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Metro to Mars

15 minute read

‘What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches?’

The Quarterly Review, Sockton, Darlington Railway, 1825

The metro train car arrives. Everyone on the terrestrial platform scram to force themselves on board. I, like so many, have to make the morning commute to Mars, the Plateaux Colony, to be exact (It’s the 94th station on a two-hour route to the Mars Polar Ice Caps.)

 

               The morning rush hour began on the 12th station, Earth Prime – the original third planet from the sun. Everyone pushed, shoved, completely disregarding the commuters. Nobody would let anyone get off the train as soon as the doors opened.

 

               I wish the metro system were like in Japan, where they have two floors, one for arrivals and the other for departures, with those modern elevators. But not here. Here in Buenas Santiago, it is the same as it has been for five centuries.

 

               The overhead speakers say in five languages: ‘Please keep away from the doors.’ Despite transmitting the message in many different ways, no one seems to listen, squeezing themselves into the train car beyond total capacity.

 

               Everyone moans about other commuters under their breath. They don't budge for others; they just elbow each other to force more of their body mass onto the train car.

 

               Then the doors shut. The overhead speakers play a soft, gentle melody, always the same, Mozart. Since they were children, the people were led to believe this would make them more intelligent, but it seems to have made everyone more ignorant and stupid than ever.

 

               Most people have their Apple HyperAVS (Audio Visual System) Headsets on. The D11a? The S24c? I can’t keep up with all the new products released monthly.

 

               I have never been into the whole virtual reality devices. I always preferred to experience the world with my real senses. Can you believe that some new headset models come with a nasal attachment? Which means you can now smell whatever you see in the fantasy world. Incredible.

 

               Everyone alive these days seems driven into their psychological fantasy through virtual reality. They all walk around wholly oblivious or ignorant to the deprived feeling of being human.

 

               My back stiffened, and I fob off my initial thoughts. ‘Not like Uncle Tom,’ I say out loud. He is a legend Uncle Tom, the first pioneer to Rasozi, the record’s furthest star to reach. He also discovered Purtonium, a uniquely refined ore which revolutionised space travel. It runs almost the entire Croid Solar Network, the subspace internet system throughout the galaxy. ‘Great guy, Uncle Tom.’

 

               A person next to me hears me and nods at my statement. Funny enough, an advert appears on the overhead monitor of Uncle Tom promoting the lottery. The red-suited businessman with golden hair and a fox-like grin winks and states he’s giving away seventy-eight quadrillion credits. That’ll be useful for all those stuck in this rat race, like me! ‘Great guy Uncle Tom.’

 

               The smile vanished when a stench flys up my nostrils. Someone has soiled themselves next to me again. An immediate heavy cologne fragrance fills the air released from the automatic odour adjuster.

 

               I look to the woman on my left where the smell came from. She seems to be on her HyperAVS headset, talking to a friend.

 

               I shake my head in disgust. What has happened to the human race? Thanks to technology, one could use the toilet stood up whilst the disposal underpants disintegrate all your waste. You don’t even realise you went to the toilet. I always thought it was a good idea, especially for space truckers. But to see a young woman dressed in the latest Aurothia fashion from Venus, with such a superior, arrogant attitude, made me cringe.


               She keeps on laughing, ignoring the world around her. I look around at the other people, hoping they are disgusted too, yet nobody even raises their heads. They all look at the monitors watching commercials, or remain stuck on their Apple HyperAVS headsets.

 

               We pass by one stop, then another, and another. I disconnect from the number of times the doors open and close.

 

               Time runs away from me as all I can see is the back of the head of a sweaty young man standing in front of me.

               He gets off the train after a few minutes. I move around while still squeezing between two middle-aged women. I pull my arm away from their tight grasp of a railing and move towards the end of the car, where I found a clean window.

 

               The ride was so smooth, especially with this new super fibre cable. The cable acts like an elevator from the surface to the Earth Ring, lifting humankind into the outer atmosphere. With their emotionless faces, commuters don’t value where they are and where they're going.

 

               Once upon a time, leaving the Earth’s gravity was one of humanity’s most outstanding achievements; seeing the Earth from space was a dream for many. I watch the passengers surrounding me and ponder if they appreciate the gift of being alive, yet, for many these days, it’s a burden.

 

               Looking out the window witnessing the train leave the Earth’s atmosphere. I feel that everyone has lost touch with the planet. I stare in awe; despite its lands being grey, filled with nonstop polluted cities, the vast ocean waters turned a greenish-black, not quite as blue as it once was, it was still beautiful.

 

               I hear a beeping alarm from someone’s bracelet. An ashen middle-aged person took a small case of pills from their handbag marked: ‘Fordisilobianorsiolen’.

 

               They lift their visor from their hyper headset and take two pills. Instantaneously, colour returns to their skin. They smile with so much glee that they appear almost extra-terrestrial; their eyes dilate brightly that even the white of her eyes turns black. They then lower their visor and continue living whatever fantasy they are involved in.

 

               I hear that Fordisilobianorsiolen treats people with Diamostra syndrome, a genetic disorder in the brain from previous generations’ abuse and excess of antidepressants or diabetic tendencies.

               Those who can't afford Birth Genetic Defect Removal or don't have it covered on their medical insurance inevitably have Diamostra Syndrome.

 

               I thought it was the same as Dipolapso disease or Purpoludso syndrome. Nowadays, I’m just not so sure. I get so confused when it comes to mental disorders.

 

               The train stops gently. The ride from Buenas Santiago to the Earth Ring is so smooth that I don't even notice the gravity buffer activate to keep us all standing.


               I remember when it malfunctioned on one trip, and commuters was simply floating around like tadpoles. It wasn’t funny as everyone panicked and got violent, well, at least tried to.

 

               Another beep comes across the overhead speaker: ‘Arriving to Earth Ring, combination with Moon colony, Venus, the Interplanetary Space Station.’

 

               Many people get off, and finally, there is space to breathe. Some commuters don't even raise their HyperAVS visor to walk off the train; they just trust everyone else would move for them.

 

               It’s true that they can see something through their headset, at least through its frontal camera, but barely enough to watch where they are going.

 

               I find a seat, sit down, and take a deep breath. The smell of artificial perfumes and body odours is disgusting, I feel like vomiting, but I don't.  I rest my head back on the seat but find someone’s hand holding onto the top of my seat. I say nothing and lean forward.

 

               The doors are open for more than five minutes, and a red light sounds above the doors with a voice repeating in five different languages: ‘Keep away from the doors.’

 

               A young man raises his visor and pushes violently to get off the train. ‘Hold the doors!’ he shouts, wiping greasy cheeks in panic as he knows the next stop after this is Deimos, Mars’ moon.

 

               It is too late, however. The doors close, and the car is lowered into the Metro Interplanetary Transport Vehicle. The young man yells at the camera above the door. He demands to be let off in some strange dialect of English.

 

               ‘We were at the stop for more than five minutes, son,’ says an old bystander next to him.

               ‘Shut up, sheay dog!’ the boy snaps back in his strange tongue, pointing his thumb at her. ‘Keep yo fat, old, ugly nose in your own doke.’

 

               The bystander turns away in disgust, tossing her shoulder in the air. ‘This is why I don’t mix with Terrans,’ she utters.

 

               I laugh at her comment. (‘Terrans’ is what offworlders call people from Earth.) I gaze at the older women with grey-silver hair and wrinkled skin. I can't tell if she was from Earth or not. Since when has it been such a bad thing to be from Earth? I don’t understand what this young man said, but that’s not to say they don’t talk like that on Mars or other solar systems. It astounds me that after countless wars against countless prejudices, people can still be stupid enough to generalise others.

 

               I lean back, this time nobody’s hands behind me, and try to forget about all my fellow commuters. I look out the window and can see the metal shield of the Metro Interplanetary Transport Vehicle. It’s amazing how it seems so perfectly constructed and well-crafted, considering its daily use. It looks like it was built yesterday.

 

               The article on the bicentennial anniversary springs to mind. The Metro Interplanetary Transport Vehicle was a technological marvel of its age, revolutionising man’s transport from Earth to other planets and spaceports. It was the first public transport that used the new Hypervelocity Stardrive, a fusion energy developed from dark matter to travel up to two hundred million kilometres an hour. Mars was between fifty-five and eighty million kilometres away, so that one could arrive in about twenty to thirty minutes. Again, a technological achievement unheard of in the history of humankind.

 

               Nowadays, however, it is no more than a standard transport to get us to work. The complaining young man has given in and put his visor down, shaking his head and mumbling gibberish. He would need to wait until we got to Deimos, then take a Transport Vehicle back.

 

               I close my eyes as the train sits in the belly of the enormous vehicle where more than a dozen other trains from Earth connect to Mars.

 

               People are talking about different things in different languages or strange dialects. Many from Earth, others speak loudly in Venetian, quietly in Martian. Most are talking about the Solar Cup of Zero-G Soccer. The Saturn Ride Ringers are in the semi-finals and are up against the Martian Glacier Melters, the reigning champions of the Solar Cup, the Star Dust Trophy. It’s going to be a fantastic game! I tell myself. I hope I can go home early to watch it back on Earth.


               Naturally, there is an eight-minute time lag on Earth, but as long as I don’t access the Sub-Atomic Net, then I shouldn’t be a problem.

 

               It has been a long week, I remind myself as I open my eyes. All the work on Mars has taken its toll. Not to mention the news from the doctor that I had Gravity Imbalance which means I have to adjust my shoe settings to point seven-eight.

 

               Point-seven eight! No wonder I’m feeling exhausted. I have to change to pulling my weight around on Mars and Earth. ‘I’ll get used to it,’ I say as my head falls to stare at my boots. The soles glow slightly to show the gravity inhibitor adjusting to the difference between Earth’s and Mars’s gravity.

 

               With fewer people on the train, I can hear the sound of Mozart again. Words and mixed languages become hypnotic as I gently fall into a dreamless sleep.


               I wake to the sound of the red light sounding the doors closing. We fly away from the Deimos station. The charming young man from earlier has left, it seems. I watch the starry exterior through the windows. I didn't even notice the train had been lowered back onto its magnetic super-fibre cable.

 

               I examine the map above the door, where a green light represents us between Deimos and Phobos. Other trains fly by outside like bullets from one moon to the other. ‘I hate Phobos,’ I mumble, watching the brown orb from a distance. What a horrible moon it is! I recall my seven months living there and how the restaurants were full of space rodents. I shake my head, remembering the stench of the cheap Sonri air purifiers. It stank so bad it made me wish to suffocate in its non-existent atmosphere.


               Stretching my arms, I yawn drowsily. I observe that all the passengers are restless, shuffling to the doors. I look at my watch and realise I slept for about twenty-six minutes. ‘Phobos Station, Station 77,’ the overhead speaker announced.

 

               New commuters board while others force themselves off. The new passengers appear different; they are taller and leaner, their hair a golden red, and their eyes are either purple or silver. They don’t walk as much as they seem to glide onto the metro. They are Martians; their gravity settings are above one-point-five, so they never walk or have to drag their weight. 

               They are funny looking, the Martians, I think, with a sly smile. Very tall and elegant, with a sense of austerity in their appearance, and a special upper-class feeling of superiority always surrounds them, especially when they stand next to people from Earth, or Terrans, as I heard it was used earlier.

 

               The Martians have been born and raised on Mars since its terraforming during the late twenty-first century. I imagine the first colonies would have had humans no different to modern humans from Earth. I remember reading in high school about the first pioneers to step foot on Mars; I used to fantasise about how exciting that must have been.

 

               It must have been terrifying at the same time also, primarily when Mars used to be a barren red rock with no breathable atmosphere and frozen glaciers for water. After half a millennium of terraforming, it has a breathable atmosphere with lush green pastures, pure sapphire oceans, and vast tall forests as far as the eye can see. With its weather control system, I can’t even remember when the last solar typhoon was, the new generations don’t even know what they are.


               From the corner of my eye, I see a group of students from Earth dressed in Martian fashion. The girls dyed their hair purple; the boys have strange hairstyles you would never see on Earth. They have tried very hard to fit into Martian society these days; it appears they have to forget their roots and act like the superior race born on the planet.

 

               The world filled the window. Unlike Earth, Mars was so bright and tranquil, a constant grey mass of moving lights and endless dust clouds. Ironically the success of the terraforming of Mars was thanks to the understanding of climate change in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

 

               Air pollution and carbon emissions were exported from Earth to the former red planet, which helped build up an Ozone layer, later an atmosphere. The contamination heated the Earth and melted the polar ice caps.

 

               Miraculously, the Uora Rainforest, full of genetically engineered trees, survived on Mars converting significant quantities of CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe. We learned from Mars how to successfully terraform any planet.  Simply go there, pollute it with poison, make the planet heat up like a fever, fill it with unique oxygen-generating plants to thrive, and mass-produce oxygen to spread the human condition across the galaxy.

 

               I know I am being very cynical, gazing down on the beautiful green, blue planet. Honestly, I feel bitter, enraged even, to think that once upon a time, Earth was like this, but we ruined it. Instead of fixing it, we moved on to the next planet to infect.

 

               A Martian couple who got on from Phobos spoke about me in such a strange dialect, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything nice. I ignored them and continued to stare out the window.

 

               Outside glows as the metro enters the Martian atmosphere. Not a single bump in the ride; it's smooth, continuous. I feel my stomach turn as always. It must be psychological, as the ride has no real change. I suppose that entering another atmosphere always gives one that nauseous feeling.

 

               The commercials constantly play on the overhead monitors, changing from images of Earth to Mars and distant planets with different products. Property in the Hyresh Region, the latest upcoming metropolis, new clothes or perfume from Mars design O’Rgea, Pixoir.

 

               Wow! The images are all the same type of people; beautiful Martians staring at you with that larger extra-terrestrial stare which hypnotised you to be lured into what they were offering. ‘Martians.’ I smile, shaking my head. I prepare for my departure as we stop at Air Refinement Station 83—only eleven more stops to go.

 

               After over an hour of interplanetary commuting, I think about how I have to return in about twelve hours from now. I should really move to Mars! I scratched my chin. It’s closer to work. I wouldn’t need to travel so much or adapt so much to the Gravity adjusters, but it’s so expensive.

 

               It cost more than five hundred million credits to rent the cheapest apartment in Plateaux Colony; that’s almost my entire monthly salary, not to mention the food, which was also ridiculously expensive. I always bring my own sandwiches or pasta dust to eat in the office cafeteria.

 

               I never really liked those Meal Pills where you swallow a flavoured tablet; it’s a full breakfast, lunch or dinner in your mouth. It had all the flavours and synthetic nutritional value of an authentic meal, but I like to chew my food, another of the little luxuries we have forgotten.

 

               The other day I was so thirsty that I bought a can of Coke from a small shop on Mars; it cost four hundred thousand credits, double that on Earth. ‘Extortion!’ I say out loud, thinking about that.

               It’s not just the money which stops me from moving to Mars. It's the fact that it was different, not because of the gravity or the two moons or even the 24-hour, 39-minute clock, but it just doesn’t feel like Earth.

 

               Passing the different green Martian forests, I saw in the distance the emerald city on the horizon. The Plateaux Colony, founded over a hundred years ago, looked as new as it had done when it was first made. ‘The Jewel of Man’s Achievement.’ I heard someone once say about Mars. I wish we could say the same about Earth rather than see it as some kind of overpopulated wasteland.

 

               I do like the Plateaux Colony, but it’s not my home. I feel like a rejected body organ on this planet. I need so many physical and mental adjustments to withstand this environment that if I were to stay here for more than five days, I would feel like I’d have to leave.

 

               If I were born here like every other Martian, I wouldn’t have a problem, but the sense of planetary displacement is so vital for those born off of Mars that we have to put up with this commute every day. 

 

               It’s not a problem; I guess it's something we've got to do to make a living! I have good days when I enjoy the commute, despite the excess of impolite, hostile attitudes other people share towards one another.

 

               I have other days where I wonder if I should just work like everyone in the underground factories on Earth.  They don’t pay as much on Earth, and there isn’t much work available these days; all the jobs are taken by machines these days, and Mars isn’t that bad. I’ve gotten used to the commute; I like the people I work with.

 

               ‘Plateaux Colony. Station 94.’ the overhead speaker announces in five different languages for the last time: ‘Keep away from the doors.’
 
I stand up with the crowd who flock to the doors, flooding out of the train like water escaping a pipe. Being pushed, shoved from one side to the next, I feel a little dizzy, but when I step off the train and take a deep breath of the clean Martian air, I chuckle lightly. ‘Another day on Mars.’

 

               I walk towards the exit sign with a sea of people, Martians and Earthlings alike. 

 

The End

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