Chapter no 59

Winter World

THE PERSON I rescued from the wreckage is a comm officer named Gloria. I made the decision to accelerate away from the wreckage at extremely low speed. I’m glad I did. She’s fine overall, but she has a concussion. Leaving Ceres at maximum burn could have exacerbated her injury.

The slower exit from this battleground will add some time to our return trip, but it will drastically improve her prognosis.

The weeks drag by like months. It seems like ages since I’ve seen James, and Madison and her family. That period feels like a lifetime ago. Indeed, my life now seems split into three parts: my time before the attack on the ISS; the interim in between, in space, and in Camp Seven; and this period, after the Battle of Ceres. This is the first time since the ISS that I haven’t been in constant danger. It’s a new beginning. And I can’t wait to get home and figure out what that beginning is like.



THE LANDING in this escape pod is a lot smoother than the one James and I experienced in that makeshift return module the crew of the Pax rigged up.

Still, we take precautions. Both Gloria and I dress in our EMU suits, pressurize them, and strap in tight, preparing for the worst.

Through the porthole I see the sands of the Sahara and the beaches of southern Italy. The glaciers are receding. The ice is melting, flowing into the sea.

I don’t know if the world we’re returning to has gotten back to normal

—in fact, maybe normal will never be the way it was. Maybe normal is something new. But as I look out, I’m hopeful that our new normal will take place in the light of day.



THE QUARANTINE SEEMS ENDLESS. I lie in bed, in the hospital room, staring at the walls, waiting for the results. The room looks and feels the same as the one I spent so much time in after returning from the Pax. I was broken then. We were defeated. Nearly hopeless. Once again, I have a feeling of returning to the beginning, except now I’m filled with hope. I feel strong. And we are victorious. For now.

Finally, the doctor comes in and clears me.

Fowler arrives next and hugs me without saying a word. He holds me gently, for a long moment, then looks into my eyes, his misting over.

“You may be the luckiest astronaut in history.”

“Any astronaut with James Sinclair on their mission is lucky.” “Very true. And speaking of, he’s been asking about you.”

He motions to the door. “But first, there’s some folks who want to see you.”

Madison, David, Owen, and Adeline burst in and surround me, like I’m the coach of a team that just won the Super Bowl. Seeing them is the only reward I need. They’re still a little thin, but they’re healthy, they’re alive, and we’re happy.

The tears start coming, and it feels like they’ll never stop.

My vision is blurry from the tears, but I can make out a figure in the doorway of the hospital room, hanging back. I wipe away the tears.

James. Smiling. Watching me hugging my family. But he’s my family too. I hold out an arm. He wades into us and hugs me.

“Hi,” I whisper.

“Missed you,” he says. “You’re late.”

My eyes have almost cleared of tears when another group arrives, waiting silently at the door, peering in. They’re family too. Harry is there, smiling wide, almost back to his normal weight. Grigory stands behind them, along with Izumi, Min, Charlotte, and Lina. They got home. My heart

breaks all over. I wave them into the room, and I’m once again engulfed in a group hug.

Harry shakes his head ruefully. “Man, I knew you guys would hog all the glory. We should have never let you off the Pax.”



AFTER THE MONTHS IN SPACE, floating, using my legs and arms almost effortlessly, it’s a rude awakening being back in the gravity of Earth. It feels like the world is constantly pulling at me, like I’m wearing a lead suit.

James, limping himself, pushes me out of the hospital in a wheelchair. We ride in an electric car back to our habitat. The snow on the ground is melting now. It’s a mix of sand and ice. Sludge. It’s strangely symbolic of humanity: a mess, but a mess we can clean up. A mess that looks like it’s getting better. The sun shines bright overhead.

At home, we take a shower and slip into our own clothes and sit on the couch, silently reveling in this little slice of normal, this moment when the world isn’t ending and there are no secrets between us.

Oscar’s door looms off the living room, closed, a reminder that our victory came at a cost.

James glances over at the door and exhales heavily as I take his hands in mine.

“I’m sorry about Oscar.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about him.” “It’s in the past.”

“And what do you think about my past?”

“I think the past is the past. I only care about the future.” “So what does the future look like to you?”

“It looks like me and you, together, watching as many beautiful sunrises and sunsets as this life allows. We’ll work the details out as we go.”

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