Falling from the Moon
A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic
By Natalie Baan
They went from stark yellow glare beneath a black sky to absolute nothing, as though their surroundings were a film that had skipped, and then they were back in reality, but in almost total darkness. Issei froze, his heart flipping over inside his chest. Next to him Shusulan gasped, and he could sense the others shifting in place, silent, as if they were holding their breath. With a glimmer of panic, he wondered if something had gone wrong. He blinked, struggling to see, and as his eyes started to adjust, he realized there was pale light reflecting from somewhere high above, just enough that he could make out vague shapes overhead. Those indistinct shadows seemed to press closer, some of them dangling down like shrouds. He couldn't tell if they were really moving or if he was imagining it. There was a bitter, scorched smell, and behind that a faint, complex, oddly familiar sweetness. Without warning, Mikuro spat a curse and jerked, bumping against him. Something brushed the top of Issei's head, and he ducked. "/KYAAAAAAAA!/" Shusulan's terror blasted through him as she leaped, flailing her arms. "/Something's TOUCHING me!/"
"/Lights!/" Shion commanded in the language of the homeworld, and their surroundings winked into life. Half-blinded, Issei found himself squinting at a thick veil of tendrils and leaves. In the abrupt, clear light, that tangle of plants looked surreal, their green hues intensely vivid, the shadows that patterned everything crisp-edged and deep. Mikuro peered warily at the mangled vine clenched in his fist, shedding its fragrant white flowers onto the floor. Glaring at him, Shusulan shook her head and ran both hands through her hair, as though still feeling something in it.
"We're here," Hiragi breathed. He took a couple of not-quite-steady steps forward.
"Unbelievable!" Tamura muttered, then turned quickly to Haruhiko. "Haru-chan?" Haruhiko nodded, fingers probing the center of his chest, no pain on his face, but instead a look of vaguely anxious bewilderment. Shion had insisted that the jump platform's receiving buffer would protect his heart from the worst of the teleport stress. Apparently, he hadn't fully trusted that assurance. Glancing past the others, Issei got a look at where they were, and his breath caught in sheer astonishment.
On three sides there was that jungle, which had grown up the room's back wall and hung down from the transmission structure above, enclosing them, but the fourth side was mostly open. A waist-high railing, garlanded with another pale-flowered vine, separated them from the brighter light and space of the room beyond. As one they inched toward it, and as Issei drew closer to the fringe of plant growth his eyes traveled up the wall that was creeping into view--/the tower,/ memory prompted him, it had to be, although that wall was scarred with yet more vines and eruptions of dark green foliage that had somehow set roots between its metal sections. Craning his neck, he could just see the lower half of a large, hexagonal window, its expanse filled with featureless black--
Shion bounded ahead of everyone and soared over the railing, vanishing as he dropped below the level of the platform. "/Rin-kun!/" Alice bolted after him and fetched up against the barrier. She clutched at it, her eyes darting with terrified urgency before they found what they were looking for. Issei felt her fear subside into weak relief. He moved forward until he could see Shion also, a glimpse through the railing's bars of that small figure standing on the floor in front of the jump platform, surrounded by a sea of grasslike plants that rose nearly to his shoulders. He glanced back at them, distracted and intense, pale eyes almost feverish with impatience.
"What are you all waiting for?" he snapped. "We've got work to do!"
The spell of the moon base only half-disturbed, the others started drifting toward where the platform's stairs were supposed to be, under the leading edge of all that growth, but Issei paused to watch Shion turn and stare across the room once more: a long, too-taut, and silent look.
* * * * *
The dark screen flashed its error glyph again, and Issei sank into his chair with a sigh, his head falling against the high, slanted back. "That one's dead too. Shu, are you having any luck?"
"I was afraid of that." He twiddled a pen stylus between his fingers, then tapped it against his cheek, smiling ruefully. "Well, well. That short circuit really made a mess of things, didn't it?" There was a pause where ordinarily he'd have heard Shusulan's answering quip, and only then did he notice her uncharacteristic quietness. Glancing over, he caught her staring at him and felt a jitter of anxiety, remembering things still unresolved between them, before he read that look more deeply and caught its note of recognition. It was like pulling the ends of a thread and having reality's knot unravel: he suddenly /saw/ her, the sixteen-year-old Earth girl in the chair next to his, slender and seeming very small in the subdued light of the computer substation--not the brilliant, temperamental scientist after all, yet in so many ways the same. Jarred by the dissonance between what was and what had been, between his own muddled feelings and what some part of him half-expected to feel, he realized what /she/ was probably seeing: the wearily languid way he was lying back in his chair, his gestures a ghostly echo of Enju's. He sat up, squaring his shoulders; uncrossing his legs, he coughed, clearing his throat. Even though he'd stopped looking at Shusulan, he picked up faint amusement, a lightening of her mental state, and he fumed just a little.
Shion must have thought it was an excellent joke, having all the crew's "girls" working together again.
"Oh," Alice murmured. "So what should we do now?" Swiveling his chair, Issei looked at her, standing against the wall, her hands folded uneasily around each other. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Shusulan watching her also, appraising but studiously noncommittal. Of them all, Alice remembered the least about the moon base's technology; after the first work of clearing plant growth from the computer room's door, she'd been pretty much superfluous, especially since the station only had two seats. Issei suspected Shion had sent her with them partly to keep her away from Jinpachi, and partly to spare her the more grueling labor of picking plants out of the base's wiring. The substation's interior had been clean--designed for emergency use, it had an effective door seal, but that hadn't saved it from the backlash when Shion, first waking the base, had sent electrical current through the destruct system's root- and tendril-ravaged wires. Issei supposed they were lucky after all that the base's systems were so baroque and fragmentary, rather than one smoothly interconnected piece. If not for that poorly integrated, frequently redundant patchwork which had so often frustrated Shion in the past, everything might have been fried.
And as for Alice's question....
Swinging the chair around again, Issei collapsed back into it, having decided he didn't care what Shusulan thought he looked like. He scrubbed at his face, then pushed both hands through his hair, the habitual motion brought up short as he was reminded that he didn't have Enju's long tresses to sweep back. He clasped his hands on top of his head instead. "I don't know," he admitted, eyeing the black, mostly blank computer screen. "We could try opening one of the panels, I guess, but I'm not sure I'd even be able to tell what needs fixing. This is starting to get out of my depth." Tilting his head back further, he stared up at the ceiling. "Maybe we should ask--" A subtle shift of light, the sense of a new presence alerted him--he jolted upright, spinning to stare at the figure that had abruptly appeared in the doorway. "Sh- Shion!"
The little boy and former technical scientist fixed them with one of his disturbingly acute glares, the corridor's brighter light catching only part of his face. "/Who/ switched the main system's interface over to Japanese?" he demanded.
Issei winced. "Um, I did--"
"But I told him to!" Shusulan put in. "Shion-kun, not everyone remembers enough of the old language to use even the most basic functions! Give us a break already!"
Shion's eyes almost flickered to his left, toward Alice, before he caught himself. He stared past them all instead, seeming to focus on something at the back of the room. Small hands spasmed into fists at his sides, then released. "Fine," he said, too cool and controlled for comfort, especially when his gaze sharpened, snapping back to pin Issei's. "So what's the situation?"
Reluctantly, wishing he hadn't somehow been made spokesman of their little group, Issei said, "These are all gone, as far as we can tell. None even pass the self-test." Shion's frustration was a heaviness building inside his head, but there was no real feeling of surprise. Swallowing, Issei added, "Is there any point to opening them up? Maybe we can swap parts around and get at least one to work--"
"No," Shion cut him off, curt but without any specific rancor--at least, none directed at them. Issei looked at Shion more closely and saw tension in Shion's stance, the way Shion held himself straight-backed and stiff, a faint tremor in the hands that closed and opened once more, like those of a blind person feeling for the world around him. "We don't have time to waste testing the chips. And if one fails, it'll be a disaster. No--we'll do this another way." Shin's chin came up and his gaze swept them, eerily luminous in the dim light. "All of you go and help the others downstairs. We've got to get rest of the detonators cleared. Then we'll lay new wire. And we'll have to clear more plants from the halls before we can do that--even the spare wire's got corrosion, and we can't afford another short circuit." There was a pause, during which Issei replayed those instructions through his fatigued mind, trying to grasp their scope. Then Shion barked, "Get going!"
"/Nooooo!/" Shusulan's wail echoed around the tiny room, drowning out Issei's more hesitant attempt at reason. Springing from her seat, she loomed above Shion. "Shion-kun, we're tired--no, we're /exhausted!/ It's /late!/ We need to /sleep!/ Never mind you being up way past a reasonable bedtime!" Bending toward Shion, she brandished a warning finger. "There's no /way/ you can make us--"
"/SHUT UP!/" Shusulan recoiled just as quickly as she'd jumped forward, hands fluttering as though to ward off Shion's yell and blazing, nakedly furious eyes. Issei could feel a tang of barely suppressed power, like burnt ozone at the back of his mind. "There's no /time!/" Shion cried. "Do you have any /idea/ how much still has to be done?" His voice, high and raw, quivered with rage and the strain Issei had sensed even before they'd come to the moon: a frayed edge that was starting to pull much too thin. "We've only got until tomorrow night. /So hurry up!/" Then he was gone, vanishing before those last words had finished ringing in the air. The three of them stared at the empty doorway, and Issei could feel his pulse tripping over itself with Shion's stress, his own startlement, and, he thought, not a little of Shusulan's fright and anger as well. He heard Alice catch her breath somewhere behind him.
At last, Shusulan lowered her hands. "What a slave-driver," she muttered into the stillness. "/Jeez./"
"He's been under a lot of pressure." Switching off the dead computer, Issei levered himself out of his chair. "With all the preparations for coming here, and especially that last minute rush, I don't think /he's/ slept properly for at least a few days. On top of which, he's been zipping around so much I'm surprised he hasn't met himself coming. And he /is/ just a little boy. It's that much harder on him." Issei stretched, and then, smiling, gestured toward the door. "Come on--let's go down and see how the others are doing. They've got to be tired too, right? We'll help them clear plants for just a little while longer, and then all of us together can tell Shion that enough's enough." With a weak amusement that probably owed at least a bit to hysteria, he added, "He might even listen to Hiragi."
"Hmph." Shusulan scowled but didn't argue, instead letting him usher her and Alice from the room. As he keyed the door shut, she kicked at one of the larger vines that ridged the floor and that they hadn't even tried to remove, digging her toes into its thick, woody stem. "Stupid plants, growing all over everything. And what the heck are they /living/ on? There's no dirt!"
"They're epiphytes." Issei and Shusulan glanced at Alice, and she turned a little aside from their attention. Reaching out, she touched the tangled curtain of greenery that they'd cut and heaved away from the door. She drew a pale-flowering tendril toward her, cupping it with sensitive fingers, her eyes resting on the streamer of blossoms as though it were both a refuge and an unfolding secret, a shield and a fragile thing to be cherished and nurtured. "Like some orchids that have adapted to live on the branches of trees. They can take sustenance from the air."
Issei looked at Shusulan, wondering if she was seeing the same thing he was: that glimmering of something more in Alice than just the scared, ineffectual schoolgirl. Shusulan was studying Alice, her expression narrow-eyed and thoughtful, but she made no comment. Instead, she turned and started for the stairs to the lower level, lacing her fingers behind her head with a slight, possibly unconscious shrug, and as Issei followed, aware of Alice silently trailing him in turn, a memory rose up like a curl of smoke, one that wasn't his own--
--Mokulen lies against him--almost weightless, it seems--supported by the curve of his arm. Her blue eyes drift open, and he blinks away the tears that threaten to blur what might be his last view of her beloved face. Incredibly, she's smiling. She whispers to him, words he doesn't understand but that nonetheless touch him with astonishing peace--
Issei stumbled, then shook off that echo from Shion's past and concentrated on picking his way across the vine-scarred floor. Even so, some of its resonance remained with him. Mokulen's personality had been bolder than Alice's, her conflicted heart more restless and complex--but in that instant of clarity just before her death its quality reminded him very much of this new steadiness in Alice.
Maybe, Issei thought, that was what happened when she stopped running.
* * * * *
Kazuto reached the corner and found himself staring down a corridor that stretched away until it was lost in lightless distance. He glanced to the other side--only more of the same. /Damn./ Retracing his steps, he tried to unravel exactly how he'd arrived in this dimly lit corner of the moon base, and, more importantly, how he was going to get back from it before the kids had to send a search party after him.
Getting lost on the way back from the bathroom. A man could never live it down.
At the next intersection, he turned left, because he'd originally come from the right, and it felt as though he'd already walked about three-quarters of the way around the base. If he continued on, he reasoned, he ought to end up where he'd started--unless he'd missed a turn and was circling in some side wing. He scowled at the unreadable alien sign posted next to a door. The corridor began to curve, which reassured him somewhat: it seemed to be mirroring a stretch he'd gone through on the other side. An open doorway came into view on the inner wall, a brighter, yellowish-green light spilling through it. Reaching that door, he glanced inside in case one of the kids might be working there. Maybe he could get directions. Instead, he stopped, one hand gripping the edge of the door frame, and stared in mingled awe and astonishment.
Whatever the thing in the center of the room was supposed to be, it certainly was impressive. A massive pillar of pipes and wiring, thickly layered with vines, joined the floor to the high, shadowed ceiling. Four long modules extended from the base, equally spaced, like the arms of a cross. The strange greenish light came from panels in those lower units, and Kazuto's eye was drawn to them in uneasy fascination. He wondered what the heck they were for. They looked familiar, and his gut tightened as he made the connection: they reminded him of Western burial containers, of sarcophagi or coffins.
They /were/ about the right size to hold a body.
A short, dark figure caught his gaze, standing motionless next to one of those things. There was only one person on the moon base who was that small, and Kazuto eased back behind the doorjamb, watching with new alertness. The boy remained unmoving, which only disquieted him further. Children didn't stay still for that long. At last, though, he gathered his determination and left the doorway's shelter. Maybe he'd get the shit kicked out of him again, or maybe he'd just be treated to more sharp-tongued sarcasm, but he figured the kid would at least rather have him back where he belonged and doing useful work than wandering around the base getting into things that Earthlings weren't supposed to know about. In any case, he wanted to see what had such a hold on Shion's interest. The kid didn't seem to register him at all, even when he drew near. Bracing himself, he stopped just behind the boy and tried to make out the object of such concentration. At first, he didn't see what Shion was looking at--then, with a sick twitch of shock and revulsion, he spotted it. There was a dull white gleam of bones on the floor by the side of one of the caskets. Grasses and creeping plants had twined all about them, growing up through the unseeing eye holes of the skull and tangling in the long black wisps that still clung to it. With a jolt, Kazuto remembered that burst of light on the observation deck of Tokyo Tower and the shadowy form at its heart.
This close, he could see the shudderings that shook the boy, could hear a dry catch of breath, followed by another: thin gasps that followed each other at intervals, like the forgotten workings of some machine.
Kazuto hesitated, then slumped just the slightest bit. "Ah, hell. This is no good. This is no damn good. Kid--" Somewhat gingerly, he crouched and reached one hand toward Shion, more than half expecting an immediate, violent reaction. "Hey. Come on out of this. You don't need to be here." Shion's shoulder beneath his fingers was as narrow and bony as any little boy's, but with an unnatural rigidity, so extreme that it felt like steel. Kazuto tried giving it a cautious shake. "Na, come on--"
Shion spun to face him, and Kazuto flinched in spite of himself, but the boy's eyes were blank and stared through him without recognition. Shion trembled, lips twisting up over his teeth in a mute snarl of horror and grief. Suddenly, with a choking cry, he shut his eyes and flung himself forward. His arms locked around Kazuto's neck. Stunned, Kazuto froze as Shion crumpled against him and began sobbing, the wracking, out-of-control weeping of a too-tired, overstressed child. Then, slowly, he raised one hand and cupped it behind Shion's head. Shion's whole body quivered, his arms tightening convulsively. "Lazlo!" Kazuto could just make out through those spasms, "/Lazlo!/" and at last, breaking, so weak that he could scarcely hear it, "Kyaa...."
Kazuto remained motionless until those sobs trailed away and Shion sagged feebly against his chest. Then he slid his other arm around Shion and stood up. The boy was a limp, slight weight, exhausted and unresisting. Kazuto turned toward the door--if this place was part of the medical center, as he thought it must be, then he was close to the areas that he knew. He was pretty sure he could find his way back from here.
From the shadows behind the preservation unit's central pillar, Haruhiko watched Tamura carry the boy who had been Shion into the corridor and out of view. He waited until the man's footsteps had faded away; then, with a faint, sad smile, he slipped from his refuge. Pausing, he listened to the near-total silence, his gaze flickering about the room, dark corner to dark corner, that hush finding sudden answer in him, a cold, sinking emptiness, inertia and the prospect of despair--the burden of what lay before him and the awfulness of the dead and none of it, he knew, even the merest fraction of what Shion had gone through. But futile or not, it was the only way he had to make amends. He wouldn't turn aside. Lifting and squaring his shoulders, he breathed in sharply, breaking the spell.
It was time for him to get to work.
* * * * *
Jinpachi stood in the center of the room, glowering at the bed.
He was more exhausted than he could ever remember being in his life. His back and arms ached from bending, lifting, and hauling things; his fingers were sore and in a few places scratched or burnt from picking bits of plant out of the moon base's guts; his head felt like it was stuffed full of so much sand and ashes that they'd filled his eyes as well, making them gritty and dry; and more than anything else he just wanted to lie down and sleep for about the next century and a half.
The bed he was staring at had belonged to another person.
A person who'd been him in a previous life.
A person who was /dead./
He shivered and rubbed at his arms. It creeped him out. The whole /place/ creeped him out, with its dark, empty corridors that were familiar in uneasy ways. All those twistings and turnings--he kept feeling as though he knew them, as though whenever he went around a new corner everything on the other side clicked into place in his mind, but it was an eerie knowledge he didn't really trust to guide him. So he'd clung like a limpet to Issei, or Hiragi, or--God help him--even Shion, all of whom seemed fairly confident about finding their way around the base. Even with Hiragi, they'd gotten lost once, and it had been a nasty, near-panicky moment, with the two of them wandering around in the pitch-black sub-basement that held the generators while Hiragi tried to find and read exit signs with a flashlight. And there were those damned plants growing everywhere, even places inside the walls where you couldn't imagine a plant could get to, let alone that it would /want/ to, so that every time you opened a door you might be surprised a wall of greenery, lushly alive and somehow sinister, as though the base belonged to it and its friends, and you shouldn't be there at all. You could start to imagine, when you were really tired, that the plants knew you were there and were watching you--and not only the plants, but something else, a presence that lingered, like the memories of the people who'd been there and were gone. And there were shadows all in the less-used parts of the base, because Shion was trying not to stress the electrical systems, and the metal walls and slight chill in the air to remind you that outside was only cold, cold night and a quick death, and the twitchy knowledge that the systems you were deplanting were tied into enough explosives to make this whole damn place a brief, bright spot against the rest of outer space and that you barely knew what the hell you were doing and were mind-numbingly fatigued to boot....
Oh, God, he wanted to go home. Or, failing that, to sleep.
He'd been too dragged out even to be relieved when Shukaido's friend Tamura had turned up and told them that Shion had passed out and been put to bed, and that they all should go too. He'd just dropped his tools where he'd been working and staggered off to his room, which fortunately he'd already located. Though he had to admit the work had been easier since Alice had come down to join them: she had an amazing way of /knowing/ where even the tiniest plants were, and they seemed to come loose more readily if she was helping, as though they wanted to be with her too.
He dimly remembered hearing that she and Shusulan were sharing a room, because neither wanted to sleep alone in such a scary place--and that Shion was staying with them, so that Alice could watch over him and keep him safe.
With a growl, Jinpachi pounced at the bed. Grabbing the mattress, he wrestled it off its frame. He flung it onto the floor and glared at it, then heaved it over so the unslept-on side was on top.
Damn it, that was just going to have to do.
He sulked over to get some of the ever-present blankets from a drawer. He didn't know whether he was glad his room was in pristine condition--most of the others had at least some damage, either due to the plants or what he suspected was Shion's vandalism, though of course nobody said anything about that out loud--or whether it freaked him out because it looked so perfect, so much like his dreams. He could almost feel reality wavering, like he was in the most vivid moment of one of those memories, right before waking up and finding himself safe in his bed at home, or like he was about to blink his eyes open and discover himself Gyokulan, rousing for another day of work after a weird dream about a boy on Earth. Then again, maybe he was just hallucinating from sheer exhaustion. Jinpachi shook his head. He began laying out the blankets, and when the door chimed he started to answer before he'd consciously realized what it was. "Come- come in!" he faltered.
The door slid open, and there was Issei, hands in the pockets of his dark jeans, duffel bag on the floor by his feet. "Hey," he said. He looked the same kind of hell that Jinpachi felt, his eyes shadowed and wincing in the light, his shoulders slumped. "How's your room?"
"Pretty good." Probably, he realized belatedly, because it had been sealed up so early on, just after-- He flinched and dragged his mind from the disturbing thought. "How about yours?"
"All right. A bit of a plant invasion." Issei's gaze slid across the room, seeming to travel at random, as though his mind was disconnected from what he was saying and seeing. "But--" Drawing a quick breath, he looked back at Jinpachi. "Can I stay with you tonight?" There was brittle pleading in his voice. Jinpachi stared, mouth dropping open. "Not to do anything," Issei added hastily. "Just--just to sleep."
Jinpachi hesitated, but though the idea gave him an automatic twitch of discomfort, at the same time he felt strangely relieved. Thinking about it, he didn't really want to be by himself in a place with so many shadows and memories, and he figured Issei didn't either. It was nothing more than that. "Yeah, sure. Okay."
With a sigh, Issei picked up his bag and stepped into the room, the door gliding shut behind him. He toed off his shoes, glanced around again, then turned off the overhead light. From the lamp panel above the dresser, a faint radiance filled the room, and Jinpachi decided to leave that light on. The dark wasn't friendly in a place like this. He crawled under the heap of blankets, then squiggled over to make more room as Issei slid in next to him. There was a clumsy shifting and arranging of knees and elbows until they'd found a way to settle side by side, just barely touching.
Jinpachi lay on his back, staring at that stain of light across the ceiling, his eyelids already starting to weigh closed. His mind flickering at the verge of sleep, he thought of rolling over and fitting himself to the warm, quietly breathing presence next to him, but his body was like a bag of sand, impossibly heavy, poured into the makeshift bed. Dimly, as though from a long way off, he felt Issei yawn, then sigh once more, felt Issei's body relax, surrendering tension.
"Good night, Jinpachi...."
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