by D.J. Sylvis
(The episode begins with a recorded standard introduction. This will be the same for every episode of Season Two.)
Recording. This is Roger Bragado-Fischer, Communications, Moonbase Theta. As per your … instructions in the updated Base directives, I have begun monitoring the personal messages of all active personnel. Please note my … misgivings as put on official record in the previous week’s reporting. And the week before. And the week before that.
As your instructions remain unchanged, my written report, and several related audio messages, have been attached. The dates include three weeks of the shutdown sequence, beginning on October 20 and ending November 9, 2098.
(a brief, tense pause)
Moonbase Theta, Out.
(When that ends, we transition into the standard background noise of Roger’s private cubicle. We hear the chime that bookends a personal log message.)
(sounding a bit unsure of himself)
Private message, Alexandre. Umm, Alex, love, hi. Good morning. I mean, it may not be morning there, of course. I don’t know when you’ll listen to this.
(he tries to laugh)
Sorry. I guess that last set of messages is gonna be a hard act to follow. I hope you’re … I hope things are okay there. For you. How’s the house? How’s the garden looking?
And of course, our two expectant mothers. They must look like white beanbag chairs lying around the living room by now. I keep thinking back to the day we got them, not much more than puppies themselves, neither one bigger than a shoebox. You brought them home from that construction site … I was on my telescope kick and any twins to me had to be Castor and Pollux, the names were set in stone before you said, “Hey, love, they’re girls …”
(a more genuine laugh this time)
I was telling Wilder about it all. For some reason, she got stuck on the breed, as if there’s something about the name, ‘Brazilian Dogo’. The rest of the afternoon, she just kept saying, “Doggo,” and cracking herself up. Every so often out of nowhere, from behind an open console or over the suit radios, “Doggo,” and she’d giggle.
Things continue around here. I think that’s all we have left, just getting through the next few weeks together. For a very loose definition of togetherness. We work, we eat, we hide away in our corners of a structure that manages to be both cavernous and stiflingly close. Nessa’s still been trying to organize social activities to lighten the mood but … it remains murky at best. Not for her lack of trying. Bless that woman.
She’s been helping me figure out what to do with the Genetic Archives. She’s got a good bit of experience in finding hiding places for other … genetic sequences that might otherwise be squandered. I’ll be damned if I’m letting these go to waste. I know, it’s a strange place to make my stand after … other things I’ve done, but it’s the last straw on the camel, or however that idiom is supposed to go. I suppose I should get better at those obscure references, if I’m gonna be the old man shaking his fist from the moon.
(he chuckles, but then pauses another moment)
I haven’t been sleeping, not worth talking about. I know every spectrum of the lights from dusk to morning work mode. I lie there, staring at the ceiling into the wee hours … thinking about the next day’s task list, about saving all the biodiversity of the archives, whether or not Michell is listening to me pretend to be asleep … thinking about you. Mostly, thinking about you.
(a tortured pause)
I feel like I’m … remember that first message you sent me after the thing, you were so over all of it, so pissed off that you had to just – that’s how I feel about myself right now, for not seeing, not realizing. I saw you every single day and night and you were struggling and I didn’t …
There’s this thing they taught us when I was in Scouts – I spent a lot of time in Scouts, we orphans love our organizations – teaching us about water safety, how you had to pay close attention because someone drowning didn’t always look like drowning. They didn’t splash around, didn’t cry for help, they just … started slipping beneath the surface and back again, quietly, hard to notice. You had to learn to look carefully at the people who stopped goofing around and just … I thought I learned that lesson, but I guess not well enough. I’m … sorry.
(a significant pause)
And I know you’re going to say I’ve been hurting too, and you didn’t know about that, but … like you said, we’ve got a lot of serious talks in our future. Preferably curled up in that lumpy, terrible bed – or we’ll buy a better one, when I get back we can afford it.
(he tries to laugh, tries to lift the mood)
You and me, and those two big dopey dogs – but not the puppies. I swear, Alexandre, if I come home and you’ve kept those puppies …
(there is an alert chime, as if from a clock)
Just about time to go on shift. They’re peeling my fingers away from around the microphone and throwing me into the mines, well, the refinery. I’m assisting Ashwini, who has already taken charge down there, I’m certain with zir usual flair. Maybe ze’s actually talking to me again, I guess I’ll find out soon enough. Take care, dearest. I’m sending my love, and we’ll talk more very soon.
(We hear the chime that bookends a personal log message. After a moment, we break into the middle of a message being played in the hydroponic farm – we hear the typical sounds behind – but it is obviously a recorded message to Nessa from one of her partners, Elena.)
I try to keep up with the orchards, I follow the templates you left, but the pears never taste quite as sweet. I think they miss your touch … and they’re not the only ones.
We’re gonna need to shut everyone out for a solid weekend when you get home. The others can have you when I’m done. I have so many stories for you, there’s so much music you haven’t heard, new snacks they’ve developed that you’ll love … and then, catching up on all that touch. All that … sweetness.
(after a moment savouring that thought)
We’ll have an absolutely decadent time together, and then the spouses and kids and critters can have their Nessa back. But me first. I called it, I have dibs.
(she chuckles, winding down)
I’m sending love to you, my dear. Tell me all the names of the plants when you reply – I know you slipped a few by me last time, I want to hear every one. Even if my thumbs aren’t so green, I think my ears might be. Bye for now.
(For a moment, we hear Nessa, humming to herself, snipping away again, trimming the leaves of a plant.)
Record reply, Elena. Hi there, sweetie. Don’t you worry about the pears or the … rest of it. We’ll fix all of that soon.
Be sure to send my best to all the spouses and all of the kiddos, I miss them so much. I wanted to be sure to fit that in at the top of the message – last time I forgot and Siva practically blew her top.
(brief pause, we hear the snipping of leaves)
I’m in the herb garden right now, that was my Italian parsley. Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum – I really love the name. It’s been growing a bit out of control of late, without my constant presence to curb it. But such a lovely thing! And beside it, my Origanum vulgare hirtum, Greek oregano, that’s been useful both as a seasoning and the essential oil has a few benefits, though not as many as they’ll tell you at the homeopath.
Sorry for that. It’s still been an adjustment, trying to split my energy in both directions. I miss this place when I’m in the tunnels all day … and I think I’ve been missed as well. My poor Mizuna lettuce has been wilting without my attention, and the microgreens. I do what I can to sustain them – just as coming here helps to sustain me.
(she sounds a bit weary)
The mining is … not so wonderful. At least it’s better than it would be on Earth, it’s not noisy, or dusty, but that’s the best I can say. It is draining, spending all day in the suits, squinting at the readouts through your visor, getting down there to try to adjust the equipment by hand – a hand that you can’t really feel with. Not like getting your fingers soaked in nutrients and feeling the leaves tremble as you touch them.
(a few more snips)
Now I’m at the dwarf peas, another favourite for their … sweetness. You could probably tell by the sound of the pods rustling together – you always knew which ones were ready before I did. I almost believed you when you said you could sense it by radar!
(She laughs, and there is a brief pause. We hear water trickling – or at least nutrient solution – and then a sudden increase in burbling, and some odd sucking and cooing sounds. Nessa speaks softly.)
How are we doing over here? Be careful – I don’t think the solution could hurt you, but it’s not at all what you’re used to. Here, up on the moss with your friends.
(the noises become a bit more prominent)
This one I don’t think you could figure out no matter how many guesses I gave you! I’ve adapted one of the beds I had to shut down – my poor flowers, but you can’t eat a zinnia or kalanchoe – into a little playground for the tardigrades. They’re the size of … gerbils, I’d say, and almost unbearably cute. And they do this little snuffling thing …
(she holds one up to the microphone for a moment)
Isn’t that just wonderful? They’re mostly Wilder’s charge at this point, but I’m her willing accomplice. She’s so funny, she hums this little song to herself while she watches them, I don’t think she knows I can hear. You’d really love her, Elena. We’ve become much better friends than I expected, and I’ve … needed that.
(a bit of a pause)
As much as I’ve tried to keep our group together – game nights, creating a scrapbook site on the intra, I even tried to put on a play – people have been retreating. I mean, for Ashiwini that seems to be a way of life, but … walls are still way up with Michell, at least he’ll look at me now but the pain in his eyes is almost worse, and Roger … I don’t know what to think about Roger. Knowing he’s been listening to every conversation, every message back and forth … it’s not his fault, we all do what we’re told, but … it changes things. I hate how uncomfortable it makes me. Maybe I’ll try to talk it out with him soon.
And Michell, there has to be a way to make things better. And maybe even march in that observatory and pull Ashwini out from zir shell if I can. I’m Nessa Cheong, dammit – this is what I do best. Right? One of the things I do best.
(she laughs a bit)
I’m going to assume you agreed. I’m still working my way around the plant beds – still a cherry tomato or two, we’ve actually got one more dwarf watermelon I’m saving, Citrullus iantus, they call this variety “Sugar Baby.” Which might be my new nickname for you when I get back. Oh, when I get back to you, lovely …
(suddenly, there is an alert chime, as in Roger’s monologue above)
Saved by the bell, I suppose. That’s my cue to sign off and head to the mines. Take care, send my best again to everyone just to be safe. I’ve recorded a special message for the children, I’ll attach that as well. Good bye for now, my dear. Coming home soon.
(We linger, perhaps, for an additional moment or two, then we hear the chime that bookends a personal log message. We are with Wilder in a workshop space, working on her arm. We hear a ratcheting noise and then her arm moving, grinding a bit more than it should.)
Dammit. Double dammit. I swear I’m gonna … can you imagine how much fun it is doin’ repairs on my arm when all the best tools are – you guessed it – in my arm. Guess I shoulda brought a spare.
(we hear a crackling electrical sound)
Triple dammit! Eliza! You did that on purpose. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Hold still, baby, just hold still another –
(a slight drilling sound, she laughs)
Sorry, ladies, forgot I was recordin’ for a bit there. I’ve had a weird kinda tick on and off lately, it seems to be … inside the servos somewhere, which is a bit troublin’. It could be a software thing, but I just updated the cortex app th’ other day. I’ll sort it out.
(brief pause, she flexes her arm)
I keep meaning to put in a better sound effect, it’d be more fun if my arm would go –
(she imitates the swooshing Star Wars lightsaber sound)
But then I’d just spin outta control and make a fool of myself. I got to get out o’ here soon, honeys, so I better start to wrap this thing up. I need to swing by the farm before work and take care of our secret little pals. Nessa was lettin’ them play, they really are the cutest things, but they gotta go back into hiding before we hit th’ mines. I still feel bad when I put them away – Nessa says they like when we talk to ‘em, so I make sure to do some of that. For her sake. Sometimes I even …
I sing to them. Not so much, just …
(crooning a little)
Hush, lil’ tardigrade, don’t you cry, gonna bring you nutrients by and by …
(brief pause, we can almost hear her cringing; she stands up)
Y’all can pretend you didn’t hear that if y’want. Anyhoo, I better go for now, slip in there before Michell starts lurking around, being all … “Watch out guys, we’re dealing with a badass over here.” I’ll finish this up at th’ end o’ my shift.
(We hear her walk away, and then the chime that bookends a personal message. When we break back in, we hear the door slide open and the sound of people moving around. Wilder groans a little, and we hear her arm revving up sporadically. She coughs sporadically.)
Why are we bringing her here? She should be in a –
She doesn’t want the stasis pods.
It’s a fucking workshop, does it look sterile to you?
(Wilder groans again)
That’s it, I’m taking charge. Help me get her down to –
No. Stasis. Pod. Oh, fuck. Just … leave me here. I’ve got a medkit, I can get myself patched up.
Fine. I’ll go back and take care of …
(The door slides open again; Michell leaves. We hear Wilder sit down heavily, her arm thunking against a table.)
Dammit. Oh, dammit. If I could just breathe for a goddamn minute, that’d be a start.
What can I do?
I’m okay. You gotta … go after Michell, he’s gonna want to put her in a pod.
It can’t … hurt her, now.
Would you want that, if it were you?
(her arm grinds again, and she hisses in pain)
Roger. I can do this alone. Go … see to her. Please.
(after a moment)
(We hear him exit, and the door slides closed. Wilder exhales, and we hear the clatter of the medkit being opened, hear her moving things around inside. She coughs for a moment.)
Fuck. Fuck, it hurts. First thing, I gotta … thank Christ. Here’s the patch. What did they say in trainin’? Stop the pain … over th’ vein. Slap it on hard, Wilder, so it …
(We hear a slap, and then a noise that might be her own relief, or might be the pain patch activating. After a moment, she sighs.)
Okay. Okay. That’s a … that’s a start. Breathe, Wilder. Damage assessment.
(her arm cycles again)
We’ll get to you, darlin’. Fuck, that still hurts. Don’t move that. Feels like I … broke a bone somewhere in there. There’s gotta be somethin’ here I can use to splint –
(we hear metal clatter to the floor)
Shit! I’ll get that … when I can reach. When I can see – feels like the grit got into my eye. I’ll wash that out soon as I can …
(her arm grinds again)
Poor Eliza. Poor Wilder. Poor …
(she stops for a long moment)
Oh god, what are we gonna do now.
(There is a long pause, punctuated by the sounds of picking up the metal object, wrapping cloth to bind it to her leg, and the occasional groan of pain. Finally, Wilder speaks again.)
Continue … continue message to … oh, crap on a Christie’s cracker, it’s been running all th’ while, hasn’t it? Umm … Jen … Thea … hi.
(her arm ratchets, and she hisses in pain)
Fucking ow. I’m okay, I swear. This is all stuff I can fix. There was … a thing happened, down in the mining tunnels, but I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m …
(she breaks down at this point, sobbing)
Oh, babes. I wish I were home. I wish we were all coming home.
(The sobs continue for a bit. Eventually, we hear the chime that bookends a personal log message. The episode ends.)