Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Red Scorpions

by Dan A. Cardoza

Renowned geologist Francis Westall said, "A human geologist can do in a week what the Mars rovers can do in a year." The scientific community had agreed that boots on the ground of the Red Planet were preferable. And so America would send four of its bravest on 4/21/2056. They'd travel the 480 million kilometers and dead shot land the Discovery X a little after Thanksgiving. Adjustments for pitch and yaw had slowed their journey.

Tanda, Marci, Cody, and Jeff had plenty of time to play electronic Sudoku and magnetic Chess.

Jeff and Marci were the crack geologists, Cody was the M.D. scientist. Tanda, the bitchin' pilot, had flown F-39's in combat. She commanded the rehearsal craft to the moon in '54. She was modest, "It was all Houston."

Both governments agreed it was more about payload than any preening feathers horse crap.

Things had gotten friendlier though, hell, the two countries' astronauts had met for a fancy send-off banquet at the Ivy Terrace Restaurant near the U.N.

Both the Chinese and American contingents would land on Mars. The American's two days later. Who landed first wasn't as important as any geological discoveries. America had this one in the bag.

Chin Huang, who'd attended Harvard with Tanda, was the commander of the seven Chinese. He greeted and sat next to his old friend at the expansive dinner table. They'd all toasted and placed friendly bets on who'd arrive first. Chin was gracious. He gave Tanda a small vase of White Heaven Lilies. In return, she'd given him a small superman action figure.

Before dinner was over, programmed Robotic scorpions were ejected from the artificial pollen, each nearly translucent. They methodically worked the room with their state-of-the-art mass spectrometers, sniffing out their designated D.N.A. hosts.

The scorpions lay dormant in the tucks and folds of the American's clothing.

As they slept that night, the pre-programmed arachnids awakened. They crawled into the mouths of their hosts, ever cautiously, after they carefully rappelled the long fleshy esophagi down to their stomachs. Once there, they anchored in place using their barbed tails.

Their exteriors were acidic resistant thermoplastic polymer capsules, each dose of 500 ?g of batrachotoxin designed to be released three days after the landing. Once the deadly poison had been absorbed, the scorpion's detached their stingers to be discarded in an abundance of stool.

It all started after a planetary dinner on December 5th, 2056. The symptoms were flu-like, according to M.D. Cody's initial communications. Tanda, Jeff, and Lidia were the first to be symptomatic. All four astronauts died of severe food poisoning in three days. It would take a decade and a forensic autopsy to confirm everything.

There'd be no trip home for the American's, no celebration, no conclusive evidence of food poisoning until the completion of the forensic autopsies in the year 2062.

The Chinese government had positioned itself to rule into the 22nd century. After all, power is all about perception.

© 2023 Dan A. Cardoza

Dan's most recent darkness has been featured in BlazeVOX, Black Petals, Blood Moon Rising, Bull, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Dark City Books, Dark Dossier, Dream Noir, The Horror Zine, Mystery Tribune, Suspense Magazine, Schlock, The Yard Crime Blog, Variant, The 5-2.

Anthologies: Coffin Bell Two, Running Wild Press, Anthology of Stories, Vita Brevis Poetry, Pain & Renewal, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, Audio Horror Anthology (13 stories).

Dan has been nominated for Best of the Net and best micro-fiction.

Find more by Dan A. Cardoza in the Author Index.

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