Prose Header


by Ian Cordingley

The problem with the Moon is that there’s no atmosphere!

One of the pioneers had carved those words. They were traced in purple neon.

“Let him in!”

The doorman was confused. He didn’t see too many of them. “You sure?”

This one was tall, dirty, smelling of sulphur from his last job, brown and dragging the dust of half the Solar System with him. Presently carrying nothing that could be used as a weapon, so...

“All right,” the doorman said. He gestured for... it to come inside. The line was long; no need to debate the point. It huffed in appreciation.

The place was half empty tonight. The floor was empty, just a few dancers. The walls and ceilings were padded for the energetic ones. Tonight, prospectors and miners lounged in their blue coveralls. At the bar, Jenny was waving him over.

“Good to see you!” She stretched to hug him.

He plunked down on a stool, taking up the space three patrons could occupy.

“The usual?”

From within his helmet he nodded. She swiftly produced a concoction of juice and vodka. Above the bar, tacked to the mirror, was a photograph of the old gang. Fresh out of school, wearing their blue uniforms, smiling and happy. It was going on fifteen years since that photo was taken.

“Here you go, Danny!”

He accepted the plastic cup in his massive paw. Thoughtfully she had given him a long straw. He took it in his teeth and slurped.

“How have you been?”

Danny shrugged. He had come from Jupiter on the last transport. His last job had ended badly. Standing on the Solar System’s worst seismic tantrum, he had barely escaped when his platform collapsed into a flow of molten rock. His suit, blackened in places, had taken the worst of it. Last time he contracted for that company.

Jenny laughed. Running the bar at Singapore, she had heard of many close calls, some harrowing, some even sexy. Whatever happened to Danny always seemed hilarious. Maybe it was their past.

Why was she still working at Singapore? This was supposed to be a side project after all.

Jenny shrugged, “I guess I got tired of it all and, besides, things have really come along up here, since the breaking of the trusts.”

That was obvious from above without being told. From the bottom up, poking through the concrete grey regolith, there were tiny dots of light, more domes over craters. The people were happier now. Families were even being started.

And Singapore had become an institution.

Whatever happened to the others?

“Brad’s still on Mars,” Jenny explained. “He’s working at Olympus Tech now.”

Square-jawed like something out of communist propaganda, in the photo Brad had one hand on Jenny’s shoulder, his other in Naomi’s hand. That relationship had become almost legendary. And it was not always for the best of reasons.

“No, I haven’t heard from him,” Jenny confessed. “Too important now, I guess.”

Their friend the hero. Couldn’t she milk that for what it was worth?

Jenny laughed, “If only!”

The trusts hadn’t put much stock into the lava tubes and the first tunnels. And it didn’t take long or much to hollow out a cavern. Danny had done a lot of the drilling. He was good with his hands and machines.

Brad was more mascot than help. As soon as they’d cleared out most of the debris and opened up the first case, he was stone drunk. But he made up for it. Brad used his charisma, his attractiveness to lure their first clientele, their names immortalized forever on the wall: chiseled names, serial numbers. And by the names, streaks of paint from the party they held when the trusts were shattered and Singapore reopened. Faint, but still evident. They had painted some of the walls neon colours. It looked inappropriate.

The drink, however, catapulted Danny to a different era. How long since he had this? How long since he had alcohol? It was forbidden farther out, and that was where he had been. The latest expansion had been building for so long.

And when they could, the ones who could leave, did. The trusts were history now. Brad was working on his second term as administrator, an enterprise made more difficult since he was recovering from debilitating scandal. Naomi was opposing him — that was news to Danny. But he hadn’t had much time to waste on gossip and the news. Not when he was trying to hack out a homestead on unstable rock light-minutes from home.

Danny and Brad had sat next to each other in school. They had worked shoulder-to-shoulder and grumbled together quietly about the trusts.

It had been a very long time since he had put on this suit. More people were coming in. The party was just starting.

“Would you like another?”

He shrugged. He would have loved another but it would make take-off worse.

“Leaving so soon?”

Yeah, he had to go. There was something out around Saturn he wanted in on.

“It was good to see you,” she said.

They embraced again. He could have scooped her up in his arms and have room left for several more people. By touch it did not feel right.

The TerraMaster suit was top of the line. Even now, in an era of cheaper knock-offs, it was still common. Tough, simple and reliable: a combination that never failed. It was boasted you never had to take it off. And many wearers never did.

He shuffled out of the bar. From the slight mannerisms, Jenny imagined she could see the young man somewhere inside.

Copyright © 2008 by Ian Cordingley

Open Challenge 285...

Open The Critics’ Corner...

Home Page