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Mars Won

Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in many places, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and A Capella Zoo, as well as previously in Daily Science Fiction. He edited or co-edited three volumes of the Triangulation anthologies from PARSEC INK and will soon be reviving the speculative twitterzine, trapeze. His first collection of (very) short fiction, Glass Animals (Pure Slush Books) is available wherever fine books are e-sold. He blogs at a href="http://www.stephenvramey.com" target="SRamey">stephenvramey.com and tweets occasionally @svramey.

Stardate 2025:325. We touch down on Mars. Flesh-colored dust settles around the capsule as the creaking, cooling fuselage ticks down to silence. Your face is pale inside the helmet; your hand grips the armrest between us. I think of your fingernails digging into my back, a shock of pain-pleasure distantly penetrating a mind preoccupied with release. The window onto this world is so small, yet the vista is endless. I breathe into my helmet until the visor fogs.
Stardate 2014:135: Friday night popcorn and Netflix. We're watching a classic, something black and white, with softness and silence and all the things that grant us power over life. "She's beautiful," you say, and I watch you smile with the starlet's smile, tilt your head just so. "Yes, she is." I look into your blue eyes and think of skyscrapers, dams, the great accomplishments of man.
You lean forward--I miss you already--and pour something from a black bottle you've hoarded all night. It says Baileys. I say, "No thanks, I have a beer," as you press a plastic cup into my palm.
"What is it?"
"Irish Cream." You smile.
"Sounds expensive."
"We're celebrating." Today we uploaded our applications to Mars One.
"I guess we are." We click cups. I drink. The taste is so smooth and sweet I want to melt into it.
Stardate 2008:114. Our third date. You invite me inside. "I hope my kitty likes you." I'm allergic to cats, but would never say it, not with you standing there in shorts and halter-top. Your legs are endless, your breasts peek with white-glimpse deference.
I see you see me staring and look away, face suddenly hot. "Putt Putt was fun," you say. I feel better. The cat hisses the moment I walk inside. Your neighbor, Jennifer, invites us over for wine and hot tub. You are even more beautiful in a bikini.
I borrow Jennifer's boyfriend's suit. "He won't mind." She's pretty too, but not in your league.
Stardate 2024:244. Tears float between us, salt and water bound by tension. Earth was a sphere bound up in tensions. Food wars, tsunamis, fires. Politics. It was no place to raise a child; that's why we came. That's why we're here. But where are we in this empty space, the darkness of it, the endlessness?
An arrow: You Are Here. It's too small to see with the naked eye. I reach to touch you. You shrug me off. I should not have slept with Jennifer. It was the boredom, I tell myself. It wasn't you.
Stardate 2019:253. "Let's get married on Mars." You blink. Your mother stares. Your father's fork clinks onto his plate. "What's that, like five years?" "Yes, sir." He looks thoughtful. "Damn fool thing'll never get off the ground if you ask me." Your Mother moves to the sink. Her steps are precise. Fragile. She doesn't want to lose you to Mars. She doesn't want to lose you to me. You watch her. I hate the worry in your eyes. I nod, and you leave the table, leave me alone with he who shall not be named. But it's okay, I understand that she's your mother. Your eyes seek mine over the cusp of her shoulder.
"Yes," you mouth. Yes, you'll marry me on Mars. There are no words for this emotion.
Stardate 2024:35. My pulse pounds against my eardrums. My chest goes tight. Our helmets are fixed into the restraints. I cannot see you, but I know you're there, you will always be there. System go, echoes. Go, go, go, one after another like cascading dreams. This is real, it's about to be real. Acid burns the back of my throat. I wish I could touch you. And then it's here. Ignition. Weight compresses me. I feel the shudder thrust through the soles of my boots. Static fills the suit. It feels unstable, unsustainable.
And then it stops, and we are gliding, climbing, shaking loose the tendrils of gravity that have so long held us down.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Author Comments

"Mars Won" began as an assignment in a flash fiction workshop at the Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review. The idea was to create a story experience from a fragmented narrative. This might consist of seemingly unrelated memories, disjointed experience, or any mechanism, really, that results in a nonlinear arc. Given my dual interests in near future science fiction and exploration of character, the idea of a young couple traveling to Mars came almost immediately. I had been reading about the Mars One initiative, that applications were being accepted for their first planned launch, and worrying about the way we seem to be destroying our future via impulsive decisions designed to milk the present dry. And that got me thinking about how we make the same impulsive mistakes in our personal lives all the time. Once I glimpsed a parallel between the larger concept and my young couple, I knew I had a story with a kernel of truth, rather than just another exercise. The challenge then, was to build a sense of escalation that was not chronological, but emotional, and I spent the majority of my revising time reworking the order and pacing of scenes and trying to hold the reader at the language level. It proved a challenging experience, but I was happy with the outcome. Sincere thanks to the other workshop participants, whose comments proved immensely helpful, and especially to Meg Pokrass, who led the workshop and is an incredible flash fiction author.

- Stephen V. Ramey
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