The distant world with its surface of crimson dust was like a blood-stained ornament hanging in the heavens that attracts with a magnetic force the violent impulses woven into the superficial artifice of the reasonable human being. That macabre association perhaps just as much as reasonable proximity was what compelled the mightiest civilization to seek a new home in the bosom of their celestial god of war.
Justin was just eight years old, but from the time his developing brain was able to understand language, it was filled with fantastical tales about the great utopia their ancestors built among the stars. Despite the naivety of his age he never had any reason to doubt the ability of his forebears to accomplish such a feat. He grew up in the ruins of a world they had abandoned because it was no longer good enough, and the civilization they had discarded was far beyond anything Justin’s people could being to comprehend let alone hope to ever match in any regard. In just a few hours Justin and eleven other children were going to begin their long pilgrimage to the glowing promise lands.
The ceremonial ground was just underneath a network crisscrossing roads held up in the sky by massive concrete pillars. It was a slow process, but the megastructure was dissolving. Large fragments of the elevated roads often broke off and plunged to the ground below exposing its rusted metal skeleton. The entire town had turned out for the event. They stood at the edge of the light that beamed through the open square shaped center of the overlapping highways. Built directly in the center was a small hut made of wood and straw. They watched the silently as the procession of child pilgrims were brought forward.
Justin had permanently lost the use of his right leg a few months ago and had to be carried on his father’s back. When he saw the hut, he instinctively clung tightly around his father’s neck. Most of the other children had to be carried in by family members as well. Except for Edward and Katie Peters who had no family left.
Scott McCormick was a very respected man in Justin’s town and this year he had been selected to conduct the ceremony.
“These brave boys and girls who were given a burden too great to bear for life in this world are finally going to get lives they deserve in the world above!” He proclaimed.
He held up the sacred texts. The front cover had the words “THE FUTURE IS NOW” written in bold red letters that seemed to jump out of the dark background they were printed on. Underneath that marquee was a photograph of a man planting a flag embroidered with the picture of the earth into the red Maritain soil with a mountain range of jagged copper peaks far in the background. It had been printed all the way back when the masters of Mars had been the lords this forsaken world. It was printed on the most delicate paper, so it had to be kept locked away most of the time.
“On Mars, there is no such thing as being crippled for life! On Mars, children do not lose their parents!” Scott thundered while the eyes of the fixated crowd followed his raised hand.
He opened the book. “Humanity's future is on Mars!” Scott read.
“It is the cradle that will nurture a new and better human race. It is the only place where we can begin a new, where we can finally extricate the demons that have plagued during our entire tenure on this planet. It is where we will finally become one people and build not a city, but a whole world where gods and nations don’t reign but where the common good will find supremacy!”
There was thunderous applause, and people fell to their knees to greet the red giant whose glow shone through inky sky.
They followed Justin's dad into the hut. Everyone spaced out to have some level of privacy to say their final goodbyes. Justin's father set him down against a wall with a grunt. He gripped the boy's shoulders tightly and looked at him with sullen eyes and a quivering lip he was fighting desperately to hide.
“Will you ever come to Mars?” Justin asked his father.
“If I’m lucky enough to be chosen,” his father smiled weakly.
“I’m scared to go,” Justin whispered.
“No reason to be,” his father assured him. “Life on Mars will be far better than anything in this world.”
“I think I’d rather stay here with you and mom than go to Mars alone,” said Justin.
“You won’t be alone,” replied his father. “They’ll all be going with you, and your friend Jack will be there waiting for you too.”
They were silent. Justin could see the twinkling tears in father’s eyes. Without a word he stood up and walked out of the hut.
Scott was holding the torch and giving a somber nod to all those leaving behind a loved one in the hut. The jubilant crowd fell silent as Scott approached the hut.
“Mars may you take these children into your care. Please let them experience the eternal peace of your beautiful and perfect world!” He beseeched the sky before setting the hut ablaze. The crowd roared with delight as the flames quickly spread across the straw building in a mesmerizing blue and gold inferno.
The flames were eating through to the inside. The thick black smoke accumulating in the air choked the children. Some started to panic and tried to crawl away from burning walls, but it was no use. The heat made their flesh start to bubble even without the lashing touch of the flames. Soon the room was just a dimly glowing haze that was growing darker and darker. After a few moments, the pain even began to subside. Justin tried not to cry. his father told him he was going to feel different because he was going turn into smoke so he’d be able to drift into the sky. It was going to be like going to sleep only when he woke up he would have a new body on a new world. He shut his eyes and let his flesh experience the final sensations of its earthly existence before the fire sent him into the stars.