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Pictonaut Challenge: Mars Initiative

1173 Words

One image, one month, one thousand words.


He watched the man calmly sip at the foam bubbling at the top of the glass, then tilt it to swallow a substantial amount of golden liquid.

“Martin, do you know what’s on Mars?” Martin gave him a blank look. “Nothing. Nada. Niks! Do you understand what I’m telling you? Nothing! No beer. None of the peanuts on the table. No chair never-mind chair, no wood!”

“And…” Martin replied slowly and thoughtfully, sarcasm dripping off his almost drunk state like droplets on the tall glass in his hand.

“What do you mean and?” Dustin felt heat rise up the open collar of his work shirt. His top two buttons lay open, tie long discarded, folded shirt up to his elbows resting against the wooden table.

“I’m doing it for the sake of mankind.” Martin said, gazing around the quiet bar as though soaking it up for the last time. A solemn look.

“Mankind doesn’t need to be up on Mars collecting dust man! Surely don’t need you volunteering your life for some crazy expedition gig! Come on!”

“Have you seen the state of this planet? We are running out of land and water, our air is polluted. We need an alternative.”

“So you travel to the far reaches of space where there is nothing in the hopes of growing something…out of nothing? Can you not see the flaw in this logic? Can you not see the stupidity of your actions?” Martin turned his head to face Dustin with a deadly look sure to kill had it been a physical blow.

“Stupidity? We are pioneers!” He banged his glass on the table. No one turned to look at them in the nearly deserted bar. “We are tasked to ensure that humans safely reach Mars, with a habitat for exploration and human settlement within our lifetime! We are space advocates, pushing for space and space exploration to happen. Don’t you dare call it stupidity!” Dustin shut his mouth and slunk back into his chair. He’d known this would be the reaction, however he had to first reason with the man before moving to necessary means.

“So I can’t talk you out of this Mars mission?”

“Not even if your life was in jeopardy.”

“Now that’s cruel.”

“One life for the sake of the many. That’s what a hero would do and that’s what I’ve been called to be, a hero for mankind.”


Three months down the line, Martin whistled into the brick building that was the National Aeronautics and Space Exploration Station; NASES. Dustin walked beside him in a seemingly cheerful manner however his eyes wandered and occasionally stared off into the distance, not that Martin had noticed.

“This is the day I’ve been waiting for Dustin, it’s all finally here!”

“Yes, yes it’s an exciting time I know. Your efforts to colonize the distant planet for human habitation is one of noble courage and exceptional human endeavour; I’m really happy for you.”

“Your sarcasm will not dampen my spirits. I am well aware you are against this mission.

“I still think it’s stupid.”

“And I still think you are entitled to your opinions and should not force them on others.” Martin snorted but remained silent. The men continued with the sound of Martin’s erratic tune leading the way. Why Dustin was there at all was still a curious thing for Martin however it was a better opportunity to prove his determination and show the seriousness of the mission. He hoped the sight of his spacesuit clad self making the historic journey towards the rocket would change his friend’s mind. He sure hope it would, and he sure hoped he was doing the right thing. The doubts hung over his head heavily and only constant recitation of the Mars Initiative mission statements kept him from succumbing to the terror bottled up within. He hoped that once he was in the rocket, propelling towards the barren planet, when he had no way of changing his mind, of turning back, that he would accept the situation for what it was and live with the regret if any.

The men heard the buzz and clicking of camera’s before they saw the TV news camera crew milling about the entrance to the control center. Suddenly the crew swiveled and faced the two men. A young woman rushed forward dragging her camera man with her.

“Dustin Snyman! A word please! How does it feel to be one of the few South African’s taking part in the Mars Initiative and the accolades you are sure to gain from this monumental venture into outer space?” Caught off-guard, Dustin involuntarily took a step back, overwhelmed into a defensive stance. He mumbled a few things, statements he had memorized from the Mars Initiative pamphlets, letters and other such things. It was only after he had been ushered into the control center that he noticed Martin’s absence but by then he cared little for his friend; this was his dream come true.


Martin stood next to a gentleman in a long white coat, a supposed doctor yet he knew he was far more than that. He held a clipboard and ticked off various things with each thorough check at the comatose Dustin; he lay on a hospital bed dressed in a gown, a goofy smile on his serene face.

“So what is he experiencing?” Martin asked the doctor. The man turned to face him, a dark expression tinged with a knowing smile

“He thinks he’s on Mars.”

“And how long will he…remain as he is?”

“Until he dies…natural or otherwise. You understand the precautions we must take as an organization.” It was Martin’s turn to shoot the man a dark look

“Of course, that’s why I led him here.” The “doctor” smirked, moving to pick up a remote on the bedside table beside Dustin. He clicked a button on the device, a monitor flicking alive behind Dustin’s bed. The two men stared at the dreaming man’s projected thoughts, a purple sky fading into pink below distant horizon; from a first person perspective it was obvious what Dustin was staring at.

Pictonaut Challenge is the work of artist Scott Listfield

Pictonaut Challenge is the work of artist Scott Listfield

“Do you think he noticed the square sun?” Martin asked the man

“How can he not?”

“So what then?”

“He’ll have to live with it.” The two men continued to watch, neither speaking as they once again came to terms with the work they were doing. Martin turned away from his friend and walked past the rows of beds holding other participants who had also sought the need to explore outer space and had to be shut up. The world would need to keep hoping for the possibility of life beyond the stars, keep the ingenuity of future scientists, astrologers, engineers and other professions going and the human race moving forward. If they knew we were alone on this vast universe, who knows what could ensue. With that thought receding into the back of his mind, Martin glanced at his phone and at his next assignment.



In response to:

January’s Pictonaut Challenge


About Nthato Morakabi

Nthato Morakabi is a South African published author. He has short stories appearing in both international and local anthologies, and has published his first book, Beneath the Wax, which opens his three-part novella series "Wax". He is an avid reader, blogger and writer.

3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Beneath a Square Sun | The Rogue Verbumancer

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