Earth Date 107
I should probably stop dating things by Earth Dates and start using the calendar, but you can pry my dating system from my cold dead hands, I need the normality. Besides, the shrinks say routine is good for me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the mating dance of Chris Beck and Beth Johanssen. I feel like I'm an anthropologist observing this rare and elite species called The American Ares Astronaut. (Look, I'm too busy doing ten million leg reps right now to look anything up, but I'm sure there's a species name somewhere. My degrees are mechanical engineering and botany; I know shit about zoology.)
So say let's ignore what happened on the Hermes and start over on Earth and what do we have? You might think we would have two people nervously orbiting each other or two people split apart by coming back to Earth and discovering the rest of the human race. Because, yeah, now they have other options, ones that are not me (not that I mind!), and so what happens?
Go on, guess, I'll wait.
If you went with "someone bought an engagement ring", well, you're wrong, but I like the cut of your jib, you should go work for Hollywood.
Yeah, okay, you're never going to get it. Johanssen wrote up her experiences with stopping the Hermes computers from catching on fire (I may be exaggerating for effect) and dedicated it to Beck.
So how did Beck retaliate?
Well, after calling me for my genius romantic advice, for which I am of course very well known, Beck made a scale model of the Hermes and sent it to her with a note saying: I cannot give you my heart / if it leaves my chest, I will die / so here is a spaceship / I love you, bye.
Earth Date 121
No good deed goes unpunished. Johanssen calls. She and Beck have successfully completed two dates. I know this bit. I know how this goes. She's probably got a friend. Coupled people want to turn single people into coupled people. It's as natural as Jane Austen. And since the Ares 3 crew now consists of only one single person (i.e. Mark Watney), it is the desire--
"So we thought we'd bring up the threesome idea again," says Johanssen.
"But we're back on Earth!" I object. This was never supposed to leave the Hermes!
"If the doctors there won't clear you for sexual activity, Beck probably could." Johanssen is being thoughtful; it's not helping. "Anyway, we just wanted to float the idea at you. Let us know whenever. Offer's open."
I whimper over the phone and cover my face with my hands. It's a video call. I'm not being subtle. Johanssen sticks out her tongue at me.
Earth Date 138
Astronauts don't take bullets for each other in our usual line of work. That's not really how things go. But I'm watching a crew interview with Beck, Johanssen, and Vogel, and Johanssen just jumped in front of an idiotic question sent towards Beck.
Hallmark should make a card. "I love you so much, I will explain to television anchors that there's only one Hermes, so no one else could come a'rescuing."
Honestly, the look on Beck's face as he looked at Johanssen could melt the coldest, saddest heart. How is this not on the front page of every tabloid? Am I the only one who sees this? (No, Johanssen sees it, too, because she's smiling sweetly at Beck. They're adorable and really, really obvious.)
Earth Date 140
Don't tell Beck, but I got myself cleared for sexual activity. By which I mean I asked my main doc, "what do you think about sexual activity?" and she said, "use a condom." Thanks, Doc.
I did press a little. She said if I feel light-headed, I should stop. But my cardiovascular health is pretty much back to normal, and my back hasn't even twinged in the last month. I'm really only sticking around rehab because NASA is being really paranoid. See, they declared me dead once and then I came back to life. They don't want to declare me healthy and then I have a heart attack the next day.
But I've been doing a mixed outpatient/inpatient thing where I get to live at home half the time and kick around the center the other half, mostly so they can observe me sleeping for consecutive nights (they're still not liking my sleeping patterns) and make sure I'm handling my activities of daily living just fine. My condo is too far for me to want to do that commute for my daily physical and occupational therapy, so I'm renting a place nearby. The docs like it because it has great stair access and also an elevator: they want me taking the stairs, but if I'm dizzy, I must use the elevator. Hell, if I'm dizzy, they want me to check myself in, but I'm a grown-up.
Okay, I argued them down to taking all my vitals myself, sending them in, and then waiting an hour and taking them again. If I don't improve, or the docs are still worried, then I get a cab and come in. Because my recovery is my responsibility, and also if I don't do this, and I have to spend even longer in rehab, the only one I can blame is myself.
Earth Date 153
"Face it, man, I've seen you at your literal worst," Beck says. He's slouching on my couch, because he left all his posture in his other space suit, and his feet are up on my coffee table. "I have mocked your pathetic stitching of your own wounds. I have looked for Martian warts on your dick--"
"That was one time!" I must protect my honor. My honor is all I have. I am a Jane Austen heroine. Hero. Something.
"Whatever," Beck waves it away, "the point is, there is nothing you can tell me that'll freak me out. If you want, we can do this under doctor-patient confidentiality. I won't tell a soul." He looks so sincere and earnest, his eyes so big and Bambi. I sometimes wonder if he was genetically engineered to cause my gay crisis, except I never got around to having one, and even though my high school boyfriend Chad couldn't tell a poinsettia from a petunia, I wouldn't call him a crisis.
"I can't believe I jerk off about you," I sigh. Behind me, I can see in the mirror, Beck is grinning his head off, but I'm too busy shuffling through my music collection. I press play.
Funkytown comes on. Beck starts laughing himself double, the little maniac. "Oh, man, she got you to like it."
"This is no laughing matter, this is Stockholm Syndrome," I inform him. "Please take my problems seriously."
"There ain't no cure for love or disco," Beck says.
Earth Date 162
They still get very nervous when I fly, and they make me avoid it unless I'm having to go to Washington to testify, so my parents came down for Memorial Day weekend and we did a pretty low-key thing with Martinez's family. Lewis and her husband sent a bottle of wine; apparently when we were in space, the families had started up some kind of superstitious gift-exchange that they weren't going to stop doing until some other human being had set foot on Mars. Fair enough.
Little Miss Daisy Athena Martinez is doing her best to start crawling, egged on by her older brother, and I finally got to hold her. She vomited all over my shirt. It was a great time. My parents took a ton of blackmail photos. And then once the kids fell asleep, Martinez took me out onto the deck and he dared me to make up more dirty constellations than he could. We did it for over an hour. The shrinks are going to be so proud of me.
Throughout all this, Beck and Johanssen are just constantly updating me on their family cookout. It's the first time their families are meeting as Potential In-Laws, and Johanssen's dad went up to Beck and said, "I see my daughter hasn't had to cannibalize your corpse yet. Well, there's still time."
"I'm told I'm good with ketchup," Beck responded, at which point he got the family blessing, and the family steak sauce recipe, but I repeat myself.
Earth Date 174
Despite what my rehab frequent flyer status might have you think, I'm not the only member of the Ares crew who has to submit to observation. While I was cooling my heels on Mars, Beck and Johanssen were hanging out in space, and so they've got regular follow-up tests. They've scheduled their testing weekends back to back, and so first I get Johanssen gracing my guest room while Beck gets experimented upon, and then we get a week in between before Johanssen has to do her treadmill runs for science.
I've got a pull-up bar in my living room and when I get up on Saturday, there Johanssen is, in proper work-out gear, working out. Lewis would kill me if I stared. She made it perfectly clear on day 1 that if we hit on Johanssen, we were off the team so fast our heads would spin, and we would never, ever get into space again.
But while we will always be Ares 3 and will always be us... we are not actually a crew anymore. And Johanssen's made it clear that their offer of sex is still open.
I'm probably allowed to stare.
So anyway, I put some milk into some cereal and stir it around and then wander oh so casually into the living room and wait to be acknowledged by Johanssen. Who looks at me, raises an eyebrow, and starts counting her reps louder.
Okay. Well, then. I am being shown-off to.
I finish breakfast and feel I should reciprocate, but frankly, I have an erection, and that would be embarrassing to us all. So I go to the bathroom to deal with that, and by the time I get out, Johanssen has put a sweatshirt on and she's sitting on the floor stretching her legs out as she watches the news.
"Nothing's going on in the world," she tells me.
I should tell her that I think we should have sex, but I don't. I'm not sure why. It just doesn't seem the right time.
(Oh, I realize later. Because Beck's not here.)
Earth Date 177
Erm, well, Beck's here now.
And, um. Look, I have learned my lesson from my Ares logs. Do not write anything down you don't want your mother to read.
So I'm not doing that.
(I will probably forget my resolve later, so, um. Hi, Mom! Sorry, Mom!)
(And, yes, Dr. Reeves, we used condoms.)
Earth Date 179
Becoming an interplanetary astronaut, you lose a whole lot of privacy. So the fact that Beck and I are aware of each other's sperm counts is frankly something we should consider perfectly normal, and not something that should be sending Johanssen into hysterical laughter for ten minutes straight.
I mean it.
Earth Date 196
They made sure I was doing an overnight at the rehab center over the Fourth of July weekend. This was a mutual decision. Not to get into it too much, but let's just say, rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, kids settings off firecrackers, and when I rode an explosion up into the Martian atmosphere, I could see the entire thing since my spaceship was missing part of the hull. And my ribs got broken and I screamed a lot and I very nearly died, and then Beck came to save me, and I survived. But it was a terrifying experience after a really long streak of terrifying experiences and, basically, we all thought it best that if something went wrong, it happened in a place where they could handle it.
But my parents and a handful of cousins came anyway, and the rest of the crew made their way through over the weekend in bits and spurts. A bunch of NASA folks came by for a photo op, so we did one, and it was fine. We watched the fireworks on TV, and I spent some time talking over my new will with my parents. NASA likes us to update them quarterly, just in case we all get horribly killed in a training accident. Which is less likely these days, but, hey, I'm the guy who, against all odds, didn't die. I'm not taking this for granted.
Earth Date 218
It turns out there are things called day jobs! I know, I was shocked, too. But the Powers That Be are making noises about discharging me completely at some point in the near future, so it's time to start thinking about the future.
Which is frankly terrifying, because my cup is runneth-ing over. There's the inspirational speaker gig, which, let me tell you, pays an absurd amount of money. NASA wants me doing PR full-time, because Congress hates funding NASA in the best of times, and is making a lot of noises about Ares 4 funding and whining about delays (my fault, me and my pirate ship stole their MAV). There's also my actual degree, and the University of Chicago wants me to come back home and into the fold, which is really tempting, and I'd be close to my parents, which I probably owe them after the last few years.
Johanssen's already started back up full-time with NASA. She says they're having her fix the Hermes computers so no one can do the remote override trick she did, but Johanssen figures that the future Ares crews could probably still get around it if they really had to. Necessity is the mother of invention, you know.
Beck's exploring his options, but while he's doing that, he's writing a paper about my blood work, and consulting with the EVA simulations team to come up with even worse Worst Case Scenarios. He says he might go into training full-time, or he might just keep taking random samples from my body and getting rich off that instead. He laughs, but I think the only thing he doesn't have is my bone marrow, and he could get that if needed. He promises to split the cash. Tempting.
The two of them are staying over more and more and it's-- it's comfortable. They still go off and do their own thing, being nerds in love together, but then sometimes they come here, too. And it's good.