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The Man Without a Planet

written by Alex Moore on November 13, 2002 | author profile | forum profile | contact me
number of views: 76951 |   printable version (text) (PDF)

A sunset.
A sunset.
Credit: Unknown
The sun was setting. A man stood outside his cabin looking down into the deep valley below. He knew that he couldn't stand out in the open long. The doctors had warned over and over again, "No prolonged exposure to Martian air," but he knew a little couldn't hurt. The latest approved Mars suits barely even filtered the air anymore, save for the usual dust. Around here that was hardly a problem. Yes, around here, the man thought proudly. My new home.

It was only recently that building permits were issued. He did not own the land, but he claimed it for himself. He had spent two years choosing the perfect site, away from civilization, deep in the woods... these Martian woods with their towering trees, twice as tall as Earth's. Looking over the deep chasm below he decided no forest on the Earth could possibly compare. He had been told that the terraformers had modeled this ecosystem from the Earth's young days when forests blanketed entire continents. He could not believe that. This much beauty could not come from Earth. It must have been here always. He looked deep into the slowly evolving clouds of the Martian sunset.

A cool wind blew from somewhere, and the man shivered a little. Wind was a problem up here, above Nirgal Vallis. He coughed loudly; he was approaching seventy, and forty-three years on Mars was worse for the lungs than a lifetime of inhaling asbestos.

Forty-three years. Had it been that long? It was just yesterday that lichen was spreading across these virgin hills, multiplying from one side of the planet to the other. Then the bugs came, and then the mice and birds. They weren't really birds, of course. They were rodents with wings, engineered in a laboratory to survive the harsh Martian conditions. But he thought they looked like them. Back then he had compared everything around him to Earth. They looked like birds because birds were part of him.

Mars changes you. The longer you live there, the less real the Earth becomes. Its long horizons and heavy air, and the way the Earth pushes on your shoulders... there is just something... odd about it.

Earth was no longer the man's home, just like a womb is no longer a baby's home. Mars was home. It was the only real home he had ever known. The only ticket to Mars was one-way. Once you came to Mars you became Martian.

The man shuffled slowly back inside his doorway but stopped. Behind him he heard the sharp cry of geese calling. A sudden memory of his early life pierced his mind. He was back in upstate New York as a child, fishing. The old man turned and watched as a flock of geese passed down through the valley. The sun was just disappearing behind them below the horizon. He shook his head and walked inside, sealing the airlock.

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