Merely a Madness

Merely a Madness by SW Fairbrother

Book: Merely a Madness by SW Fairbrother Read Free Book Online
Authors: SW Fairbrother
 
    Merely a Madness
     
    1
     
    The place is nothing but mud and stink: a godforsaken hellhole supposed to be special because this was where humanity first crawled out of the ooze.
    Of course it did , Mullen thinks. No creature would stay in something so fetid if it had any choice.
    Except for Hannah. She stands beside him, eyes like stars, taking in deep gulps of the Earth's putrid stench as if it's the last oxygen in the universe. Her warm hand slips into his and squeezes, and God help him he actually smiles back, as if this is what he wanted too.
    Behind him, fat little Fisher scuttles back and forth between the shuttle and the transport, directing the locals as they load the baggage from the cargo hold.
    Don’t look up. Whatever you do, don’t look up. There’s nothing between you and the sky. No ceiling. No dome. No nothing. And even though Mullen knows the thought is ridiculous, he can still feel the vast grey expanse pulling at him, as if it wants to suck him up into the heavens.
    Nausea rises, and to distract himself – to stifle it – he says the first thing that comes into his head. “You know, I could have paid for a better quality tour.”
    “Yes, you said. Eight or nine times, if I remember correctly,” Hannah says, gentle amusement in her voice. “This is better. By the time we get home, everything will feel so bland and sterile by comparison. It'll be worth it. Trust me.”
    “I do,” he says, and he does. Not about Mars being bland when they get back, but that the tour will be worth it. He hadn't paid for a holiday – he’d paid to see Hannah happy, and that was all the holiday he wanted.
    Even so, he can't wait for this to be finished. The local humans – pre-humans. Not proper humans at all. The animals we were before we left – have eyes which drill into the back of his shirt. What is it? Doesn’t Fisher pay these creatures?
    It's not just the sullen expressions. Physically, too, something about these people has just gone wrong . Half have missing limbs. This he can understand: it's a hard life in the mines after all. It's the fact that the other half seem to have additional ones that makes something twist in his stomach. That, and the fact that they hardly seem to be aware of the mud and dirt caked onto their emaciated bodies. And he imagines that when humanity crawled out of the ooze, this is what it might have looked like. As if, somehow, evolution is running backwards here.
    With some relief, he watches the last of the baggage disappear into the back of the truck, and the locals slink off towards a corrugated steel hut. None of the creatures seem to notice the freezing mud in which they sink up to their ankles.
    One of them remains, a sallow-skinned brute with the same gaunt face as the others. Unusually, he appears to have the right number of extremities. The man – pre-man – leans back against the fat-wheeled transport, unfazed by the cold and the dirt. He notes Mullen's gaze and raises a single finger in acknowledgement.
    Hannah waves back. She leans in, whispers, “That's John Arnou. He was our guide on the last tour.”
    He could do with a good wash , Mullen thinks.
    Hannah pokes him in the ribs with a single slim finger. “Be nice. I can see what you're thinking. Open up your mind a little.”
    “Sorry. Of course.” It is open, he thinks. As open as it can be. But he still can't see the attraction of the place. It's not much more than mud, rubble, and grim-looking huts as far as the eye can see.
    Fisher scuttles past them again, and enters a code into the shuttle door. It slides open. Moments later, the two young brothers from Europa, whose parents paid for the trip, emerge blinking into the cold and the dirt.
    “Everyone has to visit Earth at least once,” the elder Europan had earnestly insisted to Mullen on the trip over. “It's our heritage.”
    The younger, on the other hand – a tall skinny thing with the same unfortunate nose as his brother – had been less keen.

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