"Live the Martian adventure" the ads said. "Mars has jobs." Amy said. So Joe packed their bags and they left their hometown in Northern Great Lakestan, convinced that this new life would be better.
It wasn’t. There were jobs and the pay was good, but they were mostly desk jobs–the kind of work that you learn in an hour and wash/rinse/repeat for the rest of your life.
In every other way, Mars was the same as Wisconsin –eleven months of winter and one month of black flies. There were the same stores stocking the same junk–ice fishing supplies, hydroponic marijuana, buffalo algaesnaps and pasties (not the fun kind). There only way he could tell that he was not still in Wisconsin was when the snow melted. The mud that slimed the streets was red, not brown.
They even kept their Wisconsin routine. Weekends were spent repairing stuff in the house. Then they’d trudge outside for groceries and their weekly flu shot. Then they’d go back home, nuke dinner, turn on the TV and shiver under blankets until it was time to go to bed. Wash/rinse/repeat.
They were headed to the grocery store now, wobbling over ice, snow whirling around their feet like wisps of smoke. Christmas decorations added a little bit of color, but they’d already transported their presents months ago, to a family that was much too far away. There was no one to shop for but themselves.
As they passed the Port Tharsis Yacht club, Amy glanced longingly at the ships. They had met in pilot training. They both had high hopes of working on a transport and living on a space station, maybe Caprica. But low salaries, few job openings for pilots and ridiculous hours had changed those plans. They could live together and have desk jobs or they could follow their dreams and live apart. So they chose to be together. For better or worse.
Joe glanced into the Yacht Club window. Behind the fogged windows the guys inside were laughing. One guy turned and saw him, gave him a look that said. "I have a ship and I can leave this sad Martian rock anytime I please. And you, you pathetic little groundling–you can’t."
Some ships were covered for the season, snow floating a few centimeters over their energy shields. Others were uncovered, still steaming after a quick descent through the atmosphere. One ship, pockmarked by rubble strikes but freshly cleaned, had a piece of paper laying on the ground beside it. Joe picked it up. "For Sale."
The want, no, the need to own this ship, to be that guy in that Club hit him like a rogue wave. He had to convince Amy, right here and right now to buy this ship. As Yoda said. "Do… or do not. There is no try."
Amy was already walking away, her boots crunching into the distance. He had to think fast, and of course the first thought in his head was more wisdom from Star Wars. This time, it was reverse psychology.
"What a piece of junk," he said.
"Yeah." she said. Her boots crunched towards him. "But imagine how nice it would be if we could just wormhole away on the weekends. To Fhloston pleasure planet …"
"Or Kepler-16b." he said. "Two suns and a tiki bar on every corner."
"Hmm…" she said, and his heart skipped a beat. Then he overplayed his hand. "It would make a great Christmas present. We haven’t spent my bonus check yet."
"But…" she said "…we were going to use that for a new couch."
Ted was laughing at some manatee-tipping joke that wasn’t really funny when he happened to see the schmuck outside pick up his sign. Bad timing.
Florence saw him pick up the sign too. Really bad timing.
He’d used cheap tape on that sign, the wind should have blown it into the next county by now. No surprise – Flo and his banker were already conspiring against him. Why shouldn’t the wind join in?
Ted could see his post-ship future and it wasn’t pretty. He wouldn’t be able to come here and shoot the shit with the guys every weekend. He’d be like that schmuck in the flap hat and mukluks, shopping with the wife, shuffling behind her like a pet penguin.
But Ralph at Tharsis Valley had told him the ship’s maintenance costs would throw their retirement plans out of whack. Added to that was the fact that the grandkids were too old to be thrilled by a few spins in low Mars orbit.
Added to that was the fact that flying had always given Florence agita.
"They’re interested." Flo hissed. "Get out there!" Reluctantly, Ted put his beer down, got up from his chair, put on his undercoat, his heat shield, his overcoat, two pairs of mittens and a hat. He was hoping that by the time he put all that junk on, mukluk schmuck and his wife would be gone.
No such luck. The guy was no tire kicker, there was genuine longing on that face. Even the wife looked interested. After a lifetime in sales, Ted’s instincts took over. He put on his overhat, stuck a friendly grin on his face and stepped outside.
"Does it do the Kessel run in twelve parsecs?" the schmuck joked.
"Eleven." Ted said.
Ted was surprised at what a relief it was to sell. He had told himself that he enjoyed spending every spare minute of his life repairing the ship. He’d told himself that spending ten times as much as commercial flight to go half the distance was ‘freedom.’
As he walked back inside, he offered to buy the next round. It had been years since he could afford to do that.
Maybe he’d even buy Flo that couch she’d always wanted.
And Joe was happy too, even though he knew that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The old adage was probably true–"the second happiest day in a man’s life is when he buys the ship of his dreams. The first happiest day is when he sells it."
Right now, he’d settle for second best.