“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy said clutching her dog to her chest. “We must be over the rainbow!” Then the video clip scrambled and died like it had done nineteen times before.
Gracie wished to go home. Back home to Kansas, to a home on Earth. She shut off the monitor, went to the window and looked out at the dawn. The two moons of Mars were still visible in the tawny sky to her left. On her right, the firestorm from a solar flare was speeding across the red horizon pushing a massive dust cloud in front of it.
It wouldn’t be long now and she would leave on her terms.
“Time to go, baby,” Dad had said that first time leaving Kansas and her friends. She had cried for hours. “Listen Gracie, home is wherever we are together,” he said. And the Air Force took them someplace else, every two years. She remembered how anxious she felt moving around the country and to other parts of the world. Driving along some desert highway he’d say things like: “We live in God’s house, Gracie.” He’d wave at the clouds and yell, “We are God’s house!”
They would watch The Wizard of Oz together. It was their favorite thing to do. “We’re not in Kansas anymore, baby!” he’d always say and laugh with her. They’d take turns singing the different parts.
“You’re like her, Gracie. You’re spunky like Dorothy,” he’d say. “You’ll go get over a rainbow too, baby. I can see that in you.” And she did. She followed him into the Air Force in 2049.
Captain Grace Ehrhart went to the closet and took out her silver space suit. She laid it out carefully on the table and started to take off her uniform. When she was naked, Gracie sat down and took one last sip of her bourbon.
She laughed and said out loud, “I must be over the rainbow now, Dad.”
Her group had been sent to Mars on a salvage mission; two years away from home to retrieve 70 years worth of rovers, robots and lost landers abandoned on its surface. Mars was a hostile, dead planet. The last initiative was to get all the dead equipment back.
They had all been so excited to come here and get it done, she thought. Their bases were both the New Babylon Colony, located on a rim of the Gusev Crater, and the Mother Ship they had arrived on. New Babylon had been built during the push for human settlement here. After 10 months, it was determined Mars wasn’t fit for human habitation either physiologically or psychologically. New Babylon became a Martian ghost town.
Gracie’s mission had started out according to the Agency Plan. She alone coordinated the project from New Babylon. Her second-in-command flew Mother Ship to and from retrieval locations across the equatorial plains. What they could not have foreseen was the sun coughing a gargantuan fireball into the Martian orbit. The first solar flares had incinerated the forward retrieval crews. An asteroid shower had destroyed Mother Ship and everyone on board. The rim of the crater had spared her and the empty colony, until now.
Communication with Ground Control on Earth had been lost five hours ago. The last transmission she received was, “Come home if you can, Captain.”
“Time to go, Daddy,” she whispered. She stood up and put on the silver suit. She zipped up her shiny, silver boots. She took her helmet down from beside the hatch and went to the window. A tornado of red dust and flames seemed to be almost on top of her.
“God—“ she sighed. Gracie put on the helmet and went to the hatch. She pressed the button and heard the buzz of the airlock. She stepped through and out into the escape pod. Gracie sat down, plugged in her life support and fastened her harness tight.
She shut her eyes and clicked her silver heels together, three times. “There’s no place like home; there’s no place like home; there’s no place like home,” she said and then was gone in a spiral of red dust.