When a beet-faced Professor Brasilov stomped out of the materials research lab, Gregor Andrevski slipped past through the nearly closed door. He stopped cold when an object flew through the air. He ducked. The object shattered into thousands of sharp glass bits with a crash.
A sweet voice offered up, “Sorry.”
Dusting his simifur cap on his leg, Gregor met the gaze of the blond Fury and fell in love. His mouth opened and shut like a yokel. He knew then in every cell of his body what cell gravity meant-his fall toward this woman. Outlined against the cathedral style gothic windows she looked ethereal, all soft lines and glow.
“Don’t let my tantrum disturb your plans.” Her hands curled into fists. “That was childish. I didn’t expect anyone else.”
Eyebrow raised, Gregor avoided smirking. Like most Russians, he adored Siberian ice maidens. Sharp-edged like diamonds, they contain an inner geothermal fire that entices. “What was that all about?” It wasn’t her tantrum that
Gregor imagined would disturb him. Not at all.
She gestured obscenely at the door. “Threatened to turn me out on the streets of Moscow.”
Gregor’s breath caught, the streets of the far western capitol were no place for a hot-headed woman. He stepped closer. “Well, that explains the bardak, but why the threat?”
“He’s an ignorant jerk. Never mind. It was my own fault. I should have known better. I informed him that his research is outdated and narrow minded. He needs to consider our work from a different perspective … prikin!”
“Imagine that, indeed.”
She flipped both hands up in the air and stalked to the coffee pot. “Want one?”
Gregor nodded, setting down his backpack and Upad, a communication and research device that attached to the WInet, on the industrial grade table. He sat on a stool. He was a night owl and needed undisturbed quiet to work through his ideas.
She poured for two. “I must escape Irkutsk, before the dead brains kill me.” She opened a bottle of vodka and held it up. At his nod, she poured a healthy dollop into each mug.
Gregor took his and sipped. “What’s your project? Maybe I can help.” When her sea-green eyes met his, he noticed dark circles of exhaustion.
She shrugged. “I haven’t met you before. I’m Raisa Koblenko. We’re working with material permeability, and you?” She dragged a stool and sat opposite.
“Space engine program. Ceramic compounds. Gregor Andrevski. What kind of permeability? Magnetic or vascular?”
A spark lit her green eyes. “Both. We’re working with fuel cell technology. I keep trying to explain how if we could just focus on the solar wind, we could change the world instead of eking out a cold future one Earth vehicle at a time.”
On an erasable engineering pad centered between them Raisa drew a diagram. “A typical fuel cell requires hydrogen as input. When the hydrogen atoms encounter the cell membranes, the electrons are split off and a flow of electrons is produced. The protons slip through the membrane to join oxygen atoms and free electrons on the other side. When they combine they produce water, out flowing, thus. The electrical flow is directed through the end casings of each stacked cell.”
“One feature of membrane design is the selection of materials that ensure than no particle bigger than a hydrogen proton can enter. All the other research is about how we enhance the storage and release of electricity. The whole focus is on power generation.”
Gregor sipped coffee slowly then grinned. “Well, that is why they call them fuel cells.”
Her slap on his hand sent a sizzle up his arm. “But don’t you see? I want to focus on the water generation aspect.” Her gaze drifted over his shoulder, seeing something inside her head. “You’ve heard about the moon colonization program. I want to go. I’d give anything to escape this go-nowhere rock.”
Until that day Gregor had thought colonizing the Moon was a fool’s dream with Mars a much more likely prospect.
“I have an idea how to build an artificial atmosphere.” She drew a primitive sketch, a tent pole affair set out on the rocky plain of the moon. “Up there, the problem isn’t energy; the potential for solar energy is unlimited. The problem with the moon is water. We know that there’s oxygen in most moon rock. And at the moon’s poles we have hydrogen that arrives with the solar wind. What I want to do is build the atmosphere net. Solar hydrogen is caught by a large net made of fuel cell membrane materials. The hydrogen protons react with the oxidants and voila, water. I could feed oxygen extracted from moon rock into the atmosphere. Then all I need to do is funnel the water to a storage center. The same layer of material prevents the atmosphere from escaping.”
A blaze of cosmic energy came to Gregor’s mind. “And radiation protection? And meteorites? And the electrical winds?”
Raisa pressed thin lips together. “Moon glass-a natural insulator. Or we could direct the flow down a shaft into lava tubes and build habitations there.”
Gregor could see how her idea might work. “Okay, but why go there to do the work?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Local materials. The best choices for making the moon economically self-sufficient involve manufacturing processes that involve high energy use, high carbon costs or toxic substances. Or to reduce the costs of space research in, for example, space engines production.”
Air choked in Gregor’s chest, space engines worked. He nodded while his mind blanked. The moon’s reduced gravity would make space launches less expensive. And the materials … who knew what he could develop?
When Gregor looked back on the years it took him to wheedle two spots on the Moon colonization team, he consoled himself with the thought that every project has barriers that must be circumvented. Many people would think he was a lokh for Ms. Koblenko, but he simply headed for the positive anode in his life. His was the chance to use the unlimited energy required for space engine manufacturing, get credit for designing the next spaceship to Mars and probably fill his pockets with rubles. He could feel success in his bones.
He crossed the Irkutsk sailboard ice way and entered the bar. He searched for Vlad the Turk, reputedly one of the last of Putin’s KGB siloviki.
He spotted the heavy-browed New Russian with a fat jowl nursing a shot of vodka. Gregor joined him, motioning the bartender for a drink.
Vlad waved his glass. “So with my help you got the 21. All but mine.” But his BlueGaze, ear bud and AnimReader remained focused on the WInet.
Gregor concentrated on the shot provided by the bartender. “True.” They drank, slamming down at the same time.
Gregor had had to acquire approvals from all the big shots between Irkutsk and Moscow. It was true without Vlad’s introduction and his knowledge of the right amount of shtuka babki for each official’s bribe it would have taken longer. “They used up all of my money and Raisa’s too. It’s a good thing we leave tomorrow.”
Vlad offered the bottle of vodka. “No problem. My associate Boris will front you for food and expenses to get started. Just let him know what you need. And of course, I get half.”
Gregor felt his privates clinch but kept his face straight. “Half of what? All I need is the travel cards.”
A toothy grin from The Turk. “50% from you, 50% from the dame.”
Gregor rubbed his eyes, faking boredom. “Not a chance.”
The Turk rapped the counter for vodka. “Heard Raisa got license rights on that atmosphere net of hers. And what about this ceramics plant you’re designing. You can’t build it without upfront capitol. How much will you need?”
All motion in the room seemed to stop as Gregor clenched his jaw hard. That man knew everything. The salty tang of blood where he’d caught his tongue reminded him of the stakes. He shrugged casually. “Not sure yet. Production costs are greatly reduced when you can reduce your power costs. And low gravity may allow more efficient designs. But Raisa’s project comes first.”
Laughter boomed from the Turk. “Take what you can get before I make it 65%”.
Gregor shrugged. “Just help for her atmosphere nets, I’m going on as her keeper.” Raisa had lived with him for three years and made love once or twice, not nearly enough for Gregor’s tastes. She never really said she liked it. Regardless, he’d protect her from anything.
The Turk rubbed his chin. “Bluffing. I’ll take 50% for Raisa, 25% on yours when you need the help. See Boris.”
Gregor shrugged. “Fine.” He offered his hand. “You’ve got a deal.”
Gregor fingered the ring in his pocket, thinking this was the time when all molecules meet their destination. His lips felt numb and the road appeared twice in his double vision. He carried the visas and credit vouchers. All he had to do was celebrate with Raisa, ask the question, and liftoff.
What would Raisa say? Their business plans tied them together regardless. Would she see the naturalness, the coziness? He crunched down a mint as he walked thrice around their apartment building allowing the cold to sober him. Finally, he stumbled into their apartment, dumping snow clumps on the carpet.
Raisa sat in her nervous I’m-waiting-for-you-to-come-home pose, one leg wrapped under and one swinging. She hopped up as soon as he walked in and thrust her arms around his neck. “Did you get them? Did you get them?”
His eyebrow quirked. Not where have you been, not I missed you. But already she had her hand in his coat pocket and found the visas and credit vouchers.
“When do we leave?” Her green eyes were as alive as when he first met her.
Somehow his tongue felt like it wrapped around itself. He reached into his shirt pocket and brought out the ring.
He saw the shock in her face as he brought it out and the room seemed to spin. The way she looked sorry then arranged her face. “What’s this?”
Gregor blew air into his hands. “Uhm, well, I was hoping you’d marry me.”
Raisa grabbed his arm and pulled him to the couch, hugged him, then grabbed his hands and held them. The answer was no. He should leave and find another bottle of vodka.
“You don’t deserve me.” She held him there. “We’ve tried this. It’s not you, it’s me.”
Gregor’s limbs felt frozen.
Meanwhile, Raisa kept piling on the snow. “When I try to feel something, it’s just not there. There are too many people on this planet. When I look to the stars life begins for me. I see the solar wind. I have the space and freedom to do my work.”
Gregor cleared his throat. “Okay then. You can have your space. I only wanted to make you happy.” He stood up moving toward his room, feeling ice in his soul. However could he have imagined she’d have him?
Raisa chased after him, face screwed up as if she’d cry. “Gregor, oh, Gregor. I owe you so much. You’ve made me happier than I’ve ever been. I do love you, just not the way you want. Please share our success with me. Champagne. In the refrigerator. Please … oh don’t look so like … like you’re afraid you’ve lost a friend. You’ll always have me in your life.”
He couldn’t get his mouth to work but finally managed a few words. “Right. Champagne.” Fate had damned him to love an ice maiden.
She squealed like a child, hugging him in that way that sent images of her lying naked in their bed and of all those times that meant nothing to her but cramped space. “Let’s drink to the future.”
“Ha ha, yes. We’ll drink to the future, indeed.” He grabbed the champagne, popped the cork and poured. “To the future. We leave tomorrow.”
Boris nudged Gregor’s arm then pointed a fat gloved finger to the city atmosphere nets over their claim. “They’re cash in my pocket. My company Space Titanium forged the masts. But those atmosphere nets, can’t hardly like them.” His grin looked smug.
Gregor gritted his teeth and continued to uncrate supplies.
He and Raisa had created much in the two years since a laser-guided moon lander set them onto the tenth-hectare stake they’d claimed as best suited to their purposes. Raisa had set out her kitchen-table sized prototype and within a week a cup of water had collected beneath the veil. They had put the standard moon rock extraction pod into production churning out oxygen into a bladder and forming moon rock bricks to Raisa’s specifications, he could see the robot movements from here. They then cobbled a factory in the white prefab quad hut to build wafers and connected more membranes until the atmosphere veil was complete.
Boris had accompanied him back from Moon Station on the moon lander when he returned with supplies. Gregor and Raisa almost had The Turk satisfied with progress but once more ran out of food and needed to borrow construction supplies.
Boris chortled, rubbing his hands together. “Know where I’d find the charming Raisa?”
Gut-wrenched every time Boris mentioned Raisa’s name, Gregor nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on the dull flattened landing area near the town. “Up in the nets, there’s regular maintenance.”
From a family of miners, Boris looked truly like a troll, thick heavy beard, short legs, barrel-chested and ready to throw dirt. “She sure is a beauty, isn’t she? I have a new deal for her.”
Gregor coughed. “What kind of deal? I’m the project manager.” He paused work.
Boris patted the chest of his spacesuit. “Let’s just say I’m the tax man. You want to connect to the FOM, you need to cough up some extra credits.”
Light flashed through Gregor’s mind. “FOM? You bet.” Of course their new city would need to connect to the transportation system.
Boris’ fat finger tapped Gregor’s space suit. “It’s expensive to keep Crawlie building more lines.” He pointed over to where a red haze rose over the darkened plateau.
The robot built maglev speedways, scooping up loose regolith, melting it in its solar furnace and forming it into a smooth surface with Halbach Array rails running down the middle and covered by a moon brick dome. “The Fellowship of the Moon operates the system for everyone’s benefit and I offer folks the chance to use it,” Boris continued. “Then you need to pay up for a maglev car, it looks a lot like a casket, but zooms along at high speed. Companies connect them up to move heavy loads.”
Gregor mentally tapped a calculator, wondering if they’d ever see a dime from their work. “I see. And how much credit are you looking for?”
“Fifteen percent of operations. That’s the standard fee.”
Gregor tapped his fingers together, hanging his head. “We’re a bit short of credits. The eco-greenies …”
“Cheesers we call them,” Boris offered.
“Uh, yes, they want us to offer up the nets as non-profit centers.”
Boris patted his arm and showed off a big smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll take the greenies off your back. And work me a little action with Raisa, frosting on the cake, and I’ll cut you a better deal.”
The ice Gregor felt in his heart came out in speech. “That won’t be possible. Keep clear of Raisa. She’s a friend of mine. She doesn’t do deals like you have in mind.”
A flush spread over Boris’ face. “Be that way. We true Moonies know that resources like real women are in short supply. We share. You don’t learn to play by our rules, you’re going to hurt.” Boris folded his arms. “Fact of the matter, I am not taking anything less than twenty percent. Discuss that with your friend, friend.”
Gregor had Raisa in his prefab home, just a bed and a desk inside a box with a microwave and water bottle and a place to store excess supplies and couldn’t touch her. He knew Boris’ deal was for the birds. “I don’t care if we starve to death, Raisa, I didn’t spend all of my time getting us here to sell you to Boris for food. Don’t do it.”
Raisa pressed her lips together. “My body is mine. If I find him attractive …”
“You won’t. Trust me on this. Marry me. He can’t push his weight around on a married woman.”
A hand pat bit into Gregor’s heart. “Maybe you would like his type. What we need is food. I’ll go without until the crops come in. I might as well be dead anyway. At least honor my memory enough to stay out his bed until I die.”
Raisa held her hands up like she was directing aircraft instead of his heart. “Do what you must. I’ve always followed your advice.” Then she walked out.
Gregor went off food. Three days later he was under the care of the telenurses strapped to his bed and on an IV feeding tube.
In his delirium Gregor dreamed of the journey to the moon. They were the frost children, Raisa and he, from the steppes, lost and alone. Discarded by a failed empire, failed manifesto and failed capitalism, with too many people to make a living and too little living to go around. From the same village, they clung to each other. That’s what dreams did to him, Gregor thought when he awoke, make him believe in unlikely scenarios.
Now he had frost inside his belly, frost inside his heart, in his lungs and only Raisa’s kiss would bring him back. He knew this.
The telenurses told him he would hunger. That pain would make it so he wouldn’t die. But so far that wasn’t true.
The telenurses told him that fairy tale about hunger every morning when one worker or other brought in soup and forced some into his mouth.
He tugged against the straps holding him in bed and ensuring he couldn’t pull the IV out. The telenurse’s were very angry with him. He didn’t care. He couldn’t care. Raisa had refused to marry him. And now, with their crop destroyed by the latest solar flare and their food nearly gone, and Boris pressuring them to pay, he wanted her to have what little food was left. His life had no meaning without Raisa and hers would have none if Boris had his way. In his weakness, he slumped against the cushion pillowing his head.
After a time, warmth grew up his arm. With every beat of his heart, warmth traveled, thump, kerthump, radiating through him, flushing up his neck and down past his groin into his legs. The heat felt like a kiss. In his head bells rang the nine-chimes at the end of one’s life. He dreamed he kissed Raisa, that she left her research to be with him. A bit of acid sloshed in his belly.
He blinked. Raisa’s glorious halo of golden hair cascaded about her shoulders. He drank from the pools of her olivine eyes. Did she even see him?
She sat on the bed, shaking his shoulder. “I love you. Why are you doing this? It’s not necessary. We have enough. Look, corn. You must eat. For me. Please.”
Pain stabbed through him and he clenched his fists. “You gave in.”
“Nyet.” Raisa crossed her arms. “No, I didn’t. I think you enrage Boris somehow. He compromised. We have another year and when the credits for your first shipment come in, we can pay fifteen percent.”
Heat flashed in Gregor’s head and flushed through his body. For a moment, he wanted to live enough to kill. “You gave in.”
“Everyone does, Gregor. Everyone pays. Everyone contributes.”
He tried to smash his fist but it flopped limply on the sheet. “No, I meant gave in, had sex with him.”
Raisa brushed his hair out his eyes and kissed them. “Of course not. That’s just his way of joking around. Please eat some soup. Afterward, just a little energy bar. I’ll give you a massage and, please, please don’t die on me. I need you in my life.” Her hand clenched his.
When he focused on her face, he saw a tear run down her cheek. He gripped her hand back. “I love you, Raisa.”
“Then darn it, eat!” She poked a spoon of soup at his lips.
A smile twitched the corner of his mouth as he swallowed the whole spoonful down.
Gregor retreated into his work more and more. One day he snuck through the airlock panels in the city veils and city wall. He unlatched and pulled off the helmet of his spacesuit and found Raisa watching him. He placed a finger over his lips when she started to ask him a question. “Do you want help?” She was dressed to exit.
Raisa shook her head. “There’s only a half dozen patches needed.” She grinned. “My escape.” She shrugged her shoulder toward his gear. “You will tell me, later?”
He nodded, then watched hurt flash across her face because he dared to hold back a part of himself.
She latched her helmet and went outside, leaving him with so many words unsaid. He watched her first steps up, up along the webbing of the city net’s seams where water funneled into the city’s main supply and oxygen hushed out in low atmosphere, headlight flashing now and then like a star.
He walked backwards, craning his neck, feeling his innards slowly clutch and the refrain begin in his head. What if she fell, how would he live? And so it went as he followed the well-trod gray sandy trail, crunching back past the dozen or so gleaming white modules that together they had earned, ordered and assembled and were now occupied by strangers.
At the marsh where they had installed the first reeds and mosses, beside the outflow from the veil’s water collector, he caught sight of her above. And across the pond, another head craned upward to see her.
At that moment, Boris looked like a bullet in slow speed, heading toward Gregor’s heart, little arms and legs tip-toddling along.
Gregor paced as he waited, wondering if Boris spotted his factory hidden in the outflow of a lava tube. He could just make out the wound of the city net drainage pipe hidden amongst a dozen blazing red-twigged dogwoods. Someday, ducklings and lizards would skate the pond like back home in summer.
He took out a cigarette, flicked his lighter a dozen times and inhaled deeply, then coughed until the smoldering end went out.
Boris approached. He held up a cigar and for once said nothing. He smoked the cigar like an extension of his command-like saying, engarde.
What Gregor detested most about Boris was the apparatchik’s desire to compete with him in every way. He shook his head, determined to tolerate the man and looked up toward Raisa.
Smoking was Raisa’s only vice. After making love, Gregor would watch her, examining her face while the hazy smoke between them made her seem grounded. Her face would crumple, like a window breaking in slow motion. He’d asked her once, what the matter was. Raisa had stubbed out the cigarette in an ashtray. “I remember myself. All my hurts. They’re like knives slicing at my innards. You should go away. I like to be by myself when I smoke. I need to remember … remember to eat, remember to sleep, remember why I go away. I do love you, Gregor, but it’s not enough to get past my …” she waved a hand, “past my past.” Then she laughed.
An outcrop caught Gregor’s toe and he stumbled. He never could go away, not from Raisa. He shook his head, rubbing at his cheeks to get himself back to his worry, would she be okay? He checked and rechecked her safety lines.
“There’s a lot of money riding on that woman.” Boris raised and lowered his eyebrows several time. “I’d hate to see her take a fall unless she landed in my lap. That woman ever do anything fun like dance?” He swiveled his hips.
Gregor felt mortified as heat flooded his cheeks. “She’s a professional woman and a highly valuable entrepreneur. Can’t you keep it civil?”
“Ha ha ha. We’ll dine together, us three. Three good friends, two eyeing the lady, one eyeing the clock. What is it, some sort of time fetish?”
“Look, credit is tight. Why don’t you cut us a little slack, make our relationship friendlier. I’ll pat your back if you pat my back, friends?” Gregor offered his hand.
Boris slapped it. “I guess that lady isn’t going to come down any time soon. Just get me some time with her, let nature take its course. Things could get friendly.”
Gregor nearly bit his tongue.
Gregor stood at the bar and wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm while the bartender Fred filled his order. He was glad to cool down after the heat in his foundry. Vaporizing minerals and sending them to retorts outside in the moon’s dark cold allowed them to condense into complex crystals.
The moon’s first saloon was like a scene out of the Wild West-men in long underwear with their spacesuits hanging around their waist clutching glasses and laughing too hard about nothing. Green-shade covered lamps kept the two-into-one retrofit prefabs looking like a place to relax. Voices muttered from the booths, where cards slapped down and poker chips spun. Fred certainly knew his business and folks were coming from all over on the FOM.
His stomach lurched as he caught sight of Boris, who had set up business in the corner. Gregor threw back the shot of vodka and banged for a second. “A beer, too.”
Gregor snatched the stein and edged to the corner opposite Boris. He quenched his thirst, quite happy to be alone.
“Hey, Bud. Got news for you.”
Hairs raised on the back of Gregor’s neck. He lifted his gaze.
Boris’ toothy grin smacked of hidden trouble. “Congratulate me. Raisa is carrying Boris Jr.” He swung his protruding belly side to side with his hands resting proudly on top.
“Pregnant?” Raisa’s image flashed through Gregor’s mind. She had gained weight. “No way. Not Raisa. Unless …” Ice made every muscle of Gregor’s body clench. “Did you rape her?” He gripped the table. That was the only way it could be true.
A sparkle lit Boris’ eyes. He waggled a fat finger. “Ha ha ha ha. She’s sure got you snookered. Only wants to work. Hu hu.” His lips sputtered.
Filmy haze covered Gregor’s eyes. He shoved clear of the table. “You pig. Don’t you dare smear her reputation.” He was so angry he could brew coffee in his belly, but he took a deep breath. This was stupid. That disgusting jerk always played power games. He shouldn’t play along.
Like a dancing bear, Boris darted up and pounded Gregor’s back. Gregor coughed from the impact while Boris sneered.
“Ha ha ha. I bet she always gave you excuses. Too much work. Needed to wash her hair. Talk to God. And all the time,” Boris waggled a finger, “she was ducking out to meet me.” He grabbed onto his belt buckle and bounced on his toes.
Gregor threw down his booze in one toss. Vodka-induced fire spread through his gut. “She wouldn’t. Why are you lying?”
The fat man danced on his toes like a boxer. “Lying? Moi?” He pointed to his hip. “Have you seen her little moon? Kiss her there and see what she does.”
Everything in the room sharpened, red lines across the bar, white sheen on tables, pitchfork light pointing to the truth. People stopped talking mid-sentence to watch. Gregor rocked in place. He knew Raisa’s birthmark, how did Boris?
“Stop it.” He bit his lip, pain stabbing his heart.
“And she squirms when her ear is nibbled.”
Images of Raisa naked blasted Gregor’s head. He didn’t need this. “I said stop it. I’ll kill you.” Gregor slammed his fist on the table, pulse pounding his head.
Some receptors in Gregor’s mind recorded how Boris’ eyes seem to form coal hard and his giant fists slowly rise. “You’re way too naïve, boy. I even heard you tried to commit suicide once because she didn’t love you. Well, sonny boy, go for it. You don’t stand a chance against me.”
Laughter roared through the room.
Gregor counted to ten, turned to the bartender, and ordered another shot of vodka, feeling every gaze in the saloon piercing his poise. Then he turned and enunciated each word. “You’re a lying filthy beast. Raisa is an angel. I’m not listening anymore.”
“Go ahead. Hide away. Another month, she’ll be showing. She’ll make a terrific mama.”
Vodka splashed on the bar as Gregor slammed the shot glass down and whirled to face Boris. “You … you … I’m …” Gregor no longer needed a drink. He needed cool air. Raisa. He edged past Boris, determined to escape while keeping his back to the bar.
A grin spread across Boris’ face. He held out a hand as if determined to be genial. “Stuttering? Tell you what. I bet you 500 credits she’ll marry me before month’s end.”
Gregor wrinkled his nose. The bet clinched it; everything Boris had said was a lie. The room returned to normal chatting mode as he edged toward the door. Nothing Boris said could be true if it involved money. He walked his stiff legs out the door.
“Ha ha ha ha. Go then, sonny boy. Hide. She’s mine. And in your heart, you know it.” Boris bowed to the saloon patrons, one arm outstretched in parody of a gentleman.
Fresh air flushed the skanky smoke of cigars out of Gregor’s lungs. He rubbed his burning eyes, seeking to stabilize his emotions. How could he face Raisa after this? She would know the intensity of his feelings, know the shame that he held inside, know the aversion he’d hold when he met her eyes, and know that he was just a man. A man who lusted, a man who wanted to kill another man, and a man who’d lost his faith in her.
Gregor didn’t know how long he walked around the settlement of prefabs inside the city.
He needed a woman. He wanted Raisa. Raisa would never be his. How could he settle for less? And there weren’t many choices. He hated Boris, but he couldn’t blame him either.
The day street lights flicked on as he came up the line of prefab quad huts and stopped cold when he saw Raisa in silken pajamas, arms clenched under her breasts and talking to Boris. As Boris turned away from her, he zipped up his pants over his too ample gut.
Gregor’s jaw clenched shut. She had lied to him all this time.
He rushed forward, the blaze of heat in his head telling him to grab Boris. But Boris escaped, not even seeing him.
Raisa stared down the road toward where Boris had disappeared, an unseeing stare on her face. A smile raised the corner of her lips. She hugged herself close.
Something broke inside of him. Holding in his shriek of outrage, he shoved Raisa into her room, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her. “You didn’t! Tell me you didn’t!” The room smelled of raw woman, flowers and spices and Raisa.
Raisa’s green eyes blazed. “Gregor? What has gotten into you?”
Gregor knelt, holding her waist to his face. “Are you pregnant? You told me you didn’t want a child.”
She shoved him away, moving toward the kitchen. “Yes, yes but …”
He rose like a rocket. “You didn’t!” He followed, holding her to him with one arm while the other grabbed her chin so he could see the truth in her face.
“I’m not. You’re hurting me. Have you been drinking? Yes. I can smell it on your breath.”
“Why not my child? What can you possible see in that bastard?”
Raisa twisted to the side. “Who?”
He pulled her face around toward him. “Boris.”
All resistance halted in Raisa’s body, she appeared like stone. “Him? A child?”
He saw the knife in her hand. “Don’t play with me. Give me that.”
“Stay back. I don’t know you when you behave this way.”
He fought her, pulling her fingers open, taking the knife and holding it away.
“Please, Gregor. Please. Be reasonable.”
Gregor shoved the knife into her gut. He thrust deeply, satisfyingly toward her cheating, lying, heart.
Gregor didn’t know how long it had taken to heave up all his innards. Then he’d run out into the rocky moonscape. His mind was numb, but eventually he found his way to the FOM tube where he waited for the next public car. He felt cold. Dead. Why hadn’t he brought the knife with him? The thought repeated like a train clanging down a track. Why didn’t he die? Why stay alive?
He examined his sticky hands. They wouldn’t ever wipe clean. The look in Raisa’s eyes would forever whip him. Trust, horror, pain, sorrow, such open green eyes widening, and then her forehead wrinkling as she realized the knife in her belly. White light glowed inside her eyes, and then tears appeared.
“I forgive you, Gregor. I am so … sorry,” she coughed, blood trickling from her mouth. “I couldn’t love you more.” She gurgled then whispered. “I never lied.” The light dimmed in her eyes forever.
Stupid, stupid jealousy, Gregor thought. How could I be so stupid?
When the public FOM car slid to a stop beside him, Gregor felt like he received an electric shock but realized it wasn’t really surprising to find Boris.
“You ignorant lohk. Kill one of the absolutely most required personnel on the moon … What about our business? Are you nuts? It was just a bit of jiving. Why’d you take this all so bloody seriously?”
Gregor shrugged. How could he explain? Why tell his worst enemy what he really felt. Why explain how he’d loved Raisa from the day they met. That they were partners who should have been lovers.
“You need to get back to work.”
“You aren’t going to haul me to jail, execute me?”
“Why the hell would I do that? We already got it covered up. Raisa Koblenko fell while fixing one of the nets. You inherit. You’ve got one year to get caught up then I take 25% of everything. Another net is due in two days, get on with it.”
“Why would I want to work with you?”
“Because I own you. Moon development isn’t about me or you. It’s about the future of humanity. And I’m going to profit by it.”
“What’s there to own?” Perhaps that had been Boris’ goal all along. Gregor’s mind felt as far away as the sun while he watched as his body stood. Then a flash and he was back alive, thinking of his space engine.
If he quit now, Boris won.