Mitch thinks it’s probably speaking. The thing he likes about golf is that it takes a small thing and points it at a small target, with various other variables trying to inhibit that. Only, in golf, nobody’s dying, nobody’s grieving, and in the worst case scenario some rich kid bursts into tears when he misses at the eighth hole.
He and Vogel used to play golf, and they pick that up again.
“Part of my physical therapy,” Vogel says.
Vogel swears a lot, but always in German, so that the pricks in their argyle and polo shirts can’t understand. Given that it’s German, and Vogel, they always seem to suspect it’s explicit, but you had to give the man credit for a particularly beautiful string profanity. He’s a goddamn poet, really.
“We have a swear jar at home,” he says.
“That’s a fucking shame,” Mitch tells him.
“Ver-fucking-dammt schade," he agrees.
Teddy shows up a month later.
“I didn’t mean you should become a golf instructor.”
“Golf’s relaxing. No assholes trying to kill people.”
“I’m going to take that as a hypothetical, because we’re friends.”
“You fired me.”
“You endangered the crew and went behind my back.”
“How’s that kid?”
“Oh, Christ. I don’t want to talk about Purnell.”
“Does he know your name yet?”
“I’m the goddamn Director of NASA.” One of the things Mitch has always liked about Teddy is that, all other things equal, he’s pretty even-keeled. He’s not outraged that Purnell still doesn’t know who he is, he just seems genuinely baffled.
“I thought you were Earth.” Mitch smirks and taps the ball lightly. Teddy watches and makes a face.
“You know we have to fish him out of his office? It stank in there, he lives in there. Like a bear. It was disgusting.” He uses too much force, and makes a long face. His form is terrible, and if Mitch was nicer, he might point that out.
But Teddy did fire him. Well, forced him to resign.
“Your life is very difficult. Mine, on the other hand, isn’t. I play golf, get rich people to pay me to teach their children while they mostly want to talk about NASA, and I go home to my husband.”
“I’m thinking of re-hiring you.”
“You couldn’t afford me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“NASA always needs funding.”
“Lobbying is big right now. It’s perfect timing, public opinion riding high.”
“And the election coming up.”
Lewis sits with him in the clubhouse. It ended up being a rainy day, so they’ve ordered sandwiches.
“They shouldn’t have fired you,” she says.
She tilts her head, and he smiles.
“From a bureaucratic standpoint, they had to. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I’m doing good work where I am now.”
“Do you like it?”
“I don’t hate it. Whether I like it, it’s early yet.”
She nods, manipulating the sandwich, her glass, the napkin, with deliberate care. It’s funny how long the adjustment back to gravity takes.
“What will you do next?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” she admits. She sits back, her shoulders straight, chin lifted. He always liked that about Lewis: even in indecision, she was in control.
“I’m on for the next mission,” Martinez says, and then frowns at his putter. “This is a fucking stupid game.”
“I didn’t tell you you had to play. Beck doesn’t play, he makes commentary. Lewis and I did lunch.”
“Beck is a nerd.”
“Well, you’re not wrong.”
“Delicate goddamn flower.”
Mitch looks pointedly at the clubhouse, and Martinez snorts and hops in a golf cart. Martinez is very, very good at golf, and very, very bad at driving the cart. The next time he texts that he’s coming over, Mitch texts Vogel so they can play each other, and Vogel’s oldest boy comes along.
“They take this very seriously,” Michael tells Mitch, watching his father and Martinez have what’s essentially a stare-off. Mitch takes a picture and sends it to Lewis.
>>In case you missed this.
<< Christ I did not
<< When did you start a golf club?
>>You’re welcome any time
Michael starts showing up every so often, and Mitch finds he doesn’t mind the company. Vogel accuses his son of trying to cheat his way to being better than him, and Michael smiles and says that hard work can never be considered cheating, in the way only a ten-year-old can.
It’s nice, actually, to spend time with Michael. He gets to meet Erik and Rudy, too, all of the monkeys, wild and boisterous. Somehow his refrigerator ends up with pictures from them.
“Fuck—you know, this is fucking rough.” Watney is not good at golf.
“You know Vogel has a swear jar.”
“He has kids, I don’t. Plus I was marooned on Mars.” Watney sometimes moves strangely, like he’s hyperaware of his body and gravity and conscious of things that Mitch wouldn’t even think to be aware of.
“Don’t blame Mars for your piss-poor attitude. That’s all you.”
“Yeah, that’s probably fair,” he agrees. “So you like it? The new job?”
“My doctor likes it. Says I was moments away from a stroke, or a heart attack. Maybe both.”
“That’s probably true, you eat really terribly.”
“How are you with potatoes, now?”
“I’ve been in a steak kind of mood for the last two months.”
“I’m sure your doctor approves.”
“Leafy greens. He really can’t stop talking about kale. Beck tried to get me to eat kale chips, kept saying he was my doctor too.”
“Beck’s always been an asshole.”
“You know he’s dating Johanssen.”
“I thought she was dating him.”
Watney laughs, loud and weirdly high, he’s always had that weird fucking laugh, his whole face dissolving into laugh lines, and Mitch thinks that it was all worth it. He’d do it all over again, so that Mark Watney could laugh his dumb fucking laugh and make fun of Chris Beck and suck at golf.
“I can’t believe you call yourselves the Hermes Mutiny,” Annie says. “Johanssen has it in her calendar in her lab: golf with THM.”
“Watney and Martinez are trying to start a band.”
“How’s that going?”
“Well, they’re tone deaf.”
“How are things?”
“All right. Only Rick is staying for another tour. Mark’s going to teach, Beth is going into R&D, Melissa is still in the air, Alex got a teaching position at…Yale? Princeton? One of those. Chris is on loan to the CNSA.”
“Lewis is still in the air?”
Annie pauses, putting her hand on her waist and looking across the green. He waits her out.
“I think she’s going to end up teaching, like Mark. It’s invaluable perspective, having been the commander who left a man behind. But you can see how that would be a hard thing to teach.”
He doesn’t envy her.
“I’m going to write a book.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Mitch!” Annie groans. “Why the fuck do you hate me so much?”
They can’t all meet up at the same time. The Hermes Mutiny plays rounds in various configurations, with no sign of slowing down. Whoever’s in the area will stop by, and people seem to understand when Mitch vanishes to play a round of golf in the afternoon. It’s good press, really.
People like that the Ares III crew still get along, are involved in each other’s lives. It’s very good for funding, frankly.
Beck flat out refuses to pick up a putter, and heckles Watney, and then calls Johansen and puts her on speaker so she can heckle them.
Martinez and Watney are unbearable together, and Beck bounces between them both.
“I asked her to marry me,” Beck says.
Lewis quirks an eyebrow at him and Watney says,
“She asked you, you mean.”
“I bought the ring,” Beck says, his ears and cheeks flushing. It’s incredible, really, that he did a mission to mars. Chris Beck seems forever caught at twenty, so goddamn young.
“I took the teaching gig,” Lewis says. “I tried to be a contractor, but.”
“They have to know.”
“Yeah. It felt like a betrayal, not to tell them. Teddy offered me a position as Flight Director.”
“Something like that. I got my guy, though. In the end. Didn’t lose anyone to get him, either. That’s a win.”
“It is. I think that a lot. That when it all came out in the wash, it was a win. Mark is alive, and we kept him that way.”
“Teddy has to know I’d do what you did.”
“I think he feels, because you’re a soldier, you’ll be more amenable to strong suggestion.”
“He’s a goddamn idiot.”
“Yes,” Mitch agrees. “But he is a very good Director, for all of that.”
Lewis tilts her head, looking at him. “You don’t resent him.”
“I have no regrets.”
“I’d like to be able to say that,” she says.
“This is the weirdest bachelor party,” Martinez says. They’re at the driving range, in full tuxes, with a few of Beck’s other friends.
“Word,” Greg Something-Or-Other says.
“I guess, on balance, it’s not as terrifying as realizing you’ve been abandoned on Mars,” Beck is saying, staring up at the stars. Watney snorts.
“It’s not that I’m afraid to get married,” Beck says.
“You’re afraid she’s going to wake up and realize she’s too good for you,” Vogel says. “Ja, this feeling I know.”
“You never get over that,” Martinez says. “The trick is to keep remembering you feel like that so you don’t fuck it up and become a sad, divorced man. Like Henderson.”
“Shove it up your ass,” Mitch says mildly, and Martinez dissolves into laughter. “Difficult to remain married when she catches you with your best friend.”
The silence is gratifying.
“What the fuck?” Watney demands.
“Are you still with him?” Beck asks.
“Oh yes, going on thirty years next November.” He shrugs. “When it’s the right person, you do the work to make it last.”
“Thirty years,” Vogel says. “You’re not this old.”
“Oh my god,” Beck says, strangled. “It’s not Teddy, is it?”
“I’m pregnant,” Johanssen says, sending a ball flying. “It’s Chris’s.”
Johanssen prefers the driving range, and is very, very casual about where her ball goes.
It’s been four years since they came back, and she’s been working hard on the next Ares mission.
“How are things with Vincent?”
“Vincent’s fine,” Johanssen says. “I’m working a lot with Bruce Ng right now—you know—“
“The usual panic when there’s less than a year left. Oh god, what if I have my baby on launch day. I’ll have to name it Martinez.”
“That’s not better.”
“Perhaps you’ll have a girl.”
Johanssen hits the ball with particular vigor, and one of the attendants frowns in rebuke.
“You know, Rudy is far better behaved than you.”
“He’s German,” Johanssen dismisses, grinning up at him.
"He assures me he's quite American at this point."
Johanssen laughs. "I'm sure Vogel loves that."
"Not so you'd notice."
“I figure,” she abruptly. “I survived a trip to Mars, and, you know, the strategic blowing up of a ship. How bad can motherhood be?”
“I’m sure comparatively, very simple,” he lies.
“I’ve always liked that about you,” she says, and then, “I’m hungry, can we eat?”
She pauses over her order of french fries and sends the picture off.
“Watney?” Mitch guesses.
“He’s weirdly grateful to potatoes, but can’t bear to eat them, and especially not without ketchup,” she says cheerfully. Her phone beeps, and she tilts it to show Watney’s reply:
Before Martinez takes off with the Ares V mission, they play a full round. It takes twelve hours, because Johanssen is nine months pregnant, Beck hates golf with what’s now a fiery passion, and Martinez and Watney can’t stop harassing each other, and Lewis is flat-out refusing to step in to manage them.
“I like this,” Vogel says at the sixth hole. “Watney, you play more often. Distracts him nicely.”
“Motherfucker!” Martinez shouts, realizing that Vogel’s doing better than him at last.
“It’s so nice,” Lewis says reflectively, tilting her head up to the sky, “to have everyone together again.”
“This is the dumbest fucking game,” Beck mutters.
“I want french fries,” Johanssen announces. “Hey, Watney! You still potato-adverse?”
Watney flips her off without looking. “One thing at a time,” he murmurs. Mitch isn’t sure what he was trying to do, but it goes really very badly, and Mark Watney, the Man Who Survived Mars, stomps off into the sand pit, swearing loudly enough to turn heads.
“We probably should have reserved the course,” Lewis says.
“It’s more fun this way,” Mitch says.
“I’m fucked,” Watney announces, and they all head into the sandpit to try to find the ball, except for Johanssen, who stands at the green and cheerfully leads them all very, very astray.
“Fuck this,” Watney decides. “I’m fucking Iron Man, I get a new ball.”
“How is Iron Man in bed?” Lewis asks. “I always wondered.”
“You know, I colonized a planet,” Watney says.
“Ja, but you ate Scheiße-potatoes,” Vogel says. “Less impressive, more disgusting.”
“I get no respect.”
“You blew yourself up,” Beck points out as they climb out of the pit.
“Only a little.”
Mitch picks up Watney’s missing ball and tosses it to him.
“Shut up and golf,” he says.