Chuck’s flash fiction prompt this week required that we include a colour from his list in our titles. Being a glutton for punishment I picked two at random (thank you, my random number selector). I don’t seem ready to let go of the Viridian System at the moment. This belongs well before the novel I’ve just written – about the time of the Orichalcum Library. It’s just over 1500 words and it’s PG. As Chuck said: Water’s warm, so: jump in.
Auburn Moon, Vermilion Tides
“Oh, and warn the clients not to eat local shellfish this month!”
Aramintha nodded, message understood. She left Zito’s bar headed for the shuttleport. New clients – seemed polite and not overly fussy, for asteroid miners. After her last ones, nobody could be classed as fussy any more. Never again. Pavanians were off her list permanently.
Zito respected his girls. He protected them as best he could. If he had a peculiar client, he made sure the girl he sent knew what she was in for, and accepted the risks, if any. He paid good bonuses into their freedom funds, too.
She settled down in the shuttle to Sunset Strip. A window seat, since the shuttle was nearly empty. Not the best month for Sunset Strip vacations, although every month was better than Pleasant Valley if you wanted a temperate climate, relaxation in the open air and maybe some pretty scenery with your bars. Pleasant Valley was a desert planet, at least in this stage of its cycle. Bars, gambling joints and more bars were its main attractions. And fighting. Drunken fighting. Many people loved it, especially asteroid miners.
Sunset Strip had bars and a couple of casinos, but not the shady side of gambling. There were beaches and watersports, and even surfing on the other side of the mountains. That’s why Zito had picked her. “You surfed on Abraxas, didn’t you?”
The shuttle pilot wished her a lucky trip as she stepped out into the balmy air, the breeze caressing her skin and pulling gently at her robe. She continued over the cropped turf, out of the shuttle area and across the road, winding through the outskirts of town through to the beach area. The bar was right where she remembered it, and the stairs up the side led up four flights to the rental apartment.
The door was open.
“Hello?” she said, stepping in. Voices laughing and chatting filtered through from the beach side of the flat.
“Hi,” said a dark-haired, buxom woman, coming out of a room wiping her hands in a cloth. “Are you Aramintha? Zito messaged.”
“Yes, are you Maisie?”
“No, Dolores. Maisie’s with the boys. Pete and Lars. How much did Zito tell you about them?” She led Aramintha through to a cooking and eating area.
“Just that they seemed quiet, polite men, for asteroid miners, and one of them liked surfing.”
“Yes, Lars has been itching to get over to the surfing beach. He heard about it about three weeks ago, but we just haven’t got around to it yet.”
“Does everyone do everything together?”
Dolores giggled. “Mostly. Sometimes even with five in a bed, but they aren’t kinky with it. Just adventurous. Carefree, even. They’re fun, provided you’re not precious about privacy.”
“Who can be, in our jobs?”
Dolores nodded, acknowledging the facts of life as far as they were concerned. “Come on, I’ll introduce you. Drop that and give me a hand with these.”
Aramintha dropped her bag and picked up a tray laden with dishes of attractively fresh food. “How’s your cooking?” Dolores asked.
“We’ll have to add that to Zito’s list – these boys really appreciate good cooking. Here we are.”
As they entered the sunlit room, Aramintha studied the backs of the two men, her new clients, who were clustered round a telescope trained on the beach ahead, by the look of it. Well muscled, right through to the glutes, in the case of the blond one, since he had nothing on at all.
“No, I reckon she has.”
“Well that one hasn’t. Why expose it all when you need a rejen?”
“Maybe she doesn’t want a rejen.”
“Happy with what she’s got, eh? Seen better days.”
“Guys, we’ve got company,” said a blonde sitting on the sofa reading a magazine. “Hi,” she said, smiling at Aramintha.
“Put the food there, Aramintha. Guys, meet Aramintha. She’s just arrived from PV. Aramintha, this is Pete,” the dark one nodded and smiled at her, “and the one exposing himself is Lars, also known as the Swede.”
Lars reached for some shorts and struggled into them. “Just a bad habit, not getting dressed,” he said, colouring slightly. Aramintha smiled at both of them and held out her hand in turn. Pete’s grasp was sure, and surprisingly elegant for a miner. Lars held her hand lightly and looked into her eyes. She held his steadily, pleased at his reaction to her presence, but not wishing to encourage or embarrass him.
“I understand you like surfing,” she commented.
Lars’ face lit up. “At last – right guys, we’re going surfing tomorrow. All tomorrow.”
The information from the bakery as they picked up provisions for the day on the ocean beach was to hurry, since the tide would be right for the next few hours, but it was full moon, so the second high tide would be in the dark. Sunset Strip’s small size and fast rotation gave it two sunrises and sunsets a day.
On arrival, Lars lost no time in racing into the waves, throwing himself onto his board and calling to Aramintha to keep up. She laughed, stripped off and joined him.
“Do you girls want to try?” asked Pete. “We can rent boards you lie on over there.”
Dolores joined Pete body-boarding, with varying degrees of success, while Maisie pranced around jumping the waves. She was beginning to swim better, but this surf made her nervous. Once she tired of that, she wandered over to the huddle of vendors and checked out the food stalls. The men had appetites that needed fulfilling regularly. She picked up some locally smoked fish, a dip made of another type of fish, and some local cheese to add to the picnic she and Dolores had put together.
The tide slipped further out and the waves diminished. Some locals spoke to Pete who signalled to Lars. The two surfers swam their boards back in.
“These guys say to watch out for the algae in the water, “ Pete said. “Apparently it’s not safe when it blooms.”
Lars nodded. “I saw some red weed, is that what they mean?”
Pete shrugged. “The one over there in the blue shorts told me.”
Lars checked the guy he meant, then put his skills to lighting a tempa-fire: all the beauty of a beach fire without the environmental hazard.
The green-tinged Viridian sun cleared the line of the cliffs and sank into the sea as they watched it, picking through the dishes of their lunch, and washing it down with water, juice and beer.
“Oh!” Dolores was distracted from collecting up empty plates by the sight of the first moon of Sunset Strip rising in the east. “It’s a full moon, isn’t it?”
Pete studied it and agreed the moon was round.
“I think it’s bright enough to go and see what’s up on those cliffs,” said Lars. “Don’t you agree, Aramintha?”
Dolores’ smile was hidden in the shadows as she watched Aramintha join Lars for a walk up the beach. He didn’t waste any time getting to know people better.
A couple of hours later, Aramintha lay back on the soft springy turf, gazing at the moon, happier than she had been for years. Beside her, her partner woke himself up with a snort.
“The moon’s disappearing.”
Lars rolled onto his back again and stared at the moon. A mouthful was missing. “It’s an eclipse! I didn’t know they had eclipses on here.”
“What’s an eclipse?”
After establishing that Aramintha had never lived on a planet with a moon, he explained how the moon, the planet and the sun could sometimes be aligned so the shadow of the moon or planet fell on the planet or moon, and made the either the sun or the moon disappear.
“The moon isn’t really disappearing though,” Aramintha pointed out. “It’s going a sort of brown colour.”
“Yeah, there’s enough light reflected from Sunset Strip to enable us to see it. Weird light, isn’t it.” He twirled his finger in her hair. “It’s just the colour of your hair. An auburn moon. Maybe we should call it an Aramintha moon.”
“Maybe we should get back to the others,” she smiled. “They’ll wonder what we’re doing.”
“Oh, they’ll know exactly what we’ve been doing. I bet they’ve been doing it too.”
They hadn’t. Pete and Dolores had been tending Maisie, who, having been the only one to try the shellfish dip, was now emptying the contents of her stomach, and the would-be contents of her stomach, into an otherwise empty container.
“The tide’s coming in,” observed Lars. “In this light it looks bright red.”
“Ah,” said Aramintha as they joined they others and heard of Maisie’s indisposition, “I forgot to tell you, Zito said not to eat the shellfish this month.”
“Yeah,” said Pete. “I should have known – algal bloom, vermilion tides. Poisonous fish. Maybe we’d better get her to a medic.”
On the way back over the mountains, Aramintha watched the auburn moon turn pale green once more, and wondered if this was just a taste of what life with them might be. Never dull.
(c) 2014 J M Pett