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During Space Week in October we launched a HeadStuff Science Mars Short Story Competition calling for science fiction stories based on the red planet. We are delighted to announce that our panel of judges, HeadStuff Literature Editor Conor, Science Editor Neasa McGarrigle, and space expert Niamh Shaw, have chosen ‘Red Sky In The Morning’ by Rob Nisbet as the winner!
Rob Nisbet has written extensively for women’s magazines both under his own name and as Trixie Nisbet. He has written poetry to accompany paintings at local galleries and has performed his work at Brighton Fringe events. Recently he has written several Big Finish audio adventures for their Doctor Who range. He also keeps chickens.
Red Sky In The Morning
By Rob Nisbet
I un-opaque the window-wall, and the weak morning sun glows red into our living quarters. We have a standard family dwelling, designed for two adults and at least two children. The idea, of course, is to replace ourselves and try to increase the population with each generation. Somehow I doubt that Marius and I will have more children.
I look around for Paul. He’s been quiet for some time. He’s learnt to keep quiet; it’s safer that way. Then I notice a small shadow up in the viewing dome: Captain Visor is in his space capsule.
“Paul,” I call up to the dome. “Are you there?”
The hatch opens and Captain Visor climbs down. In his hand he brandishes the slim torch he was given for his fifth birthday – and over his eyes is a cracked sun-visor. It is one Marius had for work, passed down to Paul as a plaything after it cracked. Everything is recycled here, if possible, and to Paul it is the helmet of a space suit.
“Fought any monsters, darling?” I ask.
“Loads.” Paul space-walks over to the drinks dispenser. He shines his torch over the bottles behind the glass panel. The spirits glow under his scrutiny.
“You’re right,” I say, sadly. “Plenty of monsters in there.”
“It’s OK, Mummy.” Captain Visor sweeps the dispenser with his torch and the monsters scream silently, the way monsters do. “I’s frazzled them with my laser.”
There are more monsters in the cooling cabinet. Cans, chilling for when Marius staggers back from the construction zone. Mercifully that shouldn’t be for a couple of hours yet.
I gaze out of the window-wall at the interlinked dwellings and the construction zone that surrounds us, ever expanding our hold on the rusty surface. And suddenly I am Earth-sick. I reach for the screen control in the arm of the sofa. “Paul, do you want to see the pictures? Paul?”
Captain Visor ignores me, until I call again. “I’s not Paul,” he says. “Daddy shouts at Paul. I’s a spaceman.”
My heart skips a beat. “Oh, come here darling.” I hold out my arms. “Please darling. Mummy needs a special spaceman hug.”
Paul obliges, and shines his torch between the cushions of the sofa in case any monsters had chosen to hide there. Then he snuggles against me, facing the screen.
“This is you, me and Daddy on Earth,” I say. “Daddy was nice then.”
“That’s not me,” says Captain Visor. “That’s baby Paul.” He shines his torch onto my arm where a purple bruise glows in the red light. “Mummy fighting monsters?” he asks.
I hide the bruise with my hand. “Yes darling,” I say, and the sadness is back in my voice.
“Mummy win?” Paul’s wide eyes peer out through his cracked visor.
I manage a false smile. “Not yet, darling. But don’t worry, I have a plan.”
Paul squirms his way off the sofa, already bored with the screen.
I click through the pictures of Earth. Paul cuddled in my arms. Marius and I both smiling. It had seemed the ultimate adventure; we both knew it would be hard work, but perhaps this relocation was a massive mistake. Was that when Marius had changed? When we found ourselves stuck out here, pioneers, but we no longer had the mutual support and drive that the Council here are always promoting. Marius copes by drinking. A hard night in the zone, then oblivion from the drinks dispenser. Relocation here would test any relationship.
I watch Captain Visor in his make believe world clamber beneath the table. Poor little Paul, dragged along for the ride. A first generation Martian: he needed so much care and nurturing in this new environment. If only Marius and I were as adaptable.
I wonder then, was it me that changed? Nurturing Paul, neglecting Marius? Was there some cause and effect?
Apparently there is evil under the table. Paul strikes a dramatic pose, waving his torch, frazzling invisible monsters.
I look back at the screen and use the crop control to cut Marius out of the picture. Just me and Paul. I imagine home without Marius, cropped out of our lives. Could I cope? The Council would have to sanction any changes. Would Marius move out? If it came to it, would I?
I watch Paul, safe in his spaceman fantasy, hiding his true self behind a cracked visor. That alone, I realise, should make up my mind.
Then I hear the walkway hatch open. Heavy footsteps clump unsteadily along the hall. I reach to switch off the cropped picture. But I stop, my hand shaking. Let him see it. It’s time I made a decision.
The door opens. The stink of booze wafts in.
Marius’s eyes scan the room, resting on his son.
Captain Visor stares his enemy in the face, and raises his torch. “You’s a monster,” he says.
I stand up. Finally, I have made up my mind.
Captain Visor frazzles the monster into oblivion.
Main Image: NASA