By Denise Miller Holmes, Director
I was dating this good, kind and gorgeous Earth girl for about six months when the military called me to duty. It was during that time when the government was building prisons on Mars because Earth citizens, who embraced the “not in my back yard” movement, had won over the prison system’s need for real estate.
Mars was as far away from Earth as you could get with the technology we had at the time. For the Earthers, it was good. For me, it was a quantum, soul-sucking mess.
I figured out immediately upon arriving that my colonel, the operating officer of the installation, had it out for me. At first, I rationalized that his hatred for me was because he was a Martian human—born and raised in the old Martian colony. It is as true now as it was in the old days, that because of the puny gravity of the planet, human males who are raised on Mars are at least twelve-feet tall by adulthood. Earth males, in contrast, rise to a mere six feet on average.
My muscles were robust compared to the colonel’s reed-thin frame, yet Col. Malfrom made me, a 26-year-old soldier, want to weep and wet myself when he stood over me and glowered. No matter how strong I was, I was always hyperaware that I would never be able to deliver a respectable punch in his face without first asking him to bend down so I could tell him a secret.
The only alternative would be to punch him in the groin, and I would never do that because I had a personal ethos against hitting below the belt.
The real reason that Malfrom hated me, I found out, was his love for the woman I’d left on Earth. We’d dated for about five months and she told me about all the terrible things her ex had done to her. Now I’d put five and five together, and wish I’d known her ex’s name before I’d said yes to this assignment.
They say that knowledge is power but knowledge of his motivations to torment me didn’t make a difference in this circumstance—he still had it out for me and I was still his subordinate.
I’d been there about six months when the colonel approached me and said, “Sean, come with me into my office.” Okay, perhaps my multiple requests for a phone call to Earth had been heard and approved.
I followed him into his office, then sat down obediently when he pointed at a hard, metal, office chair. He grabbed another chair, sat across from me and eyed me like a snake that was planning to strike.
Because I was nervous, my throat went dry and I kept trying to clear it. He offered not one drop of water. I tried to say something, but he spoke instead.
“I’ve green-lighted your phone call,” he said in a flat tone, never taking his eyes off me. “I haven’t been ignoring you. It took a long time because the communications array was nearly destroyed in that sand storm and it took a whole month to fix it.”
I’m sure I looked relieved. Then he smiled as if he’d trapped his prey. “You want to call Genevra, don’t you?”
“Word gets around.” I adjusted my collar. It felt tight.
“You want to propose to her, yeah? I mean, you’ve been gone so long, I bet you’re worried someone else will ask her. She’s getting on in age and maybe feeling tired of waiting for you to come home. Besides, I hear the eligible Earth bachelors are pounding down her door. Rumor is, she wants a family.”
“She’s going to be 29 in 2091. I don’t think her world is ending.”
I didn’t tell him I’d suffered a series of night sweats recently over that very thing—her clock, her impatience. But I stopped worrying when I remembered how much she loved me.
“Are you going to let me call her now, or not?” I asked, letting all the air out of my lungs. I waited to breathe.
“Okay, but there are some rules,” he said, wagging a finger at me.
Of course there are.
“We’re at perigee, which means we’ve settled into the closest distance to Earth. That makes it possible to say something and have Genevra hear it in about five minutes.”
My heart stopped for a couple seconds. “Okay, what else?”
“That means that she’ll answer, but you won’t hear it for five minutes. You’ll say a short spiel, then she’ll wait five minutes to hear that. When she responds, you’ll either hear a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or, most likely, a detailed description of what she had for dinner last night. If it isn’t ‘yes,’ I click the off switch, ‘Got it?”
My angry stomach churned. “Can’t wait to hear.” My words gushed sarcasm.
“You are wondering why I won’t give you a second chance to convince her, or even to clarify her words, aren’t you?” he said, reading my mind.
When I said nothing, the colonel continued. “Because you are an arrogant Earther who flexes his fat Neanderthal muscles around me whenever he can, and because, for some stupid reason, she prefers you over me, I’m going to only give you one chance to get her to say yes to your proposal.”
“Is that all?” I asked in my best casual tone. “There is no other reason?”
He stood up, drawing himself to his full height, as if getting in touch with that extra ego pack he kept inside his heart for special emergencies. Then, he leaned down, close enough to spit in my eye. “I just want to see your face when she says, ‘No.’”
I waited a tick, then said, “Ok, it works for me.”
You probably think I’m crazy taking the deal but I knew my girl loved me. She would have said ‘yes’ a few months ago when I’d left. On the other hand, it had been six months without a phone call. Girls hate that. What would she say? I had to try.
He led me into the communications room, a room walled off completely by glass, with a steel table that held equipment and a huge microphone. Lights flashed as I sat down in front of the mic, and Malfrom worked the dials and levers as if using this technology were an art. When I heard her voice come over the speaker, I thought I’d die. But all she said was, “Malfrom, why are you calling me?”
Eventually, the colonel let me speak. “Genevra,” the words struggled to get out. “I love you. I might be here a while, so I have to ask it now, Will you marry me?”
That was it. What would she say? Could I convince Malfrom to have mercy and let her answer again if her words were garbled?
After a long five minutes, the speaker crackled. She was coming back on the array! I braced myself. Please God, let her say ‘yes’.
The crackle continued for a bit, then her sweet voice filled the room. “Sean? Is that you? What did you say?”
A sharp snap filled my ears as Col. Malfrom flipped the disconnect switch. He stood up, triumphant, his full height lording over me.
Rage poured into my lungs, and desperation filled my heart. The need to do something propelled my thoughts forward, and I quickly settled on what action to take. I truly had no choice.
“Colonel,” I said, putting on my most innocent face. “Come here.” I motioned him to bend toward me. “I have a secret to tell you.”