This is a second story from June 2015 that I wrote for a writing contest.
Terminal. That was the only word he heard of everything the doctor said that day. He could feel it echoing in his head and bouncing into his collective memories. He couldn’t process what was happening.
He didn’t remember even leaving the hospital, and when his mind finally caught up with what was going on around him, Bernard realized he was standing in the hovercab line waiting for a taxi.
The cabbie said, “Where to?”
Without thinking, Bernard said, “Home.” A few seconds passed before he became cognizant that the cabbie had no idea where he lived, so he added, “157 South Gulph Road.”
In an effort to distract himself from the continuous loop of the word ‘Terminal’ reverberating in his head, he tried to focus on the advertising screen on the back of the driver’s seat.
It was currently displaying an ad for trips to Mars for the low price of 700 million credits.
100 years ago, enjoying space had been for the rich who could afford to step away from their lives for the almost 2 year round trip to Mars. In 2115, the round trip to Mars could be done over a four day weekend. And even though the trip had decreased in length, the cost was still more than most people could afford.
Bernard didn’t know many people who had made the trip, but he imagined it being like a trip to Las Vegas on Earth. The ad showed the luxurious restaurants and elaborate shows, as well as endless strips of retail. However, in addition to the overt commercialization, there were picturesque scenes that stirred something within him.
There was no where on Earth that could be described as idyllic, and with his remaining time, Bernard longed to see something beautiful.
For this reason, the idea of going to Mars resonated with Bernard. He put on his eyepiece and accessed his medical records. He searched until he found what he was looking for–on the bottom of a page of test results, he saw the word diagnosis followed by the phrase ‘Terminal–approx. 4 mons.’
Seeing the equivalent of a “use by” date on his records did not sit well with Bernard. He had to stop himself from losing his lunch in the cab.
Once the feeling of nausea passed, he did some quick math in his head. With four months to live, and a wait list of about 25-50 days, he had time to join a trip to Mars.
However, having the time to do so and having the money to travel were two different things. Bernard had never married and he lived a reasonably frugal life, even so, he didn’t have nearly enough for even the cheapest trip to Mars.
If he sold off his house and some of his collectibles, he would still be about 100 million credits short. Sitting there in the cab, he made a decision–he didn’t have time to care. He would do whatever it took to get the money.
A few days later, he’d made several financial transactions and accumulated almost 650 million credits. This still left him short but he put the deposit on the trip and moved in with his sister.
When he’d told her about his illness, he’d lied and said he didn’t feel like being alone. He omitted that he was putting everything into a trip.
Ten days after his diagnosis, Bernard had enough money to cover the trip. Finding a way to earn the funds hadn’t been nearly as challenging as he’d expected.
A friend of a friend knew a guy who knew a guy who would pay him 75 million credits to take a package to Mars. He didn’t even have to deliver it, just leave it at the space port. Bernard agreed.
As the day of his trip approached, Bernard felt he should tell his sister something but in the end, he decided it was better if she didn’t know. Bernard hadn’t even asked what would be in the package; the less everyone knew, the better.
When his sister asked if he wanted to go out one day, he said he already had plans. She looked at him curiously but didn’t push.
He took a cab to the spaceport and stood in line after line waiting to board. It took 6 hours from the time he got out of the cab to finally sit on the ship. Those 6 hours had been the worst 6 hours in his life.
Every 5 minutes an announcer would come over the loudspeaker and say, “Flight number whatever is boarding in terminal whatever. I repeat, Flight number, terminal number.”
Bernard did the math; while standing there to get on the ship, he’d heard the word terminal at least 144 times.
Being on the ship was a lot like being on an international flight, though take off was more intense than he’d anticipated. While on the flight he busied himself with looking at ads for businesses on Mars. He’d decided not to make any plans other than his flight.
He still didn’t know where he was staying or what he was going to do for 3 ½ days while there. The ads he found the most appealing were the ones for hikes and trips to “Scenic this or that.” Things like “See the sunset on Mars,” “See the sun rise on Mars,” “See Earth from Mars,” and “Travel the Mars equator”.
“Bernard? Is that you?”
Bernard looked up to see Dr. Edde sitting across from him. In that instant, Bernard didn’t think, he just reacted. He lunged at the doctor but his straps kept him from reaching the doctor.
Dr. Edde instinctively leaned away from Bernard. He stammered, “H..hh…hhh how have you been?”
Bernard just glared at him and refused to speak. He went back to looking at ads; he didn’t really see or hear what was going on around him.
He was furious because this trip was his last chance to find peace, but now that was tainted and he was intensely angry. He kept hearing the word terminal again, but it was only in his mind.
Bernard shut his eyes and stayed that way for the remainder of the trip. He didn’t open them until he felt the ship dock. He joined the group of people getting off the ship and managed to avoid any contact–both visual and spoken–with the doctor.
He stepped foot off the ramp into a space port that looked exactly like the one he’d left on Earth. He was on Mars. He tried to process the magnitude of that thought cascading through his mind, but was snapped back to the present when he felt someone bump the pack slung over his shoulder.
He’d forgotten about the package. After regaining control of his easily distracted self, he remembered his instructions. He was to take the package to the center of the station and place the back pack near the flight information screens that displayed arrival and departure times.
He placed the package near the consoles as he’d been instructed. As he turned to leave, deciding it was better to focus on his trip and simply let whatever was in the backpack be, every screen in the space port suddenly changed. A video began to play.
“Hello travelers to Mars! You have been selected. You are now Martians.”
Bernard looked around and saw that everyone in the space port seemed as confused as he did. He also noticed that every security person in the port was just standing there and not doing anything. Then again, what could be done; it was probably better to see what would happen.
“There will not be a return flight to Earth. At least not anytime soon.”
Now people in the space port were highly panicked. Anyone who was near a security personal pressed them for an explanation.
Bernard concluded that he didn’t care. He was the only person who began walking out of the place. He didn’t listen to why or how the people on the video were going to accomplish their scheme.
He went out of the port and was on a busy street lined with taxi-rovers waiting to take tourists to their hotels and other destinations.
He went to the first one he saw with a driver still inside it. The man obviously had no idea what was happening inside the space port. He was just awaiting his next fare.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
“I want a view. The best one you know of.” Bernard said.
The driver looked at Bernard in the mirror and sensed the urgency emanating from him.
“The tower it is then.”
The rover pulled away and sped off towards its destination.
“First time on Mars?”
“Of course,” said Bernard.
The rover left the busy area and made its way down a street that was heading to the tallest building Bernard had ever seen.
They arrived shortly and Bernard paid and turned towards the building with a look of confusion on his face. He turned back to the cabbie. Before he could ask a question, the cabbie said, “Take the elevator to the top.”
The rover left. Bernard made his way into the building and was charged 50 credits for being there. He made his way onto the elevator and saw there were 500 floors in the building. The 500th floor said “Panoramic Level” by the button. He pressed the button and felt the pull of gravity as he was raced to the top.
When he stepped off the elevator, he was on a floor that rotated very slowly and the outer walls were windows. Bernard entered the room and saw another traveler say, “Earth’s moon.”
The room recognized the vocal command and the window that currently showed the Moon’s location zoomed to a view and indicated where to look to see the Moon.
Bernard realized the room was like a large magnifying glass allowing one to see whatever one wanted in the sky. If no one gave the windows a heavenly body to highlight, they displayed the landscape of Mars. It was unique but it wasn’t fulfilling the longing in Bernard.
Bernard acted on impulse and said, “Earth.”
At first an arrow indicated where to look with the word “Earth” next to it. Then the screen zoomed. Bernard was seeing a real time display of Earth.
And right then Bernard felt his breath taken away. The zoom level was enough that he could see clouds moving. The juxtaposition of the bright blue oceans and the brown continents was the most stunning thing he’d ever seen. Seeing it in contrast to the view of Mars’s landscape in the next window only made it more magnificent.
How could he have thought coming to a tourist destination on a virtually empty planet could bring him peace about life and death?
Seeing Earth from Mars in the greater context of the solar system made most people feel small. Bernard did not feel small. He felt like a part of something grand. Something that fit perfectly in its place in the universe.
He knew he didn’t want to die on Mars. He had to get back to Earth.