The Man of Mars

by Lola Stansbury-Jones

They say that something might’ve lived here once, that the ground was once wet and fertile. Looking around at the state of it now, one can only imagine something very bad must’ve happened.

“Mars prosperity rover, log number 5110. Day 2555 since launch, 360 days since shut down. Does anyone read me? Over.”

Something very bad indeed.

The silence mingles with the empty static, creating the audial embodiment of loneliness. Earth doesn’t look much better, though. Despite the unnerving quiet from their end, a couple of satellites are still running, and I can see the view from the Space Station. The patches of blue aren’t as vibrant as they should be, and the greens have all but vanished. The clouds are darker, and hang heavy in the atmosphere, cloaking the planet in darkness. It is, in a word, pallid. This, combined with a year of punishing silence, has led me to believe that life on earth has collapsed, and I’m the sole survivor.

I don’t look at it often.

The sun makes her presence felt in the sky, and so I spend my time as I always do, transmitting radio waves to the Deep Space Network. I spend most days doing this, and when the sun disappears behind an angry storm of dust, I fall asleep in a nearby dune to conserve energy. I know that my battery is low now. I know that no one is coming back for me, but I have to try, at least.

I’ve long since stopped analyzing minerals, as I was programmed to do. There doesn’t seem much point now there’s no one to report back to. Now, I simply watch the sunset and sing.

“This is mars prosperity rover, does anyone read me? Over.”

I try a variety of satellites, knowing that there will be no answer, until I settle on my favorite.

For here am I sitting in a tin can, far above the world…

It runs on automatic and only plays one song every earth day.

…planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

“Turn that off, would you?”

It’s the first spoken sentence I’ve heard in almost a year, and in my absolute terror, I accidentally sever my connection to the satellite.

“Hello? Hello? This is mars prosperity rover, is anyone there? Over.”

No static. Just silence.

“Hello?”

“Who are you talking to?”

I look down and see the shadow of a man cast over mine. What I see when I turn around makes me wonder if perhaps my circuits are malfunctioning.

“It wouldn’t surprise me. You are in dire need of some maintenance.”

He sits perched upon a rock clad in a blue jester’s costume. His white face paint is a stark contrast to the orange sky surrounding us.  He looks so ridiculous I suddenly want to cry.

Instead, I ask him why he’s here.

“Oh, I’m just visiting.” He smiles.

Then I ask him why I’m still alone here. He sighs deeply as his gaze shifts toward the red horizon. “Silly children,” he hums to himself.

When I try to divine any rational reason for his being here, I come to one conclusion: I’m about to die. He bends down and grasps a handful of dust. He looks on with amusement as it slips through his fingers. “Another storm coming. Bigger this time.”

He must mean dust storms. I’ve weathered a fair few by now, but the last one nearly knocked me out for good, and I know that one more big storm is all it would take. And my battery is low.

“Perhaps a song?” He waves his hand and the connection returns, only this time it’s playing a different song. “I much prefer this one.”

Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low. I leaned back on my radio, some cat was layin’ down some get it on rock n roll…

The man taps his foot and hums along every now and then, but we otherwise sit in solemn stillness listening to the song. A few moments pass before he speaks again. “This storm is going to be much bigger. You won’t be able to hide this time.”

He’s talking about the last time. I settled in a dune and hibernated, waiting for ground control to give me the okay to wake up. It never came and I overslept. Or maybe I never woke up in the first place, and this is some kind of purgatory for sentient space rovers.

“Hmph, not quite.” He says, and there’s a twinkle in his eye that makes me think he knows far more than he lets on.

I ask him what he thinks I should do then, if I cannot hide.

“I can shut you down now. You won’t feel a thing.”

As the final chords of the song ring out, I think about the last big storm and how frightened I felt. I thought about all the days I’d spent alone since arriving on this rock, and what I wouldn’t do to get off it and go home. Would I die though?

“You don’t have to make a decision just now, you have a little while before it really starts cooking.”

It’s been very strange to have met you, I tell him.

Another song comes on, and the opening notes strike me so heartfelt and tender, I decide it’s as good a song as any to die to.

My battery is low and its getting very dark.

It’s a god awful small affair…

Artist: Gissel Batres

Lola is a young, working-class writer originally from North Wales. Her work has been featured on Headline Poetry, Literary Yard, and Friday Flash Fiction.

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