I’m happy as I am. Staying in this hotel bar for the whole of my two week vacation is not so bad. Making it here was my objective; boyhood dream finally realised. Took a lifetime to save up the money and now I’m too old and decrepit to walk to the bathroom without suffering pains in my legs and toes. Climbing the highest mountain in the solar system was never on the cards anyway.
The expedition set off this morning. They asked and were polite to but I graciously refused. A young American with bleached blond hair and a pretty girlfriend said, “You not coming then grandpa?” and I laughed at their earnest expressions.
Alone at a table sipping on red-bean milk (famously the local drink here in
) I feel entirely satisfied. The walls of the bar are of glass – there’s a magnificent view of Wyndham Village Olympus and the famous red dessert surrounds me: is there any real need to go outside?
By evening I can sense from the murmurings of bar staff that something has gone wrong. Then, at 9 o’clock a short announcement is made:
“The party of twelve that left for
this morning has met with unforeseen difficulties.” Mount Olympus
They say friends and family members will be notified of the exact details – but they never tell you the whole truth, do they?
Even later a tall local woman (I can tell from the fashionable brown cloak and hair that twirls round to a point at the top of her head) sits down opposite me to start a conversation about a rumour she’s heard of aliens. She looks worried. It’s folklore here after all. She’s pale, wide eyed and interested in me because I come from Earth. My age probably puts her at ease: the conversation at least is not inhibited by our difference in gender.
I’m familiar enough with the stories she’s telling me but nod politely so as not to insult her. They say that dismissing the idea of native Martian life is a major faut pas so I listen, offering no contradictions.
There’s the face of course (another tourist attraction; better viewed from space) and other rock formations that people like to think are constructions of a past alien civilisation. The idea of these beings remaining in existence has inspired many stories. But it’s the legends of a dark mass that can swallow you up in the night that brings fear to most locals. A tale they tell to children about a black cloud that will rush down upon you (if you tell a lie or are naughty) is embedded in their culture – it’s obvious to me that such story telling is the true source of this belief. Although people have disappeared over the years… mostly explained by the number of illegal emigrations back to Earth; but we’ll never know for sure of course.
She’s pretty. I wonder if she’s a prostitute, entertaining me with her conversation, buttering me up for the kill. Then later when I realise she was offering genuine friendship it’s all too late.
A few hours afterwards she drops to the floor clutching her throat. Surrounded, then swallowed by a crowd of bar staff, fellow drinkers; two robots arrive on the scene to remove the body. A further announcement informs that a woman has died in Bar Lotus of the Dominion complex. A tall grey haired official comes on the scene, tells us no one is to leave until we have all been interviewed.
I finish my latest glass of red bean juice and glance once more to the profile of
Olympus against what is now a deep and murky, dark pink sky.