All These Words are Yours

By the end of his shift, Mike was regretting not getting that coffee; they’d kept him going for a further six hours, checking over and over his initial assessments, making certain there was nothing in Jim’s psychiatric records which could have led him to damage his suit. It was well known that many people harboured a secret desire to go naked onto other planets, to make skin contact with them. Something visceral. Here at the base they had a first class team of psychologists screening prospective astronauts, and Mike was pretty certain Jim had not been one of those freaks. He’d liked the guy – he’d felt comfortable with him, and everything in his experience as a doctor had taught him to trust his instincts. Jim had been sound.

Six months Jim had been locked up in that pod on the return flight, and he hadn’t lost his mind then. Six months those things had been eating away at him – by the fourth, when his heartbeat became irregular and he started to develop fever symptoms, he must have known – but he’d held on, for Moira and the boys. That wasn’t the kind of man who’d let the project down.

The alien microbes were surviving in agar, Dr. Madison had told him. That was one bit of good news. They might as well get something to study out of this. Since the influence of Planetary Protection had increased, it had been harder and harder to obtain specimens. Some of the protestors out there were arguing that Martians had rights – rights he could not possibly imagine them trying to extend to similarly primitive life on Earth – and that they should not, as individuals, be ‘kidnapped’. Whilst he agreed that the Martian ecosystem ought to be protected, Mike sighed at the level of popular scientific ignorance which led to such unruly politics.

So what had happened to Jim’s suit? It was the question on everyone’s lips. The men of the Ariel expedition were already on their way out there. If there was a problem, could they be in danger too? In the cafeteria, getting his caffeine fix at last, he put the question to Jackie Pollard, who had been one of those responsible for the examination and disposal of the damaged garment.

“Sabotage?” she asked, raising her thin red eyebrows. “You believe that? Everything’s put down to terrorism these days. We’re scientists, Mike. You should have a better understanding of the odds.”

“If it’s what the public are going to say, we need to be able to rule it out.”

You can find the complete version of All These Words are Yours in issue 50 of TBD.

Jennie Kermode