Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English.
"You knew this was a temporary fling when we first hooked up, Lina!" Blake screamed at his soon to be ex-girlfriend. She didn't take it well when he announced he would soon be leaving for the first one-way colonization mission to Mars. "You knew from the start that I might be leaving this planet!"
"That was before things got serious between us," cried Lina. "Why can't you reconsider? Why can't you stay here with me?"
"What do you mean by 'serious?'" Blake asked angrily. "We never had anything 'serious!'" Lina was crying hysterically, burying her head into the arm of the couch. Blake picked up his jacket and left Lina's tiny one-bedroom apartment. He didn't have time to deal with a crazy woman's emotional outbursts. "This is goodbye," Blake yelled back at Lina as he reached for the door without looking back. "Forever."
What was Lina thinking, insisting that there was some kind of serious relationship between them? He had been brutally honest with her when they first met that night at the bar. She knew he wasn't looking for anything serious, and he thought she wasn't either. Who did she think she was trying to stand in the way of his dream to be one of the first colonists on Mars anyway?
Since Blake was a child, it had always been his dream to go into space. His father had been an astronaut aboard the first manned flight to Mars. Though that mission ended tragically, Blake never gave up his dream to be just like his father. As soon as NASA announced that they were looking for civilian volunteers for the first colonization mission to Mars, Blake was one of the first to apply.
Blake knew that the mission was one way, and that he would never return to Earth, but it would be worth it. It was what he was waiting for his entire life. His father was aboard the Satellite when it was struck down above the planet Mars almost twenty-five years ago. Blake was only four years old at the time. His mother tragically passed away a few years ago after a long battle with lung cancer, taking with her Blake's only remaining tie to the planet Earth.
Blake had gotten the phone call that he had been selected to become one of the first Martian colonists two months ago, just a week after he had started seeing Lina. He already mentioned to her that he had volunteered when they first met, and she seemed to find the fact that Blake might be given the opportunity to go up into outer space fascinating. That little fact about himself always seemed to be a hit with the ladies, and he never missed an opportunity to take advantage of it.
Blake didn't tell her right away when he found out that he had been selected, however. It wasn't like they were dating seriously or anything. She was just a casual hookup, and his life plans were none of her business anyway. He deserved to have his fun before leaving for space, Blake reasoned. After all, he was about to make history!
He would be boarding the spacecraft in just under a week, and he was more prepared than ever. He had already quit his dead-end desk job. Breaking up with his short-term girlfriend Lina was the last loose end he had to deal with before finally leaving Earth. He thought she would be more understanding. She should have been happy for him! She was sleeping with someone who was about to become one of the most important men in human history! Why wasn't she more excited for him? Blake just couldn't wrap his head around the way women think.
Oh well, Blake thought. No use worrying about this. He was about the embark on the adventure of a lifetime! He couldn't wait to see the view from the spacecraft, or to step out onto the dusty red surface of Mars for the first time. What will it be like living in the dome until the terraforming efforts are complete? He imagined his life from here on out to be that of a futuristic cowboy in space, exploring and taming a new frontier, playing by no one's rules but his own. There was a new sheriff in town now!
Of course, this wasn't entirely true. He still has to answer to mission control back on Earth. And he will have to share his new frontier with the other half-dozen colonists. Plus, even more people will be showing up every six years or so, as long as this first mission proves to be successful. But still, he was looking forward to the mission, and becoming one of the first people to not only set foot on Mars, but to actually live on an alien planet!
The day that Blake had been anticipating since his childhood had come at last. Blake was preparing to board the spacecraft, New Hope, that would take him to the colony on Mars. Lina tried to call Blake's cell several times over the week leading up to his departure, but Blake didn’t answer or return any of her calls. Two days before, she had left an urgent voice mail, but Blake deleted it before listening to it in its entirety. It was just something about needing to talk before he left. They were through, and Blake had to think about the mission at hand. Soon he will be on a spacecraft headed toward Mars. Six months from now, he will be stepping off New Hope onto the planet's surface, taking his first step toward his new life as a Martian colonist. It was fun while it lasted, but he didn't have time for frivolous Earthly distractions anymore.
Blake and the five other soon-to-be Martian colonists stood on the stage in front of the spacecraft for an obligatory pre-launch photo shoot. Everyone from the press was there to cover the launch. The colonists' families and friends were there as well to see their loved ones off and to bid them farewell one final time. The others each had someone to say goodbye to as conflicted tears filled their eyes. Blake had no family left on this planet to miss him. He was ready to leave this planet behind now more than ever.
Blake looked around at the hundreds of faces eagerly awaiting liftoff. So many people were there to see New Hope depart, from the press trying to get the scoop on the biggest story of the century, to the members of the general public waiting to see history being made to the families of the other soon-to-be astronauts saying their final goodbyes to their brave loved ones. There wasn't a single familiar face in the crowd to see Blake off. Except... was that Lina? Blake spotted his ex-girlfriend trying to fight her way through the crowd.
What did she think she was doing? Blake wondered. She knew they were over. Maybe she just wanted to wish him luck on his mission? Perhaps she had finally come to her senses. He couldn't blame her for wanting to see him one last time or for wanting to apologize for the way she had reacted.
As Lina approached the front of the crowd, mission control announced that the colonists would now be boarding the spacecraft, New Hope. Before Blake turned towards the craft, he noticed a distressed look on Lina's face. Of course, she was only here to guilt Blake into staying. Her life was ordinary and mundane, and she would stop at nothing to trap Blake into that type of life as well. Misery loves company, Blake thought to himself.
"Please Blake!" Blake heard Lina scream through the crowd of onlookers. "You can't go! I have something I need to tell you!" It was too late for this now. Blake turned away and followed the others onto the spacecraft.
She’ll get over it in time. They always do. She would barely remember the time they had spent together by time he arrived on Mars. By then, Blake was sure she would be curled up in the arms of another man. They both had separate lives to lead now, and he would never let her, or any other woman, get in the way of him living his to the fullest.
The hatch doors closed on the craft. The operator of the craft took his place in the cockpit as the selected colonists took their seats and prepared for takeoff. Before long, mission control announced liftoff. 3... 2... 1...
Blake felt the craft lift from the ground. This was it. There was no turning back now. The rocket carrying the craft climbed higher and higher into the atmosphere, finally breaking free of the Earthly prison that Blake had been incarcerated in for his entire life. If only his father were here to see him. Who would have thought that Blake would finally be following in his father's footsteps and going into outer space? Sure, he wasn't a real astronaut like his father had been, but he was about to make history. He was just as important, if not more so, than any real astronaut that had come before him.
Over the next six months, as the Earth slowly faded from view behind the space craft, so too did thoughts of Lina fade from Blake's mind. He was focused entirely on his daily duties on New Hope. Soon New Hope would be arriving on Mars and the entire crew needed to be ready to disembark and begin setting up the new colony.
It was lonely out in space, Blake had to admit. With only a few other people to talk to, Blake was starting to miss the variety of new faces he encountered daily back home on Earth. But new colonists would be arriving soon enough.
Living in a spacecraft for six months with several other people was also very cramped. And it didn't allow for much privacy. Everywhere Blake turned, he was tripping over another colonist. But soon he would have the entire Martian biodome to explore, and if all goes well, eventually the entire red planet!
These small complaints that Blake had were worth dealing with, however. Everything in life worth doing involves some amount of sacrifice. It wouldn't be long now before he would be starting his new life on the surface of Mars!
It had been about four months since the colonists arrived on Mars. Life on Mars wasn't as exciting and glamorous as Blake imagined. There wasn't much to do for fun when they weren't busy working. His days consisted primarily of setting up equipment and carrying out tedious experiments with the other colonists. The food was extremely bland. Though exciting at first, the barren red Martian scenery lost its appeal after the first few days. Blake hoped that they would be able to create a more exciting civilization on Mars within his lifetime, if only to keep himself from going completely insane from boredom.
Communication had been established between the Martian colony and NASA several weeks prior, and NASA was finally ready to open video communication between the colonists and their families back home. That didn't interest Blake much since he had no family waiting for him on Earth, but he was happy for his fellow colonists to be able to talk to their parents and siblings that were left behind.
After the other colonists had finished their emotional video visits with their families, the communications specialist from NASA came back on the screen.
"Blake Stone," the woman on the screen said. "It's your turn."
Puzzled, Blake sat down in front of the communications terminal. "There must be some kind of mistake," Blake said. "I'm not expecting a call from anyone."
"No mistake," the woman said, reading her notes. "You have a call from your ex-girlfriend, Lina Schmidt. And your son."
"What?" Blake said as the woman switched over the video feed. There must be some kind of mistake. "I don't even have a son." Blake's former casual girlfriend's face popped up on the screen. She was holding a sleeping baby. He wrapped in a blue blanket with rocket ships printed on the fabric. The baby looked not more than two months old.
"What is going on," Blake demanded. "Whose baby is that?"
"Uhh... hi Blake," replied Lina nervously. "He's mine," she paused. "And... yours."
"What?" Blake cried. "How can this be? How could this have happened?" Blake couldn't process what Lina was telling him.
"I found out I was pregnant just before you left, Blake," Lina tried to explain.
"But..." Blake couldn't find the words he was looking for. "But... why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me I was going to be a father?"
"I tried!" Lina screamed. The baby woke up and began to cry. "You wouldn't return my calls! You wouldn't let me tell you!"
"How could you have let this happen!" Blake snapped, realizing as the words slipped from his mouth that this wasn't entirely her fault.
"How could I have let this happen!" Lina retorted. "You're the one who..." She stopped, as though rethinking her next words. "His name is Liam."
Liam... It wasn't a name that Blake would have chosen had he been involved in the naming process, but he hadn't been involved in his son's life at all anyway. Blake's heart sank. He wouldn't be involved in his son's life at all.
"Liam..." Blake began. He stared into his son's eyes through the screen. This little baby boy was the only family he had now. And he was 140 million miles away. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Will you ever forgive me?" Tears filled his eyes as the baby stared at the screen in wonder.
"He will still know his father," Lina said. "I will make sure he can call you whenever he wants when he gets older. I'll keep you updated with how he is doing."
"It isn't the same," Blake replied. "A son needs his father in his life..." Blake couldn't help but remember his own childhood. His mother had to raise him alone after his father's accident on the Satellite mission. He never got the chance to play ball with his father in the park or let his father teach him how to drive.
Blake thought for a few moments and had an idea. Perhaps there was a way for him to be with his son after all. "Maybe you can apply to be on the next mission. You and Liam. We could be a family here on Mars!"
"Mars is no place to raise a child, Blake," Lina said. "He needs to go to school and play with other kids. It wouldn't be fair to him to force him to grow up in space."
"I know," said Blake. Blake understood, but he still selfishly wanted to be a part of Liam's life. There was no way for him to return to Earth now, and for a brief moment, he had hoped that he could bring Liam to Mars to be with him. Mars had taken his father from him, and now the same planet had taken him from his own son. At least Blake's father had intended to come back to raise him. Blake had deprived his son of a father out of his own selfishness to live a life of adventure amongst the stars.
"I have to go," Lina said. "NASA is only giving each family a limited amount of time. I'll keep in touch as often as I can. Goodbye, Blake."
The screen went black. They were gone. If he had known before takeoff, would he have still gone? His main motivation for volunteering for this mission was to start a new life and forget about everything he had lost. But now he had a family waiting for him back on Earth. And he could never return.
Blake wouldn't be there to see Liam take his first steps or to hear his first words. He wouldn't see him graduate high school, or college. Would his son resent him for leaving him before he was even born?
Blake felt as though a part of his heart had been torn out. If only Lina had told him before he left. Then he would have had a chance to make the right choice. If only he had called her back and heard what she had to tell him.
But would he have still left either way? Would he have been furious with her for getting pregnant and standing in the way of his dream, as though she had done it on purpose? It wasn't until he had seen Liam's eyes looking back at him that he felt the desire to be a father.
He realized that the person he was back home on Earth likely would have been furious at the news and would have left his pregnant ex-girlfriend behind on Earth without a second thought. He was so focused on the mission that nothing could have gotten in his way. This realization left an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Blake stood up and walked away from the terminal. Though he knew the other colonists could use some help with the daily tasks in the biodome, Blake headed back to his cramped sleeping quarters. He just needed to be alone with his thoughts for a while.
Blake now understood that, while he was so busy chasing stars, he didn't even notice that everything he had ever wanted in life was firmly planted on the Earth. Now that he knew what he wanted in his life, he could never get it back. He only hoped that is son wouldn't resent him not being around as he grew older. Perhaps someday Liam would want to follow in his footsteps and travel into space like his father and grandfather before him. Blake looked forward to the day a space craft carrying new colonists would land and he would see his son's face amongst the new residents of Mars. Until then, he was alone, living on a barren rock 140 million miles from his home.
© 2021 Jennifer Wilber