Author : Steffen Koenig

The ice from last night was melting on the rocky plateau that lay before him. It had been a cold night. Colder than the previous night, and certainly warmer than the nights to come. His limbs were numb and each movement was a source of pain. The horizon was a pale red, hazy strip. The sliver of light-creeping unwieldy over the jagged landscape-submerged the area into a dismal, surreal twilight.

He tried to get up, but his legs were unwilling to obey him. His entire body was shaking and he nearly lost consciousness once again. Thirst-he felt an inexpressible thirst. He moistened his chapped lips with the last few drops of water that he had. His parched throat felt like a grater, causing him great agony each time he swallowed. He hadn’t eaten for days. His stomach was now nothing but a useless, cramped muscle. Slowly, he stretched out his arms and felt around on the stone wall above his head, searching. He would have to climb higher, much higher. It couldn’t be much farther now. Just another few meters.

He desperately clutched onto a rock spur with his hands. With his last bit of energy, he pulled himself up and heaved his wounded body over the ledge. A wave of pain was sent through his body. His breathing was trembling and his lungs burned like fire. He knew that he did not have much time left. The thin air was beginning to take on an acidic taste to it, and he was having trouble seeing. He pushed himself off the ground and lifted his head defiantly.

A ray of sunlight, warm and forgiving, broke over the outer rim of the Valles Marineres and caressed his emaciated face. Suddenly, he no longer felt hunger, nor thirst. His pain-filled body only seemed to be a distant memory and, for just one moment, the light of the rising sun chased the desperation from his heart.

Then, the oxygen alarm of his spacesuit screeched in protest. It did not interest him anymore. One last time, he looked up at the fading stars. Finally, darkness surrounded him, and he greeted it with a smile.

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