Jude set up a comm-call to Chief Howe in Tokyo.
“Hello,” He greeted her warmly over the link, smiling his usual crinkly smile. She hadn’t seen it since he waved them all off after training in what seemed like such a long time ago.
“Hey, Chief. How are things in Kakuda these days?”
“Oh, you know, the usual grind. Thanks for getting back to me Jude. Tell me, how are you?” He was genuinely asking, not just making conversation, so she told him she was feeling pretty good, at last.
“Any thoughts on coming back to work for me?” he asked.
“As a matter of fact, that’s the reason for me calling you. Are there any openings out here?”
“Oh cool. Let me check. I was hoping to tempt you back here but Mars is good.”
He looked away to another screen.
“Ah, here we go. Ellen Freeman is on the lookout for folks to join her team out at Seven Sisters. They’ve been bringing down the old Earth orbiters and up cycling them for tech and metals. Pretty much what you’ve done before, except planet-side instead of beyond atmo.”
“Sounds like fun. At least there are no toilets!” she joked.
“Ha ha, no, not this time Jude.” The chief looked away again to his monitors then back. “I’ve sent her an intro and I’m just messaging you the details now. Go out, have a look-see and if it suits you, you can make an immediate start.”
“Thanks Chief. I appreciate that.”
“My pleasure. Good to have you back on board.”
The details of the job came through shortly afterwards and Jude perused them. It seemed straightforward enough – two days on, two days off out by Mount Arsia which was a short hop to the south-east of Olympus City.
She was taking things slowly here with Neesh and Maxie. Following their surprising offer, they had been at great pains to make sure that Jude did not feel pressured or steamrollered into joining with them. Neesh was making preparations to travel to London soon and would be there for three months, giving Maxie and Jude some time to “bed in”, so to speak. Neesh and Maxie would still be the primary relationship, with Jude being Maxie’s second. They had all agreed to take this slowly, as it was new territory for all of them and see how it worked out. It was strange, Jude thought, to negotiate like this but also nice in its own way. Maxie was a very attractive man and she looked forward to getting to know him on a deeper level.
The children had been almost ecstatic when they had been told the news that Jude would be staying with Maxie. Obviously, they were perturbed at the prospect of their mother working away from home but they had been used to it when Kristof and Maxie had been on Earth and its environs. The prospect of having not one but two adults around helped.
The following day, a Cee-Cee transport arrived to take Jude out to her new base of operations. She was met by Director Freeman who was enthusiastic to have Jude on her team. A fairly young woman, not much older than herself, Jude guessed, but knowledgeable and passionate about the work that was being pioneered at Arsia. There had been four space orbiting craft sent to mars in the early tears of the two-kays. The test bed for the company’s repurposing had been carried out on the Odyssey and the harvested thermal emission imaging system, spectrometer and detectors were being re-used in craft on the Titan missions. Express was being similarly processed, Freeman said, and the salvaged components were being shipped off to the Crab Nebula, coincidentally to the project Hennessey was involved in now.
Director Freeman – “please, just call me El,” she had insisted – took Jude over to one of the hangars where the dismantling was taking place. The Express which had once carried the hopes and dreams of scientists now lay dissected on various surfaces and plinths. It had never been a huge orbiter – its main body had only been just under four cubic metres and its largest components had been its solar panels and antennae. But it was the technology that made this compact machine most valuable.
“I’m afraid it can be quite painstaking work, sifting through what may appear to be just scrap.” El told Jude. “But in these days of dwindling resources, our directive is to utilise whatever we can.”
Next, El introduced Jude to the small team. There was the lead technician, Kathryn Copeland and a sifter tech of the same grade as Jude, one Mae Gerber. Both women appeared happy to welcome their new co-worker.
El accompanied Jude back to the main complex.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you chose to come to work with us.” Jude had been dreading this speech – the subject of the Tiandong had been bound to come up sooner or later. However, her new boss surprised her. “When Chief Howe sent me through your training outcomes and evaluation reports, I knew someone with your skills and adaptability would be just what this team needed.”
Jude was relieved. “Thank you. I’ve been keen to get back to work after – well, you know.”
“That’s all behind you.” Freeman reminded her. “Your future is with us and you’re in safe hands.”
The trip back to Olympus seemed, as most return journeys do, to take less time than the trip out. Jude had requested that she be deposited in the city centre instead of back at the – her, she reminded herself now, no longer just Neesh and Maxie’s – apartment. She wanted to pick up a few odds and ends now that she was no longer a visitor, new clothes obviously and some treats for Dera and Myki.
When she arrived back at the flat, it was strangely quiet. Jude had become used to the noisy welcome of energetic children and was surprised when they didn’t greet her. Maxie was in the kitchen, alone.
“Neesh has taken the tiny terrors out to see Ila. I thought, “He hesitated, “we thought, it would be nice for just you and I to have some alone time.”
No pressure then, Jude thought. Although she was very open to exploring the new dimensions of this type of relationships, it was maybe moving a little too fast for her. Maxie sensed her possible back-pedalling.
“I can imagine how this must be feeling.” He handed her a glass of wine. “I’m nervous too. It’s a little too much like old Earth-style set ups or arranged marriages. But I trust Neesh’s instincts and my own. Let’s give it a whirl, eh?” He caressed her arm and reached down to take her hand in his.
“But first, food. And you can tell me about your meeting.”
The meal that Maxie had prepared was delicious and she told him about the work being done out at Arsia Mons. “They are dressing it up a bit much, I feel,” she confided, “it’s going to be laborious grunt work again, nothing too challenging. But it means I can settle here and try to find some purpose, I reckon, if not in my work then with you all.”
“I hope that you can make the home you are looking for with us.” Maxie said and rose from the dining chair. Jude got up from her seat and stepped towards him.
“When are we expecting Neesh and the kids back?”
“Not for a little while yet. “
Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the Martian air. Maybe even it was just the need for closeness and intimacy with another warm body after all the tragedy and turmoil of late. But when Jude Sadako lay a good while later in the arms of her new lover, she felt at peace for the first time in a long time. Please, she begged the universe, don’t fak this up for me. I deserve a break.
When she woke up the next morning, she was alone. To her surprise, she felt comfortable. From the living space she heard the sounds of laughter. She got up and pulled on a robe.
“Jude-dee,” Dera, for a change, ran over to her and she scooped zhim up for a hug.
“Good morning,” Neesh beamed at her. “How did it go?” For a split second, Jude thought, is she asking me about last night? She let Dera back down to finish zhis breakfast.
“Are you taking the job?” Neesh said, to her relief, handing her a cup of chai.
“Oh, yes. It’s nothing glamorous but it’s what I need, I reckon. Something steady to let me get back into things.”
Neesh put her arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “I’m glad. It makes me feel so much better knowing that you’re going to be here. For Myki and Dera. And Maxie.”
“You’re still okay with…this?” Jude asked.
“Of course I am. Listen, we’re not looking to replace Kris. And we’re not expecting you to fill zhis shoes. But,“ and she took Jude’s mug from her and set it on the counter, “I’m willing to give this a try. I have a good feeling about you, Judith Sadako.” Neesh embraced her warmly. “Or can I say, Jude Sadako-Moore?”