Geoffrey alan landis — falling onto mars
Falling onto Mars
The people of the planet Mars have no literature. The colonization of Mars was unforgiving, and the exiles had no time to spend in writing. But still they have stories, the tales they told to children too young to really understand, stories that these children tell to their own children. These are the legends of the Martians.
Not one of the stories is a love story.
In those days, people fell out of the sky. They fell through the ochre sky in ships that were barely functional, thin aluminum shells crowded with fetid humanity, half of them corpses and the other half little more than corpses. The landings were hard, and many of the ships split open on impact, spilling bodies and precious air into the barely-more-than-vacuum of Mars. And still they fell, wave after wave of ships, the refuse of humanity tossed carelessly through space and falling onto the cratered deserts of Mars.
In the middle of the twenty-first century the last of the governments on Earth abolished the death penalty, but they found that they had not yet abolished killing or rape or terrorism. Some criminals were deemed too vicious to rehabilitate. These were the broken ones, the ones too cunning and too violent to ever be returned to society. To the governments of Earth, shipping them to another world and letting them work out their own survival had been the perfect solution. And if they failed to survive, it would be their own fault, not the work of the magistrates and juries of Earth.
The contracts to build ships to convey prisoners went to the cheapest supplier. If prisoners had a hard time, and didn't have quite as much food or water as had been specified, or if the life-support supplies weren't quite as high a quality as had been specified, what of it? And who would tell? The voyage was one way; not even the ships would return to Earth. No need to make them any more durable than the minimum needed to keep them from ripping apart during the launch. And if some of the ships ripped open after launch, who would mourn the loss? Either way, the prisoners would never be returned to society.
G-g-grandpa Jared, we are told, was in the fifth wave of exiles. Family tradition says Jared was a political dissident, sent in the prison ships for speaking too vigorously in defense of the helpless.
The governments of Earth, of course, claimed that political dissidents were never shipped to Mars. The incorrigible, the worst criminals, the ones so unrepentant that they could never be allowed back into human society: this is what the prisons of Earth sent to Mars, not political prisoners. But the governments of Earth are long skilled at lying. There were murderers sent to Mars indeed, but among them were also those exiled only for daring to give voice to their dangerous thoughts.
Yet family tradition lies as well. There had been innocent men into exile, yes, but my great-great-grandfather was not one of them. Time has blurred the edges, and no one now knows the details for sure. But he was one of the survivors, a skinny ratlike man, tough as old string and cunning as a snake.
My G-g-grandma Kayla was one of the original inhabitants of Mars, one of the crew of the science base at Shalbatana, the international station that had been established on Mars long before anybody thought up the idea to dump criminals on Mars. When the order came that the science station was to close, and that they were to evacuate Mars, she chose to stay. Her science was more important, she told the magistrates and people of Earth, than politics.