The Beast, Pt. 54 (Chapter 16f)

I’m throwing on the suit over my clothes while the others are listening to instructions and asking questions of the limo driver. Yes, he’ll be joining us. Yes, he’s done countless spacewalks and is very experienced. No, he’s not here to babysit us. No, we can’t bring the alcohol. I stop listening once it becomes clear that there’s basically no way we can die. The suits are impossible to remove without help, magnets and programmed fail safes will keep us from floating away into space, and robots can be dispatched within seconds to retrieve us and bring us back to safety. Everything else is just legal jargon and semantics.

I’ve been standing in the airlock for minutes by the time everyone else is finally suited up and ready to go. I would have opened the damn thing and set out myself if I’d known how. The heavy helmet, shaded against the sun’s light and radiation, is doing more to hide my displeasure than I myself am.

“Man, you guys are slow!”

The redhead turns to Googe and laughs. “Your friend isn’t being cool.”

“You just have to be patient with him. He’s learning.”

I roll my eyes. The limo driver-slash-spacewalker is opening the airlock door, and I’d rather be first one out the gate than stand and trade jabs with Googe and his crimson companion. There’s mechanical clicking and the sound of air escaping and then relative silence. I can hear the fans and the motors in my suit, I can hear my own breathing, and I can hear the others over our short range comms, but it still feels like silence somehow. No music being piped in. No endless thrum of humanity. No beeping of vehicles and Conncomms.

“Where’s the Earth? I want to see the Earth.”

“It’s on the far side of the Meadows at the moment,” the driver says, and I switch off my microphone so no one will hear the stream of profanities that issues from my mouth. But something the driver says pierces through my anger and I turn it back on.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I said, ‘It should be coming up in about twenty or thirty minutes. The Meadows are so big that there are parts that face away from the planet. But it also spins so fast that from the outside, you can see the Earth rise without having to wait very long.”

“Which direction?”

He points away from the airlock and is starting to say something else, but I’m already ignoring him, already ignoring the others, already moving. Let them do flips and float at a safe distance before the suits drag them back down. I have something grander in mind.

“Hey! Sir! You can’t do that!”

“Unless you tackle him, he’s probably going to.”

“Your friend is, like, such a drama queen.”

“Aw, he’s alright.”

“Yeah, he does this kind of thing all the time. He’ll be fine.”

“I think it’s kind of cool. He looks very determined. Or something.”

“Hey!” Notlil cries out. “Hey, wait up!”

I stop. I turn to look over my shoulder and see her stomping towards me. The grace that she’d had back at the Libretto, the confidence, is lost within the folds of the bulky spacesuit. I imagine her face under the helmet, hair carefully arranged, make-up applied exactly so, and I chuckle at the absurdity of it all. But then I remember that the Earth is waiting for me, and the desire to move fills my heart and my feet once more. Sure, the Earth will still be there even if I do nothing. Hell, I’m floating and spinning in space. It’ll come to me, even. But I can summon it even faster by walking away from the airlock, the Meadows, my friends. How long has it been since a man stood before the limitless edge of the horizon and knew that only good things awaited him on the other side? Centuries, maybe.

“Hurry.”

I stand still, waiting for her to catch up to me. “You really want to see that Earthrise, huh?” she says, panting a little, unused to running in these conditions.

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

I shrug, the gesture lost somewhat in my suit’s bulky shoulders. “I don’t know. Haven’t you ever heard something and thought, ‘Oh, that sounds great,’ and in an instant it becomes important to you? Some new food you want to try. A song you want to hear. A story or a movie or whatever. An idea that grabs you, like you’ll be a richer and more complete person for having experienced it.”

“Yeah, I guess. But–”

“Well, this is mine. Now, come on. I don’t want to wait.”

We march along in silence for a little while when it happens. A crescent glowing white, becoming more defined. Cerulean next. The viridian of forests and jungle. The gold of the desert.

My breath catches in my throat. My heart is pounding in my chest. I feel so very insignificant right now.

Be cool. Don’t cry. Jesus, don’t cry.

“Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I croak. “Fine.” I raise my hand, point. “I can see my house from here.”

Notlil groans in disgust at the joke, turns away. “Come on. Let’s head back.” She takes off without waiting, and alone at last, I linger. I always do. I stare like it’s mine to own. I can see a halo around it, and if it’s the sun or my imagination causing it, I surely don’t know. Blue. Green. Blonde. So very far away.

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