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“Daddy, you’re home early,” I declared as I walked in the door.
He pushed his computer away from him. “I’ve been home almost all day. I had a special meeting at the lab—that’s it.”
I sat down next to him at the table. “They had ‘special meetings’ today at school, too.”
He noted my frown. “What is it, Phil?”
He stared at me quietly while I told him about Mrs. Nolan.
When I was done, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Phil.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“My meeting wasn’t much more pleasant. I was told that I’ve received a commission to work on a special project—requested by name, they tell me.”
I tipped my head. It sounded like good news.
Daddy got up and started to pace.
It wasn’t good news.
“The assignment… is for a base on Mars.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“And you would not be permitted to come with me.”
I looked up at his face. He was already looking at me.
“The commander says. ‘Regulations.’ The assignment is for me, not you.”
“Where… would I go?”
“Nowhere.” Daddy gripped his arms behind his back. “I will not go, I will not take the commission. Philadelphia, I will not leave you.” He drew a breath and added, “Not if I have a choice.”
I looked away. My eyes fell on the picture frame hanging on the wall across the room. I got up and walked over to it. The image displayed a picture of Daddy and I; Daddy usually left that one up, because it didn’t hurt to look at it.
I waved my hand in front of the sensor several times. The digital pictures scrolled slowly, dancing through a time lapse. I stopped when I reached the picture I was looking for.
I stepped away, crossed my arms behind my back, and regarded it. In the plain metal frame sat a young man, not quite 19. His thick dark hair stuck up in the front, and his lab coat was pulled around his shoulders. He stared calmly at the camera, not smiling—the smile was in his eyes. I knew; I had grown up with my older brother’s eyes smiling on me.
“They sent Ephesus to Mars,” I said aloud.
“Yes,” my father replied.
“They didn’t give him a choice.”
I stared hard at the image of my brother’s face, wishing the pixels could move. Finally I finished my thought.
“And he never came back.”
It was several minutes before my father replied. “No,” he said finally. And again, “No, he didn’t.”