Authors: Michael J. Daley
We'll talk more when I get home.
Love you both,
“I'm not going to run ore!” I fling the gift away and drop onto the couch, jouncing the springs as hard as I can. I'm going to be the next Val Thorsten. But Dad doesn't understand.
Mom would have.
A picture of her hangs on the wall across from me. I really, really hate that picture, but it's the only one Dad will put up. Nothing's wrong with
She's short like me, and beautiful. Her eyes are like cat's eyes, wide open and intense. Her curly brown hair frames her impish features. That's how they describe her in NewsVids and articles: impish. I hate the picture because she's wearing a dress. In my favorite pictures of her, she's always in a flight suit.
“Why isn't Dad
I want to be like Mom?”
Mark looks down at me with sad eyes. Then they go unfocused. He's reaching back, back for memories of Mom. He's so lucky to
memories, even if they hurt.
That's what the old spacer called bad memories. I feel guilty not telling Mark about him. But with messages like that from Dad, I've got to keep my options open.
“Having a rocket pilot in the family isn't all that fun,” Mark finally says. “She was â¦ gone â¦ a lot.”
she was gone. The shortest time to Mars is two months.”
“And you would've been right out there with her.” Mark drops onto the opposite end of the couch. “You'll make it. Know why? Because you're like me and we're both like Momâstubborn. I'm going to be a cryptographer and marry Andrea. You're going to fly rockets. In the long run, Dad will have to accept that.”
“Stubborn isn't good enough. I mean, toughing it out will work for you. You've got time. Not me. I'm thirteen
You have to pass the exam for Space Academy while you're thirteen years old. If Dad doesn't change his mind and let me go to camp this session, I won't have a chance of passing.”
Mark shakes his head, says what he always says when I remind him of the details. “That's such a stupid system.”
“Well, it's the way it is and Dad knows it. He knows I have to be able to do AstroNav to pass. It's almost like he
me to fail.”
“It's not like that.”
it like then?” I tuck up onto my knees to face him at the other end of the couch. “Why won't he let me go?”
“I hate this!” Mark explodes to his feet. “Dad should be here. He should talk to you! I can't do it!”
He kicks the RugBot. Its plastic shell shatters against the wall. He stands rigid for a heartbeat, then picks up the largest piece. He cradles it like a dead bird.
“I broke it.”
“Don't worry, it'll be easier to get the gear out.” He was supposed to laugh, but he just stands there staring at it. Makes me nervous. “Hey, should I call the Counselor?”
“No.” Mark tosses the RugBot onto the parts pile. “Listen. How'd you like another early present? Wait right there until I call you.”
Mark heads for the workroom before I can protest. He's not fooling me. He knows something about why Dad doesn't want me to become a pilot. And I know he'll never tell. We
both like Momâstubborn.
Mark calls and I'm moving off the couch, too curious to sulk. The workroom is blazing with a bright, clean light. The source is a three-foot-diameter Moon floating in the holochamber at the center of the room. The hologram projection looks so real I feel the pull of gravity! It's a piece of cake to pick out Copernicus Crater. But even at this magnification, Luna Base isn't visible.
“Happy birthday.” Mark's at the computer console on the other side of the room. His face glows red from the tactical display screen he uses when hacking.
“Wow! Where'd you get such a great holodisc?”
“It's not a disc. That's live from a HOOPscope.”
“A HOOPscope! You hacked their system?” I circle around the holochamber and walk over to the computer console. Mark is wearing this big, self-satisfied grin. He ought to be! HOOPscope stands for High Orbit Observation Platform telescope. They're the most powerful eyes in the solar system. Astronomers fight like dogs to get time on them.
“Hard job,” Mark says. “Been at it for weeks. Besides getting around TIA, they've got some awesome security algorithms of their own I had to crack. People that sharp might be fun to work for someday.”
Mark's really taken a risk to get this. The Total Information Awareness security system is supposed to protect the entire network from terrorists and spies and hackers. “Good luck! If they ever find out you broke inâ”
“They won't,” Mark says with typical hacker bravado. “What do you want to see?”
I know exactly what I want to see. “Can I do it myself?”
“Well â¦” Mark hates how clumsy I am with new software.
“I thought this was
“Sure.” Mark calls up the help menu. The Moon disappears, leaving only a feeble redness around us. It makes the room feel small and secret, like a submarine. And that seems right because we're doing something wrong.
I sit at the console. Mark settles on the couch behind me. He pops a
magazine capsule into his FlexyPad. He knows this is going to take awhile. Mark's a fish in water when it comes to software. I'm more like a boat on a search and destroy mission; thorough, but plodding. Before long, Mark is clicking impatiently through the pages of the magazine.
At last the monitor flashes: COORDINATES? I know the numbers by heart: 128 321 004 range sphere M. The three-foot Moon comes back, bright as a bolt of lightning.
I toggle the joystick. Faster than any spaceship, we zoom in on the surface. A blur of mountains, crags, harsh shadows, and dazzling light flicker within the chamber. I glimpse red, white, and blue. Release the joystick. The United States flag fills the holochamber. Smack on target: Tranquility Base, where the first men landed on the Moon.
“I should've guessed.” Mark steps up behind me.
The flag stands tall, the cloth frozen in a timeless ripple. It's the only real flag left from all the Moon missions. The ultraviolet light of the sun destroyed the others. This one survived because the rocket exhaust from the
liftoff knocked it over and covered it with a protective layer of dust. Now it's safely sealed within UV blocking film. There was quite a controversy about whether to leave it in the dust or restore it when the site became a Humanity Park. I'm glad it's up: Those heroes deserve it that way.
I toggle back.
The base of the Lunar Excursion Module comes into view. Life-support packs, overshoes, and other junk lie in the dust at the bottom of the ladderâdeadweight Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin threw out of the ascent stage to make room for moon rocks. I zoom in on the surface near a landing pad. A footprint fills the holochamber.
“Maybe that's the
step.” I lean over the console and reach into the perfect image, expecting to feel moon dust in the powdery tread marks.
“Give me a break! Those guys walked all over that site!”
I pan the area, tracking the footsteps I've dreamed of walking in. The fence surrounding Tranquility Base comes into view. It's a tourist barrier, to make sure this site remains undisturbed forever.
“Someday, I'm going there.”
to go to the Moon.”
Mark's right. All the action is in the asteroid belt, on Mars, and on the moons of Jupiter. People left our Moon behind a long time ago, at least the light side of it. They had to. There were so many strip mines and bases and solar power plants that people on Earth noticed the changes. All the nations agreed this was a bad thing. The light side was declared off limits to more development.
Mark says, “Let's practice some AstroNav before they bump us. The HOOPscope has a gold-class training program. Maybe it'll be as good as the one at camp. We can find that star you love, you know, the squashed bug.”
“Betelgeuse? I don't know â¦”
“Come on, you're always saying I don't help enough.”
He's got me there. “Okay, call it up.”
He reaches over me to activate the program. It turns out to be pretty similar to the one I use with the CompTeach. But without that electronic buddy prompting me through the tough parts, the calculations to lock onto Betelgeuse become a torture. A dozen tries and the last few steps still won't gel.
“I think you're right, Stub. Punch autofind. Maybe we can see where you went wrong.”
I stab the key. Instantly, the image of the star Betelgeuse fills the holochamber like a million silver needles frozen in a crystal ball. Mark runs his fingers down the comparative columns on the display. “Huh. You've got everything right.”
“I always get the
right. But then it's like I have astro-dyslexia or something.”
A warning alarm sounds, loud and shrill. Not much different than the whine in my voice a moment ago.
“Feely!” Mark pushes me aside. Feelies are bad news. They're software spiders TIA sends out to track down hackers. The alarm means one is nibbling on Mark's data stream.
Of course, he's ready for this and starts slapping down toggles, dumping his preloaded Crumbeaters into the link. Like in the fairy tale, they'll sweep away his cybertrail, wipe out any memory of his hack in the vast network that sprawls all the way to Jupiter.
I stare at the back of my brother's head as he works his disappearing act. Mark's brilliant enough to outwit TIA, the most sophisticated intelligence gathering system in the solar system. He would never let our software get out of date.
The sick-to-my-stomach feeling I had when searching “Counselor” comes back. What if that dead end wasn't just bad luck? What if the Counselor is monitoring my computer? It might not want me to learn anything about mnemonic suppression.
Maybe the old spacer wasn't talking nonsense after all. Maybe he really does know some of their secrets.
Two days ago my biggest problem was trying to convince Dad to send me to camp. Now I feel like there's this hidden dimension around meâa parallel universe. In that world, something is wrong with me. It's shaping the way Dad and Mark and the Counselor are acting. Maybe it's ruining my chances of becoming a pilot.
“All right!” Mark hits a final switch and rolls his chair away from the console. He spins in it, triumphant. “Another nanosecond escape.”
“Listen, Mark. I have to see the Counselor again.”
Mark jerks to a stop, looks at me sharp. “That's funny. A message came in while we were busy. First thing tomorrow, the Counselor wants to see you.”
T minus 03:21:04
WHEN it begins, I don't even realize I'm in a version of the box dream. There's a choking whiteness all around me that stinks of chemicalsâcrash foam! With a kind of running breaststroke, I move through it. The foam thins. Becomes a fizzing stream at my feet and â¦ there's the black shoe box.
The tiny red door is ajar. The foam bubbles out of it. I glimpse a row of seats, upside down; somebody is in one of them, looking out, and I feel this urgent need to talk to him.
But the old spacer picks up the box. The door swings shut. Hatred surges in me and I yell, “Give it to me, monkey arms!”
He laughs. A bubble of alcohol breath engulfs me. I grab for the door handleâsuddenly normal size. Heat like acid splashes across my palm.
I recoil, fall â¦
spacer and box rocket away in an explosion
and fall and fall until I strain through the weave of cotton sheets to land back in myself in my bed.
I clutch my right hand to my chest. Curl my body protectively around it. Feels like a new burn cuts across my palm. I bury my face in the pillow. Groan out the pain.
Can't let Mark hear.
He'll tell the Counselor.
The old scar throbs, forcing short breaths. I don't dare look. Afraid I'll find the palm burned red and raw.
Sweat soaks the pillowcase. I press my burning hand against the moist coolness of the cloth. Ahhh â¦ I lay my cheek over my hand. Try to take regular breaths. Draw into a tighter ball beneath the covers.
I am Stewart Edward Hale. I'm four feet three and nine sixteenth inches tall. Short, like Mom. Margaret Jane Hale. Maggie to fellow spacers.
My birthday is October 28. Today. In the year 2165. I'm thirteen.
I live in the Singleton Apartments, New Canaveral, Florida, with my older brother, Mark, and my father, Theodore Vincent Hale, Ted. Before, we lived in New Frisco, California, in a house.
There was an orchard
and a tree
and a toy ship â¦
Even under the covers, I sense the change as a squiggly comes on, then the darkness explodes with light â¦
I'm on the kitchen floor in the bright California sunshine; playing with my Lance Ramjet and watching Mom's legs flash by me.
Back and forth. Pantry â¦ counter â¦ fridge â¦ stove.
She's mixing up blueberry waffles.
Special food for my special day.
“Oops â¦” Splat. An egg hits the floor, startling me out of my spaceship dreams.
Back under the sheets in the ordinary darkness of my bedroom, my lungs burn. I've been holding my breath. I gulp in fresh air, smell the yeasty smell of homemade blueberry waffles.
“Mom?” I fight out from under the covers.
I run for the kitchen, pull up short in the doorway. Mark is at the counter, his back to me. Mom's ancient waffle iron sits on the table, steaming. It's shaped like a flying saucer, a squat, round massiveness balanced on a pedestal. A family heirloom for over 150 years and a horrible energy waster. I didn't know we still had it. The morning sun sparkles off the silver surface.