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Barbarous Verdure

Kalliope Gonos

          The stars look so gorgeous from the moon, each one shining millions of miles away, bright and pure. After an exhausting journey here, the beauty is most definitely appreciated. Though, this break while we run maintenance checks on the ship gives me time to think, and I realize just how scared I am for the next part of our ambitious journey. I have only an hour before I surrender myself to the will of technology and enter my cryogenic chamber. At least it's better than being stuck on the ship for a year. Mars is so far away, but this venture will be worth it. It has to be. Considering the state that earth is in, the fate of humanity depends on it. 

          I return to the ship and head towards the control panel to check for any final messages before our long-awaited departure for Mars. When I open the message port I see only one unread message, it's a call request from Director Ellroy Hall. I quickly accept the request and step backwards as the director's face appears on screen.

          “Hello, Dr. Martin.” says Ellroy  

          “Hello, Director,” I reply. “I trust that everything is in order for your departure?” she asks.  

          “It all looks to be Director, we are awaiting the results of our temperature check in the chambers. We are expected to depart in twenty minutes.”  

          “Good,” she replies steadily. “I wish you, and your fellow pioneers good luck on this endeavor, see you in a year.” She then ends the call.  

          The results of the tests on the ship are all ideal. I take a moment to calm myself before climbing inside. “This could be the day that I die,” I think to myself, before entering my pod to sleep for 8760 hours.  

          I jolt awake, startled by the sudden warmth. My cryopod has opened. I rush to the window of the ship, shivering as I walk. When I look outside of the porthole window, I see something that no one has ever seen before: Mars, up close. It seems like I can see every crater, every canyon and mountain and fissure. I feel like I'm on top of the world. We made it.  

          After eating a large meal to regain my strength and sending in a message with word of our arrival to Mars, I meet with the others in my crew. We put on our suits and cautiously step into the pressurization chamber. I am the first to ever set foot on Mars. We start to take tests and samples of everything before loading them back into a separate pod to send back to earth when we stumble upon a large opening in the ground that seems to be some sort of cave. I volunteer to check it out while the others continue to collect samples.  

          As I descend into the cave paying close attention to my surroundings. I begin to see maroon vines growing on the walls and clinging to the ceiling. We have no prior knowledge of any life on Mars so I grab a sample quickly, as if I'm scared that the vines will disappear. Exhilarated and high off the adrenaline, I continue down the tunnel with a skip in my step. The once narrow shaft opens up into a wide cavern filled with blossoming undergrowth. Shades of purple, green, and pink fill the open space. I’m stunned as I try to take it all in. It's truly a miracle. The reason we had no idea that Mars contained life is because it was all under the surface! These plants grow using the light from phosphorus algae, as opposed to the sun. This is a scientific breakthrough that I am thrilled to share with the rest of my team, and eventually, the world.  

          As I try to leave the cave, samples in hand, I hear a low, rumbling sound. I look around in a flurry of panic, not knowing what the sound could be. Then I feel something snake around my ankle before pulling me backwards, hard. Gasping in shock, I claw at the appendage in vain. As I am dragged along the ground, I can feel the shards of glass from sample tubes digging into my back, drawing long lines of crimson down my body. Another limb juts out at me from the dark, grabbing my waist and pulling me into an upright position. It hurts, the limbs feel like they are constricting around me, my vision goes spotted around the edges. I can't breathe.  

          I hear a deep, almost otherworldly voice echoing throughout the chamber. The sound is so rough it hurts to listen to. The voice utters just a few sentences— simple yet menacing.  

          “You have destroyed the Earth. We have observed you, and your crimes. We will not let you do the same to us as you did to our counterpart,” it says this before the appendages begin to tighten. The one formerly around my ankle snakes up to wrap around my throat. I feel myself coughing wet, loud coughs. Blood leaks from my mouth, then dribbles down my chin. All I can feel is blistering pain. It's too late to be saved by the time my last breath rattles in my chest. I savor my last moment, before my eyes gently close. 

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