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Gaia Hypothesis

Eden Fenn (she/they) is a software developer and vat meat enthusiast whose work has appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and the Baltimore City Paper. She's currently finishing a young adult novel about gender and power on a strange planet. She lives in Baltimore with her wife and a very bad dog.

No matter what we did, they kept dying.
We were quick to correct the knowable causes. A stronger ion radiation shield to prevent cancer. Increased exercise regimens to stem bone density loss and muscle atrophy. Lamps to mimic sunlight, vitamins, antidepressants, sleeping pills. Despite every intervention, the colonists always wasted away within seven years of their arrival on Mars.
Just before the tenth anniversary of the colony's founding, news outlets on Earth began reporting that there were no survivors from the first two expeditions, and that more recent arrivals were on track for total fatality on a similar timeline. Subsequently, volunteers for new expeditions declined by ninety-five percent: fuel on the fire of population decline.
You will recall that around this time, I proposed that we explore other, non-mechanistic, causes. That suggestion was derided by almost everyone in this room.
While you continued to search fruitlessly for answers in the observable world, I quietly began my own course of study. I scoured countless texts on theology, philosophy, and world religions. I looked for anything I could find on spirit, animism, prana: anything that credited life to forces beyond physics and chemistry.
My reading led me to deep ecology, to the Gaia hypothesis. And ultimately to the belief, appearing in cultures throughout history, that the force animating humans and all life comes from the Earth itself. It was no coincidence, I realized, that life on our homeworld was so abundant while everything we brought here seemed to die. We had cut ourselves off from the source, from life itself.
My messages explaining this went unanswered. I was an irrelevant old biochemist who hadn't published since my arrival on Mars. An old woman quickly approaching her own seventh year on this planet, whose time was running out. Wasting away, growing reclusive as I neared the end. Even, some of you whispered, coming a bit unraveled.
And then--just when I was beginning to think our colony was doomed--It spoke to me.
This is not a dead world. Three months ago, the spirit of Mars revealed Itself to me. And It has spoken to me every night since that first visitation, making Its will known. The spirit of Earth spoke to our ancestors too, and they did not win Its favor cheaply. Our new god demands what all gods demand: sacrifice.
By now, some of you are beginning to understand why I've called you here today.
The doors are locked. This chamber is being flooded with oxygen as we speak. You will all be unconscious when you are burned in offering; there will be no pain. This is not what I wanted, but it is what the spirit demands. Know that your deaths will mean life for your fellow colonists, and the ultimate success of our mission. Know that I would take your place if I could. But the spirit demands that I remain.
Do not waste your last moments on fear. Consider yourselves honored, that you were chosen to pay this price.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 13th, 2020

Author Comments

The first migration to Mars could occur within our lifetimes. It will almost certainly be a one-way trip. When I frame the question of how people might fare there in terms of my experience, I think of how relatively small environmental changes (working the graveyard shift at 7-Eleven, living in a high-rise apartment building, escaping civilization for a few days to look at some trees) have caused drastic shifts in my wellbeing. Whether it's the planet's life force or something more mundane, I can't imagine thriving anywhere but Earth.

- Eden Fenn
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