I am booked to make my descent the next morning; so after one last sleep and one last shower on board I put on my spacesuit, leaving my helmet on the bed for now, and go down the corridor to breakfast. My belongings are all packed and electronically labelled and waiting in my room to be picked up.
Breakfast is different to any other morning. Some people have disembarked already; some are leaving with me, or around the same time; others still have a few more hours to wait. Everyone is conscious that it’s our last breakfast. Farewells are taken, though we all expect to see each other again down there, sooner or later, under very different circumstances. Arrangements are made to meet up for drinks or sporting activities. Jewel comes out of the galley for one last goodbye, and I appreciate that.
“Good luck on Callisto!” she says. “Hope it all goes well, and I hope we see you again.”
“So do I,” I say, and we exchange a final hug.
My bags have already gone when I get back to my room, but I see them again along with a lot of others in the room where we assemble to wait for the gravity to disappear. I take a seat and look around the room as it fills up. This time we all know each other.
We sit and wait as the wheel slows down, gradually. Some of us are chatting; I just sit and watch. I have long ceased to notice any gravity when finally the wheel has reached its position and beyond that door in the ceiling the tube docks on that will take us to the hub.
“Would you fasten your helmets, please,” Mr Carboys requests, the officer supervising this departure. Objectively not necessary as long as nothing goes wrong, because there is air all the way through, but as ever it’s a security precaution.
I haven’t got any better at this moving around in free fall. Once again I make a complete fool of myself, first in reaching the door in the first place, then in passing along the gangway into the hub, where a helmeted crew member is waiting for me, turns me the right way up and faces me in the right direction. Then down another tube into, not a space elevator this time, but a waiting spacecraft.
Ella explained it to me the other day. It’s because Callisto rotates so slowly. That means a space elevator would have to start much further out: four times further out than at Mars, apparently; and that is not practical. On the other hand Callisto’s gravity is not very great, so lifting off and descending cost far less fuel than elsewhere, and in any case Callisto has lots of little spacecraft because this is how they get around the planet for the most part, and to other moons and smaller objects that are nearby, in orbit around Jupiter. Callisto is all about mining, and mining is all about exploration.
This spacecraft is a good deal bigger than the elevator cabin back on Mars, and it’s not circular but oblong. It reminds me a little of a buggy: it has a driver at the front, or a pilot, I suppose, and a colleague sitting next to him; and behind them there are seats for the passengers. But it’s much longer than a buggy. This one takes about a dozen people with their luggage.
Most of the seats are occupied by the time they send me through. I am sitting in the front row next to someone else, with a little space between us and the seats for the pilot and the co-pilot. One of them helps me to insert myself into the seat, in full view of everybody, straps me in securely and then passes briefly through the cabin making sure that everyone else is properly secured too. Then he floats back up to the front, practised and professional and not bumping into anything, and we are ready to go.
There is no monitoring of electronic screens on this craft to see where we are going. The whole front is transparent, and raked back steeply, though I’m sure this is design, not necessity: this craft will never go anywhere that has any significant amount of atmosphere. And I have an excellent view of the sky, looking away from the ship and away from the planet and out into space. The stars pass across as the craft manoeuvres, and eventually I can see the surface moving into view. We head straight for it for what seems like a long time, going vertically down, though it doesn’t feel like it: I see the same craters and the same ridges filling our field of vision, gradually growing in size and increasing in detail and clarity, and some of them slipping off the edges out of sight as we approach the planet.
Finally the craft turns: the ground swings down below our field of vision and the starry sky swings back into view. I feel in my back, my seat reclining as far as it will go now, how we are decelerating, sharply and urgently, it feels like to me. This is not a pleasant sensation, and it continues unpleasantly long.
But it comes to an end at last. The pressure on my back decreases, sharply again, I feel that I can move normally, and my heartbeat calms down. People behind me begin to sit up, and I do the same.
We descend slowly, hardly decelerating at all any more. I can see the ground ahead of us and below, and that too slowly grows at the edge of sight. We are getting very close to the ground.
And finally we’re there. There is an unmistakable judder as the pilot sets the craft down on the ground. He switches off the thrusters, and peace fills the cabin. All around me people unfasten their belts and begin to stand up. I do the same, and I move with the crowd out of the cabin. We are back in the gravity that we had on the ship during the last part of the voyage.
I climb down a low set of steps outside the cabin door, holding on to a rail, and I wait to one side as the remainder of the passengers and the crew disembark and join me. A couple of faceless, spacesuited figures are already unloading the luggage and piling it on to a buggy like a trolley, their movements slow in accordance with the gravity.
The Sun is low in the sky, small and pale. It’s very gloomy. The surface is different from Mars: it’s grey, not red, it’s hard and rocky, not dusty; it is gloomy and forbidding here, and very alien. I am not at home. I feel it, very strongly: I am on an utterly alien world.
Three passenger buggies have approached and wait close to each other until we seem to be ready to climb in. Everybody seems to know what to do. Somebody, I can’t tell who in his helmet, motions to me to go before him into one of the buggies, and gratefully I do so: I climb into the back and take a seat, and look out across the plain towards the colony. Which, considering it is the entire settlement on Callisto, is quite a nondescript huddle of grey, interconnected pods sprawled across the pitted surface. It grows as we approach, bumping and bouncing in slow motion, and holding on to the sides of the vehicle, even though we are securely belted in.
It’s only a short ride, and then we draw up next to one of these pods. An opaque, grey wall rises and curves above us, featureless except for a door which slides open to let us into the airlock. It‘s just big enough to take us all. We crowd in, the outside door closes, the inside door opens and the room fills with air, and at last I can take off my helmet.
There are several people waiting inside, though some of us are not being met and simply walk away. Two people make straight for me, a man and a woman, and they have welcoming smiles on their faces.
“Welcome to Callisto,” says the man. “You must be Miss Amiable Friend.” He stretches out his hand.
“Yes, that’s me,” I say, and I take his hand.
“I’m Dr. Chan,” he says. “We’ve exchanged emails.”
“Yes, we have.” I certainly remember him. He is with the client, and manages the team here. They have sent someone more senior to meet me than I was expecting.
“This is my wife, Vanessa.”
The woman gives me her hand and smiles again.
“Welcome to Callisto,” she repeats. She is much smaller than me, and a good deal older.
“Thank you, Mrs. Chan. I’m glad to be here.”
“And here comes my assistant, Mr Silver.”
A fussy little man bustles towards us, bald and plump, from wherever he has been. He has a mobile device in his hand and keeps glancing at it.
“Good morning, Miss Amiable Friend,” he says to me, and gives me his hand to shake. I have barely touched his fingers when he withdraws it again, and he turns to Dr Chan and Mrs Chan and gives them both a nod before turning back to face me.
“Your luggage will be taken directly to your accommodation,” he tells me. “Yes. It’s all here, safely arrived, I’ve just been to check, and our contractor is taking it directly there now.”
“Thank you,” I begin. “That’s very –”
“And I’ve seen to all the paperwork for now, so you can go straight there too. You’ll need to present yourself to the governor’s office, but I’ll explain all that when you come in to work tomorrow.”
He pauses briefly, but carries on before I can say anything.
“So no need to worry about anything today. Today you can just settle in and make yourself at home.”
He looks at me briefly, but this time I just wait for him to continue.
“I hope you like it. I’ve left you a pack on the table. It’s all very straightforward. Well, I look forward to seeing you in the morning.”
“Oh,” I say, startled. “Are you –”
“I’ll leave you in the hands of Dr and Mrs Chan. Sir, I’ll be in the office.”
“Thank you, Mr Silver,” Dr Chan replies and he is measured and calm in contrast. “I’ll see you there.”
“Sir, don’t forget, this afternoon –”
“I know. I’ll be there. Thank you, Mr Silver.”
Mr Silver gives each of us a little bow, finishing with me, and bustles off.
Suddenly it all seems much more peaceful.
“Miss Amiable Friend,” Dr Chan says, “my wife and I would like to accompany you to your accommodation and hopefully make you feel a little bit welcome here. We’ve been very much looking forward to your arrival and we’re very glad that you have come.”
I stammer some thanks, and Dr Chan motions towards the exit. This room is almost empty already. We now pass through the exit too and are in a much larger space: evidently a central concourse in this one of the several dome-shaped pods that constitute the main settlement, with gangways departing at right angles from each of its other sides.
People are crossing the space in all directions, all using this slow-motion, low-gravity, bounding action, and we make our way diagonally across it towards one of the gangways.
Everybody is dressed very functionally: many in space suits, and the others in overalls and simple sweatshirts for ease of stepping into and out of their space suits, including Dr and Mrs Chan. I realise that I am extremely conspicuous in my pink and white space suit. City girl. It never occurred to me to think about it. Maybe I can get something more appropriate while I am here.
We pass down that gangway and seem to be entering a different pod. It all looks quite different to what I am used to at home. Everything looks the same: featureless, grey, smooth; a grid of corridors with featureless doors along their lengths; artificial light; a feeling almost of being underground, in some kind of storage facility. In fact it’s almost like being back on the ship, it occurs to me, except that the corridors are flat and don’t seem to curve upwards ahead and behind us.
“It’s a little bit confusing at first,” says Dr Chan, “but you’ll soon get used to it. At least the layout is completely logical.”
We come to a halt outside a door that looks exactly the same as all the other doors, and Dr Chan makes it open, using his wearable device.
“After you,” he says, and I walk in. The other two walk in behind me and the door closes.
“This is where you’ll be living while you’re on Callisto. It’s quite spartan, I’m afraid. If it’s any comfort, so is everybody else’s accommodation here.”
“It’s perfect,” I assure him, and I walk through, looking briefly into each room. The main room has a folding table with some chairs, an armchair, a desk and another low table; there is a separate bedroom, very small, with a single bed; a bathroom; and a kitchen which is just big enough to stand in while preparing food. As on the ship, there’s no bathtub; just a shower. There are built-in cupboards in all the rooms.
“It’s perfect,” I repeat. “Thank you very much.”
On the table is the pack that Mr Silver was talking about. I’ll look at it later, but I can see that there are several sheets of paper in a folder, and on the front a code that I can scan with my device to download probably a vast array of information.
“Miss Amiable Friend, I must leave you now,” Dr Chan says. “If you wish, my wife will be glad to stay with you and help you settle in, and answer your questions.”
Mrs Chan smiles at me, and I say,
“Thank you, that will be very nice.”
“And I’ll see you in the morning. Mr Silver will show you everything at the office, I suggest you go straight to him when you arrive.”
He shakes my hand and gives me another little bow, and lets himself out of the apartment.
Mrs Chan and I look at each other, and she breaks into a much broader smile.
“Call me Vanessa,” she says. “Let’s forget about all that formality. Look, you must want to get out of that space suit and freshen up. Why don’t you do that, and I’ll get us something to eat. I don’t know about you, but in my world it’s lunchtime, and I’m hungry.”
I’m hungry too. Breakfast is a long time ago.
“But I can’t have you cooking for me,” I protest.
“It’s not exactly cooking. Mr Silver has organised some food, it’s in the fridge, and it only has to be warmed up.”
All right then.
I hear Vanessa Chan moving about in the kitchen as I have a quick wash in the bathroom. I fold up my space suit and lay it on the lavatory as there is nowhere in here to hang it. Inside it I had been wearing, not overalls like Mrs Chan, but a pair of slacks with a light orangey hue, mixed with dark grey and shimmering. Orange was at the height of fashion when I left. It probably isn’t any more. They’re the kind of slacks that are designed to be worn in a space suit, with that sealable slit in the crotch that you part and wrap around the relevant piece of the suit’s equipment when you’re putting it on; but they still look a great deal more stylish than anything I have seen here yet. I’m going to have to look out for what other women are wearing, and possibly rethink my entire wardrobe.
While I am in there my luggage arrives, and I can hear Mrs Chan directing the men where to put it. I pull my top back on again and emerge to find the men gone and my luggage stowed at the edge of the room, prominent but out of the way.
The table is already set with knives and forks and glasses of water, and Mrs Chan is just coming out of the kitchen, carrying two plates.
“Hmm, that looks good,” I say, and it actually does. I’m quite surprised. It smells good, too.
She puts the plates down on our places and looks at me, with her palms resting on the table.
“I’ve moved Mr Silver’s pack to the desk,” she says. “There’s plenty of time to look at it later, and in fact you’ll need plenty of time; but if you scan it now you’ll be set to Callisto time.”
“That’s a good idea,” I say, and I do scan the code before I sit down.
“We’ve been here for about four months now,” Mrs Chan tells me while we are eating. “We’re from Earth.” That was obvious. “It was quite an adjustment, but we’re used to it now. I imagine it all seems more familiar to you.”
I smile at that. Has she ever been to Mars City?
“We used to live by the ocean. You’ve probably never seen an ocean.”
Well, no. “This is my first time away from Mars,” I tell her.
“I do miss it. But it’s only temporary. We’ll be going home when the exchange is up and running.”
That surprises me, because I thought the local team would be more permanent than that.
“But we’ll all still be here for the big event, won’t we?” she says, and her eyes twinkle as she looks at me meaningfully.
Oh no. I’ve only been here for a couple of hours, and already we’re about to talk about my sister.
“It’s a big thing for Callisto,” she goes on. “It’s really going to put the place on the map. You know, people here are very proud of their planet, but they do feel that they’re looked on as a backwater. Being chosen for the interplanetary championships really means a lot to them.”
“I’m sure it does,” I murmur.
“They’re building the venue already, up in space. There’s a site where you can follow progress on your device or your computer.”
“What are they going to do with it when the championships are over?”
She gives me a look.
“That nobody seems to know,” she says. “Dismantle it, probably. Use the pieces for other purposes.”
I shake my head slightly at the expense.
“So when is your sister arriving?” she asks. “We’re expecting the competitors to arrive early.”
Yes, they will, because they will need to acclimatise themselves to free fall again after months in a spaceship.
“She’s due to arrive two months before the championships start,” I tell her.
“You must be looking forward to seeing her again. She travels a lot, doesn’t she?”
Why does she know this? Is she a fan of my sister?
“Yes, a lot of her events are off-planet.”
“Well, they’re all off-planet, aren’t they? But I know what you mean. Sometimes off Mars, sometimes off Earth; this time off Callisto.”
And she explains how she loves weightless gymnastics. She’s never done it herself – “obviously” –, but she loves to watch it. On screen, always: there are never any spectators out there in space. Just the competitors and their retinues, and the organisers and the judges.
Maybe Lucid Thought will be a judge later. They all peak early, these gymnasts, have a brief decline, and then a very long retirement in which the lucky ones become trainers, journalists, commentators, judges, representatives of their associations.
I can’t imagine Lucid Thought turning to accounting full time.
I don’t say very much; but it doesn’t seem to matter. Vanessa is happy to ramble on about all the competitions she has followed, those performances of my sister’s that she remembers and that stand out, and about the competitors this time and how they are likely to do. She knows far more about it than I do.
But she does ask me questions too, about Lucid Thought, in between all this; and I answer truthfully and as amiably as I can. It’s not her fault.
Finally the meal is finished and Vanessa announces that she really must be getting on. My mother might have said that.
She helps me clear it all away and then takes her leave.
“Let me say again how welcome you are here on Callisto,” she says by the door. “We really are very glad to have you, and it’s been lovely to have this long chat, just us girls. I feel we’re friends already.”
“Yes, you’ve been really nice,” I say.
“I’ll let you settle in first for a few days,” she says, “but I’d love to have you over for dinner one of these evenings. Next week, perhaps.”
“That’ll be lovely,” I say. I bet she invites all her friends, and it will be all about Lucid Thought.
Maybe I’m being unfair.
We shake hands, and Vanessa opens the door and leaves. I stand in the doorway and watch as she walks down the gangway. She turns a corner, and it’s empty and silent. I go back inside and close the door, and it’s empty and silent in here too.
This is the first time I have been alone since I vacated my cabin on the ship. I pull my luggage into the centre of the room and start to unpack. There’s a good deal more room for everything here than there was on the ship.
In the fridge and in one of the cupboards in the kitchen I find some more food: enough for the rest of the day and tomorrow morning, and possibly beyond that. Mr Silver has thought of everything.
It doesn’t take long to stow all my belongings away. I regard my clothes thoughtfully as they hang in the wardrobe, and then close the door and turn to other things. I make a pot of tea and bring it into the main room, and sit in the armchair drinking it while I study the information that I have downloaded and that looks as though it ought to cover all practical aspects of life here. How to get to work tomorrow; where to get supplies; where people go to amuse themselves after work; who my colleagues are and what they do.
And that fills most of the rest of the day. I make myself another simple meal in the evening. It feels a little lonely as I sit at that table eating it on my own, but I put on some music, and later I watch a film, and I am feeling quite content when I finally decide it’s time to sleep. It was nice of Mrs Chan to stay with me. Even if she did want to talk about my sister. That wasn’t all. And it has made all the difference between feeling forsaken and abandoned in a gloomy, alien world, and starting to feel that I can make myself at home here. Surrounded by my familiar belongings, in my own four walls, knowing at least some of the people that I am going to see tomorrow.
He’s a funny man, that Mr Silver. I wonder what he’s like in the office.
I wonder what everybody else will be like.
I wonder whether I’ll satisfy them or disappoint them.
I’m still wondering next morning as I get myself ready for the office. Work clothes strike me as less of a problem: mine are stylish, but conservative and restrained, and I’m not worried about looking pretentious and extravagant. Even if I don’t own any of those overalls that even Dr Chan was wearing.
Obviously there is no need for a space suit this morning. I make my way through the warren of corridors, guided by my device, and noticing the curious, wordless glances of the people that I pass.
The office of Shanghai Exchanges on Callisto is a large square space with individual little offices all around the edges, opening on to it and with no doors. In the middle are some desks for people who don’t warrant their own offices, and evidently I am one of those.
Mr Silver shows me my place. He is actually much nicer than he seemed yesterday. I think I was simply overwhelmed by how different everything is.
I sit behind the desk, trying the chair for height, and Mr Silver is standing behind me showing me its appurtenances. He pulls open a drawer and shows me the compartments inside.
“And you can lock it with your device,” he tells me. “Did you see that?”
Was it in the package that I downloaded? I shake my head.
He takes my device and scrolls to the right place, and sure enough, the drawers lock and unlock in response to what he is doing. I take it back and try it out for myself.
“Thanks, Mr Silver,” I say.
“Silva,” he repeats. Am I saying it wrong?
“Oh, sorry, Mr – Silva.”
“Don’t worry. It’s an easy mistake to make. Lots of people make it. Even, dare I say it –”
He makes an expression of pantomime fear, and it makes me laugh.
“The boss himself?” I finish.
His eyes widen in pantomime horror.
The young man at the desk opposite is grinning at us. Our desks are pushed together to make one big expanse of surface, so that we’re looking straight at each other when we’re in our places.
I think I’m going to like it here. I like the atmosphere. People are busy, but relaxed and easy going at the same time. Everyone takes time for a short chat as Mr Silva takes me around the office and introduces me to the whole team, those of it who are here at the moment. Dr Chan is out, for instance.
The entire team is from Earth except for two who were hired locally, including the man sitting opposite. It has been growing since the company first set up a presence here, some time ago now, with just two people who have returned to Earth in the meantime. They all seem to be either computer type people or financial type people, who understand the trades and the accounting.
Mr Silva leaves me to settle in at my desk for half an hour once we have done the rounds. He bustles back into his office, and I busy myself at my computer, making sure that I have access to all the data that I need. I send an email to the office, establishing contact. By the time it arrives on Mars I’ll be out at lunch.
Mr Silva collects me in half an hour as he said he would, and he takes me to the canteen. This is a separate room outside the office, on the opposite side of the corridor and a little way down it, and Shanghai Exchanges share it with a number of other companies.
“Here’s where you can meet Callistoans,” he says before we go in, and he makes them sound like exotic beasts. The young man opposite has come along with us and grins again. I’m going to have to find a discreet way of finding out his name again: he told me when we were introduced, but I instantly forgot it.
The canteen is noisy and crowded. Men in space suits or in overalls mill into it and through it, picking up their meals, taking them to their tables and sitting down to eat them and talk, loudly.
People ignore us completely as we enter and join the queue. In front of us are three men talking about a meeting they have just had; behind us the queue grows quickly, first with a solitary man looking into space, then with another group talking among themselves. I’m conscious once again of how differently I am dressed; but honestly I don’t think anyone here cares.
“This hasn’t been here long,” Mr Silva is explaining, and I have to strain my ears to hear him above the hubbub. “We used to bring our own food into the office. Some people still do.”
“It seems very popular,” I say, looking around.
“Oh yes. It’s very good. For here, that is.” His eyes twinkle. I’m sure I understand him. I’m not expecting the quality and variety that I can get on Mars. Or he on Earth.
It strikes me that he probably ate meat on Earth. Probably all of them did. Like my parents.
We arrive at the counter where the food is served. It’s a different system from on the ship, because here there are two people serving, and you have to pay directly. I select something light, the machine scans my device and I pick up my meal, and the three of us make our way across the room to a table that is only half full. I notice that two women are sitting together at one of the other tables; they are dressed the same way as the men, and I hadn’t noticed them at first. One of them looks up at me and seems to be appraising me, and then returns to her conversation.
We arrive at the table we are making for, and the men already sitting there shift up a little without interrupting their conversation, or even really looking at us. We sit, unwrap our portions and start to eat. I take a sip of what purports to be apple juice but I don’t think really can be.
“Percy here is one of the new boys,” says Mr Silva. Ah, Perceval, that’s right. I remember now. He is long and gangly, with protruding ears and a long face, and looks even younger than Gordon on the ship. I don’t think he has spoken since he said hello when we were introduced.
“What do you do, Percy?” I ask him.
“I’m going to be an analyst,” he says. Going to be?
“You mean, once the exchange has opened?” I ask.
“No, when I’ve finished my training,” he replies.
“Percy is a secondee too,” Mr Silva explains. “He’s with one of the banks that have set up here. Yes. They want to be ready as soon as we launch.”
“Oh, that’s interesting,” I say. “So do you normally work in the bank?”
“Not exactly,” he replies, and he starts to explain. He is not very articulate and his explanation is somewhat confusing, but with Mr Silva’s help I piece it together.
The bank has sent a representative here from Earth, and it seems to be unclear to Percy, and consequently to me, what this man does, other than being Percy’s direct boss. There is no office yet, and his boss seems to spend his time in meetings and working from home. Another trainee analyst was hired before Percy, has already done a secondment to Shanghai Exchanges, and now works from home too, presumably doing what the analysts do that I have known on Mars: analysing companies for the purpose of assessing whether their shares are worth buying.
A shout goes up from an adjacent table and drowns our conversation: someone has arrived and is being greeted by his friends. As I look round to see what the noise is I have a strange feeling that several people have just quickly looked away. I become thoughtful, and I miss a couple of seconds of Percy’s explanation.
Mr Silva fetches us all coffees when we have finished eating, and we stay for a few more minutes drinking them and chatting. As he explains, it would be quieter and more comfortable in the office, but we would have a nagging feeling that we ought to be working.
Back in the office, Mr Silva helps me to organise my timetable for the next few days. I need an appointment with the doctor, at the governor’s office, at the gym, I need to order supplies, all these things. In fact it’s all in the package that I downloaded, I’ve read it, and I know what I have to do; but I think he likes fussing over me. I let him do it.
A little later I’m sitting at my desk when Dr Chan comes in from wherever he has been. He goes straight into his office, but a couple of minutes later he emerges and walks over to my desk. I stand up to take his hand, and he asks me to come into his room.
He doesn’t say anything about welcoming me this time, and I’m glad; he did all that yesterday. His concern now is my work timetable over the next few days. He has put a meeting in everybody’s diary for tomorrow morning; that is, Mr Silva has; and the purpose is to introduce me properly to the team and to explain why I am here and what I’m supposed to be doing together with them.
“Can you give some thought, please,” he says, “to a short presentation on what you do. Three or four minutes, no more. And then I’ll lead a discussion of how we’ll integrate you into our operations.”
I nod, and make a note on my device.
“Regardless of that, I’d like you to come along with me to a meeting tomorrow afternoon,” and he explains that he is meeting one of the prospecting firms that might be candidates for a public offering at some point. “I think I’ll want you to listen, mainly, at this stage. Our message at the moment is that we want to understand their needs, so that we can structure our procedures to help them.”
“Okay.” Presumably I’m going to be expected to talk more at later meetings; but there is plenty of time.
Preparing this presentation is the first piece of proper work that I have been asked to do here. I ask Mr Silva about the technical facilities here; it turns out that I can bring up my slides on people’s devices during the meeting, and he explains how to do that; and then I sit down at my desk and assemble my ideas.
Towards the end of the working day Mr Silva drops by again.
“Some of the younger people would like to take you to a bar after work,” he says. “Yes.”
“Oh – that’ll be nice.” I hope it will. “Won’t you be coming?”
“I’ll leave you in their capable hands,” he says.
I’m not sure. I suppose it’ll be all right in a group.
Percy is looking at us. “Are you going?” I ask him.
“Plan to,” he says.
I decide to go. I do want to be friendly, and to make friends if I can.
So at five-thirty, when all the junior people in the office are packing up and logging off, four more young men come and gather around our two adjoining desks like an island and wait for us to finish.
I lock the drawers the way I have been shown, and I pop my things in my bag and close it. I stand up.
“Ready?” says one of them. I assent, and we all move towards the door.
They are all very obviously from Earth, apart from Percy, and I walk down the corridor among them like Snow White, with Percy bringing up the rear.
The bar they have chosen, a short walk away, is very similar in its ambience to the canteen at lunchtime. It is crowded, noisy, furnished with simple tables and chairs and largely unadorned apart from some posters on the walls, electronic ones, whose images change from time to time and seem to consist mainly of sporty looking spacecraft and, I suppose, actresses.
The group shoves its way into the crowd, me in the middle, and finally occupies an area in the depths of the room not too far from the counter where the drinks are being served. There isn’t anywhere where we can all sit together.
Jack is buying the first round of drinks. He is the most obviously Chinese of this whole group.
“What are you having, Amy?” he asks. When I don’t immediately know, he starts listing cocktails; but I am not going to drink anything like that until I am much more certain of finding my way home afterwards.
Everybody else is having a beer, so I tell him I’ll have one of those too, though normally I don’t particularly like beer.
I stand then with my back to the wall, sipping my beer and looking out over the crowd. A lot of them look as though they are from Earth, from their stature, but a lot of them clearly aren’t and are more like me. There are a few women, a small number, interspersed among all these men. As at lunchtime, they are dressed in pretty much the same way as the men, and it’s not immediately obvious from a cursory glance; but the cut of their overalls, and their movements, and the contours of their faces, if I can see them, give it away.
My new colleagues want to know how I like Callisto, and I scarcely know how to answer.
“I’ve only just got here!” I protest.
But I can truthfully say that I am very excited to be here, and that I really feel that I am going to settle in and enjoy being here.
“But how do you like it?” they insist.
“Well – I like the office.”
“That’s a bad sign,” says one of them, and they all laugh. I feel the need to explain.
“No, I like the atmosphere,” I say. “Everyone’s very friendly and nice.”
But they’re not in the mood for a logical analysis. So I switch to my impressions as I was flying in yesterday morning, and riding in towards the colony in that open buggy. They listen attentively as I describe how different everything seems.
“I thought it wouldn’t be that different for you,” one of them says.
“Because I’m from Mars? Oh, Mars is quite different.” I describe my home planet, and I realise that I am actually describing Frobisher. The colour. The dust. The dust storms. The houses.
“And it’s so dark here,” I finish.
They nod. “It is dark,” Jack agrees. “It does get a bit lighter than it is right now, but it’s still pretty dark, even when we’re facing directly into the Sun.”
I know that it’s Callistoan evening at the moment, outside. One day and one night last about a fortnight here, in Martian days or Earth days, and we are currently on our long journey into night, slowly circling around Jupiter, and always facing away from it.
“You won’t notice it in here, though.”
Well, no, obviously. “Do you get outside at all?” I ask them, and they shake their heads.
“No need,” says one of them.
I think I’d like to go outside and explore. I hope I can find a way of doing that.
“And the gravity,” Percy points out, and we all agree.
“Yes, that makes a big difference,” I say.
“Worse for us, though,” Jack says, and that is, of course, quite true, and starts us off comparing what it’s like coming here from Earth, and from Mars.
Obviously I have never been to Earth, but I’ve seen films, and I’ve heard people talking about it. Apparently the clouds in the atmosphere are sometimes so thick that they appreciably reduce the amount of light that can get through.
Hard to imagine.
We have clouds on Mars too, but they are tenuous, wispy things that have no noticeable effect. It’s hard to imagine clouds that block out most of the sunshine.
“On a really, really dark day on Earth it might get as dark as it does here,” one of them explains to me, looking at me confidingly over his beer.
“Rubbish,” says another, and they start to argue about how dark it sometimes gets. Not a subject that I can contribute anything to.
The bar is becoming even more crowded, and over people’s heads I see a group of three or four making their way through the press towards us.
“Hello, Gordon,” I say as they arrive. It is indeed Gordon, who was with me on the ship, and I recognise the others too, though I can’t remember their names. They are all Callistoans.
Somehow we seem to feel the need to shake hands, even though we had all seen each other nearly every day for many months until two days ago.
“You all know each other, then?” I ask.
“Everybody knows everybody here,” Gordon says.
“That’s not really true,” says Jack.
“Well, you don’t,” Gordon agrees. “But the Callistoans do. And everybody knows you.”
That is an illuminating comment. I hadn’t thought of that in the canteen today.
“I suppose everybody is going to know me too, pretty soon,” I say.
“You can bet your pink space suit on that,” Gordon replies, and he grins.
I see. That has been noticed, then. Of course it has.
“But you can’t know each other,” I suddenly realise. “You’ve all been away.”
“That’s right,” says Gordon. “We’ve been away for two years.” He means Earth years. “But Percy and I have known each other all our lives, and these guys we met yesterday.”
Jack nods. “Percy took us to a bar last night, and we all met up.”
While I was being a good girl in my new apartment.
I bet they were talking about me.
“Are we having a beer, or what?” one of the Callistoans interjects, and the others clearly feel he is making a very good point. One of them collects orders for a round of drinks. I decline; I’m not even half way through my first yet.
It’s a different kind of conversation now the Callistoans have arrived. I know them all, more or less, and we have shared acquaintances from the ship. Also the group is now too large to be able to talk together as a group in this press and this din, and it fragments into several little groups that talk among themselves. I find myself talking to Percy and Gordon, and after a few minutes Jack.
It’s only one beer, but I do start to notice its effects. Everything seems to become warm and dreamy, and I don’t notice how time passes. At some point I realise that I have a fresh glass in my hand, and I don’t remember being asked whether I wanted one. I’m not talking very much now, just standing in the group with my drink, looking into the crowd and feeling quite relaxed, though I’m beginning to wish I could sit down.
Finally people start to talk about scattering to their homes to have a meal before meeting up again later in some other bar. They seem to assume that I won’t want to come out again, and they’re right: it’s been very pleasant, but I want to go home now and stay there.
Outside the bar, in the gangway, I have to think hard about which way to go, but I remember that I have to go back up the corridor past the turning for the office, and from there my device helps me to find my way home. I walk in, put my bag down, take off my shoes, and I sit down in the armchair first before I do anything else. It’s good to be sitting.
I had ordered some supplies for this evening, and postponed the time of delivery when I realised that I’d be going out after work. They’ll be coming first thing tomorrow morning now. I still have a little food left in the fridge for this evening; and I’m not very hungry now anyway, after two beers. I can only remember two.
The next few days establish my routine, at work and at leisure. Dr Chan takes me to a number of meetings, each one at a different company’s office. At first I sit quietly with my device, taking notes, and only speaking when I am spoken to; but as the days and the weeks pass, Dr Chan realises that I do in fact know quite a lot about how computerised exchanges work, and he lets me take part more fully in the discussions: at first explicitly handing over to me to explain a particular point, but over time letting me join in much more freely.
Obviously Dr Chan is the real expert here. He has been doing this for decades, I suppose. But he comes from the financial side, not the legal, and I think he can see that I do provide something useful from my perspective. And obviously he is the boss and I am the junior; but I feel that his confidence in me is growing, and we really are developing a kind of partnership in these encounters.
I make sure that I maintain contact with the people in my life. I send a long video message to my parents a few days after I arrive, as I had been doing on the ship, though there never seemed to be anything interesting to tell them about on board, and I keep on sending video messages from time to time, with some footage of the colony here that I record on my device while I am out and about, to give them a feeling for how different everything is here. Occasionally they send me a message back, and they never have much to say, but it still gives me a pang to see their faces smiling into the camera, and to see the interior of their house in the background.
Dan continues to maintain contact too, mainly with his chatty emails, occasionally with a video message recorded at home. Now that I am here I do actually, for the first time, send him a video message, and I include some of the footage that I have recorded, of the office and the public spaces of the colony and even of the canteen. I think the canteen will amuse him.
My sister sends me a short message and tells me about her plans, when she is coming and how long she is staying, which I already know; and a little while into my time here I am touched and gratified to receive a message from Ella. The ship is on its way to one of the bases in the asteroid belt first of all, it’s primarily a freight mission and the ship is almost empty of passengers. I really had wondered whether I would hear from Ella again.
My free time, too, settles down into a routine. Most days we go for a drink after work in one of a few bars close to the office. It’s not something that I was used to doing on Mars, or anyone I knew, I think, but here on Callisto it’s quite normal. People generally seem to drink a lot here; most people.
I go to occasional dinner parties. The first time is the one that Vanessa Chan announced on my first day, and she does indeed invite her friends too, all women a good deal older than me; but it’s not as bad as I had feared. We only speak about Lucid Thought for a while, and the rest of the time we have plenty of other topics to talk about. I‘m quite surprised at how frank and critical they are about their husbands.
The second time I am invited to the Chans’ I begin to have an uncomfortable feeling that I ought to return the invitation. Vanessa knows what I am thinking and takes me to one side.
“Nobody expects you to do the same thing,” she confides. “It’s different for you. You just have a nice time here and grace our table.”
I give her a grateful look, and she smiles encouragingly and pats my arm.
As time passes I gradually get to know more people. At the after-work drinks we mainly meet up with Gordon and Percy’s circle of friends: all men, who don’t seem to have any female friends; or if they have, I never see them. It’s always an informal, easygoing atmosphere in these bars, however, and our conversations often spread over and include other people who happen to be there too; as Gordon had said, everybody on Callisto knows everybody else anyway; and sometimes some of these people are women.
For me it remains at this superficial level, though. I never really click with any of these women. I don’t know why it is. Over time I feel that this has become the biggest difference between being here and being on the ship: there is no one here like Ella. Not Vanessa and her friends; not the women I meet socially, or in these business meetings that I have several times a week.
And so I have to get used to being the only woman, or nearly the only woman, all the time. I was most nervous about the gym at first, where I go to train every day without fail; but it turns out that the gender ratio is more in balance there than anywhere else that I go. Very soon I stop worrying and just go there, do my exercises, get changed and go back to work. Everywhere else I feel that I am honing my skills, that I started to learn on the ship and now need more than ever, with no Ella and no Jewel: my ability to hold my own, to keep a balance between being friendly on the one hand, cooperative and collegiate, and keeping an appropriate distance on the other. I do get the feeling that I can never really relax on that score; but I also feel confident in being able to do this.
To give the Callistoans their due, they make it easy for me. They have a discretion and a courtesy that make me feel never threatened in any way. I suppose it derives, again, from the fact that everybody here knows everybody else, and it reflects the fact that they will respect your private space until you indicate that you are happy to share it.
This becomes suddenly clear one day when we are talking about Lucid Thought and the upcoming championships, and I say something about my anonymity on the ship.
“Oh, everybody knew that,” Gordon says, and I stare at him in astonishment.
Everybody knew on the ship; but I never indicated any willingness to let anyone into this personal space, and so nobody entered it.
All the more remarkable considering that by no means all the passengers were from Callisto.
The guys at work present more of a challenge. Almost all of them are from Earth, recent arrivals, and they don’t come with this ingrained approach.
It’s not that I’m worried about unwelcome physical advances. It’s more the possibility of not being regarded as being in the same professional category as everyone else and, maybe, not being taken quite as seriously as a result. I don’t know. Thinking about it I’m not certain that the Callistoans, for all their courtesy, are really any different.
It helps a great deal that I am doing a job that no one else here can do, and that is highly respected. My seating position in the middle of this large room doesn’t speak of status; but the fact that Dr Chan is always taking me to these meetings certainly does. I always write these meetings up afterwards, and I report on them in our team meetings, so that everyone can see what I get up to when I leave the office with Dr Chan, and that I am getting to know some really significant people on Callisto.
Dr Chan is very supportive, and very fair, letting me grow and develop in my duties and mature into – I think – an essential part of the team. After a while he starts to let me take some of these meetings on my own; we discuss them beforehand and afterwards, and after all this time I’m sure that I know what he wants me to say; but still it’s me alone who has to take the meeting, and field their questions and deal with it if it goes in an unexpected direction.
After a few months he wonders in passing whether there might be a long-term role for me here with his organisation.
I am very surprised. On the one hand this is always a risk for a firm like ours when it seconds a lawyer to a client: that they might end up staying with the client, so that the firm has, possibly, a slightly happier client, but has lost one of its best people.
But Callisto. Staying with the client on Callisto, and not going home at all. That has a different quality altogether.
Would I do that? It’s not an offer, by any means, just an observation in passing, that one might think about it at some stage. But would I?
In some ways I like it here very much: in unexpected ways, partly. I like the way the Callistoan men behave, this considerate politeness, which I don’t feel, at all, is patronising. It’s something I’ve never encountered. I certainly like the respect that I have in my job; and that job is, to be frank, a lot less stressful than what I was doing back on Mars. I like the feeling of being part of something growing, something hopeful and dynamic and worthwhile.
On the other hand it’s a long, long way from home, and things are very different here. Culturally it’s, well, a desert; the things of everyday life are plain, standardised and have no style; food is synthesised and much less varied; and I wish I had some female friends. Even one.
Thinking back I realise that I had a bit of a crush on Ella, and I feel rather embarrassed.
One day I meet Vladimir again, at one of the meetings that I take without Dr Chan. It’s at the office of one of the investment banks that have set up here in preparation for the new exchange, and they are all there when I walk in: Vladimir, who gives me a warm and friendly welcome, shaking my hand; two from the bank, a man and a woman; and another man whom Vladimir introduces as his joint venture partner, Robert.
Robert doesn’t speak for some time after he has said hello to me; but he is very restless. After a few minutes, while I am talking about the procedures that are going to apply to a first-time flotation, the bankers are talking about their role in facilitating the process, and Vladimir is talking about what they want to raise capital for, Robert suddenly stands up and walks about the room, picking things up and turning them in his hand and looking at them absently before setting them down again, and behaving in a way that I have never seen before in a business meeting. But he is paying attention. He is listening to every word, and after a few minutes of this he suddenly turns to face us and puts a question to me.
His voice is the most astonishing aspect of this. It is much louder than everybody else’s, much louder than expected; but he’s not shouting or making any apparent effort to talk loudly: it’s as if I can feel how his voice is resonating in his skull and emerging into the room with a timbre quite unlike anybody else’s. It’s a galvanising experience, like a fresh breeze that slaps me in the face, and I am mesmerised at first, fascinated by the sound and the energy of his speech, even though what he is actually talking about is technical and dry.
He wants to know about control, about the extent to which he and Vladimir will have to relinquish control of their enterprise if they go down this path. I start to explain how they don’t need to offer a majority of shares to the market, they can keep control for as long as they like, it’s up to them; but he knows that already, and he brushes it aside impatiently.
He’s not aggressive; he’s impatient in an enthusiastic way, not a belligerent way, and his face is smiling and animated as he makes his points and raises his questions in his piercing and thrilling voice: he is enthusiastic about the subject and really wants to understand it, wants us all to understand it, and he sweeps me along and fires me up with his enthusiasm and makes me want to be on his side and fight alongside him.
I’ve never known anything like it.
His point is about the rules of behaviour that their company will have to obey if it’s quoted on the stock exchange, and I have to admit that he has a point, and you can look on these rules as a kind of relinquishing of control, to a certain degree. Reporting and disclosure obligations; rules about conflicts of interest; directors’ pay; the formalities of decision-making; all sorts of aspects that in practice can significantly affect how they go about their business from day to day. They won’t be able just to do as they want, the two of them, as they can now. I see that I underestimated him with my initial response.
He is dominating the discussion now. We are all sitting around this meeting-room table, and Robert is standing in the room in front of us, his face animated and lively and his thoughts cutting through all nebulous words and shining a light on what they are actually about. I’m not sure whether the others are as mesmerised as I am. Presumably they have all known him for a lot longer.
One of the striking things about him is that, if it becomes clear that you don’t in fact know the answer to his questions, or haven’t a satisfactory response, he doesn’t badger you or try to make you feel bad. He has highlighted the issue, everybody has seen it, and he moves on.
But he leaves you with a strong desire to clear the matter up: to do the research or whatever is necessary, so that next time you can give answers and he will be satisfied. And he will know if you haven’t researched properly, because he has read it up himself and thought about it, and though he would never presume to be an expert in the field, as you are – as I am –, he knows enough about it to be able to tell whether you are doing your job properly or not.
It’s exhilarating. Even though the matters we are discussing, looked at dispassionately, are dry, technical and boring. They come to life through this man’s enthusiasm. I’ve never known a client like him.
Dr Chan smiles to himself when I tell him later who was at the meeting.
“Robert Georghiou,” he says. “So Vladimir’s linked up with him, has he?”
“Just for this project,” I clarify. I think that’s right.
“Well, well. What did you think of him?”
I have to think a little about how to answer that. I don’t really want to talk about the effect he had on me.
Instead I talk about his energy and enthusiasm, and his knowledge and his attention to detail.
“He certainly has drive,” Dr Chan agrees. “Did you like him?”
I furrow my brow.
“I don’t really know,” I say finally. “It was all a bit overwhelming, to be honest.” I’m not sure that I should have said that.Dr Chan smiles to himself again. His eyes meet mine, and he looks as though he is about to say something, but then seems to change his mind. He looks away for a moment, and then carries on discussing my report on the meeting: information learned, decisions taken, action points, responsibilities, that sort of thing. And he leaves me wondering what he had been thinking of saying.