TITLE: Down into Darkness
GENRE: Science Fiction
Brian forced himself to take a deep breath, tried to relax. Back on Earth he’d laughed at the irony of the government using Mars—god of war—to slingshot his ship into the outer solar system on a mission of peace. He wasn’t laughing now.
He gripped the wall bar to anchor his weightless body in the darkness, bringing his face close to the Empathy’s tiny porthole. Outside, the world of Mars floated beyond his one-man craft—a red marble of desert rolling against the black felt of space.
Brian’s exhale ruptured the silence left by the ship’s sleeping engines. Now that he was here, floating like a lost soul over the only other human-inhabited world, an emptiness at the pit of his stomach told Brian something was wrong…
It was different than the first sharp emptiness he’d felt at blasting away from Earth, leaving everything he’d known far away beneath its delicate blanket of atmosphere. Nor was it the second, gnawing emptiness that had crept in daily from a diet of freeze-dried meals, recycled water and re-breathed air. It wasn’t even the third, untethered emptiness that had suspended his body’s every cell since the moment the Empathy entered null G. What he felt now was a deeper emptiness; one that swallowed all the others.
“Maja!” Brian swore. He couldn’t put a finger on what was wrong. Maybe nothing was wrong. The Earth team had assured him that the Empathy would be a ghost passing Mars, slipping quietly away. Now even that metaphor held disquieting connotations.