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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Man in the Moon (Flash fiction follow-up to Moon-Man)

Read the prequel to this story here.

"So why are you, here?"

I look up from my calculations to see the fresh-faced newbie leaning over my plastic desk, his eyes shining with the same mechanical glow my computer screen emanates. He's too new, or maybe too dumb, to notice the silence that's fallen over the office. The human gophers poke just their foreheads over the tops of their cubicles, eyes wide, to see what the convict does to the nosy temp fresh outta rich-boy college.

"People talk about you quite a bit," the boy says. "Bob over there says you lived on the moon?" Bob ducks into his cubicle with a squeal. "Tammy says you're a war criminal, but you're too intelligent for them to lock away." Tammy gasps--dira chore, is she softly weeping now?

I grunt, leaning back to stroke my thick black beard. My wife never let me grow it this long--it helps keep me in the reality where she doesn't live anymore. I scratch my ankle where the bracelet beeps to tell the earth where I am at all times. I'm not itching--I'm just scratching so the boy sees the mark of the dangerous prisoner, and maybe leaves me alone. I don't want to bother telling him to leave.

Dira chore, is he still talking? Boy planning on ratting out the entire office to me?

"Okay, stop," I snap. "No, Bob, take your hand off that button, just because I talk doesn't mean we need security. Boy, those biostat programs aren't going to write themselves, now, are they? Go. Bob! Ey! Bob, stop!"

Bob's hyperventilating as he struggles, no doubt, between being the hero, and cowing beneath my booming voice. "Now look what you did," I say to the boy. "Go get the inhaler for Bob."

The kid scrambles, and it's not until after he's disappeared into the break room that I remember he's the first person to talk to me, in person, in the five years I've worked here.


*

"You know you say 'Bob' funny. Where're you from?"

The second day's about as shocking for everyone as the first. This time he straight up insults me.

"I mean, I say my rs and ls funny, so it's cool." He launches into an exaggerated racial caricature of his own gentle Japanese voice. Or is he Korean? Dira, I can't believe I'm still getting this wrong.

"Okay, stop," I say. "Tammy? She's going to need a defibrilador soon." I narrow my eyes and roll my rs like I know he wants to hear it. "Go."

Tammy's fainted.

*

The third day, I'm ready for him. Early in the morning I take all the chairs from the neighboring cubicles and stack them up and upside down and sideways, weaving a lattice-like barricade at the entrance to my worker-box. When they get in, my coworkers are too nervous to say anything.

"Our section's standing," my neighbor Yamada brags to Kim at the water-cooler. "It's healthier. More natural. Humans aren't built to sit all day."

I'm just about to smile my victory when I hear that kid's voice basically right next to my ear.

"Aw man, who put the chairs here? Can't you guys see it's blocking Sergio? What if he needs water or something? You thirsty man? Let me get you--"

"Okay stop," I mutter, but he's gone before he can hear me. When he comes back, he rolls up his collared shirt, spends about twenty minutes undoing all my hard work, and gets his ass yelled at when the boss can't find him at his desk.

He balances a paper cup of water on the corner of my cubicle wall before he runs away.

*

"They've got sandwiches in the break room. You want one?"

What does this kid want with me? I'm staring at his soft fingers as he fiddles with his polo collar and pulls his shirt down too tight and creases his khaki pants, fidgeting and fidgeting while he chats himself into getting me a sub and then chats himself out of it--

"Okay, stop," I say. "I'll get my own."

He's struck silent. We walk to the break-room in silence. He eats a sandwich in silence. It's like he's been prepping for his moment forever and now he's got performance anxiety. Dira sore, I've left so many people in tense silences over the past five years, and enjoyed it, and now here I am trapped in one myself, holding this sandwich and watching his kid eat and eat like he's never eaten before, just eating and eating and--

"Okay, stop. What do you want to ask me?"

"Why are you here?"

"Here, in the International Commercial Space Program, or here, in the Tokyo branch?"

"Both, I guess."

"Same reason you are."

He chuckles. "Your parents were going to kick you out if you didn't stop trying to run a martial arts school from their basement? Who knew." He sighs and gets serious, glancing at his reflection in the silvery company refrigerator. "I like space and all, man, but this isn't my first choice for a life."

"Why did you fail?" I ask.

"Excuse me?"

I'm not going to repeat that.

"I don't know, man! People look at me and my skinny arms--this bumpy Adam's apple--I realized they don't see Krav Maga in me. They want Kung fu, or Tae Kwon Do or something. But you know, what, that student of mine, the girl who broke her arm?" His voice becomes just a tiny bit shrill. "See, she wouldn't have, she'd have been fine, we wouldn't have been sued, if she'd just--"

I've been down this road. He doesn't know what he did right, so he can't figure out what went wrong, and he flails through his memories replaying the wrong parts, enhancing the worst screens, when in reality the whole thing was doomed to start with, and that doom never made trying less worthwhile, but he can't accept that because why couldn't we succeed, and he can't let it go, can't admit that it's over, and mi amor, dying under the stars, her spit rattling in her throat as her eyes well up with tears and my son charges with a machete in his skinny hands--

"Stop it!" I roar. "Stop talking!"

He shrinks against the refrigerator. "Whoa, just making conversation--"

"No! I don't want your conversation, your pity, your charity, your company! Don't talk to me again! Why do you think I went to the moon in the first place? Was it to hear people like you talk all day? Why do you think I requested the death penalty, instead of this mierda dira chore pero no puedo, no puedo contigo!"

I flip the sandwich table; I kick the nearest chair and leave the room. This time Bob does call security.

*

I steel myself all day for the boy's visit, wondering how he'll deal with the two security guards now stationed at my desk, but he never comes.
*

This week, when the boy doesn't come by, is longer than any other week in the past five years, I swear. I'm almost tempted to report it as a space-time anomaly. 

So I'm alone with my computer screen and my bioengineering degree, and the memories of work on the moon that I've tried to forget. And you know what? These equations, these simulations, all the engineering toys, they're not real. They're the dream. The doing, the fingers jammed in hammers and the scent of soil rich in the air of your biome and the dead heart that beats again as you insert the new pacemaker, the physical construction, the mechanic's toys, that's the real stuff, the meaning of the dream after you've gone through the trouble of waking. Bob, Tammy, Yamada, Kim--they'll live here forever, in the dream. But not me, and not that kid.

"Ey Rocky." Both my guards answer to this. "Come with me. I need to turn some papers in to the biostats department."

They grunt. They eye each other's guns and nod, as if promising each other to remember their personal Alamo.

"I need water first," I say. They tighten their grips on their tasters, and nod again. 

"And a sandwich."

The whole office watches my journey. Bob's hand hovers over his phone, his other ready to quick-draw his inhaler. Tammy's been practicing breathing exercises, and she's using them now. Yamada stands.

The kid swivels his chair to face me, and waits.

I set an Italian BMT and soggy cold paper cup on his desk.

"I'm sorry," he says."

"For what?" I ask.

"Well. What should I be sorry for?" he asks. "What did I do wrong?"

"You reminded me of my son."

He pauses. "I don't know if I can be sorry about that." 

Dira, the bolas on this one. I respect that.

"Unless, I mean," he backpedals. "Unless he wasn't that great, in which case--"

"Stop."

He stops. And as I hand him the file I've tucked under my arm, my construction plans, our ticket out of the dream, he smiles just like the boy I left on the moon.

Next story in this series


If you liked this weekly installment of the Moon series, come around next Tuesday for more! I'll be doing about ten of these and then switching to another series, I think. If you want me to bring back the medfacts series, we can talk about that! Let me know what you'd like to see. To read other fiction, just scroll down on this page.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderfully active writing, smooth in plotting and pace. Love Moon-Man's internal musings as well. I'm hooked on this story! More, please...

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    Replies
    1. ^_^ Did you end up getting to see the follow up? I posted a link to it at the end of this post!

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