There’s a prompt that’s been going around a while, about the first astronauts on Mars finding a dead human body, or a skeleton, and some words written. It came to mind the other day, but I couldn’t decide what words I’d put in. If only I knew, I thought, which my readers would like the most.
So I got the idea of making a poll, and then the choose-your-own-adventure followed from there. Below, I’ve collected the whole story, as it was told over three days, with the popular vote-winning option always at the top of the list, and the others struck through. It was hard to write, and it reads a bit disjointed, but it’s not bad for a first effort, I think. I had as much fun as I had stress over it (since I had no plan, and only wrote a new part in response to the concluded vote until the tenth or so episode).
Many thanks to the thousands of readers who voted and kept reading.
The first astronauts on Mars found a dead body in a cave, and four words written in blood:
- Ad S.P.Q.R. in aeternum
My time machine works! Damn you Edgar Burroughs! Fly, you fools! Fly!
When the mummified body was turned over, a dagger was found. Archeologists pored over the pictures. The blade was:
- Shining, quietly buzzing.
Made of obsidian. Carthaginian. Shaped like an octopus.
“Remove it,” Mission Control ordered.
“Guess I’m the Jedi,” an astronaut said.
She took hold of the handle, and:
- Smiled. Her eyes lit up.
Disappeared from the cave. Screamed in agony. The back wall vanished.
“Oh,” she said. “It’s not a weapon, it’s a key!”
She staggered. “It speaks.”
She turned to the others. “It says:”
- “Gate must not be opened.”
“Take me home.” “Carthago restituere est.” “It needs blood.”
She looked around. “Look, that wall shimmers.”
“Um. No?” the others said.
“There’s Rome!” She turned. “And there:”
- “Um. My mother’s garden?”
“There’s a battle raging.” “A featureless void.” “A flaming inferno.”
The other astronauts looked at the blank cave walls.
She walked towards the wall:
- And stepped through it.
They tackled her. Then halted. “No. She’s-“ The air smelled of roses.
The other astronauts saw the wall shimmer, then vanish. She had stepped into an alien world.
“Oh,” they called:
- “Wait for me!”
“Come back!” “You’ve contaminated it!” “Close it!”
They all ran after her, but stopped when she froze in place. Beyond her, they saw monsters approach.
“A lure,” she said:
- “But let’s not judge.”
“I’m holding it open.” “Fly, you fools! Fly!”
She felt calm, serene. If the gate had shown her a mirage of what she most longed for, what was the harm? Meanwhile:
- Aliens tasted her suit.
The others turned to run. The monsters rushed past. Control shouted “No!”
The weight of them pushed her to her knees. She tried to fend them off, and realised she still held the key. It:
- Whispered, called to her.
Shone brighter, hotter. Was faded, pale, still.
“You were warned,” it said.
“I don’t understand,” she mumbled.
“You opened yourself, gate.”
The alien monsters:
- Became ecstatic.
Began to chew her suit. Headed for her friends.
She felt weak. “What’s…”
“Your essence,” the key said, “the gate you became, is consumed, tied to this world.”
- “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“Will I die here?” “Can’t you stop it?”
The monsters shambled away, yet she felt them, linked to her.
“They can’t pass without me!” she shouted. “You must:”
- “Leave, I’ll hold them!”
“Seal the cave!” “Take off, nuke the site!” “Kill me!”
Her colleagues left, calling farewells over the radio until the rock cut them off.
“Key,” she whispered, “close me?”
“Focus on what lured you here,” the key said.
She pictured the garden, the warmth, the feeling of home.
Her hand moved. And then…
The cave wall shimmered into place. Her blood, and air, bubbled out of the suit. She turned her head to face the longdead Roman. She smiled.
“You and me both, pal.”
She dipped a finger in her blood, and wrote ‘Mother’ on the floor.
“Focus on what’s important.”
She closed her eyes.