By Sascha Udagawa
It was time to make a move. Adrienne had been putting it off for as long as she could, but Roger kept insisting he needed to be on the same planet as his clients.
“Look at those beautiful rolling hills,” he said, as they watched a promotional video together. “You can sit on the grass and paint all day.”
“Yeah, it does look nice.”
And it did. The hills were a lovely crisp shade of green and the sky was robins-egg blue. It would be a relief not to have to worry about things like megacyclones or benzene pollution anymore.
Since Adrienne had been worried that the environment on Mars would be too barren, Roger had secured them a place in a lifestation that boasted “ultra-realistic Earthlike scenery” and a “burgeoning art scene.”
But there was also the problem of Henri. Technically they could have taken him along, but Adrienne couldn’t bear the thought of depriving him of his daily frolic with his pals in their scrubby neighborhood park, even if she did have to wrestle him into a protective mask every time they left the house.
They ended up leaving him behind with Adrienne’s dad, who was determined to stay put until either he “kicked the bucket” or the planet did.
It was night when they arrived, and the first thing Adrienne noticed was the color of the sky. It wasn’t just black; it was an intense velvety shade of purple-crimson-indigo darkness that would have been impossible to recreate using even the finest Dutch oil paints.
Once they got inside the lifestation, though, the “sky” was a dull blue-black with shimmerless white stars.
In the morning, Adrienne went for a stroll. The air felt tight somehow, and everything had this weird red-orange tinge to it. The pastel-colored trees and symmetrical hillocks looked like one of those Monet-inspired eyesores you see in motel rooms.
She followed a group of bland-looking business types to the town center and spotted a sign saying “OBSERVATORY.” When she approached, a guard standing in front of a control panel pulled open a heavy metal door and gestured for her to go in.
The vibrant, rust-colored vista on the other side of the thick glass wall was stunning. As Adrienne stood there admiring it, she heard a familiar panting sound and turned to see a French bulldog like Henri being held back on its leash by a man with wiry gray hair and a sad look in his eyes.
“New here?” he asked.
“Yeah. Just arrived last night.”
“Welcome. I’m Mark.”
“Adrienne.” She reached down to pat the dog. “I have—I mean had—a dog just like this. His name’s—”
Suddenly an alarm started buzzing and a signboard flashed: “HEALTH WARNING! EXIT NOW!”
“What’s going on?”
“You can only be in here for five minutes,” Mark said. “Too much radiation.”
It turned out Mark’s apartment was in the same complex as Adrienne and Roger’s. As they walked back together, Mark’s dog snuffled at the frayed edge of Adrienne’s jeans where Henri had slobbered before she left.
Mark tilted his head to one side. “I guess he likes you.”
“What’s his name?”
“Phobos. Pho for short.”
Hearing his name, the dog stopped sniffing and gazed up at Mark lovingly.
“Phobos? Isn’t that the name of a Greek god or something?”
“Yeah, the god of fear actually, but it’s also one of Mars’s moons.”
“Oh.” Now she remembered. She’d seen it in the video. A black blob sliding across the face of the cadmium sun. Mars had another moon, too, but she couldn’t recall its name.
“How did he handle the move?”
“Pho? I adopted him here actually.”
“Oh.” Adrienne was confused. Were they breeding puppies on Mars now? Or did the lifestation have some kind of animal shelter?
“How about you? How are you handling the move?”
“So far, so good,” Adrienne said, even though she felt like she’d been ejected from a submarine and was trying to make her way up from the depths of the ocean. “But I’m anxious to get back to work.”
“Oh? What is it you do?”
“I paint. Landscapes mostly.”
Mark winced. “You might have a tough time at first.”
“Yeah, the scenery does feel a little forced. But the observatory’s given me hope. I think I’ll take my sketchpad next time.”
Mark nodded, but his somber expression didn’t change. “You can only go in there once a day, you know.”
Adrienne’s stomach seized up. Why hadn’t she realized how confined they’d be? Why hadn’t Roger warned her?
When the panicky feeling in Adrienne’s stomach rose up to her chest, Phobos waddled over and pressed his face against her ankle, letting out a playful snort.
“Huh,” Mark said, tilting his head again. “He’s never done that before.”
They walked in silence for a while, and then Adrienne stopped. The ruddy light from outside seemed to have filtered in through the opaque lifestation membrane and turned the pale blue sky iridescent lavender. She couldn’t take her eyes off it.
“Lovely at this time of day, isn’t it?” Mark said. His voice had a soothing quality that Adrienne hadn’t noticed before. She took a deep breath and realized the air didn’t feel as tight now.
When they started walking again, Phobos trotted alongside matter-of-factly, his nails tapping on the hollow-sounding footpath. Adrienne wondered if he wished there were mysterious aromatic stains on the ground to examine like Henri did back on Earth. But he didn’t, of course. Phobos was a native.
* * *
Originally from the United States, Sascha Udagawa spent most of her childhood in England and has lived the bulk of her adult life in Japan, where she works as an editor and Japanese-to-English translator. She has studied creative writing at Temple University Japan and UCLA Extension. She is currently working on her debut novel, an excerpt from which has been published in the Eastern Iowa Review.