Ernie Chiara

Boston-based writer, artist, and father of three extraordinarily unique children.

THE LONG COMMUTE

“You don’t have enough points, sir.”

“There must be some mistake. Can you try swiping it again?”

Shane could tell by the scowl on the teller’s face she’d been asked that question hundreds of times with the same result. Her eyes narrowed, peering out from behind the thick bifocals clinging to the tip of her nose. She held his gaze as she swiped his card again.

“I’m sorry, sir. You just don’t have enough points for a shuttle ticket. Please step aside.” With a wave of her hand, she dismissed him. “Next in line.”

Shane snatched up his card and strode off. He examined his Lunar Transit card as if some explanation could be found on its face. The half-moon/half-earth logo stared back at him without sympathy. He had to get back to Earth, and pronto.

The Byrgius Crater Station hummed with activity. Located in the Southwest quadrant of the near-side lunar hemisphere, there was no busier place on the moon than BCS. The ten o’clock shuttle was boarding in ten minutes, and it seemed like half the colony was trying to get back to Earth for the holidays. He should’ve left days ago.

“Excuse me, sir.” Shane grabbed the arm of a man with a suitcase passing by. “Could you spare a few points? I need to get on that shuttle.”

The man snatched his arm away and kept walking.

A woman in a military coverall walked past in the opposite direction. Shane tapped her on the shoulder. “Ma’am? Could you spare some points to help me get back?”

“Sorry, I have just enough to get Earth-side.” She managed a smile and walked on.

Shit. How could he have been so careless to have not left himself enough points to get home?

Dejected, Shane walked over to the wall of plate glass windows, the bleak lunar horizon curving out of view in both directions. Just beyond the edge, the brown swirling sphere of Earth hung against the black sky like an open sewer on pavement. Great oceans of waste and debris hovered in orbit, circling the drain. “Hard to believe it was once blue”, he whispered. The Blue Planet, they used to call it. Hmph. Those stories of clean water and air were so last century. He shook his head and turned away. So close, but yet so far.

Plopping into an empty seat in a row of blue chairs, the odd sensation of the station’s assisted gravity field yanked his insides down toward his feet. He swallowed hard and weighed his options.

A family of four stood up from their nearby seats, gathering their bags and shouldering a screaming baby. As they strode off toward the platform, something slim and white slipped out of dad’s pocket. Shane jumped up and waved an arm in their direction, but realization stopped him short. His eyes panned left and right, but no one else had noticed. He stepped toward the fallen transit card, bent to pick it up, and headed toward the teller without breaking stride.

Remembering his face, the teller gave him the eye. “Transit card, please.” Shane handed it over with a smile.

He hoped that family had another card on them with enough points to get home, but right now he could only spare enough concern for himself.

“Here’s your pass. Shuttle leaves in four minutes. Line for the TSA starts to the left.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Shane grabbed the card and the boarding pass, then sprinted for the security check.

Three hours later they arrived at Logan Airport. Terminal H was reserved for Lunar and Europa Transit shuttles only. He was glad to be back in Boston, but he couldn’t yet say he was happy to be home. The airport was closer to home than he’d been in months, but it still didn’t count.

With no bags to claim, Shane headed straight for the exit. Picking up a breather unit from the attendant at the door, he pulled it over his head and tightened the straps. Once secure, he turned his head and tested it for comfort. The glass on the front was scratch-free for once, so his view was better than usual. Too bad there wasn’t much outside worth seeing.

As he stepped into the airlock vestibule, the glass doors sealed behind him with a hiss. A green light flashed, the air pressure changed, and the outer doors parted.

The midday sky outside Logan was murky and grey, and the smog was thicker than Shane remembered it. He heard the whiz of the solar bus approaching long before it appeared through the haze. Stepping on board and finding a seat, he pulled off the breather and tested the air. It tasted like copper and burned on the way in, so back on went the mask.

Twenty minutes later, he was home. Knocking on the front door, he heard a muffled voice calling from within. “Daddy!” His heart raced. He hadn’t seen his family in months, and he was thrilled to finally be home. The green light below the doorbell flashed on, and the front door unlocked with a click. He turned the knob and stepped into the sealed vestibule.

“Daddy! Daddy! You made it!”

His daughter stood there with open arms jumping in place on the other side of the glass enclosure. He wished she could’ve run right into his arms, but airlocks were airlocks. As the glass parted, he ripped off the breather and scooped her up in his arms.

“I missed you so much, squirt!”

“I missed you, too, Daddy! I’m so glad you made it home in time!”

“Me too, cupcake.” He planted a big kiss on her forehead.

“And I missed you, too, Daddy!” Stepping in from the kitchen, his wife, Janey, threw her arms around both of them and squeezed. “It’s good to have you home.”

“It’s good to be home.”

“Sarah, don’t you have something for Daddy?”

“Oh yeah! I’ll be right back.”

He put her down and she scurried away.

“Did you get all the points I sent?”

“Sure did.”

“Was it enough?”

“Sure was. She’s gonna be so happy when she opens it in the morning.”

“I can’t wait to see her face when she sees it.”

“Me too. She’s only been asking for it for months! How’s work been?”

He sighed. “Well, the magnesium mines in Procellarum are tough, but my boss thinks I’m in line for a transfer. There’s a desk job opening up over in Kepler.”

The look in his eyes told her just how unlikely he knew a transfer to be. “That’s great, honey.” She smiled.

“Should be just a matter of time before I’ve saved up enough to move us out to Europa. Nice house. Nice domed yard. How’s that sound?”

Just as unlikely, she thought. “Sounds great, honey. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

As they shared a long-awaited kiss, Sarah came running back into the room. “Here, Daddy! Merry Christmas!” Her small arms were wrapped around a giant present.

He smiled and bent down to take it. “Thank you so much, squirt!”

“I’m so happy you made it back on Christmas Eve.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!”

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2 Comments

  1. Phæ™ March 30, 2017

    I enjoyed this. Props for using “vestibule”. 🙂

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