Suri lives on Mars where she will soon go to Earth on a sacrifice mission. Will she survive? Who knows.
My name is Suri.
I live on Mars.
And I’m a living sacrifice.
New Athens is a city of the arts. Buildings representing the ancient Greek styles are flanked by traditional Indian buildings and Frank Lloyd Wright inspired flats. Other architects prefer to create more original designs. Our city is full of flora and fauna. Some are brought from Earth, others we genetically designed. We designed many of the animals to be useful, but others, like the flying pigs, were meant to make people laugh. Parks are common and we enjoy laughing. Our city is one of splendor and happiness. Nobody needs anyone else; each is completely self-sufficient. We depend on nobody for we need nothing. Ancient authors described utopias; we’ve built one.
It wasn’t always this way.
In 2087, ten thousand leading scientists recognized the worsening situation on Earth. They decided to leave, to flee while they still could. And so, they and their families’ fled to Mars. It worked. Forty thousand became the hundreds of thousands who built our utopia. But something happened that they didn’t expect. Life on earth survived.
The scientists were correct when they guessed that war would break out. They were correct when they guessed that it would lead to nuclear war. What they didn’t expect was the extraordinary resolve of the people on Earth, the bunkers that many people had prepared, and the lengths that man will go to survive. Our scientists told me that on Earth, killing became casual, death became expected, and a can of food became a fortune. Each year, to sate our guilt, one person is trained and then sent to Earth to attempt to bring back survivors. Nobody knows what happens to the people who go there because they never come back. So far we have sent twenty seven people. And twenty seven have died. I am the twenty eighth.
I am put in a ship, one that our next generation of scientists have created, one that can travel almost the speed of light. I am locked in but feel no claustrophobia. Just in case someone comes back, the makers have made the bowels of the ship cavernous. I wander around the ship, waiting for the journey to be over, mindlessly checking the tools I have access to.
A gun that I’m not sure I have the courage to shoot.
Rations I don’t know that I can keep myself from giving away.
A communication device that may not work on Earth.
Keys to a vehicle my senders aren’t sure exists.
A collection of maybes, I don’t knows, and doubts.
My trip lasts little more than an hour so I soon see Earth. I was told that it was once a sphere of green and blue, life practically oozing all around. Now, all I see is a palette of browns and blacks. The brown of dirt, the darkness of stone, but mostly the blackness of ash. My ship finds an area with high carbon dioxide levels, and the autopilot touches me down upon the ground. Now all I have to do is find people and begin. . . convincing. I still don’t know what I have to do but I do know that I have to appeal to their sense of survival, their wanting of life. The carbon dioxide readings suggested that there was life to the north, so I walk.
I pass ruins, both those that were actively destroyed and those that weren’t. How can the people that live here deal with this? Vines grow out of buildings, some of the taller ones look like jungles. Some of the tallest ones look as though they may be thousands of feet tall. Others lie cracked in half, one side crushing smaller buildings below. I hold out my gun in front of me, not because I’m aiming at something but because I want any watchers to see me as a threat. If I saw someone, I wouldn’t know if I should shoot them or try to convince them to follow me. I walk a fine line between life and death, as I imagine do all my watchers. I continue forward, placing one foot ahead of the other. And then I do the opposite. I see a sign, welcoming me to Cardinal’s country. This must be St. Louis then. I check my carbon dioxide reader and see that there’s an absurdly high reading to my left. It must be the radiation. I hit my reader against a building, trying to knock sense into it but turn left anyways. It’s a better plan than walking around, hoping for humans. And then, I hear noise. I hadn’t realized until now, but Earth had been eerily quiet. Nothing to create noise leads to no noise at all. Funny how I hadn’t recognized the lack until it was gone.
I head to the noise now, ready to make my case. The case to live. The case to survive. The case to thrive! But what I see next stops me. I had expected a few people to be together, bands and gangs to try to steal food from one another. Maybe a religion would have been formed from the ashes and there would be a few hundred people together. What I see is a baseball stadium, filled with thousands. I hold up my scanner and have it do another reading. The carbon levels are equivalent to what thirty three thousand people would make. I’m not going to have a conversation, I’m going to make a speech!
I enter the stadium and stand upon the playing field, facing as much of the crowd as a can. Most of the seats are full, but one section is empty aside from one person. A middle aged woman, hardened by years of life here on earth. I grab my amplifier and prepare to make my speech but the woman stands first. She seems strangely familiar but I can’t place her.
“Citizens of Earth and citizen of Mars. We are here today for the same reason that we have gathered here on the 15th of March each year. Once again, a Martian has come to entreat us to follow her back to Mars. We will do what we always do – we will test her. We will see if Mars is better than Earth!” The people roared and I was left wondering what possible reason the Earthlings could have for not coming to Mars. They wanted to compare my utopia – to this?
Before I can finish my thoughts, a door at the far end of the field opens and a young man jogs out. Jeremy? The man running out looks just like Jeremy Evans, the man that had been sent to Earth three years ago. “The first event is a race.” An attendant races forward to set up a track and another takes my arm and steered me towards the start. I don’t follow but allow myself to dragged along, all the time looking at his face. How can I know if that man is really Jeremy? It could be another person who looks like him. He doesn’t know me. There were thousands and thousands of other people in our city. My face had never been plastered anywhere until the recent months when I had been Chosen.
I yell his name but he couldn’t have heard me if he had wanted to. The crowd’s roaring and cheering, louder than a herd of elephants. I arrive at the starting line at the same time as the man does. “Jeremy?” He looks up, eyes cognizant, almost as if he had expected me to be here. “Why are you -” And the gun goes off. I begin running, lifting my knees high. This race is short and I push myself to the utmost. Fifty yards to go. Forty. I glance to my side and see that Jeremy has fallen behind. My conditioning and training have allowed me to take the lead. I push forward for the final stretch and win handily, arms raised in victory.
I pull out my amplifier and speak. “I have won your race. I want to bring you all back with me. We can send more ships and get you all. We have room.” I begin shouting. “WE CAN -” Jeremy grabs my shoulder and spins me around to face him.
“I know you’re confused right now, but we have more events to complete.” And we begin a target shooting competition. I miss my first target when the crowd noise swells right before I shoot, startling me, but easily hit the center of the remaining targets. I stand back and watch Jeremy shoot. He’s not very good. He misses the target completely twice and only once hits the center of the target. Again, I win easily. And, again, we move to another competition. A weightlifting contest. Victory. Obstacle Course. Victory. It becomes repetitive and I’ve almost decided to give up when the woman by herself stands and the crowd immediately quiets.
“We can see that you are the stronger of the two competitors. We will allow you to speak and then we will finish our contest.” And the woman sat down. She still looked familiar. I notice Jeremy go over to sit next to her while I talk to her and it hits me. She was the very first sacrifice we sent. The original hero. And now I can’t even remember her name. Somehow, it never seemed important. Our society is such that nobody is necessary. When she left, everyone celebrated her but nobody noticed during their lives.
I begin speaking. “Citizens of Earth. Right now, you have to fight for life. Food is precious, radiation kills some of you every year and -” I was about to talk about the gangs and the war within the people here who were left but I decide to leave it out. These people don’t seem to have that problem. I feel frustration. My speech is nothing like what I thought it would be. I move to focusing on the merits of Mars. “We have everything you could want. Housing, food, pleasure. We have a Utopia. We want -”
The Woman cuts me off. “Thank you but that will be quite enough. The next section of the tests is slightly different. We will be assigning both of you a partner that you have never worked with before. We want to see how you work together.”
Two seats are announced and two people begin screaming. Apparently nobody knew who was going to participating. This must be a bigger deal than I thought.
I’m introduced to my partner, Abby. Jeremy meets his partner, also a girl. Then the woman announces that the next event is another race. A ten miler – with a twist. Any time we finish a lap, we can switch out with our partner. I smile. I’ll be able to run fresh. And then I realize something. This is a test. I need to prove myself. I decide not to allow Abby to race at all. I’ll beat both of them by myself. I’ll just need to push myself.
I begin running and by mile three I’m a good half mile ahead. Each time I finish a lap Abby yells at me to switch with her. Each time, I turn her down. By the fifth mile, I’m really tired. I just – pant – need to keep going. I – pant – need to win – pant – this for these people. I’m – pant – doing the right thing. I keep going, slowing to snail’s pace by the end but I finish. And am greeted by Jeremy and The Other waiting for me. They had finished already. I had failed. I fell down in tiredness and sorrow. I had lost.
But there was Jeremy, pulling me along, pulling me to the next event. Again, I try to prove myself. Again I lose. Again. Again. I only need to win once. But before I know it the last competition is over. I have lost every single event.
The Woman stands again. “Don’t you see? Alone, we are nothing. Alone we lose. Alone we can not succeed. That’s why we haven’t come to Mars with you. Our life here is hard. We suffer from the radiation. We lack food. But we understand that we need one another. Tell me this. When you left, did anyone suffer for it? When I left, did anyone suffer? We sacrifices were not killed. We chose to stay!” And then men and women walked out of the crowd and stood upon the field. Jeremy walked over to stand next to them. They are forming a line together, showing that they have come back to Earth to stay and live. Are they right? I sigh, and begin walking over to the line. I stop just inches away from Jeremy’s face, standing ahead of him, looking forward. I lean back, ready for action.
“I see that I was wrong about you. I thought that you had been killed, that you couldn’t come back. Unlike you, I will not give up on my country. You betrayed Mars and I will not.” I pull back and punch Jeremy in the face. I then begin moving down the line, dishing out punishment one person at a time. They don’t move to stop me, but stand there taking it, hopefully because they are ashamed. I begin crying, not knowing if I’m doing what is right and wheel around.
I run back to the ship, my head telling me I was right, my heart wondering. My ship’s doors open and the ship mentions radiation damage. I barely notice, but instead focus on going back home. I decide something on the way home. I will not tell the Martians of the society on Earth. I will tell them I barely survived, that no more should be sent. I would not have more people betray their planet.
As a travel through space the ship begins giving me warnings. I may not land safely. I try to become scared but realize that I really don’t care whether I survive or not.
Ten minutes later I attempt to land. My ship stops working. I decide I don’t want to die. I want to change, to grow, to make a difference. I cry out. I try to send a message to the Martians but can’t tell if my message didn’t send or if nobody cares. Eventually, I sit down and brace for death.
On Mars a man looks up. He’s been working for hours and is looking for a distraction. On the horizon he sees an explosion in the distance and shrugs. He doesn’t know what the problem is and doesn’t care about anything that might be coming back. He returns to preparing the next Sacrifice. He knows that she will probably die, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not like she would have made a difference.