These are the winning stories of our writing contest. The winners have all been notified and will receive the t-shirt with our logo, also available in our webshop.
The winning stories are (in random order)
- Izabelle by Christian Schmidt from Germany
- The Harvester by Anandmayi Bhongade from India
- The Colors of Mars by Bernard Craz from the US
You can read the winning stories below
by Christian Schmidt from Germany
After its two-week flight from Earth, the passenger ship Ariana had reached Mars. After drastically reducing its speed, it swung into a stable orbit around the red planet. There were several thousand people on board. Many of the passengers were colonists in search of a new life in the Martian colonies; they dreamed of turning the red desert into a blossoming landscape full of life.
Mars had been permanently inhabited for almost a hundred years now. Humans lived in large domed cities, which protected them from the inhospitable conditions on the planet’s surface. The largest of these cities was Olympia with over a million inhabitants, located on the eastern edge of the Olympus Mons massif. Besides being the seat of the planetary government, Olympia was also home to a large portion of the terraforming facilities. These facilities were supposed to turn the hostile desert of Mars into a world ideal for human life.
When the Ariana entered orbit, the passengers were notified via loudspeaker announcements. There was a hustle and bustle on the decks. People gathered their posessions and got ready to board one of the many shuttles that would depart for Olympia over the next few days. They carried with them everything they owned. There was a buzz of energy and excitement. The future Martians could not wait to finally reach their new home; many in the throng pushed impatiently, crowding in front of the shuttle entrances. Others were more patient and packed their things in peace to take one of the later shuttles. Because they knew that they would all come to the surface and that there would be room for everyone. The colonies had enough housing units and infrastructure to accommodate all of the colonists who came with the passenger cruisers.
On the promenade deck, a young woman was sitting on a bench, curiously watching the other passengers as they hurried to the shuttle ramps with their suitcases and boxes on large trolleys; she thought of her grandparents and their flight to Mars on such a spaceship. They had come in the previous generation to start a new life on the red planet. This activity still seemed a little strange to her now, but less than two years ago it would have been completely incomprehensible to her that anyone wanted to live on Mars at all. She would have laughed out loud at anyone who expressed a desire to move to Mars.
The young woman had spent much of her flight in personal reflection. She had turned twenty recently, and she wondered what path she would take next. She wanted to leave life on earth behind and start all over again on Mars. This young woman’s name was Elizabeth Johnson, and she called herself Izabela. And unlike most other colonists, she didn’t fly into a new, unknown world, but returned to the home of her childhood.
Izabela was born on Mars. Her parents belonged to the so-called first generation of native Martians. Her childhood was strongly influenced by the living conditions in the Martian colonies, the spatial confinement of the domes under which people lived, and the scarcity of resources. Everything was rationed and had to be created artificially, the water, the air to breathe and the food. All Martians dedicated themselves to lifelong toil knowing it would not be they but their grandchildren or great grandchildren who would reap the rewards of their labour: the transformation of Mars into a habitable world.
Izabela felt imprisoned under the domes of Mars and this feeling festered within her over the years until her disgust in Martian life grew to be overwelming. She did not see the need for such hardship and a life of restrictions. She didn’t want to toil to death for something without ever seeing the results. She wanted to be free, wanted to move to Earth where there was plenty of air, water, food and space. Her parents might have been happy with life on Mars, but she wasn’t.
Then she met Thomas shortly after graduating from high school. He came from a wealthy family who lived on Earth and had come to the University of Olympia for an exchange semester. Soon Izabela and Thomas were a couple. She found it exciting to be with an earthling and listened intently as he talked about his childhood. She also wanted to live such a free life. When Thomas returned home, he took Izabela with him. In the meantime, they had become engaged and wanted to get married on Earth.
A life she never dreamed possible began for Izabela. Together with Thomas, she traveled all over her new home planet. They went on a world trip, visiting dozens of countries on every continent. Izabela was overwhelmed by the variety of languages and cultures that she got to know while traveling. She enjoyed the open sky, the fresh air not subject to rationing and the seemingly endless space to her fullest. She felt like she was in a dream and at first she didn’t even think about ever going back to Mars.
But after a while she began to wonder whether this was the life she truly wanted to live. On Mars everyone had a vital role to play. Each person had to be aware of so many aspects of daily life. Where would the water come from? How would the air be purified? What methods could be used to ensure better food quality and yields? Everything was carefully organized and regulated. In contrast, people on Earth were not aware of such concerns. They didn’t worry about where the air came from to breathe. It was just there! The water also came out of the tap, and in fact there were large bodies of water ever nearby for swimming or other recreation. Food grew in the open-air fields without having to worry about the plants getting enough of everything they needed.
Izabela soon noticed how wasteful and nonchalant people were on earth when it came to resources. They used huge amounts of water they did not need. Often they just let it flow to the ground, where it then seeped into the earth. Nobody on Mars would do that. People had so much food that they often simply threw away the leftovers. Every crumb was recycled on Mars. This careless behavior frustrated Izabela. It just seemed wrong to her to abuse resources so wastefully, even if they seemed to be endless.
But what irritated Izabela the most was the general aimlessness of the people on earth. Most of them squandered their time daily with no sense of purpose. They didn’t worry about what they wanted to do with their lives. Of course, they had their tasks, they had jobs to feed their families, they had hobbies to pass the time. But they had no ambition, no grand sense of purpose. There was nothing that needed to be reached for, everything was already achieved and thus work was habitual and lacked real drive. People had food and accomodation. There was nothing to struggle for. Thus the people became comfortable and complacent.
At first, the prospect of such a carefree life seemed seductive. But Izabela soon felt empty inside. At some point she no longer knew what to do with herself. In the same way the relationship with Thomas had been exciting at first. Every week they were in a different place where they did new exciting things. They went diving in the sea, hiking in the mountains. They made parachute jumps and sailing tours. But at some point, Izabela was no longer able to gain pleasure from these activities. She saw no purpose in so much mindless leisure. These activities were fun, but Izabela wanted more, wanted to do something with her life; she wanted something to strive for.
Izabela started to miss Mars. As a child, she wanted nothing more than to get away from her planet, but now that she was so far away she missed her home more and more every day. Thomas made no secret of loathing Mars. For him it was a dead desert, with some settlers rummaging in the dirt. He couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to live there voluntarily. In his opinion, there lived only people who could not accomplish anything close to what his people could do on earth.
His views gradually made one thing clear to Izabela: Thomas did not see her as a Martian, but just as a woman who could just as well have been born on Earth. But Izabela couldn’t deny her Martian origins. Since she grew up in a lower gravity, she was very slim and tall. Even with interventions, she would always suffer, to some degree, due to the the high gravity on Earth. She had regular joint pain and had to take medication. She also spoke with a strong Martian accent, for which she was often ridiculed until she felt strange and isolated among all the native earthlings.
Izabela suffered more and more from homesickness. Her physical complaints, the emptiness she felt, the isolation among the earthlings and her longing for home made her more and more troubled every day. Then one day, on a trip to Europe, Izabela experienced a panic attack in the middle of a large market square and collapsed. She had to be taken to a hospital and given strong sedatives. It later turned out that Izabela was suffering from agoraphobia.
Shortly afterwards, everything fell apart. The whole situation was unbearable for Izabela and she left Thomas. But Izabela longed more and more for the red ground and the domes of Mars. She had recognized that Mars was her home. Thomas had said he loved her, but he only loved her human heritage, not the Martian in her. With her last savings, Izabela got a ticket on one of the passenger cruisers and returned to Mars.
Now Izabela was sitting on the bench on the promenade deck and was happy to be returning home again soon. Next to her was the small suitcase that held all of her belongings. She had left everything Thomas had bought her on earth, the clothes, the souvenirs, the knickknacks. Izabela wanted to start all over again without burdening herself with this clutter. She waited for the busiest crowds to settle. She was in no hurry. Of course, she had been terribly longing to return to Mars. But now she knew that she would be home soon, and she was very happy, and she enjoyed this moment of waiting to the fullest.
At last she had boarded one of the surface shuttles. During the two-hour flight, in which the shuttle circled the planet several times, Izabela enjoyed the view of her homeworld. The Valles Marineris, Elysium Planitia and the mighty Olympus Mons, at the foot of which her home waited for her. Her eyes filled with tears of joy when she saw the lights of Olympia, her hometown.
When she departed the shuttle, she breathed in the conditioned Martian air in a deep breath. She never thought the artificial smell of recycled air would be so sweet. She had left everything on earth and would now start a new life. She still didn’t know what she was going to do, but she wanted to dedicate her life to the big task: to transform Mars into a paradise. Maybe she would become an engineer, that sounded great. She was young and strong and could still achieve a lot in her life.
Izabela had realized that she was connected to the fate of the Martians, her people. She also saw the garden waiting under the red dust to be brought out by the hard work and shared determination of the Martians. From now on she would dedicate her life to this great task, she would contribute her part. Izabela now knew that she was a daughter of Mars.
By Anandmayi Bhongade from India
There is a two-and-a-half-minute delay, approximately, for the carrier to transmit the signal from one planet to the other. I sat down in front of the screen absentmindedly refreshing the display, despite the futility.
“The biome is getting worse.” My roommate yells from the next room, a flash of irritation—he had to tell me just as I switched on my mic—before the image of the technician materializes. “Good Afternoon,” I murmur into the mic. His face retains a vacant smile for another two minutes—two and a half, I suppose—before responding in kind.
I stumble through my questions, my gaze snapping to the clock during the lulls in connection. The longer he talks, the more I am disillusioned.
“Let’s wrap up here,” he smiles, “I understand your issues regarding the Biome’s air composition imbalance. Let me do some research on the reference materials you have available before we can come to a solution.
”I end the transmission and stretch. “Communications are free,” I call at the shut divider. It slams open, and he enters in a hurry, “Took you long enough, how was it?” “The lag is bothersome, but at least the audio is synced,” I give my lack lust rereview.
“Not about the broadcast quality. Can they help us?” “They said they’d get back to me,” I reply. “This isn’t a frequent problem.” “Well, Sector Councils don’t usually let individuals handle this either. We’re a special case.” He rolls his eyes.
The biome door unseals with a hiss, and a wave of sensory information hits me, the hum of the ventilators, the dripping of the irrigation system and the foul stench of rotten eggs. I gag, even through my mask. Eyes watering, I stumble to the gauge panel which checks the air composition. Oxygen looks fine but carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen are off the charts, our composting algae working overtime. I hadn’t accounted for how inadequate our system was before I did this.
I trudge back indoors, straight into the hygiene pod. The sonic shower beats down on me, and I wonder if we can sustain this. I step out and see a chilled hydration pack left out on the counter. “Thanks,” I gulp it down and take a bite out of the container as I look for my thoughtful roommate. “Cheers,” He says as I round the corner, raising his half-full pack.
“The Sector Council is smart,” I sigh collapsing next to him, “We may have dug our own grave here.”
He humorlessly smiles, “The place is still running, isn’t it? That’s all they care about. Anything left out there would be irradiated out of existence anyway, I don’t understand why we can’t just dump–”
“I still have to check the ventilator tanks.” I interrupt him as I stand up, my pack finished. “Good luck.”
There is an airlock between the biomes and the Frontier, large enough for me to stand upright. We own two working suits, out of which one barely fits me. I adjust my hands in the gloves, before spinning the handle to open the chamber. The cold steals in, and my visor polarizes, shading the environment in red and black. I walk to our above-ground tanks, skirting the edge of our solar panels, making a mental note to clean them sometime soon, and stop in front of our ventilator. It is a behemoth of a machine, built to withstand everything from radiation to dust storms. I punch in the passcode, and the panel opens up, allowing me to peruse the air composition gauges.
Nothing I didn’t know from the Biome. The small hope that it was purely a mistake in the Biome sensors fizzles and dies. It has contaminated our entire air supply, the excess adulterants shunted off into the Biome to keep the habitats composition optimal. I could hardcode an override, but the delicate equilibrium maintained by the ventilator would be thrown into disarray, best case affording us a couple more weeks to find a solution, worst case poisoning the plants or us in our sleep.
I numbly close the panel and walk to the storage tanks. My eyes follow the familiar motion of checking for bulges or tears in the seams, perforations in the piping or places that need reinforcement. Contamination of the Martian Frontier is illegal under martial law, the smallest leak of greenhouse gases or—god forbid—biological matter is treated with immediate and thorough annihilation of everything within a ten-kilometer radius. It is the most absolute and harshest law, but the scars of Earth run deep on this new planet. Any act that could potentially lead Mars down Earth’s path is clipped at the bud. Or in this case, obliterated.
“So our only options are to die slowly or to die in our sleep?” He calmly asks.
“Or get a solution from the support tech that fixes our problems.” I point out mildly. I keep the chances of that happening to myself. I shouldn’t have bothered; his gaze tells me how much faith he has in a technical solution.
“Listen, I know you have reservations, but hear me out—” He starts his usual refrain, but I am tired of his attempts.
“Do you want to call down Central on us? This is the Frontier! They are monitoring everything real-time. Even a blip on their radar and you won’t even hear the missile drop.”
He waits for me to finish, “It takes one minute for a contaminant to be detected, and another minute to make the call. The worst case, assuming the drone is primed and ready, that gives us a two-minute window.”
“Two minutes for what?”
“Two minutes to send it far enough for us to escape the blast radius.”
I pause. We own a single transport shuttle on its last legs, the whole reason we decided to landlock ourselves to this habitat. I had been planning to cannibalize it for our system once the Sector Council had settled down to our presence and willing to open trade.
“Just chart a straight course and let her go. Slowest is 925 kilometer per hour, enough to give us a 5-kilometer buffer zone.”
“You are willing to sacrifice our only transportation?”
“Beats dying here slowly, and you know she isn’t fit for the sky anymore.”
”My mind was whirling, “You want to treat Central like a garbage disposal service.”
“Essentially, a dangerous, nuclear-armed, garbage disposal.”
It’s hard to breathe; the Biome is getting worse. I cast a gaze over our growing food supply. No wilting that I could see, and I tentatively hope for no long-term effects from this concentrated exposure. Wordlessly, a shovel is thrust into my field of view.
We had settled on the plan, and I had spent the last couple of hours stripping the shuttle of any reusables. It was unfortunate to destroy so many resources, but survival trumps all else. We got to digging, gently displacing the newly grown vegetation, and two hours in I was already regretting going so deep initially. I hit the cadaver first and quickly excavate the rest of the body. My shovel accidentally severed a wrist during my haste, and I drop the loose hand into the carton separately. A dull glint catches my eye.
“Should we take the wedding rings?”
“No need, no one here would trade for them”, he grunts in reply, hauling the heavier carcass over to the carton.
They had moved into advanced decay, and I am briefly appreciative that the hours in the Biome had rendered me nose-blind. I had planned for the extra nutrients to nourish our yield, but the unfortunate realization that the system was not built to process large amounts of carrion had quickly sent us scrambling for solutions.
We hoist the carton up and walk into the docking station. The shuttled stood quiescent ready for its cargo. I unseal the door and step into the cockpit, double-checking the navigation route, while the carton is loaded.
“Looks good here,” I affirm, before joining him in the docking station deck.
“It bought two people here; now it’s sending two people out.” He observes, as I set a timed opening sequence for ground transport, no lift-off today.
“Yes, let’s endeavor not to follow their example,” I reply as the sequence counts down.
“So we are going legitimate then, no more illegal activities.” He turns to me,
“We just sent off our last chance. “
The count reaches zero, and the deck window polarizes as the surface hatch opens. Our shuttle speeds out, and we can see it minimize into the horizon before the hatch closes.
“For better or for worse, our days of raiding are over.” I agree, “I need a chilled pack; do you want one?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
The Colors of Mars
by Bernard Craz from the US
The Planet Mars is an amazing place, and not just red. The Mars Axis colony is an international Mars settlement mainly founded by Elon
Musk. The base at Meridian Plane (Meridiani Planum) is the biggest and
the main hub for all Mars activity. It has 26 domes, each with
That’s where I come in. Hi, I’m April, the 15th person born on Mars.
My parents were some of the first people to migrate to Mars. I’ve seen
this planet grow with me. And today’s the sol I get my licence to do
spacewalks. If I do get it, I’ll be the first Mars-born to space walk
“Let’s go!” I shouted to no one in particular. I slid from my
phone booth-sized capsule into the small room I call home. It’s not
much bigger than a closet on Earth. There’s a couch, a microwave and
fridge. That’s about all that can fit. My parents work a lot to make
ends meet. They are part of the team that makes the new domes.
I ran out of the door and jumped off the walkway down to the main
floor. I ran through the long corridor connecting the Lovell and Glenn
Domes. I’ve lived in the Lovell Dome for my whole life. The Glenn
Dome is all about agriculture. The first two floors have giant tanks
of algae. Algae is the life blood of this colony. The algae is what
the lower classes of Mars eat.
As I reached the third floor I ran past the cows, wait – they’re
more like cow-dogs. They are extremely small and space-efficient. Bred
on Fidel Castro’s orders by the Cubans in secrecy in the late 1990s,
these cows arrived to nourish our Mars population. Seeing their cows
always brings back memories of my childhood.
“Mommy look! Are those cows?” a younger me said.
“Yes, those are cows. You remembered your classes about Earth,”
my mother said.
Those memories of our colonies growing will be a part of me for the
rest of my life. The world around me growing and the progress we’ve
made have all led up to this sol. The sol I get my licence. Today I
make history. This has been my dream for as long as I can remember.
The Glenn Dome is the smallest of the main Domes. As I made my way
past the core of Glenn Dome I jumped over the security door making
sure I scanned my card. There are some limitations if you don’t live
on Mars. Tourists stay for one year here at Meridiani Planum and one
year at the base up at Acidalia Planitia.
I can’t imagine being a tourist on Mars. There are so many cool
things to do that are out of bounds. It is quiet this time of year as
the tourists have either left or are going to arrive in three months.
As I ran past the glass tunnel ignoring the bland red landscape, the
cacophony of Armstrong Dome, the largest Dome and the main hub of the
colony, echoed through the tunnel. The largest Dome has 56 stories and
five hotels. It also has two casinos and everything you need to live.
A large skylight roof lets in the meager sunlight. And a giant park in
Each story in Armstrong Dome is open in the center to make way for the
skylight and a 1.259 ton pendulum swings nonstop with the motion of
Mars. As I entered the main floor, I ran up to Circle Park and marveled
at all the Earth fauna and flora. The birds from Earth always amaze
me. The colors make me wonder how they got so colorful. The green
color of plants and the red flowers always make me wonder if it’s
really this green on Earth.
As I made my way through Circle Park, I saw the giant pendulum. It was
a test to see if they can make rocket parts with the equipment and
factories built here on Mars. The pendulum is a testament of
mankind’s ingenuity. It is made from 100% Mars mined iron. The
pendulum rocks back and forth for about the same time each swing just
like a pendulum on Earth. The pendulum rotates with Mars and knocks
over pegs to show the time.
“Mommy, that’s the biggest thing I ever seen!” a younger me said
as the pendulum swung back and forth while the workers finished the
permanent fencing to enclose the area of the pendulum’s swing.
“Yeah, the pendulum is quite big,” my mother said.
“Pen-do-wom is so cool!” I exclaimed.
“The pendulum moves with Mars. That’s how people tracked time 400
years ago on Earth. Mars’ sols are around 40 minutes longer than
Earth sols, which they call days.”
“Do-ways? So cool!” I had shouted.
Jogging past the pendulum reminded me of these memories of my
childhood. I ran around the sitting area surrounding the pendulum,
racing the monorail to McAuliffe Dome. McAuliffe Dome, the rich and
upper class Dome. The people here all think they’re better than
everyone else. The monorail entered the station while I entered the
tunnel to McAuliffe Dome. The style of this Dome is very clean, the
walls are flat white, glass railings upstairs, and houses the size of
luxury apartments on Earth.
McAuliffe Dome is one of two ways to get to McCool Dome, my
destination. The other way would have had me go through six other
Domes and around the colony. But going this way would mean an
encounter with Jason and I was right.
“Where do you think you’re going, April?” a smirking Jason
called out. He was sitting under the skylight and wearing a suit and
“Just because you’re the 13th born doesn’t mean you’re better.” I
“Someone’s got an attitude. Peasant,” the annoying spoiled brat
“Just like Apollo 13 you have failed the spacewalk certification
test. But I have all of the requirements doubled.” I winked and
kept on running.
The tunnel to McCool Dome is small, tight, and dark. The people of
McAuliffe Dome have been complaining for a while to add more lights.
The tunnel is very long and quite annoying if you’re not on time. I
sprinted to try to make this perilous journey in record time. At the
end of the tunnel is McCool Dome, the second smallest Dome after
Shepard Dome, the first Dome built.
“Hey April, you’re just on time!” Mark the E.V.A. master (and
my instructor) gestured towards the suit-up room.
It’s happening right now. My dream is coming true.
The pink sky stretching out past the horizons, the same sky that the
first explorers saw, filled with white wispy clouds, begins to turn
blue as the sun falls down for its slumber. The sky that has lost its
air from billions of years past. The sky that has seemed so unchanged
from years past. The same pink sky that Viking 1 & 2 lived under. The
same sky that Opportunity drove a marathon under. The same sky that
Elon Musk founded a base under. The same sky that I’m under now. The
sky that Mariner 4 imaged one-hundred years ago. I wonder what will
happen under our pink sky in another one-hundred years.