“Yep! That’s what I call it,” said the disheveled old man who sat cross-legged on the cement floor rocking back and forth. “Don’t know what it is. Don’t know what to do about it. Just puttin’ up with it.”
The new IT support tech, Barry Monroe, scrawny in a Megadeth T-shirt, jeans and curly brown hair, raised an eyebrow. He wondered if the old man was crazy. More accurately, he wondered how crazy the old man was. He kept a respectable distance from him.
The old man was entangled in a mass of mismatched cables. He explained he was responsible for maintaining the old systems, but could use a bit of help.
Barry’s manager sent him downstairs, beneath the IT department’s data centre, to determine why one of the old systems outside the cloud kept generating random, meaningless error messages referring to an unnamed ‘it.’
They saw the water carriers again. Against the Martian reddish desert sand and rocks, the mirage was hazy. The illusion was of several human-like figures marching solemnly across the sands, each bearing two large urn-shaped containers full of water. They could see the water sloshing, some of it spilling to the ground and sizzling as though the sands were hot.
The first Martian colony was populated by scientists, engineers, labourers and one historian and poet named Josiah Endicott. Josiah had witnessed this phenomenon more than once. He was in his late twenties, with a full head of dark hair and short beard, and looked almost professorial despite his age.
He approached the colony’s psychologist, Noelle Paxton, about the latest sighting. She had never seen the phenomenon.
Noelle was young and energetic, with short brown hair, soft features, a gentle smile, and a slim figure even in the bulky protective suit.
He was still uncomfortable speaking with the breather implant. “It’s always the same, three figures carrying water.”
“What do you think they are?”
“This ain’t gonna be your usual Disney-type attraction,” explained Charles, self-appointed leader of the motley group.
“It’ll be better!” said Arielle, dark-haired, skinny, wide-eyed.
“The latest in 3D imprint AI technology,” said Brady, a wiry and sandy-haired nerd with thick glasses.
“Scarier than the real thing,” said Arielle. She was so excited she couldn’t keep still.
Charles was tall, muscular and good-looking, with a full head of brown hair. He was driving his parents’ old gas-guzzling SUV. It comfortably fit his five college friends, though the ride was not so comfortable since the shock absorbers were bad.
“There it is!” said Arielle. “Cool!”
The Automated Haunted House looked very old, rundown, gloomy. It stood atop a steep hill. Large birds circled overhead.
“Buzzards,” said Louis, short and stocky with curly black hair.
“Robots,” said Brady, smiling.
Arielle said, “Don’t spoil the fun, Brady.”
Dougout squeaked and Crystal purred as they rolled out bouncing and jerking from the ship in their buddy trawler. Dougout navigated the rough terrain while Crystal performed continuous 360-degree scans. To their increasing annoyance, the ship checked their status every fifteen minutes.
Crystal snarled, “Any way to put the ship on silent mode?”
“Sorry, dear,” said Dougout. “it would detect it and we would get penalized.”
She sighed. “Might be worth it.”
Dougout was a small human and fitted easily into the cramped driver’s seat of the trawler. He had light brown skin, which matched his dark brown overalls and explosion of dark brown hair.
“Any sign of the life we detected from orbit?” he asked.
“Not yet. This place should be teeming with life.”
“Yeah, it’s unsettlingly unsettled.”