Floating Point, Book Four of Devi Jones’ Locker, available now! Find out more.

Chekhov’s Phaser

Chekhov’s Phaser

I wasn’t exactly well rested when I got to Laura’s office the next morning, but it didn’t matter. She gave me a portable computer and a corner of her desk, next to the mind-bogglingly ridiculous snow globe of the old mining station. As I shook the thing, and watched fake snow fall on the overly shiny model of what the mining station supposedly looked like once, she gave me a brief run-down on her job. I’d never really thought about what the manager of Shipping and Receiving does all day, but it wasn’t a big surprise when she laid it out. You don’t hump crates all day for months in a joint without having a pretty good idea where they’re coming from and going to. When she was done yakking and left me alone to actually do some of the work, I took my time, and sipped my coffee, and got stuck in to the backlog of emails. Just the usual stuff – suits wanting confirmation that their gear got where it was supposed to when it was supposed to. And this was what they paid her the big bucks for?

It turned out that being her little helper was a better gig than I’d first imagined. Most of the time when deliveries were slow, the bosses got us grunts to shift furniture, paint the walls or do some other menial task they called “other related duties.” I didn’t mind loading cargo – it was my job, after all. But I’d never cared for being told to do some other random thing just because the boss could make me jump. Hanging out in the office with a coffee and the portable beat cleaning out the break room fridge by a good margin. So I eagerly offered to help Laura out whenever things were slow.

I didn’t bother letting the guys in on my sideline job. Kissing up to the boss is a great idea; being seen to be a suck up is much less so. But usually once a week I found myself happily sipping coffee and banging away at the portable on what I now thought of as my corner of her desk. I wondered how a person got to be a manager of Shipping and Receiving. It was a pretty nice job, and I knew Laura’s pay grade was a good chunk higher than mine. I was starting to think that I could easily get used to a desk job. I was even growing fond of that stupid snow globe. When Laura wasn’t around, I’d stare at the thing and see if I could figure out what each part of the station was now.

The mine was totally shut down about a year before the resort opened, but the construction crews needed housing and services, so the station was converted to a kind of township for them. It later evolved to become home to those of us who work for the resort. They say that when the mine was operational, there were something like a thousand people working at the mine and nearly the same number working in the businesses that sprang up to support the miners. There were the usual suspects like the canteen, the commissary and the laundry, but there were also several bars, a movie theatre, a pizza joint and even a Thai restaurant. Most of those businesses died along with the mine, but the construction crews kept a few alive, and the resort staff population is big enough that even a few new ones sprang up.

Lefty and I liked to drink at the honky tonk by the south bay doors. It was the shortest stumble back to his room of any of the gin joints on the rock, and I knew the lay of the pool table. The first time shooting pool in lunar gravity was quite a trip, let me say, even if they do weigh the balls down. Lefty was leaving the rock for a job back Earthside, so we were kind of trying to make the most of the few nights we had. It was no great romance or anything, but we amused each other well enough, and when your entertainment options are limited, you take what you can get.

It was the day after he’d bugged out that Laura called and asked if I wanted to go for a drink. I could hear the desperation in her voice, and if I hadn’t been looking for any opportunity to avoid having to feel lonely, I wouldn’t have agreed so fast. But, like I said, beggars can’t be choosers around here.

We met at one of the bars that catered mainly to the front staff at the resort. I think I was the only roughneck in the joint, but I knew how to clean up all right and I can keep a low profile. I wasn’t worried about standing out. Laura, on the other hand, looked like she’d been hitting the bottle pretty good on her own when she came through the door. She wasn’t stumbling or slurring her words, but I could tell that she’d had more than a glass of wine by the total lack of volume control in her voice.

“Nat,” she bellowed as she sat down across from me. I winced. “You’re here already.”

“Just got here, Laura,” I said, casually glancing around to see if the bar staff were getting ready to kick us out of the joint. I caught the barman’s eye, and he winked at me and shrugged, so I figured we were probably still within the bounds of propriety at this place. He came over to the table, and Laura loudly demanded, “Bourbon. Rocks. And don’t be stingy with it, either.”

I grinned at the bartender, who wasn’t entirely unattractive, and said apologetically, “Same for me, please.”

“No problem, ladies,” he said smoothly, then walked back to the bar to pump the drinks.

“So, what’s up?” I asked, hoping she’d talk and drink herself out fast so I could see about fixing that bartender up as Lefty’s replacement.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she sighed. “It’s just all so disillusioning, you know?” I didn’t, but I smiled and nodded anyway. “I mean, is this how you thought it would be?” She waved her arm around to indicate whatever “it” was that she was talking about, and ended up belting the bartender in the gut. It looked to be a soft hit, and he didn’t even drop the enclosed squeeze glasses containing our drinks, but I saw an opportunity.

“Are you okay?” I asked, jumping up out of my seat and steering him away from Laura after he hooked the drinks to the holders on the table.

“Sure,” he said, smiling. I took a liking to that smile.

“My friend is just having a tough time of it these days,” I said, putting on my best sympathy face. Guys dig that. “I thought that if I took her out, I might help her snap out of it.” I smiled apologetically, and got another one of his thousand watt grins in return.

“I hope it works,” he said, and gave my arm a squeeze before he went back to the bar. Things were looking up. But I still had Laura to deal with for the rest of the night. After that song and dance there was no way I could ditch her now, not in front of Smiley there.

I sat back at the table, and watched Laura take a long sip of what was left of her drink. “So, what were we talking about?” I asked, hoping she had forgotten.

“This place,” she said, disgustedly. I looked around the bar. Seemed all right to me.

“The bar?” I asked.

“No,” she said, sighing as if I were a moron. I was getting a little pissed off. The barman wasn’t hot enough to put up with much more of this. “No,” she said again, her voice losing its strident edge this time. “The whole place. The resort. The fucking moon.”

I finally figured it out. Maybe I was a moron after all. “Space isn’t everything you imagined it would be after all,” I said, and watched Laura nod. I thought I maybe saw tears in the corners of her eyes, but it could have just been the funky lighting of the place.

“It was all I ever wanted,” she said. “The exploration, the freedom and wonder of it. ‘To explore strange new worlds…'” She picked up her glass, but didn’t take a drink, just watched the amber fluid float around the ice cubes in the thin plastic container. Her voice got hard. “But it’s the same here as anywhere else. The same bullshit day in and day out.” She took a long sip from her glass, finishing the drink, and looked straight at me. Her eyes were cold. “I thought it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. But it’s just fucking Shipping and Receiving.” She laughed, but I got the feeling she didn’t think anything was very funny. “It’s just a different view.”

Laura got pretty quiet after that and while she put back another couple of bourbons, I got the bartender’s phone number. “How’s your friend doing?” he asked.

“She’s homesick,” I said and he nodded.

“Well,” he said sagely, “the moon isn’t for everyone.” He told me his name was Dave, and that he thought I was a good friend. I looked over at Laura half sprawled on the table, and thought I saw an opportunity.

“I’d better get her home,” I said, and Dave smiled and squeezed my arm again.

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