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#10 Lost and Found
“As I’ll ever be.”
Jobs and Mo’Steel stood at the mouth of the tube, one of the many such dark, narrow holes throughout the ship. Long ago, they’d discovered, by accident at first, that these tubes were part of the original architecture of the ship. And while no one was certain of their original purpose, it was clear they were intended for some form of extravehicular activity, maybe maintenance to the outside of the ship, maybe just a wooly ride. If the Shipwrights were into that sort of thing.
Going EVA wasn’t an experience Jobs particularly enjoyed. But he’d been chosen to do it now, when Mother was, according to Billy’s calculations, approximately one month, thirty days away from Planet Earth. Jobs wanted to get a closer look at the place --- their old home --- that might well be their new home. He wanted to gather whatever information he could that would help prepare the Remnants for exploration of the place. For example, he wanted to begin work on designing a land vehicle, but he could only do so once he had an idea of the planet’s terrain.
And maybe more important than practical reconnaissance but something he didn’t really feel able to talk about --- not even with Violet and Mo’Steel --- was the fact that Jobs wanted so badly to see Earth. He’d loved his home. He still did. He hadn’t known how much you could love something as massive as a planet until he’d lost it. Sometimes at night, as he was struggling to fall asleep, Jobs actually felt “in love” with Earth, like the ancient poets who wrote love poems to their countries or the little towns where they were born.
How could you admit something so weird to anyone, even your best friend?
Jobs knew he could have asked Mo’Steel to go EVA in his place. Or, at least, to go with him. In most things, he trusted Mo’Steel more than he trusted himself. But Jobs felt somewhat proprietary about Planet Earth. He’d discovered it, or rediscovered it. He’d urged the Remnants’ return. Now he wanted to be the first to see it up close.
“You don’t come back by the time I calculate the square root of, say, 237,654,909,” Mo’Steel said, “I’m coming after you.”
Jobs grinned, “I’m holding you to that. Knowing you, I’d better hurry.”
Jobs took a deep breath, tried to calm his tingling nerves. Best to just jump , he told himself. So he did, and then he began the big drop, the falling and tumbling, the shooting past flashes of dark red shapes and spooky forms. He’d experienced it all before but still the panic flooded his brain. And then, the worst part. Jobs felt like he was suffocating, knew he wasn’t, tried to just let it happen. He passed through the warm, taffylike substance, let it coat him from head to toe, no choice anyway. When it was done, Jobs was encased in the goo space suit, covered with a sticky, pliable stuff that would allow him to move freely just outside the ship, that would keep him safe from horrendous doses of radiation and the fire of passing meteors and the deadly cold of space and the blinding brightness of the sun. And any other miscellaneous hazards the universe might throw his way.
Jobs was EVA. He couldn’t hear anything because there were no air molecules to knock around and create sound. Anyway, even if there was sound, what would there be to hear but the roar of Mother’s engines? He could see, observe, and that was what mattered.
With some awkwardness, Jobs oriented himself to face “front,” toward the mass that was Earth and its moon, now just one big lump.
Jobs blinked, shut his eyes hard, opened them wide. No. No mistake. It wasn’t what he wanted to see. It wasn’t what he’d expected to see. It didn’t entirely match what he’d seen moths ago, on his first VR excursions, what he’d shown Mo’Steel. Okay, true, the resolution had been poor, the Earth at the very furthest limits then of Mother’s sensors. Still, what he saw now made no sense. No . Jobs corrected his own panicked thinking. It makes sense. I just have to find out how.
It… it was a place of extremes. At least what he could see of it.
One huge side --- a half? more than half? --- of the larger piece, Earth, was sunk in darkness. Jobs guessed that it was also very cold, the temperature subfreezing. It was a black wasteland.
The other side faced the sun. It was bright beyond tolerance. Bombarded by intense radiation. Also, uninhabitable, the terrain sharp with needlelike protrusions.
Yin and yang , Jobs thought. One part exists because of the other. Equal and opposite. Good and bad, though in this case, which part was good and which bad? No shades of gray.
Except that between these two impossible environments was a strip of land, not very wide, maybe a couple hundred miles across, maybe more, that seemed to exist in a kind of dry mist. It was a shadow world, the land at times jagged and mountainous, at others oddly flat.
Where is the water? Jobs thought, panicked. Where is the vegetation? He saw nothing, nothing, and suddenly it came to him how badly he’d wanted to see a planet teeming with life. His planet. His home.
Okay, he knew that it was impossible for him to see signs of life at this great distance, he knew that. But he wanted so badly to see them. He wanted to see oceans and rivers, lakes and streams. He wanted to see the trees and grasses, animals --- and humans. But he saw nothing, not even a glimmer of artificial light, no more big cities burning bright. Nothing.
Almost without consciousness Jobs made educated guesses about the atmosphere and gravity of this compartmentalized planet. Thin atmosphere, low gravity. Life on the surface, if it could exist at all, could exist only in the Shadow Zone. Providing its air wasn’t toxic to human beings. Providing its soil was more than just ash, dead matter, inorganic refuse. Provided there was water. Always water. There was no possibility of life without water. Not even bacteria could live without it.
Okay, he thought. Figure this out. Water. Oceans. There could be vast expanses of frozen seas in the Dark Zone. It was possible. And they might be accessible after all, chunks of ice could be brought back to the Shadow Zone --- how? --- for use as drinking water. Thawed for energy. Maybe.
And it was possible there were vast expanses of bubbling, boiling seas on the Bright Zone. Fiery seas that could for some unexpected or unknown reason surge up and spill over into the Shadow Zone… We’d be trapped between two deadly extremes, Jobs thought morbidly. Fire and ice.
Jobs focused now on the smaller chunk of the planet, what had once been Earth’s moon. It looked simply stuck onto the extreme end of the Dark Zone, like a bow stuck onto the top of a box. That, at least, looked the same as it had the last time Jobs had gone VR, with Mo’Steel. Thin atmosphere, no visible bodies of water. Gray and pockmarked with craters of varying shapes and sizes. Uninhabitable. No doubt about it.
But what do I know, Jobs thought bitterly.
But what else had he seen back then, going VR? Had he been wrong about almost everything? Jobs propelled himself to the right, then left in the weirdly easy way the goo suit allowed him to move. Okay, he still couldn’t spot Mars. Jobs recognized other planets of the Earth’s solar system --- or thought he did. There was Jupiter, still seeming far too bright to be the Jupiter he’d studied back in school. There was the yellow star, Earth’s sun, right were it should be. But pre-Rock facts weren’t necessarily post-Rock facts, were they?
Jobs made a decision. He knew he shouldn’t stay EVA much longer. The Shipwrights had built some restrictions into the goo suit --- like a limited amount of oxygen, a predetermined time limit to the process.
But all Jobs could think about was --- Earth. He had to stay and watch. He had to wait and observe. Maybe he’d missed something. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe if he hung on as long as he could something --- what? --- would happen. Something good.
I hope Mo’Steel doesn’t come riding to the rescue, he though. I need to do this.
Jobs waited. Time passed, how much he didn’t know. At some point he noticed he was having trouble breathing. At some point after that he felt slightly light-headed and saw with vague alarm that his goo suit was slowly beginning to break down.
I should go in now, he thought fuzzily, but hung there in space where he was.
Jobs waited long enough to discover yet another dismal fact. Earth no longer rotated. It had its orbit, of course, but Earth, with its attached moon, no longer rotated. He’d confirm that observation, of course, when he was back on board but… Yeah. The Dark Zone remained dark and the Bright Zone remained bright.
And Jobs was going to be sick. Right there in his goo suit --- it looks thinner, doesn’t it? he thought staring at his hand --- he was going to hurl, choke on his own vomit.
Jobs fought down the urge, took as deep a breath as he could, steadied himself, figured he’d just cut minutes off what remained of his life by sucking up the air supply. But at least he hadn’t gone out like some drunken rock star.
Jobs awkwardly turned away from the dismal sight of Earth. Mother filled his vision. A vast topography of unexplained structures and glimmering lights, of metal plates and red and yellow neon. An immense machine. Inhuman. His prison.
Jobs had never felt so alone, so completely alienated, isolated, outcast. Who could he talk to about what he’d seen? Could he tell Mo’Steel his grave doubts? Violet? No. No to both It was because of him, Jobs, that they’d chosen to break the Big Compromise and head for Earth. Largely, if not entirely because of him, because of what he’d told everyone he’d seen, Planet Earth, not fully destroyed, still in orbit, seeming to have a few bodies of water, smaller sections of green.
He’d made a mistake, a huge one. Maybe I should just cut off from Mother, Jobs thought, and he felt strangely calmed by the idea. Just break this connection and float into deep space, die all alone, anything but go back and face the consequences of what I’ve done.
But even as he contemplated this through an increasingly fuzzy head he knew it wasn’t an option. He’d go back. He’d tell them all something. He’d say he couldn’t see much, that there was a heavy meteor show or a surface dust storm or something else obstructing a clear view of Earth.
No. He’d tell them the truth.
Without a final glimpse of Earth, Jobs propelled himself up toward the ship. T was tough going. The goo suit seemed to have molded so closely to his skin it was like the skin itself. Thin. Vulnerable.
The exterior mouth of the EVA tube opened for him. With every last ounce of energy, Jobs climbed upward through space, got into the tube, lost the remains of the goo suit, emerged, stumbling, gasping, from the interior mouth of the tube.
Jobs regained his balance, said, “What?”
“The square root of 237,654,908,” Mo’Steel said grimly. “You’re back just in time.”