When We die On Mars

A short story

Published by Clarkesworld

“You’re all going to die on Mars.” This is the first thing he tells us, voice plain, tone sterile. Commander Chien, we eventually learn, is a man not predisposed towards sentimentality.

We stand twelve abreast, six rows deep, bones easy, bodies whetted on a checklist of training regimes. Our answer, military-crisp, converges into a single noise: “Yessir!”

“If at any point before launch, you feel that you cannot commit to this mission: leave,” Commander Chien stalks our perimeter, gait impossibly supple even with the prosthetic left leg. He bears its presence like a medal, gilled and gleaming with wires, undisguised by fabric. “If at any point you feel like you might jeopardize your comrades: leave.”

Commander Chien enumerates clauses and conditions without variance in cadence, his face cold and impersonal as the flat of a bayonet. He goes on for minutes, for hours, for seconds, reciting a lexicon of possibilities, an astronautical doomsayer.

At the end of it, there is only silence, viscous, thick as want. No one walks out. We know why we are there, each and every last one of us: to make Mars habitable, hospitable, an asylum for our children so they won’t have to die choking on the poison of their inheritance.

Read the full story at Clarkesworld.