Ellie came running to me as I supervising the reinflation of one of the domes. She fought her way through the hanging loops and billows of transparent material, oblivious to it all.
“Gusev has been lost. Oh, Elanor, help me find a landcraft! I must go to help.”
“What do you mean, lost?” I held her as she looked wildly around, perhaps expecting to find a landcraft here in the dome.
“There was a flash flood. Gusev and one of the others were working on the edge of the arroyo. They were washed away- the water has spread out over tens of square kilometers. We must find him- find them – they have oxygen and masks, they can’t drown- can they?”
“Is anyone else looking?”
“Yes, yes, of course. But we must help them. I can’t just sit around and wait.”
We managed to flag down the last landcraft as it went out to join the search. An all terrain vehicle with huge wheels which could change shape in a most useful way, we found ourselves battling through the wind and rain towards the floodplain. The large winged aircraft that the Stevens use could not fly in this wind, which was blowing at a hundred kilometers per hour at times, but with less force than one might expect because of the thin atmosphere.
Even before we got to the plains we heard on the radio that Gusev had been found. The other colonist had survived, but Gusev had not made it. Apparently the mask had been torn from his face by the boiling water. (Quite literally boiling, as the temperature and pressure means the water is near the triple point where it boils and freezes at the same time). Ellie was inconsolable. The search party returned to the camp, our landcraft full of people trying to lend their support to my cousin for her loss. Perhaps the best support came from a medic, not Harlan this time, but the other one in our party, Pieter. He gave Ellie a shot of sedative, which calmed her down.
Later we talked for hours about her relationship with the Martian refugee, and the other Dustie radicals. Ellie said that she had only wanted a casual, even experimental affair with the man; until he was gone, she hadn’t given a thought to the meaning of their relationship. Now he was dead, and she would never be able to work out where she stood with him.
“But everyone else knows,” Ellie said. “You saw how they all rallied round to comfort me in my time of loss. Everyone knows everyone else’s business in this camp. I’m going to be stuck with being the bereaved partner- but he was just my friend. I don’t know what to think- I wouldn’t say this to anyone else, Elanor, but you of all people might understand. We just hadn’t had time to fall in love yet- that’s what’s so unfair.”
“Shush, now. You don’t need to worry about that. If he was your friend, then grieve for him as a friend.”
“But I don’t know, you see- I don’t know, if I would have fallen in love with him or not. How can I ever know now?”