Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Moonborn

by L. J. Geoffrion


First, I'm not an experiment, ok? And, yeah, I'm pretty damn glad that my mom didn't abort me. I'm human, just like you are. I look a little different, but I could breed with you, if I had to, and that means I'm human.

I get defensive about it. "The Moonborn", they call me, but I was just the first. There's fourteen of us now. I'm the oldest by six years, and I'm gonna try real hard to make sure that the younger ones don't get the shit that I've had to deal with. In another forty years, I figure that we'll be the majority; the Earthborn miss their trees and water and bugs and all that. Which is fine with me. All the more for us.

See, the Antarctic popped in '46, and I was born in '47. Mom says that she would have rotated out or had an abortion, but they were all stuck up here. And she said, with all that death, she just wanted to feel a life growing. My name, Nokomis, means "daughter of the moon."

I wasn't born yet when the shit down below was hitting the fan, as my dad says. I've never seen shit hit a fan, but I've seen video of the Antarctica Wave, and all I can say is, I'll take vacuum any day.

I was two when the Phoenix set down. That flu bug they brought up almost killed me. A lot of the Techs rotated out on the Phoenix, anxious to get back to families they'd left behind. Charlie asked to stay; his family had been wiped out in the Wave. He mustered out and moved in with mom and dad and me.

Charlie is where it all started. I don't mean then, I mean last week. Charlie and his buddies, Dusty and Little John. Dusty and Little John were great guys; they never treated me like a kid.

We were topside, playing with Dusty's new headset. It's damn spec, an audio band that makes your input directional. It works with GPS so that you hear input from where the signal originates – behind, to the side, in front. We're trying to fine tune the volume and modality making it sound like the person speaking is right next to you or across the room. This was our third time upside, working out the kinks.

I was facing north and Charlie was off to my right. The ground was crumpled where he stood, and he had one foot up on a rock, the Earth coming up like a jewel over his shoulder. "Pretty as a picture, Charlie!" I called. He had Dusty's widget in his hand, and nodded when I spoke, making an adjustment. I looked over to Dusty, and when I looked back, Charlie was gone.

I mean, gone. Not just moved or behind or inside something. Gone. I was there in two steps. The widget was on the ground. As I bent to pick it up, I saw a crevice that lay in the shadow of the rock. Dusty came up behind me and I put a hand out waving him away. I couldn't talk past the lump in my throat.

Dusty began to curse and I guess that brought me out of my panic. I lay down and carefully felt the edges of the crevice. It was odd; smooth, like it'd been cut. Very carefully, I scooted forward, hanging my head down inside. "Charlie!" I called. "Charlie?" Maybe, I thought, maybe he was still alive.

Something like a vise grabbed my thigh and pushed me down the hole.

I landed on my side and lay there for a moment, stunned. With a dip of my chin, I flicked my lights on. Just then, another light shone down on me and Charlie's voice came over the headset, "You ok, Noko?"

"Holy Wah," my breath puffed out. "What the heck is going on?"

Charlie sat down next to me. "Looks like we fell into somebody's secret little hidy-hole."

"I didn't fall," I shook my head inside my helm. "Somebody shoved me."

"What?" Charlie frowned and then looked up as if he could see through rock. "Did someone come up?"

"No, there was just Dusty, but he was next to me, and…"

"Little John," Charlie said. "Little John?"

"I don't know," I shook my head again, trying to shake out the bats. "I don't know when I saw him last. I saw you, and then Dusty…"

"Okay." Charlie's face was dimly lit by his headset lights. He looked at me and smiled a little. I always liked Charlie's smile. "Let's drop that part. What we need to do now is get out of here."

We looked around at "here". Our lights were long, thin pencils of brightness, ending in pinpoints on a rough rock wall. We found the hole we'd fallen through, but shining a light up and yelling on our headsets didn't have any effect.

Charlie grunted and fished a flashlight from his tool belt. He swept it around the cavern. "Wait! What was that?" I turned my head, my small headset light thin in the darkness. Charlie brought the bigger light back. "There."

"Door," Charlie said, and breathed in relief.

####

A common airlock was behind the door, and Charlie and Nokomis stepped in, both of them breathing with relief. Charlie looked up at Noko. She was so tall that he had trouble seeing her face through her helmet. She looked down at him, her brow knotted, looking for reassurance. He grasped her hand and gave it a little squeeze. Years of helping to take care of her had taught him to be gentle. "Don't worry, kiddo," he grinned, "we'll be inside in a jiff, and get this all sorted out." She smiled a little but the worry lines still grooved her forehead. Smart girl, Charlie thought.

Air filled the chamber and the light blinked green. Nokomis pushed the handle and the door whooshed open.

It took a moment for Charlie to recognize where he was; he'd only seen this chamber from another doorway. Main Power Plant, Charlie thought. We're underneath, in Mech Support. Nokomis stepped out, turned and sealed the airlock door, and looked around. "Huh," her voice came as a breathy sigh over Dusty's headset, "we're in Mechanical Support."

Charlie shook his head, resignedly. "And how do you know that, my girl?"

Nokomis looked down at him and grinned, "Don't tell Mom, eh?"

"I have a feeling that this will be the least thing we'll be explaining." Charlie reached up and popped his helmet, letting it hang down by the back strap and unlocked his gloves, stowing them in his belt. With a sigh, he messaged his face in his hands and took his bearings. "Ok, Magellan, lead us out of here."

"Hardly Magellan," Nokomis popped her helmet and gloves, and breezed past Charlie like a wraith. "This is my own backyard."

She walked in a way that Charlie never got tired of watching, her long, thin limbs flowing in the low gravity. This was her place, her natural environment, her body shaped by it, and she moved as a body should move, gracefully, filling her space, coasting through the air between long, effortless steps that barely touched the ground.

####

It took a minute for me to figure out just where we were. The lights were low and everything was turned around. Mech Support is bigger than any place on base and I'd never been in this particular corner. I got my bearings and nodded our heading to Charlie, when we heard a noise, low and raspy. We stopped and Charlie peered around, eyes narrowed. The sound came again, a groan of agony.

Charlie got a look on his face like he was the one in pain. Stay, he lipped to me, soundlessly. I nodded. He moved past a column of machinery and it was quiet. I guess I'm not too good at following directions; I peeked around the corner. Charlie was kneeling by the body of a man, blood spattered across his tech suit.

There was a body of another tech a few meters away, slumped on his side, eyes closed and blood seeping from his lips. I made a sound and Charlie's head came up. "He's not dead yet," he said, voice pitched low, "but he needs help real bad."

He went to the other man and began to run his hands gently over his head and down his shoulders. Suddenly, the man coughed, and Charlie helped ease his head up. "Easy there, mate," he murmured. "Looks like something got ya right in the kisser."

The man brought a hand up to his mouth and groaned. "Some crazy-ass bastard attacked us with a piece of pipe." The man pulled himself up, cradling the side of his face with his palm. "He hit Duff first…" His eyes went to the other fallen man, "…damn. I don't …" and tracked around the area, "… I don't know where he went."

I put my back to the column and looked past the stacks of machinery, up into the catwalks, my ears straining. Nothing. Just machinery humming and empty catwalks stretching off into the dimness.

Charlie got his arm under the conscious tech and helped him to his feet. The name patch on his breast read ‘'Boase'. "There's a lift," the Boase panted, "…goes up to Environmental." He pointed, "That way."

We walked carefully, Charlie leading the way. Boase fell back, limping, and I put an arm across his shoulders, steadying him against my side. He looked up at me, solemn, "Thank you."

I smiled a little. I never know what kind of reaction people are going to have when they see me for the first time. He stumbled a little, his muscle memory playing him false in the lunar gravity, and leaned against me. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"It's ok," I whispered. "I've heard that it takes a while to get used to it."

"You," he shook his head, "you move like an angel."

We came to a wall. Charlie turned and we sidled along, pressing our backs to its safety. "Where's the lift?" Charlie hissed back to Boase.

Boase put a hand to his head, rubbing his fingers across his forehead. "I … uh," he looked up and then stepped forward and peered around a massive block of machinery. "I think we went the wrong way."

Charlie pressed his lips into a line. "Okay, mate," he breathed out, "this is what we're gonna do…" He looked at me then and his eyes narrowed. "Noko, I need you to listen to me, you hear?"

"Yeah," my voice cracked, and I swallowed dryly. "Yeah, I hear you, Charlie."

"Right," he smiled grimly. "Me and this fella are gonna take a walk, eh? We're gonna go find some help. In the mean time, you're gonna fold yourself up small and pretend you're not here. Not a peep until help comes." Charlie's eyes pinned me, "You got that, kiddo?"

I nodded, "Sounds like a plan."

Boase turned as they left, his eyes rolling wide, watching me as I pulled into a ball and tucked myself in the shadow between a pillar and a recycle bin.

####

Charlie glanced back but Nokomis had already made herself disappear. It was a game that they used to play, a crazy low-g hide-and-seek that would often end in Noko pouncing on him from behind a tapestry or from inside some cupboard.

"Good God! What is that!" Boase stopped suddenly, bouncing backwards.

"Eh? Oh, that," Charlie chuckled. "That is a moonie. It's a mouse, is all. A bunch of ‘em got loose about five years back."

"That's a mouse?" Boase's nose wrinkled. "It looks like a big hairy spider." The moonie paused at the base of a bio-waste bin, twitching its nose. Boase leaned towards it. "With whiskers."

Charlie watched the moonie launch itself up into the bin. A second moonie slid out of an air vent and skittered after the first. "Looks like the little buggers are breeding up again."

Boase detoured widely around the bio-waste bin. Charlie looked up into the catwalks and grimaced. "The wacko who attacked you could be anywhere. Where's the damn lift?"

"I think that I got turned around," Boase rubbed his forehead. "I came in on the Clement; I just got out of quarantine. Duff was showing me around." The tech leaned against a wall and massaged his thigh.

"Okay, mate, steady on, eh?" Charlie's eyes lighted on several lengths of pipe stacked neatly on a corner rack. "Here," he fished out a likely piece of pipe, "take this to lean on."

Boase smiled gratefully and the two men moved out past the maze of machinery, the pipe tapping lightly on the floor.

"Ah," Boase said hesitatingly, "Nokomis, she, ah, she has quite a following, hm?"

Charlie sighed and turned around. Here it comes. "You mean those nut cases down below, eh? Those sick bastards that get off on looking at Noko's med footage?"

Boase chewed on his lip nervously and nodded.

"Look," Charlie said, "we don't talk about that up here. She's just a kid. That stuff is just…" he rubbed his hand briskly over his face and met Boase's eyes in a frank glare, "that stuff is sick." He leaned forward earnestly. "If I hear that you talked about that stuff to Nokomis, I'll come and break your legs."

Charlie's teeth flashed in something that was not a smile. "It won't be the first set I've broken."

"Oh, hey, yeah," Boase waved his hand dismissingly, "I get it. No sweat, man. Yeah, she's just a kid."

"Damn straight," Charlie muttered, turning away. "Now, where the hell is that…"

Charlie never saw what hit him.

####

I heard someone walking, and peeked from my spot. It was Boase, and he was alone. I sprang out of my spot and landed next to him. "Where's Charlie?"

Boase squeaked and jumped about half a meter in the air. I put a hand out to steady him. "Th … the nutcase," he stuttered, "He attacked us! Charlie, he told me to run and get you, get you out of here." Boase looked nervously over his shoulder, "We've got to get away!"

"No way. Not without Charlie."

He took my hand and started to tug me. I reached my other hand across and pinched his ear, hard. He squeaked again and let me loose. "What the hell!"

"I'm not leaving Charlie," I turned and went back the way Boase had come, trying to look up, forward and sideways all at once. I could hear Boase follow me, pounding along like Earthborn do, wasting all kinds of energy.

Charlie was lying in a bloody heap. I touched him carefully on the side of the face and his eyes flickered open. "Noko," he whispered. "Get out of here."

"Come on, Charlie, I'll help you up. We'll get out of here together." His scalp was still oozing blood, and his eyes looked strange. "I can't just leave you here."

"Boase, where is he?" Charlie blinked and then he sat up and puked all over both of us. He waved his hand in a shooing motion. "Noko, get out of here. It's Boase. The nutcase. It's Boase."

Oh. Shit.

A hand fell on my shoulder and squeezed. I guess I didn't think about what I did then -- I just reacted. As he jerked me up, I pushed as hard as I could, and somersaulted myself across his shoulder. His grip tightened when I rose up, and I felt my collarbone snap in a white-hot pulse of pain.

I screamed.

I think he let me go in sheer surprise. I landed on my feet and leapt straight up with all my might. Because I'm tall, I was able to grab onto a piece of the upper catwalk in my left hand and I swung myself up, my right arm flopping. I think I grayed out for a minute. When I opened my eyes, I was laying face down on the catwalk, and Boase was standing below me with a piece of pipe in his hand.

####

Charlie wiped blood from his eyes and tried to focus on Nokomis. Her face was stark white, pressed up against the grating of the catwalk. There was an air vent blowing on her from somewhere, lifting her hair up and away. Then she blinked and focused. With a shaky arm, she pushed herself up.

"You … you come back down here." Boase sounded calm, like any reasonable adult. His mouth was pressed into a thin line of displeasure. Nokomis, her face expressionless, looked for one long searching minute into Charlie's eyes and turned to scan the catwalk.

She saw something; Charlie saw her eyes narrow in calculation. With a blank-faced glance at Boase, Nokomis turned, took two steps, and turned back with a length of long, thin conduit in her hand.

"I'll bash his brains in. You come down here! Come down now! " Boase lifted the pipe. "I … I won't hurt you, Moonborn. You're … you're an angel. I just want to, I need to.." He licked his lips. "Come down here, now!"

When he had first joined them, Charlie was still mourning the death of his wife and their children. He had tried hard at first not to love the strange spidery little girl. "Noko! Get out of here! This bastard is one of those freaks! He'll, he'll … God, girl, get out!"

"You shut up!" Boase gave him a vicious kick and Charlie sprawled across the floor. "Come down!" he called up to Nokomis. "Come down and I won't kill him."

To Charlie's dazed eyes, Nokomis grew even taller. The vent blew in her face and her dark hair writhed through the air. Her face took on a look of wrathful distain. "You!" she spoke in a low, intense voice, "I know what kind of man you are." She swept her left arm through the air, the conduit slashing, and brought it ringing down on the catwalk. "I've seen the stuff that you perverts write, the pictures that you make." Her face twisted in disgust.

"Come down here!" Boase bellowed. Spittle flecked his chin and he swiped it away with an unsteady hand. "You're mine, now. I get to play with you." He lifted the pipe and nudged Charlie with it. "You hear me, "Uncle Charlie"? Bastard, you think you're the first one in line, don't ya?"

Charlie looked up. "I'm gonna kill you."

"I got pictures of you, giving her a bath, when she was little." Boase giggled. "I can't wait, I can't wait. I'll touch here there"

Nokomis' scream of rage split the air.

She was beautiful and terrible. "I am not some thing!" She pointed the conduit at Boase and shrieked, "I am Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon!" Boase looked into her eyes and reeled back. With heart wrenching grace, with pitiless anger, Nokomis drew back her arm and threw the conduit, a shining blur that pierced Boase in the softness of his throat and through the width of his body, appearing out his back in a sudden snick of steely red.

He stood for a moment, eyes open wide into hers. Then he died.

####

I watched him die. It only took a moment. Then he fell sideways and got messy. I swung down from the catwalk and went to Charlie. He was a wreck. We looked at each other and I don't know why, but I started to cry. I helped him get up and we leaned together like two war casualties, covered in blood and vomit, and staggered off. When we finally found the damn lift, I started crying again.

I'm still doing it -- not all the time, but now and then. Mom says it's normal for someone who's been through trauma like mine. Dad can't stop looking at me with those puppy-dog eyes. But Charlie, he knows. He knows that it's not about being afraid of those bastards or sorry that I killed Boase.

Last week he gave me a print of an old painting someone did hundreds of years ago. It's of an angel, holding a sword. There's no pity its face, no sorrow. I put it up above my bed and I look at it for hours. I am Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon.

THE END


© 2007 L. J. Geoffrion

Bio: L. J. Geoffrion lives on the southern shore of Lake Superior, "abiding in happy chaos with various partners, kids, dogs, and cats." L. J. claims to be a good cook, a decent flautist, but a mediocre gardener. L. J.'s first novel is currently in its final edit, and a second novel is in development.

E-mail: L. J. Geoffrion

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