MARTIAN GOODS & OTHER STORIES
by Noelle Campbell
(Now Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble)
On a barren world where air is priceless and women are bought and sold, one man longs for love, but is she worth the price?
In this collection of short stories by science fiction author Noelle Campbell, Mars is the new frontier where men stake their claims for a new life. But some commodities are harder to come by than others--including women, who are often willing to sacrifice everything to escape an Earth that is no longer free.
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& Other Stories
“There is something wrong with the woman I purchased.” Stone looked directly into the holoscreen that held the image of his closest acquaintance and for the most part, his only source of intelligent human conversation, Yuri Romanov.
“I swear she was virgin!” Yuri proclaimed in his rich Russian accent. “No one touch her. Doctor look at her and say so. I will send you medical form.”
“That is not the problem,” Stone said, though he was reassured at the information that she hadn’t been compromised. Sitting back in his tall-backed office chair, he took a short breath to calm himself and continued. “I cannot communicate with her.”
“What communicate? You strip her naked, take her to bed. Male part go in female part. Is enough communication.”
From experience, Stone knew that Yuri’s accent got thicker the more frustrated or confused he became. He used that to his advantage when he was bargaining for a job or goods, but it was little help when he needed information.
“I can’t just—No!” Stone was the one who was frustrated and confused in this case, running his hand through his thick, brown hair. “I want to communicate with my wom—with… I don’t even know her name!”
“I no ask name. Just ask for Earth woman. Virgin. Pretty. I make sure she pretty because you good customer, and I like you.”
Stone understood the compliment, and even gave a quick, “Thank you, Yuri,” in reply because he was just too polite to let it pass. “But where did she come from?”
“Earth. Like you ask.”
“I mean where on Earth?”
“You no ask such questions to men in black market,” Yuri replied. “They think you police.”
“Right. Right.” Stone nodded and sighed. “I just wanted a companion from Earth. Someone to talk to that I knew was completely free from the plague.”
“Quarantine on Mars make Earth goods very expensive.”
Stone could plainly see that Yuri was trying very hard not to grin like the cat that ate the canary.
“Earth goods...” Stone mumbled and swiped his palm over his face.
“Just take clothes off. Put her in your bed. Naked. She understand.”
Stone shook his head again, stronger than he had before. “I can’t.” He looked up from his hands to Yuri’s black bearded face. He looked like a pirate, Stone thought, down to the gold hoops in his ear. “I can’t do that to her. This is a delicate situation. She is like a—” His mind searched for the right word, his hand swirling in the air in front of him as if it could help conjure the precise phrase he needed. “—a flower. You can’t force a flower to bloom. You have to wait for it to open.”
“You no good with plants,” Yuri replied. “I remember your mother. She was good with plants. Romanov’s buy many plants from her. Your mother die, plants die, but I still keep you as customer.”
“And I appreciate that,” Stone said, though he knew their relationship was mutually beneficial. He mined minerals, and the smuggler sold them to the highest bidder, usually offworld, quarantine be damned. Processed minerals wouldn’t spread the plague, so Stone didn’t feel much guilt over selling them to a smuggler. But buying a woman from him—that did make Stone a little uncomfortable.
He thought back to the day of the delivery.
His eyes had flickered from the stasis container to the hovercraft and the logo of Stanford Delivery, tall as a house, looming large. The high resolution hologram changed to an advertisement, unaffected by the fine sheen of Martian dust kicked up by the vehicle. He looked at the pad in his hand with the words ‘sign here’ flashing at him. His mind was still on the container and its contents. “What do I do with it?”
“Sign your name inside the box,” the delivery man had said, pointing to the flashing words and the dotted line beside it on the display.
“No. I mean with…the product.” He whispered, even though there wasn’t another living being around anywhere for a hundred miles in any direction.
“You open the box and use the item in whatever way you see fit,” the delivery man replied.
Stone’s face flushed hot and his stomach leapt into his throat. He tried to swallow the bile back down as he quickly signed at the X, then shoved the stylus back at the man.
“Usually these sorts of sleeper containers have something living inside. A plant. Could be a tree. People on Mars order trees all the time because they aren’t embargoed.” The delivery man took his stylus back. “Be careful with the roots.”
Stone tried to swallow, but his throat was suddenly dry. It was the delivery he had been waiting for. Had to be.
“I've never really been very good with...living things,” he had mumbled, glancing over his shoulder at the dilapidated greenhouse.
“Water, food, and sun,” the delivery man had said, putting the display pad away. “I'm sure you get plenty of the last one around here.”
Stone shook his head clear of the recollection to focus on the present. “You don’t understand, Yuri,” he said.
“Yuri understand you being strange man who buy woman to have sex and then no having sex because she like flower.”
“I not—I mean—I didn’t buy her for sex!”
Yuri laughed as if he couldn’t believe anything so ridiculous, and in truth, Stone didn’t either. He had hoped it would be the obvious conclusion. She would be the only woman with the only male for hundreds of miles in any direction.
Stone thought he was reasonably attractive to a woman, even a pretty woman like the one he was discussing with Yuri. He could recall with perfect clarity the moment he first saw her. He hadn’t seen a woman in a long time before that moment. His heartbeat had skipped, and his mouth had gone dry just looking at her.
A woman. Not an android or a replica with all the right moving parts, but a real living, breathing woman. They were a rare commodity on Mars, made rarer with the quarantine and the plague.
He had reached for the container, hands shaking. He pressed controls on the keypad and watched the small digital display countdown backwards from twenty seconds to open. He held his breath the entire time.
The top had hissed open. Recycled air hit his face as he leaned forward to peer inside. He caught a whiff of something and leaned in closer. It was a purely un-Martian scent—clean, warm, and natural.
The woman was lying perfectly still and serene in the container. Her eyes were closed. Her nut-brown hair had been combed and arranged deliberately around her face. Her arms were folded over her chest, under her breasts. His eyes stayed there for a moment longer than they should have.
She was wearing a simple, white, feminine cotton gown that settled on her curves, outlining them, accentuating them as he stared. There were no shoes on her feet, but her toenails had been painted the same color pink as her fingernails. Lying so still in the container, she looked just like a doll in a shop.
He reached for her face, the backs of his fingers running lightly over the velvet soft caramel-colored skin of her cheek. She was warm, and even asleep she was more real than any android or replica he had ever owned and operated.
Her eyes had blinked open, and Stone felt like a child caught with a mouth full of cookies, his hand still in the cookie jar.
He could do nothing but blink as she scrambled into the corner of the container furthest away from him and shut her eyes tightly. Her face was a mask of terror. She grasped her dress, pulling the skirt tight around her and hugging her knees. Locking her arms around them, she buried her forehead between them and shivered.
There wasn’t a word for the emotions Stone felt at that moment, and the only sensation he could truly comprehend was his stomach churning.
Two days later, he still hadn’t asked her name or even contacted Yuri to thank him or get more information. It had been hard enough getting the woman into the house. She made him feel like a barbarian, flinching every time he moved toward her.
“Do you want more water?” he had asked one evening. His voice was muted and careful. He held out a clear glass of water to her, taking a sip from the cup to assure her it was harmless.
She had twitched, looked up at him, watching him with large blue-green eyes. When he took a sip, her eyes locked on the water. Her eyes narrowed on it for a moment before her lip quivered, her eyes pooled, and she started to weep.
And so Stone gave the woman space.
That was the only name he knew her by.
“I just want to know her name,” Stone told Yuri.
“Then give her one.”
Stone tried very hard not to roll his eyes, managing a polite, but tight reply. “Good-bye, Yuri.” He heard Yuri laughing before he cut off the feed. He felt ten times the idiot he had been before he called.