Night Driving on Mars: Before and After Girls

Night Driving on Mars: Before and After Girls

In Glacier Foot Station at the northernmost bend of the MN-1, there's this light therapy module. Folks that far from the equator don't get much sun and even then it's filtered through the protective glass of an atmosphere helm or a clear walkway. The sun's so damn dim here, too. To keep the skin healthy and the mood elevated, a lot of colonists go into the light therapy booths to get a dose of artificial sunshine. Outside the therapy module there are these two, big posters. The one on the left is of this washed-out looking woman with tired, droopy eyes and it says "Before" on the bottom. The one on the right is the same woman but looking pretty hale. Along the top it says "After". But in the middle... in the middle there's just a white wall crusted with ice flakes.

Before, on Earth. Before I got this job and went off-world. Before I met Nan, I was a tech support associate at Felton Plastics, this company that makes pieces of environment suits and hazard gear. I made enough to have a decent life. Kept a little pod apartment on the fringe of the city, right near the canyon. I'd put on my environment suit, not some company-issue piece of junk but a custom fit with light inlays, and tear down the road on my motorbike. It was one of the first domed models, but with the suit you can ride with the dome down. I'd cut across stretches of desert where I knew the intersections of the all the streets. At night it was like being one of those bioluminescent fish at the bottom of the ocean, all streaks of light on a black body slicing through the dark, going from street river to street river with their embedded lamps.

There was a motel and bar about a half hour outside the city, used to draw some damn interesting people. I went there a lot. Maybe that made me damn interesting. I dunno. I just liked the prosciutto-wrapped dates and the clientele. Sometimes I'd spend the whole night alone, other times Lena'd be there. Lena Brass, a black-haired bit of unbelievable who worked the pharmaceutical car of the regional magnet train, checking specs, taking inventory, communicating schedule updates to HQ. Wouldn't know by looking at her that she had a brain for logistics. Also wouldn't know by the way she kissed that she had a husband and two kids in some town where the desert turns to mountains. I wanted to see her one more time before I blasted off, but she wasn't there. Our last time, we didn't do anything special.

The air scrubbers at Glacier Foot degrade more slowly than normal on account of the cold air. Fewer microbes. Still, I change them out every time I go up there. No telling how long before I come back. It's not exactly the most convenient stop on the route. Sometimes we skip it when fuel production yields are lower than expected. I never visit the light module. I figure I get enough of the dim sun on the road.

I had dim sum with this woman Kelly at Barometrics South. Bless her heart, she didn't know how to use chopsticks. Back in her bunk she was too eager. Maybe it was the soy sauce on her lips or maybe I'm just hung up like an antique phone, but my mind went to Nan all the same. She always took her time, like she was really trying to do it right, like she was tying the perfect ribbon on a present for a friend. I told Kelly I'd come back around the next time I'm on the MS-1. I told her I had a great time. I told her my name is Zack. Nan told me she was going out for import chocolate.

People say a lot of things they don't mean.