“Oops!” cried Neville. His heart leapt into his throat. He leaned forward and tapped escape. Nothing changed. He tapped backspace several times. “Oh dear,” he said.
Rochelle adjusted her underwire and turned to Neville. Her eyes flicked between Neville and the keyboard. She wrinkled her brow. “Whassamatter?”
Neville ignored Rochelle. He wiggled the mouse, then banged it on the desk. Still nothing. Neville said, “I think I just…” He puffed out his cheeks. Air escaped his lips as if from a pricked balloon. “Yeah.”
Rochelle put down her copy of Celebrity Hairstyles and followed Neville’s eyes to the overhead screen. The screen showing the moon flashed bright white, then went black. The steady chatter that had been pumping through from Lunar Lander 7 crackled, then became white noise.
“Oh, honey!” said Rochelle, pointing to the now moon-less screen that had gone black. She glanced at the other screens that still had images of orbital trajectories and other complicated spacey things, trying to puzzle out what she was no longer seeing. After a moment, she said “Honey, was that the moon?”
Neville rubbed his receding hairline with a thumb and forefinger. “Yeah.”
The phone on Neville’s desk lit up.
Rochelle glanced from Neville to the phone and back to Neville. “You better answer,” she said.
The phone rang and rang. Neville made no move to answer.
Rochelle blinked, then reached for Neville’s phone, mumbling about how she don’t play like that. She punched the speaker button.
“Neville?!” came General Nassar’s voice.
“Yeah,” said Neville, eyes shut.
“What happened to the moon?”
“Well,” said Neville. Eyes closed, Neville tapped his forehead with his middle finger. “I might have just destroyed it.”
Rochelle leaned back in her chair. She put both hands atop her head and puffed out her cheeks. Her eyes bugged out. She whistled one of those whistles that starts high and then falls in pitch.
From the speaker: silence.
Then: “What do you mean might have?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not there anymore,” said Neville. “Out there in space, I mean.”
Rochelle rapped her fingertips on the desk, and whispered, “Ho leee sshhhit.”
A nearby door opened. Boots clomped on the floor behind Neville and a pair of strong hands planted themselves on the back of his chair, rocking it backwards. Neville put his arms out for balance and found himself staring up at the broad chest and fat, upside-down face of General Nassar.
“Neville, where is my moon?” he spat.
“I think I blew it up,” said Neville.
The back of General Nassar’s hand struck Neville’s cheek, turning Neville’s head sidewise. “Whadda you mean you think you blew it up? You blow it up or not?”
“I did,” said Neville.
The General frowned. He glanced up at the screen that was black, then back down at Neville.
“Can you fix it?”
Neville shook his head. “It’s gone, sir,” said Neville.
“Whadda you mean gone? You mean like that planet in Star Wars?” said Nassar. “Alderwhatsit?”
“I think so,” said Neville.
“Oh honey!” said Rochelle, unwrapping a stick of gum and popping it in her mouth and laughing until she bounced. “That is seriously gonna mess some shit up.”
Derrick was standing nearby. No one liked Derrick – he was weird – but he had been at mission control longer than either Rochelle or Neville. He pushed his glasses up his nose with his thumb and said, “It’s okay. We don’t need it.”
“Planets need moons,” said General Nassar.
“It’s just a rock that orbits,” said Derrick. “It serves no purpose.”
“The hell it don’t,” said Rochelle.
“Tides,” said Washburn. Washburn was new, and no one knew much about him. He set down his coffee mug and flapped a pack of sugar. He tore the pack open and poured it into his coffee. He stirred his coffee with his middle finger, then popped his finger between his lips. He noticed everyone staring at him. “No moon, no tides,” he said. He didn’t realize his finger was thrusting up at everyone.
Derrick shook his head and pushed his glasses up again. “We don’t need tides.”
“The hell we don’t,” said the General, nodding to Rochelle for approval.
“Who don’t need tides?” said Rochelle.
“What I’m saying,” said Washburn, “is there are intertidal ecosystems that exist between low and high water lines, and that organisms live in them.”
“We don’t need those organisms,” said Derrick.
Washburn said, “Listen, I’m a space guy, so I don’t know. But there are intertidal ecosystems. And the biological rhythms of certain creatures correspond to a tidal cycle. So like, gestation, or egg hatching might be affected. Or the female period.”
Everyone stared at Washburn. Rochelle chortled and said, “Are you shittin’ me?”
“I would never shit on you,” said Washburn. “The menstrual cycle occurs about once per lunar month and just about corresponds to the tidal period. No pun intended.”
Rochelle laughed and rocked in her chair and fanned herself with her Celebrity Hairstyles and said, “Oh hell no!” Her ‘hell’ sounded like hail. “Somebody better put that moon back where it go, Neville.”
Neville glanced at the screen where the moon used to be. He glanced down at his lap. He picked at his fingernails. He jumped out of his chair and ran for the door.
“Oh hail no!” said Rochelle, as Neville’s chair rolled past.
The necks and heads of Washburn, Derrick, and General Nassar turned in unison, watching Neville go.
“Why ain’t y’all stoppin’ him?” said Rochelle. Neville’s chair bounced off the far wall and rolled back.
A voice crackled over the speakers as the connection with Lunar Lander 7 was reestablished. “Uh…Houston?” it said.
“Yeah,” said General Nassar.
“It’s Steve. From space?”
“Yeah,” said General Nassar.
“So, we were going to land on the moon, but uh…”
Rochelle shook her head and laughed. “Good work, y’all,” she said. “I’m going on break.”
inspired by a prompt from Sandpaper Blues