Under Revision — Relaunching soon
It felt like just another Spanish airport. Even the shuttle standing on the apron looked like a normal aircraft, just much smaller.
“Disappointed?” asked Kieron, my husband, setting the two cups of coffee down.
“Well, it doesn’t look or feel like we’re going much further than Iceland.”
He grinned. “Oh, it gets better once we board the piggyback.”
Our shuttle to the moon was going to be carried by a much larger aircraft, then released under its own power somewhere in the stratosphere to help make our way to the moon. That was to be the first leg of our journey to Mars. We would spend a weekend with my Aunt Wendy before continuing on from Moon-port to Calembra Base on Mars. There we would spend a month. Kieron worked for Ionic Industries, now the largest manufacturers and installers of artificial terrestrial environments, as Project Manager for the Mars sectors. It would be his fifth visit to his field area. It still was not much of a holiday destination, Mars, but I had been missing my younger brother Tony for ages. He was one of the Senior Geologists for Calembra Mining Inc. – the owners of Mars for the past fifty years since they had bought it from the Global Governments Bank for a few tons of gold back in 2016. The company had justified buying it for a song by investing heavily in transportation to and from Moon-port Central in the late ’20s, along with developing the infrastructure on Mars. The old joke, that Mars should be renamed Calembra, was still around.
“There’s still some time to change your mind,” remarked Kieron, half serious. I gave him my sternest, dismissive look. Both he and Tony had tried to talk me out of going, but I was determined to see to my brother, and had even found some work to do. Readers had commissioned me to write an in-depth article on ‘Life on Mars’. I was going to interpret that in the broadest sense.
Kieron held my hand as we walked up to the boarding arm going to the shuttle. I had never been off Earth before, not even on one of those bungee flights that put you up in the stratosphere for an hour or two. Weightlessness tended to make me nauseous, but my research had reassured me that I would most often be in gravity conditioned areas on Mars, with absolute zero-gravity only for the few minutes of readjustment on the shuttle and while sightseeing on the Moon along with some discomfort on the surface of Mars. I took my seat by the window, Kieron preferring the aisle with his long legs. Strapping myself in securely, I was vaguely reminded of an old movie I had watched as a kid at Aunt Wendy’s; something about a spy in space and a huge man with metal teeth. It had all been so corny. Tony and I had rolled about in hysterics. Before I could get nervous, we kicked off into the air. Kieron squeezed my hand reassuringly as we quickly ascended towards 160 000 feet, the earth falling into insignificance beneath the Spanish clouds.
“Disengaging,” announced the captain. A sudden lurch had my stomach lunging, then stability as we smoothly accelerated into the darkness of space. “Prepare for weightlessness. Please remain securely fastened to your seat until further notice,” came the next announcement.
“Honey,” murmured Kieron.
“Hmm..?” I turned, trying to relax, from my contemplation of our home planet looking like the Discovery Channel Logo. Kieron tilted my chin and kissed me. I clung to him, hardly noticing the weightlessness.
Aunt Wendy was waiting at Moon-port wrapped in purple and canary yellow. It suited her more than the brown and grey business-type clothes I remembered from my childhood.
“Angie!” she called, bobbing up on her high boots, looking smaller than I remembered, her mass of curls now grey and white, but her face looking remarkably unlined.
“Aunt Wendy!” I rushed forward to hug her, feeling so much bigger and protective. She only came up to my shoulder, just a little bit shorter than my mum.
“Kieron! You’re taking good care of my girl!”
They hugged, laughing. Then she hustled us to her dune-buggy – a deluxe Volvo with hover mode. I was impressed. So was Kieron. He’d had his eye on one of those ever since I had known him.
“Can I drive?”
“Sure, you can,” said Aunt Wendy in her easy way, “but maybe tomorrow. The traffic takes some getting used to out here at the port. It will be be better closer to my place.”
“Cool!” agreed Kieron strapping our bags into the load-box and securing the cover. I climbed awkwardly into the buggy while Kieron slid into the back.
“So how is your mum? Haven’t been in touch with her for over a month.” Aunt Wendy, pulled in inches behind a huge freight-liner “She enjoying the ashram still?”
“Last I heard.” I was beginning to feel nauseous with the buggy’s bumping and zigzagging around. Kieron handed me a barf-bag.
“That’s good. Wish she would come up for a visit. It gets sort of…isolated out here at times. So it’s wonderful to have you two over for a couple of days at least! I was beginning to think you would never come!”
“It’s great to finally be here. And you look fabulous.” I managed to say before throwing up into the bag. Kieron grinned and Aunt Wendy laughed, not unkindly. Obviously, I was not cut out to be a Moonby.
Aunt Wendy’s pad was spacious – a penthouse with a view currently pointed towards the Milky Way.
“Don’t you ever miss having a day – daylight, I mean?” I wondered out loud, looking at the transparent dome above us while Aunt Wendy made tea the old fashioned way with boiled water and leaves.
“Oh, I’ve always loved sleeping under the stars.”
“Yes. But to never have dawn or dusk…”
She touched a control-pad on the wall with a grin. The windows tinted, assuming a view of a sunset over a mountain and emitting the glow of late afternoon sunlight. “They think of everything these days, don’t they Kieron? Had it installed just last year.”
Kieron returned from dumping our bags in the guest-room “Have you heard anything new on the newslines, Aunt Wendy?” He snatched a Millionaire”s Shortbread from the plate just as she brought it over into the living-room.
“About the new base for the Asteroid Belt?”
“Oh, no. That wouldn’t happen for a while yet. I meant the reports from SETI from a few months ago. We haven’t had much of an update on it back home, just the initial announcements that some new communications, believed to be first contact with another sentient race, had been made.”
She frowned in thought. “Wasn’t that declared a hoax a couple of months ago?”
I nodded, remembering it too. It had been plastered all over the news boards along with comments from both sides of the spectrum – those who thought that it was all a huge cover-up by the mining companies, the governments or aliens themselves; and those who believed that the Mars pranksters were infantile and ludicrous. I hadn’t realised that Kieron had been following it so closely. He had been away when the story broke, working on his fourth project on Mars. Surely, he would have heard or seen more of the event than either Aunt Wendy or myself would have. So, why was he bringing it up now? I looked querulously at him. “They released an apology saying it had all been a practical joke played by some bored workers on Mars.”
“I heard that too,” he mumbled, then swallowed, sitting down on the cushy divan. “But there’s been some other rumours going around over the past couple of weeks. Guy I know, says the contactees actually got to Mars, and made physical contact. Some think they may have actually made it to the Moon, bypassing Mars altogether… Just wondering if you had heard anything?” He turned to Aunt Wendy again.
She shrugged, frowning in thought, then said slowly, “I haven’t heard or seen anything else about that. It would be difficult to hide something that big in our little community. But I’ll ask around, if you like. I still keep my hand in, you know!” She smiled. Aunt Wendy had been the first woman geologist on the moon, and still remained a prominent citizen and a pioneer in the field. She was a remarkable woman at seventy-eight, having buried two husbands – one on earth and one on the moon. She looked much younger than my mum, despite being two years older, the Moon-port environment obviously doing more to rejuvenate her than Mum’s Yoga.
(end of excerpt)
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