The Lady Astronaut of Mars

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal Read Free Book Online

Book: The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Robinette Kowal
Tags: Science-Fiction
The Lady Astronaut of Mars
    by Mary Robinette Kowal
    Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. She met me, she went on to say, when I was working next door to their farm under the shadow of the rocket gantry for the First Mars Expedition. 
    I have no memory of this. 
    She would have been a little girl and, oh lord, there were so many little kids hanging around outside the Fence watching us work. The little girls all wanted to talk to the Lady Astronaut. To me. 
    I'm sure I spoke to Dorothy because know I stopped and talked to them every day on my way in and out through the Fence about what it was like. It being Mars. There was nothing else it could be.
    Mars consumed everyone's conversations. The programmers sitting over their punchcards. The punchcard girls keying in the endless lines of code. The cafeteria ladies ladling out mashed potatoes and green peas. Nathaniel with his calculations.... Everyone talked about Mars.
    So the fact that I didn't remember a little girl who said I talked to her about Mars... Well. That's not surprising, is it? I tried not to let the confusion show in my face but I know she saw it.
    By this point, Dorothy was my doctor. Let me be more specific. She was the geriatric specialist who was evaluating me. On Mars. I was in for what I thought was a routine check-up to make sure I was still fit to be an astronaut. NASA liked to update its database periodically and I liked to be in that database. Not that I'd flown since I turned fifty, but I kept my name on the list in the faint hope that they would let me back into space again, and I kept going to the darn check-ups.
    Our previous doctor had retired back to Earth, and I'd visited Dorothy's offices three times before she mentioned Kansas and the prairie. 
    She fumbled with the clipboard and cleared her throat. A flush of red colored her cheeks and made her eyes even more blue. "Sorry. Dr. York, I shouldn't have mentioned it."
    "Don't 'doctor' me.  You're the doctor. I'm just a space jockey. Call me Elma." I waved my hand to calm her down. The flesh under my arm jiggled and I dropped my hand. I hate that feeling and hospital gowns just make it worse. "I'm glad you did. You just took me by surprise, is all. Last I saw you, weren't you knee-high to a grasshopper?"
    "So you do remember me?" Oh, that hope. She'd come to Mars because of me. I could see that, clear as anything. Something I'd said or done back in 1952 had brought this girl out to the colony.
    "Of course, I remember you. Didn't we talk every time I went through that Fence? Except school days, of course." It seemed a safe bet.
    Dorothy nodded, eager. "I still have the eagle you gave me."
    "Do you now?" That gave me a pause. 
    I used to make paper eagles out of old punchcards while I was waiting for Nathaniel. His  programs could take hours to run and he liked to baby sit them. The eagles were cut paper things with layers of cards pasted together to make a three dimensional bird. It was usually in flight and I liked to hang them in the window, where the holes from the punch cards would let specks of light through and make the bird seem like it was sparkling. They would take me two or three days to make. You'd think I would remember giving one to a little girl beyond the Fence.  "Did you bring it out here with you?"
    "It's in my office." She stood as if she'd been waiting for me to ask that since our first session, then looked down at the clipboard in her hands, frowning. "We should finish your tests."
    "Fine by me. Putting them off isn't going to make me any more eager."  I held out my arm with the wrist up so she could take my pulse. By this point, I knew the drill. "How's your Uncle?"
    She laid her fingers on my wrist, cool as anything. "He and Aunt Em passed away when Orion 27 blew."
    I swallowed, sick at my lack of memory. So she was THAT little girl. She'd told me all the things I needed and

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