Rice field

Latest update: April 2019

To Mars, by Hana Aianhanma, March 2019.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The story is made up. As such, similarities with real events and/or persons are coincidental. If, in spite of this, you see similarities with events in you own life, seek legal protection.

To Mars

Humanity was ready to send an expedition to Mars again. The technology had matured for decades, the finances cobbled together, and the will to go had been whipped up by a masterful campaign. Unfortunately, corruption put a spanner in the works.

Part One

Leana was not happy.

“What do you mean, that engineer disappeared?”

After that short pause, inherent to any communication at such a long distance, the answer came.

“We can't find him. In fact, neither can we find the people who were responsible for double checking his department's work.”

This was not supposed to happen. Everything seemed fine right until leaving moon orbit. Constructions did look a bit fancy. None of the astronauts really cared for those flashy designs. Stuff would break, so repairs would wear down the glitter in no time. Still, they assumed everything would function as it should. Why polish things up if they did not work yet?

“Let me get this straight. I've only got fuel for either touchdown or to return but not both and,” she frowned at the screen's camera, “the people responsible for making sure we had enough for both disappeared?”

That pause again. It was not enough to fully interrupt the conversation but plenty to be annoying. Especially at times like this.

“Erm, yes.” mission control looked down. “With the funds.”

“Great.” She sighed. “Doesn't really matter that much after last week's explosion.”

“Ah, about that.” Remarkable, the places one can look at while still missing the camera. “We also tried to have an extra chat with the life support people.”

“And?”

“Turns out they forged their reports.”

“What?” Her voice got louder a notch.

“And they misappropriated about 90% of the budget.”

The astronaut hung speechless.

“After that discovery the FBI butted in.”

“Good!”

“They really are thorough at investigating.”

“They should be.”

“They even questioned me!

“Stop procrastinating. Who stole the fucking money?” She never cursed.

This was a special occasion.

“The FBI arrested about a hundred people. Their sleuthing also led straight to the head of NASA.”

Grimly, “I hope they still have her when I get back.”

“Errr...”

Her face turned red, “Don't tell me!”

“She's also nowhere to be found.”

“Unbelievable.”

“According to witnesses, she and all managers were picked up in black vans.”

“Black vans? you don't mean?”

“Yes, picked up and deported by presidential order.”

“Did they ask the president why?”

“Well, about that ...”

She stared numbly now. She had thought nothing more would shock her.

“... he's gone too.”

Part Two

Leana had worked for years. First she turned her dream of becoming an astronaut into reality, enduring the gruelling training programme. Then she got herself selected for the first mission to Mars and, finally, she was part of the national effort to actually get there. How naive they had all turned out to be.

Murdered by their own president's greed. He had not been content with just a few millions or even billions. He had taken all but enough to launch a skeleton ship able to reach Mars, polished dramatically for the cameras. Despite looking the part, it was a miracle the crew transport even launched at all. From the awkward pauses from mission control she gathered that, by all rights, it should have crashed then and there with everyone in it. It did not make much of a difference for her twelve colleagues, who died during that explosion in life support. Ironically, she herself would flourish thanks to them not using up the supplies, which would have been insufficient for a full crew.

Her dreams had turned into a steady stream of nasty and imaginative tortures she would visit upon him when she got back. If he was ever found, that is.

The worst part of it was that, after all that misery, she would get a good look at the planet from orbit only to return to Earth.

She really would enjoy pulling those nails.

Part Three

Her anger was spent long ago. She stared down. Mars! The first leg of the journey was done. She had done well to keep this wreck going so far. Getting back home would be tough, but she and mission control were confident that, barring any external disasters, she would make it. Pity about the fuel situation.

The news from Earth was not good. When the scandal became known, sentiment had turned against space travel again. For the foreseeable future manned space missions, let alone a Mars one, were going to be out of the question.

She kept looking at the red planet.

A message arrived from mission control. “This is the last update before your return blast. All telemetry indicates a go. Fire up the engines at five minutes after reception of the signal.”

A beep sounded.

She had been forced to cobble together some manual controls. Most computers had broken down. Guess where the money for the shielding went.

“Four minutes from reception of the signal.”

Another beep.

The ship itself did not have enough fuel, so she would have to use the lander's for those orbital manoeuvres. A few carefully timed blasts and Mars' gravity would be swinging her back in no time.

“Three minutes from reception of the next signal.”

Again, a beep.

Still staring at the red globe, the destination of her dreams.

Unreachable.

Beep.

Unreachable?

She had made her decision a few days ago, after carefully checking the calculations. She had modified them where needed.

Beep.

The hatch was sealed. With the press of a button the lander, with her in it, detached. Time seemed to slow down, what was keeping that signal?

Beep.

The engine roared to life. The last leg of her journey had begun. She would walk on the surface of Mars after all.

*****

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