“I tell you, standing beneath a real sky with proper air in your lungs and not that recycled crap, it’s like the first cigarette of the day,” The grey haired man next to Seb had been droning on for a good half hour “And the breeze, oh man, if there’s one thing I didn’t think I’d miss on Luna it’s the breeze. Through your hair, your fingers, cold or warm. The Colonies are just to static you know,” the laugh was bawdy but the knuckles on his armrest were white.
Everyone deals with it in a different way, everyone has an outlet. Seb just nodded and continued looking forward, not trusting himself to speak. He was trying to relax the grip of his own hands, trying to focus his attention on the whirl of the hydraulics and not the rising crescendo of flames. The orange glow of reentry lit the inside of the coach casting the features of those inside into moving shadow, innocent then sinister, second after second, most didn’t give it a second thought. The neon warning light overhead was flashing, reminding the passengers that their harnesses should remain in place, like they had a choice. Anyone not wearing a harness would be smashed against the inside of the coach. In a time of unparalleled travel between Earth and Luna reentry was still a fiery free fall that ran in the opposite direction of a person’s sense of self preservation, at least it was if you were flying economy. As if to punctuate his thoughts the shuttle gave a sudden jolt rattling his head between the protective pads of the seat. The stabilisers controlled the worst of the inertia and turbulence but his stomach still turned over on itself, he was glad he had avoided eating. Wiping sweat from his palms he screwed his eyes shut and focused on his breathing, his hands gripping the harness that held him in place. Slow breaths.
Nothing to worry about, dozens of transports made the same run every day, hundreds even. Day in and day out. Nothing to worry about. The trip between Luna and Earth had been whittled down to hours with a relatively smooth take off or reentry on the Luna side, the Earth however was a different matter. The craft gave a particularly lively judder and his eyes snapped open. The attendant in the row opposite smiled.
“Don’t like flying?” she was clearly well trained in reading body language. Flying was fine, flying was smooth and carefree, automated like stepping onto a moving escalator or taking a cab. This, this was falling from orbit in a tin box, made all the worse by the fact that this was his choice. Seb shook his head he closed his eyes again.
The orange burn faded and the violent vibrations of the shuttle eased away leaving only the hum of the engines and the chatter of the passengers. Still focusing on deep, even breaths he opened his eyes again. Outside the world was dark. The passengers began to make ready, parents put away their children’s toys and folded away the small tray tables that were built into the seats. Out came people’s Tabs as they synced the devices to Earth’s internal network.
“Whoo!” the man wiped sweat from his forehead “love it,” he stammered “love it.” Seb ignored him and convinced his hands to let go of the restraints, angry red marks lined his palms.
The attendant was still smiling at him. She reached for the P.A “Ladies and Gentlemen we are now in atmo, we will be touching down shortly at JFK AeroPad local time 11:34pm. Please ensure all harnesses remain fixed until the lights and flight personnel indicate otherwise. Welcome back to Earth.” Replacing the mic she turned her attention back to him “That wasn’t so bad was it, first time back?”
“No, just doesn’t get any easier,” he answered. She nodded as though she had heard it all before, she probably had.
“We get folk like that. Had one guy throw up on a Gaelen X4 reentry and those things have the best anti-grav around, no harnesses on those things. It’s in the head mostly.”
“This isn’t a Gaelen X4,” he reminded her sharply. The attendant looked away, her mouth a tight line. “Sorry,” Seb managed as he tried to smarten himself up under the harness “nerves,” he explained halfheartedly. She smiled again, that false smile that was held in place by sheer will of professionalism. Must be hard to deal with people like him all day he thought. The craft shook again and he made a noise he wasn’t sure his body should ever make, he forced his hands to remain on the armrests. This entire journey had him questioning his sanity, he didn’t need to go back, he could have stayed away. It will pass, he told himself. It will pass, you’re doing the right thing.
“How long since you’ve been home?” she asked.
“This isn’t home.”
There was a chaos to Earth that was absent in the colonies, one he hadn’t missed. The air was full of flavours, several depending on where you went and non of them pleasant, they were oily and coated the mouth like a greasy film. The temperature was inconsistent, weather he now found was an inconvenience and unnecessary, and it looked like rain. No, the domes of the Luna City were much more preferable to this natural free for all. Order and consistency were what Seb craved, the regularity and reality of colony life had become a comfort. The wind snatched at the coat over his arm as he made his way across the tarmac to the car that shouldn’t have been there. No one knew he was coming in today, he hadn’t informed anyone of his departure, but there against the car stood a tan woman in a dark suit with slick black hair and deep hooded eyes. A cigarette in one hand and an apple in the other.
“How does it feel to be under the Eternal Blue Sky again?” she asked by way of greeting. Seb dumped his bag at the woman’s feet and swung his jacket on over his sweat covered shirt.
“Doesn’t look all that eternal from back home,” he pointed out.
“That isn’t home.”
“How’d you know I was coming in Remy?” Seb asked. The woman shrugged the question away.
“Why’d you come in on that coach like some kind of bum?” she asked pointing to the coach shuttle on the runway behind him.
“I was hoping to avoid a meeting like this,” he said. She tutted at him like he was a naughty child. He should have taken the first class shuttle, he should have saved himself the trouble of that shit show.
“I just thought it best if you were greeted by a friendly face,” her gaze hadn’t left him, it studied him up and down like a predator, no doubt comparing him to the man she remembered. That man was years dead and they both knew it. “Your mother not with you?” she asked.
“You remember the time we all went down to Bakersons when we were little, we got real ice-cream made with real clotted cream and we watched the fireworks and the holo-show,” She smiled at him, it did nothing to ease his trepidation “You decided to go swimming in the fountain in the courtyard, still dressed. Man, Marion whooped you so hard,” the laugh was genuine “I always liked Marion, she treated me like her own. Good woman.”
“Mum’s not here.”
“Not really,” he said.
“I love the way she used to -”
“You really think she would come,” he didn’t find this funny “For him?”
Remy flicked the cigarette away as the smile dropped from her face,”He was a good man Sebastian,” she bit back.
“No he wasn’t,” he said. She opened the car door and tossed him the apple. “I’m not going with you, I just want to say a few words, I’m not here to get in anyone’s way.” she ignored him again and tossed his bag onto the back seat.
“Shut the fuck up and get in the damn car, the old lady is waiting to see you,” she said as she walked to the driver’s side, “And eat that,” she called over her shoulder “You look like shit.” Nothing on this damned planet ever changed he thought as he got into the car. The rain began to fall as they pulled away, meter by meter leaving the Luna City further behind.