The Martyr of Mars by Nils Durban

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SUMMARY: Mars Flash Fiction contest entry

Mars had changed since I’d been here last, it had changed a lot. Ten years in, folks had still been shuttling hurriedly from shack to shack, fully insulated, hydrators clutched greedily to their faces. It had been a hell-hole, the Botany Bay of near space exploration, with the added irony that some of our best minds had actually chosen to come here rather than having been condemned to rot here.

But rot they did anyway. Mars sapped life, there were no two ways about it. Those guys had to be extra brilliant to achieve some of the things they did during their cruelly curtailed and wretched existences.

And me? The pioneer, among the very first, and one of the very few to make the trip back home. And now, the first to come back here.
My return to Earth had in itself been an experiment. Or perhaps you could say it had been an exercise in public relations, a way to win over the masses. “Just look at this man, this prime example of humankind. He has gone there, has pushed the boundary, and now has returned amongst us, and look at him, look how radiant he is, how vibrant!”
Mars has that effect, the pigmentation is inescapable. No matter how insulated you are, no matter how well protected. That healthy Martian glow! The biology boys were still trying to work out the reason why, thirty years later, let alone categorize the many different ways that this world was killing us.

But, let’s face it, this was always kept somewhat under wraps. It wasn’t where the people on The Hill back home wanted the focus to be. ‘Life and hope’ instead of ‘death and despair’, that had to be the message. And they had ridden to political victory on the back of it. All that was left for them to do was to stick to their promises and to abandon their morals. To start shipping people en-masse. They were heralded as saviours of the race, elevated to an idolatry status, as was I, the miracle spaceman.

And so they did come. They didn’t have much choice obviously, those that still clung onto rudimentary health whilst existing in daily squalor. They could stay put in the time bomb that was their existence or they could accept the graciously offered one way tickets. No choice at all, especially considering the marketing campaigns that they were continually bombarded with.

And now I’m here again myself and, yes, things have definitely moved on. The town that they had never named (how optimistic was that?) was gone. In its place, only this time, higher up the plateau, was a City, named after one of our great political heroes. Previously, the settlement had resembled an entrenched army on the brink of an eradicating defeat. Now however the new domes gave the impression of actual habitation, showed the signs of routine and day to day life. This was still very much survival on the brink, obviously, but it was an improvement. Apart from the fact that the amount of bodies here far outweighed the habitable space, and there had apparently been some horrendous backlog with the necessary resources from home.

But something else had changed, and changed quickly, as is very often the case when religious fervour takes hold.

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