Fiction: A League of Her Own

An essay by Beth Cantrell, as provided by Robert Dawson
Art by America Jones

I’ve gone into space with some odd ducks, but let me tell you, Loreena Saunders was one of the oddest.

On those early missions to Mars, you got five fricking kilos for personal effects. A few pieces of jewellery, perhaps a favorite silk scarf, and a thumbdrive or two. And maybe some photographs and a lock of hair, if you weren’t smart enough to leave old memories behind.

Some people brought musical instruments. A couple people had pennywhistles, and there were a few lightweight electric violins and guitars, little more than fingerboard, strings, and pickup. “Mac” Duncan even had an electronic bagpipe, about the size of a big soda straw. Better yet, he had earbuds for practice.

But what sort of nut would take a baseball and a first baseman’s mitt to Mars–a third of an astronomical unit away from the nearest baseball diamond, even at conjunction? Loreena, that’s who. Back when she was a kid in Boston, she’d played Little League with the boys, and she’d been on the varsity women’s team at MIT. Here, she couldn’t even go outside and play catch: the glove wouldn’t fit over her p-suit. But if she minded, it didn’t show: when she had nothing else to do, she’d sit around the dome, slapping the ball into the glove, smiling blissfully, and occasionally picking an imaginary pop fly out of the air. The constant slap of leather on leather could get on your nerves.

So when I got sent up to Phobos to do the preliminary geological survey (I’ll go with “areological” for Mars, but “phobological” just sounds silly), my excitement was damped when I realized that Loreena was going to be my assistant. The orbiter we were going in was about the size of the minivan my folks had when I was a kid. The galley was a cupboard full of freeze-dried food in single-serving pouches and a gadget for injecting warm water into them. It had two tiny berths, with privacy doors so thin you could hear somebody breathe through them. I wondered if I could get somebody else, but Loreena was the only colonist with geological training who could also pilot the orbiter. I was stuck with her.

“You’re not going to bring that baseball of yours, are you?” I asked.

She grinned. “You’re bringing your Rubik’s Cube, aren’t you, Beth?”

I clenched my teeth. When I was twenty, I’d been the CalTech women’s champion, and in fifth place nationally for the “five peeks” event. I wasn’t quite that fast anymore, but old cubists never die, they just lose face. Of course I was bringing my cube. “I’ll try to keep it quiet,” I said.

Illustration of a Martian moon with orbit lines around it.

When Loreena made the computer display the orbit, it looked like a messy ball of string. And I mean messy–with that crazy shape, Phobos is all gravitational anomalies.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2019 collection.

Beth Cantrell is best known for her award-winning paper “Simplified Passive Satellite Gravimetry” with L. Saunders.  She holds the Mars, Phobos, Ceres, Vesta, and Pallas records for solving a Rubik’s Cube in a p-suit.  She sometimes goes to baseball games, but only if somebody promises to supply her with sufficient peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Robert Dawson teaches mathematics at a Nova Scotian university. He has had more than seventy SF stories published in periodicals ranging from Nature to Mad Scientist Journal. He’d like to congratulate MSJ on a great run, and thinks the plan to commemorate the last issue by blowing up the Sun is a very appropriate tribute to the close of an era.

America is an illustrator and comic artist with a passion for neon colors and queer culture. Catch them being antisocial on social media @thehauntedboy.

“A League of Her Own” is © 2019 Robert Dawson
Art accompanying story is © 2019 America Jones

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