(In Chapter 5, we found out more about Riss. Now it’s the geist’s turn.)
Brady Cooper was typing.
It was more difficult than he thought it would be. One hand strapped into the pad case, the other single-finger typing on the pad surface, all the while trying not to float away from the bunk.
Floating made him queasy. He would never forget the embarrassment he felt just before his first launch. The “training” he received in the weightless chamber prior to joining the Lunar geological survey team simply didn’t prepare him for living on the Moon.
He lasted all of ten minutes before getting sick. All over himself, his teammates, the arrival seats in the spaceport lounge.
And it didn’t get any better from that point.
Somebody should have told me that terraforming didn’t change the gravity! he complained to his supervisor at the time. Didn’t Lunar Base have grav generators, anyway?
But that was just an excuse. Of course, he should have known. He’d forgotten. In his haste and anxiety to prove himself. The youngest geologist ever allowed to join an extra-Earth survey team, just recently out of grad school. And from Africa, no less!
No, not from Africa, he argued. American. I’m American. That was just my mother.
They always shrugged. You UA people all look alike, some told him.
Asians. He just didn’t understand them. But he knew Chinese scientists. Japanese. Indian. Malaysian. He needed to prove to them, prove that he was just as good as they were.
When the call came for a geist to join an asteroid hunting crew, he leapt at the chance. Without thinking, as usual. But he knew he could do it.
He hadn’t figured on the gravity being more or less the same. Or the equipment more complicated. Or the people more…complicated.
The recalcitrant pad was proving adept at avoiding his fingertips. Irritated, Cooper tried to sit upright. Instead, he managed to propel himself tumbling head over foot toward the closed entrance door.
Letting out a tiny yelp, he cradled the pad to his chest to protect it. His feet banged against the door, arresting his forward momentum and pushing him back towards the bunk. Calming himself down, Cooper reached down with his free hand and grabbed a boot. After a few awkward attempts, he managed to yank the boot on one-handed. The boot touched the floor, securing him in place.
He laughed. It must have looked ridiculous; anchored in place, waving his arms and left leg around like a sea anemone.
He took his hand out of the pad case and pulled the other boot on. Sitting down on the bunk, without doing a somersault this time, Cooper thought back to his near-fatal mistake. His first hunt.
What a scene he must have made, that time.
He’d been so anxious about actually stepping foot on an asteroid that he had forgotten to set his boots. One step on the asteroid was all it had taken to push him off of the surface and onto a slowly arching path out into space.
Fortunately Riss had seen him starting to float away and performed a daring rescue worthy of the popular NetStream vid “Real Space: Rock Hunters.” She turned off her own boots, grabbed the cable from the ship’s winch and launched herself as hard as she could at Cooper. A few bounding leaps onto the roof of the ship later, she crashed into him and wrapped the cable around his waist. He was only free floating for twenty seconds. But that was enough time for him to ponder having to make the choice: either slowly suffocate as his air ran out, or open his exosuit for a quick, frozen death.
Sitting on his bunk, magboots firmly attached, Cooper could now look back and wonder.
Why hadn’t he learned his lesson the first time?
He shook his head.
A better question was why he felt so drawn to seek an outer belt hunting expedition.
Chalk it up to the exuberance of youth, he heard a former teacher’s voice say.
He smirked at the memory. Mistakes, one after the other, in his doctoral studies at Boulder. Geochemistry had never been his strong point; somehow, he persevered. Even got three papers published before graduating. His professors’ lectures set his imagination on fire. To see asteroids and comets up close! To visit the Zedra fuel station on Triton and see the ice plumes of Europa!
Now, far from the colonized part of the solar system, hovering near the LaGrange points of Jupiter and Saturn, he was afraid.
All of the time.
Afraid. He had no idea the psychological rigors of deep space travel would affect him so intensely. The isolation. The emptiness. No up or down, left or right. No center.
None of his astrogeology studies had prepared him for this.
He held his head in his hands and stared at the floor.
Why had he and his mother left Tanzania?
As a high school student in Colorado, he had never fully understand the reason.
“It was time to leave Dar es Salaam behind,” she told him. “The republic is no more. The Commonwealth will not save us. Our future is with our brethren. In the UA.”
He originally thought they were searching for his father. British, he had been told. A white man from a distinguished background. Maybe even a politician. But they only stayed in Brighton for a few days. Then Chicago. Then Colorado.
His mother had never spoken of his father’s whereabouts, or why he had left. Cooper had no distinct memories of his father. Only that the man had not talked to him much, or even visited the house often.
In fact, the geologist realized he didn’t even know if his parents were married or not. He supposed now it didn’t matter. It was not something his mother wished to discuss.
“Study science,” she insisted, whenever he asked. “Listen to the rocks. Learn their story. Their past is your past.”
He did as she said. He studied. He got into his dream school. He learned. He struggled.
When he was chosen for the Mars terraforming project, his classmates told him how lucky he was. How jealous they were of his success.
But he hadn’t felt successful, somehow. Always needing to prove himself. Like he was being constantly tested, watched. Judged.
Mistakes. His work was nothing more than a giant bundle of mistakes.
Instinctively, he stood and clasped his hands. The short daily prayer, the prayer affirming the power of the divinity and its grace. In what direction Qiblih lay, he had little idea.
“…There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.”
He sat down again. There was no way to wash his hands in space. Sponging just wasn’t the same. Directions were meaningless. He had even skipped the long prayers for days at a time. Saying the medium prayer three times a day had proven difficult. When was sunrise? Sunset? Where could he find enough space for supplication?
He was glad nobody had yet asked him to use a gun. Violence ought to be avoided; the teachings forbade the faithful from carrying weapons or even using coarse language to criticize another. He came close to doing so, in the cargo hold, when the white hunter captain insulted him. Almost lost his temper.
White. Was that because he was white? What about his own captain?
Cooper shook his head again and closed his eyes, praying silently for the strength to remain faithful. His mother had lapsed. She was now covenant-less. Would he join her?
Only his isolation prevented the Elders from knowing his crisis of faith. He dared not contact his family. Even speaking with the covenant-less was grounds for being ostracized likewise.
Yet the isolation that saved him also condemned him. Who could he talk to?
No, she was his captain. She had enough burdens to handle, let alone bear his. He was resolved to follow her command. She had more than earned it.
He hadn’t yet figured out the navigator. He didn’t seem Hawai’ian, although he claimed to be a descendant of ancient Pacific Island sailors. And his name, Enoch, was Biblical, yet the man had no interest or knowledge whatsoever of even his own faith. Cooper didn’t know what to make of him.
Hm. She bothered him. In many ways. But spiritually, perhaps.
No. Not yet. He was unsure of himself, of his devotion. His own strength. He needed to be sure they could rely on him, before he relied on them.
He hoped he’d done the right thing by adding the ice to their water supply.
The pad bumped him in the back.
He turned around and plucked it out of the air, where it had floated aimlessly during his self-recriminating daydream.
He sighed and swiped it on again. Maybe another vid binge would take his mind off things for a couple of hours. Good thing the Artemis library had several thousand hours’ worth of pirated Net Stream vids.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 7: Sanvi (Coming 12/5)