Chapter Nineteen

Tavonda Davis

Crys was gone. After all those hours together he had disappeared when she had most needed him. A part of her blamed him for bringing the aliens into her home; they never would have attacked if he hadn’t drawn their attention. But no, that wasn’t fair. Crys didn’t deserve blame for what the nameless had done; if it hadn’t been here it would’ve been somewhere else.

It made her want to kill Runt: her anger… her fear. The animal was one of them, even if he hadn’t been indoctrinated by the stalks yet. One fewer walker would be a justice. It would mean striking back.

But no, she had a bargaining chip. One of the newcomers (she didn’t remember his name) had warned her once that Runt would be murdered if returned to his people. But that was just speculation; she had to try it. A part of her hoped that it would make things right between them. The return of the child would satisfy their alien sense of justice and propriety and they’d simply leave Mars for good.

That was wishful thinking.

Tavonda gripped the hacksaw in her hand, wishing it was a gun. She hated guns, but she wanted one right now more badly than she had ever wanted anything. She remembered, in a time before time, Matías inviting her to join the martial readiness team. She had wondered what good it could possibly do.


The door to the hospital slid open ominously. She couldn’t bring herself to look, but she could hear. She switched the light on her helmet off far later than she should have and tried to press harder into her hiding place. The lights had come on in the hospital only a minute ago, but she had shut them off when she realized the power hadn’t been restored to the remainder of the station. There was very little sense in attracting more attention.

{Crys, where are you?}

The aliens didn’t make much noise. They didn’t speak, of course, or make any vocalizations. Their suits masked the hiss of their breathing and only made a light hum themselves. The only real signal that they were there was the sound of footsteps. Quiet, for an animal of that size.

{Where are you? I need you.}

Tavonda’s heart pounded in her chest so loudly she was sure it was giving her away. Crys had promised that he would never leave her! He had promised! She knew that there was no way for him to be present in the hospital with the power out, but somehow it still seemed like a betrayal of that oath. He worked miracles. But he wasn’t here.

The com screen on her suit lit up as the Xenolang program found the right frequency. She tapped it frantically with her left hand, praying that the nameless weren’t going to be able to trace the signal.

“CLEANSE!” roared a robotic translation inside her helmet. She quickly gestured the volume to the minimum setting and checked if any had heard. From the crack in the supply closet door she could see the massive walker investigating the doorway that led to Runt’s room. Perhaps it had heard the child moving around, but it didn’t seem to know where she was. Another nameless stood just inside the door to the hospital wing, guarding the corridor. They were terrifyingly large.


Tavonda had gotten the xenocom working with extensive help from Crys, but Runt had never had thoughts like these. She knew better than to think of them as “words”. The walkers were incapable of censoring themselves or deliberately speaking. She was hearing the walker’s stream of consciousness as it was scanned by the machine in the nameless’ head and filtered through two translation computers.


{So single-minded,} she wondered, feeling safety in abstract thought. {How are they even operating so far from their gardens?} She and Crys had engaged in several long conversations about the nameless, going over his memories and speculating about their culture. {The walkers are like programmable animals. Perhaps the only way to send them so far away from home is to give them single-minded programs.}

“HUMANS ARE PERVERTED! CLEANSE! MURDER!” chanted the nameless’ thoughts in her ear.

She shuddered in sudden realization of the reality of the situation. She was going to die at the end of some alien sword. She’d never see her mom or her cousins again. She wouldn’t even be buried.

“Where are you, Crys?” she said to herself, voice no more than a whisper. The emotion in her voice surprised her, and she blinked away unwanted tears. {I’m better than this. I’m the hero of this story. I just need to be strong.}

Her fingers flexed and twitched, reconnecting to Runt’s frequency. “Can you hear Tav?” she typed to the child.

“STALK TAV!” exclaimed Runt. The voice was the same robotic monotone of the others, but she knew it was little Runt. “Feels JOY about communication with Stalk Tav. Feels confusion about darkness. Toybot isn’t moving. Wants nesting.” That last bit meant the child wanted to join with the artificial stalk Crys had built. If he was around, he could’ve had toybot bring it into the child’s room. Tavonda liked to think of it like a favorite blankie, though she knew the analogy wasn’t particularly accurate.

Her fingers moved silently as she watched the walker by the passage to the corridor slam an arm into the wall near the doorway and rip her poster of Rodríguez and throw it on the ground. The random violence of it made her grip the bone saw in her off hand ever tighter, as though it would be of any use against a creature more than twice her size that had evolved on a high-gravity world. “No nesting right now. Runt should go to the window. Other walker there should see you.”

“FEELS FEAR! Walkers are dangerous. Feels curiosity around walker is a child,” thought Runt.

Tavonda sighed. “I am Tav Stalk. You should obey stalk.” It was a cold sort of power play, but she knew from experience that it was the easiest way to convince Runt to do something. He’d see soon enough that the walker outside his room was no child. With a quick tap she set the com to record all transmissions on Runt’s frequency and switched back to the band that the invading nameless were using just in time.

“IS CHILD! IS WALKER CHILD!” exclaimed the nameless.

“NO WALKER CHILD! IS MURDER GOAL! IS CLEANSE! IS PURITY!” The thoughts from the walker that had just torn up her poster were louder, as it was significantly closer to her hiding place. Despite its doubt, the second walker moved off towards the room with Runt.

“IS CHILD! Feels curiosity around is pervert,” thought one of them, though she didn’t know which. The drop in emphasis was strange, as though they had calmed down significantly.

Now was the time. She had to try. “I AM NOT PERVERT!” she typed.

“CHILD IS IN GARDEN OF PERVERTS! CHILD HAS THOUGHT-MACHINE! Feels curiosity around where child was. Feels curiosity around place of child.”

{Thought-machine must be the com. They’re asking where Runt came from… Why? Don’t they know that Runt escorted Crys and the others?}

Tavonda realized why the walkers were confused. Their stalks would probably understand, but this was a situation which they hadn’t been programmed to deal with. The stalks hadn’t expected Runt to survive.

Crys had beaten them with lies before. Perhaps she could trick them again.

“I AM GOOD! TAKE ME TO A GARDEN AND I WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING! THESE HUMANS ARE GOOD!” Tavonda closed her eyes as she typed, praying to God that it would work.


“Fuck!” swore Tavonda in the supply closet, momentarily forgetting the need for stealth.

“SYMBOL-1169! MURDER! MURDER PERVERT!” The sound of gunfire echoed through the hospital. “DEAD CHILD! GOOD! IT WAS A PERVERT! SHOULD MURDER ALL PERVERTS!”

Tavonda couldn’t deal with it any more. Runt was dead. She shut her com off. It wasn’t fair. There had been no real warning. Why had Runt survived, just to be killed like this? What had his life meant? Nothing. Same as any of them.

The sounds of the nameless interrupted such thoughts. Their light footfalls contrasted with the sound of them smashing equipment. She didn’t dare peek.

And then there was silence. She didn’t know how much time had passed, but they were gone. She let go of the saw and reached to wipe the moisture from her eyes, awkwardly slamming her hand into the visor of her suit. She laughed at that. It made no sense, but she laughed at her own inability to wipe her eyes. The laugh turned into a sob and she began to cry in earnest.

How many of her friends were dead right now? How many would soon be killed? There was nowhere to go! No way to fight back…



It had been an eternity since she’d stopped crying. Burnt out. She’d stopped crying… and then what? Nothing. That was all she was good for. She couldn’t fight. She was all alone. Her mind wandered, wondering how many people she could save if she were out there. But she wasn’t. She was a coward. Never had she felt more helpless.

“Tav? Can you hear me?”

Her voice was rough and faint in her own ears. “Crys?”

She was hallucinating. Crys was dead, just like everyone else. She was all alone in the dark. Waiting to die.


A wave of revulsion rolled through her, and she shuddered in its wake. She had sinned. Her sin had gone beyond anything she had dreamed. To leave her husband? To lie to his face? Crys wasn’t even a person! She had deluded herself into thinking that it was real. But none of it had been real. She hadn’t loved Crys, nor had Crys loved her. It was all smoke and mirrors. She had betrayed everything she stood for, and for what? She was all alone now.


Perhaps if she had tried a bit harder with Alexis. She should’ve worked less. It was as simple as that. Their arguments could’ve been patched up if she had been there for him. It was a test from God, probably. Did that mean she believed? Crys would be the angel of temptation. If she had just turned away from his charms, she would be with Alexis right now. She’d still be dead, but at least she wouldn’t die alone.

“Tav? Can you hear me?”

“GO THE FUCK AWAY!!” she screamed at the hallucination. It was hard enough having to endure her own thoughts, alone in the dark. She should probably just take off her helmet.

The lights in the hospital clicked on, shining a beam of silver-gold into her space. She cursed the lucidity it brought.

“Tav! It’s just me! It’s Crys!” The door to the closet opened as Toybot pushed it with its single metal arm. The goofy face she’d added to the cute little robot stared at her blankly.

“Oh Jesus, it’s not over,” she whimpered as new tears began.

“The nameless aren’t here any more, in the hospital, I mean. But yes, it’s not over. You and about sixty other people are scattered through the station. The others are dead. We need your help.”

“THIS IS YOUR FAULT!” Tavonda pulled herself off the floor and kicked wildly at Toybot, knocking it off its wheels and onto one side.

The sound was coming from a speaker set on the wall. “Please, Tav! I understand you’re angry, but Sheyla is bleeding heavily and Yi is going to die from hypothermia without your help!”

That forced her up. She had a duty, even if they were all doomed. Her vision was clouded by tears, and she wanted so badly to wipe her eyes that she screamed in frustration and rage.

“Quiet! They’ll hear you! You need to calm down, Tav! It’ll be okay if you just listen to the sound of my voice.” Crys was calm as ever.

Tavonda blinked furiously, trying to get a handle on the wreckage of her medical wing. The nameless had broken things at random; much of the hospital was entirely undamaged. “You left me,” she accused, still not in her normal state of mind. It was strange to her how she could know that she wasn’t thinking straight, even though she couldn’t actually think straight.

“I’m sorry Tav, I can’t hear you very well. Can you switch to com channel 8 for me?”

Her hand twitched, setting the radio frequency. She tried not to think about the recording she still had from channel 19—the last thoughts of Runt. “Never mind. Where do I need to go?” she asked Crys. He hadn’t really left… it wasn’t his fault.

Toybot righted itself using its arm, no real damage had been done by her kick. There wasn’t any answer.


“I’m sorry. I have to focus on so many things at once. Get your medical kit and pack any extra environment suits you have in the hospital… actually, only take one extra suit. Sheyla is the highest priority. She’s trapped in the school.”

A vicious wave of cold ran down her spine as she heard that last word. She hadn’t even thought of it. “The children…”

Crys’ voice was like iron in midwinter. “Dead. All of them except Sheyla and Valiero. One of the bombs hit the school, caving in much of the ceiling. Those that survived the collapse suffocated soon after.”

Tavonda expected to burst into tears at the news. Markus and Dalila were only six months old… She felt cold, but she didn’t cry. She felt far more lucid than she had in months. Single-minded purpose filled her and she shot like an arrow to get her supplies.

Crys continued to speak, his disembodied voice following her into the quarantine room where the environment suits were kept. “The nameless have control of the corridor, and Sheyla is trapped in the school bathroom. You’ll have to use the maintenance tunnel to get to her.

Tavonda’s hands moved in a flurry as she bundled up a suit in a bag and slung it over a shoulder. It didn’t really work, as she was already wearing a bulky pack as part of her own suit, so she settled with carrying it in one hand. “How did she survive the bombs?” she asked.

“Sheyla wasn’t in the school when they fell. I lost track of things after, but I’m guessing that she went to try and help the other children, not realizing that they were already dead. The nameless shot her when she tried, I think.”

Medical bag in one hand, bag with environment suit in the other, Tavonda strode quickly towards the exit of the hospital. “Just tell me what I have to do to get there.”


“I’ve drawn the major— … —ces towards the life support facilities. Most of my robots should be able to … the walls and double back. Valiero has … the offices and is marshalling a resistance. Bad news is that the farm has co— … and another two dozen walkers … down, all fully armed.” The signal from Crys was choppy in the access tunnels, but she appreciated it all the same.

Tavonda pushed open the square vent beside her, having just removed the bolts. With a great deal of effort she pulled herself out of the claustrophobic crawlspace and up into the bathroom of the school. It was good to be free of the pipes and metal, but it was no less dark; this section of the station was still without any power. The lonely beam of her flashlight slid across the smooth stone walls and floor, painted white and cyan in regular patterns. The deep red-black of old blood marred the room, droplets of it were spattered across the floor. Her headlamp followed them as her gaze shifted to a stall marked with a bloody handprint.

“I’m here. Sheyla! Can you hear me?”

A noise came from another stall. Tavonda pushed it inward and found the teenager, dressed in a suit that looked far too big, leaning up against a toilet, blood caked all over her arm and hands.

“Sheyla! Sheyla!” Tavonda shined her light in the girl’s visor, revealing a gentle light-brown face that had turned something of a ghostly white-blue. Her eyes were closed, but Tavonda could see her lips moving slightly.

Her suit had been punctured by a bullet near the right elbow, and most of the blood loss seemed to have gone into the gauntlet. More worrying was the loss in oxygen that would have come from the hole in the suit. Tavonda shifted the girl to get readings from the computer on her backpack.

It was as Tavonda feared: the oxygen had been venting out of the suit. Pressure levels were at 40% and the temperature had dropped to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. There weren’t any metrics on her blood pressure of course, but Tavonda knew it couldn’t be good. The top priority was sealing the hole in the suit, but if she simply applied a patch (which might not even work—all she had was medical gear) the arm wound would remain untreated.

Tavonda wrapped the band around the girl’s bicep and tightened it. One twist of the baton and the tourniquet began to tighten even further. She wasn’t sure it could get tight enough to cut off both the air and blood, but she had to try. Another twist. Another. Again and again she turned the baton, drawing the band so tight that it was a wonder that it didn’t break. Even as Tavonda struggled to turn it further, she didn’t feel inclined to stop. It served as an outlet for the icy rage that had been pulsing through her for the last fifteen minutes.

It was a bad sign that Sheyla didn’t react with more than a moan. She’d clearly gone into shock. Tavonda would’ve normally wanted to get her on an IV and get a blood transfusion, but there was no way to do that here. Instead, she settled for laying the girl down on the floor and raising her legs onto the toilet to use the remaining blood more efficiently.

“Stay with me, baby. Stay with me,” she whispered.


Tavonda had decided to not even try and save Yi. Maybe Crys could’ve done it, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave Sheyla. There was no good escape from the school except back through the maintenance tunnels, and Tavonda decided to try and move Sheyla to safety rather than leave her there by herself. It was probably the wrong choice. There was no way to check her pulse while they were each in their suits and it was damn hard to see her breathing. For all she knew, Sheyla had already died.

Tavonda also knew that moving her was stupid, and dragging her through a crawlspace was even stupider. So what? Tavonda was stubborn sometimes. The refusal to give up had been what had gotten her through medical school. It was why she was part of Las Águilas Rojas. The world had too many people who were ready to give up.

She thought about herself earlier, hiding in the supply closet, waiting to die like some kind of worm. She hated that part of herself. It wasn’t her. That blind panic and fear had kept her from taking action. If she had been faster…

She fueled that anger. The anger at herself. At Crys. Most of all she fueled the anger she felt towards the nameless. They’d killed Runt. They’d killed Markus, Opal, Dalila, and Corazana. They’d killed Lilith who had been born two weeks premature. They killed Huo who laughed every time he heard his name. They’d killed three-year-old Dante, who wanted to go back to earth just so he could see dinosaur bones. They killed baby Uma, who…

She stopped thinking about the children. She had delivered most of them, and cared for them when they were sick. She couldn’t think of their faces right now. It was weakening her resolve. It threatened to make her back into that scared weakling that had no will to live. She would live. Tavonda would live if only to make those alien monsters pay. She’d burn every last stalk to a blackened cinder and watch the walkers deal with the death of their beloved gardens just as they had forced her to deal with the death of hers.

Sheyla’s foot caught on a pipe and Tavonda yanked hard, freeing it.

“Turrets deployed inside the … the dormitories. Help is en route to those still tra … We’re … numbered, but … back for the … set up a defensive zone where we should … out for a while in the chemical laboratories … not part of the resistance should talk with … your way to the labs. I already … and Ngabo with me.”

Crys’ reports had dropped off for a while, and they were still nearly impossible to hear while underneath the flooring of the station, but it was good to hear that the fighting was still going on.

Thinking about Crys was hard, too. Her feelings were a mess, and everything was colored by the anger.

“Tav! There you are!” His voice was crisp and clear all of a sudden. Ahead of her, in the crawlspace, she spotted a flat six-legged robot with two manipulator arms on its front that made it look like a scorpion.

“It’s me,” she grunted. She’d never seen the robot before, but very little would surprise her at this point.

Loud banging thundered overhead as a group of feet ran across what was probably the central corridor. It was a harsh, metallic sound that made jaw clench. It made her angry to think that she didn’t know whether the feet belonged to people or nameless.

“Is Sheyla alive?” asked Crys, on her com.

“I hope so. Otherwise I’m dragging her body around for nothing.”

“Yes! I wish I could kiss you right now!” said Crys enthusiastically. The words felt like a punch in the gut. She had to focus. “It’s just another four metres until the access hatch in the elevator. I think I can pull the nameless away long enough for you to get to the labs.”

Tavonda started crawling again. “Why the labs? What good will that do? We’re outnumbered and outgunned. If we want to have any hope of killing these fuckers, we need to go on the offensive and catch them off guard.”

The robot skittered out of the way, still maintaining line-of-sight for the sake of the radio. “I hear you, but you can’t see the whole station like I can. We’re separated and disorganized. The nameless’ weakness is their lack of coordination and hierarchy, but they’re far too deadly for a frontal assault. Our best bet is to regroup and pick them off in small groups. Trust me, Tav. I’ll talk you though the rest of the way and then we can work through the plan in person.”

A part of her thought it would’ve been easier by herself. Easier to forget herself and fall into the anger.


It turned out not to be as easy getting to the labs as Crys had predicted. After exiting the crawlspace into the elevator shaft and dragging Sheyla into the corridor, an unexpected band of aliens forced Tavonda to duck back into the hospital to hide. On Earth there was no way she’d have been able to drag someone around like she was, but not only was Sheyla not the heaviest person around, but the reduced gravity made her feel more like a bulky suitcase than a human being.

At least the girl had survived the trip. There was still no way to take her out of the suit, but in the confines of the hospital she managed to verify Sheyla was still breathing.

Crys’ instructions were invaluable. The hexapod robot she’d run into in the tunnels was just one of many robots he had built, including Toybot. It would’ve worried her before the nameless had come, which was presumably why he hadn’t told her, but now that they had, the robot army was a godsend. They scouted all around the station, warning of the nameless’ movements and providing a radio link even in the sections of the building without power.

From the hospital they made a mad dash clockwise around the station. Toybot carried Sheyla for the last bit, as the corridor was flat enough to make its wheels effective. Out of breath and still buzzing with adrenaline, Tavonda burst into the engineering office wing, located between the labs and the factory. The corridor ahead of that was blocked by rubble from the blast, meaning they’d be forced to go through the offices to the labs.

The engineering offices had actual power, and as Tavonda made it through the door she was immediately confronted with what appeared to be some sort of armored machine gun. Two figures stood next to it each holding rifles—humans. Their suits were blood stained and black with scorch marks.

“Doctor! Oh it’s good to see you! Crystal said you were coming.” It was Vincente, Matías’ cousin.

The other person was Ngabo, a thin Rwandan man she had only spent time with occasionally. He had never been in the hospital in the 9 months he’d been on Mars, but she remembered his medical file saying he was diabetic.

“They killed them. They killed the children.” It wasn’t what she wanted to say, but she felt like it was what she had to say.

“I know,” said Vincente, his voice equally hard.

There was a moment of silence where she simply stared at the men, daring them to speak.

“How many have you killed? How many monsters?” she demanded.

“One.” At least the man had the decency to look ashamed.

“Kill all of them. Do you hear me? Todos.”

The men nodded solemnly.

“They caught us off guard, but we regainin’ our position. Thanks to Crystal there’s hope,” said Ngabo.

“Speaking of Crystal,” interjected Vincente, “you should bring Sheyla to the labs. The bot has an airlock set up so you can get out of the suits and help the wounded. We’ve got about a half dozen people who need your help back there.”

Tavonda agreed and made her way past the turret. Toybot followed behind. The passage down to the labs was otherwise clear. She played with her com, thinking about listening to the recording of Runt just for the hell of it. She was so full of anger that a part of her wanted to hear it just so she’d feel more angry. It filled her up, and kept the darkness of the situation at bay.

There was an intermediate room that adjoined the laboratories that showed signs of being fashioned into something resembling an airlock.

“Please wait while I vacuum the air out. It’s precious enough to be worth the wait.” Crys’ voice came over her com loud and clear. She’d forgotten he was there, somehow.

A moment passed.

“Okay. Come on in. Don’t worry about the blood. There was an accident earlier. One of the things we need your help with.”

The door hissed open, venting the last bits of pressure, and Tavonda stepped into what had been a conference room. The table had been knocked on its side, and there was a thick layer of blood all over the floor, some sprayed on the walls. It was everywhere. A knot formed in Tavonda’s stomach. {What kind of accident caused this?} she wondered.

Toybot slid into the room after her, dragging the still-unconscious teenager after her.

This didn’t feel right.

The door slid closed and sealed with a click.

{Something’s wrong.}

She fell to her knees before she even realized what was happening. Then the pain hit her—an insane, numbing blast of pain that kept her from even crying out. She writhed and spasmed, unable to see, unable to think. Five hundred volts of electricity surged from leg to leg. The robots that had struck her clung to her feet with jaws like bear traps, cables leading from each to the wall.

Coherent thought was impossible. She felt the anger and fear within her magnify, but it was useless to control her body.

The electricity stopped, but she continued to flop on the blood-coated floor like a fish. In her contortions she had played Runt’s last thoughts.

“Feels fear around adult walker. Walkers are dangerous. Feels curiosity around the toys in the hands of the walker. Stalk Tav should tell me what to do. Feels curiosity around Stalk Tav’s thoughts.”

The robot was standing over her. It wasn’t Crys. Crys was an illusion. The bot’s face was different than it had drawn Crys on her screens: more feminine, less human. It had no feeling. No emotion. It didn’t speak as it bent down to undo her helmet.

Tavonda was still drained by the electrocution. Still unable to move. Helpless. She looked at the bot with rage, unwilling to feel fear even as the oxygen fled and she realized with a shock that she couldn’t actually breathe. There was no airlock. It had been nothing but a lie. Everything had been a lie. Their love had been a lie.


Tavonda gasped helplessly on the floor of the room, feeling the darkness pressing in. Crystal Socrates drew a sword. It was one of the same curved swords that the nameless used.

“I AM HURTING! I NEED HELP!” cried the memory of Runt.

Crystal raised the sword.

Tavonda wished the bot would at least look angry while it killed her.

Crystal swung, decapitating Doctor Tavonda Davis.