A little warm for this time of night. Looks like it's going to be another hot, sleepless night for me. Woo.
Lost track of the time. We've been talking a while now. Mason pulled out some red wine, now we're both a little tipsy. First time I've tried it, I think. It's... interesting. It's actually not bad.
First time Mason's really opened up about his former marriage. And his children, I'm now hearing about.
: Yourrr wife got custody, then?
: Yeah, Julie got both of them. I got the weekends with them, but that was it. And I had to fight just for that.
I mean... looking back, I can understand. I wasn't... ... you know, I wasn't the best father I could've been. Our boys needed a father, not a drunkard. I was in and out of jail a few times for getting into fights at the bar. Lost a good job because I was caught drinking on the job. Was able to still find work, thank God, but... yeah.
Nowadays, you know, I'm fine. I'll have a couple beers or some wine every now and then, but I don't forget how I was back in the day. Took basically losing my kids, all that, for me to... finally get my shit together.
: What happened then?
: Well... that went on for... ... around 10 months, I think. And, you know, it... it hurt, only having a couple of days with my boys out of the week, but it was still something
. I was sort of adjusting, getting my act straightened out, and I could still spend time with them.
... Aaand then one day, my youngest brings home a can of beer. Julie caught him with it in his room.
Hell if I know where he got it from, I never found out. But she accused me with it, saying I was obviously still drinking around the kids and was being a bad influence. I'd been sober for months at that point, but I've never been... the most persuasive, I guess? I don't do good in confrontations. The judge sided with her.
I... lost visitation. I lost my boys.
And it... ... I don't know, you know. I don't know. He probably got the beer from kids at school, kids do stupid stuff at that age. We all did stupid stuff. And Julie, I loved her to death, but she could be damn petty
sometimes. I was in the bad books, so I got the brunt of it. It didn't help my case that I was still considered the "recovering alcholic" in the room.
: That's prrretty unfairrr forrr them to do that.
: Absolutely. Unfortunately, "fair" is relative. From their perspective, I was the resident alchoholic putting bad ideas in my kid's heads. I didn't stand a chance.
Now, I never once thought she was doing it on purpose. We had our issues, but I knew she wouldn't do something like that. No matter what, we both love our boys, and I can...
: ... Underrrstand why she thought that way?
: Yeah. I can see where she was coming from. I just wish... I could've been able to convince her better, you know? Made her see that I was actually finally better.
But, whatever. It was done. I couldn't see my kids, couldn't contact them or her. I was told in no uncertain terms to stay away. Off the books, she said she didn't want anyone on my side of the family near them either, which... was kind of excessive
, she got on well with my parents, they love their grandkids, but whatever. Julie was Julie, she wanted all this out of her life.
: That's when you left?
: Not right away, but just about. I had to take some time to sort of... self-reflect. My whole world'd been torn down, I had to figure out how I wanted it put back together.
I heard from a friend of a friend about Alfeyr advertising for new colonists. Back then, I was more... sort of spiritual, than I am now, I guess. I came to the conclusion - based on how badly things had gone with my marriage and children, and based on this new opportunity being presented - that it was the universe bluntly telling me I should not be on Mars anymore. Not just move to somewhere else on Mars, actually go off-world, go to Alfeyr. That I would find myself again here
, my world would be rebuilt here
So, I made the arrangements, and I left. My parents and some friends came along, and now we're all settled here.
: You don't have contact with your childrrren?
: Oh, I do. They're both adults now, they're legally allowed to establish contact. We still don't have Exonet access out here, so... one of my buddies works out-system cargo delivery for the Refuge, I send any messages to him, then when he jumps out he sends them along once he gets on the Exonet. Vice versa for them sending messages here.
: That worrrks.
: Yeah. Was actually my eldest's idea to use the system that way. He and my buddy have been friends for ages, sort of the unofficial "uncle" figure. He checked in on my kids, was able to get in contact and let me know, things went from there. I don't even know if Julie knows about it, not that it's her business... I haven't talked to her since I left. I've thought about it, but, you know... ...
... At least my boys had good lives after I left. Better than what I could've given them, which is all I could've hoped for. Julie found someone new, he's been good to them. I'm just glad I can talk to them every now and then. Things've actually halfway worked out alright.
: That's good to hearrr.
... What about yourrrself? You said you came herrre to find yourrrself, do you think you've done that?
He looks down at his nearly-empty glass, then sighs and downs the last bit.
: Honestly... no. I don't think I have.
He goes to refill the glass, then hesitates, thinking, then only half-fills the glass.
She shakes her head. Already two glasses in, and it's definitely hitting. Nope.
Feels kinda weird. But also kinda nice.
: Alright... I've been here a long time now, and I'm still figuring things out. Still trying to make something work.
Things've gone a little differently than I expected. Which... I mean, I realize now that that's just life, but like I said, I thought a little differently back then. I thought there was a greater rhyme and reason to things, even if we couldn't comprehend it. There was a reason my marriage broke down, there was a reason I was cut off from my kids, it was all to push me off-world because my place was here instead.
I did everything that's been put in front of me. I thought things would be made clear afterwards, you know?
But... It seems I was mistaken.
I've settled in, obviously, but I'm not settled
. The "next step" I've been waiting and looking for just... it never came, you know? I got here, I got into Robotic Engineering, I was offered the gig to help set up out here, and yet I still don't feel like things are how they should be. I'm still waiting for that next sign, that next step, but it's nowhere to be found. It doesn't even feel like I'm meant to wait or something, I just... ... I don't know.
... I'd almost say I feel abandoned out here, you know? Like I was led astray. And it made me stop and wonder if I was ever really meant to be here. If there was even anything guiding me here in the first place. Over time, I kind of lost my faith in all that. Looking at it, really
looking at it, it's kind of a silly notion in the first place. I wasn't the only one who heard about Alfeyr, I just happened to be in the situation I was when I heard about it, anyone else could've been going through something when they heard about it.
And that's the key thing. It could've happened to anyone
. Billions - even trillions or more - of people of all species in the galaxy and beyond, both the ones we know of and whatever ones we don't. A functional infinity of different variables in play at any given moment, in any given point in space... ... Heh, now I'm starting to talk like you
. Ahh... especially finally leaving Mars, experiencing a life under an open sky on an alien world, two things I'd never done before, I started to realize that there's more to the universe than our little... bubble of influence, you know? And I started to think about the scale of everything. What happened to me has happened to an uncountable number of people in an uncountable number of other places, just as there are uncountable opportunities such as this popping up. Just as there are uncountable folks going through hard times that don't
get opportunities for something better.
Nothing was guiding me here. The opportunity just happened to come along when I was in a situation where I'd actually consider it. Could've happened anywhere to anyone.
So, I had to stop and re-think things all over again.
: What'd you come up with?
: Settled on Existentialism. Or something along those lines.
: Existentialism? She... rrrecognizes the worrrd, she thinks. It's a philosophy?
: Mm. It basically boils down to "There's no higher power or purpose to life, other than what we make of it. So enjoy it for what it is".
I sort of made more of a compromise between that view and my old one. The way I see it, if I'm "meant" to be somewhere, if I really do have a "place", there isn't going to be anything guiding me to it. I have to find it myself, find what feels right for me. I have to find myself... myself
And yeah. So far, I haven't been able to do that. And I don't know what my "place" would really be. I just know it's not... this
. It might be right here, with my lab and getting the farm going while the town builds up all around, but it's...
... It's incomplete. There's something missing
, you know? I don't know what, or if I ever did then I'd forgotten it a long time ago. I just know that I don't feel right, that I'm missing something.
: ... Orrr someone.
He pauses and raises an eyebrow. He goes to speak, then stops, thinking, letting her continue.
: Apologies forrr prrrying, but she feels it's a rrrelevant question rrright now. Has therrre been anyone in yourrr life since you left Marrrs?
: ... No. I mean, not like that. A few one-night stands before I came out here, but... that's it.
... Dios mio
, time's flown. I've been on my own for quite a while now, yeah.
: And the loneliness has been getting to you. Not... just being isolated out herrre, she thinks therrre's morrre to it. You werrre marrried forrr overrr a decade, you said? She wonderrrs if perrrhaps you'rrre still used to that. Maybe not the marrriage, but... just having someone therrre
in yourrr life in some meaningful capacity. Maybe that's what you'rrre looking forrr.
: ... Interesting idea. I hadn't really thought about that, to be honest. I wasn't exactly in a rush to go into another relationship for the longest time, but now...
... ... That's actually a rather... profound statement, Arja, I never really thought about it that way.
: She's deprrressed and amnesiac, but she does notice
things frrrom time to time. Especially because she does underrrstand yourrr situation in herrr own way. She herrrself is out of place, with no rrreal clue what to do. And she's out herrre alone.
... Orrr, perrrhaps not entirrrely.
: What do you mean?
: She actually has you
in herrr life in a meaningful capacity. You mean a lot to herrr, Mason. Morrre than you'll prrrobably everrr know. And as much as therrre's still things she's yet to learrrn about you, and she hasn't been herrre forrr verrry long all things considerrred, she's seen enough to know she can trrrust you. She feels verrry... disconnected frrrom everrrything rrright now, but she feels good being herrre with you. With everrrything that's happened, any kind of happiness she can find is good.
Especially out herrre, isolated as we arrre. So... ... if we'rrre both on the same page with that, she wonderrrs if we might perrrhaps enterrrtain an idea.
He squints his eyes slightly, one eyebrow raised.
: What do you have in mind?
She smiles, combing her hands through her hair.
Do it. It's a good time as any.
: Well... she'll be upfrrront, as she knows you apprrreciate it. A simple prrroposition to considerrr.
Is she sleeping in herrr
bed tonight... ... orrr yourrrs?
His eyes squint further, though a faint smile appears. Whether it's more out of happiness or incredulity isn't clear yet. He stops to think for a moment.
: I... ... ...
... You, uh... ... I almost hate to ask, but this isn't just the booze talking, right?
: It's not. It makes things easierrr, perrrhaps, but it's not speaking forrr herrr. She meant what she asked.
He looks her in the eyes, sighing. He briefly looks her up and down, then turns to look out up at the night sky.
: Una extraterrestre
He looks back at her again, then shrugs and downs his glass.
He nods. They both grin.
And so, despite the initial awkwardness of the whole thing, and the slight hangover, it ended up being one of the most restful sleeps I've had since I got here.
Hearing his breathing, feeling his heat, all these little things that helped ground me a little more. I didn't feel as alone anymore. And he felt the same.
And so we continued, night after night. It felt good, it felt right. I'd refrain from napping during the day so I could spend a little more time in bed at night, trying to work with our mutually dysfunctional sleep schedules.
We didn't actually do anything more than just share the bed. Not at first.
But we got more comfortable, and a little after the first week, things... progressed.