This was it. Ahead, the crater wall rose steeply into unexplored territory, the red dust and rock rarely traversed by human foot. Behind me, new, terraformed Mars, with its small shrub-like trees and habitable atmosphere. Behind me lay safety, but my destination lay ahead, the excitement of the unknown and the danger of Mars’s true form just waiting for me.
I zipped up the last section of suit and slipped the oxygen mask over my face. Taking one last glance at what had been my home for the last 25 years I headed forward. Each step farther than I had ever gone before.
The initial climb out of the crater was hard work and despite it getting colder and colder the higher I got; I managed to work up a sweat. Finally, though, I reached the top and the view itself would have been worth the climb. Before me, stretched a huge expanse of reddish-brown. The rocks, the craters, the dirt, even the barely visible mountains far off in the distance; it was all similar, all tinted with the same reddish-brown color. There were no exceptions that I could see. This was the Mars I’d learned about in history class, the Mars the first settlers had to populate. Looking at it now I realized how small “New Mars” really was, how we’d tricked ourselves into believing nothing else was out there. That’s why I was here though, so I took a deep breath, letting the manufactured oxygen seep into my lungs and stepped onto Mars. The clunky, insulated boots making deep imprints on the soft surface with each step.
I journeyed onward for the next several hours, leaving a long, lonely trail of footprints behind me. I was headed for a small area of craters and canyons, which I’d seen circled in red on one of the old maps I’d studied before my trip. Apparently it had been one of last places visited by the Martian rover, Spirit.
Five minutes later I saw it. Embedded firmly in the soil, the biggest footprint I’d ever seen. About 2 feet long and a foot wide with 5 little imprints just above the toes, which could only be claws. I started backwards in surprise, tripping on protruding rock and falling undignified-like on my bottom. I picked myself up quickly though, and edged closer to the print. It was definitely real. But what in the name of God could have made it? And where were the other tracks? I looked up; searching for more and saw the next, some fifteen feet away from the first. I jogged over to this one, an almost perfectly mirror image. Whatever made these must have been huge. I felt an involuntary shiver run down my spine.