One of these days… maybe this coming month, since I have been living at a flat run this last 6-7 weeks, I will compile and publish a collection of short stories and flash fiction. For years I thought I couldn’t write anything longer than a short, so I have probably a dozen rattling around in the drawer, still. And I will write (heh… time. I need time) something fresh for it. But in the meantime, here’s a story I wrote years ago for you all to enjoy.
You can see in it my unofficial motto as a young wife and mother: what would my ancestress do? On my maternal side, the women have historically been pioneer women, coming to Oregon and later Alaska to live in settings the city girls of the East would have blanched at. I was taught to make do with very little, and it served me well when I didn’t have much to do with. It’s not an easy job, but when you’re in it, you are only thinking about how to keep going and hold it all together.
Christie had her hand in hot, soapy dishwater when the s’radio squelched loudly. She jumped and shrieked, splashing water on her husband.
“Hey! honey, you need to relax!” he chided her over his shoulder as he headed to the radio. “CQ, CQ, Martin Homestead here,” he called into the handset.
After he called, he set the handset down and rejoined her at the sink, drying for her. The space radio was their contact with the universe, literally, but it was likely that the ship calling in was far enough out to have a significant delay in response. There was plenty of time to finish the dishes. In fact, Christie was in the other room, tucking the children into bed, when the response came back.
“Martin Homestead, this is the U-triple-S Conestoga, military tasked, passing through with your mail. We will be in LO in about ten T-hours.”
Tom looked at the wall clock. That meant that it would be the middle of the night local time. The day on their new planet had taken a lot of adjusting to, a third longer than an earth day. The children, born to the rhythms of a new world, didn’t seem to notice, but he and Christie did. Their mail, and the rest of the planet’s, no doubt, would be coming down in a shielded capsule to his homestead because it was the most visibly marked from space. He sighed, and picked up the handset.
“Martin Homestead to Conestoga, thank you and talk to you closer to time. I need a couple hours warning so I can get the light aircraft up to intercept the capsule.”
The idea was to capture the drogue of the capsule with a special hook on his lightcraft, and thus slow it and bring it down where he could find it. He had done it three times in the last six years, and he had a lot of preparation to do. Christie came into the room. She was carrying a basket of laundry to be folded.
“Hi, sweetie,” he greeted her absently, pulling up the remote weather sats on the computer desk.
“Hey, who is it?”
“The Conestoga. Military, but nice enough to swing by and drop off the mail. I’ll have to take out the lightcraft tonight to pick it up, are you ok here?”
She leaned over to kiss the top of his head. “Of course. Does this mean we’ll be getting visitors soon?”
He looked up at her. Her deep blue eyes showed her tentative eagerness at the idea. “Maybe. But Julie can’t come, you know that.”
She nodded. “I know, but it would be nice to have company, no matter who it is.”
She set the basket down and headed into the kitchen, no doubt to pack him some snacks. He turned back to the screen. Plotting raw weather data was tricky – more of an art than a science, even with the satellites.
In the kitchen, Christie deftly wrapped the flat bread around sandwich fillings, trying not to cry into the food. She knew Julie couldn’t fly right now. She was either too pregnant or had just had the baby by this time. But she was the only other woman in this hemisphere, and Christie’s best friend. Christie straightened her back, stretching out sore muscles, and tried to convince herself for the umpteenth time that Tom was all the adult company she needed. She failed utterly, and wiped her face on the towel over the sink before she left the room. Tom had enough to worry about without her adding to his burdens.
Night was falling outside when Tom finished caring for the stock and tramped back in to get ready to go get the mail. Christie had finished the laundry and was up to her elbows in flour and dough, preparing for their potential guests. He kissed her, and picked up the knapsack she had waiting for him, calling as he stepped out the door “See you in the morning!”
Christie cried into the bread, hoping the extra salt wouldn’t retard the yeast.
When all her work was done, she unbraided her hair and brushed it out, then braided it up again. She changed into nightclothes and sat on their bed for awhile, but did not feel like sleeping. Finally, in the middle of the night, she crept over the the s’radio and picked up the handset.
“Martin homestead to Conestoga.” she called.
“Conestoga here, drop will be in one T-hour.” a male voice came back, noncommittal, mere seconds later. They must be in very close now…
“Thank you, Conestoga. Is… is there a woman aboard I could talk to?”
In the courier hurtling through space far over her head, the communications officer sat back a moment and thought. That must be the homesteader’s wife. He’d be out in his little lightcraft, waiting for his package, so she must be feeling lonely. He shrugged. No harm in indulging her wish for gossip.
“Hold on, Martin Homestead.”
He stood up in his niche and looked out into the bridge, trying to catch the XO’s eye. She saw him and moseyed over, a curious look on her face. “What’s up?”
“Got the lady of the house down below on the radio, wanting a little gossip. Care to chat?”
“Good Lord.” Geri Strow thought about it for a minute. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt.”
He handed a set of headphones to her. “It’s the Martin Homestead.”
“Conestoga to the Martin Homestead.”
Christie, in the dimly lit room, had almost given up hope of reply. She stared for a moment, then picked up the handset and squeaked “Martin Homestead, Christie Martin here.”
“Hello, my name is Geri. How are you?”
“I’m well, just lonely,” she confessed to the unseen contralto. “I rarely get to talk to anyone besides my husband.”
“Really? I thought you had satellites?”
“Yes, but the majority of the colony is on the other side of the world, and the reception is spotty. We all get together twice a year, but there were unseasonable floods last year, so it has been a year without Gathering.”
“Wow. I don’t think I could live that way.” Geri looked around her at the crowded bridge room. There were only five people in there right now, but there were two hundred aboard the ship, and she knew and saw almost all of them on a daily basis. The isolation of the other woman was mindboggling. “Do you have children?”
“Yes, three. Twin boys, aged four T-years, and a baby girl, about a T-year and a half. They keep me busy, but aren’t much for conversation.”
“I can imagine. And your husband?”
“Oh,” Christie hastened to assure her, “He’s wonderful, and takes great care of me, but… sometimes a woman’s voice…” she trailed off.
Geri sat quietly, listening to the other woman and wondered what it would be like to hear only one other voice for a year. “What is life like down there? I’ve never visited a newly colonized planet.”
“Oh, it isn’t bad. This was the first planet to be terraformed, you know, and we are introducing the first animals to it again, so there are no big beasts to be afraid of, and no biting insects, but it is hard work. I do without most of the amenities most civilized worlds take for granted – I wash my clothes and dishes by hand, we have no running water in the way you would think of it… we don’t have an indoors bathroom.”
“Now I know I couldn’t live that way!” Geri laughed.
“It isn’t that bad.” Christie giggled back. “It find it very satisfying to make all our food, and clothes, and to have no outside worries beyond keeping house.”
“Did you have a career before you came there?”
“Not really. Tom and I married right after university. I went for English, but switched to agronomics after I met him and knew I was going to marry him. What do you do?”
“I am the executive officer. I basically keep the Captain from drowning in paperwork and stand watches so he can get some sleep.” Geri oversimplified, knowing the minutiae of her life didn’t matter. “Missions last about three years, usually, so the people aboard become very close – like a family.”
“How nice. I sometimes feel like my world has closed down to four walls and my brain is atrophying from lack of use. It must be wonderful to have discussions with your peers everyday. I remember in university that I sometimes felt like I learned more just talking after hours with classmates.”
“Yeah… but at least when you need a breath of fresh air you can step outdoors. Nothing but vacuum around me.” Geri sighed, putting into words feeling she never acknowledged.
“And no civilian clothes, I’ll bet.”
Geri laughed. “No, no nightlife aboard ship. I am single, but you don’t get involved with crewmates if you can help it.”
Christie, in her cozy room with its foundation in good dirt, thought about that. She had Tom’s comforting solidity every night, and his support when she needed help. “It must be hard, to be all on your own like that.”
“Not really. I like my independence. I can’t imagine living dirtside for long. Up here, I am going somewhere and doing something. A husband would no doubt want me at home to keep the place clean and cozy.”
“Not the right one, I am sure,” Christie replied, thinking of her marriage. Tom had been willing to give up his dream to allow her to stay on Earth, near her friends and family, but she had wanted to be his helpmate in truth, not just words.
“Ok, maybe not, but I haven’t met Mr. Right yet.”
The lag was growing longer, a couple of moments now. They were slipping through the void and away from her new friend. Geri knew she should let Christie go, but she sat and waited for the reply.
Christie’s laugh pealed out, echoing in her ears. “Oh, you will! Don’t give up! And Thank You! I needed to be reminded how blessed I am. You have your friends and family with you, and I have my frontier to conquer. I think we can both do it. Send me a letter when you catch him!”
“Sure thing! You keep on with what you are doing. Pioneer mothers are something special – always have been. Conestoga signing off.”
Geri slipped the headphones off and handed them back to the comm officer, who was playing a game on his console, bored. She stretched her back out and headed back to the Captain’s chair, scanning the quiet room as she went. No commotion anywhere – Deep space is a lonely, quiet place, and rarely was her routine interrupted.
Christie, far behind and below her now, hung the handset up and went into the kitchen to make a snack for Tom, a smile on her lips. The house seemed more like a home suddenly, wrapping about her like a warm shawl.