Hal stared at Earth. The command module wasn’t pointed perfectly at the homeworld, so the planet seemed to wobble instead of simply rotate. The sculpture garden outside the observation bay gave her mixed feelings. It wasn’t practical or necessary, and only a few people could access it. It was mostly symbolic, a visually attractive space that represented the station on postcards and public media.
She wondered if anyone was watching her. A telescope from Earth would have to be very powerful to zoom in on any detail as small as a human. There were several vantage points on the station itself that could see the sculpture garden, but with the module’s rotation it would be dizzying to focus on her, especially if the other module was spinning as well. Not to mention the fact that she was rather short.
Of course, there were at least a dozen people in ops who knew she was out there and were probably wondering what she was doing. Not that anyone would question her, but they were probably postulating her motivation and possibly making bets.
They could keep on guessing.
She was already low enough, on the middle tier, that they couldn’t see her from the observation bay anymore. She paused to look at a row of plaques on the wall, identifying three dedicated to people her parents had actually known in the early days of the station. One had died in a construction accident, another had been on the design team that took the station from a tiny outpost to the giant scramble it was today, and the third had been a financial backer.
She navigated the stairs delicately. It would be mortifying to slip and fall out there alone. She needed to get to the lowest level. She needed to find out whether her suspicions were true.
A low curving wall held a bas relief of each of her eight predecessors, listing the date they were born, the dates they served as the Chʼil Awoshí’s captain, and the date they died. There was only one place left, her own, currently blank, waiting for her death or retirement before being dedicated. She hoped to follow her predecessor’s lead and not relinquish command unless it was over her cold, dead body. Then she’d never be able to judge whether the artist captured her likeness with accuracy or affection.
Although they would probably simply create another space for the captains who came after her, Haleola felt that her spot as the last captain on the original wall symbolized the end of an era. There would be nothing after her captaincy was over. Not for her, perhaps not for Tumbleweed, if the disparate parts decided they’d rather separate and try to make it on their own. Screw the rest of humanity.
The lowest level afforded the best view. Although the Chʼil Awoshí performed somewhat of a slow tumble in orbit, a fact that inspired its name, the same side always faced Earth. It was the postcard shot.
Something was definitely new. The lowest balcony protruded slightly, allowing a better view of the station around them. Of course, being as large as a city, an observer could only see a small part of the Chʼil Awoshí from that vantage point.
The new addition was a small break in the center of the railing. Hal made her way to it carefully, knowing that the railing was more decorative than functional. If she tumbled off the edge she’d fly off in whatever direction happened to be tangential at the moment.
There was a small step up at the gap in the railing. She stood there, holding the railing on each side, contemplating the space before her.
It was a plank. A diving board, if there had been water below and not the vastness of space. A plank was more accurate. A way to leave the ship, or rather the station, though not in a graceful manner.
Spinning off into space held a strange appeal for her. Haleola knew there were certain neurological conditions that made people feel like they wanted to jump off cliffs or high spaces, but this was different. This was something deep inside her that desperately needed to be “out there,” wherever “out there” was. The Chʼil Awoshí was her station. Not just in the sense that it was the place she had been born and lived most of her life, but also in a very personal and possessive sense. She was its caretaker. The nurturer. The one who held ultimate responsibility for its fate. The captains of ancient vessels were said to be married to their ships. Haleola was mother to hers.
She stepped confidently to the end of the plank. With their current orientation, ops was half “out” toward space, and half “in” toward the tunnel of the government complex. She closed her eyes. She could feel the station around her. The parts that made up the whole, the people who buzzed within, the corridors that were the veins and arteries of the Tumbleweed, the machinery that pumped and churned doing whatever it was designed to do.
She opened her eyes and stepped off into nothing.
Thank you all for coming on this journey with me, getting to know new characters and creating the marvelous Tumbleweed that is at once fantastic and weirdly plausible. Like any new story, this one will go through some changes. The next book, The Turn of a Phrase, will help me to figure out which characters are ready to stand up and speak for themselves and which will remain in the background.
This was a new storytelling style for me, but I enjoyed it. I like having a cast of important characters who all have their distinct parts in the story, even if they are unaware of each other. The Flip of a Coin will probably chance significantly before it is published, but I hope you enjoyed this early version here.
Meanwhile, I hope you check out the short stories in The Cities of Luna. In Tumbleweed, the lunar cities have just declared their unity and independence. The stories of The Cities of Luna take place about a hundred years later. A new story comes out at the usual e-book outlets with every full moon!