All I’d seen were snapshots of a desert, perhaps a lingering memory of the red planet high in the sky, of mentions of water being found there. As the Earth crumbled I didn’t think about the stars or what lay beyond them.
But someone else had.
They drew up profiles to colonise the red planet, named after the Roman god of war, selecting what might be the last traces of humanity once Earth rejected us entirely. When survival comes into question there are no volunteers, only subjects. So when I woke on Mars stuck full of tubes and fed explanations on why I had been stolen from my home, it was hard to simply be told I was a saviour.
On Mars we would build a colony to save what little of humanity we could. Because if Earth wouldn’t sustain us somewhere else had to – humanity surely couldn’t be considered mortal?
If someone had told me we could remake humanity I would have had a thousand suggestions: we could make ourselves better than the destroyers of Earth, become creatures who valued each other and the land that provided for them. The new citizens of Mars scoffed at me.
“It’s erasing everything we are,” said one of the “leaders” of our group, project, mission? There was no word for it. Idiocy I always thought was apt. His name was Ezekiel, and being dumped here apparently made him one of the chosen ones when the rest of humanity would be left on Earth to choke on chemicals and drown under rising sea levels.
“No,” I said, spooning up the gooey vitamin-rich food they had packed for us. “It’s unleashing us on another planet to recreate our hellhole. You might as well copy and paste every mistake we made. Those documents they’ve sent with us? Burn them.”
Our whole hierarchy had been determined on crisp white paper filed neatly, stamped, and labelled as I soon learned the nameless organisation that had stolen us liked to control every detail.
Ezekiel frowned but mastered himself and began to chuckle. “How revolutionary of you, Adrasteia.”
I forced myself to swallow the putrid vitamin mix, hand trembling slightly on my spoon.
You’re in hell. That was my first thought when I looked out at the landscape of Mars. Now I saw the demons around me. They hadn’t mentioned children. Not yet. But I had glimpsed the files; they had already found who would be the best genetic fit. Little flickers had come to my attention at the corners of my eyes as I walked down the hallways. They had set up cameras in the ship too.
I glanced up to find Ezekiel watching me, smug that I hadn’t made a retort. The spoon clattered against the rim of my bowl as I stood and headed to my quarters.
Revolutions were bloody. And I was the last person to want blood on my hands.
On one of my scouting missions, I was separated from my partner. Panicked, I ran, calling out for Seraphina until I hit some rocky outcrops. The sight of them made my panic turn to terror; I had never scouted this far out and neither had anyone reported finding such structures on their missions.
Exhausted I slumped down beside one of the rocks, holding a hand to my mask despite knowing I had plenty of supply left.
A hiss sounded from the other side of the rock and I flinched. It came again but more elaborate, its tone fading into different pitches.
“Snake?” I murmured. But why would there be snakes here?
A clicking started, the hissing interceding until it morphed into words.
“English?” Asked a guttural voice.
Dumbfounded, I couldn’t help but reply. “Excuse me?”
“You… Are you human? Are you lost?” I stood, thinking that the voice sounded so strange because they were injured and their air supply was low. I peeked around the rock and two coal-black eyes stared back out from a mask far superior to the ones we had been equipped with, their attention unblinking and all consuming. Hesitating for too long I saw the outlines of a humanoid face underneath, perhaps with a glimmer of iridescence to the skin. Cursing, I recoiled, my legs shaking too much for me to move.
“Not human then,” I gulped.
“You Adrasteia,” the creature grumbled again. “You want humans to live peacefully.”
My hand clenched on the rock, shivering. “How do you know my name?”
It shifted, a hand rose over the rock to where I was huddled on the ground. My mind took a moment to realise it was offering to help me up. I placed my hand gently in its rough ebony palm, trying my best to avoid the talons that lay at each of its three fingers and thumb.
“We listen. Humans send moving thing long time ago; we take it, learn things. You come. We watch. I see Adrasteia. She angry. Humans want home, she demand humans not take our planet.”
No one had ever found any life on Mars, had they? They would have included that in the files if that were true – if there were a native population we would never have come.
Or I wouldn’t have. Ezekiel would. The ones who had stolen us and stranded us here would.
“Adrasteia help Azrek.”
Azrek? Was that the creature’s name or its people? Either way, I couldn’t run: I had no idea what it would do if I did. And help, I could give them help. Perhaps then I would finally find the truth about the colony of Mars – the humans were never going to give it to me.
“Is this your planet? Your home planet I mean.” I kept my eyes pinned to its shadow rather than risking myself being captured by its gaze again.
The alien shook its head in an awfully human gesture. “Travel for long time. Visit Earth. Come back. The humans send machines then they come themselves. Bring chaos with them. Mars our home now.”
Travel, they said, I could only take that as maybe they were refugees like ourselves or explorers from another galaxy. If they could speak English, had equipment to sustain themselves on Mars, and hadn’t killed me, perhaps this was the miracle the Mars colony desperately needed.
I pulled myself up and nearly flinched at the whirlwind of sand the creature kept around itself like a sorcerer holding a shield of magic. I didn’t blame the creature. I would have done the same if I knew even a whisper about humanity.
Earth had never been truthful with me, and Mars had its own tricks. So if they wouldn’t offer clarity I’d take it at my own risk.
“Adrasteia help Azrek.”
“The Traitor” was written in response to my queries around what values humanity would carry from our society on Earth if we went into space to colonise planets in hopes of survival. Each individual has their own morality, their own concepts around what we as a species have failed to do and have succeeded in accomplishing. Adrasteia is a character who becomes a revolutionary, because I like to have some hope that if a colony on Mars does come into existence and we are sent with the same prejudices we have in our society now, someone would take the initiative to refuse another path of hatred. History is told from perspectives that do not always intend to have the truth at the heart of their tale, and the organisation in “The Traitor” that has created the Mars colony is the same. They have one objective, and if it takes lying to the subjects they have stolen from their homes to complete that mission then they have no qualms in doing so.
For humanity to survive, do we have to destroy other species in our wake? That is where the creature comes into existence, the alien, the other: by Adrasteia taking the alien’s offer, is she abandoning the colony? Or is she helping them towards co-existence? I left that as something for the reader to decide and kept my own opinion to myself. The re-birth of humanity is a complex imagining with “The Traitor”, only giving me more questions than answers.
Lucy Ann Cummings is studying an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at York St John University, and writes primarily in the fantasy and science-fiction genres. Her writing is centred on the fantastic and weird creatures of this world and beyond while always adding a detail or two of her obsession with Greek mythology.