MARS ASCENT • by Andrew Males

“It’s the logical thing to do and you know it.” Alan stared into Helen’s sad brown eyes, hoping for agreement at last.

“Why are you giving up? The antibiotics may just be enough to get you there, at least until you can say you’ve stood on the surface.” Helen hated the injustice that would happen if  Alan had to give up on his Mars dream this close to arriving.

“What if you need them at some point?” Alan said. “You’d only be cursing me later for hogging them and then dying on you.”

Helen had been refusing to face the truth all day.

“Besides,” he continued, “it is NASA protocol for a long journey like this. It’s not like they didn’t think of this scenario before. Hell, we even joked about who might kill whom first!”

Helen turned away from him and looked around the cramped capsule for inspiration, as if expecting a miraculous new button to appear that would solve everything. She gently pushed herself from his bed and floated up to the ceiling. Deep down she knew he was right, of course. NASA had gone for the bold step of employing two people on a one-way mission to Mars and they’d thought of just about everything, including what happens if a crew member gets critically ill during the journey. She’d recognised the initial signs in Alan a while ago, but didn’t want to admit to herself it was happening; didn’t want to face up to the massive responsibility she would inevitably have to take. The decision had to be made soon.

“Do you think you could bury me on top of Olympus?” Alan asked, after staring out at the blackness for the last thirty minutes.

Helen continued to look over some calculations. “If you think I’m hauling your heavy arse up that damn monster of a volcano–”

“Hey–my arse will be much lighter on Mars, thanks very much. Yours will be too, but it will still look big.” Alan gave her a cheeky poke of his tongue.

“Listen, Mr. soon-to-be space junk, I ain’t touching your disease-ridden body!” Helen’s smile quickly collapsed as she fought back the tears. Ashamed, but longing for his touch, she pushed herself towards him and they embraced.

The perfect man-woman team for this mission, they’d been chosen for their compatibility: enough in common to keep each other occupied for the long journey, but their values considered to be strong and too different to cause a high probability of a relationship forming and the complications that may follow. It seemed, however, even Cupid had enough knowledge of astrophysics to hit Helen millions of miles out into space.


Alan smirked at Helen’s shocked reaction. “Don’t tell me you hadn’t thought about it!”

As a dedicated scientist working all hours in preparation for this mission, she was used to going long periods without intimate companionship and so the prospect of a few years of abstinence had not been a big deal. Now, being cooped up with nothing much to do and a man who–when she permitted herself to think it–was unlikely to be here for much longer, it had crossed her mind a lot these last few weeks.

“Isn’t our next scheduled report due?” she asked him.

“Who cares? I’m sure they can wait. Blame it on some malfunction.” Alan’s eyes gestured for her to join him.

A mix of emotions rushed through her mind. Would it be pity? Selfishness? Dangerous? Or just a natural love between two lonely people? Maybe the situation didn’t matter any more; she just wanted to share a special moment with him. The two met, as Control was kept waiting.

Alan had been unconscious for over twelve hours now. Helen had stopped all medication just before he had passed out, after reluctantly allowing her heart to be defeated. She had talked to Control several times over the last few days, but response times were gradually getting longer and conversations were extremely difficult. They were worried that she hadn’t slept in days, and that her health, too, would suffer. Losing one member–in terms of mission success–was acceptable; losing both would be catastrophic. They had made her next orders quite clear. Helen held in her hand a note that Alan had scribbled down a day before he had become unconscious, with strict instructions not to open it until the moment came. Staring out the small window, stars becoming blurred, she opened it.

My Darling Helen,

You’ll know by now that I’m not one for sentiment so I’ll keep this short. If someone had told me that my dying moments would be shared with a beautiful, intelligent, caring woman whilst on the greatest adventure mankind has ever taken”¦I’d have settled for that.
Go on and make history.

All my love,

“Damn you, Alan!” she said, stroking his forehead as he lay there, his breathing shallow. He had known how awkward it was to cry in zero-G, but then Helen knew she may be well-practised by the time she reached the red planet in a few days. She looked at the controls that were keeping him alive, and after composing herself contacted Control once more, confirming her next action. Silently, with one last touch of her lips on his, she executed the appropriate command, and his breathing stopped. Covering his body with his blanket, she sat a few feet away and grabbed a pen and notebook and started to make some more calculations. Maybe the climb with Alan wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Andrew Males has always dreamt of being the first person on Mars, but has yet to find a cabbie who will take him there.

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