dallas gawlick

Letters from Abroad

A series of letters home, from an intrepid writer traveling the solar system.

Letter 1 Page 1

Dearest—

You’ll be happy to know I landed safely over one Earth-week ago. I am sorry for the delay, but I am only just now returning from my first expedition. The rover is not the smoothest ride, but it affords me the first time I’ve had yet to focus on writing to you.

My rocket touched down at Hesperia easily enough. There was a jolt, of course, but that is normal. Even on entering a thinner atmosphere, turbulence is to be expected. Or so I tell myself. I don’t trust the things. Riding backward on a controlled explosion is not what I’d consider safe, but rockets truly are the only way to travel any distance these days.

I did have a problem with my luggage. The porter insisted I’d neglected to tag my possessions. I found them myself after scrabbling over piles of bags and crates, and showed the tags to the porter. He sniffed, saying the codes must not have been read correctly by the machine. I sniffed, and said I’d keep the tip.

Hesperia City has become taller since I was last there. The buildings are slim and delicate, reaching into the sky with shining photovoltaics and bright structure material. They are somehow intimidating to tread between: they look as if they might topple at the touch of a finger. The streets are always busy with vehicles and pedestrians hurrying from one place to another. There is a sense of cool urgency in the air. The markets are loud and open, and full of tacky souvenirs for first-time hoppers.

Thick crowds jostled me as I made my way to the nearest transport. It Is always painful for me to transition so quickly from the clean, quiet sterility of a rocket to the overpowering bustle of a city. I’ll never get used to it.

Hesperia is wide, too, stretching out across the planum now far more than in its burgeoning days. Domiciles mingle with purifiers and processors, and these clutter the landscape next to offices and firms. There are bright signs even at the edges of the city, dotting the night with pin-pricks of colour.

You really should see Hesperia one day. It is a city like no other. It is not even drowned in smog. The clouds here are high and thin, and roll off the mountain and away. They don’t seem to settle, though I suppose it all must go somewhere. Off to Hellas with the factories, to be sure. Not like they can’t deal with it; their scrubbers are double-large and work harder than any other.

I put myself up in a small hotel near Tyrrhenus Mons. Don’t worry, it wasn’t as shabby as the last one. The bartender was civil enough, and I had the luxury to sleep near a rocket-port. The glasses rattled on the tables, but no one took notice.

The customers were mainly hoppers and geologists, and so used to the noise. I spoke to a few, but most were tired and only looking for a drink before their travel. Many had red-eye hops; saving money is apparent in every demographic. The bartender was somewhat talkative, though whether it was just small-talk or real conversation I cannot say.

“Where you from?” He made my drink quickly and efficiently, not a drop wasted. I thanked him, raising the glass.

“Earth,” I said, as the drink warmed my veins. I never can get warm on Mars. Something about the thinner air, I should think.

He nodded, as if he could tell. “Ever been to Hesperia?” He was frowning, now, and I wondered why.

“Yes, many years ago. It’s grown up, hasn’t it?”

“Sure has. Even I get business, all the way out in this dump.”

I looked around. The walls were dark and dirty, but the glass was clean and the bar was wiped fairly recently. “It isn’t that bad,” I said, trying to brush off his self-derogation.

He wiped at the bar. “Sure pal. I’ll bet it beats the places over on Earth by a unit.” And with that my bartender turned away, moving to another customer.

So there it was. They’re not fond of Earthers here, that I knew, but really? I hadn’t said anything to antagonize him, or so I thought. Maybe just the very fact of my being from Earth set him off.

I shook my head, drained the last of the drink, and set the glass on the bar. I looked to the barman, but he was busy and I did not want to risk irritating him further. I made my way to my room.

The morning came weak and pale, with low sunlight slanting into the window. I woke easily. The engine rumbles tend to jolt me, these days, ever since that incident on the Moon, and that morning was no different. I peeked out the window to see a ship arcing high into the sky atop a pillar of fire.

I had coffee for breakfast, as hops leave my stomach churning even in the third-gravity. I do hate them, especially the momentary weightlessness at the zenith, but how else to get around? Take a car? Better to bear the hop and finish the trip in an hour.

The hop line was not long. Most of the people I saw the night before had already left. I gave my bags to a porter, making sure to show him the tags clearly this time. He doubtless thought me strange, but I try to learn from my mistakes. I did not want to leave my only possessions in Hesperia for someone else to find, especially after the mishap on entering the city.

My rocket was a small affair. It was short and stubby, made of a gray metal accentuated with dingy orange paint. It was plainly a short-hop craft, very different from the distance liner I took from the Moon. It only sat fifty or so, with tiny portholes marking the window seats.

I walked on to it. Can you believe that? Not even a moving stair. They let down a ramp and I walked on. Not exactly comforting, but my bags were already stowed and my ticket paid. I could not have backed out if I wanted to.

I tried to change my seat once shown to a window. The woman sitting in the aisle next to me wouldn’t take it, saying she preferred the extra leg room. She did not look tall to me.

“Don’t you like the view?” she asked, smiling.

I shook my head. “Can’t stand it.” I snatched the curtain across the glass and turned away from it. I noticed my knuckles whitening on my arm rest, and made an effort to relax my hands.

“I’ve learned to avoid seeing the curvature. Turns my stomach.” I avoid it like a plague, truth be told, but I was too nervous to declare my feelings so. People should not be able to hover so high above the ground. It is against nature. To our benefit, to be sure, but unnatural.

“Really?” Her eyebrow crept up her forehead. “Do you not fly often?”

“Oh, all the time.”

She blinked. “Well—hm.” She sat back, and, after glancing again in my direction, closed her eyes for a nap.

I understand my revulsion to space travel is strange. Rockets are the safest and most common form of transportation. But why must others judge me so harshly for some small defect in my psyche? Is it not considered rude to be so capricious in one’s determinations of character?

The rocket’s engines started up, and the craft shook around me. Then, without warning, I was punched back into my seat, eyeballs compressed into my skull, as the ship took off.