Author: Sabrina E. Robinette
The choice was obvious for most, but I struggled. Should I die freely on Earth, or live in debt on Mars? “In debt”– that’s what they called it, but everyone knew better. There were rumors of labor camps and brutal mining colonies, none confirmed but all believable. Everyone knows what will happen to them when they board the Applewhite Corporation’s space shuttle to Mars, but they go anyway. It’s not like there’s a better fate to be found on Earth, where millions have been wiped out by the nearly unlivable atmosphere.
The trip to Mars requires a down payment of ten thousand dollars. The rest will be paid over a period of ten thousand years; generations of mining the land for resources to pay back the Applewhite family for saving the select few that could afford to evacuate Earth in the first place. Nearly everyone eligible had chosen to leave, and today, my family is among those lucky few at the boarding dock. My mind is still torn, even as we stand in line to board the shuttle.
I turn around to observe our shipmates. Their eyes are glazed over, pamphlets in their hands, grim expressions settling on their faces. Lambs to the slaughter. I can see the reality of the situation hitting them; the condemnation of future generations to lifetimes of labor, the horror of thousands of years of indentured servitude. My mind is made up; I’ll be the first to break this cycle. I pull my father aside, and we argue in urgent, hushed voices.
“You’re going to burn if you stay here,” he reminds me, one hand clasped tightly on my shoulder. “Or die in a hurricane, or a flood. You’ve seen the news, haven’t you?”
I can’t play dumb. I know what will happen to me, and I know it’s going to be a painful death. But when I look at my father, I see a lifetime of slavery and servitude ahead of him, and I’m not sure which one of us will have it the worst. “I know what I want to do, Dad,” I assure him. “I’ll be happier here than I would be if I came with you. There are survivalist colonies all over the world, you know– I have a chance at life here.”
“Sweetheart.” My father’s grip tightens, but tears begin to form in his eyes; he knows I’m slipping away, and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. “Life on Mars won’t be ideal, but it will be structured, and certain. Any chance you have at survival here would be entirely unstable. If the weather doesn’t kill you, the radiation will.”
“I know,” I whisper, taking his hand in mine. “But you have to let me go, Dad. I’m twenty, and I can make my own decisions. And I choose not to go through with this.”
My father considers me for a moment, then pulls me into a tight embrace, resting his head on mine. He squeezes me so hard that I can barely get a breath in. “I already knew you were going to do this,” he murmurs, his voice resigned and broken.
“I love you,” is all I can manage without breaking down.
There are tears leaking down his cheeks; he gives me a quivering smile and kisses my forehead, returning to the line. I say my last goodbyes to my mother and brothers as well, and as I leave the boarding dock, I look back to catch my father’s eye. We exchange looks one last time, each contemplating the other’s fate, resolved in our own choices.