The Poets of Mars
The Mission Bar was one of the most notorious drinking establishments on Mars. It was also one of the oldest. Sitting in the shadow of Olympus Mons, it had been built by the first settlers, back when Mars was a staging post, the next step on from the Moon to the rest of the Solar System. In those days the pilots and crew of the star ships heading out to explore the outer planets would gather in the bar the night before their missions were due to leave and have one last drink together. Over time the facility grew, more people were needed to run it, and they had families. Service industries began to spring up around the base as pioneering business men sought to meet their needs, and in time the base became a town. That town had since become a city, and other cities had sprung up across the planet as the human race had begun to spread throughout the Solar System, just as it had spread across the Earth centuries before. Now there were colonies on every planet, from Mercury to Eris, no matter how inhospitable they seemed. If there was money to be made, resources to be mined, there were people there. Even if there was nothing of value, you could often find a small community of people who saw the remoteness as being something valuable in and of itself, often for political or religious reasons.
There was little left of that first bar, it had been extended and refurbished so many times in the years since it had been built, and few knew its heritage or the reason for its name. They just knew that it was a great place to go if you wanted to disappear into a quiet corner and slowly drink yourself into oblivion. You see, Mars, for all of its opportunity, for all of its reputation for being a gateway to the Universe, was a place that people often got stuck.
People would spend their whole lives scrimping and saving to buy a ticket to Mars. They’d tell themselves that once they got there, they’d find a job and earn the money to buy passage on a ship to one of the other planets. Some did, many never made it. All their money would go on just getting by, and the occasional night at places like the Mission Bar. They’d drink to forget the daily grind, and reminisce about the blue skies and green fields back on Earth.
The bright red neon sign outside the bar flickered as Sam walked through the door. He sat down at the bar and ordered a shot of whisky. He was young, in his early twenties, with a fresh face and a shock of blond hair on his head. He was wearing coveralls, undone to his waist, revealing a red check shirt underneath; his heavy work boots caked in red dust. His hair was matted with sweat and his face was stained with oil and grease.
“Hey, kid,” the bar tender offered him a warm smile, “I ain’t seen you around here, where ya’ headed?”
Everyone was headed somewhere, no matter how long they’d been on Mars, no one was ever just there.
“I’m on my way to the artist’s colony on Ceres,” Sam replied, “I’m a poet.”
“A poet, eh?” The bartender smiled. “So’s Jim over there. Steve’s a sculptor. An’ old Herb, over there, he’s writin’ a novel.” He indicated a succession of dishevelled, drunken men as he spoke. Sam looked them all over and his heart sank a little bit.
“What happened to them?” he asked.
The bartender looked him square in the eye, and simply said, “Mars.”