Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Luna Rose

by Nick Ragusa

1.

 

In the beginning there was Luna, alone and desolate. Then mankind from planet Earth arrived and built Luna Station on its surface. Home to the finest minds in science, technology, medicine, and education, the station was humanity’s greatest achievement, and all who lived and worked there were honored and dedicated. But as time passed many of the residents became weary with homesickness, yearning for the sights and smells of Earth. They became disheartened and depressed. Productivity dropped, morale was low, and a general uneasiness was evident within the station. The Luna Station Grand Council asked the World Government of Earth to send help, and the Government sent someone the Council did not expect. They sent a Horticulturist...

***

I hate hospitals. They depress the hell out of me. Six years ago my grandfather had a stroke, and I went with my family to see him. I’ll never forget that horrible day. He had an oxygen tube sticking out of his nose, his face beet red, his hands shriveled and weak. I despised having to see him that way. I was only 16 at the time, and after seeing the state he was in I knew I’d have one less grandparent. He died of complications four weeks later. The health care system on Earth is crap. He would’ve fared better if he had been here on Luna Station. He’d have better care, better equipment. Oh well, what’s done is done. He’s dead on Earth and I’m alive on the Moon.

I’m at the medical center in the Hobbes District to visit Emma Corning, a teacher at the local elementary school. She’s been on the station for twenty years and is 74 years old. She has bronchitis from, apparently, having smoked too much when she was younger. It makes me realize I’ve been smoking a lot lately. I should cut back, but I’ve been too stressed out from work to stop.

I walk up to the information desk. The lady at the desk says, “My, those are nice flowers.”

She’s referring to the big arrangement of flowers I made. “Thanks. I’m here to see Emma Corning.”

“Are you Amanda Pyner?”

“Yes I am.”

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you,” she says, genuinely excited. Give me a break. It’s not like I’m the damn president or anything. I’m just the flower girl. “I’ve heard so many great things about you.”

She must be an intern. I hate interns. “I appreciate that. Now can you tell me where Miss Corning’s room is? This is getting heavy.”

“Second floor, room 2E. Did you grow those flowers from scratch?”

With me it’s simple: ask a stupid question, you get no answer. I probably offended her but I don’t care. I just want to get this over with and get out of here. I’m tired as hell. I stayed up half the night putting this arrangement together. I had no choice. The school asked me to make it, and it’s not like I can open my desk drawer and whip up a bouquet of flowers. This isn’t Earth. There’s no soil, no ecosystem. Every flower has to be grown mechanically, which takes time.

And what’s worse I can’t grow them in large quantities. I don’t have sufficient equipment. The Grand Council says they’ll send more but who knows how long that will be. That’s why I’ve been so stressed. The demand is exceeding the supply. The job is satisfying most of the time because I’m helping people, but it’s a lot of work. I’m the only one doing it. They haven’t even hired an assistant for me yet.

The second floor has an awful clean smell, like they used too much bleach. It makes me want to vomit. All right Amanda, take a deep breath. It’ll be over soon enough.

Emma’s asleep in her room. The lights are on. A radio sits silent on a table next to her bed. The lone window in the room offers a pleasant view of downtown Hobbes. There’s not much activity out there because it’s approaching twenty hundred hours, the standard resting time on the station.

She stirs awake when I put the flowers on the table. She looks at the arrangement, at me, and back at the arrangement. She takes a deep breath and rubs her eyes. I sit in a spare chair at the foot of the bed, not obliged to speak until she does.

“Don’t those flowers look lovely,” she says. “And a lovely lady to bring them to me. How do you do, dear?”

I yawn. I can’t believe I did that. How fucking rude. “I’m so sorry. Forgive me, I’ve been up all day running all kinds of errands.” Wow do I so not want to be here right now.

“That’s quite all right, you don’t have to apologize. Thank you for this beautiful arrangement. You are Amanda, yes?”

“I am. How are you feeling, Miss Corning?”

“Oh, I’m okay. I’m very sick and it hurts most of the time. But these flowers are a wonderful surprise. I used to have a garden at our home back on Earth.”

“Where are you from?” I know the answer, having been given basic background information from her school. But it’s part of the job to make conversation with her.

“Bakersfield, California. Martin was from there also. He was my husband.”

“How long has he been...”

“Three years.”

“I’m sorry.”

“He was a good man, and lived a good life. And where are you from, dear? America, yes?”

“I’m from Missouri.” This kind of talk is brutal. It’s so boring. Not a week goes by I don’t engage in one of these conversations. Every so often I’ll meet a scientist or a philosopher and we’ll have a meaningful talk. I don’t see that happening with Emma, her being a simple schoolteacher and all.

“Missouri, you say? I’ve been there before. Which town?”

“Hannibal.”

“Oh, don’t think I’ve ever been there. Martin and I went to St. Louis many years ago, long before your time. You’ve been to St. Louis?”

“Sure.”

“A lovely city. There’s so much to do, so much to see in St. Louis. And the Gateway Arch! I was afraid to go to the top of it. It was so high. That may sound strange coming from someone who’s living on Luna, but back then I was quite shy about those things. Now Martin, on the other hand—“

“Excuse me if I may, Miss Corning, but I must get going.” I can’t sit here and listen to her ramble on about her dead husband. So many old people do that. It’s depressing as hell.

“Oh, so soon? That is a shame. I would’ve liked to know more about you.”

“There’s not much to tell. I’m just a Horticulturist. I’m pretty boring.”

“Nonsense. No one is ever boring. Are you married?”

“No.”

“Are there any prospects, then? Come on, don’t be shy.”

I’m in no mood to talk about this, but I kind of feel sorry for her, alone in this place with no friends or family. “I’m not in a relationship right now. I’ve been on a few dates but that’s about it. I’ve been so busy with work I really haven’t had time for that stuff.”

Emma frowns. She looks as if I’ve confessed to a crime or something. “You must make time, dear. In my years on this station I’ve known people who work too much, who stay single, and let me tell you they are not happy. They keep to themselves. They don’t go out much, get sick, and in some cases depressed. My son Evan was like that when he came here. I was okay because I was married, but Evan couldn’t take it and left after a year. Take my advice, Amanda, and find someone to be in a relationship with.”

Is she kidding? As if it’s that easy to find someone here on the Moon. “I’ll try. It’s just hard right now. I’m only 22, so I’m not going to rush things. But like I said, it is getting late and I must be going. I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow. I do apologize.”

“That’s all right.” She holds out her hand. “Come over here, Amanda.”

She pulls me in close. She smells like cough syrup. “Think about what I said. Luna is a lonely place. Okay?”

“I will.” In all likelihood I’ll have forgotten this conversation by tomorrow. I’m not one who dwells on things for too long. “I hope you get better, Miss Corning. Have a good night.”

“Good night, Amanda.”

Finally! I damn near run out of the hospital. I have to be back here tomorrow afternoon to send flowers to another patient but I try not to think about that. I need a drink. A stiff drink, a few of them. And a cigarette. My God do I need a cigarette.

I have to wait until I get into one of the bars, though. I hop the automated monorail to the Dunholm District where I live. It’s almost a station in itself, with schools and apartment buildings and, yes, hospitals. It’s not a bad district to live in, but it’s very crowded. Most of the newer residents start out at Dunholm and work their way to other districts as they get further situated.

I’m there in five minutes. I make for this little dive called The Veil. It’s more of a nightclub than a sit-down bar, which I prefer. I like listening to the music and watching people dance.

I’m not inside for ten seconds when someone calls my name. “Amanda! Hey Amanda!” It’s Adam Dolby, who works at the Food Distribution Center of this district. He’s sitting by himself drinking a beer.

“Hey Adam, what’s up?”

“Not much. Didn’t expect to see you here this late.”

I reach into my purse and pull out a cigarette. I light it so fast I nearly burn my fingers. That first drag is the best. I feel better already. “Is Karen here?”

“I think she’s in the main bar. You look nice.”

I don’t look nice, not even close. I can look ten times better than this. “Thanks. Anyway, I’m going to go find Karen. I’ll see you later.”

“All right. Wait, Amanda.”

“Yeah?”

“We’re still on for next week, right? The concert?”

I have to remember what he’s talking about. “Oh right, Retro Fuse. Yeah we’re still on. Definitely. Where is it again?”

“Delphi Theater,” he says like he’s annoyed. I think he’s told me about fifty times where it is. I’ve just been so busy I can’t remember stuff like that.

“Okay. I’ll call you later on in the week.” I walk down the corridor to the main bar. Karen’s sitting at the bar drinking a martini and smoking a cigarette. You don’t see many people downing martinis at The Veil, but Karen’s not like many people. She does her own thing. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, which makes her so cool to hang out with. You can make a complete fool out of yourself in front of her and it won’t faze her. She’s my best friend on the station. Too bad she can’t be my assistant. She works as a data organizer for Hammond-King Superconductor’s Research & Development firm. It’s a solid job, with good pay, and a very easy one. There isn’t much thinking involved to be a data organizer, which is why she can drink her head off all night, be halfway functional the next morning, and still do her job.

“Amanda! There you are!” She practically applauds when she sees me. I receive glances from the majority of people in the bar. They know who I am.

“What’s up, Karen?”

“Not much. Guess who’s here. Remember that guy from the other night, the one who said he was going to Mars?”

 

That I remember. “Brad?”

“Yes, Brad. Man, I couldn’t think of his name for the life of me. I saw him in here, like, twenty minutes ago. Wait, I think I—yup, there he is.”

There he is, indeed. Brad is one handsome son of a bitch. He’s in his late 20’s, tall and muscular, with dark blue eyes and a nice smile. He’s a field consultant for NASA, a pretty high profile job.

“Amanda, hey!”

“Hi, Brad.”

He gives me a hug. “You look fantastic.”

“Thanks.” I’m not sure how I look but I’ll take his word for it.

“You just getting in?”

“Yeah. I had a delivery to make in the Hobbes District. So how have you been?”

“Same old same old. Drinking beer, getting drunk. You need one?”

“I can get my own.”

“Hell no. Have a seat. This one’s on me.”

I sit next to Karen. “He likes you,” she says. “And so does Adam Dolby. He’s around here somewhere. He’s all excited about the concert.”

“I know. I saw him when I came--“

“Here ya go.” Brad hands me a beer. Karen says, “I’m going to the bathroom. Brad, take my seat.”

He sits next to me. Nice move, Karen. “So how’s the flower business treating ya?” he asks.

“Extremely busy,” I say. “I’ve got eight more orders for tomorrow, and twelve the day after that. You know the new rocket terminal they put up at O’Laughlin? I have to do a design for them by the end of next week. And just the other day I landed a design for the Sea of Tranquility apartment complex. Not just a particular floor or wing, but the whole damn building.”

“That’s great.”

“Well, yes and no. Yeah it’s good all these people need my help, but I just wish I had an assistant or two to help out. I can barely keep up on my own. Hey, guess what? I’m going to see Retro Fuse at the Delphi.”

“No shit. That’s awesome. Who you going with?”

“A friend of mine from the FDC. He’s a big music buff.” Brad looks dejected all of a sudden. Crap. I shouldn’t have said that. “But he’s just a friend,” I emphasize. I hope I haven’t blown it. I’m always saying stupid stuff like that. “So tell me. How’s the trip to Mars coming along?”

He laughs. Good. “Joke all you want, but I’m telling ya I’m going to be on that first expedition. I’ll be on every TV set in the world. And you want to know what I’m going to do when the camera’s on me? I’m going to turn around, bend over, pull my pants down, and show everybody my butt.”

I’m getting a visual of him doing that, and it’s funny as hell. “That’s awesome, dude.”

“Yup, I’m going to moon the Moon.”

“I hope you get asphyxiation up your ass.”

“Well, if I do, six billion people’ll get to watch. I’m telling ya, Amanda, five years. In five years I’ll be there. Oh, and another thing I’m going to do when I get there: drink lots of beer. I want to be the first drunk bastard on Mars. Cheers to that.” We cling bottles.

My beer is gone in five minutes. Wow, I can’t believe I drank it that fast. Where’s Karen? I don’t see her. Oh well, she can take care of herself. I need another beer. I barely tasted the first one.

After the second beer I need a third. After the third beer I need a fourth. I’ve got a good buzz going. Brad is still keeping me company. I’m amazed I haven’t scared him off. It amazes me even more when he asks, “You want to dance?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think so.” I mean I’d like to, but it seems like a lot of work right now. I need another beer.

“Come on. You know you want to. I see you dance all the time. This is one of my favorite songs. You wouldn’t refuse a guy the chance to dance to his favorite song, would you? I’m not going to take no for an answer.” He holds out his hand. I take it. Man he’s persuasive.

The song is a fast hip-hop/funk song by the Comet Books, whom I got to see in concert on Earth just before I left for the Moon. It’s a great dance song. Brad’s right about one thing. I do dance a lot, especially when I’m buzzed. It’s a nice way to release tension—that is, when I’m not acting like a chickenshit trying to weasel my way out of it. You have to pull my arm to get me to do stuff sometimes.

Brad’s a great dancer. He’s not erratic or a showboat. He has a nice fluid dance motion. It’s not enough to just know how to move your feet or where to place your hands. It’s a confidence factor. Brad has it. I have it, I think, when I’m not being a chickenshit.

Another pleasure I get out of dancing with him are his eyes. I could stare at them forever. With most guys I dance with I’ll look at them for a bit then avert my gaze elsewhere. It’s one of those strange habits I have. With Brad it’s different. I look at him and only him. He’s very charismatic. It draws you in.

The song ends. “Thanks for the dance, Brad.”

“My pleasure.”

“I hope you don’t get upset, but it’s getting late and I have to get going.”

“Oh, come on, have one more beer. On me.”

It’s tempting, but I have a good tolerance of knowing when to stop. “That’s nice of you, but I’m finished.”

“Let me escort you home, then. It’s the least I can do.”

“You don’t need to do that.” Damnit, Amanda, stop being a coward. You like him. Let down your guard.

“I insist,” he says.

“I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“You’re not an inconvenience, Amanda. I would be honored.”

It would almost be rude of me to say no at this point. “All right, sure.”

“Great. Let me close out my tab.”

Karen reappears. She’s sweating and panting for air. She’d been dancing also, it seems. “I need a drink. What are you doing?”

“Getting ready to leave.”

“With Brad?”

I smile and say, “I’ll call you tomorrow. We’ll have lunch.”

“Damn right we will. Have fun. I’m going to the bar.”

I try not to pay attention to the people staring at us leaving. I wish they wouldn’t do that. I don’t have an inferiority complex or anything. It’s just annoying as hell. At least Adam left already. He’d probably get jealous and back out of the concert, which would suck for me because he’s got the tickets.

My place is only a few blocks away so we walk. “Oh shit, I just realized my apartment is a mess,” I say. “You probably don’t want to go in there.”

“I don’t mind. My apartment’s pretty trashed, too. Trust me, I’m used to it. You think I’d be ashamed or something?”

“No, I just wanted to warn you. It’s pretty messy.” I’m nervous all of a sudden. I don’t think I’ve ever brought a guy back to my place before. I always end up at theirs.

I’m not kidding when I say my place is a mess. There’s dirty laundry filling the hamper, dirty dishes in the sink, dust on the countertops, and a stuffy smell due to the aromatic air conditioner breaking down again. Damnit, I thought the super was going to come fix that today.

“Ah, it’s not that bad,” he says. “My place is worse.”

“Thanks.”

We walk into the living room. Papers from work are scattered on the coffee table, more dirty dishes on top of the TV. This whole place reeks. I’m such a slob.

He doesn’t seem to mind, though. At least I hope he doesn’t. He browses my music collection. Even my CDs are disorganized. “We have the same taste in music,” he says. “Hey, you mind if I play this?” He pulls out an album by The Starshipmen, another one of my favorite bands. Their music is instrumental, slow and dark.

“Go ahead. I have to use the bathroom. There should be beer in the fridge. Help yourself.” I feel like I’m going to puke. This sucks. I think I had too much to drink, or not enough to eat.

I take a piss and check myself in the mirror. I look all right. My hair is still in place, my makeup hasn’t smeared, there isn’t anything stuck in my teeth. I’ve been having dreams lately about my teeth falling out. I need to see a dentist one of these days.

The music starts. I love this CD, especially the first song, with its quiet piano and guitars. It’s comforting to hear that song. My stomach relaxes. My reflection in the mirror smiles back at me. Okay, I think I’m ready to go out into the living room.

Brad is sitting on the couch, eyes closed, grinning. He looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world. I wish I could feel that way. I don’t think I ever will. I worry too much, not about the big things in life but the little things like my teeth and my dirty laundry.

He opens his eyes and stands up. “Miss Pyner, may I have this dance?”

He wants to dance in this mess? “You’re insane.”

“I know. It enhances my charm.”

He’s a pro. I can tell he’s done this many times before, which is kind of upsetting because that means he’s probably had many girls before me. But I’ve had plenty of guys so I guess it’s a fair trade-off. The past doesn’t matter now anyway. It’s all about right here, right now, him and me, in this dirty apartment in this crowded district of Luna Station. Me and my drunken ass, him and his hypnotic blue eyes.

“Man, you’re beautiful,” he says. “You’re the most beautiful woman on Luna, Amanda, you know that?”

“Whatever.”

“I’m serious. You think I say that to all the girls? I don’t.”

“Thanks. And I like...your eyes.” Did I just say that? I’m such a dork.

“I’ll take that as a compliment. And you’re a great dancer.”

“If you say so.” When the song ends I say, “That was great, Brad, but I really should go to bed. I have to

work--“

He leans in and kisses me, a full lock on the lips. He tastes like cigarettes and beer, but I’m sure I do too. He wraps his arms around me. I wrap my arms around him. How long has it been since I kissed a guy? Damnit, why am I thinking this? I just need to enjoy the moment.

We go into the bedroom, not bothering to turn off the lights or the music. I probably shouldn’t let it go this far but it’s too late to stop now. Sex is sex. It’s no big deal. Besides, I don’t think I could refuse Brad even if I wanted to. He really is one persuasive son of a bitch.

 

 

 

 

 

2.

 

Amanda Pyner, Luna Station’s Horticulturist, is one of the station’s most physically attractive women. She’s 5’9” and weighs 125 pounds. She has wheat blonde hair, hazel eyes, tanned skin, milk white teeth, and a gorgeous petite face. She also possesses the 3 “C’s”: Charm, Confidence, and Charisma. You feel her presence immediately. When she walks into a room all eyes turn to her. You feel honored to just have her say “Hi” to you, and if that’s all you get out of her you’re content. Yet there are those few brave souls who attempt to go further and make themselves a permanent part of her life, and they will stop at nothing to achieve this goal...

 

***

 

“Hello?”

“Amanda, what’s up? It’s Karen.”

“Karen, how’s it going?”

“Not bad. You left for the concert yet?”

“No, I’m still getting ready. Adam’s on his way over.”

“What are you doing afterwards?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have any particular plan. What about you?”

“Stacy and I are going to The Vortex for a few drinks. If you want to meet up with us that’s where we’ll be.”

“All right, cool. Oh, I heard the doorbell. He’s here.”

“I’ll let you go. Have fun.”

“Thanks. I’ll give you a call later.” I hang up and answer the door.

Adam is holding a bouquet of tulips. I recognize them because I made them for him three days ago. “Hi, Amanda.”

“Hey, Adam. What’s with the flowers?”

“They’re for you.” He hands them to me. “I hope you don’t mind. I know you made them and all, but it was the only way I could give you flowers. You have no competitors.”

“Well, thanks, that’s nice of you. Come on in. Sorry the place is a mess. I haven’t had much time to clean.”

He scans the living room, not much cleaner than two weeks ago when Brad was here. “It’s not bad. I’ve seen worse.”

“Let me just finish getting ready then we’ll go. I think I might have a beer in the fridge if you want it.” I lead him into the kitchen. While I find a vase to put the flowers in he opens the refrigerator.

We look inside. There’s no beer. In fact there’s hardly anything: just a pitcher of water, a half gallon of milk, two plates wrapped in tinfoil, and a jar of cottage cheese. For kicks he checks the freezer. All that’s in there is a tray of ice.

He grins. “Slim pickings.”

“Sorry. I haven’t been food shopping in, like, a week.”

“That’s all right. I think I’ll wait until we get to the concert to have something.”

I go back to the bathroom to finish getting ready. It annoys me I’ve been putting off food shopping. It’s not like it’s a big hassle. I’m just one person. I blame it on work. Well, that and being lazy. I’ll go tomorrow.

“Hey Amanda,” Adam calls out from the living room.

“Yeah?”

“You don’t have any flowers or plants in here. Or am I just missing them?”

“I don’t know. I’m sure I have some in the bedroom.”

He says a minute later, “No, none in there.”

“Is that a problem?” I’m done getting ready. I go back to the living room.

“No, I’m just surprised. I figure, you know, you being a Horticulturist, you’d have that stuff all over the place.”

“I barely have time to make them for customers, much less myself. Besides, you ever hear the old mantra ‘Don’t ever take your work home with you?’”

“Well, yeah, I just thought--“

“But I have some now.” I point to the vase sitting on the kitchen counter. “You ready to go?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m all set.”

My apartment is on the fifth floor so we take the elevator. On the way down he says, “You look nice, by the way.” I can tell he forced that compliment, but he’s right. I do look good. I’m wearing black dress pants, black shoes, and a tight pink t-shirt.

“Thanks. You have the tickets?”

“Right here.”

“What seats are we in again?”

He sighs. I did it again, didn’t I? I forgot something he’s told me a million times. He points out the location on the ticket stubs. “Ground level, row Q, seats 7 and 8, straight view of the stage. Have you ever been in Delphi?”

“No.”

“You’ll love it. It has the best sound system of any theater on the station.”

There are about twenty people waiting for the monorail. All of them fix their gaze on me.

“You’re good at drawing attention,” Adam says.

“It’s overrated, trust me. In fact, it’s getting really annoying. I wish they wouldn’t do that.”

“I don’t blame them. You’re one of the prettiest women on Luna.”

“That seems to be the consensus opinion these days.”

“And not only that, you’ve been a great help here. Who knew flowers and plants would make people feel so much better? It surprised the hell out of me.”

“It’s not like it was my idea to come here.”

“It doesn’t matter whose idea it was. The fact is you’re here and making a difference, which is more than most people here can say. You’re the talk of the station.”

The train pulls up to the platform. I enter DELPHI onto the destination pad.

“That’s what makes me uncomfortable,” I say when we find seats. “I’m not used to all the attention. It was never this way back on Earth. I half-wish I never came here.”

“Wow. I figure you’d be loving it here.”

“It’s anything but lovely. It’s hard work. It’s actually starting to get a little boring. I’ve never been a big fan of the Moon.”

“Then why’d you come here in the first place?”

“It’s a great way to further my career. It helps my résumé. And I needed a change of environment from Hannibal. I never had a lifelong dream to come to the Moon. It just happened I was given the opportunity and I went for it.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean.”

We approach the sprawling mecca of District Central, the capital of Luna Station, with its gleaming skyscrapers, government buildings, and web of monorails. I remember being in awe of this place when I first saw it. It was all new and exciting. Now it has a “been there, done that” feeling to it.

“So are you going back to Earth anytime soon?” Adam asks.

“Eventually. Most of my friends and family are still in Hannibal.”

“What’s Hannibal like?”

Thinking about my hometown gives me a surprising pleasure I wasn’t expecting. “It’s a quiet place. Not much out of the ordinary goes on there. It’s where Mark Twain grew up, right on the Mississippi River. It’s a nice place to raise a family but I can’t see myself settling down there.”

“So what do you plan on doing when you get back to Earth? Stay in Horticulture?”

“I don’t think so. I’m thinking about going into Environmental Law.”

“Jeez, I never knew there was such a thing.”

“It’s hard. There’s a lot of material to learn. I’d have to go back to school. I’m looking at Colorado and Washington. I want to be up in the mountains and the wilderness.”

“It’s great that you have a plan in place. I still think you’re made for Luna, though.”

“I don’t want to be here forever. I want to see trees, and sunrises, and fall foliage again. I’ll go crazy if I stay up here too long. We’re just not made to live on the Moon.”

“This place will be a lot more dull without you.”

“My leaving won’t change a thing. There will be other Horticulturists to take my place. I’m not irreplaceable.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“We’ll see.” I stare out the window, memories of people and events in my hometown dancing in my head.

A few minutes later Adam frees me from my daydream. “There it is. Delphi Theater.” It’s not much to look at. It’s rectangular in shape with a gray dome. On the inside is a spectacle of lights, signs, and Retro Fuse fans. We have a few minutes before the concert starts. We go into one of the bars, ordering beers that are priced much higher than at a conventional bar. A TV shows a poker tournament on Earth.

“Have you heard Retro Fuse’s newest album?” Adam asks.

“No, I haven’t.”

“It’s just as good as their last one. I’ll make you a copy.”

“Cool.” I’m overhearing a conversation between two men standing close behind me. I’m pretending not to pay attention by staring at the TV. Oh my God, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Are these guys serious? After a few minutes of listening I lean close to Adam and whisper, “These guys behind me are fucking slime balls.”

“Why?”

“The one in the red sweater is cheating on his wife who’s still on Earth. He’s bragging about it to his friend, and his friend says, ‘Well I’ve got three wives, one on Earth and two on the Moon.’ That’s just gross.”

“Men are pigs, Amanda.”

“It makes me so angry. I just want to punch those guys in the nuts.”

“Go for it. I’ve got your back.”

Trust me I would, but lucky for them I detest violence, and I don’t want to get thrown out of here before I have the chance to see Retro Fuse. I was in a fight with a guy once, back in grade school. He used to make fun of me. He was a scrawny kid and I knew he didn’t have the nerve to fight back so I hit him in the jaw. He went to the nurse’s office but wasn’t seriously injured. The worst part was that instead of feeling all happy and tough I felt like shit for hurting him. He still deserved it, though. Most guys need a good punch in the face every once in a while.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice says over the PA system, “the concert is about to start. Please have your tickets ready and take your seats.”

Showtime. I polish off my beer and the rest of Adam’s. I order another one to bring into the theater. The place is packed. The stage is at the front, with the seats arranged in a U-shape ascending over a hundred rows.

Retro Fuse is famous not just for their innovative electronic music but for the elaborate concerts they put on. They specialize in light shows, videos, costumes, beach balls, confetti, and flame throwers. It’s like one gigantic party. “I got to see them back on Earth, in New York,” Adam boasts. “It got so intense a riot broke out. The police came and arrested a whole bunch of people. It was so cool.”

“I hope that doesn’t happen here.”

“That was an open venue, no seating, and most of the crowd were high school kids. I’m sure this will be a more subdued crowd.”

The lights go out. Five people are soaring in the air with laptop computers strapped to their chests. It’s the band, flying and playing at the same time. Their song “Glow For It” blasts through the theater’s top-of-the-line sound system.

“Talk about an intriguing entrance!” Adam says.

I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m getting dizzy following their choreographed flying. “I hope they don’t run into each other,” I say.

“They’re being held by cable wire. See those probes in the ceiling? They’re programmed to keep a required distance from one another.”

The song ends to thunderous applause. The band lands on the stage. “Hello Luna Station,” yells Ari Gorz, Retro Fuse’s lead singer. “How ya’ll doin’?”

He gets his answer with a barrage of whistles and cheers. They jump into their best-known song, “Axiom Forever”.

During the sixth song, “Love Bleeds External”, I’m starting to hear Mother Nature calling. “Damnit, I have to pee.”

“Then go.”

“But I don’t want to. They’re about to break out the beach balls. I don’t want to miss it.” But by the end of the song I can’t take it anymore. Damnit, I should’ve waited for that second beer. “I’ll be right back.” I make a break for the bathroom.

As I’m washing my hands afterward a woman walks in. She stares at me through the mirror and asks, “I’m sorry, you look very familiar. Are you Amanda Pyner?”

Good grief. You’d think just once I could take a piss in a public restroom and not get recognized. “No, I think you have me confused with someone else. Excuse me.” I nearly run out of there.

When I find my seat the band is dressed in their gorilla costumes singing “Long Live The Eighth Wonder Of The World”. Behind them, on a large video screen, is a film clip of a huge fake gorilla climbing the Empire State Building. The song, with its intense drums and bass, fits the mood of the video perfectly.

“Feel better?” Adam asks.

“Much.”

“You missed the beach balls.”

“I’ll live. What movie is that on the screen?”

“It’s King Kong. Ever see it?”

“No. I’m not a big fan of black and white movies. They depress me.”

“Why?”

“Because filmmakers in those days didn’t have the advantages modern filmmakers have. It just looks so crude and sad. Almost reminds me of my lab. The equipment I’m using now is already outdated by today’s standards.”

“Have you said anything to the Council?”

“Of course I have, but they gave me this bullshit about budgets and tax cuts and inventory reductions. You’d think as important as everyone makes me out to be I’d be able to get anything I need.”

“Yeah, you’d think. I wish I could help. I’m sure they’ll take care of you eventually.”

A man sitting behind us taps Adam on the shoulder. “Shh, not so loud, please. I’m trying to listen.”

“Sorry,” he says. We focus our attention on the concert.

After song 14, “An End To All Days”, Gorz, out of breath, says, “Thank you very much, Luna Station!” A minute later they return for an encore. They play one more song. It’s a cover, not one of theirs. It sounds so familiar but I can’t remember the title, or who sang it. “What song is this?” I ask Adam.

“It’s Time.”

“Time for what?”

“No, that’s the name of the song. Time. It’s a Pink Floyd song, from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.”

Oh yeah, it is. How fitting. “You’re right. I love this song.” When they finish, Gorz again thanks the crowd for coming out and the theater lights come on.

“That’s all she wrote,” I say. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

When we’re out of the theater Adam asks, “So what do you want to do now?”

“Head back to good old Dunholm, I guess.”

“Hold it a second.” He hesitates a few seconds before asking, “Have you ever been to Apollo Tower?”

“No. I‘ve heard of it, but I’ve never been inside.”

“Do you want to make a quick stop? It’s a really cool place.”

“What time is it?”

He checks his watch. “Coming up on twenty-one hundred hours.”

I’m not in the mood to go there, but Adam looks like he’ll be upset if I say no. All right, what the hell. A few minutes won’t hurt. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Awesome. You’ll like this. Trust me. The view from the top is spectacular.” We board the monorail. He types APOLLO into the destination pad.

“That was a great concert,” he says when we’re off. “They did a good job.”

“Yeah, but I hate that I missed the beach balls. How’d that go, anyway?”

“It wasn’t all that impressive. A bunch of beach balls fell from the ceiling and people were hitting them in the air.” With a smirk he adds, “Nothing Luna-shattering.”

Luna Station as a whole might be getting boring, but Apollo Tower is always a sight to behold. Its intriguing design and immense height is something you have to see to believe. It’s far and away the tallest structure on the station.

The first floor is a museum, a living shrine to the history of the Moon and its station. There are ancient relics like space capsules, computers, air suits, and prehistoric rockets. It’s actually quite intriguing and pleasing to the eye. The people who designed this place did a good job of not making it look cluttered.

“Apollo Tower is 1,969 feet tall,” Adam reads from a placard next to a prototype model of the tower. “Its height is an homage to the year humans first landed on the Moon. In fact, the tower sits on the very spot where Neil Armstrong and his crew planted their first footprints.”

The rest of the tower is offices, hotel rooms, casinos, and restaurants, all except the top floor, which is an observation deck. “You want to go up there?” he asks.

“Sure.” I’m not being polite for his sake. I really do want to see what the view looks like.

There are only three people up here, which is good. You don’t want to feel claustrophobic at this height. It’s not for the faint at heart. I have to admit the view is amazing. The only other time I saw the station from this height was from the window of the space shuttle that brought me here. I’ll never forget that day. I was so frightened and homesick. I had never been or will ever be so far away from home. When you think about the distance in miles--almost 240,000--it can be overwhelming.

“Amanda.”

“Huh?”

“You see Earth?”

“No. Where is it?”

He points toward District Central. Earth looms in first quarter. No matter how many times I see it in the sky it gives me chills. It doesn’t seem real. You spend your entire childhood on Earth looking up at the Moon, and you half-expect to still see it even when you’re on it. You never get used to seeing Earth in the sky. It looks so close yet is so far away. And you wouldn’t think over six billion people live on that blue and white disk.

“Isn’t it fantastic?” he asks.

“No. I mean, yes, it is, but it’s...forget it.”

“What is it?”

I start thinking about Hannibal again. “I’m sorry to be rude, Adam, but can we go now?”

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. I’m just ready to leave.”

“Okay, yeah, we can go.”

I feel better when we get into the elevator. I call Karen.

“What’s up?” she asks. “How was the concert?”

“It was awesome. The band kicked ass. Are you at The Vortex?”

“Yeah, we just got here. I think I saw Brad when I came in. Get your ass down here.”

“All right. I have to stop at the lab real quick and check on some flowers, then I’ll meet you.”

“We’ll be here.”

I say to Adam, “Looks like my night’s not over yet.”

“That’s cool.”

We get back on the monorail. As we’re heading into Dunholm Adam says, “I’d like to ask a favor, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure.”

“If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to see your lab.”

I’m taken back for a second. No one’s ever asked to see my lab voluntarily before. “Why?”

“I’m curious to see what it looks like.”

“You wouldn’t find it very interesting. It’s just a big room. But you can see it if you want.”

The lab is located on the northwest end of Dunholm, just a few blocks from my apartment. It’s only one building, about the size of a high school gymnasium. “Just don’t touch anything,” I say as I swipe my access card. “There’s a lot of radiation in here. It’s self-contained, but I don’t want to take any chances.”

“So you have to wear a radiation suit.”

“Only when I’m in the Energy room. I don’t need to go in there. I have to check on something I’ve already made.”

The lab is illuminated by ultraviolet light. There are six large tables in the center of the room, and eight tables along the walls, four on each side. On all the tables are oval glass cases of various sizes, ranging from one to seven feet tall. Each of these cases contains an eclectic array of flowers and plants. It’s full but not cluttered.

“Incredible,” Adam says. “You did this all yourself?”

“This is nothing. You should’ve seen this place four months ago when I was doing a design for the Embry-Terron Convention Center. You couldn’t even walk in here.”

“And these are all for orders?”

“The ones on the center tables are. The ones against the walls are extras, prototypes, or some that I botched. You can have a look around. I’ll be over here.” I head over to the last table in the right row, farthest from the entrance, to look over a set of centerpieces for a wedding reception tomorrow.

They’re keeping along nicely. I had to put them in stasis for two days and I was afraid they would get overexposed, but they still look alive and fresh. Good. I’ll sleep better tonight.

Adam is standing at the left wall admiring a single long-stem rose resonating a bright silver color, almost chrome. I wait to see if he’s going to go against my orders and touch it, but he keeps his hands behind his back. I clear my throat and he jerks his head. “Oh, you scared me,” he says.

“Sorry. You find something?”

“Yeah, that silver-colored rose. That’s amazing. How did you do it?”

“Too much artificial light. I kept it in the incubator too long. Overexposure causes drastic change in color. It’s not lethal or poisonous, but it can’t be taken out of the case or it’ll die.”

“It’s so cool.”

“You want it?”

He looks at me as if I’d just offered him a million dollars. “Are you serious?”

“Sure. Silver roses aren’t in demand, and I can always grow another one if need be. Knock yourself out.”

He cradles the case in his hands. “Thank you so much. I’ll take good care of it. Um, do I have to give it water or anything?”

“No, it’s fine the way it is. It’ll remain in perfect hibernation for about two years. Anyway, I got to close up here.” He’s staring intently at the rose as we walk out. Why is he so enthralled? It’s just a rose. Maybe the different color fascinates him.

I lock the door and say, “I’m heading for The Vortex. Thanks for inviting me to the concert, Adam. I had a good time.”

“So did I. Maybe we can do it again sometime.”

“Sure. Well, have a good night. I’ll probably see you at the FDC tomorrow.” I head back to the monorail. I consider inviting him to The Vortex but I don’t think that would be a good idea. I don’t want to lead him on. Besides, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would enjoy an upscale ultra-hip place like The Vortex. He’s too dull for that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.

 

Dear Guest --

 

You have been cordially invited to attend a very special event. The Grand Council, in accordance with the World Government, will be holding a banquet to honor three of Luna Station’s finest citizens: Ken Stabler, Head of Geology at Aldrin University; Dr. Tara McClaren, Chief Researcher at the Gordon-Lovell Institute; and Amanda Pyner, the station’s resident Horticulturist.

 

The event will be held at Mercury Hall at the Sea of Tranquility Resort & Casino. Festivities will begin at eighteen hundred hours with a dinner and speeches by several surprise guests, followed by the awards ceremony. Don’t miss out on this chance to honor and support those who have made significant contributions to Luna Station and its habitants...

 

***

 

I really wish they wouldn’t make a fuss over me. Mr. Stabler and Dr. McClaren I can understand. Stabler is one of the station’s foremost authorities on Geology and Lunar Biology, and McClaren is a brilliant researcher whose work has influenced every would-be engineering student on the Moon and the Earth. Me? I just make flowers. I shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as these people. It’s absurd.

 

But hey, if they want to throw me an awards ceremony who am I to argue? I get a free dinner out of it, a plaque, money, and a free trip to the Moon for my parents and two siblings. Also this will make a great addition to my résumé.

 

Paul Westmyer has been on stage speaking about me for ten minutes. He’s the Chairman of the Grand Council, the head honcho of Luna Station. “It gives me great pleasure to present this year’s Humanitarian of the Year award to Miss Amanda Pyner.” That’s my cue. I get up from my seat, as does everyone else in the room. I embrace my parents, my siblings, and Karen, whom I got to bring as my “honored guest”. I make my way to the stage in a barrage of applause. I’ve never gotten a standing ovation before. It’s nice but really nerve-wracking.

 

When I get on stage I hear whistling from many of the guys in the audience. I don’t mean to brag but I look pretty damn good tonight. I’ve got a purple dress on, my hair is fixed up, my face is glowing, and my eyes are sparkling. There are times when you just know you look good without having to look in a mirror.

 

Mr. Westmyer hands me the plaque. “Congratulations,” he says, winking at me. He wants me, I can tell. Strange thing is, despite the fact he’s the same age as my dad I find him attractive. Something about older men does it for me. The first guy I tapped on the Moon was 43 years old. Granted I was piss drunk that night, but I was attracted to him.

 

I take out a piece of paper with a speech written on it. I get nervous when it comes to public speaking so I have to write down what I’m going to say or else I’ll stand here and stutter. Give me credit, though. I wrote the speech myself.

 

“To Mr. Westmyer, council members, family, friends, and other distinguished guests, I thank you for this prestigious award. Living and working on Luna Station has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. I have met lots of caring and intelligent people, all of whom have lent their undying support toward my cause, and I am grateful for their kindness. I’m so honored to have improved the well being of those who needed it, and I look forward to helping those who will need it in the future. To all my friends and family and colleagues who helped me get to where I am today, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

 

I get another standing ovation. Mr. Westmyer says, “I’m also pleased to announce that today is Miss Pyner’s birthday. Happy birthday, Amanda.” The applause intensifies. My cheeks are getting red. I’m not used to this. It’s awkward.

 

When they stop clapping Westmyer says, “Okay, I think we’ve embarrassed Miss Pyner enough. This concludes the awards portion of our banquet. Dessert will now be served.”

 

I sit back down and pass the plaque around. Mom and Dad are beyond proud of me. You’d think I just won the Nobel Prize from the way they’re gushing. But I’m glad they’re happy. I love my parents very much, and I always had their approval to come to the Moon. As for my siblings--David my older brother and Cameron my younger sister--they’re putting on a good face but I think they’re jealous. David is a music teacher in New York City, and Cameron goes to college at the University of Missouri. They’re jealous for the obvious reasons, me being a success on the Moon and all, but it doesn’t help that I don’t get along with them. I never did. I know David’s only here because my parents made him come, and Cameron can’t be pleased about having to miss a weekend off from school. I mean deep down I love my brother and sister, but it wouldn’t have broken my heart if they hadn’t come.

 

In the middle of dessert my cell phone rings. I can’t answer it because of all the people who want to congratulate me. When I catch a break I look to see who called.

 

“It was Brad,” I say to Karen.

 

“And who might that be?” Mom asks with a grin.

 

“Just some guy we met at the bar,” Karen replies. “He wants to go to Mars.”

 

I hit Karen on the shoulder. “Shut up.” To my folks I say, “I’ll be right back.” I grab my purse and slip into the bathroom. I call him back. “What’s up, Brad?”

 

“Hey young lady, what’s happening?”

 

“Nothing much. Just busy being the center of attention.”

 

“Oh, that’s right, the award ceremony. How’s that going?”

 

“It’s really weird. They gave me a plaque and I spoke for a minute, then Mr. Westmyer tells everyone it’s my birthday, and they gave me a big standing ovation.”

 

“No shit, it’s your birthday? I didn’t know that. Happy birthday.”

 

“Thanks. Anyway, what are you doing later?”

 

“That’s what I was calling to ask you. I’m thinking about heading up to Cosmic’s. They got Light Haven playing tonight.”

 

“Never heard of them. What kind of music do they play?”

 

“Prog-funk/trip-hop. I know it sounds bizarre, but they’re badass. What do you say? I’ll buy you a birthday mixer. Maybe two, if you’re lucky.”

 

“I don’t know. My family is in town, so I’ll probably be doing stuff with them. But I might be able to make it for a drink or two. We’ll see.”

 

“Cool. Give me a call either way, all right?”

 

“Sure. Bye, Brad.”

 

“Later, birthday girl.” I can almost picture the smirk on his face as he hangs up.

 

I put more lip-gloss on, thankful for a moment’s peace. But I’m not alone in here. Someone comes out of one of the stalls.

 

It’s my sister. “Who’s Brad?” she asks.

 

“A guy I met a few months ago.”

 

“Do Mom and Dad know about him?”

 

“We’re not dating, Cameron. We’re just friends.”

 

“Well isn’t that a shock. All the guys you’ve ever met are ‘friends’.”

 

“My personal life is none of your business.”

 

She makes a snooty, huffy noise, like a “Pfft”. She’s always doing that. It annoys the hell out of me. Even after living with her for 18 years I still can’t get used to it. “I can only imagine what you’ve been doing here, away from Mom and Dad’s watchful eye,” she says. “Getting drunk, having one night stands--“

 

“Fuck off. I don’t do that crap. And if I did there’s nothing you, Mom, Dad, or anyone can do about it. I’m a grown-up. So hold your tongue before you make false accusations.”

 

“You think you’re such a big shot now that you’re famous on Luna, don’t you? You live up the good life out here and could care less about what’s going on back on Earth.”

 

“That’s not true.” I’m getting close to smacking her. I did it once, many years ago, and I can do it again.

 

“Give me a break, Amanda. How dumb do you think I am? How many times have you come back home to visit? Once last Christmas and that was it.”

 

“Well forgive me if I haven’t been a more ‘stay-at-home’ sister. I have a lot of work to do up here.”

 

“So much work that you can’t bother to pick up the phone and call every once in a while? I called you, like, four times in the past two months, and left a voicemail every time. How many of those calls did you return? None.”

 

She’s right. I never did call her back. “All right, I’m sorry about that, okay?”

 

“No, it’s not okay. And then there’s David.”

 

“What about him?”

 

“You act like he doesn’t exist. You never talk to him. You don’t even look at him. He goes out of his way to come here and you don’t have the decency to ask him how he’s doing or what he’s been up to. The same goes with me. You don’t care about either of us.”

 

“Of course I care about you. You’re my sister.”

 

“And David?”

 

“Yes, I care about him too.”

 

“You sure have a funny way of showing it. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m wasting my time talking to you.”

 

“No Cameron, wait--“ I grab her shoulder.

 

She flinches away. “No more waiting. There’s nothing left to say. I don’t even know why I bothered. I’m going back in there. You go have fun with your ‘friend’.” She storms out of the bathroom.

 

Wow. It’s a good thing she left when she did, or else I’d have one less sister. She’s got some nerve. Who does she think she is, lecturing me like that? And on my birthday, no less. I wish I were an only child so I wouldn’t have to deal with this crap.

 

The bathroom door opens. Mom walks in. “You okay in here?”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“I just ran into Cameron. She looked upset.”

 

“We had a little fight.”

 

“You seem to be doing that a lot lately.”

 

“Lately? Mom, we’ve been fighting forever.”

 

“I know, and I wish you wouldn’t.”

 

“It’s not my fault. She has an attitude problem. All she does is complain and give me a guilt trip; like now, for example. I made a phone call to a friend of mine and she gave me the third degree about my personal life and how I never share anything with her. It’s none of her business.”

 

“Maybe that’s the problem.”

 

“What?”

 

Nothing about you is her business. You shut yourself off to her. You always have. It would be nice if you spoke with her every once in a while. She’s crazy about you.”

 

“Yeah, crazy about wanting to hate me.” Mom crosses her arms over her chest, giving me a disapproving glare. “I’m sorry. I know she’s not trying to hate me.”

 

“She’s not. When I say she’s crazy about you I mean she’s crazy about wanting to get to know you. She looks up to you, she wants to be a success like you, and why shouldn’t she? But she can’t make a connection and it’s frustrating her. You see what I’m saying?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“You don’t have to give her your life story, just everyday stuff. And ask the same of her. It only takes a few minutes. Same thing goes for David. You could be a little nicer to him.”

 

That almost makes me laugh. “Mom, there’s no way--“ I stop myself. I don’t want to get into the subject of David with her. “Okay, sure.”

 

“Good. You ready to go back out there?”

 

I’m not. I just want to get out of here, maybe meet Brad at Cosmic’s. He’d cheer me up. “Mom, would it be all right if I went out for a bit?”

 

“I don’t see a problem with that. But we want to see you tomorrow before we go.”

 

“Definitely.”

 

Back at the table Dad and Karen are having a chat. Cameron and David are gone. “Where are the kids?” Mom asks Dad.

 

“They went back to the hotel. David said he wasn’t feeling well and Cameron went with him.”

 

I can see the two of them now, riding the monorail back to the hotel, talking all kinds of crap about me, concocting some sort of scheme to bring down the “evil sister” like I’m the Wicked Witch or something. Maybe they’re going to trash my lab, or raid my apartment, or go down to the news office and give one of the journalists the story about the time I got caught smoking pot behind the school in 10th grade.

 

Yeah, that’s what they’d do after tonight. Well fine, whatever, they can do what they want. I’ll tell you what I want to do: get drunk. Stinking drunk. Falling down drunk. And I want Karen to get drunk with me.

 

As if reading my mind Mom says, “Mike, we should get back to the hotel ourselves. I’m sure the girls have plans of their own tonight.”

 

“Oh. Okay. We’ll see you tomorrow, Amanda, before we go?”

 

“Of course, Dad.” I give him a hug. “I’m glad you came.”

 

“We’re real proud of you, honey.”

 

“Thanks.” I say to Mom, “I’m sorry I ran Cameron and David off.”

 

“Don’t worry, they’ll be fine. Think about what I said, okay?”

 

“I will.”

 

“All right. Mike, take the plaque. I’m sure Amanda doesn’t want to lug it around with her. Have fun, you two, and be careful.”

 

“I’ll keep my eye on her, Mrs. Pyner,” Karen says with a grin. “Someone has to.”

 

I have to say good-bye to about a thousand people before we can leave. When we do we hop the monorail and type LUNARIA into the destination pad. That’s where Cosmic’s is located.

 

I call up Brad. “Birthday girl!” he yells. There’s a bunch of noise in the background.

 

“What’s up? Are you at Cosmic’s?”

 

“Yeah. You coming down?”

 

“I’m on my way. Karen is with me. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

 

“Awesome. I’ll get the shots ready.”

 

I laugh for probably the first time all day. I needed that. “We’ll see you.” I hang up.

 

Karen says, “Damn I need a cigarette. So where were you the last ten minutes? Your brother and sister sure left in a big hurry.”

 

“I was in the bathroom. I pissed my sister off, and my brother hates me anyway. You know, the usual.”

 

“Your folks are cool, though.”

 

“I’m their favorite, in case you didn’t notice.”

 

“Oh, I did. I had a nice talk with your dad when you were gone. He wouldn’t shut up about you. I think it made your brother mad.”

 

“They’re just jealous.”

 

“Siblings suck. I have four I don’t get along with. Actually, we get along great as long as we’re not in the same room. You should’ve seen us this past Christmas. A brawl almost broke out.”

 

“I’m different. I just don’t talk to mine.”

 

We arrive at Cosmic’s. There’s a line of five people waiting to get in. We recognize the guy checking IDs at the door: Matt Santos. He’s a year older than me, works a second job at the Pulsar Restaurant in the Vendetta District. I’ve gotten drunk with him a few times, and tapped him twice.

 

“Yo Matt!” Karen calls out.

 

“What’s up ladies? Lookin’ good.”

 

“Can you get us in?”

 

He looks at me. I smile and wave. I give the impression I still like him even though I don’t. He’s not a dull guy, but I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with him. He has a different girlfriend every week.

 

He gestures for us to walk through. The other five people in line, seeing it’s me, are more than happy to step aside. I’m like a damn celebrity.

 

“Thanks, Matt,” I say with another seductive smile. With guys like Matt it’s simple. If you smile at them just right, and let them think they have a chance, you can get whatever you want. It’s not that hard. Hell, we didn’t even have to pay to get in.

 

The place is packed. Cosmic’s has two floors. The band--whom I assume is Light Haven--is playing a fast-tempo song on the lower level. They’re not bad. The dance floor in front of them is filled. Every seat at the three bars on the floor is taken.

 

“You see Brad?” I yell.

 

“No. Let’s try upstairs.”

 

There are three more bars up here, two pool tables, and an outside deck. Brad is at the far end of the bar closest to the deck, chatting with the bartender.

 

We make eye contact. “There she is, the Birthday Girl! And there’s Karen, my fellow martini drinker. Come over and sit. Hey Patton,” he says to the bartender, “today is this lovely lady’s birthday. I need a round of b-day mixers, three altogether.”

 

As Patton makes the drinks we find seats and take out our first cigarettes. We down the mixers--quite good, but they have a strong fruity taste to them--and move on to beer. Within an hour Karen’s on the dance floor with her trademark martini in hand, and Brad and I are on the observation deck overlooking the Lunaria District.

 

“So how’s it feel to be Humanitarian of the Year?” he asks. “Do I have to start calling you Madame Pyner now?”

 

“Huh? Oh, no, you don’t have to do that.”

 

“That’s good. How was the concert, by the way?”

 

“What concert?” I’m having a hard time thinking about things. There’s been so much going on, with my family and everything.

 

“Retro Fuse.”

 

“Oh, right. They sounded great, they flew around the theater for their opening song, but I missed the beach ball routine. I had to pee.”

 

“Talk about an inconvenient time for Mother Nature to butt in. And what about the guy you went with, what’s his name...”

 

Why did my sister have to say that to me? I don’t shut myself off to her, do I? “I’m sorry, Brad, what did you say?”

 

“You all right? You seem a little down. I think you need a shot of Sucker Punch.”

 

No, that’s not what I need. I don’t know what I need. “You want to dance?”

 

“Uh, sure.”

 

We make for the dance floor. Light Haven is playing with a fury. This is good. I need to dance.

 

I wonder where Karen is. Is that her? No, it’s Emily Brown who works at the FDC with Adam. I wonder what he’s up to? Haven’t seen him since the concert. I hope he’s taking care of the rose I gave him. It’s not easy to grow those. Hey, is that Darren Smith over there? Wow, it is. Haven’t seen him in almost a year. I tapped him, just once. He was all right. Nice guy, but not very experienced. Glad to see him out and about, though. Fuck, I just remembered I have to talk to Marissa Edwards about designing her wedding tomorrow. But I have to meet my parents. I guess I can talk to Marissa the day after. My folks will be pissed if I cancel on them. I wonder if I’ll see David and Cameron tomorrow. They--

 

“Amanda!” Karen gives me a glass of something maroon-colored. “Drink this, it’s good.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“Just drink it.” She wanders back into the crowd. The song ends. Brad says, “I’ll be right back,” and leaves the floor.

 

The band goes into its next prog-funk/trip-hop beat. This drink is strong as hell. Tastes like Captain Morgan mixed with orange juice. It’s not bad. I probably shouldn’t finish it but what the hell. A free drink is a free drink.

 

Wow did that hit the spot. I’m buzzed. That’s not good. Don’t want Mom and Dad to see me hung over. I need to go home. Wait, Brad’s coming back. He’s got two beers. Shit. He’s going to offer me one.

 

“Here. For the birthday girl.”

 

It’s not ordinary beer. It’s a Galaxy 9000! “How much did you pay for this?” Galaxy 9000 doesn’t come cheap. I’ve never seen it for less than fifty dollars anywhere on the station. It’s the best tasting beer ever.

 

“Don’t worry about it. It’s your birthday. Drink up before it gets warm.”

 

Why does he have to be such a persuasive bastard? There’s no way I can resist drinking this beer. And why should I? It’s my birthday. I should be entitled to spend it however I want. I can sober up quick tomorrow if I have to.

 

We resume dancing. Sweat is dripping down my forehead. Man is it hot in here! Must be all the bodies on the dance floor giving off heat. Where’s the air conditioning? I take a huge gulp of the beer. Ah, nothing like a good Galaxy 9000 to get the blood flowing. I’m feeling great now. The awards ceremony seems like a hundred years ago. I hope I never have to go through that crap again. I wish people would just leave me alone. I want to get away from gushing committees and people staring at me everywhere I go. I want absolute solitude, the kind where I can wake up in the morning, open the door, and not see a single building in sight. I won’t find that on the Moon. I won’t find that anywhere. Did I finish the beer already? Holy fuck I’m drunk.

 

“I have to go,” I say.

 

“But you just got here.”

 

“I have a busy day tomorrow. Gotta meet the folks, make some calls.”

 

“Why not just stay at my place? I live in Gemini. You wouldn’t have to take the monorail home.”

 

I know where this is headed. “That’s nice of you, but I’d much rather be in my own bed.”

 

“Let me take you home then.”

 

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

 

He won’t take no for an answer. He never does. “We had fun the other night, didn’t we?”

 

“It was great fun.” Actually, it wasn’t great, but I don’t want to tell him that. “I’m just not in the mood right now.” Come on, Brad, back down. I need to leave.

 

Instead he leans in close and says, “Amanda, I’m crazy about you. I love you.”

 

Holy crap, did he just say what I thought he said? I like Brad, he’s a nice guy, but I’m not crazy about him, and I certainly don’t love him. I’ll be honest. I’ve never been in love before, neither here nor on Earth. I’ve only had two steady boyfriends: one in high school, the other in college. I’m not a slut if that’s what you’re thinking. I don’t sleep with every guy I meet. I have standards. I have morals. There have been guys I probably shouldn’t have slept with, but what’s the harm as long as the sex is protected? I’m only 22—excuse me, 23. I should be allowed to experiment.

 

“Amanda?”

 

“Brad...” My head is spinning. “Brad...” His eyes don’t look too appealing now. “I’ll call you tomorrow. Thanks for the drinks.” I make for the exit as fast as I can, forcing myself not to look back at him. I don’t want to see him just standing there on the dance floor. I need to get home.

 

Thank God I don’t run into Karen on the way out. I want an unseen exit. I’m not in the mood to explain things to her. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. I’ll talk to everyone tomorrow.

 

When I’m on the monorail heading for Dunholm I realize I may have hurt Brad’s feelings. Great, now I feel guilty. And why the hell did I tell him I’d call him tomorrow? That’s such a cop-out. I mine as well have just told him to go fuck off. He won’t want to speak to me again, and I don’t blame him. I guess that’s all she wrote as far as Brad is concerned. Maybe it’s for the best.

 

My cell phone beeps. I’ve got voicemails, four of them. One is from my Mom, who called to tell me to be careful and not drink and fly, like a normal mother would do. The next is from Karen, as I expect. She’s asking me where I am and to give her a call. The third is from Brad. Damnit, why did he have to call? I don’t want to hear what he has to say. I erase his message. The final voicemail is from the last person I expect to hear from.

 

Adam Dolby.

 

Cool. It would be nice to talk to someone not associated with the events of the last six hours. I open his message.

 

“Hey Amanda, it’s Adam. I hope you don’t mind me calling. I just wanted to congratulate you on being named Humanitarian of the Year. It was in the news today. Anyway, just calling to check in, see how you’re doing. Give me a call if you’re doing anything. Bye.”

 

Adam, good ol’ Adam, buddy ol’ pal. I dial his number. Hope he’s still awake. And if he isn’t I’ll get his ass up.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Adam, what’s up?”

 

“Amanda?”

 

“It’s my birthday!”

 

“Oh. It is? No kidding. Well, happy birthday. What are you up to?”

 

“Not much. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

 

“No. I’m watching TV. I didn’t think you’d call.”

 

“Of course I was going to call. I always call. I got your message. Thanks.”

 

“You’re welcome. Where are you?”

 

“On the monorail heading home.”

 

“Have you been at the banquet this whole time?”

 

“Hell no. I’ve been at Cosmic’s. I think I had too much to drink. I’m drunk.”

 

“Uh-oh, that’s not good. At least you’re on the monorail.”

 

“Yeah, but you see I gotta meet the folks in the morning and have breakfast with them, and I don’t want them to see me all drunk, you know?”

 

“I hear you. Just get a good night sleep and you’ll be fine. Were they at the banquet?”

 

“Yeah. You should’ve seen them, they were happy as hell. They love me. Everybody loves me. Oh by the way, I really had fun at the concert. We should do it again sometime.”

 

“You bet. I’ll have to see who’s coming to town.”

 

“Do that. Oh, how’s the rose I gave you?”

 

“Still alive.”

 

“Better be. Anyway, my stop’s coming up. I’ll give you a call sometime next week, or I’ll see you at the FDC.”

 

“All right, that’s cool. Go and get some sleep, and drink lots of coffee in the morning.”

 

“Okay. Bye, Adam.”

 

“Bye, Amanda.”

 

Adam’s a good guy. Maybe I should hook up with him. No, it wouldn’t work. Every time I think of him I picture him standing in front of my lab with that rose cradled in his hands and it depresses the hell out of me.

 

The destination display reads DUNHOLM. I can finally get some peace and quiet. Man I’m tired. Galaxy 9000 knocks you on your ass and kicks you in the stomach for good measure. I’m so glad I didn’t bring Brad home with me. Maybe another night I will. I should call him and apologize. No, Amanda, put the phone away. Get in your apartment.

 

It’s quiet in here. Usually there will be doors opening and closing down the hall, but tonight it’s silent as death. I feel very alone all of a sudden. This sucks. I don’t know how much longer I can last here. The Moon’s not the place for me. I don’t think it ever was. All right, Amanda, get into bed. You’re too drunk to be thinking about this stuff. Just get into bed and relax. Cast your thoughts aside. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Better? Yes, much better. Sleep is what you need. Lots and lots of sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.

 

Luna, like most places on Earth, can be a monotonous place to live. Some people fall into a routine and never think any more of it, while others are driven to the brink of insanity. And unlike Earth, where you can take a vacation 3000 miles away in another country to get away from things for a while, Luna is smaller and more compact, each district strikingly similar to the other. Those that can deal with it will tough it out. Those who can’t need a helping hand...

 

***

 

Never in my life did I think I’d ever have to come to a place like this. It was Sheila Johnson’s idea that I come here. I don’t think I need to talk to a shrink, but she’s my immediate supervisor, as well as a member of the Grand Council, so I don’t have a choice.

 

I’m in the waiting room of Dr. Deirdre Rollins’s office, on the ninth floor of the Spectrum Tower in Echelon, Luna Station’s oldest district. This is where the station began. The first structure ever assembled was the energy generator down the street. It’s kind of cool being in the heart of the station’s birthplace. I just wish it could be under better circumstances. All right Amanda, do what you always do and put your best foot forward. It’ll be over soon enough.

 

The office door opens. Dr. Rollins sticks her head out. She’s about my mom’s age, with curly dark hair and glasses. “Amanda? Come on in.”

 

Her office is small, well lit. There’s a desk, two bulletin boards filled with memos and post-it notes, and a single window overlooking Luna Station’s oldest neighborhood. “Have a seat.” She points to a chair closest to the door. She sits in a chair across from me.

 

In the corner of the room is a three-foot tall fichus tree I manufactured nine months ago. “Glad to see Mr. Fichus is still standing,” I say to help break the ice. She doesn’t laugh. She barely cracks a smile. She must be devoid of a sense of humor, or maybe she holds it in until she leaves the office. Either way it makes me uncomfortable. She reminds me of a crabby schoolteacher, or a drill sergeant.

 

“Let’s talk about why you’re here, Amanda. Councilor Johnson says in her evaluation that you’ve been falling behind in your work.”

 

“It’s because I don’t have an assistant.”

 

“Yet in the time prior to this you’ve always managed to complete your work on time, with no complications. The evaluation states that you’ve been lagging for two months, and your overall attitude and personality toward Councilor Johnson and others on the station has become negative. I’d like to find out why this is.”

 

I don’t like Sheila. I never did. She’s too corporate, too “by the book”. She also possesses little to no sense of humor. “What exactly did she say in my evaluation? Can I see it?”

 

“I’m afraid not. Now let’s get to the bottom of what’s troubling you.”

 

“I’m not troubled by anything.”

 

“You must be Superwoman, then. Every human being is troubled by something, Amanda. Some are distressed over politics, war, disease, or lack of money. Some are concerned about personal, professional, or psychological matters. I think you fit into the latter group.”

 

“You think I’m crazy?”

 

“Of course not. I never said you were. I’m saying that based on your evaluation you’re having issues with your personal life. And I’d like to know what those issues are.”

 

“Do you really want to know, or do you mean it’s your job to know?”

 

“You’re stalling, but that’s okay. If we get nothing accomplished today I can make a recommendation to the Grand Council to have you come for another session, and I don’t think Councilor Johnson will be too pleased to have you fall further behind in your work. So let’s talk.”

 

There’s no way I’m going to weasel my way out of this. “All right, fine, we’ll talk. Ask away.”

 

“I’m not going to ask you anything.”

 

“Huh? What do you mean?”

 

“Tell me why you came to Luna Station.”

 

“Oh man, you want my life story?”

 

“Of course not. I don’t want to know what you did in grade school. I want to know why you came to Luna Station.”

 

She’s tough, real tough, not the kind of woman you’d want to have a slumber party with. “Well, I came here because the World Government offered me the job, and it was a great opportunity to further my career and help people at the same time.”

 

“So you came here just to help people and further your career. You didn’t come here to make new friends, experience a foreign environment, or feel the excitement of being away from home and totally independent for the first time.”

 

“Oh, well, of course there are those reasons. But you wanted to know why I came here, not what I came here for.”

 

She writes something down in her notepad. Man does that infuriate me, having someone write in their notepad and not knowing what it is they’re writing. “Your parents must be proud of what you’ve accomplished here.”

 

“Yeah, they are.”

 

“Letting you come here must have been tough for them, knowing you were going to be so far away.”

 

“Um, I don’t think so. I mean they never seemed upset about it. I’ve had their full support the whole time.”

 

“That’s good. But just because you didn’t see them upset doesn’t mean they weren’t. In fact, I’m willing to bet they were not only upset, but afraid.”

 

“Afraid of what?”

 

“Put yourself in their shoes. See if you can figure out why they’d be afraid--or at the very least concerned.”

 

“Well, I imagine they’d be worried about me getting injured or something, and them not being able to do anything about it. Look, I don’t have any issues with my parents. Why are you asking me this?”

 

She writes more in her notepad. “Your friends and other family members back on Earth must have been excited to learn you were coming here.”

 

“Excited? I wouldn’t say that. My friends were cool with it, but they were probably a little sad, too. I know I’d be if one of my good friends told me they were going to the Moon. My brother and sister, though, probably could’ve cared less.”

 

“I doubt that. They must have been just as supportive as your parents.”

 

“You don’t know my brother and sister. I don’t get along with them. They’re jealous of me because I’ve always gotten the success and attention in the family. I’m not bragging or anything. It’s the truth.”

 

“They must be failures, then.”

 

“No, they’re doing fine for themselves. They just don’t like the fact that I’m doing better than they are. They resent me for it. My sister practically said as much during the awards ceremony when I won Humanitarian of the Year. She copped an attitude with me, said I never opened up to her or something like that. As for my brother, we just don’t have anything in common other than the fact we have the same last name. We never talk.”

 

“I see. Tell me, Amanda, what you do when you’re not working.”

 

“Nothing extraordinary. I sleep, relax at home, hang out with my friends. I went to a Retro Fuse concert with a friend of mine a few months ago. I don’t know if you know who Retro Fuse is, but they’re one of my favorite bands. They put on a great show.”

 

“You must have lots of friends on the station.”

 

“Sure. I’m pretty well known. Making friends has never been a problem.”

 

“And lots of boyfriends, I imagine.”

 

“No, not really. I’ve been on dates, but no real relationships. I’m too busy for that. And spare me the lecture on the importance of sharing your life with someone. I’ve heard it before.”

 

“I wasn’t going to give you one.”

 

“Good, because that’s the last thing I want to hear. I’m just not ready for a relationship. I’m sure one day I will be, but now is not the time.”

 

“You must think about this a lot.”

 

“Not really. Well, maybe on days when I’m feeling extra lonely. But that’s normal, right?”

 

She changes the subject. “I’d like to know what your future plans are, if you plan to stay here or go back to Earth.”

 

“I hate that question.”

 

“It wasn’t a question.”

 

“Oh. Well, I don’t see myself here much longer. I’ll go back to Earth eventually. I guess the novelty of being on the Moon has worn off. I’ve been here almost two years so I guess it’s to be expected. I’m not saying my friends are boring or my job is boring. I’m boring.”

 

“No you’re not.”

 

“Then what’s boring me?”

 

“You’re not bored. You’re frustrated.”

 

“Frustrated with what?”

 

“You know the answer.”

 

This is pissing me off. “No, I don’t.”

 

“Yes you do. You’re just afraid to say it out loud.”

 

“No, I’m not afraid of anything.”

 

“Then say it. Come on, I want to hear your answer.”

 

“You want to know what my answer is? Fine. I’ll tell you. I’m frustrated with this ‘therapy’ session--and I use that term loosely. I’m frustrated with having every single person on the station treating me like a savior. I’m frustrated with having to go by military time instead of regular time, eating processed food, drinking fermented water, breathing artificial air, wearing radiation suits in my lab, having to listen to old men and women at the hospital babble on about their dead relatives and life insurance policies, getting piss drunk, having one night stands, and, above all, waking up in the ‘morning’--another term I use loosely--and coming to the reality that I’m nothing more than a flower girl who hates her life and hates living on the fucking Moon! There, that is my goddamn answer!” I break down crying. I don’t know what else to do. I haven’t cried in years. Not when I left for college, not even when I left for the Moon. But it’s a relief. And I don’t care what Dr. Rollins thinks. I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m going to cry like a baby and enjoy every minute of it.

 

It seems like an eternity when I finish. Dr. Rollins hands me a box of tissues. “Thanks,” I say as I blow my nose. “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that.”

 

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. You got the answer right, by the way.”

 

“Wonderful. My mind is at ease. I feel much better now.”

 

She doesn’t flinch. Her sarcasm meter must be broken. “Amanda, I’m finally going to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer.”

 

“All right.”

 

“Do you want to leave Luna Station?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.

 

From “The Guide to People, Places, and Things of Luna Station, Volume 13” by Echelon Press, SY (Station Year) 205:

 

PYNER, AMANDA – Luna Station’s first Horticulturist; born and raised in Hannibal, Missouri, United States, planet Earth; arrived on Luna Station SY 67; was one of Luna’s most popular and attractive habitants; in SY 69 won Humanitarian of the Year award on her 23rd birthday; left Luna shortly thereafter due to emotional and psychological distress; went back to Earth and never returned...

 

***

 

I wake up at six hundred hours like I have for the past two years. “Illuminate,” I say. The lights come on. I get out of bed, rub my eyes, stretch my arms, and yawn. I look around the room. All that’s left in here is the bed and a big bag full of clothes.

 

It hasn’t sunk in yet. This is my last day on Luna Station. In 24 hours I’ll be back on Earth, in my house in Hannibal, sleeping in the bed I slept in when I was young. This comforts me. I’m looking forward to seeing my folks and my old friends, the streets, the bridges, the trees, and the wonderful Mississippi River again.

 

I hit the shower and eat my last meal on the Moon: a bland-tasting ham and cheese omelet from the food processors. Another thing I can’t wait for is a home-cooked meal.

 

Everything’s packed and ready to go. I check my voicemail. There’s a message from Karen. She threw me a huge going-away party last night. Over 200 people showed up. I’m amazed I’m still not drunk. “Hey Amanda, just wanted to call you one last time. I’m going to miss you so much. It’s going to be a boring place without you, at least for a day or two. I’m just kidding. I’m going to visit you on Earth when I get the chance. Have a safe trip home. We love you. Bye.”

 

I think I might cry again. I’m going to miss Karen more than anyone. But I can’t stay just because of her. I’d take her with me if I could, but that’s not going to happen. Her place is on the Moon. My place is on Earth.

 

At eight hundred hours a chauffeur from the rocket station arrives. “Good morning, Miss Pyner. Are you ready?”

 

“Almost.” A twinge of nervousness hits my stomach. This is it. I take one last walk through my apartment, the place I called home for the last two years. I come back to the door. “Okay, I’m all set.”

 

The rocket terminal is only five minutes away by aerocab. I’m half-expecting a surprise appearance by Karen and a group of my friends, and I’m half-glad that doesn’t happen. It would be too emotional. But there is someone here that I know. He’s sitting by himself, looking out the terminal window at the shuttle that’s taking me home. He’s holding a glass case in his lap. He’s the last person I expect to see.

 

“Adam?”

 

He flinches, as if pulled out of a dream. “Amanda, hi.”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

He stands. I see what’s contained in the case. It’s the rose. “I wanted to see you before you left.”

 

“You weren’t at the party last night?” I could’ve sworn he was there. But I was pretty drunk last night so I’m not one to ask.

 

“Party? No, I wasn’t invited.”

 

“I’m sorry about that. It was Karen’s idea, and I guess she didn’t have your number.”

 

“That’s all right. At least I get to see you today, so it’s not a total loss. I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t show up. I guess this means you’re really leaving.”

 

“I am.”

 

“Well, good. I mean I’m sorry things didn’t work out. I hope things go better for you back on Earth.”

 

“Thanks. Why’d you bring the rose?”

 

“Oh. I want you to have it. Sort of a going away present.”

 

“The flower is yours. I gave it to you.”

 

“I know, and I’m giving it back. It’ll be something to remember me by. I insist.”

 

I take it. How ironic that the last thing I receive on the Moon is one of my own flowers. It’s like I’m looking at something someone else made for me. It really is a beautiful flower now that I look at it. “Thank you, Adam. You’ve been a great friend.” I give him a hug.

 

“I’m going to miss you, Amanda. We all will.”

 

The chauffeur taps me on the shoulder. “They’re boarding.”

 

“Okay.” To Adam I say, “I have to go.”

 

“Have a safe trip.”

 

“I will.”

 

As I walk down the corridor toward the shuttle I hear him call out, “Hey Amanda.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You’re the real Luna Rose, you know that?”

 

I don’t know what that means, and I don’t have time to discuss it with him. “Uh, okay. Bye, Adam.” I board the shuttle. The chauffeur takes his leave. Half an hour later we take off. It seems like only yesterday I was coming here for the first time, and now I’m leaving for good. How strange. I fix my gaze on the glass case in my lap. What did Adam mean when he said I was the real Luna Rose? Is he referring to the fact that—wait a minute. Ah, okay, I get it now. Good one, Adam. That was pretty clever. Maybe you’re not so dull after all.

 

 

THE END

 

© 2007 by Nick Ragusa. 

Nick Ragusa currently lives in Champaign, Illinois. His short stories have appeared in Anotherealm and the now defunct Astonishing Tales webzine.

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