CH. 25 «Just like Old Mars»

AIPTEK

11-13-2308

It started when I woke up in a hot sweat. My room seemed a sauna to my waking senses, heated and gaspy, but too dry. All of the other rooms too shared the same broiled air, so I flipped the fans on and opened up my bedroom window. I realized what was happening when a scorching gust blew into my room.

It may be the middle of November when we Earthlings would already be bundled up in scarves and hiding indoors from the rain but on Mars that just means it’s wildfire season. The Winds of Hades rip north-west from the Tharsis Montes through the Daedalia Planum to plague the Olympus region. The desert’s heat mixed with a world mostly devoid of moisture combine to make perfect conditions for fast spreading fires that wipe out the already scarce dry brush. It’s on days like these, without a cloud in the sky but the brown stain of ash, when I miss home the most.

If I had been back on Earth, I’d have been ready to celebrate my father’s 52nd Birthday with my family. Our traditions included going out to a fine restaurant and retiring to his unit to watch old horror or cheesy comedy on his big screen. Instead I walked along the red sands of the late afternoon beach, starred down like an anti-christ.

The Martians already chastised anyone with a cigi clutched in their fingers. But when its fire season the orange ember smoldered like a gun in your blood red hands. Even at the beach, where nothing would even catch on fire if you marinated it in gasoline, they leered and jeered until they’ve watched you douse the cigi in a wet gutter and threw it in a trash can. After feeling guilted by every pair of eyes I passed to stop smoking before I started another blaze, I strolled down the pier. Like everyone in west Olympus County, where the sky wasn’t as choked by sepia hands, I partook in another beautiful Martian sunset.

An oil pallet mixed of crimson, violet and indigo painted a deep sky while the scarlet sun slowly made its retreat. Curling in from the right, a funnel of smoke billowed out to sea from north up the coast. The thick, low-laying clouds stained the bottom of the sky like a sickly brown tub ring.

What I was amazed by more than the view was the crowd of people gathered to watch. Never had I seen Nuport Beach so packed, and everyone was just out to take pictures. Families posed in front of the aftermath of cruel nature and created fond, pretty memories at the expense of millions in property and emotional damage–just 25 miles away. A gorgeous sight that touched me so much I had to leave before I became nauseated.

A few minutes later I approached the front airlock of my home with inexplicable caution, pulling the KEY from my pocket as I ascended the stair. My hand slipped off the knob as I tried to open the entrance, fingers covered with red grit. I brushed the fallout on my pants as I stepped in. The acrid stench of burning leaves and old iron pervaded the air inside as much as it did outside, which struck me as slightly peculiar.

Entering my quarters I  painfully realized why, the windows had been left wide. My life as I had come to know it—rather, the small number of possessions I had manifested in my lack of a proper social life—were coated in a film of scarlet rust. I had only been out a few hours, but by then wind-whipped trails and dunes already spread across the broad dresser along the window. I lifted my once white journal to reveal a perfect black silhouette remaining on the desk. I breathed life into a cloud of dust, which stretched its wings into the dim room and dispersed among its resting kin. Another step and I reached for the open window, but hesitated from shutting out the harsh world to stare at it a moment.

Mars appeared as it had in the old days, in the vintage colonial photos that still hang in bars and hotel lobbies. The sky was cinnabar with an eerie pink eye staring through the wind-swept palm trees and swaying power lines. The ashes danced in the air as spirits released at last from their bondage to our material world, and inevitably returned to nature.

circularcrop-itlom037-chapter-justlikeoldmars copy

 PREV: CH. 24 «On the Third Day»

PREV: CH. 24 «On the Third Day»

NEXT: CH. 26 «Everyone Comes Here»

NEXT: CH. 26 «Everyone Comes Here»

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