Jude left hospital on a befittingly wet and cloudy morning. It had been a fortnight since what the media was calling “The Heavenly Palace Disaster” – which, being what Tiandong roughly translated into English means, the news noddies had quickly latched on to. To their credit, and Jude’s eternal gratitude, the press relations department at Cee-Cee were diligent and masterful at keeping the three survivors shielded from the majority of intrusive glare. Of course, that didn’t stop the papers and news programming from running with headlines such as “J-Pop Darling Survives Space Hell” or “Composers’ Daughter Caught In Solar Storm Horror”. Jude did not mind, particularly as it seemed to keep the spotlight away from Hennessey and Maxie. Of course, as always, journalists clamoured for stories and gossip about the unfortunate victims but again the company, spear headed by Colette Chouinard, did their utmost to keep prying eyes and ears at bay.
There had been much discussion about where Jude would go once she was discharged from medical care – her parents, especially her mother, were keen to have her with earnest promises to cut short their current tour, and Coop offered her home as hideout. However, Jude felt she needed some time and room to gather herself so, again with the assistance of her employer, she rented a beach house near Araihama. Hennessey came to visit and she suggested that he stay for a while. He gracefully declined, as they knew it was still too painful and worse was yet to come. He had no ties with Belfast any more, he said and instead took up he management’s offer of a trip to Brazil, for what the press releases called “relaxation and recuperation” but what he confided to Jude would be the final stages of his transition. “Next time I face death, I’m going to face it a whole man.”, he had quipped.
Maxie, unsurprisingly, returned to Neesh and their little family on Mars as soon as he was able to. He called Jude and they talked but the formerly jovial tech was visibly devastated and he broke down into wracking sobs not long into their call.
Jude spent her days walking on the beach and reading. She travelled into Tokyo once a week for physiotherapy on her arm and some dermal treatment for her burns. Like Hennessey and Maxie, she had been offered the very best in modern counselling but she declined. One afternoon, she received a visitor. Huey Matsuda stood sheepishly on her the porch. He was full of sympathy and commiserations but she knew why he had come personally to see her and not sent flowers or a card as most people had. Downloads of the entire Flying Hearts catalogue and especially her solo releases had skyrocketed once people made the connection between the edgy songstress and the tragic astronaut. The music press were clamouring for a return and the rest of the band had tentatively assented. Try as she might, Jude was unable to feel anger towards the pathetic little figure as he perched on the beach house settee. Politely and with grace, she explained to him that the doctors had told her that her larynx and oesophagus had been badly scarred in the aftermath of the fireball and that she probably would never sing again. This was, of course, a slight embellishment – she more than likely could perform and she knew even if she could not, it was her, the brave survivor that the public wanted to see and her saviour of old, auto-tune would save her any embarrassment; the broken song bird, fallen from the sky. Huey promised that he could access the finest of pharyngeal physicians, “far better than any guilt-ridden corporation can ever provide” and even spoke of coaxing Ayumi Hamasaki or Hitomi to coach her back to tunefulness. But Jude was adamant – there would be no return to the glory days of Kiki Kokeshi. She knew, sadly and with impending dread, that set of different stages awaited her.
The first funeral was in a little woodland just outside of Altrincham in Cheshire, England. The sun shone on the small gathering as James Gilbert Wibberley was laid to rest under a cherry tree. Jude stood with Hennessey, who had flown in from Sao Paolo, as a Humanist celebrant spoke of the gifted young engineer and his promising career cut short. Afterwards his mother and father, who looked like they would have been a very lovely couple of middle-aged people had their faces not been drawn in grief, spoke with her. Wib’s mother took Jude’s hand and spoke of how good it was of them both to come. She had no idea that her son and Jude had briefly been lovers and Jude didn’t mention it. Mr Wibberley asked after “that poor lad from Mars” and wept as he recounted what Chief Howe had told him of his discovery of the two men in the sleeping compartment, Wib in Maxie’s arms, shielded from harm in echo of how his son had protected his team-mate earlier in the fateful day.
A few days later and Jude was in Hamburg this time. There was no body to bury and no casket to grieve over, just a quiet memorial in the stark surroundings of the synagogue for Doktor Wendelin Ruth Glassman. Again, a small sea of faces met Jude and Hennessey, including Glass’ elderly father and her brother. Much was made of Jude being the last to speak with her and Jude spoke warmly of her colleague – and yes, she admitted to herself – friend’s bravery and stoicism in her last hours. Once more there was the uneasy connection in that they had lived while this family’s child, like the Wibberley’s, had perished. Promises to keep in touch and visit again were made in the full knowledge that they would never be honoured. Both Jude and Hennessey envied Maxie for having decided to return home to Olympus City and stay there.
Therefore, they were both more than taken aback when he got in touch with them a week or so after Jude had returned to Araihama.
“Thank you both for giving Neesh, the children and I the space and time to mourn the loss of dear, sweet Kris.” He looked much better than the last time Hennessey had seen him, he later told her – Jude hadn’t seen him face to face since she had suggested that he monitor Wib back on the station and he had departed from Earth while she was still unconscious.
“I would, well we all would like to invite you both here for a few days.” He must have seen Jude’s face fall at the prospect of another sombre funerary rite. “No, no, we had Kris’ cremation shortly after we got back. This will be a celebration of zhis life.” Jude wasn’t sure she wanted to go but Maxie made a little pleading face, which made her laugh for the first time in a long while, so she agree to make the trip. Hennessey wasn’t long on the comm to her.
“After England and Hamburg, I’m not sure I can stomach any more of this. But Maxie’s a good mate. Plus I have news.” He wouldn’t elaborate but reassured Jude that it wasn’t doom-laden so they agreed to meet at the Space Centre just outside of Mexico City, which was sort of a mid-way point for both of them and travel from there.
The cruiser left Neri-Vela in good time. Their pilots and crew assured them that they would arrive in Aderin-Pocock base the day after next. Jude decided to elect to sleep most of the way, since she hadn’t had much natural sleep over the previous weeks and welcomed the chance to rest, even if it was artificially assisted. Hennessey, as ever as excited as a puppy with a new chew toy over the prospect, chose to remain awake for almost the entire journey.
“I want to give these babies a try-out in hyper drive.” He cupped his new pectoral implants, which he had also picked up in Brazil. He had also kept the facial hair, trimmed into a neat moustache and goatee. “Wait til ol’ Maxwelly gets a load of me.” He preened.
“Is that your “big news” then? You’ve cheated on a few months’ with weights in the gym so you can go topless?” She teased him gently, knowing how important his developing physique was to him.
“Nah, this is just the icing on the cake. I’ll share it with you when the time is right on Mars.” He sounded secretive, like he was keeping something she wouldn’t like from her, despite his repeated protestations that it wasn’t bad news.
“Just so long as you don’t take a notion to whip out your new piping bag too.” She said, smiling as she headed for her bunk. “Wake me when we near Diemos.”
He threw a pillow at her. “Pleasant dreams, Sadsacko Sadako.” Hennessey thought it was good to see her happy again – he hoped he wouldn’t spoil it.
Jude did dream – of Dirk Middleston, her long-time pin up and major crush, ever since she had seen him in The Revengers, one of the many comic book novels that she had grown up reading on her pad. Her Ojichan had a collection of real paper copies from back in the day and she had spent many a dark night in Luna City reading the under the covers by the light of her pad torch. She was glad to dream of romance but, her heart still wounded from losing Wib. They hadn’t been together that long, she kept telling herself, it was only a work-based fling. But he had been good to her and maybe… But maybes was all she would ever have. Dirk’s Hollywood-handsome features dissolved into Jimmy’s (“Wib” had been her colleague but Jimmy had been the man in her bed) with his stupid Lancashire face. She woke herself weeping into the pillow. Her fantasy man would have to do for the coming spell – it would be a very long time before she would give her love to anyone again.