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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.