Growth House 2

The other mothers are jealous when you first tell them you are moving. They too want a house on Mars. Tired of their 60s tract houses noted for soft contemporary interiors, 8ft high ceilings, Revival, “Traditional” or Colonial exteriors, for wall-to-wall cracks and fissures—you see, these homes were surreptitiously built on clay—they too want to sell but have no buyer. You are lucky because you have a mandate. iLabs bought your house for a whopping $750,000, a home you purchased for a mere $200,000 in the 80s, making it easy for you to just walk away while the other residents of your tract home enclave of 500 will have to soldier on with the maintenance of homes that look nearly all the same, raking the leaves, mowing the lawn, shoveling the driveways of snow that accumulates in drifts of six feet or more, as the ground shifts and settles, interiors becoming ever more distorted.

You try not to brag when you ran into the Lochbaums at the Kings Market on Springfield Avenue. In fact you weren’t going to mention your good fortune to a living soul but someone viewed you on Letterman and the word got out.

“Headed for the stars.”

“Um, that’s right. Part of the job, that’s all.”

“Guess you won’t be joining the class action suit.”

“Um, guess not.”

A peeved look. “You won’t be needing your snow blower then.” Shrug. “How ‘bout if I relieve you of it for a $100.”

“Oh, I’ll be back.”

A surprised look. “But your house was bought by iLabs?”

“If the mission is a success and I want to return to Earth, I get it back. They’re converting it into an ecopoiesis to test the latest nano-tech robots whose job it will be to release greenhouse gases in order to terraform Mars. That’s part of the deal.”

“Wow. Now that’s a retirement package. No threat of a destabilizing banking infrastructure there. I mean it’s great if you aren’t too worried about low returns.”

“Research science is a great career if you get the right start.” You wince, aware you’ve said the wrong thing, reminding your unlucky neighbor, squat and tough looking, of his misfortune and long-term unemployment.

Squeezing a tasteless perfect looking red tomato, he inquires, “I’ve always been a believer in space colonization. How do I sign up?”

“Well, they need engineers to tinker with the positron reactor. Would you be up for that?” you ask the two-years out of work builder of bombs.

“Would iLabs buy my house from me?” Andrew Lochbaum says, a tear sliding down his cheek. “I have two kids in college next year. That’s costing me close to a hundred thou. Lost a chunk of my retirement in the last stock market crash.”

“At least you didn’t invest your life savings in Ernie’s start up,” you offer, trying to be helpful. “Dismal News?”

“Yeah. Ernie. What a douche.”

“Things could be a lot worse.”

“Are you taking the family?”

“Jen and Amy are looking forward to a change of scenery. I mean don’t get me wrong. We love Berkeley Heights, its green rolling hills, vast acreages of trees, snowy winters, the familiar faces at the Dimaio’s Restaurant, and at the movie theater downtown. The town’s really blossomed since the merger of Apple and AT&T.” Then after a pause you add, “And Friendly’s.”

“Friendly’s is a regular pastime. Those triple-decker sandwiches are beefy and delicious. The Frosty’s are so rich and creamy.”

Grinning wryly you think back on your visits to your favorite New Providence diner. “Remember when Scotty torched the restrooms and ended up in juvey?”

Andrew’s gaunt mortgage-savaged face collapses another notch. “Scotty always got into so much trouble. I don’t know why. I always did what I was supposed to. I never deviated. Neither did Susan.”

“A bad seed.”

“That’s what they say now. Something about a shortened 17th chromosome.”

“He needs medication.”

“He is medicated. It’s helping. He’s found a job down the shore, so we can rest easy for a while. He’s working on the Point Pleasant Boardwalk, supervising an attraction called the Claw Back. It’s a video game that simulates the games of yore, replete with a mechanical-looking claw and a slew of stuffed animals, all varieties, domestic and wild. Gaming the system, they call it.”

You nod relieved to hear Scotty isn’t dead yet from some ill-conceived criminal plan. A house robbery gone wrong. A DMT induced rape in the woods. (There a lot of unpatrolled wooded areas in New Jersey, just about everywhere you look). Smalltime embezzlement of a mom and pop liquor store. You name it Scotty’s capable of just about anything.

You leave the King’s Market with your high-priced organic vegetables and cacao treats drenched in coconut, wondering how Andrew can afford to shop where you do. Working the graveyard shift all those years, coming home shortly before 6am sometimes even before the first light of day, did he really make his money building bombs? You suspect all along he has been working smuggling drugs, or performing some other illicit work. Why else would Scotty have turned out the way he did? You don’t really buy the shortened chromosome tale. Nurture has a powerful part to play in the human drama, despite what the geneticists say. You’re relieved your high-achieving daughter Amy did what she was told, studying into the wee hours of the night, and wants to follow in your footsteps. What could be more gratifying than a daughter who is eager to add to the vast multidisciplinary research of the soft systems of polymers and biological tissue?

You pull up to your tract home on Dorset Road, pleased to see her light on in her upstairs bedroom where she is studying for her GRE’s.

“You can study via radio transmissions,” you tell her. “Living on Mars will be no hindrance to your participation in the culture at large. Your blogs will be read by everyone, the elite-school educated, the wannabes educated online, the charter school tribes. First Girl on Mars. You will be remembered for an eternity, and not for the reasons we remember Anne Frank,” you stand over your daughter, cheering her on.

Inside you confer with Marnie. “You’ve packed everything you’ll need for twelve months flight time in Zero-G.” The patterns on the walls about her form a beautiful tree of heavy boughs and limbs.

“It won’t be easy,” she casts a downward glance for the bowling bag sized bag filled with favorite electronic devices, all she is allowed to bring aside from the white virgin polyethylene climate regulated jumpsuits: 50 to a box.

You’ve waited a lifetime for this opportunity. A 20th century NASA rocket scientist circa government funding and major fuckups like the George W. Bush 9 billion dollar mission to build a rocket ship for another manned flight to the Moon, you didn’t anticipate the merger of private sector research companies sans the Chinese in making the trip possible.

You explain the science of space travel to your daughter and wife. “To solve the cosmic-ray problem and to provide us with an adequate shield, the capsule of this space ship is insulated with water five meters deep. That is a mass of about 500 tons. As you know, water is rich in hydrogen while heavier elements make less effective shields due to extra protons and neutrons in their nuclei, etc. Incoming radiation is absorbed. It is simple and guaranteed to work.”

“I can live with that,” Amy volunteers, keeping your spirits up. Nobody makes sacrifices like your Amy.

Bundled in disposable polyethylene gear and a MAG (diaper, if you didn’t know), you take your seat on the acceleration couch, legs elevated above your trunk and prepare for lift off. The name of your space habitat is named after its founder: The Buzz Aldrin. The Cycler was its original name, but that presented too many problems with the iLabs Public Relations department given the raucous outlier status of bike riders today. Not to mention the innumerable modifications to the original plan: most dramatically the replacement of gravitational assists with the loud, more costly positron reactor.

Strapping and buckling yourselves in you watch the pulse racing explosive boost into solar space in real time on the monitors of the capsule.

Sense defying darkness, and stars stars stars.

One of the psychological improvements of space travel is the selection of entertaining videos tailored to your particular entertainment sympathies. You watch sports especially geared to reflect your love of certain bygone heroes: Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Reggie White. You don’t watch tennis. You have no interest in that sport. Nor the Olympics. No reason in particular, just not interested.

As you watch speculative games between bygone would-be opponents, your daughter chuckles sweetly to herself, eyes glued to the antics of the most reviled baby snake-rats on the web. Maru. Nora. Atilla Fluff. Go ahead and look them up yourself. Then there’s Marnie who’s obsessed with therapy. She watches shows like In Treatment Season 1 over and over, rooting for a different character with each re-watching: the slutty, stiletto wearing patient Laura, the lying teenage gymnast, and the Black commemorated fighter pilot who after fucking Laura then commits suicide, and last but not least the two-timing therapist.

She never imagines herself as the middle-aged wife who sobs over the dissolution of her marriage to an uncommunicative bore. Too depressing, she tells her daughter, modeling decent feminist behavior.

While watching these shows, she parrots the character of her choice. Slightly out of sync, half prone in a microgravity position on the apparatus designed to function as both bed and chair for the long journey into interstellar space, she gives the impression of an AI. Ho ho, you chuckle inwardly. If only she knew how close you had come to marrying a bot before changing your mind and throwing your lot in with the living, breathing kind.

Your greatest thrill within the miniaturized living quarters of your capsule are the resistance exercises you do to maintain muscle mass and bone density the view from outside the capsule of interstellar space.

Several uneventful months pass when finally something happens.

An ammonia-rich asteroid hits the side of The Buzz Aldrin. The very same asteroid that had been rerouted for Mars in an effort to warm it up and thicken its atmosphere. For some unforeseeable reason you don’t calculate it’s approach. Prediction algorithms fail. The asteroid is as big as a grapefruit but smaller than a melon. It does sizable damage, knocking out your high-gain antenna, the onboard transmitters, receivers, transponder. You panic. Communications are cut. The cause: interfering particles and a single flipped bit. The active magnetic shielding material of your space capsule is damaged. Computer graphics show a big red hole on the southeast quadrant of the ship. A red dot bleeps against a black background with fulminating urgency. You watch blue dots representative of gallons of water being emitted into outer space. If it weren’t for your onboard computers (thank god you stood your ground, refusing to hand over all computations to the Cloud), you wouldn’t have a visual image to accompany the miserable occurrence. All communications with Earth have been cut.

With water seeping out by the metric ton, the experimental plasma radiation shield severely compromised, your protection from the incoming radiation and the subsequent production of secondary particles is severely compromised. That’s like a dose of 80 rem per hour, too much energetic radiation for any one human to survive.

In the microgravity fetal position—arms and legs half bent in front of you—the position you have assumed for the majority of the flight, you roll slightly in order to reach under your seat for the Gamma Radiation protection fully body glove suits, disturbed to discover from Marnie, there are just two. The third one is apparently lost or left behind.

With some effort—already you have experienced a significant loss of muscle in your upper arms and back even with the exercises, not to mention the fuzziness that accompanies space anemia—you unfurl one then pass it onto your wife, who blinks in mild disbelief.

“No,” she shouts over the clanking of the positron reactor. “I’m superfluous. You’re the engineer.”

“Engineer what?” You are aghast. Didn’t she attend the same Futurist seminars as you? “Now that we can engineer sperm from an egg you don’t need me,” you explain numbly, your enunciation severely hampered by your swollen sinuses and puffy face, a direct consequence of the microgravity environment. “Humanity still needs you. Marnie, please…” you extend the black thermo cooling suit toward your wife, awed by the form it takes, floating in Zero-G like the amorphous wax blobs of a hot lava lamp.

Ignoring your wishes, she lightly bobs for Amy to help her into the glove like suit.

Why does she refuse your offer of safety from the cosmic rays? You don’t understand what’s happening. Could it be her close relationship with her father the famed nuclear physicist known for his work on the Manhattan project? Her identification with this proud and distant man, who put the needs of science before his own. Could this be the reason for her ultimate sacrifice?

You want to protect her. But you will not have the opportunity because time is not on your side.

No sooner do you lose a substantial amount of your magnetic protection than a Solar Proton Event occurs. You might have gone months without incident. As everyone in the scientific community knows, energetic solar radiation is not always present, cancer not, as lay people may believe, an inevitable outcome.

You are unable to detect the incident via satellite, but are alerted to the phenomenon through the sight of flashes and streaks of light in the sensitive optical electronics of your spacecraft: a scan platform and additional optics.

In your black thermo-cooling suit, deep terror grips you as you aware of the probable complications. Your heart is stuck in your throat. Your breath is rasping and sharp. You upchuck lunch, a dehydrated dolphin, and watch the yellowish wormlike substance clamor about your living quarters in search of a landing pad.

Without the water’s five-meter thick protection, the same protection offered by the Earth’s atmosphere, the galactic cosmic rays wreak havoc on your family, not in the distant ways alluded to in the training videos, but up close and personal.

You watch on in horror as Marnie begins to show signs of illness, the persistent symptoms of exposure to low dosages of gamma radiation such as nausea, fatigue and diarrhea. You administer anti-nausea drugs, intravenous fluids, but nothing helps. A corresponding disinterest in food is next on the long train of misery. Headaches. An almost instant formation of a cataract on her left eye. She is only forty-two, for G’s sake. She’s been unlucky. Mutating. Getting sicker by the day.

In the black, head-to-toe thermo-cooling suit, Amy works hard on her genomic sequencing kit to find a solution to her mother’s impending sickness. She thinks if she can sequence her mother’s illness, she will be able to administer one of the individually tailored drugs packed along for this very occasion.


For a very short period of time, it seems to work.

Marnie regains her appetite. The hair on her head grows back, albeit a shocking grey. Gone are those gorgeous blonde tresses you adored so much.

One afternoon while making a feeble attempt to exercise on the zero-g equipment, blood begins to spurt from the center of Marnie’s chest. In no time, her heart grows septic.

Amy floats over, wrestling her mother from the straps of the equipment.

Marnie screams. The light touches are agony. The exposed skin of her arm becomes blotchy. The mottling quickly worsens.

Her eyes flicker in your direction. She is communicating with you wordlessly. The end is drawing near. You turn away. The pain of losing her is too much.

Her skin blackens. Her blood will not clot. You have to restart her heart twice.

This is undoubtedly the worse thing you’ve gone through. You are ill prepared for your wife’s self-sacrifice and impending death.

You don’t want to go on without her. You and your daughter agree it is time to put your background in nano-tech engineering to work. Amy says from within her suit: “We can’t dispose of Mom like a favorite pet. We need to make her body useful somehow.”

You nod in agreement. Her life is not for nothing.

Using specialized equipment, and the MBE technique (molecular beam epitaxy) first invented by Researchers John R. Arthur, Alfred Y. Cho, and Art C. Gossard, you work to rebuild Amy from the bottom-up. By laying down atomically precise layers of cells, you construct a platform for re-growth, creating for your daughter and yourself a home.

In no time, Marnie’s desecrated flesh is now an integral part of everything.

Hanging in fleshy bands from the interior shell of your living quarters, she weaves in blood quickening knots between bulky exercise equipment and zero-g couches.

She floods your lips, your eyes, and your ears. You taste her sweet amino acids in your every breath. Her intracellular fluids, namely plasma, keep you from dehydrating. Her remaining muscle mass provides the building blocks for your replacement proteins.

Through positional assembly, you fold protein and RNA into three-dimensional shapes. You were attentive and have grown in your abilities, linking groups of selectively sticky DNA and eliminating odd cycles in the length of five. You are stunned by your ability to replicate her flesh endlessly. Self-assembly is magic, you remind yourself. And gamma rays in fact have their uses.

As you drift further off course and into space, you recognize yourself less and less. You are part of this vast continuum now. You no longer need to fight the encroaching entropy and assert yourself. You are at home in this vast sea of impulses and weightlessness, riding the crest of time.