The Curse at Earthrise

 


Two years into the curse, Jack Tenner woke up naked and covered in blood and loose hair and vowed that somehow, this would end. He was an on-line serial writer and, once a month, a werewolf. So he decided to gamble. Move and work on the moon, and see if the curse would be short-circuited.

Not quite a month after his last transformation, Jack Tenner was taking the 6:06 p.m. TransMcDonaldTransWorld Commuter Rocket right out of Midwest Launch Complex Central, located on the outskirts of the Turner/Trump Urbanplex, just twenty-five minutes from his apartment - his old apartment.

He had boarded just after nervously casting an eye at the sky, although a new full moon wasn't coming for a few days.

He had sent most of his possessions ahead on a previous flight. The remainder of his possessions were in the luggage compartment.

After the craft escaped Earth's gravity, the passengers could, if they wished, travel around the interior, provided they used the maneuvering handles that were everywhere in order to make their way through zero gravity.

Tenner was just considering getting up and making his way to the observation deck, when an attractive, albeit pale woman floated by, her slender hands smoothly working the maneuvering handles. She stopped and looked at Jack.

Not bad, Jack thought looking her over. Probably a little too interested in abstract gene sculptures and spontaneous poetry, but probably easy to get along with it. "Are you going to stay?" She had some sort of European accent.

"Excuse me?" Jack asked.

The woman pointed at Jack's breast pocket. Snugly tucked in to that pocket so it wouldn't float out of his coat Jack had his blue and black NEW RESIDENT pass. "Are you going to stay?"

"Uh, yes. One of those new apartments in Vesco Towers. My name is Jack Tenner, by the way."

"Natasha Gorsky."

"Would you like to join me on the observation deck?"

She was, she told him, a research scientist, although she was a little vague on the details. She asked about him, information he was happy to reveal. She wasn't a fan of the on-line serials, a fact that genuinely didn't bother him. "Really? They aren't for everyone, you know," he told Natasha Gorsky. And he told her all the central facts of his life, except the werewolf curse.

At one point Natasha looked dreamily out of the observation window. "How did it go? 'That's one small step for man . . . ' Uh . . . "

"' . . . And one giant leap for mankind,'"Jack said, finishing the Armstrong quote.

 

"I've often wondered what we really bring and leave when we off-world. You know what I mean?"

She wasn't looking at him when she asked. After a moment he said, "No. I'm not sure I do."

"When Europeans came to North America to settle, did they think everything would be perfect in the new life, the New World? Was there a lingering disappointment, over the centuries, that it wasn't paradise?"

"Paradise . . . " Jack rolled the word and its meaning around in his mind as he said it out loud.

"I don't know if anyone seriously ever expects to find paradise. Nobody sane, anyway. Not this side of death. It's more something that we aim for. Aiming for it makes life worth living, I guess." Christ, what did he know? He wasn't a philosopher.

"And what of Hell, Mr. Tenner?" And now she turned and looked directly at him. "Does any sane person expect to find Hell, this side of death?"

He said, "I'd like to see you again."

"Certainly," she said sounding like the idea of at least one date had occurred to her first. Who knew? Maybe it had.

"Where are you staying on the moon?"

She started floating away from him. "I will find you, Jack Tenner." She smiled at him over her shoulder. "Let's see how well the scientist and the artist get along, shall we?"

"I'm hardly an 'artist,'" Tenner said under his breath, after Natasha had floated down a corridor back to the passenger compartments.

They didn't see each other again for the rest of the two-day journey. Class A (Jack) passengers on these rocket flights rarely, if ever, mixed with others. Natasha Gorsky exploring the rest of the rocket flight, including Class A, he considered a happy accident.

After he settled into his new home and new work routine he marked off the hours.

The day quickly came when, if he was still back on Earth, he would change again. He rented a space suit, and a surface rover, and drove far off into the unsettled territories.

He parked by a particularly large crater and waited.

Another figure in a space suit came out over the top of the crater, a woman, Natasha.

"Natasha," he said over the helmet's radio.

"I said we would meet again, Jack," she replied over her suit's radio. She climbed into the rover, sitting close to him.

Jack glanced at the watch he wore over the suit's left wrist. Fifteen minutes, if he had the math right. "Uh, Natasha, maybe you shouldn't be here now. It might not be exactly . . . "

Before he could say "safe" she leaned her head closer to him, scraping her faceplate up against his. "What's it like, Jack? To go from normal, so called, to the beast? I mean, how much do you remember, when you come back from being different?"

"How - how did you know?"

"Because like seeks out like," she said.

"You mean you're also a . . . "

"Not exactly like, Jack. Just like." She paused. "I want you to do me a favor. I want you to look very carefully into my mouth." She opened her mouth wide.

Jack felt stupid, but he did as he was told. Hmmm. Her teeth looked unusually sharp and . . . fangs? Then she was . . .

In a few seconds he realized his mouth was hanging open in surprise.

"Don't look so dumbfounded, Jack. Since you're a werewolf, and you're real, how big of a leap of faith does it take accept that I'm a vampire?"

"What's going on? What do you want? If you wanted to feed off me, there are plenty of places in Luna City's domes and corridors where you can get away with just about anything."

"I'm not that type of vampire, Jack. It's a physical condition, not a moral one. I've always tried to find someone who humanity could do without. If I'm lucky, I find a rapist, or murderer, or a pedophile. Sometimes I just have to settle for a man who beats his wife. However, some of the undead are Jack the Ripper types." She shuddered at the thought of it. "They feed off anybody, especially the innocent, and always make it slow and painful."

"I still don't know what you want." He looked at his watch again.

"It's not going to happen, Jack."

He looked at her with his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "How do you know?"

"Because that's the way it works with the other werewolves who have come to the moon."

"The other werewolves?"

She smiled. "You've led a very sheltered life, haven't you?"

"Then I'm cured! I'm free!" He tried to leap out of the surface rover and do a little dance but she easily held him in the vehicle.

"No, Jack. You aren't free. You're hiding."

"Hiding from what, Natasha?"

"The mess back on Earth. The mess that needs to be cleaned up."

"Are vampires still vampires on the moon?"

"Yes. Have you ever heard of - "

Jack interrupted. "Does that make any sense? I mean, if the werewolf curse is neutralized . . . "

She put a hand on his lap. "Try and pay attention. There's something going on here that you're already involved with and you don't know any of the details. The others want you informed, now."

"Who are 'the others'?"

"Have you ever heard of the Prometheus Club?"

"I've heard of Prometheus. A Titan from Greek myth. He gave humans the ability to walk upright, and fire. Zeus chained him to a rock, to be tormented by an eagle, but he finally was freed by Hercules." Even through the transparent faceplate of her pressure suit's helmet, Natasha Gorsky's glare was clear and annoyed. "Uh, sorry," Jack went one on. "You probably already knew about Prometheus."

"Vampires and werewolves on the side of the good guys, that's how we think of ourselves, Jack. Know the real reason for the name?"

"Nope," Jack said. He had a few guesses but he decided it was time to be little more humble.

"We think all the old myths and legends about gods, goddesses, all that junk, they aren't symbols or metaphors for anything. All those myth characters were beings like us, Jack. And over the years, the stories about them got twisted into myths."

"Interesting theory."

"It's a little more than interesting to a friend of mine who claims to have been the original Thor."

Jack Tenner asked, "Natasha what do you - you and the Prometheus Club - want from me?"

She leaned back, but seemed to hold him to his spot with her unbreaking gaze. "Join us."

"Join you to do what?"

"To bring down the Federation of Market Republics."

He stared at her. "HA!" She frowned at him, but he that didn't touched him. "Even if I have this werewolf curse in check, I still have plenty of other problems. But it would be madness to want to do away with the FMR. My God, that's like wanting to shut down Paradise!"

She got out of the rover. "Paradise, huh? You know. The Prometheus Club is made up of Unaffiliated Citizens. That's the category all the supernaturally damned fall under -- except you, Jack."

"Goody," Jack said with a bored sigh. "Now that both teams are so clearly marked you can go ask somebody else to play revolutionary with you."

"Not as clearly marked at all that. Some of the supernaturally damned have become enforcers for the FMR. Not that the World Managers in Seattle would ever let Unaffiliated Citizens have all the privileges of Registered Independent Professionals, but some people have always liked wearing chains if it means they get to eat in the house with the master."

And two men stepped out from behind the crater: one tall and the other short, and the tall one's pressure suit obviously didn't quite fit. The plasti-extender sections clashed in their bright green with the dull gray white of the rest of the tall man's suit.

The short one talked first, but his voice radio wasn't quite tuned in properly. As static rattled in the helmets of all of those present, the little man adjusted a knob near his neckline. "Hello. Hello. Yes, that's better. So. Hello."

"Hello," Jack said, his customary shyness with strangers kicking in.

"Greetings," Natasha said with caution in her voice.

The tall guy didn't seem like he was going to say anything. I wonder who these guys are, thought Jack.

"Remember us?" The little man went on. "Mr. Tenner?"

"Sure," Jack said. "You two were hanging around the rover rental kiosk."

The little man said, "Yes and my tall friend and I here thought a little surface stroll might be interesting. You know, before the rocket back home. It has a haunting beauty out here, don't you think?"

"Well, I -" Jack started to say.

The little man interrupted. "Nice to walk out here. Or talk. I guess you two were talking."

"Uh, sure. After a fashion," Jack said.

Natasha, like the tall man, seemed to have tuned into a wavelength of watchful silence.

"About what, I wonder? I guess out here a . . . uh . . . poet, yeah, a poet or whatever talks about, you know, girlfriend/boyfriend things."

Natasha said. "You mean 'love,' short stuff?"

"Natasha - don't be rude to these two! We just met them and - "

"Ask him how he knew your name, Jack."

"What?"

"He said, 'remember us, Mr. Tenner?' How did he know?"

Jack tapped his helmet, reflecting, said after a few seconds, "I guess I mentioned it to the man at the rover rental kiosk."

"And have you ever heard of the Prometheus Club, Mr. Jack Tenner, sir?" the little man asked.

Jack, through his rented pressure suit, shrugged, suddenly feeling maybe he shouldn't be completely open with this man.

"A shrug," the little man said. "I wish that was good enough."

Jack Tenner sat up straighter. "That's too bad for you if it is!" Jack's voice was getting loud and high and his helmet mike couldn't quite take it. Feedback wails bounced among the helmets of everybody there. Everybody swayed and staggered a bit from the sound of it.

The little man said, "We've been keeping tabs on you, Mr. Jack Tenner. And we needed you to say no to her." He unzipped a pocket on the right leg of his pressure suit, and took out a dull gray Christian cross. He snapped the hand holding it up and out, toward Natasha who cringed from the sight of it. The little man turned to his tall companion. "Kill him. Drain him dry."

The tall man came toward Jack -- and the tall man was taking off his own pressure suit helmet while he was doing this. He should have started dying right then and there from the simple lack of oxygen.

But vampires, apparently, didn't need air. The tall man opened his mouth wide, revealing large yellow fangs.

Jack Tenner held up his hand. "OK, gentlemen. Very good. You both passed. Headquarters will be pleased."

The tall vampire stopped his approach and glanced over at the short man, who now had Natasha Gorsky curled up in a ball. The short man exchanged puzzled looks with his companion. Natasha raised her head and looked over at Jack.

"You two didn't know about the emergency spot check, huh? What's you're security rating?" he asked the short man.

"Level 4."

"Ah, then you must report to . . . "

"My Level 5 Supervisor, of course."

"Well, those of us in Level 6, including myself and Miss Gorsky, have to keep FMR Security on its toes." The short man began to lower the cross he was holding. "And another thing," Jack went on. "I'm going to have a talk with your Level 5 man and recommend that you both receive - "

Jack gunned the rover forward, almost running over the toes of the startled tall vampire, but hitting the short man with the vehicle who flew up and far away, and the cross flew out of his hand. "YOUR MOVE, NATASHA," Jack shouted.

The tall vampire turned toward Natasha who was heading toward him. Both of these members of the undead bared their fangs and a red hue flooded their eyes. Just as she was getting to her opponent she unzipped a pocket in her pressure suit, took out what was clearly a wooden stake, and plunged it into the tall vampire's chest. She withdrew her weapon, and her opponent dropped, in low-gravity motion, to the ground and was still.

"NATASHA, HE'S - "

She spun towards the short man who was back now and rushing for battle with his own wooden stake in one hand and a large dagger in the other. She easily made her way around him. He couldn't move fast enough to keep her in front of himself. She grabbed the helmet on his pressure suit, cracked it with unnatural strength, and as he thrashed in his death agonies, quickly got her helmet off, her fangs at full extension, grabbed his head and shoulders, and sunk deep into his neck.

" - BEHIND YOU." Guess she figured that out, Jack Tenner thought. He watched Natasha Gorsky feed of the FMR Security man. He looked at the dead, tall vampire. What did he just get involved in?

"Meditation techniques?" Jack Tenner asked later.

"Yes. We have somebody you can train with. After ten months you'll be able to go back to Earth, go through the transformation, but still keep your conscious mind."

There were in an open-all-night tavern, three corridors away from his apartment. Natasha had paid no attention to Jack's questions about what-happens-when-the-bodies-are-discovered, except to express amusement about Luna City authorities finding a body that had been dead for years, but with wounds only a few hours old.

Jack Tenner moved the small bowl of complimentary neopluscaffine pills to the edge of their corner table. "And then do what, Natasha? Drop in on one of the World Managers on a full moon night in Seattle and make him my late night snack?"

She threw back her long dark hair; sat up straighter and looked down her sharp nose at him. "The Prometheus Club was willing to give you a choice, Jack. Not FMR Security, you didn't say yes to us - but you didn't say no. For those FMR enforcers, that was saying yes."

"Yeah. I noticed that."

"And FMR Security HQ will have you marked down as being on our team."

"So if I want to survive, I have to play along, huh?" She grabbed his hand.

"You're hurting my hand, Natasha. Some of us at this table aren't an undead super woman."

"You don't think they are all that bad, do you? FMR Central and the World Managers?"

"No."

"You don't know the whole story."

"Tell me, if you want me to play revolutionary with any enthusiasm."

She was silent for a moment.

"The Prometheus Club has information that FMR Central is a month away from contacting an intelligent civilization from another galaxy." She paused. "Do you want FMR Central in charge of humanity when that happens, Jack?"

"So by not saying no, I picked the 'good guy' monsters instead of the 'bad guy' monsters. Some choice!"

"Take it from someone who has been around for seven centuries, Jack: That's a better choice than most people ever get."

The End