Jude finished her song with hot, salty tears running down her cheeks. Hennessey ran up to the stage and held her. The room erupted – face were tracked with rivers but these cut through broad, happy smiles. Jude steeled herself and motioned for quiet.
“For Kristof, a belated birthday gift. And for Wib and Glass too – I’ll never forget you.”
They returned to their seats, the community patting them on the back as they moved on through. Maxie and Neesh hugged them again, thanking Jude. Maxie held onto Hennessey for a long while.
Kris’ brother Bly was now addressing the throng. “I think we’ve given you a grand send-off my sweet. And now, let’s rip it up.”
Chairs and tables were shoved back and music came on over speakers. People were dancing and cavorting around. Jude found herself pulled into a circle dance, being spun about. She felt as light as air, as if a great weight had been lifted from her. She had survived, which wasn’t something to be ashamed of or sad about. Glass, Kristof and Wib wouldn’t want her to dwell – it was time to move on.
She danced with Maxie, she danced with Hennessey, and she even danced with Myki and Dera on each hip. As the night wore down, Jude found herself with Bly. He looked a little like Kristof but was taller.
“Will you be staying in Olympus for long?” he asked. “Because if you are, I’d like to take you out, show you the sights, that sort of thing.”
Ordinarily, Jude would have thought to herself “he’s a fast worker” but Bly was charming and good company. So she assented and he arranged to call her in the morning to make plans.
It was getting late, the children were nodding off and people were beginning to drift away. A group was heading back to the city and had offered them all a ride back. As Jude headed to join them, Ila caught her arm.
“Thank you again my dear for singing tonight. I know it must have been hard for you but it was beautiful.” Jude explained how she had agreed to sing it at Maxie’s request back on the doomed station but never had the chance.
“Zhe heard you tonight – I know zhe did. Your music brought zhim a great deal of joy.” The older woman patted Jude’s arm tenderly. “Now you head back and enjoy yourself with Bly.” And her eyes twinkled.
Was there nothing that got past this dear lady? Jude leaned over to kiss the woman on the cheek then rushed to catch up with the others.
They arrived back at Neesh and Maxie’s apartment. The pair went to put the sleepy but protesting children to bed. Jude settled on one of the couches and Hennessey fixed them some drinks.
“So, you’re a sly one, “ he teased her affectionately.
“Not at all. Bly just offered to show me around. I’ve only seen Mars from the inside of concert halls and hotels before. “
“I know. I’m only fakking with you.” He handed her a glass and sat down beside her. “I’d give you the grand tour myself but…” He paused.
“This is where you give me your big news, is it?” Jude enquired expectantly.
Hennessey shrugged. “I suppose now is as good a time as any. I’ve got a new job.” He didn’t look too pleased about it.
Jude made a face, trying to get her friend to smile. “It can’t be worse than cleaning waste chutes on Chinese space junk?” She playfully punched his arm.
“No,” he said. He put down his drink, took Jude’s glass from her and set it on the table. He then solemnly took both of her hands in his. “Chief Howe and Cee-Cee offered me pretty much any gig in the quadrant. Gave me the pick of the plum contracts. The Moon. Titan. Whatever I fancied.”
Jude understood – the company had told her there was no rush for her to return but whenever she did, she too could have make a choice on the location and role, with training, advancement opportunities and generous benefits. They had both heard horror stories in the aftermath of the disaster of how many organisations battled with employees who had been injured at work or the families of ones who died but Cee-Cee, both the woman and the corporation were quick to offer support to all of those involved in this instance.
“Only,” Hennessey continued, “I’ve decided not to take them up on their offer.”
Jude was aghast. What did he mean? He saw the myriad of questions in her eyes.
“They’ve been very good to me. But I can’t face it Jude. I can’t face being the guy who survived the Tiandong unscathed. I know how people are with these things. Wherever I go, I’ll either be seen as the Jonah or the albatross.”
“Nonsense.” Jude. “I won’t let them.” She tried to grin through the tears welling up again in her eyes for the second time that night.
“You can’t be with me, sweet. You have your own path to follow.”
“I’m not even sure what that is. Look, think about it…”
“I have thought about it, Sadsack,” he reached up to wipe a tear that had escaped. “There’s a new venture out in the Crab Nebula. The folks at Hibakusha approached me to join an exploration team to look at new energy resources – helium, for fuel and light. That sort of thing.”
The Crab Nebula – that was so far out, at the edges of human space exploration almost.
“How long will you be gone for?”
“My initial contract is for six years. It’s going to take that long to get it established. Then after, who knows. But I’ll keep in touch, Jude. “ She smiled as he used her first name. “You haven’t seen the last of me.”
She looked into those big brown puppy dog eyes of his. In e-romances, now would be the time to kiss him. She wondered for a second what those puffy lips tasted like. She leaned in close and felt him move towards her too…
…just as Neesh and Maxie came back in. The two of them jumped back.
“Are we interrupting something?” Neesh asked.
“No, no, not at all.” Jude composed herself as Hennessey quickly downed his drink. “Hennessey was just telling me about his new job, with the Hibakusha Corporation.”
“You jammy sod,” said Maxie. “I’ve heard about their operations out there.”
“Didn’t you look at them once, darling?” Neesh asked.
“Oh yes. But it was too long a commitment. Far too many years away from my family.”
“When do you ship out?” Neesh prompted Hennessey.
“I’m heading back to Earth tomorrow. Then a few weeks’ orientation. So I had better get some shut-eye.” He rose from the cushioned settee. “Goodnight. And thank you.”
About an hour later, Hennessey lay dozing in his guest room, the moonslight a sliver across his still form. The door slid open then closed again. He was aware of movement and then the weight of another body on the mattress beside him. He sleepily turned to face the intruder.
“What…” he murmured as lips caressed his neck.
“Sshh. This is your goodbye present.”
Hennessey left early the next morning. Maxie offered to accompany him to the spaceport over in A-P City, which he agree to, so Jude was left with Neesh and the children.
“Do you have any plans today?” Neesh asked as she cleared way the breakfast things.
“Let me help you there.” Jude got up from the table and began picking up mugs and bowls, which Neesh directed her to place in the open dishwasher. “No, I was going to check my messages. Then see what the day brings.”
“Maybe a call from Bly?” laughed Neesh. “He’s really lovely, so different from Kris. An artist. That’s one of his.” She pointed at a canvas in the living space, an abstract of riotous and vibrant swirls and shapes.
“It’s gorgeous.” Jude said.
“Yes he is,” giggled Neesh.
Jude settled down by the window overlooking the city and the plains beyond to peruse her inbox. A message from Chief Howe back at work, no pressure – just asking how she was and asking her to give his regards to Maxie and Hennessey. One from Coop, just the usual banter from her, and another from her father, passing on love from him and Jude’s mother. They would be visiting Phobos base for a performance – perhaps they could meet up? As she read them through, a message popped up on chat.
“Missing me yet?” Hennessey’s icon grinned out at her.
“Terribly. I’m forgetting what you look like already.” She typed, smiling.
“You wound me Sadsack. I’m going to grab a few zeds once we lift off. I’ll be in touch soon.”
“Didn’t you get any sleep last night?”
He posted a smilie in return, of a cat poking its tongue out. “Yeah, slept like a baby. You?”
“Me too. Smell you later.” She closed the connection.
Maxie returned from seeing Hennessey off and as he tried to remove his outerwear while being clambered on by Myki, he gave Jude a message.
“Bly called me while I was on my way back. He has some meetings today about an exhibition but he said that he’ll pop over later. I invited him for dinner.” He looked to Neesh, who smile and nodded then to Jude. “We don’t want you to be uncomfortable, so tell me if that’s not cool.”
“Don’t be silly.” she chided. “I said to Bly last night we would meet up. And I’m looking forward to it. It will be nice to have someone to show me about.”
“Jude,“ Neesh spoke up. “Maxie and I have been talking. If you’re not in any great hurry to get back to Tokyo, it would be lovely to have you stay here for a while. If you like.”
“I don’t want to impose, or for you to feel…”
“We don’t feel any obligation to you Jude, if that’s what you mean.” Maxie cut in. “Of course, we are more than grateful to you for…for what you did for me. But we love having you here. Dera and Myki have taken to you too. Please?” He made a silly face at her and she laughed.
“Okay, okay. For a little while, but then I need to get back home. And decide what’s next.”
“Well, I’m scheduled to talk to Chief Howe next week to look at my options. Let’s see where we are then. Agreed?”
At that instant, Dera and Myki ran into the living space and hugged Jude around her legs, almost toppling her and them onto the settee.
“Are you really staying, Dee-dee Jude?” Dera asked, hesitantly, using the clan term for auntie.
“Looks that way, kiddo.” She answered. “Looks that way.”