Excerpts from Dry Land
The wind kicked up, howling, pounding against my visor, my helmet. It pummeled me, the air pressure coming at me like fierce punches, throwing itself against my shoulder, my back, my legs, and I screamed against it.
I slapped the activator on my thigh, springing the climb spikes out of the bottom of my boots, the rock claws from the ends of my gloves. I gripped onto a nearby rock, digging in, hanging on for dear life as the wind, the disappearance of the air pressure and the atmosphere, its dissipation, free of the artificial gravity, whipped violently into space.
I lost my footing. I slipped, the spike lifting up and out of the dry, craggy soil, and my feet whipped up, tipping me into an involuntary handstand. The sucking air pulled and tugged at me, trying with seeming desperation to take me with it, to expel me from the surface… to chew me up and spit me out into the void.
I growled, deep and harsh in my throat, mustering up every ounce of strength I had… every fibre of my body, every nerve, every muscle focused down, down, sending power and effort and mass into my fingers.
My fingers. My lifeline. The only things holding me in place. Keeping me from death, or worse… a lifetime, an immortal lifetime floating about in space. I shook the thought away… there was no time for fanciful nightmares, no time for this… no time for this… not while all oxygen, all hydrogen was being flushed away… all gasses separating, curving and dancing and rising with rainbow colours in a sinister ballet… leaving… leaving… leaving the moon.
I passed by Codie’s quarters on the way back to mine. Finding her door slightly ajar, I pressed my flat hand against the panel, opening it the rest of the way.
She sat at her workstation, her back to me. Her body was straight, arms at a perfect ninety-degree angle before her, feet planted firmly on the floor. “Codie?”
“Download complete,” she said, her voice flat, even, perhaps a bit mechanical. “Disconnecting from cross-link neural server in five, four, three, two, one, disconnecting now.” She lifted her hand from the worktop in a sharp movement, the fingers curling into a fist.
Codie brought that hand to her face, working the fingers open and closed, open and closed, open and closed as if she was re-learning the workings of her body.
She looked down, splaying a hand over her chest, turned again and studied her other hand. “Brilliant,” she whispered.
I leaned against the doorframe, crossing my arms over my chest, and my feet beneath me. “What’s brilliant?” I asked, nonchalantly. “What’cha doing there?”
She gasped, obviously startled. She stood, quickly, braced her hands against the back of her chair and stared, bug-eyed at me. “Oh,” she intoned. “Oh my. Oh my God,” she moaned, her hand clapped to her mouth.
“Codie, what is it, what’s wrong?”
Her lips pulled into a curving bow, opening up to a full-teethed-open-mouthed-tongue-poking out smile, her eyes sparkling and dancing with a happiness and mirth I’d never seen on her face.
“Codie?” I repeated.
She strode toward me, her arms opened wide, and when she reached me, she nearly collided into me. She pressed her cheek against my chest, her arms curled round and squeezing hard against my middle. She hummed in pleasure, her fingers digging into the flesh of my back, hanging on to my body like she would drown and I was her lifeline…
“Oh… oh Ted.”
We’d stepped off the Liberty in the midst of the Sea of Tranquility; the same place Armstrong had landed on the lunar surface hundreds of years ago. Only this time, we’d stepped out in our shirtsleeves, puff-jackets, trousers and shoes; and we’d walked normally, not bunny-hopped like Armstrong did.
Reactivating the robots, the 3D printers, and the ectypes at the base was a simple task with Codie on board. We had to take all electronically driven equipment and personnel offline before the atmospheric generators could be activated — otherwise, with the early gases, one tiny spark could have equaled a big boom, no more moon.
I stared amazed as Codie simply walked up to the ectype in charge as he sat still, motionless and blank at his station at the command console, touched her finger to 9-Theo’s temple, and like magic, the man snapped awake. He stood up immediately, saluted Hawkeye and myself, and handed over command of the lunar base.
“I take it the atmospheric generators worked successfully, sir?” Theo observed, stomping his feet gleefully against the lunar-aggregate floor. “We have external gravity now. This is brilliant!”
“And air,” I pointed out.
Theo shrugged, giving me a tight-lipped, mirthless grin. “Yes, air. That’s nice.”
“Something doesn’t seem right,” I shook my head.
“You said he was hit… that… that his visor was hit. This break… it’s on the top of the helmet, not the visor.”
Codie turned around and grasped the less-damaged helmet, the one with the thin crack starting at the forehead, spidering out and running down the length of the glass. A mere pattern of splits, enough to release a bit of pressure and oxygen — perhaps to kill, perhaps not. She set the helmet on her lap and slapped her hands on top of it.
“His visor -was- hit.”
I looked from the quite utterly decimated helmet in my lap to the merely damaged one in hers.
“But I don’t….”
“This, Ted,” she pointed to the helmet perched on her legs, “this was his, and that,” she tapped the one on mine, “that one was yours.”
I twisted my body around, easing back on the suit’s throttle, and watched, with a combination of fascination, awe, and abject terror as Liberty coasted in its lower orbit away from us.
I stayed there for a long moment, my arms waving as if I were swimming, treading water in the wide oceans of space. The Earth curved beneath me in a striking parabolic arc, the whites of the clouds and the blue of the oceans, the greens and browns of the land, and the purplish mist of the stratosphere simply drawing out the deepest awe within me; taking my breath away in a metaphorical sense.
We passed over Europe. I caught sight of England, and gasped. I always did. Couldn’t help myself.
The moon lay behind me, immense, bright, shining silver and grey and white; the faintest rainbow of sunlight shimmering at its north polar region.
This was, and always has been, the most beautiful thing mankind could ever see, and I was blessed and deeply honoured to be able to see it.
“Singh to Hardiston,” Jeremiah said. “It’s weird out here, isn’t it?”
“I think it lovely,” I replied. “If I had the time and the means I’d float out here as long as possible. Maybe forever, if I could.”
“You’re an odd fucking bird, Shakespeare.”
“You’re only noticing that now, Singh?” I laughed. “Engage your thrusters, friend, we’ve a moon to transform.”