Sublimation of a Dream

By Andrew Reichard    


Dotted Yeti/ Shutterstock


“We came to Mars to become disoriented”: 

That was another one of Zander’s favorite sayings, which he said about us pioneers—anyone, really, who had a hand in the Mars colony .

After all this time, I think I know what he meant . 

What you—anyone watching this, these—szt! 

What you have to understand is that, back then, we all thought—heck, we all thought Earth was finished. And I mean extinction-level phhooop: done .

—— . . ——That may be kinda hard to imagine now, I know. But, back then it was— . —it was not hard to imagine . . 

–. ..- .-.. .-.. -.– 

What you have to understand is how urgent we all were back then, everyone. Things done in a rush, you understand . 

It’s hard for me now to believe .

I must have—ohhh, the first sixty years of my life, I must have spent them running. Can’t remember walking; not once! And then up here in the station of course—or the station before this, before this facility was built—flying around the way we did, heedless of our own—because we were trying to get a head start on making Mars habitable before the Earth———so, of course we weren’t too concerned with what they used to call “red tape” back then— . .

–. .-.. .- -.-. .. . .-.

. . .sssssssssszzzsztsztszt. . .—ere’s the?—oh, I see—this button—

-.. ..- -. .

Ohh, I’ve picked a few things up over the years. And I’m talking Mars years, here . 

But I’m not a technical person, even after so long—all this fancy—szt

So you’ll have to bear with me as I—

szt—head of facility upkeep—what you might call a “non-system-essential” position, but I’ve personally been here the longest of anyone here . 

-.-. .-. .- – . .-.

Yep. I’m one hundred and five years of age—huuuuuhh-heh-heh—isn’t that—something? I realize I think I probably almost look that old, too. This, now, is in Earth-years, mind you. Age is always in Earth years, mind you. If you were born on Earth, you think in its years. About your lifespan, that is . 

It’s because of the effects of time-dilation—how old I am—which is weaker in space. Gravity being linked to how our bodies experience time after all, and I’ve been up here, in Mars’ orbit for—long enough to become one hundred and five years of age .

—Yea. Some of the others have passed on by now—— . . — . — . 

Or been moved to other projects, or else, some have dusted off the emergency cyro-beds and gone to sleep. Zander’s done so. Which surprised me something awful. It’s pretty outdated stuff, but there’s always the hope, after all. I suppose . 

Sometimes I still look in on them—but it’s a little scary. I get scared. For them, that is. Time-scared. It seems—lonelier than death— . ————

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Maybe time’s working on me more slowly, but I don’t know that—my noggin, I mean my brain, that is, doesn’t fully believe it, and so—well, the mind is a powerful thing. I think about death a lot these days. I feel like a—.—sure: I feel like I’m preparing for different sort of journey .

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Mallory is the youngest of us here. She’s put in her return application and is sitting tight while it’s processed. Though it does seem always to take a long time for them to get back to us . 

I’ve been thinking about that—see, when we came here, we were humanity’s last hope, as I may have said. And Mars—inhabiting it was more of a coalition of companies, the big ones. One or two governments took a back seat, but those were small-little guys, nothing like what you have now, and we had what you might call a, ah, what’s the word? Drawing a blank—.— .

We had what you might call a—we were urgent. All hands on deck. We had volunteers. People without any training. Me neither, if we’re being completely honest. Popped me through space school, and that was mostly just the simulators and training exercises, and I was signing these book-length waivers without reading them; I mean a lot of us thought we were going to die anyway and just wanted to—I mean I waived just about all of it, everything, and that’s why a lot of us think now that we don’t get—like there must have been some kinda clause in there somewhere nobody saw that entitled us to——stay .

Yes—earth had a population problem, some of you may recall . 

I don’t mean to want to sound bitter to you. In the wars that followed down there, it’s likely we would all have been, you know, killed. And it’s been a—it’s been very interesting out here. And I’m old. Now, I’m old . 

But I’m getting somewhat ahead—of myself . 

-.. ..- -. .

What I thought, back then: pphhhffff

What did I think back then? Uhh, well for one I thought I was going to be on Mars. On its surface or, or underground. They had these boxy robots doing some prep work, but a lot of those were breaking down. Built too quickly, and they were building more to replace them before they tried to put any mechanics on the Mars dirt . 

At the beginning we knew nothing but the complexities. Zander referred to that period of time—he talked about our “delirium of solutions”; I wrote that down when I heard it; just—wrote it right down, logged in my wristpad I have right here, like somewhat a lot of what he said, which I believe embarrassed him later when he learned of it .

He really did help me to understand— . —but now that he’s asleep, I wonder .

-.-. .-. .- – . .-.

The way he said these things so casually, like they had just popped into his head . 

When I first met him, or soon after, one of the first things he said to me was—he said, “I came out here partially for the silence, Ted”—Ted, that’s me—“Silence can be seen, you know. When you look at Mars, you can see it.” 

This was back when we could still see Mars from the plateglass, before the mirror facility we have now; we’ve had for so long I could almost forget what Mars—but it’s hard to forget the barren, brown surface, the—. .lit up like an orb on a medium’s table—it’s just—nothin’ much out there, really .

It does. It looks silent. And it’s hard—maybe even impossible—to believe it could ever be a second Earth, home to people and, and birds, which even now I remember from my hometown; my parent’s birdfeeder in the backyard so long ago, and my father who knew all their names, and you could hear him from anywhere in the house on a Saturday morning saying the types of birds who came to breakfast in case any of us—my mother and sisters—wanted to see them too; I’m trying to remember—I do this a lot now—I’m trying to remember all the names and what they sounded like———— .—. . ———sszzt——well. It was such a long time ago. On another planet. And if I had a chance to go back, and if my father on a Saturday, or maybe it was Sunday morning, called, in the house, chickadee—boy—I’d really come running .

–. ..- .-.. .-.. -.– 

So maybe I don’t agree so much with Zander when he talked about his ears being “full of the sounds of Earth” and him needing silence——

But he did tell me he grew up in the city, so .

But maybe that’s finally why he went for the long sleep, for the even better silence—even if it has been mostly just me talking around here lately .

–. .-.. .- -.-. .. . .-.

Transmissions take an average of 5.48 minutes to travel from Earth to this station, so that’s how long we here have to wait for updates .

You wouldn’t think 5.48 minutes is all that much. But it is sometimes .

For an example: if Mallory gets her return application approved by Earth station, and they send a reply, she won’t get to know for another full 5——I suppose that’s not my best example .

Here’s a different one: during the Earth War—that’s what we’ve been calling it, everyone on Earth having been involved—we had to wait intervals of between 4-and-something minutes to—a couple times, I think—as many as 10 minutes to learn how many bombs had been dropped in that time .

You’d be surprised at how many—or maybe you probably wouldn’t. I apologize . 

I’ve been thinking—szt. .—. . ——

I have been thinking a lot out here in Mars’ orbit, behind—as we on this station happen to be—a giant bowl-shaped mirror, like a great big satellite for the sun’s light; and nothing much happening on Mars itself anymore, now that the funding’s been slashed again, except for the costs to keep us up here, going . 

And how disorientating it can be; and I don’t mean zero gravity and rounded walls on the station because these walls are all what Zander liked to call a “recognizable reality”; I mean, the disorientation of the work itself and all that people here have tried—throwing machines at a dead planet and thinking of plants, some of us, while some others dream hard of cities: peaceful cities, of course, with surrounding preservation domes for flora and—. —thinking how exactly and how long exactly and talking late into the station’s curfew from their bunks about refugees from Earth and the—what Zander liked to call the “avarice of transformation,” which, now, I think is what he meant when terraforming moguls reminded us that, with man, all things are possible . 

It’s taken me this long. But now I think I know what Zander meant—about coming here to become—disorientated, uh, disoriented, uh— . . —coming here to learn how small, how much wasn’t all that possible, really .    

-.. ..- -. .

I should clarify to those of you who may someday watch this—thing I’m recording—because you might not know: it’s not a mirror we’re using so much as a sail. A great, big sun-reflecting sail on the Mars-side of the station; which, mostly I personally haven’t got much to do with, except that it melts the surface ice that’s brought up from the ground for us to drink— . —which has to be done in the right conditions because of how much heat it can direct, the sail— . . —we have to be careful that we don’t melt ice so fast that it goes right to gas— . — . —when this happens: we can’t drink it . 

-.-. .-. .- – . .-.

But you can’t see yourself in it—the sail. We just call it a mirror. It’s not, so much, an actual mirror . 

–. ..- .-.. .-.. -.–

And maybe we were relieved, Zander and I, in our own different ways, to find out what wasn’t possible— .

That may be a bad thing to say—but I’m saying it. Maybe only because Earth is on the mend, slowly, am I saying it. Otherwise, I’m not sure even Zander would—but that’s not the point. What is the point? 

. —I think, though, that this is why it makes me sad that Zander has gone to sleep, hoping to be woken up again, sometime, in the future .

But I shouldn’t blame him for sleeping or Mallory for submitting a return form or any of the others. What I’m doing—all this reflecting—I thought I was capturing every thought and—but it’s probably not much different from what they’re doing, in a way, dreaming— . . I don’t know the way to say it now, but Zander would if he were awake . 

–. .-.. .- -.-. .. . .-.

Six Mars months ago, our facility was visited by the last major shareholder of the Mars habitation plan . 

For the life of me, I can’t remember the gentleman’s name. Isn’t that something? Richest man on Earth; I can picture his face. Talked to him, even. Showed him around when he came, even; and the whole time I was thinking: sir, you’re— . . —you. Except, of course, that I had his name then. Lucky of me . 

I don’t think he liked me much, anyway, even though I knew his name at that point. My smile, probably, was the problem. We don’t have a dentist up here outside of some anesthetic and plyers, and I’ve recently had to pull the—whatever the two either side of the two front ones are called. Makes me look like a—oh, I didn’t do it myself; I should clarify. Azid is our doctor. Zander calls him our factotum, which I hope isn’t racial or anything of that nature. Well, and it does make me look a little like a—well, a beaver . 


Isn’t that—huuuuuhh—a funny kind of thing?—heh hhhhhhe— . sztt

I was saying: yes, what I was saying? About the shareholder, I was saying. He didn’t trust any of us and had armed guards with him. He was planning a foray, he said: foray—to the ground, which most of us took to mean that he was salvaging equipment left on Mars, but we can’t know what we’re not told . 

Apparently, they still want Mars to warm up a little, even though funding and—of course, it doesn’t take much to keep just this facility running. Just a few billion per month, hehh! 

Earth-month: finance is always Earth-time, too . 

Nonetheless—I’m smitten with that word. Three in one!—none-the-less, we must continue “sharpening our perfection on Mars with mirrors,” as Zander once said, I believe, not fully seriously. Oh, Zander. He liked Shakespeare somewhat a lot. Wanted me to like him too, but I really couldn’t get much into that gentleman .  

. —— .. — “I’ll be dreaming of our little sun sail sublimating ice,” is another Zander-line I have here. Probably a quote from Shakespeare, probably. One of the last things I logged of his. I’ve collected a lot of sayings of his. But I think he was embarrassed . . . . ——

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About the author: Andrew Reichard is an author who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Black Static, StarShipSofa, Shoreline of Infinity, Space and Time Magazine, and others. His first book, “Vessel,” was published in 2023 with Solum Press. Connect with him on Twitter @DrewReichard.



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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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