I am walking down the corridor with Dr Chan and Mr Silva. I’ve just had a meeting with them both in the office: a handover meeting, because today is my last day with Shanghai Exchanges. From tomorrow Dr Chan will be a client again and not my boss.
He hasn’t said so, but he thinks I’m doing the right thing, for myself.
I feel very affectionate and grateful to both of these men. They are so kind.
Dr Chan opens the door and lets me walk in. It’s the bar where we usually go after work, most of us, but never Dr Chan.
As I enter the bar, cheers and whoops and applause greet me. They are all here, and I walk towards them with a broad grin.
Jack starts it. He stands in front of me, looking into my eyes, beer in hand; puts the other hand on my arm, seems to be assessing his chances, then evidently decides to go for it and gives me a hug.
I hug him back. I feel affection for all of these people. All my colleagues.
Then the others do the same. Liu, Percy, Jiang, all of them. Even Gordon, and Suresh, and Ben: they are here too.
I don’t hug Dr Chan or Mr Silva. I’m glad about that. That would be too embarrassing.
I didn’t see who has got me the wine that is standing by my elbow when the hugs are done. Whoever it was has got it right; it’s the one I always drink here.
I take it, and everyone I can see raises his glass too. I’m not sure what’s going to happen now. Are there going to be speeches?
I lift my glass in a gesture to all of them and take a sip. The others drink too, and the group then fragments into little groups all talking together. No speeches. That’s a relief.
One little group forms around me. It includes Dr Chan and Mr Silva, and a couple of junior colleagues. Dr Chan and Mr Silva stand and listen quietly, smiling and sipping at their cocktails. They have already said all they need to say to me anyway.
There was a different celebration yesterday, much more formal, for the opening of the stock exchange, at last. They were there too, and we had a chat around one of those tall tables at the end of the evening, after most of the guests had left and the waiters were clearing away. They had left us a bottle of Callistoan champagne and we were all finishing it off. I was wearing my black dress again, only the second time I have worn it since leaving Mars, and my feet were aching.
This celebration is much more enjoyable. I’m not representing anybody; there are no clients here, unless you count Ben and Suresh; I’m wearing comfortable shoes; and I’m finished with my work for Shanghai Exchanges. I’ve handed it over, and it’s not my responsibility any more.
“So you’re going up to the ship tomorrow, Amy?” Jack asks me.
“That’s right.” It’s not leaving for a few days, but boarding has started, and I’m going to be one of the early ones.
“I hear you’re going to be busy,” says Liu.
“Yes, it seems like it.”
“Miss Amiable Friend has done a good marketing job for her firm,” says Dr Chan. I look at him uncertainly, but he’s smiling. “No, you’ve done a good job for the clients, and that’s why they want to stay with you.”
This is the exception from the handover. Three companies that I have been helping to get ready for their public offerings want me to continue to do that, and as a result, from tomorrow they will be clients of my law firm, and I’ll have work to keep me occupied right away after the end of my secondment.
One of them is Robert’s and Vladimir’s joint venture. All that stopping and starting has made them miss the first day of trading; but the flotation is back on track for the moment.
It was a strange conversation with Robert, when I told him I was going back to Mars on the next ship. I can’t make him out. He didn’t seem to be affected at all. He was just the same as always: loud, energetic, laughing a lot; sketching out the future, now restricted to business, as far as he and I are concerned.
Presumably I’ll never see him again, unless he comes to Mars one day, as Vladimir did.
“One of those companies is here, right?” says Jack.
“Yes, in a way,” I reply. Further along, in one of the other groups, Suresh and Percy are standing with their backs to the bar, leaning against it and against each other; and in yet another group is Ben with a beer bottle in his hand, using it to gesticulate as he talks to Mick.
I think that most of my interactions with that company will be in writing, but if I have to talk to anybody it will be with one of those two. Not Robert.
They must have known all this while that I was sleeping with their boss. They never let it show.
Not that I ever actually slept.
“And you’ll be out of the situation here,” says Liu.
“Well, so will you, soon,” I say. I know what he is referring to. Our voices were slightly lowered as we said that, and we all exchange glances in our little group.
I don’t know what is going to happen here. I think that Callisto is just at the beginning of whatever train of events has been kicked off by the arrival of the cult and its suppression. I don’t think its troubles are over.
From now on it’s not my problem any more. Except, I suppose, that I’ll inevitably be the Callisto expert in my firm when I get back to the office in Mars City.
If things go well here, there should be a lot of work for the firm, and for me, advising clients who want to engage in one way or another on Callisto. Maybe it will mean dealing with clients on Earth a lot more than I used to. I assume that most of the inbound investment here will be from Earth.
On the other hand, things might not go well. At the moment people here are all working together, more or less, to present a positive image to the outside world. But once the championships are over and everyone forgets about Callisto, who knows. Perhaps its former dynamism will be stifled by resentment and infighting, and Callisto will stagnate. Or things might turn really ugly.
We don’t say any of this. People don’t discuss this in public spaces.
“And you’re going to miss the championships,” Liu says. “How ironic is that, leaving just before they start.”
“Well, I’m not exactly going to miss them, any more than you are,” I tell him. “I can watch them on the ship just as well as I could down here.”
“Ah, but it won’t be the same,” he says. “Surrounded by everyone, all rooting for your sister. The tension. The excitement. The parties!”
“Yeah, I’m a party animal,” I say, and everyone laughs.
“We’re all on a learning curve,” Jack observes. I give him a stern look, underlaid with a bit of a twinkle.
“I was looking forward to seeing you let your hair down when your sister wins gold,” he goes on.
“Just as well I’m leaving, then,” I say. “Spare you that disappointment.”
“I can dream,” he says.
“That’s all it will ever be.”
He grins at me. “Drink up, Amy. It’s your last chance to enjoy this superb Callistoan vintage.”
“I’m surprised you’re not taking a crate back with you.”
What am I taking back with me? Some good memories, and some bad ones.
I had a video message from my parents yesterday. Mainly from my mother, as ever. She is overjoyed that I’m coming home.
“I look at that picture of Callisto every day,” she said, and twinkled into the camera.
She had forgotten that it showed Mars too, and I had had to remind her in one of my earlier messages.
She was worried that she would never see me again. Now she will, and I can put my side of the story first.
Liu is right: it won’t be the same, experiencing the championships on the ship. It will be quite anonymous on board: more so than it was on the voyage here. Most or all of the passengers I’ll have seen before, I expect, around somewhere, here on Callisto, but I’m not close to any of them. And there’ll be no Ella.
It’s a smaller ship, taking people away who don’t need to be here during the championships. There’s a much larger ship up there now, waiting, which will return to Earth after the championships are over.
I can’t share a ship with Lucid Thought all the way home. I’d rather stay here.
It was like a blow to the body to see her eyes, that evening when I told her. The icy contempt in them. The cold hostility.
Obviously I had expected disappointment, and anger.
“Amy!” says a voice. “Party!”
I shake myself out of my thoughts. It’s Ben, his face laughing and flushed. His group is joining ours.
“Sorry,” I begin. I want to explain that I am pensive because I’m to leave everyone.
He doesn’t let me. He comes right up to me and puts his arm around my shoulders, and with his other hand holds up his beer bottle for me to clink with my glass. I pick up my glass, and we clink. He drinks.
“Bon voyage!” he says. “Bon voyage on that damn ship!”
Why? What’s wrong with the ship?
“You don’t wish you were coming too, then?” I ask, not really seriously.
“Me? Good grief, no.”
“Will you ever go back, Ben?”
“Doubt it.” His arm is still resting on my shoulders. I think he has forgotten about it. At some point I’ll free myself.
No, he hasn’t forgotten. That arm gives me a squeeze. I put my glass down and use both hands to lift his arm off me. I turn to face him, and I am smiling.
“Done any piloting lately?” I ask him.
“Sure,” he says, and takes a swig out of his bottle.
I know how little piloting is actually involved. The machine does almost everything. He must realise that I know that, after my visit to Mount Henrietta.
“Amy, here’s a little something for you,” says another voice, and I turn. There’s a bustle all around, and our group has suddenly grown quite a bit.
I’m expecting some sort of farewell present, but it’s Jiang with a bar stool, which he scrapes across the floor and stands in front of me. Everyone laughs at my expression.
“It was going spare,” he says, “and you look as though your need is greatest.”
“Well, thank you very much,” I say, and I look around in the group. “I appreciate the generosity of my colleagues.”
“Former colleagues,” someone says.
“Former colleagues,” I echo. “I’ll treasure this.”
I shift the stool to where I was standing, next to the bar where I have put my glass down, and I climb on to it and sit myself down. I feel a bit of slow-motion Callistoan jiggling in front; I look up as it subsides, and I catch Gordon staring at me, not at my face, with a mesmerised expression. Silly boy. Have you never seen a lady before?
I give myself a secret smile as I turn my head and pick up my glass.
“Guys, I’ve really enjoyed working with you,” I say to them all. Gordon is the only one here that I have never actually worked with, even though he works for Vladimir. “I’ve had a whale of a time here, and I like you all very much.” Why do whales have such a great time? I’ve always meant to ask someone from Earth that.
“We love you too, Amy,” says Jack, and there are some muted cheers of agreement.
“You should come to Earth and see us again,” says someone else.
“I’d really like to do that,” I say, and it’s true. I hadn’t thought of that.
Inconveniently they are not all based in the same place. Some are in Asia, some in America, and they explain to me that these places are really quite far apart.
Lucid Thought was in Australia. I’ve always thought of that as being quite close to China.
It will be an adjustment to their gravity, though, and that brings us on to talk about their own return to Earth. They will be going straight from Callistoan gravity, which is like the Moon, all the way to the Earth. At least I am only going to Mars.
“This is where we’ll see who has been slacking at the gym,” says Ben, and it is, of course, easy for him to talk.
I glance at Dr Chan and feel a little concerned for him. He is so much older than the rest of them. I know Vanessa has been very diligent in the gym, but I’m not so sure about him.
She told me they used to live next to the ocean. I wonder whether I could visit them too. That would be fabulously exotic.
I’m getting quite carried away in imagining this future trip. I snap out of it and join in the banter about slacking at the gym. It’s not wrong, though. After all this time in much lower gravity than one is used to, and despite all the exercise and the medication against osteoporosis throughout one’s stay, it’s a struggle, so they tell me, a heartbreaking effort, to rebuild one’s strength to return to one’s home planet. That is the other thing that will be occupying me over the coming months, alongside my work for those three clients and any other tasks that the office sends my way. Getting ready to move back into my former life, and pick up where I left off.
Where I left off. Dan is part of what I left. Safe, boring Dan. I wonder whether he has, in fact, waited.
I haven’t. I said I would, but I didn’t really mean it. I wasn’t expecting him to wait either, not really. I think he meant it at the time, but I was expecting him to change his mind later.
I wonder whether he did.
His messages don’t indicate any change of heart; but then, neither do mine. I never mentioned Robert. That would have been most tactless.
The firm has put him on a mentoring programme to prepare for partnership. It’s no guarantee that he will be voted into the partnership when the time comes, but it’s a sign.
I didn’t exactly wait, but it almost feels now as if I did. The thing with Robert is over, and I’m glad. It wasn’t a mistake, and I have no regrets, but I’m glad it’s over. I don’t feel that it touches me, inside. It really does feel as if I did wait, after all.
Maybe he’s not as boring as all that. Progressing steadily on his career path; living in the house that his parents paid for. Or he’s just boring enough. Boring enough for me.
I’m boring too. Timid, and conventional. I didn’t strike a blow for freedom. I wasn’t a hero. I chose safety and conformity. I don’t deserve anything more.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ll both have our careers. He’ll be a partner, building up his practice, rising within the firm, taking on more responsibility, increasing his profit share as the years pass. I’ll have my Callisto niche and the respect of my superiors, and maybe I’ll be a partner too, later; or not; we’ll see. We’ll go out to see my parents regularly, let them spoil the grandchildren, taking care to visit when Lucid Thought is away; Dan will have a beer with my father and talk about man stuff, and I’ll sit in the kitchen with my mother, feeding the baby and talking about colic, and watch myself gradually turning into her.
That’s assuming he has waited.
But first I’m going to get into that craft tomorrow morning; not as early as when I went up to the venue with my sister. I’ll strap myself in, in my pink and white space suit that seemed so conspicuous when I came, and we’ll blast off; almost certainly the last take-off I’ll ever experience, unless I leave Mars again one day and go somewhere without a space elevator.
I probably won’t see any of Callisto as we soar into space; my last sight of it will have been as I climbed the steps into the cabin. I’ll see stars in the blackness as we rise; maybe Jupiter; I don’t know; depends where the ship is. And after a while we’ll slow down, we’ll approach the ship where it hangs in space, in orbit around Callisto, and our pilot will guide our craft into the docking module.
Once again I’ll demonstrate for all to see how different I am from my sister, as I tumble and bump into things on my way out of the craft and into the ship; something I’ll only have to do one more time, when we arrive at Mars again in nine months’ time. Some crew member will bundle me into the hub, where I’ll grope my way on to a seat and wait, holding on to it, until the wheel starts to rotate and gradually, gratefully, I feel the artificial gravity growing and giving structure and orientation to my surroundings.
I’ll go to my cabin, take off my space suit, freshen up, unpack and get myself organised. I’ll make my way to the canteen, or the dining-room, whatever they call it, for my first meal on board. I’ll sleep in a strange bed, up there in space, spinning in that wheel above the surface of Callisto, pitted and shattered and barren, passing over the colony, and Mount Henrietta, and everything else, as I slumber. I suppose, anyway. Actually I have no idea what path the ship’s orbit is taking.
And then two more days and nights while people and luggage and freight are brought up there from the planet, and the mealtimes and the bar in the evenings become more populous, and I work diligently during the daytime for my three clients, until one evening the ship will move off, as it did from Mars all those months ago. All night it will accelerate, as it did before, pushing us towards one side of the wheel as we sleep; and in the morning it will have reached its cruising speed and I shall get washed and dressed and go down the corridor to breakfast in normal Callistoan gravity. We’ll settle into our routine as the wheel very gradually spins faster; working and eating and socialising, seeing Jupiter from the night bar and the Sun from the day bar, if they have those things on that ship; and the weeks and months will pass, and our ship will cross that vast emptiness, that gulf, tiny and slow, on a path into the heart of the Solar System, the sunlight glinting off it for no one to see, falling away from Jupiter and Callisto, away from Lucid Thought, falling down towards the Sun and down towards my home.