The Other Side
My sister’s face fills the screen of my device that I am holding on my lap. I’m sitting in my armchair in my apartment, it’s the weekend, I’ve just had a leisurely breakfast and I am relaxing and letting it settle before going on down to the gym.
“Hi, Amy,” she says, and she beams into the camera. For a moment suddenly she looks just like our mother.
“Well, I’m on my way! We left Moon Base a week ago and we’re racing towards you now.”
Inching, rather, considering the distance the ship has to travel.
“There are loads of contestants on the ship, and officials and all that. It feels just like an actual event. Although there are some normal people on board too.” She gives a broad smile. I can’t remember seeing her in such a good mood.
“We train in the hub, every day. They shut the wheel down in the mornings to let us out, and they’ve got a training sphere in the hub, it’s just like a proper venue; bit smaller; actually quite a lot smaller; and we can train there all day till they let us back into the wheel in the afternoon. We have meals out there and everything.”
Doesn’t that mean the other contestants will see what she proposes to do at the competition? She knew I would say that.
“We’re all just practising technique at the moment,” she goes on. “There’ll be plenty of time to work out our routines when we get to Callisto. Assuming the venue is finished when we get there. You might want to chivvy them along if you see them.”
Just kidding. She flashes a smile.
“Nearly everyone here is from Earth, and they have the biggest adjustment: you know that. To weightlessness. I’ve been on the Earth too, all this time; that is, I’ve been up to the Moon a few times, for a couple of meets, and for training; but apart from that I’ve been on Earth for nearly a year now, and I feel strong, Amy. I’ve never been so strong. Look.”
She stands up and holds her device to show me her legs, and I gasp when I see her muscles. There is a mound just above each knee, on the inside of the legs; a long mound all the way down the inside of each calf; and a kind of platform of muscle all across the fronts of her upper legs. I realise she is flexing her muscles to show me; but still. I remember the way she has always looked before, never mind my own matchsticks, and I am very impressed.
“Now I need to learn how to use this in free fall,” she tells me, taking her seat again. “I’ve been working with the girls from Earth and learning from them, and now I have the whole voyage to put it together. But I can tell you, I’m looking forward to getting back to some normal gravity!”
She smiles again. I can imagine it. Even an exceptional athlete like Lucid Thought is bound to find it strenuous. Day in, day out, always so much heavier than she’s used to, for so long a time.
“How are you doing on Callisto, Amy? How are you finding it, and how are you settling in? I admire you, you know, for going there all on your own. It’s easy for me, I’m surrounded by the same kind of people I have around me all the time; but you, you’re doing something really special. Let me know, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.”
“Well, I’m going to close and send this off to you now. I have a party to go to! Before you ask, there’s alcohol-free fruit punch, which I tried this afternoon, and it’s delicious. Hey, I’m looking forward to seeing you soon, Amy. You can show me all around Callisto. See you soon! Bye!”
And the screen goes blank again.
What has made my sister send me such a nice, such a thoroughly nice message? I am amazed.
Show her around Callisto. There’s not much to show her. A few bars and the gym, that’s pretty much it. There’s a kind of café on that central square, where I arrived on the first day, with tables where you can sit outside. Obviously not really outside; but you’re sitting in that central concourse with people passing you in all directions.
As for Callisto itself, I still haven’t seen it, not since my arrival. My space suit has been hanging at the back of my wardrobe, unused, since that day. I would like to have a look around the planet, but it’s not so easy to arrange. I can’t expect people to put on a tour for me.
I’ve agreed a follow-up meeting with Vladimir and Robert, and I go there straight from home on the morning of the meeting. This time we are gathering at their offices, not those of the bank. I haven’t been there before, but it’s easy to find. I know my way around the colony pretty well by now.
When I enter the room the only one I recognise is Robert. Vladimir is not here, and neither are the two bankers that I met last time, and with Robert are two young men who are very obviously not from Earth. He introduces them.
“Suresh is my head accountant.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“And Beneficent Giver is in charge of logistics.”
“Ben. Nice to meet you.”
We shake hands and take our seats. It’s an odd room, not really a meeting room at all. There’s a desk pushed up against one wall, doing service as a kind of sideboard; no table; and several chairs of assorted styles, both office chairs on wheels and conference chairs on legs, in which we sit and hold our devices and any papers on our laps. Everything made of plastic and printed here on Callisto, like all the furniture here.
It transpires that Suresh and Ben both work for Robert alone, not the joint venture with Vladimir, but their resources are being placed at the disposal of the joint venture, to an extent, and in a fashion, which I feel that I need to explore and understand better.
We have just started when the door opens again and the two bankers walk in.
“Apologies for being late,” one of them says as we all stand up and shake their hands. Robert seems impatient at the interruption and puts a question to me before we have all sat down again.
For the first part of the meeting I do what I had expected to do and have prepared for, which is to report back on the questions that remained open last time and that I promised to look into. I know that I have done this diligently, and I am glad to see that Robert thinks so too. Suresh and Ben are not up to speed on all aspects and I have to go back and fill in the gaps for them. They listen attentively and take notes, asking the occasional question that shows that they are really thinking about this; and it is interesting that Robert is not at all impatient while this is going on. Clearly he understands that this has to happen, it’s part of his plan, and he is content to observe me doing it.
At one point Suresh has made a note, glances across to Ben and makes a comment, something about the harmony of the path, and Ben nods; and it’s such an odd thing to say that I furrow my brow. Robert catches my eye; but neither of us comments, and we move on.
Now I want to return to the question that presented itself to me at the beginning of this meeting.
“Can we talk about how the venture is going to be resourced, please?” I say, and I am looking at Robert.
“What do you mean?”
“Well. These two gentlemen, for instance,” I say, and I gesture towards Suresh and Ben. “They’re both on your staff, and they head groups, or functions, within your organisation. But they’re also working for the joint venture, and they’re responsible for the same functions there. How is that, you know, delineated?”
Suresh looks as though he wants to respond to that, and Robert lets him.
“On an as-needed basis, Miss Amiable Friend,” he says. “Our business is project-driven. Sometimes we’re busy on one thing, sometimes we’re busy on another thing. Sometimes we’re not busy at all.”
“Okay, I understand that,” I say: “you respond to the needs of the moment. What happens with costs?”
He looks blank at that, and I explain that I am asking how costs are allocated between the projects.
“Well, obviously,” he replies, “if we’re working on a particular project, any costs are allocated to that project.”
“What if you’re busy on two projects at once?”
“Well, then we have to allocate the costs on a reasonable basis between those projects.”
“Exactly, that’s what I mean,” I say, and I elaborate on the need for clearly defined procedures for doing that.
They don’t seem to have any of those, as far as I can make out. Suresh certainly does allocate costs between projects, both direct costs and overheads, but he seems to make up his mind ad hoc how to do that, based on what seems to him at the time to be the most reasonable method.
I try to explain that they won’t be able to do this in future if the joint venture is quoted on the stock exchange. It’s all very well working informally like this as a matter of internal accounting and information management, but if we’re talking about allocating costs and other items between Robert’s own ventures and the publicly traded one, it’s a very different matter.
“Look, I’m not criticising the way you allocate costs,” I say, because I am starting to feel a little pressured. “I’m not accusing you of anything. Far from it. I’m sure you do a very professional job in accounting for more than one project. All I’m saying is, once a quoted company is involved, you’re going to need clear rules.”
They exchange glances across the room: Suresh, Ben and Robert.
They’re not getting it.
I’m not so sure that Robert isn’t getting it, in fact. Maybe he does get it, and it’s dawning on him that this is another aspect of that surrender of control that we talked about last time.
“Then there’s another point,” I say. “The joint venture needs to have certainty of access to the resources it needs, when it needs them. It can’t be left waiting because some of its people are busy working for another company.”
“So are you saying nobody can work for another company?” Ben asks.
“No! No, I’m not saying that at all. But there have to be rules. There’s a conflict of interest, and it has to be managed.”
They all look at each other, and there is a pause. One of the bankers clears his throat.
“Should the compliance associated with maintaining a listing prove too burdensome,” he says, “there are always alternatives. The more familiar sources of finance.”
“Borrowing from you?” Robert asks, with just a little derision in his voice.
“Or venture capital, or other forms of subordinated financing,” the banker counters.
Which they can arrange, naturally.
The female banker joins in.
“The difference is that you have a direct relationship with your financier,” she says. “So you can talk directly about any of these issues when they come up, and work out a sensible approach.”
Robert nods, slightly dismissively. He registers what the two of them are saying, and clearly knows very well, from experience, what she is talking about; and he knows, or I hope he does, that a direct financier can be just as obnoxious about disputed matters such as cost allocations.
I do think the bankers might have backed me up, rather than setting themselves up as an alternative.
Robert draws this segment of the meeting to a close.
“What I want us to do,” he says to his two employees, “is to work out what kind of rules and procedures we are going to need. Miss Amiable Friend, will you be available if these guys have any questions?”
“Of course. Any time.” They have my contact details.
“Thank you.” He turns to Suresh and Ben again. “Can I have a first draft, please, by, let’s see, a week from today. Doesn’t have to be worked out in all the details. I want to understand the minimum we have to satisfy, so that we can maintain as much flexibility as possible around it.”
That’s not really the correct approach, to treat it as a set of boxes to tick, a lot of stupid rules to pay lip service to. You have to set up your systems in the spirit of the rules.
But I don’t say anything.
I have a bad feeling. Instead of winning clientele for the new exchange, I feel that I am putting them off.
But you can’t be cavalier about accounting when you have a listed company; you just can’t.
I am more silent than usual as the male banker asks Robert how the project is going on the ground, and instantly Robert’s enthusiasm returns.
I listen with great interest, because I don’t know very much about what they are actually doing in the joint venture, in a practical sense; everything I have heard up to now has been quite abstract. Robert talks about their activities, construction and other things, and it seems that they are further advanced than I had expected, and I’m surprised. I get the impression, though, that it’s not all the joint venture: some of it is Robert’s own ventures, and possibly Vladimir’s as well, and I can see that delineation issues of the same sort are going to present themselves here too.
There’s a large site under construction over on the other side of the planet. Robert and Ben both go out there frequently, it appears, and they were there together a few days ago and are able to describe how it’s progressing.
Robert sees how I’m listening and breaks off.
“You should go out and have a look,” he says.
“Oh, I’d love to do that,” I say, and nearly clap my hands in girlish enthusiasm, but manage to restrain myself.
After the meeting we all disperse. Suresh and Ben go back to their desks; the bankers return to their office; and I make my way towards Shanghai Exchanges. Robert has a lunch to go to and walks with me for a short way.
He is in a good mood, and is both relaxed and at the same time full of energy. His voice echoes as we cross the wide central concourse in the main pod of the colony, and I can see people’s heads turning all the way across it.
He must realise that everybody can hear him; but for some reason he just doesn’t mind. I walk alongside, smiling and nodding at his banter, and I cringe inwardly and hope that he doesn’t talk about anything confidential or embarrassing.
We reach the parting of our ways at the edge of the concourse, and stand there for a moment while Robert finishes what he is saying and ends with a great laugh.
“I’m going out there again in a few days,” he adds, meaning that construction site. “Would you like to come along? You ought to see what your job’s all about.”
And it’s true: all these rules and procedures, and legal drafting, and accounting, and IT, all these things that I spend my working days thinking about and dealing with, they would all be completely pointless without companies like Robert’s, for which the whole elaborate system is being set up.
So we arrange a date and a time and a meeting place, which I put straight into my diary on my device. I’m sure Dr Chan won’t object, though I do tell Robert that I’ll ask him.
Before that excursion happens, I run into both Suresh and Ben again, in a private capacity.
Ben first. We have gone for after work drinks in one of the nearby bars. Jack and several of the others have come; not Percy this time; and very unusually, Mr Silva has come with us. He sits on a bar stool and drinks a bloody Mary through a straw, leaning with his elbow on the counter.
I have long ceased to drink the beer, and I’m having my usual glass of white wine. On Mars we have real vines, genetically modified to adapt to Martian conditions, growing in vast hydroponic enclosures that work as greenhouses when the sun is shining, and are shielded from the bitter cold the rest of the time.
I don’t think they have vines on Callisto. This wine must be made from something else; but it’s quite convincing, whatever it is, and doesn’t taste at all bad.
Ben enters the bar on his own and is making his way towards a group of Callistoans in another part of the room when he notices me and comes across to say hello.
We shake hands, and I introduce him to the others, though I get the impression that he knows at least some of them.
“So you’re all from Earth?” he says. “Apart from you, Amy. I’m from Mars myself originally.”
“I thought you probably were,” I say. “Have you been here long?”
“Nine years.” On Callisto that always means Earth years. Callistoan years, Jovian years, are so long that no one would think of using them to count in.
“Will you have a drink, Ben?” Jack asks him. Ben glances across at his friends and says, “Okay, thanks; I’ll have one.”
As he drinks his beer we compare notes on Mars. We haven’t a great deal in common, in fact: he grew up a long way from Mars City, has never been to Frobisher, in fact I’m not sure that he has even heard of it, and he came out here at the age of twenty-two because he thought it would be an exciting thing to do.
“I had no idea that I would get into logistics,” he tells me. “I thought I was going to pilot light spacecraft.”
“Reality is a bit more mundane?” I say, and I grin.
“Certainly is. I do get to fly our craft at work sometimes, though.”
We’re still chatting when I see Percy across the room, and Suresh with him. Seeing Suresh here, outside work, I suddenly realise that I have seen him before on an evening like this.
They catch sight of us and squeeze through the crowd towards us.
“Hi, Ben, fancy seeing you here,” Suresh says.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Ben replies.
“About half an hour?” says someone, and we all laugh.
“That’s about right.”
The two of them squeeze into our little group and Suresh orders drinks from the barman. They stand with their backs to the counter next to Mr Silva on his bar stool; I am sitting on the other bar stool a step or two away from the counter; and the others are standing together in a knot between us. I see Mr Silva smiling benevolently at the new arrivals. A sudden thought comes to me, that hadn’t occurred to me before: are Suresh and Percy together?
Ben’s friends have seen him standing over here with us and they give him a wave. He raises his glass to them and looks at me.
“You want to go to your friends,” I say.
“Well, yes, I do,” he agrees.
Jack has heard us.
“Off you go, then,” he says. “See you later.”
I look at them both enquiringly.
“Yeah, see you later,” says Ben, and he nods to us all before starting off with his beer in his hand to cross the room. We all say goodbye, and several of the others add “See you later” or “See you there”.
“Oh, is it one of those late bars that you go to afterwards?” I ask Jack after Ben has gone.
“That’s right,” he says, and he catches the eye of Mick, another of the analysts from Shanghai Exchanges.
“I ought to come with you one of these evenings,” I reflect. I seem to be missing out on an important slice of Callistoan nightlife.
“Not this time,” says Jack, and I look at him, showing my surprise at how firmly he says this. It seems almost rude.
“Why?” I ask. The others are listening.
“You wouldn’t like this place,” says Jack, and he glances at them.
“Well, you can’t know that,” I say. “Maybe I would. What’s it like?” I smile at them. Actually I don’t especially want to go out again tonight, I’m just teasing, really. But I am a little curious too.
“You wouldn’t like it,” he repeats.
“Maybe I would.” I’m repeating myself too. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Amy. You wouldn’t like it.” He’s looking straight at me, and I’m abashed and a little uncertain at how serious he suddenly is. I look at him, and at the others. I’m not sure how to react.
“How do you know?” I ask, trying to mask my uncertainty. “Why can’t I come with you? Is it just for men, or what?” I look around the group, appealing for some kind of help here.
“Well, it’s not exactly men only,” Mick says, and they look past me and smirk at each other.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what’s going on.
Mr Silva clears his throat in the silence of the group.
“Personally,” he says, “I’ll be at home watching a movie.” He smiles at me and takes a sip through his straw.
“What are you going to see?” Suresh asks him, and the conversation moves on to discussing recent releases. Mr Silva reveals himself as a great admirer of an American actress who was something of a sex kitten when she was younger, but has matured into a classical cineastic diva, reminiscent of the great days of Hollywood two centuries ago.
I think I’m beginning to guess what kind of bar they were talking about, and I’m annoyed with myself for appearing to be so naïve. Also for not realising before now that, of course, Callisto would have that kind of offering.
I’m rather quiet now. I’m listening to the conversation, but not really taking part. I find that I am seeing my colleagues in a slightly different light, and at the same time I’m wondering whether I am being fair to them.
Mr Silva makes an effort to engage me. He really is a very thoughtful and kind man.
“I love Soraya Razavi,” he confides in me, another famous actress, and after the previous discussion I can see why. She is from Mars, and usually I’m nervous when the conversation turns to Martian celebrities because I am expecting that people will want to talk about Lucid Thought; but I’m not worried about that on this occasion. Mr Silva understands.
I saw one of Soraya’s recent films, not her most recent one, shortly before I left Mars. Mr Silva has seen it too, of course, and we discuss it for a while. He knows a great deal more about it than I do, including aspects of it that I have never even thought of: the photography, the cinematurgy, the interpretation. It turns out that he is quite an expert on a certain kind of film. I think he likes films that are beautiful, visually or otherwise, and also films that have a certain melancholy.
Nobody else is interested in this discussion. Mr Silva and I talk together in a little private space, while around us the others have moved on to different topics altogether, and are becoming more boisterous. Mr Silva likes to touch the arm of the person he is talking to; not all the time: just to emphasise what he is saying, from time to time. I find that I’m really enjoying talking to him. It’s tempting to smile at his idiosyncrasies and regard him as a bit of a joke, but that is very unjust.
I’ve moved my stool up closer to his and can even reach the counter to put my empty glass down without getting up. I don’t want another.
As I am just straightening up, somebody lurches into me from behind, causing me to double up on my stool. I turn and see Mick recovering his balance.
“Sorry, Amy,” he says, briefly, and turns back to the hilarious conversation he is having. I think it’s time for me to go home.
Mr Silva has had the same thought.
“See you all in the morning,” he says to the group. “Except you, Suresh. Have a good time, everyone! Yes. Don’t be too late!”
“See you in the morning,” I echo.
“Oh, are you both going?” asks Jack.
Mr Silva looks at me and his eyes twinkle.
“Yes, we’re leaving together,” I say.
“We’re leaving at the same time,” Mr Silva corrects me, and he smiles.
Nobody will think that we are really leaving together.
Mr Silva walks with me for the first part of my short journey home. I’m not sure where he lives, but I assume it’s not far from my apartment.
We walk down the darkened passageways. Outside it is daytime, as I happen to know, but the lighting in the colony simulates the days and nights on Earth, entirely decoupled from what is actually happening on the surface.
The passages are deserted, although it’s not late. Mr Silva is making conversation.
“I hear you’re going out to Mount Henrietta,” he says.
I look at him.
“Robert Georghiou’s mine,” he explains.
“Oh, is that what it’s called?” I don’t think that’s what Robert called it.
“That’s what the place is called, yes,” he says.
We walk on for a few more steps.
“Yes, I’m going out there in a couple of days.” He must have seen it in my calendar. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
He glances at me.
“You haven’t been to the other side before?”
“Mr Silva, I haven’t even been outside the colony since I got here.” And now I’m going to visit the other side of Callisto. I’m going to see Jupiter from the ground.
“Well, that’ll be quite some first trip. Yes. And you’ll see one of our mines. That’s what Callisto is all about.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Are you interested in the technical side?”
“I don’t really know anything about it,” I confess. “I hope I won’t be too stupid.”
“I’m sure they’ll explain it all very clearly. Do you know who you’re going to meet?”
“No, I’ve no idea.” I assume Ben will be coming with us; I’ve got the impression that he and Robert generally go out there together; but I have no idea who else will be there. Presumably there are people there all the time, but I don’t know who they are.
We walk on a little in silence.
“He’s an unusual man, isn’t he?” Mr Silva observes.
I look across at him, and don’t reply. I wonder why he said that.
We reach the point where our paths separate and stand there for a moment.
“Good night, Miss Amiable Friend. See you in the morning.”
“See you in the morning. Enjoy your film. Good night.”
A group of men approaches, seemingly a little drunk; I wait for them to pass and then turn into my corridor. Mr Silva continues down the way we had been coming, behind the receding backs of those young men. The sounds subside as I walk down my corridor with its echoless acoustics. My door slides open and I am home.
Two days later I leave my apartment very early in the morning and walk down towards the main concourse in my space suit, with my helmet in my hand and a rucksack on my back. Even I know not to take a handbag on a trip like this.
There are very few people about. The concourse is empty as I bound gracefully across it; for some reason I am more conscious now of this low-gravity style of moving, than when it’s full of people crossing it and avoiding bumping into one another.
I reach the transit hall on the other side and walk in. I haven’t been in here since the day I arrived on Callisto. It’s like everything else here: spartan, functional, no atmosphere.
Robert is waiting for me. He stands up when he sees me and turns to greet me. His eyes appraise what I am wearing, from neck to boots and back again, and there is a hint of a smile on his lips as he turns away to pick up his own rucksack.
“Right then,” he says, “let’s go,” and he swings his rucksack over one shoulder.
“Yes?” He stops.
“Oh – I thought someone else would be coming too.”
“No,” he says, with a lift of his voice at the end, as if wondering why I would think that.
Is that an alarm bell?
The moment of decision passes. I follow him to the airlock, he stands aside to let me precede him and he follows me inside. We put on our helmets, and he checks mine for me to ensure that it’s properly fastened. Really not necessary.
We wait as the airlock is drained of air. The light is reflecting off the visor of Robert’s helmet so that I can’t see his face. Another light comes on above the entrance, a warning light, to tell us not to remove our helmets; at first flashing, then shining constantly, red and obtrusive.
The outside door slides open. In streams the twilight of Callisto’s day. Grey rocks, shadows, gloom.
Robert strides ahead. No point in letting me precede him through this door, since I have no idea where to go.
Several vehicles are parked here; it’s the same set-up as back at Frobisher, when my parents met me from the shuttle to drive me to their home. We pass a line of buggies, turn a corner, and approach a closed vehicle, larger than most, parked beside a rock face a couple of metres high. Robert opens the door and lets me climb into the front.
There is one long seat at the front, long enough for the driver and two passengers. Behind it is a large open space all the way back to the hatch at the other end of the vehicle. Clearly it’s designed for transporting objects rather than people. It’s empty at the moment, except that there is a metallic sack lying on the floor and various other items of debris. It looks rather untidy, even shabby.
Robert climbs in on the other side and straps himself in. He starts the engine and begins to manoeuvre the buggy out of the vehicle park.
“Does this belong to the company?” I ask him.
“Yes, it does; why?” he replies, turning to look over his shoulder as he reverses briefly.
“Oh, no reason. Is that worth it?”
He glances at me.
“Not if it was just to go to the space craft,” he says. “But we use it to drive around too. We have installations within driving distance.”
“Oh, okay.” I settle down and let him drive.
Robert has manoeuvred the vehicle into the position that he wants and we move forward, round a corner, and into the open. We pick up speed. We’re travelling more quickly than the buggy that met me on my arrival, and it’s not very comfortable: wheels repeatedly leave the ground, individually, and descend slowly on to it again; the suspension catches us and pushes us back up; and so we bounce in slow motion, erratically, across Callisto’s surface away from the colony. I hope it’s not far to the spacecraft.
The Sun is higher in the sky than when I arrived, but it’s still very dark compared to a Martian day. All around is the landscape that I remember, pitted and shattered everywhere from aeons of bombardment by meteorites from space, and grey and forbidding. There is little shadow, but the light is very pale, very weak. Somebody told me, one of the Earthlings, that it always made him think there was going to be a storm.
I notice a few scattered spacecraft off to either side, at some distance, but we ignore them and continue on our way between craters and shattered rocks: too fast, really. Robert jerks the wheel this way and that way to steer our course, I am flung to either side as the vehicle reacts, and at one point we actually skid sideways for a metre or two across some scree on a level surface running up to the edge of a crater. I’m really not sure that Robert’s driving skills justify his speed.
We arrive in the end without any damage to the vehicle or to ourselves. Robert stops the buggy, gets out and walks around to my side, where I am already waiting, glad to get out. He has parked it next to an outcrop of rock, and on the other side of that is his spacecraft, green and silver with the logo of his holding company on its sides. It’s cylindrical and pretty much symmetrical, a little taller than it is wide, and very different in appearance from the craft that transported me down here from the ship. It‘s standing on three short legs, raising it a metre or so above the ground, and there’s a door in the side, closed at the moment, with some retractable steps that were evidently lowered from the craft last time it landed.
We bound across to it, and I wait while Robert makes the door open with his device. He climbs up the steps first and has to duck to get inside: he is quite tall for an Earthman, though he’s still shorter than me. I follow him up, holding on to the rail, and pass through the door into the cabin.
The steps continue on the inside, presumably because behind the walls on either side of them is the fuel tank. I walk up and emerge on to the floor of the upper half of the craft. Robert is already sitting on one of those reclinable seats that is mounted near the centre of the cabin, not reclining at the moment, though, and he is typing at a keyboard on a console in the very centre. Rails in the floor around it suggest that the seat, and probably the console too, can be moved in a full circle to allow whoever is sitting there to face in any direction.
Other seats are around the edge of the cabin, similar to the arrangement in the space elevator back on Mars, and behind and above them the wall of the craft is transparent so that its occupants have a view in all directions except up and down. Robert gestures to me.
“Take a seat and strap yourself in,” he instructs me. “Anywhere you like. You can take your helmet off now.”
I choose a seat and start to fasten the belts around my waist and my shoulders.
“Better lie down for take-off.”
“Okay,” I say, and I do so, having first searched for the right lever to make the seat recline. I fold my hands on my stomach and look up at the roof with a feeling like waiting for the dentist to tell me to open wide. If I turn my head I can see Robert finishing off whatever he is doing on the keyboard and then turning his seat ninety degrees to look past the console and directly towards me, as it happens, before making it slowly recline.
“You’re lying down too?” I say, surprised.
“You haven’t been in one of these before, have you?” he replies. “The pilot doesn’t have to do anything at all during take-off or during most of the flight. I put in the destination, and the craft itself works out the trajectory and flies along it.”
“The craft does that too. But I’ll be watching, just in case.”
“Have you ever had to intervene?”
“Very rarely,” he says. “There might be another craft nearby; but normally they talk to each other and keep out of each other’s way. Really it’s in case there’s something on the ground that I can see better than the craft can. Oh. Here goes!”
There is a roaring sound and a vibration beneath me, and a pressure all along my back and my whole body that rapidly mounts and seems to be squashing me into the seat, though in fact the seat is being squashed against me. It is much stronger than the pressure in the space elevator, and stronger than in the craft that brought me here.
Neither of us speaks while this is going on. I try to relax and let my body take the strain, looking up at the ceiling again and hoping it won’t go on for long.
At last the pressure does subside. Evidently we have reached our cruising speed. I can hear Robert unclipping his belts, and turning to look I see him moving his seat to the upright position.
“You should have a look,” he says. “It’ll be quite spectacular soon.”
I press the lever and wait as the back rest pushes me upright.
“You can get out of your seat,” he tells me, and indeed he has already done so himself. I unbuckle and join him at the side of the craft, looking out.
We are passing at high speed over the surface, which looks much the same in all directions except for the colony which I can see in the distance behind us.
“It’s quite a view,” I say.
“Wait and see,” he says, and gives me a look.
The Sun is high in the sky, tiny and pale, and sinks gradually as we travel. Around it the sky is black, and I see stars everywhere. Callisto has almost no atmosphere.
We continue to fly. Time stretches, and I am beginning to wonder why Robert wanted me to stand up. He offers to get me a coffee after a while, and I accept gratefully: it’s still early, but I have been up for a long time.
Gradually the surface below us is becoming darker, and I can see shadows behind the taller ridges and scarps, stretching in the direction of our travel. We are flying into the night.
In the end I sit down again with a second cup of coffee, but I am still looking out of the windows around, though I can’t see the ground from here.
Finally Robert calls me.
“It would be good to get up now,” he says.
I get up and cross the floor to where he is standing. Below us the ground is black, and above and all around us the sky is black and filled with stars. The only light in the cabin is from the console behind us.
Then Robert makes a gesture, and I look in the direction that he is showing me. Above the horizon ahead of us, slowly, Jupiter rises, that big red disc that I saw on the screen sitting in Ella’s seat back on the ship, but now visible in reality.
More and more of it crosses the line of the horizon, lifting slowly into the sky. We are flying straight towards it. It is a majestic sight: huge and luminous and dominant in the night sky.
“You can only see this in flight,” Robert explains. “On the ground, Jupiter always has the same position in the sky.”
“Are we in a stationary orbit?”
His voice, when he replies, reveals his amusement, but his words are polite.
“No. Callisto travels all the way around Jupiter, so we see all aspects of it over the course of a Callistoan day.”
“If we’re on this side of the planet.”
“Yes.” He leans against the back of the nearest seat; I am leaning on a narrow ledge, a kind of windowsill, running all the way around the cabin along the underside of the window. We are standing next to each other and look out together.
“It’s very bright,” I remark.
“It’s about ten times as bright as the full Moon on Earth,” he informs me.
“Is it really?”
“That probably doesn’t mean anything to you. You’ve never been on Earth?”
“But I was born there, and I certainly remember moonlit nights. Jupiter’s apparent size is about a hundred times as great as the Moon, seen from Earth. And as the Sun. Area, that is.”
“And yet it’s only ten times as bright?”
“We’re a lot further away from the Sun here.”
We are silent for a moment and watch as Jupiter continues to rise. The ground below us is visible in its reflected light: still dark, but recognisable with its ridges and scarps and craters.
“It would be less bright,” he goes on, “but Jupiter is made of different material from the Moon and its albedo is greater. Meaning that it absorbs less of the light that falls on it.”
“Reflects it instead,” I murmur.
He was right. It really is a spectacular sight. Jupiter is lighting up a strip of Callisto’s surface, running from directly below us all the way to the horizon ahead. Inside that strip I can see the structure of the surface, its black features gleaming in that light, and on either side of it deepest darkness across the whole planet until it meets the horizon all around us. Above that on all sides is the starry night, breathtaking as always with no atmosphere and no other light sources to mask it.
We watch in silence. I am fascinated by this sight. I have never seen anything like it.
I am also slightly uneasy and tense, because I don’t know what Robert plans to do. I am very conscious of him standing in the shadow next to me and a little behind.
Suddenly he moves, startling me, and turns towards the centre of the cabin.
“I have to make a call,” he says. “I hope you don’t mind,” and he switches on the cabin lighting. I haven’t seen anything so bright since the lights went out in the airlock back in the colony.
He sits down in one of the other seats around the edge of the cabin and takes a device out of his bag, a larger one than my personal device that I have with me at all times and am usually wearing.
I look once more out of the window and watch for a while longer; but the scene has lost its magic, and after a minute or two I return to my seat. Robert is on the phone, wearing his headset and looking at the device on his lap. He is totally focussed on his call and pays me no attention at all.
He stands up, still talking; evidently he is too energetic to bear remaining seated for very long; and he strides up and down in the little cabin, his voice filling its space and electrifying me, though I don’t know what it’s about and it doesn’t, in itself, sound very interesting.
He makes several calls, but at last he is finished and he comes back to his seat and sits down. He puts his hands on his knees and looks at me.
“I hear you’ve been helping Suresh put that report together for me,” he says. “Thank you for doing that.”
“Not at all,” I say. “It’s my job.”
He has some questions, and I do my best to answer without referring to any legal texts. I could look them up on my device, in fact, if necessary, assuming I have a connection with the server in the colony.
It occurs to me to wonder how Robert has a signal on this side of Callisto. I must find out.
We talk about the report that Suresh is preparing, with a little help from Ben and from me. I think Robert finds him quite pedestrian and is tempted at times to feel frustrated and impatient, but at the same time he values his diligence and care; and it seems to me, too, that he provides a useful balance to Robert’s own very different character.
I remember something that had struck me during the recent meeting.
“What was that remark the other day?” I say. I’m trying to remember what was said. “Something about a path.”
Robert gives me an amused look. I can’t remember the exact words.
“That’s from the Way of Movement,” he says. “They’re both in the Way of Movement, Suresh and Ben.”
I look blankly.
“Do you not know the Way of Movement?” he asks. I shake my head.
“I thought you would have come across it. It’s quite big. I’m pretty sure it’s not just on Callisto; but maybe it’s less big elsewhere.”
“What is it?”
“A cult!” I am astounded.
“They wouldn’t call it that. I don’t know what they’d call it. A secret society. Not very secret, though. Lots of people here are members.”
“But not you.”
“Not my kind of thing,” he says.
I think about this.
“What’s it about?” I ask.
“Suresh would be able to explain it better. Some baloney about harmony in movement. About resting in movement, being at one with the universe, I don’t know.”
He cocks his head and gives me a sceptical look.
“If someone can tell me,” he says, “how being at one with the universe is going to help me do business, I’m all ears. Till then, I’m not going to waste my time.”
That does sound just like Robert.
“So what do they do?” I ask. “Do they have activities?” Maybe meditation.
“Don’t know,” he says. “Probably. You should ask Suresh.”
I will. “And Ben is a member too? He’s not from Callisto.”
“I don’t know whether he joined up after coming here. Doesn’t it exist on Mars?”
“I’ve never heard of it.” I’m wondering whether this has anything to do with what Ella was telling me about.
Robert shrugs and moves on to another subject. He wants to understand better the processes that will apply after his company has floated, if it does, and I explain what I know, drawing on the knowledge that I carry in my head, still not looking anything up.
The fact is that I have been learning all this time, just as much as the people that I have been explaining things to. I came here with a thorough technical knowledge of the rules governing the new exchange; in fact I had written them, theoretically, though most of them I simply copied from the Martian rules; I could tell a company exactly what the rules said about what they had to report, when they had to issue warnings and make other ad-hoc announcements, how the data had to be presented, what had to be disclosed, what was the benchmark of transparency. But I have been realising, since I came here, that I hadn’t really any clear idea of the processes within the organisation that give rise to these data and facts and risks that have to be disclosed. I listen to someone like Suresh describing how he does his job, everything seems perfectly normal and straightforward and unproblematic, and it’s an effort to force myself to apply these legal concepts and identify what that person is doing, or not doing, that creates an issue under those rules. I understand very well how alien and weird it must seem to those practitioners.
Robert has satisfied his need for answers for the time being and turns his attention to his device again. From a couple of brief calls he makes, I take it that he is looking at figures.
I take out my device too and look at it rather listlessly. I haven’t anything that I need to be doing, and I bring up a novel that I am half way through. My mind isn’t really on it. I’m starting to feel quite tired.
Finally the engine takes on a different note. I look at Robert.
“We’re nearly there,” he says. “Come.”
He stands up and walks to where we were standing before, and I follow him. He switches off the cabin lighting.
Jupiter is high in the sky now; in fact I saw it from my seat, rising above the lower edge of the window. The strip of illuminated surface through the deeper blackness has disappeared; instead the whole landscape is lit up with the same pale light, and everywhere I can see the ridges and peaks and mounds and hollows that cover the whole of this planet. I suppose this is what a moonlit night looks like. Even if Jupiter does shine ten times as brightly as the Earth’s Moon. I take some pictures for my next video message home.
“That’s the plant,” says Robert close to my ear. I look in our direction of travel and, still some way ahead, I see some buildings, low and grey, nestling in a shattered crater and glistening in Jupiter’s reflected light. I watch as we gradually approach it.
“You should secure yourself in your seat for landing,” he says.
I look round at him.
“Yes, of course.” I had forgotten about that. I walk across the cabin to my seat, and Robert sits at the console again. We strap ourselves in, but there is no need to lie down.
By the time I fasten my straps I can already feel the deceleration mounting. It’s nothing like as strong as the thrust when we took off. The cabin, presumably the whole craft, seems to be tilting, but I may be imagining that. I close my eyes and wait for it to stop. I suppose you get used to travelling like this.
There is a different and much louder sound as the craft seems to right itself and set itself down, quite gently, on the ground. Then the noise ceases, all is quiet and still, and Robert is already unfastening his straps.
I open my eyes and look around me. Robert switches on the lighting again to aid in collecting our belongings, and pauses to look across at me.
“Please put your helmet on.”
Good point. This time he trusts me to secure my helmet on my own. We sit in our seats, helmets on, waiting for the cabin to empty of air and then for the door to open and the steps to be lowered.
Robert precedes me again. I stand at the doorway and look out as he is already on the ground. It’s much the same kind of landscape as I am now used to; we’re on a comparatively flat area from which the rocks appear to have been cleared, surrounded on all sides by ridges and scarps; and a buggy is approaching with its headlights blazing. It bounces slowly across the uneven ground, the beams from its headlights rising and falling, and it draws up alongside us. We walk up to it. Robert opens a door for me, and we both climb in.
There is one man inside on the driver’s seat. Robert introduces us.
“Amy, this is Proficient Craftsman. We call him Prof. Prof, this is Miss Amiable Friend, from Shanghai Exchanges.”
“Good morning, Miss,” the man says, and his helmet inclines towards me.
“Good morning. Nice to meet you. And to be here.”
Robert wants to catch up on what has been going on out here, and they talk together while Prof drives the buggy back to the mine buildings. They seem quite unprepossessing. I don’t know what I was expecting.
We pass through a small airlock and into what seems to be the control room. Everybody is wearing space suits, but no helmets. Robert leaves me sitting on a chair near the airlock.
“Do you mind waiting here for a bit? There’s something I need to see to.”
“Oh, not at all, of course. Don’t worry about me.”
Robert disappears with Prof down a corridor. I sit down and look around the room from my chair. There are three men at work here, each in front of a computer screen, and several more screens, currently unoccupied. The men talk little among themselves and ignore me completely. I feel quite uncomfortable.
After a while Prof comes back along the corridor, on his own. He walks up to me with an ingratiating smile.
“Mr Georghiou asks me to apologise to you on his behalf,” he says, “but he is too occupied to come out at the moment, and he has asked me to show you around the plant. I hope that won’t be too disappointing.”
“Oh, that’ll be great,” I say enthusiastically. “Thank you very much!”
“Well, let’s start here,” he says. “This is the control room. There’s not much to see.”
He explains what each of these work stations does, and why not all of them are in use this morning.
The actual mining, the excavation underground, is done by machines, robots, and for the most part they get on with their tasks on their own, governed by their programming that enables them to assess the circumstances that they encounter and work out for themselves what to do about them. But they are controlled by humans, and that happens here.
“So you’re already mining?” I say. Prof looks at me in astonishment. “Sorry,” I say, feeling stupid. “I thought the mine was under construction.”
“Well, a mine is always under construction,” he says. “But it’s true that we’re adding to the facilities. I’ll show you later.”
We’re standing behind one of the men at work and looking over his shoulder at his screen. Prof leans down and takes over the controls briefly to show me what happens here. The man is very nice about it. He leans back and lets Prof do what he wants to do.
I don’t really understand it, and Prof’s explanation washes over me, but I try to appear interested, and not too stupid.
“Stop me if I’m telling you what you already know,” he says. “I don’t know how much Mr Georghiou has already told you about this.”
“Oh, he hasn’t told me anything at all,” I say. “This is all a complete mystery to me.”
He smiles, and doesn’t comment on that.
He finishes his explanation and straightens up. The man rolls his chair forward again and resumes what he was doing.
“I’d let you have a go yourself,” says Prof, “but it’s against regulations.”
“I wouldn’t dream of touching anything,” I say, horrified at the thought.
He smiles again.
“Maybe Mr Georghiou will let you try later. If he has time. But he is very busy. I don’t need to tell you that.”
“No,” I murmur. Does he think I’m Robert’s girlfriend? I hope he doesn’t think that.
I think I hope that.
Prof decides that I have now seen enough in the control room, and he leads me along a corridor, a different one to the one down which he and Robert disappeared some time ago. He reminds me to pick up my helmet before we go.
“Everyone has to carry their helmets with them at all times,” he tells me. “The regulations. In case of emergency. You can leave your bag here, though, if you want.”
From a room somewhere off to the side I can clearly hear Robert’s voice, loud and confident and upbeat. There is usually a laugh in his voice, mingled with the sheer energy and the timbre that cuts through all background noises. There may be a bit of a murmur as somebody in the same room answers him, but I can’t really hear. It’s Robert’s voice that stands out.
Prof opens a sliding door at the end of the corridor and stands aside to let me precede him into a much larger space. It’s dark, but the lights flicker on as we enter and they gradually brighten as we walk into the centre of the room. It seems to be a whole pod in its own right, though joined on to other pods, and it’s full of equipment. Prof starts to explain some of what I can see.
“This is one of our drills,” he says, and he shows me a large and mysterious-looking piece of equipment on the floor near the middle of the room. We stand over it and look down on it.
I know absolutely nothing about machinery. Prof explains what it does, and I can imagine, in a way, how it burrows through the rock, underground, seeking out the minerals that are the reason for this whole operation and gaining access to them so that they can be recovered.
“Why is it in here?” I ask.
“Yes; it probably needs a new part, but somebody ought to have a proper look at it. Hasn’t been time yet. Here, have a look over here.”
He leads me to a different area of this store.
“This is where we print our tools.”
“That’s how we’ll replace the part, if that’s what’s needed.”
“And what happens to the old part?”
I don’t get a chance to ask whether that happens here too, or whether the defective part has to go back to the colony or somewhere else; Prof is already walking towards another exit.
“Here’s the canteen,” he says, opening the door to an empty room with tables and chairs, a sink and various cupboards and items of kitchen equipment. “We’ll come back here after we’ve finished the tour and have a bite to eat. Unless you’re hungry now?”
“No, I can wait, thanks,” I reply. Actually I am hungry. I didn’t eat any breakfast, and only had two coffees on the way.
I wish he hadn’t mentioned it. All I can think about now is food.
“The living quarters are over here,” he says. “I won’t show you them. They’re quite basic.”
“Is it just men here?”
“Here, yes, but we do have other installations, and there are women working at some of those.”
I wonder whether Robert sometimes stays overnight.
We are walking along another featureless corridor when Prof stops.
“If you like, I’ll show you outside,” he says.
“Oh, yes, that would be very interesting.”
At the end of the corridor is a room that looks like a changing room, with pairs of boots, spare helmets, backpacks and various other items stowed or hanging more or less neatly, and we pass straight through it into an airlock, where we put on our helmets and wait for the door to the outside to open.
Outside it is light enough to see and to walk safely where Jupiter is shining, but the shadows behind the buildings are the deepest of darkness where I really can’t see a thing. Prof’s helmet has a lamp on the forehead to help him see his way; mine has no such thing, but I can follow him, cautiously, and no mishaps occur.
There is a lot more to this installation than was apparent when we were driving up to it. The buildings that I have been visiting are up against a wall of rock that was originally the boundary of a crater, and the mine itself is on the other side of that, a good deal lower down.
The bottom of the crater looks as though it has been excavated further to make it flat. Down at the bottom there are more buildings, including one quite large one, and the whole scene is illuminated by strong lights fixed to masts that rise above the roofs.
I nearly say something stupid again, about it always being night here, but I remember just in time that, of course, it is not. When it’s night time where the colony is, it’s daytime on this side of Callisto and just as bright, or dim, as daytime is there, except when Jupiter is eclipsing the Sun. No idea how often that happens.
We stand at the edge and survey the scene. Prof explains what we are looking at.
“I won’t take you down there,” he says. “There’s not much you can see, really, and it’s not worth the effort.”
“That’s fine. It’s very kind of you to show me this.”
I can see some sort of container moving along the bottom between buildings. I can’t see whether it’s on rails, but I have the impression that it is. Prof tells me that it’s carrying material that has been recovered from underground and is being moved into a different part of the plant for the next stage in its processing. I know that the mine is here to find rare metals.
I can’t see any people; I presume they are all inside. And apart from that one container I can’t see any movement. Just the stark contours of the buildings and the shadows filling the crater, surrounded by the bleakness of Callisto and beneath the never-moving gaze of Jupiter. I look down on it, only half-listening to Prof’s explanation.
So this is Robert’s world. I find it quite overwhelming. This is what he really does. Seeing him at those meetings, in that makeshift meeting-room in their offices in the colony, or at the bank, that doesn’t really give any idea. It’s just words, and figures. Out here, I realise what he is really doing. What he really is. And this is just one of his activities. Though I do remind myself that at least some of this is the joint venture, not Robert’s company alone.
Prof wants to know whether I have any questions, and I haven’t. I’d quite like to remain standing here for a while, staring down at the plant; hard to explain why, since nothing is happening there that one can see. Prof waits for me, but I feel uncomfortable making him wait, and so we turn back, descending carefully from the crater edge, and walk to the administrative buildings again.
This time there are several people sitting in the canteen when we walk in: three around the end of one of the tables, eating and talking, and one sitting on his own with his device propped up in front of him for reading as he spoons his soup into his mouth.
I go for the soup too. There is very little choice, and it’s plain that everything is ready-made and just has to be unwrapped and heated in a microwave oven. The soup is thick and not too bad, and I have a slice of pumpernickel bread with it and a beaker of water. It’s good to be eating, and to be sitting down.
After our meal Prof brings me back to the control room where my rucksack is still lying next to that chair. I put my helmet beside it.
“I’m going to have to leave you now,” he says. “I hope Mr Georghiou will be along to see you soon.”
“Don’t worry about me,” I say. “Thank you very much for your time. You’re very kind.”
He shows me where I can get coffee or water, and then he really does leave me alone. I smile at the man whose work station we looked at, he acknowledges me with a smile back, and I sit down where I was sitting before. I get my device out and look at it, so that I at least look as though I have something to do.
Although I am still at a loose end, I feel more comfortable now than I did before. I feel that my time with Prof has lent me legitimacy.
It turns out that I have a connection with the office; I can check my emails, which is soon done, and I find myself something to work on, nothing urgent, but something that does have to be done at some point. I keep myself occupied, and the time passes without my having to get bored.
Finally Robert appears. His presence transforms the room.
“Amy, I’m really sorry,” he says as he strides up to me. I stand up, and he shakes my hand, which surprises me. I don’t know why he has done that. “I really didn’t mean to leave you alone all this time.”
“You haven’t,” I say, and I glance at Prof, who has walked in behind him. “Prof has shown me around the whole place. He’s been really kind.” Prof smiles.
Robert looks at him and back at me, and says, “Good. I hope it was interesting for you.”
“Now we need to make a move if we’re not to get back too late. Is there anything you need to do?”
“No.” Can’t imagine what.
“Then let’s go.”
I give a last wave to the men working here, who have looked up from their screens, and the three of us move to the airlock, putting on our helmets as we go.
As this morning, Prof drives us, but this time Robert doesn’t talk to him but to me. He wants to know what I have seen and where I have been, and I tell him.
“You didn’t go down into the crater?”
“No,” I reply, wondering whether he thinks we ought to have done. “But I got a good idea of the extent of it from here. It’s very impressive.”
“And we’re expanding it.”
“I know. That’s why you want to raise capital.”
We arrive at the space craft and the two of us climb out of the buggy. Prof remains in his seat while I thank him again, effusively.
“The pleasure was all mine, Miss Amiable Friend,” he says. “I hope we’ll see you here again.”
Maybe. “That would be nice,” I agree.
The steps to the door of the craft are still as we left them this morning. The procedure seems to be only to retract them for the flight itself. Robert makes the door open and walks up the steps, and as he passes inside his shape is black in the light coming from the cabin at the top of the internal stairs.
The buggy is already driving away as I climb up the steps myself. We go through the same ritual as this morning: Robert sits at the console typing in the instructions for the return flight, and I go to the same seat that I was in before and strap myself in. Once the cabin is full of air again we take off our helmets and put them beside us, and I lower my seat to the fully reclining position, looking up at the ceiling and with the fingers of my hands interlocking on my stomach.
As I lie there waiting for the thrust of the rocket, I think about today. It has really opened my eyes. I suppose I have seen nothing that I didn’t know existed, in theory; but it’s different to see it in reality. There are big things happening here on Callisto; and I am part of it, with my work on the stock exchange. I know that Robert takes my contribution just as seriously as that of Prof, or of anyone else who works for him.
I remember what Dr Chan said a while ago, about me possibly staying on after my secondment ends. It would mean being employed by Shanghai Stock Exchanges instead of my law firm. And I’d still be part of all this. Still have a part to play in what is growing and gestating here. I wonder whether there is a female form of “Georghiou”.
I smile ruefully and shake my head very slightly at my own foolishness. Robert has given absolutely no sign of being interested in me that way.
The thrust begins and mounts swiftly, and it flattens me against my seat. I really don’t like this. There must be a more comfortable way of travelling. I have my eyes shut once more, and as the pressure from the rocket subsides again I feel warm drowsiness rising in me and taking me, and it floods over me and I do indeed fall asleep.
When I open my eyes again there is grey daylight in the cabin from Callisto’s day, on the side of the planet to which we have now returned. It is day, but our clocks and our bodies tell us that it’s evening and will soon be night.
I turn my head and see Robert sitting in his seat, half-reclining and absorbed in what he is doing on his device. There is a small light burning on the console, but it’s not really contributing anything now. Probably Robert switched it on while it was still pitch dark in here and has forgotten about it.
I watch him. He hasn’t noticed yet that I am awake. I hope I haven’t drooled or snored or done anything else embarrassing. I don’t think he’s writing, I think he is calculating, and thinking. There are shadows in his face, and where the shadows are I can see his skin glistening in the light from his screen. I lie there, still, watching him, and time stretches.
He looks up briefly and sees that my eyes are open. He smiles at me, but doesn’t say anything, and his eyes return to the screen of his device. He carries on with whatever he is doing.
It’s not a handsome face, at all. Not remotely. He looks like a bookkeeper, or a minor official. His hair is receding, his skin is pitted and blotchy, and his nose is too big. It really is the voice, that thrills and invigorates, and the energy, the enthusiasm and the drive, that sweep you along. Off my feet.
I close my eyes, and I think I do drop off to sleep again. At any rate it doesn’t seem to be long until the craft is making its descent and I can feel the force of the deceleration in my back. Robert returns to his seat; evidently he had got up and was looking out of the window; and he straps himself in and lies down.
And as the craft sets itself down on the ground by the colony I know what I am going to do next, and realistically I suppose that getting up, being driven back to the colony and walking to my apartment are likely to wake me up properly and I’ll start to feel hungry enough to make myself a meal at home. But at the moment I feel that all I want to do is to go home and go to bed.