Chapter 07.5

“Go on,” he said.

“OK, look. When we signed up for this mission, we did so with the full knowledge that one or more of us might not make it home alive. Agreed?”

“It’s not the same thing!” He jumped to his feet again, this time knocking the stool over and started pacing across the small space. “Not the same thing at all. I didn’t sign on for my wife to be the one killed! That get-together we had with all of our families and spouses was to get them used to the idea that one of us on the ship might not make it back… to assure them they would be taken care of, for life… but that was for them… to get them ready, just in case! Not us! I’m not prepared to accept the fact that Penny might be dead!” Tom added as he righted the stool and collapsed back down onto it, dropping his head down onto his crossed arms.

“I understand, Tom. There are terrifying and evil things in our lives that we just don’t ever expect to happen and would never even think to prepare for. If I had to pick one of the crew, predicting he or she wouldn’t be able to cope with a tough situation, between you and me, the top of my list would have been Sally. But, she seems to be coping quite well with a pending divorce. It will be tough and overwhelming, Tom. But, mourning, grief, and sadness are all natural reactions to a loss of this magnitude. Even anger, rage at the world and yourself. Always remember: What defines who we are, is how we deal with the challenges.

“Now, we can turn tail and run, if you can call it running. We can return to Earth in twenty-two months, or we can do what we came out here to do… explore Mars, because going home early won’t bring Penny back. I know that sounds terribly harsh right now, but give it a few days,” Valerie could hear the soft sounds of Tom’s muffled sniffling. “You’ve got to let it out, Tom. Go ahead.” Reluctantly raising his head to look at her, tears were pooling in his eyes. Valerie stood up slowly, walked around the table, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and lowered her cheek to his head. “Go ahead, let it out. It’s ok to cry.” Tom cried as Valerie’s tears dampened his hair.

At a point about half way down the ladder, just out of sight, Sally had heard everything. She stood there, sobbing into her hands, mourning both for Tom’s loss and her own.

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