Letters Home, Chapter 2: Futures and Pasts
taken by T. Hammond
Prompt posted Oct 9 2006
|Story Type: Original|
Content Cautions: None
Critique: Very welcome, no kid gloves needed.
Summary: Chapter two of my apparently-ongoing story about an everyday Earthborn gal learning to love her new home, a space station orbiting Mars. Chapter one is here. Chapter two is gratefully dedicated to Peter and the rest of the helpful filkhaven astronomical accuracy team.
Leigh sits back from her screen with a sigh, stretching her shoulders, watching the 'Sending ...' animated icon cycle, then turn to a cheerful yellow 'Sent!' It's irrevocable, now. Allow twenty minutes or so for the packets to make their way from circum-Mars to Earth's interplanetary relay system. Given that it's morning in Chicago just now, her mom may well not read her email until lunch, which is another blessed hour or two of leeway, plus another twenty minutes back across the solar system. So, somewhere between forty minutes and four hours from now, her inbox should be full of scorching maternal disapproval.
She drops her face into her hands and rubs her scalp, running fingers through her hair, absently detangling it. Her mom's never been the biggest fan of her move to Lilivaran Station, and despite her attempts to keep her newsflash perky and cheerful, she somehow didn't think she'd be any more pleased to find out that now she planned to stay. "It's a phase," Mom said. "Delayed teenage rebellion," she said."Running away to join the circus," she said. "She'll come home as soon as she grows up a little and realizes where she belongs." Yeah, Mom. But what if I decide I belong *here*?
As she sits up straight again and blows out a deep breath up into her bangs, her eyes light on this morning's bouquet, and despite her angstful forebodings, she can't help but grin. Romantic fool to the core, and extravagant to boot. His family owns the biggest hydroponic botanicals operation stationside, but they still didn't usually let the very best blooms go anywhere but for export. He'd even remembered what kind of rose her grandmother used to grow; hydroponic or not, Mars or not, they still smell the same when she buries her nose in them now. They smell like sunlight through lace curtains, and big warm hugs. They smell like love. And not just like Granna Ellen's love, anymore, but Jak's.
Sure, she first came here for the adventure, and just for the heck of it. Her company needed to beef up its circum-Mars presence, so it rented cubage in Lilivaran Station and sent around memos offering fat bonuses, plus moving expenses, for anyone willing to take a six-month stint. Some people just went for those six, and came back to Earth with plenty of stories to share at cocktail parties, but for some reason, Leigh decided to stay on. Even when she hit the one-Terran-year 'temporary resident' time limit and had to take a two-month off-station leave, she decided to hit the sights of Mariner City and take the scenic train up Mons Olympus rather than ship herself back to Earth.
That's when her mother first started getting ... hostile isn't quite the word, though sometimes it feels like it. Mom probably doesn't mean for her pointedly-worded letters of concern to come across as attacks, but they do, and it hurts. So far she's been dealing with it by ignoring the loaded words and making her replies as bubbly-happy as humanly possible, but sooner or later Mom's going to take off the kid gloves and point-blank tell her to come home, and Leigh has no idea what she'll do then.
Meanwhile, at least the company's happy with her. She's inavertently become the 'old hand' of the office, since she's been there almost a whole orbit now, or the better part of two Terran years. She converts between days and Martian sols without even thinking about it, and rarely needs to glance at the timezone clocks kept set to different cities for reference. Somehow she's always the one that ends up giving each new short-timer imported from Earth the fifty-cent tour, and finding them a congenial Lilliputian or two to make friends with. It really makes the whole office run smoother, and management has noticed.
She was shocked when Bill from accounting approached her, a bit hesitantly, and asked her to help him apply for permanent residency. He was only in the middle of his second six-month stint, but apparently has made up his mind far faster than she did. She was glad, though, to have a friend in the rigorous citizenship classes (and a built-in study buddy). Them taking the Grand Tour together seemed only natural at that point, though she did have to remind him at the afterparty that she was rather thoroughly taken already. At least he took it in good humor, and asked to be 'put on the list in case that falls through for you.'
It's so weird that she never really felt rooted until she moved to Lilivaran -- a place that hasn't even existed for sixty years yet. Her whole life she felt like an interchangeable grain of sand washing down the course of a mighty river, like nothing she could possibly do could change anything, could matter. Out here, though, everyone knew everyone else, like a really weird small town. Every panel on the station's skin was put on by a human being, probably one with family still living here.
On Earth, history was *over*. Everyone was just living lives. Out here? Out here, history was still being written. Maybe for now she's just a clerk, but she's learning. And even if she's not the one who gets remembered, who changes things, maybe her kids would.
She smiles again, reaching for the little frog sculpture Jak's baby sister made for her. Lilliputian kids are so cute, and it's so SAFE here she almost can't credit it. They roam around in packs of friends whenever they're not in creche classes or at home, getting into everything, making friends, learning. And every single one of them can get through an emergency pressure-suit drill twice as fast as her, even the ones that can't count past twenty yet.
She puts the frog back on her screen's shelf with a sigh, and stands. Time and orbital mechanics wait for no woman, and each hour's evil (or family angst, in this case) must be sufficient unto itself. The longer Martian days make for great sleep, but that doesn't mean she can spend the whole morning woolgathering at her screen after breakfast. For one thing, prize employee or no, management certainly expects her at work on time!