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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb, Part 4: Times They Are a Changing

The Charles Webb Observatory was normally closed to the public except on Saturdays, but that night was a special occasion. There was a meteor storm happening, one not visible anywhere else. Aries had bought tickets for he and Amelia to go, and picked a secluded spot on the field outside to watch it with. The show was truly amazing, the sky was lit up with hundreds upon hundreds of silver and white streaks in the sky. Half way through, someone came up and tapped Aries on the shoulder. He nodded and turned to Amelia.

“Come on,” he said.

“Where are we going? The shows not over yet,” she asked, getting up.

“I got a surprise for you,” he smiled, and took her by the hand. The man that came and got them, a short Chinese man, lead them into the observitory. They climed up the stairs to a door labeled ‘Telescope Viewing.’ Amelia gasped.

“Really?” she asked. “We’re going to view the storm through the telescope?”

“Really,” Aries said. “It pays to be a celebrity some times.”

Of course the viewing wasn’t really due to his status as the first man born on Mars, but that didn’t hurt either when he asked Chen if he could do this tonight. Amelia gave him a hug, and Aries smiled. That alone was worth what he paid Chen to make this happen.

They walked into the room, where another man, an older gentleman with long, white a Fu Manchu moustache, stood. This man, Dr. Lee, bowed to the two of them, and pointed to the viewing glass. Amelia looked at Aries, and he nodded. She sat at the chair and looked into the looking glass. She gasped in amazement. Seeing the shooting stars outside was one thing. Watching them fly by up close was another thing entirely. The view was truly stunning.

“Aries, come here, you have got to see this,” she said.

“Oh, I’m planning on having a show of my own,” he said.

She looked up to find out what he was talking about, only to see him down on one knee by her side.

“What?” she started to ask, then held her hands to her mouth when he produced a small, black, velvet box.

“Amelia Day,” he said, “these past two years have been the most amazing, wonderful and fulfilling time of my life. And I’ve realized that I can imagine my life without you in it anymore. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I want the rest of my life to start now. Amelia, will you consent to making me the happiest man on Mars, and being my wife?”

He opened the box, revealing an ornate, three banded diamond ring. She recognized it immediately as being Aries’ grandmother’s engagement ring. She gasped again.

“Oh, Aries,” she said, taking his hand. “Of course I’ll marry you. Yes! Yes!”

Aries smiled, and took the ring out of the box and placed it on her finger. She practically leaped of the chair to hug him, knocking him over and sending the two of them sprawling to the floor. Both laughed, but continued to hold each other and kiss each other. Aries smile just wouldn't stop. He truly felt that he was now the happiest man on Mars.

****

“I told you this would happen,” Aries said as they stepped off the tram. Amelia, her arm around his, started to hold her arm out to block the incoming photographers.

“Look,” she said to Aries as they pushed their way through the crowed to get to the mall. “I had just started to get used to seeing myself in the papers both here and on Earth as the girlfriend of the famous Aries Webb. As it was, my CO wasn’t particularly happy with all the publicity, but the brass at home liked that the First Man on Mars was in love with a US Marine. I guess they thought it was some moral victory of China or something. But none of that prepared me for the shear amount of time these guys would spend photographing us during the entire wedding preparation. Especially now, with the wedding in a few days. I figured they would have enough pictures.”

“A very private wedding that they are not invited to,” Aries said. “In fact, they don’t even know who has been invited. It makes them all the more interested in getting whatever details they can get from the event.”

“I guess I just sometimes wonder how it is you deal with it all, Greenie,” she said.

“Honey, I’ve been dealing with ‘it all’ since I was born,” he said. “Before, even, if the stories my dad tells are true. I mean, come on, the Earth held a party for my birth. I had no choice but to deal with this kind of thing.”

They paused at the entrance to the bakery, and she took his hands in hers. She looked at him with a very serious look on her face, one that made her lips look almost pouty.

“I’m so sorry, Greenie,” she said. “That never occurred to me. God, I’ve been so selfish.”

“Really?” he laughed as he kissed her and then opened the door to the bakery. “All this time together, and you never realized that I’ve been a celebrity all my life?”

“Well...” she said, hesitating. “I mean, you’ve always been you. So, yeah, it never occurred to me.”

He laughed. “Well, rest assured, that you are not being selfish. It’s not like it’s something a lot of people have to deal with, or even think about. Now come on, let’s go look at the cake.”

The baker, who insisted on being called Mrs. Baker, even though her name was Jacobs, took the two to a room in the back to see the progress on their cake. This newest design was something that Aries had suggested. It was a little unconventional for a wedding cake, but they were an unconventional couple. He smiled as Amelia saw it. She knew of his plan, but she never saw the drawings or the mock cake Mrs. Baker made.

“It’s amazing,” she said. Aries had to agree.

From the base, it had the look of a traditional wedding cake, a white square with columns to hold the next tier. That was also a white square, and both tier’s had some amazing filigree and trimmings on the edges. The sides had little pictures of the two of them, taken from photos Aries gave Mrs. Baker for this purpose. But the top layer, that was the one that really did it. It was circular, and made to look like a globe when viewed from the top. Half the globe was blue and green, the Earth, with North America showing. The other half was Mars, with Olympus Mons in disproportionate prominence. And standing on their respective sides were the bride and groom figures. The bride figure even had on a Marine Dress uniform.

“It’s perfect, Mrs. Baker,” he said. “Absolutely perfect.”

“Fantastic,” she said. “Well keep it frozen for the wedding.”

“Before you go,” Mrs. Baker asked, “A rather polite gentleman from the Olympus Herald said he would pay me a goodly sum if he could just get one picture of the cake. I told him that I don’t allow photographs of my work before the are displayed that aren’t taken by my staff. However, he was rather insistent, and I told him I would ask you first.”

Aries looked at Amelia, and she just rolled her eyes. Then, she nodded. He smiled. They were doing this more and more often lately, this communicating without talking. It reminded him of his parents. He turned back to Mrs. Baker.

“Tell him one picture only,” he said. “If it’s not good enough, tough. Make it clear to him that we are allowing this, though. I don’t want him publishing that he got this behind the scenes. That would be bad for your business, I think.”

“Indeed,” she said. “Very well.”

He must have offered her a goodly sum indeed if she was even asking, he thought. Still, she did fantastic work, and she deserved it. Besides, it was an amazing cake. It was worth showing off to the world. Aries paid her and the two lovebirds left. Only one more stop to go, at least as far as he went. After checking on the flowers, Amelia would be picked up by her friends and taken to get her final fitting on the dress. The stories he heard about it had propelled it to nearly legendary status. He was beginning to think he would never actually see it.

****

It was a beautiful day, with the sun shining bright in the pale blue sky. Aries loved days like this. This kind of day wasn’t found on Earth, or so he had been told my many natives to that world. But on Mars, they were typical of the summer months. The music started, and Aries attention was brought back to the present. He looked back over the gathering of people in the park, his friends and family, Amelia’s father and brother, who had come to Mars last week to witness this event. And at the other side of all this, he saw her, and his heart skipped a beat. She never looked more beautiful than she did in that moment.

Her hair, as curly as ever, was pulled back and held in place by a diamond studded tiara. The tiara held a veil that covered her hair and shoulders, but not her face. And the dress itself was simply stunning, every bit the legend her friends had made it out to be. For a moment, Aries couldn’t believe that this woman, this angel made real, was consenting to spend the rest of her life with him. He felt Bo tap him on the shoulder.

“Step down,” his best friend whispered.

Aries shook his head. Right. He took a step down and looked back up. Amelia was smiling, obviously amused at his befuddlement. When she got up to the edge of the crowd, her father stood forward. He was a tall man, muscular man for his age, made all the more intimidating by his marine dress uniform. He once asked her how it was that the daughter of a General would end up in the enlisted service rather than as an officer. She said it was because she ignored her daddy and signed up behind his back.

After her father stepped aside, she moved forward, to be by his side. And the ceremony began.

****

The reception was jumping and almost everyone there was on the dance floor. Aries managed to extract himself for a drink of water and a much needed rest. He looked around and saw that Amelia was still out there, dancing with some of the younger kids. She really did seem to be having the time of her life. He sat down at a table that was empty save for a few purses and jackets. He saw his father and mother out on the floor, too. Except for the beginning dances where they danced with the couple, they had danced with just each other the entire night.

A few seconds after sitting down, a hand appeared with a glass of ice water, and placed it in front of him. Aries looked up and saw the arm was attached to Bo, resplendent looking in his dress uniform. The Best Man sat down next to Aries, a huge smile on his face.

“This has to be the best party we’ve ever seen,” he said in Chinese, and Aries smiled and nodded.

“So, did you get my last message?” Aries asked.

“Yes,” Bo nodded, getting serious. “Are you sure we can talk here?”

“Everyone here is either a part of the Movement, or knows about our involvement,” Aries said. “So, yeah, I’m pretty sure.”

“Well, then,” Bo said. “In that case, you’re information is out of date.”

“What?” Aries said. “But I thought our emissary was well received?”

“Oh, he was,” Bo said. “The Chinese government is finding that the expense of an off world colony that doesn’t want to be part of the Republic is getting to be more than the payoff. They were willing to listen to our offer, and were very serious about it. It was unlikely that they would have accepted the offer, of course. A movement without any solid political pull with the colony can only go so far, but the fact that the Ministry of Colonization was even willing to listen is am amazing step forward.”

“So, what happened?” Aries asked.

“China invaded Korea,” Bo replied.

Aries goggled at his friend. “Invaded?” he asked. It seemed impossible.

“Well, not in the traditional sense with guns firing,” Bo replied, waiving his hand. “But they made it pretty clear that North Korea needed to accede their right to rule to the Chinese government or it would go badly for them. After some tensions and posturing by the Koreans, they eventually allowed the Chinese Army to roll in. It’s really caused an international stir. America, especially, is concerned, and is talking about sending troops into South Korea.”

“Why?” Aries asked.

“Resources,” Bo said. “After all this time, strip mining their own country, the Chinese government has found that it’s running low on needed mineral resources. Resources that Korea currently has in abundance. Including South Korea. America is afraid that China will continue it’s roll into the rest of Korea. Everyone is watching the national stage to see what happens next.”

“So, with a lack of resources in its own borders,” Aries said, “and American threatening to stop its march for those resources on Earth...”

“Mars is off the table as far as Independence goes,” Bo said. “They need what we offer too much. The only good news is that China is looking towards the Martian moons as locations for new colonies.”

“How does that help us?” Aries asked.

“If they can find the resources they need on Phobos and Deimos, then they won’t need us as much anymore,” Bo said.

Aries nodded. And then an idea hit him. “What if we helped them?”

“What?” Bo asked.

“What if Free Mars offered to aid China is setting up a new colony on Phobos, say,” Aries said. “It cold build up political capital with China for a later bid of Independence.”

Bo nodded. “It’s a plan,” he said. “Think you can get it started before you leave on your honeymoon?”

Aries smiled and nodded. “You bet,” he said. “I’ll get Harry on it. He’s the perfect man for this kind of thing, and I trust him to keep that processes going without the two fo us.”

Bo nodded again. Then he smiled and nodded over Aries’ shoulder. “Business is done now, it seems.”

“It better be,” Amelia said, a grin on her face as she came up behind Aries. “I plan on getting some dancing from my husband before the night is through.”

“I like the sound of that,” Aries said. He winked at Bo. “Come, my wife. Let’s tear it up.”

****

“So, Mr. Webb,” Amelia was saying, her eyes covered by a blindfold, “are you going to tell me what this surprise of yours is or not? I feel like I’ve we’ve been walking forever.”

“We’re almost there, Mrs. Webb,” Aries said.

“That’s Mrs. Day-Webb, if you please,” she said, giggling.

“Oh, excuse me,” Aries replied.

The walked on again, until eventually Aries stopped them. Then, he yanked off the blindfold.

“Taa daa!” he said.

She blinked her eyes at the bright afternoon sun and then saw that they were at the spaceport. This wasn’t too unexpected, they had, after all, planned their honeymoon to be on the moon. What she did see that wasn’t expected, however, was the gleaming white space ship with the words ‘Princess of Sol’ painted on it’s side. It looked brand new.

“Is that one of the new starliners?” she asked.

“Yup,” he said. “Makes the trip from Mars to Earth in a matter of two weeks instead of four. And we’ve got passage on it’s return trip, stopping off at Luna Station on the way.”

“Oh my God,” she said, turning to look at him. “How did you manage to do that? We don’t have the money for this.”

“Nope,” Aries replied, holding the tickets up. “But Bo’s family does. They gave it to us as our wedding gift.”

She smiled and gave him a great big, back breaking hug. “You have got to tell that little red soldier thank you from me next time you see him.”

He hugged her back, and they marched onto the ship. Their luggage was already on board, and the captain himself welcomed them. They were guided to one of the four honeymoon suites, a large, four room apartment complete with a hot tub.

“Oh, we’re so going to use that,” Amelia said.

Aries smiled, looking around at the suite. “I think this place is bigger than our room at the hotel on Luna.”

“I promise not to get too used to it,” Amelia replied. She slid up to him, her eyes half closed, that ever so slight smirk on her face, and wrapped her arms around him. “In the mean time, I think there’s a bed back there we need to break in.”

He laughed and let her drag him into the bedroom.

****

The trip on the starliner was as laid back and extravagant as Aries could have ever expected. He lounged on the pool deck, his wife next to him in her bikini. It was enough to almost make him want to go back to their cabin. Almost, but he wanted to get in the water at some point. Plus, he was enjoying the smoothie he had just ordered.

“This is the life,” Amelia said. “I haven’t had to do a 10K run in a week!”

“You still run first thing in the morning,” Aries said.

“Yes,” she said. “In sweats. Not in full kevlar, with fifty pounds of gear on my back. This here, this is living.”

“Yeah,” Aries said. “I could get used to this.”

He sipped his smoothie and then laid back in his chair, closing his eyes. The artificial sky, complete with sun, was a little brighter and bluer than he preferred, but it was re-creating an Earth sky, not a Martian one. He started to doze a little when he felt Amelia snap to attention next to him. He slowly opened one eye to find her sitting in her chair, her back ramrod straight, her sun glasses off, eyes darting about the deck.

“What?” he said. He had long ago learned to trust her instincts. It was part of being a trained Marine, after all.

“I thought I saw someone,” she said, still scanning the deck.

Aries looked around. The deck was just as full of people as always. “Care to be more specific?” he said. “There’s lots of someones around.

“Very funny, smart ass,” she said, smacking him. “No, I mean I saw someone who was just standing there, watching us.”

“Another autograph hound?” Aries asked. They had been accosted by no less than five people who recognized the First Man from Mars and his new wife, seeking pictures and/or autographs.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “They usually come up to us. This guy just stood there, by that poll, and watched us.”

Aries stood up then, also looking around. “Creepy,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “But he disappeared as soon as I sat up. I didn’t get a good look at him, either. He looked Asian, but it was hard to say, and he wore what everyone else here is waring. Swim trunks and a Hawaiian shirt.”

Aries looked around and saw at least three people that fit that description.

“Don’t bother,” she said, sighing. “I think I’m just paranoid. There’s so many people here that fit that vague description, it’s not worth the time.”

He nodded, but he could see she was still concerned.

“Come on,” she said. “lets go take a swim!”

She smiled at him and nodded.

“Last one in has to feed the winner dinner!” she said and raced towards the pool.

“Hey, no fair,” he said, just barely standing as she jumped into the pool.

****

Amelia lay in bed, sweat covering her naked body, a smile on her face. She had never felt this alive before, not even in basic training. She still couldn’t believe that the brass had let her use all her saved leave to go on this honeymoon. Apparently, someone back home thought it was good PR to have the First Man on Mars marry a US marine, and she was grateful. She looked over at her husband, who was looking back at her, a smug smile on his face.

“Think you’re that good, do you?” she said, rolling onto her side.

“No,” he said. “I think you are.”

She hugged him and kissed him. She rolled back off him a moment later.

“I need some water,” she said.

“I think we’re out,” he replied. “Want me to order some from room service?”

“Nah,” she said, getting up out of bed. “I could stand to take a walk and stretch some.’

“Didn’t get enough stretching here?” he replied.

She swatted him, but got up and threw on her sweats.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

He nodded at her, getting up himself. He was probably going for his ePad to check in on things back at Mars. Or maybe he was just bragging. Either would be very like him. She smiled and left the cabin. She didn’t get two feet outside the door when a spot of movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned and briefly saw a tall Asian looking man run around the corner.

Without thinking, she chased after him. She got around the corner to see him turn a second one. She started running. She knew she had to be faster than this guy. When she rounded the corner, she saw that she was right. He had on that same stupid Hawaiian shirt and sun glasses she saw earlier. It was the same guy! He turned another corner. He was heading towards the elevator. She raced forward, but saw that it was too late. The elevator doors were closing, and her man was no where in sight.

“Damn,” she said.

She returned to the cabin and told Aries what had happened.

“We need to tell the captain,” he replied. “Security needs to know about this.”

She nodded. Something about this whole thing bothered her.

“Why?” she asked after he hung up the phone.

“Why what?” he asked.

“Why would someone be following us like that?” she replied.

“Who knows,” he said. “Paparazzi?”

She shook her head. “No one but you and the Wu’s even knew we were coming here. Not even the crew until we arrived. How would they know we were here?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. But he couldn’t imagine anyone else following them. “Are you talking about spies?”

She rubbed her eyes. It sounded crazy now that he said it back to her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think I’m just tired. And in desperate need of water.”

He started laughing and she started at him. Then, she started laughing too, realizing that water was why she was out of the cabin in the first place.

****

Aries and Amelia looked at each other across the table. Aries smiled. He couldn’t help it, he’d been smiling almost non-stop since the ceremony nearly two weeks ago. He wondered if the two of them looked like the newlyweds they were. He realized then that he hoped they did. She smiled back. He looked around the room briefly, just to pull himself away from her pure black eyes and his desire to just hold and kiss her.

They had left the starliner that morning, and were now dining in the Lunar Lounge, a raging hot spot for vacationers. Aries could easily see why. It was only his second time off Mars, and Lunar City was far more like he was used to than Earth was, being built with the same dome technology Mars used. But this restaurant offered an unparalleled view. The whole roof was open to the dome, and thus everyone in the restaurant could get a view of Earth. It truly was beautiful, blue and green. From here, Aries could almost think it was innocent.

Aries took a few bites of his food. The pasta was made from a locally grown wheat, and had a light flavor that he enjoyed. Amelia ate a chicken breast covered in a tomato sauce of some kind that looked amazing. He looked in her eyes again and started feeling dizzy. He smiled, but the look on her face was concerned. She was looking over his shoulder. He turned to see, but the dizzy feeling was getting worse. What was that about? Then, he saw what she saw. A man, vaguely Asian looking, in a casual outfit with sunglasses.

“Is that the guy you saw on the Princess?” he said, but most of the words came out in a slur. “What’s going on?” came out as more slurs.

Amelia dropped her fork and rushed over to his chair to check him out. He tried to stand, but the dizziness was worse. His stomach lurched. He fell to his knees, grasping the table. Amanda was smelling his plate and hunched over him. Over her shoulder, he saw the Asian man, and thought he saw a smile on his face. He wasn’t quite sure, everything was starting to look blurry. He looked at Amelia and saw she was trying to talk to him.

“Aries,” she said. “Aries, can you hear me? We need to get you to a hospital. I think you’ve been poisoned.”

****

Amelia paced in the waiting room of the hospital. Had she not been so worried about Aries, she wold have noticed that the room was very modern and comfortable, with chairs, couches, televisions and even Net stations. Instead, all she saw was the hallway that lead to the room where the doctors took Aries to have his stomach pumped. They didn’t seem at all to be concerned by her story of poison. Was that kind of thing common on Luna? She hoped not.

“Please, Mrs. Day-Webb,” a voice from behind her said. “Stop pacing and have a seat.”

She turned around to see the young doctor that had taken her husband down that hall earlier. She couldnt remember his name, and he was still in his green scrubs, so no name tag.

“Is Aries all right?” she said.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “He’ll be fine. Turns out it wasn’t poison at all.”

“What?” she said. “What happened then?”

“Food allergy,” he said. “Your husband appears to be allergic to the wheat used to make his pasta. You did right in bringing him here right away. Though it wasn’t poison, it might have been just as deadly.”

She sat in one of the chairs. Food allergy? Her mind was just having a hard time wrapping it self around the concept.

“So, no one tried to kill him?” she replied.

“Not on purpose, at any rate,” the doctor said and let out a little laugh. Doctor humor was strange, she thought. “He’ll be find by the morning. Right now, he’s in our facility where our machine is purging his body of the food he’s allergic too. You can see him tomorrow morning, when the processes is done.”

“I don’t want to leave him,” she said. Suddenly, the thought of going back to their hotel alone was terrifying.

“We already have a room set aside for him to recover in,” the doctor said. “You’re welcome to stay there.”

She nodded and let him lead her down another hallway, up an elevator and down another hall. She lay down on the small couch in the room, which folded out into a futon, and slept.

****

She didn’t know what time it was when she awoke, but the sun was shining in through the window. It was hard to tell if it was natural, though, given that there was no sky on the moon. Just the black of space and stars. And with a ‘day’ on the moon being almost a full month long, people set up fake lights to simulate daytime and night time during the moon’s rotation. Still, it had to have been several hours since she fell asleep. She pushed herself up from the futon and saw that Aries was asleep in the hospital bed, several tubes running from his nose and arms to machines. She gasped and started to stand.

“I assure you, he’s quite all right, Mrs. Webb,” a deep male voice said. She turned and saw someone standing in the dark corner of the room. He was waring a black suit and tie. This was not the doctor.

“Please, sit down,” he said. “You and I have to talk.”

She didn’t sit, and instead balled her hands into fists. The man sighed.

“Your father did say you would be difficult,” he said.

“My father sent you?” she said.

“Not exactly,” he replied. “But he and I work for the same people.”

The US Government, she realized right away. This man was some kind of spy, probably CIA.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“The same thing you do,” he said. “The safety of your husband. He’s quite a valuable asset to the country, ma’am. Does wonders for our moral, especially against China.”

She sat down. “Why are you here now?” she asked. “Surely a little food allergy wouldn’t bring you out of the shadows.”

He chuckled. “No, of course not,” he said. “I’ve come to let you know that your instincts about someone trying to kill your husband are correct.”

“That man with the sunglasses,” she said.

“No,” he replied almost immediately. “That man is a photographer for a tabloid back on Earth. He’s been taking photos of your honeymoon with those sunglasses of his and sending them back to Earth this whole time. No, I mean there is someone else.”

“Who?” she asked.

“We don’t know,” he said. “I’m only telling you this because I’ve been ordered to. Personally, I’d rather do my job without your knowledge that I am ever here. But, my bosses seem to think otherwise. I don’t know why, I was just told to tell you to keep your eyes open. Oh, and also that the paparazzi guy will be taken care of.”

“Taken care of?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.

“We won’t kill him,” he replied, getting out and leaving the room. “Honestly, some people watch too many movies.”

****

The rest of the honeymoon seemed down right dull compared to their first night. Aries apologized several times for waisting their first few days in Lunar City in the hospital, as if he had a choice about that. They made up for it, though, by visiting all the sights they could squeeze in. They saw the space elevator that reached to Lunar Station 1. They visited the Armstrong Museum of Lunar History, which included the lunar rover and foot prints left by the first astronauts to the moon. They visited several other places too, when they decided to leave their hotel room. During the entire time, Amanda saw nothing out of the ordinary. She never even saw the man from the hospital. She started to wonder if she had just dreamed it all.

Their return trip was on the same starliner that took them to the Moon, and Amelia was excited about that. Aries was just looking forward to some down time. The moon had involved a lot of walking and picture taking and other activities that left one physically drained. She teased that he needed to get up and run with her in order to get in better shape. He retorted that his shape was plenty fine for someone that wasn’t in the military.

“Fine then, go back to sleep on me,” she said as she put on her sweat pants for her morning run. “But you’d better be ready to be ‘athletic’ when I get back.”

He grunted, and she laughed, then left the cabin and started her run. It wasn’t as easy as it should have been. The last few days she had been felling nauseous in the morning, though she never quite got to the point where she was throwing up. She was getting concerned. Maybe she was sick. It was possible, she supposed, what with all the strange food she had eaten lately, and the different places and all the people. She continued her run, deciding that she would go visit the doctor later today.

That was when she saw something. A man, in a full body jump suit, all black, standing back in the shadows, looking right at her. If she hadn’t looked right into that spot, she would never have seen him. Even now, after she had passed him by, she wasn’t sure. Did she really see someone, or was it just her paranoid imagination. When she ran back that same way moments later, she didn’t see anything.

She shook her head, feeling dizzy. She must have just been seeing things. She came back to the cabin to find Aries laying in what she could only assume was supposed to be a provocative pose. He sat up when she came in, though.

“Are you all right, honey?” he asked. “You look kind of green.”

“No,” she said, and then ran towards the bathroom.

****

Aries and Amelia held hands as she sat on the uncomfortable table in the doctors office. They could create engines that traveled across space at blinding speeds, or allowed communication from Earth to Mars in very short order, but they couldn't invent a comfortable doctor’s table. That just seemed wrong to Amelia.

“How long do we have to wait?” she asked. “It’s not like there were a lot of sick people in the waiting room. It’s a starliner, not a city.”

“It’s also the only doctor on board,” Aries said. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back soon.”

As if on queue, the door opened and the doctor entered. He had a big smile on his face, and Amelia felt relief. He wouldn't be smiling if he didn’t have good news, right?

“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Webb,” he said. “It looks like your honeymoon was more productive than you might have thought.”

Aries and Amelia looked at each other. What in the world was he talking about.

“Mrs. Webb,” the doctor said, his smile getting even broader. “You’re pregnant.”

“What?” Aries said.

Amelia smiled. That was what was going on with her? She looked at Aries. He looked back at her and smiled.

“We’re going to have a baby!” he cried.

She reached over and hugged him. This was indeed a good way to end their honeymoon.

****

“Bo!” Aries cried. “Bo, I have the most fantastic news!”

“I have some news too,” Bo said. “Though not so fantastic. Maybe you should go first.”

“Okay,” Aries said, somewhat deflated. “Amelia is pregnant!”

Bo light up and looked at him in pure shock. “Really? Wow, that is great news!”

The two men hugged and Bo congratulated Aries.

“So,” Aries said, “what’s your news?”

“Well, like I said, it’s not good,” Bo said.

“Just spit it out,” Aries said.

“China and America have declared war."

The End

Week 47

Here we are, the end of November and nearing the end of NaNoWriMo. I'm right on track to win this year, which is good news for you, because it means more stories to be posted here!

Now, let's get to Part 4 of the Life and Times of Aries Webb!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bonus Story: The Christmas Elephant

So, I wrote a quick little flash fiction piece for my kid. I like it, so I'm posting it here. I hope you enjoy. :)

The Story of the Christmas Elephant
(Or, Santaphant is Coming to Town)

By Christopher M. Blanchard

Tembo moved slowly through the savannah, enjoying the hot sun on his back and the clear sky for the view. He flapped his ears, one small and one large, in pleasure. It was another wonderful day for an elephant. He traveled around the region he called his home, and visited several villages. He liked these villages because the people there were very friendly and left him food to eat. Some of them even came up to feed him by hand, and a few of the particularly brave boys would climb on his trunk and hang upside down as he swung it back and forth.

Today, everything was decorated all in greens and reds, and everyone was wearing their church clothing. The priests were smiling and in one village one of them even came up and blessed Tembo. He liked that. After getting his last bit of water from a lake near that last village, Tembo walked back to his favorite tree and settled down for a long nights sleep.

He was in the middle of a particularly good dream about some of those round, red fruits the priests called apples, when a loud crashing noise woke him. Tembo snapped his eyes open and looked around. Nothing seemed to be out of sorts at first, but in the distance he saw something that looked like a red and gold box, with a team of animals he had never seen before tied to it. They looked something like gazelles, but with really impressive racks of antlers on their heads. Looking over the box was a man.

He wore a red suit trimmed with white fur, something that looked very hot to Tembo, even in the cool evening air. He also had a long white beard that covered most of his face, but when he looked up at the bull elephant, he smiled, and the warm appearance made Tembo feel good.

“Tembo, isn’t it?” the man said, and Tembo nodded. “Good. My name is Santa, and I need your help. You see, my sleigh has broken from my rather disastrous landing. See this sack?”

Tembo looked and saw that the box held a large red and green bag, tied at the top with a gold cord. He looked back and nodded.

“That contains presents for many of the children who live in the villages around here,” Santa said. “But now I can’t delver them on time and still fix my sleigh. Would you be willing to help me?”

Tembo nodded. The villages were good to him, and the idea of helping by providing gifts to the children… well, it made Tembo’s heart warm. Santa smiled and quickly packed a selection of boxes and packages onto Tembo’s back. He was careful to let Tembo know where each group of packages was to be delivered, and instructed him to set them under the large tree that would be in each village. Before sending him off, he put a red hat that looked just like Santa’s on Tembo’s small ear. The elephant nodded and trudged off.

It took him a long time to deliver all the packages, and by the time he got to the last village, he was tired. He put the packages on the ground under the tree and then fell asleep. He thought he heard at one point some bells jingling and the laughter of the man called Santa, wishing him a Merry Christmas. Tembo sleepily wondered briefly what that meant.

When he woke, it was to the hoops and hollers of the children in the village, who were swarming to the tree. Even the adults were smiling, watching the whole scene.

“Look!” one little girl said, pointing to Tembo. “Tembo helped Santa delver the gifts!”

He looked to where she was pointing and saw that he still had a present tied to his back. He reached over to it and pulled if off with his trunk. Then, he handed it to the little girl, who took it and smiled at him. Then, she grabbed his trunk and gave a great big hug.

“Merry Christmas, Tembo!” she said.

It send warm shivers all through Tembo, who smiled in return. If this is what Christmas was, he wanted to experience it all the time.

The End

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb Part 3: When Aries met Amelia

“Graduation. It’s happening in a few days, and in more ways than one.” Aries paused for a second, looking around the room to make sure his audience appreciated the gravity of his words. The collection of Martian citizens nodded their heads in silent agreement. “Not only will we be graduating from high school, but our society, the entire Free Mars movement, will graduate from being a harmless club for disgruntled teens to a real force for political movement on our world. We move from children and young adults in actual adults, taking roles of leadership in our society. From here on out, we will be in a real position to push our agenda, to make a real difference in trying to take Free Mars from a movement to a reality.”

The group stood up and applauded. Though most of them were teens getting ready to graduate, there were a few adults there too. The number of them were getting larger every year, and Free Mars was getting momentum. It made Aries proud. When he joined the group a few years ago, he wasn’t entirely sure he believed in its goal, but now he was completely behind it. And not just that, he had moved into a position of leadership, second only to his best friend, Bo Wu. The two of them had convinced many Martians, native and immigrant alike, that it was in Mars’ best interest to be independent from the US and China back on Earth. It had been especially easy lately with the adults, as the two governments had started bickering with each other, most recently over China’s move into North Korea. The blatant power play forced to US to move troops into South Korea, and tensions were high. Many adults feared war between the superpowers, and what such a war would do to their community, where people from both nations lived in peace as neighbors.

He felt that such a move would allow the Free Mars movement a chance to negotiate for their independence. I mean, imagine freeing up needed troops, but still getting the resources you require from Mars. At a cost, of course, but still less than Mars charges other countries. Mars had to survive, after all. Bo didn’t seem to share this view, though. He and several others saw this new tension between their home countries as a bad sign. With war looming, loosing Mars would be the last thing they would want. They need the resources Mars offers to wage said war, and thus the only way to secure Martian Freedom would be through its own war. They liken it to the American War for Independence. Aries wasn’t convinced. Fighting a war to win peace just didn’t sit with him.

The applause was still going on, and it shook him out of his thoughts. He nodded his head, accepted the praise and took his seat. The rest of the dinner went just fine and everyone talked about what they wanted to do for a graduation celebration. To no one’s surprise, most people were talking about Aries’ party. His family was still was of the most influential on Mars, his dad being the head of the Martian Research Institute, still the number one employer on Mars.

Aries phone buzzed in his pocket just then. He looked at the screen and saw that it was his dad. The old man must have felt Aries thinking of him. He clicked off the phone. He knew what his dad wanted to talk to him about, they had been having the same conversation several times over the past few weeks, and he was getting tired of it. And this was a good party. He couldn’t avoid his dad for ever, true, especially given that his summer internship started tomorrow. But he could avoid him for another few hours, and that was good enough.

Bo came up to him and nodded at Aries phone.

“Just my dad,” Aries said, waving it off.

“Is he still mad at you?” Bo asked.

“Yup.”

“Wow,” Bo said. Then he switched to Chinese. “My parents are not surprised by my choice, but are still insistent that I give up the Free Mars thing. They say I will bring dishonor to them.”

Aries nodded. Then, he slapped his friend on the shoulder and pointed to a pair of girls standing across the dance floor.

“Enough talk of parents,” he said, also in Chinese. “This is a party.”

Bo smiled and the two young men left their troubles on the table to go have a good time. Tomorrow comes soon enough, Aries though. Tonight, let’s eat, drink and be merry.

****

Aries paused outside the massive dome that was the Martian Research Institute. An entire dome, dedicated to a single company. The building inside was created around the dome, the architecture something not seen on Earth, making it uniquely Martian. Aries smiled at that. It was impressive, with a courtyard just inside that featured a large fountain and a rotating steel globe of mars. The fountain was a big deal, water still being an import on Mars. That alone showed off how wealthy the company was. He paused not because he was drinking in the sights, though. He paused because even after all this time, it was intimidating.

“Aries?” a voice called. Aries looked and saw a man in a black suite with a pencil thin tie, the latest in corporate fashion straight from Earth.

“Hey, David,” Aries said.

“Where have you been?” David said. He held an ePad in his hand, tapping it. Aries smiled. David had been his dad’s executive assistance for ten years now, and Aries never saw him without that ePad. “You’re dad is looking for you. He thought you might be ditching your internship after not returning home last night.”

“Nah,” Aries answered, waving off David’s arm. “I’d still show up, even if I’m not looking forward to seeing Dad today. I know the way, David, you don’t need to drag me.”

“You’ll forgive me if I make sure that you go right there,” he said. The man was a stickler for schedule. Really, Aries was okay with that. He liked to stick to a schedule himself. But, it was just lots of fun to raise hell with David. He was such an easy target. The two walked into the building, past the large, dome shaped lobby and down the hall. Aries tried not to look up at the top of his dome, which was a window to his father’s office. He didn’t want to see the look on his dad’s face until they were in the same room. A brief set of sitars and walk down a short hallway had them at the door to his father’s office. Aries hesitated once again. He took a deep breath. Now that he was here, he wasn’t sure he wanted to face his dad at all.

“Allow me,” David said, pushing past him and opening the door. Aries followed the man inside, and saw that not only was his dad there, but his mother was as well. Aries cringed. Both at once? Maybe he should have gone home last night.

“Dad,” Aries said, slowly moving into the room. “Mom.”

“Aries,” Dad said. Aries cringed again. Dad never called him that unless he was angry, it was always ‘Son’ or ‘Squirt.’ “Take a seat. We need to talk. David, if you could excuse us? Aries’ mother and I need some parent time with our son before we do business.”

“Of course, Charles” David said, already sliding out of the room.

Aries watched his last hope of avoiding a chewing out leave the room, gulped, and turned back to his parents. Both were glaring at him, his dad sitting behind his large, round, clear plastic desk, and his mom sitting on the edge of it. His dad help up an envelope. It had the logo of the University of Mars on it. Aries tensed.

“This came in the mail yesterday,” Charles said. “It says that you’ve signed up for a Law Degree, with a Political Science minor. Is this true?”

“Yes,” Aries said.

“I thought we had discussed this,” Charles said, standing up. “Aries, we decided that you were going to pursue your science degree in geology and join us here at the company. One day, you would take over my job, and that was how you would help lead and shape Mars.”

Aries lowered his face. This was exactly what he was expecting. He kept hoping that some day his parents would understand, but whenever someday was, it wasn’t soon enough. Then his dad said something that changed everything.

“You betrayed my trust, Son,” Charles said. “You betrayed the decision we made together. You had such grand plans to learn about the world you were born on, and now you’re throwing it all away to do what? Become a lawyer?”

Something inside Aries snapped. Betrayal?!?

“Betrayed?” Aries said, the anger rising inside of him. “‘We’ never made any decisions, Dad. You made all the decisions, and made it pretty clear that if I didn’t at least pretend to agree with you, it would be very bad for me.”

“Aries,” His mother said, speaking in Chinese. “You shouldn’t talk to your father that way.”

“Don’t give me that ‘respect and honor your parents’ line, Mom,” Aries said. He took a sharp breath after saying it, being just as surprised as his mother was. Aries had never spoken to either of his parents like this before. But now that he had started, he found he couldn’t stop. Not that he really wanted to. “This isn’t China, Mom. It’s Mars. And when I finally go to University, I will no longer be subjected to your rules or restrictions. I’ll be an adult, by both US and Chinese standards. I can make my own decisions, and more specifically, decide how my future goes.”

Charles sat back down, and Aries’ mother, Ju, stood up, shock registering on both their faces.

“If you look carefully at that notice, Dad,” Aries continued, pointing at his father. “You’ll see that I’m still taking geology courses. I’m taking a double major, Law and Geology.”

“Son, a double major,” Charles started saying.

“I can do it, Dad,” Aries said. “I’m smart enough, you know that. Even the school thought I could be able to handle it fine.”

“But, Son,” Ju said, switching to English. “Are you really sure that you want to become a politician?”

“Do I want to?” Aries asked. “No, not really. But I don’t see that I have much of a choice. People look to both me and Bo to be leaders. Don’t deny it, even you do. You want me to take over the company. Even if I did that, I’d still be in a major leadership role for the colony. And I’d still have to deal with the politicians back on Earth. So, I’ve decided that if I’m going to end up being a leader not matter what, I might as well be a prepared one. Most politicians back on Earth are also lawyers, and why not? If you’re a lawmaker, you should know the law. And if I plan on leading Mars to independence, and I do, than I need to know the laws as well.”

He took a deep breath and paused. He realized that he was done talking, and sat down. His parents just stared at him for a few moments, then looked at each other. Aries watched them hold an entire conversation with just their eyes. It was something he loved about his parents, and something he hoped to one day have with a woman.

“Okay,” Charles said.

Aries stared at him. That was not even remotely close to what he had expected.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” his dad said again, and smiled. “I’m proud of you, Son. Not just for standing up to us, but for pursuing your dreams and goals. You’re right to do so, and your mother and I just can’t stand in your way. You’ll be a great leader one day, Aries Webb. And a great scientist, I know it. Now, what do you say we start our tour and show you to your new boss for the summer?”

Aries smiled and nodded. He was grateful that finally this discussion was over.

****

Aries and Charles walked down the hall, stopping every now and then to meet some scientist or another. After a few introductions, Aries got the impression that his dad was just showing him off. Every so often, though, Aries would spot some soldiers, US Marines, if Aries remembered his US military branch insignia. Truth be told, it was hard to tell. They all wore a red and black camouflage outfit that consisted of boots, loose fitting pants, jacket, ball cap and some kind of utility vest. They were rater intimidating, and all armed with black rifles.

“Hey, Dad,” he said, nudging Charles as they walked down the hallway. “What’s with all the soldiers?”

“Marines, Squirt,” Charles said. “They hate being called soldiers. They’re here for security. Ostensibly, they always were, but we tried our best to not use them. But the new general at the base wants a full military presence, and sent over the Marines. At first, I was perturbed over it, but then I started to see the benefits...”

Aries lost track of what his dad was saying. He was instead staring at her. She was a Marine, dressed like the rest, but there was nothing like the rest in her. She was beautiful. Creamy milk chocolate colored skin, full lips, and the most amazingly intense eyes he had ever seen. Her hair was as dark as her eyes were, and was so wavy that it was almost curly. She had it cut short, just below her ears, but even at that, it was still exotic and amazing, just like the rest of her.

“She’s way out of your league, Squirt,” Charles said.

Aries blinked and looked at his dad. “What?”

“She’s a Marine, Son,” he said. “They are not the normal type of women you go for. Strong of both arm and will. Plus, she’s on duty.”

Aries nodded, but looked back at her. He noted that she seemed to be guarding a door to a lab, checking badges as people entered. He memorized the corridor and door number, so he could come back later.

“Come on, Squirt,” Charles said. “Let’s go introduce you to Dr. Sun.”

****

The next few weeks flew by. Dr. Sun, the leading geologist on Mars, put Aries to work right away, and he never did have the chance to go back to that door. In fact, he had forgotten about it and the girl. He only barely made it to his own graduation, he was so busy. But, the work with the grizzled Chinese doctor was exhilarating. Dr. Sun’s team was verifying things believed about Mars for years, or disproving said beliefs. They had even discovered what could be hidden water on the red planet, as the latest core samples indicate that there could be frozen water under the surface, much like there was on the moon. It was all exciting. But, the midsummer carnival was coming up, and Aries managed to convince Dr. Sun to let him have time off to go. Aries learned that the grumpy scientist considered him his shining star, and that was part of the reason he pushed Aries so hard. It also meant that Aries could do things like ask for time off when others couldn’t.

Ever since the trip to Earth, Aries tried to avoid manipulating people like that, but he figured he deserved some time off, and no one else really seemed to blame him for it. They were all working hard, and wanted the time off.

Aries called Bo, and the two met at the transit station. Aries still marveled at the elevated train, even though it had been a part of Olympus Mons City since he was ten. He could remember back when he was a little boy, five or six, and all of Olympus Mons was two domes, no more than a mile in diameter each. Now, those were called Colony Town, and there were eight total domes. The largest, Center City, was six miles wide. The tram was placed to allow free travel between the domes. Manufacturers back on Earth had tried to get cars sold on Mars, but no one wanted them. In the domes, things felt crowded enough, cars weren’t needed. Buses, trams and moving sidewalks got everyone where they wanted to go just fine. And tongiht, the tram took Aries and Bo to Dome No. 6, the Park.

Upon exiting the tunnel and look about The Park, Aries could see that the name was a misnomer. There were, in fact, five large parks in here, including the newly renovated Olympus Mons Zoo. The buildings that housed people here were rented or owned by either the very wealthy or Mars University students. The school was also in this dome, and Aries looked at the clock tower from the tram and smiled. It was perhaps his father’s greatest achievement, a public university that drew the best minds to Mars, later to be hired by his company.

The festival would take place at Langston Park, named after the first man to land on Mars. He could see from here that everything was set up. The ferris wheel and other rides, the booths of games, he cold even smell the food. He looked over to Bo, and the two grinned at each other. This was going to be a blast! They jumped off the tram and ran to the ticket booth. The next few hours was a blur of looking at oddities, buying food they would normally never eat and riding rides. Then, Aries saw her.

It took him a moment to realize that he recognized this stunning beauty at the ring toss game. She was with several friends, but she stood out. Tall, with perfect posture, and the most exotic skin and eyes. She was easily the most beautiful girl at the fair, possibly on the whole of Mars. She was also the Marine he had seen guarding that door at the Institute a few weeks back. This time, she wasn’t on duty, as evidenced by the jeans and shirt she wore.

“Bo, I’ll catch you later,” he said and wandered over to the ring toss. When Bo looked up from the basketball he was trying to get into the hoop, he saw the girl. A smile crossed his face and he returned to his game.

Aries walked up to the group of four girls, three of which were all giggling at the dark skinned woman Aries had his focus on. Clearly, they were teasing her about her aim. One of them spotted him and brought him to the attention of the others. They tried to get the girl to notice him too, but she simply shooed them away with a wave of her hand.

“It’s all in the wrist, you know,” he said as he stood up next to her.

She turned to look at him, and he saw that her eyes were in fact black. A slight smile crossed her full lips, colored a dark brownish red to match her skin. She stood up, reaching a height a full head taller than Aries.

“Oh, really?” she said. “Why don’t you show me.”

He smiled. He paid the woman behind the counter, who handed him three rings. He three them very carefully, making note to the girl exactly what he was doing. His first two rings bounced of the bottles, but his third one landed. The woman behind the counter handed him a small, stuffed dolphin. He handed it to the girl. She smiled again, and Aries felt his throat tighten at that look. She waved the stuffed animal off.

“Keep it,” she said. Then, she leaned over again and threw her three rings, one, two, three. All three landed on different bottles, right next to each other. The carny yelled, and the girl pointed to one of the large, stuffed green martians hanging from the tent’s ceiling. She smiled and handed it to Aries. He looked at it for a moment, than laughed, accepting it.

“You are amazing,” he said. “I’m...”

“Aries Webb,” she replied, taking his hand. “I know.”

“Well,” he laughed again. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

“Indeed I do,” she smiled again. He was more and more impressed by this girl. He laughed again, and this time, so did she. “I’m Amelia . Amelia Day.”

“Well, Amelia,” he said, leaning over to kiss her hand. “The pleasure is all mine, I assure you. Would you like to join my green friend and me in a tour of the festival?”

Her eyes twinkled, and she turned to look at her friends, who were all nodding at her. She turned back and smiled. “Sure, I’d love to.”

The rest of the fair was another blur, this time of her hair and eyes and scent and laugh. He would remember later dancing with her at the main stage, eating dinner and mostly walking and talking. They talked about all kinds of things, and Aries learned that Amelia was the daughter of an American General in the Marines, and that Mars was her first assignment right out of Boot Camp. She was excited to see the red planet, and he offered to be her guide. They continued to walk and talk until the early hours of the morning, long after the fair closed.

****

“I’m telling you, Bo,” Aries was saying around a mouth full of french fires. “Amelia is the most amazing girl ever. I’m going to marry her one day.”

“So you’ve said,” Bo said, “about ten times now.”

“Have I?” Aries said. “Oh. Well, it’s true. My heart has finally been won, and it was by Amelia Day!”

“Aries, you’ve only been dating for a week now,” Bo said. “Leave the marriage thing for at least another week, huh?”

Aries laughed at his friend. Then, he noticed that Bo was not laughing.

“Bo, why the long face?” he asked. “I mean, I know you and Fenfang broke up a few days ago, but you can still be happy for me, right?”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with Fenfang,” Bo said. “I broke up with her, remember? No, I just got... stuff on my mind.”

Aries sat down. He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Talk to me, Bo. What’s going on?”

He pulled a letter out of his pocket and handed it to Aries. It was written in Chinese, and though Aries could read most of it, his Chinese reading still needed work. Still, he could make out that it was from the Ministry of Defense, and something about... work? For the military?

“You’re being drafted?” he asked.

“Yup,” Bo said. “After years of not bothering to enforce the mandatory military service, the Chinese Department of Defense declared that all Chinese men living on Mars of ages 18 and over would now be required to fulfill this duty.”

“But, what about school?” Aries asked.

“It’s going to have to wait,” Bo said. “Look, Aries, we need to talk about something important.”

“What?” Aries asked. “Whatever you need, Bo, you know that.”

“I do,” Bo said. “You’ve been the best friend I could ever ask for, especially the past few years. You joined Free Mars at my request, I know, to make up for what happened on Earth. But you’ve since embraced it fully, even serving as my vice chair at the meetings and helping me organize things. We had plans, Aries. Plans that I am no longer going to be able to participate in.”

“What?” Aries asked. “Why not?”

“As a member of the military, I can’t be a part of an organization that seeks to displace the Chinese government on Mars,” Bo said. “It would be very bad for me. So that’s why I’m asking you to take over.”

“Take over?” Aries asked, afraid he knew where this was going.

“Free Mars,” Bo said. “I’m asking you to take over the leadership of our movement completely. Free Mars needs you, Aries. Take the reigns. Do it for me. Most of all, do it for Mars. People look to us for leadership, and without me, it’s going to be just you. Will you do this, Aries?”

Aries took a deep breath to consider what his best friend was asking him to do. He looked up at Bo and saw the intensity in his eyes, but he also saw the fear. Everything that Bo had worked for, an Independent Mars, was in danger of collapsing. And Aries couldn’t let that happen. He slapped Bo on the shoulder.

“You know I will,” he said. “I’m here for both you and Mars, Bo. I’ll do it.”

****

The next few weeks were crazy for Aries. Trying to find time through work to do both Free Mars meetings and date Amanda was taxing. He actually fell asleep in the theater during their last date.

“What’s going on, Greenie?” she asked. Greenie was the nickname she had come up for him, short for Little Green Man. “You’ve been really distracted lately.”

“I got a lot on my mind,” he said. “I’m sorry, Amelia. I don’t mean to be such a downer, but my life got really complicated lately.”

“Is this about Bo?” she asked. Amelia and Bo had become good friends lately, even though they argued politics something fierce. The Chinese Communist and the US Marine. Aries nodded.

“Partially, yes.” He took a deep breath and looked Amelia in the eyes. He loved this woman, truly and deeply. He needed to tell her the truth. She deserved nothing less. “Amelia, do you know about the Free Mars movement?”

She snorted. “Of course I do. Basic intel we all got when we arrived. It’s a group of disgruntled mine workers, scientists and kids that think they can just talk and convince the US and China to give up Mars. China has the group listed as a potential terrorist organization, but the CIA thinks it’s mostly harmless.”

“Well,” he said, cringing, “I’m the leader of it.”

There was a moments pause, and then Amelia bust out laughing.

“You had me going there for a second,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Leader of Free Mars indeed.”

He looked her in the eyes, his face dead serious.

“Aries,” she said, the smile gone from her face. “You’re not pulling my leg, here? You’re really the leader of Free Mars?”

He nodded.

“How is that even possible?” she said. “You’re only eighteen! And your dad is a staunch support of the US government! Not to mention, it’s stupid!”

“It’s not stupid,” he said. “And my age has nothing to do with it. Free Mars was founded by people that were here from the beginning, and almost everyone that was born here is a member. Is it really that difficult to think that I want my world to be free of outside influence?”

“Outside influence?” she said. “The US and China paid for you to be here. This colony wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for us.”

“The same could be said of the US and England,” he said.

“That was different,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “England didn’t respect the people of America. The US Government has listened to your father and other Martian leaders, and taken their advisement under consideration when making rulings about Mars.”

“My point is that Earthlings are making decisions about Mars, and not Martians,” he said.

“That’s what elections are for,” she said.

“We can’t vote in Chinese elections,” he said. “Not that it would matter much there.”

“You really want to stop being a US citizen?” she said, in a much quieter voice. “Why tell me this?”

“Because, Amelia ,” he said. “I love you. More than I have ever loved anyone, I love you. And you deserve to know the truth.”

“I don’t...” she started. “This is too much, I need some time. I’m sorry Aries, I have to go.”

She stood up and left. Aries sat there, watching her go. Tears were racing down his eyes.

****

“Aries Webb,” snapped Dr. Sun in his clipped, sharp accent. “Focus! You nearly broke this sample.”

Aries bowed and apologized, and went to go get some cleaning supplies to clean the broken drill and glass on the table. Dr. Sun was right. Ever seance his discussion with Amelia a few days ago, he hadn’t been able to focus on anything. His work was beginning to suffer, and he had even missed the Free Mars meeting last night. He wasn’t sure what to do. Amelia hadn’t talked to him at all, and she hadn’t been on duty at the Institute lately, either. When he got back with the cleaning supplies, he saw that Dr. Sun was still there.

“You are sick,” he said looking at Aries.

“I assure you, Dr. Sun, I am not,” Aries said, talking in Chinese. Dr. Sun always preferred to talk in his native tongue.

“No, you are sick,” he said again, sticking to English. “I cannot have sick worker in my lab. Go home. Take two days off. Come back when your mind is clear of sickness.”

Aries looked up at the old Chinese man. Was he really being kicked out of the lab? The accident wasn’t that bad. The sample was preserved. Dr. Sun winked at him. Aries blinked. The old man smiled and nodded ,and Aries realized that the grumpy old scientist was giving him a chance to get his life in order before coming back to the lab!

“Yes, Dr. Sun,” he said. He stood, bowed, and ran out of the lab to go home. Once outside of the Institute, he slowed down to walk. The light blue sky was clear today, the few clouds absent from the sky. There were more and more clouds every year, and scientists predicted that if a lake or ocean could be created on Mars, it wouldn’t take long after that before it desert world would see rain. That would be something, Aries thought. He’d never seen rain, even when he visited Earth.

He walked up to the tram station, and looked at the schedule. Where he was going was a place he hadn’t been to before, having only been built two years ago. He wasn’t even sure he would be allowed to go there. When the tram to the US Military base came up, the soldier at the door told him he couldn't get on board without a military ID. He sighed and nodded. That was to be expected. He needed to see Amanda, though. He needed to see her now, and get a final answer from her. He loved this woman, and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Would she be willing to be with someone that had such a differing political view?

“Aries?” he heard a voice say just as the tram pulled away. He turned and looked. It was Amelia. She rushed over to him and hugged him, and he hugged her back, grateful for the embrace. She was warm against him. It took a few moments for him to realize she wasn’t in uniform.

“I came here hoping to find out at the Institute, working,” she said. “What are doing here?”

“Dr. Sun game me the next few days off,” he said. “I came to find you.”

“My platoon got leave today too,” she said. “We’d been doing combat drills the past few days, I couldn’t call you.”

“Oh,” he said. That explained a lot. He broke their embrace and pulled her away from him. “Amelia, I need to know. Are you still interested in seeing me?”

“Interested?” she said. “Of course, silly! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you ran off after I told you about Free Mars,” he said.

“That?” she said. “You think I was worried about that?” She laughed.

“No, silly boy,” she said. “I can handle you having a different political view. I was really freaked out by your admission of love. It’s the first time you admitted that to me.”

“Oh,” he said. Was it really? He felt like he had always loved her, how could he have not told her?

“And?” he asked when she just stood there looking at him.

“And,” she said, grabbing him in a hug, and kissing him full on the lips. “I love you too.”

The End

Week 46

Well, NaNoWriMo continues, and I've managed to catch up to my word count goal. Which also means I've gotten ahead of my stories, to post them here for you. :) I'm having fun, even though this last week was plagued with work issues and a sick child. Next week is the last week, and I should be able to get this novel done in on time.

In the mean time, please enjoy part 3 of The Life and Times of Aries Webb.

I'll see you next week.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb, Part 2: Self Discovery

“Bo!” Aries called out as he ran across the grassy ground. “Bo! Come check this out!”

The young Asian man that Aries was yelling at rolled his eyes. He had been in the middle of Taekwando practice, not to mention impressing a few girls with his moves. But Aries just had a way of drowning out everything else by him. It started with something simple, like his trying to get Bo’s attention. Then... yup, just as Bo expected. The girls spotted Aries and went running across the high-school gym. Bo was sexy when practicing, apparently, but not when compared to Aries Webb, the First Man Born on Mars. Bo was born nearly four months later, but apparently being second born didn’t matter for much.

“Oh, hey girls,” Aries was saying. Bo sighed. He dropped form his practice stance and grabbed a towel. Then, he walked over and grabbed Aries his arm, dragging him away form the gym.

“Hey” Aries said, but didn’t really resist being dragged out.

“What was so important that you had to interrupt me in the middle of my warm up?” he asked.

“Oh, right!” Aries. He fished into his jacket pocket and pulled out a letter. He haned it to Bo, who read it over. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes. Did Aries have to take this from him, too?

“Isn’t that awesome, Bo?” Aries said. “I’m going to get to go to Earth with you, courtesy of the American government. I’ll get to watch you compete!”

Bo sighed. He looked at Aries. Despite his feelings about the other teen, the truth was that he was Bo’s best friend. And he also seemed mostly unaware of what his presence did to Bo’s life.

“Yeah, Ari,” he said. “That’s great. Just make me one promise?”

“What’s that?” Aries asked.

“Try not to take the media away from the tournament, huh?” Bo said. “A lot of us have worked very hard to get to this thing, and it would be very upsetting if a celebrity, especially one from Mars, came by and took all the limelight from the athletes.”

“I wouldn’t do that!” Aries said with a smile on his face that indicated this was completely untrue.

“Right,” Bo said.

“Come on,” Aries said. “Let’s go to the Red Sands and get a burger.”

Bo sighed. He still had practice to finished. He looked over at the coach, who just waved him away. Coach liked Aries, plus Bo was so far ahead of the rest of the team that taking some time off probably wasn’t a big deal. For a brief moment, Bo considered not going and finishing his practice. But the truth was, he liked Aries too, and a burger sounded great.

“Okay, let’s go,” he said.

****

“Man, I can’t believe you’re actually going to Earth,” Aries was saying around a mouthful of burger.

“I don’t know why,” Bo said, taking a more petite bite. “It’s only something that’s been coming for the past two years. Not to mention we’ve had this exact same conversation almost every day for the past two weeks.”

“I’m just saying,” Aries said. “It’s a big deal. The Junior Taekawando World Championships, and you’ll be the first Martian to go.”

“Yeah,” Bo said. “If only I was going as a Martian. No, my friend, I will just be another Chinese entry.”

“Not this Free Mars stuff again,” Aries sighed.

“Why is it that you, of all people, don’t get this?” Bo said.

“Get what?” Aries said. “So what if neither of us have been to Earth. Olympus Mons is a colony, under the jurisdiction of two governments, China and the USA. And I know your next argument, too. The USA was once the colony of England. But there’s a big difference. America had the ability to grow its own resources. We don’t. Not really. I mean, sure, we have hydroponic gardens, and the new farm dome seems to be doing well. But we’re still looking for a natural resource we can use to make energy. As it is, we trade with Luna City, another American colony, for Helium-3. If we could find a deposit of even coal, we might be in business, but so far, nothing. And not surprising, given that coal is a biproduct of organic life.”

Bo only looked at him blankly.

“What?” Aries asked.

“You’ve put in a lot of thought about this since our last argument about Free Mars,” Bo said.

Aries threw a french fry at his friend, causing Bo to put up an arm in defence.

“And where did you learn all that stuff about minerals?” Bo asked.

“Last month,” Aries said. “Remember, I transferred into Professor Lembeck’s Geology class?”

“Yeah, so?” Bo smirked.

“Don’t make me throw another french fry at you,” Aries said, smiling himself. “I really like it. I think I may have finally found a science I can get into.”

“Huh,” Bo said. “Very cool.”

“Yeah,” Aries nodded, stuffing more fries in his mouth. “What about you? You sticking with robotics?”

Bo had gotten used to understanding Aries speaking with a full mouth over the years. “I guess so,” he said. “It’s really the only field I’ve had any interest or talent in.”

Bo’s real passion, however, had been martial arts. He had excelled in Taekwando and Kung Fu, to the point where he had been invited in the world championships back on Earth. But, Olympus Mons was still a scientific community, and almost everyone here either was a scientist, or in a field that supported science.

“Too bad you can’t get paid for fighting,” Aries said. “Come on, let’s get out of here. Hey Ray. Can we get our check?”

“Check?” the fat man behind the counter said. It sounded almost like he was spitting. “Aries Webb, you know you’re money is no good here. You bring in too much business for me to make you pay. Go on, get out!”

Aries smiled and nodded for he and Bo to leave, then got up and headed for the door. Bo sighed, reached into his pocket and placed some money on the table. The waiter at least deserved a tip. He looked at it briefly. Being the product of two different countries, with different currencies, Olympus Mons officially switched to the Euro as its standard unit of currency to compensate. They didn’t even have their own money. He sighed again.

Outside, he and Aries walked towards Olympus Park. Outside, of course, being a relative concept, since they were still within the domes. But, through the clear dome they could see the thin blue sky, and Olympus Park had trees and green grass, which was still an anomaly on Mars. It felt like outside. The construction vehicles were there, building what the signs proclaimed would be the Martian Zoo, but Bo heard that the funding for that project had dried up. Apparently, both the US and China were uncomfortable with providing the colony animals that were not part of the initial colony setup, what they called “unnecessary.” So, while Olympus Mons had cows, sheep, chickens and even dogs and a few domestic cats, things like apes and elephants were going to remain the sole property of Earth.

“You know,” Aries said, bringing Bo out of his revere, “you really should watch it with all this talk of Free Mars. If the Chinese government ever figured out you were part of the movement, you could be arrested, or taken away from your precious Taekwando competitions.”

Bo snorted. “You really think that the Department of Defense doesn’t already know who all the members of the ‘potentially dangerous terrorist organization Free Mars’ is? They don’t consider us a real threat. At least, not yet. But they keep an eye on us. As far as they’re concerned, were just a group of disgruntled young people. They keep an eye on us, but they don’t believe we’ll ever be a real threat. But, we’re getting bigger all the time. Even now, this colony is grow way beyond the little science station your dad built. Olympus Mons is now home to nearly a hundred thousand people. In six years, we’ll be at a million if this trend continues. And the more people that live here for a long period of time, the less they want to be tied to Earth. It’ll happen, you’ll see.”

“Maybe,” Aries said.

“So, what why was it you got invited to Earth, exactly?” Bo asked, changing the subject.

“Well, officially, its because there’s a television network in America that wants an interview with you, and they figured that they if they could snag an interview with me as well, all the better,” he said.”

“And unofficially?” Bo asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I think that America wanted to remind the world that they own half the first man born on Mars,” he said, seeming kind of grumpy about it. That may have been the most cynical think Bo had ever herd Aries say about his celebrity status.

“What does that mean?” Bo asked.

“I think the Americana's were threatened by you,” he said, staring ahead. “The first Martian to go to Earth, and it’s a full Chinese citizen. This way, they get to tromp me out as an American and remind the world that I was first.”

“You don’t sound happy about that,” Bo said. “I thought you liked being interviewed.”

“Oh, I do,” he said. Then, he sighed. “I just don’t like being used for political gain. It sucks, and I feel like I’m someones tool than a person.”

Bo laughed out loud. Aries gave him a dirty glare that indicated just how much he didn’t appreciate that.

“What’s so damn funny?” Aries asked.

“You,” Bo said. “I have never heard you complain about your fame before. For someone that doesn’t like being political capital, you sure do take advantage of your status readily enough.”

“I do not!” he said in a voice that was louder than he expected.

“Oh?” Bo asked, his eyebrow raising once again. “Than what was that back at the Red Sand? ‘You’re money is no good here?’”

“That’s different,” Aries said. “If people want to give me stuff, who am I to turn them down?”

Bo laughed, and at first Aries just glared at him. Then, he started laughing too. The whole thing was pretty funny.

****

Aries and Bo were sitting next to each other. Aries was gripping his chair hard, his knuckles turning white. His stomach lurched. The worst part about this was that the shuttle hadn’t even moved. Why in the hell was he so nervous about space travel? People did it all the time, especially the politicians. If they could do it, then so could he.

He looked over at Bo and saw that he had his eyes closed and was breathing slowly. If you didn’t know the young man, you might think he was sleeping. But Aries knew that Bo was meditating. It was a technique he used to calm his nerves before a match. Aries smiled. It meant that Bo was just as scared as he was. It was also a good idea, so Aries closed his eyes and started to slowly breath in and out. He focused on his breath, closing out all other noise. In and out. The talking of the captain over the intercom, the muted discussions of the few other passengers, even the sounds of the engine. All left. All that was left was the sounds of his breathing. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

He didn’t know how long it had been since he started, but he could feel the shuttle moving at some point. She slowly took himself out of his trance. When he opened his eyes, the ship was already in the air. He looked out the window to the colony below. It looked almost like a star shaped scar on the northern side of the giant mountain. Bo told him to look up, and he did just in time to see the pale blue sky suddenly turn the black of night. The stars were just stunning from space, and eve though there were thousands to be seen from Mars through the domes, there were millions to see now. It was truly breathtaking.

The actual trip to Earth took about a month, even with the advanced ion rockets, which was why most trips to Mars were one way. Despite this length of time, the boys had a ton of fun on the trip. They got their own cabin, next to Bo’s parent’s, and were able to do lots of stuff they wouldn’t normally be able to do. So, they stayed up late watching movies, slept in and generally ate the kitchen staff out of goods. Bo still got up and did his practice, and Aries managed to find a pair of sisters who’s father was a senator from Earth, and the two boys hung out with them a lot too. By the time they got to Earth, the boys felt like they had the best vacation ever.

Once on Earth, Aries was amazed to see just how... alien it all looked. First off was the crowds. Sure, Olympus was pretty small compared to the number of people, but he felt like there were more people in the Hong Kong spaceport they landed in than there were at home. Second was the sky. It was bright, and a much darker blue than at home, and full of fluffy white clouds. Those were still rare on Mars, despite the best efforts of the terraforming committee. But the most disturbing thing of all was that everything on Earth was outside! Back on Mars, even the outside parts of the city were in the dome. Here, nothing was sealed in, everything was just exposed to the atmosphere. Even though he knew it wasn’t dangerous, it was disturbing, nonetheless.

Outside the spaceport was a press conference waiting to happen. They were ostensibly there to interview Bo, but even Aries knew that they would want to talk to him over his friend. Normally, he wanted that kind of attention, but he really did want Bo to have his chance in the sun. So, he suggested to Bo that he go first. His friend sighed, sure that Aries was up to something, but agreed to do so. He and his parents stepped through the doors and the reporters started taking pictures and asking questions immediately.

Bo moved up to the podium and started answering questions. He was good, Aries thought. They were eating his words up. He was even slipping in pro Free Mars propaganda, disguised as pride of his homeland. And then, things went horribly wrong.

One of the reporters noticed Aries standing near the door, and pointed him out to the crowd. They practically dragged him to the podium, and Bo was shoved aside in favor of the world’s favorite Martian. The questions came so fast they were practically on top of each other.

“Aries, what brought you to Earth?”

“Aries, are you planning on visiting any place in particular?”

“We heard you were dating one of the Senator’s daughters, is this true?”

“What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?”

“What do you think of Earth so far?”

“Pop princess Andi Archer said she wants to get to know you better. Interested?”

Finally, Aries raised his hands to quite everyone down. He smiled. This was his element, in front of a crowd of people, all listening to him.

“Everyone, please,” he said. “I am only here for one reason, and that is to support my best friend, Bo Wu, who is here to compete in the Junior Taekawando World Championships. He’s a fantastic martial artist, and I know that he will do fantastic and represent China with all the honor and skill that we all have come to expect from such an august nation. Bo Wu has worked hard to get here, very hard, and has won every competition that there was on Mars, mostly against adults, as there were no other teenagers to compete against. He’s ready for this level of competition, and I think we all owe him some attention. So, I’m going to step down this once, and let him come back up here and answer the questions you actually came her to ask. You and I can and will talk later.”

He winked, and a few cameraman were on the ball enough to take the shot, and then he stepped down. Everyone was silent. Slowly, and still watching Aries as if not quite believing what he was seeing, Bo stepped forward and took the podium. He resumed answering questions, and the press conference went on as was expected. Aries really did like Bo, and believed all those things he said. But, he also knew Bo’s story. He’d been there through the whole thing, after all. Eventually, Aries got bored, so he made his way to the back of the crowd. After finding a nice looking blond reporter, he got her attention and led her away to give her an exclusive.

****

The next morning, Bo woke up and started his exercise routine. He still wasn’t sure what had happened at the space port. He was trying to figure out what Aries’ game was. Normally, he would have reveled to be in a crowd of reporters like that, answering questions and the like. But yesterday, he seemed to actually give it all up to Bo. Amazingly unlike him. Bo shook his head to clear it of worry and went out for a morning jog. The air on Earth seemed thicker and less... pure than back on Mars, but he supposed that shouldn’t surprise him. The atmosphere had no air filters like the domes back home did.

As he was running he ran by a digital news stand, and saw something there that made him stop. It was a headline for today’s paper, and it had Aries on it. “First Man from Mars Visits Earth” it read. Bo couldn’t believe it. He jammed his phone into the downloader and put his thumb on the “buy now” space. After reading his thumb print, the money was deducted from his account, and the paper downloaded to his phone. He yanked it out and ran back to the hotel.

****

“Aries Webb!” Bo cried as he stormed into the room they shared at the hotel. Aries came out of the bathroom, having just exited the shower, with a towel wrapped around his waist. He had a confused look on his face.

“What’s up, Bo?” he asked.

Bo threw his phone on the bed and pointed at it. Aries walked over and saw the headline of today’s paper on the screen. He smiled. He had just read that on his laptop about twenty minutes ago.

“Isn’t that great?” he said.

“Great?” Bo yelled. “Great? I gave an interview about the tournament and what it meant to Mars, and you go and sneak off and give an ‘exclusive’ to this bimbo of a reporter? And get the front page? My whole interview and speech is reduced to a three paragraph story on the sports page.”

“Yeah, but look,” he said, pointing to the article, “I mention the tournament here and here, and point that you’re my best friend and I’m only here on Earth to support you.”

“It mentions me once, Aries,” Bo said. “And only then referring to me as a fellow resident of the Olympus Mons colony. This article is entirely about you, and once again, it’s taken away any kind of recognition that I might have received for my actual hard work.”

Bo grabbed the phone out of Aries hand, and stormed out of the room. Aries looked after him, confused. Didn’t Bo know that this was just the media? He really did come to Earth to watch Bo compete. He heard his friend slam the door. He felt concern that maybe he had really screwed things up this time, but he quickly let it go. This was Bo he was talking about. Bo always got mad at him for something or another, and then he got over it. This, too, would blow over.

****

The tournament went off pretty smoothly. Bo found himself winning, and by the time round four came up, he could see that he was going to make it to the semi-finals. That was better than he was hoping, considering this was his first real tournament. He took this break he was on to look around the stadium. He didn’t see Aries before the event started, which was odd. Aries always saw him off before he fought. He didn’t see him in the stands either. Is it possible that he took their last argument to heart? That would be a change for Aries.

The official came and tapped Bo on the shoulder. He nodded. Aries would have to wait, he had a fight to get to. He took three deep breaths to clear his mind and refocused himself. He stepped into the ring and looked at his opponent. The young man he faced had on the black and yellow gi of his school, while Bo had the red and brown of his. They both had padded chest plates and headgear. When the referee dropped the flag, Bo struck. He discovered early in this tournament that being aggressive would often win points from the judges, even if your hits weren’t that hard.

This guy he was facing, however, was just as good, if not better. It was a hard fought match, and by the end of the three rounds, Bo wasn’t sure who was winning. He heard the crowd start to cheer and make a lot of noise. Was it possible that he had won? That would be amazing, to have made it to the finals! When he looked up at the score board, however, he saw something else. He saw Aries Webb. At first, he was confused. His presence alone wouldn’t distract from the tournament, would it? There were two fights going on right now, the outcome of which would determine the final match. How could Aries alone have deterred from that?

Then, he saw who Aries was with. It was Andi Archer, the music star. The crowd, in fact all the media there, seemed to be centered on the two super stars, and their apparent date. Aries was smiling that smug smile of his, and Bo felt that heat of anger rise inside of him. The entire tournament had shut down, and it was all because of Aries. This time, Bo wasn’t going to stand for it. He charged across the stadium, straight to where Aries and Andi were answering questions of the reporters.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Aries was saying. “Long distance relationships are hard enough when your on the same planet...”

Bo stood up to Aries then and pushed him, hard. Aries landed on one of the plastic seats with a grunt, obviously hurt by the fall. Bo didn’t really care. He pointed a finger at Aries.

“This is it, Aries,” he said. “You and I are no longer friends. Do you see what you have done here? You stopped the entire tournament! No one knows who made it to the finals, because all the judges and camera men are on you! Once again, your blasted ego and its desire to hog the spotlight have ruined things for everyone else, and the worst part is, you don’t even care. You arrogant, self-seeking son of a bitch!”

And with that, Bo left. He didn’t even care if he had won his last match. He was to angry to focus on any kind of fighting. He just wanted to go back home to Mars, and be done with the whole thing. On the big screen in the center of the hall he could see Aries, rubbing his chest, a look of sadness on his face. Good, Bo thought. Maybe he finally learned his lesson.

****

Aries walked down the city block, trying hard to avoid being hit by the throng. Hong Kong was more crowded than he expected it to be, and he wondered how the people of Earth breathed in such close quarters to each other, especially with such thick air. But none of that was really was what was on his mind. He had hurt his best friend, and hurt him bad. It was entirely possibly that Bo really wouldn’t be his friend when the two of them returned to Mars. And what hurt most about that truth was that Bo would be right to do so.

He came to a stop suddenly, something catching his eye. He looked into a window, a small corner shop that sold hand painted re-workings of newspaper headlines and photos. The one that had caught his attention was a picture of him. He looked at himself, painted in the rainbow of colors the artist used to re-create the black and white photo of the newspaper. He was smiling, waiving at the crowd, winking. It was him at the space port. Good god, he did looked arrogant. What in the hell was he thinking, doing that to his friend, and then doing something even worse later. Even after Bo tried to warn him. But he knew the answer. He was thinking of himself.

Looking at himself, he faced the truth. He really was arrogant. And with that truth, he knew what he needed to do to make things right.

****
“Thank you all for coming to this press conference,” Aries said, staring at the sea of faces. There were many reporters, true, but there were also lots of just regular people there, as well. Everyone wanted to know what this unexpected press conference was about. “I want to start by letting you all know that this conference is not about me. This is about a very close friend of mine. A man that I have known since we were little babies. A man who worked very hard almost his whole life to make it to the Junior Taekwando World Championship. An event that yesterday I ruined.”

“It wasn’t my intention to cause Bo Wu any harm, or even to interfere with his dream of participating in this tournament. All I wanted was to see Earth,” he said. “But that’s the problem. Everything I have done in my life was about what I wanted. I never took into consideration what anyone else wanted, not even my best friend. As a result of this continued arrogance, I have caused the worst pain to my best friend in the whole world, stealing the spot light that was rightfully his. And not just his, everyone that was fighting at that tourney. I took away from their accomplishments. Real accomplishments, I might add. I am a celebrity due to the circumstances of my birth. I haven’t really done anything worth this kind of fame. But these people, these boys and young men like Bo Wu, worked hard to get where they are today, and I ripped it away from them just to get my face on TV.”

He took a deep breath before continuing. “This conference is therefore for me to apologize to Bo and the rest of the people that worked hard to participate and bring you all that tournament. I am sincerely sorry for what I have done. I don’t know how I can make it up to you all, but I hope this is a good start.”

He choked back some tears that were starting to form. He took another deep breath to steady himself.

“Thank you all for coming today.”

He rushed off the platform and back to his waiting car to return to his hotel.

****
Aries didn’t see Bo for the rest of the visit to Earth, which was fine. He did his best to stay out of his friend’s way, mostly staying to the hotel room. He saw from the news that Bo did finally receive the recognition he deserved. He made it to the final round, and then was defeated by his opponent, to come in second place. It was a huge deal, most first timers never made it that far. He was hailed as a Chinese national hero, and a fine example of what Mars could offer the world. Aries nodded. It was all right, and everything that Bo deserved.

He had all his stuff packed and ready to leave. He was hoping that he could get a cab to the space port and be on the shuttle before Bo, so he didn’t have to ride in the car with him. He didn’t know if he could face him just yet. He grabbed his bags and headed out of the hotel. He paused briefly, thinking that maybe he should stop and face Bo. Hiding like this seemed just as selfish as his hogging the spotlight. But he shook his head. The month long trip home would be plenty of time to face Bo.

When he got outside, he saw that there were reports waiting for him, flashes from their cameras going all at once. He stumbled back slightly, blinking away the bright lights in his eyes. How did they know?

“Aries,” he heard a voice say. He turned to his right and saw Bo standing there. He looked grim, and his hands were balled into fists at his side. Aries couldn’t do anything, frozen there staring at his friend. “Aries Webb, I am here to talk to you about what you did the other day, with that Press Conference you called.”

Aries gulped. He had hopped that the conference would help smooth things over between them. Maybe not. Bo stepped forward, and Aries felt the desire to run. He started to, in fact, but froze when more camera flashes went off. The, Bo stuck out an arm, his hand extended. Aries stared at it for a few seconds before he realized that Bo wanted to shake his hand. Slowly, Aries put his hand hi Bo’s. His friend them pulled him close and embraced him in a hug. Aries breathed a sigh of relief. He hugged Bo back, and more cameras went off.

“Thank you, Aries,” Bo said. “Thank you.”

The End