Life In Progress

I will not confuse my career with my life.

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Blame, a short story

The vehicle rose silently and veered into space abruptly, heading away from the surface of the Moon, toward Earth. Toward home. When I say, “surface of the Moon,” I mean it, literally. I’m sure it sounds like science fiction to you, but I am serious. Dead serious.

Everyone else had boarded the departing ship except for me. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are others still here. David and Slifka. Then, there’s the crew of Chinese scientists and workers in the extraction mine a couple of klicks away, down under the surface station. But, since I had been provided only a tourist-grade weight belt and no means of communication, the team from China might as well be … well … on the Moon, for all the good it does me now.

Each IntraGlobal Travel Agency representative had been assigned to escort four Elite Travelers, watching out for our well-being, monitoring our safety and assuring that we were having the high quality experience for which we had each paid dearly. Slifka, the company rep looking after the group I was in, was condescending and short with us. She talked constantly on her SatCom phone and was thusly occupied when the old guy, David Scott, apparently decided to wander away from our group. To her credit, none of the rest of us actually saw him walk away, but it did happen on her watch. It was her responsibility. I blame Slifka for everything.

Surya and Lennie and I were intently capturing video and still pixels of Earth, which was full and had recently risen above the horizon. We were occupied with the skyscape, not with David, who had been chattering annoyingly during the entire outing. We were the final group permitted out for our allotted time and we assumed David was busy capturing it, too, since his constant narration had ceased. Our group was comprised of professional digital capturists, sent here by our patrons and employers to document the final pristine views of Earth before the massively intrusive space-station satellite scaffolding was erected, forever blighting the view of the planet from the Moon.

Of course, when we realized David had gone missing, Surya, Lennie and I decided to try to follow his footsteps to locate him. We thought that he would surely be just over the next rise. That was silly, however, since there were thousands of footprints out here, and thousands of mounds he could have gone beyond. Unnumbered feet of Earth’s scientists, politicians and elite tourists had tromped around this surface station every month for the last couple of years. The Moon’s surface might resemble a beach in some ways, but unless somebody rakes it smooth or otherwise disturbs the surface, these footprints will stay imprinted here forever. We arrived at what looked more or less like the edge of the most-trampled area and followed the perimeter for some distance, but Slifka caught up with us and announced that our presence was required at the surface station for a briefing and departure — there was some problem with the life support environment in the station and we would be departing sooner than planned. The station was to be locked down after our departure and repaired by the Asian mining crew when their support craft arrived next week.

Unbelievably, we had to point out to Slifka that David was not among us at present and that we didn’t know where he was. For a few moments, it didn’t seem to register with her, but then I saw the slight flare of impatience in her eyes through the glass of her helmet. She told us to get our arses back to the station and that she would bloody well have to find David herself and haul him back by his ear. I threw a haughty look at her, incredulous that she would import this snotty Earthly attitude all the way to the Moon. I saw Lennie roll her eyes, but the three of us turned without another word and trudged obediently back to the surface station. We’d been briefed about the importance of staying together and how there would be harsh consequences, because of this unforgiving environment, if we acted carelessly. David had made his own bed. As I turned to go, I felt Slifka pat my back and assumed she was making amends. That assumption couldn’t have been father from reality.

About half-way back to the station, I started feeling giddy. Elated. Euphoric and relaxed. The full Earth was totally visible, hung low in the sky, a luminous blue-green with white swirly cloud patterns and glowing like crazy. Something on the ground near the horizon kept catching my eye. A glimpse of the same blue green of the earth, shifting and reforming and sparkling. Sparkling at me. Neither Surya nor Lennie looked away from the Earth, but I was distracted and virtually bubbling with the desire to investigate the iridescent whatever-it-was on the surface of the Moon.

When we reached the airlock, we each reluctantly dragged our vision away from our respective captivating subjects. Surya pressed the call lever and waited for the doors to cycle open for our entry. Impulsively, I set my camera down just as the doors began to open. We stepped in and as they began to close, I said in a theatric voice, “Oh! My camera!” and quickly popped back out. The doors shut, I snagged my equipment and without looking back, I loped off in the direction of the shifting blue-green mass. Free, at last!

One-pointedly, I headed away from the station quickly, by now I was gasping a little and giggling out loud, a sheen of perspiration slicking my face. I finally neared the enticing mounds of color. Blues of all hues, sea greens, emeralds, deep pinkish violets and sparkling rose tints were all winking at me, conspiring with me, bidding me to pour out my considerable admiration over them. As I got closer, my vision resolved to focus in on the granulated-sugar-glass surfaces. Tea cups, saucers, sugar bowls and lids. Delicately scallop-edged, sand-blasted cake plates and pressed glass salt cellars. Acres of apparently cast off glassware that appeared to originate from previous centuries on Earth. Cut crystal cranberry-glass sherry decanters and depression-era Vaseline glass tumblers. I fell to my knees and pushed my knees gently into the first mound of glassware. Beautiful. I wished I could hear the tinkling of the tumbling pieces as I scooped them up by the handful and let them flow back to the surface in their peculiar gravity-challenged state.

When I vocalized my delight, I realized that my voice sounded even more bizarre than it should have with the life support rebreather engaged. Too much helium? Something was surely off in the gas mixture. I frowned. Wait… that pat on the back from Slifka! She hadn’t been patting at all, but adjusting the regulator. Taking a slow breath, I glanced at the small display screen on the left forearm of my suit. I had plenty of oxygen remaining, but her pat must have altered the scrubber function, because there was a buildup of carbon monoxide occurring. I jabbed my gloved finger to the readout, clumsily trying to engage the controls, but remembered that our rep was responsible for monitoring our well-being and the controls were located on the back of our suits. I drew another slow breath, the sweat poured freely down my temples.

A glint of color drew my focus back to the pile. I fell in love over and over when another and yet another even more beautiful object presented itself to my eager eye. I scooped and let the pieces run through my hands, the full Earth and the surface station in my peripheral vision. A sudden movement near the station made me look over to witness the rising of the support transport. It was as quiet as a ghost ship. Momentary panic surged through my body. I inhaled sharply and held my breath, dizzy. They were leaving me. Surely, someone must have seen me out here! Surya or Lennie had to have noticed when I slipped back outside at the airlock… Had Slifka returned with David, I wondered? I’d been so enthralled with the glass, I hadn’t noticed. Oh, the glass…

Exhaling slowly, I turned my gaze back to the mound of sugar glass and sifted contentedly.

©Rebecca Reinhart 2011