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What The Dead Remember

On Mars there are four eclipses a day. Tomorrow I will have seen a thousand of them.

It would be hard not to. I have not been to sleep in months and there is nothing to watch except the sky. The endless rust-orange of the ground gives me headaches and I look down as little as possible. If you could see me, you would notice the scabs from tripping over rocks. But you can't, not from that height.

You have orbited twice now. The ship looked like any bright asteroid at first, except it was going the wrong way through the sky. It caught the light of the weak sun, flared, sped from right to left, and was gone. The same again twenty hours later.

I remember what it was like in there. The months of isotonic exercise in the white oubliette. Fitness was a large factor in our selection, as if a low resting pulse and blood pressure were vital to endure eight months of bone and muscle atrophy. Running a marathon in under three hours is no preparation for it. We joked that the next batch should be chosen on video game-playing ability.

I was so fascinated with the two odd moons, Phobos and Deimos, and thought how appropriate it was that the god of war was attended by Fear and Terror. But it has been eight hundred eclipses since I thought that, because there is not war or fear or anything here. There is not water outside this glass and there is not a single green man. There is me, and the dead grass of the terraform, and the sky. And now you.

Three years ago, I spent a month driving the mountains of northern Mexico in pursuit of a single photograph: the spacestation Mir transiting the crescent moon. I got it on the night our calendars went from the last century to this one. A bemused border patrol officer watched from his truck. Do you know, your craft looks like that same mercurial streak? If only Fear and Terror were spherical, I might try it again.

You must be looking for me; why else would you be here? Well, I won't be found. Teresa and I reduced as much as we could to rubble before she died, including the inedible scraps of the others. We both stopped eating around the same time, but she had less reserve than me and her marasmus was quick though not merciful. I couldn't eat her though, not her. It might be interesting to observe her decomposition, slow compared to the bodies I autopsied on Earth. But the air is too clear to care about seeing that for myself.

The night sky is far sharper than it ever was at home, and with no artificial light, far darker. It's like looking through my old Meade 16-inch telescope. We were well prepared on the journey with charts of the planetary movements; the aspect from here is only slightly different to Earth. Once Teresa and the others were no longer a distraction it didn't take long to adjust.

Every morning I lie out flat and disappear into the pink light that is never brighter than dusk at home. As pink as Teresa's nipples were. She was meant to be my Tethys, we would spawn in the rivers we created together. I seem to need no more of the disappearing water now than I do sleep. I will not siphon frost off the polar caps this winter.

You flash by again; I see a moon rising over rock-strewn dunes. The moon had a name, I knew that name, I'm sure of it. The first of us to go was Robert, who passed his last week by reciting every object in his New York apartment in exacting detail. The way a teacup felt cupped in his fingers, the warmth of a glass paperweight by the window. The cracked window panes. The sheepskin rug.

Soon I expect to have forgotten the names of my family, my friends. Then last of all, I know Teresa will go. The pink sky will be just as touching but I won't know why. I am waiting for something I know is coming.

I would wonder when you'll land, if it was still important to wonder.

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