Falling Towards Jupiter

E pluribus unum
Above me Jupiter fills half the sky, his pale red spot staring at me like the eye of Zeus, his thunder bolt filling my eyes with an electric jolt as I lie on the grass in the park. Memories of summer evenings filled with the laughter of fireflies kiss me as I run through the fields at my family’s farm on Lake Cayuga in upstate New York, where I used to chase deer out of our apple orchard. I feel as though moist summer air caresses my body, tightening my heart with fear and passion as I think about my Latin teacher—as handsome and noble as a sunrise.

A couple of rich tourists look over my way in the glade, then a tall lanky man walks by, and I hear a pulse beat in the back of my mind. But I always think of this place as my park. It’s where I study. It’s where I play, letting my mind wander beyond the boundaries of school work, where I can feel blades of grass against my back, just like when I was eight. The park is big and it gives me privacy, most of the time.

I transferred here last month as a senior, leaving Earth behind. The house sold. Mother dead. I took what money was left after the funeral and hauled my ass to Jupiter Station. Space Academy Prep’s my best shot at the Academy, which I plan to enter after completing my final year of high school. My father graduated from the Academy eighteen years ago, had me right away, and then went off to pursue a career in the Galactic Fleet. I would only see him two or three times a year. My mother and aunt Jessica were the ones that really raised me. Jesse’s so cool. She went to the Academy, too, but she was kicked out after two years—something about causing a classmate’s death. When my father disappeared ten years ago, I was crushed. Jesse went off to look for him, and so I haven’t seen her in years, either. It’s like I’ve lost all of my family. My mother was still there, but she went slowly crazy and I ended up taking care of her before they decided to put her in an institution.

My room’s a steel grey drab experience. No view of the stars. No Jupiter. Certainly no trees. The park’s the only place I can find sanity in the coldness of this station. Others, like Peter, the dark-eyed wonder of the seniors at Space Academy Prep (or SAP as I like to call it) may love the white-walled rooms and not appreciate the park. Those born and raised on station never walked the grass on Earth, bare feet wet with cool morning dew, or felt the heat of the sun on the face, or the touch of snowflakes melting on cheeks like the kiss of moonlight.

All the girls want Peter.

He’s the son of the Jupiter Corporation president Mandy Driscoll. She has her hands in the politics and business practices throughout Sol System. A date with Peter would be like dating Power and Money.

But I don’t care for such things—my mind fills with Latin fantasies as my heart beats between paragraphs of The Odyssey and The History of Early Space Flight.

My dreams and fantasies have kept me going during those dark years, and when I first saw my Latin teacher, Ryan, I absolutely drooled. So confident, so suave, so grown-up. I just know that he looks at me.

All the guys do.

It’s not vanity. I’m from Earth. We Earth girls are different than station girls. I actually find Earth guys boring. I’m fascinated by the ones born in space. They’re different. Don’t have the same points of reference about Earth: the wind, the sea, the sky. They look to the steel cold walls of starships and space stations or domed cities (like those on Mars) as the extent of their horizons. Fascinating. But I know that nothing beats good old Mother Earth. The womb of humanity. Without her, what would life be like? And Davey, the love of my life, is just so adorable, because he’s from Earth and from space. He has the best of both worlds.

I imagine his fingers sliding through my hair like the caress of summer evenings on a lake as the sky flickers with the fire of night in the midnight darkness. His kiss a touch of dew drops on rose petals warmed by the morning sun. I think it’s really a fantasy of missing Earth. And he has such a passion for the early history of the United States—before the formation of United Earth. He’s fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson: “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.” He told me that when he saw me sitting in the park one day. I wanted to fall down into his blue eyes and let him envelop my body.

“Hi, Katie.” Here he was again, like a dream wish.

Oh, God, did he see me? I sit on my hands, moistening with sweat. His deep voice washes through me as smooth as a dark orchid.

“Hi, Ryan.” My face flushes.

“You should call me Mr. Thomson.”

“I like Ryan better.” He smiles slightly, but then frowns, as if he is pleased to hear that, but guilty at the same time. He’s mine. . . . I kiss him softly on the mouth, my tongue circling his lips, moistening them. He tastes like summer afternoons in a forest of pines after a rain shower.

“But it’s more appropriate to call me Mr. Thomson. I’m your teacher, not one of your buddies.”

“Sure, Mr. Thomson. Anything you say.” My tongue slides in between his lips and into his mouth tasting him like the distant memories of Earth as my hands slide through his hair as soft as night.

“What are you working on? Your Latin?”

“Yeah. I’m translating, E Pluribus Unum.” I’ve got to stop this. But all I can think about is my hands sliding down his back as my mouth slips down past his chin and I nuzzle his neck, my tongue tasting his pulsing skin, salty with sweat like we’re on a beach filled with warm evening air. Do all girls have such fantasies? Is it just me?

“What do you think it means?”

He’s so unromantic. So uncooperative. My fantasy shatters as the orbit of the station takes us to the dark side of Jupiter. The lights come on in the park as night falls about us. “I don’t know.”

“That’s not an answer.”

I can’t even think with him standing this close to me. “Umm,” I look into his eyes. I know exactly what it means, but all I do is look as stupid as a newborn fawn, legs stepping hesitantly on dewy grass, eyes looking up with wonder at the world around her. He must think I’m one of those pretty girls with no brains. Probably wondering how I made the cut to get into SAP. Or he thinks it’s my father’s influence. He graduated the head of his class at the Academy. Or maybe it’s pity. The poor lonely daughter who’s mother went crazy and killed herself—and her father gone missing in the vast depths of the Frontier.

“From the many, one,” Ryan answers.

Shit. Why does he do that. I deserved the answer, but why does his voice sound so damn sexy. “Yes, I know. I mean. Well. It pops up on the U.E. credit screens every time you make a transaction.”

“Before that, it was on United States currency. On two cent coins in 1782 and on the back of paper currency in 1956. Before the Space Age and even before the Digital Age. What do you think it means?”

I stand up, as if I’m giving a presentation in class. I look pass him, kicking all distracting thoughts out of my head. Automatic reflex in my attempt to graduate top of my class, just like my father. “Well, there’s a unity in diversity. Maybe from us we can hold U.E. together, no matter what the challenge.” He smiles a little—I would do anything for that smile, that warmth that lances through me like Zeus’ thunder bolt.

“You got it.” He stands there, about to turn away, to continue his stroll, but he looks at me, starts to say something, then stops. I just stare into his eyes. “Katie, as the negotiations break down and war may happen, just remember these wise words of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States. He spoke them during his Presidential Inaugural address over nine hundred years ago: ‘May that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.’

“Remember, your father sacrificed himself in service to United Earth.”

I just love it when he quotes Old Earth. It’s like he’s giving me the past and present at the same time. Something lost. Something inexplicably valuable. Tears trickle from my eyes and down my face. It happens every time anyone mentions my father.

Ryan leans over and hugs me. There’s no one to hold me anymore. I feel his arms around me, filling me with warmth. It’s the only way I can get him to touch me. He pulls away and walks down the path as I lean back on the bench, my fingers sliding down my jeans, my secret protected by the shadow side of Jupiter. Lightening flashes in the dark clouds above me. Zeus is angry. Or he’s in the heat of desire. I can’t tell which anymore.