Last day on Mars — a short story

“Hi, I am a resident of room 203 and wanted to know if there is any rover available to take me to the space elevator. My check out is the day after tomorrow at 12 noon.”, asked Rajan as he neurodialed the reception from his open roof suite in Red Vista hotel.

“Sure sir, give me a moment please.”, the receptionist mentioned.

“Yeah, no worries, take your time”, said Rajan as he looked up through the glass roof of his room into the red sky with a visible layer of dust increasing in density speedily and clouding the bright sun in its mist. “Oh man, not another dust storm. This is the second one this week. Would have been better to see this place clearly and cherish memories before I leave. But looks like the red God doesn’t want that. No worries, it is what it is.”

“Sir, we do have a rover available, which is the day after tomorrow on Earth day March 21, 2089, at 10 AM. Would you like me to schedule a spot for you, sir?”

“Yes please. And is there an additional charge for that?”.

“Yes sir, it’s 15 ETH.”

“But that’s 5 ETH more than the interspace pricing guidelines. Is there a reason for that?”

“You are right sir. We charge a premium as we reserve few seats for our guests every day to serve immediate demands from people like you. Many of the times, seats may go empty and that is why we charge a premium for that. But if you want, you can try the public website by the galactic government which provides the service at standard rates. But they may not guarantee a seat and certainly not pick up from the hotel. You will also have to take the public commute — take the hyperloop from boring tunnel 29 to 33. Then you will need to switch to the blue line and go to boring tunnel 48, which is the last stop to the space elevator. It will take significantly more time and maybe inconvenient for the stuff you are carrying”.

“Right, right. I understand. Then can you schedule the rover with pick up for me at the date and time you mentioned?”

“Sure, done sir. We have captured your neuro signal approving the transaction. You are all set”

“Great, thanks.”, said Rajan as he tapped at the back of his ear to cut the call. He took his towel and went for his hot shower thinking of how he spent the last 1 month on this beautiful planet”.

1 month ago, when Rajan came to know that the galactic council has approved his visa application to visit Mars, after 3 consecutive years of denial, he was elated. The adventurer and writer in him had tried almost all adventures and thrills at Earth and Moon, and now at the age of 35, he now stood at Mars — checking that last item off his bucket list when it came to interplanetary travel. Back at Earth, going to Mars had become the must-visit experience for travelers and adventure seekers. In this month, he had seen the best terrain Mars had to offer. He went on a 3 hours long rover bike hike on Mount Sharp, at the top of which remains of the historic Curiosity rover, which paved the way for human exploration and settlement on Mars, are found and is a popular tourist destination. He went on the hyperloop tour to Olympos Mons and was amazed to see the tallest mountain in the solar system. At the same time, he seemed mesmerized by the advancement of human technology and science to be able to build a life in perhaps the most barren place he had been to in his entire life.

The small city of 1200 inhabitants — “Aqua Moreolis” was built in a span of mere 10 years after technology for large-scale interplanetary transport for developed by Galactico — the superintelligent AI developed initially using a collaboration of MIT, ISRO, and NASA. After 35 years of human-driven improvement, Galactico reached the cross-over point where it surpassed human general intelligence. While humanity, was rejoicing the milestone of solving the singularity problem, Galactico gradually transformed into a superintelligent AI which could only be overruled by unanimous decisions of the G8 president council on Earth. No human had the ability to understand the internal representations of intelligence behind Galactico, but in two years, humans entered an era of abundance. Without inputting a single iota of energy into physical labor, every human had access to sufficient food, personalized VR centers to tap into their favorite metaverse, and devices to keep busy, exercise, and live a life free from physiological and safety worries as per famous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Humanity rejuvenated and people suddenly had time to indulge with their families and loved ones. The Pandora’s box had opened. Steep technological advancements had led to extreme exploitation of Earth’s resources which was not the beautiful blue planet people knew 60 years ago. However, Galactico worked resourcefully by ensuring that Earth as a planet remains functionally intact to support the existing civilization through swaths of interspace colonization efforts. In this endeavor, Earth became a highly mechanized and metal frame society. Moreover, as humans progressed towards the self-actualization phase, the sudden bump in human happiness showed diminishing returns.

Thanks to Galactico’s neuro training modules, humans could attain mastery of the hardest physical or mental skill within minutes and live up to their full potential for the rest of their life. Of course, there was a price for every training — which for most humans ended up as being the AI model for all tasks Galactico wanted to learn and emulate. Thus, the painter Joe would settle for a skill no less than Van Gogh, or a chess enthusiast Venkatesh would want to surpass Gary Kasparov in ratings by playing against him in simulated matches, and travelers like Rajan would want to see the entire depth and breadth of landscape available to see in the interplanetary universe which was becoming increasingly accessible as Galactico developed new technologies to support the mission of expanding into deeper space and exploiting all the resources towards its main goals — retain Earth as the liveable planet and maximize human happiness and longevity.

So when Galactico finally announced that the first city has been set up on Mars with a range of adventurous and explorative activities available for human consumption, Rajan decided to apply for the first cohort of visitors. After extensive lobbying using his status as the top travel influencer among humans, he finally made the list of the first 30 visitors.

On the day of the final travel, he was extremely excited, but unlike other fellow travelers, he was not nervous as it was not his first interplanetary travel. Moreover, the grand applause he received from the cohort, as they expressed their gratitude for traveling with an icon like him — one of the few humans to scale Mons Huygens on Moon. It was a long journey of 48 hours. But Galactico had ensured that the journey would be pleasant for everyone — everyone had access to their personalized metaverse pods where they can get back to their normal life while physically traveling through outer space. Moreover, there was plenty of food, amenities, and an AI doctor present at the premise to account for any emergencies.

As they prepared to dock into the Space elevator station at Mars, the announcement was made — “Welcome humans! The Galactic Council welcomes you to the first city on Mars which we have gladly named Aqua Moreolis. You can also call it — the Las Vegas of space. The city has 400 underground pods, each sustained by the abundant solar energy on the planet, closet farmed food in their dedicated greenhouse chambers, and an unlimited supply of water — thanks to our superior and indigenous water extraction process from moisture-rich Martian soil. As you head down to the surface through the elevator, feel free to absorb the beauty of the red planet using the transparent 360-degree windows. We wish you a wonderful stay.”

The cohort screamed with euphoria as they headed inside the elevator pod. An aerial view from the top as you are riding down the space elevator from the Martian Dock Port towards the center of the city showed glittering diamonds in the barren land. The tops of these pods were brightly lit with advertisements by the likes of Coke, Tesla, Alibaba, etc. “Marketing will never cease to amaze me. Perhaps advertisements will be the last of legacy industries to die.”, Rajan thought to himself. He couldn’t be more excited to get down and start his journey for 1 month to come.

As soon as he got down the elevator, his elevator pod was transferred to the underground hyperloop system and within a minute, he was being escorted by the T-Rex, the state-of-the-art humanoid robot assistant to the Red Vista hotel. He was extremely tired. But he was surprised to see that on a planet where there is no free oxygen or any other visible life, he had the amenities of the most luxurious hotel on Earth. As he was escorted into his Olympos Mons facing suite, his eyes glittered with amazement. He looked at the massive mountain defining the red sky and rising above the dust as a dark silhouette. Awestruck for about 2 minutes, he gathered himself — “Well Rajan, you are here for an entire month. You have all the time in the world. So you must rest now. You have a long day ahead tomorrow as the assigned T-Rex will take you through your orientation tomorrow”.

Orientation started with a fabulous breakfast featuring the famous red potatoes of Mars which have an inherent tangy taste and are packed with most nutrients unlike the yellow and brown potatoes on the earth. After devouring the unique breakfast, T-Rex and escorted him to the Hyperloop station from where he set off to the city visitor center.

At the visitor center, he was given a menu listing the exquisite set of activities one can pursue on this red planet. This felt like a traditional visitor center you would expect in National Parks across the earth — with a highly commercial and vibrant atmosphere. The rover hikes through Mount Sharp and Olympus Mons certainly appealed the most to his adventurous self, but he also opted in for a tech tour.

The tech tour started with the solar hub, a towering pole rising 10 miles above the surface and which harnessed the energies from the solar reflectors mounted at the top of each of the 400 pods. It was amazing to see that this was the only source of energy the city had and it was bountiful. Moreover, one could go to the highest floor on the solar hub and have a 360 degree of the marvelous red planet which housed promises of the future with essential minerals like Magnesium, Aluminium, Titanium, Iron, and Chromium which have fallen in short supply on earth. A team of 15 human engineers, 40 autonomous transport ships, and 150 T-Rexes was already working on extracting and transporting them to Earth.

The jewel of the tour was when he visited the MegaVac — the brain of the city and the first major creation of Galactico after achieving superintelligence. MegaVac was an autonomous supercomputer that housed the AI responsible for extracting resources, transforming them into the required format — food, water, air, energy, maintaining and developing an army of T-Rex to support the labor and daily needs of the city. The success of MegaVac in sustaining Mars had opened the doors to habitation and exploration of other mineral-rich planets within and beyond the galaxy. However, access to MegaVac’s control attributes was one of the most strictly guarded secrets of the Galactic Council and the tour soon ended at the door of MegaVac’s server room. The orientation continued till late in the evening after which Rajan was introduced to the Mayor of the first town on Mars — Dr. Tim Bernanski — the MIT professor who led the team to build Galactico.

“Welcome aboard Mr. Rajan. You must be tired from our tour today. However, I believe that our superior technology and beauty of this wonderful planet would have done their best to make you feel the value of your efforts”- Dr. Tim said.

“Indeed Dr. Tim. You have concocted a utopian abode on this barren vista. Congratulations to you and your team. During my stay here, I will do my best to explore what this planet has to offer and take the stories back to Earth”, Rajan said.

“That is very kind of you Mr. Rajan. You see, with the explosion in human longevity and resource consumption, it is essential we motivate more and more humans to step out of their comfort zones and settle on planets like these so that human civilization can continue its existence while dominating the universe as we deserve. Now that we have Galactico, the time has come for humanity to reap the best of what this universe has to offer us. I hope you have a nice stay here and carry the message to the rest of humanity when you go back to Earth.”

“Absolutely, I will be honored. Well Mr. Tim, thanks again for the grand welcome and I am looking forward to my stay here.”

“Glad to hear Mr. Rajan. Well, I will get out of your way so that you can go and rest. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything. My neuro signal code is my name followed by the code — “Martian Call”. Have a good night ahead”, said doctor Dr. Tim as he vanished back into the teleporter panel on which he was standing.

“Wow, that was fun. Time to get settled in and begin my journey on this planet tomorrow. I have only a month left.”

He started his next day with the unguided surface exploration as he rented his personal rover for the entire month. As days passed and he grew more confident in his ability to explore the planet on his own, that is when he started having fun. He was discovering more every day. Like the other day, he discovered the sandy sea — an ocean of sand where no solid can survive without disappearing into its deep abyss. Thanks to the sensors of the Galactico-built rover, he didn’t fall into any such trap but it was indeed a thrill for an adrenaline seeker like him. In the evenings, he would capture all his thoughts through an hour of mediations where his neuro signals would stabilize enough to write down a cohesive narration of how his day had been.

With each blog and picture published by him on social media, he was getting an unprecedented number of views and clicks. He didn’t envisage this popularity. Within a month he had fallen in love with the place and when the neuro signal reminded him that he had only 2 days left to return, he felt deep anguish. A month was not enough.

“Thanks for visiting Red Vista hotel sir. As part of our first cohort of visitors, we are offering you a 15% discount for your 5 subsequent visits. Also, your rover is here. We wish you have a happy journey back” — said the human receptionist, a luxury available to only the richest of humans on Earth.

“Thanks to you too and Dr. Tim’s team. I had a terrific one month and I will be writing about your hotel on my blogs and posts. And we both know, this will not be my last day on Mars. See you soon.”

Analytics & Marketing Strategy at Amazon | UCLA, ISB, IITR Alum