This piece was inspired from a writing prompt in reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/3cjjf8/wp_on_the_first_manned_mission_to_mars_a_crew_of/
Yana looked up at the Martian sky and saw no Earth.
It had been a week since they had landed on ground zero and lost contact with mission control. But the mission continued. Base camp was set up. Their living quarters erected at the fringes of their landing site. The buildings looked like ping pong balls, plastic and white. There were portlets at either side, a view to the red wasteland that abounded.
Pietr told the four astronauts that mission control had ceased its signals. Asked as to why, Pietr didn't know.
"Could be maintenance. Relay must've broke down," said Frank.
"If it were, they should've repaired it days ago." Pietr scratched his beard. "We'll keep the console up. If we get anything, I'll let everyone know."
Three days later, still no signal. The astronauts remained on their duties. Yana maintained the crop and their diet. She prepared a salad, cutting lettuce and tomatoes, throwing in some legumes until she saw something out in the surface of Mars.
Yana squinted at the sight. There, at the distance, were two people standing hand-in-hand, waving at her. Yana closed her eyes and shook her head. When she opened them, the two people remained, still waving at her.
"Is anyone out the perimeter?" Yana said through her intercom. No answer. She asked again, but still no reply.
Yana slipped in her suit and exited. The Martian winds carried dust and stone sideways, masking the two waving people, turning them into a mirage. She walked after them. And as she neared them, she stopped.
"Marion? Juliet?" she whispered.
"Yana! Ret...n to b...camp," a voice said through her intercom.
Marion and Juliet gestured her to come, bade her to take steps and be reunited.
An illusion, Yana thought, perhaps caused by stress. Yet she didn't turn nor did she move. She stood in the middle of the sandy gale like a statuette.
Yana snapped out of her trance, turned away and ran. She heard nothing but static and sand pelting her helmet. As she neared base camp, a rock hit her knee. She fell screaming. She turned to where Marion and Juliet. They were walking towards her.
"Someone's out here! Pietr! Frank! Anybody! There's someone out here."
She turned to base camp. Two men in spacesuits ran out of the main pod, headed towards Yana. She was pulled up from the ground and dragged back to the main pod.
Pietr was furious. Yana told them that she saw two people out on the surface. Dana suggested that it was stress and exhaustion that might have caused her hallucinations. Yana nodded half-heartedly.
Back in her sleeping quarters, Yana looked outside through the window by her bed, Earth still missing from the night sky.
"You saw them too, didn't you?" Frank said. He was by his window as well, searching the wasteland.
"What did you see? How did they look like?" said Yana sitting at the edge of her bed.
"My grandpappy. And my mother. I always said they lookin' down, smiling on us. Didn't think from Mars." He turned from his window. "Who did you see?"
"My husband and my daughter."
Yana shook her head.
The mission continued. Food supplies were normal. O2 recyclers functioned properly. They could survive on that planet for another three months barring any equipment failures.
At nights, Yana and Frank shared stories of their loved ones who had passed. They stopped looking outside their windows and spoke to one another face to face. Grandpappy died of a heart attack; momma too. Marion and Juliet was at an intersection when a bus rammed through them.
One morning, as Yana woke up to the dawning light, Frank was nowhere to be seen. She asked Pietr and Dana and Weyland if they saw Frank. They searched the other facilities, checked every nook and cranny, opened closets and trunks and cargoes.
His spacesuit was gone so he was out somewhere in the wastelands. They searched for his tracks, but none were left at the perimeter.
Pietr planned for a search. The four remaining astronauts were to split up and to remain in contact via intercom. Yana would take south, Dana the west, Weyland the east, and Pietr the north.
Yana walked on, scanning the ground for tracks, turning left and right for any sign of Frank. The weather was still, and the sun glared overhead. She turned her intercom and called for Frank, hoping he would respond.
Marion and Juliet appeared about a hundred yards away. They gestured for Yana to come. Juliet hopped on her feet in excitement, her smile almost touching her ear.
Yana closed her eyes and took deep breaths to calm herself down.
“Come home. Come home. C...me...ome...h..me…”
“You’re not real! Who are you? What are you? What did you do to Frank?” Yana opened her eyes. Marion and Juliet started for her, their steps slow and deliberate. They walked hand-in-hand.
Yana cried and ran away. She kept her eyes at the base camp, small on the horizon. She followed the trail she had left and resisted the urge to look behind her.
When she reached base camp, Yana locked herself inside the main pod. She scrambled to the console and reached out to Pietr, Dana, Weyland.
“There’s something out there! Guys, if you hear me, there’s something out there!”
She waited for a response. It never arrived.
Night came and she was alone. Yana called out to her team, called out to mission control. She looked out the window at the emptiness, at the void above her. There was nothing out there.