The walk to the car was already something special. He felt both attraction and something more for Roberta. But he was aware that neither one of them was really eligible to fall in love and Joseph liked being in love in much the same way that some men liked horseracing, skiing or snorkeling. He looked at Roberta and was determined he would take whatever he could find between them but he also wished for things he had not found or felt in many years.
“You made it clear that this is your first trip to the Moon and I know you just came through the Autodoc scanners. I don’t mind telling you I think you are kind of cute. I think you like me too.”
“Indeed I do like you Roberta.”
“Well, Lunarian women are pretty honest about sex. I would say that if we have a nice time at dinner I consider it a possibility.”
“Then I would consider it a very nice one. How about a kiss here by the lake as a first step.”
“I could do that.”
“They suited deed to word and lingered a while. During that time the Jim Lovell fountain went off in the middle of the pond and shot water lit by lights 200 meters into the air. He felt a tiny spray before they stopped. The taste of the apple, the spray and the thick air and low gravitydrove the experience into his mind. They held hands as they walked towards her hovercar. They synchronized their loping very well. The hovercar was a 2261 Ford Lunarabbit. It had no trunk and was not very fast but it was very popular in the lunar colonies. They lifted up into the final fall of spray and were soon above it. A screen projected on the windshield showed them drawing into one of the air ramps and then into an airlane in which hovercars only were permitted. Then they sped up to about 85 kilometers an hour and headed for one of those big Hotels by a waterfall which he had seen on his way down the elevator.
“Tell me about your home pretty lady. What am I looking at it is all pretty new. I have seen some tv tours but this is very different.”
“American Crater Cap Colonies in our district include four older colonies than ours. The colonies in Ritter, Sabine and Cronkite Craters and all of them were after the first international colony. The Brits have a lot on the Sea of Tranquility but not as much as we do. Our Tauruntius Crater is about fifty six kilometers in diameter and is one of the ten biggest. Only the really big colonies have those thin silver steel building as office towers you see. The Lunar law requires on for every square Lunar mile. So we have quite a few as well asour large standard columnar building that have the only large elevators and vertical conduits that make our whole colony work. We also have the large stone and earth post in the middle that is a natural feature and houses our armory and Lunapolis University.” She pointed at all these features as she spoke and her voice and gestures were so pleasant Joseph had trouble folloeing her gestures. She paused to let him spot all that and then turned to the object nearer at hand “The fountain and the waterfall s are pretty but they also help keep the air fresh and humid and clean. About half the fountain water gets back into the pond. Most of the rest falls as spray and keeps down dust and helps with watering. Mist from the four big falls does the same thing. We have five scheduled rains a month during the wet months and one surprise rain. For seven months it is all sprinklers and soaker pipes but they increase the flow on the falls and double the fountain shots. Some tourists like the wet season and some like the dry.”
“Weren’t three crater around here named after Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin back in the twentieth century?”
“They sure were. Luckily none of them are prime colonizing craters. They have all been left alone and are viewable from a tourist train and a viewing tower. I have done the Armstrong Day broadcast there twice. But we have colonies in the American Sector of USA colonies called Collinston, Armstrongville and BuzzEdwinia. Aldrinia is one the best devloped proprietary colonies I have seen and is in the USA Temperate Zone Protectorate a nice train ride north of here on a direct track”.
“You really know this place”.
“Well most Lunarian journalists have worked for Earth media more than a few times telling audiences the same things over and over again. I am no exception”.
“Well, you are still an exceptionally noce looking and well informed tour guide”.
“You don’t have to flatter that much. You already have my attention”.
“Well, late me ask you a bit less soft of a question that qhere and how then. Don’t you ever mind living in a place where weather comes out of a can as they say?”
“Well it is a very nice can.”
” So is yours.”
“That is as close as you have gotten to naughty.”
“I can get a bit naughtier.”
Roberta lowed for a moment and banked as two taxis came closer to colliding in an airlane than any tow cars he had seen so far. she seemed to have been able torecover most of her speed as she came back into the line. He saw the cars computer telling her how it was adjusting on various screen read-outs. Her firm breasts and skin never baked in an unfettered sun for long mixed with a skill and ease he kept finding more and more attractive. She rolled her eyes from the traffic and sort of looked him over again before speaking.
“You seem to like Lunapolis pretty well so far. Not just me I mean.”
“I think it is a really amazing place. The crater cap colonies have always amazed me.”
“Yes, 200 years ago there was no air or concentrations of surface water or life in this crater and there had never been any air, life and almost never any liquid water. We did hit one big ice deposit in early mining but the Equatorial colonies almost all import water. We buy it from temporate colonies with ice mines, from the UN Polar Pumping Authority and form the Space Water Market. Our population keeps growing faster every year”.
Just about this moment an agressive hovercar cut past them and Roberta banked expertly. Two small jets mounted on the stubby four wings angled down a bit and the six propellors built into the land wheels spun faster. The aftwings extended another two feet each. Then moments later everything went back to its earlier setting. Joseph thought that like everything on the moon the Hovercars looked simpler than they were. This was a sophisticated aircraft.
“Seems like things are moving along pretty well. The town really seems to work. How many people live here.”
“In Lunapolis itself we have about a quarter of a million souls. Not a very big town on Earth but the second most populous on the Moon.”
“Wow, I look down below us and I see lakes, streams, fields, orchards, parks and greenhouses. I see two huge skyscrapers that I know are mostly offices, elevators, repair shops and railworker dorms. It’s hard to believe there half that many people living here.”
“I mentioned the skinny metal buildings. They are more than half offices but have samll shops and condominiums too. We call the skyscrapers sky holders here. But otherwise you are right, we live in the rooms attached to all those holes, gates, balconies and cave gardens you see on the walls. Most colonies have a seventy percent agriculture and nature law, seventy percent of the floor has to be agriculture or our version of wilderness ecosystem. But in Lunapolis we have an eighty percent ordinance. In addition we have a huge mushroom farm in some of the oldest worked out sections of our mines down below. Most of what we export here is food, tourism and hard science. I saw on your etab schedule when we linked ups units that you had a bus ticket to the Mushroom Malls and were planning to stay at the Ben Bova Hotel. It is the best hotel in a mine on the Moon probably and we have some good boarding houses near the mushroom farms and a small water park. But the mines are pretty rough that is where people cram in”.
“What are the homes there like?”
“Usually a few rooms in each family home sharing a small patio cave with four other homes. The real cheap livings are in dorms. People spend all they have to ship in from Earth in sleeper tubes if they have heart trouble or any of another number of diseases that are esier to treat a s poor person in low gravity than as a rich person on Earth. People come because there is no extradtion and they come to work the mines. Some come believing they will be happy if they can just end their lives off planet — some seem to be right. They all start off living in the mines, well almost all”.
“So where do the more prosperous live and how do they live here on the Moon”.”
“Well the best of our homes are in the Waterfall Hotel Sections, the very few private home lots allowed on the floor or in the old neighborhoods of the crater rim parks. The majority of natives live in cave garden apartments in the walls –like me, my parent and all my siblings. But your cousin’s address is where newcomers often start. They live in the dorms in the mines. They are the folks most likely to survive catastrophic breach but otherwise it’s not a very nice area. But it is not like a slum on Earth. First of all your cousin is very likely to have moved to a cheaper colony and a better house or else has gotten established in a better place here. Some people stay in the mines for generations but mostly they are upwardly mobile people in a land of opprtunity or else they are people with a deecnt lifestyle of low status and wealth. We have no slums on the American Moon reallly.We have few on the Moon at all.”
“You said the second biggest population. What is the biggest”?
It is the capital of the Chinese Colonial Sector on Mare Frigoris. The colony is called Xiao Beijing and it is built in the Endymion crater which is kind of shallow and insecure looking but is very wide at about 125 kilometers. They have three quarters of a million colonists there and very long, wide and developed mines that now house underground roads and trains connecting Xiao Beijing to the other Chinese crater cap colonies”.
“On the train from the Grand Central Spaceport to the Green Pyramid and Port Clearance here in Lunapolis I saw a few robots, telescope and lots of trains but almost nothing else disrupting the airless natural moonscape. Then you come through the cap and there is the whole world. It is really very dramatic.”
“The Grand Central Spaceport is the biggest development on the Moon outside of the Crater Cap Colonies. Excuse me a second this is a quick ramp to our last lane. I have to pay attention.”
Saying this Roberta accelerated the hovercar. She also pressed a glow button and Joseph felt himself slammed back into his seat. Roberta grinned at his surprise . ” We are allowed one untaxed boost per day and I think that this will be mine.”
Although he was not sure how traffic systems worked here he could tell Roberta was moving from the main lanes to a sort of feeder route straight towards a wall. The color of several screens in the car changed from green to gold. In seconds he could clearly see the sign that read Hotel Valley View over the entryway. He could see the swimming pools and waterpark as well as the people flyfishing in the pond above the falls. Then in seconds they had landed. Once he had time to notice he saw that they had landed on a broad rubber and metal mesh conveyor belt. Two uniformed valets stepped on the belt and helped them out of the car. He pulled his small e-tablet from his pocket and showed them his contest committee information as they were walked on to a smaller adjoining belt moving a bit slower which deposited them on a still slower moving turntable. He saw that the valets had on watches that were downloading from the e-tablet. The watches had all sorts of barely visible instruments but they were hidden by large antique looking analog watch faces under a diamond sheet cover. The hands seemed to be the real mechanical kind.
Both valets were smiling as they finaly reached the stable pavement. “Well, congratulations on your win sir. You do not have any luggage with you?”
“I just got to Lunapolis. I do have a case at Port Clearance though.”
‘May we send for it?’
“Well fellows I am trying to impress the lady on my arm so I hate to ask but how much will that set me back?”
“It is certainly included in your prize winnings Mr. Cul-Ka-tha-dreil.”
“You even pronounced my name correctly. So please do send for my luggage.”
“I believe you texted in a request for an early reservation for dinner, is that right?”
“I did indeed.”
“Then we will have you escorted to your table and when you finish dinner the case will be awaiting you in your suite.”
“Sounds great. Are you ready to eat, my new Miss Dupuis whom I am calling Roberta, or is it too early.”
“Not too early. It sounds fine to me.”
The valet affected a formal bow somewhat disguised as a gesture indicating a slight brunette holding menus and standing inside the entry to the grand lobby. “Please follow Meeza there. She will lead you to your table.”
The dinner was served after they had checked their outside vests in the coatroom and been issued temporary outer clothes. Roberta got a shawl and he a jacket. The dinner was rather grand for each of them far finer than the pilot;s bar on the station. But Joseph had known finer dinners. Roberta had not, it was the grandest meal that she had ever had in the finest surroundings.
“Well this is really nice.” Roberta was blushing a little.
“Can you imagine how lonely it would be for me without you here. I am very grateful for the company. I kind of hope you are not married, engaged or part of the prize and that you are thinking of spending some time with me for the next two weeks”.
“I am none of those things. I am willing to consider making a long-term commitment of two weeks as a possibility.” She laughed.
“My life is complicated Roberta. But I won’t ever forget you. I am not trying to be flattering — I could never forget this magical moment. I am not much of a forgetting person anyway.”
“Do you like the band?”
“Yes, Roberta. Would you like to dance?”
” I think that I might.”
They danced a great deal between courses and drinks. Later they ordered another round of drinks into his room. Then their dancing resumed in a more primal and intimate form. Yet it was not ancient or primal either for no ancient man and woman around the gatherings at Lascaux’s caves had mated in such a bed in one sixth gee and in such dense air. They had a wonderful evening. But when Joseph lay back with her on his shoulder he thought of a Culkathadreil family shrine far away, of dreams of family and children and of the days he and his exwife had shared so long ago. A single tear ran down his cheek in the dark and he thought of what two weeks might be like with this beautiful and amazing woman who lay nude and warm against him.
When he did fall asleep he dreamed. In his dream he was on the great ship which he had seen in the videos and the animations on the e-tablet. There was nobody else on the ship. He was wearing his old uniform from the Jupiter Orbiter Station run he had made on the planetary ship The Endeavor. Smoke and mist was pouring up into the corridor where he was walking from the vents in the baseboards. Then he saw his exwife standing at the end of the corridor. She was wearing his junior college rugby jersey and nothing else underneath or along with it. She seemed to be able to see him but not to be looking at him very closely.
Then she waved to him not too kindly or coldly. and began to move on down the corridor. He tried to follow her. The floor was growing hot. He called out, no he could not because the smoke was choking him. He rushed forward and his feet burned.
Then he woke. He was sweating a bit.
Roberta was awake and looking at him. “Are you OK? You were calling out. You kept saying “fire”.
“Did I really.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I am sorry Roberta. I lost my last job after a fire, I got a severance package and decided to try a new start on the Moon. Maybe it affects my dreams.”
“You said you hadn’t flown in a while.”
“I worked catapult security and it was an act of arson.”
“Sounds like it could give you nightmares.”
“Please forgive me and try to go back to sleep. We can talk about it in the morning.”
“I don’t know if we have to go straight to sleep.”
“If that’s how you feel then I completely agree.”
There was a tenderness in their lovemaking that had not been there the first time before the dream. After they made love Roberta put her head on his chest again and talked about her family. She was the oldest of three children and her father had been a musician while her mother had been a Lunar Radio Corporation Executive. She had a brother and a sister who were both married. She had been engaged to a UN Blue Wings Space Fighter Pilot who had started off as a US Air Force Pilot. But he had been killed by the pirates he had caught trying to bring a freighter of smuggled uranium to their buyers running a cap contract in a work site in a far side crater. His name had been Geronimo and she had really loved him.
After they talked a while they had sex with a bit more rawness and passion. This time they both fell asleep exhausted and they did not dream or talk again until the time for free in room gourmet coffee gourmet personal breakfast and a paper had passed. They woke and they were a little awkward as each gave the other all the contact information which they could find or think of and linked their e-tabs for more still. They ordered a brunch in the room and rejoiced that they had met on the day before the weekend in Lunapolis which meant it was Saturday morning. It turned out that lunch for two was part of the prize on weekends but not weekdays. Then they made love one more time and then went to the whrirlpool tub and had mugs of coffee from the coffee machine in the suite. Just about the time they finished the doorbell rang and they put on their robes and let the staff set up their brunch.
“I hope you can join me for supper tomorrow he said as they finished eating.”
“You’re a good listener. That is the next hole in my work schedule. I wouild be happy to help you spend your prize money on food tomorrow.”
Joseph watched her dress then he walked her toward the door and kissed her goodbye. The closing of the door made him feel sad. but he pushed the thought of goodbye away.
***** **** **** **** ******* ****
Grorgios Onassis-Papandreiou was in Crater Sinas E which was still waiting for the final paperwork on its colonial name and which was on the iregular southwestern border of the Lunapolis Sector of the Mare Tranquilitatis. It had been capped only two years earlier but it was being developed by investors with deep pockets and was tiny compared to Tauruntius Crater so it was moving fast. This was to be a joint project of the Greek and USA governments and was the central training camp and headquarters off-Earth for the Olympic Committee of each country. He was a very well respected architect, naval architect, aviation architect and space transport engineer. He had been heired to build the Low Gravity Training Center. He was taking advantage of the opportunity to use the skill of the experts he was working with to get into shape and was finding some of his health problems were disappearing. He was eighty-seven and had been through some tough things in life. However, his health had improved so much in the low gravity routine in the last six months that he decided to take a much smaller fee to design and oversee the building of a hotel on Mars than he would normally take if they would pay for him to have a full autodoc therapy tube on the six month sleeper. He would seal in here on the Moon and take tender ship to connect with his ship while unconscious which was already on its way from an Earth Orbital dock. It was time for him to get to the Old NASA Memorial Hospital at Grand Central Spaceport. He had to say his goodbyes and had done so with everyone but one. The middle aged doctor in his bed was Harriet Bliss who had been a medical consultant with the Sports Medicine Group. She actually had published a paper on the erections of older men getting into shape on the Moon. He could not help feeling that he might just be research. But he had not had sex in four years before this relationship.
He called in the room service that only he and a few others were entitled to receive. He set the table and as his middle-aged lover came to the table he kissed her hand. “I will miss you Doctor Bliss. But we are both headed to Mars, maybe we can see eachother there.”
“I hope so Georgie. When the Armstrong arrives in port it should be on every news medium on the planet but you won’t be there yet. I am not sure when I will get home but I am sure that I will check and keep a lookout for your ship as long as I am there”.
“That sounds great, Harriet. I have sent my luggage on ahead to the train station already and have arranged for you to be welcome to these rooms for the next three days if you wish to use them. But I really must leave in a few minutes”.
“Darling, I am not as new to the spacer’s life as you are. Bad scheduling and long separations are likely with anyone you meet. We can take this as carefully as we can. I really do like you — don’t worry”.
They talked a bit more and then kissed passionatley and she watched him leave. Mentally she rated him the thrid best octogenarian
lover she had ever had and not as good as the ninety three year old who had just gotten out of ten-year slow-boat rejuvenation sleeper tube to mars. She liked that these men treated her as though she were young and tender. She could remeber a time when she had been both and she often missed that time. She did not stay for three days and as she caught the Lunapolis train home she rode in the same car with the Dupuis Band. She chatted with the lead singer she had met a few days before and he told her they usually played at a Lunapolis bar called the Boston Commons. He also transferred a file to her e-tab of bars and clubs worth seeing at least once in Lunapolis.
On arriving in Lunapolis through the hilly and rocky passes of the new track from Sinas E she saw the new array of meteor dtection scopes beside the old Kepler 12 Planet Search Array. The bleakness of the landscape still frightened her more than open space. She loved the crater colnies but hated the surface more than an asteroid belt and could not figure out why. Leaving the train she returned her fashionable tailored travel suit to her rental agency and caught the express elevator to Lunapolis University. She walked amid the students and junior faculty on Central Cavern Way to the Library. She called on and old friend who was heading the biology research task force. Their paths had crossed on Earth, the Moon and in space. He was eating a simple lunch in a faculty lunchroom with a woman friend and they were generous enough toserve her some of their ample prepared meal of redfish coubouillion on rice and bacon wrapped doves with salad. It was delicious. “I am saying goodbye to an old friend the once again Ms. Guidry who was Mrs. Broussard-Summers. She is a great Acadian cook and has just come from selling the second home she got from her ex-husband in a divorce a few years ago. She is on her way to Grand Central Spaceport to catch a shuttle to a Supercruiser to Mars to meet her fiancee and was kind enough to feed me on her way out”.
“Good to meet you, I am called Dr. Bliss here. I got divorced twelve years ago, I believe it was. I wish you well”.
“Yes, it is kind of difficult right now we had good memories in that home”.
“Where was your home”?
“In the Ethnos Arkadios Corporation proprietary colony in Menelaus Crater on the Mare Serenitatis. It was a nice wall house”.
“I have been there. It is a very nice place and I really like the casino”.
“Well we were five hundred yards west of the Casino near the Carl Brasseaux Memorial Archives and overlooking theWolves of the Wild World Zoo and the dog park”.
“That’s a very nice area”.
After exchanging some confidential research files with her friend she went to the Central Plug Cable Car Staion and caught a cable car to the station nearest the hotel where she had her suite. In her room she opened her account on the Armstrong Agency’s webchannel and watched the interview withJoseph Culkathadreil. She ignored the female interviewer and noted that the pilot she would be traveling to Mars with was nice looking despite a shabby ruggedness. She smiled at the possibilities this brought up.