I remember waking up. I think it was cold, but I wasn’t sure. My mind was hazy. I went to the big monitor screen on the wall, black and lifeless. In the thick glass sat my blurry reflection, thought it was hard to make out. Somehow, though, I subconsciously knew how to turn the device on. It came to life– as did the others around me, too.
They all stumbled around similarly, listless. Same as me, just like a newborn, unaware of the world we had just arrived in. The monitor flickered. Their eyes turned my way, gathered around the warm glow. The flashing ellipses trailing after the text reading ‘Searching for Signal’ wavered for a moment before disappearing entirely.
A man’s face replaced the dark background, bearded, smiling weakly. “Good, you’re awake.”
“We are but…” I paused, looking down at my bare body for a moment. “I don’t remember who I am exactly.”
The others peered around at each other, likely coming to the same conclusion. The bearded man nodded knowingly, lips pursed. “Yes, yes. It’s a side effect of the long sleep you’ve been through.” He explained slowly. “It will all come back to you in time. But… you should know where you are, how to operate things, no?”
“Mars…” I mouthed, somehow as if my lips had been trained to produce the sound. Behind me, a bright light flickered on from the ceiling, one of the others having found a switch. Beyond the walls of the room, I could hear machinery starting to hum to life.
“Very good.” The man nodded his head, voice slowly being eaten away by static. “Your orders… directions will be held in the computers and terminals there. You should know as well, that everything you need is provided for you. It is a… long distance here to Earth, so communication will not always be possible, but… I think you all will get along fine.”
With a final crackle, the video feed stopped, returning the screen the black.
I remember when I first was able to recall my name. Adam. I can’t remember how it returned to me, but I was one of the first to regain my… identity, if you were to call it that. I also felt at ease giving orders, and the others seemed to take them at stride.
Just like the bearded man on the screen had said, we found ourselves perfectly able to adapt to the surroundings, despite not having much idea of how to proceed, or even where to start. The station, sitting seemingly all alone out there in the middle of the vast reddish brown land, was our home.
Every free corner and hallway was a jumble of crates and boxes, packed away seemingly haphazardly. Upon further inspection, we discovered that it was just the opposite. Each container was labeled and coded very deliberately. Slowly, the crates were unpacked; the contents finding their ways to parts of the station where they seemed appropriate. A manifest we came across slowly had it’s lines and sections crossed off until every last item was accounted for. Not each item had a use that seemed pertinent at the time, but we figured that their uses would be discovered with time.
Readings showed our water supplies sitting comfortably at 96%, but the documentation we were able to access reminded us that the reserves would slowly deplete over time, due to evaporation or unforeseeable leaks. Another set of instructions referred to plans of expansion, calling for another 500 gallons for a project that had yet to become apparent. The girl with dark blonde hair seemed comfortable taking over the role of assembling a team to start assembling the condensers to start pulling water vapor out of the thin Martian atmosphere.
As we discovered more systems either sitting idle or completely inactive, more and more people split off from the group to take upon the tasks of getting these systems and devices back running. Once again, we found ourselves unsure of the use of certain things, but we all assumed at one point that everything would fit together as one.
I remember when the fire started. It could have been a blown fuse or a frayed wire, but I don’t remember caring for the reason at the time. The fire extinguisher that I had passed so many times seemed to call out to me to be used. As soon as it was out, everyone who had been alerted to the presence returned to their work.
I started to feel distant from the others. None of them had rediscovered their name like me. I sat by the monitor in the main room, hoping that the man with the beard would return one day and give us more instruction. I started to pour over the remainder of unread documentation in the station’s computers. While there was extensive lists of supplies and tools, their locations, and their uses, there was not a shred of any sort of crew listing.
I remember the day when the tall man collapsed. He had just completed the testing of one sort of device inside one of the rooms when he tumbled to the ground where he stood. We dragged him to another room and propped him up, hoping to reawaken him. After some time trying, we gave up, and the others returned to work. Before I could decide what to do with him, another collapsed. Then another.
The room started to fill with the lifeless bodies of the men and women of the crew. I started to feel panic, and decided that I could not face the others in my state. I went to the computer once again to try and diagnose if there was a problem with the station that I had missed.
One sensor had been reactivated- the one to measure the mixture of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere of the station. It snapped in my brain that it meant something of great importance, but I couldn’t decide why. The readings I pulled up stated that there was danger in the current readings, but for what reason I could not find. I decided to exit my seclusion and gather the others in the room, to alert them of the strange danger.
I tried my best to explain to them my fears, but none seemed to want to take heed. Slowly, I saw some of them pass out just like the others, one by one, until I was the only one left.
I can’t remember how long I sat there, pondering when it might be over for me, when the speakers around the station started playing a voice. “Adam.”
“You know this voice, Adam. Please come to the monitor.”
I stood up hesitantly, beginning to walk to the command station. “Sir, I think the others are… dead.”
“Dead?” The voice asked. “Where did you learn that word?”
“I… don’t know.” I bit at my lip, wondering the same question. I arrived in front of the monitor past the large sliding doors, peering at the bearded face of the man who had contacted us so long ago.
“It simply means that you’ve completed your duties… They are… resting.” He explained, eyes strangely seeming to lock with mine through the glossy glass of the screen.
“But for what…?”
“For the others to arrive.” The man stroked his whiskered chin. “You’ve properly prepared the station for them.”
“More humans?” I pondered aloud.
“I want to tell you something Adam.” The man shook his head sadly. “You were the only to remember your name, no?”
“Yes.” I looked back at him, then down at my hands, the skin rough, yet somehow seeming soft and springy under my own touch.
“You were the only one mean to. The only one given one, in fact.” His eyes drifted away for a short moment.
“Given?” I reached up to feel the smooth, faintly warm surface of the screen. “Then who gave us… or withheld from us, rather, names?”
“It does not matter, Adam.” The man sighed. “The point is that that sole fact- the idea of remembering your own name- distracted you for long enough to not worry about the rest of your memories.”
“Why won’t they come back, sir?” I pleaded.
“There are none, Adam.” The man seemed to hesitate. “You’ve never made any memories of Earth because you were never here, at least, while awake.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Humans are social creatures, Adam. We are social, we learn from each other. You found nothing strange in the actions or habits of the others because you acted in the same way- the way you were programmed. You believed that the others around you were human because you thought yourself to be a human as well, despite never actually meeting one.”
“Then I’m not…?” I looked down at my hands again, suddenly unaware of whether or not I could feel the temperature of the room around me, or the feeling of the clothes upon my skin.
“Call yourself what you want but… human is not quite the term. You may not know what humanity is actually like, but… I believe you soon will. After all, you and the others have prepared everything well for their arrival.”