Monday, November 30, 2009

nano post 67

(this is everything I have so far, about 190,000 words. Almost done!!!)

Dejah spent most of the next few days, working in her workspace, measuring images and carefully arranging them on the wall. Nathan often heard the printer running first thing in the morning, and Dejah no longer took naps during the afternoon.

One morning, he walked into the kitchen to find Dejah already eating a quick breakfast of oatmeal and tea.

“you're up early today,” he yawned. “Something going on?”

She nodded. “Doctor's appointment. They're going to run some tests, see how much my body's healed, tell me when I can go back to work, and what sort of work I can do.”

“Oh right!” He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat down across from her. “Are you nervous?”

She shrugged. “A little. Mostly just ready for it to be over. I'm not nearly as tired as I used to be, and I haven't needed a nap in the afternoon in three days.” She checked the clock on the wall, and jumped up, grabbing her coat from the hook by the door. “I gotta run, appointment is in twenty minutes! Wish me luck!”

“good luck!” he called after her, hearing the door slam shut halfway through the phrase.

Dejah sprinted through the streets, which were still dim in the mauve morning light. Yellow lights shone from most of the windows she passed, and the air had a pleasant chill to it. The exertion kept her warm, and she lost herself in the feeling of her shoes pounding against the ground, and the effort of keeping her breathing regular.

She saw the doctor's office ahead, and slowed to a quick walk, then stopped to stretch a bit as she let her body cool down. She glanced at her reflection in the glass door and tried to slow her rapid breathing. With a final deep breath, she pushed the door open, and greeted the receptionist with a smile.

“good morning,” the girl behind the counter said, smiling with a row of perfect white teeth. “Are you ms. Sorenson, Doctor Huston's seven o'clock?”

Dejah nodded, and the woman held out a clipboard. “Terriffic! Just fill these out for me, since you're a new patient, and we'll get started.”

“Actually, I think my records were supposed to have been transferred from the hospital in Bradbury Dome,” dejah pointed out.

“Oh, they were! We just need each of our new patients to fill out one of these here, for our records. It's just policy.” The woman's smile never faltered, and Dejah took the clipboard back to a row of oddly uncomfortable chairs by the curtained window. A few minutes later, she returned the completed form to the receptionist, and sat back down.

As she waited, she pulled back the edge of the curtain that shut out the growing morning light. A faint cloud of red dust rose from the fabric, and she wondered how often the curtains were disturbed. Apparently, not too many patients wanted to see the outside world while they waited.

“Ms. Sorenson?” dejah looked up to see a smiling nurse standing in the doorway, holding the clipboard with her forms on it. “Doctor Huston is ready to see you now!”

Dejah stood, letting the curtain fall back into place with another puff of dust, and followed the nurse into the corridor behind the receptionist's desk. The hallway was a cold offwhite, and Dejah couldn't quite identify the smell that met her senses as she walked down the hall. The nurse stood beside a door and gestured to the room. “If you'll just take a seat on the table in here, the doctor will be with you shortly.”

Dejah stepped into the room and looked around. There was a table in the middle of the room with a thin paper covering; the walls were plastered with various posters depicting healthy teeth, bones, and skin.

She hoisted herself on to the table, and sat waiting. A few minutes later, the doctor bustled into the room, eyes fixed on a clipboard. “Hello Ms. Sorenson, I've got your records here from my colleagues at the Bradbury Dome hospital. It likes like you're doing a lot better than you were when they sent you home!” He smiled and shook her hand.

“Well, I just want to run some basic physical tests. If you'll follow me, I'll get you hooked up to the treadmill for the stress test.”

An hour later, Dejah was back in the small off white room, feeling more tired than she had in a week. The doctor sat in a high chair near the table, flipping through several print outs, and making notes on a chart. Finally he lowered the clipboard, and turned to her.

“Alright, I've got most of your results here. There are a few others that I'll send out to the lab, but the ones we really need I was able to pull myself. The long and short of it is that you are one tough lady. There aren't many people who could survive what you've been through, and even fewer who could make this quick of a comeback. Seems like there's a part of you that is just determined to keep on going.” He smiled at her, and Dejah tried to return the gesture, wishing he would just get on with it.

“now, what you want to know is how much you can expect to do from this point on. There's no doubt in my mind that you can live a perfectly normal life inside the Domes. Life here is comfortable enough that you should have no problems with it. But you want to know about going back out on the surface of the planet.”

He leaned forward, and looked her in the eye. “I will be honest with you, Ms. Sorenson. I am not comfortable with the thought of you spending much time on the surface. Your respiratory and circulation systems were damaged by the cold and low pressure of the surface during your trek, and there's not much we can do about that. Under normal oxygen and pressure, you're fine. But get a small rip in a suit, or lose pressure in a tent, and you'd be gone in minutes. However, that's hardly a fair restriction to place on a Scout, particularly one of your caliber. So I am going to send my recommendation to Dandelion, that you be placed back in the field, provided that you always stay within twenty minutes of a Dome by shuttle. That distance should still allow any hospital to get to you, in case of emergency, fairly quickly. I wish I could do more, but to go any further would be reckless, and would probably endanger your life.”

He stood, and held out a hand. In a daze, Dejah shook it limply, and slid off the table.

“Your employer is covering all medical costs, so just check with the receptionist on your way out, and she'll give you the form to sign. Best of luck to you, Ms. Sorenson.”

Dejah walked down the hall and signed the form she was given without really paying any attention to it. She made her way home through the streets, which were now bright with the morning light.

Nathan came home several hours later, and found the house dark. “Dej?” he called out, turning on the living room lights. “Are you here? How'd the doctor's visit go?”

When he got no reply, he glanced through the kitchen, and was about to check the bedroom when he saw a light under the closed workroom door.

Knocking quietly, he opened the door, and poked his head inside. For the last few days, Dejah had kept her area hidden by pinning up a dark curtain across the entrance to her side of the room, but the curtain had been torn down, and lay in a heap on the floor. Dejah sat in the center of her workspace, surrounded by images of the Phoenix site that she had painstakingly cropped and joined together to make a panarama that covered the walls of her space. She had covered the light with a thin film of orange plastic, giving it the warm hues of the sun outside the Dome.

“Dej...” Nathan said quietly, and she turned to face him. The look on her face cut him to the core. “ this because of the doctor visit?”

“I can't go outside the Dome any more,” she said queitly, her voice rough with emotion. “Not more than twenty minutes from a Dome by shuttle, and no more than five hours at a time. No exploration mission is that short, that close to the Dome.”

Her voice sounded dead, and Nathan knelt by her side. “You've got to move past this, Dej. You've overcome everything else life has thrown your way, don't let this be the thing that gets you in the end.”

“I don't know how to live without Mars, without Mars the way I know it,” she whispered, tracing a finger across the image of a rocky plain. “I wish I did. I tried to be happy here in the Dome, Nathan, I really did. I wanted to learn how to be content here, to love the people in my life more than I love this cold red desert. But I just can't. I'd rather walk out into that cold and die choking on the surface than live another fifty years under glass.”

He didn't respond, but simply put his arms around her. She shook with emotion, but didn't let out a sound.

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.

nano post 65

When Nathan awoke the next morning, he turned to see Dejah's head resting on his shoulder. Her body was curled against his, knees digging into his side. He lay there for a little while, trying to get used to the feeling of sharing a bed again. Then he carefully got up, trying not to wake her and got dressed.

When Dejah awoke hours later, she found her muscles more stiff than they had been in months. It was the long flight, she decided. Twelve hours aboard a shuttle were enough to make anyone feel stiff. She stretched and pulled on a robe before heading into the living room.

Nathan was seated at the kitchen table, carefully placing several blocks on top of each other, then making notes in a notepad that rested on the table beside his hand. He was so intent on the model that he didn't see Dejah enter, and she watched him in silence for awhile.

The small building grew slowly, and Nathan's notes grew longer. Finally, he leaned back in the chair, exhaling, and caught sight of Dejah sitting on the couch, watching him.

“”Dej! I didn't hear you come in! Sorry, I didn't hear you come in. I didn't mean to ignore you.”

“No, it's alright, I enjoyed watching you.” She smiled. “It's been a long time since i've done that. I forgot how much I always enjoyed watching you work, you just throw everything you have into whatever it is that you're working on.”

“Well, I try,” he replied. “It's getting harder to get inspired now—my designs sell well, but nobody wants to let me keep some creative control. They just want to turn it all over to their construction crews, who of course make all kinds of changes and cut corners when they can.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to start complaining! I'm actually getting paid well so I have nothing to protest, really. Are you hungry? I don't know what I have in the pantry, but I could always run down to the store.”

She nodded. “you know, I hadn't thought about it, but yeah, I am pretty hungry. Weeks of hospital food, and food pouches before that...just not the same. And anything that's in the pantry is fine. I guess we'll need to go to the grocery store soon. It's going to be a little weird with two of us again.”

Nathan opened the pantry door and began pulling out cans of food. “Let's see, there's carrots, corn, sandwich mix, water chestnuts...why do I have water chestnuts, anyway? Um, looks like that's about it, except for a couple of really old cans of beans in the back.” he grinned sheepishly. “Like I said, living like a bachelor. I ended up eating out a lot. Spent a lot of time in Parsecs.”

“Can we go there? I forgot how much I missed it, there wasn't any place like it in Bradbury Dome, at least not that I ever found. Everything was too far away from Dandelion to get to during lunch, anyway. And I want to see Shelle—the kids are going to be so big by now! The youngest is almost two now, isn't he?”

Nathan looked slightly relieved. “That sounds like a good idea. We can stop by the store on the way home from lunch, and I know Shelle would be thrilled to see you. And yes, I think Pete is about two. He's a cutie, very much the charmer.”

Dejah quickly got dressed, and in a few minutes they were approaching the familiar restaurant. Dejah felt relieved that it had changed so little in the years since she had visited it.

Shelle was behind the counter, entering a bill into the register, and waved happily when she saw them come in. “Hey! Max said you'd gotten home safely, but I didn't expect to see you here so soon! I'll be over in just a minute.”

Nathan pointed out a booth near a sunny window, and they slid in. Dejah closed her eyes, feeling the warm sunlight on her face. “This feels nice, I've been inside too much lately.”

Shelle made her way over and gave Dejah a quick hug. “Wow, it's already been two years! The time goes so quickly, doesn't it? I watched all of the news stories when you came back from the pole, that was really something. Felt like watching the stories about the early colonists when I was a kid, you know? You got any plans for what you're going to do next? After something like that, you'd be able to take your pic of any number of jobs!”

Dejah shook her head. “No, not really. I'm going to have to be careful from now on, I'm afraid. This body got me out to the Phoenix and back, but it won't go that far again. I'll be working from this Dome from here on out, I think.”

“Oh damn,” Shelle muttered. “I'm sorry, Dej, I didn't know, Max didn't say anything. Well, no matter what, you've given us all something to look up to. That's a pretty big deal. Ah, I should stop babbling, you guys didn't come in to listen to me! Do you know what you want to eat?”

They gave her their orders, and she left to give them to the kitchen. Dejah slid her hand across the table, feeling the sunlight warm her skin.

“you feeling cold?” Nathan asked, watching her.

“No, I just miss having the sunlight. You know, even up there, where there were only a few hours of sunlight every day...It was incredible to be right out in it. I always feel like the Dome is filtering out too much of it.”

“Well, it has to filter some of it. The radiation is pretty intense. They may be able to one day increase the atmosphere here, get in some more oxygen and water, and ditch the Domes, but that's at least a hundred years away.”

She shrugged. “That would be a filter all its own, you know. It wouldn't be the red planet anymore. I like it the way it is.”

Nathan sat quietly, watching her as she looked out the window. Several transports went by, and once she saw a group of laughing University students on their way to the shops downtown.

She heard someone approach, and turned to see Shelle returning to the to table, holding a sturdy little boy by the hand. “Hey Dej, I hope you don't mind, but I really wanted Brian here to have a chance to say hello. He watched all of the news reports with me, and he's even got a little model of the Phoenix on his dresser at home. We're hoping to take him to the museum in a couple of months, he's been asking to see it ever since they showed the restored one on tv.”

She turned to the boy, and pointed to Dejah. “Do you recognize her, Brian?”

He nodded solemnly, and clung to his mother's side. “Yeah.”

“Well, aren't you going to say hello? She hasn't been here in a few years, but she's known you ever since you were a baby. She had to go get the Phoenix, but she's back now.”

The boy looked at Dejah with serious blue eyes, and said, “We talked about you at school. My teacher says that you're the last real explorer. Is that true?”

Dejah smiled slightly, and shook her head. “I hope not. We haven't explored all of Mars yet, and there's always things to be done. And in a few decades, people will start going to Europa, and that will be a whole new set of adventures.”

He thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “I think I'm gonna be an explorer too. 'Long as Daddy can come with me.”

the three adults laughed, and Shelle patted her son on the back. “Ok, sweetie, let's go ahead and let them have some time alone now, alright?” She herded him back toward the counter, mouthing a “thank you” to Dejah as she left.

“that's gotta be pretty inspiring,” Nathan commented, fiddling with a packet of imitation sugar that lay on the table. “you said you got a lot of letters from school kids. Were they all like that?”

Dejah shrugged. “More or less. Most of them probably aren't going to be interested in exploring in a year or two, it's just hot right now. Maybe a few of them will move to the colonies, or try to get a job at one of the companies that's still doing exploration. But the truth is...the truth is, there really isn't much that's left to be done. They'd have to have some kind off crazy drive inside them to go into the field at all, and most of them were raised to think of safety first.” She sighed, and turned back to the window. “They're going to have to be willing to risk it all, just on the chance of finding something. Not too many of those kinds of people left in the world, I'm afraid.”

Nathan laughed. “Except for you. And your team. It's people like you who inspire that spark of daring in people, that make a change.”

“Maybe a little bit. But it would have been better if I could have gone on with field work, even if it wasn't the big stuff. How are those kids going to react when they realize that I may not even be able to fly the Valkyrie again? You think they want to take that kind of risk?”

“you don't know that you won't be able to fly it. Sure, you won't be able to do the daredevil stuff you used to do. But you may be able to take it up again.”

Dejah was about to respond when Shelle brought their breakfast, and they began eating in silence.

“thanks for taking me here this morning,” Dejah said as the door to 12 Parsecs closed behind them. “I needed that little bit of familiarity, I think.” She glanced around the street. “I don't really want to go home, do you mind if I just wander around the town for a little while? I need to reorient myself.”

“Sure,” he agreed. “I've got a pretty flexible schedule for the next month or two, so I've got the morning free.”

She glanced down at the red dust before looking back at him. “I'm sorry, Nathan, but is it ok if I go alone? I need to figure out where I fit in here, and I need to do that by myself.”

Taken slightly aback, he hesitatingly agreed. “Oh...alright. Just don't let yourself get too tired, ok? Call a transport if you need it, and I'm only a quick comm away.”

She nodded, and kissed his cheek. “Thanks. I'll be home later.”

She turned and walked down the street, taking in the new storefronts that had opened. The streets seemed more crowded, and once or twice she saw young families going about their business.

Marcus' shop was open, but Dejah decided against going in. Too much, she thought, too soon. Some other day.

She wandered for an hour, making her way slowly through the parts of the town that she had once known like the back of her hand. Without realizing it, she had made her way back to the University campus, and paused at the sight of the familiar arched entry.

On a whim, she turned to the right and passed under the arch. The campus looked as it always had, she thought, with a momentary feeling of elation. There was the four dorms, and the central plaza, with the Spirit memorial in the middle of it. Students were walking along the paths, some on their way to class, others headed for a meal, and others, she assumed, just enjoying the sunshine.

She passed between the Wells and Holst dorms, and came out into the central lawn, and made her way toward the center and the memorial there.

There were a few students perched on the low wall around the plaza, but they seemed to be ignoring her, lost in their studies or other projects, and she walked up to the high pedestal that held the Spirit. She laid her hand on the concrete pillar, and looked up at the rover.

“Hey, friend,” she whispered. “Remember me? Been a while, hasn't it.”

the concrete was slightly warm to her touch, and leaned against it for a minute, feeling the warmth seep into her body. “Phoenix is back, now. She's in the museum in Bradbury Dome, and she's been restored, too. She was in pretty bad shape, but they got her put back together pretty well.”

She felt the weight of the pendant against her chest and grinned. “Well, mostly put together. Apparently, there is one missing piece of a solar panel that had to be reconstructed.” She pulled out the chain, and ran a finger around the edge of the fragment of solar panel, feeling it warm in the sunlight.

“Hey, are you ok?” she heard the voice behind her and quickly turned around to see a student with a concerned look on his face. “I saw you slumped up against the thing here and I thought you might be sick or...” his eyes widened as he suddenly recognized her. “Oh gods, I'm so sorry, I didn't recognize you!”

She shook her head. “No, it's alright, I didn't stop to think about how it might look. I used to spend a lot of time here when I was a student. Sometimes at night when no one was looking, I'm climb up and sit next to Spirit and talk to her. She's a pretty good listener.”

“You know, you're a real hero around here these days,” the student commented. “It's the biggest thing a University of Mars grad has done in years.”

“Well, it's a good school,” she commented, looking around the campus again. “I really enjoyed my years here.”

the young man looked slightly embarassed as he dug a textbook out of the bag slung over his shoulder. “Listen, I'm sure you're busy and I feel kinda silly asking this, but...would you sign my geology book?”

Dejah looked at him for a moment, then broke into a laugh. “Of course! Excuse my laughter, I don't mean to make fun of you, it just struck me as funny.” The young man handed her a pen and she quickly scrawled her name on the front page of the book. “Hey, what's your name?”

“Um, Jared.”

She wrote under the signature, “Always look forward, Jared. Adventure is just over the horizon.” closing the book, she handed it back to him.

“Thank you so much!” he stammered, carefulyl stowing the book back in the bag. “Wow, I didn't even know you lived in Spirit City.”

“Just got back yesterday, actually—I lived in Bradbury Dome for two years while we put the mission together.” She stuck out a hand and said, “Well, Jared, I have to get going, I want to see the rest of the campus before it gets dark. But it was very good to meet you.”

He shook her hand eagerly. “I still can't believe I got to meet you. Thanks!”

she smiled, and made her way across the main lawn to the Robinson lecture hall. As Dejah walked up the steps to the familiar building, she could hear the sounds of a class in session. She took the back stairway up to the balcony where she had often watched the new students being welcomed to the school.
She leaned against the wall to stay out of sight as much as possible, and peeked out into the auditorium. Doctor Livingstone was addressing a group of students; it looked like a regular class, but it was impossible to tell what the class subject was. Dejah grinned, remembering the many “big picture” lectures she had sat in during her student days.

“It's not enough for us to convince people to move to Mars, to start a new life here, if we don't have any way of making that new life better. Mars isn't Terra, and we have no desire to be like Terra, but with the influx of new colonists every year, we'll be inundated if we don't keep creating our own culture. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that only scientists or builders are the creators out here. Anyone can add to the culture, and all of you should. Leave behind the consumer culture that you, most of you anyway, were raised in. Learn to become producers again, make things, help us grow into the brave new world that we know this can be.”

the class dismissed shortly afterward, and Dejah made her way down the stairs. As usual, there was a small knot of very earnest students surrounding Doctor Livingstone, asking about the lecture and the ideas he had been explaining. He was sitting on the edge of the stage, deep in the conversation, and making sweeping gestures, trying to communicate the passion she knew he had for the red planet.

He caught a glimpse of her, and waved her over. With a smile, she approached and joined the group.

“Ms. Sorenson! I had no idea you were back! I heard that you were going to be staying in Bradbury Dome as a consultant to the museum!”

She shook her head. “No, they asked, but I turned them down. Museum work really isn't my forte, and I'm really not much of one for honorary positions.”

He looked around at the group of students, who had suddenly fallen silent, surprised at the addition to the conversation. “I'm sure you all recognize Ms. Sorenson from the vids that have come out of Bradbury Dome in the last few months. She is, of course, a graduate of this university, and is one of the best examples of what I was talking about today. In her freshman year, she designed and flew the Valkyrie. I can see that some of you are familiar with it. Most of the gliders in use on Mars today are based on that original design. Then after graduation, she went to work for Dandelion Corporation, and fought to present her proposal for recovering the Phoenix. Of course, you all know her recent adventures. This is exactly the sort of person that we expect to come from this school.”

Dejah felt her elation slowly slipping away, replaced by a sinking feeling. For a few minutes, it had almost felt like she was a student again, as if the whole world was out there for the taking. But she'd taken her bit of it, and her part was over now. She ran her eyes over the remaining students, feeling a twinge of envy at the eager expressions on their faces. They could still do anything, be anything, discover anything.

“really,” she protested as soon as Doctor Livingstone paused, “don't listen to him, he always exaggerates things. Lots of University grads have gone on to do extraordinary things. Just keep working at it, you'll make your mark in time, too.”

Chattering excitedly, the students finally made their way out of the auditorium, and Dejah leaned against the edge of the stage. “It really is good to see you again, Ms. Sorenson,” Livingstone repeated. “I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable there, but it really is an exciting thing to see what you've done.”

She nodded, trying to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat. “Yeah, I get that. The problem's something that is done.” She emphasized the last word, and Livingstone nodded in recognition.

“Facing that moment when you realize that your biggest accomplishment is behind you now?”

She nodded.

“We all come to that point, you know. Or die before it happens, but that's fairly rare. Are you familiar with A. E. Housman, the Terran poet? No? Ah, that's a shame, he's written some truly lovely things. One of his more famous pieces is called 'To an Athelete Dying Young.'”

He cleared his throat, and quoted:

“Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

“Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

“Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.”

the word died into silence in the large space, and neither of them broke the quiet for several minutes. Then Livingstone spoke again, “It's hard to hear that, you know that. And most of us, unless we die in the middle of our victory, have to face that moment when the record is cut and our names begin to die. You're facing that now, or at least, you're facing the emotion of it. It'll be years before that trek of yours is surpassed, but the news is already moving on to other stories. In a few years, you'll be able to wander around town and not have anyone recognize your face. But if I know you, that's not what bothers you the most, though you're certainly not happy about it.”

“I miss the excitement,” Dejah said quietly. “I really felt alive out there, you know? Just me and Mars, the dust and the wind, the ice...Things were very simple, and even when I thought I wasn't going to make it, I loved every second of it. Now because I lived it once, I can never live it again. Now I get to sit and watch others go out there, and most of them don't even appreciate it. They complain about the dust and the ice, and try to hurry back to the safe little Domes.”

“I thought it might be something like that. Believe it or not, I often feel the same way.” He glanced toward her, and laughed at her confused expression. “no, I do, I do! I loved being a student back on Earth. My teacher was a fantastic scholar, and I've never met anyone who pursued the truth more doggedly than he did. He was always open to changing his mind if anyone could show that he was wrong. Everything was like a book to him, every tree, story, and person. It was because of him that I started the University here. And of course, I'm well known now for having done so, but other schools will come. Some are already here, though their missions are a little different from ours. And because I have to be the main 'in charge' person here, I don't get to just sit and have discussions like I used to be able to. More people get to learn now, and that's a very good thing, but it was an exchange that still pains me sometimes.”

Dejah listened, deep in thought. “Was it worth it?”

Livingstone nodded. “Yes, very much so. I'd make the same choices again if I had to. There's a very special kind of joy that I get, watching my students pass me, go beyond anything that I could ever do. But it feels a little bit like what death must feel like, I think.”

nano post 64

the remaining weeks passed slowly as Dejah began to heal, but they did pass. Sooner that she had thought, it was time to board a shuttle to Spirit City. Max had offered the use of the Silver Hammer again, and she had gratefully accepted.

Dejah and Nathan walked up the steps to Dejah's apartment, and Deah slid her card into the door lock. It clicked, and she pushed the door open. Though the small room was clean and tidy, it had the unmistakable air of a place that had not been lived in in some time. Two, almost three months now, Dejah thought with a sadness that she couldn't quite place.

“there shouldn't be too much to pack,” she said to Nathan, as he brought up some folded boxes to pack everything in. “Let's see, I think everything in the kitchen is stuff that came with the place, so we don't have to worry about that. I'll need the stuff in my closet, the thick blankets on the bed—don't worry about the sheets and the coverlet, those came with the place—and then there's the maps and stuff...” Her voice trailed off.

“We can take the maps, Dej,” Nathan said quietly. “you may want them later for memories.”

“I know. Let's go ahead and take them. It just seems so strange to be packing them away for good now. I mean, it's not like I'm ever going to really use them again, except maybe to look at them and remember.” She shrugged. “Oh well. Anyhow, anything here in the main room that's not furniture needs to go. A couple of loads for each of us should do it.”

He nodded, and began packing clothes into the boxes, wrapping them around more fragile items to protect them.

Dejah began unpinning her maps and satellite images from the walls. She'd taken to bringing copies of her maps and research images home, and studying them in the evenings, trying to memorize the surface of Mars before she ever set foot on the road to retrieve the Phoenix. Of course, all of her preparation had not prepared her for the reality of the Aresian surface, for being so close to Mars itself. The pictures seemed almost like paintings, she thought, paintings from someone who had read a lot about the red planet, had even studied the vids and images, but had never actually been there. She sighed, and rolled up the maps, carefully storing them in a cardboard tube she'd brought along for the purpose.

In a few minutes, her belongings were packed into the boxes and stacked by the door, ready to be carried down the steps and loaded into the waiting transport. The room looked barren, devoid of any personality she had brought to it, as if her presence could be wiped away with the loss of a few material things.

Nathan came back into the small room, having deposited one load of boxes into the transport, and picked up another. Dejah grabbed a box, and followed him.

As the last box was loaded, Dejah asked, “We still have time to stop by the Dandelion warehouse and say goodbye, right?”

“Of course,” he replied. “I enjoyed talking to your coworkers when they came to visit you in the hospital, I'd like to say thanks to them again myself.”

They were silent during the short drive, Dejah lost in thought. Soon the warehouse came into view, looking as it always had, and for a moment, it felt as though she had never left.

As Nathan pulled the transport to a stop and parked it, Dejah opened her door and got out, looking up at the large open doors, half expecting to see one of the giant rigs come rolling out.

Instead, the usual noises of clanging tools, rover motors, and Eduardo's radio reached her ears. She couldn't help smiling at the familiar sound, and stepped into the shadowed building.

She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, and before she could regain her full vision, she found herself swept off of her feet in a bear hug.

“Sorenson!” she heard Eduardo shout as he spun her around. “You have no idea how good it is to see you up and about again!”

He set her down, and gave her shoulders a final squeeze before stepping back. His shout had caught the attention of Oliver Thomas and Kruiser, and the two men ran towards the small group.

For a moment, Dejah was lost in a storm of hugs, back slaps, and congratulations, before her colleagues moved back and gave her a bit of air. She came up grinning and laughing, feeling more at home than she had for weeks.

“What, you didn't really think i'd leave before coming by to say goodbye, did you?”She hiccoughed slightly, feeling caught between laughing and crying.

Thomas grinned, standing at the edge of the group. “You belong here, Dej, not in that hospital.”

“Hell yeah!” she answered, reaching up to give him a hug. “Couldn't have done it without you, Thomas. Always good to hear a calm voice on the other end of the comm.”

“What, like I'm not calm?” Eduardo protested.

“Eduardo, the only bigger drama queen in this warehouse is Kruiser when someone brings in a mistreated machine.” She slapped him on the back.

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” the mechanic grinned, brandishing a wrench. “Don't let me hear about you doing anything stupid out there, alright? You've given me enough heart attacks for one life.”

“Don't Worry, Kruiser, I don't think this body would let me get away with anything crazy anymore. I'll be lucky to get back on the surface at all, I think the home office plans to keep me pretty much under the Dome.” She grimaced.

“Like hell they will,” Eduardo said. “No one has everr figured out a way to keep you out of that red dust, Sorenson, and I don't think those white collar boys at the Spirit City office will be the ones to do it.”

Dejah forced a smile, feeling her high spirits slip away. There will be other missions for them, she thought, feeling an ache in her throat. There will other missions for them, but not for me.

An awkward moment of silence fell on the group, and Dejah knew she needed to go. The transport was waiting.

“Well...” She cleared her throat, and turned to Eduardo. “I guess this is it, then. It was a genuine honor to work with you, even if your taste in music is totally screwed up.”

He laughed, and shook her proferred hand. “Likewise, I assure you. Just wait, that style is gonna come back, and then you're going to feel like a real idiot.”

“Not likely” she smirked. “Feel free to comm me any time, let me know about all the crazy exciting things happening here in Bradbury, alright?”

he nodded, and she turned her attention to Thomas. “well, Mr. Thomas, I am going to miss you. You take good care of these two weirdos, alright?” She hugged him one last time, and whispered, “I hope you find your way back to a blue planet. I'll never understand why you'd want a world like that, but I hope you find it.”

He laughed, and returned the hug. “Enjoy your red planet, Dejah Sorenson. Don't ever let anyone take that love away from you.”

She smiled and pulled away; looking over her shoulder, she saw Kruiser standing a few meters away, and grinned. “Oh n, mister, you're not getting away from this without a hug!”

He let out a groan of protest, but patted her back gently as she squeezed his shoulders.

“You kept me alive there at the end, Kruiser. Who knew that being such a loudmouth would be crucial in the end?”

He laughed. “yeah, well, don't count on it happening again. Now get on out of here before the big shots here talk you into becoming a permanent display in that museum.”

She began walking toward the door, where Nathan stood, waiting. Eduardo called out, “Damn! Hang on a sec, Dej, we forgot something,”

Dejah turned around expectantly. Eduardo dug into the pocket of his coveralls and pulled out an irregularly shaped pendant on a thin chain.

“Thomas and I got this out of the frost up there, and Kruiser figured out how to get it on the chain.” He blushed, suddenly self conscious.

Dejah took the chain, and turned the pendant over in her hand. It had had sharp edges, but a precise grinding job had softened them slightly, and the whole thing appeared to be coated in some sort of sealant. It was some sort of manmade material, but it didn't look like any sort of synthetic jewelry she had seen. A delicate soldering job held it to a small ring that slipped onto the chain.

Eduardo cleared his throat, and grinned uneasily. “See, we figured that with everything you went through, you should be able to carry a little bit of the Phoenix with you. Well, those solar panels were in pretty bad shape, you know, all splintered and broken, there was no way we could be expected to recover every single piece.”

“you stole this from the site during the recovery? Isn't that a felony?”

He shrugged, and stuck his hands into his coverall pockets, grinning.

“You three are absolutely incorrigible,” she laughed, fastening the chain around her neck. “and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

“Now get the hell out of here,” Thomas laughed, “before you make these two tough guys all teary eyed again.”

She waved from the door of the building, and stepped out into the sunlight. The pendant warmed almost instantly.

Dejah fell asleep on the flight back to Spirit City, and woke to find Max and Nathan talking. Neither had noticed that she was awake, and she sat quietly, listening.

“I just don't think I've seen her like this before,” Max was saying, his eyes fixed on the instrument panel. “I've seen her discouraged, tired, and angry, but I don't think I've ever seen her without that fight, that fire. It's like she's not even there, you know?”

“I know,” Nathan said. “I think she thinks that everything is over, that the big thing has been done and there's nothing to fight for anymore. She knows that she'll never have another big mission—her body simply won't take it. She's almost resigned to living in a Dome the rest of her life, watching other people go out and have the adventures. It's what she always dreaded, what she was afraid of...but I don't think anyone expected it to happen because she won her fight.”

“It scares me to see that. I'm so used to seeing that fire inside of her, and it just seems like a pile of ashes now.”

“Yeah, me too. But we've been so distant for so long, I don't even know how to help her. Hell, we haven't been in the same city for two years, and things weren't going well even before that.”

There was silence for a little while, but just as Dejah was drifting back into sleep, Max commented, “the Dejah I know wouldn't really be looking for help. She's always hated feeling like she wasn't up to anything that life threw her way.”

“Maybe that's part of the problem. What can I give her, Max? She doesn't want anything from me. I told her once that she loved the damn planet more than she loved me. I said it to hurt her, but I think it's probably true. Maybe getting married was a mistake for us.”

“Maybe you should ask what it is that she needs that Mars gives her.”

It was dark when the ship came in to land in Spirit City. Dejah had been awake for the last few hours of the trip, asking Max and Nathan about things that had changed in the town while she had been away.

“It's become the fastest growing city on Mars,” Max informed her. “A lot of the University students have stayed in the city, and they're having families, and those families need schools,grocery stores, clothing name it! It's not nearly as civilian oriented as Opportunity City, but it's a lot more so than when you left.”

“You'll have to go see Dr. Livingstone sometime soon,” Nathan added. “I saw him at the last graduation, and he was so proud of you that he could hardly talk. He's already talking about how you are the model of what University graduates are supposed to be.”

The Hammer slowed on the runway, and slowly came to a halt. “Alright folks, this is the end of the line tonight. It's late but there's probably still a transport or two for hire that could get your stuff over to the house for you.”

As Dejah stepped onto the cracked concrete of the runway, she smelled the familiar scents of fuel and oil that marked every runway and launch pad in the solar system. She looked up, and saw the night sky through the dome.

“The stars look so much farther away here,” she whispered. There were more street lights than she remembered, and the city hummed with traffic though it was nearly ten o'clock.

Nathan signaled a transport and loaded the boxes and bags onto its flat bed, tying them down with elastic ropes. When everything was secure, he called to Dejah, and the two of them got into the back seats of then transport, and the driver pulled slowly out of the spaceport.

Dejah pressed her face against the window, watching the streets go by. There were more trees than she remembered, and more shops.

“It's going to take me a while to figure out my way around town again,” she commented. “Looks like all of the old landmarks have changed.”

“You'll get the hang of it in no time,” Nathan reassured her. “Most of the places you knew are still here, the areas surrounding them just look a little different.”

The transport pulled up in front of the house, and Nathan and the transport driver quickly took the boxes and bags into the house. Dejah waited until they were done, then made her way inside while Nathan settled the bill.

The house was dark, except for the single hall light that had been turned on so that they could see to unload the boxes. The building was cold, and dust had settled on everything, a thin red film that made everything look older than it was.

There were discarded sketches tossed all over the floor of the living room, and an array of modeling bricks covered the kitchen table.

“sorry about the mess,” Nathan said quietly, joining her. “I left in a bit of a hurry, and I was kind of living like a bachelor before that. I'll get it cleaned up tomorrow, I promise.”

“It's alright,” Dejah replied. “It actually makes it look a little more familiar.”

“Well, I'll still take care of it in the morning. But you're probably really tired, let's get you into bed so you can sleep.”

He put an arm around her waist to support her as they walked back to the bedroom. Dejah kicked off her shoes and socks, and slipped into her pajamas. Nathan helped her into the bed, then stood back.

“Dej...I hate to ask this, especially now, when I know you're tired, but...well, if you want me to sleep on the couch for awhile, until we're used to being together again, it's ok.”

She shook her head. “No, come on into bed, you're tired, too.”

“Are you sure? It's not a problem, I figured that there would have to be some things that we'd need to get used to again.”

Dejah rested her head on the pillow, and turned onto her side. “Come on, Nathan. Just get in.”

nano post 63

Dejah thought she was dreaming. Darkness had given way to a dim mauve light, and there was a loud roaring sound overhead. She blinked, and through blurry eyes, saw several forms floating on the wind, moving through the thin atmosphere. The loud roar had passed by, but a smaller rushing sound brushed by her ears.

“There aren't any birds on Mars,” she said thickly, not understanding.

Then the first of the forms swept in close to the ground, and she saw two legs come down and land, pulling the shape to a stop. The figure shed its wings, and ran over to where she lay against the lander. A glider, she realized suddenly, it's a glider.

The figure bent over her, and through a faint haze she could see the bronzed face of Eduardo.

“We're here, Dej. We're going to take you home.”

“gliders...” she whispered, “ updrafts here...”

He grinned, and beckoned to another suited figure, and they carefully picked her up.

“You can thank Kruiser for that one. The shuttle can't land here, and we needed a way to get you aboard, so he figured out how to attach an engine to a glider. Now, for once in your life, shut up and let us help you.”

She closed her eyes again, and felt nothing when the glider took off.

Dejah drifted, not knowing where she was, but not particularly caring. All she knew was that she was warm, and comfortable, and she hadn't been either in a long time.

Slowly, she came back toward consciousness. She felt herself lying on a soft surface, and tried to move her arms, but found herself too weak.

She forced her eyes open. It was a small room, painted a warm ecru shade, with a window that was letting in sunlight.

Dejah could tell very little else about the room; her vision was blurry, and she felt as though she would fall back asleep at any moment. But the room gradually swam into focus, and she saw that she was lying on a bed with a plain blue blanket. There were two chairs in the room, but only one was occupied. She couldn't tell who was sitting in the chair—he was slumped forward, head propped on his arm, and his face covered by his elbow.

Darkness came again, and she drifted away, dreaming quietly of red dust and winged machines.

It was two more days of occasional waking before she was able to stay conscious for more than five minutes at a time.

Waking again, she felt fully present in the white room for the first time, more awake than she had been before. She moved her fingers across the bedspread, feeling the slightly rough texture of the fabric. Her arms ached, and she stopped trying to move.

But the slight motion had attracted the attention of the man who had been sitting in the chair every time she had awakened, though she had never seen him leave the chair during her few alert moments the preceeding days.

He knelt by the bed, and took her hand. She slowly focused her eyes on his face.

“Nathan,” she croaked, her throat dry and sticky.

“Shhh, Dej, don't try to talk yet. The doctor was surprised you had even been waking up so soon. I guess you can't stand to stay still, even after all of that.” He smiled, and she could see tears dripping off of his chin.

She swallowed, and spoke again, more easily this time. “I thought you were in Spirit City.”

He laughed, rubbing his thumb along her hand. “You really think I'd stay there when they told me what had happened, that you'd set out across the plains with no tent? As soon as I heard that, I called Max. He had heard the news too, and was getting ready to head off to Bradbury Dome, and was more than happy to take me along. I got here in time to see the rescue crew off, but they wouldn't let me stay in the warehouse. Finally got chased out by some crazy mechanic. I wanted to talk to you over the comm, but they said that you were focused, and that distracting you could break that focus, and you might not have enough strength to hang on until they got there.” He smiled, and kissed her fingers. “I knew that was crazy, that nothing I could say would break that iron will of yours, but it didn't matter.”

“glad you're here now,” she whispered, holding his hand to her cheek as she fell asleep again.

“Well, the long and short of it is that you just pushed yourself too hard,” the doctor explained. Dejah was finally able to sit up again, and Nathan sat beside her on the bed.

“First off, the mission even as planned was pretty intense, and we would have insisted on a full checkup when you came back. Then you spent several days on the rover, traveling between twelve and fourteen hours a day, which is dangerous and pretty exhausting. Your health records indicate that you weren't sleeping well during your trip, and that didn't allow your body to recover or refresh itself. Then the rover failed, and you, Ms. Sorenson, did an incredibly stupid thing, and struck out on your own. The hab tent protected you from the environment at night, but that suit wasn't meant for fourteen hour days for weeks on end; it's a miracle you didn't rip it or get a pinhole leak. But it was those last three days that really did the damage. You didn't sleep or eat for nearly seventy two hours, during which time you traveled over twenty kilometers on foot, through temperatures that the suit was not equipped to deal with. You were already dangerously tired, and your body was under nourished for that kind of exertion. But then you developed hypothermia, in part because your body had nothing to burn for fuel but itself. How you managed to stay awake for so long, I'm not sure, but it's damned impressive.” He examined his clipboard for a moment, then continued.

“The long and short of it is that you have sustained some damage. You may not be able to recover the full strength and flexibility you had at one time, but given your good health before the trip, you should be able to continue in your job, with more low key missions. No more long term missions, I think.” He smiled. “Of course, you've made quite a mark with this mission: any more like that, and it might just seem like a death wish.”

Dejah tried to smile, but didn't quite manage it.

“Anyway, I'm going to recommend that you take a leave of absence from your job. Your employers have been asking after you quite a bit, it seems that they are eager to have a press conference to show the world that you are alive and well. I can give you doctor's orders to refuse them as long as you need to. Two weeks further bed rest, then we'll start with some basic physical therapy. I'd recommend three months leave before going back to work, and six before going back to the field. You should be able to leave for your home in Spirit City once the two weeks of bed rest are up, and I'll send your files to the hospital there.”

He left the room, and Nathan lay down on the bed beside Dejah.

She leaned back against the pillows, and asked, “Nathan, have they brought the Phoenix back yet? Did they send the team?”

He nodded. “Yeah, though they said it was just about the last day they could have gone before the cold got too bad. I talked to Eduardo, and he said they never would have found it from the air without that gps unit you attached to it. The Mars Heritage Museum is already working on restoring it, and they'll be opening the museum in about two weeks. They want you to give a speech at the opening. I asked the doctor, and he said you can if you want, but he'd ask you to be in a wheelchair for it.”

“I don't want anyone to see me in a wheelchair,” she responded. “I don't want their pity, I want their respect.”

Nathan sighed, and moved closer to her; even now, he thought, as tired as she is, and she still feels tense and stiff.

“ you mind if I ask you something?”

“What?” she whispered, tracing the delicate lines on his palm with a finger.

“After everything you went through, and everything that you're still going to face, everything the doctor said...was it worth it?”

She was silent for a long time, and he began to wonder if she had fallen asleep, when she finally responded, “Yes. I think so. I'd do it again, if I had to.”

The weeks in the hospital passed slowly. Dejah found herself irritated by her body's need to rest, and the slowness of the recovery process.

The day before the Mars Heritage museum opening, one of the nurses brought her a wheel chair. “Please, Ms. Sorenson. Everyone wants to see the woman who brought back the Phoenix. No one pities you. We all just want to thank you.”

Reluctantly, Dejah allowed herself to be shown how to use the chair, and found that she was glad to have the ability to move around the building by herself.

The morning of the museum opening, Dejah asked Nathan to take her to the museum an hour early. He rented a personal transport, and strapped her wheelchair to the back of it. He carried Dejah from her room to the transport, and carefully settled her in the passenger seat before snapping her seat belt into place.

As he closed the door to go and check the wheel chair mounts, Dejah turned on her wrist comm, and called Charles Stroupe at the museum.

“Scout Sorenson!” he exclaimed when he picked up the call. “I hear that you've accepted our request to be our guest of honor at the opening ceremonies today. I hope you're not going against your doctor's orders or anything, but I have to say that I was thrilled to hear it!”

“Don't worry, the doctor says it's fine, I just have to be careful.” She tried to keep the bitter tone out of her voice. “I have a request, if you don't mind. I'm on my way up there now, and I was wondering if I could get a few minutes alone with the Phoenix before everything gets crazy.”

“Absolutely! I'll talk to security and have them get it all set up.”

“Ok, will they have my name on a list, or do I need to check with someone when I get there?”

He laughed. “Ms. Sorenson, yours is one of the most famous faces on Mars right now, and the most popular face at Mars Heritage. Just show up.”

Nathan pushed Dejah's chair into the room where the Phoenix was displayed, the room Dejah had visited on her previous trip to the Museum. The Lander was proudly displayed on top of the mound of dust, silhouetted against the changing sky.

“thanks,” she whispered to Nathan, squeezing his hand briefly. “Is it ok if I'm alone in here for a few minutes?”

“Of course,” he responded, and kissed her forehead before walking back into the hallway.

Dejah rolled her chair as close to the lander as she could, and looked at it for a long time.

“Well, one of us is looking a lot better than the last time we met,” she said, with a hint of a smile. “I'd come up there to say hi, but I'm trying to save my strength. There's something I have to do later, and I need to make sure that i'll be able to do it.”

She leaned back in the chair and examined the Phoenix in its new home. “I'm not sure if I like this better than where I found you. This is...incredible. Beautiful. It looks the way I've always pictured it. But there's no carbon frost, no wind, no...” she thought for a moment. “there's no Mars here.”

the lander stood silently, and she continued. “I guess this is alright. It really is lovely, and I'm sure you're better off being out of those conditions. Hell, we're both pretty well grounded now.” She gestured to the chair. “No more high flying for either of us old birds, huh? But at least we'll always remember. We'll always remember what it was like to fly.”

She reached down, and let some of the dust from the ground drift through her fingertips. “It's all ashes now, of course. But at least we can remember.'

The ceremonies opened outside, with the guests of honor and presenters seated in a row of chairs along the top of the wide staircase. Dejah looked out over the crowd, wondering how many there were. Surely there were more people here than lived in Bradbury Dome—where had they all come from?

There was a small podium just in front of the Viking 2 memorial, with a microphone and a small ramp that Dejah assumed had been added for her. She shifted uncomfortably in her wheelchair, and watched as a young man took the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to celebrate with us today! My name, as most of you know, is Ares Atkinson, and I am very honored to be standing before you today. In a few moments, the museum, the first museum on Mars, will be open, and we can hardly wait to show it to you. But before we open the museum, there is someone I would like to introduce you to.”

He cleared his throat, and continued. “It had been said that Mars had become safe, not much different than the lunar colonies, or Terra itself. Now, no true Aresian likes to hear that kind of talk, but it was a little difficult to deny these claims. After all, most of us now live in domed cities, able to walk about with little thought of our breathing, something that our predecessors had to be constantly mindful of. Even our greatest exploration companies had settled into doing mostly geological work, and it was said that the golden age of adventure on Mars was over.”

He paused, and the crowd was silent, waiting to hear the denial of these claims.

“Well, a few weeks ago, it was conclusively demonstrated that the spirit of adventure, that burning flame of desire for new knowledge, new sights, new horizons—this spirit was still alive and well in the heart of Aresians! Because one young woman not only took it upon herself to prepare and lead a mission to recover the last Terran probe that lay out on the frozen sands, but refused to turn back, even when everything told her that she should. She left her rigs and crew when they were stalled by a storm, abandoned her own rover when it refused to run, and finally destroyed her own hab tent when it held her back, arriving at the site of the Phoenix Lander with nothing more than a basic survival pack and her exploration suit!”

As he spoke, the crowd began to applaud, and then to cheer; by the time he paused for breath, the audience was in an uproar, shouting and waving at the stage.

“I tell you today that the spirit of adventure, of courage and sheer stubborness that landed us here on these red hills so many years ago—it has not left us, and as long as we have these shining examples before it, it never will! I give you, Dandelion Corporation Scout Dejah Sorenson, the woman who brought the Phoenix home!”

The applause was deafening; it echoed off the stone of the museum, and seemed to bounce off the distant roof of the Dome as well.

Dejah looked at Nathan, seated beside her, and gave a slight, almost secretive smile. Then she grabbed the arm rests of the chair, and pushed herself upward. As she stood, Nathan tried to grab her hand, but she shook her head. “I need to do it this way,” she whispered. Her steps were hesitant, but in a few moments, she was standing at the podium, clutching the sides for support. A sweat broke out on her forehead, but she held her head high.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid that I do not have the Atkinson way with words. I don't have anything fancy to say. But ever since I first set out to bring back the Phoenix, and especially after I came back, it seems like everyone wants to know, why? Why bring back the Phoenix? Why go to such lengths for a bit of history that's as much Terran as Aresian.”

She paused, and looked over the crowd. There have to be at least twenty thousand people here, she thought.

“You know, when I found the Phoenix, it was almost a disappointment. Even though I'd been through hundreds of scenarios, training for how to recover the Phoenix in any state of collapse, I didn't really expect it to look like that. I thought of myself striding confidently over the red dust hills during a purple sunset, and coming across the lander, still standing tall, the way it looks in all of the pictures that we see. Of course, it wasn't like that. It was the middle of the night, I was almost delirious with cold and exhaustion, and the Phoenix didn't look much better than I did. It was hard to take at first, that shock of reality. But in the end, I decided something. I liked it better that way. The Phoenix was broken down because she was really out there on Mars, experiencing the full force of this beautiful deadly world. She was broken because we, the human race, had dared to send her to do something amazing, and that was a beautiful thing in its own right.”

Dejah cleared her throat, and felt her knees beginning to go weak. She spoke a little faster.

“So when you go into the museum today, enjoy it. Appreciate it. Understand the effort it took to get us here. When you see the Phoenix standing tall in there, remember two things: reality requires being broken, and some things are always worth doing, even if you are torn apart in the process. Remember the Phoenix, and live like a true Aresian. Thank you.”

She almost fell backwards into the chair, and felt like she might fall asleep right there, but the slow crescendo of applause reached the stage, and she heard her name being shouted over and over again.

Ares Atkinson took the podium and spoke again, but Dejah didn't hear most of it, just enough to understand that he was extending thanks to the other corporations, scientists, and donors who had made the museum possible. Soon, a large red ribbon over the doors of the museum was cut, and the crowd began to file inside.

Nathan leaned over to Dejah as the rest of the honored guests were ushered out of their seats, and into the front of the museum line. “Do you want to fight the crowds? You seem pretty tired.”

She shook her head. “No, I think that was just about all that I've got left in me. Let's just go back to the hospital.”

nano post 62

The night was long, and the hours blended together, marked only by the silent gradual movement of the stars across the sky. Dejah saw a few satellites blink their way across the field of stars, and once a dust devil whirled into brief existence a few meters away.

Dejah's stomach growled, and she ignored it. It would be at least another day before the air lift could get to her, and it wasn't worth thinking about food that wasn't available.

She kept up her intermittent comments to the Phoenix as she trudged through the star lit landscape. She checked her clock rarely, having discovered that an hour during the night felt much longer than an hour during the day. The far horizon was still hidden by the darkness of the night, but Dejah felt as though it was as far away as it had ever been.

The stars of the early evening had already set, and the later rising stars were already nearing the horizon. Almost imperceptibly, the sky began to brighten in one corner, off to Dejah's right and somewhat behind her. The sky lightened from a perfect black to a deep blue, then a rich purple, a bright lavender, and as the sun peeked over the edge of the world, the sky turned into the familiar salmon color, though the opposite horizon remained a pale violet.

Dejah paused to watch the sun rise slowly, edging up over the horizon bit by bit. Finally, when half of the disc was visible, she turned back to the north, and continued the journey.

The sun was at its zenith, a degree or two above the horizon, when Dejah decided to stop and rest for a few minutes. She spread out the blanket again, and lay down on it. “Can't fall asleep,” she muttered, struggling to keep her eyes open.

She stared up into the sky, letting the warm colors fill her vision. “I still love living on a red world,” she murmured, “a blue and green world would look too cold.”

Dust blew gently in the slight wind, and Dejah ran a gloved hand through the soil, feeling it slip between her fingers. She rolled over onto her side, ignoring the pain in her shoulders, and watched the dust blow along the surface of the ground. Mars looked different from the angle, she decided sleepily. This close to the ground, her eyes just a few inches from the surface, the dust was a mix of fine powder and larger grains. The rocks came in all sizes, from stones the size of her head, to tiny pebbles no larger than the head of a pin. They were scattered unevenly over the landscape, a virtual forest of rocks.

Dejah dug her hands into the soil even deeper, scraping it away. The dust fell back into the hole, but she kept scooping it out. Her fingers dragged easily through the dust, but the tips scraped agaisnt a harder surface below. She quickly scooped out the remaining dust, and looked into the hole. Below her gloved hand, she saw the bright white gleam of water ice, and smiled.

“Knew it was here,” she muttered. “Not that it does me any good, but it's here!” She scraped a few slivers of ice off, and put them in the palm of her glove. They steamed slightly, subliming away into the thin atmosphere.

The white ice patch stood out strongly against the red earth, and Dejah lay there looking at it for several minutes. Then she noticed that her shadow had moved several inches, and quickly got to her feet.

“Crap, I can't lose that much daylight,” she said, brushing the dust from her gloves. She packed away the blanket, and shouldered the pack again.

She checked her position again, and corrected her course slightly to the west. She was relieved to see that the small formations on the horizon seemed nearer than they had the day before, and felt energized by the short rest.

Dodging the ubiquitous rocks, she pushed ahead, determined to reach the Phoenix as soon as possible. Her comm beeped, and she answered, but didn't stop walking,

“Dej, it's Thomas,” she heard the voice echo in her helmet.

“Hey Thomas, what's up? You on your way?”

“Well, there's a team that's just about ready, we finally got the shuttle we needed, and the supplies are being loaded as I speak.” He cleared his throat, and Dejah could tell that he was nervous.

“So what's the problem, then?”

“We can't get there before nightfall, Dej. We asked, we did everything we could, but they simply won't let us get off the ground until tomorrow morning. They said that you took unnecessary risks by leaving the hab tent site, and that they won't risk more lives to get you out of there at night.”

Dejah chuckled, stepping over a large rock in her path. “So they're still playing it safe, huh? Can't say that I'm particularly surprised.”

“Dej, you've gone two days on just a couple of food packs, and you've already spent one night out there. I'm worried about you spending another one out there. You're burning up incredible amounts of energy just walking in that suit, and you're not taking in any fuel. You're heading further north every minute, and winter is still coming. Even with that blanket between you and the ground, it's going to be incredibly cold, and your body's already used up too much energy, it can't burn much more to keep you warm.”

“i know you're worried, Thomas,” Dejah replied, eyes fixed on the horizon ahead. “And i'm not going to pretend it isn't serious. But I want this. I want this chance to get to the Phoenix. I'm so close, I should hit the site tonight. Then I can mark it, maybe even do a little of the extrication work, so a lift team can come pick it up in the next week or two. We can still make this work, as long as I have time to get to the Phoenix. Don't worry about me, just get that team ready to fly first thing in the morning.”

There was silence on the other end for a minute, then she heard a chuckle. “Damn it, Dej, you are the most impossible person I have ever met. I'll let you go now, you need to focus on conserving as much energy as you can, not talking to me. Eduardo and Kruiser say hi, but they're out prepping the team right now.”

“Well, tell them hi for me, and to get their butts up here as soon as they can tomorrow morning.”

“you got it, Sorenson. Take care of yourself.”

“You, too. And don't worry about me. I can't think of anywhere else I would rather be right now.”

The comm went silent, and Dejah turned her eyes back to the far horizon. She judged it to be about twelve kilometers away; the Phoenix site was only ten kilometers distant.

She could feel her body hesitating as she moved forward. “Come on, Dej. You don't have any fuel for your system, but you're not going to let that stop you. Get your butt in gear.”

Her stomach had stopped growling a few hours ago, and knew that her body was now trying to burn fat for energy.

The sun was dipping back towards the horizon again, and Dejah picked up her pace. Easier to dodge rocks by daylight, she thought, stepping over another rock. Her knees ached from avoiding rocks, her ankles were stiff inside the boots, and her toes were bruised from tripping over some of the stones.

She forced her way through three more kilometers before the sun set below the horizon, turning the sky purple. The stars brightened into view, and Dejah stopped to rest again.

As she spread out the blanket, she felt herself moving more slowly than before. It took her nearly five minutes to unfold the blanket and get it spread out on a level area. She lowered herself into a sitting position on the blanket in a daze.

The horizon had disappeared into the black night again, and she felt like she was existing in a dream world. The stars moved slowly across the sky, and a satellite blinked in the distance.

Dejah leaned against the pack, staring at the horizon. “So close,” she muttered. “So to move.”

She could feel her eyelids getting heavier, and blinked, trying to wake up. “Have to get up now...have to get to the Phoenix, it's so close...”

Her eyes closed, and Dejah was asleep on the frozen surface of Mars.

She wandered over the grey Lunar landscape, wondering why she was there instead of in one of the colonial domes. The regolith was grainy and rough, and every footprint sunk deep into the lunar dust. The light was bright, and the sun looked bigger than it did on Mars, though not as warm. The sky was utterly black and she could see hundreds of stars.

Dejah wandered over the rough, pitted landscape, searching for some clue as to why she was there, and how she had gotten there. The craters were plentiful here, and very rough, not the eroded aged craters of Mars. The sun appeared to be at a strange angle, Dejah thought, and realized she must be near one of the poles.

She came upon a large crater wall, and felt herself drawn to it. She climbed it slowly, searching for handholds in the grainy dust. Finally, she reached the top of the crater wall, and looked down into the center. It was a deep crater, she realized, and the center was completely dark. With a shudder, she realized that it was one of the craters near the poles of the moon, whose interiors never saw the sun. some of the coldest places in the solar system, she remembered, colder even than the surface of distant Pluto. She had once flown over the south pole of the moon, and the craters had been the only thing on Luna that had ever terrified her. Something about the cold, she thought, and the never ending darkness inside.

She looked around for a way to get down, to get away from the darkness in the crater, but the walls of the crater had suddenly grown high and steep, too steep to climb down. Confused and frightened, Dejah balanced on the thin edge of the crater, and tried not to look at the center, but kept her eyes searching the outer walls for a way to get down.

Then her foot slipped on the dusty surface, and she felt herself lose her balance, falling down into the crater. She expected to hit the side of the crater, but found herself free falling, down into the dark center of the crater, into the cold frozen heart of the moon.

She woke up screaming, arms flailing to find something to hang on to. She scrabbled in the dust for a few minutes before realizing that it was no longer the grainy grey regolith of the Earth's moon, but the red dust of Mars, turned somewhat purple by the cold light of the stars overhead. She looked up, wildly glancing around, trying to reorient herself.

“A dream,” she gasped, “just a dream. It's ok, Dejah, just let it go. Let it go.” She pried her fingers away from the dirt, and settled back onto the thin blanket. She looked up at the stars, trying to figure out how long she had been asleep. No more than ten minutes, she thought, though she was stiff with cold.

Dejah carefully got to her feet, ignoring the pain of the muscles that had been overworked. She folded up the blanket again, no longer caring to pack it exactly, and stuffed it into the pack.

“Have to keep moving,” she muttered tiredly. “Have to stay warm. Keep moving.”

Step. Step. Step.

Dejah didn't notice the beeping of her comm at first. She put one foot in front of the other, walking with more determination than awareness, hardly noticing the landscape around her. The night was so long, she thought, so long now.

Finally, the beeping of the wristcomm caught her attention, and she checked the device. “Last known site approaching, five hundred meters.” She blinked, not sure she had read the information correctly, and looked again. The message was the same, and she punched a button to pull up the site map.

A satellite image popped up, and she saw a glowing red dot where the Phoenix had last been spotted. The blue dot indicating her own position was close, just south and west of the location.

She felt a burst of adrenaline, and began walking quickly over the ground, trying not to trip over rocks in the dim star light. She picked her way through the stone littered landscape, eyes scanning the way ahead, looking for any sign of the Phoenix. She pressed the button to activate the comm in her helmet.

“Bradbury Dome, this is Scout Sorenson reporting in. Is anyone awake over there?”

“You think we could sleep tonight with you out there on the surface,” said Thomas, his voice sounding tired but alert.

“Thomas! I just got the alert on my wristcomm, I'm nearing the last known location of the Phoenix! It's about...four hundred meters away now. Wish there was a little more light out here, but I don't want to turn on my helmet lamp until I get a little closer.” She squinted into the darkness, looking for any sign of the old Lander.

“Ok, Dej, you've got to keep calm. Don't make any stupid mistakes now, alright?” She could tell that Thomas was more awake now, and grinned as she realized that he was probably almost as excited as she was.

“Dej, if you get yourself killed now because you weren't paying attention, I swear I'm going to come up there and kick your ass myself!” Eduardo's voice joined Thomas' on the comm, and she couldn't help laughing.

“Eduardo! You're awake too? Geez, doesn't anybody sleep there anymore?”

“Well, we're heading out to come get you in about an hour, as soon as the sun rises here. We're getting prepped now, everything has already been loaded up. You just focus on staying alive. Don't you dare dig for the Phoenix by yourself, you don't have a shovel or any of the tools, and if there are sharp edges anywhere on that metal lander, you could rip your suit wide open.”

“Relax, I'm just going to see what the site is like, mark the lander with the gps, and see if I can scoop a little of the loose dirt away. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid enough to think I can pull off a full extrication on my own.” She worked her way through a few large rocks, and turned her eyes back to the wristcomm. Three hundred meters.

The comm was quiet for a while as she made her way forward, eyes constantly looking for any sign of the lander. All she could see was a field of rocks and dust, but she kept pushing forward.

Two hundred meters. The stars kept moving slowly by overhead, and the night was cold. Dejah could feel the adrenaline rushing through her system, and determined to push as far as she could while the rush lasted. One hundred meters, and still no sign of the lander. Several times she thought she saw something that might have been the machine, but it always turned out to be an oddly shaped rock.

Eighty meters. She could feel herself growing tired again as the first rush of adrenaline wore off, and tried to move faster.

Fifty meters. “It says you're getting close, Dej,” she heard Eduardo comment over the comm. “Any signs yet?”

“Nothing that I can see,” she replied, scanning the ground again. So close, she thought, but where the hell is it?

Thirty meters. Still nothing.

Twenty meters.

And then she saw it.

It lay in a pile on the ground, dust half covering it. The camera assembly had snapped off, and lay a meter away, and the solar panels were nowhere to be seen; Dejah assumed that they would be buried under the thick layer of dust, probably in pieces.

She picked her way through the rocks, and approached the Lander.

“It's here,” she whispered. “It's here, but...”

“But what, Dej?”

“I just...didn't expect it to look like this.”

She blinked back tears. Even after all of Eduardo's extrication scenarios, with the Phoenix in various states of collapse, she had still pictured it as it was in the picture on her living room wall. She had still pictured herself coming on the Lander at sunset, with the old machine standing tall and proud, silhouetted against the sun. Seeing it like this, falling apart into the frozen dust, broke her heart.

“Pretty bad, then? Dej, I'm sorry, but you know that was what we expected. It's been there for thirty winters, we knew it would be in bad shape.”

She didn't respond. Her knees buckled, and she fell to the ground.

“Dejah!” she heard the shout in her comm. “Listen, we've got the satellite over you, and it's picking up your health readings. Your heart rate just dropped, and your oxygen intake isn't looking good. Are you alright?”

She propped herself up on her elbows, and took a deep breath. “No, I think i'm probably not.” Dejah pulled herself to her knees, and then to her feet again. “But i'm too close to stop.”

“No! Just wait where you are! The lift is taking off in thirty minutes, we'll be there in a few hours, you've got to conserve your energy! Just spread out the blanket, concentrate on staying awake, and wait for us.”

“No,” she muttered, taking a hesitant step forward, then another. “Too close.”

“Sorenson, sit down now! You've done your job, we can find and mark the Phoenix when we come get you, now stop it with the dramatics.” Thomas' voice was unusually high pitched, and she could hear the sound of the busy warehouse behind him.

“Sorry boys, but I'm not passing this up. Too late to be the first at much else. But I'm damn sure going to be the first one to touch the Phoenix.”

“Dej, the Dandelion higher ups are here, and they've ordered you to stop.”

“Well, you tell them that I only have one thing to say to that kind of talk: 'screw it.'” One meter to go. She could see the pitted surface of the Lander.

“Cut the act, Dejah! You've done it, alright? You've done what you set out to do, and gone far beyond the call of duty on this. You're already a hero. Why is touching the Lander so important to you? You can get your hands all over it when it comes back to the Dome, surely the museum folks will let you in during the restoration process.”

The ground around the lander, Dejah noticed, was covered with a thin layer of frost. The lander was coated in the familiar red dust, but The distant sun glinted sharply off several of its surfaces. She could no longer feel the heaters in the suit, and her skin was numb and cold.

“Eduardo, my grandmother was one of the people who used the original primitive network. She loved it. She had friends all over the world. She followed the progress of this one. She used to tell me stories, about how she would get excited to see what this machine was doing each day, to look at the pictures it sent from hundreds of millions of miles away. When she told about how it was settling in to freeze in 2008, and the messages that were posted about it…she still got tears in her eyes. It meant something to her.”

“You're not serious, you wouldn't push this hard just because your grandmother was a fan of the Phoenix. It's a damned machine, Dej, it can't tell that you're there. Your heart rate is dangerously low, and you can't fight off that cold much longer. You can't get yourself killed over a machine.”

Reaching out a hand, she brushed a bit of dust from the surface of the Phoenix, and felt an electric thrill as her gloved fingers came in contact with the ancient artifact. She smiled as she rested a hand on the cold, ancient metal. “You know what my grandmother used to say, Eduardo? She said the machine was only the place in which the human spirit, human curiosity, and human endeavor dwelt. Here they were, just learning to reach out to each other, but they still wanted the stars. Think of the time and learning and brilliance it took to put this here. And they flung it out into the stars, knowing it would cease, knowing it would die alone on a distant planet…and they did it anyway.”

She dropped to the ground beside the Lander, slumping against the old metal. “They did all that, just on the chance that they might find out something. How can I do any less?”

With a click, she silenced the communicator. She would deal with Bradbury Dome in a minute. She caressed the metal, and smiled.

“We came back for you, Phoenix.” She brushed more of the dust off of the Lander, and watched it fall to the ground, covering the frost with a layer of cinnamon.

“I guess we make a pretty crazy pair, huh?” she mumbled to the Lander, trying to keep herself awake, and still fighting the tears. “Here I pictured myself coming up over the horizon and finding you standing proud, just waiting. Instead, you're in a million pieces, I could barely even see you through the dust. And here I am, falling apart myself, legs cramping, back aching, shoulders burning, and I can't even dig you out, much less bring you home.”

She felt the tears beginning to slide down her cheeks, and tried to hold them back—the moisture filters in the helmet were equipped to deal with breath, but not tears.

“I wanted to be here more than anything,” she sobbed. “But I just didn't think it would look like this.”

She subsided into silence, and leaned against the cold metal of the lander, no longer caring if the cold chilled her through the suit.

In a daze, she checked her wristcomm. The clock read four tweny five; at least another six hours until the air lift team could come. She thought about just lying down on the dust and falling asleep, but a tiny flame of sheer determination still burned in her soul, and she struggled to stay upright and awake.

She finished brushing the dust from the surface of the Lander, and smiled as she swept the soil from the soil sample analyzer at the front of the Lander, and patted it affectionately. “Good old TEGA,” she murmured. She ran her gloved fingers over the container which she knew contained the names of a quarter million Terrans, fans of space exploration who had sent their names to Mars since they themselves had been earthbound. “Thanks for your faith in us,” she whispered. “We did get here in the end. Because you kept on dreaming, kept on trying.” She cleaned the area as best as she could, and attached the GPS signaller.

She found the robotic arm assembly; it seemed to be intact, but was locked in the frozen soil, and would need a full extrication effort to free it.

Dejah didn't have the energy to move to the far side of the Lander, but she tried to scoop away some of the loose dust from around the sides of the Phoenix. The dust was crusted with frost, but it broke away easily.

Finally, even that small effort was too much, and she let herself rest against the Phoenix. She punched the button to turn her comm back on.

“Sorry about that, but I just needed some time alone.”

There was silence on the other end of the comm.

“Is anyone still there?” she asked, wondering how many of the crew in the warehouse had gone on the flight to rescue her.

“Sorry, Sorenson,” came a familiar voice. “Took me a minute to get over here, I was trying to fix an engine on one of those damn rigs.”

“Kruiser! Where is everyone else?”

“They left a few hours ago, and let me tell you, you gave them a hell of a scare. Honestly, I think they're expecting to find you dead. If they do, I will track down your ghost and kick its ass, you got that?”

She couldn't help laughing, and nodded. “Do my best. Getting pretty sleepy though, I don't know how much longer I can stay awake.”

“Oh no you don't! That crew is on their way to you right now, and they have busted their asses to get you out alive. They gave you the chance to be a hero, to get to the Phoenix, and damn it, you did it! But now you'd rather just lay down and die after living your dream, and deny them the chance to be heroes, too? To hell with that! You hang on, and you give the chance to be the damn cavalry, and save the damn day. Now wake up!”

Dejah tried to hold her eyes open. “Ok, ok, I'll do my best. But it's getting awfully cold out here, and I haven't slept or eaten in two days, Kruiser. You gotta keep talking to me.”

She heard the clang of a tool in the background, and Kruiser muttered a curse. “Hell, Dej, I'm no good at talking. Besides, any of these official comms get recorded so I gotta try to keep it clean, you know? Especially now that you've gone and made it all historically important.”

“Just keep talking, Kruiser. Just keep going.” She stifled a yawn.

“Hey, none of that yawning! You've just got to hang on for three hours, and if you can't do that, I don't give a damn how much you did to get there. If you can't stay awake for a frakking three hours, that makes you a lightweight in my book.”

“Hey, now, that's not fair!”

“That's just the way it is, deal with it.”

“fine.” She tried to stand, but fell back to the ground. “Ouch. Ok, so standing didn't work. Just gonna have to sit here, I suppose.” She shifted herself back onto the blanket, and leaned against the lander. “it's not so bad here, you know, just me and the Phoenix.”

“Tell me what it's like there,” he said, “and remember this is for posterity, so be all fancy and everything.”

She laughed. “Damn, you know I'm no good with words. But it's pretty here. The sun isn't up yet, but I'll probably start seeing the sky get lighter in an hour. Right now the sky is all black, with thousands of stars. I could see jupiter earlier tonight, but it's under the horizon now. There's carbon frost all over everything, and it kind of sparkles, though there's not much light. Everything looks a little bit purple, instead of red, because of the starlight. All the shadows are a deep inky black, and I can't see the horizons at all.”

“What about the Lander itself? They said that you reported that it was in pretty bad condition.”

Dejah blinked again, feeling herself falling asleep again. “Um...yeah. It's pretty bad. The camera is snapped off, and the solar panels are gone, I think they're buried. I don't know what condition the legs are in, but they might be broken too. The Lander itself is half buried, and the robotic arm is completely frozen in the ground. It's all covered in dust and frost, and the surfaces are all pitted from wind and dust.”

Kruiser kept prodding her for information, describing the state of the Phoenix, and plotting extrication techniques that might be useful in retrieving the lander. Dejah occasionally nodded off, but a shout from Kruiser woke her again.

“the sun's coming up now,” she said sleepily. “There's a little patch of purple off to the southeast, and there's not as many stars there as there were before. It's pretty.”

“I bet it is. Just keep hanging on, Sorenson, that flight crew is on their way. Just hang on a little longer.”

“Do my best.”

The sun came up slowly, skidding across the horizon, and Dejah gasped as the light hit the carbon frost. The landscape glittered like gems had been sprinkled over the surface, the light catching every crystal of frost and making it shine.

“Wish you could see this, Kruiser,” she whispered, almost asleep. “Looks like the top of the biggest sugar cookie you ever saw.”

“Sounds tasty, but I think I'll pass. Wake up, Dejah!”

his shout barely roused her from her sleep, and her eyes began to close again. “Sorry, Kruiser...Did my best...Can't hold on any more.”

“No, damn it, you stay with me! You frakking stay with me!”

“Can't do it...really did try though...tell the boys they're heroes to me anyway...” Her eyes fluttered, and slowly closed.