I’ve posted previous versions of this story, so I thought it would be fun to post this newest version, which I just submitted to complete my degree. Seconds after I post it here, I expect to see fifty-zillion typos.
Me, and Me on Mars
I need to get off, and the last ship is leaving. After a week of skulking around I have proved unable to obtain a ticket or a reasonable hiding place onboard. I can feel gravity increasing as I stare at the ship: my feet cementing to the ground, my insubstantial clothing leaving pressure patterns on my skin. Another force is pulling me away from the launch site, but it’s the last chance I’ll have to see a blast-off. There will be enough time for misery after this last bit of wonder.
A crunch resounds in my ears, a sticky sweetness crackling in my nose. Next to me is a girl eating an apple. She notices my attention quickly enough to have been waiting for it and winks.
“Idiots, wasting all that time and money on a ship,” she laughs.
My mouth is dry, accentuating the drought of what appears to be real juice bubbling in the corners of her lips.
“Worth it to go to Mars, though,” I manage.
“Oh, I’m going.”
I had thought she had my attention but I was wrong. “That was your last chance, sweetie.”
She laughs again, crunching at the pulp. “Nono. Did you think travel between Earth and Mars was over? I’m in a program. They’re still looking for people.”
I can’t even pretend to be skeptical. “What kind of program?”
“A program to encourage the health of the colonists,” she says. “Takes young people with type-O blood who could provide if a supply is needed, breed and make more people with blood that’s a universal donor.”
Breeding swerves into a direction I’m not interested in, but heat comes into my face like my blood rioting to remind me. I donate blood for money whenever I can. I get paid well because my indiscriminate blood is valuable.
As I look around at the crowd, I think anything must be better than our resentment, we who are left here to dry up, to starve, to have nowhere to go where there isn’t already too many people. Being a person is nothing more than being part of the whole. Sometimes I think I should just let my head go in all directions at once and shred apart and then I won’t know anything and nothing will matter because I will no longer be capable of understanding, but that raises the terror that beats me back into the moment.
“How does the breeding work?” I ask.
“Best-you-can-get courting,” she shrugs. “It’s not so bad. One of the boys on Mars sent me this apple and a ticket for the pods.”
I think pods sounds elegant, like an exclusive shuttle instead of a cramped space on a tired ship. “How does one get into the program?”
“You can apply at the fashility,” she slurs, fitting her teeth around the angles she’s made of the apple. She raises her arm with a card in her hand that sticks to the press of my thumb. I resist the urge to sniff it as I read the address.
“Good luck,” she says. “Making yourself cute would help.” She tosses the reduced apple into the air and screams as someone dives across her and makes off with it. Grabbing at her colorful skirts she shoulders through the crowd after him.
I consider her advice and then my funds. I’ll have to choose whether to go for a shower or some food to make me seem more appealing. If I walk into the facility now, with my rumpled and stinking clothes, brittle hair and nails, and a face that casts its own shadows they might turn me away.
I make it to the facility but can’t bring myself to go inside. They must get so many like me. That girl had looked clean enough and wore clothing that would cost me a year of odd jobs–was that her own or gifts from blood-suitors?
I go instead to a shelter that will sell me a bath and give me dried food to tear at as I soak. I try to relax but can only tremble, the food sitting in my stomach as hard as it came out of the package. My clothes float among the bubbles and I kick at them to knock out the dirt, scrub at stains with my ragged nails.
My laugh echoes in the bare room as I start thinking that maybe I’ll look too nice, that anyone with clean clothes and skin and something in their bellies doesn’t need to get to Mars as badly as the less fortunate crowd. The change in thinking even a bath can make—how will I think when I’m fixed up and far away?
Thumps on the door hammer the yells through to let me know I’ve stayed in the bath too long. I only just wrung out my clothes and hung them to dry—they’re thin and will air out quickly but the guy didn’t even give them a chance. I drain the bath water and fill the tub again. The knocks pause at the tumult before getting louder. The muffled voice demands extra pay, but I don’t have anything to give. I recline to soak my hair but yank my head up as the lock jiggles. It’s one thing to offer myself to someone willing to buy me apples, but I do not want anyone bursting in on my bath. I surge out of the tub and pull damp cloth over wet skin.
“I’m calling the police!” bellows the proprietor.
There’s only one small window and it’s set above my head. I strain to upend the tub and send wasted water everywhere and climb up on the bottom that bows beneath my feet. I’m not strong, but I’m not too heavy, either, and as the proprietor comes roaring in I haul myself through the window, kick against the grip clasped around my ankle, and stumble into a run. I am glad I’ve just eaten, but the food is still like a rock inside me and hasn’t begun to burn into energy. After I round a few corners I slow to a walk, let my face glaze over with apathy so I resemble everyone around me.
I don’t stop until the doors of the facility cut the world out from behind me. The police will be looking for me, but maybe I’ll be off to Mars before they can find me.
The walls are white, clean and straight and gleaming. The air is warm and I shut my eyes, letting it tingle on my wet skin. The angles and planes contrast my flight-scraggly hair and clothes that stick to my skin in waves.
“Hello,” someone greets me from a semi-circle desk. They are kind and smiling. A lump rises in my throat and I worry it’s my food coming back up until I recognize basic gratitude. “Welcome to the Center for Mars Preparation. What may we call you?”
“Sylvia,” I say, swallowing. “One of the people in your program recommended you. I have type-O blood.”
“Oh yes, right this way.” She leads me through white, stark hallways. I stare at all the lights, at the clean walls. This place isn’t rotting or crumbling like everywhere else and has electricity to spare. I am already on another planet.
The murmur of the machines sings through my body as we pass them and enter a room filled with chairs. I am seated to watch videos of the Mars cities and the safety of jumping. I sit through the lectures and movies while someone comes and takes a few drops of my blood. I focus on the videos of life on the red planet and wait, doing my best not to bite my nails or jounce my feet. Someone else comes and asks me to smile while he takes pictures of me. He leaves and soon enough later one of the screens has my picture and name on it. Numbers start flickering next to my information and after the better part of an hour the border around the screen ripples faint green.
“You’ve been selected!” says my original guide, “come along.”
I stand, a smile shaking its way across my face. It was so easy, so easy. No police, no arrest, only a quick jump between planets. “I’m going now?”
“Would you like more time on Earth?”
I laugh and shake my head, ushering her to lead on.
She takes me to the machines, like big eggs split against the walls. I want to jump in, embraced by that soothing blue interior like it’s the ocean from decades ago I have only seen pictures of. Chilly gel folds around me and I smile as an attendant settles the breathing mask on my face and inserts the needle into my arm while behind him the operator works on a tablet.
The pod begins to close. The world fades; brightness reigns. This isn’t a dream, it’s my dream come true. I push myself into the gel, wanting it to coat me all the sooner. The noise of the machine extends through me and I hum the same pitch. I feel I am being absorbed, that there will be no me anymore but a content presence that once was.
When I wake, the gel is warm and a glow insists I see it even through my eyelids. The build-up is almost too much to bear. I wonder if I will die perched on the edge of euphoria, utopia, that I will burst before it is time. The glow fades. I tremble and wait to see Mars.
The sound of “wait–wait–wait–” worms through the gel. “I have life signs.” The warm gel is cold now.
“Shit! What do we do?”
“We have to let her out.”
I thrash in the gel, trying to gain whatever space I can within the pod. The gel rips away in wiggling fragments and a seam of light beams from top to bottom and widens. I squeeze out, looking for faces, spare clothes, something I could hold a for security until I could understand what they had meant.
My thoughts are beginning to ping around in my head, leaving craters in my brain so I can’t think anymore. I don’t think I want to think.
“What is happening?”
“Sylvia,” says the operator, holding his palms toward me, ‘please calm down and listen: you are still on Earth.”
I glance back at the pod and wonder how I had stayed in there for an hour without them noticing the transport hadn’t occurred. “So it didn’t work? We can try again, right?”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He grabs at his cheeks with one hand as though he could pull the words from his mouth and hand them to me instead of saying them. “There is already a Sylvia on Mars.”
“I can…change my name,” I offer, though I’d rather head for the door and leave these creeps behind.
The operator turns his tablet toward me to show me a diagram of arrows directing people-shapes which jumping stalls of the bathrooms they represented. “These pods make a copy of you and convert it into data which we send to Mars where the pods construct a copy of you. It’s exact. You’re on Mars. You’re just also here.”
I am dizzy with the hope that this is all a prank, but if it is real I must fight for my way. “What about me? I want to be that me.” I sink to my knees on the cold floor. The tears itch against my cheeks.
“Normally, you would be,” he said. “But your pod malfunctioned and you were not…discontinued.” He opened his hand and a slim box on his wrist projected a keyboard onto his palm which he tapped away at.
“The process is usually seamless,” said the first operator. “Your body here is discontinued just as the transfer is complete, so the traveler comes out of anesthesia and exits the pod for life on Mars.”
“How good, for them,” I said.
“And…you. You are on Mars, having that experience.”
I open my mouth, but cannot bully the explosion of thoughts into an utterance. I was not in two places at once. I was on Earth, and the word of these men was on Mars. “I’m not stupid.”
He shrugged and I slapped him. “Get your boss or whatever down here,” I snarled, grabbing the lapel of his coat and shrugging off the attendant who tried to stop me. “He is going to send me to Mars in a little elegant ship or I am going to tell everyone that you’ve been killing people and saying you’re sending them off-world. This is a stunt to control the population, isn’t it?”
“No,” said the operator. “But I will get you to the board, so they can work with you to reach an agreement of compensation.
I nodded. “I’m going to take a shower. Get me some clothes.”
Under the water, I scrub away the gel and then a layer of skin as though I will flake into nothing and merge with the me on Mars. The attendant brings me a brush, a dress suit, and my own shoes. I stuff my clean feet into the grimy cloth and follow him to an elevator that I wish would keep going until it leaves atmosphere and launches us onward to my new home. The elevator opens and I enter a short, stark hall that opens again into a room containing five people facing me from their seats behind a long table.
“Hello, Sylvia,” says the woman in the middle, rising across the desk to shake my hand. I stay where I am, both to show that she had a lot to make up to me and because I can’t stand to take another step with the grit of my shoes wearing at my skin. “We wish to apologize for your negative experience with our service. But we can’t meet your demands. The only way we are allowed to keep this facility running is by limiting the population of each person on each planet to one. Meaning: any further attempt at duplication would be shut down as a cloning operation–people just can’t get used to the idea,” she spreads her hands.
Fury blazes through my limbs and across my face. “But you’re killing people.”
“We didn’t kill you,” she points out, something between a smile and a sneer on her face. I look away; she can see that’s why I’m angry. “ Because if we had, you would have known only Mars in this moment. Unfortunately for your case, people don’t get arrested for not killing.” She glances at her fellow board members and they nod at her. She sighs toward me. “Sylvia, we’re sorry you’re dissatisfied, but you can do so half-way. Sylvia-on-Mars cancels you out.”
Earth’s air is no good for me any more. I fight to get it through my throat, across my vocal cords. The world is getting small, so small. “Then I want compensation enough to live a decent life here on Earth.”
“We delivered our service.” She touches the table and the wall to our side shows me in a similar environment, smiling and nodding as blood is drawn from my arm. An attendant moves into the frame to present food for me to eat, better than anything I got when I went here on Earth.
The representative is blurry as I turn back to her. “Fine.”
Sand grinds at my feet as I get to the lift, pacing so the pain will keep my temper high while I wait for the drop to finish. I make it two strides into the street before I tell everyone what’s been happening. They look as me as though I am from another planet, but I am still very, very, here as I scream and point back at the facility, calling for help, warning people away.
The representative emerges from the building and directs response officials. They move forward to detain me.
“We refused to transport this one,” she shouted over me as another official collected the report. “Her tests showed psychosis. The rejection must have triggered her fully.” She shook her head. “It’s unfortunate. We’re always so excited to find a candidate.”