His feet moved over the rubber belt as his breath matched the hum, hum, hum of the machine droning under him. Sweat burned his eyes and his heart beat with ease. His daily run was nearly complete as the timer closed in on 60 minutes. His bobbing eyes gazed and searched outside of the large glass dome. He could see the grey rocks surrounding his dwelling. It was all minor shadows detailing the big shadow. On the horizon all that could be seen was a hazy, white corona, a frown in the perpetual night.
This was home. He’d grown up here. Living from bubble to bubble. His mother, an astronaut, and father a horticulturist. His school, the church, the grocery… all bubbles. Each connected by networks of tubes and vaults and necessity.
Running had always been he’d done, part of life, like eating freeze dried breakfast, watering vegetable plants, taking vitamins. Recently, he’d discovered generations old digital videos of his grandfather running across the forested mountains of Earth. He’d see his bearded grandfather smiling in the joy of open air and he would dream of straining up through mountainous forests and seeing across the sphere! Imagine the freedom of darting down, down, down! Careening around trees! Leaping over rocks! Crashing into the soil, scraping your skin, tasting the blood on your smile… free to go in any direction in such a wild place. Free to fall, to fail, to succeed. Free to conquer the terrain free to be conquered.
These images of trail runners on Earth had captured his mind and now he sat, hydrating, chewing an energy bar, and wondering at the rocks just on the other side of this bubble. They were so close… he’d even seen one up close at school before. They had to identify it for a midterm exam and then it went back, into the stark white cabinet of supplies. He never touched it when the specimen was passed around… he thought at the time, “it’s a rock… got it.” Now a sort of regret was sprouting…
He got up and walked back to his pod, to the steam shower.
In just 2 weeks he’d be tested for his physical exam final- a fitness test that required general upper body strength, total force exertion and a running component, measuring distance in 30 minutes on a calibrated running machine. He’d done these before throughout his schooling, but this test in particular would determine his career path… the better his score the more attractive options he’d have, maybe he’d even get to work in orbit if he were lucky. That would be his chance to glimpse the blue dot he’d seen so many time before in photos and text books. The place where his grandfather would scurry through the green landscape! His homeland.
His class had been training all school year for this test, running in the morning, free weights in the afternoon. The doctors had all said this was important for increased learning aptitude, neurological networking and the tests were showing it to be true. Earthly peers were falling further behind in academics while the moon schools advanced further along. Exercising, then studying… twice a day around meals. A monastic lifestyle of structure and repetition. In the evening community dinner, entertainment and sleep as the lights powered down to black stillness.
He woke up a little earlier this morning, unable to calm his excitement for today’s running test. He aimed for 6 miles on the running machine in the allotted 30 minutes. He’d run 4 miles in 20 minutes as a 17 year year old… but what had really changed in the last year? More of the same training regimen… the only difference was the urgency of finality… of his adulthood looming. Surely he could complete the measly minimum of 5 miles to obtain moon Walker status… his true goal was to run a complete 6 miles in 30 minutes. “5 minute pace, 5 minute pace,” he repeated to himself.
He drank his embrYoke-shake with a few swigs of carb-shotz and headed to the physical training center. He greeted his classmates and they were instructed to step on the Calibrated Running Machine.
“The CRM is set for 5 minutes of easy warm up. You will then enter the test period. The exam will have a 30 minute duration. Cover your maximal distance in that period. The clock will not be stopped, paused or restarted for any reason. All results are final. Your speed is controlled by the panel on your CRM, green button to increase pace, yellow button to reduce pace, red button should only be used to stop the CRM instantly. Good luck, we will begin in 5 minutes.”
He stared at his reflection. It glared back at him off the interior of the glass dome. He saw the starkness outside of the bubble and his eyes drifted up, to the frown of the horizon.
The whir of the room grew steadily throughout the warm up period. He looked at his easily moving body, his shoulders nudging in step over the belt’s space. His chest filled and emptied and the first drops of sweat beaded above his lip.
“5,4,3,2,1… move at your own chosen speed. The testing period begins now.”
His finger pressed firmly onto the green button and his feet moved more quickly. He settled in. The CRM stated, “5:15 pace.” He kept moving, easing into the effort.
His hair bounced and his arms swung and his breath settled more deeply by the mile. 10 minutes into the effort and he was quite comfortable, but a bit behind the schedule he’d planned for. His finger depressed the green button, “five ten, five zero five, five minutes per mile.” He ran steadily, giving just the slightest bit more effort and waited for his now, heavier breathing to settle into the new demand. “3 miles complete… 15:30 elapsed.” His breathing unexpectedly remained slightly elevated. Too much for this pace.
In his head, the math began to feel impossible. How could he make up such time if he was already feeling such intense effort for this pace. He began laboring, his breathing uneven. This was anxiety, this was worry, this was his future. How would he ever make up this time? Why had he begun so slowly? He pressed the green button, “four fifty five, four fifty.”
His breath grew, his face clenched and his feet flew… he was moving along, holding onto his future in desperation. His hips pumped and he drew his feet back extending to his toes as they left the belt… and forward to catch his body at impossible intervals. He saw his reflection, he watched his legs churning until his left foot missed the edge of the belt’s track and he was thrown off balance, flailing downward on the moving belt, bouncing in a heap of sinew and shot off of the back of the CRM. He’d hit another machine and some resistance ovals and was scraped, and bleeding and his machine had stopped, its detectors sensing he had abandoned the test.
“Student. Are you hurt?”
He lay there in silent pain, breathing heavily, the timer marched on to 22, 23, 24 25, 26 minutes elapsed as his ankle throbbed in a foreign way. He stood and slowly climbed back onto the CRM, its belt inert. He thumbed down the green button, slowly the belt gained momentum from walking, to a slight jog, the minutes passed as he reached easy run pace and limped into the 6 and half minute pace range.
“2 minutes remains,” stated the instructor.
The display showed 4.56 miles gone underfoot. He pressed the button down hard, and limped harder. His ankle stabbing with each landing’s impact and then straining under each step’s agonizing stretch. A world of pain in each flexion, in each landing. He saw orbit status fading from his life, the pain was too much he was to fail.
“1 minute,” shouted the instructor.
4.89 miles, the belt came to a stop as the clock marked 0:00. He saw it there in bright red light. It was too late. He moved the white towel across the rubber mat and handles. When he finished sanitizing his machine he limped to the steam room and gathered his things for class.
Josh pushed the broom across the hard, grey surface of the shiny finish on the floor. It had been engineered to repel any fluids that might fall upon it. He moved the moon dust into a dust pan, and then he’d drop it into a chalky bin. When the small vacuum door was sealed he pressed the EJECT button which would allow the dust to fall with a quick, muffled burst of air to the lunar surface outside, most of it floating away across the rock fields, some leaving an eternal, trailing pile. Josh liked the Psssh sound it made each time he’d press EJECT. It seemed so sure, so final.
Josh hung the broom onto its hook and latched the dust pan into its slot and closed the cabinet door before he left the vacuum chamber, unsuited in the locker filled transition room and returned for his hourly sanitation of the latrines. This was where the Walkers prepped for their shifts on the moon and it was clearly important to give them clean working conditions.
Josh stared down at his dinner- he chose the meatloaf tonight, although at this point he thought using the word “choice” was overstating things slightly. Macaroni, spaghetti, burritos these were the other 3 choices… he’d rotated through them for months now, awaiting a new shipment from Earth which was due to arrive in the next month or so. Weather delays back on the surface were delaying shuttle flights.
His days over the last year were spent dragging around his body as it managed to wrangle the mess of other human’s life on the moon. He’d wake in his pod, empty his bladder, drink his morning ration of Flui-food. It was touted by officials for its energy density and fluid absorption. Josh knew no different, he’d always done this- and now, he always would. He fate sealed in a bubble of sustenance. Most thought it a good, safe life and Josh tried to think the same and most days he could go along without much trouble.
These days Josh wasn’t able to view the moon rocks with the magic in his eye- he lost his spirit to Become and had been fading into his memories and lost promise, he was buying into failure, despair and hopelessness. His positive aoutlook believed this was temporary, that he’d snap out of it… but now it’d been 2 years since the CRM incident and he still limped slightly now.
He sank into his couch with some Crunch-i-bites and dialed up the screen. He piddled about, not able to find anything to his liking at the moment, he didn’t know what he wanted to watch… He came across an old file folder in his view history marked ‘Grandpa’ and pressed play. He watched Earth=trail videos for hours… his Crunch-bites ignored at his side. At some point he dozed off and dreamed of the hard packed dirt of Earth’s forests where untold scores of feet had trampled this winding path into and through the hills of America. He watched as rain pelted down on a tent where soup was being served in white cups in the middle of darkness. He saw his Grandfather run off into the rising of the sun across a flowery meadow, dancing in the wind as the brilliant rays blinded the camera’s view when particular branched were swayed in that breeze. He watched people bleed and sweat, and eat and fall and strain… and he wondered why? His research showed these were all simply recreational adventures. These were voluntary excursions, each person could end their suffering at any moment. But they continued on, sometimes just dots of lights bouncing away across the crest of a ridge- anonymous and definite.
When the lights woke him with their steady rise Josh found himself crunched into his cushions and stumbled to the eating cupboard. He reached for a breakfast shake and choked it down with a mineral pill. He pretended to straighten his hair and set off for his work. Meandering through the network of glass tubes that led to his workstation. Noticing the ever-present hallow outside on the horizon… Josh chuckled, snatched a pair of gloves, goggles and began scrubbing a commode. He worked quickly today and had his tasks completed in several hours. He was able to leave early and take a long walk back to his pod.
He had a mind to wander and found himself following an old route that led to the fitness facility. He stared into the glass box. He saw people of varying ages putting their bodies through the paces and found his hand rubbing his belly as it pressed into the limits of his coveralls and belt. He felt a ping of embarrassment and hopelessness. He was so far gone, time had passed him by. He watched a woman move gracefully over the belt, moving without any apparent effort. He watched a man, grizzled by time and mileage it seemed, lumbering with his light, aged frame through the minutes of the mind… each runner was held in a gaze, moving autonomously… but Josh knew- there was plenty happening in there… he lingered, looking for resolve, looking for hope and then felt himself drifting away- back to thoughts of the pod’s screen. To the terrain of Earth and he drifted home- with his mind full of desire for adventure… he slept again with dreams of trails underfoot… of deep, meaningful breath.
The days of sweeping and wiping and dusting and cleansing and sanitizing had become a relief… the ease of the work, the boredom which has previously been a burden were now a blessing as his mind wandered to the far off blue dot… which he had never actually seen. Just the frowning halo across the muted horizon of the moon. He felt a ping of remorse and anger for having taken such chances on his fitness test, it cost him any chance of ever getting beyond the dome and now… he would be doomed to limp around, cleaning up after the other more fortunate citizens of the moon. Stuck here, on the darkness of the dark side where the light does nothing but frown… “I let me down…” he thought again and again.
He entered the the vacuum lock, emptied the moon dust into the discharge bin… but this time, he pinch a handful from the pan into his fingers and slid his hand into his pocket. He put his tools in their places and headed to his pod.
After a week of depositing pinches of moon dust, Josh now had full drinking cup in his sleeping quarters. He would sift the sand through his fingers into a pan, pour it back into the cup, repeatedly watching the weight of the sand as it fell through the artificial gravity of the bubble system. He’d not off sometimes and drift into dreams of running… finding himself barefoot on the dirt trails of Earth. Wind blowing on his face.
After work one day, he found himself wandering toward an unknown place when his eyes met the door of the fitness room… standing and staring, he pressed his finger to the touch pad and the door opened. There was no one else around so Josh walked over and put his hand on the CRM. He stepped up onto the platform and pressed the green button.
The hum of the machine began and the belt moved between his stationary feet. Josh stared down at the pedestrian movement and gingerly placed his foot down, then the other and he was walking… he walked for a few minutes, listening to the whir of the belt. He pressed the green button down for a few moments and came to a trot. His body jangled atop the CRM, he limped a little and was quickly winded but he kept on. There, alone in the fitness room in his coveralls, Josh ran for 2 minutes… began sweating and panting and then the door opened.
Josh hastily palmed down the red button, wiped down the machine and briskly left the room ignoring the occupant… walking toward home Josh felt like a stranger to himself. He wondered how such a familiar place could cause him to feel so alien. Why he was so anxious to have felt caught in this place- undeserving. Why the embarrassment?
The next day, Josh wore fitness attire beneath his coveralls. He made quick work of his cleaning duties and headed straight to the fitness room. He found the room empty again- he smiled, entered and got moving. The soreness hit his ankles… he laughed at how little work had brought on this stiffness. Lumbering along, the movement eased a bit but with the foreign effort he was soon feeling winded. The clock passed 10 minutes… he was nearing a mile. He watched the frowning halo on the horizon in the darkness outside. He saw a beam of light pass by on a lunar craft, “supplies!” he thought. “Dinner! something new for dinner…” he hoped. He ran on.
He reached two miles and his lungs were searing, despite the slowness of his gait. His heart raced and his legs were feeling weak. He pressed the yellow button, eased off the pace to a walk, gently coming down to 2 miles complete before turning the machine off. As he wiped his perspiration from the CRM the door opened. Josh turned and nodded to the woman who had entered, he thought the same woman as yesterday perhaps and left for home.
He returned the next day and the next after that to run. For weeks on end Josh made the daily visit and was beginning to feel at home in his body again. His run reached 4 miles and it began to feel less torturous. The soreness was a memory and he was beginning to see the first hints of fitness returning. He could begin to enjoy the steadiness of an easy run- no longer a stressor in itself- but a reliever of stress. The cleansing of breaths filling and emptying, purity in the exchange of gases through exertion. He felt something primal, something holy in the experience.
Josh continued in this way for months… working upward of an hour per bout… but he wanted more! He’d learned from the videos of his grandfather’s adventures that men on Earth would cover distances over 100 miles… running for days at a time in the mountains without rest. He’d seen where runners would cross state boundaries from end to end- running day to day to day- pushing their supplies in carriages. He’d learned of epic runs across deserts in the heat of summer… he wanted to do something extreme and his mind knew it was not to be found on a CRM. Josh continued his training as he searched for adventure.
Josh was running along- approaching 90 minutes into a treadmill effort- watching the brightness of the stars in the stark black sky. Over the whir of the CRM belt he heard the door open and he turned his head. A woman entered the room and started the machine to his right. They each ran in silence, only tandem whirs and the slight bogging of experienced footfalls upon the belt. Josh ran for another 30 minutes and eased down to 2 hours complete… a regular run for him now. He wiped his machine down. Turned to the woman and nodded hello. She smiled and continued her journey as Josh departed the room.
His mind was full of running now. His drawers full of collected moon dust- collecting the dirt had become more than a routine- it was now a compulsion. He had a few small sand gardens in his pod and he would rake them by hand with a fork, or brush… but even that was not completely satisfying. He had the yearning for more… a more complete use for the moon dust. He craved a kind of inclusion with his environment.
Upon arriving home after a 4 hour CRM run, Josh stumbled into his kitchen and dropped a container of moon sand on his floor. He was exhausted and hungry and ignored the spill in favor of finding calories and fluids. He ate and drank and laid down on the coldness of the kitchen floor.
He woke after a few hours feeling rested, and filthy. The grit was comforting. He abandoned cleaning it and would add his collections daily to the floor. Little by little… he was finding a relief for his tired feet, his achy body and a sterile environment in the soft, powdery moon sand. He’d sit and read his digibooks with his toes in the sand, dreaming of adventures in far off places. He’d stare off through his small port view at the haze of the horizon, catching the glimpse of the sun’s glow.
Josh entered the vacuum room, collected the moon dust in the pan. Poured it in his jar, screwed the cap tightly and poured the excess into the waste door, pressed EJECT and watched the moon dust float away on the strength of the air in the evacuation chamber. As usual some rested close by, some formed a light, billowing cloud and some trailed into a growing ridge of concentration away from the bubble’s wall. Josh studied the ground outside. He noticed tire tracks from lunar vehicles and imprints from the boots the Walkers wore. He could see the lights of the distant Lunar Hover Base and saw a hover vehicle landing in a cloud of dust as it’s lights dimmed and the vehicle vanished from sight.
Josh left the vacuum room and hung his broom and pan. He left the dressing area and noticed a locker left slightly ajar. He was alone as usual and stepped closer to inspect the red moon suit in the locker. He felt the strength of the fabric and how heavy it was in this artificial gravity environment. The suits were designed to counteract the lack of gravity on the lunar surface- in essence to make it feel like Earth… Josh looked at the label- 150 POUNDS, MALE. Just about right… On the moon, without artificial gravity Josh weighed about 25 pounds, on Earth though, and in this bubble world, Josh weighed a “normalized” 150 pounds…
“the suit would fit,” he thought.
Josh closed the locker door and walked slowly to the fitness room.
He knew the basics of air supply and suit use from drilling for emergency situations as a youth in school. Over the last decade, the bubble had become more and more reliable, drills were not held regularly like they had been and especially not for working adults. Assuming the technology was the same he might be able to borrow that suit… but, the penalty… what was the penalty? What if he used the space suit? What if he got ‘caught’ wearing the suit? Or… opening the exterior hatch… of course there is a control for that, a key… who has the key?
Josh stopped at the fitness room door and opened it. He took off his work coveralls and laid them on a bench and boarded the CRM quickly reaching a comfortable 7 minutes per mile. He just had an hour of running today- he was in a recovery phase. He watched the stillness outside the bubble… the void in his mind was infiltrated with thoughts of that vacuum chamber door… the outside! The outside? he’d never been outside-
His meal of freeze dried lentil soup was particularly tasty this evening. His toes massaged through the 6 inch deep base of lunar kitchen he’d collected over the previous 6 months… it was like a regular lunar surface in there… it had begun to spill into other rooms. He was sure to keep it out of the bed space, he had a barrier for that purpose and he tried to keep it to a minimum in the bathroom. The washing station in particular could cause some plumbing issues.
He was uncertain if there were rules pertaining to lunar sand in dwelling pods… it just seemed like something that would be frowned upon. Was there a rule? Was there a punishment for leaving the bubble without authorization? Could someone… borrow… a Walker’s suit… procure an air tank… go outside for a little walk… maybe jog a little… come back in, replace everything… Well, the air would be used… but he was already using air just being a resident… Could he borrow a few things for a brief few minutes, put everything back in its place… and just go on living unnoticed?
It seemed that he’d pretty much been able to move about without any real guidance at all, well since his career was determined anyway. As long as things were tidy at the Walk Center he could come and go as needed to keep up with his tasks… he never saw a supervisor, his meal credits updated regularly, even with the uptake in caloric need brought on by all the running he hadn’t had a problem obtaining all of the food he needed…
Josh finished his tasks quickly… he decided to leave the moon sand for another day and dumped all of it outside the bubble. He pressed EJECT and watched the plume of dust return to the lunar surface… “seems to be a fine kitchen,” he thought.
He poked around the locker room, the Walkers were gone for the day, and he jiggled handles testing for one that might just… be open… one after another he jiggled without luck. His hand rested on another and another. He looked up and saw a thin yellow tube squeezed into an overhead bin. He pulled it down, a basket of hoses, he picked one out and checked it for cracks. Clean. He set it aside and returned the basket. His hand continued looking for lockers that may be open… then click… a door glided slightly ajar.
The suit inside nudged the door open- inside he found a suit, slightly too large… 173 POUNDS, MALE read the patch. He was about to close the door, when he saw the shiny helmet at the rear of the locker. He pulled it out and lower it over his head, down to his shoulders. It was so heavy, almost 40 pounds in this artificial gravity environment. He set it next to the yellow hose and closed the locker.
The next locker was open as well… it held an air tank… reading half full… this would give him a few hours on the lunar surface… if he were walking, doing bubble repair… “but running,” he thought… “running… I’d need much more to run…” he kept looking for a full tank. Finally he ran out of lockers. He looked at the bench where the helmet and air hose sat… he knew what he was to do… but how? How could he get these back to his pod? He decided to use the simplest approach. He folded the hose, placed it in his helmet, wrapping it around the drinking straw connector inside of the helmet. Josh took off his coveralls revealing his fitness clothing underneath. He placed his coveralls over the helmet, left the dressing room and walked straight home unseen. He placed the helmet in his sleeping quarters and went to the fitness room to run.
Josh began running with a bottle of diluted carb-shotz in his hand… despite the convenient bottle holder on the CRM. He knew if he were to run across some wild, uninhabited place that he’d need water… and carbohydrate to fuel his effort… in addition to air and… a way to get out of the bubble. He would close his eyes and imagine he were bounding, striding away into the distance… leaving a trail of footprints one could use to find his way back to the bubble. He could run until his suit showed 55% volume in the air tank and then retrace his path. It would be his own personal trail… it seemed fantastic.
The door opened. It was the woman runner again.
“Hello,” Josh greeted her.
“Hi,” she replied.
“My name is Josh,” he extended a sweaty hand. She grasped it gently and smiled, “My name is Greta.”
“Greta, how long are you going today?”
“Maybe 45 minutes… I must return to my work earlier than anticipated today.”
Josh noticed a slightly European tinge to her accent…
“Oh, that’s too bad. What work do you do?”
“I work in the Walk-base.”
“You work with Walkers?”
“Yes… well, dispatch. I coordinate their schedules, oversee the shift work.”
“Interesting work. Have you ever… been outside?”
“Nooo… no, of course not. That is for Walkers.”
“Is it forbidden, Greta? Do you mean it is not accessible?”
“Yes, it is forbidden. It is not allowed.”
“What would happen if someone found themselves… outside of the bubble… who was… unauthorized?”
The whir of the belt continued on underfoot. Greta’s pace was now matching that of Josh as he neared the end of his 90 minute effort.
“Ha! Outside of the bubble… Josh? It is Josh, yes?”
Josh nodded his head.
“Josh, Walkers go outside of the bubble… and they are the only ones. There is nothing out there for anyone else. Not even for… runners…” Greta smiled wryly.
Where did your family live before coming here?”
“Slovenia… in the mountains of Slovenia… specifically… Mala Gora,” Greta recalled. “My parents spoke often of this place on Earth… I’ve seen neither their homeland, nor the Earth itself though I send Walkers out to see Earth often… it’s a funny life here on the Moon. Who knew there was so little discovery in a life of adventure.”
Josh sat up in his bed, looked around in the darkness. His fuzzy mind recalling strange images… a shiny helmet, a woman’s face… Greta, smiling… a muffled voice- they’re talking, running… running across a vast grey field of dust and stone. He laid back down and tried to sleep… tried to rejoin the run.
After an hour of restlessly laying about Josh got dressed and went into work. It was the off hours… before the Walkers would be in for their work shift. He thought he might try to do some extra cleaning… and maybe poke around some. When he arrived he was not alone.
His boss was there. Josh had met him once before, the day after he graduated from school when he was assigned a position in grounds maintenance. His boss looked at him, eyed his coverall’s chest and smiled, ” Josh! You’ve been doing great work here, Josh! Is there anything you need?”
“No, no, sir. Thank you… I was just doing an extra round… tidying up. I hope that’s alright.”
“That’s great, Josh! That’s the initiative we need around here.”
A tall man walked by, “Jumbo, hey, Jumbo! Come here, I want you to meet somebody!”
Jumbo stopped, “Bernie! Bernie, how are you today?!”
“I am GREAT! Oh man, Jumbo, this is… JOSH! Josh makes sure everything is good to go for our Walkers! He keeps their prep quarters safe and clean, empties that cool Vacuum Dust Door! I love that thing!”
“”Hi, Jumbo,” Josh extended his now tiny hand. Jumbo’s hand easily enveloped it.
“Josh, everything looks great!” he spoke in a deep, slow, friendly growl. “Do you have a minute? I want to show you something, come with me.”
Josh followed Jumbo and Bernie followed them down the bubble-way… under a stark blanket of stars. Josh looked up in awe, he’d not seen a view like this before. The ceilings throughout the bubble were solid to protect from impacts from incoming objects, it seemed there was no expense spared in this area of the bubble.
They passed through an area marked AUTHORIZED USERS BEYOND THIS POINT and walked through a red door… a woman was working over a station across the room. She heard her visitors, stopped what she was doing, straightened up and turned, her dark hair flowing in an arc as her eyes stopped met Josh’s.
“Josh What a surprise! Welcome. What brings you to the Walker Control Section?”
“Jumbo… and Bernie. They bring me. How are you, Greta!”
“Hi Greta, I thought Josh might enjoy some of the finer things of Walker-base…” Josh looked around the room as Jumbo shamelessly out-flirted Bernie. Greta had them in her hands. Josh looked across at the monitors, showing exterior views of his moon home. Most cameras seemed to be inside of the bubble at key entrances or major intersections of hallways. He recognized most. Some other areas he did not recognize. One was a large green cabinet he’d never seen before.
“You all have quite a monitoring system here,” Josh complimented Jumbo.
“Yes, Josh! Well, mainly for safety… and accountability. We have cameras everywhere! Well, not in the lockers… privacy you know.”
“…and not in the commodes or pods!” chimed in Bernie.
Greta rolled her eyes and smiled to Josh. “Each camera is marked by an indication number… and those each correspond to this map. Our Walkers are able to make their way, externally around to each access point and we are able to communicate any needs internally in a similar manner. We find it very useful.”
Josh noticed there were many more exits and entryways than he had imagined for the bubble and that it was a truly huge structure. Josh eyed the exterior views and imagined the cold, unwelcoming environment outside… he shivered a little inside.
“What happens if a Walker loses their keys?” Josh asked, hoping to sound as if he were joking.
“No keys, Josh!” Bernie gleefully blurted out, “Sensors in the gloves of the suits! Walkers can get in and around almost anywhere with just a glove!”
Josh smiled… “interesting… brilliant, Bernie!”
“Well, we’ve bothered you enough, Greta. Always a pleasure,” Jumbo guided the group from the Control Center. Josh gleamed one more look at the monitors, the large green cabinet marked O2, location A7- oxygen tanks… and then at the map. Just down the bubble corridor from the Walkers locker room.
“Goodbye, Greta. See you around,” Josh walked toward the door.
“Yea! See ya, Greta,” Bernie blurted out stupidly.
“Good Bye, Bernie, Jumbo… Josh…” Greta stated flatly, glancing at each in turn and holding her eyes for an instant when she landed on Josh. They each smiled.
Josh rescued himself from the glee squad and return to the locker room to return to… work, away from cameras. He swept up what he could, slowly. He pushed the broom around, wiped the commodes down repeatedly… waiting and waiting. He was tired and wanted sleep now, but his mind was full of possibility and curiosity.
The door in the locker area flung open. The Walkers. They were boisterous and loud. They were slovenly pushing over each other. They were… as far as Josh could tell… idiots. They told tasteless jokes about woman, men, children, animals… but not a peep about religion or state. Those seemed to be the only truly sacred topics for these beasts. They pushed each other and put each other down and snarled and Josh wondered if he should leave…
The Walkers continued to get dressed while Josh pushed around the broom, wiped down mirrors… wasted time. In 30 minutes they were suited up and out the vacuum door… doing who knows what, for who knows how long. They never even seemed to notice he was there… Josh thought he might as well have been a faucet in their eyes.
Josh got to work, quickly making inventory of the ajar lockers. He found a few suits his size, tried on various boots and looked feverishly for an air tank that was full. His search brought him through every locker. He reached the end and wanted to learn more… there was the double doors that must lead to the green cabinet. Josh grabbed his broom and pushed it toward the double hallway doors.
He opened the door on the left, ignoring the WALKERS ONLY sign painted on it at eye level. Cautiously he pushed a broom down a secluded hallway and brushed a small sampling of dust into a large green cabinet. He turn his broom around and went back to the door. It was now locked by a sensor… “should’a brought a glove,” he thought. He tried the other end of the hallway… it opened into a cafeteria. At the far end of the tables he saw some double doors. He hurried to them pretending to sweep. He circled back around to the locker room, put away his broom and made his way home to sleep.
After 5 hours on the CRM Josh had seen the majority of the fitness room’s users come and go. He was a fixture of the room to them all now. Gone was the jumpy reaction he’d had to a sudden opening of the door. Gone was the exhaustion of 5 minutes of slight movement- his body and mind had become something new- singular and focused and something more… they were wanting a new challenge… they wanted to move; to explore.
The next day at work Josh found an open locker, he pulled on the suit marked 168 POUNDS, MALE… slightly large but doable… and had a bit of extra space inside. He walked to the door and opened it, leading to the restricted hallway and the large green cabinet. He walked up to it and stared… looking for a handle, or lock… there was none… He looked around the area, searching for a button of some sort and while leaning around the edge his gloved hand touched the cabinet, a small burst of air signaled a steady movement of the cabinet doors as they opened. There, some 30 air packs were filled and ready to go… 8 hours of air in each! Enough air to run 4 hours… he pulled one down revealing an attachment area to the inner cabinet wall- the mounting hardware was the mechanism by which the air packs were filled… Josh replaced the air pack, walked back over to the door, his gloved hand was sensed and the door opened. He returned the suit, completed his tasks for the day and casually made his way back to the CRM to log his mileage… and to think about what might be.
Back in his lunar floored kitchen, Josh wondered why nobody had been alarmed over the missing helmet, the hose… the wandering of the floor sweeper into unauthorized areas… It’s one thing to neglect a little hose… but a helmet??? Someone, some Walker must be missing it. And then today, his perusing of the air tanks- it was as if nobody was enforcing anything.
He heard a lot of somewhat sinister suggestions around who was expected to do what… but nobody had ever not done what was expected, nobody he’d ever met, anyway… nobody except himself, Josh. He swelled a little bit with pride and took the last bit of his 3rd helping of Rotini with sausage in tomato sauce from its pouch.
Back into the fitness room the next day Josh found himself running alongside Greta… she had greeted him quietly with a slight smile and had returned her attention to the task of her workout. She was running a bit faster today, more intensely… but seemed normal otherwise. When she completed her run she walked over to Josh’s CRM, placed one arm on her hip, the other on the side handle of the machine and asked Josh how he was today.
Josh glanced over, “fine. and you?”
“Fine, thank you. You’re looking very fit these days, Josh. You must really love running! What is it that has you in here all of the time? What do you love about all of this running?”
The belt whirred as Josh thought, “I guess I’m looking for something.”
“yeah, well, don’t look too hard. Sometimes you have to… walk, to find your prize.”
“I’ll stick with running for now, Greta. Nice to see you.” Josh returned to his run… bouncing in rhythm with the belt, the CRM adjusting its pace to his stride as the frowning halo held the blackness of the sky- cupping the fishbowl of stars overhead and framing the soft, cold dust of the surface beyond the bubble.
Josh decided to go into work a little early. He waited until the Walkers might be gone… but heard them down the hallway as he approached his work station. He sat in the hall and waited, eating out of a pouch of oatmeal. He squeezed it down bit by bit until he heard no more sound in the locker area.
He entered and walked straight through to the vacuum chamber where the Walkers had just made their exit from the bubble… he saw a few trailing off to the distance on the right- still smashing through their world haphazardly. He grabbed his broom, swept up the moon dust, collected some in a jar, disposed of the remainder and pressed the EJECT button.
swoosh… the dust left the chamber and returned to its inert home. Josh hung up his broom… checked the lockers for a suit his size. There it was, 150 POUNDS, MALE.
He picked it up and tried it on. He twisted on the helmet being sure to keep the drinking straw in the front and inserted the yellow air hose to his hip access port and then to the collar of his suit. The boots were a little tight… but not troublesome. His running shoes fit right inside of them with just slight snugness.
The suit felt VERY heavy in the artificial gravity. He slogged to the hallway door, it opened at his mere presence. His heart began to race as he saw the green cabinet. He walked to it with exaggerated steps, placed his hand on the door. Pssshhh… the doors opened. Josh reached for an air tank, strapped it to his suit, high on his shoulders and back and connected the yellow hose… he took a breath. and another. and another. He breathed for 30 seconds, big gulping breaths. He was getting air!
Josh walked down the hallway back toward the lockers, the doors parted for him, he turned right, passing his broom and dust pan and jar full of moon dust for his kitchen floor. He entered the vacuum chamber and approached the exterior exit door. He stood and breathed and slowly outstretched his arm. His hand spread, fingers wide inside of the glove. He could hear himself breath inside of the glass helmet, his heart beating deeply with the effort of the suit in gravity and the anticipation. His hand touched the door.
Pssshhhhh… the rear chamber door closed behind him and locked shut. The exterior bubble door opened, unlocked and he leaned into its void. Suddenly he felt the weight of the suit and the helmet dissipate and he moved to the threshold of the bubble’s door. Here under his feet was the shiny bubble floor he’s cared so well for. There was the moon.
He stepped forward into the softness of the grey dust. Then again, two feet standing on the moon. He walked out a few paces and turned to the bubble, for the first time seeing his home on the moon, he waved to Greta who might be watching an anonymous Walker late for a shift… The bubble’s smooth glass curves dominated this rocky, dusty place. It’s shiny surface reflecting the frown of the horizon behind him. Pssssh. The bubble’s exterior door closed. Josh was outside.
He stood, staring at his reflection in the bubble door, his heart raced, his breath shallow. He began feeling a slight panic at his situation. He felt woefully undeserving and under prepared- as if some uncertain punishment would be laid upon him. He stopped, he smiled, he chuckled and he turned to the right and began running away from the worn path of the Walkers.
Skipping over the remnants of the ejected moon dust, Josh ran alongside the bubble and it’s hallways to his left. He ran passed the fitness room where he saw a few people moving over their belts. He felt like shrinking a little at first… then straightened up, ran tall, turn toward the bubble and gave a big wave to the runner’s inside!
Josh ran on passing his pod, stopped for a moment and looked in through the port window… seeing his lunar kitchen and the door to his sleeping and washing quarters. When he reached the end of the bubble wing he continued running toward the frown on the horizon, hoping to keep a straight line toward the saddle in a distant silhouette.
He was out there now… running on the moon. He figured, he had about 4 hours of time out on the surface before his air supply was depleted. So it’d be best to run in a straight line… to make the most progress in his 2 hours of time he had to explore before turning back. He trotted, adjusting to the weight dispersal, shifting the suit’s mass this way or that. 13 minutes gone, Josh stopped and looked behind him. He saw for the first time outside of his kitchen floor, a path in the dirt, where his feet were marking the trail. Huge moon boot prints in the lunar sand. The bubble was shrinking in size but still the dominant object of the landscape. He continued on blazing this trail.
His mind wandered to the forest hills of Earth, to the prairies and gorges and waterfalls, the redwoods and fern covered wetlands… all the while his body encapsulated in this moon suit, breathing bottled air and running across this stark, grey surface. He found a difference in the effort and force needed to propel his mass forward, rather than simply keep up with a CRM. His mouth became a bit dry, he found his helmet’s straw and sucked… sugar water… cool sugar water! He smiled and sipped more.
Josh ran on another 15 minutes and stopped at a rock outcropping. In his view there was nothing but shadows in the darkness. He was surprised how well he could discern hazards in such low light. His mind seemed to be filling in the blanks and catching the darkest voids, steering his feet to the most grey spots. He’d had a few stumbles but no falls. Falling on this terrain while running could be disastrous- a torn suit out here… 45 minutes from the bubble would be deadly. He looked back at his tracks, close to his feet. His eyes followed them back across the grey, dry beach until they met the impossible darkness. He thought he could sense a faint glow of white light in the distance where the bubble might still be reaching out but he was uncertain of that. He was alone on the moon.
Josh kept running, sipping sugar water and running toward the horizon. The glow of the horizon was becoming brighter and extended higher into sky, overtaking the light of the stars. There was no longer a frown on the horizon but a brilliant wall of white light. He ran on, his pace quickening slightly as he took note of the air gauge. 73% remained… he had another 45 minutes before he’d need to turn back.
His feet made no discernible sound as the boots landed stride after stride. His breath was easy. Inhale… stride, stride… exhale… stride, stride. He could run all day like this. To his left was darkness, to his right was darkness and straight ahead a wide grey path leading to pure light.
He ran toward that place with steps piling into miles. He had 65% of his air and knew that in 10% more air use, he’d have to turn back. He picked up the pace. The sky now nearly all light in front of him, he could see every rock at his feet as if he were in his kitchen. He ran harder and faster, the inside of his suit getting wet with effort. Until the bright white light gave way and he entered into a well lit surface backed by a void of space speckled with a zillion stars.
Josh noticed a small bump in the horizon, he wondered if he could reach that rock before turning back, he pressed harder and harder. His feet deftly meeting the lunar sand whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh. The large boots creating pillows of moon dust with each step, tiny craters of a man. He pressed on, eyes focused on that growing rock, it seemed to be changing colors… it was no longer grey or white but.. more of a pale blue… and has he ran toward it grew more round rising from the horizon. His breath drew him toward the object. 60% air remaining… he was using air more quickly now.
The pale blue mound was now taking a definite shape, he was feeling a little overwhelmed, not daring to think of what it could be, in his mind he would refer to it as the rock, “run to the rock.” His intuition knew something else was true and he ran harder and harder. The mound’s base began shrinking in on itself as it rose higher and the sky above the horizon flattened in its darkness.
He ran on and the mound was certainly not a mound… but a ball its shape was nearly complete and he began making out details as it rose above the horizon. He noticed white swirls and spots of color… greens, browns… he looked on in disbelief. It was the Earth.
He stopped and stood and watched through tearing eyes for a long time. Then he sat and watched the Earth as it spun across the blackness.
beep beep, beep beep, beep beep, beep beep Josh’s air tank pulled his attention from his meditation. 49% air remained.
Josh stood quickly, panic setting in. He sipped the sugar water and turned back toward the bubble, running. He followed along his long, unending string of symmetry and knew where it led… and wondered if he could make it back. He thought he probably could, but for what? What punishment awaited him, what future awaited him? This was his moment to explore to adventure into wherever his feet could take him.
Josh stopped running. Stared down at his trail, and felt the enormity of Earth behind him. He turned and began running toward his home. He ran for 15 minutes and knew he could not make it back to the bubble. He ran on farther over a ridge of moon rocks, down into a small crater and across it’s enormous dish. He climbed back out of and onto the ridge across the expanse. He ran on… 25% air supply. A few small beeps… beep beep, beep beep, beep beep
The pale blue dot grew larger with each breath. His air emptying, Josh ran on and on through the sand and across fields of black moon rock. His feet would slip on them and hush into the soft virgin sand. His breath filled his helmet and his heart beat gave rhythm to his empty thoughts.
Josh ran as far as he could until there was no air left to draw from the pack.
One long beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep… Josh pulled the hose and silenced the sound. Josh fell to his knees. He gasped and dropped to his side. He went in to and out of the blackness, catching glimpses of the Earth… and glimpses of his grandfather and glimpses of black.
The moon became lush with forest and bird song and blooming flower. The distant grey ridges became glorious snow capped peaks skirted by deep evergreen and breeze. Nearby a forest stream babbled through small rounded boulders. Ahead on the trail his grandfather ran toward him with open arms and a wide, bearded smile.