ONE-WAY TICKET TO EARTH • by Irene Montaner

“A goat,” exclaimed the host and the audience whistled loudly.

“That leaves us with only two doors. And now you know that chances on the left door are two-thirds. Would you like to change doors?”

You know it’s not really two-thirds. I was convinced that the Three Doors Contest wasn’t a fair game. After months of watching it at home and tracking the prizes I knew that only thirty-three percent of the time the prize was behind the originally chosen door. But that probability went up to nearly seventy percent if the contestant changed doors. Exactly the opposite of what probability theory would suggest. Anyway, focus.

“No,” I said calmly after the host asked yet another time if I wished to change doors. The five minutes the show lasted seemed to go on forever when onstage. The middle door finally opened and there was nothing inside. Nothing!  The audience began to clap and I took a second look at the open door. A holographic image of planet Earth had formed where there was nothing before and then I knew. The big prize was mine.

“Congratulations! You have won a one-way ticket to planet Earth,” said the host, and the audience continued to cheer.

***

Two months later I boarded the space shuttle that would take me to Earth. Every six months, a spacecraft left Mars with the winners of the daily Three Doors Contest. Tickets to Earth were a luxury that most Mars pioneers could not afford and the Three Doors Contest was our only hope to return home some day. I was grateful for being among the lucky ones.

I packed my forty years of life on Mars in one single suitcase. Most of my stuff would be of little use on Earth but I took my sleeping bag with me and the first martian suit I ever owned. Sentimental value.  Like most pioneers, I came to Mars looking for adventure and a better life but reality hit me hard soon after arrival. Life on Mars had little to do with the dream we had been promised. In spite of all the man-made modules we inhabited, Mars was still a most hostile environment where we worked in the mines, day after day, for next to nothing. Our only hope to ever leave this life of hardship behind was to win that Three Doors Contest.

I also packed all the gear in the winners’ goodie bag: dark sunglasses, a sunhat with broad brims, 60+ sunscreen, a surgical mask and a tacky t-shirt that read ‘I was on Mars’.

I didn’t really know much about the Earth these days, except for the official propaganda from the Federal Government of Mars, so I wondered if it would be as hot as their news reported, the air so polluted and fresh water as scarce as it was here on Mars. Everyone I knew on Mars had come on a one-way trip as well, and I had lost interest in new recruits and their stories about current times on Earth long time ago.

I decided I did not want to think anymore, so I opted to sleep during the six months that our journey to Earth would take.

***

I walked along the beach and felt the wet sand under my feet. Thousands of sand grains prickled the soles of my feet and the seawater hit my calves again and again. The water was still cold, though it was warmer than I remembered, especially for the month of January. Despite the dark sunglasses, the sunlight felt too bright, nearly blinding to my debilitated eyes. The air, though polluted, was heavy in oxygen. It was almost intoxicating at first and I had to pause every now and then, gasping for breath. My senses were overstimulated by all these sensations that had been once normal to me. Readjusting to life on Earth was exhausting and I had been taking baby steps until now.

It was already three months since we landed on the Official Space Travel Port but I never managed to get home. We were secluded in the Rehabilitation Centre for Space Travellers and even if we had been free to go we wouldn’t have gone far, debilitated from the journey as we were. Yes, our muscular tone was not what it used to be and Earth’s gravity was too much for us to take after a lifetime in Mars. But at my age there was only so much physical therapy could fix. Staying here indefinitely would never restore our health completely but it was a most convenient way to prevent us from spreading the truth about life on Mars.

I had watched the sunset through the shaded glass windows every day and I thought I was ready to take it fully in. I managed to sneak out without any of the carers noticing and I pushed my walker until I reached the shore. I was worn out from the beach stroll, as short as it was, and let go of the walker for a second. My bones collapsed, my weight too heavy for my weakened muscles. I tried to stretch my legs and inhaled the marine breeze. I felt the salty water itching on my skin. I used all the strength I had left in me to take off my sunglasses. The faint light of sunset burnt at first but I liked the warm feeling that came with it, so I stayed there until it was dark and chilly, my battered body soaking up every earthy sensation it had long forgotten.

So this is freedom then. And just for a moment I longed for the hundred shades of red and purple and scarlet and mauve of the sunsets on Mars that had seen me labour for most of my life.


Irene Montaner has a MSc in Mathematics and Econometrics. She enjoys writing speculative fiction in Basel, Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and children. Her stories have appeared at 365 tomorrows.


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