Cigart pulled up and landed the service pod as close as the safety protocols would allow, to one of the ragged edges of the solar system’s largest canyon, Valles Marineris on planet Mars. Powering down the systems and stepping out, he turned and looked back down the hill he had just glided up, to the open plain below. Sprawled across pretty much most of the centre was the Marineris Resort – his life-long dream come true. The first hotel on Mars.
It was an incredible sight with its main central domed structure connected to surrounding buildings by tubular moving walkways. An artificial beach, complete with wave machine under one dome, and a huge expanse of barely-believable parkland under another.
By any standards it was a remarkable feat of human ingenuity, endeavour and ability. It was already in the history books and record books as the first hotel on an extraterrestrial planet, the first tourist resort on Mars, the first well… the list of firsts was actually pretty extensive, and that’s before you got into the technology and engineering behind creating the incredible spectacle.
To Cigart, it was more than any of that; it was a passion, an obsession, a monument to his existence in time. Any man in his position would be justified in staring down at the resort and swelling up with pride, grinning childishly at the sheer delight of a fantasy made real.
This man, however, glowered down at the place, and continued to frown as he turned and walked to the precipice. He stared across the awesome incomprehensible vastness of a freak of nature perhaps never meant to be witnessed by human eyes.
What a shame that would have been, he often thought. For mere men to have not even got this far. To not have seen the result of what was likely to have been the raw power of a gigantic lava stream, cutting a 200km wide gash through the crust of this planet for several thousand kilometres.
It was truly humbling and awe-inspiring. In fact it had indeed inspired him, all those years ago when he first saw it, to return and create a place where other dreamers like him could also come and gawp at this place, perhaps be equally inspired and do even more amazing things. The philosopher within him felt it was his duty to make this happen, the entrepreneur within him told him it would also bear fruit.
It had made so much sense back then. He threw everything he had into it.
Right now he’d love to say his vision was still just as crystal clear. How much he wished he could confirm that drinking in the stunning majesty of this stupendous sight never got old. Of course that is what he told the reporters that would come here every other month or so to interview or profile the man that made the impossible happen.
Except that, in truth, the sight had got old. Months ago. Perhaps even years ago, he wasn’t quite sure when the disillusionment had started to take root.
The hotel was a failure. For half a dozen years now he’d been persevering, pushing and working as hard as any man had ever done so, knowing in his heart that sincere and genuine effort would pay off.
But it didn’t.
Others saw the pioneering Space Hotelier as an inspirational success. A shining example of a man defeating the odds and the doubters to create something monumental and viable. Some were even studying what he had created and how he had done it, templating his extraordinary achievement for potential future projects.
He was a business superstar, a hospitality icon, and a space-age celebrity even.
And he had indeed made it thus far, just about managing to juggle loans and creditors and suppliers and partners to keep things ticking over. But it was all for the sake of an appearance of glamorous success. Yes, he won the occasional space conference, the training getaways, the rich honeymooners and had even scored the staging of the Oscars a couple of years back.
And all of this had become possible thanks to the wonderful pace of development of the EM Drive Engines that allowed Earth to Mars travel to be brought down to a couple of weeks aboard fairly comfortable but safe space cruisers.
There were other human bases on Mars of course, but they were focussed on research and exploration, securing resources and trialling terraforming, and he did of course get some business from those sites. So the space traffic existed, the market was there, space exploration was finally taking off quite literally, and mankind today needed getting away to something more exotic than the Seychelles.
It should all have worked out so perfectly. Some would say it was. He was getting around 20 guests a month, usually staying for about one to three months.
The only problem was, his resort was designed, built and serviced to accommodate well over a thousand guests.
Cigart sighed deeply and started working the control panel on one of the arms of his space suit. Overriding the safeties, he held his breath and cracked open his visor. An icy cold immediately rushed in to clamp itself viciously around his head. The suit started beeping alarms and warnings frantically, at the same time puffing up to compensate for the quickly diminishing pressures and fighting to keep his structure intact.
Cigart would put himself through this punishing regime about once a week, sometimes more. He wasn’t sure why he did so. Was he testing himself, pushing himself to find his limits, or willing himself to end it all?
It was certainly taking a toll on his health, and was surely slowly shortening his lifespan. But each time he was able to last just a fraction of a second further before giving into the pain, and just before he was sure his lungs were about to burst out straight through his visor.
It would be a hideous and messy end. A terrible way for his family to find him. Especially after all they had had to put up with over all these years.
He hit the containment button, and the sound of the suit returning to normal tolerances, always seemed to him to be like heaving of a sigh of relief. As usual he fell to his knees, doubled over in agony, fighting hard not to throw up in his helmet. The suit’s advance life-support systems already working to stabilise his body functions.
As he regained some of his senses he crawled up to the very edge of where he’d been standing.
He looked down at the abyss. And he thought about it.
But he wouldn’t exactly be falling through space. It would be a long, terrifying and bruising tumble down the steeply inclined rock face, and ‘long’ was a euphemism for interminable – the canyon was nearly 10km deep in some places. It might not even end him.
Yet he couldn’t help but consider how that scenario actually compared to the way his life felt right now anyway – helpless and out of his control, avalanching to certain doom.
Despite the epic emptiness around him, he still felt claustrophobic. He couldn’t shake or dismiss the sense of being hemmed in, trapped even. To him his predicament was one of being caught between two impossible scenarios – carrying on a certain path to self-annihilation, or calling it quits, declaring space bankruptcy (that would be a first too) and heading home in shame as an abject failure. A blow from which he was certain he would never recover.
His physical strength almost fully recovered now, he hauled himself back up, shook his head and moved back towards the pod.
Suddenly he was overwhelmed with a grieving rage and anguish, frantic at his own desperation, angry at the cynical collusion of fate to bash him back down each time he rose up. He shuddered with emotion, tore a look up at the red skies and railed against the alien heavens: ‘WHY?! WHY?! Just gimme a break, willya? Argh!!’
His strength sapped again, as the adrenalin started to wear off, he felt his legs go weak and sat down on the nearest rock. Groaning he once again turned back to face the vista of Marineris and stared at it forlornly.
Trying hard to measure a distance he could see no end to, peering desperately at a future that would reveal no secrets and certainly no flash of hope, seeking answers to questions that served only to diminish his spirit further each time he asked them.
He tried again and again to think of what he could do to turn things around, running multiple scenarios through his head, clasping for some slightest sliver of inspiration and yet each time concluding that he had already tried everything.
Back at the resort, the manager was checking in with all the many AIs helping to run the resort and look after the few guests that were presently enjoying the 10-Star hospitality of Marineris. At the same time he was running background diagnostics on both the AIs and all the remaining resort systems.
Living in such a volatile and inhospitable place, full system inspections were carried out twice a day. And it required his full attention to ensure that no discrepancies, errors or telltale signs of impending failures got through. This would usually take just over an hour.
Once everything came back green, the manager reclined back his chair, swiped up some holoscreens and opened up the infotainment channels – pulling in the latest downloads from the deep space relays. A few minutes later he opened up the communications channels and left them on download whilst he caught up with the latest episodes from SatFlix.
Communications downloaded, he started absent-mindedly scrolling through the multitude of messages, mostly bills and bad news. Until one caused him to stop and sit bolt upright in his chair.
Pausing momentarily, almost catching himself saying a small prayer, he swiped open the message that was from Virgin Galactic Tourism – subject line: ‘Contract Approval’.
Sure enough it was the one they’d been desperately waiting for. A 500-guest per month block-booking deal on a three-year contract with the launch of the company’s new large capacity super-cruiser line of space ships.
Finally! This was it. The deal that would at last make all this effort and investment worthwhile. The boost they needed to really take things to the next level.
The manager pulled up the personnel monitor to locate Cigart, he dearly want to go and tell him personally and see his reaction. But he wasn’t on the resort. He’d gone for one of his trips up to the canyon again. The manager sighed. Oh well, a message would have to do then: ‘Approval from Virgin – 500/month 3yr contract! We’re in BUSINESS buddy!’
The panel on Cigart’s arm beeped an alert and flashed up the receipt of the good news.
But it was lost in between all the glowing red lights and the still sounding shrill of the suit’s alarms. The arm was on the ground, along with the rest of him. The gloved-hand already deep in the sludgy mess of a human turned partly inside out.
Cigart had set yet another record on his way out – the first suicide on Mars.
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