So Close To Mars
The phrase Stephen had repeated in his mind again and again over the last six months. Laying in the dusty martian soil he recalled the times his great grandfather would bounce him on his lap telling him about the Vietnam War. "A mess", he remembered. Actually "All fucked up" were the last words he'd ever hear his Great Grandpfather say. With the tattered remains of his family around him Grandpa Dennis looked around at all of them and shook his head. "All fucked up." By then the dementia had riddled most of his working brain.
Stephen shook the memories away as he dug his gloved fingers into the powdery surface. Something had just thrown him off of his vehicle, and he had no idea what it was.
The mission was to set up a closed looped envrionment and leave. Two years. That was supposed to be it. He figured he was just supervising a bunch of nerds setting up a space garden. The running joke among his fellow rangers was that he was there to protect the scientists against aliens. "Keep those boys safe from them space monsters", his crew lead said jokingly the night before he shipped off.
Stephen had bought his 15 man squadron a round of drinks and hookers the night before his departure. He found himself wishing he had just saved his money and brought one with him. There were only two females on the team and neither of them were thinking sex at all. Nor were they amused with his offer.
The ground shook and glowed in spots. Gigantic underground fireflies emitting black lights was the only way to desrcibe it. Guffawed, Steven wobbled back towards his vehicle, turned it back over and rode off towards his base.
Although panicked, a bit of him was secretly thrilled with the occurence. Being home from the war wasn't all that great. Sure, he liked the hot meals, comfortable bed, and regular showers, but he felt like he was missing something. Something huge. Veering his vehicle around like a wild man to avoid the lit up patches of sand, Stephen realized what he had been missing all along. Death. Taking life and the threat of his being taken. He never had time to ponder during war. He didn't have time for anything really. Time wasn't even an issue. Kill, survive. Kill, eat. There were no clocks. It was just life. Coming and going all around him.
After his tour was up he returned to his old neighborhood. The dirty blue collared suburb that he had called home a lifetime ago. The place smelled like a bar. A bar mixed with the smell that's emitted from an old heating systems with lots of dust trapped inside of it. With his monthly stipend and no real prospect of a job, Stephen sat like a lone mushroom in a pot of soup. Stewing in his own past, Stephen had "time" now. He truly believed that he was defending his country's freedom while he was out there, but now that he returned he felt as if this freedom he defended was slowly circling a noose around his neck. Stephen went straight from being-told-what-to-do-all-the-time in highschool to being-told-what-to-do-all-the-time-in-the-army. Some people blamed his incident it on the coke and booze, while other blamed it on the slew of prostitutes who Stephen kept company with regularly. Stephen knew better. He knew that his time had done him in. After being sprung by his old commander, Stephen reenlisted. Certain about one thing. He didn't want anymore free time.
The ground was lighting up in bigger patches and the rumblings had increased to nothing short of bone rattling. Stephen ramped his ATV off of a dune, looking down at the shadowy brightness of the sand underneath him. He was crying. The man who had slit throats in front of families was going to die in an outerspace earthquake. His platoon would probably laugh. Not that they didn't care about him. They did. They were just numb so they'd have to laugh. These seconds in the air seemed infinite.
His ATV landed with a thud sending Stephen flying over the handlebars.