Warren Clements writes:
Given all the news recently about billionaires flying into outer space — Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos — a skit I wrote a couple of years ago seems prescient. It appears in the Nestlings Press book Stopping for Words on a Snowy Egret. And here is the complete text, for what I hope will be your reading enjoyment.
The Trip to Mars
[Inside a rocket ship to Mars. The HOST addresses the passengers, including BILL.]
HOST: Welcome aboard the new rocket ship to Mars. We realize how exciting this must be, and what a novel experience it will be for all of you. I want to let you know we will make our maiden flight as pleasant as possible. We have thirty-four brave souls on board, and you will have plenty of time to get to know one another. If there are any questions, I or any of the crew will be happy to answer them. [BILL raises his hand, waves it] I see a hand waving. Yes?
BILL: Excuse me, but you said thirty-four “brave” souls on board. May I ask why you chose the word “brave”?
HOST: As with any maiden excursion into the unknown, it requires a certain amount of courage to embark on a voyage knowing you will never see Earth again. Now, are there any oth – [BILL has raised his hand, is waving it] Yes?
BILL: Excuse me, what do you mean, may never see Earth again? I have a doctor’s appointment on Earth next Tuesday.
HOST: Sir, did you read our prospectus before you signed on?
BILL: Prospectus? I never saw a prospectus. My daughter-in-law thought it would be a marvellous opportunity to see the nearest planet in our solar system, and she signed me up.
HOST: And you thought it would take, how long to get there?
BILL: Well, it was never spelled out, but I assumed, what, a couple of hours?
HOST: Sir, we’re going to Mars.
BILL: Yes, I know, the Red Planet.
HOST: It’s estimated the trip will take years, and we don’t expect to be returning to Earth. The thrill is that we will be the first humans ever to arrive on the surface of Mars.
BILL: Are you telling me my daughter-in-law didn’t spring for a return ticket? Of all the cheap skinflints…
HOST: Sir, I hesitate to broach the subject, but since we’ll be together for a long time, we might as well start the conversation now. Do you and your daughter-in-law get along?
BILL: That’s a rather personal question.
HOST: Well, yes, but I –
BILL: No, no, I’m happy to answer. If you’d asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said no. She was always complaining that I wasn’t giving my son enough money, that I was hoarding my multi-billion-dollar fortune without thinking of them.
HOST: And this changed, when?
BILL: Well, the trip to Mars. She thought it would be fun for us all to travel there, as a family, you know. So I sprang for the few billions necessary to buy all the tickets.
HOST: How many tickets?
BILL: Now, that’s the thing. I gave her enough for her, my son and the two kids, as well as me, at a billion dollars a pop. But just as I was boarding, I got a text message saying they wouldn’t be able to join me. Which I admit was a huge disappointment.
HOST: I’ll bet.
BILL: But I’d given her the money to buy the tickets, and she seemed sure she’d be able to get a refund for the tickets they couldn’t use…
HOST: Four people, so, four billion dollars…
BILL: Yes, exactly. But I don’t remember her mentioning anything about a one-way trip.
HOST: Nothing is carved in stone. We’ll be able to keep going on the surface of Mars for a little while, so there’s always the chance another rocket will come up.
BILL: With my family on board?
HOST: I wouldn’t count too heavily on that. I mean, call it a hunch, but…
BILL: But what?
HOST: What I mean is, science may discover a way to bring us back to Earth. It’s a huge step into the unknown, and that’s the thing about the unknown. It’s unknown.
BILL: I can’t imagine what could have made them miss the flight.
HOST: For the sake of harmony and peace on the voyage to come, I’m going to say they were scared.
BILL: Yes, that must be it. I see what you mean about “brave.” I am brave. And my family isn’t. Does that sound about right?
HOST: Absolutely. I can think of a million reasons why they didn’t come. Four billion, in fact.
BILL: Thank you so much. That makes me feel a lot better. So, I can’t remember what you said earlier – four hours to get there?
HOST [to the other passengers]: Anybody else have a question? Anyone? Please?…