Greta pressed against the tree trunk while trying not to snap a twig. Her erratic heart beat shattered the peaceful atmosphere of the Martian mountains. For her anyway. The forest critters of the Old Mars Terraforming Preserve, of Earth origin and alien, didn’t seem bothered by the interlopers. Reaching into her bulging pink bag, Greta bypassed the pair of laser shooters in favor of a shock bomb. She didn’t want to be known as the woman who carved laser lines all over Mars’ only natural treasure left from the Old Martian era. Humans didn’t have the knowledge to rebuild a forest on Mars and the Old Martians wouldn’t give up that secret.
There! Two spots of purple moved through the tree line ahead of Greta. She had to move. Taking a deep breath, Greta swiveled slowly around and picked her way through the dry underbrush. Anxiety clutched her stomach and her jaws tightened painfully. She wanted to keep her eyes on the two Old Martians but she knew it was better to keep them on the ground and move as silently as possible. She would know if they spotted her. They wouldn’t hesitate to shoot after the last two days of eluding them in the preserve.
Greta reached into her bag again to make sure the digipad was still safely ensconced in the padded inner pocket. Ten seconds on the digipad would show her the way out of the thickly forested mountain and to her hovercar at the edge of the forest. But only one second on the digipad would ping her location on the network. She had to bring the evidence back.
“You’ll never make it to New Moscow without being seen,” a voice whispered from within her bag.
“Didn’t I turn you off?” Greta felt for the talking skull in her bag.
“I have a backup power cell,” the skull replied. “The Martians know AI technology.”
“Humans are the Martians now. And why am I arguing with a relic?” Greta pushed the skull deeper into her bag and checked the digipad again.
Then she concentrated on the task at hand with renewed determination. She knew what awaited her if she was caught. She didn’t know what awaited everyone else on Mars if she didn’t bring back the evidence, but it wasn’t good.
Nothing about the Old Martians was on the up and up, but she was the only human who knew that. She wondered if Doctor Casey had found any more evidence of Old Martian occupation on Earth. The skull they found had been on Earth for at least 3,000 years. How long had Old Martians been in contact with humans? And why would they claim they had discovered that solar system only five hundred years ago?
Engulfed in these thoughts, Greta was surprised when she burst out of the forest at the base of a small mountain. She turned away from the mountain and looked north over the flat, red plain.
“Finally back to the real Mars,” she said with relief.
Greta jogged north along the tree line trying to keep her eyes and ears alert for the two Old Martians and the hovercar. She spotted both at the same time. The purple-clad aliens still searched for her in the trees but they hadn’t appeared to notice the car yet. With a flick of her thumb Greta activated the trigger on the shock bomb and sprinted toward the car.
One of the aliens screeched in their native language. Greta pumped her legs harder, resisting the urge to cover her ears from the nails-on-chalkboard sound. Her pursuers ran the diagonal toward her car, their longer legs quickly closing the distance. Greta threw the shock bomb into the forest right before slamming her thumb against the lock pad and throwing herself into the driver’s seat. She tossed her bag on the floor and shot the car into the sky.
“Woohoo!” Adrenaline rushed through her as the red haze rushed past her windows.
“I’m impressed.” The skull had rolled out of Greta’s bag and lodged under the passenger seat. It looked at Greta sideways with almost imperceptible red dots flashing through the eye holes.
Greta checked the rear video feed as she zoomed toward New Moscow. “You haven’t seen a human in 3,000 years. You don’t know what we’re capable of.”
“As soon as your archaeologist friend activated me on Earth, I linked with the network. I’m well-aware of modern human capabilities and limitations. Your tenacity lies far outside the norm.” The skull grinned, its face morphing into a jack-o-lantern gone awry.
Greta’s heart rate slowed as she entered the New Moscow skyway without sign of the Old Martians. She selected ‘Cultural Protection Department’ from the presets and let the onboard computer take over driving. Twisting in her seat, she reached over to dislodge the skull.
Raising it to her face, she said, “I’m beginning to like you.” Then she dumped it back into her bag, felt again for the digipad, and, finally, closed her eyes.