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Pyotr walked until the wreckage was out of sight, until there was nothing man-made from horizon to horizon. When he could go no further, he leaned against an outcropping of red Marian stones and gradually slid to the ground. He checked his oxygen levels. There was time for one last sunrise.


It was almost imperceptible at first. One by one, the stars began to fade as the blackness between them paled. A wan yellow hue crept into the clouds while the sky took on a shade of grey that was both cool and warm at once. Finally, the sun broke over the mountains, casting long shadows from distant peaks. He was overwhelmed by this final gift, unable to wipe away the tears that tickled his chin and fragmented the sunlight into a thousand glimmering shapes.


The oxygen indicator was blinking red. He'd muted the alarms to better enjoy the view, but in the back of his mind he could still hear them. It was time. Pyotr knew that he would soon fracture the serenity of this perfect morning, gasping for air and clawing at his visor without a shred of dignity. Instead, he chose to become part of the scenery without a fuss. He closed his eyes to the brilliant sun and dwelled on a memory of his family back on earth. He hoped they would understand. His steady hands found the locks on his helmet and, without further pause, released them. In an instant, the inky blackness returned.


There were voices in the dark. He could hear them, but was too weak to listen. He didn't resist the hands that lifted him from the shadows. Kind, patient men carried him through long, winding corridors. He'd done well, they said. He was the one they'd been waiting for.


“I am not understanding,” he said, unsure if they spoke his mother tongue. “Where am I?”


“Just give the drugs a chance to wear off,” one of the men said. “Now get some rest. We'll reset the simulator and run this again in the morning. Keep it up, Pete, and you'll be going to Mars in no time, I guarantee it.”


Copyright (c) 2015 Robert Esckelson

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