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Science Fiction Romance Historical Fiction

I could put my thumb up to a window and completely hide the Earth.

I thought, everything I’ve ever known is behind my thumb.

Jim Lovell, Apollo 8, 1968

Jimmy Nixon looked out the viewing portal of his private quarters at Waypoint Tranquility on Luna. The rising Earth was a waxing crescent on the moon’s midnight horizon. He remembered an old quote by one of the Apollo astronauts, and like that captivated spaceman of old, Jimmy held his own thumb up to cover the planet entirely from his view. Unlike that other “James,” this James had lived his entire life on Earth’s sole satellite, so his slender digit covered nothing.

He pulled his right hand back and made a fist with his slim fingers. He flexed his right arm, and with his other hand he gauged the firmness of his bicep; his muscle mass had developed considerably since he’d transferred from Engineering Ops to Mining & Loading (M&L). He turned his nude body toward a long mirror and raised both arms in a front double biceps pose, changing to a side chest, and then to an opposite side triceps stance. His muscles were not enormous, but were well defined upon his somewhat slight frame, and although his body was far from that of a competitive weightlifter, he hoped he would be in shape enough to be accepted as a passenger on Transport Gamma to the second of two O’Neill space colonies at Earth-Moon L5. His medical exam was tomorrow morning, and while he was fairly certain that he’d addressed his decrements in skeletal muscle strength and connective tissue integrity, he’d have to wait and see if the medications he was on to increase his red blood cell mass and improve his vascular and cardiopulmonary deficits would be as effective as his work and exercise routine had been for his physique.

Jimmy stopped admiring his chiseled reflection and glanced to his left noticing the old bunk bed where he used to rest his head; that was over fifteen years ago, before the accident. He was only thirteen when a tragic mining incident claimed both his parents’ lives. His mother and father had met and married on Luna, having their son just ten short months later. They’d worked together as operators of a sublunarean scraper-scooper (S3  or S-cubed); his mother was the pilot and drill/scraper operator, while his father collected the largest chunks of moon rock into a storage section with two adroit scooper arms.

Once mined, the moon rock was separated into high, medium, and low metal content. Rock with low content was sent directly to Manufacturing to produce large moon-bricks which were actually more like ancient Mayan pyramid slabs weighing two tons each. Rock with medium or high metal content was first processed to extract any titanium, aluminum, iron, copper, and magnesium, before then being passed on to Manufacturing. The common metals were melted down to form steel girders while the titanium was reserved for more critical components. Jimmy’s parents’ final load of rock never made it to the surface before the entire tunnel collapsed, burying them completely. By the time rescuers were able to extract their crushed and unrecognizable bodies, it was clear they’d been both killed instantly.

Jimmy had been glad that they hadn’t suffered long, but his own ordeal had only just begun. After laying his parent’s ashes to rest, he had planned on moving to Earth to be fostered by his father’s brother. However, he was informed by the Waypoint’s administrator that since he’d been born and raised on the moon, his body would not cope well without at least an entire year of physical therapy. Since he really didn’t know his uncle very well, and rather than go through the effort, he decided to remain on the moon alone as a ward of the Waypoint and attend Lunaversity for Space Engineering Operations; in this way he’d work in a control room and labor in a less dangerous environment than that of his unfortunate parents. Nonetheless, shortly after graduation he began to have second thoughts. Some primal urge passed down by his parents drove him to follow after their dream of living on a space colony, specifically one of the same colonies that the mining operations on the moon were so critical to construction.

With that in mind, he chose to set aside all of his engineering training and put in for a transfer to M&L, which handled the bulk of the most grueling and manually intensive labors. At first he was only given the less strenuous jobs, but after just six months he was in good enough shape to handle almost anything from laying track, to picking, to shoveling and most importantly working on crews that manually loaded manufactured rock slabs and metal I-beams into the containers that were launched on electromagnetic rail guns, nicknamed “slingers,” aimed at Earth-Moon Lagrange point L5.

From his engineering studies, he knew exactly how and why the bricks were so essential to colony construction. The containers would be intercepted and acquired by spacecraft, nicknamed “catchers,” and sorted into stable orbits nearby the building site. Once a colony’s basic cylindrical frame was complete, the slabs of rock were added to the rotating space station’s outer shell to provide a sufficient layer of protection from cosmic radiation. Only after the support structure was complete could work to terraform the inner shell begin.

Shaking these memories from his mind, he returned to the queen-sized bed which had once been his parents’ and sat on the edge of the mattress. His lover’s sensual curves stirred beneath a thin opaque sheet, and while still facing away from him, she threw off the linen to reveal her own nakedness. The woman was almost exactly the same age as Jimmy, but she was even more fit. She’d only just arrived on the moon six months earlier, and since she worked with him at M&L, she hadn’t yet experienced any significant loss of skeletal muscle. Her jet black hair stood in stark contrast to her ashen skin made even paler in the blueish Earthlight. Without turning to look at him, she suggestively purred her invitation, “Come back to bed and finish your work out, sweetheart.”

Jimmy Nixon set aside all of his concerns and rolled into bed behind her. He drew her long hair to one side revealing a peculiar numeric tattoo on her supple neck: CCM1A34X525D. She had always avoided discussing what the series of letters and digits meant; all she’d ever said was that it was something stupid she’d done when she was only nineteen. He ignored the odd marking and nuzzled closer, placing his lips delicately against the nape of her neck to begin meeting her challenge.

In the morning, he quietly showered and snuck out to let her sleep a bit longer; their loading shift began in two hours and he had his medical assessment at oh-six-hundred. To his delight, the exam went flawlessly; this third time, he was confident that he had surpassed every physiological measure the doctors applied, both inside and out. He had no doubt that by the time he’d finished his shift the approval to board Transport Gamma, which was scheduled to leave within the week, would be waiting for him in his inbox! He couldn’t wait to tell Jessica the good news.

Jimmy was a tad late for work, so he rushed to get suited up in his booster suit and out to the lifting zone. The environmentally sealed spacesuit had a titanium exoskeleton and was augmented with powered servos to give a human being over five times their natural strength. This way, it only took two workers to lift a single two-ton moon slab into a shipping container, and one lifter could easily handle a standard I-beam. He locked his helmet into place and sprinted out to the lunar surface. Outfitted in his booster suit, along with the .376g environment, he always felt like some sort of superhero, bounding structures in a single leap.

During one of his higher hurdles he spotted Jessica’s pink helmet; two more hops later he landed next to her as the supervisor was assigning crews for the shift. “Tommy and Dave… S-cubed… Willy and Pete… picks and shovels… Jerry… two hundred girders… Maria… two hundred girders…”

“Once again, you got lucky, Jimmy. He hasn’t called you yet,” Jessica teased.

“Jimmy and Jessie…a hundred and sixty slabs…” the foreman hollered.

“A hundred and sixty this time? Ugh!” Jessica grumbled.

“Wonderful!” Jimmy exclaimed. “We can talk while we work…I’ve got some great news.”

“Really? Wonderful? That’s a slab every three minutes or forty tons an hour…with no breaks!” she complained.

“There are two of us per slab, so divide the tonnage in half!” Jimmy said optimistically. “We’ll each load a hundred and sixty tons. It reminds me of an old folk song on steroids,” he added, then he started to sing but the tune was muffled by his helmet. “Ya load a hundred and sixty tons, and whadaya get? Another day older and deeper in debt…”

“Just stop,” Jessie held up a servo-powered hand. “The horn has sounded…let’s get to work.”

They hefted product for about two hours straight before taking a breather. Jimmy sat down next to his partner on an unloaded slab. “So, Jessie, I wanted to tell you my good news…”

She cut him off, “I already know what your news is, Jimmy. I knew what it would be last night, and I pretty much have known what it would be since we first met…and you couldn’t stop talking about L5.”

Jimmy didn’t know one-hundred percent, but what Jessie said boosted his confidence all the more. “Isn’t it great, Jessie? I want to cook you a special dinner at my place tonight to celebrate. I have some errands to run after work, so can you meet me there at nineteen-hundred?”

“Fantastic, Jim,” was all she said as the break whistle sounded.

The rest of the shift, the subject of L5 never came up again. When the slinger shift was over, they extracted themselves from their booster suits and systematically stowed them before taking a quiet shower together.

Once dressed, he patiently waited and watched her comb out her wet hair. When it looked like she was finished, he bid her farewell. “Bye, Jessie. See you tonight,” Jimmy assumed.

Jessica pulled her silky midnight tresses up to drape them over her jacket collar, briefly revealing her unusual neck tattoo. “Sure, Jimmy. Goodbye,” Jessica lied. He didn’t see the tear on her cheek as she walked away.

The first thing Jimmy did when he got home was to check his inbox, and sure enough, he’d been approved for colonial travel. He clapped his hands and exclaimed, “Hot damn!” The next thing he did was program the auto-cooker for a rare romantic dinner of shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta. He then put a bottle of Pinot Grigio in an ice bucket and set the table. Finally, on Jessie’s plate, he placed a tiny unwrapped box.

As Jimmy walked into the bedroom, he noticed something out of place. Actually it was something “in place;” his bed was made, and Jessie had never before made up his bed. He noticed a handwritten note folded on top of his pillow and his heart sunk. Quietly he picked up the note, sat down at the foot of the bed, and began reading.

J –

I don’t need a doctor to tell me that you are fit enough to live in 1g on L5. You are.

I don’t need a minister to tell me that you are my soul mate. You are.

You don’t need me to tell you that I can’t marry you and move to L5. My prison tattoo bears witness.

I’m not sure what all the wretched numbers and letters signify, but CCM1 means Capital Crime Murder One.

I told you that I did something stupid when I was 19. Well that something was murder. I killed my husband.

He deserved it for what he did to me, but since I showed no remorse at my trial, I was sentenced to life in prison.

After 10 years and good behavior, I was given the option to have a modicum of freedom working “pro bono” in the lunar mines.

The intense yet brief affair we had together made it all worthwhile, but I don’t want to be the one to hold you back from your dreams.

Therefore, I have requested a transfer back to Earth to serve the remainder of my sentence. That way, you can be free to live out those dreams.

Remember me. Love me. Let me go.

– J

Jimmy went out to his kitchen and dolefully shut off the auto-cooker. He sat down at the small dinner table and opened the tiny box. Inside was a plain titanium engagement band. He pulled it out and slipped it onto his pinky finger. He reached over and twisted open the bottle of wine before taking a long draught and staring at the ring until the bottle was empty.

The next week, as expected, Jessie was absent from work. She was gone, and it was time for him to leave as well.

Once aboard Transport Gamma and well on their way to the colonies, he made his way to the dinner lounge. Sitting alone at the bar, he ordered a Manhattan, and he noticed several people gathered at the large rearview picture window.

He approached the crowd, careful not to interrupt their conversations. They were admiring the shrinking moon, as the transport vessel rapidly raced away. Most of the passengers were from Earth, but for just a few of them, like Jimmy, Luna had been their former home. Holding his cocktail in his right hand, he raised his left thumb to the receding satellite. He closed his left eye, and as he slid his extended digit to cover the moon, a glint of light reflected off the titanium loop on his pinky. Here in the fullness of time and space, Jimmy Nixon finally understood what Jim Lovell expressed so eloquently in 1968.

June 08, 2021 21:34

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1 comment

David Brown
18:34 Apr 10, 2022

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