The Martian in the Greenhouse – Geoffrey W. Cole

The Martian in the Greenhouse – Geoffrey W. Cole

December 2019

“Can you sit?”

Honoré awoke to find herself lying on a cot in a little room full of mostly empty boxes of medicine and medical supplies. The woman who had asked the question loomed over Honoré. Pale, oily skin stretched tight over thick bones. Grey hair tied up in a bun. Ice-blue eyes set deep.

“Shush,” the woman said. Honoré realized she’d been moaning in pain. It felt like she was steeping her extremities in hot tea. “The pain will go away. You’ll keep most of your toes, and all your fingers. Our Doctor Madsen is very good.”

Bandages wrapped Honoré’s hands and feet. The woman offered her a small plastic cup full of awful-tasting water that she swallowed with difficulty.

“I’m the Captain,” she said. “And you are Honoré.” Honoré flinched as the Captain probed her arms. “You spoke in your sleep. We didn’t know if you would make it. How did you find us?”

Honoré had another drink of the swamp-tasting water to buy herself time to think. She couldn’t tell this stranger the truth: she didn’t know where or even when she was. Revealing that she and her brother had tried to cheat their way to the future could only make things worse.

“You know about the pandemic?” Honoré said. A pained look across the woman’s lean face told Honoré that she did. “It came for my mother first, then Benoît.” Honoré’s voice caught as she thought about that morning two weeks ago when they found their mother blue in her bed, soaked through with sweat. “I got sick not long after, but there was this company who offered to freeze anyone who was dying, for free. The last thing I remember is the bus ride to the old airport where they were doing the freezing. Then I woke up on the snow, all alone.”

“How did you find us?”

“Benoît always said to look for a hill if I got lost,” she said. “So I walked to the only hill I could find, and when I saw your station, I kept walking.”

“So strong,” the Captain said, her long fingers on Honoré’s thighs. “Benoît is a beautiful name.”

“Is he here?”

“On Mars?” The Captain shook her head. “Until last week, we thought there were only four of us on the planet. Now we are five.” The Captain’s cold fingers came to rest on Honoré’s abdomen. “You are the one we’ve been waiting for.”

Under the yellow light of grow lamps, the boy dodged between blackened beanstalks, pounced, and came up with a squirming mouse. He bit the animal’s head off and Honoré thought she might throw up. Theo sucked, his chin running red, and when he was done, he offered her the still-warm carcass. She refused.

“Have you ever had pizza?” Theo asked as he peeled back the skin, cut out little slivers of flesh with his pocket knife, and lay them out in front of the electric heater.

“All the time,” she said.

“What’s it like?”

Honoré thought for a moment, then said: “Hot and chewy and salty.”

Around a mouthful of mouse, Theo said, “That’s how I’d describe mouse.”

“It’s not like mouse,” she said.

He shrugged and went back to drying the meat.

Honoré worked the cold soil beneath the beanstalks. Her spade bounced off the concrete-hard earth, but this was her job now: till the soil, stir in the fertilizer, make the beans grow. Look, Maman, she thought. I’m gardening on Mars. It was all Honoré could do to hold onto her spade. Thinking about her mother made her ache. Honoré wanted to remember the woman Maman had been before the pandemic, but all she could picture was the delirious shell her mother had become in those last few days, mumbling about the old country as she drowned in her own fluids.

“That won’t do,” Theo said. He kicked at the soil where she was supposed to be working. “Here, like this.” He took her spade and attacked the frozen soil until large clods loosened around the beanstalks. “Now dump the fertilizer.”

Honoré wiped away her tears. She poured the bucket of viscous compost into the loosened soil, where the stinking liquid pooled about the withered stalk. The places where her big toes used to be ached. Her fingers in the gardening gloves were icicles.

“See?” he said. “Easy.”

Theo plucked dead leaves and chatted while they worked: he told her about the latest videos and e-books the Captain made him study. Honoré barely heard him. Since awakening in the station a week ago, Honoré found herself constantly coming back to the fact that everyone on Earth was gone: Benoît, Régine, Marie N., Marie W., and Marie P. Everyone. Thirteen years had passed since the pandemic, the Captain said, and there had been no communication from Earth in that time. The only people on the planet were the four white people with whom she shared the shoddy station. She didn’t know how to process this information. When she and Benoît had concocted their plan, they knew they would be leaving people behind, that the world would change when they were on ice, but with everyone getting sick, they thought they would see Maman again, and that at least one or two of their friends would join them in whatever future they awakened in. To be all alone, on a different planet, with everyone she knew gone, left her feeling like this was all some awful dream from which she would never awaken.

“That’s enough,” Theo said. The soil around her beanstalk was cut open. “Oswald will let you have it if you damage his roots.”

Dinner was nothing like meals with Benoît and Maman. Those had been chaotic, hurried affairs, the food often burnt or undercooked, she and Benoît afraid to complain about the quality of the meal for fear of their mother either scolding them or bursting into tears.

In the month she’d spent on Mars, dinner was the same well-running operation every night, and tonight was no different. Honoré and Theo brought in beans and small brown lumps Theo insisted were potatoes, the Lieutenant carried in cubes of frozen grey meat from the freezer outside, the Doctor brought pinches of herbs from the uppermost level of the station, and they all placed their goods in the big pot of broth the Captain stirred. They ate in the control room, the penultimate level of the station that sat above the barracks where they slept, and below the observation deck to which Honoré had yet to be admitted. Windows along the far wall looked over the moon-lit landscape, frozen rock sprinkled here and there with white scars of snow. Honoré’s ghost toes ached whenever she gazed out those windows for too long.

Honoré and Theo were given the largest portions, the Captain’s slightly smaller, and Doctor Madsen and Lieutenant Oswald’s portions smaller yet, just a few beans, a one-centimetre cube of meat, and a single brown lump each. Before they ate, they bowed their heads and recited together:

“We toil for the day the red planet will be green,
We toil for the day the water will flow,
We toil for the day we will walk beneath the Martian sun,
We toil so that our children may sow.”

Honoré still expected them to say Amen, but they all just nodded their heads and dove in.

“Did you fix the CO2 scrubber, Lieutenant?” the Captain asked.

He hadn’t; they were out of spare parts, but the exterior atmospheric oxygen levels seemed higher, as demonstrated by Honoré’s survival, so he was enriching their atmosphere with small doses of Martian air.

“How many mice did you catch today, Theo?” the Captain asked.

Theo flushed red. He told her none, and instead spoke of what he learned in his tutorials.

“And how are our crops, Honoré?” the Captain asked.

As Honoré reported on her progress with the kale, she felt like she was answering a question from an overbearing teacher. All conversations in the station were like this: formal, unemotional, the adults using rank instead of name. Only Theo showed any signs of life. Honoré thought it might be a coping mechanism: these people had lost everything too, and had been dealing with that loss for longer than she had. Hiding behind formality helped her tamp down the yawning abyss of terror and grief that opened up whenever she thought too long about their situation; it must work for them too.

“Have you managed to get the meat-synthesizer working again, Doctor?” the Captain asked.

The Doctor winced at the question. Speaking seemed agony for him. The meat-growing equipment was still down, he said, so they would have to continue to feed off their frozen supply.

“And how about our new arrival?” the Captain asked the Doctor. “Is she ready?”

The Doctor went into a coughing a fit in response, a phlegmy, body-wracking affair that made Honoré lose her appetite. She looked out the window as the Doctor worked through his fit. Moonlight made the world beyond look dead. But that wasn’t right. The glowing crescent sitting about the horizon looked just like the Earth’s moon.

Honoré tried to remember what she’d learned a few months and thirteen years ago in her Cégep Explorations Science class. “I thought Mars didn’t have a moon.”

Everyone stopped eating. The Captain gestured at Theo, who recited: “It has two, Phobos and Deimos.”

“That looks just like our moon.”

“Low-orbit satellite,” the Lieutenant said. “They launched it as part of the terraforming effort to help the seed organisms adapt to Martian conditions. Many of Earth’s photosynthetic species are phototrophic: they climb toward the light, both night and day.”

“With some things, we can adjust easily,” the Captain said. “Take gravity — it is lighter here, and we barely even notice the difference. But the moon is hardwired into Earth’s biology. Life can’t survive without it.”

Honoré accepted the answer. Every time she observed something strange about Mars, the Captain or the Lieutenant had similar answers. When she had spotted a star moving through the sky that looked just like a terrestrial satellite, the Lieutenant had explained that they had been launched from Earth and might contain more frozen people like her. One morning she spotted what appeared to be a passenger jet arcing across the sky, but the Captain explained that it was a robotic drone seeding the atmosphere with CO2 to start the greenhouse effect. And every time the Lieutenant or the Captain provided their perfectly rational answers, the breathless, irrational hope that took root inside her was stamped out.

After dinner, Honoré helped Theo clean. The Captain climbed the ladder that took her to the floor above the control room, and the Doctor followed. By the time Honoré and Theo were ready to dry the dishes, the Doctor returned, flushed, his hair damp. He poured himself a drink of water and hobbled to his bed. The Lieutenant came up from wherever he’d been working, cleaned his hands in the dishwater, and climbed the ladder.

The Captain and Lieutenant climbed down together as Honoré and Theo finished the last of the dishes. Cheeks glowing a healthy pink, the Captain shooed the men down to the barracks, then begged Honoré to join her at the kiosk where Theo did his reading.

“It’s been over a month now,” the Captain said. She clasped Honoré’s hands as she spoke, as if the two of them were old friends. “Your arrival here has been just the thing we needed. You’ve injected an energy into our lives that has been sorely missing.”

“Everyone has been welcoming,” Honoré said.

“Theo, in particular, adores you. He talks about you every night.”

“He is a fine boy,” she said. The Captain smiled at that. Pride, Honoré thought. She’d always wondered, but now she was certain, even though she’d never heard the boy call the Captain ‘mother’.

“Do you understand our mission, Honoré?”

“To build a home for humanity on Mars.”

“And are we doing a good job of it?”

Honoré considered the sickly plants in the greenhouse, the failing solar panels, the defunct meat-synthesizers, Theo and his mice. But the Lieutenant was competent, the Doctor kind, the Captain assured. She didn’t doubt them, but there was something else, whatever was hiding in their forced formality, that made her hesitate.

“I know,” the Captain said. She patted Honoré’s leg. “What we’ve built here is miraculous, but what is the point of a miracle if there is no one to share it with?” The Captain held Honoré’s face between her cold palms so that Honoré couldn’t look away from the woman’s icy gaze. “I think it is time you helped us with our most important task.”

The aluminium rungs of the ladder were frigid beneath Honoré’s hands. The Captain was pretending not to watch as Honoré hesitated at the trap door that led to the uppermost deck. The Lieutenant worked on a piece of ventilation equipment. His hands were so dirty. Should she have chosen the Doctor first? The Captain said he was fading, that he had months, maybe weeks left. Tomorrow she would find out what it was like to sleep with a dying man. No, she thought. I made the right decision.

Honoré climbed into the observation deck. Artificial moonlight fell in through the windows that encircled the room. Drying herbs hung from the rafters, filling the space with the pungent odour of oregano and basil, scents that reminded her of Maman’s herb garden.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” the Captain had said. “But you are so strong. Whatever they did to you while you were in cryostasis, they made you capable of thriving here. I always thought I would be the Eve of Mars, but after thirteen years of trying, we only have Theo to show for our efforts. Your babies will inherit the planet.”

Honoré could see the entirety of human civilization from here: solar panels, greenhouses, the rover, and dry, frozen ground. It wasn’t much of an inheritance. Her hands shook as she arranged the blankets and mattresses. They wanted her to get pregnant. To help restore humanity. The sex didn’t scare her; she’d done it before, the first time a few weeks after her seventeenth birthday, because she’d wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and the second time was because she knew what all the fuss was about. What scared her was what getting pregnant meant. She realized that she’d been holding on to a vain hope that there was a real world she could go back to, but by sleeping with these two old white men, by letting them try to impregnate her, she could no longer pretend. This was all there was and all there would ever be.

She’d told Maman about sleeping with the two boys not long after the second. Love is a gift, Maman had said. So be careful who you give it to. Not everyone is worthy.

The knock on the trap door startled her. The Lieutenant’s hands on the topmost rung were clean.

Wind shook the habitat. Honoré lay unsleeping in her bottom bunk. The Doctor wheezed in his sleep, Theo dreamed aloud about racoons and beefsteak tomatoes, the Lieutenant snored, and the Captain was soundless in her slumber. They are your family now, she tried to tell herself. This is your home. No matter how many times she repeated it, she didn’t believe it.

Honoré readjusted the rolled blanket that elevated her hips. Had it been the Doctor or the Lieutenant tonight? She couldn’t remember. Had it been two weeks or three since she’d first invited the Lieutenant up to the observation room? She couldn’t be sure. Was either man worthy? I don’t know, Maman. It would be her period again soon, though. The Captain said there was no point in trying during menses. Honoré had never wished for her period before.

The wind intensified and a massive tearing shook the habitat. Cold air that smelled of snow wafted into the barracks.

“Breach!” The Doctor yelled. “Breach!”

The others leaped from their beds. The Captain pushed Theo over to the ladder that led down to the airlocks and she wrenched Honoré out of bed.

“Get into the suits while we still can,” she said.

Honoré slid down the ladder and ran over to the where the six space suits hung beside the airlocks. As she sealed herself away inside the bulbous helmet, where her own stench mixed with the stink of both the Doctor and Lieuntenant and the odour of whoever had owned the space suit before her, all Honoré could think was how nice it had been to breathe fresh air.

Snow filled Bradbury greenhouse. Theo and the Captain hand-dug around the hydroponic equipment to salvage what they could, while the Lieutenant plowed a path around the greenhouse with the solar-charged rover. Honoré crawled over a massive drift and slid to the bottom, where she tried to dislodge a section of the greenhouse roof frame that had crumpled during the storm. The Doctor was trying to repair a chunk of loose siding in between coughing fits. I will have to do my duty with the Doctor tonight.

The thought filled Honoré with a sudden revulsion, and the revulsion turned to nausea. Puke was going to fill up the helmet, run all down her only pair of long underwear. She would stink for the rest of her life. Her gloves worked at the clasp at her neck. A hiss as the seal unclasped. She pulled the helmet off and vomited all of last night’s grey meat and withered kale into the new snow. Then the nausea was gone. The cold air smelled like Christmas.

As she re-sealed the helmet, she realized what the nausea meant. She felt dizzy as she pulled the greenhouse roof out of the snow. She was pregnant. A baby was growing inside her, a baby that would call this place home, these people Papa and Grandmère. She began to cry without warning when she pictured her baby growing up here with only these strange men and women for family. No Benoît to bounce them on his knee, no Maman to feed them fried bananas. Why am I so sad? she thought. This news will make everyone happy.

She gave the plastic frame another tug and it slid out of the snow. A plastic envelope fluttered loose from the bent frame to land at her feet.

There was a packing slip within. Honoré unfolded the paper and read:

Ship to:

Port Saunders

Devon Island, NU, Canada

X0A 3T9

c/o Friends of Mars

Martian Polar Simulation Habitat

The date on the packing slip was seven months before the pandemic took Maman. She had to read it again, then again, until she started to understand, and once she understood, she had to force herself not to scream. She wasn’t on Mars. All this time, they had been lying to her. The forced formality, the ritual before dinner, all of it was bullshit. Honoré had never felt so stupid. She’d known, all along, that something was wrong, yet she’d agreed to sleeping with those lying men. She’d let them get her pregnant.

“Sit-rep, Honoré?” the Captain said over the radio.

She had to stop herself from screaming obscenities at the woman. “Almost finished with the roof frame. Returning to the station soon.”

As she trudged back through the snow, rage and betrayal making her blood run hot despite the Arctic cold, another emotion fought with the rest. Hope. Though she was stuck up here with these vile people, she was still on Earth.

She could go home.

Theo sucked up a snowflea that had wandered beneath the soy plants.

“Do you know how to drive the rover?” Honoré said. She was scraping the soil in the Bova greenhouse while he hunted.

“The Lieutenant promised to teach me on my thirteenth birthday.”

“And when is that?” She let the cold soil sift between her fingers. The dirt fell no slower than it had when Maman made her help in the garden.

“Not for another six months.” He stuffed another wriggling insect into his mouth and kept hunting.

Simulation, that’s what the packing slip said. She vaguely remembered her science teacher talking about something like this. She’d thought people would have to be crazy to volunteer to spend a year inside a fake Mars habitat. The Captain, the Doctor, the Lieutenant, they were all a little crazy. During the chaos of the pandemic, they must have been forgotten up here. Abandoned. What better lie to tell themselves than the simulation had become reality? When a stranger showed up in the greenhouse, instead of face the truth, they’d built Honoré into their narrative: she too was part of a dying humanity’s final effort to survive on Mars.

“Can you keep a secret, Theo?” she said.

“I’ve always wanted a secret to keep.”

“I didn’t get sick during the pandemic.”

“So why were you frozen?”

“I faked it. It was my brother’s idea.” Damn you, Benoît, she thought. “After our mother died, he figured we could join her in the deep freeze and wake up all together in some brilliant future, so I forged fatal diagnoses for the two of us. This isn’t exactly what we’d hoped for.”

“Better here than Earth. Everyone down there is dead.”

But they weren’t dead. Those had been jets flying through the sky, satellites soaring overhead, the real moon glowing above the horizon. She could go home, and she would be damned if she let these people keep her here. The rover was solar powered. It could only travel a dozen or so kilometres on a charge, but that was further than a person could travel in this landscape. She couldn’t ask the Lieutenant to teach her how to drive it, that might raise their suspicions.

“You know,” she said. “My mother let me drive her car when I was twelve.”

She spotted an earthworm wriggling in the soil and pulled it out. Theo’s eyes lit up as she gave it to him.

“Twelve!” he said around a mouthful. “Rovers are way easier than cars. Wait until I tell the Lieutenant, he’ll have to teach me.”

Late one night a week after Honoré discovered she was pregnant, she crept out of bed and climbed up to the control room to use Theo’s tablet. If she was going to find a way back to the real world, she had to be careful. She wouldn’t be able to explain herself if the Captain caught her looking at maps of Devon Island, so she deleted her viewing history and only used the tablet when she had the control room to herself.

She’d already given up looking for any information on the Friends of Mars or their Martian Polar Simulation Habitat: all that information had been deleted from the off-line version of Wikipedia running on the tablet. Believing the lie would be a lot harder if there were constant reminders of the truth lying around. But there were maps of Devon Island in the off-line Google Earth, maps that filled her with a growing dread.

Devon Island had the distinction of being the largest uninhabited island on the planet. The island boasted a ghost town, a ghost mine, and a ghost science station, but no living settlements. From staring at Google Earth for so long, she’d put together the story of how she’d come to the island. Hundreds of thousands of people, both the dead and those diagnosed with terminal cases, had been frozen during the pandemic, and the company that did the freezing must have been looking for a cheap place to store them. The abandoned mine on Devon Island would have done nicely. Somehow her coffin had been separated from the rest, had ended up out there on the snow, and after thirteen years, had gone into a revival cycle. She’d walked the rest of the way.

Walking back wasn’t an option. When she turned the GPS function on in the tablet, it showed that they were located along the southwest rim of the Haughton Impact crater. The nearest settlement, an Inuit village called Resolute on Cornwallis Island, was two hundred and fifty kilometres away, and forty of those kilometres were frozen Arctic ocean. Theo had started his rover-driving lessons, but it would still be a long journey.

Honoré put down the tablet as nausea climbed her esophagus. She barely made it to the washbasin in time.

“Everything okay?” the Captain said. She was coming up the ladder from the barracks below, the blue light of the tablet reflected in her pale eyes.

“Bad potato.”

“Could be,” she said. The Captain poured a glass of water and handed it to Honoré. “Though it could be something else. You are late, aren’t you?”

Honoré took a long drink and handed the empty glass back to the Captain.

“Late, yes, but not absent. My flow started this morning.”

The Captain walked over to the kiosk where Honoré had been reading. The tablet shut itself off the second before the Captain picked it up.

“That’s almost a week behind schedule,” she said. “There can be spotting after conception. We’ll get Doctor Madsen to look at you in the morning.” She handed Honoré the tablet. “Don’t stay up too late. Sleep is so important for a new mother.”

Honoré wiped her index finger with alcohol-soaked gauze, and made sure to disinfect underneath the fingernail.

The Doctor knocked. “Ready?”

Honoré stuffed her shirt into her mouth, then pressed the sterilized finger inside her as far up as it would go and scraped. The pain was worse than she thought, but she didn’t scream. Her finger came away crimson. She wiped off the blood with the gauze and tucked the gauze into her sock.

“Ready!” she said.

The Captain helped the Doctor into his chair, then helped Honoré into the makeshift stirrups.

“Be gentle,” the Doctor said.

Honoré forced herself to relax as the Captain looked into her. “Is your flow always this heavy?”

“Since my first period.”

“We’ll keep trying, then,” the Doctor said.

The Captain stared into her for a while longer, her gloved fingers so pale against the dark skin of Honoré’s legs. “I think we need to redouble our efforts. Both men, each night when you are most fertile.”

She peeled off the latex gloves and dropped them in the Doctor’s lap.

Once the Captain was gone, Honoré put her clothes back on. The Doctor, as usual, kept his back turned.

“Do you know what’s making you so sick?” Honoré asked, once she was dressed.

“Bacterial pneumonia. It’s not my first bout, but we had antibiotics back then. I might fight this off on my own. If I don’t, well, let’s hope we can get a baby growing inside you before we get to that.”

He tried to laugh but the sound came out as a crackling, convulsive shudder that turned into an extensive coughing fit. Honoré rubbed his back and tried to think. She couldn’t do this alone, not if she wanted to bring Theo with her. She needed someone to show them the way. Benoît, why did I listen to you?

“There’s something I want to show you in the greenhouse,” she said. “Could you come with me?”

The Doctor leaned on her as they walked between the rows of wilting beanstalks. Honoré grabbed the small spade she used to break up the frozen ground.

“It’s been too long since I’ve been down here,” the Doctor said. “It smells like growing things. Like life.”

She thought it smelled like shit.

They came to the place where the greenhouse walls had been patched.

“This is where we found you,” he said.

“What if we could find antibiotics?”

“The nearest antibiotics are about 230 million kilometres away if my orbital calculations are correct.”

“Resolute is two hundred and fifty kilometres away.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The moon, the air, the jets, the gravity. Doctor, you know the truth. This isn’t Mars.”

The Doctor’s eyes went wide and he began to cough.

“Real air will help.” She slashed at the greenhouse wall. Cold wind blew in through the hole. He clamped a hand over his mouth, his eyes wild.

“Airlock,” he said between his fingers.

He stumbled away from the torn opening, tripped over a kale plant, and fell.

“You can breathe,” she said. “Stop pretending this is Mars! We’re on Earth. You’re safe.” Honoré ripped his hands away from his mouth. “We can go home again.”

The Doctor took long, ragged breaths of the cold air, each making his coughing worse until he was convulsing on his side, his face bruised, phlegm and blood on his purple lips. Panic reared up in Honoré as she tried to calm him down, but her efforts only made matters worse. She tried to drag him to the airlock, but the Earth’s gravity and the Doctor’s mass made the task impossible.

Halfway to the airlock, he let out a final, ragged breath, and went still. She couldn’t find a pulse at his wrist.

Honoré ran to the airlock, cycled through, and screamed “Breach!” into the reeking habitat.

The Captain knelt on the floor of the locker room performing chest compressions on the Doctor’s body, while the Lieutenant breathed through a plastic mask into the dead man’s mouth. They wore their space suits without helmets. Theo and Honoré’s space suits, and the Doctor’s, and the other suit Honoré had never asked about, hung on the wall. Theo stood opposite Honoré, looking for all the world like he’d spotted a mouse in the corner of the greenhouse.

When the Captain fell away from the body, Honoré moved to take her spot.

“No,” the Captain said. “There’s no point.”

The older woman leaned on her elbows as she caught her breath. The Lieutenant, sweat staining his brow as it did after their nightly duties, wiped his mouth with the back of his hands. Theo prodded the Doctor’s belly with his index finger.

“He was very sick,” the Captain said. She climbed to her feet and helped Honoré rise. “There’s nothing you could have done. You had to think of the future of the species first.”

“I didn’t even think,” Honoré said, the panic still there, threatening to overwhelm her, but she knew if she gave even the slightest indication that the Doctor’s death was not what it seemed, she would never leave this place. “When he tripped and the spade cut through the wall, I didn’t think. I just ran.”

“The only thing I don’t understand,” the Captain said. “Is what he was doing in the greenhouse? A man in his condition shouldn’t have been out in the cold.”

“He wanted to see growing things,” Honoré said. “He said he liked the smell.”

“Who doesn’t like the smell of human manure?” The Lieutenant barked out a laugh. “I should get to it. The work is easier before he gets too cold.”

“The three of us will prepare the memorial feast,” the Captain said.

Honoré risked one last look at the dead man from the ladder. She had done this. Killed a man. It had been an accident, sure, but he had followed her out there because he trusted her.

The Lieutenant placed a hand saw beside the body.

Theo seemed excited as they washed potatoes. Honoré waited until the Captain excused herself to use the washroom before she asked why he was in such good spirits.

“The feast,” Theo said. “It’s the only good part about someone dying.” Honoré’s confusion must have been evident on her face. “Aren’t you sick of frozen meat?”

Honoré forced down the panic as she washed the starchy lumps. Every dinner in the habitat, there had been those strange cubes of grey meat. From the broken meat-synthesizer, the Doctor had assured her, and she had taken him at his word. She had eaten human flesh daily, it was even now digesting in her gut, it was becoming part of the foetus they had tricked her into gestating. Panic turned to nausea. She might have betrayed the Doctor’s trust by bringing him to the greenhouse, but he had betrayed her too, and his betrayal was monstrous. No, Maman, she thought. He was not worthy.

Her nausea intensified as she realized that she had to leave the habitat before the feast.

The Captain stirred the big pot while Theo set the table. Honoré hated that the stew smelled so good. The Lieutenant was still down in the locker room, humming oldies as he worked, but the sound of sawing had been replaced by hissing as the airlock opened and closed several times.

Honoré placed her hand on the Captain’s stirring arm. “Can we talk in private?”

“Run down to the barracks, Theo,” the Captain said, without looking at her son. “Find a passage in the Doctor’s copy of Martian Time Slip that will be suitable for a reading.”

Theo slid down the ladder.

“With the Doctor gone,” Honoré said. “I’m worried that I will never get pregnant.”

“We will have to get the Lieutenant to redouble his efforts.” She took a sip of the stew, made a face. “Too bland.” She added more salt.

Honoré tried not to clutch at her stomach. “What if the Lieutenant is the problem? I need to do what you never could.”

The Captain stopped stirring. “He is just a boy.”

“He will be thirteen soon. Old enough.”

The Captain lifted the spoon, tasted, and offered it to Honoré. “Too much salt?”

A chunk of Doctor Madsen floated in the oily broth. Honoré let the liquid touch her lips and suppressed a gag.

“It’s fine,” she said.

The Captain stirred the meat back into the stew. “In the primordial days on Earth, the mother-in-law would often perform midwife duties. We are in the primordial days here, aren’t we?”

Wind whipped the habitat and hissed through the patched holes.

“I think we should start today. Before the meal.” The Captain looked ready to protest, but Honoré couldn’t contain herself much longer. When they served the stew, she wouldn’t be able to keep pretending. She had to get out, now, while she still could. “What better way to celebrate the loss of one life than to conceive another?”

The Captain lifted the spoon and slurped down the steaming contents.

“You’re right,” she said. “It’s fine.”

The oldies the Lieutenant was humming cut out when Honoré stepped into the locker room.

“You’re not supposed to be down here,” he said. He was scrubbing a dark stain on the floor with wadded rags.

“The Captain wants you to talk to Theo,” she said. “The two of us, Theo and I that is, we’re going to do our duty before dinner. I can clean up here.”

The Lieutenant showed no surprise. Humming “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy”, he handed Honoré the wadded rags, washed his hands in the mop water, and climbed the ladder. As he did, she understood that his stoicism, which she’d always taken for strength, was something else. The man had never shown any emotion in the time they’d spent together, not even in their lovemaking. He had just cut his friend into bite-sized pieces, and he was humming a song as if he had been soldering a broken solar panel.

Honoré’s hands shook as she scrubbed. If the Lieutenant was a sociopath, what did that make the Captain? Honoré wouldn’t wait to find out. Once she was certain the Lieutenant had climbed the two floors to the control room, she opened his toolbox and took out a hammer and screwdriver. She placed the Captain’s helmet on the deck, covered the bulbous faceplate with the rags, and tapped the screwdriver’s head through the glass. The rags muted the crack. Her hands were shaking so badly that she dropped the screwdriver when she tried to break the Lieutenant’s faceplate. The noise sounded like a gunshot and left her gasping for breath, certain that she would be discovered, but there was no movement upstairs. She forced herself to slow down as she finished the Lieutenant’s helmet, the Doctor’s, and the other helmet no one wore. Then she put her spacesuit and Theo’s into the airlock with the tablet, and opened the outer door.

When she climbed up into the control room, everyone was looking at her. Had they heard? None of them said anything.

“Ready, Theo?” she said.

The boy nodded.

Honoré walked over to the ladder that led up to the observation deck.

“Give me a few minutes to get myself ready,” she said. “I’ll knock when I am set.”

Honoré tied together the last of the blankets that had carpeted the observation deck, and lashed one end to the wall struts. There was a moon tonight, full and bright. Low-orbit satellite, my ass, Honoré thought. At least it would light their way. She loosened the screws holding the window above the place she’d anchored the blanket rope. The rover sat below, as charged as it would get after the brief stretch of daylight.

She knocked on the hatch and helped Theo through. Before she closed the hatch, she saw the Captain staring up at her. She mouthed “Don’t worry” to the Captain and locked the hatch behind her.

Theo’s hands trembled, his breath shallow. He walked over to the window. “I always wondered what it looked like up here.”

Honoré joined him at the window and took his hand. “Do you trust me, Theo?” He nodded, his eyes wide. Just a boy. What mother would let her child do this? “They’ve been lying to you since the day you were born. This is Earth.”

Theo tugged his hand away. “Don’t joke around.”

“The drone seeders, the fake moon, the satellites. All lies.” She handed him the packing slip. “I found this after the storm.”

He looked skeptical as he read, his eyes moving over the words again and again. “This is a trick.”

“I’m leaving, Theo. And I want you to come with me.”

He moved toward the hatch. “I can’t survive out there.”

“Yes, you can.”

“I won’t go.”

He dropped to his knees beside the hatch and reached for the lock.

“Pizza,” she said. “As much as you could ever want.”

Theo settled back on his knees. “They tried to radio Earth. No one answered.”

“It was a terrible time, but there are still people out there. They just forgot about you.” She took his hand again and led him back to the window. “Do you trust me?” she asked again.

She hesitated at the window, thinking of the Doctor’s gasping demise, but Theo was stronger than the Doctor. She threw open the window. Theo instinctively reached up to cover his mouth, but Honoré wouldn’t let him.

“The air is wonderful,” she said. He took a deep breath, coughed, then took another. “See?”

“What’s going on up there?” the Captain shouted from below.

“We have to take her with us,” he said.

“We can come back for her, once we are safe. But you know she will never let us leave if we don’t go now. Will you come with me?”

The Captain screamed and pounded on the other side of the airlock door as Honoré gathered up their space suits. Honoré hobbled across the frozen ground, her socks sticking to the snow, and met up with Theo as he descended the last few metres on the blanket rope.

“We can put the suits on once we are far enough away,” she said, trembling from the cold and adrenaline. “But we have to get the rover going now.”

Theo climbed into the driver’s seat, Honoré in the passenger’s. The space suits filled the small compartment behind them. Theo’s hands shook on the steering wheel as he tried to get the rover moving.

“Come on,” she said.

“The Lieutenant only let me drive twice.”

The airlock door opened and the Captain ran out in her space suit. She held one hand over the hole Honoré had punched in her faceplate.

The rover hummed to life.

“Move,” Honoré shouted.

Theo was looking in the rearview mirror as his mother approached. Honoré reached across Theo and locked his door, then locked her own.

“Don’t you take him,” the Captain’s voice crackled over the rover’s radio. “Don’t you take our future.”

“Go, Theo!” Honoré said.

The Captain pulled on the driver’s door handle. Theo stared, eyes wide, at the hole punched in the Captain’s faceplate.

“You can breathe too,” he said.

“The seed organisms,” the Captain said. “They’re building atmosphere.”

“More lies,” Honoré said. The Lieutenant stepped out of the airlock with a strip of duct tape over the hole in his faceplate. “This is Earth, Captain. You know it.”

The Captain clawed at the door. “We took you in, Honoré. We made you part of us.”

Honoré stamped on what she hoped was the gas pedal. The rover jolted forward, knocking the Captain to the ground. Theo pushed Honoré away from the rover’s controls.

The Captain rose to her feet and ran toward the rover. “Don’t leave, Theo. We are building a better world. All of it will be yours.”

Theo froze behind the steering wheel.

“Please,” Honoré said. “I don’t want to have my baby here.”

“You’re having a baby?”

Honoré nodded. “I want her to see everything you learned about in your tablet. The cities, the mountains, the ocean. I want you to see it too.”

Theo wiped away tears and hit the accelerator. The Captain screamed behind them.

“I want to eat a meat lover’s pizza,” he said. “And a Hawaiian.”

The Captain was pleading with Theo to come back, when Honoré found the controls for the radio and flipped it off. The rover squeaked and rattled as it rolled over the frozen Earth.

Sea ice stretched to the horizon ahead of them. Theo stood in his too-large space suit beside Honoré, the two of them gazing at that great expanse of frozen Arctic Ocean. Behind them, the rover’s solar panels converted the last long rays of the setting sun into the metres they would cross that night.

“How far is it?”

“Three days,” Honoré said.

That was being generous. The days were getting shorter, only giving them enough charge for a dozen or so kilometres. The tablet told them that Cornwallis Island lay 40 kilometres across the ice, but using the tablet to navigate hadn’t been foolproof to date. There was a good chance they would be spending several extra days out on the ice.

“What do we do when we reach the other side?”

“We follow the coast South until we get to Resolute.”

Where, she told herself, there would be people. Real, living people. There had to be.

“Think they’ll have pizza there?”

“Sure,” she said. “But it will probably be frozen.”

They climbed back into the rover, stowed their helmets, and drove out onto the sea of ice.

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