The Ontario

Welcome to The Ontario. It is a privately-owned medium-small spaceship, designed to carry passengers and cargo in relative comfort over the long distances between the various human-occupied planets and moons in the solar system. The Ontario, I've learnt, mostly trucks back and forth between Mars and Earth, occasionally stopping at the Moon on the way. It has twenty-five crew- a fairly large contingent- and at the moment, fifty-five passengers.

The passenger quarters are small, but reasonably pleasant. I've got a tiny little room with porthole to space (!) that joins onto a tiny bathroom that I share with another two people- a man, called Nick and a woman called Henna. This tiny room will be my room for the coming journey. The Package I have put in the room's draw which is keyed to my fingerprint as well as to a password, so it's quite secure.

There's a "mess" (a dining room/kitchen) where meals are served three times a day. There is a gym (although I'm told that the crew run around in the bowels of the ship instead of pacing on a treadmill- I wonder if they would let me do the same). There's a theatre for films, a large lounge complete with a library port, and even a large garden full of vegetables that reminds me a little of Hurricane's greenhouses.

I have to go. Dinner's in a few minutes and I'm starving. I have to figure out where to get food in between meals or I'm going to die of hunger before we get to Earth. There is so much to do and figure out, and explore.

Your Voice from The Ontario ,



The World From Above

Turns out, when you're in space for the first time, and you're looking down on the planet you grew up on, making on a post on your blog doesn't seem that important.

The launch was amazing and terrifying. After I said goodbye to Granny Vida and Dad and Uncle Zoo all us passengers went to wait in the holding room for launch. It was pretty quiet in there. Some people who were old hat at launch and had skipped the tour/introduction joined us, and they were talking normally and showing off how relaxed they were, but the rest of us were tight and silent with nerves.

The astronauts came in, dressed in their flight suits, and introduced themselves briefly, before disappearing. A few minutes later, Yoseph showed up and loaded us all onto a little bus like the one we had used for the tour, except this one was unmarked. The lady across from me was clutching her little regulation-size hang luggage bag to her so tightly that her hands were shaking.

We rode up in the elevators, the veteran passengers still chattering happily, our silence growing deeper. I was doing my best to be nonchalant, but I'm sure the veterans could see right through my nonchalance to my own overtight grip around my own luggage.

Following Yoseph's instructions we adjusted our seats and buckled in. The door was sealed behind us with an audible hiss and click, and suddenly all the outside noises disappeared, and it was stuffily silent except for the two men ahead of me, who were still talking about meeting a friend at some Mars Orbital restaurant. The older man beside me asked me to pass him a vomit bag.

The astronauts turned on the Comm. and welcomed us to the Dragonfly, informed us that the launch would take a total of three minutes, and told us to enjoy the ride. "Get on with it," the man beside me said under his breath. In the background behind the pilot's spiel, we could hear the count down: 20, 19, 18...

Ignition, the nuclear engines switching from 'silent' to 'launch' mode was like a gigantic subway train suddenly going under us, and shook everything. The actual launch was oddly like rounding the top of a steep rollercoaster, only upside-down. There was no sense of falling, but there was that same sense of leaving your body far behind, and the same rattle. Even the veterans in front of me had fallen silent, unable to continue casual conversation as we raced upward.

Lots of people had closed their eyes, but I kept mine wide open, although all there was to see was the passenger cabin- and a guy throwing up. I wanted to see all the people around me, gripping their seats, their bodies pressed back in the fitted chairs.

And then, all of a sudden, it was over. The g-forces disappeared, the rattling ceased, and I saw my hair drift up in front of my eyes. I instinctively reached up to push it away, but it didn't fall, it floated. Everyone's hair was doing the same, as were their arms. People who had had their eyes closed opened them to discover they were weightless. The silence was broken with the delighted exclaimations

"Welcome to space," the astronaut said. "We'll be docking with the Mars Orbital in about twenty minutes." The veterans were already talking again, discussing their dinner plans.

Docking was a simple procedure. Disappointingly the artificial gravity of the the Orbital is applied while were are still seated safely in our chairs, so there was no floating around the passenger cabin. The cabin door was opened, and a woman dressed in the same uniform as Yoseph came through into the cabin, disposed of the vomit bags and welcome us pleasantly to the Mars Orbital.

There are no windows in the passenger cabin of the Titanic XI class launch ship, but as we entered the Mars Orbital, there was a tiny round porthole. The veterans didn't give it a second glance but the rest of us crowded around it, trying to get a look outside.

"There's a bigger window in the launch foyer," a veteran passenger said to me, as I was trying to stand on my toes to see over the taller passengers. I left the window and as a result I was one of the first people to walk through into the foyer and look down.

The windows were directly opposite the doors, set in the wall, curving so you could see a wide and tall expanse of space. There was a great mass of stars, so big and bright, even with the lights on that I could hardly believe it. There was a corner of the Orbital visible, a strut of some kind. And there was Mars.

Remember the Door Museum room? It was like that, only... only so much bigger and better and clearer, and exhilarating. It's greener than in the Door Museum, but still with that orange and red hue that marks Mars as different from Earth. You can see the colour of the planet's red earth behind the vegetation and the ice somehow.

Yes, I teared up. I cried. It is the most beautiful, amazing, incredible thing I have ever seen. Standing on Mount Olympus is amazing, but it could not compare to seeing the whole planet like a giant ball, hanging in space.

We had three hours on the Orbital, and I did as much exploring as I could, but everwhere I went there would be a window or a porthole, and I would stop and stare, distracted. I have spent so long going about my ordinary business on that planet below, and now I'm above everything, looking down at Granny Vida, and my parents, and the University of Olympus, and Hurricane's greenhouses and Andrew E. Curring Spaceport, and the Door Museum, and the Tomb of the Unknown Survivor, and even Mount Olympus itself. Incredible.

The Orbital itself is smaller than you would think. It's pretty busy and active and compact, and there are quite a few hundred people living there, but all in all there isn't that much space. There's one open 'marketplace' in the centre, with windows all around, but the rest is white corridors, artfully designed to seem bigger. Although... it never seems crampt. Nowhere with windows to space can seem crampt.

When we reconvened to board the ship that would take us to Earth, among a few others who had already been on board the Orbital and minus a few whose journey ended there, there was a sense of camraderie that hadn't existed before. Something about the harrowing launch, and that foyer window, had created aquiantences where none had existed before.

And we all seem to be part of a bigger club now. The veterans seem more accepting of us, as if we've passed some rite. We have a liscense to be nonchalant. We, you see, have seen the world from above.

More later.

Your Launch Veteran,



The Many Adventures of Andrew E. Curring

Andrew E. Curring wasn't a great hero when he arrived on Mars. In fact, he was never a great hero, which is probably why you never hear about him except when you visit Opportunity Bay. Mr. Curring (according to our Flight Instructor Yoseph) was an early arrival to Mars, shipped out shortly after the Survivor debacle with his wife who was a high-flying geologist, employed to find fuel for the impending influx of immigrants.

There is a photo of Andrew E. Curring on the wall of the Launch Control building's lobby, standing approximately where the Residence is today, looking out and up over the bay. He's wearing tatty, incongruous, unsuitable clothes, with his hair standing out in all directions. Behind him is the half-terraformed expanse of rugged fast-growing hardy brush. This was what had become of Andrew E. Curring in the six years after his arrival on Mars.

We were told to to meet Yoseph in the in the lobby of Launch Control yesterday morning and after all thirty-two of us had gathered, he introduced the day's adventures by beginning to tell Andrew E. Curring's story.

We went on a brief tour of the Launch Control facility, where you can see the people who handle the launches. This bit is on any tourist's trip around Opportunity Bay, but it's a bit different when you know the people behind the glass, surrounded by computers, are the same people who will be handling your own launch, and that the ship you can see through the far window is the one you will be sitting on for the journey out of the atmosphere.

Then he took us right up to the ship itself- something that's not on the tour, and we went in groups up the elevator to look inside. "Isn't she a beauty?" Yoseph said to my group, his hand resting on the skin of the ship, before he opened the hatch.

Inside, everything is very compact, designed for lightness in order to be able to fit as much cargo in the hold as possible. He showed us the cockpit, where the astronauts will sit, and then the tiny passenger cabin, where fourty seats are clustered together. We sat in them as he instructed us on safety measures, what to expect, how it will feel, what's normal (apparantly, vomiting is normal, and someone does on almost every flight- I am hopeful I will not be that someone), and what occurs in an aborted launch (we may end up back here, or we may end up on the other side of the planet.)

Waiting for the other groups, we stood beside the launchpad, very close to the engines, looking up at the ship and the sky. The ship is Titanic XI class, and is called Dragonfly, a name that conjures up something quite different from the behemoth it actually is.

After seeing the ship, we went over to the warehouse and the Curring Museum, which is full of all the unclaimed things that splendiferously wealthy people have sent from Earth but never were picked up. Most of them get sold, but some of them- family heirlooms, luxury earth goods like an ancient luxury car- end up the museum, as a sort of eccentric recent history of Earth according to the very rich.

Also in the museum are things belonging to Andrew E. Curring, including the hilariously out of place clothes he is seen wearing in the Launch Control lobby photograph. Yoseph paused the tour here to continue the story. Apparently, a year or so after his arrival on Mars, Mr. Curring found himself divorced from his wife. Back on Earth, he had been an antiques dealer, but here on Mars his skills were useless (there being no antiques to deal). He lost most of his money in a series of trade deals which fell through, and then found himself destitute. He was finally hired as a delivery agent, doing trips between communities and bases on the planet, carrying food and supplies. A few months later he was hijacked by a rough-living splinter group called Free Mars (unconnected to the later group of the same name) opposing united rule on Mars, and became an unwilling ally, moving goods for them in his truck. This splinter group was based on the other side of Opportunity Bay (which they named).

Mr. Curring wasn't particularly interested in splinter groups, but had become increasingly interested in Mars itself, and also increasingly eccentric. He studied its flora and fauna in an unscientific way, made notes about its landscape and weather patterns, and tides. He did all this, Yoseph claims, from a little hut where the residence is now, overlooking Opportunity Bay. It was then that the lobby photograph was taken. Some of the notes are in the museum ("The weather has been better this week. Wind from the west, bringing small clouds. It seems milder here than at Chamelata. The same chameleon visited at breakfast- I think he likes my eggs benedict.")

The splinter group was short lived, and quickly was taken down by the Mars government, who had grown tired of their small-time mischief. They arrested Mr. Curring and confiscated his copious notes, thinking them related to the splinter group but written in code, but eventually decided that Mr. Curring was harmless and that his little patch of bay-side land was perfect for their new launch site.

"In a moment of rare good humour," Yoseph concluded, "they named the spaceport after Andrew."

I love the story, although I'm not convinced its true. I love to think about an eccentric historian wandering around in the brush, making little notes, and eventually giving his name to the most important launch site in Mars History, simply by trying to make a little patch of Mars for himself.

Anyway, I have to go now. Almost literally. The launch is in a few hours, our luggage is loaded, our heads are full of instructions and us Passengers are now allowed to say our goodbyes to our families and friends. So I have to do that.

When I next post, I will be in orbit. I asked Yoseph and he says we have a couple of hours onboard the Mars Orbital and so I'll probably be able to make a post from there. I cannot believe that I just wrote that sentence and it came out so calmly. My brain is doing excited somersaults. Boing boing boing.

Your Astronaut,



Opportunity Bay

And here I am.

I can't believe that just over 12 hours ago I was waving goodbye to most of my family in Hurricane. Now, me and my enigmatic package are here at the Opportunity Bay Residence, along with my father, Granny Vida and Uncle Zoo, who have come along to see the launch in person.

Most of you will have at least seen photographs of the Andrew E. Curring Spaceport, if you haven't visited it as a tourist or perhaps as a passenger, but if you haven't been here in person, you will not really know what it's truly like.

Out here on the flatlands, the sky is huge- at the moment a deep evening blue that the bay is reflecting in a darker shade. The buildings match the sky- they are bigger than normal buildings; giant hangers for cargo ships, great big service buildings, huge warehouses for the storage goods. Beside them the Residence looks puny. At twighlight, when the buildings are silhouettes, the effect is stunning, almost like a precursor to the bigness of space itself.

I've not been over to the launch faculty yet, but we can see buildings in the distance, and then the launch pad. I head over there tomorrow, as my launch is on Wednesday. I've been watching the other people in the Residence curiously, as some of them must be fellow passengers, but I've not spoken with them. I guess I'm more concerned with having last face-to-face conversations with Granny Vida and Dad than making new aquaintences quite yet. I expect they feel the same: they've been watch me and my peculiar package that I have to carry everywhere. Uncle Zoo has already dubbed it "The Package."

To go with "The Package", I have a folder of papers and a pinhead with digital versions of the same which is now safely plugged into my computer where I won't lose it. These contain my pass papers- leaving Mars, arrival on Earth- healthcheck from my doctor verified by PCS' physician, copy of the confidentiality agreement I signed, copy of the contract and finally and most enigmatically, a closed paper corresponding to a closed file in the pinhead, "to be opened upon arrival on Earth." It contains my instructions for delivery.

"How mysterious," said Granny Vida, voicing everyone's thoughts when I showed them the closed file. I find it enigmatic but the reasoning is based in PCS's services: they provide "personal" meaning wholly private and safe, document and package delivery. The recipient of the package is part of the privacy, as is the sender.

Anyway, Dad just popped his head around the door and asked if I wanted to go for a walk towards the bay. I do. It's all dark now, the stars are probably out, and what better way to see Opportunity Bay than in the dark with all of space looming above, instead of being refracted away by the sunlight.

Gotta put on my identity card. My father's wearing his. It says the dates we're staying, "Residence - Company" and then his name. He's in my Company, haha. He's calling again, have to go...

Your "Residence - Passenger",



Camping on Mount Olympus

I've been so head-over-heels busy since I got back from camping, I didn't get a chance to make an entry about camping.

My friends Joset, Henry, Lua and I went camping on Mount Olympus from Monday to Wednesday this week. All four of us had been camping there before- with family, friends, school trips etc.- but we'd not been for years. We rented a vehicle in the east of Olympus, and Lua drove us up to where the road ends and the path begins. Then, carrying our belongings with us, we began to walk around and up Olympus.

You can't climb so high up Olympus, or the air gets too thin, the weather too poor and there are no trees for cover, but we climbed to just above the treeline, and there we pitched our tent. If you get a permit ahead of time, they'll let you pitch your tent anywhere there is space to do so, as long as you carry a marker so they know where you are.

Other than that marker, we were alone. All the way up and while we were staying up there, we were the only people in the world. Well, you could see Olympus a bit- the outskirts glistening during the day and sparkling at night- and you could see other towns and settlements, hazy on the horizon and little dots of light when it got dark, but they were so far away they looked unimportant. Nothing intruded upon our little corner of the world. Mars was spread out below us, fresh and wide, and from up this high when the clouds were high, we could see the curve of the planet.

Being above everything like this gives you such perspective, and we, always the philosophical types, were suddenly full of ideas and reminiscences. I'd told them about my leaving, of course, and we speculated upon the launch, traveling the months between here and Earth, what it must have been like for those first travelers. We didn't really talk about Earth much though (I just realised), I suppose it was because we were so close to Mars at that point, tiny little creatures clinging to the side of a mountain so high it touched the top of the atmosphere.

Mount Olympus gets its name from the Earth mountain, much, much smaller than our Olympus, where the gods of the Ancient Greek Culture were said to live. I wonder what the Greeks would have said, seeing this Mount Olympus. It's true that being on this mountain gives you such a sense of euphoria (perhaps the lightheadedness?) that it's easy to imagine that just a few more kilometres up hill there are gods having a camping trip of their own. What does that make us, I wonder?

We talked, and walked, and took photos, and hid from the rain, and cooked over an open fire; I felt a bit like those Survivors who must have been a bit like we were, only unimaginably more so, being so far away from home and everything they knew.

And when it was time to go back down the slope, we packed up everything so completely that when I turned to look back at the spot where we had stayed, there was no trace of anything left behind, except perhaps slightly flattened grass where the tent had stood. Joset must have seen me looking and said, "almost makes you wonder if we were here at all."

Well, when I was lying in my sleeping bag, my friends fallen asleep but me kept awake but the rain and the thought of leaving the whole planet so soon, I was feeling that flattened grass and the little stones that we didn't clear away in my back. I was pressing myself against them, as if I could meld into them a bit, or as if they could meld into me.

I think perhaps I'm more apprehensive about leaving this planet than I thought. Next time I post I'll be at Opportunity Bay.

Your Little Bit of Mars,



Unexpected Opportunity

You know how people often say that the best opportunities fall from the sky? Well- apparently it's true. Remember how I told you that I had applied to a company called Personal Courier Services? Well, they called me last night and gave me an impromptu video interview. This afternoon they called again, saying they were looking for someone to carry a package to Earth, starting in just over a week and was I interested?

I said I would call them back.

I never told you how my museum interview went. It went well, I thought, but apparently I wasn't snappishly wonderful enough. They haven't called back yet, and as the days drag on, I am getting more and more convinced that silence means 'no'. So until PCS called with this unexpected, amazing, terrifying offer, I was a jobless failure.

I didn't want to um and ah for too long. I knew that if I did I would never call back, or I would say no. It's too wild and crazy. It turns my plans to stay on Mars, to explore Mars before setting out into the vast gulf between here and any other planets, on their head. It makes teh future jumbly.

So, I talked it over with Granny Vida, and my parents- Dad at home, Mother at work- and they expressed some concerns about the company and such, but Granny Vida said what tipped me over. She said, "Teshi, you have a gleam in your eye."

So I called PCS, and told them yes. I would go.

So, assuming I pass my spaceflight physical seven days from now (so soon!) I will go to PCS to pick up an enigmatic package and all the paperwork I need, before driving the four hours to the aptly named Opportunity Bay- the colloquial name for Andrew E. Curring Spaceport- and beginning a day's preparation for launch.

Launch. Nobody in my family- biological or house- has ever left this planet. We were all born here on Mars, even Granny Vida. And here I am, jumbling up my life, turning all my plans upside down, ha. Uncle Zoo always says, if you want to make the universe laugh, you make plans.

I'm giddy, and giddy, and terrified. And I can't even think about this too much because tomorrow I'm going camping with a couple of university friends as a kind of final hurrah- so I won't be posting for a few days as I'll be on the green slopes of Mount Olympus, taking in all this planet of mine has to offer before I blast off into space.

Your Explorer,




I'm home.

My House is in Hurricane, which if you don't know is a medium-sized town about fourty minutes outside of Olympus. It's part farming community and part botany experiment. Half my House are farmers, and the other half are botanists, which makes for very streamlined conversation, at least among the adults. My father is on the botany side of things and my mother is the odd one out- she's an entomologist, as far as I can tell mostly studying the interactions of insects and crops.

There are five biological families in the house and I am towards the younger end of the children. However, I am the eldest of my parents' biological children. I have a younger brother called Asher, who's six (Mars years) and embarking on puberty to my Grandmother Vida's distress.

Grandmother Vida is pretty much my second mother, if not almost my first. When my mother went back to work when I had turned one, Grandmother Vida was not the only adult at home (Uncle Zoo and Aunt Hova, who's Atrina's mother, were also at home), but for whatever reason- perhaps experience with babies- Granny was the person I grew most attached to after my own parents. She's not my biological grandmother, she's actually the eldest of the adults in the House, and had already sent her eldest children off to lives and careers of their own when I was born, but it never mattered, just as it never mattered that Atrina was my House sister. Not everyone lives in a House any more, but I highly recommend it. People say it's de-personalizing, but it never was for me. There were always people around, and yet we could afford enough space for everyone to get some peace and quiet when they wanted it. And Uncle Zoo can cook far better than my biological parents.

I'm back in that "peace and quiet" now. It's not quiet and peaceful as I remember. There are five children left at home, the youngest is now five and distraught that Asher won't play with her so much anymore. Even so, it's not ever as peaceful as it was at University, especially when everyone's at home. I suppose I will have to begin to decide whether I want to live in a House in the future, or at least to think about it.

I went for a walk around the town a couple of days ago. It seems very sleepy and wholesome. The greenhouses are already filling up with green. It was a rite of passage in my town to go on the greenhouse school trip (or two or three times) and walk between the wet green plants that grew so well in the environment they pressed against the glass ceiling as if trying to escape. It's not quite like that now: only the heated greenhouses are flourishing, growing fresh vegetables for the winter. In a week or so, the town will begin to wake up, planting and ploughing, and soon the bare fields will go green producing enough grain for half of Olympus. (Yes, if you eat bread in Olympus, chances are good that it grew around Hurricane.) This has always been my favourite time of year in Olympus, and I've not seen the spring here since I left for University. It's hard to believe it's only my 11th Spring.

Anyway, Uncle Jason is calling for cooking help, since we're eating together tonight, and that means cooking for ten, assuming everyone makes it home (my mother is often at work late). I have to go an help or someone will send Asher looking for me and I don't like the way he barges into my room. More tomorrow- I still haven't updated you on my work situation.

Your Guide to Hurricane,


After the Ball is Over

Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? I've been so busy. For your reading pleasure I've divided the last two weeks into two posts. This, and the one that will come after it.

So, it's all over. My exams went off without a hitch, my room was packed into boxes and I took my last look at the familiar University of Olympus campus. I've read that your undergraduate campus never really becomes home because you know deep in your heart it's eventually going to come to an end; and so it does.

I think there is truth in that statement. The buildings and gardens of the University don't really feel like Home in the normal sense, not the "I return here" feeling of Home, the supremely comfortable feeling of Home, even if home is not comfortable. But I am attached to the University of Olympus and all it's nooks and crannies and uncomfortableness. I couldn't walk around it lightly, I can't leave it lightly without feeling a reflective sadness, a loss for not being in that place anymore.

The morning of my last day was red-ly sunny, like the best days in Olympus. To me, the red light makes the colours all the more brighter: the greens are greener, the blues are richer, the yellows are warmer. Everything is bathed in this light. I wandered around the campus, taking it all in, not just reliving it all but also creating for myself a last memory of the place.

Am I being overdramatic? Definitely. My family's house (my home?) is only an hour's journey away by car. While I'm in Olympus I can visit any time I like. It's not the geographical space that I am leaving... it's the leaving the University of Olympus behind in time; that's the loss. I may return to the campus many times in my life, but it will never be under the same temporal conditions.

Ha. Here I am trying to de-dramaticize my comments and I'm ending up far more dramatic than before.

I made sure I said goodbye to the university before one of my uncles from the House showed up to pack up my remaining stuff (much of it had already gone). Goodbyes to places are private things. They cannot occur in the rush of packing and conversation and checking to see if you've got everything that always accompanies a move out.

Left alone in my room for the last time, I wrote 'Teshi Was Here' on the wall in the closet, in tiny letters. Uninventive, I know, but I was in a rush and I couldn't think of anything else to write.

So I left my university and my education and my campus behind and went home. The Ball- a very old term for a public formal dance- is over; the dancing, as it were, is done.

Your Real Grown Up,