Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Day 11 - Walking by Myself

We'd left seismometers behind on the Moon after the lunar missions in 1969 and 1970 and we eventually used the data from them to prepare us for our return. In the eight years that they remained operable they recorded over 12,000 seismic events, and we were able to use this wealth of data to understand how frequently the Moon was afflicted by impacts from micrometeorites, meteor storms, and asteroids.

The International Moon Base on the far side of the moon had been constructed based on this data; positioned so that it would be well away from the most frequent meteor showers and armoured heavily enough that it was capable of withstanding the types of impact that, statistically, were likely to occur within 300 years of operation.

I remember telling Amy that fact, and I remember her telling me that she’d never liked statistics. She wasn’t happy about me taking this assignment, not with her being pregnant, but I’d assured her that it was fine and that, more importantly, I’d be back on Earth with at least three months to spare so she wasn’t going to have to do this without me.

We got a warning on the shower a few hours ahead of schedule; it wasn’t one of the regular belts, so this was likely debris from a larger asteroid or a comet that was on its own trajectory and orbit. Meteor showers meant we went into lockdown mode; all five of us returning from our work on the surface and hunkering down in the protected section  of the base to wait it out like we’d done several times before in the past three months.

I think it was only blind luck in the end. I’d strayed that bit further from the base than I’d meant to, and so I took a little longer to get back than I should have; the result of which was that I was so behind schedule that I had only just stepped into the depressurisation chamber when it hit. I was looking at the video display that showed the protected section of the base and the others were waving frantically at me to hurry up.

And then all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of tiny meteorites tore through the protective section of the base in an instant, peppering it like a shotgun blast. I watched as Ellen and Jordy collapsed to the floor, having been hit numerous times; I don’t even want to think what that looked like but they at least died quickly. For Vladimir and Meilin it was worse; damaged beyond repair, the canopy peeled back to expose the interior of the base to the near vacuum of the moon’s surface. They fought to get to their own space suits, faces twisted into grimaces worthy of nightmares, but they both slumped unconscious to the floor before they had even had a chance to pull them from the wall cabinets. And all I could do was watch, utterly helpless.

It was over as soon as it began, but the result was the near total destruction of the base save for the twenty square metre section in which I was currently standing.

I stood there, still in my suit in silence, just gazing at what was left of the base. Even the Lunar Escape System was clearly damaged irreparably. And then I started laughing, uncontrollably. I was on the far side of the moon; over a hundred miles from the nearest unmanned base on the near side of the moon and its secondary LESS system. The situation seemed so ludicrous in that instant, and then I remembered Amy and I sobered up immediately.

I knew what I had to do. I had eight hours of oxygen remaining and I had no means of transport. I would have to walk.

The spacesuits they made for the first batch of astronauts were designed for survival, not for mobility, but things have thankfully improved since then. Modern spacesuits are a lot more flexible, a lot lighter, and allow a lot quicker travel. I set out for the near side of the moon.

The first three hours were relatively easy going, leaping in bounds across the lunar surface that carried me fairly quickly, but the exertions started to take their toll and I realised that I was eating up oxygen far too fast. So I slowed things down to nothing more than a quick walk, gently bouncing across the grey rock and dust.

By the sixth hour, it was beginning to get dark. We were in the middle of the lunar day on the far side of the moon, but I was getting closer to the near side which currently was experiencing lunar night. I was feeling tired, my limbs aching and I felt like giving up and just lying down. Falling asleep and never waking up. But then I thought of Amy and I knew I had to push on, I had to at least try.

Midway through the seventh hour, I crossed a ridge and I finally saw it.

I burst into a grin; I was here, I had made it. I wasn’t sure whether I had possessed either the strength or the necessary oxygen when I had set out from the remnants of the base but the thought of Amy had spurred me on.

I looked up at the blue and white sphere in the sky, at my home, and it felt as if my heart was swelling in my chest. There was never any possibility of making it to the secondary LESS without transportation, so I had not bothered trying. Instead, I had used my last energy and oxygen to get here, to within sight of my home.

I hoped against hoped that Amy could feel my gaze, even though I know how crazy that sounds, and then sat down on the ground with my back to a rock and just watched the Earth. The low oxygen warning began to bleep and I wondered whether I would have a son or a daughter and what they would think of me. I wondered whether Amy would ever be able to forgive me and I wondered if she really knew how much I loved her.

I fought back tears and watched the Earth. I watched the Earth until my eyelids grew too heavy and I had to let them close… 

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