Posted: October 14, 2012 in Weird
Tags: ,

Zechariah Alden overslept. According to the clock mounted in the bulkhead, it was 7:34 in the morning on September 30, 2055. His duty shift had started four minutes ago.

Minutes, hours, days, even months had lost all meaning on Mars. Months had become nothing more than check marks on a calendar. Time was simply a way to count the number of changes in the clock face. Since he arrived at Zenith Station, the calendar had changed 187 times. Zechariah calculated that the clock must have changed over 16 million times. “That can’t be right,” he thought to himself. “The clock repeats itself every 24 hours.” 84,600 times. That’s how many times the clock changed. The 84,601st time looked just like the first. The clock was a counter that repeated itself.

That’s what Time had become to Zechariah Alden.

He pulled his hands down across his face. Zechariah was tired. He didn’t sleep well. He never slept well. Sleep was another part of the sequence that had become his life, a sequence bounded by the memories of a painful loss and the annoying attention paid to him by Kilian Duns. Zechariah wanted distance from people. Kilian Duns did not understand that. He did not understand that Zechariah no longer trusted people—they were too fickle, too flighty to be trusted. He blamed Sierra for teaching him that painful lesson.

Zechariah stared at himself in the mirror. This was just another part of his daily sequence. He would oversleep. He would lament Sierra, dread another day with Kilian, and then stare at himself in the mirror. Zechariah Alden was simply routine, a repeated pattern of thoughts and behaviors. He was little different from the computers on Zenith Station.

Time had no meaning on Mars. There was no Time, only sequence. And Zechariah’s life was just a sequence he had to repeat until he finished his tour of of duty on Zenith Station. For decades, humanity had sent untold billions of dollars into space in an effort to expand human knowledge and experience, resulting in little more than littering space with useless junk. And it was such litter that resulted in the first signs of life outside of earth. That the origin of life came from a discarded drill-bit that had been improperly sanitized before it left earth didn’t concern anyone. The fact remained that life had taken root on the barren landscape of Mars, and Zechariah was one of the privileged scientists to study how that life—terrestrial life—would evolve on an alien planet.

Of course, Zechariah didn’t care anything about that. He just wanted to get away from Sierra. He had volunteered for every remote assignment he could think of, spending months in the most desolate places on earth, trying to escape the haunting specter of Sierra’s dead love. But nowhere on earth could Zechariah find refuge from her. In every sunrise he saw Sierra’s hopeful gaze; in each sunset he saw her comforting soul. Every breeze reminded him of her loving embrace. The humidity of the tropics reminded him of her gentle kisses. Thunderstorms recalled her furious passion. The depths of the ocean reminded him of his depth of love for her. The arid dryness of the arctic deserts stung him with the memory of her cold, heartless rejection.

All the earth spoke of his love for Sierra and echoed of her rejection. His only hope was to abandon the planet that cradled her, the planet that birthed their love—and the planet upon which that love was ultimately buried. And as he entered the control deck, he looked out onto the dusty, windswept plains of Mars, devoid of all life except for a few transplanted microbes, and Zechariah felt as if he was looking into his own heart.

“Hey, Zack,” Kilian Duns greeted Zechariah as he took up position at his station. “We’re playing poker tonight in the wardroom. Why don’t you join us this time?”

Zechariah shrugged. Kilian had arrived on Mars less than a month ago, and Zechariah couldn’t stand him. Every shift, Kilian asked the same question: Why don’t you join us? And Zechariah always gave the same reply: He shrugged.

“Good luck,” Nawaz Chaudry said, “Alden’s a monk. He prefers his solitude.”

Chaudry was the closest thing Zechariah could consider a friend, in that he left Zechariah alone. He didn’t pry into Zechariah’s personal history; he did not try to gently coax him out of his shell. And when others—particularly Kilian Duns—tried to intrude, Chaudry deflected and redirected them. In Chaudry, Zechariah had an ally.

Zechariah knew he was no monk. Monks have hope. They believe in something else that greater than themselves, and meditation brought them into contact with the sacred other. But the only other in Zechariah’s life—his beloved Sierra—had rejected him. There was no supernatural other, just the empty pain of cold loneliness. Zechariah didn’t meditate. He wallowed. Zechariah wondered if there was a difference.

“My mission is to break through Zack’s shell,” Kilian once said. “You’ll see,” he would often proclaim, “By the time his tour is over, Zack will be hanging out with us every night.”

Life in space must be very hard for people like Kilian, Zechariah thought to himself. People like him need society. They need companionship. Zechariah volunteered for duty on Zenith Station. He wanted the solitude. He wanted to get away. But Kilian was different. The solitude must have been killing him. Duns tried to make the crew of Zenith Station into a family. But Zechariah didn’t want to be a part of that family. He once had a family, he had his Sierra, but she removed him from her life and discarded him. Sierra’s rejection was all he had left of her, and by embracing his loneliness, he embraced her rejection, and by embracing her rejection, he embraced her. Zechariah’s life revolved around her when they were together, and it revolved around her in her absence.

Kilian wants to take my loneliness? He wants to take my Sierra away from me? Never!

“Zack, what will you do when you go back to earth?” Kilian asked Zechariah one day at the end of a shift.

Zechariah never thought about the future. His loneliness was eternal—the loneliness he felt today was the same as it was the day Sierra left him. He had no reason to think it would be any different when he finished his tour on Zenith Station.

“Zack’ll never leave. He’s breathed in too much dust,” Chaudry tried to deflect Kilian’s probe.

Why should I leave? he thought as they made their way towards the galley. He had nothing back on earth. All he knew, all he had was on this station. It had become his home. What does the earth hold for me? He wondered. Only painful memories of her. Zenith Station was not exile—it was a refuge. He thought about life on earth. How small it seemed, how limited, how old. But life on Mars was new. He had watched the transplanted microbes mutate and evolve on an alien world. My memories, Zechariah realized, are just like these microbes. Zechariah had observed small, subtle signs in their DNA. Mutations—probably insignificant had they remained on earth—allowed them to evolve into the barren niche of the red Martin dust. And like the microbes, Zechariah’s peculiar mutations—the introspection that Sierra complained made him too distant; his mechanical, logic that Sierra condemned as cold and passionless; his devotion to work that eventually made her leave him—thrived on Mars. Zechariah was evolving.

Zack, what will you do when you go back to earth? Zechariah thought about Kilain’s question. He finally realized he didn’t want to leave. Chaudry was right—he had breathed in too much dust. Zechariah realized that Mars let his introspection, his logic, his devotion to work—the very things that drove Sierra away—allowed him to thrive, to become something that had escaped his entire life on earth: Mars allowed Zechariah to be happy.

“Kilian,” Zechariah said as they sat down to eat dinner, “mind if I join your poker game tonight?”



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