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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: MOON OF EYES

Despite the voluminous and unmistakable evidence all around me, all my life, it has taken me the better part of sixty years to reach the conclusion that all government—no matter what kind it is or claims to be—is parasitic and evil in its primary nature, and that indeed, six thousand years of propaganda to the contrary, its exists for no other purpose than to be parasitic and evil.

My husband Emerson seems to have understood this since the day he was born.

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

Llyra stood in the gate, listening to horror stories.

“Of course we only had three sheets of ice back then,” one of the other coaches was telling Jasmeen. She was a slim, pretty, tiny woman with a young and energetic voice. Someone had told Jasmeen that she was in her forties, but she didn’t look it. Either living in the Moon was good for a person’s health, or it was simply having the right outlook.

“Back then”, of course, neither Mars nor Pallas had any rinks at all.

The coach said, “I think I was about twelve. Our annual ice show had a Blue Hawaii theme, and my mom had made me a little outfit with a grass skirt, a coconut bra, a big flower lei, you know, the whole thing. The night of the show, it was missing from my locker. My friends and I, my mom, my coach, we all looked everywhere, but no luck.”

Jasmeen nodded politely, and threw Llyra an anxious glance. The younger girl knew her coach would much rather be giving her a last- minute pep talk right now. Maybe this was just as well. Maybe they’d both feel less nervous this way—by now she knew girls who’d gotten ulcers just from these last few moments before competition—and they were making new friends in a field of endeavor where that could be important.

“What did you do?” Jasmeen asked the other coach. Llyra wondered, too.

“Oh, my mom had some material left over from my first costume and whipped up another. She’s great. But you haven’t heard the best part. Twenty years later, when they were building the other three rinks here, they had to tear down the girls’ locker rooms to relocate them. Guess what they found behind the lockers when they pulled them out.”

“Hawaiian costume,” Jasmeen guessed.

The coach laughed ruefully. “You bet they did, honey, still on its hanger in the bag. To this day, I don’t know why whoever did it did it.”

“Sometimes,” Jasmeen told her, “is no why.”

She turned to Llyra and reached up to put her hands on the girl’s shoulders. Not long ago, she could have leaned down and rested her forearms there, clasping her hands behind the nape of Llyra’s neck. “Skate as if you are only skater here today, my little. Skate as if is not competition, but exhibition. Skate your proudest, ignoring other skaters. If you compete with anybody, compete with yourself.” She stood on tiptoe to kiss Llyra’s forehead, then stepped back and grinned. “But try to make it friendly competition.”

Llyra grinned back. She was aware that people were watching her this morning, curious about the “asteroid girl” (as she had heard herself called behind her back) and how she would fare in competition after arriving here the first time in a wheelchair. Some of them, she knew, wanted her to fail—that was something else she’d overheard—although she didn’t have the foggiest notion why. One or two, she knew, despised what they called “colonials”. Others simply hated the rich.

In general, Llyra didn’t understand how people could be cruel like that to one another, possibly because she didn’t have a cruel bone in her own body. Even her mother was honest enough with others, and herself, to realize that what happened between her and Adam—the bad stuff, Llyra thought to herself; she didn’t really want to know about anything else—was completely irrational, and to feel ashamed of it, afterward.

Llyra had heard another story she didn’t understand. One of the girls she shared contract ice with every morning was originally from West America. The day of her big sister’s most important competition—in some place called Omaha—she’d left her skate bag inside the girls’ locker room, believing it was safe. Minutes before her group was to take the ice, she discovered that somebody had taken her skates out of her bag and stomped them, over and over again, until the blades shattered.

Big sister had left competition and never skated again.

Llyra was about to say something to Jasmeen, when the announcer spoke, instead: “Our next skater is a member of the Lunar Figure Skating Club.” The amplified baritone voice reverberated through the cavernous facility.”But her home ice is the Aloysius Brody Arena in Curringer, on Pallas. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Llyra Ayn Ngu!”

Jasmeen’s grin had become an annoyed scowl. The announcer had pronounced her student’s first name “Leera” and her middle name “Ann”, despite a note she’d written on the card, but by now Llyra was used to it.

Adrenaline pumping, oblivious to everything else around her, she was about to step onto the ice, had a leg raised to cross over the threshhold, in fact, when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Jasmeen caught her eye, glanced down at her feet. Llyra still had the plastic guards on her blades, and would have wound up on her behind within a stroke or two. She’d done it before. Everybody did it at one time or another.

She stooped to slip the guards off—Jasmeen took them; there were at least a dozen other coaches along the boards, clutching pairs of skate guards to their heavily-coated bosoms—and then was gone, soaring across the rink in a position called a “spiral”, her torso parallel to the ice, one leg extended straight backward and as high as anatomically possible, arms extended outward like the wings of an airplane. That kind of thing had once been considered too flashy, but with the change in the status of judges, it had become increasingly common.

Llyra and her coach were both lovers of classical music. Over their weeks of practice for this event, Jasmeen had vetoed her student’s choices of Ravel’s “Bolero” and the version of Gordon Sumner’s “Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge! as inappropriate for a fourteen-year- old.

Jasmeen favored Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, but she liked anything with Richie Blackmoore’s guitar playing, while Llyra thought Lindsey Buckingham was the best guitarist who had ever lived, even counting 21st century stars like Kenji Yamagari and the six-fingered Maximillian Revo. With the introduction of a new kind of judging, the rule against lyrics in most skating music had been dropped. The girls had finally agreed on the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, with its simple, pulsing organ introduction that was perfect for starting a routine.

Llyra quickly found the point on the blue line (all of these rinks were marked for hockey, just like at home) that she and Jasmeen had chosen and show-stopped to a halt, spraying ice crystals. There she waited for the referee to find her music in the system and reset the autojudge.

******

There was only a smattering of polite applause as Llyra’s name was mispronounced and she struck a dramatic starting pose. As with most lower level events like this one, despite the popularity of figure skating on 3DTV, the facility was only sparsely populated, mostly by the parents of the competitors, their brothers and sisters, and a few friends. Ten times this number would show up for the Lunar Youth Hockey game tomorrow.

In the highest, farthest corner of the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Memorial Ice Arena bleachers, the fastest gun in the Moon watched and learned and wondered how these young athletes—the best of them were here all the time and called themselves “rinkrats”—grew up eating food like this. He’d arrived hungry, but had had a hard time choosing the lesser of two evils, between a rinkburger and a rinkdog.

Bleachers: a peculiar name, he thought, considering that they were several hundred feet underground, carved out of solid stone, hidden forever from the harsh sun of the Lunar day. The seating in the new domed surface facility they were planning—now that would be bleachers.

He took a sip of his Rinkacola and pondered.

The referee, he understood—the woman presently occupying what was ordinarily a hockey box, wearing the ubiquitous floor-length black coat—was having the Ngu girl scanned, calibrating the facility’s autojudge for her particular size and bodily proportions. These were being mapped onto a model skater contained in the judging software, a direct descendent of a program written in the late 20th century around the performance standards of the legendary Michelle Quon. Motions and positions within a given set of parameters were acceptable. Anything else—a lifted leg waving around during a spiral, for example—would cause points to be deducted from a total the skater started with.

The official standards were tighter for compulsory or freeskate competitions, and somewhat looser for artistic or interpretive skating.

The present judging system, he knew—he had been doing his homework, as always—had begun to be necessary when the fans of several different sports became technically capable of rerunning the events they had just watched at home, and suddenly discovered what bad calls officials often made.

In figure skating, a judge might blink and miss a quick, difficult jump like a Wally. The merest sneeze could blind a judge to a perfect Axel. A simple reach to pick up a dropped pencil could turn well- earned victory into undeserved defeat for a young skater. Then there was favoritism or bigotry, conscious or unconscious, toward a particular skater or coach, or even toward their choice of costume or music. Occasionally, especially at the highest levels, there were horrible scandals involving outright corruption.

In the end, perhaps the worst consequence of bad or inconsistent judging was a ninety-nine percent attrition that occurred between the so-called “pre-preliminary” level of relative beginners, and official, tested seniors. Only one of a hundred stuck with it all the way, and the reason almost always given was bad or inconsistent competition judging. A little girl’s heart can be broken only so many times before she gives up.

Just as technology, in the form of video cassette recording, had given rise to an officiating crisis, technology in another form made it worse. Partly owing to a widespread, general rejection of authority for its own sake during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, once the technology became inexpensive and widely available, coaches and parents started bringing handheld “judging” devices to competitions, devices that, with varying degrees of reliability, second-guessed the all-too-human judges. The media began publishing what they called “robojudge numbers” right alongside the “official” results.

And now, under a slightly differebnt name, there were only the robojudges.

He shook his head, annoyed that he’d become distracted by his own thoughts. Even after everything that had happened to these two girls, they remained careless. He’d wager anything that they’d left their little pistols in the locker room where they wouldn’t do them any good out here, where anybody with a crowbar or a laser could get access to them.

In a way, taking advantage of the carelessness of others was his profession, but it still bothered him that people could wander through their lives in a daze, the way these two apparently did. And such pretty girls, too. It was a real shame, he thought, a real crying shame.

******

” … she’ll be comin’ round the mountain, she’ll comin’ round the mountain, she’ll comin’ round the—damn!” Wilson looked at his left hand in disgust. His fingertips were all swollen, now, and hurt like the blazes. There were little grooves pressed into them where the pain lived.

He’d been told he’d get calluses eventually. It couldn’t happen too soon to suit him. Maybe he should have bought a set at the music store.

He’d bought a little nylon-stringed acoustic guitar to keep him company, with a part of his share of the ship’s first earnings. A genuine Shedd, the guy at the music store had informed him proudly, handmade in Cavor City, home of the Cavor City Mooncalves—whoever they were. Probably a soccer team. Wilson regarded soccer as the silliest game ever invented—perhaps only because he’d never seen golf.

Now he leaned back in the piloting seat in the transparent nose of his little spaceship, his bare feet up on the console, struggling to learn his first song as he conned Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend with his toes.

It might as well have been the other way around, he thought. He was never going to get B7th right, without making the strings buzz on the frets or damping them to a dull, unmusical thud that hurt his newly sensitized fingers. Why would anybody make up a chord like that, let alone put it in a song? Trying to get his fingers twisted right, he peered at the screen to his left where the words and chords were displayed.

Nothing there but E, A, and B7th. Maybe if he just played in other keys.

He was about to hit the transposition icon on the screen when, suddenly, a not-unexpected voice came over the ‘com system. “This is Acme Assay and Purchase, Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend. Taking up musical culture, I see. But you oughta wash your feet more often.” The voice was nicely resonant, happy, and female. “What can we do you for today?”

His little asteroid hunting ship had mostly brought herself into a spherical volume of space near L-Five staked out by Acme. Different property rules and customs applied in “civilized” space than was the case with what everybody (well, nearly everybody, anyway, he thought) mutually regarded was “open range”. He realized that the yard operator who’d just spoken to him so cheerfully was also peering straight into the front of his ship with a pair of field glasses. He stepped up the magnification in the central area of the pilot’s dome so he could peer back.

As she looked up, he saw she was a pretty redhead about his own age.

“I’ve got sixteen tons of number nine coal for you, Acme—or may I just call you Ac? If you don’t like coal, I’ve got about sixteen hundred tons of assorted irons and a lot of miscellaneous carbonaceous chondrite: kerogen, water, and fine cigars. Where you want me to put it?”

“You may call me Fallon, Mr. Ngu, since the computer says that you’re getting to be a regular around here, and I just gave up cigars. You may leave your load for assay and purchase at Marker Bouy 12. Be sure its transponder works. Hot meals and free showers at the Hub, ahead of you.”

“Sounds good,” he said. “Would you care to join me? For a meal, I mean.” He had discovered that a long, successful hunt left him wanting more than food and drink. He wasn’t quite the hermit he’d thought he was.

“Aw, you’re no fun at all, Mr. Ngu.” Somehow Wilson had never noticed it, but all of the girls tended to like him. “Seriously, thank you very much, but I just came on-shift fifteen minutes ago. Would next time be all right? Who knows, I might even tell you my middle name.”

He grinned. “That would be nice, Fallon. And please call me Wilson.”

******

High in the bleachers on the opposite side of the rink, sat a young couple—to every appearance—making use of dark spectacles that were actually high-powered electronic binoculars with light amplifiers.

The two were observing the man sitting on the other side of the rink, the man who privately thought of himself as the fastest gun in the Moon. That neither they nor their employers could discover his real name was one of their pet peeves. The fellow seemed to employ a different name and set of bonafides, not just every day, but with each and every transaction. This afternoon he was calling himself Francis P. Wilson.

That neither they nor their employers could discover who the man worked for, or even what side he was on, despite hundreds of person- hours of expert research was another of their pet peeves against him.
People, in their view, simply did not have the right to that kind of anonymity.

The man with the blond moustache was frustrated and outraged. “What the hell is he watching her for? Everybody knows that it’s her brother who’s the murderer!”

The woman with her hair in a kerchief agreed. “And her father who took our operative out on Ceres. It must be some kind of independent contract. But who would pay just to have that little girl watched—unless—”

He nodded, having had the same idea. “They’re planning to kidnap her!”

“Right,” she replied, tucking a wisp of platinum blond hair back into her kerchief. “And that might very well control the whole family quite effectively. But it’s like a genie’s three wishes: what would you demand? That the father quit the Ceres Terraformation Project? Or maybe even sabotage it somehow? That the mother give up her research into the usage of asteroid materials? Or that the son quit what he’s doing and check himself into a reformatory for incorrigibles where he belongs?”

“I don’t know. All of the above, maybe. Paul was just saying the other—”

“Shut up, you idiot!” She forced calm on herself and smiled. “Don’t you remember that we never use names in this organization, Sweetie?

“Damn! I am sorry—oops! I almost used your name!” He looked down at the ice. “I don’t know what you’d demand. I’m perfectly happy to leave that one up to the people we don’t name. But I’m thinking if you bagged that little coach, as well, you could have yourself a hell of a fun time while you were waiting for whatever else it was you wanted.”

Grimacing, the woman put her hands up and averted her face. “You are absolutely disgusting! Is sex the only thing you men ever think about?”

“Pretty much,” he laughed. “Every two point four three minutes. That is, until we get old and start thinking about laxatives and funerals.”

She couldn’t help it, she laughed and he laughed with her. And while they were laughing, the fastest gun in the Moon slipped out and disappeared.

******

The brightly lighted holosign that seemed to hang out into the busy Armstrong corridor above the establishment’s double glass doors read:

THE NIMROD
A Hunter’s Bar

Wilson was inside already, sitting at the bar by the door, nursing a green-bottled Astrobleme Amber Cider, a mildly alcoholic beverage, comparable to beer but sweeter, brewed from apples and pears grown right here in the Moon under sunlamps and light piped down from the surface.

On big 3DTV screens at either end of the bar, a presumably human entity, of indeterminate sex, with greasy-looking floor-length hair and tangled rags for clothing, moaned lugubriously that “no one can love you if you love yourself”. Although it refused to make its point clearly, the lyric—East American, Wilson assumed—seemed to be a timid attack on individualism. He wondered who they thought they were persuading.

“Oh, sorry about that, love!” the bartender told him, reaching up hastily to switch the channels. He was a big, rough-looking character—with a completely winning smile—whom rumor said had once been an asteroid hunter himself, before some injury forced him to retire and open this establishment. It was early in the “evening”; Wilson was his only customer so far. “Had a bunch of Earthie tourists at lunch. You’d think they’d want t’be gettin’ away from that sort of thing, now, wouldn’t you? Especially as I’ve got over three hundred music video channels.”

“Wait,” said Wilson. “What kind of music is this?” He whistled a scrap of the tune and then sang, “Some are mindin’ their consoles while others are yarnin’. There’s some standin’ up an’ some more lyin’ down … ”

The man smiled again. “That’s Newfy music! I happen to be half Newfy myself—and half ‘Strine, of course. Where’d you hear that, son?”

“Aboard the Esmerelda last year. Some of the crew played as we ate.”

The bartender gave him an odd look. “The Esmerelda, was it? People spin yarns about that ship, they do. You’ll have to tell me yours sometime, if you’ve a mind. There are one or two Newfy channels, if—”

Wilson grinned. “Sure. I’d love it—only, what’s a Newfy?”

The bartender gazed at the ceiling, remembering, “Newfoundland is a great big island east of Canada where me old dad was born. It’s the easternmost point in North America. The Newfies are a fine, strong people—or they were that—exceptionally hardy and hardworking. The very first Dominion of the British Empire, they were, way back in 1588.”

“I had no idea,” said Wilson, sipping his cider.

“Nor does much of anybody else, I’m afraid.” He thumbed his remote control through the music channels. “Back in the early days—even up to the middle of the twentieth century—hardly anybody lived in the island’s interior. They lived in little settlements all around the shore, ‘outports’ they were called. The only city of any size was St. John’s. They fished, mostly for cod, they were loggers, mostly for pulp for newspapers, and they harvested young seal pups to sell their fur.”

Wilson nodded. “People hunt both for fur and meat where I’m from, too.”

“And where might that be, son—and are you ready for another Astrobleme?”

“Sure—I’m from Pallas.” Wilson discovered in that moment that he was immensely proud of it. “Hunting with my dad and uncles, I’ve shot deer and elk and antelope. And moose and caribou. I started on rabbits.”

The bartender nodded. “Well the Newfies were compelled at last, by economic circumstances better not discussed, to become a Canadian province. Their independence and self-sufficiency offended that lot of socialist crybabies from the start. Canadians made the same jokes about Newfies that everybody else makes about Polacks. Ottowa even let a disgusting pack of American movie stars persuade them to ban the seal harvest, destroying the livelihood of about four thousand men. Newfies run to big families—Catholics and Anglicans, the lot—so it meant that more than forty thousand decent folks suddenly found themselves on the dole.”

“But how—” Wilson began.

“Let me finish, son. Eventually the feds did the same thing to the fishermen and loggers. Little by little, Ottowa forced them off the rest of the island and into St. John’s where they could be controlled easier.”

Wilson shook his head. “Why did the Newfies allow that?”

“They didn’t have any choice. They’d long since been disarmed and the government had all the guns. Besides, a welfare check is a mighty temptation.”

“Not to me, it isn’t.” Wilson shuddered.

“Nor to me, love. Nor to the Newfies, in the end, either. Around the middle of the twenty-first century, a group of them rose up and attempted to secede. The lovely, gentle, socialistic Canadians treated them the same way the Russians treated the Chechens—they labeled them ‘terrorists’ and did their brutal best to exterminate them. My old dad finally had enough and wound up out in Alice Springs. Lots of the other survivors, refugees, ended up out here, bringing their fishing and logging music—suitably modified for asteroid hunting—with them.”

“That’s a hell of a story, Mr.—” He stuck out a hand.

“Furlong, Wally Furlong. Just remember it when you hear Newfy music.”

“And when I play it. I just got a—”

“Well if it isn’t our old buddy Wilson! You been waiting long?” The voice belonged to a young man about Wilson’s age, coming through the door. He was followed closely by two other young men and an older one.

The first one through the door was Asian, a short, heavily-muscled fireplug of a fellow with a shaved head—except for the warrior’s lock he wore at the back—and tattoos consisting of broad decorative bands of Chinese ideograms wrapped around his upper arms. He wore a long, heavy, Lumiere Model 460 ion-augmented laser pistol low on his thigh.

“Marko!” Wilson swiveled around on his barstool and exchanged grips. Marko owned and operated the independent rock hunting vessel Mina.

The second was taller, heavyset, with a round face, short blond hair, and spectacles, which was unusual in this particular time and place. He carried a pair of smaller .50 caliber cartridge automatic pistols.

“Howya doing, Mikey?” Wilson asked.

“Can’t complain—nobody listens.” Mikey owned the Albuquerque Gal.

The last of the younger men was also heavy, with a short beard, and long, wavy hair flowing down his shoulder blades. Wilson always wondered how he managed to get it all crammed into a space helmet. He was wearing a worn, military style jacket, a heavy revolver, and a kilt.

“Scotty!” Wilson greeted him. “I heard you were upsystem.”

“I was,” the man told him. “Nessie burnt through two chamber linings and I had to limp home on one engine, wondering when that’d go, too.”

Wilson nodded. “But it held up?”

“No, it failed, too. I died of anoxia, hunger, and thirst. “He turned to their host. “Good evenin’ landlord. Let’s get the hell to a table!”

The fourth man, in his late forties, Wilson guessed, a balding black man, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and short grizzled whiskers, followed them into the dining area and sat with them at a table.

“Sorry, gentleman,” said Marko, who had assumed the role of master of ceremonies. “I failed to introduce you two. Swede Vargas of the Swimming Venus, this is Wilson Ngu, of Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend. Wilson, the Swede. I met him in the maintenance yard where they’re struggling against hope to bring Scotty’s shitcan of a ship back to life.”

Wilson put a hand across the table. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Vargas.”

“Just Swede, kid. Does me fine. What’s the food like here?”

Somehow, the man’s voice was familiar, but Wilson was hungry. He was distracted when the barkeep came to the table with a PDA stamped on his wrist. “I’m thinkin’ you boys’ll be after startin’ with some drinks.”

“You’re thinking right,” Mikey answered. “Caught a hell of a rock today, so the first round’s on me. Deal is, you gotta listen to the story.”

There was some ritual moaning and groaning until the drinks came: more cider for Wilson; beer for Mikey and the Swede; a good Merlot for Marko. Then they ordered from the simple menu, steaks and fries all around.

“So there I was,” Mikey began, “chasing an iron Larsen Farside had sold me, a fair-sized clinker supposedly headed straight for Rio de Janiero.”

Marko shook his head. “Why is it always Rio in these stories? Why can’t it ever be Kalamazoo, Michigan, or Nashville, or even Bozeman, Montana?”

“Because it just was, that’s why,” said Mikey. “The data had said it was solid, but I decided to play it safe and put some chain link around it. Trouble was, it was an aggregate after all, and the edge of my net struck it a third of the way up, separating the front end from the rest, and causing the bigger back end to start breaking up. The worst of it was that it was now headed for the northern coast of the Yucatan.”

“No kidding!” several voices said at once.

“Yeah. So I figured, ‘Been there, done that’, and pondered how to get myself and the rest of my species out of this extinction level mess.”

“You didn’t,” Wilson guessed, looking at Scotty, “and we all died.” By now, even the bartender, standing in the doorway, was listening.

“Pretty close. What I did was break out the hose and give the back end a good dousing of reaction mass—drinking, bathing, and flushing water—freezing the whole thing back together again. Then I jetted ahead—”

“On pixie dust?” asked Marko. “You used up all your—”

“On powdered olivine and happy thoughts,” Mikey said. “I finally threw chainlink around the front, braked slightly, and let the rest catch up with us. Just made it to L-Five, and here I am to tell the tale.”

“Tell me something.” The Swede was skeptical. “What was its impact date?”

“Er, October 23,” Mikey admitted. The current month was April.

“What year?” the whole table demanded.

“Okay,” Mike put his face on the table, closed his eyes. “October, 2142.”

The Swede threw his head back and laughed. “Eleven years from now!” Of a sudden, Wilson realized why he had recognized the man’s voice.

“Well, they did pay me the E.L.E. bounty—and it makes a good story!”

At the back of the room, a man who had come in from the bar when nobody noticed took a sip of Grand Marnier, and then a drink of his margarita. The fastest gun in the Moon thought it was a good story, too.

Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith

lneil (at) netzero (dot) com

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