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

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

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