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Moonstone and Muslin

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Anne Shirley gritted her teeth and summoned every ounce of courage in her small body. She was about one quarter of the way to Hopeton-IV when she firmly decided that she was going to make the best of things. After all, not only was she above Scotia Nova’s mesosphere for the first time in her life – the view was absolutely mesmerizing – but she was going to live in a satellite. A satellite! She was going to streak through the sky above the planet’s inhabitants, like Helios driving his chariot from horizon to horizon. She would be able to gaze into the black velvet of space and become acquainted with friendly stars, especially ones that were too difficult to see properly from the planet’s surface. She even hoped to finally witness the aurorae perform their majestic dance across Scotia Nova’s uninhabited poles.

“Do you suppose stars get dreadfully lonely?” mused Anne. “They look so close together from where we are, but they really aren’t at all. See, look at that bright one over there, all on it’s own. It’s a little more blue-tinged than the others, they’re all a sort of whitish, yellow colour. Oh, it’s so regally beautiful! I wonder if it thinks fondly of the days when it shared a nebula with its sisters – ”
“For heaven’s sake, girl, be quiet,” snapped Mrs. Hammond. “And I’ll thank you not to talk the ears off the orphanage Captain when we get there, I can’t risk them turning us away.”

Anne sat in silence for the remainder of the journey. Her legs were not quite long enough to reach the floor, even in the Hammonds' cramped shuttle, so she passed the time by swinging her feet and dreaming up the perfect name for that lonely blue star. By the time they were close enough to Hopeton-IV to request permission to dock, she had settled on The Moonstone’s Daughter – the name was queenly and aloof, which suited its solitude and icy colour, but it also hinted at a family of some sort. It was a relief to feel that although the poor star was alone in the inky black sky, it was not alone in spirit.

The Hammonds' shuttle always landed with a particularly harsh bump, and Anne was never sure whether this was the fault of the vehicle or of Mrs. Hammond. Either way, today was no exception. Upon their arrival, after Anne’s recovery from the bone-rattling landing, it quickly transpired that Hopeton-IV did not live up to her expectations. Every detail of the satellite’s interior, from the solid clunk of the airlock seal to the dull grey of the wall and floor panels, was as mundane and prosaic as it was possible for anything be. “HOPETON IV – A HOME FOR GIRLS” was stenciled unceremoniously above the first doorway they reached, in paint that had long ago begun to fade.

They walked into a tiny, painfully bare room. Anne opened her mouth to comment sadly on the complete absence of windows, but shut it quickly when Mrs. Hammond’s sharp elbow nudged her side. It had a circular reception desk and, not including the entrance from the landing bay, two solid metal doors. Mrs. Hammond took Anne’s forearm in a vice-like grip and marched her towards the desk.

“Good morning,” she said. “I’d like to speak with someone about enrolling this girl into your custody.”

Anne let her thoughts wander while Mrs. Hammond gave the receptionist a brief account of her history. She was in the middle of wondering what part of Scotia Nova she was standing over at that exact moment when the receptionist rose to her feet, wearing a tight smile that did not reach her eyes.

“This is very fortunate timing, Mrs. Hammond. Captain Brockman prefers her secretary to oversee all new registrations, and she has a ten-minute opening in her schedule very soon. I’ll show you into the parlour, and Miss Halford will serve you a cup of tea while you wait.”

Anne was left behind at the reception desk, with strict instructions to stand still and not touch anything. There wasn’t one bit of beauty in this room, and she couldn’t help feeling rather miserable. The potential romance of living in a satellite had ebbed away, and she was left with the unpleasant, hollow feeling that accompanies life’s more substantial disappointments.

 


 

Anne was eventually placed into the care of someone called Miss Weston. Miss Weston turned out to be the sort of person who did not waste words; she marched briskly down the corridor, Anne trailing behind, curtly identifying each door they passed. “Storage Room. Galley. Mess Hall.” A silver cuff with a dim yellow light was clamped around her wrist, emitting an occasional soft beep. Anne imagined that it was recording each syllable Miss Weston uttered, counting down until she had used up her daily allotment of words. If she spoke too many times, the diabolical Captain Brockman would chain up poor Miss Weston in the hangar for an entire week, forcing her to live on minimal amounts of water and dehydrated bread.

Anne shuddered. What a deliciously awful thought.

“Anne!” barked Miss Weston. “Are you listening?”
“Oh,” Anne startled. “I beg your pardon, Miss Weston. Could you please repeat that?”
Miss Weston glared at her. “I said, this is your dormitory.”

There was very little scope for imagination in the dormitory. It was extremely cramped: bunk beds with garish blue polyester blankets, neatly made, were stacked four-high along the walls; there was, once again, no window in sight; and the ceiling was slightly lower than the official Scotia Novan standard.

“Shields are mandatory overnight.” Miss Weston slapped a button at the foot of a bunk and it was slowly encased in a clear, curved sheet of thermoplastic. “Safety requirement. Our artificial gravity is unreliable, we can’t have you floating off your bunk in your sleep. Are you claustrophobic?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Good. Claustrophobia is a luxury. We don’t permit luxuries here.”

Anne rested her palm against the hard shield. She imagined away the blue polyester and replaced it with ivory muslin. Her head would rest on red and purple damask cushions, dark curls tumbling over her shoulders. She would lie tonight in her glass coffin, lips as red as a rose and skin as white as snow…

“Anne!”
Anne jumped again, a guilty look on her face.
“I don’t make a habit of repeating instructions,” Miss Weston glowered. “We don’t tolerate daydreaming at Hopeton-IV.”
“I’m sorry,” said Anne meekly. “I do my best to pay attention… but, oh, don’t you ever get so caught up in lovely thoughts that you can’t help drifting away? I was just imagining that –”
“No, I don’t,” interrupted Miss Weston. “Do as you’re told and follow me to the Mess Hall, quickly. It’s nearly lunchtime.”

Miss Weston swept out the door and Anne trotted obediently behind her. As a booming announcement suddenly declared that “LUNCH FOR GROUP GAMMA-3 WILL COMMENCE IN FIVE MINUTES”, she realized with a jolt that Mrs. Hammond must be long gone by now. She never came to say goodbye.

 


 

The daily routine on Hopeton IV was extremely rigid. Anne’s days were scheduled almost down to the second. In the first week, her deck was rostered onto Galley Duty, and a shrill buzzing sound pierced relentlessly through the dormitories every morning at 04:10.

“It could be worse,” said Eliza, who slept in the bunk below Anne and had the unpleasant habit of being rather sanctimonious.
“How?” she yawned, bleary-eyed and aching. She had been awake very late the previous night – the artificial gravity had malfunctioned, and she had spent several hours alternately enjoying the feeling of weightlessness and despairing over the lack of comfortable sleeping positions. It was extremely difficult to drift off to sleep when you couldn’t comfortably relax your neck, or kept bumping into your shield.
“Next month we have Cargo Bay Duty. At least the Galley is reliable, they want us at the same time every day. The Cargo Bay is dreadful, they call us down there at any old time. That wretched buzzer could start up half an hour after lights out, or in the middle of dinner, and we’d all have to go down to the hold and spend hours unpacking a delivery.”

Anne sighed, and tucked her long braids under her hairnet. The ugly hairnet and a faded pink smock were compulsory in the Galley, and Anne had never in her life worn anything quite so unbecoming. She was extremely aware of the fact that the hairnet did nothing to obscure the unbearable redness of her hair, and the smock clashed horribly with her complexion. She always meant to imagine herself into a pale blue gown, with matching silk slippers and a necklace adorned with amethysts and pearls, but the Galley was much too chaotic to get very far into this particular daydream. She washed cutlery with as much deftness as she could muster, counting the seconds until Galley Duty was over. Cargo Bay Duty sounded unpleasant, but it would surely be better than this. She couldn’t possibly imagine having to wear something worse than this smock.

 


 

That night, Anne climbed wearily into her bunk. She had been living at Hopeton-IV for exactly one week, and had just worked out the knack of using her foot to hit the on/off button for her bunk's shield. The coarse fabric of her sheets settled into stiff folds around her as she was slowly enveloped in the plastic arch.

Immediately after Lights Out, she looked over her shoulder and blew a quick kiss towards the back wall. Every night and every morning, and at various moments in between, Anne blew a kiss towards The Moonstone’s Daughter. She had no idea which direction it was in, as she had not yet found a window, but that wasn’t important. That lovely star was somewhere, sharing the same sky as Anne herself, and that had to be enough for the moment.