The Ride to the Port
The beginning of Salida's travels
There was nothing organically growing, that is what made her heart ache. Nothing sprouted from the ground, no greeness, no growth nor envy. She thought of her parent’s pear trees, the lush fruit for her tongue, the oxygen released for her lungs, the slim but sturdy trunks to loop her hammock around for her body to rest. “North America’s little mango tree,” Lolo would note each time he visited from The Philippines. There was nothing like that where she was headed. There was slate, midnight, darkness that pulled her as it pulled the tides each day.
Salida nestled her bag next to her in the back seat. Her parents were driving her to the launch port where she would be leaving for her one Earth day trip to the dark side. She had watched videos to prepare, packing a notebook, pen and pencils, the polaroid camera her dad got her for her thirteenth birthday, snacks and her fuzzy jumper all on top of her longterm supplies ensuring they stayed hidden. The rest, and most important items were to be provided by Starline Transport. At the terminal she would receive her personal breathing mechanism and a universal female body suit. Her parents were surprised by the slimness of the mask and compactness of the suit from the clips Salida shared with them. Her mother frowned at the universal female suit, “You would think they would come up with a more diverse and inclusive offering. I remember when the first trip of two women to space was delayed because there were not enough female suits in existence. And now here they are still messing it up.” Salida assumed her mom was referring to society as a whole or, perhaps, the international space community as “they.” Her parents continued sharing their mild hesitations and discomforts as they navigated to the port. Salida hated having to be the one to comfort them, it was demoralizing, the first experiences of roll reversal that were sure to grow in number and significance in the decades to come.
She had meticulously selected this trip as her graduation gift. Her siblings chose a summer in Greece and a safari tour in South Africa both for the whole family to attend. She picked a One Earth Day Excursion to the dark side of the moon, the cost was comparable if she went alone. The SL 75 Craft she was assigned to was scheduled to leave at 01:00 on September 18, she would land back in Texas on the same 75 Craft she arrived in on September 18 at 23:30, not even a full day. But to be able to say she traveled the moon before she settled down, to feel the coldness, emptiness, vastness of space envelope her, was her dream, wicked as it may be. A gap day, even though her parents were willing to offer her a gap year. The offer embarrassed her.
The dark side was the more affordable side despite its mystery. Salida found this a curiosity in itself as the mystery it invoked is the very aspect that drew her in. The dark side during its two weeks of night was even cheaper. There would be plenty of artificial light and no time to properly and legally observe Earth, at least not in her scheduled twenty two hours. The tram to and from the near side couldn’t be completed in an Earth day’s length of time. And all passengers were required by international law to return back to the same port of arrival in order to meet their scheduled departure.
Salida watched her dad tap on his handheld to stream INPR, giving one last chance to catch any intergalactic travel announcements, as her mom merged onto the highway. Dipping her hand into her pack's front pocket she unfolded her planned souvenir list. She had already virtually toured the Experiential Dome that she would be offboarding at. Tourists could spend full weeks there. It was a shopping mall, cruise ship, all-inclusive resort, never actually step foot on the moon kind of place. As the Europeans with smallpox, Americans were the first to settle the moon infesting it with consumerism, capitalism, and class structure. Salida planned to zip through picking up a specific gift for each of her grandmothers; Crescent Tea for Grandma and Flower Moon Mud for Lola, and a random assortment of rocks and stardust for everyone else. She was most intrigued by the tea, it was one of the only products actually harvested from the lunar landscape. There were to be lunar fragments in the tea bag. She imagined it to taste like mud but with a sparkle. All tea kind of tasted like watered down dirt anyway. After gathering her provisions she would package them up and send the gifts from the International Lunar Post Office for authenticity’s sake and since she wouldn’t be returning home to give them in person. Then she would spend the rest of her first day at the Global Lunar Park.
The Lunar Park’s expanse covers portions of the near and far side of the moon. The international maintenance rangers tend to focus on the near side as people on Earth can easily see the structures and cities forming. Her plan was to approach the Saha Crater via the prohibited Satellite Trail to catch a glimpse of Earth, avoiding the public monitoring of the near side tram and cutting the travel time by three quarters. It would appear as a frosty marble in the sky, the dark drop of a pupil reversed, with the greens and blues sequestered to one small circle and the blackness swirling all about it. The Saha Crater was now littered with radio towers, the remote location protected the signals against Earthly interference. She predicted she could do the hike to the crater and back to the dome in time to find a perch to watch the ship, her assigned craft, take off for home.
She romanticized her future self nuzzling up in a hidden corner, placing her jumper beneath her for a limp cushion. She would unzip her pack and pull out the last pear she plucked from her parent’s tree and enjoy it in triumph, in finality, in honor. In reality, she wouldn’t be able to find a spot inside to spy the ship home and so would not be able to enjoy her ‘last pear’ without taking off her mask, her oxygen supply. She would stare at the pear, wanting to slurp its goodness down but it would be impossible. The inability to enjoy her pear would stoke her doubts of her deceptive circumstances. She would watch as the search began for a missing passenger. If the craft takes off without you, you are immediately seared as an intergalactic fellon, an Earth warrant issued without delay. From there, finding a place to sleep outside of earthshine would be her only option. Her top consideration was the Chawla Hostel she knew young Europeans frequented. There were several hostels on the dark side catering to the youthful and lost, riddled with nomads of the digital sort and Americans overstaying their departure launch. There were a few country’s citizens that got away with that sort of behavior.
“Salida, I want you to enjoy this day, you are going to experience so much and be the first from our family to travel this far,” her Dad was leaning around his chair patting her on the knee. She nodded, studying the wrinkles around his eyes and slowness of his mouth, intentionally committing them to memory. “Mom and I will be checking out the town down here while you’re up there. I got us a room at a hotel near the port so that you can rest as soon as we pick you up.” She nodded again. “Yes, and you will need to hydrate and sleep when you get back. I was just reading the other day how intergalactic travelers are returning nearly fatally dehydrated. We can’t have that,” her mom added, raising her eyebrows in time with the syllabled rhythm of intergalactic. Salida smiled and resisted the tears pressing to be released. Her thoughts flickered, a burn inside her chest tried to convince her to tell them the truth, to reveal her plan. She craved the instant release that would follow, a child admitting her sins, hauling and scattering them at the altar of her parents to solve and absolve. “Mom, Dad,” she breathed in, one of her last organic filling of her lungs, “I’ll be back in no time, with a lunar burn to prove it,” she lied.