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Continue To The Next Chapter - Chapter 3

Return To The Previous Chapter - Chapter 1


By ... Steve Lucky


"Are you sure it was sabotage?" questioned Peter.

"The damage is to precise for it to have occurred naturally," answered Hank. "It had to have been a deliberate act. Someone wanted to prevent us from leaving without damaging the rest of the ship."

"But why would anyone want to strand us on Mars?" wondered Peter. "Wouldn't the saboteur be trapped too."

"You're assuming the saboteur is one of us," Hank continued. "That was my first thought too, but all of us were together almost the entire day. None of us had time to do this."

"I suspect that whoever did this is also the one who is jamming our radio."

"Who else could it be?" Linda considered. "We're the only ones here."

"Maybe not," replied Hank. "About nine years ago the Aries 1 disappeared under remarkably similar circumstances. As soon as they landed on Mars, all contact with them was lost. It was assumed they died in some sort of accident. Maybe that wasn't the case."

"Do you think an alien intelligence is behind this?" inquired Peter.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there is," stated Hank. "That would explain what happened to the Aries 1, and to us."

"If that is the case, how do we stop them?" wondered Lisa.

"Good question," agreed Hank. "Our first concern is survival. We'll take turns guarding the ship."

"I'll take the first watch," volunteered Peter.

Hank, Linda, and Lisa went inside the ship while Peter kept an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. He had a funny feeling that he was being watched though he didn't know who or where.

The mysterious stranger was content to watch them from a distance. He would wait until morning, then launch an attack.

"They'll never know what hit them," he thought.

TIME : June 10, 2010 7:00 A.M.
PLACE : The landing site

Lisa had the final watch of the night. She wasn't used to her movements being restricted by her spacesuit and wanted desperately to remove it. However, common sense told her not to try it. If she removed her spacesuit, she would suffocate instantly.

The night had been unusually quiet, but Lisa realized this was because there were no animals on Mars to make friendly chirping sounds. She was truly alone.

All of the sudden, she saw something sparkling in the distance. She knew that whatever it was it had to be something valuable so she took off in the direction of the sparkling object leaving a message to let the others know where she had gone. She didn't want them to be worried.

As she got closer, the sparkling became brighter and more distinct. She was even more curious than before and quickened her pace. The sparkling seemed to come from the other side of a nearby mountain range.

She looked at the mountain range and decided it would be easier for her to climb over it than go around it. Slowly and carefully she made her way up the mountain until at last she reached the top.

"Wow!" she gasped when she saw what had attracted her attention.

On the other side of the mountain was a golden castle covered with all kinds of jewels worth at least one hundred mil lion dollars. Lisa couldn't believe her eyes. She slid down the other side of the mountain as fast as she could go to examine the castle more closely. She never even considered that it might be dangerous to go there.

The stranger who had been watching them the day before watched with great interest as Lisa made her way to the gold castle. They would be perfect for his experiments.

TIME : 7:15 A.M.
PLACE : Inside the spaceship

Peter had just opened his eyes, but he could already sense the urgency in Hank's voice.

"Wake up!" shouted Hank. "Lisa has wondered off!"

"She's gone in search of some object she said was sparkling in the distance," Linda explained. "She thinks it might be valuable."

Peter quickly dressed and put on his spacesuit so he could venture out after her. Fortunately, the object Lisa saw was still sparkling in the distance. They would probably be able to catch up with her if they took the Martian revolver.

"How long do you think it will take to find her?" wondered Linda.

"She told us where she was headed. It shouldn't take long," Hank assured her.

It took them about five minutes to reach the mountain range and, when they got there, to their surprise, Lisa was there waiting for them.

"It's a gold castle!" she babbled excitedly. "It has diamonds and rubies and emeralds and saphires and..."

"Green dog!" Linda screamed at the top of her lungs.

At first the others didn't know what Linda was talking about. Then they saw it too, a giant green dog with an angry expression on its face. It was approaching very rapidly.

Lisa jumped into the Martian revolver and they took off as fast as they could go. Soon, the green dog was left far behind.

"Gold castles, green dogs, what's going on around here?" demanded Peter to some unseen presence.

No one had an answer for him, but it was clear there was some kind of alien intelligence behind it all. Someone who wasn't very friendly.

A huge ditch appeared suddenly directly in front of them. The Martian revolver stopped inches away from the edge. The green dog was still following them getting closer by the second.

Since the ditch hadn't been there before, Peter suspected it was an illusion. In fact, he suspected the green dog and gold castle were also illusions, but there was only one way to find out if he was right. Peter lowered his foot gently into the ditch until it hit something solid. Then, he slowly walked across the ditch until he reached the other side.

"It's only an illusion!" he shouted. "It's safe to cross!"

The ditch instantly vanished and was replaced by a wall of fire. Like the ditch, the wall of fire was only an illusion, but it separated Peter from the others. The fire wasn't hot so Peter decided to walk through it. This time however, the wall of fire didn't end.

Wherever he went, the flames seemed to follow. He was completely surrounded by fire. He tried going back the way he came, but that didn't do any good either. He was trapped.

"Lisa! Linda! Hank!" called Peter, but there was no response.

A few seconds later, the wall of fire disappeared as mysteriously as it had come. Peter looked in the direction of the ship and saw the Martian revolver. At least that was what he thought it was because nothing on Mars was silver in color, unless it was another illusion.

He tried to contact the others, but they were too far away. Whatever was preventing them from communicating with the Earth was preventing Peter from communicating with Hank, Linda, and Lisa. He would have to walk back to the ship.

The green dog had been following him all this time. It had just spotted Peter and was running towards him as fast as it could go. Peter guessed that the green dog was an illusion just like the ditch and the wall of fire. He ignored it and walked back to the ship at a leisurely pace.

To his horror, he discovered he was wrong. The green dog was quite real. It picked Peter up gently with its mouth and carried him back to its home.

"Help!" cried Peter, but there was no one there to hear him.

TIME : 7:3O A.M.
PLACE : Outside the ship

While Peter was having problems with the green dog, Hank, Linda, and Lisa had managed to make it back to the ship. When the wall of fire first appeared they got back into the Martin revolver and passed through it as quickly as possible. They stopped to look for Peter, but there was no sign of him. The only thing they could do was return to the ship.

"I hope Peter is O.K.," said Lisa.

"I'll go look for him. You two wait in the ship," ordered Hank. all of us getting lost."

"I want to come with you," protested Linda. "There's no point in all of us getting lost."

"I'm sorry," Hank said firmly. "but it will be best if just one of us goes. If I'm not back in two hours, you can come after me. Good-bye."

Linda and Lisa started to protest, but it was too late. Hank had already left taking the Martian revolver with him.

TIME : 8:45 A.M.
PLACE : The green dog's lair

Peter had been taken to a cave on the other side of the mountain range. He was free to move about as long as he didn't try to escape. Peter wondered why the green dog had brought him there, or for that matter, what the green dog was doing on Mars in the first place.

Peter stayed more or less where he was making periodic calls for help. If the green dog had wanted to kill him, it would have already done so. He was safe, for the moment.

"Peter! Are you there? Do you read me?" Hank asked urgently.

"Hank!" exclaimed Peter. "Yes, I read you. The green dog has taken me to its lair on the other side of the mountain range. It isn't hurting me, but it won't let me leave."

"Stay calm," commanded Hank. "I'm on my way."

Peter looked up at the green dog. It was guarding the exit expecting Peter to make another attempt to escape. Peter had the feeling that the next time it got hungry, he would become its next meal. Becoming a meal for a giant green dog wasn't exactly something he was looking forward to.

"Peter, I've spotted the green dog," Hank informed him.

"Great," responded Peter. "You distract it while I try to escape."

The green dog suddenly left to investigate something.

"It sees you," warned Peter. "Climb up the mountain as quickly as possible."

Peter ran out of the cave and scrambled up the mountain. The green dog saw him and started chasing him. Peter was climbing as fast as he could, but it didn't seem fast enough. The green dog was almost upon him.

With renewed determination, Peter continued to pull himself up the mountain. The green dog tried to climb up after him, but its paws weren't made for climbing. It growled angrily and then returned to its lair.

"Hank, where are you?" inquired Peter.

"About two hundred meters to you right," Hank replied. "Do you see the Martian revolver?"

"Yes," answered Peter.

"We'll reunite there," ordered Hank. "Over and out."

TIME : 9:00 A.M.
PLACE : The ship

Linda and Lisa waited for Peter and Hank to return. After Hank left, they realized that in the confusion of the day's events, none of them had had a chance to eat breakfast. Linda and Lisa took advantage of the situation and has two breakfasts each.

"Peter and Hank will never know the difference," Lisa told her.

"I hope they're not hungry," said Linda.

"Do you know where they are?" wondered Lisa.

"No," Linda replied.

"Do you think we should look for them?" Lisa asked again.

"Let's wait here," Linda advised her. "It's safer."

At that moment, Hank and Peter walked in.

"We're back!" he bellowed. "Where's breakfast?"

"We ate it," explained Linda.

"What?" cried Peter obviously upset.

"You can have tomorrow's breakfast," suggested Lisa. "We still have plenty of food."

"Since you were so eager to eat our breakfast, maybe you could donate tomorrow's break fast to us," scolded Hank.

"It's share and shared alike," retaliated Linda.

"Only I get all the lunches," added Lisa.

"We have much more to worry about that who gets which meal," Peter reminded them. "The giant green dog we saw was real and it's only a matter of time before it finds our ship, and that isn't bad enough, there's at least one other creature out there with powers beyond our capabilities. He can make us see anything he wants us to see."

"What can we do about it?" inquired Lisa. "As you said he has powers beyond our capabilities. Is there really anything we can do?"

"How about going back to where you found the gold castle?" suggested Peter. "Maybe that's the home of our mysterious illusionist."

"We won't find anything out if we keep fleeing to the ship at the slightest sign of danger," agreed Linda.

"As long as we stay together we should be safe, or at least as safe as we would be if we stayed in the ship."

"We'll leave right after breakfast," said Peter.

He had been out all morning and didn't even want to think about going out again until he had satisfied his hunger.

TIME : 10:30 A.M.
PLACE : The gold castle

Lisa led the way to the door of the gold castle where at last they decided to stop and rest. The castle was just as Lisa had described in her excitement. The jewels sparkled more brightly than ever contrasting its dark, gloomy surroundings.

"It has to be a trap," warned Peter.

"We'll never know if we don't go inside," reasoned Hank.

"I'll go first!" exclaimed Lisa eager for a look inside.

The double doors leading into the castle were at least three meters high and five meters across. It took the efforts of all four of them to open the doors enough for them to slip through one at a time. As soon as all four of them were inside, the doors closed again with loud slam.

"I told you it was a trap," declared Peter.

"We still need to explore the castle," argued Hank. "There are three main passages and four of us. Lisa, you take the passage to the right. I'll take the passage to the right which leaves Peter and Linda with the one straight ahead. Is that all right with everybody?"

"Sounds fine to me," agreed Lisa.

"If any of you see anything important, yell and we'll come running," Hank began. "Since there were no objections, I'd recommend splitting up and exploring this castle to the best of our ability."

Hank, Linda, and Lisa started down their respective passages leaving Peter alone by the double doors. Peter looked up at the double doors one more time as if they could tell him who built the castle before running to catch up with Linda.

"At least our friend the illusionist will have trouble deciding who to follow," murmured Peter.

He had disliked the gold castle from the moment he first saw it. The castle seemed to good to be true like a worm presented to a fish that just happened to be dangling on a hook. The castle was bait and they were the main course.

The illusionist could have killed them the instant they set foot on Mars, but for some reason he was keeping them alive. Peter still wasn't sure exactly why he didn't kill them, but he was sure that they were not his main target. He was after something much bigger, maybe the Earth itself.

Further down the passage, on either side was a series of doors extending as far as the eye could see.

"I don't know how, but we've got to stop him," insisted Peter. "There are more people at stake than just the four of us."

"Do you think he's experimenting with us to find out how best to attack Earth?" Linda speculated.

"Those are my thought exactly," replied Peter. "The fate of the entire planet might depend on us."

"I don't like our chances," groaned Linda.

They stopped at the first set of doors. There was one door on the left and one door on the right. Both doors looked exactly alike, gold in color with a row of jewels at about eye level. The doors appeared to open inward into total darkness.

"I don't like our chances either," admitted Peter. "but I like the idea of remaining idle even less."

Linda took the door on the left leaving Peter with the one on the right. Cautiously, Peter opened the door. The room remained dark even though the main passage was brightly lit. Peter suspected it was yet another illusion and stepped inside.

Peter expected in to be a trap, but nothing happened. Peter stayed close to the wall and walked slowly with his hands out in front of him. When he reached the corner, he continued along the next wall doing the same thing. Eventually, he returned to the door.

He knew the size of the room, the next thing to do was explore it. Keeping his hands in front of him, Peter walked around the room hoping to stumble into something. It was no use. The room was completely empty.

Shortly after Peter exited his room, Linda exited hers.

"Did you find anything?" he asked.

"No," answered Linda. "The room was empty."

"Mine was too," said Peter. "Let's go to the next room and see if it's also empty."

They would have to explore all the rooms sooner or later, so Peter figured they might as well get it over with. Each room they came to was too dark to see inside and each time they would feel around and discover the room to be empty.

When they finally reached the end of the hall, they had explored twelve rooms each with nothing to show for it.

"We'd better try to find the others," advised Peter. "Maybe they're having better luck than we are. You go after Hank, I'll go after Lisa.

The two of them walked quickly back to the door and split up hoping to find Hank and Linda.

The stranger watched them intently. When facing adversity, Earthlings preferred to stay together if at all possible. They didn't like facing the unknown alone. It was a definite weakness. One he planned to use to his advantage.