Laura Baine was the manager of shipping and receiving for Bella Luna, where I shlepped crates for a living. Bella Luna was the new resort complex just over the horizon from the old lunar mining station, which is where us working stiffs who run the joint actually lived. The moon was becoming a great tourist destination, but while it might be a great place to visit, almost no-one wanted to live there. So, the money was extraordinarily good for manual labour, and they weren’t that picky about the resumÃ©. My co-workers were a motley crew of deadbeats, ex-cons and desperados. I fit in just fine. Laura didn’t fit in at all, though. Which was why she needed me.
Laura wasn’t there because she was behind the eight ball on debt or dead last on anyone’s list of potential employees. She had left a perfectly good job Earthside to come up here and run S&R. I never could understand it, but she tried to explain it the first day we met by showing me her prized possession: an old prop from the original series of Star Trek.
I’d just arrived at the station, and was still feeling sick from the transport or the gravity change or something. I just wanted a slice of dry toast and a clean bed, but the new boss wanted to talk. Always wary of pissing off authority, especially in close confines, I agreed to meet her in her office that first day. The woman was almost giddy when she reached out to shake my hand.
“Natalie,” she’d said, her warm hand embracing my clammy one. “You don’t know how happy I am that you are finally here. It will be so nice having another woman on staff.” She let my hand go, but moved a foot closer to me, even further invading my territorial zone. I had to fight not to wince. “We women need to stick together,” she said, much too close to my face.
I first thought that she was coming on to me, and I didn’t have enough mental fortitude to deal with that possibility right then. I took a half step back, and slapped on the best smile I could manage. “Call me Nat, Ms. Baine,” I said, politely I hoped.
She smiled back. “And you must call me Laura.” She walked back to her desk, and sat on its edge. “So, what brings you to Bella Luna, Nat?”
The goddam vomit comet, I wanted to say. Instead, I told her that I had needed a job, and this was the best deal going. It wasn’t exactly a lie, and if she hadn’t looked at my CV herself and seen the three years at Hawthorne Women’s Correctional I’d just finished doing for a botched robbery, then I wasn’t about to enlighten her.
As it turned out, I could probably have said anything. She wasn’t really paying attention to me. “I’ve been here since almost the beginning,” she said, her eyes getting that misty look people pick up when they’re getting all nostalgic. “As soon as I heard that the mining station reclamation project was going ahead, I knew I was going to end up here. Heck, a decade ago I even tried to find a decent job for myself at the mine. Anything to be up here.” I could tell she was on a roll, and didn’t think I could stand through a whole speech, so I hop-walked over to the nearest chair.
She went on as if I’d never moved. “All my life, I’ve loved space. Not like an astronomer, I mean, though I did learn the names of all the constellations when I was seven. But I love the concept of space, the idea of all that freedom, the vastness of it all. The possibilities.” She paused, a crazy kind of gleam in her eyes. “You see that?” She pointed to a brown lump in a lucite box hanging up on the wall above her desk. I nodded. “That’s the exact phaser that Walter Koenig used in season two of Star Trek.” Her face flushed. Whether it was with rapture, pride or fever, I couldn’t tell. But she was practically glowing. “It’s no replica,” she said, as if expecting me to challenge her on the authenticity of the thing. “You can take a closer look, if you like.” I knew I was supposed to be impressed, so I levered myself out of the chair and maneuvered myself so my face was almost pressed against the box. “Magnificent, isn’t it?” she asked.
I thought it looked like something you’d find in the toy aisle of a dollar store, but I kept that opinion to myself. “Pretty cool,” I said. “So, you chose to come up here just ’cause you wanted to live on the moon, huh?”
“Well,” she said, a conspiratorial look in her eye. “It’s not for the fulfilling work, I can tell you that.”