Six Rocketeers by Starlight
by Aimee Ogden
They leave early, half a dozen rocketeers, while Luna sleeps around them. Tomorrow the
sun will rise and drink down the two weeks of darkness that have shrouded Luna's pale profile.
Today, only the harsh white blaze of the magnesium streetlamps lights their six haggard faces.
Those bright lights glitter in the dusty windows that line the street: darkened shops, saloons,
houses. Susannah looks up to catch her glassy ghost sliding past in the black window of a
dressmaker. The echoed lights dance about her reflection as she moves, as if they want to be
carried along with her. Maybe they too wish to be out among the stars.
The night is cold, with a brisk salt wind coming up off the Sea of Tranquility. Susannah
pulls her jacket collar up and wishes for a scarf. She's packed lightly. She can't, after all, bring the
beauty of Luna with her. The night-gleaming city of Artemis and the tang of moon-dust, the Arc
markets on Sundays and the sticky ginger-beer floor of her favorite saloon and the Pan-Lunar
Fair, that's all too much to cram into the little case she wears slung over one shoulder. Still, she
carries it all with her, and the weight makes her feet drag.
The others are getting ahead of her. She quickens her pace to catch up, and steps over an
abandoned newspaper that tumbles across the street. The headlines scream at her, but she ignores
them. She knows them too well already, and right now she wants to know something, anything
else. When she looks back, shadows pool in the prints her boots leave in the gray dust of the
street: a chain of farewell kisses for the only home she has ever known.
Kuo walks at the front of the group, telling jokes in Chinese that keep Josef chuckling all
the way across the Midcity Commons. Susannah wishes she understood more of what he was
saying. But as the city begins to awaken to the smells of porridge and cooked ham, Kuo's voice
drops lower and finally falls quiet. After all the nights of planning, the bickering and worrying
and tears, now silence swallows them up. The others slow and let Susannah take the lead before
they cross into the next Arc. Enku smiles reassuringly at her as she passes, and Kuo reaches out
to brush the back of her knuckles with his own. The sudden warmth of his ungloved hand on hers
makes her startle, and he drops back with an apologetic-sounding murmur. She fumbles to build
a bridge--Russian, they both speak a bit of that--but then she is at the Arc gate. The American
guard, who has been turned into the shelter of the gate to hide his probably-illegal cigarette,
barks, "What's your business?"
"My crew and I got a long haul." The first lie of many. This crew has been Josef's since
long before Susannah signed on, but an American accent plays better here. "Couple of us got
family back on Earth and it ain't easy or cheap getting home." The bones of truth to hold up the
skin of lies: only official transport flights were allowed to pass atmosphere these days, ever since
that Texan rocketgirl went and blew herself up square in the middle of the biggest launchpad in
The guard looks over her shoulder. His jaw juts sideways, and he crams the cigarette back
into place in the shelter of his upper lip. The cigarette doesn't have the Lunar Authority tax ring
on it, or maybe he's smoked past that point already. Susannah doesn't smoke; too pricey to pay
the oxygen tax. "We all got expenses."
That is her cue. She reaches inside the collar of her suit, finding the breast pocket
concealed inside. The guard takes the folded wad of currency, a rainbow of yuan and roubles and
birr mixed in amongst the Lunar selenes. Without looking at it, he tucks it into his own trouser
pocket and takes another drag on his cigarette. "You enlisting?"
"My brother's in the Sixth." Another shard of the truth, one that cuts Susannah's mouth to
say aloud. She washes the pain away with a benumbing falsehood. "Need today's take for the trip
down to join him."
"Attagirl," says the guard tonelessly. He turns his back. After a moment Susannah gets the
idea, and slinks past him into the Canadian-American dome. Where the launchpads lie, where
their rockets sleep. Where freedom waits, an unknowable shape waiting for them to carve it out
of the dark.
"Hang on." That's the guard again. His hand shoots out and locks in the leather cuff of
Kuo's suit. "Where you from, boy?"
"He's Australian," blurts Enku. Her voice cracks on the last syllable. Kuo's eyes flick to
Susannah, whose shoulders jerk in a shrug.
"That so?" The guard's mustachioed lip draws back from his teeth. "Say 'g'day', you son of
Kuo ducks. A discarded fuel spindle swings through the air where his head had been, and
clocks the guard instead. The guard goes down silently, and Darshana drops the spindle on top of
him. She flexes her hands and says, "Time to go."
Susannah's shoulders stiffen. She can't look at Darshana's face, only the red-brown leather
of her Royal Space Fleet jacket. Too easy to forget on a haul, that one of them has already faced
up with the specter of war that has joined Luna in Earth orbit. Not only faced it, but made a
widow of the peace it left behind.