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The Mars Study

By Stephanie RosasPublished 2 years ago 13 min read
Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.

They also say that your skin would simultaneously begin to freeze and boil as your lungs rupture. That it would start off as a tingling sensation and change to excruciating pain in the matter of seconds. But my parents have a way of exaggerating their fears to me. Like how my mother would tell me as a little girl that if I didn’t eat all the vegetables on my plate I would die. Many times, I wonder if they are telling me the truth, if I would really lose consciousness as quickly as they say. Or do they exaggerate the rapidness of its effect to instill fear and worry in me so that I am always extra cautious? Other times I think they just fight loneliness as hard as I do, so they recite their warnings out loud to remind me, but more so themselves, that death, as close as it is, is not worth exploring. Yet, when I look out the window, the sun shining down on the red sand calls to me. I can’t help but wonder if it might be worth stepping outside without my suit for a moment just so I could feel the dirt under my feet and the warmth of the sun on my skin before I ultimately meet my painful end.

I’d like to think my father feels the same way. Every day he stares out the window for hours as if he was also fighting back every desire to just run outside. He used to tell me stories of his home back on Earth, and how there was a large collection of trees behind his house that he’d explore as a kid. He would imitate the sounds of the different creatures he’d see and hear and describe the large trees that took over the sky. “The color green means that there’s life,” he’d argue, “but red… red says nothing, it only brings anger and disappointment. Meanwhile green, green is beautiful and alive. Like your mother… I knew she was full of life the moment I saw her bright green eyes.” My mom used to always giggle and turn as red as the dirt outside when he would talk about her, and they’d spiral into stories of their homes and lives back on Earth. I enjoyed watching them laugh and talk about their adventures before coming here. It was like watching a movie where my parents acted out every part.

My father was usually a quiet man, only ever rambling on when my mother and him talked, but as the years went by, he became quiet even around her, finding less things worth saying. Occasionally he’d excuse his long periods of silence by saying something witty like, “the oxygen here is just more expensive than back at home”, but the silence only drove my mother insane. “JUST SAY SOMETHING”, she’d often yell at top of her lungs as he dissociated into a world only accessible through his mind. I always wondered what he would think about. If he regretted signing up my mom and him for such a fruitless project. If he reminisced back to his naïve ideas and the goals he thought he would accomplish from doing this. My mom often talks about the ambitious man he once was and how much she misses him. That the man who stands beside her now is a stranger compared to who she had fallen in love with. “It’s you and me kid, we’re going to reach the stars,” she often whispers to herself. A saying he supposedly repeated to her in their roughest moments back on Earth, but I never actually heard him say. Perhaps, because the first star they reached, was nothing more than a pile of rocks and dirt. My mother often tried to snap him out of his thinking spells, but the harder she fought, the longer he’d submerge into his own void. At night, I often heard her crying, whispering to him, “I need you Mark, please, I can’t do this on my own.” But he only became colder and more distant. It was obvious he didn’t want to be on Mars anymore, but all his request to go back to Earth were rejected. He had no choice but to stay here, so I guess he did the only thing he thought he could do: give up. My mom wanted to help him feel better, for him to see what a great opportunity this still was, but nothing helped. She would play a variety of games to try and cheer him up, but they were successful only for a short period of time. My favorite game she made was one that required us to race to find gifts for each other, and the best gift giver would get an extra ration of their favorite food. I think it was his favorite too because every time we’d play, he’d eventually smirk and say, “Lily, baby, you were horrible at giving gifts back on Earth and you’re still horrible at it now.” The comment always led to her breaking out into laughter as if she had purposefully searched for the worst gifts in hopes of hearing him say that.

My mother was always so beautiful, even when you could tell she had spent all night crying, her skin radiated beauty and her eyes screamed that she was ready for an adventure. She was incredibly intelligent too, having taught me everything she knew. Back on Earth, she was a biochemist working for Thorpe Industries, the space exploration industry who funded this supposedly promising mission in sending humans to Mars in hopes to colonize it. My father was one of the senior engineers who assisted in making it possible and volunteered himself and my mom to be the brave ones to go and become the Adam and Eve of Mars. I’m sure at the time my parents imagined being the first to live in a new planet would feel quite literally out of this world, but I don’t think they were aware of how long term this commitment was. After 2 years of establishing a home here, my mother learned she was pregnant. They sent out a message believing they would be sent home, but instead their request was rejected. “You can’t expect Lily to just have a baby here with no doctors or assistance,” my father tried reasoning with them, but they only replied, “we will help as much as we can from here.” I’d like to believe that Thorpe Industries didn’t help us because they couldn’t and not because they didn’t want to. Yet, after living here 16 years, we’ve all realized that Thorpe never had our rescue in mind. My parents unknowingly, or maybe just ignorantly, bought a one-way ticket to Mars and there were no caveats.

I made my peace with it early on. For the first decade of my life, I wasn’t even aware we were in a different planet. This has always been home for me. My parents, especially my mother, never made me feel like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. It’s hard to fully understand my parents’ grief and nostalgia, yet every day they seem to be falling even more apart. Initially, when my parents sat me down to explain where they were from, I thought they were just telling me another fun story. A fairy tale where my parents were magical people that lived in a faraway land. It took me a while to really understand. They explained to me that Thorpe’s initiative and vision was to save humans. Apparently, the humans back on Earth were careless about their planet and that there was an overwhelming amount of violence and destruction everywhere. My father always blamed the politics, while my mother would blame the pollution, but even so, they both agreed that Earth needed some help. I never questioned why my parents thought they contained the answer, why they volunteered instead of searching for people better qualified. I didn’t want to judge them, but their explanation only made me realize their selfishness and self-confidence to do something that sounded impossible. Nonetheless, even knowing where they came from, I love where I am from.

Most of Mars is just a rocky terrain. The planet itself does not have much to offer, but maybe that’s part of what I love. Its simplicity. Even with all our efforts, nothing we did changed Mars. It didn’t become more hospitable because we wanted it to, nor did it adapt around us. Mars could not care less that a couple of humans came and decided to try to make it their home. However, Mars has been kind to us. The first year my parents lived here, Thorpe discovered a hidden lake underneath the surface, and my parents successfully created a pump that would bring up the water. Now, I get the opportunity to go on a hike every day and get fresh water for us. The pump is supposed to be about a 40-minute walk south from our camp, but I can’t help but wanting to always drag my time out there. I think the walks are what have helped me appreciate my surrounding, building my love for this barren planet. Originally, the task belonged to my father but slowly became my mother’s job as he did less and less around the camp. However, my mother always complained about the journey returning flustered and annoyed. So, the day I finally offered to do the journey my mom handed me over the job without hesitation. Honestly, I selfishly asked to do it so that I could go outside. It was hard spending all day long staring at the outdoors and never being able to explore it, so I used my mother’s misery as an opportunity to do something my parents would not under any regular circumstance have agreed to. I think my mother knew that I was manipulating her, but her absolute hatred for the chore convinced her to overlook it and agree to let me take over. She will still occasionally ask me to join me. Normally, she’d spent the entire hike complaining about my father or she’d talk about her hydroponic plants and how well they are doing. But today, she was quiet. Not saying a word on the way to the pump. At first, I didn’t mind. I preferred the silence, and my mother was a loud woman who liked to fill the air with sound. But by the time we reached the pump, I couldn’t help but wonder that something was wrong.

“Are you okay, mom,” I asked her. She starred at me, her face looked pained and confused. She looked hesitant to answer, but finally spoke up, “honestly, Nova, I’m not.” I waited for her to tell me what was wrong, annoyed at her dramatic pause to share. She always found a way to make things more dramatic than what they were. She usually would cry before things went wrong. It was as if she searched to make things worse when they didn’t even have to be. Seeing that she was not going to tell me unless I asked, I decided to wait until the journey back in hopes that I could cut the conversation quicker. I felt mean, but I didn’t feel like dealing with the theatrics of my mother today.

“Alright mom, what’s going on,” I finally asked with an irritated sigh. She acted like she didn’t notice that I didn’t want to talk, but instead gave a deep sigh and began speaking painfully slow, “I need to tell your father something really important today and if he doesn’t respond well… I just… I don’t think I will be able to handle it.” Her extremely vague answer only irritated me more. I took a deep breath trying to remember that the conversation only just started, and I still had quite a long way before we reached the camp. I also knew that if she really did have an important conversation with my father, that I would soon find out what she was talking about given the lack of privacy amongst the camp. “You know dad isn’t very expressive, he’s probably not going to respond how you want him to,” I tried to reason with her. She nodded her head and continued to walk in silence. “Maybe you should think more about what you are going to do regardless of how he acts,” I finally said, trying to be more considerate and helpful to my mother seeing how much this conversation appeared to be weighing on her. “I think I’ll die, if he doesn’t respond well,” she finally said. I rolled my eyes. It felt like my mother constantly spoke of death and how close we were to it, “You can’t keep saying that.”

When we finally reached the camp, she rushed towards the door, but as she was about to press the button to enter, she turned around and looked at me. Even with our suits on, you could see my mothers’ green eyes. They looked so sad, and for the first time I noticed how weak my mother looked. “I love you,” she whispered and went inside. I hurried to put the water into its chamber and rushed inside to see what could possibly be bothering my mother so much. When I finally entered and removed my suit, I heard my mother say, “You obviously don’t care, I’m not bringing another child into this world!”

Another child? My mother, pregnant? I can’t believe it, another baby in this camp. I felt excitement rush through me at the idea of someone new in our home. Someone who like me, would be born in this planet. I waited excitedly outside the door ready to congratulate my mother. Instead, she swung it open and sprinted towards the exit. Before I could grasp where she was going, she closed and locked herself in the POSC, the pressure and oxygen stabilizing chamber.

“Are you crazy, what are you doing,” I yelled banging through the small window of the door, “Dad, come get her right now, mom is trying to kill herself”. I tried searching for the emergency button with my hand afraid of looking away from my mother. “STOP THIS,” I pleaded, “come inside, we’ll talk. We can do this together. I’m here. Dad isn’t the only one that matters.” My mother continued to look at the button that would ultimately end her misery. “I just can’t do it anymore, Nova. For too long I pretended like I was okay. Hoping that if I was the strong one and kept it together that we’d be happy. But I’m not strong anymore. I can’t keep living this way and I definitely won’t bring another life into this sadness. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do more. But know that nonetheless… I love you,” I continued to search for the button in panic, but without any more hesitation she pressed the release button and opened the main door. She took two steps on the sand before falling to her knees. I felt like a little girl weeping for her mother to come back. I felt my father’s hand on my shoulder, and my sadness turned into rage. How could he be so apathetic? We were here because of him, and all my mother ever did was love him and try to make him happy. He shut us out. He should be out there, not my mother. I wanted him to know how angry I was and to tell him how selfish he’s been, but as I was about to yell, he spun me back around to look outside the window and said, “She’s okay.” Suddenly, I saw my mother stand back on her feet and turn around to come inside.

My heart raced, confused of what I was seeing. Was this all a cruel joke? How is it possible that she wasn’t dead? She walked inside her face revealing the same shock I felt. She looked at me and my dad and whispered, “we’re not in Mars.”

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Stephanie Rosas

just your average writer writing about stuff.

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  • D F SMITH2 years ago

    Very intriguing. I found myself wanting to know more and more about these characters and their situation. Nicely done.

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