We return to Helium for some free time. The group split. Some wanted to go shopping; some went looking for a local geologist that one of them went to school with; others just went looking for lunch.
I see Dodge walking down the street with a bunch of people. As they pass I can hear her say, “A person is defined by his actions, not their memory.”
Interested in lunch ourselves, we go down a street of food vendors. Chinese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Moroccan, or Thai; each has a window of green herbs. Displays announce proudly and clearly the use of cilantro, fresh coriander, and Chinese or Mexican parsley in the dishes – all the same herb, but under different names. Stopping outside a Moroccan restaurant I ask the proprietor why such a fascination for this one herb.
“You must be tourists. Here on Mars, most people worry a little about the chance of the heavy metals in the soil getting into the food. We all know that the scientists say that the plants don’t absorb these metals and they are safe, but there were times when they told us that tobacco was harmless and salt was causing heart disease; then they ‘discovered’ they were wrong. So we eat cilantro. There was a study that showed it was found to remove mercury, lead and other heavy metals from the tissue of the body via chelating them out of the body. Even though each individual meal is safe, most of us try to prevent a buildup by eating a good amount of cilantro each day. Better to be safe than sorry when they revise their findings.”
Thanking him, we decide to enter his restaurant for lunch. As we sit down, he puts out lots of little plates of salads, including a tomato and cucumber one, and another made from radishes. The best is an artichoke salad with garlic, spices and preserved lemon. All are full of flavour – and cilantro.
The restaurateur says, “With the lower air pressure here, we have to modify some of the original recipes so that the flavour will come through.” The yak tangia is wonderful with dried fruit and a slightly sweet sauce. Fay has the fish balls, and the sauce is full of cilantro. After the meal we are offered sweet mint tea and Kaab el ghzal – crescent-shaped cookies filled with almond paste and cinnamon. Absolutely wonderful.
Taking the maglev back to the spaceport, we enter the security area and find two TSA agents hand-searching Dodge. While they are working, we are waved on to other agents, who quickly scan and pass us for returning to the ship. They are still working on Dodge and her day bag when we enter the transfer tube.
Letting out a deep breath, I release the tension I had not even realised I was feeling. It was comforting to be back on the ship. In only two weeks it had become ‘home’ and a safe refuge from edgy security teams.
The One: A Cruise Through the Solar System is the debut novel from Eric Klein.