....or as the French may say, Mars 2015
We're in Birmingham, UK. We're a young aspiring Martian......
"We experience Mars through them. They can reach out . . .," says Steve Squyres.
I hit the back button on my cell.
This documentary is out-dated. He's talking about robots. I'm not a robot. So much has happened since 2007. No. That's barely a credible statement. Not when the final years of the noughties now exist in the shadow of 2012 to now. So much has happened since 2012. That's the real truth. I'm not in a shadow anymore, Mars isn't in a shadow, and my days on earth are numbered as though the shadow of dark matter is a lure I'm gonna hitch a ride with to Mars as soon as the right end of the line is cast. And by the time that end of the line is cast maybe I'll be ready to be over earth. Maybe I'll be tired of earth. I'm getting there, to the end of the line. I'm almost there.
I don't know.
I thought I was there.
But, paradoxically, the more people get to know me and the more people I get to know, the more I know that they only know me as the girl they'll soon say goodbye to. I'm just that girl boldly going where no lonely girl has ever gone before, further than any has ever gone before, deeper into the black hole of space than ever thought possible.
I look at my belly as I stroll down Vicarage Road. It's flat. Of course. I'm not pregnant. Not yet. I'm not the size of Olympus Mons yet. Ha ha.
I'm heading to the All Saints Medical Centre, but I'm hardly on a mission, unless it's exploratory. There's no clear objective here. This could be considered a standard stroll that I'm taking between classes where I just happen to pass a medical centre.
I touch a few buttons on my cell so that Pure Shores, by All Saints, is playing. Somehow it's on my mind.
I thought 'heading to Mars' was the hardest task ahead of me, but now I think it's 'becoming a mother'. Scratch that. How about 'becoming the mother of a Martian.' That's got a nice ring to it. But it sounds like the title of a cheesy film. Unless that cheesy film is sustenance I'll find on the moon en route to the red planet I don't wanna know about it.
I don't wanna go in there, not now. I'll feel silly with my flat belly. And they won't be able to help me anyway. Not completely. What will they know about giving birth in space? I've been listening to experts talk for five years now, every single day, but visiting these people will be like visiting a construction site to ask bricklayers how to build a dome on Mars. After all, I'll need to build a womb, right? The standard womb probably won't do. I don't think it will. I'm going to need to somehow eat the right stuff so that my womb will work in zero gravity. This is the most important thing. I can learn everything else from the web, which I'll still have access to up there, somehow.
I don't know whether this is what I should be doing right now. I only have a small number of 'right nows' left on earth, only a few months worth. It's like I'm on that building at the start of A Long Way Down, but planning on going up. And I'm planning on giving birth and the Martian baby growing up. And going down this road isn't getting me anywhere, just down. And why am I alone? It's like I'm running away. I'll be doing that for nine months, so why am I doing it now? No, scratch that. I won't be running. Ha ha. I won't even be walking like I am now. I'll probably be larger than I am now but I'll feel lighter. And I won't be feeling a lighter, or a match . . . scratch that, or don't: I won't be playing with fire, but I will be feeling a match, a perfect guy, presumably. I'll be one of the most responsible women in the world . . . uh . . . solar system. I can be a model mother who's out of this world, drifting away, touched by an angel . . . I still don't know who. That really is something I should be thinking about, rather than . . .
Someone taps me on the shoulder as I near the Centre.
I turn around reflexively, ripping the earphones from my ears.
'Sorry to startle you,' she says, shyly. This vivacious girl, maybe a few years younger than I am.
'That's okay,' I reply.
I smile. A fan. I should have known from the way her hair's moving: it's a tell-tale tail. She's totally enthusiastic. And she's glancing at the Centre, then at me, then at the Centre again.
'Yes. Yeah. You've heard about me? Are you in high school? I'm so glad you're interested in what I'm doing,' I reply.
'I just graduated,' she says, a little out of breath. 'Well, a while ago now. I'm planning on becoming a mother. And that's not me giving up on anything, by the way. It's exactly what I want. I can basically be anything I like. I hope you don't mind me bumping into you like this. But this is synchronicity, you know. I wanted to meet you. You know, before . . .'
'I'm sorry,' she continues. 'I didn't mention my name. I'm Hailie.'
She offers me her hand.
'Hi Hailie,' I say, shaking it. 'It's really great to meet you.'
'Oh,' Hailie says, smiling. 'Oh, that's interesting.'
'The way you said that. That's really cool. You don't recognise me.'
'Oh, sorry. Were you in the audience when I was giving a talk?'
Hailie shakes her head, still smiling.
She looks around.
'This is good,' she says. 'I feel safe here. No one recognises me.'
'Should I?' I ask, perplexed.
'Nope,' Hailie says, cheekily. 'And one of your last challenges here on planet earth will be to guess just who I am. Are you heading into the Centre? I can tell you what I know about antenatal care, and they may know something I don't yet. I'll shout you a session. I haven't been to this place yet.'
This is a little unexpected. Of course I'll go. Why not? But I'll pay. I'm not taking this girl's money.
'Sure, yeah,' I reply. 'I'll pay though. I can pay for you too. Really. I won't be needing any money on Mars.'
'Oh yeah,' Hailie says. 'Pity, coz I wanted to give you an allowance for the red planet. Come on.'
Hailie heads toward the Centre's courtyard.
'How far along are you?' I ask.
'Two months,' Hailie says. 'Give or take a week.'
'Oh, a new year conception?'
Hailie stops walking.
She just stares at me.
'Are you okay?' I ask. 'Sorry . . . um . . .'
'Oh. Yeah,' Hailie says. 'No. I was just thinking. It wasn't you. Um . . . yeah. A new year conception. I guess you could say that.'
Her voice breaks at the end of the sentence.
'Hailie,' I say.
I touch her shoulder.
'Sorry,' Hailie says. 'Um . . .'
Hailie sniffles, then continues walking.
'Let's see what this place is like,' Hailie says, hiding a stammer in enthusiasm.
'You're American,' I say.
Yes! I cast a line and caught her lips.
'Well, you're halfway to guessing who I am,' she replies, opening the door for me.
We step into the Centre.
So, this is an entrance of sorts, but hardly a composite cryotank's or space capsule's. But the figurative entrance ahead of me will be when I get Hailie to open up. Something's up with this girl. It's just downright down-to-earth to know what's up before I head up out of it, or what's going down. Uggh! My mind's racing now, like it's an astronomical car that was opened up in a vacuum.
Okay, get out of space. Come back down to earth, Maggie.
If anything I'm presently encapsulated by what appears to be a vacuum: hardly anyone is here. Weird. I go up and down so much it's like I'm Derren Brown's hands. So usually I'm a magnet. But now everyone has disappeared. What am I? A Martian? A magician? A Martian magician? Wait. That's Dynamo.
The lady behind the counter looks a little surprised. I don't look like a Martian yet, do I?
'I'm sorry girls,' she says. 'There are no more classes today. If you like I can book you in for tomorrow.'
Before I can make some remark about how it's probably easier to book a trip to Mars, Hailie speaks.
'Could we rent a room for an hour? I can be the teacher.'
The lady looks at Hailie. She raises an eyebrow.
Hailie puts two Benjamins on the counter, but then realizes he's not too well known here.
'Oh, wait,' Hailie says. 'I keep forgetting about that Atlantic Ocean. It always gets in the way of things. Makes me look forward to water breaking. If only all water could break.'
The lady stares off into space for a second, like she wants to see where I'm going even though I'm not moving.
Then she smiles.
'You're fast,' she says. 'That's clever.'
She raises a hand.
'Don't worry about paying. You can use a room. Not many people are here. First one on your right should be free.'
'Thanks,' Hailie says, taking back one Benjamin. 'You keep that though.'
'Oh, thanks,' the lady says, in shock.
'Cheers,' I say, then follow Hailie to the door.
'So, either you're a huge fan of Benjamin Franklin, who likes to carry around pictures of him on little sheets of paper, or you've got some real money in your pockets,' I say.
'It's not real here,' Hailie says. 'I forgot to exchange it for pounds when I arrived, and now I can't be bothered. She, on the other hand, will want to be bothered because she's being paid maybe 75 pounds. Add a point to that and it could be a baby. Ha ha.'
'It's all about labour and proper exercise then,' I quip. 'Which can be good.'
'I like your language,' Hailie says, opening the door to what appears to be a lounge of sorts.
'Well, this isn't a crowded composite cryotank, but it'll have to do,' I remark, smiling.
'Cryotank?' Hailie asks. 'Now your language confounds me.'
We walk into the room.
'That's what I'll be in, soon,' I say. 'On the way to Mars. A composite cryotank. It looks a little like a giant bullet. Or cannon ball. It's like I'm being shot out of a cannon, but further than anyone has ever been shot before.'
'More like you're establishing yourself in the canon of English memoirs,' Hailie remarks. 'This is one pretty fine story.'
We make our way to a sofa.
'Yeah,' I say. 'Yeah, it totally is. I've had to learn so much over the past two or so years. It's weird, it's like time has slowed - and I'm not even on Mars yet - just enough for me to grasp what's going on and what I need to know, but not enough for me to reflect on anything. You know, we've learnt in just three years what we were originally going to learn in over ten.'
'What? How come?' Hailie asks.
'Simple really,' I say. 'The nuclear war, of course. Half the population of earth was wiped out in late 2012, and early 2013, just like that. So then Americans stopped spending so much money on defence. They didn't need to. Peaceful French people were occupying the States. And suddenly a lot more money ended up in the hands of people working for NASA, and for private companies like Mars One. And hey, more money means we get things done more quickly. Simple and plain. The major hurdle had always been lack of finance. Until 2013. Abigail Huntsman is a pretty sweet POTUS.'
What is it? She's knows something. She's got that sneaky look in her eyes.
'Explain that look,' I press.
'What?' Hailie says, sheepishly.
'Have you met her? Is your father a politician or something?'
She shakes her head.
'Not in your wildest dreams,' she replies. 'Oh no. I guess he could run one day though. Hey . . .'
Hailie takes out her cell.
'You probably know a lot of people already, but who would you like to call right now?' Hailie asks.
'Call? Um . . . well, could anyone tell me anything about having a baby in space?'
'Oh, Holly Branson!' Hailie exclaims. 'Have you met her yet? She was thinking about having a baby - two babies - in space.'
'No,' I say, rather shocked that I haven't. 'No. Wow. How have I not met her? But you don't actually have her number, do you?'
'My dad may be able to get in touch. Richard once dressed up as my dad. There you go. Clue number one.'
I shake my head.
'Richard Branson knows your dad?' I ask. 'C'mon.'
'They don't really know each other,' Hailie says. 'I mean, no more than I knew you before meeting you. If you're on television or in movies, you know. People 'know' you.'
'Your dad's an astronaut?'
'Irrrrrrrrrr. Wrong!' Hailie says. 'But if you said he was space bound then people wouldn't even look at you funny. Put it that way. But he has never been into space.'
I tilt my head and stare at Hailie.
So what if she's pulling my leg. I'm feeling pretty relaxed right now.