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*includes a digitally signed author note*


2065. Humans start terraforming Mars.

2070. The Mars Baker2 outpost is established on the Acidalia Planitia.

2084. The first colonist goes missing.

Void is a chilling, sci-fi, standalone short story from the author who brought you the bestselling Seventeen and Legion series. Dive into this tale that readers have described as “creepily claustrophobic and colossal in scale".


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It called to her. The darkness.

She stared at the infinite horizon, water lapping noiselessly at her feet.

The wind sighed, a whisper in the fathomless night. The dry susurration filtered through her mind and lured her forward. She took a step, then another. Soon, the water reached her thighs.

* * *

Laura Cabe stirred and opened her eyes. She blinked at the clock on the cabin wall. The iridescent green glow cast ghostly shadows across the smooth, white surface, indicating a local solar time of 02:30. Below it, smaller numbers showed a Mars time of 04:43 at the Airy Crater, the planet’s prime meridian.

She sat up slowly and ran her fingers through her tangled hair. Something had roused her from sleep. She looked toward the door.

The hum of the station’s bioregenerative life support system was a steady background sound, one to which her senses had become attuned since her arrival on the Mars Baker2 Colony ten solar days ago. Other than the occasional rattle from the unit’s heating system and the soft sound of her own breathing, she could hear nothing else.

She was about to lie down when she heard it again. The noise was faint, as if it had traveled from a distance. Hairs rose on her arms.

It sounded like a scream.

Laura stared at the pale lines of the cabin’s austere furnishings and waited. Silence prevailed outside the cabin. She frowned.

Had she imagined it?

She hesitated before rising from the bed and slipping into her work suit. She crossed the floor and paused by the com port next to the door. Her fingers hovered above the row of buttons as she considered calling McAllister, the station manager on nightshift in the command center. She lowered her hand; better to investigate first before troubling the man with a false alarm. She had liked the burly geophysicist from the moment she met him and knew he would not mind her disturbing him so late in the night. Still, the scientist had plenty on his plate right now.

Laura unlocked the door and moved quietly into the corridor outside the cabin. The panel closed soundlessly behind her, revealing the fresh nameplate screwed into the hard plastic. Dr Laura Cabe, MD glittered in the pale light cast by the security lamp in the ceiling.

Sunrise was not for another three hours at their current location on the Acidalia Planitia, in the northern Martian hemisphere. The colony was shrouded in darkness.

Her room was next to the station’s MediLab. Laura studied the shadowy space of the state-of-the-art medical facility beyond the glass walls to her left before glancing at the living unit directly across the passage. The name on the opposite door read Dr Alice Cho, MD.

Dr Cho was Baker2’s principal physician. She was also one of nine colonists who had disappeared from the station in the last two hundred and thirty Mars sol days.

The MediLab was at the south pole of the cross-shaped, pressurized system of geodesic domes that housed the main colony. The south arm was home to several research labs, including the ones dedicated to biological sciences, ecology, and palaeontology. Engineering, geosciences, and atmospheric science took up the western branch of the cross. Social science was the only discipline that had earned the right to be accommodated within the colonists’ main living quarters in the north arm of the structure.

As she headed along the silent corridor toward the command center, she passed the giant cupola of the botany lab and paused to stare through the glass walls. Even though she had been in the greenhouse to interview Dr Jennifer Chaplin, the chief botanist, on several occasions, she was still amazed at the diversity of plants the Mars colonists had cultivated in the fifteen years they had been at the site. She dragged her gaze from the rows of artificial light and sprayers and continued down the interconnecting passage to the core of the colony.

Today was Earth date June 10, 2085. On Mars, it was Sol date 75167.

She had arrived at the Zubrin Space Station on Sol date 75132 but had had to wait a month in orbit before making it to the planet’s surface; that was how long it took for the dust storm that had blown up from the Chryse Basin and engulfed the entire northern hemisphere to settle. Although she felt frustrated at being forced to take a detour from her original mission to join the Jupiter Europa Space Station, she had spent enough hours reading the investigative reports on the disappearances that had taken place at the Baker2 station to be intrigued.

Mankind’s aim to colonize Mars received a much-needed financial boost after the success of the first Mars Sample Return Mission in 2024, under the Joint Exploration Initiative established by NASA and the European Space Agency. The scientific yield from that one venture alone hinted at large deposits of deuterium and platinum among a dozen other minerals beneath the planet’s surface, making Mars a wholly worthwhile investment. The first manned vehicle to Mars landed on the Meridiani Planum two degrees south of the planet’s equator in 2040. Twenty years later, the Mars Orbit Zubrin Space Station was completed. It was the largest of its kind in the solar system, dwarfing Earth’s two international space stations.

There were now five colonies on Mars, all involved in the long and arduous process of terraforming the planet for future human settlement. Mars Baker2 was the second oldest of the outposts. Under the command of Dr Ralph McAllister, the Senior Planetary Geosciences Leader for the combined Mars colonies, it was home to twenty scientists. There were plans to double that number by 2092.

The first colonist went missing seven solar days after the transit of Earth from Mars, when the human race’s home planet passed between the sun and the Red Planet on November 10, 2084. By the end of February, seven more had gone missing. An emergency investigation team from the Zubrin Space Station was sent down to the surface to address the mystery of the disappearing colonists. While they were there, another colonist went missing. The team had yet to come to any definitive conclusions.

The most perturbing aspect of their reports related to the lack of physical traces left by the vanished scientists, compounded by the sheer suddenness of the events. Four of the colonists disappeared while on their way to check two greenhouse factories a couple of miles from the station. Another three went missing after going to investigate a remote alarm raised at the nuclear power plant that supplied most of the colony’s energy needs; the alarm had subsequently turned out to be false.

More worryingly still, all the missing scientists had been in groups of at least two people, as was the protocol when they worked outside the pressurized station.

The final comment made by the investigative team’s chief psychologist was the reason why Laura had been sent to Mars. During the six weeks they spent looking into the disappearances at the Baker2 colony, several of the investigators had noted the subtle element of paranoia and fear that permeated the remaining residents’ psyche. Concerned about Subliminal Distraction exposure, a previously contested but now well-explored psychological phenomenon that had led to psychotic breakdowns on prior space missions and historical nautical ventures on Earth, the Zubrin Space Station commander had requested an urgent assessment of the remaining Baker2 settlers by an MD with expertise in neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology.

Of the eleven colonists she had interviewed, the one who caused Laura the most concern was Jennifer Chaplin. A close friend of Alice Cho, the last person to disappear from the Mars station, the woman had come across as jittery and evasive.

During their meetings in the greenhouse, Laura had observed the botanist glancing repeatedly over her shoulder, as if looking for something that was not there. When she asked the scientist about it, the woman’s eyes had widened in horror and she had almost fallen off her chair in her frantic efforts to turn and scrutinize the empty space at her back.

‘I think I’m hallucinating,’ Chaplin finally admitted after a tense minute. Her voice was hoarse, her skin pallid.

Laura knew not to dismiss her fears. ‘What do you imagine you’re seeing?’

The scientist bit her lip. She hesitated before whispering, ‘Cho,’ in an almost inaudible voice. ‘Even though I know she’s gone, I keep seeing her,’ Chaplin explained. ‘It’s hard to describe. It’s like she’s there, but not really there, as if I can just glimpse her figure out of the corner of my eye. At first, it was only happening about once a week. Now, I see her every day.’ She grimaced and clutched her head. ‘It’s driving me insane.’

Laura noted her trembling fingers and dilated pupils. ‘Are you sleeping well?’

For a moment, Chaplin looked surprised. A burst of hysterical laughter escaped her lips. ‘Would you sleep if you kept seeing your dead friend?’

Laura was silent for a while. ‘What makes you think Dr Cho is dead?’

The woman’s eyes widened. ‘She’s got to be, hasn’t she?’ Panic lent a tremor to her voice. ‘I mean, all of them have to be dead. Where else would they have gone on this godforsaken planet?’

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