Making It Home

by

Marissa K. Lingen

 

“Oh, Jenny, this ratatouille is fantastic.”

Jenny smiled at her mother.  “Thanks, Mom.  I made it while Jay was out running errands.”

“He’s always leaving you, isn’t he?”

Jay tried not to watch Jenny’s smile too closely, tried not to check whether it became frozen.  “I like to think of myself as the mighty hunter in this household.  It takes agility and strength to be able to trap the graceful eggplant.”

Jenny’s mother shrieked with laughter.  “Oh, Jay, you’re so funny!”  Her father smiled politely.

Alex, Jenny’s younger brother, couldn’t stand the small talk any longer.  “How was it?”

“Alex!” said Jenny’s mother reprovingly.  “I’m sure they’re just sick to death of having to talk about Mars, Mars, Mars.”  She could not keep the eagerness out of her voice.

“No, it’s all right,” said Jenny.  “We never really get sick of it.  There’s so much to tell.”

Jay watched her go into her media mode before his eyes.  With her own parents.  It was hard to realize how often she had been putting on her smiling, daring pilot act lately, thrilled and blasé by turns as she thought was expected.  Stiff smile, bright, determined eyes.  It chilled him to watch her do it with her own family.

“And then, of course, we were thrilled when Jay found the microfossils,” said Jenny half an hour later.

“Oh, of course,” said her dad.  “We were glued to the set for that one.  Well, we tried to be.  Our neighbors kept calling to congratulate us.”

Jenny’s mother stood up and yawned exaggeratedly. “I am so beat.  I think we’d better head back to bed.  Why don’t we meet for lunch tomorrow?  There’s this little coffee place across from the hotel —”

“Don’t you trust my cooking, Mom?  I’m sure I could make you a much better lunch than that,” said Jenny, smiling, always the good daughter.  This time, Jay was not the only one to notice how fixed her smile had become.  “Why don’t you just come on up here?”

“Oh, okay.  And then in the afternoon, I thought we could go to the sights, you know, Bunker Hill, the Old North Church, the Constitution — I told Alex his big sister would show him her favorite city.”

“I’ve seen those things a hundred times before,” Jenny said.  “They’re really easy to find, though, if you take the walking tour.  I’m sure you’d love it.”

“All right, well, in the evening maybe we could catch a symphony concert — I hear they’ve got that little Chinese girl who plays the violin, and she’s only eight years old and —”

“They show that on the television,” said Jenny.  “Why don’t we stay comfortable here and watch it?”

Her mother and father exchanged glances.  “You know, if you don’t really want us around —” her father began.

“No, no, it’s not that at all,” said Jenny hurriedly.  “It’s just that, well, I just don’t feel much like — that is, I’d rather not — if it’s all the same to you I’ll just —”

“Stay here,” her mother finished for her.  “I see.”

“The fans are still kind of rabid,” Jay jumped in, “and the press still gets us from time to time.”

“I suppose it would be hard to deal with constantly,” said her dad.

Jenny shot Jay an anguished look.  “Harder than you can imagine.”

“Well, you won’t have to do it again, will you?” said her mother, determinedly cheerful.  “Okay, then.  Well.  We’ll drop by for lunch, say, around noon?”

“That’ll be fine.”  Jay stepped in, putting on his false smile, the welcoming son-in-law.  He put an arm around Jenny.  “We’ll look forward to seeing you then.”

After the door closed behind them, she crumpled in his arms.  “Oh, Jay.  Oh God.  I can’t — I don’t — I don’t know what to do.”

“Shhh,” he said helplessly.

“I don’t want to — I can’t —”

“Shhh,” he said again.  He stared bleakly over her shoulder at the blank wall of their living room.  After a few minutes, she pulled away and went to the bathroom to wash her tear-stained face.  When she came out, she went to the computer.  Just as she always did.  Jay flopped face down on the bed.

*****

“Let’s go to the shore,” said Jay as he cleared away the breakfast dishes a week later.

Jenny didn’t even look up from her paper.  “You go on ahead.”

“Come on, hon.  You love the shore.”

“Don’t push me, Jay.  You know I can’t deal with –“

“It’s March.  Nobody will be there – it’s too cold to be crowded.”

“I’m not going.”

“It’s been three weeks since you’ve been out of this apartment.”

She finally looked up at him, a brittle sadness in her eyes. “You go on, Jay.  Enjoy the shore.”

“I doubt that, somehow.”

“Then don’t go.”

“What a marvelous solution.”  He managed not to slam the door.  Somehow he found himself on the highway traveling west, not east.  He stopped at a gas station in Indiana, keeping his hat pulled down and his sunglasses on.  He called his parents to let them know he was on his way.  Then he called Jenny.

“Jesus, Jason, where are you?”  She was frantic.  He should have called sooner, he thought.

“Maybe thirty miles east of West Lafayette.”

“I can’t see you.”

“It’s a cheap old gas station phone.  Doesn’t even have a video pickup.  I can’t see you, either, hon.”

“What are you doing?”  Jay had never heard his wife sound so shrill before.  He winced.

“I’m going to go see my folks.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll be back in a week, okay?”

“Not really, no.”

“I just needed to get away.  I couldn’t stand that city for a minute longer, you know?”

“You always said you loved Boston.”

“I do love Boston.  It’s just… a city.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

Jay sighed.  “Look, babe, I’m running out of change.  Call me at my folks’ tomorrow or the next day, okay?  Bye.”  He was driving through the western suburbs of Chicago before he realized he’d forgotten to tell her he loved her.

*****

Jay held his breath as Charlie Onimoro’s pressure-suited foot descended, slowly, from the last rung to the red dust, transfixed by the situation, not by Charlie’s words: “Well, we made it this far.”  Jay watched the puffs of rusty fines following Charlie’s footsteps.

His mother shut the video off with an exasperated click.  “Not again.”

“Come on, Ma, I was watching —”

“Your Mars landing.  What a surprise.  How many times is this?  Stop brooding, go do something different.  Get out of the house for awhile.”

“I know, Ma, but the gravity —”

“Is exactly the same on my couch!” she snapped.  They glared at each other.  Jay finally looked away, and his mother softened.  “Jason.  I’m worried about you.  Ever since you got home —”

“I’m not home, Ma.  They won’t let me go home.”

She watched him helplessly for a moment, then sighed and left.  He flicked the video back on and watched himself half-falling down the stairs in his eagerness to touch the Martian surface.  It seemed like more than two years ago — more like an entirely different lifetime.  There was lots of footage of the crew cavorting in their bulky spacesuits, during those first hours.  There were so many words the video hadn’t picked up, but he could still hear them clearly in his mind.

It had been good to feel gravity again.

Jay abruptly shut off the video.  He slammed all the doors out to his car, overcome with frustrated longing for perspective, for Mars, for Jenny.

*****

The sky was pale over the fields, a washed-out, weary summer blue.  Jay had been sitting there, staring out on the horizon, for an hour when another car pulled up and parked behind his.  He turned his head languidly.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”  Jay wanted to laugh; Ethan Goldberg, the second man on Mars, had never been known to waste words, and evidently driving across half a continent did nothing to change that.  Ethan stepped up on the bumper and sat next to Jay on the hood of his Volvo.  For a long time, they just stared out at the fields in silence.

Jay finally couldn’t stand it any more and turned to face his friend.  “How’d you know where to find me?”

“We asked Jenny,” said Ethan.  “We need you, Jay.”

Jay looked away.  “There’s nothing I can do.”

“Don’t give me that.  You know you did more than any of us.”

“We all worked hard.”

“Yeah, but you were the one who figured out the microfossil stuff.  And people are still buying prints of your paintings.  They don’t care about the rest — they’ll forget about it in a year.”

“So?”

“So if anyone can convince the Board to keep the missions, it’s you.”

Jay’s stomach twisted.  “What do you mean, convince them to keep the missions?  We did a great job.  The Board is a solid four-to-one in our favor.”

“Where the hell have you been?”  In the six years they’d worked together, Jay had never seen Ethan lose his cool.  “The Board wants to scrap the Mars missions!  You’ve been sitting around with your head up your ass, moping like a spoiled kid because you can’t have your favorite toys.  Well, the way things are going, nobody’s going to get to play any more!”

“That’s insane,” said Jay flatly.  “We had a solid majority.  We did a damn good job.  What would make them change their minds?”

“Nothing changed their minds,” said Ethan. “We have a whole new Board, Jay.  Jefferson retired, and Schramm died while we were up there.  The people they have on there now… the very first thing Tyson Grigg did was call for a reassessment of the Mars program.  Kept pushing it until they had to give in.”

“Reassessment?  What’s to reassess now?  We made more finds in a year than they’d anticipated for the first five trips!  And all the stuff we left to start the colony —”

Ethan’s shoulders dropped.  “That’s just the thing, Jay.  It’s the discoveries.  A couple of the Board members are talking about ‘potential interference with native lifeforms.’”

“That’s stupid.  Don’t they understand what ‘fossils’ means?  It means dead!  I would stake my professional credibility on the fact that we were the only living creatures on Mars in the last hundred thousand years at least.  Hell — I am staking my professional credibility on it!”

“It’s not really the fossils, Jay.”  Ethan sounded tired.  “For Cathy Allers, maybe.  She legitimately cares about conservation.  But there are two others — Grigg and Czernery — for them it’s the money.  They never cared about Mars anyway, and they see this fossil thing as the perfect excuse to kill the program.”

Jay’s gut twisted again.  “That’s half the Board.  They’ve got a majority.”

“Not counting the Old Lady.”

“Oh, come on, Goldberg, get real!” snapped Jay.  “The last time Shepherd didn’t abstain was in ’12 for her precious genemod program.  If she’s our only hope, we might as well forget it.”

Ethan arched a brow at him.  “’We’?”

“You know I’m on your side here.”

“So you’ll come to Oregon and testify to the Board?”

“Oh, God, Ethan, you know I — the mountains —”

“For Mars.”

“You’re not playing fair.”

“For Mars and for all of us.”

“Is Jenny coming?”

Ethan said nothing.

“Is she?”

“We don’t know yet.  Charlie’s talking to her.”

Jay nodded, acknowledging the wisdom of this.  Charlie, counselor and biologist, was the one they’d always designated for the hard talks on Mars.  He was good at them.  Jay occasionally wondered if he ever resented it.

“Is she — how’s she doing?”

“You haven’t called?”

“No.”

“Oh.  She’s about the same.  As far as I’ve heard – we don’t hear much from her.”

Jay stared at the rows of corn.  There was nothing about the scene to remind him of Jenny — and so, perversely, he was reminded of Jenny.  It seemed that just as every landscape he tried to paint became Mars, every person who touched his life brought him back to Jenny.

They had been married for a year when they left for Mars — they were still married.  Neither of them had ever said the word “divorce.”  But that was easy, Jay reflected, when they hadn’t said any words at all in three months.

Ethan interrupted Jay’s reverie.  “Hey, man, I don’t know what’s going on between you and Jenny.  I don’t know if I want to know.  But she looked pretty miserable when I called her, and you’re not exactly the soul of good cheer, either.  We all want you to work things out.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jay said wearily.  “It’s just been —”

“But I do know,” Ethan overrode him, “that this is really important.  Not just for you and Jenny.  Okay?”

“Okay,” said Jay, after a minute.  “I’ll come.”

“Good man,” said Ethan.  “You’re not the only one who’s had it hard, you know?”

“How’s Claire?” Jay was ashamed he hadn’t asked before.

“She gets by.  You know Claire.”

“Yeah.”  The two men sat in silence; it seemed ridiculous to make small talk when they had grown to be more than brothers.  They each knew the other’s mind; silence was an easier communication than conversation.  By the time Ethan had left, Jay knew he was on his way to Oregon.

*****

Jay’s flight had gotten into Portland in mid-evening, but the adrenaline had been too much.  Ethan took one look at him the next morning and said, “You look like shit.”

Jay stood up from the couch he’d appropriated in the hotel lobby.  “I think you’ve said that before.”

“Did you get any sleep at all?”

“The mountains are so close,” Jay mumbled, looking away.

Ethan sighed.  “We’ll get you some coffee, at least.  Our spot on the Board’s agenda should start in maybe an hour.  Claire and Charlie are at the coffee shop.”

Jay only fully realized how much he’d missed his crewmates when he walked into the coffee shop and Claire launched her tiny self at him.  She hung on to him, mumbling, “Oh, God, Jay, we’ve been so worried about you.”

“Hey, give someone else a chance,” protested Charlie, and he stepped in for a bear hug.  Charlie didn’t know how to be shy, Jay remembered fondly and with aching ribs.

Jay slid into the booth with them and wrapped his hands around a fresh espresso.  He was warmed by more than the coffee.  The whole situation reminded him of the last time they’d all sat in a hot tub, the night before liftoff, savoring the warm swirls of the water in silence.  Jenny had thrown one leg up on his shoulder, one perfect wet foot curling around his neck.  They basked in each other’s presence in the coffee shop, in warm community again.  He wished Jenny would get there.

Charlie was obviously sorry to be the one to break their reverie.  “So they’ve heard all of our testimony so far,” he said.  “All but yours and Jenny’s.”

“How does it look?” Jay made himself ask.

Claire made a face.  “Bureaucrats.”

Ethan nodded, slipped an arm around Claire’s shoulders.  “Doesn’t look good.   We’ve got three pretty firmly against, and the ones who are for — well, seems like Dan Kajitani’s the only one who’s really excited about Mars.  He told me once he grew up on gadgety science-fiction stories, real Space Ranger stuff.  Beth Deshbach thinks Mars spells profit in all caps—she’s got really long-range plans for a colony.”

“So if she sees it’ll be profitable, why don’t the others?”

“They’re the short-term types,” said Claire.  “Always existed, always will.”

“Yeah.  The next guy down the road never matters.”

“You can’t run space exploration that way,” said Jay.

“Exactly,” said Claire.  “They don’t want to run a space exploration program.  They want to come in once someone else has opened the way.  Once the costs are down.  If everyone does that —”

“The cost never goes down, and we’re stuck here.  Claire,” said Charlie, “you’re preaching to the choir.  We’re up against a couple thousand years of inertia, staying on this hunk of rock. And then there’s this alien biosphere crap.”

“Well, we can give them the facts on that,” said Jay.  “That’s clear enough.”

Claire and Ethan looked at each other.  Claire spoke slowly.  “Yeah.  And, Jay, there’s one other thing.  We’ve heard.”

Charlie jumped in.  “Now, we all know damn well this isn’t true, but — well, you’ve got to know the company keeps an eye on all of us.  They know where you and Jenny have been since we got back, and there’s some talk that… they’re saying the program should have been screened better, and then you wouldn’t be….”

“Yeah.  Well,” said Jay.  “Well.  I’m here, aren’t I?  I can answer their questions.  And when Jenny gets in —”

“I really don’t think Jenny will be coming,” said Charlie gently.

“Oh,” said Jay softly.  “Well.”  He was saved from further comment by a shriek from the front of the café.

“Oh my God!  It’s them!”

Jay looked around for somewhere to hide.  Charlie rose to intercept the hyperventilating fan.

“Did you enjoy our Mars broadcasts?” he asked with a charming grin.

“Did I!  I watched all of them – I even taped the ones that were on when I was at work.  It was so amazing!”

“Did you have a favorite on the crew?”

“Well, at first it was Lindy,” the fan blurted.  She looked stricken when she realized what she’d said.

Charlie quietly said, “Yeah, she was my favorite, too.”

The fan giggled nervously.  “Oh my God.  I can’t believe I said that.  I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” said Charlie seriously.  “Other than Lindy, though, is there anybody whose autograph you’d like?  Or anything?”

“Oh, you’re kidding!  Oh wow.  That’s so nice of you.  I always liked –“  She looked around.  “Where’s Captain Jenny?”

“She had to stay home,” said Jay smoothly.  “Will I do?”

“Of course!  Oh, of course, I didn’t mean to sound….”

Jay picked up one of the take-out menus and asked for her name.  She spelled it for him, and he wrote, “To Alidia, sorry Jenny missed you.  All the best, Jay Warren.”

He looked up.  “You want everybody else?”

“Would you?” she breathed.

“No problem,” said Charlie, taking the menu from Jay to add his scrawl to the bottom.  They passed it around, and then Charlie ushered the woman out the door with a cup of coffee to go.

“You’re really good at that,” Jay told him.

Charlie shrugged.  “We all have our talents.  Let’s hope you can use some of the stuff we told you to convince the Board.”

*****

Jay passed out fact sheets to the Board, having been coached by Charlie in corporate practice.  He also brought pictures from the different dig sites, twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what it was.  He passed the photos around.  The boardroom was utterly shielded from the outside world.  Jay wondered if the Board members could really be aware of the teenage protesters outside, shouting pro-Mars slogans on the steps.

“What you see here,” he told them in his best official voice, “is Martian microfossil structures.  These were found at four sites, fairly spread out in our explorations.  They show the development of bacteria along fairly similar lines to those on Earth, based on carbon as we’d expect, of course, and with the same residues.  I’m sure most of you remember the Martian fragment found in Antarctica when we were kids — that was the same kind of analysis.”

“I thought that sample was inconclusive,” objected one of the Board members.   Grigg, said his discreet gold nameplate:  the enemy.

“In isolation, without being sure of other factors in its formation, yes, the Antarctic rock was inconclusive.  We don’t have those disadvantages here,” said Jay with a wide, fake smile.

“So if there was life on Mars — if this isn’t merely circumstantial evidence — where did it go?  Where are all the Martian lifeforms now?”  His questioner leaned back with a cocky smile, as if he had asked the question that would destroy Jay’s case.

“Conditions on the surface changed, of course,” said Jay.  “And none of the lifeforms were versatile enough to change with it.  The necessary mutations just didn’t happen.  The evidence is not circumstantial, Mr. Grigg:  independent teams of scientists unrelated to this expedition have confirmed our conclusions.”

“And how do you know that the organisms weren’t versatile enough to change?” asked a woman in an expensive peasant skirt and blouse.  Cathy Allers, he remembered, the Green.

“We have found absolutely no traces of life on Mars, Ms. Allers,” he said, looking her straight in the eye.  “Every surveying robot has looked.  Every overhead probe.  We looked pretty much nonstop the entire time we were there.  Looks like the conditions have been wrong for ages.  There is no life on Mars.  Not any more.  At least, not anywhere humans can touch.”

“Hmmm.  On the topic of response to change, it seems that your little expedition party has had a few problems with that itself, hmm, Jay?”

It was Grigg again.  Jay tried to keep his jaw from clenching, his hands from balling up.  He said, “I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Mr. Grigg.”

“I can be blunt.  Where’s your wife, Dr. Warren?”

“She’s at our apartment.  In Boston.”

“At home.”

He looked away.  “Yes.”  Hanging on the wall of the conference room was one of the replications of his painting of Jenny sitting by the lander.  It felt like a violation.  At the time he had painted it, it had seemed natural that her helmet obscured her face.  He had known her — any of them would have known right away whose portrait it was.  Now, in the sterile corporate environment, it made Jenny feel farther away, more alien.  He wished he could see her eyes again.

“Why didn’t she come for the review?”

“She was unable.  I believe her testimony will be given on your conference phone.”

“Why was she unable?”

Jay said nothing.

“Why was she unable, Dr. Warren?”

“You should talk to Jenny about that.”

“I see,” said Grigg, his voice dripping with false tact.  “Well.  At least you were able to be here, hmm?  Tell me, was your wife upset by Lindy Onimoro’s death?”

Cathy Allers responded before Jay could.  “What the hell kind of a question is that?  Of course she was upset.”

Jay shot his unexpected ally a grateful look.  “Indeed.  We were all very upset to lose Lindy.  What are you getting at?”

“Was your wife, perhaps, more upset than most?”

“I think, as Lindy’s husband, Charlie was probably the most upset,” said Jay quietly.

“Of course,” said Grigg smoothly.  “Of course.  But did your wife’s… ah, shall we say, unusual behavior… perhaps begin after Dr. Onimoro’s death?”

“It’s hard to say what’s usual when someone loses a dear friend on a distant planet,” said Jay dryly.  “Jenny grieved like the rest of us.  But she still did her job.”

“So she didn’t feel responsible for the accident?”

Jay was half out of his chair before he realized what he was doing.  He settled back in with an effort.  “Responsible?  No.  Why?”

“As the commanding officer, she didn’t feel she should have taken charge of the situation sooner?”

“This was a scientific expedition, not a military conquest.  Jenny did not give orders.  Nor should she have.  She was in no way responsible for Lindy’s death — nor should she be made to feel as though she was.”

“I see.  Yes, thank you.  I just wanted to reassure myself.  Certainly you understand.  One more thing:  perhaps you can share with us your reaction to her book.”

“What?” said Jay.

“Your wife’s book, what do you think of it?  Is it an accurate portrayal of your lives on Mars, do you think?  She sent us advance copies this week; I was eager to get your reaction to it.”

“Jenny’s book,” said Jay dully.

“I’m sure Dr. Warren has more interesting things to tell us about the work he did on the Mars expedition.”  One of the other board members was trying to save him, but he didn’t even bother to see who it was.

“May I see it?” he asked.  Grigg handed it over.

The cover was stylized, with a Mars rising cratered and sunlike behind a blue and green Earth.  It was called Alien Home.  Jay opened it to discover that it was a series of edited journal entries.

“I’m sure this is just as Jenny lived it,” he said, letting his fingers trace down the page.  He had randomly turned to one where she was talking about freedom and art on Mars.  He remembered that night.  “She would never — yes.  I’m sure this is what she experienced.  Thank you.”  He handed it back.

“That’s all we need from you for now, Dr. Warren,” said the chair smoothly.  “We’ll let you know when we’ve reached a decision, of course.”

*****

“How did it go?” Claire asked him.

“Okay, I guess,” he said numbly.  “Did you know Jenny wrote a book?”

“Jenny?  What?”

“She wrote a book.  It’s due out next week.  Did any of you know?”

Charlie looked guilty.

“She told you when you were there to talk to her.”

“Well, yes,” he said.  “But I knew she was working on it, at home.  On Mars, I mean.  I thought you knew, too.  And then when I talked to her last week —”

“It became clear that I didn’t know.”

“Yeah.  I guess I don’t know how you could have missed it.”

“She was always messing around on the computer — she could have been working on it any time.”

“But you didn’t ask.”

“I don’t need to know every little thing she’s doing.”

“Such as writing a book.  Little stuff like that.”

“I knew she was writing stuff, but a book… she should have told me.”

“You should have asked!  How could you not know about something she cared about that much?”

“So now I’m a lousy husband?”

“That’s not what I said.  But — I just don’t see how you could have —”

“You don’t know what it was like, Charlie.  You don’t know what she was like.  When we first got back — you weren’t there, okay?”  Jay glared at them all, holding each one with his intensity before dropping his gaze.

Charlie held his hands up.  “I’m sorry, okay?  You’re right.  I wasn’t there — I don’t know.  But I still think you should — should have known there was something.”

“There was so much.”

*****

Jay couldn’t stand the decorum of the corporate headquarters a moment longer; the beige corporate paint job, with its tasteful burgundy border, particularly oppressed and offended him.  He mumbled an excuse to Ethan and dove from the room before he could hear an answer.  The protesters parted before his car, not sure whether he was a friend or an enemy.

The empty brass-trimmed glass elevator made it a little easier to breathe, but not enough.  Jay couldn’t start to relax until he crested the last hill and could see the ocean.  He parked the rental car up by the lighthouse and took steep wooden stairs down to the black stone beach.  He walked for awhile, staring out at the angry waves and throwing an occasional piece of driftwood.  The throwing motion felt unnatural, as though he’d never done it before, and he realized that he had never pitched things away on Mars.  The gesture had never occurred to him.

Finally, he settled on a pale, washed-up log.  The ocean constantly rattled the stones around him, and for a few moments he let himself pretend that it was the impact of Jenny’s feet behind him.  He could see her hair whipping out behind her in the cold wind; he could almost smell the soap she used and the natural scent of her body.  In his mind, he realized suddenly, she stood a little nervously, just as she had on that day on Mars.  That day, it always was in his memories.  The day she suggested he start painting again.

The stones shifted and rattled behind Jay.  He put off looking for as long as possible, trying to let himself believe it was Jenny, knowing, finally that it would not be.  He would not let himself be surprised that she wasn’t there.  He turned and was surprised, in spite of himself, to see Cathy Allers settling on the log beside him.

“Hi,” he said, not sure what else he could say.

“Hi.  Not who you were hoping for, huh?”  She pulled her skirt in close around her legs, huddled into her jacket.  “It’s cold out here.”

“Mm hmm.”  What did she want out of him?  Jay refused to ask, preferring instead to let the silence stretch—she was the one who had sought him out.  She could carry the burden of conversation.

“I have a question for you.  If you had to go again, would you do it?”

“Of course.  In a heartbeat.  How could I not?”

“Would you bring Dr. Onimoro?”

Jay hesitated.  “Yeah, I would.  Lindy wanted to go.  She was happy there.  We all knew the risks.”

“How about your wife?”

Jay’s fists clenched; he forced himself to relax them.  When he spoke, it was in even, measured tones.  “I suppose that’s a fair question.  And yes.  I would bring Jenny to Mars again.”

“Even knowing what it would do to her?” Allers asked sharply.

“Look, I know what you think you’re getting at,” Jay snapped.  “You think Mars drove my wife and me crazy.  You’re wondering what kind of a person could do that to himself, or to his wife, or anyone else for that matter.  Right?”

“You said it, not me.”

“We both know damn well that was what you were getting at,” he growled.  She didn’t answer.  “Look.  Mars didn’t push Jenny over the edge, okay?  Leaving Mars did.”

“But if sending people up there makes them —”

“You didn’t see us up there,” said Jay desperately.  “Maybe you can see the traces of it now.  How much we all care — damn it, how much we love each other.  And how much we accomplished up there.  Of course it was hard to come back from that.  Inevitably.  If someone is upset at coming back from an Eden to a cesspit, what do you do?  Do you tell her she’s crazy?  Do you try to forbid Eden?”

“Mars was not perfect, Jay,” said Allers gently.  “It can’t solve all our problems.”

“So we shouldn’t solve any?”  Jay scrambled to his feet.  “I know it’s not a cure-all.  But God damn it, it’s a start.”

*****

They all looked up when Jay burst into the boardroom.  Cathy Allers was the only one who didn’t look surprised.

“Do you, perhaps, have something to add to your comments, Dr. Warren?” Karrin Shepherd asked dryly.

“Yes, I do,” he said, as steadily as he could manage.  “Look.  I already told you about the paleontological stuff, the fossils of the Martian microfauna.  We showed you the cloud patterns, the mountains, the Great Rift Valley.  And we showed you the profit items, the innovations that came from this expedition, all the ingenuity and plain damn hard work that got us there and back, and how it’s starting to make you a pile of money.  And that’s all good.”

He threw his folder on the cherrywood table, papers scattering outwards.  “We didn’t show you Mars.  We didn’t think you’d listen.  Well, it’s our job to try to make you listen.  To help you understand.  You’ve seen my paintings.  Now you’ve got Jenny’s book.  But I’d like you all to read this.”  He leaned forward and fished six copies of the same page out of the mess he’d made.  “Go on, read it.  ‘Sunrise,’ by Ethan Goldberg.  Did you ever think someone could write a new poem about a sunrise?  I didn’t.  When I was in school, they taught me that pretty much everything had been said about sunrises already.  They were full of shit.

“In that folder, too, there’s a recording of Charlie and Lindy singing together, one of their duets from after supper, when we got a chance to relax.  You haven’t heard it before — we kept it for ourselves.  But I want you to listen to it, really listen.

“You’re going to hear something powerful there.  I could call it dreams, I guess.  Or enthusiasm.  All I know is that on Mars, we all felt alive.

“And we’re not the only ones.  Look at Dr. Vandervelde and Dr. Liang, from MIT, and the group at UCLA, and the one in New York.  Look at Doreen, for God’s sake — did you ever talk to Doreen?  She cleaned our offices, when we were in training, and she got caught up in it, too, in the excitement of being part of something really new, of giving us somewhere to go again.  Look at how many teenagers watched us land on Mars — and then kept watching, even through those long weeks of rock-picking and dome-building.  They dreamed with us.  Look at the kids outside, for Christ’s sake.  They want to go, too.

“You sent out an engineer, a doctor, a pilot, three scientists.  And you got that back, as best we could.  But you also got a poet, a singer, a writer, and me.  A painter now, I guess.  And we all love each other.  Like a family is supposed to.  We got good at it; it became easy to care for each other.  I’m not saying we didn’t piss each other off.  We did, all the time.   But we worked through it, together.

“And that’s what Mars is really all about.  That’s what makes it really worthwhile.  We’ve got the chance to take another frontier, and do it right this time, and help everybody in the process.  Don’t kill that.  Please.  When you think of Jenny’s and my reactions to coming back, think of what it was we had to leave.”

When Jay rejoined the others outside the boardroom, they looked over him carefully, searching for hidden wounds.  Finally, Ethan said, “All right, what did you do?”

“I told them the truth.”  Nobody said anything.  “I gave them one of your poems.  And a tape of Charlie and Lindy, one of their evening concerts.  I tried to give them Mars.”  He slumped into one of the armchairs.

“You did well,” Claire finally said.

“Yeah.  It needed doing,” said Charlie.  “Thank you.”

“I may have wrecked things for us.  You know that.  They already think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t see any way it could possibly have hurt,” said Charlie.

“Yes, it could have,” said Jay.

Claire shook her head.  “I’m pretty sure Grigg and Czernery won’t approve of that sort of thing ‘on company time.’  It might push them further away from us.  But they weren’t on our side to begin with.  I don’t think you alienated anybody.”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

Jay was not a patient man.  He had been waiting for something to change since they got back from Mars.  From home.  It had all left him, on the beach and in the Board Room, and he felt the way he did when he finished a dig or a painting.  It was over, and he had done all he could.  All except for one thing.

He stood up.  “Let me know how it turns out.  Although I suppose it’ll be all over the news.”

Ethan gave him a brief, searching look.  “But Jenny hates watching the news.”

“Yeah.  Exactly.”

END

 
 
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Marissa Lingen is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco area. She was a past winner of the Asimov Award and is just glad not to be a nuclear physics student any more.
 
 
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