Karya had been on Mars for two entire years, which called for a party. Someone pilfered vodka and some orange space drink from the employee dorm’s pantry; together, they made an acceptable cocktail. Karya sat apart, though, drinking slowly.
“That’s still your first, innit?” Col plopped down next to her. “S’matter, too powdery?”
“It’s fine.” Karya fidgeted with the foam cup, slicing tally marks with her thumbnail. “They offered me a promotion today: executive assistant. I might take it.”
“Assistant to whom?”
“Does it matter? It means higher security clearance, access to more files – ”
“It means being stuck in the offices,” he interrupted, “away from the mines. How are you supposed to find him if you can’t get out there and look for him?”
“I’ve been out there! Two years in that godawful suit!”
“Us, too, remember?” His eyes flashed. “And we’re gettin’ no promotions.”
She rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Col produced a flask and splashed its contents into her cup, pressing a finger to his lips.
“That’ll help it. To your brother, eh?”
“To Marko.” She tapped her cup to his and downed its improved – and amplified – contents just as the dorm intercom whined.
“Karya Novak, please report to your supervisor.”
She stood, sighing. “At this hour?”
“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”
Her heart raced as she navigated the deserted corridors towards the administrative wing. Surely their small party hadn’t caused any disruptions. Did they want her decision already?
What if they’d they caught Col or Maria or someone prying into her brother’s disappearance? What if she’d gotten her friends in trouble?
What if they’d caught Karya sneaking into the security archives, or observed how she spent every single Surface Day ignoring the rusty, blasted landscape, but taking photos of as many miners as possible, desperate to capture her brother’s face in the crowd?
She took several deep breaths. She didn’t even know for sure that anything bad had happened to Marko. For all she knew, he was just one of the thousands of miners serving out his lifelong contract deep in the claustrophobic Martian tunnels, and there were so many of them she simply hadn’t seen him yet.
Or, for all she knew, he was dead, or transferred to Europa, or –
The office door loomed before her. The security camera, recognizing her, whirred the door open. A young man sat in front of Mrs. Kim’s desk, his dark hair closely shaved, his prominent brow furrowed, his sad, dark eyes –
“Marko?” she gasped.
He stood, half-smiling, and opened his arms to her. One now ended at the elbow. “Hey, Karya.”
“How – oh God, Marko – ”
“Looks worse than it feels,” he assured her. “I got badly burned by gas a while back, so they moved me to engineering.”
“You always were good with electronics,” she cried into his jumpsuited shoulder. “You oaf, I’ve been looking for you for months!”
“I know. I didn’t want this to worry you more.”
She pulled back, her tears stilled. “You knew I was here?”
“Saw you at a couple Surface Days.”
“And you never said? Never contacted me?”
Mrs. Kim strode in, the door whirring shut behind her. “Sorry I’m late.” She stopped at the sight of Karya’s tear-striped face. “He told you already?”
“Told her what?”
Mrs. Kim sat down behind the desk. “My mistake. When was the last time either of you heard from your mother?”
Marko shifted uncomfortably.
“She messages me monthly,” Karya said, “when the channels are clear. Why?”
Mrs. Kim leaned forward. “Your father passed away a week ago. He had an aggressive cancer. Your mother never mentioned he was sick?”
“No,” Karya choked out. “When was he…”
“According to the statement from his doctor, he was diagnosed a little over a year and a half ago.”
Karya stared at her knees. She hadn’t had a claustrophobic attack in months, but this felt similarly horrible – her lungs constricting, her heart rampaging –
“Mom wouldn’t have wanted you to worry.” Marko’s voice intruded on her grief. “She knows how hard it is to get back to Earth.”
“She knows I was looking for you,” she spat. She stood, tears and the shitty cocktail and shock making her stagger. “And if you hadn’t been hiding from me –”
“You’re blaming me?”
Karya closed her eyes, counted, opened them. They were dry. “Maybe I am. Oh, and Mrs. Kim – I quit.”
She stalked from the office. The next Earth-bound shuttle left in seven rotations, and she needed to pack.