This is the fourth instalment of my short story Echo in the Grey, published in 2017.
Echo in the Grey
© David Allan Hamilton
There are moments, like this, when all that you are nuzzles up against all that you ever have been, and a great reckoning emerges such that, bound by the past and lost in the present, the deepest desire for redemption at the end of your life reverberates through every thought you have. John Sarangan contemplated this and how its teasing Lacanian nature rendered it totally and forever just beyond his reach.
He understood he was dead and that he always had been. For all his running away, the terrified introversion and disdain for his species, Sarangan now ached for the touch of someone else, an unconditional hug that could only come like a refugee, bereft of affiliation, of expectation, of asking something in return. In the stark realization of all that he had become, John Sarangan didn’t want to die alone, and he was powerless to do anything about it. He sat down on the lab floor, stared up at the artificial lights of the control room and cried out from deep within his gut.
The data line kept flashing.
Amid the flurry of red lights and warnings covering the console, that blue data line had not stopped ticktocking for attention. Sarangan looked at it again through moist eyes and found new resolve. The atmosphere within the dome contained air that, perhaps, could sustain him. The pressure was low, but if he stayed in his enviro-suit, maybe he could survive long enough to be rescued.
He bolted up and checked the air on his tank. Two hours left. Plus, he had another six or so on the spare tanks. Forty-five minutes travel time to the dome site would leave him over seven hours to gain access to the structure where, he hoped, he’d find an environment to sustain him until the Echo arrived. The lack of excavator was a huge problem, so to physically dig with a shovel would reduce the amount of oxygen too. He’d have to work fast. And smart.
The LunaScoota ripped across the lunar landscape to the dome site. Sarangan took long looks at the scenery around him, thinking that if he was going to die here, he wanted the beauty of the Moon to be stamped on his brain. The stark contrast of grey and white against a black background reminded him of the French impressionist painters, how they loved to play with colours, to move your eye around a canvas. Sarangan traced the lines of ancient volcanoes and impact craters around the horizon, glimpsing briefly at his compass screen to stay on course. By the time he arrived at the dome site, he was more focused and calm. If accessing the dome failed, so be it.
The digging went slowly at first as Sarangan had to stop frequently to make sure he was at the right location above the apex. Within two hours, his shovel hit the top of the dome. He brushed the moondust away and marveled at the structure. Under his visor lights, the metallic surface gleamed like nothing he had ever seen before. A ship perhaps? If so, it was extremely small compared to even the tiniest of scout ships back on Earth. He paused, closing his eyes to catch his breath and rest. A warning rang in his ear that his air tank was nearly empty. Sarangan returned to the scooter, grabbed the larger reserve tank from the trailer, and plugged it in to his suit. Four hours and forty-nine minutes of air in this one.
Sarangan continued digging around the metal structure, looking for some kind of hatchway or portal to gain access to the hollow interior. There was nothing. Whatever this thing was, there were no apparent seams, no rivets, nothing that said this is a construction in the conventional terran sense. However, he did note strange-looking streaks as he revealed more of the structure, like those of water on high-velocity windshields when ships went through liquid atmospheres. The more he cleared away, the more he believed this was part of a spacecraft.
Time passed and Sarangan’s anxiety rose. He still couldn’t find a way in and before he knew it, the air level warning sounded again. He had an hour left in the last reserve tank. It took forty-five minutes to get back to the lab where he knew at least there were a few more hours of oxygen he could use. He swapped out the air tanks and stood looking out over the lunar horizon.
The Earth, beautiful and blue, shone marble-like in the sky and he wondered why he had never truly noticed it before. There was something about this location, he realized, that caused the Earth to appear more brilliant than anywhere else he’d been on the Moon. He hadn’t even noticed it when he first set up the seismic survey here. But there was no mistaking the glassy, deep blue now. It was unlike anything in the solar system.
With 50 minutes of air left in his tank, it was time to make a decision and Sarangan knew what he wanted to do. If he went back to the lab, he would simply prolong the inevitable. If he continued digging, at least there was a hope, however small, that he might gain access to the dome and find a way to survive.
And so he went on digging. He scraped in a circle around the dome, exposing a metre or so of the structure on each pass, but there was still no way to get inside. The air level warning sounded. He stopped and looked around at the totality of time. He had only a few minutes left to live and he didn’t want to spend it scrabbling in dust.
Sarangan sat down and leaned against the dome so he could breathe in the beauty of the Earth hurtling through space. He prayed to God, awkwardly, and then thought about his mother and the golden lab he had as a boy. He swore he could smell bread baking. He filled his mind with all those things that had given him joy, and marveled at that blue planet, glorious in its splendor, filling his visor. He pursed his lips hard, suppressing the last gasp of tears welling up from deep within. Then, as his breathing became more and more difficult, the blue was replaced by waves of black as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He dreamt that someone grabbed his legs, and felt the sensation of movement until finally, mercifully, he collapsed completely into the Black.