Space Miner – Harry

Saturday, March 21, 2263: Between the time change (Luna is on Greenwich Mean Time, 8 hours ahead of what I’m used to), all the napping I did on the trip over, and the strangeness of Luna’s low gravity, there was no chance I was gonna sleep well my first night here on Luna. My comm told me I needed to be at the training room at 0800, but I finally gave up trying to sleep around 0445. I got up, used the fresher and dressed, then left my mini-hab to wander aimlessly around the colony for a while.

There are dozens of stations and settlements on Luna, from retirement colonies for rich old folks to mining stations pulling ores, carbon and other minerals out of the ground. Tranquility Station is typically where newbies like me start out, getting training and orientation until we are assigned wherever. It’s not the oldest station, but it’s the busiest, handling lots of in and outbound travelers, not to mention communications to and from Earth. Not far from Tranquility is a “farm” of transceivers that send and receive all kinds of transmissions from Earth. I didn’t realize it, but nearly all entertainment streams get routed through Tranquility, not to mention a lot of data.

Most everyone knows about the series of communications satellites in orbit around Earth, each one hovering over a specific point and never moving – I think it’s called geosynchronous or geostationary – one of the two. Anyway, Tranquility is where scheduled transmissions are coordinated. Luna is far enough away from Earth that it can communicate directly with a lot of the satellites, and if one of them is hidden by Earth, it can bounce a message to it anyway using one of the others in the system. At least, that’s what the infostream in one of the tourist lounges said.

I was surprised at how many people were up and around so early in the morning, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. Parts of Tranquility are like a huge transpo station, with pods and shuttles and people going from one place to another. Then there’s the fact that a “day” on Luna actually lasts about two weeks. I never thought about it, but any point on Luna gets daylight for two weeks, followed by two weeks of darkness! That has got to mess with your time sense! And because the “day” is so long, the temperatures on Luna’s surface are pretty extreme. During the “day” they peak at close to 120°C, and at “night” they drop to around -150°C!!!

I picked up a lot of info like that while wandering around. The tourist lounge areas had a whole series of infostreams talking about Luna trivia, safety tips, and instructions on how to find lodging, entertainment and other parts of the station. The more I wandered around, the more out of place I felt. Everything was strange. Everywhere I saw things reminding me that this was an alien world, a world that would kill me in an instant if I wasn’t careful. I shuddered.

Around 0630 I went looking for breakfast and eventually found a food vend not far from the training area. It was almost completely automated, and I had a hard time figuring out how to use the dispensers. I was about to give up when an old guy in coveralls came up and helped me out.

“First time on Luna?” the man said. He had dark brown skin, grey hair cropped shorter than mine, about three days worth of a beard, and more wrinkles on his face than I have ever seen.

“Um, yeah,” I replied, feeling about as idiotic as I sounded. “It’s that obvious, huh?”

The man looked me up and down like he was deciding whether or not I was worth the trouble. Then he shook his head, looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Yep, you’re about as green as they get, kid. Lemme give you a hand.”

He showed me how to work the controls on the dispenser, told me what the different food names meant, and suggested that I go with a simple, high protein option because it was less likely to upset my stomach and would keep me full until lunch. I did what he said, waited while he got his breakfast, then the two of us found a table and sat down to eat.

“By the way, I’m Naveen Banerjee, but everyone calls me ‘Harry’,” he said between bites.

“Joe Barton,” I replied, and we shook hands.

“So lemme guess. You signed a five-year hitch to pay off your debts?”

“Yeah. Not much for me at home. Seemed like a good idea at the time.” Even I was surprised when I said it, but it was absolutely true. I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into, and whether I would be able to survive in a world where a single mistake would result in getting me fried or frozen. Harry looked at me closely, a bunch of questions in his eyes. The intensity made me uncomfortable, so I looked down at my food and said, “I can barely get breakfast on my own. I don’t know what good I’m gonna be on a mining colony.” At this, he chuckled softly.

“Kid, that right there tells me you’ve got more smarts than a lot of green-horns that come through here. It’s the ones who think they know everything that get dead, or worse, that get others dead.” The smile on his face had faded, and there was a sadness in his eyes that lingered a moment, then he shook it off and dove back into his meal.

“How long have you been out here, sir?” I was afraid to ask, but I had a sense he’d been a spacer for a long time. If I was lucky, maybe he’d give me a few more pointers before we parted company.

Harry didn’t answer right away. Instead, he looked at me for a solid minute, and it was like he was doing calculations in his head or something, trying to decide something, I couldn’t tell you what. Finally he answered.

“Long enough.”

“Sorry. I, uh…” I started to get up, but he stopped me short.

“Sit your butt down, boy,” he said gruffly, but not unkindly. “Just not used to answering questions about myself is all.” He looked a little sheepish. “It’s not your fault. I’m as crusty as an asteroid. Been out working in the Oort for a bit and haven’t been around people much lately.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I sat back down and muttered that it was ok.

We ate in silence for a while, which was surprisingly comfortable. Back home if I was in the same room with Momma or Jenna and we were all silent it was because there were things we all wanted to say but couldn’t, or we didn’t know how to. It was never comfortable. This was different. The silence around Harry was unhurried, peaceful somehow. When both of us had finished eating, he finally broke that silence.

“I came out here for pretty much the same reasons you did. Mostly I’ve worked in-system, everywhere from Mercury out to the Oort. I actually paid off my debts a long time ago.” He chuckled as he said this, a wry smile on his face. “But working in space changes you, makes you see things different than folks who stay at the bottom of a gravity well. Some people go crazy. Others…” He trailed off. “Others learn to take a longer view of things. You’ll see, soon enough.”

“Did you ever go back?” I asked. “To Earth, I mean. To see your old home, family, friends?”

“Yeah, I did,” he said, looking down at the mug in his hand. “Everything was pretty much the same as when I left it. My village, the people… But I was different. I didn’t fit no more, so I didn’t stay long and I never went back again.”

My comm chimed then, letting me know I had 15 minutes before I was due for training.

“I’ve gotta go,” I said lamely.

“S’alright, kid. You don’t want to be late to your first training session.” We both stood, shook hands, but before he let my grip go Harry looked me in the eye, an odd, serious expression on his face. “Pay attention to what they tell you today. It may save your life.” He paused. “Who’s your OO?”

“OO?”

“Orientation Officer.”

I took a quick look at my comm. “Raphaela Gomez,” I told him.

Harry nodded at that, satisfied. “She’s a good one. Knows more than I do about how to stay alive in space. And she don’t mind questions. If you don’t understand something, ask her.”

“Yes sir, I will.”

At that we parted company, me headed towards the training area, Harry headed I don’t know where. I couldn’t help but wonder if someday I would be like him, quiet, wrinkled, and somehow… solid. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. The man had been all over the solar system, had long since paid off his debts. What would that be like, I wondered. Then I picked up my pace. I had a hunch Señora Gomez had zero tolerance for people who were late.

 

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