"Bring back the waves."
Doctor Searle's prescription specifies a peaceful module.
"The waves make me feel peaceful."
Mason Roosevelt Rawson is born on July 1st, 2025.
The last solar flare ever seen from Earth is recorded three hours before Mace is born in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is also the last time the temperature in the northern continental United States spikes above freezing.
The sun has already been dying for five years.
Capa stares at Mace from across the room as Searle leans over him to press a cotton bandage to the wound Mace has opened up over his eye. There is blood draining down across his face; it had only been a scuffle, the wounds minor, but Capa bleeds heavy.
Mace breaks the eye contact with Capa only to hiss in pain as Cassie presses a swab soaked in alcohol to the split in his lip. Her brows are furrowed in concentration and she looks decidedly unsympathetic to his plight.
This time it had been over Mace's missing toolkit from the core room, a small disagreement with Capa that had blown into a fistfight in the hall outside the oxygen garden. Kaneda stands between them now, his arms crossed over his chest as he surveys the wreckage of Capa's face.
"Stop being such an asshole," Cassie says plainly, cupping his face in her hands, tilting it as she looks for other scrapes and cuts. He wants to tell her to fuck off. He wants to tell her that if everyone could do their fucking jobs without getting in his way, there would be no problem. He wants to tell her that he's not a child, that he's not as soft as Capa, that he doesn't need her fucking help.
Instead, he closes his eyes and lets her touch him.
They hold the meeting in the only space above ground in the bunker that they have been training at in what had once been a suburb of Los Angeles, but what is now a snow-covered wasteland, abandoned as the population had shifted southward, huddled along the equator to soak up the last of the sun's weakened energy. There are no windows that reveal its unique positioning in comparison with the rest of the complex, but Mace can feel the difference instantly, a sudden lack of weight on his shoulders.
They have been underground for almost six months. Psychological testing for the mission, as if moving inward was the same as moving outward, the similarity seemingly enough to test the stress of space. Both simply a lack of surface. Both a lack of escape.
"I don't understand it," Colonel Schiff says to him, his face haggard and grim. The florescent lights above them flash brutally along the row of medals lined across his left breast. "This isn't your first time, Commander Rawson." There's a row of military men sitting across from him at the table, their hats plunked down next to empty legal pads and pens. None of them look happy. "You had significantly better results during your isolation training for the Icarus I."
Mace had been expecting this. He's been having trouble sleeping in their bunker underground, been having a tough time adjusting to this crew. It's led to a few scuffles down below, some heated words tossed back and forth. The last had been with Cassie, who had returned his criticism regarding her simulated heat shield patch with an icy glare that had set him off, ended with Harvey dragging him off as he spit more of it at her, unable to help himself.
(You think there's room for error up there, Cassie? Huh? You pull that sort of shit in space and we all die. We all fucking die, and we take the rest of the world with us.)
Searle is there, the only other of the crew to be given amnesty from their underground prison. "Your integration with the team has not been sufficient, Mace." Searle folds his hands over a closed manila folder, most likely Mace's latest psych report. "If you want to fly with the Icarus II, you're going to have to stow the attitude and learn how to function as a member of the crew. You need to learn how to be a member of a team, Mace."
General MacMillian leans back in his chair. MacMillian had been the one to ground Mace the first time, and he suddenly feels the same chill from seven years ago, a flash of repetition, this time panic inducing. This is all he has.
Instead, Mace is offered a reprieve. "Get your ducks in a row, son."
Mace stands. "Yes, sir."
The first six months are actually the easiest of the mission. The first two months of that are spent in lunar orbit, testing the ship's systems while they are still close enough to Earth to return to the Kopler Space Station for repairs. From there, Earth to Venus is only 25.8 million miles, and morale amongst the crew is high. They stick to the routines that psych-ops develops for extended space travel, a collection of activities and duties designed to minimize the psychological impact, designed to keep their minds sharp. Mace considers himself too self-aware for any of that bullshit. He doesn't need mundane tasks to distract him from the danger.
That's what they are. Elaborate magic tricks to keep the mind from contemplating the larger picture, from looking out the window and seeing the depth and breadth of space, of the artificial recreation of their world that they are floating in. The slivers of metal and plastic keeping them from the shattering chill of space.
He knows what this mission is. He knows what is being asked of him, what he may need to sacrifice. He has long since made peace with it.
They make it to Venus three days early. Corazon makes an elegant speech about their journey and Searle cracks a weird, somewhat crass joke. Mace and Capa manage to share a civil word.
The next six months are wretched. You can get used to anything given the right motivation, the right conditioning, but there are some things that you cannot endure.
Mace has never had the head for waiting. That is the torture of space.
The first time that Mace falls in love, it's with a girl named Claire. Her father is a weapons researcher housed in the same military base as Mace and his family when he is sixteen, located in the Northwest of what used to Nicaragua.
(The world no longer exists in the way it once did. As the frost eats the land, northern populations move south and southern populations move north, converging messily in the middle; a new colonialism begins, borders eaten away by war and conflict over quickly diminishing resources. By 2033, the population of the world plummets to 1.5 billion.)
Claire has red hair and a fiery temper. She is the first to call him Mace, the first girl whose room he sneaks into, the first girl he has sex with.
She dies in the pandemic of 2042. Mace's older brother, Christopher, dies as well.
(Later, he'll try to remember more about both of them, the way Claire curled her hair around her finger or the dirty limericks his brother used to tell at the breakfast table to get under their mother's skin, but Mace will find he cannot remember much of either, the memory of both of them - of everyone he has lost - burned to cinder. You're lucky, his father tells him one evening, a glass of whiskey in one hand and status reports in the other, a distant look on his face. If you can't remember them, they'll never be ghosts.)
Mace quickly becomes the last of his generation on both sides of his family tree.
"I bet you do it, don't you," Mace says, his mouth screwed up so hard that he'll feel it later, the muscles sore like they had absorbed the anger. "I bet you go in there and cry your fucking guts out to Searle, talk about all that inner conflict you feel, how hard it is up here for you."
Capa face doesn't even register the insult. Unfazed, he continues scribbling on the tablet in front of him.
"Someone broke you, didn't they?" He's still staring at his tablet when he says it, not even bothering to raise his eyes to look at Mace. There's something behind the cold, short words that sets Mace off, but it's not any smugness, any passive aggressive condescension. It's pity.
This time, Mace puts Capa in the infirmary for the night.
Mace first meets his wife when he's twenty.
She's a biologist, a student working toward her degree in a biological engineering program parallel to his. She tells him she's got a place she'd like to show him.
They end up at the coast. Even in Panama, the Pacific is frigid, too cold to even dip your feet in. She takes him to a section of a closed off beachfront that's not completely frozen in. Most areas not locked with ice have been sold, a precious commodity to many landowners. This strip belongs to the government, a study site they're using to track the few remaining species of reptiles who have adapted to the cold and still use sand to build nests.
"My favourite movie is about these surfers," she says, digging her boot into the cold sand. "All they do all day is surf - bob around in the waves and lay on the beach. They also rob banks, but mostly they surf." She laughs, tightening her scarf around her neck. The wind this close to the shore is cold and strong enough that Mace feels his cheeks start to burn with it. "I've always wanted to surf."
Mace shivers, trying to cover it up by clapping his gloved hands together. "I can't even imagine the ocean as anything other than freezing."
"Close your eyes," she says, and Mace smiles cheekily, closing his eyes against the burn of the wind. "The water is golden. So golden with the sun that you can't even look at it without the light stinging your eyes. There are seagulls above you, circling in the air. You're in the water and it's beautiful - lukewarm and calm enough that you can just float in it." Mace lets her voice wash over him, and for the briefest second he feels it, feels what it might have been like to swim in the ocean, to feel the heat of the sun on his face. It is exquisite.
He opens his eyes and meets her green ones. He sniffles, the onset of a cold imminent. "Nope, still freezing." She rolls her eyes and laughs, punching him roughly in the shoulder.
"I hear they've been building a ship to go to the sun," she says, squinting out into the choppy surf.
A year later, they are married.
Three years after that, Mace is selected as the youngest member of the crew of the Icarus.
"I'm sorry, Cassie," Mace says, and the look she gives him when he stands sends a chill down his spine.
No one has ever looked at him like this before. Like a monster. Mace tries to understand her, tries to understand why she would be willing to sacrifice the mission, sacrifice mankind for one man already destined to die. He cannot.
There is nothing more important than this. Nothing.
The only shocking thing is that when he turns to Capa, he finds an ally.
The flight deck is quiet. They are only a day's travel from Mercury and most of the crew is asleep, Mace and Cassie having pulled the skeleton shift this week.
(Isn't it funny? he asked her once. We're in space, closer to the sun than we are to home, and yet we still measure our goddamn time based on the Earth's rotation. Monday, thursday. 9am, 1pm, midnight. Day, week, month, year.
It's a comfort, Cassie answered plainly, but then, reluctantly, yeah, okay, it's weird.)
There's still a cut on the bridge of Mace's nose, the remnants of a scuffle with Capa. Mace pokes at it with the tip of a finger while Cassie speaks to Icarus, trying to reconfigure the sensors on the dark side of the ship. It takes Mace a few moments to realize that Cassie has stopped talking to the ship and is instead staring at him as he picks at the wound.
She looks tired, her mouth sour and her eyelids drawn down. "We've all lost people, you know. You don't get to corner the market on indignation and anger, Mace."
He knows instantly what she's referring to. In the five years he's been working with this crew, no one has ever had the nerve to bring it up other than Searle, and only as part of the mandated psych evals. The sanitized reports that were leaked to the media when he was pulled off the Icarus. A terrible traffic accident that had claimed the life of the engineer's wife a mere month before the launch, that he had chosen to leave the crew to be with his family to mourn. The truth was far less clean-cut. There had been no choice, only an official decommissioning from the military brass after a failed psych eval, replaced with Marcus Heezle. There had been no accident.
Mace knows he should leave it. He has never felt the need to share with anyone on the ship, never swapped stories about childhood or family back home. All things he considered to be a distraction from the mission, false platitudes and shallow alliances. He feels sharp, the low burn of anger in his gut.
"She was pregnant," he says bluntly. The words feel like nothing in his mouth, hollow in a way that feels remarkably satisfying. A punishment for her - the most empathetic of the crew - and a punishment for him. "She drove into the barrack wall at ninety miles an hour."
To give her credit, Cassie barely flinches, but he sees the way her lungs expand and contract quicker. "Why?"
He shrugs, his own sharp edges turning in on himself. The regret he feels is instantaneous. "Does it matter?"
(This he remembers perfectly. The way she had slowly started to change when the trip began looking like a suicide mission. The pleas to stay. The increasing toll of light deprivation as the sun became a mere speck in the sky. These are the things he has tried to forget, but cannot.
His wife is a ghost.)
"Do it, Capa," Mace says. He can't even feel the wound in his leg anymore, just the agony of the chill. His entire body is shaking with it, convulsing like he's having a seizure. His arms struggle to keep him from sliding back down into the tank.
The odd thing Mace finds is that out of everyone, even those already lost, he trusts Capa to complete the mission most.
In the same way that Mace's sole purpose is to keep the ship flying straight, keep it strong and stable enough to reach the sun, Capa's purpose is to pull the trigger. It is the only thing Mace thinks they share. A defined, explicit purpose, and an unwavering dedication to achieving it.
"Do it, Capa."
"How are you feeling, Mace?" Searle asks him. Mace has always hated shrinks, hated the bullshit psychological testing that came with military life, with missions. In space, his patience for it is even shorter than on Earth. They've been in transit for seven months and the time - the waiting - is starting to get to him.
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not particularly." He folds his arms over his chest, and Searle scribbles something onto his tablet before reaching for his biometric sensor.
"Icarus reports that you're not sleeping the prescribed five hours a night. Your heart rate is elevated."
"Great," Mace quips. "Just what I need - a ship mommy."
The psych lab is bathed in light from the Earth Room, an output of the graphic drivers that power the virtual simulations. On Earth, the light from the sun is never more than dim. As they grow closer to the dying star, the rotatable observation decks built in the port side of the ship allow crew members to bathe in a natural light that none of them have ever experienced before. Mace is finding it harder and harder to deal with the harsh florescent glow inside the ship, a problem he has never encountered before.
It had been easier when none of them had known anything other than the artificial, man-made warmth of home.
"Why can't you sleep, Mace?"
Mace claps his hands down on his thighs. "I don't know. The shitty food. Capa's sleep screaming. The stress of flying into the sun with a bomb strapped to our back. Take your pick." He always feels petulant in this room talking with Searle.
"Do you feel like you carry more responsibility for this mission than the others?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think it means?"
Mace shoves himself back, his stool skidding, making an awful noise as metal grinds against metal. "Can't you just ask a fucking straight forward question? Why does everything have to be this psychobabble bullshit with you?"
Searle shrugs, nonchalant. This is what drives Mace crazy the most - how unaffected Searle can be at times, how he never seems to respond like a human to stimulus. To baiting. "Okay, fine. Do you feel that you are too emotionally entangled in this mission?" Searle asks
"How can you be too invested in something like this?" Mace asks, his voice incredulous. "We have an indescribable responsibility. If we fail, there won't be enough time to make another ship. There won't be enough resources to make another stellar bomb. The continuation of the entire human race depends solely on our success."
Searle scratches at his cheek. "It's more than that, Mace, and you know it." There's a beat before he continues. "You're looking for purpose. You see decisions as black and white, see your choices as being logical and unemotional and yet out of the entire crew, you have the tendency to react to antagonistic stimuli in the most emotional manner, to base your choices in deeply held beliefs. I think you are looking for affirmation that you have nothing left to lose because it will make the choices you will have to make easier - the only thing left to lose will be the mission."
"Isn't that why they chose me?" Mace spits. "Because I have nothing to lose?"
"Is that what you think?" Searle asks, and Mace feels his face tense uncontrollably, his fingers gripping the side of his stool until he starts to lose sensation in them. "Mace, having nothing to lose and being willing to sacrifice everything are two very different things."
When Mace doesn't answer, Searle continues. "And you need to accept that the Icarus I would have suffered the same fate whether you were aboard or not."
Mace feels his hands begin to shake.
Corazon leans over Mace's hand while Cassie treats the less serious frostburn on the side of his neck. The morphine has made him hazy, but he can hear Corazon talking to Cassie about the possibility losing his thumbnail, telling her to check for necrotic tissue in his shoulder. His eyes crack open and his head bends to survey the damage.
"Don't look at it," Cassie whispers, and for the first time, Mace obeys, his eyes sliding shut again.
Later, Mace finds Capa in the psych lab, watching Trey's shadow move in the Earth Room. The entire space feels wrong without Searle, suddenly far more cold and inhuman. He finds himself wondering what happened to Searle on Icarus I, what he did after they left him behind. He tries to push the thought of it out of his mind, push out the thought of Harvey frozen out in space.
The flesh on his left hand is already starting to heal, the engineered stem cells Corazon shot into him already going to work on the dead tissue. He wiggles his fingers gently, a quick reassurance to himself.
"Thank you," Mace says, his voice serious and low. "Thank you for going back and getting me."
Capa meets Mace's eyes. He looks confused. "Of course," he answers before turning back toward the Earth Room, the only source of light in the dark lab.
The only thing that surprises Mace is the abrupt flip of it, how the pain suddenly shifts into a feeling of near-euphoria. The cold attacks his body until the fight leaves him, until all the pain and panic slides away.
He can see his breath fog on the glass floor, the condensation growing lighter as each breath gets shallower, slower.
The last thing Mace thinks about are the waves in the Earth room, how the sun had shone down on the water.
He dies dreaming of lukewarm waves surrounding him, a golden sun overhead.
Hi Mom. Hi Dad.
We're about to head into the dead zone. It came quicker than we were expecting it to, so we won't be able to receive any further incoming messages. I'm sorry this has to be so short, but we've only got an hour left to send the messages before the solar winds disable our comms. I know you'd want to say goodbye, but there won't be time. This will be the last transmission before we deliver the payload to the sun.
I... I thought I'd have more to say. I don't have any doubt that we'll get there, that we will complete our mission. I just don't know if it will work. I have to believe it will. I think about you all the time. Looking up. Seeing the sun after we've fixed it. Know that I wish I could be there with you.
If I don't make it back, know that I love you and that I have no regrets. Don't let me be a ghost. I only want you to be proud of me.
I love you both.