Not Today – A Short Story

Nancy would normally never have said anything, never have interfered. Not today. When Mary emerged from the back room, her right eye freshly blackened for what had to be the hundredth time, Nancy could have remained silent. She always had before, but not today. In front of dozens of others who had also never spoken up, Nancy strode over to Mary’s husband, ‘Butch’ Braggan, and shoved a calloused finger under the abusive man’s nose. Nancy snarled in a far more aggressive tone than she had ever been heard to use before, “You ever lay a hand on her again, Butch, and I’ll cut it off and beat you to death with it!”

Everyone was startled. None of the witnesses had ever dared cross Butch. He was feared not only in this colony, but across the whole of Titan. Truth be told, Butch was held in uneasy regard by the other colonies of the Saturn system as well, such was the spread of his fearsome reputation. There was no meaner man this side of the solar system, and his customers and neighbors alike tread lightly in his presence. They stared at Nancy with equal parts respect and wonder.

Mary was startled, as no one had stood up for her in a very long time. She had never stood up for herself, cowed as she was by her aggressive husband. She had married him out of fear for what he would do if she refused. She had stayed married to him out of fear that what he did do was nothing compared to what he would do if she tried to leave. She stared at Nancy with nervous apprehension, both for what would inevitably happen to Nancy and for what she feared would happen to her as her cruel husband would assuredly take some of his revenge on her.

Butch Braggan was startled. No one talked to him that way! He would have to beat this fool to death for this! She had not touched him physically, but the blow to his honor could not be tolerated. Men feared him for good reason, after all. He stared at Nancy with a mixture of shock and vile hatred.

Before Butch could respond, with word or fist, Nancy turned and strode out of the store. She had said what she had meant to say, and to stay any longer would offer Butch a chance to start the fight there, and that would spoil Nancy’s plan. Nancy did in fact have a plan. As Nancy walked swiftly, but with a dignity and fury that belayed the assumption that she was fleeing, she could hear Butch come charging out of the store, swearing and cursing and calling her a coward. Butch did not pursue her, stopping just beyond the awning of his store as he hurled threats and invectives at the back of his retreating adversary.

Nancy, though she was sorely tempted to, did not stop, did not turn, and did not respond. Normally, she would endeavor to defend her own honor, and stand up for herself publicly. Not today. She knew that Butch would not be capable of letting this go, so Nancy did not need to confront him now. She needed Butch to come after her for her plan to work. Soon, the sound of the furious bully faded to a low dull echo as Nancy made her way to the edge of the colony.

When she reached the airlock on the eastern wall, Nancy greeted the clerk there, “Evenin’ George.”

George, whom Nancy had known for years, regarded her as if he were looking at a horse who had grown a human for a head, saying slowly, “You feeling alright today, Nancy?”

Nancy replied as she set her claim ticket down on the counter, “Never better. I need my suit.”

George raised an eyebrow quizzically as he retrieved the space pilot’s pressure suit and handed it to her, saying, “I just got a call from Mabel, from over at the store. She says you called out Butch. Is that true?”

Nancy carefully checked over her suit. She trusted George implicitly. George had never let her down as long as Nancy had known him, but she always checked her suit thoroughly. Only a fool would not personally guarantee the safety of a pressure suit before donning it. As she did, she offered a paltry reply to her friend, “Yep.”

George let out a low whistle. The classic low whistle that indicated awe and disbelief at another’s foolhardy bravado. George followed up this obligatory whistle with an obvious statement, “You’re a dead woman if you stay here.”

Nancy finished examining her suit and nodded in satisfaction. The nod served equally well as agreement with her friend’s assessment. She verbalized her consensus, “Yep. Need my suit.”

As Nancy put on her pressure suit, George struggled briefly to contain his desire to continue his commentary, and lost, “Normally I’d give you grief for turning tail and running, but damn, Nancy! You crossed Butch!”

“Yep.”

“You know what happened to the last person who stood up to him!”

“Yep.”

George ignored Nancy’s acknowledgment and proceeded to remind his friend, “Last time someone got between Butch and poor Mary, was that miner, what was his name?”

“Abdul.”

“That’s right. Abdul, fresh in from Io, as I recall. Abdul saw Butch slap Mary, and up and slugged him! Next day, no one could find the poor bastard. Never have found the body.”

“Nope.”

George seemed oblivious that Nancy had been present for the events he had just recounted, or chose to act so. Grimacing and shaking his head he held out a hand to Nancy, “Here’s hoping you fare better, old friend.”

Nancy finished zipping up the last seam of her suit, and took the proffered hand, saying as they shook, “Goodbye, George. When Butch comes through, don’t try to stop him.”

George visibly blanched, replying shakily, “He’s coming through here?”

Nancy nodded as she settled her helmet over her head, “Should be here any minute now. Don’t interfere. Let him through.”

George shook his head, stating, “I’m no hero! But he’s gonna kill you!”

Nancy paused before setting the helmet down into its seal to grin and say, “Nope.”

________

 

Nancy reached her ship, parked several leagues outside of the colony proper, near the mining facility where she had made her last delivery of equipment. The facility, comprised of two shaft entrances, multiple equipment sheds, and several mechanical structures, was closed down and secured for the biweekly dark period. Whenever Titan went behind Saturn and the light of the sun failed to reach the surface, the resulting deep chill made working on the exposed surface difficult, and no one cared to work in the shafts themselves without support personnel on the surface above to aide them in case of emergency.

Titan was already starting to enter twilight as Nancy opened the outer airlock hatch to her ship, the diffused light of the atmosphere dulling as it slowly shifted to gray. Twilight on Titan lasted for hours as the moon slowly swung around its massive parent. Nancy could not see the mighty ringed planet above, not really. Sure, there was sometimes a brighter spot in the sky, but it was barely distinguishable from large bright clouds.

Once through the airlock, Nancy quickly started up the pre-launch sequence. She did not take off her suit. Usually, this was the first task after entering the ship, so as to avoid possible damage to it, and because it was entirely unnecessary and cumbersome to wear the pressure suit inside the ship. Not today. Today she left it on, helmet and all. She did, however, swap out the air tank on her back, even though the tank she was replacing was still more than half full.

This done, and her ship humming steadily as it worked through the routine system checks to make sure it was ready to leave the moon’s surface, Nancy returned to the airlock. Cycling it back to the higher pressure of Titan’s atmosphere, Nancy pressed up against the outer hatch and slid down until she was well below the plastic window. Now in position, she waited.

Minutes passed inexorably. Nancy was a patient woman, as any space pilot had to be, and was not bothered by the tedium. She waited calmly, her focused attention on the light coming through the window. The twilight gray orange glow of Titan was steady. Then it dimmed suddenly and the handle to the hatch clicked.

Nancy braced herself against the side of the airlock and kicked the hatch hard with both feet. It slammed with great force into something on the other side and a shout of pain was heard. Nancy kicked again, but this time the hatch met no resistance, and slammed open into the side of the ship. There was a man in a pressure suit sprawled out on the ground some seven feet from the hatch. The low gravity of Titan had lent great distance to the man’s backward flight.

Nancy got up and quickly walked over to Butch, for that was the man on the ground, as he tried to recover his wits. Nancy reached down past Butch’s helmet and grabbed the air hose at the back. Placing a foot on his shoulder, she yanked hard, and the hose resisted. Butch, still dazed but instinctively aware he was in danger, clawed awkwardly at Nancy’s booted foot. Nancy ignored this and yanked harder at the hose, straining with the force. A terrifying hiss erupted as the helmet end of the hose dislodged, breaking its seal. The air in Butch’s suit was not escaping, the one way valve in his helmet ensured that, but the air from the tank on his back was now rapidly venting into the atmosphere.

Butch grabbed desperately at the hose, but Nancy prevented him as she stepped off of Butch’s shoulder and marched toward the mining facility, dragging Butch along by the hose as she went. In this manner, Nancy kept the hose dislodged and Butch off his feet, as her opponent never gained the leverage necessary to scramble up. Bypassing the buildings of the facility, Nancy marched steadily out into the open plains of Titan. She kept going, ignoring the struggles and tirade of her foe.

Nancy stopped only when she could no longer hear the hiss of escaping air from the hose. Venting as it had been, the tank had quickly run out, while the air in Butch’s suit must also be close to exhaustion. Planting her feet and leaning forward as she stopped, Nancy heaved and threw Butch forward and beyond her. Butch sailed and tumbled like a tumbleweed in the low gravity. Nancy did not waste time watching him land and hurried back toward her ship as fast as she could. Back at the ship, she spotted a crowbar lying near the airlock. Concluding that Butch had brought this to force his way into the ship in case Nancy had locked the hatch, as one normally would have done, Nancy took the time to retrieve it.

Once inside and with the airlock starting to cycle, Nancy did lock the hatch. The air pressure outside would have sufficed to keep the hatch in place, now that she had Butch’s crowbar safely inside with her, but she was not planning on staying in the atmosphere. The whine of the fans and pumps was winding down when a shadow fell across the window once more. The hapless figure outside pounded on the airlock hatch with all his might, alternating between begging for mercy and threatening the most vile and horrific acts if he were not let in.

Nancy calmly turned her back to the exterior hatch and entered her ship. Making her way to the pilot’s chair, she sat down. After checking the report of the pre-launch sequence to assure herself that all was in order, Nancy pushed the booster ignition button. A dull rumble vibrated the craft as the lifting thruster lit off. Slowly at first, then with unfaltering acceleration, Nancy’s ship rose through Titan’s atmosphere.

As the haze dropped away below and the beauty and majesty of the glorious rings of Saturn took form in front of her, Nancy gave the briefest of thought to what she had just done. Normally, Nancy was not a violent woman. Normally, she believed all issues could be resolved through peaceful means, given enough time. Normally, she would have endeavored to find a way, any way, to deal with Butch differently. Not today. Today Nancy was headed home to Earth, and was never returning again.

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