Mars Hence

By Ishmael Soledad

sfgenreThe desert sleeps, afternoon shadows reaching from low dunes to embrace a russet red landscape of sand and stone that stretches to infinity. Can’t see anything moving out there, roos, birds, nothing from horizon to horizon. If it doesn’t rain soon Dad will have to truck water in, more trouble and money poured down this wreck of a farm.

Mars just isn’t the place it used to be but that’s the gig and I’m living it. Paige casts a weary glance around the hab, across patched and rigged shelving back to the floor, back to the to the boots she’s struggling to clip onto her suit.

All well and good when I was thirty, an adventure for a lifetime but not like this. Should be more of us, more habs, more shots, that was the plan, the deal. She catches sight of a fraying pair of gloves placed carefully near the airlock, bright blue showing through rust red dirt. Hell Owen, why did it have to be you and not Gav?

It’s getting darker, colder, I’ll need a blanket or two soon to keep off the chill. The ceiling feels close, walls browned and pitted, my pillow’s hard, my bed’s hard. I can see Dad in the mirror, he looks worn out, tired. It doesn’t matter I’m out of here soon, come my eighteenth. College then the dream, following Armstrong and Gagarin but further, higher.

The recycler won’t fix itself, no use grumbling and anyway it’s a chance to get out, walk on the surface again, live the dream. Ha! They don’t tell you at induction living the dream means being elbow deep in someone else’s shit. More time, less spares, you never know what you can do unless you must. Nearly suited up, only gloves and helmet left, she raises her arm in front, staring at patchworked sleeves of bright blue and orange on silver-grey. At least I’ve managed to keep two suits going, not the prettiest but functional enough, enough to last. Raising her left wrist closer she squints through her glasses, straining to make out the dial. In the green, maybe two, two and a half hours O2, should be enough.

I’m getting hungry and tired but all the same waiting for the night, the stars and the quiet stillness just to sit cocooned and warm against the cold. Where’s Dad? I’d go out and look but Mum don’t like me being out at night. I’ve only a precious few days left at home, what’s she going to do when I leave?

All checked out, just drop the visor and go. Seems like the suit just gets heavier each time, I’m going to need a zimmer frame soon if this keeps up. She walks slowly to the hab divider, pokes her head around. It’s not his fault, you know it’s not, it’s just the gene, just the luck of the draw. Another flip, another sequence and it could be you there or worse yet Owen, then where would you be?

Mum’s at the door smiling, she’s old and bent but I remember her young, vibrant, happy. She’s always sad now, it’s hard on her and Dad, they’ve been through hell. She waves, I wave and she’s gone.

Cycled the airlock and out, a tiny figure lost in the vast emptiness of Isidis Planitia. She’s still shaking her head, keerist he’s back in Australia again, well at least he’s no trouble. The row of four mounds to her left pull at her, small cairns of rock topped by helmets orange, pink, white, bright blue. Maybe he’s better off lost in his mind than here.

It’s too cold, the kitchen’s always warmer. It’s barely big enough with just me sitting here, the table cleared and walls curving to an igloo roof, a small shack on the plain but home enough for us three. It’s peaceful, quiet, not like our old place Mum never liked in The Alice.

Taken me an hour and a half but it’s done, again. Damn if I just had the spares but I don’t, it’s not anyone’s fault they went bust but it had to be just after we arrived didn’t it? Just turning up with what’s on our backs, old time pioneers out west but with no iron horse back east. You’d think they could at least reply but just silence, fifteen years of silence? She straightens, looks back at the four mounds. Two not strong enough to take it on and live, one too stupid to know we didn’t want it to end as much as she did, and my Owen, too caring to let her go. The cone of light from her helmet dances in time with her sobs.

It’s dark and they’re still out, probably gone to the Kinley’s for supper. He stands, heads to the door, uncertain. Maybe I should go see, I’ve been cooped up all day, fresh air and stars would be good. His hand goes to the release, hesitates. Mum’d be worried if she comes back and I’m not home. And she forgot to lock up, she’d be mad if she knew. He looks to one side, grabs a lever and pulls hard. He ignores the flashing red ‘Lock Over-Ride Secured’, its meaning lost to eyes clouded and dimmed with age.

She plods back to the hab, a solitary silver-grey figure on endless dark plains, stars burning bright, pale blue pool of light guiding her way. Half of all humanity for 53 million kilometres, two septuagenarians: one frail and barely functioning, one dysfunctional and dementia ridden. The child she never wanted, never had, never needed now thrust on her. She sighed. Not long Gav, Mum’s coming.

Maybe midnight now and I’m dozing off. At least it’s quietened down. What’s with people banging on the door this time of night? Kept it up for nearly an hour before they went away.

Wonder when Mum’s coming home? I’m hungry.

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About The Author

Ishmael A Soledad

Ishmael A Soledad has read and watched science fiction since before he went to school and thought it was time to give back instead of just taking. In between writing, working and reading he likes to daydream he's a rock star and annoy the neighbours with his guitar collection. He lives in Brisbane, Australia ('cause that's where the money and packed sandwiches ran out) with his long-suffering wife and psychotic cat.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

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