The trip to Mars was the hardest thing they’d ever experienced. That’s what the grown-ups said. The small, cramped ship. The constant fear of something going wrong. The knowledge that they could never return to Earth.
But honestly, it sounded like a cakewalk compared to sharing a bedroom with Albie.
Because he snored.
I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since Albie started bunking with me. I’d tried just about everything to block the noise: earplugs, sleeping under the blanket, even a thick hat with earflaps. But none of them worked.
It was surprising because Albie was perfect. He was easygoing and did his chores without complaining. Of all us kids, he was the least likely to throw a fuss. The grown-ups trusted him, even Sai. But it turned out there was one thing Albie wasn’t good at: sleeping quietly. And I didn’t know which was worse: Albie’s snoring or Trey wanting to change rooms
For as long as I could remember, Trey had slept in the bed across from mine. My drawings of cats and his drawings of aliens had papered the walls. Our plastic models crowded the shelves together. Then, two months ago, Trey suddenly asked to switch bedrooms. Next thing I knew, Trey was sleeping across the hall in the older kids’ room with Vera and Flossy, while Albie was snoring in mine.
I wasn’t sleeping at all.
Neither was Leo, from the looks of it. The old cat was sitting up in bed, flicking his tail in annoyance.
This room-switching thing had happened once before. Back when Trey and I were little, the grown-ups had moved us boys into one room and the girls into the other. Albie was older than me and Trey and so he was allowed to stay up later. The problem was that Albie would make a lot of noise when he came to bed, and he’d wake us up. The experiment was abandoned after a week. Now, all these years later, Albie was keeping me awake again.
Across the room from me, Albie let out a loud, waffling snort. I groaned, pulling the pillow over my head.
“Albie,” I said.
He didn’t move.
“Albie!” I shouted.
He sat up abruptly, looking around the dimly lit room in confusion. Albie was tall, with broad shoulders. Darby said he would’ve made a good football player. Football was an Earth game where you threw around a ball and knocked into people. I didn’t really understand it.
“What’s wrong, Bell?” Albie asked, his hair sticking out crazily everywhere. It was always funny to see him without his Dodgers ball cap. He only took it off at bedtime.
“You’re snoring!” I said.
“Oh,” he said. “I thought there was an emergency.”
“It is an emergency! I can’t sleep!”
“I’m so sorry, Bell,” he mumbled, and lay back down. “I promise not to snore anymore.”
It was hard to be angry at Albie. He was kind and gentle—a big teddy bear when it came right down to it.
A big snoring teddy bear.
“Aw, dust it,” I muttered. Albie could have the room to himself. I grabbed my blanket and left, Leo padding after me.
Not that I blamed him.
Even a cat couldn’t take Albie’s snoring.
Leo and I walked down the twisting corridor, our way lit by the cool blue light of nighttime. The light changed to mirror the time of day. In the morning, the blue would transform to a warm, bright yellow. This was supposed to help us have a sense of time because the settlement was mostly underground. It had been built in a giant lava tube—a massive, cavelike space left behind by flowing lava millions of years ago. It was the perfect prebuilt habitat, keeping us safe from the surface dangers of Mars—radiation, extreme freezing temperatures, and dust.
The interior walls were constructed from a space-tech gray rubber that curved gently, flowing from one room to the next like a smile. The rooms were round, almost bubble-like, for improved structural integrity. Sai told me he’d thrown out the old rules when he designed the settlement. Apparently, on Earth, people lived in boxy structures with hard corners.
Earth sounded sharp to me.
This corridor was a history of my childhood. There was the spot where I banged into the wall with my scooter. The scratches on the ceiling from when I’d tried to make my toy spaceship fly. (It didn’t work.) And, of course, the ruler on the wall where Meems recorded our growth with a thick black pen. She joked that as some of the first human children to grow up on Mars, we were a living experiment.
Farther down the way was a board with digi-pics of us when we’d arrived on Mars. We were much older now than the babies on the wall. Albie was seventeen, the oldest in Earth years. Then came Flossy (sixteen), Vera (fifteen), Trey (fourteen), and me (eleven).
I might have been the youngest, but at least I still knew how to have fun. Unlike the older kids who became moody grumps when they turned thirteen.
Of course, in Mars years we were much younger. It took Mars 687 days to go around the sun, so a “Mars year” was 687 days, which meant I was only five and Trey was seven.
Ahead of me, Leo stopped to sniff at something, his tail flicking in the air. When I was little, there had been a lot of cats. Bella. Mochi. Harley. Sesame. Little Cat. As the years went by, the cats died, and Leo was the only one left. But I still remembered them all.
Then Leo and I were leaving the children’s wing and passing the shared areas—the recreation room and the mess hall and kitchen—that bookended the two sleeping wings. The recreation room was illuminated by the flickering light of a digi-reel that someone had left playing.
Like the rest of the settlement, the room was painted a pale blue. It was supposed to be a soothing color that mimicked the Earth sky. There was an L-shaped couch with a loop rug woven from old clothing. Darby had created the rocking chair from plastic barrels. Everything was recycled on Mars. Even the plant that decorated the room was made from algae paper, although it was getting old and the leaves had become brittle and started to crumble.
Aside from the couch and rocking chair, there was the small plastic table we had played at when we were little. These days, it held Flossy’s sewing machine and fabric instead of our clay and crayons. Then there was the plastic display case next to the wall, which housed the rocks we children had collected over the years.
After that was the mess hall. It smelled like tonight’s supper: an algae casserole that was one of Salty Bill’s standard meals. No one was around, so I made a quick stop in the kitchen and grabbed a few ginger cookies. Salty Bill didn’t like anyone taking food when he wasn’t there, but I figured he wouldn’t miss them.
Then I was in the grown-ups’ wing. First was Meems’s room. I could find my way to it with my eyes closed; when we woke up sick at night, she was the one we went to. Past it was Salty Bill’s room. Across from it was Phinneus’s room. As I passed Eliana and Darby’s room, I could hear soft snoring. Eliana had always complained about her husband’s snoring, but I never understood what she was talking about. I sure did now.
Everyone’s rooms were dark except for Sai’s. There was light under his door, and I wondered what kept him from sleep. I left the living quarters behind and followed the corridor that led to the work areas. This part of the settlement was usually buzzing with activity during the day. But in the middle of the night, the only sound was from the air scrubbers humming softly in the background like a lullaby. I passed the exercise room, Sai’s workshop, the sick bay, various workrooms, the generator room, and, my favorite, the algae farm.
Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer L. Holm. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.