Another Small Step: A Future Tale on a Part of the Solar Neighborhood
Col. Franklin Leibnitz was no stranger to space travel. He had spent time aboard the International Space Station, after all. Not to mention being among those who tested the replacements for the old Space Shuttle. Yet none of that compared to surveying one of the many craters on the Moon.
The first time anyone’s done that in a while, the American astronaut mused as continued moving further away from the lander. He smirked beneath the helmet protecting him from the vacuum of space. There was a sense of pride in that it wasn’t the Chinese, Indians, Russians or whatever those SpaceX people had in mind that finally sent men on the Moon this century. But him, his team and the NASA boys back home.
Home…. He turned up towards the horizon. And there it was, Planet Earth gleaming in all its glory. Though Franklin had anticipated something like this since watching those old Apollo videos so long ago, it was still hard to describe. That all he ever cared about lived on that blue rock along with every single American, nation, human being and life form seemed so profound that not even a poet could really sum it all up. “My God,” he gasped. “It’s full of...”
“Are you done yet?”
Startled, the astronaut turned around to find a pale girl in the sort of laced dress that his grandmother would have worn as a young lady. That alone surprised him as much as the realization that she had no spacesuit of any kind on. A part of him wondered whether it was a hallucination or if quality control in Houston was sleeping on the job. Still, he tried to straighten up.
“Um, o-on behalf of the U-United States and all mankind, I-I come in peace,” he stuttered through the suit, careful to keep his speakers low. Nice going. I’m losing it! They would find him crazy, no doubt if they heard him right there and then. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Luna. Though if you wish, Selene would do,” the girl answered in perfect English with a soft voice. “I have to know if you’re done admiring my big oaf of a brother, Col. Liebnitz.”
This can’t be really happening. Taking care not to burn through his air supply in panic, he cautiously stepped towards the figure. “What did you mean by that? H-How do you even k-know my name?”
“Please,” she sighed. “You’re not the first one who’s landed on my doorstep or gazed at me. That other human, Armstrong I think, had better sense. Now then, would you care for some tea?”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this again,” the astronaut heard her groan before sliding back into a more formal tone. “Surely you’ve heard of hospitality back on Earth. Besides, I have other guests too and some OVAs to watch. So would you kind make up your mind already?”
Nothing in Franklin’s training prepared him for this. But as he nodded and numbly noticed himself being dragged along by the being, a thought kept repeating in his head.
What have I gotten myself into?
It was one thing to be invited into a Victorian-style home by a stranger in similarly old-fashioned dress. It was another to have all that happen on another celestial body, complete with breathable air. Not to mention meeting the Moon herself. As Franklin meekly sat on a long couch in the living room, he couldn’t help but wonder why not a single astronomer back on Earth had seen this by now. On the other hand, how any of this was even possible was anyone’s guess.
“So another human, huh?” The astronaut turned to his side to find a pretty blond girl, this one in a yellow power suit. Something about her reminded him of old myths about Aphrodite, only to brush it aside. “Let me guess: American? NASA boy?”
“Um, United States Air Force, actually,“ he replied rather awkwardly.
“How predictable,” she groaned. “I knew I should have had Mars bet on that Elon M-“
The lady calling herself Selene cleared her throat before offering a tray with tea and biscuits. “Sorry about that. Venus can be very friendly when she wants to. A little hot-headed as well.”
Venus as in the planet?! “Um, nice to know. And thank you,” Franklin sighed as he took one of the pastries. If he really was losing it, might as well play along. “I suppose it’s not, erm, often you have guests from Earth, it seems.”
The second planet from the Sun simply whistled. “Well, we wouldn’t mind as much if the likes of you keep sending all those probes out all over the neighborhood! It took me a whole damn year to clean up that melted piece of scrap a while back!”
“Look – um, whatever you are,” he shot back, a more righteous fire burning inside him. “It’s not like I make the decisions back on Terra Firma. Besides, it’s in our nature to be curious. I mean, what’s wrong with exploring? The stars beckon. A whole universe is out there to see!”
“Yet you still long for home,” Selene sighed as she sat down beside him. “You know, you humans keep sending those little robots into the void. And coming in your metal rockets to loiter on my backyard – only to look back at my big brother? Frankly, it’s a bit much for some soul-searching, don’t you think, Col. Liebnitz?”
Franklin was stunned, yet at the same time felt as if he shouldn’t be. The astronaut would be lying to himself if he didn’t feel a tad homesick upon seeing the Earth in all its blue majesty. All that at the palm of my hand… Still, he managed to chuckle.
“You aren’t the first one,” he finally replied. “I remember listening to this quote from Carl Sagan as a kid. Something about a pale blue dot. Of my home in the vastness of the cosmos, where everyone I ever knew and care about live. Heh, a shame I couldn’t bring a copy of that up here.”
“So much for human memory skills,” Venus deadpanned, only for the astronaut to shrug beneath his suit.
“Erm, that’s besides the point. Quite a few folks where I’m from said pretty much the same thing as you have, Ms. Selene. And yet when I look back home from orbit – Hell, even just walking on your backyard as you call it, I’d like to think that the sheer wonder is worth the risk. That maybe, just maybe, this could all be the start of a bright new age.” He smirked. “Though it’d still be a pain to explain all this – and you, to my colleagues.”
Come to think of it…My God, they’re probably looking for me now! I better… But as he was about to stand up, the man noticed the Moon reaching for his left hand. And despite the layers of fabric and gadgetry, he could feel her.
“I’m not very good with this sort of thing,” she sighed before letting out a shy smile. “But by the Senshi, don’t worry. We’ll think of something. So in the meantime, please relax. You’re a guest in my home, after all.”
Glancing at the second planet from the Sun, Franklin noticed a coy grin on her face. “You seem alright by me, I guess. At least Terry will be in for a nice surprise.”
Against his better judgment, the astronaut let himself collapse on the couch and actually taste the cracker still on his hand. This was no doubt going to be part of one very weird mission log once he returns. Then again, he was probably insane already, at any rate. But one more thing kept running in his head. One he decided to voice out.
“Where could he be?!” another astronaut groaned to herself in a mix of panic and frustration as he went about the same patch of Lunar surface for the nth time. Col. Leibnitz couldn’t have gone far. And she wasn’t one to consider any worst-case scenarios until proven, even if for her own sanity. Besides, there aren’t any aliens or stuff like that here…right?
Just as she was about to turn away however, she noticed a peculiar person in casual, rather green-tinged clothes walking by. Not only did he have anything resembling a spacesuit on, but there was also a flower on his head. Yet he seems so familiar, somehow. A part of her wanted to catch this being’s attention. The loud beeping from the Lunar module however removed any other notion of following up on that.
“What is it?” she whispered, her eyes still following the strange, happy-go-lucky figure.
“Houston is growing concerned,” the voice on the other end warily replied. “We can’t afford any losses up here...do you copy?”
She sighed. What do I have to lose? “Well, you may have to keep the boys back home out of this one. 'Cause you have got to see what I’m looking at…”