The passenger cruiser landed at the Martian spaceport and a still somewhat drowsy Jude disembarked, followed by an annoyingly more chipper and less drained Hennessey. Maxie was waiting for them in the arrivals lounge. He stood with his arms wide open in welcome and enfolded his two former colleagues. They stood together for a few moments then released.
“It’s so good to see you both.” He smiled with no hint of the strain and pain that Jude and Hennessey had become accustomed to seeing on the faces of relatives. Maybe he was putting on a brave show for them – Jude doubted that he had got over what had happened to Kristof so soon.
They collected their luggage and headed to catch the over ground shuttle train into Olympus City proper. The three of them arrived soon after at Maxie’s apartment where they were again greeted warmly, this time by a strikingly beautiful woman, who introduced herself as Neesh. Maxie took their coats and bags and Neesh guided them into a spacious living room with a huge window that looked out toward the vast shield volcano which gave the city its name. From a side room, two small figures ran in expectantly.
“Is it them? Is it them?” they chimed in unison.
Neesh scooped them both up in her arms to prevent them careening into the surprised friends. “Yes, yes. This is Jude and…” She seemed unsure whether to use Hennessey’s surname. “I’m sorry. Kris and Maxie always refer to you as Hennessey. I don’t know your first name.”
That’s cool.” He smiled. “Everyone just calls me Hennessey. And you two wee scallywags must be Dera and Myki.” The children scrambled from their mother’s hold and pulled Hennessey onto a couch between them.
“I’m Myki,” The smallest of the pair exclaimed then pointed at the older one. “And zhe is Dera.” “Did you work with our baxi?” The shyer one used the neutral term for parent.
As Hennessey answered their questions, Jude spoke with Neesh.
“They are just gorgeous,“ she noted. Then hesitantly added, “They look very much like Kris.”
Neesh squeezed her Jude’s arm. “Yes, zhe was their biological parent.”
“Oh, “Jude felt like she was treading deep waters. “Zhe and Maxie had told us you were their birth mother. “
“I am. It’s okay – we’re used to it.” She smiled but there were tears forming in her eyes. “We had spoken about having another one or two perhaps, with Maxie as the other biological parent. He’s as much Dera and Myki’s father, for want of a better word, as Kris is. Was.” She paused. “We were going to try when Kris and Maxie finished with…” Neesh choked back a sob. It felt right to Jude to put her arm around this sweet but sorrowful woman and her gesture was welcomed.
Maxie came back in after stowing a way Jude and Hennessey’s belongings with a tray of drinks and snacks. He placed it on a low table then shooed the little ones off. Myki had been clambering over Hennessey, who, give him his credit was gleefully tussling with zhim. The women sat down on chairs opposite.
They chatted together for a while, catching up on each other’s news. They skirted around the funerals of Wib and Glass and Jude managed to divert them with stories of how the music business had attempted to woo her back. She then remembered how she never had sung for Kris on zhis birthday after all.
Maxie seemed to read her mind. “It’s fine – being around you was more than enough for zher.”
After their refreshments, Maxie coaxed his energetic offspring to their sleep rooms for a nap.
“But I don’t want to sleep, Maxie-Baxi, “protested Myki as zhe yawned.
“Hennessey and Jude will still be here when you wake.” Neesh told her child. “And then we can get ready for Baxi Kris’s party.”
“Party?” queried Hennessey.
“Oh yes.” Nesh replied.
Jude had gone to freshen up and change. She had a shower and stood wrapped in a real silk robe, staring at the ensemble she had laid out on the bed. Neesh gently knocked on the door.
“Do you need any…?” Neesh stared at the outfit Jude had put together. It was pretty much what she had worn to the previous commemorations ceremonies back Earth side.
“Too much, huh?” Jude sighed. “I just don’t know what’s appropriate anymore.”
“What else did you bring?” Neesh asked Jude swept up the dark weeds and shoved them back in her case.
“Just casual clothes. And this.” She brought out a simple dress, made from a sea-green satin, embroidered with small cerise flowers. It was the one she had worn for promotional shots to accompany her album of enka songs.
“Perfect. “Neesh smiled. “Kris would have been thrilled.”
A short time later, they all gathered in the living room. Maxie beamed when he saw Jude, recognising her outfit. Hennessey, dressed in a dark blue suit of jacket and trousers with a plain white shirt, looked pretty stunning. He mouthed back at Jude when he saw her “Wow!”
Maxie, Neesh and the children were likewise decked out in their best finery.
“We do scrub up well for space garbage collectors, don’t we?” Maxie joked as they headed out.
They travelled by overland transport, across the vast open plain of Tharsis to the gentle slopes of Alba Mons and the settlement of A-P City, where Kristof’s family still resided.
The gathering was in a large, domed hall. It was decked out with flowers and paper garlands and brightly lit with strings of twinkling lights and flickering candles. Their group had barely stepped in when Myki broke free and ran into the arms of delighted older woman, dressed in clouds of chiffon. “Chi-nay”, zhe giggled.
“Kris’ mother,” Neesh introduced Jude and Hennessey.
“Call me Ila, please. “She greeted them both with soft embraces, not awkward but like greeting old friends.
Maxie led them over to a round table, where more introductions were made. Jude was seated next to a handsome man, called Bly. His features…
“I’m Kris’ brother. It’s an honour to meet you.”
There definitely was a festive atmosphere to the room. It was filling up with people of all ages from babes-in-arms to elders. Drinks were poured, food was served up and noisily eaten and everyone chattered and laughed. This was unlike any funeral or memorial either Jude or Hennessey had ever been to. Once the plates and cutlery were cleared away, the room quietened and an older man rose from his table. He walked to a dais near the front of the hall. Behind him, a large screen lit and pictures of Kristof appeared, melting into each other.
“We are gathered here together on this night to celebrate the life of our dear ghúyé Kristof. A life well lived, zhe was zhis own Dine and we miss zhim terribly.”
Neesh leaned over to Jude and Hennessey. “Zhis tsóyéé – grandfather. He speaks for Kristof, as the oldest of his male relations.”
The gentle man told tales of Kristof’s life – of zhis childhood growing up in the large extended family, zhis education and working life. Then he invited Kris’ mother up to speak. Ila beamed with love and pride as she spoke of her beautiful child, who from a defiantly young age refused to be categorised or labelled – “zhe even chose zher own name, after Agota Kristof, one of zhis favourite writers”. She recounted all the scrapes that Kris had got into, zhis love of music and seeing zhim graduate from university with a Bachelor’s degree in InfoTech. The picture behind her was of her and Kris, in robes and mortar, both beaming
“But zhis proudest achievement was zher family – my darlings Maxwell, Nichelle, Dera and Mikey.”
She sobbed a little. “No tears, I promised myself. Kristof, my darling, I love you.”
Maxie was at her side and helped her from the raised stage. He stood, an image of him, Neesh, and Kris with a toddler and a new born baby.
“Kris was my life, my love…” He looked to their wife and children. “Our life, our love. When I met Neesh, I thought my life was complete but when Kris came into our life – and love – it became perfect. Zhe was my lover, my friend, my rock.” Maxie was fighting tears, as were most of the gathered clan and kin. “I miss you every day, I love you. Verlabena – which as you taught me, means forever.”
Neesh had joined her husband on the dais and she took his trembling hand in hers.
“I can’t add anything to that. Kristof, I see your eyes in those of all of our children and I hope you will watch over them with the pride we all share.” She paused, looked to Maxie and he nodded.
“However, were it not for one person, I would be standing here alone today. Jude.” All eyes in the room turned to her. Her instinct was to shrink away but something inside her said no. She felt a wave of love come towards her, enveloping her in its warmth.
She rose and walked towards Maxie and Neesh, glancing back toward Hennessey, who smiled and motioned her forward. They hugged her tightly.
“Would you like to say something? Kris is listening.” Neesh and Maxie stepped down and walked back together to their seats.
The room was silent. What could she say? The people assembled here wouldn’t want to hear about how zhe rushed to Maxie’s side following the second horrific shockwave, or how zhe had frantically tried to ascertain if help as on its way and to bring systems back on line, before the fireball cruelly snuffed out zhis life. She had only known zhim for a couple of months and Jude didn’t know much about Kristof at all. Except…
Jude steadied herself and breathed in.
“Star love, though there’s a galaxy between us…” she sang.