When I think oil rig, I think big metal Viking onslaught in the night. I think tower of the gods, fucking Valhalla, and a screeching guitar solo. My eyeballs of imagination are compelled to perceive beautifully inky black skies, inky black seas, inky black oil. It is, in short, inky black badassery.
Because, okay, my mind is small sometimes, but in this great vastness of deepest outer space, I can see some of that Scandinavian, hyper-blond majizzmo glory. When I chance to see a window, I recognize the awe-inspiring grandeur of our Valhalla views. Check that shit out. Methane. Nitrogen. Oozy orange chrome foam. We’re on Titan, bitches! We’re on a giant moon of a giant planet, orbiting a super-giant sun. Wow! I mean, I am impressed. I hope everyone is suitably impressed.
And I’m sure I can see Odin in the distant twinkle of the stars: all that power, that one-eyed energy, blazing away – just out of reach. Human civilization still in its infancy, etc. Type I civilization, etc. It’s like our grubby, oily fingers are pointing, yearning for those stored-up powerhouses of energy, energy, energy. But it’s always X million light years away. Odin’s jealous of his power, who wouldn’t be? And so we’ll never go star fishing until we figure out the FTL drives, at least.
I mean, Titan’s OK. I am not complaining about Titan. Who would complain about Titan? We have, like, twenty-five hundred edutainment channels. I basically have a PhD in Renaissance Italian history. And that’s saying something. I would never have had those opportunities on Earth. I had nothing on Earth. And oil riggery was back-breaking labor two hundred years ago, I am sure. Now, with the beautiful scientific roboticness of it all, my back? Is not strained at all.
I don’t even mind the Obligatory British-Virgin Galactic Petroleum Commercials. Not at all. They’re quite beautifully produced. Some of them make me cry.
So why are we talking? I guess we’re talking about the explosion? Or my thoughts and feelings about my continued employment?
“This is not Jamestown, Virginia, sixteen-oh-whatever. Am I being clear? Let me be more clear: This is not Jamestown. You are not the primordial soup of America’s forefathers. There are no American Indians outside. Your suffering is not so noble, nor extreme.”
Flashback to Foreperson Saif, giving us one of his ranty pep talks again.
“Are any of you economists?” He smirks. “No, right? I mean, what economist would be working here, right? I’m not trying to be mean. I’m trying to be clear.
“Anyway, if one of you were an economist, you would know that the mortgages are not indentured labor. Mortgages are a totally different (and pretty clever and modern, you know?) piece of badass financial technology. Indentured labor is, like, bending down in the fields trying to grow tobacco for the Man while the locals aim arrows at your butt. And you’ve probably got AIDS or something. It’s like, famine and disease and very limited outside options.”
Foreperson Saif can be such a dick sometimes. My tailbone was starting to hurt, encased in the unforgiving plastic chair. It had been hours.
“Does anyone here really think they’ve got no outside options? That is some whiny bitching. Ugh! Sorry, guys, but you’re all welcome to return home – be my guest! No one cares about how you pay your mortgage! Pay it off any way you want! But don’t blame BVGP for offering this sweet-ass deal, with numerous discounts, a super-low interest rate adjustment, and various other things. It’s your free choice that brought you to Titan’s inky black amazingness. I mean, am I right or am I right?”
That said, Foreperson Saif is also a pretty good-looking guy. That’s what I was thinking when the bombs went off. Twelve people died, one of them being Foreperson Saif.
“A representative from British-Virgin Galactic Petroleum will be with you shortly.”
Was I in a cell? Is this what cells were like? It definitely felt cellish. Very drab. But that’s okay. I just practiced some Centered-Calm Counting and wondered when I’d get back to work.
I guess they have to interview everyone during Moments of Crisis. Anyway, it was nice to meet new people. From Earth! Latest fashions. Newest slang. Very cool. And some of their social scores were amazing. Like, in the ten thousands. I didn’t even know that was possible.
The BVGP rep who came in was a tall lady, frizzy halo hair, beef jerky vibe. Like, kinda dry and intense—but not in an unattractive way, I hasten to add! She looked me up and down, no-nonsense. I blinked up her social: oh, wow, yikes. Great social. Gosh, is that, like, the new Earth thing? Just get crazy, crazy high social? I had a moment of feeling so friendless, so alone, so on Titan.
Anyway, South Asian Sigourney Weaver was like, “Hello, Louise.”
“Do you know why we’re talking?”
“Oh yeah, sure. This is about the explosion that happened last week. I am totally with you guys. Gotta give us all the debrief. I don’t mind or anything.”
“I’m glad you’re on board.”
“I am so on board. I am literally on board. Get it? ‘Cause we’re on the…”
“On BVGP’s polar orbital platform. Yes.”
Okay, oops. My heart was squeaking out some pitter-patter beats. Oh my God, what if they tried to lie- detector me? Would I show up all Type 2 and shit—all false positive—like I looked like I’d be lying, when I’m actually telling the truth?
Do not fuck up, Louise.
Ugh, shut up, Louise.
Geeta was looking at her tablet. I tried to look disinterested. And not think about the whole drab-prison-cell, possible-lie-detector-test thing.
“You’re pretty young to be on Titan, Louise. Paying for some family mortgages?”
“Oh, well, you know, it’s not just for that. I was always really interested in the stars, you know—and when Cosmos 4D came out when I was, uh, five? I was like—”
She interrupted my practiced spiel. “You don’t have to do that, Louise. Let’s just be honest in here. Who racked up all the mortgages?”
“Well, I think she’s—she’s kind of not well. Like, I think she might have Alzheimer’s?”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, it sucks.”
Geeta stopped then. She just stopped, and looked me up and down. I thought she was blinking up my social. Or maybe chatting via brainlink with some of the other BVGP reps. Maybe they had found the terrorist in our midst? Maybe I could go back to my room? Pub Quiz was starting in thirty minutes.
But Geeta was just looking at me.
“You know,” she finally said. “A nice girl like you shouldn’t have to pay off her crazy mother’s debts by coming to one of these damn oil rigs. That just isn’t fair.”
Uh—easy there, tiger. Mom’s not crazy, I said Alzheimer’s—
“Yeah?” I resisted the urge to compulsively start a game of Doctor Who Bombshell. They had net mufflers all over the room, but my MiWiFi was still trickling in a bit of bandwidth. Enough to access the game, at least. No, bad habit.
“You didn’t even finish college, right?” Geeta asked.
“Well—not the traditional, uh, one. Like on Earth or whatever. But I have an online PhD on Italian Renaissance history.”
“Oh, very nice. From where?”
Bitch, don’t be judging.
“Louise, can I surprise you?”
I was still bruised, but I shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”
“Do you know I used to be you? I used to work on the rig. Just like you.”
“Oh.” Despite myself, I perked up.
“Yeah. I was about your age too. No, I was—um, twenty by then. It was funny. My dad was a futures trader in Mumbai. I wanted to be a lawyer. God, I was so bourgeois. I was really into that Indian Independence stuff. Do you know much about that period? It’s not Italian Renaissance history, but—”
“Oh, sure, I saw Gandhi, it’s such a good movie!”
“It is, isn’t it?” Geeta laughed, warming. “Yeah, I wanted to be Gandhi. Or Nehru. Someone, anyway. But then Dad got screwed in the Great Asian Crap-out, and suddenly we had, wow, so many debts. And suddenly I was up here.”
“Titan?! You were on Titan?”
“One of the first.” Geeta smiled.
“Wow—that is really—wow, what a coincidence!” I said. “How’s it feel to be back?”
“Yeah, I bet. Wow.” I was smiling too now. “So, like, how did you—you know— ?”
“Move on up?” Geeta said. “Well, I did some of the Learnera stuff. Worked hard. Worked well. I made it a point to learn all the systems. Not just my own. And then, our mortgage wasn’t too big—I was here for, uh, six years? Not crazy. So when I got back to Earth, that’s—okay, eight years total, I was away. Well, I just went to Delhi Uni and piled on the degrees.”
“Wow. And then you came back to BVGP?”
“It was actually Texaco-Shell when I was working here. But yeah, went back into oil.”
We chilled out in a few moments of companionable silence. I broke it with a big smile.
“That is really inspirational. Thanks for sharing.”
“No prob.” Geeta smiled back.
Geeta was such a great lady.
It turned out the explosion was just a leaky pipe somewhere, and everyone got back to the beautiful squishy buzz of work work work. Geeta stuck around, and she and I-–well. I don’t know. We were, like, girlfriends, I guess? Though it’s weird (and I guess illegal?) to date your boss. Not that she’s my boss. She’s just my—mentor-type person, I suppose.
Anyway, it was several pub quizzes later from that day. It was sometime during Titan winter, what we called Titan Tits. Up on the rig platforms, the stars were bright, blazey glories of stored-up energy. The space between was inky black badassery. Down moonside, it was a cool, psychedelic Hell-place full of swirling colors and crazy gasses. And I was trying to learn all the systems—
When goddamn Baruch interrupted me.
“Louise, can I talk to you? Private?”
I looked up from my cubicle, withering. Baruch was an older white dude, fifty-something. Big, bushy black beard. Big black hair. Big saintly eyes.
Forty-year-old oil workers are so pathetic, because they’re usually alcoholics and they’ve got insane mortgages that they racked up due to alcohol and they are so, really, incredibly behind all the times.
I’m not saying Baruch’s an alcoholic. I don’t know what Baruch does. I’m just saying what’s typical for men of the age and size and stature (low stature) of Baruch. Men who don’t have, like, real jobs.
Baruch walked away from my cubicle before I could respond. I followed him into the hallway.
“Yeah?” I asked.
Baruch was looking a little fretful. Oh my God, was he having the DTs?
“You know, Baruch, I was really close to maxing out my level. You kinda interrupted something. Are you after money or something?”
The anxious look was replaced by an annoyed one. “You do know it’s not a game, right? It’s not really a game.”
“I know, but it’s still fun. Like a game.”
I didn’t want to get into this. The last time Baruch and I had spoken was during a movie night, when Baruch had embroiled me in this stupid argument about how the oil companies want to gamify the means of production, and distract us from our oppression, and infantilize us, and so on and so forth, blahdy blah blah.
“Are you in an intimate relationship with Geeta Nair, the BVGP representative?”
I reeled back, startled.
“Oh my God, Baruch, that is none— ”
“Okay, fine. That’s a ‘yes’ then.”
“Baruch, this is sexual harassment—and I’m going to report you to— ”
“Look, hold on,” Baruch made to grab my arms, changed his mind, put his hands on his hips. With the beard and the hip-hands, he looked very fatherly. Very loving rabbi. “Just hold your horses, Louise. I need to talk to you. About Geeta. Because I suspect you don’t know what’s—uh—actually going on.”
“Ugh, like worker’s rights and how she’s trying to sexify the means of production?”
Baruch’s eyes twinkled. “Look, you’re a young kid. And you’re like all young kids. I have a daughter, a bit younger than you. Becky, she’ll be—uh— fourteen now, I guess. Back in Pittsburgh, with the missus. Squirrel Hill. Great town. Really great town. Really interesting labor rights history, though I’ll spare you—don’t give me that face. Anyway, this is what I mean. You’re basically teaching me how to deal with entitled young women, so I can be ready when I get back to Becky and the missus in Squirrel Hill.”
“Baruch, this conversation is getting really weird. Can you just tell me what you want to tell me?” I couldn’t smell any alcohol on him, but I’ve heard they have this new, smell-less booze that alcoholics use.
Baruch looked up and down the hallway. He leaned close and said, “Okay, three things. First, I suspect that Geeta and I agree about a number of things—well, maybe the ends. Not the means. Second, the investigation was a cover-up—the explosion was not a gas leak, and there are some very bad people among us. And third, you’re a catamite and you’re very much in over your head. Okay, I guess that was four things.”
Well, I had to look up what ‘catamite’ meant (goddamn Baruch), and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Or perhaps I should say ‘heads or anals,’ ha ha. I also found a Lord of the Rings fanfiction about catamites that kept me entertained for a while.
But what the hell was Baruch talking about? And what was the point of calling me a pubescent, ancient Greek, anal sex-receiving plaything?
I was none of those things.
I brought this up with Geeta.
“Do you know what the word ‘catamite’ means?” I asked.
She was sitting up in bed, looking at her tablet. Her hair was pulled back, giving her a sexy, chilling-at-home look.
“What, honey bear?” she asked absently.
“Catamite? The wiki definition is about little boys that get done in their butts by slightly older boys, and it’s a classical Greek thing.”
“Okay, interesting. Can we talk about this later? I just got a crazy email.”
“From Earth?” I propped myself up on one elbow. I hoped my voice didn’t sound too hillbilly.
“No, honey pie, from usual old Titan.”
She read quietly for a minute, while I played three games of Doctor Who Bombshell (one win, two losses but with dignified scores) behind my eyelids. When I opened my eyes, I stared at the condensation stain on the ceiling. God, Titan could be boring. Especially when your girlfriend was just reading, reading forever.
“Hm?” She was still staring down at her tablet.
“You know how, like, new crews are coming in a week? And you know, I’m taking this course on photography and it’d be so awesome to give it a try? Can I, one, borrow your camera and, two, get permission for an EVA so I can snap the new guys from outside the dome?”
“I’m just bored, you know? And I need to deepen my craft.”
Geeta reached out and caressed my cheek. It was nice, but I could tell she was a billion light-years away. Probably on some other star, with Odin, rocking crazy energy. So much power.
She opened her mouth as if to say something. Closed it. Looked me up and down and looked sad. What? Was I looking so pathetic?
Geeta had this vibe sometimes—this “oh poor little scrub” vibe—and it was not cool. “Oh, Louise,” she said, with pity. “You gotta have your fun where you can get it, right? Sure. Take the camera. Don’t break the lens. Hell, I might ask you to take some pics for me. And you need to ask your dorm super for permission to go outside.”
“Oh, awesome! Thanks, Geeta!” I squealed and gave her a big squeeze. She returned my hug, laughing. When we pulled apart, something in her gaze changed. Like, got sharper.
“Louise, one day, I want to free you from all this. You do know that, right? That’s what I’m working for.”
“What? Free me from what?”
“From this. All this shit.”
“Oh, right. Lay off, Geeta,” I grinned. “You’re starting to sound like this guy I work with.”
Before she could speak again, I did some monster-in-bed crawling sexplay stuff to change the subject, and she started laughing again, and then I kissed her, and said, “Oh, Geeta! You’re like the best lady ever!”
My super was this nerdy, kinda overweight Ghanaian dude, Kwame. He wore thick glasses because—he said— he was allergic to contact lenses and disagreed, philosophically, with corrective surgery. Yeah, whatever.
When I buzzed, Kwame’s door slid open with a hiss, and I stood in the hallway, feeling awkward. He always did this too. Always. He never just stood up and greeted you like a normal human being. Instead, he’d say Enter! like he was some Star Trek character, and I’d have to decide whether and how to enter, and where to sit, and what to do.
“Enter!” he said, still staring at his wall monitor. The news channel was on. There was something about protests in London about BVGP (!), and the East African Community in a big nuclear standoff with the South Asian Group, and the Pope and the Dalai Lama getting symbolically married as part of the New One World stuff. And Jetset Junior was getting divorced (oh my God) and the Dow Jones Industrial average was kind of peaking, or whatever (it looked very phallic, heh), and tonight there’d be a special on how to weatherize your windows for the November acid rainy season that sweeps through the EU and Russia each year. Oh, so it was November? Almost my birthday, just a few orbits away.
I was distracted by the news, and thoughts about Mom, but looked back and saw Kwame staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
“What what?” he said.
“What? Oh, yeah, I came here. Uh, can I get an EVA permit for Monday?”
“Are you part of the Gardening Group?”
“Good. ‘Cause I am not giving any permits to those yahoos.” He leaned back in his swivel chair and pulled out his tablet. He started touching it: touch, touch, touch.
“Well, you can’t not give them permits just ‘cause you disagree with them.” I leaned against his kitchen table.
“Actually, Mizz Louise, I can do exactly that.”
“That’s kinda anti-democracy, isn’t it?”
His tablet vibrated. “There—sent. Well, they’re kinda anti-labor. You know they wanna terraform Titan? I even heard,” he lowered his voice, “they want to bomb the shit outta the rig, kick BVGP out, and then grow carrots and tomatoes instead.” He leaned back and laughed and laughed. Ho ho ho.
Many months previous:
“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“I sure as hell know more than you do!”
“Would you guys shut the fuck up? There—is—a—classic—film—on.”
But there was no way I was going to appreciate its fine art, it seemed. Not tonight. The two guys behind me were still at it: one was Baruch. The other was Ravi, the glamorously handsome failed-med-student kid from Ohio. They had been going on and on about labor rights for the last ten minutes.
It was a bit hard to get them to shut up, though, since we were the only three in the theater.
“That just makes no fucking sense,” Ravi hissed. “If you’re anti-BVGP, you’re pro-workers. How could you be anti-corporation, and want to bomb the shit out of the workers too?”
“I’m just saying there are some disturbed people out there. Extreme thinkers.” Baruch whispered. “A lot of people see the workers as complicit in the whole system, you know?”
“Complicit in the system that exploits them?”
“Some people get very confused. Forget who they’re fighting for.”
“Guys! Come on!”
“Louise, you know, honey,” Baruch called over the three rows between us, “this concerns you too!”
“Thanks, Dad.” I gave a short wave, ending with a middle finger.
“I’m just saying we might see some of that here soon,” Baruch said, turning back to Ravi.
“What soon?” Ravi asked.
“We might see some of these terrorists blowing up our shit here. I’m not saying I don’t welcome the disturbance to the means of production—”
I gave up and turned around. Baruch didn’t seem concerned he had a witness to his treacherous statements.
“—I’m all for blowing up some equipment. Some empty offices. Make it expensive for them to work here.” Baruch gave a quick glance at one of the CCTVs. “I just worry we might see some people getting hurt. And these guys—these guys—they fuck with workers, you know? They are really mean bastards.”
“Who the fuck are you even talking about, Baruch?” I asked. “No one comes here but us! There’s no one else on the whole stupid moon.”
He smiled. “Oh, Louise.” He touched his nose. “Spies, traitors, various subversive elements.”
It’s always fun when new crews come. First off, they bring so much Earthy stuff. They’ve got the latest tablets and new clothes and tons of movies—and all that just gets pumped down into the graymarket and it’s awesome. Second, it’s obviously awesome to be the Old Hand, and I am personally a big fan of bossing around people who are older than me and seem like they’ve just suffered some major downward social mobility. Like, old white men in business suits. Why are you wearing a business suit? You will not be needing a business suit here. Let me show you your room and cubicle.
On Monday, we had a half-shift and most of us went down to the airport to see the shuttles coming in. The BVGP Common Dome was massive, really spectacular, and today Saturn was, like, raaah, feel my glory! You could really feel its heavy weight. I felt oddly proud of it. Proud of our neighbor planet. Proud of my work.
Geeta was up with the bigwigs, schmoozing or getting ready to schmooze. She had lent me her dissler and told me to suit up and follow some of the official photographers, mainly this guy named Jacques. Moonside, the sky was a rich creamy yellow, roiling around with nitrogen smog, and I felt so Titan-positive, I could have eaten all those methane clouds. Rah! Thunder! Rah! Lightning! Rah, planet of the gods!
The shuttle appeared amid the umber-foamy mists, hovering down, and, boy, thrill of anticipation, big time. Were there tears? There might have been some tears. Jacques hopped awkwardly forward—we were allowed to go about half a klick out from the Dome, and Jacques’s voice had buzzed in my ear: “Let’s try to get a good shot of the dome while the shuttle comes in.”
It was really an honor, you know. A real privilege. Jacques was, apparently, a really big deal, too. And I was already thinking golden ratios and magic hours and to Dutch or not to Dutch when Jacques said, “Okay, now you try. Go a bit closer—there, by the pipe. Great job, Louise.”
I stood by one of the main air pipes. These are big tunnel things crawling along Titan’s surface, connecting each of our bubbles and domes, feeding us air and water, whatever. I didn’t really do the engineering Learneras.
Jacques bounced ahead of me, a Michelin man in his EVA suit, and I tried to set my gear up. Tripod, check. Dissler, check. Probably a high ISO, what with this hazy but dimmish orange light. I opted for 1600, took a few test snaps. Not terrible. The shuttle was coming closer. I felt the winds against my suit; wasn’t that awesome? Spacey, Titan winds. So awesome. I also felt a moment of panic, because, if the suit was defective in any way, you know, well, oh my God.
I could hear, through my helmet, the music playing in the BVGP Dome as the shuttle landed closer and closer. It was some pop-mystical Enya stuff; oh, I love that stuff. Really moving. I clicked some snaps, inspired by Enya. My heart flew out into the cosmos, and I thought of Geeta. Man, she was such a beautiful lady.
Oh yeah, and what had she said? Set the ISO to 400. She had said I could get some wicked long exposures, with the rolling smog and blinking shuttle lights. There were two shuttles now; the second one was descending from above—and I was about to take a really excellent long exposure when, I mean, I was using the remote control thing to keep the camera steady when—
A very big bang.
Fuzzy lights. Smog brain. A steady beep.
“Louise, I need you to wake up now, honey.”
A man’s voice. Fatherly.
“Honey, we don’t have much time. They’re going to put you under again in a minute.”
I struggled against the slings and arrows of outrageous sleepiness, and a massive headache, and I woke up. Or I think I woke up?
Drab. Another cell? It was dark and kind of wet, and there was junky medical equipment and—
“Oh my fucking God, what the fuck—”
“Calm down, calm down, Jesus, Louise.”
Baruch fluttered around me like a bird, but all I could see was the absence of—holy fuck—the left side of my body.
“Where the fuck is my arm? Where the fuck—?”
“Honey, shh, shhh,” Baruch was at my side now, petting my forehead. His touch was fiery. Was Baruch on fire? Was I? His voice was wobbly. “Honey, they don’t want me telling you this, but the sooner you know, the better—”
“Baruch, are you harassing me?” I started sobbing. I mean, what the fuck.
“No, honey,” Baruch laughed, choked and emotional. “I’m not harassing you, honey. I’m trying to help you. They used you, Louise. They really fucked you over. I mean, I can’t believe—okay, it doesn’t matter now. Calm down, please.”
“Still on Titan, honey. But you’re safe now.”
Like, safe from the long arms of corporate oppression? Safe from the consumerist opiates of Doctor Who Bombshell and Jetset Junior’s love life and where the fuck was my arm? Was I on drugs? I hoped I was on drugs.
Baruch’s gaze hardened. “You do not want to care about wherever the fuck she is.”
Huh? But I do?
Just then, there was movement outside, and Baruch sucked in air and stood quickly, and then some people came in and there was something about an IV bag and—boom. Out.
I wish I could say, and that’s how I emancipated myself from indentured labor and became an underground freedom fighter. But I’m not Baruch, and this isn’t the Indian Independence movement and this isn’t the proletarian revolution. I just lost my arm and got my heart broken, and now I live in a basement on a very fucked-up moon.
They say I’ll be able to leave soon; get smuggled aboard one of the Earth-bound shuttles, one of the labor-sympathetic pilots is meant to be making the trip up soon. Like three years soon. Until then, here I am. And after that, who knows? Kick BVGP out, terraform, carrots and peas?
Wait until this all blows over, they say.
Wait until capitalism blows over, right?
I think about Titan’s methane clouds, sparkling and luminescent and the boldest of oranges, and I think about them blowing over the broken air pipe (currently in repairs, much cost to BVGP shareholders, Dow Jones Industrial crap-out, expect more mortgages) and the ashes of the dead people from the shuttles and the Dome, and the whole terrorists-in-our-midst witch trial. Geeta, I’ve heard, has disappeared. Melted back into fighting the good fight at another rig, or whatever.
The main question: What would Odin do? Would he have settled for this shit? How would he have weathered these false dichotomies? Odin didn’t have to deal with mortgages and economic meltdown and eco-raping planets and moons.
But he did have to deal with having one eye and some asshole family members and people trying to be all up in his shit. So I had one arm, some asshole family members, and now people had tried to blow up all my shit. But I had two words for that: suck it. This moon ain’t big enough for Louise 14B-WV of mortgage numbers 21701003WV, 2171211WV, and 21713977WV.
I couldn’t see the stars from down here, but I knew they were up there. I knew Odin would always be there, macho badass, and, one day, I could go meet him, to the sound of screeching guitar solos and choral movie-trailer Viking music.
I couldn’t wait for that shuttle pilot.
|Angela Ambroz currently lives between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Her day job is international development, civil society, and data. She has been previously published in Strange Horizons, GigaNotoSaurus, Redstone Science Fiction and others. The whole list, and other stuff: www.angelaambroz.com|