July 03, 2010

Home Life on Wolfbane

Prompt: In a cold world where shone a tiny sun…there was an interesting…homemaker…who rode the bus…and sang off key. Janette adjusted the last valve on her environment suit and toggled the switch on the wall. Tapping one foot impatiently in the confines of her boot, she listened to the hum of the fan that sucked the air out of the lock and pushed it back into the warmth of her family’s bubble. The humming grew quieter, then stopped altogether. She knew the fan was actually still making the same noise, but enough air had been sucked from the lock that there was nothing left to convey the sound to her suits audio pickups. She put her hand against the wall and felt the vibrations of the machinery. This part of the wait always seemed longest, when the sound was gone, but still enough air remained that the door would not open. The vibrations under her hand stopped, and Janette took hold of the upright bars on either side of the lock to steady herself. With a buffeting that soon became a whooshing noise, the thin, cold atmosphere of Wolfbane came spilling into the air lock from the suddenly opened spill valves that led to the outside. She smiled to herself. Their red dwarf sun had been named Wolf 940. When the planet had been found, and mistakenly identified as a brown dwarf, a failed star, it had been named Wolf 940B…so naturally when it had been colonized by a human scientific expedition, the Wolf part and the B part had become Wolfbane… although the official designation of the place hadn’t altered in the slightest. She shook her head. This was no place to bring up children. A tiny planet circling a tiny sun in an out of the way corner of the galaxy. She sighed. By the time her husband, the intrepid rocket scientist, had completed his mission here and they could move on to another place, her youngest child would think this was what ought to pass for a normal environment. The pressure in the lock equalized and the outer door opened. Janette stepped from the family bubble and walked carefully down the street to the bus stop. She tried hard to lose her melancholy mood, looking carefully at the beautiful garden of ice crystals that had attached themselves to the post that indicated the bus stop. The post was ostensibly painted a bright yellow, what people from home would call “sunshine yellow”, but in the red glow of the dim dwarfed sun, it was a washed out “sunset orange”, if that. Janette paced near the orangy yellow pole, wistfully recalling the semi-comfortable benches at the bus stops back home on Terra. You couldn’t sit down outside here, of course, because you would freeze to the bench. The bus pulled up, and the door slid open. Janette boarded, and moved toward the back, looking for a hand bar that would be easily reached by a short woman, and that wasn’t already taken. Spotting one, she locked her boots into the sockets and gripped the hand bar firmly, just as the bus trundled forward on its ice spike covered tank treads. The bus lurched and jerked as it crawled over the newly formed humps and bumps of ice which formed in the road at every opportunity. More people climbed aboard the bus, and it trundled onward, finally stopping at the larger of the two huge domes which dominated the man made landscape. About half of the people on the bus disembarked and walked carefully over the ice toward the large cargo airlock that was used for entire groups of people at shift change. It was funny, she thought, that it was still called an airlock, when Wolfbane had sufficient atmosphere, composed of the correct gasses for breathing. They used the airlocks to preserve the warm air inside the buildings, and keep the cold air out, much as the supermarkets at home used curtains of blowing air as a barrier against losing the heated or air conditioned air within the store every time the automatic doors opened. The air on Wolfbane was technically breathable, or would be if it wasn’t so cold it would instantly freeze the moisture in your lungs. They breathed Wolfbanes atmosphere in their homes and domes, and suit air packs, after it had been warmed to the proper temperature for safety and comfort. The bus trundled onward and stopped again at the smaller big dome, and Janette disembarked along with most of the rest of the passengers. Today was shopping day. The supply rocket from Terra had arrived last night, and every homemaker would be coming down today to pick up their monthly supply packet of food, and browse among the other items that had been sent, to see what their families could use. Most of the families on Wolfbane consisted of two working scientists, and whatever children they carted around the galaxy with them. Janette was definitely in the minority as a non-working spouse, however, when her husband had been assigned to Wolfbane, forty light years from home, they had elected to bring the children and move, rather than split up the family for the five long years he would be assigned, plus the year each way it would take for travel time, coming and going. Twenty minutes later, Janette left the supply depot with the inevitable wait at the airlock. With each step she felt the tug of the sledge’s tow line where it was snapped to her waist, but the sledge with its load of supplies and parcels followed obediently behind her as she picked her way among the ice crystals in what would otherwise have passed as an empty parking lot. Janette felt wonderful that she had completed her shopping for the month, and began singing her favorite song, one which had been popular back home on Terra before they left, and which, doubtless, had been totally forgotten by the masses there. Nevertheless, Summer in Paradise was a wonderful song, and very much unsuited to her current home. Perhaps they could arrange things so that Guy’s next assignment could be to a tropical world, just to give the children some contrast. She smiled as she sang, for she knew she could never have been singing at the bus stop or on the bus, had she not been wearing her environment suit. The other passengers would have asked her to either sing on key, or cease her caterwauling. It didn’t matter to her, though. She knew the right notes and how the song should sound, and she enjoyed the sound of her own voice. The bus pulled up, Janette boarded, and sang to herself all the way home.