Mission to Mars Story by Basil Davies
Orlando. 8 years after suppression of zombie pandemic. 7 days before launch. Final health check up for Mars 1 mission crew. Crew of: 2 males, 1 female and 1 former female, formerly 47 years old, formerly resident of Lewiston, Maine, now registered: Undead.
Rosa perched on the edge of the hospital bench, legs crossed tightly, facing the surgeon. Her hospital gown hung open, and a gaping wound ran from her throat to her navel. She watched him as his gaze slipped down to her chest again.
‘Okay fine. Then how about the lungs?’ He eyed them as he spoke, one hand straying towards the instrument table. ‘They might get in the way up there. It wouldn’t take a minute.’ Then, with a wormy smile, ‘And there’d be no need to suture.’
She thought: ‘This is your dream. Talking cadavers, sitting up and asking you for a good dicing.’ She said: ‘I just think I should hang on to those.’
This tested him. He resettled himself. They had been there for forty minutes. ‘Rosa, come on now, you know that’s silly. Come on. The lungs. You don’t need them anymore. You don’t...breathe.’
‘Yeah, well, I still smoke.’
Some people had just been bitten during the outbreak, nibbled. Rosa hadn’t been so lucky - her chest still hung open like a loose hinged cabinet, the entrails swinging around in there like a tie collection. Smoking was the only vice that hadn’t been purged from her body by the virus. Somehow it had clung to her through the transition, just like its stench had clung stubbornly to her school blazer in bygone days. The first thing she’d done when she’d come to was sit up and fumble for her fags. Now she revelled in it, puffing like a kettle everywhere she went, her little black lungs pumping like bellows. The best part: nobody bums one from a zombie.
The surgeon briskly buttoned his jacket. ‘Well you can’t smoke in space. And feedback from the zero gravity tests say those lungs went up around your ears like air bags. Rosa, some of your crewmates were violently sick afterwards. These are the people you will be sharing the rest of your life with.’
‘I’ll tuck them in next time.’ She snapped her gown shut like a set of curtains and stalked out.
Only a handful of zombies remained, scattered across the country - VIPs and a few youngsters. The rest had been injected with chemicals that accelerated the process of their decay until they fell apart. She would be the first and last of them to colonise another planet. She lived alone, wore a lot of long coats and had a family in Maine who left flowers at a gravestone with her name chipped into it. In the parking lot she lit up with Jason (undead, formerly male, formerly age 16) and they had a good vent, blowing darts of smoke into the slanting sun.
‘Men,’ she spat.
‘Women,’ he added, like he always did.
‘And actually,’ she toyed a loose tooth with her tongue, ‘children can be bastards too. Staring, pointing.’
‘Screw them all!’ they finished their refrain together and Rosa threw her head back for a hit of the big, rosey sky.
Jason wanted her to know how rough he’d had it waiting for her. ‘A toddler took my Achilles tendon. Just wandered up behind me and yanked it out like string. The thing’s Mum went “oh, he’s just curious.” People. Curious, that’s all. Just curious. Then it all kicks off.’
Rosa raised her only eyebrow and nodded and they smoked in silence for a while. A family emerged from the hospital entrance and swept past them in a huddle, heading for the one car left on the vast lot. When they arrived they fanned around it and piled in. One of the doors was reopened and slammed. It started up, nosed over to the entrance and pulled onto the highway, followed the whole way by two sets of bloodshot eyes.
Jason said, ‘How the hell can you leave me here?’
‘Oh...’ she said, and draped a rotten arm around his shoulders and told him that all she wanted was to take him with her. This was true, and not just because she was tormented by the thought of him shuffling around Orlando alone, getting bits torn off him by babies and dogs. The undead required no food, water or oxygen to survive and Jason would have been a more practical choice than the three warm-blooded, soft-skinned astronauts she was about coddle across fifty million miles of cold vacuum. But that would never wash with the public, nor with the board of directors, who had reminded her more than once of their stated objective: life on Mars.
‘Why do you even want to go?’ he pressed, toeing the gravel. ‘Stuck up on there with those three in a high tech tent forever. When you degrade they’re gonna compost you. You’re gonna end up in a compost bin on Mars.’
She thought: ‘Sounds alright. I’ll rise again, this time as a plant. Maybe up there I’ll get some respect. Maybe my kids will see me on the news every morning.’ She said, ‘Just curious,’ and laughed. She hooked his arm, and their long shadows leaned in together on the concrete.