By Chris Roberson
The week after he had graduated from high school, and after tearful farewells with his friends and family, Jason set off from Galveston, Texas, in a twenty-four-foot cutter, intending to continue sailing until he came back to port from the other direction.
But he hadn’t even managed to complete the first leg of his journey. He was still in the Caribbean when, under the light of a fool moon, he came upon a strange vortex in the dark waters. A swirling whirlpool, it grew from nothing in a matter of moments, to quickly for Jason to change course to avoid it. One instant Jason was sailing along under a starry sky, and the next his boat hit the vortex and everything changed.
Jason had squinted his eyes, bracing for impact, and when he opened them again, he looked out onto another world.
He was on Mars, he would later learn. Not the Mars he’d seen in pictures sent back by NASA probes though. Had he been transported to the distant past of the Red planet, or its future? Or perhaps on the some analogue of the fourth planet that existed in another dimension? Jason had never learned for certain. He tried to see what the Earth looked like, to give him some sense of context, but the best telescopes he had managed to construct showed him only a blurry image of a blue-green planet in the sky, and his knowledge of constellations did not extend to calculating how those same stars would appear on another world and at another time.
But those were facts that Jason would only discover later. On that first day, at that first instant he knew only that he was somewhere he’d never seen before.
The cutter lay half-buried in fine sands, under a brilliant blue sky, across which two moons sailed in their stately orbits toward each other. Jason had stepped off the deck of his boat onto the sands, in a daze, and immediately sunk up to his waist. The grains of sand were so small, so fine, that the ground behaved more like a liquid than a solid, almost like quicksand. And as he floundered in the sands, barely able to keep afloat, he noticed the menacing silhouette of a bony ridge knifing through the red sands toward him.
Jason’s first day on his new world would be his last, his journeys ended in the belly of a sand-shark, had a passing Praxian naval ship not hauled him on board. The crew had never seen a human before and returned to the Praxis canals in the south with Jason as much as object of curiosity as he was their captive. Despite the language barrier that separated them when they reached port, Jason managed to communicate to his captors that he needed air to breathe. Had he taken much longer to get his message across, he would have drowned, as they began to force him down into their underwater community with them.
In the days that followed, Jason learned just enough of the common tongue in Praxis to offend the sensibilities of the Praxian Hegemony, who refused to entertain the notion that life might exist anywhere in the universe but the red planet, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. He was convicted of heresy and confined to a cell where he would await execution. It was there that Jason met the first Martian whom he would call “friend”, and the course of his life was forever changed.
But through it all, Jason cursed the editors of National Geographic. Had it not been for them, he might just have gone to college or gotten a job like any other regular person.
The Suffocated God, forgive my blasphemy (Chris Roberson). Image: © Megan Jorgensen