Martina Maciel finished a round of 100 push-ups, rolled over, and let herself feel the excruciating pain she was pretty much always in. Yes, they had drugs for that. But she had now run through them. Some people got paralyzed and managed with bionic limbs. Sure, some people. Martina’s injury was too severe for that.
For the first month of her recovery, Martina was barely permitted to see blades, nor ropes nor strings. Apparently, it’s standard procedure to assume that new paraplegics will want to kill themselves. After Martina showed a consistent absence of despair, she saw strings return to her window blinds.
Therapy had reminded her of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. What a lot of people don’t get is that it’s not like playing a VG, where you just advance to the next stage. It’s more like a house, and you keep drifting into different rooms.
Martina had seen this war as her chance to prove herself once and for all time. Well, she proved herself, all right. Proved herself an idiot. So she’d had her big comeuppance. Whoop de doo. Now what?
And once the war was over, what then?
She knew she had to live for her children. Especially after they lost their father. Had to live for them.
But what if she didn’t want to?
In the next room, she could hear Pablo, Drigo, and Peoria playing a VG. Drigo laughed more when he played with his grandfather. What was Martina doing wrong? It’s not like she didn’t let him win.
She heard Peoria ring off her avatar. Uh oh. Martina began a round of sit-ups. One, two, three, four…
“Mom, I want to talk.” Peoria came in, right on schedule.
“We can talk while I work out.”
“Not really. Doesn’t it hurt, Mom?”
“Yes.” Everything hurt like a tooth with a frayed nerve.
“Maybe you should stop pushing it.”
“It might hurt worse if I stopped.”
“Is that what the doctors said?”
“They don’t know everything.”
Peoria paced. “Mom, are you…suicidal?”
Martina stopped the sit-ups. She affixed her gaze on her daughter’s gaze. “No. Suicidal people are weak, craven cowards. Got it?”
“I don’t want death, but nor do I fear death.” Peoria didn’t look happy to hear that. “That’s a good thing, Peo! That’s how you’ll have to train yourself. You know, even after what happened, I don’t feel acrophobia?”
“Fear of heights.”
“According to Aunt Julia, it’s healthy to feel your knees go a little weak.”
“Aunt Julia is…” No. Not with the mothership a day away. “Never mind.”
There was a look in Peoria’s eye that Martina had been seeing more and more these days. Martina hated it, but she didn’t want to make things worse by asking about it. It looked like…pity. As though she felt sorry for her own mother.
The worst of it was, that’s how Martina had felt about Drigo. So Peoria was truly her mother’s daughter.
Martina went back to the sit-ups.
Martina saw how Peoria was changing, taking on some of the motherly responsibilities. Martina had once lived in dread of the day that she, Martina, would have to take care of her aging mother, Norine. Instead that day had come for Peoria – and she was only nine years old.
“Mom, I wish you’d think more about us and less about…the accident.”
“I told you, it wasn’t an accident,” Martina said, drawing breath, hurting.
“That’s what everyone calls it!”
“Everyone is trying to give me this…false comfort. It was a mistake.” Azalea set her up well. Probably lied to her about her killing John.
“Fine, Mom, it was a mistake.”
Martina went back to sit-ups. “You should sit down and do some of these with me.”
“No thanks, I don’t want to be all sweaty, we’re leaving for the bunker in a few minutes.” Oh, was that now? Martina hadn’t realized. “Mom, what are you doing these for, really? Aren’t you going to be stationed at a console?”
Chee liked doing that. Martina didn’t.
“Are you going to try to kill Rhodes?”
Martina didn’t answer.
“Grandma was right to let him live. We got higher recruitment numbers.”
Martina stopped her sit-ups again.
“The price was too high. Rhodes is now considered some kind of martyr against government and corporations.”
“Martyr? He’s not dead.”
“You know what I mean.” Martina went back to the grind. 75, 76, 77 sit-ups. “Leaders matter. Role models matter. And the next Rhodes is being emboldened out there somewhere. I don’t want future Wazgretco stores sell bobble-head dolls of Rhodes, you understand, Peo?”
“So what are you going to do?”
Martina did more sit-ups. When the mothership arrived, Rhodes would reveal himself somehow. It wouldn’t do for him to hide underground while the battle for Mars’ future raged, if he cared to have any say over that future. And that was when he was vulnerable – if Martina was ready.
Peo raised her voice. “Mom, are you staying distant from your kids to prepare us in case you don’t come back?”
Pablo came in from the next room. “All right, Peoria, it’s time for us all to go to the bunker.”
“Not all. Not Mom.”
“Get your things, Peo.”
Peo was close, but not right, Martina thought. Martina did have a fear that she could barely admit even to herself. The fear of telling her kids she may leave them.
Martina stopped the sit-ups just to admire her father one more time. A year before, a year into his retirement, Pablo had been doing very little; now he was a man re-born, tending 25/7 to his grand-children. (That was a Mars expression, based on the extra 40 minutes in each day compared to Earth.) Was Martina getting too comfortable with this arrangement? Another mother might have reacted with jealousy, warning her father not to try to replace her. Martina was relieved, even before the accident.
They all hugged Martina. Drigo was his usual warm and cuddly self.
Pablo said, “Cuidate, mi’ija.”
“Mom,” asked Peoria. “What happens when we die?”
“Peoria!” Pablo rebuked her. “That’s not an appropriate question.”
“He’s right, it’s not.” Martina took Peoria’s hand. “The question is, what do people think about in the moment they die? Big regrets, big love, or what? It’s one thing to wonder what you could have done with your life, but do any of them wonder what they could have done with their death?”
Peoria looked at her blankly.
“I mean, Peo, instead of just falling unconscious in a Pharealth hospital somewhere, maybe with their last breath they could have let a bunch of animals out of a circus, or put a message banner on themselves or…”
“Or killed someone evil. Right?” asked Peoria.
“Right?” Martina asked in return.
“Mom, I’m tired of questions. I want your answers.”
They hugged and said “I love you” to each other at the same time. With that, Martina’s family left.
Martina thought Peoria didn’t know the half of it. She was sparing her daughter the worst of the questions.
Like: what if her family would be killed if she didn’t fight?