Author : W. Jason Petruzzi

I sit at base camp, on a rock ledge above a dry lake bed on the planet Mars, looking out at the red sky and the inhospitable landscape. We searched for water, digging thousands of feet under ground in hopes of finding it, just as the eggheads told us to do. But there was nothing. And other than the plants we brought along in our greenhouse, we found no signs of life anywhere. There are no fossils in the rocks, no protoplasm or plankton, or even a single microscopic bacterium. The planet’s underground caverns are as barren as its surface. Mars is just as it always appeared on those transmission images or satellite snapshots, or those long ago, long distance telescopic photographs. There is nothing here; there was never anything here.

But there is us. We are here. The two of us in the Ares, and the two of them in the Arcadia. And we will stay here. We will make something of this settlement, this first human settlement on Mars, the first on another world. We will live here, on plants and bottled water, for as long as we can. One of them is female, but it would be reckless to try to have children when there is nothing outside the ship, and barely enough room inside for us, but we still dream about it, because maybe they will live long enough to see the arrival of more humans, and, hopefully, rescue. We will not.

Yes, we knew that going in. That was always the price. To be the first to reach the new planet, to become the ultimate adventurer, to receive the glory of the first explorer, to go down in history as the first to set a boot print in the soil of another world. To get here was always easy, but getting back always impossible. It was always a one-way trip, a suicide mission, but we accepted, for the immortality of the accomplishment, to become the hero of civilization.

We spent much of the trip arguing about it. About who would make that first heroic step onto this world, that glorious first step. For that was the key. To be the first. There is no glory in coming in second, no immorality. To be the first. We came to blows over it, my co-pilot and I. It seems absurd now, now that we are marooned here for life, forced to rely only on each other for solace, but I really tried to kill him. I really did that; I knocked him out and tied him down, all so that I could be first.

And having done that, I bounded out in the Martian gravity, ready to utter historical words, and saw the Arcadia just below the horizon, already landed, her two pilots already walking about.

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