Lee and Guin had enjoyed a much-needed R&R visit with their family and friends on Earth.
Guin had recovered from surgery which prepared her for a long space flight.
Lee had enjoyed the luxury of playing in his old backyard, building a treehouse. He had breathed the forest air day after day, falling in love again as winter turned to spring, with woodland flowers lighting a pathway of whites, yellows, reds, purples and greens.
They relished their humanness, a part of themselves they had put aside for thousands of sols to focus on mission goals and Martian emergencies.
But their time on Earth was soon coming to an end.
Lee figured he had about another two weeks to finish the treehouse and starting packing for Mars.
Guin wanted a little more time with her family.
They attended one of many sendoff celebrations, a 1980s themed party.
Lee brought his former Earth partner, Karen, his wife of many years, to share the evening with her one more time, remembering their old habits with fondness.
“I know I brought you but do you mind if I dance with other people tonight?”
Karen shook her head. “My shoulder still bothers me. Please, go ahead.”
Lee stepped away from the table and spun 180 degrees around in a Michael Jackson style move to face some of his favourite dance partners.
Standing before him was Shelmi, his hot date dance wife, the person with whom he lost all control, acting silly but taking seriously all the moves he made with her during their time together on the floor.
She leapt into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist.
He hugged her and spun as fast as he could, both of them laughing uncontrollably, she dressed as the singer Madonna in the early 1980s and he dressed as Don Johnson in his days on the tellie with Miami Vice.
They held their gaze madly, intently, voraciously, as if by looking at each other they could consume one another completely.
They gave each other every ounce of themselves during the dance. Their West Coast dance moves were merely the faintest suggestion of the gyrations they shared, disregarding nearly everything they’d been taught in weekly dance lessons except Anika’s instructions for smoothly swinging out the hips and ribcage in rhythm with the music.
Their passion was without end.
But then the song ended and they gasped for breath, walking off the dance floor to find another partner.
Lee sat down and spotted Guin walking onto the dance floor.
Every time Lee looked at Guin, he smiled.
Although they had shared years of life together training on Earth, then the Moon and, through a series of accidents and good fortune, becoming the first Martian Pioneers, Lee never tired of looking at Guin, especially when she was on the dance floor with a partner, her face beaming, giving each dance partner exactly the style he/she needed to feel empowered.
The ISSANet’s selection process was thorough, no doubt about it, but Lee and Guin knew before they were chosen for the Mars mission that they were meant to be together because of their strong friendship and desire to roleplay in the moment as needed.
Sometimes they played the roles of younger and elder astronauts. Sometimes they played the role of twin siblings. They shared their joys and sorrows with each other all the time but then they also had separate confidants — it was their intersecting social networks that played up their relationship, what led them to succeed on Mars where others did not survive.
Guin’s dance partner held his hand up and Guin pirouetted in place.
She locked eyes on Lee and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Yes, here I am, as always.”
They both smiled at each other knowingly.
Lee had taught himself not to look into Guin’s eyes too long because of his tendency to fall in love at the drop of a hat when the moment was right.
Spending years with a partner, it was hard not to fall in love at least a dozen times.
But because they valued their longterm goals together they had developed escape mechanisms that allowed them to love each other deeply while barely giving notice to the cycles of falling in and out of love.
Lee glanced away.
A few seconds later he looked back at Guin. Her happiness, her joy, lit up the room.
Despite both of them facing issues again they had left behind on Earth years before, they cleared their thoughts to give their love to every dance partner in the room.
In that moment, Lee fell in love with Guin again, experiencing the exhilaration of infinite possibilities with her that always overwhelmed him.
He used to grab onto those feelings and not let them go, then learned with time that relishing the feelings in the moment, they’d pass and he’d be back to normal within minutes.
Sure, occasionally the feelings would last a few days.
A few weeks before, Lee had hit a low point in his thoughts, danced with Guin and lost himself to love, revisiting old thought patterns.
Guin held fast, allowing Lee to verbally explore and analyse the thought patterns, playing the role of the lifelong friend and space companion.
While Guin recovered from her medical procedure, Lee recovered from his temporary mental breakdown that involved memories of his breakup with Karen when he finally admitted to her, a monogamous heterosexual, that he was genderless which included the freedom of bisexuality when he needed it — an amicable breakup, importantly one that released Lee to go to Mars unhindered.
Lee sat down to schedule his remaining days…roofing the treehouse, fitting it with decorations on the inside and its “skin” on the outside…clearing legal hurdles that lingered during his offworld life.
Guin slowly said goodbye to her family, perhaps hugging her grandparents for the last time, wishing her siblings well one-by-one.
It had been a good time on Earth.
Lee would miss being an Earthling with all the sights, sounds and emotional roller coaster rides that the home ecosystem provided but he looked forward to digging small rocks out of his dusty Martian boots again.
After all, Mars was home.
Or so he thought.
By the time he met up with Guin at ISSANet headquarters, plans had changed. The testing of a new solar system engine meant that two astronauts could travel out to the Oort Cloud within a year.
As usual, Guin and Lee, because of their unique physical characteristics, had been chosen as the guinea pigs…