The Spinning Wheel - Part Four
A week after we had gained Earth orbit, I visited the bar again. I had been working hard that day, so I thought I deserved a relaxing evening. As I sat at a table with a lager, Martin Cambridge wandered up and joined me.
"Are you sober enough to talk sensibly?" He asked with a grin.
"I'm sober," I said, taking my first sip of the lager.
"Not getting drunk again?"
"Maybe you can get beyond telling me you're drunk before passing out this time then?" He laughed.
"Well, I don't know about that ..."
"You told that farmer, Hunter, you were a journalist," he said seriously. "Why?"
"I couldn't exactly tell him the truth, could I?" Stupid question to ask me, I thought.
"No, I meant why journalism?"
"I let something slip. Besides I have worked in journalism."
"As a censor."
"Well, yes" I agreed. "But it's still sort of true."
The conversation faltered for a moment and I sipped my lager, waiting for the question that I knew would be coming.
"What did you know about the virus?" he asked.
"I didn't know anything about the virus."
"You surprise me." There was no sarcasm in Martin's voice, just in his eyes.
I didn't reply.
"The government's top science advisor surely must have known," he persisted.
"OK, I did," I gave in. What was the use now? I was filled with guilt as it was. I could not help it, but once I started, it all poured out as if an internal valve somewhere inside me had broken. "I told them. They said 'There's no problem, the satellites will last another fifty years. We'll deal with them then.' They wouldn't listen. I tried. Honestly, Martin, I did try. But, I haven't even got someone to say 'I told you so' to now. I dearly wish I did. Everything wouldn't be like it is if they'd listened. Why? Why couldn't they listen?"
The conversation came to a halt. I looked into my drink and said nothing. What was there to say? I struggled with myself to gain control.
"Why are you here, Kit?" Martin asked suddenly.
"I felt like a drink, why else?" I replied innocently.
"I mean on the trip. Why did you decide to come on a colony mission?" he insisted.
"I wanted to, why? Is there something wrong with that? You came," I said watching his face. My control was slipping again, I had been working too hard. I was tired.
"I'm surprised they let you go, that's all," he replied a little sheepishly.
"They didn't have much of a choice. And I had to get away. They were having me followed because I made a fuss over the satellites. They were even tapping my phone and intercepting my mail. I never found a bug, but I think they were there. I had to escape, get beyond their reach. I'd designed Pioneer and it offered the perfect opportunity. They let me go, because it was into exile. They couldn't make me stay, I'd have blown everything." I wanted the conversation to end. I did not like what we were talking about and my reasons for joining Pioneer only seemed to confirm my own guilt.
Martin studied me intently before saying, "I don't know whether you would have or not, still I suppose it's a risk they couldn't afford to take. You want to know why I'm here? I was to kill you, to stop you ever spilling the beans." He looked at his hands and I stared at him. "I never could have. I've loved you too long."
"You love me?" I asked. I could not believe what I had heard.
Martin looked at me incredulously. "Didn't you hear?" he asked. "I was supposed to kill you ...."
I shrugged, what did it matter any more? "Why didn't you write?" I asked him.
"Why didn't you?"
"I couldn't," I admitted after a while. I looked up at him. "It hurt too much."
"So you shut yourself off from me ..."
"From more than you, I think." I managed a weak smile.
Martin took my hand and gently kissed my fingers. It was as though a warmth spread throughout my body and melted the tears. They coursed down my face. "It's my fault," I told him. "It's all my fault. So many dead ..."
"It's not your fault at all," Martin told me quietly but firmly, squeezing my hand hard. He let it go and touched my face, wiped away some of the tears. "You tried, Honey. It's not your fault they wouldn't listen. Look at what you've done, though. This is your ship. Look how many people you've saved, Kit. You've saved Mankind." He grinned and me and kissed away my tears.
Later, in my room, we lay in silence enjoying the closeness and after a while we began to talk about the old days, about people we had known and liked, and those we had disliked. Of shared experiences, like the day we had got our exam results, of the day we had graduated, and the day we had separated to follow our different careers. We talked about our old friends, and what had become of them before the holocaust. We cleansed our minds of the loss and accepted the past as gone.
Then we started on the future, and for a while lost ourselves in a vision of the garden of Eden. But we made sure all serpents were banned. We invented a heaven on Earth, where everything was good. It was unrealistic, but it was therapeutic.
"It feels like God is giving us another chance," said Martin in uncharacteristically religious tones.
"He's given us plenty already," I replied.
"First the Garden of Eden, then Noah's Ark, now this," enthused Martin.
I had to ask, "Third time lucky"