Monday, November 30, 2009

nano post 66

Dejah made her way home as the light grew dim and purple. It was barely five o'clock, but she felt exhausted. The streets were brightly lit, and on corners where people tended to gather, the city had erected large heaters. She could feel a blast of warmth as she passed each one, but it quickly dissipated into the night when she moved forward.

Lights were lit in most of the buildings she passed as she moved into a more residential area. The shadows were dark black and the last of the light was fading from the western edge of the sky when Dejah unlocked the door of her home and walked inside.

“Dej, is that you?” Nathan called out.

“Yeah, sorry it's so late. I ended up stopping by the University, and kind of lost track of time.”

He emerged from the work room, and flopped onto the couch, patting the cushion next to him. Dejah smiled and sat down, leaning lightly against him.

“Sounds like fun. The University never really seems to change as much as the rest of the town.”

“Probably because they don't have that much space,” she replied. “I went to go see the Spirit memorial again, you remember how much I used to like to go there. Some kid recognized me and asked me to sign his geology book. That was cool, but a little weird.”

“I bet.” He ran the ends of her hair through his fingers.

“Then I went up into the balcony of Robinson, and listened to a lecture that Livingstone was giving.”

“What class was it for?”

She laughed. “I couldn't tell. It could have been history, geology, or survival techniques. You know how his lectures are. But it was good, you know. All the old stuff about making a difference here, creating a culture. It helps to hear the reminder sometimes. Anyway, when the lecture was over, I went downstairs to see him. It was just like it used to be, with a group of three or four students hanging around, just waiting to hear whatever random bits of his philosophy he cares to expound on, hoping that they can say something that he'll compliment. Some things never change.”

Nathan laughed, and Dejah continued. “Anyway, I went down to see him, and he was really excited to see me. I'm not sure what the students were thinking—most of them left around that time, anyway. He'd said some stuff about me being the ideal University grad, and it just made me feel weird, like he was putting too much focus on me or something.”

“I thought you wanted to make your mark on the world. Isn't being recognized part of that?”

she shrugged. “I don't know any more. I realized something lately. Well, really, it was Livingstone who pointed it out, or at least put into words what I was thinking. He quoted some poem, and I don't remember most of it, but there was this one line...'Runners whom renown outran, and the name died before the man.' Now that I've made my mark, it's just another goal for someone else to pass. I never really thought of it before, but it's exactly what I was trying to do myself—go past what anyone had done before. Now someone will come along who goes beyond anything I've done. If I'm lucky, it'll happen after I'm dead and I won't have to watch it happen.”

“you don't want to be somebody else's inspiration?” Nathan looked at her curiously.

“Well...Yes, but that's not all I wanted. I just...” she struggled to find the words. “I just don't want to be stuck on the inside looking out.”

“don't you mean, 'on the outside looking in'?”

Dejah shook her head. “No, I don't want to be inside. That's where you get trapped. I want to be able to go out.”

Dejah woke earlier the next morning, her muscles not as stiff as they had been in previous weeks. As she pulled her hair back, she looked at her face in the mirror. At first it didn't seem too different from the face she'd seen in the mirror every morning at school. But as she looked closer, she saw the thin network of lines around her eyes and mouth. Her hair was not as soft as it had once been, and more of it came out in her brush now. It was still the pale blond it had always been, but she knew that there were several silver hairs among the gold.

I never noticed how much I look like my dad, she thought, turning her face to one side, then the other. Finally, she wrapped an elastic band around her ponytail and left the bathroom.

She got dressed and made her way into the living room. Nathan had a pile of papers spread out on the table, full of designs and notes. He was on the comm with someone, and she walked by him into the kitchen, plugging in the tea kettle and getting her breakfast together.

“No, that's just not going to be good enough,” she heard Nathan say, the frustration seeping into his voice. “If I can't be on board as a consultant, they're going to start changing things when they get to the site, and then the design will go all to hell. I can't have my name on another one of those. I don't care how many awards the last one won, it wasn't my design anymore by the time they got done.”

Dejah dropped a tea bag and a spoonfull of sugar into a mug, and glanced at her husband over her shoulder. It's not like him to be this upset with someone on the phone, she thought.

“No,” he continued, “I'm sorry, but that's final. I'm not selling the rights to that design without that clause in the final agreement. If they don't like it, they'll just have to find something else.” Another pause. “Yes, well, I'm sorry, too. I'm sure that someday someone will come along who is more than willing to sign the full agreement, and then we'll get it built. Thanks for trying, Paul. Yeah, talk to you later.” He put the comm down, and leaned back in his chair, arms braced behind his head.

“Something wrong with a project?” Dejah asked, pouring hot water into her cup and stirring it slowly.

“Oh, just the usual problems. “I'm trying to sell my cathedral design. It took me nearly two years to refine it, figure out all of the materials, get everything just right. And there are several companies interested in buying the design--”

“Wait,” Dej interrupted. “Companies interested in building a church? That seems weird.”

“Not really, when you think about it. If they build the place they can either rent it to the congregation that wants it, or they can donate it. A complete tax write off, and they get their names attached to something that's certain to be an attraction to visitors. A space like that can actually generate revenue for a city, if they bring in concerts or other productions.”

“Oh, ok,” Dejah said, sipping her tea. “sorry, didn't mean to interrupt.”

“No, that's ok. So anyway, there are several companies that really want the rights to this design, but you know how it goes when they settle in to actually build something. Costs are always more than they expect, and they start cutting corners with no thought for the design. This is my masterpiece, and I want a clause in there that brings me on as a consultant, to make sure that the design is either followed to the letter, or if there is some physically necessary change, that I get to be the one to design around it. Nobody wants to sign on to that one.” He slapped a hand down on the table top, sending several papers fluttering to the floor.

“It'll still be incredible, even if they have to make some changes to the design,” Dejah commented, looking through the designs and remembering the stained glass that had looked like flame in the night. “It would be the most beautiful building on Mars, and you won't let them build it?”

He sighed. “I don't want my name on it if it isn't right, and I sure as hell don't want someone else's name on it. One of these days someone will sign off on that clause, and then they'll all wish that they'd had the courage to do it.”

He drained the dregs of tea that had cooled in his cup as it sat on table and made a face. “I've got to run, Dej, they need me out on a site today, so I can take some measurements and check the light; they need the final design in a week, so it's kind of urgent. Sorry to leave you alone so soon!”

“No, it's alright,” she said with a smile, giving him a quick hug. “Have a good day.”

He returned the embrace, and grabbed his coat before heading out the door. Dejah watched him go, then peered out the window as he walked briskly down the street. When he was gone, she exhaled, and felt the tension begin to leave her body.

“I still love him,” she said to no one in particular, “but being here is driving me crazy.”

The pile of boxes and bags that still cluttered the living room caught her eye, and she picked up the tube that contained her maps and photographs.

As she twisted the end open, she paused. Then, with a burst of determination, she opened the tube and pulled out the images. She carried them into the workroom she had shared with Nathan two years earlier, and turned on the light.

She sighed as she saw that Nathan's sketches, blueprints, and designs had overflowed into her work space. Notes were stuck on the walls, and only a small space at the far end of her space was left free.

She pulled the designs and notes off of the wall, and set them in a neat stack on Nathan's desk, followed shortly by the papers that littered the floor of her space.

Dejah grabbed a box of thumbtacks from a drawer in her desk, and quickly began posting up the maps and images of the Phoenix and the northern plains of Mars. It's not the same as being there, she thought, but it's the only thing I've got right now.

A sudden idea struck her and she grabbed her comm. She punched out a quick message to Charles at the Mars Heritage museum, and a few moments later, the comm beeped. She answered it.

“Dej! Good to hear from you, I hope everything's going well in Spirit City?” Charles sounded good, she thought, even a little bit excited.

“Well, they're...” she shook her head and started over. “Yes, everything's fine here. I actually didn't expect you to call so soon.”

“I was just leaving the museum for the night,” he commented. “So what can I help you with?”

“You guys got the images from my helmet cam, right? I know Dandelion has them, too, but the red tape there would be incredible, and I thought this might be quicker.”

“Sure, we've got it. Some of our researchers having been going through the collection, analyzing and cataloguing it.”

“Can I get copies of those photos?” She held her breath as she waited for a response.

“I'll check, but there shouldn't be a problem with it. We're planning on putting the full image collection on the nets, as soon as it's all tagged and labelled, anyway. In fact, I bet I could even get you a little grant money, if you would just type up your memories of a few of the photos, just what your impressions of the landscape were, and we'll make it an exhibit at some point.”

“sounds fantastic! Do you have my net address to send them to?”

“Oh sure! I'll check around just to make sure that it's alright with the team here, and get those to you later this week. It may take me a few days to make sure I have it all.”

“that's fine,” she assured him, feeling a glimmer of excitement again. “Whenever you can get them to me is great, and I'll work on the writing.”

“that would be great! Sounds like a deal. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

She shook her head, looking around her workspace again. “No, that's more than enough, thanks again!” She turned the comm off, and looked around the workspace again, feeling more alive than she had in weeks.

“what're you working on, Dej?” Nathan asked as she stood by the printer; page after page of images of red dusty hills and jagged rocks filled the tray.

She grabbed the stack and moved it over to her side of the room, and began shuffling through them, arranging them into piles of similar images.

“Just something that I thought of the other day. It's too early to go back to Dandelion, I don't think I can get through a full day for another few weeks. I keep falling asleep in the middle of the day.” She paused, glancing quickly between two images and finally sorting them into different piles. “But if I don't have a project, I will go stir crazy.”

“Are those images from the Phoenix mission?”

“Uh huh,” she replied, not taking her eyes off of the pictures. Nathan waited for her to volunteer more information, but she went back to work, and he leaned against the doorway.

“So what's the goal of this project? It looks a little more complicated than most scrapbooks.”

“You'll see.” She hummed to herself as she sorted another handful of papers.

He watched for a little while, then sighed, and went back to work in the kitchen.

Dejah woke slowly from her nap. The couch was far too comfortbale, she decided sleepily, and sitting down on it after a solid morning's work was just asking for trouble.

She pushed back the blanket that she'd pulled over herself, and stretched. Nathan was at another construction site, and the house was quiet.

Dejah got to her feet, and pulled on her coat. The heating in the Dome had gotten better in the two weeks she had been gone, but it was still cold in the middle of the winter. She pulled on a pair of gloves, and locked the door as she left the house.

The streets were mostly quiet, since the majority of the residents were either at work or school in the middle of the day. The sun was bright, and Dejah wished she had thought to bring a pair of sunglasses.

A few minutes walking brought her to her destination. She smiled, seeing the familiar curving shape of the Dome wall. It always looked as if it was about to fall on you when you stood underneath it, she observed; maybe that was why so few people spent much time around the walls.

She reached out and touched the clear material with a gloved hand, and looked through the wall to the red landscape outside the Dome. The sunlight made the rocks and dust glow warmly, and the wind seemed to be just light enough to kick up the occasional spray of red dust. A beautiful day, she thought, too bad the weather's always the same in here.

She glanced around to see if anyone was coming, then lay down by the wall. She turned her face to the outside, looking across the flat ground. Every tiny feature was visible at this angle; small bumps and dips in the land revealed themselves, and the texture of the dust made the view look rough.

The chill from the ground was intense, and the wall itself was very cold to the touch. The heating systems tended to circulate the warmest air in the city centers; the wall itself conducted the chill through its material, and was difficult to heat.

Dejah scooped up a hand of dust and let it trickle through her fingers. It cascaded down, making a small pile below her hand. “I miss the wind,” she said quietly.

“Kind of a funny thing to miss,” said a voice behind her, “most people enjoy knowing that their hats are going to stay in place when they venture out.”

“Max!” she shouted, giving her friend a hug. He laughed, and hugged her back.

“Sorry I didn't have much time to visit when you first came back. I figured that you'd be too tired to enjoy much company. Feeling better now?”

She brushed the fine red dust from her coat and made a mental note to wash it when she got home. “Yes, much better, though I'm still taking naps every day. I'm due for a check up next week, and then they'll tell me when I can go back to work.”

“Great! I thought you'd probably be going stir crazy without something to work on.” He glanced outside, runnign his eyes along the ragged horizon. “Looking for something in particular out there? Or are you just trying to catch a cold so you don't have to go back to the office?”

She laughed again and shook her head. “No, I come here a lot. It's the nearest spot where I can get to the wall where there's no one around to watch. I miss being out there, you know.”

He nodded. “i think I know how you feel. I don't know what I'd do if they told me I couldn't fly anymore. There's nothing like it, getting up there in the black, looking down on a whole world. But come on, it's going to be getting dark soon, and you look cold. Mind if I come back to your house? I'd invite you over to mine, but I just got back from a trip, and Shelle has refused to allow me to show anyone the house before I've cleaned up my laundry and cargo.”

“It would be great to have you over, Max” she said, turning toward the town.

When they arrived at the house, Nathan was at home, and he greeted Max eagerly.

“Hey! I don't think I've seen you since you brought us home a few weeks ago.” The two men shook hands. Nathan said “Please, take a seat! I'll get dinner going. Have you been flying a lot lately?”

Max nodded, flinging himself into one of the armchairs in the living room. “Yeah, the more people come, the more demand there is for good pilots. I'm working on starting my own shipping company, for high priority items, or items that need guaranteed gentle handling. I know a couple of young hot shots who would be perfect to sign on for my crew. It looks like we'll be ready to start selling our services to the public in about a month.” he chuckled. “When I first started trying to set this thing up, I figured that insurance would be the trickiest hurdle. Nope, not by a long shot. Want to know what was?”

“Getting everyone to work for workable rates?” guessed Dejah, and Max shook his head.

“No, believe it or not, it was the advertising. I hired this agency out of Opportunity Dome. They've been driving me crazy for months now: they don't want to call it 'premium shipping,' because it sounds too pricey—which it is, but they don't want it to sound that way. Then they didn't want to use 'priority shipping' because it focused too much on speed and I'll also be offering shipping for high rick items and fragile items. I told them to just say 'Silver Hammer Shipping—for any damn thing you need to send,' but they just laughed at me.” He rolled his eyes dramatically, and Dejah laughed.

“Is Shelle excited about you finally getting to run your own company?” Nathan asked from the kitchen as he added yellow curry paste to a pan simmering on stove. Dejah sniffed the air appreciatively.

“Yeah, she is. I'll have a lot more control over my schedule, so hopefully I can be home a little bit more. Not so much in the beginning, when I pretty much have to take any shipping job I get, but once we're established, I can set up shipping centers with local pilots in all of the Domes, and spend a little more time working from here. I hate not seeing the kids grow up. I had to miss Brian's last birthday, and I just hated it. He understood, he's a good kid, but no parent wants to explain why they missed a birthday, right?”

“That sounds like it'll be a nice arrangement,” Dejah added wistfully. “you'll get to be home when you want to be, but still get out and see the planet every day.”

an awkward silence fell, and the only sound was the sizzle of the curry on the stove. Then Nathan glanced at Dejah, and asked Max, “So do you go to Bradbury Dome much? How's the museum doing?”

“Oh, it's a huge hit,” max said excitedly, shifting positions on the chair. “I wish I could have seen that crowd, I hear it's one of the biggest crowds that's been recorded here. Well over twenty thousand, and some reports said thirty. Incredible. Anyway, I actually stopped there long enough to take a quick trip through the museum the other day. There were still a lot of people coming and going, though they said they expect traffic to slow in the coming months. That Phoenix exhibit is really something to see. Actually, the whole museum is pretty nice in that regard. It's not just bare facts and data; they really try to make it feel like Mars, so even people who will never set foot on the bare surface get to experience a little of what it's like. I hope it makes people stop taking the place for granted.”

“Dinner's ready,” Nathan called from the kitchen as he lifted the top off a pot of rice, releasing a cloud of scented steam into the air. Max and Dejah joined him in the kitchen, and soon the table was set, and all three sat for the meal.

Dejah scooped a pile of rice onto her plate and covered it with the curry. “Nathan, I'm so glad you made this tonight. There was no place to get decent curry in Bradbury Dome, and I really really missed it. Especially on cold nights like this.”

“I would have made it sooner,” he admitted, “but I kept forgetting to get the stuff from the store. I'd remember it at three in the morning, and forget again the next day.”

She laughed.

After the dinner was over, the three worrked to clear the table and clean up the dishes. It only took a few minutes, then they moved to the living room and sat down, chatting about old times and Dejah told Max about visiting the University.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” max said with a sigh. “I still keep in touch with the Academy, and I usually try to get to some of the demonstrations. I've found some of my best pilots that way, and a lot of them are coming over to Silver Hammer Shipping. But it's so strange to see the changes that happen there, new instructors, new methods, new records to beat. Some punk Terran kid beat my record speed around the manuever course this year. Thought I'd have my name on that one for a lot longer than that.”

“Didn't you set about fifteen records?” Dejah asked with a grin, “surely not all of them have been beaten yet.”

“Only seven, as you well know, one of those actually being the record for number of records set by a single student. And yes, there's still at least two of them that stand. But I expect to see those go any day now.” He gave a dramatic sigh and pretended to be crushed. Dejah couldn't suppress a snort of derision, and Max grinned.

“No, really, it's fun, just a little strange. You remember those days, when everything seems like it's open to you, and you never think about things like paying bills, wiping noses, or trying not to strangle the fine people at your ad agency. But that's where everything ends up, really.”

“I wonder if that's what makes the difference between the people who make it in the end,” Nathan mused. “You remember Ann? I see her Areriums all over the place, all the best hotels and corporations want them worked into the designs for their lobbies. But then there was that kid Keith, you remember him Dej? Always got the top grades in any class he was in, everyone talked about how he was headed for the top, surely some big planning corp, maybe even a government liaison office. Last I heard, he went back to Terra, just never could seem to make it work here.”

Max nodded, then sighed and heaved himself to his feet. “And speaking of mundane duties that must be attended to, I should be on my way. Shelle's going to be putting the kids to bed in a few minutes, and I'd like to be home for that.”

Dejah hugged her friend, and walked with him to the door.

He opened the door to leave, then turned and looked at her for a minute. “I know you want to be back out there, Dej. It's pretty damn obvious to anyone who saw the way you look towards the Dome wall anytime you get close to it. And that's fine—it's people like you who opened up this world to us. But...” he glanced around the room, lit with warm globe lights and still decorated with pictures of the Aresian landscape. “Don't miss this. This is where life happens, this is the real deal. You've lived an incredible dream, but don't let it rob you of what you have here.” He gave her a quick hug, then turned and walked out into the night.

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