Falling from the Moon
A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic
By Natalie Baan
The preservation chamber was a lot less eerie with the lights turned up. Some of the plant growth had been cleared from the central pillar and caskets, and metal gleamed through what remained: a play of dark and bright, half-tamed nature and alien technology in temporary balance. At the foot of one casket, incense sticks had been planted in a bowl of salt. Faint, fragrant smoke curled up from them, without urgency. The boy who stood before them pressed his palms together more firmly, then raised his head, lowering his hands. As Kazuto approached, Haruhiko turned and met his gaze. "How are you holding up?" Kazuto asked.
"All right." Considering that Haruhiko had had only a few hours of sleep, he seemed fairly steady and focused. He walked off, disappearing into the adjoining laboratory, and Kazuto took the opportunity to crane his neck and gawk about like a tourist.
"Wow. So you did all this yourself, in between working on the vaccine." Haruhiko must have used those powers of his; there was no other way he could have gotten up to the pillar's heights. Impressed, Kazuto glanced through an archway into the matching chamber beyond. "The other room too?"
"Of course." Kazuto looked again at the casket nearest him. No, he wasn't mistaken. This was the one, but the floor next to it was swept clean. He leaned closer, his eyes drawn to the translucent front panel in vaguely appalled fascination.
Flowers. He could see nothing but flowers.
He straightened, turning quickly from the casket. "Uh, right. I'm coming." Haruhiko stood and watched as Kazuto drew near, those violet eyes unruffled, though as always touched with subtle shadows. A silver case was clasped in his hands.
"They're together," he murmured, answering Kazuto's unspoken question. As they started for the hallway and the conference room where the others were waiting, he added, even more softly, "It felt right."
Kazuto faltered, falling a half-step behind as he grappled with those conflicting images: the beautiful woman whose unwithered profile he'd just glimpsed the night before lying with her lover's bones, the two of them wreathed by the moon base's unlikely flowers; his sheltered Haru-chan tending corpses with calm capability. Extending his stride to catch up, he studied Haruhiko's expression. It was as though in that night-long, self-inflicted vigil, the labors of watching over and tending to the dead, Haruhiko had found some expiation--had passed through an ordeal of effort and exhaustion, loneliness and fear to arrive at a place of quiet determination.
If he kept that new unflinchingness along with his gentle nature, Kazuto thought, he'd make a damn fine doctor in this life.
"So now there's just the vaccine," Haruhiko said as they reached the conference room's door. He blew out a little breath. "This should be interesting."
"Hmm?" Kazuto wondered at the resigned almost-amusement in Haruhiko's voice, but they'd arrived: there was no time to draw more out of him. Haruhiko pressed the keypad and the door hummed open, revealing a room mostly taken up with a large oval table. Seated around it in various poses of expectation, anxiety, and restlessness were the rest of the kids. As one, six pairs of eyes fastened onto their entrance.
There was still no sign of Mikuro, Kazuto noticed.
As Haruhiko moved to stand at the end of the table, Kazuto stepped aside and leaned against the wall, where he'd be more or less out of the way. Beside him, the door zipped closed. Haruhiko set the case down, unlatched and opened it. Light glittered on glass vials and tiny pieces of equipment.
"So, Shukaido," Daisuke began, and behind his outward calm Kazuto could hear tension. "Were you able to make the vaccine?"
Inwardly, Kazuto shook his head. Crazy, stupid, thoughtless--all words to describe what these kids had done, making a wild leap to the moon in the faith that eight-year-old Shion's technological skills would get them home again, and that Haruhiko's uncertain recall of another life's medical breakthrough would keep them from dying the same death a second time--or, worse yet, bringing it back to Earth with them. But it was such a typical thing for a bunch of teenagers to do: to fling themselves into the future, heedless of consequences. And what an adventure it was, one that no one else on Earth, now or ever, would be able to experience.
If he'd really grasped the risks involved before they'd left, Kazuto wondered, would /he/ have been able to say no?
"Yes," Haruhiko was answering. All around the room held breaths were let out and people sat back in their chairs. "However, it may not be necessary after all."
"Why?" That was Shion, quick, quiet, and cool, all business, his gaze aimed at Haruhiko. Across the table, Jinpachi lost an instant in gaping but managed to get his reply out second.
"Y- yeah! What happened--did the disease die off or something?"
"Um, no. That is, you see--" Haruhiko hesitated, pressing a knuckle against his lower lip, then dropped his hand and sighed. "The disease was chickenpox."
To Haruhiko's credit, he only winced a little at the joint outcry. With a mildly pained expression, he went on, "Well, it might not have /exactly/ been chickenpox. Shukaido was never able to figure out whether the disease was actually an alien virus or a biological weapon from the war or an Earth virus that mutated to survive without a carrier organism--well, anyway. That's not important. What matters is that he /did/ find a correlate for it on Earth. He didn't pursue that line of research, though, because there wasn't much time and it made more sense for him just to work with the disease samples that he had and try to synthesize a vaccine from that. So I didn't remember it. But I was reading some medical books before we came, trying to wake some more memories, and I brought one of them with me, and when I found the reference in Shukaido's notes, I started to put things together. So then I ran some tests on myself.
"I already have antibodies for the virus in my blood. I don't need the vaccine."
Stunned silence greeted Haruhiko's announcement. Then Shion said, his voice still soft but with an almost chilling intensity, "You're absolutely sure? You tested these antibodies?"
"Yes." Haruhiko matched Shion's stare without shrinking. "I tested them on some of the preserved samples of the disease. They destroyed it completely." He laid one hand on the case. "I went ahead and made the vaccine anyway, just to be sure. But if everybody's already had chickenpox...."
For an instant that seemed to stretch out endlessly, Haruhiko just looked at Alice. Nobody else said a thing. Then he took a metallic grip-shaped device out of the case, snapped one of the small vials into its base, and stepped around the table. "Excuse me," he murmured. "Here--" At his halting gesture, she slowly swept her hair around to one side, turned and lifted her head, baring her throat. Kazuto saw her eyes close just before the object's pointed end touched her neck, saw the quiver of her jaw and her lowered lashes as it let out an almost inaudible hiss. As Haruhiko drew back, she raised one hand, tentatively fingering the unmarked skin. "You may feel a little feverish for a day or two, while your body adjusts. But that's normal." Glancing at Haruhiko, she echoed his look of relief and attentiveness with a very slight smile of acknowledgment. Next to her, Shion watched the two of them, outwardly expressionless, but the force of his gaze speaking volumes.
As Haruhiko walked back to the table's end, Kazuto wondered--had he ever confessed his past life's crime to the rest of the kids? Or was the hush just because they sensed, as Kazuto did, who knew everything only at secondhand remove, that there was a completion in that exchange, a click of almost poetic finality?
"To be safe, everyone should stop by the medical center and let me run a blood test on them," Haruhiko said as he returned the injector to the case and snicked the latch closed. "Also--" He hesitated, cleared his throat, and then went on, "The preservation chambers have been cleared. Just in case anyone wants to see them." And if you'd been able to hear a pin drop before, Kazuto thought, now you could practically hear the sound of a flock of kids blanching with dread and queasy curiosity. Taking the case, Haruhiko wandered out of the room, and the rest of the group stirred, rising from their seats to mill uncertainly in his wake.
"Come on, Alice." Climbing from his seat, Shion caught Alice's hand in his. "Let's go out to the main hall." As Alice stood, smoothing down her skirt, Kazuto approached the other side of the table and leaned on it. He grinned deliberately at Shion.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said, "but you haven't seen 'M-kun' around, have you?" Large, pale eyes flickered up and held his briefly, reflecting nothing back. Then:
"Nope. Haven't seen him." Shion returned Kazuto's smile with a small, cryptically amused smirk of his own. "But if he knows what's good for him, he'll be at the jump platform by eight. Alice, let's go!"
As Shion towed the not-unwilling girl toward the door, Kazuto watched them go, his hand curling into a loose fist, knuckles pressed against the table. No quarter given, nothing surrendered, even after last night. He wasn't surprised--he was starting to understand the raw strength of Shion's determination, and just how far the kid had to be pushed before he crumbled, but still....
"He's telling the truth." With a blink of mild startlement, he glanced toward that quiet voice. Issei had turned up at his elbow. Hands clasped on the back of a chair, Issei looked after Shion and Alice. "He thinks it's funny that you think he might've done something. But he hasn't."
"Huh. So you /can/ read him."
"Sometimes. I wasn't able to before, but we linked mentally a couple of times, and ever since then...." Issei's gaze refocused, shifted toward Kazuto. "I saw Mikuro-san earlier," he added, less distractedly. "It was by the hydroponics station. We talked for a minute or two, but I thought it would be better just to leave him alone. I don't know what he sees when he looks at us, but--it's not easy for him, is it?"
"No. I don't think so." Kazuto's gut clenched at the thought of what the Earth ESPer must be going through. Mikuro had mentioned the "ghost shadow" that appeared around the aliens' reincarnations; in a place like this, where even an ordinary guy like himself could almost pick up the ache of unfinished lives, and with the kids all reviving and re-experiencing their old memories, Mikuro must be seeing dead people at every turn. "I'm going to do another round of the base and try to track him down."
Issei nodded. "Yes, I think it would help if you could find him. Something familiar and normal, something less--unearthly. It might ease the strain."
Kazuto didn't mention his own haunt to Issei. He hoped his brother's spirit, having delivered one message already, would lay low and stay out of Mikuro's sight. With a pang, he wondered if that ghost was even with him. Could a ghost make the trip to the moon?
Shaking off his morbid thoughts, he glanced at his wrist and cursed as he was reminded that he no longer had his watch. It'd been a high-class Seiko, too, a gift from Matsudaira himself. Shion had commandeered it to serve as the new self-destruct's timer, and when Kazuto had demanded to know why none of the moon base's timepieces would do, he'd been treated to a lecture on something called piezoelectric crystals, of which he'd understood maybe one word in five. He was almost positive Shion was stringing him along in some elaborate joke. Well, he knew they had close to two hours before they were scheduled to leave--more than enough time to make another quick circuit of the base. He had no intention of getting left behind to die in the explosion, not when there were still promises unfulfilled, still duties to be performed.
He thought of Takashi, alone among the servants in Kyoto, then squared his shoulders and headed for the door himself.
* * * * *
Hands clenching the metal railing, Mikuro stared up at Earth, a luminous circle hanging right at the edge of the six-sided window. He had to duck his head to see the whole disk; otherwise its top curve was cut off by the wall. He might get a better view of it if he knelt--but he was too much fight-or-flight, adrenaline-jittery with an uneasiness that wouldn't quite slip into panic, the uncanniness of this place a constant discordance playing on every nerve, on top of the purely mortal danger posed by Shion, for whom he had not the slightest trust. So he stood, knees locked and fists white-knuckled around the railing, with that long fall before him, all the way down to the jump platform on the floor below. He felt obscurely better when he could see the Earth. Despite its smallness, its remoteness, he could almost sense its solidity, far-removed from those whispering, crying, ethereal alien presences, the untimely dead of another world. It held the eye and mind like a stone in a garden of sand. Its reality helped him keep a grip his own.
Behind him, the door skimmed open, and he stiffened. But the presence that had appeared was subdued, unpsychic, even if it did carry that double resonance, the layering of one life over another. "Oh, I'm sorry. Am I disturbing you?" /Yes,/ he wanted to say, /you are,/ but he was the stranger, the invader--this perch was as close as he could get to a place where he belonged. Instead, he muttered noncommittally, and the boy Daisuke, who'd been the leader of those scientists once, stepped up to the railing next to him and leaned on it, gazing toward the Earth.
"Extraordinary, isn't it?" Daisuke murmured after a little pause. His voice held the sort of reverence that would tend to make most people dimly uncomfortable: guileless and earnest, profoundly dense with self-focused reflection, impenetrable.
"You know, it's ironic," Daisuke went on, seemingly at least half to himself, the words coming a beat more hesitantly. "I had so many plans for when we came to the moon. I was going to bring equipment--a laptop, a tape recorder, a DV camera--and try to record as much cultural and technological information as I could. Oh, not that I expected I'd really be able to figure out how to hook my computer into the ones here, but I thought I could take notes, and I could shoot from the screens and dump the video to my hard drive--well, yes. Anyway, Shion and I had a row about it, but in the end he told me, essentially, 'Fine, go to hell.'" Daisuke chuckled weakly. Frowning, Mikuro wondered if Shion had truly given up so readily, or if he'd had some scheme to keep Daisuke from taking that data back to Earth. Shion was a person who kept on top of all contingencies, and from what Haruhiko had said he was vehemently against any survival of the moon base's technology. One more loose end to keep track of, Mikuro thought with a small twinge of frustration and fear, one more person he was going to have to look out for.
"So last night--even being really tired and everything--after we finished work I went to the library and set up my equipment. I was thinking, if I could just save something, some fraction of those records, the old world wouldn't be lost. Because this is all that's left, you see--this place and our few memories--and after it's gone, everything that they were will be forgotten. And you know what?" Daisuke shifted, fitful motion at the edge of sight. "I couldn't even figure out where to begin.
"How do you in one night preserve a civilization that spread out across whole planets, whole star systems? That was ancient and complex, and was built upon earlier ones that were even more so? How do you decide what's worth keeping from thousands of centuries, what fragments will capture those people in all their facets, their hopes and aspirations, their wonders and cruelties, and in a way that will somehow make sense of it?
"It was too big for me--for any person. I realized that at last. And then I knew I had to let it go."
His attention caught by the complex emotions coloring those words--sorrow and loss, an oddly calm acceptance--Mikuro glanced at Daisuke. Curiosity sharpened into surprise as he read Daisuke's aura. The presence that had been Hiragi had lost form and coherence, was a faceless, shapeless swirl of energy: broken, grieving, released. Tiny particles scaled from the whole, a constant bright flurry. They met and vanished into the more solid glow of Daisuke's living spirit, like fallen leaves melting into leaf mold and then into earth. Though the details were different, it reminded him of what he'd seen around Issei earlier that day: the way two auras had fused, becoming indistinguishable. Refocusing, he studied Daisuke's profile, the faint smile, both knowing and regretful.
"I didn't realize until then how much I'd invested in being Hiragi," Daisuke said. "How much it mattered to me to be 'special,' to have a mysterious past and a mission that made me different from everyone else. When things were hard and I felt alone, I could always tell myself that I'd been a leader, that I'd done important things, and that if only anybody knew about it, they'd be amazed. But the truth is it doesn't matter what I did back then, because all of that is over." Closing his eyes, Daisuke bowed his head. "Earth is the only home I have, so I need to be part of it, just like any other human being. This is the only life I have, so I have to take it for what it is. Whether there's anything 'special' about it or not."
/Special..../ Startled and wondering, Mikuro looked up at the Earth again, remembering that word on his mother's lips, her attempts to reassure a little boy who saw things that other people didn't, who was terrified of being different and of being hated and shunned for that difference. Yet even if his powers set him apart from the rest of the human race, it suddenly struck him, with a clarity as sharp as the moon's white horizon, there was no other place for him. He'd felt it now, deeply, viscerally, what it was to be truly alien, and he knew as never before what it was he was going back to.
/The place where he belonged./
Lowering his eyes once more, he smiled wryly.
"Yeah," he said.
Daisuke pushed back from the railing. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out a camera. Mikuro took an instinctive step to one side. Apparently not noticing the evasion, Daisuke crouched, aimed at the window high above them, and snapped the shutter. "Well, that's my souvenir!" he said, straightening and holding up the camera. Motes of spirit light shimmered and blew about him, as though rippled by silent laughter. At the bottom of the tower there was motion, sound, and Daisuke looked toward the activity with alert interest. "Oh, there's the rest. I guess we should go down. It would be rather inconvenient to get left behind, wouldn't it?"
"Yes. Very." Mikuro touched the door's control, and it slid open. As he waited for Daisuke to go through it, he glanced up one last time. He couldn't see the Earth from where he was standing, but it didn't matter--he knew exactly where it was, on the other side of that protective wall: so far away and yet at the same time less remote than it had ever been.
Turning, he followed Daisuke into the observatory, heading for the stairs to the lower levels and the jump platform that would take them all home.
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