chance of survival.

You should not be hiding.

"Not now, computer," I whisper. One of Vassily's men is in the hall, approaching our location slowly. I don't need another offer to jam their comm devices.

They will sabotage the compound. They will leave traps for you.

"Shut up, computer."

If they do not find you now, they will come back later.

"And we'll be more prepared for them next time." Robbie and I exchange glances. I don't think either of us believes my words.

This will not do.


The intruder is two doors down. He's taking great care to listen at every door, try every handle. Suddenly the face of each man on the monitors contorts in pain and they rip off their headsets in unison. From the hallway I can hear a muffled shout.

You cannot hide.

"Computer! What are you do-"

You will not hide.

The infirmary door slides open.


Greg said...

Each year I hope that you'll finish the story in your last post and leave me to write an epilogue about what happens to the characters afterwards... and each year you disappoint me :(
Right, three invaders, one of whom is Vassily, and three defenders (you forgot to count the computer, Eliza!) – but Robbie only really counts for half. Oh, and two coils of rope. How can this possibly go wrong?

First Eliza said we had to hide in the infirmary, and now she's opened the doors and she's talking to the computer. I'm glad it's not just me that knows about the computer now, but I'm not sure if she's really talking to it or just because she needs someone to talk to and the computer's better conversation. It might be the last one; Patrick used to tell me that talking to the wall was better than talking to me. Maybe I'm glad he's dead now.
"Robbie–" Eliza's given me this really odd look, like she knows I'm here but she thinks I'm someone else. "Robbie, when I was younger I used to play with my brothers." That's great. I'm an only child, I had to play by myself. It gets lonely. "We had this game where...." I listen to what she's saying, and I understand. It sounds dangerous, but I guess I get to do all the running away.
"Can you do that Robbie?" I nod and smile; if I say anything I might start crying. I'm scared, I thought this was all going to be living in a tent and going home at the end of a year, and now people are trying to kill me.
I walk down the corridor that Eliza showed me, and then there's three people in front of me. One of them's Vassily, and I don't know the other two. One of the one's I don't know points at me – he's got bad skin, like psoriasis bad, all flaky and silvery on his chin and down his neck, and says something in a guttural, rough language. I wave and say "Hello!"
"It's the retard," says Vassily. "Grab him, we'll use him as bait." His eyes, always blue, are icy cold now. I wave again, and turn round. As soon as I hear them move, I start running.
Running here is weird, it's all bouncy and you go up too much. I found the trick is to lean forward and push backwards with your feet instead of up, but it hurts your ankles to do that for long. Still, it keeps me ahead of the three men, and I race round a corner, past Eliza who's crouching on the floor, and turn sharply left into the hydroponics room. Then I stop and peer round the doorframe.
Eliza pulls the ropes across the corridor tight after I've gone past and the computer kills the lights. The men try and slow down, guessing something's up, but they can't stop. Vassily and the bad skin guy get caught at neck height by one rope and go over backwards, choking, but the other guy is shorter and he just falls over the low rope and hits the floor hard. Eliza stands up and stamps on his throat, and he starts choking too.
She turns and sees me. "Did you see that, Robbie?" she says, so I shake my head. My dad used to ask that question when his Alzheimer's was just starting, and the right answer is always no. Stupid Alzheimer's.
"Let's get them tied up," she says. "I think we might have won."

Greg said...

[Splitting into two, to get round the word limit]

The dust storm means that we can't get to talk to Earth for hours, but Eliza has me tidy things up in here, all by myself, while she talks to Vassily and the other guy. The third one, the one she stamped on, died. Eliza said there were complications, but I think she must have stamped too hard. I don't blame her, they were going to kill us. At least that's what the computer told me.
After a while she comes out and sits on a chair and watches me tidy up. I don't say anything, but it seems a bit unfair that I'm doing all the work and she's just sitting there, rubbing her hands over and over each other like she's washing them all the time. After a bit she seems to realise what she's doing and stops.
"We need to talk to Earth, Robbie," she says. "Tell them what's happened."
"Can we go home then?" I don't mean it to sound quite so desperate, but I guess I really want to go home.
"...probably not." She smiles but she doesn't mean it. "I think we're going to have to go out to the other base as well," she says. "Vassily won't really talk, but Andrey did and I think they're worse off than we are. It sounds like they hurried out here to get here first and then realised they didn't have all the stuff they'd need, and that it hadn't been planned well. So they turned Vassily – they promised him he could go home too! – so they could get all our stuff."
"Will they try and kill us?"
"I don't think there's any of them left." Eliza looks worried. "Andrey might be lying, but I think they all came out here together to take our base over. It makes sense really, we're better equipped, so they could get in, settle down and then bring their own stuff over."
"They had more rovers," I say. "They can't have been that badly off."
Eliza laughs, and she sounds almost human again for a minute. "They've got eight rovers! It's ridiculous, someone seems to have though they'd be driving around everywhere like it was earth. They've got eight rovers but no spare parts for any of the electronic equipment and they haven't got enough blankets for everyone to have one!"
"Sounds chilly," I say. "So there's just four of us alive on Mars then?"
Eliza's face drops again. "For now," she says. "Let's see what Earth says about Vassily."

Marc said...

Greg - yeah, well, maybe next year? :P

But, honestly, with such a tidy ending you're making it difficult for me to *want* to finish things off myself! I really like that final couple of lines in particular.