The Bellatrix by David Barber

The Bellatrix
David Barber

All Martians know the works of Jammes Bek. They read them at school. Everyone else finds them too gloomy, too full of regret. This is a story about Bek before he was famous, and the woman of the Bellatrix who claimed to be from the future.

I flee from the bullet,” Bella once explained to Bek. “Though days are as precious to me as to anyone, it is my fate.” She already knew the time and place of her ending, but was resigned to the paradoxes those fixed in time fail to understand.

Many were convinced by her story and took her novel DNA as proof; others said it only showed she was geneered, which was not illegal on every world. Her appearance – gracile, pale and hairless – was striking, and she related lurid and improbable accounts of Martian history, a subject she hinted vaguely had a resonance uptime.

According to Bek it began with a message arriving out of the red. She wanted to meet him because he was famed in her far-off age, and of course she fascinated even more when she let slip that they became lovers.

Bek had married young, in the Martian way. Their women were still a pioneer folk, practical, stubborn, and fierce in the presence of rivals. Pictures show hard-working couples with no time for the camera, helpmeets who checked each other’s suit. Love seemed different then. Bek’s wife does not feature except by name; this avenging harpy was called Rona Bek.

By this time, Bek and Bella were living together half a planet away in Tharsis. When he discovered his wife had vengeful kinsfolk there, they hurried on to Pickering Crater.

“Let’s just get off-world,” he complained. How weary she must have grown of explaining that this had already happened and there was no changing the past.

Hard to know if Bek believed her story. Sometimes he would promise her the last air in the tank, other times he savoured the rivalry between his exotic lover and the wife fighting to win him back. And he kept scratching at the notion of his fame. Even then he had ambitions for his writing.

I read some work of yours once,” Bella said. Picture her shrugging, a gesture that apparently survives the ages. “In my time this world is lush and green, something to be proud of. You just wrote about an airless wasteland.”

He’d warned her not to talk to him like that, so he had to hit her. We can guess what she made of his violence and primitive notions of ownership. She left soon after, overland by rover to Elysium.

Fellows with the look of his wife’s clan surprised Bek that same sol. Rona Bek had made them swear not to hurt him.

It was all a mistake,” he begged. “She meant nothing.” He said a lot more and their faces hardened with contempt.

Mars don’t forgive mistakes,” said one. “Remember that.” The last of them spat as they stepped over him to leave.

Bella’s rover was found empty, doors open to the violet sky.

Bek was older, and a different man when he began writing about Mars and its barren, cold deserts. No other imbued it with such regret.

In later years, Bek dismissed Bella’s stories as wild invention. She once mentioned that his reputation came not from his writings, but a soap called The Bellatrix, the most popular immersion software of her age: the time-travelling adventures of fierce Bella and her comic native guide, Jam-Bek, endlessly fleeing an avenging angel across the exotic sands of old Mars.

The End

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