This story is by Ralph Hua and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Put this on,” mom said, as she covered me up with her handmade coat of love.
I put down my Parker 51 and turned around and kissed mom’s soft wrinkled cheeks. “Thanks mom. You’re still up?”
“You too,” mom peered over at my letter. “Writing to Jane?”
“Yeah, the recovery centre only takes handwritten letters. I’m writing to tell her to rest well, and that I’m getting ready for the expedition to Mars.”
Mom took in a slight breath and sat on my bed. “Have you heard what the news said about the fuel that EM Corp is using?”
“Yeah, all the talk that it is Chinese-made but don’t worry too much. The engineers at EM Corp had it checked and qualified for usage. I have done all the homework and handshaking to ensure things go my way.”
Mom stayed silent and held my hand with a gentle yet firm grip.
I took what was forty percent of Thunder Technology Inc.’s shares and sold it to EM Corp for the ticket to Mars. EM Corp stated in their marketing pieces that the first man on Mars would be awarded the privilege to bring his family of maximum four persons free of charge, houses included.
Along with my mother and my wife, we’ll be the first to have a house, and food, and other basic necessities. We could also have our second baby delivered on Mars since we had lost our first, our little Johnny. With me on this inaugural flight were my business friends, Mack and Li. Mack was the founder of a social media empire and Li was a building material trader where his company was basically helping us to move house from Earth to Mars. While we were drinking at the bar area, a dark figure caught my attention. At the end of the corridor towards the East wing window, stood a tall and slim man in black suit.
“Hey Mack, do you know that guy?” I asked.
“That guy?” Mack squinted and took a sip from his martini glass, “No idea.”
I turned to Li and Mack said, “Oh wait that could be Zui Lo. Farm animal breeder and trader from the Lo family.”
“An animal breeder? To Mars?”
“Well, you need materials to build houses and we trade material. You need to eat meat and he trade livestock. Logical enough right?” Li said.
“And I heard he controls seventy percent of the live animal trade on Earth. Now he is going to be the Lord of Beast on Mars.” Mack laughed as he passed me another glass of martini.
That night I slept poorly. It was a sleep interrupted by the Captain’s announcement that we’ll reach Mars in about five days. The time spent with Mack and Li magnified my yearning for my family. It was peaceful on this ship but it was hell on Earth. The experts and government officials predicted that in another five years, Earth will become the biggest rubbish dump in the universe – like as if they have a done a comprehensive research on the whole of the universe – and I believed them.
We were having lunch at the canteen when Zui Lo glanced over to my table with an expressionless look. He took a sip of his drink and shortly left the canteen.
My head was hurting like there was a hammer softly tapping away at my temples. Then it tapped faster and harder. I knocked six empty martini glasses off the table and Mack grabbed my arm.
“Ted, you look like a ghost,” Li came over to my other side and held my arm and Mack continued, “We better take you back to your room to rest.”
I opened my eyes and saw Mack sitting at the foot of my bed. I rubbed my head and winced.
“Hey, you’re up,” Mack said while he passed me an ice pack.
“How long have I slept?”
“A day,” Mack said looking at the digital clock on the wall, “if the clock on the wall is correct.”
Mack looked listless when his eyes shifted from the clock to me.
“I thought I’m the only one not looking well,” I said and noticed Mack’s evading eyes.
“Me? I’m alright. No problem at all.”
“Mack, what’s the matter?”
Mack pulled a steel stool over and sat opposite me near my bed. He took a deep breath and said, “Ted, I think you may not be the first man to step on Mars.”
I could only hear my own breathing after Mack’s words.
“What?” I tried to stand but my head didn’t allow that to happen.
“Relax Ted, listen to me.” Mack had one hand on my shoulder. “The First Mate came by to take a look at you while you were resting. Li and I had a conversation with him. It was casual until he told us that you are not going to be named as the first to alight the ship.
“The crew couldn’t risk you fainting upon arrival and create negative publicity.”
“But come on, I paid an extra ten million!”
“You bribed them?”
“I paid them.”
Mack scratched his head and said, “Well, that ticket is invalid now as far as I know.”
“Who have they chose to replace me?”
“Zui Lo? Impossible.” I dropped the ice pack on the floor and watched Mack for a solution.
Mack sighed and said, “Maybe we can get rid of him.”
After Mack left, I laid in bed repeating his words, We can get rid of him.
I could see myself holding a knife and hiding it from plain sight. I’d stalk Zui Lo from the bar to the corridor, and back to his room. The corridor had security cameras fixed overhead, but at the left turn towards to the bedroom doors, there was a blind spot. And this was the perfect place for me to stab him.
I sat down at my desk and wrote down the process of disposing Zui Lo.
Then, Johnny’s words came into my ears, Daddy, what are you writing?
I threw the pen away from the table and crumbled the paper. I kicked the bin on my way to my bed and hid under the blankets.
In the dark, Johnny asked, ‘We’ means you and me?
Dinner that night at the canteen, sirloin steak was served. While I savoured the steak with its juices and blood, my attention was drawn towards the steak knife. Was it its design or the material that made it a masterpiece of cutlery? Its handle fit snugly in my hand and I could imagine it cut through flesh without resistance.
“Ted, what do you say? We get the canteen to serve us steaks for every dinner.” Mack said.
“Yes, oh steak. Well.” I loosen my grip on the steak knife and took a sip of red wine. Then another before I continue, “Too much red meat is not good for you, as my doctor told me.”
“Come on, it tasted heavenly. The aroma of grilled meat, the beautiful mahogany slab of goodness, the savoury invasion on your palate. And that blood between your teeth. That bloody taste that doesn’t disgust but instead delights.”
I swallowed some wine, took hold of my weapon and practice on that bloody piece of meat. After working on three, inch-thick steaks, I saw white knuckles underneath my skin. The meat didn’t open as cleanly as I expected and the steaks had gone cold.
Zui Lo appeared from the canteen entrance and took a seat. He was served with the same steak set that Mack and I were having. His elegant strokes and slicing on the meat made me envious. He chewed his steak easily. Like a piece of cake.
I began to wonder do I have what it takes to kill someone. To kill him with this steak knife. My clumsy hands against his slick moves.
“Relax Ted,” Mack said, cutting his steak and putting one piece of meat into his mouth and chew and said, “relax on the grip.”
I stole a glance at Zui Lo, he was still an image of confidence. Maybe he was chosen as the first to step on Mars not without reason.
My head still hurt after that fall the other day. Did that explain my poor dexterity with the knife? I wanted to tell Mack about me dropping the idea of killing Zui Lo and discuss for a more civil solution, when Mack said, “I read the announcement on the notice board this morning that Zui Lo was given the privilege to bring his family with him after we land on Mars. If nothing goes wrong, his family will join him in three weeks’ time after we land.”
I sighed deeply through clenched teeth, wiped the knife clean with the soiled napkin, and hid it in the inner pocket of my jacket.
Zui Lo left the canteen and entered the corridor. I tailed and crept up behind him as quietly as I could. I’d sneaked up on Johnny to give him bear hugs and he never once anticipated my advancement. He would giggle and burst out laughing when I jab my fingers into his tiny waist.
The procedure would be the same. Hunch my back, tilt my heels, tip-toe and shuffle my feet in rapid succession.
And when I was about three feet away from my target, I pulled out my weapon and lunged in.
A swift stab into the left side of Zui Lo’s waist and he gave a hissing cry. I angled the knife up another ten degrees and twisted my wrist. It was like jelly, easier than the steak.
Zui Lo coughed and no words came from his mouth. What followed were more coughs. Zui Lo knelt on the floor as I held on to him and slowly laid him to rest.
Blood was oozing from the puncture and it seemed to exit from the body like retrenched staff reluctantly leaving the office building.
There was a toilet along this corridor and it wasn’t locked. I stuffed Zui Lo into this temporary cell and locked it from the inside. How I wish I could make it a permanent cell. How I wish I could make it into an incinerator.
Suddenly, the public announcement system went, “Mr Zui Lo, can you please report to the Captain’s office?”
We were less than six hours upon reaching Mars. The public relations team and the captain were panicking over the disappearance of Zui Lo. The public relations manager was conversing with the captain and shortly after, walked towards me.
“Mr Ted Fendi, due to the urgency of the matter of shooting the live video of our first man to step on Mars, and now, the disappearance of Mr Zui Lo, would you mind if we reinstate your position? You will be the first to step on Mars.”
“Gladly,” I said.
The filming crew were preparing the cameras, the lights, and one of them was removing dust from my clothes. The filming manager cued me to stroll from my appointed spot to the exit door of the ship.
I marched gallantly for a full five seconds and the door opened before I reached, the door’s A.I. felt my majestic posture I supposed, and the light outside welcomed me.
This is the Captain speaking, we have an accident involving our first man on Mars. He had plunged and drowned in the underground lake which was undetected by our sensors. This is a tragedy of mankind and for our expedition. We would like to announce the replacement for Mr Ted Fendi.
He is Mr Mack Lo.