The supply ship arrived almost twelve hours behind schedule, descending to the surface on a plume of orange smoke. Peter watched from the window of his office, arms crossed over his chest. The supply ship lit up the Martian night like fireworks.
Peter had been been Mars-side for close to two years and not once had the supply ship been late. He owned the supply ship; it was part of the clockwork of his company and if one piece stopped working, if one piece was twelve hours late, then the whole thing would collapse. It was how it worked down in the robotics labs on the seventh floor: one misplaced wire and the synthetic’s brain fried and sputtered and went dark. It was how the whole damn universe worked, really. Most people were just too wound up in their routines, in their roles, to notice.
He stomped out of his office, taking the stairs instead of the elevator because it was faster. When he stepped outside, the ship’s engines were off but the cargo bay doors hadn’t opened yet. Peter cursed and stormed across the landing pad. A couple of the late night crewmen straightened when he walked past, flicking their cigarettes out into the darkness. Under normal circumstances it might’ve made him feel pleased with himself.
“Open the fuck up!” he shouted.
The doors didn’t listen to him. He slouched back, arms crossed over his chest. The minute they opened, he was firing everyone involved. Twelve hours late. Unacceptable.
The cargo bay doors finally shuddered open. Peter expected to see the ship crew, because that was how it usually worked, but instead Captain Rojas was waiting on the other side, smoking a cigarette and looking pissed off.
“Why are you twelve hours late?” Peter shouted.
Captain Rojas jumped down to the landing pad. “I didn’t have time to send word." He looked at Peter through the cloud of smoke. The crewman were climbing onboard, bringing out the crates of supplies. “Already running way behind schedule. As you noticed.”
“Why not? It’s not like you’d be in hypersleep —“
“Yeah. Look.” The ember of Captain Rojas’ cigarette flared red. Peter loathed smoking. Addiction was weakness. “There’s something of a surprise waiting for you.”
“Mmm. Thought you’d want to be warned.”
“What kind of a surprise?”
Captain Rojas looked like he wanted to laugh.
“A nine-month long kind of surprise,” he said.
Peter and Captain Rojas both looked up. The woman who had spoken his name stood in the ship entrance. She wore simple clothes and flat-heeled, sensible shoes and she had a not-unattractive face that reminded Peter of one of his primary school teachers.
“Who the hell are you?” Peter said.
“That,” Captain Rojas said, “is Ms. Mary Frierson.”
Ms. Frierson gave Captain Rojas a cool look before climbing down the cargo steps. “You never answered my question,” she said, walking up to Peter. “Are you Peter Weyland?”
“Yes. Now answer mine.”
“Captain Rojas already did.” She smiled thinly. “I work for Social Services back on Earth.”
A nine-month-long kind of surprise. Peter didn’t like where this was going.
“Social Services,” he said.
Ms. Frierson nodded.
“Why did you delay my supply ship?”
“Because your company wouldn’t let me onboard, and I had to get my people involved.” Another thin smile. “You have a daughter, Mr. Weyland.”
“No, I don’t.” He had no idea if his statement was true. He assumed the women he slept with were smart enough to take care of that particular issue on their own.
“Yes, you do. Her name is Meredith. Her mother was Deirdre Vickers.” She peered at him. “Please tell me you at least recognize that name.”
Peter glared at her. “I don’t know, sweetheart. There have been a lot.”
Ms. Frierson didn’t look impressed. “Trust me, I’m not happy about this arrangement, either. But I’m afraid Ms. Vickers died two weeks ago and as you’re Meredith’s closest remaining relative, the responsibility of raising her falls to you.”
Peter ignored the sudden pang in his chest. “You don’t even know she’s mine.”
“It’s the middle of the twenty-first century, Mr. Weyland. Your DNA is on file with the government. We have ways of testing these things.”
He knew she was right, but he still said, “I want to see the proof.”
“And I can show it to you." She paused. The crewman behind her were trying to look like they weren’t listening to the conversation. “Would you like to meet your daughter first? I asked her to wait onboard —“
“I don’t want to meet her,” Peter snapped. “I can’t take care of an infant.”
“She’s not an infant, Mr. Weyland. She’s almost three years old.”
“She’s not an adult. I’m not equipped to deal with children. You can prove she’s mine, I’ll send her a check each month, but that’s it.”
Ms. Frierson fixed Peter with a frozen stare. “You can send her a check?”
Peter shrugged. He didn’t want to to have this conversation anymore. He didn’t want to think about Deirdre Vickers and how she was dead. He turned away from Ms. Frierson and then called out over his shoulder, “The supply ship leaves in three days. You can sleep onboard. I don’t have room for guests in the domestic facility.”
Ms. Frierson stared after him, not saying anything.
“Bring me the proof in the morning,” he shouted, turning away from her to look up at the starry night sky. “And I’ll see about writing you a check.”
Ms. Frierson came to his office first thing the next morning. He didn’t expect anything less of a woman like that, and he was grateful, in a way, to get it over with. His administrative assistant showed her in, and Peter was irritated to find she’d brought the girl along with her.
“Mr. Weyland,” Ms. Frierson said, putting her hands on the girl’s shoulders, “this is Meredith.”
Meredith blinked at him, her eyes big and blue, just like Deirdre’s. Peter didn’t want to look at her.
“Did you bring the proof?” he asked Ms. Frierson.
Ms. Frierson sighed. It wasn’t a sound, but a movement, a slump of her shoulders. She crouched beside Meredith and murmured to her, about playing with her game while the adults talked. Meredith didn’t say anything, didn’t react at all really, except when Ms. Frierson stood up Meredith tottered over to the big leather chairs Peter kept in the corner next to the liquor cabinet. She climbed onto one and pulled out a little plastic-cased child’s tablet and the screen lit up her face with white light.
“She knows you’re her father,” Ms. Frierson said in a harsh whisper. “You ought to at least acknowledge her existence.”
Ms. Frierson glared at him, but she pulled a plastic storage card out of her purse and dropped it on the desk. He jammed it into his computer and tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair, waiting. It didn’t take long for the files to load. He clicked through them. Nothing but strings of letters and code.
“I can’t read any of this,” he said.
Peter did, sighing. At the very bottom was the electronic signature of a doctor back on Earth. It had been certified by some government official. Above both of the signatures was a line of text informing him that Meredith Laura Vickers did in fact share his DNA. She was his daughter.
“Shit,” he whispered.
Peter gave Ms. Frierson a chilly smile. “Yes, I am, thank you.” He yanked out the storage card and tossed it across the desk. His eyes were drawn across the room, to Meredith playing with her tablet. Her hair was the same blonde, too. Jesus.
“Shall we discuss our options?” Ms. Frierson said.
Peter ignored her. He stood up, walked around the desk, over to Meredith. He didn’t know what the fuck he was doing, but Ms. Frierson was right — she was his daughter, he ought to at least acknowledge that.
Peter had never liked children. They made him nervous, how small they were, how unformed. It was part of the reason he liked working with the synthetics so much — they at least came out fully grown. More or less.
He sat down in the chair across from Meredith. She didn’t look at him. Ms. Frierson had stayed put at his desk, but she was watching too, in that discrete way teachers had.
“Hey,” Peter said.
Meredith looked up. Her tablet trilled.
“My name’s Peter Weyland." He figured he could just talk to her like an adult and hope she kept up.
“I know.” Meredith turned back to her tablet. Peter was about to give up when he realized she was shutting it down. She set it on the seat beside her and looked at him again. “Mary told me.”
She looked so much like Deirdre, it was painful. Not just the coloring, but the shape of her face, the way she stared at him unblinking, like she was trying to hold him prisoner with her gaze. And as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he could see traces of himself in her features too, hints of old baby photos he’d come across whenever he visited his own parents.
“Am I going to live with you?” Meredith asked.
Straight and to the point. Just like Deirdre.
Peter laughed the way he did whenever he wanted to deflect a client’s question. “This isn’t a really a place for little girls.”
She didn’t seem to understand. She picked up her tablet again.
“Mr. Weyland,” Ms. Frierson called out. “If you’ve made your decision, I have some things I’ll need to go over with you.”
Peter watched Meredith play on her tablet. Her face was screwed up in concentration. He wondered how much she understood of what was going on around her.
“Come back tomorrow,” Peter said, standing up, looking over at Ms. Frierson. “I don’t have time right now.” His favorite lie for delaying business. “Tomorrow. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
Peter poured himself a few fingers of whiskey and settled back in his chair. The media screen was on, playing some old movie. He didn’t pay any attention to it, just sipped his whiskey and let the movie’s stark images wash over him. He’d only put it on because he and Deirdre had watched it together from the tangled sheets of her bed one hot summer afternoon. They hadn’t dated in the traditional sense: no courtship or flowers or dinners out. When she wanted to fuck him she’d call him up and he’d go over to her apartment with the balcony that looked out over the river. If he wanted to fuck her, well — he could call, but that wasn’t any guarantee she’d be available.
He'd liked her, though. She did publicity for a media company, and he’d met her at a fundraising gala, one of those stupid things he was always expected to attend. She’d been wearing a blue dress, the fabric cool and slippery beneath his fingers as he lifted her up against some ugly stone sculpture outside the party, and she had laughed when they finished, her voice pealing into the glimmering night like bells. She called him three days later and invited him over for drinks, and he never did find out how she got his personal number.
Now she was dead.
Peter drained his glass. He hadn’t thought about her in years, truth be told — their relationship had only lasted three months or so and then she stopped calling. He’d pursued her half-heartedly for a couple of weeks, but by then he was already distracted by other prospects and she slipped away. Ms. Frierson had said Meredith was almost three, and Peter knew how to count backwards. Deirdre stopped calling because she got pregnant.
He wondered why she kept the baby. She had seemed a sensible woman, and the sort to put her career ahead of everything else besides. She’d certainly put her career ahead of him. But not a baby, apparently, not that solemn little girl with the tablet. Her daughter. His daughter.
He couldn’t wrap his mind around it, him having a daughter. Peter refilled his glass and drank and stared at the movie screen without seeing it. He’d always imagined himself having a son, a little replica of himself whom he could train to take his place. The closest man could come to immortality, when you got down to it. Mold a child in your image.
It wouldn’t work with Meredith, though. Not if she was Deirdre’s daughter. Peter laughed, and the laughter was slurred with drink. Deirdre might’ve thought he was amusing, but she didn’t listen to him. Her daughter probably wouldn’t be any different.
It occurred to Peter that Meredith was Deirdre’s immortality, not his. His immortality, his son, would come later, from some woman hand-selected for that purpose. Or from a test tube, perhaps, if he couldn’t find anyone suitable. But maybe he owed it to Deirdre, that woman who stole his phone number right out from under him, to care for her immortality anyway, to ensure that those fragments of her DNA lived on.
Peter finished his drink but this time he didn’t refill it. Thinking on Deirdre’s death left him vaguely anxious. Peter didn’t like thinking of death. He didn’t like being reminded that everything ended.
So he watched the movie, some ponderous thing about a man in the desert, until it made him fall asleep.
“Shall we discuss your options?” Ms. Frierson asked.
Peter leaned back in his chair and looked at her over the desk. Her clothes today were identical to yesterday’s, only a different color. There were rings under her eyes that she tried to disguise with makeup.
“Where’s the girl?” Peter asked.
Ms. Frierson blinked at him. “I left on her the ship with Captain Rojas. I didn’t think she needed to be here when her father signed her over to the state.”
The words were intended to sting him, Peter knew, but he wasn’t easily stung. He straightened a little, chair creaking. “Yeah,” he said. “About that.”
Ms. Frierson’s eyes narrowed.
“I don’t think I want to sign her over.”
He hadn’t really realized he was going to say those words until they were out of his mouth. Now that they were, he felt pleased with himself, and pleased with Ms. Frierson’s shocked expression as well.
“I don’t want to sign her over to the state. I want her to stay here.”
For a moment Peter thought Ms. Frierson was going to protest, despite all her attempts to shame him into fatherhood. He’d have protested, if he were her. She had to have seen in the last two days that he wasn’t fit to be a father. Had to realize that the state was the better choice.
“Figured it’d be good for the company’s image,” he went on. “Family man and all that.” He didn’t really mean that, not entirely; he was just saying it to get under Ms. Frierson’s skin.
Ms. Frierson closed her eyes. “Very well, Mr. Weyland. You do realize there are certain responsibilities —“
“Oh, don’t look so worried, Ms. Frierson. I’ve already started looked into au pairs.” Her eyes flew open and he grinned at her. “Only the best of the best.” That, on the other hand, was true. He was going to make every endeavor not to fuck up Deirdre Vickers’ progeny too badly.
“I thought you’d be pleased.” He folded his hands over his desk. “The way you were going on earlier —“
Ms. Frierson held up one hand. “I said very well, Mr. Weyland. I’ll draw up the paperwork this afternoon.”
“Don’t take too long.” He flashed her a smile. “The supply ship’s flying out this evening and I really don’t want it delayed another twelve hours.”
She glared at him.
“You have a history, is all I’m saying.”
Ms. Frierson didn’t respond. Peter was in high spirits, weirdly, and he kept grinning at Ms. Frierson in the silence.
“So,” he said, “can I see her?”
Ms. Frierson took a deep breath. “I’m certainly not going to stop you.”
“Let’s go see her. You can get started on that paperwork.” He stood up and looked out his office window. The supply ship waited for him on the landing pad. They weren’t sending much back this trip, and so none of the crew were outside. It was just the ship. It looked abandoned.
“Let’s go see her,” Peter said, and he really didn’t know what why he was in such a good mood. It was almost as if Deirdre had come back from the dead. “Let’s go see Meredith.”