The Stopover

Painting of the Moon seen through a tree. Caption reads: “It was said that on the moon you could buy anything or anyone.”
Image: a painting of the moon. Text: It was said that on the moon you could buy anything or anyone.

The Stopover

Short Story by Iris Carden

I got off my flight, along with 215 other passengers.  The signs to the baggage pick-up area were actually easy to follow.  I was impressed.  I’ve been all over the world and seen all kinds of airports, with greater or lesser degrees of accessibility.  This was logical, sensible and easy to access. It was the best I’d ever seen.  To find it, I only had to leave the world and go to the Moon.

I collected my overnight bag, and made my way through the crush of new arrivals towards the exit. Most of my possessions would be transferred to my connecting flight. Along the way, I saw the advertising signs for hotels, casinos, a brothels, drugs which were illegal on most of Earth but unregulated here, plastic surgeons, colonists’ outfitters and the Apollo tour of the first landing site. I passed the obligatory tacky souvenir stands, with chunks of authentic Moon rock, mugs shaped like old-fashioned space helmets, and postcards of bare human behinds and the words ‘’I got Mooned on the Moon.” The Moon was a weird mix: family holiday destination; playground of the rich and famous; and sleaze.  It was said that on the Moon you could buy anything or anyone you wanted, as long as you had enough money.

At the exit, I found a pavilion where the moving walkways, under perspex leading off into the various habitation areas, met.  I found the one for Armstrong, and stepped on.  Years ago, I’d visited a huge aquarium which had a perspex tunnel under the shark tank, so sharks swam over me as I made my way through.  This was the same kind of tunnel, but instead of water, I was surrounded by the stark and barren lunar landscape.

Looking out at the emptiness, I wondered why people chose to come here.  I knew that initially it was a status symbol for the ultra rich to have a lunar mansion, but now, when economies of scale had made it inexpensive to come here, why would anyone want to spend their days looking out over nothing?  

Then I looked up, and saw the Earth.  From here, it was beautiful, radiant blue and green.  There was no sign of the massive destruction humans had wreaked on it; no pollution or overpopulation or corruption or violence.  From here, Earth was perfect.  Maybe that’s why people chose to come here, and some chose to live here.  The only way to really appreciate the Earth, despite what we’d made of it, was to look at it from somewhere else.

Arriving in Armstrong, it was no trouble at all to find the correct moving walkway to the Branson Hotel.  The Habitat area was similar to the walkway – it was under a giant perspex dome.  The buildings could have been anywhere on Earth, except cleaner,  but the streets were different.  There were no vehicles, just the moving walkways. People, luggage, even small items of furniture were being moved along those walkways.  I wondered how large items were moved, but it didn’t interest me enough to ask anyone. 

The Branson was just a standard five star hotel, not exceptional, but quite serviceable for the two Earth-equivalent days I would be waiting to catch my connecting flight.  From my bedroom window, I could still see the Earth.  For the first time, I realised that I would miss my home planet.  From Mars, Earth would be a silver dot in the night sky, just as Mars is on Earth.  

I had ample time for sight-seeing, but really didn’t have any interest, so after a quick meal, I went in search of a colonists’ outfitters.  I was sure I already had everything I would need for my move to Mars, but knowing it would be a long way back, I thought it best to double-check.

The outfitters I found was on the outskirts of Armstrong, right up against the side of the dome. Inside the shop, I found all the expected things: dehydrated food, emergency lights, space suits, air tanks, insulated clothing, satellite modems.  

“Going to Mars?” an enthusiastic-sounding shop assistant asked me.  

“No,”  I thought, “I’m going to Peru.”  Out loud, I said, “Yes. I think I have everything I need, but I just wanted to look around, in case there’s something I hadn’t thought of.”

“Mining? Engineering? Hydrology?” The enthusiastic salesperson asked. I noticed that her name badge said “Kim.”

“Planetary administration,” I answered.

“So you don’t need tools. I know tools are supplied, but lots of skilled workers prefer to use their own. Will you be in barracks, or independent housing?”

“Independent housing.”

“You have your own furniture?”

“I’ll use what’s provided.”

“You’ll need your own linen, cutlery, crockery and cooking implements.”

“I’ve got all of that.”

“Do you have a properly fitted space suit?”

“I won’t need one. My work won’t take me out of the complex.”

“But if there’s a power outage, or fire, or other emergency, or if you just get sick of being confined in a small space day in and day out, you’ll need a suit.  It’s better to have one that’s specifically fitted to you.”

I agreed to be fitted to a suit.  Kim measured me carefully, and found exactly the right suit and helmet to fit me, and placed them on the counter. She warned me that if I gained or lost any more than about five percent of my body mass I would need to be fitted for a new suit.

“Now food. If you like variety in your diet, you might like to pick up some now.  There’s food available there, of course, but we have a greater range.  Oh, and take a note of our website, you can order more from us, to be sent on the shuttle.  It takes a while to get there, so stock up whenever you can.”

I took the advice and piled dehydrated foods on the counter beside the suit.  Then I noticed the potted trees.  

“Miniature fruit trees – we’ve got oranges, mandarins, apples and cherries.  We’re getting in more varieties all the time.  If you like fresh fruit, growing trees under lights in your home is an absolute must. Eventually, there will be farming on Mars, but they’re not at that stage yet.  At the moment, this is the only way to get fresh fruit.” 

I added an orange and an apple tree to the pile.  I thought I would see how well those survived before I bought any more.

“Do you have a first aid and pharmacology kit?” Kim asked.

“I shouldn’t need it,” I answered, “there’s doctors and a dispensary on-planet.”

“Yes,” Kim said, “but it takes a long time to get anything from Earth, or even from here, to Mars.  Supplies can run low.  It’s best to have your own first aid supplies, basic antibiotics, antivirals and pain killers.”

Thinking ruefully about my bank account, I bought the most basic first aid and pharmacology kit.

Mars seemed to be getting further and further away from everything I ever knew, the longer I stayed in the shop. I needed a job, and Mars, however weird and isolated, was where the job was. Even so,  this seemed more and more depressing and miserable than I had envisaged.

“OK,” I said.  “That’s really all I can afford.  If I need anything else, I’ll have to order it once I get there.”

“That’s fine,” said Kim.  “I’ll package it all up for you and have it delivered to the shuttle for your flight. Before you go, do you want to try out your suit?”

“Try it out? I asked.

“We have an airlock in the back, you can try on your suit and go out on to the surface. It’s not the same gravity or temperature as Mars, but you can get something of an idea of how the suit will function for you.”

Getting into my suit, I looked up at a poster on the wall.  It was Neil Armstrong, stepping on to the Moon surface.  Compared to his bulky suit, mine seemed sleek and ultra-modern.  I suspected his was much harder to get into than mine, although I still needed some help from Kim.  She assured me that with practice, I would be able to get in and out of mine without help.  

From the airlock, I stepped out onto that barren Moon surface I’d first seen from the walkway.  I took a few steps, jumped and noticed how far I seemed to float before my feet touched the ground again.  Why was the lower gravity so noticeable outside the dome, but not in the dome?  Was it just my perception, or was there some artificial form of gravity inside the dome, that made it feel more like Earth?  Out on the surface, if I turned away from the dome and looked out onto the natural Moon surface, I could have been the first person there.  I went for a short walk, keeping the airlock to the shop in sight. 

As I walked, in that semi-floating manner of walking in low gravity, I found myself fascinated by my surroundings, by the wonder of being in an environment that human beings were never meant to inhabit.  Suddenly, although I was just outside a major tourist trap, I was an explorer, in the wild, unknown regions of space.

That’s when I realised: the Moon wasn’t just a stopover, it was an adventure in itself. Mars wasn’t just a job.  It wasn’t just new place where I would live for a few years. I was a pioneer.  I was part of a massive adventure, part of humankind going beyond the limits it had always known. I was in space, and I was going to live and work in space.  I was going to places previous generations thought impossible. I was going to do things humans had never done before.

I made my way back, and waved to Kim to let me back in.

I gave back my suit to be packed up with all of my other purchases, and went to a rack of brochures of things to see and do on the Moon.  

I only had one and a half Earth-equivalent days left on the Moon. I needed to make the most of them.  

The Mars Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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