No Way


By S. J. Morden

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In the sequel to the terrifying science fiction thriller, One Way, returning home from Mars may mean striking a deal with the very people who abandoned him.

They were sent to build a utopia, but all they found on Mars was death.

Frank Kitteridge has been abandoned. But XO, the greedy — and ultimately murderous — corporate architects of humanity’s first Mars base made a costly mistake when they left him there: they left him alive. Using his skills and his wits, he’s going to find a way back home even if it kills him.

Little does he know that Mars isn’t completely empty. Just over the mountain, there’s another XO base where things are going terribly, catastrophically wrong. And when the survivors of that mission find Frank, they’re going to want to take even the little he has away from him.

If there’s anything in Frank’s favor, it’s this: he’s always been prepared to go to the extremes to get the job done. That’s how he ended up on Mars in the first place. It just might be his ticket back.

For more from S. J. Morden, check out:
One Way



[Internal memo: Mars Base One Mission Control to Bruno Tiller 11/10/2048 (transcribed from paper-only copy)]

We have been unable to contact MBO for twenty-four [24] hours. MBO appears undamaged. The hi-gain antenna appears undamaged, but the carrier signal is absent. The DV [Descent Vehicle] is also undamaged, and does emit a carrier wave. We have attempted to contact MBO routing through the DV, but the link is non-responsive. There is one [1] body, in an EVA suit, visible nine [9] feet west of one of the surface transports. There is no sign of additional activity visible to our orbital cameras.

At this stage, we can neither confirm nor deny whether the XO asset within MBO is still active.

[transcript ends]

It was mid-morning. The early frost had burned off, and the sky was its usual shade of hazy pink. Frank was outside, dragging a body through the red dust. He’d wrapped Zero in a square of parachute canopy, and was using the crudely knotted end—because knots were really difficult to tie in spacesuit gauntlets—to pull him over to where Declan was, by the buggy. Declan was also dead, shot by Brack through his spacesuit’s faceplate. Frank was pretty certain that Declan had died when the bullet had gone through his eye, rather than afterwards when his air had escaped, or after that when his bodily fluids had boiled out.

But Brack was dead too. Frank had stabbed him with a scalpel. He’d stabbed Zero as well, with a short gardening knife from the greenhouse.

Frank struggled with remembering the chain of events, but the details? Those were burned into him. It had taken him two days to recall what he’d done with his spacesuit, and the base wasn’t that big. Two days in which he’d wandered the corridors naked, scrubbed his skin raw under the shower, and slept only to wake up more exhausted than he had been before.

Two days to come to terms with the realization that he was the only man left on Mars.

Marcy had been the first to go, when her suit’s scrubber had failed and Frank hadn’t been able to get her back to the ship in time. That had hurt, and it still hurt when he thought about it. Then Alice, from an overdose of opioid that she had access to because she was their doctor. Zeus had died when Frank had accidentally opened the airlock door on him—something that shouldn’t have been possible—and Dee had been killed when the fire suppressor system flooded the Comms room with CO2.

Then Declan, then Zero.

Declan lay on the cold ground, spreadeagled among the fist-sized red rocks, lying on his back, arms out wide. Behind the broken faceplate, the blood had dried, as had the skin and his one good eye. A wizened face, marred by a stretched-out entry wound on the shattered right cheek, stared out into the dull Martian day.

There was a glint of mirrored light on the ground close by. Frank dropped his handful of parachute, and he knelt down—his semi-rigid spacesuit didn’t really allow for bending at the waist—and picked it up. It was a scalpel, the one he’d lost out in the night after he’d cut away the excess cloth from the hole in his own suit, better to apply a sticky patch to seal it. Brack had shot him too, but Frank had survived.

He held the scalpel carefully, remembering not to try to blow the dust off it, or worse, wipe it with his gloved fingers. It was still going to be extraordinarily sharp, and he needed to find a safe place for it. He inspected the blade, holding it up to his faceplate, and noticed the white pitting on the metal surface: there was something in the soil that had corroded the stainless steel.

He carried it into the workshop’s airlock. He was standing exactly where Zeus had died. Frank had thought he’d been responsible for that. Frank had been allowed to think that, in the same way he’d been allowed to think that Marcy’s suit had failed, Alice had committed suicide, that Dee had been gassed by a malfunction.

The inside of the hab was pumped up with pressurized Mars air, so that it was somewhere that sparks could be made without risking instant immolation. People could work in there, with just scuba gear, and use their ungloved hands. The benches were still littered with parts for the putative steam turbine Zeus had been constructing, and further down, pieces of black glass where Declan had tried to fix the broken solar panels.

For a moment, he saw the other two men crouched over their work, then realized he was never going to see them alive again.

“Sorry,” he said. “We didn’t… do very well, did we? I mean, we did OK. We did OK, but we didn’t look after each other like we should have. We should have worked out what Brack was doing sooner, and stopped him. Would have been easier with more of us, too. Then I wouldn’t be stuck here, on my own, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do next.”

Brack had killed everyone. He would have killed Frank too, but Frank had found that he had something worth living for, worth fighting for. Even worth faking his own death for, so he could strike Brack when he least expected. Worth killing for.

Frank had a son, Mike, back on Earth. Frank hadn’t seen his boy for what, ten years now? For eight of those ten years he’d been in San Quentin, serving a cool one-twenty for second-degree murder. The last two had been spent training and traveling and building.

Jacqui, his mother, had taken him away after the trial, moved to the east coast, and vanished along with him: Frank had killed a cop’s son, and the blowback had been hard. The only contact he’d had with them since were divorce papers. He’d been content with the exchange, until XO had come calling. He’d been sent to Mars by a corporation that just happened to own both a prison and an aerospace outfit, in the company of a bunch of cons—murderers and narcos and perverts—and an overseer. Frank had believed he’d been promised a lift home if he toed the line, built Mars Base One, and looked after it. He’d kept his end of the bargain. There was a fully functioning set of pressurized habs, with a greenhouse, med bay, crew quarters, kitchen, stores, power, light, water, air… what there wasn’t any more was a team of caretakers. Or that ticket home.

He cycled the workshop airlock, feeling his suit stretch around him as the CO2 was pumped back inside.

He opened the door, and there was Mars. The first time he’d seen it, he’d been speechless. Now, it was just where he worked. He climbed down the steps and pulled Zero in line with Declan, and then went back for Brack.

Brack had worked his way through the cons. Carefully at first, always making it look like there was another explanation. Which had been easy enough, because they weren’t the most stable of people, and Mars punished inattention with almost instant death. But Brack had tripped up with Zeus. He could only have been murdered. Sure, Brack had convinced Frank that it had been one of the others, and Frank had been only too ready to take that on trust, what with his trip home dependent on Brack’s good report.

Frank took hold of Brack’s parachute-shroud and bounced him down the cross-hab steps. All the malevolence and malice in that wiry body had gone. It was just an empty husk now: whatever had made Brack kill and kill again had flowed out with the blood on the base’s floor and the fluids evaporated away in Mars’s thin air.

He pulled him all the way to the other two, and tucked the ends of the shroud in around Brack’s body. Mars had weather. The parachutes might catch the feeble wind. He collected a third piece of parachute and fitted Declan into it. The spread arms were a challenge. Frank may have broken them or dislocated them pushing them down to the sides again, but sound didn’t really travel, and he was able to pretend otherwise.

When he’d done, he straightened up. He took in the crater wall to the south, the notch through which the river from the top of the volcano had flowed, the looming bulk of the volcano itself, all fifteen thousand feet of it. He used to drive up that river—Dee had named it the Santa Clara—and take in the view, before heading back down again to the base. Because it was the only place he could go back to. He’d swapped one prison for another. That had been the deal he’d made with XO. Die on Earth or live on Mars.

XO hadn’t played fair, of course. There’d been the small matter of being sent to solitary confinement for the rest of his sentence if he’d failed for any reason to complete his astronaut training. The Hole sent men mad, and it had been a hell of an incentive not to crap out. XO’s Supermaxes were probably stuffed with those who’d failed, now howling at four blank walls and dreaming of ever more elaborate ways to stay sane.

Frank couldn’t help them then or now. He didn’t even know if he could help himself. It would only take one thing to go wrong, with his health, his suit, or the base, and that would be it. He hadn’t done any of his maintenance tasks since that long, bloody night, and neither had anyone else because they were all dead. As it was, he was carrying a bullet wound in his arm, and a cut on his chest where he’d extracted his XO-implanted medical monitor.

And yes, he’d pulled the bullet out with a pair of sterile forceps, and used a sterile scalpel to slice himself open, but he hadn’t cleaned it up properly nor taken antibiotics. Or painkillers—those that were left after Brack had chowed his way through the supply.

Perhaps he should do that, now he’d got the dead guys out of the base.

When XO had trained him, they’d provided only a rudimentary first-aid course. In fact, much of his training had been a gloss. He knew what he needed to know—in his case, how to site the base and bolt it together—and precious little else. He’d had a second, Declan, and he’d shadowed Marcy for transportation, but he knew almost nothing about the power or the plumbing or the comms. Especially not the hydroponics: Zero had guarded his greenhouse jealously.

He re-entered the base through the cross-hab airlock. There was blood on the floor. A lot of blood. Dried lakes of it, with drag-lines leading through to the yard, the main rec area, where Frank had dragged a semi-conscious Brack to the place where he’d died, his legs cut to ribbons, his suit smashed to an unremovable shell around him.

The med bay was the other way. There was no less blood there.

Frank racked his suit, next to Zero’s, and plugged his life support into the regenerator. He was naked. His one set of overalls were stiff and black with dried blood, and despite the sub-zero temperatures outside, it was warm enough inside.

The med bay looked like a slaughterhouse, with spatters up the curved walls, across the metal staging and the hanging fabric dividers. Furniture was overturned, knocked aside, and the floor? Zero had died there. Bled out. And it showed. Zero had attacked Frank, thinking not unreasonably that the man convicted of murder was the murderer. Frank had survived. Zero had not. He stood for a moment in the doorway, finally taking in the scene and seeing it for what it was. He clicked his tongue behind his teeth and grimaced. The place was a mess, and he’d always prided himself on keeping a clean working environment. All the same, he was going to have to leave it for now.

Frank looked through the boxes for dressings, and antiseptic cream. He didn’t know if infection was going to be a problem: Mars was sterile, but the base wasn’t. He guessed that they’d brought their own germs with them, but didn’t know enough to say whether they were dangerous bugs or not.

The water they used was sterile too—Zeus had told him as much—so he stood over the sink and carefully washed the wound on his chest. It wasn’t big, just a cut through the surface layers of skin and maybe half an inch long, big enough to squeeze the monitor out through. He’d had to cut along the original scar, though, and that might cause problems.

A dribble of pink water trickled down his belly and groin to drip onto the floor. Not that it mattered. A little more would make no difference at all.

He used one steristrip to close the cut, and wondered about putting a fabric pad over the top. It didn’t look that bad, and he left it.

The hole in his arm was more of a problem. It was sore. Of course it was—he’d dragged a bullet out of it—but he thought it should be hurting more than it was, even though he’d never been shot before. It also seemed to be healing well enough. Every time he knocked it or even flexed his muscle, he was reminded that it was there, but it hadn’t affected his ability to sleep. Far from it.

He cleaned up the edges of the wound, and used a big press-on patch to cover it. He still didn’t take any painkillers, partly because he didn’t trust them, and partly so that he could tell how much trouble he was in. There was no one else to look out for him, and he found himself extraordinarily ignorant about how to keep himself alive.

He disposed of the wrappings, and tidied away the unused items. There was no one else to do it.

He looked at the med bay again, properly looked at it. He didn’t even know if he could clean it up. He’d need actual cleaning tools to do that: detergents, bleach, a mop, a bucket, scrubbing brushes. Did they have that? He hadn’t come across any yet, and he’d helped build the base, and carry the stores from the supply rockets inside.

He picked up one of the examination tables that had been knocked over when Zero had crashed against it, and set it back on its feet, a simple enough task in the reduced gravity. His arm flexed, and he winced. There was a weakness there that hadn’t been present before. Perhaps he should take it easy. Perhaps that was the excuse he was looking for.

Whichever it was, he stopped.

He let his hands fall by his side. Was this it? Was this how it was going to be from now on? He’d killed two more people, for this?

Frank was at war with himself. There were too many things to think about, all at once. He had to strip everything back, deal with the absolutely necessary and immediate, and put everything else to one side, even if delaying it now spelled disaster later.

He’d bandaged his wounds. That was a good start. He could keep them clean, watch for infection, avoid exerting himself until he’d healed. What next?

How long was it since he’d had anything substantial to eat? His confusion could simply be down to low blood sugar. He had food. He had more food than he knew what to do with. He’d probably end up having to throw a lot of it away. So why not go and help himself?

He let himself into the greenhouse and took a tour of the hydroponic trays, taking the time to inspect both the variety and the growth-stage of each. It took a while to get his eye in, but eventually he was able to identify which he could harvest, and which he needed to leave. Some of the crops looked very similar, with only subtle differences, and none of them were labeled: presumably Zero had known what everything was, and how long he’d been growing them for. If he’d kept records, Frank didn’t know where to find them.

Unless they were on the computer. Maybe they were. Had Dee said anything about that? He couldn’t remember. Declan had chided him for being incurious. He’d probably had a point.

What had he come in here for? Food, that was it. He found a clean container, and picked himself a big bowl of salad: lots of leaves, tomatoes, green onions, and some young green beans. He left that by the airlock door, and took another bowl to the lower level, to where the tilapia tanks were.

Zero had fashioned a net from a piece of parachute fabric. Frank used it to chase the fish through the water and pick out two of the fattest ones. Would he have to cull them? They were going to breed faster than he could eat them, now that there wasn’t a full crew roster chowing down on them. Something else he wasn’t going to think about for the moment.

Then there was the atmosphere balance in the greenhouse itself. Was that automatic, or did it need him to manually vent the excess oxygen and top up the carbon dioxide? Not going to think about that now either.

He carried both bowls to the kitchen, and stared down at the fish. They stared blankly back. Their gills were still pulsing, and they gave the occasional twitch of their tails. Frank frowned as his stomach shrank at the thought of killing them. This was not the time to get squeamish. The protein wasn’t going to come from anywhere else. Beans and nuts and grains, sure. But meat was concentrated calories.

He opened the drawer, took out a knife, and slapped one of the fish down on the counter. He raised the knife, and slowly lowered it until the blade was resting on the join between head and body.

His fingers flexed on the knife handle. He adjusted his grip and started to press down. It was easy, right? He’d done this so often. Cut the head off, slice down the belly, scoop out the guts: fresh fish. Bony, but he wasn’t going to spend time filleting the damn things. Take a deep breath, and push.

The edge sliced clean through, crunching when it met the spine. The sound made Frank gag, and he tried to swallow back on the rising bile, but then his stomach spasmed and he lost all control. He remembered to grab one of the containers from the side as he collapsed to the floor. The tilapia still in it arced away, and he forced his head over the now empty tray and puked pink watery slime until he was weak and gasping.

His throat burned. His eyes streamed. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and let the frothy liquid drip into the tray. Then he rolled onto his back and held his aching ribs.

What a mess. What a state to get himself in. He was going to die here, and he’d never get to see his son again.

Declan was standing over him, looking down at him with his one good eye.

“Get the fuck up, Frank. You’ve got work to do. You got to fix this. You can’t let them win.”

“Goddammit, Declan, I’m doing my best.”

“You’re naked and drooling puke. If that’s your best, then you may as well toss yourself out the airlock.”

Frank wiped his mouth again, and flicked his fingers clear.

“I’ll try,” he said. “I’ll try.”

“You’d better. It’s down to you.”

And he was gone, and Frank was alone again.


[Private diary of Bruno Tiller, entry under 11/11/2048, transcribed from paper-only copy]

I don’t know what to do. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do. I thought I’d left this feeling of powerlessness behind for ever. I’ve dedicated the past decade to becoming the master of not just my destiny, but of others’ destinies too. And I was there. I was there. I had the power of life and death over people I hardly knew.

I know that this is not a time to waver. Looking from the outside, no one knows my struggle. I keep up my wall and I keep everyone out. Inside, I’m breaking. If this goes badly, I’m finished. The only choice I’ll get to make is who else I take down with me.

[transcript ends]

Frank cleaned up, the best he could. The fish, both dead, went into the waste system, and he levered up the floor tiles one by one and rinsed them off in the sink.

Declan was right. OK, Declan was dead, but that didn’t stop him from being right.

He found his overalls where he’d abandoned them, next to the shower stall. They’d dried stiff, and he had to peel the cloth apart. He’d been wearing them inside his spacesuit when he’d got shot, so there was a corresponding ragged-edged hole high up on the sleeve. But he put them in the washing machine and spent half an hour manually cranking the drum around. He had plenty of watts to play with—it was just that the tub was designed for manual use. When the overalls came out, the black patches weren’t visibly lighter. They were more pliable, though. The garment would be wearable, even if it would carry its marks for ever.

He draped it over a chair in the kitchen to dry, then picked it up again and followed the blood trail through the yard to the airlock at the far end. It wasn’t one they used—the traffic went through the cross-hab connector—but it was there because the base was designed to be modular and extendable.

He dropped his overalls on the airlock floor, closed the door, and pumped the air inside back into the hab. As the pressure dropped, the water boiled out from the cloth. Just like it did with people. He waited for the fog to clear, then bled the air back into the airlock chamber. Once the pressure had equalized, he could retrieve his clothes.

They were cold, cold enough to now attract condensation, but nowhere near as wet as they were before. OK, it was a grievous waste of water, but he was one man living in a base built for eight. He had resources to burn, which was ironic since they’d been short of everything at the beginning. If he needed more water, he was literally sitting on a reservoir of almost limitless supply, and all he needed to do was fire up the water maker and shovel some dirt into it.

Frank slung his overalls back over a chair, then slumped into it himself. He still felt so very tired.

He was, he guessed, around a hundred million miles from Earth. The distance meant nothing, as he’d been asleep the whole journey. He hadn’t any feeling of having traveled such a vast distance, just experience of an edit: fall unconscious on Earth, wake up on Mars. But he thought he knew what Earth looked like in the night sky, and if that bright dot was really what he was searching for, then of everyone who had ever lived, he was the most alone human being in the whole of history.

Somewhere between him and Earth was supposed to be a spaceship with some NASA astronauts. He didn’t know when they were going to arrive, nor what they expected to find when they did. It was likely they weren’t expecting to find a con who’d now killed three people.

What was he going to say to them? How would he know they were here? He might see their fiery entry. He might catch their sonic boom. The astronauts were expecting to be picked up, though if they were too far away, and either he didn’t try to, or couldn’t, find them, then what would they do? There’d been so many rockets descending recently, it’d been difficult for him to tell who or what was coming down. What they were, he didn’t know—Brack had pointed out that XO didn’t own Mars. If they’d been supplies meant for MBO, Brack would have collected them at the bottom of the crater, together with the NASA kit.

OK, NASA: if they were all in this together with XO, perhaps getting stranded miles from help or hope would be justice of sorts. But how likely was that collusion? They were the ones who were smart, idealistic explorers. They’d trained for this mission for years—unlike Frank, who’d barely got six months.

Sure, someone had to have signed off on this. Someone high up had to know that Frank and his fellow cons had been sent on a one-way trip as disposable labor. If not the astronauts themselves, then their bosses, or their bosses’ bosses, but if it came to a fight, he knew how this would pan out. He’d seen it on the screen often enough, a war between planets, where humans and aliens would duke it out until, inevitably, the good guys would win. He—Frank Kittridge—was the Martians. All of them. And he knew he wasn’t one of the good guys.

He started to laugh, because he found the idea funny. He ended up kneeling on the floor, crying, because it was only going to end one way. Eventually, he raised his head, wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand.

What was he going to do?

The only thing he had on his side was time. NASA wouldn’t be here for a while, and he might be able to find out when.

A plan. He needed a plan.

From where he was, hunched over, elbows on his knees, staring out at the dried blood smeared along the floor, he couldn’t see anything he could do. His situation was hopeless. He was alone. Outside wanted to kill him. Inside was fragile and depended on his continued labor to keep it going. One mistake would be the end of it all. No one was going to save him.


He felt shame. He’d been the mark in a con, and he hadn’t seen it coming, hadn’t seen it at all, until it was too late. The loaded dice had been rolled, and he’d lost everything. He’d killed Brack, but by that point it had been just to save his own skin, just to save face even. It hadn’t made anything better. He wasn’t going home. He wasn’t going to see his son. He was still going to die on Mars, sooner or later.

What the hell: he’d had a choice, and he’d taken the decision to live.

First things first, then. Make sure the base was still running as it ought to be. He could access the information on his tablet, but that was in the cross-hab, clipped onto his suit’s utility belt. Comms was just through the end of the yard, and the screens were bigger.

He followed the rust-red trail of blood and sat in the Comms chair. This was Dee’s domain, where he’d spent hours just reading the technical documents and looking at the maps. He hadn’t liked going outside so much, and he’d gotten comfortable with his role. Right up to the point where Brack had tripped the fire suppressor system and then held the door shut on him so that he’d suffocated.

On the console was Brack’s tablet, and Brack’s gun. The gun was just a regular automatic, very similar to the one Frank had used to kill his son’s dealer, but with the trigger guard removed, so that a fat spacesuit-gauntleted finger could still fire it. He picked it up, carefully. A stray round would probably register on the fire system as a flash-over, and put a hole in the hab skin to boot. The safety was on, but that didn’t mean it was safe.

He put it on the other side of the desk, behind the monitor, and propped Brack’s tablet against the table legs, on the floor next to his feet.

He clicked the monitor on—they’d all habitually turned any electrical equipment they weren’t using off, to save precious watts—and waited for the screen to bloom into life.

OK. Error messages in the base dialogue box. Comms were offline—that was fine, because Frank had tripped the power breakers on the dish himself, to prevent the automatic systems talking with XO, and XO talking with them, with the ship and the circling satellites. But what about this one: Low Memory?

Dee had told him something about only having room for seven days’ worth of data, and he had no idea what the kid had done to automate the system. Dee probably hadn’t factored in dying, nor for the transmitter to be deliberately taken offline.

Was running out of memory on the computer going to kill him? It could well do if the hab’s telltales couldn’t report back environmental data to the main computer, and things started shutting down. Could he fix this? Could he fix this without doing more damage?

This wasn’t touch-and-swipe stuff. When he’d run his own construction firm, he’d managed his own accounts and hadn’t relied on anyone else to make up his books. But this… Dee would have known what to do. Dee wouldn’t have got to this point in the first place. His son would have known what to do, too.

With that thought, he dabbed at the alert with his finger. He had to learn how to do this if he was going to stay alive.

He was offered a list of options: automatically free up more memory, manually delete files, cancel the alert.

He picked the first, and held his breath while the screen showed the computer doing things. Then it stopped, and the alert just went away. It had been easy in the end.


  • "A stunning novel that mixes science, fiction and mystery into an exciting tale."—RT Book Reviews on One Way
  • "Morden expertly melds the genres of science fiction and mystery in this whodunit set on Mars."—Booklist on One Way
  • "Sharp thriller in a crisply imagined near future...Morden makes the science accessible as he steadily ratchets up the tension and paranoia, fully utilizing the starkly beautiful but utterly deadly setting."—Publishers Weekly on One Way
  • "A provocative premise, with an interesting main character... Morden brings it together nicely in the last pages, setting up the premise for an exciting sequel."—Los Angeles Times on One Way
  • "A claustrophobic, high-tension, survival-against-the-odds thriller."—Guardian on One Way

On Sale
Feb 26, 2019
Page Count
416 pages

S. J. Morden

About the Author

Dr. S. J. Morden has won the Philip K. Dick Award and been a judge on the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He is a bona fide rocket scientist with degrees in Geology and Planetary Geophysics.

Learn more about this author