Tuesday has come, so it must be time for another action-packed episode of…
Earthian! Today, we’re getting a new set of clothes and going on a field trip!
If you’re just joining us, you can catch up on the story of Jason Yun and his adventures in space right here at Oktopod.
“Good morning, peacekeepers!”
It’s the sixteenth day of training at Valiant Base, and the gym is a little different today. I’ve just arrived through the archway, and out in the middle of the room is a strange contraption shaped like a jellyfish-themed carousel. It has a big trunk, a blobby top, and six tendrils that each hold a spacesuit.
There’s no mistaking what they are; they look pretty much like old suits from the ’60s, but made of some smooth and dully gleaming polyplasmer. My teammates and I step forward, and I can see curving designs etched into the surface; a few steps closer still and I can tell it’s made of small tiles.
The gloves are bulky, blocky, with palms shaped strangely like dinner rolls. There are blue accents everywhere except the facemask, which instead looks like it’s coated in copper. I’m wondering what low-budget spy movie the suit escaped from… but at the same time, I really want to try it on.
“It’s finally time to introduce you to the most important and indispensable tool in your coming travels. We call it a spacesuit.”
Spacesuit! I totally called it.
“Wait,” I say. “Is that seriously what it’s called? No clever codename? No hyper-spaghetti funnel cone armor?”
“It’s a spacesuit,” Owijer says. “What other name would it need?”
“I don’t…” I stutter. “But the…”
Alejandra punches my shoulder. “Why are you asking for more gibberish, Jace?”
She’s not wrong. What else can I do but laugh?
Owijer says, “Now, now… do any of you know why your spacesuit is so important?”
Adia squints. “Well, we’ll be travelling through space,” she says, and Owijer’s eyes perk up. She adds, “It’s a safety precaution in case anything goes wrong?”
Owijer wraps the tips of his arm-tentacles together like fingers and says, “The many worlds of the Star League are incredibly diverse, supporting life-forms as you’ve never imagined… but these many planets don’t often support the same life-forms.”
That makes sense. I mean, animals on Earth have enough trouble surviving outside their own habitat. More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, full of life that we have to look at through safety windows. It’s hard to imagine an alien world that wouldn’t kill us.
“The races of the League use a variety of methods to survive on otherwise inhospitable worlds, but mostly… we all wear spacesuits.”
“All the time?” Cam asks in a sharp edged voice.
Owijer says, “For many, yes. There are usually places where you can strip your suit off: homes and guest lodgings, things like that… but for safety, many remain in their suits all the time.”
“Ew,” Victor says. “That’s unhygienic.”
“No, no, they’re self-cleaning,” Owijer says defensively. “It’s all safe and healthy, I promise. It’s common, everyday technology.”
I’m sure there are dozens of questions left, but I don’t need to know anything else. I want to put this dang thing on, so I just start walking. Luckily, Owijer doesn’t seem to mind.
When I get to the carousel, I set my vegaray down on the floor, then turn one of the suits around and tug lightly at the material until it splits apart. The small tiles on the surface are shiny like jewelry, shimmering like a snake’s scales, and the effect is so cool that I’m struggling to tear my eyes off it.
The inside is padded like an expensive car, all plush and warm. I climb in without a second thought and the suit seals itself back up, then the interior adjusts. It’s like having ants climb all over my body for a second, then it’s gone and I’m comfy. Really, really comfy.
The suit may look like something you’d find in a children’s hamburger meal, but it moves and flexes like a slightly thick layer of skin. Mostly, I’m shocked at how much I can feel through it; the texture of the gloves, the slight ridge on the floor tiles, the very subtle breeze in the room.
I pop a quick handstand, and by the time I’m back on my feet, I’ve practically forgotten I’m wearing much of anything at all. “Come on in!” I shout. “The water’s fine!”
The group walks over to join me, while I continue to jump, skip, flip, and roll.
Adia looks at Owijer with a puzzled look on her face. “Why aren’t you wearing a suit?”
Owijer smiles and says, “Who said I’m not?”
I glance around at my teammates, and puzzled faces are apparently all the rage these days.
“Suits like yours are impractical for my kind,” he goes on. “We’re much too flexible, so we use a nearly-invisible polyplasmer membrane.”
“So cool,” I say. “Can I have one?”
“Eh,” Owijer replies. “We’ve tested the technology on other species, but they always find it kind of disgusting.”
Yeah, I can see that. If my options are a nice plush suit, or getting sneezed on…
“Gotcha,” I say, “I’m good with the suit!”
The other peacekeepers each choose their own, climb inside, and then react pretty much the way I did. They step around cautiously at first, afraid to trip and fall, but soon they’re leaping and dancing and spinning all around me.
“Good, excellent, wonderful,” Owijer says cheerily. “Everything checks out. Everything, everything… Splendid!” Then he points to the waiting archway and says, “Now, who would like to see the surface of the Moon?”
Six eager hands shoot up into the air and away we go. The archway doesn’t take us directly outside (much to my disappointment), but into the vast hangar instead, beneath that giant curved wall and the yellow circle large enough to squeeze a warehouse through. I’ve been cooped up so long, I feel a little bit dizzy walking into such a huge space.
From there, Owijer shepherds us into one of the cueball ships, then it floats up out of its landing-pod and takes us out through the yellow gate.
Our ship zooms over the Moon’s chalky surface at dusk, the many scattered rocks and jagged hills casting shadows shaped like long dark fingers. We see all kinds of cracks, crags, and craters, until the landscape rumples beneath us like a blanket. It quickly becomes a treacherous mountain range.
And that’s where we set down… of course. The orb lands and a doorway opens, revealing a ramp leading down to the Moon. As I step out onto her scalloped surface, the light is harsh. It’s like a stadium at night, brightly lit with a starry black background. I reflexively guard my face against the sun, but my facemask has already darkened the view to something comfortable.
I’m standing on the freaking Moon right now. I know I’ve been here for more than two weeks, but this is different. The battered landscape stretches out beneath us… I can feel moon-rocks under my toes… everything smells like talcum powder.
I can smell the Moon.
“Owijer, why can I smell the Moon?” I ask.
“Olfactory translation, Mr. Yun. Your spacesuit detects different mixtures of particles and gas, and releases scents you can understand.”
I nod my head, but on the inside, I’m going Whaaaaat?
Michael’s already moved on. He says, “How long can we survive out here?”
“Worst case scenario, without resupply… about 20 days. Best case? Indefinitely.”
“Wow,” Michael says. “The best suits we have are maybe 10 hours max.” Then he’s the first to take a step, springing forward a few times like he’s skipping. As weird as it looks, it seems to work alright.
Everyone else imitates him, and I even manage in my own clumsy way. I still haven’t gotten the hang of low-gravity, but at least I’m not on my face again.
Then it hits me: Owijer left. I look over my shoulder and he’s nowhere to be seen. The ship’s doorway closes, then it floats up into the air and flies away.
“So,” Michael says dryly, “anyone wanna guess what the mission is?”
I’m about to check my phone for directions back to the base when the visuals glitch, turn red, and disappear. Tapping my wrist is completely useless.
Alejandra says, “You too, Jace?”
“Yeah,” I reply, and everyone else chimes in. I add, “We can still understand each other, though. That’s good news. So… which way home?”
Michael and Cam both point in the same general direction, down razor-sharp peaks grouped like angrily grasping hands. Past that, there’s a rolling plane of gravel as far as the eye can see.
“How did you…”
Alejandra socks my shoulder again.
“Angle of the shadows,” Michael replies.
“And I made a mental map on the ride over,” Cam adds. “There’s a decent path over this way.”
I can see Adia’s bright smile inside her mask. “I could navigate by stars if I had to, but it’d take a minute or two.”
“That’s all well and good,” Victor says through gritted teeth. “Now, would someone kindly lead the way?”
Cam instantly starts marching toward a ledge, and the rest of us fall in line behind her. We hop and skip over level ground, bounce lightly down shallow slopes, then tip-toe down the not-so-shallow ones.
Everything here is a trap. Small pebbles slip and roll underfoot, and no ledge is ever as strong as it appears. It’s like the landscape itself is some mummified relic just waiting to crumble at the first touch.
Some of the rocks ahead have formed a natural stairway, with sharp edges and flattish surfaces. Cam bounces steadily down them, followed by Michael and Alejandra moving with more care. Adia takes them at a decent speed (with a smile evident in her hop), while Victor slows nearly to a crawl.
I’m five yards behind all of them, and dying from the struggle to keep up without flinging myself off a cliff. For just a second, I feel like I’ve hit a rhythm… I feel my boots crunch firmly down, one after the other, and I think I’m even gaining on the team.
Hop, skip, bounce, crack… fall.
I remember spinning on one foot like the world’s clumsiest ballerina, then came the instant when I knew it was all over. Momentum carried me out away from safety, and I’m not ashamed to tell you I screamed as I tumbled over the edge.
I barely heard their voices over my own screechy wailing and the rumble of falling rocks.
“Jason!” Michael roared.
“Michael, don’t!” Alejandra yelled.
I bounced, and bounced, and bounced… and I don’t remember anything else.
Find out what happens this Thursday night, in Chapter 13: M. See you then!