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Requiem in the Key of Bradbury

M. Bennardo's stories have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and others. He is a writer of short fiction today in part thanks to the unknowing influence of Ray Bradbury. He lives in Kent, Ohio, but people everywhere can find him online at mbennardo.com.
First of all. Don't forget. You got to grow up here.
No other kids can say that. And even when the others come later. You'll still be the first.
Tommy and Jill. You were too young. But Eddie. I think you might remember.
How excited you all were when we first came here.
After months of being cooped up in the rocket. Stuck motionless. Or so it seemed. In the empty stillness of space.
You couldn't get enough of everything: The red rocks. The red sky. The old canals. The dead Martian cities.
White and shining. Like palaces of bone.
You all whooped and yelled. We named the hills after you. You said the food tasted better.
They were the same vacuum-sealed rations. But you were right. Your mom and I thought so too. Just something. About the chilly air and the new gravity.
Mars beneath our feet.
It was a privilege to grow up here. You'll understand that later.
I know you three had to do without a lot of things that kids on Earth have: A proper school. Other kids to play with. Halloween. Christmas.
Maybe most importantly. A secret culture. A children's culture. Apart from what your mom and I could give you.
But I don't know if those things even exist on Earth anymore.
When we tune the radio. In between the dust storms. And pick up the cold brittle wave. Of a station back on Earth. Do you ever hear them mentioned?
The other things that they still do advertise and talk about: Television and movies. Mass-produced toys. Ice cream and candy. New sneakers.
White and shining.
All those things they talk so much about. Those things are just the medicine. The opium. That people on Earth have to take. To deal with the knowledge. That it's all ending soon.
That their planet is dying. Their way of life is dying. That they're all killing each other.
Every day.
They're just another form of indoctrination: Like political parties. And corporate loyalty. Higher education. And wartime patriotism.
But we don't need any of that here.
Just smell that air. That sterile red air. Just feel that sun. That cold distant sun.
Just shout out loud. As loud as your lungs will let you.
Not another soul to hear. Yours. It's yours. This is all yours.
You're welcome.
We have vacuum-sealed food to last for decades: Water filters. Playing cards. A hundred good books. A thousand good songs.
What more could you want?
I know it hasn't been easy. But we had to sacrifice too. Your mom and I.
When Caroline got sick and left us. It almost killed us. You don't know how bad it got. We tried to protect you from that.
The people we left behind. The things we left behind. We've lost things you don't even know about.
And now this. This thing I have to tell you. The reason I brought you out here. This picnic by the canal. By this million-year-old city.
Tommy and Jill. Eddie.
Listen.
We think I have bladder cancer.
We're pretty sure anyway. I've been seeing blood clots in my urine. We'd need a cystoscope to know for sure. But the clots keeps coming back. And that's not a good sign.
Honestly. We don't know what will happen.
How long it will take to spread: Maybe years. Maybe never. Maybe months. Maybe yesterday.
But it doesn't change anything. Your mom is healthy. You three are healthy. We're staying here. And we're not breaking radio silence.
We didn't for Caroline. So we won't for me.
In fact I've brought the radio. And I want you each to smash it with a rock. Then I'll throw it in the canal. It's not healthy to keep it. It's a link to a dead world.
One we're never going back to.
I admit it's taken longer than I thought. For Earth to kill itself. I admit it's taken longer than I thought. For anybody else to come.
Every night on the radio. Politicians and pundits and poets. They talk and talk and talk. Proposing solutions and making arguments. Fighting and dreaming.
As if the problems on Earth can still be fixed.
But they can't. Not really. Not in the long run. And hell. Now that I'm sick. Maybe Earth will actually outlive me.
But it won't outlive you. If we had stayed. It would have meant dooming you.
We came here for you.
So let's make the last day today. Let's make a clean break.
Tommy and Jill. Eddie.
Here's a rock for each of you.
If you love your father. If you trust your father. If you believe your father.
You'll smash this radio.
Then wait with me. Then wait after me.
After I'm buried. After I'm gone.
As long as it takes. Until the others come. And I promise they'll come. And then you'll see. Alone out of everyone.
How right I was.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 16th, 2020
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