Red Desert: People of Mars by Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli - Read Online
Red Desert
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Summary

Station Alpha: 1000 days, 5 persons.
Mysterious discoveries.
Friendship, jealousy, hatred, betrayal.
Death.
Where’s Anna?
What’s hiding in Valles Marineris?

Second book in the science fiction series “Red Desert”.

After 995 days on Mars, the enthusiasm of the Isis crew has turned into frustration and intolerance. Their research hasn’t provided the hoped for outcomes, the resources at their disposal are insufficient, and NASA had previously cancelled the launch of a second mission, which would have brought more colonisers and equipment to the planet.
Relationships among the five members of the expedition have become difficult. Station Alpha is home to a complex web of conflicts, secrets, alliances, and rivalries.
Now a new launch window is about to open, but the news from Houston isn’t reassuring at all. While the finding of a possible ice sac might give a positive turn to the events, Anna, embittered by the unusual behaviour of Robert and the cold war against Hassan, is considering the opportunity to return to Earth.
When death strikes amongst the five inhabitants of Mars, Anna finds her only possible choice is a solitary escape.
But Mars has got an incredible discovery in store for her, a key to a mystery hidden in the depths of Valles Marineris.

The first book is “Red Desert - Point of No Return” (a novella).
The third book is “Red Desert - Invisible Enemy” (a novel).

Follow Anna Persson (AnnaPerssonDR) on Twitter!

--- This is the second book in a series of four and it ends with a cliffhanger. ---

Published: Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli on
ISBN: 9781311801197
List price: $1.99
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RED DESERT

Book 2

People of Mars

Original title: Deserto rosso - Abitanti di Marte

© 2012 Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli

Translation by: Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli (© 2014)

Translation revised by: Martina Munzittu, Richard J. Galloway, and Julia Gibbs

Cover: © 2014 Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli

Important note to the reader: This book is written in British English.

Previous book of the series: Red Desert – Point of No Return

1

The metal taste was the first thing she recognised. It was her blood. A buzz resounded in her brain, louder and louder, drumming in her left temple, where it hurt most. The weight of her head was resting on it; the cold floor under it. She opened her eyes, disoriented. A coughing fit shook her sore body with violence.

In a moment she remembered.

He was there. What was he doing? He had hit her in the face over and over again, until all had disappeared.

She snapped up into a sitting position, ready to react to the aggression, but there was nobody except her in the room. It wasn’t even the same room.

What was that buzz?

Before her a closed door, behind her another closed door. A red warning light blinked on a control panel. The muffled sound was becoming clearer and the buzz turned into a soft alarm.

Michelle’s face contracted in horror when she realised she was inside an airlock.

She raised her hands to her mouth; then she looked at them. She wasn’t wearing a suit. She studied the blood on her fingers, while trying to offer an answer to the thousands of questions tormenting her. Perhaps, if she had let herself go, she would’ve woken up in her bed and found out that it was all a dream, that Dennis was still alive, that nobody had shut her inside an airlock, that there was no alarm notifying the forced opening had been activated, and that the exit door would not open in twenty seconds.

But it wasn’t a dream.

At last she reacted. She dragged herself to the wall. She stood up. She reached the control panel and placed her hand on the touch-screen. It should have detected her presence and recognised her fingerprints, but nothing happened.

Attention. Emergency forced opening in fifteen seconds. The synthesised voice of the computer was saying that as if it was something normal, with the same cordial tone of a person informing you that lunch was ready.

No, no, no! She heard those words coming out from her mouth, while hitting the panel, trying to reactivate it. But it was all useless; she knew it had been locked.

Imminent pressure leap. Please hold onto the supports.

But it would be no use seizing the supports. She wasn’t wearing a suit. She had to get out of there, right now.

She gathered all her strength and rushed to the door separating the airlock from the interior of the station. She placed a hand on the opening sensor, but her gesture was ignored. So she grabbed the manual opening and tried turning it. Her bloody hands slipped on the handle, which didn’t move at all. She started hitting the soundproof, double glass of the small window in the door that overlooked the adjacent room. Her wedding ring tinkled on the glassy surface.

Then she saw him. He was there, looking at her. His face was serious, his gaze hard, pitiless. She could barely recognise him as one of those persons to whom she would have entrusted her life without hesitation, after all the time shared together. And he was now taking it.

Michelle emitted a deep scream of rage, inaudible to her assassin, while the AI enunciated the last seconds of the countdown.

The alarm ceased, the warning lamps stopped blinking on the control panel, the computer fell silent. For a brief instant the woman thought the procedure had been interrupted. She hoped so.

Then there was that dull sound. She felt drawn from behind by an invisible force. She stretched out both hands in the desperate attempt to grab the handle, but she just managed to brush against it with her fingers.

Her body speeded up, light as a doll, throwing itself towards the space between the jamb and the exit door. The gap became wider and wider, but not yet big enough to let her pass through it.

She struck the metal. Her neck rotated in an unnatural way, her head collided with the shutter. After a few seconds the pressure balanced and her body slipped to the floor, half inside and half outside the door as it finished opening. The tissues were already swelling.

But death had pity on Michelle and took her away, before they started tearing.

***

She addressed a nostalgic look to the living room. Without furniture it didn’t seem the same place where she and Jan had lived many happy moments.

There was still the same pungent odour though. She had always wondered where it came from. Many times she believed she’d got rid of it, by opening the windows and letting the air circulate, but when returning after being away for a long while, she always found it had come back.

It had driven her crazy for years and that seemed so silly now. Just like all the times she got angry, because he used to leave various objects scattered around the rooms and then couldn’t remember where he’d put them. She had accused him of always being lost, along with his characters, in his imaginary worlds, neglecting the real one. Neglecting her. Now, while perceiving that smell again, she’d like to have had everything back, including the fights about his long absences during the promotional tours. Or those about the teabags abandoned on the table in the living room, which had stained its surface.

The table was still there. So damaged, perhaps, it wasn’t worth taking it away. It would be no use to anybody. Maybe Jan had decided to leave it, because it never meant anything particular to him. It was just a table, emitting a pungent odour.

The mobile phone started vibrating, transmitting a bizarre sensation to Milja’s hand, which still rested on the surface of that old piece of furniture.

She fixed her gaze on it. She should call Jan to inform him. But who cared in the end? Whoever was calling, it would stop vibrating sooner or later. By instinct, she let her fingers slip to almost touch it. In spite of the time that had passed and all that happened, she was curious to know who was calling him after ten in the evening. She looked around, pricked up her ears, waiting to hear him coming, but he didn’t appear. She grabbed the phone and looked at the display.

No, it can’t be possible.’

She felt a stab of jealousy. After almost four years it was still burning. She tapped the reply icon. Allô?

Silence.

Qui est à l’appareil?

Click.

Here it is! Jan’s voice resounded in the empty corridor.

Milja put down the cell phone and stepped away from the table, just before he entered the room.

I knew it might still be here somewhere, he said, showing her a big, golden filigree brooch, with a triumphant smile. But I literally had to dismantle the flat to make it come out!

She couldn’t help but smile as well. That contagious enthusiasm of his for the smallest things reminded her how much she had loved him. And how much, perhaps, she still loved him.

Where had it ended up?

It appeared by magic, when they separated the various parts of the wardrobe in the bedroom. Maybe it had fallen behind a drawer and got stuck in the bottom. He handed her the jewel, which she gathered in her hands. It was a bit bruised, but I got it fixed.

Oh, thanks, but it wasn’t necessary. She gazed at the brooch. Actually she had never liked it that much and therefore hadn’t got worried at all about its disappearance.

But I didn’t do that for you, Jan replied, at once strangely serious. I did it for your mother, who gave it to you. Now, maybe, she’ll hate me a bit less about the divorce.

Milja started laughing, thinking about all the not really kind ways in which her mother described her current ex-husband. Sure, she commented, in her laughter. Everything’s going to be alright between the two of you now.

This time it was Jan who laughed out loud.

She stole a glance at him. How many times they had had fun that way, talking about their respective parents. For an instant it seemed to her that they’d gone back in time, before the divorce, before Anna, when they were still happy. She found herself thinking they could live those moments again, in the future.

They stopped laughing and looked at each other in silence. Maybe he’d thought the same thing. Sure he had.

But, Jan said, breaking the moment of embarrassment. You shouldn’t have come this far to get it. Not at this time of the day. I could have come over, tomorrow.

Oh, no, don’t mention it. I was in the area and had nothing better to do. While speaking, she couldn’t help but stare him in the eye. So I said to myself: let’s go and pay a visit to my ex-husband, before he leaves this city forever, and have a last look at this house, which was once mine too.

But you hated it, he commented, tongue in cheek.

You’re right … but it wasn’t the house’s fault, she said, playing along.

Thank you!

They laughed again.

Are you busy tonight? she asked with nonchalance, moving a bit closer to him and hoping he wouldn’t notice her nervousness.

But Jan froze and scrutinised her, uncertain.

A last going out together, as an ex-couple, before you leave. She combined her words with a gesture of her hand, an imitation of a plane, and then she winked at him. ‘Come on, what have you got to lose?’

She knew it was her last chance with the man she couldn’t forget. She knew him so well. Who knew with how many women he had been since he separated from Anna? In the end what was wrong with a reunion? They were both adult, and they had a past with some good moments. There was still an attraction between them, she was sure of that. Maybe, if he let himself go, he would realise they might have more good moments.

I don’t think it’s a good idea, he finally replied, determined.

Her seductive look vanished, replaced by the humiliation she was feeling at being rejected.

He seemed to notice, as he changed his tone. No … sorry, he babbled. I didn’t want to be rude.

Milja stepped back, choking back her tears. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her weep again. No.

It’s nonsense, she exclaimed, in rage. You’re still thinking about her! She left you to go … to another planet. And you are here dying for her. I don’t recognise you anymore. What has that woman done to you?

Now she was shouting, but she didn’t care. She wanted him to see all of her contempt.

In the past you would’ve jumped me without hesitation. What am I saying? You would’ve fucked any vaguely passable woman. She pointed an accusing finger at him. Are you going to tell me that you played the inconsolable widower here, for eight months, for a woman who left you?! I wouldn’t believe it even if you swear on your sister’s life!

By now she was uncontrollable; she didn’t want to, nor could she, stop speaking.

Jan looked at her, dismayed. Please, Mil, don’t do this.

And don’t call me Mil! she interrupted him. "Jan-Willem. She enunciated his name, shaking her head. You’re just a dick. You really deserve that the slut left you."

At that point she realised she was still holding that stupid brooch. "I wish you had gone to snuff it on Mars," she concluded, trying to compose herself. Then she threw the jewel at Jan’s feet.

Before she left, slamming the door, she darted a last glance at him. While doing that, she noticed he wasn’t even looking at her; his attention was focused on the table.

Ooh, I wish I’d been there! Kirsten almost shouted, as she paused, sipping her beer and opened her limpid, blue eyes wide. You didn’t film that scene with a camera, did you?

Seized by a sudden hilarity, Jan almost choked on the bite he was swallowing. His coughing attracted the attention of the other customers yet again.

His sister could never stand Milja. That uppish bitch, as she called her after the separation, always seemed to her to be a fucking egotist. And Jan didn’t feel like contradicting her, nor had he been too sorry when he’d realised that there was disharmony between the two of them.

Kirsten was like that. If she felt the slightest dislike for a person, she didn’t do anything to hide it. And he loved her also because of that untamed but pitiless sincerity of hers.

But when did this happen?

Jan shook his head, trying to recall the precise day, while he caught his breath. Well, last week, on Wednesday or Thursday.

So do you mean that you didn’t meet for four years and that bitch jumped at you as though nothing had happened in the meantime? She tilted her head backward, whilst emitting a cry of exclamation. I’d have paid to watch her face when you told her to fuck off.

Another guffaw; and another nasty look from the people on the next table, who were having dinner with their preteen children.

Okay, okay, but calm down or they’ll throw us out. To tell the truth, he couldn’t be quite convincing while reproaching his sister. When they went out together, they would become like those pestiferous kids who used to drive their parents crazy, but they couldn’t use their youth as excuse now.

Finally she fell silent and resumed eating. Jan’s eyes lingered on her. She had the round, pale face of a porcelain doll, with raven-black hair put up into two pigtails on both sides of her head. Her dark look gave her an aggressive appearance, but seen close up she seemed younger than her twenty-two years. In the last few months they had spent a lot of time together. He would miss her so much.

"You