Yuki and Qbit stood looking out over the moon’s barren surface. To her, this was home. The monotone colors of the dirt, rocks and craters were her backyard, the darkness of deep space, not a threat, but her teacher, the harshness of radiation and zero oxygen were not killers, but her companions.
She glanced back at the base and thought about the last ten days. Qbit had spent a lot of time filling her and Skyler in on Professor Carson and the work the two of them had done to bring mythical creatures to life. Yuki had noticed that whenever he talked about her, his face seemed to light up and he got all smiley. When she had asked Karen about it, she said she had noticed it as well. Her woman’s intuition told her there must be something between the two of them. Yuki asked, “But, he’s a quantum computer, right?” Karen thought it was best to leave it alone.
Qbit also talked about how she was a Keeper, which meant she could communicate with animals. Now this she knew was way off base. How are they going to know that when the only animal she’s ever known is Johnson, the lab rat? And she, for darn sure, never remembered a time when he tried to start up a conversation while munching on a piece of cheese!
As the departure date got closer, Qbit started to act more like an overly protective mother who was about to lose her only child. He made her memorize a list which included, amongst other things; people she’ll need to contact with their phone numbers and addresses, a warning about not talking to strangers, locations of nearby gates, and finally, underlined three times, make sure you have on clean underwear in case you get in an accident. She made him delete that one right away because it was just gross. She had also constantly reminded him that she’s a highly trained astronaut with DNA altered for an extended trip to an exoplanet through a blackhole, so going to the earth from the moon, no less, was child’s play. “You just never know” was his stock answer.
What she hadn’t expected was how difficult it had been to say goodbye to Karen. She’d been with her all her life and she thought of her more as a big sister slash mother, than her technician. Karen told her she was also going back to earth via a more conventional travel means; the shuttle. “Since your leaving, there wasn’t any reason for me to stay. It’s time to retire to the real oxygen, no matter how polluted. No more bottled stuff for me!” They promised each other that they would meet again. She was afraid that that would never happen.
Through it all, the hardest part was not being with her crewmates, she missed them terribly and still couldn’t help feeling guilty about not being there with them. Leaving the moon meant she wouldn’t be able to follow their progress, which made her guilt even worse. It felt like she was abandoning them.
She tried to put those thoughts out of her head and, instead, focus on what she needed to do now. She looked over at Qbit as he stood silently, looking at his tablet. She still felt a little uncomfortable with him not wearing a suit, it made it seem like this was a training exercise inside the holo-dome instead of the real thing.
She glanced up at the time displayed on her glasses and said, “What’s taking him so long?”
“I think he’s still a little nervous about coming out here.”
“He needs to get over that. Should I go see if he needs help?”
“If you were in his shoes, would you want him coming back to help you out?”
“Hmm, I didn’t think of that. I guess not.”
“You two have spent a lot of time together, you know how he is. He’ll be here.”
“I know, but I’m not sure he’s ready for this.”
Skyler’s voice suddenly filled her helmet. “You two do know that I can hear you, right? I mean, we’re all on the same frequency, sheesh. Plus, I’m right behind you.”
Qbit and Yuki looked at each other, made an ‘oops’ face, then turned to look at Skyler. Yuki said, “Sorry about that, Bud.”
With a bit of an edge, he replied, “Let’s just get this done. I can’t wait to get home.”
Yuki was about to say something in reply, but Qbit spoke first. “Okay, let’s go over this one more time.”
Yuki groaned, “Not again, I think we’ve got this.”
Ignoring her comment, he looked from one to the other and said, “One”
They rolled their eyes in protest but repeated the phrase, “Wait for the gate.”
“Squeeze together to make ourselves slimmer.”
“When you say go, we all step into the shimmer.”
“When we see the double light.”
“Qbit and Skyler go left and Yuki goes right.”
“Our next step will put us where we need to be.”
“What happens next will be up to me.”
“And finally, eight.”
“In five days, we’ll all be finished, throughout…”
“Do we really have to say this part? It’s so corny!”
Qbit said, “Yes, Yuki, just like every other time you ask.”
“Our spirits will never diminish.”
Yuki bent over and said, “I think I’m going to puke.”
Qbit looked at his tablet and said, “Not in your helmet…”
A shimmer in the air appeared.
Qbit looked at both of them then said, “…squeeze together…aaand go!”
They all lifted their right foot, Skyler turned to Yuki and said, “See ya.” She turned to him, smiled, and said, “Wouldn’t want to be ya.”
Their next step took them into the middle of a furious storm. They found themselves standing on a pile of slick rocks in a pouring rain, surrounded by a boiling ocean. A fierce wind blew; which seemed determined to knock them off their feet. Directly in front of them towered a light house, clad in bright white brick that glowed in the unrelenting flashes of lightening. In unison all three, lifted their heads to follow the imposing structure all the way up to its peak, barely visible in the blowing rain and spray. They watched, transfixed, as a rotating beam of light desperately tried to burn its way through the dense clouds. As it spun away from them, it lit something that took their breath away; a huge wave; green and angry, half the height of the light house was about to break over them and the small outcropping of rocks they were standing on.
Reacting first, Qbit turned to Yuki and yelled, “Gooooo!” His voice barely audible over the roar of the sea. He pushed her forward through a vague shimmer in the rain and she disappeared.
Next, he grabbed Skyler and launched the two of them through the shimmer to their left just as a wall of water enveloped them.
Yuki instinctively pulled herself into a tucked position as she felt herself fall. She hit the ground and rolled, reducing the force of the impact. During the second roll she got her feet under her and was able to stop in a standing position. She did a quick status check using her glasses. The suit was negative for any punctures or tears. “Well, that was unexpected,” she said to herself as she brushed off the sand that had stuck to the wet parts of her suit. “Gate travel had sounded a lot less, uh, perilous.” She dropped to her knee and took a quick three-hundred-and-sixty-degree scan; nobody was around and it looked like she was in the right spot.
To her left, a chain link fence surrounded the end of the airport’s single runway. Four red lights mounted to a metal frame cast a dull red glow on the dirty snow piled at its base. To her right, sat the small weather station mentioned in Qbit’s list. She watched the anemometer spin in a breeze that, at times, gently rocked her back and forth. All around her was a barren landscape of various shades of gray and brown. There were no trees, bushes or fields of anything, just open areas of flat nothing broken up by the occasional hill of nothing. Rocks everywhere.
“It’s the moon with oxygen.”
Confident that there was no one else around, Yuki dropped her small duffel bag to the ground then reached up with both hands to release her helmet. From out of nowhere, a thought popped into her head. It made her freeze. For the first time, she felt a pang of fear; she was completely alone. Her survival was in her hands, there was no one there to tell her what to do. There was no resetting of a simulation if something went wrong. All the training in the world couldn’t have prepared her for this moment. She didn’t know what to do!
From somewhere above, a sea gull swooped down and landed in the road, it stood there staring at her. She stared back at it. For a quick second, she wondered if it would confirm what Qbit had told her about her Keeper abilities. Luckily it remained silent and just stood there, watching her. Another second went by. The distraction was enough to give her brain the chance to refocus. Concentrating on the task at hand, she gave the helmet a twist to unlock it. It didn’t move. She tried again, a little harder this time. It wouldn’t budge! She started to panic! The bird still stared. Thoughts of her air running out, even though she was surrounded by it, filled her head. She banged against the sides of her helmet and yelled, “Stop! Stop and think, Yuki!”
She took a breath, grabbed the helmet again, this time she remembered to press the safety release button with her thumb. She tried twisting it and, as designed, the helmet turned smoothly to its stop. She lifted it straight up and raised it above her head. She exhaled slowly, sending a plume of vapor into the air. The seagull flew away.
“Way to go Yuki, you haven’t even gone ten feet and you panicked, get a grip!” She took a couple of deep, long breathes. The wind gently blew across her cheeks while a stronger gust made her eyes water and the perspiration on her brow feel cold. She looked up, spun around and found it; the moon. For the first time, she was looking at the sun reflecting off her home. In the twilight it wasn’t super bright, but she could still make out the details of its pitted surface. She wasn’t sure if the tears she felt run down her cheek were only from the wind in her eyes.
Feeling much more confident, Yuki touched the side of her glasses to bring up her modified version of Qbit’s list;
Gate will bring you just south of the Resolute Airport. If anyone sees you, just act normal.
She hoped no one would see her because she really wasn’t sure how one person suddenly seeing someone else dressed in a space suit, appear out of nowhere was something that could be explained by her acting “normal”.
There’s a small weather station by a gravel driveway that leads to several buildings. John will be waiting, in a red vehicle, where the driveway meets the road.
She looked back at the weather station then further down the road. Sure enough, there was a red truck waiting by the side of the road.
He’ll take you to Resolute Bay where you’ll board a boat to Bathurst Island. The boat’s pilot, Jordin Lee, and his son, Peter, will drop you at Freeman’s Cove at a small mining village. There you’ll meet Mrs. Lay who will take you, by four-wheeler, to the Ice Stupa research station.
The last thing on the list read; The rest is up to you.
When she had first seen that, she had asked him, “Can I get some clarification on that last part?”
His reply was, “Uh, no. It should be pretty self-explanatory for such a highly trained astronaut as yourself.”
Out of the entire list, that last one bothered her the most. She was used to having her day to day routine mapped out for her. Now it was going to be entirely up to her!
Yuki sighed, flicked off the display, grabbed her helmet by the rim, pulled the bag up by the its straps, and started off towards the parked truck.