John Steinbeck often wrote stories that dealt with fate and Gary Little has offered to share with me his pastiche of John Steinbeck that instantly makes you question the fate of his characters. For more about Gary, check out his site at littlebittie.wordpress.com. For more information on how you can be featured on The Write Destination and receive helpful newsletters on improving your craft, sign up for my e-mail list.
Down Is The Moon
by Gary Little
By ten-forty-ﬁve it was all over. The dome was occupied, it’s citizens paciﬁed and the war was ﬁnished. The conquerors had prepared for this campaign as carefully as they had for any other.
On this Sunday morning the postmaster and the sheriff had gone rock hunting in the rolligon of Mr. Coleman, the popular store keeper. He had lent them his new rolligon for the day. The two friends were a few kilometers into the badlands when they saw the ﬂare of a drop-ship’s descent engines pass overhead. As ofﬁcials of the dome, this was their business, and they turned the rolligon about.
The battalion was in possession of the dome by the time the postmaster and sheriff returned to the entry port. They were denied entry to the dome, and when they insisted on their rights, they were taken prisoners of war and locked up in the sheriff’s own jail.
The local defenders, twelve new members of the Lunar Guard, were also occupied this Sunday morning. Mr. Coleman, that ever popular storekeeper, had provided those twelve men and women with M-452 low velocity defense weapons, all the ammo they could use, targets, and even a nice lunch. They had rolled off early in the morning in the one piece of equipment provided by the Lunar Guard: an ancient rolligon, passed it’s prime but with decent maintenance, still functional. Their destination was a bivouac and practice range the town had helped fund, but these twelve Guardsmen had built.
At ten-hundred the rolligon’s RADAR pinged and sent a data packet to the squad. “What the hell?” Sergeant Ted Brewster said, looking at the heads up display in his helmet. “Incoming! Incoming! Everyone back to the transport!” The drop-ship had dumped its load of forty drop-pods right on top of the town.
Twelve Lunar battle suits bunny-hopped back to the rolligon. By the time the rolligon arrived, the conquerors had ﬂanked the road with anti-tank guns and M-86 SAWs. The rolligon exploded in silence as two anti-tank rounds tore into it. Brewster, while inexperienced in combat, was not stupid and had his troops ofﬂoad before coming into view of the enemy guns. The brave defenders opened ﬁre with weapons designed for close combat. The two SAWs opened up for but a moment, and six of the soldiers became dead bullet riddled combat suits, three became bullet riddled half-dead combat suits, and three soldiers escaped into the badlands, carrying their useless low-velocity M-542s, and as much equipment as they could.
By ten-thirty, the remainder of the battalion had landed and the invader’s brass band was playing rousing marches and sweet ballads in the main square of the dome. The citizens of the township wondered what had just happened. They stared at the helmeted, combat suited soldiers carrying combat assault riﬂes in the streets of their home.
By ten-thirty-eight the six bullet riddled combat-suits of the local Guard had been shoved into an abandoned mine shaft and the entrance sealed with explosives. The three wounded were taken to the clinic, combat-suits and weapons conﬁscated, and guards posted. The drop-pods had been retrieved, and the battalion billeted in Mr. Coleman's warehouse near the dome’s main entry port. How convenient that the warehouse had blankets and cots for the battalion.
By ten-forty-ﬁve old Mayor Bowen had received a formal request that he grant an audience to Colonel Samson of the Earth forces, an audience set for twelve-ﬁfteen at the Mayor’s cubic.
Mayor Bowen’s residence was spartan but comfortable. The main entrance way airlock led into a large room cut out of Lunar rock. Comfortable chairs and couches covered with durable fabric were set about. Three doors opened from the waiting room. One door led to a standard Lunar sanitary unit. Another door led into the ofﬁcial Mayoral ofﬁce, and the ﬁnal door led to the residence. A desk sat to the right of the ofﬁce doorway. Data terminal and controls were built into the desktop. It was all touch control. Wall decorations consisted of paintings and photos, both ﬂat and holo-graphic, depicting large dogs protecting small children. A small wall plaque centered among this pack of canines read “Nor water nor ﬁre nor earthquake could do in a child as long as a big dog was available.”
I think that is from Steinbeck, old Doc Kildear thought. Physician and historian of this small community in the Lunar badlands, he sat in the more comfortable wing back chair, facing the “den” as he called it; the wall of canine pictures. Close cropped silvery hair, and gray stubble from a day or two without shaving, Doc sat watching as his thumbs rolled over and over on his lap. This was his nervous tic. He wondered if Jonathan had noticed this habitual thumb rolling.
Jonathan, the subject of Doc’s gaze, was perusing his own nervous tic: arranging and re-arranging the furniture. Making sure it was lined up just so, and never out place. Of course, Doc always had to turn the wingback to face “his den” when the Mayor was delayed. The Mayor may be the leader of this small community in the badlands of the moon, but Jonathan was the placer of furniture, the organizer of the room, the stacker and arranger of book shelves.
“Twelve-ﬁfteen?” Doc Kildear asked.
“Yes sir,” Jonathan replied as he adjusted the desk chair. “Twelve-ﬁfteen. The note said twelve-ﬁfteen.”
“You read the note?”
“No, of course not. It was addressed to Mr. Mayor. But he did read it to me, and it did say twelve-ﬁfteen.”
Jonathan went back to his adjusting and arranging of anything in the ofﬁce that may have the impertinence to become out of place or misaligned. He always scowled when he detected a misalignment, a chair leg not at the proper angle, or a paper corner peeking out from the others in a stack. He would have loved dust and tarnished silver, for then he could shine the silver and eradicate the dust. Elderly and lean, his life was so complicated that only the profound would see him as simple. He saw nothing amazing in Doc’s rolling thumbs. He found Doc’s habit irritating.
Something important was happening today. Earth forces landing and killing the local militia, and then demanding to see Mr. Mayor. Not politely asking for an appointment, but sending a note and specifying the time. Oh, yes, something important was in the ventilators. He wanted no nonsense from impertinent furniture or rolling thumbs.
Doc adjusted his chair, again, and Jonathan waited to put it back again. “Twelve-ﬁfteen. These are punctual people. They run by the clock. They’ll be here on the money.”
Jonathan responded, not listening, “Yes, sir.”
“These people will be punctual,” said Doc.
“Yes, sir,” said Jonathan.
“Little timing loops in their brains that go Ping, right on the second. Tells them when to push or to pull the world,” said Doc.
“Of course,” said Jonathan, simply because he was tired of saying, “Yes, sir.” He did not care for this turn of the conversation. He had no idea how to explain it to the cook. Was he supposed to tell her, “A punctual people, Sandi”? That would make little sense. She would ask, “Who? Why?” and then say, “Oh that is nonsense, Jonathan.” He had tried many times to carry Doc’s words to the kitchen. Sandi always declared what Doc said as nonsense.
“What is keeping his honor?” Doc looked up from his rolling thumbs and asked.
“He is dressing for the Colonel, sir,” said Jonathan, always courteous even in his irritation.
“You’re not assisting? He’ll leave his ﬂy open with out your able assistance, Jonathan.”
On the Moon, leaving ones ﬂy open was one of the most egregious errors one could make. If not quickly corrected, one was very quickly dead.
“The Missus is helping him. She wants him at his best, and is trimming the hair in his ears. It tickles when I try, and he will not let me.”
“I do have the same problem,” and Doc rubbed a ﬁnger around one of his own ear lobes. “Darned hair never was a problem as a young man. Now I have less on top and more where not needed.”
“Indeed, sir, but the Missus does insist.”
Doc laughed, stood, stretched, and performed a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm on his ample belly. Ignoring another of Doc’s irritating mannerisms, Jonathan took that opportunity to move Doc’s chair back into proper alignment.
“Ain’t this just grand,” said Doc, Jonathan scowled and thought, Isn’t, you old coot.
Doc continued. “We have been invaded, some of our ﬁnest young men and women killed, some of them chased out by the circumstances, our postmaster and sheriff detained in our own jail, and here we are, arranging furniture, and getting our eyebrows trimmed.”
“But they needed it, sir. He was getting a bit shaggy.”
“I know, I know,” Doc paused, looked at the chronometer on the desk display, and noted the console light on the desk indicating someone in the corridor. “I believe they are early. Please let them in Jonathan.” The warm light of the waiting-room was sucked away, leaving only a little grayness.