I’ll Be All Right Tomorrow

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.


Surface Day

It was Surface Day and Karya was staring at the Martian sky.

Once a month, when the conditions were good, everyone – miners and caff fillers, foremen and scientists – was allowed to spend time on the surface. Rovers transported groups to geological formations, astronomers gave seminars, and cameras were made available for people to document the day. If an employee’s photo was chosen for company marketing materials, they’d receive a nice bonus.

Karya took nearly 300 pictures each Surface Day, mostly of the red-suited miners themselves. She wasn’t motivated by the potential bonus (though of course it would be nice): she simply needed to record as many faces as she could whenever she had the chance.

When she wasn’t taking pictures, Karya stared at the sky, drinking in the openness and the shades of gray and gold. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but its beauty was in its expansiveness. It reminded Karya of the only time she’d gone swimming, when her family won a vacation to a tropical island. She was nine; Marko was twelve. It was the first time she’d ever left the station where she was born, the first time she saw the sky from below, and the first time she’d been able to fully submerge herself in water. Her dad didn’t want them swimming alone, but Karya went anyway, plunging into the clear depths until they were no longer clear, until her lungs ached, then stung.

She kicked until everything burned and the water turned clear again and she was out, bursting free, filling her small strained lungs with pure life, blinking at the sunshine and the clarity of sand grains and palms and the subtle variegation in that blue, blue sky.

Karya had been holding her recycled breath for weeks now, waiting for the day the lift went up instead of down. Now she could exhale and breathe in sunlight, and horizons, and mountains. It almost made her smile.

But they’d sounded the five minute warning, a piercing electronic tone delivered to her earpiece, and Karya still had pictures to take. She drew her eyes down, raised the camera to her faceplate, and shot.

Every photo taken was made available on the mine’s ‘net, so after each Surface Day, she used her free time to scan through hundreds and hundreds of photos, squinting through the miners’ face masks in hopes of finally seeing her brother.

Marko had left home at eighteen, but his record – a single incident of vandalism – condemned him to the life of a miner on any of a dozen ore-rich worlds. Karya counted it a blessing that he was still in the solar system – or had been, anyway. Since she’d lost contact with him a year and a half ago, she had no way of knowing he was even still on Mars. The mine didn’t bother with accurate record-keeping as long as the quotas were met, and if a miner or two or forty died in a superheated gas leak or a collapsed tunnel, there were hundreds more willing to take their place.

She had no evidence that Marko was dead, thankfully, but she had no evidence he was still alive, either. Thousands of photos across eight Surface Days had revealed nothing. She was running out of places to look.

Karya turned her camera on Col and Maria, who were photographing their team with their own camera. Like her, they took many photos of the miners as part of their pledge to help her find Marko. They shared her suspicions of foul play, but she’d also bribed them with additional caff fills. The extra caffeine wasn’t physically harmful, but providing and accepting more than the allotted amount put all their jobs at risk. Col, who’d been assigned miner due to anarchist activity, had jumped at the opportunity to play whistle-blower, caffeinated or not. Maria and many of the others, having had friends who were suddenly “promoted” and never heard from again, wanted answers of their own, no matter how dangerous the questions were.

That had been three months ago. They’d found nothing, and between the secret caff refills and their risky investigation, Karya thought they were all lucky to still be employed, let alone not imprisoned.

The electronic tone signaling the end of Surface Day sounded. Maria elbowed her as they trudged towards the lifts.

“Any good shots?”

“Hope so. You?”

“We’ll see, huh?” They crowded into the lift. “Anyway, there’s always next month.”

Karya nodded and took one last photo of the hazy Martian sky.


Caff Girl

Karya clocked in five minutes before the start of twelfth rotation and caught the next lift down into the mines. It stopped two levels down at the substation, where she hopped into her pressure suit, loaded a caff tank onto her back, and checked the tunnel conditions. It was a good day – no gas leaks, volcanic activity, or equipment malfunctions – so she reboarded the lift and headed deeper down.

Even with the pressure suit on, Karya thought she could still feel her ears needing to pop. She opened and closed her jaw, but, as usual, nothing happened. When she started this job over a year ago, she needed anxiety meds, something that took her mind off the claustrophobic suit and the crushing depths and the ever-present threat of erupting volcanoes. Even going “home” to the employee dorms couldn’t soothe her – those were also underground, sheltered from the brutal Martian surface. Karya was born on a geostationary satellite complex positioned over the Atlantic, but somehow the vacuum of space and all its associated horrors never scared her as badly as this mining operation.

She needed this job, though, so she adjusted. It had been three months since she’d needed the meds. Most of the other caff girls who were hired along with Karya had been promoted or left, but Karya stayed.

The high-pitched whine of the speeding lift became a low hum, then disappeared. The lift doors opened and Karya emerged at the dim, sweltering bottom of the mine.

She’d seen old photographs in her Earth history textbooks depicting miners in the ancient coal mines. They were dressed in sturdy work clothes and heavy helmets, their exposed faces indistinguishable under thick dirt and coal dust. The miners of Mars were also difficult to tell apart thanks to their bulky, red-dusted protective suits. It had made finding Marko even harder than she’d expected.

The first group of miners shut off their laser picks as she approached. Karya felt a familiar surge of anticipation – maybe this time – but she recognized their faces as they turned towards her, all of them heaving audible sighs of relief while her own hopes trickled away.

“Frackin’ finally.”

She forced a smile onto her face. “Hey, Col.”

Col was a shift captain, one of several miners Karya knew by name. He looked overworked at only half past noon, and judging by the sheen of sweat under his helmet and the unintelligible grunt that accompanied his outthrust glove, it had been a long morning indeed. She clipped the caff dispenser spigot to the valve on his glove, pumping his afternoon dose of cool, refreshing caffeinated air into his suit.

“Better?” she asked while she refilled Maria.

Col raised one stubby finger while he inhaled slowly. He grinned and held out his wrist for more.

Karya hesitated. Giving a worker a second fill-up in the same shift was grounds for having her wages docked – if she was caught. The entire mine was watched by security cameras, but only some of the cameras were monitored some of the time. She suspected she was one of few who knew this, considering she’d found out by sneaking into the company archives to try to find proof her brother was here. On weeks when the budget was tight, the company simply shut off cameras, saving power but sacrificing safety and accountability. Whole days were missing from the archives. Some of those corresponded to low-earning weeks, but others occurred ominously close to what the company had labeled mass layoffs, promotions, or retirements.

Those, in turn, corresponded with periods of high volcanic activity below the mines.

Karya had last heard from her brother fifteen months ago, but they were lousy correspondents even when channels weren’t disrupted by outages, radiation, or hackers. Marko could have been missing for two months, or fifteen, or none, but until Karya found proof in the records, or came across him among the hordes of miners she refilled twice a day, she refused to leave Mars.

She turned back to Col. “You want caff refills?”

“Hell, yeah!”

“You want them on the regular?”

He glanced at the cameras. “You need help finding someone?”

“How did you know?”

“Nobody stays a caff girl for as long as you unless they’re looking for someone,” he said with such gentleness it nearly made her cry. “Who is it? Boyfriend? Sibling?”

She clipped on the spigot again. “Brother. Marko. Can you help me?”

He breathed deeply and grinned. “Let me do some digging.”

Links Lundi

Spring weather approaches (at least in this part of the country), and with it, the first stirrings of clothing-related modesty lectures aimed at women. As usual, I have strong opinions about this issue, but I really like what this article had to say about it: “You might see some cleavage and have a sexual thought. You might also see a woman tying her shoe and have a sexual thought…That battle happens within your mind and it is your responsibility.”

A new mom’s anxiety over baby clothes teaches larger lessons: “Femininity is not less than masculinity. It is a different kind of strength, but it is powerful and wonderful and deserves our respect.

How often does modern Doctor Who pass the Bechdel Test? (A note on the Bechdel Test. Passing doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is a good representation of women – it only means the creators took the time to come up with more than one female character and put them in a conversation together. Which shouldn’t be difficult, and yet alarmingly few movies pass. Conversely, a movie can have multiple well-written female characters, but if they never talk to each other, that movie will fail the test – like Avengers, or How To Train Your Dragon 2 [see my thoughts below].)

A new anthology uses science fiction to reimagine justice. It never even occurred to me to wonder what we could do besides prisons, so I’m looking forward to reading this.

We finally saw “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and since I’d already read this article, I was prepared to be disappointed by the character of Hiccup’s mother. I do believe Valka was grossly neglected for the movie’s final act, but I agree more with this article in that overall, HTTYD2 does an awesome job challenging gender-based tropes. What do you think?

Links Lundi

This is a couple years old, but sadly could have happened yesterday: “Straight Male Gamer” complained that Dragon Age 2 “should have [had] much more focus in on making sure us male gamers happy” (yes really); BioWare shuts him down.  Thank you, BioWare.

Via Yes & Yes: where roads end.

I think it would feel weird to live in a converted church, but these condos in Boston sure look cool.

Blossoming Badass writes about how wearing glasses influenced her perception of herself.

“Call of Duty: Ghosts” finally adds playable female characters.  On the one hand, awesome! On the other hand…yeah, that’ll go well.

Pre-Space Age spaceship designs are both endearing and kind of awesome.

Ballet dancers risk their lives (or at least the ankles) to awesomely photobomb the real world:

Top Ten Tuesday: 39 Months of Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we will post a new Top Ten list that one of our bloggers here at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

This week’s TTT is your favorite books read during the lifespan of your blog, which is almost too easy – ten favorite books that I’ve read in the last three-ish years?  Let’s make this a little more challenging and go by year:

Ruby Bastille started in March of 2009:

1) “The Castle of Crossed Destinies” by Italo Calvino was loaned to me by an erudite Irishwoman while I was an intern there.  It is the second-weirdest book I’ve ever read (after “Perdido Street Station” – no wait, third-weirdest, after that and the awful hallucinogenic mess that is “Mumbo Jumbo”) but it was also really really good.

2) “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri.  This anthology only has a couple stories and a novella, but they’re almost all heartbreaking and lovely.

2010 was the year I forgot I had Goodreads to track my reading, but these stand out in my memory:

3) “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson is hard to forget, and fun to read in the parts that don’t make you want to curl up in a corner with a teddy bear.

4) “My Name Is Mary Sutter” by Robin Oliveira had a strong, talented heroine and a thoroughly-researched Civil War setting.

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