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01/01 Direct Link
So, our cats fired us.

I don't remember when it began happening, but at some point, when we reached down to pet them, they started running away from us. Sure, they'd come around when it was time to eat, or when we were sitting down and made for an attractive (and warm) lap. But their primary mode was retreat.

And pee.

One of them marked behind the entertainment center, even going so far as to pee right on a power strip. When one of them peed in a pet bed, right in front of me, we knew they wanted out.
01/02 Direct Link
I finally undid the knot and untangled the rope from her angles. "I may be short," I said, "but I'm not a warrior. And I'm not brave, either."

My mother stretched her legs. She had better muscle definition in her calves than I did. Maybe better than Dad, even, and he was a runner. "There's one thing you'll learn with age, that being a brave warrior does not equal an absence of fear."

I stood up. "Doesn't matter. I'm not going to be a warrior, anyway."

She looked at me sternly. "For our sake, I hope that's not true."
01/03 Direct Link
My dad came downstairs with the keys and undid the cuffs. She cradled her wrists as if she'd been burned and looked at him with barely concealed resentment.

"I still can't believe you put those on me," she said.

Dad sighed. "Why don't you start by telling us why you're here."

Dione looked at me. "I really do want Jamie to stay, Richard. He deserves to hear this, and I need him to. He needs to."

My dad looked at me, considering. I tried to give him my best pleading expression. He sat down.

"Okay," he said. "He can stay."
01/04 Direct Link

"Two thousand years ago, when the Amazons were enslaved by the Greeks, Athena took pity on our lot and—"

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "Athena? As in Athena the goddess of wisdom?"

"Do you know of a different Athena?" she asked, irked that I'd disrupted her story. When I didn't reply, she continued.

"Athena took pity on us, as I said, and led us out of our captivity and freed us. So that we would never be enslaved again, she endowed us with more strength than men. This enraged Ares, and—"

"The god of war? Are you kidding with this?"
01/05 Direct Link
She was about to admonish me again for interrupting, but then she turned to Dad and asked, "Does he always come up with so many questions?"

Dad grinned. "Welcome to parenthood, Dione."

She sighed. "Yes, the gods exist. Athena has interceded on our behalf countless times over the centuries. This enraged Ares, especially that she would create a society of warrior women. This was a direct affront to his masculinity and he has vowed to destroy the Amazons. This is why our home is hidden."

"Ares sounds like a douchebag," I said.

Dad blanched. "Jamie!"

Dione frowned. "What's a douchebag?"
01/06 Direct Link
"It's not important," Dad said, then pointed at me. "You watch your mouth, mister."

Oh sure, I get in trouble for saying douchebag, but I've heard my dad mutter worse things under his breath while he was reading the newspaper. I wanted to stand up for myself, but more than that I wanted to hear what my mother had to say.

My mother. To look at the woman in front of us and remember the woman I first saw in armor and holding a sword and shield. How could this be my mother? How could this woman even be real?
01/07 Direct Link
Principal Wood always made me feel uneasy. Whenever she smiled at me, I felt like I was staring into the mouth of a shark. The next morning was no different. I was called into the principal's office during homeroom and Mrs. Accardo, my homeroom teacher, looked at me as if I were heading to the gas chamber.

"Oh, Jamie, look at your face." The principal came out from behind her desk and made me sit down while she examined the bruise blossoming around my nose. "This is just terrible. I can't believe you went home without telling anyone. How insane."
01/08 Direct Link
"It's no big deal, Ms. Wood," I said. I wished she'd look anywhere but right in my eye, which is what she was doing now. Oh sure, she was making a fuss about my nose, but it was my eye that she was boring into with her stare.

"Nonsense. I take the well-being of every student at this school very seriously." She brushed my hair off my forehead and cupped my chin. Her touch was just a little too firm. "It's very distressing when I hear that you went home unsupervised and without notifying someone. Anything could have happened."
01/09 Direct Link

She released me from her grasp and returned to her seat behind her desk. “Now Jamie, I am going to overlook this incident just this once, but you must promise me that you won’t leave school grounds again without clearance from me or a faculty member.” She folded her hands on the desk in front of her. “Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, Ms. Wood,” I said. I would have promised to give her my kidney if it would have gotten me out of her office any faster.

She smiled, though mercifully without showing any teeth this time.

01/10 Direct Link

It’s hard to hear that your mother abandoned you because you were a boy. If it’s hard to hear, it’s hard to know how to start this story too. In that way, at least, I could sympathize with my mother.

Because they are a society of women, it’s hard to keep their numbers from dwindling, though their lifespans are longer than the average mortal. That’s why once a year, a handful of Amazons volunteer to leave their home and go out into the world of men in order to… well, do what comes naturally. 

01/11 Direct Link
Sixteen years ago, my mother decided it was her turn to take one for the team, so to speak. She left the Amazons' secret homeland and ventured to, of all places, Las Vegas... where my father happened to be attending a convention. Which is how my accountant dad managed to get it on with an Amazon for one night.

"Don't make it sound so tawdry," Dione admonished. "Your father was a gentle and caring lover who—"

I covered my ears. "Ew! Gross! Stop! Lalalalalala! I'm not listening to you!"

When her lips were no longer moving, I uncovered my ears.
01/12 Direct Link
"What is the matter with you?" she asked me, looking genuinely perplexed.

My father's face was so red he was either super-embarrassed or he was about to have a heart attack. "It's just that we typically don't discuss matters of such a personal nature with our own children out here."

"Ah," she nodded. "You mean sex."

My dad flinched when she said the S word. You'd think she'd just said Hey, let's go and club baby seals, or, Before I go home I'm planning to burn down the city. He's always had a weird reaction whenever sex is mentioned.
01/13 Direct Link
This is the day, Jamie thinks, when I'm just going to walk in front of the bus instead of getting on it.

But he doesn't, and he's not sure why. Sarah's on the bus, of course, and he doesn't want her to have to see him get splattered all over the road. Even so, it would be better than having to deal with his oral presentation in English class fifth period, and then having to stare at his history teacher Mrs. Rickhoff's hairy mole which she apparently refused to pluck.

And he wouldn't have to deal with Billy Stratton, either.
01/14 Direct Link

“Did you hear Kate Bush is coming out with a new album this year?” Sarah asks, almost before he lands in the seat beside her. Sarah is obsessed with the singer.

“Please,” he says. “It’s only been six years since Aerial. I bet that one won’t drop until 2014 at the earliest."

Sarah gets a triumphant look on her face and out comes her smartphone. If there's ever a question about something or an argument that needs settling, she consults Google on her phone. Jamie calls it the Oracle. Now she's showing him a page in the browser.

01/15 Direct Link

Jamie squints at the tiny screen and says, “Whatever. Remember when Kate Bush News was saying every two months, ‘Announcement Imminent’?”

“Well, they were right eventually, weren’t they?”

“That’s like saying ‘it’s gonna rain’ every day. Sooner or later you’ll be right.”

“They were right about Beth Ditto,” she says. “And Lady Gaga’s new album release date.”

Jamie's never heard of Beth Ditto, and he’s kind of over Gaga, at least for now. "I'll believe it when I see it," he says.

Jamie wouldn't mind continuing the debate, but he's starting to get nervous.

01/16 Direct Link

He waves his hand dismissively, only realizing at the end that the gesture is, well, a little fey. Someone behind him giggles, and he knows she’s laughing at him, at his hand, at the only pathetic gay in the village. Sarah whips her head around and fixes the guilty party with a look of such pure hate that even Jamie shivers a little.

He’s nervous because now they’re on the straightaway leading up to school and there are no turns from here. And he knows eventually, at some point during the day, he’ll run into Billy.

01/17 Direct Link
Jamie tells himself he just has to make it through the day, which is the same thing he tells himself every Monday through Friday, until two-thirty arrives and he’s free for another day, or another weekend. He tries not to think about Monday. Instead he thinks about turning 17 next month, about being a senior next year, and about going to college and getting out of Athens as soon as possible after that. He’s considering colleges in New York, Chicago, Boston—anywhere but Missouri.

“Penny,” Sarah says. They can’t abide cliché, so they use shorthand instead.
01/18 Direct Link
“Nothing,” he says. There isn't enough time to convey to her the dread that overcomes him every time the bus climbs the hill to the front of the school. Once they get off, they don’t see each other again until third period AP English, and then lunch. Second period is chemistry, the one class he has with Billy Stratton’s. Jamie can’t explain to Sarah how getting flattened by the bus still seems like a viable option to him. Life already seems to be doing a pretty good job of that, so why not go for it literally?
01/19 Direct Link

He makes it look so easy, Billy thinks, being yourself.

From behind the wheel of his Mustang, Billy watches Jamie get off the bus and walk into school, his friend Sarah beside him. Sarah says something to him and Jamie laughs, his head tilted back, and for an instant Billy is so consumed with jealousy that he grips the steering wheel tighter, wondering if he’ll break it.

Billy's been at school for half an hour already and needs to hurry up and get inside before the bell, but he’s in no hurry to get out of the car.
01/20 Direct Link
For one thing, Billy hasn’t finished his reading homework for English, and knowing his luck that means Mrs. Hathaway’ll call on him before anyone else. For another, the song on the CD isn’t over yet and it’s one of his favorites. He only listens to this particular album either in the car or on his iPod, alone, where no one else will hear it, where he won’t have to be embarrassed that he’s listening to it. He started listening to her when he heard Jamie talking to Sarah about some woman named Kate Bush.
01/21 Direct Link
Billy pulls his English textbook out of his backpack, but the reading assignment is almost fifteen pages long. It’s this Irish guy James Joyce, and even though he’s writing in English, it might as well be in Japanese, for all the sense it makes to Billy.Oh, what’s the point? he asks himself. He’s falling behind in his classes, and if his grades keep slipping, he’s afraid he’ll flunk something. That would mean summer school, which would also mean less time for his job at the garage and, maybe, less time for football practice.
01/22 Direct Link
It’s not fair, he thinks, though he’s not sure what “it” is exactly. Everything. Nothing is fair. His life isn’t fair. Specifics don’t really matter at this point so much as the blue fire of his sudden, irrational anger, and he kicks the leg of Jamie’s chair again, harder and more savagely this time, so that Jamie looks back again, though it’s clearly a reflexive move and he turns right back around again. Billy could leave him alone, but that seems somehow worse than the torment. This way, at least, Jamie knows Billy exists.
01/23 Direct Link
Sarah can tell Jamie’s rattled as soon as he walks into English class. He drops his backpack by the desk next to hers and slumps in the chair. He’s never in a great mood after chemistry, but she doesn’t have to ask him to know the reason.

“So, what did he do this time?” she asks.

Jamie shakes his head. “Nothing, really. He just kept kicking the back of my chair. I don’t think he even realized it was me sitting in front of him until I looked back to tell him to knock it off.”
01/24 Direct Link
She notices his phrasing, understands that he didn’t actually tell Billy to stop kicking his chair, and has to choke back her anger: at Jamie for not standing up for himself, at Billy for being a bully, at herself for not knowing what the right thing to say is right now.

Jamie shuffles through his notebook—he has to give a report this period—and he looks like the sheets of paper aren’t the only things he’s barely holding onto.

“Maybe Mrs. Hathaway will let you do your report tomorrow,” she says, but Jamie shakes his head.
01/25 Direct Link
“And if Billy does something else tomorrow, do I just keep asking her to put it off until the day he decides not to be an asshole?"He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “I keep telling myself I just need to get through another year and a half, but I don’t even know if I have it in me to get through the next period.”

Sarah reaches across and squeezes his hand. “You have the strength. I know you can do it.”

Jamie stops shuffling papers. “Maybe I don’t want to do it anymore.” 
01/26 Direct Link
Jamie makes his presentation and it’s good, maybe not his best work, but once he gets into his topic, he seems able to put aside his anxiety. If only Sarah could put aside her anger half as easily, even for a moment, but she can’t, never has been able to. It’s been a steady beat of the hammer, this anger, ever since she was old enough to realize injustice is ingrained into this life, that the only way to work it out is to beat it flat, work its imperfections out of the surface through brute force.
01/27 Direct Link
Jamie hasn’t learned the alchemy that lets you transform the raw materials of pain into something more tempered, something worth keeping. That takes time, a continuous forging against an anvil of hurt. By the time it’s done with you, either you’re broken or you’re indestructible.

Sarah thinks that Jamie has the raw materials in him to be indestructible. Herself, she knows she already is. But what about Billy?

Sarah’s never actually spoken to Billy. They don’t travel in the same circles, so far as high school can be said to have circles. Tiny circumferences.
01/28 Direct Link

If his grandmother hadn’t died, if she hadn’t left him everything, Dan would never have left Earth. He wouldn’t be on a train racing at five hundred kilometers per hour across the Tharsis Planitia from the spaceport toward New Berlin. He stared out the observation gallery at the rust-colored landscape and wondered why his grandmother ever moved here in the first place.

His memory of the woman was indistinct, like an out-of-focus picture. He was ten when she’d left Earth, and what he remembered the most were his parents’ protests at her departure.

01/29 Direct Link
It was too dangerous, they'd said. Too far, too insane. They’d never see her again. Dan wanted to say to her take me with you, but that would never have happened. So he forgot about it—forgot about her, really, apart from the occasional e-mail his parents received, which they sometimes read to him, sometimes not. Twenty years passed like this, and then, six months ago, the letter from the lawyer arrived.

"Why do you have to go there?" his mother asked.

"A stipulation of the will," Dan said. "It needs to be read in New Lisbon."
01/30 Direct Link

“That’s not what I meant,” she said, “and you know it. Why are you going at all? Isn’t the farm enough?”

His grandmother had also left Dan her Terran assets, which consisted primarily of a farm in upstate New York and a lot of old texts on terraforming.

“That’s not the point,” Dan said. His mother had come to his apartment while he was packing, ostensibly to get instructions on looking after his cat while he was away, but she had spent little time since her arrival on the finer points of Darwin’s care and feeding.

01/31 Direct Link

“So what is the point?” she asked.

“As soon as I figure out, I’ll let you know. But I don’t think I’ll find the answer here.”

His mother shook her head. “I wish your gran had never heard the word terraforming.”

Regardless, she had, and here he was.

Dan had been prepared to be disappointed by Olympus Mons. He’d read about it, along with the other notable landmarks on Mars, how it was so big that the curvature of the planet made it impossible to get a sense of the sheer scale of the peak.