Determined

Jane and Olivia sat in the small room in chairs opposite each other. Behind each of them were pale white doors that led to equally small bedrooms. With the bedroom doors closed, the room felt terribly small, and Jane, despite being confined to a tiny cockpit for four months, felt claustrophobic as if she were being slowly crushed into smaller and smaller spaces. At least she could go without her helmet now that the air system had been installed. The bots had done amazingly fast work of the first housing unit. They had unpacked and assembled the modular units quickly, working through the desperately cold Martian night to finish the first unit. With only a few sols to go before the first transport vehicle arrived, they needed to finish the other three units just as quickly.

“Do you think Rachel will like it?” Olivia asked.

“I hope so. It’s home now.” Jane replied. She sounded sullen, despondent.

“Have you talked to her?”

“No. Sprockett has tied up the comms with the ship. He and Sanjay have been huddling privately. When I walked over there this morning, the bots stopped me and told me that Sanjay was in a conference all morning.”

“What an asshole.”

Jane gave a faint smile. “I guess it was only inevitable once a politician got involved.”

“No, I mean Sanjay.”

“His dad was a politician, Santosh Raja.”

“Sanjay’s related to that Raja?”

“Yes.”

“Wow, how did such a noble, brave man have an asshole for a son?”

Jane chuckled faintly, and then, a silence fell between them. Jane closed her eyes and leaned back into the unforgiving cushion of her chair. She sighed heavily. Olivia watched her momentarily and then scanned the room with her eyes trying to find something to say that would keep the conversation going.

“I wonder if Rachel knows what is happening?” Olivia asked.

“I doubt it. Sprockett seems to be keeping everyone in the dark.”

“Do you think Bush knows what is happening?”

“Probably. She sent him here.”

“I don’t think she authorized the killing of one of her astronauts.”

“No, but she likely doesn’t know the circumstances. I’m sure Frederick’s death has been cleansed for public consumption.”

Olivia smirked. She hated the idea of her good colleague’s death being distorted for political image. “Sanjay will pay for this.”

“I don’t think Sanjay did it.”

“Why not?”

“He may be an asshole and a misogynist, but he’s not a murderer. I believe the bots killed Frederick.”

“Sanjay could have ordered them to do it.”

Jane shook her head. “But why? Frederick didn’t threaten him or anyone. He just did his job.”

“I don’t know. We need to find out.”

“There are only two people who know what really happened and one is dead and the other one refuses to talk about it.”

Olivia took her turn shaking her head in dismay.

Another silence fell between them. Each shifted in her seat as if the silence were uncomfortable.

Finally, Olivia asked, “Do you think we made the right decision to come here?”

Jane looked at her colleague and took a deep breath. “Us specifically or humans in general?”

“Us. You. Me.” She flipped her hand between them as if she were pointing them out.

Jane thought for a moment. “Yes, I do. It may not look good at the moment, but we made the right decision. We’re giving the human race a chance. I don’t think our chances are very good on earth right now.”

Olivia absorbed what she said and then she agreed. “I think the moment when Australia sank into the ocean is the moment I realized we were doomed.”

“Oh my god, that was so horrible.”

“I’m still stunned when I think about it. I had just visited it two years before. At that point, only Sydney had been submerged.”

Jane shook her head in disbelief.

“This mission is the only thing that gives Rachel and her generation a chance. That’s why I think we made the right decision.”

“How did she handle your decision?”

“As well as can be expected of a fifteen-year-old. She accused me of abandoning her and then she shut up and wouldn’t talk to me for a while.”

“Did she say goodbye?”

“She did. She came around before we left, but there’s still resentment there.”

“But you’re doing it for her.”

“That’s not the way she sees it. I think she still blames me for Brad’s death, too. Leaving her is just another example of how I don’t really care for her.”

“That’s not true. Surely, she knows that.”

“Maybe deep down, but not in the forefront of that teenage mind of hers.”

“She’ll think differently when she gets here.”

“I hope so. I can’t wait to see her pretty face. I love that young woman despite all that’s happened. I think of her as my daughter. She’s the closest I’ll ever get to having a daughter.”

“You don’t think you’ll have one of your own?”

“No,” Jane replied shaking her head doubtfully. “That time has passed.”

“I want kids, but I need a boyfriend first.” Olivia huffed a quick laugh.

“I can’t believe you don’t have one. I mean, look at you.”

Olivia smiled. “I’ve been focused on my career, and many men are intimidated when I tell them I’m an astronaut.”

Jane nodded in understanding. “Women have done everything that men have done and it’s still like that.”

“I know. Some things will never change.”

In the back of her mind, Jane heard her nickname “Plain Jane” and the implications of it raised her ire. She hated it, no she resented it. A man had given her the nickname back when she first entered the space program. He had been a Commander in the Western States military and had been selected as a leader for the space program not long before Jane began her career. He took one look at her and summed her up as “Plain Jane” without getting to know her at all. The name did more than encapsulate her plain looks, it reduced her to nothing more than a caricature of a woman beset by unflattering physical features rather than the driven, capable leader that she had become. An anger simmered deep down in her.

“I need to go to the base,” Jane said as she stood up abruptly.

Olivia looked up at her, surprised. “Why?”

“I need to talk to Sanjay.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No. It’s best that you stay here.”

With that, Jane grabbed her helmet and put it under her arm before she disappeared through the sliding door leading out into the hallway beyond their room. Olivia sat in the silence staring at the door as it slid shut. She debated whether she should pursue her Captain, but by the time she decided what to do, Jane was already stomping her way across the sand toward the base.

A Blind Eye

Tasha lay atop the covers of their bed in her pajamas as Sanjay changed into a T-shirt. The boys had finally settled down into their beds, while Laila had been asleep for a few hours already. The long day of the funeral had drained the little girl and her parents, too.

Sanjay sighed as he pulled the shirt over his head. His wife re-appeared in his line of sight, and he smiled. He loved the way she looked in her pajamas, which were nothing more than a tank top and a tight-fitting pair of shorts. After three children, she still looked stunning. The top hugged her voluptuous breasts, which turned Sanjay on despite his extreme exhaustion. His mind wanted sex, but his body wanted sleep.

He tied the knot on his pajama pants and hopped on the bed next to his wife, who lay motionless with her eyes closed as if she were meditating. He rubbed his hand along her left arm draped across the bed closest to him.

“Not tonight, honey,” she said.

Sanjay shook his head comically, “I didn’t say anything,” he protested.

“You don’t have to. It’s not that hard to figure out. We’ve been married ten years.”

Sanjay laughed. “I’m too tired anyway.” He pulled his hand back and reclined onto his side of the bed.

Tasha let out a deep breath ending her meditative state. Sanjay looked at her. Her smooth, brown skin glimmered in the light on her nightstand. She trained her green irises on him and smiled with her full lips. He still felt the urge to make love to her despite the fact that she had shut him down. Before he could appeal, she asked him, “Did you tell Laila we were going to Mars?”

“What?”

“She said you told her we were going to Mars.”

“I told her I am trying to.”

“Why did you do that? You haven’t been selected yet. You shouldn’t get her hopes up. Besides, I’m not sure I want to do it.”

“You’re not sure?”

“No. I’m sorry, I’m not.”

Sanjay shook his head, incredulous. “What if I get selected for the mission?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“Were you going to tell me this eventually?”

“Yes, but I didn’t want to squash your dream outright.”

“Squash my dream? This isn’t a dream; it’s a last-ditch effort for survival.”

“I don’t buy that.”

“What is there to buy? Have you not been paying attention? Most of the ice caps have melted. A third of the land we once populated is under water. Rampant disease has killed off almost half the population from its peak in 50 years ago. Our nation is under constant threat from extremists who could start a nuclear war at any moment.”

“That’s the negative view.”

Sanjay widened his eyes in exasperation. He’d known that his wife was a skeptic, but she rarely expressed it outwardly. She’d made casual mentions that she doubted climate change despite the obvious visual evidence. She’d come from a long line of deniers. Her father and grandfather were prominent businessmen who profited from enterprises that no longer existed thanks to the shifting climate and economic changes. It was like her family held a grudge against the inanimate forces that doomed their businesses.

Rather than argue, which he was too tired to do, Sanjay redirected the conversation, “What if I get selected for this mission?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“But let’s say I get the call tomorrow and I’m on it, what will we do?”

Tasha looked at her husband askew as if she were annoyed by him. She sighed and turned away. “I don’t know if I want to go.”

“What? Why not?”

“Mars doesn’t look too appealing to me. What kind of life will that give our kids?”

“What kind of life will they have here? The clock is ticking here, Tasha. If we stay here, they won’t see adulthood.”

“You don’t know that.”

Sanjay took another aggravated breath. “I don’t know the future. You’re right, but I do know what’s happening right now. Rapid climate change, war, disease…it’s not exactly promising. Mars gives us a fresh start. Not everyone will be lucky enough to escape. This gives us a chance to live a full life with our kids and be pioneers.”

“I don’t want to be a damn pioneer. I want to live my life with my kids here.”

“We don’t have that option, Tasha. I’m sorry, but we don’t.”

“You don’t know that, Sanjay. You and your goddamn science. You’re so fucking arrogant. You think you know everything, but you don’t know shit about life.”

Her comments stung him and he winced. “I never said I knew everything. I just want what’s best for my family.”

“What’s best is not always what you want. It’s what we all want.”

“The kids are too young to make that decision. We have to do it for them.”

“And ‘we’ will, but not right now,” Tasha said trying to end the conversation.

“But soon. I should hear any day now.”

“Uh-huh.”

Tasha leaned up and turned off her bedside lamp. Sanjay’s lamp provided the only light in the room. The street light outside their window illuminated the dark space on the far side of their bedroom. The blue hue of the light brought back many childhood memories for Sanjay in the brief instant he recognized it. He longed for the simpler times when he was a child, when life-or-death decisions weren’t yet a part of his conversations.

He couldn’t let their discussion end. “Do you remember the Middle East?”

Tasha looked up at her husband in the dim light as if he had woken her. “Not really. I’m not that old. My dad used to talk about it.”

“Did you not take history in school?”

“I don’t remember all that boring stuff.”

“It’s not boring when you consider the lesson in it. The extremists destroyed that region of the world. They kept fighting to their illogical end and turned an entire region into a nuclear wasteland. Millions of people were wiped off the planet, eviscerated.”

“Why are we talking about ancient history?”

“It’s not that long ago…only 50 years.”

“Still…I’m not getting your point.” Tasha closed her eyes as if she were trying to force sleep.

“My point is that the extremists will stop at nothing. They are too blind to see anything but their misguided ideals even if it means widespread self-destruction. They’d rather die and take the entire region’s population with them than give an inch. That’s what will happen here. The Western States can’t hold them off forever, and even if they manage to hold them off indefinitely, the extremists will just self-destruct and take everything with them.”

“We’ll bomb them into oblivion before that happens.”

“Just like we did in Texas,” Sanjay smirked. “That worked really well. So well, that a few of them sneaked across the border and killed my father.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“But that’s what happened. They saw him as the enemy. He was one of the founders of Western States. They will stop at nothing…even the complete annihilation of North America.”

“I’m confident our military will stop them. I’m not worried.”

“My dad wasn’t worried, either, and look where that got him.”

“Sanjay, stop. It’s been a long, emotional day. You buried your father. This is not the time to make final, life-altering decisions. We’ll talk about this later when the time is right. It’s not right tonight.”

Sanjay sighed. His patience frittered, but exhaustion forced him to back down. “Just let me make my point.”

Tasha exhaled loudly. “Okay.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be a choice for us. The situation is dire here. If I get selected to go on the Mars mission, it will be our opportunity to start a new life and ensure our kids’ survival. I don’t think we’ll have any assurance here. Between the imploding climate and the march of the witless extremists, life as we know it is coming to an end. We have to do what’s best for the kids.” Sanjay emphasized the last four words of his argument hoping to drill home the idea to his wife.

A long silence followed, one that made Sanjay wonder if Tasha were still awake. Finally, she responded, “We will do what’s best for our kids, but it may not be what you want to do.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we’ll talk about it when the time comes. Good night. I’m too tired to continue this conversation.”

Sanjay looked at his wife as she turned on her side away from him. He acquiesced, not something he normally did very well, but exhaustion had pulled him down for the count. He leaned up and kissed his wife’s cheek before he turned off his lamp and lay back on his pillow.

For the longest time that night he stared at the ceiling listening to his wife’s breathing. She kicked and started as she fell into sleep, and he found comfort in her relaxation. His body ached for sleep, but his mind raced around the scenarios inside his head. To him, the decision was obvious. There were no good choices left. The hopeless situation haunted him as he drifted off to sleep.

Betrayal

Jane stared at Sprockett’s face, large and bulbous, on the biggest screen in the Control Room. She stood behind Sanjay next to Olivia. They were huddled in the back of the small room as Sanjay talked to the Senator about the state of the fledgling colony. As the Senator spoke, his expressive, wiry eyebrows danced above his eyes. A large bump winked from his forehead, and the wide gap between his two front teeth wisped with every word he spoke. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he had the charm and charisma to make people believe that he was. He had that rock star aura that convinced people to follow him.

“Will you have the housing units complete by the time we get there?” the Senator asked. His eyebrows looked concerned and the bump agreed.

“The bots are working on them now,” Sanjay replied confidently. “They can work around the clock and be done in a few days.”

“Where is the rest of the crew?” he asked, seemingly satisfied with Sanjay’s response.

“The Captain and co-pilot are here with me,” Sanjay said. He looked back at Jane and Olivia and the Senator noticed them as Sanjay sat back away from the camera.

“Captain Smith, I hope you are doing well,” the Senator said. “I imagine you have lots of questions, but I assure you that I have the best intentions for our new home.”

“I’m sure you do,” she replied. She almost smirked, but she withheld her disdain. “One of my crew was killed by your bots.”

“Those aren’t ‘my’ bots, Captain. They are a part of Bush’s mission just like you.”

“So, it’s her fault that Frederick is dead?”

Sanjay became visibly agitated and started to interrupt, but Sprockett continued to engage Jane. He maintained his composure despite the challenge. He’d had years of practice diverting constituents’ attention from the real issues at hand.

“Captain, it’s no one’s fault but his own. My understanding is that he threatened the bots and the success of the mission for his own gain. We’re trying to save the human race, Captain. We can’t compromise the mission for one person. I’m sorry he died, but we must move on.”

Jane felt sick, not only because of Frederick’s unnecessary death but because his memory was tarnished for political gain. The smarmy Sprockett would certainly use his death to reinforce the need for his power over the colony. The walls closed in around her. She doubted Frederick had any ill intentions, if anything, he trusted the bots more than anyone else on the crew. He had been nothing but focused on the success of the colony from day one. Sanjay’s version of events simply didn’t add up, and now Sprockett was using Frederick’s death as a lesson in the collective good.

“Has anyone told his wife and daughter?” Olivia interjected.

Sprockett seemed surprised.

“They should be on your ship,” Olivia continued.

Sprockett looked to the side off camera and stuttered a little. “I…I’ll have my aides find them and give them the unfortunate news.”

“Don’t tell them that questionable story you just told me,” Jane scolded. She looked askew at Sanjay to see if he reacted. “I don’t believe it for a minute, and I don’t think we need to tell his widow such garbage.”

“It’s not garbage. It’s the truth. You weren’t there!” Sanjay protested.

“You’re right. I wasn’t there, and that’s all the more reason not to tell a woman whose husband was killed a story that hasn’t been corroborated.”

“That’s…” Sanjay started but Sprockett interrupted him.

“That’s enough!” Sprockett’s anger rose but he had a pained expression on his face. His eyebrows looked like squiggly slashes above his eyes and the bump vibrated to the tune of his agitated baritone. “We’ll tell her it was an accident. That’s all she needs to know. These missions are dangerous. She knows that. It won’t be a surprise.”

Jane slumped ever so slightly. She knew what it was like to lose a loved one. She had experienced it first hand, but she had been there when Brad died. He had died a hero, and she knew exactly what happened to him. Annie Cummings and her daughter would never know. She promised herself that she would find Annie when the ship arrived and comfort her. She had only met Annie briefly before the training for the mission had begun, but now, they shared a common history and she felt a greater bond with the woman she barely knew.

“Is that clear?” Sprockett asked, his anger still visible.

“Yes,” Jane replied sullenly. Sanjay also agreed.

Sprockett, satisfied that he was in full control, signed off, and the screen before them went blank. Jane and Olivia stared at it for a moment longer, while Sanjay slumped back in the chair. He looked at the video bank to his right and saw the bots working diligently on the housing units just outside the base. They had been working all through the night and had made great progress.

“What really happened out there, Sanjay?” Jane asked. Her voice was ominous and doubtful as if she expected Sanjay to continue what she knew was a lie.

“I told you already.”

“Frederick did not threaten those bots,” Olivia stated shaking her head vigorously. “You can’t expect us to believe that.”

“He did. I didn’t actually see what happened. I just climbed the steps to the ship and he was lying on the floor dead.”

“Just like that?” Jane asked.

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe what you want, Jane. You are no longer the leader of this mission. I am, and that means I have the final say.”

“You can’t make up…”

“Get out!” Sanjay pointed to the door of the Control Room. “Now!”

Both Jane and Olivia started to protest, but anger flickered in his eyes as he pointed emphatically at the door. At that moment, Jane knew for certain that he was lying, and a chill ran down her spine. Did Sanjay kill Frederick to take control of the mission? The question rattled in her mind as she stared hard at him.

“Neither of you are allowed back in here. When the housing units are finished, you’ll move in there with the rest of the residents. You’re completely relieved of your duties. If you keep up this nonsense, there will be more consequences.”

Sanjay’s threats weren’t hollow. A bot appeared in the door and stared directly at the women who were tensed before Sanjay. They looked at their former colleague and then at the bot, almost in unison, and stood down without a word. Olivia stomped out of the room. Jane stared at him a little longer letting her disdain for him sink in. He smirked and the bot took one step toward her before she left the room on her own accord.

Sanjay sighed in her wake and sat back in his chair. “Shut the door on your way out,” he said to the silent bot. It obliged without a word. Alone at last, Sanjay panned through the base cameras from the feed of the work going on outside to the interior videos including the camera trained on the sleeping quarters of the base. He watched Olivia slam something onto her bed. She was visibly angry and upset. Jane came up behind her and comforted her by wrapping her arms around her. Olivia turned into her embrace and sobbed.

For a brief moment, Sanjay was jealous of Olivia and Jane. They had a closeness that he had never felt with anyone on the mission. He felt isolated and unsure about the plans for the colony. He had thought he was in the loop about how the mission would proceed, but now Frederick was dead, and there were more bots on the planet than he would have liked. He felt like he had lost control. He didn’t trust Sprockett or his erstwhile financier, Baker. His angst shook him as he flipped off the video monitor and shrunk into his seat. His options tumbled through his mind, and none of them gave him a good feeling.

Left Behind

“You don’t love me.”

Marie sat stoically at the table before Ava, her elbows perched on either side of her cereal bowl. She shifted her weight forward onto her elbows as if she were bracing herself for an impact. The rain beat against the large windows behind her whipped by a ceaseless wind that had pounded the city for days.

Ava looked up from the screen she held in her hand as she ate her cereal. The research document she had been reading begged for her attention. She wanted to focus on it rather than the emotional decrees of her partner. They had been together for over a year, but she had sensed a shift in their relationship that she had ignored. Her work consumed her. She knew this, and she thought that Marie knew it too.

“I do.”

“More than your work?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You knew I loved my work when you met me. I thought you were okay with that.”

“I was at first. Now, I’m not.”

“What does that mean?”

“Ava…this isn’t working.” Marie waved her hand between them gesturing to her and herself.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing, but I’m moving out.”

Concern washed over Ava’s face as she turned off her screen and put it on the table beside her bowl of cereal. She leaned toward Marie. “Marie, no…let’s talk about this.”

Marie shook her head slowly as if she reluctantly accepted her own decision. “Ava, look around you,” she began. She gestured to the large windows overlooking the beaten-down city 20 stories below them. “None of us are long for this life. We can’t breathe our air. We have to buy manufactured water to drink. Our country is under attack every day. Half the planet is uninhabitable. The world population has been halved in ten years. The weather has turned on its head. Just look at this hurricane. It’s only May for crying out loud. You’re headed to another freaking planet. I don’t know if you’ll make it alive or if I’ll ever see you again.”

“You can come with me. I told you that. Part of the deal is that the crew gets to have their families on the first transport to Mars. That’s a guaranteed ticket for survival.”

“Is it really? Are you confident that we can make it? We’ve never successfully landed a manned ship on Mars. What makes this mission so different?”

“We have to. We have no choice. It’s either do it or die here or in space.”

“I’d rather die here. I’d rather live my life, however long that may be, to its fullest and go out with a bang, not a whimper in some weightless darkness or in the endless sand of some desolate planet.”

“It won’t be desolate if we’re able to get a good portion of the population there.”

“I really doubt that’s going to happen.”

“Did you not listen to Senator Sprockett’s press conference yesterday? He went over his grand plan to colonize the planet. He believes we have a very good chance of success.”

“I don’t believe a damn thing any politician tells me. They’re as worthless as their over-inflated egos.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist.”

Marie shook her head. “This isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Oh, yeah, you’re moving out…”

“Yes. I’ve already made my decision. I’m sorry. I still care deeply for you, but this is not the life I want.” Tears pooled in her eyes and glistened under the pale light above them. Her breath hitched, and Ava thought that Marie would start sobbing right there in front of her, but she didn’t. Ava felt some strange relief when Marie held her emotions in check. She hated it when Marie cried because she didn’t know how to deal with it.

“I do love you,” Ava said.

“Not as much as you do your work.”

“That’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to choose between you and my work. You should coexist.”

“I’m fine with coexisting. My work and you coexist. Your work shoves me into a corner and barely lets me breathe.”

“That’s not true.”

“I’m done arguing with you, Ava. I’m tired. I just want to move on and live whatever life I have left in the most enjoyable way possible. If you love me as much as I love you, then you’ll accept my decision.”

Ava slumped back in her chair and stared at her partner. A lump formed in her throat, and she could feel the tears gathering in her eyes. She didn’t want to cry, at least not in front of Marie.

“I’ve already put your name on the list of family members to be on the first transport ship.”

“You can ask them to remove it. I’m not going to Mars.”

“Staying here is a certain death.”

“I know.” Marie sat stoically. Her solemn countenance, punctuated with the sparkle of tears in her eyes, oddly warmed Ava’ heart. She loved Marie more than she had loved any woman in her adult life, and even though she could feel her slipping away at that very moment, the scientist in her remained clinically detached like she was engaged in some emotional experiment. Her mind twirled as she sat in silence alternating between the darkened screen on the table before her and her partner at the other end.

“I should get going.”

“You’re moving out now?”

“I’m getting a hotel room for now. I’ll come back later and move my stuff out.”

“Oh…”

“I’d like it if you weren’t here when I come back for my stuff.”

“Why?”

“It may not seem like it, but this is hard on me. Seeing you hurts me, and I’m sure deep down inside that clinical mind of yours you’re hurting too. It’s best if we don’t see each other for a while.”

“That seems cold if you ask me.”

“I’m sorry.” With those last two words, Marie’s voice broke, and she quickly turned toward the hallway leading to the bedroom they shared. In the wake of her exit, Ava stared at the sullen room around her with its giant glass panes hovering over the street so far below. The rain slapped and wailed against the window. She could see no more than two or three feet beyond the perch outside. She sighed heavily, and then, she picked up the screen to continue reading the research paper a colleague had sent her as if her life wasn’t falling apart around her.

After much time, Marie returned to the open living area to find Ava still sitting at the table with the screen angled between her hands deep in thought. The remaining cereal in her bowl had turned soggy in the shallow pool of milk. The faint, sour smell of warm milk wrinkled her nose.

“I see you’ve already recovered quite nicely,” she said. She meant for it to be a moment of levity in a painful situation, but it came out wrong, and Ava just looked up at her with a hurtful expression. Marie thought to apologize, but the emotion stole her words and she clammed her mouth shut.

Ava frowned at her, but beyond that betrayed none of the pain that clenched at her chest. “I wish you’d reconsider.”

Marie shook her head vigorously before she said, “This is for the best.”

“For who?”

“For both of us.”

Ava cast her eyes down to Marie’s feet and scrunched her lips together in disapproval. She wanted to tell Marie that she loved her more than anything, even her career, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t leave herself exposed like that, to love someone so openly without fear of rebuke.

“I’ll get my stuff tomorrow.”

Ava looked up at her. The sting in her eyes was obvious, like a glaring light beat down on her. “I’ll be at work.”

“I know.” The words croaked, broken by the pain that Marie felt. She could say no more, so she turned, with her overnight bag clutched in her hand, and walked away before she changed her mind. When the door closed behind her, she felt like she had shut the door on her future. Her time was limited, that much she knew. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but she stood firmly erect, found some determination deep within her, and walked down the hall toward the elevator resisting all urges to rush back into the apartment she shared with Ava.

Ava stared at the closed door to their apartment from the other side. For a brief moment, she hoped that Marie would change her mind and come back in to work it out with her. She could change. She would for Marie at least, but pride and stubbornness kept her planted in her seat. The shock of what had happened rippled through her and she wavered like a tree fighting a strong wind. Finally, she picked up the screen again and flicked it on to finish reading the research paper. She always had her work. It would never pack up and leave her behind.

A Sinister Turn

A shiny object gleamed in the dull light when Frederick stepped up into the supply ship. It flickered and rushed toward him with such speed that he barely had time to recognize it before it plunged through his suit and into his chest. The realization took a moment as he watched the knife slice through him like he was nothing of substance. His body gave way as if it were an inflatable cushion that had been punctured.

It happened so fast yet so slow. The motion of the knife penetrating his chest and pulling back reminded him of some of the slow motion videos he had done of his kids when they were younger. He followed the bloody blade back to its owner and stared wide-eyed at the bot that had accosted him. Warm fluid seeped down his chest, but only a tiny starburst of blood showed on the outside of his white suit. He tried to touch it with his shaky gloved hand, but the ship started to spin. His heart thumped in his ears and each contraction sent rivulets of blood down into his suit. He felt weak and slumped to his knees still in shock. He tried to say something, but he only gasped warm air onto his face mask. He winced, lazy-eyed and woozy.

He stared at the emotionless bot and the others that stood behind it watching him struggle. They registered no sense of concern or dismay about what had just happened. As the ship started to spin around him, he wondered where the bots had come from. Were they already on the supply ship? How did he and Sanjay miss them? Sanjay! He tried to say something to Sanjay who was somewhere down below him near the rover. He had to warn him about the bots. Nothing but blood and air bubbles escaped his mouth. The ship spun faster. His mind stuttered and blackness flickered revealing a void that soon would swallow him. He fell to the floor. Images of his family and his former life reeled before his eyes as his breathing became labored.

Daddy, when will I see you again?

Soon, I promise.

Why do you have to go?

Sweetie, our time on this planet is limited. If I don’t do this, you may not have the opportunity to grow up into the wonderful young woman that you will be.

Why?

He looked lovingly at his eight-year-old daughter, the youngest of his four kids, the only girl. He smiled.

It’s a long story, but we’ve made a mess of this planet, and now we have to find somewhere else to live if we want to continue to thrive.

Is Mars like earth?

No.

Is it beautiful like earth used to be?

He sighed. He thought of the pictures he had seen of earth when he was a child. The sunsets were so beautiful and surreal compared to what he saw everyday. He had never truly experienced the earth he knew from pictures, but he knew it was glorious then. A solemn sadness came over him.

Everything is beautiful in its own way, dear.

I can’t wait to see it.

You’ll see it soon enough. I’ll help get everything ready for you.

How long before I see you again?

It’ll be a few months, but I won’t leave you again after that.

You promise?

Yes, I promise.

He scooped his daughter into his arms and hugged her tiny body close to his. He inhaled her youth and all of the promise that it held for her. He ignored the lump in his throat and forced back the tears that threatened to spill over. He had to be strong for her. He had to do this last mission for her even if it meant risking his own life. There was no other way to preserve a future for his young daughter.

Sanjay stepped up into the ship and stared at Frederick’s body on the floor. He grimaced and then shot a look at the bots.

“What the fuck? Why did you do that?” he addressed the lead bot that stood in front of him with the bloody blade still in its grasp.

“It was time,” the lead bot replied coldly.

“No! It wasn’t!” Sanjay yelled. He bent down and rolled Frederick over to see his face. His eyes were shut and a trickle of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth. “Frederick!”

Frederick didn’t respond. Sanjay shook him briefly before he touched the screen on his suit to check his status. His heart and breathing had stopped. Sanjay frowned and shook his head angrily before he turned his attention to the bots.

“Don’t do anything again without my orders! Do you understand?” He gave the lead bot a hard stare, but none of the bots betrayed any response. “Do you understand?” Sanjay repeated forcefully.

“Yes,” the lead bot replied.

Sanjay looked at Frederick’s body strewn out at his feet and frowned. The sight of his slain colleague pained him more than he would have expected.

“Take him outside and bury him. You might as well get the crew out of the cockpit here and bury them too. I need to think about how we’re going to deal with this,” Sanjay ordered. He walked past the lead bot into the cargo hold of the ship. He paced a few moments before he sat on one of the crates near the back wall.

The bots shuffled around near the front of the ship removing Frederick’s body and extracting the crew from the cockpit while Sanjay took deep breaths and played through scenarios in his head. After much angst and deep thought, Sanjay looked up. He could only see the shadows of the bots’ movements. They were oddly silent, and for a moment, he feared they were communicating privately to plan a mutiny. He didn’t fully trust the bots, but he had been assured that they’d be loyal to him.

He stood up and hurried to the door to confront them. He was in control, not them, and he wanted to remind them of it, but when he reached the edge of the cargo door, all of the bots had left the ship. Two of them were carrying the last body of the crew between them and were walking slowly toward a grave two other bots were digging near the aft of the ship. Sanjay stood at the entrance to the ship and watched them. He heard nothing on the private comm channel they used. Panic gripped him.

He hadn’t planned on mounting the revolt so soon. Now, the rash actions by the leader bot had forced a change of plans. The Captain kept calling Frederick and him on crew comm. He snapped the control for the comm off to clear his head. She’d learn soon enough that she was no longer the leader of this fledgling colony.

He hadn’t wanted any of the crew to get hurt. That hadn’t been the plan. Sure, there likely would have been some resistance, but he had been confident that he could have taken power bloodlessly. Of all the crew, he liked Frederick the best, if only because his clear-eyed logic had been the counterbalance to the Captain’s stunted emotional leadership. She clearly had something to prove, more to herself than anyone else, but Frederick had been rock solid and reliable throughout the whole mission.

Thoughts shuffled through his mind in rapid succession. He had carefully planned everything only to have it mucked up by a hapless bot. Suddenly, a divergent idea struck him. Maybe the bot didn’t just happen to kill Frederick because it had no other option. Maybe that was part of the plan that hadn’t been shared with him. What else had not been shared with him? A chill wormed its way down his spine as everything seemed to lose its gravity. Suddenly, he no longer felt so sure of himself and his plan. Something had gone awry and he had failed notice it.