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02/01 Direct Link
Mornings are the worst. The pain in my low back makes getting out of bed a process, not of seconds, but of minutes. I made the mistake of getting up too quickly and found myself knocking over part of the stereo shelf and landing on the floor in the doorway to the bathroom. I've never experienced pain quite that intense. You really can hurt so much that you want to throw up. My vision, at least, got sparkly and pretty, which made me think I was going to pass out. No luck. 

Thank heavens I didn't have to pee badly.
02/02 Direct Link

He hadn’t read about the five-mile high cliff faces skirting the base of the volcano, though, and the sight of the walls of rock blocking out the sun as the train hurtled toward them was awe-inspiring enough. It was hard to imagine that there was still a mountain on the top of that plateau.

There were few people on the train. New Lisbon wasn’t a large city, only a few thousand, mostly terraformers or support providers. Train service was limited to one run per day. 

"Wouldn't flying be faster?" he asked the spaceport desk attendant.
02/03 Direct Link

The man in line behind him all but sneered at Dan. “The maglev doesn’t even use a tenth of the power a flight would use. And it moves faster than this line does.”

The train was six cars, including the main engine and two cargo cars. Of the three passenger cars, one was empty, one was somewhat crowded (everyone seemed to know one another), and the only passenger in the third car was the grumpy. Dan was about to head for the empty car when the man, who was reading, said, “They’ll uncouple that car before we leave."

02/04 Direct Link

They were in the back of the train. If Dan went back toward the other, more crowded passenger car, the man would have known Dan was deliberately choosing to sit as far away as possible. He slid into a seat a couple rows behind the man, about the same time he heard the maglocks clang into place and the end car started rolling backwards. A low hum ran through the floor, and then the platform receded.

“You’ll want to take a look out the windows on your side in about thirty seconds,” the man said, still without looking up.

02/05 Direct Link

In less than half a minute the blank, black walls of the tunnel dropped away, and it looked as if the train was soaring through the air. In reality, it was elevated about a hundred meters off the ground, leisurely descending toward the surface on the track it didn’t even touch, that the magnets suspended it above, so really, it was kind of like flying. Stretched out in front of Dan was the vast, high desert-looking terrain of Tharsis.

“Wow,” Dan said.

The man laughed. “That’s pretty much what everyone says the first time they see it.”

02/06 Direct Link

“What gave it away that this was my first time here?” Dan asked, trying not to bristle at the suggestion that he was a greenhorn. Mainly because that’s exactly what he was.

Finally, the man set his tablet on the seat next to him and turned back to look at Dan. “This train only makes one stop, and New Lisbon’s a pretty small town. Everyone knows everyone else. Newcomers tend to stand out.”

“And what made you think this is my first time on Mars? Not that it isn’t; it is. First time on Mars, I mean."

02/07 Direct Link

“The thing at the spaceport about flying to New Lisbon. Takes too much fuel. The train hardly has to do anything to get us there at about the same speed a light flyer would. It’s just something that gets in your head when you live here, conserving everything you possibly can. You never know when you’re going to need it.”

“How long have you lived here?”

The man smiled. “My whole life. I was born on Mars.”

“You’ve lived your whole life here?”

“Yep. Born in Cydonia City, been in New Lisbon ever since I finished school."

02/08 Direct Link

"And before you ask, no, I’ve never been to Earth.”

“It wasn’t going to be my next question, actually,” Dan said, even though it was what he’d been thinking of asking. “But, since you brought it up, how come?”

He shrugged, and Dan realized he didn’t even know the man’s name yet. “What’s the hurry? Earth has been there for billions of years. It’s not like it’s going to vanish any time soon. Besides, how many Earthlings have been to Mars?”

“Point taken,” Dan said. “My name’s Dan, by the way."

02/09 Direct Link

He extended his hand, and the man took it. His handshake was brief but strong, the skin of his fingers and palm rough. “Nathan. Pleased to meet you. What brings you to New Lisbon?”

“Sadness, I’m afraid. My grandmother died a few months back.”

Nathan’s eyes lit up at that. “You’re Catherine Smith’s grandson?” Dan noticed for the first time they were pale green, a stark contrast to his jet black hair. Why did he usually not notice the color of people’s eyes? He couldn’t have said what color his gran’s eyes were.

02/10 Direct Link

“That’s me,” Dan said. “Did you know her?”

“Everyone knew her. Small town, like I said. Everyone knows everyone else. She was our best horticulturist. She could make anything grow.”

“It’s been a long time since I last saw her. Twenty years, I guess.” Where had the time gone? His grandmother had helped transform the face of a planet. What did he have to show for the years?

From the car ahead of them, there came the sound of a ruckus, several people talking at once, followed by a shout and laughter. Dan looked up, startled. Nathan smiled.

02/11 Direct Link
“The main car also serves as the ad hoc bar car. That’s why I’m sitting back here. They’ll all be shitfaced by the time we’re halfway to New Lisbon.”

“Nice.”

“So, will you be staying long?” Nathan asked. Dan shrugged.

“I guess that depends on the terms of my grandmother's will. I’ve only been here a day.”

At that, Nathan picked up his tablet and began to read again, saying, “Well, enjoy your time here. You might want to head up to the observation deck. You’ll get a good view from up there.”
02/12 Direct Link
Dan stared at the back of Nathan’s head for a short time, wondering why he'd been given the brush-off so abruptly. Had he missed something? Sighing, he got up and headed toward the spiral staircase at the back of the car.

The upper deck of the car was a dome of thick glass, with low seats running along each wall. In every direction the rusted landscape met the dusty yellow sky. There was no one else on the deck. Nathan settled into one of the seats and let the reality of being on another planet sink into him.
02/13 Direct Link
He knew no one here, except the lawyer in New Lisbon (probably the only lawyer in town, based on what Dan had told him). It would take him at least a month to get home. Practically speaking, he’d never been this alone.

Staring at the landscape lulled Dan into a trance, so he wasn’t sure how much time passed before Nathan came up the stairs and sat across from him.

“So, my ex-husband was from Earth,” Nathan said without preamble. “He came on a six-month exchange with the university in New Lisbon."
02/14 Direct Link
We hit it off almost right away, and when it came time for him to leave, I asked him to stay and marry me. He was happy for about another year, then he decided that he missed things like blue skies, grass, and oceans. I still loved him as much as I did the day I married him, but I can’t compete with a whole planet. I’ve been a little jaded when it comes to Terrans since then.”

“So, why are you telling me this?” Dan asked, though he had a feeling he knew the reason.
02/15 Direct Link

"I'm just a stranger on a train," Dan said.


Nathan opened his mouth to respond, but it looked as if a thought crossed his mind before he could actually speak. He closed his mouth, looked puzzled, then smiled. "I have no idea, to be honest. Have you ever been married?"


Dan shook his head. "Never met the right guy, I guess." This was true but also not quite true. He'd met the right guy, but unfortunately he was the only one who thought so. Reese claimed he had tried to let Dan down easy. Dan thought he'd been strung along.

02/16 Direct Link

Nathan opened his mouth to respond, but it looked as if a thought crossed his mind before he could actually speak. He closed his mouth, looked puzzled, then smiled. “I have no idea, to be honest. Have you ever been married?” 

Dan shook his head. “Never met the right guy, I guess.” This was true and not quite true at the same time. He met the right guy, but unfortunately, Dan was the only one who thought so. Reese had claimed he was trying to let Dan down easy, but too often that can seem like stringing someone along.

02/17 Direct Link
Damn it, I posted the same thing twice. This is what happens when I try to string related entries together and then miss a day or two. I forget where I left off and sometimes don't pick up the thread in the right place.

I blame the pain for that. At the moment, I'm blaming everything I do wrong on that. The lower back pain has evolved into an astonishingly painful bout of sciatica. In the back of my right leg, just below my rear, it feels like I have a charley horse that, so far, has lasted four days.
02/18 Direct Link
When the end finally came, Dan was so crushed he quit his job, left New York—where he’d lived ever since he graduated from college—and moved back to St. Louis. That was a year ago. Since moving back, the journey to Mars was the first time he’d left the city, much less the planet.

“You know,” Nathan said, interrupting Dan’s reverie, “for some reason I’m not quite convinced you’ve never met the right guy.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

"Because you've been staring out the window and not saying a word for a full minute."
02/19 Direct Link
"If I had to guess," Nathan said, "I’d say you’re thinking about him right now. What’s his name?”

Dan smiled. “My mom always tells me you can read everything I’m thinking on my face. Reese. He just wasn’t as into me as I was into him.”

“Is that why you’re here? To get away from him?”

“Not exactly. Let’s just say the letter from my grandmother’s lawyer was serendipitous.” He turned back to the window. “You know, I can’t figure for the life of me why she decided to move here."
02/20 Direct Link
So, usually I've been using this space to write, bit by bit, a short story for an anthology that's due in April. However, I'm a) falling behind on regular entries (I'm writing this one for the 20th on the 24th), b) needing to finish by Sunday some rewrites on a story for another anthology, and c) trying to figure out how to get my story from a train on Mars to a passionate interlude between two characters taken over by the spirits of ancient gods. I know, should be simple, right? So instead, I'm going meta, and writing about writing.
02/21 Direct Link
The hardest part about rewrites is getting back into a story once several months have passed and you've moved on to other things. It's like you've broken down the set in your mind where these characters rehearsed and performed, and now you have to call them back to the studio, get wardrobe to find their costumes, and make them go through their lines again. Also, you've recast them in other parts since then, and now the dialogue doesn't sound right in their voices anymore. I usually have to go back to the beginning and read through, and find the thread.
02/22 Direct Link
So I had an MRI on Monday, and last night I got the results. I've herniated the same disc that I messed up back in 2003. I had a feeling that was the case. The thing I can't remember is how the pain and lack of mobility I'm experiencing now measures up to what happened back then. It seems somehow that it's worse now, but at the same time it seems to be following a familiar pattern: discomfort at first, followed by incredible pain, which dissipates with the help of pharmaceuticals and time. I hope I can avoid surgery again.
02/23 Direct Link
Dan suddenly realized what he’d said and added, “No offense.”

 “None taken. You mean why did someone, whose life revolved around making green things grow, decide to go somewhere nothing grows?” When Dan nodded, Nathan continued. “From what I can tell, the only thing Catherine enjoyed more than gardening was a gardening challenge. Believe me, this place is a challenge.”

“Was she able to make anything grow?”

“She could make a seed sprout in the dark with no dirt and almost no water. Which is not far from what she did. Our hydroponics grove is going like gangbusters."
02/24 Direct Link
"You have to see it to understand just how much of a miracle it is. Thirty thousand square meters of unbroken vegetation pumping out food and oxygen. If we can replicate this across the whole planet, we can turn Mars into a living, breathing planet just as sustaining as Earth. More, even.”

“That’s as good a reason as any why she stayed,” Dan said.

“Catherine said this place gets in you, manages to creep under your skin and won’t let you go. She loved it here, she really did. You can be proud of what she accomplished here.”
02/25 Direct Link
“It’s always been part of me, but she didn’t want to leave any more than I did. Who knows, maybe it’ll get inside you too.”

“I doubt it,” Dan said. “I know I just got here, but I’m already looking forward to going home.” He yawned. Four months of dreamless slow sleep on the transport sandwiched between a mind-numbing month of near total boredom on each end. He wanted to settle his grandmother’s estate and get on his way home, just so he could start putting the unpleasantness of the return journey behind him.
02/26 Direct Link
I can’t believe they expect me to talk to you. I can’t believe you expect me to talk to you. I was hoping for Oprah, maybe Barbara. Oh hell, I’d have settled for Diane Sawyer. Maybe even Katie Couric. But you? A newspaper report? Who do you think you are, Lois Lane? You didn’t even bring Jimmy Olsen with you? You expect me to give you an exclusive and there won't even be pictures?

No, they wouldn't let a camera in, would they? All those electrical bits and circuits. I’d have a field day.
02/27 Direct Link

Their conversation trailed out after that. Nathan went back to reading his tablet while Dan felt into an uncomfortable, restless sleep. He dreamed of standing outside on the flat volcanic plain, only this time it was no longer dormant, and he was no longer himself. A fierce, hot wind lashed at him, whipping his hair into a blonde halo—only it wasn’t his hair, any more than the bare, slender arms he crossed below his chest were. 

Standing in front of her were two men, one with dark hair, a beard, dressed in armor, and holding a sword.
02/28 Direct Link
The other, dressed in a blacksmith’s apron, held a glowing pair of tongs and a massive hammer.

“Why must you make me choose?” Dan cried, only when he did, it was in the anguished voice of a woman, but… somehow more than a woman. He fell to his knees, the folds of his diaphanous lavender gown billowing around him. He raised his slender, bejeweled hands to his face to cover his tears. They fell to the dusty ground. “Must it always be like this?”

“You cannot have us both,” the armored man said, “even if you are a goddess."