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SURVIVAL ON MARS

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER 3 : NEW DISCOVERIES

TIME : 11:00 A.M.
PLACE : The wardrobe room

The passage on the right was far more interesting than the one Peter and Linda had chosen. At the far end of the passage was a door left slightly ajar. Lisa rushed over to open it figuring it was the most frequently used door in the castle.

Inside she found what appeared to be some kind of clothing store. There were clothes for all ages, all sizes, all genders, all occasions, and a wide variety of styles. The strangest thing of all was that all the clothes were brand new. None of them looked like they had been worn.

Lisa searched through the racks of clothes until she found something that suited her, an expensive, long, white dress encrusted with jewels. She removed her bulky spacesuit and tried on the dress. It fit perfectly.

Pleased with her new discovery, she walked briskly to the nearest mirror to see how she looked. She was pleased with the way she looked, but felt that she needed something to go with the dress and promptly started looking for the proper accessories.

TIME : 11:05 P.M.
PLACE : The kitchen

Hank also found something of interest. His passage also ending with a single door slightly ajar, only instead of clothes, Hank found food inside.

Hank found himself in a kitchen similar to the ones found in most houses only it was much larger. Hank immediately checked the pantry. It was filled entirely with canned goods. He picked up one of the cans and examined it.

"Green dog meat," Hank read out loud. "YUCK!"

Hank searched for something more to his liking. When he found something he was familiar with, he could take it back to the ship and examine it to see if it really was what it said it was. Unfortunately, none of the foods were familiar to him. They were either things like green dog meat which he would eat only if he was starving to death, or things written in a foreign language which he couldn't understand. Hank guessed they contained the same kind of sickening food as were in the cans he could read. It just looked better when he couldn't understand it.

He had just left the room taking one of the cans with him when he heard a loud scream. Hank ran back as fast as he could go hoping he could get there in time.

TIME : 11:07 P.M.
PLACE : Just inside the doors to the gold castle

All four of them had heard the scream and each of them thought it was someone else. Peter and Linda were the first to run into each other next to the large double doors leading outside.

"What's wrong?" gasped Linda. "I thought I heard you yell."

"I thought it was Hank," explained Peter.

They were just about to go off and look for Hank when Hank came running up to them.

"What happened to Lisa?" stammered Hank.

"I don't know," answered Peter.

Just then Lisa came running up still in the dress she had found in the wardrobe room.

"I heard Linda scream," she said. "Is everything all right?"

"Where did you get the dress?" demanded Hank.

"I found it," Lisa replied.

"You'd better get back into your spacesuit before you suffocate," warned Hank.

"There's air here," defended Linda removing her helmet.

"I can see that," started Hank. "but we have to leave to get back to our ship. Even if we stay in this castle, there's no telling how long the air will last. All of us were tricked into coming here because we thought we heard a cry for help. I still don't think we've seen the limits of his powers."

"I'd recommend returning to the ship with what we've found and see if we can make any sense out of it."

Linda put her helmet back on, but Lisa wasn't prepared to get back into her spacesuit just yet. Defiantly, she pushed open one of the castle doors. It only opened a crack, but it was enough to prove that there was air outside the castle.

"See," boasted Lisa. "It's safe."

"Let's at least walk around the castle before we go," suggested Peter.

Hank could see that he was outvoted.

"All right," Hank conceded. "but it's against my better judgement."

TIME : 11:15 A.M.
PLACE : Outside the castle

Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa discovered a series of tunnels on the opposite side of the castle. The tunnels sloped downward at an angle of about 45 degrees making it possible for them to descend.

"Linda and I will take this tunnel," commanded Lisa. "Hank will take the one next to it Peter will stand guard in case something happens."

Linda and Lisa climbed down the tunnels wondering what would be waiting for them down below. They made slow but steady progress until at last they reached some type of underground chamber.

"Where are we?" inquired Lisa.

"I don't know," Linda replied. "but it reminds me of a large cave."

"It is a large cave," Lisa reminded her. "It just happens to be on another planet. Look! There's Hank."

"The tunnel all seem to come together at this underground chamber," observed Hank. "I wonder what it's used for?"

Something in the distance suddenly caught Hank's attention.

"Do you know what that is?" wondered Hank pointing to the object he saw.

Lisa, who was the closest, walked over to the object. She was curious why she didn't see the object until Hank had pointed it out, but compared to everything else that had happened that day a strange object appearing out of nowhere was rather mild.

"It looks like some kind of communications device," remarked Lisa.

Hank and Linda immediately came over to examine it for themselves. It was quite different from the communication devices Hank was use to, but he thought he could transmit a message on it.

"To anyone who can hear us," Hank began desperately. "This is Hank Taylor of the Aries 7. The crew and I are stranded on the planet Mars where we have encountered some very unusual objects. We believe them to be the products of an alien intelligence. The alien has the power to make us see whatever it wants us to see. The creature has been experimenting with us and probably has plans to experiment with the Earth as well. Beware! We'll give you further details as soon as we discover them."

"How long will it take before we know if anyone heard us?" asked Linda.

"About ten minutes," Hank replied. "If they reply right away. I'm sure if they can hear us they'll respond as soon as possible. Half a million people are looking for us."

"If the alien doesn't want us to contact Earth, why would he put a communications device down here?" reasoned Lisa.

"I was wondering the same thing myself," agreed Hank.

"Cotton candy!" exclaimed Lisa.

Under normal circumstances, Hank and Linda wouldn't have believed her, but after what they had seen after landing on Mars, they were prepared to believe anything.

Lisa showed them the pink, sticky substance that looked and felt like cotton candy. Hank decided to risk tasting the substance to see if it was cotton candy.

"Wish me luck," Hank requested nervously, well aware that he was risking his life.

Linda and Lisa watched Hank closely for any ill effects. Fortunately, there were none.

"Tastes good," he declared in amazement.

"I'll yell for Peter," Lisa blurted out.

"No need to scare him," advised Hank. "I'll climb up and tell him what we found."

Hank started back up the tunnel while Linda and Lisa snacked on the cotton candy. As far as they were concerned, everything was fine.

"He's gone!" Hank yelled.

"Are you sure?" Linda shouted back.

"Yes," Hank assured them returning to the underground chamber. "I couldn't see him anywhere."

"Do you have any idea why he would leave or where he would go?" wondered Linda.

"I have no idea," admitted Hank.

"Don't ask me," snapped Lisa returning to her cotton candy.

"I wonder where he is," sighed Linda.

TIME : 11:16 A.M.
PLACE : Above the underground chamber

Peter watched Hank, Linda, and Lisa descend the tunnels and heard them say something about a large cave, but after that he couldn't understand what they were saying. He had far more important things to worry about.

Peter could hear the green dog approaching. It was on the other side of the mountain range. From his previous experience with the green dog, Peter knew that it couldn't climb over the mountain range. However, it could go around it. Unless he did something, the green dog would be upon them in only a few minutes. Peter climbed over the mountain range in search of the green dog wondering if he truly knew what he was doing. His purpose was clear, to keep the green dog away from the others, but he wasn't quite sure how to accomplish his goal. Then, he remembered the Martian revolver. He knew what to do. All he had to do was get there.

He could see the green dog. Its eyesight wasn't as good as Peter's, but it had a strong sense of smell. Simply by sniffing the air, it could tell where Hank, Linda, and Lisa were. Suddenly it got a whiff of Peter. It sensed that he was close by and followed his scent hoping to catch him again.

He had been careless that first time when he let the green dog catch him, but this time he was prepared. He scrambled to the Martian revolver and headed away from the ship. The last thing he wanted was to have the green dog follow him back to the ship and destroy it. The ship was their only chance of returning to Earth.

Peter moved the Martian revolver fast enough to avoid the green dog, but slow enough to allow it to follow him. The green dog was getting fustrated. Every time it caught up with Peter, Peter would go just a little bit faster. Eventually, the green dog gave up the chase and returned home.

Once he was sure the green dog was gone, Peter circled around and returned to his spot. The danger was over, for the time being.

TIME : 11:30 A.M.
PLACE : The underground chamber

Hank, Linda, and Lisa waited to see if anyone would respond to their distress call. They were concerned about Peter, but contacting Earth was their first priority. At first, they thought someone had received their message, but, as time passed on, they realized their message had been blocked. The only way to contact Earth was to go back to Earth.

"I don't think anyone heard us," sighed Linda. "Let's wait a few minutes more," insisted Lisa.

They waited a few minutes more before Peter rejoined them.

"Peter!" exclaimed Lisa. "Where have you been?"

"The green dog was coming, so I had to distract him," Peter explained. "I led him as far away from us and the ship as possible."

Peter stared in disbelief at the cotton candy and the communications device.

"Is that cotton candy?" inquired Peter for lack of something more intelligent to say.

"Taste it yourself," encouraged Hank.

Peter removed his helmet and was amazed at how pleasant the air was. He was even more amazed at how sweet and delicious the cotton candy was. Peter speculated that the alien was trying to bribe them after failing to scare them off.

"Our friend the illusionist is up to something," declared Peter.

"We tried to contact Earth again, but it seems to have been in vein," Lisa informed him. "Our foe seems to know everything we're going to do moments before we do it."

"I recommend that we put our helmets back on," advised Peter. "He may be trying to lull us into a sense of false security."

Peter, Hank, and Linda sealed up their spacesuits. As long as they had a few hours of air left, there was no need to take any unnecessary risks. Lisa had left her spacesuit back in the gold castle and had no wish of putting it back on. The air was fresh and sweet and reminded her of the way things smelled on Earth just after a rainstorm. She had no wish of returning to the artificial environment of her spacesuit.

"We'll stay here five more minutes, then we'll return to the ship," commanded Hank.

They sent out another message and waited five minutes to see if the second message would have any better results than the first one. During the five minutes, it was very quiet. They dared not talk above a whisper fearing a loud noise drowning out a reply. At the end of the five minutes, they were more discouraged than ever.

"Time to return to the ship," sighed Hank. "We can try again tomorrow."

The four of them sadly climbed up one of the tunnels with Peter leading the way. They were halfway to the surface when a loud rumbling began.

"Marsquake!" shouted Peter.

"What?" Lisa yelled back.

"An earthquake on Mars," Peter replied.

The four of them tried to stay where they were, but the tunnels became very hard to hold on to. In spite of Mars's weaker gravity , cave ins could still occur. Lisa was the first to fall. She went tumbling down into the underground chamber. Hank and Linda lost their grip simultaneously and came crashing down on top of her. Peter held on for dear life. He was considerably higher than the others. Even in Mars's weaker gravity, falling from such a height would be quite painful.

Above him he could hear a loud growling sound.

"It's the green dog, he's found us!" warned Peter.

A few seconds later, Peter wished he hadn't said anything. Provoked by Peter's voice, the green dog caused a second cave in, much larger than the first.

Peter tried to climb back down to the safety of the underground chamber, but on his way down he lost his footing and fell to the ground. Peter lay there, unmoving as the others gathered around him.

"Are you feeling any pain?" asked Hank.

"I'm hurting all over," groaned Peter. "especially in the small of my back."

"I'll help you up," Hank replied.

Slowly, Peter got to his feet. The cave ins were over, for the time being. The green dog had given up and returned to its lair.

"We're trapped!" cried Lisa.

The last cave in had blocked their path to all the tunnels except two. One was back of the chamber and went deeper into the cave. The other one was directly above led to the surface, but it would take a considerable amount of effort to get there.

To make things worse, both the cotton candy and the communications device were on the other side of the cave in. If they couldn't get out, they would starve to death.

"Do any of you feel like climbing?" inquired Hank.

"Do we have a choice?" demanded Peter.

"You could give me a boost," Hank told him.

"I'd rather climb," declared Peter.

"I'll check the other tunnel and see if there's an easier way," said Linda.

While Hank was busy giving Peter a boost, Peter was busy climbing up the tunnel, and Linda was busy looking for another way out, a fine, blue mist invaded the underground chamber from the opposite side of the cave.

"The gas," gasped Lisa as loudly as she could. "I feel so dizzy!"

"Lisa!" cried Hank coming to her aid.

Lisa suddenly collapsed seconds before Peter, Hank, and Linda arrived. They dragged her limp body away from the mist, but it didn't do much good. Her face had turned dark purple and the rest of her was a pale yellow.

Hank checked to see if she was still breathing.

"Her heart has stopped," he said gravely.

Hank administered C.P.R. praying that he would be successful. Hank was growing tired, but he had to keep going. Peter and Linda assisted him. All of them were getting tired and discouraged. Finally, they were forced to give up.

"These experiments are no longer harmless," started Peter. "We can no longer depend on him to keep us alive. Unless we get back to Earth, we'll all suffer the same fate."

After a moment of silence for Lisa, Linda returned to the dark tunnel and Hank gave Peter a boost up the other tunnel. Peter was able to reach the surface without too much difficulty. Unfortunately, the green dog was there waiting for him. With one of its paws he shoved Peter back down the tunnel it had taken so long for him to climb up. He hit the ground, hard.

"Help! Help!" yelled a voice in the distance.

"Linda's in trouble. We have to help her," commanded Hank.

"I can't get up," Peter abruptly informed him.

Hank didn't know where to go, who to help, or what to do.

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