Liberty ate her lunch alone. It wasnâ€™t that she was shy; back at home in the national park where she grew up, she had been very outgoing. In the city, under the press of glistening buildings and cars speeding through the sky, advertisements wailing and the press of people, sensation zappers shooting through you from ads, spreading the taste of chocolate or burger or the scent of perfumes Liberty needed time to recoup. Liberty took quiet lunches to collect her thoughts before going back out into the crowing sensations.
The little Martian restaurant close to campus always seemed crowded but somehow there always seemed to be a table when she came in. Then Liberty realized that the Martians were seating her before other people, preferential treatment for a regular. They always smiled at her when she came in, and she always left them a big tip on her credit line.
Once, on a slow day, she asked for a dish they didnâ€™t have on the menu. Most Earth people didnâ€™t like it; it was a pickled root that was engineered on Mars, and cooked in a spicy curry.
Liberty had been to Mars once, after the war. She was only ten years old then, but she had family on Mars. Her grandmother had gone through the genetic treatment before the war to become fully Martian. When her father and her mother had stepped off the ship onto the alien world, six Martians were waiting for them. They were the tallest people that Liberty had ever seen, they looked like they had all been stretched by giant hands. Their skin was red and orange in swirls that bled into each other, and each one of them had giant eyes with a thin clear eyelid that slid over quick, and a thick outer eyelid that looked tough and callused, even on the children. Back then, all the Martians looked alike to her, but her mom had known her grandmother right away, and they touched each otherâ€™s faces and embraced, and all the weirdness of standing in front of people they didnâ€™t know seemed to disappear. In those few months Liberty was free from school, and spent all her time running around the red Martian caves with her grandmothers children, and eating the Martian curried root. Her father had said that the war happened because the Martians didnâ€™t want to be human anymore, and by being there, Liberty was showing them what they were missing. When Liberty was older, she learned more about the war, and a lot of what her father told her was shattered.
Once, when she was eating her lunch, a couple at the table beside her started to argue with their waiter.
â€œBring me the tab in Chinese!â€ demanded the purple haired woman. â€œ I canâ€™t read it in Martian, I want it in Chinese.â€ she said, her voice like a car horn. The man with her, with matching puffy purple hair muttered something about Martians, and how they aught to learn the three basic languages if they wanted to live here.
â€œThe menu is in Chinese.â€ said their waiter helplessly holding out the menu pad to them. â€œYou can read the price there if you think we are cheating you.â€
â€œI need to enter the data values of calorie consumption and fiscal consumption into my data bank.â€ She exposed her left breast, which had a counter of calories and her exposed credit line in moving ink on her flesh. The waiter looked away. Tattoos of any kind were forbidden in Martian culture.
â€œCanâ€™t any of you write in Chinese? Or can you only write in your make-believe language?â€ screeched the woman.
Liberty stood up and grabbed the data pad out of the waiterâ€™s hands. â€œI can translate Martian.” she said, and she wrote the words into Chinese on the tab and threw it on the table. â€œThere. Now I think you should pay the man.â€ The woman with the purple hair paid the bill and left in a hurry. They did not leave a tip.
â€œHow did you learn to read Martian?â€ asked the waiter.
Liberty picked up her bags. â€œWhen I was a child, I used to be a Martian too.â€