This story is by Gary G. Little and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jake looked to the north. He leaned against a conveniently placed boulder, and was sure he was looking north.
Downslope and onto a large flat plane was a pretty little flower. With a very long stem. It opened into a lovely blossom of red and yellow.
“Tulip?” He whispered to no one, and giggled. “Or a daffodil? Maybe a rose? Yeah … a rose. Definitely a rose.”
He did not remember walking up that slope, but he investigated from whence he would have had to come. There were no tracks from that pretty little rose to his resting place.
“Wha’d I do? Fly?” He slurred, and hiccuped as he suppressed another giggle.
He moved, shifting from side to side against the boulder he was leaning on and grimaced. That hurt. All over. He tried to move a hand, either hand, but found that neither would move. He looked down his right side and saw a metal rod sticking out of his suit, with a rivulet of red freezing and sublimating in the thin air of Mars.
“Mars,” he hiccuped and giggled again. “Oh yeah. I’m on Mars.” He contemplated that flower before him and frowned. “Thash not right,” Jake slurred, and considered the flower again.
“Yup. It’s gotta be a rose, ‘cuz one of its damn thorns bit me.” He looked back to the flower before him and traced the stem back to where it disappeared over the horizon. “A pretty little yellow rose of Texas.”
“Mars? Wait a minute, how’d I get on Mars?” he queried himself, his audience of one.
He sobered up and remembered. “Oh yeah. Mars Lander 1. First men on Mars. Hip, hip, hooray.” There was not much enthusiasm in that shout but his memory continued to clear.
“A most successful mission,” Commander Whittingham had declared from the monitor display on the command console of ML1. “See you all back aboard Orbiter.”
When? He glanced at the chronometer in his helmet. Six hours ago? Yeah … six hours.
“Wait … we did the final load, strapped in, and lifted off … six hours ago. Then why …” Reality slapped him in the face.
“We did. We lifted off.” He watched the engine runtime clock tick past five seconds. There was an explosion … a really big thump … he could see the sky of Mars crazy spinning, gyrating … it felt like the world dropped away … and then nothing.
A chime interrupted his thoughts and he looked at the suit display lights along the chin of his helmet. A female voice announced, “Warning! Loss of air pressure.”
“Oh shut up Maggie. Nothin’ I can do about it.”
His wiggle just a minute or two ago had broken the bloody ice sealing the hole made by that rod and allowed enough pressure to escape and trigger Maggie’s warning. However, as he had informed that bodiless voice, there was nothing that could be done. His hand and arms were not working, and why they weren’t he did not want to know.
Looking back to the remains of ML1 he giggled and said, “That’s the purtiest lil ol’ rose I truly believe I have ever seen.”
High above his grand seat, a point of light blossomed and streaked across the Martian sky, disappearing over the horizon. He waved goodbye … well, he wanted to wave goodbye but there was this problem with his hands. Mentally, he said, Safe voyage, to the remaining crew and a ship called Odyssey, that had brought Jake and the other men and women of his landing party to the fourth rock from the Sun. He and his friends, who were now part of that flower down there on the planitia floor, were now stranded. On Mars.
His comlink was offline, or broke. It did not matter; he could not talk to Odyssey, and Odyssey could not receive his datalink. Without the datalink they had no knowledge if anyone survived the abort of the Lander’s liftoff. The orbiter would have to presume the landing party dead. Mission protocols did not cover any rescue attempt when there was no indication of survivors. In fact, mission protocols did not cover any rescue, at all.
“Hell, even if they knew, there’s nothing they coulda done.” Physics. It all came down to physics. Fuel could not be wasted. Waste fuel and you don’t get home. Waste fuel and you could miss the Earth altogether. Waste fuel and you die. Sending a rescue mission for a landing party not showing life on the datalink was a waste of fuel.
“That purty little ol’ flower told’m what happened,” Jake whispered and giggled.
He was alone on Mars and the fabled Robinson Crusoe bit fantasized many times in cinema, was not going to happen.
“No … wait …” Jake mumbled remembering the last movie, “not Crusoe … what was the guy’s name? Wilby? Whatsit? Watson? Wilson, yeah, that’s it, Wilson. The last movie about being marooned on Mars.”
“Jacob Brutus Goldstein will not play the part of Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I am not Crusoe, nor am I Wilson. But I guess that does make me the only citizen of Mars. I am the first Martian.” He giggled at that nonsense and realized he was doing a lot of giggling the last few minutes.
On that cue, Maggie had something to say. “O2 levels are critical. Replace O2 tank immediately.”
“Maggie, old girl, if I had an O2 tank I would indeed replace it.”
He did a perfunctory look around his surroundings. Maybe an O2 cylinder was out here with him. Who knew? After a few seconds he realized it was futile.
His look had included a glimpse of his arms and legs. If there was an O2 tank, it might as well have been miles away. He could not retrieve it. Not with those bent and twisted appendages he called legs.
“Multiple fractures in both legs and arms,” Maggie said when he queried her. Flashing on the display down in the lower right corner was a maximum medications warning. He could have no more, and there was none to administer.
“Thanks, Maggie,” Jake said with gratitude. Looking at his mangled limbs, he did not even want to think of the pain he could be in. With any luck, by the time the pain came back, it would be over.
“Maggie, suit menu please,” and using facial gestures on the personal heads up display, he selected Notifications and turned Maggie off. Those announcements would increase in frequency and urgency as his suit continued to lose pressure and O2.
“No sense in being reminded that I’m dying,” he mumbled.
He checked the pressure loss and how much reserve he had. He compared that to the log entry for the administration of the nerve blocks, and the expected duration of those nerve blocks.
Ball parking it in his head he said, “Gonna be close.” At the current rate of pressure loss, with the reserve he had in his back pack … it was going to be very close, unless he intervened. He considered his options.
The trick was to avoid all that pain. If there was any hope of rescue, he would endure it. Rescue, however, was moving sunward, and would not be back for three years.
He knew his arms and legs were a mangled mess. What was happening internally he did not know, but was sure it was not nice. He would never move from this spot, neither on his own nor with help. His “boulder” was his co-pilot chair from the Lander. He had figured that out through all the fuzz. It tore loose during the spin and deposited itself here with Jake still strapped in.
He looked at the menu in his helmet display and winked and blinked through his options. Over dosing was not possible. The heavy drugs that modern spacesuits carried were gone. The trick would be to avoid all that pain for the last little bit of whatever life he had left.
“Hypoxia? Yeah, that’s possible.” Remembering his low pressure training, he adjusted the input of O2 and compensated for pressure loss. If he got pressure and O2 just right, he would go to sleep and never wake up. That was better than the alternative.
That decided, he leaned back against the seat and again gazed down at the flower in front of him. “Pretty little ol’ rose,” he giggled and hiccuped a chorus or two of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” His eyes misted as he remembered Glynda, with the yellow hair, his Texas rose.
Through a foggy haze he giggled as he sang the songs of his childhood hero: Gene Autry. He laughed out loud as he did an offkey parody; “Oh Bury Me Not On The Lone Planitia.” His fuzzy mind had trouble with the rhyme, but it gave him something to do.
The final words recorded on his personal suit log were, “Dang it. I’m gonna die with my boots on.”