The following short story was inspired by "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury. I wrote it as an exercise to create or pro- or epilogue to the book, with all due respect and credit to the brilliant Mr. Bradbury.
Alone. In the middle of nowhere. A red nowhere. Just a vast expanse of nothingness. Red nothingness. James, though he feels his name to be Spender, tries to shout out for help, for anybody to be there, but the air is too thin; the instant he inhales, he begins choking, gasping for breath.
Then, the winds, as if having a spirit and mind of their own, decide to start, picking up the fine, red dust which covers the planet. The specks sting his eyes as they take off in a swarm, almost as though each one had a place it should be and is going to.
The cruel sun, bearing down upon all, suddenly lights the dust cloud afire. Before James can realize what is going on, a bird of flames swoops down upon him. He hits the dry, red, clay soil which feels oddly rich and fertile in his palms. What he thinks will surely be his last thoughts turn to his wife, who he somehow knows, somehow feels, is gone. As he feels her memory take shape and form in his mind, the creature of fire morphs into her.
Relieved, he reaches out to embrace her, but as he does, she melts into a black puddle, like a poorly-made wax figure in the Sahara Desert. Two golden coins shine forth from the puddle, like bright stars from the depths of the translucent night sky.
The stars draw closer and closer until it is clear to him that they are not stars, but glittering blue orbs of sparkling light, full of life, knowledge, and wisdom. He finds himself holding one in his hands, clearly man-made, and offers it to them.
They shoot away like bees, buzzing out of the barrel of a gun. They strike an old man, killing him.
Out from the rocket steps the old man’s family, much younger than he. James greets them familiarly before immediately getting to work on burying the body.
No sooner has he done this do trees grow up at a tremendous rate, maturing in mere moments, magically, one might say.
Then, from behind the trees come fleets of alien ships, sailing across the sand as if it were water. Despite how fast he would run it would not be fast enough.
Before long, they have him surrounded. He cringes in fear at what he most dreads would come to pass, yet, inevitably would: the end.
One alien life form steps forward with a small container of sorts. James receives it, not knowing what to expect. It emits a quick succession of beeps before exploding, the atomic blast instantly killing him and the alien armada which surrounded him, leaving no trace that he was ever there other than a shadow, permanently burned into the red soil of the planet.
James Schielding bolted upright in his bed, beads of a cold sweat lingering on his body, the only souvenir of his visit to the red planet. Realizing he was still in the security of his own room and what that meant, he lay back down onto his pillow and sighed, still trying to catch up with his own breath.
Rustling arose from the other side of the bed, followed by a lamp clicking on.
“James, Honey,” cooed a silky voice, “what’s the matter? Did you have another nightmare?” A silence of ascension answered her. “That’s the third one this week.”
“I know, Marion, I know,” the tired man sighed, “but...Jesus Christ, they’re just so real...It’s this God damn Mars Bill NASA wants me to pass—and it’s not just them either—no!—the entire cabinet—Hell!—the entire nation’s riding me to sign this proposal, authorizing the first manned exploration of—”
“Dear,” his wife cut him off, “I know what the Mars Bill is—it’s all you’ve been talking about for the past month...and how everybody is on your case about it and that scientists believe there may be life on Mars and how those ‘damned Neo-Hippies,’ as you call them, are rallying against it along with the Christians...I know...I know.” By now, she had pressed her body against his and placed a reassuring head on his shoulder, comfortingly. Silence ensued.
He heaved a reluctant sigh before turning onto his side. After an intense internal struggle, he reached for the red telephone lying on their bedside table. “I better get this over with before I change my mind,” he grumbled to himself.
“You’re doing the right...” his wife yawned, “thing, Dear.”
He pushed the white button labeled, “ADM.” “Yeah, I sure hope so.” The phone didn’t ring more than once before someone answered the call.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” greeted a formal- and, more importantly, awake-sounding voice, “What can I do for you at this early hour? Are you in the mood for another late-night drive?”
“No, no, no” the wearisome leader replied, smiling, “Kira, I need you to contact Mister Bill Myers, head of the NASA department; let him know that...” He looked to his wife, who nodded, letting him know to do whatever it was his heart told him. He sighed once more. “...I’m approving the Mars Bill.”
Kira let out an excited, piercing shriek.
“Damn it!” he whispered, forcing the receiver a considerable distance away from his ear.
“Oh, sorry about that, Mr. President,” apologized the now not-so formal-sounding voice, “It’s just that...that’s great news! Mr. Myers will be thrilled to hear it.”
“Just make sure he’s the only one to hear it. I don’t want a single word of this to leak out before the press conference tomorrow.”
“Mr. President, have I ever let you down before?”
Another moment of silence ensued.
“Good night, Kira,” the President said before hanging up. He lay on his back again, staring up at the ceiling, giving yet another sigh.
“I’m so proud of you, Honey,” his wife said, snuggling up next to him once more, “I’m sure everything will be just fine.” He turned to look at her. Seizing the opportunity, she gave him a kiss. He turned back to face the ceiling again.
“I wish I had your confidence,” he stated calmly. “...Mars, here we come.” The light clicked out.
The eyes of Ulu Plu shot open as he awoke during a brilliant night, the moonlight of the two moons soaking through the drenched structure of his crystal castle and dripping to the floor, staining it. He blinked his golden eyes as they adjusted to the bright Martian night. Phobos was full and he stared at it, desperately trying to remember what it was that had awoken him as he knew it was of the utmost importance. His eyes shot open as it all came flooding back to him.
“Xvi...Xvi!” he called out. There came no response. “Xvi!” he called out once more.
“What?” came a slightly more than irate voice.
“I had another dream.”
Xvi scoffed in disgust. “Not another dream...”
“There was an Earthling...”
“...An Earthling leader, I believe...”
“Ulu...you know as well as I that there is no life on Earth...there is too much oxygen, everyone knows this.”
“But our scientists believe that it may be possible, provided that its inhabitants are...”
There was a moment of silence. “Yes.”
Xvi had heard enough of her husband’s madness. Although she had to admit the pressures of being the Guide of Mars could become a bit unbearable at times, but still...life on Earth? That was testing the limits between creative imagination and stress-induced delusions. “Fine, you know what? You think there’s life on Earth...pass that defense bill. Increase planetary security to protect us from the little yellow Earthlings...but bear this in mind: you do that and believe you me, they will panic...All over Mars, they’ll think that there is something to worry about and they will panic.”
A sea of notions churned and bubbled in Ulu’s mind, sloshing back and forth, until finally a frothy decision resulted from the tumultuous process. He sighed. “Fine, I suppose the resources could be diverted to a more useful, less imposing purpose.”
“You’re making the right decision, Ulu.”
“I sure hope so.”
There came a silence of unrest.
“If they want to come, Ulu, let them come...let them come.”