By T. Richard Williams


So, she walks out of Nkosi's quarters and crosses the circular "Gathering Quad" towards her building. The transparent dome above reveals the steely hard, blood-stained navy sky and a few wispy Martian dust clouds whirling off the desert. Inside, fifteen identical metallic structures face into the open area that's covered with hybrid varieties of shrubs, small trees, and long leaf grasses, some of which are cut regularly to resemble a lawn. Almost home. Her next door neighbors, Jack and Samantha, are out playing in the grass with their boy, Rick.
Jeremy watches Rick toss a ball to Robb. Oh, the joys of being eight.

Jeremy gets up, kisses her cheek, and senses something's on her mind. He immediately offers, "Wanna go inside?"


"OK." He turns to Jack and Samantha, nodding towards the two kids who by now are in the middle of the Quad horsing around: "Do you mind looking after Robb?"

"Not at all."

Yoko's the one who says, "Thanks, guys. Just need some time to talk about stuff."

"No problem."


"Which means," Jeremy speaks up, "that you don't give a goddamn about the

"I guess so."

"You're upset with your feelings. The 'Flanagan' story's almost an excuse to write about what really disturbs you, that all those people died but you understand why the Resistance did what it did. And that makes you a monster, right?"

Yoko glares.

"Which you're not."

"OK, enough already.".

She doesn't say a word, just gets up, goes to the desk, turns on the screen and accesses her text. There it is: "Flanagan." She looks over to Jeremy.

"Enter the code."

She does.

"Press 'Enter'."

She does.

The screen blips to white.


She hears the kids through the port. Their laughter hurts. Hard.


When I was first stationed at Zebulon Pike Base, I was a 23-year-old, newly married brainy punk. I thought the worst that could happen was the Sun going supernova and melting Earth and Mars into a puddle of lava, or an asteroid splatting Mars to oblivion, or a black hole crunching up the solar system bite by bite. And I never would have thought of saying "Thank you" as much as I do now.

But, when the Solar Sail was destroyed before our eyes, killing, in a second, 200 Earth colonists heading for Europa, all that changed, forever broadening my naive perceptions of what the worst could be, and making the words "thank
you" not only the most important in my vocabulary, but also the most urgent. But the habit of saying "Thank you" had really started for me a few years before the horror of the Sail incident changed all of our lives. It started with my old
friend Flanagan, and it goes like this:

The Best Reasons for Saying Thank You
Yoko Wantanabe

Zebulon Base 2107

The first time I saw Flanagan she had a Camel pressed between her lips, sucking in deeply, a blue strand of smoke at the end squinting her right eye. A couple of years later, I passed her in a hall during my visit to the old places before I left Earth with my husband. A more health conscious Government had banned such habits in public places, she was chewing gum anxiously instead. And years after that, after reading the reply to my letter, the reply that began quite simply, "I regret to inform you..." I knew that Wrigley had merely delayed what Camels had already started, that all those "health nuts" over the past two centuries had been right.

From that day forward I always made it my business that whenever I hugged a friend at the close of a visit, or saw my colleagues and neighbors to the door of the Lab at the end of a day, or tucked in my Mother back home over the Screen deep at night, that I said, "Thank you." At first most people who didn't know me well, or chose not to ask, looked at me curiously, trying to figure out exactly what it was they had done. Some said, "What for?" But most kept the question to themselves and smiled slightly. Of course, it was their queasy eye contact, or lack thereof, that was the give away that they didn't want to ask even though they really wanted an answer.

I got a sort of satisfaction with those kinds of people, the persons on the fence line of my inner property who looked over the top rail but decided, for whatever reason, to pass around, a small smiling contentment that I'd stumped them. The ones who walked into my land, hiked its trails, drank from the brook, lay back on the grass, they had no problem understanding what my "thank you" meant. They knew what I realize now Flanagan knew, too: that she mattered to me and I to her.

It's the acknowledgement that we who keep ourselves so busy rarely speak. A realization that some of us rarely allow ourselves to feel for fear the truth might overwhelm us, that we have many commitments to many people, fragile tethers that hold us to each other in a universe that so wants to be detached. We are afraid of what attachment must mean in the end, where all attachments must ultimately go: The fear of the loss that can never be retrieved.

So my odd "thank you" instead of "good bye" dislocated some in the most peculiar way and brought a smile to others, the smile I never saw on Flanagan's face, though she realized I knew she knew all along, even that day I passed her for the last time in the hall and made small talk instead about our assignments, hers on Earth, mine at Zebulon. "Well, gotta go."

"Me, too," she said, and then smiled and added, "More damn meetings."

"Part of the territory," I said, giving a social wink to her, the wink that says we're in on the game. I turned, walked away, then down the airlift as if I thought, "Of course I'll come back to see her, really sit down and talk about what's really going on," knowing full-well down deep I didn't have the heart to walk that hall again.



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