A Shot of Martian Whiskey by D.L. Young and Stephen Young

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shot-of-martian-whiskeyJuly 9

Feels strange writing like this: the old-fashioned way: pen on paper. Kind of funny, when I think about it. Here I am, surrounded by the most advanced tech imaginable on a research base at the foot on Mons Olympus, and I’m writing down my thoughts in a leather-bound journal with an ink pen. It’s really beautiful. I love the rich smell of the leather and the thick, coarse pages. Little sister always knows how to pick the perfect gift.

Truth be told, though, I’ve got mixed feelings about it. It’s a lovely gift, but it reminds me how much I miss Janet and Hannah, how far away I am. And after Janet’s vidmail this morning, being far away doesn’t feel like a very good place to be.

She said she got a call from our dad. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. A call from Dad. For twelve years we don’t hear a word … then poof … he appears out of nowhere and leaves her a phone message. She had no idea how he tracked her down, and she looked pretty upset in her message.

Seems such a shame to write about him in this journal’s first entry, like the reference to him somehow dirties these pages, defiles them, all white and blank and full of potential like a child’s life. Anyway, I’ll try not to make a big deal about it when I send a ‘thank you’ message. Maybe it’ll help her calm down if she thinks I’m not worried.

Geez, my hand’s cramping already. I can tell this writing longhand business is going to take some getting used to. I better go ahead and send Janet a quick message. I’ve got tons of work to get to. Never a moment’s rest for a Martian geologist.

HIGH ENCRYPTION PRIVATE MESSAGE TO: JANET MURRAY, FROM: WILLIAM
MURRAY, JULY 9 21:32 GMT, SUBJECT: HEY SIS, GOT YOUR MESSAGE

July 16

Just got a vidmail from Janet. When she didn’t return Dad’s messages, he showed up at her house and pounded on the door for half an hour, demanding to see his granddaughter. She hid in the bedroom with Hannah until he finally left. What a nightmare! I can picture him standing there on her front porch, shouting with that whiskey-slurred voice about his rights as a grandfather. The self-righteous, god-fearing drunk.

I wish she hadn’t taken that job in Oklahoma City, only fifty miles from where we grew up. Too close, I told her, but we both knew the salary bump was too good for a single mom to pass up. Right about now, Janet’s probably regretting that decision as much as I’m kicking myself for not talking her out of it.

Janet looked so haggard in her last message. I can tell she’s not sleeping much. I wish she’d call someone, get some help, let someone know what she’s going through. It’s almost like we’re back home, like I’m that skinny little kid again, watching helplessly as Dad pummels Mom over and over with his big, apelike fists because she forgot to bring a TV Guide home from the store. I always told myself the next time it happened I’d do something, maybe kick him in the balls or grab a knife and stop him. But then when it happened again, and I’d just stand there stupidly, watching and nearly pissing myself, unable to move. And in some ugly, dark part of me I suppose I was relieved it wasn’t me. Sucks being so far away.

The stress of this whole thing is making me sick. My stomach’s constantly churning, I can’t eat, can’t sleep. My head feels like it’s going to explode. Right after I send this message, I’m going to the doc to see if he can give me something.

HIGH ENCRYPTION PRIVATE MESSAGE TO: JANET MURRAY, FROM: WILLIAM
MURRAY, JULY 16 20:07 GMT, SUBJECT: YOU DOING ALL RIGHT?

July 18

I thought I might lose it when I saw Janet’s message today. This morning when she got back home from taking Hannah to school, Dad pulled up in his truck, ran up the driveway, and confronted her. Jesus, I’m getting a chill just writing about it.

In the vidmail her eyes were all puffy from crying, and she was almost hysterical. My heart started to thump like a jackrabbit’s as I watched her message, just like it did when I was a kid and I’d hear Dad’s truck pull into the driveway late at night, after the bars had closed. I’d pull the covers over my head and hold my breath, dreading the sound of the screen door slamming shut and the drunken rage that always followed it.

In the vidmail Janet mumbled something about his breath stinking of whiskey and the crazed look on his face. She was so jittery and incoherent I had to replay the message a few times before I understood what happened. He tried to push his way into the house but she managed to lock the door before he could follow her inside. He camped out there for a while, then finally took off in his truck, leaving Janet a sobbing, hysterical wreck.

Even a hundred million miles away, I can sense things starting boil over. He’s not going to leave her alone. God, if only I were there. I fired off a message to Janet’s local police, and a couple hours later I got a boilerplate ‘no harm, no foul’ reply. The jerkoff who replied suggested we should seek family counselling. I nearly put my fist through the screen.

Mars. You had to go to Mars, didn’t you, shithead? Couldn’t simply move to the other side of the country like a normal runaway, could you? And as if the disaster back home weren’t enough to deal with, I feel like absolute shit. Doc says I’ve got some sort of stomach bug. The lab work hasn’t come back yet, and the doc kept saying ‘flu-like symptoms’ so I wouldn’t worry, but the concern on his face was clear enough.

I wish there was something I could do to make her snap out of it. Anything’s better than just sitting there, waiting for him to show up again. But then I can’t imagine what’s going on in her head after what she went through. Mom and I had it bad, but Janet…she definitely got the worst of it. Some things are worse than beatings.

HIGH ENCRYPTION PRIVATE MESSAGE TO: JANET MURRAY, FROM: WILLIAM
MURRAY, JULY 18 19:45 GMT, SUBJECT: PLEASE DO SOMETHING

July 21

So they’re telling me I just made history: the first human to get an infection from native Martian bacteria (those resilient little critters my drilling team found, turns out). They’re calling it ‘Martian Dysentery.’ And just like dysentery back on Earth, it’s
not contagious, but the Martian version hits much harder. If it hadn’t been for the gut-boosting meds they keep everyone on, it would have taken me down in a matter of hours (note to self: no more complaining about the daily regimen of horse pills).

Scary stuff, but such are the risks for us neophyte space travellers, I suppose. The antimicrobial therapy they have me on is working wonders—I can already feel my energy coming back. So this is the part where I’m supposed to feel fortunate, lucky
to be alive, or something like that. But it’s been three days since I’ve heard anything from Janet.

HIGH ENCRYPTION PRIVATE MESSAGE TO: JANET MURRAY, FROM: WILLIAM
MURRAY, JULY 21 20:07 GMT, SUBJECT: WHERE ARE YOU?

July 23

Janet finally sent a vidmail today. She insists she’s fine and tells me not to worry, but I can see she’s still frazzled and scared. And Dad keeps showing up at her house, beating on the door. So far he hasn’t gotten past her front porch, but I feel like a horrible kind of clock is ticking.
I can’t sit here any longer and do nothing. They say (more precisely, my labor contract says) the high encryption setting for personal messages is a hundred percent secure, totally private, and as legally privileged as a conversation with a lawyer. If that’s not accurate I’m screwed, but that doesn’t seem to matter much now.

I’m going to toss this journal into the incinerator (seeing as it’s just as damning as my messages to Janet) right after I finish this entry. Somehow writing down what I’m about to do makes it seem more real, like it’s the first step in making a lifelong dream come true. I’m amazed at how calm I feel, how steadily and smoothly my hand flows across the page as I write these words.

If I’m caught, they’ll realize in hindsight just how simple it had been to pull off: how easy it was to remove a toxic native bacteria sample from an overworked, unorganized lab; how the orbital transfer vehicle’s crew regularly ignored the quarantine protocols, always making their thirty-nine day trip back to Earth with a few hidden boxes of Martian souvenirs for friends and family, usually rocks or small fragments of meteorites.

Or a spiked shot of Martian whiskey.

The guys in the bio lab tell me those tough little microbes we found are damn-near impervious. Harsh chemical solutions, intense atmospheric pressure, extremes in temperature—seems like they can take just about anything. I figure if they can survive the lab’s torture tests and twenty thousand years in Martian ice, a thirty-nine day OTV ride swimming in a shot of whiskey should be a cakewalk.

The outbound OTV leaves for Earth tomorrow. I hope Janet and Hannah can hold out until it gets there.

HIGH ENCRYPTION PRIVATE MESSAGE TO: JACKSON MURRAY, FROM: WILLIAM MURRAY, JULY 23 19:13 GMT, SUBJECT: HELLO DAD

 

 

Bio: D.L. Young is a Texas-based speculative fiction writer. His brother Stephen is an actor who lives in Los Angeles.

To find out more about D.L.’s writing, visit his website at www.dlyoungfiction.com.

Stephen Young’s IMDB page can be found at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2978748/?ref_=vi_tt_i