She never did get to see the magical frozen geysers on Saturn’s sixth moon. Jude went back to Earth on the shuttle with Tiggs and Doyle. A separate and more secure transport ferried Wade and Brown, along with the desiccated remains of one Nile Kellan. True to his prediction, the incident was hushed up somewhat – his widow grieved publicly but somewhat briefly on the arm of her sister.
Jude made a few enquiries. The letting agency from whom she had rented her pokey little apartment in T-City had a similar one available so she moved her meagre belongings from storage into that. She could have easily afforded to go back to the beach house but as peaceful as it was, it would forever be associated in her mind with grieving and bad decisions. Now was the time to lie low for a spell, to take stock before rushing headlong into something else. Or so she had hoped.
She had put in a few calls on her return to Tokyo. Coop was still her usual self, but was off working in Europe, having got herself back into sound engineering and was working for The Next Big Thing in the pop world.
“Don’t fall for her, “Jude had joked.
“I don’t make the same mistake twice.” Coop had replied.
Her parents were, as ever, embroiled in another tour of the outer habitats of the Moon and Mars. “We must go where the fans are,” her mother said by way of explanation. “But we’ll get together soon, I promise.”
When she tried to put in a call to Maxie in Olympus, she found that the number had been disconnected. The comms company would not give out a new contact but the helpful voice on the line was able to tell her that the new billing address was in London, if that was any of use. Jude mulled over the idea of getting in touch with Neesh, figuring that Maxie and the two little kids had more than likely joined her there. However, in the end she decided it was probably best to leave that burned bridge unmended.
She did manage, with some degree of difficulty in timing and communications, to put in a call to Hennessey. The beard was still there, neatly trimmed and looking well on him. He looked so very different from the surly young buck who had travelled back and forth from T-City to Kakuda with her all those months ago. Deep space living seemed to be good for him – he seemed happy and healthy and was obviously spending a large part of any free time he had in the gym. She told him of her latest escapades on Titan.
“Boy, can you pick ‘em, Sadsacko, “ he chided. “But what’s next for you?”
“I don’t know.” she told him, truthfully. “I’ve had plenty of offers. Rodriguez is still trying to tempt me into a career of fighting intergalactic crime. The same goes for Internal Security with Doyle and Tiggs – they reckon they can turn me into an investigator. But I just haven’t got a clue.” It had all seemed so straight forward back when she first went to meet with Colette Chouinard and then Dug Howe. If only I could turn back time, she thought. Alas, that was still the subject of science fiction, not life here in the late twenty first century.
“You could come work with me, out here in the sunny Crab Nebula.”
The suggestion was tempting. She missed him most of all. It would be fun to take up where they had left off briefly on Mars – if that was still on the cards?
“Think of all the interstellar sex we could be having. You haven’t had it til you’ve had it in helium, they say.” Well, that answered that question. Jude laughed. The idea was appealing – Hibakusha were always hiring and her one-time lover here would give her a glowing recommendation, she was sure. But wouldn’t that mean she was just jumping ship again, grasping for the bright and shiny new opportunity? Like she had been doing all her god-damned life? No, she had to stop doing this. She could only ride the crest of her name for so long – Kiki Kokeshi, the darling of the pop scene; the survivor of the Tiandong disaster; even now her involvement in the double dealings on Titan threatened to catapult her on to bigger things if she let it.
“No, Hennessey. Not yet. But thanks.”
“Can I come and see you though? I have some leave coming up in a few weeks and right now there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with you. I’m not looking for anything long-term but what we had on Mars, it was good.”
“Of course. And yes, it was. Call me when you’re in transit and we’ll arrange to meet up.”
He blew her a kiss, then made a silly face and ended the call.
Jude found herself back in the offices of Cee-Cee Incorporated. Her old boss, Chief Howe, sat opposite her, making a steeple of his fingers, deep in thought.
“Colette and I are of course delighted that you want to stay with the company.” He smiled sincerely at Jude. “But we are at a loss as to where to fit you in.”
They had discussed putting Jude to work with Lin Shang and her team in the laboratories in Helsinki, where they were running tests on the hardware from the Huygens probe that the young science historian had smuggled back from Titan. However, this was highly specialised work and Jude knew that, with the best will in the world, any role she had would be superficial.
“The problem is, Chief,” Jude tried to explain, “is that here I am, with plenty of experience of space and planet-side but no actual skills. I enjoyed the work I did here when I was training and then what I did on the CSS. Hell, even the mundane stripping of wires and circuit boards on Mars was fun. But here I am, at almost twenty-five, with no idea what to do now.”
“Twenty-five, hmm.” The Chief pondered. “Do you believe in the maxim that you’re never too old to learn, Jude?”
Chief Howe pressed a button on his desk console. “Put a call into Suwalki.”
A call to her exasperated landlords, stowing her belongings back in storage – the woman at the desk there knew her by her first name now, it seemed – and then Jude was on her way.
The flight from Tokyo to Warsaw took only a few hours. Once there, Jude took a train out to her new home – The Calvin-Gorvobski Institute for Stellar Engineering at Suwalki in north-eastern Poland… Yes, she thought, back to school – although, technically speaking, Jude had never been to school. Despite not possessing any paper qualifications, based on her aptitude tests and work scores, Chief Howe had managed to convince the directors at the institute to take her on in the new intake class for their fast-track technical studies course which would last eighteen months. The first six would be mostly classroom based then, assuming the students passed their initial testing, they would be assigned to a working ship.
Jude had messaged Hennessey and they had co-ordinated their leave so that they would meet up once she had completed her planet-based studies. But first, she had to begin them. She joined a queue of what appeared to be very young people – they all looked so fresh-faced and Jude put the oldest of them at about nineteen or twenty – all waiting to be processed and allocated a dormitory. Students at the Institute lived on-site. Jude had never shared a room in her life, apart from obviously during her brief time with Coop. But she was open and willing to take on this new life, as a student engineer.
“Nazwa?” The gruff voice demanded of her. Jude had reached the head of the line and was now face to face with a stern looking middle-aged woman.
“She’s asking for your name.” a girlish voice behind her prompted.
“Oh…thanks.” Jude handed her pad over to the bursar. “Sadako. Judith Marie.”
The woman behind the desk pored over Jude’s credentials through cats-eye spectacles, obviously an affectation in these days of corrective surgery.
“Brill, D75.” Jude’s pad was handed back to her and she was dismissed with a curt “następny” which she guessed to mean “next.”
Jude stood in the admissions hall, utterly bewildered. Then a familiar voice called out to her. It belonged to the young woman who had been behind her in the queue.
“Did you get Brill 75 too?” she asked Jude, excitedly.
“Yes, I think so. Although I have absolutely no idea what a ‘Brill 75’ is.”
“It’s your room number. Apartment 75 in the Yvonne Brill complex. “
“Thanks.” Jude scanned this petite and energetic lass.” Erm…do you know where it is?”
“Follow me.” The girl chimed. “My name’s Alta Resnik. I’m your roomie.”