Love in the Time of Covid #2 – Red Fox

covid 19, short stories

A note from the author – this isn’t a happy feelgood story. I would largely call it a future/horror. It was written before the current covid lockdown and I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to write evil stories in the current climate of uncertainty. If you’d rather not read it then close this chapter for now but if it’s your thing then strap in!

Lucy gripped the arms of her chair and stared straight ahead as the shaking started. She was ready for this. Aero-braking into the Martian atmosphere. Her eardrums were battered by the mass of the engine noise, the fluid in her eyeballs trembled and her entire core clattered against itself. The integrity of her body felt at stake like that of the Starship that had been her home for the past seven months. But still she looked forward, not wanting to miss a thing.

A vivid red wave of heat smashed into her retina as if Mars had entered her very soul. The craft lurched at an awkward angle as the windowless underside faced towards the planet to act as a heat shield and take the force of the red hot glow. There was one final Godzilla like impact as the engines fired again to slow its descent. And gradually, gradually the first transportation of genpops touched down on planet Mars.

Genpops, or the general population, were the first group of non-scientists, non-business, non-rich elite space tourists to move to Mars. They each had to red-pledge $1 000 000 for the priviledge. But this guaranteed them flight, food and a roof on Mars and companies were falling over them selves to fund future inhabitants to promote their own self interests.

Lucy was Mars mad. She had plopped into the world prematurely when her mother’s waters broke 7 miles over the Pacific on a flight to South Korea. So she well and truly regarded herself as a child of space. As a small kid she even refused to go outside without some sort of helmet fashioned from packaging or domesticity. One time, after carefully running the fish a bath, she boldly went where no one had gone before with an acrylic aquarium on her head. On another, whilst fashioning a washing up bowl with a bread knife, she very nearly took off her thumb and had to have it stapled back on at A&E. The scar of the staples formed a perfect ‘M’.

For Mars.


And her obsession never waned. She experimented for hours with her Dad’s 3D printer, coming up with ideas for space exploration and cutlery in equal measures. She even met Elon Musk and he gave her a grain of regolith encased in perspex. She held that small piece of martian top soil every day vowing that some day she would pick up her own piece of regolith. Fast forward to 2045 and she applied for sponsorship on Starship Pioneer. She made the grade and got the gig. A one way ticket to the red planet.

Her parents were both devastated and delighted. It had always been the unspoken yet inevitable future for Lucy.

She’d shared her Starship cabin with Cara, who could mesmerise the whole crew with her beautiful karaoke renditions but also ate really noisily. Lucy was amazed how the same mouth could produce two noises that were so different. Their most intense bonding was actually silent where they lay on their backs below the honeycomb windows filling the entire nose cone of the craft. They would grin like Cheshire Cats and absorb the light of so many stars it overpowered the eternal night. Their stillness in space was thrilling as they slid towards their swelling red lodestar ahead

They sat together now at the monumental touch down. In total there were eighty genpops all arranged in neat semi circles across three decks of the vertical Starship. There was nervous movement among the shiny helmets all air suctioned into their chairs with the force of an epoxy resin. The final release was euphoric and a massive silent cheer erupted like a muted volcano as people whooped and cried and laughed into their solitary helmets. She and Cara fist bumped with gloved hands. Cara turned on her comms first.

“One giant fist for mankind!” She said triumphantly.

“To infinity and way beyond!” Lucy retorted. “Come on space buddy!”

Four hours later, the pioneers, helmet free, were ready to take their first steps onto the red planet. Lucy and Cara were standing about thirty people back from the front of the queue and were aware of a commotion breaking out at the Starship’s exit. It sounded as if a voice outside was saying:

“Danger – beware the foxes!”

Lucy’s heart tightened ever so slightly. On the InstaMars platform they’d used on their journey, it was as if a glitch, every so often would show a foxes face. Then it would disappear and no more information. The more tech savvy of the pioneers had spent hours trying to hack into the programme and managed to isolate the image but couldn’t identify the source of the transmission.

The disruption at the front of the queue continued followed by a hollow thud to the door of the Starship from the outside.

“What is it do you reckon?” Said Cara straining to see down the line.

“I don’t know,” said Lucy, her index finger rubbing the scar on her thumb. “It’s weird he did seem to mention foxes and…”

They were interrupted as the doors of the Pioneer Starship slid open to reveal a larger than life showbiz character with massive gesticulating hands proclaiming:

“Hello – and welcome to Mars! My name is Rupert and I’m your mentor as you take your first steps in this historic chapter for humanity! Welcome aground! And – don’t trip over the boxes.” He seemed to add as an aside.

“Oh, boxes.” Said Cara raising an eyebrow to Lucy. Lucy was less convinced.

Rupert continued. He had the largest and whitest front teeth and incredible eyebrows that were curled up at the ends like a moustache would be. The man was impeccably manicured. Lucy was surprised there were such facilities available.

“Each of you will receive your Skydose to help your bodies adjust to the different conditions here on Mars. We can-not WAIT to get to know you all personally,” he massively over-emphasised. “Please – step this way!”

The expectant crowd surged forward. With a massive smile on his face he placed one of his unfeasibly large hands on a sensor and another door, ahead of the first, slid upwards and open with a comedy fart noise to accompany it. A wave of giggles wobbled the crowd. They should have been used to Elon’s sense of humour from the Starship but a fart noise rarely fails to amuse. Rupert dramatically spun round and headed through the door. “Mars awaits!” The tone of his voice sliced through the air and the new recruits eagerly followed his enchanting invitation.

The intrepid travellers filed through the first set of doors each receiving a small pin badge with their designation number and placing their thumb on a blue silicon pad which administered the skydose via a small prick to the skin. Lucy was thrilled with her designation, LZ0007919. Her initials and validation that she was, in fact, the 7919th person out of Elon’s million to set foot on Mars.

“Get me – a prime number!” She said to Cara

“You are such a geek girl!” retorted Cara throwing up her hands. “Hey, I think Rupert’s actually wearing a foxes tail!”

The second door opened out into a larger round room and it was full of people. People seemingly in fancy dress. But pretty splendid fancy dress at that. Really over the top stuff. Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, and an almost naked Hercules. Rupert was indeed wearing a foxes tail and Cara grabbed it in her hand as they went past, stroking it and feeling the depth of the fur between her fingers as she ran her hand along it.

“I think it’s a real foxes tail!” she said in a hushed and slightly conspiratorial voice to Lucy, her eyes shining incredibly brightly and her face slightly flushed.

“Hey Rupert – I like your tail!” She said, slightly slurring, still holding the tip seductively between her index and middle finger. “We could make this bad boy work for us!” She put her other hand on Rupert’s chest as she rounded him to face him full on.

“Oh yes,” said Rupert, his eyes narrowing. “You’ll do nicely. Very nicely.”

Lucy staggered slightly. She’d felt a rush as soon as the jab had gone into her thumb. Now she felt a bit nauseous and made a grab for Cara’s arm. But Cara was besotted with Rupert who was already draping Cara over another younger guy dressed as some sort of highwayman. He swung her away like a rag doll, her feet barely making contact with the floor but under no protest. She flung her arms around him in fits of giggles grabbing his faux ponytail hard and biting his bottom lip as she was carried away.

Lucy fought back her gag reflex and tried to find something to hold onto. She looked up again. Rupert looked down at her.

“It’s not looking so good for you chicken.” He said, fastening a full on industrial respirator around his head. The central filter covering his nose was elongated into a furry snout, and he looked menacingly at her through two amber eye pieces. And he’d added a pair of ears. He cocked his head to one side. It was the head of a fox.

Her legs could barely hold her weight now and she was aware of a bitter almond stench in the air. She lurched forward but the crowd was surging in on a pulsating wave. Their big wigged heads were all she could see and more and more of them were now wearing the fox respirators. She wasn’t the only one. Other Genpops were being corralled with her. And she could hear the murmur of a chant:

“Foxes forever – genpops out! Foxes forever – genpops out! FOXES FOREVER – GENPOPS OUT!”

And then an explosion. From behind Rupert maybe ten helmeted individuals, in much more sensible Mars attire, stormed through an opening in the wall ripped through by the blast. They had weapons. One took an axe to Marie Antoinettes neck and half severed it grotesquely. A geyser of blood ejected like a mains water leak. She crashed vertically down to her knees like a perfectly demolished chimney, her deformed fox’s head slowly falling to the right.

The crusaders spread out into the room. Their surprise attack and There was utter pandemonium around Lucy. A huge pressure in her right ear from the explosion, and then a firm gloved hand clasped over her mouth and nose.

“Try not to breathe!” a woman’s voice said. But that was all she said as Rupert lifted a recycled door handle spear high above his head and brought it down with such force it splintered straight through her saviour’s helmet.

But Lucy didn’t see that because she’d already breathed too much.

She should have had a helmet on.

She felt Mars beneath her.

She touched her scar to her lips.

She’d made it to Mars.

With eyes closed, she watched Carl Sagan’s pale-blue dot through the honeycomb windows of the Starship getting smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

And smaller.

She’d made it to Mars.

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