Bighead Moon Stories
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Imperial Earth
Bighead Moon Stories are in the tradition of classic hard science fiction.
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Mars Landing
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UFOs Over Woodstock
Upcoming stories: UFOs Over Woodstock, Let Us Be Lettuce, That That.
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International Association of Astronomical Artists
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Neon Rhymes with Changing Times
"We make a fine trio, don’t we?" he asked, holding it up.
Neon Rhymes with Changing Times
A Bighead Moon Story
text and illustration copyright © 2002 - 2017 Peter Thorpe
word count: 3301
uncorrected proof
for review purposes only


The first time Neon Rhymes, a well-known cis-lunar fine artist, tried to kiss a chunk of lunar ice her lips stuck to it. It was during a brief ceremony just outside Hyojoto, an independent port hub of Hiten City near Luna’s South Pole. At Hyojoto, every newcomer fresh off a transport was encouraged to kiss an ancient chunk of ice that stuck out of the cave wall at the entrance. It was supposed to bring good luck.

Port security, which had small handheld heaters for just such an accident, took about a minute to get Neon loose, enough time to make her the spectacle of the moment. Her predicament received the attention of the hub's mayor, who was there to meet a NorthAm MP. They both came to her rescue, and a news holographer got a shot of the mayor and the MP on either side of Neon. It was very charming to have the mayor’s attention, Neon thought, as she tried to keep still and hide her embarrassment.

Once she was free, she thanked everyone involved and quickly made her way into the tunnels of Hyojoto. She wanted to give the hub a look-see, but the ice incident had shaken her, and anyway she was tired and needed a bath, so she checked into her hotel, the Ho Shi. In her room, she stripped down, grabbed a towel and walked down the short hall to the baths. There was nothing quite as wonderful as a lunar bath, with natural rock pools in roughhewn caves, plus the syrupy way water acts at one sixth gee. On the L4 station you could get a low grav bath, but it wasn’t the same.

Two older Japanese men were at the far end, soaking their round bodies in a small, detached pool. Neon nodded politely to them, got into the main pool, and did a few short laps before settling into a corner for meditation. She thought about patterns and shapes, forcing words and ideas out, till her mind was blissfully numb. The hot water held her like a hammock, and the smell of salt filled her lungs. She might have fallen asleep but for the hand on her shoulder.

She looked up to see the two men, wrapped in their towels, smiling down at her. The one touching her said, "Pretty woman should be careful in baths once tourist come in!" "Thanks," she said, and they left. She couldn’t help but laugh at his excuse. The Japanese were so polite about touching. At least he didn’t pat her on her bald head, or make comments about her jet black skin. But it was OK, Neon knew what she looked like. She was used to people wanting to touch her.

Back in her room, she keyed the com, let it read her face, and then said, "Mo Bandy, Lunar Circle, Bighead City." In a moment, Mo's face was staring back at her.

"Neon? Are you calling me up naked again?" Neon squared her shoulders and tried to look hurt. "Hey, I just got back from the baths. Wanted to remind you that you promised to put me up when I got there." "So, you're still on schedule?" "Yes, of course." "Well, wear some clothes when you show up, will ya?"

Neon flopped onto her bed, rolled around in the blanket, and considered a nap while listening to the sounds of the hub. The dull thumps and bangs made a certain kind of deep music. On L4, you have metallic pings and creaks, but in Luna the frequencies were dulled by rock. It sounded like a giant monster, she thought, living in the core, trying to slowly dig its way out. It made her smile.

So. Her old roommate from art school had given her the job of her life. It was an artist’s dream. A splashy display, if it worked.

She was happy to be doing a job for Mo. While Neon had left art school as a working artist, Mo had taken another direction and had gone into politics. After all these years, Mo’s Lunar Circle, a group that represented many of the more liberal cis-lunar interests, had gained credibility, and even some power. Now they wanted to show the Earth politic that they were becoming a major player. That is where she came in. Although Neon found all the politics to be somewhat confusing, Mo had the money to commission a big project and had picked her to give it to, so politics be thanked. And even though it was technically a commercial job, it was artwork. The fine art community might call her a sell out, but she didn't care. Getting in the history books was all she needed. And it could happen…


She was startled out of her nap by a call. "Ms. Rhymes, the mayor’s office is trying to page you." "OK," she said as she pulled the blanket up to cover herself. A still of the mayor appeared on the com, next to a spinning Luna. "Mayor Katani requests your presence at 11:30 lunch. Please respond." She thought about it for maybe two seconds. "I'll be there," she said.


It was in the mayor’s office where she first saw the holo of herself, at the port, kissing the ice. It was on a news pallet that the mayor’s assistant handed to her when she arrived. The header read: Katani and Ways Rescue Visiting Artist from Ice Kiss.

The mayor greeted Neon with a warm handshake and asked her to sit down. She handed the pallet to him, and he looked at it for a moment. "We make a fine trio, don’t we?" he asked, holding it up.

"I’d like to think so," she said carefully. She looked around at his office, which was a substantial cave with a dining alcove, a pool, and one large wall covered with bookshelves that were overflowing with traditional bound books.

"Mr. Byron Ways, a NorthAm MP from Alberta, is the man in the holo with us. He is the primary reason I wish to speak to you. This article is going to get run everywhere. I think he is enjoying it, frankly, but his wife..."

"Are you serious? I’m kissing the ice, not his face!"

"All we need is a simple thank you to her for her husband’s help. We can record it now...before we have lunch…"

"Well, good for her, she’s got him around her finger," Neon said with a smile. "But, if I do this favor for you, will you do one for me?"

Katani’s mood changed. "I am already doing you a favor, Ms. Rhymes! For starters, I am not having you investigated for possible illegal transportation of explosive materials."

"Ah…"

"I had you checked out, which was easy, as your artwork is well documented. You seem to go in for big displays, don’t you? So, maybe I should wonder about almost a ton of hyperactive phosphorus compound that you are here to purchase?"

Neon took a beat to answer. "It’s a fireworks display for a client, I have a proper permit to use the product…"

Katani looked at her through thin eyes for a moment and then laughed at her. "Neon! How did you get such a name, anyway?"

"I was at Bighead Arts and Crafts, class of 2161. I specialized in 3-D, with platinum metals casting, fluids and dust, and even glassworks. In my first glass semester, I sculpted the word 'Danger' in neon. The whole thing was supposed to flash on and off, but there was a flaw in it that caused only the 'D' to cycle. My teacher thought it was clever, and said, ‘It’s a neon rhyme!’ I've been called that ever since."

"It isn't though."

"Clever?"

"No, it isn't really a rhyme, is it? But as you say, it came from a mistake, which is, I think, a clever way to take a name. Well, Miss Rhymes, I hope you do not encounter any ‘danger’, or ‘anger’, while you are here. Now if artists were not so controversial as well..."

She looked annoyed. "Mr. Katani, I work simply as an objective artist…you have my assurance…"

"I intend to monitor you Miss Rhymes, but for the present I am going to take you on your word, which I hope is as good as your artwork."

So she spoke her apology to a holo camera for the MP’s wife and then ate a very nice lunch while the mayor told her about his port hub and its history. He talked about Hyojoto, a Japanese taikonaut, a rebel who had pioneered the first ice mine outside of Hiten City, and how her name became the name of the hub. He told her with pride about the Mizu Incident, and why Hyojoto was independent.

Independence was an issue for him, she could see that, and he did mention the Lunar Circle, without seeming reference to her, at one point. She tried not to notice. When she left, he assured her that her business would not be interrupted, as long as she stayed within the law.


Back in her hotel room she made calls to Dragons-be-There Pyrotechnics, Specialists in All Things Fireworks, the port and her bank. She then took a rail out to Dragons, purchased 120 large canisters of their best Martian red phosphorus compound, with highly concentrated triple A firework base, and arranged for their delivery to Jon Yung Orbits. Dragons-be-There was considered the best for fireworks. They had the contract for the Hiten New Year’s Display, which could sometimes be seen from Earth. As a fine artist, Neon believed in using the finest materials.

Yung was just beyond the warehouses, so her walk was short. The tunnels were clean, even for a work district, and the workers were polite, tho they did stare. Well, she was used to that.

When she got there, the owner, Billy Yung, had not yet returned from lunch, so she sat in his office, alone, and surveyed the port. The windows were a few meters above the surface, and through them, on three sides, she could see the pads, surrounded by bright lights, the ink filled craters, and low over the horizon, a brilliant crescent Earth. Along its eastern limb, the tail of SouthAm snaked up toward the Antarctic cap, with bright white clouds swirling around the edges of the cap.

"A beautiful view, isn’t it?" Neon turned around to find Mr. Yung standing behind her. She rose to greet him.

He held still and bowed slightly. "I enjoyed the information you sent to me, Ms. Rhymes. I remember the L1 tether; we could see that from here. The floating target in front of Bighead’s mass driver I have heard of, but I did not know much about it at the time. But it brought you a bit of trouble, didn’t it?"

"Well, the whole point was for them to throw something through it. That would have been perfectly safe, of course."

He shifted his feet, then stared at her. "And what controversy do you plan for your current venture?"

"I assure you, Mr. Yung, there is nothing to worry about."

"But as your launch company, I do have to worry. I am not sure if I can afford controversy…"

"The payload is mine. Once it’s out of your launch lane it is my show...I thought we had an agreement..."

"Ms. Rhymes, I do remember you saying how careful you would be. So why the publicity at the port? I’ve seen the news. Friend of the mayor’s now, are we?"

She spread her hands helplessly. "That was a simple accident and it shouldn’t preclude..."

"No, I’m sorry, Ms. Rhymes, I did not agree to be part of a circus. We do not have a deal."


Neon made her way back through the tunnels to Dragons-be-There. Hopefully they had not shipped the phosphorus yet. She showed her receipt, and asked to see the boss.

Mr. Hasa Iko’s office was a cave of rough walls, stone fixtures, and painted crepe and wood dragons. They crowded the floor, hung from the ceiling and walls, and sat on his desk. Mr. Iko, who was well rounded, looked nothing like a dragon, but he did seem to like their company.

"I have a problem," she said after bowing and introducing herself. "The phosphorus compound I just purchased from you this morning has been refused by Yung Orbits."

"I can assure you, Ms Rhymes, that our containers are standard. Yung knows this..."

"Their objection is final, Mr. Ito. In any event, I still want the product. I simply lack a transport."
"Where is this shipment going?"

"A ninety degree west to east lunar polar orbit, standard lane, where I want to do a vent of the material into the orbit."

"That’s interesting."

"Do you know what I do, Mr. Ito?

"Should I?"

"Well, first and foremost, I am an artist. Like you, Mr Ito?" she said as she nodded to a group of the dragons.

"Yes," he said, "Perhaps I like art. But I am mostly a business man." He paused to look at the rough ceiling of the cave. "I could provide you," he said slowly, "with an older G class yacht that I rent occasionally. But I would need some assurance and a very substantial deposit…"

"How much?"

"For the yacht, Ms Rhymes, or to keep me in confidence?" He shuffled through papers on his desk, and extracted a news pallet. Instead of showing it to her he simply placed it on top of the pile, and turned back towards her.
"Aw, come on," she said, "not again!"


The Lady Murasaki made a clean lift off and swept up under the belly of the Moon into, after a couple plane changes, a 100 km high, two-hour lunar polar orbit. Neon let the craft do the hard work while she checked everything. The Lady swept up longitude 80 west, crossing slowly over to 85, then above and over the crown of Luna, Bighead City, at the lunar North Pole. Neon gazed down from the pilot's bubble as the sprawling lights of the pads and city moved slowly underneath her.

By two hours out, she was sweeping back down under Hiten City at the South Pole, the completion of her first orbit. The craft then continued up along the 90 degree west longitude, into, after another plane change, a perfect 90 west - 90 east lunar longitudinal lane, which constituted an orbit perfectly perpendicular to the cis-lunar axis between Luna and Earth. While in that lane, she would have continuous visibility of Earth off to her starboard.

Time to get to work. She unstrapped, pulled herself out of the pilot’s seat, and floated back to the passenger cabin. Her ‘passengers’ were the canisters of red Martian phosphorus compound that were bumping and clumping inside a net fixed to the port bulkhead.

All class G yachts had adequate waste venting systems for their galleys and heads. But The Lady had aft venting, which, for Neon’s purposes, was somewhat better than the craft she originally intended to charter from Yung, which had side venting. It might not have made a big difference, but she felt lucky to have The Lady’s aft vent system, if only for general safety reasons, and perhaps, aesthetics. Aft venting produced a very straight stream and was less likely to vary.

She set her workspace up by jamming the door to the room open with the head’s only roll of waste paper. She pulled the net in close, opened a seam in it, and pulled the first canister out. The cap slipped off with a twist and she let it float up above her. She then jammed the canister into the head, and flushed it.

The concentrated hyperactive phosphorus, hitting the cold of space, ignited, and drifted slowly behind the yacht. Neon swam to a port to check. Yes, it looked right. It was very bright and slowly spreading. It would continue to shine for at least two, maybe three hours. It was going to work.

She moved back into the head and pulled the second canister out, and flushed it. It was now just a matter of getting one out every minute. 120 canisters, and no room for error.


Things went well enough, with only one missed cycle at the 19th, due to the flush wanting, for some reason, to cycle twice. But she got the rhythm back on the next round.

Then canister number 106 jammed.

Neon tried to figure it out. She sat there, trying to be calm, when a cap from one of the used canisters bumped her head. The things were floating everywhere. And then she realized…

It took her maybe 4 minutes to locate the yacht’s vacuum, run it into the head, and get it going. Then it took another minute for her to get down far enough into the head to get the jammed cap out.

She was exhausted. The temperature, set hot for the safety of the cold-reactive phosphorus, made it unbearable for her. She peeled her suit off, grabbed another canister and pulled on its cap…but too hard, and the compound spilled out into a cloud. It stuck to her where she was sweating the most. She grabbed the vacuum and frantically cleared the air in the tiny space.

It was almost another minute before she got everything together and had another canister ready. She flushed it, then raced to get another, and then the head jammed again.

She tried to clear it, but nothing worked. That was it anyway. Orbit complete. But it wasn’t right. The circle had been broken.


Neon went back to the pilot’s bubble and strapped herself in. The seat stuck to her drenched skin. She felt awful. She put her head in her hand and cleared her mind, as much as she possibly could. It was some time before she keyed the com and asked for Mo Bandy, of the Lunar Circle, Bighead City. She brushed red phosphorus off of her brow, looked at the screen, and waited.

"Neon!"

"Mo! Oh I’m so sorry! Are you looking at it?"

"What are you talking about? All of the feeds show it just fine!"

"No, no, I messed up the last bit…there was a jam…"

"Honey, you go ahead and get all artsy on me, but it looks fine. You talking about the South Pole?"

"Yes…"

"It may be a little less bright there, I don’t know, but it’s still there. Didn’t you consider drift?"

"OK. Fine, so you see it. Good." She rubbed her eyes and took in a deep breath.

Neon knew Mo didn’t care about the details. Just make it big! That’s all Mo wanted. But there was going to be all sorts of images of it in the news feeds. All sorts of views. The orbit made it a circle around the full Moon as viewed from Earth. L4 would see an ellipse.

"Neon, it looks great! Come on! We got our message out! Luna ID is saying that the Lunar Circle has made history! We’re on a roll! And we’ll need some kind of follow up, you know…now don’t tell me your prices are going up!"

Well, Neon thought, she did draw a circle, however imperfect, around the Moon. No one had ever done that before.

"Mo," she said with a sigh, "I’m at your service."

"I knew I could count on you! By the way, I love the ice kissing thing. It’s in all the feeds. You are truly brilliant! That was a nice addition. And I’ve met Katani. He’s a possible connection for the Circle, I think. Maybe you can help with that? Anyway, get yourself up here and we’ll talk. And wear some clothes!"

Peter Thorpe 85 W Walnut Street Suite 302, Asheville, NC 28801
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