Anna came and called him to the table. The boys were out, which was a relief.
And she was right, food did help. The black depression which had grown around him yielded slowly to a warm stomach and his wife's easy chatter. He listened idly as she related how expensive things had gotten in the meat market and the poor condition of the fruit. He listened to the troubles of his friends, in more detail than he cared to know. It always disturbed him to know in what intimate detail his wife was party to other people's financial, health, and marital problems. He had a sick feeling that there were a dozen women who intimately knew his own troubles.
He cut her off when she began talking about an older lady's broken hip.
"Anna, I was told some bad news today."
She fell instantly silent. When it came time to listen, she turned her full attention to it. Perhaps, he mused, that is why so many people told her their problems.
"I had an interview with the Federal Colony Board officer. He reviewed our medical tests and discovered that you have diabetes."
Anna sat back in her chair, a puzzled look on her face. "I don't have diabetes. I am healthy. You know that."
Gavin put out a hand and waved down her objections, "Yes, yes I know you are healthy. It's not as if you had the disease outright. You just have the heredity for it. They did a gene-scan and one of the things they discovered was that you inherited the diabetes pattern. If you don't have it now, the chances are still very good that you will get it later on in your life.
"Bart and David have it too."
Anna was silent for a moment as she absorbed the news. Then her smile gradually came back. "Well, this is indeed bad news, but it is not terrible. We can have it fixed. Uncle Jason had diabetes. The doctor cured him. They fiddled with his DNA for a couple of months, then he was as good as new."
She noticed that her husband's frown had not gone away. She asked, "Is there more? Is there some problem with the colonization people. Will we have to wait until I get cured? Is that what is worrying you?"
Gavin was having trouble looking her in the face. He shook his head. "It's not that."
Anna sat back and asked, "Well what is it then?"
Gavin took a deep breath, and then another, his mind empty of the words he needed. He shook his head.
"Anna -- they said we can't go."
She looked down at her lap. Quietly, she asked, "Is it ... is it because of my diabetes that we can't go?"
Gavin reached across the table and grabbed her hand. He gave it a gentle squeeze. "No. It's not your fault at all. All those tests -- they said I wouldn't make a good enough farmer or something. In spite of everything the company told us, their recommendation wasn't enough. I had to pass those stupid tests, and I failed."
Anna got up from the table and came around to where they could hug. "Isn't there something we can do? Maybe they can give us the test again. Maybe there was a mistake."
Gavin shook his head, "I tried that. I had the officer re-check our records right then. That is when he noticed the diabetes."
"Is there no hope at all?"
Gavin hesitated. Better to keep it from her, he thought.
"What is it?" Anna asked, sensing his turmoil. "Tell me or I'll tickle." She poked a finger at his ribs.
He shook his head, "No, it's nothing."
Quickly, he got up from the chair and stalked back to the bathroom. He could feel her eyes on him.
The door locked with a click. The bathroom was the only privacy in their tiny apartment. But the click sounded like the slam of a prison door. What future was there now? When the word got out, the stigma of failure would mark him for the rest of his life.
The kids, Anna, they would survive. But he would have to find another job. He knew the company. They were generous enough to the winners, but the losers were swept under the rug with never a backward glance. They would have to move.
It would be simpler to die. He startled himself with the thought, but quickly forced it back into the depths. No matter how bad things get, I won't quit. I won't abandon my family.
The doorknob clicked and Anna entered, screwdriver in hand, the one they used to bypass the lock when the kids locked themselves in.
She had a worried look on her face.
"You are keeping a secret," she accused. "You promised me you would never do that. Now tell."
He sighed, "Can't I keep any secrets from you?" He looked into her eyes. "No. I guess I never could."
He captured her fingers and explained. "The officer told me that while my scores didn't pass their qualifying level, there was one other way that we, as a family, could emigrate to the Martian colony.
"It seems that the colonization authority has decreed that a complete cross section of the human gene pool must be included in the colonization. If we lost spaceflight and Mars was cut off, they want to insure that no genetic trait would be lost because of too efficient screening of the colonists.
"He told me that we could go -- if neither you nor the boys had corrective genetic reconstruction done.
"We can't cure you if we go. We can't go if you are cured."
Anna frowned, "Why in the world do they want to keep a genetic disease? That makes no sense at all."
Gavin shook his head, "The way he explained it to me, there is some theory that there is a beneficial side effect. Diabetics may have a metabolism that could survive better than normal people under some famine conditions. I'm not sure I buy the theory."
"But the colony people do," Anna said quietly.
Gavin spoke firmly, "It makes us no difference! I'm not going to trade my family's health for an uncertain future."
"Did you tell the colony officer that we wouldn't go?"
"No, but I will. If it makes any difference. I bent his ears back good when he first suggested this."
"Maybe we should go."
Gavin looked carefully at his wife. "What do you mean? I meant it. We aren't going to trade away your health."
Anna shook her head, "I don't know. I am healthy. The boys are healthy. There are things you can do, diet things, that you can do to help prevent diabetes. We are warned, we can take precautions now. Disease doesn't scare me. Uncle Jason lived with it for years."
She looked into his eyes, "But that sniper scared me. This gun in your pocket scares me. The riots scare me. The boys' schools scare me. The look I see on your face when you come home from work each day, that scares me most of all.
"Call the colony man, right now. Let's go. I'll trade uncertain health for a future, any day."
"No!" he looked away, angrily. "I will not ride to Mars at the expense of you and the kids."
Anna squeezed his hand. "Gavin, you have no right to keep us from going. I will risk the diabetes. The Father Above knows I would do the same if it were cancer. And so would you.
"It isn't our future anymore. It is Bart's and David's. Maybe you and I can afford to take the safe life, but they can't. All Earth is falling apart. There is no other place they can go."
Gavin was silent for a moment. Then he nodded, and asked "But what about the disease?"
She shrugged, "I'll learn to cook differently. We'll tell them about the diabetes. They can be trained to take care of their health. As a family, we can adapt. We have to."
The phone rang. Anna automatically bounced up to get it.
"Hello?" "Oh, Belinda, I'm glad you called." "Gavin? No. There's no problem."
She muted the line, and spoke to her husband, "It's Belinda. Bento was worried about you." She released the mute.
"Yes, we will be moving to the training camp in a month." "No. In fact, the federal colony man told Gavin just today that we were really needed on Mars."
She gave her husband a wink and continued airily, "You see, they need our genes."