What was the point of it? Moving to another planet only to bring all your creature comforts with you. We called ourselves explorers, ushering in a new generation of humanity, but in less than twenty years Mars was nothing more than a consumer colony. The floors carpeted, bright shades of paint on the walls, lights illuminating every free space ordering you to buy this, try that, use the latest innovation in something or other. The planet was out there, space was out there, nature was out there but we were too blind to see it. It was as if we had scooped up a country from back home, placed it in a bubble of synthetic atmosphere and dumped it on the surface of another planet. We had it all, housing districts, shopping centres, entertainment quarters, even seedy areas frequented by creatures of the night who were lured there for tactile pleasures and the opportunity to win vast fortunes in illegal games. This was not exploring, this was colonising. All the knowledge we had gained from destroying our own world and now we had decided to do the same to someone else's. There may not have been little green men here, but this was not our planet to consume. Humanity was really starting to feel like a plague, as if we were locusts going from one field to the next leaving only desolation behind us. But we were not destroying crops that could be replanted, these were whole worlds. We could create a lot of things but a planet was not one.
There was something about the air as well. It didn't taste right. It made you choke at first, most people got used to it but somehow it seemed to asphyxiate me, some foreign invader in my body. I wanted to escape, to breath properly once again, but hopping from planet to planet was not like simply calling a taxi or jumping on a train. I was not going to hang round here until I could afford a transport then sit in quarantine on Earth for a week just to exchange one prison for another. I needed to get out and there was only one place to go, the other side of Mars.
As I slipped on the gloves I breathed in slowly, space suit hire was cheap for an hour but I had saved my cash for something more. A whole day, twenty four hours away from this torment. Ironic that I would be on the surface of the red planet, it resembled hell but would be my heaven, my salvation. I looked around at the families suiting up, going for a play for an hour before the kids got bored and they went for a space burger or some other such crap these fast food giants peddled nowadays.
I fastened the helmet and waited for my number to be called. "Forty three to exit B," buzzed through the speaker. Even this made me despair; it was like the Argos version of experience days. I sat, looking at the floor, hating every minute until I was free. It annoyed me that this had taken over a month to save for; I would need to savour every minute. All too soon it would be over then I would need to slog my guts just for another twenty four hours of escapism.
Forty four. Forty five. Forty six. The minutes passed slowly as I stared at the large five and zero on my ticket. All this space travel, mass commercialisation and technological advancement and still I held a rudimentary piece of paper. But this is what I wanted, back to basics, back to reality. I was clutching something real, not just a set of pixels on a screen, not just something I could swipe away with a flash of my finger, sent into a forgotten world of data never to be seen again. I could keep this, I could hold on to it, it could be a constant reminder of this day, something I look at and brings memories of a time when I was truly free.
I almost missed the number as the speaker buzzed, "fifty to exit C." I snapped out of my trance and looked for a sign. Digital. I was back in the prison, another assault on the senses as the text scrolled past with an arrow pointing to the far end of the room. An animation of a happy little space kid waving at me the last sickening little punch to the face. I walked quickly towards the gate and scanned the QR code on my ticket, no human contact, just another faceless machine. I stepped into a metal shell, the doors closed behind me and I was trapped. I half expected some cheesy music to start but instead another speaker buzzed out inane drivel.
"Welcome to the real Mars experience. This announcement is for your safety. Please be aware that Mars Experience Limited is not liable for what may happen whilst you are on the surface. In the event of any problem press the intercom switch located on the right side of your chest and assistance will come as soon as available. When you hear a slow beeping there is ten minutes left on your suit, please head for the nearest Mars base entrance. Please be aware that for any additional minutes you will be charged at double rate. Please enjoy your time on the surface of Mars safely and responsibly. When done why not visit your local McDonalds for a martian burger meal, present your ticket for ten percent off all purchases."
The doors in front of me opened slowly. I took astep forward and blinked in the light, it was so much lighter than theartificial glow inside. I scanned the surface, it was desolate, it was quiet,it was almost featureless but it was beautiful. This was what life was supposedto be like; this was the other side of Mars.