I watched the rolling waves on the lake as the breeze gently blew. The golden sky reflected off the lake, Lake Melanie, the latest of our achievements. From the beginning twenty years ago, our vision came to life. Roads constructed, buildings went up, and people arrived in droves, now this.
My wife, Bethany, and our three children, Bobby, Roy, and my baby girl, Melanie never made it here to see what the team had accomplished. Their absence, my remorse, my grief-stricken nightmare that pranced around in the back of my mind continually robbed me of this scientific marvel.
I was startled by a voice from behind, “Excuse me, sir! Are you Dr. Brad Berry?” I turned to see an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties. Offended by another imposition, I breathed, “Not another reporter!”
The tension started in the back of my neck, moved through my shoulders down into my balling fist. “How many times do I have to repeat my story to you people? Do reporters never tire?”
She softly responded, “I am not a reporter.”
The tension eased as I noticed how much the young lady reminded me of my deceased wife, Bethany. I chose to entertain her. “How can I help you, miss?”
Something about her was amiss. She put her head down for a moment as if gathering her thoughts then looked up at me. Her eyes searched for something. The pain was evident. “Mr. Berry, I have traveled a very long way to meet you. I have only one question for you.” She paused swallowing the lump in her throat, “Why didn’t you search for your family?”
It was my turn to lower my head and bury the pain. While suppressing my grief, I looked back up at her. I had become adept at deflecting personal questions by giving the corporate sales pitch. “Twenty years ago, Global Space and Exploration Corporation (GSEC) sent a team on a mission. I am the lead scientist for this project. Our goal was to make Mars inhabitable. Our task was to build a self-contained Terre-structure, an artificial atmosphere, that could support several million people. Thanks to a skilled team of Geo-hydrologist, this lake is our latest achievement. For the first time in millions or possibly billions of years, Mars has water on its surface.
Her eyes turned down as if staring at my feet. “Dr. Berry, you did not answer my question. Why didn’t you go back to Earth and search for your family?”
It felt like a knife plunged deep into my heart. The pain surfaced with the memories of eighteen years ago. I looked out toward the general direction of Earth. “Two years into the mission, I was to return to earth to bring my family back to Mars. We had completed the initial phase. We set up a station that could sustain the team and their families. By year five, we would expand the artificial atmosphere to the size of Virginia. While waiting for a return flight to Earth, a radical group called the Neo-Puritan Allegiance (NPA) obtained several nuclear devices and bombed several GSEC facilities. They destroyed facilities in Northern Virginia, Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Millions of people died including my wife and three children. I received word of the bombings and the death of my family. I never returned to Earth. Grief-stricken, I stayed and poured my life into my work.
My story seemed to touch something in this young lady. Tears started streaming down her cheeks. My latent paternal instincts kicked in and I reached over to brush the tears off her face. She appeared to be around the age Melanie would be. As I touched her cheeks, she began to sob, “WHY? Why didn’t you look for us? I am Melanie, your daughter.”
I stepped back away from her, “How can that be? My family is DEAD! Why, would you say something like that?”
Standing tall and staring me down, “I. am. Melanie. Berry!”
“Mom had taken us on a trip. When the NPA bombed the GSEC plants, we were in Colonial Williamsburg.”
I quickly responded, “If that is so, why did I never hear about this?”
The young lady continued her story, “After the bombings, it was chaos everywhere. Mom chose to stay in Williamsburg for a few extra days. I was too young to understand what was happening. An NPA cell had a safe house in Williamsburg. One of their operatives had recognized mom at a gas station.
For several years, the NPA had studied the corporate leaders, key scientists, and their families. The NPA kidnapped us thinking that mom might have information. After interrogating her, they executed mom, Bobby, and Roy. Because I was only three years old the cell spared my life.
One of the lead NPA operatives felt that I would make an excellent future NPA member. I was with them for two years before the FBI killed them in a raid. I spent the next three years in foster care. A kind family adopted me when I was eight. I had all but forgotten who I was.
I did well in school then went to the Academy of Biological Sciences majoring in Genetics. During one of my labs, we tested ourselves to see if we had any famous ancestors. The test revealed that I was your daughter. Forgotten memories surfaced. The missing pieces of my life fell into place. Upon graduation, I knew that I had to travel to Mars to find my father. I joined an internship to pay for the trip.”
I buried my head in my hands, “Guilt and doubt had plagued me all these years. What if somehow one of my family members survived and I never searched for them?”
Both of us sobbing, I pulled Melanie into my arms. “Melanie, my child! I am so sorry that you suffered all this. We are together now.”