8FOLD/ACRA/REPOST: Journey Into # 12, "Orphans of Mars!" (revised)
joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jun 23 06:29:24 PDT 2013
Through brutal tactics and aggressive terraforming, the Daughters of
Mars had driven their parent species to the brink of extinction; the
iron oxide bomb did the rest. Orphans by their own hands, masters of
a dead planet, and sterile from birth, they now turn their
intellects-- vast, cool, and unsympathetic-- towards other planets, in
search of some strange new destiny...
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP PRESENTS
A HIGH CONCEPT ADVENTURE
JOURNEY INTO... # 12: ORPHANS OF MARS!
Inside. Ten hours after the crash.
It's dark inside; the lights blinked out about thirty million
kilometers in. Everyone had learned to cope with it over the
remaining six months, learning to recognize one another by the glow of
their eyes, but Ress had to cope more than the rest. She had always
been aware of her body, and always relied on it to get what she needed
without having to ask for it; resting her cheek against her palm and
looking off into the distance no longer guilted her sister into
parting with some of her meal, and the careful sprawling of her bare
legs no longer convinced Chell to cover her assignments. She had to
learn to plead, to suggest, to manipulate with only her eyes, to focus
all of her talents into those two yellow spheres, to find shades of
meaning in the conscious modulation of their light. Dimming and
brightening the eyes were the first trick the soldiers learned, but
Ress was no soldier, and it often resulted in painful headaches.
She sighs and lets her head drop, soft and heavy, onto her sister's
shoulder. "Oh, Kellin," she says, drawing the name out into a girlish
whine, "I'm so tired of being inside."
"You and me both, kiddo," says Kellin. "But there's nothing we can
do. We have to wait for Garaka and her group."
"They've been gone for nine hours," says Ress. "How much longer do
we have to wait?"
A throaty voice: "Until they come back."
Ress and Kellin peer through the darkness and see nothing; slowly,
ever-so-slowly, Jarissy's eyes light up. Ress hates it when she does
"We've been cooped up in here for twelve months," says Jarissy, "a
couple more hours won't do us much harm."
Ress switches to her logical voice: even, crisp, slightly
condescending. "But where do we draw the line? If a day passes, and
they don't come back, a week, are we still going to sit here in the
Kellin clears both throats. "I want to get out there as much as
you do, if not more-so. But we need to know that it's safe. Until
they come back, we're safe here, and we still have quite a bit of food
Ress withdraws her head from Kellin's shoulder. "So, is that where
we draw the line? When the food runs out, when we're starving?"
"Food will last at least a month," says Jarissy. "And Garaka will
be back before then. It's not like her to be gone even this long."
"Exactly my point," says Ress. Straining, she brightens her eyes
to appear intense and desperate. "What if, what if something has
"To Garaka?" laughs Jarissy. "I fought alongside Garaka, little
one, I was there with her in the last days of the war. After the bomb
dropped, we went three days without food, without water. We were weak
and weary, blinded by the red dust, while you and Kellin were safe and
sated in the White City."
"We all did our parts," insists Kellin.
"Oh, I'm not faulting you for it," says Jarissy. "But I'm saying
that I know Garaka, and we had gone three days without food. And then
we saw this massive shell-beast, each one of its sixteen legs thick
and sharp enough to rip us in two. And you would have ran or hid, and
maybe we should've, maybe we would've, but then Garaka turned to me
and said that she was hungry, and so we charged right in, and a half
hour later, we had cracked the sucker open, dined on its meat, and
drank its blood until we were in a stupor. That's what Garaka and I
did when we were starving and exhausted, the two of us alone. She's
out there with six, and they're all well-fed. She'll be back, and
soon, so you need not worry."
"Well, I'm not worried, Jarissy," says Ress. Now she whispers
through a perpetual smile; the smile is unseen, but still heard.
"After all, it wasn't Garaka alone who cracked open the shell-beast.
You're certainly her equal, if not her better."
"In battle, her equal," cachinnates Jarissy. "In drinking, her
"There's probably one more skill in which you exceed her," says
Ress. "If the wenches of Deimos are reliable."
Kellin clicks her teeth. "Ress, you're not yet of age, you
"Don't do that," says Ress sharply. "You remind me of our mothers
when you do that. Before I strangled them, I mean." She turns her
eyes back to Jarissy, makes her voice flat: "I'm not so helpless, you
know. And the two of us could take care of Kellin, and whoever else
wants to come along."
"Come along?" says Jarissy.
"If we leave, I mean," says Ress. "If we go outside. It's been
twelve months since you've killed something. Twelve months! Half a
year, Jarissy. Must be agony for a warrior of Mars. Twelve months
since you've been drunk on the blood of your enemies. Of course,
we've waited that half a year, so I suppose you're right, a few more
hours in the dark and sober won't do us irreparable harm."
Jarissy's eyes grow dim for a moment, disappear, and then blitz
back full and bright. "I'm going to grab my lucky cudgel and some
empty blood bottles that are in desperate need of refilling. You
gather up whoever wants to go outside, and we'll meet back here in
Kellin's eyes flare up. "Now, I want to get out there just as much
as you do. Who knows what's out there for me to discover! New
animals, new plants, new-- new things that aren't animals or plants,
who knows what this world has in store for us? So, it pains me to say
it, but I really think we should all wait here for Garaka."
"Well," says Jarissy, "that's why you're going to wait here in case
Garaka gets back before we do."
"Now, hold on just a second...!" says Kellin. She runs after
Jarissy, leaving Ress alone.
Or so Ress thinks. "What was the point of that, I wonder?"
"Petara," says Ress. "I can't see your eyes. No way you're able
to dim them completely like Jarissy. You're no warrior. You're a
"I just keep my eyes closed. The better to listen to your little
drama. Which, again, seems to be strangely without purpose for you,
Ress. As for my cowardice, if I was a coward, then I would've said a
prayer when the White City demanded it of me. Instead, I am an
"Oh, I remember. You're an apostate, and yet-- you didn't burn on
Mars. Curious, that."
"You're avoiding the question. What did you gain in that
"I get to go outside," says Ress. "I'd call that a gain, wouldn't
"If that was what it was, then you would've done it sooner, you
would've finagled your way onto the scouting group as soon as we
"We're not on Mars anymore," says Ress. "The White City is a speck
on a dead ball of rust half-a-year away. Things are fluid now.
Vacuums can be created, and then filled. Point of any power struggle,
pure and simple, is power."
"You should probably lower your voice, little one," says Petara.
"Jarissy's room isn't that far away. She might hear you."
"I hope she does," says Ress. "Surprisingly, it's much easier to
bend people when they know you're trying to bend 'em."
"For some, maybe," says Petara. "Some resent it."
"You can bend or you can break, makes no difference to me, Petara."
Jarissy opens the door. If it had been Kellin, the door would be
opened first a crack, then another, gradually ascertaining that it was
safe to venture out. But because it is Jarissy, the door is swung
open with one mighty shove and a boisterous, defiant laugh.
"Come on," she says, rubbing the business end of her lucky cudgel
against her free palm.
Ress is right behind her. "Oh, wow. They weren't kidding about
"Would you rather stay behind, little one?"
Kellin puts her arms behind her sister, ready to carry her in. "It
might be best, Ress. We probably all need time to adjust to the heavy
"I'm fine," says Ress, shrugging Kellin away. She looks to the
twins, who are coming up behind Kellin. "I would feel a little
better, though, if I had one of your beam pistols."
Both are happy to comply. Ress accepts the pistol from Soola with
a sly smile; Chell is prone to jealousy and thus more pliable whenever
it looks like Soola is closer than she is to bedding Ress.
"Don't worry," Jarissy coos to her cudgel: "Ress won't need to
shoot that nasty old beam pistol. Who's the best cudgel in the
galaxy, yes you are."
"Hopefully we won't need either," says Kellin. "So far, no sign of
animal life bigger than insects. Only plants."
"Is that what they are?" says Soola. "They look so different than
what we had back home. And the colour-- I've never seen anything
quite like it."
"Reminds me of yellow, faintly," says Kellin, delicately plucking a
long green fern leaf with her tweezers before depositing it inside a
Jarissy grabs an entire fern plant and yanks it out of the ground.
"Jarissy, don't eat that--!" says Kellin.
Too late; Jarissy is already chewing it. She lets it smack against
the roof of her mouth before spitting it out. "Tastes about the same
as the plants back home," she says. "I hope there are some beasties
here. To live without blood is unnatural."
"Well, hopefully that will keep you from biting into plants before
I've tested them," says Kellin. "We don't know what's going to be
poisonous to our biology."
"Ssh," says Jarissy. She hunches forward, her cudgel at the ready.
"Do you see something?" says Ress.
"Ssh," says Jarissy. She squints.
Ress steps back from Jarissy, sequestering herself among the others
even as she readies her pistol.
"What is it, Jarissy?" says Kellin excitedly, pushing her way to
the front. "Some kind of animal?"
"Ssh," says Jarissy. She grips her cudgel with one hand and points
with the other. "There it is. Doesn't look friendly."
The dot on the horizon gets bigger now, emerging from the thicket
at incredible speed, its two massive, muscular legs taking one huge
stride after another. Taller than any slithering martian shell-beast,
covered in a thick hide of scales that's completely alien to Kellin,
black claws protruding from his tiny fore-arms, tiny little red dots
gleaming in his eye-sockets, white teeth glistening violently. Part-
hunter, part-scavenger, all-ferocious: the great tyrant lizard that
haunted our first paleontological dreams: the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The rex doubles his speed as he closes in on Jarissy. His head
bears down, his mouth opens, a terrible gaping maw that stinks of
Martian blood. Jarissy swings her mighty cudgel, landing a blow
against the rex's snout. The cudgel does not gash him open, does not
cause the blood to spray, does not even threaten to crack his scales
like it had cracked so many shell-beasts before him. Indeed,
Jarissy's attack has had no effect on the rex at all, save to enrage
him. With a heavy swing of its head, it flings Jarissy and her cudgel
into the dirt.
The rex doesn't bother with turning around to finish her off,
instead moving single-mindedly to its next potential meal. Chell
barely has time to aim her pistol before the rex scoops her up in his
mouth, shattering her fragile martian bones like twigs. He takes his
time chewing her up, paying no mind to her insignificant companions;
they're slow enough that he can pick them off one at a time.
Ress knows this. The only way she's going to get out of here is if
there's someone to cover her exit. Jarissy's just starting to get up,
which leaves Soola. "Here," says Ress, pressing the beam pistol into
It falls to the ground.
"Soola," whispers Ress, "take your pistol back."
Ress presses it into Soola's hand again; again, it drops. "Soola,
your pistol. You're a better shot."
Kellin grabs Ress by the arm. "We got to get you out of here."
The rex has finished Chell; his nostrils flare, his head rears
back, and he prepares to attack his next meal.
Fine, thinks Ress, running as fast as This planet's insanely heavy
gravity will allow: let Soola be next. When he's done with her, Ress
can probably get Kellin to offer herself up. Maybe Ress will have
just enough time to get back to the ship.
But the rex doesn't gobble up Soola. Instead, he heads
straight for Ress and Kellin. No way to outrun it.
Ress fires the beam pistol, carving up the creature's abdomen,
fully expecting its innards to spill forth. But that's exactly what
doesn't happen; faint pathetic wisps of smoke billow from the points
of impact and then dissipate. Undeterred, Ress turns the power up
full-blast and pulls the trigger again. The kickback sends her flying
back a handful of precious yards, but when she pushes herself off the
ground and looks up, she sees the same wisps of smoke.
She also sees Jarissy, nestled atop a tree, cudgel in hand.
Jarissy lets forth a wild battle cry and leaps from the tree, landing
on the rex's head and bringing her cudgel down full force. The beast
snarls and tries to throw Jarissy; Jarissy wraps her strong, muscular
legs around his neck and continues to batter it.
Under the pretext that she hasn't figured out that her beam pistol
is useless, Ress fires a few random shots to disguise the very
deliberate one that explodes Soola's skull. Useless bitch.
The rex shakes his head again, and Jarissy's cudgel slips out of
her fingers. The rex stomps down on it; when he lifts his legs again,
Jarissy can see that her cudgel has been smashed to bits. For the
briefest blink of a second, Jarissy becomes as catatonic as Soola was,
and that's all the time the rex needs to throw her off. Jarissy lands
with an oof several yards to the rex's left.
The rex isn't paying any mind to Ress and Kellin now, instead
turning around so it can finish off Jarissy. Ress sees the gleam of blood in its soft, squishy eye.
Ress takes aim with her pistol. She narrows the beam's range for precision, takes a deep breath, and pulls the trigger.
The beam rips through the air and plunges into the rex's eyeball.
The rex screams, his head rolling back, his legs staggering. The half-
blinded beast immediately turns and runs off, leaving Jarissy
Jarissy brushes herself off and regards her empty blood bottles.
"Broke my favorite cudgel, didn't even get to kill it."
"You're welcome, Jarissy," says Ress.
The three survivors quickly make their way back to the ship. As
they near the door, they see Petara in its frame.
Kellin shakes her head.
"Nerrine's inside," says Petara. "She arrived just a few minutes
ago." Petara casts her eyes to the ground; Ress notes the puddle of
blood at their feet, and the dripping trail leading to it from the
"Garaka?" says Jarissy.
Now it's Petara's turn to shake her head. "Nerrine. Just
"Petara said the twins went with you," says Nerrine. "Are they...?"
"Dead," says Jarissy.
"We tried to warn you," says Nerrine. "Blassa sent a message via
radio, but it wasn't acknowledged."
"Might be something in the atmosphere interfering with the signal,"
says Kellin. "More likely, our receptors were damaged in the crash."
"Then you go and play with your toys," snaps Jarissy. "Nerrine,
what of Garaka? Tell me your wife still lives."
"I saw her die," says Nerrine. "Saw them all die, six, seven hours
ago, against four beasts. Brutal deaths, worthy of a daughter of
Mars, their flesh rent from their bones, their eyes blinded with
blood, fighting with their last breath, and then for..."
"With their last breath, and then for two breaths after," says
Jarissy. "We all should die so well."
"I should have died with them," says Nerrine. "But I was not
worthy of their company. The beasts scraped my belly, and I fell into
the dust and bled like a coward." She grabs her sword and offers
Jarissy its hilt. "Will you give me a coward's death?"
"If that be your wish," says Jarissy.
"Hold," says Ress. "Are you so ready to end your beloved Garaka's
"If she wishes it so."
"Would Garaka have done so?"
"Yes," says Nerrine fiercely. "More than any other, Garaka would
have been first to split me up the middle so as to remove my stain
from her house. Do it, Jarissy."
"I say hold," says Ress. "Nerrine, you are no coward. You've
spent six hours crawling and bleeding in the dust. At any moment, the
beasts could have found you and attacked you. You could have hid like
a coward, left us all to die. But instead, like a true daughter of
Mars, you made your way back here, to warn us."
"I made my way back here to save my own skin," says Nerrine. "I
slithered here like a coward out of fear, because I was too afraid of
pain and death. And now that you know my shame, I ask you, again, to
Jarissy points the tip of the blade against Nerrine's loins. "Just
as others are the only judges of our valor, we can be the only judge
of our cowardice. No other opinion matters; no other argument is
valid. This is what has been decreed by the White City, this is what
"And what makes the White City right?" says Petara. "Because they
say it is so, does it make it so?"
"Stop up your arrogant godless throats," says Jarissy, "or I shall
do it for you."
"If there is a creator," says Petara, trying not-so-desperately to
hide her smirk, "then She gave us nostrils to breathe, fists to fight,
and brains-- what could our brains be for, but to think? To reason,
to argue, to opine. To declare all that invalid because the White
City says so, isn't that in defiance of Her will, isn't that the apex
of both arrogance and atheism?"
Jarissy ignores her. "Good-bye, Nerrine. You were quite comely:
another reason I envied your bride."
"Do it now, and quick," begs Nerrine. "Split me open."
"Hold!" cries Kellin, returning from the radio room. "Blassa's
radio-- where is it?"
"With her bones," says Nerrine.
"Our equipment was destroyed in the crash," says Kellin. "Not just
the receiver. All of it. We have no way of contacting the White
City. No way to warn them away from this place. Which means, when
they have only our silence to guide them, they will send others to
this certain death. But if Blassa's radio is still functional, I
might be able to use some of the parts."
"If we can find it, we can warn the White City," says Jarissy.
"And to stay the blood of others is the warrior's first commandment."
She pulls the sword back, grips its blade, turns it around. "You'll
not die with this breath, Nerrine. We have need of you." Jarissy
gives her back the sword. "Lead me to their bones, and after, if you
still desire death, I shall give it to you."
Night has swept across earth when Jarissy and Nerrine leave the
relative safety of the ship. "The darkness might give us an
advantage," supposes Jarissy as she arms herself with bladed gloves.
Before Garaka fell, Nerrine explained, she had managed to drive her
blade through a beast's hide. The moment she had, however, the
beast's talons were upon her. For this reason, Nerrine carries a long
spear: sharp enough (she hopes) to break through the hide, but long
enough to keep her out of its reach. And in her belt, per Ress, she
holsters two beam pistols.
"You really should take a pistol," says Nerrine, offering one for
the fourth time since they set out.
"No," says Jarissy, "I've never had much use for them." She
squeezes her fist around the trigger in her palm; the circular blades
protruding from the back of her gloves whirl, each of their five
hundred teeth eager for the blood her cudgel could not spill. "I'll
"This way," says Nerrine, placing the second beam pistol back in
her other holster. "Jarissy, can I ask you a question?"
"A warrior of Mars needs no permissions or pleasantries," says
Jarissy. "Just ask, simple and bold, and Jarissy will answer you the
"Do you think I was a coward?"
"Just as others are the only..."
"No, don't give me that," says Nerrine. "Simple and bold."
"The simple matter of it is, it is not my place to judge, not my
place to even have an opinion," says Jarissy. "I don't waste my time
quivering about what others might think of me, and I don't waste my
time thinking of others. Those are the old ways, the way of our
mothers. We wiped out both of their species so that none could judge
us ever again, none but ourselves."
"A lonely way to live," mumbles Nerrine.
"We're only ever getting smaller," says Jarissy. "There'll be no
more of us."
"That's depressing," says Nerrine.
"Not for me," shrugs Jarissy.
"We're almost there," says Nerrine. "They attacked us once we
emerged on the other end of this little pond. It's very shallow, only
to the elbows."
Nerrine steps into the water, careful to keep her spear above her
head; if the beasts are there and they attack before they get back on
dry land, she doesn't want the water to slow her strike.
It took a long time to wade through it the first time, with Garaka
and the rest; it took longer as she struggled her way back. This
time, though, she finds herself at the other end wondering what had
happened to all that water in-between. It was too fast. She finds
herself climbing out of the water too soon, and it occurs to her that
this might be her last breath. Maybe the beasts aren't here, she
hopes, and then, more realistically: maybe they are here, but maybe
they won't notice us.
Jarissy leaps out of the water with her customary gusto, lets loose
her war-cry, and switches on her blades. "Jarissy is here! Come,
wretched monsters, and meet my two-fisted death!"
Nerrine closes her eyes, wincing, waiting for that vicious horde to
be set upon them. And then she opens her eyes and finds nothing,
nothing save the scattered bones of her wife and friends. She stops
for a moment at the spot where Garaka was slain. Her jaw has been
crushed into powder; the flesh and muscle has been torn from the rest
of the blood-stained skull. Nerrine picks it up and presses it to her
She sets it down, gently, and stands up. Nerrine moves to Blassa,
and a few feet from there, finds the radio. She turns it on, briefly,
then nods and flicks it off before handing it to Jarissy. "Keep it
"Are you not coming back?" says Jarissy.
Nerrine doesn't answer.
"Show me where you fell," says Jarissy.
Nerrine walks a few paces, then points to the spot with the tip of
"So," says Jarissy, "do you still want a coward's death?"
"No," says Nerrine. "But I deserve one, because I don't want to
die at all. Not fighting with my last breath and for two breaths
after. I want to live, and for a daughter of Mars, that is an act of
"It is," agrees Jarissy. "It is unwomanly. And Garaka surely
would not have hesitated to open your throat, so that your blood might
spill out of her house."
Nerrine kneels in the dust and procures her sword; she holds it by
the blade, thrusts the hilt towards Jarissy.
"But I am not Garaka," says Jarissy, refusing the sword. "And if
Garaka were alive, she'd have no right to end you. We made war on our
mothers so we could choose our own paths, free of history, free of the
old ways. I want to be Jarissy, and so I am. If you want to be
alive... then live."
After Jarissy and Nerrine return with the radio, Kellin sets to
work cannibalizing it for parts. If everything's accounted for, she
should be able to send a long-distance signal to the White City.
They'll tell them that this planet is uninhabitable, and then they'll
ask for a ship to come and rescue the survivors.
"You know they won't come," says Ress.
Kellin knows this, but tries to put on a brave face. "You never
know, they could..."
"Mars only has so many ships and so much fuel. Twenty-four months,
round trip, just for the dozen of us that are left? Not gonna
"None of us will be alive in twelve months anyway," says Petara,
peeking her head into the radio room.
"We don't know that," says Kellin.
"What do we gain by wishing and hoping for things that we know
aren't true? Be honest about it-- we're all going to die here, and
soon-- and then let's move on, make the most of it. Try to catalogue
as many of those plants and creatures as you can, Kellin, before they
eat you up."
"Don't listen to her, Ress," says Kellin.
"Don't worry," says Ress, making her way out of the room. "I'm
going to be alive for a long time. Not wishing for it, but doing
something about it."
"That's the spirit," Kellin calls after her before returning to the
Petara follows Ress. "I should apologize to you."
"Oh?" says Ress.
"Yes, I think I had you pegged all wrong," says Petara. "All this
time, ever since I met you twelve months ago, I've thought you a
heartless, conniving little slut."
"I've never pretended otherwise," says Ress.
"But today you did something completely with heart, completely
"That's news to me."
"You saved Nerrine. Or tried to. We both did. I did it out of a
matter of principle. You don't do things on principle. There's
always some sneaky little reason, and here, there was no reason, and
so the reason must be empathy. Heart. Sentiment." All three of
these sound like insults.
"You think that."
"Well, prove me wrong," says Petara.
"No, I don't think I will," says Ress. "Not this time. Better to
let it rankle. It'll be clear soon enough. You'll see, Petara. If
you still have eyes."
TO BE CONTINUED...!
COPYRIGHT (C) 2010, 2013 TOM RUSSELL
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