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Trudy Yost was understandably nervous as the ballistic rocket hurtled high above the barren, pockmarked lunar plain.
The liftoff had been a shock. Trudy had dutifully strapped herself into her seat and lowered it back to the full reclining position, as instructed in the safety lecture that played on the screen set into the passenger compartment's overhead paneling.
Then the rocket engines had lit off and the ship hurtled off its launchpad with a deafening roar and bone-rattling vibration. The launch from Earth had been much gentler, and she assumed that a liftoff in the Moon's light gravity would be just as easy.
Something's gone wrong! Trudy thought. The g-force pushed her down into the reclined seat like a ton of cement on her chest. And it wouldn't stop. She thought of the earthquake she'd experienced in Palo Alto, when she'd been a grad student. It went on and on, the whole world shaking and grinding, the dorm building swaying like a ship in a typhoon. Afterward, she was told that the tremor had lasted seventy-eight seconds. But it sure felt like hours.
The rocket engines stopped abruptly, leaving Trudy's ears ringing and her arms floating off the seat's armrests. Her stomach crawled up into her throat. She swallowed bile and swore to herself that she would not upchuck.
The pilot's grinning face appeared on the overhead screen. "Well, we're well and truly launched. We'll be at Farside in thirty-two minutes." Almost as an afterthought he added, "You can crank your seats up now and enjoy the view."
Carefully Trudy raised her seat. She swallowed again and told herself that she'd experienced zero gravity on the flight up from Earth and there was absolutely no reason why she should get sick from it now.
Besides, there was this awesome hunk of a guy in the seat across the aisle from her and she'd be damned to hell and back if she was going to make an ass of herself in front of him.
He was smiling at her. "Quite a takeoff, wasn't it?"
Trudy nodded weakly.
"These ballistic flights," he said, "they slam on all the power at liftoff and then let the bird coast the rest of the way. No atmosphere to worry about, we just fly along an arc like an old-time artillery shell."
He's an Adonis! Trudy thought. Handsome, chiseled features; sparkling light brown eyes; thick dark hair long enough to tickle the collar of his expensive-looking jacket. Good broad shoulders, flat midsection. The kind who never looks at mousy little me, she told herself. And here I'm wearing this drab old pullover and jeans. Should have dressed better, should have thought of looks instead of comfort.
It took an effort for her to find her voice. "The ship looks like the Clipperships they use on Earth. Only kind of smaller."
"Most of the Clippers back Earthside are manufactured here on the Moon. At Selene. They use nanomachines to build 'em out of carbon dust. Soot gets turned into diamond structure, thanks to nanotechnology."
Trudy knew that. Everybody knew that, but this hunk of a stud was talking to her as if he were a professor and she a freshman.
"I thought the liftoff would be easier," she said. "Gentler. What with the Moon's lower gravity…"
He shook his head. "No, they blast off at four gees. Then coast. Here on the Moon they call these ships ‘lobbers.' They just lob them up and out, like artillery shells."
"Yes, you told me that."
He smiled at her, teeth dazzling bright. "So I did." Then he extended a hand across the narrow aisle. "My name's Carter McClintock."
His hand engulfed hers. "Trudy Yost."
He cocked his head. "Trudy? Is that short for Gertrude?"
"No!" Trudy snapped. "Everybody thinks that. My parents named me Trudy. It's on my birth certificate."
"Okay. Okay." He released her hand, then asked, "So what brings you to Farside?"
"I'll be doing my postdoc work there. Under Professor Uhlrich."
"Oh, you're the astronomer," said McClintock, looking impressed. "The professor's new assistant."
"I'll be working with him on the optical interferometer. We're going to image Sirius C."
He nodded uncertainly.
"That's the Earth-sized planet that was discovered about ten years ago," Trudy explained.
"The one they call New Earth, right?"
"Right. It's about two and a half parsecs from us, and it—"
"Three point two six light-years. It's the distance an object would be if it showed a parallax of one arc second. Parallax. Second. Parsec."
"Oh. Yes. I see." He leaned his chair back slightly and turned his attention to the overhead screen.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Trudy raged at herself. Here you've got this hunk chatting with you and you bury him in jargon. Why do you have to show everybody how smart you are? It's stupid. You just drive them away.
For several moments she sat rigidly in her chair, staring at the display screen, which showed the lunar landscape sliding by far beneath them.
The lobber's passenger compartment was only half full. Six men and women heading for Farside.
Consciously refraining from biting her lip, Trudy turned back to McClintock and asked, "And why are you going to Farside?"
"I work there, same as you're going to," he said, brightening slightly.
"You're an astronomer?"
He flashed that knockout smile again. "No. I'm … uh, I'm in management. I work with Professor Uhlrich, help him with administrative matters."
"Oh," said Trudy, glowing inside. "I guess we'll see a lot of each other, then."
"I imagine we will."
Copyright © 2013 by Ben Bova