It’s Thursday, so pull up a chair and prepare for another adventure-filled episode of…
Earthian! Today, we’re heading back to the surface of the Moon, so take a deep breath and get ready.
If you’re just joining the story, you can catch up right here at the Oktopod Blog.
Alright, let’s hop in…
“Come on… wake up, buddy.”
“Fghunlh,” I say (more or less).
Something’s poking me in the ribs. I’m wedged in a very uncomfortable place, and I just want to keep my eyes closed.
I fight them open anyway, and I can’t really see much. There’s a strip of light way up above me, a shiny piece of masking tape stuck to a wall that’s too dark to make out.
My left arm is free. I reach up to rub my aching head, but the feeling’s surprising; my head is apparently a big smooth ball.
I’m in a spacesuit, this is the Moon, and I’ve just had a pretty bad fall. That strip of white tape above me is the low sun striking a cliff side. I won’t trouble you with the salty words I moan.
“I know how you feel,” Michael says evenly.
I can barely see him, a shadow of a bulky spacesuit sitting just a few feet away from me in the darkness.
“Can you move your toes?” Michael asks.
I give them a few good wiggles and feel my boots scraping against rock.
“Good,” he says. “Now we just have to get you out of that buttcrack in the rock. We’re gonna move really slowly, alright?”
I nod. Then he takes my hand and starts to pull, slowly but surely, and I press at the wall with my other hand. I slide out slowly with a few aches and pains but nothing worth screaming about.
“How you feeling?”
“A bit like a doorstop,” I say.
Michael gives a polite chuckle. “You should be a lot worse off,” he says. “I watched you go down, and it was not pretty.”
I dust myself off but there isn’t actually any dust; just smooth polyplasmer. Then I sit up and say, “One hell of a suit. This is easily the best riding gear I’ve ever worn.”
“Yep,” he says. “I shoulda broken my arm on the way down, but it just feels beat up.”
After about a minute, I stand up through a lot of wobbling effort, and lean against the rough cliff-face. Then I swallow my pride, take a deep breath and say, “Thanks, Mike. I know you didn’t have to come after me.” I offer him my hand.
He shakes it. “But I did have to,” he says. “You’re a good man. I wouldn’t leave you alone down here.” Without another word, he waves for me to follow and starts waddling down the narrow canyon.
I’m able to brace myself on both walls, so it’s pretty easy going… even for me. “I take it emergency mountain rescue is one of your A Grades,” I say, hoping to fill the silence with something other than my shame.
“No. Wouldn’t that be convenient?” he says with a laugh. “I’ve got six all told, but this isn’t one of them. How about you? Falling down mountains, maybe?”
“Five,” I reply. “Free running, soccer, bicycling, biology… and skipping stones. Not sure what any of that has to do with saving the galaxy.” I step over a large rock and ask, “So, what are yours?”
My phone’s dead quiet for a few seconds, then he says, “Track & field, leadership, piloting light aircraft, hapkido, target shooting…”
I don’t notice right away, but I’m actually groaning out loud. This guy is apparently an action movie hero. Seriously, what am I doing here?
“…and flower arrangement,” he says.
“I used to help my mom at her boutique when I was little. I’m really good at arranging flowers… if I do say so myself. And for some reason, that’s what Owijer sends me off to do 80% of the time.”
I laugh. He laughs, and as we march on, my aching shoulder doesn’t ache quite so much.
“But honestly,” I say, “what’s your career track? You training to be a super hero?”
“Astronaut,” Michael says without irony. “I’ve been working on a bachelor’s in mathematics in order to apply to NASA.”
Something occurs to me, though. “Math isn’t one of your A Grades,” I say quietly.
“Nope,” Michael says. “And it burns my ass every single day.”
If even this guy feels insecure…
“But I can’t let it get me down,” he says. “I mean… here I am on the Moon, getting ready to blast off into heaven knows where. If I spend too much time focused on what I’m not good at, I’m bound to miss the adventure I’m on.”
Fifty yards down that tight canyon, I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Our passageway widens, and when we cautiously walk out into the daylight, we find ourselves on a tight but walkable cliff. The only other way down is… something I’ve already had enough of.
“You ready for this, Yun?”
“Yeah,” I say. I’m trying hard to believe it.
“Just take it easy,” he says. “It’s like playing a song at a slower tempo.”
“I don’t play music,” I reply. Against my best intentions, I can feel the blood emptying out of my hands and feet. I’m shivering in an air conditioned suit. Am I actually ready?
“Alright,” Michael says. “It’s like pedaling in a lower gear.”
That I get. I nod and Michael starts to bound slowly down the path. In another few seconds, I take a big breath and let it out, then take off after him.
I’ve got it. My feet crunch down in a slow, steady rhythm. It’s not my favorite style of running in the world, but I can do this.
Michael signals a stop, then transitions from jogging to walking with a funny skipping motion. I can see the the trail ahead of him getting thinner, and a little jiggle of fear runs up my leg as I try to repeat his performance.
But I mostly do it. It’s a clumsier and more dangerous knock-off, but I manage somehow. I think I see something strange out of the corner of my eye–a pair of moving glints–but they’re gone by the time I look. Out of sight, out of mind.
We walk the thin path carefully. There isn’t much gravel here, but the ground is full of cracks and splits that make every step seem all too dramatic. All we need is a gusty wind to finish the scene, but thankfully, that’s something the Moon doesn’t provide.
It’s slow going, and it only gets slower as we go. More difficult. More terrifying. I’m constantly searching for hand-holds, and finding rock that’s all too eager to crumble at my touch.
Then I feel the ground rumble, followed immediately by Michael’s panicked shout, and I realize he’s lost his grip. Rocks are sliding, colliding, shattering, and I’m on my belly reaching out.
A thick gloved hand grasps hold of my own, and I feel fingers like steel, powered by terror. As the debris clears, I can see his tight and horrified face behind the mask.
“I’ve got you,” I growl. “Climb up… quick!”
His other arm thrusts up and grabs hold of the ledge, but the brittle stone buckles and falls away.
“Again!” I shout.
Michael smiles serenely. “It’s either me or both of us,” he says. Then he let’s go.
His fingers slip away before I know what’s happening.
“No!” I cry. My other hand snaps out, and I have hold of him. “You’re not going anywhere,” I manage to grunt. “You’re staying right here.”
I work fast, afraid of another one of his bright ideas. Michael Oxbow’s movie-hero moment hasn’t come yet, damn it. My own plan isn’t clever or quick, but it’s effective; I lock my toes as best I can and begin to cinch him up inch by aching inch.
Faster than you’d think, I have his upper body on top of the ledge and he climbs the rest of the way.
I roll into the corner and lay on my back, just as far from the yawning chasm as I can get. Michael’s a few feet away doing the same.
And I think I see two glints again in the distance, but they’re gone. Probably just the blood rushing to my head. I’ve got all kinds of sparklers on the edge of my vision, after all.
I’m listening to my rushing breath and the thumping flow of blood, and it smells like I’ve fallen into a box of billiards chalk. But I feel kind of incredible.
Once my heart is racing at a slightly slower pace, I realize I’m just staring at the stars, glimmering faintly all around and waiting. How many of those worlds are rocky deathtraps like this?
“Hey Jason…” Michael says. “Thanks. I know you didn’t have to do that.” The words sounds familiar.
“But I did have to,” I reply. “You’re a good man. And you’re not leaving me alone up here.”
Michael has the most genuine laugh I’ve ever heard. There’s nothing staged about it, nothing planned. It just erupts out of him like a car backfiring, and it’s kind of hilarious to listen to.
When we both stop laughing, I realize a hard truth: I can’t walk this ledge anymore. I’m done waiting for it to kill me. “Any ideas?” I ask.
“Other than lying here? Not a whole heck of a lot.”
“There has to be something we can do,” I say. “I mean, we’re completely covered in crazy alien technology.”
“We could fabricate a crude lathe,” Michael says.
“Like… for woodworking?”
The phone is dead for a little while. Then Michael asks, “You have your vegaray, right?”
I pat my thigh. “In my holster, yeah.”
“Well, there’s gotta be a lot of options there, right?”
“Like what?” I ask. “Blast a stairwell into the rockface? This isn’t a game of Mega Miner.”
“Wasn’t thinking that,” he says. “What if we dive off and smack ourselves with the blades for a nice soft landing?”
That’s probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. “Uh… no,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “It didn’t sound great when I thought it, either.”
What the heck am I supposed to do? What’s anyone supposed to do in a situation like this?
I pull out my vegaray and prop myself up on an elbow. I point the weapon skyward, pull the trigger, and nothing at all happens.
Michael’s sitting up and watching me at this point. “The safety,” he says.
I scratch my wrist a few times, but the phone won’t wake-up. Wait… is this like my phone at home? “Hey phone,” I say. “Set vegaray to beam mode. Level 1.”
In response, I hear a happy tone like a squeaky frog. Pretty sure that’s a good sign. Then I point the weapon upward again, hand jittery from fear and exhaustion, and pull the trigger.
A searing beam of red light explodes out of the tip, blasting out into the darkness like a searchlight on a misty night. I hold the trigger down and the weapon starts to buck and shake like an unhappy cat, but I bare into it. The barrel begins to glow and after just a few seconds, it feels like I’m holding the business end of a frying pan.
I release the trigger and fight the urge to throw the vegaray down. I drop it instead, and it bounces a few times then comes to rest against my knee.
“Nice light show,” Michael says. “Think it’ll work?”
“Don’t know,” I say, “but it couldn’t hurt.”
The answer arrives less than a minute later in the form of a cueball. The Seelio ship floats up to us, a door opens on its skin, and we’re drawn inside by some invisible force. It vacuums us directly into the ship’s cabin where Owijer is waiting with a tentacled smile on his face. “Excellent work, Mr. Yun!” he cheers with a hop and a dance.
“That was it?” I ask. I’m too tired to keep my temper under control. “You dropped us in the middle of nowhere just to see if we’d shoot off a signal flare?”
The alien stands there for a moment, every part of him waving and moving nervously in place. He says, “I needed to make sure that at least one of you could set aside your pride, stop being a hero, and call for help. Your survival may well depend on it, Jason.”
I look through Michael’s facemask, and he looks like he just took a shot to the gut.
Then it’s quiet. I feebly raise my arm, point towards the slope and say, “The others should be on that ridge, unless their luck went as sour as ours. Then… um, lower.”
And that was it. The cueball whisked us off, and it didn’t take long to find our lost teammates. They were a little further down than I guessed, having taken their own falls and scrapes, and they came aboard looking ragged, beaten down, and tired. Bodies were bruised, but their egos had taken an even harder hit.
The Moon is vicious. She’s no joking matter.
Then the cueball brought us home. Owijer warned us of the next day’s challenge–a simuloid called Aggressor-V, which he referred to with a shudder–then we each wandered off back to our rooms to sleep and sulk in peace.
Next Tuesday, join me right back here for Chapter 14: Night. It’s finally time to see what the rest of the galaxy has to offer.