The next morning at the crew meeting, the EVA incident was discussed. Maxie and Hennessey made it a priority to upgrade the debris detection system to cover a wider range so as to give them much more warning of any future hazards. Wib requested that Jude come back out with him to do some more work, this time on tile and plating replacement. Jude was understandably reluctant.
“It’s like falling off of a horse, “ he reassured her. “Just get back on the bugger and show it who is boss.” Jude had never been near a horse in her life but understood the analogy. So, albeit with a healthy dose of trepidation, she climbed into her EMU and went back outside. Wib took her out again the next day and the one after that. Jude’s confidence was restored and the whole untethering incident was quickly put behind her.
Although each of the others had their own areas of expertise and responsibility on this job, none of them treated her with any less than the utmost respect. Even Hennessey was thawing to her slightly, requesting her input as he worked to recondition the station’s navigation and propulsion. He spoke to her fondly of his upbringing in the liberal and vibrant city of Belfast. He chatted about places and people but understandably said little about himself in those contexts. Jude did wonder about why, at such an advanced age, he had seemed to come so late to transition. Nowadays, young people found it a lot easier to navigate their gender and sexuality and many of them who wished to would transition from a very early age. To encounter someone in Hennessey’s situation was rare. However, Jude didn’t feel that current circumstances allowed for her to ask and pretty much felt that they probably never would.
She was managing to get to know her other colleagues a little better too. Glass had studied statistical mechanics at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and had gone on to work for Lovelace Industries before coming to Cee-Cee. Jude had expressed her surprise at her co-worker coming to work in this sector.
“Oh no, Liebling, “Glass told her, “Cosmic Cleaners may sound like a joke but you’d be surprised at how well regarded we are becoming. The future lies in repurposing technology and clearing up this Scheisse we’ve allowed to accumulate our home planet and we’re at the forefront in that.”
As the Earth turned beneath them, the crew worked solidly on and the geriatric modules started to look fresh and up to date. Jude busied herself with tasks such as evaluating the integrity and vacuum seals on the viewing ports – I must have the coolest window-cleaning job in the entire galaxy, she chuckled to herself. One time, she was engrossed in the task and didn’t notice Maxie hovering next to her.
“You have a lovely voice.”
Jude hadn’t realised she had been singing and blushed.
“Thank you. I’m sorry, I got carried away there. Did I disturb you?” Jude knew from the morning briefing that Maxie was working on some high level and particularly frustrating interfacing – the relics of the computer systems installed when the Tiandong was shiny and new didn’t like the upgrades he was attempting – and failing – to install.
“No, not at all. It reminds me of my darling back home. She sings beautifully to our children. Of all the things I miss, hearing her lullabies is one of the most bittersweet.”
Jude nodded, then a puzzled look crossed her face. Darling back home? Children? But Kristof was Maxie’s lover and Jude had guessed, partner. Maxie smiled, seeing his colleague’s confusion.
“We’re a poly family. On this occasion, Kris and I are working off-Mars while Neesh stays with the little ones.” Even in these more enlightened days, the concept of a relationship of more than two people was still rare. Martians, it seemed, were more progressive. Jude felt she didn’t want to pry but Maxie seemed happy to chat about it. “Neesh and I got together first and then we met Kris when zhe came to Olympus to study. We’ve all been together for about 6 years now and have two little ones, Dera and Myki.” He reached into the pocket of his overalls, activated his pad and handed it to Jude. A smiling group of three adults and two adorable kids beamed out at her.
“Aw, how sweet. You must miss them.”
“Yes, “the proud father agreed. “Dear Kris, even though zhe has me here, misses them most of all.” He paused, thoughtfully. “Look, I wasn’t going to bring it up but Kris is a big fan of yours. Zher birthday is in a few days and we were going to have a small celebration. Would it be impolite if I asked you to sing for zhim?”
Oh fak. Jude’s stomach did a few flips. So far Hennessey had been the only one to mention her brief pop career and that had been way back in their early days of training. She had been hoping no-one else had made the connection. Maxie sensed her hesitation.
“Blast, I’ve gone and put you on the spot, haven’t I?” He stammered. “Listen, just…”
“No, no. It’s cool. I’m surprised. Kris of all people. I’d have thought zhis tastes would have run to something, well, more sophisticated?”
“Zhe loves it – zhe has your music on all the time back on Big Red.”
“Okay, okay. What’s zhis favourite song?”
“Would you sing “Hoshi Ai?”
Star Love – what else?
Jude had hoped that she’d left her J-pop days behind her but here she was, hundreds of kays above the Earth and it still haunted her. Now, it hadn’t been an unpleasant experience. It had brought her and Coop together for a few sparkling years and she wouldn’t change a thing on that front. She hadn’t intended to go into the music business at all – sixteen years of travelling with her parents to concerts, galas, musical awards ceremonies and television studios meant that the show business life held little mystery nor appeal for her. However, years of being introduced as the offspring of the darlings of classical Japanese fusion, she had felt the adolescent urge to break out on her own. When word reached her on a trip to see her dear grandfather on Luna City and well beyond the influence her mother, who was off delighting the Los Angeles cognoscenti with her father in tow, that Huey Matsuda was looking for a new front singer for The Flying Hearts, she was on the comm like a shot.
Re-inventing herself as Kiki Kokeshi and thanks to a little assistance from auto-tuning, they topped first the Oricon, global and then galactic charts. Her trademark barefoot stomping (borrowed shamelessly from early two-kay girl band the 5678s) and Matsuda’s backing made her one of the biggest stars since even Ayumi Hamasaki herself who, according to insiders, came out of reclusive retirement to see “Kiki” and the Hearts play when they headlined the Fuji Rock Festival. Beloved Ayu, as she was known to her fans, even gave Jude permission to cover her song “Misunderstood.” Of course, this was all a huge source of chagrin to Dory, even before Coop appeared in Jude’s life. Jude would have thought her parents would be happy that she had followed them into music.
“Music?” Dory had snapped at her down a comm-link. “That isn’t music. It’s just as lot of jangling noise. I bet you don’t even sing.” The well-crafted New Town lilt broke down into her mother’s Wester Hailes’ origins. “Dinnae come wi’ yer fakkin’ heid in yer hauns, greetin’ to me when the bubble bursts.”
“Have you forgotten your punk days with Bare-Arsed Hairies then?” Jude snapped back. They didn’t speak again til Jude had told her about Coop, and not for another year after that.
The bubble didn’t burst. The Flying Hearts went mega, touring the Moon and Mars. Even when Huey Matsuda moved on to the next big thing, they remained popular. In her guise as Kiki, Jude was approached by the Ghibli-Disney Corporation to sing the theme tune to their re-working of the old anime series, Planetes, which is where the song Maxie had requested came from. Through all of this, her father remained supportive and even wrote, to his wife’s brief outrage, a couple of songs for an album of enka ballads that Jude/ Kiki released. She was on tour when she received a call from him.
“Judith, “ his usually musical if quiet tone was instead deep and sombre. And he had used her full name. She immediately knew what was wrong.
“It’s Ojichan, isn’t it?” Her grandfather.
“Yes, my darling. He died this morning.” Hikaru Sudako was a sprightly man in his eighties and Jude had thought he would go on forever. He’d moved to Luna City in his retirement and Jude had visited often.
The tears started and wouldn’t stop. Coop negotiated with the promoters and the tour was postponed. They travelled up to the funeral in the glare of publicity – pictures of Jude in her black mourning dress with her parents and Coop at her side were flashed across the cosmos. They returned to Tokyo, his birthplace, with his ashes. Jude remained and never did go back onstage.
A tap on her shoulder brought Jude back into the moment. She turned to see Wib at her shoulder.
“Old Wendy’s called a big meeting. We’ve had a message from Cee-Cee headquarters in Boulogne. Better come see.” She followed him into the core cabin with a heavy heart.
Glass had anchored herself to the nearby wall and the team clustered around her, likewise tethering themselves as was the custom as opposed to being able to have a sit down confab in minimal gravity.
“Reports are coming in from the OSO (orbiting solar observatory) Tereshkova that there has been a marked increase in solar flare activity over the past few days. There haven’t been any warnings issued as of yet but we have been advised to take some precautions.”
“Such as?” enquired Kristof. It must be serious for zhim to pipe up, though Jude.
“Well, readings like this often, though not always, are a precursor to a coronal mass ejection so it’s vital that we ensure that the station is as robust as possible. Wib, “she looked to the structural specialist, “you need to make sure we have optimum integrity – we can’t afford to have any tiles flying off on the budget we’re on.”
“Maxie, you and Kristof call a halt to wherever you are in the systems and inventory and concentrate on maximising our heavy shielding. I want this crate to be able to withstand whatever Sol throws at us.”
They followed Wib out of the CCM, all looking stern. As Maxie passed, he whispered to Jude “So much for my party plans.”
“Shush, you’ll be fine.” She tried to sound positive.
“Hennessey, I want you to keep track of our attitude and propulsion. I need to know that we’ll be able to hold tight but also adjust our positioning should we get the nod from the high-ups.”
“On it,” As he passed Jude, he patted her gently. “It’ll be O, Sadako. Brave heart.”
She smiled at him and he winked back.
Glass turned to her. “Ever been in a storm event Jude?” Jude shook her head.
”Not to worry. I was in one back in my days with Lovelace, en route from a research station in the Crab Nebula. Like a rough day at sea. If it comes, we just have to strap in and hold tight.”
“So what can I do to help?” asked Jude, trying to quell the uneasiness she felt in her gut.
“You and I – we’re going to build a safe zone.”